Monday, 31 December 2012

Happy Christmas and a happy new year!


 

They've got plastic bank notes! The notes are all shiny and new looking as they are made from a plastic paper so they don't tear! And probably to avoid germs.

So Christmas day was different. Went to gym, had a swim, brunch, present opening,  walked Bella (the round blonde dog that can roll her tongue)and then we sauntered down to Orchard Road. It was like a normal day, looked in a couple of shops (all open) and at the Christian floats (a short of static carnival). Billy Wangs Christian aerobics, gospel choirs and a few bands didn’t start until 6.30pm and we needed to be back to speak to the folks at home so, made do with just people watching, enjoying the ambiance, sharing another kebab from the posh kebab shop and being slightly confused by a mini parade of Chinese Roman soldiers carrying standards proclaiming that "Christmas is Love" and escorting the three wise men (women with felt tip marker drawn beards) and other Galilean styled people up and down the road whilst looking largely fed up. (sorry about that long sentence) Then headed home for our BBQ, (no oven in the apartment!) and the luxury of a film on a huge tv!

 
We’ve visited the Botanical Gardens which are exactly as you expect….beautifully laid out, well designed and even has an amphitheatre on the lake where the Symphony Orchestra sometimes play. Unfortunately they are not performing while we are here but we did get to see the Evolution Garden, the Healing Garden, the Fragrant Garden and rainforest all clearly labelled with plant names and info.

Chinatown and Little India were interesting. Chinatown was not dissimilar to London’s area with lots of shops selling the usual chopsticks, chinese dragons and silk outfits. A whole street with a roof over that had food hawker stands down the sides and tables and plastic chairs in the middle where you’d try and find a space once you’ve bought your noodles or your chicken claws. Do you know you can actually buy them in the supermarket, eewwhh. Little India was something we were eager to see having just spent the last 2 months there we were intrigued to see how Singapore could do India. It was like coming home. The sing song voices, the smells, crossing the road at an angle with complete disregard for green men, piles of clothes for sale for $5, even some rubbish! It was India without the beeping, the beggars, the raw sewage and mountains of rubbish. And we had a delicious vegetarian indian meal with a sweet lassi. Yummy.

 So we’ve gone on about the Singaporeans and how fabulously they do everything so I won’t cover that again. But I will tell you about Haw Par Villa. A roasting hot and humid day, the idea of a couple of hours visiting this well known attraction with over 1,000 statues depicting Chinese folklore and the Ten Courts of Hell that is only a few stops away on the train sounds like a cultural way to spend the afternoon. What a shock…the only way to describe first impressions is like Disney on acid. Its completely bonkers. There are pictures on the gallery that give you an idea of the complete and utter weirdness of the place.

You enter past a great dragon, tiger and snake through a pagoda shaped gateway. Then everywhere you turn there are brightly coloured, strange scenes that we cannot make sense of. An old lady with one saggy boob out and an even older man suckling while a baby lays in a cot behind them. One of hamsters fighting rats that have all had their feet cut off. I know what you’re thinking, can’t get any more bizarre. But it does. I’m curious to see the Ten Courts of Hell so we follow the signs and all along the way there are life sized Tiger characters with tiny necks and big heads holding tubs of Tiger Balm. Obviously sponsorship but cannot see any connection and you can’t even buy the stuff there!

 
The Ten Courts of Hell does have some explanation before you go in, about how you have to look in the mirror and face your lifes deeds. Then judgement is made by a chap with a long thin moustache and you are sent to face your punishment before being given a cup of tea by a little lady which cleanses you of your past live and you’re born again as a slug or a king. We then see the most gruesome depictions of hell and what purgatory would be if you’d been bad. A couple of examples of some of the crimes and their punishments that we can expect:

Tax Dodger/Refusal to pay rent  -  pounded by a stone mallet (don’t think that’s what Ken Dodd faced)

Money lenders with exorbitant rates   - thrown on a hill of knives  (banks and credit card companies watch out for retribution)

Possession of Pornographic material  -  body sawn in two down the middle (knowing my background I can suggest a few people that qualify for that one!)

Cheating during examinations  -  intestines and organs pulled out (sounds a little harsh to me)  

Neglect of the old and the young  -  crushed under boulders (now, I can think of several people that would be up for this….you know who you are!)                  

