The Bangkok Blues

Paul Raftery in AsiaThe first week of the trip was the worst I’ve ever had, with regards to jetlag, and for some reason I just couldn’t get on Thailand time. When I arrived in the city, around 9pm, I discovered that my usual hotel was closed. I had never needed a reservation before and normally I’d just turn up. I was met by a guy who was manning the car park, and he told me that the hotel wasn’t accepting anymore guests because they were shutting down. Slightly disappointed with the end of an era, I managed to get a room in another place called the Condotel. It was slightly more expensive but it was OK, or so I thought …

Although superior to my old hotel, I quickly learned that they were doing some refurbishing, and I was woken to the sound of an angle-grinder and hammering every morning at 8.58am. Breakfast was between 7-10am, but I never made it down in time for the first five days. Even though my wake-up call was less than perfect, I was glad to be getting up at a reasonable time, but the constant hammering throughout the day, until 6pm, was often infuriating.

This year, I decided to adopt a policy of drinking alcohol for the first couple evenings to help me sleep and it seemed to work, but by the 3rd night I’d had enough and just wanted a quiet night in. But for several days following, I just could not get into a regular sleeping pattern. The real life saver was my new media player that connects to almost any TV, which is packed full of TV shows and movies to keep me occupied during those nights of insomnia. Jetlag tends to turn me into the 19 year old I once was: Drinking too much; not getting enough sleep, then getting up and doing it all over again!

MBK.JPG

By the 3rd day, I decided to take a trip out to one of the large shopping centres in Bangkok called MBK via the Skytrain (BTS). It’s a good place to visit for a few hours if you like to do a bit of shopping. As I was leaving, I found the Bangkok Art Exhibition Centre and decided to waste some more time in there. Last year on Langkawi Island, I had an amazing time photographing wildlife in Malaysia, and since then I have developed a mild interest in photography (mostly as a pastime). I was quite impressed with some of the black and white photos, on display, of some of Thailand’s lesser known regions. They were setup by CameraEyes, school of fine art photography, by Somchai Suriyasathaporn. The display was of mountains, trees, streams, waterfalls, islands, sea, rainforest, mangroves and old forests. Some of the photos were quite spectacular.

B&W Photos.JPG

There was also the Exhibition Water Colour of Asean: A collection of paintings featuring areas of Melaka and Penang in Malaysia: two areas that I am very familiar with, and I recognised many of the places in the paintings.

Studhays, Melaka

Studhays Building, Melaka

By the Friday night, I was ready for another night of boozing and met with a friend of mine called Terry. He is a member of the World Hash Harriers: an organisation that was setup for expats to meet with one another and go jogging in various places in Bangkok, or anywhere else around the world. He first got involved with the organisation when he was living in Spain, and then continued to meet people when he moved to Thailand. My blood is too thick for Bangkok, so I declined the offer to go for a run, but I decided to come along, just for a drink, and meet a few people at the Kiki bar, near Nana station. It was a great night and I met some wonderful people from around the world, including some local Thai’s.

Kiki Bar.JPG

Five days deep and I still hadn’t managed to get into a regular sleeping pattern. Still, I persevered and decided to take a walk to the Queen Sirikit Park: a beautiful recreational area near the Chatuchak Weekend Market. As I approached through the main gate, I could see there was some kind of event being held in the park. It was run by the Bird Conservation Society in Thailand. It was mostly all written in Thai, but I could see a banner showing what kinds of birdlife can be found in Bangkok. Fresh from my experiences in Langkawi earlier on in the year, I decided to take a stroll around the park for an hour and try to snap some wildlife, but I didn’t capture much. I found little information online, in English, about the event, but I got the gist of what they’re all about.

Sirikit Park.jpg

I originally intended to stay in Bangkok only for 5 nights, but in the end I was there a week. I was still knackered from upset sleeping patterns that would ultimately continue well into the second week. I really didn’t fancy traipsing across Bangkok with my suitcase, so I booked a taxi to take me straight to Pattaya for 1500 Bhat (£30) and so the next leg of my journey was about to begin …

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Travel Tip: Media Players

Media 2

We all know that our time spent on holiday is meant to be filled with outdoor activities but sometimes, especially on long trips, we just want to curl up in our hotel room and watch a movie. Laptops and Tablets are great for watching TV shows but, let’s face it, if we can get something out of the TV – all the better.

