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Travel

That which doesn't go away when you stop believing in it

I’m on a train from Glasgow to Aberdeen, as part of my world tour of Scotland.

My excuse for wandering North is that I am invited to the AGM for BrewDog, but mostly it’s because I haven’t done the travel thing for a while.

As much as I love my girlfriend and my family, I love the feeling of traveling on my own. From wondering around the temples of Bangkok, to joining up the islands around underground stations that formed my initial mental map of London. Taking a train up to Glasgow and trying not to listen to the politics and personal problems of the people on the table around me. (“The hotel was very clean, wasn’t it? Very clean, and the showers were immaculate! So very clean” “I thought she wanted me to vote that way, but now there’s all this stuff when I thought we should just abstain, but just by trying to do what I thought she wanted, it’s suddenly become this huge thing!” “Do you think his wife knows about her?” “I’ve heard she does, and is fine so long as he doesn’t drag it home behind him, which is … short sighted”)

So you get days like today, when I got back from a wonderful evening of tea and geekery at somewhere around 3am to get up at 6 to catch a 7:30 train to Aberdeen, and I’m hurtling though the scottish countryside (Actually, right now we’ve pulled into Perth station, which is one of the single most stationy stations I’ve ever seen) towards a place I’ve never been before.

True, I won’t see much of it. I’ll see a convention centre and a hotel, maybe a couple of taxies and the view from them, but still, new places, new things, before an equally early train tomorrow morning takes me back. (Relatedly, I can understand why peak travel happens during the week, although the price hike is a little enthusiastic, but trying to get people to travel before 8am on a Saturday? Do these people have no souls? I mean, I can blame past-me for booking such stupid tickets, but I was driven to it by the madness of the railways. I booked because if I hadn’t booked, the cost of on-the-spot train tickets for this week would have booked me flights to New York).

Categories
Travel

The World Tour Of Scotland

BrewDog
BrewDog

Being a member of Brewdog‘s Equity For Punks scheme, I get a discount, a nice membership card, and the opperturnity to make sure, in a proper investorly way, that they can, in fact, organise a piss-up in a brewery. Specifically, their own. For this reason I’ll be meandering my merry way up to Scotland at the end of April. Specifically, I’ll be hitting Glasgow on Thursday 26th, Aberdeen on the 28th, Back to Glasgow on the 29th, and back to London on the 30th. (Because doing that on a tighter or more logical timeline makes the train tickets go from “That’s quite expensive” to “Bloody hellfire, are they running these things by burning five pound notes?”. I haven’t even looked at places to stay yet.)

So, if you’re anywhere near any of those places, we should meet up for a drink or several.

(Update: This Is Not An April Fool).
Categories
Books Fiction media Thailand

Thailand Trip – Postscript – Entertainment

I have another five hours in this tin can.

I have watched The Mechanic (Jason Statham plays Jason Statham in a Jason Statham movie), the same half an hour of the Green Hornet that I watched on the way out (Because it’s awful) and “I am number 4” a fantasy origin story for an interesting universe that is probably not quite good enough to get beyond the origin story. (I later discover that a) it was a book first, and b) I’m wrong)

Over the holiday, I’ve read:

The first three Felix Castor books by Mike Carey (Still good urban fantasy novels)

I haven’t really reviewed any of these in any opinionated depth. Most of them were chosen on recommendation from friends, and because my friends are all awesome I loved every one of them. So you can take it as read that if you like the sound of the summary, you will probably like the book.

Court of the Air (Stephen Hunt), an original and great fantasy universe hosting a stock chosen-one plot, which is a comment rather than a complaint. Elements of steampunkery and well-realised and *different* factions who all believe they are doing the right thing, rather than an obvious moustashe twirling villian tying the world to the railway tracks.

Naked (Audiobook, David Sedaris) is a series of autobiographical novellas, almost. I first heard of Sedaris on This Amercian Life and The Moth, basically applying weapons grade anecdotery, which is pretty much what you get here. Living as a somewhat obsessive-compulsive child, growing though the death of his mother, and finally how to survive a weekend as a naturist. I liked this a lot.

Singularity Sky & Iron Sunrise, (Charles Stross). I’m not much of a scifi reader, but I am a fan of Stross’s horror/spy/geekset Laundry series, and I enjoyed all of this. A somewhat whimsical universe with a rock solid base, it is Scifi as a platform to tell stories of how a new world works, rather than explaining a new world though stories.

