Wednesday, 29 February 2012

SIEM REAP - CAMBODIA

20th - 24th Feb 2012

Gateway to Cambodia at Poipet
So onwards into the Kingdom of Cambodia. Now back in the Frog ex-colonies of Indo-Chine where boulevards and good fresh bread still exist. The train stopped at Aranyaprathet and it is quite a time consuming performance getting through the Thai exit and in through the Cambodian entry points. It involved hassle with irritating over-enthusiastic Thai tuk-tuk drivers, a 5 km trip to the Thai customs post, more hassle with scam-merchants trying to sell you 'cheap' transport to Siem Reap, pushing luggage for another kilometre to the Cambodian customs post at Poipet, a bus to the transport hub near Poipet and eventually a taxi which I shared with a couple of dotty female Canadian students and a rather monosyllabic Aussie bloke on to Siem Reap. The Canadian girls had convinced themselves that they had developed an allergy while travelling on the train when dust and stuff blew in through the open windows. They were worried that without suitable medicines they might easily die. They had also lost their Thai departure slips which caused further delay. It reinforced my opinion that travelling alone is so much easier! It also reminded me of the paranoia which grips most North Americans concerning ( mostly unnecessary ) vaccines and medicaments when they travel. I will bore you on this subject later; suffice to say they are uncomfortable travelling without their bodies being pumped full of vaccines and serums plus a suitcase full of drugs and pills to combat all the many and much advertised lethal ailments and diseases without which they are convinced that they will inevitably fall victim to, much to the delight of greedy pharmaceutical companies which stir up this paranoia in the first place. Does anyone remember Swine 'Flu? What a successful con that was!


Left: The flag which features the outline of the temple at Angkor Wat. I was last in Cambodia in 1992-93 for six months service with the UN force ( UNTAC ) which, after the horrors of the Khmer Rouge period and the Vietnamese invasion that ended it, ultimately oversaw the May 1993 elections. It was, despite most of us here then not knowing what the hell we were supposed to be doing most of the time, one of the more successful UN missions. It led to peaceful, free and fair elections in which the Royalist FUNCINPEC party won ( 58% of the votes ) and the communist CPP party came second. They offered to form a coalition with Prince Ranariddh ( FUNCINPEC ) becoming 1st Prime Minister and Hun Sen ( CPP ) being 2nd Prime Minister. A few years later Hun Sen instigated a military coup which ousted FUNCINPEC. Hun Sen and the CPP, by fair means and mostly foul, have maintained power ever since. The much revered old king, Sihanouk, abdicated but is still alive and the new king, Sihamoni, is now on the throne. It is all very complicated. In 92/93 I was stationed, as a United Nations Monitoring Officer ( UNMO ), at a nondescript village on the northern border with Thailand in remaining Khmer Rouge territory where the most notable thing we achieved was to organise some amusing water-buffalo and ox-cart racing. We also played volleyball with ex-Khmer Rouge guerrillas who, disconcertingly, were still well armed although had more or less stopped killing people, and propped up their AK47s and rocket launchers against the surrounding trees and net posts while games were in progress. I like to think a bit of sport and some dodgy ox-cart racing served to take their minds off politics and fighting, at least until we got out! I hope also that we taught them to smile. They, admittedly, did do a bit of kidnapping of UN personal while we were there but they declined to kidnap me. I suspect they realised that if they did they would sooner or later be offering money to have me taken back and anyway, who would organise the ox-cart races ( and provide the prizes ).
In those days the roads and infrastructure in general were in a state of complete collapse. The road now from Poipet to Siem Reap is a well maintained highway. It takes about 3 hours to drive. The Canadian girls managed to get there without dying...indeed I think they had rather forgotten about their allergies.
Incredibly, the town was packed with tourists. There are lots of hotels and guest houses, some of which are very luxurious and expensive. The bar and restaurant district was heaving at night; all kinds of food and drink on offer with, of course, the mandatory Oirish bears ( I visited Molly Mallone's for excellent shepherd's pie and Irish stew ) and much high-octane night-life. It is a far cry from those days in the early 90s when the town was an almost deserted ruin in the jungle. It is a very prosperous and lively place now.
The overriding attraction, other than cheap drink and entertainment, are the ancient Angkor civilisation ruins nearby. As you may know, Angkor was the capital city and centre of the vast Khmer empire between the 9th and 15th centuries when it ruled all of what is now Indo-China, Thailand, some of southern China and across towards India. To put it in perspective, at it's peak the city of Angkor had a population of over a million when London's was a mere 50,000.


