Archive for October, 2013

WP_20131025_002I am on my way to the Mentawai Islands which are off the west coast of Sumatra in the Indian Ocean. There was no chance of getting there via a direct flight from Hanoi so I have got to make a couple of stopovers to break up the journey. The first of these is today in Singapore.

I am only going to be in Singapore for eighteen hours between the flight in from Vietnam and the flight out to Jakarta tomorrow. I will also be returning here for a few days later on my travels.

Consequently I have checked into the hotel at the airport itself to minimise on transit grief, and allow myself a day off everything apart from the ever present administrative backlog.

WP_20131025_005My hotel is so close to Changi airport that it is possible for the air traffic controllers to watch me doing the back stroke in the pool on the roof.

However in the interests of public safety it is probably best that they keep focused on the the job at hand.

I should say at this point in all fairness to them arriving at the airport is probably the most pain free landing, immigration and customs process of my entire trip.

From walking through the doors of the plane, to checking into my room at the hotel took less than twenty minutes. I can’t fault Changi airport at all to be honest the service and standard of the place is amazing.

Worlds-Tallest-Slide-in-Singapore-AirportSaying that though, any airport that decides to build the world’s largest helter skelter slide inside it is always going to get my approval.

The biggest slide is four stories high and buying enough duty free entitles you to a free go, which I am hoping to take advantage of later today. Wheeeeeee!!!!!

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Egyptian ProtestorsLooking at the original route I had planned for this trip, you will notice that the last country I am expecting to visit before returning home was Egypt. The reason being that there is not much in the way of decent waves between India and the UK and I thought I should break up that journey a bit, rather than just do a long haul flight all the way home.

A year ago things were looking pretty good in Egypt and I was looking forward to seeing the piles of old rocks which are the pyramids, as well as some of the associated culture and museums. However things are not looking as clever now as they did twelve months ago when I bought the ticket and the foreign office is not overly fond of it’s citizens heading that way right now.

Johnny RingoIt might be possible to change my tickets (no doubt involving a considerable sum of money based on past experience with airlines), but given I managed to miss just about every ancient ruin in the Americas and haven’t really seen any in Asia, I am loathe to give it up as an option.

Instead I have decided to once more hide behind a hairy face because it worked so well in getting me through Mexico unscathed. As a consequence of that and the fact that it is Movember for the remainder of my trip, I will not be shaving at least my top lip for some time.

Alec GuinessI have no idea exactly what style I will be going for but thought I would aim for something in between Alec Guinness’ hirsute face in Lawrence of Arabia and Michael Beihn’s lip fungus in Tombstone. (Both of which you see here.)

Do not be alarmed therefore if you spot a caterpillar crawling across my face in coming weeks. I will not be growing something like Ho Chi Minh but am looking forward to seeing how it develops!

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RamboIn John Rambo style I am breaking out from behind Vietnamese lines today, but without the aid of a compound bow or any RPGs. To do this I was originally going to buy a moped in the north and then try and get it across Laos, Thailand and possibly Myanmar all the while heading down towards Singapore.

Whilst that journey might have been a wee bit challenging with an eight foot board attached to the side of my wheels it wouldn’t have been impossible. However the stresses of that, or the warnings I have been given about the number of ne’er do wells in that area which is known as the golden triangle, who might want to try and take advantage of a surfer on his own, were not what put me off attempting the journey.

Area mapIt was more as a result of getting a bit burned by my Central American road trip earlier in the year. I looked at the map and wondered realistically how long it might take to complete the journey. I would have had enough time originally but shuffled my flights into that spare time to ensure I was at Tom and Lily’s wedding, and was a bit glad when my hand was forced on the matter

There would undoubtedly have been some fun stuff to report on including some potential for surf on the west coast of Thailand as I worked my way down. There is still an outside chance that I may still get to surf there, but it just depends on how I juggle the days remaining on this trip.

As a consequence of all the above I wisely opted for a taxi to the airport where I am getting on a flight down to Singapore, instead of the Top Gear Scooter Surf Special.

Singapore-flagIt all went well today apart from at Hanoi’s airport, which must be the most inefficient one I have experienced on my travels thus far. I almost missed my flight because their check in system is as well administered as their highway code.

I have two hours of utter chaos before scraping through by the skin of my teeth as usual. The look on the check in clerk’s face when he realised he would personally have to run my 8’0″ surfboard through the airport to ensure it got on my flight was priceless.