13 Blue Envelopes is something I got free, and wasn’t expecting a lot from it. It’s a story of a shy american being given a box of said envelopes as her aunt dies, and the instructions within that take her out of her element and across europe. It’s well written and fluffy, even thoughout the occasionally dark subject matter.

Cryoburn (Lois M. Bujold). The most recent Miles book is mostly a swansong for the Miles The Imperial Investigator cycle within the grand sweeping arc of the Vorkosigan series. It follows the template – Miles is sent to investigate something. It’s bigger and more complicated than it looks. Hijinks ensue. It’s wrapped up, but not quite neatly enough. It’s still a very good story, and I’m not knocking the formula, but a lot of it appears there – especially a somewhat dechekoved special guest appearence towards the end of the main plot – to drive towards the massive kick in the balls that constitutes the last chapter, which spins the series into a new cycle, for which I can’t wait. Due to Bujold’s tendency towards non-chronological novels, it’s not even the last book with Miles in this position, but it spins up and resolves both itself, a few dangling universe threads, and several huge overhead arcs.

Rivers of London (Ben Aaronovich). Urban fantasy set in London. Absolutely wonderful from beginning to end. Run, do not walk, to your nearest bookshop or virtual equivelant.

Side Jobs – Stories from the Dresden Files. (Jim Butcher) A series of short stories set in the Dresdenverse, ranging from the standard formula condensed into fewer words to explorations of bits of the universe Dresden can never see. Plus, it has a never-published-before short story which is What Happens After The End of Changes, which is worth the price of admission on its own, although doesn’t resolve the important question. Though the title of the new book – Ghost Story, coming in July – might.

Four and a half hours left in the tin can. I think I need to go for a short walk.

Categories
Thailand

Thailand Trip – One Day In Bangkok

14th May

It’s impossible to see all of Bangkok in one day, and I know, for I have tried it.

With my family we went around some of the more shopping-focused bits – they’ve been before and had seen most of the stuff I was interested in – and then I split off and wandered in search of Bangkok.

I like cities an awful lot. I live in London, but mostly I live in London because I moved to Sunderland and realised that everything I’d never liked about living in a small town wasn’t an absolute. Then I moved to Cambridge and found new things I liked about cities, and now I live in London because I like there being more people and culture and stuff and things than I will ever live to see.

So I walked though Bangkok and small a small fraction of that.

I saw a city dragging itself upwards. The monorail extends though the central city like a giant overpass, all concrete and functionality, over the top of shopping malls and snaking around massive skyscrapers dedicated to international companies. It’s busy, and it’s big, but it’s not.. full. Between belts and areas very close to the centre are large footprints with the forest reclaiming burnt-out old buildings, cheap housing butting against sleek western-focused condominiums.

Burnt
Overgrown sites

I spent a couple of hundred Baht (four quid) on a Tuk-Tuk (You know how in some cities you get the cute little cyclist-taxis, with a two person seat behind the cycle? Like that. Only with a motorbike instead of a bicycle. Terrifying at medium speed, useful in traffic) across the river to the more traditional tourist bits. I saw, and dutifully photographed, the Giant Swing, which is suitably giant and impressive, but distressingly Health & Safety’d.

Giant Swing

Next to it appeared to be something interesting, so I went and looked. It turned out to be Wat Suthat (Which my brain parses as “What? Sue That!”) which I looked around the outer courtyard of, but couldn’t get inside because those tricksy Buddists were using my tourist attraction as a place of worship! It’s the saturday of the week long celebrations for the Buddha’s Birthday, which is apparently a big day. The outer courtyard was surrounded by a covered walkway on all four sides each with statues of Buddha (When I refer to Buddha at any point here, unless specifically mentioned, I mean Gautama Buddha. Not to be confused with Budai, the short, fat, and misspelt “Laughing Buddha” image). I still don’t know what the horses mean, either.

Wat Suthat

Talking to a tour guide outside – we bonded over my ability to pretend to be interested in the FA Cup Final – he asked how much I paid for my 10 minute ride from the centre. He fell over when I told him, marched over to the nearest Tuk-Tuk driver, and told him to charge me 100 Baht – native rates are that per hour – to take me here, here, here and here and wherever I wanted to go. Which, considering I didn’t really know what the key things to see were, I agreed to. What the heck, it was two quid.

