Thursday, August 31, 2006

Roast beef...

So here we are still in Ko Phangan, thought I'd include a couple of pics - one of the beach and one of a beautiful sunset. Yesterday Stefan and i got absolutely roasted unfortunately! I think because we knew we only have a couple of days here to get a tan then we got a bit carried away! So as a result we both had an uncomfortable night of sleeping! I'm a firm believer in p20 sun cream (apply once and it does you all day) but it definitley let us down yesterday! Anyways, I'm a bit less sore this morning and we both will spend the day in the shade! Its a good opportunity to get some reading done. Im reading 'Celebration of Discipline' by Richard Foster. I think it's about my third time reading this book but its so good. We are looking at the disciplines this term in youth fellowship so I'm enjoying refreshing myself!

We leave at about 3pm today to make our way back to Ko Samui to spend the evening and then we fly early in the morning back to Bangkok.

Here are some observations of Thai culture:
  • all toilets a have a little hand held hose pipe thing that you use to wash yourself off. Toilet paper is only used for drying purposes!
  • Its quite common to see older men spitting into bins and then clearing both their nostrils into the same bin just by blowing hard (no tissue involved). This is really gross.
  • Barter for everything. The first price they quote is usually at least 3-5 times more than what they will sell it for!
  • Most foods are very spicy!

Jungle pics as promised...

Elephant trekking

View from one of the villages

The children dancing

Torrential rain. This is the truck we were on the roof of!

Our trek team!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Paradise islands...

Hello there again, we arrived in Ko Samui safe and well on Monday and decided to just head straight to Ko Phangan because it is a little more unspoilt and less commercial. We flew with Bangkok Airways which was a fantastic experience! They have their own little departure lounge in Bangkok airport and everything is FREE - tea, coffee, sandwiches, drinks, even popcorn. They have daily newspapers and internet - again all FREE! They even have a classical music trio that play each day from 11am-3pm. Seriously folks if you're ever here then you have to fly with them - they are cheap too!

Last night we stayed at Hat Rin in a beach hut overlooking the sea. It's a nice beach but it's party central, lots of bars and clubs etc and really noisy and not really what we were up for so we moved on this morning to Hat Yao to probably the most beautiful beach i have ever seen. You know the sorta ones from the postcards with palm trees and beach huts and turquoise water - well you can picture me and stefan lying up catchin the rays - living the dream! We've got a pretty nice wee beach hut only 20metres from the beach and its only 5 pounds per night! So today was pretty much all about chiling out, reading and a bit of bathing. I've never been in sea that is soooo warm before ever! You know the way at Portstew you dip your toe in and it takes the breath from ya, well this is more like water at room temperature - beautiful! Again this computer wont let me put pics up or else i wouldn't have to write half as much!

So we stay here until Thursday and then head back to Ko Samui to leave for Bangkok on Friday morning. Whilst travelling we have had contact with a girl that we met last summer when travelling around europe. Her name is Laura (from USA) and she is currently teaching english in a little village in Thailand near the Myanmar border. She's invited us to go there for a couple of days and we've decided to do it cos it'll give us a fantastic local experience at a place without any tourists. We will head there on Friday (6hour bus from Bangkok) and stay until Sunday, then spend 2 days in Bangkok and fly home on Tues-Wed. Can't believe i've only got a week left - time really does fly when you're having fun!

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Thai treking...

Well hello there folks, i have returned in one piece to blog once more following our 3-day trekking experience! Had an absolutely amazing time and would recommend it to anyone if you're up for roughing it a bit, well a lot actually! There were 13 people in our group from a variety of nationalities, so it was a great way to meet people. We started out with some elephant treking which i was really excited about cos i love elephants and it was good because you got to ride on their back around a bit of the jungle and cross rivers. However it was sad for me to see the elephants tied up and you know they aren't treated the best by the handlers. I guess it never really matches up to seeing elephants in the wild but im sure i will get to do that someday!

We left the elephant park to begin treking and it started to rain. Now for those of you who don't know, its rainy season here in Thailand at the moment so this was torrential rain - ive never seen anything like it, streets were quickly turned to rivers. At this stage we were just travelling to our starting point and because there was not enough room for us all inside the van, stefan and i and a couple of others were sitting in the roof rack. We quickly had to stop the van and take a bit of shelter - we were soaked through! Luckily we had bought wee ponchos before we left for about 30p and im so glad we did because we had really heavy showers everday that lasted maybe 2-3 hours. It didn't spoil it though because it wasnt cold, just wet!

