Wednesday, 30 May 2012

England's green and pleasant land

I am home!!!
I can't quite believe that I am writing this blog post back on home soil and I also can't believe that I am so jammy that I am doing it in the front room of a £1m+ house in Chelsea, my temporary residence!!!
(Greg and Isla, you guys are the best, cheers for putting us up, or is it putting up with us?)

There really isn't much else to tell you about on the travel front but I will fill you in on my final few days.
As you know, after finishing our unbelievable trek up to Everest Base Camp and getting back down to Kathmandu we Googled the cheapest fights out of Nepal and 2 days later found ourselves in a very hot and humid Bangkok - for the third time on this trip!
Of all the places I have been to on my adventures Bangkok is the city I know least about, I have literally used it as a drunken stop over transit location and this time would be no different.
Upon arriving we were on high alert regarding thieving taxi drivers and bless them, they didn't let us down. The taxi driver stood by idly as we questioned the taxi coordinator about the expected cost of the cab to which she gave us an overinflated approximate figure but told us that all of their cabs would use their meter so it would be fair price!
As we departed the taxi driver turned his meter off and we just looked at each other in a sort of "for f*cks sake, why can't it just be easy?".
We asked him why the meter wasn't on and all he would quote back to us was the coordinator's high price. Well we were having none of this so we took down all of his details and when we arrived at our location we blackmailed him into giving us a fair price or else we would report him.
To say that he was angry would be an understatement and he slammed his boot shut with enough force to cause some serious damage (especially if my head was in the way) but in the end he left cursing us, but with a lot less in his pocket than he thought he would have.
A small victory for the westerners!!!!
Why can't people just be honest?

We checked into a hotel that I knew and then we went out into the familiar debaucherous surroundings of Khao San Road. Visit number 3 for me but visit number 8 to Thailand for Arancha!

The next day was a very easy day:
1) Decide on an island to visit
2) Book the travel
3) Eat
4) Arancha shops
5) Eat, drink and sleep

Of all the beautiful Thai islands on offer we chose to travel to Koh Samet for one simple reason, it was the closest to Bangkok and would only take 4 hours to get to.
We looked back over our previous 4/5 months travel and apart from 5 days with Arancha's father in Shanghai we had pretty much been continuously on the move for all of that time and quite frankly we were knackered.
All we wanted to do for the next 10 days was absolutely nothing.

Early on our second morning in Thailand we were sat on a tourist coach heading in a south-easterly direction to the coast and then it was only a 4 hour journey to the coast followed by a short 30 minute boat ride over to the Koh Samet.
We hadn't booked any accommodation on the island and planned to do it in the usual fashion ie. wander around until we found the right thing. However, we didn't realise that this was a public holiday weekend in Thailand and that Koh Samet was the Thai people's holiday island, so it was packed.
Add to the mix that it was 35+ degrees, humid and we were carrying over 30kgs each in weight, it was not pretty and our tempers were frayed!
Eventually we did find a place to stay that was suitable ie. it was not next to the chicken coup or the rubbish bins, so we paid for just the one night; it wasn't that suitable!

What to say about Koh Samet as an island destination? Erm, if I was you I wouldn't come. When the sun is out it has the required squeaky white beaches, blue ocean with a green jungle backdrop but the island is general was run down and there was far too much litter on show for it to be a dreamy destination. If I was you I would keep heading south to the 'real' Thai islands of Koh Tao, Samui or Phi Phi.

I am very particular when it comes to restaurants meaning that I expect good food and good service. I don't give a sh*t if it is a beach bar, customer service is free and very easy to deliver, or should be. Well, after a below par lunch and some bad attitude I had already crossed off my first restaurant and I had only been on the island for 2 hours. My relaxing island retreat wasn't delivering so far!
For the rest of the afternoon our only mission was to find a new place to stay that had a more idyllic setting than where we were currently residing. At the opposite end of the main beach on Koh Samet we found what we were looking for and as of the next day we would be living out of a beach side bungalow that was perfect for our simple requirements.
It was a good job that we would be moving the next day as our current bungalow was set back amongst the jungle foliage and the mosquitoes were destroying me!

In the evening Koh Samet is lovely and you can walk along the beach bare foot and choose which restaurant it is you wish to eat at among the many that have table and floor cushioned seating areas littering the beach itself where you could sit back, drink and enjoy the evening fire shows.
The setting was beautiful but unfortunately the service and food was rubbish. The food came at different times, it was delivered within 5 minutes of ordering (evening dinner should be an enjoyable event, not a race) and it was just bad food.
2 restaurants frequented and now another that I would not be going back to.

