Great Britain – This is Norwich, England

Norwich, Norfolk, England, Autumn, 2017: My home city, Norwich has plenty of historic interest. From original cobbled stone streets lined with Tudor era buildings to the Edwardian and Georgian developments in the hart of the city. Reconstruction after the ravages of World War 2 has seen theses buildings preserved to pristine condition making Norwich city centre popular with domestic tourists and international students.

Over the next few posts I’ll attempt to share the sights and hopefully the sounds of life in a small English city that you’ve probably never heard of before now!

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For now, here’s a set of general images from our fine city and if time permits I’ll home in on features such as the historic Castle and our magnificent cathedral, oh and of course we’ll walk around the market!

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England – Back on Home Ground

London, England, June 2017: Its been a long flight, leaving Kathmandu nearly 24 hours ago with a change of aircraft at Abu Dhabi. Etihad flight 11 is a red eye, leaving at 2.30 in the morning! I try to avoid these flights but a I needed to change my ticket and this was all that was left! Etihad operates a standard economy cabin with the same amount of leg room and seat size as all the other operators – not very much of either. Unfortunately for me I didn’t eat much much in the ultra expensive Abu Dhabi airport in the hope of some decent food on the flight. So it was pretty disappointing to be served with 1 small plastic sandwich shortly after take off. Yes, the inside was pretty grim being furnished with processed everything. Zero points for Etihad on the EY11 bound for London!

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Over London at last!Yes, in about 20 minutes we’ll be on British soil for the first time in 6 months. Here are some views of the city as this Airbus 380 meanders towards the final approach the London’s Heathrow airport.

Turning around London’s East End here are some pretty good views of the City Airport.

So how many London landmarks can you spot from these photos?

And that dear readers ends this travel season for 2017. I need to recharge my bank account and plan for travel season 2018 – perhaps you can inspire me with some interesting destination suggestions. Once again thanks for tuning into my random jottings and I hope the casual nature of the dialogue wasn’t too boring 🙂

Nepal – Goodbye, Farewell, So Long….

Pokhara, Nepal, June 2017:  After 3 weeks of teaching mathematics and English spellings to the local kids, its time to say goodbye for another season and head home to England where hopefully the summer will have arrived. Its always hard to say goodbye to Nepal and especially to those here in Pokhara. But goodbye it is as the long road ahead beckons. First its that 7-8 hour bus ride to Kathmandu for a night stop. A late afternoon flight to Abu Dhabi the next day to connect with a red eye flight to London in the early hours of day three!

Its off season so the airport queues are somewhat less than they otherwise would be. The security queue is nice and short which enables me to grab some time for a little plane spotting before jetting off to Abu Dhabi.

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These poor Air India passengers are made to wait in the rain for transport to the terminal.  Below, a selection of the operators arriving and departing TIA, Kathmandu Airport.

At last its time to leave Nepal and head towards London via Abu Dhabi on this Etihad Airbus. The plane is practically empty, surprising since these Middle Eastern flights are usually packed with migrant workers. A seat on the right, by the window should provide some nice views leaving the Kathmandu Valley….

This flight circles the airport as it climbs up out of the valley before setting course towards Abu Dhabi following the Himalayan Mountain range – and what a view!

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Goodbye Nepal, nice to have been here once again….

Nepal – Landslide on the Prithivi Highway

Kathmandu, Nepal, June 2017:  Kuala Lumpur, Kathmandu and Pokhara – yes, after having recovered from a nasty lingering virus I’m ready to tackle the now infamous Prithivi highway to Pokhara once again. It’s a journey not for those with a nervous disposition or the unadventurous  – for you, I’d recommend taking a flight, about £80 one way and 25 minutes. By bus, £6 and upto 8 hours, more during the rainy season.

you can see photos from a previous post here, but be warned – not if your the nervous type 🙂   Read Post now…

A broken down truck, usually with a flat tyre is enough to bring the Prithivi highway to a grinding halt. This time its a landslide, well that’s the word on the bus as it comes to a gentle stop behind a thousand other vehicles. An estimated 2 hour delay is going to make this a very long day! So, stuck miles away from any town or village, the only thing to do is stroll up and down in the stifling heat of the day. Actually its not that bad since the natives work up courage to say a few words and then as if by magic a truck appears with ice-creams and frozen lollies. Oh and the nearby monkeys provide some acrobatics for a while!

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And so some 4 hours late, with raging thunderstorms all around, the bus pulls into Pokhara bus park – at least here in one piece with sanity still intact.

 

Nepal – Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Kathmandu and a Virus

Bangkok, Thailand, May 2017: Back to Nepal via Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur but any thoughts of sightseeing inbetween have been somewhat curtailed. A nasty, debilitating virus has hit with its ugly symptoms manifesting on my first night in Bangkok beginning with the odd sensation that I needed to occasionally stretch then tighten my leg muscles. By morning I was quite feeling of nausea with ebbing energy levels. Thereafter sickness kicked in until around 3 in the afternoon by which time I had zero energy. Yes, its hard to even get out of bed and head for the toilet pan! Any thoughts of getting out are completely out of the question for today and probably tomorrow.

