Friday, 16 December 2011

Trip summary/advice for other travellers

While it's still fresh in my mind, I thought I'd do a post with some info for anyone thinking of doing a similar trip. Here are some things I've learnt:

  • There are certain things you should always have with you. Imodium, sick bags, painkillers and toilet paper (especially in countries where they don't tend to use it) can make a really big difference in some situations. You won't forget them twice. 
  • Shampoo and shower gel are basically the same thing. While there's some things which are indispensable, others can be redundant. When buying a cheap phone, try to get one which uses a type of charger you're already carrying. I managed to use the same USB charger for my phone, kindle and iPod. 
  • (Some) gadgets are cool. While you don't want to risk taking too many expensive things, a few things can make long journeys a lot more comfortable. I was grateful for having my iPod nano and Kindle 3g, especially on 10+ hour train journeys and flights. The kindle also allows you to take huge amounts of books without actually having to carry them. 
  • Sleep for free. Couchsurfing isn't just about a free bed, but that's just another advantage. You get to meet locals who know more about the place you're visiting than any other people you're likely to meet, and get a unique insight into life wherever you go. 
  • Travel in low season. Although not always possible or preferable (low season can mean terrible weather, in which case it might not be worth it), travelling in low season is cheaper, less stressful, and more flexible. You don't have to book things as far in advance (or at all, sometimes), and everywhere you go will be less busy. 
  • Don't plan everything. The best experiences I had were often things that were suggested by people I met, or just happened. Although sometimes it's good to book things in advance, leave yourself some time to do things you might not have thought of while planning your trip.

That's all I can think of for now, but I may add more things to this list later. Now here's a list of books I read on my trip, with the ones I enjoyed the most in bold
  • In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto by Michael Pollan
  • The Game by Neil Strauss
  • The Quants by Scott Patterson
  • Booky Wook 2 by Russell Brand
  • Slash by Slash and Anthony Bozza
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  • The New Paradigm for Financial Markets by George Soros
  • The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams
  • Life, the Universe and Everything by Douglas Adams
  • Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  • Business Stripped Bare by Richard Branson
  • Superfreakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner
  • Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton
  • The Chrysalids by John Wyndham
  • The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins
  • 1984 by George Orwell
  • The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
  • Beat The Market by Edward Thorp
  • Screw It, Let's Do It by Richard Branson
  • The (Mis)Behaviour of Markets by Benoit Mandelbrot
  • The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
  • On The Road by Jack Kerouac
  • How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • What Do You Care What Other People Think by Richard Feynman
  • The Great Crash by Selwyn Parker
  • Scar Tissue by Anthony Kiedis
  • Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
  • Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Sydney

As the last destination on my trip, Sydney had a lot to offer. Among other things, I went surfing for a day,

Sydney - Manly Beach

visited the (in)famous Bondi Beach,

Sydney - Bondi Beach

went on a day trip to the Blue Mountains,

Sydney - Blue Mountains

and did a little jump in front of the Opera House.

Sydney - Opera House

Not a bad way to end a trip.

Finished Reading: The Great Crash by Selwyn Parker, Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins, Scar Tissue by Anthony Kiedis, Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
Started Reading: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Listening To: Red Hot Chili Peppers

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Melbourne

After a night at a hostel and a day walking around the city, I couchsurfed at Katie-May's house for two nights. There were two German girls staying there as well. Katie-May showed us how we could travel along the Great Ocean Road by public transport, which we did the next day.

Great Ocean Road - Lorne

The girls were flying out at 7am on Saturday, so we decided to go out until they had to leave for their flight. We spent the first few hours sitting in the street with a busker and walked the long journey to the Night Cat, a club with a live band, where we spent the rest of the night.

Melbourne - Busker

Foo Fighters were playing on Saturday night, and I'd managed to get tickets. Along with a few other people.

Melbourne - Foo Fighters

A few small bands were on at first, followed by Tenacious D, and then a two and a half hour set by Foo Fighters.

