Tag Archives: bus

Hong Kong to China day 8

China day 1
It’s quite a mess getting out of hk. After 4 changes of metro and asking in 3 places at hung hom station for a train to Guangzhou, I learnl that there are no trains running and my best option is a bus, crossing town on the 87d, I text Kk to confirm that I have to get to some place near Mong kok. The guy at the China travel service gets me on the bus which arrives almost as soon as I get my ticket. Not much to report until d where we disembark to walk through immigration them onto a new bus which passes through a mile long tunnel under Shenzhen. The landscape is flat, the air grey and colourless with smog. Endless monotonous identical tower blocks. Busy highways, flyovers, underpasses crisscrossing and weaving together a dense claustrophobic urban sprawl. Hard to see where one city ends and another begins. There is no countryside. Guangzhou is huge and the traffic crawls very slowly towards a forest of ominous towers. The drivers seem affluent or are indicating status, as there are many Lexus, Mercedes, mazeratis, all of them texting at the wheel.

  
When I finally disembark its at the luxurious China hotel and I feel a bit of a fraud speaking to the bellboys, entering the rotating door and into the plush lobby to use the atm. Nice English spoken here. There is security at the metro, where guards use hand scanners to check bags. The system is cheap fast and efficient. The people are shabbier than Hong kongers, less smiley and seem more inward. The streets where I’m staying are of oven temperature, the thick air made more oppressive by fag smoke. A common sound is men expectorating. The streets are worn and a little frayed, compared to hk. Trash on the ground. Bikes and motorbikes using the covered pavements as their freeway. Crossing the road is less disciplined than in hk. I see a tower of flattened boxes being loaded on a truck, over the height of a double decker. It’s a relief to get to the lazy gaga hostel, which is cheery and communal, the total opposite to my anonymous room in hk. Oh and my room is 4 times the size and half the price. Everything is much cheaper. I have a bowl of rice, endless tea, fried lotus roots and asparagus tips and 3 fried meat ( nice English menu!) which is 3 types of mock meat with chilli. I recall and use some mandarin. Whenever you order spicy food in China the waitress seems to think you have made a mistake and double checks in astonishment that this is really what you want. The food here in zen vegetarian is plentiful and tasty. The vibe very relaxing.

I stroll back and take in the neighbourhood some more. It’s dimly lit. Street lighting is not abundant. It’s so hot that going topless at 8.30pm is the norm. I see many skinny shirtless guys who look as if they live on the streets. On the same block, an expensive modern piano shop, several green grocers with hanging paper lanterns, and nail bars. The streets are enmeshed by hutongs where men play Chinese chess and I even see a craft beer bar. This place is stimulating and I decide I should stay a day longer to explore in some depth.

Leaving kandy for Dambulla

Getting out of kandy was pretty tiring, and my patience has been tested a little. Breakfast was a wood apple lassi, a vegetable bun and a jam bun, both eaten on the bus later. I buy some local cardamon and am surprised by the price. There is a bull cart delivering vegetables, like something from the Middle Ages.
There is a scruffy tiring road where scruffy crowded buses are filling up. None of them have a sign for my chosen destination. Many in fact only have signs in singhalese, which I look at blankly. An elderly tuk tuk driver badgers me about going with him. I really don’t fancy a bumpy dusty smokey ride in a three wheeler being nudged constantly aside by the streams of buses. Plus I find buses interesting, mixing and watching locals, also they are cheaper. After 15 minutes he finally realises he won’t get me and offers to show me where my bus leaves from. The cheek of it, I leave him brusquely. The us station is. A nightmare of beaten up private white buses, beaten up state red ones and slightly less beaten up mini buses. There is no apparent order, no nice clear departure boards or helpful uniformed helpers. An anyway it’s not so bad, and I do find a minibus, where I have to jam myself in, rucksack on lap. Even the aisle of the mini bus is taken up with fold down seats. A couple with a new born sit in these rather dodgy looking places. The baby is cradled by the mother unsure her red and white flowery sarong, and doesn’t cry once. The minibus is considerably more expensive than a us but it’s quick. This due to the fact it. Rarely stops and is also more able to overtake quickly on the arrow windy roads.
Asana side I found out from the guys atthe hotel in kandy about buses and why they are. Driven the way that they are, ie fast, dangerously fast, impetuously overtaking and ramming passengers in, so they are hanging out of the door. The state bus drivers receive a salary, the private ones work on a percentage of fares, so they area,ways trying to get ahead of the state buses to pinch the waiting passengers. Apparently if they manage to reach their target, any extra fares go straight in the pocket of driver and conductor.