Well it was certainly not up to the usual standard we have come to expect but it was interesting and I would still recommend visiting, if you want a giggle.

And then came New Years Eve. We had our tickets for ‘Celebrate 2013’ at the Float@Marina Bay. Live music, DJs and fireworks from 7.30pm till 3am. The rain started about 12.30pm, and it rained and rained and rained, torrential rain until about 8.30pm. so a late start to the evening for us old ‘uns. We left about 9.15 and eventually got to the Marina at 11.15pm. that was after getting off at the wrong station but it was ok because I needed the toilet and they’re always really clean at the stations. Then asking which station but not listening to the attendant and getting off at the wrong station again. We were on the wrong side of the river and they’d closed the footbridge! It was ok, we crossed on the road bridge and got some great pictures and were joustled by hundreds of thousands of people that had turned out to get a view of the fireworks from across the river. Got our seats and listened to some awful commentary from their equivalent to Davina Macoll and Chris Tarrant. The music selection was eclectic to say the least. A Korean girl band, a Japanese lady in beautiful long red dress singing ballads, a Korean Hip Hop band and the cast from Jersey Boys. At least we knew their songs!

Then the moment we and everyone else had been waiting for…..midnight. And the fireworks went off  in an amazing display of colour, light and noise like we’d never seen before. Huge explosions colouring the skies,Curtains of glitter punctuated with fountains of sparks from the floating harbour, spotlights picking out certain buildings in ever changing colours and lighting up a sea of floating orbs anchored in the marina. The sheer volume of the display took our breath away and was made even more spectacular by the fabulous setting. Everyone was standing - teenagers, parents, kids, middle aged couples ooohing and arrgghiing. It was truly spectacular. They did not disappoint.

Happy New Year and good luck for 2013!

                                                    

 

Monday, 24 December 2012

Its all so...so....Singaporean!



Highlights over the last couple of days were having a Singapore Sling in the famous Long Bar of Raffles Hotel in Singapore. This Hotel is a beautifu,l white, colonial style, three storey building. The central quadrants of palms, bamboo and flowering shubs are surrounded by covered walkways with teak flooring and banisters off which the bedrooms are situated. The Long bar on the 2nd floor is like stepping back in time. One expects to see Noel Cowerd lounging at the long teak and brass bar or David Niven sitting in a wicker chair beneath the waving palm leaf Punka style fans. We were served by an obsequious, black-aproned waiter and grazed on monkey nuts whilst sipping our delicious Slings. Rachel the traditional variety mine a tropical twist to it. Both lovely and a real treat which we both enjoyed all the more because of where we were, on the other side of the world, together at Christmas time enjoying one anothers company in such an iconic location.

As a side note you will appreciate that those who stay at Raffles (as opposed to those who simply sup there) are monied. Consequently it made us laugh that once finished we, conversely, got the bus home and ate at a hawker stand. Our food costing 15% of the cost of the drinks we had just had!

We have revisted the Chinese and Japanese gardens and this time rain didnt stop play. The gardens are extensive and very beautiful. The centre point of the gardens is a large lake on which one can canoe, boat and fish although this is done in very small numbers. Both gardens have very ornate bridges, pagodas and a wide variety of plants. The Japanese gardens were of particular note due to the highly considered ergonomic design with shrubs and trees, balanced with rocks and statues and areas of calm and running water. Considering this is all free it is astounding and as usual a credit to the Singaporean town planners.

Other little examples of the singaporean ideal:

When the MRT was approaching a slightly bumpy area where the train had to change track a warning is given for citizens to hold tight - On the tubes this would certainly not have even been noticed let alone warrant an anouncement.

There was a 3ft by 5ft free standing notice board erected at the station by the police at the station for the last couple of days. It read "Crime Alert. On 21st December a bicycle was stolen from the station bicycle racks. The bike was.... If you have any information regarding this crime then contact your local police office".

This place is so clean!!!!

