Melbourne and on to Bangkok -2007

Link to Travel Diary Part IX.

1st February - Back To Melbourne

1660 miles from Auckland to Melbourne, from a green and pleasant and to a dry, brown harsh looking desert. As you may have gathered I loved New Zealand. Anyone flying down in this direction, forget Aus, go to NZ you won't regret it.

I've had a few emails from a few people asking me what my plans are from now on. Am I heading home? Well, no, not yet anyway. I have made further plans that will keep me away until the second week of May. So I'll be returning back just in time to see West Ham beat Man Utd on the last game of the season to stay up ;-)

I'm going to be in Melbourne for a week, flying to Bangkok on the 8th. I'll be there until the 12th and then I fly to Hanoi. Here the plan become a little fuzzy. I've got a few things organised for the first week or so in Hanoi including seeing the Chinese New Year celebrations which I've heard are huge. But I'll then be playing it by ear until 12th March when I start the 4 week CELTA Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) course. Supposed to be very hard work (another new experience for me!) but it will give me a lot more options for living and working abroad in the future. I've then got another 4 weeks to do as I please in Asia before flying back from Bangkok. Lovely.

2nd February - Melbourne

Quite a lazy day today. Sorting through my stuff and packaging up a parcel full of stuff to send back to the UK. A Dvd of my photos top date, Dvds of my Bungy Jump and River Surfing. Flyers for other things I did, stuff like that. Things I want to keep but don't want to have to carry.

In the evening Dave, Ruth and myself walked down to a bit of park overlooking the bay for a BBQ. Over here a lot of parks have free to use outdoor electric BBQs. Just fire them up, throw on some burgers and steaks, knock the top off a few beers and your got a great night out. Very civilised. I can see why Dave and Ruth love the life style over here.

3rd February - The Surf Coast

Saturday, I only know because Dave isn't working. I've not worked in so long now that days of the week really don't matter any more although it is frustrating if I want to go to the bank or post office and I find out it's Sunday. Anyway, Saturday. Dave and I headed off down the coast in the direction of the Great Ocean Road but this time did the bit closer to Melbourne. They call this the Surf Coast. They have the pro surfers here and I think Point Break was filmed around here. But it wasn't filmed on a day like today. The sea flat as a pancake.

Stopped off at Anglesey and headed for some cliffs that we had seen in the distance. They took some finding, hiding right down behind a caravan park, but we knew the beach would be open to the public because all beaches in Australia are, by law there are no private beaches.

The cliffs were amazing. Great colours, red, brown, black and of different layers of different types, volcanic, sandstone and loads of other types but I don't know their names. All the different types meant the cliffs were pretty unstable and there was plenty of evidence of recent collapses. The picture on the right shows a tree which was still alive so obviously was at the top of the cliff not so long ago. Bottom right shows the vegetation hanging over the collapsed cliff and doing its best to hold what's left together.

Later we headed down to Torquay (don't you love all the British place names) and watched them kite boarding. Guys hanging on to a big kite and riding a very small surf board in and back out to sea. They were really travelling. That's what I call an adrenaline sport.

4th February - Melbourne

Today the forecast was for 38 degrees, not sure if it got quite that hot but it was definitely on the warm side. So I spent the day in air conditioning. Some shopping, some internet, a bite to eat and the cinema in the evening. 'The Last King of Scotland' a film about Idi Amin. Good film, I recommend it quite hard hitting, don't expect many laughs!

5th February - Meet the Neighbours

Neighbours, everybody needs good Neighbours. I'm in Melbourne, it had to be done. So I want on the the Official Neighbours Tour. 2 mini-buses full of Brits off the Ramsey Street. It was a bit of a let down really. We went to Erinsborough High, which is a language school. They hung up the school sign we took photos we moved on. Then we went to the studios. But all we saw were a couple of outdoor sets and moved on. Whilst at the sets though we did get a photo opportunity with Janelle. Which excited a few of them on the bus.

Next we headed over to Ramsey Street. Is that it? It's really small. A cul-de-sac of 6 houses. They use camera angles to make it look bigger. Out comes the Ramsey Street sign, more photos and home. I think the 'sad, sad people' who were really into Neighbours and got ask questions and get the on screen and off screen gossip as well as future plot lines enjoyed it. For me it was OK but not all that. I can tell you though that it will be all go in the next few months in Ramsey Street. Quite a few new characters replacing current ones who are leaving.

In the evening I went to the 'Meet the Neighbours' night over in St Kilda. A real backpacker night. Basically lots of young giggly and drunk Brits in the bar with a compare egging them on. And tonight's Neighbours were Toadie who does most weeks and obviously loves it, Sky who didn't really know what to make of it all and Paul Robinson who tried really hard but just comes across as a plonker. A fun night, bit of stuff on stage early and then a quiz. The 'stars' walk around the tables and everyone gets photos.