Each night we wuld stay with one of the indigenous tribal villages where we would have a meal cooked for us and then a night of singing and chatting around candlelight! The next day was more trekking, some waterfalls and more rain of course. Stefan had bought some cheap sandals from the market to wear trekking so he wouldn't wreck his good trainers. We were walking through a lot of mud this day and within about 10 minutes both of his sandals ripped so that all that was left was the bit over the toes - flippin hilarious to watch him trying to go downhill!!! He had no other footwear with him so we had to laugh! That night the village children put on a little singing and dancing performance for us which was lovely. You would think that sleeping in a jungle village would be so peaceful, no traffic or city noise but lo and behold we were awoken by a chorus of rooster 'cock-a-doodle-dooing' from about 5am each day. I mean it was still dark which i couldn't understand but after about 4 hours of it you were about ready to strangle something. If it wasn't the roosters then it was dogs fighting!

On the last day we trekked to the white-water rafting place on the Mae Taeng River. We were told we had picked the best day of the year because there had been so much rain, the rapids were better. It was awesome, lots of grade 5 rapids which was so much fun - great way to finish the adventure!

Tomorrow morning we fly to Ko Samui island and we will spend until Friday horizontal on the beach! Here's hoping they aint getting the same rain we are getting in Northern Thailand!

Can't seem to get any pics up here at the moment (grrrrr) but i'll try again later!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Thai experience!

Hello there folks so we arrived safe and well in Bangkok yesterday morning and jumped straight onto another flight to Chaing Mai in the north of Thailand. We had no accommodation sorted but thanks to the trusty Lonely Planet we managed to secure a private room at Safe House guesthose for just 3 pounds per night. It could do with a lick of paint but it's clean and we have our own bathroom with hot shower so you can't ask for more than that! After briefly settling in we had lunch which cost us approx 50p each - how much are we loving Thailand!

After getting the important things sorted out we set about our exploration of this city. Temples galore here so we thought we'd better check out a few. We quickly chartered our own tuk-tuk which is where we met Tommy the tuk-tuk driver (see picture) and with some negotiation (im really not the best at this bartering business!) we managed to secure a deal. Basically Tommy took us about the place for about 2.5hours and it cost us about 3pounds!

On our travels we went to a temple in a little forest. Around the forest there were lots of littke placards nailed to trees with Buddhist proverbs written on them like the one in the picture! Some very wise words indeed! I know the boys in WPC love their proverbs so i thought i'd include a few for you to add to your already abundant collection:
  • One who can only hear but does not understand is as good as deaf.
  • He who borrows on interest pays back in tears
  • To shoulder sufferings a fool submits himself to the weight of sufferings at the same place. He is seated until his legs become atrophied. He is thus overloaded all his life being always enslaved by sensual delights. (rolls of the tongue doesn't it!)
  • Tomorrow i shall do good! This is a fool's word, even today is a bit too late. A wise man did good yesterday.

I hope you benefited much from that! We managed to book ourselves a 3 day trek which will be Fri-Sun. This was our main reason for coming to Chaing Mai and I'm really excited because the trek package includes staying with remote indigenous tribes, elephant back riding and white-water rafting!

Last night we found the markets where we browsed counterfeit goods at ridiculously low prices, did some bartering and came away with a few bargains! Then we went for food. Both of us opted for the spicy Thai salad to start with asking for it to be mildly spicy. Well I'm not joking folks but ive never had my mouth burn from a salad before but i'll not forget it in a hurry! I started to get the sweats down my back, my lips were on fire and no amount of liquids seem to appease it! Thankfully i'd opted for a non-spicy main course which quickly brought my taste-buds back to something closer to normal!

All is good on the travelling front. So far we are lovin Thailand!

Monday, August 21, 2006

Reflections of a wanderer...

Hello there friends, as i approach the end of my Japanese experience i cannot fail to reflect on it all. As i approached this trip one thing i was really excited about was physically being at the other side of the world. It`s almost like be get to see another side of God because everything is different - the landscape, the stars, the climate, the colours, the buildings, the wildlife, the food, the culture and of course the people. All of this provides a new and greater perspective on God because its all part of His creation. Genesis 9 tells us that God has made us in His image therefore i should be able to see something of God in everyone i meet. Sometimes it seems like i don`t meet that many different people at home so it`s great to come here and meet so many Japanese people who are really different, and see something new of God!

