Category Archives: Travel

Descriptions of places I have visited with tips and overviews

The slow boat to Luang Prabang. Part Two.

Our boat was due to leave Huay Xai at 11am and it was hot already. Easily over 30 celsius. Given that we were in Laos I was fairly surprised at the efficiency of the crew and the fact that we left just after 11:30. (I’m not being sarcastic, I have been to Laos before and timetables are like indecipherable hieroglyphs.) The first couple of hours you cruise down the Mekong with Laos on your left and Thailand on your right. The scenery is pretty with the occasional concrete or wooden village on each side of the low banks. Once the river turns off into Laos itself the banks rise a bit higher and eventually so do the hills behind. The riverbanks alternate between cool igneous looking rocks and white sandy beaches. Most of these beaches are deserted but occasionally you see wild buffalo lying in the sand chewing, flicking their tails and generally looking happy with their lot. At first everyone leapt up to take photos, but the novelty soon wore off.

Village, rock, sand and a bit of undergrowth on fire. This sums up most of the river.

In the hills among the jungle there are occasional villages perched on the slopes made out of wood, the houses raised up on stilts. Occasionally some of these villagers need a lift. The Mekhong river is their only way of getting around as the roads are pretty poor or non-existent. They will plant a white flag on a prominent part of beach or rock and the boat will pull in and the villagers clamber aboard and sit on plastic stools in the aisles. Usually the boat pulls into another village to let them off, but occasionally a smaller craft will pull up alongside and the passenger will transfer themselves and (usually) their tons of things into the moving boat.  It’s pretty impressive.

Laos villagers hitching a ride

Typical Laos village with locals waiting for a lift

There is a lot of talk about rivers being a ‘lifeline’ to somewhere, or that it is the ‘beating heart’ of a place. A lot of that talk is fairly valid but less so these days. In olden times the Thames for example, brought trade and wealth to London. While there is still some trade and money being made by the Thames, it is now mostly a place where Londoners can erect tourist attractions or, if you are bastard rich, even live next to. Most Londoners don’t really need it as such in their day to day lives and can go months with even seeing it.

The Mekong really feels essential to the communities that live by it. Their life exists because of it. All along the river you see villages that exist, and continue to exist, purely due to the Mekong. There are fishermen standing waist deep in tshirts and swimming trunks casting their nets by hand. There are bamboo fishing rods tied to rocks throughout its length (either the same fishermen with the nets or a really lazy guy having a nap). There are even a lot of people panning for gold, which caught me off guard and gave me a flash of avarice until I saw how clearly unsuccessful they must be given their obvious poverty. I guess they found enough gold to just about survive.

Buffalo and fishing boats

By about 3:30pm the heat was at its maximum. Even the buffalo were in the river at this point, their horned heads just visible along the water. I don’t know if the kids went to school (I doubt it), but on the beaches and rocks below each village there were scores of them playing in the Mekong. Some were starkers, some were in trunks, some in trunks and tshirts. They all seemed happy and waved, shouted and occasionally posed for photos as our boat carried on by. On one group of rocks a bunch of teenagers waved and started diving into the water. By this point, I was feeling a bit hot and cramped. I had a Lao girl on a plastic stool pressed against me on my left, Nim on my right, and a hot plastic seat welded beneath me. Even constant cans of Beerlao failed to make me feel better. I envied those kids.

From 5pm onward the temperature thankfully began to drop. It now seemed to be adult time by the river and we passed small groups of villagers having their evening bath in the river. Men in swimming trunks and women wrapped in Lao embroidered skirts were soaping up and washing their parts all along the bank. I generally tried to avert my gaze when a group of ladies were washing but when they all waved at the boat I thought, bollocks to this, and took some photos and waved back. Everyone seemed very chilled and relaxed.

Even though we were uncomfortable, it's hard not to like this

By half past five everyone was pretty eager to get off. Even the pillow gang were uncomfortable and those of us in the back, full of Beerlao and stuck to our seats, were doubly keen. The sun was surprisingly low on the horizon and was gorgeous and we knew we were nearly there. Shortly after 5:30pm, we thankfully pulled into Pakbeng.

The moment our boat touched ashore, the touts were on us. It was like being boarded by overly friendly pirates. Thankfully we had booked ahead and waved them off. We wearily headed up to town and I predictably headed for a Beerlao.

Here endeth part two… In part three – we make it!

 

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The slow boat to Luang Prabang. Part One.

Our journey began in the mountains an hour outside of Chiang Rai, Thailand. My group consisted of myself, my wife Nim, my mother-in-law (Nim’s mum), her friend, a guide (who happened to be a student of Nim’s mum and was a local Chiang Rai businessman), and another guide who was from Laos. A lot of guides I know but they also happened to be friends, so it was pretty relaxed.

