PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1974 - OCTOBER
1 October, Rangoon
ILLEGAL CARDS - DRAG OF A RETURN JOURNEY
We leave for Rangoon at 7:00, the trip is a bore - I look out of the window. I try to sleep but it's a narrow gauge line and there are only two seats on each side so no place to lie down. Then I sit in the restaurant and take a fizzy drink which is really horrible. When we play Black Maria a train official pleades with us not to - the train officials have very smart uniforms and are quite intelligent - not like in Britain. It rains for a while so we need to close the windows, and then it gets very hot. The Burmese tend to stare a lot and are very inquisitive about anything a foreigner might do. They also seem a little conceited and laugh at us - my Indian bed-sheet for example, or just us in general. In the street, sometimes, they stop and watch as we walk past - it's quite annoying. They themselves shuffle along the pavement as they walk almost waddling, hardly lifting their feet. The most amazing thing about this country is the enormous fat cigars that the women, young and old smoke. After India and the tiny beadies, here the women smoke these monstrosities - it's so funny. Once in Rangoon, I eat noodle and fish curry and one prawn. I feel very weak.
2 October, Rangoon
EMBASSIES - GREAT GOLDEN PAGODAS - SNOOKER
Up early, I can't sleep any more, even though I'm still feeling weak and tired, lethargic and unenergetic. First to the Sule Pagoda - the centre of modern Rangoon - gold-plated with lots of little shrines and flower sellers, images of Buddhas and religious people around - a man sitting cross-legged who occasionally hits a brass plate on a string to accomplish a ringing song - I wonder if he feels it is his vocation. Around the market it's not so spectacular - lots of bone combs for sale at 2-3 ky (I paid 4 before). The tourist office directs me to the Indonesian Embassy - the people are generally helpful and it is normal to find one or two people in a bus queue who speak good English. The Indians stand out, there are plenty of them around making business with sugar cane or mending sandals - if anybody shouts at me across the street I know it's an Indian. The embassy man tells me politely that I need a return ticket to Indonesia before I can get the visa. On to the Great Golden Pagoda - Shwe Dagon - after climbing a lot of stairs I find a fair-sized area covered in small holy objects - over 600 idols of Buddha - the same sort of thing as the Sale Pagoda only bigger and better and more holy and more like a fun fair. The main steps leading down are lined with shops selling souvenirs, toys, swords, flowers, models. I take a bus to Strand, past the Red Cross building, and send a postcard home from the Post Office. I reconfirm my flight at the UBA office
I also pop into the Australian Embassy and get the lowdown on this visa business. I will need a ticket out of Australia to get a visa if I want to arrive after 1 January. In the past, the government has turned a blind eye to English and Americans working in the country but the official said he's not sure about this in the future. At the British Embassy, I read the newspapers. Labour are in front in the opinion polls and Arsenal are second from bottom in the league. I laze around in the afternoon - playing snooker with Peter and Steve for an hour or so.
3 October, Rangoon
BRITISH EMBASSY AND PAPERS - NATIONAL MUSEUM
I take two boiled eggs with my bread and butter. Although still feeling week, I stumble down to the British Embassy to read papers and magazines. When they chuck me out (it closes at 1:00) I manage to walk around to the National Museum which is a mess, poorly laid out (the strings of the musical instruments are broken for example) - a few good paintings but lots of wishy-washy watercolours. When I get back to the hostel I eat fried fish and salad - trying to get some protein in my system - because water is flowing out the other end. In the dormitory I talk and swap information with three people headed for Europe - two for Czech - good guys - we talk well for a couple of hours - then it is time to pack up and head for the airport - a long hot bus ride with long waits at each stop - at the tiny little airport coffee is expensive so I have to sit in a seedy place where the airport people go - I don't sleep so bad - no fan but not so hot - no hassles.
4 October, Bangkok
THAILAND - YOUTH HOSTEL MOSQUITOES - MORE LETTERS - A DIARY CHASE
A lot of people milling around, apparently two Viscounts going to Bangkok this morning. They leave a little late but OK - but the omelette and chips was straight from the icebox. A lot of rich Burmese aboard - they are well-dressed, some on business and some on holiday with their wives. A much bigger and better airport at Bangkok - helpful info - bus 29 to the university - I find the Youth Hostel tucked away at the back of an enormous comprehensive school with thousands of short-trousered boys and long-dressed girls - good eating places. From other travellers, however, I learn that the place swarms with mosquitoes - it should cost 13 baht, which is OK.
Although still weak and shattered I take a bus to the Post Office where I receive letters from Judith, Allison, Gwenda, Mum and Grandma - Allison didn't marry the Italian guy Orazio out in Turin, she had second thoughts and couldn't go through with it - leaving Orazio with a flat and furniture - good old Allison - Gwenda and Judith are having trouble with their flatmates, Jan is sleeping with blokes left right and centre, whilst Wendy is trying to kill herself. Gwenda assures me she is spiritually very strong but Jud is no different than before - a hysterical letter from Grandma, talking of a friend of hers here at the Spanish Embassy and of her illness in the summer, and that my father, Frederic has married again - a very rich sculptress - nice to get letters.
When I get back I meet two English guys making for home after years in Aussie and an American making for Europe. I join them to find a British Pub, the only one in Bangkok - it is a long walk but worth it. A pint of lager in an English pint glass - a dartboard and Carol King playing softly - there are two mad guys from the British Embassy and five English guys trying to make Aussie on just over $200. They have come overland but it must have been a different trip from mine, even now they're in a $4 hotel.
I sleep OK in the mosquito netting but probably get bitten to pieces when I go for a shit in the night.
Earlier on today, I had another Rangoon episode. I left my diary on the bus even though I kept saying to myself you're going to forget it Paul, you're going to forget it. This time, though, I realised my mistake soon after getting off, so I chased the bus - I tried to flag down a car, the driver of which looked bewildered - I ran and ran, and ended up losing sight of the bus, and then waiting for the next one. At the terminal, the buses get a 10 minute rest and that was enough, the bus with my diary was still there.
