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By Johno 

After a sodden but stunning Ankor Wat the journey continued on to Thailand and her capital, Bangkok.

Bangkok is lodged firmly in traveller folklore. The name conjures up visions of bustling, steamy backstreets where wizened old women sell fried insects on wooden skewers whilst in the smoky rooms above people of questionable gender do even more questionable things with table-tennis balls and hordes of short fat men bet wads of money on bare-knuckle boxers, fighting to the death.

It was into these preconceptions that we drove, keen to separate the myths from the reality. 

Unfortunate Ant!

We were staying Joost and Benz, a Dutch-Thai couple who lived on the outskirts of the city and who are planning on driving from Thailand to Netherlands (see here) and so were keen to pick our brains. Once we eventually found their place in the sprawl of South East Asia’s third  largest city we got settled in and Joost offered to show us the ‘seedy underbelly of Bangkok’. It actually turned out to be more like the overpriced empty bar-belly of Bangkok but as always it was cool to experience the city from a resident’s perspective. 

We had arranged to meet up with some friends we had met at tubing in Laos and so the next evening, after the usual day fixing up the car we found ourselves on Khaosan Road, the backpacker centre of South East Asia. Although Joost and Benz declined to join us as they found the mass of flashing lights, 7-11s and screaming hawkers too touristy we reasoned that we are tourists and so loved it.

The packed road seemed to suck in backpackers for miles around and within a few hours we had bumped into three other groups of travellers we had met over the last two weeks and decided to seek out the real sleazy underbelly of the city, packaged up with a free drink and transport offer for susceptible tourists .  A less respectable blog would go into juicy details but needless to say what we found involved a dartgun, some balloons and some impressive no-hands target shooting. 

Rave taxi with Holly and Kat!

The reason we bumped into so many recently-made friends may have been that the backpacker hordes were gathering in Bangkok before swarming en masse down to the island of Koh Phangan ready for the monthly Full Moon Party. This huge party is held on the beach of a beautiful tropical island and famed for attracting tens of thousands of revellers from all over Asia. 

After Paul and I had picked up our hand-tailored suits, made to measure by Bangkok’s finest in anticipation for our eventual return to the ‘real world’  we picked up two new passengers, Holly and Kat whom we originally met at Tubing in Laos. The five of us sped south to catch the ferry over to the tiny islands and found ourselves a reasonable, if minuscule, room ready for the revelry. Although we were there during probably the quietest month of the year we still had an epic time partying until the sun came up over the beach and we bumped into a load of ‘old’ friends including Sarah (aka FTDJ) and Diana from Laos, the Scouse Boys from Vietnam, Frenchy from Cambodia (now attached with a girlfriend!) and Alexis from Thailand.

Ferry to the Koh Phangan 

A big mention also has to go to Woody and the staff at the awesome Club Nine who kept us watered and indirectly provided brilliant entertainment through one of their drunken punters; a huge tattooed, Essex beefcake who liked Hannah so much he decided he would like to make love to her exhaust pipe. The sight of a bald bodybuilder with his shorts around his ankles, blubbering, “It’s not normally this small, I don’t know why I can’t get it up!” will not be easy to forgot, however hard  I try.

The ‘roider

A hearty congratulations also to Nimrod and Nivi, and a massive thanks for taking time out of their honeymoon to have lunch with us and thanks to Tony the Chef at the Rasananda for providing what was probably one of the best meals of the whole trip. 

Full Moon Party

Our next country was Malaysia and as we crossed down onto the peninsula it dawned on me with the suddenness of a snapped shoelace how close we were to the end;  less than a week’s driving lay between us and putting Hannah on a ship over to the fabled Australia. 

After a few days recuperating with Dan, a friend of Paul’s up in Pennang we tootled down to the capital, Kuala Lumpur, where we admired the huge twin towers and other skyscrapers tinged with Islamic influence then decided to continue down to our penultimate country, the city-state of Singapore. 

