Sunday, December 24, 2006

23rd - 27th December (Christmas in Oamaru)

I had thought of heading to Queenstown for Christmas as it's quite a lively and popular place to be apparently. Of course, the flip side of this is the accomodation is probably all booked up. I sat at the roadside on the only road out of Mt. Cook holding a 'Queenstown' sign for two hours, the sun was burning the back of my neck and head. There wasn't too much traffic but there were plenty of half empty cars that were going in my direction at least to the next junction about 50km away at Omarama. I decided to change my sign to 'Omarama', less ambitious. I was picked up by an Israeli girl and her dad who were heading to Dunedin. After talking to them for a while I decided to change my plans and go to 'Oamaru' on the east coast which they were passing through. The good think about hitching is you never really know where you might end up! They recommended the 'Empire Hotel' which had a couple of beds free, is a very nice place and free internet (very useful). The town itself isn't exactly buzzing but it's pleasant enough. The 'Countdown' supermarket seems better value than others I have been to, I stocked up on pizza, pasta and fruit and of course some booze. Hardys Cabernet Sauvignon for only $7, so I got two and a twelve pack of Speights old dark for $19 - that's Christmas sorted! Back at the hotel, I watched the end of what looked like a great film called 'Joe Dirt' where I discovered the phrase that I will now use at every available opportunity "Life's a garden, dig it!".

Oamaru is known as one of the few places where penguins come ashore to nest so after a fourty minute hilly walk I got to the site where the yellow eyed penguins come ashore and watched from the observation hut as 3 white specs in the distance moved a little. I borrowed some binoculars for a better look, I could see some penguins waddling about but I couldn't see their yellow eyes. I walked most of the way back and stopped at the harbour where you have to pay $15.75 to watch the 'Little blue penguins' come ashore just after dusk. About 65 penguins came ashore in 'rafts' of 10 to 12 at a time, and slowly made their way up the slope to their nests, a dim light overhead had just enough power to show them clearly without blinding them. I guess I sat there for almost an hour, freezing cold but enjoying the show. Most of them passed by about 20 metres from my seat but towards the end one walked across about 5 metres from me. They're funny little creatures - I could see why that kid wanted to take one home from the zoo last year and although I was tempted my rucksack is heavy enough already! Unfortunately there was no photographs or filming allowed.

Options are especially limited in Oamaru on Christmas eve so I went to the cheese factory, unable to bear the excitement of a factory tour, I ate a cheese platter and drank coffee in their little cafe, and bought some blue cheese to take away. Kicked around for most of the day, glanced in the estate agents window and realised that I could sell up and move to a reasonable place here and not have a mortgage anymore. I went to the tiny cinema to watch Al Gore's 'Inconvenient truth' which was quite thought provoking. There were only seven other people who all looked over sixty. Had a few drinks back at the hostel and watched the end of groundhog day. Quite a sober Christmas eve.

Christmas morning was pleasant so I went for a walk then spent some time on the internet. The people who run the hostel put on a $20 buffet lunch which was massive and included four different desserts (I had at least one of each!), there was no turkey or brussel sprouts but we did have crackers to pull. I drank plenty of beer and wine without much effect watched films and played a little pool. Managed to stay up past 01.00 in order to speak to the whole family and Richie B. which was nice.

Boxing day morning, I walked for ten minutes with 'south' written on my board before being picked up by Gizzy, a Tongan bloke in an MR2 whose English wasn't great and neither was the conversation, his stereo wasn't on so the journey was a little uncomfortable. Luckily Dunedin was only an hour away and he dropped me in the centre, next to Penny's backpackers which looks great in the very new tv room and kitchen but a bit grotty in the showers and toilets - only $18 though. Went on the $56 scenic railway to Pukerangi and back, nice scenery, tunnels, viaducts and all that but my hayfever was about the worst it has ever been and I spent most of the journey with eyes on fire and sneezing. The guide was mumbling something undechipherable through the speakers and I was just glad when it ended. Once my eyes had recovered I watched Shawshank redemption at the hostel then slept in a dorm with the loudest snorer in the world ever in it.

The next day was incredibly dull, I was so bored I even played hearts and solitaire on the computer as the free internet wasn't working. There are no English speakers in the hotel and I don't even recognise what language the majority of them are speaking but they are speaking it too bloody loud. Did some laundry. Took a bus to the tunnel beach walkway which had some nice views and nice weather. Treated myself to a chicken jalfrezi at a cheap indian restaurant but it turned out to be mostly veg and not too nice. Planning to move on tomorrow.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

15th - 22nd December (From Christchurch to Mount Cook - Is this summer?)

At 04.45 (20 minutes after some German lads came in from their night out), my alarm went and I caught the Skytrain to the airport. My flight was with Jetstar, which I think is the budget arm of Qantas. The flight and the plane was fine but there was no free food or drink, not even a cup of tea or a water. I had tried to get rid of all my Australian dollars and they didn't take visa, it was lucky I'd had a sausage and egg McMuffin or I would have starved. They even charged $10 for the mini dvd player which had 'Scanner Darkly' on, which I really wanted to watch. I listened to my music instead. I did have the emergency exit seat with the extra leg room though, and it was a window seat; as we came in over the south island, the sky was clear and I could see miles and miles of snow capped mountains that just stop abruptly and become miles and miles of seemingly flat farm land with circular fields (for rotarty irrigation systems). I stared out at the mountains in astonishment, I honestly had no idea this is what New Zealand looked like, it's amazing. I realized that I spend too much time thinking about what to write in the blog as I looked out of the window thinking of superlatives to describe the scenery; I'll settle for 'stunning'.

I checked into the Christchurch YMCA (something told me that it's fun to stay here!), it's clean and tidy and it has a gym and a climbing wall which I checked out straight away - I need a climbing partner. I went into the cold town, traded my Oz lonely planet for a NZ one and had a lovely $5.50 Speights beer. The NZ dollar is weaker than the Oz dollar; about 2.9 dollars to the pound. My room mates arrived; Brad from the U.S. and some guy from Brazil, chatted for a while, went to bed, woke up shivering but found a blanket.

33 today. Read some birthday emails. Brad and I took the bus to the Gondola but decided to save $19 by walking up the hill instead of taking the gondola ride. It was pretty hard work but there was a nice breeze. There were some nice views from the top although it was cloudy. We stopped for a coffee at the top and I treated myself to some rocky road birthday cake. We took the gondola back down the hill for free. In the afternoon we climbed the walls at the YMCA for a couple of hours which felt like really hard work but good fun. Later we went for some nice (expensive) food followed by drinks at 'the Bog' Irish bar where they had a decent covers band playing. Their version of 'Fairytale of New York' was the first and only time I've felt like Christmas was on the way.

