Saturday, July 31, 2004

It was a funny feeling. I came out of the airport which serves Ho Chi Minh City, negotiated a taxi ride to the travellers area Pham Ngu Lao, and rode through the bustling streets of south Vietnam with relative joy in my heart. Why?

I had come from Sydney, a clean, accesable, English-speaking western city, with countless more services and western pleasures than anywhere in Vietnam. In HCMC I would face heat, humidity, thunderstorms, countless hawkers approaching me in an attempt to flog books, lighters, hammoks, chewing gum, moto rides etc etc etc, language difficulties, various biting insects, dirty streets and so on. Yet I felt good here because unlike Sydney, here I was a big player. In Australia one is a "backpacker", lugging a big bag around in order to live in a dormitory and carefully save money. Here, I am a traveller. I live in hotel rooms and I carry a huge wad of notes around with me and I am relatively wealthy. "Relatively" is the important word here but nevertheless, to the people who live here, I am a rich man.

Which means virtually the entire city is within my financial and cultural grasp - restaraunts, shops and, in fact, transportation anywhere around Vietnam. Here I feel more liberated to do what I want than in Australia where financial constraints, business districts, and a western class system exclude activities from me as long as I have insufficient funds. Let me explain more clearly: in parts of urban Australia I would walk up quiet clean streets which consisted of buildings I could never enter. This is no different from any other western cities, however in this part of the world, as a westerner, all doors are open - even the most exclusive restaraunts and hotels.

Not Sydney.

Meanwhile I can sup a beer in the afternoon without worrying what effect such an adventure might have on my bank balance...

Sunday, July 25, 2004

I've left 1770, and very sad it was too. It is always hard to leave a place where so many friends are made. On my last night the whole town went to a deserted beach for a huge party. Although the party had little to do with me, it was a fantastic opportunity to have a last drinky with some new found friends. The scene consisted of a generator, some decks, an MC from East London who couldn't rap but who tried anyway, more 4x4 vehicles which provided the only means of entry and exit, fire jugglers, and various drunken revelry. Typically, locals would hang on to the roof rack for dear life as our 4x4 made its way back to reality. Heaven knows how none fell off. The following morning the people I made close friends with all got up early to dispose of any remaining narcotics with me and wave goodbye before my 8.30am bus out of there. They all took pictures of us outside Cool Bananas whilst I chastised myself for locking my camera away in my rucksack and missing it all. Stav was one of the picture takers - get those piccies up girl. Hopefully I'll get copies of those photos somehow.

Meanwhile, and quite marvelously, Stefan has come through and posted some piccies from Fraser Island up on his website. I don't feature particularly prominently in them, but you can espy me there, the rest of "Group B" plus the 4x4 I drove around on the huge sand island.

So back in Sydney then. To be frank, I'm not a huge fan. Sydney is very picturesque and the people are generally friendly, but it's a city which holds little interest for me. It's western - so nothing new there, it's quite pretty, but I'm not sure it offers anything exclusive maybe apart from surf, and I'd much rather surf in Noosa or Agnes Water. Which is why I'm only here briefly. Monday is Vietnam day. It will take me nine-and-a-half hours to fly to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC or Saigon), and I won't leave Australian airspace until after seven of them. It's a damn big country. And I haven't seen anywhere near enough of it to be able to truly say that I know Australia; my travels took me nearly 600 miles up the east coast and that is barely half of the distance up to the north east tip - let alone into the outback and the west coast 2,000 miles away. I wanted to visit the central Australian "town" of Boulia (pop. 290) - famous for its regular UFO sightings - to see a camel racing festival. I looked on the map - directly west of me and also in Queensland! Distance: 600 miles! Fuck that then. I'd have to convince someone with a car to take me and it would them quite a while.

Boulia's well-kept sign.

So back I go to SE Asia. I've already seen Vietnam but there are a couple of places that I missed due to the dastard time constraints - Na Trang being foremost of them, plus the Chi Chi Tunnels near HCMC where I can have a tiny experience of what fighting for the Vietcong might have been like (bloody difficult is my prior estimation). Plus I get to revisit my friends Jon and Clair, and the new water slide in Damsen Park, "Black Thunder", oh yes. Then back to Thailand to see its north side, then onto the tiny country of Laos - famous only for having more bombs dropped on it by B52s during the Vietnam War than were dropped during the whole campaign of World War II. Should be good folks... back in the tropics.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Occasionally there arrives a moral dilemma for me and this weblog. I'm in a place which is small, untouristy but which is easily the best place I have visited. Do I advertise it and add to the increased talk about this place or do I help to preserve its uniqueness with silence?