He was as good as his word, too. We went to a temple dedicated to Bhikkhuni, Female Buddist monks, and how the Buddha ordained a thousand, but they don’t exist anymore (which turns out to be a political question, but that’s what the sign by the temple said). The main temple has, surrounding the traditional gilded statue, several dozen Bhikkhuni before him, rather than the more traditional place for the priest to speak from.

Wat Rajnadda

We went to the Marble Temple, Wat Benchamabophit, which was beautiful, and has 52 statues of Buddha from all over the world. It’s always interested me that statues of Buddha – once I could separate them from statues of Budai, which is distressingly recently – are usually in one of a few poses, and I wondered if they meant anything. They do. The cross-legged most common pose (left palm up, right pointed down) is called “Buddha defying Mara“, for example, and represents a specific story/happening/thing.

Buddha Statue

There’s a Billy Connoly monologue about music lessons, where he laments “Music Appreciation” classes where his teacher would play something on the piano and shout “APPRECIATE! APPRECIATE!” at them, as if merely thinking about the music hard enough would impart some meaning without some kind of guidence as to what they are listening to or for. Well, kind of. The monologue itself kind of devolves into discussing the breasts of the teacher in question, but that’s because comedy is only partly philosophy. It’s kind of what I felt wandering around the temples, as important as they are I only have a vauge understanding of Buddism as a concept (It was half a lesson in R.E. at school, between a week on Judism and another half a lesson on Sikhs), and as I allude to above, the difference between the handsome, calm and collected Buddha and the more visibly iconic and sort-of-corrupted “Laughing Buddha” was a bit of a confusion to me until recently. The experience made me feel stupid and touristy, as I wandered around important holy relics with my fujifilm digital camera and my laced trainers. I don’t like feeling stupid, so I need to learn more about what I’ve already seen. Travel broadens the mind, possibly, but I’m finding more it shows me places it isn’t broad enough already.

I learnt important lessons also. For example, my shoes:

Entirely inappropriate for wandering around temples in, which require taking them off to go into important bits. When I was doing all the photos of the statues in the marble palace, I took my shoes off to go under the walkways – as you’re supposed to do – and then made the mistake of attempting to go barefoot across the clear, smooth and recently-rained-on marble courtyard. I nearly went arse-over-teakettle several times. It was not a shortcut.

My Tuk-Tuk driver took me from place to place, and occasionally to places I hadn’t asked for but thought I might be interested in (From the temple of female monks mentioned above to a place where he said straight out that he’d get a commission if I bought a suit. I nearly did, too, the prices were very good), and eventually to the Skytrain – the Monorail – which took me back to the hotel.

The hotel – The Tai-Pan hotel – is nice, and the breakfast is good. It’s kind of in a ex-pat area, so walking down any street you can find traditional English Pub Grub, the finest Italian restaurants, french cuisine or anything, unless you would like to eat Thai for your final meal here. We eventually found decent Thai food in a dutch bar which prided itself on its Aussie steaks.

I’d say we fly out tomorrow but at this point – it’s 00:30 – that’s later today, so I really should sleep. At some point when I get back I should wrap this up into some soul-searching and life-affirming conclusion, but right now I’m pretty sure it doesn’t extend much further beyond “Remember how you like travelling? Do that more, you stupid bloody moron”.

The diamond buddha

Categories
Thailand

Thailand Trip – The Wedding

There was a wedding.

My brother and his now wife were married in a ceremony that was by turns touching and confusing.

Ben's wedding

We got on site on time, around 8ish in the morning, to find the cooking and partying underway to a large extent, and started as we meant to go on, with iced beer and freshly barbecued pork. A few hours later, and the ceremony started. This probably has more significance than I attach to any of it, and I probably miss important bits that are vitally symbolic, but here we go.

There’s a bloke outside the front at a table with a book, and he’s collecting envelopes and names from people who are invited, and who invite themselves (the envelopes generally have some money in them). I’m going to have to identify these people, so I’m calling him Michael. He has a real name, but I didn’t catch it.