The next day I checked out, did some internet banking, made a sign reading 'Mt. Cook / Twizel', left about 11.45, and walked for about an hour, mostly along minor roads until I got to route 1 where I was picked up fairly quickly by a couple of young kiwi lads going home after a big night out in Christchurch where one of them had got into a fight and they both looked a bit rough. They both work on dairy farms. The driver (whose name I forget) bought drinks at the service station and wouldn't let me pay for them or towards the fuel so I gave $5 to the firemen collecting for a kids cancer charity there. The stereo started with REM and went on to Arctic Monkeys. I was dropped off at Timaru, about 150km from Christchurch and about the same again to Mt. Cook. I checked in to the '1873 Wanderer backpackers' (the owners are very friendly and helpful) and wandered in to the reasonably sized but very quiet town (it was a Sunday), found the Speights ale house which looked like the kind of trendy place that would be expensive but had a good plateful of bangers and mash for $16 and discovered Speights Porter ale, a dark rich ale that is probably the best thing I've tasted in a long while for $5.50 which seems to be the price of every beer everywhere so far.

In the morning I walked to the supermarket and got some porridge and milk for brekky, after that walked the other way into town to buy a sleeping bag $135 and managed to haggle for a free pair of thick walking socks as the bag was ex-display. Sonya, from the hostel drove me out of town just before midday. I walked about four steps with my 'Mt. Cook / Twizel' sign before getting picked up by Sam who is from the U.S. but hasn't been back there for years and probably never will, he spends his time between NZ and Israel, travelling and working. He is on his way to work at 'Buscot Station' a backpackers near a place called Omarama where he goes to work every year, it sounds really nice so I decide to go there. The weather started out very hot but got cooler and cloudier as we got nearer to the mountains. We stopped at the amazingly turquoise blue lakes Tekapo (with a picturesque little stone church on the edge) and Pukaki before arriving at 'Buscot Station', more like a home than a backpackers, surrounded by acres of farmland and mountains and rated at 93% in the guide book (one of the best in the country). Tony, the owner, is very nice, Kevin is working there for board and is an ex-retained fireman from Avon, Sam is also working for board and is trained as a chef, on the first night he cooked mussels which I had never tried before, very nice. I contributed some wine and ice cream. We witnessed two orthodox jews lighting the Hanukah candles and performing the whole ceremony with prayers and little hats - quite an interesting experience. I asked one of the jews several questions about his religion as I know very little about it and tried not to offend him as I find it all rather difficult to understand.

After my porridge, phoned mum with my new phonecard then sat around drinking tea. Kevin had talked about driving to Mt. Cook today so I waited for him to finish working but he eventually postponed it until tomorrow. Tony made a light lunch. I walked Fitzy the dog up the hill behind the house for about two and a half hours. In the evening Sam made pasta and a nice salad. We drank red wine and experimented with different camera settings for the sunset over the mountains. After last nights unusual Hanukah goings on, tonight we had a strange 'new age' woman going on about positive energy and all that mumbo jumbo, she wanted to perform a 'raike' on Kevin who was having none of it!

It's not like staying at a backpackers here, more like Tony's home. The only problem is that Tony keeps playing the same Christmas cd over and over again and the weather is so miserable that I'm spending most of my time indoors. Quite a few cyclists here today sheltering from the rain. I played backgammon, read, did emails, ate Sam's cooking and watched a video about Mt. Cook (it may be the closest I get to going there!) In the evening Sam cooked lovely roast chicken with Rhubarb crumble and custard for dessert. Finished the day with a game of shit-head.

Porridge with honey - beautiful. Spoke to Carly and Dan on the phone. Kev told me that a Korean American named Sung was heading to Mt. Cook so I cadged a lift. I booked into the YHA there and walked along the hooker valley trail with Sung. It was pretty cold with a few gentle snow flurries. I took some nice photos despite the thick cloud. We reached the glacier at the end of the trail, some large chunks of ice had broken away and floated on the lake which looked pretty cool. The glacier itself looked pretty dirty as it was carrying a load of rocks and gravel but I was quite impressed to be looking at a real life glacier having recently read about the part they played in forming the earths features during the ice ages in Bill Bryson's 'A short history of everything' which is quite tough going but fascinating in places. At the YHA, I cooked a pizza, after 20 minutes of the recommended 35 it was burnt to a crisp, I ate it and missed Sam's cooking! Read all of 'skipping christmas' by John Grisham in one go - a nice easy read with no thinking to do, just what I needed after 'A short history...'. Watched 'Snatch' video.

In the morning, I did the two hour 'Red tarns' walk; much steeper than yesterdays gentle stroll. The weather was superb; clear skies, boiling hot with a cool mountain breeze. There was still plenty of snow on the mountains and I drank from the icy stream. The snow formed massive ledges that looked like they should fall at any moment and create a huge avalanche, my camera was ready. I did the easy 'governer's bush' 45 minute walk straight after and met a total of seven people on both treks. Pretty quiet. I went to the Hermitage coffee shop for a sandwich and sat in the sun for a while. I spent most of the afternoon reading 'The Coma' by Alex Garland who wrote 'The Beach' then walked to a bar for a pint of Speights Old Dark, also very good, also $5.50. The food menu looked expensive so I went back to the YHA for noodles and shepherds pie in the microwave (a good balanced meal!) Watched 'Angela's ashes' on video which was pretty good.
11th - 15th December (The last days in Oz)

Spent the best part of a day in an internet cafe, catching up on the blog, burning a cd and at long last managing to get some photos on the blog (hope you liked them). The weather in Cairns is really humid when it's not raining and the city itself is a strange mish-mash of buildings that just don't look right. At the hostels evening BBQ, had some kangeroo and tried croc for the first time (not bad). There was an entertaining digeridoo competition afterwards.

Awoke about 04.30 as a roomy was getting up for a flight, but dozed until 06.45 when I got up for my dive trip. Decided I was experienced enough to go without a guide (saving $20) and went in a group of 3. The visibility was ok but not perfect and we saw some beautiful fish and coral on two different dive sites. I took my underwater camera down and snapped away like crazy (since got them developed and really shouldn't have bothered!). I've done better dives but at least I can say I have dived on the barrier reef which for a while didn't look too likely (some dive boats didn't go out today as the water was still very choppy). I paid $205 for the experience. I sat on deck most of the way back and despite the cloud, caught the sun on my face a bit. Got back, read and fell asleep for a few minutes by the hostels pool in their lovely tree filled garden. Back to the woolshed with another voucher, $7 for a not too bad rump steak and a beer of course.

