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MAR -I S S U E 1 7: APR 1 2

The essential magazine for all travellers through South East Asia.

Round the bend on the Mae Hong Son Loop!

SULAWE SI, INDONES IA Ste p off the Tr ail!

Going local in the Philippines... ISSN 1906-7674

Homestays & island hopping in paradise.

NEPAL: Where Gods & Mountains meet

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S.E.A Backpacker


Introduction: “What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare” (William H. Davies)

What do you do when you have a long bus journey ahead? Do you make sure your ipod is charged, load up on plenty of snacks, head to the bookshop and get yourself an interesting read? You may even have a laptop with some movies downloaded? A kindle full of eBooks? Or do you decide to do away with the entertainment and just pop a friendly sleeping pill, hoping to wake up when the endurance test is over? So what if you had none of these distractions? God forbid, what if you had to sit in your own head for an hour or perhaps a few hours just doing nothing? Could you handle it? Would your head explode? Would you start to sing every song you know, see how long you can hold your breath, try not to think about elephants, give fellow passengers marks out of 10 for cleanliness, attractiveness or hair style, go through the alphabet reciting girls names beginning with the letter A, B, C and so on… am I the only one who does these things? You may have gleaned by these confessions that I have a problem with patience. Like a small child I need to be entertained constantly or I get bored. “Muuuuuum, I’m bored!” Perhaps this initial restlessness was what inspired me to travel in the first place and what keeps me eager to explore the new and not same-same. Living and working in South East Asia, my patience threshold has been obviously tested on more than one occasion. Trains that take five hours longer than planned, spontaneous holidays that make banks, embassies, post offices and shops close when you just need to get that something done and a laid-back attitude to the point of slumber are just some of the things that I have struggled to get used to when trying to run a business. Taking Buddha’s advice of deep breaths and trying to calm the mind in these situations has never helped much. I keep thinking that one of these days I’ll embark upon a meditation retreat where I’ll sit in silence for three days and stroll out cured… but the thought of doing this sends my body into violent convulsions. Think of the things I could get done in those three days! Coming from a fast paced Western culture, we find it very difficult to just… wait. Entertainment is on tap, deadlines are made and met and meeting times are adhered to. In today’s world of 24/7 connectivity, there is no reason to


S.E.A Backpacker

miss a single second of potential productivity or a moment when something could be ‘getting done’. Slipping into the mindset of ‘mai pen rai’ (it doesn’t matter) is a huge shift for someone who is used to a ‘to do’ list the length of your arm. On a recent trip to the Philippines, I found myself on a four-day boat trip around the beautiful islands of the Visayas. On the second day we came ashore at a deserted beach on the island of Siquijor and spent a wonderful afternoon snorkeling, swimming in the sea and lazing on the perfect white sands. After camping the night, the plan was to get up early in the morning and explore the rest of the island by boat. Getting up with the sun, excited about the day’s adventures, I was raring to go! After rushing breakfast to get on the boat, the nonchalant sailors explained that they had moored the boat in the wrong bay and we would have to wait for the tide to rise sometime around 3pm before setting off on our adventure as planned. I could feel my old demon ‘impatience’ rising… with so much to explore, I wished we could get going NOW! “Muuuum I want to go now!” At times like this you have to give yourself a jolly good talking to. What a hardship that I had to sit on a deserted beach on a beautiful Filipino island waiting for Mother Nature’s rhythm to gently ebb and flow so we could continue our journey. That morning I walked peacefully up and down that short stretch of sand looking out at the sea, up at the sky and down towards the smallest pebble in the grass, or the imprint that a starfish had left in the sand. I took deep breaths and my mind was calm. It was one of the best mornings of my travels in the Philippines and one that I wouldn’t have had if everything had gone to plan. When the power of nature takes over and deadlines fade into insignificance. All you can do is sit by, realise you are a tiny part of a greater whole and appreciate the here and now. A poor life this is if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare. By Nikki Scott

S.E.A Backpacker


C ontents :

Cover Photograph: Nikki Scott, Bohol. Philippines

Features :

through South East Asia: One 34 Biking couple, two bikes & a lot of adventures! PHOTOS: Moments on 40 BACKPACKER the River, Siem Reap to Battambang F MIND

Asia Faces & Places: Monk Chat 48 SE at Wat Suon Dok in Chiang Mai


D estination spotlight :




round the bend on the Mae 26 Driving Hong Son Loop, Northern Thailand

e... 10

.. 52

AT... 4 ONK CH

km on a bik MAI.


Where Gods & 20 Nepal: Mountains Meet


Local in the Philippines & 12 Going 10 Highlights of Our Adventure!

the Beaten Track: Treks in 44 Off the Wild, Sulawesi, Indonesia


R egulars :

8 South East Asia Map & Visa Info 10 S.E.A BACKPACKER: Newsflflflash 38 18 Word on the Soi: Travel’s Best! & Festivals: 30 Events What’s On Guide


GAMES: 40 BACKPACKER Crossword & Sudoku

46 Traveller Thoughts, Stories, Tips FOOD: In Search of 50 BACKPACKER the Perfect Cuppa, Cameron Highlands ARTS: Book Review 52 BACKPACKER of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road


56 Rates, Climates & More




P 10... 14



S.E.A Backpacker Co., Ltd.

Registration Number 0205552005285. ISSN NO. 1906-7674

Tel: 081 776 7616 (Thai) 084 553 8996 (Eng) Fax: 038 072 078 E-mail: Backpacker South East Asia is Published by S.E.A. Backpacker Company. Managing Director: Nikki Scott. (E-mail: Editor: Nanchaya Jaikaew. (E-mail: Design & Layout: S.E.A. Backpacker Company Limited. Artwork: Saksit Jankrajang. Sales & Marketing: Chanunchida Saisema, Kitti Boon Sri. Accounts: Yanisa Jaikaew. Contributing Writers and Photographers: Nikki Scott, Laura Davies, Oliver Slow, Johnny Jen, Anna Cleal, Clemmie Baker, Watermelon, Amy Macdonald, Sergej Kotliar, Alicia Kidd, Dominic Stafford, Eva De Jong, Neil Barnes, Steven Carter, Hayley Lochhead, Christina Reed, Dave Dean, Ellen Stott, Regin Reyno, Kim Kramer, Courtney Muro. For advertising enquiries: Tel: +66(0)81 776 7616 (Thai), +66(0)84 553 8996 (Eng) Email: For writing opportunities: Email:

S.E.A Backpacker Magazine Legal: All material is strictly copyright and all rights are reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in whole or part without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. Opinions expressed in S.E.A Backpacker Magazine are not necessarily those of the publisher. S.E.A Backpacker Magazine does not accept responsibility for advertising content. Any pictures, transparencies or logos used are at the owner’s risk. Any mention of S.E.A Backpacker Magazine or use of the S.E.A Backpacker Magazine logo by any advertiser in this publication does not imply endorsement of that company or its products or services by S.E.A Backpacker Magazine. (c) S.E.A Backpacker Magazine, February 2012

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mo m e ne Go

M ap : south east asia Myitkyina

ling !

Travel x

Myanmar Sapa Fansipan Mandalay Bagan Kalaw

Taunggyi Inle Lake


Udomxai Chiang Rai

Luang Prabang

Mae Hong Son

Vang Vieng



Chiang Mai

Nong Khai


Udon Thani

Yangon Pathein

Halong Bay

Tha Khaek




Hoi An

Four Thousand Islands


Angkor Temples


Siem Reap Tonle Sap




Koh Chang

Gulf Of Thailand

Phnom Penh

Koh Tao Koh Phangan Koh Samui

Andaman Sea


Mui N


Ho Chi Minh

Phu Quoc

Surat Thani Phuket


Koh Phi Phi

Pulau Penang

Pulau Weh

Malaysia Kuala Lumpur Medan Berastagi


Lake Toba

Singapore Pulau Nias

Riau Islands

Sumatra Bukittinggi


Indian Ocean


S.E.A Backpacker


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&#x20AC;˘ 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 21.2.12) The information in this section is vulnerable to change. Please advise us at if info is invalid and we will be sure to rectify it.)