I will not dare open my board bag until I get to the next beach in fear of what might have happened to the contents due to the knocks I am sure it has experienced along the way today! 

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ho_chi_minhHo Chi Minh, who I have discovered used to work in the kitchens on the Newhaven-Dieppe ferry route between the United Kingdom and France, was the leader of the revolution in Vietnam to free the country of foreign rulers.

A western backed resistance fighter in the second world war, he went on to lead the nation into the struggles which freed his country to follow its current communist ideology. He died before the end of the Vietnam War but when tanks from the North Vietnamese army rolled into Saigon many bore the slogan ‘Uncle Ho still marches with us’ on the side.

WP_20131024_017His embalmed body is currently on display in this mausoleum in Ba Dinh Square in Hanoi. The embalming was done despite his will requesting that he be cremated. As a consequence I don’t much feel like going to peer at his pickled corpse.

I have also been having too much fun on the scooter to head inside just yet. I am glad to be mobile so do a bit more sightseeing.

WP_20131024_019A few hundred metres down the road is Vietnam’s Presidential Palace. I nearly got myself in a bit of bother taking this photo. They were not too fond of me passing my camera through the railings so I could get a shot without iron bars in it, and I got told to be on my way. I was then watched suspiciously all the way back to my moped, where they looked more than a little concerned by my helmet camera contraption.

I didn’t stick around for long thinking it best I get away sharply from the situation, but then had so much fun riding through the rush hour traffic as you will have seen from the videos. I pulled up outside the Moose and Roo bar once more and then had a great conversation and a few drinks with an Australian couple, Tony and Trudy, who hail from the western end of The Great Ocean Road.

What a thoroughly enjoyable day.

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Broken SpeedoI have managed to get my Hanoi moped video uploaded thanks to a great data connection in Singapore. Viewing them may put you off getting on the back of a motorbike with me, but I can live with that. Bikes are generally more fun on your own anyway.

You will have to judge speeds for yourselves. I have no idea because my speedometer was broken. Enjoy the randomness of it all.

Both are quite long – you have been warned:

Hanoi Rush Hour & The Road To The Pub

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WP_20131024_004I have clearly been watching far too much of the Sons of Anarchy DVD box sets I recently bought, because the urge to get out on two wheels has got the better of me. It was also only $5 to hire these wheels of steel for the day in Hanoi, so I simply couldn’t resist.

However my large head once again caused a few problems because the rental company did not have a skid-lid big enough for it.

Rob The Mobile TripodJokingly I suggested that I could wear my surfing helmet if they did not have anything in my size which was immediately seized upon. Plenty of people don’t bother with anything at all here in Hanoi so it seemed like a very workable option for all concerned, albeit falling some way short of the normal British kite mark safety standards that I would look for if riding a more powerful machine.

The added bonus is that I can finally test the helmet mount for my GoPro camera, so I have spent the day riding around looking like the cyborg you see here. I got more than a few double takes on my way around the city, but managed to get hundreds of photographs and some great video of the mayhem I have been tangling with. Sadly most of the files of me tearing up rush hour traffic would have taken nearly two weeks to upload due to the size of the files and the speed of my current data connection, so for now you will have to make do with this taster clip of me terrorising pedestrians next to the Temple of Literature.

pony_tail_helmetWhilst riding one of the first things you notice on the roads here are the ponytail helmets that are worn by many of the local ladies, which have a groove cut out of the back to minimise disruption to their hairstyles. However this further exposes the brain from what little protection is offered by the baseball cap design that is used almost universally here.

The things you ladies due in the pursuit of appearance never cease to amaze me.

I saw so many bizarre thing on the road today but these pictures will give you a flavour if nothing more:

bags

  Beer

bog roll

Coke

Ducks

 

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Marathon_birthday_cake

I wanted to say Happy Birthday to my brother Gareth.

I’m still blown away by you marathon time dude. Sub three and a half hours is just awesome.

Hope you are having a great day.

Rob

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WP_20131023_013I am late for far too many things and have stumbled through the doors of churches before now, midway through the wedding ceremonies of family and friends.

As a consequence I made a particular effort to be on time today, so much so that I actually arrived at the venue for the festivities about an hour before anybody else!

WP_20131023_017It did allow me time to explore the venue before the other guests arrived and I was particularly impressed with the melon sculptures you see here.

The function was on an island in the middle of a lake in the north of Hanoi and moored to it was a boat largely consisting of a swimming pool on which this floating decoration was installed.

