Hitchhike to India leg 56: Kuala Lumpur to Singapore

Wednesday 30 November

“I’d never have thought of that” comments a British Red Coat as Captain Jack Sparrow expertly removes Elizabeth Swan’s corset with a knife in The Pirates of the Caribbean.  “Clearly you’ve never been to Singapore”, he fires back.  Oddly enough, that one line resonated enough from the 2003 movie to make me want to go.  That – I’ll admit – is the sole reason I’ve decided to push on down Malaysia to visit country/territory/city/state number 60.  To learn how to take girls corsets off with a knife.

I’m kidding I already know how to do that.

Armed with the knowledge that Malaysia is the best country (so far) for hitchhiking, I ignore my alarm and sleep in.  I was to find later that this was something of a mistake – but not regarding the actual hitch.  Once again the locals did not disappoint, with what turned out to be another astonishingly easy journey.

Someone change my shorts.

Someone change my shorts.

Hitchwiki isn’t particularly helpful on this occasion.  It tells me something about illegally crossing rail tracks, or walking a fair distance, or hitch spots that aren’t easy to get to.  Instead I use my noggin and figure it out myself.  That and I ask the hostel staff which train station I need to get off at to access the highway south.  It’s not rocket science.  Around midday I’ve reached a very busy carriageway, and the speed of the traffic nearly persuades me into a cab for deposit at the toll station.  But where’s the adventure in that?!  Gritting my teeth, I hike a few minutes up the road to a flyover.  Traffic is slowing for the hill and round the apex of the bend, and there’s plenty of room for them to pull in, but it’s still hair raising.  All I have to do is not fall off – it’s a long way down – and more than a little vertigo kicks in when a big rig thunders past and blows me in the direction of the edge.

But barely five minutes go by when a couple of young lads pull in and save my bacon.  They can take me to the toll booth, which leads directly onto the highway south.  Cooking on gas.  However after they depart, I feel I’m not quite in the right place.  I hastily change the back of my sign to read ‘E2′; the highway I need to be on.  But a short walk in the direction they showed me and I’m back on course, looping round a lengthy slip road to a busy motorway.  Luckily there’s construction underway on my left, and a large space for fast traffic to pull into.  A workman shouts “Singapore!” upon spotting my sign, and then points me in the direction I’m marching.  The tea leaves are encouraging.

Not my best work.  The long trudge round the bend with a new sign.

Not my best work. The long trudge round the bend with a new sign.

But with the sun high and searing my skin, for this volume of traffic and no stops it’s a little concerning. I alternate between the ‘Singapore’ side and the ‘E2′ side of the sign.  As I’m actually on the latter, I adjust my thumbing action to a new wave and point technique I’ve been trying recently.  Try it yourself!  Wave your arm as if saying ‘hello’, but finish with a point in the direction you wish to be going.  It’s working wonders.

Someone change my shorts 2.0.

Someone change my shorts 2.0.

Hitching trick - if it's safe to do so - put your stuff down and walk away from it - the time it takes a driver to spot you and decide to pull in - 9 times out of ten they'll be right by your bag.  Super fast pick ups!

Hitching trick – if it’s safe to do so – put your stuff down and walk away from it – the time it takes a driver to spot you and decide to pull in – nine times out of ten they’ll be right by your bag. Super fast pick ups!

And just when I thought I might have to rethink (entirely due to the sun and not the lack of a ride) a lovely couple swing in.  Speaking native English, they can take me some 20 KM to a service station.  As I’ve not yet eaten (hunger gives me an edge) I’m more than grateful for this stroke of luck.  We natter non-stop for the duration of the disappointingly short journey, before I’m wolfing down a rice-egg combo breakfast washed down with a vat of water.  Then it just gets better.

Leaving this in full view while eating at a service station clearly pays off.

Leaving this in full view while eating at a service station clearly pays off.

It’s a large service area with a lot of traffic.  Two petrol stations are rammed with cars, and the food court is full to the brim with road weary locals.  This is going to be easy, but I didn’t realise quite how easy!  I’ve barely left the dining area when a 30-something guy pulls in behind the wheel of a nice motor.  He’s spotted me while having breakfast (which is why I always leave my sign hanging) and he can take me to Johor – which is basically right to the border.

In Malaysia many drivers carry this device - which is for a rapid exit through toll booths.

In Malaysia many drivers carry this device – which is for a rapid exit through toll booths.

And here it is in action - Hafizi scans the toll booth gate and - if you're all paid up - the barrier lifts!

And here it is in action – Hafizi scans the toll booth gate and – if you’re all paid up – the barrier lifts!

And this is exactly what he does.  My new friend Hafizi (coolest name ever) goes out of his way past his turn off and takes me right to customs.  Unfortunately I pass out for most of the ride – I didn’t realise how tired I was from walking in the heat – and the cheeky rascal wastes no time in snapping the pic to prove it.

The drivers view of my hitchhike.  I'm amazing company.

The drivers view of my hitchhike. I’m amazing company.

There’s time for one more selfie and hearty thanks before he drops me at the border.  It’s just turned 5 pm.  I’ll make Singapore before night falls.

No idea what's going on with my hair.

No idea what’s going on with my hair.

