Max Payne 3 review

Max Payne 3

Max Payne is back and he’s as mental as ever. I loved the first two although they feel like distant memories now. I do still remember certain scenes from them though and that’s impressive given that the second one came out nine years ago and I have already forgotten most of last week. It’s possible that is because I played them both twice as they were so brilliant.

Here’s the plot:

Max Payne is now retired and is drinking all the time in New Jersey. This seems like an admirable way to spend retirement to me but apparently it isn’t good. Max is then persuaded to move to Sao Paolo in Brazil to work as a bodyguard to a rich family. He thinks it will be a breeze – wet nursing some rich types at cocktail parties. Unfortunately for Max (but not for us the player – his godlike controllers), he is massively wrong. Thanks to corruption and dastardly plots and so forth, it turns into a regular killfest. Actually it isn’t that regular, it is a mega ultra uber killefest.

As a huge fan of the franchise, I was worried that they might change things too much. Not that worried though, this is Rockstar we are talking about, those guys and (probably) gals are legends. But gone are the comic book cut-scenes, which is a bit sad as they were quite cool. Also Max is a bit older and chubbier and is now in a sunny, colorful place as opposed to the slightly monochrome world of New York in winter. Consequently it doesn’t feel quite as noir as previous incarnations.

However, James McCaffrey is back as the voice of Payne and he is as cynical and gritty as ever. Although there are no comic book bits, there are some awesome cut scenes. Visually, there are a lot of movie edit effects as used by Tony Scott. Unlike Tony Scott’s more recent output (Domino for example), it isn’t massively overused to the point where you feel dizzy. Just enough to look cool.

Bullet time baby! (Thanks www.gamersbliss.com)

One thing that hasn’t changed thankfully, is bullet-time. This was one of the prime things that set the original apart and remains brilliant. If anything, it is even better. Although it was never always the greatest tactic to simply leap through a door, whack on the bullet-time and blow the shit out of everyone, it still remains one of the most fun things to do in any video game.

The gameplay is awesome. Max is easy to control and the adventure and sets are great. It is a very linear game but as a pay-off, some of the set pieces are awesome with sequences better than a lot of movies.

The multiplayer seems fun and has been hailed by some as ‘a game changer’, although people hail things with that epithet way too often for my liking. You can form gangs and even use bullet-time which is pretty mental. I only played a few games of team deathmatch and unlike a lot of other online shooters, I was matched against beginners. Whom I suspect hadn’t just finished the campaign because they were awful. It’s possible I was brilliant but going by early online forays in other games, that seems unlikely.

There are various other modes for replayability such as harder settings and ‘New York Minute’. This latter option was available on the older games as well and is essentially a race against time with bonus points for headshots and general coolness like: hitting bullet-time, leaping off a balcony and killing everyone before you hit the ground.

To conclude: I was a massive Max Payne fan and I still am. The mood may have shifted slightly to a bastard offspring of gritty noir and Tony Scott, but it still works. Above all, it’s fun. The first time you find yourself leaping into the fray, shifting into bullet-time with rounds tracing through the air, you will find yourself grinning. Especially as the final shot in a battle always follows the bullet to its bloody destination. In slow motion. That’s just class.

Two videos for this one because you’ve all been good. First up here is a gameplay trailer which shows you some bullet-time in case you have wasted your life and haven’t played the first two games.
http://youtu.be/rqjOXR9QnMo

And to conclude, the trailer:
http://youtu.be/WIzyXYmxbH4

 

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Gary Oldman campaigns against athletes acting

Someone posted this on Facebook and it made me laugh. In case you haven’t seen it you should, because it’s damned funny. Enjoy.

 

Comedy films become horror

As editing movies becomes easier there are an increasing number of re-cut films, sequences, and trailers out there on the interweb. Generally this is really annoying. You try and find a trailer for a movie or game on youtube and some pointless dink has make a fake one from old film footage. I assume they are spending hours of their time to satisfy a weird fetish of being hated and disliked on the internet. Maybe it’s cool, maybe they are twats. (I’m trying to sound balanced here, but it is totally the latter.)

