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Saturday, 29 June 2013

Giant Spiders and Accidently Swimming With Sharks

I stood in the dark in my hut, with no lights but my torch I cleaned my teeth and climbed into bed. The heat wasn't too bad thanks to the storm, the rain really took the temperature down. But there was a sound that caught my attention. A faint high buzzing, which stopped as I felt something on my leg, then more buzzing. It then occurred to me that now the air conditioning's fans had stopped turning thanks to the power outage, allowing any kind of bug to make its merry little way into my hut. These bugs took the form of many mosquitoes. I put on some bug spray but still got a relatively sleepless night, and when morning came lets just say I was little itchy. From my head all the down to between my toes..

Regardless of bugs Shiralea really was a great place, one of my fondest memories being in the cold pool up to my neck while eating a steak and drink a huge Mai Tai at lunchtime. Don't judge me, all the travelling had messed up my time, it was 5pm somewhere. Lounging around in the pool was a great way to spend a day, I floated on over to some of my friends sat on loungers, but as I stopped myself against the edge of the pool something caught my eye behind them in the trees. At first the distance and size of the thing didn't make sense in my head, I climb out and walked between the seats. My eyes finally made sense of what was hung there in the trees, suspended in a web. A spider of epic proportions. Its smooth black legs contrasting against its bright yellow swirled body, it looked so strange as it moved around. Apparently they eat birds...

The Beast 

I know what you're thinking, not something you want to get close to right? Just for size relevance it must of been about six or seven inches leg to leg. The stuff of nightmares. Don't get me wrong I'm no arachnophobe but once they get over an inch long they're not something I want to share a room with. And, that my friends brings me to a lovely little "life event". I came back from the pool one night to shower before bed and as I walked into my bathroom, which I'll clarify as a "wet room" as it seemed all bathrooms in Thailand just had a shower on one wall with a grate for the water to escape through, usually the opposite corner. So, as I stepped in the first thing I noticed was that the grate had moved, dipped in like something heavy had pushed it down and then I noticed it, a rather large spider just relaxing on my wall. It's legs spread out to make it look just that little bit bigger. It literally stopped me in my tracks, frozen in the doorway. I stood staring for a moment waiting for it to scuttle towards me to which I'd freak out and probably run around the hut. But, it didn't move. I did not feel up to dealing with it, so I just shut the door and placed a towel along the bottom of the door, I did not want to share a bed with it. That night was mostly spent grasping various parts of my leg as if every itch was it wrapping itself around my leg like the Facehugger from the Alien films.

My New Room Mate

The next morning came and upon checking the bathroom, that lovely eight legged fellow was still lingering. Closer to the drain this time though so I thought he might be leaving. The main thing I was worried about obviously was getting bitten by a spider in a tropical place, because my knowledge doesn't span as much into poisonous spiders on this side of the world, I mean I know a few to be wary of but I wasn't sure of this one. So do I kill it? I don't really like killing things I more for catching things and letting them go, live and let live and all that. But, I don't want to try and catch it if it's going to bite me and while I'm unconscious lay eggs in my eyeballs. It's a moral dilemma. In the end I asked Joy at the bar if they do have any particularly toxic spiders which could do someone serious hard and it turns out they don't.
"Only hunting spiders here"
Which made me feel a whole lot better meaning they just had huge fangs to kill with. So armed with that knowledge I headed back to my hut. How do I get it out? Having a lack of boxes or cups and magazines I decided to, as stupid as it sounds to splash water from the sink at it. Manly I know. The spider however after a while of scuttling towards the grate thought,
"Well this is just rude, getting splashed every five seconds when I've just settled" and made it's way out through the whole where the grate had lay. I managed to use a pen to also pull the grate back into place! But it did find its way back once or twice.

Seeing this Island definitely made me want to see more, the bugs definitely were not enough to put me off. Koh Phangan was a great place and was becoming westernised which is not necessarily a good or bad thing. But it is changing. Also if you ever seen the film The Beach with Leonardo Dicaprio it is actually based on an island near Koh Phangan on the eastern gulf of Thailand. You're wrong I hear you shout, it was on Koh Phi Phi on the western side of the country! But, trust me, for sure it was filmed there on the gorgeous beach on Koh Phi Phi, but apparently the real island is on the eastern side. Why did I not go there you may ask yourself, well during my time in Chiang Mai before I chose which island to fly to, there was actually another earthquake which had the same epicentre as the 2004 earthquake which decimated the islands lying on the western coast of Thailand. With the 2004 quake being one of the most devastating events to happen, it actually caused the entire earth to shake 1cm, I know that doesn't sound much but, just let that settle in. The ENTIRE PLANET moved due to a one earthquake. The quake this time was caused by the tectonic plates sliding against one another rather than pushing upwards, luckily this didn't cause another wave, but for the peace of mind I chose the eastern side.