The view from our balcony. It is a bit hazy.

We were staying in a resort owned by another student of my mother-in-law (he was also tourist police so we felt pretty safe) called the Maenam resort and a bloody nice place it was too. Our balcony overlooked undulating jungle covered hills and fields. It was downright peaceful and relaxing. The view was hindered somewhat by the fact that half the mountain was on fire due to the annual slash and burn but It was beautiful there despite the smoky haze and falling ash. We drove two hours from here to town of Chiang Kong and had a quick breakfast of crispy pork, rice and chilli (awesome) before hitting the local market. We bought a chicken (a dead and cooked one) and some sticky rice and we were good to go.

The first stop was Thai customs which consisted of a small building by a dusty track that led to the river. It took about a minute to be allowed out of the country. Then, there before us, was the mighty river Mekong! Stretching from Tibet to Vietnam via China, Burma, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. We jumped on a tiny and unnecessarily low boat that took us across the sluggish, brown (but mighty!) river. A perilous minute later and we were in Laos. I love travelling overland, it seems a lot more civilised than all the shite you get at airports. The next step was to get a visa at the Laos border office. This took about 10 minutes and for no reason at all included two queues – one to get the visa and one to pay for it. You are supposed to have a passport photo but for the unprepared, like myself, they will scan your passport for $1, which is actually cheaper than if I had gotten a passport photo in the UK. Fortunately the windows are next to each other and I didn’t actually have to move. The visa took a couple of minutes, during which time the border guards chatted to my Thai wife. It was either because they were curious about her having married a farang, or because they were chatting her up. Either way, it made the process fast and friendly.

Ahead of us is Laos. Thankfully our vessel was just up to the job. Just.

 

This is an international border crossing. Laos style.

 

The throbbing metropolis of Huay Xai. Pretty much all of it.

We were now Laos, in a small town called Houie Xai, although the spelling varies (Huay Xai being another). My mum actually came here in the 60s during the war. Officially the war never visited to Laos but that, excuse my Laotian, is well known to be bollocks. In fact war did visit and it overstayed its visa and behaved pretty badly throughout its stay. My mum hitched rides all over Laos with either aid workers or CIA agents (sometimes the same person). When she was there the town was called Ban Houie Sai. It is a tiny place that now seems to exist purely for the border crossing and as a place to buy tours and Beer Lao. From here we were driven through the brown and dusty streets to the pier where our ‘luxury boat’ awaited.

I may be a soft city type but it wasn’t that luxurious. But it wasn’t too bad either. A better term would be simply ‘boat’. It was about 80 feet long and there were probably about 100 of us. There were two seats on each side separated by a narrow walkway. This averagely luxurious vessel was to be our transport for the next two days. I could smoke and they sold large chilled bottles of Beer Lao, so I was confident I could survive the trip.

Our fairly magnificent averagely luxurious boat.

First off, here is my advice if you are going to do this trip:

Arrive a bit early. Although it is supposed to be allocated seats, it isn’t. This is Laos and nothing is that organised. The boats vary, but on ours the first half of the boat had quite comfortable seats with a cloth covering and the second half had plastic.

Try and sit on the left hand side as you are facing the front. Or the ‘port’ side if you are a nautical type, you salty sea dog. This way you will avoid most of the sun. We were in plastic covered seats in the sun and it became a tad uncomfortable in the sweaty buttock region after a few hours. Sadly there are no photos of that.

Bring a pillow. A huge group of Scandinavians got on all carrying pillows. At first we mocked them (in a friendly way) and dubbed them the ‘pillow gang’ because we are so damned witty. Four hours later as my arse fused to the seat, I realised they were pretty wise. Bastards.

Bring a jacket or something warm. This may seem laughable at first when you are sitting in 35 Celsius sunshine but by the end of the first day, it can get downright chilly. The early hours of the following day are definitely brisk and bracing and other alliterative cold words like brrr (both alliterative AND onomatopoeic – woohoo). Then it gets bloody hot again.

Bring some food. You can buy pot noodles, crisps and biscuits on board but you will envy those with the foresight to bring baguettes. Or a chicken.

Wear thick sandals, shoes or preferably Wellington boots as the toilet can be a bit iffy and there are lots of bad shots on a swaying boat. The toilet on the second day was much better, so the unpleasantness seems a bit random. Good luck.