Right: The centre-piece of ancient Angkor is Angkor Wat ( Anchor Temple ). It is advertised as the world's largest religious building. I don't think so. Maybe they mean it was at the time.
If you look at it from directly in front you only see three towers, hence the image on the flag. With apologies to Nigel Molesworth, "As any fule kno" it has five.
I hadn't realised that the Angkor city complex of stone temples and palaces is so huge. It covers an area of about 20 X 20 miles. Of course all you see are the remains of the religious and royal palace stone built buildings, and a lot of reconstruction and restoration work is going on here continuously, because the normal houses and other buildings were all made of wood which have subsequently disappeared.

The transport around the town and Angkor consists predominantly of the fairly modern ( because there were none in 1993 that I remember ) Cambodian tuk-tuks ( left ). Don't know why they don't call them something more original. They are basically a small motorbike which tows a little covered trailer with two rows of facing seats. Not bad, and you are continually pestered by their drivers for your custom. I was advised by the lovely lady who ran the hotel where I stayed ( Encore Angkor it's name, and highly recommended ) that you need at least three days to tour the whole site. She organised a tuk-tuk for me the next morning driven by Mr Rhet. He was very good; informative but not intrusive. There is a 'small' tour route and a 'grand' tour route around the site. I chose the small one. You pay either $20 for a one day, or $40 for a three day pass, plus $15 for the day's use of tuk-tuk and driver. Not cheap. Off we set around a series of temples and buildings in varying states of collapse and decay or restoration. I staggered and climbed my way through a selection of these. I will not itemise each one ( they all had names.. boring ) but just show a series of photos.


A typical building/temple.....Most of these places were Hindu ( I think ). The Hindus took over from Buddhists ( I think ), or maybe it was the other way around. BUT AT LEAST WE DIDN"T HAVE TO TAKE OUR SHOES OFF!!!! Actually your feet would be cut to ribbons if you did.









.......and another..













....and another, restored version....











...and one with trees growing through it. They say that the complex was mostly enveloped by the jungle. It is not really jungle, just a forest area, plenty of trees with quite sparse undergrowth actually.











.....and another.....












...and another...I think I climbed up this one...















....and another....












......and another....













......and another....











....and another....I climbed up this one too......














.....same one from the top.......












......and another from the top.....














...and a headless Buddha.....












...and another Buddha....

After driving, walking and climbing up and around about half a dozen of these buildings, and it was getting bazzing hot towards midday, we stopped for a well deserved lunch of delicious beef noodles and I murdered several bottles of Angkor beer. I was, to say the least, very thirsty!

The two main sites within the city complex are Angkor Wat ( wat means temple ) and Angkor Thom which is a large fortified area containing several palace buildings and temples, indeed it was the final stronghold of the city. Some of those pics above are of buildings in Angkor Thom. Much of the damage to these buildings and statues was done by invading armies after the fall of the Khmer empire, and some by looters and wreckers during and just after the Khmer Rouge period.

Scattered amongst the trees and along the sandy paths leading up to many of the temples were these 'authentic' Khmer musical ensembles ( left ) which played atmospheric Khmer music. They were also very keen to receive donations and to sell their CDs for $10 a piece. No thanks.
 The atmosphere was somewhat spoilt by far too many hawkers, often snotty nosed little children, desperately trying to sell souvenirs to the tourists. They were a bit of a pest.





After lunch we went to the Hindu Angkor Wat. This is surrounded by a 200 metre wide moat ( right ) which forms a giant square with sides of about 1.5 km.










Left: It is approached over a causeway from the west side, the 'direction of death'. From this direction you see the 'three tower' aspect. The entry reminded me somewhat of that to the Taj Mahal. Indeed it is presumed that this temple was also originally built as a mausoleum, this time for a dead early Khmer king. Indeed the whole area is a curious cross between Bagan, Burma and the Taj Mahal.





A wide colonnade goes around the entire outer edge displaying many intricate carvings and friezes which depict lots of 'apsiras' or goddesses, and animals. Inside are several towers and other structures such as four symmetrical sunken, they look like bathing pools, areas. One of which ( right ).







