Luang Nam tha, Laos – Jungle boogie

1,300,000 kip or around $160 aus in Luang Nam tha will get you two local guides, incredible food, ok lodging and many lessons on jungle medicine.

Early the following morning, with jet lag still failing to catch Jette we meet our guide for the jungle trek. Kong is in his mid twenties, a short Lao man from the Khmu group. He is incredibly fit and has the quietly apologetic air common to rural Asians. It is almost as if Kong wishes he was more transparent, less real than he is. He is so softly spoken that throughout our trek Jette and I find ourselves constantly asking him to repeat himself. Each time he does though, he becomes more softly spoken, apologetic and harder to understand. Kong, however is comfortable in the jungle, his father took him on regular treks through the jungle and passed on his knowledge. Kong’s parents are farmers and have nine children, no doubt they were hoping that at least one would stay and help with the farm, none did.

After a forty-five minute drive, the minivan drops us beside a small bamboo town, ever present curious children peek at us in their grubby clothes. Kong runs off to find an assistant for the trek. He returns with a tiny lady in tow who is wearing a printed t-shirt and a long traditional dress. She maintains shy eye contact with her green thongs throughout introductions. We bundle our respective loads onto our backs and set off through rice paddies. It takes four hours to walk from 500 meters to 1,600 meters in the heat, all the way we battle humidity, spiky vines, bugs, leeches and sticky red mud which fill our shoe treads and render them useless.

On the trail Kong shows us many types of plants, both medicinal and tasty. Ginger, one tree used to treat diarrhoea, one for nausea, one to bring on labour, one for toothache. Kong also helped his assistant to collect various vegetables and spices on the way to use for tonights dinner. I am starting to feel like the lead actor in Avatar as Kong displays his impressive knowledge and connection with the jungle. I would not have been surprised if he had pulled out a tendril and plugged himself into a tree or fern, that would have got awkward.

Hot, sweaty, dirty and tired we finally arrive at our jungle camp, a basic platform set in the saddle of two mountains. Kong disappears with the assistant to cook dinner, leaving us to pull out torn, musty mattresses to read and snooze. The buzzing of crickets and cicadas fills the hot, still air.

As night falls we wander to the other hut where dinner is being cooked in a bamboo tube propped in a small fire. I cannot for the life of me figure out how the bamboo does not burn through as we cook. Kong busily throws in the various spices and exotic plants collected on the trek into the tube, along with some buffalo, chili and rice. Sometime later he determines that dinner is ready and pours the contents out onto a palm leaf, also gathered that day. The food tastes incredible. Slightly spicy with just a hint of muddy bamboo flavor and tender beef. I cannot believe it had been glooped out of a bamboo tube and cooked on an open fire. Over dinner I ask Kong about unexploded ordinances left behind after the war. He says that we could feel safe walking down the right hand side of the hill but not up to the left, that way has a risk of mines and possibly unexploded bombs. Mental note!

With dinner finished, the washing up done (by means of throwing the palm leaf into the shrub) we set out on a night walk to find some animals. Two hours later, still stumbling through the dark sharing a single torch we have not seen a thing except a lone millipede carefully navigating a fallen tree. Myriad insect noises and vague rustling comes from the darkness, teasing us as we bumble past. Kong takes us past a tree with four parallel lines cut into it. He tries to tell us that a panther recently must have climbed this tree. Neither Jette or I fall for this. It is clearly a fallback, a consolation prize, shown to people when the animals do not cooperate.

Finally back at the sleeping platform we tuck in our slightly ripped mosquito net and lie down to sleep. Jette does not sleep very well. The night for her is one long torture as she imagines large bugs creeping under the net and into her sleeping bag. The sounds of the insects surrounding us is magnified by the pitch black darkness. The bugs fall silent and allow Jette some sleep in the early morning hours when rain washes away their song and cools the air.

The walk out is much more agreeable than the walk in was. An early start before the heat, combined with about eighty percent downhill sees us happily and muddily sliding back to a second village and our pickup. On the descent Jette and I are slipping and sliding quite a bit in the fresh mud. Surprisingly Kong’s assistant, in her plastic thongs, only slips once.

