Archive for November, 2010


media whore

Tonight I fly to Australia for the start of a rather well known sporting battle called ‘The Ashes’. To say that excitement is in the air would be the understatement of the century. The thought of being in the ground, sat next to my mates, watching the first ball go down in cricket’s oldest and greatest match up is stupidly, ridiculously and mouth wateringly exciting. As someone who has followed England abroad six times previously, the build up and tension involved in this particular match up is on a whole different level. This one matters like no other test match series. Even non-cricket fans know what the Ashes are and the importance of them. On a ferry back to Padangbai yesterday, a young woman admitted having no interest in the sport whatsoever, but was genuinely excited for me when I told her I was doing all five test matches spread across Australia’s vast land. She was telling me how much her Dad would have wanted to be doing the same. Although she didn’t care about cricket, she could easily relate just how special this series is in a sporting context.

This is also an important time for me in terms of my trip away. I have always spilt this journey around this fascinating planet up into four sections. The Ashes is part two, so mathematics will tell you that I have come to the end of the first major chapter. It has been just over seven weeks of sheer
brilliance that has given me more than I could have ever dreamt of when setting out back at the start of the trip on October 3rd. Usually with these blogs I spend nothing more than several minutes preparing in my mind the kind of theme I want to write about and how I want that to be portrayed. With all my spare time on Gili Trawangan (or Gili T to its friends) I have had more than ample time to ensure that I try and make this particular write up a good one. It might not be a good one for you, but I’m gonna’ make damn sure that it is to me. I have spent quite a bit of time reading through my early days on the road and looking at the kind of emotions and themes that drove me. What is clear to me is that I have become a much more confident traveller, but also a slightly blasé one when it comes to certain areas that were obviously a huge driving force in those original trips.

Take the first few days in Thailand. I didn’t realise it at the time, but it is clear from reading my musings that I was blown away by what are now familiar, every day occurrences on the road. Things such as sorting out train tickets, bus rides or those first few ferry journeys were what gave me a ‘kick’. Naturally when these kind of activities become the norm, the excitement has died down from those first few weeks away from home where all of that was very new to me. I’m not quite sure why those simple chores excited me so much. I suppose it was because being a lone traveller was a brand new experience for me as I have always have a travel companion alongside in the past to share the responsibility. I was the master of my own destiny, if you coin a phrase, and it was my decisions that would get me from point A to point B with no one else to rely on, or blame if things went wrong.

This has also been my first time away from home that doesn’t involve a cricket tour, holiday or weekend city break. Of course I have always had the end goal of the Ashes or the World Cup next year, but there has been plenty of time to do some ‘proper’ travelling. We had an interesting discussion the other night while watching the sunset over Gili T, where we agreed that there are certain cricket tours that could certainly constitute as ‘travel’ and others that should be used loosely. This is far from being arrogant, but I don’t class a two week trip to Barbados to watch a test match and have a holiday as travel. For the record I have done exactly that myself in the past, so its not a snobby comment. As recently as January this year we were in Cape Town to watch England play South Africa. A huge number of people flew in just for this test and good on them. It’s better than watching at home in the bleak mid winter. But again, a one off test match where you fly in and out of a country, squeezing in a day trip to Robben Island with several dozen other England cricket fans cannot be classed as travel in my mind. There are times on cricket tours that I definitely class as travel. On that same trip to South Africa we hired a car and drove down the coast on the Garden Route. We stayed at a different place each night, visited some spectacular places and even went on a safari. Yes, we were in the country for the cricket but we were miles away from the Barmy Army and cricket bandwagon, experiencing what the country had to really give. That said there are exceptions to the rule. I wasn’t in Bangladesh at the start of the year, but anyone that visited such a country can certainly claim to have travelled the country just being there. Why would you go to Bangladesh for any other reason?

It’s great to now be in a position where I can say I have been away from home for a prolonged period of time, sometimes all alone, travelling part of the world just for the sake of it. The amazing thing is I just have not been bored. Even in Penang where I struggled to find anything to do I made use of the time by watching episodes of ‘The Inbetweeners’ on youtube. In Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei, I caught up on some much needed sleep after two overnight flights. OK, it wasn’t the kind of rock n’ roll travel that you all want to read about, but it did me the world of good to have a rest prior to the rest of the jaunt across Borneo.

There have always been concerns in travelling alone. What happens if I don’t meet anyone nice in dorms? Well, the fact is I have. Everywhere I have shared my space with fellow travellers I have met some brilliant people. I have dined out with more ladies in those first five weeks than I have in Hereford in the last five years. Not because I have been trying to dine out with females across Asia, oh no. Its just that we have been put together in the same room, got talking and decided we like each other so much that we want to share an evening drinking, eating and laughing about the world in general. I’m an open person naturally which I am well aware scares some people, certainly back home. I tell it like it is and don’t bother tiptoeing around a taboo subject. This seems to have been thee attitude of the vast majority of people I have shared my time with and I only wish I came across more people like that on a day to day basis.

Another fear in coming away was the obvious ‘what happens if something goes wrong’ scenario. There have been several occasions where original plans have gone totally out of the window. The day in Brunei was a great example of how much more settled I have become in dealing with a change of plan, not bought on by my own actions. Hopping off the wrong bus in the middle of the Brunei countryside was not part of the plan. Hitch-hiking to get to the ferry terminal wasn’t in the plan. Booking a combined ferry and bus ticket to Lawas, as place I had never heard of was certainly not in the plan. But everything sorted itself out. I got to KK a night early, had an extra nights rest prior to the Kinabalu ascent and met two cracking lasses that I smashed the town up with. I’ve realised that as long as you have money in your pocket, plans can change freely and you will still be fine. Back in Thailand, I’d have been mortified at having my plans changed so erratically. But several weeks in, so what. It’s an adventure that is out of hands and I’ve realised that those kind of days are the most exciting and fulfilling as a lone traveller.