There are no mosquitos or flys here!!!  I was talking to a neighbour about the stark the diffence between India and Singapore and remarked that there were no flies or mosquitos. He joked that there were no flies because Singapore exported thiers to India. But the truth is not much less believable. There is a $200 fine if Mosquitos are found breeding in a building and their are National Environment Agency Agents who go around and check. Consequently people do regular checks. Similarly the NEA spends a lot of cash in spraying neighbourhoods with insectacides to eradicate pests. The result is that, unlike just about everywhere else in Asia, you do not get flies landing in your food after standing in some animals shit and you don't get bitten. (Unless you are Princess Rachel who still manages to get some sort of bites).


Coolest dressed monkey in the forest
 
Went to the zoo the other day (third one in three months - albeit that one of those only had plastic animals in). Just as you would expect of bloddy Singapore - it was bloody Brtilliant. We got some free tickets so thought why not and came away 5 hours later really impressed. For those animal activists out there i know its still a zoo with bars, cages and limited space etc. This is true but this is still pretty impressive with amazing enclosures with both private areas for the anmals yet excellent viewing locations for the spectators; The compounds are spacious and well considered. Where possible moats are used in preference to bars so it all looks more natural. The overall area is vast with lovely picnic areas, lots of covered walkways, mixing of animal groups (monkeys living in trees above crocs bing my personal favourite), imaginative theming, clear signage and lots eco stuff to make you think. In short - fabulous.

Chrismas eve now. Can't sleep so writing the blog. Spent the day shopping for food, browsing in shops and getting last couple of little bits for one another for Christmas. Little things that we can easily carry. Spent this evening, not getting drunk, but at the gymthen doing lengths in the pool before cooking dinner and gong to bed at 10.30pm!

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Sim City Continued




Now I know I have said how clean Singapore is but let me stress this once more. It is possibly sad but we have been in this city for 4 days (note  ‘city’ - a huge, sprawling major capital city of the world and not a small hamlet in the cotswolds ) and I have seen one deflated balloon, two paper cups (near a bin so suspect an animal was to blame), a receipt (didn’t check from which shop), three cigarette butts and a sheet of colourful  paper and that is it. That is the sum total of all of the rubbish we have seen!!!!!!

The subways have braille walkways for blind people so they can get from trains to ticket offices, elevators and exits. When you come in on the circle line at an interchange for, say, the east/west line, you don’t have to walk for miles down echoing, intimidating corridors. They have arranged it so you just cross to the next platform. If you are going in the other direction you go up a little elevator to the same configuration above.

I cannot get over how empty the place is, how spacious it all is and how all of the roads are avenues with lovely trees and plants everywhere.

We went to the Marina today. It’s a week before Christmas and the shops are bedecked with holly and incredibly tasteful decorations, there are fabulous winter creations that soar up to the ceilings, the twinkling lights are bountiful and the shops are packed with expensive goods and…..there is hardly anyone about. Its just weird. Imagine Christmas shopping this close to the big day and there not being any stress??!! OK not everyone is Christian here but even so this is taking the piss!!

We went into the Art and Science Museum and paid our extra bit to go to the Nathan Sawaya exhibition. Nathan is an artist that uses Lego as his medium and does so in an amazing and captivating way. Brilliant exhibition in a fabulous space of white curved walls with great lighting and gentle sound track in background. Pics on blog but look him up.

 
The Marina in Singapore just blows you away. The diversity and imagination in the architecture is incredible and one is left feeling that this (in combination with the other facets of the city) is the future of cities. Something to aspire to for everyone. The shapes, textures and scale of the buildings constantly surprise. The foresight and planning is second to none and one gets that feeling of awe,like the feeling you get when walking into a cathedral and looking up to the cavernous ceiling, every time you look in a different direction.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Sim-gapore


 

 Oh bliss. The bed in the apartment is wonderful. A wide memory foamed mattress and soft white  clouds for pillows. There is even a TV in the bedroom. For us who have not had a TV for a couple of years this is luxury beyond our dreams (even though we got fed up of channel hopping and turned it off). We can now for the first time in weeks go to the toilet without getting our feet wet from bloody wet room showers.

 Sat in a restaurant and talked to a couple of Singaporean children who turned out to be 32 and 39. They all look so young here is depressing. I am guessing its a plumping out fo the skin due to the excessive moisture in the air.