Pacific Ocean

Laog Vigan




Philippines Donsol

nam Donsol

Nha Trang




h City


Puerto Princesa

South China Sea

El Nido Davao Zamboanga Kota Kinabalu


Mt Kinabalu


Bandar Seri Begawan


Sarawak Kuching Pontianak


Berau Putussibau

Kalimantan Balikpapan



Sula Islands

Sulawesi Pangkalanbun


Banjarmasin Buru


Puncak Jaya


Indonesia Java Gili Islands Bali


Nusa Tengarra Flores


East Timor S.E.A Backpacker




Where have we been this issue?

Living and working in Thailand and travelling to places in South East Asia that I’d already been to, I’d become comfortable. Friends would ask nervously if they would have to book a hostel back home in England before they arrived in Bangkok and I’d scoff at how rookie they were! Pah! Newbie travellers... for God’s sake, don’t they know anything? I recently had some friends over on their first Asian trip and I noticed that they would “ooh” and “aah” at tuk tuks, monks and elephants. I’d began to tut at their awe. Much as I still found Thailand mesmerising, these things had become the “every day” for me. Arriving in the Philippines this January on my first big trip in ages, I got a welldeserved taste of my own medecine! After a sleepless night flying, I arrived in Cebu Airport in the early hours of the morning alone and all of a sudden clueless about what to do next. I was transported back to that first moment I stepped off the plane in Kathamandu, Nepal as a lone traveller on my first backpacking trip to Asia. Your heart starts to beat fast and your palms get sweaty as you think “I’m going to get scammed.” “I’m going to get lost.” I’m going to get robbed!” Pull yourself together Nikki, you’re a seasoned traveller! Boom boom boom boom... After trying three cash machines, I couldn’t get any of them to cough up a peso... great, just great! I was starting to panic. Serves me right I thought for being the ever-so laid back traveller, never organised... I tried to phone Anna, a friend I’d met through the magazine who was running a travel company in Bohol



t’s righ ing my fish phobia. Tha eating and I spent last week overcom now capable of catching, am I but s, year 11 for fish indeed, Yes terrified of ds. frien fishy our of near vicinity staying days just generally being in the en Sev k! wee e uctiv ctive and prod keling and snor I’ve had an incredibly proa , ming swim ng, fishi ical island, in a wooden hut on a trop it so you don’t have backpacking, but I’m doing sunbathing... It’s a hard life der, gen the from dhi. Apart to (some compare me to Gan rate). I would say this is pretty accu es fyingly humorous occurenc The week started with satis I was scouring the ing, umm ch-b bea Pre. in Bangkok towards a bikini stall with market for a bikini. Tottering ALL’, I was greeted FITS SIZE E ‘ON ng stati a big sign down, shook her and up me ed look who by a lady but not you. One all, fits size ‘One said head and size is too small for you’. with an attendee After finding another stall e, I asked if insid me let to py hap who was gged and shru She me. fit ld wou is the bikin of the street, le midd the in s dres my lifted up t obscenely small to reveal a pair of the mos pull on the bikini to ed eed proc and knickers shaking from a were h whic s thigh over my ming laughter. boo and k shoc of tion combina

whiskey, continued r a much needed shot of I bought the bikini, and afte stopped by a tiny was I , own my of d world concerned and on my way. In a whiskey base very ed look who et of the stre tion ensued: Thai man sitting at the side ersa conv wing follo him as the beckoned me over. I sat with You need to open Your chakras are all closed. ‘You, you think too much. them’ ‘How do I do that?’ [massive grin] ‘I . Very difficult to do alone’ ‘You need to find your G spot can help, no charge.’ By Alicia Kidd (My chakras are still closed)


S.E.A Backpacker

and who I was meant to be meeting later that day. No phone signal - great! What was I going to do? Scraping together as much money as I could find, I finally managed to sort myself out and got a taxi (what no tuk tuks!) to the pier to catch a boat to Bohol, found a cash machine that worked and managed to get hold of Anna. Everything was finally coming together... After a shaky start, the Philippines turned out to be an incredible experience, (read our article on page 12-13) and one that certainly reignited my backpacker spirit!

OVERSEAS CORRESPONDENT! When you are backpacking, it is easy to lose track of what’s going on in the rest of the world. Floating down a tube on the Namsong River and 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 that you are up to date with your world affairs! Here’s a rundown from our Overseas Correspondent, Laura Davies.


A beer cooler saved the lives of four lucky fishermen when their boat caught fire in the Pacific Ocean. It kept them afloat for 45 mins, good job those Aussie’s had drunk the contents!

NORWAY: The worlds most expensive hot dog has gone on sale, costing a whopping $100! The posh banger is infused with cognac and tipped with lobster... yum? Give me a good ol’ common Frankfurter anyday.

HOUSTON: Calls began flooding in after a tiger was spotted sitting on the roof of an abandoned hotel. It turned out to be a stuffed toy, thank goodness!


On the 5th January one extremely stupid bank robber left Halifax empty handed, when he passed over his gun instead of his swag bag to collect the money... Classic!


A mistake from the launderette nearly caused a divorce in Saudia Arabia recently as a wife finds another woman’s dress in amongst her husbands linen... she really took him to the cleaners before finding out it was a genuine mix up!


The police faced a tonguetwister criminal when they arrested a Mr. “Beezow Doo-Doo Zopittybop Bop-Bop”. You couldn’t make this stuff up...


Eight men have been arrested whilst attempting to smuggle $260,000 worth of gold into Japan. The men had made the gold into beads, in order to fit comfortably up their bottoms!

Meanwhile Back at the Office... It’s been another crazy month at the S.E.A Backpacker Office... and you know what, this place is starting to feel like a real backpacker home! With travellers popping in and out asking advice, looking for inspiration and making travel buddies, expats stopping by to use the WIFI, bloggers and digital nomad sorts hanging out during the day and of course locals still bringing whiskey... Monday to Friday is a fun-packed work week! So what’s been going on this month?

---------------On the Agenda----------------1. Out of the Office!

If you passed by the office at the beginning of January, you will have noticed that we weren’t there! When tropical shores beckon sometimes you just have to shut the office doors and jet off... well what do you expect, we’re backpackers not pen-pushers!

2. Opening Hours

Forget the 9 to 5, don’t even think about visiting the office before 11am. Much as we’ve been trying to crawl out of bed at 8am to be at the office for 9am, this happens on average once a month. On the other hand, we’ve not yet sussed Ferris’s Four-hour work week (Come on Tim, is that really possible?) so most of the week Mon-Fri, you’ll find us there!

3. Most Interesting Visitor

An interesting man entered the office this month and gave me a business card saying he was an “alchemist of spirits.” He told me he could turn my hate into love and that he could heal anyone within 100 metres of his

WE GOT FAN MAIL! Dear S.E.A Backpacker,

My name is Nattipha. I am 15 years old and I was born in Bangkok. My Dad is from England and he met my Mum, who is Thai, while he was backpacking around Asia in 2001. Soon after I was born my parents decided to move my brother and I to England with them, where we have been living for about 10 years. My education here has given me endless opportunity to explore my career options and decide what I want for my future. Knowing that my strengths are writing and reading, I recently made up my mind that no other job apart from journalism would do! Whether it’s fashion, sports or even politics, my ambition is to be a journalist that writes about the truth. I want people to know me and I want a chance to do something that I love and feel passionate about. When my parents told me that they’d be moving back to Thailand next year once I have completed my GCSE’s, I was naturally nervous. After having spent most of my life in England, with little knowledge of day-to-day life in Thailand, I became worried about my future – will I fit in? Will I have the same opportunities as in the

PHOTO OF THE MONTH... l village on n at a loca Photo take , Borneo: Sent in by nd la Is Mabul orking as a n, who is w ba Junkie, Johnny Je cu S ructor at Scuba Inst Borneo.

wooden healing stick... you have to love Thailand.

4. Most Stupid Question

Excuse me is this a Doctor’s Surgery? (You wonder how they make it out the airport).

5. Travel Writing Experience

If you are interested in journalism and finding out how a travel magazine runs, we urge you to spend some time at the S.E.A Backpacker office, getting involved in a few tasks and getting some experience on your CV! This month, I’d like to say thank you to Oliver Slow who shared his stories about Indonesia, interviewed a monk, chatted up some backpackers to find out their best travel experiences and ended an evening by swimming in the moat in Chiang Mai... (not advised) all in the name of research! So there you have it, would-be journo’s, pop by our office to find out more...

