Day 3: Sinking holes and heading South #KentuckyTour14

The Caves

At the door to the cave entrance, our dry-witted Ranger announced a few do’s and don’ts.

“And finally, guns are forbidden inside the cave. So if you’ve brought your gun with you, you can’t come in” came John’s sardonic precaution.

mammoth cave, kentucky, bowling greenIt tickled the three of us to great length. But looking around the 60-strong tour group it appears we were the only ones who’d consider bringing a gun to a tourist attraction rather inappropriate.

The caves were pretty goddamn cool, but still as a source of written coverage they can prove hard as inspiration. But it’s more the grand size of these caves that provide the most wonder.

It’s estimated that these caves could stretch in total (i.e. not in a liner direction) to around 200 miles, but in reality they have absolutely no idea how big this range of cave is. One of the park rangers back at the hotel told us that she was on an expedition a few years ago when she stumbled into a large cave that appeared to be lit up with diamond and crystal coated stalagmites. However after going back with the rest of her group, she was unable to relocate it. They’ve been looking for it ever since.

They’re no better placed in finding out the reach of these caves. The soft rock means new caves could be opening up all the time.

About 30 miles down the road in Bowling Green (our next destination) a 40ft wide and 25ft deep sinkhole opened up at the National Corvette Museum, swallowing 8 models. This was just last February, with the last one being fished out only last week.

Bowling Green

As often the case with the human psyche, the day is broken up by food stops. We get to Bowling Green by 3pm to have some lunch. It’s perfectly placed between our starting position this morning and our final destination of Nashville where we’ll be reuniting with Dad, Auntie Mary and Uncle Kev who’ve been travelling south from Washington DC since last Saturday.

Dad (who did this trip last year on the way to Luke and Ellen’s engagement party) describes Bowling Green as “just like the town from Back to the Future”.

He’s got a point. The central square and clock tower could easily have been where we’d expect Marty to come whizzing past us on a hover board. And just like the film, you’d be just as likely to see somebody still using a fax machines in some of the older looking office buildings. The place seems to range very much from the past to the future, with nothing in between.bowling green, back to the future, chaney's ice cream, kentucky

We find a pizzeria called Mellow Mushroom (est. 1974) not too far from the central green. We’re drawn by the pink and turquoise exterior and its psychedelic interior. You can’t move on the backpacking trails of South-East Asia without stumbling on a pizzeria with the words ‘mellow’ and ‘mushroom’ in the title. And often the case you leave unable to walk, coming to terms with the possibility your mind will never return to normal service again.

Though this place was actually more committed to a puritan existence, just with individuals pizzas the size of car tyres and a drinks list dominated by 12-15% alcoholic lagers.

Then on to Cheney’s Ice Cream dairy barn before cracking on to Nashville.


Joe and Kate have joined the AirBnB movement and have a nice little house sorted near the Five Points for the weekend. I’m sharing with Dad, Auntie Mary and Uncle Kev. After helping to get Joe and Kate settled, Dad and Kev pull up outside the front lawn and after getting an executive summary of their trip, I jump in to dump my stuff off at the ground floor flat we’ve got over near the German Quarter.

nashville, peace love little donutsThe city skyline gives you the butterflies that only a famous one can seeing for the first time. As I listen, Dad speculates that the dominant AT&T building was used for several Batman films.

I’m not too sure. I mean he’s got a point in that the design certainly does resemble Batman’s helmet. It’s just I don’t ever recall the covert superhero ever needing 33-stories of office space in the middle of a Southern city.

We meet Joe and Kate at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville, an aptly suited country music bar on Broadway. Reunited at last!

The next few hours are spent doing exactly what we were advised; let Broadway guide you, and don’t stay in any one place too long.

The older three of our sextet have picked up some new buzzwords since hitting the road last weekend. Dad has been guilty of adopting buzzwords into everyday parlance before, albeit a good solid decade after they’ve first entered the public’s lexicon. But him, Kev and Mary are all at it. It appears with social media, adoption of such language has been exacerbated, as they’ve skipped all the way to ‘Selfie’ and more disturbingly ‘Twerking’. Strange, as neither of them know who and what Miley Cyrus and Instagram are.

Anyways, as long as they remain words and not actions, I’ll be happy this holiday…


Day 2: Ticking all the right boxes #KentuckyTour2014

Breakfast with Mrs C.
lexington, bardstown, waffle house, kentucky, all-americanMrs C is Ellen’s mum. Ellen is the soon to be married fiancé of my soon to be married Brother. Luke and Ellen have yet to arrive from New York, but we get up early to catch Mrs C for breakfast before hitting the road.

She’s already with Joe and Kate in the hotel lobby, who both met her when they visited New York last Christmas.
“Robert, Robert, Robert” she welcomes me in with her cheery southern lilt.

We head to the nearby Waffle House for the all-American breakfast. Even this early in the trip I know the phrase “all-American” will be used as a lazy expression to describe anything that we’re familiar with solely from the world of Hollywood films.

Breakfast with Mrs C is just what we’re after, as she fills us in on the wedding plans and what to expect at the upcoming event of the year.

Given we’ve got suit and shirts which would have little chance of surviving a pre-wedding weekend tour in a suitcase, she’s kindly offered to look after our wedding get-up until we’re back in Lexington in a weeks time.

We head out to Bardstown, a town where time has stopped. Very much like the fictional Castle Rock from Stand By Me. In fact we’ve been overcome with comparing everything to films on this short drive from Lexington. Every passing farm barn is the one from Jeepers Creepers, every white picket fence is from a range of US suburban films. Even the option for “grits” at breakfast stokes memories of My Cousin Vinnie.

We also make an effort to see Fort Knox. It’s an inaccessible security vault, famous for barbed wire fencing and “no photo” signs. Kind of surprising why it’s a tourist attraction at all really? But still we did the 50mile detour, as it apparently featured in a James Bond film none of us had ever seen.

Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace memorial

Next on the hitlist was the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln, which is just south of Fort Knox and accessible via Elizbethtown. Here you’ll find a beautiful woodland area centered around a memorial building that encases a hut similar to the one Lincoln was born in.

In 1894, a New Yorker purchased Sinking Spring Farm and moved the log cabin that he believed to be Abraham Lincolns here. He believed that former landowners had initially moved it, and this was the original spot. In the late 1800s it was dismantled and taken on tour by a travelling road show, before ending up in New York where it was deconstructed and left in somebody’s basement. It was then bought back by the Lincoln Farm Association after a huge fundraising mission, with the cabin being scaled down to fit inside the memorial building.

In the latter years, tests proved that it was highly unlikely to be the actual hut of Lincoln, but sod it, don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story.

Kentucky produces the world’s bourbon, the finest racehorses and the most unique countryside. But so far we’ve mainly concentrated on a few old barns, a giant safety deposit box and a reconstruction of a mud hut from a travelling circus.

I just hope that one day somebody will reconstruct a suitably sized version of Edgware Maternity Ward to mark by early beginnings.

Cave City

White picket fences. Rolling green hills. Clock towers. What’s not to love about crazy golf? And where better than Cave City to satisfy this need. It’s home to several courses. People may say “but you can do crazy golf anywhere”. But really, when was the last time you played?

Cave City is a tourism town that sits just outside of the Mammoth Cave National Park. It’s mainly one long road that is flanked by fun-for-all-the-family institutions and fast-food joints. For a bright and sunny day the strip is extremely quiet. There’s supposed to be a Cowboy shoot-out when we arrive but eerily there’s no sign of any existence. Why aren’t the crazy golf courses open? I know it’s a Thursday afternoon, but where else can you play 9-holes with your Grandma in under an hour? And so we look for alternatives, though unsure we really want to step out of the car into this town.

At one end of the road sits Dinosaur World. The other, atop a slight hill, the Haunted House amusement ride. Not sure what 150 life-sized dinosaur models would bring to our trip, we decide to head up towards the house.

Despite the ‘open’ sign, The Haunted House is obviously closed for business. Though perhaps looks scarier than the original designers had ever imagined it, laying here in the afternoon sunshine.

Cave City Kentucky alpine slide Next to it is a chairlift, which has evidently succumbed to rust and a lack of interest. The sign suggests visitors can take this up the mountain where they can then slide back down via a ¼ mile alpine slide. However, while most of the chairlift is in place, there’s no evidence to suggest any fun as been had here in years. The last recorded evidence can be found on this family video footage (c.2008).

After a closer inspection of the Haunted House, I notice a truck from a parking lot further down the hill creeping up towards our car below, the sunlight reflected from his front grill catching my attention. Not keen to get blocked in, we head back down to the car. The drivers keen to know what the hell we’re playing at, but is okay when he sees we’re tourists.

According to him, the main attractions have been through hardship of late. The last owners went bankrupt following dwindling visitor numbers, however he’s optimistic that when summer comes, so will the paying public. He’s owns a small convenience store on the main strip.

Mammoth Cave National Park

Having given up on good organized fun, we pulled out of Cave City and delved into the Mammoth Cave National Park to check-in to our hotel, the Mammoth Cave Hotel. After dumping our bags off just after 6pm, we head to one of the entrances of the nearby caves to do a bit of bat spotting, but are a tad too early.

After dinner at the hotel we head back out to Cave City where we’ve been told, according to one of the local rangers, sit a few decent hotspots for a nightcap. We’d anticipated an all-American tavern complete with pool table, neon Budweiser signs and a big hairy biker grinding his younger biker chick. But what we got was El Mazatlan, a Mexican restaurant chain, one of only two restaurants/bars in Cave City with a liqueur license. Though actually this is no huge surprise given local voters only passed a referendum allowing bars and restaurants to serve alcohol in November 2005. Providing they meet certain criteria, restaurants were able to serve alcohol for the first time in 50 years.

So we decided best to head back and get an early night for the cave tour tomorrow.

Day 1: The deltas between an Airline and an Airway #KentuckyTour14

carole disalvo, american airlinesThere’s been a mix up and it turns out that my flight to Lexington (KY) has been moved to just after 12noon, whereas brother Joe and girlfriend Kate will be on the later one. Not a particular major problem. However being switched from a British Airways plane to an American Airlines one is.

We’re heading out for my Brothers wedding in Kentucky.

I was instantly startled by the dated interior of the aircraft. It appeared to be near identical to that of a film set inside a long-haul flight. The seats were well worn with an ever-present gloss of dandruff to them. There was no inflight magazine detailing the film listings, nor was it even possible to select and be in control of the few films that were present. That really threw out my flight entertainment schedule (a Frat Pack comedy sandwiched between the year’s cult film and an episode of Curb). And not even a Super Nintendo controller wedged in the recess of the armrest!

I was a bit annoyed, but not enough to cause a scene. But then again with Twitter, even the lazy and apathetic can get in on the action. And so, I tweeted both airlines for an explanation whilst still sitting on the tarmac at Heathrow.

“Our cabin staff will do all they can to make your trip an enjoyable one” came the quick reply from AA.

Problem being that the staff weren’t actually the problem. In fact they were the one redeeming feature. An incredibly attentive fleet of airborne dinner ladies who made sure our glasses never remained dry for too long.

My personal favorite was Glenna, as stated by the stitching on her apron. Though could’ve been a random apron she picked out of the lost property box given all the staff had various apron designs, from London Buses to Disneyland Paris. She told me I looked like a young Tom Cruise and then called me Tom for the rest of the flight. I’ve still got it. But still no cocktail.

