The essential magazine for all travellers through South East Asia.
Inle Lake, Myanmar Meet the ethnic minorities of Myanmarâ€™s magical landscape
Monks meet Tigers
A visit to the famous Tiger Temple in Thailandsâ€™ Kanchanaburi
Off the beaten track on a Cambodian island paradise... www.southeastasiabackpacker.com
“You can’t step into the same river twice.” (Heraclitus - Greek Philosoper)
No matter how long I stay in South East Asia, backpack and become what is known as a ‘long-term’ traveller, or (a word I dislike) ‘expat.’ there is just one thing that I still can’t get used to. Maybe one day I will, or maybe I never will. It is a subject that is never far from the pages of this magazine as each person who has travelled has experienced this feeling and will know exactly what I am talking about. Recently I received a wedding invitation from a good old friend of mine from England who I’d lived with at university. Crumpled in the post and handed to me by the smiling security guard at the building I’m currently staying in in Chiang Mai, the sparkly envelope felt like it had been sent from another world, a world that I had left behind three years ago. That same week, a travelling friend of mine was finally leaving after a few months teaching in Thailand and was going back home to Scotland. I’d only known her a matter of weeks, yet in that short time we’d had some unforgettable ‘off the beaten track’ travel experiences, planked in some unusual places (including a tuk tuk roof - kids, don’t try this at home!) and told each other our most embarrassing secrets. I was upset that she was leaving to rejoin the ‘real world’ and like so many times before, my life for a while had to be reshuffled as I readjusted to not having her around. These two incidents made me think about travelling, friendship and most of all, that word that keeps cropping up again and again in my travel writing, transience. Back home, you often have your group of friends that you have known since childhood, school or university. They move around a bit but generally you end up with a steady group of companions who know you inside out, have been there while you’ve been sick drunk in the toilet, have plied you with chocolate as you’ve cried over exes and know everything about you from your first teacher crush to your weird and wacky pet hates. Meeting new people is a novel experience and not something that happens every day. When you are backpacking you have a constantly fluctuating friendship group. For those who spend only a few weeks on the road, your experience can be more like an extended holiday as you try to cram as many experiences and encounters into your ‘once in a lifetime’ trip. Those who backpack long term, particularly as a solo traveller, will understand that sometimes endless travel experiences, seeing sights and even meeting people can be exhausting. In South East Asia, the backpacking land of opportunity, friends are always coming and going, moving from one place to the next and you connect with them only for a short while. Every night you go out, there is the potential to meet a new person
and every week someone has just finished their adventure and is flying home the next day. It can be demanding, (not only because you end up drinking every single night!) but because you get so close to someone in such a short space of time that the hasty goodbye comes as an emotional shock to the system. Travelling and living for nearly three years in South East Asia, I will admit that at times I have craved the stability and security of routine life and friendships at home. After a particularly hard day journeying, finding a hostel on my own, I romanticised about meeting up with old friends at the local pub. Fed up of meeting great people I knew that I could really be friends with only to have them leave the week after, for a while I avoided making new friends. I soon realised that this form of self-defense was destructive and I should truly embrace the incredible and unique opportunity here to meet interesting people from all walks of life and all countries across the world! Buddha (and Russell Brand) tells us that life itself is transient and that attachment to people and things will inevitably cause unhappiness. Yet as human beings it is our nature to crave security and stability. It’s a tricky one and something that I continue to struggle with as a so called ‘expat’ in South East Asia. However, in a way, I’m kind of addicted to the spontaneity of it all, never knowing who you might meet, what experiences you will have and how that may end up changing your life in a way that you never imagined. I do know that travelling does teach you some very important lessons; that things don’t last forever and that you better appreciate the moment before it is gone. Your final night with someone special, your last moments watching the sunset on a beautiful beach that you will wave goodbye to the next day, your last glance over the clouds before you descend from the top of the volcano you have just climbed that you will likely never climb again. The transience of backpacking can be a blessing and a curse, but one that makes life all the more richer, interesting and one that I don’t think I could give up if I tried. By Nikki Scott This issue I’d like to say a massive THANK YOU to the wonderful Laura Davies, for drinking my tequila shots, being a great stickering buddy, tolerating my motorbike skills, looking after my mum, writing some fantastic articles and blogs, being the star of #TTOT, (Travel Talk on Twitter) getting me up to date with the kids (I love my life as a dickhead!)... and not only that, but being a really good friend to me in a difficult time.
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Cover Photograph: Courtesy of Brian McLaughlin
Meet Tigers: Volunteering at 24 Monks the Tiger Temple, Kanchanaburi PHOTOS: 34 BACKPACKER Planking is so last year, try geckoing! Asia Faces & Places: Interview with 48 SE founder of Orphan Impact, Vietnam
D estination spotlight : 14 The Magic of Inle Lake, Myanmar Rockclimbing Railay, Thailand’s climbing
and Khmu: Living with the hill tribes 36 Me of Northern Laos
km on a bik
Rong, Cambodia: 42 Koh A fading paradise?
R egulars :
The Magic of Inle Lake, Myanmar....
8 South East Asia Map & Visa Info 10 S.E.A BACKPACKER: Newsflflflash! 38 18 Word on the Khao San Road & Festivals: 30 Events What’s On Guide GAMES: 40 BACKPACKER Crossword & Sudoku
46 Traveller Thoughts, Stories, Tips FOOD: 50 BACKPACKER An Ode to the Coconut ARTS: 52 BACKPACKER The Death of the Postcard ENVIRONMENT: Hangin’ 54 BACKPACKER with the Orangutans in Borneo, Malaysia INFO: Visas, Exchange 56 BACKPACKER Rates, Climates & More
Koh Rong, Ca
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oran ith the
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All includes: Transport, 2 nights stay in our beautiful Mahout Eco Lodge and lunch and dinner every day! And more adventures! m Bamboo Rafting m Elephant Safari
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m Rafting on Nam Khan River m Visit ethnic minority villages m Visit to Tad Sae & Kuang
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M ap : south east asia Myitkyina
Myanmar Sapa Fansipan Mandalay Bagan Kalaw
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V isa I nformation Brunei Darrussalam: Nationals of most European countries, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and New Zealand do not need a Visa for visits of up to 30 days. USA citizens can stay for up to 90 days. Cambodia: Most nationalities can obtain a 1 month tourist visa upon arrival which costs around $20. At land border crossings, notably the Thailand/Cambodia border, the fee can be more expensive as the cost is paid in baht and is sometimes rounded up considerably. East Timor: Nationals from Europe, Australia, Canada and the USA do not need to arrange a visa in advance. They can be granted upon entry into East Timor and cost $30 for 30 days. Portuguese nationals can stay up to 90 days on a tourist visa. Indonesia: Nationals of Australia, Canada, USA, UK and most European countries are eligible for a 30 day visa upon entry, which costs $25 USD. The previous $10 7-day visa is no longer available. Laos: Most nationalities can obtain a 30 day visa for Laos at international airports and land border crossings. The cost ranges from $20 - $42 depending on nationality. At the Thailand/Laos border if you pay in Thai baht the fee will be more expensive. Malaysia: Most nationalities are granted a free 3090 day entry pass upon arrival at international airports and border crossings. Myanmar: Visas should be arranged in advance at a travel agency or Embassy. Costs can range from $20 - $50 for a 28 day visa, depending on where you apply for it and how long you mind waiting. Philippines: Tourist visas are free of charge for most nationalities for a stay up to 21 days. For longer stays you should apply for a visa before you arrive at a Philippine Embassy. Visas for 3 months, 6 months or 12 months are available. Cost depends on duration of stay. Singapore: Citizens of Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, the UK and most other European countries are granted either a 14 or 30-day tourist pass upon entry to Singapore. Thailand: Most nationalities, including Americans, Australians and most Europeans receive a free 30 day tourist visa upon arrival into Thailand by air. However, if arriving by land you will only receive 15 days. Vietnam: Visas must be arranged in advance. You can do this at a Vietnamese embassy in whichever country you are in and some travel agencies also offer the service. Depending on where you apply for it and how long you mind waiting, it can cost anywhere between $35 and $65 for a 30 day visa. â€˘ See the information pages at the back for more detailed information, visa extensions and penalties for late departure. (At S.E.A Backpacker we try to ensure that all information provided is as accurate and up to date as possible. (Checked 22.8.11) The information in this section is vulnerable to change. Please advise us at firstname.lastname@example.org if info is invalid and we will be sure to rectify it.)
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Where have we been this issue?
Aaah Bangkok, the City of Angels, the Big Mango, the backpacking capital of South East Asia. Naturally a hub for the S.E.A Backpacker Team! Of course we hea ded straight for the Khao San Roa d to catch up with old friends, inte rview friendly locals (some were chattier than others - see page 18) and tell people all about our brand new online forum! (More info on page 12)
“So, are you a yellow or a red shirt?” eld effi Sh at nt ing’ stude rt pa my As a ‘hardwork e lov I , ny England University in rai Backpacker uth East Asia time job at So howls past my nd wi the As Magazine. g traveller my desk readin ndy window, I sit at ces, white sa pla ay aw far just tales of islands… It’s ise rad pa d an iling beaches aling than wh pe ap re mo so much all began in the library! It travel away my hours magazine in a the red ve co my when I dis over n Road during Sa ao Kh d Cambodia for the the agency in Having not visite be back in st Asia. I loved to Ea d ille uth thr So re in we “Gap Yah” aring real two years, we many magazine in sh ocked to see so ssion concept of the Siem Reap and sh bars! d riences, the pa an pe ts ex ran er tau ck res pa s, s! I life back brand new hotel to d the handy tip e to be me an lov Ho t! uld red fas wo g ptu I t ca win gro iting ng tha that was This place is sure al l writing to the ed s t it was somethi tur ve tha ec tra hit n ew arc kn ow y ve my tel ssi bu impre immedia samples of es, take a 90hr one of the most sending some a gkor Wat, Siem t fried cockroach be An ea , to to rld g e involved in. After wo llin tak wi the s uld in sites ated ing that I wa s what it wo out. team and insist recieves an estim jungle, if that wa chance to help Reap currently th snakes in the to was offered the year! It is a I ay r lid e, pe ride or sleep wi ho zin ts a ga ris on tou ma n ckpacker one millio y invited me ngkok part of S.E.A Ba th the team, the journey from Ba much quicker! nths working wi mere 7-hour bus s costs ve said “YES!” (bu t ha After a few mo ipe n’t Po uld at co r I . rde it the office crossing the bo tch at the Thailand to vis 00-1200 baht). Wa big boss) Nikki 400 baht / visa 10 the editor (and the of by t rt y! me pa t s wa fel wa the d on s on g Mai an flights. I so out for visa shark worth I arrived in Chian ing day’s travel and multiple in about a years ell zine have crammed ga to airport after a gru Ma em se the d w an ho er family Seeing just top has S.E.A Backpack d new friends. reen of my lap new places an n behind the sc m edit tha r of new skills, tea he the rat w sk ho eyes hind the de and see for my own to st dish? rum works from be le Fo ab er ck en pa be mbodia’s be Back . I have ok Curry, Ca their brand new y meet h all been fascinating Am nc fin lau to , le ite ab bs the we ve been and locals. I ha stories, develop und the world s with travellers ggers from aro conduct interview ny of the travel writers and blo ve even had ha I d nths an ma the past few mo face to face with for Angkor Wat d d de un on aro sp ng ve corre s, including cycli n I say? It has been itie with whom I ha tiv ac ty ris a few tou d what ca g and time to sneak in terfalls in Pai! An er to keep writin uth d bathing in wa re keen than ev So mo at in Cambodia an re am I he w rs de No rience! you rea a fantastic expe aring my experiences with all sh t ils wh g, travellin e… (Laura Davies) packer Magazin East Asia Back
SIEM REAP... Angkor Wat?
ing riverside capital, Phnom H... charm Penh. Whilst there, we made it our PHNOM PEN mission to test beds in guesthouses,
When backpacking it is easy to lose track of what’s goin g on in the rest of the world. Floating down a tube on the Namsong River, you start to forget that the rest of the world exists! For those who have spent their only TV time watching Friends and Family Guy and their only reading time on a bus with the LP, S.E.A Backpacker Magazine are here to make sure you are up to date with your world affairs! Here is a rundown from our overseas correspo ndent. Triggered by the shooting of a man in Tottenham, Nort London in early August, riote heast rs across the country spen t three days smashing their way into shopping mall s and burning cars. While commentators searched for deeper political reasons for the social unrest, one riote r explained her actions on live television; ‘It’s like Robin Hood innit, we’re just robbin’ the rich to give to the poor like!’ I highly doub t she was planning on givin g away the 32” plasma television she was carrying . On 5th August a young boy was killed by a polar bear on an expedition to Spitsber gen Island, Norway. Four others were also injured. Had the campers known the aversion of wild beasts to thrash heavy metal band Megadeth, perhaps the trag edy could have been avoi ded. Just months before a 13-yr old Norwegian boy play ed heavy metal on his mob ile to scare away a pack of angry wolves on his way home from school. Plans to promote next mon Cup have been cancelled ths’ Rugby World in New Zealand due to an outcry by people worrying about possible cultural ridic ule. The idea was to have 1,00 0 models on motorbikes drive sheep down the high street of New Zealand’s cosm opolitan city, Auckland. Perhaps Flight of the Concord s can fill in instead?
We then moved on to Cambodia’s
check the temperature of Angkor Beer in bars and sample the delicious Amok Curry three times a day in order to be able to point you guys in the right direction! (See our website for top travel tips) For a flashpacker experience that won’t break the bank head to the chic FCC (Foreign Correspondents Club) for fantastic acoustic live sets and decently priced cocktails!
Lightning strikes billiona Richard Branson’s hom ire entrepreneur e causing a huge fire on his 74-acre private isla Virgin Islands. Kate Win nd in the slet was one of the 20 guests at the house as the ground, although it burnt to nobody was hurt. Richar d said “Many thanks to carrying my 90yr old Mum Kate for to safety.” Russell Crowe better wat ch out following the rece on Gladiator impersonato nt crackdown rs who tout the streets around the coliseum and famous Roman landmar other ks. Undercover police have been seen sporting capes and Roman san togas, dals in an attempt to catc h the Ceaser wannabees . Reindeer herder came across the prehistoric a baby wooly mammot remains of h poking out of the sno w. Experts say the mam whose skin and interna moth, l organs were still inta ct, has been preserved for over 40,000 years. in the ice The mammoth has bee n named Lyuba after the the hunter who discove wife of red her. Charming. One thief certainly got his teeth into the job whi out a purse robbery in lst carrying Sao Paulo. A homeles s man who witnessed found a pair of denture the crime s at the scene and han ded them over to police who found they fitted per officers fectly into the toothless grin of careless criminal Cesar de Jesus. , Milton How far will an Americ an go for a good pizza? miles according to Mis The answer is 1,400 sissippi man who trav elled across 16 states hours to bring back 150 taking 24 frozen pizzas that cos t him $1200 (More than wage for many in Sou a yearly th East Asia.)