I was invited by Mark and Tamara to join them to move to the next island Koh Tao, looking at the sizes of the islands here Koh Tao ranked at very small. Just what I wanted, somewhere not to modern, somewhere to relax. We said our goodbyes and made our way to the port to buy our tickets, only a taxi ride away. The boat was quite nice actually, sandwiches and drinks served and plenty of other people to talk to.

Koh Tao instantly felt different to Koh Phangan, confirmed to us with the taxi being a pick up truck. We climbed in and gave the driver the address, he told us to hold on and set off. Straight away I could see why he told us to hold on, the roads here were non-existent. Simple dirt tracks not even close to flat filled with cracks and holes ranging up to two feet wide and five feet long snaked their way up into the hills and that, was the way we were headed. Driving down these hills made us genuinely worried, the cliffs along these roads seemed perilous, bouncing along these "roads" brought us so close to tipping over. Eventually we descended from the hills into a small jungle like area culminating to a stone courtyard.


We were shown to our rooms but straight away met by the pool, to which I jumped in. We needed to swim, and I've got to say that the bay which our hostel was located was gorgeous. White sand with rocks around the edge, the deep turquoise water with a huge twenty foot rock breaking through into the air two hundred yards out. We got ourselves snorkels, masks and flippers from the diving school next door and quite literally dived right in. We swam for a good two hours, all the way out to the end of the reef, around the towering rock to what looked like "The Drop Off" from Finding Nemo. Brightly coloured fish swam back and forth through the warm water, neon pink and green striped Parrot Fish crunched on rock with their beaks keeping us mesmerised with their bright colours. We made our way back to shore paddling gently in the descending sun, as we reached the shallows something swam around me one way, then another the other side. They were Sharks. Only baby ones around two and a half feet. But still Shark. I didn't mean to swim with them, but turns out I can add that to the things I've done!

Thursday, 13 June 2013

The Sea Was Blue and The Drinks Strong

Being stuck in airports is something that nobody likes, but I've got to say that I didn't mind waiting in Koh Samui's. It was much more of a beach hut with some planes next to it and a few mini buses out front. I purchased from one of the desk a ticket for one of the mini buses and boats leaving from a miscellaneous port to Koh Phangnan. The taxi was very pleasant and so were the other passengers, a few being English travellers also. We eventually reached our port where we had to wait for about an hour and my breath was taken away. The sea, was beautiful. The white sand, bordered by the bluest water topped by the peer stretching out like an arm reaching for peace. A taste of a real paradise.

We took the hour as our free time to swim and simply float around in the warm water. The relief of laying down my heavy bag in the sand and letting the water soothe the aches away. We chatted with a man who moved here from England who lived on the beach front, he'd been here for about twenty years and apparently was now bored of the sun and beaches. I couldn't see how. The boat eventually arrived at the end of the peer and we made our way still dripping with sea water. I took my seat at the front of the large boat, my feet hanging overboard, the large waves reaching them and shining in the sun. I reached my port before long and found myself a taxi accompanied by two Norwegian girls who offered to share their fare with me as my hostel was on the other side of the island. Driving through these island towns was an unusual thing, they were more palm tree jungles, dotted with houses, dirt roads and the odd tarmac one too. After driving for quite some time I was eventually tipped to the front of the taxi as we drove down a very steep hill, down towards the beach I might add, and came to a halt by some cabins. Shiralea Backpackers Resort was where I had arrived, and as I climbed the wooden steps there lay on a rug with a beer was Brian, "Hey! You made it!"
"Told you I would".

I had paid a little extra for my room here, after Bangkok I wanted a room with aircon. However when I arrived at my little hut through the little jungle path I found I not only had aircon but also two double beds and my own little hammock on the decking outside over looking the pool.

First things first though, I needed food. And the burger I got was amazing, huge and cooked perfectly. I might add that so was the cocktail, not cooked but mixed to be strong but fresh tasting. Fresh because I watched Joy, the bartender, blend the whole fruits.

