If you read my previous blog piece – as I am sure you have – then you will have perhaps empathised with my musings on how I hoped that today’s journey would be an easy one and to be fair it all started off quite hopeful. Our journey from the hotel to the airport was easy enough even if it was a little hot and our backpacks were a little heavy – though mine was now much lighter due to the amputation of the brick of leaflets from my backpack yesterday! Next on our little expedition was our flight from Bangkok taking us to Singapore and although this flight was a little on the late side taking off, so far everything was boding well, or if not well then at least not too bad!
It was at at Changi airport and our dealings with Jetstar that our fortunes began to change and not for the best either! Whilst relaxing after having a bite to eat we saw our flight come up on one of the many screens dotted about the place but the time it was showing was ridiculous it must have been a typo because according to this new information we would be leaving ten hours later than scheduled! So we tootled off to the Jetstar transfer desk thinking ‘ho ho, what a wheeze’, however when we arrived there other passengers seemed to have had the same idea and they seemed to be somewhat disgruntled. Horror of horrors it was not a typo that our flight was suffering from, it was bad weather over Australia and this would delay it by ten hours!
Even worse was that all the guy on the (Jetstar) desk could do for us was hand over a fax to each couple sent from Jetstar head office and he then proceeded to tell us that he did not work for them and this was all the information he had! The fax contained a phone number to ring which we duly did only to receive an ‘out of hours’ message, the note also contained a web address to complain to so we tried this but it was not working! This was beginning to get on my nerves, to my mind this was a company who had forgotten the meaning of the phrase ‘customer service’! Some of the others waiting at the desk were now getting quite angry whilst others were getting quite upset, however we were made of stronger stuff and took all this bad news as pragmatically as we could. The desk ‘person’, who did not work for Jetstar (!), finally handed out a food voucher to each person assembled but the value of the voucher was not even enough for a single baguette each or even a beer to drown our sorrows! Jetstar could have assuaged us if they bothered but they did not, it was a very poor showing indeed!
There was now nothing else for it but to settle back and get as comfortable as we could as we would now have quite a bit of time on our hands now, so first off and while it was still fresh in my mind I drafted out my complaint to Jetstar, which was strangely enough quite cathartic. I know that this was an utterly pointless exercise in futility but I felt a wee bit better at least! As we laid back the weariness we felt was starting to catch up on us, we were getting very weary indeed but even then we could not drift off. We also informed Sue, our benefactor in Perth, Australia that we would be arriving later, much later than we originally had intended and although she was cool about the whole thing, it still did not stop us feeling a bit crappy about messing her around.
Whilst we rested as best as we could in the airport I decided to jot down my thoughts about some of those things I found best about SE Asia as a kind of salute to it.
People: – Everywhere that we travelled, in every one of the countries that we visited, every traveller we met along the way and all of the very great people we stayed with, each and every one of them helped to restore my faith in humankind just that little bit more and that really means a lot to me. We met people who had nothing in terms of worldly goods but these very same people would offer you the food off their plates and that attitude of theirs was just so very very humbling. I have some special mentions though to give out to – Sting and his fellow volunteer teachers at Cianjur Indonesia, ALL of the very beautiful people we met whilst volunteering for All Hands at Tacloban in the Philippines, Kamnet the former Buddhist monk who ran the English school (AKD) at Battambang, Cambodia and his lovely, lovely family, and the beautiful Kunten and her family who we volunteered for at Nam Tha Luang in Laos who introduced us to many strange foods. In fact everyone we stayed with and the many fellow travellers we met along the way many we now consider to be our friends. I must admit that when we first started travelling I was somewhat guarded because I felt responsible for the two of us and this made me somewhat cynical and I often felt suspicious when we dealt with people but the more I met and talked and liked and loved the people I met along the way, the more they opened my heart and my head started to follow.
Food: – We are not particularly faddy people so we had a great time eating wherever we went, except perhaps in the Philippines where they did seem to eat more fast food of poor quality. Normally though the ingredients were fresh and the noodles and stocks they made and used were absolutely delicious and amazingly flavoursome, add to this the number of side condiments and additional fresh ingredients, herbs and veg mean that you can make the dish taste however you like. Plus, if you ever do hit a sticky patch for food or are not sure what to eat then go for a meal at an Indian restaurant – it never fails to please. Please do not forget the street food too, this is one of those little gems that often gets overlooked by Westerners because they think it to be unclean or strange but the good thing is that you can watch the food being cooked so know how hot it is. Out here too you often get the opportunity to try something you have never tried before and we can now say that we have tried amongst the more ‘normal’ foods – big black beetles, larvae, blood cubes, water buffalo, smoked eel, crocodile and flowers and no I am not going to spoil it for you by telling which of those were good bad or indifferent, try them for yourself .… lol!
Sea and Beaches: – Coming from a seaside town (albeit a UK version) ourselves these places always stick in our mind and in SE Asia we managed to visit some beaches which were quite simply stunning and we sometimes even had them just to ourselves too. Whilst back home in England we live at the end of an estuary that flows into the sea so our ‘sea’ is somewhat (poo!) brown coloured, out here it was the various shades of blue and blue green that you see in picture postcards. The temperature in the water and out always made the swimming and snorkelling very inviting and the diving was brilliant in most places as the visibility was excellent, the exception to this being Coron where the Japanese wrecks where and here we were lucky to see our hands in front of our faces but even that had some charm. Top sea and beach moments had to be Sipidan and the dives round there, in particular the last dive at Sipidan at the end of which we actually saw a Whale Shark, anytime we saw Dolphins was always good, we did an interesting dive at Coron through a thermocline that was most unusual because you could actually see where the different waters met and although it was quite pebbly we loved the beaches at Padre Burgos and Donsol also in the Philippines.
