A Travellerspoint blog

The north wind blows

sunny 31 °C

Yesterday we arrived in Jaffna after a couple of days in Anuradaphura. The first guesthouse we stayed in was more like a ghost house - no other travellers and no staff that we could see. It turns out that the manager is building a new hotel a few doors down hence his absence. We checked out the following morning and moved in to another place nearby. On the surface it was fine - friendly family, other guests and nice food. The matriarch of the household was showing us pictures of her daughter and telling us of her sons imminent marriage arrangements. More on that place anon.

We hired a van to bring us around the multitude of sacred sites that are in Anuradaphura. It's a really interesting place but after SE Asia a few years back we appear to have severe temple fatigue. The fact that all these temples are in places with 35 degree heat might be a contributing factor. It was a case of looking around for an hour, sweating buckets and getting back to the air-conditioned van for some respite. Harry was wearing some short shorts so we had to stop to pick him up a sarong to preserve his modesty at the religious sites. After four or five hours of historic sites we were cooked so we went back to the guesthouse.

There's nothing like a cool Lion Lager to cool you down in these parts. It was followed by a nice meal prepared at our lodgings. A group of Chinese people were also staying there - they were doing an eleven day tour in a minivan, staying in one spot each night and getting on the road the next morning. Their driver knocked out the local Arrack for me to sample. It's the local spirit which is derived from coconuts. You mix it with soda lime and ice - not bad but one taste was enough for me. Whilst this was going on one of the staff was playing with the house dog. He'd pretend to hit the kids and the dog would protect them by attacking him. It all seemed like good enough fun. For whatever reason he then brought out another dog. With all the ongoing excitement the dog took a nip at Paddy. That put a dampener on proceedings. No skin was broken but it left a nasty bruise. This morning there was no mention of the incident by the owners - it was as if it never happened. As we were leaving the owner produced the dogs vaccination records but there was no apology from him or the staff member responsible for the incident. I suppose it just confirms the superficial relationship between traveller and host. It shouldn't surprise me that much but it confirms a few things in my own head about this country.

Jaffna is another funny spot. We took the train and it was a bumpy ride for the first half of the journey - the second part was considerably smoother. The reason for this was that the second half of the line had been replaced after the long conflict with the Tamil Tigers - the line only reopened in 2014.

We're staying in some basic accommodation and sharing it with some of the local critters - a frog on the bathroom and a grass snake in the bedroom. They removed the snake this morning - they didn't really know how to do it, one chap tried to entice it into a plastic bottle with no success. Eventually they got it out with a sweeping brush. Breakfast was a bit of a major fail too - we thought we were getting fruit but got a curry instead. The kids were not impressed. We hired two tuk-Turks to explore the Jaffna peninsula and it was a great buzz. We ended up taking a boat to a Hindu temple on an island to celebrate the Pura festival with a few thousand other pilgrims. Mad buzz. On our tour we also saw how ravaged the place is from war. Every second building has been bombed out. Depressing stuff but they're slowly building the communities again. We'll have a look around Jaffna city tomorrow.

Posted by goldenmaverick 11:03 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged jaffna Comments (0)

On the road again.

sunny 35 °C

Last night in Kandy. We took a good look around the city during the day and then we dined in the equivalent of an Indian McDonald's -full on veggie food- we spent about 1200 rupees on the whole lot. That's about the price of a main course in the first place place we stayed in Negombo. I have to say that the food here is just savage. The Sri Lankan curries are bloody lovely, the fruit is bloody lovely too. Pineapples, bananas, mangoes, watermelon, papaya - fruit that you'd spend 20 euro on back home can be picked up for less than one tenth of that price and comes minus all the air miles.

Apparently you shouldn't visit Kandy without visiting Helgas Folly - a hotel in the hills just above Kandy City. We took a walk to it last night and we would have turned back only that a staff member showed us the way. The hotel is owned by the daughter of a famous Sri Lankan politician and diplomat from yesteryear- Frederick de Silva. Helga - the owner - is now in her seventies and has taken up permanent residence upstairs in the hotel. The hotel is the old family residence and the walls are adorned with pictures and cuttings of the extended family including Helgas own children. Her daughter is Isabella Blow a socialite who now lives in London and who's been known to rub shoulders with the likes of Alexander McQueen. Her aunt was the famous architect, Minette de Silva, who would have been a student of Le Corbusier and she was also Sri Lankas first female architect. The hotel is like one big trip. I'd highly recommend you swing by if you're ever in Kandy.

