Bewildered but sated

Bewildered but sated
Bangi, Malaysia

Bangi, Malaysia

I hardly slept last night. Trying to download a new os for both my computer and iPad kept me up too late, past the time I was sleepy, and then my ankle conspired to keep me thinking.

I wasn’t upset, then, to be up and stretching around 10, though didn’t leave till 11. The idea today was to pick up my race number for Sunday and book a bus ticket to Singapore for the afternoon following, exploring wherever those tasks took me and perhaps adding some shops. I had no idea where the registration instructions referred to – t-299, 3rd floor The Gardens, Mid valley. Um. But a google map search showed the latter as a shopping mall a couple of miles away. I set off in blazing sunshine, but when I found myself near a monorail I took the chance to ride that. Or, at least, I did when I realised the station wasn’t under construction. Above me was a metal grid with litter on, surely to have a monorail built on top? Ah, the rails are either side of the grid, which is just preventing droppage onto the street. Oops, I understand now. Single journey, buy a token, follow the sign and I was at KL Sentral station.

There, I was confused again. I could see the underground (LRT), but that is just three lines (one the monorail) and none of them are the ones I wanted. No map, other than the one of the station, offering departure areas for four different types of train. Wifi helped me, I got a map and worked out I wanted a kommuter line. A pass would be good, and more research suggested the touch ‘n go card would do me. I found their base, bought and finally went. Having checked the map I found my platform and all was going well until as the train arrived I checked my map. By now I’d forgotten that I had already checked the map at the station and was confused-the destination was a station I had not heard of, and it wasn’t on my map. Do I get on, or not?

I did. Turns out the line has had two stations added since my map was updated. I suspect the same is true of other lines and the other end of this one, as none of the train destinations I could see seemed to match up, giving me the weird feeling that I might be stood in a different KL than my map showed. I hopped off two stations later and was at the Mid Valley mall. I figured I should head for the ‘mega mall’ and was right – inside I saw signs for the gardens. I was arrowing in. One final attempt to trip me saw a Toys ‘r us sign pointing left, but I continued right to the gardens. Number collection started at 12, I was there 45 minutes after the start and could get that out of the way first.

I became a traitor to my nation. Arriving on the third floor, I realised the t-299 was the lot number for the 2xu store; the queue in front of me could only be for race numbers. I joined in. It took about an hour, but I was terribly terribly un-English about it. Not once did I whinge about the time taken and, to make me unrecognisable from my compatriots, I didn’t use my total lack of knowledge of what they were doing to make several suggestions of what “you’d think they would do” to speed it up. Perhaps I have become international.

With number and bonus 2xu running vest in hand I walked along the mall, unsure why i wasn’t heading back to the first, then realising when I spotted that my unconscious had sniffed out a Lego store. Sadly Lego is international enough that it wasn’t very exciting, and I moved on, to lunch in the garden restaurant – £4, and eating well in malls is a welcome Asian staple.

Heading back I followed the sign to the kommuter line but missed a turn at the end, exploring the north block of mid valley for a few minutes before heading back over the road and finding the turn I had missed. Kuala Lumpur station was better for me than Sentral, though it took me ages to find an exit. I bleeped out on the middle platform, having walked most of the length of it, then walked most of the length of platform 1 before finding steps up to a walkway which took me, finally, away from the station and, usefully, across several roads.

Job one done. I dropped my kit off, then walked to the bus station. Up a ramp and I was in a small shopping area, then in amongst waiting areas for platforms. Ticket office upstairs, so I went up, and found myself in the car park. Okay, middle steps. Now I was in amongst shops and not much else. I went down again and checked for more signs. Definitely upstairs. Back away from the platforms, into a more air conditioned area and back up those steps, the only option left. Behind where you emerge is the ticket area, it’s not really as hard to find as I made it. Lots of bus companies have their own booths, most a bit grubby. I had decided on the Transnacional booth, a bit bigger than the others and surely going to Singapore; others hadn’t mentioned it. But one of the pleasures of a cheap country is knowing that you can be sold to without being ripped off, so I checked that she called it a luxury bus and allowed a young lady to sell me a ticket. 50 ringit, under £10. I was assuming it would be cheaper there than through the hostel, but have no way of knowing. There are enough companies there that you can probably compare and play them off, but good luck to them if they’ve made a couple of quid from me. 5 hour bus ride, cheap, and cheaper than is quoted on the web when I did a search and found a page listing some of the bus companies.

So I’d been bewildered several times, but achieved my goals. To celebrate I wandered back to Petaling street and picked up some hooky Star Wars ‘Lego’, the only such I’d seen, managing to avoid the ladies selling facials. They have a picture board, at which I glanced and got the wrong idea and so I confused the first, telling her I wasn’t hungry, but the second (of 6 sitting together) also got up and got her sign up before I got past. I realised this wasn’t food, now; perhaps they were keen on me because the big spot that appeared overnight looked like a gift, but I moved on. Dinner was in a small ‘restoran’, really a canteen, which always appeals. I could even serve myself, which would be dangerous if I’d run today, but as it was they did okay. Both there and at the non lego place I tried to overpay – the former had 11 on my bill, then he rang up 14 and realised his mistake when I offered 24, and at the latter I gave him 26 and walked away, having confused a 20 for a 10. He called me back, very honest.

Lovely successful day. I let myself off a sense of bewilderment, at least as regards transport and navigating road crossings, with the thought that it takes time to get to grips with cities, usually, and I have shifted cities fairly often. I am gradually losing my instinctive ‘not for me’ reaction to any offers, that crept in in Cambodia, in favour of actually listening and trusting not everyone wants to sell something. Taxi drivers take a ‘no thanks’ immediately, and yesterday the man who said “can I help you” was perfectly happy to point me in the direction of Chinatown, and the one who laughed and said something wasn’t offering a lift, just commented that he too loved Penang, as my t shirt said. Lots of friendly people, and it is much nicer to wander around saying hello to every hello and sharing the odd moment.

Kualas

Kualas
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

One Kuala, in fact, and it is Lumpur. KL, pretty much everyone calls it, and I’ll join in eventually; for now it seems to pretend an acquaintance with the place I don’t feel as yet.

Glass arch, with the words "World under one roof". Pictures of Malaysians - Presidents, maybe - are displayed in front of it
Kuala Lumpur, the world under one roof. Somewhere round here. Under that glass, perhaps.