Not only was this place homely, set slightly in the jungle area with its own pool, still close to the beach, serving great food and drink, but it also had an eclectic mix of people from all over the world. Not only that but a group from an "Under thirties" cruise, spending time at this place before moving on. Among the people I met where a Dutch couple Mark and Tamara, Brian obviously, Leah and Rahul, who actually used to work in my home town! Julian from Germany, Carl from Sweden, Luke, Victoria and Scott who have only just returned after nearly a year away, and Lucia an Italian girl from Florence. This not being everyone obviously and I'm sorry to anyone who's names I cannot remember!

On one particular night, Joy's bar had switched on some UV lights, and then out came the UV reactive paints... We painted each other for a good hour drinking all the while. The artist in me quite literally shone. After the painting finally stopped, we went to spend some time at a party on the beach called "The Black Moon", similar to the "Full Moon" parties which you're probably familiar with, one problem that is when we got there they had decided to charge quite a lot of money for entry and none of us had brought enough. We decided then because of this, to make our own party outside of the gate using their music! With a whole load more people joining us, including many more Germans! I swear I met more German people on my travels than actually live in Germany. The night that followed, sat on that beach with plenty of Chang, Chang is a Thai beer that we could never guarantee the strength of, one night we could have five bottles each and feel fine, another night we could have one bottle each and be on our backsides in the sand, was great. More fun than you can imagine. Gentle breeze and the cooling sea, contrasting the ever warming bottles of beer we collected. However, that can be one of the worries in Thailand, recently a girl was told she was drinking Gin to find it was actually Methanol, she went blind and died. Be careful where you get your drinks from. I don't want to ruin the happiness or fun, but always buy from a real store.

The taxi ride back was eventful, as we would not all fit, some of us had to hold onto the roof while standing on back step of what was essentially a pick up truck with a cover. The hills proved dangerous but a lot of fun at high speeds, in my drunken state my hands slipped. I'm gone. This is going to hurt. As I fell briefly, hands gripped me and pulled me back into the taxi, thank you whoever the hands belonged to. For that, I could easily owe you my life.

When we arrived back home at Shiralea it had begun to rain, slowly washing the paint from us. As the night was late we retired to the pool hut, we sat and played into the night under the bombardment of water, the odd cicada and lightening. That night when I returned to my hut, the electricity had shorted out. But I did not mind, what a memorable night it was.

My Street 

My House

and My Hammock

The Endless Sea

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Little Bit of Live Jazz, A Whole Lot of Live Tigers and Flying to The Islands

I opened my curtains to find myself on a raised track over looking the trees, as I said where I left off last week the train, had broken down. To be more specific the driver carriage had somehow detached by mistake and continued without us, without the driver realising. But as time passed by suddenly clunk, a driver carriage had been sent back to get us, so once again we were on our way.

The train pulled in a good six hours late but seeing as this was a random journey, it hadn't exactly delayed me, so today I took my time finding a Tuktuk. My hostel today would be Green Tulip House, which I highly recommend! Stella who owns the place is the most welcoming person I think I've ever met, before saying a word she walked over and gave me a hug. The town of Chiang Mai was HOT, even more humid than Bangkok and that's pretty serious. However it was very nice, quaint little streets separated by a river running down the centre filled with pink water lilies, bordered by what looked like old medieval walls. My first night I was invited out to a local open front bar which had a live band playing! Quite jazzy and bluesy, very good! The bar itself wasn't much to look at with it's shabby floor, walls and seats but the overall atmosphere was nice, surrounded by locals and tourists all enjoying the music. Unfortunately I ended up leaving due to how hot it was, as nice as it sounds I was actually sweating through my shirt (I don't usually sweat at all regardless of how hot it is!), a cold shower was needed.

When I arrived back at my room I watched the sun set below the surrounding mountains and then set up camp for sleep, tomorrow I was going to need my wits about me. Tomorrow, I was going to meet some Tigers.

"Your Tuktuk is here, Harrison!" Stella shouted from reception.
The driver actually came and sat with me while I finished my breakfast. I hope I don't smell too much like Bacon, I don't want to get eaten. Now I'd done my research here, I did not want to give any money to any place that was abusing Tigers, we've all heard about certain places that drug such beautiful creatures into submission keeping them docile and in a vegetative state so people can have pictures with them. So upon many searches into this I found this place keep all there Tigers well fed, well kept, clean and most of all sober. And, what I found, was true.

