Sunday, 23 December 2007


And so the end is near and I've reached my final destination. It's been an incredible 11 months but more than anything I can't believe how fast it's gone. As I sit in a cafe waiting for breakfast under the fan with mid 20s outside it's hard to think I'll be back in european winter in a matter of hours.
Hong Kong has been great. My accomodation is without a doubt the smallest room I've ever seen, but at least it's not exorborant and it's clean. Kowloon is a bit manic though, but fun in a strange kind of way. The pervasive smell of curry is hard to shake, but the excellent park here makes a nice retreat.

Hong Kong island itself is generally a much more pleasant location. I spent most of a day up on Victoria peak, accessed by a cool funicular ride. It's a great day out and even with some haze/fog has amesome views, as well as some nice trails to stretch your legs.
I also made it out to lamma island, a car free spot only 30 minutes by ferry. It seemed to have a large proportion of expats engaging in all kinds of new-agey and healthy pursuits. Indeed Hong Kong has been a bit of a revelation in China with the number of white faces about - and theres tons of people from all over asia and africa as well, making for an interesting mix. If a very expensive one.
Well, it should at least help me get to grips with the prices back home.

Other than that I've just been eating and drinking and admiring the views from the star ferry, particu1alarly memorable at night. Just a few more hours and I'll be on the BA jet for Heathrow. Joy. Though to be honest, it is kinda nice making it home for Christmas and catching up with everyone.

Honey, I'm home! Well after the MTR to the train, train to HK airport, plane to heathrow, hour on runway, tube to Tottenham Hale, train to Stranstead, plane to Dublin, bus to Hueston, train to Athlone and car home I finally made it just in time for sunset on Christmas eve.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Um pouco portuguese

Macau is a slightly strange entity. Despite never leaving China, I still had to invalidate my Chinese visa and clear customs and immigration to get there. Like Hong Kong, it's retained a special status for 50 years after it's handover (in 1999) It definitely feels different than the rest of China so far, especially in your pocket, with prices closer to it's former ruler than it's current one. But it's got a good vibe to the place, with European like streets and people crowding around shopping, hitting the delicious bakeries for breakfast and the Macanese eateries serving a mixture of specials from places like Goa and the old and new homeland are very good.

After struggling with Mandarin I now have to try to understand Cantonese, but at least the signs are in English or at least Portuguese. For a small place there are plenty of interesting cultural sites around to pass a couple of days. Wandering around the backstreets especially in the hillier parts almost makes you think your in Lisbon. Well, with a heck of a lot of Chinese tourists.

Macau is also becoming something of an Asian Las Vegas. It's had legalised gambling for a long time, but only recently is it taking on Vegas style theme hotels and casinos. You can now wander around mini amsterdams, miami beachs and Colosseum type buildings. All quite tacky but somehow impressive nonetheless.
One final strange thing about the place - despite being a former Portuguese colony and currently Chinese, they drive on the left. Weird. And I didnt even notice until I was leaving.

Friday, 14 December 2007


Up until now everywhere in China has pretty much exceeded expectations. A cynic might say that that's partly cause I didn't have such great expectations to begin with. But nevertheless, I've been very impressed with almost everywhere. But I arrived in Yangshou and felt a little underwhelmed. I don't know if it was the cloudy weather hiding the scenery, the constant sound of jackhammers and angle grinders or the thumping Chinese discos, but I felt a bit let down. It was the one place in China I was going to make a real effort to get to. Perhaps it's cause I expected a lot that I was inevitably disappointed.

A few days here and the place is starting to grow on me a bit though. I've found a couple of good bars serving reasonably priced beer and a decent bunch of people frequenting them. Staying out till the discos close is a good way of getting a good nights sleep too.
And the locals are very friendly and really keen to practice their (pretty good) English, offering some Chinese lessons and even plying us with free beer in return. This English teaching is easy! Apparently I'm welcome back on a longer, more formal stint at any stage.
Although the cloud cover is pretty constant, I did have a decent day visiting Moon hill on a bike. The views were decent but lacking the beauty that a really clear day would give, but it was nice just to get out of town for a while. Yangshou also has some pretty decent climbing so I spent a great day with the guys at Blacrock Climbing on the local karsts. Consequently I'm pretty wrecked today and have spent a pleasant day doing absolutely nothing.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Back tracking

When I got back to Lijiang from Shangri-la, I decided to pay a visit to the nearby village of Baisha to the somewhat (in)famous Dr Ho. He rose to acclaim after Michael Palin's visit to him during "Himilaya" as well as a couple of other international organisations. At 84 with a face full of character and a long white goatee he definitely looks the part, but I kinda felt like he liked to blow his own trumpet a bit. Still, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, so we will see what effect his mixture of herbs has on my blood pressure.