5 October, Bangkok
WASTED MORNING - ATLANTA HOTEL - THAI FOOD
The mossies are so big and fat, and they bite even in the morning. I make a first trip to the Spanish Embassy - after much hassling of the lone guy there, he eventually phones Eduardo Tortosa (Grandma's friend) - he isn't there so I leave a message but forgot to leave my name. The hospital tells me to come back on Monday (I decided I needed a physical check up). When I get back the official of the Youth Hostel informs me that I will have to pay 21 baht because I don't have a youth hostel card so I decide to move out - not sorry to leave the mossies. A long walk and a bus ride before I find the Atlanta Hotel - 25 baht for a dorm of two double rooms with toilet, shower and good strong fan - a bit of luxury - an over-priced restaurant - a chlorine swimming pool - Czech, Gay and Steve and the French kids are all here! Two half-Thai girls recommend a good cheap Thai restaurant, but it is too small so we go to another place which is air-conditioned. We wait a long time for the food, but it isn't very good, and it's fairly expensive - all the others are anxious to get to the clubs - I eat too much and have chronic stomach pains all the way back to the Atlanta.
6 October, Bangkok
THAI DANCING AND DRAMA - MUSEUM - GRAND GRAND PALACE
A good sleep, but I'm still shitting a lot though - I go, with a few others, to the National Theatre early to get the cheapest ticket (10 b) for an evening show of Thai dance and drama. The National Museum is full of royal regalia - enormous cremation chariots - exquisite mother-of-pearl boxes and sword cases and mirror backs. By the time I get to the Grand Palace it is nearly closing, but for 15 minutes I am totally overwhelmed by the vast intricate beautiful murals of palaces and country scenes. The temple of the Emerald Buddha is magnificent - many trinkets and gold and a green sculpture high on an altar (Buddha carved from a single piece of jade) - and beautiful paintings covering the walls - one of the most beautiful places of my visit - the temple rooves of round red tiles - yellow rim, then a green rim, then the basics of red. The main temple has a middle rim of blue. The rooves have curled up edges too - lovely rooves on all the temples. I jump on and off buses to get home, walking through China town and eating here and there. I change one pound in a big hotel for 45 b.
The theatre is interesting - a legend, the story of how one of two brothers escape from a sea giantess. The brothers are of royal heritage and wear lovely glittering costumes and tall gold hats - very slow dancing and moving of hands and head in time with xylophones, small metal drums hung on a string in a horseshoe frame - singers sit next to the small orchestra, lamenting to a strong beat. We understand the story of the drama from the programme. The dancing is fine but the play - to my mind - is ruined by ever increasing bouts of pantomime.
There is general apathy among my friends in the restaurant, so I whizz off on my own to eat rice soup with prawns - very hot and a fair number of prawns. I sit in the pub, in the cool of the air-conditioning drinking a pint
7 October, Bangkok
EMBASSIES - HOSPITAL AND FOOD TRIP - THE SEX SCENE
First I go to the Spanish Embassy - Tortosa is with the ambassador - I'm asked to leave a message - so I do - bus to Laos Embassy 100 b rip off - a long walk to Bangkok Christian Hospital where I register - a long wait and a lady doctor - she is convinced I have chronic diarrhoea - she tells me my lungs are OK and gives me a prescription for vitamin tablets which cost 1 b each. At the hospital I eat some rice and squares of tasteless cheese stuff in the usual sweetish sauce. I walk through the university where I drink coffee and stuff myself with cake. Back at the hotel I read and sleep until early evening. The others are sitting around the pool and nobody is interested in going out so I go out on my own yet again. First I eat (I'm constantly hungry) chicken fried rice 5 b - these little meals for 3 or 5 b are really tasty but there's not enough for a whole meal. All evening I walk and eat - up and down the busy shopping streets - eating pancakes with coconut and sugar from street stalls - fried pork pieces and boiled rice. I'm constantly accosted by masseurs/whores in the street - very few beggars, but lots and lots of pretty girls in mini-skirts, walking arm-in-arm with young guys - wearing modern clothes.
This city is a vast metropolis of American business - air-conditioned blocks, some of nice designs - American shops selling American goods at America prices - I walk around several department stores because it's cool inside, and they remind me of home. There are thousands and thousands of Americans working here, and there are thousands of tourists. The sex scene is unbelievable - whole areas of night clubs where the hostesses come and caress you before you've even sat down - endless massage parlours-cum-brothels - with little Thai girls in school uniforms wiggling their legs behind huge panes of glass (which are one way mirrors for them) waiting for a customer to choose them.
8 October, Bangkok/Vientienne bus
LETTER FROM MAJA - SNAKES - THAI CAPTIONS
A boring morning - I pick up my Laos visa first - then, at the post office, I find letters from Mum and Maja. I take a bus to the snake farm which proves interesting - cobras, enormous king cobras, yellow-ringed snakes and vipers - an anti-serum for people who have been bitten is produced here. The technicians extract venom from snakes by squeezing the sides of their heads - they then inject horses with the venom, and some months later they have their antidote for curing snakebites. It's a good picture seeing a wary cobra with its head high.
Later, I go to the university for boiled rice and meat and iced lemon, and to a Prison Products Trade Fair at the British Council - a lot of wicker work, nothing interesting. I bus to the German Cultural Institute to see a display of cartoons but they have Thai captions - it was a waste of time except that I see the river with its boats and bridges for the first time.
I shower and pack and sit around until it's time to go to the North Bus Terminal - bus after bus, walking miles - the bus is crowded, with three people to a two-man seat - difficult to sleep - two other travellers on the bus - the bus stops often at all night drink stands.
9 October, Vientienne
LAOS - VIENTIENNE BLACK MARKET - FRENCH DUBBED FILM
The bus arrives at Nom Khai at about 4:30 and the customs doesn't open until 6:00 - so we play cards - fill out forms - nasty customs official asks for 3 b - I ask what for and he blows up, slams my passport in the drawer and pushes my offered coins on the floor - then he tells me to come back at 8:30. I discover the payment is for overtime - so I sit in a cafe and finish 'The War Against the Rull' by A Vogt - it's not very well written but it is action-packed. A 5 b boat ride across the Mekong to Laos. I hitch a lorry into Vientienne and take a long time to find Salom Villa (where I had agreed to meet the two others on the bus) - 700 kip for a bed in dormitory - clean enough place. I race off to change money in the market - 5,600 for 100 b, that's OK - the official rate is 850 to $1 = 20 b, 146 = £1.
