CSCR2k7: CouchSurfing Collective: Rotterdam

8:55am 21st June 2007

So it's time to leave Rotterdam. The CouchSurfing Collective was a HUGE success for me. I have definitely decided that CouchSurfing is the way to travel, and I doubt that I will travel and stay in hotels any more, at least most of the time. Make sure to check out the album!

We were a very mixed bunch, Me from Australia, Chris, Casey and Jim from the USA, Duke and Weston from Mexico, Tiina from Finland and Walter from... err... I don't know where Walter's from but he speaks Dutch so I guess he's from Holland. He lives there in any case. Big thanks guys, you all made me feel very welcome and comfortable and I wish you all the very best. Big hugs and thanks also go to some people who didn't stay there but still helped me have a great time and were generally awesome. Aldo, Paul, Diederik, Nicco and Femke, you will all be missed. Oh, and everyone make sure you keep a couch spare, because I travel a lot and if I'm ever in your area you can expect me to show up and ask for a couch to surf! Special thanks go to Chris, without whose encouragement and nagging I probably wouldn't have ended up coming to the collective. Thanks mate! I'll miss our daily strolls around Rotterdam.

I was supposed to be heading home, however Casey is heading to Switzerland, and has invited me to come along. It didn't require much arm twisting to convince me, I will be joining him. Thanks for the invite mate, this should be a fun trip!

So that's where I'm up to, dear readers. Be sure to stay tuned for more exciting new from the world of Naz. I'm sure you're all on the edge of your seat wondering what will happen next! Until next time, peace!

An Epic Journey

11:36pm 16th June 2007

So it was time to leave Thailand and head to Rotterdam to meet the CouchSurfing guys. I left most of my luggage with a friend in Pattaya, as I did not feel like hiking around unfamiliar territory with 50kg of large bags. So I put 5 days' worth of clothing and supplies into a backpack and headed off into the great unknown.

The flight was terrible. It was an older 747 with no entertainment system at all. I'd forgotten to request a window seat so I was in the middle seat of an aisle row, between a stern Japanese guy who scowled at me every time I fidgeted, and some weird kid who fidgeted even more than me. Sleep was impossible thanks to the elbow he kept jabbing into my ribs. Needless to say it was a relief getting off the flight at Frankfurt. The entire airport is blanketed with a T-Mobile hotspot, which made getting online to check email and get a map easy. If only all airports had that.

I booked a long distance train ticket valid for 2 months from the travel center in the airport, it cost EUR200. I found out afterwards that I could take a local train to the border for EUR21 and then a local train in Holland for the same price, but oh well, now I know for next time. The train went from Frankfurt to Utrecht, taking about 3 hours, and then I changed to a local train for Rotterdam, taking about 40 minutes. It was a pleasant ride, the long distance train had a restaurant, as well as power plugs for laptops in every seat, however my plug didn't fit.

I got off the train at Rotterdam Centraal and walked around for a few hours. By now I was thoroughly grateful for my foresight in leaving my bags in Thailand, having to lug 5 bags around would have been a nightmare both in Frankfurt and in Rotterdam. I had a bite to eat in Burger King, bought a SIM card for my mobile phone and found an internet cafe in which to get online and grab the address I was supposed to be at.

Eventually, at about 7pm, I arrived tired and bedraggled at Jacob van Campelplain, only to discover that the number I had been given was wrong. As I had changed my SIM card since calling Walter, the number was no longer in my phone's recently dialed list, and there was no internet cafe in sight. So I had to call my Mum to look up Walter's number for me on the CouchSurfing web site. Thanks Mum! So I finally made it to Walter's place, tired, hungry and smelly, where I met Chris, Jim and Weston. More people should be arriving soon. I'll keep you all posted how my stay here goes, so stay tuned, dear readers. Until then, bye for now!

Phuket, Maya Bay, Tigers and the River Kwai

11:36am 10th June 2007

I've been in Thailand about 10 days now and it's been by far my most hectic stay here yet. Two days after meeting with Rap, we flew to Phuket, where we stayed for 2 nights. We took a day trip to the now famous Maya Bay, the setting for many of the scenes in the movie "The Beach". We went to one of the agents to ask about ticket prices etc, and after having worked out all the details, the agent asked us if we had any questions. I did not. Rap did. I would have thought one would want to know how many other people would be on the tour, or how long we'd spend at the beach or perhaps what was served in the included lunch. Nope, not Rap. Rap asked if there was mobile phone reception at Maya Bay. There were some spectacular views there, and I will be posting some photos to a new album as soon as I get a decent connection to plug my laptop into.

Aside from the Phi Phi island and Maya Bay trip though, Phuket was a disappointment. The locals there are obviously more touristified, and have lost much of their local character, having adopted a watered down culture which feels like it's more for the benefit of the tourists than a desire to retain their heritage. It does not feel authentic at all, especially given that I have spent much effort getting to know the feel and flavour of traditional Thai culture. After about 6pm you cant walk anywhere without being accosted by bar girls asking you to buy them a drink. My airport driver tells me that they get 50/50 splits with the bar on the drinks they manage to squeeze out of tourists. The shoppingthereis pretty poor, the products are all sweatshop trash, and there's STT (Stupid Tourist Tax) on everything. If I go back to Phuket, it will be only as a stop over for a dive trip to Phi Phi island.

A few days after our Phuket excursion, we hired a minivan and hit the road bound for Kanchanaburi, a province in western Thailand on the Myanmar border. We visited the Erawan Dam and falls, which was an incredibly scenic and tranquil place to visit. We also visited the Tiger Temple, which was a huge let down, as we were both expecting to see wild tigers being trained for repatriation to the wild. Instead, we got to stand in line with a bunch of babbling European and American tourists and have our photo taken next to a couple of thoroughly non-wild tigers so bloated with high calorie food they looked like they'd have troubly hauling their fat bellies off the ground. I've seen fiercer poodles. It was a far cry from the images of a majestic apex predator that the word "Tiger" invokes.

Finally, we had a lovely lunch of freshwater fish at a floating restaurant on the River Kwai, very near to the famous Burma Railway and the site where the movie Bridge on the River Kwai is set. All up, the Kanchanaburi expedition was a fascinating exploration into part of South East Asia that I've read much about.

Anyways, this has been a longer than usual entry, I'll post an update to my travels soon. I'm heading out to Europe soon to meet the guys for the CouchSurfing Collective in Rotterdam. More on that as events unfold. Watch this space!