I was interested to see in one of the courtyards this display of little stone mounds ( left ). There were others elsewhere. They are identical to those I remember on the mountains in Peru which were put there originally by the Incas, and even by locals nowadays, as religious 'offerings' to the volcano Gods and over which you are expected to make a wish. Maybe the Incas paid this place a visit?





Right: There were plenty of the Khmer version of Buddhist monks around. These are much more upmarket versions of monk than the Burmese variety. They tend to carry cameras, wear colourful and expensive looking saffron robes and all have very natty and good quality silk shoulder bags in different bright hues.

I might have alluded to the fact that there are many tourists around the place. In fact it is, other than at lunch time when everyone is sitting down eating and drinking, a bit like Piccadilly Circus in the rush hour. The organisation which looks after the place, and I was told that a Korean company has bought the business, and/or the Cambodian Government must earn quite a packet from entry fees. To give them credit a lot of work and money goes into restoration and protection. It is difficult to guess the numbers but I estimate ( and I might be miles out ) that about 20,000 people visit per day in the dry season ( November to May ) at $20 per head per day.

Left: This is just one small section of the many tracks over which a line of tuk-tuks and bicycles are continually on the move. There are also large gangs of bicycle riding blue shirted maintenance girls which patrol the place.









I also reckon that about 50% of the tourists are Japanese. Angkor on their 'check list' of places to visit during their once in a lifetime world tour, along with Edinburgh Castle, the Louvre and Machu Picchu amongst many others. They were also here en-masse in 1942-45 courtesy of the French. Right: This is one of the many 'Banzai Tour' groups receiving a final briefing.






They patrol around the grounds behind their leaders who carry flags ( not necessarily of the Rising Sun ). Left: A squad of Japs launching a frontal kamikaze assault on Angkor Wat. Are they expecting rain? Maybe its camouflage from aerial attack.


I did all this on Day 1. As you can imagine I was by now somewhat 'templed out' having walked miles in sweaty hot weather and really couldn't see the point in doing another two days of visiting remarkably similar sights. My feet were a bit sore. I spent the next day pottering gently around the town and relaxing, some of it, I must admit, in Molly Malone's establishment.
Then I had a rush of blood to the head and, against all my principles and sound common sense, succumbed to the tourist bug and decided to do 'Angkor Wat' at sunrise the next day. This involved getting up at 0500hrs. The hotel had a packed breakfast ready for me. Mr Rhet was waiting and we drove off to Angkor in the dark. I was dropped off at the west end of the causeway and walked in.
I was not alone.


Right: This was my view of the temple when I got to a prime viewing position just on the corner of one of the lakes in front of the wat at about 0545hrs.












Left: Eventually, it started to get a bit lighter after 0615hrs.











Right: ....and as the sun came up over the temple. It then quickly clouded over and the sun was lost until later in the morning.
There were plenty of mosquitos around as well as scores of hawkers selling various tat; books, postcards and coffee. I'm not sure which were the most irritating.







Left: More interesting was the reverse view. The crowd must have numbered over two thousand and the sound of clattering cameras ( or cratterling camelas as most of them were wielded by the sons and daughters of Nippon ) was almost continuous.









This pretty Chinese lady offered to pose with the damned rat in front of one of the ancient 'library' buildings walking back to the tuk-tuk park. She wanted to pose with it.










We stopped off on the way back at the site which offers a 'tethered' ballon ride to see and photograph the area from above. It was out of action because of the windy weather, I was told. I didn't notice much wind and suspect they didn't have enough takers this morning due to the cloudy conditions, although they seemed to have a few written down on their bookings board. The Japanese writing at the top means, I think, something along the lines of 'There's a nip in the air'.









So a fond farewell from all of us at Siem Reap and next onwards by bus down south to what was known in French colonial days as 'The Pearl of the Orient'; the charming city of Phnom Penh.

Origato!

