Tag Archives: buses

13 Things You’ll Learn Travelling Indonesia

15 Sep Ferry at sunrise in Ampana Port, Sulawesi, Indonesia.

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1: There is a Nadir for In-Vehicle Entertainment
Audio-visual torture of various kinds is an intrinsic part of the South-East Asian travel experience. From bootleg DVDs with subtitles straight out of Finnegans WakeContinue reading

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A Rainy Season Odyssey

14 Jun

clouds descend over mountain gorge with waterfall visible in distance. Sapa, Vietnam.

View from a bus window #1. Mist, mountains and waterfalls, near Sapa, Vietnam.

The start of the monsoon season in Vietnam’s northern highlands is a beautiful thing.

The rivers turn turbid and golden, rapids smearing the surface like toffee coming to the boil; young rice seedlings and their older siblings stipple paddy terraces in varying greens; waterfalls appear everywhere you look.

Old women from the hill tribes carry leaves for making hats, sporting bright wellies over their leggings. Fireflies switch on their mating lights at night. Dramatic storms with sheet lightning pass over, sky darkening like a giant’s hand cast over the sun and after the rain, the earth has a rich, deep scent of settled soil and teeming life.

The nine-year-old was looking forward to our first proper rainy season journey. As he put it, “We might as well stay up all night. I’ve always wanted to stay up all night, and I’ve never done it. The bus the next day leaves so early we might as well… Plus, we’ll save sooo much money on the hotel room…” Continue reading

The Inflatable Waterpark

16 May

Ek biki inflatable waterpark, Santa Rosa, Philippines

The magic of childhood. Or something.


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This technicolour dream palace is indisputably special. Possibly a little “special needs” too.

What is it?

You may well ask. For this, my friend, is an inflatable waterpark.

Occupying 5000 square metres of apple-green Astroturf in the middle of nowheresville, Luzon, EK Biki comes complete with dangling sharks, inflatable dragon slides, slightly forlorn clownfish and, weirdly, an Olympic-sized paddling pool.

All, like the giant hamster’s wheel and spinning top on which Z spent many happy minutes scrambling, entirely blow-up.

To add a further note of the bizarre, it caters entirely for non-swimmers. Continue reading

El Nido

2 May

view of bangkas and islands in El Nido bay.

A good way to wake up...

After a few weeks in the Philippines, one becomes almost inured to beauty.

Almost, but not quite, for El Nido, in the north of Palawan, really does take your breath away. It’s named for the swifts’ nests which snuggle within the gothic cliffs that cast a shade so deep the backstreets need streetlights of an afternoon.

A little place, about three streets deep and three streets wide, El Nido sits on a shallow, deeply indented bay, dominated by jagged shards of the cliffs and studded with deep green karst islands, forced from the bay by primeval forces, whose surrealist precipices, humps and angles resemble nothing more than a child’s first sketch of islands.

The first amazing glimpse of the sea in all its glory as you wind through crazy chocolate drop hills, past lazing caribao and palm-thatch villages, is utterly gobsmacking.

I’ve posted before about the beauty of serendipity in travel. And in El Nido, serendipity has really struck. I could never, in my wildest dreams, have imagined that five hours on the top of an overloaded bus over bad roads could be a beautiful thing.

Buses, and for that matter jeepneys, function in the rural Philippines as a form of FedEx, delivering unaccompanied goods from sacks of rice and boxes of chicks through to fridges and air conditioners. The bus we took, amongst other things, was carrying furniture. Result! Continue reading

The Best-Laid Plans…

26 Mar

<a Cake display, Scandinavian Bakery, Vientiane, Laos

Not, actually, a piece of cake, after all

We have hot-footed it — well, night-bused it — back from Luang Prabang to Vientiane, with a sleeper train to Bangkok ahead of us tonight, in quest of the elusive Myanmar visa.

Whether because of Z’s performance in the embassy last time around (unlikely) or a verifiable and undeclared, though undistinguished and utterly apolitical, track record in UK journalism (likely), politically undesirable Facebook friends (possible), trigger-happy blogging (unlikely, but you never know), or the latest junta-unfriendly act of our own dear government (highly likely) our visa applications have been kicked upstairs. Or, rather, back home. Continue reading

Up with the Larks

23 Mar

So we’ve arrived in Luang Prabang, Laos, and, as ever, I’m still trying to work out whether the benefits of night buses — saves a day’s travel and the cost of a room — are outweighed by the pitiful condition in which we reach our destination. Continue reading

Buses and Boats

13 Mar

Sawngthaew by the Mekong, Laos

The Chariot Awaits

One of the pleasures about travelling with a child is the joy Z takes in the various vehicles involved.

We are fresh off a Lao-style tuk-tuk (with two rows of seats facing each other in the back, though still powered, in the traditional tuk-tuk vein, by a 90cc scooter), at Savannakhet’s bus station. He has been putting his new motorbike helmet to great use by surfing off the tailgate.

Then it emerges that we will need to get the bus. Continue reading

In Praise of Crap Towns

9 Mar

Here we are, in Savannakhet, Laos, the third-largest city in the People’s Republic, as all 120,000 inhabitants would, I’m sure, be pleased to tell you, if they gave a shit, and loving every minute of it (although I am slightly mystified by my son’s ineffable instinct to seek out the single most expensive restaurant in any one-horse dorp he hits).

The bus was a bit crap, as buses should be, and late, c’est-la-vie, but full of local people, also present and correct. When we got off, there was ONE (count him!) tuk-tuk driver.

“You want tuk-tuk?” he says, after a decent pause. Continue reading

The Night Bus

5 Mar

Bunk Beds on Sleeper Bus, VietnamSo, the night bus in London. Squabbling teenagers. Aggressive crackheads spouting bullshit at the bus driver in pursuit of a free ride home (or wherever).

Queasy slappers and their Ben-Shermaned beaux. Bewildered tourists. Knackered cleaners. And the ever-present danger of waking up in Colindale.

Night bus in Vietnam? Has bunk beds! Continue reading

Bus Journey from Hell #1

13 Feb

We’ve been relatively lucky with buses, so far, if you take squat toilets and a fine coating of red dust, AKA a Ratanakiri suntan, as part of the experience, though it would be fair to say that I’m more adventurous on the roadside food front than Z.

Anywise, it took us twelve hours to get from Phnom Penh to Ban Lung in the north-east. About two hours in, a young woman boarded with her 18-month old son and 5-year-old daughter.

The bus was beyond full, but the conductor, who spoke some English, saw a bright side. Continue reading