Getting there was half the fun, as the scenery was quite nice and I managed to wander off the main road on my bike and find cute little back roads through the local countryside. Despite getting well lost, I always seemed to end up close enough to a main road to meander back. The part of the village away from the Doctor was actually much prettier (no souvenier stalls or jewellery sellers in sight).

Leaving Lijiang with it's lovely streets and super friendly guesthouse was hard, but eventually I managed to hop on the bus back to Kunming. It's kinda weird being back in a big city again, but the weather is balmy and it really is quiet a nice place. The area near the university is especially athmospheric and a bit different than the pervasive shopping malls elsewhere. I bumped into Phil from TLG/Mama Naxi's at the hostel here so hanging out with him until I head off on the long train trip to Guilin.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Leaping tigers and Shangri-la

Until recently, it existed only in a fictional novel and as part of a myriad of resorts and hotel names, but now there is an actual town of Shangri-la, and I'm in it. A few years ago, the Chinese decided that Zhongdian wasn't really pulling in the tourist dollars, so a little nomenclature wizzardway and all of a sudden James Hilton's mythical place has been born in north western Yunnan, close to the tibbetan border. It's more than a little tibettan complete with roving yaks, which isn't surprising as it was once part of Tibet prior to the Chinese "liberation". It's actually a pretty cute place, with a nice old town and a cool athmosphere. Actually it's pretty baltic just now, I arrived to snow flurries at noon and the mercury is well below freezing as I pen this entry. Given that it's two miles above sea level and it's December, I guess it's hardly surprising. But at least the resturants and bars are well equiped with toasty fireplaces. So far I've just wandered about, and visited the local monastry, an impressive and pretty place.

I arrived here after completing the Tiger Leaging Gorge trek, an incredibly beautiful hike through one of the worlds deepest gorges, and just physical enough to give that added sense of achievement. The first day was a bit overcast, and the scenenry nice but slightly underwhelming, but the next morning waking up under the gigantic spires of the mountain and the resulting hike through gorgeous scenery was simply stunning.

I was also with a really nice bunch of people so that made it more fun, though every now and then it was nice to drop back and just enjoy the birdsongs, the sound of the roaring water cascading through the rocks and chasms of the gorge and appreciate the remoteness of such a location in a country of so many people. I'd higly recommend it to anyone with an adventerous bent, especially as the Chinese have damming plans for the gorge.

Prior to the hike, I stayed in the beautifully picturesque town of Lijiang, a couple of hours north of Dali. It's another heavily touristed (by chinese) town but the lovely setting under snow capped mountains and the beautiful winding ancient streets (or at least ancient looking) more than make up for it, and the stay at Mana Naxi's guesthouse is an experience in itself.

Before leaving Dali, I managed to tear myself away from the delicious Bai cooking for long enough to cycle to a couple of local villages and to the nearby lake, and to take the cable cars up the local mountain, which allows you to complete a 10k walk along a path cut into the side of the meandering mountain valleys, which was pretty stunning in itself. Leaving Dali I was quiet sad but I imagine it's somewhere I'll make it back to sometime. Yes, although I'm heading home in a couple of weeks I'm far from finished with China.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007


I'm in the town of Dali, a really pretty if very touristy town in northern Yunnan.
It a bit of a change - menues are in English, guesthouse owners speak English, what's going on? It's pretty high so pretty cold at night, but the sun warms the place up lovely during the day. It's a good place to just stroll about, drink some local tea and sample the delicious food (local Bai, Tibetan and Chinese). And I've been sampling a lot of it. Must be the colder air making me hungry. I must say I wasnt expecting the food here to be so good - outside Thailand it's the best I've had on the trip. The black peppers are especially zingy, they would make a good novacane substitute.

At night the town is especially pretty, with the chill in the air and the lights on the buildings and temples it gives an almost Christmas like feeling to the place. It's really nice just to wander about and hit a few of the cute bars in town. I'm still surprised by the dearth of western tourists - I guess it's low season.

