Useless tuk-tuk Tour (Cambodia)

Cambodia ~ Siem Reap – 2016

I know it’s a little bit easy and uninspiring to do this, but I still feel it’s always a decent option to take a tour when you are in a new foreign country. I’m aware this goes against all of the present wisdom which suggests you should just cycle off into the sunset without a map and perhaps you will stumble to the moon or make friends with a talking frog who regales you with all of the native knowledge you never thought you would learn. I know that, but I am still standing by my stance. Tours are okay, okay?

And no you don’t have to pull your socks up to your knees, or wear Crocs to be allowed in the group…any age can apply and these are simply suggested uniform items as opposed to mandatory.

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Anyway aside from that this tours are a great way to swot up on history and hidden parts of the land’s culture; and there’s also a comfort (especially for the solo traveller) in going with a few other people. You’re a lot less likely to be jumped and glassed in the face as some nameless rogue runs away with your passport or currency wallet – and anyway even if that was to happen the OAPs would without doubt back you up, clubbing the assailant with their walking canes until he cries for forgiveness and/or offers cut price beer. Some of that medication they take is powerful X-Men shit, I tell you truthfully!

So in short yet again, tours are okay. Let’s get on with it.  

With this in mind, and my overriding fear of Cambodian dead babies still ingrained in my core…I knew that the only way to go would be to have a nice tour of the nearby temples (Angkor Wat, Angkor…I forget now; ESSENTIALLY THE TOMB RAIDER PLACES THOUGH) and perhaps befriend an old widow or two in the process; we could play bingo afterwards, or I could learn how to knit. Who needs a talking frog when you have (imaginary) old widow friends? Exactly. If things went to plan this was going to be a dream…

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I ended up setting up the tour through the hotel after reading horrendous story after horrendous story of how horribly miserable a time people had experienced by rolling up to tour companies on the spot. This is actually a top tip because these days with the booking sites, Trip Advisor and whatever else, places are really afraid of suffering due to a bad review. So if I am driven off a cliff, or made to dance naked in return for the safe return of my camera during the tour then I won’t be so happy, and traumatised people don’t make for very positive reviewers. So they only try and go with those they trust, makes sense. YA SEE! GOOD!

The fella turned up early, and he was friendly enough – we shook hands, and I thought “why aren’t your hands sweaty, it’s boiling here?” but didn’t say that because a.) he had limited English and b.) that would be a very very odd thing to say to a person upon your first meeting. The reason for the early start was that I am white. Whiter than the whitest whites they always brag about on cleaning commercials…I am ready and willing (for a fee) to be a spokesperson for such advertisements – “WANT YOUR SHEETS WHITER THAN WHITE” then point to me. It’d be great. They’d make millions. Call me!

The guy, Vrim…or Vrom, no…Vhrin – V. Let’s just call him V, found it pretty funny when I told him we are on a timer and then pointed to my skin. I didn’t want to be out all day in the baking hot sun, and the factor 50 I had lathered on my skin could only do so much…it’s not magic after all. It doesn’t suddenly turn me into a glistening beach ready day walker, sadly. 

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It was immediately obvious that it was just going to be myself on the tour, as my new pal V pointed to an empty tuk-tuk as opposed to a cosy air-con bus. What’s a tuk-tuk? Well to those that don’t know it’s essentially a motorbike that someone has attached a little back wagon bit for to wheel people rather precariously about in. Think…Julius Ceaser’s chariot but a present day economy version. Fun at first mind, but soon I felt too exposed and unprotected from the Tattoine-esque climate.

On the journey I saw many other bewildered tourist faces in the same situation. Some of them nodded as if to say: “oh, you too huh?” And then it was back to eyes forward as we slipped around on the seat and gasped for air in the thick hot wind (I have never experienced hot wind until Cambodia). The tour as it was wasn’t exactly a tour…at all. It was just a guy, who again was very pleasant, just pointing at things on the way every so often:

“That is museum…that is museum…and that is museum…”

Well yeah V mate I figured that as they all say museum on the front in English. But thanks anyway! Around the temples he would stop outside and then hand up a hammock in his tuk-tuk and take a rest shooing me away with a smile to have a look around…here I was met with other guys offering tours of the temple…I thought I was already on one! Whaaat?! Once I had seen enough of one spot we’d go on to the next one, sometimes he would offer little tid-bits on the way which was largely lost to mumbles due to the fact he was wearing a thick visor…

“…hummmbleee-ummmm-gummm-king temphugksosos-the king…”

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And for some reason this made ME feel bad, because at least he was giving some effort – so I would just reply with oooohs and aaaahhhs, just repeating back anything which I gathered into a statement and hoping that would satisfy him. Something completely moronic like: “aaah the king…so that’s why it’s a good one. The king would get a good one.” 

