Saturday, February 01, 2003

So.. when last I wrote, it was a frenzied scribble from Cairns airport. How did I get there? Where am I know? All these questions and more can now be answered as we relax and reflect...

After leaving Sydney, Jo and I went on a bit of a whirlwind tour of some of the bits of Australia that we hadn't yet had the cance to explore. Our first stop was Canberra, where we stayed with the very kind Julie Lovell. Julie was just starting a brand new job looking after a senator, and I'm sure the last thing she was expecting was to see an old friend from her days back at the radio station in Exeter. The journey down there by Greyhound bus was pretty uneventful, but we were able to see some wild knagaroos bouncing around as the sun when down. Bill Bryson described Canberra as not really being a city at all, but rather an extremely large park with a city hidden in it. It's not really a city best suited for walking around in, and we learnt this the hard way. We tried to walk the "Parliamentary Triangle"; from the grass on top of the roof on the new parliament house down to the old parliament house and the Aboriginal tent embassy. At this point we realise that we are mega sunburnt, and call in at the airconditioned national gallery before we call it a day. In the evening Julie drives us around "Embassy Town", to have a look at the interesting embassy buildings, and as we cruise by the American Embassy, a security van starts following us.

Our next stop is Melbourne, which is similar to Sydney, but with lesss Opera Houses and more trams. It seems like a nice place, a little European, with one tram that does a circular route of the city for free - nice. We look at the interesting Immigration museum and mooch around the massive botanical gardens. We also check out the old Melbourne Gaol, site of many a hanging, including the infamous Ned Kelly (of whom's life a film is currently bing made). In a mood for an Indian meal, we stop at 'Gaylords' indian restaurant, which I mention now for no particular reason. As a daytrip, we went up the Great Ocean road, but for me it was more of a 'scary coach drivers erratic driving road'. Not as catchy i suppose. Some nice rocks at the end of it though.

Our final destination in Australia was Cairns, where we stayed with Jo's dad's friend Neil & his family, and it was very nice too. Our first visit was a Hartley's Crocodile Adventures where we saw an amazing Crocodile attack show, and were attacked by some over friendly Lorikeet parrots in the aviary. The next 2 days we made 2 boat trips snorkling out on the Barrier Reef. We took a big boat out to the reef and saw some of the most amazing fish and coral, including beautiful Parrotfish that you can actually hear biting at the reef. Once again, I get a bit sunburnt - this time on the backs of my legs. But it wasn't too bad. For the 3rd time on our trip we meet up for a drink with Tom Scruby - who is in Cairns with his parents.

And then we say farewell to Australia as we take a plane to Bankok. I catch up on a series of disappointing films on the flight ('Barbershop', XXX , 'The Tuxedo' , ' My Big Fat Greek Wedding'). We arrive in Bankok fairly late, and I don't really know what my expectations were for the place, but I was pretty suprised. Its a pretty well developed place, the touts etc aren't too in your face and its pretty easy to get around so far. Its a place of exteremes, though. Skyscrapers and stunning temples sit next to run down shacks with corrigated iron rooves.

Our first hotel is a little out from the centre, so we venture in on the first day to sourt out our visas, taking the skyrail (a bit like the underground, but up overtheground), and then a boat for 5 baht (67 baht to the pound). We eat at Gullivers, which i think is appropriate; as English people starting out on our voyage in a place far away amongst the little people.

Our first trip in Thailand is to the beautiful island of Ko Chang. Its a 6 hour minibus journey away from Bankok, and then an hour in a rickety old boat. Once arriving at the island, we take a scary trip in a songthow (sp?) which is a pickup truck with 2 benches in the back. On one steep stretch of road, my bag falls off the top, almost hitting the motorcyclist behin us. We then have to get out, so he can start the truck up again on the steep hill! Our destination is the backpacker's heaven: lonely beach The first night its all full up, and we have to stay in a tent, which after a few bottles of Chang beer isn't so bad. The next day we get our own little beach hut and pretty much settle into our daily routine: breakfast (scrambled eggs or banana pankakes), lie on the beach & have a swim, retiring to the hammock in the shade when it gets hotter, and then watching the beautiful beach sunset before having a BBQ meal and ending off the day with a drink in the bar on the beach. And that's pretty much it for 5 days.