I booked my ticket yesterday. I’d planned to get the train, and double the cost (to under £30) by going first class, but there were no tickets available. So rather than pay that much, have to walk to the river and catch the ferry to Butterworth then sit on a train for 7-8 hours, and perhaps longer on prior experience, I was picked up at the hostel and whisked to the bus station then put on a luxury bus that took only 6 hours. It can be quicker – 4-5, they quote – but with a huge seat and my own on-demand video system I can’t say I was complaining. Significantly better than first class train travel, for the price of second class. Some of the train travel, with the benefit of some knowledge, seems mad. For example, on my friend seat61.com, he suggests that travelling to the Cameron Highlands might involve a train ride to Ipoh, then a 3-4 hour bus ride to Tanah Rata, though the connections are uncertain. Um, right. Or just get a bus straight there in 3-4 hours. You’d have to really love the train travel to do it – which he does, I know, but as a resource for advising others, it seems odd. Just bear in mind that in Malaysia, the bus is often quicker and can be more comfortable, other than your being at another’s whim for loo stops. My bus had no more than 20 seats upstairs, all with entertainment, and the seats were reclining massage chairs with footrests (albeit without a working massage bit). The same is true of the journey to Singapore. I’d still have taken the train were it an option, but it’s 8 hours (and full) as against a starting offer of 5 by bus.

Sign above the entrance of an underground car park: "Enter the Undrgrnd. Exit the Boredom".
Escape the boredom with some parking.

Yesterday was hot, and I walked and walked. I had a vague goal of reaching Penang Hill. The hill itself comes into view early, as it’s right there on the edge of Georgetown, but I was aiming for the part with a funicular railway. Halfway to the spot I’d picked – a road marked as ‘Penang hill’ – I was hot, and conscious that I’d not actually checked where this thing was, though I’d overheard parts of a conversation that suggested it wasn’t close. Reaching a main road that was even less pedestrian friendly than those so far, I aborted, heading round the top of town, past the turf club, heading for the botanical gardens. It was hot. I had eaten, but needed a drink and there, after a long line of relatively well-to-do houses – older than the estate I’d run through the other day – was a nice outdoor cafe. The owner smiled, so I was sold. He joined me, and was impressed/shocked that I’d walked from town. I didn’t give him the full lunacy of my journey; he was telling me about the buses that would take me to, say, the cable car, and would have brought me to here. Stuff that, but at least from the former I was reassured I had been on the right route. It had been okay to trust my sense that I knew where i was headed. He was surprised I was not married, and thought I should as a result take care. I should also be careful of my kindle (computer, to him), as someone might have it away on their scooter. I shouldn’t drink too much, or I might get taken to a remote place and robbed. And should generally beware. In fact, if this had been my first travelling experience, talking to him might have been enough to see me on the first plane back – crikey, I’ve heard of these things happening in bad places, but if this seemingly friendly place, where the worst problem is the tendency of shopkeepers to come and stand right by you as soon as you pause, and to lose any friendliness as soon as money changes hands, is actually a den of iniquity, imagine how bad a more imposing place might be?

A view of the skyline, from the cricket pitch. A magnificent pavilion is on one side of the green. KL Tower away in the distance.
A view of the skyline, from the cricket pitch.

I made it to the gardens, heading in on the river walk rather than via the main entrance and thereby not having to turn down any offers of tours. The botanical gardens are free, and fairly lovely, though not so big that you’d feel swamped by options. More interesting paths than the road through the middle head off to the sides. I ignored the Waterfall cafe next to the park, thought I had a minute before the bus left and so walked into the Hawker Centre. Wait, that’s in Kingston – ‘Komplex Penjaja’, or Hawkers’ Complex, it was in fact. Calling a spade a spade, there. I’d also liked the ‘Lotus Old Folks home’ I’d seen on the way. The fruity cafe there do a fantastic range of fruit smoothies, complete with spoon for digging out the mixed fruits inside. And the number 10 bus took me back into town – it seemed a long way because it went round and round, but much easier than walking despite the length of the journey giving a false impression. I ate in the food court again, and settled into a much quieter dorm, all the others having moved. 30 minutes later Rainier said hi – he’d actually just gone next door, in search of a lower bunk, but we didn’t get to chat for long. I could check that their room was the same – yep, no windows there, either. Apart from that, Kimberley house was a nice hostel, lots of shared space, sofas in every one and huge high ceilings making it airy, if hot without air conditioning. After the large reception area, the TV room is another big room, staircases off either side, and Rainier and I had watched some hideous film, with Robert de Niro as an American and John Travolta as a Serb. Slightly surreal.

Today’s bus was at 9.30 – in fact, mine left at 9.20. Two of us were taken from the hostel to the station, the bloke before me had his receipt checked and was told to wait, I was asked if I wanted to go now, so I said yes, and might have been put on the earlier bus. Was that my airline upgrade moment? Maybe I should try wearing, as I was this time, an “I heart *your town*” t-shirt elsewhere. KL at 2.30, hostel walking distance and after waiting inside for a huge rain storm I had a wander round the partially pedestrian friendly streets, making it to another Botanical gardens. A walk after a storm is always good, the temperature is typically still mid 20s but it feels a bit cooler and fresher than normally, so I’m glad I took advantage. I also had a quick look in our local mall, which looks to have some good hooky gear, as does the night market to which I wandered after another heavy shower at 9. I’ve replaced the t-shirts that were disintegrating, but I have a hankering for an Osaka top (seen them, like them, been there) and one of the union jack*(seen them, like them, from there) ones for which I’ve finally found some shops. I kept spotting them in other countries, thinking I’d found countrymen and realising these were just for fashion, but never seeing them for sale. Bet they’re everywhere; cousin Ali will remember our game in Venice after I said from my previous experience ‘there are hardly any cashpoints’. I think she won 150-128 in the end. Shopping and sight-seeing, then I’ll end my current run drought (strangely painful ankle is recovering slowly) with the race on Sunday – 2xu, 15km at 6am.

Penang – the padlock, the museum and the mall

Penang – the padlock, the museum and the mall
Tanjung Bungah, Malaysia

Tanjung Bungah, Malaysia

Everyone had gone. In my dungeon room it was dark, but still early. Then the door opened, the light went on and the bin rustled as it was emptied. 8.45 – there’s getting ahead with the cleaning and then there’s a disruptively early start.

A large, gree cannon points out to sea
Sri Rambai cannon looking out.

