Category Archives: Travel

Buses, Beaches and Bangkok

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“Stop the van”!

Yep that was me screaming! I had asked the minivan driver twice to slow down. I had asked the other passengers if they were fearful for their lives. One German guy said “it’s exciting”! The driver ignored any requests. When I noticed 160 on the speedo whilst hurtling around a recommended 60 bend it was enough for me. I was getting out. “Sorry folks, I’m done with this guy”.

Luckily the place we exited the minivan was not so far from the ferry port to Koh Chang, one of Thailand’s most easterly islands.  We explained to the bemused local who saw us jump out, that the driver was crazy. Too much M150, the super strength taurine energy drink that the Thais seem to live for. The local man said that we could take the ferry in the morning and gave us all a ride 4km to a cheap room.

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The next morning we arrived on Koh Chang. We’d promised ourselves, since Paul joined us in China, that we’d head to a beach soon, certainly before he left us to England: it took over two months (once we’d explored a bit of Laos and Cambodia on the way down). It felt even more like we deserved the break off the back of the previous day’s bus and minivan trip from the Cambodian border town of Poipet.

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Island life was great. It felt a little non productive and indulgent on one hand but totally deserved on the other. The last beach we set foot on was the long shingle shore of Batumi, Georgia, last September. I hadn’t swam in the sea since Greece and never had I swam in the Gulf of Thailand. We met with Joe. It was great to see another familiar Norfolk face so far from the sticks. The home-sickness was diluted somewhat and we had some fun times including a twin kayak expedition out to an uninhabited island for a spot of swimming.  Paul and I played a DJ gig one night in Ting-Tong, a cool little reggae venue, with wages that managed to cover our accommodation for the week. Nina danced the night away. The most I’ve seen her bop since I played in Bulgaria. Good times.

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Next stop Bangkok. Only 6 hours by bus from Koh Chang, but with the boat and transfer time it was a full day in transit. We opted for the big bus after I vowed never to take another minivan. Like the other sheep, we were herded on and off vehicles along the well trodden paths of the pancake trail, little stickers attached to show our booking agent and our destination. We were dropped in the famous Khao San Road area of Bangkok. Accommodation was easy to find and super cheap at £2pppn. Here we would spend more than a week of which Joe would be around for a couple of days, Paul’s last 4 days and then just Nina and I for a few more.

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Excluding the suffocating heat and humidity we loved Bangkok! With Joe we explored the huge flower market and did the Chinatown food foot tour. We checked out the giant Buddha at the famous Wat Pho with Paul. We took to the river in the morning, the parks in the evening and the streets at night, mostly looking for Bangkok’s best street food. We were not disappointed. Thailand’s best Pad Thai? Octopus with fat rice noodles. Satay skewers to die for! Real coffee, fresh juices, sweet treats, chilli, river fish, fruit, greens… the list goes on. Keep checking Nina’s blog as I’m sure she’ll be writing about the food of Bangkok…

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It was sad to see Paul off in Bangkok. I’m not sure when we will next meet. The homesickness kicked in once more and thoughts of him seeing my family a couple of days from departure was quite heart-wrenching. “Give them a squeeze from me mate”.

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We booked ourselves onto a bus north to check out some permaculture projects. I felt and feel pretty disconnected from the inspirational projects, people and general world of permaculture. Although this journey is a permie one, I have been sidetracked. Panya Project, Rak Tamachat and many more interesting demonstration sites are in northern Thailand. Unfortunately soon after we’d booked our bus tickets it was budget check-in time. It’s no surprise that although we have mostly remained on budget, as we head into our 15th month on the road, things are tight. We took the decision to compromise a trip north. We detoured once before, heading up to Romania, but that was for a paid teaching position that justified the extra loop. This time is different. We decided that we have a very unclear time ahead of us and so we should move more directly towards Australia.

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So we find ourselves in Phuket, another overnight bus trip south. Here there are 3 major Marinas. We have put together some posters and will advertise ourselves as volunteer crew for any boats, yachts or ships heading south towards Malaysia, Indonesia or Australia. We spent the last two days on a moped in and about the Marinas and Yacht clubs pinning up posters, chatting to potential skippers and getting the general lowdown on boat hitching a ride. From here boats stop in Langkawi, Malaysia and so we may well travel there by bus soon, connecting ports and marinas along the way. There are Wwoof hosts and Permcaulture projects on route so we’re back to a game of dot-to-dot, similar to our european leg. Wish us luck!