Digression.
Dambulla isn’t much more than a dusty road going past the golden temple, a kitsch monstrosity of an enormous gild Buddha sitting atop the Buddhist museum, this decorated with teeth, the doorway a mouth, it looks like something at a funfare: welcome to the horror house. I get a tuk tuk driver to show me some guest houses and take the most comfortable. It’s on a dusty track off the main road and has a rooftop terrace, which would be great if there was more life here than just me and my beer. But, actually I will be able to get back into my book now. Finding the guesthouse after dusk was pretty hard and I was beginning to panic a bit. There are no street lights here, houses are set back behind trees, there are a few basic stealers selling snacks and soft drinks. It’s too dark to see the face of the few people who do pass me. Yes I get lost. Before going out I took a photo of the sign of the guest house. The picture is a bit confusing as the name is partially obscured, and also I’m afraid that my camera battery is about to die. When I do try and use the picture, the guy I show it too doesn’t really catch my drift and walks me to another place. I’m looking for a road which, I remember, has a couple of dismantled tuk tuks. That would be hard to explain to a local with rudimentary English. In the end I do get my bearings and feel pretty relieved.
My late afternoon at the golden temple and cave temples was nice. At the bottom is a muddy batterered monastery. I get quite enthused to see orange robed young monks playing cricket. I know this is breaking their code of conduct…is this why they are slightly hostile to me taking photos?
The caves are at the top of a 10 minute climb up steps. The entrance fee is disproportionately high, as with all the monuments here. Is this money going into government funds? I hope not. There are 5 temples of varied size, the first one just containing a reclining Buddha. The second one is the most engaging with beautiful painted ceiling and a myriad of Buddhas in all manner of poses. There is a mix of locals, independent westerners and groups guided by loud locals. Unfortunately there is no hush, lots of loud voices, and too many flashes. I pace things and wait for more quiet moments to return to the temples and enjoy them much more. It’s is the end of the afternoon and dusk is falling. The sunset perched on the top of the rock is colourful, awesome, orange slowly faded over a lake rows of mountains and jungle stretching far and away. Red faced monkeys frollick and tumble.ive seen a lot of them everywhere today, starting with the rubbish piles in kandy.
The guesthouse peace is blown apart by returning guests. Shouting Italian parents and equally loud young kids.

Tissamaharama

Two guys get onto the bus as we enter tissa and try to sell me their hotel and a safari, but I stick with the one I booked, the travellers home. Walking there along the main road a guy in a jeep with 2 little boys standing up on the seat, like toys, gives me a ride down the road. I ask him about safaris, but his prices are high, and I get the later repeated story that it is not worth going to Bundula, And I should go to yala instead.
Travellers home is set among muddy paddies and near some rice mills. It is
A bit disorganized, and it’s actually a home stay, which turns out to be great fun. Umami is the wife of the boss ebert. She speaks broken English with a smile and a cackle and jokes about her husband and how they met on a plane. He calls it “love is in the air” . They have a big chubby son, and a smaller version daughter. It is raining. It rains for 4 hours. I sit on the veranda and meet heid from Austria who has come from Ella and done some of the things I also plan to do. Umami is covering school books with pink paper. Her shy daughter is demanding a puny and shows her mum pictures of the kind she likes on the Internet.
Ebert also tells me the will be no trip to Bundula and quotes me a price to yala. I’m not sure how competitive and plan to check out some other operators when the rain stops. It does temporarily. I borrow a rickety bike and set off for town holding an umbrella which does little to keep me dry as the rain begins again with a dismal vengeance. I get as far as a roti shop and buy some snacks and fruit.
Back at the guesthouse I order Rice and curry: this is a big and delicious spread
Coconut potato
Crispy cabbage
Dahl
Green bean
Chewy red rice
Umani calls me mister, Heidi, madam. There is a Procession of visitors: friends, family, small kids. I meet a cousin who Works at the local airport. He has a photo on fb of him with the president. He is Amazed by my iPad and ex play with the translator app.
His friend is a singer and sings some beautiful songs. He Works in car leasing, and gets other work singing at weddings. He has a band and writes his own songs. He sings for me. He does the same the next day too. He has a beautiful voice. He asks me about Cameron? They are not impressed with him sticking his nose into Sri Lankan affairs. Not for the first time I hear that he should understand that peace is a good thing. We laugh about the commonwealth and how ridiculous and unwanted it is.
I pass through living room to get to my room. Umami is chatting to her friends, the kids are playing in the yard still. I need to sleep for my early 5am safari start. As I shower I can hear Jingle bells in singhalese outside.

Bus from Matara to tissamaharama

The bus journey is a riot of sights and vignettes of life in Sri Lanka.

Storks flying over paddies and picking for grubs

Lazy dogs defying the traffic, lying in the road and licking their sores

The occasional cow wandering down the middle of the road

Betel chewing, red spitting old boys in sarongs, wrapping roasted peanuts in cones of recycled old school books, replete with the red ticks from the teacher.

Lime green clad cops shouldering machine guns. Statues of recent heroes with machine guns, crude, like the functional rather than decorative painted Buddhas in from of the temples.

Matara has a statue of what looks like a Gurkha soldier also with gun slung around neck, it’s arms are dangling off, neglected and ignored.

Lotto sellers with big boards, tickets bulldog clipped on, come on and off, walking through the bus shouting out their wares.