I was a bit surprised, to say the least, but stoically lay it out and slept on once they’d finished. They may only have started with my room because half the room had checked out, leaving very early. I now think for transport rather than touring, but at the time it made me feel lazy. Fate had made me hang around, though, because I was needed; I’d already had a nice wave from the Chinese girl who moved in to the bed next to mine (checking in at 9, what the hell is going on?) but now I was up and she had spotted my super padlock busting skills. 000 the default combination, but she’d locked her bag for the first time and was now locked out of it. In a jiffy (ten minutes of struggle) I had found 024 worked, and she was in.

I swished my cape and left.

Actually we talked for a bit. We’re headed in opposite directions, so as with Steve in Korea and Karen in Cambodia, I was able to pass on my excess currency, though there wasn’t much left thanks to the willingness of yesterday’s money changer to take small Thai bills.

A man leans forward, sleeping on his moped, in the shade
Sleep where you can.

I wandered into town, sweltering gently. Penang is really the name of the island, George Town the place, but they are used interchangeably. I planned to see Fort Cornwallis and then Penang museum, but stumbled on the museum first. It has an introduction to the history of the place that reminded me of Eddie Izzard’s skit on America;

“Ah, here we are, to claim this new land, an empty land”
‘Excuse me?”
“Yes, a land devoid of people, we shall settle here”
“…who the **** are these guys?”

Penang was already occupied, of course, when Captain Light came upon the ‘desolate’ place as he saw it. It came to be British, through fouler means than foul, failing to support the local ally when he was under risk of attack, then decisively beating him when he aimed to then retake Penang (leased by the British under the condition that they provide military support) and signing a contract to keep it. Though even there, there’s debate:

“Contrary to accepted history, Pulau Pinang was neither leased, granted nor ceded by any written treaty or agreement.”

The museum also comments on its multicultural origins, people from all over SE Asia and further abroad settled here, though it’s predominantly Indian, Chinese and Malay; a heady mix. I found the history gallery upstairs more interesting than the cultural ones downstairs, and upstairs also has lots of interesting art showing the place as it looked in colonial times. The whole place is undergoing refurbishment; I don’t think much was covered up, except for what looked like old cars in the courtyard. Pity, but for a ringiit entry fee, I’m not complaining.

No. 149 advertising on the street. Pastel-yellow and white buildings are crumbling
Old and crumbling.

The fort is a large open space, most notable for the comical order, and faded print, of the history boards in the gallery and for the cannons up top, including the Sri Rambai cannon. The fort was thrown up in a hurry, then rebuilt when it looked like the French might invade, but it was never used in anger, and Penang was never to be a naval base so the fort was never that important. It fits with the gently faded nature of much of the history of the town. I was amused to explore a behind the scenes area and find it full of signs for the big running race here – May, from what I’ve read. Half marathon this way, 10km fun run turn. As if a runner can just sniff these things out.

In the afternoon I walked to the mall. As the guidebook points out, the small street front shops with distinctive colonial arches are more emblematic of Penang, but it’s interesting to see the old by the new, and my walk took me past several mom and pop type stalls before I hit the mall. It’s more like an indoor market, with lots of little stalls and goods spilling out, than a western mall, and like other Asian countries has themed areas; in particular, the electronics section is separate. At the top, where many lots are empty, there’s a deserted walkway to the Komtar building next door; you then have to walk down steps to actually get in, and even down one level from the height of the previous mall, this one seems desolate. It gets better further down, but certainly seems like a ‘we were alright till they built the big one’ place. I managed to replace some dissolving underwear in a ‘but one get two free’ place. All this way for next and debenhams pants. Back in the first mall, I was surprised at the hooky lego. They’ve lost their patent on interlocking bricks now, so cheap competitors are available in the west, but these were knock offs of some of their range, the ninjas becoming ‘spinjitsu’ masters, some with their own ‘Lego’ logo. Beco, indeed. Ultimately I was just disappointed there was no hooky Star Wars range – too long a legal reach to be taken on, perhaps.

Me, in front of the Fort Cornwallis sign
Fort Cornwallis.

The food part of the supermarket – in the basement, where food belongs in Asian malls – had chocolate, even dairy milk, so I polished off a whole bar of some local fruit and nut. Too hot to leave it in the bag, you see. Yesterday’s long run will have to do as mitigation, given that my ankle feels a bit spoilt by that run. Oops. A bit of rest will probably do me no harm, though it’ll be a pity not to run to and through the botanical gardens. At 6km or so away, they’re a good distance hence for an exploratory run.

I stumbled over a half marathon and full marathon sign, tucked away behind the fort
Behind the scenes at the fort. A runner can smell these things

The evening was the opposite of the one before. Last night, the dark windowless dorm had been a curtly friendly place, for me to sleep. Tonight, I wandered in at 7 to get something and was there for two hours, catching up with the Chinese girl and my three Malaysian roommates. Neatly, there was one from each majority ethnic group, broadly (it isn’t as if they’re clearly delineated, and it was interesting hearing them debate who had which extra languages, from a choice of English, Hokaimee (I’ve got this wrong, I’m sure) and Cantonese. Around 9 Rainier and I were hungry, and the other Malay girl was in penang essentially to eat and so joined us. That have me a guard of honour in the food court, talking about their experiences of these outdoor spaces with plenty of different stalls arranged scattergun, often run by a family for years and years. I could see a western couple at the next table looking over enviously, and after a while one of them popped over to ask what I was having. Penang is made for eating – down many of the streets, particularly in the UNESCO area buffer zone, where I was staying, have such food stalls, there night after night and selling fresh cooked food for a pound or so. As I’d found, people go there to eat, so I felt no shame in trying one dish and then another. My appetite may have shifted a little to the smaller portions (even the cornettos are smaller!) but I can still eat twice without breaking sweat.

Malaysia, baby

Malaysia, baby
Butterworth, Malaysia

Butterworth, Malaysia

Saturday was mostly a day of travel. I was up early enough to fit in a rainy recovery run in at 9-different fellow runners out in the morning. Massages were 300baht on my local strip, but on my first run along the main road I’d seen a sign offering them for 200 (£4) so thought I’d head that way. I didn’t even have to make it to the original place, spotting another sign, wandering past and then realising I had no loyalty nor promise of quality from the first spot I’d seen.

A pile of earth in the middle. A palm tree, and resort buildings either side, decaying
View cliff resort.