No I fucking won’t!  What follows is an unadulterated, no holds barred, bull-in-a-china-shop, black Friday stampede shit show.  From zipping down the highway in record time, I hit a brick wall;  Singapore customs.  Possibly the worst border crossing ever.  Apart from Azerbaijan.  The organisation is a mess.  I’ve no idea where to go, but follow the sheeple to a bus interchange.  I pay 2 quid for a bus over the bridge link into the city and we’re stuck here for an hour and a half.  It’s dark by the time we’re ushered to customs on the Singapore side.

Border control on the Malaysian side - before the shit hits the fan.

Border control on the Malaysian side – before the shit hits the fan.

The last of the sun crossing the straight.

The last of the sun crossing the straight.

While passing the time I notice this hole in my shoe.  Now should I decide to replace them, or keep it to look more poor?  Answers on a postcard.

While passing the time I notice this hole in my shoe. Now should I decide to replace them, or keep it to look more poor? Answers on a postcard.

It’s a melee of people, trundling along with wheelie suitcases, multiplying out of busses, vehicles as far as the eye can see.  Queuing at the passport control behind an army of humanoids, and you’re taking one tiny shuffle forward every ten minutes.  It’s a logistical nightmare.  When my turn finally comes, I’m asked for an immigration document – which apparently someone was handing out as I approached the throng of longpigs.  Of course this I didn’t see and I complain – but they hand me a copy and tell me to fill it out fast.  Now I’m holding up the entire queue.

“This is the worst border I’ve ever crossed” I exclaim when I finish putting pen to paper.  “Sort it out”.  I huff away with my belongings and through the metal detectors.  There’s not enough space for this amount of people – and not enough room on the conveyor belt for everyone’s luggage.  It’s a free-for-all, and in the ensuing melee, my guitar is knocked to the ground and I lose my shit.

“Watch what you’re doing with my stuff you fucking animals!”  My outburst is met with blank looks.  Nobody bats an eyelid, instead continuing to push and reach and grab and snatch at stuff and things like the boxing day sales.  I tell you truly – I really hate people.

Once through the shambles I fare no different, only now I’ve the added burden of trying to find an ATM.  Malaysian money no longer works, and I’ve not yet had the chance to pick up Singapore dollars.  Now you would have thought that something like an ATM at a border would be a useful installation wouldn’t you?  Nah!  That’s  far too easy!  I’m rescued (and faith in humanity restored) by a young man who asks where I need to go.  He gives me all the info I require and in the circumstances – it was much-needed.  I was about to go postal.

It’s still a fair trek to find a cash point – and of course it just delivers massive denominations.  I can see the shop owner’s face as I buy a $2.40 bottle of water and hand over a fifty dollar note.  Sure enough the pain and fear etch across the man’s visage as I unapologetically thrust over the bill.  Don’t blame me dude – blame the bank.  This kinda shit happens all over the world.  Nobody has change, ATM’s dish out fifties, people get pissed.  Round and round we go.

I get on the wrong bus, even though it’s right, and I’m told to get on another bus with the same number just not this one.  When I’m finally on the right service, it takes an eon to get to somewhere in the vast city – and at the last stop I’m still nowhere near my ultimate destination.  Not knowing the public transport system and it’s getting late – I’m saved by my new (and once again – first) smart phone, and the magic of GPS.  Keeping my beady eye on the little blue dot that is me, I trudge through emptying streets towards the little red dot that is my next hostel.  It’s a long, long way.

I discovered I can do screen shots!  It might not look it - but this was a long way - especially at 10 pm carrying a load of shit and sweating buckets.

I discovered I can do screen shots! It might not look it – but this was a long way – especially at 10 pm carrying a load of shit and sweating buckets.

I collapse into a bed around 11pm.  It’s taken me nearly as long to get from the border to home base than it has to get the 350 kilometres down from Kuala Lumpur.  This does not bode well for my stay in this city.  Singapore – do not make me regret coming.

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Kuala Lumpur, Liverpool FC, fish and chips, and a random man saying he loves me

Tuesday 29 November

The Malaysians are doing something right; Kuala Lumpur is awesome.  Finally a city that I can get behind, could potentially live in, and not lambast the fuck out of with consummate ease.  Bishkek it is not.  There’s 1.5 million odd people here apparently, and in truth it does feel like a big village, but added to this, it’s simply got bags going for it.  My first venture is to one of the many botanical gardens and green spaces.

Botany

Botany

It’s simply beautiful – and there’s nobody else about.  It doesn’t feel like you’re slap bang in the middle of a metropolis as you wander round the vast space, barely encountering another humanoid.  In spite of this, there’s still the obvious traffic problem – but that comes with the territory in any big city.  However Kuala Lumpur excels in public transport – and it’s a joy to use.  Simple, efficient, clean and safe; most of the network is above ground – and the sky-train monorail is especially fun to ride as it zips between skyscrapers.

Planes, trains and automobiles...apart from the planes.  I don't think anyone wants to fly Malaysian for a while.

Planes, trains and automobiles…apart from the planes. I don’t think anyone wants to fly Malaysian for a while.

Unlike say, New York (which I feel is blacker than night), KL (as it’s locally known) doesn’t ever feel like it’s “coming in on you”.  It feels light, airy and spacious; and very, very green and clean.  Buildings are not crowded together, often separated by lush, tropical roots and leaves, and you can see the sky in spite of having some impressively tall structures. The most renowned of these – and world-famous symbol of the city – is the Petronas Towers.