So it is refreshing when someone does something clever. According to the blurb, a student decided to do a re-cut of Mrs Doubtfire to turn it into a horror flick for a film project. The result is genius and convincing. I don’t know if the student was the first but there are a lot on youtube now for all sorts of movies. If you fancy an utter waste of time enjoying these, you are in for a treat. Just so you know what I am talking about, here is the trailer:
http://youtu.be/U71P5FKFqfg

Going with the comedy to horror theme, here is another good one – Dumb and Dumber:
http://youtu.be/zLDx-BPgxxA

Willy Wonka had some genuinely scary moments anyway but check this out:
http://youtu.be/o9Cby33ZR98

There are others on youtube if you fancy. There are other mix-ups which are mildly funny at first but then peter out: Mary Poppins as a drug dealer, The Shining as a Seinfeld comedy, and so forth. It all depends on how much free time you have I guess. I wish I had more time for my ‘Dancing alien chicks of Star Wars and Star Trek’ video project but lamentably I don’t. Feel free students.
 

NASA videos Transit Of Venus and it’s astounding

This is great. NASA has released footage from its satellite the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). If you think money spent on space is a waste of time, please go elsewhere. Enjoy.

I turned 40 and have fled to Prague

Yikes! A few days ago, the 31st to be precise, I turned forty. That would officially make me middle aged if it wasn’t for the fact that life expectancy in the West is now over 82 and will be higher by the time I get up to my octogenarian milestone. So I have a couple of years. There’s also the fact that I have known deep down that I will live to 400 at least (I can’t reveal how at this moment but it’s going to happen).

Consequently I’m not too depressed. It did seem a good excuse to flee to the Czech Republic and revel in an orgy of beer for a week however. Or pivo as it’s quaintly known as here. I’ve been to Prague a ton of times over the last 15 years and love it. Not just for some of the best beer in the world either, although that is a plus.

Rybka Cafe

Prague is just so gloriously bohemian and the prefect place to write in. I’m not just saying that as a pretentious prick either – it is actually in Bohemia. It’s ideal for drinking coffee all morning in a cozy cool cafe while scribing, then in the afternoon you can switch to beer. Often in the same place. The beer is legendary, cheap, and so fresh and organic that you can drink buckets of it and if you drink some water before you go to bed you don’t even get a hangover. Unless you match it with an absinthe shot, in which case you may wish for death the next day.

 

The coffee is good too and the cool coffeeshops nearly always have free wifi. Plus you can smoke (although I am quitting at the end of this holiday). The Czechs do pretty well when it comes to famous writers – not as good as the English or Americans obviously – but Havel, Kundera, Kafka and others are an impressive intellectual group. Like the French and English creative types of yore, they used to enjoy being creative in cafes/bars. The cafes here are superb to write in and have been used by writers for decades. I miss that in England. Since the smoking ban, cafes in London are full of mothers who let their kids run riot while smiling proudly. It’s not good for writing in unless you are writing about a crèche or being irritable. The smoky cafe where intellectuals and students drank coffee and alcohol while discussing Kafka have sadly gone from the Uk.

Anyway, I will stop whinging about Britain. I’m happy. I’m writing and drinking beer in a place called the Rybka cafe and loving it. I’m surrounded scruffy unshaven types drinking wine and ale and chatting about literature and art or tapping on laptops or (in my case) my iPad. The walls are lined with books, art and, a little bit bizarrely, typewriters. Soon we will move to somewhere similar but different.

This is the sort of lifestyle I intend to lead for the next decade. One full of booze, writing, coffee and culture. Also, if this blog entry is anything to go by, a hugely pretentious and up my own ass decade. Prague seems a good place for it.

Or possibly Berlin.

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Skyfall trailer

Bond! James Bond! The new trailer for the much delayed Skyfall is finally with us. I love Bond films and I think that the new batch are great. This one feels like it will be the final part of the Bond trilogy for some reason, even though it shouldn’t be. Bond is immortal after all, he just changes his looks occasionally. Like a mega violent womanizing Doctor Who without the time travel.

