Dutch Way Family Restaurant, Myerstown, PA

I have been writing about a buffet that has been new to me for less than a year. It is the Dutch Way Family Restaurant in Gap, Pennsylvania. The three Dutch Way Markets in Pennsylvania each have a restaurant but only two of those restaurants have a buffet - Gap and Myerstown. Since being so happy with the buffet in Gap, I have been looking forward to an opportunity to try the buffet in

Dreams and Nightmares ...

After dealing with a forum stalker lately, who seems to be off his meds, I was in dire need of some trail time yesterday.  I pondered for a while which route to take to avoid the worst conditions.  Anyplace where they are hauling corn or lamyai the trails were sure to be awful so I settled on trying to find a strange place I had stumbled upon once before.

It looks like someone’s dream turned into a nightmare.  A resort in the middle of nowhere, deserted and dilapidated, a dream abandoned to the forces of nature and time.  To get there I started by traversing our village from west to east.  Popping out into the rubber plantation on the other side I was confronted by a road closure sign. 

Riding up to where the backhoe was digging I enquired as to the possibility of getting past.  The only path I could see was wading through deep loose freshly excavated clay.  To my surprise the backhoe driver drove from one side of the trench he was digging to the other, making a relatively stable track for me to walk my bike across.  After thanking all the workers profusely, I was soon back up to speed and heading on my quest.

Since most of the day’s route was familiar I had not bothered to glance at Google Earth before leaving.  I had found it before so surely I could find it again, I thought.  As the trail got narrower and more overgrown nothing looked familiar and it began to cross my mind that I could be lost.  The thing is, thinking you are lost and being lost are the same thing.  Unwilling to acknowledge defeat I persevered, when suddenly I found what I was looking for.

Across an area of open scrub was a small gap in the vegetation that I recognized as a way into the ghost town I was searching for.  What was once a road and cul-de-sac, meant for houses, was nothing more than a narrow overgrown trail by now.  After riding around the property and taking a few pictures I put my attention to finding a way home.

Nearing the river I caught sight of what looked like a potential photo op.  A large mound of corn husks was populated by a herd of cows lazily munching away and a few farmers and their equipment taking a break after bagging their corn.  More photos, and a little friendly banter this time, confirmed my suspicion that the best path forward was to stick to the road all the way back to Phaya Mengrai.  The cross country route was heavily rutted, I was informed, by the hauling of corn in overloaded farmer trucks.

Trying to make the best of this more trafficked route, I stopped at the main market to replenish my water bottle and indulge in some fried bananas.  Sticking to the back lanes took me past the village pond and recreation area where I stopped to eat my bananas and take more pictures.  While being pestered by some little kids who perhaps should have had adult supervision, I managed to capture a few rainbow shots both over the pond and out in the fields.

From there it was a fairly easy 11 km ride home, 3 km of which have been recently resurfaced, making for a very smooth ride.  Arriving home I was dirty and tired but content as endorphins continued to flush through my system.  The world was in balance once again and nothing could dislodge that smile upon my face.  Just another wonderful day on the trail.

All the excitement of the greyhound

The bus journey from Ottawa to Edmonton took 52 hours in total. Here are the events of day one:

I sat on a bus today.

And here are the events of day two:

For most of today I sat on an uneventful bus. For most of the journey I had had two seats to myself, that changed at Thunder Bay when the most enormous passenger of the trip boarded. Of all the seats available he chose to sit next to me, perhaps I have a friendly face, or a skinny arse. Either way I was left with half a seat thanks to the 6'5" (height and breadth) of the excellently named Andrew McCooey. As the driver came down the bus to count the passengers he pointed out that there was a double seat available further back. To my astonishment Andrew declined. Unbelievable! I was too shocked/polite/British to say I'd take the other seat but if Andrew was staying on all the way to Edmonton I'd have to move.

