Runs around the world #12

Kanchanaburi, Thailand

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Home to the Bridge over the River Kwai, Kanchanaburi is in the central plains of Thailand, about 80 miles west of Bangkok. It’s unfortunately made famous due to the Thailand-Burma railway and the thousands of prisoners of war that died in awful, harsh conditions building it (and the subsequent film The Bridge over the River Kwai). Go a little further afield, however, and you are greeted by some stunning scenery, countryside and rivers. The weather has been a bit changeable over the last couple of weeks so after a day spent on a train and a bus and not much exercise, and a break in the rain, I decided to chuck the runners on and head out for a much needed blast.

After a short run dodging the traffic down ‘Bar Street’ (one of the main streets that is full of bars, guest houses, shops, people and traffic) I ran across the River Kwai (although not over that bridge) and out of town, away from the people, the noise and the tuk-tuks, cars and scooters.

A peaceful silence filled the air, and the humid air filled my lungs. It was hot, again, and very humid but I think I’m getting used to running in it. I wouldn’t say I enjoy it but I don’t think about it half as much, and just enjoy running while I’m out there.

I ran along the road and out into the countryside where palm trees lined the edge of the road and ponds were filled to the brim with water lillies. With mountains in the distance and the tropical sights, sounds and plants, there’s no escaping I’m a long way from England. But yet strangely, I feel so at home here. I didn’t feel out of place, or like a tourist attraction, or that I had two heads. Because one of the best things about Thailand is the people (the other is the food). They are lovely. Really, really lovely. Friendly, and welcoming and full of smiles. They looked at me bemusingly, but not overly curious. It felt like I was doing something that perhaps happened every day and wasn’t out of the ordinary, which was a wonderful feeling, and not one I’ve had in many other places I’ve ran in. I was greeted with waves, smiles and shouts of “Hello!” from all the Thai people in their homes when I ran past, which I returned with “Sa-wat-dee Ka” (hello in Thai). I was also joined by a couple of loud, shouty barking dogs who decided to chase run alongside me. I shouted a grateful “Kob Khun Ka” (thank you) when their owners stopped them, the Thai lady clearly delighted that I was speaking in Thai. They do love it here when you try to speak a bit of their language, I’ve had so much fun, especially in food places, learning new words and having a bit of banter. In fact, I got more odd looks from other Westerners when I ran the last part down Bar Street.

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I ran 4 miles in total. Not a great deal, but enough for this run. My legs were feeling it, as the day before I’d cycled about 25 miles and a couple of days before that I’d pulled one of my quads climbing up a cliff face on Railay beach. So, 4 miles wasn’t too shabby, kept my legs moving and gave me that lovely running high.

One of my favourite runs so far I reckon. Not quite enough to make the top spot (that’s still Hong Kong) but it’s up there. One that made me smile both during my run and for a good while afterwards. Good times.

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Delhi. How you surprised me.

So, I arrived in Delhi. Or, rather, I was hit smack bang in the face by Delhi after around 18 hours travelling. It’s what people say. India, culture shock. Loud, noisy, smelly, dirty, bright, colourful and lots of people, animals and litter. Which, if you’re not used to it or haven’t been anywhere like it before, can be a bit of an assault on the senses. All of them.

And it’s exactly that. Like a punch in the face, you know you’re in Delhi.

It’s loud and noisy: scooters, rickshaws and cars are all beeping their horns. Constantly. Street sellers are shouting, people are shouting.

It’s smelly: all kinds of smells. Walking down a small part of one street I can smell spices, incense, food, sewage, animals and rotting food, all one after another.

It’s dirty: there is litter everywhere. Mud, crap you name it, it’s there. There are open urinals at a lot of the entrances to side streets, which, I’m sure you can imagine, has a certain smell in 35+ degree heat. Some of them are right next to food carts. Nice.

It’s bright and colourful: from the many millions of shops selling clothes, saris, scarves and fabric of all colours and patterns to the most wonderfully bright saris and clothes worn by the Indian women and the different colours of the buildings and rickshaws, there is colour galore here. How I’d love to visit during Holi where the streets and everything in them get covered in multi coloured powder.

There are lots of people and animals: everywhere. Day and night. Well, 16.75 million people do live here after all. So, imagine your home town as busy as it can be. Maybe the High Street. Got that picture? Good. Now imagine everyone walking in opposite directions, then changing, walking on the road, trying to get your attention, stopping or walking in front of you. Then add in a few cows. Some dogs. Maybe some small children. People sat on the ground. Then add in bikes, cars, rickshaws and scooters. Oh, and this High Street is sometimes only 10 feet wide. Yes, it’s a bit crazy.

But, you know what? I LOVE it. I really do. It’s so crazy, so busy and bustling, so hot and humid but it’s intriguing and alive. It’s real life. Real life that’s so completely different to my own, it’s wonderful to be able to be a part of it for a short while. To experience it myself, right here, right now. Not through TV, or a book, or someone else’s photos. But to live and breathe it. Smells and all.