Anyway, enough blather. Here’s the Skyfall trailer:
http://youtu.be/24mTIE4D9JM

Introducing The Leap.

Why the gloves Tom?

A friend just posted this on Facebook (thanks Tim). Very cool. According to the blurb ‘The Leap’ is more accurate than a mouse. I don’t play many PC (or Apple games) very much any more but I remember the frustration of Quake 3 Arena with a mouse – especially before laser mouses and we had to use stupid ball things. (Plus laser mouses sound cool for some reason.)

Well the future is here my friends and it looks a lot like Minority Report but without  the gloves and the weepy, happy ending. (Especially if you need both hands to scroll through porn sites.)

It looks cool in my opinion. Especially the game bit. All those years practicing shooting with imaginary finger guns are finally going to pay off. (And they said I was a fool!) I assume some kind of weird arm rest would be needed after a while but what the hell. Me want!
http://youtu.be/_d6KuiuteIA
 

 

 

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Guinness QR glass

Guinness QR

This is genius/awful. I love Guinness, it’s a tasty pint of health and alcohol. I also love gadgets, so you can see while this really appeals to me. Basically it’s a glass that has a QR code on it that is only visible when filled with ‘the black stuff’. It doesn’t work with normal lagers or other inferior drinks (except stouts obviously).

When I first saw it I immediately thought what an absolutely genius idea. But then I read an article about it on Boing Boing (great site if you don’t know it). Apparently it then: ‘tweets about your pint, updates your facebook status, checks you in via 4 square, downloads coupons and promotions, invites your friends to join, and even launches exclusive Guiness content.’

I don’t know if this is true (hopefully it is a zeitgeist joke) but if it is then the idea has been downgraded from genius to ‘leave me the fuck alone’. I recently wrote how annoyed I was that every app or programme wants to ‘share’ everything I do with facebook. Now my beer wants to grass me up. Thanks technology.

(Thanks Boing Boing for the image http://boingboing.net/2012/05/18/hidden-pint-glass-qr-code-is-o.html )

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Google Glass

If you are on the internet enough and are up with your virals and memes you have probably seen this picture already:

 

Google glass

Apparently this picture appeared in the Google + account of Google VP Sebastian Thrun. Like many of you, I had never heard of him. At first glimpse I was also nonplussed as to why I should care about his photos either.

But if you look at the photo you realise that this couldn’t be taken by normal means. Unless he has strapped a camera to his head and set it on timer, it must mean that Google’s project Glass is almost complete.

 

In case you think it looks silly, here are the glasses on an attractive woman.

In case you haven’t heard of this before, Google Glass is about to change the world. Apparently. It is the latest augmented reality device. Essentially it’s a pair of glasses that turns your vision into a computer display and camera that overlays stuff you don’t really need to see over your tawdry, old fashioned reality. Let’s face it, your reality probably sucks so why not overlay something to make it more interesting?

I can foresee a few problems with it.

As you can see from the photo above, no matter how attractive and smiley you are, it still looks a bit lame. I suspect it will be worn by the sort of person that thinks a blue-tooth headset looks cool. I love gadgets and these headsets should appeal to me but for some reason I hate them. I have yet to see anyone wearing one that I didn’t think looked a bit like a posing twat. Fortunately, if they live in a city like London, they will get mugged pretty much every day which should remove the smug look from their smarmy self satisfied faces.

Also, a year ago I paid £4000 to get my eyes lasered because I hate wearing glasses, even if it was just a few minutes a day. I will not be wearing glasses now just so that I can do things that my phone does anyway.

On the other hand, it would be pretty cool to have a computer interface in the corner of your eye. You could watch a film or read a book while at work and no one would know. In a boring conversation? Check your facebook or read The Word of Ward. Being shouted at by your girlfriend for not paying enough attention to her? Look at some porn until she’s finished saying whatever the hell it was she was going on about. Genius.

