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Beastly Blog
Thursday, 14 April 2005
Singapore Slinging!
Singapore (Singapore!)!

5th April 2005 ? 14th April 2005

We drove down from Kuala Lumpur after some sad goodbyes to Adriano?s relatives who all escorted us to the toll gate to leave KL. We drove down the rainforest coated highways, across the Tuas causeway bridge and arrived in Singapore on the Saturday 2nd of April at 3pm. Now that may not seem highly relevant to you, or us in fact, but this is the only border that we have crossed on a Saturday and had a problem. We arrived at the border checkpoint, were stamped through immigration and were directed to the booth to buy an autopass.

We were informed that we needed to get our Carnet de Passage stamped to get into Singapore and we were told that we were required to buy insurance and obtain an ICP and autopass before we would be allowed into the country. The Insurance could only be obtained by passing into Singapore to buy it. An ICP could only be obtained from the AA and the Carnet de Passage had to be stamped by the AA, a distance of 18km from the border. The Autopass could be bought at the border but could not be obtained unless you had the required insurance, ICP and Carnet stamp! The problem was further compounded by the AA office in the centre of town being closed after 1pm on a Saturday and not open on a Sunday. Luckily we were being met at the border by Kevin DeSouza from the Regents Motors Land Rover garage in Singapore. He got on the phone and was ringing round everyone to see if we could resolve the situation. Everyone at the border was so nice but there was no resolution to be seen, even when the head of customs came down! After trying to resolve the issues for 2 hours, we were informed that the best idea was to return to Malaysia until Monday when the relevant offices would be open. We would be allowed to park the car temporarily in the customs area to go into Singapore but one of the occupants would have to stay with the car.

We were stamped out of Singapore with a large VOID stamp on our passport and forced to travel back over the bridge into Malaysia. The Malaysian border guards did not have the documentation that we should have been presented in order to cross back into Malaysia. We just had a VOID stamped across our entrance stamp for Singapore. After some questioning and half an hour we were allowed back into Malaysia. Kevin rang us. He had contacted a friend who would vouch for us to park in customs for the weekend, obtain the correct documentation and then return to get our car from customs on Monday. We turned back and returned to Singapore, immigration stamped us VOIDED our stamps and we passed back into Singapore. Our vehicle was checked over by customs and then the Beast was searched by the sniffer dogs who were very cute but also quite terrifying. We had done our drugs check but you are always wary that something may have been planted on you. There is also a big stamp on the Singaporean pass into the country that says there is death for drug traffickers. Kevin and Richard arrived at the border to sign us into the country and vouch for us. We parked the car up at customs and we then, at 10pm, were allowed to pass into Singapore ? without our car.

Kevin kindly gave us a lift to Greg?s ex work colleagues house, Roger Phillips who kindly volunteered to put us up whilst we resolve the issues of shipping to Australia. It wasn?t until we got into Singapore and Kevin was transporting us to Rogers?s house that we found out who Richard is. The Assistant Superintendent for the Police had just helped us to get past the border bureaucracy of Singapore!

The ensuing week was a flurry of paperchasing around Singapore, obtaining the ICP, insurance and getting the Carnet stamped. There was a slight heart stopping moment when the lady at the AA asked us if the Beast was a motorhome (which of course we all know that no one has slept in the Beast since Europe)? and because it has ambulance stamped on the car documentation they wouldn?t allow it in to Singapore. We had to show her photographs, paperwork and then write a declaration just to prove that it was no longer an ambulance. After nearly 3 hours we were released from the AA to get our baby back. Bureaucratic Singapore!

The Beast was released from the clutches of customs and we drove her to the Land Rover garage, where she was tenderly restored to her former self over the following week by the kind mechanics there. As a token of our appreciation for all the help that Land Rover gave us we spent the weekend talking to interested people who had seen the article written about us in The Strait Times and convincing people that they needed to buy a Land Rover.

In the meantime, released from the worries of looking after the Beast, we had time to experience the pleasures of Singapore. We tried Holland Village, Muhammed Salat Road, Gay Leng road and China town. We visited Raffles for the compulsory Singapore Gin Sling, although Alexis visited in 1987 and thinks that it has lost half of its charm since they renovated it! We went to a world?s first, the Night Safari (!) which is part of the Singapore Zoo, which has over 900 animals. All the creatures of the night are illuminated in their naturalish environments in a humid rainforest environment that you can walk around in the semi darkness being bitten by mosquitoes or travel around on a tram. Orchard Road also had to be visited for a shopping spree or two. It is one of the longest roads that we have ever experienced for shops of clothes, accessories, electrical goods or in fact anything you ever want!

We were honoured to be invited to the Senior Officer?s Mess in the Police Academy by Richard Goh, the fantastic assistant Superintendent who saved us from driving around Malaysia for the weekend. The officers mess is a beautiful colonial building positioned on the top of a hill surrounded by redundant canons pointing out onto the country of Singapore. We were treated to a Singaporean treat, the fish head curry? believe us all, it is the most tastiest curry that you will ever try, and made by the mess?s chef, Auntie Doris!

We were treated to a visit to the East Coast Food Centre by Kevin and his wife Amelia who took us. A hawkers stand for those of you not versed in the lingo is a food stand selling any kind of delicious food cooked for you, there and then. Adrian was in his element! There were over 50 different stalls there for us to decide from. A nightmare! After that we were taken Gay Leng which is a red light district, intermingled with the best food in Singapore, according to our hosts ? the even roads have prostitutes and the odd roads have food, take your choice as to which one you want to drive down! The sole mission was to experience a proper Durian. Greg had never tried one and Alexis and Adrian could just remember the last time they tried one. There is a reason why you try to blank this foul fruit from your memory. It is one of the stinkiest, most revolting fruits known to humanity. It is about 30 cm high, green, spiky and smells like a cross between rotting flesh, human excrement, honey and turpentine. Truly a delight to see and taste! The fruit that you eat is within a fleshy exterior and is yellow with a large stone inside. To eat it fills your nose with revulsion, followed by an uncertainty as to whether you are enjoying the sensation of eating something that should just be endured in the bedroom followed by further revulsion. This fruit is banned on public transport, in confined spaces and in hotels. Taste at your own risk!

Roger introduced us to one of his work mates, Derrick and his wife Jessie, who very kindly introduced us to his family and especially his mum. They showed us true Singaporean dishes like popiah and some delicious sweet potato and yam deserts. Any of you who are interested in Singaporean food and would like to attempt to make his Mum?s food, you can see his Mum?s secret recipes on this webpage . Any publishers out there, his brother is also looking to publish this fantastic recipe book!

After obtaining a date for the shipping of the Beast we had to ensure that it was clean for shipping. We spent 2 days trying to sort out the shipping of the Beast to Darwin in Australia. Believe me, there isn?t much that you can ship to Australia without it being searched, x-rayed, fumigated or destroyed, unless it is quarantined. Most of the stuff and food that we have had in the Beast since Europe and most of the way across the world had to be disposed of because they wouldn?t allow it in to Oz. There is a no eggs, no dairy and no meat policy with restriction on wood, food and animals (we know that we will have to have Greg checked over at the other side ? but I think that is something to do with his glands!!). We spent a day cleaning everything in the Beast, removing all the contents, scrubbing every surface with a toothbrush and cloths before disinfecting everything. All the surfaces had to be cleaned thoroughly including the underside of the Beast, which we had to make sure was clean of dust, soil and seeds as well as dead insects. We have been warned that the AQIS, Australian Quarantine guys, can be very strict, so we are hoping that our endeavours in the 37oC heat were not in vain!

Unfortunately, because the Beast is too big to ship in a container we have had to ship her on the deck. This means subjecting her to being lashed down to a rocky boat, with corrosive sea air and water and not being too sure if she will survive to Australia without falling over board or being kidnapped by the pirates that maraud the Malaca Strait through which our champion ship, the Arafura Endeavour Voy 29, has to pass. We will see if we have a car at the other end when we arrive in Australia in 10 days time

There are several webpages that can help any would be shippers as to what you can and can?t ship to Australia -, and

Unfortunately our time in Singapore has come to an end and we need to cross over the equator to more southern climes. We have met some of the nicest and friendliest people along our trip. Greg?s workmate from the UK, Roger Phillips, kindly volunteered to put us up in the beautiful district of Holland Village whilst we are trying to work out the shipping, flights and our general lives. He has carted us around the country and showed us the wonders of his ex pat life style. Thank you again Roger! Thank you also to all our friends at Land Rover, the Singapore Police and the others who have made it not the bureaucratic nightmare that we were expecting but the enjoyable personable place that it is.