6. Calling all Customers!

Our office is turning into a place where backpackers come to get advice, a hub of travel information and a place that people trust to give them honest information about travel in South East Asia. If you’d like the chance to communicate to backpackers in Chiang Mai, send us your leaflets, brochures or posters - our white wall space is yours! We give people advice about booking accommodation at the Full Moon Party, diving in Koh Tao or boat trips in Halong Bay. We’ll recommend our customers and send travellers in the right direction.

Office Address:

S.E.A Backpacker Co., Ltd, 23/1/1 Rajvithi, Soi 2, Chiang Mai, 50200 Office Phone: +66 (0)84 553 8996 / Email: UK? Where shall I go to Uni? All these thoughts clouded my head. Around this time, I picked up a copy of a magazine I buy regularly in England, “Company” and was instantly drawn to a section called “Hello World”! The story was about people who had moved from the UK to live and work abroad. I came across Nikki Scott’s story and was inspired by this girl who’d been born in England but had chosen my birth country as a place to fulfill her dreams, become a journalist and even start her own business. I’ve read her story nearly every day since then as it’s pinned onto my notice board in my bedroom. I want to tell everybody in England about the fantastic opportunities in Thailand and how much the country has to offer young people! For me, the article proves that you can do and become anything in life if you have a dream. I decided to get in contact with Nikki to see if she had any advice for me becoming a journalist and since then I’ve taken her advice of starting my own blog and submitting letters and stories to magazines like this! She made me realise that you don’t have to have completed a degree to become a writer; you can do what you love already! I know I have a long way to go but at least I’ve started. I’d love to run a magazine one day! I’m hoping to achieve great things in Thailand, so look out for my name under a piece of writing and just remember, I’m just a normal girl with a big dream, but anything is possible when you try! Thanks S.E.A Backpacker for inspiring me and watch this space!

Nattipha Chivers

Keep the Dream Alive! Order the latest issue or subscribe for one year to recieve your copy anywhere in the world.

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Going Local: My First Taste of the Philippines... In true Filipino style, we were welcomed to the village by a unique song that had been composed especially for our arrival. An extremely cheerful guy wearing a brightly coloured shirt, known as ‘Goodie’ led the serenade as he strummed a beat up ukulele; “Welcome to Bohol, we are the land of the noble man”. At the same time, the local women of the village adorned us with handmade bamboo garlands around our necks. The scene felt more Hawaiian than South East Asian and was an incredible introduction to the fabulous hospitality that the country is famous for. It was my first time to the Philippines, that archipelago of 7,107 islands that backpackers are slowly starting to recognise for the incredible adventure it has to offer. Instead of staying in a flashpacker resort by the beach or a social backpacker hostel, I’d decided to start my trip with a homestay in a small local community of northern Bohol, called Datag Norte, Balilihan. The trip had been arranged by my friend Anna, who is the founder of a new homestay company, Flip Flop Tours, and had first encountered the village when she had volunteered in a micro-finance project there a few years ago. I was looking forward to an authentic slice of Filipino life here at a local Barangay in the heart of the countryside. In the Philippines, small communities are known as Barangay’s and are headed up by the Barangay captain who is aided by his council. It is a system that is unique to the Philippines and from an outsider’s point of view really seems to instill an air of community as events take place at the local Barangay Hall and teenage hipster boys mingle with toddling babies and chatting grandparents. It’s funny; I just can’t imagine the juvenile ‘hoodies’ hanging out with grannies back home on the streets of Manchester, England where I’m from. Wafts of exotic smells began to drift from the town hall where the women of the Barangay were preparing a delicious Filipino feast for us all. Eager as I was to try my first traditional Filipino home-cooked meal, it wasn’t dinnertime yet... A group of cheeky local kids had challenged us to a game of basketball and were now waiting for us on the court outside the Barangay Hall. In the Philippines, basketball is the most played sport, dating back to the early 1900’s when the American colonisation introduced the game and built courts in many communities


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across the land. The Philippines have embraced the sport with a passion and as we found out are incredibly good at it as we suffered an embarrassing defeat; six 20-something girls beat by five eleven year-old boys half our height. Then it was time to eat… a feast of Chicken Adobo, jackfruit stew, sticky rice and other delicacies were served on a traditional bamboo plate with coconut leaves, all washed down with a glass of very sickly coconut wine (known locally as lambanog) - mixed with chocolate powder and raw egg - saraap! (delicious). Before eating, we gathered around to pray to God for the food we had been given. It was a strange contrast coming from mostly

Buddhist South East Asian countries to witness the devout belief in Catholicism here in the Philippines, which is such a strong part of people’s everyday lives. The Philippines is one of only two predominantly catholic countries in Asia, (the other being East Timor) and the influence dates back to the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan and the Spanish colonials in 1521. During over 300 years of occupation, the Spanish managed to build a church in almost every provincial city and town and the growth of Catholicism has since spread rapidly through the country, with Filipinos vehemently upholding the faith. That night, within my first few hours in the Philippines, arms raised in the air dancing and singing hymns on the basketball court, I praised the Lord ‘Halleluiah’ more times than I had done in my entire life! A local band had been invited from a neighbouring Barangay and you could definitely detect a Spanish influence in the music as acoustic guitars drifted into the night air. I drank more coconut wine and chatted with two very intelligent sixteenyear-old local girls who were looking for good husbands. Their requirements being: the potential suitor must have a stable job, be reliable, religious, not smoke or drink, be enjoyable and good to look at - good luck girls! After a cram-packed first day, I felt that I had certainly experienced a real taste of Filipino culture. Although other Barangay’s in the area had entertained visits from foreigners before, Datag Norte Barangay would be the first to actually have guests stay overnight and they were excited to be hosts. As the remainder of the ‘El Nino’ rain pummeled down on the corrugated-iron roof of the Barangay hall, we slept like babies on the thin mattresses on the floor… Awaking to the sound of roosters is an experience that is common everywhere in South East Asia and shortly after the crowing stopped, a few of the more inquisitive children came running and giggling into the hall to invite us to breakfast. In a similar fashion to the previous evening, we had to earn our food first, with a trek up the small mountain behind the village where breakfast was to be served! A table laid out with mangoes, eggplant omelet and fried fish was set up next to a giant concrete cross overlooking a view of undulating green hills and jungle. I couldn’t wait to explore the island further… After breakfast, some of the locals offered to take us to a nearby waterfall so that we could shower. With no running water in the village, the options were either the ever-torturous bucket shower or the all more natural approach… we chose the latter. After a half-hour motorbike ride up dirt tracks, past lush rice terraces, tropical jungle and wooden huts, we arrived at the waterfall. I was expecting a stream and a trickle where we could splash our faces – not Niagara Falls! In short, the waterfall was spectacular. Standing under the powerful force of the falls, tons of water gushing over our heads was incredibly exhilarating. There was not one other person at a site that would have swarming with tourists and signposted to death in other parts of South East Asia. It was only my second day, but I could already see that this country had so much to offer… For more info about authentic Filipino Homestays see: or email my friend:

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So how do you sum up the Philippines? An archipelago of 7,107 unique islands, home to volcanoes, tropical rainforest, paradise beaches, UNESCO World Heritage rice terraces, Spanish colonial architecture, vibrant festivals, a great music scene and some of the best diving in the world… (breathe) told you it was difficult! This January, the S.E.A Backpacker team took a whistle-stop three-week tour of the Philippines to get a taster of what this country has to offer for backpackers. Trying to cram in as much as possible, we had a feeling that three weeks wouldn’t be enough… and we were right! While we didn’t get chance to experience everything that the Philippines has to offer, we put together 10 HIGHLIGHTS that we reckon backpackers just can’t miss! We hope this is enough to whet your appetite and get you planning an adventure to this incredible land…


Island hopping is an absolute must in the Philippines and no trip to the archipelago is complete without a maritime adventure on a traditional Filipino out-rigger boat, known as a banca. Sail from tropical island to island, with no itinerary other than where the wind blows. Rise early in the mornings to catch a glimpse of dolphins as you charter through deep turquoise waters. In true Robinson Crusoe style, stop for lunch of barbecued fish on perfect paradise islands with no more than a few palm trees sprouting from their centre. Swim and snorkel in water so clear and warm and see tropical fish darting over colourful coral many feet below. Step ashore on deserted beaches and create the first footprints in the sand. Only then will you discover that a banca really is the best way to travel…


WHERE? CEBU / KALIBO / ILO-ILO No country in the world does festivals quite like the Philippines! Colourful street parades, loud ethnic drum beats, trumpets, xylophones, incredible sequined costumes, dancing, singing and just for giggles, a spot of cross-dressing thrown in… yes those Filipinos sure know how to party! Although most of the country’s festivals have deep religious roots in Catholicism, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t fun-filled fiestas and anyone can join in the celebrations. From Sinulog in Cebu, to AtiAtihan in Kalibo and Dinagyang Festival in Ilo-Ilo City, there are over 100 festivals taking place across the archipelago during the year, so your trip is bound to coincide with an event of some kind. Do your research beforehand - these authentic events are not to be missed!