Owing to lots of photos and general waffling I have decided to split this up. Excitingly in the next installment – the actual trip…

The Mekong River

 

 

 

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The Bangkok Podcast

Well I’m back in Blighty. Bangkok was, as always, very exciting and warm and fun and full of hot sexy, er, food. I’m feeling mildly homesick for the place which is a bit odd as I only lived there for two years. Maybe I just miss South East Asia – my home for over two decades. We landed in the evening on Tuesday and as I write this I have yet to see some sunshine.

Still, mustn’t get too maudlin. My wife and I have a plan and by the time I hit 40, things should be sweet.

We arrived and partied. The first stop was the Bangkok Trader magazine party. Nim used to work for them and I wrote freelance articles for them. I looked through one of their new issues and to my surprise I had an article in it. It was a rerun of an old piece which can be found here:  http://www.suite101.com/content/gift-giving-in-thailand-a276529 Technically, I should have asked for some money but I couldn’t be bothered. Plus I was a bit drunk.

We did a lot of other things too, like go to art gallery openings with the Danish ambassador (he was there, we didn’t hitch a lift with him or anything) and other cultural things.

We also appeared on the Bangkok Podcast. This is a great podcast run by a guy called Tony and a guy called Greg. I’d like to think that we were asked after these Bangkok experts scoured the expat community and picked the two most erudite and charming couple they could find. It is more likely though that they wanted to talk about Thai weddings and Greg is a mate of mine who actually went to our wedding. Whatever the case, you should check out the podcast. Especially if you are in any way interested in Thailand. The website is found here: http://www.bangkokpodcast.com/

I apologise if I’m not my usual witty and amusing self. I’m back to work tonight and the greyness of London is crap. Soon I will be beaten down by the humdrum of life and will have come to terms being back. Think of the plan, think of the plan…

Here’s what I was looking at just a few days ago. I apologise.

From a bar in Koh Chang

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Back in Bangkok

Well we are back from Koh Chang. Quite frankly it was awesome. I miss being able to jump on a bus and be on a stunning tropical beach a few hours later. My life has taken a wrong turn somewhere and I surprisingly find myself as a thirty eight year old non billionaire. I was supposed to be rich, with time on my hands and easy access to a beach. What the balls went wrong? Fingers crossed for forty.

I will write about Koh Chang soon. With photos in case I am dull (unlikely I know, you avid reader you). The reason I am not writing about it now is because I am on my iPad and I haven’t gotten round to transferring photos to it yet. I love this device but having to use itunes to do any-bloody-thing is a definite minus. I would have brought out my laptop but unlike my beloved iPad, it seems to have a problem with connecting to any wireless outside of England. It’s either due to racist software (nanny state pricks), or simply vista. I suspect the latter although nanny state firewalls might be a factor.

I can look at porn in London for fuck’s sake (I did a check for journalistic purposes), but I can’t log onto wireless in Bangkok to check my emails. There is something wrong there. I can get a ‘local’ connection but I don’t even know what the fuck that is.

In a couple of days I will move from the suburbs to a hotel which will hopefully have wireless my suspicious operating system will trust. Then it will be a glorious technicolour wordofward once more! A wordofward where you can marvel/find pretentious the writings within or look at the pretty pictures. A wordofward with choice. With freedom for all. Unfettered by Microsoft paranoia or Apple self importance. Or, as I said, pretentious shite.

St Ives Guide

What with the economy being broken and credit crunching and blah blah tedium, more people are having what has annoyingly being termed a ‘staycation’. We thought we’d give one a go. I’ve always wanted to go to St Ives and Cornwall in general. It was also my wife’s birthday. I knew there was both art and pubs there, so we’d both be happy.

The trip from London to St Erth (where we were supposed to change trains) took five and a half hours. Which is a bloody long time for a train. It’s still better than a motorway though ,as you get to see lots of places and lovely countryside and can go to the toilet without having to stop. Bring a book. And a laptop with movies. And an mp3 player.

I thought that St Erth might be a large interchange station but it wasn’t. It was tiny. What was also tiny was the single carriage train that arrived to take us to St Ives. Quaint or cute would be apt words here. We all boarded and acted like excited school kids on a trip to the seaside in Victorian Britain. We also got to see the lovely Carbis Bay and some other appealing places en route.

Carbis Bay

Finally, after a quarter of an hour, our quirky little train arrived.

The huge train.

When you first get off the train and walk down the road a little bit, you get your first proper look at St Ives. And my word, is it pretty. Although it started as a genuine fishing village, it could easily have been designed just to look picturesque and appeal to stupid gawking tourists from places like London. Which is good for St Ives as our fishing industry has been screwed.