WP_20131023_033In Vietnamese culture the function is far more important than the ceremony itself and as a consequence I was staggered when all the local guests attending the function just disappeared halfway through the ceremony and speeches because the food was being served.

This leaves Tom, his brother Patrick who was acting as his best man and his father having their speeches interpreted to people who are largely more interested in the wonderful food which had been prepared for everybody. This was only mildly interrupted by the gentle ribbing from Patrick about his brother during his speech, which caused some degree of alarm to Tom’s new Vietnamese family about the caliber of man they are allowing into their family. What is normal in western weddings would have the locals reeling in horror.

It is a great experience though and as somebody who is not always a fan of weddings I have to say how much I enjoyed the one for Thomas Edward Wallace Bulfin and his beautiful new wife Lily.

As with all things in Vietnam everybody starts early goes hard and then disappears around ten o’clock. I enjoyed a few more beers with the Bulfin family and their friends before getting a cab back to the old quarter.

I couldn’t resist a gin and tonic or two before turning in at the Moose & Roo bar just down the road from my hotel, which has become a second home for me during my stay in Hanoi. It is a North American Aussie hybrid bat that serves great food, and as usual I was warmly received there having a great chat with the owner and his staff.

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Baler_mapVietnam and much of the South China Sea are largely sheltered by the Philippines, Borneo and Brunei.

It was for that reason (and I’m sure a degree of hostility to all things from the USA so soon after the war) that Colonel Kilgore’s quote of “Charlie don’t surf son” in Apocalypse Now was actually filmed in Baler in the Philippenes.

Charlie's BreakThe surfing scene in the movie is entirely down to John Milius the screen writer who went on to write and direct the legendary surf movie Big Wednesday.

A surfer himself he could not resist adding some larking about in the water into the screenplay.

Vietnamese SurfingIf I had my own squadron of Huey helicopters I would be up for making a dash down to Da Nang to the sounds of Flight of the Valkeries by Wagner, but sadly I don’t.

They do get good waves there as you can see, but it will take me at least a day to reach whatever is available, along with all the associated expense and grief and then the same for the return journey so I am going to pass on the opportunity.

It is a shame but I will shortly be in the Indian Ocean again and can gorge myself on the waves available there to make up for it. Charlie might surf in Vietnam, but Rob doesn’t look like he will on this trip.

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StagWeekendsAs soon as I returned to Ha Noi I had to get changed before heading straight out to join the stag night drinks one of my surfing buddies Tom. Before I go any further I will state that the stag in this picture is not Tom, and in fact looks nothing like him, but I wanted to give you some flavour of the sort of mischief which the groom’s friends can get up to.

Tom’s brother and several of his friends from back home on the Surf Highway in New Zealand have flown in for the festivities and it isn’t long before the beer is flowing and the tone of the chat between the Kiwis and myself is heading towards the gutter.

Early newborn Lambs herald SpringI didn’t take any pictures of the night’s events and even if I had I wouldn’t display them here in line with the code expected from a stag do. However I can at least recount one of the nights event involving myself which at least will not incriminate anybody else.

At one stage I had perhaps taken the concept of trying to pick up women too far and a bit like the farmer you see here carrying two new born lambs, I had scooped up a diminutive local girl under each of my arms. I then proceeded to dance around the bar with them dangling down. Safe to say they were not impressed, even if I and the rest of the chaps found it very funny.

Hanoi NightIt was not long afterwards that we decided to wind up the proceedings. Most of the others opted for a taxi back but I decided I would go on a magical mystery tour to see if I could find my hotel on foot. As soon as their cab disappeared I wondered if this might be a mistake, but armed for the trek with pockets full of the beer bottles I had sensibly stocked myself with in our last venue I staggered on with the bottles clanking together.

Hanoi is normally an endless racket of moped horns, music and all kind of madness in every direction so it was quite creepy to be wondering around the place so deserted at 4am. I thought if ever there was somewhere I would get myself into more mischief than I bargained for then this was it, but managed to find my way back unscathed.

locked-doorThen having managed to find my way home I was somewhat disappointed to discover the door to my hotel was chained shut when I got there, and that a message had been placed on the window saying that I should have been back before 3am.

After failing to get a response with the doorbell I could have taken the option to sleep on the doorstep until somebody woke up. However I decided correctly that kicking the door very hard and making as much noise as humanly possible might result in a more comfortable time in the land of nod. The person who let me in didn’t look too impressed but there haven’t been any repercussions since then, so I think I am allowed to continue my stay here.

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