The town is certainly a lot different than modern Kunming, from where I jumped the train to here. Although significantly longer than the bus trip, it was worth it for the relative comfort and the chance to try to chat (up/to) the locals. Luckily the ones opposite me spoke a bit of English, and were a good laugh. I must say I'm finding the Chinese a lot friendlier than I expected. In Kunming I got invited out with some locals for Hotpot, and then onto a club where I didnt have to pay for any of the (large quantities of) booze. Magic. Tonight I'm actually going to try to learn some Mandarin, Mr Li next door has offered me pretty cheap lessons so will give it a try, beats trying to guess what pronunciation the Collins phrasebook writers actually were try to convey.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore

Yes I've left SE Asia behind and entered the uncharted teritory that is China. Hekou, the Chinese border town, is famous for the border guards enthuasism for collecting LP Chinas, so I ripped mine to bits and just took the loose pages I needed - just as well, they leafed through all of my books - all very pleasantly done mind, and satisfied that I wasnt in posession of the demon book I passed through unscathed. Travelling in China is definitely different - almost noone speaks more than 1 word (hello) of English, so my phrasebook has become invaluable, along with the LPs Chinese script names for the cities/guesthouses which I can just point to.

My first destination was Yuanyang, famous (in China at least) for the beautifully sculpted rice terraces that are often shrouded in mist. The trip there was really beautiful and really long and bumpy, the road being at times asphalt, dust and mud. Seems like even the Chinese havent managed to build motorways in this part of their country.

Yunnan province is home to a higher percentage of ethnic minorities than anywhere else in China, and in this respect it is a little like Sapa in Vietnam, without the (western) tourists - there were a handful in Yuanyang, and after a day we all knew each other, its a pretty small place. The various groups are beautifully dressed in really colourful garb, and although they tend to employ similar hard arm selling tacticts as their cousins over the border, there pretty good natured about it. So far I'm really enjoying this part of China, though it does come with some less savoury sites, such as dogs being skinned and some truly awful public toilets, and theres a definite increase in volume of both spitting and shouting which takes a bit of getting used to, but for me the ubiquitous smoking is the toughest, especially on the buses. But it's all part of the experience! And the food is good so far, which is a bonus. The vegetarian stuff is especially tasty and cheap, so long as you dont mind the odd bit of pork or chicken thrown in.
I'm now in Kunming, a bright, modern, cosmopolitian city, and a nicer spot than I would have imagined. Theres even a little english spoken. I'm off to see if I can score some warmer threads .. its cold up here!

Monday, 19 November 2007

Towards China

Having a bit of time to spare while waiting on my China visa, I headed south of Hanoi for a day to Tam Coc, an area geographically similiar to Halong bay, minus the bay. Its all part of a chain stretching up from Krabi in Thailand, Tha Kiet and Vang Vieng in Laos, through Halong bay and continuing up to the Guillin area in China. It's certainly very beautiful, even if the experience is even more of a tourist trap than Halong. The best part of the trip was getting away on the mountain bikes and peddling through some local villages, which let you appreciate the scenery away from the crowds, and also meet some of the locals who were super friendly, and, as yet, not looking for money!

The main part of the trip involved heading through some caves, being rowed by charasmatic old locals. Despite the crowds it was a really pleasant experience.

In Hanoi, I said goodbye to Elliott who was on his way to Sapa via motorbike - my recently weakened constitution prefered the train. I met up with Tuyen and Hanh, two sweet Vietnamese students we had met before by the lake, and I had a nice day wondering about, eating ice-cream and drinking coffee. On my last day I even braved the traffic chaos of Hanoi and rented a mophead for some touring, which was a bit of a challenge and not a little adreneline fueled.

Eventually I had to head north on the night train to Sapa. I was really quiet sad to leave Hanoi, having met loads of great people and stayed in the friendliest guesthouse so far on this trip. Had a good nights kip on the train, and arrived in Sapa to beautiful blue skies. After wandering about town for 5 minutes I bumped into Elliott, who had made good time on his meandering mountain route despite coming off his bike at 60kmp - other than some serious oil stains on his jeans he came away totally unscathed. Pretty lucky.

We headed off to the local H'mong village of Cat Cat, which was a lovely walk in the sunshine, and we managed to get lost the other side of the village, in or efforts to escape the tourist hordes. On the way back I realised I was coming down with something, and spent much of the next 2 days recovering from a particularly nasty cold. It seems like the weather on our first day was a bit of an anomoly - its been totally fog bound since, though this morning the sun is trying to break through. So, much of the time was spent drinking hot liquids around roaring fires and being entertained by interesting locals like chess champion Mr Tim, the bunches of local lads kicking around what feels something like a badmington shuttlecock and a nice bunch of pool playing black H'mong girls. It was nice to be able to talk with some of the minorities without them trying to flog you everything from necklaces to opium. And their street learned english was amazingly good.
Today I'm heading off to the China border...sounds like one of the less pleasant crossings, but, sure, it's all part of the experience.