I had ended up listening to a comparison of massages in Bangkok. Vicky was a very chatty Irish girl who originally stopped to say hello and left half an hour later. Courtney was my North Carolina rescue American; on my long walk I was around 20 minutes from home when I spotted her, burdened by two big rucksacks and one small. I had just crossed to an island, as she saw me she looked with an expression that said ‘pooped’ and let one bag slip to the floor. Did I know where there was a “ho-tay-al”? Why yes – loads to your left, cheap hostel with me. I felt like a scammer, but she seemed to trust me straight off, and talking to her about experiences with taxi drivers the next day I realised she was no naïf, so felt good about my aura of trustworthiness. She happily followed me to the hostel and checked in, job done^.

Train, old style, with guard rails round the front
Train – late.

Massages. Courtney reckoned she’d just had the best of her life, and it’s what she does for a living anyway. Vicky reckoned hers was all prods and had left her bruised. Certainly a Thai massage, I discovered quickly, involves a lot of prod and hold, and the first digs into my shoulders were uncomfortable. A product of tightness caused by kayaking, perhaps. It was good, and an experience. They use the whole body – at one point she had one hand holding each leg up, and then something massaged the backs of my thighs – I remembered the ‘blue lagoon’ love scene in Top Secret*. I took the pain and the good bits and felt it did some good.

My ferry was at 2.30 from the Songserm pier. My advice to you – pay the extra 100baht for the Lomprayah catamaran. That won’t guarantee you good weather, of course, but the Songserm boat puts passengers down in the bottom of a long boat which then zooms out to sea, prow raised. The passenger area smells of engine oil, and rocks like a bastard. I read for most of the first hour, then the rocking got to me and I had to focus on the flag, all I could see out of the windows up front, to keep the nausea at bay. It’s a nearly 3 hour crossing, and I can’t say I enjoyed it much. From there the transfer to Chumphon was via cattle truck bus, and that I did enjoy – sitting along the sides of the back, filled with backpackers and luggage. We had hours to spare in Chumphon, so I sat around in the station for a while, answering the survey some cute school kids were doing. “Where are you from? Where will you go next? What is your favourite thing about Thailand?” They’d paired up, and both pairs I had asked different questions, which was a nice touch.

After dinner I topped up on water and chocolate – a fifth the price 200m from the station – and waited on the platform. I was interrupted by a frog, and laughed at by the Argentinian next to me who didn’t flinch, as I had, but caught, lost and then caught it again. He was just fitting in some travel after 10 months of working in New Zealand; his train to Hat Yai was delayed by over two hours, and was now due in after mine, delayed by 30mins.

The sleeper train was cool enough. Bunks are along the side of the train, and curtains were drawn all along when I got on after 11pm. I climbed up, stashing my rucksack in a rooftop cage, and with my ticket checked straight away, was free to sleep. I did sleep, on and off, though like most sleepers there was a fair amount of clanking and banging in the night. In the morning I spotted how much bigger the lower bunks are – the width of the double seats from which they are made. Well worth the small extra if you have the option.

Bee Hooi Cafe and Bee Hooi Kopitiam, advertising Tiger and Carlsberg beer, respectively
Food stalls.

Somewhere in the night we lost a couple of hours but eventually we made it to the border. Everyone off, through Thai control and then Malaysian. Quick check of bags and back on the train, very easy. A guard had even greeted me with a smile, helping me to mind the gap by taking a bag from me. A few hours late we pulled into Butterworth. There’s nothing there, and it looks particularly desolate while the station is renovated. I walked to the building, ignoring signs to the ferry, left, to change money. I’d ignored the money changer on the train, using the one in the station – I suspect it’s a wander to a cashpoint, and the rate didn’t seem too bad. Mostly, it was useful to be able to change even small Thai notes which it would otherwise have given away, so I didn’t begrudge him his 4%. Changing more than a few pounds a would lose you quite a lot, but the ferry is only 1.2 ringits (5 to the £1) so I was set with my 34. A taxi driver tried to convince me that I might as well get a cab this side, as I’d only have to get one once off the ferry, but that was nonsense anyway, and he had to admit that I could walk to my hostel anyway.

Job done, I ate and later ran. I made 12 miles, mostly along the waterfront but also through a swanky housing estate. Going out I could we the skyline by day, back by night which was a lucky bit of timing. I’m a fan of the place, it’s a great mixture of crumbling colonial architecture, particularly by the waterfront, old shop fronts in Chinatown, where I’m staying, and newer, high ride buildings by the sea front to the north (the ferry comes in on the east side). The train’s late arrival, plus Malaysian time being +1 hour meant it was after 5 and I now didn’t have the relaxed afternoon to explore I’d expected, so I booked for a third night, which seems to be my sweet spot for feeling I have time to look around without a rush.

Penang waterside run.

Reading: Marina Lewycka, We are all made of Glue.

^of course I carried the bag. I would anyway, but overseas I feel the need to spread the ‘English gentleman’ impression wherever possible.

*they roll together. Camera shifts to the end view. Two pairs of feet. Then three, four, five…

Kayaking Koh Tao

Kayaking Koh Tao
Kho Tao, Thailand

Kho Tao, Thailand

Some exaggeration, I’ll admit, I didn’t kayak round the whole island, small though it is. Whilst kayaks are cheap to hire for the day, I had lunch first and then read a book while the midday heat tired itself out making other people hot. Their turn today. Yesterday I’d had a wander, ending up committed by my own pig-headedness to climbing a steep road, descending an equally steep one and finding a beach at the end. Wet through from the heat, dipping into the sea was glorious, though this was a quiet resort and so people’s only by couples while I was there. The walk back was equally steep, of course, but at least this time I was headed for food and a shower.

Two cans of Chang Export, and a bottle of water
Happy Friday night.

Today’s kayak; I only hired it for a couple of hours, in fact, but that was long enough to get me out into the bay, along the whole of Sairee beach, and to see just how far you can drift while kicking back and gazing up at Koh Tao’s hills.

Quite a long way, it turns out, and it is deceptive; my eye always seemed to be on something, like a hill, which didn’t show how far I was drifting, then before I knew it I was 100m from the buoy I’d found before. I can see how cousin Soph and I slipped so far out to sea in my childhood now, thinking the faint dots we knew to be our parents were waving when actually they were panickily gesturing for us to come back.

I’d timed it well, the sky clouded over, even drizzled a bit, which was decent weather for a paddle, especially for someone who carefully packed his hat earlier, then took it out and left it on the bed. Muppet.