Sunday, 26 February 2012

BANGKOK - THAILAND

11th - 20th Feb 2012

Her Majesty. In honour of her Diamond Jubilee. Stupidly I forgot to put the rat on the chair. Silly me.
Flight into Bangkok with Air Asia was uneventful and due to pre-paying a $20 'extra' on my ticket I could take up to 30kgs of hold baggage. These weight restrictions are good little earners for cheapo airlines and bear no relevance to the technical aircraft all up weight ( AOW ) safety limit. There are other rules and regs about quantity, size and weight of cabin baggage but thankfully, in Rangoon airport, the staff are quite flexible about this. They are most attentive but not complete jobsworths.
Another thing ( permit me a little rant here ); why is it in these supposedly third world 'developing' countries the immigration, security and customs staff tend to look smart in neatly pressed uniforms, well groomed, appear efficient, and often greet you with a smile and a cheery hello? If you ask them for assistance they usually provide it willingly and helpfully. In general they appear enthusiastic, attentive and well turned-out. Whereas in the UK you are more often than not met by scruffy, sullen looking individuals who give every impression that you, as a passing traveller, are a great inconvenience to their daily routine and, if anything at all, greet you with a grunt of acknowledgement when you pass by having interrupted the interesting conversation they are having with a colleague. The characters manning the UK airport arrival passport 'control' desks frequently look as if they are third world immigrants themselves, are unkempt, wear untidy civilian clothes and whenever they, or customs 'officers' ( and I put that word 'officer' deliberately in inverted commas ), are compelled to wear uniform it seems as if it is done with the utmost reluctance. I have often witnessed UK customs men lounging around arrivals, chatting to one another in unpressed white shirts, ties undone, scuffed black shoes and with their hands in their pockets! No, really, its no exaggeration. I would expect any self respecting SNCO, which obviously don't exist in that organisation ( and I've forgotten what it is called nowadays because they keep changing the name to become ever more politically correct and unaccountable ) to have an apoplectic fit and scream at them to "get a grip and smarten yourselves up you idle little man or woman 'cos I can't tell which, and get yor effing hair cut before you trip over it". Standing on parade with your hands in your pockets used to be, and probably still is, a lockable-up offence in the army! It comes as no surprise when I read of the UK Border Control Agency being in complete disarray and that thousands of illegals have snuck into the country under their unwatchful, disinterested eyes. It is not all the employees' fault I hasten to add; it is due to a total lack of leadership and proper man-management. Why does no-one in authority notice the sheer indolence and apathy which surrounds the employees of this shambolic system and if they do, why has nobody 'got a grip' ages ago. Whoever is in charge, and I doubt anyone owns up to it, should have been sacked years ago. It is a most depressing situation and the chaos which ensues rather inevitable. It must also give a terribly poor impression to visitors to the UK. Rant over.
Bangkok Suvarnabhumi International airport has the advantage of being constructed only a few years ago. It is modern, high tech and customer friendly. It is infinitely superior to the chaos and congestion at Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted etc. One of many things I notice in airports are the baggage trolleys. Why on earth do British baggage trolleys have four castoring wheels and are therefore impossible to steer. One experiences and sees passengers swerving uncontrollably around the concourses and crashing into one another. Modern ( third world ) airports, i.e. Suvarnabhumi, and some of the up to date European ones, have more sensible trolleys with three wheels; the two back wheels are non-castoring and the front one swivels. These trolleys are easily steerable and must be cheaper to produce. They are also designed to be used on escalators and the more modern stepless moving up/down walkways. It means you can take your baggage from carousel to onward transport ( train, metro, taxi etc. ) without offloading it. Why the HELL do British airports lag so far behind in such convenience to overwrought passengers. Pathetic.
Following normal SOP, I went upstairs to departures to get a taxi. The arrivals scam merchants were charging 800 Baht ( £16/$20 ) to the city centre, the so called Official Price as displayed on their self made laminated price lists. At 'departures' the metred taxi cost me 240Baht ( £5/$8 ). I have explained this before.

Sunday was spent at the Chatuchak weekend market in the north of the city. This is a huge popular market which sells anything you can think of at relatively cheap prices. Fun, and I bought some clothes, and listened to this chap ( left ) playing a guitar, amongst other things.

Next day on to the Cambodian Embassy to get a visa for Cambodia. Unexpectedly the whole process took only 15 minutes and cost $20. Most efficient.











Several days spent in Bangkok visiting a few friends, and opera singers. I bumped into ex-colleagues from Vietnam Airlines doing their simulator training ( right ). Actually the chap in the middle is a Thai friend of ours who has nothing to do with Vietnam Airlines but is very hospitable and looks after us. The tall man with the rat is Christian, an Austrian B-777 training Captain. On the right F/O Ha from Ho Chi Minh.