As we walked down the high street on the way to the waterfront and our apartment, we gawked at all the art galleries and cafes and restaurants. It seemed like an ideal place to chill out for a week. The two busiest streets are the waterfront, called the Wharf Road, and a cobbled street that runs parallel to this just a bit inland, called Fore street. Which happily was where we were staying. Here’s a handy map so I don’t have to get all descriptive.

We found our apartment, which I was happy to note was practically opposite two pubs. We walked in and got a glimpse of the view. We were supposed to have views of the bay but I was not expecting it to be so bloody fantastic. Have an envious look:

Check out the view!It was a glorious sunny day and we thought we’d celebrate our arrival with a drink. We got to the waterfront and found a nice bar called Hub and because we were in the West Country opted for cider. A pint of Rattlesnake cider each to be precise. This proved such a good idea, we had another. I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone under 6 foot 1 and under 185 pounds who doesn’t drink too much already. Or to put it another way, I felt the effects immediately but was ok. My wife felt the effects slightly more.

We soon switched to lager and G&Ts and decided we should get some food. We were tired and weren’t feeling that adventurous so went went to a place that looks like the sort of trendyish bar that can be found everywhere and was possibly part of a chain. It was called the Firehouse Bar and Grill. Surprisingly, my pizza was great and Nim’s seafood linguine was superb. Truly superb. It could have been because we were hungry and a bit drunk but who cares.

The next day we awoke refreshed and invigorated. The view was fantastic but unfortunately the weather had turned cold and grey and windy. Here is a warning to everyone: drizzle and wind are the default settings for Cornish weather. They might lay on some sun when you arrive but then they switch back to grey once you are settled in. No matter. We are hardy city folk and could take whatever was thrown at us.

As it was our first day we followed the local law and had a pasty for breakfast. I have to say I was disappointed with my first true Cornish pasty. It was exactly the same as the West Cornish pasty shops you get in major train stations in London. Fair play to the West Cornish pasty shops as they have obviously brought the genuine article to London, but it then means you have no real baked treats to look forward to when you get to the West Country itself. Which is a shame.  There now follows a brief description of places we went to in case you fancy going there yourself.

Things to do and see in St Ives.

Tate St IvesFollowing the second law of St Ives, we went to Tate gallery. It’s pretty cool to have your own Tate. This one was in a really nice building but I was mildly miffed by the fact that I had to pay. Cornish people got in for free (although this may have been a promotion). Yet Cornish people can come to London and see our two Tates, which are much bigger and better, for free.  Anyway, the Tate was good and full of art. It really is a must see if you are in St Ives, even if you’re a nasty non-Cornwallian. It’s a great building but obviously not as cool as Tate Modern.

As we were on a cultural roll, we then visited the Hepworth museum which comprised of a museum, (hence the moniker,) and a beautiful garden. And they were beautiful even though we were still experiencing the aforementioned shit weather.  Barbara Hepworth was a legendary sculptress that even I had heard of. It was only after the exhibition that I realised I had seen two of her pieces of already – one on John Lewis in London, and the other outside the UN building in New York.

In fact, the gardens were so pretty Nim went back with a camera a few days later as the sun briefly appeared. Here’s the result:

Apart from through shop windows, these were the only galleries we actually visited. All the others were on the rather predictable theme of ‘Paintings of  St Ives’. Which some might argue as not being that surprising but I personally think it is a shame. Lots of artists have been attracted to St Ives over the years and artist colonies have formed there. These included people like Hepworth and Ben Nicholson and Naum Gabo. And lots of others I have barely heard of that where very successful. They found St Ives to be a place of inspiration but their work wasn’t of St Ives. This seems to have changed with the vast majority of paintings you’ll see being various different ways of representing the bay. Ad nauseam. Maybe I’m being unfair as we just looked through the windows.

Other things worth seeing or doing in the immediate hood:

Climb up the hill at the end of the peninsula between the main harbour and Porthmeor beach. Check out the views and take thousands of similar photos.

Porthmeor beach

Walk down to Porthmeor beach and have a delightful walk while staring at surfers. Or you could even learn to surf here, it’s the best beach. It might be chilly though – you are still in Blighty after all.

Behind Porthmeor beach is the local cemetary which is pretty fascinating in a morbid and occasionally touching way. There are lots of moving memorials to locals lost at sea. All on a hill overlooking the ocean.

Just wander around generally going ‘Ohh’ and ‘ahh’ and generally annoy the locals by walking slowly and blocking the roads. That’s what a lot of tourists seemed to be doing anyway. Why not join them?

Or alternatively, once you’ve done the above, you could go on a lovely day trip.

