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Thursday, March 31, 2016

GEARING UP FOR UKRAINE

[Disclaimer:  Some of this has appeared previously on my Facebook.  Some has not.]


THE EXPECTED RANT

Eastern Europe.

SE Asia is nice but it seems like I've been here for quite a while and would like to bugger off for a bit.

I'm thinking of living near Kiev for three months in a rental property. Since Russia grabbed Crimea like a fat kid grabs candy (or Logan alcohol) their currency has crashed hard.

A furnished apartment with all utilities is under $200 per month. Maybe under $150 per month. For a nice place. With fucking wifi. It better have fucking wifi. I've been assured there will be wifi. Deep breaths.

The problem is 'after'. Fortunately, there are several countries which are only a few hours from Ukraine. Many even touch it.

Starting to think 'hey, I might be able to explore E Europe again'.

My goal in living for three months (in Logan's terms, that's a long long time) in one place is to save money so I can eventually get a new laptop (GTA5, etc), visit the USA and save the world.

The problem - it's going to be almost as much to fly to Kiev as the USA. Believe it or not. Apparently, a lot of (horny) people from the USA - wait - did I say horny? I meant 'hungry for culture'. Anyway, a lot of people fly from the USA to KL/Bangkok, hence the airline fares are much cheaper than (where the hell is) Ukraine.

Downside about Ukraine? Russian and Ukrainian languages. Really a bummer. I can get by (basic stuff) in like fifteen languages but no Slovak ones. At all.

So that will be a bit of a burden.

We'll see what happens.

Another fun fact, the only place that I have found (thus far, still looking) that sells 'reasonably priced' (under $600) tickets seems a bit on the dodgy side of 'a layover in one of the 'Stan' countries. Yeah. So that will be just loads of fun. Heavy research needed as it seems that no matter where I fly, the cost is about the same for some reason.



SUPER FUN RESEARCH

Research.  To some people, it is a way of 'dream building' their vacation.   They love nothing better than taking a few hours, days or weeks to find just the right hotel.  Figuring out the schedule.  To some people, it is a way of going on vacation without ever leaving their cubical.

Did this for years with co-workers and bosses I'd have gladly lit on fire.  Hated it.

For Logan, it is just a huge pain in the ass.

Either way, it is an integral part of travel.   As a philosophic traveler once told me, "A traveler without information is a bird without wings."

If you have a lot of money and don't mind spending it, you don't need to do as much research.  If you have even more money, fuck it - hire someone to do your research for you.  And guides.  And porters.  And people you can hurl whiskey bottles at when you're feeling low.

That's right - drink first, then throw!

Since I'm poor (and know absolutely no 'wealthy' people) I do my own research.  Like most people who read this.  Hopefully, you'll have more fun with it.

Because research is vital and you will be doing it should you ever decide to travel, I am putting down my research notes for your perusal.  They can be skipped if you really don't want to read about the work that goes into travel but if you've read this far you'll probably give them a light scan.  Unlike my brain, I will try to keep these notes on topic.  When talking about birds above, a couple minutes went away to fantasizing about eating turkeys.  No turkeys in SE Asia.  It's very sad.

Disclaimer:  There are actually turkeys here according to the internet but I've never come across them on a menu so as far as I'm concerned - no turkeys.  No gravy, cranberries, decent mashed potatoes (you'd think this isn't that hard to make, you'd be wrong), stuffing, etc.  Gosh I miss that.

All of this is being prompted because my long (free!) visa in Malaysia is coming to the end of it's 90 days.  I've explored a bit of the Island of Borneo and haven't been that impressed.  The people are friendly, you don't see a lot of tourists but there isn't anything you can't see on the mainland here that I've come across.  Sure, there are loads of 'wilderness sanctuaries'.  If I was thirty years younger and didn't rely on wifi for my very soul I might be more interested.  Well, that's a lie.  I've never given that much of a shit about being eaten by mosquitoes.

If there is even a small hole in the mosquito netting, you might as well have this for all the good it will do you.  Either way, sleeping under netting sucks so much...  (For those who don't know why, it is damned hot - no air movement.)

I've got a couple friends who are a husband/wife reporter team I've known for a few years.  They live in Ukraine.  I'm fortunate enough to get occasional correspondence (via Facebook, long may it reign) from Sergey.  He told me (and I quote) "one one-room apartment rent 80 USD with WI-fi and utilities, tasty and big pizza delivery 4 USD, 40 minutes of massage performed by a doctor 3 USD, beer in Restaurant 0.8 USD".

I thought "Isn't that interesting?"

"On my way!"
[As an interesting side note, to get this picture I actually googled 'Logan Horsford happy'.  Odd because being on a camel is not a happy time for anyone with testicles.  Also, I don't take nearly so many selfies as much of the world seems to.  I count that as a win.]

After messing about in SE Asia for another month I was bored of it.  The only three countries I kind of like are Cambodia (Mexican food), Thailand (good value for money) and Malaysia (most modern of the three).  The rest, not so much.

Sick of SE Asia.

This is what you get when you google 'sick of SE Asia'.  Funny.

The town Sergey lives in is near Kiev and Chernobyl - as in 'whoops reactor go boom' back in the old days of communism.  Sadly, just like all those plastic bags that last forever in landfills, that whole radiation thing is still with us.