S.E.A Backpacker around the world! Sailing the Mediterranean Seas, Corsica. (Rosie Davies, UK)
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Letter of the Month... T Y ER SHIRT ON! BACKPACKERS, PU
rgic ny people instantly alle shine that makes so ma wandering around one What is it about the sun ’re you n whe se wor g is nothin n to their t-shirts? There culture and history, tha edible sites steeped in last week I had t Jus of South East Asia’s incr r. cke kpa bac hested, sweaty the bumping into a bare-c ni clad girl whilst visiting ssing paths with a biki r 14,000 ove of ves gra the (dis)pleasure of cro ss ma Penh, Cambodia, the de Killing Fields in Phnom s the buckets had ma Khmer Rouge. Perhap g my oyin enj sat I as r people executed by the late k ng with her dignity! A wee des her lose her mind, alo rescent pink Rayban sha (with the obligatory fluo boy ad f-cl hal a , ner at my table. Needless din me join to d ide dec ) match Pad and fake Havaianas to torso to put me off my g for his sweaty, naked e to flash their flesh to say, it didn’t take lon riat rop app it’s l fee and gals who for my Thai. So please, guys ch, cover up! Not only a, if you’re not on a bea all over South East Asi you ntry se people who’s cou sake, but also for tho locals... are traipsing across, the ada) (Jasmine Thomson, Can
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The Magic of Inle Lake Myanmar I walked seven hours uphill and came back the next day wearing a skirt with my teeth stained blood-red. Some people might say I was trying too hard, but when you only have six days to vacate your reality, you have to be prepared to let go and walk fast. If youâ€™re looking for the fastest route to experience traditional Myanmar, trekking is without a doubt the best vehicle to get you there. Youâ€™ll have the opportunity to be a part of authentic village life, leave the usual tourist traps behind and enter the hearts and homes of the local people. While the towns and villages are filling up fast with tourists, few venture beyond the edge of urbanisation into the nearby villages whose ways have remained unchanged for a century or more...
Inle Lake is one of the most incredible places to trek in Myanmar. It provides you with unbroken mountain views, a crystal-clear Margarita-cool lake to dip in and local people who won’t ask if they can friend you on Facebook. You’ll enter a world that progress has left behind and discover the part of Southeast Asia that you thought existed only in your imagination. The village of Nyaungshwe is the gateway to Inle Lake. It has every amenity a tourist needs; a selection of hotels to fit every budget, restaurants that serve comfort foods, even internet cafes. But what makes it so special, is that it’s also easy to escape if you find all this too comforting. The lake itself could easily be mistaken for a mirror. Its glassy water reflects everything around and on it. The misty horizon is dominated by mountains, pagodas, bamboo houses on stilts, all dominated by the colours of the rising and setting sun. It’s a great place to relax and explore, but you won’t be the first tourist to have visited. If you want to experience authentic traditional culture, you’re going to need to pull up your socks and walk a little further uphill... By a little further uphill I mean about 6-7 hours. This may sound like a struggle, but don’t worry, the slope is gentle. The only things that stand in your way are panoramic views and the open doors of the locals offering you cups of fresh green tea. Along the trail, you’ll pass several small villages that belong to the Pa-o, Shan and Intha peoples, just three of the 135 ethnic groups recognized in Myanmar. When you finally reach the peak and you can catch your breath whilst looking down 1,500 meters at the lake below, you’ll be glad you took the walk. The hiking trails meander slowly over one ridge to the next. Your main enemy will undoubtedly be the heat, so carry plenty of water. Overnight trekkers can reprovision at Loi Kaw village. There is a general store with limited basic supplies, mostly canned drinks and bottled water all served at the current room temperature. They also have a selection of longyis for sale, the traditional Myanmar unisex skirt to protect your skin from the scalding sun. In the evenings you’ll be likely to share meals with local families, eating the same meal they do. You’ll notice that while the ingredients may be few, the taste is plentiful. These people know how to cook. They combine the freshest produce with a few local spices that subtly compliment, rather than overwhelm the dish.
The main entrée is usually a few farm-fresh vegetables cooked in a mild curry sauce, served over rice. On the side, you’ll be served a leafy soup, usually boiled mustard greens. It tastes much better than it sounds. If the food is not spicy enough, then you can turn up the heat with some extra chili powder, though I doubt that will be neccessary! You probably won’t be served meat except for a few small fish plucked from Inle Lake below, but you won’t miss it. Don’t worry, you’ll have plenty to eat. You won’t be hungry again in 15 minutes. Bathing at the local spring is a community affair. Men, women and children wash together but don’t strip down completely. The traditional longyi comes in handy, protecting your modesty in this communal bath. They even double as a portable shower curtains when loosened and held up around the body. When you’re ready to change into new clothes, the longyi can be used a portable dressing room, such a useful piece of cloth! After dinner we would chew betal nut, which is the areca nut wrapped in a betal leaf. It is commonly chewed throughout Southeast Asia and is the reason I returned with red teeth. Don’t worry, occasional use plus a toothbrush will keep your teeth from becoming stained like the locals. In case you’re wondering, betal nut is not a mind-altering drug. I know some of you may be disappointed, but it does manage to produce about the same level of relaxation as smoking a cigarette and drinking a cup of coffee at the same time. So it’s not totally worthless. It’s a mild stimulant, think of it as the Southeast Asian can of redbull... but I can’t guarantee that it will give you wings! The hike down the mountain took about three hours, including lunch, an unscheduled stop that was not pre-arranged by my guide. We were originally only stopping for a quick cup of tea, but the grandmother insisted I share lunch. Stomachs satisfied, the terrain became more horizontal and civilization came closer. The trek ended in the village of Mang Thawk, where my adventure on Inle Lake began. Myanmar has many fascinating places for the independent, low budget traveler, otherwise known as the backpacker. Inle Lake is just one of them. The main controversies are over what to call it and whether you should even go. Only you can answer these questions, but if you answer them with an informed and clear minded voice, you’re likely to have the correct answer for you. S.E.A Backpacker
Previously known by it’s English name, Burma, the government changed the country’s name to Myanmar in 1989. However, they didn’t change the official name in the local language. It should be noted that Myanmar is a better representation of Myanma, the name the locals have been using for centuries. When the British colonised Myanma in 1886, they named it Burma, a name derived from the colloquial name of Myanma, Bama. Deciding if you should go is a more serious ethical dilemma. Before you decide, look at both sides of the country’s current issues and remember an independent traveller should be an independent thinker. Although travellers to some regions may fall under scrutiny, there are simply too many visitors for the government to keep tabs on everybody and in all honestly they probably have better things to do! As long as you refrain from political activities, you should be left in peace to enjoy the freedoms that you enjoy in your own country. Just remember to be sensitive if you talk politics with the citizens of Myanmar. I’d suggest that it’s better to refrain from it at all, unless they broach the subject. Your good intentions could lead them into buckets of hot water. Saying this, at no time on my trip did I feel like I was under the watchful eye of “Big Brother.” The only minor problem I had was at immigration because I left my address in Myanmar blank. Here they don’t like ‘I haven’t decided yet’ as an answer. The immigration official saw me whip out my guidebook and choose a hotel at random, but didn’t question me any further. I guess she just needed that one address to complete her paperwork. This requirement is standard in most countries. However I also had to submit an itinerary at the Embassy when I applied for my visa. Here again they said I just had to give them a rough idea of my travel plans and I was able to simply scribble it down on a piece of old paper. They did not verify the information or question me further about it. Like all countries, the Myanmar government collects its income from tourist dollars, but as of recent years they no longer require that tourists purchase FEC notes directly from them. Most of the people you will be handing your money to are “ma and pa” type people operating restaurants, driving taxis or running guest houses. Since these are
Where to Stay: There is a variety of accommodation available in Nyaungshwe. The Manaw Thukha Hotel is nice midrange hotel ($20-$25 US dollars) that actually looks better in person than online. It’s a 10-minute walk from town. Budget travelers can find a variety of accommodations to suit their budget from $4 -15 US Dollars. Aquarius Inn is a good starting point, but there are many to choose from throughout Nyaungshwe. Arranging Your Trek: There are many travel agencies in town offering guide services. I used Smiling Moon Travel Agency and would not hesitate to use them again. They offer a variety of trekking trips that fit any time frame both on foot and on horseback. They also offer boat tours of Inle Lake. All trips are private and can be customized to your liking.
cash-only business, human nature suggests that they are under reporting their income to the government, so even fewer dollars are making it into the junta’s coffer. So my advice is go. Just be respectful of their ways and their rules and remember a little common sense goes a long way. After all, if Myanmar remains on the travellers blacklist, we are not only robbing the local people of their opportunity to learn about the outside world, but take it from me, you yourselves are also hugely missing out.
A Little Advice... Getting There: The fastest way to get to Inle Lake is to take a flight. The nearest airport is in Heho. Flights from Yangon start around $87 US dollars and take a little over an hour. Taxi rides from Heho to Nyaungshwe costs around $25 US dollars for the one hour trip, but it’s possible to share costs with other travelers at the airport.
What to Bring: Pack as light as possible - a small backpack is all you need. Food and bedding material will be provided, but carry your own water, at least 1 litre per person. Although hot tea will be provided along the way, the local drinking water is not recommended! Bring a few basic toiletries. You won’t need much since full bathing facilities are not available and be sure to bring tissue paper. Even though the squat toilets are remarkably clean, the bamboo strips to wipe with don’t look so comforting... It can get cool at night, particularly during the winter so carry a light jumper. Convertible pants are perfect for this trek. Also, whilst most locals can scramble up and down the mountain in flipflops, I’d advise you to wear something a little more sturdy, trainers perhaps. And my final tip, try wearing the traditional longyi on the trek. They keep you cool in the day, protect your modesty while bathing and make a handy blanket in the cool of night... Wearing a longyi will also win you extra love and respect from the local people. When else can a man get respect for wearing a skirt? And hey, they also make great souvenirs. Written by Brian McLaughlin, a freelance writer and photographer who is currently teaching English in South Korea. S.E.A Backpacker
W ord on the Khao San Road...
Hello Massaaaage? Hello tuk tuk sir? You want coconut my friend? Pad Thai very good? Flip flops? Tattoo? I make suit for you! Ribbit Ribbit. RIbbit Ribbit. On an average walk down the famous Khao San Road you will be offered a multitude of goods and services from an array of smiling, enthusiastic street sellers. But how often do you actually stop to find out about the people behind the sales pitch? This time, when we heard the standard ‘hello my friend, where you from?’ we decided to turn the question around on them with some interesting results! Hopefully their stories will make you think twice before dismissing them in an instant as just another person who is trying to get money out of you! Meet the friendly street sellers of the Khao San Road...
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Muay Thai Trainer:
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Tuk Tuk Driver:
ng Pong LOVES his tuk tuk. He has be claims to have ne en dri vin g for 25 years an ver crashed! Quite d of Bangkok. His a record in amon favourite colour gst the crazy traffic is purple (which set eyes upon his is obvious the mo tuk tuk) and if he ment you could trade his tuk Ferrarri, a Lamb orghini... he says tuk for any other he wouldn’t. Unles vehicle, a he would fly to the s perhaps for a moon. He refuses rocket in which to take drunk pa doesn’t fancy cle ssengers in his aning up farang tuk tuk as he puke - fair enou place to visit in Ba gh! When asked ngkok was he an what his favourite swered, “The Em Buddha… no, the era ld Buddha… no, the Standing Buddha Sleeping … no, the Big Bu assume he is Bu ddha!” I think we ddhist. Pong has can safely never had a celeb recognised!) in his rity (or not one tha tuk tuk but the glit t he tery purple interi you feel like a VIP or will make the moment you step inside!
Flip Flop lady: Or Or works on her elder brothers stall on the Khao San, selling all kinds of shoes - from flip flops to trainers. She is originally from Surat Thani in the south of Thailand, a place which many backpackers will have passed through on their way to the Islands! Her Mum, Dad and extended family still live there. Rather than lingering too long in Bangkok, her advice for backpackers is to “grab a pair of flip-flops and bugger off to Koh Samui” which is her pick of the islands. If she could take a trip to anywhere in the world it would be to Japan, purely for the fashion.
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Tattoo artist: Mor With 8 piercings in his face and two full sleeves of tattoos, Mor’s bound to make any parent cringe! This artmad guy has been tattooing since he was 18 and loves to sketch in his free time. His tattoo store closes at midnight to avoid drunken tourists from making mistakes they may regret for a lifetime! He finds it funny that foreigners always want traditional Thai tattoos, while Thai’s are into old school American-style! He thinks that bamboo tattooing is better as it hurts less, but is a lot slower. Mor says he has never made a mistake when tattooing… yet!
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Frog Lady: Wan This colourful character (and we’re not just talking about her hat!) speaks with a Cockney accent that she picked up from the tourists on the Khao San Road. Her catchphrases include “’ow ‘bout somethin’ like this?” and “aww, come on!” Originally from Chiang Mai where she did heaps of different jobs, Wan now works until midnight every day selling those chirpy souvenirs that seem to follow you everywhere! If she could trade her job for any in the World, she would stay in Thailand and open a restaurant, or maybe a ‘We Sell Everything’ shop because she says she truly can sell anything!
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Masseuse: Paladee Smiley Paladee has been working on the Khao San Road now for twelve years, but she much prefers the quiet of the countryside where she grew up just an hour from Bangkok, in the rural town of Suphan Buri. She explained that Thai massage was originally important in Thai culture because the King would have the luxury of a personal female masseuse. Then men caught on and began to look for wives who could perform massage. Nowadays massage can be done by anyone for anyone, including babies and children! In fact, it is said to be very beneficial for a child’s health... lucky kids!
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RAILAY! The Rock Climbing Mecca of South East Asia Krabi, South Thailand
Top 5 Climbing
Railay, Krabi, Thailand
We are a small company who pride ourselves on service our instrucktors are friendly, certified, vastly experienced, English speakers and safety equipment.
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Climbing shop climbing gear & clothes The unique landscape of South East Asia with its jagged limestone cliffs makes it a haven for rock climbing enthusiasts all over the world. Dating back to around 250 million years ago, the karst landscape is believed to have derived from an ancient coral reef system that stretched all across the region from China to Papua New Guinea. You can witness this spectacular topography in areas such as Guillin in China, Halong Bay in Vietnam, Vang Vieng in Northern Laos, Phang Nga Bay and of course Krabi in Southern Thailand. Whether you are a beginner or an expert, the opportunities for rock climbing are superb. There are some great rock climbing schools who can show you the ropes (no pun intended) and give you advice on the best routes to climb in the area. In almost every region, be it Thailand, Laos or Vietnam, you will be rewarded with amazing views and friendly and professional instructors.