 Singaporeans are scared of dogs. We are looking after a really fat little cocker spaniel with a podgy face, big eyes, and closely cropped golden hair that waddles when it walks.Bella (as in as round as a bella) is friendly and well behaved and so docile that the birds aren’t even scared of this animal yet we have had extra-ordinary reactions from the natives. These Range from crossing the road, standing to the side with bag defensively positioned between them and the dog and one woman who actually screamed, looked either direction then ran away whilst checking she wasn’t being pursued. All very funny especially the dirty looks they give you for taking a wild beast amongst them – I feel like a Highwoods thug with his Staffy!!

This is ‘Sim City’ incarnate. For those who do not know what I mean – Sim City was a popular computer game where the player constructed a city from ground up – buildings, power, water, refuse collection, amenities etc. The object was to create a utopian environment for the population to live in. Anyway this looks and feels like that game. The avenues are wide and tree lined, the parks are manicured with excellent facilities, the buildings are clean and new with some stunning examples of architecture (Marine Bay Sands – a £4bn 2500 room hotel and casino whose three towers soar with curved grace to an elegant plinth spanning the towers in which has been created the lush green environment of the Skypark being a prime example), the shops are full and trendy (not a pound shop in sight), the people are healthy, toned and all seem to have at least one of the latest phones or pads, cars are new, mid-range and shiney, there are loads of covered walkways to protect the citizens from rain or sun and the traffic is minimal and quiet. The cabbie told us when we arrived that this was “a fine city-  because they fine you for everything” – littering $500, chewing gum is not allowed, throwing a cigarette butt could cost you $200, you cannot eat or drink on the spotlessly clean, far reaching and efficient transport system that is the MRT (metro) and failure to do so, you guessed it, incurs a fine. The parks have paths for walking with directional indicators on the tarmac so as to avoid bumping into an oncoming citizens should it ever get busy enough to do so - which it won't because they all seem empty. They also have another path for bikes and skaters. There are designated seats for the elderly or infirm on trains, buses and in public areas, there seems to be no drunkenness (probably due to the excessively expensive cost of alcohol) and selling drugs will get you executed. All in all, if you are a law abiding citizen and are willing to tow the line (only a little) then Singapore offers everything you need. People do behave, it is sanitised, it is soulless but it is safe, pleasant and quite magnificent – it is the Stepford wife of cities.

We are here in the rainy season so every day big clouds roll in and it rains sometimes sporadically other times for longer. Mostly it is very humid in the morning then the rain cleans the air a little then it starts again. Rachel read that the lowest recorded temperature was 19 degrees and the hottest 36 degrees with the average whilst we have been here being about 28 in the day and 23 at night.

So far the highlights of Singapore have been shopping in the supermarket which was hellishly expensive, we spent a day in the newly opened Universal Studios which was great fun with the Battlestar Galactica (Cylone track) ride being the most exciting ride I recall ever going on. It snowed on the New York street set and Rachel almost wet herself with fear in a 4D cinema experience that featured, at one point, loads of spiders. Universal like Disney do theming like no one else and irrespective of age it never fails to impress and we left amidst twinkly music feeling all lovely.
We also discovered on our rambling in part of the Chinese gardens at Singapore has the largest Turtle and Tortoise collection in the world so we wiled away an hour or so stepping over greedy turtles wanting feeding, avoiding snapping turtles wanting biting and looking at dozens of other turtles in compounds and aqauriums – There are some weird looking turtles with the badge of honour, in my book, going to the snake head turtle whose head and neck extended as long as its 10 inch body and did look like a snake.

We are housesitting a lovely apartment and the very friendly fat, greedy dog for 25 days. WeThe apartment is on the 15th floor of a swanky little development of 7 towers in the Lakeside district. It is spacious with three beds, large lounge/dining area, kitchen, various toilets and 3 terraces which overlook the city all around. The tower complex is equipped with a gym, little putting green, swings and slides for kids, public BBQ stations with sinks and seats (BBQ cleaned afterwards by complex cleaners – result!), pleasant walkways and hedge maze, saunas, library, three tennis courts, a community centre and two large fabulous pools with surrounding tables, chairs and recliners for the tenants use. We feel we are living the life and are loving having the luxury of our own place and a place that is so luxurious. BAnd having a dog again is nice. Bella needs walking a few times a day but is not that keen on the walking (and definitely not running) and more interested in getting home to get a treat. That said she is friendly and well behaved.