Friday, 16 November 2007

Tour of duty II

So I'm back in Vietnam for my second tour here. I wasnt 100% sure about coming back up to the north, but I'm so glad I did. It's been amazing. Halong bay alone has been one of the highlights of the trip so far. It's incredibly beautiful, and even the flotilla of tourist boats didn't detract from the experience. Sleeping on the milk-pond like bay and waking in such amazing surroundings was pretty unforgettable. Even if, as is the nature of these tours, at times you felt a bit like a sheep in a pack, with enforced stops at craft centers en route, along with the 100s of other minibuses.

Apart from enjoying the stunning views, we had time to get suitably lost kayacking, and repeatedly dive into the inviting water from the top of the boat.

Back in Hanoi to the chaos of literally millions of motorbikes choking the narrow French like streets. But I love the place for some reason. Maybe it's the way most of the streets in the old town are still dedicated to a profession, like silk makers, tin smiths, bamboo or even headstones. Or the wafting of fresh coffee from the multitude of coffee shops, the numerous Bia Hoi places selling glasses of the local liquor for pennies, or the beautiful girls that seem to fill the streets.

Whetever, I'm finding it really hard to leave the place. Just strolling around without much of a purpose is a great way to pass the day, and theres always the lake or some of the old houses or cool bars to escape the crowds. In one of which I encountered an ex-pat looking for some English speakers to teach. Feeling like I needed to be useful I gave it a go for a few sessions, and it was fun, definitely something I could do more of.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Back in Bangkok

So after the Docs at Bangkok Hospital, Phuket gave me the alr clear I found myself on a plane for the first time since early June, and back in Bangkok. Well, I didnt think a 12 hour bus would be the best thing for me just now.
Bangkok always surprises me, one minute your marveling at the construction of the new sky train and the amazing shopping centers (and that's coming from a shopping hater) and the next your route is cut off by a passing elephant. It has a reputation for truly awful traffic, but its easy enough to avoid the worst by using the river ferries, canal boats, Metro and Skytrain, which are all fun and pretty stress free ways of getting around.

I based myself in backpacker based banglampu, mainly as I reckoned it would be the handiest place to get my Nam visa. I'm staying in a nice little family house off of soi Rambutri, which is just far enough away from the neon lights of Kao San. I had to wait around for a few days, which, given my delicate nature at present, wasn't a bad thing.
Apart from gorging on thai food, I managed to get out a bit and do some cultural things, like checking out the house of Jim Thompson, which was pretty cool and colonial, as well as the super modern siam square area. I also paid a visit to one of the more visited "cultural" attractions, the infamous patpong - something I'd not done before, and, quite frankly, probably won't bother again. I guess it's the sort of thing you need to see once, but there's only so many times, despite the obvious skill involved, that popping baloons with a dart gets you excited. To complete this part of my tourism extravaganza, I visited the soi Cowboy strip in Sukhumvit, which was a little lower key but more of the same really.

On another note, I just found out that a pic I took of a bridge in Verona was used on the cover of a magazine, so that was pretty cool.
My passport with Visa finally arrived back today, so I'm all set for the Nam flight tomorrow.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Pain in the ass

Leaving Phi Phi I arrived on Phuket and met up with Clare from previous travels, as well as Antoinette, a lovely Leitrim girl, and their mates, who were all really nice. I managed to be around for Clare's birthday bash, which was a good laugh. Unfortunately I wasn't in too great a state to really enjoy it, having spent much of that day in Bangkok Phuket hospital undergoing (minor) surgery on a particularly painful area. Let's just say it was a real pain in the ass.

Poor Clare herself was in plaster after a very nasty knee dislocation 3 weeks ago, so it was down to Antoinette to play nurse.
The operation made me feel like I'd been abducted by aliens, but the hospital itself was amazing - more like a posh hotel, with nicely dressed staff, good coffee and DVDs, and more Doctors and Nurses attending than you could shake a stick at. They even had a machine that goes "bing" and everything...
The day afterwards I decided to check into a fancyish hotel for my r&r to avail of a nice big bathtub, so I'm holed up in Phuket town till my checkup on Friday.