There are two trips that seem popular, so like sheep we did them as well. You may have noticed if you read this website regularly that there has been the odd Cornish day-trip and restaurant review recently. It was all a cunning plan for this guide. Otherwise this entry would be truly epic. Now I can just link. I’m not just an incredibly handsome face you know.

First recommended trip:

The Eden Project near St Austell. The possible future of mankind! Massive bio-domes full of jungles and rare plants. Plus restaurants…

Second recommended trip:

Land’s End. The end of Britain! Spectacular cliffs and ocean views. If you squint really hard you can see America.

If you can’t be bothered to leave the warm drizzly heart of St Ives, then you can spend your time eating and drinking. Which is pretty awesome too.

PUBS

We’re not alcoholics and were only there for a limited time. Consequently, we only went to four pubs regularly.

The Golden Lion – seemed to be the pub with the most locals in it. All of whom were very friendly. There’s a room out the back with a pool table in as well, which is a bonus.

The Castle Inn and the Union Inn. These two pubs were practically opposite the entrance to our apartment. They are about 5 seconds walk from each other and both were great pubs. We saw live music in one and attended a real ale festival in another. I just can’t remember which one was which.

The Sloop. This pub is on the waterfront and consequently was quite busy. It has low ceilings, cute little booths, and a good fish pie.

We liked all these pubs but probably spent the most time in the Castle and Union Inns. I also chatted to both managers and they were extremely friendly.

RESTAURANTS

We went to a lot of these. You have to as a human or you die. There are some superb restaurants in St Ives and rather predictably we ate a shit-load of seafood. They can be very pricey though and you need to book ahead. If it is July or August, I suspect you should book about a year in advance. Here are the favourites, which I have already written about:

The Loft. Very nice place. Also has a roof terrace if you happen to be in St Ives on one of its rare nice days.

The Saltwater Cafe. Possibly our favourite place. Very, very small with a family feel. Book now for 2015!

The Mermaid. Charming little place with eclectic stuff all over the walls.

So there you. A St Ives guide in a finely crafted nutshell. I hope you find it useful if you go there. As staycations go, it is a great place. I would imagine it might be a bit of a nightmare mid-summer but it is ever so quaint. Buy an umbrella and give it a visit.

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Land’s End, Cornwall

It’s the End of The World as we know it. Well the end of England anyway. The land part. Ok, I’ll stop, this is getting a bit tortured.

In case you didn’t know, Land’s End is at Britain’s most south westerly point. Not including islands we have in the Atlantic, obviously. If you are visiting Cornwall then Land’s End is probably on your itinerary already. So what is actually there? How should you get there?

I’ll answer the second question first. We got a bus from St Ives to Penzance and then another bus. Penzance is nothing spectacular really. It just has a name made romantic by its association with pirates. We missed all the pirates but did manage to see a Greggs bakers, a McDonalds, and a Weatherspoon pub, so if you like them you should check it out. For some reason it reminded me of Colchester except Penzance has the sea whereas Colchester has a castle. Otherwise they are the same. I apologise to both Penzance and Colchester for this comparison.

If you take the bus you can take in some lovely scenery and who doesn’t love lovely scenery? Also it was the only way to do it without a car. Fortunately this worked in our favour as we would otherwise have missed the best bit.

After about 40 minutes, our bus drove down a steep road and lo! a huge beach, cliffs, the ocean. It was truly breathtaking. Assuming we had arrived, we started to disembark when the very friendly driver stopped us. Somehow he twigged we weren’t locals and informed us that we had arrived at a place called Sennen Bay. He then informed us that we could walk from the bay to Land’s End. The beach was stunning so we got off. Photos can’t really to credit to the place but here goes. The tiny dot is a person – the beach was huge.

From Sennen Bay to Land’s End is about a mile. Or 30 minutes or so given that you are walking beside cliffs and it can be unbelievably windy. I was getting the impression that Cornwall was permanently the brunt of Atlantic winds and walking along the cliffs toward Land’s End certainly bore this theory out. I had experienced wind like this before but it had been in Hong Kong as a typhoon hit, not in England on the edge of a cliff.  My wife, who weighs almost half what I do, clung to me almost the entire way in case she was blown off.

Cliffs near Land's EndI would highly, highly recommend getting to Land’s End by this method. Partly because once you get there you feel as if you have achieved something and seen some stunning coastline, but mostly because you will feel a bit let down otherwise – there’s not really a lot there when you arrive. There’s the usual sign you get in places like this that marks your destination, points to other places, and provides a place to have your photo taken.

30th March is that way apparently

Apart from this sign there is a pub/coffee shop sort of place where you can have cheesy chip and a pint. It’s nice enough but could have been a lot better. But why should it try really? It’s not going to have regulars, it’s just going to be full of wind-swept tourists who want a coffee after having had their photo taken. So it is pleasant enough.