All of this brings me to where I am today. As anyone who knows we will agree, I can come across as slightly confident on occasions. In any situation that I’m feeling comfortable and in control, confidence my middle name. Saying that, if you can’t be confident when things are in your favour, when can you? Anyway, this whole trip has never been about ‘finding myself’ or any of that bullshit that you hear countless people trot out when they discover you are chucking in a comfortable lifestyle back in the UK. I know exactly who I am, what drives me and how I like to act around other people. I don’t want to change, I like myself and this trip has re-confirmed that other people don’t mind my company too. But the main thing I have learnt about myself is that I can be a bit of a control freak at times. They aren’t big things, just the little daily issues that you come across that I need to relent control a touch. Simple chores like doing the washing up myself if a friend is over because I can do it better, or letting a colleague look after a favourite customer. By coming away travelling, putting my life in the hands of others and being forced to drop and change plans at any given moment because I have to, has made me realise that I can being in control is not always necessary. Don’t get me wrong, I still like being in that comfortable position of being in control, but I have realised that cannot always be the case and it can be even more fun just to go along with whatever hand you are dealt. Some of the best places I have stopped in have been because I had no other option than to crash in that particular town or city and just happened to stumble upon a hostel or guest house that fitted the bill perfectly. I suppose I have discovered an improved confidence in situations where I’m not in control.

So what are my main loves of travel now the transportation has become more a means than a love? Well, the main one is naturally some of the places and sights that I have seen. Who couldn’t get excited about climbing Mount Kinabalu and that feeling of euphoria when your guide tells you that you are now at the summit? Who couldn’t walk down the golden sands, viewing the crystal clear waters off Langkawi or Gili T and not smile at thereselves stupidly at the location they were in? Who couldn’t feel a great sense of well being after meeting the brilliant kids at CCH in Phnom Penh? There have been countless others, just view the gallery tab at the top of the page if you want more illustrated examples. I’ve also got a massive kick out of meeting new people. Without a shadow of doubt, dorms are the way to go to achieve this. From Simon in Bangkok to the Ashes aware lass on the ferry yesterday, I’ve loved sharing travel tales and experiences far more than I thought I would do. Of course there have been occasions when you hanker for a familiar face to chat too and I’ve had that through spending some time with Fred in Cambodia and the cricket lads in Indonesia. All in a all, a great mix.

I got a message off someone the other day saying that I whine too much in my blog. Well, yes I do because I certainly wouldn’t want to read someone boasting about how amazing, brilliant and spectacular their life was. It would make dull reading to say over and over again that I am having the time of my life, that I have no regrets about coming away and wishing it would never end. More importantly, it would not be worth me writing that kind of stuff. I’d get nothing out of it, so why would I do it? So there we go, that bit is out of the way – this is the best decision I have ever made and am loving every second. Interestingly, I don’t actually have anything at present to whine about anyway. Gili T was quite brilliant – not having had a proper ‘holiday’ since going to Dom Rep in early 2007, the five nights on Gili T saw me rediscover a love for doing nothing. Get up late, go for a walk down the beach, eat some lunch, swim in the sea, have a nap, eat some tea and go out drinking with mates till I felt like bed. The most taxing thing was deciding when to move onto rum and cokes as opposed to Bintang beer. It was sheer bliss. But does it make for good reading material? Nope.

So as part one ends, part two is close to starting. I’m sad to be ending this first ‘travel for the sake of travel’ part, which has been so good to me, but just as happy at the thought of seeing an Ashes series in Australia. All being well, I’ll be buying crazily priced alcohol and eating overpriced grub in Brisbane this time tomorrow.

On a final note, I have been conscripted to do a piece for a small local rag in Australia called ‘The Herald Sun’ – the things you do to help a mate out…….


predictable – part 2

I would imagine that the vast majority of Brits who will brave the shocking exchange rate to get to Brisbane this week will take at most five forms of transport from their front door to get to Queensland. Maybe a taxi or a train to the airport from home, followed by a couple of long haul flights and then a bus to the hostel or hotel on arrival in OZ. Since leaving my adopted home address in Bristol back on October 3rd, I have naturally managed several more legs to get to Australia. Predictably, here is one of those number based league style ranking systems that I promised would appear from time to time –

1 Hitchhike – saved in Brunei, thanks to Malaysian Nancy
2 Train – overnighters, from Bangkok and KL
3 Monorails – countless air con rides through Bangkok, KL and Singapore
4 Leeches – left on my legs after the Khao Sok escape
5 Scooter – passengers crammed on one bike, spotted in Cambodia and captured on camera in Jakarta
6 Passport- stamps in 24 hours. KL, Brunei, Sarawak, Sabah; stamps in and out of Brunei and Sarawak
7 Ferry – journeys, the best being the only westerners going to Sumatra
8 Countries – visited so far, counting Sarawak and Sabah as Borneo
9 Weeks – without shaving, if I hold off till after the Gabba test
10 Flights – including two booked in Indonesia by turning up at the airport
11 Nights – with Fred. Top times in Thailand and Cambodia
12 Bed dorm- the biggest and best, Nappark in Bangkok
13 Frames – of pool lost to Basingstoke Pat in Jakarta
14 Pound – the most I’ve paid for a nights accomodation, in Phnom Penh
15 Hours – drinking with Pat and Winslow on our arrival in Gili
16 Cigarettes – the average amount of fags smoked by an Indonesian male on a Sumatran bus ride
17 Times – minimum that i’ve been accused of being Australian
18 Holes – of golf played in Langkawi and Batam
19 Places – that are different that have seen me rest my head for the night
20 Brunei – dollars that I cannot get changed


27 Bus – and minivan journeys
112 Shots – to go round Gunung Raya golf course in Langkawi
136 Days – left travelling the world. Until the next time, of course….
180 Minutes – spent wide awake, thanks to the local Bukittinggi mosque 4am service
282 Meters – up in the air. Menara Sky Tower, KL – the best place I have ever had a cup of tea
500 Singapore – dollars. The fine for eating or drinking on the spotless Monorail
1,100 Pictures – taken and saved on my harddrive
2,123 Blog – views
13,435 Feet – destroyed in getting to the top of Mount Kinabalu
27,359 Words – blogged so far. All locked in on my now expired Microsoft Word 2007 trail version
Countless – people waved and smile at, drinks drank, taxi rides taken plus oasis albums listened too!

*Stats are inclusive of the forthcoming final leg in getting to Oz*


pushing on

To say that I have been slightly lazy in updating this blog of late would be an understatement. The half hearted attempt of posting an update based around facial hair was pretty embarrasing, so I apologise for that. Interestingly it got the most comments both on here and on email than every other tale I have told so far…..I suppose I did ask the question ‘should it stay or go’ and the general consensus was it should at least be trimmed back a touch. For the record it is staying for now and maybe longer if we were to win the first test in Brisbane next week. If you pardon the pun, it is growing on me and I like it. So there.