But the area he is talking about is well out of the Fallout zone.

Some people actually know why he is doing the thumbs up and looking only through one eye.  Count yourselves as clever and educated if you do.  If not, just believe he is a happy fellow!

Let's be honest though - for those prices I might risk being a whole lot closer to the radiation zone.

And being in Ukraine does put Eastern Europe pretty damned close to me.  Closer than many trips I've taken to play NERO.

Problem 1:  Getting to Kiev.

The plane schedule from where I am (Miri, Malaysia) to get to the big hub (Kuala Lumpur AKA KL) looks like this:

10:00 - 12:15
14:20 - 16:30
18:55 - 21:05

The flight from KL to Kiev looks like this:

10:55 - 20:45

You know what that means?

That means I am fucked.

Imagine being the person who actually took this picture saying to their friends "Guess what I saw today?"

Yep.  It will be a long assed night wandering the terminal, smoking and sitting around with all of my shit.  Oh, but why not fly there, get the train or an over priced cab into town to pay top dollar for a grotty place to sleep so that you can get up real early  to try to make it to the airport three hours before your flight leaves?  And spend a bunch of useless money?

Because it's not really a clever idea.  Even if part of me thinks "Yeah, sure, I'd only have to get up by six in the morning, find a taxi running that is happy to rip me off..."

If you google 'evil taxi driver', you get the zombie taxi driver from Ghostbusters.  Apparently, actual evil taxi drivers are too evil to photograph.

Nope.  It's a lot of useless money I'd rather give to Starbucks in the airport so I can bitch about their wifi.

So I have a long night to look forward to.  Not a huge deal at KL airport.  They don't close it and drive the patrons into the streets like some airports I've been to in the past.

Once in Boryspil International Airport (the one the plane flies into) it is a 50 UAH (thats about $2) bus into Kiev.

Because as my good friend and travel mentor Adam posted...

OK.  Got that part settled.

Sadly, the town Sergey was talking about doesn't seem to have a lot of rental properties.  Switch to plan B.  Kiev, Lviv then Chernihiv.  They go down in price in that same order as well.  The latter two also put me close to the borders of other interesting countries.   If prices are cheap (or you are rich), plan B is not difficult.



BUYING AIR TICKETS ON LINE

Buying tickets on line is always stressful.  Because they really don't have their online shit together as much as we all wish they did (especially from less tech savvy countries) buying airline tickets always feels like wagering a good chunk of money at a craps table.

Not that I've ever gambled a 'good chunk of money'.  You have to have one first with which to gamble.

Getty Images - not really realizing that once you put a picture out there that putting your name on it won't keep people from using it or caring.  Getty Images is gratefully acknowledged as having either taken or bought this picture.  Like you care.

So anyway, it feels a lot like you are gambling several hundred dollars on a bet.  Will the ticket go through?  Will you think it did but it didn't?  Will the company keep your money and blow up the plane?  Who knows.  Either way, when you click it, it's gone.

Unless your fucking credit card doesn't work.


My bank (in the states) though helpful is way overprotective.  I have to literally tell them about every country I want the card to work in and update them frequently.  Apparently, they hadn't been planning on me doing business with 'one of the -stans'.

After calling my bankers (I love skype) I got the payment pushed through.

The day after, I went to check the bank (and Paypal that I'd used for the local ticket Miri to KL) to see if the payment went through.  This is actually a good tip - inspect what you expect.  The big ticket went through, the Paypal one is still 'pending' for some damned reason.  I sent them a message.  You see?  Stressful.  In addition, you should receive confirmation letters and such in your e-mail.  Check out all of this stuff closely.  Make sure they have been paid and are happy.  Other travelers tell me stories about their payment not going through and the airline looking all surprised when they showed up with 'reservations' - but no tickets/seats.


THE HUMP

Of course, you need plane tickets to get over what I personally think of as 'the hump'.


I'm pretty sure that I've discussed it before but these are the countries I wish were cheap, safe, fascinating tourist meccas (probably not the right word there...) but sadly they've gone the other way.  I need to take a plane to get over them.  Generally, they are not good places to go either because of high cost or low survival expectations.

And getting over the hump is always a few hundred dollars.  No budget airlines fly over the hump - which is sad.  It's weird but the price to get over the hump is about $150 less than it is to fly from KL to the USA.  Strange, eh?



UKRAINE RAIL MAP


I think there are a lot more minor rail connections than are shown but this does tell me they seem to have a pretty extensive rail system in Ukraine.  If prices are as cheap as I'm seeing, there could be some sightseeing and exploration by rail going on.  Yes, I know I am one to take advantage of a countries' problems but this is a unique opportunity to see a bit more of Ukraine.  Possibly before Russia decides it wants another slice.

"Hey - I am too cool being - like your Fonzie.  But with a nuclear missile where my dick was."

Oh that crazy Putin.  What ever will he do next...

Anyway, since I need to absorb off the cost of flying to Ukraine, for my first couple months I'll be seeking and staying in places for a longer term.  A month - two if very nice and I'm not sick of the town.  Then, go outside of Ukraine for a bit - check out other Eastern European countries then back in unless I'm sick of the place.