Next day was the $120 Cape Tribulation rainforest, Daintree river and Mossman Gorge trip. A very pleasant way to spend my final day (I knew it wasn't going to be too energetic when the first pick up after me were Beryl, Betty and Maude! - and no I didn't pull!). The weather was good and not too hot. There was some lovely scenery although it feels like I've seen enough forest, rivers and beaches now. Robin, our guide, about a 60 year old man, was very nice and full of information. I got on well with a nice WPC from Essex with her four year old daughter Sophie. I swam with fish, turtles and an eel in the river (the eel scared me a bit but Robin said it was harmless). The boat trip along the Daintree looking for crocs looked like it would come to nothing until a small one was spotted and the cameras came out - after some zooming in, some trimming and enlarging it looked like a monster! Also got some nice shots of the gorge and some lizards. That evening back to the woolshed where I chatted to some old bird from Perth.

My flight from Cairns to Brisbane went without a hitch. I went to the Qantas desk hoping to get my final flight date confirmed without paying the $25 that the Qantas offices required - no problems - I am due home on Thurs 14th June at 07.30 so start preparing the banners and the feast of vindaloo and roast beef. I start back to work on the 18th.

My one night in Brisbane was at the Banana Bender Backpackers and I spent the afternoon in the Queensland museum. It was extremely hot with little breeze but at least Brisbane didn't have the humidity of Cairns.

So that was the end of Oz and I had a good time here. I intentionally made my stay here brief as I wanted to spend more time exploring New Zealand and also to try and spend less money. Now I wish I'd had a bit more time as I could have explored the northern territories with Rhys. Oh well, on to NZ....

Sunday, December 10, 2006

8th - 10th December (Magnetic Island - Cairns)

Did I mention before that travelling by Greyhound was too punctual and predictable? This journey to Townsville proved me wrong, not exactly exciting but the driver learned of a lorry accident further up the road so stopped at a service station with a little cafe until the road was cleared, this turned a five hour journey into nine hours (I managed to pass a little time playing shit-head). I had been planning to stop in Townsville to Scuba dive the 'Yongala' shipwreck, supposedly one of the top dive spots in Oz and I was really looking forward to it, however, the weather conditions aren't good at the moment so I decided to go straight across on the ferry to Magnetic island where I continued to monitor the reports. I decided to try Bungalow bay resort in the north near to Horseshoe bay as it sounded good in the Lonely Planet, I got the last dorm bed available thanks to someone who booked but didn't show up. There are eight people to an A-frame bungalow with adjoining bathroom, pretty basic inside but full of charachter. One end wall is just wooden trellis and wire netting which allows all the wildlife sounds in in the morning. The resort is really nice, the staff are friendly, the restaurant isn't particularly cheap but my $16 chicken risotto was the best food I'd eaten in quite a while. I ate with two of my dorm mates (an American lad and a lad from Plymouth) who had to go to bed fairly early as they were working the next day so then got chatting to 21 year old Michelle from Oxford. Spotted some possums.

The following day, with dive conditions still no good, walked about twelve kilometres along the various north east bays of the island and along the fort walk for some decent views - a very hot and humid day with more walking than I had planned wearing sandals and having had nothing but a little fruit for breakfast. The island was formed when molten granite came to the surface and has since decomposed along fault lines creating rounded domes and boulders, some of them are massive and precariously balanced. Some fault lines have eroded to form valleys and amongst all the rock there are plenty of trees (not rainforest). I returned to watch a parrot feeding frenzie, a relaxing swim in the cold pool, a shower, a dissapointing pizza and a drink with the lads and Michelle.

With little prospect of diving from here or Townsville, I decided to head to Cairns, hopefully to do a reef dive. A local bus and ferry got me to Townsville, then the greyhound - raining virtually all the way and I was worried that it would be too hot up here. Passed through a place called Tully which holds the record for the highest annual rainfall in Oz, 7.9 metres in 1950 - it looked like it was on course to beat the record in one day! Booked into 'Tropic Days' hostel, seems like a very nice place with only four to a dorm and a 15 minute walk from the centre of Cairns. $24 per night. Arrived on Sunday, dive conditions are supposed to be a little better by Tuesday, can't dive Wednesday as I fly to Christchurch on Thursday (not allowed to fly within 24 hours of diving), so booked up for Tuesday (it had better not get cancelled as I can not come to Oz and not dive the barrier reef, especially as I missed the Yongala!). Received a free food voucher for the woolshed in town so got the courtesy bus there, upgraded my freebie to a nice lemon chicken plus a couple of beers (2 for 1) to wash it down, all in fourty minutes to catch the courtesy bus back again.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

3rd - 7th December (Licking an ants bum and being a salty sea dog!)

The adventure begins. The group consists of two twenty year old Swedish lads, Kim (the Dane), Henrich (ze German) myself and obviously Capricorn Dave as seen on TV! The day started gently enough (apart from Dave's mad driving on the dirt tracks) with a dinghy trip along a river looking out for snakes which we couldn't find. The weather was very hot and a quick swim in the river was very pleasant. A steak burger at a country pub for lunch and then on to another river where we had great fun on a rope swing (haven't done that since I was a kid) and a mud bath which really needed some female presence to stop it looking a bit gay! After that we did some exploring; Dave found some lime ants and showed us how to hold their heads and lick their bums - it's a bit like licking a battery but with the taste of lime, apparently the Aboriginies used to do it to get vitamin c (what I want to know is how they discovered that licking an ants bum was a good idea!). Dave found a red back spider which bit him and made his hand swell up for the next two days at least, a huntsman spider (about the size of a tarantula and furry) that we all held for a photo session, we held a snake which I think was harmless, saw lots of kangeroos and danced on an ants nest like Steve-O from Jackass which was hilarious. Finally we set up camp, started a fire and cracked open the beers, Henrick wasn't camping so Dave drove him back to town leaving the rest of us stranded for two hours in the middle of nowhere. Luckily he did return and cooked up some sausages, steaks, sweetcorn and potatoes. We rolled out our sleeping bags and swags (like a one man waterproof body bag) and slept until it rained and the swags turned out not to be waterproof , a sleepless night in the van until the rain stopped then back outside to be woken by birds singing and flys buzzing all around - this had been the first rain in the area for a long time, just my luck!

The next day we split up as the other three had booked a trip to Keppel island on the ferry while I had booked to go into the rainforest with Dave. I went back to the hostel for a shower first, then Dave picked me up along with a Swiss couple. It was cloudy but the rain managed to hold off, there was quite a lot of driving and despite Dave's mad dirt track driving I managed to fall asleep. We swam in a nice billabong, ate at a nice restaurant next to a park where there were wallabies and unusual looking guinea fowl, took canoes along a river where we saw a few turtles and water dragons but no snakes, an even better tarzan swing than the day before and more looking for wildlife that didn't want to show itself. The two days plus camping and all the food cost 215 dollars - the first day and camping was fantastic but day two was a bit of an anti-climax. Dave has taken bookings for four girls and no blokes to do the outback adventure tomorrow - sod's law that I get an all male group!