A bouncy bumpy minivan ride finishes back at Luang Namtha depositing two sweat and mud streaked trekkers onto the main road. We wander to the same hotel due to its locality and set about quarantining our dirty trekking clothes until we are able to find a laundry.

Tomorrow we head south, we are going to bus our way south through Laos and into Cambodia. To maintain a respectable budget we have allowed ourselves one flight only from this point onwards, this means that tomorrow will be a long bus day.

No Bangkok sex tourism

“No Bangkok sex tourism allowed”

Down a dark alley in the main tourist centre of Bangkok (where the American GI “Cowboy” opened the city’s first gogo bar after the war and started a bit of a trend), right amongst the ping pong shows and sleazy tourist traps quietly sits this grand old lady of the city.

Approaching the hotel the first thing we see is a large red sign proclaiming; “No Bangkok sex tourism” Inside the musty lobby above the quietly efficient receptionist is another large sign with more rules:

  • No Bangkok sex tourism (just to be sure)
  • No noise after 11pm, no exceptions
  • Remove shoes
  • No loud swimming after 10pm

…amongst others. This quiet hotel away from the groups of viagra and beer swilling men who infest Bangkok will suit us perfectly. I have just picked up Jette from the airport after her big commute from Denmark to Bangkok, despite having had four seats all to herself she is still a bit tired. I am also tired after a busy few days with my sister and her family in Jakarta. We drop our bags in our room and walk back to the lobby, which sports a sign proclaiming the hotel’s 60th anniversary. We need internet to do some planning.

A very drunk and seemingly stoned man is bleeding from his knuckles all over the reception desk, he is trying to explain to the lady that he is not a trouble maker and that it was an accident, whatever ‘it’ was. We grab the internet code and find a quiet corner. “Only drinks and books on the table, no feet or bags” …the rules continue. I take a risk and put my computer down on the table.

Two hours later we have flights and an airport transfer booked, and we are fed. We are flying to Luang Nam Tha in Northern Laos for a few days of trekking before making our way south down through Laos and into Cambodia. Planning and eating done we go back to our room for an early night. I look at the only decoration in our musty room, an interesting article about the hotel’s history.

The Atlanta Hotel was the first hotel in Bangkok to have a swimming pool. The owner filled the bomb shelter with water when the war finished. In the 70’s this stately old hotel was used by the dregs of society as a brothel and opium den, the writer alluded to unspeakable acts being a regular theme during this time. The original owner’s son returned to Bangkok and, upon seeing the state of his first home, kicked out the drug users and took back control. Eventually he renovated the building to its former glory. Since then the Atlanta has passed through many hands and is now a quietly grand, if run down, budget hotel in the heart of Bangkok…and no sex tourism allowed. Despite the musty no doubt legionnaire contaminated air conditioner and the ghosts of its past life who haunt the corridors I would highly recommend this hotel, unless your reasons for a visit to Bangkok are less than noble.

grey No Bangkok sex tourismA restless night’s sleep under the rattling air-con, an early taxi, two short flights in aging planes with frayed seat belts, a short tuk-tuk ride to town, drop our bags at the nearest hotel, take a short stroll and POW, we are on a shiny new red scooter wobbling along a dirt track in Northern Laos.

We are glad to have survived the second flight into Luang Nam Tha. As we walked up to the plane off the hot tarmac I spotted a growing pool of liquid dripping from the fuselage down to the right rear wheel. On top of this the pilot left his intercom on as busily dodged the mountains to land. This treated the whole cabin to an auditory peek into the cockpit. The pilot’s terse instructions to the co-pilot were over laid with a mechanic voice repeating over and over in her tinny voice “Avoid terrain, avoid terrain, avoid terrain….”

Need less to say we are glad to be on the ground on our scooter. We are also determined not to waste the afternoon lazing about we set out to explore and hope that jet lag does not find us until tonight. Jette was in her office in Denmark less than 40 hours ago, now she is wearing an ill fitting helmet and clutching my waist as we explore far flung Luang Nam Tha in forty degrees of humidity.

We are among the very few travelers in this region and enjoy a few hours riding along dirt tracks through small agricultural villages, bouncing up steep dusty driveways to various Buddhist Stupas and through a long jungle corridor to a waterfall. A toothless old lady at a cafe scuttles out of the shadows to demand her 4, 000 kip entrance fee before scuttling back into the building to leave us and the valley alone. The slippery mud track in proves a challenge in our thongs, navigating bridges washed away in recent flooding even more so. When we make it to our destination a buckled bamboo shelter standing over a small brown waterfall greets us along with a lone cricket chirping. The muddy water is not at all inviting but I slip down to the bank to wet my hair and wash off road dust.