Bangkok is changing continually and is scarcely recognisable from the place 20 years ago. Some changes are for the better. They now have  magnificent metro and 'sky train' systems which are immaculately clean, fast, quiet and efficient. Soothing music is played in the stations with no silly unnecessary announcements. It is cheap and if you are over 60 ( and this applies to foreigners as well ) you pay half fare. I was rather upset that when I asked to pay half fare the chap on the desk did not even question my age! Good for the wallet but not for morale. The pavements and streets have been cleaned up, new highways and flyovers have been built which hardly alleviate the traffic congestion because they just encourage more road usage and further fill up the streets below. The traffic lights have count-down clocks on them which, when at red, start at 180 seconds. That means very long waits. I always think that in large cities and affluent countries it doesn't matter how many big roads you build, they always fill up until eventually grid-lock is reached. Talking of traffic, only in UK have I noticed the ludicrous situation of having roundabouts ( of which I strongly approve ) and then putting bloody traffic lights on them as well! It totally defeats the object of the idea. Back to Bangkok; they now have many very smart and upmarket shopping centres, hotels, restaurants and entertainments. In short, the city has become a modern, hi-tech and cosmopolitan place. The downside is that much of the old 'character' has gone. Many more rules, regulations and restrictions are in place ( smoking is banned in most public places, although perhaps not so zealously as in UK ), the iconic Tuk-Tuks have been emasculated and now have 4-stroke engines which don't make the proper 'tuk-tuk' noise any more and whereas the number of these has been greatly reduced the prices have dramatically gone up. They are now just an expensive tourist attraction. The infamous Pat Pong area has gone downhill from being at the 'cutting edge' of the sex trade to rather a shabby, seedy, sleazy, rip-off zone ( so I am told ).  Probably the most noticeable difference is the average size of the younger Thai. One of the penalties any city pays for modernisation appears to be a willing surrender to the American mass market and to allow their addictive burger and fizzy drinks chains to infest the streets. The result is that there are now many overweight and probably diabetic Thais. They used to eat, exclusively, a healthy diet and had lithe, beautiful and fit looking bodies ( especially the girls ). Now it is Macdonalds, KFC and Coca-Cola which prevail and an average increase of about 2 stone and plenty of flab. That is really sad. American culture and diet will be the death of us all.
Some old traditions still persist however; for example, in downtown touristy Silom area, the habitual Thai greetings of 'youwanmassar', or 'youwanladyshow' are still the norm. As indeed is the traditional British response of 'fuck off'.

This guy ( left ) is obviously not addicted to Macdonalds or Coca-Cola. I think he must have been following me here from India. Possibly coming over to have a serious word with his tailor.

















....and this bloke ( right ) is nominally in charge of the evil empire which is entirely to blame for lots of things. Do all wealthy Americans have hideous glowing white false teeth? Reminds me of George Mitchell's Black and White Minstrel show.

As an example of how the city's department stores, and customers, are now so affluent I visited the Siam Centre, a vast shiny three building many storied temple to consumer excess, where I passed a large shop displaying an array of Steinway grand pianos. I asked the price of a natty golden coloured model and was told it costs $138,700. Having given up the piano after one term at school ( I still recall with horror the evil tempered Miss Unwin who taught me and remember the pain of having the piano lid slammed down on my fingers when I made repeated mistakes ) I decided not to buy it. I expect the shipment and import costs would have been well beyond my reach. I expect the piano stool alone would have bankrupted me.

Self, Christian and our hospitable friend, who is nicknamed 'Skinny' for no apparent reason, went to visit the Thai Aviation Museum located at the old Don Mueang airport in the north of the city. This area was badly affected by the floods which hit the country last November. Indeed we could see at the restaurant where we had a delicious beef and noodle lunch the water level marks about four feet up the walls. Sadly the museum had also been inundated and most of the exhibits were undergoing, or had been removed, for repair and renovation. Christian ( left ) found a good second-hand transport aircraft to play around in.


.....and likes to be remembered ( right ) as the 'oldest tiger'.

Lots of other old haunts around the city visited including the famous ancient Oriental Hotel down on the river-front which features the Writers' Wing where various well known characters have stayed over the years; you know the normal list of brilliant minds such Noel Coward, Graham Greene, Salman Rushdie, Ernest Hemmingway, Rudyard Kipling ( who no doubt saw lots of flyin' fish playing on the river ), Marilyn Monroe and 'Sir' Mick Jagger. They do a very good and rather expensive English style 'tea'.