Today we took the more upmarket air conditioned bus to Anuradhapura. We were treated to lots of Sri Lankan music videos over the course of the three and a half hour journey. There appear to be two basic storylines on which all of them were based.

1. Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl. Girl spurns boy. Boy kills himself. The End.
Or
2. Boy/girl is ill in hospital. Lots of people cry. Boy/girl dies. The End.

It's pretty depressing stuff for a nation of people who are so friendly. Then I remembered that the guy who showed us the way to Helgas Folly also mentioned that Sri Lanka has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. You obviously only need to scratch the surface a little to see another side to all countries. Thankfully a man got on halfway through the bus journey who blocked my view of the screen. Otherwise I was in danger of replicating the fate of many of the young men in the videos.

One very interesting aspect of Sri Lanka which I've failed to mention this far is the driving. If one were to apply Irish standards to Sri Lankan drivers most would have amassed the maximum 12 points within five minutes of getting into their vehicle. Overtaking another overtaking vehicle is par for the course over here. The drivers horn is used like snuff at a wake. Their hands appear to be on the horn more than the steering wheel. But if you asked me if I felt safe I'm not sure how I'd respond. Their haphazard approach to driving is conducted with good nature and I've only seen one minor accident In the last week. At least they don't drive on the pavement like in Cambodia but I think that's only because there is no pavement to drive on here. Things like junctions and signposts appear to be token efforts to show that there are some kind of rules in operation. The one exception is pedestrian crossings - they'll all stop to let you cross there.

The hotel we're in tonight is a bit of a ghost hotel. We're checking out in the morning and moving next door for some action. We'll go and see some temples tomorrow but it's bloody hot - 35 degrees - so we'll see how that goes.

Posted by goldenmaverick 08:50 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged folly kandy anuradhapura helga's Comments (4)

It's like Kandy

sunny 29 °C
View Sri Lankan shindizzle on goldenmaverick's travel map.

We spent three days in Negombo and delightful they were. Day two saw us take a trip to Negombo beach which was less than impressive. A big rip tide and two drownings occurred the day before we were there. The beach part of Negombo is a long stretch of tourist bars and hotels and was fairly unappealing to us. We didn't make it into the town that day. Instead we retreated back to our hideaway lodgings to pay over the odds for food and beer. We did make it into town the next day and I was sorry I hadn't checked it out.

Leaving for Kandy we caught the public bus. That was our first real taste of Sri Lanka. Once the seats on the bus were full we set off on our journey - only to stop five minutes later to let about thirty more people aboard. The tunes were banging out as we sweated buckets for the next four hours of the 120km journey. Some bloke had his arse stuck in Harry's head and a baby was puking out the window beside me. This was a good solid reminder that we were in Asia. It was reminiscent of several journeys we took in SE Asia a few years back.

Kandy is a peculiar place. It has world heritage status and is set in some spectacular scenery. The local tuk tuk tuk drivers and market stall holders hassle you a bit but a firm 'no thanks' generally sees them off. They're not as in your face as in other parts of the world. On our first night we went to the Kandy Muslim Hotel to eat - not so much a hotel but an eaterie. The locals eat out front but we were shunted out the back of the place to a dirty table with cockroaches on it. That might put the fainthearted off eating but not us. We ordered a load of food which was absolutely delicious. Our waiter knew very little English but knew who Gerry Adams was for some reason. Odd to say the least.

Today was Joe's 13th birthday. I had gotten my wires crossed and had hoped to bring him to the Sri Lanka v Pakistan cricket match. It turns out that it wasn't being held in Kandy but about 300 miles from here. Instead we went to check out the famous Kandy dance troupe - it was a mix of traditional Sri Lankan dancing, drumming and firewalking. Definitely one for the tourists i.e. us. Afterwards Joe wanted pizza so we all trooped off to get Domino's pizza. Our guest house owner made a fuss of him when we got back and we watched the last part of the cricket. Sri Lanka won handsomely. The workers in the guest house then took out a board game and taught the kids to play it. It was like a mixture of pool and shove-halfpenny. A truly good buzz to end the day.