So I guess I’ll just wait for the contact lens version. While I’m waiting, I can amuse myself with my phone – videoing people with Google Glasses walking into lamposts.

Here is a video showing what it will be like to wear them. Keep an eye out for the ‘check in’ bit. You just know this will be a default setting that lets the world know where you are. Good for burglars and bosses. Forget to turn it off and then skive off work and go to the pub and you will lose your possessions and your job in a single outing. Hooray for technology.

 

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Drenched Britain struggles through drought

I’m currently in the middle of two 80 hour weeks of mostly nightshifts. Normally this would suck as I have to pass lots of happy people drinking outside pubs on my way to work and when I arrive I am filled with envy and hatred for my fellow man. (I pass seven pubs between my house and the station, my area is awesome.) But recently it has been pissing it down every day so I might as well get to my office and get paid to watch TV while drinking free coffee.

In case you didn’t know Britain is currently soaked and damp. It’s pretty famous for the rain at the best of times and the country is truly living up to its reputation. It has apparently been the wettest April on record. There have been well over 100 flood warnings and the news is gleefully full of images of cars driving through deep puddles and people huddled under umbrellas. According to this report there has been a month’s rain in four days:
http://youtu.be/OzZz1frzEsQ
So far you are probably thinking, ‘So what. You’re British. You chose to live there. Wet weather is hardly news.’ Well you are right. A bit smug and I probably wouldn’t want to hang around with you, but yes, good point.

The reason I am writing this is because we are also officially in a drought. Which I find weird. I like weird so thought I would write/pointlessly complain about it. There have been excuses and tedious people blathering on about reservoirs and thirsty plants but it all seems like bollocks to me. I read that there is a massive problem with the pipes. Apparently they are leaking and lose 1000s of litres of water every day. This seems more plausible than a thirsty tree. If I had waterproofed my house and removed the ceiling I could easily fill it up so why aren’t our reservoirs doing the same? (It’s possible that wasn’t a scientifically accurate comparison.)

What is my point? Do I have a journalist angle? Nope. I’m British (mostly-ish) and we love to bitch about the weather. Consequently it was hard to resist a whinge about the worst drought in decades while having one of the wettest Aprils on record. It’s a genetic thing. Bloody weather.

 

 

Facebook – why do your apps need my details? Why!?

Stop spying on me!

I get a lot of requests on facebook to join groups, play games, take part in a quiz or do something else that will literally waste my life. I nearly always turn these down as I am happy to waste my time playing proper high quality games, or going down the pub with friends, or watching inane violent movies, or gambling on Mexican midget wrestling. I know how to live. I do occasionally enjoy reading articles though and some of my friends are surprisingly interesting in their reading preferences.

The other day, I saw an intriguing looking item that someone had read in the Guardian. It was probably about why the Daily Mail is awful or something, I forget. So I clicked on the link and it said I needed a Guardian app for some reason. (I know, I know, another option was to copy and paste the title into google but the article wasn’t worth the effort.)

Why? Apps are great on phones as they give you a little picture that takes you to a handy programme. Why the balls do I have to install an app to read an article on bastard facebook? I then got annoyed and a little worried. I could read the article but they wanted:

My basic information – which could mean anything.

My email address – why?

My location – piss off, you might burgle me.

My birthday – seriously, why? My birthday? To read an article?

In the end I thought, fuck you Guardian, I’ll read the Mail instead, take that hippies. Except links to the Mail’s site of right wing doom or Yahoo or pretty much anyone else all want the same info. It just seems nosy and intrusive. If I want to do a quiz that tells me what flavour ice cream I am, why do I have to submit the details of all my friends and where I was born or my religion or pant size? It feels as if all major internet sites are currently competing to steal my identity.

Which they will then hand to Facebook.

Who will note it in my timeline.

I know I’m jumping on the bandwagon a bit as more and more people are writing about how facebook shares your data and fucks your privacy. I’m also not naive enough to think that my personal data isn’t already in the hands of a ton of people but I still find it annoying. Twitter and facebook are always trying to find out where I am and I am always telling them to piss off.