My dinner time view.

My dinner time view.

Argentine architect Cesar Pelli designed the iconic twins, stars of film, TV, popular fiction and the impressive KL skyline. Until 2004 it was the tallest building in the world  – and still the tallest twin towers.   Standing beneath them one might be surprised at this statistic, but a quick check of the facts reveals it is indeed taller than the likes of the Empire State Building.  Recollecting the moment I stood on the viewing platform of that aforementioned construction and nearly fainting from the height – and I still can’t believe it.  Perhaps it’s got something to do with the towers’ position.  It – like the city – isn’t crowded out.  Walking around the purpose-built “city within a city” is as comfortable as breathing.

In the grounds of the towers

In the grounds of the towers

The fountains at night

The fountains at night

I opt for the viewing platform at the Sky Bar in Traders hotel.  The famous sky bridge on the 77th floor was closed on the day I visit – but I’m not too concerned.  It’s 15 quid just to go up, and of course you can’t actually see the towers in their entirety.  It reminds me of the urban legend of the tourist who – while standing on the Eiffel Tower – complained that in the view of Paris she couldn’t see the Eiffel Tower.  I’m guessing she was American…

What are the bet's on some cocktail drunk falling in here after too many daiquiris?

What are the bet’s on some cocktail drunk falling in here after too many daiquiris?

Pricier than most bars I frequent, instead of 15 quid on a sky bridge, I spend it on a fish supper and cheesecake in the Sky Bar, and boy was it worth it.  Malaysian food is supreme – fantastic fusions of east and west, Asian and European available everywhere – usually for rock bottom prices.  You can have the best curry of your life for about a buck fifty.  However – and especially in my delicate condition – it’s not a good idea to pound back the spice on regular occasions.  Opting for fish and chips (one of the things I miss most about living in the Oban area on the west coast of Scotland), it’s possibly up there with the best I’ve ever had.  And in continuing my side mission of finding the best cheesecake in the world – they could well have a contender there too.  Best meal I’ve had since my last meal in Malaysia – and worth every penny for the view alone.   But although I’m still learning and adapting to my first ever smartphone, I refuse to take a picture of food.  You can have one of the kind of stores that dominate the tower complex:

Breakfast?

Breakfast?

I have something of an unnerving experience while sauntering around the towers prior to my epic feed.  A young, twenty-something man approaches me and asks if I speak English.  He then informs me he has to get something off his chest – he’s bursting to let something out.  He then tells me he loves me.

It’s more than a little uncomfortable.  Especially when he asks if I love him too.  He’s gazing intently into my eyes when I tell him I love him too – and he asks if he can put my response on a Youtube video, to which I politely decline and make my escape.

Now I imagine it was some kind of social experiment, and not just some wacko stalking the public in a park.  Or maybe it was just some wacko stalking the public in a park.  Either way I was out of my comfort zone and beat a hasty retreat – but I hope he found whatever he was looking for.

What you looking at?!

What you looking at?!

I also pay a visit to the world’s largest aviary.  The KL Bird Park is a big tourist attraction here, and being something of an ornithologist, I decided to check it out.  However I had mixed feelings when I do.  Is it a zoo?  Is it a sanctuary?  Is it good for them?  Certainly the gazillion free-roaming ( and predominantly flightless) birds looked like they were having the time of their lives, but seeing any bird in a cage just feels wrong.  I felt a sour taste in the mouth that I’d supported the venture – but took some solace in knowing they are very well looked after and they appear happy as larry.

It's a terrible picture - I just find it hilarious.

It’s a terrible picture – I just find it hilarious.

I did tell one brat off for running around after a peacock screaming “SHOW! SHOW!” and stamping his feet – obviously his mother having no input or control over the demonic little shit.  In trying to get a peacock to turn for a selfie, one dundering imbecile actually tried to pull it around by the feathers.  In my shame I didn’t say anything here – because her boyfriend was decidedly bigger and harder than that kids mum.

These guys are a hoot.  The universe has a sense of humour.

These guys are a hoot. The universe has a sense of humour.

Walking through the botanic gardens and the sky begins to rumble.  There’s not a sinner about in the vast park, the sky is blacker than night, and the rumble of thunder crescendos into the loudest I’ve ever heard in my travels.  A shotgun is discharged right by your ear, and I’m getting the distinct feeling something bad is about to happen.  A giant bolt of lighting damn near blinds me, as the finger of god stabs the horizon.  Then someone turns on the water.

Monsoon

Monsoon

SE Asia is infamous for the rainy season, and it’s clear that I’m in it.  I thought the deluge I experienced in Thailand was bad – but this is insane.  I take shelter with some workmen under a construction site, as a wall of water pours from the heavens.  The reflection of lightning on the skyscraper opposite is as impressive as it is intense, but my error was not finding cover in the park – and I’m forced to stand for about an hour until the monsoon stops.  When it finally subsides, the street resembles a flash flood, and I squelch back to the hostel to dry off.

Sheltering with the locals.

Sheltering with the locals.