Notes about Singapore:

- There are 4.2 million people in Singapore, an island 24 miles by 34 miles, an island the size of the Isle of White!
- When Sir Stamford Raffles first landed his troops on an island off the peninsula of Malaysia, they spotted what they thought was a lion (more likely a tiger) and named the island, Lion Island, Singapura.
- Singapore has the lowest birth rate in the world with an actual negative birth rate! The government are encouraging people to have children with cash incentives of S$3000 for your first child and S$6000 for your second child.
- 77% of the population is Chinese, the remaining 23% is Malaysian and other nationalities.
- If you own a car in Singapore you are required to pay S$30,000 (about #10,000) over a 10 year period for the privilege of having a car ? the Certificate of Entitlement (CoE).
- Only 15% of the population own a car.
- It costs S$20 per day to have a foreign vehicle in Singapore.
- You must have an autopass machine in your car. For any car to drive underneath a gantry with ERP written over the top, you are charged for the privilege of entering the central business district and your card is charged. You can also use the card as a credit card or pay for car parks.
- It is illegal to bring chewing gum into Singapore.
- It is illegal and therefore fineable to spit in Singapore ? S$500 fine (#150)
- If you jay walk you can be fined up to S$1500 (#500).
- The minimum wage is S$4/hour (#1.30)
- There is a death sentence for drug trafficking.
- If you commit a crime in Singapore you can be convicted and sentenced to caning. If you?re sentence is 6 whips then you will be whipped 6 times but if you pass out after the second whip then you will be sent to hospital to recover; once recovered you will be returned to complete the sentence.
- There is a 24 point system for your driving license and you can obtain 12 points on your license for speeding as well as S$200 for every kilometre over the speed limit.
- There is compulsory national service in Singapore. As a male you do 2 years service and you must also maintain a certain level of fitness until you are 40 in case you are called into service.
- Much of the Singapore coast line is reclaimed land.
- Singaporeans put Lah at the end of every sentence.
- There are 22,000 taxis in Singapore

Posted by Alexis at 4:48 AM BST
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Tuesday, 5 April 2005
Did the earth move for you too?
Ko Samui (Thailand) ? Alor Star (Malaysia) ? Penang ? Kuala Lumpur!

20th March 2005 - 5th April 2005
The Full Moon falls once a month and is a cult celebration on the island of Ko Phangnan just north of Ko Samui. Our journey to the full moon party interrupted our relaxed life in Ko Samui and commenced with a boat ride to the island of Ko Phangnan, a mere 30km away. We decided to opt for the ferry to the islands because a few weeks previously there had been a speed boat accident which killed 15 people. We arrived on the island to a sea of naked bodies sunbaking on the beach preparing themselves for the onslaught of the evening. Ladies were setting up their alcohol stalls with enormous cool boxes crammed full of cans, bottles and ice. Christmas lights were strung along the front awaiting illuminating the inebriated people?s path to their next beverage.

Adriano had gone over to the island to meet up with Matt, a friend from Japan and his mates from the UK, who were staying in Ko Phangnan for the week. At 10pm, we all walked down to the beach where the party was already getting underway. The Full Moon Party was started by a group of revellers in 1992/1993 who decided that they would have a rave on the beach outside of the Paradise Bungalows. They then decided that they would meet up again one month later and so it has progressed to a monthly exploit with smaller events like the half moon and the black moon party that ocur either side of the full moon. The party was glorified in the film The Beach and now attracts 8,000 people in low season and up to 35,000 people in the high season.

We approached the beach front armed with the statutory bucket of rum, red bull and coke brimming with straws and ice, to be confronted with every bar housing stereo systems 3 metres high by 4 metres wide pumping out tunes from happy to hard house to seventies and eighties music. We painted ourselves in fluorescent glow in the dark paint and patrolled (or staggered after a few buckets) the beach front in search of the optimum music and ambience. There is no better location to be in than dancing under the stars with the sea lapping at your feet and a bucket in your hand. The party progressed until 10am with us few resilient still ones staggering around (Greg and Alexis didn?t actually have a place to stay!). We met people from all over the world but Alexis met some of her old school colleagues ? it really is a small world.

Our drive south started with a ferry crossing across back to the mainland. Adriano had a thai foot massage on the boat and it was very difficult to unweld him from the seat afterwards to start driving to Malaysia, a mere 500km away Unfortunately the signs on the mainland seemed to drive us around in circles for an hour or two before we got set off in the right direction.

We arrived at the Thai/Malay border after passing quickly through the territory that there are problems with the Islamic separatists blowing up public buildings and railways. We were stamped out of Thailand as the Beast was swamped by the Penang 4x4 club. They were highly inquisitive about our trip and offered all the help that we would need should we have any problems in Malaysia.

As soon as we crossed over into Malaysia we had to pay a toll to get into Malaysia but we had no Rimbitt, so we had to illegally cross into Thailand to get some money exchanged to pay the toll and then get our insurance. The insurance guys were dragged back to the office to give us our insurance. They then called the travel department to come and sort us out with our passes. Malaysia is the first country that required us to use our Carnet de Passage (a travel pass for your vehicle to allow you to travel into the country without having to pay import tax) but we were told that we didn?t need it and were presented with an International Circulation Permit (ICP) instead. We were a bit worried as if you don?t have a stamp in you can have a lot of problems on the way out. We were assured that we would have no problems!

We ploughed on down the road in the darkness to the predominantly muslim city of Alor Star, arriving at 1am (the clocks went forwards another hour!). We found a hotel with air conditioning and a magnificent view over the city to the limestone mounts that were raised up on the horizon. A relaxing sleep and a swim in the pool set us up for the drive to Penang.

Penang is an island situated off the coast of Malaysia. It was discovered as a wild rampant island with rainforest from coast to coast. When the British discovered it, in order to convince the workers to clear the greenery as fast as possible they loaded their canons with silver coins and fired them into the trees. It worked and now the whole island is a fading memory of colonial splendour with tiny winding roads with white hotels and shops with plants sprouting from every ledge. There are two ways to get out to the island, by ferry or by the third largest bridge in the world that span the 13.5km gap of the straits and is the longest bridge in South East Asia. We caught a car ferry across to the island and got a fantastic view of the enormous bridge.

We decided to go out and get some food and enjoy the Penang lifestyle with a few beers. We were sitting enjoying a few quite beers in the Shamrock bar (a bar that bans terrorists!) when we all looked at each other with a slight question. What was going on? The bench we were sitting on was moving uncontrollably from side to side. Suddenly everyone in the bar streamed out onto the street and we realised that we were in the middle of an earthquake. We ran as far as we could away from the 25 storey building that we were sitting at the base of and ran towards the lower colonial buildings. The earthquake continued for 5 minutes. Greg then spent the next 10 minutes trying to work out if the building was still swaying by leaning against every straight surface and lining it up before we could go back and sit down. A really strange experience but also a terrifying one when you realise that the locals had never experienced an earthquake before. According to local television it was measured as 8.6 on the richter scale. Since the Tsunami, the plates have shifted so that Malaysia receives the full brunt of any tectonic movements.

Alexis went back to the seventh floor bedroom with slight trepidation, making an emergency plan with Greg and Adriano in the case of any further rumbles. She left Greg and Adriano to have a few more beers but on the way back to the way back they were stopped by two ?ladies?, both of whom stopped them by putting their hands on their crotches ? always a bit difficult to move away from that! They were offered sex which started at 100RM (#13) and then dropped rapidly in price to 20RM (#3). According to the rickshaw driver that Greg and Adriano took to escape from these young ?ladies?, you can always tell a ladyboy by their tightness! They didn?t want to ask how he knew!

We set off down the road to Kuala Lumpur with a stop off in Ipoh to meet Adrian?s auntie and uncle and visit the burial site of his relatives. Alexis and Greg went to visit the Buddhist temple that had the tortoises and turtles that are considered reincarnations of the deceased souls.

We eventually arrived in Kuala Lumpur in the evening and were introduced to China Town by Adriano?s cousin, Margaret and her husband Alan. The thriving area of Kuala Lumpur is a den of fake watch sellers, perfume, rip off t-shirts, shoes and DVDs with stallholders all offering you the best price. Whilst Adrian toured around visiting uncles, aunts and grandparents, Alexis and Greg went to visit the Petronas Twin Towers () that towers 88 storeys over the city creating an impressive skyline. We were lucky enough to get on a tour (you need to prebook tickets normally) to the sky bridge that spans the two towers at the 42nd floor. We climbed into one of the 76 lifts which climbed at the rate of a floor a second and made your ears pop as you flew up to the skybridge. The foundations are 4.5m thick with piles that go down 115m. The floor pattern of the tower is designed on geometric patterns based on Islamic heritage. There are opera houses, shopping centres, restaurants, offices and petrochemical companies based at the towers. The Bintang area of the city is sea of electrical shops and clothes shops and giant shopping malls.

As we left KL, our windscreen wipers decided to stop working which in the torrential downpours of Malaysia is not an enjoyable experience. We stopped every few miles to clear the windscreen and headed south on the excellent but toll ridden roads and completed the 350km to be confronted with the problems and bureaucracy of Singapore?

Notes about Malaysia:

- The population of Malaysia is an integrated culture of Muslim, Chinese and Malay.
- It is a Muslim state with Sharia Law implemented, which means that if you are Muslim you can be arrested for drinking and carrying out non religious acts.
- Malaysia is one of the greenest countries in south east asia with thousands of kilometres of rainforest.
- Penang bridge is the third largest bridge in the world.
- Motorcyclist riders put shirts on backwards to prevent being covered in rain and insects.
- There are motorcycle stopping points on the motorways for cyclists to stop in the event of heavy rain.
- The Petronas tower is 452m high and there were two construction companies building a tower each.
- Durian, the pungent spiky fruit is banned from public transport and from being eaten in public building and hotels.

Posted by Alexis at 12:01 AM BST
Updated: Thursday, 14 April 2005 4:52 AM BST
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Sunday, 20 March 2005
Beast in Bangkok!
Thank you to Ada, our friend in Kunming, who found a copy of Adrian?s Spring Festival fame on the internet on the China Daily webpage -
Vientiane (Laos) ? Phimai (Thailand) ? Bangkok ? Ko Samui!