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The mystical island of Siquijor in the Visayas region of the Philippines has long been famous for shamanism, sorcerers and witchcraft. With rumours of healing potions, magic herbs, black magic, ancient rituals and the spirits of the dead being conjured in the mountains and caves of the island, visitors have been both afraid and intrigued by the island over the years. A documentary film called “Shamans of Siquijor: The Healers” was created in 2000 portraying three healers who believed they could cure any illness of man. It is indeed a fascinating topic, but residents of Siquijor say ‘be careful’. There are both good and evil sorcerers and whether you are skeptical or not, locals advise that it is best not to dabble in the mysterious art of black magic if you do not understand. To this day, people from surrounding islands have been said to visit the island of Siquijor to find a shaman who will help with their personal problems, healing illnesses, contacting the spirits or even acts of revenge!


You’ve heard rumours about it and had seen photos in guidebooks, yet the island of Boracay’s ‘White Beach’ really has to be seen to be believed. With sand like white powder meeting pale turquoise water, the beach is a postcard picture of perfection - 4km long! Although the beach is no secret (there’s even a Starbucks on the beach front!) you can still find a quiet spot of sand for some serious sunbathing and then later watch an incredible sunset, cocktail in hand overlooking the famous Willy’s rock. On the other side of the island, the Kitesurfing Mecca of Bulabog Beach has a completely different feel. At any time of day, the sea swarms with darting kite surfing enthusiasts, their colourful sails gliding through the hot air. The atmosphere is chilled out and friendly and there are some awesome parties to be found if you ask the locals! With international restaurants of every kind, gorgeous beaches and a wicked nightlife, it’s easy to see why Boracay is a worldclass holiday destination…






The subject of Led Zeppelin’s classic? The Banaue rice terraces of Northern Luzon have been nicknamed “Stairways to Heaven” by some or like many spectacular sites in South East Asia, touted as the “eighth wonder of the world.” Carved out of the mountainside of Ifugao province, the UNESCO World Heritage rice terraces are a sight to behold. They were built with primitive tools more than 2,000 years ago by ancestors of the indigenous mountain people who are still living and working in the area in the same tradition as they have done in the past. The terraces are a perfect example of irrigation and permaculture that would make modern farming methods blush. Trek amongst the spectacular scenery and marvel at one of the most impressive feats of natural engineering.


The Philippines capital Manila is a city which actually comprises five cities - yes it is that big! First time visitors to the city may find the busy mish-mash of congested streets clogged with traffic a little hard to handle, but like all Asian metropolis’, you just need to explore deeper below the surface to find the real treasures! Intramuros (meaning Inside of the walls) is the Old Spanish Quarter where you can visit such landmarks as Fort Santiago and Cathedral Manila for a glimpse into the Philippines’ fascinating colonial history. Wandering around or taking a horse and carriage through the cobbled streets will make you feel like you have entered an ancient world. Take a tour with Carlos, the famous Filipino actor-turnedtour guide for a quirky and passionate take on Manila’s cultural gems. Visit his blog at: for tour dates.

Photo by Regin





It’s not just Bali that gets those totally bogus barrels (sorry we are trying – perhaps a little too hard?) Siargo Island in the province of Surigao del Norte boasts surf that would inspire the Beach Boys to write some new lyrics. The famous wave known as “Cloud 9” was discovered by travellers in the 1980’s and has since drawn thousands of surf enthusiasts to the small teardrop shaped island to experience the wide, hollow tubes. The wave was dubbed “Cloud 9” by surf photographer, John Callahan who brought fame to the island by publishing a feature in the American “Surf Magazine” in March 1993. The best time of year to ride the famous waves is September through to March and there is an International Surfing Contest taking place during the last week of September, which has been sponsored by surfing heavyweights such as Billabong. So what are you waiting for? Don’t be a dweeb, grab a gnarly board, hit the swell and get stoked dudes! (I know, I know… a little bit of sick just formed at the back of my mouth too).

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No, not the national rugby team in the Philippines, (nicknamed the Volcanoes) I’m talking about those great big ruddy mounds of earth spewing out lava, ash and sulphur on unpredictable occasions. And, the Philippines, which is located on the pacific ring of fire, has 37 of them, 18 of which are active! The scary mother of all Filipino volcanes is the perfectly conical-shaped, Mount Mayon which has had 47 eruptions since 1616, the last one occurring in 1993 with devastating consequences. For those daring backpackers looking for an adventure, the mountain can be climbed in two days, though one must be aware of recent volcanic activity (currently, the summit is off limits due to toxic fumes from the crater). If Mount Mayon seems a little risky you may like to attempt the awe-inspiring Mount Pinatubo in central Luzon where the landscape includes white lunar-like stretches of sand and grey, almost alpine peaks. You can take a day-trip to climb the mountain from Manila and be back sipping cocktails in Makati by evening. You can also hike to the top of Taal Volcano just 70km from Manila, which has been named the smallest active volcano in the world and enjoy a novel swim in the sulphur infused lake which has formed in its crater.

The Philippines is voted as having some of the best underwater life on the planet. Head to Coron to explore the spooky, sunken wrecks of a Japanese WWII supply fleet sunk by the Americans in 1944. Glide with turtles, grouper and lion fish over the decks and through the engine rooms of at least 12 ships in the area that have long been taken over by this subaqueous world. Or north of the island, attempt the most unusual dive site in the Philippines, the incredible, thermal Barracuda Lake that you have to climb over a mountain in dive gear to get to. There you will meet the King of the Lake, the mighty 1.5 metre barracuda swimming in crystal clear fresh water that changes temperature as you swim. If you prefer tropical seas and colourful coral, head to the beautiful Visayas Islands of Bohol, Cebu, Malapascua or Moalboal. On Malapascua Island you can witness the amazing thresher sharks of sunken island, Monad Shoal. Every morning, the two-metre long sharks visit the cleaning station on the island and divers have experienced the sharks come so close that they almost touch them! And finally, for those travellers who prefer not to don diving tank and wetsuit, don’t worry - you will not be left out! In Donsol, Southeast Luzon, you can snorkel (yes snorkel) with what is probably the largest protected school of whale sharks in the world. These gentle giants which are rare in many dive sites, come right up to the surface here in Donsol on a daily basis allowing snorkelers the chance for an out of this world encounter with one of nature’s most wondrous creations!


Need more time? Although you only get a 21-day visa upon entry to the Philippines, don’t fret! You can easily extend for another 38 days by a quick trip to the immigration office. Flights! Don’t be daunted by our 7,107 islands! The Philippine archipelago may pose a logistical challenge as backpackers tend to be put off by taking a lot of flights during their stay here. But check out the fares and you’ll be pleasantly surprised, score cheap flights with Cebu Pacific, Zest Air and Air Philippines. Return ticket: Before you fly make sure you have proof of an onward ticket. If you don’t have a ticket that shows you are leaving the country within 21 days the airline will ask you to book a flight at the airport and print out the confirmation. Transport: The Philippines has a very reliable RoRo (Roll on, Roll Off) System which is an intricate network of improved roads and ports in various regions which bridge the country’s three main islands: Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao. By taking ferries, buses and trains, it’s possible to get from northern islands to the south. Just make sure you check schedules and book tickets well in advance especially during holidays and festival season. Best time to visit? The cooler months between November to January are perfect because the weather is less humid and you can avoid the crowds.