Around. Harampola there is serious investment and development. I later learn this is the home province of the president. I see his poster everywhere, variations of the same theme. A benign distant smile, a sad am moustache, cloaked in a long white shirt, serene, finished off with a red scarf. The long shots show him striding forward with confidence, and focus. There is a big new highway. With little traffic. A pristine conference centre. An international airport and a new hospital in construction.

The bus itself. Well, fortunately being the first to get on, I have a seat all the way. I sit at the front with a great view of the driver and all of his decorations. Incense sticks are alight by my seat. The engine box is covered with a plastic quilted cover, fenced off by a chrome rail with ornate chrome flowers. A small gold dish on the dash, instruments covers by a thick plastic sheet, containing white lotus petals. His steering wheel is warped with a red and gold sarong. Above the windscreen is a boxed illuminated row of shiva, Ganesh statues. Garlands of red and pink flowers hanging loosely around them. I guess to ward off the very real threat of crashing on these crazy roads, where buses push tuk tuks to the verge and overtake everything in sight.there are rashness the slow down cautionary photos of crushed buses reveal. His other form of protection is the ubiquitous blare of his horn, sounded whenever he chooses to pass. This means get out of the way.

Orange coconut sellers using their rough blades to hack them apart at their roadside stalls. Dusty drink stalls. Grandmothers sitting vacantly behind crates of empty returned bottles. Skinny fey looking boys standing one leg bent, hand on hips, in brightly coloured striped shorts.

I’m the only white guy on the bus. Next to me sits a guy of I guess the same age in a blue and gold sarong. He pokes me in the arm. Aboard clamber women with kids, babes with arms wrapped round their necks. It’s standing room only for much of the journey. Gap toothed men, betel stained stubled faces.

Institutions: functional Buddhist temples, uninspiring Buddhas, simple white chellis. A white mosque, an Assembly of God. Numerous posters offering maths, chemistry, English elocution classes. A Montessori school, st Thomas school. Open prison work camp. What is that?

Posters warning of heroin and the consequences of trafficking it.

Shell of an old bus abandoned and overgrown by roadside.

Last Sunday, 1 September

Bus to chiang mai…..

The bus journey was incident free,. Other than immigration police checkpoints, with police checking docs and dogs sniffing baggage, on the way out of tak province. My neighbour. For the entire journey was a large soldier who sat impassive, sunglasses on, playing kids games on his mobile, his body occupying as much space as possible in a very male way. I chat to a shaven headed ex-pat American who is. Building a house in pai.

 

Cm, riverside house has expanded and is not as homely as it was

The sun is baking, hotter than I remember it. The air is clear.

Teak Buddha temple. I discover my memory card is corrupted…have I lost all my pics….? Shit

Sunday walking street

Almost immediately I chance upon Michael!

Busking police,an in shades and helmet

Busking violin playing pretty girls

Bushing blind man/ woman with mic and loudspeaker around neck

National anthem at 6 everyone stops in their tracks. At the end return to exchanging money,haggling, stirring food

Moong bracelets

Pashminas

Temple markets with khao soi stalls

Massage parlours consisting of lines of reclining arm chairs on the street corners

Magic of wat. Garden, food court, chanting monks, I meet peter the American actor

Farang hard krishnas dancing up the street, crashing little hand cymbals.

Motorbike showroom with huge tv showing man utd Liverpool. I missed the match… 1 -0 great result !

Smoothies

Herbal iced teas

Local. Atists’paintings.

Mango wood bowls

Carved Buddhas

A card reading fortune teller in the temple

I buy a replacement jade necklace

France’s, mike and I go to Reggae bar

A sit on the floor around low tables sleazy backpacker vibe.

We. Are easily the oldest there.

Pink flood and the eagles are playing

Buckets of mohito

Loud, can’t hear her….the rain comes down. Opening and closing roof.

Mango sticky rice banana pancake on way Home

 

Leaving mae sod

Up at dawn,and I can hear the dripping residual rainwater ticking onto the roof below. Morning has that fresh glow of promise. A silent hour when the URL almost dreamlike sweeps the fallen leaves from the yard. I sit in the soft fuzzy light, all foliage in the garden seems a dense green blur. I eat yesterday’s fritters and sip a tea. I’m in no rush, though do have an appointment for a change. T catch the chiang mai bus. My plan had been to walk the mile and more along the road, but logic, desire and the need to take things easy persuade me toget a tuk tim. I wai and thank the owner who is manicuring in her window, and the housekeeper waves me off. The road is sleepy. It’s Sunday. Two young novices of around 12 are pacing dozen the road. Orange saffron robes, one with a green sash beneath, the other a yellow one. Hey are not together, maybe 20 yards apart. Each carries himself with he nobble detachedd dignity of something other. Erect perfectly balanced, slight figures but with an air of confidence, modesty, humility. Shaved fuzzy heads, pale yellow tan skin. smooth facesthat carry no expression. They are barefoot, each cradles a silver coloured bowl which they prefer no doubt to the same selected households, and into which is donated a quantity of food. Could be fruit, a ball of rice. This is to be eaten by midday. Monks fast until the next morning. These kids are not lolloping around, not listening to their smart phones. I wonder what goes through their mind. How they feel when they wake, and prepare themselves for this un changing ritual of centuries. They are ageless. They are ancient. They are somehow infused with the spirit of what makes this place so exotic, so intangible at times. Inscrutable, sublime.