Post kayak I ran. Plenty of people here are too cool for school, so ignore all and anything others do, but the triathlete I’d passed twice on my Wednesday run was out again, smiling in the same way, as were a few others. Today I was due a tempo run, but Koh Tao is pigging hilly, so I had to settle for a long long uphill run in mile two. That, at least, got me some kudos from those coming down the hill on scooters – every one gave me a thumbs up or, my favourite, what I can only describe as the ‘funny face of respect’.

Very dark picture of a beach lounge
Next door’s beach lounge.

Tomorrow I’m on the afternoon boat back to Chumphon and then the sleeper to Butterworth, Malaysia, from where it is a short ferry hop to Penang/George Town. Funny, I’d spent some time pondering routes – spend a night in Koh Samui then south to Surat Thani? Have to spend a night in a Southern Thai town if so. I checked hotels were available in (I) Hat Yai (so much right now), then went to the ferry company and found I could just go back the way I came and pick up the train the same day.

A new country beckons. It has a (road) race in it, too.

Too young

Too young
Kho Tao, Thailand

Kho Tao, Thailand

I had booked the afternoon ferry. You can go at 7am or 1pm, so the latter won; that way I got to have breakfast, talking to the Australian motorbiker about his trip and photography, pick up a cheap t shirt and then be picked up by minibus at 11.30.

Empty beach, sea to the left, mountain behind, trees to the right
Sairee beach.

That got me as far as the train station, from where I had walked the day before. If I’d known that was all the first pick up was for I could have walked and saved myself the 20minute wait in the sun, but never mind. We were shuffled onto a bus and taken to the pier. Scads of people there, but all, I think, at a resort and just not sure where to put themselves; too far out of tow to stroll in, they were left with the resort restaurant to feed, and this was lunchtime. Tickets checked for a second time, another sticker on my top – colour coded this time, so the announcements could say “if you have green sticker, leave now” for those who hadn’t quite picked up on the name of the stop. And we were off.

My feet, in the sea as the water ripples over them, sun splashing on the tops of the tiny waves
Beach ripples.

The island hoved into view a couple of hours or less later, after some intermittent adverts and ‘just for laughs’ on the screens. The hostel email had suggested walking for 10-15 minutes or getting a taxi to nearby for 100-150 baht. That’s only £2-3, but seemed way out of kilter for Thai prices, given the 50baht several mile transfer to the ferry. I walked, and was soon into the second half of the instructions. Then the rain dripped, and the girl ahead paused at a shelter. A macho moment made me think, pah, then I also paused, and soon it bucketed down. We had to talk to pass the monsoon time, and my mention of possible snorkelling netted me her kit – she was leaving, and it needed a home. The rain delayed entry to the beach by 20 minutes or more, but what a good stop. Walking was definitely easy, the right choice; a taxi would only have got me somewhere near. At least spotting the price had cued me in to expect things to be a little more expensive here. Not a rip off, and you can still eat for £1 off the strip, but shop items are a healthy percentage more here. Which doesn’t matter when a snickers – one of the more expensive things that I’ve noticed, though my tastes may not be typical – is normally 40p and here £1, but worth bearing in mind that the mainland is cheaper still.

I checked in, met Dave from Bradford and posh Will from gap yah, ate and sat on the beach. I figured leaving my mid length run until how had been a mistake – this is a small island – but actually, up and down the main street to both ends as an out and back was about 9 miles, with hills, so not bad.

Sunset over the sea
The sun sets.

Slipping on a turn onto a track was a bit bad, but never mind. I an a bit out of place, here. There are all ages, but not in a hostel, and the place is, earthy Dave aside, filled with okay yah, oh god I was like, oh, how you doin’? slightly strutting youth. Nobody bad, of course, just people who talk a bit louder than they might because they are a little self conscious. Not so much that I am too old for the place, but too old for the accomodation. Or it is too young for me. I spent my time aware that this is a paradise but also pondering my escape, and how imminent it should be, which is a slightly odd feeling. Haven’t quite picked a plan, whether to find a night in Koh Samui for the island hopping or push on to Surat Thani and then Malaysia, but luckily there’s no huge rush – or, rather, I know I need to move on, but if it takes an extra day then that makes for an even shorter trip to Malaysia, which by all accounts justifies more time.

I ate, and ate well, amused when I looked up from my book to spot the elderly gentlemen treating their young female Thai friends to dinner. Given more time I might have checked for wedding rings (with an airmail logo stamped in), but each to their own.

Two old blokes, with two young Thai girls
A nice couple of gentlemen take young ladies out.

After dinner, total relaxation. As I stood on the beach, I wasn’t sure which view i liked most. The fire dancers next door were intermittently in time with the music, though I don’t think timing, other than the timing needed not to become a more literal man of fire, was their intention. That was cool. Straight up, stars; with the sea lapping gently it was just possible to forget the boom boom music. Out to sea, boat lights winking, and evenly spaced all around the horizon-probably just the minimum distance a sensible captain keeps an anchored boat to make sure of clearance if she slews round, but it looked like they were there for effect. And in the distance both right and left, lights on the shore and a few up the hill to the right.

Reading: Conan Doyle, Case of the Devil’s Foot, Alan Folsom, The Hadrian Memorandum.

Should I stay or should I go

Should I stay or should I go
Tha Taphao, Thailand

Tha Taphao, Thailand

The plan was to get to Chumphon, stay a night and then hop on the ferry to Koh Tao, following a Brazilian’s recommendation while I was in Korea; “I thought it was the loveliest of the islands”.

The plan changed. First I found there was a night ferry, and figured I could have caught that instead of staying at all. But here I was. I couldn’t be jiggered to move, and although this is a small town almost bereft of tourist things, that just made it seem all the more natural to stay, enjoy cheap food and an easy to wander centre. Plus there was no decent hostel accommodation available on the island tonight so I’d have had to blow more than twice as much, maybe £12, on a bungalow on the beach.

Chickens wandering over towards me, as I take the photo
A person! Chickens roll!

I know! Gawd, sometimes I have to make some tough decisions. I stayed, is the upshot.

I spent my day getting up late, getting hungry and then exploring, having lunch at one of the many shack-like stands that are in between street food and restaurants. It was under a pound. I mooched round, having stopped near the railway station for lunch, and had a quick chat with a local on a road to nowhere, as the sun beat down harshly. “Mel-lon”, he said. “Ha!” I replied. We repeated that a couple of times – ‘it’s hot’, maybe, or ‘this road goes nowhere other than the main road’, he was saying. I’m really not sure.

City Pillar Shrine, under bright blue skies
City Pillar Shrine.

