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June 30, 2006

The Southwest Monsoon

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LOCATION: Cha'am, Thailand
Longitude: N: 12.79823°
Latitude: E: 099.98347°
Miles from Singapore: 1360

For the past three days since entering the narrow neck of the Thai peninsular, the 'Isthmus of Kra' (great sounding name!), the rain has been relentless. It's the start of the southwest monsoon season from now until the end of September, so it's time to get used to being wet ALL the time.

Actually in the tropics it's quite refreshing. And the added cloud cover provides welcome protection from the direct attention of the sun that proved so draining up through Malaysia.

The downside is the road condition. Passing trucks throw up a cloud of oily filth when they pass, reducing visibility. And the amount of gear I'm lugging behind me - mostly electronic gear for filming the documentary series and sending back these vlogs - means the rig is pretty heavy (around 150-175lbs) and liable to wobble out of control if I lose concentration. And at the end of the day everything, including myself, is covering from head to foot in grime which takes a good hour to clean off. Then there's servicing and oiling the moving parts of the drive chain exposed to the wet.

So on reflection perhaps more sun with less rain would be preferable...


Posted at 4:40 PM | Comments (2)

June 28, 2006

A Wat and Two Monkeys

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LOCATION: Jungle camp, 20kms south of Bang Saphan Yai, Thailand
Longitude: N: 10.99339°
Latitude: E: 099.35479°
Miles from Singapore: 1190

The video covers a visit to a 'modern' wat, or buddhist temple, in a small village en route. It seems that this particular architectural look stems from a design template that is replicated often throughout the region that I'm currently traveling through. Still quite impressive though...

There is no audio by the way because the temple pretty much speaks for itself!

Over 90 percent of Thais consider themselves Theravada Buddhists, following the teachings of Guatama Buddha who was born in Nepal as Prince Gautama Siddhartha around 6th century BC. These teachings reached Thailand around 3rd century BC and have formed the bedrock of the region's dominant religion ever since.

Today it is the duty of the 270,000 strong 'Sangha' (monkhood) to set an example to the Theravada buddhist community by living, as closely as possible, an example of the 'Middle Way' that Guatama prescribed (neither indulgent nor over-ascetic). A monk's life is governed by 227 strict rules that include celibacy and the rejection of all personal possessions, except gifts. Every Thai male is expected to enter the monkhood for a short period during their lifetime. So ingrained is this practice that Thai government departments grant their employees paid leave during their time as a monk.

In recent years however the monkhood has, like some other major religions, been at the heart of several scandals including an embarrassing expose of corrupt, high ranking abbots caught carousing in bars, drug-dealing and even gun-running. In 1995 a monk was found guilty of robbing and murdering a British tourist. Part of the problem has apparently been the inclusive 'sign-on' policy of the Sangha, which freely welcomes any male regardless of track record (criminal or otherwise).

As an outsider just scratching the surface of the culture it's difficult to reconcile the beauty of the temple in the video and the warmth and goodwill I've received since arriving here a week ago with this supposed collapse of spiritual values at the heart of Thai society. But that's partly a problem with establishment media also. It always makes the overall picture look worse than it really is by over-emphasing an isolated case that is emotionally appealing to their reader/viewership, and therefore good business for their advertisers. But who knows the real story...


Posted at 2:33 PM | Comments (4)

June 26, 2006

Bonking between Towns

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LOCATION: Sichon, Thailand
Longitude: N: 09.01094°
Latitude: E: 099.92062°
Miles from Singapore: 960

Eating local food is the key when traveling: it's cheap, readily available, good value for money and usually delicious. But this morning my bacon was saved by a sweaty packet of Clifbar (energy) Shot Blocks that had been cooking away in the bottom of my camelback since leaving Singapore three weeks ago. They'd been getting so squishy in the extreme heat that I nearly threw them out a few days ago. Glad I didn't! They saw me through to the next town en route where I was able to pick up a decent meal.

I'd run out of the energy between settlements (a.k.a. bonking), after not having a proper breakfast. The problem stems back to the lingo again. When planning this trip I'd decided to focus on learning Mandarin Chinese, as the expedition will be in China the longest and potentially be dealing with tricky situations traveling through Tibet. So the Thai language didn't get a look in. The upshot of this is that finding food to eat in the more remote villages here in Thailand is proving harder than I originally imagined. The food is there. The trouble is getting one's hands on it.

This morning I thought I was ordering a boiled egg, bread and cup of tea from the little roadside foodstall that I stopped at. I ended up with a raw egg in a glass and a bowl of hot water with what looked suspiciously like grass floated around in it. Roll on the day when one can insert a language chip into a USB slot in the back of one's head and instantly speak the local language.


Posted at 1:52 AM | Comments (1)

June 24, 2006

Wobbling up the East Coast

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Longitude: N: 08°22'98.
Latitude: E: 099°58’32.
Miles from Singapore: 919

This entry is dedicated to my pirate princesses Jade and Hannah in Singapore. Hello girls - hope you're well and doing OK! One day I hope you find your treasure too...