Hippy warning: I read 'The Art of Happiness' by HH Dali Lama & Howard C Cutler when I was chilling out on the hammock. Just how much of a lapse into hippyness I don't know. Will update you if there are if any further syptoms develop. There's still an aversion to braiding and dreadlocks which is a promising sign.

We're back to Bankok today, organising what we're going to do next. So it's all very exciting. Both in good health etc.

Keep on sending me mails, sorry if I'm taking a bit longer to reply to them!

Now a funny link: Caption: Wordsworth was becoming increasingly concerned over Jamie's obsession with the torch.

Cheerio, Mark

And Jo writes...

Hi guys just thought I would write and let you know my latest travel
We left our lovely flat in Sydney after a drunken party with some
we made in Sydney, and had to get up mega early to clear the flat up
and move out by 11am. Then Mel came and picked us up and took us to
the Blue Mountains for the weekend. To see picture click here
It was absolutely gorgeous. Just two hours from Sydney – a massive
wilderness area that looked to me like a green version of the Grand
Canyon. They call it the Blue Mountains because the valley is filled
eucalyptus trees that emit eucalyptus oil and create a bluish mist. It
covers over a million hectares of land, and convicts in Sydney used to
think that china was on the other side of them. Just to give you an
of how wild this place is, they found a species of tree here that has
existed for 65 million years due to the lack of contact with man and
subsequent lack of change in its environment. There have been a lot of
bush fires in the BM recently and we visited a hotel/heritage building
where the fire had come within a foot of its walls, and firefighters
had their backs to the hotel wall shooting water at the flames trying
protect it. They use massive water-carrying helicopters such as
that can suck up a tank of water the size of a house in 50 seconds!
Unfortunately the suction is so strong; it can also suck up fish,
bricks and

After the Blue Mountains and sad good-byes with Mel we took the bus
down to Canberra. We traveled for three hours past nothing but dry
fields – although I did see 8 wild kangaroos! We stayed with mark’s
Australian friend (Julie Lovell) who he knew from university. She was
very hospitable and made our time in Canberra much more enjoyable
than it would otherwise have been… You have no doubt heard that less
than a week after we left the place a massive bush fire destroyed
400 houses… Well, there is no kind way of putting this, but it has to
the dullest city I have ever been to! It is quite bizarre because the
city was planned from scratch after they couldn’t agree on whether to
have the capital in Sydney or Melbourne. But even the Prime Minister
wont live there and choses to commute to and from Sydney as
required!! Apart from staying with Julie, the only other noteworthy
of my time in Canberra was my visit to the Aboriginal Tent Embassy
situated in a dodgy looking caravan on the lawn opposite the old
parliament house. Canberra has an Embassy Town, but there is still a
lot of tension between Australians and Aborigines and the Aborigines
want their own sovereignty so they have been sat outside the Parliament
house ‘making a mess’ on Canberra’s parliamentary lawn and squeaky
clean image for the last 30 years.

After Canberra we spent another non-scenic 9 hours on a bus down to
Melbourne. Melbourne was completely different to Sydney. I think
in Sydney had spoiled us both, but it was still an interesting place to
spend a few days. It felt much more European than Sydney did with a
lot older buildings and tram system, but also a bit like an ozzie
of San Francisco, if that makes sense? Being on a whirlwind tour of
we decided to do the Great Ocean Road in a day, which was a bit much.
Australia is a massive place and nowhere is just down the road, so this
meant 15 hours on a bus. But we did get to see Bell’s Beach where they
filmed ‘Point Break’; the town of Torquay – home of Quiksilver and
Ripcurl; and of course the 12 apostles.
(Click here to see picture
While we were in Melbourne we also went to the immigration museum
which painted a rather rosy picture of Australian history, but we did
learn about the ‘White Australia Policy’ which aimed to keep
into Australia restricted to whites only for about 50 years. The museum
didn’t really mention much about the ‘Stolen Generation’ of aboriginal
children who were taken away from their parents to be raised by the
white community in an attempt to try and teach them to live in the
world. In contrast, we visited the old Melbourne gaol, which painted a
very seedy picture of Melbourne’s olden days. Although there were a
few mass murderers, a lot of the crimes were committed by people
struggling to survive in desperate times. I had my picture taken
Ned Kelly’s armor and we learnt in great detail about how the prisoners
were hung; had to cotton & steel face masks to conceal their identity
and stop them talking to other prisoners; had to wear leather mits to
prevent ‘self abuse’. So yeah, that was Melbourne.

