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SLOUGH AND BEYOND


Karen told me we were going travelling. I told her that I was from Huddersfield and as I had moved to London that I already had. Slough however, did hold an exotic fascination for me - apparently not the kind of travelling that she had in mind.

Yes Slough wasn't going to quite do it so for a change I took control and you can see the itinerary we came up with below.

We hope that by logging the details of our trip it will not just help us to remember the good, the bad and the ugly but also keep us in touch with all our friends and family that we cannot take with us.

We hope you enjoy it but if you don't, fret not - WE WILL!

Love Brownie and Karen

ITINERARY

Sept - Dec: South America
Dec - Jan: NZ
Feb - Apr: Oz
May - Aug: China and SE Asia
Sept 05 - Rome and Home

Diary Entries

Thursday, 14 July 2005

Location: Never take this trip, Cambodia

Less than a week until my birthday woohoo.

The minibus set off early doors with fifteen of us and bags crammed on to the worst, decrepit bus we had seen in a while. At least we knew that when we got to the Thailand side that the roads would be better and in less than a week we were booked in somewhere smart for a few days for my birthday. The road out of Siem Reap started out ok but within ten minutes we were (as Chris Rea would say "On the Road to Hell". It really could not be all that bad, at the outside is was supposed to take a maximum of 8 hours including the border crossing.

Aircon was temperamental at best and to be honest even when it was on it made little difference. The road was hilariously (initially... the fun soon wore off) bad and it was impossible to imagine driving on this road at this speed for any considerable length of time (i.e. more than five minutes) but on we went. The most amazing part of the journey so far was that we appeared to have the slowest vehicle, lets hope that Bangkok has a decent spinal unit. How anything other than a modern equivalent Sherman or a Hummer could go any faster without instant disintegration was beyond me. I would be amazed if the bus made it to Thailand in one piece.

An hour or so in we came to our first hurdle, a crash on one of the many bridges. (For bridges read, poor quality meccano struts amid the odd rotting piece of timber which was to guarantee the safety of our crossing). A lorry had crashed into the side of the bridge blocking the path for both streams of traffic. "We could be here a while" the driver said laughing his little Cambodian socks off. Out we all got to go and have a closer inspection, some of us were still enjoying the novelty of it all, you understand. None of the locals seemed that surprised and some of them pitched in to get the van moving while others (as many as thirty on the back of a standard flatbed pick-up truck) slept where they stood or stared curiously at the westerners wielding video cameras.

Three quarters of an hour later we were back on the move the sun and road surface as merciless as ever. So that increased the journey time to 9 hours still pretty manageable considering we had had our bad luck for the trip already.

Bridge Two...same old problem only this time the bridge appeared to have simply imploded leaving a kind of Kickstart seesaw affair for our three tonne bus to navigate whever we could get close enough. There was yet another monsterous queue to get through before we would even get the chance to risk our lives. We inched forward painfully slowly with every driver jockeying for position and squeezing into every available gap in order to be the next across.

It therefore came as no surprise when nearing the bridge we side swiped a guy and his family in their nearly new saloon. We were not going quickly but still managed to cause shedloads of damage. The driver got out and had a look, a momentary shout, shrugged and got back in his car......just a minute where were we? Not what we were expecting.

Eyes shut and miraculously, bridge crossed we were moving again, we were up to a little over ten hours, people were starting to get a little tetchey...

Monday, 11 July 2005

Location: Still on the way to Siem Reap, Cambodia

The bus journey was pretty good and we even got food into the bargain. A brief stop in the pouring rain half way enabled me to decline the mixed bag of cockroaches and scorpions on offer as snacks....coward.

Nothing would have prepared us for the arrival in Siem Reap. We were used to people hawking us rooms and taxis when we got off buses but this was a different world. There must have been a minimum of fifty people holding up various signs for hostels and cheap taxis...this was going to be a nightmare as they crowded the bus (which had just sideswiped a truck trying to avoid a load of them already swarming around the front). To make matters worse the bus we were on appeared to have majority Cambodian travellers who unsurprisingly would not be interested in their over-inflated tourist accommodation.

