It would appear that it has been the best part of two months since I last posted here on my blog, and in that time I traveled from Australia, through south east Asia, and all the way back home. I kept meaning to write, with all good intentions, but tended to end up studying, watching Netflix, or sleeping in the middle of the day.
Our time in Asia consisted of a densely packed month where we dashed around the Gulf of Thailand from Singapore to Ho Chi Minh City, followed by a month at the Kombat Group training camp. It seems that in some instances, I got few to no photographs, either because there wasn’t much to look at, or I was suffering from tourism fatigue.
Our two, relatively expensive nights in Singapore allowed us to take an open top bus tour, have a good walk, and see the super tree forest. The highlight though was catching up with two of our friends from the UK who were in Singapore on their way to Bali. One can’t understate how nice it was to see people I knew, even if Australia with its friends and family was only a couple of weeks distant.
Singapore is clean, well ordered, and even sedate in comparison to some cities; nothing like any of its Asian counterparts I’m sure. The bus tour didn’t reveal much, but then we were feeling somewhat lazy and didn’t actually get off the bus to explore anything on foot. Later on in the day we made our way down towards Marina Bay on foot, taking in the various skyscrapers, as well as the mer-lion in the bay. No doubt the mer-lion has a background story which we didn’t investigate, enough to warrant both a minature and a full sized version (or an appropriately sized and super-sized version), where the spewing of water is very popular with tourists. In an attempt to blend in, I also took photographs of said mer-lions. The more impressive sight I feel were the super trees, very prettily lit in the darkness.
We made our way into Malaysia by taxi and train, which is relatively easy, but unfortunately left us sat in the heat at the border for quite some time. We wandered around Kuala Lumpur, making sure we saw the Petronas Towers of course, and also taking part in a piece of research being undertaken by a tourism student, answering her questionnaire. From KL we headed to the island of Penang where the weather wasn’t too great. We did make it out to see some sights, and ended up caught in a torrential downpour, although that didn’t seem to bother the monkeys too much. I also get very excitable when there are monkeys around. These ones were being fed by locals, despite the very obvious “Do not feed the monkeys” signs everywhere. Possibly confusing monkeys with ducks, they were being fed a whole loaf of bread, so one has to hope they aren’t gluten intolerant or too worried about their figure.
The one thing I will say about Malaysia is that the food options are plentiful. The country has been settled by so many immigrants that the variety on offer not far from one’s doorstep is impressive, not to mention cheap as chips! I did make one small mistake when buying spicy tofu though in that I think asking for “medium hot” was misheard as simply “hot”, and ended up being one of those meals that can’t be finished due to the growing fire in the stomach which will no doubt turn into even more and far less pleasant fire later on.
Our next stop was over the border in Thailand, the island of Ko Samui, where once again, the weather was not favourable. Luckily we made an effort to see the various sights on our second day there, so the fact that it rained for pretty much the rest of the time wasn’t too galling.
While I admit to boosting some of the colours on these photographs, it does remind me as I write this blog post from a much more grey and gloomy UK, how much I love the colour of the temples.
From Ko Samui, we made something of a jump right around the coast and in to Cambodia, flying to Siem Reap where the famous Angkor Wat is located. A quick bit of vocabulary for you all: “Wat” means temple, and also has the potential to cause confusion if one has to ask “What Wat?”. On the recommendation of a friend who has spent much time in Asia, we booked a bike tour (well, it was partly that, and partly the fact that we’d left booking until the last minute and the bike tour was the only thing left), which set out well before sunrise so that we could watch the sun come up over Angkor Wat. For the rest of the day, we cycled around the area, through more temples, including Ta Prohm which was made famous as a filming location for Tomb Raider. I’d definitely recommend the bike tour option as the pace was leisurely, and for much of the time we weren’t sharing paths with the many tourists on foot.
After Siem Reap we went on to Phnom Penh, which turns out to be the first location where I took no photographs of note. Those I did take were night-time shots that didn’t really work. The other reason is that the key tourist attraction that we visited, for want of a better term, was the Tuol Sleng Prison Museum. This was originally a school that was taken over by the Khmer Rouge and turned a prison where some of the most horrendous acts of torture by the regime were committed. The day was miserable, grey, and wet as we made our way around Tuol Sleng listening to the audio tour. It is hard to truly imagine the horrors that occurred, but the importance of the museum as a lesson to all is clear.
Our stop in Vietnam consisted solely of a stop in Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Saigon. I’d say the city itself wasn’t particularly remarkable (you can tell by the lack of photographs), but once again the food was fantastic. Again following a recommendation, we decided to do a tour on the back of a Vespa, specifically a street food tour. Getting on the bike was quite an adventure in itself, having only ridden pillion once in my life.
From Vietnam we returned to Thailand, spending around ten days in Bangkok. We went on a one day tour to Ayatthuya that included a trip to one of the royal palaces. Once again, I didn’t get a great number of photographs, but the palace has buildings in a number of European styles. Our guide also explained how Thai royalty has often looked to England for how to do things, resulting for instance, in driving on the left hand side of the road. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see the more well known Wat Phra Si Sanphet up close. Instead, we walked around Wat Mahathat which was certainly well kept. The trip back by boat into Bangkok gave us a chance to see some of the city from the river, which is arguably the best vantage point for some of the temples that line the banks of the river. As our guide said, “wat, wat, wat, wat, wat…”
I spent five days at the Wat Pho school of massage learning their style of Thai massage. I mostly did this as I quite enjoy receiving Thai massage, so thought I’d learn a bit more about it. The first thing I learnt is that there are various styles of massage, typically associated with one school or another. Wat Pho is considered one of the best though, which I believe is due to the (very impressive) temple in Bangkok which is next to the palace where the technique originates.
Our final stint of the adventure was spent at Kombat Group training camp near Pattaya in Thailand. The idea was to get a bit more into shape before heading home. The camp offered Muay Thai, boxing, wrestling, and Krav Maga, along with functional training. The first week saw me drinking an average of six litres of water a day, obviously sweating buckets in the heat. My fitness definitely improved, and I got rid of about 5kg of body fat, which I think is the best I’ve done in my thirties. By the final week though, I was slowing down, and went from training for nearly six hours per day down to two. To be fair, I swapped much of that time for online study as the data science course I’ve been following was coming to an end.
We returned to Bangkok for the trip back home, trying to fit in a visit to the grand palace. However, we were thwarted as the palace was only open to Thais in the morning where ceremonies were still being held for the king, although I’m not sure if it was something for the new king or continued mourning for the old king. Thankfully a local, with great English, explained what was going on and suggested a route for us to take to see some of the local temples and a trip to the Thai Silk Export Company.
Flying back via Singapore and Dubai, we arrived back in the UK on 23rd December to spend Christmas with our families. Which pretty much brings me to the present, with Andy having already left for his new job in Berlin today and me due to follow on the 6th. I’m still job hunting and am feeling hopeful as I have a few telephone interviews lined up for this week. The next update, if I manage to keep up with the blogging, will be made from Berlin.
Happy New Year to you all!