There’s still so much to see and do in this city.  People are super friendly, engaging and talkative. Everyone speaks English like a native, and it’s so easy and accessible to get around.  It’s a shoppers paradise too – you can get anything you want, anytime you want it.  The only downside (on a personal note) appears to be the price of a beer.  While not even close to the cost back home, a mug (not even a pint) of grog will set you back about three quid.  It adds up – especially coming from countries where it’s a fraction of that.  Most places also close at 2am, which means for the time being at least, my all-nighters are on hold.  But then this is nothing but a good thing and I’m actually getting shit done.

City fashions from the bus.  A second early and this would have been a really good pic.

City fashions from the bus. A second earlier and this would have been a really good pic.

The large percentage of Malaysian religious practice belongs to Islam – but it appears much more relaxed than previous muslim countries I’ve experienced.  I applaud the decision to wear the Hijab out of choice and not necessity – and the fact that ladies who do so are decked in bright garments – as opposed to the monotonous black.  It makes for a very colourful city indeed.

As if it wasn't wet enough!  A young local boy has fun with a fountain.

As if it wasn’t wet enough! A young local boy has fun with a fountain.

I make plans to hitch to Singapore in the next few days, when something quite astonishing happens.  I’m perusing the Liverpool FC website as I’m want to do on occasion, when an amazing coincidence catches my eye.  LFC are currently touring a fan experience world-wide, and yes – you’ve guessed it – they’re coming to KL next!  It’s unbelievable luck – and an opportunity to meet Liverpool legends Patrick Berger, Vladimir Smicer and Robbie GOD Fowler, as well as take part in games and experiences all geared towards die-hard red fans.  The tour is booked in for the 13th to the 18th December (I’m only going to be able to manage the first day), so I’ve got plenty of time to bounce around seeing cool stuff until returning to the city then.  I’ve even contacted the club directly regarding my charity hitchhike, with the hope I can get a 5 minute photo shoot with the lads, my team shirt and flag, and my INDIA hitchhike board.  Who knows?  It might just net me more traffic to the blog, and more importantly some extra pennies for a worthy cause – especially if some multi-millionaires dip into their deep pockets!  YNWA!

Colours at Peterling night market.

Colours at Peterling night market.

So that’s us all but up to date dearest readers.  On the morrow I undertake hitch leg 56 (I think) heading straight down to Singapore – and country number 60.  A young man from Bangladesh has just this minute offered me his home and a guide should I make it to his country – and I’m super stoked to continue the hitch such is the ease and friendliness of people in general here.  I’m looking forward to coming back up so I can start using my INDIA sign again and not confusing everyone that I’m going the wrong direction.  But as I always say – it’s about the journey and not the destination.  Onwards!

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Hitchhike to India legs 54 and 55: Surat Thani to somewhere in Malaysia

Tuesday 22 November

I could feel it happening; that slow, dilapidating decline into wasterdom. Sweating like a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs, spread eagled on my bed, naked the day I was born with a shitty fan failing to assist in healing my hangovers.  “Good luck getting out of there” was one friend’s recent throwaway comment about my current location.  I was to prove her wrong.  With a gargantuan effort I put a cork in the bottle and book passage off this rock.  It’s time to get the fuck out of Dodge.

3 quid a night shit-hole right next to the beach.  Shit fan out of shot. I've stayed in worse.

3 quid a night shit-hole right next to the beach. Rubbish fan out of shot. I’ve stayed in worse.

I decided to take it easy, spending one full day getting back to the mainland – such was the enormity of the effort required.  I took a slow ferry to Surat Thani – which is little more than a transport hub, and booked in as what appeared to be the only guest in a cheap hotel.  The only highlight of the day was chatting to a couple of older full moon party refugees, who were clearly still on some kind of narcotic.  They were on a 4 year anniversary holiday, with a budget of “only” $250 dollars per day.  My daily budget is around a tenner.  How the other half live eh?

This was a little better for 8 quid.  Oh - and there's my new hat I nearly left there.

This was a little better for 8 quid. Oh – and there’s my new hat I nearly left there.

City back alley.  Cardboard hitch sign finding gold.  Indeed I found a stack on the right.

City back alley. Cardboard hitch sign finding gold. Indeed I found a stack on the right.

...and make this - which says Malaysia.  I think.  Or masterbater.

…and make this – which says Malaysia. I think. Or masturbater.

In the morning I rise early to test the Thai hitch water once more – but it starts slow.  It’s the cities – it’s always the damn cities – near impossible to get out of.  Most traffic is local, and many people don’t understand that you don’t necessarily want a ride all the way to the destination.  This is especially true considering my only sign for the day reads “Malaysia” in Thai.  After walking for an hour or so a young lady pulls in and informs me that I’m going to confuse people.  She takes me to a local store and obtains me some new cardboard – on which she suggests I write the road numbers.  This I duly do – and she’s got me a lift in seconds.  Even when they can’t give me a ride themselves – they’re abundantly helpful.  Still – nearly two hours in since I left base and no real progress made could potentially screw me over for the rest of the day.

Hastily made road signs.  For roads.

Hastily made road signs. For roads.