Melbourne - Foo Fighters

Finished Reading: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, What Do You Care What Other People Think by Richard Feynman
Now Reading: The Great Crash by Selwyn Parker
Listening To: Foo Fighters, The Uplift Mofo Party Plan by Red Hot Chili Peppers

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Brisbane

Brisbane is slightly reminiscent of London, but there's almost constant nice weather and even a little beach by the river. After two nights in a hostel I managed to secure a mattress in a stranger's living room for two nights, through CouchSurfing. I stayed with three lovely girls who'd just finished studying in Brisbane, and had a great time. They had a tiny problem with some mice in their kitchen, so one afternoon we set up some mouse traps, grabbed a chair and a bottle of cider each and sat in the living room by the kitchen door, watching in silence.

Brisbane - City Hostel

After an impossibly short time one of the mice appeared, and walked over to the trap agonisingly slowly. Just before it got there one of us made the tiniest movement and the mice disappeared. A little over five minutes later it came back for another go. This time we saw it make its way over to the side of the trap, casually take the food out, and walk back to its hideout. 1-0. See if you can spot the mouse in the picture.

Brisbane - Couchsurfing

Before we'd had time to catch either of the mice, it was time for me to move on. I got a bus to Spot X, some 5 hours south of Brisbane, for a weekend of surfing. I managed to stand up on the board quite early on during the first lesson and progressed to a smaller board by the end of the weekend, despite a few bumps and bruises.


Spot X - Surfing

Finished Reading: On The Road by Jack Kerouac, How to Win friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
Now Reading: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, What Do You Care What Other People Think by Richard Feynman, Getting Things Done by David Allen
Listening To: Red Hot Chili Peppers by Red Hot Chili Peppers, Freaky Styley by Red Hot Chili Peppers

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Cairns

After having my trainers cleaned for free, the rest of Cairns was a bit of a disappointment. Or it would've been, if I hadn't spent my first day on a boat going out to the beautiful Great Barrier Reef.

Cairns - Great Barrier Reef


I did three dives, the last of which was my first ever unguided dive. I just buddied up with a girl I met on the boat, and we found some amazing types of coral I'd never seen before, two hawksbill turtles and a white tip reef shark.




After a few less eventful days I decided to go up to 14,000ft in a small propeller plane and jump out, attached to a man with a parachute. It was awesome.


Mission Beach

Finished Reading: The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
Now Reading: Scar Tissue by Anthony Kiedis
Listening To: Blood Sugar Sex Magik by Red Hot Chili Peppers

Friday, 18 November 2011

Singapore

I spent one night in Singapore, mostly eating as much cheap Asian food as I could before leaving this continent for a rather more expensive one.

Anyone reading this will vividly remember my post from Bukit Lawang a few weeks ago, where I talked about a jungle trek I did to see some wild orang utans. I have one pair of flip flops with me, and one pair of trainers. I wore the trainers for the two day trek, and for the volcano trek a few days after that, which resulted in them being rather muddy. In fact, they were completely covered in mud and so dirty that I didn't really know where to begin cleaning them. So I didn't.

Aside from a misguided attempt at rinsing them in a lake (which left them wetter and smellier, rather than cleaner or less muddy), they pretty much stayed safely packed away in a plastic bag in my rucksack. After another week and a bit they still weren't getting any cleaner by themselves, so I still didn't feel like cleaning them. I considered just leaving them behind somewhere, since I might not even need them for the rest of my trip, and didn't feel like carrying unnecessary, muddy weight.

As I alighted at the airport in Cairns I admitted on an immigration form that I had been in contact with foreign forests/lakes in the past few weeks, which lead to them asking me if I was carrying any items which might have some mud/earth residue on them. "Yes..."

After a cursory glance at my clay clogs the customs official started saying "I'm sorry sir, I'm afraid..." - at this point I'd resigned myself to surrendering my trainers - "I'm going to have to clean these for you".

"Oh really... oh no... well that sure is a bit of a blow. But I'm not one to argue with an officer of the law, and I am confident that you will do all that is necessary to remove any remains of organic material from these shoes of mine. "

My shoes were thoroughly cleaned, disinfected, and are now good as new.
Thank you, Australia. Thaustralia.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Kuala Lumpur

Three nights in Kuala Lumpur. First night I went to Reggae Bar in Chinatown with some people I'd just met, who were studying in KL. Second night I went for dinner with a girl I'd met in Penang, followed by Reggar Bar again.



On my last night one of the students I'd met drove a few of us up to Lookout Point, from where we could see the whole city in its flickering beauty.