After Melbourne we flew to cairns. Our four-hour flight only cost us 60
pounds!!! Bargain!! We stayed with my dad’s friend and his family who
were lovely. We had three manic days. I really wish we had had longer
now, but it was down to when we could get an international flight from
oz. We hired a car and bombed around cairns for the first day. Cairns
city is pretty dull and not that attractive, but luckily we weren’t
staying in
the town. We drove along beautiful coastline where the rainforest came
right down to the beach. We visited a crocodile farm and saw a 4m croc
do a death roll and watched the crocs jumping out of the water to be
fed. Cairns is really hot and sticky being so tropical – I could hear
buzz of the insects over the car engine! We spent the next two days
snorkeling on the barrier reef, as this was the main reason we had
come to cairns. The first day we went out to the outer reef (about 30
miles out to sea). Mark and I had a noodle (float thing) so we were
to swim around together. We saw giant clams 1m across, some big fish
about 4ft long, we could hear parrot fish biting off bits of coral and
pooing out sand!, and massive coral that were as big as trees and
looked like an underground forest. The next dive wasn’t so good and
we got bitten by sea lice and saw little jellyfish swimming by us, so I
decided I had had enough for one day. Then when we got home we
realised we had both been burnt to buggery by the cruel Australian
Despite applying suncream every 30 mins, I had forgotten to do my bum
and mark the back s of his legs! Ouch.. So the next day we covered up
loads and stayed out of the sun. We went snorkelling again but this
wore ‘stinger suits’ used to protect you from blue bottle jellyfish
that can
kill you. When we asked the previous day about stinger suits, they said
oh don’t worry we don’t get them out here – I haven’t seen one for a t
least four months!!! So that was cairns…

Then we flew 9 hours to Bangkok; it took us 4.5 hours to get out of
Australia!! Mark was a bit nervous about landing in Bangkok and I was
beginning to feel absolutely awful for dragging him here, but I was
for both of us that when we arrived it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I
thought it would be. It has been a bit of a culture shock, but wow!
soooooo cool here!! We spent one day in Bangkok and went to a travel
agency, we left our passports with them and they sorted out all our
visas for us. We also booked a trip down to Ko Chang – a little island
down near Cambodia. The trip cost us 3 pounds each way! We took a
little air conditioned minibus 6 hours and then got a little fishing
over to the island – all included in the price!! On the way over the
was listing dangerously to the right so everyone had to move to the
other side. Then when we got on the island we jumped on the back of
a ‘sawngtheaw’ (pickup truck with seats in the back). The driver
managed to squeeze 12 of us in the back, and four standing on the back
with all our rucksacks on top. While going up a steep hill marks bag
off and nearly hit a motorcyclist and we couldn’t get up the hill so we
had to get off and walk!! But it was all part of the fun. The first
there was nowhere left for us to stay so we had to sleep in a tent in
our clothes, but we had met some nice people so we just stayed up late
talking to them.
Click here to see a really cool picture of where we were staying on the
first night!!!

After that we managed to get our own bamboo hut on the beach. We
stayed in Ko Chang for just over a week and extended our stay we liked
it so much! We soon fell into a routine of getting up late, eating a
breakie, going for a swim and chilling out in the hammocks for the rest
of the afternoon till the sunset and we knew it was time for a
BBQ dinner and then bed. It was like we didn’t need watches! We got
woken up by the cockerels in the morning, and then waited for the sun
to go down.!! The beach was amazing, white sand lined with coconut
trees and crystal waters. (la da dee la do dow!). So now we are back in
Bangkok for a day or so before heading north to an elephant
conservation centre and then to Chiang Mai.

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