Prior to this stroke of fortune, a couple of incidents of note occurred.  I’m getting a lot of attention from gaggles of school kids on their way to class, waving and calling hellos from across the street.  I make a wrong turn and have to double back on myself, when I come across one of the strangest sights I’ve seen.  Passing by their school at what I can only conclude was the morning assembly, thousands of uniformed kids are standing in row upon perfect row, singing along to what I imagine is the Thai national anthem, belting out over a tannoy.  I’m desperate to sneak a picture, but Johnny Foreigner lurking outside a school gate taking snaps of kids probably isn’t a good idea.  The area is thick with security too, but I stand and admire the educational army for a moment, before desperate times force me to move on.  Once again the local cuisine comes calling.

Look it’s not my fault dear readers.  I can’t seem to find cheap, healthy food that doesn’t involve curry or a 7/11 toasted sandwich.  And this is a warts and all account so you’re gonna have to go through it with me.  Working my way out-of-town on a dusty carriageway, suddenly my recurring stomach problems stabs me in the gut and I double over in pain.  It’s excruciating, and with no ride in sight it’s beginning to look very bleak.  I give it more than a moment’s consideration to turn back to the safety and comfort of a hotel room and a flushing toilet to try again in the morning.

But I stumble on and into a roadside cafe to a lot of unwanted attention.  For the love of Christ not now.  They don’t serve tea (who doesn’t serve tea?!) so I buy a bottle of water in exchange for use of the restroom.  This is of course a filthy hole in the floor, but similar to Renton’s experience in Trainspotting – anything at this stage will do.  Of course it’s only after I free myself of the harrowing torment that I realise I’ve no loo paper.  This just couldn’t get any worse.  I anxiously root around in my pockets for anything that will serve – and pull out a bunch of paper money.

No! I didn’t! Honestly!  Under the circumstances, doing something like that with the king’s face would cause heinous offence – and wind me up in jail.  I opt instead to shuffle gingerly back to the cafe, subtly rob a wad of napkins, and shuffle back.  Of course in a land where you stick out like a sore thumb, anonymity is unlikely, and every pair of eyes in the place watches me do it.  Still – I like to think nobody had any clue what atrocities I had just committed.  They can discover it later when I’ve successfully fled the scene of the crime.  I hope they don’t do DNA testing.

Waited an age here before a very kind lady pointed out my glaring error.

Waited an age here before a very kind lady pointed out my glaring error.

Fast forward to the point after that nice young lady helped me out and with my new sign I’m instantly picked up by another nice young lady.  Before Thailand – I’d only ever been given a lift by one woman and that was all the way back in Slovenia. I must look really shady.  Probably pick me out for the sexual predator pest that I am.  But here in Thailand, I’ve had three already!  Things are looking up!  This one speaks wonderful English, and can take me to the first highway.  Once out of the city – it’s a piece of cake.

Right on highway 44 - she knew the score.

Right on highway 44 – she knew the score.

Rides come thick and fast.  The first is an excited, young truck driver who can’t speak a word of English – but is desperately trying to do so.  “I NOO INNNGLISH!  I NO SPEAK IIINNNGLISH!” He beams and jumps up and down in his seat.  I’m laughing all the way to the crossroads – and the main event – highway 41 direct to the border.

Facebook this.  No idea what it's about.

Facebook this. No idea what it’s about.

Ride three of the day comes courtesy of another pair of truckers.  After waiting for around 10 minutes (a lifetime in Thai hitch standards) these guys can take me to a place called Hat Yai – which is the turn off for the border road.  Unfortunately – and something I still can’t seem to learn – that although these long haul drivers can take you a fair way, you’re sacrificing speed for distance.  They make several stops too, and the guy behind the wheel speaks the kind of Thai that wouldn’t even be understood by Thais.  Still, hours into the journey and with daylight thinning, they drop me at an intersection, a grin showing missing teeth and jabbing a grubby finger in the direction of Malaysia.  The border is within touching distance at least.

One of many "Wats".  A roadside temple.

One of many “Wats”. A roadside temple.

Oh Thailand, how I love thee.  I cross the intersection, hold out my sign, and another lady driver pulls in.  This time it’s the comfort and air con luxury of a Toyota Hilux – vehicle of choice for ISIS.  What’s good enough for them is good enough for me, and I relax as she throttles it up and we make the border in no time.  Cheerio Thailand – for now.  Keep yourself warm for me.

Cheeky border snap.  Could get into trouble for this.

Cheeky border snap. Could get into trouble for this.

I cross with little trouble – save for some confusion of where to go on the other side.  Added to this, I’m more than a little nervous about them checking my stuff.  You hear all the horror stories of unwary travelers unwillingly being utilized as drug mules, so to be on the safe side I give my pack a going over.  I don’t want to end up on the end of a rope.

Malaysia.  Don't do drugs.

Malaysia. Don’t do drugs.

I sail across and park my butt some distance from the concourse.  Light is well and truly leaving me now, and time is not my friend.  Malaysia is also an unknown quantity regarding hitchhiking – but I needn’t have worried.  Barely a minute has gone by when Andy, another long distance trucker, pulls in.  Speaking perfect English, he’s not going to where I’ve originally chosen to spend the night – he’s going further.  I take the risk and stick with him, and after a wonderful natter to his daughter over the phone (they offer to put me up in their house – but he’s not finishing until late and I’m shattered), 130 km over the border and he’s dropped me at a cheap roadside motel.  With such good fortune, I make the decision to strike for Kuala Lumpur when the cockerel crows, and rest my weary bones in country number 59.