Today was spent visiting a couple of visas from Burmese and Vietnamese embassies, nosing a round a few of the poshest, most opulent roads in the island where the individually designed palaces ranged from ultra modern glass cubes to others that resembled the white house. All stuffed with very expensive cars behind their high gated walls. After that we sauntered down Orchard Road - The Regent street of Singapore - Except this makes Regent street look like a slum. Wide pavements, all bedecked with Christmas splenddour, huge flashy buildings and again all spotlessly clean - did not even see a cigarette but the whole length of this long road. We had the poshest and tastiest kebab from the poshest and swankiest buger van outside Louis VItton and watched the crowds (well handful) of people walk by until it poured down with rain and drove us away. Finished off a lovely day with gym and swimming in the empty lamplit pool before getting dinner from a local food vendor.
More as it happens.....

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Another night in Bangkok and on to Singapore



Arrived back at Bangkok Hua Lanphong Rail Station, crossed the road to our upper class hostel and just about managed to stay awake long enough to eat food before falling asleep at 9.30pm - Rock and Roll. The following morning we have several hours to kill before flying to Singapore and since we have pretty much done all the normal stuff in Bangkok (Temple, Temple, Temple, Khao San Road, Royal Palace, Temple, Patpong, Canal ride, Temple, Markets etc.) when we were here in Feb we went in search of some wierd shit! After a little jaunt on the River Ferry we found it in the shape the Forensics and Pathology Museum in the Bangkok Hospital. Here we looked on with slightly horrified, certainly intrigued, quite honestly voyeuristic eyes at malformed babies in Formaldahide, Siamese twins, Embalmed rapists and a canabalistic mass murderer from the 50's. We looked at long tape worm samples and pictures of them spewing forth from some poor persons arse. We looked at multiple skulls, hearts, livers with bullet holes in them. We saw gruesome pictures of car crash victims and preseved, diseased body parts - the highlight being an elephantitis sufferer with a huge testical measuring about 24 inches x 12 inches x 10 inches and weighing something like 60lbs. Quick dinner then off to the airport using the fabulous MRT (metro) system and the airport express link line which was spotless, virtually empty, offered pre journey check in, comfortable seating, clear signage and a 20 minute journey from the heart of Bangkok to its glittering glass and steel halls of swanky shops and classy decor - fabulous looking and expensive!

Singapore airport at 11.30pm and this too is wonderfully efficient and uber modern. We join a queue of about 100 people waiting for taxis and are processed in 10 minutes by smiley staff. Our hostel, booked on line, and ill researched cost S$50 and it was only after we paid that we were shown to the last room avaiable. Sorry last cupboard available! 8ft by 8ft, no window, single beds, squeaky frames, lumpy damp matresses, no en suite and light swith outside (it really had been a cupboard). We are tired, hot and sweaty, it is late and incredibly humid so we do our best to grab a couple of broken hours sleep before we can escape to go to our house sit.

The morning comes with rain and an hour journey on Singapore's MRT system. Again brilliant, clean and a pleasure to use. But the city outside the windows - Wow! No other way to describe this incredibly manicured, spotlesslessly clean, ergonomically designed city. Its like watching someones creation in that computer game Sim City - Straight highways, manicured grass, coiffured trees, wonderful buildings and clean cars and buses and lovely backdrops. This will be an experience we are looking forward to as we have 25 days here in an apartment.

We are housesitting for a canadian couple who live here and have responsibility for their home and their dog whilst they are on holiday in Bali. The dog - Bella, is a fat but quite loveable Spaniel who is talented at eating and sleeping. The apartment is on the 15th floor of a swanky towerblock in a good part of the island. The apartment has three bedrooms, spacious lounge, dining area, kitchen and three terraces looking out in three directions across the city. There are loungers on two whilst the third is a sort of garden cum dining area with big pot plants and barbeque So we will have loads of space to utilise in our time here as well as enjoy the free gym, two swimming pools, putting green and tennis courts that are for the tenants.