It is a well-known joke in the country that Filipinos are born with a microphone in their hand. And, when you visit a karaoke bar and the microphone is passed from person to person revealing an X-Factor finalist with each new song, you kind of wonder if the joke is based on truth! The Philippines is indeed a nation of entertainers and each person seems to possess a natural voice and ability to capture an audience that will leave you embarrassed to attempt your best rendition of “Living on a Prayer”. Sitting like a shrine at the forefront of many bars and restaurants across the land, it won’t be long before someone suggests a karaoke session and whether you have a belly full of Tanduay (cheap local rum) or not – you will be persuaded to perform. Away from the karaoke bars, there are some fantastic live music venues, especially in Manila with talented local bands singing everything from Filipino rock, to cover songs and traditional folk classics.


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Must try dish: Adobo (meat or vegetables simmered in spices and soy sauce) is always a favourite. Roasted pig (Lechon) is also especially delicious in Cebu and Iligan. But I suggest you become more adventurous and try the sisig (sizzling pork bits), balut (boiled duck embryo) and kinilaw (raw fish in vinegar and spices). Language: Most Filipinos speak fluent English so you’ll survive without having to learn any Filipino. But it’s fun to learn the basics and see how locals react. Pepper your sentences with “po” when talking to older people, they’ll love you for it! Recommended reading before you go: • Nina’s guides on places to visit and things to do around the Philippines: • James’ travel tips for going around the Philippines on a backpacker budget: • Dong Ho’s Escape for adventure and off the beaten path destinations: • And of course our site for beach escapes, surfing destinations and travel tips! Get in with locals: If you’re willing to try our food, pardon our excessive hospitality and get up in front of strangers to belt out Adele’s latest track on karaoke, you’ll be stellar on our list. After backpacking around SE Asia and creating a blog about their travels, the Sole Sisters decided to explore their own back yard. They’re currently planning a Philippines 21-day overland trip to see how far they can go without taking a flight.


e Home! m o c el

Located on Bulabog beach, East Boracay the center of the Philippines’ kitesurfing zone, you will find the quiet and laid back Lazy Dog B & B. One of the few places that has maintained the “old Boracay feel” with the slow pace & relaxed atmosphere making you feel right at home…. Facilities: - Free WIFI - Breakfast - Cafe - 50 meters from beach - Relaxing lounge - Standard / Deluxe / family room - Kitesurfing / Diving / Sailing / Yoga nearby Mob: +63 (0)920 945 4845 / Tel: +63 (0)36 288 4128

Bulabog Beach, Balabag, Boracay Island, Malay, Aklan, Philippines, 5608

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W ord on the soi: The BEST of TRAVEL This month, we asked backpackers the impossible question: what are some of your best moments? You see the thing is, there are so many incredible things about the backpacker lifestyle, that travellers find it hard to put their finger on their best meal, most incredible beach, favourite city and so on... “ALL OF IT” you say... However, after probing a little deeper, we uncovered some of your most memorable experiences that double up as backpacker recommendations of some of the highlights of South East Asia. Ladies and gentlemen, we present to you the best bits about being a backpacker...

BEST C HAT U P LINE You hav e re

ally nic left one. e eyes... espec ia (Sergej, Sweden lly your )

Best Alarm Clock!

B E S T E X P E R IE N C E !

I was visitin g the Shwed ag came up to me asking if on Pagoda in Burma w hen a 15 ye but decided I ar-old kid to go for it an would like a tour. I was a little skep d around the tical at first temple com for the next two hours th pl e ex yo , as un the Burmes g lad showed well as giving e language. me me lessons At the end of the tour all he in Buddhism and enough to co ver his taxi asked for w fare home. as (Nate, New York)

There is nothing more unique than waking up to the sound of Buddhist Monks chanting at 5.30am from a nearby monastery in Chiang Mai. (Stine, Denmark)


two-day slow azing time on the I had such an am bang and made Pra g an Lu Khong to l with when we ve boat from Chiang tra to ed nu that I conti Luang Prabang o int so many friends, ng mi co ry e scene reached Laos... Th cially seen from the deck of an old pe was playing was amazing, es s setting, a friend boat as the sun wa tasty Beer Lao in hand a guitar and I had laire, UK) unforgettable! (C

Be st adv ice ... m adventure” I’d made a plan for my ultimate “drea was SO much that I before I arrived in Asia and there day or two in each place wanted to do. I’d planned only a dog! I needed to slow and was running around like a mad et wouldn’t allow me down but knew that if I did my budg guy in my hostel (one to tick everything off my list. An old look like they were of those ancient traveller types who kid, it is YOUR born on the road) said to me: “Hey you like.” dream, you can change it any time (Darren, Wales)



I would ha Caves in no ve to say the incredible rthern Laos . There is no Konglor after a long be da cool swim. Ba y’s hike to reward yo tter feeling urself with a ts flew over he ad an d perfect natu it was the m ral setting to ost relax. (Marga, Hol land)

Photo: The slow boat to

S.E.A Backpacker 18 Laos, by Courtney Muro.

! ENT M to O e and riend T M befor lf onths tely my gir h in Koh m BES w a fe s eac tuna

wa nd eb for on th and I g. Un girlfrie h my ff travellin each other ch of guys gh, as I it w p u run o st lau a bun d into oken I’d br I decided to e bumpe along with I got the la e Swedish w r, v ” g d e r ti n v c e in a e v a lk r o w . att “rec ame idea e was wa mile. Ho h an the beach es gs ht wit . Sh had th , Thailand me a smu rty that nig g sick on in e g a Chan e, she gav a beach-p irlfriend be any) g alon aving aw my ex- lbert, Germ le s a s w (A girl, I

Mai Pen Rai Bungalows

Best Achieveme nt

Than Sadet Beach, Koh Phangan, Thailand

My best ac hi been a long evement was at Mou nt Everest -term drea , Nepal m of the tallest-m ountain in mine to reach the Bas ... it had the world an e 21st birthda d I achieved Camp of y. (Helen, it on my England)

Best Character!

I met a Polis h guy in Chi na who had his hometow hitchhiked fro something ba n in Poland to Turkey, m real ck at home, hitchhiked ba ised he’d left whatever it was (some ck home to passport ex collect then when I tension vi met hi and didn’t kn m he had hitchhiked as sa I think!), ow when he far as China would stop what you ca ll a real back ! Now that is packer! (Hans, Holla nd)

Bungalows from 350 – 950 Baht per night Tel. 077 445090 / 158 or 081 999 4000 or 081 894 5076 Regular boat trips out to Angthong National Marine Park.

Best BEE


Wendy House Grande Ville Hotel Bangkok Siam Guest House Pannee house New Joe Guesthouse New World City Vieng Tai Hotel

Sat on th e Kwai in K balcony of my gu est an beer, whe chanaburi, Thaila house on the Riv er nd sippin n three d g an ic a ys be dingy offi ce in Lim fore I’d been work e-cold erick. (De in clan, Irela g in a nd)


In Bagan, the “Land of a Thou sand Temples” in Burma (even though there are more like 3,000 of them!) I watched a striking pink and red backdrop change across a magical scen e... and to top it all off, there were dozens of hot-air balloon disappearing into the sky. Amazing! (Katie, Sweden)


All kinds of Dental Treatment Laser Tooth Whitening, Dental Implant Crown, Bridges and Veneers in 24 hours. Fluent English, Japanese, Indian, Arabic, Thai speaking Doctors.