CREWAD

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Check out Nina’s blog here

Cascades, Bombies, Graves and a Wat

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Luang Prabang

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Vientiene

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4000 Islands

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Phnom PEnh

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My words cannot compare with Nina’s beautifully written accounts of our times in these places so for a more interesting and detailed blog of our visits to these incredible sites you can view Nina’s blog here

Nong Khiaw to Luang Prabang

Into Laos

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It’s been nearly a week since Nina and I dropped down from China into Laos on the bus. The difference in the feel of the country was instant. China was developed and overpopulated right up to the border and as soon as we crossed into Laos small thatched shacks on stilts started to appear in the landscape with only a sprinkling of people in ramshackle villages along the main road.

First stop was Luang Namtha, 60km from the frontier. Seems that many tourists come here for the jungle adventures that northern Laos has to offer and we were subtly shocked by the amount of “felang” (foreigners) in town.

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We found ourselves a cheap place to stay and grabbed a feed at the night market. We’re into sticky rice territory now, along with new and unusual tropical fruits. The next morning we stockpiled our fruit stash at the market and treated ourselves to pink custard apples, bananas and pawpaw. The array of fruit was incredible, laying side by side with dead bats and songbirds, all local delicacies.

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In the afternoon we hired bikes (80p per day) and cycled a loop to explore some local villages and the old and new stupas. The original 1658 stupa had been bombed by US planes during their epic airstrikes of the 60’s and 70’s. Laos is the most bombed country in history with more bombs landing here than in Germany and Japan put together. Today a new stupa stands next to the remains of the old. For a more in-depth insight into the CIA led tragedy The Most Secret Place on Earth is a must watch.

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Later on Friday evening we booked ourselves onto a 3 day trek and kayak through the Namtha National Park. A kind of treat to celebrate 1 year on the road, 10,000 website hits and a new country all rolled into one.

We chose a joint Laos/Kiwi adventure specialist called Forest Retreat Laos who assured us that at least 32% of our money goes directly to the village who will host us on our first night. They have used recent donations to build a new temple, clinic and school. £51 for an all inclusive 3 days trek/kayak with food, drink, guides and accommodation seemed very reasonable to us.

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We set of early on Saturday morning in a tuk-tuk. 3 Brits, an Italian, a Spaniard, an Ozzy and a Dutchy plus 2 Laotian guides and a roof full of kayaks. A 40 minute drive brought us to a small village on the banks of the Namtha river where we off loaded and filled our rubber kayaks with air. The locals looked a little bemused but we were soon out of their way and off down the river on a 20km paddle. Lunch was prepared on the banks half way along and after an exerting but satisfying day we rocked up at a riverside village and a purpose built shack for sleeping.

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It gets dark around 6pm here. Pon showed us around the village then a boiled fish dinner came at about 7pm and I think we were pretty much in bed by 9pm.

A day and a half of trekking followed with a overnight stop in the jungle. We were told that the bamboo structure we slept in along with the toilet shed and guide accommodation was built by a team of locals in 2 days. The whole structure built from bamboo and vines… it made me want to learn more about how to construct with this extremely versatile material.

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Our group had been joined by 2 ladies from the village for the trekking. Along the way we were shown various plants that locals use from the jungle. Joy even scraped bark from a particular tree when he heard Nina’s tummy was a little dodgy. Within an hour 2 days of discomfort were cured – amazing.

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On saturday night we had a beautiful jungle meal which included rattan starch, banana flower, jungle mushrooms and wild greens – so so tasty! A similarly good breakfast set us up for the final trek to the river, trousers rolled high, boots around the neck and across the water for the tuk-tuk ride back to town. Even a puncture on the way home couldn’t bring a frown to an amazing 3 days in the jungle.

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So long China

After two months holed up in Dali we finally set off south yesterday and into Laos. Dali provided a welcome break on our long push to Australia as well as plenty of opportunities to relax, DJ, eat amazing food and not to mention the great people we enjoyed good times with.

So long Dali, thank you. Thank you Vivi for having us. Thank you Scott and Carl and all you Bad Monkey crew for our DJ residency. Thank you Chenli and Charlie for putting up with us. Be careful Andy, no really, be safe. Nice partying with you Peter, get well soon Fabrizio. Good luck with the dancing Saphire. Look after that english lad Hao. Bye bye Juan. Good luck Sam and farewell YoYo, look after each other. A gallery of good times in Dali…

The Patch – Remote Permaculture Maintenance

Greetings from a far

One of our big concerns once our food forest was planted, and knowing that we would be leaving the country for an unknown amount of years, was how would our little fruit trees and bushes survive the encroaching grass, blackthorn and volunteer plants.

We had no idea at the time. There was no design element that we could think of, other than expensive, non natural sheet mulching techniques. We didn’t give that a second thought. Here’s where I believe design can happen organically, not necessarily at the offset, but when an idea comes to mind due to necessity.