 
We feel we have have hit gold and are very happy. Lisa and Scot are lovely and have prepared a comprehensive dossier with all the info we could need as well as two payg phones with credit so we can both have one, prepaid MRT passes, Christmas presents and even aranged a cleaner. We are thrilled and cant wait to  explore the city tomorrow. More in a few days

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Ban Krut



 Is the girl looking happy or what
 
Ban Krut, Bag Grood, Ban Krud whatever the place is called is lovely. The beach in our bay runs for about 18 km and is virtually empty. At one end is a quaint Thai fishing village with small houses, colourful boats, weathered looking men and a pervading smell of fish mixed with wood smoke. Coming further along are a series of small resort style hotels and restaurants. These, however, are not busy and are all low level, sympathetically designed to the landscape affairs. Coming further along still the restaurants quickly dwindle and the coast side road becomes deserted with only coconut trees on one side and the ocean on the other. It is, after about three kilometres that you eventually come to our hotel. A beautifully designed place with small bungalows with open bathrooms and showers set amidst palms and flowering shrubs. Walkways are made of reclaimed driftwood and large natural stones set in sand. A small pool sits beside a spacious high ceilinged dining area which has no fans but always seems cool. We expected it to busy by what we were told when booking but the 30 or so guests that were here on our arrival has, since the weekend has gone, dwindled to 12 people. It is with these masses that we have to share the 12 km of beach. Consequently when Rachel and I walked along the beach for 2.5 km yesterday we came across 3 people! It was quite stressful.
 

The beach is backed by a coconut trees that form a green canopy under which it is pleasant to lounge. Rocks are dotted here and there amongst the trees and the hotel has strung up hammocks in several places which we have already fallen asleep in whilst being rocked by the warm breeze. The gentle waves lap the shoreline, the sea is deep blue the sky light blue with wispy clouds. No noise, no people, just us.

We have hired a little moped (£12 for 3 days) and are able to scoot about the almost deserted roads. Yesterday we went to Tandsay temple which like most Thai temples was stunning, crafted and magnificent. A huge golden Budha and two giant guardian statues at the entrance of the incredibly ornate structure with golden domes, spires, green tiles and marble dragons. The inside is decorated with large murals of budhists picnicking, laughing, praying etc. Every Indian freize was conversely scenes of death and destruction. Different religion different stories…. The doorways in the temple  were surrounded in a patterned thick wooden frames that tapered towards the top giving an impression of them being a leaning mirror. This created a really strange sensation when one stepped through the doorway as one expects to bump in to glass. The temple is atop a wooded hilly outcrop of the mainland and consequently it overlooks magnificent views.

Todays outing has been amazing we set off on what we thought was a 20km journey but this soon became about 45km as the over simplified map showed none of the complexities of the roads. That said it was a great jorney whizzing along the long beach road then through country side of thick trees, palms and interspersed with small holding growing rich green crops in the verdant soil. All being tendered by farmers wearing large straw hats, large boots, smocks and headscarves. So many things like to bite in the countryside it is a necessity to cover up. We drive and find ourselves in a fair sized town called Bang Saphang. This place has wide roads and large variety of shops (non touristy) it feels and looks like a small American town and we both think it would be a great place to live near as it has all of the amenities but is not frantic. Soon after we get to the Marong Caves which are poorly signposted and difficult to find. The entrance to the small road has a large pagoda through which we drive past seemingly sleeping dogs whom we hope to let lie inside we find a large discarded Wat (Temple) which is set in an overgrown compound. We hear a noise behind us and the dogs have followed us. They start barking which attracts others. We are pinned in, its tense, but then Rachel tells them to shut up and they all suddenly turn docile, stop barking and most of them bugger off again and saunter off into the surrounding woods. We find an old monk in a little hut (i think it is a nun, tis point is still under discussion) and make 100 Baht donation to see the caves. He (she) sees us scratching and talks incessantly in Thai whilst proffering an anti mossy mixture which we slather on. That done he points the way to the most extraordinary caves we have ever seen. We are totally alone in 5 or 6 large chambers of amazing rock types. Like the Indian Jones films we descend rough hewn steps down through thick ferns and stingy vines into this subterranean world of stalagtites and mites, strange rippling curtain formations, bulbous brain like rocks, smooth as glass walls and jagged shard covered boulders all festooned with Budhas and holy relics. These chambers rise 20ft to the sometimes dripping ceilings that have clusters of sleeping bats attached to them. They are eerie and we feel we are in a truly holy place. Perhaps because of all the Budhas or the cathedral effect that the caves have. We are not sure but embrace it and the silence in wonder.