28th February 2005 ? 20th March 2005

Our trip down from Laos into Thailand started by crossing the border over the Friendship Bridge in Vientianne. We were quite paranoid about this crossing, if you are caught smuggling drugs into Thailand, knowingly or unknowingly, you can face a hefty time in the Bangkok Hilton (not one of the most celubrious prisons in the world!). So we spent an hour before checking the Beast to ensure that we weren?t harbouring any nasties that might have been planted on us. Satisfied that we had looked as much as we could, we drove to the Bridge. The Lao stamping process took us half and hour and then we drove through the barrier and crossed back into the normal land of driving ? the left hand side! We crossed the bridge to be welcomed by the Thai flag and several organised booths; us stamped into the country, car stamped into the country and insurance bought half an hour later, we were on our way into Thailand without a car search, not even a token look inside, no questions, not even a rectal inspection for Greg (he was very disappointed!).

Before we drove off we had the honour to meet two other travellers going the opposite direction. Valerie and Richard had been travelling since Christmas from the UK overland on their BMW motorbike. No Ewan MacGregor party to back them up, they had travelled from the UK, through France down into Turkey and then shipped to India before shipping to Bangkok. It was great to meet someone else as mad as us and to know that it is easy. We felt a bit guilty afterwards as they had asked us what the roads were like in Laos. We thought they were fantastic, in comparison to the Chinese roads, but in compared to the Thai ones they were potholed mountains!

A lady running towards us on the hard shoulder waving her hands alerted us to a problem on the road. We weren?t quite prepared for what we were about to see. We have managed to travel over 16000 km without seeing an obvious fatal crash but we witnessed the aftermath of one as we travelled down along the fantastic Thai motorways. There was a man on his phone with a pick up parked at the side of the road and there was a body lying across the motorway. His head and its contents were splattered across the tarmac. We were all stunned into silence by the scene for several hours. It makes you very aware of your speed as you drive as well as people and animals at the side of the road.

Our first stop in Thailand was 400km down, an even distance to Bangkok. Our Dorling Kingsley book showed us the way to Phimai. Phimai is a quiet little town hiding the remnants of a great empire - Pranhat hin Phimai. This structure was built in 1000 to 1040 AD and was one of the outposts of the Khmer empire. The beautiful golden and maroon sandstone have managed to survive a thousand years with the

We drove into Bangkok on the overhead expressway, a magnificent road that towers up over the high rise buildings. The city became a gridlocked mess as we dropped down off the expressway heading for Ko San Road (the tourist epicentre with a permanent market). We sat in stationary traffic for an hour before we managed to struggle across the city. We were told to expect Moscow driving but were pleasantly surprised by the courteousness of the drivers who let us into the correct lane after we had to weave our way across the traffic to get to the exit.

Bangkok is an amazing city and does not appear nearly as sordid as is made out by the international press. There are stunning Wats with golden palaces, so many markets including floating markets and amulet markets, kite flying areas, bars and restaurants with canals and rivers weaving between houses. There is an open area called the Luang Suam that we were lucky enough to see the kite competition that is held annually in Bangkok. The evening sky was a multicoloured array of kites battling to compete for air space as they climbed higher up into the sky. Alexis explored the royal palace and the automotive market whilst Tom and Adrian wandered around the clothes markets. The less salubrious areas of Bangkok have become tourist attractions like Soho or Pigalle driving the really bad elements underground. The Ladyboys are like mosquitoes in the tourist zones like Ko San Road. They swarm out at night attaching themselves to unsuspecting tourists unprepared for their hidden bite! Many of them are so female that it is very difficult to tell if they are female or not. Unfortunately this means that you spend a lot of your time looking at women and thinking that they are male. Bangkok is an addictive city with its cheap clothes, tailors, stunning temples with tuk tusk and taxis honking their horns ready to take you to any part of the city.

Tom was given his marching orders by his new boss in Australia, who asked him to come out to Oz as soon as he could? but not before Tom had topped up his tan ready for the cool Australian winter (ok it isn?t really that cold at 20oC!). So we set off from the busy, sprawling metropolis of Bangkok to head down to the islands. The journey ? 700km. The time approximated ? 12 hours. The boat departure ? 6pm. We staggered out of bed at 6am and loaded up the Beast ready for action. Traffic was minimal as it was a Sunday. We started down the coast road only catching small glimpses of the sea, the first time in 4 months that us island dwellers had seen the sea (Alexis won the 5 pence!) The time was edging on as the temperature soared into the 40s and the distance was slowly being covered. We had a boat to catch. Adriano?s friend Tony, staying on Ko Samui for a few months with his girlfriend Fleur had checked all the boat times and we needed to be on the peninsular for 6pm. 5pm arrived and we were still 50km from the port?.. We arrived at the port at precisely 5.55pm. We had the Beast weighed and we sped onto the ferry with 1minute to spare! Phew! We were the last on for the 1 ? hour ferry crossing (costing only #7 for the Beast) to Ko Samui and on our way to visit Adriano?s friend Tony!

Ko Samui is a stunning island located off the eastern coast of Thailand with beautiful golden sands, palm trees and several resorts. It is the third largest of Thailand?s islands and was one of the largest coconut producing islands in the area. As it wasn?t affected by the tsunami, foreigners are flocking here. Accommodation on the island takes the form of swish spa resorts or individual beach huts located along the beach front with your only friend, the lapping ocean (and a mere #4 a night). Tony, Adriano?s friend is presently staying on Ko Samui whilst he escapes from the expense of London to set up an online music download company, Audiojelly ( Tony and Fleur have been wonderful guides for us as we jet around the island and showing us all the best places to eat.

As part of our relaxing 2 weeks Alexis and Greg decided to undertake a PADI (a 4-day qualification as a professional diver). They learnt how to dive in a swimming pool with several days of exams and submersion. They were lucky enough to explore the islands surrounding Ko Samui including a fantastic trip up to Ko Tao.
Ko Phangan (pronounced Ko Pan gnuh an) is located a few kilometres north of Ko Samui and is well known for the full moon party that is held there unsurprisingly every full moon! The Beach (a book and film by Alex Garland) is based on Ko Pangnan and a small island just off its coast, that was visible as they sped past it on their speedboat. It is renowned in the area for its druglords and marijuana growing ? apparently, our dive instructor went for a dive at a very good dive site just off the shore. They surfaced near the beach only to be met by several armed guards brandishing AK47s! Not quite what you expect after a dive! The film of The Beach was actually filmed in Phi Phi on the west coast of Thailand. The rest of our two weeks has been spent eating, drinking and relaxing (the usual holiday activities!).

The sad early departure of one of our travelling partners has started a new era for the three of us remaining. Tom?s boss in Australia asked him to come and work earlier than anticipated so he has headed back to Bangkok before jumping on an aeroplane bound for Sydney. Tom will be sorely missed as an essential part of the team for his skills at mending accelerator cables, helping to pull stranded cars from snow drifts, four wheel driving advice and his amusing interjections but you can still catch a glimpse of his part in the Beastly Adventure in the Land Rover Monthly magazine in May. We will catch up with him as we arrive in Oz? more stories to follow. For all Tom?s friends on the email list, please email me if you don?t want to carry on receiving our emails.

Thailand notes:

- Thailand drivers drive on the left.
- The King of Thailand is revered by his subjects and there are posters and statues of him in the entrance into every town.
- Drink stops with take away drinks as in Laos entail the pouring of your chosen drink from the receptacle into a plastic bag full of ice, the bag corner is then tied up with two rubber bands, a straw inserted and handed to you.
- Red Bull and Thai Whiskey in Thailand contain amphetamines.
- You can buy a bucket in the pub or street bar which contains ice, red bull, coke, vodka and several straws to share your drink between several people.
- Bangkok is beautiful! There are beautiful Wats, grand golden palaces, floating markets, food markets that sell everything, tailors, a Chinese quarter, The areas that you would associate with sordid prostitution an ladyboys are limited to the tourist areas.
- ?Bar girls? in Thailand generally do not get paid for their work so they rely on tips and prostitution to earn a living (they can earn 1000 Baht per night (#14) ? a fortune for Thailand).
- Thais love to barter for products.
- It is rude to put the soles of your feet pointing towards a person or Buddha. In the Grand Palace temple where there is the Emerald Buddha, you cannot sit with your feet pointing towards him. On Thai boats they have a tie around the front of the boat where Buddha resides ? you cannot point your feet towards the front of the boat therefore.
- The legal drinking age in pubs in Bangkok is 20. To buy cigarettes you must be 18.
- There are a lot of Ladyboys in Thailand due to the extreme poverty across the country it is very profitable to have the transformation. Some men even go to the extreme of having their Adam?s apple removed as well as their penises.
- As most of the vehicles on the islands are motorbikes and mopeds, petrol stations are slightly downsized with 205-litre unbunded drums of petrol located at the side of the road with a pump on the top.
- Of the 60 million people in Thailand, only 5 million pay tax.
- Thailand is presently suffering from an extremely bad drought with the reservoir on the Khorat Plateau only having 10 million litres left of the 110 million litre capacity. Emergency plans are in place to divert water from the already low Mekong to water the baking northeast.

Posted by Alexis at 12:01 AM GMT
Updated: Monday, 21 March 2005 10:34 AM GMT
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Friday, 4 March 2005
Viva Laos Asia!

Sa Bai Di! We are in Laos, the tenth country of our trip.

Boten (China) ? Luang Nam Tha (Laos) - Luang Pra Bang ? Vang Vieng - Vientiane!
18th February 2005 ? 28th February 2005

The crossing from China into Laos was relatively easy but the hardest bit was getting Adrian and Greg out of bed after they decided to commiserate leaving China with a few too many rice wines. They staggered back in at 5am, but with a wake up call of 7am they didn?t appreciate being dragged out of bed (in the case of Greg literally). Greg grumbled all the way to the border and half way into Laos. His grumbling wasn?t appreciated as border days are the most stressful and worrying as there are a lot of things that could go wrong, especially when you have a vehicle.