NING WHITE R E S LA 30) aht ($2 ) B 0 0 ,2 7 $450 Baht ( 14,000 ple! for cou

My favourite to you can desi wn was Hoi An, VIetna gn m... where of the best te all of your own clothe s with some xt architecture, iles around, with beautif atmosphere! cute cafes and an all-r ul ancient ound great I could have stayed there for weeks! (Christina, G ermany)




go far from don’t need to an inion, but you . Koh Samet is ay h.. ac It is just my op be st be aw y to find Asia’s kok but a world ng Ba m Asia’s best cit fro s but also just a few hour calm beaches absolute gem, ere are quiet, ants. Th ur . sta ise re no nt d it, plus excelle from traffic an local fe if you want place to meet t ea gr thumping nighli a it’s , ekend er islands it a popular we s ke Unlike many oth ma ity im ox pr A) d’s an US , isl ad asha Thai’s as the the capital. (R trip for those in

Sukhumvit Soi 71, Soi Preedeepanomyong 14, Prakhanong, Bangkok 10110 (BTS Prakhanong - E8)

Tel: 0-2314-6238,

0-2714-6441 Mobile: 08-1648-5780

Email: S.E.A Backpacker


NEPAL: Where Gods & Mountains Meet... 20

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Amongst mountains has always been a special place for me. When things seem confused or out of order, a walk in the mountains has always helped me to calm down and realise the insignificance of my man-made problems. Looking up at the high peaks piercing the clouds, their sheer beauty and grandeur makes me feel like a small part of an awesome natural order that is slowly unfolding out of my control. To think that those mountains have been there for millions of years before I was born and will be here a long time after I have gone is a comforting, almost spiritual thought. Walking the hills of the Lake District in England as a child and the summits of Scotland, I was brought up with a love for high places and I am ever grateful to my parents for that. So this is why, when I embarked upon a year’s solo backpacking trip, I knew that my first destination would be to visit the highest mountains in the world; the Himalaya of Nepal. After landing in the craziness of a thousand different vehicles that is Kathmandu, it was a whole week before I would see the mighty peaks that had drawn me here. Exploring the magical city, I wandered down alleyways and was met with fascinating bric-a-brac shops, shanty houses and bare footed children flying kites, I peered in alcoves and came across hidden Hindu shrines emitting sweet incense into the humid air and intricate temples overrun with brazen monkeys. This was my first experience of Asia and the culture shock was intense, yet I was so enthralled by the exotic atmosphere and hectic pace that I was already on a permanent high. But the best was yet to come… After surviving a hair raising eight-hour bus trip from Kathmandu to Pokhara on windy roads with daunting 1,000-metre drops on either side, we began our 12-day hike into the mountains. I had chosen to trek into the ‘Annapurna Sanctuary’ - a high-altitude basin which boasts the base camps of the mighty

Annapurna South and Machupuchare peaks and has 360’ views of incredible Himalayan scenery. My mouth was watering at the prospect of being so close to the legendary mountains I had read so much about when I was a kid, and at first I resented the regular ‘masala chai’ tea breaks as I wanted to climb faster! ‘Slow and steady steps like a shepherd’, my Dad had always said. Later, as the gradient and altitude increased and my pace became slower, I was thankful for those chai breaks! Not even out of the first valley, the views were already spectacular. Neat rice terraces carved out of the hillside, thatched cottages clinging on like magnets, every now and again a waterfall gushing from a great height providing us with a cool way to freshen up in-between trekking. With the crisp air and clear sunshine, this was nature at its best leaving your body feeling healthy and alive as you awoke at 6am each morning with the rising sun and fell fast asleep by 9m after a day full of exercise. Trekking became your daily job, a far-cry from my usual day’s work which just weeks before had been hunched over a computer in an office or running around to stressful meeting after meeting; artificial lighting, stuffy rooms and miserable colleagues. Sleeping in basic trekking huts on wooden planks that were surprisingly comfortable, I wrote in my diary by candlelight the rather dramatic; “this is really living”. It was October and the time of the Hindu, ‘Dassain Festival’ which is one of the most auspicious events in the Nepalese calendar, which commemorates the victory of Gods and Goddesses over demons. It is a time for family, community, fun, games and laughter. For the visitor, Dassain meant to see hundreds of kites flying in the sky (to remind the Gods not to rain anymore) and notice bamboo swings, known as ‘ping’ in Nepali, which are constructed all over the land during this time in the spirit of community and fun. Whilst trekking, we saw


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families get together to ritually slaughter animals such as buffalo, hens and goats in an attempt to give penance to the Gods. For many poor families, it is one of the few times during the year that they get to eat meat and huge feasts are organised with great enthusiasm and joy. Each day, we followed a windy upward path that changed from cobbled steps to woodland staircases, over rickety bamboo bridges before dipping down into atmospheric misty valleys or opening up into vast panoramas of the Himalaya. We weaved through tiny mountain villages passing by other smiling trekkers who would say a cheerful hello in a variety of different languages or Sherpaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s with donkeys carrying eggs, chickens, bread and other goods from village to village. As we got higher and higher, the temperature fell and we were getting closer to the lofty peaks, yet nowhere near their summits. Only serious climbers were able to attempt such a daring, and some would say crazy, feat. At one point, we passed by a misty area where a pile of stones, or a cairn, lay surrounded by Tibetan prayer flags. Our guide explained that we were passing through an avalanche warning zone and this was in fact the site where trekkers had died in an avalanche just a few years ago. Much as I adored these high places, signs such as these remind you of how much respect you should pay to the mountains and the unpredictable force of nature. This is no place for man. On the fifth day, after a breathless climb through a mist-laden gorge, we reached Machapuchare Base Camp, at 3,729 metres. Our guides had warned us about the effects of altitude sickness and during the last stretch to reach the trekking lodge at Machapuchare, I had really felt my body moving slower and my breath

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getting shorter. I was relieved to receive a hot plate of Dal bhat, (lentils and rice with an assortment of vegetable curries) in the kerosene-heated trekking lodge for the night. Until this day the smell of kerosene has the magical power to transport me back to those days trekking in Nepal! That night, it was a Full Moon and I tried but failed to take photos of the bright white sphere next to the impressive two-pronged jagged peak of Machapuchare (or Fish Tail in English) against a navy blue sky. As we drank hot chocolate and our breath made clouds as we chatted in the cold night air, our guides told us about the legend of Machupuchare. Every person who has tried to climb the mountain has failed and have either met their fate or something has forced them back down the mountain, leaving the summit unclaimed until this day. In 1957 it was declared a sacred mountain and is now forbidden to climbers. Nepalese people believe that a God lives up the mountain and is angered when climbers try to reach the top… Up here with the thinning air, intense silence of the night and awesome beauty, it was easy to understand why people have thought of the mystical mountains as homes for the Gods. The next morning at the crack of dawn after a hearty banana porridge, we began our final ascent to reach Annapurna Base Camp, the highest point that we would trek on this trip at 4,130 metres. It was a stunningly ‘glad to be alive’


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morning and I took it easy up the path to the base camp so that I could take in the most incredible scenery that I had ever seen in my life. Everyone was in fantastic spirits; hikers grinned and took photos incessantly whilst the porters sang a famous Nepalese trekking song, “I am a donkey, you are a monkey, resham firiri” referring to the load that they carry for the trekker who is able to prance around like a monkey without any weight… sad, but true. Reaching the camp, you just couldn’t take your eyes off those amazing pinnacles all around and I was in mountain heaven. The Annapurna Massif on one side, dominated by the immense south face of Annapurna, (8,091 metres) the satellite peak Hiunchuli (6,441 metres) and the incredibly beautiful Machapuchare (6,993 metres) on the opposite side. Up here, if you tilted your neck backwards towards the sky, you would think that you were looking at a mountain shaped cloud far up into the sky, but it was in fact the very tips of the mountains penetrating the heavens. We wandered around the base camp exploring and taking photos before settling to watch a high-altitude game of volleyball that was taking place amongst the porters and trekking guides on the most scenic court known to man. Annapurna Base camp was the starting point for Chris Bonington’s famous 1970 British expedition and the subject of the book ‘Annapurna South’ that I

had been reading during the climb. Walking up to a high ridge which sunk down into an enormous cavern, I found a precarious cairn gripping to the lip of the earth. Tibetan flags fluttered in the strong, cold wind around the cairn and I noticed the names of climbers carved into metal plates that had been nailed to the stones as memorials. I recognized the names of one of the climbers that I had been following the story of in my book. I wasn’t yet up to the part where he had obviously lost his life during the climb and I shuddered at the realization. The evidence once again confirmed the fact that these mountains deserved ultimate respect by humans. The atmosphere was daunting, almost spooky and surreal up here. That night I lay in bed; fleece, leggings, trousers, jacket, coat, three pairs of socks, hat, scarf and an enormous puffer jacket and still couldn’t get warm. Off in the distance, I could hear the spontaneous crash of an avalanche and at one point I thought I heard footprints of an abominable snowman, or yeti – but I’m sure that was just my imagination getting the better of me.