I’ve been here two days, part of which was spent catching up on sleep. But I’ve seen so much already. I’ve wandered around the backstreets of Old Delhi, spent time with the chipmunks at the Red Fort, marvelled at the Bahá’í House of Worship (Lotus Temple), strolled down Rajpath with an ice cream after finding the India Gate, bought a scarf for 66p and enjoyed zipping around Delhi on the Metro. Every time I step outside the hotel there’s something new to see or experience. Here’s just a few examples:

  • A boy having a fight with a goat.
  • Live chickens in a cage for sale.
  • Quite a few cows (they are sacred here).
  • A man with a stuck on beard (why?).
  • The women only carriages on the Metro. Much less crowded that the mixed ones, and with air con. Bliss!
  • Many inappropriately named shops (for example: Doggy Style Hot Dog Shop or Shag En Beauty Shop)
  • Nearly being mowed down by a scooter. And rickshaw. And car. You get the idea.
  • I’ve been chatted to by many different people; all men. The majority of the time they’re trying to scam you, by trying to send you to different agencies, to get more money off you. They see a westerner, especially a woman and think money, unfortunately. A chap read my aura this afternoon. He was quite good, wrote things on paper then asked me questions and all the answers on the paper were right. He also said I am sincere and have a good heart but lack concentration and my head is full of butterflies, which I’d say does just about sum me up, especially right now. I told him from the very off I didn’t have any money, he said he wasn’t after money. Eventually, he was going to tell me the secret of how I could sort my ‘insane’ brain out, but I’d have to pay. Surprise surprise. Have to say, I was intrigued at what he would say but wasn’t prepared to pay for it. And I’m not sure I want to fix myself, I’m quite happy how I am, butterflies and all.
  • I was invited out for a drink by a chap who started chatting to me along the road. I politely declined, but it’s been a while since anyone has asked me out, haha. Incidentally, after telling him I wanted a quiet night and meal alone, a German guy called Mark joined me and I chatted to him all night. But, not quite the same. Mark was a traveller too, on his way to trek in Ladakh, and had a girlfriend.
  • Two guys who worked at the railway station tried their hardest to scam me when I went to get my train tickets. They stopped me before I could get to the building to say the Tourist Information Office (where you buy tickets and which there are signs for) has moved, and showed me on a map where to go and tried to get a rickshaw to take me. They were very good but I’d read about the scam before, and had been given directions from the chap at my hotel (which, by the way was great. Clean, great location, great staff – can’t fault it). They still stopped me from going any further so I decided to go back to the hotel, check with the staff again exactly where I needed to go. I went back, avoided the crowds outside and managed to get inside to where I needed to be. Not everyone was so lucky; a couple of girls at the hotel had just been ripped off by this scam. I can see why; they’re very convincing, especially when they work at the station.
  • I got stared at A LOT. All westerners do, especially women by the Indian men. It’s just how things are, and you get used to it. A lot of them will try to chat to you, shout out. You just have to perfect the art of walking along and ignoring.
  • Despite the above. I’ve never felt unsafe. Not even once. Not walking around at night by myself, or when walking through the tiny backstreets of Old Delhi and being the only westerner around.

I’m leaving tomorrow. I’ll be spending nearly 9 hours on two trains to go to a place called Shimla up in the mountains. I’ll be pleased to escape the Delhi heat and humidity.  You know that feeling when you open an oven that’s been cooking something for a while and you get hit in the face with that host blast of air? Well that’s kind of what it’s like here. It certainly was the first night I was here in my room, no air con and just a fan blowing very hot air around. I relented and went to pay the extra to have the air con. So, so pleased I did. It’s only an extra £2.70 a night, but, when the hotel room is only costing £6 a night it’s quite a bit extra. Bloody worth it for my sanity and sleep though.

So, it’s fair to say I’ve enjoyed Delhi, and will most likely be back here for a day again before I fly onto China at the end of the month. I’m looking forward to the mountains though, and train ride number 2: the Shimla Toy Train. Although a relatively short journey in km, it takes hours. It’s twisty, goes over bridges and through tunnels (103 of them), all in, as I understand it, pretty cool scenery. Let’s hope so, I do like a good landscape.

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Runs around the world #5

Mosi-o-Tunya National Park, Zambia

For a while this week I thought I wouldn’t be able to run while I was in Zambia because we’re in the middle of a National Park and as such, we’re not really allowed to walk (and therefore run) around on our own (only on lion walks really). It’s because of the animals. We’re not fenced in, so all kinds of animals are around (elephants, hippos, wilderbeest, zebra, baboons, monkeys, impalas etc.).

I was getting a bit distressed at the thought of not running for 4 weeks. What about my fitness? What about my muscles? I couldn’t bear the thought of it disappearing and having to start from scratch again. Especially as my next place is India (where it’s currently 39 degrees in New Delhi) where again I’m not sure about the possibility of running.

So, I don’t really have to say how bloody HAPPY I am that I’ve managed to run today. OK, so it is only in a lap, running around the White House (the main building here). I think some of the other guys were amused and thinking I was a bit of a weirdo. But still, it’s a run. Woohoo! And that’s all that matters. I only did 2.32 miles, shortest run for probably over a YEAR but it was so hot (it was at about 5pm, which, although it’s starting to cool down, the sun is still out and it’s probably still in the mid 20’s) and some of the lap is loose sand (aka Very Hard Work). I’ll do more. Probably only short runs like that though. But, I’ll try and add some speedwork in. And, it’s at least something. Really energised now. Hurrah for running!

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