It's a solid plan and oddly, my travel mentor isn't telling me it is a stupid plan.  This makes me feel pretty good about it.


He also advised me to bring some extra 'hard currency' as a negotiating tool for rent.  It's been so long I had to double check what he was talking about.  Yes, dollars and euros.  Same kind of 'hard currency' they use to go on and on about back in the bad ole days of the USSR.  Sadly, it is a pain in the ass to get in Miri as banks regard it as the job of the money changers.  The money changers regard it as their job to rip you off.



TRAVELER'S TIP

The day after making a payment (especially for airfare) look at your accounts online to see if the money was actually paid out.  If not, make inquiries.  While it is an extra step you shouldn't be required to do when dealing with professionals, remember that the merchants frequently aren't and that banks are mutherfuckers.  Though the people who help you individually may be quite nice.  [I put that disclaimer in for all the really nice people who have helped me over the years at my bank.]



BOOK REVIEWS

I'm listening to The Walker Papers.

It's a decent urban fantasy series...aside from the fact that the author makes all of the men again attractive. Does this mean the author owns a lot of cats? I don't know - but that does seem to be a common theme for romance writers.

One of the ladies various love interests (they always juggle several because...cats...) is the captain of the police force she works for.

Ever see the TV series "Person of Interest"? Remember the dirty cop who was strong armed onto the good guy's team and eventually became a good guy? Fusco? Yeah. I have retaliated and am using his image as her captains.


This makes me rebelliously happy and makes some of the scenes much more interesting being that he is 'short and blocky' and I'm thinking not considered handsome by any women in the classical sense of the word. Maybe not any sense. I've no idea.

Why am I listening to a book series (not just one book but a series) that I am subverting? Because there just don't seem to be enough decent series out there in the urban fantasy stuff. Most of them are written (and consequently read) by women. There are some women readers who are OK (like the one who reads the Walker Papers) but many of them make me wish I were gay.

Sigh.

I'd put this series at a 5/10. It's a book series for when you are needing something to read.



MOVIE REVIEWS

(Hell, reviews of both books and movies?  This blog really has it all, huh!)

War of the Worlds (2005)

Gave this really freakishly expensive (though it did make a lot of money) a 3/10.

The positives: Lots of nifty death and dramatic action.

The negatives: The most annoying, unlovable family who I desperately wanted to have get picked off one at a time all survive despite logic and common decency.

Why they would want to make the main characters so annoying and ones you'd like to back over with your car is strange. Usually, you want people you would hope to have survive so that you can get all sympathetic and cheer them on. I cheered on the Martians though I knew they were doomed from the beginning. Wells told me so.

What really scares me is that some of my readers will know who Mr. Wells is by sight.  [For the rest of you, am I fucking with you?  Yes.  Yes I am.  Enjoy.]



PRICES (MIRI)

Local food - small dinner, under 10 MYR.  Big dinner, double that.  Includes 1-2 plates of food (small or big) and two ice teas.

Beer:  Fuck that, it's way too expensive here.  Only tourists, rich folks and desperate alcoholics drink a bunch of that here.  Go to Cambodia to drink.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

ESCAPE FROM BORNEO ISLAND

PLANNING THE ESCAPE FROM BORNEO ISLAND

I've been studying the island I'm on and deciding it might be time to get off it soon.

I'm not a great planner - first to admit that. Plus, too much planning can make you a slave to the schedule. But on this I'm thinking "Meh".

On the Malaysian side I've not come across anything that has really made it 'worth' checking out. You can see the same kind of architecture and such here as on the mainland. Yes, there are very few white people (I see about three per day) but I'm not the kind of tourist that uses that as a yardstick to 'how far off the beaten path' I've gotten. It simply doesn't matter that much. Besides, having a 'tourist area' often gives access to cheap lodgings and foreign food. They really don't do 'breakfast' in most of these countries - unless you like 'soup'.

It appears that once I am out of the Malaysian side of the island it becomes a way overpriced version of "Where the wild things grow". As people who read my blog well know, I don't mind staying in shitty places. I do mind when they come with a high price tag. Paying fifteen or twenty dollars per night for a place in a pretty horrible town (or pretty horrible hotel for that matter) doesn't work for me. According to my research, that is what they charge. Or more. Why - I don't know. Who would stay there - I can't say. The road does appear to get more complicated and wild.

Checked out the Kingdom of Brunei but just getting a bus ticket from there back into Malaysia is an astonishing $70. Fuck that, I can get a plane (love 'Air Asia') for less than that.

So now I've got to think about where to go and what to do. Getting out of Malaysia (visa expires in about ten days) is paramount. From here (Miri on the island of Borneo if you want to look it up) AA flies to Kuala Lumpur (KL) for $40. Plus luggage and such. All told, less than $100. More than I want to spend (trying to save money) but I've worked my way pretty far into the island before discovering it might not have been a great idea.

Such is travel.

I'm really completely unsure as to what to do once I'm back in KL. I could stay in SE Asia to try to save money but god I'd love to get out and back to Eastern Europe.  Otherwise, I know I'll just be traveling the same ground and countries.  While it is true that I've hit nearly all the countries I want to get to and can afford to do so, hitting them again so soon is a bummer.