Probably the highlight of Japan for me has been meeting the people here and being part of their family for a while. They have taught me what it means to serve others and show genuine hospitality. They have put themselves out in order to make us feel welcome. They have done more for us than we ever could begin to repay. God`s grace flows from the people we have met. This is also evident in the general kindness and gracefulness we have experienced outside of our hosts - in shops, on the streets, restaurants etc. One day Stefan and i were travelling to Kyoto and we gave up our seats so that 2 women and their kids could sit down. Later in the journey as they got up to leave the children presented us with a little folded paper box containing an origami crane and frog they had made for us - we were touched. An indiscrimanate act of kindness as Foy Vance would say (click here to hear the song). It was only later that we discovered that the paper crane is the Japanese symbol of peace & longevity - which made the moment all the more significant.

I`ve been reading The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning. In it he quotes Frederick Buechner:

"For what we need to know, of course, is not just that God exists, not just that beyond the steely brightness of the stars there is a cosmic intelligence of some kind that keeps the whole show going, but that there is a God right here in the thick of our day-by-day lives who may not be writing messages about himself in the stars but in one way or another is trying to get messages through our blindness as we move around here knee-deep in the fragmant muck and misery and marvel of the world. It is not objective proof of God`s existence that we want but the experience of God`s prescence. That is the miracle we are really after, and that is also, I think, the miracle that we really get."

So there you have it, this has been my miracle, my window to the soul. I wonder what Thailand has in store...(can`t guarantee as good internet access as Japan so not sure how often i can post!)

Hiroshima adventures!

We got back to Osaka last night after a spending a day and a half in Hiroshima. We visited the castle there and got dressed in some traditional samurai gear as you can see! Then we moved on to the A-Bomb Dome (pictured below by night) which remains in ruins as it was following the bomb as an eternal reminder of the tragedy. We walked through Peace Memorial Park and into the Museam which was fantastic. Lots of information to take in though but really informative of the facts leading up to the bombing and the devastation after. 140,000 people died in the blast and in the 3 months following. Given the nuclear nature of the bomb, the devastation continues in the lives of the Hibakusha (atomic-bomb survivors) as many suffer leukaemia and other cancers. Now Hiroshima is a city that has committed itself to world peace campaigning for an end to all nuclear weapons across the world so that no location should have to suffer similar mass devastaion.

On Sunday we visited the shrine at Miyjima which is reported to be the third most photographed site in the whole of Japan (pictured left). It is more beautiful at high tide but impressive none the less. The island is full of wild deer though that just walk around and you can pet them and feed them!

Last night on our return to Osaka we went to an Irish pub called Murphy`s to watch Man Utd v Fulham. 5-1 victory so we were all happy with that!

Finally i feel it is time to confess a new love in my life. We don`t know each other very well but there is a definite connection between us. I think it was her beautiful soft brown hair and brown eyes that attracted me at first and from then on we were hooked. If you want to see a picture of us then click here.

Only one day to go here in Japan, we leave on Tuesday around lunchtime to travel to Bangkok via Beijing. As for today, it will be back to the `onsen` (hot springs) tonight for one final blast!


Friday, August 18, 2006


We arrived in Takamatsu on Wednesday to stay with Taneli and Rie - students that Stefan studied with. Taneli is Finish and Rie is Japanese and they are married and have a son called Ricku - possibly the cutest boy ever (next to my nephew Daniel of course!). Takamatsu is a city but in a much more rural location - not many tourists here at all! We visited a cool waterfall yesterday as you can see in the picture.

Today the boys (Chris, Taneli, Stefan & myself) went to the beach but the weather was not good so no suntan unfortunately! We did have a good laugh in the sea though.

Tonight we went into the city centre and had a walk around the shops then went for a lovely meal. For six of us to eat a really nice meal it cost just 15 pounds which was great!

Tomorrow we move on to Hiroshima which is most famous as the location of the atomic bomb. Its quite a big city so lots to see in a short time. We leave there to return to Osaka on Sunday. We have Monday to chill out in Osaka before catching our flight to Thailand on Tuesday!

This is a picture of me and Ricku!

Other observations about Thailand:

  • Toilet paper is closer to tissue paper so make sure you fold many times!
  • Technology is very advanced - much more so than home! Every machine here speaks to you!
  • Sliding doors everywhere - houses, restaurants etc.


Thursday, August 17, 2006

One week gone!

Hello there folks! We have moved on from Osaka and are now spending a few days in Takamatsu staying with more friends of Stefan`s from college. Takamatsu is a much smaller city on a different island. Its really beautiful. Today we went to a river that had a really cool waterfall that you could stand under (although it was painful!). We are getting the edge of a typhoon at the moment which meant that it has been windy and a bit rainy which has been nice to be honest! Up until now its been 35-40 degrees everyday and really sticky during the nights. You only have to step outside and the` gravy`s running out of ya` as the saying goes!