I had been in a bit of pain already in Phi Phi, so I didn't do much apart from lie on the beach, though I did make one trip up to the nice viewpoint. It's amazing how little evidence is left of the Tsunami that so devastated the island. Theres no shortage of (rebuilt) hotels and restaurants, I'd heard that the building was being tightly constrained to be more environmentally friendly but I didn't really see any signs of that. Still the beaches are lovely (at high tide anyway).
Right, I'm off for a cocktail of painkillers, unfortunately I've used up all Clare's morphine - don't really rate the stuff anyway to be honest.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Islands and beaches

I've spent more than my fair share of time in this wonderful country, but in all my time here I have never seen rain like I did these last few days. It's been unbelievable. Constant, hard, pelting, torrential floods of the stuff. Interspersed with long periods of Irish style drissle. Unbelievable.
So I've high tailed it to the Andeman coast (the other side of Thailand)to Krabi in the hope of a reprieve, and my plan's worked pretty well so far.

I'm in Railay beach, a few k from Krabi town, and the main draw for rock climbers in this area. I just spent a great half day on the limestone cliffs here and I'm pleasantly shattered after it. The climbing was a bit tough as many of the hand holds were too smooth from overuse, but I only fell on one climb so not a bad days work. It seems like a pretty nice spot too, most of the people around seem to be decent.

My last night on hat rin saw me dropping my bike in another torrential downpower (front wheel caught in a rut I didnt see under the 6 inches of water) and I landed on my camera, and in the road-river. Of course the camera was dead, but lo and behold if it didnt rise lazarus like after a few days rest. Yippee.
From there I moved on my (relatively) trusty sonic up the coast via some pretty rutted dirt trackes to the toungue twisting beach at Ao Tong Nai Pan Yai. It was really nice, quiet and laidback. Maybe too quiet. I also made an expedition to Bottle Beach, proclaimed as the second busiest beach but only 3 souls were brave enough to stay there. The road there was totally crazy, I ended up in five dead ends before finially making it there, the last couple of k by foot, as I didnt want a repeat of hat rin spillages.

After a few peaceful, wet days I headed towards Ko Samui and Lamai beach, one of my favourite spots 12 years ago, but now unfortunately developed beyond belief. Most of the time there I took the "if you can't beat them, join them" attitude and watched the football and Rugby World cup while drinking pints and talking to other Irish people sheltering from the rain. It's like I never left home. Oh, apart from all the ladyboys. So it was kinda nice to spend a bit of time in Krabi, still a real Thai town with friendly people and nice night markets with all kinds of cheap delicious offerings.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

One night in Burma

With my lackadasical approach to the last few weeks I found myself out of time on my Thai visa. So even though I had ended up in this situation cause I wasnt going to go to Burma, I had to go to Burma in order to get another 30 days in Thailand. Most people just pop over the border and back again to get their stamp, but I decided if I was going that far I might as well spend a night in Kaw Thuang, or Victoria point as the British christened it. It was a nice enough place with good views of the harbour from the hills, and an interesting little market area with numerous tea shops, though the hotel was pretty crap to be honest.

I was literaly the only tourist in town for the night, so that was kinda fun. The people seemed really nice and friendly, and the monks and kids seemed eager to practise their english. Most of the girls were going around with a little of the traditional face paint, something I'd seen a bit with the Burmese in Thailand. And there was no feeling of tension from the recent events. Eating in the resturants felt a bit weird with all the staff hanging around (I counted 11 girls with nothing to do in one small place) - as soon as I spilt a grain of rice or the water dripped off the beer glass someone was running over to clear it up. But I got used to it eventually. All an all a very enjoyable 24 hours.

Next day I headed back with the new days visa runners, eschewing the boat owners numerous attempts to peddle cheap viagra, and found myself back in Chumpon again, to catch the ferry to Ko Pha Ngan.
Tim from NY met me off the boat and I rented another sonic motorbike and drove off to Hat Rin. I'd been there many moons ago, but I couldnt believe the amount of growth since then. First impressions were not good. Though the beach is still pretty nice. As my arrival coincided with the "black moon" party (gone are the days when one full moon party a month was enough) we hit the beach for the night, and though I was in a bit of a crap mood to start I had a pretty good night in the end.
Yesterday we toured most of the Islands decent roads (and a few of the dirt ones) and found a few nice beaches and fishing villages. I'm thinking of moving out of hat rin to somewhere less manic once the rugby semis are out of the way.

