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Beastly Blog
Monday, 20 June 2005
Driving Across the World
Driving special

Every country you go through has their own special way of driving from the sedate but fast Europeans to the downright dangerous and stupid Asians. Here are a few driving observations from our journey across the world so far.

Europe – One of the worst roads we travelled on in Europe was in Germany about 15km before the Polish border. The potholes were larger than houses!

Poland – If you want to overtake someone you flash them and they will then indicate and move to the right if the road is clear. Many of the roads are surfaced in cobbles in Poland.

Baltic states – You have to drive with your headlights on all the time. The Baltic Highway (EU funded) is an excellent stretch of road. The capitals of the Baltic countries are very difficult to navigate around as there are very few signs. Riga has no road signs to get out of the capital back onto the main road north.

Russia – In Moscow, there is no lane discipline and there is permanent grid lock. If you are an experienced Muscovite you chose a lane and then change out of it as fast as you can with no consideration for any other surrounding you.

During the winter time when the roads outside of the capital are all iced up there is usually only one lane to stick to. Everyone drives down the middle of the road until overtaking or meeting another car coming the other way and then they drive with one wheel on the black bit and one wheel on the sheet ice. Everyone must drive with their headlights on all the time. We saw a lot of accidents as people were driving too fast and overtaking on dangerous sections of road. Lorries break down regularly in the centre of the road causing tailbacks which cause more lorries to break down. The RAC will cover you to the Urals if you fancy the drive over to there, although be warned it is only for one call out!

Kazakhstan – there are very few vehicles of any sort outside of large towns. Roads are excellent with recent tarmac coating the surface. In the mist, if they overtake, they use their four-way flashers to indicate. Road signs indicate that you have 400km to go to a town as you enter a city and as you leave the city after 2km you have 410km to go. There are policemen that will use radars to speed check you from over 5 miles away.

China – Over 100,000 people are killed each year in road traffic accidents in one province in China and it is no wonder! 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. Many vehicles have no head lights, no brake lights, no lights of any sort in the dark. Driving at night is just as treacherous with those that have lights. Cars coming towards you refuse to turn their headlights off or if you manage to persuade them to turn them off they will flash you repeatedly completely destroying your night vision for several minutes. If someone overtakes you they will put their high beams on and honk you just to warn you that they are overtaking and blind you at the same time. A lot of drivers also have a habit of overtaking on blind bends. On the “Super” Highway there are toll booths for which you usually have to pay for the rubbish potholed lumpy road you have to drive on. There is an off road track that runs alongside the main roads for thousands of miles, remnants of the service road.

The northern roads of China are ice covered potholed roads in the winter whereas the southern roads are melting potholed truck rutted roads in the winter. There are treacherous roads that wind into the mountains with no roadside protection to stop you plummeting into the deep ravines on one side or protect you from the landslides on the other.

A horn is an essential element to your car in China and is required on average every 30 seconds when driving in towns to alert the driver in front that you will crash into them if they don’t stop driving into your lane and maybe every 2 or 3 minutes on motorways and roads outside of towns to stop buffalo, pigs, chickens and cyclists from straying in front of you.

The roads in China are being improved all the time as China races towards the 2008 Olympics. In the 1970s, there were only 7000 miles of roads in China. There are a few more now but many wouldn’t even be classified as dirt track by the Ordnance Survey mappers.

Laos – Laos driving is stress free, in comparison to China. Most of the main roads are sealed and have protection at the sides. There are some roads with potholes and road works on. There are road signs that tell you the correct distance. The roads in the north wind up and down mountains and limit your speed to 30km/h.

Thailand – In Thailand, drivers drive on the left and if you come in from Laos you cross over to the other side of the road before you cross the Friendship Bridge over the river Mekong. Thai drivers are laid back but they do insist on undertaking you whilst you are trying to overtake someone. Bangkok driving was supposed to be as bad as Moscow driving but it was more gridlocked than 15 lanes to the 2 lane road. Road surfaces are good and maintained.

Malaysia – Drivers are courteous although they do undertake you. The motorways are excellent but there are tolls every few miles which can be expensive. There are stopping points under bridges along the motorways for motorcyclists in the event of heavy downfalls. You are required to have a Carnet de Passage to enter Malaysia but we were told at the border that the International Circulation Permit was all that was required.