It feels like a dream, a trance. Like a memory from deep in the past, like a vision of a. Future. A permanence. It’s something I. All never understand.

At sukhothai all those centuries before the same rituals were enacted. I am going to chiang mai where I will see the same once again. I will meet men who have lived these lives, played these roles. A duty. T bring merit to their family. I will meet boys who will become novices. I will go places where such temples and monasteries where they carry out the day in day out identical regimes of waking praying collecting food, eating, sweeping, learning, and playing have stood for centuries. Ones which are still being built, being painted. Ones which people go to for medical purposes, steam saunas, ones in which the town comes to buy and sell food. Ones which are thoroughfares, kids going to school, tuk tuks passing through. A short cut from one gate to another. Ones where all the stray dogs from the town come to rest in the shade of the prayer halls. Ones which were built on the tops of mountains and were abandoned 600 years ago.the forest. Reclaiming hem, the locals reusing the collapsing stonework to build houses and roads. Where the gilded buddhashave been stolen, yet where nowadays people still light candles, burn joss sticks, leave offerings of fruit, coca cola, whatever they feel the Buddha would like.

Yet what does it mean? This is a country with underlying tensions that often manifest he selves violently. The red shirts stand offs in bkk being a good example. The terrorism in the south,the. Muslims fighting for independence. A country which deliberately avoids any involvemnt in international conflicts, preferring only to adopt positions that are beneficial to trade. Take the Burma refugee. Sitaution. Compare with how reluctant he Thais were to shelter the many hundreds of thousands who fled the terror of the Khmer Rouge and the displaced of vietnam. They were often sent back, sometimes robbed, sometimes raped or murdered. Een the local Red Cross workers being reproachable.

Travelling to phitsanulok

This is bus is more like a plane than the local one I caught from phi mai to korat. That one was rickety, jump on and off, and full of leathery faced older people and u overstay students. They all wear uniforms too. The boy going to the technical university has a dark grey military uniform. He stands to attention on the bus holding along set square like a gun. Schools are very visible and prominent in this culture. I’m sure you wouldn’t be aware of them driving through England.

Korat bus takes us past a huge school, with a green clad military sentry. The kids, all in orange shirts and black trousers, wai the guard.

Last night it rained incessantly. The night market packed up as the road became a big puddle. It must be tough when your livelihood as a trader can be rained off Like this. I do manage to get a bag of mangosteens, which always remind me of Cyrus, and longans, a huge bag of crushed dried red chillies, and a package of spring rolls which comes with an inconceivably huge bunch of salad leaves, including basil and some crunchy bitter shiny dark green ones. I have this for lunch on the bus to phitsanulok the next day.

As I was saying, it’s more like a plane: liveried purser, a welcome announcement on the mic, a box of cakes and water for each passenger, and a personal appearance by both drivers who stand in the door of the cabin(the crew is sealed off from the passengers, yes, like a plane) to wai to us all. This one has air conditioning as opposed to opening the windows at speed and letting the air rush in…..

When the Rain eased momentarily I did stretch my legs to alleviate the growing sense of tedium and isolation.i haven’t found a very sociable place to stay. The only other 2 guests are a cold French couple whose sum conversation is to ask if I know the whereabouts of the police station. In fact whilst over here in the east all the travellers I have met have been French. Funny how this works out. Last year in surathani everyone was German.

There are a few brave stall holders, who anyway look prepared for this, and a couple who have much better, dry and sheltered pitches. Under the ruined chedi is a barbecue stall. The woman perched on her motorbike watching a tv she has rigged and up and protected in layers of polythene…..

Dinner is a disappointing and overpriced plate of stir fried rice and veg, over which I attempt to plan meeting up with hon in ayutthya on fb. He hasn’t looked at my dates,says he is busy, says we can meet at koh Changan the end of my trip, but doesn’t factor in his starting work. A impasse. He then blocks me…wtf? Thais guys are flakey, confusing and full of shit……

Back to this bus. For the first 2 hours I have had to plug myself into my iPod. I should say, even though I have around 40 days of music on it, it doesn’t seem able to provide the necessary soundtrack for Asia. Most of the music I have is too rooted in uk,my uk past. Some is too abrasive, some too electronic….anywayi plugged it in to drown out what we were subjected to on the tv screens on the bus. It starts with some pop videos. There was one particular one that sticks in my mind. Beautiful young man arrives in his land rover at a school camp in the countryside. I’m not sure why he is there, but on arriving the kids are excited when they see him and there is a lingering meeting of eyes with a beautiful teacher. I think he has brought them gifts as he is later surrounded by the little munchkins waiing him as the open presents. maybe they are orphans….The following scenes show her to be wonderful, caring, loving, a perfect teacher, adored by her little kids. She tucks them in under blankets, by a camp fire. A few shots of the happy couple. Then he leaves again in his land rover…touching waving goodbye scene. All the kids and woman waving. The man drives off and has a quiet moment by the river. Cut to the woman. Se returns to the class room. There is a script in chalk on the board. It startles her and she reflects. Obviously he wrote something…I have no idea what. But judging from the tone of the video it has no sexual innuendo. Probably praising her qualities as a teacher! Kind of weird.it’s clearly a love some….but the kids element makes it quite obtuse.

