22/8: New update from new Opinion Editor OLLIE KAY and MICHAEL O'HALLORAN on their five-week South East Asian extravaganza - more to come, so watch this space.
We live in a post-‘Gap Yah’ era, people. In keeping with the zeitgeist, Ollie Kay and Michael O’Halloran, two Christ’s third years, will be travelling in deepest, darkest South East Asia, on a spiritual and emotional journey that will take them from the killing fields of Cambodia, via the Laotian jungle, and the ‘company’ of Bangkok’s finest, to a place of pure enlightenment – where they filmed ‘The Beach’, maybe.
How Now Brown Cow… in Laos
I took an immense dislike to Laos Airlines early on, when the plane we were about to embark upon to Hanoi at Luang Prabang International appeared to be the size of a small bus. It boasted a measly two propellers (propellers, people, propellers; not jets – propellers), and touched down in the midst of the most torrential downpour I have ever seen. World media – forget Islamabad, come to Team Molly, we’ll tell you what it’s really like. I mean, last night at dinner we had to change tables literally three times to ensure our spaghetti pesto and shisha didn’t get wet.
I had heard on the grapevine Laos Airlines’ slogan is, “we almost all make landings”. Yet my initial fears diffused as we boarded the lightest of light aircraft: Laos Airlines clearly operates a similar staffing policy to Kingfisher! That and the valium had really kicked in.
Luang Prabang, the former French colonial capital, is the jewel in Laos’ crown. Picturesque, quiet and majestic. It was everything we needed after the hedonism and decadence of Vang Vieng.
Tubing had left Team Molly devastated, pillaged and partially-blind. (Mike got pink-eye, too, and his hasn’t cleared up yet, so I’m hoping (praying?) its permanent)
Forgive Us Readers, For We Have Sinned
Dearest Readers, you may have been wondering where your two favourite Gap Yah-ers have been for a while and let me tell you we’ve been bowled over by the support. I’d particularly like to thank the kind person who pointed out the similarity between spelling when writing a blog on a dodgy keyboard in a Laos internet cafe and writing a Cambridge Tripos exam.
Gratitudes over. So where have we been? Well I know you guys enjoy the originality of our trip so I thought I’d open my heart to you and tell you that I am here to repent. We’re now in Luang Prabang and although it’s breathtakingly beautiful it has turned into a private purgatory for Ollie and myself.
The problem was that we quite simply got carried away tubing. Now, I’m not here to knock tubing, I thoroughly enjoyed my five days on the Mekong, however, as someone kindly pointed out it’s not quite getting to grips with Laos’ rich culture. For anyone who is not aware of the largely British youth phenomenon that is tubing, it involves floating down a tributary of the Mekong in a rubber tyre and being pulled in to a series of bars. In these bars one is offered an array of bucket-based cocktails, various renditions of Kelis’ Milkshake, and the opportunity to jump off a series of high platforms into the murky waters below.
This was so far up our streets it was sitting in our living room. But where – I hear you cry – was the moment of realisation? The point came on the fifth night, when we had given so much chat to the owners of one salubrious establishment (this one originally named ‘Bucket Bar’) that they offered us jobs promoting the bar. Always keen to gain free drinks all night, we agreed.
And so it was that I found myself separated from Mr Kay, standing on a street giving chat to every westerner who walked past. As I toiled, my co-worker insisted on describing in quite gratuitous detail his sexual exploits in Vang Vieng and with every one of his outrageously mysoginistic words, the wool fell from before my eyes. I realised that I wasn’t in Laos at all, I was in a more out of the way Malia, an eastern outpost of Magaluf, an Asian Alicante. The next day we left on the first tuk-tuk out of town; well, maybe not, but you see my point. We had been so keen to do what we wanted on this trip and defy the gap-yah stereotype that we had strayed too far and plunged headfirst into the ‘Brits Abroad’ category.
No I don’t want to be a Gap Yah-er; I don’t want to be one of those narrow minded-bores who believe that just because most people at Cambridge have checked out south-east Asia, Laos’s passe; but I sure as hell don’t want to be a ‘Brit Abroad’.
P.S. On a lighter note Ollie now has ‘pink eye’ from the dirty river water in Laos. Banter.