Back down the valley a lone teen throws a circular net into the stream and watches us depart on our scooter. I am covered in sweaty dust again before the first corner. Small bamboo huts with corn drying in front and young curious faces peeking out mark our progress along the pot holed road. We dodge school children on pushbikes, buffalo and pigs (not on bikes).

grey No Bangkok sex tourismOn one straight stretch I stop and explain the mechanics of riding a scooter to Jette. I relinquish the drivers seat and watch her grinning manically as she carefully picks her way between tractors, cows, chickens, bikes and other scooters, I am left to wait nervously by the side of the road for her triumphant return. We drop the scooter off and pay the $3 us rental charge. Back at the hotel room we shuffle our gear around in an effort to decide what we need to survive two days in the jungle.

DEET, DEET and more DEET, lots of water and lollies.

Kidzania Jakarta – One amazing day with my nephew

I love the names of some Indonesian cars. Two have especially captured my attention. The tiny Suzuki “Rush” and the Toyota “Avanza”. Avanza is an antidepressant, and is especially useful when the patient suffers panic attacks. What a wonderfully apt name for a car headed to the street of Jakarta. Mel has organised for Ferdi the driver to help me out for the day. There is no way would I brave these streets myself, well maybe on a scooter, no way in a car. Ferdi has been driving in Jakarta for 18 years. The man deserves a medal as he always looks completely relaxed with his wide smile and a ponytail which pokes out from under his baseball hat. Getting out of the car to drop us off at Kidzania, Ferdi lights a clove cigarette and tells me not to rush.

8am, after our 45 minute drive, I explore a very exclusive and currently very deserted shopping complex with my four year old mate. Ameer is feeding me a steady stream of facts. “Fish makes you strong…I think Grandma is nice…I share with my sister, because I am nice to her…” (I also learn that sticky fingers show up really well on the crystal-clear Tiffany and Co window).

The reason we have arrived so early is to avoid traffic. Mel told me earlier, with a haunted shudder, that the commute here normally takes about 45 minutes but can stretch to over 2 hours in rush hour.

We walk past Prada and Louis Vuitton handbags in windows next to expensive looking suitcases and Jaguar cars. Ameer and I ride the elevators and muck around, killing time, as cleaners scrape chewing gum off marble tiles. This is the neighborhood where Mel’s other campus is, read rich people. I keep Ameer occupied by pointing out an arts exhibit. An artist has bent and stretched numerous red bikes into myriad different shapes. We try to guess what the bike riders would look like. “Uncle Ben, The man who rides this bike must have long legs…longer than Grandpa even!” he decides. I agree, the bike is over four metres long.

Just as I am starting to see the world through young eyes a steady stream of little Buddhas yelling signals 9am. Little Buddhas are fat, rich little Chinese kids. Dubbed little Buddhas by Mel, these kids display the most breathtakingly atrocious behavior. Over the course of the day I see them slap their nannies, push in line, punch smaller kids and acting like they own the place. They quite probably do.

grey Kidzania Jakarta   One amazing day with my nephewAmeer and I make our way to Kidzania. I know nothing about Kidzania apart from seeing a few photos from Mum’s recent visit with the kids. I also know it is meant to be quite a spectacle and did not miss the glint in Ameer’s eye when I uttered that magic word. I pay with real money and receive an electronic wrist band that is coded to show that Ameer is with me. The entrance price is very reasonable considering that we are allowed to stay for seven hours. Ameer is given a handful of Kidzos (The official currency of Kidzania) ands we walk to the ‘Air Asia’ counter. A fully grown lady greets us, she looks somewhat silly behind the small counter but takes it all in her stride. Smiling she checks Ameer’s ticket and waves us through immigration and into a plane-corridor.