I left for Airlie beach early the next morning, after a seven hour journey checked into the YHA - a very spacious six bed dorm which for the first night housed just german Mike and myself (these germans are everywhere!) Airlie is pretty much just one road of pubs, fast food and other stuff for the backpacker and a harbour full of boats. It's stretching the truth a little to call it Airlie beach as the beach is tiny and crap! The first thing I did was find a cash machine, heard someone call my name, it was Kellie and Jo (the Nottingham girls) so chatted to them then went off to look into sailing trips, soon after spotted a face I recognised but couldn't place straight away, she recognised me though, it was Jen who Daz and I had played pool with in Mui Ne, Vietnam.

The boat trip that I really liked the look of was booked up for the next day so I booked it for the day after and a trip on the 'Camira' catamaran for the first day ($135). The big lilac coloured cat carried about 80 passengers and was a bit of a luxurious high speed cruise around the Whitsunday islands. The weather was perfect for burning, there was plenty of food and drink included (including beer) but as I hadn't had brekky or a sea sickness tablet I was unable to make the most of it - I certainly couldn't face the prawn cocktail. I got chatting to some English lads straight away and later an aussie guy and a couple of norweigan girls so it was really quite a sociable cruise. We stopped at Whitehaven beach but didn't have enough time to get to the viewpoint which I am told is fantastic - I did manage to take a tablet and started to feel a bit better for the rest of the journey (even managed to force down a couple of VBs). We did a little snorkelling but couldn't really see much. The Whitsunday islands looked very nice but not a patch on Halong Bay, Vietnam.

The next day I made sure I had breakfast and a tablet before boarding the 'Domino', with only 6 other passengers and Reg at the helm this was more like a proper sailing boat. I steered for a while and tried to fathom how all the sails, ropes and pulleys worked. The weather was scorching on the way out, a healthy lunch on a tiny island and some snorkelling with reasonable views although I missed the turtles. The weather turned a bit nasty on the way back but that kind of added to the fun. 125 dollars for the day and much more fun than yesterday. In the evening I made some horrible pasta that probably cost as much to put together as eating out, drank a few stubbies with Tom from yesterday's trip and watched crap tv at the hostel.

Monday, December 04, 2006

28th November - 2nd December (Fraser Island)

I enjoyed my stay in Brisbane and it was really cool to meet up with Scott and the family - I reckon Brisbane is a great place to live but not the greatest tourist spot. Next stop Hervey Bay.

I've realised that my asian blogs contained as much info on the journeys as the places I went to and that travelling by greyhound is far too punctual, organised and uneventful - I think I will hitch hike in New Zealand. From Hervey bay I went on a two day tour of Fraser Island ($260). There were a real mix of nationalities in our group and I was the only Brit. It took a while but I eventually got quite friendly with a couple of German girls. We walked through rain forest, crystal clear lakes, massive sand dunes, swam in beautiful lakes, visited a washed up ship wreck, took in the ocean views from 'Indian Head', and I paid $60 to fly in a small plane for some ariel views of the island which would have been better if it wasn't cloudy and raining, and ate some fantastic buffet food at the resort.

Fraser island was formed over millions of years when three underwater mountains appeared which stopped all the sand as it drifted north with the current. When the ice age came the sea levels lowered exposing an island made of sand. Small vegetation grew and died time and again leaving nutrients for the next generation until there was enough to support the rain forest. There is not enough downward pressure to create soil or fossil fuel. It is approx 120km long by 15km wide and up to 200m above sea level. There is tons of fresh water flowing down the creeks into the lakes and the ocean. some of the trees are over 1000 years old. Lesson ends.

Back in Hervey Bay, I got into a game of pool doubles and played about the best pool of my life. One unlikely looking angled plant ended up potting both the balls and the crowd went wild! Ended up drinking until late when I had expected an early night. Spent the next morning recovering on the beach before getting back on the bus to Rockhampton where I spoke to a young Danish girl doing a thirty hour journey from Brisbane to Cairns.

I met two Nottingham girls heading to the same hostel as me, the Ascot is quite homely with friendly staff situated above a pub (handy!). I also met a Danish guy called Kim in my dorm who was heading to a nearby 'Criterion' pub with a bunch of German girls so I tagged along. Rockhampton is pretty lively with locals at the weekend (not in the week apparently).

I killed a day in the uninspiring town, did laundry, internet, bought new trousers from k-mart (finally throwing out the khakis with the big hole in the crotch!) and walked around some gardens. I played shit-head and even watched some of the cricket before heading into town for the annual firework display and some beers at the pub where the same awful covers band played as the night before. The fun comes tomorrow...... (

Friday, December 01, 2006

22nd - 27th November (From Nimbin to Brisbane)

To see all my oz photos click on the flickr icon on the right, click on 'oz - set', then probably best to 'view slideshow'. You can speed up the slideshow using the sliding bar.

The three of us plus a couple of American stone heads hired a Yaris for the day trip to Nimbin; a strange little hippy town not too far from Byron. We took some photos, drank coffee and did our best to support the local economy. Back at the hostel we kicked back, relaxed and drank some beer etc (as seems to be the norm just lately!)

I spent most of the next day lazing around on the ridiculously hot beach and chatting to Rich. Rhys managed to load his rucksack on to his bright red back and hit the road. Rich has been trying to get accomodation in Brisbane but can't because of some little game of cricket. I took a 16.00 greyhound to Coolangatta (just an hour and a half up the road and the clocks go back an hour) after booking a place at the YHA. The first person I saw when i arrived was Rhys which was a nice surprise - we chatted for a while and went for food. In my 8 bed dorm I finished reading 'the family way' by Tony Parsons.

Rhys left early the next morning, I was hoping to get to the nearby national park for a couple of nights but that ended up being a non-runner, next stop is Brisbane but with the cricket fans filling all the hostels I called on Scott Burns (an old Swindon friend) and asked if I could stay at his house. I had intended just to meet up with him for a drink and felt a bit cheeky asking to stay as he and his wife Carla have a five week old daughter called Imogen. I stayed another night at Coolangatta where I had a day of sunbathing and walking around the coast. Bought super noodles and a muffin from the garage for supper, the assistant said "have a good night", I'm not sure if he was joking but there isn't much about noodles and a muffin that suggests I'm going to have a good night! I watched Match Point at the hostel which was completely awful.