I watched American Hustle and had a little nap (sod your inflight films and poor sound system) using the pillows that resemble little puffs of air coated in that flimsy material that line your pockets. And drifted away.

big book of british smiles, bad teeth, british teeth, american smileThe Comfort Suite hotel wasn’t too far from the airport, on the outskirts of Lexington. There wasn’t much to see or do amongst the neighboring retail units in the adjoining power center of big box retailers and strip plazas, but I did visit an impressive pet shop and paid homage to a Liquor Barn. Here I was given a one-on-one wine tasting session by Kathleen, the all-American sweetheart with good chat and an even better smile. Her flawless row of pearly whites reminded me of a seamless row of Georgian town houses. A stark contrast to mine, that bore the same characteristics of dilapidated council terracing in need of a lick of paint and change in energy supplier.

She was studying at the University and had the whole Amanda Knox look going on, minus the euro-murderer edge.

Then back across the highway to the hotel for a few laps of the indoor pool and an accidental piss in the Jacuzzi.

I’ve always thought the travelling salesman and roadside hotel life would suit me down to the ground. But I’m pretty bored come 6pm, eagerly awaiting Joe and Kate in my hotel room when they arrive just after 9pm.

Tomorrow we set off for our Kentucky Tour, with Mammoth Caves National Park the next stop. Before meeting up with more family in Nashville. From here we’ll take the long route back up to Lexington for the wedding in 10 days time.

On this day in 2011….Mud baths and shit in Nha Trang #Otdi2011


Mud bathsNha Trang, and the cold and rainy weather puts us off swimming in the sea, although we do make the effort to inspect the beach. Ben went off to get his haircut while I made a start of Alex Garland’s novel The Beach. Ben’s haircut was pretty good actually, although he told me he had to fully utilise all 3 of his strikes in asking the barber to make altercations.

Went off to a health spa on the outskirts of town where in addition to the mud baths and Jacuzzis, we had unlimited access to the mini golf. Problem being there was no golf when we got there so we just settled for the mud bath package. A wooden bath filled with clay and hot water. Some people really will pay for anything.

We were not sure how long to stay, after all it was supposed to be a whole day thing, but found ourselves bored after 30 minutes. How long we have to stay here to warrant the entrance fee we paid, Ben questioned. I explained the law of diminishing returns to Ben, in which the optimum amount of time to leave would be when the cost/burden of each additional unit of time spent begins to outweigh the additional unit of enjoyment derived. What else would we do with our day?  We could solve the conundrum by devising ways to get kicked out of the complex via the swimming poo? At least that way we would be pushed rather than having to jump. There was a sign saying ‘No Diving’ so we could try that, although that’s there for our own safety. I would rather be kicked out for being a nuisance and so suggested a bomb, proper Macaulay Culkin style in Home Alone 2. Ben opted for the dead body look as he floated on the surface, head down motionless. I say body, it was so realistic that a ‘torso’ would perhaps be more appropriate; as such a word is normally only reserved to describe dead bodies found in your local canal on the News at Ten.

Just like I did in the days of friends birthday parties when we were kids, I began to crave a Mc. Donalds and/or a Slush Puppy. Like Pavlov’s Dogs, the swimming pool vibe was telling me that Leisure Centre food was appropriate.

A few beers at the backpacker hotspot Red Apple, we met a few Finnish guys who we headed to the Sailing Club with on the seafront via a few games of pool with some Aussies.

On this day in 2011….Football with the locals in Hoi An #Otdi2011


Cigarettes and Football

Cigarettes and Football

Rented out bikes and after a ride around town decided to head out and explore some of the countryside out towards the beach, where we checked out a lobster farm. On our way back, stopped off at this bridge over a river, where we hung out with these two little kids who counted fishing and fags amongst their interests; that smoking Indonesian baby on YouTube has clearly been an inspiration.

We headed back, but decide to cut through the town and continue exploring the other side. Deep into the rural suburbs, we come across a group of young lads playing football and park up the scooters to join in. We are definitely the cool guys who you look up to when you’re younger, who instantly make you feel safe. That’s the dream anyways. I let one of them sit on my bike with me and let him think he has sole control as we glide around the park. After a knock about, its time to drop the bikes off and board the over night coach to Nha Trang.

On this day in 2011….Doing our admin in a “peaceful meeting place” #Otdi2011


Today was an admin day; reserved solely for sorting out travel plans, booking daily excursions and doing our washing. We also found out from the locals that Hoi An translates as a “peaceful meeting place”.

Hoi An - Peaveful Meeting Place

We walked to the old town for a look around before going to see what time the coaches left for Nha Trang as rumours had spread that you needed to book way in advance and this was a concern, as we had to be somewhere to watch the second leg of the Carling Cup semi-final against Birmingham. The topic of conversation was West Ham’s bid to take occupancy of the Olympic Stadium after London 2012. Both could see the potential opportunities for the club to expand, although there was no denying it, what essentially would be a retail park would be no match for the buzz of the Boleyn Ground.

A few weeks before leaving for Asia I was there for the Wigan game, and sipping my pint in The Queens I noticed how sad it would be too see one of the last real traditional parts of the East End go. I mean the area changed a long time ago, but one Saturday every other week for 10 months of the year, the old East End returns here to this otherwise normal street in the Borough of Newham. With its fierce yet communal atmosphere, you can almost smell the old sprit of of the blitz – whether or not that was all bollocks or not, is irrelevant. A move to a Stratford would see this lost forever.

I don’t claim to be the biggest fan, and I can remember the pivotal moment when I lost faith in the Premier League. It was shortly after England’s heroic performance in the 2007 rugby world cup, and despite having a weakened team from when they won it 4 years earlier, they showed true determination in getting to the final. In fact all the teams did, and for the duration of the tournament I witnessed blokes taking hits that would probably kill me or you, and getting up straight away, dusting themselves off and carrying on. So when I turned on Match of the Day on the first day of the following season, I was that bit more put off by the diving and dissent.