Kuala Lumpur - Lookout Point

Finished Reading: The Misbehaviour of Markets by Benoit Mandelbrot
Now Reading: The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

Pematang Siantar

I spent two nights in the town of Pematang Siantar, staying with an English teacher and a few of his students.

Pematang Siantar

During this time I visited all the students' houses, several of the teacher's relatives, the local secondary school, and a small village away from the main town. I went in to five different classes at the school and had conversations with several of the students who were learning English. They were always quite formulaic and well-rehearsed ("What's your name?" "Where do you live?" "What is your hobby?" "Are you single?"), followed by the obligatory round of photos with all the students and teachers.

Pematang Siantar - YPK school

When we visited the village where Banda, one of the students, lived, his relatives prepared some fish they had caught that morning on a woodfire. I also got to try a few different tropical fruits from their trees, including Rambutan and Duku.

Pematang Siantar - Lunch at Banda's village

One of the students' cousins was a professional musician, so after they cooked a great Nasi Goreng for dinner one night we visited that cousin's house and had a big singalong session. Red Hot Chili Peppers haven't quite broken through yet in Siantar so I was a bit out of my depth on the guitar, but I played along to the Indonesian songs and had a go at playing bass as well.

Pematang Siantar - Jam session at Ipin's cousin's house


Finished Reading: Screw it, Let's do it by Richard Branson

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Lake Toba

Lake Toba is an enormous volcanic lake, with an island in the middle. The lake is warmed by the volcano, which regulates it to perfect swimming pool temperature. The fertile volcanic soil makes for beautiful scenery all around, and it's certainly one of the most beautiful places I've visited on this trip.

Lake Toba

I decided not to visit any more places on Sumatra and just spend a week walking, swimming, and reading by the lake. Alex and I went for a bike ride around part of the island on day 1, followed by a walk on day 2 where we got to the top of a hill to find a small cemetery inhabited by grazing buffalo.

Lake Toba

One of the restaurants on the island, Samuel's, has especially nice Nasi Goreng (fried rice) and a friendly owner. After going there a few times and ordering exactly the same thing, I asked her if she could show me how to make it, which she did. It was delicious.

Lake Toba - Nasi Goreng

As all the friends I'd accumulated gradually left to go to other places, I was finally left to read in peace. Yesterday, as I was reading in a small sandwich bar during lunch, I was approached by an Indonesian man who asked me to join him and his friends at their table. I talked to them for a while, and it turned out they were students from a nearby town and had come to Lake Toba for the day to practise their English on tourists. They invited me to visit their town, which I initially declined, but after a while I agreed to stay in their town for two nights. They would show me around and I would speak English to them.

Lake Toba

Their English was fairly average, but their knowledge of English culture very fragmented. A few amusing things they said:

  "You are very handsome. Like Westlife." 


  "Are your eyes real?" 


  "What is the name of your university?" 
  "Cambridge."
  "Ok. Do you know Oxford University? I think it is very good."

Lake Toba - School Bus

Finished Reading: The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins, 1984 by George Orwell, The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Beat The Market by Edward Thorp
Now Reading: On The Road by Jack Kerouac, The Misbehaviour of Markets by Benoit Mandelbrot, Speed Mathematics by Bill Handley, Screw it, Let's do it by Richard Branson
Listening To: Curtains by John Frusciante, Endgame by Rise Against

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Berastagi

I'm blogging and uploading photos as frequently as I can now that I've got cheap, relatively fast internet access. After Bukit Lawang, Alex and I got a minibus to Berastagi, a town located near two large volcanoes.

Berastagi - Mt. Sibayak

Today we hiked up one of the volcanoes, Mt. Sibayak, which has a peak at 2012m. After a two hour climb we arrived at the crater, met by a welcoming and slightly overpowering scent of sulphur.

Berastagi - Mt. Sibayak

The trek down was rather more arduous: we took the more exciting 'jungle path' option, which was very steep and slippery. At one point I slipped, slid, and landed with my left foot on a protruding nail which pierced my shoe and the sole of my foot. Luckily it didn't go in too deeply though, and I could still walk on it. Thank god for tetanus jabs.