Well we are on the subject of facial hair and cricket, I suppose I should point you in the direction of the photos attached to this blog that include a snap taken with the latest buddy I’ve met up with. See, Pat and I have cheated Indonesia somewhat thanks to the cheapest and most efficient budget airline I’ve ever used, Lion Air. We have spent the last few days with Winslow here on the stunning isle of Gili Trawangan, just off the east cost of Bali. I first met Winslow on the infamous India tour in 2008 and have followed his travels enviously at times from my office desk. Meeting up with another mate from cricket has just added to the growing sense of excitement that is building for the Ashees. The moustache he currently has attached to his face is not a joke, altough it may look like it. He and a few of the other Barmy Army lads are sporting ‘mo’s’ for the charity fundraiser, ‘Mo-vember’!

Perhaps the lack of travel updates of late has stemmed from the shift in attitude over the last week or so. I arrived in the capital city of Jakarta with the full intention of catching a twelve hour overnight train to the easten Javan city of Surabaya. After a night chilling out in yet another brilliant hostel, it became clear that if we wanted a proper chill out in Bali, then we would have to fly. A check on our new favourite airlines website showed us that we could fly direct to Denpasar for less than £30. A no brainer. We could get to Bali in just a couple of hours for less money than a combined trip of train, ferry and countless buses could. If it was the start of the trip then I’d have been gutted to miss out on such an adventure. But over six weeks into the trip and not having spent more than three nights in any one place, my body was thanking me for getting to Bali and having some chill time.

And boy the Gili islands are set up for that. I’m writing this in an internet cafe that is a matter of feet away from the crystal clear blue waters that are lapping gently against the picturesque white sands. The most taxing thing I’ve done here since arriving a couple of days ago was to walk an entire lap of the island yesterday afternoon. Hardship or what?

The last time I posted anything travel related was just after escaping Pekanbaru town centre and getting to Bukittinggi in one piece. Bukittinggi was a smart little town. As soon as we got kicked off the bus we were greeted by even more smiling, inquisitive locals. The town of itself is small for Indonesian standards, home to just over 70,000. Being a small town boy myself, I instantly related with the place. We walked through the bustling markets, posing for photographs and seemingly saying hello to every single person we passed. Local school kids were jumping up and down with excitement as we trekked the streets with our backpacks, looking for a place to stay. The backdrop to the city was a beautiful mountain, covered in glorious mist. All in all it was a pretty spectacular place. It used to be quite a backpacker hotspot, though with the introduction of budget airlines, less and less people are visiting. The only downside to the town was the 4am alarm call we received from the local mosque. Now, I respect peoples cultures and faiths and can put up with a simple call for prayer. This is a hugely populated Muslim part of the world and this cry for people to come and pray is a big part of many locals day. Our local mosque wasn’t happy with a simple two minute call for prayer. Oh no. They decided to broadcast to the whole town the whole ‘freckin service. For nearly three hours at full blast we were force fed the mornings prayers. The last hour was spent listening to a child read passages from the Koran. Yes, a small boy coughed and spluttered his way through tales from the Koran.

Despite this we were sad to leave Bukittinggi. It seemed a real hip, friendlly town with the potential for some cracking discovery and adventure by day and smash up’s by night. Arriving at Padang airport with no flight booked was a first for both me and Pat. We got lucky, piled on the next flight and arrived in Jakarta just hours after leaving Bukittinggi. Jakarta has got a pretty bad rep. The Lonely Planet describes it as a hard city to love. They are talking shit. Sure it is a huge, sprawling Asian city and the pollution from the traffic isn’t the nicest thing in the world. But once again, the people there were just so friendly. We found a little park with a fairly large monument that was a cool hangout in the city centre. Watching the locals play basketball and football while the sun went down was superb. The nightlife for a Muslim city was superb. The plush, modern shopping malls came as a little bit of a surprise. Despite what the LP says, this was easy travel, a nice change from the reasonable hardship faced in Sumatra.

Our arival in Bali was interesting. The airport infamously charges crazy rates to get anywhere on the island. Now me and Pat are our similar ilke when it comes to not liking to being ripped off. Instead of just paying one driver a flat, overpriced rate to take is to Padangbai ferry terminal, we decided to follow the guidebook and catch the local buses. Four of them to be precise. Arriving in Padangbai just after sunset we were jumped on by some touts trying to sell everything from hostel rooms to ferry tickets. If it was me that was a bit snappy in Pekanabaru, it was Pat here! Before we even got out of our last minivan, there was one guy in particular that wouldn’t take no thanks for an answer. For about ten minutes he followed us round the ferry terminal we had gone too, checking out the what the score was with getting to the Gili islands. Now, there are only so many times you can be polite to a person that is waving an overpriced ferry leaflet in your face……after getting told in no uncertain terms by Pat to leave us alone, he reappeared from nowhere then trying to sell us a room in a hostel! I nicknamed him Paul Daniels.

So on a bit of a travel wind down do I feel at all guilty for skipping Java? Nope, not at all. Getting to Gili several days early has been a godsend, though I’m not sure my liver agrees after a crazy all day, all night session on our first day here. This might only be a small island, but there are plenty of tourists here. We incredibly bumped into Winslow within minutes of setting foot on these fair shores and ended up spending the whole afternoon crawling the many beach bars. It was like being back in Bangkok, partying and drinking away till nearly 5am and not waking up till gone midday, just in time to spend the afternoon by the beach.

My god, maybe I am turning into that ‘traveller stereotype’ more and more each day……


the traveller stereotype

Seeing as half my blog updates are spent slagging off the average stereotypical traveller or local person I encounter, I thought I better do one aimed at me. It’s a very quick one and more an illustrated update than anything else. Nearly all the comments I get on facebook are to do with my facial hair. Ignore the brilliant scenes that Mount Kinabalu offered or the crazy pictures taken from a tuk tuk. Ignore the photos of the beautiful ladies that I have dined and drunk with on the trip and just comment on my appearence. Not that I mind of course, its quite funny – I was even asked by a Scottish lady if I was a member of the SAS! After all we were in Borneo at the time, I had a beard and told her I was based in Hereford so you can see her trail of thought……So, I can confirm that I have become a stereotypical male traveller. The question is, should it stay or should it go?


im a celebrity (get me out of here!)