Before we came to Takamatsu we had a day at the river with Maiko`s family - it was beautiful and i got to work on my tan a little! Then we went to this huge rope bridge which great but not for the faint hearted cos it was really shaky! Then Stefan and i went on a day trip to Kyoto. Its about 2 hours from Osaka. Its a huge city and we got to visit a couple of Budhist temples which was quite interesting. There were lots of candles to light and bells to ring and things to bow down to but we didn`t sell out to it you`ll be glad to hear! The area we visited and the buildings and shops and little streets felt a bit more like authentic Japan. We also got to see a couple of geisha`s which was interesting - again we did not embrace that part of the culture!

On Saturday we will move on to Hiroshima before returning to Osaka on Sunday. We leave Japan on Tuesday to start our Thai adventure!

I`ve put some more pictures up on Flickr so check them out using the My Pictures link to the right or
click here.

Sunday, August 13, 2006


Hello again, what a great few days we have had! On Saturday we ventured into Osaka City centre with Chris and visited Osaka Castle, Minami Area which is kinda like Times Square in NYC (see pic left) and Umeda Sky building which is really tall and we got some great nightime shots of Osaka (pic below).

Today we went to Chris & Miake`s church this morning which, apart from the language difference (Maike translated for us), reminded me a lot of church back home. The people there were lovely, a few of them spoke good English and came and chatted to us. Then we spent the rest of the day on the roof of Miake`s parents apart block. It`s 15 floors high and you get a great view. We chilled out and kicked the football around and had a laugh - pretty relaxing day.

Following that Miake`s family prepared the most amazing meal ever. I think it was called Quishe Tamaka?! Basically it was lots of different raw meats, fish and vegetables on skewers. Together we lightly battered all the skewers and then on the table was a saucepan of boiling oil and we fryed it all and ate it - it was a taste sensation. They really are the kindest most hospitable family and we really have been blessed to spend time with them! To the right is a picture of us all during tonights feast!
From left: Chris, Maike, Kaeko (Maike`s Mum), Satishi (Maike`s brother), Stefan, Aki (Maike`s Dad), and me!

Other observations of Japanese culture:
  • it seems to be common to provide a seat in the shower which is a great idea if you ask me!
  • Japenese people are not noticeably smaller! I had expected to feel tall (for a change) but this is not so!
  • There are hardly any western white people here! As such Stefan, Chris and i stand out quite a bit! For example at out first visit to the `onsen` (hot springs) within 1 minute of our arrival there were about 8 staff in reception lined up all staring at us and giggling! Now some people may find this offensive but we were rather flattered!

Tomorrow (Monday) Maike`s Dad is taking us to a more rural place about 2 hours away by car (can`t remember the name). It is supposed to be very beautiful and there is a river there to swim in and real `onsen` to enjoy! Also a top tourist attraction is a suspension bridge over the river which is over 200m long apparently - bit bigger than Carrick-a-rede then!

Sayonara, Neil

Friday, August 11, 2006

By the way...

Hey there folks, just to let you know the mobile phone doesn`t work in Japan so don`t bother texting! Only communication is really by commenting on the blog or e-mailing me to

I`ll write more later!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Day 1 in Japan...

Hello there folks! Arrived in Japan (Osaka) at 3pm local time (8hours ahead of home) today after an epic travel of almost 24 hours which included 2 flights (via Doha). We were greated by Chris at the airport and he took us to his house where he lives with his wife Maike. There house is lovely and Stefan and i have our very own room equipped with 2 beds, air conditioning (it like 36degrees) a fridge and laptop - all is good. Then we set off to Maikes parents apartment just round the corner. Here we were treated like kings! Keiko is Maike`s mother and she cooked us a fantastic meal of noodle stir fry with pork and she even provided us with some chips! It was fantastic to sit in a Japenese home with a Japanese family and share a meal together! You just don`t get experiences like that when you travel normally, experiences that really give you a taste of the people and their culture - priceless. Here are some of the cultural differences noticeable already:

  • you always take your shoes off when you go inside and leave them at the door.
  • there is absolutely no litter anywhere (and zero chewing gum on the streets) and yet i haven`t seen bins at every corner.
  • the latest toilets have these little jets of water that shoot up and clean your bum!!!
  • Everyone is so polite and graceful. We have had a few people bowing to us already!
  • Chopsticks during meal times. I really want to embrace the culture and so didn`t use a fork at all for my meal even though they had sympathetically provided us with both!

This evening Chris took us to the hot springs. These centres scattered across Japan and are quite popular. Its basically like a massive health suite with a mixture of jacuzzis, saunas, steam rooms, freezing cold pools etc. The centre is split into two sides, one for males and one for females - the reason being that everyone is naked! It was a good laugh as you can imagine and you definitely come away feeling more alive! Think the hot springs are definitely going to get a few more visits over the next couple of weeks!