Me and Matt – older and younger brother of the groom respectively – are each given a tray. Matt’s contains three white envelopes, mine a towel with an orange blob of flowers. Me, Ben, Matt and two of Ben’s friends – Marc and Russell – are sent to meander around the village for a while while stuff happens back on the homestead. We tour the tiny farming village for a while – stables made of wooden beams and corrugated iron, thatched houses on stilts, roosters informing us that it’s FUCKING MORNING NOW YOU BASTARDS WAKE UP. We come out at the top of the road and a procession forms behind us whooping and hollering and singing as we approach the home, where our path to the house – where the ceremony will be – is blocked by two girls and a golden jump rope. Failing to jump it, and our passage blocked, we attempt to work out how to solve this puzzle. As with all good adventure games, the clue is with a seemingly unrelated object picked up along the way. The inbuilt hint system – Pear’s sister, I think – was invaluable in this regard.

> USE ENVELOPE WITH JUMP-ROPE MANAGERS

Pass, Friend.

You continue up the path until the way is blocked by another, thicker golden jump-rope.

> USE ENVELOPE WITH JUMP-ROPE MANAGERS

That doesn't work.

> HELP!

There are two people holding the rope. You have two envelopes.

> USE ENVELOPES WITH JUMP-ROPE MANAGERS

Pass, Friend.

You continue up the path until the way is blocked by another, thicker golden jump-rope.

You are in a twisty-turny maze of jump-ropes all alike. You have no envelopes.

> HELP!

Nuh-uh.

This confused us for a while, until the taxi driver said we needed to pay the jump-rope holders 100 Baht each. This involved wallets and negotiation of trays, but was eventually solved. Something borrowed, indeed.

The next bit was kind of an endurance test. We had to kneel down around a ceremonial tree made out of banana leaves with string all over it while Michael spoke and occasionally sang in Thai. After a while, my knees hurt. Then everything stopped, and everyone looked at me. My time had come, but I had no idea what I was supposed to do. I had a ceremonial towel.

I was told to pay him.

I had no money.

I was told to open the towel.

I did this, and discovered quite a lot of money. I was surprised, as this was not one of the traditional reasons I should know where my towel is.

I paid the man. He continued. He tied Ben and Pear with string, and them to Ben’s friends and Pear’s family with loops and coils, and spoke at some length again. Then other people got shorter bits of string and tied them around the couple’s wrists, saying things as they did so. These turned out to be blessings said as you tie the string, and my family tied our own knots, and in turn had blessings bestowed on us by string. And they were married, and the drinking began in ernest.

Ben's wedding
Ben's wedding
Ben's wedding
Ben's wedding
Ben's wedding

Hours later, there was Karaoke – in both English and Thai – and long conversations about bullshit and real whiskey and rum and the world’s most awful rice whiskey and lots of beer and pork and seafood. Then we slept. Then we spent a long time in the same minibus that took us up there. Then we were in Bangkok.

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Thailand

Thailand Trip – Pattaya

11th May

I missed out Pattaya entirely, and will have to backtrack though that.

Outside the hotel in Pattaya

We stayed in Pattaya in a resort far out from the central hub, but close to the beach. In the end, that didn’t help, as Pattaya is almost entirely concentrated in the central hub, and so most days we took taxies into the centre.

Inside the hotel in Pattaya

Pattaya is a textbook example of western cultual tourism. It started as a small fishing village when a US Airbase opened nearby, and quickly became a R&R destination for that. Throw a rock and you’ll hit a bar, mostly owned by a westerner who has sold up and moved here for the cheap cost of living. Even the places we ended up in for my brother’s stag party – of which more when my autobiography comes out or one of those involved needs a reminder – charged no more than 100 Baht for a gin and tonic (around two pounds at a decent exchange rate). The entire city is a fount of energy that doesn’t appear to have any soul at all, from the open-front bars named after the owner (sometimes with a sequel number) up to the sucking heart of the place, the largest beachfront mall in Asia, Central Festival. A massive monolith to high fashion culture, the shops inside – Armarni, Benneton, MissSixty etc. – could have been in any city from New York to Oxford Street, London. It was quite depressing.

Incorrect

A few lights in the darkness. Some decent resturants, and places like Hoph, a traditional pub with its own on-site brewed wheat beer on tap, and a house band with a trained italian opera singer on drums (who floated though a generic italian love ballard of the “Girl from Iponima” type, before belting the last lines out with enough style to shake the house and enough power to light it up. It was glorious).