Is exactly how I felt earlier this morning. I’d of loved to have seen Ant and Dec appear with an ITV film crew telling me I could leave the environment that I had found myself in. It wasn’t anything serious, just being stuck on a bus that had decided to drive around and around that well known Sumatran town named Pekanbaru looking for business. For two bloody hours. Oh, and this was after it turned up nearly an hour late in the first place.

Anyway, now that first whinge is out off the way it is time to tell you where I actually am. I’ve made it down to the equally well known backpacker hangout of Bukittinggi, located several miles inland from the Southern Sumatran coastline. It’s such a well known backpacker trail that I have bumped into the grand sum of three westerners in the five hours I have been here. That’s three more than the Palau Batam – Pekenbaru leg of the trip. Yes, if I craved being off the beaten track at the start of the trip, then I have well and truly found it here in Sumatra. I’m not sure if it is because this is a particularly dangerous part of the world, but there are just no backpackers or tourists here. Not dangerous in terms of the locals, who are not only very surprised to see a couple of British blokes walking their streets and catching their buses, but also extremely welcoming. The danger comes in the form of the depths of this great planet we live on. For this particular area of the planet we call ‘earth’ creates some of the most powerful and destructive earthquakes going around. Tomorrow we fly from a large city called Padang, infamous for last years quake that killed thousands of people. Less than two hundred miles away from Bukittinggi are the Mentawai Islands. These islands have been in the news since I started the trip six weeks ago for a huge earthquake and resulting tsunami that again wiped out far too many humans. Before anyone panics and tells me to get the hell out I’d just like to get one thing clear – it’s more dangerous catching a bus here than it is from the threat of Mother Nature!

Being in such a location has found me gain something resembling celebrity status in this part of Indonesia. It all started yesterday morning on the ferry from Palau Batam to Tanjung Buton. Several hours into this latest unscheduled ferry ride (more on that to follow) Pat was asked to pose for a photo with a couple of the crew. This was now an open invitation in my eyes. Within seconds of these lads diving back into the main deck, I knocked on the door and let myself in, introducing myself to the Captain and his crew! Any concerns I may have had of not being welcome were put aside by the Captain posing for a photo and the crew offering me coffee and cigarettes. Slightly off topic, but my god, Indonesian men love to smoke. Anyway, after several minutes of posing for photos on several crew members mobile phone cameras, I was taken up to the upper deck where I was introduced to several more of the crew and a few families who’s male members were also enjoying a smoke. Here followed more photos as well as questions as to my reasons for being in Indonesia. On my return to the lower deck, I was again asked to pose for a photo by a father with his two young kids. I felt like a film star or something, great fun. Sadly no one asked for my autograph though…..we went back into the main deck for the docking at Tanjung Buton, which was a pretty smart arrival. I remember flying back from Greece pre-9/11 when you were allowed as a kid to visit the cockpit. I must have made such an impression that me and my mum were asked whether or not we would like to be in the cockpit for the landing at Birmingham. Of course we accepted and I remember that arrival clear as day some fifteen years on.

The ferry we found ourselves on was the Dumai Express. Catching a taxi from the brilliant Hotel Triniti, we arrived at the terminal in Batam in good time to catch the direct ferry we planned to take to Pekanabaru. The trusty guide book told us this was possible. A look on the internet the night before suggested it was, but this was from a forum post written a couple of years previous. Asking at the Triniti was a pointless exercise as even the main receptionist spoke nothing more than broken English (better than my Indonesian will ever be, obviously) Our greeting at the terminal was off the decibel scale. Anything up-to fifteen salesman were shouting at the tops of their voices ‘Pekanabaru, Pekanbaru!!!!’ trying desperately to get the attention of two bleary eyed Englishmen. At 7am this was not high on the peaceful morning list. We sorted out some tickets that we assumed were direct ferry tickets to Pekanbaru, a mere six and a half hour journey into Sumatra. Once we handed several hundred thousand Rupiah notes over we were told that part of the journey would include a bus ride. Ok, not ideal. After a quick check with an independent salesman selling tickets back to Singapore it was confirmed that no ferries went to Pekanbaru direct.

What this ferry ride did give us was new found celebrity status. What it did not was a realistic full one day trip down to Bukittinggi which was our original plan. Pat has been on the go nonstop for a week now since arriving, starting out at 7am and earlier every day. I’ve been a tad poorly as well as sore from the Kinabalu descent, so our hope was for a two night break in Bukittinggi before a slog across Java next week. Instead, the ferry pulled in at approaching 1pm. Getting on our, shall we say politely, ropey and slightly archaic bus, we knew pretty soon that this would be unrealistic feat. It was a proper bus journey down to Pekanbaru. The roads here in Sumatra are notoriously shit in places. It was safe to say that we found ourselves on one of those notoriously shit roads. All the way to the outskirts of Pekanbaru we were being thrown up and down by the sheer quantity of pot holes. Our driver was obviously not on overtime, overtaking blind in places and not giving way to any oncoming motor cyclist or scooter that was on the other side of the road. I usually choose not to watch what is happening on the road in front in Asia as it can sometimes be a hair raising experience. I just tend to think that all will be OK, it is their country and this is what they are used to. Watching Pat squirm with every other over taking manoeuvre in the seat in front made me watch too, just to see how close we were to having a serious accident. The police here use shock tactics, modelling smashed up cars and vans as a deterrent to drivers speeding and driving irresponsibly. I’m not sure it is working.

We got to Pekanbaru alive just before sunset after the advertised four hour journey turned into five. To be fair, you’d settle for this nine times out of ten in South East Asia. For the record that’s the alive part and the time taken! Naturally not having anywhere booked to stay or even a map of the city we were slightly disorientated at first. Pat made a great call to just walk down the main road, which was packed full of crazy rush hour traffic, kicking up dust and omitting smog for fun. The locals loved us, waving and saying hello as if we were long lost family members. A coupe of girls on a scooter nearly tumbled off as they were looking round, smiling and giggling at me instead of concentrating on the road. We stumbled upon a decent hotel and after I quickly checked the room contained a western toilet, we checked in for the night. We did not see a huge deal of Pekanbaru, just popping out to find some food before taking a couple of Tiger beers home from a street vendor. The main strip that we did see gave me the impression that the city doesn’t get a great deal of westerners visit it!