The other videos were very amateurish. There was a rock band. I can tell this as, rebelliously, the sing had long hair. He was surrounded by a team of women dancers, who all. Had pink suitcases, the pull along type. In fact all these videos have beautiful long haired heavily made up Thai beauties, modestly dressed. Even the one with the old guy in the cowboy hat walking along the river singing and playing his guitar. Could be any of the characters I saw in pai!

There followed a video, could it have been a music video???of sepia footage of the current Thai king through the ages, looking noble, benign, respected, intelligent. Walking around villages, fishing, receiving guests, meeting the people.i can’t imagine anything like this being made in uk…if it is a music video…..

But the worst thing was an hour of something called he variety show. Tv at its worst.ridiculous looking hosts: a woman ( see description of eye candy for music video) and a guy who would give timmy mallet a run for his money in the worst dressed guy in tv history. Big glasses, a green striped shirt, bow tie, pink jacket with sleeves rolled up to the elbows 80s style, and 3/4 length skinny trousers. I not sure what happens on the show. There are 2 teams of possibly celebrities. One is a. Big jovial fat guy with a shaved head who play some games, such as eating some apparently revolting bright green food. These guys are dressed I really tasteless costumes: black and white check jackets with bright yellow or green spangly hoods, hats to match. The show involves a lot of standing around and saying things that result in a lot of guffawing.the studio Audience clearly loves it. There is an extended section with motor cycle stunt riders. Actually they ride 100cc automatics, so I guess the audience identifies with them.they wheelie, do rear wheelies as they stop, ride standing on the seat…nothing very jaw dropping. There is some young teenage oh who features here. I think he asks one of the riders some questions. Maybe he has been selected for this show. He looks bemused, bashful, perplexed…anyway eventually he takes part in the final stunt. Get this: two rows of riders lie perpendicular to the approaching bike. The rows are separated by a line of purple balloons, around 8 of them. The bike approaches. The boy is also on the bike, his back is facing forwards. On the first approach the rider pulls the bike into a rear wheel wheelie but stops just short of his prone colleagues, as he would have run them over. Gasps of horror from the crowd. Close ups of the celebrities, the pretty eye candy host looks bored. Second approach…this is the stunt….the rider takes a straight line this time, pulls the rear wheelie, the boy is now hanging backwards over the handle bars. He. Is wearing a crash hat with aspire on it. All the balloons are burst in sequence, the bike clears the lines. Cue applause and adulation. The boy is overjoyed and I am underwhelmed.

One more bus to get to sukhothai and it feels like an oasis of tranquility. Staying in a bamboo hut at 300 baht. Town is small and sleepy…good!had armed curry at choppers bar…styled around the Wild West and biking and Buddhism. There is a big group of chunky middle aged Thais with a German tattooed guy, who I presumed was chopper. One of their group has brought in a job lot of 80s style Motorola phones, which he is sharing around. I don’t get it it. It’s like something out of only fools and horses. I notice that waiting is the way to greet here. There is a 14 year old kid serving the drinks, unmeasured. The Thai guys great him like slackly and don’t make eye contact or thank him. My red curry is ok…needs much more spice. There. Ae several pairs of adventurous western females here. A guy is singing,and playing guitar and harmonica. His stage is a replica bull cart..I have 2 beers and return to sit in the near Silence outside my bungalow.

This is day 4

Day 4

Wake up and unsure what to do. After chatting to another French couple I’m swayed to go to phi mai, a few hours north of here. The bus is a local one and there are hawkers selling some barbecued skewered animal on the bus.

It has just struck me how I saw none of the ubiquitous monks in buriram province.

Bus to khorat. It’s actually raining on arrival, but it’s sticky rain that doesn’t leave you wet. I’m on some fairground attraction of a bus with chrome backed seats and chrome lined ceiling, wooden floor and ceiling mounted green, red, blue lights that I bloody hope don’t start flashing

.

Actually maybe the decor is more cheap nightclub. I get cruised in the toilet at khorat bus station. For heaven’s sake! The conductor is blinded up, skinny guy with flat cap, white towel round his neck, like a boxer, looks like a hustler. He offs me chewing gum. His information about bus times is as confused as my memory of Thai numbers. When asked how long the trip to phi mai is he says 6 hours, which then becomes 2 when I show him how many fingers.

It’s a local bus, more and more hawkers jumping on and off, bus fills up with tired students going home.

 

Pimai feels small, safe, friendly. I’m 1 minute from the khmaer temple. No hurry to explore. Welcoming young girl noan,who majored in English…lots of tattoos and very in-Thai. Her mum fixes me an out of hours pad Thai.