I joined Netflix recently and forgot to unclick some box or other and now it’s telling everyone on facebook what I’m watching. I love Netflix and will write about it at some point but publishing what I watch only benefits their advertising, it does nothing for me.

Goodreads and spotify do the same unless you turn off the option. As does my kindle whenever I finish a book. I love technology. I love that by paying a small fee I can effectively carry thousands of films, books, and music wherever I go and access them on shiny little devices but am getting increasingly annoyed with being asked to share it on facebook. Or even worse – sharing it automatically on facebook unless I opt to turn it off which is usually what happens.

The irony is, the moment I finish this rant I will post it on facebook. The difference is that I will have chosen to do so. So there.

Thewordofward, London.

Reading: Leviathon Wakes, Book One of the Expanse by James Corey. (Tremendously exciting space romp.)

Listening to: Led Zeppelin II (Zeppelin rules!)

Just watched: episode 11, 1st series of 24. (Never watched it before. Tremondously exciting Kiefer Sutherland romp.)

Last meal: Spicy noodles. (Tremendously exciting rumblings now happening in my stomach.(

Next bowel movement: 8:15 – 8:25am 21/04/12 (Hopefully not too exciting. Depends on the noodles.)

I hope this enriches your life.

 

 

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Belgium and excitement

I know you are probably thinking that I’m going to mock Belgium and call it dull. Well I’m not. I really like Belgium and have been to Ghent and Bruge half a dozen times and loved them – so there. Even Brussels is good as there is nothing to see but they have 8 billion types of beer. (That figure was a guess but it’s probably close.) They also invented fries which was pretty decent of them.

The reason I am talking about Belgium is just a waffling introduction to a viral video. It is pretty cool. Enjoy.

 

NUKEMAP!

NukemapI seem to be obsessed with apocalyptic google maps at present. Soon after finding The Map of the Dead, another cool map comes along. Nukemap. It is morbid but kind of fun. Basically, you set a point on google maps, select a bomb size (from existing nuclear arsenals), then hit detonate. The map then shows things like the initial blast zone, lethal radiation zone, and so forth. You can even programme the kiloton yield yourself.

We are thinking about a house, so obviously it is prudent to see how far away from the centre of London we should live in case a terrorist blows up Parliament with a dirty bomb. (I think having just typed that last sentence my readership at MI5 just went up.) As I said, it’s a bit morbid but it is interesting. The Nukemap is here.

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Map of the Dead

The Map of the Dead

If you are anything like me you will have (incredibly sensibly) planned what you are going to do when the inevitable zombie apocalypse occurs. My plan involves leather, shotguns, and a castle. In case you are just starting your plan some genius on the internet has just made your job easier. He has made a google map specifically for surviving the zombie outbreak. It is genius.

The Map of the Dead shows you where the nearest essentials are. Things like the nearest camping shop, chemist, hospital, supermarket and so forth. It also shows where the nearest cemeteries are, which is pretty important. I love when people wisely spend their time doing shit like this. The map would work for any kind of apocalypse – it’s just that zombies are cooler. Also, didn’t the Mayans predict a zombie outbreak? Click here for the map.

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Pac-man the movie

I just thought I would share this with you. It’s pretty cool. Not brilliant as such but I just like the fact that someone has gone to so much effort to make stuff like this. I should also clarify, before you lose 6 minutes of your life, that this is a fan made film. It isn’t a real movie trailer or anything. Enjoy.

 

The slow boat to Luang Prabang. Part Three

 

Pakbeng. To summarize: Nice enough.

Pakbeng is a small and not particularly brilliant little town. It was clearly just a little village that was fortunate enough to be roughly half way between Houie Xai and Luang Prabang. It exists as it is now because of the boat. The hotels and guesthouses are fine for a night, but in comparison to most places are pretty shit. Our hotel was ok for £10 a night, but you could get a better deal pretty much anywhere in Thailand outside Bangkok. And we were in Laos, which is even cheaper. But it was perfectly adequate for 1 night, so I won’t grumble. The town has beer, ok food, and sold pillows and baguettes. I happily bought a pillow.