Our bus ticket to Bukittinggi was arranged the previous evening when we left the bus terminal. Arranging it for 7am, we told to arrive on time. After a third alarm call in a row of 6am and earlier, we awoke and made our way via a taxi bus to the terminal for 6.45am. The minutes ticked by as it soon became clear that the bus was not going to appear on time. Again, no real issue in this part of the world, it is to be expected. Somewhere around half past the hour I piped up and asked when the bus would arrive. The answer was 8am. Ok, so why sell us tickets where you write 7am on there when the bus was never, ever going to appear at that time of day? It wasn’t worth the argument. We could have requested any chuffin’ time and the bus would still turn up when it fancied. When it did pull up I was amazed to see it empty. After a drive round the main bus terminal and another bus stop we still only had a handful of passengers. ‘Brilliant’ I thought, envisaging a more comfy journey than the cramped and sticky journey the day previous. We set off on the open road to Bukittinggi…..or so I naively thought. The driver did a U-turn and we went back to our original port of call.

This continued for two hours. Round and round and round and round (you get the picture?) we went, kerb crawling for any punters that fancied a trip to Bukittinggi from Pekanbaru. The weather was warming up and patience was wearing extremely thin. Now, I can put up with something like this for a while. In fact, I often wrote at the start of the trip how much I loved these adventures on buses. But when a salesman writes down 7am on the bus ticket, I expect to leave somewhere near this time. I do not expect to drive up and down and round and round the same bloody streets time and time again with no explanation as to why I was expected to get out off bed at 6am for a third morning running for no reason. My spirits were fine, till maybe half eight. After this my mood flipped. It was piss take. Obviously nobody does this route. Settle with the ten passengers you have instead off wasting petrol money by driving round and round the same streets of Pekanbaru. In fact, I even threw in this novel idea of something called a ‘bus timetable’ where you actually tell your potential cliental where they need to be in town at a given time. Making I’m thinking too logically here, but if I was a local and this was the standard way in which buses operate, I’d get my own car. Sod driving round dusty streets while five or six conductors spend hours getting another four or five passengers on the bus. I felt a little guilty straight after as I was chuntering away in Pat’s presence, but after six weeks of buses, trains, ferries and planes, I just had enough. I make no apologies though, its better out than in. We finally set off out of town only for me to joke that ‘We’ll probably stop for food in a minute’ Sure enough we did, a mile or two out of town. I had to laugh at this point, at least we were out of Pekanabaru, some two and half hours after the agreed time and three and half hours after the alarm went off!

Our night together in Singapore was spent catching up while eating and drinking down the local hawker stalls. Not being that well I can’t say I can give too many views on Singapore as I didn’t really get out and about apart from a few walks around the Little India area of town. The Monorail system is the dogs nuts, English cities should get involved. Anyway, we caught an early ferry to Palau Batam. Here I had my first taste of feeling like a celebrity when we lunched in the standard Asian shopping mall at the top of the hill. On the short walk to the mall we encountered many of the usual inquisitive stares which soon turned into happy, smiling faces. However, in the cafe a young Indonesian woman kept looking at me and smiling, over and over again. Now, believe or not this is a regular occurrence around here. Young Asian woman stare and smile at me. It’s not that they fancy me, I’m sure – it’s just inquisitive. As I walked out of the cafe she stopped eating her lunch, shock my hand and asked if we had met before in China! I laughed and said no…..she must have met some guy in the dim and distant past and pined after him! We also managed to have a cracking round of golf before the sun came down, chopping our way to the thirteenth hole before darkness descended. The best part of the round was being on the course and seeing the beautiful red sky reflect on the water hazards, giving stunning views. For my own record I hit 59 on the front 9, before getting the one par of the day on the tenth. Continuing on with ‘flashpacker’ trend we retired to our £10 each a night hotel, where we treated ourselves to a Jacuzzi in the hotels spa. It really can be tough travelling the world sometimes.

Tomorrow we are treating ourselves to a lie in – though given the close proximity of several large mosques, we may be rudely awaken by dawn prayers. Tomorrow sees a trip to Padang before a flight to Indonesia’s capital city, Jakarta. As you may guess from the spontaneity of the last couple of weeks, we haven’t even booked a flight.

At least the plane won’t drive round looking for passengers.


sick and sore in singapore

After several weeks of feel good travel, last night saw me have my first bout of travel sickness. It wasn’t anything serious; though walking down a spotless street in Singapore chucking my guts up was hardly a smart arrival in a country famed for its cleanliness and on the spot fines for litter louts. Its part and parcel of travelling that you will get sick at some point – I have a suspicion that the cause was drinking water straight from the dispenser in my KK hostel . After a night out, I returned from the pub only to take this easy option instead of purchasing bottled water from the shop next door.

I’m also still sore. I mean really sore. I’ve been walking round like I’ve had an accident in my boxers, while going up and down stairs and steps is frankly a miserable experience. Walking down some steps at one of the Monorail stations here in Singapore would have made for great viewing. I looked like an old man who’s Stannah Stairlift had broken down and was tackling the stairs for the first time in a decade. The slight arrogance I had in completing the ascent of Kinabalu in such good time and relative ease has well and truly been evened out from the knock on effect of the descent.

My last couple of days in KK were spent in the company of an Aussie lass called Julia. She was travelling for several weeks with some fellow Ozzie’s, but was in Step In Lodge for a couple of nights by herself as her mates had gone off elsewhere. After an afternoon chatting, chilling and trying to find a decent wi-fi connection in the hostel, we gave up and headed out for some food and drink. I wrote right at the end of the last update about being quite lucky with the people I had bumped into and spent time with on this trip whilst on my lonesome. This was another smart example, as the pair of us hit it off instantly and spent the evening gassing about life in general. It was also the first one on one time I’ve spent with someone in a bar in ages. Usually there has been an odd number, making most conversations turn into a competition to who has done what and been where. With it just being the two of us, it gave a chance to just a have friendly night out talking about ourselves! It’s no different to when you are at home. Drinking and eating with several friends is cool, but you don’t get the quality of conversation that you do one on one. We hope to catch up in Perth next month. She may even see me walk properly!