Stag Party

We were there for five nights, before moving on to a 8 hour taxi ride up north to the site of the actual wedding.

As we travelled north the humidity dropped noticably, though that may have just been the weather, and the tendancy for streets and shops to be labeled in both Thai and English slowly faded out. The sight of such obviously non-thai people is apparently cause for concern and careful observation.

We got to Ben’s Fiancee – Pear’s – house early evening after checking in at a hotel, where we had some wonderful home cooked thai food – first non-resturant thai food ever – and beer while watching the hired flower arrangers entirely fail to plan putting up a gantry to hang them on, then setting it up in the wrong place, then cutting the wrong bit of twine and all the arrangement falling to the floor. Somewhat cruelly funny. They bought a pig for tomorrow, which was executed and butchered – I didn’t go with the people who went to watch that and, from their recounting, am glad I didn’t. All the bits were brought back in a series of huge buckets for preparation and cooking for tomorrow.

DSCF0619

Ben picked out a cow for the same purpose a few months ago, but the family – who were looking after it until it was ready to be slaughered – got too attached to it to think of such an act. Thus the pig.

We’re staying in a hotel a short way out. Actually, we’re staying in a “short stay” hotel a little way out. Separate hotel cottages of no more than a bedroom and bathroom each, curtains around the car-port so you can’t see the number-plate of the vehicle inside. The combination of the single-purpose hotel room and the bright, cheerful, kids cartoon decoration is a little distressing.

The wedding gets underway at 8am and is expected to last until the early hours of the following morning so, since it’s coming up to tomorrow, I should attempt to get some sleep to be ready for the 6:30 start that will get us there on time.

*yawn*

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Thailand

Thailand Trip – End of Koh-Chang

5th May, less technically.

It’s quite hard to take any photographs around here that don’t look like they’re destined for a brochure. I spent part of the morning down the beach, where the golden sands stretched away in either direction as far as the eye could see with barely a soul on them. Ahead the turquoise ocean was clear beneath the cloudless sky as far as the tropical jungle island in the distance. I went home – I’m not much of a sun-bunny – to find the pool entirely deserted (at around 12:30) gently rippling in a light breeze, blowing white flowers down from the tree that was shading me and across the empty pool.

Koh Chang

And why is the pool and beach empty? How can we get a table at almost any restaurant we rock up to in the evening? What madness is this? Well, every couple of days the blistering heat and oppressive humidity is broken up by a long, heavy, warm rainstorm which leaves the world clear and damp. So this is the low season, and nobody’s here. I don’t understand the tourism industry.

Koh Chang

My brothers have both hired motorbikes to whizz around the island on – I’ve stuck to the 50-baht-to-anywhere taxi service. The lack of petrol stations confused me a bit, but then I realised that outside most of the random shops dotted around the island have a stand or table of old vodka and whiskey bottles, refilled with gasoline for the motorbikes. Most of them have a plank or shade to keep the bottles out of the sun. There are a few black patches on the ground where that lesson was recently hard-learnt.

Koh Chang

Whenever we get new towels, we get a kind of towel origami:

Cute towels
Cute Towels

Categories
Thailand

Thailand Trip – Tropical Karaoke & Under The Sea

2nd May

The resort is glorious. We have separate little air-conditioned cottages facing a central area of greenery and wildlife. The singing is not glorious.

The first night we were here, the main reception restaurant area played host to possibly the worst Karaoke session I have ever heard in my life. The singers fumbled the keys like a drunk returning home, and when they decided to do classic western numbers they sang every separate syllable with panash and inaccuracy, and with no real concept of the word itself, leading to a gruesome and grisly murder of a tune already bruised and bloody with the application of Casio keyboard backing tracks and years of cliche abuse. I assumed this was a result of karaoke, but as I sit here listening to Wonderful Tonight being sung by the world’s worst lounge singer, I wonder if their imitation wasn’t actually spot on. Even Chris De Blurgh doesn’t deserve this kind of treatment.