Railay and Tonsai on the East Coast of Southern Thailand are some of the most spectacular places to rock climb in South East Asia. With bright white sandy beaches, clear turquoise waters surrounded by towering limestone cliffs on all sides – rock climbing addicts will think they have died and gone to heaven! From first time climbers to hard-core experts, there are many different routes to suit all skill types. The scenery is incredible and the atmosphere is friendly as climbers spend days on the rocks and nights at many of the chilled out bars that play Reggae tunes into the night air. There are enough routes to keep you busy for years – including beginner grade 5a’s up to the extremely challenging 8c’s. Beginners will likely start off on the walls ABC, Taiwand Wall and Diamond Cave and more experienced climbers will take on the likes of Generator Wall and Tyrolean Wall. One of the best things about Railay and Ton Sai is that you don’t have to be an expert climber to be rewarded with truly spectacular views! Most rock climbing schools offer either half day or full day courses and you will tackle around 3-4 climbs per half day with a partner. You will learn how to belay a partner, rock climb and abseil. There is also the opportunity to take longer courses that will teach you how to use your equipment safely and effectively, learn how to lead climb and multi-pitch. Many avid rock climbers spend months tackling the challenging routes of Ton Sai and Railay and once you are confident with the fundamental skills, you may be able to climb without a school as you ‘hook up’ with other climbers of similar ability who you can partner with you safely. Climbers hang around the bars of Ton Sai day and night and you’ll have no problem finding a climbing buddy! Whatever level you’re at or whatever course you decide to do, it’s great fun and the views at the top of the turquoise waters and surrounding cliffs are out of this world. For an exhilarating, action packed day, there’s nothing like it. When you feel the pumping in your arms as you desperately try to cling onto that stalactite and the adrenalin rush as you stretch for the last time to reach the top, you’ll be addicted.
Best seasons to climb in Krabi:
December – March is the dry season and the most popular time to climb, being the safest season to guarantee the best weather. The months of November and April are pretty popular too and there is less chance of rain than the summer months. July-September is the official rainy season, with June and October being temperamental. However, prices for accommodation can be lower during June-October and often it only rains in the afternoons leaving the mornings free to climb!
An idea of prices:
Half day rock climbing costs between 800-1000 baht Full day rock climbing costs 1,500-1,800 baht 3-day rock climbing course to learn all rope skills costs around 6,000 baht 5-day rock climbing course to learn how to lead climb costs around 8,000 baht Deep water soloing full day course costs between 800-1000 baht
Other LOCATIONS in south east asia... Halong Bay & Cat Ba National Park, Northern Vietnam With over 3,000 limestone monoliths scattered over an area of 1,500 km, Halong Bay is regarded as one of the most beautiful seascapes on the planet and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in ‘94. The karsts of different shapes and sizes were formed over 500 million years ago. Rising impossibly out of emerald waters, they just beckon to be climbed!
Vang Vieng & Luang Prabang, Laos Although many backpackers head to Vang Vieng in Laos strictly for buckets and tubing, there are fantastic opportunities for rock climbing here in this remarkable mountainous landscape! The areas of Tham Nam Them in Vang Vieng and Gecko Mountain in Luang Prabang offer many routes from 6a’s to 8a+’s all overlooking the meandering Mekong River.
Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand Chiang Mai offers some great rock climbing routes at the beautiful Crazy Horse Buttress located about one hour’s drive from the city centre. For those traveller’s who want to avoid the crowds of South Thailand during the high season, Northern Thailand can be an excellent option! There are about 180 routes suitable for beginners or more experienced climbers.
Deep Water Solo? In other parts of Thailand the half moon would have been met with all night parties in the jungle, but in the climbing mecca of Krabi, deep water soloing awaited. Deep water soloing, or rock climbing over water deep enough that you don’t need ropes, is something that I had been keen on trying while in Krabi and as luck would have it I was there for the half moon sunset trip. Around three in the afternoon we headed over to Base Camp, the local climbing school sponsoring the excursion. After sorting through a mound of wet climbing shoes (they let you borrow shoes, so you don’t have to destroy yours) I managed to find two that would at least suffice for the afternoon and then boarded a small boat and headed out on the Andaman Sea towards the beautiful cliffs that had been enchanting me since we had arrived. It was my first time deep water soloing and as I ascended up the rock face, the water pretty quickly began to look very far away. The good thing is you can jump whenever you want. Three… Two… One… And I hit the water. It wasn’t that scary after all!
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Safely back in the boat, I began contemplating my next attempt. To be completely honest the water still looked really far away the second time, but I did manage to climb a little further. Once the guides thought we looked reasonably warmed up we moved to a second climbing site, where one of the biggest challenges turned out to be getting on the climb. Pulling yourself up the slippery, diy bamboo and rope “ladder” that was rising out of the water and then transitioning to the rock is no easy feat! But what an adrenaline rush. Everytime I clambered straight back up, just to be able to jump again. Every time my heart beat fast before I crashed into the deep water below. As the sun began to set we piled back in the boats and headed off towards a barbecue on Chicken Island, a small, deserted island nearby. Later, with the stars and moon in full view, the guides treated us to an incredible fire show. The entire day was one of the most awesome experiences of my travels.
By Katya Kruglak.
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Monks Meet Tigers Volunteering at the Tiger Temple Kanchanaburi, Thailand
Today is a special day. The beginning of a new adventure. Sometimes when listening to interviews I’ve heard the question “what was the most exciting time of your life?” How would I answer this question? I did not have a satisfying answer. From today onwards, I will have an answer. My most exciting time has just taken place, having been a volunteer at the Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi, Thailand.
My First Visit To The Tiger Temple My adventure began last December in Bangkok. Visiting the Tiger Temple was at the very top of my ‘to do’ list in Thailand. The Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi is just two hours outside of Bangkok and is home to 12 monks and 88 tigers. Visitors have the chance of experiencing this incredible creature up close and personal. Back in Germany (my home) some months ago, I had read about the Tiger Temple. I learnt that volunteers could become part of the Monks family, walking and petting the tigers and even holding a tiger’s head on their lap if they wanted to. To me this sounded amazing - almost unbelievable! The more I read, the more I wanted to experience it for myself. But when I delved deeper on the internet, I discovered that the temple did not only have admirers but also many people criticising the temple for holding the tigers in captivity, accusing them of torturing the tigers and even drugging them in order to keep them as pets. However, this did not put me off, in fact it simply made my curiosity greater. I wanted to experience it for myself and make up my own mind, so I decided to go to Thailand and visit this place. On December 13th, I made sure that I was the first person through the main gates when they opened for the public at 12.15pm sharp. As I strode up the winding path, I spotted my first tigers near a little waterfall. Tied on dog leashes, I watched them and felt them returning my gaze as we passed just a few metres apart. Then the daily walk to the canyon began. Visitors were allowed to walk a tiger. Ok, so it’s only for a short distance but hey, it is a tiger, not a dog you are walking! When we reached the canyon there were about 20 fully grown tigers lying next to each other. One of the staff kindly took me by the hand and walked me over to some of the tigers, showing me exactly where to sit and where to touch them, whilst taking photos of me. It was a great feeling touching these strong creatures, stroking their heavy fur and feeling their tail wagging against my leg. But little did I know, the highlight of
the day was just about to happen. There were special programs that visitors could register for, to help at the Tiger Temple! It didn’t take me long to sign up for the ‘cub exercise’, a program where people could play with the youngest Temple residents. Tigers between five and nine months old would be off the leash and we would be there to play with them in the waterfall. A few minutes after registering, I was surrounded by tigers, all of them around knee high and moving around completely free. Can you imagine that feeling being in the middle of these big cats? Every volunteer received a tiger toy, which was a long bamboo stick with shoes and bags dangling from the end. Simple but effective. The tigers were crazy about these toys and when moving them noisily, the tigers would jump high into the air and try to catch them. At times I was surrounded by up to five tigers, all of them wanting to catch my toy, leaping up and down.
But there were plenty of staff next to us making sure that no tiger would jump on us by accident! Luckily, the animals were only interested in the toys and not in the people operating them. After this wild game, we hand-fed them with a whole chicken and then showered them to hide the evidence. As I shampooed, scrubbed and rinsed tiger by tiger, I could not believe what I was doing! That was the moment when my idea was born. I wanted to work with these beautiful creatures!
Experiencing the Tiger Temple as a Volunteer... When I got back to my the hotel after a long, exciting day, I checked the Tiger Temple’s website for volunteering opportunities and applied instantly. All I had to do was fill in some forms, write a persuasive letter of application showing my sincere desire to work with tigers, attach my CV and hit send... before I began praying for a positive reply. I didn’t have a clue what they would focus on in the candidate selection, but it seemed that my prayers helped or maybe I was just lucky! I got accepted and was the happiest person in the entire world that day. In February 2011 I began volunteering at the Tiger Temple. For almost two months I would be close to tigers of all ages on a daily basis. About 90 people were working in the Tiger Temple, taking care of the tigers and all the other animals. What most people don’t realize, me included, is that there are not only tigers but many other animals that call the Temple their home. Besides the 88 tigers, when I was volunteering there were two lions and two bears! In fact, the temple area is home to almost 5,000 animals living there in complete freedom. All visitors to the Temple will encounter cows, buffaloes, wild boars, peacocks, a camel, a goat and many other creatures. Most of these animals have been brought to the temple by Buddhists in a bid to save them from the slaughter house. Along with three other volunteers; Mackenzie from the US, Yannick from France and Jamie from Australia, we made up the newest team supporting the Tiger Temple’s mission. My nights were wild. No, not from partying, as it is a monastery with strict rules and besides I am far too old for that! In fact, I was the oldest of the volunteers, who were mostly in their twenties. But my nights at the Tiger Temple were wild as we were living in the wild, more or less!
The girl’s kuti, which was the Thai name for our accommodation, was in the middle of a small forest, home to many wild animals making the weirdest of noises! There was roaring and barking all night, right outside my window.
Daily life at the Tiger Temple... Our day began at 7am. We, the volunteers were in charge of the cubs. In February there was a total of 13 cubs, all between one and three months old and so cute. Every morning we would prepare their bottles, play with them and then take them to the Temple. They were just beginning to learn how to walk on a leash, quite a challenge it seemed! It was a complete mess, as they are bundling against each other, jumping and walking criss cross. What was worse than this tangle of leads was when they simply refused to move. That was the moment when we had to become inventive! We would collect anything that could become a toy as we walked. This could be a coconut, a rope, an old rag or whatever nature was providing that day. But we couldn’t always rely on the little tigers showing an interest in these toys, you could never tell what they would or wouldn’t go for! If we were running late I would pick up my little tiger and carry him like a baby over my shoulder, as we had a strict schedule to stick to! The temple would be waiting for us, with breakfast, the monks, the older tigers and a few lucky tourists all sat patiently, silently.
Later we would assist walking the tigers to the “Tiger Canyon”. Each tiger would be walked by a monk, followed by a group of tourists. Amazingly every tourist would get the chance to walk the tiger for a short distance. But before they were allowed to do this, tourists had to listen carefully to the safety instructions.
Tiger Temple Rules 1. NEVER approach a tiger from the front, only from the back. 2. When walking a tiger, always stay behind the tiger’s shoulder. 3. Remember that it is not the tourist walking the tiger, it’s the tiger
walking the tourist! If a 300 kg tiger decides to run, then nobody will be able to stop them.
By giving these instructions clearly and making sure nobody ignored them, I would guide one after the other to the tiger until we reached the canyon. As soon as my tiger would spot the temple stairs he would start running, knowing that his milk bottle was just inside. In the temple the monk’s prayer would be chanted, but my little tiger didn’t care. He just wanted to play, be noisy, jump on peoples’ back, anything but stay quiet. So I would try my best to calm him and his little friends down whilst we all had breakfast. After that the real work would begin, the cleaning. Every morning I had to grab a broom and sweep in front of the tigers’ cages, collecting big piles of tiger poop and chicken carcasses. No, you didn’t misread. The tigers main food is cooked chicken not raw meat, like most people would expect! This is not without reason. The tigers of the Tiger Temple should not get to know the taste of blood so their diet is restricted mainly to cooked chicken supplemented by all the minerals and vitamins the tigers need to grow strong and healthy. A tiger eating a cooked chicken is a funny sight indeed! Each one gets served three to five chickens a day, so that’s a lot of carcasses and a lot of mess. First they lick the chicken juices, then they eat the meat. Some have even become quite particular, and will only eat the chicken breast while spitting out the bones and leaving the other parts of the chicken untouched! Sometimes I get quite jealous, when was the last time I was eating a juicy chicken breast?! Having removed the chicken left-overs, it was our job to hose down the cages and do the final bits of cleaning. And then it was time for a bath. No, not for us, but for the mucky litte baby tigers. I would grab one after the other, wet them, shampoo them and dry them off. As you can imagine, having showered 13 cubs I was usually wetter then the tigers by the end of it! But they are tigers, the only cats that love to be in the water… these little ones just hadn’t worked that out yet! Having survived the bathing, they deserved a reward, their lunch. And that was when the sprint for the milk bottles and feeding bowls began! The sound of the tigers as they ferociously squabbled over their chicken could without doubt be heard from far away! Then it was our turn to fight. Each volunteer would grab two tigers and hand feed them to let them know there was no need to fight as there was enough food for everyone. And it worked. The fights would be over and all focus was turned to my hands filled with soft chicken pieces. Our mornings would end with playing, more biting and the first nap of the day. That was always the best time to sneak out of the baby cage and grab some rest before the hectic afternoon shift started.
The Tiger Temple’s most exhausting species - The Tourist In the afternoon the Tiger Temple is open to all tourists. They flock from all over the world, lots of them from nearby Australia or just on the backpacker trail through South East Asia. All of them are extremely eager to see the beautiful tigers. To make sure they don’t put themselves in danger whilst marvelling at the tigers, us volunteers were in charge of ‘crowd control.’ Standing right in front of the huge cats, I would ask the visitors to keep a safe distance. I always secretly had my fingers crossed that the tigers would recognise me wearing my Tiger Temple staff shirt!
Tigers of all different ages and sizes would be waiting there for their photographs to be taken. Usually watching the tourists and making sure they were behaving was more exhausting than taking care of tigers! The tigers are used to people and most of the time behaved better than the tourists. But still, you should always remember that tigers are wild animals and people shouldn’t mistake them for cute little kitty cats. I will never forget one Australian guy who came up to me yelling “show me the biggest tiger, I want to ride him!” These were the types of people I had to save.
Criticising the Tiger Temple The Tiger Temple is criticised by many people and for many reasons, for keeping the tigers in captivity or even worse, for supposedly torturing them. I know the pictures published on the internet, I’ve seen them. Monks walking tigers on leads, or pulling the animals tails. I know these scenes and yes, they do happen! But what do they prove? They simply show people who are together with the tigers all day long, raising them, loving them and taking care of them. Tigers are big cats and like all cats they have a mind of their own.
Sometimes they decide to stop walking and lie down. Then what do we do? We talk to them, we play with them and if this doesn’t work, we lead them by their tail whilst begging them “just a little further, please!” But this isn’t torture. When playing with their tiger friends, they are so much rougher! To these powerful creatures, often weighing 200 or 300 kg, the weight of a small Thai person on their back is nothing more than a nuisance. People seem to overlook the hundreds of photos showing a tiger sitting on a staff member’s lap or a tiger getting a massage from the volunteers. Nobody ever mentions these. And I swear these scenes are far more common. One question frequently asked is: “Are the tigers drugged?” To me this seems ridiculous! I am not a scientist and I can only talk from my personal experiences, observations and feelings. During the two months I spent at the Tiger Temple I never observed any suspicious behaviour. I was allowed to roam anywhere, talk with anybody, take as many pictures as I wanted wherever I wanted and I never encountered any strange or secretive behaviour. Is this the way people behave when hiding serious issues such as drugging tigers? Well, you say, if they’re not drugged then “why are the tigers so calm?”. Simple. Many of the tigers are born at the Tiger Temple and have been raised their whole lives by humans. That is why they are used to people. During the day when it is hot they are naturally sleepy and that is exactly the time when the tourists come. They are used to living in a safe territory and don’t face the threats that tigers in the wild do, so naturally they don’t need to be so alert. But if you’re lucky enough to go and watch them playing in the waterfall then you will see an altogether different group of tigers! So my advice? Get up close and personal, to experience these gentle giants at the Tiger Temple and make up your own mind! Their next project is to open a large, open-air enclosure called Tiger Island. Here they will help restock wild populations of tigers, but first suitable protected habitats need to be created, which is a big project. In the meantime, the Tiger Temple is doing a fantastic job in helping to prevent this amazing creature from becoming extinct forever.