The market is a large covered area surrounded by hundreds of umbrellas - selling meat, fish, groceries, flowers, fruits, vegetables, sweets and meals. While it rains I sit in the American reading room - as I'm trying to make the hotel before the next rain burst, I fall into a flooded ditch. Later, ti takes us a long time to get to the French military camp where two Frenchmen take us to see a Western film, but it's dubbed into French, so I sleep most of the time. Vientienne is an undeveloped place - all the Western foods are twice the price of Bangkok, except for a few odd French things like pate and chocolate.
10 October, Vientienne
STILL LIFE IN A LAO HOTEL - LAO SLIDES AND MUSIC
This morning I go again to the Thai embassy - a visa normally takes 24 hours but they say they will do it for me today. Another walk around the market - lots of strange things - even frogs being sold. There is a very big main street with the Laos answer to the Arc de Triomphe built with American concrete which was meant for an airport runway. Coffee is the same as in Thailand, very strong with a lump of ghee at the bottom - the local soup for 200 kip is noodles with sprinklings of different kinds of meat and chopped up spring veg - quite good. The lemon juice is really ace, they must put sugar and ice with it. I stuff myself with some horrible cakes and a coffee and talk to the same guy as yesterday, the one who has lived here for four years and lives by doing business such as selling student cards.
It's lunchtime, I'm sitting in the dormitory under the fan writing - Barclay James Harvest is playing on a cassette - an Englishman and American play chess cross-legged on a bed - the next bed is littered with fruit, bottles, coconut shells, ashtrays and grass-smoking equipment - an Englishman unravels grass sticks on the next bed. Against another wall is a Swissman with a bad foot painting butterflies; a Frenchman comes in with a butterfly net and they do some business. Against another wall, a Frenchman lies - he has endless bits of camera on his bed and has just finished taking close-up photographs of the butterfly-painter and the littered bed. The painter says he is going to make a fruit salad.
Early evening I go out with the others to look for somewhere to eat. We end up at some French place and everyone but me spends a dollar on omelette and chips. Then we go to the Lao-American association and listen to some Lao music and an American spouting about his world travels and showing slides of Lao. I feel so sick and tired I go back to the hotel and shit again.
There's nothing in Vientienne at all - people only come here to smoke grass legally. I did try some but it did nothing for me. I haven't been able to communicate with any Lao people yet. I don't even know for sure if there is transport to Luan Prabang or not and nobody seems to know where I can even find out.
11 October, Vientienne/Luan Prabang truck
BAD TRIP - INTERESTING SURROUNDS - JUNGLE AND RIFLE
I pack and taxi to the evening market where there is a small Toyota van with a huge roof rack going to Luan Prabang for 4,000 rip. It sets off at 8:00 with three in front and three in the back, plenty of room. It could be a good ride. It also carries a couple of bags of fish and tyres. A man in the back with shades seems to be the driver's mate. Not very far along the way we meet another van and transfer all its goods and passengers to our van: two young girls with five children, some soldiers and an old man. It's not so comfortable any more. Most of the way is a poor standard gravel road. We stop frequently at check posts. All the soldiers and natives carry rifles.
There are a lot of interesting things to see on the road - the houses on stilts made of woven bamboo, most with the same sort of roof but some with hay and others with tin. Most of the journey is through jungle, sometimes very dense other times with semi-clearings and bare thin tree trunks sticking out of a crop of bad wheat. The leaves on the palm trees are huge, and some of the grasses gigantic. We see few villages - there are only three million people in Laos I think - and a few villagers in traditional dress: long black cloaks with red trimmings and similar hats.
We stop for a short while for lunch and then for a longer while later on with two other cars and a group of soldiers. The route climbs often giving some magnificent views of hill covered in jungle forest, and there were many straight span metal bridges with floor-boardings. We get a puncture and then a blow out. Late in the afternoon it gets cold. I start reading Flight to Camden by David Storey. At dusk we stop at two small houses for the night, but nobody tells me what's going on. The men sit around gambling with cards and dice; the old man smokes opium all night long.I sleep in the van, covered in my sheet and sleeping bag; the families sleep on a plastic sheet in the road; and the others, I really don't know. Sometimes it is OK today, at other times I get angry and tired and swear never to travel like this again. It's not as bad as the Afghan travels but then I had company.
12 October, Luan Prabang
LUAN PRABANG - A VERY WEAK ME
Before the crack of dawn we're are off again - it's cold and damp. Storey's book helps the journey seem not quite so interminable journey. We arrive around 10:30. A Lao on a Honda takes me to the Sunshine Hotel - he just happens to live here. There are no mosquito nets, no beds, no fans - 500 kip. Immediately. I set off to eat. I am determined to have a steak but can't bear to spend so much money so have two eggs instead. I do a tiny tour - there's nothing much here. Back at the hotel I sleep and read a science fiction. I buy some pate and bread and go wild by buying a beer - but I don't enjoy it - I drink a lemon juice to wash it all down. In the hotel are two couples: an Englishman and an American woman who are into learning Lao, and a tall fair guy and small dark southeast Asian chick. I feel really really weak all day which is why I'm not doing much. A fairly restful night with mosquito coil.
13 October, Luan Prabang
TOUR OPERATORS - EGGS - HILL - HAPPY HOUR
I'm up early, but still weak, and find a friendly cafe by the market. I'm into two fried eggs for breakfast plus an Ovaltine and cake. There is not so much of this town - at one crossroads are three travel agents all doing tours to the big waterfall, the caves and the Meo villages. I really want to go to the waterfalls but the one agent with a sign up for today (Sunday) is closed, and the others don't have anything on today. Also, I discover that I can fly out tomorrow or Wednesday - and, dear diary, is it possible I've mentioned before my troubles in getting a flight to Darwin and into Australia by 31 December. People say the flights from Bali are booked up for three months! From Timor it's OK, but it will be the monsoons and it takes six weeks to get through from Bali to Timor in the dry season. So, so I'm rushing a bit to get to Kuala Lumpur where I can find out more definite information about flights.
I dawdle around near one travel agent's shop playing draughts hoping a tour will materialise at 10 but it doesn't. Eventually I decide to book the plane for Monday. One key element in the decision is that, so far, I've not paid for any non-city tours yet. This is firmly a travelling trip.