Somewhat to my surprise, the situation actually worsened after the Karaoke. Apart from the nightly concerts, about more later, the restaurant plays host every evening to a man and his guitar, regaling us with his original takes on Beatles songs. Times when he is not playing are filled with piped awful covers. The one night we ate the hotel – the island offering a bewildering array of seafood restaurants and BBQ places so remaining at the hotel isn’t at all necessary – we carefully sat on a table as far as we could from the main covered stage, and poked fun at his awful singing from afar. Not a single patron was sitting anywhere within a dozen tables of the doomed idiot, and so the hotel staff decided to move the entire shebang to a smaller stage only a dozen feet from our table. His literally off-beat, off tempo, off words version of Norwegian Wood (with large sections of the song compressedintobreathlessexpressionsofmindlesssyllables in order to fit the chord structure WHEN THE SONG HAD CHANGED THE CHORD STRUCTURE) made me physically wince. He didn’t stop, either, going though an almost complete rendition of Rubber Soul before moving on to more unfortunate targets.

4th May – Snorkasm

The British Daily Mail have, over the last twenty years or so, embarked on an impressive and all encompassing project to sort every item, ingredient, colour and concept in this world into two camps: Those which do, and those which do not cause cancer. I feel that large parts of my current existence are devoted to a similar pursuit: That which I can do, and that which I should not. Reluctantly, I must put snorkeling on the second list.

After a night of insomnia, I was woken up just in time to eat breakfast before a taxi (which was a pick-up truck with benches in the back) took us down to Kaibae where a speedboat was waiting to take us on a three hour jaunt around the tropical island of Koh Chang and surrounding idylls.

Koh Chang

Because I was not thinking very clearly on three hours sleep, I did not bring my sunglasses or bathing shorts, but swimming in normal shorts is pretty much the same thing and today – as opposed to yesterday – I managed to take my wallet out of my pocket before hitting the water.

Three new things: Swimming in Thailand, Swimming in flippers, snorkeling. In order:

Swimming around Koh Chang is warm. I do not expect the sea to be warm. With the boat moored off an island I could easily imagine setting the scene for a Robinson Crusoe reenactment, me and my family donned our extra large slippers and slipped into the turquoise blue mist of a coral reef. The warm salty water was slightly cooler than the air above, and wonderful just to swim in.

Swimming in flippers was also fine, once I got the hang of it. Interestingly, the flippers scaled in all directions by shoe size. So on my size 11 feet I got webbing that covered an area the approximate size of Scotland in front of me, where my more minipodded siblings could only flap around rubber mats the size of Luxembourg.

Snorkeling, though, wasn’t really working for me. To start with, I’d managed to trap my hair in with my goggles, so they slowly filled up with water though the broken seal. When I fixed that problem I discovered that my desire to not have my nose filled with water – it made me sneeze – wasn’t compatible with the mask either. Generally, I found I could look under for around ten seconds before either I sneezed, my mask filled up, or my snorkel did. The last particularly bothered me, as it meant short amounts of “calm blue ocean, calm blue ocean” followed by rapid panic of “drowning, drowning”. Plus, without my glasses, I could only see a few feet.

What I could see, though, was beautiful. Unspoilt corel reefs with sea creatures resting on them, schols of tropical fish of zebra stripes flicking under the boat, clouds of small black fish darting into the safety of the coral’s hollows. The whole thing was gorgeous, and pending contacts or people shooting LASERS into my eyes, I’d like to do it again. Maybe scuba diving too.

The boat took us to a few places, one with a weird current that gave us patches of cool water giving way to more sauna-like heat and then to chilling pools within the sea. Eventually we ran out of time and came home.

Taxis on the island don’t cater to my original theory. Mostly they seem to either belong to hotels or to orbit the island around the main ring road. They are almost entirely pickup trucks with planks either side in the back, and it’s 50 Baht (around a pound) per person from anywhere to almost anywhere, and the driver will pick up people and drop them off more like a rotating bus service than a taxi. Some places are 100 Baht if they off the main drag and the driver doesn’t think they’ll find more people on the way.

Koh Chang

Tomorrow is our last day on Koh Chang, after which we head up to Pattaya, where my brother’s stag party is going to be, for a few days (during which I’m going to wander over to Bangkok) and finally up north to the far-off site of the wedding itself.

5th May, technically

The hotel is beautiful.

The staff are calm and polite.

The breakfast is nice.

The swimming pool is warm.

The minibar is cheap.

In general, this could be the perfect hotel. But.