I was asked which age group I would like to meet, as some people only dare to see the babies, which at two months old are just a little bigger than regular cats. The ones aged five months, or the ones aged two years. This sanctuary only keeps them until the age of two because after then, they can become very territorial so once they reach that age they are moved onto the full size zoos around the world who can accommodate Tigers of that size. And with that question faced to me, I thought why not see them all.

I stood waiting at the entrance to the Cub's area, I took off my shoes and washed my hands. I was even nervous then. As I walked in, I don't really know what I was expecting but there they were, about five cubs running around playing with each other. I went and sat down on the floor and waited for one of the Cubs to take interest. One did run over pretty much straight away and began rolling around wanting to play but eventually came and sat right with me. There fur wasn't as soft as I expected it to be, but what was I expecting? A house cat?

They really were adorable, it's hard to imagine that one day these little balls of fur will be such huge animals. I was asked now if I'd like follow one of the trainers to see the five month old "Cubs". I wasn't as prepared this time, as I had not expected them to grow quite that much in the three months separating the ages groups here, they had gone from the size of big house cat, to that of a large dog. As we walked in there were two basking in the sun on the steps lay together, the trainer asked if I'd like a photograph with them both as there was a slight space between them I could lie in. Excuse me?
"Are you joking?"
"No, feel free to lie between them" he said.
"I hope I don't still smell like the bacon I had this morning..."
As I lay there, I couldn't help but notice how they acted, quite literally, like cats. In the day they want to lie around in the sun, except sometimes swim in the pool they have!

The weather began to change and as most of you probably know, when it rains in Thailand, it rains in Thailand. So the Tigers where now moved into their pens where they sleep and shelter.
"Are you ready to move on?" the trainer asked me.
"Just give me a moment" I said, I just wanted to stand with them as the walked around, their presence was just something so dreamlike. 

I stepped up into the pen, feeling strangely calm, even though the first two year old I was going in with was the biggest they currently had. And as I walked in a set my eyes upon a Tiger, nothing like what I had seen previously. This Tiger was big, I cannot express quite how big. Imagine an animal with paws as big as your head, with teeth and claws as long as your fingers, and eyes that stared so piercingly that you stop moving. If that is too much for you to imagine just take a look.

Exactly. What I noticed as I sat there with him, was how peaceful he was, there was no tension. Like he was allowing me to stay there alive and that if he felt like it he literally could kill me without even having to try. I put my head down on him, what the hell am I thinking. As I did that though, he also lowered his head, in such a relaxed manor that I thought we might fall asleep. I got up to leave and he simply looked over at me as if a goodbye was necessary. I made my way into the next pen, the Tiger in here suddenly jumped up onto the table, and I thought I was going to die. But he instead lay there, and stretched out. He wanted to get to something his handler had just hooked on the pen wall, a meat hook. As he sat there at head height with me I stroked him like a huge, able to kill me in one swipe house cat. He jumped down again. His trainer had an idea. He hooked the meat hook higher at a place the Tiger had to stand on his hind legs to reach, he wanted to show quite how tall the smallest two year old was.

As the Tiger jumped up, it dawned on me that this small Tiger was the same height as me. The muscles in his legs so defined as he clung to the fence and it was obvious, this was a powerful animal.

My short week was up in Chiang Mai, and I was ready for some relaxing. Somewhere a little cooler than the hot north of Thailand, I wanted to be near the sea. My Tuktuk arrived, I said my goodbyes to Stella, the other guests and I climbed onto the hot leather seat and we were away. As I was holding on for dear life a roaring sound deafened me, the driver (who while driving leant out of the Tuktuk and looked out at the sky going  forty miles per hour) and all the people on the street. It was a fighter jet, doing barrel rolls and stunts along with five other jets around the airport. I thought I may be delayed due to the military air show, I wasn't, however it did make passing through the airport a little more watched than usual. The plane I was boarding was going to be a little more watched by me. It was a piece of junk. I mean literally shaking itself apart! Even skidding on the runway as we landed! The airport I landed in, had no walls. Only little rivers and palm trees, the roof was made of straw and planks, and to finish it off the baggage conveyor was made of bambo. This place was Koh Samui.