Of course, not all the players were like that. Mark Noble and Scott Parker were the remaining few I could rely on to restore my faith in the beautiful game. But coming to Upton Park is always special and win or lose it’s a great day out, I just don’t think you would find the same character while having pre-drinks in a Walkabout or a quick bite in Nando’s before kick off.

We collected our washing from downstairs and while neatly folding them back into our bags we analysed which item of clothing would make our team selection for the World Cup. The main talking points around this, were as follows;

  1. Ben’s blue T-shirt which had picked up a hole in it from when he lent it to a friend was forced into retirement, which ran parallels with the career of Dean Ashton who effectively sustained a career-ending injury himself whilst on England duty.
  2. My Ted Baker jumper that had been handed down to me from both my brothers was like Teddy Sheringham when he was at Man United; rather old with many thinking he was past his peak, he still ended up playing a pivotal part in the historic treble winning season. It had ended up on the scrap heap many times, often being saved from the bag to the charity shop at the last minute, but here it was on this epic trip holding its place as my smart-casual option.
  3. The shirt my Dad got me for Christmas was goalkeeper Ben Roberts. With only a handful of appearances, he was now fortunate enough to be on this trip, just as Roberts was when he found himself playing in goal for Middleborough in the 1997 FA Cup final despite only ever making 16 appearances in 7 seasons previous.
  4. This was certainly the swansong for my white vintage adidas T-shirt, also a handy down from an older brother, but he’d had a fantastic career as a journey man getting appearances for my other brother Luke and my Dad. Despite being my most capped player this trip, I can confirm he will be retired at the end. He was my Van Der Sar of the 2010/11 season.

After an explore of the town (I was really loving this town as place to get comfortably lost in), we headed back to Sun Bar after meeting another one of the promoters. We said we would only go if Bin would be there to which he confirmed “Bin’s there, Bin’s there”. We were sold. Watching the Ernie-esq fella (you remember Ernie the guy we met on the way to Laos who was suspected of being a DEA officer but was nothing but an overfriendly gay dude who didn’t know it yet) dance to Jay-Z and Sean Paul, Ben noted that “these American and Canadians probably listen to this music on their iPods. To them, it’s so much more than just cheesy club music. They actually enjoy it”. Its true, but then and I reminded him that it may not be exclusive to our North American friends, as one of our good mates from University had the Baywatch Theme and Summer of ’69 on his most played list.

On this day in 2011….Dishing out dodgy advice in Hoi An #Otdi2011


We reached Hue around 2pm and had a coffee and sandwich before changing on to another coach to Hoi An. I chatted to a young local boy who collected coins from all around the world. Amongst his collection he had a British 1p, 2p and 20p each with our Queen on them. Where had he got them from? Who had given them to him? Who carries around coppers when travelling around Vietnam? I understand the dollar being carried around; not only are they useful currency but the yanks keep them in their wallet to hand out to locals like business cards on behalf of USA Plc.

Hoi AnHoi An is class, a beautiful little town and I was looking forward to chilling here for a few days. Also, the local people seemed to have warmed a bit, and we no longer felt we were watched by pairs of black eyes everywhere we went like in Hanoi. We had dinner and a few beers at a perfectly lit restaurant that overlooked the river. Next to us was a Mum, her daughter and the daughter’s boyfriend. Could easily be the other way round, her Son and the Son’s girlfriend, but you get the point. A sign of a good place can be found where parents are dining with their mature children.

We were handed a flyer by one of the local promoters for a club/bar called Sun Bar where all the action was tonight. We already had a flyer and just for a bit of fun we told him we already promised another promoter we’d go to his club, showing him the exact same flyer we’d received earlier. He laughed and told us they were the same place but we kept it up “yeah, I’m sure there will be lots of pussy and free shots, but we are already going to this one”.

We got chatting to two young lads Jessy and Mattie who had snuck off from their families back at one of the restaurants (families are another positive indicator of this town) to come for their first alcoholic beverage. Jessy was a sweet boy who was in love with his girlfriend back home, and wanted to marry her and settle down as soon as possible.

Hoi AnNot to sound like Carrier Bradshaw or anything, but is it really possible to make such long-term plans at that age? Preferences change so much through life, and never as much as they do between the transition of teenager to young man. What you perceive as cool in adolescence you soon find yourself looking back at, with disbelief that you ever felt that way inclined. Forget girls for a second, and imagine if I had the money and permission to get a tattoo when I was his age; acting on what I thought was cool at that time I would be sat here with a ghastly union flag clad British Bulldog on my right arm with “made in England underneath” scrawled underneath. Fortunately, most tattoo artists where I lived respected the fact I was underage. Which I was always thought was unfair, as they didn’t reject Laura-Marianne, a girl in my class, who got a large butterfly on her early developed right boob when she was 14. Speaking of which, Mattie (who wanted to be a superstar DJ when he grew up) was in even graver danger as he was adamant he would get “one of those authentic Buddha tattoos that everybody back home has”. Guys, guys, guys. There are more rewarding ways to mark your youthful rebellion. Just wait to your 17 and get arrested for being drunk and disorderly; you’re too old to have your parents informed, but too old to be charged/fined for the offence. It’s a bit of a laugh, and you get to spend a night in a cell. That should do the trick.