Petra Wagner from Germany took off for one year to go travelling in Asia. Deciding to ‘go with the wind’, she travelled all over India and South East Asia...Trekking in the Himalayas, scuba diving in Indonesia and following a spiritual path in India were just some of her adventures! You can read more here: www.petra-wagner.com
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Located on the nor th side of Koh Phangan, you can reach Bottle Beach by a short boat ride from Chaloklum or take a fun jungle/ mountain ride from the west side of the island.
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W hat’s on: Festivals and Events The “Moon” Parties Koh Phangan, Thailand
is an intense dance experience. Party animals watch out!
Full Moon Party:
Half Moon Festival:
P TH ICK O EM F ON TH !
Phuket Vegetarian Festival
27th September - 5th October
4th & 20th September 4th & 20th October
12th September, 12th October
Black Moon Culture:
27th September, 26th October
There are various stories about the origin of the Full Moon Party, but so one rumour goes, it all started with a group of backpackers playing guitars on the beach to celebrate someone’s birthday. Today, up to 30,000 people congregate on Haad Rin Sands each month for a frenzied concoction of dance, drink and devilishness from dusk until dawn. Smear that multi-coloured paint all over your body, get a glow stick in one hand and a bucket in your other and get ready to party!
Underground trance and progressive beats resound through the air as party-goers dance on the beautiful sands of Baan Tai beach once a month. With amazing décor, live visuals and an international DJ line up every month, including special guests, the Black Moon Culture
A huge professional dance event taking place twice a month amidst the atmospheric setting of Ban Tai Jungle, Koh Phangan, one week before and one week after the Full Moon Party. Playing an eclectic mix of tech house, progressive beats and psychedelic trance, the all night party showcases the island’s finest resident DJ’s, with regular special guest appearances. With a huge sound system, unique UV illuminations, fire dancers and live visuals, this is an event not to be missed!
Despite the rather misleading title of this festival, for spectators this world renowned event is a feast for the eyes rather than the stomach! The Phuket Vegetarian Festival occurs over 10 days with a series of celebrations in the streets, but it’s the sixth day that has long been a favourite of photographers the world over. On this day, devotees partake in incredible feats of body piercing, as well as acts such as walking barefoot on hot coals or climbing ladders made of blades. During such self-torture, it is said that gods can enter the body and evil spirits are dispelled from town. The festival dates back to 1825,
Sept – Oct 2011 when a Chinese Opera came to town. When the troupe became ill, they turned to a vegetarian diet used in conjunction with ancient rituals to cure themselves. Locals were astounded as each one was miraculously healed and thus became converts to ritual vegetarianism. Since that day, the Thai-Chinese people of Phuket have celebrated the festival annually with the belief in its power to invite good fortune. Participants must not eat meat for a number of days in order to purify the mind and cleanse the soul. This festival should be high on the list of priorities for action hungry travellers this month!
Chonburi, Thailand October
Mooching about in the muddy field with your mates chewing on clumps of grass? Pah. The buffalos of Chonburi have more serious things to do. Thanks to the efforts of some determined farmers Chonburi’s buffalos have been transformed from sluggish workhorses to lean, mean racing machines. Each year at the beginning of October, the Chonburi Buffalo Races are a series of highly competitive sprints taking place in front of the towns Municipal Office. Crowds of people gather to cheer their favourites to victory in an event that has been known to feature on the BBC and CNN.
P’chum Ben Cambodia October
P’chum Ben takes place on the fifteenth day of the tenth month in the Cambodian calendar. It is the time of the year when Khmer people believe that spirits of dead ancestors rise and walk the earth. Offerings are made at temples as early as 4 o’ clock in the morning as people go to give the spirits food to eat in an attempt to ease their suffering. Most commonly, sticky rice is thrown onto the ground for the spirits as it is said to be the easiest food for them to consume.
Bang Fai Phaya Nak (Naga Fireball)
end of Buddhist lent, hundreds of spectators congregate on the banks, eyes glued, as burning red fireballs ascend from the surface of the water into the night sky. Locals believe this phenomenon occurs because of Naga, the great serpent of the underworld who dwells in the murky depths. Once a year, Naga sends a powerful sign to all villagers to remind them to respect the river and the life source it stands for. Researchers have tried to solve the mystery, but no one has been able to explain how or why this phenomenon takes place on the same night each year. Still dubious? Well there’s only one way to make your mind up!
Nong Khai, Thailand 11th & 12th October
Astounding miracle or elaborate hoax? This unusual spectacle that occurs along the Mekong in North Thailand on the border with Laos has baffled even the most sceptical onlookers. On the night of the full moon, at the
W hat’s on: Festivals and Events Thimithi (Fire walking ceremonies) Singapore, KL, Penang October
Thimithi is an interesting Hindu ritual of fire walking which has its origins in South India. Its roots lie in the old Indian epic, the Mahabharata as the ceremony is said to commemorate an event where the main character, Draupadi walks over a bed of coals to prove her purity and emerges as a fresh flower. You will find Thimithi ceremony occurring at local temples in places such as Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Penang. Devotees walk over scorching hot coals as proof of faith to Draupadi and to show gratitude for the fulfilment of personal prayers. It is believed that a strong devotion will overcome the danger of getting burnt.
moon to be at its biggest and brightest signalling a time of happiness and harmony.
! RD A C LD I W
Rooted in agricultural tradition ‘Awk Pansa’ indicates the start of a new season and controls the planting of crops. In many parts of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar,
Malaysia 26th October Deepavali, often known as the ‘Festival of Lights,’ is one of the most important events in the Hindu calendar. Celebrated in Hindu communities throughout Malaysia, the festival signifies the triumph of good over evil and light over dark. Candles and lanterns are lit to guide souls of the deceased back to their loved ones during this time.
Awk Pansa is celebrated with a series of boat processions. In Isaan province huge boats are filled with offerings of sticky rice parcels, flowers, candles and lamps and are launched on the river by local villagers.
Manila, Philippines 10th - 18th September
Mid Autumn Festival Vietnam 12th September
Known to Vietnamese as ‘TetTrung-Thu’, the Mid-Autumn Festival is an important time for families, with a traditional focus on children. The celebration originates from an old folk tale about parents working so hard to get ready for harvest they forgot about their children. Mid-Autumn Festival became a time when parents would make it up to them. There’s a festive atmosphere in many cities as lights and flowers adorn the streets, toy shops stock their shelves and people flock to buy moon cakes which are sold in shops in the hundreds. In many communities across Asia, this is a time when people believe the
Awk Pansa - End of Buddhist Lent
Thailand, Laos and Myanmar 12th October Awk Pansa literally means “leaving the period of rain” and is celebrated all over Thailand, Laos and Myanmar on the night of the full moon in October, marking the end of the Buddhist Lent.
Bangkok, Thailand 3rd September
Are you sick of hearing Jason Myraz and Jack Johnson on repeat? Get yourself down to Club Culture for a night of real music and real fun. It’s 250 baht entry fee but for that you get a free drink! You can look forward to the likes of Oasis, Blur, Kaiser Chiefs, Arcade Fire and a whole heap more. Also, music from The Standards, fresh back from their tour in England, live and loud! Read more: www.popscene.asia
In Laos, in riverside towns such as Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Savannakhet, boat races are held in a festival known as ‘Bun Nam’ or ‘Water Festival.’ Similarly in Myanmar, boat races take place in rivers and lakes all over, best observed at Inle Lake.
From Glampackers to Poorpackers - The Sole Sisters Story
Many ancient stories are told to explain the origin of the festival, all of which symbolise the removal of evil with the replacement of benevolence. In Malaysia there’s a one day public holiday and in the run up to the big day, homes and temples are given a spring clean to symbolise renewal. They are then colourfully decorated and brightly lit to welcome the coming of, Devi Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth and prosperity. Many Hindus pray, fast or observe strict diets during the weeks before the festival.
Popscene Indie Night
For all those serious travel junkies, photography addicts and travel bloggers out there, you may want to make your way to this unique event taking place at the outdoor adventure ROX Store on Bonifacio High Street, Manila. There is a travel photography exhibit which chronicles the 6 month backpacking trip of the charismatic duo, the Sole Sisters through India and Southeast Asia. The aim of the exhibit is to encourage local Filipinos to turn their back on posh, expensive weekend breaks in favour of hitching on the backpack for a real travel adventure! For more info visit: www.wearesolesisters.com
Angkor Art Explo
Cambodia 29th October - 19th November Angkor Art Explo is a 3-part, 3-week Cambodian contemporary arts festival launching October 29th with a free public party in Battambang, then setting off on a 175km ‘Art-Cycle’ culminating in a week of festivities around the tourist hub of Siem Reap, where there will be a finale party on 19th November. This ambitious project is the dream of local Cambodian artists and the vision of cofounders Loven Ramos and Jam Ramjattan and is the first festival of its kind in Cambodia’s recent history! A sure sign that Cambodia is becoming the new creative hot spot in South East Asia. Look out for more details and maps, to be released mid September! www.angkorartexplo.com
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Me & Khmu... Living with the hill tribes of Northern Laos By Karen Vegar
The Khmu village emerged from the lush, green, vegetation of the wild Laotian jungle. Once before I had been lucky enough to visit a Khmu village an hour outside of Luang Prabang, in northern Laos, but actually sleeping in the depths of the jungle would be different. As we passed through the sticky rice paddies on the outskirts of the village, the midway point on a trek from Hongsa to the Khmu village of Gang En on the Mekong, I wondered what the villagers would make of my travelling companion and I, two pale, sweaty, slightly bewildered looking ‘farang’ (foreigners). Where would we be sleeping? Would the village have electricity, running water and access to other supposed high achievements of civilisation, such as television? Our entrance was the focus of much excited attention from children peeping out of the bamboo huts on stilts. Electricity wires were strung between residences crowned by corrugated iron and thatching. I noticed a number of satellite dishes turned up to the sky like strange jungle flowers. “Where are we staying?” I asked Saeng, our charming, spiky haired guide, who was from the Hmong hill tribe. “In the chief’s house!” He replied. That sounded promising. While the locals busied themselves with their daily afternoon activities, Roz (my travel companion) and I decided to play chess outside the chief’s two-storey house surrounded by foraging chickens, ducks, cows and spotted pigs. The moment the Mahouts, the elephant riders, saw the chess pieces of our small travel board, they scurried over and appeared to comment excitedly upon the unfolding game. Saeng explained that the Lao people played a similar game, but different as their pieces could not move backward. As dinnertime approached, Saeng pointed out the open-air tap that was the bathhouse. Watching a young woman in a sarong clean teeth whiter than mine with a squeezy tube of Colgate toothpaste at the tap, we realized there was a simple solution to bathing in public: sarongs. Lacking sarongs, we washed dirt and dust plastered to skin through our clothes while the children no doubt marveled at our oversight.
The Mahouts unload the elephants as we arrive at Gang En village
Dinner was a communal affair on the ground floor of the chief’s house, sitting cross-legged around low circular tables, baskets of the ubiquitous sticky rice close to hand. Sticky rice was dipped into sauces and dishes of fish, vegetable and beef stew prepared by the wife of the Mahout chief. Roz and I received plates, spoons and forks, apparently the “special needs utensils” kept only for foreigners. We still hadn’t met the chief. Tired after the day’s trek (although we had spent most of that time being carried by the elephants), we turned in early to our bedrolls, swaddled in mosquito nets and located on the first floor. The village chief and his wife slept in a curtained off area of that floor. I tried to sleep, but it was Saturday night and the commotion of a party blew up and in through the opening in the floor: chatter, laughter, television and lao-lao (local rice-whiskey) drinking, beloved spirit of the nation. All that aside, I soon dropped off to sleep like a stone into a well... I was woken by roosters. I remembered stumbling down the ladder last night in search of the bathroom and walking through ghostly, mosquito netted bedrolls. That pale sea of sleeping beauties had been long packed up and it seemed the entire village was wide-awake. For breakfast we ate sticky rice, fried egg and bread rolls on the grass outside the chief’s residence, and I asked Saeng about last night. “Uh it was a late night for me.” Faint shadows marked his eyes. I had my suspicions and asked “Were you on the lao-lao?” “No! The Mahouts insisted that I drink with them.” He sighed. Now I knew what happened in villages in the mountains of northern Laos on a Saturday night. They partied as hard as the tourists did in Vieng Vang or Bangkok! I asked Saeng about the chief. Was the position hereditary? The villagers elect him for one year, Saeng explained. They try to select the smartest, most capable guy. I learnt that once chosen, the chief can be elected again and again, until they get sick of solving other people’s problems and stand down. We waited for the Mahouts to bring our elephants out of the jungle where they had spent the night. The lively children were clustered around the chief’s television, watching a Japanese sci-fi action show. S.E.A Backpacker
“What happens when someone wants to leave the village?” I asked Saeng. “Where do they go?” “It’s very expensive for them to leave. They would have to sell everything they owned, their pig or cow, to buy land on which to build a house. What would they do then? They already have everything they need here.” It made sense. The apparent simplicity and focus of this life was seductive, I was already hooked having stayed only one night. We waved goodbye and headed off on our elephants that made us feel like we were stood at the top of a tower, or striding on stilts. The Mahouts charted a path along the spines of hills furred with secondary forest, passing solitary Khmu huts perched on cleared slopes, then following a stream that sliced through the forest and rice paddies. When our trekking party left the stream, we were almost at Gang En otherwise known as “Rapids Village”, a Khmu village on the Mekong and the site of our second home-stay. This village appeared larger and richer than last night’s home-stay. We were staying in the village chief’s house and our appearance, with the Mahouts and elephants, drew children out of doorways and onto steps. Shelves of sweets, cigarettes, food packets and other necessities, which I later realized were for sale, lined one wall of the chief’s house. “A baci ceremony is being held tonight in our honour,” Saeng said. “They believe that the spirits can sometimes get stuck in the mountains and forest and it’s important that they get reunited with our souls. The shaman will be there.” I was excited and slightly intimidated to hear that this special ceremony was being held in our honour. “They’ll be killing a chicken for the dinner!” Saeng added, hungrily. As evening descended over the village and hydro-generated power blazed through light bulbs, Roz and I once again tried to wash through our clothes at a public tap. The youngest Mahout had dressed for the party in an ice cream pink shirt and faux-Evisu jeans. I felt ashamedly underdressed, in the same sweaty shirt and shorts and had perhaps gone a little over the top as I slathered on mosquito repellent in preparation for the armies of the night. At least Roz had changed into clean clothes. We gathered with the chief, his wife and other village elders in the front room of the chief’s house. Sweet crisps, fish soup, beef stew and sticky rice were laid out in bowls. The centrepiece of the arrangement was a silver tiered tray with yellow jungle flowers scooped up in banana leaf cones. After dinner, everyone placed their left hand on the edge of the silver, circular tray and the shaman’s voice swelled into a part chant, part song hoisted by everyone in the room. The diners rose and individually tied cotton string around the left wrists of Saeng, Roz and I. It was time to eat the chicken that had been slaughtered specially for us, for the baci feast. As I was nibbling my chicken breast, a commotion erupted to my right. The village elders sprang to their feet. A female elder stamped the floor forcefully. “What was that?!” I asked Saeng. “A scorpion. Don’t worry, she killed it.” “With her bare foot!” I exclaimed, both through shock and horror. Once this commotion had died down, there was something else we had to try: the lao-lao awaiting us menacingly on the front porch! Of course it would
Satellite dishes outside huts like strange jungle flowers.