Ice cream, unbelievably cheap toothbrushes and supplies, a shirt for £4 for which I probably overpaid but good luck to her, and a gasping and under productive interval session finished my afternoon. That morning, the dude from the hostel had offered me a lift to the beach, picking me up at 7, really before I knew what was going on – I’d only just woken up – and I don’t know whether it was out of the goodness of his heart or some scam. He didn’t show at the time, anyway, but whether my sense of time was too exact, beach was off because it had tipped it down or he had left work late I don’t know. I found food, anyway, essential by now, and liked my fried rice so much I had dinner again, which narrowly averted a whole day without pad Thai, phew. I finished my second beer and realised the wifi in this place was working very well, downloading me some podcasts, unlike at the hostel. I had felt very clever reading the code off the back wall, then turned and spotted it right behind me. It turned out that my hostel friend had fallen asleep, and ‘big rain’, you know. I did know, and was not fussed. He became my Facebook friend, and promised to see me on my return. He’s the second person to think I’m coming back. The first was on the train, my seat-row-mate for several hours talked to me an hour or so from my destination, ending up giving me her email address and phone number so she could show me round – “you have to come back to Bangkok, right?” Well, no. The phone number was in case – or became so, to save face in front of my indifference, I suppose – of emergencies. I always feel I should warn people that it’s not personal, I just don’t use the phone, so don’t wait up for a call.

Narrow bridge, railings separate it from the buildings on either side
Little bridge. Kids’ friendly hellos await at end.

Back at the restaurant, I’d only turned in the first, to check that the banging I could hear was rain. Oh boy, yes it was. The corrugated iron part of the roof was now making a heck of a noise. Monsoon season, and when it goes, it goes. I was without kindle, but with “one more beer?” and the iPod, so I searched and was there for long enough to pick 30 or so podcasts to top me back up. Tomorrow I am on the ferry, it’s booked. Koh Tao in the afternoon.

Fascinating football seeding things: http://www.theguardian.com/football/blo g/2013/oct/17/england-seeded-switzerlan d-world-cup-draw-friendlies.

As Gordon Milne recalled, mistily, of his time with England: “It used to give us a such a lift when he’d [Alf Ramsay] say ****.” The guardian.

Thank **** it exists or we’d all be in the twilight world beloved of parents who don’t mind their kids growing up thinking they (parents) are outliers, pretending swearing doesn’t exist: “peculiar poetry.

For example, “What the ******* hell was that?” is a good song. “What was that?” isn’t. And to give Ince a bit of credit, “Where’s your busy fucker of a fourth?” is like Shakespeare after six pints of Stella”

Tiny boons

Tiny boons
Tha Taphao, Thailand

Tha Taphao, Thailand

A run-down resort, concrete sign and animals on fence posts
Nothing to do with me. But this sort of run down resort, down a road to nowhere in particular, fascinates me.

A collection of little things that have eased my way

  • Having a washing bag for the first time in years.
  • The towel someone left in Tokyo, which I liberated.
  • Putting my sandals in the washing machine in Seoul (I no longer sit down and think “is that me?”).
  • Posting home ticket stubs and other bits I don’t need but want to keep.
  • New t shirts in Cambodia, allowing me to bin the old.

I ran to the sea in Chumphon today, after a six hour train ride. Plenty of westerners on the train, but most headed for Surat Thani, the end of this particular line, from where the boat goes to Koh Samui. It is possible to get the boat there from here, too, but much more slowly.

Reading: Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point.

"Fucking Chilena" reads the headline
Panamanian headline after losing WC place to Mexico.

Amari Watergate Midnight Charity run

Amari Watergate Midnight Charity run
Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok, Thailand

A race, a race, my, um, Saturday night for a race! I’ve been running, keeping up a fair mileage, whilst away, but haven’t raced since ‘parkrun’ in Moscow, mid August, which must be the longest time without one since 2005. I missed the press 800m at the World Championships, didn’t know I was heading to Japan in time to enter their races (which sell out months in advance) and had no reply after some initial emails about a half marathon in Korea. So when a couple of weeks ago I spotted that there was a midnight 12/6km in Bangkok and that I could make it there, I’d limited myself to 5 days in Cambodia and scooted over the border in time. I was also running to be there in spirit if not reality for the club cross country – with the time difference, a midnight start here is only an hour late for XC back home.

A map of the 12k race
Course map.

Even then, I wasn’t sure I’d make it. Although you can enter online, it’s really just registration, and then (as in Korea) you pay by transferring money to their bank account. Or one of three, judging by the instructions I was sent. So not only were the £8 entries sold out online, knocking me on to the £20 ‘but with grand raffle entry’ one, but I’d have to pay a £15 or so transfer-to-foreign-bank fee.

In my usual style, I sat on it and did nothing in reply to the ‘pay here’ email. That proved exactly the right decision, as I was told I could pay on the day at the hotel, and that turned out to be the £8 fee. Missed out on the nice technical t-shirt, but overall a (double) money-saving bonus. Even better, the hostel I’d booked because it was an easy journey from the airport (not the airport I flew into, but that was a detail) turned out to be round the corner from the hotel, and therefore from the start.

I spent the day walking across Bangkok, seeing the Royal palace, watching the river boats come and go and being assailed by the traffic noise. That much walking was possibly not ideal preparation for a race, but at least it wasn’t throwing rain down, unlike last night. I was hoping that the storm had cooled things down a bit. Maybe they had, but as I arrived at the start slightly bleary after a snooze, it was 28 degrees. I’ve been in Asia for a couple of months and think I’ve acclimatised a little, but that’s a temperature worthy of respect.

Everyone was milling around outside the hotel. The start was clearly marked with a gantry and clock showing the time, but I couldn’t see how it would accommodate the thousands of people said to have entered. I could hear presenters, but where was the stage? Torn between staying out front so as to join late and near the front for a good start point, and investigating to get into the swing of it, I chose the latter, finding as I wandered further round that I’d been looking at the back of the stage, and that people were assembling there. Not the wiser ones, as after some preamble and general rabble-rousing, we were off, but it took me a minute and a half to cross the start line, and even that was just to take me into a walking start (“ah, this is Bangkok, traffic jam” said a Germanic voice behind). On the basis of last year’s times, I reckoned I was in shape to place in the 40 something category, but having told myself it was just a charity run, I’d now given myself too big a handicap to make up.