Walking the Tiger

Hell of a set of teeth

Big House Cat

Sleeping on a Tiger

The happiest little guy ever

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Songkran, The Floating Market and The Night Train

It was pretty refreshing to be honest being covered head to toe in icey water, either from the water guns, cups or buckets. Being forty Celsius and around eighty percent humidity, as you can imagine it was pretty uncomfortable! Songkran for anybody who doesn't know is basically Thai New Year or The Water Festival some call it, mainly because as you read above drenching everybody with water is part of the cleansing ritual! To quite literally wash away the bad things of the previous year. The only problem was that if you wanted to take a look around anywhere, particularly in Bangkok where there are thousands of people, it's pretty difficult to stay dry! Also pretty hard to eat from the street kitchens when you keep having to run around the damn cart, spilling all that awesome food everywhere.

After running from the locals covered in a plethora of Thai curries we jumped onto a bus, lead by the lovely Sylvia (a Swiss singer) and Zeineb (whos name I struggled with so much I ended up just calling her Zee) who were staying in the same hostel as me. Our adventure today, was to the "Floating Market", a short trip by bus and by far one of the most unusual sights to behold.

We exited the boiling pan of a bus and straight into what was stalls set right up into the carpark. I found myself stuck with thoughts of how this market was definatley not floating in any way. Unless you counted the smell, it definatley has a hovering notion about the nose, which was caused by the odd fruit you are not aloud in certain places, because of the smell. I believe it's called a Durian, we were offered to try some but as the smell really got up in my head I refused, however Sylvia did say it's taste was rather pleasent! I followed Sylvia around the next corner to find quite a sight, the reason this was called The Floating Market was because the next section was floating, made from a ramshackle of miscellaneous boats and stalls around a central pool. I watched as a young boy threw what looked like a handful of Wotsits (curly cheese flavoured crisp) into the calm water. What is that?! The pool suddenly came to life. The water bubbled and rose, filled with life as hundreds of catfish begin writhing over each other fighting for the food. Some, even left above water for minutes unable to return to submersion due to the unexplainable amount of fish. And then, stillness. Only gentle ripples left on the pond as remnants of the sudden life. Then, mere seconds later, another passer by repeated the spectacle with the addition of another handful of cheesy snacks. You could also buy baby turtles to release into the river as a good luck charm for the year!

My attention was now drawn away, by the rising of a machete out of the corner of my eye. Which was brought down quickly, into the top of a Coconut. And, with terrifying accuracy of several intense hacks removed the "lid" of the poor Coconut, a straw was placed into the now Coconut bowl and it was passed to me. The milk of the Coconut was intensely smooth and sweet. Probably the freshest thing I've ever had the pleasure to drink. And with that, I was hit with a sudden sense of dare I say it, paradise. Sat by the water, the sun shining, boats passing and drinking from Coconut. Instantly surreal.

Then once again the water guns came out, the cold water onslaught eventually drove us back to the streets and we began to walk back. The houses down the streets were filled with life and a local shop with an open front had a barrel of water and ice, surrounded by children who were playing in the street with buckets and water guns. We were chased around by the children and then pulled into the shop by the adults and forced to drink pints of beer for free. I mean literally forced. Not the worst thing in the world! Sylvia, Zee and I all danced into the music and water sprayed all around us, enjoying the beer and kindess of the locals, but as it always does time had come around to head back. And, upon the family finding out we needed to leave, they sent their children into the road to stop a bus, to which they entered the bus armed with waterguns. It was a massacre, no one was left dry.

For the next few days Songkran continued and so we spent a good amount of time drenched, during one trip back to change my clothes I met Brian, sat drinking coffee in my hostel waiting to check out. We chatted for a while about travelling and how our trips were going, he was an American teaching English in Korea and this was his holiday period. He told me about an island, sounds like the movie The Beach right? Well unfortunatley there was no map, but I did have an island name and a hostel. Feeling particularly spontaneous I turned to him and said "I'll meet you there next week".
With that he left for his flight and I left for the train station. I regret that I missed Sylvia and Zee before I left, I really hope that we will meet up again in some other random hostel somewhere!

Tonight I was taking the night train. Chiang Mai. This line is way too long. I stood waiting and eventually purchased my overnight ticket, and I was going economy. This meant my seat and bed were not a secluded room but just a regular train seat. But for only £14 to travel from one end of the country to the other, pretty good if you ask me! After sitting and reading for a while I was joined by a Thai girl, whos name regrettably escapes me, who sat quietly across from me. We began chatting as the train pulled away and settled for a long journey.