Still not convinced, I told Jessie my theory on the perils of settling down too early, which went something a little like this:

“To make a honest man, one needs to be at peace with himself. In order to be at peace, he must be free of temptation, or at least be in with a good shout of resisting it. The only way to be free of this is to get it out of your system, and by this I mean by the time you eventually settle down with the person whose right for you, make sure you’ve had enough experience to ensure that you won’t one day wake up one Saturday morning next to your adorable sleeping wife and wonder what it would be like to be waking up with somebody else, even if for just one time. It’s not a problem thinking about it, but actually doing it is. Once you do, that trust is pretty much gone. And then what? You might have enjoyed it, and realized what you’ve been missing which is likely to lead to it happening again. And again. Hopefully, it wasn’t enjoyable as it is with your wife, and by doing so you realise just how lucky you are. But why run the risk? Just make sure you crack on with as many girls as necessary in your youth (that’s what it’s there for), so when the time comes to call it a day, you’re ready. Of course, this theory isn’t perfect as you may find the right person early, and by delaying a relationship for the above reasons, you may lose out altogether. I used to think Ashley Cole was a bit of c**t for cheating on Cheryl Cole, but in light of this theory, it just goes to show the implications of rushing into a marriage at such a young age. William Blake had it right with “the road of excess leads to the Palace of wisdom, for we never know what is enough until we know what is more than enough”.

Of course wear protection when going down this road at all times and have your wits about you otherwise you’ll never make it to the Palace. I’ve met quite a few lads so far who are certainly following Blake’s words, but who are not taking precautions, especially when heading down the road of lost innocence. Just remember kids, if she lets you in without a hood, how many other non-hood wearing blokes have been there unprotected? And if these non-hood wearing Blokes have been happy to go in her without one, how many other girls have they been inside without? And if these other girls have let them in without wearing a hood, how many other blokes have they let in without one? You get the point: wear a fucking condom. All it takes is one person in that chain to have something, and “boom”, epidemic.

It particular annoys me when I meet fellow Brits on this trip who reveal their unprotected promiscuity to me. After all, if they don’t care about themselves fair enough, but what isn’t cool, is then recklessly bringing the disease back to Blighty, where me and my friends live. A Thai recipe book for Mum, Samsung whiskey for Dad, Singha beer T-shirt for your little Brother and a letter from the doctor for your girlfriend.

Afterall, you wouldn’t use a public toilet to go for a shit without laying down a healthy layer of toilet roll between your arse and the toilet seat.”

Round about this time, me and Ben had been keenly discussing the concepts of “nests” (the layer of tissue you place around a toilet seat); he opted for a dual layer around the rim, with a solitude sheet running down from the front of the seat down the bowl, which would prevent any interaction between your dangling phallus and the piss-drenched surface. I never thought of the added runway, but it sure does seem more efficient then holding your old boy in your left hand.

Despite my polemic on the lifestyle choice to settle down too earlier in life, I can’t quite say I’m up in numbers myself. In fact I’m a little bit surprised I’ve been here 3 weeks and not even come suitably close to a shag. Though of course when the times come, I’ll be sure to take the necessary precautions. Though saying that, knowing my luck, I’ll be the Roy Castle of the safe sex advocate.

We also met Bin at Sun Bar; a young Vietnamese boy who was severely overweight, but in a good way. He worked behind the bar and couldn’t have been more than 12 years old, chain smoking his way through his shift. To be fair to him, he worked long hours. Needless to say we got a photo with him. Good old Bin. Bin. Bin. Bin.

The boyfriend and girlfriend from the restaurant we were in earlier were both in there having a cuddle by the pool table. Outside was the Mother looking through the glass door with one of the older men who worked there. It reminded me of a scene from the closing stages of a school disco with all the parents waiting outside at the end, waiting for the final dance to finish.

“Yeah, the mum’s even got the look bang on with her car keys and baby photo keyring wrapped around her finger” Ben hit back with.

“I bet she’s had her fair share of Mc. Donald’s happy meal toys and crushed crisps on the back seat of her Ford Galaxy people carrier”.

This is what I mean. Just with the mutual acknowledgment of the life cycle of a Slush Puppy machine in the Chang Mai jungle, we both knew exactly what we meant as we had obviously both seen this very subtle but definitive scene a hundreds time growing up, and could appreciate each other’s rich attention to detail. Following this we went on to discuss the best and worst of Kinder egg pre-made toys. Unfortunately Tiny Terrapins were the only ones we could remember from childhood, which hit our shops in 1992. Unfortunately, we were still trying to think of the other ones when a group of rather attractive girls came in, and walked straight past us. Suddenly it all made perfect sense why neither of us had had sex with any birds on this trip thus far.

We moved on to the river front, where we met a group of girls who were volunteering at a local school. Livvy was from a student from Australia and a dead ringer for Kate Beckinsale. Along with her was Julie, who after a series of failed marriages had decided she would take a trip of a life time and certainly knew how to have fun. At the end of her trip she was to look into adoption from one of the local orphanages with the aim of returning to Australia, a proud Mother. I really liked Julie, not just for her fun loving spirit, but for her good kind nature which had no problem shining through.

We all jumped on the back of some waiting mopeds and raced through this very scenic town (almost Tuscany-esq) to a late night venue on the edge of town where we played pool and got pissed up. Somebody before our time had etched a pair of cross hammers with ‘WHUFC’ underneath it on one of the walls. I pointed this out to Ben, but it was Livvy who was most impressed. Turned out her Dad was from Essex and a huge Hammers fan. Even had the cross hammers logo incorporated into the design of his driveway back in Australia.  A couple of boisterous Aussies lads challenged us to a game, and it felt like we were playing for the hearts and minds of the girls. Although by rights me and Ben had certainly won their minds, their hearts (or in this case, a quickie back at theirs/ours) was still anybody’s game. It was tense, and I remarked to Ben “come on mate, this is England vs Germany, Euro ’96 or Itailia ‘90”.

“Mate, its England vs Australia. That not a big enough sporting rivalry for you?”