Behind this, is a small but slightly complex. There is a shopping mall, and a couple of bizarre entertainment ‘rides’? ‘Experiences’? Whatever they are they were weird and felt out of place.

For example:

Pirates? Ok, I guess.

Ok, pirates. The sea. But Doctor Who. Er...Doctor Who? This complex was small so I assume these ‘whatever-they-are’ thingies are going to be pretty crap. It all just seemed a bit weird and a cheap way to cash in on tourists. ‘Ahhh,’ you might be thinking, ‘the place is probably heaving with tourists in August.’ Smug bastard that you are. If that is the case then why is the complex so small?

Also, for a tourist heavy location, there is the whole issue of the bus stop…

Assuming that there must be lots of transport to and from one of Britain’s more famous locations we were rather surprised that we couldn’t see any. We asked in the tourist office but the dumpy sack of a lady who worked there was really unhelpful and seemed to hate us. ‘There’s a bus over there,’ she waved vaguely with her pie-like hands. If you loathe outsiders, why work in a tourist office? You can probably guess I didn’t like her much. Maybe her dog had just died or something.

Eventually we found the bus stop after a bit of a walk. Like a lot of places we visited in Cornwall, it was hard to find and we had to wait ages for a bus. As a city person, I found this frustrating and annoying. Land’s End is a popular place but I guess you are supposed to drive.  There was one bus an hour. Here is a picture of it:

Bus stop. See it?

The bus stop is near the white house. It took five minutes to get to this point.

I’ll stop bitching. It just annoys me when lots of things are set up to get money from tourists but there’s no public transport. It was a superb day and I just thought it was a shame. Once on the bus, the journey back was a breeze.

So… to conclude.

Go to Sennen Bay and walk to Land’s End. You’ll see some gorgeous Cornish coastline, which is what you’re there for after all. It is truly a beautiful spot and the walk is a spectacular and rewarding one. You’ll get a year’s worth of healthy fresh air in a wonderful half hour. Then have a coffee. Then drive home. Enjoy.

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The Eden Project

I’ve been wanting to go to the Eden Project for years just because of some awesome looking photos I saw on the internet. If you don’t know what this project is, you should read more about it. It’s brilliant. Massive bio-domes in an old clay quarry in Cornwall. It’s being done as an experiment with funding from the National Lottery so I felt like I already owned a bit of it. As far as I can tell, the experiment is to see if it can actually be done. Turns out – it can. I love when people get together and try to do something just out of a desire for knowledge and to see what can be achieved. It makes me feel good about humanity for a change.

To get there, you need to take a train to St Austell. From there you will hopefully find a shuttle bus waiting that will take you to the project. Sadly it is just a bus not a large replica moon buggy as I’d secretly been hoping. To get in you have to pay £16, plus the bus, plus the train and then back again. I’d recommend getting a return ticket to the project including all travel. You’ll save a fortune and don’t have to queue anywhere. I’m not designed to queue as I’m far too self important.

Once you get off the bus you’ll find yourself in a car park. It will be named after a piece of fruit just to remind you damned eco-friendly everything is. As you walk down to the project, you will get an occasional glimpse of the project. It was around this point that I started to get quite excited.

The first glimpses...

We walked down the hill and found ourselves at the entrance building. There’s a huge shop selling lots of Eden Project merchandise and eco stuff and hippy things like herbal teas and seeds. There’s also a cafe and the main entrance where you’ll need to show your ticket. Then you are through. Looking across a small nicely manicured valley at the two main domes. They are unbelievably cool, like something out of a science fiction movie circa 1970.

How cool is this?

We walked down the hill through the predictablypleasant gardens. There was one building that was shut as it was going through a transformation from an ice rink to a display area for weird plants which was a shame as I would have enjoyed either of them. Or both together – skating through huge man-eating plants would be exciting. It also doubles as a stage and they have held numerous gigs and parties here which must be pretty incredible. If you feel like you are walking through a sci-fi set from from the past, there are certain random things that might add to this. Giant mutant bees for example…

I would have included some robotic triffids, but that’s just me. As you get closer to the domes the scale of the things really starts to impress. Look at the little people!

Bio domes

As you can see each biosphere comprises of three domes stuck together. (Or is it that each bio-dome consists of three spheres stuck together?) There are two huge biospheres in total and they are linked by a building that has restaurants and toilets and so on. The biggest biosphere is the tropical one. It was a cold and windy Cornish day so we eagerly headed for the tropical zone. My wife and I were both born in the tropics and we missed being uncomfortably hot and clammy. On entering the dome it was pleasantly warm and full of people taking off jackets and doing minor wardrobe adjustments. There is a recreation of an old fashioned steamboat hull surrounded by old crates. As if you are a landing party on some African shore in the early 1900s or so. Which is a pretty nice touch. They should have gone one step further and hired a Tarzan look-a-like to swing through the trees but you can’t have everything.