Predictably of course I choose to advertise. I realise of course that presenting my argument above only adds to the mystic but I choose to keep the paragraph for reasons of style and presentation. It is the tiny Town Of 1770 and its slightly less tiny neighbour Agnes Water that I find myself writing about here. These streets contain the most sought after real estate on the east coast. Ten years ago there was no tarmaced road here; developers came to build homes and some shops and they undoubtedly now preside over even larger bank account as a result. House prrices are high, although mid-price homes have gone down. Of course compared to London, houe costs are pathetically small, and the area fantastically more pleasant. A sprinkling of travellers are now finding themselves surrounded by a few hundred residents, a variety of beaches - most deserted, fields of kangaroos, a mainificent selection of the best bits of the Great Barrier Reef and staff intent on providing increasingly interesting times. Seven of the top ten reefs, according to Lonely Planet, are based here.
The place to stay is called Cool Bananas - you'll make plenty of friends here and you'll always have something to do. Agnes Water/1770 has a number of characters who are friendly and interesting, one is Rod who runs the Street Beat Scooter Co. If you come here, do say hello. Rod also runs the free 4x4 trip from Cool Bananas every morning at 11am where one will be escorted up dirt tracks, to empty beaches and to places of interest. Everyday is a new adventure and their seems to be an extra excitement about spending time in a place that is so young but seems to hold so much promise. "The next Noosa", "the next Byron Bay", are terms I've heard - but for me this is the first "Agnes Water". As it gains popularity I wonder how it will fare; as part of its attraction is it's cosiness. No wonder then that many of the people I have met here have stayed for far longer than they originally intended.

Yesterday I took a boat into the ocean to snorkel around Fitzroy Reef Lagoon....

Fitzroy Reef.

Our boat was the only one that operated at this huge reef - the second largest of its kind in the world, and licenses to see it are only granted to two boats, one of which operates elsewhere. We saw turtles, dolphins, thousands of fish, dolphins, and the best of all two huge humpback whales. They stopped the boat and they, being huge and incapable of being intimidated came to investigate us. A close pass and they were huge! Even the guides on the boat were amazed and jubilant.

Before all of these malarky I had been at Fraser Island - the biggest sand island in the world, containing fresh-water lakes, rain forests, cliffs, sand dunes, the clearest views of the southern sky I've seen and miles of beach. All in all: marvelous. Placed with a group of ten and given a 4x4 car, tents, food, various other camping equipment and a terse set of instructions we had a great time driving up beaches and up dirt tracks. Well actually two of us did, the others had to sit and say their prayers.

Lake Wabby, Fraser Island. The sand blow on the left presented a huge and magnificent playing field.

I was a bit concerned about driving what was tantamount to a van around challenging and treacherous conditions and a wall of accident photos in the nearby "Hotel" (or pub to the rest of the English speaking world) didn't help - but actually it was the proverbial piece of piss.

We had what was referred to by others in a different car "the good group." Damn straight.

We had the loudest stereo. But it's the people that always make it. Here are the websites for two of my group.....



Tibo's is in French, Stephan's in Dutch. Use Babel Fish at the bottom of the left hand bar to translate. Which will be exciting for you.

It was the tip of Fraser Island which Captain Cook sailed past and lost Australia. He had to turn east to rediscover it and he hit 1770 - hence it's odd name.

All in all then, quite a couple of weeks. Australia has gotten better and better.

Well done to it and all that.

Friday, July 02, 2004

I had a great time in Byron Bay but it is always important to keep rolling. So up I traveled towards the sun. That's north in this part of the world - and eventually a small town called Noosa. And very nice it is too. I was recommended a place called Dolphins, but it was full when I arrived so I had to settle for a couple of nights at the local YHA. Noosa's YHA is supposedly one of the best around; it's a lovely building and the staff are friendly. But I have to say one thing about YHA's - they seem to be full of weirdos. Not everyone of course, but far too many people who are too afraid to try any other backpacking resorts. I shared a room with a guy who was visiting for ONE DAY - and as a result of this decision faced a 16 hour bus ride. And a middle aged South Taiwanese couple who presumably hadn't slept together in months since they were sharing dorms with others throughout their trip. Don't get me wrong - lovely people, but not really the sort I want to be meeting...

Some part of Noosa no doubt.

Within half an hour of getting to Noosa however I had befriended a couple of local lads. I was eating dinner in the YHA - hungry after my bus ride from Byron Bay and at the bar (the cheapest in town, hence their presence) I espied words on the back of a t-shirt:

Put on the mask and dance for daddy.

I had to know. I finished my food and tapped him on the shoulder.

"Alright mate? Is that a Tomahawk t-shirt?"



And the conversation went on from there. His name was Chris; his equally cool mate Ryan. We spoke of Faith No More, Mr Bungle and Fantomas - the last two bands obscure enough to create a connection with anybody one meets who also knows of them. I name-dropped Secret Chiefs 3 - that impressed them, although I know little about their music except from a time when my mate Chris played them to me. We rocked the YHA by insisting they play the Faith No More songs The Gentle Art Of Making Enemies and their collaboration with Sparks This Town Aint Big Enough For The Both Of Us. The last the boys had never even heard of, and they loved it so much they immediately invited me back to theirs for a drink and some music listening. I cursed the oddity of such a place as the YHA for being so dull yet providing me with such generous and friendly natives.

Chris and Ryan also had an eight track recorder, two guitars, a bass guitar, keyboard and PC with various music software. The next day we made a tune. It sounded okay, but bits were out of tune. It involved us shouting Australian nursery rhymes down a microphone. I utilised their X-box and N64. It felt like home. Their coffee table had the same paraphenalia that mine did when I lived in Elephant and Castle and in Camden with some friends. Marvelous.

Arthur Thacker - the funniest man since Bill Hicks found on the Internet alive and well!!!

And more genius here...

Note folks: Arthur has a bit of a potty mouth. The crazy fucker.