Only if your principle sport is cricket or even rugby. My only bantering with the Aussies have come from verbal exchanges to see who can be the most moronic ( “get your shit stars off our flag”) on the back of the N98 night bus before it drops them all off at Willesden Green. Their barman wages have forced them out of Earl’s Court.

The sledging began.

“Not really, you guys are like what Tottenham are to Arsenal. We’re your biggest rivals, but you aren’t ours. We have a lot more deeper and meaningful revenges to seek in the sporting world”.

It went to and fro, and the baiting became bigger than the game. It was a fiercely contested game, played out in the most sporting of manner, between both sides.

It wasn’t meant to be and after several near misses on the black from both sides we went crashing out. Don’t worry Ben, sometimes it’s more poignant to be the loser in sport as long you’ve given a noble account of yourself. Think the England team, after losing on penalties to Germany in 1996, exiting Wembley Stadium in the light rain to the appreciation of gutted yet proud supporters while the BBC wrapped up their coverage with a montage, displaying the teams heroics over Walkaway by Cast. Just keep your chin up, make sure you shake their hand and get the hell out of there.

Those blokes probably ended up with Kate Beckinsale and her mates, which was only fair I suppose as they did win the pool game, don’t forget. Could have been oh so different though. I’m starting to think 19 year old Jessy may have it right, and I instantly regretted giving him that shitty advice earlier.

Back at the hostel after getting a bottle of water from the lobby, I got chatting to a trio of really cool Guys from Melbourne and discussed London clubs back in their room. Mostly about their favourite, Fabric. I didn’t enjoy being the one to tell them that the word on the street was that it’s on it’s last legs and looked like closing down soon.

I went back to my room and fell asleep while watching Gold Diggers; The Secret of Bear Mountain, which matched all the criteria to earn a place amongst Orbiter Lover’s childhood films; two children, from different sides of the tracks, with a bowl haircut and curtains called Josh or Cody, going off into the woods in search of treasure. I actually remember seeing this back in the summer of 1995 at Saturday Morning Kids Club at Staples Corner Cinema (a magician, a film and popcorn all for an inflation defying £3). The club heavily subscribed to the school of thought of Richie Rich, Blank Check, Andre and Fly Away Home. We stopped going when Robert Warburton took up canoeing lessons on the Welsh Harp and I attempted to play football with the local football side.

On this day in 2011….Leaving Hanoi for Hoi An #Otdi2011

We headed back to Hanoi Backpackers to wait for our pickup to the coach station, where we’d board an overnight sleeper bus to Hoi An. The madness and chaos outside on the streets of Hanoi, and the stark contrast in here, made it felt like an embassy and a place of respite and protection. We felt the same familiarity as any Wetherspoon pub. Even the two Vietnamese receptionists felt like they were on our side. A little bit like during the Anglo-Zulu wars, when the British still had Zulu’s fighting for them. Or like Men In Black, as I seem to remember Aliens working in the Intelligence HQ.


Knowing we had a long journey in front of us, and with some experience of how treacherous these journeys could be, we went on a hunt for valium, which we heard was available from all good chemists. This was not the case, as it hard to convey to shopkeepers what we wanted. We only had the hand gesture of putting something in our mouth and saying “V-A-L-I-U-M” and then doing the gesture to indicate falling asleep. It’s normally used to treat anxiety disorder or alcohol withdrawal pains but that might be a bit hard demonstrate. God knows the embarrassing difficulty girls must have when trying to buy sanitary towels (especially as their is a brand of tissue out here called Tampon). After walking around the city for nearly 2 hours and visiting almost every chemist, we had to settle on some herbal remedy called Rotunda. Now tired and ready to go to bed, I started to wonder if valium was in fact a tangible thing, or if it was the hunt and the quest for it which made you sleepy and drowsy. A concept of sorts.

We got on the coach around 7pm and necked some Rotunda. The coach seemed quiet which was good considering we only had 14 hours to our next destination. But just as I was getting comfortable, with the sound of the coach slowly driving off, I heard shouting outside. The coach came to an abrupt halt to let three guys get on. Now I would expect them to have just got on, settled down and let the peace continue. But no, they get on laughing and talking extremely loud. Two of the guys were of Mediterranean appearance and well built, while the other one was a much shorter pale thin lad with short curly hair. After he was happy that he and his mates had woken the whole coach up, the pale one looked over at me and Ben, and triumphantly stated “We’re Israeli”.

Well done Lads.

“We’re Israeli” he boasted, scanning us for a reaction.

“I thought you guys were Israeli” he said, to which I tried my best to look put out. We coolly told them we were English. Pointing at Ben he said “you do not look English, you look Israeli”.

I thought this was kind of ironic as Ben looked just as Israeli, as this bloke looked like Norman, the little kid who worked in the sweet shop in Postman Pat. They continued to laugh and one proceeded to cough throughout.

Ben’s account

One of the worst facets of travelling is spending vast amounts of time in confined chambers with dense concentrations of people in transit. I don’t perceive these people as potential friends but potential vehicles for airborne diseases. I think I’d rather be well in an average place than ill in and exceptional place. As our 50-bed sleeper bus departs, I think I’ve got away with it, but out progress is checked to allow a group of Israeli lads get on. One of whom has an audibly malignant chesty cough…..I hate him. 14 hours! Two berths away from this prick. may try to sleep with a bit of my jacket over my mouth. There is a two-man buffer between me and him, hopefully enough to absorb the lion’s share of malignant molecules before parading to my side of the cabin. ‘Throaty’ colds for Israeli’s must be exacerbated since the coughing up sound is an integral phoneticism in their language.