More research to discover what to do is needed. Fortunately, I have a couple days.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

MIRI AND PIPPIN

MIRI AND PIPPIN

I arrived in the town of Miri and I've been re-watching LOTR.  It was a natural title.



HOTEL ROOMS

One of the main differences between more expensive hotel rooms and the ones I frequent is defects or as I think of them, quirks.

The lower maintenance someone is, the lower cost of the room you can put up with.

Upon arriving in this town (a fairly painless process not really worth going on and on about - continue reading for me to disprove that statement) I got dropped off at "Mega Hotel" by the taxi. I thought "With a name like that, perhaps I can afford it." No, the guy who named it just sucked at names. As soon as some guy came out and wanted to help me with my bags (and didn't look like he'd run off with them) I knew I couldn't afford this place.

200 MYR. That's about fifty USD per night AKA 'more than Logan has allotted for the entire day'. As I sat there smiling at the guy telling him "No thank you" I was thinking "Hell if I'm going to SE Asia and paying that much for a room! I can get something cheap in Western Europe for that!  Yes, I'd rather work on my French for six months out of the year if it cost the same as SE Asia to live there.  No doubt, hands down.

But I'm sure there are tons of people who want the better (not the best, that costs way more) and have money.

Again, it is never any fun to ask locals for directions to ...well, most things. Unless they can point at it. But especially hotels. At the end of every long day, these people do not look blearily about and say "Gosh, which hotel will I stay in tonight?" They have homes. They probably don't know much about the hotels.

So you end up getting 'ping ponged' around the city.  "This way!" you are told.  When you get there, "That way!" and back to a totally different area.  Back and forth.  It wouldn't be so bad if I wasn't lugging everything I own.

Eventually, I managed to find the 'hotel area' and a room for 50 MYR (about $12) per night.  It ain't pretty but it's not full of drug users and prostitutes the way the last one was.  Unfortunately, it is across the alley from a karaoke place.  It sounded like a cat being inexpertly raped.  Until about four in the morning - on a Monday night.

Bright and early in the morning with a couple hours of sleep under my belt (where I keep the good stuff) I wandered around looking for a new place.  Often it seems to be required that I find the good place after staying in a dubious one.

After staying in hundreds of hotels, one might note there seems to be a common cycle.  The start up, where the hotel owner often prices themselves a bit higher (or much higher) than they should - perhaps terrified about the amount of money they have invested.  Later, the hard work and resignation that customers often suck.  Afterward, the burn out phase where listless teenagers are hired and the place can be said to have truly gone to shit.  Not all hotels follow this but it is something to look for.

The place I found is in the phase where the price is reasonable (60 MYR) for a good sized room (50 for a glorified closet) and everything looks white and new.  I'm use to rooms where a fresh coat of paint and perhaps a case of arson may not be amiss, so this is a huge step up.

Everyone is eager to make sure I am comfortable.

The owner is a bit younger than the eighty year what the hell is the 'internet' types who often own buildings so they have internet that seems to be thrice (word!) 'Cambodia'.

For actual internet speeds, I go by what my download rate is.  'Cambodia speed' I've fixed to a sad 30 kb/s.   This one I'm sometimes hitting 100 kb/s.  Exciting.  True that even slow internet connections in the USA can go ten times that fast but here nobody cares what I download.  Wild West - er - East.  Wagons East!

I want to make very clear that when I discuss the hotels (sometimes horrific) that I stay in I don't want to sound like I am bitching.  I just want to give the readers a very clear view of what the rooms are actually like without the usual glossy finish most travelers liberally apply.  But - and I wish to be crystal on this - I am grateful the cheap and shitty rooms do exist.  Without them it would be impossible to do what I do.  And I'm still enthralled by this lifestyle after six years.

One other note.  I completely understand when people book ahead.  They're usually only going to be in that place one to three nights and they want the security of having a place pre-booked.  I get that.  But - outside the expensive countries - those are usually not the best places.  You generally pay more and get less.  Believe me, if the people are savvy enough to put their hostel/guest house/etc on hostelworld.com (etc) they are charging a bit more.  If you have the time, I suggest booking for just one day.  Get up a bit early, walk around and find something better.  Go get your gear before checkout time and move to your new digs.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

SIBU AND THE TRIADS

GENERAL NOTE

This blog is comprised of several entries I've save up over a few days.



KUCHING MALAYSIA

Where the red pointer is a-pointin'!

Figured I'd show it with the map as it's alien enough to most people that they would just nod as though they knew.  Kind of like on the TV show "Last Week Tonight" when they show a map with the Amazon river and say "You think about it so little that you haven't even realized this is not the Amazon" then show you a map with it on it.

Americans especially, are shit at geography.


With two big oceans (do they know which are which?  Maybe - if they live next to them) to help seal off the rest of the world, most don't care.  That only leaves Canada (yawn) or Mexico - which Trump has promised to build a big wall to seal off.  Here is an interesting article you can read about some other guy's opinion on the USA.  And here is an easy link to the video he tried to link to.  I'm not sure where that is from but it is still a classic.

Listening to William Gibson's "The Sprawl" series; Cyberpunk novels.  When Gibson gives the description of whatever dystopian hovel the protagonists find themselves, I look around where I'm staying and think "Lucky bastards."