Rising at dawn, we were just in time for the sun to greet us with an incredible light show across the peaks. Shafts of sunshine hit the peaks at different angles causing patterns and beams of white, blue and pink across the mountains. It was a five day walk back to civilization and much as I adored being so close to the peaks that I felt I could touch them, I was pleased to be heading down to a warmer clime and a few simple home comforts - the first hot shower I had back in Pokhara is still the best shower I have ever had to this day! My journey in the Himalaya had been incredible and during the trek I had cultivated an even deeper respect for the mountains that I love and the courageous ‘fools’ who try to conquer them. As always after time spent in high places, I felt that once again, my life had been brought into perspective and order by nature’s magnificent peaks. As a wise man once said, “He who climbs upon the highest mountains, laughs at all tragedies, real or imaginary.” (Friedrich Nietzsche) By Nikki Scott

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nd on e B e h t d n u Driven Ro oop... L n o S g n o H the Mae ped torbikes, this week I jum Being new to driving mo r to ote sco I returned my little in at the deep end. g rkin wo a h wit ed it for one the shop and swapp of ef reli at gre the (to pension speedometer and sus t, a set marvellous pink helme a ng orti Sp ). my bum rissie Ch s and with my pal of not-so-sturdy flip flop Son ng Ho e Ma torbike the in tow, I set out to mo t bes s rldâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; wo the of to be one Loop. This is meant in the ds ben 64 1,8 sts boa motorbiking routes and route of 650km...


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Wording by Alicia Kidd Photos by Christina Reed

With strictly timetabled plans allowing us to leave no later than 9am, we clambered onto our bikes to begin our journey a mere five hours behind schedule. Having no idea how long the journey should take us, and with no directions other than road signs (‘what you didn’t take a map?’ I hear you cry. Well frankly, no. Where’s the adventure in that?), we pulled up in Mae Chaem as it started to get dark. This tiny town obviously doesn’t see many non-Thais, and two white girls on motorbikes certainly seemed to draw a lot of attention. Finding somewhere to stay was a little tricky, but after some rather excellent haggling of mine (“How much is a room?” “350 Baht.” “Can we have it for 200 Baht?” “Yes.”), we had a room for the night with two planks of wood, each with a pillow and blanket. After a little wander around the town we settled in a tiny bar with two bottles of the finest wine/alcopop concoction known to man, ‘Spy’. Wave goodbye to Lambrini - Spy is now the gold medalist when it comes to high class beverages. Enjoying my refreshment, I stroked the kitten who was pottering about the place. Upon asking the landlady its name, I was told that in fact it was not a cat, it was her son, and it was he who owned the bar we were in. We didn’t stay much longer. The next morning, with fresh fruit from the market, we sat and ate breakfast beside a river, sharing a field with a cow. Pondering whether there was a generic Thai name for cows, similar to our unoriginal British desire to refer to all cows as Daisy, I got myself in a bit of a pickle. The Thai word for cat is meow. So I figured that a cow would be moo. But to my dismay, things simply aren’t that straightforward, and moo means pork (BUT WHY?!). Anyway, I soon got bored, said goodbye to Daisy and jumped on the bike to begin the four hour drive to Mae Hong Son. Having encountered enough hair pins to give Rapunzel a nice up-do, we arrived to find Mae Hong Son to be a tiny town with very little in the way of, well anything really. As it was very untouristy, I decided to crack out my best Thai and ordered some drinks. As it turns out, I ordered two plates of banana milkshake. Hahaha hilarious yes, thank you. The next morning, we embarked on a mission to climb to the top of the town’s highest hill to a temple which overlooks the whole of Mae Hong Son. In 40 degree heat with a backpack, it would be an understatement to say that I was sweating. Reaching the top to discover there was a road that led right to the temple entrance left me feeling mortified at the amount of unnecessary exercise I had just endured, but although the red sweaty me of that afternoon would hate me for saying it, the view was worth it.

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Back on the bikes we wound our way towards Soppong. I stopped at one point to move a 5ft piece of inner tube out of the road. As my brakes squeaked to a stop, the inner tube reared its head and slithered toward me. The speed I pulled away at would rival that of Simon Cowell seeing a talentless twollop and signing a record deal. At Soppong we stayed in a small bamboo hut on a hillside overlooking the river. We spent the evening marvelling over the nature in our room, paying particular attention to how incredibly big cockroaches can be and pondering whether stripy geckos are poisonous. The following morning we hired a couple of kayaks and hit the white water river. An hour or so in, we climbed out to do some caving in our flip flops (hey, at least we had headlamps that kind of worked...). This put our previous night’s ponderings to shame as hundreds of birds, bats and spiders stopped to watch what on earth these two girls could possibly be doing inside a cave. Half an hour later, my fingernails were full of bat poo and my hair was plastered to my face with sweat. Move over Angelina, I’m way more suited to playing the role of Lara Croft than you are. Exhausted from the day’s adventures it was lucky that our next stop, Pai was only a couple of hours’ drive away. Winding our way there I found myself debating over whether the clouds were cumulo cirrus or cumulo stratus. It took me under five minutes to realise that actually, I couldn’t care less and I just began to enjoy looking at them instead. Our adventure in Pai varied very little from our last visit: we ate too much, drank ridiculously-cheap-and-far-too-alcoholic-cocktails and spent 12 hours sleeping it off before driving the final three hour leg back to Chiang Mai. And just in case photos aren’t enough to prove that I actually did motorbike this route, I have a certificate, and everyone knows that you can’t argue with the validity of a certificate... Yes, perhaps these certificates don’t fit with the sense of ‘cool’ associated with completing this journey. But having returned home wearing one broken flip flop (I bet Angelina isn’t hardcore enough to try exploring a 3,000 year old cave in flip flops) and one broken helmet (I got so excited about it being pink that I dropped it), I believe that my sense of uncool is already strong enough to deal with any mockery that these official documents may incur.


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MAE HONG SON LOOP: FACTFILE DISTANCE: 650km LENGTH OF JOURNEY: 3-5 days THE ROUTE: The route can be done in either a clockwise or anti-clockwise

direction (makes sense huh!?) and depending on how fast you ride, you have various options for spending the night. There are also many interesting detours along the way of waterfalls, temples, hot springs, caves and hill-tribe coffee shops to break up the journey. Here’s the way we did it:

START: Chiang Mai

Head out from Chiang Mai on Highway 108 and 1009 in the direction of Doi Inthanon. Sign posts will say Chom Thong or Mae Chaem. The route will take you through the beautiful Doi Inthanon National Park , through forests and hill tribe villages. It is possible to take a short detour to reach the summit of Doi Inthanon, the highest mountain in Thailand at 2,599m. There are also a few spectacular viewpoints along the way which are well worth a photo break.

NIGHT 1: Mae Chaem

After coming through Doi Inthanon National Park you will descend to the quiet town of Mae Chaem, a traditional town which contains a mix of hill tribe ethnic minorities such as the Lisu, Hmong and Lawa.

NIGHT 2: Mae Hong Son

Heading out on Highway 1285, (arguably the most scenic part of the journey) you will finally reach Mae Hong Son, the capital of the province and host to some spectacular scenery. If you pop into the tourist office here you will be granted your very own certificate to congratulate you on surviving the trip, even though by this point you’ll have only done half of it…

NIGHT 3: Soppong

Soppong is a lovely place to get a good night’s peaceful rest in a bamboo hut along the river, and there are also some nearby amazing caves which are well worth an explore - just be sure to take a torch!

4 gears but no clutch.) If you are an advanced rider you can also plump for an off-road motorbike also known as a ‘crosser’ (4 gears and clutch.) The automatic is the easiest bike to ride for beginners, yet with a little effort most people can master the semi-automatic in less than a day which offers the rider much more control especially riding mountainous, windy roads. Costs are per 24hrs, however it is usually possible to barter if you want the motorbike for a longer trip. As a guide: Automatic motorbike: 120 baht - 250 baht / day) Semi-automatic motorbike: 150 baht - 250 baht / day Off-road motorbike: 600-1,000 baht / day

* SAFETY FIRST! • HELMET: It goes without saying, always wear a helmet on Thai roads. • •

The rental of a helmet should be free with bike rental so always remember to ask for it.

INSURANCE: will often set you back an extra 20 or 40 baht when hiring

your scooter and it is always worth paying the extra minimal fee. You don’t want to be faced with a huge bill if someone crashes into your bike or heaven forbid it gets stolen.


are thousands of stray dogs in Thailand and chances are that many will wander out as you are driving along the road. It sounds daft, but if you see a dog crossing the road, don’t panic and swerve to avoid it. Beep your horn and the dog will slowly move out of the way (hopefully)! People have crashed swerving dramatically to avoid frogs!