On this day in 2011….Boat tour of Ha Long Bay day 3 #Otdi2011


After breakfast, we jumped back onto the Junk boat that we’d arrived in. Ryan-or-Bryan-or-Terry-or-Len came over and gave us all feedback forms to fill out. Alongside such statements as “the quality of the Tour Guide’s English”, there were boxes to tick with ‘Exceptional’, ‘Good’, ‘Average’ and ‘Below Average’. Argggghhhhhhh, I get it now. Below Average. Ryan-or-Bryan-or-Terry-or-Len kicked those Malaysian guys off because they said his “English was below average”. Not “below Everest” like we’d thought he had been saying a couple of nights ago. Well considering I’ve just got that now, it was probably a fair evaluation. None of us had forgot his treatment of the French couple on the bus yesterday and he was never going to do well out of this. Me, Ben, Benny T and Andrew Price never marked higher than ‘Good’ and any positive ratings were for the condition of the boat. Ben and Benny T had a field day on the ‘additional comments section’.


We got the group photo before boarding the coach back to Hanoi. Almost every house along the road had the Vietnamese flag fluttering proudly outside just like they do in the States with the stars and stripes – although with a polar opposite message.

“Ben, its Christian, the guy we met on the tubing and his ginger mate”, I noted when we stopped off at a service station.

“How many people over the course of their travelling have referred to them as that Christian and his ginger mate?”  came the reply.

“I wonder if anybody has drawn the similarities between them and a pair of Denis the Menace characters”

“Oh with their noticeable nobly knees?”


Throughout the coach trips here and on Catba Island, we kept coming across this American Man, his Vietnamese Wife and their excruciatingly annoying child. Thankfully they weren’t on our boat but they’re here now, standing in front of me in the queue of the service station shop. The kid’s far too intelligent for his age and I’m not the only one to feel that his precociousness is drawing me into a suppressed violent rage. I’m waiting in the queue to buy a box of cookies for the group, when he turns around to me, points and whispers into his mum’s ear in very good English “he plans to steal them”. His Mother forces him to apologise to me although I laugh it off and roll my eyes at the mum. I’m not laughing inside. As if by the power of God, I find his Achilles heel when I go into the toilet minutes later and his Dad is cleaning him up after he’s clearly pissed himself. He must be about 5 or 6 and far too old for this. He sees me and begins to panic, imagining all the respect and love he generated on the coach draining away. I look at him, while his Dad has his back to me, point and mime a very cold and calculating laugh. When we stop off an hour later for dinner, I whisper in his ear that “because of you, the whole coach now stinks of urine”. That should put him in his place. I think I’ve done him a favour though, as any kid his age that intellectually developed is never happy come adulthood. Now he can begin to actually enjoy his childhood and stop being an object that his parents use to get attention on holiday.

Been here under 3 weeks and Ben has already found a way to avoid the attention and constant bombardment of street sellers; Freeze. One Tuk Tuk driver would not stop hounding us for a fare and instead of the usual pleading to go away, we just froze, like statues. They didn’t know what to do, where to look. Our frozen smiles and motionless eyes made them feel very uncomfortable. We did however get caught out with the Woman who tried to dress us up as a brace of rice farmers for a photo. We were clothed in all the gear. Well, a hat and the crop carrier balancing on the shoulder. So we had to donate or buy her bananas. For the next street we walked down we decided to change our game plan.

“Right, okay, for the next one, when they approach you, just pretend you are having a fit”. It worked. Don’t try looking for this technique in the Lonely Planet. You won’t find it.

We met Andrew Price in Hanoi Backpackers for the quiz night and did alright. Most surprisingly was how much we’d learnt on our trip which came in useful. For example we knew that Vietnam’s national sport is the one with the shuttlecock, thanks to my encounter with those lads on Cat Ba Island. Also that the national animal for good luck is the turtle, from the cave tour we did. Felt like Slumdog Millionaire.

Headed for a few more beers and a few games of table football in another bar. Ben is ridiculously good. I didn’t actually know you could be good at this game, but he is. I get my single victory over him when me and Andrew Price take him on and a local lad in a game of doubles.

“No Ben, no rematch, I want to end it on a high. Victory to us. Never playing again. That was a one off. No rematch. Never. Long may me and Andrew remain as champions”.

On this day in 2011….Boat tour of Ha Long Bay day 2 #Otdi2011


Spent breakfast on the boat discussing last night’s wild behaviour and the part Ryan-or-Bryan-or-Terry played in it all. He had really let his hair down. So what is the style of comedy here in Vietnam we pondered? Along with Andrew Price and Benny T, we discussed what we’d do if given 5 minutes to devise a short sketch for an audience consisting mainly of the Vietnamese elderly. What would they find funny? Burning an effigy of Richard Nixon or Lyndon B Johnson? Or is that just baiting the general taste for populism? A bit patronizing perhaps? Like throwing t-shirts out at a student union, exposing our desperation to be liked. Maybe if we burned JFK that would solve both problems as it would go against the popular and ill-informed opinion that JFK was some fair play, all-American hero while also highlighting that not every Westerner has forgot that the guy was a main component of the war. We could crack jokes about how he was the first to benefit from the Kurt Cobain/John Lennon effect; Die before your time and you’ll be eternally adored by the masses. Even if it’s in the shape of hooded jumpers, pin badges and black and white portrait posters sold at Wembley Market.

The boat started to move again and we headed to Cat Ba Island for our next activity: Jungle Trek. Along with the Aussies we forced ourselves to climb through the jungle, up to the look out tower that provided a 360 view of the Island. Getting off the boat, knowing exactly what we were in for was made worse by our unsatisfactory breakfast, consisting of one swamp fish and a bowl of rice between four men. Who do you think I am? Warren Fellows?


