London

I’m now working in IT which is mostly good fun so I don’t have much time for blogging anymore. I’m also learning a lot of new technologies too which is interesting. In fact the only reason I have time now is that I’m heading up to Manchester by train to meet up with a good friend from University, which means I have three hours to kill. Additionally as I got an advance ticket I managed to grab a first class ticket for less than £20 one way, which as the train was pretty damn full was probably a good idea. It was nice to get a table, a bit more space and free food and drink (which alone almost made up the extra £7 it cost over standard class.) the only problem with first class is that its a damn Voyager as my friend Dave would say and the seats aren’t any more comfortable than standard class (I’d go so far as to say they were less comfortable.).

However last weekend I headed down to London a couple of days in a row. The first evening I headed to a gig of Earthless and Pontiak, these are both American rock bands that are fairly heavy but also pretty damn good. I wouldn’t have gone on my own, but it was thoroughly enjoyable. The second band only played four songs in their entire set (including encore) and the second lasted for a good 20 minutes, which was really cool to listen too. It was a little long for my tastes (and I did get a little bored halfway through) but it still managed to work well as a song.

The gig was at a great little venue called Borderline which is just a short distance down Charing Cross road from the Astoria. It is a great little venue, and I can’t wait to go back as I’m sure it made the music even better. The Astoria is one of London’s more famous music venues and it has now been shut so that a CrossRail station can be built underneath it. I have to admit its not my favourite venue, but a lot of famous gigs have been played there. After CrossRail is finished the venue is apparently going to be re-opened – hopefully they can make it into a decent venue at the same time :p.

When we went to the gig we went on the bus from Oxford to London which is probably the nicest bus journey in the country in terms of quality. Even so you get 4 seat across rather than 3 you’d get in other countries. The only bonuses are the toilets which were decent enough and “free WiFi” though on 2 out of the three buses I took it didn’t work with my iPod touch at all – and with the other it was barely functional – “broadband” only to the standards of developing world free hostel internet. That said it still manages to take the timetabled 1 hour and 40 minutes to get to London even on the way back after midnight which means that that estimate is really only an aspiration of how long it will take most of the time which isn’t really very good.

I mention this as when I was in Cambodia I was talking to the people who owned my hotel about the buses you can take there and they didn’t believe that the buses in Cambodia were better/as good there as in the UK – sadly it is true. Mostly because those who are rich enough take the train – though to be honest Via Barriloche in Argentina spanks the first class train I’m on now in terms of comfort – maybe we should sell our railways to the Argentineans :p.

As we went on the bus we got in a little further into London than you would on the train so we got a nice walk down Oxford Street including the eastern end which I have never been down before. Oxford Street is quite nice and Selfridges is in a very impressive building though the sign outside seems more than a little tacky to me. What surprised me is that even though the east of Oxford Street is fairly posh overall it is more like Nanjing road in Shanghai than Orchard road in Singapore.

The next day I headed into London to meet up with some other friends who I mostly know online in Hyde park this was great fun until it started to rain and then we decamped to the pub in Kensington to the south of the park. This was great fun and I had a great day. Unfortunately I stayed a bit too late missing the last train back to Oxford so I had to take the bus home taking bus three of the weekend. After all that excitement I was due a relaxing evening before Monday morning.

Pictures named

I named the rest of my photos this morning.

Sorry I don’t have time now to post about what I’ve been up to here in KL as I need to go and get my bags and head over to the airport for my flight to China this evening. It has been pretty good however.

Photos uploaded

My friend Rupert has kindly uploaded a bunch more photos for me, which I’ve started to name, I’ll finish when I’m not in the most expensive internet cafe in Malaysia in the KLCC complex (it costs RM8, 1.60GBP for 1 hour!). I’ve named some of them as well

Siem Reap and the Angkor complex

While my previous comment on the niceness of Siem Rep was a little hyperbolic it was still considerably nicer than expected, another thing was that the town seems to have kept the airport road full of 5* hotels and not slum-like buildings that you generally manage to see somewhere en-route, even in Santiago or New York. I also managed to have some food for generally only US$3 or so, and in one case less than US$2 including a drink.