It’s also time to give some thoughts on Malaysia and Malaysian Borneo. I spent over two weeks in Malaysian territory and enjoyed the majority of what it offered me. Being such a vast spread of land thrown in with my distinct lack of time, I’m pretty happy with the diverse activities I achieved. Starting off with the skyscrapers of KL, to the gorgeous beaches of Langkawi, boredom in Penang, the bonus ferry ride from Brunei to Sarawak, partying in KK and of course, the magnificent views from Mount Kinabalu – I feel I made the most of my time. As you can see from the above list, I’ve seen cities, the seaside and national parks spread all over several territories. Thinking about it, I’ve also covered a stupid amount of ground. In eighteen days from leaving Cambodia and arriving in Singapore I have squeezed in four flights, three ferries rides, an overnight train, several overland bus journeys and a two day mountain climb. In a twenty four hour period alone I managed five stamps in a passport. My original plan was to try and fit in either a trip to Kuching, in Sarawak or go up to Sepilok, in Sabah to see some Orang-utans. In the end I opted for the over sea and land adventure from Brunei instead, missing out those two options. I’m pretty comfortable with this decision as the ferry into Lawas from Brunei gave some of the best views possible when arriving in a new country. Sure, a trip to see some big monkeys would have been great, but being on such a tight schedule I simply can’t do and see everything.

When you throw in the amount of different nationalities and religions that reside here seemingly happily together, the slogan ‘Malaysia truly Asia’ is a pretty accurate one. I like the mix of people here and also the general attitude of acceptance in life. Although a predominantly Muslim country, all walks of life are accepted, with Western customs being widely practiced in most areas I have visited. Alcohol, although expensive, is as widely available in bars and pubs as it is down the local markets and supermarkets. Drinking in public is fine, with bars serving alcohol outside with no issues at all. I’ve visited and heard of many Muslim countries that will serve alcohol, but only inside buildings, away from the public eye. Tolerance to other people’s beliefs and practices is so important and I feel Malaysia is doing that pretty well. Perhaps it is the wide mix of cultures and religions here that aids that feeling?

Not feeling on top of the world (no Mount Kinabalu pun intended) I’ve not seen a great deal of Singapore yet. I went for a walk this morning around the area I am staying, Little India. I found the usual hustle and bustle you would get in any big Asian city, with countless food hawker stalls and markets selling general bits and bobs. I quite like the efficiency here, being introduced to the city by the dead easy, tourist friendly Monorail service. The highlight of the journey was the beautifully naff Asian jingle on the Monorail which suggested that you give up your seat to anyone elderly or disabled. Sadly there were no songs or signs suggesting able-bodied give up their seats for aching, sore backpackers…..My hostel was located after a confusing ten minute stroll around the general area that I had marked on my LP map. The problem with cheap hostels in this part of the world is that they don’t always have signposts. Empire Hostel simply had an A4 sheet of paper on its front door – not that obvious when arriving after dark. Luckily for me the Indian lady in my dorm stopped crying by bed time, she wasn’t a happy bunny on my arrival!

The reason for this quick update is down to my pending meet with Pat. Going into Indonesia and facing some ridiculously long train, ferry and bus rides over the next twelve days means internet usage may recede. Apologies in advance to anyone who does actually bother reading this (other than my Mum who I know does)

On a final exciting non travel related bit of news, Beady Eye are releasing their first single this morning! Prepare to ‘Bring The Light’……..


climb every mountain

Or in my case just the one mountain, Mount Kinabalu.

I’ve never been into walking or trekking for my own pleasure. I know a number of people whose entire annual holiday allocation is taken up by going on mountain hikes or countryside walks. For me, it just hasn’t been an activity that has interested me in the slightest. To be fair my holidays from work are usually taken up by watching England play test cricket around the four corners of the globe, so I wouldn’t have had the time in the past to go on a holiday based around long strolls up steep hills or big fields or even if I wanted to.

At the start of the trip in Thailand I wrote about my trek in the jungle that became slightly more adventurous than I hoped it would be. I also commented on the pretentious side of ‘trekking’ that I don’t like. You know, the kind of people that go on and on about how climbing a small hill in Wales or Scotland being a ‘great achievement’ and an ‘amazing experience’. They also tend to wear the latest hiking gear, modelling brand names as if they are being sponsored to climb Everest in record time while boasting of fitness preparations to match a fine tuned Olympian.

At one point on my Mount Kinabalu ascent I envisaged that this whole blog was going to be based around sticking two fingers up to all trekkers out there that claim mountain climbing is tough. In a way, it still is – but after the descent back to base camp, I’ve got more respect than I thought I would have for people who do real trekking. Let’s just call it sticking one finger up instead of two. As you will find out by reading on, I still find the whole activity pretty pretentious and not anywhere near as ‘tough’ as those stereotypical trekking holiday types make out.

Lets start off by giving you all some lovely statistics about Mount Kinabalu. The trek starts at The Timphon Gate which is some 6122ft above sea level. That’s some 1714ft higher than Ben Nevis’ summit, the highest point in the UK which is 4408ft above sea level. Kinabalu finishes at Low’s Peak, located 13,435ft in the sky. The trek to the summit is a two day affair, with a night’s accommodation on the mountain itself at Laban Rata hostel, found at the 10,738ft point. The trek itself is just over 8km in total, all achieved alongside a guide, as per the Park’s guidelines.

Now, as I said above I am by no means a trekker or a walker. I don’t have any walking boots, I don’t own a proper waterproof coat and I certainly do not own a matching North Face glove, scarf and beanie hat set. I don’t even have a suitable backpack for such a climb, using my hand luggage strap bag that is more suitable for its day to day job of carrying a laptop and a guidebook than it is for a mountain climb. This is probably down to a few reasons – the first being that I’m on a six month trip that will be based around spending time in warm climes. I simply don’t need a big waterproof coat or even a fleece taking up precious backpack space. The second reason is because I have a bit of a dislike for trekking branded clothing. Not so much the clothes themselves, but the people that I see wear them. Why an earth do you need a trekkers coat or jacket for walking to the car to drive to work in the morning? You don’t. Why do you need a trekkers coat or jacket to walk to the supermarket, a quick ten minute round the corner stroll? You don’t. Why do you need walking boots to take the dog for a walk in the local park? You don’t.