Onward. There were plenty of people ahead of me, and only one lane of traffic was closed, so I got to play chicken with the traffic trying to make it’s way past us on our right as I galloped past the queue. After a few km there was a nice comedy turn, with runners on the left having to make their way over to the right, while traffic had to come from our right over to the left. I pondered the approach in the UK – we’d never have so many marshals with torches and the short light sabers the trainee jedis in Asian countries use to direct traffic, but we’d also not run this race. Probably on the grounds that “we can’t guarantee your safety”. I dodged through a couple of taxis wondering how many race directors actually have ‘guaranteed’ my safety in the UK. It’s very nice of them. At 4k I took the right lane, over a bridge, for the 12k course, while the 6k went under. Again, on the basis of last year’s times, I’d have been even more competitive in the 6k; the winner only ran 24.xx, and even respecting the temperature I was aiming for sub 4min kilometres. I’d made my decision and stuck with it, still piling past people. Soon, the leaders were coming past going back on the other side, and then so were more and more people – it was quite a way to the turnaround, and that made me feel better; there was no way I’d be up there, and the more properly quick people there were, the less reason to feel I should be in the mix. I turned, a wall of cars facing me but with no dodging to do this time. The field was thinning out just a little where I was, but I still had no one to run with, I was just passing people, albeit with some gratifying looks over shoulders of the ‘I’ll have some of what you’re on’ kind. Having missed the first ones I’d seen, I made a grab for whatever was being handed out at the turn, curious. I grabbed and missed, it tumbling to the floor, but my curiosity was sated. It turned out to be wrist bands. I have a feeling that had I wanted to pick up a prize, I’d have needed three of those, and I only managed to get the last, an orange one near the end. With no chip timing, people were grabbed at the end if they’d placed in their category, and asked to register their names just at that point, and perhaps were checked for wrist bands to prove they’d covered the whole course. With different colour bibs for the 6 and 12k, everyone also had a coloured number before their race number to mark their age so the organisers could spot 1st M40, 3rd F50 etc, though that still must need some mental agility, to look at people coming through and remember whether you’ve given a ‘winner’ token to 5 people in that category yet. In my dreams, my marker number was a 2. In reality it’s a 4.

My race number, 41487, and medal
Medal me.

Once we’d completed the loop to make our course up to distance, we were back onto the original road, heading for home. Suddenly I went from chasing down individuals to seeing a whole pack of people in front – ah, now we’re chasing home people running the 6k. 36 or so minutes in, so not moving that quickly, but taking up most of the lane. This time I followed a neon vest in between two lanes of traffic – proper fun, particularly as a few 6k runners had had the same idea, and were moving out of our way in a slightly panicked way as we bore down on them. I overtook my temporary beacon, pleased to spot that I’d covered 10k comfortably under 40 minutes, and pressed on. With parked cars on the left, we now had even less space; I spotted a van with its indicator on and went to go right, trying to squeeze down his left hand side between him and the bridge on the right while he moved left, only for him to abandon the manoeuvre. I was moving more quickly, but figured his acceleration was better, so dropped back and went left. Finally we were into the last left and I ground to a halt just short of the line, in a short queue.

Poster advertising the race
Too late for a t-shirt.

47:39, and bang on 12k. I was pleased with that, though sure it would at least have made me competitive in my category. Still, it was a charity race, and really I wanted a tee shirt more than one of the slightly phallic glass trophies; the medal would have to do. Really glad I did it; dodging traffic was fun, hunting people down was great, and I felt pretty good all through, though it was hot. I finished completely saturated, though was cooling down – because of the crowds, my last half mile was the slowest, I went from a peak of 3:43/km in mile 4 (an easyish sub 6 mile, I found later, which I’m pleased with) to 4:33 pace in that last segment. Probably I’d have overcooked it had I been further up, but my splits were still a little uneven: 6:07, 6:26, 6:23, 5:59, 6:18, 6:40, 6:27, 3:21 (740m). Lovely run, so long as you switch off the pure racer in you and go in for the novelty of running through city streets at midnight, enjoying some car dodging. It never felt dangerous, though I have caught myself strolling out into traffic a couple of times today so there, too, I have acclimatised a little to being here. Once through the finish there was a medal, and further along water and various lucky dip cups. Plain – this must be…water! Plain again, so water again? No, some kind of gatorade style thing, maybe grape flavour. And help yourself from the vats of what I can only call watery spicy rice(y). It doesn’t sound great, but was in fact pretty good. Or nicey, if you like(y). I wandered back to the hostel, exchanging thumbs up congratulations with Thais sitting out passing the time. You can do that when it’s no cooler than 25 degrees overnight.

Next race – Australia. Although if I limit myself to a couple of days in Singapore, there’s one in Kuala Lumpur that sounds awfully tempting. You can even pay with paypal. And there’s no way I’ll be strolling around the back of the pack at the start in a ‘oh it’s just a fun run’ fashion if I make it there.

Touring Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat, and on to Thailand
Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok, Thailand

A new country! (Again). Yesterday I took a bike and went on a temple tour. The hostel has bikes you can take for free-a lock provided, but probably not needed. I was debating whether to go round Angkor Wat, given that I’d already seen it the day before, then remember that the chance to see it was the exact reason I’d booked a flight to Cambodia instead of straight to Thailand in the first place, and so got on with it.

 

After the previous day’s stormy rain, it was a lovely day – a bit hot, perhaps, given this is Asia, but it wouldn’t have been fun cycling in heavy rain. This time I followed the long straight road out of Siem Reap; I’m glad I didn’t run it yesterday; it’s not the prettiest, and busier for longer than my curvy road. Tickets for Angkor Wat are sold at a booth-more like a toll booth really – off to one side of the road a few miles before you get to the temple. They take your picture and $20 then you take your pass and off you go – though I’d nearly cycled past, not making the decision to turn in time, but was stopped by a guard telling me to get a ticket. At least I think that’s what he said-he may have been only suggesting I get one, you can probably use the roads to go to other places without a pass. I was joining a nice air of cluelessness, the bloke behind me paid, had his photo taken and was about to wander off, until reminded that he had a ticket to collect.