After years of travelling, I was introduced to the media player by a friend last year in Thailand. I know some people would have been using them for years, but it has revolutionised my ‘down time’. With a selection of input methods such as HDMI, RCA, Skart and VGA, it is easy to connect to any TV no matter how old it is. Complete with remote control, it is an essential tool when travelling for long periods, or with kids. Without trying to endorse any particular product, I won’t give the brand name of the one I’m using, but they can be found on Amazon, or most other electrical retailers. 

It’s a little bit like travelling around with my very own Skybox (filled with the TV shows I want to see). On those rainy days it’s a life saver …

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I wondered what the noise was!

Walking the streets of Penang, in search of a Thali, looking around Little India, I found a place that does excellent food. Whilst I was waiting for my meal to be prepared, I heard music coming from outside the restaurant:

 

See more photos on my Instagram page. For photos pertaining to my upcoming book, A Learning Curve, you can use the hashtag #raffsbook.

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Poised for another adventure …

Me at top of Menara

It’s that time of year again!

Well, the weather’s turning cold, and it’s time to migrate somewhere for the winter. Unfortunately, last year’s trip turned out to be a bit of a bust, in terms of Wingin’ It Adventures. I originally had plans to make a documentary of the trip through India, China and Japan but, alas, it wasn’t to be.

I was also hoping to keep a record of the trip on the blog but, again, things didn’t quite pan out as I’d hoped. The purpose of last year’s trip was to gather enough material to finally finish my long awaited book, A Learning Curve, which is out this spring, but whenever I wrote something for the blog that I thought was pretty interesting, or cool, I decided to save it for the book. In the end I got fed-up of churning out half baked blog posts and decided to jack it in.

However, as the winter is beginning to set in, I have decided to head off to Thailand for a few months in search of some work opportunities as a digital nomad.

Keep an eye out on Instagram for some more photos from last year’s trip, as well as some new blog posts coming over the winter. I don’t want to say too much but, hopefully, I will finally make it to Vietnam, which I have been threatening to do for years and, with any luck, fulfil number eight on my travel bucket list, which I really need to start getting to work on!

After my laptop failed during last year’s trip, I had to abandon my hobby of producing some slideshows but, in my excitement for this year’s trip to Pattaya, I decided to make this little video to remind me of the absolutely brilliant time I had in Japan – as if I need reminding!

So for this year’s Wingin’ It adventure, I am heading to the sex capital of Thailand for most of the trip, which should be interesting, with some excursions to some of my favourite places to visit, Chiang Rai and Koh Chang, but as I have learnt over the years, nothing ever goes to plan!

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So the story begins…

Story begins

There’s nothing like that feeling you get when you wake up on the first day of a long travelling adventure, providing you’ve had a good night’s sleep of course.

I awoke to the dulcet tones of the hotel air-con units. There was a gentle rattle coming from inside the tired old machines that had probably been cooling the Liberty Garden Hotel for decades; a sound that I had awoken to on so many occasions in Bangkok.

It was after 10am, which meant breakfast was off the menu. I could taste Leo beer still strong on my breath from the night before, and my head was as foggy as a misty morning on the Mekong River.

I struggled to my feet. I caught sight of myself in a mirror above the TV. Standing there in my underwear; I looked a perfect picture of bad health. With one eye open, I managed to find a warm bottle of water next to my bed. As I guzzled it down, my mind began to clear – what happened last night?

* * *

The outbound journey was one of the roughest flights I’d ever had; fortunately, we made it in just under 12 hours flight time, plus a 2 hour stopover in Delhi. Once we’d freshened up and grabbed a quick Masala Dosa at the airport, we were ready for our departure.

Once in Bangkok, I hadn’t slept in 30+ hours, but I was in reasonable spirits. I suggested we visit my favourite restaurant next door to our hotel. We both had the spicy pork, which was phenomenal. I felt uneasy on the plastic red seats, that seemed to bow a little too much under my weight, but luckily it kept me upright.

My intentions were to have a few beers for a couple of hours and call it a night, around midnight, but I thought Konrad would enjoy a drink a little further down the road at a place called the Pradipat Hotel, which was just a hotel bar.

