As my time in Asia draws to a close, I'll start to share some thoughts about the overall experience.
Lets get the crap out of the way first.
Worst place I've stayed.
Travelling alone on a budget means that the accommodation is never going to be the best - although you would be surprised what an extra $5 can get you. But some places are far worse than others. These are the places I couldn't wait to leave.
1. Without a doubt the disappointing was the Project Sultan in Singapore. It was the first hostel that I booked for myself, and it was shocking. It bore no relation to what was advertised, and was simply a bare walled, bare floored prison cell.
It also had the impact of making me worry about the rest of the trip, as this was one of the better rated places I was staying.
2. Zackry Guest House in Langkawi.
Murder on the Dance Floor?
The owner was a huge dick, and I checked out after one night. I was supposed to be staying for seven. Highlights included, but not limited to - fresh blood on the floor outside the room. One toilet for over 20 guest rooms. A bed stand with the base broken, so the mattress ended up at an angle. The leaking roof and of course the rudeness of the owners.
3. Home Inn, Xi'An China.
Not so much the hotel itself - although it was poor; but because it quite literally was in the middle of a school. The hotel building was split into two, with a tunnel leading to the school playground being the cause of the split. My room was also on the ground floor and facing the playground. Privacy and quiet were two things that were not going to happen here. Chuck in the hardest bed I've ever slept in (as I said to Brian; its so hard its offered me outside twice) and some amazing customer service; such as advertising its laundry service only to discover there isn't actually a laundry and its a place that you'd want to avoid.
4. The B&B Inn Kuching.
Note the use of my sleeping sheet as the bedding was non-existant.
Two things - oh my god the dirt. The bannister up to reception is caked in accumulated dirt and makes you worry about catching something simply by looking at it. The cleanliness of the rest of the stairs and corridors isn't much better. But the rooms themselves are clean, the bed is comfortable and the place is cheap and in a good location. However, the few days that I stayed there was the time that they decided to rip out every window in the building - except my room - and replace them. This started 15 minutes after I checked in. Rather brilliantly they showed me the room first, and then got out the power tools. Every other day the drilling went from 6am until 11pm. I spent most of my time here with earplugs in, even if it was daytime. For anyone else staying there now, its probably really nice. But they really should have cancelled my booking and closed the place for a few days.
5. Homestay in Cambodia.
Always lovely to stay in someones home when they've been given a list of rules to follow
Oh, controversial this one as most of my companions enjoyed it. I however found it incredibly intrusive. Other home stays that I've done involve meeting the family, preparing a meal together and then sitting down as everyone shares stories of home with each other and our host family. This one was different. It was on a commune for a start, so we ate at a community centre. On our own, on picnic tables, or food brought out by local woman what we never got to meet or thank. Then we were ushered to a stage where children performed dances. They were very good, but I couldn't help but notice that we were joined for this by a Cambodian scout group (or scout equivalent); and chairs had been put aside for us and not for them who had to stand for the entire time. Back at the home, there were no chairs, or communal veranda. Just a wooden table which we were all encouraged to sit on, which was below the single low wattage bulb connected to a car battery. We proceeded to get drunk enough to be able to sleep and left early the next morning. The whole experience just felt wrong. We'd simply turned up at these people houses. thrown our bags down, got fed by people, slept and left. It just felt exploitative and made me very uncomfortable.
For the most part things have been great, but there is always going to be times which you dislike, or cause you distress.
1. Ho Chi Minh City
Hemini's look sums it up.
Nothing even comes close. I had the perfect storm occur here. First there were the overly aggressive hawkers, literally pulling me in multiple directions to get me into their stalls. Aggressive stares as I walked around. The tailor that tried to remove my shirt whilst shouting how she can make a copy. Then of course I got sick and ended up throwing up for days on end and missing out on visiting the Mekong Delta
2. Siam Reap.
The performers were bored, and 12 hours later I was laying on the bed in the foetal position with food poisoning.
What I hear you cry. The location of Angkor and its amazing temples? Oh is that what it is? I look at it as the biggest missed opportunity of the trip for this is where I first contracted the food poisoning / bug that has plagued me for the rest of my time in Asia. Debilitating stomach cramps, throwing up and a lot of the time spent on the toilet - a toilet that would flush 1 time in 10 are my unfortunate memories of what is in reality a spectacular place.
3. Having my genitals fondled by a male masseur in Bangkok. Not exactly a lot more to add to that.
(There is no photo. There will never be a photo.)
4. The last week in Indonesia
It is not an exaggeration to say that the majority of this time was spent in minibuses. We'd spend at least 6 hours a day; usually more in a bus before rocking up to a hotel in a town where everything was now closed as we'd arrived too late for anything (or we'd be in the middle of nowhere). The views were spectacular but meaningless when you can't enjoy them. This was also the only time on the trip when I was travelling with some people whose company I did not enjoy and so was just all around not fun.