Despite all of the above we were still shocked and horrified as we got off the bottom step of the bus. The crowd had multiplied and by now they were all screaming (tops of their voices, no exaggeration). "Free taxi Mister" etc etc. They grabbed clothes and bags, this was seriously out of control. Shouting at them was futile and even a swift elbow in the face could have ended up with the both us at the nearest hospital (probably back in Phnom Penh)....even that was starting to sound attractive.

Moving was difficult due to the swarm but we tried and got about ten feet and nowhere nearer freedom. As a last ditch attempt I pointed at one and shouted "You" as he was apparently free and five minutes later after various cursing and scuffles between tuc tuc drivers who presumably thought we were their property, we were on the road, possessions and all. FLY TO SIEM REAP and as you will find out later FLY OUT!

We found a bed for the night and booked ourselves an early trip the following day to see the Temples Of Angkor Wat. WOW, what a day, the pictures may not do the place justice but we were taken from temple to temple in a tuc tuc and had one of our more memorable days! In the morning we visited several smaller temples (no less impressive) in a jungle setting that we were both really impressed with. For once in Asia they had managed to keep something magical, magical. We saw the temples used in the filming for Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider and finally Angkor Wat itself, complete with chatty smoking monks wanting cash. "What happened to monks having no possessions?" I asked. No surprise that he didn't understand that one. One of the problems with this part of Asia is that any guy can do a couple of months at a monastery and come out with his orange robes and use them for whatever reason he sees fit. So as with the rest of the world, you get the ones that abuse.

We booked ourselves on a minibus for the following day for what is notoriously the worst trip on the worst road in Asia - the journey from Siem Reap to Bangkok. It lived up to all expectations and then some.

Sunday, 10 July 2005

Location: Up to Siem Reap, Cambodia

We stayed in Phnom Penh for a night and booked our onward transport up to Siem Reap...another bloody bus! We had been told that travel around Cambodia was difficult even between the most touristy spots, now I don't know where these peopel had travelled before but rather sadly we had thus far found it far too easy and not the challenge that we had been looking for.

We had a beautiful set meal in the FCC (a stunning colonial building on the river front) and the first decent glass of wine for a while! Mmmmm bring on Italy I would kill for a good cheeseboard....sorry.

The following morning we arrived to catch the bus and were told that we were booked on the 12.00pm bus for the day before. I calmly suggested that this was unlikely as I had only booked the ticket yesterday and that was at 14.00pm.

Things started to spiral downward. This was apparently all my fault and the staff customer training manual had been written by Basil Fawlty. In my best Cambodian (i.e. loud English), I smiled (as per the Lonely Planet in the section entitled "Do not get angry in SE Asia, It Gets You Nowhere") and pointed at the time that I had booked my ticket and said that it could not have been for the previous day.

The girl behind the counter huffed and walked off to serve somebody else with the parting shot "Tickey gone, book nother, 5000 real" or words to that effect. Impending sense of humour failure. If only we had been to Thailand already, I thought, I could really make good use of those Buddhist meditation classes they do.

Needless to say without aforementioned meditation classes I started to get a little hot under the collar. I tried with someone else. Sod the Lonely Planet, it was time to be assertive. With stink duly kicked the bus driver came over and started saying something along the lines of "There is no way on Shiva's earth that this bloody Enlish burk is getting on my bus". Right....all we could then do was aim to get our money back.

A rather testy five minutes later that involved the thirty people in the waiting room hearing what I had to say we had our money back. We then legged it to where we had bought our visas and managed to get ourselves booked on a posher bus for a pound or two more that left in fifteen minutes. It left from across town and a ten minute high speed tuc tuc ride later we made it just in time, maybe they were right about Cambodia.