The move next day was painful. It was midday, hot and sunny and we must've looked a right sight as we walked down a packed beach with our huge backpacks.
Still, it was all good and we were now the proud inhabitants of a blue and white bungalow that was very swish compared to what we had been used to.

Life for the next 9 days in the bungalow followed a very standard pattern:
1) Wake up very late after listening to the very early thunder storms that seem to hit on a daily basis
2) Sit on the balcony and look out to sea as we slowly 'wake up'
3) Walk 100 metres to the local restaurant on the beach front and order pretty much the same thing every day so that all I had to say was "the usual please"
4) Walk back to the bungalow and mince around
5) Maybe go back down to the beach to swim in a very warm ocean or to play Bat 'n' Ball if we could muster up the energy (some days we did and we broke the 100 barrier)
6) Read and talk on the balcony of the bungalow
7) Shower and head out for dinner
8) Drinks or an early night in to watch a movie

That was literally our life for 9 days and I have to admit that it was great. Not once did I get bored by our lack of activity and now that we had found the local village street away from the beach we could enjoy good quality restaurants in which to eat and stop me from being a 'whinging pom'.

However, underlying my life as a spoilt Tom Hanks from Castaway was the ever nagging presence of that little voice in my head repeating, "this is the end, its all over, you will be home in, 4, 3, 2 days...".
The only way for me not to sink into an oblivion of reminiscence was to not think about the previous 19 months and when I sum up my trip at the end of this post it will be the first time since I have returned that I will really think about it all.
I think if I dwell on it for too long I will cry at the life I am not living anymore, which is daft as I have got so much planned for the coming few months in the UK and someone great to share it all with.

All too quickly our time on Koh Samet came to an end and I can't say that I was that upset to be leaving it. To sum up the island we left sitting opposite a dirty old American man (who you could tell loves his whores) and he had no underwear on. So myself and Arancha sat there staring at his very bald and smooth testicles that there displayed on either side of the crease trying to take photos of them without getting caught! (I am really not sure why)

We spent one last night in Bangkok before heading off to the airport and my highly anticipated return to England (only by my Mum).
We were flying Air India back to the UK because they were by far the cheapest airline but I was wary as I had already experienced their poor service when I was delayed in India back in Nov 2010 (post about missing a flight whilst being badly sunburnt if you would like to refresh yourselves).
They managed to keep up their great reputation by delaying us for 4.5 hours so I was forced to bring my reunion with my mother to a more southern location by asking her to drive down to north London to pick us up as we would miss our pre-booked trains up to the Shire.
Cheers Suzy.

At approximately 21:00pm on 9th May 2012, 19 months to the day since I had departed for Delhi, I landed back on England's green and pleasant land.
It was dark and rainy and very English. Was nice to be home? No f*cking way was it, but was I looking forward to seeing mum, dad, family and friends? Yes of course.

I am not sure what I expected when I passed through immigration, maybe a "Welcome Home", but it was not to be as I passed through an electronic gate so I didn't even get to speak to someone!

At approximately 23:30pm we emerged from the tube and in the distance I could see a familiar shade of orange; it was obvious that mum still had the same fleece jacket but that was a good thing as far as I was concerned.
Well done to Suzy, there were no floods of tears or hysterics, just a nice big hug and kiss from my mummy. And well done Dad who couldn't be arsed to come and meet me (not really he was sick).
So that was it, come 1:30am I was home and Arancha was in the bedroom that I grew up in since the day I was brought back from the hospital! Weird when you consider where we met and where we have been together!

What followed over the next few days was catching up with my grandparents, my mates and other family members, attending a great wedding for Bob and Steph (congrats again) and doing other key things such as going to Alton Towers theme park before moving back down to London to find that all important job!

I have decided to keep my blog going in the UK as I have plenty arranged during my time here such as a stag do in Latvia next weekend, watching England play in the Ukraine in mid June as well as loads of other fun stuff such as the Olympics before we will hopefully set off again after Xmas.