After half an hour of squashed silence Andrew spoke 'Where you from?'
'I got a friend from England. He used to live here but he got deported'
Five minutes passed then Andrew spoke again
'How long you been here?'
'About a week in Canada'
He reached in to his wallet 'You seen Canadian money before?'
'Err. Yes I've needed to use it a fair bit this week'
'How about American?'
'Actually yes, I was in New York at the start of my trip' He seemed disappointed that he had nothing to show and tell so he rooted in his wallet and puled out a card: 'Firearms Licence'. Oh God.

'You wanna know why my buddy got deported?'
'If you want to tell me then yeah'
'He stole his Dad's money and car and got in a high speed pursuit with the cops'
'That would do it'
'He like to drink too much'

For five hours I was sat next to/underneath Andrew McCooey and the conversation ran as smoothly as a rubix cube down a sandpaper slope. I couldn't figure him out, he was either slow, a danger to the public, desperate for a new friend or all three. It was like the most awkward first date. Topics he covered: What movies do you like? What food do you like? What music do you like? Do you like drinking? - actually that part of the conversation went on well for a while.

Some good and odd McCooey conversation tit bits, usually dropped in with no link to any other part of the conversation:
'If you go to a strip bar you know how to get the girl to dance up to you? Ignore her. I'm telling you it works'
'Thanks, I'll bear that in mind'

'Your light on your watch, you know how that lights up?
'No I don't actually'
'I'm not sure that's right'

Occasionally it got scary. After I'd fallen asleep for half an hour Andrew woke me with a nudge and asked 'Did you get some sleep?'
'I was sleeping yeah'
He leaned in and whispered 'Did you hear about the guy who had his head chopped off on the greyhound?'
I became very aware that I was pinned in to my corner of seat with no escape route. Andrew continued 'After he did it he walked up the aisle holding the head up by the hair. It was on this route too.'
I nervously replied 'It wasn't you was it?'
'No. But that's why I never sleep on the greyhound'
And thanks to Andrew I didn't sleep again on the greyhound.

Eventually an explanation came for Andrew's conversational oddities. At age thirteen Andrew had been knocked off his bike by a truck and suffered brain injuries that took him years of rehab to recover from. I felt bad for judging him earlier but was glad I had chatted to him. It had been the most interesting part of my journey and he was just looking to be friendly.

Phuket Meteorological Radar Hill near Phuket Airport

I was rather happy last week to find a hill that we could drive up, one that I'd never been up before. It was a fairly sunny Sunday afternoon, one of those afternoons when we sometimes just "go for a drive" in a random direction. Sometimes we follow new roads, or roads that we've not explored for a long time. With Phuket island being over 500 square kilometers, there are plenty of roads to try, and with neighbouring Phang Nga province being just over the bridge, even after all this time in Phuket, we still find new places. On this day, I did have an objective in mind. I had seen this hill on Google Earth with a couple of photos of the view, and it looked nice. I just never realised it was possible to drive up there...

Just north of Phuket airport, there's a hill where the Phuket weather radar is located. I knew it was there, but figured it would be closed to traffic / private or something. Well, maybe it is... but we drove up anyway. I went with the kids and we first took the narrow road that runs alongside the airport runway, hoping to see a plane land right next to us, but it must have been a quiet afternooon for flights. We've done that before and my kids like it.. when a plane is zooming along the runway less than 200m from the car. Dad likes it too :) A bit less than 1km north of that road, is a left turn heading towards the West Sands resort and Splash Jungle Waterpark. And a little more than 500m down this road, a narrow, crappy looking road to the right, it was not signposted but I figured it would be this way. The little road was bumpy and got steep, passing several Thai style villas (seemingly not occupied), heading up through the trees. And up. I hoped this was the right road! Finally topped out and for a second I thought it was all fenced off, but we could drive through to the met station buildings (nobody there) and park.

Phuket Weather Radar

According to Google Earth the hill is about 250m above sea level, but it's quite flat-topped and covered in trees, so there were no 360 degree views. Damn trees, always getting in the way of a good view. Nevertheless, there was a fair sweeping seaview to the west just peeping over the tops of the tees ...