Singapore – There are only about 15% of the population in Singapore that own cars. To have a permit for your car costs #30,000 for 10 years. You are required to have an autopass to drive on the roads which is detected and you are charged for driving on the road. There are 2 sets of traffic lights, if you are turning right you need to look at the second set of traffic lights to know if you can turn right, driving through a set of red traffic lights in the process! As a foreigner having your foreign car in Singapore costs S$20 per day (even if you don’t drive it!). Many Singaporeans do not know how to drive in wet conditions. You are required to have an International Circulation Permit to drive in Singapore as well as your Carnet de Passage.

Australia – Australia is a massive country and to travel between one town and another usually entails a three or four hour drive on average. In the outback you have to be very aware of the large road trains which dominate the roads. You need to allow a minimum of 1km to overtake a road train. You are obligated to wear your seat belt in Australia and if you are caught not wearing it, it is a A$225 fine (#90). You do not need to have insurance for your car but legally you must have insurance in case you injure someone in a crash. Most roads are surfaced with tarmac but when you leave the main roads there are gravel roads that deteriorate into dirt tracks that develop into corrugated rutted roads over time. Most drivers are courteous although Australians do drive too fast for road condition

Posted by Alexis at 12:17 PM BST
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Tuesday, 24 May 2005
Down Under!
G?day Mate!

Daly Waters ? Borroloola ? Hell?s Gate ? Burke and Wills ? Georgetown ? Innisfail ? Townsville ? Airlie Beach ? Gympie ? Brisbane ? Moreton Island ? Brisbane ? Byron Bay ? Taree ? Sydney!

30th April - 23rd May 2005

So we set off from Darwin with the sole aim of reaching Daly Waters for Alexis?s 29th birthday. We stocked up with water, food and petrol and started along the stunning Stuart Highway south. The sky was a brilliant blue with a few scattered clouds streaming across it, the pale green and white of the eucalyptus trees and the red soil of the outback were exactly what we were expecting but the colours were not ? they were so brilliant in strength. Due to the heat of the day there were many forest fires along the road. One particularly bad one we stopped to have a look at. It was rampaging along the side of the road, birds were running out, insects scurrying across the road and lizards darting away from the heat our whilst the kites circled above waiting to scavenge out the unfortunate cooked ones. A sad situation but when careless people throw cigarettes out the window it all becomes kindling wood. The fire brigade were out trying to stop other fires from spreading by controlled burning around the fires. Bill Bryson had written about Daly Waters in his book Down Under and so we had to visit it too. We reached Daly Waters after a 8 hour drive in a car that is lucky to stay under 40 oC, sweaty and hungry. We made straight for the bar! The Daly Waters Pub is something to be seen to be believed. Situated right next to the camp site, this backwater pub is the centre of the town and adorned with everything and notes from across the world. The walls are coated in t shirts, pictures, badges, stickers, signs, old agricultural machinery, the compulsory knickers and now a Beastly Adventure card. Dinner consisted of a pasty due to the kitchens being closed followed with an ice cold beer and a bottle of Aussie champagne! No better way to celebrate your birthday!

The stars in the outback are something else ? you can see the milky way and for any of you that have never been to the southern hemisphere, the stars are twisted slightly to the side but you can see the southern cross. The moon is also turn sideways and in Brasil is called George and the Dragon.

From Daly Waters we worked our way away from the Stuart Highway to Borroloola eliminating about 200km from our travel on the recommendation of teachers who we met in the campsite in Daly Waters. We drove down a beautiful road with more white and black eucalyptus trees lining the road, red soil and a clear blue sky. We had puncture and stopped to change it in the searing 34oC heat, hundreds of kilometres from the nearest town with a population of more than 50. We stopped to get drinks and fill up with petrol at the Heartbreak Hotel only to find that they had just run out of petrol. Luckily we had loaded up with petrol in our jerry cans ? an essential in the outback. Borroloola is in aboriginal territory and our campsite was conveniently located next to a pub. The pub is split into two and when we walked in we walked into the white side of the pub. It was rather like any pub you would imagine to be in any backwater and a little like the pubs from the Fosters adverts. There were men in there with their cowboy hats on leaning on the bar. There were signs up on the wall saying that you would be banned for life alongside the blackboard with the substantial list of people that were banned for life ? pretty good going to be banned for life from the only pub within a 100km radius!