The Sunshine Hotel keeps a couple of monkeys and a bear on a string all day. I talk to the young men here, the students who like to play the guitar and sing Western music. They don't know much English but they know enough to ask me if I have any LSD and, when the monkey climbs on the back of the bear, 'monkey fuck the bear'. Nice boys. I sit in the most Western restaurant in town talking to a German who's been travelling for a year. We eat Vietnamese food - rice with mint and cress leaves, meat and nuts. Later, I stand on a street corner eating a chicken leg - several women sit here cooking chicken over charcoal. I walk around the back of the hill in the middle of town and struggle up the steps to the top - good views of the hills and villages and rivers but nothing special about the pagoda. I wait for the sunset but it's of no value.
There are a lot of Westerners at the Four Seas restaurant tonight. It's Happy Hour and all drinks are cheaper. I eat an omelette and drink lemon juice.
14 October, Chiang Rai
A BETTER MAN - FLIGHT 3 - ELIANE - THAILAND AGAIN
I feel decidedly better this morning. I revisit my good fried eggs man - the market is very lively at this hour - lots of women buying and selling small produce - a fish wrapped up in a few leaves and bamboo - some women are transported by motorbikes with side cars driven by almost uniformed men with goggles - it's funny sight to see them all in line. I'm not a stranger in Laos, nobody hassles me, nobody stares at me. Nobody is directly friendly (on the truck journey, for example, it would have been nice if somebody had shown me Arab hospitality) but there is a warmth there for sure. They laugh and smile a lot.
And Luan Prabang is pleasant with this colourful market, plenty of palms, a few small modern buildings, a conglomeration of small villages and the jungle hills always in the background. The temples here are not so grand, they're different - have plain brown rooves, gold or gilded relief images of Buddha all over the doors - red and gold pillars. The Mekong river is wide and brown and extensively used for transport.
I change the right amount of money, pay for my ticket, post a letter home, and wait for the Lao-American library to open - but it's Columbus day - a holiday. However, I do learn that following the general election on the 10th, the Labour Party has a majority of three seats. I talk openly with an Aussie. He's pretty fed up with travelling. I say I am too to some extent. We also agree on not having met so many interesting people. He is a pretty boring guy, and and so am I, so that solves that mystery. For the rest of the morning I talk to the Englishman in the doss house - he's lived in Chiang Mai for one year. He runs trades silks and things, and lives a quiet life here meditating, yoga and learning Lao and Thai. I like him to start with but after two and half hours of talking, I am less keen, especially when he goes on about loving everybody and insisting that I should meditate on my arrogance.
I get into a bit of a panic running up the runway to the airport but the plane hasn't even arrived. A group of Americans, a couple, an Aussie and a Swiss girl. It's a DC3 with torn seats, and the flight takes an hour journey over large rolling dark green hills. Ban Housei is a quiet little town - I see one tribal woman with lots of ornaments about her head, colourful clothes. Between the airport and the Mekong, I see my first domestic elephants. The three other travellers have to get Thai visas, so Eliane and I race on ahead across the Mekong having spent and changed our spare kip. Back in Thailand we have to find the immigration. The last bus for Chiang Rai leaves at 4:30 we are told, and it's 4:30 now. The bus driver must have seen us walking down the road for a long way and waited, for, once we are aboard, he zooms off. It's a fast bus, and empty bus. There are good metalled roads. It feels good - this is the way to travel. All of a sudden I'm smoking a lot again - I must feel better. Eliane smokes too much. We arrive in Chiang Rai around seven. I race around trying to find a cheaper hotel, but there isn't one. We meet the two Frenchies, swap info and happenings and I pay the 30 b I owe them.
Of course the management give Eliane and I a double bed, trying to be helpful. We sit for a couple of hours talking to three freaks about their grass smoking. I don't know why we talk for so long. At one point one of them says hitch-hiking is easy, and I say: 'So, none of this stone on white line rubbish' and the Australian immediately responds as though he knows what I'm talking about. I sleep well.
15 October, Chiang Mai
A LONG WAY TO CHIANG MAI
Eliane catches me eating fried eggs (but it's not the same without the French bread). We don't have the money for the bus so we decide to hitch - well for an hour - yes, for an hour we stand on the WRONG road out of town! Then for maybe two hours we stand on the right road. At 9:30, mid-morning break time, we decide unanimously to take the bus. We find a bank, change money, and catch a bus. But, once on the bus we are annoyed with ourselves. We get off less than half way to Chiang Mai and try hitching again. A fast van takes us for half an hour, but then we fail again miserably and catch a bus, on which we find the other three from the plane. We hit Chiang Mai at 7:00 having paid exactly the same money as if we had caught a fast bus early in the morning and arrived at lunchtime - such is life. A recommended hotel turns out to be expensive so we go to the taxi driver's favourite which is OK - three in a room for 15 b - there are mossies but there's also a strong fan. Yet another good sleep.
16 October, Nawan Sawan
AROUND TOWN - HIGHWAY HITCH - SHITTY EVENING
Eliane and I get on OK, we have a good laugh. Lots of pretty shops here, selling bright, bright clothes and bags and teak wood carvings. The market is full of fruits and sweets and meat and trinkets, pressed fish, milk and butter and cheese. We head for a temple but lose our way and get caught up in the clothes shops - lovely long kaftans with beautiful embroidery. Eliane buys a pixie's bag. We try a couple of local temples but they are all locked up or under repair - sometimes the compounds are ugly although the temples themselves are always so pretty. Eliane flies home to Geneva on Saturday, but wants to spend another day here, so I leave her washing clothes. Five minutes hitching and I get a lift in a fast air-conditioned Toyota to Lampang - another five minutes and I get a lift in the back of a Toyota van making for Bangkok. I could have been there in eight hours (the bus takes twelve), however at a petrol station in Nakorn Sawan I decide to stop off. It's well after dark and it's been screaming with rain but I was well shielded in the back of the van and didn't even get wet. I eat another good fried rice, talk to the petrol station man, and a baker takes me to the main temple. I walk around but no-one is here - I drink Ovaltine and smoke ciggies and go back to the temple. I'm starting to get a little desperate. I ask a monk through a window if I can sleep here, he says 'why?'. I replied 'I don't know'. He stands there talking to his mate and says nothing. I walk back to the highway and hitch badly - there are mossies everywhere - until about 12. A bus conductor lets me sleep in his bungalow.