Oh one thing I forgot to tell you. Ayden Irmak, the man we hung out with at the beginning of our trek and who was attempting to take his bicycle to the summit of Mt Everest was found dying at the top of Everest last week in the pitch black minus any oxygen, flashlight, backpack and the all important bicycle! How crazy is that? You can read the article by clicking this link below:

So the 'trip' is over. Without sounding like a cliche I don't know how I can put into words what a life changing and all round brilliant experience this past 19 months has been but it was. I loved every single day of my life, met some fantastic people and such interesting characters and saw some unforgettable things.
I hope that this blog has gone some way to letting you get a glimpse into what my world has been like and it also saves me having to bore you with the details if ever we should speak!
I think the best way to sum it up is as follows:

Trail taken:
India - Nepal - Thailand - Laos - Thailand - Malaysia - Singapore - Australia - China - Hong Kong- China - Nepal - Thailand

Seen in the wild:
Rhinoceros, Sea Lion, Penguin, Dolphin, Kangaroo, Wallaby, Snake, Monitor Lizard, Scorpion, Bird Eating Spider, Deer, Tortoise, Koala, Dingo, Brumby, Eagle, Monkey, Turtle, Himalayan Wildcat, Himalayan Pheasant, Stingrays, Giant Panda (not wild but needs a mention), and best of all, Crocodile, Tiger, Great White Shark

Modes of transport:
Plane, Train, Automobile, Tuk-Tuk, Boat, Scooter, Elephant, Camel and Dominus!

Stand out sights:
Taj Mahal, Udaipur, Great Wall of China, Tiger Leaping Gorge, the view from Gokyo Peak, Turtles laying eggs on the beach, A man with a skeletal foot being eaten away by flies, The Great Barrier Reef, Meteor Crater, the Milky Way at numerous locations incl from the Gingin Obervatory, The entire Western Australia coastline, The Himalayan Mountains from every angle, Mount Everest and Dominus in a ditch!
Frankly, every day was a stand out.

31 years old - Darjeeling, India - playing a 7-a-side football match in the mountains followed by the zoo and Harry Potter at the cinema
32 years old - The Whitsunday Islands - sailing around the turquoise ocean with 2 of my best mates

2010 - Pokhara, Nepal - spending the day and night with 4 hot Aussie girls
2011 - Sydney, Australia - spending the day with a certain Aussie girl and her mother

New Years Eve:
2010/11 - Kathmandu, Nepal - smashed with 4 hot Aussie girls, 1 hot American chick and randoms
2011/12 - Sydney Harbour Bridge, Australia - watching the greatest firework display on Earth

Key travelling buddies:
Arancha Joulian - Nepal, Australia, China, Hong Kong, Thailand
Rachael Moore - India, Nepal, Thailand, Laos, Australia

Live sporting events:
Commonwealth Games - Delhi, India
A League football matches - Melbourne Victory FC x 2
Aussie Rules Football - Play-off Semi Final at the MCG, Melbourne
Derby Day - horse racing at Flemington, Melbourne
Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race - Hobart, Tasmania

My sporting events:
Melbourne Marathon, Australia
Sri Chinmoy Half Marathon, Melbourne, Australia
Playing for Ashburton United FC, Melbourne, Australia
Skiing x 2, Victoria, Australia

Jungles/Rainforests visited:
Bandhavgarh, India
Chitwan, Nepal
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Taman Negara, Malaysia
Mekong, Laos
Blue Mountains, Australia

Mountains/Passes conquered:
Mt Kosciuszko, 2,228 metres - Australia   
Annapurna Base Camp, 4,130 metres - Nepal
Thoroung La Pass, 5,416 metres - Nepal
Gokyo Peak, 5,483 metres - Nepal
Kalar Patthar, 5,545 metres - Nepal
Mt Everest Base Camp, 5,350 metres - Nepal
Cho La Pass, 5,420 metres - Nepal
Tai Shan,1,533 metres - China
Hua Shan, 2,160 metres - China
Huang Shan, 1,864 metres - China
Tiger Leaping Gorge, 2,700 metres - China

Top parties:
2 days sailing down the Mekong River - Laos
Tubing - Vang Viang, Laos 
5 days in Chiang Mai - Thailand
Full Moon Party - Koh Phangan, Thailand
Walking Street - Pattaya, Thailand
2 weeks in Byron Bay - Australia
Rodeo - Rockhampton, Australia
Arancha's Art Exhibition - Melbourne, Australia
Arancha & Nadia's 40th birthday party - Melbourne Australia

Live music & entertainment:
Reggae Festival - Chiang Mai, Thailand
Falls Festival incl Arctic Monkeys - Marion Bay, Tasmania
Eskimo Joe - Melbourne, Australia
Mark Seymour - Melbourne, Australia
The Ballet - Melbourne, Australia
Various galleries / exhibitions

I have nothing more to add, what else is there to say?
I don't think your travels ever truly end once they have begun. Take last night for example, I was out for dinner in Convent Garden and in walks a lad who I spent 2 weeks traveling with in Thailand and Laos!
I cannot wait to see what our adventures through Canada and South America will bring.

Life is one big adventure and I am well up for it!

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