Day two arrives with energy at zero having had a disturbed night, but at least the vomiting has ceased. Zero energy and zero appetite but I can just about drag myself towards the kettle and make some tea. So, one more day in this Bangkok hotel before my flight to Kuala Lumpur. Sleeping better now but with a very sore back – like sleeping with a sunburn.

Day three, still with energy well below par I ‘m able to drag myself onto 2 buses and make my way across town to the airport for my flight to Kuala Lumpur. A freezing cold bus and still with that sore skin sensation its not a great journey! An odd mix of hunger and nausea prevents me from eating any quantities of food. I have an appetite back but then when faced with food I can’t eat that much of it. Kuala Lumpur late afternoon with energy back down to almost zero. Still no real appetite.

Day four with no real energy. All I can do is drag myself around the guesthouse here in Kuala Lumpur. That hunger with nausea sensation is still here spoiling what should be the best food experience in all of Asia. That soreness of the skin hasn’t subsided any either.

Day five with a little more energy. Its a real effort but I did make it out to the street and across to the shopping mall ATM. Still unable to eat in any quantity. Stll sleeping with that sunburn sensation.

Day 6, the same as day five! With a flight to Kathmandu tomorrow I’m seriously considering seeking medical attention – thankfully I have insurance! There’s a pharmacy across the street in the NU Mall. A very nice Chinese gives me about half a dozen white pills and is confident they’ll fix everything! These Chinese pills are making me feel rather light headed and well, after that I don’t know what happened since presumably I was sound asleep.

Day 7 and a miracle -yes, those Chinese pills have fixed everything. No more soreness, energy levels back to almost normal. After almost a week of sufferance, I’m ready for the challenges of road travel in Nepal.

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Thailand – The Good, The bad and the Ugly, Nai Yang

Nai Yang, Phuket, Thailand,, May 2017: Having spent just over a week in Phuket’s North at Nai Yang, here’s a round up of the good, bad and ugly aspects of this trip. The expressions here are of Nai Yang’s Northern region, close to the airport and some distance from the tourist ghetto in the South.

The Good:  Largely undeveloped with that rustic and natural appeal. Quiet with no boom boom base anywhere so a good nights sleep! The variety of local food is comprehensive as it is all across Thailand. Excellent beaches and swimming up by the airport and further North. No visible prostitution, drug dealing or alcoholism. An aviation enthusiasts paradise.

The Bad:  Cheap accommodation is hard to find with with the cheapest about £7 for a hostel bed. Cheap single room accommodation is almost non existent. Local food prices about 15 to 20 Baht more expensive than in Bangkok and portions can be quite mean. Local folk can be quite arrogant. 200 Baht to get on the beach by Sirinat Park otherwise its a lengthy trek in the Jungle.

The Ugly: The dirtiest beaches I’ve seen anywhere in Asia – worse than even Sihanoukville in Cambodia. From Sirinat National Park South towards the tourist ghetto there’s broken glass, a ton of plastic and various other debris littering the entire length of beach. No food shacks along the beaches anywhere in Nai Yang.

Since Patong is where the action is on Phuket, this leaves Nai Yang relatively peaceful, calm and a great destination for that quiet week away from crowds. Its a favourite with Russian families, making up roughly 70% of the holidaying population here in Nai Yang, May 2017. Not my favourite beach destination I have to say and its unlikely I’ll be returning here anytime soon. Number one beach spot in Southeast Asia remains Sihanoukville’s Independence Beach, Cambodia.

So, to finish up with Nai Yang, a selection of random photos…

 

 

Thailand – Beach, Airport and Russians, Phuket

Nai Yang, Phuket, Thailand, May 2017: To find a clean beach around here takes some effort. After having arrived here a day or 2 ago only to be greeted by the dirtiest beach I’ve seen anywhere in Asia – even the beaches in Sihanoukville, Cambodia are cleaner then here! So after a few hours of exploration here’s how to find a clean beach, close to Nai Yang, on foot and without paying a 200 baht fee.

  1. Just before the pay booth there’s a road between 2 sections of jungle. Take this for about 10-15 minutes.
  2. Take the next track on the right by a gate. It meanders towards the middle section of Nai Yang’s beach, about another 10 minutes.
  3. Head North towards the airport and after 20 minutes the garbage is gone, and so are the tourists.
  4. Another 10 -15 minutes north and the airport runway appears and so do a few tourists, the beach isn’t perfect here but not bad either.
  5. Another 10 minutes and there’s a near perfect spot and populated with plenty of vacationing Russians. A fallen log, a swing seat and a hammock to share between about 20 – but its still better than Nai Yang’s dirty beach. A lunch time the place empties and one has that dessert island feel. Here’s a few pictures….

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So with some effort, there is a clean beach, not that far from Nai Yang and if one likes aeroplanes then here it’s the perfect combination. Bring supplies since the beach sellers are somewhat unreliable, in short supply. and are really only limited to coconuts and instant noodles. Personally, I fill up at breakfast time – easy for me because I’m non-alcoholic thus no hangovers 🙂 .