View west over the sea from Phuket Weather Station

And looking southwest we could see the airport, and Nai Yang beach. Again was hoping to see a take off or landing, but this seemed like a very quiet Sunday afternoon at the airport! Didn't want to hang around too long with the kids on a lonely hilltop, plus they were asking for dinner, so we didn't wait for a plane.

View from Phuket Weather Radar

There's also a small shrine on the hill, facing to the west.

Shrine at Phuket Weather Station

Another hill conquered! Maybe not the best view, but it was in the spirit of "adventure". My kids enjoyed the scary, narrow jungly road and the feeling of seeing something new. They do get dragged around by us quite a lot, but mostly they are happy to be exploring. I always enjoy a view and some fresh air. Phuket is very hilly, plenty of hills you can drive or walk up - see Phuket Hills and Views.

Phuket Weather Radar View - Location Map

View Phuket Weather Radar in a larger map

The Expat Divide ...

It can take the form of an observation, a question or an accusation.  For some it is a nonissue and for others an obsession.  On Thailand forums the topic comes up often, so it must be an issue for many.  I am more of an observer but thought I would weigh in.  Whatever ones experience with the expat divide, I see no excuse for withholding a smile and a nod of recognition.

The things that divide us as expats are not all that different from the normal divides one finds back home.  Some of the obvious culprits are language, nationality, age, sex, money, social and marital status, education, as well as a multitude of experiential and attitudinal differences.  There is one thing that should bring us together and that is our shared experience of being a foreigner in a foreign land.  That too, however, is often overshadowed by the divide between newcomers and more established residents.

The enthusiastic naiveté of the newcomer is often lambasted by the cynical old-timer.  One side asks why expats ignore or snub fellow expats while the other side asks why they have to be nice to someone simply because of their skin color.  It is not always as simple as someone being rude, or shy, though sometimes it is.  Unless one truly enjoys the role of mentoring others, who may or may not heed ones advice, it can be tiring answering the same old questions time after time.  Unless one is very self sufficient, on the other hand, it is tempting to rely on others to hold your hand and show you the way.

Back home, I dare say the majority of people ensconce themselves in an enclave of like minded individuals who share their lifestyle, aspirations and background.  In Thailand one is confronted by the fact, that just because you may look alike, doesn’t mean you have anything in common.  Even native English speakers may find they need subtitles when confronted by the heavily accented and nonstandard variances of the English language one encounters in Thailand.  Things get even more confused as you try to communicate with those who do not share your mother tongue, whatever that might be.

The age and financial disparity among expats can be enormous, leading to discomfort and misunderstanding at times.  In the emotional baggage expats inevitably bring with them, there can also be hiding numerous sensitivities and triggers for hurt feeling or indignation.  Depending on the severity of ones negative experiences with fellow expats some individuals opt for withdrawal from the expat community or limiting themselves to those of the same nationality and their new Thai family.

This is not to say there are not those who find expat life and interaction quite enjoyable.  Those who come from pub cultures will no doubt find a drinking hole somewhere, that is filled with other likeminded drinkers.  Those to whom religiosity is important, a church or temple may become a focus.  Those with children may find companionship among the other parents at their children’s school.  If one is employed things are not all that different from anywhere else, with your friends and acquaintances most likely being work related.  I sometimes feel it is the older retired expat who has the toughest row to hoe, with few of the time honored options for relating to others available to them in this strange new world.

I have found being young and single in Bangkok, or any big city, cannot prepare you for being old, married and retired in someplace like Chiang Rai.  Age, health and finances seem to take their toll on the retired expat community who find Thailand late in life and take up rural living in a village.  Many older expats live in isolated towns and villages for a variety of reasons.  Often it is where the wife or girlfriend is from.  Many express an inability to cope with city life or they simply can’t afford it.  Unlike many, I enjoyed 30 years in Bangkok and find the negative motivations of some to be depressing.  I saw our move to Chiang Rai as a positive new phase of life, not the cheapest place to live out my final days, nor brought on by an inability to live elsewhere.