Anyway, Scott gave me the thumbs up so the next morning I was on my way to Brisbane. After a coach, metro, bus and a bit of a hike I arrived at 'Vanilla Pod' which is the deli owned by Scott, Carla and Carla's parents. Scott was doing some work there as it was a Saturday, he has an office job in the week. I sat around drinking coffee, meeting Carla's parents and chatting while I waited for them to close for the day then we went to Scott's house; a wooden single storey house on stilts known as a Queenslander in a really nice area - it's full of character and I reckon it would be a great place to live. Later we went to Carla's aunts house for a BBQ, they have a media room with a big screen where all the men watched the Oz v NZ rugby union - good fun as there was a New Zealander in the room.

Whilst in Brisbane I spent a bit of time with Scott and family; they took me to a lovely winery with good views and a jazz band where Scott and I did a bit of wine tasting. Scott and Carla, both being involved in catering are pretty good at knocking up a bit of scran and Scott even looks the part with his french chef moustache (grown for charity raising known as Mo-vember), he does an excellent BBQ. I had a look around the central area and boarded the citycat which is a boat that goes up and down the river. I had a tour of the local parliament offices, the botanic gardens and the highlight, a tour of the XXXX brewery including four half pint tasters which were very nice (I steared clear of the weak stuff) in the company of four aussie guys who were over for the cricket.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

13th - 21st November (Chilling out in Oz)

Most of our evenings in Port Macquarie are spent drinking and chatting. In the day, we generally sit around the Ozzie Pozzie yard, drink tea and discuss what we are going to do with the day until around midday when we usually go to the beach, swim, attempt to bodyboard, attempt keepie ups with the haki sack, read, chat and laze around. On the way back to Ozzie Pozzie we might pick up some food and a couple of cheeky beers.

I did manage to get away for a bike ride one day, the free bike was hard work and I attempted to do a fairly large curcuit only to find that the free river ferry crossing only ran in the morning and evening so I had to come back without seeing the winery and Koala petting zoo. I did see my first kangaroos in a field though.

A new member of the group is Kevin, a 30 year old from Bolton who has an 18 year old girlfriend that he has been with for 3 years, this is a source of constant amusement to the rest of us.

After 'a quick pint' at the macca on the way back from the beach turned into a quick skinful, we picked up a slab and went back for food. When the beer ran out we drank some left over goon (red wine) from a goon bag. Rhys mentioned the war once or twice in front of a few germans and then passed out on a sofa so that I could play human buckaroo by balancing a load of books on his head.

There isn't loads to see or do in Port Macquarie, but what there is (for example, the rainforest centre) I would have liked to see but was too busy enjoying myself.

I took the greyhound to Coffs Harbour as I had already bought the pass while Rhys and Rich made their own way there. We met up at Aussitel backpackers which is bigger and livlier than Ozzie Pozzie with about 80 mostly younger backpackers. Preparing food in the kitchen is hard work. We signed up for the punch night and drank our fill of vitamin c without getting even a little squiffy. Punch night included entrance to a club later where they had a wet t-shirt competition (which I only stumbled upon whilst looking for Rhys) and a foam filled dance floor.

The next day was the tea marathon, the weather had changed from super hot to icy cold winds so we sat at the hostel, drank tea, chatted and played cards. I did manage a short trip to the botanic gardens with a french and german girl that we befriendeed. Ended up staying up chatting with Rhys until 02.00 about everything from family feuds to abortion (without any alcohol!!!)

Rhys picked up his bacpack and thumbed his way out of Coffs Harbour. The weather is good again so Rich and I stayed another day, we walke to Muttonbird island which juts out from the mainland and gave us some excellent views, it was incredibly windy and the waves crashed against the rocks with amazing force. At one point Rich got quite close to the edge and just after he moved away a massive wave came up and crashed down where he had been stood. After a nice lunch we hired bikes, along with Thomas (ze very tall german who claims that germans don't have mullets!) to see the famous big banana. Not exactly a highlight of the trip!

Rich and I booked a dorm in Belongil beachouse, Byron Bay which is described in the lonely planet as 'aimed at a slightly more mature crowd', despite being quite immature we felt a bit old for the Aussitel kids. As with Port Macquarie, I felt like I hadn't really seen much of Coffs Harbour and I didn't manage to contact some people there who I met in North Vietnam and had offered to put me up which was quite bad.

I arrived at the beachouse after Rich and was surprised to see Rhys who had phoned Rich to find out where we were staying. We are a 15 minute walk from the centre of Byron Bay in a place that is apparently quieter and cheaper than the places in town that are full of 'schoolies'. More of the same daytime activities at the beachouse and on the nice close beach. The free shuttle bus took us into town where we were planning to buy food from the supermarket, but a quick beer turned into 9 and that was the end of that idea!

Rhys had planned to move on the next day but had missed more than half of his back with sun cream and was in agony, Rich despite being dark already was also a bit burned and the pair of them stayed out of the sun for a day while i went for a walk along the beach towards town. The town end of the beach is busy with schoolies and the pleasant town is quite full of them as well. Later met Rich and Rhys for a couple of beers but this time managed to go to the supermarket after. Back at the pad I made a nice chicken and veg stir-fry and discovered that blackbean sauce and goon mix very well. There was plenty of food and I got merry on the goon.

The next morning we made a fantastic full english breakfast. I took the shuttle bus to town and walked around the coastal trail and light house which took most of the day and had some amazing views, at one point i could see the ocean through 270 degrees. In the evening we drank and went to a club that I can hardly remember but I do remember how full of stars the sky was when we walked along the beach back to the hostel.

Friday, November 17, 2006

12th - 13th November

An early start and a six and a half hour bus journey got me to Port Macquarie for 13.30. I hadn't expected a great deal from this place, just a useful stopping off point. At the small and friendly 'Ozzie Pozzie backpackers', the friendly chap who picked me up from the bus station introduced me to some backpackers who were hanging around and I met more later. He also gave me a quick tour of the beatiful, small and laid back town in the minibus. I took a free bike hire to the Koala hospital and rode along the lovely coastline to the supermarket, back to the hostel where I cooked my snags on the barbie. In the evening a few of us went to 'the Macca' where the bands were loud and average at best, the atmosphere was great and we talked and drank until late.

Among others, I have made friends with Rhys, from Melbourne who is mostly hitching his way around the country and will eventualy get married in Perth where his fiance is waiting. He says hitch hiking is easy and has been picked up by an 18 year old girl and an old woman! He is good fun and laughs at the word 'Jubblies' and Rich from Reading who is also a good laugh an adrenaline junkie, skydiver and a bit of a smooth operator.

9th-11th November (Sydney)

The YHA is a big place over 9 floors, the room has two bunk beds and is big and clean enough. Despite the number of people staying here it doesn't seem as easy to meet people as I'd expected, the people in my dorm come and go at different times to me, I creep out every morning as they are still in bed. Over the next few days I do loads of walking, take loads of photos and my feet are killing me. An art gallery with some exhibits by Nelson Mandella, an observatory, the opera house, harbour bridge, botanic gardens, a ferry to Manly and back to get good views of the harbour, Sydney tower observation deck, 'sculptures by the sea' along the beautiful Bronte to Bondi beach coastal walk on a blisteringly hot day, and a ten dollar haircut (not skinhead this time!).