By completing the Kinabalu ascent in the time I did I have also proven that you don’t need to be anything other than in reasonable shape and of a determined mindset to climb a mountain as high as Kinabalu. For the record I was all over the ascent without even trying. From Timphon Gate to Laban Rata took me less than three and half hours. This included stops to take the standard photos as well as a break for lunch with a group of lads from Brunei. I was second up that morning, with around a hundred and fifty people taking the climb on every day. Of course others would have left after me, but I heard tales of some taking up to eight to ten hours to complete this leg. As I was eating tea, after a three hour afternoon nap, many people were still arriving, soaking wet and in no fit shape for the following mornings climb to the summit. And yes, they were all wearing proper trekking clothing. The mornings ascent to the summit started at 3am, a heart pounding 2697ft climb in pitch black from Laban Rata to Low’s Peak, ready in time for sunrise. I set off behind several large groups, and again made it up to the summit in good lick – the fourth person in fact. At sunrise itself, it was noticeable that only a fraction of the days climbers had made it in time, maybe thirty of us making it to Low’s Peak in time to see Borneo at first light. And most of us were wearing non trekkers clothing. My dorm mate, an Italian lad called Mattia, was one of my fellow sunrise climbers. Like me, he was wearing a mismatch of clothes that would hardly be on the rack in Millets or Lockwards.

What I’m trying to say is that owning trekking branded clothing does not make you a good trekker. In fact, it makes you a worse trekker as these fancy bits of kit no doubt will assist you on occasions. Without these bits of kit, you’d be even further behind. Which is embarrassing. The people wearing the ‘proper’ kit were in fact several hundred feet below, out of breath and in most cases giving up and walking back down. On my descent back to Laban Rata I passed a group of Japanese who all had the latest gear on, carrying ridiculously large backpacks that were completely unnecessary. They had left before me; I passed them several hours previous on the way to the summit. I thought to myself ‘You might look the part, but actually, you’re a bunch of morons who have spent a lot of money on shit’ that said, freezing my arse off at the top, I would have appreciated those lovely North Face gloves they had on…..

Right, now I have got that off my chest let’s get down to the experience itself!

And what an experience it was. The views from the top of Mount Kinabalu were incredible. Being so far up in the sky, looking over Borneo as the sun came up, was an extraordinary experience. It was the kind of experience I craved when planning this jaunt. There was also a great sense of achievement. Here I was, on top of a mountain as high as this, with no preparation other than to purchase a 20 Ringgit pair of waterproof trousers. I had proved to myself that you don’t need to be pretentious about climbing mountains and also that my fitness levels were far greater than what I, and others give me respect for. I quite often take the piss myself out of how unfit I am, but actually I have come to realise I’m not. I’m actually pretty fit. Cycling to work and playing regular rounds of golf must work! I fancy another rant now at all these people who bang on and on about going to a gym and how ‘great they feel’ but I’ll restrain myself…..feel free to look at the pictures I took. They will do far more justice than any words I could pen down. There are several at the bottom this update as well as on facebook. If you click the gallery tab at the top of the page you can view all the pictures without being a facebook user – how amazing is that?!

I’d be lying if I said I found the whole experience easy. It was a tough climb. The main issue was the terrain that you had to tackle in order to get first to Laban Rata. The first few Km’s were pretty simple. Of course the path was nearly all uphill, but the steep wooden staircases and the paths themselves were not particularly challenging. The only issue was being at altitude made you always feel out of breath, especially whilst making conversation with fellow climbers. I found that keeping your head down while maintaining a regular breath was the way to go. Either side of the path was thick vegetation that broke in places, giving the occasional spectacular view of Borneo through gathering blankets of white cloud. At the 4km point I had my one major rest, preferring in the main to just crack on with the ascent. Here I said farewell to the friendly Brunei guys, who couldn’t go any further as they were day trippers. One lad called ‘One’ had a great knowledge of English football thanks to hours clicking on Football Manager and had heard of Hereford United.

The final ascent of the day may have only been a couple of Km’s, but the terrain and conditions made the climb pretty tough. Not only was it now teeming down with rain, the relatively clear path had now turned into nothing but large rocks and stones that were also on an extremely steep angle. With the rain falling, gaps in the rocks were filled with mini waterfalls, making it not only a more uncomfortable experience, but also dangerous. To be honest the rocks were not as slippery as I thought they would be, but I found my concentration levels were now on high alert due to the potential of going arse over tit. I was also now over 9000ft above sea level, so regular twenty second stops to catch my breath were now a necessity. This last 2km to Laban Rata took nearly as long as the first 4km to the point the day trippers left. This was defiantly more due to the change in conditions than a fitness issue.

On arrival at Laban Rata I was amazed to discover I was one of the first ones up. I had passed quite a few people on the ascent, but I hadn’t started at stupid o’clock so I assumed there would be a number of people already waiting to check into their dorms like me. I had left the Timpohon Gate at 8.15am on the suggestion of a random Aussie lad called Reggie that I met the day previous while strolling around Kota Kinabalu. He had done the climb in a similar time to me, commenting that the rain held off till just after he got into to Laban Rata at half eleven. Sadly it arrived an hour and a half earlier on the day of my climb! After checking in with Mattia, we were joined by a lovely German girl called Kristen who taught her native language in Singapore. The three of us instantly hit it off, with the usual chats and banter throughout the afternoon and evening before bed. The best bit was me trying to talk up English food and beer, much to the amusement of my new found European friends. To be fair I was on a loser while chatting to an Italian and a German on those subjects! For the record strong Cheddar cheese is fantastic no matter what the opinion of my dorm buddies… was here that I also had one of those moments where you travel where something hits you that you have always known, but never fully contemplated.

We English are lazy when it comes to learning other languages. I mean, really lazy. Here I was, over 10,000ft in the air holding a full conversation with identically aged people from two different countries in my mother tongue. I felt pretty guilty about it to be honest. Why is it that we accept that anywhere we go in the world we should expect everyone to speak English? Whether they work in a hostel or a restaurant, drive a tuk-tuk or share our dorm rooms, we sub consciously accept that everything will be OK because people will talk English. At CCH in Cambodia the kids, whose early years were spent on a rubbish dump, could speak brilliant English. I decided that if I came into power then it would be compulsory for primary schools to teach a foreign language. I didn’t have a single lesson in a foreign language until I was eleven and at secondary school. By that time I think it is too late. You realise that the world speaks English through holidays to Greece or Spain with your family and that learning a different language is, in theory, non necessary. As you get older most people have other interests, hobbies and responsibilities, so learning a new lingo from scratch isn’t feasible. It would be great to think I could learn a new language, but I know I won’t have the patience or make the time when back in the UK so I will continue to be a lazy Englishman for the foreseeable future.