Tomorrow we 'll try to plan our journey north to Aranadaphura and from there to Jaffna in the far north. Onwards and upwards.

Posted by goldenmaverick 20:28 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged kandy negombo; Comments (1)

Negombo vibes!

sunny 29 °C
View Sri Lankan shindizzle on goldenmaverick's travel map.

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After about 23 hours of travel we eventually made it to our first destination. The flights worked out pretty well - we had to make a dash through Istanbul airport to make the connection to Sri Lanka. Our 15 minute technical stop in the Maldives turned out to be an hour and fifteen minutes and the entire business class section of the plane disembarked there. With the advent of rising ocean levels I fear for those islands future. Onwards to Colombo and the only fly in the ointment on arrival was the incorrect digit in my visa application. However 30 euros later the immigration guy had it sorted quick sharp.

Colombo airport is a funny old place. Arrivals consists of what looks like a duty free shop and twenty separate electrical goods retailers. We bought two kettles and a bottle of gin. Not.

In Arrivals I tried to buy a Sri Lankan sim for an old phone but it was locked to an Irish network. Boooo. Waiting for our driver I noticed some comedian that I've seen on lots of BBC comedy programmes with a full camera crew in tow. I must look his name up. I reckon he might be of Sri Lankan extraction. Our driver took us across lots of back roads and we drove up a quiet lane where we were greeted by a machete wielding local. It turns out he works on the pineapple farm next door to the place we're staying.

Hassan - our host - is a delightful chap from the Maldives. He and his English wife have two guest houses over here. A good friend of his is staying here for a couple of days so I've been having good chats with the pair of them. Yesterday the kids played in the pool for most of the day and we were treated to a wonderful dinner last night. Wonderfully fresh ingredients in everything that passed our lips. Harry also treated us to a soundtrack of his "chilled" tunes. All in all a lovely first evening here.

This morning it was a variety of local fruit for brekkie followed by a lovely Sri Lankan omelette. As I write the kids are back in the pool. We might take a spin into Negombo proper to have a gawk - we'll play it by ear. I haven't taken many pictures so I'll accompany this post with an obligatory pool pic. Laters.

Posted by goldenmaverick 23:24 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged negombo Comments (2)

And they're off.

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Sitting in Dublin Airport in my shorts and sandals looking at the rain pour down outside. In this weather it's very easy to look forward to a month in Sri Lanka.

We're all set - although the kids are concerned that we don't have enough chargers for the array of electrical equipment. First world problems indeed.

We've a two hour stopover in Istanbul and we'll arrive at our final destination about eighteen hours from now. I'll see y'all on the flip side.

Posted by goldenmaverick 07:58 Comments (1)

Home thoughts from a bored!

rain 15 °C

Sitting here at the kitchen table, the rain drizzling outside and dusk slowly falling. It's a world away from where we've been. It seems so quiet here compared to South East Asia. We've been home since Monday afternoon - that's a full four days - two of which I've spent at work.

When I last wrote we were on Koh Kood Island, a lovely little quiet (and I mean quiet) spot. From there we travelled on to Bangkok and stayed a couple of nights in a nice little hostel just off Sukhumvit. It was called Suk 11 and was right across the road from the hotel we stayed in at the beginning of our trip. We actually ate in the Suk 11 restaurant a couple of times back in June and on one occasion Caroline went in to check the hostel out. It's a busy spot but was perfect for us. They had the very hard to find six bed dorm room which we only came across a couple of times on our travels.

We spent the last couple of days in Bangkok out at the Chatchuchak Market. It's a ridiculuously busy spot with a vast array of market stalls. There truly is something for everyone at this market. You name it, you'll find it there - if you look hard enough that is. We also went to the MBK Market but it was a truly awful place, a discount shopping mall selling knock-off gooods of all varieties. It was that awful I had to buy myself a pair of Beats by Dre headphones for €6. They're most likely of very dubious origin but what do you expect for that price?