Not content with this we head off further into the interior to some nearby hills and after travelling on a dual carriage way, a single carriage way, a small road, dirt road, dirt track then rutted path we bump our way to a lovely waterfall that splashed down some 50ft into a cool green pool before running off over and around large rocks down the hillside making dangerous waterslides and smaller pools as it goes. We had intended to both swim but the water was deeper and faster flowing than Rachel was comfortable with so I stripped off and after falling arse over tit on the slippery rocks managed to get into the pool and swim in the cold clear water – even climbing up behind the waterfall at one stage. We enjoyed a brief picnic of various pastries and coke on one of the larger rocks whilst basking in the sun and then headed home on our trusty moped with full hearts and sore backsides.

Tomorrow we intend to lay on the beach and just enjoy the sun before heading back up to Bangkok and then Singapore for 3 glorious weeks of housesitting. Just before I close must just add that as typing this I feel something drop onto my back from the high ceiling and say to Rachel that some heavy has just landed on me and could she look. She very kindly jumped up, squealed and ran away leaving me to jump up and find a gecko there. Thanks Rachel

 

 

 

 

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Good bye to India



So we have said goodbye to India. We have moaned about some things, been shocked and dismayed, had our eyes, ears and noses assaulted by nasty sights, sounds and smells and endured often ridiculous bureaucracy. Having said that we have loved this place. India gets you in a way we never expected and as soon as you can adjust to the alternative universe that is India it is a wonderful, vibrant, colourful, astonishing, beautiful, intriguing, intense and  amazing place that is so much more than the beaches of Goa or the Taj Mahal (which we didn’t bother to go to).

From leaving Darjeeling our onward journey has been one night in Calcutta (sounds like a film but looked like a shit hole). Hotel Ok but next to a busy beeping road.  We did venture out to a nearby restaurant and as with every foray saw a quirky thing worth a note. A milk man reached up to a bag that dangled by string from a 5th storey window  (this was one of three bags, each with writing on which I assume were to contain different things). The milkman then put a container of milk in the bag and tugged the string which rang a bell and the bag was hoisted up and returned down a couple of moments later with money inside. Ingenius!

One night in Bangkok (Arrived about 7.00pm, knackered so ate in hotel and fell asleep early – However…This action does not really convey what we felt. To be back in Thailand (We were here on holiday in Feb) was wonderful. Everything is clean, ordered and lovely. Officals are helpful, queueing (as a concept) exists and is understood. People are smiley, there are equal amounts of men and women on the streets and the glitz and techonology of the city makes us Ooh and Arrgh. We are now on the train heading off to Ban Krud (sounds shit but looks lovely). This is a beach resort and we will recharge our batteries before having to rough it in the luxury housesit apartment in Singapore for three weeks. Just a couple of things to finish this off. Last night we had a beer served in an iced, chilled glass and after 2 weeks of no alcohol it tasted like nectar. We followed this with pad thai and  chicken club sandwich and chips (first non veggie food for almost 10 weeks) and this was like ambrosia. We then went to bed in crisp white sheets, on a soft bed with fluffy pillows in a decent sized clean room with windows that closed out the noise of the city. Viva la Difference!
 
 

 


Tea for two - Darjeeling


Our adventures continue… The bus from Rishikesh to Delhi is the worst journey to date. The seats, in fairness to them, did their best to give us a comfortable ride but they were thwarted by the suspension, the square wheels, the virtually dirt track roads, the appalling brake, accelerate, intimidate driving style of the ignorant twat at the wheel and the incessant beeping of the horn.  We arrive in Delhi in a deserted parking lot at 3.30am, argue with grumpy, greedy, play-acting cabbies to get a decent price to get to the airport which we share with a couple of other guys. We then spend 6 hours of our life in Delhi airport curled up on a metal chair trying to sleep. Flight to Bagdogra ok, the journey from there to Darjeeling is a further 3 hours in a jeep traversing, possibly, the worst roads in india and we are thrown from side to side whilst enveloped in dust. Then climb a few thousand metres on very skinny roads with sheer drops to one side and large lorries or buses on the other. Highlight of this part of the journey (which again we managed to share with some other travellers) was her telling us that she nasal washes (netti) every morning with her still warm first … I don’t know about you lot but with Rachel was to perform this particular ablution on a regular basis I would be seriously questioning my choice of woman. And, who tells total strangers that they piss up their nose every morning!!!!??