Steamship in the jungle

Then you see the interior of the dome. It is immense. I started to wonder which bit I would live in if society suddenly crumbled outside and we were all stuck in the dome for the next decade.

It is even bigger when you are there

There was a path that wound up through the jungle. Dotted around were added things of interest – unique or weird plants with accompanying explanations, a Malaysian long-hut, a small clearing in an African village, tribal wall murals, random gardeners talking and displaying unique items such as the world’s biggest seed from the Seychelles. Happily, the seed is also quite rudely shaped which is always fun when it comes to seeds and fruit. Apparently this seed is remarkably tasty and nutritious but the killjoys wouldn’t let us sample it because of rarity or something. They could have faked it and we’d be none the wiser. Fill a mould with creme caramel and melon or something. I do realise that it is these thoughts that would ensure me never getting a job anywhere serious, but it would be more fun.

Nim and the world's largest arse shaped seed

A Malaysian long-hut

Cool murals

After all this excitement you barely notice that you have been travelling gradually upwards. It soon becomes apparent however, when you notice the levels of sweat dribbling down your arse. By the time you get to the top it is 35 Celsius and unbelievably humid. It was like being in Bangkok in the summer but without there being a chilled beer in an air-conditioned bar in easy reach. Which is a shame as having a bar there would have been fucking brilliant.

Nim looking hungrily at lemongrass.

The view from the top

The descent is quicker than the ascent and you are soon back at the start. There are lots of other things to see that I haven’t mentioned here – such as unique plants, colourful flowers, and lots of educational things like the history of rubber or where coffee comes from. I just don’t want to ruin it all for you. Plus I can’t be bothered. We decided to cut through the restaurant area and go straight to the Mediterranean bio-dome. This was a pleasant place and a bit like being in the Med. Which isn’t a surprise I guess. The temperature was quite pleasant – like spring in Spain. It wasn’t as huge or impressive as the main tropical dome but it was well done. Lots of pretty flowers and all that crap. Here are some now:

Enough? Ok good. Actually my favourite bit was an area that had been filled with an artistic statue recreation of beings worshipping Bacchus, the Greek god of fertility and wine. Surely one of the sweetest jobs if you happen to be a god. These photos are better than flowers:

Bring on the booze and rumpy pumpy!

He’s also the god of rabbit heads on sticks apparently:

Rabbit skulls on poles. Ahhh the Med!

How cool is this god? I may be an atheist but if I was to pick a fictional deity with magic powers to blindly worship, then Bacchus is the one I’d go for. Why pick one that smites you all the time? Why choose an afterlife where you have to sing hymns and live according to stringent rules? Let’s face it, there will be no drink and drug fuelled orgies in any normal heaven. None. I’m not saying every night but you’re there for eternity God’s sake, it will get boring without hedonism. Anyway, I digress.

The Mediterranean dome was nice and pleasant after the heat of the tropical zone. I highly recommend doing it in that order.

By this point we were starving. As we walked back into the area between the zones and the aforementioned restaurants, we saw that there was a Mediterranean kitchen near us. Brilliant idea, I thought. They must have Mediterranean food this end and ‘tropical food’ at the other. We eagerly hurried to the restaurant adjacent to the tropic zone hoping for a Thai curry or fried Amazonian piranhas or something. Washed down with some delightful African elephant juice or Papa New Guinea punch.  But no. It was Cornish pasties and sandwiches and bottles of coke. Which was a shame.

After a traditional Mediterranean dish of pepperoni pizza and Peroni beer, we left the main domes and headed for the final building. It was full of kids and displays and information about the project. On the ground floor there was loads of activities and displays and stuff. It was pretty interesting but the kids started to annoy me. Bless them and all that but fuck they are noisy. There was also an art gallery by an artist commissioned to paint the project from its infancy. Which was pretty good, if a little pricey.