Winter was fast encroaching and so was my 35th birthday. I am in China. I thought everyday about how our mulberry, cherries, apples, pears and sea buckthorn berries needed tucking in for winter. A cosy, thick bed of mulch to keep them roots warm and stave of the early grass growth of 2013.

I plucked up the courage and boldly requested my family to help with the “M” of OBREDIM – Maintenance. “If we can get a farmer to drop off 20 big bales of straw I’m sure it can be done in a half day” I asked squeamishly. Mum was keen and she asked that I email through some detailed instructions…

On my birthday, December 17th, I woke in China to check my emails. Not only had Mum written a great account of their “beautiful day” at the Patch but Clare had attached a whole photo album of the proceedings. We were so happy to see that the food forest had been mulched but more importantly Mum, Dad, Clare, Ethan and Phoebe confessed that they had had a really fun and enjoyable day.

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR YOUR ENTHUSIASM TOWARDS OUR ONGOING PROJECT AT THE PATCH. PLEASE FILL YOUR BOOTS WITH FRUIT IN 2013

The Family on there way...

The Family on their way…

Clare checking out the walnut

Clare checking out the walnut

Ethan on the pile of bales

Ethan on the pile of bales

Keen niece and nephew

Keen niece and nephew

Greetings from a far

Greetings from a far

Couldn't ask for a better birthday present

Couldn’t ask for a better birthday present

Dad handing out instructions

Dad handing out instructions

Phoebe loads a bales

Phoebe loads a bale

Relaxing in the sun

Relaxing in the sun

They're on it now!

They’re on it now!

Mum shifts the bales around

Mum shifts the bales around

A beautiful day at the Patch

A beautiful day at the Patch

Tea break

Tea break

Hot elderberry cordial

Hot elderberry cordial

Birthday message

Birthday message

Bit of maintenance on the tanks

Bit of maintenance on the tanks

A well earned rest

A well earned rest

Mulch it!!!

Mulch it!!!

Nice and thick!

Nice and thick!

A winter bed...

A winter bed…

Mum mulches the native hedge

Mum mulches the native hedge

In full mucling swing...

In full mulching swing…

Clare looks satisfied

Clare looks satisfied

Spread it about!

Spread it about!

Perfect job

Perfect job

Native hedge mulched

Native hedge mulched

Ethan relaxes (in mulch)

Ethan relaxes (in mulch)

Phoebe joins him

Phoebe joins him

Beauitful

Beauitful

Nearly done..

Nearly done..

Perfect, thank you so so much

Perfect, thank you so so much

China DJs

B2B

B2B

I arrived with Nina in Dali a month ago. It was clear when we did our last budget check-in that we had overspent a bit getting here. We decided that we could only stay in China if there was a way to sustain ourselves. We had also heard that DJs from London get paid pretty well here. The London Underground Tour of China was born.

London Underground Tour

London Underground Tour

I played a couple of paid gigs here in Dali at the Bad Monkey. The days in between have been mostly spent preparing a bio to present to clubs and venues, artwork for flyers and posters, recording mixes and burning CD’s, both for promotion and to sell. Now that Paul has arrived we have contacted many clubs and venues and arranged a bunch of dates over the coming busy period of Christmas and New Year.

3 to choose from

3 to choose from

Unfortunately there are only two of the crew here but it feels nice to spread the Slackbanta vibe into the Middle Kingdom and hopefully onto South East Asia. Here’s the dates so far;

24/12 PRIVATE PARTY, DALI
24/12 BAD MONKEY, DALI
25/12 BAD MONKEY, DALI
28/12 THE MASK, KUNMING
29/12 TBC. KUNMING
31/12 DRAGONFLY, CAICUN
01/01 DRAGONFLY, CAICUN
02/01 THE CLUB (TBC), KUNMING
04/01 THE SHELTER (TBC), KUNMING
12/01 THE CAMEL, KUNMING

And here’s one of my more chilled out mixes…

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Chengdu to Dali in Pictures

Funky new circle thing – click on one of them to see a slideshow…

The Redeye Express

Another stop

We’d crossed the border into the north west of China after a 22 hour overnight sleeper bus which was quite pleasant. However all we wanted now was a train ride, you get a bit more space and it’s generally a more comfortable ride than the buses. I stared up at the display board in the main train station. It didn’t take much deciphering to realise there were no seats or beds on any train heading south. It was a muslim holiday and everything was booked for 5 days ahead.