Thursday, 07 July 2005

Location: South to Sihanoukville, Cambodia

We waited outside the museum for the minibus to pick us up and take us to out connecting bus as we were heading down to the southern beaches of Cambodia for a couple of days. Ten minutes until the bus went and still no sign. We had resigned ourselves to another day in the capital when a moped came whizzing around the corner, dodging as many potholes and foot deep puddles as possible and asked if it was us that was catching the bus. By the time that we had nodded to the affirmative we were both on the back of his moped and gunning it towards the hostel.

We arrived in world record time complete with the shakes and a big red burn courtesy of a childs moped not being big enough for three people and a very hot exhaust pipe. All worth it though as we managed to get the bus.

It was only five hours down to the coast and as we neared the beach the weather got worse and worse...well that was worthwhile then. An hour or so before arrival we overheard the guy in the seat infront of us talking about bombs in London. We asked what was going on as he had just been on the phone with someone at home, details were still a little hazy but he had a bit of information but nothing confirmed.

We arrived at the bus station in the pouring rain and got mopeds direct to the hotel to see if we could get any news. I wish I had thought about taking pictures at the time as there was Karen on the back of one bike, bags everywhere and her with the brolly up in a brief attempt to keep dry. Worked while the bike was still but as soon as they set off....well you can guess the rest.

We sorted out a room with satellite tv and sods law the bloody thing didnt work so we had a nervous twenty minutes whilst they tried to organise another.

Watching the events unfold was weird on the other side of the world. A sense of real connection and helplessness. We realised that the locations and times would make it unlikely that anyone we knew would have been involved...at least that was something.



The weather improved and we had a couple of days split between the beach and the news. We watched the next Lions Test in an expat bar (the place is full of them, married to young Cambodians and a little unpleasant if truth be told) and made plans for the rest of Cambodia.

We had to go back through Phnom Penh which suited as this would get us fairly easily up to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat as well as enabling us to go for a meal at the infamous Foreign Correspondants Club.

Tuesday, 05 July 2005

Location: Phnom Penh, Cambodia

After a day of exploring the capital we booked ourselves on to a day tour of S21 (Tuol Sleng - the prison / extermination camp that Pol Pot's regime used during the autogenocide) and The Killing Fields. Many people had told us how profound they had found this trip so after one of the finest green curries I have ever had we got to bed and read about what was in store.

We set off with a small group (only an hour late so not bad) and after an hour or so pulled in to what looked to be a warehouse with accompanying pond. This wasn't right and we soon found out that a couple of guys on the minibus had paid to fire guns at a range and that we would have to wait.

I had heard about this back in South America and had thought that due to my years in the CCF at school that this would be something that I would like to have a go at. But then I started reading about the history of the country and a wicked book called "First They Killed My Father" (a biography about a young girl who lived through the regime), and could not think of anything less appropriate. To be fair the local communities make big money off gung ho westerners wanting to fire an AK or rocket launcher so I suppose you cannot get on your high horse too much, but how the organisers are able to work in an environment of gun shots and explosions is beyond me. We watched a guy throw a grenade into the pond which was a huge disappointment as my filming will show. Imagine someone throwing a fist sized rock into the local pond....splash, wait, small rumble and then some ripples and bubbles. Twenty quid well spent there then.

We were soon off again and firstly it was off to the Killing Fields, I will give those of you that don't know a bit of background.

On April 17th, 1975 the Khmer Rouge, a communist guerrilla group led by Pol Pot, took power in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. They forced all city dwellers into the countryside and to labor camps. During their rule, it is estimated that 2 million Cambodians died by starvation, torture or execution. 2 million Cambodians represented approximately 30% of the Cambodian population during that time.