We walk down this plane-idor into Kidzania. This incredible playground occupies almost the entire top floor of the shopping complex. Ameer and I stand in a tiny cobbled street amongst the first to arrive and try to get our bearings. Amazed I look at miniature two storey buildings, then up to the ceiling which is painted with clouds to resemble the sky. I feel just like Gulliver, except that instead of being tied and bashed, I am welcomed by costumed princesses, rabbits and policemen. They smile and wave, displaying early morning enthusiasm that fades as the day progresses. Tiny bakeries nearby warm their ovens for baking lessons, the kids can earn kidzos working in the hospital, putting out fires or fixing the race cars.

Our first job is to find the bank. I walk Ameer into the Kidzania branch and hear, not for the last time “Solly sir, only kids arrowed”. I wait outside in the street as Ameer makes his deposit. There are tiny “Kidzania Bank” ATM’s everywhere where Ameer can withdraw Kidzos with a real bank card to buy a drink or lollies at tiny supermarkets. Supermarkets are staffed by young workers who, not surprisingly are paid in kidzos. There is a whole economy here, as I watch Ameer in the bank I wonder if the global financial issues have affected the price of the Kidzos.

Both Ameer and I are somewhat overwhelmed by choice, we walk about for a while, dodging the ambulance which rushes a patient to the hospital for treatment by small doctors.  Ameer decides he wants to be a doctor so we walk, past small construction workers pouring cement and past painters gleefully covering a building with a vomit of colours, to the hospital. I feel a rush of Uncle-esk pride as Ameer, waiting patiently in line, ignores the little Buddhas and leans over to inspect a tree with interest. For the second time in less than half an hour I hear “Sorry sir, only kids allowed” Looking around slowly I try to come to terms with my exclusion from activity.

Every work station has large windows that allow stranded adults to proudly watch all the action (Me?, I watch with thinly veiled envy and pride). A man dresses Ameer in a white uniform and shows him into the back of an ambulance. It is not long before my nephew is whisked away to tend to a patient (from the acting school nearby) leaving me to look around. An ACA TM insurance fire engine with small fire fighters buzzes electronically past to an Acor TM Hotel which is on fire. The Honda TM driving school is next door and in front of me the Pokari Sweat TM-electrolyte drink” Hospital awaits my nephew’s return.

It all starts to make sense.

What better way to sell your stuff. Spoilt wives can drop their children here with nanny and go off to chase Tiffany and Co downstairs. I block out this blatant advertising as the ambulance speeds back to the emergency department, I see Ameer at work. He gently leads his patient to the consulting room where the grown doctor stoops and shows him how to use the stethoscope and remove bandages. With his patient fixed Ameer is paid with 5 kidzos and given a bottle of Pokori Sweat TM – electrolyte drink. Ameer hands this to me as it tastes funny. I thought it a bit ambitious, trying to market a sports drinks to a four to eight year old demographic. As we leave the hospital I spot children up in the second floor using a real, full size, Ultrasound machine on a patient. I want a go! Unfortunately this activity is for over six’s only, Ameer will have to wait.

I stand outside the glass door peering in as Ameer earns Kidzos making smooth, rich, Silver Queen TM chocolate, he grinds Java TM coffee and produces a tub of Pok Moi TM noodles. The noodle place amazingly has a real freeze dry machine and a proper packaging machine which wraps Ameer’s noodles, after he finished designing the label of course. I am torn between how truly amazing this place is, how much Ameer is learning and the in-your-face advertising which is every where. One little girl did look ridiculously cool as she whizzed by in a tiny electric Blue Bird TM taxi, with her plastic high heels and shopping bags blowing in the breeze as nanny gave chase.

Ameer starts to look tired after making his Noodles so, spotting a disco complete with short drink mixing station and tiny dancefloor, I decide he deserves a knock off drink. The sign on the door says; “Six and over only” but I put on my Uncle hat, crack my knuckles and prepare to dispense some important advice. To Ameer’s great delight I show him my best dance moves and give him a preparatory talk on sneaking in to discos. I try to get an identification card from an older kid but fail. Immune to my nephews big brown eyes, the ‘bouncer’ refuses entry so unfortunately Ameer will have to wait to road test my secret moves.