Arriving late Sunday night at the Suvarnabhumi Airport we headed for the British Airways check-in desk. We were due to fly Bangkok - Heathrow - Dublin but things don't always go quite as planned. They had overbooked the flight by 15 and were looking for volunteers to fly by an alternative route. In the end we volunteered and flew home with Thai Airways via Zurich to Dublin. We were suitably reimbursed by the nice BA check-in chap for our troubles and as it turns out Thai Air are really nice to fly with. It was a super flight to Zurich - Paddy slept for about seven hours and I drank a fair bit of their Rum and Cola and watched Cool Hand Luke. We tooled around Zurich airport for a couple of hours and were back in Dublin last Monday morning only twenty minutes later than originally planned. Alls well that ends well.

I mentioned the quiet already. We walked thorugh the Phoenix Park on Monday afternoon and I just couldn't get over how quiet things were. The amount of space and lack of noise was a world apart from most of the last 2 and a half months on the road. You get used to hearing roosters in the morning, dogs fighting with eachother, the sound of the insects in the trees, the lizards on the walls of your room, the frog underneath the house, boat engines, thunder, motorbikes, loud music, drunk backpackers, the sound of your children snoring, the waves lapping on the shore - there's always something going on. When we walked back into the house on Monday it was all a bit of a dream. We were back. No two ways about it - we're back. Ireland is not Laos. It is not Cambodia. It is quiet.

It's really like we never left. After weeks of living from a bag, ordering food to eat, paying someone to do the laundry or transporting us places - it all stops. Everything reverts back to the way it was all too suddenly. On Tuesday morning the first thing I did was put fuel in the car and go to the supermarket. From Bangkok to the banal in two days. Its a difficult feeling to explain. I know that I'm glad to be home and that the rest of the family are also glad to be back - but its not easy to elucidate exactly what I'm feeling on my return.

It's all a bit too recent to get nostalgic about so maybe it would be better for me to give a quick overview of each country to remind myself what I think I might be missing

Thailand - the bookend to the start and end of our journey. Bangkok is wonderful and weird in equal measures. Chaing Mai was a really nice place and Chaing Rai was a very pleasant surprise. Really sorry we missed out on the Black Temple when we were there. Down south I was really impressed with Trat. It's a lovely little town with an amazing food market and some fine shophouses in the couple of streets named the Old City. Koh Kood Island was a really nice place to spend the penultimate stop on our journey. It was very much low-season there but I think I prefer it that way. It was a great place to chill out for a while.

Laos - From top to bottom its a wonderful country. We hit gold at our first Laos destination - Luang Nam Tha was a brilliant start to the Laos chapter. Really nice guesthouse (Zuela) , nice bunch of travellers, super scenery - it has it all. From there we went up to Phongsali - a bit of a kip in a wonderful setting. Spectacular scenery and views of China and Vietnam from the mountaintop. Heading down the Nam Ou River we stopped at Mouang Khoua and Nang Khiaw - both lovely spots, the former a bit livelier than the latter. Over to Luang Prabang - a World Heritage Site but a little too picture postcard perfect and chi-chi for Laos if you ask me. We stopped off in Vang Vieng and what a place. Limestone craziness and lagoon magic lies just outside the town. Vientiane was a non-event and looks like it will be for a while. The highlight of the trip, Konglor Cave, on the road to Thakek. Awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping stuff. On from Thakek to Champasak on the banks of the Mekong. Nice place if a little too quiet. Its close to our second world heritage of the trip - Wat Phou - a nice little taster for what was to come later. We ended Laos with a few days on the 4000 Islands where another highlight was the massive Khone Falls - one of the better waterfalls on the trip - but the dolphins were a little underwhelming by the same token. .

Cambodia - First stop Kratie. Our first taste of Cambodian electrical blackouts but also the lovely Koh Trong island. Over eastward to Sen Monorom for some elephant fun before heading back west to Phnom Penh. The fascinating Tuol Sleng Museum and the Killing Fields will live long in the memory. Got templed out of it at our third world heritage site, Angkor Wat. I was so glad to see them but too much of a good thing is hard for anyone. Battambang in western Cambodia was a really amazing place - bamboo trains, circus schools, Joe's birthday - great memories. Floating villages in Kampong Chhnang - voyeurism in the extreme but you've got to do it. Kampot had cheap margaritas and a cool looking jail and market. Sihanoukville is a necessary evil if you want to get to the islands. Koh Rong was a great success - empty beaches and more cheap margaritas. Koh Kong was a nice way to end the time in Cambodge - it truly is the most stunning part of an otherwise mostly flat country.