The next day we were up at dawn and the Mekong looked stunning below our balcony in the morning light. The evening before I had been dreading the second half of the trip but despite the solid bed and bizarrely huge and rock hard pillows in our room, I found myself eager for the trip. The boat was due to leave at 9am, so at 8am we loaded up on baguettes, and snagged some great cloth-covered seats at the front left hand side of the boat. My buttocks loved the added comfort of the pillow.

 

Ignoring the wires, the view from our hotel balcony was stunning.

Pakbeng has some nice views.

The morning was the aforementioned ‘bracing’ and when the boat left at the crack of 9:35, everyone was wrapped up in jackets. The day and the view then proceeded to be pretty identical to the one before. The difference this time was that the temperature remained superb until about 2pm. The scenery remained spectacularly beautiful. Our new improved seats were similarly awesome. We were so content and comfortable we celebrated with a Beerlao at 11am. Others on the boat were enjoying Sangsom Whisky and coffee which was pretty damned civilized of them.

The boat was a nicer one on the second day for some reason. The lady selling snacks, coffee and beer at the back even had a little counter. The toilet was nicer as well although I was still pleased not to have to sit on it. This was fortunate as we were supposed to be on the boat for at least 8 hours. Or thereabouts. We were originally told we would get to Luang Prabang at 4pm. Someone near us said that they had heard 3pm and someone else said 5pm.

At about 4pm I saw something I recognised. The Pak Ou caves. I had been there before on a boat rented from Luang Prabang. The caves are at the foot of massive cliff and are filled with thousands of Buddha statues. It’s pretty cool and well worth a visit. I confidently predicted another 10 minutes or so which was a mighty relief as everyone was getting a bit fed up again. It is a long time to be sitting in boat, no matter how gorgeous your surroundings.

Same old gorgeous Mekong

Over an hour later, there it was. Luang Prabang at last. A finger of raised land that sticks into the confluence of the mighty Mekong and Nam Khan rivers. I could see temples and bars all along its side high above the river. It looked like the promised land. It looked lovely and relaxing. The only negative aspect was that, like around northern Thailand, the locals think it is an awesome idea to burn down half the forest. It makes farming easier and if that means a few people choking to death, what the hell. On the plus side, the smoky atmosphere made for some spectacular sunsets. The whole area is beautiful.

The looks didn’t deceive. Luang Prabang remains awesome. The trip was worth it.

You might cough up your lungs but the smoke makes for a nice evening.

In case you navigated to part 3 by accident, part 1 is here.

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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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Retirement in two years!

Hooray! Back to work!

Boohoo I’m back. Not just back in London but back at work. The first day of our return it predictably rained. To cap it all off, our heating is still broken so it was cold too. The following day was sunny – which sounds nice but actually sucked as I had to sleep due to my starting the first of five twelve hour nightshifts. To sum up the situation, it was all bollocks and might have lead to undignified self pity.

Fortunately I am a cheerful sort. Despite all the introspective, snivelling, spoilt, cry-baby-ness of my opening paragraph, I am in fact feeling refreshed and inspired! Even the teensiest bit of perspective helps me to realise what a selfish prick I would be if I wallowed in gloom – just look at what the majority of the rest of the planet put up with each day and here I am whingeing about my return after a 5 week holiday. That perspective and the fact that I have a huge TV rarely fail to provide an emotional lift when I feel a bit fed up. Nil carborundum illegitimi! Currently however, my (apparently mildly annoying) chirpyness comes from having a superb plan.