The distance one must travel to spend time with other expats can be a limiting factor in Chiang Rai or other rural areas, and unless there is some parity in the effort expended, it is easy to question the benefits.  After expending a fair amount of time and effort, I too find myself drifting away from the expat community these days.  Some tiresome and bitter individuals are simply best avoided, though it can be entertaining to be nice to people you know don’t like you.  Sometimes it is the scheduling that is just too difficult even when you genuinely like the other people.

It seems that whatever ones situation is today there is never any certainty about tomorrow and I actually seem to like that.  In my five years in Chiang Rai, each year has been different.  A few expats I have met along the way have moved away or died, one very recently.  Relationships have ebbed and flowed as needs and interests have diverged.  You meet new people all the time and just the other day I bumped into someone at the mall who I had not seen for maybe twenty years.  Having recently met a couple of young women, one British and one Austrian, who have married local Thai men I am newly fascinated by their less than familiar expat dynamics.

Even if it feels as though there is an expat divide at times, and things don’t always go smoothly while adjusting to expat life, there is something about the freshness and novelty of ones experiences that seems to grab and hold those of us who stay.  Things back home might be neater, cleaner and more predictable but that is exactly why some of us seek out this sometimes messy and chaotic life of an expat.  We tire easily of the familiar and relish the stimulation of new sights, sounds and smells. 

Expats often find that what brought them to a place is not necessarily what keeps them there longterm.  Some of us are comfortable with where we are while others are still struggling with the place, the people and their relationship to both.  Sure there are things that divide us but they should’t keep us apart or keep us from being civil or even friendly when we encounter other expats.  Offering a smile or a nod costs one nothing and may make someone else’s day.  There is no need to shutdown due to a few bad encounters.  With a little effort you can bridge the expat divide.

New Features at Golden Corral

Golden Corral has a new buffet feature. They have called it Tropical Island Grill. I have not been to a Golden Corral yet to sample this new feature, but I want to alert all of my readers to this - in case you have not seen the television commercials.I am hoping that this feature has take the place of the seafood skillet feature that caused great backups at the buffet because they were cooking

Niagara, Toronto and Ottawa

After the megabus from New York I arrived Saturday morning in Toronto and was impressed with how quickly I located the hostel. However, on arrival I found out that I'd messed up my booking, it was for the following Saturday and they had no beds tonight. Nor did any other hostel in the city. But the HI in Niagara did have space so I went back to the bus station and made my way there instead.

Niagara is a nice spot, but full of tourists, as you'd expect, so I took the standard photos and headed back to the hostel for a pleasant evening with a pleasant group of travelers.

Monday, Toronto
Explored the Toronto islands then off to the skydome to watch the Chicago White Sox at Toronto Blue Jays in the baseball. I think I like baseball, quite a good sport. After the 7th innings comes the 7th inning stretch. Nearly all the crowd gets to their feet and follows the lead of the mascot and cheerleaders in a spot of aerobics. I couldn't see it taking off at the cricket.

Some of the crowd around me took me under their wing and tried to answer some of my questions about the league. They were pretty much clueless, in a season of 200 games it would appear that regular fans just turn up for the odd game to enjoy the beer and the aerobics. The Blue Jays won after two extra innings so everyone was happy. As I left I saw a group of girls in I ♥ BJs t-shirts.

Chose to stay at the Ottawa backpackers which as luck would have it had filled up their main dorms so I was taken next door and had an apartment to myself. Bought a bottle of wine and a tin of ravioli and settled in for the evening. At 10pm a 47 year old called Andy who was originally from Ottawa arrived and took a private room in my apartment. We went to a restaurant together and Andy had some dinner whilst writing out two full pages of A4 recommendations for me of things to do in the area. After food Andy headed home and I found a lively bar with open mic music. A group of locals invited me to join them playing drinking jenga. One of the group, Sarah, seemed to like me (what does that prove? She's not blind), so we arranged to meet the next day to do a quick tour of Ottawa.

