Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The Penultimate

When we headed out from Stockton Town Hall all those months ago we really didn't envision what our homecoming would be like.

We are soon going to find out. We are now in Singapore and tonight is our last night abroad as we catch our flight back to Brisbane tomorrow night at 21:20.

Its only a 7 hour flight which will hopefully pass in a blur of great first release movies, delicious food and quiet rest. Generally our flights pass with a straight-to-video film (why is it that the films are always fantastic on the flights going the opposite direction than we are??), inedible food and screaming children kicking the back of our chair. I think we're due one of the former.

Singapore is an island that has a lot of rules. Fined if you don't flush a public toilet, no chewing gum and no urinating in the lift (do you really need to spell that rule out?). As a result it is a very safe destination, but one can't help feeling that they've regulated all the fun out. As a government minister mentioned when trying to dissuade visitors that Singapore was "boring" - "we need to think seriously about the issue of having fun". I think he's missed the point really....

Do we sound jaded? Well, we certainly feel it. We've had a great time, but we've definitely got the back-to-school vibe. The trip back to reality is complete as I may even have a phone interview on Friday afternoon. Oh well, it could be double Maths....

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

See our India Galleries

Take a whistle-stop tour of Rajasthan at our India 1 and India 2 galleries.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Assam Enchanted Evening

The Cameron Highlands is the tea caddy of Malaysia so we were naturally drawn there. The bus ride is just over 6 hours with the last couple along winding hairpin roads that take you up a couple of thousand metres above sea level and down about 10 degrees centigrade. The temperature change was especially welcome until I realised I had left my jumper with the 2 bags of non-essential items back at the hostel in Kuala Lumpur. Silly me.

We mostly spent our time soaking up the atmosphere but on Thursday we went on a full day trip which took us to the best spots in the area. We started at the (proper) Boh plantation and had an informative lecture on all thing tea related. The tea bushes cling to the side of the rolling hills and make the landscape look like it's wall to wall carpeted in lush green. From here we had a walk through the mossy forest, a magical place dripping with soft green mosses and lichens; a place where you could easily imagine bumping into a goblin or, terrifyingly, a Lord of the Rings fan. It was here we learned some Malaysian bushcraft, notably how to use the native plants to kill, cure, make things smell nice, make things taste nice and make things look nice. The springy path underfoot was a delight and well worth the 1-3 million years it took to produce - thanks trees! (I was going to say I never met a tree I didn't like but then remembered the time I had to dig up a rose bush.)

After our exertions we were in need of a cuppa so we went to a place that produces 4 million cups of tea a day. That seems like a lot until you remeber that our mate Spencer can easily account for 800,000 of them in an afternoon. We saw grinders grinding the green leaves, belts rolling the ground up bits to the heaters, mechanical sieves sorting and grading, and trolleys, well, just standing around but they were still fairly exciting. In the grand scheme of things. Tea things that is. After feigning interest in the finer points of the process we were allowed to get a cup of the good stuff in the cafeteria and, to give Boh its dues, it was right up there with the Tetleys and PG Tipses of this world.

The afternoon was spent visiting an aborigne village, strolling to and bathing in a waterfall and then having a blow dart demonstration. After the chief showed his undoubted ability to hit a flip-flop from 10 paces we were given a go. I hit the side of the house with my first effort and then took out a bit of Malaysia about a meter from the end of the pipe with my second. Woodlouse for tea for me then. Vic was much better and would have been dining royally that evening, even if it meant that the chief had to hop to the shops for the Vienetta. We then had a short drive home past more tea plantations, orchid farms and veggie patches.

When we returned we saw everyone clustered around the TV watching the terrible news from London. Our thoughts with all those who are there.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Escape from Phuket

We didn't enjoy Phuket quite as much as Samui but that was more us than the island. We had a nice excursion to James Bond island although were disappointed with the size of it. Movie wizardry seems to have pumped up a 30 metre high, 5 metre across rock into a super villain's hideaway. Scaramanga probably bought it sight unseen on the strength of an estate agent's blurb...

"Spacious and secluded Thai island with room for conservatory, high-powered laser, etc. Ideal holiday home or hideaway for international hitman.""

We had hoped to catch the train down from Surat Thani in Thailand there was only one train at 1:30 in the morning. We decided to make it easy on ourselves and get the bus. Three minibuses and ten and a half hours later we were across the border in Butterworth, Malaysia. We knew there were buses every hour so were a bit disappointed to see them coming and going and leaving us behind. We finally snapped when the 4 people who'd arrived after us were placed and we were left behind for the 11:45pm bus. Words were exchanged, temperatures rose; we decided to take our business to the rival firm next door and write off the ticket we had bought. It was then we realised that we were in the grips of the Butterworth Bus Mafia and that the rival company was, in fact, run by the same people. We graciously accepted a place on the 11:45 bus.

And then, at 5am, a mere 20 hours after setting off, we arrived in Kuala Lumpur to take our place on the hostel floor (they were booked solid).

Despite a poor start Malaysia is winning us over. KL is friendly enough and tomorrow we head off to the Cameron Highlands which is, excitingly, tea country.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

More galleries

Carved caves and hanging temples in Datong
Our Himalayan adventures in Tibet

Thanks Malaysian internet facilities!