Kids look on suspiciously as we arrive at Gang En village on the banks of the Mekong.
have been rude to say “no.” A young woman progressively poured a cup of water into a giant jug of lao-lao while we sipped it through straws sprouting like stalks from the dark brew. It was sweet and surprisingly there was no bite, no rough texture. “You have to keep drinking until all of the water is gone!” Saeng instructed. “From the bucket?!” I gasped, as I sucked on my straw. “The cup,” he said to my relief, although it was a big cup. “I think the water flushes the lao lao out from the bottom,” Roz said. I was relieved when the cup was finally empty. When I wandered away, breathless and slightly dazed, Saeng was dutifully taking his turn at the straw, the young woman ladling more cups of water into the deep urn. A combination of the heat and undoubtedly the Lao-Lao, I crashed out quickly in my mosquito-netted palace, despite the threat of tiny black party-crashers – scorpions! The village was bustling with activity when I rose after dawn. Saeng was already up and sipping a steaming cup of tea. “Did you have a good night?” he asked. “Not too much lao lao?” “Nearly!” I laughed. He grinned. This morning we would depart from the village on that sinuous, liquid serpent of the Mekong. My short glimpse of life in the Khmu villages seemed both alluringly simple and yet full of challenges to overcome. It was shorn of the materialism, disorientating pace and frenetic multi-tasking of Western urban life. In exchange, life on land burned and cleared for rice seemed to demand a backbreaking commitment to planting, growing, cultivation and selling, but the people remain cheery and kind-hearted at all times. I was sad to be leaving the village, so unlike any place I had visited before. SEA MAG AD SEPT - OCT 2.pdf 11/08/11 3:04 PM When not planning her escape from the legal 1profession, Karen Vegar can be found drinking fine vodka, writing and traveling, sometimes all at once!
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Something to keep you busy on all those long bus journeys! Answers on page 58.
1. Marine crustacean 4. Nun 9. Show approval 10. Type of architecture 11. Thought 12. Parcels 13. Bed 14. Alone 16. Meshes 18. Animal doctor 20. Late 21. Musical symbol 24. Wading bird 25. Era 26. Rated 27. Fashion
(5) (6) (7) (5) (4) (7) (3) (4) (4) (3) (7) (4) (5) (7) (6) (5)
1. Calm 2. Fruit 3. Tidy 5. Improper 6. Flood 7. Alcove 8. Able 13. Concentrate 15. Inundate 17. Parent 18. Great vitality 19. Insult 22. Depart 23. Bind
(6) (5) (4) (8) (7) (6) (5) (8) (7) (6) (5) (6) (5) (4)
Each row, column and box must contain each of the numbers 1-9.
3 9 2 8 3 4 2 3 2 4 3 8 7 6 6 6 9 5 3 1 2 5 7 7 6 4 3 2 1 Question Some people in Malaysia wash their babies in what to protect them from diseases? a) Milk
b) Chicken Curry
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B off the beaten track: DIA O B M A C , G N KOH RO
Photos by Adam Hargreaves
ise? d a r a P g n i d a Af
If you were to ask the average person to describe their perception of paradise, there is a fair probability that the description might include words like “palm tree”, “deserted”, “white beaches” and “clear waters”. I’m unsure why this perception of paradise resonates with so many, it could be pop culture’s constant reminders, or maybe just human instinct to have a beautiful part of the earth all of their own. Unfortunately, this desire for paradise has meant that such an offering is increasingly rare, that is, to find a paradise untouched or in most cases undeveloped. With the Pacific Ocean boasting well over 40 thousand tropical islands, this is generally a good starting point for most island paradise seekers, but in recent times the quintessential idea of paradise has been found in the most unlikely of places, in this case, Cambodia.Being a country that boasts only 443 kilometres of coastline, you wouldn’t expect it to be the proud owner of over 60 tropical islands, but this archiapelago is the latest attraction for South East Asia’s singlet and board short clad island hoppers, but things here are changing. Fast.
The South Coast of Koh Rong I’m on a 20-foot long retired fishing boat with a handful of other paradise finding hopefuls, on our two hour journey from the small stretch of Cambodia’s only coastline out to a large island named Koh Rong in the Gulf of Thailand. I’m unsure what to expect when my little wooden boat washes up on the beach, I’ve seen some nice photos of the resort, but that’s hardly trustworthy and I haven’t met anyone who can vouch for Koh Rong. I peer up from my novel when the sea spray divides my attention and realise that the southern coastline of the island is now in clear view. My field of vision can only take in a small section of its 78 square kilometres, but what I notice immediately is the lack of buildings. To my elated surprise this place actually is undeveloped. In fact the only sign the island is inhabited is the thirty or forty small shacks hidden by the dense jungle, a small section of which that has been scarred by light forestry, presumably to provide building materials for said shacks. I’m told that this is the only real settlement on the island and its where our accommodation is located.
We step off the boat onto the rickety wooden jetty with every fourth plank broken or missing, and after a little hopscotch we land heavily on the sand. I feel like a turtle with an oversized shell as I trudge up barefoot on Koh Rong’s main street, also known as the beach. We follow the high tide line marked by flotsom and jetsom of driftwood and broken fishing tackle. We wander along the southern beach until we find our pre-booked accommodation in the form of a small bungalow.
The true meaning of “beachfront” There is a handful of different accommodation scattered across Koh Rong, three of which are in close proximity, one of those being Monkey Island. Monkey Island provides basic and clean bungalows for $15 a night, complete with a small deck, a few hours of electric lighting a night, a hammock, table and chairs and the best view a castaway could hope for: we’re right on the beach and for once, the photos do the product justice. After settling in and having a feed, my first task was to explore the island and get an idea of how large it actually was. We were informed of a 45 minute walk along a small trail that led to an eight kilometre long beach on the western coast of the island where there were small bungalows at either end. So in hope of finding the western coast, we set off into the jungle.
Our wander through the jungle After veering off track for an hours walk through dense undergrowth, we found the rocky promontory of the west coast, where a small fishing boat was casting nets and a few guests were snorkelling among the rocky pools. We passed the occasional bungalow and met a few other travellers, who informed us we’d arrived at the Finnish owned and operated Broken Heart Guest House, which sported a handful of small huts and a restaurant tucked into the corner of a long white beach. Broken Heart is even more basic than ours with no electricity at all and only gas lanterns at night. Its location however, was nothing short of immaculate. Being sheltered from the southerly wind and waves, we sat quietly on the beach and watched a small freshwater stream quietly making its trickling contribution to the ocean. That night we ate dinner in a neighbouring restaurant, pondering the night-time vista, through the jungle and out towards the ocean. We slouched on triangular cushions on the hardwood floor above the jungle and listened to the sounds that enfolded us. We drank a handful of beers and played card games with our new friends from the beach and heard ominous rumours about the island’s future. Even with the cool ocean breeze and the relief that night-time gave, there was still a fierce tropical heat. On the way back to our bungalow the water offered some solace from the temperature that was too good to resist, so we indulged in a night-time swim. I was only waist deep when I noticed the sparkle in the water around my feet and my hands. Whenever and wherever I moved the water glowed in bright blue sparkles that dissolved in a few seconds. I watched Dani, my travel companion, splash about and noticed the same glow that surrounded me; it was as if we were swimming in a sea of fire flies. This phosphorescent phenomenon we were experiencing of course, was phytoplankton. I’d always hoped to experience this natural wonder, contact with one of the oldest and most crucial forms of life on earth. It was one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received from Mother Nature and something I’ll not soon forget.
One of many amazing sunsets From our second day on Koh Rong, time seemed to warp into another dimension without dates, clocks or any intervention from the outside world. There was no phone reception, no internet, no newspapers or television. Osama Bin Laden could have been found and killed and we would never have known. (Note from editor: haven’t you heard!?) For one all-too-brief week, our world consisted of the island alone. Seven days passed me by in a sun-drenched haze of blue ocean, white sand and dense jungle. Our only connection to the outside world was the small boat we rode in on, which arrived every day with fresh supplies of water, beer and other less useful commodities. We spent our days slouching in a hammock, reading books on the beach, snorkelling, spear fishing, indulging in the local cuisine and beach combing till our hearts were content. It was in every sense, paradise.
Nothing short of Paradise One particularly lazy evening we met with the owner of the ‘Paradise Bungalows’. He spoke about the brief history of Koh Rong’s settlement and how the surrounding bungalows had come about. Sometime after the
collapse of the Khmer Rouge in 1978, fisherman settled on the south coast of Koh Rong and built the small shacks for their families that exist to this day. They’ve been living there incognito and somewhat illegally for at least fifteen years until tourism began to evolve in its earliest form. Tourism to the island in large numbers is relatively new, with Monkey Island itself being only four months old and neighbouring Paradise Bungalows operating for only fourteen months. It seems their success will be relatively short lived. We learned from the permanent residents and employees that there are plans to subdivide and “environmentally develop” the island. Koh Rong is now being hailed as the centre of the next ‘Asian Riviera’ and will follow in the footsteps of the “success” of destinations like Bali, Phuket and Koh Samui. Plans for this rare island paradise include roads, three golf courses, airports and inevitably a hefty power source. Although the development has been labelled “eco-development” I can’t imagine it being Asia’s answer to Cape Verde!
In a few years its bye bye bungalows! So unfortunately, the traveller’s paradise that has been built and maintained here for only just more than a year will soon reach its collapse. Sometime within the next five years, when the infrastructure is ready, the small bungalow businesses must relent to the new lease agreement and the land will be auctioned off to international investors. Meanwhile the local residents, who have fished the surrounding waters and rebuilt their lives from the shadow of the Khmer Rouge’s collapse, will be relocated to nearby Sihanoukville, or possibly be offered work and residence in new resorts.
Rush Hour on Koh Rong’s main street... As I stare back at that same stretch of coastline as our old fishing boat labours away from the heaven that is Koh Rong, I’m fearful of what I would see if I should ever return here. The tiny bungalows that fade away into the distance will be replaced with pricey resorts and the smiling faces of the locals enjoying the good life will have disappeared forever. Despite the impending demise of Koh Rong, everyone on the island seems to be happy that they’re experiencing Koh Rong in her prime, before the growth of mass tourism creeps over the ocean and creates tangible borders between the travellers and the trees. But for the locals, who are without rights of ownership or a voice to be heard, the impending future is a much more crude and inevitable reality. It seems that western culture’s unquenchable thirst for a slice of island paradise has meant that yet another atoll utopia will succumb to the fate of Samui or Phuket. It also seems that developers have learnt only one thing from the life spans of zionic destinations: that the picturesque idea of unspoiled paradise won’t make them rich, but developing the islands into a comfortable resemblance of western comfort meets beach probably will. Thanks to such development, the small islands of our earth with enough resources and land to support life are in dwindling supply and with destinations like Cambodia in the development pipeline, the future availability of our quintessential idea of paradise looks bleak. All I can say is hurry, come out here and enjoy it while you still can!
Chase left his comfortable existence where it belonged in Australia and abruptly eloped with his girlfriend to travel the northern hemisphere and write about his experiences. Chase has a bachelor of tourism and sustainability from the University of Tasmania. His most memorable experiences have been in the outdoors, fueling inspiration for a collection of online articles which make up his blog ‘Before You’re Too Old”. Read more by Chase at: www.beforeyouretooold.wordpress.com
YOUR CAMBODIAN ADVENTURE CONTINUED... Siem Reap: Home to the famous Angkor Wat Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this riverside town is a fantastic place for backpackers to soak up their first taste of Cambodia. Heralded as the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’, Angkor Wat is often said to be the most magnificent piece of architecture ever made by man. Catch a 5am sunrise at the main temple, then explore the many faces of the awe-inspiring Bayon by foot, before grabbing a traditional Amok Curry for dinner and in the evening heading to the lively Pub Street, where you’ll find the famous ‘Angkor What? Bar.’ Here you can get yourself a bucket and a free t-shirt... giving you one more day to put off doing your laundry!
Phnom Penh: Claiming the title of capital of Cambodia, this bustling Asian city lies on the edge of the Mekong. Arrive here by slow boat from Siem Reap but don’t forget your sunscreen as there’s little shade to be found! It’s not an easy to place to adjust to, with traffic similar to Ho Chi Minh darting back and forth carrying saffronrobed monks, branches of coconuts and people aplenty. The French colonial style architecture is undeniably beautiful and markets line the roads selling everything from mangosteens to knockoff Levi’s. Visit the stunning Royal Palace, dating back to 1866, also the home of the impressive Silver Pagoda. Steeped in history, Phnom Penh was where over 18,000 Cambodians were executed
Wendy House Grande Ville Hotel Bangkok Siam Guest House Pannee house New Joe Guesthouse New World City Vieng tai Hotel
www.wendyguesthouse.com www.grandevillehotel.com www.newsiam.net www.panneehouse.com www.newjoe.com www.newworldlodge.com www.viengtai.co.th
by the Khmer Rouge over forty years ago. Tourists can visit the S-21 Genocide Museum, an old school-turned prison where thousands were held and tortured and the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek, where the actual murders took place. For visitors, it is certainly important to be aware of the very recent, tragic past of this beautiful country and understand its friendly, fun-loving people.
Sihanoukville: Party central of Cambodia, Sihanoukville and it’s white sandy beaches could almost be mistaken for the Southern Thai islands, just less developed. No surprise, as its home to the largest factory of Angkor Beer, Cambodia’s national drink! Digs here are dirt cheap.
Kampot and Kep: Kampot was once Cambodia’s main port until Sihanoukville took over in the ‘50’s. Visitors to this sleepy, charming town will experience spectacular views of the Kampot river and Bokor National Park. Nowadays, Kampot is famous for its pepper plantations. Just a short drive away you can visit the seaside town of Kep, a former retreat of the French colonials and the rich Cambodian elite. The town is popular amongst Phnom Penh weekenders who visit to enjoy the fresh crab for which the town is famous for.
Traveller thoughts, stories, tips B T STORY OF THE MONTH
FIRST & LAST TIME RIDER!