The Khmer Rouge turned Cambodia to year zero. They banned all institutions, including stores, banks, hospitals, schools, religion, and the family. Everyone was forced to work 12 - 14 hours a day, every day. Children were separated from their parents to work in mobile groups or as soldiers. People were fed one watery bowl of soup with a few grains of rice thrown in. Babies, children, adults and the elderly were killed everywhere. The Khmer Rouge killed people if they didn’t like them, if didn’t work hard enough, if they were educated, if they came from different ethnic groups, or if they showed sympathy when their family members were taken away to be killed. All were killed without reason. Everyone had to pledge total allegiance to Angka, the Khmer Rouge government. It was a campaign based on instilling constant fear and keeping their victims off balance.

After the Vietnamese invaded and liberated the Cambodian people from the Khmer Rouge, 600,000 Cambodians fled to Thai border camps. Ten million landmines were left in the ground, one for every person in Cambodia. The United Nations installed the largest peacekeeping mission in the world in Cambodia in 1991 to ensure free and fair elections after the withdrawal of the Vietnamese troops.

It was an experience that we would not care to repeat but very moving and a must-do if you are ever in this part of the world.

We moved on from The Killing Fields and on to the "prison camp" of Tuol Sleng, a building that was a school pre Khmer regime. I used inverted commas for prison because out of the tens of thousands of men, women and children that were taken there for questioning, only seven came out alive. The ground floor of the buildings in the pictures are full of pictures taken of each person to pass through the doors. Tourists with glazed eyes wandered speechless through the thousands of pictures even then not comprehending the scale of the atrocities that took place.

It had been a pretty depressing and hard hitting morning, ironically as we would find out later that day, it was the day that the first wave of bombings hit London.


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Recent Messages

From Cheeky
Brownie,

I was informed of your travels by the Somerset giant Dan Hammond and I'm pleased to note from the pictures that you have bucked the trend whereby you are supposed to lose weight when travelling in the Far East.

Another thing - how much did you have to pay that attractive girl to accompany you?

Well done on avoiding arrest/death/misundertsanding involving bananas on your travels and hope to see you before 2010.
From S&D
OK...We know you are home, but travels are not complete online. Please give another log we are still enjoying it really ;-)
Response: Can I please have two minutes........!

X
From claire and lee
hi james, dont know if u back or not yet , wedding on 24/9 at shepperton moat house please eeeeee-mail to let us know if u will be there x
Response: Yes yes yes - have sent you an email but no response...I suppose you may be busy!

J
From Marij and Arnoud
Guys enjoy your last couple of days!

We were glad to be part of your experience!

Cheers!

Team Dutch
Response: Hi guys,

IT IS NOT TWO DAYS IT IS EIGHT THANK YOU!. We are getting a bit touchy about it :).

See you in London / Holland (if we can find it).

Take care

J and K x
From Arnoud
"the walking Empire State Building"

HAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA- HHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAH- AHAHAHHA
From Brownie
9days to go and we are still in Vietnam....sorry.

See you all soon

J and K xxx
From Murphy
yeah, back earning the corporate dollar but in need of a well deserved break. Talking of which, any danger of an update here? Need something to keep me occupied at work....
Response: Sorry in the Thai islands and too busy ensuring tan is firing on all cylinders! Also its reet dear down here so you will have to wait until we are back in the cock if you will parden the expression. Full Moon party on Sat night yeeehahaah!
From
Monsieur Brun,

I must protest at the vicious slur aimed at me and my fellow countrymen. The French play an important role in global politics and jokes of this nature do nothing to improve Anglo-French relations. Please retract this obscene message from the website.

Yours in disgust
Pierre Pumpitrouser
Response: Dear Pierre,

Many thanks for le opinion. You are indeed right, I suggest that you forward all complaints to Mr D Barrable c.o. Whitminster post office.

From my perspective I offer you a full apology but sadly il n'y a pas an apology.