The southeast coast of Thailand has been a little disappointing in terms of scenery. I suppose I associated the word 'Thailand' with instant shanghri-la. Hmmm, the danger of preconceptions. The people have been very friendly though and I get lots of waves and hellos along the roadside from roadbuilders to schoolchildren who expect a response and won't quit yelling until they get one. So much so that I've become quite ambidextrous in handling the bike, one hand being off the handlebar at any one time returning the greetings.

Everynow and then, just as I'm getting a little bored and wondering if I shouldn't have taken the busier, but reputedly prettier, west coast route, I round a corner and come face to face with some incredible Buddhist edifice or shrine that boggles my mind with its size and elaborate detail. They seem so incongruous with the simplicity of the pastoral surroundings that they almost seem comical. But it does say something for how commited the locals here are to their Buddhist religion.


Nothing much else to report, except that yesterday evening as I was biking into Nakhon si Thammarat here I was followed for about 4kms by a 16 year old schoolgirl on a moped. The only things she could say in English were 'I love you' and 'I miss you'. I just focused everything I had on the road ahead and thought of England to avoid wobbling off into the ditch ...


Posted at 5:21 AM

June 22, 2006

Xing into Thailand

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LOCATION: Hat Yai, Thailand
Longitude: N: 6°53'47.
Latitude: E: 100°28’19.
Miles from Singapore: 804

Smooth sailing through the border. I'd be interested to know if anyone can decipher the last thing the immigration officer said to me before exploding into giggles though. It sounded dangerously to me like she didn't wanted me to film her in her birthday suit, or did she? It was one of those questions that you don't want to ask someone to repeat in case they did indeed say what you thought they did the first time. Anyway, very unofficious entry proceedure.

Everything looks and feels much the same as northern Malaysia here, although I am drowning in an ocean of words belonging to a new alphabet that look like hierogliphics: beautiful to look at but must take an age to write anything without your wrist falling off.

Security situation in the south here looks fairly stable at present. Am deliberately skirting the areas of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat to be on the safe side.


Posted at 4:45 AM | Comments (1)

June 21, 2006

Farewell to Malaysia

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LOCATION: Kangar, Malaysia
Longitude: N: 6°26’66.
Latitude: E: 100°12’22.
Miles This Leg: 720

The good news is that 90% of sight has returned to my right eye. Too bad, I was looking forward to the pirate patch look...

So my time in Malaysia is fast coming to a close here. Only 25kms away is the border with Thailand. A new country, new culture. New sights and sounds...stay tuned.

People often ask which is my favourite country on the expedition so far - an impossible question to answer of course as they are all so varied in a myriad of different ways. But Malaysia has I think been the most friendly. I have experienced nothing but goodwill from the people here. I try hard to imagine an English lorry driver or an American trucker leaning out the window while passing a foreigner on a bike and say "Welcome to my country!". It happens, but not that often. Here it has happened 7-8 times in a morning. And it's not just an excuse to get a response from you and then have a giggle as you're riding away - like in Indonesia at times. It's all seems, at least on the surface, to be genuine. Even the children I pass have been delightfully pleasant. And they're not the ones usually to pull the punches, especially in this day and age where the old ways of respect are fast disappearing in the face of the onward march of modern culture.


I asked someone over dinner the other evening how this was so and the explanation included going back to the colonial era and how the Brits managed communities here for the better usage of the country's raw materials. Instead of pitting peoples of different cultural backgrounds against one another in the 'divide and conquer' policy used in other parts of the world - in particular neighbouring Indonesia by the VOC, the Brits encouraged the locals in each village to work together. Of course there was somewhat of an ulterior motive - to exploit the rich natural resources more effectively. But the legacy today does seem to be one that sees people of all faiths - Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and Hindus - living peacefully together.


So thanks Malaysia. I've had a truly magical time here and look forward to returning after the expedition has ended and spending more time here to get know the people and places better.


Posted at 3:40 AM

June 20, 2006

My Worst Enemy

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LOCATION: Kangar, Malaysia
Longitude: N: 6°26’66.
Latitude: E: 100°12’22.
Miles This Leg: 649

Never mind getting attacked by banditos or run over by a truck, today's biggest challenge was packing my own bike without putting myself in hospital. In the early morning gloom I failed to secure one of the bungees properly on the BOB trailer. It promptly came flying off and nearly took my eye out! Consequently I've been nursing a sightless eye all morning. All I can see is a white fog in the my right eye - which is a little concerning as it's hard to focus on the road without binocular vision. But I've had a similar thing happen before and I think it'll pass. Basically the the eyeball swells temporarily from the trauma, preventing a properly focused image being projected onto the retina (a bit like a movie projector being out of focus). So fingers x'd things will improved later today...