Angkor Wat was about 6km away from the hostel, so an easy ride. It was much more of a thrill to be going in, not just looking from the outside. After a very quick and relaxed check of my pass, I was onto the bridge over the wide moat. The temple entrance looms, magnificent, as in any pictures you’ve ever seen of it. Lots of people stop for a photo there, so getting an uncluttered one is difficult, but there are occasional opportunities. Once in there is another walkway, a couple of smaller temple buildings off to each side, the main temple peeping out and tour guides offering their services. I waved them off, along with the lady offering food and drink at her stall, “number 007, like James Bond”. Finally, the temple proper. The carvings are, beyond the sight of the building itself, the thrill, as they’re magnificent. There’s a telling of the Mahabharat, though given that the plaque says it has been forgotten in Cambodia, I’m not sure how they knew what it was. You can wander the corridors round the edge of the quadrangle, or head straight for the 60+m high central bit straight off, but those carvings in the former are worth the look. The central piece is up some steep steps. Going up was fine, particularly since I was behind some slow moving Indonesians (nationality guessed at), but I had no impatience. I’d already watched some elderly Chinese (likewise) ladies coming down backwards, and knew I’d be similarly circumspect when it came to looking at the steps from the top.

There are more intricate carvings at the top, particularly of the Srupan (check!), ladies who smile their benediction down upon you. It’s a peaceful vantage to see the rest of the site.

I wandered to the exit. No one else was leaving, and I took one look at the slope of the steps and refused. A man came past and stopped to take a picture, then paused. Now there were two of us waiting for some security, and it arrived in the shape of the Indonesians. Several girls and one big boy; I went down straight after him, followed by the words of a Dutchman helping his mate with “think of altitude as your friend”. We all made it. Heading out, I stepped off the main walkway to walk the grounds a little and was immediately spotted by a group of kids who all sell postcards, magnets, key rings. “You buy, you buy. One dollar. Two for one dollar”. They’ve learned the numbers, too, counting out the ten postcards – I learned later that some will run through French and Spanish numbers, too, though they’d managed to stump the kids’ versatility by claiming to be Russian. I bought some magnets, but learned a few days later that it’s better to buy nothing, in the hope that if no one buys anything from kids under 11, they’ll be allowed to go back to school. The schools are free, it’s just the kids’ ability to charm tourists that’s keeping them away.

They were cute, mind.

I cycled on, passing the Bayon temple, centre of Angkor Thom, again, and this time heading onwards. I can see why the landscape inspires Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider type stories; at any moment a temple may appear round a corner, or through some trees, and one of the pleasures of the day was stopping to see what the next one looked like. They’re of similar style, but some built in different coloured stone, and of course on different scales to the biggest.

Hot and thirsty, I stopped for a drink. There were temples either side of the road, and several stalls touting their wares as soon as I stopped. I haggled for a couple of drinks, turned down lunch, postcards, key rings and magnets and then wandered the temples, pretending not to notice the Scotsman who had been eating at the same place and to whom I’d already said goodbye. After a snooze I wandered back to the same place and she offered me lunch again, as she’d promised to. I turned down magnets and postcards, but entertained myself while waiting for curry by haggling over t shirts. Not from the kids this time.

Hot from the curry I grabbed water, beating her down from $1 for one to 50c for two. Which is, in fairness, the supermarket price. The next person who came along paid the dollar, so they win some, do okay on some.

Turning off the road, I was asked for my pass again, and when I paused for a moment the guard asked if I wanted to see a waterfall. I couldn’t see where he was going to pull it from on this straight road but said yes to find out, but in fact he was offering to accompany me to a waterfall the next day. No matter, then. This temple was a tout fest, from water lady (“but I have one already” “you drink, then buy on way out. Or I cry”) on the outside, to scarf girl, handbag woman and souvenir Buddha man. “You like my art? I make special price because blah blah” I was really enjoying myself by now, turning down magnets and postcards left, right and centre. “I have magnets” “you buy from me. One more, one more”.

From there – I didn’t buy more water, she didn’t cry – I cycled back, completing the loop I’d meant to run, more or less the half marathon course. Crikey, but that’s a course and a half, temples and countryside coming out of your ears. Pushing the pedals on the ancient bike a bit harder, I caught and passed the Scotsman, then stopped to watch some kids jumping off a bridge into the river, but they stopped, intimidated or offended by my presence.

I thought about sticking around for sunset, but the need for a shower and a cool in the pool won over and I headed back. It turned into a sociable evening, as my dorm friends had had a huge day, travelling hours in their tuk tuk to the far off ruined temple and waterfall, and arguing with the driver on their return. After happy hour beer, I disappeared-so they said, nice that they’d looked for me-but had only gone to watch Rocknrolla in the cinema room upstairs. Decent, though with the same ‘but he can’t act!’ problems as other Guy Ritchie films. More importantly, we were all into it, with a few belly laughs, but the cinema room closes at 11. The lights came on, we were told it was closing. “But there’s only a few minutes left!” “Ah, okay.” We relaxed, but the screen went blank-the big climax, stolen from us all.

Slightly bemused, especially when we spotted it was not yet 5 to, we milled about downstairs, and the two Dutchmen from the stairs earlier led the charge for a beer, which turned into a conversation about politics, music (The Heist, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis is great, the kids say) and English time descriptions. It is generally agreed that “half six” is three.

Sign says "City of Life". Surroundings are all concrete, for the light rail system
Bangkok, city of life. See also: concrete

The next day I was up earlyish, thinking I’d head to the market to replace a once white but now grim shirt, but Singaporean dorm mate Stefen joined me for breakfast and I was having too nice a time chatting and getting food advice for Singapore. Other dorm mate, North Carolina girl whose name went in one ear and out the same way, let me know that another lady downstairs was heading for the same flight as me – “a little older, with kinda voluminous hair”.

A busy street, pink and red taxis, modern buildings all around.
Bangkok shopping.

Right. We did meet up, and did share my tuk tuk. Her hair was perfectly normal. Flying to Bangkok was dead easy, avoiding rumoured several hour queues at the border with a 45 minute flight. I had checked in online, which gave me access to a special slow lane-Karen checked in there and was waiting for me when I finally dropped off my bag. I had at least had a nice long chat with the British couple ahead of me.

I took the slow but cheap option from the airport – Don Mueang is the equivalent of Stansted, with free shuttle bus transfer to the main airport. Wikitravel suggests an hour, but it only took 40 minutes, and then I hopped on the city line which took me straight to the hostel, pretty much, at Ratchaprarop. “You need hotel?” No, not really, I’m up here. I took myself off for a wander around, realising all the big hotels were nearby, seeing a big crowd exercising in Lumphini park, alongside a tent village ‘protesting the government corruption’. The noise of traffic is a constant, enlivened by the lawnmower sounds of tuk tuks. I like it, but can see why people have suggested a couple of days is enough. See some sights, go somewhere a bit more peaceful.

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