 So Journey stuff out of the way we wake to a crisp, clear morning in lovely Darjeeling. Breakfast is upstairs in our very pleasant and spacious homestay in the owners living room which sits on the top floor of the building and has walls adorned with old photos and loads of Tibetan imagery. The view through the wide open widows is stunning and overlooks valley and the third biggest mountain in the world, the 8,560 metre high Kanchenjunga. This sacred mountain is the home of a sleeping god and it is forbidden to climb it in case you wake him up. This makes it seem even more surreal as this mountain of five substantial peaks stands higher than the clouds so seems to be floating in the azure sky. The view takes your breath away – breath that is already in short supply as this is another high altitude town at about 2500metres. The other thing that took your breath away was the cold in the dining room. All of the windows were open and the staff served us wearing coats!!! And although the windows had to remain open they were kind enough to position a little electric heater between us to keep our omelettes and legs warm.

Darjeeling is a series of very steep hills built upon with Tibetan style housing. The people are Indo Chinese in their look and many are Tibetan. They are a friendly lot with ready smiles and helping nature and our entire stay here has been all the better for talking with them.

The weather in the day is about 25 degrees and its probably about 8 degrees at night. I know compared to UK this is not cold but since we only have summer clothes  we are adorned once again with blankets and scarves as soon as the sun gets low. Our first day was spent walking along the main ridge of the hills on which of the town  is situated. For 200 Rupees we take in a little zoo where we see a tiger, a leopard, Wolf, Panther and lots of goats. Highlight were red Pandas (very cute). We continue the walk to a cable car that descended 1000m over tea plantations which, from above resemble heads of broccoli. The landscape is steep and stunning with tea bushes,, bamboo and other greenery all abundantly growing. At the bottom of the cable car there is a 10 minute walk to the nearest plantation which had pretty much finished its last harvest of the year so was almost deserted. We eventually found someone and paid them 60 Rupees to go into the plantation and were allowed to wander freely around the factory on our own amongst the machinery, the drying rooms, by the furnaces and in and out of offices with documentation on the desks. Very strange! Later we get the cable car back up and take a long (getting lost) style walk back along quiet roads and find ourselves in Tibetan Refugee centre where 450 families live. Eventually we are shown our way home to the hotel and after a quick meal head to our nice warm beds.

Day 2 and we once again brave the artic dining room before going to the train station to ride the miniature narrow gauge steam train to Gloon (the highest railway station in India). The station is a bit run down with sleeping dogs laying the little tracks and people generally just walking wherever they choose. The sun is shining the mountains are in the back ground and there was a smell of coal fire in the crisp air. We were so excited as we got the last two seats and as the engine (called Victor) chugs towards us to link to the two carriages we are acting like little children. The train sets off and runs directly beside the road all the way to Gloon. Traffic vies for position but has to give way to the trains so there are little traffic jams as we go. We steadily climb onwards with copious smoke belching from the stack and fireman swathed in plumes of white steam sitting on the coal pile. The journey takes us directly beside sheer drops and virtually in the living rooms of the road side houses. It is a great experience which lasts a little over two hours and gives us a little time in Gloon to visit a monastery before heading back. The rest of the day is spent wandering around Darjeeling, lunching and drinking tea and finally finishing of the  day by seeing Life of Pi in a little cinema where once again the colours on the screen were bleached, the images jumped and the sound was up to high. Having said that it was good to see such a great film in India.

Last day comes and we have our final sub zero breakfast before leaving. We take in one last cup of tea in a little cafĂ© and share it with a rat – Nice!. Then all aboard the skylark and we trundle off along the roads from hell back to the airport and our flight to Calcutta. Both Rachel and I suffering with back pain due to the hideous journey. We won’t moan too much though since we have discovered that the best places are generally the most difficult to get to.