17 October, Bangkok
AYUTTHAYA - UNFRIENDLY STUDENTS - FRIENDLY THAIS
It is just a square wooden room on stilts in the corner - there was a mosquito net big enough for two. I get up and tip-toe out too early - I think it is light but it's only a lamp. I hitch for hours and hours, and become desperately hungry. Eventually, I get a lift of about one mile where I eat a good fried rice. I wait some time again - Indians pick me up, buy me milk and drop me 1km from Ayutthaya. The rolling forest covered hills in the north have long given way to flat paddy fields as far as the eye can see. I walk far with my pack - a lot of temple ruins, stone Buddhas, grass-covered pagodas - acres of these ruins - quite impressive. As I'm walking along a road, a van of kids drive straight at me flailing their arms. I ignore them completely. Five minutes later I am sitting on my pack looking at the ruins when they pull up in front of me. I ignore them again, so they move the van a little closer and blow exhaust smoke at me till I'm covered in soot. I lose my temper and cling onto the window as they drive away with my fists flailing, they finally push me off with their feet.
I head out of town because there are no boats to Pain or Bangkok. I eat two ice creams. I'm pretty fed up with walking by the time I get back to the highway. A fast van takes me to the outskirts of Bangkok and two long city bus rides take me back to the Atlanta Hotel. A shower, snooker and bed.
18 October, Bangkok/Sadau train
FLOODING AND TRAFFIC PROBLEMS - BUS-TRAIN SOUTH
Cards to Rob, Anne; letters to Maja and Gwenda and Grandma (Bali return address). There are floods everywhere - the road down to the hotel is completely submerged - the bus ride to the station takes hours - the traffic jams miles long - broken down cars are in six inches of water - Bangkok is in chaos. I change £5 - eat eggs - wade to the post office - take a bus to the Grand Palace and walk around the Wat of the Green Emerald Buddha again. This place is really ace with its bright coloured mosaics, giant statues and the endless murals of forest and rivers and palaces and gardens, and the fine Buddha of jade on a high pedestal of gold trimmings.
The water is slowly draining away. I bus to the British Embassy - Labour has an overall majority of three - Ted Heath may lose his leadership of the Tories. Back in the hotel I make a rush decision to catch a train (rather than to continue on from Bangkok by bus), but it means I have to hurry - a bus ride, a short boat across the river - but I make it in plenty of time. However, floods have stopped the train and the rail company has hired a fleet of buses. After a couple of hours journey, I get on the wrong train. I nattered to some long-haired students. I wait an hour at Petchabur watching all the kids (that sell stuff to the passengers when the trains come in) play party games on the platform. The trains are good - not crowded - the restaurant car is a little expensive (fried rice for 7 b).
19 October, Sadau
UNREASONABLE WAITER - SUPER FRIENDLY SADAUS - CIGAR-SMOKING MONK
The train makes frequent short stops. I finish reading 'The Scarlet Letter' by Nathaniel Hawthorne. I enjoyed its interesting insight into the 16th century puritan life of Boston, but I don't think it's exceptional.
In the restaurant I order fried rise without an egg (hoping to save myself a couple of baht), but I am charged the same 7 b. I play merry hell over this, just like I did once in India when I became particularly unreasonable over a few pence. On arriving at Haad Yu I look for food, and for a way out of town. I catch a bus to Sadau, the border town (where I stuff myself with some very nice local pastries and no-one asks me to pay, and where a young lady sews up the seams on my yellow trousers for nothing). I could make Malaya tonight except that I remember I have two unused Thai airmail letters. So I write two letters, fill out the immigration forms which get stamped, but then I'm told the Malay border is closed. I try to hitch until dark but nothing is going to the border. I need to look for food and shelter. I find a modern looking shop and ask a youngish intelligent looking guy where the Buddhist Wat is - he takes me on his bike to the temple. The head sneaky-looking Buddha sits on a throne and cross-questions me. He is drinking a coke, smoking cigars, having the odd chat with his mates, and farting. There is a younger monk there, like the best of the bunch, he sits there saying the right things and laughing at the right time.
20 October, Penang
MALAYA - MONKEYS - RUBBER - HASSLES IN PENANG
Up and away before the lazy monks' breakfast is ready - I have a fair old wait for a lift to the Thai border and for another one through to the Malay border. My money is checked and I'm given a seven day permit - there is a big big notice warning hippies to dress decently and stay in luxury hotels. I change my left over baht, buy a bottle, and wait in the shade reading Hemingway short stories. A small open wooden truck takes me to a town. Then, a young bloke and a couple in fast comfortable cars. The road passes through endless forests of rubber trees, leaning one way or the other, with some bark stripped off, little cups hanging around the trunk and white sap seeping out. At Butterworth I wait for a ferry. I eat some pretty nice fish and rice (rice is 20-30 cents a plate, or 2-3 baht, compared to 1/2-1 baht in Thailand). Someone tells me rice is expensive because Malaya imports it. A 20 minute crowded ferry ride and a long, long hassle looking for a place to stay - all the Chinese hotels are too expensive - the youth hostel turn out to be a YWCA. Finally, I go back to where I first started my search and find a sort of government hostel for M$3 - it's OK - there are a couple of other travellers - I wander around looking for a cheap place to eat - it's very touristified - I spend the evening talking and going out again to eat again.
21 October - Penang
THE BRITISH EAST - MERPATI - SNAKE FARM AND PLEASANT BEACHES
I think Malaya is nearly twice as expensive as Thailand in many things, fruit is especially expensive. English is spoken by nearly everyone (the Chinese, Indians and Malays) and shop signs tend to be in three languages. Malay is a sort of British hybrid using Western lettering. There are red British post boxes and certain English road signs (keep left bollards etc.). It's easily the most British place I've been to. The TO is helpful but I have to wait till 10 for the banks to open. While waiting I talk to a small group of people who have had Indonesian visa problems - they say they have had money sent to Jakarta but can't prove it; others only have cash but the embassy wants to see travellers cheques (because people lend cash to each other just to show at the embassy). Some haven't managed to get a dated ticket out of the country either (also required for the visa). After waiting a long time in the bank, I end up dealing with a money changer who gives me a better rate than the bank. I hot-foot it to the Merpati offices where a lady is pleasant and patient - she can sell me a dated ticket from Bali but not from Kupang. Alternatives for the final part of overland to Australia: 1) buy a dated ticket from Denpasser (Bali) to Darwin in December. Spend another seven days in Malaya - go through Sumatra from Penang; or 2) buy a ticket from Kupang (Timor) to Darwin, take the boat from Singapore to Djakarta. Decide in Bali whether to island hop to Kupang or fly with the local airways.