Went to the houses of parliament with Sarah, the main plan was to find the Cat Village, one of Andy's recommendations. Sarah had never heard of it which made me think it might not be real but after some inquiries we got there. It was everything I'd hoped it would be. Literally, all it was was one slightly crazy man poking a cat with a stick.
'How many cats are there?' I asked
'Six' replied the bearded man still poking the cat
'I heard rumour of a couple of raccoons too?'
'At night. They come for food but they don't stay here'
Sarah asked if she could pet the cat
'No, he's pretty mad right now. He'd probably scratch you' said catman
Well I'm not surprised he's mad, you're poking the poor bugger with a stick.
The Cat Village made me happy. This was a good day.

For those of you who are interested Sarah was a bit dull and young (18) so there was no romance. In fact she was too young to drink in Ontario so she was using her cousin's I.D. Her name was actually Julie. Julie wore glasses on our tour of the city. It turns out that she genuinely was a bit blind the night before.

Ottawa was good and so was having a bit of space in the apartment so I spent another couple of days there, visited museums and went for a 40km walk out to a park on the French Canadian side of the river. I took a stick for the walk. Her name was Sue but she was no Herman. Too arrogant and French, I left her by the road after the walk wondering if any stick could ever live up to the quality of my reliable old buddy, Herman the stick. It seems unlikely.

Up next, a 50 hour bus journey from Ottawa to Edmonton.

Abduls Roti Shop in Old Phuket Town

I've been meaning to blog about this place for some time, and there's a lot more on the "things to blog when I have time" list. Abdul's roti shop is a bit of a Phuket legend, located on Thalang Road in the old town and it's been there, I don't know, forever I suppose. The eastern end of Thalang Road just to the west of the junction with Phuket Road has lots of Muslim shops, mostly selling fabrics and clothes - there are at least half a dozen of the fabric shops - see photo below. There are also 2 restaurants which sell roti with curry, and if you ask me this is a "must eat" if you are in town. The 2 restaurants are only a couple of doors from each other. I've eaten at Abdul's several times before. The photo below was taken in 2012 during the Phuket Old Town Festival.

Roti Shop on Thalang Road

Fabric Shops, Thalang Road

Thalang Road for me is the heart of the "real" Phuket. Lots of history, lots of old shops and family businesses, and plenty of pride shown by the local people. I am glad to see more of the old town getting restored, especially with the removal of overhead cables... every year another section of town is made cable-free. I also love the mix of people, culture and religion in Phuket, in Phuket Town and if you want to see this all on the same street, have a look at Thalang Road. On one small road are Thai-Chinese people, Muslim people, a small Chinese shrine, a Christian Assembly... I hate to get all "flower power" but here everyone seems to get along just fine no matter what they believe, no matter what they wear or what they look like. I have mentioned it before, but to repeat - many visitors to Phuket don't know that Phuket is about 30% Muslim. The belief is that Thailand is a Buddhist country. I like the mixture. And without the Muslims, we'd not have the roti shops! I tend to think about food before religion...

So, with the Phuket blog in mind, I headed to Old Phuket Town to try some traditional roti for breakfast. The idea was to try both of the roti shops, but the other was closed, only Abdul's was open (though there was no sign of Abdul himself). A sign on the wall says Roti made by Abdul 74 Years Old 7th Generation. You can get Roti with chicken, beef or fish. Don't ask for pork. Or a beer! I asked for roti with masaman chicken curry.

Abdul's Roti Shop

This is a Muslim Roti Shop - No Alcohol

The roti are cooked at the front of the shop right by the street, a lump of dough is bashed, flattened, folded, flattened again, shown no mercy and put on an oiled hotplate. And then when it's slightly crispy, it's slapped about to break it up, ready to eat...

Roti in old Phuket Town

Making a Roti

My bowl of Masaman curry with a leg of chicken came first ... and a wait of a few minutes for a freshly cooked roti. Anyone disagree? This looks GOOD!