From Borroloola we headed off down the Carpentaria Highway, a red dirt track with corrugated iron underneath to stop it washing away in the wet season. With the hidden dips on the dirt tracks you have to be aware of the ruts. Greg decided at one point to do a Duke?s of Hazard take off when accidentally hitting a double bump too fast, catapulting a three and a half tonne vehicle in the air, with the contents of every cupboard deciding to also empty themselves out. A following rut that jumped up at us left us with fast deflating tyre. We realised that we had no wood to support the jack ? Australian Quarantine had requested that we get rid of it before entering the country - and so gently lifted rocks (just in case any red backs decided to launch themselves at us) to get something to support the diff. The jack decided that it didn?t want stay on the rock and so the Beast lurched dangerously over to the side almost toppling off and crashing on top of us. We were lent a piece of wood by a passing bus driver (only the third vehicle that we passed along the way) and quickly changed the tyres over. We were left with no spare tyres and a distance of 150km on dusty red unsealed roads to go to the next point that we might be able to change our inner tubes. We carried on down the road seeing emus, our first kangaroos, humped back Brahman cows, dingoes, beautiful grey and pink as well as iridescent green parrots, frogs, snakes and all from inside the car. We passed through 2 foot deep creeks that had promises of crocodiles but luckily none that we saw.

We arrived in Hell?s Gate pleased to see habitation and a fridge full of ice cold beer, so much so that we dumped the Beast and ran to the pub! The showers were full of the most fantastic bright green tree frogs clambering to be near water. On flushing the toilet, Alexis jumped back with a scream as a tree frog?s legs dangled out from the rim and then climbed back up. All part of the outback fun. Hell?s Gate was named after a gap in the hills located 2km south where the police used to escort settlers and aborigines into the jurisdiction of the Northern Territory Police, a mere 200km away. If you were escorted to Hell?s Gate it was a death sentence. Hell?s Gate now has a camp site, a station (farm), a restaurant and runway. The runway is used by the station and surrounding stations for refuelling before zooming off to round up cattle over the million plus hectares that some of the farms cover.

From Hell?s Gate we headed down to Burke and Wills roadhouse, passing through Gregory Downs (stopping for the obvious pictures of Greg!). The roads improved from dusty ruts to dusty roads and then into dusty tarmac covered roads. Burke and Wills roadhouse was more of a pub than Hell?s Gate and we propped ourselves up at the bar and made some wonderful friends in the owner Bill and his manager. Ken, a long distance lorry driver, gave us a run down on the wildlife in Australia. The red wine flowed a bit too easily (at only #4 for a 4 litre box, you just have to indulge!) and red wine teeth and dribbles were quite rife! We dragged ourselves back to the Beast and awoke the following with a nice red wine hangover.

We headed towards the coast passing through the gold mining town of Croydon, stopping in Georgetown and then passing up onto the Atherton Tablelands. The Atherton Tablelands are located on the eastern part of Australia in the Great Dividing Range. We drove from the hot (34oC), dusty Barkly Tablelands up into the mountains where the temperature dropped to a chilly 19oC and the scenery changed to deciduous green forests with tree ferns and rolling green jersey cow strewn fields that vanished off onto the horizon. We experienced our first proper rain since Europe (Malaysia was quick rainstorms) as we dropped down onto the western ?Sunshine Coast?. We stopped at Inisfail before working our way down to Townsville where we met Sharon and Ken who fed a 100 strong troupe of Rainbow Lorikeets who would descend every day for their treat of sugar, bread and water.