Another sleeper bus seemed the only other option for the 2900km journey south. We scouted around for a bus and after trying a couple of different stations in opposite sides of the city we were finally sold a ticket for a sleeper bus and told the journey would take 26 hours. We went for some food, pumped water through our filter and boarded the bus a few hours later. There were no beds on the bus and there was no way to take back our tickets. We wanted to head south and this was our only option. A translation from another passenger hinted at 38 hours and after sitting for 2 hours in the station we hit the road, bitter that we’d been lied to, bouncing in our unfixed seats above the back axle of a very ropey looking bus!

The most arduous, weirdest, smokiest, longest and coldest journey of our overland trip was underway. Within a few hours we were driving across the desert in a sand storm. Everyone looked a little scared as the bus was thrown around, creeping forward when visibility allowed. We soon had to pull over and for some reason once the passengers got out the driver locked the door leaving us all to avoid the sheets of metal being blown around outside, covering our faces and huddling together. We still don’t know why he wouldn’t let us back on the bus???

No sooner had we got going again we were stopped. This time for 5 or 6 hours. Next came the snow storm and the frozen highway. It was becoming clear that however long this journey was supposed to take, we should double it and add on an extra few hundred hours. The no smoking rules had been chucked out the window, and outside it was too cold to open them to let the smog clear, Nina’s feet were swelling as we’d been sitting so long. One ten hour delay seemed to melt into another…

We started counting the hours between broken sleep.

“Hey guys we’re coming up to our 48 hour mark”

It was Sam’s birthday and we spent the whole day and night in a traffic jam watching the local’s eat chickens feet whilst we went hungary, hoping we would soon get going again and stop somewhere for food. The spitting continued all around us, a quick go on the ipod every few hours helped to forget where we were. If only there was something interesting to look at out of the window, but it was bleak.

On day three we started to enter into landscape with people and houses and later that day we were driving through Sichuan with high pastures, tibetan cowboys on horseback, yaks and traditional houses. We were delirious by now and kind of settled into the journey.

We arrived in Chengdu on the forth day morning, 83 hours after boarding the bus in Urumqi. It was hard to feel anything but delirious. Sleep was slim pickings since the first night but we’d made it and we can probably thank the other passengers for their contentment. It must have rubbed off on us.

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Read more about the journey on Nina’s blog – proverbial chicken’s foot: a bus ride from Urumqi to Chengdu

Farewell Kazakhstan…

When we finally walked from the embassy with our China visa in hand we’d been in Astana for 13 days. Some would say that’s an unlucky number and we never planned to be in the bland and sterile capital so long but we had been very fortunate. In our final opportunity to acquire a visa for China we managed it independently – travel forums had suggested it was not possible but we persevered and with the kind hospitality of our adopted Russian/Kazakh family our stay was extremely pleasant.

They took us in when our strange landlady turfed us out. We were treated to cooking lessons of all the Russian and Kazakh recipes they knew and on our last weekend we did a spot of fishing. Whilst I showed Sam the basics of lure fishing with a spinner Andrey had his own way. He donned a scuba suit and strapped on a harpoon! Half and hour later he emerged from the near frozen broad like a Mad Max swamp hunter with a bunch of pike hanging from his waist. Definitely a more efficient way of doing things. Sam and I stood gobsmacked still trying to untangle a knot from the reel whilst Andrey was supping warm tea preparing to descale the fish.

We devoured them, gently fried with onions, later that evening before the family served up the Kazakh speciality, Beshbarmak. It was our last evening with Andrey, Anna and the boys and they were not going to let us leave without eating horses arse! Yep, literally. We’d accompanied Andrey to the market a couple of days before and after tasting fermented mares milk he marched us around to his favourite meat lady. He picked a monster horse sausage and also a funny tubular piece of meat which he explained he would have to cook separately as not to taint the flavour of the other cuts. It wasn’t until the meat had been boiling for 3 hours and the whole house stunk that I asked what part of the horse it was… the answer explained the very strong smell, the nearly inedible taste but apparently desirable choice cut…Horses arse!

The next morning we dropped the kids at kindergarden and Andrey and Anna took us all to the train station for our 20 hours overnighter to Almaty – origin of the famous apple.

We had hoped that the majority of our time in Kazakhstan would be spent in the wild apple forests of the Tien Shan mountains bordering China and Kyrgyzstan collecting seed of the father of all apples to disperse to our friends in various parts of the world, doing our part to save the genetic diversity of the worlds most eaten fruit. Easy to say all that when you didn’t do it. To my disappointment by the time we arrived in Almaty, because of our China visa hold up, we had only one day before our Kazakh visa expired and so immediately boarded an overnight sleeper bus into the the north west of China…So long malus sieversii. Farewell Kazakhstan…

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