Sunday, 7 October 2007

Life of Thai

Well once again I find myself "stuck" on a Thai Island for longer than planned. It's a hard life really. I had been planning to go to Burma for a while, but things look a bit iffy there at the minute so will have to hold off on extended travel there for a while. Ko Tao has been good fun, if a fair bit more developed and expensive than I expected. I did another couple of dives, and what a difference a couple of days make. This time I had awful visibility - only 1-3 meters on the second dive, a bit of a joke really. Since that I've been holding off on more diving waiting for conditions to improve, but so far its still not great. I've been hanging around with Tim from New York, whose conspiracy theories make for good entertainment, and Ebony who I had met in Kanchanaburi.

Of course last night was spent trying to believe the results in the two RWC games. I had a small inkling that France could repeat their shock 1999 result, despite New Zeland's performances to date, but I didn't see the Aussies losing to the English.
It's hard to believe that Ireland beat them by a record score this year, and though the Irish did make a game of it against Argentina, they were never going to do it.

Apart from the rugby we've amused ourselves by a bit of snorkeling, swimming, fire dancing and motocross - some of the roads here are really pretty awful but make for fun driving in the little 125 dirt bikes. Weve been over pretty much all the island at this stage, so time to move on maybe. Next up is probably Ko Phan Ngan.

Saturday, 29 September 2007

Turtle Island

I must say Kanchanaburi was a very nice place. The Bridge over the Kwae river (Kwai is actually a misspelling - it means water buffalo in Thai) isn't all that amazing to look at (though the setting is nice). But the history behind it is pretty cool. The museum beside the bridge is in fact a melange of all kinds of nonsense (almost worth the entrance for it's comic value), none of which is much about the bridge, the real museum is back in town and is actually one of the best laid out museums I've been in - and not too much in it to be overwhelming. Once you become aware of the huge loss of life involved in it's construction, a trip on the "death railway" itself is a must.

I hopped on a local bus out to hellfire pass, site of some of the hardest digging and something of an Aussie pilgrimage site (it was mostly Aussie POWs that worked/died on this bit). I managed to blag a lift with an intrepid tour back to Nam Tok, the (current) starting point of the Railway back, and was able to avail of some free guiding. There was only one bloke on the tour - a nice English guy, who seemed very relieved to have some male company for a change - by all accounts the girls were moaning all the time and doing his nut in. He was only on the trip cause he and his girlfriend split up just before there Phuket holiday, and she was taking the room for the two weeks! I told him he should have no problem finding a "shoulder" to cry on in Phi Phi, his next stop (he's leaving the tour).

The previous day I'd rented a bike and gone to Erawan falls with Dillon. The falls were in a really beautiful setting, without too many tourists, and some of the various levels (there are 7) made fantastic refreshing jungle swimming pools.
The trip back on the other hand was more of an endurance test - character building if you like, as we (I) drove almost the whole 2.5 hours back in the dark through torrential rain and lightning - our lights were barely able to distinguish the road from the trees. Cool. The rest of the time we spent hanging round/playing pool with English and Scottish Paul, Jayne from Canada and Ebony, an ivory Aussie girl.

So on to Ko Tao.
From Nam Tok and the Death Railway, I passed back through Kanchanaburi and onto Natham Phaton, quick stop to take a pic of the big Pagoda there, then onto a train for Chumpon. All 3rd class, and the better for it - I was the only Farang in the carriage. I had to move a little girl who had crashed out on my seat, and for the next 5 hours we had a great conversation despite her speaking no English and me having only a few dozen Thai words. Much of it went along the lines of "Nee a-rai" (what's this) and her pointing to something - I didn't think she could be taking anything in so fast, so I was pretty amazed 30 mins later when she pointed to her eyes, nose, ear, etc and said the English word. Kids just sponge up language when their young I guess.

After 4 hours kip in Chumpon it was up for the 7am ferry to Kao Tao, a long trip all and all, but worth it. So far I'm really liking the place, though it's really pretty expensive by Thai standards (the Diving is actually quite reasonable).
This morning I went to Chumpon pinacle, and it was a really excellent dive - best in a long time, with great visibility, cool rock formations, huge schools of fish and by far the most sharks I've ever seen on one dive - I lost count after 10. Top class. The second dive on white rock was pretty good but not in the same league.
So off now for some lunch and a siesta before torturing myself one last time in Choppers Aussie bar to watch the Irish try the impossible against the Argies.

P.S. Finally found a cheap internet place that doesn't electrocute you when you plug in your camera's USB cable.