Berastagi - Mt. Sibayak

I spent the rest of the day reading The Selfish Gene, which I'm really enjoying. Off to Samosir on Lake Toba tomorrow, an island on a lake on an island.

Berastagi - Mt. Sibayak

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Bukit Lawang

After a flight from Penang to Medan I arrived in Sumatra. I met a guy called Alex at at the airport, and we've been travelling together for the past few days.

Bukit Lawang - Nasi Goreng Ayam Special

We got a minibus to Bukit Lawang, on which I had the misfortune of having to listen to a few seconds of Sean Kingston's Album 'Tomorrow' before I managed to get my headphones in and turn my iPod all the way up.

Bukit Lawang Jungle Trek - Orang Utan

We went on a two day trek through the jungle with a guide and four other tourists and saw gibbons, macaques, orang utans, lizards and more. We stayed in a little hut in the jungle and had our very own river to wash in.

Bukit Lawang Jungle Trek

On the second day we walked to a waterfall, and then rafted back on a little raft made of tubes.

Bukit Lawang Jungle Trek

Listening to: Boys Like Girls by Boys Like Girls

Friday, 28 October 2011

Penang

I got a ferry from Koh Phi Phi, followed by a 9 hour minibus journey, and arrived in Penang ready to go to bed. The owner of the hostel, Azlan, told me that 'everyone' was going out though, so in a desperate attempt to make some new friends I went out with them as well. Maybe people are friendlier when they are travelling, or maybe it was the tequila, but I made new friends pretty quickly. We all went to Sixty9ine, a club just down the road which had a swimming pool. After some more drinks and a dip in the pool we got bored, and headed back to the hostel. Azlan bought some candles, we both took our guitars and we headed to the beach for the rest of the night.



Azlan went to great lengths to make everyone's stay as fun as possible. There was a small recording studio/guitar room in the hostel, and he let me play his beautiful Slash signature Gibson Les Paul. He also arranged a few jam sessions with some of his friends, which were really fun.

Penang - Azlan's guitar

Over the next few days I went jetskiing, played guitar with a lot of Azlan's friends, went into Georgetown, Azlan painted my guitar and I booked a flight to Medan (Sumatra, Indonesia). 

Finished Reading: The Chrysalids by John Wyndham
Now Reading: The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins
Listening To: Led Zeppelin IV by Led Zeppelin, Aqualung by Jethro Tull

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Koh Phi Phi

I found Charlotte (whom I met in Koh Tao) on Koh Phi Phi and joined her and two other girls, Fedra and Cathleen, in a dorm. Charlotte and Fedra told me about a 'job' they had managed to get at the Banana bar. They were to stand outside the bar from 6pm until 11pm, telling people about the rooftop bar and cinema. For this they would be paid the princely sum of 300 baht, or just over £1/hour in real money. I made fun of them for signing up to that for a while, until Fedra got food poisoning and I somehow agreed to take her place. Charlotte and I, along with another guy, spent all night handing out flyers and going up to people in the street telling them about the bar. I enjoyed it so much more than I thought I would, and ended up meeting loads of people and having one of the best nights I've had so far, with all the free drinks we got, as well as a free Mexican dinner provided by the restaurant.

Koh Phi Phi - View Point

On day two I got up early to go snorkelling on Long Beach, and on day three Charlotte and I hiked up to the viewpoint to get an incredible view of the entire island. We walked through a bit of jungle to the beaches on the other side of the island, where we sat down and witnessed a storm approaching over the water.

Koh Phi Phi

After the storm we headed back, got changed and went out to a few of the beach bars to see the fire shows. Next stop: Penang, Malaysia.

Koh Phi Phi - Fire Show

Now Reading: The Chrysalids by John Wyndham
Now listening to: Led Zeppelin III by Led Zeppelin

Friday, 21 October 2011

Lovely, Lonely Lanta

From Krabi Shaneel went to Penang, Malaysia, and I went to Koh Lanta. I decided to go to Koh Lanta instead of Koh Phi Phi because I heard it was cheaper, less touristy, and still beautiful. I found it to be beautiful, but slightly deserted.