The first and last time I rode a motorbike was in Hoi An, in Vietnam. I wanted to give it a shot. I was sick of watching other people whiz passed me, wind in their hair, smug expression on their face; such effortless cool. I always ride a pushy at home, so how different could it be? A little motor and a little grunt, but all it takes is a simple twist, a kick and you’re off and rolling. Besides, kids who look like they’re barely out of nappies could do it, so if I didn’t at least give it a go, I’d be a pansy who would live to regret it. In hindsight, I’d certainly been feeling a little over-confident at the time. Oh yes, I had the traveller state of mind: adventurous, brave and unstoppable. And soon I would be flying through the old town, looking all sexy, edgy and slightly dangerous. The streets of Hoi An appeared perfect for a novice rider; wide, not too chaotic and only mildly-potholed. I struck up a conversation with a guy on the street, Duc and asked him if he could lend me a bike and show me the ropes. Before you could say “my-crappy-insurance-policy-probably-won’t-cover-this”, Duc had whipped out his phone, made one brief call and his sister, Linh, was shooting down the street on her little red moto, grinning from ear to ear in the knowledge that she was about to profit nicely from a clueless, rookie foreigner. “Lay-dee, very easy, baby can do!” said my new friend. Just as I thought. But the problem was that I was about six days behind on sleep, severely hungover and I had the shakes. It took me about seventeen attempts just to start the bloody thing. “No! Wrong, you watch. Don’t touch!” he smacked my hand away on the eighteenth try. By the time I had finally mastered it, I reeled in shock and delight as the bike puttered to life and we began crawling along at about 2.5 kilometers an hour. I was making it move! Still, I had Duc hovering nervously on the back of the bike and I’d probably need to ride at least another 2.5km’s faster before I achieved sexiness, but I was rolling. We cruised around the streets for a while, just so I could get the hang of it. Duc would give me basic instructions “slow, Kiiiiim… slow”, his voice becoming steadily more frantic as I grew a little over-confident: “SLOW I SAY!”. Clearly I wasn’t quite up to riding solo yet. The poor sod, his nerves must have been in shreds. But so were mine. My palms were a sweaty mess and I had to refrain from letting out a torrent of C and F words every time another rider would cut infront of me, or heaven forbid, ride toward me in my lane in order to pull over. There were almost no rules of the road, I soon realised. You just ride along in organised chaos and in my case, pray that a decent hospital is not too far away. Duc continued to instruct me with hand signals that I found irritating, as I am not your typical multi-tasking wonder-woman and have trouble focusing on more than one thing at a time (in this case, riding and being shown how to do so). After about forty minutes, Duc decided I was ready to go it alone. Either that, or he felt he had too much to live for! “You go round now, you go slow. No rush. You bring back at four.” He indicated towards the bike. I nodded, grinning like a Cheshire cat. I was keen to get moving and cement my new status as a biker babe and as lovely as he was, Duc was kind of holding me back.
I rode off, feeling light and airy without the weight of a man on the seat behind me. Wind in my hair, the warm afternoon sun hitting my shoulders… then gravel rash and a painful burning sensation on my leg. I’d stacked. I’d managed about 100 metres alone, before I had hit a steep overlay of concrete and was sent flying off the bike. I could hear Duc and Linh tearing down the street to my aid. “I say SLOW!” Duc scolded. I pulled myself up to assess the damage. Not much doing, just a cut toe, a graze on my shin and one across my palm. Linh was already off like a rocket, shouting angrily in Vietnamese. Oh no, what had I done to her bike? It turns out that that was the least of her worries, as the shouting was out of concern for me! She’d said something about band-aids, tissues and a certain stupid Western girl. I probably deserved that part. They ushered me off the road and seated me on a plastic milk crate. My head was spinning. Other tourists stared and I could read their thoughts: “There you were, thinking you were so cool… loser.” Never-mind, damage control was in order. What would I owe for sliding her bike across the unforgiving tarmac? It turned out it was just a few scratches, nothing a bit of paint couldn’t conceal. I handed Linh about $25 and she looked apologetic as she kindly unwrapped a bandage for my bloodied toe. Duc and Linh ended up inviting me to eat lunch with them at their home while I caught my breath and calmed my mind. It was lovely and as I sat there with a steaming hot bowl of noodle soup, I swore off motorbikes. Well, at least while hung-over and dead-tired. Since then I’ve gone back to the humble pushy. I’ve had some of the most amazing, ridiculously fun adventures with a bit of good ol’ fashioned pedal power. And I’m fitter for it too. Sure, you’ll travel at a slower pace, the cool-factor is kind of lacking and while you’ll have the wind in your hair, you’ll also be a sweaty, red-faced, panting mess (if hills are en route). But, on the positive side, locals will wave you down for a chat, you’ll take in more scenery and it feels far more rewarding when you reach a far-flung destination, knowing that you pushed and pedaled the whole way there, instead of relying on a tank of gasoline.
travel writers: t Asia Calling all buddinbygtrav Eas ellers passing through South
By Kimberley Church
is written eriences and viewpoints S.E.A Backpacker Magazine fresh new writers with new exp e hav to aim right now. It’s our contributing every month. to hear from you. travel writing, we would love of t spo a at d han r you cy you like to So if you fan ews or any random scribbling any articles, stories, book revi d sen se Plea r.com info@southeastasiabackpacke with articles you submit. If possible try to include photos y with news of whether your awa We’ll get back to you right next issue. words will be appearing in the Happy Travelling! Thanks for your support and
by Darby O’Connell If she seems too good to be true… she probably is.
Darby is a backpacker for life and is out constantly making these same, shameful mistakes, so you don’t have to. When he’s not dodging lady boys or taking Muay Thai kicks to the sternum, Darby is out hijacking tuk tuks and accidentally brushing foreheads, which we all know is the worst thing you can do to a Thai person. You can read more about his adventures at: http://darbyshawx.wordpress.com/
The darkness is her personal servant and she will use it as a weapon against you. Plus, can you really trust your vision in a dark club when you’ve had four buckets of vodka redbull? I know I can’t. Therefore, I ask of thee: get some light on her face! Invite her to be in a photo with you. If she’s against it, SKEPTICISM. Give her a cigarette and then offer to light it, but keep missing the cigarette because you are really combing her face for masculine properties. Or just carry a giant flashlight around with you like I do. Hand and foot size. Voice. This one seems obvious, but sometimes you like to think ‘well maybe it’s just a cute girl with an unfortunate vocal situation’ and let her good looks sway you away from the fact that she sounds like the lead singer from the band “O Children” (You Tube O Children, Dead Disco Dancer for research). Immediately get skeptical when a girl has a voice deeper than you, unless your name is Alvin. And you are a chipmunk. The power of the question. Do not, I repeat, do not be afraid in times of doubt, to flat out ask your P.O.I. “Are you a lady boy?”. Everyone I have ever known to chat up a ladyboy, who came right out and asked, recieved a truthful answer. Ladyboys can’t lie. I mean, why would they? It is their life. They chose it and they’ve got nothing to hide, right? (Except that schlong tucked between their legs) Choice of night clubs. There are some clubs in Bangkok which are known hooker and ladyboy clubs. If you meet a girl there, ASSUME she is one of the two. And if you meet a girl who doesn’t fall into one of these categories, consider yourself lucky. Extremely lucky. But then again, it is you we’re talking about, so there’s probably something else wrong with her… (Oh come on! I’ve seen the ladies you bring home. Nothing to beat your chest about).
Backpacker Fit Finder! If you’ve seen this sticker on lamposts, in bars and on toilet doors in random places across South East Asia you’re probably wondering what the hell it means! Well we won’t keep you in suspense any longer, it’s a sign to tell YOU all about our fantastic new Backpacker Fit Finder! Check out our forum to see if YOU have been spotted by a hottie! Guys and gals, your backpacker love may well be out there w. a looking for you. Don’t let them slip fo iab away, check for your description on rum s a t s .southea the forum today!
OU ted? Y e ot Hav n sp bee
Shakira said it best with “hips don’t lie.” What do women do? Pop out babies. Thus, they need a solid set of hips to accommodate the baby popping. If you don’t see at least a slight curve of the hips, chances are she wasn’t ever meant to have babies in the first place! (*Austin Powers voice*) “That’s not your lover, it’s a man, baybee!”
Clothing choice is conspicuous. Inspect your suspect for anything that could hide a boy’s anatomical parts easily, like a LONG OPAQUE SKIRT, baggy pants, a sarong, one of those bear-hide carpets that rich people always have in the movies, a twister mat, a pizza box or something of that breadth.
Ladyboys are more aggressive than most women. They might brush by you erotically or stare into your eyes seductively and let’s face it, real women aren’t into those kind of machinations.
Ladyboys tend to roll solo. Ask who she is there with - nobody? “Just you and your penis I see?”
I NTERVIEW: Se Asia Faces & places
his month, we interviewed Tad Kincaid from Orphan Impact. Tad is the Founder and Director of Orphan Impact, Vietnam, an NGO that works with government run orphanages throughout the country to provide three hours of weekly computer lessons to children who otherwise live sheltered and isolated lives. When they first launched at an orphanage in Nam Dinh in March 2009, they had 10 Classmate PC’s, a few weeks of lesson plans, one part-time teacher and a desire to change the way Vietnamese orphan children prepared for their futures beyond the orphanage. Nearly 29 months later, Orphan Impact has 8 classrooms, 18 teachers, 80 Classmate PC’s and about 425 participating orphan children. However, Tad knows there is a lot more that matters than just statistics. His goal remains the same: to give orphan kids the chance to change their futures. Here we learn about the hopes, challenges and issues surrounding running an NGO in South East Asia...
Was Orphan Impact difficult to set up? Yes. Brainstorming a concept that I thought might actually make a positive, lasting impact in children’s lives – and one that I could envision facilitating – was extremely challenging. And I’m a lawyer by background, so I don’t have any formal education training, or IT training – making it even more challenging! Not to mention that Vietnam censors the Internet and is very cautious regarding education policy. However, like with all visions, they seem wildly impossible at first but with determination and passion we were able to set up on 27th March 2009.
What was your initial vision? Initially, I wanted to use the Internet to connect otherwise isolated orphan children to the world around them (and not necessarily email and chatting and music and videos!). Instead by teaching the value of computers as a tool for finding information, a tool for creating information, for storing and organizing information and a tool for communicating and sharing information. But most importantly, by connecting kids to the world around them, I wanted to inspire them to begin thinking and preparing for their lives beyond the orphanage.
What made you decide to leave the 9 to 5 lifestyle in the USA and embark upon a life working with NGO’s? I still have a “proper 9 to 5 job” as a lawyer for an American NGO working with orphans and orphan care projects. It’s through this work that I was inspired to create a program that I thought was missing in many NGO/Aid related projects around the world. In some ways, Orphan Impact is my version of a program I have been interested in seeing after the experiences I’ve gained from eight years of working for an NGO/nonprofit organisations in countries like Russia, Kazakhstan, China, Cambodia, Vietnam, Kenya, Honduras, Ukraine.
Why did you decide to work in Vietnam? I’m connected to Vietnam through adoption. When I was in my first year of university, my parents decided to adopt a baby girl from Vietnam. Then a couple of years later, they adopted again. And then a 3rd time! So I’m 33 and I have 3 sisters, all adopted from Vietnamese orphanages as infants, who are now 15, 12 and 10.
How many orphanages are you currently supporting? How many children does Orphan Impact reach? Currently eight orphanages, reaching 425 kids. Last year, we were in 14 for 850 kids, but it was too big. We weren’t quite for ready for that, so I made the decision to scale back this year and focus on eight orphanages while we improve our curriculum and teaching delivery and prepare ourselves for expansion again in the coming years.
What is an average week for you? I send about 40 SMS messages each day. With teachers spread out all across Vietnam, often my best way of staying connected is via SMS. We use Google Documents and Dropbox to easily stay connected so that I can monitor all lesson plans. Teachers have a deadline before class to upload lessons and powerpoints and I regularly review the lessons and offer comments. Every week, I try to visit one
class and meet with several teachers – which isn’t saying a lot, because our team is teaching 120 hours of classes each week across the country. I also stay connected with our donors and update Facebook and the website. Also, since I’m not a teacher, I regularly need to connect with teachers to stay fresh on modern methods of “tech in the classroom” and teaching styles and so on. I also have regular contact with Intel – our most significant corporate supporter (and they are truly fantastic).
With so many people out there to help... How do you select which Orphanages are the best candidates for your support? It’s not easy. There are 153 orphanages – and someday I hope we can be in all of them. I send out program brochures to orphanages, outlining our requirements and offering them a chance to complete the application and apply for our program. Basically, I put the responsibility on the orphanage. If they are willing to meet our requests, I am willing to consider teaching. For example, they have to provide a teaching space, a local assistant, a class list with names and ages, help with local government approval, and accept our condition that all computers are initially structured as a temporary loan for 6-months until they meet specific performance reviews, at which we would then consider donating the computers. (We don’t want to get into a situation where we donate computers and then they are never used).
What skills do you teach? Basic computer functions, mouse skills, folders, search, Microsoft Word, Internet browsers, email, Skype. We also try to teach or encourage skills such as: time management, critical thinking, creative thinking, group co-operation, presentations and speeches. The kids are always working on activities that may stretch for several weeks or months, or even the entire year.
How can the skills that you teach help the orphans in career opportunities? We want to leave the kids in a situation where they can ask and answer questions. These kids are isolated. They don’t have parents. They don’t have teachers that pay attention to them or help them to prepare for their futures. They don’t have mentors helping them to think about what comes next. So in a very small way, we want to begin helping them to take the steps in this direction. Of course, we can teach Microsoft Office skills that could help some kids to obtain jobs. But better yet, we could inspire some kids to want to pursue university, or take a course in graphic design or programming! One of the ways we do this is to help explain the “why” behind so much of what we discover on the web. News videos don’t just appear online. There is a cameraman, a reporter, an editor... Same with stories – there is a writer. On a basic day, we try to expose them to a multitude of jobs that are available. Perhaps one will be of interest to one student in the class and set them on a course that they wouldn’t otherwise have considered.
How well do the orphans respond to learning? They love it. From day one of this project, the kids have been engaged and responsive and excited to come to class and learn. Of course, we receive requests for playing games, chatting on messenger and listening to music – but when we tell them that isn’t part of this program and here’s what we’re going to do – they respond well. You should have seen the PowerPoint research project presentations these kids gave last year at the end of their 40-week project. Amazing! Totally made everything we do worth it. I know our teachers all agree.
Funding is obviously a huge issue when donating such expensive pieces of equipment. How do you manage? It’s a huge issue, yes. We have 80 classmate PC’s in use countrywide. Generally, this means 5-10 computers per orphanage (which means our teachers often have to teach the same class many times to get all the kids through the lesson – but it’s also good because it keeps classes small and learning high). The classmate PC costs about $400 – there are computers that are lower in price, but which are less optimal for this teaching environment. Ours are rugged, water resistant and super cool and the kids absolutely love them! Intel has donated 55 of the 80 units. I’ve purchased the other 35 through donations.
It must be hard work at times, what keeps you going? These kids have no one advocating for them. Truly. They receive food and shelter and medical attention – but there is not any preparation for what
comes next when they leave the orphanage at age 18. It breaks my heart to think of my sisters and realize that they could easily be in this situation (15 years old and nearing the time when they must leave the orphanage).
How far have you come since you began? Have you achieved the goals you set out to when Orphan Impact first began? Yes and no. I’m a guy who is all about statistics. So I wanted to be in 25 orphanages at this time (and we’re in 8). Part of the reason behind that is that my perspective changed – this whole program started because I believe that so much non-profit work is “all about the photo ops” and not so much about the long-term reality. I truly want this program to give kids the chance to re-direct their lives when it is time to leave the orphanage. And I’ll be the first to say that I don’t yet know if that will happen. In 2014 we’ll have 50 kids who have undergone 5 years of this program when they are turning age 18. That will be the chance to really gauge what we are accomplishing.