As night fell one of the train stewards came to my seat and asked me to stand for a moment, he folded away the table and slid down the seats to form a double bed, it now occured to me that I may be sharing my bed with this random girl. Until he also folded down a second bed from the ceiling! Probably best to be honest I hardly knew her. I was shocked firstly that I fit in the bed, and secondly because my bed was level with the window, so as I lay with my aisle curtain drawn, I was met with the view of a sunset. Casting purple and orange clouds across the sky above the sea of trees and jungle below as the great red disc settled on the horizon. The steady rocking of the train was kind of relaxing and I thought this would be a good nights rest, which it was, but when I woke I found myself still in the jungle. The train had broken down.
My Tuktuk ride
A picture of children during Songkran, consider it had NOT been raining.

My room on the train.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Countdown Karaoke to Standing On The Sun

My next trip dawns ever closer, and I'm not even half way through this current blog. Which means you may see my little posts more regularly! Time in Tokyo was running out (not in a Godzilla kind of way) just that my time there was nearly up. What's the best way to celebrate your last night in Tokyo? That's right... Karaoke! But first food shopping, its a must. Even the food shops are odd here, although I think food companies would sell way more food if the packages here in England looked like this.
So after some more Sashimi to celecrate my last day we spend another day looking around the temple, bathing in the smoke from the well to cleanse our souls and waiting for night to fall.

We made our way to Shinjuku and crossed with the sea of people at the biggest crossing in the world which was weird, stood waiting with what could've been a thousand people. We found the Karaoke bar and if I'm honest it was different than what I was expecting. In my head I had picture a bar with a stage like what you would find here or any other country, but in Japan they do things a little different. We paid the fee and were shown up three flights of stairs and into a small room containing a TV, a phone, four microphones and a menu. I was still in awe from the weird art work on the way up the stairs.

See what I mean? Exactly. Face and Ass, such a classy piece. What came next was the most beautiful rendition of A Whole New World my ears have ever been punished with. Thank you once again for that Marcus, Sponge and Becky. Another unusual point was that you used the phone in your room to call the bar below to order and deliver your drinks!

My time was running out, my flight was at 00:30am and it was now pushing 11pm. I've left this too late! I had to say a quick goodbye to my friends, thank you once again for making my stay in Tokyo so much fun, and make my way back to the hostel to get my bags. I hailed a taxi outside and made my way to Narita Airport. The traffic was terrible, I had forgotten how busy this city was even this late. I was verging on missing my flight, it was getting down to the last half an hour now, and I was still stuck in traffic. I gave the taxi driver free rain to drive like a madman to get me there in time.

We arrived and I didn't have enough money for my fare... but, the driver let me off for making his shift exciting, apparently he didn't get to drive fast often! I ran through the airport straight to the desk, and made it to my gate as they were about to close. Thank God, made it aboard in time. I settled in for my trip back closer to home, closer in a sense anyway. I had nearly boarded the wrong flight due to a translation error on my part, but it goes both ways. A word of advice, make sure you're positive on what words say before you go ahead using it for directions or anything else...
We're landing.Time for a different climate. Don't get me wrong, Japan had its nice days but this next place was on another level. The surface of the sun to be precise... This place, was Bangkok.
As soon as the door of the plane opened I was hit by what felt like a literal wall of heat, I checked if my eyesbrows and beard were still there as I thought they'd been seared away. The first thing I saw there? A HUGE Manchester United logo. Am I home? Did I board the wrong plane? Those thoughts were quashed as I was suddenly, as if they popped into existence, in the presence of monks. Full orange robes and all, but talking on mobile phones. It was an unusual cross over of the new and old to be honest, like a pensioner sat playing an Xbox listing to Tiny Tempa or something.
I collected my things and made my way outside. Jesus Christ. It was even hotter outside, I found a taxi and climbed in. Onto leather seats which burnt and stuck you to them which was needed with this guys rally driving skills. Bangkok was an unusual city to see speeding by me, I saw again such a mix of old and new culture, my hostel was situated above a coffee shop which was perfect. I have never had such an amazing iced latte. After I checked in at 11am (I'd landed at 5am) I decided to take a little stroll and to see where I was. I was right next to a temple again!
Lovely as that was I was instantly almost mugged by a tiny hobo, more beardy and haired than myself! But I stood my ground. He was not having my money. I had had too little sleep to messed around. It was strange because as soon as I stood up for myself he went on his way, perhaps he expected for foreigners to hand out cash easily. This little triumph was soon dispersed as I was shot with a water gun, although to be quite honest it was extremely cooling! Then it dawned on me what I had read on the date I had landed, tomorrow was the begining of Songkran. The water festival.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

The Electric City, Sailor Girls and Darth Vader

Sat by the river, at our hostels "Sakura Party" me and the other groups of travellers enjoy the sun and company of new people, our group especially who where also enjoying the freshest Sashimi I've ever tasted and witnessed being built. A fish flavoured masterpiece.