Masaman Curry with Chicken

Roti with masaman curry

I am not sure how one is "supposed" to eat this. Is there a traditional technique? I spooned up curry and pieces of tender chicken onto the roti. Very tasty, fairly spicy. I could have eaten another one, this is good eating! I feel an addiction coming on. Going to be back here on my next day off! As with many little shops and restaurants in Thailand you get the feeling you're in someone's house ... that's because you are! Family come and go, grandma comes out to say hello, I often see into shops after closing time, and the restaurant is now the living room. Just behind my table a young boy was watching TV ...

Back of the Roti Shop

The roti with curry was good, but I also wanted some dessert - a nice plain roti with condensed milk. Same kind of roti you get with the curry but this one is sweet!

Sweet Roti with condensed milk

Roti with curry plus the sweet roti and 2 iced coffees. 105 Baht. Did I hear someone say "Phuket is expensive"? Phuket can be expensive if you want. I just saw a post from someone on Facebook showing a frankly very ordinary burger at the very plush "Joe's Downstairs" restaurant in Patong. Price for the burger with some equally ordinary looking fries : 705 Baht. Unreal. Phuket is like that. You can spend as much as you want, please don't complain that Phuket is expensive. Not the real Phuket. After eating, back on Thalang Road I noticed that the roti shop is right next door to a fabric shop. Thalang Road is a gem, hope it remains that way.

Rotis and Fabric

Related Phuket Blog posts

Thalang Road - Heart of Phuket old town
Walking Street Sunday Market
Hotels in Phuket Town

Abdul's Roti Shop - Thalang Road - Location Map

View Abdul's Roti Shop on Thalang Road in a larger map

Storms Trails and Trek Upgrades ...

On Friday there was much talk in the news of tropical storm Kai Tak and the potential for heavy rain in the North.  With the trails already saturated I thought it best to get in one more ride before the torrential rain that was forecast.  Of the 36 km I traversed on Friday, nearly 30 were on sparsely traveled backcountry roads.  The only dirt to be found was on the last 3.5 km past Tat Khwan Reservoir and on to Tat Khwan Waterfall.  With many hills to climb it was a tiring ride but the overcast sky rendered the day not too hot, with the destination making the effort seem worthwhile.

I was reluctant to post yet another mountain bike tale, feeling as though I am in a posting rut these days, but riding the Trek is what I have been doing lately.  Recent trail conditions pushed me to visit Northern Bike on Thursday to see about some additional upgrades to the bike.  There are a couple of other bike shops in Chiang Rai but my favorite is Northern Bike where I bought this Trek 4500 I ride.  I like that Peak, the owner operator, is not what one would call a salesman and never pushes for a sale.  He will offer an opinion if asked but is very low-key and waits for you to tell him what you want.

I was looking for disc brakes and a better front fork to help in dealing with the often rough trails I ride.  Taking his recommendation on both, I headed to Chiang Rai’s shopping mall to pass the time while Peak installed the parts, made a few adjustments we talked about and preloaded the front fork for my weight.  That is another thing I like about this shop.  You know who is doing the work and that it won’t be handed off to an inexperienced assistant.

Don’t get me wrong, I do like riding the trails on my mountain bike but it is just one of many interests I have and I don’t want to get put in a box and labeled as being one particular thing.  The mountain bike and the motorcycle do lend themselves nicely to photography and blogging so there in lies my main excuse for so many similar posts, I guess.  Perhaps my muse with awake one day and fill my head with wordier posts but for now I ride the trails and post pictures to fill the space on this page.

And by the way, Kai Tak failed to make an appearance on our local stage, so I needn't have rushed off to Tat Khwan when I did, but I'm grateful for the nudge it gave me in the right direction.  I almost forgot, the shocks were great and the disc brakes were very grippy.  Hope you enjoy the photos.