Anyhow so on Thursday after my last blog post I headed to the Angkor national museum, this was expensive at US$12, but was of a good western standard and had a lot of good presentation of some of the Angkor artifacts including high-tech audio-visual displays in about 5-6 languages. They even have a collection of 1000 Buddha statues but it was way less impressive than the collection I saw in Kyoto. Unfortunately I did manage to get given a dodgy dollar bill at the museum, I detected and refused it though, its annoying checking if the dollar is real as you have to check the paper quality and there is no watermark to check like most other currencies.

Then on Friday morning I headed out for the day to Angkor Wat. To get to Angkor Wat I decided to cycle (for US$1) the 7km on flat roads to the temple complex, it was quite interesting as I was by far the fastest cyclist on the road mostly due to my practice in Oxford. I would also say that it was fairly safe, the cars mostly behaved themselves and the cyclists probably cycle safer than they do in Oxford. On the way I also had to buy a US$40 ticket to get access to the Angkor site for the next 3 days, this apparently doesn’t apply to Cambodians for whom it is free. There are a lot of police around though, and with help from foreign governments including China, the US, India and Japan they are maintaining the sites, the Japanese seem to be contributing to the most sites however and they also seem to be doing a really good job of the maintenance and reconstruction.

Angkor Wat itself is seriously impressive, basically it is located in the Jungle inside a set of massive walls with a huge moat around the outside that is probably 1.5km across. The most interesting things to see are the view of the site from across the lake where it blends into the jungle and close up where you can see the elaborate carving of battle scenes that exist throughout Angkor Wat and the other temples and buildings in the complex. As I said before, Angkor Wat is a massive complex, firstly there is an outer wall, and then significantly further in there is a much smaller central temple which you can walk around inside, it is also built up higher than the surroundings.

After seeing Angkor Wat I headed up the road north towards the old town of Angkor Thom, I didn’t get there however as I got distracted by a hilltop temple on one side of the road, this was beautiful as well, and you could climb up the very steep steps at the side to get a view over the surrounding jungle and fields that stretch off very flatly into the distance.

The next day I met up with an English and Cambodian girl working for a Cambodian NGO at my hotel and we went off to spend the day relaxing and chatting by a nearby lake that was mostly visited by Cambodians rather than tourists. The Cambodians themselves are generally very nice and relaxed people and this was shown here (as well as their cycling :p). In the evening we went out to the night market which was relaxing and we also saw a local orphanage perform some traditional Cambodian dance which was excellent to see, unfortunately the orphanage was spending a lot of money on not really needed stuff like US$180 on monthly internet access, that is as much as it is in Tahiti and internet cafes are nowhere near that expensive here.

On Sunday I then cycled out to Angkor Thom and the temples there which also had lots of beautiful carving as well as large faces carved into the stone, as well as this I saw a couple of other temples which really seemed like cliched temples that blended into the jungle, though they weren’t complete ruins which was good to see and I really enjoyed it. After this I cycled back before having dinner and going to bed around 10pm.

To be honest the story of the temples is better told with pictures rather than words and I’ll try and get them online soon.

Siem Reap: First Impressions

I flew into Siem Reap airport from Singapore this morning on a nice and early 6am flight, fortunately I managed to get to bed early last night so I’m not too tired today. After arriving and taking the free transport to my accommodation I settled in and had a nap in the morning before exploring the town a bit.

Siem Reap is actually surprisingly modern and clean, the pavements are built up and there are a large number of expensive hotels here. There also don’t appear to be any shacklike buildings and the guidebooks sold in the shops aren’t photocopied! The prices for many things are correspondingly high, with the museum costing US$12, though I had a meal for only US$5 which wasn’t too expensive. The only hassle you get is occasional hassle for transport though the Cambodians are pretty laid back so don’t hassle you too much for it.

This afternoon I’m off to the museum and have a wander around town, before heading out to the temples in the morning.