 

Christmas Day in Koh Muk, Penang and return

I start the day quite early and walk around the headland to cut across the island to Find Sabai beach. The path climbs through rubber plantations. The trees have a groove spiralling down which channels the white dripping sap into half dried coconut shells tied around the trees with wire. Loads of bright beautiful butterflies, a zipping green grasshopper the size of my big finger. A rustle in the trees and I spy the face of a macaq. The path turns into jungle, the track about a metre wide, yellow rutted path used by the motorbikes of planters. No other foreigners. Palms with leaves up to 3 metres long. Dead brown palm leaves hanging in swathes, dry and brown and rustling loudly in the breeze. Past some rubber planters houses, crudely shaped white sheets of pressed latex hanging on lines to dry. Under the house I can see a couple of hand mangles. The path peters to breaks in the bushes and navigation is a bit harder. As I pass another house A voice cries out ” hey my friend, where are you going?” I look up and see a cropped grey head, brown shoulder, brown-orange robed monk. He beckons me over. His friend is swaying next to the house ( it is his house). I join the monk, Ajairn and spend the next hour or more gazing out over the jungle and talking about the directions we have chosen in life. He tells me to be careful not to get lost. I tell him, philosophically that you never get lost. You take paths and the path is either the right one and you continue or you realise it is not the right one, so you choose another one. He is 55 Has been a monk for 5 years. Is from Chang mai and travels Thailand. He works in a foundation that promotes Buddhism to foreigners. He has been sent to Koh Muk to serve the island. One temple, one monk. The island doesn’t seem too interested in Buddhism. I see no shrines, prayer houses, wai-ing. He has had a normal life of working for an airline company in hotels, marriage, children, money, divorce. Turned to drink and women. Says he did bad things and he was damaged. Becoming a monk meant he gave up and away everything, and was supported by his family totally. He has a new name, as do all monks, and even his family must dress him with a higher more respectful language. His friend has also been a monk. He is now married and living on this hill in the forest. I notice a long scar with stitch arcs right down his belly from his navel. He goes down to the neighbouring house where his wife is, and comes back with a flask of hot water and some cups and sachets of instant sweetened white coffee. After a while we go down the hill to a bend where he sends me on my way, suggesting a mark my path with scratches on trees. He invites me to his temple in the evening.

The path to the beach is indeed almost invisible. After anotherc20 minutes it arrives under a pineapple tree at a stagnant pool of flotsam and jetsam which I negotiate on a wobbly plank bridge onto the beach. It’s about 100 metres wide flanked by craggy mountains on each side. Accessible only by boat or by my path . There is nobody there. The plan had been to have a final dip in the sea. Though the beach is soft sand the edge is littered with sharp protruding and underlying rock. I test the water. It’s a bit unpredictable to negotiate the sea bed. I walk in a little way, the sit down, letting the swell wash over me. I spend. A little more time on the rocks then begin my sweaty return journey. A startled dog runs back into the bushes. There are some beautiful flowers, in 2 parts. A red thing like a rubbery red open pine cone and out of the top a delicate long white trumpet of a flower with a yellow stimen.

When I get back to my beach the sun is out, it is around 3 pm. Actually I have no idea, and don’t care. Though hungry I lose myself on the beach. The tide is way way out. You can walk about 500 m out over the sand and rocks. There is a popping sound. I think it’s the crabs, maybe the shell fish. Hoi nam (sea snails), dap (starfish). Little bright sand crabs scampering around and back into the myriad of holes in the sand. Women are banging rocks, and collecting shells, big inky blue grey long legged birds with yellow feet swoop down and wade the pools looking for dinner.

I go back to the Coco Lounge for an excellent green curry with tofu and aubergine. Perfect level of spiciness. The lady asks me about why I’m vegetarian. It’s a question I never know the answer to. Every year in October there is a vegetarian festival in Phuket and Trang. I really should plan a trip around that. At dusk I go to find the wat. It’s actually behind Coco Lounge. And next to the health centre, in front of which teenagers are playing volleyball and a group of older guys are playing a game with a wicker ball. Standing in a ring and passing it around in the air by foot and head. The wat is an open modest affair, in a little square surrounded by houses and sitting next to a diminutive red Chinese temple which only opens for Chinese New Year. Ajairn is sitting freshly shaven and in brighter orange robes. I remember him joking about different types of Buddhist monks. Red shirts and yellow shirts! He is at a table with a small boy who is a tiny 11. He immediately notices me and calls me over. Delighted to see me.

He sends the young boy off to buy him some cigarettes. The boy comes back with a slightly bigger one and they have some fire crackers,which they take glee in tossing in the bushes to bang loudly. They play with a box of matches and I film their antics.

From then on the iPad takes over the evening. Suddenly it is dark and the mosquitoes are ferocious driving us into the temple where the 2 boys and a little sister cluster around the iPad looking at pictures of places faraway and of houses and faces they know. They watch the film I made of the boys playing football. They know them all. Interesting to see how intuitive and easy it is to use this iPad. The younger boy picks up navigation, zooming, speeding up and slowing down film very easily. This evening Ajairn doesn’t make too much sense. He asks me to help him with a website. I will do, but I’m not sure how. He insists I come by tomorrow before leaving to donate a coffee. I say I will, sadly knowing I won’t have time. We say goodbye.