Where the fuck are my cyber implants?

Malaysia doesn't generally 'blow my skirt up'.  It's a bit more expensive than Thailand, a bit cleaner, a bit more modern.  But not really enough to justify the higher expense.  It is still a wee bit under eastern Europe which would be why I am here, not there.  Save, save, save.

When people think about 'Chinese food' a generally positive picture comes to mind.  Actual Chinese food in SE Asia prepared by actual Chinese workers (as opposed to whatever immigrants the restaurant has smuggled in the back) is disgusting and horrifying.  This works as a great weight loss diet for yours truly.  I'll have to get a lot more hungry before I eat what looks like regurgitated slop cooked on a rusty metal ashtray.

[Note, I tried to google for 'ugly Chinese food' but everything I saw looked pretty good compared to what I see here so just imagine it in your mind.]

But a free three month visa is hard to pass up.

Sometimes, you can find Indian restaurants.  If the menu can be understood, I still don't know what everything is.  Buffets are my friend but I've not run across any in this town.

Comes American fast crappy food to save the day.


They were selling six ringgit pizza by the slice at Pizza Hut outside.  Sure.  Don't know when I'll eat again and all of the good food seems to be a kilometer or two from where I'm staying.

Not the furthest I've had to walk for food.

The hotel hasn't figured out that one weak assed router just isn't enough to supply the hotel.  It can't even reach up to the floor I'm on - one above ground.  I'll leave it to your nationality to work out whether I'm on the first floor or second.  But the only way to get steady wifi seems to be stealing it from a different hotel who have inexplicably failed to password protect theirs.

This city isn't giving me a headache like the desperate KL whose taxi drivers and massage whores would relentlessly badger you.  Here, people seem to figure if you want something you'll ask.

Without two or three reasonably priced restaurants I like I'm not sure how long I'll be here.  Probably going to start researching further destinations along the way.  Might end up getting to Brunei then heading south into Indonesia.

Would like to hit Brunei - be the first kid from my block to set foot onto their sovereign soil.  Hell, I'm probably the only kid from my block to have left the continental United States.  Who knows?  Nobody cares, least of all the person who hasn't traveled.


I had been thinking about going to a small town named Simunjan, but it looks like it might be too small and their main attraction closed coal mines that are too dangerous to actually enter.  Not a huge tourist draw, I'm thinking.

 The next town would be the Triad controlled town of Sibu.  No, messing with the Triads never ends well.  Do not encourage me to do so!  It looks like a really small town with not a lot going on other than dire warnings about gangsters.


[Note - read on to see what I later discovered!]



LOGAN'S COMPUTER RANT


My friends in the states who know about computers believe I am a 'computer dunce'.  I also believe I have no special skills in computers. At all.

By comparison to the people I meet up with here, I am a computer god. Not kidding. They think if you have five bars, you have good internet. They don't know what a wifi booster is. They have friends set up their wifi who surprisingly little.

This is baffling to me. I've had to use a water/well analogy several times to explain boosters to baffled owners.

Now, this isn't scientifically proven or anything (AKA 'a wild rant'), but I've become of the opinion that I was born on the cusp between 'knows nothing about computers' and 'knows something about computers'. In other words, people older than I am generally (80%+) have no clue what makes them go. They think actual Nigerian princes are wanting their help and contacting them in badly misspelt e-mails. People younger than I generally (to various degrees) 'get' the internet. They may not know what TCP/IP or DNS is, but they are pretty well meshed with the internet. At least to the extent of posting their highly narcissistic selfies to various social media.



SIBU AND THE TRIADS

According to my computer, I am in Sibu.  What a wonderful world where I can have electronics tell me where I've wandered.  Unfortunately, the electronics sometimes lie to me as well.

Well, shit.

Within the opening paragraph, Wikivoyage states:  "Unofficially, Sibu has been coined the 'Wild West' of Malaysia and the term has existed for more than 20 years. The nickname came about due to the nature of 'lawlessness' and frequent triad activities in Sibu."

Due to my rather romantic nature, I imagined that within an hour of arrival, I'd have been led through an opium den so that I could drink with new Triad friends while they shook handfuls of money on a no rules barehanded pit fight.

This is not true.

It took a whole day.

I so wish I wasn't lying.


On the surface, this town is pretty darned dull.  It is a 'bit more Chinese' - not only in terms of population but architecture as well.  Not only tons of advertising signs ("buy my shit!") but the whole set up is a bit maze-like.

That's a good and bad thing.  Bad in that it is a bit trickier to find stuff, good in that it is a bit more interesting than neatly laid out streets.

At least in Malaysia I'm seeing that the Chinese didn't seem to be strong on the whole 'civil planning' thing.  Given what was up in the long ago China this is a bit odd.

So, I'm exploring the town.

[Mentally insert pictures here because trying to upload them on this slow assed internet isn't going to happen.]

Internet seems to still be a problem in the dives I've been staying.

The first place (last night at the time of this writing) was a bit nicer than where I'm at now but the internet was a bit shitter.  I moved to a worse place for a tad better internet.  I'm going to keep exploring around but thus far it's been sub-Cambodia with downloads at 30 kb/s or less.  Yeah.  That bad.



WHERE IS SIBU?