My new map - which for some reason people struggle to understand.  I've come to the conclusion people around the world are spatially challenged.

My new map – which for some reason people struggle to understand. I’ve come to the conclusion people around the world are spatially challenged.

I rise late, deciding that at a mere 400 odd kilometres away this is going to be a cinch – and indeed it is, but not without its tribulations. Breakfast consists of a runny egg on bread – which in light of recent events I hope doesn’t come back to haunt me.  Without even holding out my hastily cobbled together KL sign, a young Indian guy waves me over.  He can take me to the next toll station – easy pickings.

Toll booths = paradise.

Toll booths = paradise.

He speaks perfect English – this – I was to find – was to become the norm in Malaysia.  Everyone speaks English.  EVERYONE.  Cleaning ladies, truck, taxi and bus drivers, workmen, waiters and shop attendants.  Statistically the people I always look for when gauging the general grasp of English in a country.  To my shame, I still haven’t done my usual boning up of the basics of the local lingo – but there’s just no need at all.

Waited about two minutes here.  I like this country.

Waited about two minutes here. I like this country.

Moments later I’m in another ride, again having a full conversation – and my experience hitching here continues to get even better.  Pulling alongside an 18 wheeler, my current driver actually flags down the behemoth transport while doing 50mph in tandem.  To my utter astonishment, he slows to a stop and out jumps the driver for a (surely dangerous) highway hard shoulder photo shoot.  Of course my new driver speaks English as well, and can take me all the way to Kuala Lumpur.  I scarce can believe my luck.  I think Malaysia might just beat Thailand in the hitch stakes – and that’s saying something.

Standing in front of rides two and three, respectively.

Standing in front of rides two and three, respectively.

But it’s never THAT easy is it dear readers.  Course not.  Where would the story be?!  I’d bore you to tears if not for my bowel movements and drinking habits!  Once again I realise my error as my driver stays off the main highway.  This – he claims – is because he gets tired from the monotony of the motorway, and prefers the differing back roads.  Hauling an 18 wheeled, three-metre-wide trailer an alternative route is never going to break the sound barrier.  Leaving base camp at around 10 am, I’m informed we’ll make KL at 5 this afternoon.  It’s going to take about 6 hours to travel what should take 3.  All this in a cab with broken air con, and only one windscreen wiper that worked – on my side of the vehicle.  This was to become something of a problem a short time later.

20161123_150811

Mile after mile of Malaysian jungle.

I settle in for the long haul.  It’s all about the journey and not the destination anyway, right?  He’s a funny guy to chat to, and I enjoy my slow view of “real” Malaysia from a vantage point.  Getting to see something of the country and not just endless concrete is actually very beneficial.  He pulls into a road side cafe so I can eat – and I don’t even give it a second thought of leaving my stuff in the cab as I do so.  This I would never have done previously – but such is my confidence that people are good – it’s never an issue.

However – he’s brought back a six pack of beer and he hopes I don’t mind that he drinks it to keep himself awake.  Cracking one open, and rattling through the stubbies quick-fire, it isn’t long before he’s tipsy – but thankfully I can only tell from him becoming more talkative and not his driving ability.  Then a biblical monsoon strikes.  If you remember – only my windscreen wiper is operating.  I’m in a huge truck with a boozed up driver, ploughing through a field of water, and he can’t see out of his side.  But it’s all fun and games isn’t it?!  What could possibly go wrong?

We've gone on holiday by mistake...

We’ve gone on holiday by mistake…

I’m strangely nonplussed.  Since leaving the shit show road nightmare that is Kyrgyzstan, I’ve got supreme faith in even the naffest drivers anywhere else – which my current host is not.  Although it’s taken an age, He leaves me safely at an outskirt bus station, gives me advice on how to get to the city centre, and then is on his merry way. Now all I have to do is figure out the transport system.

Bus stop.  Sure enough - it worked.

Bus stop. Sure enough – it worked.

But I needn’t have worried a jot.  Number 772 comes round the corner as advised, and the (obviously) English speaking bus driver informs me that he does indeed go through Chinatown.  An hour later and I’m at my hostel door, slap bang in the centre of Kuala Lumpur.  Moments after a terrific and super cheap feed, I’ve purchased a new flag sticker for my guitar (the ease of which I base entire perceptions towards a country).  Malaysia – I think you and me are going to get along just fine.

Two days, 8 rides, 845 km.  I’ve spent about 20 quid in total, and enjoyed some of – if not THE best – hitchhiking I’ve ever done.  I book in for five nights in a cheap but comfortable hostel and crash out.  Tomorrow I’m going to get my crap computer fixed and explore the shit out of Kuala Lumpur.  After that –  I just might have a beer.  You deserve it Malaysia; you deserve it.

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Full moon party mess, Koh Phangan, Thailand

Wednesday 16 November

I know what you’re thinking.  You’re thinking here he goes, out to get totally mortled, do a shit load of drugs and letch onto anything with breasts like a demented Jimmy Savile on speed.   A leopard can’t change his spots right?  Well boo to you because that’s exactly what I didn’t do.  Kinda.