Back at the beach the tide is very very high. I chat with William about my day, then pack. Later in the evening I go to the bar by the beach. There is some live music, a few foreigners, William and some locals. There is a mixture of pro performers, marked out by their sunglasses after dark and long hair, who play a couple of covers including Hotel California, but much much better are their Thai songs, many of which the locals know. They sing about the islands and the sea. The show is interspersed by some of the locals who sing and play too. Very talented and mournful lilting voices. These rough moustached guys by day are fishermen. William takes the mic to sing to some of the tunes. Everyone gets up and dances, the beer flows and some strange crunchy sweet cookies are passed round. It’s a beautiful night, and I’m reluctant to say goodbye and goodnight.

Boxing Day

I wake up with a cold, oh my god. It doesn’t seem to get worse during the day. I have my last breakfast as the sun comes up then walk with Dada to the pier with bags following with her husband in the motorbike and sidecar. At the pier I meet one of the singers from last night. He works the boats lugging boxes. He has a cowboy hat and looks funny lassoing the rope to tie up the boat. Waving goodbye to Dada and husband from the deck of a heavily laden ferry boat. Koh Muk slowly receding, sun beating down, exhaust belching noise and smoke. Lulled into a reverie, next to some weather beaten brown locals and a young lugger with the eyes of an old man. We are transferred to Trang where I go back to Rungtip travel. The girls remember me and I buy them some mangosteens from a very friendly fruit stall. Share a ride with some Dutch girls full of stories about Koh Muk to the bus station, where I kill 20 minutes buying sweet meals. Each bus counter has big bunches of bananas which they hand out to the waiting passengers. The minibus is piled high with bags and the stereo booms past my own headphones. Wafting smell of those menthol nose sticks so many Thais sniff obsessively.

27 December and my time has taken a whole new slant and perspective.

Arrived in Georgetown around 9.30 and the Hang Chow hotel had kept me a room but it was seedy, grotty and on the ground floor. I look at a couple of other places and remembered my trudge 2 years ago trying to find a room. I end up at the Hong Ping hotel, a big place on Lebuh Chulia. Chinese, smells a bit smokey, lacking in atmosphere but ok. I shower and get the long wished for masala dosa and mango lassi.

Phone and meet E and this is where things change. After some stalling he tells me about his illness and I still can’t take in it in. Sitting in a Chinese temple, a chanting cd and on the verge of tears. Slowly now I’m uncovering his layers. Layers he is ashamed of. Man, he has done some bad things and I can only begin to imagine how he is dealing with this. Can’t tell his family. He called it the death sentence.

What else is there to say? The minibus from Hat Yai was driven by a git who spent several stops smoking and chatting to his mates, leaving us waiting. He even got a bit lost. Hat Yai had rows after rows of stalls of dried nuts, porn DVDs, and I ate some vegetable rice salad. The waiter was gay. Shit, so what? Who is reading this? I want to change as a person, but I don’t know what I can do. I love E. What can I give him?

The afternoon ends with heavy rain and I edit pics and doze. I arrange via dodgy Internet to meet Eyrique for dinner at the food court near his hotel. His mum and brother and sister will be there. On this day the 15 th of the lunar month, his mum is vegetarian. Se treats me to dinner, rice, aubergine with garlic, water spinach, we have some beers. The entertainment on the stage is 3rd rate karaoke Carpenters style. Eyrique and I go off on our own initially to find a gay bar, but Georgetown has none. We sit in the side street at the Monkey Juice bar. Same guy, same menu, same prices as 2 years ago. We have a juice, Eyrique eats more, I photograph an old guy with his poodle. We leave as the market is closing. Back to my room. Eyrique has already picked up my cough.

The next day we were going to spend together, but his mother wants him back with them to do family stuff. We have a dosa for breakfast. Seems to be some tension around him being with me. We say goodbye, I’m a bit tearful. Weird how little we know each other, how fleeting our meetings are, how big an effort it is to reach each other. Funny how much I like being with him.

Final 2 days

Yesterday I walked around, hung around some temples, chatted to an old Chinese lady in her medicinal tea shop. Walked the malls, bought nothing. Oh, I forgot about meeting William Orchard from Singapore. A small guy in a baseball hat guarding a pile of flight cases next to the row of ruined heritage buildings I investigated last time round. They are still there, but I think the row behind has vanished. The is still one occupied by a Chinese grocer. He insists they won’t pull them down. Doesn’t seem to be much substance to rebuild though. The guy from Singapore is there making a film. He is the producer and it’s a self financed student film. A sci-fi ghost story and they have come all this way for these cool locations. We chat quite a long time, then they load up their fancy coach and drive off.