I met many people at this little party, our group had pretty much one person from every country, including a lovely Spanish girl called Victoria Lopez who was living in Tokyo and learning English (which I could help her brush up on). We hit it off and were instantly friends, she was great company for the day and I hope to see her again one day! On my next trip I may be returning to Tokyo so I will see her again soon! After this relaxing day it was time to see "The Electric City"

This whole city buzzes, I don't mean with electricity (which is suprising) but literally with life. Akihabara, the "Electric City". This district wouldn't be the one for the faint hearted, from the lively and unusual people to the huge neon buildings, which by night illuminate the streets like a UV painting. Marcus and I were now walking through the flashing streets mesmerized by the strange things and shops, we walked past around four six story comic shops and decided to stop for a look around. The first two floors were relatively normal with standard anime comics, but the same cannot be said for the rest... we continued up the building expecting it to change from pretty vivid "Hentai", but we were mistaken (for anyone who does not know what Hentai is, and to save you from google searching it, its pretty weird anime porn). Now for us Westerners it felt pretty uncomfortable to be around all this stuff, like the feeling of walking out of a cinema into broad daylight, just not quite right. But the Japanese people didn't seem to care that all the people around them could see blatantly what they were into, because most of the people around were into the same thing. After the eyeful adventure we quickly made our decent back to the street to continue along the electric streets. Some more unusual stuff we saw were for example a Cat Cafe, where you literally payed to sit with a ton of cats, a multi story toy store containing pretty much every toy there could be in the world which included I might add what looked like real hand grenades, more cat toys than is healthy and many eight story arcades filled with people who look like the finish work, go straight there until they have to work again. Also I'd like to mention, they had a fullsize Darth Vader!

Now by night this part of the city is even more lively than in the day, the shops do not close, and even more bars open. Now I'd like to clear up that the bars here cater to all the comic book fans and with that in mind have "themes". For a start I didn't know this, but Marcus took me to a bar after talking to a girl on the street dressed as a maid... yeah I know right. So we walked into a small bar which seemed again like someones flat turned into a bar, and to be honest actually had a very good time and I don't mean just the "Maid Waitresses" causing that! We decided to play some darts joined by two of the girls and eventually two local young guys dressed in suits, we had a laugh with them as they spoke a little English and Marcus speaks a little Japanese.
"Would you like to go more places, like this?" One of them asked looking very happy about being able to show us around, with that we accepted. Why the hell not! When we came to pay one of the waitresses she told us that the two guys had paid for us, this mean they had paid our entry which was about £30 and our drinks! We went to the next bar which was called The Mermaid Cafe, this place I actually quite liked, you paid to enter and to drink all you can in an hour for £30, which once again the guys refused us to pay for and took it on themselves to pay for us. The girls "theme" here was like sailor school girl outfits with coloured contact lenses, tails and animal ears. I know exactly what you're thinking. We got seated right at the bar and the drinks started flowing, and it was strong. Some kind of plum brandy was served and something over 40% should NOT be that easy to drink...

After our hour was up we decided to move to our next place, we said goodbye to everyone and made our way to a pool hall which again we were not aloud to pay for! And once again you pay for an amount of time on the table and get drinks included which if I'm being completely honest I rather like this method, who knows why.