I even went to the opera house playhouse to see a play called 'The Hospital'for 35 dollars; now I don't consider myself to be an expert critic of the arts but this was the biggest load of old tosh I have ever seen! With a made up language and ridiculous dances, I clapped politely at the end and left in shock. While sorting out my rucksack on my last night to leave in the morning, I found an unopened bottle of red at the back of the locker, forgotten by a previous occupier, with no glasses and no friends, I sat in the tv room and drank like a wino straight from the bottle. I enjoyed the sights of Sydney but was alone the whole time, which was hard after my good time in Melbourne and Merrigum, thankully this was about to change.
2nd-8th November (Down on the farm)

I had an excellent time in Melbourne, Karen and Christophe were very hospitable and it was so nice to be with friends, it was like a relaxing break from travelling, so thank you Karen and Christophe for making my first impressions of Oz so good. My next stop was at a dairy farm about 2 hours north of Melbourne at a place called Merrigum (near Shepperton), I had met the farm owners, Glenn and Linley when i was in India and they had been nice enough to invite me over. So for the next few days i was treated to more friendly hospitality and fun on the farm.

Whilst I was at the farm, some of Glenn and Linleys family members came and went, their daughter Shelley, her partner Lance, sons Darcy (3) and Finley (18 months) were around for a while, and another grandson Nathan showed up for a while. Everyone was very friendly and it felt like I was getting a real slice of Aussie family life. Glenn reminds me a bit of my old grandad, he is a bit of a grumpy old man who complains about all the noise the kids make, he has a strong accent so that sometimes I have no idea what he is saying but I just know it is funny. He refers to everyone as pricks!

My typical day at the farm started at 05.30 when i would get up to milk the cows (Glenn had already herded them over to the milking shed by this time), wearing my overalls, boots and essential peaked cap i would put the suckers on and off of the cows as they lined up in the shed. By about 07.00 the artificial insemination people would turn up and stick a hand up a couple of cows arses (they are a NZ couple on a working holiday and gave me a contact address in NZ within 5 minutes of meeting me). We would wash down all the cow shit off the yard (I am highly trained in this area), feed the youngest calves some milk and watch as they greedily suck at the rubber teets, feed some grain to the older calves, then head to the house for breakfast. During the day there may be some odd jobs for me to do; i learnt how to drive the tractor and shifted a load of hay bails which really made my hayfever flare up but was great fun. Shelley took plenty of photos and video footage of me at work. Paul and John, my country bumpkin cousins would be impressed to see the townie at work, covered in shit and sneezing like mad! Around midday Glenn and I would have a couple of stubbies with lunch while sitting in the shade of the back garden. Afternoon milking was around 15.00 and I would use one of the motorbikes to herd the cows towards the shed. More beers and food for the rest of the day - bliss.

One day we went to Echuca, the oldest inland port in Oz, where Glenn, Linley, Shelley, the kids and I went on a paddle steamer, had a picnic (with beer) and some ice creams.

One day, i skipped the morning milking but went with Lance to chop firewood. Lance taught me where to make the cuts and wearing leather chaps I chopped a tree down with a chainsaw and managed to make it land roughly where i was aiming.

If Linley's scales are correct I have lost three quarters of a stone since I started traveling, I'm pretty sure I'll be putting weight back on in Oz though.

There is quite a lot of time to think on the farm, this is the kind of thing I think about: Isn't it strange that over thousands of years the cow has evolved with udders and milk to feed it's young and that over several decades man has evolved a massive industry with hi-tech machinery in order that we instead of the calves benefit from this evolution? Also, with artificial insemination and selective breeding, we make sure that future cow generations will be fatter, have bigger udders and produce more milk. Some cows have teets at eye level when I am in the pit, some hang lower, some are down below my chest level and very close to the cows hoofs. Rather than stooping down to see what I am doing, I have to feel for the teet with my index finger at the rim of the sucker. Some teets are so thick it is a struggle to get them in the sucker, some so small that the suckers don't want to stay on. Sometimes the cow fidgits and tries to kick but their movement is quite restricted and it is quite easy to move your hands out of the way - the bigger danger is the shit and piss, the peaked cap is indispensible! Oh, and I did bang my head so hard that I had pain in my neck for 2 days. Yep, there is a lot of time to think!

As Glenn says, being a dairy farmer doesn't take a genius, but he does have a lot to think about; to buy or sell cows, field rotation and irrigation, breeding, disease etc. Australia, is facing another year of drought, there are very many vast areas of brown dry fields and farmers going out of business or killing themselves, Glenn is lucky he still has a reasonable supply of water for irrigation and I think he has a pretty good life. There is a fair amount of time available to 'sit back and lick your ears' as Glenn would say.

After giving some serious consideration to hitching to Sydney, I booked a 4000km pass for the greyhound bus costing 620 Aussie dollars (about 2.5 dollars to the pound) and booked three nights in Sydney's central youth hostel association(YHA) for 105 dollars. The first few hours of the journey were flat and mostly brown fields but gradually became more hilly. About an hour from Sydney I saw the first housing estate with two storey houses.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

24th Oct - 2nd Nov (Australia here I come, you ripper!)

My final day of diving in Tioman was a little dissapointing after such a great dive two days ago, a wreck of an old fishing boat which attracted one big school of fish and not much else. I took the 13.00 boat back to Mersing which had to stop offshore due to the low tide, and smaller boats came out to transfer us to the jetty. Over a couple of days spoke to STA travel and Qantas and eventually managed to bring Melbourne flight forward so that I could be there for the weekend. I hadn't really spoke to anyone much for a few days so I was looking forward to meeting Karen and Christophe in Oz. Bryan Robson has joined Steve Mcmahon on the ESPN team. The 11.00 bus to Singapore dropped us at the Malaysia border for a very quick exit stamp, back on the bus for a couple of minutes then dropped us at Singapore immigration where we queued for an hour before getting back on a bus for the rest of the journey to the centre (and I thought Singapore was super efficient). I took a taxi to the very nice YMCA which was full so walked as far as the Hawaii hostel and stopped there as it was about to rain; not a pretty place but cheap. My room consisted of two bunk beds, my room mates were two Japs and a local guy who was quite friendly. I found a nice restaurant then came back and watched 'Domino' starring Kiera Knightley on the local chap's portable VCD player.