I don't make a decision but bus out to the university it's fairly modern, with a nice hilly setting in the forest-covered hills around Penang. In 1980, I learn, the main language will change to Malay. I bus a bit further out to the snake temple - a small Chinese temple which, a long time ago, became a refuge for snakes. A few are now kept on twigs inside the temple - poisonous pit vipers - hardly worth the trip except maybe to see a tourist with snakes on his head and a photographer looking happy.
Back in the hostel I can't decide whether to go to museum or the beach, but it's a long long long time since I walked on a beach. So I hitch out to Balu Feninghi - I get a lift easily with an Australian in air-conditioned car. Apparently, there are 1,500 Aussie forces here and the're all pretty rich. It starts raining so I don't stay long on the palm-fringed beach. I have long walks at both ends of a hitch back - I eat some fried noodles with squid and oysters - and am very tired by the time I get back.
Hoorah I've made a decision - I'm going to buy a ticket from Bali.
22 October, Kuala Lumpur
INDIANS - ACE HITCH AND CHATS - KUALA LUMPUR
Some Malayans are quite dark and have enough facial hard for a moustache - I mistook a few for Indians. The Indians hassle a lot in the street and sleep in the open - but in fact they are quite moderate and don't try to rip me off. I stop for two eggs at an Indian place and the owner makes me an omelette with onions and tomatoes for the same price as two fried eggs. I walk around in circles in Butterworth before hitting the right road - two cars, a van and a long long lift from a middle class man worried about money and his social circle - we talk about 1969 racial riots, and the discrimination against the Chinese (the government is nearly all Malay, and any enterprise must have 50% Malay stock). We pass lots of palm oil plantations, many of which are still British-owned, and Malayians still buy a lot of their heavy equipment from Britain. Of course the Japanese have taken over the car market, but there are still many minis and escorts and cortinas. The good guy buys me a meal and takes me to the steps of a hostel just outside Kuala Lumpur by 4:00 - not bad going. Thankfully they let me stay, even though it's only meant for YHA members. There are some bona fide travellers here pawing over their YHA maps and books, but mostly ones who started in Australia. There's one guy who I don't like very much, who's travelled hard and on his own from England in 3 1/2 months - we talk till nearly midnight, swapping tales and information
I'm a crazy man - the moment I arrive I dash out again. Kuala Lumpur's got a lot of big hotels and big banks - crowded streets - some nice cool supermarkets. I buy some bread and sausage and cake and ice cream and things - I'm irresistibly attracted to supermarkets. There's a wonderful view from the top of the Hilton - a town with a few hills is always more interesting but the hills have not been built on and are covered in trees - some are parks. The city, though, is not particularly interesting - Muslim is the state religion - so there are more mosques than anything else, but there are some Chinese temples. Malaysia is short on cold milk and tasty meals - Thailand was much better for food and drink - I definitely prefer Thailand.
23 October, Kuala Lumpur
LETTERS OF INTEREST - THE END IS NIGH
I walk virtually all the way into town - the Merpati office can book me a flight from Bali in December but not from Kupang. I wandered around and around, thinking about what date I should book, and how long I'm going to be Malaya, and what day to get to Singapore so the banks are open, and being careful not arrive in Indonesia before 5 November, so I don't have to get a visa extension etc. I bus to the Hilton and find three letters from Tudor, Phil and Colin. I lern that Rob, who's at Ford, got a 2.1 and Chris got a 2.2 (he's doing an MSc). They say they had written to Herat. Tudor might be getting a job in Saudi. Phil is still pretty fed up. I sit in the air-conditioned cool of the Hilton reading papers and letters. I chang £30 in one bank, a torn £10 in another and $60 in another. I eat some fish and rice, and then, finally, take the plunge and buy a ticket from Bali to Darwin for M$349 on 5 December. With the ticket, I apply for my Indonesia visa and stay at the hostel the rest of the day in a state of shock: I now have a definite something happening in just over a month in the future! I shower and wash and write. In the evening I eat some very black noodles but break some eggs on the way back to the hoste - there are good cooking facilities here - it's a real Youth Hostel.
24 October, Yong Thep
BATU CAVES - STRANGE LIFTS IN THE NIGHT
I realise this morning I took my malaria tablet yesterday, a day too early. I have a bright and breezy start - I cook eggs for breakfast, and trot off to find the Batu caves, one of the main K.L. tourist attractions. Getting off the bus, a girl chats me up 'come to my shop' - her face falls when I tells her I am staying at the YHA (i.e. I'm not rich). I climb a lot of stairs. Basically there is an enormous lump of limestone and marble sticking out of the earth - over time water has eroded the limestone leaving a huge cavern with a relatively small entrance in the side of the hill and two holes in the roof on the far side of the cavern. I pay 25 cents for the wonders and charms of some dark caves - they stretch for half a mile twisting and turning through passages into caverns illuminated by coloured lights and the sound of millions of screeching bats. Apparently, spiders and snakes find the habitat ideal - I don't - the smell and the steps are too much. There is a huge cavern, enormous stalactites/mites and some limestone curtains rolling down the side. In another small cave I find painted stone or cement models of creatures from Hindu mythology, placed in small inserts in the cave wall. The caves do, in fact, have old religious significance.
I eat cake and then fish and rice, but I feel fucked, back to my normal lethargic self. I read an old Newsweek (I've got some sort of thirst for knowledge - I've just bought a book on physical geography). I pack a light bag and hit the Indonesian Embassy at 1:00 - they make me wait until after 2:00 although I'm sure they are ready before. A long trek out of town - and then two or three hours hitching at traffic lights. Finally some Indians in a van take me to the first town, then a young guy takes me to Seremban - more walking. After night falls my first lift is from an effeminate Punjabi with a porno magazine, and the next lift is from an unbelievably pushy teacher who wants to go to London and study law (he want my address) - then lorries. I buy ovaltine and a cake every time I'm dropped off. In one cafe, I watch an English film. When I try to find accommodation the cheapest on offer is M$4 so I sleep on the forecourt of an Esso station for four hours.