We arrived at the border at 10am after taking a slight detour due to Jimmy?s expert directional skills. We pulled up at Boten to a very innocuous looking border ? a red and white pole and a red and white line across the road with some guards in green suits. We got out and had our passports checked and stamped. There was an issue as Tom?s Laos stamp had been stuck in over the Chinese stamp, but it was resolved with a disapproving look and some scribbling in a notebook. We shook Jimmy?s hand and then headed off over to Laos, although half of us had to walk there. There were two red and white lines marked on the floor, spaced 5 metres apart. Adrian and Alexis (Greg got special dispensation because he was ?ill?) had to walk over the red lines whilst Tom and Greg drove and parked up. We were allowed to then get back in and then drive to Laos passing the official Chinese/Laos division line into the 18km no man?s land. Three kilometres into our trip we met another red and white pole ? the Laos border. We got stamped into Laos and then the Beast was sprayed with some liquid for ?quarantine? purposes. We then travelled another 15km on a very bad road to the vehicle registration point where we obtained insurance and our laisser faire, allowing us to drive in Laos.

We drove along the dusty road to the west of the border to get to a secret Laos. We passed thatched stilted houses with arrived in Luang Nam Tha in the early afternoon. This sleepy border town is just starting to discover tourism but the bars and restaurants are still under charging for delicious food and banana shakes. The locals are also unsure of what to make of tourists and how much to charge for their goods. Whilst sitting in a restaurant we were suddenly surrounded by little old ladies clad in beautiful traditional Laos outfits with multi coloured wrap around hats. They were offering us their hats, bracelets, necklaces and handbags for 20p to 50p and then dropping them in price just to sell them to us. One lady after hassling Adrian to buy her bracelets and being refused many times, moved some of the bracelets on her hand to show him her other product for sale ? opium! Who would have thought that you would have little old ladies as drug dealers!

We set off the following day and headed south to Luang Pra Bang. The first 100km of road took us 6 hours to transverse due to the winds and bends that stopped us from going more than 30km/hour. We passed through small villages with bamboo coated, stilt houses and thatch roofs with all the kids waving and shouting at us. Greg handed out pens and pencils which his brother-in-law Mike gave us to distribute to groups of kids at the side of the street. They all screamed with delight and started fights over who got the post it notes! The next 100km took us 2 hours as we dropped down into the river basin and onto a straight road. Luang Pra Bang is formed on the bend of the Mekong River which winds its way from China down to Cambodia. The whole town is a UNESCO protected town, our thirteenth site on our journey (see for some sites in your neck of the woods ? also a very good alternative guidebook for travelling). The town is stuck in time with Buddhist monks shaded by umbrellas wandering around clad from shoulder to toe in orange. There is a monastery on every corner and a photo opportunity waiting for you to capture. We stayed in Luang Pra Bang a little longer than anticipated due to the amazing relaxed culture. On the banks of the Mekong we found a restaurant that you could watch the sun drop down over the surrounding mountains and sit and eat found from a mordon ? a pan heated from beneath by a bucket with coals. From a kettle you add water and then cook noodles, vegetables, meat, eggs and anything else you want to throw in. It is South East Asias equivalent to a fondue set.

The road to Vang Vieng took us through more windy roads. The area between Luang Pra Bang and Vang Vieng is a notorious warlord hang-out so we drove with slight trepidation. A few years ago, this area of Laos was considered one of the most dangerous and several foreign tourists were killed when a bus was blown up. Reminders of the discontent in the area is still seen with the red and yellow sickle and scythe flag of communist Russia banded around on buildings. Vang Vieng is located about 150km north of Vientiane, surrounded by the most stunning scenery. The river Nam Song runs along the valley floor with karst limestone lumps, shrouded in trees, rising majestically up into the misty sky. With the new heat on our journey we are hankering for the sea. When you realise that you are an island dweller and that you haven?t seen the sea for 4 months it suddenly becomes a passionate desire to see it again. The river at Vang Vieng sufficed for the moment as we spent an afternoon drifting down it in rubber inner tubes, to the cries of ?Beer Lao, Beer Lao? from beer sellers positioned strategically at the side of the river or people offering their rickety wooden ladders for tube adventurers to scale and throw themselves recklessly into the river. The tubes was the perfect way to unwind as you drift past the towering limestone cliffs, children playing in the river, women washing clothes and then you think of the raw effluent being pumped into the river as you watch it float past? A much cleaner way to unwind is to get yourself to one of the restaurants in town and lay on one of the bench beds and watch some Friends or a film or perhaps enjoy one of the ?Happy Shakes? or ?Happy Pizzas?, laced with marijuana or magic mushrooms! Not to be messed with unless you fancy enduring several hours of trying to control your head spinning and then throwing up in the toilet before experiencing lucid dreams.

Vientiane is the capital of Laos and is located on the Thai border. It is one of the most chilled out capitals that we have ever been to. After seeing all the beautiful Buddhist Wats with garish oranges, turquoises, pinks and yellows surrounding large golden Buddhas, we watched the sun go down by the Mekong River and then eating a lovely curry and rice by candlelight and fighting off the invading mosquitoes. A lovely end to a beautiful country.

It is a strange thing, when you travel so far being the only westerners, perhaps within a 100km radius, you feel special. When you arrive in the tourist zone you just want to shout it from the rooftops ?I drove here? how did YOU get here???? You certainly feel more superior to the other tourists surrounding you. The other issue is security. We are travelling into a zone now which is notorious for drug smuggling and we don?t fancy being thrown into a Thai gaol.

Laos notes:
- Laos has a population of about 6 million people, the lowest population density in South East Asia.
- Laos is the poorest country in South East Asia.
- Laos was one of the most heavily bombed countries that didn?t participate in the Vietnamese war. In the northeast of the country there is an area called the Plain of Jars, famous for the large jars that are thought to be upto 2000 years old. The area needs to be treated with care as there are many unexploded bombs and land mines which were dumped after leaving troops leaving Vietnam dumped their remaining bombs after bombing runs. The Land Mine organisation ( are helping to remove the mines and bombs as well as help those injured by them.
- You must take your shoes off before entering any houses, hotels or restaurants as a mark of respect and not to traipse dust all the way through the building.
- Every house has a shrine outside for offerings to Buddha. Food and water offerings are usually placed inside with joss sticks, just in case Buddha pops by and is a bit hungry!
- There are little Vietnamese pot bellied pigs that cross the road and run around through villages.
- There is a bucket of water located next to every toilet with a scoop to allow you to flush away your deposit. There are very few flushing toilets outside of hotels.
- Houses in rural villages are constructed on stilts, roofs are made from thatch, walls are woven from bamboo and floors are made from bamboo.

Posted by Alexis at 12:52 PM GMT
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Friday, 18 February 2005
Elephantitis in China!
Nee How! The past weeks have been another flurry of TV interviews, visits to tea houses, laying in bed recovering from heavy drinking sessions, nationality parks, cheap shopping, driving on more of China?s glorious rough roads with unbelievable scenery streaming past and passing tea plantations. A big thank you to our friends of Nelly for telling us that the accelerator cable is not just a Beast problem ? theirs snapped on their epic trip through Africa ? just before getting on a boat in Sudan. Have a look at their webpage - a href="">.

Kunming ? Simao ? Jinghong ? Xishuangbanna Elephant Reserve - Mengla ? Boten ? LAOS!

8th February 2005 ? 18th February 2005

From the fall of Burma to the Japanese in 1942 until the end of the second world war, the Allies strove to keep China supplied with material from India-by air over "the Hump," (the Himalayas) and overland via the Burma Road, which stretched 700 miles to the Chinese city of Kunming. As the Imperial Japanese Army swept across China and South Asia at the war's outset, closing all of China's seaports-more than 200,000 Chinese labourers embarked on a seemingly impossible task: to cut a seven-hundred-mile overland route from the southwest Chinese city of Kunming in China to Lashio in Burma - the Burma Road. With the fall of Burma in early 1942, the Burma Road was severed and it became the task of the newly arrived American General Stilwell to re-open it, while, at the same time, keeping China supplied by air-lift from India and simultaneously driving the Japanese out of Burma as the first step of the Allied offensive toward Japan. The Hump bar pays homage to the Flying Tigers, the Allied forces that battled over the Hump to supply China with arms. Michael Palin visited here during the filming of Himalayas .

Kunming was also the location of the Adriano?s new found fame! Adriano arranged to work with Save the Children to raise awareness for their fantastic work. Save the Children in China are not a registered charity yet so they work closely with local charities to help local kids. They had arranged a meeting with dinner to discuss what Adriano wanted to do. Adriano?s idea was to get the local street kids to paint the Beast for the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year). He went to the People?s Square with the Beast and was inundated with kids who painted a beautiful big dragon and the map of China down the side of the Beast. A lot of fun was had by everyone involved and by the media. Adriano had invited China Daily as well as three local newspapers, a children?s programme from Yunnan TV, CCTV9 and the local television station.

The rest of our time in Kunming consisted of surfing the cheap DVD shops (6 Yuan for a new Oscar nominated film ? 30 pence), looking for cheap electrical goods, wondering the cosmopolitan city which is interwoven with the poverty and charm of old Kunming.