You’ve seen the pictures, you’ve heard the stories.  Hell – I’m sure some of you have even been here.  When you’ve got 30,000 nutters descending on a beach for one night every month since 1985 – you’re bound to know a few of them.  It looks disgusting.  There I was, ready to verbally and literally tear the whole insalubrious mess a new one, strictly going in with a reporter’s hat on, ready to take a damning photograph of the aftermath that would go viral and land me a Nobel Prize.  For something.  I was about to experience Kavos (worst place in the world) Mark II.

And then something strange happened.  I began to have a good time.

Reunited again - and still roasting hot and dripping with sweat

Reunited again – still roasting hot and dripping with sweat – and not even having the wherewithal to look into the right hole in the camera phone

Now I attribute this more than a little to the company I was keeping.  My good friend Applebury has lived in Bangkok for the past two years, and when last we met, we were tearing shit up in a party hostel in Lima, Peru, circa 2012.  The man is a force of nature, but he –  like me – is more than a little slowing down.  We’re getting old.  A new breed of crazy is catching up and overtaking us.  Dare I say it – we’re ready to settle down.

It's all kicking off

It’s all kicking off

And as a result, I actually do spend much of the time on periphery of the licentious drug fest, wandering around with my friend, dodging locals offering pills in cupped hands, and slurry drunks claiming they’ve taken too much ketamine.  No you haven’t mate – you’re not even on it – someone’s sold you a bag of Persil.

Loads of this

Loads of this

Thusly – I manage to avoid many of the full moon party wankers I commented on in my last post, although there’s a fair few of them about, knocking back buckets (literally) of spirits, yobbing away in wife beaters and board shorts, yelling how “fucked up” they’re going to get and “wot birds” to bang.  The place is awash with neon, dayglo paint vendors and artists (some of which are really quite cool), and the street food is – for the most part – delicious.  The plan of attack was always to limit the time on the actual “club” beach, and set up shop in the bars of the town.  In keeping to ourselves – and to my utter astonishment – we have a decent night.

Applebury said the best thing to do is get your own and go around painting girls' boobs

Applebury said the best thing to do is get your own and go around painting girls’ boobs

The only real sour note was when a pair of Brazilian girls I met in Bangkok rob me of my new pack of smokes.  On a beach with thousands of people, it’s astonishing to run into some random you met a week previous – but it happens.  They tell me they’ve run out of money and beg me to wire them some – promising they’ll pay it back in the future.  This I refuse to do anymore (even to my own sister) as I’ve been burned so many times after being generous and helping “friends” out.  As it stands I’m still owed over a grand.

Where was I?  Oh yes – thieving scumbags.   But we still offer to buy them a drink at the next bar over, turn our backs for a second and they’ve vanished.  Applebury is particularly displeased as one of them was incredibly hot, while I instantly notice my smokes have gone, and put two and two together.  It’s not a big loss – a professional would have taken us round a few bars, used us for booze, and then robbed us blind.  Amateurs.  I wonder how they fared on their spree of crime?  It wouldn’t be hard to pull the wool over most of these muppets – and light fingers attend these things solely with the express intention of doing just that.  I learned the hard way back in Nicaragua.

Not going in there

Not going in there

As we arrived at the island very late, it’s no surprise that the sun is starting to peak its head up as the speed boat surges us back to Koh Samui and home base.  I originally wanted to stay to photograph the devastation at the end – and even help clean up a bit just to feel morally decent – but I’m shattered and just want my bed.  Another of my reasons for going was to try to do something helpful or useful – particularly in regard to the environment or stopping some young girl getting date raped.  I had delusions of grandeur I was there as some force for good; some wise, all-knowing, cocky bastard travel snob that would somehow save the day. In the end I felt I contributed to the whole shit show – although I never threw a bottle of beer on the beach or littered in any way.  I’ll donate a fiver to the WWF.

Get wankered, stagger in, order a picture of David Hasselhoff on your face.  So much for it being illegal to be drunk and get inked up

Get wankered, stagger in, order a picture of David Hasselhoff on your face. So much for it being illegal to be drunk and get inked up

Applebury and I are separated on return to our island, and I’m ordered out the mini-van nowhere near my digs.  The driver is convincing me this is my hotel and street, and although I don’t immediately recognise it I attribute that to being a little hazy.  He speeds off and I realise my glaring error after walking a couple of kilometres and not seeing a damn thing I’m familiar with.  Then yet again that Thai magic kicks in.

Wandered down here for miles...

Wandered down here for miles…

A young woman is setting up her shop for the day and she motions me over.  She speaks a little English, but – like the total plank I am – I’ve forgotten the name of my hotel.  This is probably why I’m in this predicament in the first place.  I’m clutching at straws and spouting locations I think are near to where I live, confusing the living hell out of her.  Eventually she gleans where I need to be, and – too tired to worry about fear – I hop on the back of her scooter.

Wearing a kilt on a scooter doing 50 mph is an interesting experience.  My knuckles are white as I grip the hand bar on the back of the machine – but she motions me to hold her round the waist.  Hardly daring to let go, I nonetheless believe she to be a better judge of how to be a passenger on these things, and swiftly switch my hands to her sides.