25 October, Singapore
£150 - SINGAPORE - UNIVERSITY - SHOPPING COMPLEXES
The rubber on the trees is very chewy and white. The workers tap them early in the morning, even before light you can see hoards of people on bikes with big cans fastened to the back cycling out of town. After a considerable wait in the morning, two Indians give me a lift in their lorry. They also buy me breakfast after a puncture stop. I walk a mile or so across the causeway - no real hassle getting in to Singapore - I am not even asked about money - I am given 14 days. Two buses take me to the banking area and no more than 100 yds away is the European-Asian bank where the £150 I sent in advance is waiting for me. I have to take them in Singapore dollars. I wander around looking for the best rate for Aussie dollars (figuring it's a good currency to have since devaluation). The money changers give the best rate so with my S$843 I buy Australian and US dollars which makes me happy.
At the post office i find two letters from home. I bus to university where I find a students' union. The secretary, after a little thought, says yes I can sleep in the men's lounge - wow - there is even they a telly and billiards and bar football, and empty lounge seats with fans, and showers in the toilets, and a canteen with good cheap prices. A young guy in the students' office. Eddy, invites me to a forum about youth problems throughout the world on Sunday night.
I walk down Orchard Street and to the top of the highest hotel, the Mandarin, with revolving restaurant - there is a beautiful view of the harbour and boats and islands and skyscrapers of Singapore - quite a lot of green to be seen in the city itself. I walk in and out of supermarkets - buying sweets and eating them, stuffing them - the supermarkets here are quite cheap - better than in Malaysia - on a standard with Britain - big blocks of buildings house many shops - lots of rice cakes and good bread in the shops. In the so-called Thieves Market there are mainly clothes and cassettes and watches. The temple of a 1,000 lights is closed. I talk to a couple of students - they tell me it's the holidays now but many are working in the common room, and some sleep here over night.
Total money: $170 US travellers cheque; A$200; US$20; £6; M$15; S$172.
26 October, Singapore
JADE - ZARDOZ - FISHES - FEELINGS OF A CHINESE STUDENT - YANG
The Indian stall in the canteen makes me an omelette for 40 cents. First I go to the House of Jade, which is just two rooms of beautiful pieces. I walk down Orchard Road again and go to the cinema to see Zardoz, directed by John Boorman, with Sean Connery - the first half of the programme is advertisements, less subtle than English ones, and the film itself is a fairly standard getting-fed-up-with-eternal-life theme. I make my way round some park, check out the National Theatre, and the Van Kief Aquarium (quite small but amazing fishes - wonderful colours and designs - piranhas, sharks, seahorses, cat fish, butterfly fish). I write a long letter home. I wonder over to China Town to have a look at the temple - mainly a pyramid form of lots and lots of little brightly-coloured god statuettes. I eat some fine duck porridge - I'm spending a hell of a lot of money on food - stuffing myself with cakes (20 cents), steak, chips and peas, and Magnolia strawberry milk (35-45 cents). I spend two or three hours talking to a nice Chinese guy.
27 October, Singapore
GARDENS - SINGAPORE ART - EDDIE'S TEENAGE MOVEMENT
I am having some beautiful sleeps in the lounge. I take a bus trip to Tiger Balm Gardens - this and the House of Jade were opened to the public by the millionaire deceased owner of Tiger Balm Oil. The place is a fairy land of creatures, animals, myths, caves, oceans all made of cement and rock I suppose - there are a lot of people here - a lot of photographs being taken - I find it boring - one lake is crammed with carp of black and white and golden colours. I write an extra long letter to Tudor. I visit a modern art exhibition with very good Batiks by Teh and some lovely paintings of forests and cliffs and sunsets by Ann. I buy some French type bread and cheap processed cheese - very nice. I go to the top of the Mandarin Hotel again - although it is pretty flat around, the view is compensated by the sea and boats and islands. I finish reading my little exercise book on the Physical Aspects of Geography.
Eddy grumbles about the buses being unreliable. He's only 18 but has some mature ideas - he's chairman of a teenage movement trying to help young people. At the meeting everybody gives a little speech - the most potent is by a little Sikh who has been saved by the movement - a guest speaker (a lecturer on social work) summarises the government's view of young people - basically, that it is afraid of the youth problems it sees around the world - but is it trying to prevent them in the wrong way? There are many community centres, the movement says, but who caters for the problems of the mind? Bars have been shut down because the government thinks they provoke drugs and hippy ways of life. Don't they see that by bottling the problem up, things may only get worse. Tao Payah, the place where Eddy lives, is a satellite town with HUNDREDS of tower blocks of 2, 3, and 5 room flats - it's a terrifying place - only five years old but supposedly with a life span of 99 - listen to the tourist guide in the helicopter: below is Tao Payah, 500 blocks of 5, 3, 2 roomed flats, approximately 300 flats per block and 3.1 persons per flat, 500,000 people, 5,021 shops, 43 post offices, three swimming pools, 10 community centres etc. Eddy keeps saying it is a beautiful place - in his speech he goes on about a luxurious life and that it should be compared with those of people in India. I suppose there is some luxury, but it would be hell for me.
I talk with Yang - there is more discrimination than I thought - he says he will have a harder time getting a job than a Malay - if he wants to marry a Malay girl he will have to change his religion to Muslim - even if he were simply to change his name to a Muslim one he would get better deals all around - but pride obviously forbids that - he plays the trumpet at the opening ceremony of a football match (Singapore Malays vs) Malay Malays at the National Stadium.