South Korea – The Last Word

Seoul. South Korea, May 2017: I arrived here some 4 weeks ago with the pre-conceived idea the country is full of glitzy shopping malls, Americanisation to the hilt and people like robots. While its true that developed Asian nations have largely followed the Manhattan path and its people have an addiction to all things digital, in Korea there is still enough culture among modernity that one can easily forget the plethora of American influence around the place. So here’s a summery of the ‘Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ of South Korea.

The Good: Seoul is a wonderful, vibrant and very modern city. Clean and organised for its 3 million inhabitants.  Getting around Seoul and Korea in general is easy, cheap and overall a great experience on local transport. Andong, a great little town oozing with culture. and then there’s Busan. Another wonderfully vibrant city. Blue sea, clean beaches and not too much Americanization there, yet! Getting around is equally a great experience.

The Bad: The culinary experience is tricky to navigate. The local Food scene can be bland and expensive – meat eaters, fish lovers pay the heaviest price. Vegetarians can find their food options limited – Tofu and noodles, soups – nothing much under £4 – £5 for a dish. Koreans have an addiction to all things digital – even at the supermarket checkout leading to a degree of arrogance. Purchasing single and small quantities of items in shops is a frustrating task. I found it near impossible to buy a single tube of toothpaste, a small box of tea bags or a single banana. Groceries are outrageously expensive – Lipton’s Black Tea Bags, £6!

The Ugly: choking then Spitting in Public.

Costs: Cheap accommodation is hard to find in Seoul and Korea in general. Seoul, I stayed in a small box type room for £11 per night in Mokdong, someway from the city, found on Air BnB. In Andong the cheapest I could find was £15 per night to sleep on the floor in someones house. In Busan, I had to resort to a hostel, near the beach at £15 per night. 4 weeks accommodation came to £415.

I managed to average the food and groceries expense to around £7.50 per day thanks to free rice at the guesthouse in Seoul and I still managed to taste traditional Korean delights like Kim Bap! Food expense then came to £210.

With getting around on public transport and the DMZ trip costing another £90 my trip to South Korea, excluding flights came to around £715 for 4 weeks, £178.75 average for a week.

And so here’s the last word from South Korea – Awesome!

Next Stop: Phuket Thailand

South Korea – Train to the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ), Cheorwon Part.2

Seoul, South Korea. May 2017:  2 hours after leaving Seoul Station the train pulls up at Baengmagoji, a rather small halt in the middle of nowhere. The station official users everyone to a ticket counter and the waiting coach. About £20 for the ticket, a 4 hour tour for what I’m hoping are the sights and sounds of South Korea’s de-militarised zone, the famous DMZ. Virtually no English here, just a giant map that really isn’t much use to a non Korean – yes, I remain the only white tourist in the group.

And so the DMZ tour begins. 5 minutes and arrival at the first stop. Lunch, which is included with the ticket. here we are at a canteen of pick and mix. Steaming rice, noodles, soup and all the good things Korean’s like to eat. The tofu with seaweed is rather tasty., even second helpings on offer but the big let down here is the coffee – that god awful 3 in 1 mix, you have been warned!

The lunch was very good actually. In England that alone would have been about £8-£10. So on with the tour, where we are gong and a few rules to follow – well I’m assuming this is what the tour guide is saying since the whole spiel is in Korean. Next stop is monument to the fallen – a memorial standing tall on the brow of a hill. Its quite a long walk up the hill, much like an avenue of remembrance. The view from the top though is pretty good giving visitors a first glimpse towards North Korea – unfortunately photography from the hill towards the DMZ is prohibited although I did sneak a few shots before getting caught by the beady eyed soldier! In my defence, Well, I don’t understand Korean sir!

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Here the area is called Cherowan. Although the place is essentially a military camp the fields below are farmed by villagers. The high banks are designed to stop North Korean tanks according to the guide, who, on this occasion was happy to speak in English.

The hills here in these photos below mark the start of the South Korean side of the DMZ, the swathe of land separating to nations still officially at war. Dotted around the place are look-out forts and various military installations…

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A pleasant enough 40 minutes or so looking at the scenery with all the commentary still in Korean. On the road again, next stop being a large building in ruins – a relic from the Korean war presumably. Yes, according to the tourist info board it’s a building once occupied by the North Koreans. A symbolic monument reminding South Koreans the brutality of communist control. No access inside but one can see where bullet shells made their mark.

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Next stop, a significant military checkpoint – oh dear, perhaps they’ll drag me away for sneaking those photo’s! A soldier jumps on and looks sternly at each one of us. Thankfully no dramas and off we go once again, this time with the soldier! Up into the hills and onto an army camp. Getting off the bus under the watchful eyes of three soldiers here and another looking down from a watch tower. Quick as a flash I did manage to sneak a couple of snaps before getting caught again! The group is herded up into an darkened observatory accompanied by the soldiers constantly watching, observing each of us closely. A 20 minute presentation all in Korean but I get the picture – war! Then the blinds a rolled up to reveal the DMZ – a stunningly beautiful lush green valley cutting through mountains and hills. Remember the TV series M.A.S.H, its just like that!

In Part 3… An eerie sense of danger amidst the gunfire…