We passed on down the monotonous Bruce Highway to Airlie Beach where we all went diving and sailing in the Whitsunday Islands. Adrian spent a week sailing around the Whitsunday Islands and doing a 4 wheel drive expedition around Fraser Island. Alexis and Greg headed down the coast passing through old mining towns, wine valleys and cheeseries all situated in the Glasshouse Mountains. The aim was to get to Brisbane in time for a relaxing week on Moreton Island courtesy of Greg?s parents. We found a garage in north Brisbane to resolve the final issues of the oil leak on the front tyre and found that we could have been doing three wheeling stunts down the motorway as the wheel nuts were slowly working their way loose. We bid our mechanics goodbye and headed across Moreton Bay to Moreton Island for a relaxing week away from driving. We took the Beast with us and experienced the most terrifying driving of our trip. We lowered the tyre pressure to help us drive on the sand. We drove off the boat onto the beach onto the third largest sand island in the world and immediately imbedded ourselves into the beach with every spin of the wheel digging us further into the sand. Panic hit thinking that a 3.5 tonne vehicle should not be on the sand, especially along the tide line and we thought we would have to leave her there, slowly sinking in the surf. Greg went and asked one of the many spectators gathering around us if they could tow us out and was met with a simple question of ? ?have you engaged low gear ratio???? Embarrassed we climbed back in, slipped it into low gear and headed off down the beach waiting to sink into the sea at every turn of the wheel. We were staying at the Tangalooma Wild Dolphin Resort were they had persuaded some wild dolphins that they were the marine equivalent of MacDonald?s as they offered them some fast fish evening snacks. They practically beached themselves to be fed the delights of the surf (along with a few human fingers!). They were being monitored by the Marine Research centre who had persuaded a pod of 10 to regularly visit them. There were also other contacts with nature as the local Kookaburras came swooping down for food, Pelicans were fed daily on the golden sands and the fish all swarmed around the jetty to grab morsels thrown to them. A total of 15 ships have been purposefully sunk off the shore to create a reef that you can snorkel around the mangled rusty metalwork and see multi coloured fish darting about being chased by dolphins and turtles. A fantastic and beautiful island.

From Moreton Island we headed back onto the mainland and then hit the motorway. We drove south stopping at a very rainy but stunning Byron Bay and then down to Sydney where Alexis met up with her cousin Jenny and her wonderful family. At Sydney we are all separating for different cities to earn enough money for the next leg of the journey. Alexis and Greg have headed back to the UK for a month for family hen parties and weddings before heading down to Melbourne to work. Adriano is staying in Sydney to continue his Masters in Linguistics. Updates will be fewer than normal from now on ? you can have a rest from reading about our adventures and get back to the reality of life for a while. We will reactive your wandering tendencies when we get back on the road in 6 months or so. If you want to read about others that are venturing around the world, this webpage may give you the kick to go and explore - Africa Overland In the meantime, please write to us and tell us what you are upto. Thanks for still reading!

Notes about Australia:

- There are two types of sim cards in Australia ? the GSM card which will only work in towns and the other card which works right out in the middle of nowhere.
- There are pubs that are segregated into two parts, with a white and aborigine side to the pub. This is not an apartheid type of segregation it is just that the aborigine drinkers prefer to get very drunk without the white drinkers about.
- There are hundreds of termite mounds along the side of the road in the outback.
- The Northern Territory covers an area of 523,000 miles ? 1/5th of the country
- The Northern Territory has no say over the politics of Australia as they did not sign up to become Australia?s seventh state. All Australians are required to vote in elections but they elect representatives who cannot vote.
- Geologically, Australia is undiscovered. The geological survey has hardly surveyed any of the country due to its harsh environments. Many mineral mines were only discovered in the mid 20th century.
- Australia has around 25,000 species of plants ? that have been identified so far (the UK has 1,600 species).
- In Western Australia, the divorce rate is 1 in 2 (it is 1 in 3 in the UK).
- About 80% of the population live on the east coast.

Posted by Alexis at 12:01 AM BST
Updated: Friday, 3 June 2005 5:55 PM BST
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Friday, 29 April 2005
Beast Release
Darwin (Australia)

24th - 29th April 2005
Alexis and Greg left Bali leaving Adriano to go and explore the flowing lava covered volcanoes, underground palatial mosques and chilled artist communities of Java, whilst they resolved the small issue of getting the Beast off the boat and into Australia.