Later on we had Dr Karl's band live on stage. He wasn't that bad. Played some covers and got the place rocking. But he did look a bit like an embarrassing middle aged uncle singing at a wedding. Apparently his band are quite a hit on the UK University circuit.

6th February - The Yarra Valley

Day trip to the Yarra Valley wine region. Booked myself on to a mini-bus trip about an hour or so out of Melbourne into the Yarra Valley Wineries. Not surprisingly it was a fun day. 24 of us on the mini-bus. It all started off a bit quiet but after a couple of stops everyone was chatting away and having a great time.

The basic format of the day was go to a winery. Someone then talks us through the tasting of 4 or 5 wines. We then have a bit of free time to ask questions, look around or try more wines and if we want make purchases. At each place we started off with a Sauvignon Blanc, followed by a Chardonnay, then a Pinot Noir and finally a Cabernet Sauvignon. The first 3 wineries were Yerring Station, Rochford and Yering Farm. Lunch and a full glass of wine was included at Rochford. Marlin steak, lovely.

Our last stop was Domaine Chandon Green Point. Moët Chandon have set up 5 wineries outside of France and this is one of them. They produce Sparkiling Wine in the ‘Methode Traditionnelle’ which basically means it's Champagne by another name. We were given a quick tour, did you know it take a minimum of 3 years to make Champagne? Then we sat down with some bread, cheese and a salsa type pickle and had a glass of either white, rose or red Sparkling Wine. The red was surprisingly good.

Below are photos from Domaine Chandon. Left the vines and right the Colonnade built in the French style. The whole place was set in beautiful gardens and you can see that fat too many people are buying Champange if they can afford a place like this.

So what did I learn from my trip? A bit about the grapes, a bit about wine tasting, a bit about the effect of aging, a bit about the making of Champagne. But the most important thing I learnt was that when I'm next in the supermarket and looking for a bottle of wine be careful to not select a wine from the Yarra Valley! It's not that they are bad wines, but the Yarra Valley produces cool climate wine and generally they are dryer and more acidic than those from warmer climates. To me it just meant they were hard work drinking. Definitely not 'pint glass wines'.

7th February - Gone Fishing in the Bay

As I missed out on fishing in the Bay of Islands due to running out of time I decided to sign up to go out on a boat from St Kilda Pier. Problem number 1 I had to get to St Kilda for a 7am kick-off. So up at 5:15 for the train and then taxi across town.

It was quite a small boat. 2 crew and 16 of us paying guests. Problem number 2 the weather. It's a bit like Christmas Day. Cold, overcast and windy. Problem number 3, it's pretty windy so the sea is a 'bit lumpy', the boat bounced all over the place for the 30 minutes it took to drive out to sea. Problem number 4, before Christmas they said they were getting loadsa fish, but for the last month they've not been finding all that many.

Anyway. I felt a little queasy but nothing to worry about. 8 out of 15 of the others felt rough and 5 or 6 were throwing up! Me, fishing for the first time ever, I caught 2 'Pinkies', which are small Red Snapper. They were too small to keep but I don't care, I caught fish. I enjoyed the trip but they cut it short as there were so many people sick. We ended up having about 2 hours out to sea and then they came back inside the breakwater and we did another 2 hours with a flat sea but very few fish. Fun but all I came away with was 'A wet ass and no fish'!

8th February - Back to Asia

Packed up and headed out to the airport. Again I had been treated like royalty by Dave and Ruth, but I'm looking forward to leaving. I've had fun amongst the Antipodeans but I'm looking forward to getting back to Asia.

Bloody Qantas. I can not believe what they are now doing. I booked flights to and from Australia with BA / Qantas a full price airline. In January I changed my dates so that I could fly back to Bangkok today. I did this over the phone direct with Qantas, they changed the dates and told me of no other changes. Today I find out that I've been put on to a JetStar flight. A very budget airline. Supposedly it's a code share and Qantas passengers will notice no difference in service. All I can say is Bollocks.

First the good news, the flight is only half full so there's plenty of space to spread out. But that's it for the good news. It's a budget airline. The plane is ancient. No personal screens for films, pay extra for a separate portable DVD player thing. Pay extra for the toiletry kit. Two crumby meals with only one drink included with each. Any extra food and all extra drinks are extra. Cabin staff only worried about selling things and of course everything was slowed right down with everyone having to pay for stuff.