Koh Lanta - Long Beach

After a long journey from Krabi to Koh Lanta, I set out to find some accommodation. I´d read about a hostel on Long Beach, so I set out to find it. With no success. I checked out a few expensive resorts, but during a thunderstorm I found shelter in a construction site where I got talking to some of the workers, who told me about the resort they were working on. It was currently under construction, but there was one bungalow which was finished. I talked to the manager and managed to get a cheap rate for this one bungalow, which left me feeling rather more lonely when night came around. I went to a bar after dinner but it was pretty dead, so headed back to my little cabin of loneliness, complete with open air bathroom, to play guitar for a while.

Koh Lanta - Pearl Beach Resort

My one full day on Lanta was quite productive: I got a Thai massage (as painful as people have described it being), finished reading some books, went for a run on the beach around sunset, and went for a swim in the sea. Long Beach is beautiful, but I decided maybe Koh Phi Phi would´ve been better. So I booked a ferry ticket to Phi Phi for the day after.

Koh Lanta - Long Beach

Finished Reading: Superfreakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton
Listening To: Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Koh Phangan and Krabi

From Koh Tao we travelled to Koh Phangan, where the legendary Full Moon Party takes place. The party itself was obviously quite good, with plenty of glow paint, Sang Som (Thai Rum) buckets, slides and fire skipping ropes. Unfortunately I won't be able to upload any of the photos until they've been developed, since we bought a disposable camera for the night. We managed to keep ourselves busy the few days we were there before the full moon party: we went for a few dives off Sail Rock with our diving buddies from Koh Tao, where we managed to see some of the fish that had evaded us on Koh Tao, and lots more barracuda. On one of the dives my mask started leaking so I had to change masks at 22m, which was a first for me. Next stop, Krabi.

Krabi - Snorkelling

Our evenings in Krabi so far have been spent at the night market, trying as many of the different foods on offer as possible. There's an abundance of fruit shakes, chicken skewers, and rice/noodles dishes which are all delicious and extremely cheap (you can get fried rice, some chicken skewers, a fruit shake and a pancake for about £2), so that we're only limited by how much we can actually eat.

Krabi - Last meal together

I spent our first day in Krabi kayaking, while Shaneel stayed at the hostel to watch the rugby or football or something. Krabi has some of the most beautiful scenery we've seen in Thailand so far, with limestone islands and pristine beaches all around. On the kayaking trip I managed to see a large lizard, a hermit crab, and a few monkeys in a mangrove forest.

Krabi - Kayaking

We booked a Four Island snorkelling trip for our second day, where we got a longtail boat around a few of the islands around Krabi, and went snorkelling off some of the more fish-rich beaches.

Krabi - Snorkelling

The eye candy wasn't all underwater though, as the surrounding cliffs surrounded by the transparent waters demanded their own set of photos.

Krabi - Snorkelling

Tomorrow Shaneel will travel to Malaysia, as I go to Koh Lanta for a final couple of days of Thai beaches before I head to Sumatra. We're about to set off for our last supper together (at the night market, no less), as after tomorrow the next time we see each other will be in rainy, cold, boring England.

Finished Reading: Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Now Reading: Superfreakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Koh Tao

Shaneel and I have joined forces again, and we're now on Koh Tao. I finished my Advanced Open Water course yesterday. Shaneel got food poisoning so didn't managed to do his Advanced course, but did finish the Open Water course. I did 6 dives over three days; saw barracuda, jellyfish, trigger fish; went down to 33m and did a night dive. I rented a camera for a day.

Koh Tao - Diving

Even above the water, this island is beautiful. There's lots of nice beaches, palm trees, and because it's low season it's not too busy. This is the beach we're staying on:

Koh Tao

Today I walked to Shark Bay, the next bay over from ours, with a girl called Charlotte whom I met at the dive resort's daily bbq yesterday. We took a bit of a detour and climbed through a load of bungalows and huge rocks to find a completely deserted part of the beach, where we spent the afternoon. She went snorkelling, and I joined her after hearing her shout "Harald! You have to see this!" to see hundreds of parrot fish feeding off the coral on the bottom.

Shark Bay

I spent a few hours playing guitar and swimming around in the water, and I managed to get a good photo I could use in case I ever release an album of acoustic beach songs.

Koh Tao - Shark Bay

We left Shark Bay and hiked up to a view point just in time to see the sun set.

Koh Tao - Sunset