We sat in a booth and ordered a bottle of Sang Song whiskey, and got chatty with our waitress. There were people singing on stage: mostly young girls. The girls would come and sit with the customers, though, it wasn’t a place where men can pick-up girls; it was all pretty innocent.

Konrad introduced himself as ‘Sonny’ to the waitress. At the time, I thought he was just having a laugh, so I decided to play along and told her my name was ‘Paulo’. I quickly learned, however, that Konrad genuinely didn’t want anyone to know his real name in case he found himself in trouble, and thought that the authorities would somehow track him down easier with a name like Konrad. I found this to be truly bizarre behaviour.

It was a great night, but my plan was ill conceived, and we didn’t get back to the hotel until 6am, shattering the early night idea. As we staggered back to the hotel the sun was already beginning to rear its ugly head.

Over the first 4 days, I was really struggling to get a good night’s sleep. Though, I would get up early and try and get on with the day as best I could. I would often take the Skytrain around the city, just to have something to do in the morning. When it came to going to bed at night, I just couldn’t sleep a wink.

However, I did manage to get on with some basic chores like organising some laundry. I had an awkward situation when trying to explain to the guy that I had some rather unfortunately placed grease stains on the crouch of my short trousers, and received some dubious looks when I handed them to him. He did do a good job at getting them cleaned though.

On the 4th night in Bangkok, I met up with Terry, whom I have known for many years since living in Spain in 2007. After eating a nice meal with him in another local restaurant, I decided I would have a couple of beers to help me get to sleep. By now, I was at my wits end and was so incredibly tired, I was having trouble functioning properly.

I popped into the Chinese restaurant next to the hotel to have a few more bottles of Leo beer. I stayed for a couple of hours and watched a cheesy movie on a TV with the rest of the staff, but I really wasn’t paying much attention to the TV at all. I was nearing the end of my 4th bottle of beer and decided that was enough, and I would call it a night and try to get some sleep, especially as we were leaving for Malaysia in the morning.

As I returned from the bathroom, I forgot myself and took a seat. The flimsy legs of my chair gave way and I went down like a sack of potatoes, swiftly followed by the entire table with plates and bottles, covering my newly cleaned short trousers in sweet chilli sauce. I looked like a right mess. I was quickly helped to my feet by about 6 members of staff.

Needless to say, it was one of the most embarrassing things too ever happen to me. I paid the bill with great haste and got the hell out of there. The rat-bastards charged me for the chair too! It’s one of my favourite restaurants, but it’s going to be tough showing my face in there after that little incident. I certainly won’t be in there for at least a month.

So as usual a good start to things; it’s been a week of living in the twilight zone, with terrible sleeping patterns, but things are finally beginning to level out – especially that chair!

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The Mission to India

India

As I sat at the airport, it occurred to me that I’m sick of it all. Since 2009, I estimate, I’ve flown around 50 times, and the novelty of the airport has now completely gone. I know it’s a small price to pay for getting to visit some of the world’s most interesting places, but does that mean I have to be happy about hanging round yet another airport. I suppose the answer is yes, but I can’t help the way I feel. I don’t mind the odd flight, but 3-4 flights a week are getting to be too much.

After a short 4 hour flight to Cochin, we arrived in the southern state of Kerala. It was fairly normal arrival (for India). I was unable to buy any rupees before entering the country because it is a closed currency, meaning it is illegal to move Indian currency in and out of the country. I couldn’t find an ATM so I exchanged £250 cash, giving me around 24.000 Rupees, which I thought wasn’t too bad.

We used a prepaid taxi kiosk which was useful. It cost around 1200 Rupees, which in the beginning I thought was expensive, but considering the distance we travelled, it was OK.

The journey however was one of the most anxious, white knuckle, rides of my life. We were in some old clapped out piece of crap. I paid extra for a car with air-con, but the guy just opened the window. He nearly hit several other motorists on our 40 minute drive through the streets of Kerala at 12am. This is not my first Rodeo, and I have been to India before, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t wait to get out of that car.

After pissing about trying to find the place, we finally arrived. The place certainly didn’t look as it did on the website, but in my experience things always look better in the light of day. As we stepped out of our steal coffin, by now it was knocking on 1am, and there was no sign of anyone.

The hostel was supposed to have 24 hour reception, and even offered airport transfers, which is a load of rubbish.