That was the day before yesterday. Back to yesterday and my wandering. I don’t see anything new, just enjoy the familiarity of the place. Have several lassis at various cheap Indian restaurants, and buy a big bag of fresh samosa and bhaji for the homeward journey. I browse one of the several used book stores and chat to the missing toothed Chinese owner about my travels. It’s amazing anyone buys anything in these stores, and this is better than most. Sun-faded, sea-water-curled trash best sellers probably from airports around the world. I do manage to find Memories of a Geisha and hope I will get round to reading it. I’ve got money to burn and I find myself in a crockery shop buying discounted Japanese plates and bowls. Quite cheap, but no haggling possible. For dinner I go back to Sri Amman…whatever it is called. No free tables so I’m invited to share a table with an Indian looking guy who is actually British. Quit his job as a banker in Canary Wharf and travelling Asia. His travels are a bit mainstream, and he isn’t too keen on experiencing the real Cambodia I tell him about. Anyway, he is ok company. We share a passion for vegetarian food and fruit, but his comments about missing uk, eg soya milk irk a little. Soya milk is easy to find and deliciously fresh here. Hope he will discover this. When we part I go back to Monkey Juice bar for a series of juices, each different, each refreshing. Suddenly remember to print my boarding passes, then go back to Hong Ping to sleep.

Next day, ie today. Breakfast is impossible to find even at 9am. For a city so keen on eating and with a Chinese population so geared to making money I can’t believe there is absolutely nowhere open. I settle for snacks from the 7-11. The minibus picks me up and takes me to the bus station where I board a luxury cruiser with remote controlled footrest and massage controls. I actually only discovered this by accident. I must have leant my elbow on the button, as suddenly I felt a trembling vibration on the left side of my back. First I thought it was the throbbing of the engine, but then I pressed a few more buttons and found more areas to vibrate. The journey was longer than promised. That’s no surprise, and the traffic was snail-like. The bus got hot and the air fuzzy. I chatted a little to my neighbour, a Malaysian kid of 19 who lives in Penang and studies in KL. To my relief the bus goes to KL Sentral, which means an easy connection to the airport. However, the bus takes me to the Airasia terminal. Why didn’t they tell me? I wander around the terminal a while and only when I ask for help do I realise my mistake. Sweltering sun. Waiting for a connecting bus. Once at the right terminal the rapid drop in queue doesn’t move as a family of Arabs are checking in about 20 pieces of luggage. One of their kids opens a Coca Cola bottle which sprays sticky brown sugary goo all over the counter and floor. Once through to departures I get some Mango Absolut, and the girls in the duty free shop are in a quandary about whether I am allowed to take it into Abu Dhabi where I have to transfer. I buy it anyway, and later am told at boarding that it will be ok. The airport book shop has many peculiar looking books on Malaysian politics and social commentary. I would have bought one if I hadn’t changed the rest of my ringgit back to pounds. My media research continues with buying some newspapers to analyse.

That takes me back to last night. I don’t usually have any interest in tv in my hotel room, but I thought I would check out what is broadcast here. It was an English language news channel from Malaysia. Interesting coverage. No Chinese faces or Indians. Lots of minor dramas, deaths, incidents, all involving Malays. Crimes such as gang robbery of a tanker, a crime of passion involving a woman, her husband, her lover. An overturned pick-up which mowed down a couple of electricity pylons. Floods on the east coast, army rescues. Education reforms. The deputy PM emphasising mastery of Behasa Melayu and English. There were complaints and suggestions by Dong Ping, a Chinese campaigner for Chinese education, for inclusiveness for all students with the new policies. The deputy PM made some comment to the effect that “we cannot please everyone and these policies are not going to be changed just for Dong Ping”. Then he made some speech about how we must curb text language as it is destroying the beautiful Malay language. Basically we saw a portrayal of a single race nation, with a single language. All smiles and silk.

I saw many of these people in the evening, yesterday. I walked up to the town hall and the harbour wall near the fort. This is a Malay area. Funny how segregated they all are. Promenading families, headscarved mothers. Everyone creating meaning and moments by snapping each other on their phones over and over, silly poses, poor light. Rituals that give shape to their evenings. I dangle my feet over the wall and watch a mammoth container ship glide slowly in, then like a mirage a brightly lit blue and white ferry positively motoring into to the port.

Even on the plane, the guy near me. A black African snaps himself several times on his Blackberry. Why oh why? To show he is on a plane? Meaningless.

My god, what a long journey. Arriving in Heathrow at 6.30 am local time. I decided not to change my watch since leaving Malaysia. Time means nothing. Except I’m tired. I can see I have lost a day, or is it 2 and I have been travelling for 30 hours now. By my reckoning it. Will be 32 by the time I get home, mid-morning, and go to bed. It’s cold here, maybe 8 degrees, my sleep on the planes was drowsy and hypnotic due to my iPod streaming whatever it liked on shuffle mode.

Uk transport….well the District line isn’t running from Hammersmith, necessitating another change. The train from Victoria to Brighton should be quick and reliable. Crawling to East Croydon, taking half an hour. This journey is costing 25 quid. I just want to get home. Uk is miserably frustratingly crap.