The were two things I was impressed by in this final bit. One was a huge machine, like something you’d find in a Victorian factory that was massive and child-labour intensive and made pipe cleaners. It had a handle that you could wind and make it all work and judging by the kids eagerly waiting their turn – still used child labour. Fortunately, at 37 and 6 foot 1, I was bigger than they were and was able to push them aside and have a go. It was pretty interesting to see it all in action. Here’s yet another photo:

Big machine

The second good thing was a video that showed how they decided to build a gigantic stone seed to symbolise the birth of the project. They searched for two years to find a massive chunk of stone. The stone was huge and when carved, weighed 70 tonnes. Which is quite a lot. It was then lowered into a special chamber where you can wander around and have thousands of photos taken and touch it for some reason. It was pretty inspiring and the effort to get it there symbolises the kind of effort that went into the project as a whole. Here is, you guessed it, a photo:

'Seed' at the Eden Project

So there you go. After that it was a walk to the initial building, the purchase of coffee and an Eden Project T-shirt.

It was here that we had a problem. The Project prides itself on eco-friendliness and encourages cycling and recycling and all that crap. But if you don’t have a car, the transport is shite. We had to wait ages for a bus. Then, when we got to the train station, we had to wait 2 hours for a train. I know we are from London where a 5 minute wait for transport is tedious but this was ridiculous. Anyway, gripe over but it is something that they should look at.

I really liked the Eden Project. I like the idea, the fact that people are willing to get together just to see if something can be achieved, how it’s funded, the way it has all been put together. Apart from the transport it was well worth the trip. It wasn’t quite what my sub-conscious was hoping for, but my sub-conscious is permanently imagining doomsday scenarios and cool ‘end of humanity’ survival stories. Plus I grew up on 70s and 80s Sci Fi where everyone lived in places like this and I think I was hoping for cheesy robots and gardeners with jet-packs and hot chicks in lycra with lip-gloss. All of which was lacking.

We thoroughly enjoyed the place and I can now tick it off my life to-do list. Hopefully they will listen to my suggestions above and the place will be perfect. If you are in Cornwall it is an essential visit. Go and support them. We might all be living in these domes in 50 years. Sadly though, probably not.

The Eden Project

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I got married… again! This time Bangkok Buddhist Style

Yes, I’ve done it again. Same lady, but different country and very different ceremony. So my blog and review output has been somewhat lacking. Apologies for this but I have to have priorities.

My ‘Wedding 2’ was held in a large ballroom in Bangkok. There were nine monks, a hundred guests, and lots of emotion. It also featured myself giving a speech that ended with a load of surprisingly comprehensible Thai. I will write more on this very soon but I’m a bit drained at the moment. It promises to be a fascinating article when it happens. The ceremony was opened by a (now) relative who is the head of the Ministry of the Interior. That’s just for starters. I will talk about all the monks chanting and string tying and water blessings soon. I promise.

Life has almost returned to normal. Normal for my life in Bangkok anyway. It feels great to be back here and hanging out with friends. I barely feel as if I left. All I have to do now is write a 1500 word essay on linguistics and historical perspectives on socio-dialects and attitudes toward them by tomorrow night. Then I can finally chill out and blog my ass off.

Right now though, I’m going for a pint. Of Tiger. In a street cafe in Bangkok. Life is good.

Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Galaxy.

Well, I’m back. I apologize for not writing recently but I have been on a minor European tour. First off, I’ve been to Bruges. In Belgium. Like the feckin’ movie. It was a lovely place and is one of the most perfectly preserved medieval cities in Belgium. It’s full of cobbled streets, cafes, statues, old buildings, horse-drawn carriages, chocolates and tourists. Plus bars and beer.

Myself (withe hooded top) gazing longingly at cafes

Myself (wit the hooded top) gazing longingly at cafes

We then went to Ghent, which is pretty similar except much larger and more exciting and less twee. I love Ghent.

Ghent: ain't it nice?

Ghent: ain't it nice?

Then we are the first people I have ever met to go to Luxembourg. It was about as exciting as you’d imagine. Which leaves it up to you.

Luxembourg. It's quite pleasant.

Luxembourg. It's quite pleasant.

Then finally, Brussels. The heart of the EU. The place where the smoking ban originated and rankings placing Britain as the most binge-drinker filled place in Europe. It is fall of bars where you can smoke and drink beer that is 10% alcohol. Why are they able to get it right?

Brussels and old stuff!

Brussels and old stuff!

I shall write about the trip in more detail very soon on this very site. I might even start a new tab. While on this minor excursion I also read the 6th book in the very inaccurately named ‘Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ trilogy. It is called ‘And Another Thing’ by Eoin Colfer and is damned enjoyable. Different from Douglas Adams’ style but I liked it.

and another thing There will be more on all the above in lots more detail very soon. I just thought I’d update the site in case anyone thought the website, or myself, had come to a halt. We are both in fine fettle – apart from the fact that it is now 6am and I’m back at work trying to aid my ailing bank balance after a European trip. Other than that, fine bloody fettle!

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