Transportation: – In SE Asia if often felt a bit like the movie, ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’ as we felt like we had tried out every type of transport there was out there – bikes, mopeds, tuk tuks, cyclos, elephants, jeepneys, trains, cable cars, bus, coach, minivans, subway trains, ferries, boats, canoes, balangays, planes, zipwire, bamboo train, abseiling (Dalat) etc etc and although every now and then we would have a most scary experience, especially in Thailand where driving at breakneck speed seems to be the norm, generally we were safe even if the roads were not … lol! I can now say that whilst I have a licence to drive an elephant I still may never feel easy riding a moped out in SE Asia … lol!
Markets: – In every country that we visited in SE Asia it was our trips to the night markets which showed us how you could gauge the country in terms of its people, its culture, its food, well everything really. These places really are the melting pot for the community and everyone meets here from the very eldest to the very youngest and it is brilliant to watch it all unfold. Here it is truly a family affair and there is a great deal of love and respect shown to the elder generation. At some markets there was the chance to watch schoolchildren sing and dance traditional classics alongside their more modern rhythms and there was also the chance to see the very old also do line dancing just to keep fit and it definitely was working. It is strange, in my own town I have seen the demise of the market in favour of the ‘modern’ shopping mall and I am not so sure our community actually gained anything by the move and perhaps we lost some of what they still have out here at their markets.
Poverty: – In many of the countries in SE Asia many many people live in extreme poverty and I feel sure that we did not even see the worst of it but there is a resilience within the people out here. They seem to be starting to gain the trappings of Western society but they still understand that mending things and keeping them going is far cheaper and more beneficial and this applies particularly to their means of transport, often in some cases just held together by bits of string and rope or even, strangely enough wood! I think the place it all caught up with us most was in Manila where the street beggars seemed to be living even in the branches of trees! Here and elsewhere in similar situations it was difficult, do you give money or not? We decided not to on the premise that to give to one meant we should really give to all so we tried to do our ‘bit’ in other ways, perhaps not the best way but our way.
In the Jungle, the Mighty Jungle: – SE Asia I suppose taught us quite a bit about wildlife especially how difficult it is to find it when it is not on the flipping television! Out here we have seen very many different species but one of the best experiences was the Jungle walk in Taman Negara where we spent the night in a cave, it felt like sleeping in a cathedral it was so big but had more porcupines than I remember churches back home having! In the night our guide took us for a night walk and he went fishing for scorpions using tiny twigs! On our trip thus far we found that we love even more elephants, turtles, dolphins and have found a new soft spot for the huge whale sharks. What I have found myself doing though on our wanderings is just looking at things great and small, even the simpler things in the jungle things like fronds, I am finding myself fond of fronds! On our trip we have not really had to rush anywhere or be anywhere at any particular time so just looking at things and taking them in really is a bonus, a bonus I never even thought would become part of this journey but it is and it is great!
Top Places: – Manmade and Natural – Every place that we went to was a top place but if I had to sum up each of the country’s we visited:
Thailand – culture and history, markets and massages, Muay Thai boxing, Food and Chang Mai
Malaysia – green, lush – Penang and Langkawi islands, The Night in the Cave, Sipidan and it’s spectacular Diving
Singapore – amazingly ordered, clean, safe, a bright and perhaps even a brave new world but with good old Raffles to keep us in check
Indonesia – Volcanoes and Temples and good friends teaching in Cianjur, Ubud’s monkeys and Unbroken’d
Philippines – Island culture – snorkelling with Whales Sharks – Diving – Banaue’s lush Rice Fields and the best of times Volunteering in Tacloban.
Vietnam – Hanoi and it’s heavy rains – Halong Bay and Cat Ba Island, Food, Sleeper Buses and Hoi An
Cambodia – the humungous Angkor Wat, Battambang and bat caves – Killing fields and teaching kids English
Laos – Lush and green, becoming an Elephant driver – Luang Prabang – Kunten and living in the Forest, Sculpture Parks.
Yes I can hear you already saying where are all these wondrous places our intrepid travellers went to? Well those places will always be there and there are probably much better photos on the internet so instead I have chosen photos that sum up what the travelling is all about – fun, with people, fun eating food, fun when travelling, fun watching people and sometimes having a laugh over a beer, fun watching animals I have only ever seen on the TV – it is all very great fun – except perhaps the cold showers which can be very unfunny indeed.
Above all and one of the very best things about this backpacking lark, is simply the fact that every day when you wake up the new day is going to be an entirely different one from the last and I simply do not have the words to describe just how utterly delicious that feels. Please try some of the experiences I have described as sometimes it is only by doing new things that we realise just where we are in the world and that, I believe, is the secret of life, knowing exactly where you are in the world. Australia is next and God only knows what that will teach us … lol!
If you would like to read about the first part of our SE Asian odyssey then go to http://www.lisandpatsexcellentadventure.wordpress.com