Anyway, back to the climb. The final leg of the trip was from Laban Rata to Lows Peak. Luckily it wasn’t raining when we set off at around 3am and was even pleasant enough to climb the first part in a t-shirt once I’d built up a sweat. After entertaining some of Kristen’s German group by singing ‘She’ll be coming round the mountain’, ‘Climb every mountain’ and other suitable ditties, I cracked on ahead of several groups. The biggest surprise of this ascent was the amount of climbing that involved a rope. Although it was pitch black, you could sense that some of this was serious climbing from the light given from a torch, which incidentally is a must for climbing Mount Kinabalu. With no safety gear, it wasn’t an option to get some of this wrong. On the way back down you realised just how tricky some of this actually was. Not just physically, but also mentally. As someone who used to be a tad scared of heights (thanks to Sigiriya, Sri Lanka) I’m not sure I would have ‘braved’ part of this trip in daylight. Coming down in daylight knowing you had already successfully done the route in the dark of the night made it much easier to settle the mind. The last half an hour to the summit was tough – clinging onto the guide rope, clambering over rocks and fighting a distinct lack of breath were all obstacles. It was also getting cold. Like a cold I had forgotten from being in thirty degree climes for the last five weeks and avoiding last winters cold snap jollying it up in South Africa. You already know about the summit itself, which concluded a thrilling trek to the top.

After kicking the arse out of the mountain and my fellow trekkers, I made my way down, happily clicking my camera at the sights that were in front of my eyes. We were so lucky, having such a clear morning. The day before had only had a few minutes of clear, before the whole setting of Borneo was covered in thick cloud. I started having my first issues on this descent back to Laban Rata, as I could feel my feet start to rub against my wet shoes and socks, giving me some fairly uncomfortable blisters. As you know from the infamous leech update, I had to throw away an old pair of worn in, comfy trainers. This was only the third time I’d worn this new pair of trainers (golfing in PP and Langkawi) as naturally the rest of the time is spent wearing flip flops. After a quick stop at Laban Rata, I met up with my guide, Ruby, for the final descent all the way down.

I thought this whole update was going to be all about taking the piss out of trekking. That changed somewhat after a painful, wet and at times disheartening trek back down. Wearing just a wet pair of trainers on my blistered covered feet, as opposed to walking boots, I started to respect the proper trekkers that do this day after day for pleasure. If the worse thing about going up to the Laban Rata point was nothing more than the odd loss of breath, then going down was the opposite in terms of ease. I won’t lie, it was a fucking struggle. My guide must have sensed I was struggling as he left me to my own accords for a good two hour stretch, knowing fore well that I wasn’t going to get too far ahead. I swore and groaned with every other step down that mountain, as my feet, knees and ankles started to hurt big time. This is a minor issue for an hour or so, but for four hours? My god, I just wanted to be back in KK having a hot shower in my hostel. I’m not exaggerating here, this was arguably the hardest thing I had ever done physically in my life. For four long hours I looked down, concentrating on where each step would take me, making sure I didn’t slip on the rocks. If it was the blisters that gave me issues at the start, it was my knees and jelly-like legs that were an issue towards the end. The last two kilometres were horrible. My knees felt like they would fail with any step, which for the record were now being met with fairly loud and now the crudest of swear words. Doing this alone was even tougher, with no one alongside to encourage me to keep going. This is where I wrote at the start about needing to be of a determined mindset to achieve such a goal. I just tried to tell myself to take one step at a time, but going so slowly due to my now growing physical deficiencies, was frustrating. I found that once I stopped, I struggled to get going. Equally, once I got going I struggled to stop because my knees wouldn’t allow me to put the brakes on. Not ideal when jumped from unstable rock to the next. Any rock that wasn’t flat greeted me with a twist of my foot, often putting added pressure on my blistered feet. The relief at getting back to the gate would have been overawing if I wasn’t so physically and mentally drained.

Sat here in KK the day after coming back from Kinabalu, it is time for reflection once more. My legs are sore, reminding me of days running in to bowl dozens of overs at my mates down the Bishops Meadows, only to wake the next morning and struggle to walk down the stairs. I’ve decided that as great as the view was from a mountain some 13,435ft up, at the time while coming down I didn’t think it was worth it. Sat here, stiffer than an ironing board after a morning doing nothing but tell tales of my trek to fellow travellers, I’m still trying to decide whether it was worth the pain. Perhaps it was, if only to prove that you don’t have to wear those proper trekkers clothes to successfully climb such a challenging mountain. Now I have done that, I’m not convinced I need to do it again, certainly anytime soon.

My relaxing preparation for Mount Kinabalu certainly was hampered somewhat by a night out in KK with Emma and Rachel; two nurses from the UK that I mentioned were sharing my dorm with me. After a reasonably quiet time on the beer front since I left Fred in Phnom Penh, it was cool to have a proper smash up again. The kind of smash up where you can’t remember a great deal after a certain round of drinks and where studying photographs the morning afterwards doesn’t help jog a beer hazed memory. It’s safe to say that a nameless nightclub on the seafront was certainly made aware of our presence with some truly horrific dancing. It was good preparation for drinking challenges that lie ahead over the coming weeks, starting in Singapore in a couple of days with Basingstoke Pat.

It will be the beginning of a new chapter of my six month adventure. All being well, from now on till mid January I will be sharing my time and space with cricket mates. I’ll be rooming with Pat for the next few weeks across Indonesia and then the start of the Ashes, before joining up with Dave for the back end of the tour. After several weeks travelling ‘alone’ it will be cool to spend some proper time with people again. When travelling ‘alone’ you tend to only have brief conversations with fellow travellers, repeating itineraries and travel tales. If you are lucky you will spend a night drinking with them, or maybe share a bus ride together and you can build more bridges. Getting the chance to spend that extended time in others company will be a nice change from the traveller bandwagon. Don’t get me wrong, it has been great. I have been pretty lucky with the people I have met on this zig-zag jaunt across South East Asia; it’s just that I’m ready for some non travel chat with some cricket loving buddies. As this is my last day in Malaysian territory I feel I should write something about this vast, diverse country. That can wait till the next update as this one has been long enough (and my belly is telling me it is time for a late lunch)

As a growing habit with these updates I would like to finish with a shout out. This time to Sara and Deano who visited the CCH Orphanage in Phnom Penh this weekend – great stuff! You can follow them at for all their travel tales.

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