What are the long term goals of Orphan Impact? What do you hope to achieve? To me it would be pretty amazing for this program to be offered in all 153 orphanages in Vietnam – and to have a bunch of employers who are willing to interview and hire kids to fulfill certain criteria. This would totally change the culture in Vietnamese orphanages. Right now, almost zero even consider university or professional careers. It’s usually all labor-based positions.
How can backpackers be made more aware of the social problems underlying their tourist experience in Vietnam? Though every backpacker will see poverty on their trip, the underlying social issues still remain generally unseen. Read Half the Sky by Nick Kristof, it’s an absolutely amazing book. Volunteer with organizations – but not for a week – it needs to be 30 days at the minimum (and not with organizations that require payment. That’s ridiculous).
How can readers of S.E.A Backpacker get involved in helping Orphan Impact? (Volunteering / sponsorship / donations) I know money is tight when you are backpacking – but sponsoring a child can be a wonderful gift. $120 for the year allows us to provide the program. This is the true cost per child. And if you visit us, you can meet the child you’re sponsoring and experience a class firsthand. I’ll arrange it, personally. We do accept volunteers – but it’s on a case-by-case basis. We’re also in need of photographers willing to help us with promotional pictures and photo editing and teachers who are willing to help us with curriculum development and teacher training, not just teaching. For more information visit: www.orphanimpact.org And please join the Facebook page (Facebook.com/orphanimpact) to help get the word out and grow the community of supporters!
ARE YOU AN INTERESTING CHARACTER?
Got a story to tell? Your friends always saying you should write a book? Or do you just want to wax lyrical about the wonderful life you lead in South East Asia? If you would like to be considered for an interview with S.E.A Backpacker ‘Faces & Places’ - get in touch! Email: email@example.com S.E.A Backpacker
Food A fruit that screams ‘island paradise!’ conjuring images of swaying palms, white sands and sun-drenched days. We can only be talking about the coconut. The refreshing drink to cool you down on a hot Southeast Asian day, a tasty mid-afternoon snack squashed into a cake and grilled to perfection, a perfect base for a delicious curry, a moreish sweet candy in Vietnam, an improvised Hawaiian-style bra when you’ve run out of clean underwear, a mighty fine fuel for a fire, a tongue-tingling scoop of icy goodness whilst wandering the sweaty night markets, a beautiful material for intricate carvings, an oily but tasty smelling backpacker tan accelerator, or even a deadly weapon… Far from its lonely role on the coconut shies of England, in Southeast Asia the coconut is a thing of many uses! As a sun-loving tree, the coconut palm can be found all over the south tropics producing fruit a-plenty. The coconut was originally called “coco” by early Spanish explorers, translating as “monkey face”. The fruit forms in three layers; the outer thick green layer, the inner hairy brown layer (which is how they’re sold in the less tropical places) and the inner fleshy white layer, which is often called the meat. Inside, the centre is hollow and filled with coconut water (very different from coconut milk which has to be made by mixing the flesh with water). When the coconuts are young, this water is a fantastically refreshing drink, said to be more hydrating than good old H2O! Though the palm tree, often growing on the edges of white sandy beaches in paradise, may at first glance also seem to provide the perfect amount of dappled shade – take cover with care! A coconut, which can grow to 1.5 kilograms, will leave quite a bump on the head when falling from up to 100 foot high! Rumour has it that you’re more likely to get killed by a falling coconut than a shark. Not surprising in the monsoon season. Growing up to 100-foot tall (that’s two and a bit double decker buses!) collecting coconuts before they fall naturally is a challenge. By the time they do fall, the coconut flesh is hard and the water inside is sour, reducing the coconut’s versatility. In some parts of Thailand and Malaysia, trained macaques are sent up trees to harvest coconuts! In other parts, grooves are cut into the trunk of the palm, which is then scaled by an incredibly brave volunteer…
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NG I Z A M A 10 ts... c a F t u n Coco
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During World War 2 coconut water was used to replace blood platelet transfusions when supplies were running low and soldiers were injured. Coconut water is nearly identical to human blood! Coconut water has a higher concentration of electrolytes than anything else found in nature. It’s Earths own Gatorade! The Asian-Pacific region produces 90% of the world’s coconuts. Around ten million families make their entire income from growing coconuts, eight million of those families are here in Asia. People who grow coconuts for a living make on average $200 U.S. in an entire year. The coconut palm is one of the oldest trees on the planet and has existed since the age of the dinosaurs. The coconut is a fruit, a nut AND a seed. But botanically speaking it is a ‘fibrous one-seeded drupe’. Coconuts are grown as far north as Hawaii and as far south as Madagascar.
More than 20 million coconuts are harvested every year! The Philippines is the largest exporter of coconuts in the world.
Natural coconut oil is extremely high in antioxidants and lauric acid, a major component of human breast milk. The health benefits are unbelievable; it can promote weight loss, improve skin texture, boost the immune system, control diabetes and treat bacterial, fungal and viral infections - even AIDS!
. .. D R A C T S O TH OF the P
The sound of weary footsteps striding up your pathway, the feeling of anticipation as your letterbox lid creaks open and that moment that seems to last for eternity as the postman struggles to push your bundle of post through that tiny opening. For some reason, the feeling that comes with receiving post from afar simply cannot be beaten. Sadly though, it has become a rare sensation these days, with the dramatic rise of social media. Long gone are the days when an ink quill, a scroll and an owl (or perhaps a stamp and some help from the Postal Service) were all it took to pour out your deepest most heartfelt feelings and get them to your person of choice. Why bother, when these days a short text, a quick Facebook comment, a simple email or a post on your blog can do it with far less effort expelled and in much less time? No longer do we need to send a letter or a postcard from our travels, such archaic means of communication have been rapidly and almost entirely erased. To me, this seems tragic. When I was living and working far from home, there was nothing that could beat opening up an airmail full of news from my tiny English village in the heart of the countryside. Despite the fact that little had ever changed, the idea of my Mum sat at the kitchen table, Radio 4 on in the background, scribbling away to me, was a home comfort in itself. Ok, she didn’t quite manage to conjure the taste of Heinz baked beans into my mouth or fill my nostrils with the scent of the neighbouring farmyard, but it did bring me that little bit closer to home. As did the letter from an old friend, inside which was slipped a PG Tips tea bag. What a treat! So when I returned to Southeast Asia for my second round of travelling, I came armed with an authentic Polaroid camera (snapped up from a charity shop for the bargain price of £2) and a bag full of film. Surrendering my Facebook password to a friend and banning myself from the internet, I set about finding the most weird and wonderful snapshots of Siam to send home, complete with scribbled addresses and foreign stamps a plenty. More personal than a postcard and a heap more fun to create, my friends began to fight over who was next on the list to receive one of these little squares of Southeast Asian love. And I loved to send them! However, after two months detox from the Internet, the need to catch up on my friends love lives, night lives and day-to-day doings overwhelmed me and I managed to hack my way on. Surprise, surprise, I hadn’t been left in the last century and I had not become a total technophobe. My Facebook skills came back like riding a bike, despite the site having had a mini-facelift and a nip and tuck here and there. Twitter was just as easy. While my email inbox was so crammed with spam from my freebie-seeking student days that I simply gave up and started afresh. If anything, my time away had made me realise that perhaps the simple life without these technological complications was one I had begun to relish. Spending less time on the
Internet and more time on the road encouraged me to get out more, make real (not cyber) friends and enjoy my adventure without spending heaps of time reminiscing about what I was (or wasn’t!) missing. Now I realise that we all like to keep a record of our round the world travels and with internet being so easy to find, blogs can provide that perfect opportunity. But the problem comes when that blog takes over and updating daily becomes an addiction that you simply can’t function without. Who honestly wants to spend their precious time and money in a stuffy Internet café? By all means, write a blog… but why not just keep a diary crammed full of memories, innate scribblings from overnight buses and torn tickets from every site, every journey and every guesthouse? Then turn that scrapbook into a blog when you finally (if ever!) return home. What a great excuse to extend the experience by reliving the memories! So my advice? Write blogs with caution and use social media in just the most useful and necessary ways. To keep in contact with those fellow travellers you bonded with on the slow boat to Laos, to share photographs of bucket-fuelled antics on Koh Phangan or to make your friends stuck at home so jealous that they hop on a flight and join you… but remember, you are on the adventure of a lifetime! Make the bloody most of it… and send a postcard or two along the way! Trust me, it will be appreciated. By Laura Davies
THAI ELEPHANT HOME
Sustainability with a purpose Get to know elephants in an eco-friendly, beautiful environment just half an hour from Chiang Mai. Become part of our special family at Thai Elephant Home: • Learn how to ride & command an elephant like a mahout • Feed & learn how to take care of your elephant • Bathe with your elephant in the black mud spa! • Plant trees & contribute to our reforestation project
• Free foot spa after your trek!
Our home is more than just a tourist attraction. It’s a safe haven for elephants and an entire project dedicated to sustainability of the environment. Our profits are re-invested in reforestation projects in the local area, teaching school children about the environment and restoring land degraded by tourism & development. We pride ourselves in being the most eco-friendly elephant home in Thailand!
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Hangin’ with the “men of the forest”: Orangutans in Borneo, Malaysia Deep in the heart of the Borneo Rainforest lies a sanctuary for our closest ancestors and one of the most intelligent primates… the orangutan. In recent years, the lives of these incredible creatures have been put in grave danger. There are now only two surviving species and both are endangered. At the Heart2Heart Orangutan program in Sarawak, Malaysia, you can play a part in their protection. The name orangutan actually stems from the Malaysian words ‘orang’ and ‘hutan’, which translates as ‘man of the forest’. Without the help of programs such as the Heart2Heart Orangutan program, these men of the forests may soon be extinct.
The Matang Wildlife Centre
All photos in this article courtesy of Sarawak Forestry Corporation.
At the first station, the Matang Wildlife Centre which is fondly known as the ‘kindergarten’, the young orangutans are taught the most basic skills of survival. The next centre, the Semenggoh Wildlife Centre is the ‘high school’ at which there are no fences or cages. It is the middle of the orangutan kingdom and visitors will find themselves up close and personal with mans closest relation, often standing just a few feet away from these playful creatures. Volunteers need to be prepared to get down and dirty, as they will be involved in cage cleaning,
food preparation and maintenance of all the facilities, amongst many other jobs! You will be taught by the experts about the challenges involved in rehabilitating orangutans and also of the related works of the centre. It is crucial that awareness is raised concerning these near-extinct primates, so that people realise the importance of conserving the orangutans and their environment.
Semenggoh Wildlife Centre’s 3 main aims:
1. To rehabilitate wild animals who have been injured, orphaned or kept illegally as pets. 2. To conduct research on wildlife and captive breeding programs in order to bring them back from the verge of extinction. 3. To educate the general public and raise awareness of these animals’ fragile state and the importance of conservation. In the thirty-six years that they’ve been open, the Centre has cared for nearly 1,000 endangered animals with a great success rate. But their greatest triumph is with the Orangutans, gaining the Centre worldwide recognition for releasing records numbers of the animal back into the wild.
Worth a visit - The Botanical Research Centre
Also to be found here is the Botanical Research Centre (BRC), with a huge number of rare plants, wild fruit orchards and ferns ready to be explored by foot. Be sure to check out the ‘plank walk’, a thirty-minute easy trek through stunning scenery and fantastic flora and fauna… Whether you are a visitor or a volunteer, a trip to Heart2Heart is certainly a once in a lifetime experience. Even if it sounds a little hard work looking after these men of the forest, it’s all worth it, as you’ll gain the unbeatable 0088 ) 082 61 Tel: (+6 wakforestry.com sense of achievement and the knowledge ra m www.sa wakforestry.co that you have been part of helping these e fo@sara Wildlife Centr in species to survive. You also get to ‘hang goh Semeng 82 618423 out’ with these cheeky chaps in the jungle )0 Tel: (+6 day-on-day… an incredible reward in itself!
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In fact, they’ve done so well that the forest has now exceeded its carrying capacity and orangutans have to be transferred and released nearer to Matang Wildlife Centre, in order to avoid overcrowding!
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The Role of Semenggoh
Over the years, the role of Semenggoh has evolved and changed. Nowadays it is a centre for the study of orangutan biology and behaviour, as well as a safe haven for dozens of semi-wild ‘graduates’. It is also home to numerous baby orangutans born in the wild to rehabilitated Mothers. These orangutan mothers carry their children for two years, at which point the youngsters adopt a ‘buddy travel’ approach, holding hands with a friend as they clamber through the trees. With arms twice as long as their legs and human like hands, this isn’t as tricky as it may seem. These mammals are designed to perfection for their treetop lifestyle. In captivity, orangutans have been known to reach the grand old age of sixty, however in the wild this data is harder to gauge and it is estimated that they often only live to half of that.