I put a red 'x' about where Kuching is.  Between the two is eight hours of long bus ride on mildly crappy roads.  By that I mean 'lumpy' rather than 'destroyed dirt paths or post apocalyptic nightmares'.

It's amazing how big the world is due to needing to go slower due to inadequate roads.  I know Americans especially tend to think in terms of big fast highways but in most of the world you have one lane in each direction.  Everyone wants to go into oncoming traffic to pass slower vehicles.  On top of that, you have the scooters that stick to the far edges of the road hoping not to get smeared but who drive through stopped traffic.  And pedestrians.  And semi domesticated animals that might wander into the road.  Roads here are busy and way too narrow.  Double would be a huge step forward, triple size would be grand.  Never going to happen, but it's a nice thought.



WHAT'S THE PLAN?

Still moving forward to the Kingdom of Brunei.  At the download rate I've got thus far, I might have to wait to get there (they have the big internet hub for the island) before I can get my shows/entertainment.

If memory serves correctly, there is one place I can go within KOB (mmm....corn...) that I can afford.  As in one hostel.  There may be other places but I'm guessing they'll be expensive.  My goal is to pass through to not only see it but renew my Malaysia visa.  I'm going to keep working my way east for a bit.

After Brunei, I'm back in Malaysia.  I can't help but notice that it does put me fairly close to Philippines.  Will I be able to sleaze into them via boat or is it still cheaper to fly from KL?  I don't know and since most boat schedules are still in the 1980's or early 1990's, the best way to find out is still showing up at the docks.  Internet?  What is that and why would anyone want to see a boat schedule on it?  Duh...

So that is my general plan.  I'd have very much liked to head back to the USA but my wallet/bank balance is saying 'Are you high?'  Hence, I might just wander around in a circle within Asia for awhile.  Eventually, I'll head back up to Thailand because it is cheaper than Malaysia and Cambodia because I still like Siem Reap big much lots.  Gosh, I miss Mexican food.

Which leads me to wonder if after my trip through the states I should


Would I visit Mexico just to eat Mexican food?  If my research finds somewhere I can afford oh hell yes I would.



PRICES

Kuching:

Rooms under 50 MYR are probably best avoided unless you want to revel in greasy squalor.
Average rooms are about 60-80 MYR.
A decent room is 100-200 MYR.
Above that price are varying degrees of luxury.

In Sibu, you can get a only moderately 'dive' place for 50-60 MYR.  It's a bit cheaper than Kuching.  Not a huge amount - say ten percent or less - but a bit.

Also, for the entire island of Borneo - I was told prior to coming here that it was a 'duty free' area.  This normally means alcohol is cheaper.  If this is true I have yet to see it.  And believe me, I've been looking.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

WHEN SUDDENLY...

WHEN SUDDENLY...

In a completely unexpected move (by me, especially) I am going to Borneo tomorrow.

Here is the short version:

While I was back in Ipoh (pronounced ee-poh, for some reason) the night desk guy (Aslan) and head cleaning woman (Rose) were telling me I should head over to Sarawak - it was much cheaper and nifty. Plus, it is easy (read as 'cheap') to get to via AirAsia - the airline that you will end up flying if you get to Asia.

This idea was squatting in the back of my brain as I wandered around the squalid Kuala Lumpur. After two days here, it gives me a headache. I really don't like it and decided to quickly hit the 'eject' button. No idea why but it rubs me the wrong way - like putting loud crinkle paper on a cat's feet.

And lo, I spot an AirAsia office.

Fuck it, I said.

Plus, not a lot of tourist go to Borneo or even consider it.

Which is different than KL where I have seen tons of white people all getting their 'authentic Malaysian experience' - surrounded by enough American fast food restaurants to keep them from going insane.

So it's research time for Kuching - the place I'll be getting up at 4:30AM to get a taxi to the airport for. Joy!

My current plan (will it survive first contact?) is an epic roll up their coast, headed east toward the Kingdom of Burnei. If memory serves, there is one place in a town there I can afford. But it does get me out of Malaysia and possibly a new visa when I re-enter.

Also, the island is shared with Indonesia - an Indonesia I've not seen before.

No idea what I'll do when I get there but sometimes you just have to say 'fuck it' and jump.



IS GETTING THERE REALLY HALF THE FUN?


Due to KL having an extremely backward mass transit system (WTF) I will be leaving at 10 PM for the airport to catch my 7 AM flight.

Joy.

[For unknown reasons, they stop running their mass transit at either 11:30PM or midnight. The girl at the ticket counter was unsure. In addition, you can't buy a 'straight through' ticket. You need to buy a different ticket for each line. Though it looks modern, it is not.]


So - I'd left hellatiously early for the airport via the half the price of a taxi train system.  Met a nice lady (an engineer) named Zara.  I remember the name because of the song, "Thus Spoke Zarathustra".  Yeah, I didn't get it from Nietzsche.  Not that well read.  Back in the '80's, I had friends that liked to quote "That which does not kill you makes you stronger."  Like cancer, bitch?  Didn't feel like pursuing that crap.