I was also taken to the Royal Bangkok Sports Club by aforementioned 'Skinny' ( left ), who is a member, and treated to a very good lunch in the members' dining room. It is a most pleasant if curious place in that it was started up in 1929 by British ex-pats as a tennis, squash and bowls club. Even now, as then, all the signs, boards and notices are written in English. Quite extraordinary considering the membership and committee are now almost entirely Thai.





Right: A smart grass racecourse, which still flourishes, was added in 1948 ( or thereabouts ). There is a golf course inside the track and there are grass tennis courts, squash courts and bowling greens outside. I was told they hold race meetings about once a month. It was due to host the prestigious annual 'King's Cup' meeting on the day I was due to leave. It is a thoroughly pleasant 'green' area in the middle of the city and is obviously immaculately maintained.
I had a marvellously idle time in and around Bangkok and don't have that much to report really. Incidently I rediscovered the 'Oirish bear' scene hear. The O'Reillys, Murphys, Flannigans and Paddy McGintys establishments, etc, are thriving in downtown Bangkok. I had forgotten all about them as the last Irish drinks establishment I remember was in Singapore, I think. They must be banned from the sub-continent and haven't yet made an appearance in Burma.

Next off to Cambodia. The train departs from the excellent Bangkok Central Station ( left ) to the most convenient crossing point at Aranyaprathet at 0555hrs. It is a 7 hour journey and although a rather slow train with somewhat stiffly padded seats it is reasonably comfortable and ladies come through the carriages selling soft drinks and snacks. Aircon is supplied by a gentle breeze through the windows and the open outside doors.




The extraordinary thing is that the price of the ticket is 48 Baht, exactly £1. Isn't that amazing!
Right: The station. Very smart and efficient. Helpful and polite staff.










Left: Apropos of absolutely nothing, did you know the name of this so-called artist? I met him here. His full name: Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepumuceno Maria de los Remedios Crispiniano de la Santisima Trinidad Ruiz Picasso.


Next report from, probably, Siem Reap, Cambodia




Wednesday, 22 February 2012

NGAPALI BEACH - BURMA

6th - 10th Feb 2012

Ngapali Beach

Heho is the domestic airport about 45 mins drive north of Nyuangshwe. Despite my reservations about most airports, this little place is absolutely fine. No mucking around; one's bags are portered for you and, provided they didn't look too outrageously large or heavy, are simply checked in without even being weighed ( they are scanned ). Absolutely no hassle and quick. They even sell the quite drinkable ( German made ) Burmese wine in the departure loungette. It seems the Burmese are so far, at domestic airports anyway, blissfully unaffected by the security paranoia which afflicts most of the rest of the 'civilised' world. It will change, of course, when tourism here blossoms further. Coincidently the Captain of the ATR 72 aircraft was a friend of a Burmese ex-colleague of mine who is still flying for Vietnam Airlines, so I was invited up to the flight deck for a chat on the way to Thandwe airport which serves Ngapali. It is only a 40 minute flight south-west but we were still served sandwiches, soft drinks and coffee. Very pretty cabin attendants too. For once I arrived by air feeling relaxed and happy!

The hotel bus, as with all the other hotels here, picked us up ( having collected our luggage for us from the arrivals hall ) and took us, in my case, to the Silver Beach Hotel about 15 minutes away. I was due to spend 3 full days here with nothing to do except practice being idle. Left: Our chalet style rooms. It is a remarkably pleasant hotel, and not even expensive. Ngapali, in the province of  Rakhaing ( known previously as Arakan ) on the Bay of Bengal just south of Bangladesh, is spread over two miles of beautifully clean golden sands with several low bungalow hotels, backed by palm trees.

The sea is clear blue and warm and there were enough tourists around to give the place a bit of life without being at all crowded. I think, as things are, it caters for those who enjoy a peaceful and relaxed time.
















As well as the excellent hotel bars and restaurants ( although I had to explain to our barman how to make a proper gin & tonic ), there are many simple but good seafood restaurants along the road behind the beach ( right ).