The drive from Kunming to Simao was 550km on fairly uneventful ?Super? highway but we worryingly watched the oil pressure drop from a normal 30lb/sq inch to 20 and alarmingly dropping to 10 with no indication of change in water or oil temperature. Now we may seem a little stupid but we had supposedly had an oil and oil filter change in Chelyabinsk and we were getting quite worried about the drop. Alexis?s dad stated that the drop in pressure might have been due to the change and that a thicker oil may be a better idea. We stopped for lunch and after a closer inspection of the oil filter we discovered that it was indeed the oil filter that we put on in the UK before we left. So laying down in the dust with chickens, pigs and small children running around, we changed the oil filter and the oil pressure returned to normal! Phew!

The drive south took us through little terracotta tile covered villages surrounded by mountains of beautifully manicured tea plantations. As we stare out over the windy roads, weaving through the countryside we see banana trees, papayas, rubber trees and paddy fields. As we entered southern Yunnan, we hit China?s tea plantation area. There were mountains shrouded in neat lines of tea trees that stretched as far as the eye could see.
There are about 250 wild Asian Elephants in China which cross over from Laos and Myanmar. More than 80 percent of China's wild Asian elephants can be found in the Xishuangbanna National Natural Reserve. Founded in 1987, the reserve includes five protected zones and covers a total area of 247,439 hectares. It is a stunning area with deciduous rainforest covering every inch. Besides Asian elephants, 20,200 people also live in 114 villages within the jurisdiction of the reserve. Another 144 villages are situated around the reserve grounds, home to more than 32,000 residents so there is the usual human pressure on these beautiful animals.

We wanted to stay in the reserve?s tree houses where there was a higher chance of seeing the elephants as they over looked the watering hole but they were all booked. So we opted to stay in the normal cabins with a dwindled hope of seeing them. We watched the show of the local population (the Jihuo people) performing their native dances. The Jihuo people only had first contact with the rest of China in the 1950s as they lived in remote slash and burn villages. After that we had some dinner and retired to our balcony to have some beers and slap some mosquitoes whilst looking over the reserve. We listened to the chirping and creaking surrounding us and were surprised when a security guard came to our cabin with a torch and started shining it behind us. We were over the moon when we realised that he was trying to deter an Asian Elephant from coming down to see us. With the knowledge that in the past few years, nine people have died and 49 have been injured by Asian elephants in the area, we stepped back and watched with admiration. This 8ft high beautiful Elephant stared back and patrolled up and down trying to escape the torch being shined into his eye by the security guard. He stayed for about 10 minutes before wandering off to go and munch on some bamboo further into the forest. We were so privileged as they don?t often go to that part of the reserve!
The following day we travelled up in the cable car to the top of the reserve passing over prisitine forest (except the compulsory plastic bottle and plastic bags dropped from above). Paths took us through the forest full of croaking frogs and chirping crickets. We completed our tour of the forest with an Elephant Show which we walked straight past with disgust but the other tourists were lining up to see. We travelled down from the reserve to Jinghong and we waited in Mengla sadly waiting to cross into Laos and away from China. It has been an extraordinary month passing through some of the most extreme terrain (and roads!), seeing the most amazing scenery, travelling almost 6000km and meeting some of the friendliest people on the planet. We liked China! We are now in Laos.. more details to follow!

External temperatures are hitting 30oC. The escape hatch on the Beast is off to stop the temperature creeping too much above 40oC. The shorts are on. The malaria tablets are being taken. It is a hard life travelling!

Chinese Notes:

- Chinese people are very social. All food is served for everyone to share and placed in the middle of the table. Card and Mahjong games are played at the side of the street. Promenading is very popular with people walk down the street together until late at night.
- There are very few fat Chinese. Their diet is very healthy with a lot of vegetables included in with meat and rice. There is relatively little MSG in the food in comparison to British Chinese food.
- The Chinese are an untidy race and will peel sunflower seeds and drop them on the floor in restaurants, they will clear their throats and spit on carpets in hotel rooms, there is litter all the way along the side of roads and they have no qualms about leaving rubbish on the floor in a national park or world heritage site.
- Chinese roads are atrocious. At present the government is investing millions of yuan in replacing roads so there are thousands of miles of unfinished roads. In the 1970s there were only 7000 miles of paved roads, so we are quite privileged to have driven across China for almost 6000 km with about 80% of the roads paved!
- Historically, if a Chinese lady farted in public she would commit suicide due to the embarrassment brought on her and her family.
- The staring has got worse the further down the country we have come even though there are more foreigners in the south. Once or twice we have walked down the road and the whole family has run out to the street to stand and gawp open mouthed at us!

Posted by Alexis at 12:01 AM GMT
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Tuesday, 8 February 2005
Chasing the Chinese Dream
Throw away the three pairs of long johns that have been adorning our legs for the past 3 months, get out the dumplings, hand out your red packets, hang up your lanterns?. HAPPY NEW YEAR! Third time lucky? the European New Year, Russian old new year and now the Chinese New Year. We have finally arrived in the Spring City ? Kunming, in time for the Spring Festival! It is the first time in 3 months that we have seen temperatures over +10oC and we are presently enjoying day time temperatures of +25oC and evening temperatures dropping to +18oC. It is a hard life walking around in shorts and t-shirts!! Anyway back to our adventure?

Lanzhou ? Tianshui - Hanzhong ? Chengdu - Leshan ? Emei - Mount Emei ? Zigong - Xiu Xong - Kunming

27th January ? 8th February 2005

Our interview with Ganzhou television and Lanzhou television went very well with us pushing our charities and raising awareness within China ? Save the Children and IFAW have a presence here but we also helped to raise awareness for the Land Mine Association. Greg had had a heavy night the previous night and so didn?t want to show his white pale hungover face to the 150 million people! From Lanzhou we drove to Tianshui with a little three hour stop off for a land slide that had blocked the main road. We had to wait for two hours before they blew it up with dynamite. Due to the landslide we had to travel in the dark ? always a bad idea ? especially in China where everyone drives without headlights or headlights on high beam! We travelled up into a mountain range in the dark and we were warned of snow and ice lining the road. We were stopped by enterprising business men on motorbikes insisting that we rent their snow chains?it was definitely too dangerous for us to drive down! We ignored them? we had driven across Russia, Kazakhstan and most of China without them. Just to be on the safe side though Tom and Adrian ran in front of the Beast for 5km on the downhill stretch to ensure that we drove the part of the road with the most grip on the sheet ice. No problems and no sliding! Jimmy, our guide, sat in the back terrified!

From Tianshui we passed through quiet villages and horrendous potholed gravel roads with chickens, dogs, pigs and children flying past. Around lunch time we passed through a village that had their weekly market on so we decided to stop for some lunch. We parked the Beast at the far end of the main street and wandered off for some food. Adrian was enveloped by a crowd of small children when he bought his food and on our return to the Beast there were more than 50 people standing around the Beast asking questions and practising their English. It is strange to think that in some of these villages we are the first white, non Chinese people that some of these people have ever met. We pushed on to Hanzhong passing through more small poverty stricken villages with maize and chillis hanging from doorways to dry for the more desperate periods of winter.

We arrived in Chengdu in the Sichuan region and wanted to head straight for the nearest Irish Bar ? the Shamrock on the advice of 3 Irish men whose diary of the same route we have been following as our bible for roads and sights ? but we were slightly hindered by not having a hotel booked and no hotel that we tried accepting foreigners (there are tourist hotels in China that have to be registered before they will accept foreigners). We eventually reached the pub and met the owner, a mad Spanish manager, a few ex pat teachers and a Dolly Parton look a like that ran a brothel. We dragged ourselves home at 5am after a visit to the night market (every Chinese town as a night market ? a food haven where you can buy noodles and shish kebabs at any time of the morning). We paid a visit to Chairman Mao who watches over People?s Square with almost a nazi salute and enjoyed a rickshaw ride around the square with Adrian attempting to take control of the bike and failing ? those rickshaw riders have strong legs.

Chengdu is most famous in the animal world for the Panda Research Centre which is located outside of the town and is dedicated to the research and saving the species from extinction. We got to see the ancient but rare Giant Panda (fossils shown to have dated back to dinosaur times) and the rare Red Panda having a light Bamboo lunch; a privilege when there is only 1000 left in the wild. The pandas are hindered in their breeding success rate through the male having a penis too small for the female!

Leshan is home to the Grand Buddha ? he sits looking over the Min River, hidden from view unless you walk to see him or get on a boat as we did. The Grand Buddha is 71m high and is now the largest stone Buddha in the world as the Afghani Buddhas were blown up in the 1990s by the Taliban. Construction was started in 713AD and he took 90 years to complete, his ears are 7m long and you can picnic on his big toe ? it is 8.5m long!!

Leaving the Grand Buddha we decided that we should stay in Emei, 40km to the west. We drove around the town looking for somewhere to stay and spotted a sign for a hotel with hot springs? we indulged in some food in the 5 star resort (a meagre #15 a night each) and relishing the positive air temperatures before plummeting into the yellow sulphurous pools of hot spring water pumped from 8km away and enjoying a few too many beers. It was in at the Emei Hot Spring resort that Alexis received an email from LRM ? Land Rover Monthly requesting an interview about the Beast and our adventure? so get your copy for May booked now!