28 October, Singapore
A CRUISE - A PRESENT - TELLY WATCHING
9:30 before I am really up - roti pasad for breakfast - I read the Straights Times - Israel seems to be on the attack again - Kissinger goes to woo Ghandi - Arsenal beat West Ham 3-0, Liverpool are top of the league. I am plagued with the idea that I can make money by buying Aussie dollars at the money changers and selling them at the bank - I'm really keen to check out the idea - but oh how can I be foolish - 3.08 was the best buying rate and 3.07 the best selling rate. I go on a cruise around the harbour - the boat weaves through the hundreds of vessels (fishing to tankers) anchored - it's pleasant enough. I eat cakes and pasties and oranges but am still hungry. I wander up and then down this market lane looking at all the stalls deciding what to eat when an old Chinese old lady comes up to me, opens her bag and gives me a tissue - when I look inside, I'm expectng a spider, and when I find a S$10 note I think it must be a forged one - I look round to give it back, but the lady has disappeared - I am astounded. I eat some chicken rice, and then go to the library where I write to Maja. I try unsuccessfully to find the author of: 'The forest is mysterious dark and deep; But I have many promises to keep; And many miles to go before I sleep; And many miles to go before I sleep.'
I find a super new supermarket with bread still too hot to hold - I buy sausage, mackerel, milk and a Mars bar. Back at the university Yang shows me around - he invites me on a four-day trip to one of the islands (which he has been organising for some time). I sit in the library writing - then I watch telly - Bonanza and the news. Yang tells me his colleagues don't want me to go on their trip so we exchange addresses and say goodbye.
29 October, Malacca
CHRISTIANS AT MALACCA - YOUTH HOSTEL ON THE BEACH
I am pretty tired getting up at 6:30 but it is long after 10 before I am on the road: I have to get off the bus before the causeway to post letters; the Malay customs keep me waiting half an hour; and I walk the wrong way. A really friendly Chinese man takes me 20 miles, buys me a beer and cigarettes; then, after some minutes waiting, the two Christians (who I had met at the forum on Sunday and who are also hitching to Malacca) recognise me and persuade their driver, in a cool Merc, to stop for me too. We are in Malacca by 3ish. We walk around and eat together. I hear the same old evangelising spiel from one of them - he goes on and on. He doesn't work, but lives off his father. I condemn this but he tries hard to explain himself. I take a bus to the Malacca Youth Hostel which is 50ft from the beach - the beach is narrow and as far as the eye can see very calm - coconut palms line the length - there are coconut shells on the sand and small shells - fishing traps made of bamboo poles stick out in the sea - ships pass infrequently - there are several tiny islands not far from the coast, and, further south, I can see the Sumatra coast.
Around the hostel is a small village with newish wooden houses on stilts with coloured windows and pleasant architecture, spread among the palms. The locals are friendly ('hello johnny') as are the people in the hostel - one girl who is going south, the rest are going north. We sit around talking, or wander along the beach and past the various bamboo tea stalls and fishermen. I spy a jelly fish or two and sing: 'I could go on walking on the wet sand to eternity.' As a crowd we go down to the canteen of the power station where there is a telly and the papers and snooker and beer. The food is a little expensive but we sit around all night - Roger, an Aussie and Rex, a Scotty, and Dick, another Aussie, who goes about the clubs in Sydney.
30 October, Malacca
BOXING - CHINESE DUTCH PORTUGUESE INFLUENCE - HELLO JOHNNY 500
It's the Ali-Foreman fight at 10:30 this morning but I have to go into town to meet the two Christians - but they don't turn up. After some searching, I find a telly where I can sit on the floor, out of the very hot sun. It's some fight - in the third round I think Ali has had it, but he's clever and plays a game - he knocks out Foreman in the 8th. I go on a sight-seeing tour - first to the Chinese burial ground temple and dirty well - then to some old red buildings with wooden doors and metal bolts from the Portuguese period - then, from the Dutch period, a fort and wall and church. I eat chicken rice, a pineapple and bananas plus Milo and biscuits and eggs and cooking oil and bread. There is a really primitive kerosene stove at the hostel which takes half an hour and a lot of messing about to get going. I chat to a NZ girl who's heading home after two years around Europe. I read and talk and watch a beautiful sunset (made extra special by a tiny area of vermillion just on the sun itself). When it is dark we hit the canteen and played 500 all night - it's an Aussie version of bridge. The telly breaks down so we can't see the fight again. Fact of the day: everybody who goes to school in this country wears the same uniform - boys wear white trousers and shirts, girls wear light blue dresses and white blouses. Malacca is a nice old town - quiet - but it takes some patience to put up with this 'hello johnny' business. I try to teach the whole town my name is not Johnny.
31 October, Kuala Lumpur
I MEET YAPPY - GOOD MUSEUM - BACK IN K.L. REUNION
Pineapple and banana salad is really ace - 20cts a pineapple, 10cts for 5 bananas - big big bowl for two. A damn cat steals my food (bread and milk). The kitchen is locked and I have to wait from 7:00 until 9:00, when the warden arrives, to eat my eggs - in the meantime I walk to the shop to buy more bread. Then I discover the key to the kitched was on a peg all the time. I'm more of a fool when I take a bus to the wrong road - hitching to Port Dickson is a very long way round to K.L. By mid-morning I am on the right, and I only wait an hour for a lift to the city - a van with a couple of lads in the back - they buy me a meal - rice with fried fatty pork, chicken and lean meat. It seems the driver, Yappy, has a job putting up signs in Mobil stations (to advertise SHC, the new space age motor oil). He speals good English and is intelligent. He offers to take me to Kuantan, on the east coast, tomorrow and bring me back on Saturday. He also offers to put me up for the night but I explain I have things to do. We arrange to meet at 9:00 tomorrow, and that I'll help him put up the signs in the petrol stations, and that he'll feed me for the two days. It is damn hot and windy in the back of the van, but we arrive early afternoon in K.L.. I take a bus into the centre and stagger around looking for the National Museum - it's a good looking building with an interesting mural mosaic in front - the museum is good too, cool, well laid out, consistent, pleasing - exhibits on puppets and shadow characters, on industry, on fruit and agriculture. I don't have much time because I am afraid of not getting to the American Express office in time - there is a lot to learn and read here but alas. As it happens there are no letters at American Express for me. I go in and out of the supermarkets on the way back - I buy pineapple, bananas, wholemeal bread and sausage. My meal is really nice. Everybody seems to turn up at the Youth Hostel this evening: the Aussie couple, the other two from Malacca and Roger; and the NZ girl is already here. General talk about travel experiences, but no really interesting conversation.
Paul K Lyons
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