After a McDonalds brekky, I went to the Qantas office to discover my flight from Rio to Blighty doesn't look possible as they are all booked as soon as they are available; STA hadn't told me this when they said all I had to do was ring and tell them what date i needed (I couldn't book it at the time because the computer system cannot book flights more than a year ahead). I'll make some more inquiries with STA but it looks like i may have to pay extra and fly via Madrid. Singapore is one of the best and cheapest places to buy electronics so if I was going to replace my damaged camera anywhere it had to be here. After much deliberation I came away with a nice new Fuji for 450 dollars(S), about 150 pound. I took the excelent metro to the excellent airport where i had a much needed shower for $9. Sat with an aussie girl called Karen on the flight and spoke to her quite a bit in between eating a good in-flight meal, watching a decent aussie film 'Train to Freo' and listening to a good in-flight cd 'Sergio Mendes - Timeless' (kind of R&B samba) which I have since acquired onto my mp3 player along with the Killers new one (thanks to Christophe). I tried to sleep, I even used the eye mask, but not a wink.

I had arrived in Oz and collected my luggage by about 05.45 and the 06.00 bus to Melbourne centre was quick due to the lack of trafic which meant I got to Karen's house far too early and sat around in the freezing cold until Karen woke up. I didn't expect any cold weather in Oz but for the first couple of days the skies were clear blue and the wind made it feel like winter. Karen is an old Swindon friend and Christophe is soon to be her husband, their place is nice, spacious and really central. I spent some time putting photos onto my blog using Christophes computer, slept for an hour, went for a massive burger and bought the Oz lonely planet for full price (they didn't have any fake copies!), went back and started planning. After a couple more hours of sleep, I went with Karen to a Japanese restaurant for my first taste of sushi which was ok. Christophe joined us later for a few beers and we talked until late.

My first full day in Melbourne was a Saturday. Christophe, Kaz and I went to the Queen Victoria market where we bought Shrimps for the barbie! (among other things). Chilled out for most of the day, ate some Spag bol, drank red wine and later met up with Roo and Belinda for drinks (Roo is a friend of Richards who is a good friend from my uni days, Roo moved over here recently to be with his aussie girlfriend Belinda). Christophe, Kaz and I went for some Japanese food but this time i wasn't so adventurous and had chicken.

On Sunday, the three of us took the tram to St Kilda beach, had lunch and a good look around before returning for a BBQ with Roo and Belinda and Christophe's friends, Andrei and Anna. Kangeroo steak is very nice and according to Christophe, very similar to horse meat, the dirty snail eating b@startds! as Catherine Tate would say (no offence Christophe!) I ate until i thought i might explode.

The weather heated up from Monday onwards and over the next few days I went to the old Gaol where Ned Kelley was hanged (I listened in on a school party's guided tour), the immigration museum, the aquarium, the excellent view of Melbourne from the Rialto tower, the amazing 'earth from above' exhibition (I recommend you see some of these pictures - they may be on the internet) and the Melbourne museum. In the evenings we ate food, drank beer and wine, talked and watched films; 'The Castle' is good aussie humour, 'Wolf Creek' is scary and 'Supersize me' is scary as well!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

18th - 23rd October - The black jack scam, Singapore

After sorting out my memory card, i walked around the shopping mall in search of boxer shorts, i bought 2 pairs yeterday, supposedly large, turned out to be for a large action man (no jokes about the lack of genitals please!), the ones from the department store said 31-33 inch waist, thought they would be safe, but no, I am now singing surprano! A local woman asked me the time and started talking to me and as i had bugger all to do i agreed to meet her family. It was supposedly her brothers house, her cousin prepared some nice food which i ate and then her brother, a card dealer at a casino showed me some tricks. His slight of hand was amazing, no matter how much he or i shuffled he could always turn exactly the cards he wanted. He told me about a bloke from Dubai who would be coming round later who had stitched him up by saying he would give him a percentage of his winnings and then giving him much less the previous night. He said i could play the Dubai bloke at black jack with him as dealer making sure i got the right cards and he'd take a cut of the winnings, it was fool proof but i didn't like it and all of a sudden the guy turned up for a game. The brother had given me 200 dollars to play with, which i must have doubled 4 times in 4 hands, at which point, on cue i said the next game would be my last. I had 21 so couldn't lose, the dealer was signalling that the guy had 20, but he raised the stakes to 50,000 dollars (which he placed on the table) but requested to see some proof that i could cover my losses if i had to. The dealer asked if i had a credit card or travellers cheques or something, my credit card was in my money belt and although i knew i couldn't lose the game, i wondered what would happen once i took the card out, so I claimed not to have any money at all, my travellers cheques are at the hotel, the dealer asked how much (to which I was very vague) and the game was declared void and I was driven to where i wanted to go (shitting myself the whole way). I went to the Petronas towers, at 84 storeys high they claim it was the tallest but is now second, but they only take us as high as the 42nd floor skywalk between the towers. That night my KFC food poisoning set in with fever and bad stomach and little sleep. The morning bus to Mersing started ok but by the end i had a headache and was dehydrated. The Mersing heat was unbearable so I checked into an empty dorm room in the East Coast Hotel and laid on my bed, read 'First they killed my Father' (I recommend you read it)and slept. I forced myself to eat a few mouthfuls of Pakora in the evening (my only meal of the day), went to an internet cafe, sat down, farted and left very quickly. One pair of my new tiny pants straight in the bin!

The next day started bad but after a while in the toilet i was feeling better. I took a boat to Tioman island, Salang resort and checked in to a very dingy chalet with mosquitos and ants running riot. It's only 10 metres from the sea when the tide is in though so i sleep well listening to the sound of the waves while insects feed on me. Malaysia is currently covered by a thick haze caused by deliberate forest fires in Indonesia, this happens every year and stays for maybe a month until the monsoon washes it away. The sun still manages to burn its way through though and the beach is very nice despite the onslaught of sand flies biting my feet. There are loads of chinese and indians here on holiday and because of some indian festival there are bangers going off at all times of day and night on the beach or in the street without any warning - it's lucky my stomach has hardened up or this may have caused another accident!

My four days here were spent reading on the beach and scuba diving. It felt good to be back in the water after 3 months and we did some excellent dives in groups of 3 or 4 off of a small boat. I saw my first turtle amongst many other things but the best dive was like an adventure playground of rocks and coral - it took a good bit of buoyancy control to get through all the narrow gaps and through the tunnels especially as there was a bit of surge to contend with - my best dive ever, having now done 14.

Unfortunately, as this is low season, there isn't too much to do in the evenings; there are a couple of restaurants but my appetite has not fully recovered yet and there is one bar. I did manage to watch the Liverpool v Man U game in an internet cafe where the local lads all cheered for Man U who won 2-0. I finished 'first they killed my father' and also 'the sorrow of war' which is a very dark and depressing fiction.