I got the name from 2001, a Space Odyssey.  My, how fucking off the time scale that one was.  But the song is nice.  I hung out with her in the airport until she got hijacked off by her own conformance to Arabic customs and traditions.  It made me happy that the culture I'm from embraces individuality.  To a point.  But enough that people won't give me no choice in whether I can just sleep at the airport or not.

But sleep I did not.

In order to use their wifi (they nicely gave me triple time - so kind!) Starbucks jacked me with caffeine and there was no sleep for me.

Until I eventually got onto the plane.  Then, out...like...a...zzz....

All I vaguely remember is that Borneo looked 'neat' from the air and the clouds were magical.  Then, it was a struggle to remain conscious.

They have a rather neat system here where you don't have to negotiate with the 'lets rip off all the tourists and give them a shit experience from the get go' way of getting a cab here.  Large, obvious and right next to the exit is a 'taxi coupon' kiosk.  You pay twenty six ringgits, tell them what hotel you want and that's it.  You hand half of the receipt to the cabbie and off you go.  No fuss, no muss.  No looking for extra tips and squeezing the tourist for a few more shekels.  (Yes, having been to Israel and gotten squeezed for a few, I don't want to hear people yell 'racist'.  You can fuck right off.  Also, it is an ancient measurement of money and that is where the saying came from.  Not a Jewish thing.  So put that in your...whatever people who continually bitch about racist shit smoke...and...er...smoke it.  Bastards.)

So anyway, after not getting jewed by the taxi (HA!  Just kidding.  Seemed wildly inappropriate, especially after the above rant.  Get over it.) I arrived at the hotel I'd declared after a bit of research on wikitravel.

I shouldn't have done this hotel.  For the 50 MR claimed, you got a closet with a bed within and a fan.  Fuck that.  I'm not in KL any more.  I want a decent room.  I asked for directions to a cheaper hotel.  They gave me directions to a more expensive one.  But that one gave me directions to a whole neighborhood of 'budget hotels'.

All of this was staggering around with about one hour out of twenty four of sleep in me.  Good times.

I toured some of the grottiest, nastiest hotel rooms I've seen in awhile.  Seriously, they fell in the 'who the fuck would stay here' category.  But, my price range isn't great.

Eventually, I found a room a bit cheaper than what I'd anticipated.  Forty eight ringgits.  I'd been paying sixty five back in Ipoh.  Here, it is not nearly so nice.  Shared bathroom with floor slot toilets.  Was thinking about taking a different place when the ghost of my travel mentor Adam appeared on my shoulder.  It was the same sound effects as in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and yes, Adam appeared in the same devil suit.


"Don't be such a pussy!" he exclaimed.  "You're not here for ever and it will save you a couple bucks.  Now, man up and take the shitty room!"

So I did.  Got a couple hour nap then went out to find a better place.  Next door.

Ain't that a bitch?  Why would Devil Adam tempt me into staying here?

Anyway, I'll probably be moving over there (sixty) tomorrow.  The next step in rooms here is seventy so it's ten I'll be saving.

Note, all prices are in ringgits - divide by 3.5 or 4 for USD.  Yeah, my money is that fucking tight where I try to save a couple bucks a day.   I need a new laptop and to visit my buddies in the USA.

After looking around, I also discovered that despite having two close by 7-11's (they love them in Malaysia and Thailand) there aren't any good restaurants close.  I'll quest further afield tomorrow.

According to something I read (probably on wikivoyage), this city is suppose to be famous for it's cleanliness.  It doesn't seem to be a complete cesspool (see also KL) so perhaps it is.  I'll investigate.

The general plan, work my way toward the Kingdom of Brunei - who apparently is the place that supplies internet for the island.  Brunei, translated, means "We found oil and are rich now, bitches!", I think.


Sunday, March 6, 2016

KUALA LUMPUR BOUND

TIME TO MOVE ON

Abhorring travel on the weekends, on Monday I shall move on to Kuala Lumpur.   My eyes are finally a bit better.  The city is only three hours away and - oddly - only about double the size of Ipoh.  For a capital city of such importance (travel hub) it seems surprisingly small.

Within KL (as those 'in the know' call it) there are many different districts.  I shall be headed toward the lowest rent (multiple meanings) district which is 'Chinatown'.  There, I will look for cheap lodging and hopefully better internet than the crap I've had for the last month.

There are a few reasons why I think traveling there is a good idea:

1)  It is a major travel hub in and out of SE Asia.  It is a good idea to find out where the cheap places to stay are.  By cheap, I'm hoping for a couple steps up from 'by the hour' and 'clean sheets are a luxury'.  Knowing where to stay in KL should prove useful.  As I normally do, I will put up the name and such of the place I'm staying in case any readers need to know.

2)  Believe it or not, I've worn out another pair of shoes.  It's not the straps breaking - it is another hole worn in the bottom of the shoe.  As those who have seen me walk know, I'm not one for dragging my feet when I walk.  That was yelled out of me when I was a child.  But again, another pair of shoes has bitten the dust.  The largest size you can find in most places is 44.  I need 46.  I've purchased a crappy pair of temporary shoes simply because I got tired of feeling the streets (and more squishy things) under my feet.  I need new shoes.