Since the 1st May there has been a festival going on a couple of fields away. The sound system is expertly produced and carefully tuned, so that from this distance – around a kilometre, I guess – the band’s sound is faithfully reproduced and I can hear every component of every song, from the over-dramatic Thai singer hanging on to the end of every last note, to the twittering lead guitar dancing around the melody, down to the steady bass guitar backing every track and the energetic drummer keeping a rapid and developing beat.

I hear them, and I respect that this band – unlike a lot of the bands I have listened too over this same interface over the last five days – are probably quite good. However, I got three hours sleep last night, and while their faithful sonic reproduction is technically very good, the fact that the best double glazing the hotel has to offer and two thick pillows render each note perfectly formed is significantly more than I need out of a musical interlude right now. Coupled with a tendency to end every song with a heavily dramatic crescendo reminiscent of the finale of a really good concert that crashes into each and every entry on the track-listing like they’ve granted a rare and special encore, and I’m starting to wish I had the power to open up the earth beneath them and send them and their perfectly constructed sound system deep into the earth where whoever builds the really deep tunnels – Tibetans, apparently – can be just as entertained.

That this stops at half midnight is little comfort, as it comes with the sure knowledge that it does the same tomorrow, too, and the band is unlikely to be as worth reproducing.

Categories
Thailand

Thailand Trip – Notes From A Large Island

So, back in April, I went to Thailand. Over the course of the trip I wrote notes, and then entirely failed to post them. This is an attempt to correct this.

28th April, Flight out

(Notes from the plane)

So it turns out that everything ever said about airline food is accurate.

Forty years of computer game development means I can now play multi-player Pong at 40k feet against my brother. And lose.

Interestingly, the in-flight screens are all running some linux variant. I know this because svgamode segfaulted. Things that change, things that stay the same…

Far Away

29th April, Grand Residence

For some definition of this morning, this morning I woke up in Paddock Wood, Kent. I repacked, and then eventually we got in a taxi towards Heathrow.

At Heathrow, we checked in, laughing merrily at the screaming children in front of us, and joking at the possibility of sharing a flight with them (note, foreshadowing)

We passed inspection and security, and spent a few hours wandering around Heathrow looking for Stuff. having found Stuff, we also found Lunch and from there our boarding gate and plane.

Thirteen hours on a plane is a while. Thirteen hours on a plane to Thailand is ages. Ninteen hours, specifically. Leaving at nine, local time, we arrived at four, local time, during which I watched the first half of two movies and slept a lot.

Stepping out of the airport into Bangkok is like when you step out of a shop with air conditioning, and they have this down-draft of hot air to insulate it from the outside world. It’s like that, but the downdraft never stops coming. The humidity is like rain, the heat oppressive like a thousand governments, and the taxis to the hotel are late. Or ours were. Eventually we got here, wandered around like lost tourists for a while before drinking Thai beer and Thai food, followed by duty free vodka and mixers, until tiredness took us and we went to bed.

30th April, Ramayana

Early this morning my phone, which I still haven’t taught important information about holidays, woke me up at 6:30. I fought with the increasing likelihood of reality for a while until I gave up and subjected myself to the doubtful pleasures of the insipid shower facilities my room offered. Apparently I could have water pressure and broiling, or a nice shower in a mild drizzle.

International toilet facilities are always a fascinating subject, and here a new concept entered my sheltered world: The self-access bidet. The loo came with stern instructions on the inadvisability of putting toilet paper down it and a small, white, directed mid-pressure hose with a trigger. Now, I can see the advantages, and even the ways in which visitors to our remote little British isles would consider it a far more sanitary alternative than paper. However, from a purely cultural imperialist point of view, it’s different and therefore bad.

Breakfast was supplied as ham and egg and toast and jam with a side salad. There were no options on that, though you had the options of coffee or (dreadful) tea. Vegatarians didn’t get much of a choice, though I suppose they get the toast and side salad.

I’m going to stop talking about the heat now, although you can probably take it as a given. Anywhere we are outside is going to be oppressively hot, anywhere inside relievingly air conditioned unless otherwise mentioned. I’m not melting as badly as I feared, but most of these few days have been short trips in oppressive humidity between air-conditioned hotels and even more air-conditioned transport arrangements. After a brief and minor panic over where our taxi driver was, we wandered down to Koh Chang, picking up my brother and his fiancee on the way.