The Beast was to arrive into Australia on the Thursday 27th April on the Arafura Endeavour, the 10 day crossing from Singapore complete. She had been strapped down on the deck and we had no assurance from the shipping company that she would actually arrive, we even had to sign a disclaimer saying that if we lost her overboard it wasn?t their responsibility. So 10 days of panic were soon to be finished and we had to make all the necessary arrangements to get her on the road again.

Greg and Alexis arrived in Darwin to make sure that we were ready to roll as soon as the Beast arrived ? time being a factor with impending family and friends weddings back in the UK. We have to make it down to Sydney, find somewhere to park the Beast and then fly back to the UK, earn some money then come back.

The border crossings we have encountered so far have not been as stringent and as little explained as the Australian one. Luckily we had done some research before we arrived so we k new vaguely in which directions we needed to be aiming. Before the Beast arrived we needed to get our carnet stamped, arrange for customs and quarantine to meet us and give us the ok for the release of the Beast, go to the MVR and get the equivalent of an MoT (road test) done and get insurance.

Alexis and Greg staggered off the aeroplane at 7 am into Darwin after flying over one of the most sparsely populated but best known towns in the world. Darwin has a tiny population of only 100,000 people which drops by 15,000 people in the wet season as people head towards the sun and a drier atmosphere. Temperatures in the wet season soar and the atmosphere gets very sticky. Darwin has suffered badly over the past since it was established in 1869. The Japanese carried out mass bombings of Darwin in 1942 and over 30,000 people were evacuated from the city. When Cyclone Tracy hit in 1973 it completely wiped out most of the buildings in the town, leaving a new ?70s town in its place with faceless grey and white buildings. The World War II air raid shelters and tunnels are still in place and can be visited but Greg and Alexis indulged themselves in the Deckchair Cinema, an open air cinema, looking out onto the bay and lounging on deckchairs you can enjoy

Releasing the Beast involved visiting the AA, the customs office 5 times, arranging for customs to visit the Beast to stamp our carnet and traipsing around to find out where we needed to get insurance. Not as easy as it looks. It is not necessary to have motor vehicle insurance in Australia but you must have personal liability insurance in case you injure someone.

From the port we had to go up to the MVR (Motor Vehicle Registration) offices in order to get the Beast registered on Australian soil. We passed through town but Greg having not driven for a few days took a right corner too tightly, unfortunately right in front of a policeman. Greg got out and showed her all his documentation, explained where we were going and where we were heading afterward??I am going to the Motor Vehicle Registration place and then I am going to head south and go and explore your bush?? she didn?t even blush!

At our arrival at the MVR we had to wait for an hour to have a complete car test and unfortunately failed on our windscreen wipers not working, leaking seal from the front wheels and one of our rear lights wasn?t working ? all easily resolvable stuff but unfortunately they couldn?t give us a roadworthiness. So the resolution reached was to have a 7 day pass to get through the Northern Territory to Queensland. We would then need to get a new test done in Queensland or another 7 day pass. A pain in the bum but we had a schedule to work to so we had to plough across the country anyway.

Notes about Australia:

- The population of Australia is 20 million.

- The capital of Australia is Canberra, not Sydney or Melbourne as many think. Canberra is a purpose built capital of 300,000 people.

- If you want to visit an aboriginal town you must request permission from the Aboriginal council.

- The polite term for people of the ?drunk unseen type? in the Northern Territories is Long Grass people.

Posted by Alexis at 12:01 AM BST
Updated: Friday, 3 June 2005 5:58 PM BST
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Sunday, 24 April 2005
Bali Hai!!
Singapore – Bali (Indonesia) – Darwin (Australia)!

14th April - 24th April 2005

We left Singapore with a fanfare! We were invited to the police station by Richard, the assistant Superintendent, and shown around the various departments before we were escorted to the airport by Richard and Kevin, from Land Rover. After more sad goodbyes to our new found friends, we flew to Bali. Greg’s birthday celebrated his 31st birthday in his usual style – a few too many drinks, some silly dancing and big hair (see the photos!) Alexis and Greg rented a car (gluttons for punishment) and travelled around the island journeying up to the north coast with its small black beaches, along to the western coast to see the enormous volcanic mountains of Java (located 5km away from Bali) and to the eastern coast with magnificent views of Mount Agung, rice terraces and ancient Balian villages. Whilst they travelled around the island, Adriano perfected his barrel surfing skills on Kuta’s beautiful golden sands. Alexis bought Greg and Adriano a Balinese cookery course for their birthdays in which they were taken around a Balinese market and had explained the requirements for their cuisine, learnt how to make a curry, bean sprout salad and sago pudding as well as many other delicious dishes.