We share a lunch of tiny hamburgers made by small hands in the “Hungry-burger” bar. Without any prompting of pressure from Uncle Ben, Ameer decides to try the climbing wall. He is harnessed by a smiling man and for the second time today makes me very proud when he climbs right to the top of the building without hesitation and rings the bell. It amazes me to witness the difference between children and adults on a first climb. Adults usually freak out at some point, whereas kids trust so easily. When his climb is done, and about five metres above the concrete floor, Ameer just lets go and falls onto the rope, giggling. Once he is given his prize of two Kidzos Ameer takes me to the Walls TM ice cream factory where he makes a lime icy pole for me. My ice cream, however, mysteriously disappears before I can get to it.

Ameer is starting to yawn and looks burnt out so I decide it is time for home. We have only made it through four hours and done less than a quarter of the activities on offer. We walk through Kidzania immigration where the officer gives me a proper, no jokes, questioning. She tells me that we cannot reenter once we leave, I say this is fine. She then turns her attention to Ameer asking if he has spent all his Kidzos and if he has really finished. The immigration officer finally scans our wristbands, checking that this bearded guy really is Uncle Ben and grants us exit. I grab Ameer’s hand and walk out the door before the sounds of fun wafting to us from inside can cause any second thoughts.

In the car on the way home I am under instruction to keep Ameer awake at all costs so that he will sleep tonight. I frantically shove barbecue shapes into his mouth and put a movie on for him. Despite my efforts Ameer is snoring before the opening credits finish. As for me, I am still trying to come to terms with this incredible place. I’m trying to decide if it is a great playground or simply a marketing tool, a massive monument to cold war brainwashing techniques. It doesn’t really matter either way. Ameer is going to grow up to buy stuff with real money one day and he had great fun today so who cares?

Jakarta family time

Jakarta family time

Floating in a swimming pool somewhere in Jakarta with two crazy kids jumping on me screaming “Uncle Ben, Uuunnncccle Beh-ehn!”, red eyes and stupid smile (the kind of smile where your tongue half pokes out and you look like you have picked up an extra chromosome somewhere).

That is me after an especially brutal commute from Denmark. I seem to affect planes. They break. My travel superpower gave me an extra overnight in Paris back in April and a bonus night in Helsinki on this commute. I landed in Jakarta after nearly fifty hours awake, many of which were spend in airline ‘lounges‘ staring blankly at Panasonic flat screens which were repeating animal planet over and over. I now have an intimate understanding of the “Trials of life in africa” Lions are ‘majestic’ and gazelles ‘graceful’. I wander off the plane bug eyed, kind of pleased with my intrepid look and get an unconvinced hug from Ameer my four year old nephew. Mel, my big sister, gives me a more convinced hug.

Stoked to have some family time, the fatigue of the commute slides away as Mel and I frantically catch up on what skype and emails missed. Gotta love living abroad in this technological age. Straight to the swimming pool, I need to stay awake to kick jet lag as I know two little munchkins will be jumping on “Uncle B” early the next morning. Back at home I gave the kids their Lego. (thoroughly tested by me in Denmark) and Mel gratefully receives her pulped Multigrain cheerios, before I stagger upstairs and fall into a dreamless sleep.

Monday was spend watching Geckos and staring at walls in the heat while Mel and her husband Win worked. Win is currently in the last few days of Ramadan, kind of the Muslim version of Christmas. The difference is that they earn their presents! This means that for a month they cannot eat or drink during daylight hours. I have been curious to experience how this feels,  never curious enough to actually try it! In the afternoon wandered over to Mel and Win’s work to check out what they do.

The school is a very exclusive school built by a man who is stupidly wealthy. He has the monopoly on Jakarta’s water, power, resources…both the prime minister and vice minister attended the school’s opening. You get the picture. The campus more closely resembles a resort than a school. Manicured gardens surround water features, shiny new play equipment is surrounded by lush tropical plants. How do you teach a grade four kids who has his own driver, maid and helper? or the kid who got a new BMW for his birthday? or the kid who showed an interest in soccer, so his dad built him a soccer field, and bought him a European soccer team?

grey Jakarta family timeThe gap between rich and poor in Indonesia is breathtaking. Win told me of one grade ten boy who turned up to metalwork with a brand new Volkswagen golf, he gleefully spent a term trashing the car in an effort to turn it into a racer. Another kid turned up with a semiautomatic sniper rifle. Laptops are a monthly consumable to be trashed and replaced. Just down the road other kids cram into a single, non airconditioned building to learn.