Ireland - Damp. Cold. Back to work. No more shorts or flip-flops for the foreseeable future. Nevertheless we're home annd it feels good to be home. I look around and I see that I really need to start throwing out a lot of stuff. It was wonderful way to spend a few months outside of the daily ritual - a chance to see that you don't actually need most of the things that you accumulate over time. Its actually pretty easy to live from a bag, not working on the same principles of time that apply at home, eating out, going to bed at nine o'clock. It turns out that its pretty easy to break habits when you're faced with different situations. It also turns out that its very easy to slide back into those habits when you return home. That's life.

Thanks for having us back.

Posted by goldenmaverick 13:06 Archived in Ireland Comments (1)

It feels Koh Kood to be here

sunny 30 °C

We've been three days here on Koh Kood. Geographically speaking its the farthest south of the islands in the Koh Chang archipelago. Apparently there were some ownership issues with Cambodia for a long spell so its only since they've been sorted that development has taken place. We'd initially not considered coming as it caters for rich Thais and the wider international jet-set. For example, there's one hotel at the other end of the island where it costs upwards of €2000 a night for a room. Needless to say we gave that place a miss. Most other accommodation is of the resort variety and as its low season the bulk of them are empty or under refurbishment. The place we're staying in was recommended by the guesthouse owner in Trat whom I mentioned in my last post. It's basic backpacker stuff and pretty reasonable by this islands standards. Cold showers are par for the course but that really isn't an issue in this heat. Once again we've been blessed with the weather. The temperature is hovering around the thirty degree mark for the last few days but the evenings usually bring some respite. The owner only opens the kitchen for evening meals but lays on free coffee and toast each morning - as a result we have to stop the boys from overdosing on the toast. The rooms are basic and built over a mangrove swamp so you get your fair share of the frog chorus at all hours of the day. Its quite amazing how you get used to the nocturnal sounds here in Asia, I expect that the silence will be deafening when we return home to Dublin.

The island itself is pretty big but any development has been on the west side only. As a result the entire interior is forested with just one paved road running through it. The local population is just over 2,000 but this is supplemented by another 4,000 Cambodian and Burmese workers that are employed in hospitality and construction. Most locals seem to rely on fishing and rubber plantations for their income, the tourism is a bit of a sideshow for them. Its strange that its so underdeveloped by Thai standards as its only an hour and a half by boat from the mainland. Its obviously the prices that are keeping most travellers away.

Last night we went for a couple of drinks in a local bar, the Tawan Eco Bar, run by a local guy who does nightly music sessions. We were intrigued by his sign that said 'Live music, Hot Beer, Bad service, Welcome'. The fact that the beer was cold came as a minor disappointment but things soon were on the up. He serenaded us with a couple of Bob Marley numbers before asking could I play percussion. As it happens in my earlier life that was a regular thing. Next thing you know the pair of us are jamming - Jong (the owner) on his guitar and me on the congas belting out 'Don't worry - 'bout a thing' by Bob Marley. What a buzzer! He then informed us that we were the first Irish visitors to his hostelry. Then some other customers came in and he had to stop playing to make them food.

Yesterday we hired some kayaks and paddled upstream through the mangroves to the Klong Chao waterfall. Crystal waters and beautiful falls that were perfect for swimming for the kids. Afterwards we paddled downstream to the beach where the kids enjoyed being pounded by the crashing waves. On the way we passed by what looked like a Korean group from one of the classier resorts who were capsizing in their kayaks everytime you looked at them. They were a bit of a maritime disaster and I was wincing as a couple of them headed towards the rocks. I could see someone from the resort frantically waving at them trying to send them in the right direction. Whilst it was unfortunate that the kids couldn't swim on the beach as it's monsoon season here, the waterfall is a more than adequate replacement. There's also a thankful absence of the hordes of sandflies that we encountered on Koh Rong but still enough of the little buggers to keep you on your guard.

We'll spend tomorrow replicating the waterfall/beach winning formula (assuming decent weather) and we'll catch the boat to Trat on Friday morning. From there we'll bus it to Bangkok on the penultimate leg of our three month odyssey. Home is looming large on the horizon.

Posted by goldenmaverick 05:34 Archived in Thailand Tagged waterfalls beaches koh_kong kayaks Comments (1)

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