Anyways, tomorrow we are going to a Sushi restaurant for lunch then going to chat with Chris`s students whom he teaches english to. After that we will probably explore a bit of Osaka!

Sunday, August 06, 2006

3 Days to go...

So as most of you will be aware, i'm off on my own adventure on Tuesday. I'm backpacking for 4 weeks around Japan & Thailand with my good friend Stefan. Now that Youth Week is over i'm really getting excited about the trip, and a bit nervous too i guess! People keep asking me what are the plans so here are the 'loose' plans of the trip thus far.

On Wednesday we will fly from Manchester to Osaka in Japan (via Doha). We will arrive about 3pm on the Thursday (Japan time). Stefan has a Uni friend called Chris who married a Japanese girl called Maika. They live in Osaka and so we will be staying with them for a lot of our time in Japan. Whilst there we will go to Takamatsu which is on a different island and supposedly really beautiful. Then we will visit Hiroshima. We will also head to Tokyo for a visit and maybe Kyoto.

Chris works for a church in Osaka so we will be visiting his youth group there one night to give a bit of a testimony and then he'd like us to come along to guest at his mini football club for 4-8 year old kids one afternoon so that should be the craic!

On 22nd Aug we fly to Bangkok (via Beijing!) arriving on 23rd where we jump straight on another plane to Chang Mai (Northern Thailand). There we plan to take a 4 day jungle trek where we will get to see the real Thailand and visit indigenous tribes, go elephant back riding and do some white water rafting. I'm very excited about this trek! Then on the 28th Aug we will fly down to the South of Thailand to the islands and spend a five or six days chilling out on paradise like beaches. Finally we head back to Bangkok for a couple of days to buy some cheap clothes before arriving back on the 6th September!

I love travelling! Last summer i inter-railed round Europe for 4 weeks and fell in love with it. Everyday is a different adventure, new things to see, experiences, different cultures, food, meeting new people - it's going to be amazing! I will try to blog as much as i can whilst away and i'll even try to get some photos up as i go too so watch this space!

Saturday, August 05, 2006

As promised...

Ok so Youth Week is over and i am pretty exhausted but it was amazing and i did promise i would fill you in on how things went! ! I don't know if I have ever laughed as much in 5 days as I have this week so that's always a good sign. We had a core group of about 25 young people who attended most of the week which is less than i hoped for but I'm not going to get too bothered by that!

Here's what excited me most this week!
We started each day with some worship and a short devotion. I decided to take the theme of 'serving others' and started the week by looking at Luke 22:24-27 and not thinking of ourselves as better than anyone else. In talking about this I was particularly thinking about the young people from the car park who don’t go to church and whom our church young people don’t mix very well with.

In planning for youth week my hope was that it would really engage both the young people from church and the unchurched and bring them together. However the reality was that the unchurced young people appeared keen but then didn’t show up for various reasons. I was a bit disappointed at times but then a few things happened that really encouraged me and made me sure that we did make progress with this group of people. Firstly about 6 of them came along to our Quiz on Tuesday night in the Youth mobile, I sat with them and I think they had a good night. The following evening I was chatting to them briefly and they told me they felt uncomfortable in the mobile and they felt the church ones were staring at them. One girl actually said ‘why do they think they are better than us?’ This really disappointed me given what I had talked about in Monday morning devotion. So for Thursday's devotion I looked at Phil 2:3-8 reinforcing the idea of not thinking of ourselves as better than anyones else and I told them how the young people from the car park had felt on Tuesday night and what they had said. On Friday night we were back in the Youth Mobile for some funny games and a few of the unchurched ones came in and I was so pleased to see our church ones really making an effort to talk to them and make them feel welcome. This was definitely a bit of a breakthrough!

So I had set out a few hopes and prayer requests for the week in my last posting so how did they work out? Many young people definitely had a really enjoyable week. The weather was perfect for us from Mon-Thurs and then the heavens opened on Friday afternoon! Everyone got soaked to the skin as we competed in the Olympics at the cricket lawn but to be honest the rain just made things even more hilarious! Unchurched young people did come along and the church ones did make an effort to get to know them. All of the volunteers had a great time helping out and time will tell if they are keen to commit more time to the young people in or out of the church. Unfortunatley we didn't get to paint the playpark on Thursday, there was just to much red tape on the side of the council and to little time to sort it out but hopefully another time this will work out. However everyone did have a great day picking litter in the village and serving the people of this community. Now i think it might be time for an afternoon nap for me!!!