As I was meandering speedily down the Mekong River in the pitch black with nothing other than a rubber ring and Ronan, a drunk, high, and partially schizophrenic Irish man for company, I experienced a few passing thoughts:
– Tomorrow I should definitely leave the last bar in the light.
– How the fuck do I get out of this river?
– Who is responsible for the inexorable rise of Piers Morgan? I bet it’s Piers Morgan, the poisonous twat.
Tubing derives from the moment at which one guy said: “I know what would be a good idea!! Stick a load of Westerners in a rubber ring down the Mekong, get some Laos dudes to pull them in with a bottle of Sprite attached to a rope, set up a load of bars on the outside with free wasp-shots, thow in a couple of trapeze swings and games of mud-wrestling, mud-football, and (my personal favourite) mud-volleyball, add some alcohol-filled buckets and BEERLAOOOOOOOO, and you have got yourself the most incredibly dangerous but the most entertaining afternoon of your life.” Build it and they will come. And we have.
Is there such a thing as too much Tubing? Get back to me after I’ve sacked off my third year and set up a bar out here. ‘Chez Kay’, anyone?
Sleepless Nights, Team Rules and Gallic Charms
I was rudely awoken on day 3 by Ollie Kay’s big horrible face and trademark cheeky grin. He chimed, “ello Mike” in a manner far too jolly for 7:30am on a sleeper train, ten hours into our twelve hour journey from Bangkok to Nong Khai. Ollie cheerily informed me that he’d had a lovely eight hours sleep; I was somewhat bitter at this news as the buzzing of a large electric light next to my head had ensured I’d savoured the vast majority of the journey in a bitterly conscious state.
We were greeted in Laos to the now familiar chime of “tuk-tuk? You want tuk-tuk?” For once I did want a tuk-tuk and my sleepless night was soon forgotten as we sped in to Vientiane.
Ollie and I have concluded that we’re five years too early for Vientiane. “A work in progress” would be another way one could describe Laos’ capital city. Is that incredibly patronising? Can I say that? Well I have now, so if you have any complaints please send them to The Press Complaints Commission, 123 Bore Off Way, Cleanshirtsville.
Team Molly – as we’ve originally dubbed ourselves – has a list of rules to ensure we travel safely. The vast majority of these rules are not fit for public consumption, but rule five can be shared. Rule five is less of a safety rule and more of a codified admission of our nancy boy statuses. Rule five states: “following any period of travel over twelve hours the Team Molly members will be rewarded.”
The reason I’ve chosen to share rule number five with you – and perhaps in doing so enshrining my ‘tosser’ status in your mind – is that it leads me to our sauna adventure on day three in Vientiane.
Having got our hotel sorted we decided – in accordance with rule number five – to follow our Bible/Torah’s advice (that being the Lonely Planet guidebook) and explore a local ‘herbal sauna/Thai massage’ establishment. Before you think it let me just point out we were not looking for a ‘happy ending’.
As we walked down the dirt track our tuk-tuk driver had reliably informed us lead to the aforementioned establishment, there was a palpable air of apprehension amongst Team Molly’s members.
To all intents and purposes the ‘herbal sauna’ was a room in the proprietor’s house (naively we’d been expecting some sort of Laos-based Glassworks arrangement). We were told to disrobe and playing to type we sheepishly left our swim shorts on underneath our sarongs . Now. I am not one to vaunt national stereotypes as true or accurate, I find them to be old-fashioned and often offensive. Having said this, within five minutes of entering the sauna a charming French woman, who was with her husband and two sons (both about 20), had asked me if I’d mind if she whacked out her Gallic charms. I, of course, said that was absolutely fine (she was not without a certain je ne sais quoi) but it did strike me that if I was in a sauna with my mum – even in Laos – I’d tell her to cut that right out, fuck cultural traditions.
I think we’ll leave it at that, we’ve all had enough for today. Stay tuned for more politically incorrect travel blogging.
Is Brett Easton Ellis the right look?
As I sipped my passion fruit and mangostein fruit shake at this adorable little Viennese boutique bakery-come-cafe (which, as an aside, served the most delicious Greek salad I’ve had in some months), I pondered over the last few days.