I would sound like a pandering knobhead even if I was talking to a three year old, or a dog with mental difficulties – never mind a guy just trying his best with limited knowledge.

As it turns out all you need in Cambodia, and south-east Asia at large is a bike. If you have a bike then you can give a tour. I know most will tell you that perhaps you should have studied ancient history at university, or at least be well read in the subjects and have a deep interest in it…but no. That is certainly an option, but the other option is to just get a bike – attach a seat to the back – and then charge for tours. It’s basically the same fucking thing, don’t be ignorant please.

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Tokyo Tantrums

Japan ~ Tokyo – 2015

Tokyo has a big city sort of reputation to it, an air of grandeur accompanied with a sense of mystery somewhere within the non-stop luminous glare of the lights and the 24/7 rush…

So many films have painted a picture that has made an impression on me, and because of this it was high on the list of places I wanted to see…so when I realised I had a long weekend coming up I didn’t hesitate and booked it up straight away! Just a couple of hours to get from my home in Korea to the unknown world beyond – armed with nothing but a friend’s recommendations (which proved invaluable) and a feeling I was soon to be in my very own Lost in Translation remake…

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Sidenote: when travelling you really do need to think long and hard about who you will actually travel with. Well maybe not too thorough – nothing too ridiculous, but at the very least you need to see a clean bill of health (both physical and mental), a criminal background check, and dental records. Also check their voice and typical conversation topics as otherwise you may be locked in with the most boring groaner on the planet – which is never going to be fun. With this particular adventure I was meaning to go alone originally, and then at the last minute a lady friend of mine tagged along…which brought some erm, shall we say – complications? 

Anyway I mean this sincerely when I say that Tokyo is a marvel. So much to see and do, a far cry from the more reserved and traditional parts of Japan I had visited earlier in the year.  But oddly I found it manages to retain a fantastic balance between the two often conflicting sides; you see one second I’d be staring up at a 60 foot tall science fiction juggernaut in the form of the powerful Gundam, the next I was wearing a traditional yukata and relaxing in an onsen…then I’d blink and be back to the mad rush of the Shibuya scramble crossing! I was completely in my element, roving around searching for the weird and wonderful, straining my neck to try and see as much as I possibly could…it was everything I had dreamed about for so long, and so much more…

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But yeah: the ghost at the feast…the wasp at the picnic…the drunk and slightly creepy uncle at the family reunion. Hmm, that last one was a bit weird, but you get my point – this is the part of the story where I say what didn’t go so smoothly, and most of it had to do with my travel companion: hence my warning earlier. You see I try my utmost to remain as friendly and light hearted as possible during trips, as from experience I understand that it can be a pretty stressful period if you let the small things seep in and truly affect you…if you do that suddenly the foul smell of a certain street, the incessant honking of horns on the road, or perhaps even your friend’s breathing can have you suddenly enraged beyond all comprehension: like smashing an axe into a locked door screaming “heeeeere’s Johnny!”  sort of level rage. So it’s best to take a deep breath instead, and just let most hiccups roll off your back…

However, my lady friend didn’t share this ethos…which meant that any small thing became the reason for a monumental day-ruining mood. Juxtapose that dark rain cloud along with my attempted cheery sense of humour and you had quite a pairing; something like if Voldemort was to meet one of the Teletubbies. Well actually that’s unfair (to he who must not be named): it would only be like that if Voldemort had the emotional range to both grimace and groan about public transport, and literally burst into tears about the levels of salt in Japanese food…as it stands I don’t think he is quite on her level yet.

I can understand the frustration though, Tokyo is huge and it’s far too easy to become dazed and confused by the sprawling subway system: which I honestly think was designed by someone throwing spaghetti at the wall, and saying: “that’ll do just fine.” We took many wrong turns during our days there, and the hours were long and well travelled…but I don’t see how it helps remaining silent or dragging your feet along as if you are a pathetically non-threatening zombie, or almost defunct robot:

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There is an answer to such problems though, and one which I will gladly share with all of you…and that is; beer. Yes, you heard it here first! The golden elixir is the perfect remedy to all sorts of ailments, including the frustration you may feel when a friend (or something more) is becoming more than you can bear. Thankfully there was a so-called “English pub” just off a side street near to the Shibuya crossing…where for three times the normal price I could enjoy beer, ales, and all that good stuff as if I was back amongst the smoke and laughing guffaws of my homeland…“Wait, it’s how much?! Jesus tap-dancing Christ!? It’s not worth that!”

But yeah, that’s how things go! Ups and downs, smiles and frowns…you have to take the good with the bad, and try to carve out memories that will last: and despite all the issues we were still able to do that…pretty much.

However I must now look for an AA meeting in South Korea: so yeah, wish me luck. 

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