Summer Holidays at Lancaster Buffets

With Labor Day coming, I thought it was timely to talk about the Lancaster, PA buffets and the summer holidays. Lancaster, PA is a major tourist area and in any tourist area a great deal of business is done over the summer holiday weekends - Memorial Day, Fourth of July (not always a weekend) and Labor Day. But if you plan to go to some of the local buffets in Lancaster on those holidays, you may

New York

Thursday - Museum day. Apparently the Guggenheim is closed on Thursdays so I went to the Metropolitan instead. I enjoyed a lot of the stuff which is unusual for me in an Art gallery. Impressive collection of painters: Van Gogh, Monet, Manet, Rembrandt, Pollack, Warhol. My favourite - favourite is underlined as a spelling mistake on this computer. Stupid Canadians - was a photo of a man tucking his willy away mangina style*. He looked like he was having a great time, who can blame him.

After the museum I stepped in to a bar and befriended a local drunk called Eric.
'So your name is Clint, like Clint Eastwood'
'No, Glyn'
'I never met a Clint before'
'You still haven't, I'm Glyn'
He then introduced me to all the bar staff as Clint. I gave up trying to correct him.

Passing another bar I popped in for one happy hour beer. I emerged six hours later pissed as a fart. It wasn't my fault though, the barman was very friendly and explained American football and fantasy American football to me. The league system is still a bit of a mystery. I didn't pay for many drinks because a kind American banker called John who had lost a million dollars in the recession - bit careless - insisted on buying me several drinks. He also said I could stay in his house while he was on holiday the following week. His holidays consist of him telling his wife he's going fishing while he just sits on his boat smoking weed.

John left and I noticed the shots and beer had hit me. I was stuck in conversation with an arrogant republican arse and every time I tried to reason with him after he made a ridiculous claim about socialism I would end up losing my train of thought and slurring 'I can't remember what my point was, but I know you're wrong'. It was time to leave.

At 5am I woke up on a park bench nowhere near the bar or my hostel or the route between the two. Oops.

The final day in New York I walked the high line path and then got my backpack ready for an overnight journey to Toronto. New York was good, I enjoyed it and its people very much.

*Mangina is also underlined red as not recognised as a word. As is recognised.

It'll all be fine

And so it begins... although it nearly didn't.

I came very close to cocking up the whole start of my trip by not looking in to the U.S visa. I didn't have one at all the day before I left and only by chance helping my brother book his flights at STA travel did I find out I didn't have one. I should have known better but fortunately my application was accepted and I dodged a pricey bullet.

There are things I will miss about home, not least my Mum and Dad. In the car on route to the airport:
Mum: 'Why are you wearing your sunglasses? There's no sun'
Dad: ''Cos I'm a cool dude and these are good sunglasses. They work in the dark'

At the airport I hit another snag. The U.S visa requires you to have transport out of North America booked to prove you're not staying. I had a bus to Canada booked but that was not enough so I was taken to the ticket desk and had to buy a flight. Off the top of my head I said Los Angeles to Bogota, Colombia. I booked it and now had to add a few more destinations to my itinerary. Panic over, I was on my way.

In the plane I was sat next to a girl called Jo who was on her way to the Dominican Republic on behalf of the Christian Union. She would be directing a half improvised play on the gospel of Mark in Spanish. It sounded bloody awful but she was a nice enough girl so I wished her well.

Through immigration, giving all ten fingerprints and an eye scan. I was in. Had a stroll through central park and bedded down in my hostel at 9pm (2am GMT).

After a good nights sleep I woke to be greeted by a stressed looking American lad in his pants. Even though there were two people still asleep in the dorm he spoke at normal American speaking volume (150% of other nationalities volume). He complained that he had been kept up by a Fat man in the bunk below watching a film on a laptop. The irony that he was now stopping others from sleeping was lost.

Walked to the bottom of Manhattan for the view across to the Statue of Liberty. The Liberty island is further away than I expected.

In the evening went out with two of my roommates who were as geeky as me. A German scientist and an American pharmacist. The question 'What do you think of the 2010 health care reform act'. They were good people and I learned that in the U.S.A. there are more deaths from prescription drug overdose than from automobile accidents.

After a pint met up with Asa, an Israeli I met in Slovenia and two of his friends and we went to the Top of the Rock, 67 floors up for a night time view out across the New York skyline. A good way to end a day.