Posted at 12:03 PM | Comments (1)

June 18, 2006

Kuala Lumpur Market

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LOCATION: Pinang, Malaysia
Longitude: N: 5°25’15.
Latitude: E: 100°20’39.
Miles This Leg: 520

Before leaving Kuala Lumpur I had the opportunity to visit Jalan Pasar (literally meaning Market Street) in the centre of the city, and experience the vivid sights, sounds and organized chaos of a busy capital city street market in full swing. Azuani, a friend of Norlia's family from the province of Penang, acted as guide and presenter to the camera. As a budding young model and media presenter here in Malaysia it was a chance for her to practise her talents as well as provide a fascinating insight for vlog viewers to step into her culture. Thanks Azuani for doing a superb job!

By the way, I hope no one gets offended by the guy with the oranges (I think this is typical of dry Chinese humour). This is actually an edited-down version - you should have seen what he wanted to do with the cucumbers...

I am now actually tracking north again along the west coast towards Pulau Pinang. I would like to thank some very kind people who have provided an exceptional journey through Malaysia so far: Norlia (some of you will remember her from when the expedition was in Cairns, Australia), her sister Norsiah (a.k.a. the walking Malaysian yellow pages!), Azwan and Azuani and Mazlan who have provided the expedition with round the clock logistical support for getting things taken care of in the KL area. Also Tunku Maziah who has been shown great support at the various functions here.


Posted at 3:25 AM

June 13, 2006

Visit to Rumah Solehah Hospice

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"I feel like I came out with a gift in a way, to help put everything in perspective. Getting to Greenwich over the next 12 months is easy compared to the struggle that these people are faced with."

Posted at 10:48 AM

June 9, 2006

Day 3 - Monkeys, Cops and Feeling the Heat

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"It's day three out from Singapore. Today is a really really hot day. There's no cloud cover at all so finding it tough going here."

Posted at 2:22 PM | Comments (1)

June 7, 2006

Singapore Launch

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This evening I find myself in Malaysia after crossing over from Singapore yesterday evening. This morning at the Footloose Homestay in Johor Bahru I was woken to the house kitty cat using my tent as a bouncy castle. A humorous introduction to the southern most point of the Asian contintent.

Made it to the coast at Pontian Kechil after a late start from repacking the bike + trailer, going through all the gear AGAIN, and chucking out anything possible to cut down the weight. With all the gear for filming the documentary series and sending back the vlogs, I must be hauling about 200lbs of stuff. One spare of cycling shorts and cycling vest, the rest is all electronics...

Plan on getting up early tomorrow and putting in a good 100+ kms before the heat kicks in late morning. Kuala Lumpur by Saturday evening.


Posted at 2:22 PM

June 6, 2006

x360 Route from Singapore to Djibouti

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This vlog provides an overview of the expedition's route from Singapore to Djibouti.

Graphics provided by Curious Software.

Posted at 4:23 PM

Thanks Cycleworx!

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My sincere thanks to Yusof and Ken for revamping my new trusty steed ready for the long journey ahead...

Posted at 2:36 PM

June 5, 2006

Eve of SE Asia leg

This entry is written at the 11th hour as usual, still with a terrifying mound of things to do before blasting off tomorrow morning northwards out Singapore, Mumbai (India) bound. Actually blasting is stretching the English language a little far. Wheezing and sweating along at a crawl in my totally unfit state might be closer to the truth. So some things cease to change with the project! Although I won't be hitting the late night bars as is customary for the eve of most launches. Good thing too probably. One of the nearest watering holes is actually the bottom four layers of a block of apartments known as the 'Four Floors of Whores'. The mind boggles.


The last couple of weeks since I deemed myself fit enough from the malaria to embark on this next leg have been the usual blur: getting pedal boat Moksha partially ready for the next ocean leg from Mumbai to Djibouti; finding and outfitting a bike, visiting schools, planning the route, etcetera, etcertera.

"Vlog Ambassadors": click on image to play video.

One exciting development is the capability we will have on this next leg to send video blogs (vlogs) from the field via satellite phone. Thanks to Gretchin Lair, Jay Bowman and Ted Tagami for working so hard on the site to make this happen seamlessly with the existing blog.

Other positive news is Schenker Logistics coming on board to ship Moksha around to Mumbai ready for the Indian Ocean pedal January 07. This is a huge logistical piece of the puzzle in place (and a large chunk of change saved).

I would also like to thank Yusoff and all the crew at Cycleworx here in Singapore for servicing the bike I'll be riding for the next 6 months, and perhaps all the way back to Greenwich.


And finally thanks to my gracious hosts here including Luke Beadle, Wendy and Hugh and Lina Young who have suffered all my piles of filthy gear being littered around their residences without even a murmur.

Thanks also to everyone else for all their help, including all the staff at the SAF Yacht Club, where Moksha is to reside for a few months more before shipping to India.

Next stop, Kuala Lumpur in 4-days.

Posted at 1:37 PM

June 1, 2006

Message to Vloggercon

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"Through vlogging and building community I really think there is the potential now to be able to work together as a team... and build a better world for tomorrow".

Find out more about Vloggercon.

Posted at 3:32 PM