The driver insisted on a tip, so I gave him a hundred, I think. I just hope I didn’t slip him a thousand by mistake. He wasn’t the best of taxi drivers; he was very abrupt and snatched the piece of paper out my hand when he met us at the airport.

He did hang on with us as we continually rang the door bell, whilst waiting for someone at the Honolulu Homestay to get their arses out of bed, and let us in. But the driver only waited so he could charge us again to take us elsewhere. I had visions of having to go wandering the streets in search of somewhere to stay, which wouldn’t have been the first time, but in the short few minutes we stood outside, ringing the doorbell, I must have been bitten 20 times.

Finally a light came on, and a heavily pregnant woman popped her head out of the door. I explained to her that I had emailed several times about our arrival, but no one replied to my messages. I had even considered cancelling our booking, so we could find somewhere that would pick us up from the airport.

The first thing I wanted to do when I got into my room was brush my teeth and take a shower. As I switched the tap on, there was a flurry of activity around the sink area. There was a family of spiders living within the sink cavity. I had to kill them. I didn’t have any bug spray, so I used my mosquito repellent and then squished the big one. I don’t know if they’re venomous but I wasn’t taking any chances. Weary from travel, I had a quick shower and called it a night.

Say hello to my little friend...

Say hello to my little friend…

Fort Cochin

After a sleepless night, we headed out on to the burning hot streets of Kerala. The town wasn’t what I expected. With so much Dutch history, I thought it would have been more of a European looking town, much the same as Melaka in Malaysia. All credit to the Indian people though for maintaining a distinctively Indian style, though sadly this meant that everything was crumbling and was in need of a good coat of paint.

Walking the streets, it seemed like what I would imagine Jamaica to be like, with lots of examples of reds and greens splashed around the place. Coconut trees can be seen everywhere, which in my opinion is the best feature of the place. Kerala actually means ‘Coconut Land’.

There didn’t seem to be as many people as I have seen in other parts of India, I would say around a 3rd less people walking the streets. It is also a lot cleaner than other parts of India, though there is still rubbish dumped all over the place. In a way Sonny got off lightly, as Fort Cochin is what I would call ‘India light’. There’s very little in the way of homeless people and absolutely no beggars whatsoever.

We decided to stop in a little hotel for a cup of coffee and hide away from the heat of the day. Afterwards we were approached by a guy, who I shall name Rupert, because I can’t remember his real name.

Rupert told us about all the places he will take us in his Tuk Tuk for only 200 Rupees; he neglected to tell us about all of the ‘extras’ he was going to take us to. I should have known better; in fact, I did know better, but Sonny insisted. He took us to lots of shops trying to sell us overpriced souvenirs and ornaments. He took us to spice factories, scented oil factories and the like.

To be honest, it wasn’t too bad, but after a few hours of it, I was beginning to wane a little. I’d only had around 3 hours sleep and really didn’t fancy anymore shops.

Dutch Palace

Throughout the day he took us to a couple of semi-interesting places, such as the Dutch Palace, which wasn’t really a palace but rather a mansion. Inside was a museum, though I saw little information referring to any Dutch settlement in the past, but what the Indian people had used the building for since the Dutch had left India. There was strictly no photography, which I just thought was petty, and there wasn’t anything of interest to photograph anyway, just a knackered old building with little interesting history – well to my western eyes anyway.

To me, he took us to a lot of ‘fillers’ trying to clock up as much time as possible, so that we’d give him more money though, Rupert was a good guy and, we had a bit of a laugh with him. He took us to lots of old colonial buildings that had been derelict for many years, and held little interest to me at the time. Though the more I delve in to British colonial history throughout Asia, the more I become interested in it.

Old Colonial building

He took us to what I can only describe as the biggest laundry operation I’ve ever been to. All the clothes were hand washed by beating them against a hard surface before being dried in the sun. They are then pressed with industrial Irons, which looked like they were once heated by a fireplace, but have since been converted to except electricity, which of course is not the case, I hope. I didn’t like the place. I’ve never felt comfortable putting people under a spotlight and taking photographs of them going about their daily lives, especially in places of business or worship, but I figured they’re used to it so what the hell.

Laundry

IRON MAN

IRON MAN

All in all it was a good day but, like most sightseeing I’ve done on this trip so far, I was robbed of the full enjoyment of the day because I wasn’t feeling 100%.

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