3)  I'm getting pretty sick of SE Asia.  I need to stay here to try to save money for my eventual trip back to the USA but I'm starting to squirm and wanting to go to a different part of the world.  The Ukrainian Hryvnia has massively fallen due to Russia invading part of it.  Then saying it wasn't them.  Then, having the rest of the world ignore it and carry on.  For long time readers, yes, it was the thing that happened when I was there last.  Anyway, since KL is a major travel hub, I can figure out what to do.  I have several options I've been mulling over.  I could just continue south after spending a bit of time there.  I could get a round trip ticket to Philippines for less than $100.  I could fly west into eastern Europe.  I could go from KL to Istanbul then the overland route up to Ukraine.  I could even combine up a couple of things and fly to Philippines then when I return to KL work my way back up the much less explored eastern coast.  Lots of possibilities - only money can stop me now!  Bwahaha!  Super power:  travel.  Super weakness:  money.  D'oh.

4)  I could go poke my head into Singapore but honestly, it's not blowing my skirt up.



RICH BEGGARS

In a restaurant, I encountered a fellow American who 'needed to talk to me about a situation he had in Cambodia'.

"If you're wanting to talk about money, it will be a short conversation because I don't have any."

He then bothered to take in my faded, mismatched clothes with holes in them and the sandals that seemed to be rotting off of my feet. And left.

Why they don't pre-screen is always a mystery to me.

It still bothers me when people dressed much better than I want to beg money from me. There aren't many tourists here but surely he can find some.

Was it an honest thing or was it a scam? My reading of his body language said 'scam'. I've been in bad situations before and felt more desperate and panicked. His was more calculating. Sometimes, you run into foreigners (for the place they are) who make their living scamming gullible tourists. Sometimes, it is people in real need.



TIMES A CHANGIN'

Each generation hopefully gets less '-ist'.  Racist, misogynist, etc.   To help illustrate, here is an example of cadence I remember from when I was a young man.  I'm thinking it would get someone into a world of shit if they tried to sing it these days.



PICTURES

{{2011}} London, GB | Rail N Sail | Amsterdam, Netherlands | Prague, Czech Republic | Budapest, Hungary | Sarajevo, Bosnia | Romania | Chisinau, Moldova | Ukraine: Odessa - Sevastopol | Crossed Black Sea by ship | Georgia: Batumi - Tbilisi - Telavi - Sighnaghi - Chabukiani | Turkey: Kars - Lost City of Ani - Goreme - Istanbul | Jordan: Amman - Wadi Rum | Israel | Egypt: Neweiba - Luxor - Karnak - Cairo | Thailand: Bangkok - Pattaya - Chaing Mai - Chaing Rei | Laos: Luang Prabang - Pakse | Cambodia: Phnom Penh | Vietnam: Vung Tau - Saigon aka Ho Chi Minh City

{{2012}} Cambodia: Kampot - Sihanoukville - Siem Reap - Angkor Wat | Thailand: Bangkok | India: Rishikesh - Ajmer - Pushkar - Bundi - Udaipur - Jodhpur - Jasalmer - Bikaner - Jaipur - Agra - Varanasi | Nepal: Kathmandu - Chitwan - Pokhara - Bhaktapur - (Rafting) - Dharan | India: Darjeeling - Calcutta Panaji | Thailand: Bangkok - again - Krabi Town | Malaysia, Malaka | Indonesia: Dumas - Bukittinggi - Kuta - Ubud - 'Full Throttle' - Gili Islands - Senggigi | Cambodia: Siem Reap | Thailand: Trat | Turkey: Istanbul | Georgia: Tbilisi

{{2013}} Latvia: Riga | Germany: Berlin | Spain: Malaga - Grenada | Morocco: Marrakech - Essauira - Casablanca - Chefchawen - Fes | Germany: Frankfurt | Logan's Home Invasion USA: Virginia - Michigan - Indiana - Illinois - Illinois - Colorado | Guatemala: Antigua - San Pedro | Honduras: Copan Ruinas - Utila | Nicaragua: Granada | Colombia: Cartagena | Ecuador: Otavalo - Quito - Banos - Samari (a spa outside of Banos) - Puyo - Mera

{{2014}} Peru: Lima - Nasca - Cusco | Dominican Republic | Ukraine: Odessa | Bulgaria: Varna - Plovdiv | Macedonia: Skopje - Bitola - Ohrid - Struga | Albania: Berat - Sarande | Greece: Athens | Italy: Naples - Pompeii - Salerno | Tunisia: Hammamet 1

{{2015}} Hammamet 2 | South Africa: Johnnesburg | Thailand: Hua Hin - Hat Yai | Malaysia: Georgetown | Thailand: Krabi Town | Indonesia:
Sabang Island | Bulgaria: Plovdiv | Romania: Ploiesti - Targu Mures | Poland: Warsaw | Czech Republic: Prague | Germany: Munich | Netherlands: Groningen | England: Slough | Thailand: Ayutthaya - Khon Kaen - Vang Vieng | Cambodia: Siem Reap

{{2016}} Thailand: Kanchanaburi - Chumphon | Malaysia: Ipoh - Kuala Lumpur - Kuching - Miri | Ukraine: Kiev | Romania: Targu Mures - Barsov | Morocco: Tetouan

{{2017}} Portugal: Faro | USA: Virginia - Michigan - Illinois - Colorado | England: Slough - Lancaster

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