Rough Day at the Office...

Things were looking lovely when I started out but it turned into a rough day at the office.  I managed to get one shot of the trail before the heavens opened and things went for bad to worse.  Imagine these ruts full of water just minutes later.  The ridges between the ruts became as slippery as ice and my mud packed tires struggled to find purchase, leading to a very entertaining ride.  One I won't be eager to repeat soon.

Kathu Street Culture Festival 2012

The 4th annual Kathu street festival was held on August 4th - 6th 2012. A great little local event that has grown considerably since the first time it was held in 2009. Kathu is an older area of Phuket with many older Chinese-Thai residents who are quite proud of their history and are doing plenty to preserve their heritage and educate locals and tourists about the "real" Phuket that exists away from the beaches. This is also the main aim of this blog, so I love festivals like this one, and I am happy to say that I did see a few more tourist faces in the streets this year. It was promoted in the local news, there were roadside signs up all around the area, and I kept mentioning the festival on my Facebook page and on Twitter.

Kathu Street Culture Advertising

There were already some street stalls set up a couple of days in advance, and by the 4th, there were stalls running for about 1km along the road through Kathu Village, and the weather was looking very good too (this low season has had a lot of hot sunny weather). On the first evening of last year's festival, the street parade was delayed by heavy rain. It was also delayed this year. Supposed to start at 5:30pm, but nothing was happening ... maybe I had the date wrong? But I was sure the main parade was on the first evening... Finally around 6:15pm the parade appeared. I had not quite got the message that the processio started outside the village, unlike the last few years when it all started in the village. Again the procession was full of colour and smiles.

Kathu Street Festival 2012

Kathu Street Festival 2012

Kathu Festival Phuket 2012

There were no amazing Chinese opera style costumes like the last few years.. Shame, they were my favourites! But a great deal of variety of costume and featuring a cross section of Phuket's people. Phuket has a big mix of ethnic Malays, Chinese-Thai and a sprinkling of sea gypsies, plus a growing foreign population with lots of workers living in Phuket who are originally from other areas of Thailand. There is also a big mix of Buddhism, Islam and Chinese beliefs here.

Kathu Festival 2012

Old Man in Kathu

(above) A local Kathu resident watches the festival from outside his house.

If you visit a local festival like this, no need to worry about dinner. The streets are lined with stalls and most of them are selling food. As soon as I started walking after the procession, I found mango with sticky rice, and this was next to a stall selling spicy Sai-Ua sausages which are a north Thai specialty.

Cooking Phad Thai

Food stall at Kathu Phuket Festival 2012

Kathu street fair 2012

We went along again on the second evening (5th August) mostly to eat, but there were also quite a lot of stalls selling arts and crafts, and my wife stocked up on bargains like some very nice candlesticks at 50 Baht each and some wooden dolphins which she said cost only 10 Baht each. Not sure what we'll do with them! Aside from the stalls and the food, there were several places in the village with historical information, mock ups of old houses and displays of old photos. Kathu has plenty of history, a lot more can be found at the nearby Tin Mining Museum.

The hot weather was a blessing, no rain fell during the festival, and muic continued on several stages into the night. We could hear it from our house. We did not stay out late ourselves, just until around 8pm each evening. The streets were decorated with lanterns ...

Lanterns in Kathu, Phuket

And I found a way to cool down ...

Suck Heat

Live music at Kathu festival

(above) One of several stages around the village with music and dancing. There was plenty going on during the 3 night festival and the streets were full of people. Kathu village is normally very very quiet, only wakes up for festivals. It'll be busy again during the Phuket Vegetarian Festival, which is from 14 - 24 October. The Chinese shrine in Kathu is one of the centers for that festival, which is my favourite event in Phuket! Looking forward to it! And before that, there's another interesting festival, called the Por Tor Festival, also known as the Hungry Ghost Festival, which is on from 31st August to 6th September 2012. And this is the stuff that makes up the beating heart of Phuket.

Map of the Kathu area

View Kathu Village Phuket in a larger map