It's getting late. Time to go. As the time past by tonight Marcus and I really got an insight into not just the city but the people who inhabit it, what we saw is amazing. We met two strangers who insisted on taking us around the city to show us a good time and when I tried to give them some money at the end of the night, I was met with a kind "No, welcome to Japan"

The city

 Cat Cafe

The Arcade Inhabitants
So much cats...
Me and Darth

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Mayday Trials and Japan

If any of you do not know what Mayday is (English readers should), for anyone who doesn't allow me to explain. Mayday is supposed to mark the time of year when the weather here in England gets warmer, trees and flowers blossom and has been celebrated in England for around 2000 years! Parades walk down the little streets of my town, a fun fair fills the air with the smell of hot dogs, burgers and... petrol. Which is followed by a crowning of a "May Queen" and then a Maypole dance (not as sexy as it sounds). Being a barman I must say I did not enjoy the day as much as the other 9,000 people in our town, not including the other unlucky few working bars and restaurants too! It's common knowledge that us English like to drink, well I'll now confirm that as we sold our entire stock of vodka, lager and white wine. So as you can imagine me and my fellow Barmen rue that 17 hour shift. At least that one day put some serious cash in the bank and next week's paycheck should be good!
Here's a little snap of our little street as the parade begins.

The celebrations here in our little town are not too distant from the Sakura festival I was lucky enough to experience. This festival itself takes place when the blossom trees reach full flowering and is probably the most beautiful sights I have seen, take a look:

Where I left off previously (the taxi ride if you remember) was not the end to that night obviously the nocturnal adventure ended when I finally arrived at my hostel... which had closed. Luckily however I found after paying the taxi what would be £50, the lady was inside and hadn't left yet! She let me in, gave me my key and told me where my room was. I followed her instructions and came to quite a grimy looking corridor which seemed like an old block of flats.
My room however was not as bad, although when I walked in I was greated my four French guys who didnt speak a word of English who stared until I got into bed. And just to make it better the guy who had the bed next to mine had the worst smelling feet I. Have. Ever. Smelt. Mezanine was the album on the menu tonight, morning would be here soon.

Morning came very rapidly actually, when I woke the French guys were gone so I headed down to the Rec room for breakfast. I collected my food and sat down, but something caught my attention. A voice. The accent was what struck me most first, I turned around to find a man called Reuban Grant. Who I happened to have met back in England at a music festival called Download, who lives in Manchester. What are the chances here? I mean literally on the other side of the world, in some random hostel in one of the biggest cities in the world.
After breakfast I decided to take some air in around the city and walked out into the busy streets. Over some of the buildings I noticed a tall structure that stuck out as unusual. It turned out that my hostel was right next to the Sensoji Temple, and with the Cherry Blossoms being in bloom it was quite a sight.

Wandering around a place like this was amazing, I have never seen a temple before outside of the fake ones built in the Trafford Centre...

 Now I've got to say not all of Tokyo is so lovely, Reuban, Dan and I decided on going out for a few drinks in the Roppongi district. Now Roppongi is known for being the "drinking place for Gaijin", we stopped in one bar which had the biggest assortment of bras hung around the ceiling which I've ever seen fronted by a barman from New Zealand. After drinking for a while we decided to head back, but on the walk the heavens opened up and we got soaked. I mean really soaked. Although we did get an amazing picture thanks to Reubans camera.

Now what happened next was something that made me a little uncomfortable, on the walk back we were stopped by a huge Nigerian guy who asked if we wanted some drinks and somewhere dry to sit while we dried off. Me, Reuban and Dan followed the man into a building, took a lift to the top floor and were shown into a small club contained in one room. It was empty. We were sat down at a table and left for a few moments until three Russian women came over, it dawned on me. This was a Hostess Bar. Now a Hostess Bar is nothing sleazy luckily, but it did have an air off creepy and wrong! We were brought one free drink each which I must say I was slightly hesitant to drink as I didn't order one. The Russian girls I must say were actually very nice, well two of them anyway. The problem here was that they kept requestion that we buy Champagne which was close to £300 a bottle, so as you can imagine the answer everytime was no! Now after a good twenty minutes of asking they began to get a little aggitated and one of the Nigerian bouncers came over asking why we have not bought the women any drinks yet in a very aggressive way. Dan decided to leave, we thought he had just gone to the bathroom so we didn't follow, and we remained sat there like lemons waiting for him. With him not returning we reached a logical idea, THEY KILLED SPONGE!!! (I should clarify we called him sponge because of his Spongebob socks) But then the bouncer told us that he'd left so the panic was over. Time to leave. I stood up and told Reuban it was time to go so we made our way for the door, not before I might add the Russian woman asked me to meet her "after work". But as I was still soaked, now pretty drunk and it was pushing 2am already I gave the offer a miss.

Bra Bar

The nearby temple, what really struck me was the size!

The temple's golden room
Cherry Blossom