These are school stories which I never tire of. The disregard for their privilege astounds Mel and Win. School fees start at $110 000 per year and increase every year from Kindergarden. Mel’s Campus is in BSD city, about a half hour commute from Jakarta’s CBD. There is a second campus in the city centre. Set on the ninth floor of a plush office building it caters to executive parents working in town. I feel sorry for these city dwelling kids as they would rarely have the chance to get dirty, let alone be outdoors. They get shuffled from apartment block homes to their apartment block school. No amount of iPads or consolation prize, guilt presents can offset this loss.

Somehow despite keeping in close touch with both Mel, Win and the kids we manage to fill our time with constant chatter. It is so very wonderful to be enjoying family time after one and a half year. I start to feel like an old bastard as I tell Ameer and Ambieka how much they have grown. Last time we were close my pharmacy partnership was in its death throes and I was understandably distracted throughout.

On Tuesday, being a good uncle I helped Ameer wag his first day from school and took him to Kung Fu Panda two, in 3D. I sat there next to my little mate, simply loving having time with him, both of us were wearing those dorky plastic glasses. I was determined to make the most of having a valid excuse to see kids movies!

Relieved that the Panda ended up saving the day Ameer and left the air conditioned building being slapped by the heat as we walked outside. Completely lost and needing to walk home we did a few laps of the shopping complex. Security guards sat laconically on plastic seats watching drivers risking their lives in the chaotic traffic. Making a game of my geographical embarrassment I asked Ameer which way was home. He said; “Silly Uncle Ben, see the flag over there, that is the grocery shop, behind that is the way” I took my pint sized guide’s hand and he led me through six lanes of traffic and home. All the way I was trying to convince myself that I would have found it eventually.

The heat here is killing me after the Danish ‘summer’. Mel knows my poor form in the heat and thankfully set the air con in my room to “Tasmania”. My room is my refuge from both the heat and Ambieka’s occasional two year old tantrums.

aaaand straight back to the pool.

grey Jakarta family timeWin came to the pool but after a day not eating or drinking he is happy to chill on the plastic pool lounge. I truly have no idea how he works through the day without sustenance. A friendly, grey bearded chap sporting a very hydrodynamic beer belly floated over and was soon wearing two kids on his back. It was Phil. One of the more interesting characters I have met in a long time. Phil is a retired catholic priest, an ex-school teacher, a lover of books, a great mate to Mel, Win and the kids, hilarious and outwardly gay. He moved to Indonesia for love and seems to be rather bored with himself here. Phil’s days are spend reading, writing and philosophizing. I got the distinct impression that his is an intellect not comfortable without challenge. We spoke at length about both of our writing projects and life in general before the family and I left for home. We wandered back in the heat to enjoy another night of each others company.

That night I figured out that the little stool near the toilet is not a foot stool for Mel, but a standing platform for Ameer. I also witnessed the witching hour first hand for the first time in my life….

The witching hour is that magic time after dinner and before bed when the devil himself takes control of little people’s bodies and sets them running around like demons, whingeing about stupid things, saying they are hungry, then saying “not really” and basically justifying my non-parental status. Mel took the kids upstairs to perform an exorcism this left Win and I to bitch about University fees. Well, I bitched after finding out I am paying four times more per unit than Win. Mel returned looking haunted and apologizing unnecessarily. On Wednesday I again stole Ameer from school to take him to Kidzania, (to be brutally honest, this was mainly for my benefit). Wednesday deserves its very own blog.

Wednesday night we desperately set about enjoying our last few hours together. Win ate and recovered from another day of fasting as Mel and I sipped on a cranberry and Vodka in the hot night. We watched bats chasing insects around a nearby lamppost, zapped mozzies with the electric big zapper and philosophized.

All too soon, I am kissing my Nephew and Niece, hugging Mel and Win goodbye and watching them drive off to school. In two more hours time I will be on my way to the airport to (hopefully) meet Jette in Bangkok. We have a hotel tonight planned but not booked. That is as far as our planning extends for our three week tour of Laos and Cambodia.

We don’t even know how we are going to even get to Laos. I want to hire a scooter. I’ll keep you posted.