5. Penang, Malaysia.
Penang - "The Pearl of the Orient"
I witnessed a fatality on the roads, and watched in digest as nobody - including my own taxi driver - gave a shit other than honking horns at the police to get them out of the way. I don't believe in omens, but if I did… So what else was there? Well this was simply the most boring place I've ever visited. By the end of the first day I had exhausted my options. Then it started to rain and it didn't let up. So bored was I, that I actually spent another grand and joined up with a tour from Bangkok to Bali. Guess where one of the places we stayed was? Correct, Penang. I tried my best not to give away my opinion of the place as I didn't want anyone else on the tour to be influenced by it. When they went out to explore, I went to the cinema. They came back and universally said how boring a place it was. Just to add icing to the cake, I ended up with an ear infection after using our hotels swimming pool.
The worst journeys
I've done a lot of moving around over the last few months. Well over 20k on the ground, and probably half that again in the air. Some of those journeys were worse than others.
1. The three Gorges Dam to Yangshao.
The look of a man that has just completed the bus journey from hell.
Three buses, one bullet train, one overnight train with major delays. The total, 29 hours non-stop travel, topped off by the final bus journey. This took place on a broken down old bus, on one of the roughest roads that I've yet been on, and accompanied by the sound of a poorly baby that was in obvious discomfort. A couple of hours after arriving, I was on a raft, basking in the glory of one of the most spectacular vistas on Earth. Totally worth it.
2. The Hop-On Hop-Off bus in Kuala Lumpur.
After hitting the car
There were storms in Kuala Lumpur, big storms. This made walking a no-go and put a crimp in my plans. So I came up with another. Just on the bus, and do a loop of the city. If I saw anywhere sheltered, or the rains stopped. I could get off on the way. This was a decent plan for the first half of the tour. Then we hit traffic and barely moved for the next four hours. The rains didn't stop, and the bus passed nowhere near a subway station. Then we crashed into the back of a parked car. I eventually got off with a sickening headache and a desire to blow up every traffic light in existence.
3. Kampong Cham to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. This wasn't helped by my having spent the last two days puking at every opportunity. Knowing this to be the case, I loaded myself up with anti-nausea and travel sickness pills and slipped into a slightly weird trance. The first half of the trip wasn't so bad, and I held it together easily. The same could not be said for the monks sitting behind up who all thew up when we stopped for a toilet break. Then the tarmac ran out and the rest of the journey was on dirt roads. This hit one poor girl, Amy, hard and she was not in a good way. I basically had my head on the seat in front, and spent the next couple of hours breathing deeply though my nose and repeating 'breathe in, breathe out' and effectively meditating my way through it. Amazingly I didn't puke, but I did come close a couple of times. When I mentioned this to my seat mate, Hemini - she just looked at me and said "I know".
4. Da Lat to Nha Trang, Vietnam.
The views are amazing, simply spectacular. You pass through rice fields. amazing coastline and even mountain passes. This is all brilliant if you are not sat above the rear wheels in a bus with fucked suspension. We were the slowest moving thing on the road, so we hit every bump in the same way. Instead of bouncing over at speed and coasting - like you are meant to, we'd get the full drop and bounce. At times, I thought my heart had displaced, and I because very aware of where my tongue was in relation to my teeth as I genuinely thought I may bit through it.
5. Pangandaran to Yogajakarta. A long train journey in the cheap seats in the hottest carriage known to man. The train would stop frequently, and when it did no air would circulate at all. At one point we stopped for 45 minutes, and you could visibly see the change in colour as peoples - locals and ourselves - soaked through with sweat. It wasn't that much cooler when we were moving. The worst part of this was that it needn't have been like this. A) We'd had the use of a mini-bus if we wanted it which would have been longer but afforded more flexibility for stopping and air-con. In a vote, I was the only one that said use the mini-bus B) We were only in the cheap seats as Intrepid cheaped out on paying the extra $1 per person for the Air-Con carriage. It was during this journey that I think most peoples overall opinion of the tour took a turn for the worst.
Vegetable Ravioli on the Washington to Chicago Amtrak, USA, 2009. Yeah, it was that bad that I'm including it here. Sometimes when I finish puking, I'm sure I can still taste it.
Otherwise, I can't think of a single unpalatable meal. There was a fish BBQ in Java Pangandaran, but that was simply my dislike of fish and not the meal. Some meals have been of a noticeable lack of quality, such on the Yangtze but nothing that has made me want to push away the plate.
Although… When ill in Ho Chi Minh, I did have a Burger King. Someone asked me how it was. I said it barely tasted like beef, had a weird smell and was swimming in grease. They replied "oh, we had one and it was just like home".
I'll let you draw your own conclusion on that one.