Showing some schoolkids around the car

The reaction from Malaysian motorists was staggering. As in the Czech Republic their drivers just seemed to love the car so it seemed like the right thing to do when one of the cars urged us to pull over in the next service station. We had just suffered a major tyre blowout (although luckily the first of the trip) and lost a load of time replacing the wheel and rejigging the roofrack so we weren’t too concerned with our schedule when they kindly offered to buy us lunch. 

The Floating Mosque – viewed from Dan’s place in Pennang 

Over the food they asked us all the usual questions: how did you come up with this idea, where has been your favourite country, before moving onto some deeper-than-usual ones; how do you feel you have spiritually fulfilled yourselves on this journey? 

After some questions of our own we found that, far from being crazy missionaries, they were in fact motivational speakers on their way to a conference in Singapore and they wanted to use us as an example of achieving your life goals! A few photographs later we waved them off, happy to have inspired some other people.

Twin Towers in KL

One of the main things we had heard about Singapore was how horrendously expensive it was so we had decided to stay just over the border in the Malaysian city of Johor Bahru, known to everyone as JB whilst we got Hannah and all of her contents scrubbed up clean to pass the rigours of Australian quarantine. Here we could all bunk down in a welcoming homestay where the beds may have been hard as rocks but they cost a mere £3 a night. The owner was off on an extended holiday and had entrusted its running to a long-term-travelling American- Spanish couple called Tom and Emma. They made us right at home and didn’t mind when we spread all of our dirt-encrusted tools and spare parts over their yard for washing. They even helped us clean Goofy. 

Emma, Tom and the team

One of the main things we had heard about Singapore was how horrendously expensive it was so we had decided to stay just over the border in the Malaysian city of Johor Bahru, known to everyone as JB whilst we got Hannah and all of her contents scrubbed up clean to pass the rigours of Australian quarantine. Here we could all bunk down in a welcoming homestay where the beds may have been hard as rocks but they cost a mere £3 a night. The owner was off on an extended holiday and had entrusted its running to a long-term-travelling American- Spanish couple called Tom and Emma. They made us right at home and didn’t mind when we spread all of our dirt-encrusted tools and spare parts over their yard for washing. They even helped us clean Goofy. 

Cleaning, cleaning, cleaning

When I was a kid my dad accidently misspelled my name on a form as ‘Joho’ and ever since I pointed this out I have been called Joho by my family. So when a ‘youth collective’ blog based in JB and called Joho Lover got in touch and asked if they could come over for an interview and some photos I positively jumped at the chance. 

When they arrived and gave us Joho branded shirts and stickers I could hardly believe the hilarity; I spent the whole chat giggling away to myself. 

Leigh and Paul, and everyone else for that matter, didn’t find it so funny.

Emma and Leigh cleaning up Goofy

And then, quick as a flash, one of the major milestones of the trip was upon us; the car had been thoroughly cleaned inside and out (or so we thought) and was towed through the streets of Singapore to the port where it was loaded into a container and onto the ship for the eight day sailing (or so we thought) over to final leg of our journey. Or so we thought.

With the car safely packed on board we had over a week to kill until we all had to meet up again in Darwin, North Australia so I decided to take this rare break in our busy schedule to fly over to Hong Kong with my new suit for a job interview.

Leigh and Paul meanwhile were both also busy and had flown to the beaches of Bali, as apparently detouring to this island paradise is cheaper than flying direct to Darwin 

Singapore 

[Paul: When we get a few days off from the trip we always try and go our separate ways to get a break from each other (9 months living in the same car, sleeping in the same room and eating the same food can wear you down…).  Bali was no different, so after spending a few days on Kuta beach (Bali’s answer to Magaluf), I decided it wasn’t really my kind of place so I headed to the much quieter islands off the coast of Lombok (where I was also guaranteed not to bump into Leigh).  Two days later, chilling on the beach I hear the familiar voice behind me, “Alright dickhead”.  We’d accidently gone to exactly the same place!]

Next up: The team reunites but are missing one crucial member…  Plus: is the end as close as they thought…?

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