Bali is squashed in to the archipelago in between Java and Lombok. This beautiful, small green island is one of the richest in Indonesia, but is still incredibly poor with many eeking a living from the few tourists that visit in the low season. Everywhere you go there are people begging or pestering you to buy their product, be it sunglasses, fruit, jewellery, go snorkeling. They are so desperate in the low season that they will wait hours outside your hotel for you to return from your trip around the island just to sell you fruit for 80p.

Bali has developed its own version of Hindu. Beautiful temples line the roads with straw lined thatched roofs or stunning Balinese umbrellas covering stone shrines. Offerings are made to the gods daily with banana constructed packages containing golden flowers, small pieces of food, tea leaves and joss sticks enabling the gods to stop off for a snack if passing by and smell nice whilst they do! Banana prayer packages are placed in doorways to welcome the gods into shops and houses. Daily prayer processions slow traffic down as the masses progress along the roads to hidden jungle holy shrines or temples majestically protruding from mountain sides. Many people have shrines in their houses. Beautiful stone triangular gates welcome visitors to the town and temples with grotesque guardians squatting at the base repelling any that look at them.

The Balinese hindu high priests were almost all killed during the volcanic explosion of Mount Agung in May 1963. The most sacred Balinese hindu temple of Besikih is perched on the mountain and one of the most religious events of the Hindu calendar, fatefully coincided with the eruption which killed 1000 people overcome by the dust and poisonous gas. The explosion could be felt all across the island. The skies went black for a week. Crops were coated in volcanic dust killing all plants. Earthquakes rattled the island for a year after the eruption. A total of seven of the volcanoes in Indonesia, along the ring of fire, are rated as being on high watch because of the seisomographic movement of December 2004. Mount Agung is not presently on the danger list, luckily for the people of Bali.

The Bali bomb in Kuta decimated Bali’s economy and the few we talked to about it suggested that it was done out of jealousy. A total of seven muslim terrorists were captured and were imprisoned, all of them were from the neighbouring poorer Java. After the bomb there were no visitors for one month. The fragile economy is just starting to recover two years after the event. The bomb site still remains a shrine to those who died needlessly, with just a green area where a thumping nightclub used to be located until the evening of 12th October 2003.

As we leave this beautiful island for Australia, more bureaucracy for the release of the Beast from customs and the outback, we hope that it will recover form the devastation that it has had it its history.

Notes about Bali:

- There are 2.9 million people that live in Bali.

- Bali is a third world country, even with the wealth of spas, health farms and tourist influx. Many are just surviving above the bread line and rely on the three months a year that tourists travel in for the high season.

- Bali was part of the Dutch East Indies and under Dutch rule until they declared independence in 1945 although it took 4 years to convince the Dutch that they were independent!

- Bali is one of the only islands in Indonesia that has practising Hindus, all the other islands are Muslim.

- You cannot enter a hindu temple if you are menstruating (that includes blokes too!).

- If you are a man you are entitled to marry a second wife if you have four daughters and your wife shows no signs of presenting you with a son. You can have as many wives as you want.

- 22% of the island is tropical rainforest with 3 nature reserves encompassing the west of the island.

- Bali is well known as a surfer’s paradise with enormous waves and rip tides crashing on the southern shores.

- The use (or just ownership) of narcotic drugs is illegal in Indonesia and punishable by death. Drugs offered on the street are of questionable content, and often mixed with toxic substances. Many street vendors cooperate also with the police. If you buy you will be arrested soon afterwards, and you will be released only after paying US$60,000 or more – if at all! Four Australians were arrested whilst we are in Bali and their fate is in question.

Posted by Alexis at 12:01 AM BST
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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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