From the Emei resort we took a two hour bus up into the rugged UNESCO protected Emei Mountain range, passing through mist drenched quartz, karst limestone and granite geological formations to a point where a guard blocked the road and insisted that the bus put on his snow chains. We climbed up to a height of 2500m. Daylight was closing in on us when we got to the base of the cable car station and the temperature had dropped to a numbing -3oC. Our sole intention of going up into the mountains was to stay in one of the monasteries that line the path to the top of the mountain. When we got off the bus we were inundated by people who said that the temple that we intended to go to was too dangerous and we would have to stay at the anonymous hotel next to the bus stop. We had met an English teacher from Beijing who was travelling around China with his Chinese friend, both called David and they were both intent on joining us on our adventure 7.5km down the hill to the Elephant?s Pool Monastery. Jimmy got very scared for our safety when the hotel manager insisted that we would die if we followed the clearly marked path down the hill and started pulling us all to the hotel. With the backing of David and David we set off down the hill, only after we had been forced to buy crampons that tie on to your shoes with string. It was truly an adventure as we walked past snow encrusted trees with ice frozen onto twigs and wind chill icicles frozen onto the ice. We felt quite safe as we had enlisted a guide, we had crampons and David (English) was a mountaineering cameraman. Jimmy however was still not sure and lead the way fumbling in the darkness until he slipped down several steps vanishing into the blackness when his crampons came off.

The icy walk down the hill was worth it when we arrived at the monastery to be confronted by the laughing fat Buddha and some monks dressed in grey. After a delicious meal consisting of bamboo shoots, the spongy gelatinous bamboo centre and bamboo slices we headed to bed. It wasn?t the most of luxurious of places to sleep with external temperatures being the same as the internal temperatures, -5oC and the most comfortable of way to sleep was with your hat completely covering your face. The electric blanket gave some respite but not a huge amount. Breakfast the following day showed the surrounding scenery ? wow? we were sitting in the clouds with icy pinnacles of limestone poking up through the mist. The local monkeys come to ascertain if there is anyone to rob of their food. We trudged our weary legs back up the hill to get to the top where we were told by other people coming down that we had a chance to see the top ? the first time in 4 months. We walked up to the cable car and stood admiring the scenery below; a sea of clouds with mountain ranges poking up.

We got back on the road stopping at Zigong and Xiu Xong. With the impending Six nations games (rugby) it was considered necessary that we get to Kunming in time for the 1am kick off. So we left Xiu Xong at 6am anticipating arriving in Kunming for at the latest 10pm. After voyaging up into misty mountains, down into river valleys, through dangerous bends with heavy lorries on the wrong side of the road, over gravel potholed roads and down beautiful straight motorways with no street lighting with the contra flow traffic on your side of the carriageway travelling at 80mph towards you, we arrived in Kunming. We had travelled a distance of 880km over 22 hours and still missed the England ? Wales match!

All the time that we are driving we have been keeping a worrying eye on our fuel and the lack of lead additive that we have. Since Europe, those we have asked have been unsure as to which fuel is leaded or unleaded which is not very useful when your engine pinks and will eventually start knocking and lead to complete engine failure without lead in the petrol. Alexis?s dad came to the rescue again! He made enquiries as to sending some additive to China. With the bad experiences of Russia and Kazakhstan, sending it by DHL seemed the only way to get it through. They refused to even think about it due to the hazardous content but eventually came up with a price, to send 4 bottles, to China of #360!! Alexis?s dad sent them by Royal Mail snail mail to Kunming for #17 and they arrived in one piece 15 days later, enabling us to complete our journey at least to Australia!

As we have been travelling so much we have been avoiding stopping for food to save on daylight hours. All of us have lost weight with Alexis losing almost a stone, Greg almost 2 stone, Tom a stone and Adrian seems to stay the same as he eats for lost time!

Since we arrived in Kunming we have been indulging in the festivities of the Spring Festival watching the fireworks and firecrackers fly up into the sky. I will leave you with some information about Chinese New Year, before we head off to the south to the Chinese Asian Elephant Reserve and into Laos.

Chinese New Year traditions

Chinese New Year is the lunar end to the year and the start of a new one and is the time that families to get together so there are many people that travel around the country during the 9 day holiday. There are some traditions that are celebrated and practised by the Chinese:
- The Chinese zodiac system consists of twelve years with each year having a different animal each year: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake horse, monkey, sheep, dog, rooster and pig. The strongest animal is the dragon and then the tiger with the snake as another strong animal (a small dragon!). The sheep and the pig are the weaker of the animals. This year is the year of the rooster (or cock!).
- Couplets are written and placed at either side of your front door.
- New clothes and hats are worn during the spring festival
- Dumplings are eaten at 12. The dumplings symbolise money and are a good sign for making money in the new year.
- Fireworks and firecrackers are often used as part of the celebrations.
- Red hair bands are worn
- Setting off firecrackers at 12 well in fact whenever anyone is awake.
- Cash gifts are given in little red packets
- In ancient times no one could make food for the 10 day period so a lot of food would have to be prepared before.
- It is popular to get married during the Spring Festival period.

A little note for our Chinese friends, there is a slight censorship of our webpage access here in China ? we have had no problems in other countries. Apologies ? your photos are on there, if you want copies of them we can email them to you.

Posted by Alexis at 12:01 AM GMT
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Thursday, 27 January 2005
China or bust
Jinghe (China) ? Urumqi ? Turpan ? Hami ? Dunhuang - Jiayuguan ? Zhangye ? Wuwei ? Lanzhou

15th January ? 27th January 2005

We drove into China along the old Silk Road and climbed up through the valley of flowers past honey and pollen sellers through the Bhorohoro Shan mountains and past a lake high up on the plateau. We stopped in Jinghe in one of the best 2 star hotels we have ever stayed in. For a measly 110 Yuan (#6.50) you get a room for two with TV, kettle, toothbrush, comb, shampoo and breakfast. Dinner was even cheaper at 60 Yuan for 5 of us - #3!

We chugged our way on to Urumqi (pronounced Oo-rum-chi), the Xinjiang state capital. Historically the region of Xinjiang was part of East Turkestan and so has a very diverse culture with Urygur (muslims), Han (Chinese) and Hun populating the area. Public posters are written in Urygur and Chinese. We went out to indulge in a light dinner and after asking what their specials were we were told ?the shrimp is good as is the dog??

Steven (Jimmy?s colleague) and Jimmy showed us the highlife of Urumqi. We dined in one of the finest restaurants in Urumqi, played electronic Mah Jong and watched one of the best bands in the province. We visited the city museum full of dessicated corpses from the ancient cities on the Silk Road, the Uygur market with the Chinese medicine stalls, carpet shops as well as Samari sword sellers. We were also treated to some Chinese Karaoke from Jimmy and some bad English Karaoke from Tom, Greg, Adriano and Alexis!

Tom and Alexis went to see the pagoda perched on the top of the hill overlooking the town. The park had beautiful ice sculptures and all the Chinese lantern decorations were up for the Spring Festival/Chinese New Year. The trees had been decorated with tissue paper stuck onto the trees. Leading up to the pagoda there was a chain with hundreds of padlocks attached to it. Apparently couples and newly weds go to the top to attach the padlock in order to declare their undying love for each other.

From Urumqi we headed over a huge sandy orange mountain range to Turpan (Turr-pan) where the fluorescent green raisins are grown and dried in strange brick buildings. The ground temperature in the region has reached 83oC and air temperature 45oC. They receive about 19mm of rain every year? a really dry arid area. Just outside of Turpan is the ancient city of Jiague. This is a city that dates back 2,500 years and is constructed entirely out of the mudstone. There are houses, offices, temples and guard posts carved into the crumbling geology. It is a UNESCO site and there are signs all over the place to stop people littering and graffiting as well to stop doing the Chinese national pastime of spitting ? when you only have 19mm of rain per year a glob of spit can make a big difference to the rate of deterioration!

From Turpan we travelled to Hami (Ham ee) stopping off at the Kumtag desert to look at the beautiful sand dunes coated in a fine sprinkling of snow. The desert park has some amazing sand castles of famous musicians, historical sites and politicians.

From Hami we travelled to Dunhuang (Done-Hwang), famous for its dunes and the thousand Buddha caves. The dunes tower above the city and are slowly edging towards the town. There is supposed to a special singing from the dunes if you throw yourself down the hill, so Adrian and Tom has to try it but ended up looking more like stranded beetles than dune surfers with music emanating from the dunes. Dunhuang is most famous for the Thousand Buddha Caves () situated 15km outside of the town. There are nearly 500 caves all carved from the cliff face, each with their own different style featuring hundreds of Buddhas across the walls and dating from over 2,500 years ago. There is a giant Buddha towering over 5 storeys high encased in a beautiful pagoda at the site. Many of the artefacts including the stone and wooden Buddhas as well as paper documents dating back thousands of years were stolen and taken to the British Museum in the early 1900s. To be fair, this thievery has saved many of the very important documents of China?s history from being destroyed during the cultural revolution (instigated by Mao Zhadong to remove all cultural and religious icons from China) although we feel that they should maybe be returned to their original home.

From Dunhuang we voyaged along the bumpy, unfinished, with mud mounds blocking the road to stop you going on or into the drainage channels ?Super? highway to Jiayuguan (Ji you gwan) where the western end of the Great Wall starts. The wall was started in the Ming Dynasty to prevent the invasion of the infamous Genghis Khan from the north who created tyranny within the region for many years. The wall stretches from Jiayuguan to Beijing and was a mammoth task. The Chinese constructing the wall calculated the number of bricks needed to construct it. On completion of the wall at Jiayuguan there was one brick left which sits on a wall out of reach.