Now this is a little odd I ponder – made all the more strange by the fact I can feel she’s unclasped her bra.  I don’t know what the area on a woman’s body is called where the boob meets the tum, but that is where I found my hands.  Totally – and I stress – totally by accident dear readers – I just needed to grab something and quick.  Don’t think me some 7 am, serial bike-scooter rapist.

I adjust to a less suggestive position (although it strangely appears that she’s orchestrated it) and we speed on.  This island is much bigger than if first appears, and without the aid of my saucy saviour – I would not have a chance in making it home.  Eventually she stops at the beginning of my street, as she cannot take the vehicle any further.  She’s driven me for miles.  I kiss her on the helmet (the one you wear on your head you filthy animals), and march towards bed.

It’s still some distance to home, and I’m getting a lot of strange looks as the town comes to life.  Still they’re more than used to it and it’s fun to cheer and wave as people acknowledge me.  Eventually  I collapse into my bed with thanks.

So there we have it my friends – there I stood on the outside of the debauchery looking in – and lived to tell the tale.  Not today am I to wash up dead on a beach in Thailand, missing several vital organs.  I went in with the mindset that it was just another festival, and I came out clean on the other side.  I just wish I could say the same for the ocean.

I’ll never do it again.  Promise.

No really…I promise.

Seriously…

 No…come on now…I’m serious.

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Full moon party wanker

Tuesday 15 November

Waiting to meet friends last night I had this experience.  This  is something of a unique post that I decided to pen while listening to what can only be described as a moron.  This was – with a little editing for timing reasons – pretty much the entire “conversation” I was subjected to.  This is what we’re up against.

For best results, read aloud in a heavy cockney (SAAAAFF LAAANDAAAAAN) accent.  I’ve assisted you where possible.  Also please note that although I swear like a trooper – I try and keep it to a minimum in my writing.  Here however, it is not possible.  Apologies for any offence, it was not intended, and the following content is not the opinion of the writer.  You have been warned.

Shirtless horror show staggers his way over to me and collapses on the bar:

“AWWIGHT MATE HOW’S IT GAAAAAN AWWWIGHT?!  JUST BEEN TRYING TO PICK UP THOSE FUCKIN’ BIRDS THERE! (still within earshot) SEE THOSE TWO FUCKING BIRDS THERE!  THOSE TWO FUCKING COONS INIT?  FUCKING COONS EH?  HAHAHAH!  TOTALLY FUCKED IT RIGHT UP DIDNNNNI?!  FUCKED IT RIGHT UP MATE!  HAHAHA FUCKED IT.  I FUCKING STACKED IT! HAHAHAHA! FUCKSSSAKE!  WHERE ARE YOU FROM MATE?!  AWWWW YER A NORTHERN MONKEY MATE! HAHAH FUCKING NORTHERN MONKEY!  HAHAHA FUCKIN DON’T MIND ME MATE I’M A SOUTHERN FAIRY INNIT! HAHAHAHA!  WHERE ARE YOU FROM MATE?  LUTON’S A FUCKIN SHITHOLE INNIT?  FULL OF PAKIS MATE!  FUCKIN FULL  OF PAKIS.  FUCKING CUNTS.  THAT TRUMP THOUGH HE’S A RIGHT CUNT AS WELL ISSSNNY?  TRUMP’S A CUNT MATE. FUCKIN YANK CUNTS MATE HAHAHAH!  WHERE ARE YOU FROM MATE?  HERE YOU’RE A LEGEND MATE!  YOU CAN COME WI ME AND WE’LL FUCKING TAKE LOADS OF GEAR! AWWWRIGHHT! (Slightly lowers voice) We’ve got fucking loads of it mate – loads of pills, charlie, fucking everything.  HAHAHAHAH!  GONNA SMASH THAT BACK WITH YOU MATE AND YOU’LL NOT BUY ANOTHER DRINK ALL NIGHT MATE I CAN FUCKING PROMISE YOU THAT!  FUCKIN LEGEND YOU ARE MATE FUCKIN LEGEND. WHERE ARE YOU FROM?” THIS IS MY MATE FROM FUCKIN ITALY MATE (the gentleman to his left was actually from Luxembourg)  FUCKIN ITALY MATE! HAHAHA! FUCKS SAKE I MUST APOLOGISE MATE FOR NOT HAVING MY SHIRT ON, FUCKIN LOST MY SHIRT HAVENNNIII? GONE AND LOST MY FUCKIN SHIRT!  (Asks bar girl for his shirt – mocks her accent back to her when she replies). FUCKSSSSAKE I’M A FUCKING STATE ARENNNNI?! HAHAHAHA! WHERE ARE YOU FROM MATE? (notices I’m wearing a Star Wars T-shirt ) STAR WARSSS?! HAHAHHAHA YOU FUCKIN GERMAN! (?!) FUCKIN HELL I’M A STATE.  I MUST APOLOGISE FOR NOT HAVIN A SHIRT ON MATE!  FAAAACKIN HELL!  HAHAHAHA I’M A STATE MATE.  FUCKING STATE.  HAHAHA!  NOT EATEN FOR FUCKIN THREE DAYS MATE! HAHAHAH FUCKS SAKE!  WHERE ARE YOU FROM?”

A short time later I spotted him falling about with similar catastrophes in another part of town.  He’d no idea who I was.

These people need our love too, right…?

Right…?!

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