A bientot

J R Brown Esq
From Murphy
Chaps, won't be around for your triumphant return I'm afraid - thought I'd pop over to the states and Canada for a couple of weeks - will definately have to get a sesh in when I get back tho, swap travelling tales and moan about the state of the UK!
Response: Now then my little travelling chicken. What happened getting home to earning a crust?
From Marij & Arnoud
After reading your story the only thing we can think of is to go back again!

cheers

M&A
Response: Nice
From
We and the bike
Response: And again
From Sis
Although I feel it inappropriate to move queeny from her top spot, I was just wondering whether the sudden influx of updates was me, ranger or you?!
How's it going with you two?
Response: Me - obviously, the lazy pace of laos has helped out!
From HM The Queen
We are awaiting your return with anticipation.
You have been fine ambassadors for the United Kingdom
Response: Aaaaah Bethany dearest. How are you bearing up old stick. Won't be long now and we can have a nice cup of tea and a catch up. Love to team corgi.

The love machine
From godpa
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TINTIN
Response: Muchos gracias snowy. Quite phenomenal wife / secretary you have there!

Slumming it in five star luxury for a few days in northern thailand. We needed a break.

See you soon,

Love T and K
From Chow Suk Kwoi Lee
You get out of ma country. Western pig, you just eat, drink, spit & rude to fellow countryman. GO
Response: Yes quite right my good man. I was going to delete you but I couldn't resist.

Shey shey
From Shep
Bored!
Response: Do some work and to what was this in reference?

J
From OJ
How many miles did you cover in Oz? (or kilometres, I don't mind)
Response: 20000 k's there or thereabouts.

Thank you for your heartfelt message

J and K
From Jamie and Lucie
We have been trying to get back for the last week. Lucie's brother came over and 'forced' us to stay in 4 star luxury and spend lots on 'vinoplonko'! It seems however that there are also many lions fans already jacked off with Sir Clive and his merry band, that the Singapore-London flight is rammed daily. We'll have to sit it out. 7th July hopefully.
Be good. See ya soon.
Response: Some have it tough eh? In Cambodia sunning ourselves on the south coast - now here is where you want to be to save a dollar or seven. Lions tomorrow and have booked myself in for more punishment. You never know I might even have an angkor beer or two!

J
From Jamie and Lucie
Hi Guys,
Firstly congrats on the engagement thing. What are you thinking Karen!
Secondly, I have been waiting to read these WA sections for ages and they we're worth it. If it's OK with you I'll just copy and paste them into my diary and change a few names. Without wanting to blow your trumpet too much, I cried through most of it.....that book might be on the cards yet. Good form son. PS We're skint and going home! See you in Blighty guys.
Response: Aaaaah bless ya....those beers in Bali did not come cheap then!

When do you head home?

Mum and Dad
From Trishfish
Thanks for the e-mail checked your acc and its in there. I will ask Claire/Jim to send you their e-mail addresses. Are you sure you don't want to be an FPM you know how much you love it. Take care and come and see me when you get back, but only when I'm not watching 1st Div rugby.love the Fish
Response: Ey up and of course I will treacle!

THANKS

J
From Aidan
Enjoyable updates - they make good reading. You must have time on your hands. Don't get married on March 4th 2006. Please. Clara sneds her love - boys don't give a fig about you two
Response: Is that when you walk your girlfriend and two illegitimate children down the aisle?

Love Us
From
properity
Response: Aaaaah. Mnay thnaks. I wull sak the prufreedur!

xxx
From
posterity
Response: what did i put?
From Marij and Arnoud
Hi you guys,

Have a good trip down to Ho Chi Minh city and maybe see you on Friday.

Cheers

Marij and Arnoud(Red legs and orange smart-pants)
Response: Hi guys,

Just recovered from the rugby disaster! Hope you were not too bored!

Looking forward to Friday,

J and K
From Mr Young
Hi Norman and Norman!

Good to hear that the snakey-b's went down down under! Fancy Brownie getting a slap in a bar? Your ability to recreate my stag-do on the other side of the world is admirable, young man.

Very much enjoyed the "roadtrain-tow-adventure" more tales of illegality and insane danger please!
Response: I will try my best - how is the baby..errr...Molly wasn't it? Have you dared introduce her to the spawn of Mcneil or OJ.

I thought not, keep it that way

Us