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mo m e portant Im
Brunei Darussalam: Currency: Brunei Dollar, divided into 100 cents. Exchange rate: $1 USD = $1.23 BN Dollar Capital city: Bandar Seri Bagawan Main religion: Islam (official) 67% Buddhist (13%) Christian (10%) Indigenous beliefs (10%) Main language: Malay (official) English also widely spoken. Telephone code: +673 Time: GMT + 8 hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: Salam (Hello) Terimah kasih (Thank you) Visa: Nationals of most European countries, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and New Zealand do not need a Visa for visits of up to 30 days. USA citizens can stay for up to 90 days. Most other nationalities need to apply for a visa in advance which takes 1-3 days to process. (Single entry B$20 or multiple entry B$30) 72 hour transit visas are also available. Passports must be valid for up to 6 months before entering. Visa extension: Visas can be renewed at embassies in Bandar Seri Bagawan. Climate: Brunei experiences a hot, humid climate all year round. Most rainfall is between September and January, peaking in November and December, but this can vary. 1 random fact: Although Brunei Darussalam only gained independence in the year 1984, the country has the oldest reigning monarchy in the world and a royal heritage that dates back over 600 years to 1405 when the first Sultan ascended the throne. The current Sultan is the 29th ruler. Ambulance: 991 Fire: 995 Police: 993
Cambodia: Currency: Cambodian Riel (US Dollars accepted) Exchange rate: $1 USD = 4,060 KHR Capital city: Phnom Penh Main religion: Theravada Buddhism (95%) Main Language: Khmer Telephone code: +855 Time: GMT + 7 hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: Sua s’dei (Hello) Aw kohn (Thank you) Visa: Most nationalities can obtain a 1 month tourist Visa upon arrival which costs around $20. At land border crossings, notably the Thai/Cambodian border, the fee can be more expensive as the cost is paid in baht and is sometimes rounded up considerably. You will need 1 or 2 passport photos to apply, or you will be charged extra (usually only $1-2.) Passports must be valid for up to 6 months before entering. E-Visa: You can now apply for an E-visa online. Preorder at: www.mfaic.gov.kh and your visa will cost $25 set price. You will need a digital photo of yourself to upload. Processing takes 3 days and you will get the visa straight to your mailbox. See official website for up to date info on which borders support the E-visa as not all of the crossings take it yet. Visa extension: Obtained at Phnom Penh immigration office, opposite International Airport. Tourist visas can be extended 1 month. (Around US$35) For longer extensions ask at Immigration Office. Penalty for late departure: US$5 / day. Climate: The hottest month is April with temperatures hitting 40 degrees. The wet season starts in May or June and lasts until October. The downpours are heavy and do not last long. The best season to visit is December to February, when there is little rain, low humidity and cool breeze. 1 random fact: The picturesque, riverside town of Kratie in North Eastern Cambodia is one of the best places in South East Asia to catch a glimpse of the rare freshwater Irrawadddy dolphin. As highly endangered
species, environmentalists believe that there are less than a hundred dolphins left in this part of the Mekong. In an emergency: Ambulance: 119 Fire: 118 Police: 117
East Timor: Currency: US Dollars Capital city: Dili Main religion: Catholic (90%) Main language: Tetun, Portuguese, Indonesian, English Telephone code: +670 Time: GMT + 9 hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: ola (hello) adeus (goodbye) Visa: Nationals from Europe, Australia, Canada and the USA do not need to arrange a visa in advance. They can be granted upon entry into East Timor and cost $30 for 30 days. Portuguese nationals can stay up to 90 days on a tourist visa. Passports must be valid for up to 6 months before entering. It is important to note that there are no currency exchange facilities at the airport or other border posts, so you will need to take cash before you travel. Visa extension: Visas can be extended for 30 days, costing up to $45. You must have a valid reason for staying. Penalty for late departure: Penalties range from $70 US - $150 US Dollar if the period does not exceed 30 days. Climate: The wet season is between December and April and the dry season occurs between May to November, with temperatures reaching very high. The best months to visit are between April and July. 1 random fact: East Timor’s turbulent history of colonisation means that it has been influenced by many different parts of the world which have shaped it’s culture today, in terms of food, language, religion, music and lifestyle. These include Indonesian, Japanese, Dutch, Australian and most notably Portuguese. Emergency numbers: Ambulance: 7233212 Police: 112
Indonesia: Currency: Indonesian Rupiah Exchange rate: $1 USD = 8,625 IDR Capital city: Jakarta Main religion: Islam (88%) Main language: Bahasa Indonesia (official) There are also many regional dialects. Telephone code: +62 Time: GMT + 7 hours (Sumatra, Java) GMT + 8 hours (Bali, Sulawesi, Nusa Tenggara) GMT + 9 hours (Maluku and Papua) Hellos and Thank-you’s: Salam (hello) terimah kasih (thank you) Visa: Nationals of Australia, Canada, USA, UK and most European countries are eligible for a 30 day visa upon entry, which costs $25 USD. (Cost varies depending on point of entry.) The previous $10 7-day visa is no longer available. Payments can be made in US Dollars only. You will need 2 passport photographs and your passport must be valid for up to 6 months before entering. Penalty for late departure: Up to $20 / day. For more than 60 days overstay travellers risk deportation or imprisonment. Climate: Indonesia has just 2 seasons, wet season, which falls between April and October and dry season, which falls between May and September. Throughout all of the year the climate is hot and humid, although there are snow-capped peaks in the highlands of Papua. As Indonesia is such a long country, the difference in the seasons varies. In some areas, the
distinction between the wet and dry season is great, such as the Nusa Tenggara when the wet season (December to February) can make transport difficult, with road floods and ferry cancellations. In Sumatra, the rain falls from October to January in the North and from January to February in the South. In Bali there is little difference between the seasons where weather is similar all year round. 1 random fact: In 2004, on the Indonesian island of Flores, scientists discovered the fossils of seven miniature human forms, named ‘Home floresiensis’ (Flores Man). The species of ‘hobbit’ sized men are predicted to have lived between 95,000 to 13,000 years ago and grew no more than 3 feet high. Emergency numbers: (Java) Fire: 113 Police: 110 Medical assistance: 118, 119
Laos: Currency: Lao KIP (US Dollars accepted) Exchange rate: $1 USD = 8,013 LAK Capital city: Vientiane Main religion: Buddhism Main language: Lao (official) Telephone code: +856 Time: GMT + 7 hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: Sabaydee (Hello) Khawp Jai (Thank you) Visa: Most nationalities can obtain a 30 day visa for Laos at international airports and land border crossings. The cost ranges from $20 - $42, depending on your nationality. At the Thailand/Laos border if you pay in Thai baht fees can be more expensive. You will need 2 passport photos and your passport must be valid for at least 6 months upon entering. Visa extension: Visa extensions can be applied for at the Vientiane Immigration Office, which costs US$2 / day for 30 days. Extensions can also be obtained from some travel agents for around US$3. 90 day extensions are available, ask at the embassy for details. Penalty for late departure: Up to US$10/day. Long overstays can lead to arrest and imprisonment. Climate: The wet season in Laos is between May and October and the dry season between November and April. Temperatures during this time are the most comfortable, and can be quite cold in mountainous areas. The hottest time of the year is between March and May, with temperatures reaching 38 degrees. 1 random fact: Most of the towns and villages in Laos are located near rivers and streams, whose tributaries eventually flow into the mighty Mekong. It is estimated that 80% of the population of Laos live near the water, as it provides a reliable life source for their main existence through subsistence farming. Emergency numbers: (Vientiane) Ambulance: 195 Fire: 190 Police: 191
Malaysia: Currency: Malaysian Ringgit Exchange rate: $1 USD = 3.00 MYR Capital city: Kuala Lumpur Main religion: Islam (official) Main language: Bahasa Melayu (official) Telephone code: +60 Time: GMT + 8 hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: Salam (Hello) Terimah kasih (Thank you) Visa: Most nationalities are granted a free 30-90 day entry pass upon arrival at international airports and border crossings. Passports must be valid for at least 6 months upon entering. Please note that Sarawak is a semi-autonomous state and upon entry your passport will be stamped and a new pass issued.
Visa extension: Visas can be extended at Immigration offices in Malaysia. Fees depend on intended duration of stay. Climate: Malaysia’s climate is hot and tropical. The West coast of Peninsular Malaysia experiences the monsoon season from May to September, with August being the wettest month. On the other hand, the East coast of the peninsula and Sabah and Sarawak experiences heavy rainfall between November and February. 1 random fact: Sabah in Malaysian ‘Borneo’ was once described by environmentalist Sir David Bellamy as “one of the world’s greatest natural theme parks.” With over 50% of the land covered in dense tropical rainforests estimated over 125 million years old, boasting an incredible diversity of flora and fauna, it’s easy to understand why. Emergency numbers: Fire: 994 Police and Ambulance: 999
info. Longer visas for up to 12 months are available. Visas take two to three working days to process and passports must be valid for at least 6 months upon entering. Visa extension: When in the Philippines, you are able extend your 21 day visa for up to 59 days at immigration offices. Costs apply. Climate: The tropical climate of the Philippines can vary depending on region, but generally the best time to visit the Philippines is January to May, when the dry season occurs. May is the hottest month with temperatures reaching 38 degrees. This scorching heat is followed by the downpours of June and October when the rainy season affects most of the country. The rains peak from July to September when typhoons are likely. 1 random fact: With a coastline longer than the USA, The Philippines consists of 7,107 islands, many of which are tropical, deserted paradises uninhabited by humans. Most of the country’s 92 million people are concentrated on just 11 islands, the majority populace residing in Luzon. Emergency numbers: Fire, Ambulance, Police: 117
Currency: Kyat (US Dollars used) Exchange rate: $1 USD = 6.41 MMK Capital city: Became Naypyidaw in 2005 Main religion: Buddhism Telephone code: +95 Time: GMT + 6 ½ hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: Min gala ba (Hello) Che zu Beh (thank you) Visa: Visa free entry is available at some border crossings for a short period. If you are going for the day to renew your Thailand Visa for example, you must enter and exit on the same day. Fees are around US$10. Longer visas should be arranged in advance at a travel agency or Myanmar Embassy. In Bangkok, at the Myanmar Embassy the cost is 810 baht for a 28 day visa, taking three days to process. Like the Vietnam visa, the cost depends on where you are and how long you mind waiting. It can range from $20 - $50. Your passport must be valid for at least 6 months. Visa extension: Visas can be extended for up to 14 days in Yangon. Ask at embassy for details of costs. Weather: May to mid-October is the rainy season in Myanmar. February to April is the hottest time. The best time to visit is November to February, although temperatures can drop to freezing during these months in the highland areas. 1 random fact: Bagan, in North Central Myanmar is home to over 4,400 ancient temples scattered across the valley, dating back over 800 years. At sunrise and sunset, the view is a substantial rival to Cambodia’s Angkor for South East Asia’s most unforgettable panorama. Emergency numbers: (Yangon) Ambulance: 192 Police: 199 Fire: 191
Currency: Singapore Dollar Exchange rate: $1 USD = 1.23 SGD Main religions: Taoist, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu and Muslim. Main language: English, Mandarin, Malay, Tamil Telephone code: +65 Time: GMT + 7 hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: Ni hao ma? (Hi, how are you) Xie xie (thank you) Visa: Citizens of Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, the UK and most other European countries are granted either a 14 or 30-day tourist pass upon entry to Singapore. Duration of pass depends on nationality and point of entry. USA citizens receive 90 days. Your passport must be valid for at least 6 months upon entering. Visa extension: Extensions of up to 90 days can be applied for at the consulate in Singapore. Climate: November to January see the most rain, however there are really no distinct seasons in Singapore. The weather is very similar all year round, hot and humid. 1 random fact: For 116 years, Singapore was under the colonial rule of the British. Brit, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles first landed on the shore in 1819 and seeing its potential as a strategic trading post, signed a treaty on behalf of the British East India Company with Sultan Hussein Shah to develop the South port as a British Trading Post. Ambulance: 995 Police: 999 Fire: 995
Currency: Peso, divided into 100 centavos. Exchange rate: $1 USD = 43.2 PHP Capital city: Manila Main religion: Over 80% Catholic Main language: Filipino, English Telephone code: +63 Time: GMT + 8 hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: hello, kamusta ka (hello, how are you) salamat (thank you) Visa: Tourist visas are granted free of charge upon entry for most nationalities for a stay up to 21 days. However, you may be required to show valid tickets for an onward destination. For longer stays you should apply for a tourist visa before arrival at a Philippine Embassy. The cost for a three month single entry visa is usually $30, but ask at the embassy for up to date
Currency: Thai Baht Exchange rate: $1 USD = 30 THB Capital city: Bangkok Main religion: 95% Theravada Buddhism Main language: Thai Telephone code: +66 Time: GMT + 7 hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: Sawasdee Ka/Krap (m/f) / Kop Khun Ka/Krap (m/f) Visa: Most nationalities, including Americans, Australians and most Europeans receive a free 30 day tourist visa upon arrival into Thailand by air. However, if arriving by land you will only receive 15 days. Your passport must be valid for at least 6 months upon entering. Visa extension: Visas can be renewed for a fee at immigration points. The cost is 1900 baht for 7 days
extra and it can be extended only once. If you leave the country and return, your visa will be renewed for free. You can exit and re-enter the country as many times as you like this way and most travel agents can arrange border runs to neighbouring countries. Penalty for late departure: 500 baht/day. The maximum fine for overstay that you can pay is 20,000 baht after this you may face deportation at your own cost or imprisonment. Climate: Most of Thailand experiences three seasons; The cool season occurs during November to February, followed by the hot season, March to May, then the rainy season, between June and October. As with many countries in this part of the world, the wet season tends to consist of short, hard downpours. The time of the rainy season however, differs from the East coast to the West. The Andaman Coast (West) experiences monsoon from June to September (Phuket, Phi Phi, Krabi, Railay) whilst in the Gulf of Thailand (East) rains mostly fall during September to November. 1 random fact: South Thailand’s awesome Khao Sok National Park claims to be the amongst the oldest forest eco-system in the world. It is a protected wildlife reserve and home to many exotic creatures, such as tigers, clouded leopards, bears, tapirs, gibbons, langurs and pangolin. Emergency numbers: Ambulance: 1669 Fire: 199 Police: 191
Vietnam: Currency: Vietnamese Dong Exchange rate: $1 USD = 20,885 VND Capital city: Hanoi Main religion: Tam Giao (Triple religion – Confucionism, Taosim, Buddhism) Main language: Vietnamese (official) Telephone code: +84 Time: GMT + 7 hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: Sin chao (Hello) Cam on (thank you) Visa: Visas for entering Vietnam must be arranged in advance. You can do this at the Vietnamese embassies in whichever country you are in and some travel agencies also offer the service. Depending on where you apply for it and how long you mind waiting, (on average from 1 day to 4 days), it can cost anywhere between $35 and $65 for a 30 day visa. You will need 1 passport sized photograph and your passport must be valid for at least 6 months upon entering. Visa extension: 30 day extensions can be obtained from travel agents in Hanoi, HCMC or Danang. The process can take up to 5 days and the fee is usually US$30. Climate: The climate of North and South Vietnam differ greatly, with generally a hot tropical climate in the South and hot summers and cold winters in the North. The monsoon season is between May and October which brings rain to most of the country. The central coast can experience typhoons between August and November. 1 random fact: In the old quarter of Vietnam’s fascinating capital, Hanoi, the streets are named after the trade that once took place there. For example, Hang Dao Street, translates as ‘Pink Street’ as it once sold fabric, silk and dye in bright colours, like red and pink, whereas the connecting ‘Hang Ngang Street’ sold bluish fabrics, and is thus known as ‘turquoise street.’ Emergency numbers: Ambulance: 115 Police: 113 Fire: 114 (At S.E.A Backpacker we try to ensure that all information provided is as accurate and up to date as possible. (Checked 20.8.11) The information in this section is vulnerable to change. Please advise us at email@example.com if info is invalid and we will be sure to rectify it.)
A W N
D O R
R O N
1 9 2 5 8
8 3 7 4 1
4 6 8 1 2
3 1 9 8 7
5 2 6 3 9
9 5 4 7 3
Answer = c Beer
7 8 1 9 6
2 7 5 6 4
6 4 3 2 5
dise a r a p f o h â€œTouc â€? h c a e B y l ne on the Lo Tel: +66 (0) 81 922 4495, +66 (0) 89-161 6664, +66 (0) 39 558 083 www.siambeachkohchang.com Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Address: 100/1 Moo4, Lonely Beach, Koh Chang, Trat, Thailand 23170
Haad Gruad Beach Resort & Spa Enjoying the Beauty of Nature
Koh Pha-Ngan, Surat Thani, Thailand Tel.: +6677349242, Fax: +6677349241 Mobile: +66818943441, +66862717781 www.haadgruadresort.com
discount for direct bookings
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48 NGÕ HUYÊN, HANOI +84 (0) 4 3828 5372
9 MÃ MÂY, HANOI +84 (0) 4 3935 1890
BACKPACKERS’ HOSTEL Mã Mây
10 PHAM NGU LÃO, HUE +84 (0) 54 382 6567
TOP NOTCH PRIVATE ROOMS
CLEAN AND BRIGHT DORMS
LIVELY BAR AND RESTAURANT*
COMFY COMMON AREA*
THE ROCK LONG ROCK HARD
TOUR OF HALONG BAY
AWESOME FOOD - SUPERIOR JUNK - SWIMMING - ROCK CLIMBING - MUSIC - WAKE BOARDING - KAYAKING - CAVING - TUBING
*Subject to hostel location