I turn 40 in a couple of months and apart from the uncontrolled and unmanly weeping I intend to do on the fateful day of the digit change, the rest of my year and those that follow will be epic. My wife said that we can go back and live in Thailand once I can prove that I can earn £1000 a year off the internet. You can live well out there for that amount and the money will only increase. I know that sounds like the opening premise of a sitcom where I go on to try whacky, yet hilarious things to hit my target but it is possible. My plan is fourfold:

1/ Write more. My eBook The Uneven Passage of Time (BUY IT IF YOU HAVEN’T ALREADY!) has had over 600 downloads and will hopefully continue to earn me money until I die or the internet does – and I intend to live until I’m 400 thanks to advances in science. So the more I write, the more money I will make. I will also write a lot more entries on my websites until they become huge and I get pissed of with the fame and pressure. (Most of these entries will be more interesting and less self absorbed than this one, I promise.) I also intend to write a fiction book before I hit 41.

2/ Keep trading. I am getting the hang of this buying and selling shares malarkey and am finally starting to make money off it. Big tip – when the stock market has a timidity spasm and drops massively, don’t shit yourself and sell everything. Hang in there.

3/ Poker. I am now consistently winning at online poker. Granted I am only taking part in games that cost $1 where most of the players are crap, but a year of constant play has honed my skills and I am now ready for the big time. The $3 game. Even if I just win £10 a day, I will be almost a third of the way toward my £1000 target. I confidently predict that within 2 years I will be able to call myself by a cool poker nickname. A decade or so after that, people may even call me by it.

4/ Write what I have just written. According to Professor Richard Wiseman in his book 59 Seconds
(great book by the way), one method to help improve your chances of hitting self imposed targets is to tell people about them. This obviously doesn’t include drunkenly telling people that you are going to quit smoking and write a book while in the pub because I have been trying that for years. I feel that if I write my plan down somewhere more permanent for others to see – like a flickering group of pixels on a screen – then I am more likely to succeed. See, it has already worked. Part four of my plan is done already.

I won’t be tracking my progress in some lame girly way such as found in Bridget Jones’s Diary either. Oh no. I have gone for the more manly option of a spreadsheet on my iPad. It looks pretty awesome.

The target I have set myself is to have all this done by the age of 42. It is my lucky number (thank you Douglas Adams) and a good age to retire from the workplace. So in just over 2 years I should be writing, trading, and playing poker on my laptop in the warm tropics. It won’t be retirement as such, but I will be very happy indeed to spend the rest of my days avoiding the office and doing the things that I love.

Laptop on a lilo. I can't see anything wrong with plan.

 

 

My next gripping entries will all be about Thailand and Laos. Tropical adventure! Uncomfortable travel! Sweat! Similarly self-absorbed waffling as above but it will be informative, interesting, and will have pretty pictures. Probably.

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Hello from Luang Prabang

Dear wordofward readers,

I am now in the stunningly glorious Luang Prabang in the equally stunning and glorious country of Laos. It is astoundingly beautiful here. Luang Prabang is a World Heritage UNESCO site and rightly so. It is a town/small city located on a finger of land at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers. It has a dozen old but lovely temples and a million charming cafes and bars all set in French colonial architecture.

The trip here included: flying to the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai, taking a bus to the even more northern Thai city of Chiang Rai, driving from Chiang Rai to a town called Chiang Kong, taking a boat across the river to Huay Xai in Laos, then a day’s boat journey to a Lao town called Pak Beng, followed by a further day’s boat journey to Luang Prabang. If that sounds epic, I can confirm that it bloody well was. We did stop for a few days at places though.

The whole thing has been a simply superb trip and an incredible experience. I have been to Chiang Mai and Luang Prabang before but this time the trip has felt more of an adventure as we didn’t fly between the two. I danced in a traditional Thai square dance type deal, ate a few fried bugs, got drunk with a Vice Director of a Chiang Rai province two nights running, met the mayor, saw one of the coolest temples (it had plaster severed heads hanging outside), and had an incredible journey down the Mekong.

I would write more but the sun is setting over the Mekong and my Beerlao Dark (awesome but unavailable in Britain) is getting warm.

Nim and I fly back to Bangkok on the 9th and I should be able to post more blog entries WITH PICTURES soon.

Until then hang in there.

Hope you are missing me lots,
The Word of Ward