Had I been told in advance I would've taken some extra food and drinks and stuff to read etc. There were a lot of pissed off passengers, some were booked on JetStar so they knew they were flying budget but those booked on the Qantas flight even if they knew it was a code share were told to expect a full service. Suffice to say I'll soon be in letter writing mode.

9th February - Bangkok

Back in Bangkok. Bangkok in winter. 36 degrees and getting steamy and they call this winter. Decided to get my sight-seeing out of the way on the first day. Grand Palace, Emerald Buddha, Wat Pho, the Reclining Buddha and down to China Town. The Grand Palace complex in massive. Buildings, temples, towers and statues. All ornately decorated with lacquer work, gold, emerald, jade. It's all on such a great scale. The biggest religious draw card here is the Emerald Buddha. It is only 66cm high but very important to Buddhists. So important in Thailand that 3 times a year with the changing of the seasons the King comes to change it's clothes!

You can't take photos inside Wat Phra Si Rattanasasadaram, (the Temple of the Emerald) so the next best thing, I took a photo of a postcard showing the Emerald Buddha in each of the 3 seasons.

Wat Pho next, to see the Reclining Buddha. 46m long, its feet 3m high. Impressive. It's in a small temple, it's hard to get far enough away from the Buddha to fully appreciate it. Again a photo of a postcard is the best way to show it. By this stage I was templed out. There are only so many you can see a day. So I jumped on a boat down to China Town.

This is the most 'real' China Town I've ever seen. Narrow streets for of traders, sights and sounds and most of all smells. All types of foods, no idea what most of them are, not sure I want to know what a lot of them are. Clothes, medicines, hardware. This is no tourist trap but a real living area.

The most striking things were all the decorations, cards, presents all on sale for Chinese New Year which is next week. All in bright red and gold. Next year is the Year of the Pig. I'm looking forward to doing New Year in Vietnam where 'Tet' is like our Christmas and New Year rolled into one.

10th February - A Night in Patpong

First up today a few domestic chores. Laundry and some sewing. But I'm in Asia so you don't do these things for yourself. Laundry just drop it off and it comes back washed and neatly folded. 35 Bhat / kilo. That's 50p. So I washed practically all my clothes for £3. Next the sewing. I bought a pair of trousers in Melbourne which are a few inches too long. No problem. Find a little old lady sat on the pavement with her old foot powered Singer sewing machine. Leave the trousers with her for half an hour and for 40 Baht they're done. Marvelous. Fly her back to the UK where it would normally take a week and cost £10. Not quite what you think of when talking about bringing Thai girls into the UK to 'work' But it would make a lot of money all the same ;-) In the afternoon I headed down the river to Wat Arun. It's made in the same style as Angkor Wat in Cambodia. You can see it in the background of the picture.

One thing which strikes you in Bangkok are the monks that are wandering around. They are on the buses and the boats. Sat in coffee shops, browsing the markets and the most strange of all to see stood around talking on their mobile phones which just doesn't look right somehow.

In the evening me and Steve a guy staying in the same hotel decided to head down to Patpong to see what all the fuss is about. You may not believe this but despite being in Bangkok a few times before I've never been to Patpong before. Patpong is the most commercialised Red Light area in Bangkok. You'd never believe prostitution is actually illegal in Thailand! The main area is lined with bars where the number of Thai girls out weighs the men 3 to 1. Then there are the clubs. Girls in bikinis dancing (actually just swaying from side to side in most cases) on a large central stage with seats around the outside. Beer is 100 Baht a little expensive but not too far over the odds. But you're hassled to 'talk' to any girl of your choice, buy them a drink, take them upstairs. One drink and we'd seen enough.

Next the real reason for coming to Patpong. The shows. I had checked out the internet and found the name of the 'reputable' chain of bars which could be trusted. Shows that you could go to, pay the advertised price and leave without being threatened and having to empty your wallet to escape. The Kings Group btw for anyone coming over in the future. 300 Baht for entry and a beer. Same set up, a stage and less girls but the same hassles. On stage every 5 minutes or so an older, plumped women would perform some kind of trick. Smoking a cigarette, playing a toy trumpet, sucking up things with a straw. One pulled out a string of razor blades and of course the famous 'firing' of ping pong balls. I assume you can guess which part of the anatomy was used in each case. All very strange, but it had to be done just so that I could report it for you guys. Obviously I have no photos or videos from tonight! The picture on the right was taken off the net. But it gives an idea of how things look.

11th February - Khao San Road

A lazy Sunday just chilling out and wandering around the Khao San Road area. Check out the gallery for photos of the sights on Khao San Road. The food, clothes, CDs, hair braiding and henna tattoos.

Link to Travel Diary Part XI.