More and more stories from the night emerged during our climb and as we remembered the night’s events, I couldn’t help but feel a little bad that we might be ruining the walk for the two honeymooners who were trying to ignore our silly stories and concentrate on their trip of a lifetime. To be honest though, it’s hardly a great trip into the unknown. Forest Gump’s mother always said that “life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get”. Well that’s true, but with these kind of organized, well beaten-path trips, the box of chocolates in question is a big box of Quality Streets that comes complete with individually wrapped pieces of chocolate in colour coded wrappers which you can cross-reference with the little guide provided to see what they contain. And those that contain nuts, are legally obliged to tell you so. Take the danger out, and you take the fun with it. No surprises, you know exactly what your getting. Just like here. Safety galore except for the rusty old viewpoint on the summit, which is only accessed via 6 flights of rusty ladders.

I was a little nervous climbing those creaky rusting stairs and the joy of the view was slightly offset by the fact that the structure could collapse any minute and send us all rolling down the hill. I’m not scared of heights, but I am scared of falling from them to a horrible painful death.

tumblr_lhztpeyJcL1qdtk9ro1_500On the way back down, me and Benny T rattled off our favourite quotes from film and TV simultaneously, him at the front of the group and me at the back. This wasn’t planned or engineered. This just happened, and what was even better was we loved and appreciated all the same quotes from all the same shows. He knew that the best episode in The Simpson is Lemon of Troy. He also agreed that Comic Book Guy had some of the best one-liners outside the main cast. He was also prone to shouting out “HEEEEYYYYY YOOOOU GGGGUUUYSSS” which I begrudgingly appreciated. I think it’s possible to really bond with somebody in a very short space of time over a mutual appreciation for the same quotes from the television/films that you both love. And to think this was the same guy who was quoting Little Britain when we first got on the coach yesterday. How my opinion of him has changed, though I still suspect him of being one of the kids at school to save his lunch money to buy that Jack Daniel’s zippo lighter on the way home. He did start talking about Xena: Warrior Princess, and that’s when I had to tell him I wasn’t “interested in all that to be honest mate”.

We all went back to childishly complaining about the long hike, like school children on a mundane field trip to a local post-sorting warehouse. Fair to say I went up that hill a man, and came down a petulant child.

We all jumped in the coaches that we had arrived in from the port. We all jumped on the one with Ryan-or-Bryan-or-Terry-or-Len (yeah the addition of Len came from somebody else on the boat, who’d completely misheard our tour guides name), who was know back to his communist self, ordering us on. The other coaches were all heading to the same hotel, so we weren’t fussed if we got on the wrong one, as it was only supposed to be a short trip to the Hotel. Obviously Ryan-or-Bryan-or-Terry-or-Len, did not have such a liberal approach to coach travel. He spotted an elderly French couple on his coach who shouldn’t have been. It was one of the Melbourne Girls who was sitting on her mate’s lap that gave away the fact that we had stowaways on board.

Me and Ben were discussing how much we thought Andrew Price sounded like the name of a General Manager of an Asda store when, Ryan-or-Bryan-or-Terry-or-Len started to demand the French couple get off, so the Melbourne Girl could sit down, despite her protests that it was “okay” and that she “didn’t mind” sitting on her friends lap.

Unfortunately Ryan-or-Bryan-or-Terry-or-Len didn’t give a shit, and went mental. Absolutely mental at this French couple, who were not causing anybody any discomfort with their presence. He had lost the argument that “one of my customers, have no seat, you get off coach”, as the Melbourne girl was know trying to show just how comfy she was nestled on Benny T’s chunky legs.

But now he’d lost the coach as he stepped up a gear and ordered the couple, who were both pushing 70, off the coach ignoring the fact we were in the middle of the dry countryside, up a uninhabited mountain in the baking sun. Where would they go? He didn’t care and ordered them off, foaming at the mouth as he did so. Horrible man. The whole coach would not back down and it was the same solidarity that has fought off countless dictators and tyrants over the years, and he was never going to win this. It was settled for the exchange of about $5. But we had seen just what was behind this man’s Jackie Chan grin, and what he was really capable of.

Ben’s Account

With many of the native people we have met in Vietnam, there appears to be a thin veil of geniality and chivalry while beneath they could all potentially be hard face, unscrupulous, mirthless and stolid bastards working behind a pain of glass at a border control checkpoint.

We checked in our bags and had a look at our hotel room, which consisted of me, Ben and Andrew Price before heading down to dinner. Exact same as we had for last night’s dinner, today’s breakfast and lunch earlier. Ryan-or-Bryan-or-Terry-or-Len came over and wanted to know if we wanted to party with him like we did last night because “last night, real good fun, you guys the best”. Andrew Price and Ben weren’t so keen and Benny T and the Melbourne girls were quick to leave the table on grounds they were going to sleep. Truth is they were going to sneak out and head into town. They would give us a shout when they were going. After seeing Ryan-or-Bryan-or-Terry-or-Len in action today on the coach made me feel uneasy around him now. I had already seen the sudden change from when he had picked me and Ben up from our Guesthouse in Hanoi, and did not trust the instability of the man. I passed, and headed for a walk down to the harbour by myself as it was a lovely evening. The sun had set and left a beautiful pink sky. It was peaceful enough for a group of kids to be playing a game of Shuttlecock in the middle of the road that ran parallel to the sea, using the zebra crossing as the net. They invited me along and I played with them for a while. I needed to see a bit of good human nature from these guys following that prick on the coach earlier and thought I had found it as I walked down the harbour chatting with one of the young lads. He had a cool flat, apparently, with an Xbox, a music system and a fridge full of beer. That’s where we were going now. Than came the question about how many girls I wanted and what I wanted to do with them. I called it a day with him and headed back feeling like the rich man who could never find anybody for genuine love or friendship. I don’t know which rich man in particular, but I’m sure there’s loads out there who feel like that. There’s more ways to feel like a millionaire out here than just your high spending power.

After a beer on my balcony looking out at floating nightclub in the harbour, I went to where I could actually hang out with genuine people. The Good Bar, where the Aussies were hiding.