My overriding concerns:
1. There was not enough tat on my wrists and a severe lack of pashmina around my neck.
2. What happened to The Fray?
3. Am I reading edgy enough books?
4. Could I mash up Newton Faulkner’s ‘Dream Catch Me’ with ‘Insomnia’ to create the most explosive mind-fuck of a tune?
5. Where are all the Sloane Rangers?
6. Why is Piers Morgan such a prick?
After a two hour stop-over in Mumbai International, I can now safely say I’ve “done” India. It looked lovely – just like the HSBC adverts.
Bangkok provided ample entertainment just moments after arriving on the Koh San Road. How those ping-pong balls flew! SHE ONLY WENT IN WITH THREE! You know, in Thailand its very hard to tell, but everyone says the way to look out for the lady-boys is check for an Adam’s Apple and big hands. I say the 12-inch cock is usually the give-away.
In true Team Molly style (Mike can explain at a later date), our first official night ended up in a locals-only restaurant, blacked up, entering a Mojito drinking contest with what looked liker a Thai sumo-wrestler. It was almost too much culture. So much cultuire we had to leave the country… quickly.
Departures and Gap Yah Pashminas
From Heathrow and Beyond
A friend of the family informed me the day before our trip that South East Asia has been so ‘done’ before that it has become a rite of passage. If that’s the case I’ll happily take another round of Barmitzvah presents and I might even pop to synagogue for a bit.
Mike and I leave T4 with the advice of my mother ringing in both our ears – “Now be careful guys, because I knew a guy when I was at university who went to Thailand, went out one night, woke up the next morning missing a kidney and his pancreas, with his boxers round his ankles.”
Us Cantabrigians, on the whole, spend our ludicrously long summer vacs filled with serious play: top internships, foreign summer school schemes, performing at the Fringe etc., etc. I myself have dedicated four weeks of my life to entertaining the troops at the European Parliament in Brussels, shortly followed by a two week stint delivering women’s shoes to women’s feet (who needs Deloitte?). I even decided to partake in a Sunday morning Spur Road Car Boot Sale, where I sold some curtains upon which my dog had kindly defecated to a young Somalian man for £2.20. “Do they hang up properly?”, the kind gentleman enquired. “I’m sure they will sir, but if they don’t it’ll make a lovely blanket. Here’s your change.”
The next five weeks: a rite of passage? Perhaps. The new Grand Tour? Well I’ll certainly be wearing my pashmina and a friendship bracelet. South East Asia is where it all kicks off. This is Apocalypse…starting tomorrow.
Kingfisher Airlines: Babe Station
I immediately like Kingfisher Airlines – they’ve got an all-female cabin staff.
The first animosity of the holiday has come with me screwing Kay over by insisting we sit in our assigned seats, I’ve got the aisle chair; I feel bad, but the added leg room more than makes up for it.
The dulcet tones of Boyzone crooning, “No Matter What They Tell You” relaxes me as I prepare for the longest flight of my life. I feel like Columbus in 1492, Scott in 1911 and Armstrong in 1969, all wrapped up in one young Cantabrigian. I’ve specifically worn my new t-shirt for this flight – you never know who you’ll get chatting to in a flatulence-filled tin can 35,000 feet up.
I asked Kay, who by some perverse twist of fate also happens to be my editor if that was enough, he said no, so I’ll plough on.
As I stare at the funky language on the back of the seat in front of me, wondering exactly what form of the Indian language it is, I think of just how different the cultures I’m about to embrace will be. I honestly think my whole perspective on the world will be altered by the people I meet on this trip…
…I mean, hundreds upon hundreds of those I meet in South East Asia will actually have grown up NORTH of the Thames, some of them might be from as far-a-field as Bristol or, horror of horrors, Cheshire. Of course, I jest, but let’s face it dear readers, one does not go to South-East Asia in 2010 to be considered pioneering among the UK student population.
However, and this is where I differ from many of my oh-so-edgy peers, I don’t care. Yes, it’s clichéd; yes, the place is swarming with ‘Gap-Yah-ers’; and yes I will probably spend more time trying to chat up girls from the King’s Road than embracing the wonderful culture of the region. But, you know what, this is one modern cliché that sounds like a good laugh and perhaps I’ll even surprise myself and pick up a taste for the place along the way.
If this sounds like a load of bull to you, then be my guest to post your blog of trekking through northern Siberia, just to be different – have a great time – if not, let’s get going.