Thursday, October 27, 2011

Poor Bangkok

There is little doubt. The flood is coming. For several days the government has tried everything possible to protect the city centre, but it seems those efforts will come to nothing this weekend when high tides combine with ever greater volumes of run-off water from the floods up country to spill over and the Chao Praya river is going to burst its banks.

All along the part of Sukhumvit Road, where I've been staying, there are sandbags protecting shops, hotels and other buildings. Some shopkeepers have gone as far as constructing brick walls around their entrances and windows. People are as prepared as they can be. Now the government has declared a five day holiday over the weekend and a lot of people are leaving the city.

The main international airport was the busiest I have ever seen it. On my flight out (to Brunei) every seat was taken. Yes, I've made it out and am in transit in Brunei. I have finally got my internet connection working at the Coffee Bean cafe. There is not much in transit at this small airport. Oh.. would someone please tell Royal Brunei Airlines that jazz is particularly annoying and irritating for a lot of people. They use it as calming music when the plane is on its approach to landing, but I find it quite the opposite !

Those of you who have travelled on Royal Brunei will know that each flight receives a blessing before takeoff. I had slept through the other ones (I frequently fall asleep as soon as I sit down, then wake up when the food or drinks trolley comes along), but I was awake for this morning's blessing.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Photo Post : Brunei

Jame 'Asr Hassanil Bolkiah mosque.

Mosque workers.

Masjid Omar 'Ali Saifuddien.

Steps for boarding water taxis.

Brunei - country 73

A short visit to Brunei is probably long enough. This tiny, oil-rich Sultanate has only been fully independent for about 25 years. The supermarket next door to my hotel sells lots of Waitrose products from Britain at reasonable prices.

With my two nights here I decided the way to see all the tourist attractions was to hire a car and driver for a few hours. So today I have been to two mosques, two museums, and seen the palace and the water village.

The Brunei museum houses the Sultan's collection of Islamic art. It is really something to see 14th and 15th Century Iranian and Egyptian Qur'ans, with their beautiful calligraphy. The museum also has an interesting natural history section, and one devoted to the story of oil exploration.

Brunei's currency is tied to that of Singapore, so I have been spending Singaporean dollars. They were easy to get hold of in New Zealand.

I have been watching the flood situation in Bangkok very closely. Don Muang airport is closed now, but the international Suvarnabhumi airport (where I'm due to land tomorrow) is fine. The city centre is fine at the moment, but the northern suburbs are pretty wet. From what I have read, my quick visit there before flying back to NZ should be ok. Just as I dodged volcanic ash earlier in the year to go to Adelaide, I think I will be able to dodge the huge volume of water that has been making its way south for the past month or so. I get the impression that widespread flooding in Bangkok will come, with the high tide on Friday being what tips the balance. It will be very sad, and I hope the projection is wrong.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Excellent value

Some examples of great value for money during my final few days' spending splurge :

* A Krakow evening meal of (large) chicken schnitzel, potatoes, peas, carrots and a Coke Zero drink for NZ $10 (UK £5).

* Bangkok supermarket shopping for four shaving razor blades, two large tubes of Colgate sensitive teeth toothpaste, two good quality pairs of socks, three cans of Coke Zero and a box of six Belgian chocolates... all for $14 (£7).

* Also in Bangkok I got two pairs of New Balance shoes and four nice t-shirts for $220 (£110). I think one pair of the shoes alone would have cost close to $200 in Wellington.

Photo Post : Krakow

Lucas and Marcin.

Soup in bread. Yes, the soup is inside the bread. This is not the beetroot soup I've written about, but a different meal.

Rynek Glowny, Old Town square.

Pope John Paul II. From nearby Katowice and formerly Archbishop of Krakow.

The Mound, from where I was able to look down on the city.

Another vantage point. A balloon which is tethered and only goes up and down, ie not on any journey.

Wawel Castle by night.

The Benedictine abbey in Tyniec, outside Krakow.

Selling snacks on the walkway beside the River Vistula.


I greatly enjoyed my return to Poland. The last time I visited was in 2008 (and the time before that perhaps in 2002). Luckily, the weather was kind and I was able to experience the busy main square in Krakow's Old Town without an umbrella ! I also got to see inside Wawel Castle, which I hadn't previously had time for. I had forgotten what excellent value Poland when it comes to food and drink prices. Astonishing, in fact.

The best part of this year's visit was spending time with two wonderful Polish friends, Marcin and Lucas. They were very kind and took me driving to a vantage point overlooking the city and on to a Benedictine abbey. Later, we went to Nova Huta, where a Communist-era conglomerate was responsible for employing everyone and built a huge city suburb for the workers. Marcin and Lucas also bought me a delicious lunch of beetroot soup with dumplings and a separate plate of fried cheese in breadcrumbs. The really good thing is that they are keen to visit New Zealand, and would consider emigrating there too.

I'm writing now from Bangkok, where I've got a two night stopover before returning home to a (currently) snow-bound Wellington. In transit at London Heathrow I had planned to collect a tax refund on a purchase from Sweden. I very quickly abandoned that idea when I saw the size of the queue. It had to be done in London, because that was my final point of departure from the EU. Well, never mind. I've done some very cheap shopping here in Bangkok and will collect a tax refund on that (shoes and t-shirts), which will make my purchases even cheaper.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


I had a nice (albeit brief) stay in London, during which I caught up with a long-standing friend and former colleague at lunchtime.

After that, I enjoyed a cup of tea in the Waldorf Hotel with another friend who I know from Wellington, then we took the Thames Clipper river service to the Docklands area to have another cup of tea at her flat there.

In the evening, I had dinner with another friend of more than ten years' standing in the Kensington area. That's where I was staying for the night in a hotel. I have never seen so many police officers patrolling the streets in my life. In Kensington, many of them were armed. Just down the road was (the Royal) Kensington Palace and a street full of embassies, including the Israeli embassy.