From Jiayuguan we passed through Zhangye (Zhan gyee) and Wuwei (Woo-wee) before reaching Lanzhou (Lan-zyou). The two thousand kilometres that we have travelled so far have been fairly uneventful with just one new squeak developing from somewhere that we can?t determine and realising that we are running out of lead replacement additive (next time we do anything like this we are taking a diesel, unleaded or LPG vehicle and not believing anyone about the availability of leaded petrol ? no one seems to know what is leaded and what isn?t!).

Just before a visit to carry out a health check on our monster at one of He Liang?s friends garage, our accelerator cable that we had mended in Kazakhstan, snapped again. Easily mended at the garage but getting there was the fun bit, with Adrian clutching at the cable with a pair of pliers to accelerate and Alexis negotiating through the treacherous Lanzhou roads to get to the garage. He Liang was a fantastic translator helping to explain all our needs and worries about our giant red baby! To say thank you to our garage mechanic friend we went to his friend?s restaurant. A fascinating place as it was also used on a monthly basis as an auction room for the sale of antiques, many of which adorned the walls. There were pots on shelves that were over 5,000 years old and pictures hung up for anyone to touch that were over #100,000. From there we went to a Tibetan bar where we were dragged into some Tibetan dancing and sat to recover with a glass of Yak milk.

As we speak we are just off to have an interview with the Lanzhou television crew which will only be transmitted to 5 million people, but tomorrow we have another television interview with the Ganshou Provicial Television crew who will transmit to more than the population of the UK? a cool 100 million people. We are superstars!!

Everywhere we have stopped, there has instantly been a crowd of interested smiling men clambering to look inside the Beast, all with intense stares at these strange foreigners invading their country. They all disperse quickly after one of them decides to test the strength of the tyres by kicking them and then setting off the alarm. People stop and stare in the street and cars overtake, stop and wait for us to pass to have a good look. We will have to get used to it as we have another 3,000 km to travel through China before reaching the Laos border. We could truly be considered a freak show here!


Chinese vehicles are special. They come in all shapes and sizes usually overladen with whatever product they are carrying. There are cyclists everywhere along with three wheeled motorbike pickups and taxis, motorbikes, pedestrians, tractors, lorries, horse drawn carts, people drawn carts and cars driving the wrong way down the road. You also have to avoid the shepherds herding their sheep and cattle along the road.

- China is developing trade links with the rest of the world at a very fast rate and has an economy that along with India is classified as the fastest growing in the world.

- China has no copyright laws so there are a lot of fake products for sale including cameras, antiques, cigarettes, even cars!

Posted by Alexis at 12:01 AM GMT
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Thursday, 6 January 2005
26th December 2004 ? 6th January 2005

We are still in Almaty the city of apples, Kazakhstan. Our flat has a beautiful view of the panorama of snow capped mountains surrounding Almaty and we are enjoying positive temperatures. We spent the stroke of 12 at New Year with a group of ex pats in Mad Murphy?s and Tom spent it at Republika Square where there was a massive firework display. After that we all went off our own separate ways with Tom paying a visit to a night club somewhere in the city and paying $50 for the privilege! After an alcoholic Christmas and New Year perusing the local British and Irish Bars, making some geological and oil friends and just relaxing, we are heading up into the mountains to do a spot of snowboarding in Kazakhstan?s only ski resort, Chimbulak. After that we return to the land of travel and the travelogues may be quite extensive as we head the 4000km across China from the 15th January towards Laos. After that we heading down into Thailand and we will see if we can help with the recovery process after the dreadful tsunami.

Greg and Alexis are still recovering from the bad cold and cough that we had over Christmas as well as the mild case of frostbite that we have in our toes. We have had frostbite since Suzdal in Russia when our heater broke. It makes your skin waxy yellow in colour and really sensitive to the touch, feeling like pins and needles. Unfortunately there isn?t much on the net as to what you should do with affected parts except for put in warm water?So if any of you have any ideas as to what we should do with our toes ? besides amputate them ? we would appreciate some medical advice! Greg got quite badly affected with his feet becoming wet and crinkled and loss of sensation at the end of his toes. We are hoping that nerve endings grow back!!! This webpage gives you an insight into our pain!

Russia and Kazakhstan both celebrate Christmas on the 6/7th January unlike us Europe. So the Christmas decorations have only just started going up. Kazakhstan still celebrates the old Soviet New Year as well which is on 13th January. The Kazaks also associate with the Chinese New Year and 2005 is the year of the Rooster. We have been given chickens in baskets as presents for a good year and all the shops are stocked with little chickens. On a good luck card, one friend intensively looked through the dictionary to write down a little note... ?I hope that 2005 brings you good cock?? We can all hope for that!

Happy New Year and I hope that 2005 brings you all that you desire as well as a good cock/rooster!!

Posted by Alexis at 2:03 PM GMT
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Skiing or a Chinese Visa???
Frostbite: Keep your feet warm and bring them back to normal temperature as slowly as possible. Do not put them directly into warm or hot water as you will cause a change in the metabolic rate of the tissues and have a surplus of toxins in the area which will accumulate due to poor blood supply. In old or 'at risk people' this can cause ulcers that don?t heal. Make sure you wear a lot of layers over areas that are likely to suffer from frost bite. It is important to check your feet and hands (or any extremity!!!!) for little black dots, like full stops with a biro, as these could be vasculitic infarcts (people who have raynauds suffer from these). They are areas where the cold has caused constriction of the small blood vessels and the tissue has died; if you see these, keep a close eye on them and go and see a doctor if no improvement. Obviously if the whole digit goes black or purply blue, very painful and ice cold then urgently see a doctor ? that is a possible case of gangrene or the need for amputation. The numbness that we are suffering from is temporary, but beware that if the sensation of pain has gone check your feet really carefully and don?t over tighten your boots or drop anything on your feet as it can cause damage that you won?t notice until it is too late.

Thank you to also for the compliments that we have received on brightening up your exhilarating days in the office, they are very much appreciated! I am glad that we can be of service with our worldy antics!

Please keep your emails coming as to what is going on in your part of the world? we love hearing about what you are up to and it is a great connection with home that we don?t always get with our snatched expensive phone calls.

6th January ? 15th January 2005

Almaty - Chymbulak - Almaty? Zharkent ? Horgas Pass (Kazakhstan)

We spent a few days in the mountains above Almaty where Tom and Adrian went snowboarding. We were fairly limited as we were 40km from Almaty, had a small amount of cash between us all and the ski resort only had a currency exchange and no cash point! Who has heard of a ski resort, just as expensive as any in Europe, not having a cash point!! The ski resort of Chymbulak is the only snow resort in Kazakhstan, located at 2650m and is incredibly beautiful with views (if ever clear) over the Medeu ice rink (the largest in Central Asia) and Almaty. Whilst in the mountains the electrics on the Beast went and we had the joy of driving down the mountain with no brake lights, head lights, indicators, horn or alarm! Yelena our Kazak friend recommended a local garage mechanic who worked wonders and sorted our lights, alarm and the more essential element of radio which had blown in Chelyabinsk in Russia. So a newly prepared vehicle we are ready for China.

In order to drive your private foreign vehicle into China you must have an escort in the form of a Chinaman who organises your visas, your car paperwork, your Chinese driving license, your insurance for your journey across the country and your new car number plates as well as planning your router and following you everywhere. Our Chinaman is He Liang (or Jimmy his British pseudonym) who runs the service (have a look at the section for self drive and his geology trip). This process takes three months from start to finish and He Liang has had to jump through bureaucratic hoops to get us in. It isn?t that easy to get a large red travelling brick through most countries but he managed to get it all sorted for us. It costs a fair whack to get into China by car as well so if you are contemplating driving then plan your budget well.

We received our date for China on the 5th January confirming that we could cross over the border on the 15th January 2005, due to the borders being closed for the Chinese New Year between the 10th and 15th February. After trying to work out our departure date from Almaty we decided to confirm with our Chinese agents, He Liang and Steven as to how we cross over the military zones of Kazakhstan and China to get to the border to meet him. ?You show them your passport with your visa in? was the reply. ?But you have sorted out our visas. How are we going to get them from you?? ?errrr no? you will have to sort that out!??. We couldn?t have done anything until we got the confirmation of dates so an emergency visit to the Chinese Embassy was in order! Chinese visas obtained from a very friendly and speedy Chinese Embassy and we were on our way off to China.

We travelled up to the border town of Zharkent the day before our crossing just to make sure that the Beast was behaving. We stopped off for a few sashliks and celebratory drinks and then crawled back to our cockroach hotel (a bargain at #3 for 2 rooms).

Horgas Pass (Kazakhstan into China)

Then the dreaded border crossing. Border crossings are very stressful as you don?t know whether the border guards will let you across, what documents you need to obtain, how long the process will take and whether unbeknownst to you you have had something planted on your vehicle and are about to be hauled off to prison. We had been warned that we would need to take everything out of the car and put it through an x ray machine? not an easy task! We had spent the previous day taking everything out of the Beast and repacking so we knew what was in there; all the documents He Liang had and we had had nothing planted on us. We didn?t even have to unpack anything to put through the x ray machine.

We arrived at one military checkpoint that took over an hour just to get through the gates after jostling with buses just to crawl through to another checkpoint. A slight paranoia on the part of the Kazaks. We got to the Kazak border crossing and we were separated off. Alexis got the dubious joy of the Kazak border guards and the crowd that slowly started to assemble around the Beast as she was bombarded by questions about where we had been, what we were doing with a cursory question from the border guard about whether our 40litre water cans contained vodka!!! After 3 hours we crossed the Chinese border and went forward 2 hours and managed to get hundreds of smiles from the border guards and again collected a small crowd of inquisitive watchers. We had to wait 2 ? hours for the border guards to have lunch before, after a 6 hour border crossing, we were stamped into China and on our way.