Left: Pleasant and quiet restaurants also overlook the beach. Tourists come from all countries but mostly Europeans it appeared. Germany, Holland and France seem to account for the majority. I didn't see any Japanese. Maybe they don't know that the war in these parts is over. The bloodthirsty little buggers certainly didn't do themselves any favours here between 1942-45. Actually there is a story concerning them and, indirectly, myself. My father served before and during the war with an Indian cavalry ( tank ) regiment called the 19th King George V1 Own Lancers. In January 1945 a squadron of this regiment, mounted in Sherman tanks and commanded by my father, took part in the British landings on the Arakan Peninsular, just up the road. There then followed a big battle, the Battle of Kangaw, between 22nd and 26th January and involved the infamous and bloody fight for Hill 170 south of Myebon near the little hamlet of Kangaw. The Japs were eventually defeated leaving 400 dead on the hill. The 19th Lancers provided armoured support here for 1 Commando Brigade. During the course of the fighting my father was shot by a Jap sniper ( shot 'up the Irrawaddy', as my disrespectful family refer to it ). He was seriously wounded but they got him to a Field Dressing Station and he survived the night. He was then transferred to a hospital ship and taken to South Africa for treatment. During his period of recovery in the South African hospital he met a Red Cross nurse from Northumberland who, five years later became my mother. So maybe I have cause to be grateful to the Imperial Japanese Army for my existence. Others may not be so forgiving. 
I thought, while I was here, I might see if I could locate Kangaw and pay the place a visit. The peninsular in question, around Myebon, is not far north of Ngapali. Stupidly, I had left all the documentation, including military maps of the battle, which I  had previously collected, at home. There are some details on the internet, but no maps. I tried my best to find any very old local who might be able to assist, but failed to elicit any useful information. I expect Kangaw either no longer exists or has changed it's name. I could have spent a day or two on a boat looking for the place but thought the exercise would prove futile and anyway I doubt if any local around today would know enough detail to help. Another time maybe.


In any event I was having a gloriously idle time doing not very much apart from lounging around and paddling in the sea. There are opportunities for snorkelling, scuba diving, fishing and golf. This place is a hidden paradise but I suspect it will be ruined in the coming years, as so many lovely places are, when the mass tourist market catches on and invades. So, my advice is get here quick before the place is over-run ( by the Japs again? ) and the locals get greedy and it becomes noisy and brash.








I met a few interesting travellers who were also revelling in the laid-back atmosphere of the place. Even the Germans failed to nick all the deckchairs before breakfast. 


Another Burmese observation; all the roofs of buildings are made either from red corrugated iron ( as per the newly reconstructed Royal Palace buildings in Mandalay ), or from palm leaves as in small village houses (below ). Someone is making a killing selling red corrugated iron!




Internet, if not Wi-Fi, in these parts exists in most hotels but is incredibly slow. It is probably quicker to write a letter. Just up the road from the hotel is a marvellous little internet cafe ( right ) called May-18. The internet was not any quicker, but it served snacks, beer and coffee and half of it is a wine shop. A very social place for a chat with other tourists while they wait for their e-mails eventually to download.






Left: The owner/manager is a lady called May. She speaks good English and  albeit unsuccessfully, with assistance from her friends, tried to help me locate Kangaw. Another problem with internet here ( at the moment ) is that some servers, in some locations, appear to be denied access. My AOL server was one. She introduced me to a useful free 'proxy' server called Ultrasurf.us. This worked; it bypassed AOL and as she said, it is a useful tool in any place which might restrict other servers. I mention this because I think it is a useful tip.











Public transport up and down the beach road is provided by these things ( right ) called To-Tos. Basically the front half of a motorbike attached to a trailer with seats in it. Not very comfortable and you often end up hanging off the back but they are a cheap and frequent 'hop on hop off' service.


So not a lot of excitement to report from Ngapali, thankfully, and any shoe removal was purely voluntary. There was a refreshing absence of temples, stupas and Buddhas.....and I certainly wasn't looking for them.
Off back for a further night in Rangoon before flying ( per force ) to Bangkok. I must say Burma is a fascinating place for a holiday and I had a memorable time as you no doubt gather. Travelling here is getting much easier and will probably continue to do so, especially ( maybe ) after their elections in April. The people here are utterly unspoilt and absolutely charming and they genuinely enjoy looking after tourists. Long may it last, but my advice is to get here before the rush! The idiot sanctions imposed by the US ( and followed dog-like by the EU ) are not helping the Burmese people, nor greatly inconveniencing the Burmese hierarchy. Perhaps when these are lifted and normal economic service is resumed ( i.e. ATMs and free transfer of goods and money ) the Burmese will get the rewards they so richly deserve.
Onwards eastwards before turning north. My travels through Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam will not be so expansive because I have done to death all these places before. I aim to call on old acquaintances and , with maybe a few exceptions,  avoid the tourist trail. Mingulabar.