Both taxis we’ve taken so far have had an interesting arrangement, which I’ll briefly digress into. Normally, I’m used to taxis as they work at home, central dispatch, driver with Opinions, arrange cost in advance or pay on arrival. Here, the taxi driver appears to exist in a parallel universe which we can see into but not interact with, whilst all communication between them and this “reality” is handled by their agent (both female, although data is short) who sits beside them. I haven’t detected any romantic relationship between any of them so far, but I do wonder how common it is. Also, our taxi appeared to have the fuel economy of a small child with a petrol-filled water-gun, and limped from gas station to gas station apparently as the driver saw them.

Around four hours later, after a pretty ferry trip, we arrived on Koh Chang.

Ferry to Koh Chang
Ferry to Koh Chang

We’re staying at Ramayana on the island of Koh Chang for a few days for the Idilic Holiday part of our trip. I have a cottage. It has hard-wood floors, dark stained hardwood furniture, and generally has an air of tropical chic far beyond my usual standard. It also has aircon, under which I’m hiding. I’m writing this on a sun-dappled balcony surrounded by healthy forest (there was a “Don’t feed the monkeys” sign on the way in, which is promising)

My room in the hotel
Ramayana
Ramayana

 

Categories
LUGRadio social Travel

Scotland

or “What I did on my holidays, by Nicholas Avenell aged 29 and a bit

One of the interesting things about London is that it has a kind of black hole effect. Most of the time, things come to you instead of you having to actually leave London, and I realised this week that – save for LARP excursions – I haven’t actually left the city boundaries since Christmas. Part of this is that I don’t find London the least bit boring, but when I was invited to D and Sarah’s housewarming in Glasgow, I decided to stretch my horizons a bit and go from a flat city to a more hilly one.

I’ve taken three plane trips in my adult life. To and from Amsterdam, and a Newcastle -> London plane one christmas when I was bored of trains. For this reason, I took the train this time. The price worked out almost exactly the same, but the amount of faff around getting in to and though an airport disuades me, even when I don’t factor in volcano ash or my environmental footprint. Besides, on modern trains I could sit, code and spod on the Internet, which is close to what I’d be doing at home anyway.

Yeah, not so much. Internet was terminally flakey, and my netbook’s screen was rendered unreadable by the position of the sun. On the way to the station I popped into an art shop, and replaced my much-missed japanese brush pen, and so I ended up spending the journey mostly relearning how to draw using it, being bored at Twitter, watching the scenery tick by both from the window and on my phone’s GPS + Google Maps. Even when the sun wasn’t stopping me, it turns out that the new version of PHP (which my laptop now runs) doesn’t like my favoured database abstraction library, which was last updated in 2007. I may end up having to rewrite Plank’s database stack to either use a different abstraction library (I dislike most of the others), or take over this one. Neither prospect appeals to me, and appealed even less on a train at 10am on a saturday.

However, going up by train give me a chance to watch the countrycide. Great sweeping vistas of fields and drystone walling, like someone was shooting a live action version of Postman Pat; The flat horizon of the north sea, suicidal kayakers bouncing off the coastline; the great cathedral in Durham. Shiny things.

Glasgow was quite shiny too. I hit the city with just enough time to make a pillgramage of a kind to Demijohn to buy a housewarming gift. London’s kind of skewed my idea of “a big city” and so I decided to walk it. Glasgow has several things London does not. It has, noticably, more people with red hair, slightly fewer kebab shops per square mile, and also hills.

London is mostly pretty flat. Glasgow isn’t. After a while of walking up and down hills in straight lines, I took a radical step. Cannot, apparently, go over the hills. Don’t have time to go though the hills. Have to go though them. Fortunatly, I was assisted in this regard by the fact that Glasgow has a toy underground system. It’s like the tube, but everything is built to around 6/8ths scale. So cute!

Later I was informed that this was mostly because London digs the tunnels out of mud. Scotland, being brewed from SOLID ROCK and girders, is harder to dig tunnels in. This is fair enough, but still, diddy toy trains! Also, apparently they used to be pulled around by giant cables powered by even more giant steam engines, which is significantly more interesting.

Then there was a party, which contained beer and wine and Guitar Hero and lovely people, some of whom I even remember the names of, and finally there was sleep and an EPIC journey home.