Oh, and Mel and Win if you read this: “Terima kasih karena saya, senang melihat keluarga yang luar biasa Anda melihat Anda semua di natal, banyak cinta. B”

Seoul, Korea spiced with a flight cockup

grey Seoul, Korea spiced with a flight cockup

Here I am in Seoul Korea, absolutely knackered again wondering what happened to the last few days. Turns out I was heading to Seoul for a few days THEN Doha, must make a point of checking my tickets sooner! I had a lay day in Milzos apartment sorting photos, watching discovery channel and relaxing. When Andrew finished work we went to the Sky bar for one last brew, debrief and goodbye. Mongolia was a great catch up with an old mate, boy we crammed some adventure into a short amount of time. On the way to the airport we were just saying that the adventure was over as we took a wrong turn up a one way street and were faced with three lanes of psychotic Mongolian drivers coming towards us. I should have known better to say that before getting on the plane.


grey Seoul, Korea spiced with a flight cockupIt was a three hour flight punctuated by a screaming baby to my right and an elderly Korean chap trying to snort a lung up through his nostrils to my left, good fun, no sleep. On this flight I experienced my first aborted landing ever. Just as the wheels were about to touch the pilot gunned the engines and took off again. Those planes can really boogey when needed, the pilot didn’t explain what had happened he just turned the plane around and tried again. After wandering around the airport for forty minutes in a daze I gave up on my arranged airport pickup and jumped into a taxi for the fifty minute and $146 aus ride to my hotel. I got to my room at around 5am , having not slept, in a foul mood and crashed for a few hours much needed rest. Determined to not waste my time here I wandered around the local markets, got thoroughly lost and checked out a few sights. Again good work Mel my travel agent for putting me right in the middle of town, easy to get around, kudos! I paid $3 aus for a magic lunch which was raw tuna, cabbage, lettuce and cold rice with a sauce that made it tasty es bro! A kind elderly Korean man laughingly took it upon himself to correct my poor chopstick and sauce technique, grunted in satisfaction of a job well done and left without a word, hilarious. A bit more looking around and a dirty great big steak and I am ready to crash. One more day loitering in Korea, another midnight flight, one last day with Drew and Cath and I will be back in Tassie planning my South American Trip.

It was funny tonight to see how the Koreans celebrate the world cup soccer. I mentioned above about the Mongolians; smashing down the drink, being psychotic, jumping on chairs, spilling beer on everyone, wrestling and being total goons, friendly goons, but still goons. On my wanderings I saw a tent full of hundreds of Koreans in red T-shirts watching their game; sitting straight upright in their chairs, sipping green tea and politely clapping with each play. What a contrast. Dunno which one I prefer really, the Mongolian version was definitely more exciting to see!!

grey Seoul, Korea spiced with a flight cockup


I woke this morning with a bad feeling and double checked my schedule. The flight was midnight last night! What a cockup ben! Well I promptly called my trusted travel agent Mel and she sorted me out onto the next available flight and changed all my connections around to suit. This mistake cost me $570 in flight fees and accommodation in Seoul for another night. Slightly peeved but not too upset I set about another two days exploring the city….Well actually I went back to bed and crashed for 5 hours as I was still completely bushed but then I set about exploring the city some more. This town has great architecture and I spend the first day just loitering in downtown Seoul admiring the architecture of both the city….and certain inhabitants., hey I was bored!

grey Seoul, Korea spiced with a flight cockup

The second day I set out on a mission to totally wear myself out in preparation for that nights 1am flight. I spent a wonderful day exploring the hill upon which sits the Seoul Tower. The hill is in the middle of the city and is one big landscaped and natural bush land with mountain bike track, open air gyms, cafes and the like. It was really nice to find a refuge in this mad bustling town. After 6 hours of aimless wandering around the hill and totally worn out I went and found myself a proper Korean barbeque in the suburbs. This meal cost only $4.70 aus, was divine and far more than I could eat. I got a haircut in a local shop, again language was a barrier but the result was much better than my last Nepalese effort with the Pakistani dude. This cost me $5. I am now at the airport, very early so as not to miss my flight, with 26 hours on an airplane and my impending return to Tas. I will be in Tas for a few sort months to catch up with friends, do some hiking and plan the next world assault! Bye for now

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This business partnership has expired.” Ben has no idea what adventures are in store when he sets out to discover what lies over that next mountain.

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