Notes of Interest:
Kazakhstan has a huge number of stray dogs on the streets ? all willing to be your best friend for any kind of food. China on the other hand has no stray dogs and I think your best friend is the food? We passed one restaurant that had pictures of golden retrievers on the window!

Chinese food is quite spicy and not like the stuff we get in the UK which is laden with MSG. If you want chicken, it is a rarity to get any of the breast meat; you usually receive the bones, head and feet. If you want fish, you can either chose it from the tank or it will be brought to your table in a plastic bag still flapping for you to inspect.

Posted by Alexis at 12:01 AM GMT
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Sunday, 26 December 2004
Stepping out in Kazakhstan

14th ? 26th December 2004

Chelyabinsk (Russia) ? Petropavlosk (Kazakhstan) - Burabay ? Astana ? Kharaghanda ? Balkash ? Almaty

We are in Kazahkstan! The roads are brilliant and cleared frequently, there are petrol stations every 50km and the police (so far) are friendly! I say this as we have found so far along our travels that the inhabitants of neighbouring countries know nothing of the culture of their adjacent countries and are usually full of scare monger stories of driving in those countries. In Poland we were warned of car robberies if we stopped on the roads in Lithuania. We were warned in Estonia of there being really bad roads in Russia, relatively few of which were bad roads. We were warned by Russians of there being no petrol stations, no cash points and the worst roads known to humanity in Kazakhstan. None of which are true! There aren?t even any people that look like Borat here!

We have driven over 8000km to get here and travelled across 6 time zones. We arrived in Almaty in time for Christmas and New Year.

Our border crossing into Kazakhtan was a late night experience as we waited for 2 hours at the wrong place on the wrong side of the border after a confused translation from Galiya. We were to meet Vladimir?s (the guitar player in Yekatrinaberg) friends, Shamil and Nadiesha, who would help us with the crossing, sort out getting stamped in and make sure we got our insurance. They had even brought a translator along, Luba, to make the process a lot easier to understand. It made such a change to meet border guards who smiled, especially at 1am! Shamil and Nadiesha escorted us back to their house 80km from the border. We arrived at their house at 4am to the most unbelievable spread of Kazak food and three made up beds! We weren?t expecting that and we weren?t expecting the onslaught of vodka and cognac that flowed freely that evening and the following 3 days.

We were thrown a party by Nadiesha and Shamil and treated to the most unbelievable spread accompanied by two of their friends on guitar. Unfortunately, Shamil couldn?t play with them as he had cut the end of three of his fingers off 5 days before our arrival whilst making his guitars. He hand makes and sells guitars around the world in between being a traumatologist. Nadiesha is a high powered business woman owning and running 18 chemists around the city. We were treated to another banya in their house and Greg, Adrian and Tom were taught how to create smoked ham by tying ham up over the coals of the banya and leaving them over night. We also got treated to some bowling on the 6 lane bowling alley in the centre of Petropavlosk. Adrian got whisked away to go to the first disabled school in Kazakhstan with some boarding and orphaned children in the school.

Shamil and Nadiesha took some time off work with their friends Orla and her husband, to accompany us down the road on our trip in their VW camper van. We asked Luba if she would like to travel down to Almaty with us and act as our translator along our route and help us out with the police. We went to go and get the Beast from our lock up only to find we had a flat tyre and it wouldn?t start in the cold again. So we got towed down the road and bumped started again. The following day after the Beast was warmed from the chill by being heated overnight in Shamil?s garage and we set off to Lake Burabay about 185km down the road from Petropavlosk. We stopped for a spot of lunch admiring the sleeping hedgehog and the frozen lake that occupies most of the park. We discovered that it wasn?t entirely frozen when it started slopping over the top of Adrian?s boots! We stopped to pick up some dried fish for our journey (!) and then headed off to Astana. We were stopped by police along our route but Shamil used his charming smile and a big hug in order to not donate to the police funds.

We pulled into Astana at 10pm to meet our host?s friends and another amazing Kazak spread and after several cognac and vodka toasts to friends, to new friends and to more vodka and cognac we had a surreal dance around the living room with the family budgie zooming around the room trying to join in on the dance!

The following day we were taken to the Guinness Book of Records aquarium ? the aquarium the furthest from the sea in the world. We were then given a guided tour around Astana and taken to the tower recently constructed. From there you could see all the way across Astana, seeing the massive cranes slamming the new capital up before the deadline of 2006. There is to be a presidential palace, governmental buildings, a 4 religion church, embassy district and shopping area. Astana was made the capital in 1997 and slowly the governmental buildings are being moved from Almaty to Astana with huge investment going into the tiny city, presently with only 500,000 people. It was mentioned that some of the investment may be coming from the elusive Mr Bin Laden which is a possibility as Kazakhstan is rich in minerals, oils and has a great potential for development in the future.

From Astana, Shamil and Nadiesha decided to join us down to Karaghanda from where they would return back to Petropavlosk. We stayed overnight and a last few drinkies, before attempting to start the Beast the following day. No luck. A bad day in all as Shamil also had no luck and went on a mission to find a new battery and Alexis and Greg had their phone stolen from their bedroom (with them in it at the time!). Alexis discovered the problem as to why the lights in the cab had stopped working ? the battery had frozen! According to her Dad, lead-acid batteries stop working below -20oC?. As the Beast runs on a 12v system it has 2 batteries and the other one is newer (and didn?t freeze!). We got her bump started and took the batteries to warm up inside! We left her running overnight as the temperature was to drop to -28oC overnight and after a tumultuous night worrying about her being nicked we set off at 6am for Lake Balkash - Kazakhstan?s largest lake.

The drive across the steppe as it materialised through the snowy morning haze was amazing. A great expanse of nothingness. Vanishing off into the distance with no trees to act as markers, no houses, just the occasional petrol station and white fox hunting in the distance, amongst the icey grass. The Kazak steppe is approximately 1000km from top to bottom. There was an attempt to turn it into the breadbasket of Russia during soviet times but as cultivation of the area has stopped the legacy of too much fertilising and degraded soil as well the mineral exploitation are turning the steppe into an ecological disaster. This coupled with the evaporation of Lake Balkash and over use of the Ili River in China (supplied by Lake Balkash) the steppe is drying up. The road we drove along to the south of the lake used to be under the lake ? we couldn?t see the lake at all, not even on the horizon.

We stopped for a spot of dinner on the steppe, turned on the stove (inside) and boiled up some super noodles (a delicacy when you are starving). We watched the temperature creep up inside to +28oC as it dropped to -36.1oC outside. We carried on driving into the night looking for a hotel. We then lost power, on a hill, at 10pm. The accelerator cable had snapped. We bodged together a cable to attach the two severed bits and carried on driving in search of a hotel. We found one in the shape of a rail restaurant car with a hotel attached.

We turned the engine off, hoping that the following day the Beast would start. She did and we were on our way across the steppe again until we pulled over to look at this strange apparition that materialised in front of us! It was Father Christmas on a camel in the middle of nowhere. Wow! He allowed us to take some piccies, ask him some questions and then get up on the camel. Then he asked us for 500 tenge (#2) each for the privilege ? which we didn?t begrudge him as he was in the middle of nowhere and it must have been hard to scrape together a living. That was until he pulled out a massive wadge of notes to give us some change. We then thought well, you are several hundred km from anywhere ? there aren?t too many banks out here and who is going to mess with Father Christmas and his camel!

Our bodged cable snapped and Tom decided to replace it with string. We arrived in Almaty and parked up after travelling 400km with a snapped cable. An achievement in anybody?s book! We found an apartment at the apartment market where you barter for rooms. We spent a drunk Christmas day with all the trimmings and upsetting family phone calls from home, along with meeting expats who met Ewan MacGregor on his trip across Kazakhstan.

It was only 2 days later after we had left the steppe that I realised the almost stupidity of crossing a massive desert like area like that in the Beast that was playing up. We passed 19 cars in 6 hours. Not much help if you drove off the side of the road or you broke down. We have survived but the stress levels are slowly mounting along with rising tension. As you can all see ? it isn?t all fun and frolics!

Notes of Interest:

The Kazak facial look is very different from the Russian population. They have a flatter face with a slightly Mongol/Chinese look and a smile!! The population of Kazakhstan is made up of 3 major different factions ? Russian, Kazak and Uzbek.

One thing we all can?t get over is the number of dogs chained up outside in -30oC in Russia and Kazakhstan. Nearly everyone has a dog but nearly no one has them in their house.

The average salary is $50 - $100 in Petropavlosk increasing to $500 in the capital and Almaty. The cost of living that we have experienced so far is comparable to that of the UK. Runaway inflation seems to be taking grip of Central Asia.

There is a certain chauvanism that exists in the Russian and Kazak area. When carrying out introductions, men do not shake women's hands, just wave. Women to a certain extent should be show pieces and hidden.

The prejudices and ideas that we have encountered so far towards to western world have been very interesting and hopefully we have helped to dispell. In Chelyabinsk, a comment was made that we are the same as those in Russia and have the same needs as each other. In Kazakhstan, we were asked if we had got used to the smog that we have in Britain? Everywhere we have been our new friends have been worried about us speaking English ? more that we could watch the tourist prices go up before our eyes rather than attack. One idea that has constantly voiced with surprise through every country that we have been through is that we in the west have the same sense of humour as other countries outside of Europe.

Posted by Alexis at 12:01 AM GMT
Updated: Thursday, 6 January 2005 2:26 PM GMT
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