On my final day, i did a wreck dive which turned out to be not as exciting as I had expected, took a boat back to Mersing and tried to bring forward my Melbourne flight so that I could be there for the weekend, but it isn't possible so now I am wondering how to kill a few days.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

7th - 17th October (Visa fiasco)

My last day in Mui Ne, i awoke at 07.00, ran on the beach (very briefly),
then watched some locals paddling out to sea in upturned tea cups, pulling in the nets and sorting through all the fish and crabs. Booked a flight online from Siam Reap(Cambodia) to Kuala Lumpur(Malaysia) for the 17th Oct., took a bus to HCMC, booked an 8 dollar room and watched the premiership goals from last week. I booked a two day tour to end in Phnom Penh for 24 dollars and later watched 'School of Rock' and the first half shambles of England against Macedonia.

The tour took us by bus to Cai Be for a motorised boat on the Mekong - the heat and fumes on the boat sent me to sleep. Lunch, then back on the boat and bus to Chau Doc on the border where we stayed the night in a cheap hotel - I had to share a room with a Japanese chap who started a brief high pitched wailing in the middle of the night. I met a Canadian girl called Siobahn.
In the morning there was a row boat tour of the Chau Doc fish farms (see how these women row whilst facing forward - weird!) then a big boat to Lek Luang (Cambodia). The tour leader checked the passports and told me i would pay a big fine for overstaying my visa (not what the travel agent had said!) and that i should go back to HCMC to sort it out. At the border, the tour leader said they were unable to process my fine and i would have to return to HCMC and there was nobody i could argue with so i was getting quite frustrated. At the last minute they took 60 dollars, plus 20 for the Cambodia visa and i was just relieved to not have to go back. Arrived in Phnom Penh in the rain and went with Siobahn to Spring hotel recomended in the lonely planet - it worked out cheaper to get a twin room with air con. We walked to Chaay Heng restaurant also recommended in the lonely planet, a basic place with plastic chairs spilling onto the pavement packed with locals. The food was cheap and fantastic, we went again the next night. I bumped into Ben and Kate who I'd met in Hoi An so went for red wine with them.

Siobahn and I went via tuk tuk to the S21 museum and killing fields in the rain along the bumpiest road ever.
S21 was once a school, it became a prison, and now a museum.
The Khmer rouge were meticulous in their records of prisoners and the black and white photos of all the men, women and children they killed were haunting. The rain and thunder added to the sombre mood of the day. 8,985 bodies were exhumed from mass graves at the killing fields, possibly 2 million were killed across the country. I can't really describe it, you just have to see it to believe it. There were beggers with missing limbs and one with a badly burnt face outside S21. Siobahn and I spent 20 dollars on a 50kg bag of rice which we took to an orphanage where we played with the kids for a few hours - they stole my camera and took loads of photos.
It was nice to spend time around these poor kids laughing and playing after such a depressing day.

The six hour bus journey to Siam Reap cost 4 dollars - we were pounced on by tuk tuk drivers before we could even get off the bus, all shouting over each other with arguments like "I spoke to you first" for the sake of a dollar fare. Of course they want to get you into their hotel and also provide you with a lucrative tour of Angkor. We went to the 'Heart of Angkor' hotel, 12 dollars for a twin room and booked our motorbike riders for the next 2 days (it is illegal to hire your own motorbike here). Siam Reap seems very nice with smart little bars and restaurants clustered together in a street that is off limits to the local begging community of kids, women with babies and people with missing limbs. There is a lot of begging here.

An 05.00 wake up for an Angkor Wat sunrise that was obscured by cloud despite the generally clear, hot day.
My 1 week pass cost 60 dollars. Angkor Wat was very busy and absolutely massive but I was more impressed with Bayon
(giant faces carved into the stone) and Ta Prohm where trees grow amongst the ruins and Angelina Jolie came to film tomb raider.
There are many ancient temples to explore, dating from ninth to 13th century - miraculously spared by US bombs, how refreshing!
There are kids at every stop, selling t-shirts, postcards and souveniers or just begging, they are really persistent.
On the way back i saw this... Later we went to the excellent Khmer kitchen then i went for a 'seeing hands massage', recommended by the lonely planet for massage by blind people - it was excellent and only cost 4 dollars, I gave her five just because I am that kind of guy!

The next day we had a more civilised start time and the sights were mostly not as impressive. The heat was oppressive with very little shade. We finished up at a high spot near to Angkor Wat to watch the sun set. With bright sun in the west and dark clouds moving in quickly from the east, the sun was soon covered and the rain was heavy. I'm pretty sure one clap of thunder and lightning were less than 100 metres away - pretty lucky for Friday 13th! I had my waterproof coat but my walking shoes were soon soaked through. I took a couple of photos which i think damaged my camera which now doesn't work properly. I bumped into Michael and Aine who I'd met briefly in Hoi An and Mui Ne so we went out for food and drinks with them later. We went to Dead Fish bar where we fed the crocodiles.

The next day Siobahn went off on a motorbike, I lazed about for a bit then hired a mountain bike for 3 dollars. I found the land mine museum, a Khmer heritage display and then went to Angkor Wat again. The lense on my camera has stopped working, i have since had a quote of about 50 pound to get it fixed so i will continue to hold open the slidey thing with a tooth pick every time i turn it on! I have started to find Siobahn quite annoying in a "there was this one time, at band camp....." kind of way. On Sunday I had a lovely roast chicken dinner at the Irish pub and spent most of the day reading and watching tv. The most noteworthy adventure was that the bathroom door handle was faulty so that when i went in for a shower i managed to lock myself in, i must have been banging on the door and walls for about ten minutes before the hotel bloke came to let me out. I met up with Ben and Kate in a restaurant/bar where the beers are 25c if you buy food. I had spring rolls, ginger chicken and 10 draught beers for 6 dollars - bargain! We discussed high brow issues such as poverty and corruption.

At 07.00 a motorbike was waiting to take me to three of the further afield sights;
Beng Melea are excellent overgrown ruins, Kbal spean is a waterfall and river with rock carvings and lingas in and beside the river - the road here was terrible and not really worth the effort, and Bantay Srei made from red stone with some intricate carvings.

Next day, i went to burn a cd but the memory card was corrupted again - i managed to get most of it back again in Kuala Lumpur which is where i flew to today. At the airport i found i had to pay an extra 25 dollars in airport tax, the price of the flight now is making me wish i had gone overland through Thailand, i could have climbed at Rayley beach again. Despite studying the lonely planet, i haven't got a clue what to do in Malaysia or Singapore. In Kuala Lumpur (KL), the public transport seems pretty good, the food is cheap (but i did get food poisoning from the KFC) and the hostel is cheap and nasty! Beer is expensive, from 6R (1 pound) in a shop to 14R in a street restaurant. I watched waterworld in the hostel commen area whilst trying to plan my next move.