Before you set off, make sure you give a thorough check of the motorbike. That paper that you just signed says that you hired the bike in pristine condition. If there was a scratch or a dent in the vehicle before you set off, you’ill end up paying for it upon your return, despite it not being your fault. Beware, some motorbike companies are sticklers for this so make sure you don’t get bitten!


Don’t panic! This is Asia. There will no doubt be a friendly mechanic / grocers / hairdressers down the road who will help you get back on track in no time! Pumping tyres up is often free of charge / changing the oil around 20 baht and fixing a light about 100 baht. If you lose your helmet expect to pay around 200 baht for a new one and the same price for a motorbike key. Don’t let anyone tell you that it will cost 1,000’s of baht to fix!

NIGHT 4: Pai

Relax once you arrive in the chilled out Bohemian town of Pai and reward yourself with a mojito in one of the trendy bars in town. Brimming with hippie sorts and bouncing with reggae music, Pai is a favorite amongst backpackers and has a great range of restaurants, bars and coffee shops. After a night in Pai, make your way leisurely back to Chiang Mai taking 3-4 hours to reach the city...


Even though when you left Chiang Mai you were sweating under the bright sun, it can get pretty cold up in the mountains, so be sure to take warm clothing, especially if you are attempting the route between November - February. Sturdy shoes are a must and also, (we are in Thailand) sunscreen and mosquito repellent are necessities.


There’s a great map which can be purchased for about 150 baht in book shops in Chiang Mai called the GT Rider guide map, which covers the entire Mae Hong Son Loop.


There are many places to hire scooters in Chiang Mai which usually charge per 24hrs. You’ll need to pay in advance and leave your passport as a deposit. If you don’t want to leave your passport you can leave a deposit of around 5,000 baht. We have never had any bad experiences with companies failing to return passports so don’t worry too much about this, just make sure that you hire from a reputable company and take a business card with the address / phone number.


There are three types of basic scooters available for hire at most motorcycle rental places in Thailand; the automatic (with no gears) and semi automatic (with S.E.A Backpacker


W hat’s on: Festivals and Events The “Moon” Parties Koh Phangan, Thailand Full Moon Party

8th March, 6th April

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!

Black Moon Culture 22nd March, 20th April

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 Underground trance and progressive beats resound through the air as partygoers 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 is


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an intense dance experience. Party animals watch out!

Half Moon Festival



April 12th-15th All over Thailand

16th, 30th March 12th, 29th April

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!

The “wetter the better” is the slogan for this; the most celebrated festival of the year in Thailand! If you’re lucky enough to be here for these fun-packed few days you’re in for an unforgettable experience as the entire country turns into the site of a very energetic water fight! What could be a better way to cool off in the sweltering temperatures of Thailand’s hottest season? Garden hoses, water pistols, super soakers and buckets of water mixed with talcum powder are thrown haphazardly at innocent passersby. Traditionally, Songkran is the welcoming of the Thai New Year and is symbolically a time for new

March - April 2012 beginnings and spiritual cleansing. As well as celebration, it is an important time to spend with family members and pay respect to elders. On the first day of the festival, Thai people clean their houses to welcome in the New Year and visit temples to pray and offer food to the monks. An important ritual is to cleanse or bathe Buddha images by gently sprinkling with scented water, a ceremony believed to grant prosperity and bestow good fortune in the New Year. In many places across the country, Buddha images taken from the cities temples are paraded through the streets on decorated floats where people throw water over them.

as people used to pay respect and wish good luck to others by gently pouring this ‘blessed’ water on people’s shoulders. Wherever you are in Thailand, it’s hard to miss the high-energy festivities (stay dry!) but one of the best places to witness the event has to be Northern Thailand’s capital of culture, Chiang Mai. Thousands of people flock to the city during these few days to celebrate on a huge scale. Hoards of people drive around the city looking for any victim who may have an inch of dryness left about his or her person! For locals and tourists alike it’s all about having fun, wet and wild style. Get yourself kitted out with a water pistol complete with a water tank backpack, get involved in some serious pump action and release your inner child! For extra points, load it up with ice first...

Bali Spirit Festival

28th March - 1st April Ubud, Bali, Indonesia. The exuberant soakings of today originate from this once mild ritual,

The annual Bali Spirit Festival is a vibrant and uplifting event that celebrates yoga, dance and music

showcase vibrant and diverse musicians performing everything from gospel to salsa to afro-beats; ensuring a musical feast for all attendees! The creative masters

in a synergy of cultures from all over the world. The festival aims to inspire each individual’s potential for positive change within, leading to change in our homes, communities and around the world. Now in its fifth year, the event expects over 5,000 people present on the spectacular grounds of its atmospheric outdoor venue just ten minutes south of Bali’s cultural heart, Ubud. By day, your creative and spiritual side will be stirred as you brush shoulders with international gurus in over 100 inspiring yoga, dance and music workshops. Browse through the stores at the Dharma Fair, where you can buy natural health products and local handicrafts and meet highly esteemed practitioners of alternative health and medicine. By night, lively world music concerts

from around the world merge with the rich indigenous culture of Indonesia in the spirit of learning, collaboration and diversity. It’s an event not to be missed for all enthusiastic backpackers! (

Cambodian New Year (Chaul Chnam Thmey) 14th - 18th April 2012 Cambodia

Corresponding with Songkran in Thailand, the Cambodian New Year, known as ‘Chaul Chnam

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W hat’s on: Festivals and Events Penang World Music Festival Penang, Malaysia 23th - 25th March

Thmey’ in Khmer, is a threeday occasion celebrated by all Cambodians across the country. Religious ceremonies take place at shrines and temples and people can be seen building small sand hills on temple grounds decorated with five religious flags that symbolise Buddha’s five disciples. ‘Water blessings’ occur as Cambodians sprinkle holy water on each other’s faces in the morning, on the chest at noon and on the feet in the evening. Although not quite as wild as in Thailand, ‘soakings’ are common as locals, armed with water balloons and water pistols, make any unsuspecting passer-by their target. Traditional New Year games also take place on street corners up and down the country; as locals join together to have some light hearted, good wholesome fun!

Coinciding with the above event, on the bustling island of Penang is their annual music festival, and the scene couldn’t be more different. The atmospheric, culture-soaked town of Georgetown comes alive to different rhythms from around the world, where local and international musicians participate in a “convergence of harmonic fusion.” A fantastic event for all those muso’s missing their gigs whilst on the backpacking trail.

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Nyepi is an important event across Bali, which commemorates the ‘Hindu Day of Silence’ from 6am to 6pm. The date also marks the start of the Hindu New Year. You’ll find business and restaurants closed during the daytime as the whole island observes this religious time of self-reflection and contemplation. Bali’s usually bustling streets and beaches remain empty, as there are restrictions on travelling, entertainment, eating, working and even talking on this significant day. Although primarily a Hindu festival, non-Hindu residents also respect the occasion and even tourists are also expected to observe the rules. Bali’s only airport is also closed for the entire day.

Malean Sampi

10th & 11th April Lombok, Indonesia With ‘Malean’ meaning ‘to chase’ and ‘Sampi’ meaning cow, in local

Fast cars, loud noises, attractive women and thousands of rich folk descend on the capital city for the Malaysia Grand Prix. Most backpackers probably can’t afford the sharp rise in prices that is inevitable with such an event, but if you feel like treating yourself – or made it part of your bucket list to watch a Formula 1 Grand Prix - then there aren’t many better places than Malaysia’s cosmopolitan capital, Kuala Lumpur.

Java Jazz Festival 2nd – 4th March Jakarta, Indonesia

St. Patrick’s Day

17th March Ireland and South East Asia

23rd March Bali, Indonesia

13th– 16thApril 2012 Laos


tradition, the event sees a series of cattle races taking place on a soggy racetrack 100 meters long and is a favourite amongst local farmers and tourists, never failing to draw in an excited crowd.


Laos New Year (Pee Mai)

Mid-April also sees in the New Year in Laos, with a festival known locally as ‘Pee Mai’, the most celebrated event in the country. Akin to Thailand and Cambodia, this is the hottest period in Laos and the celebrations not only welcome in the New Year, but also mark the beginning of the monsoon season. Water plays a major role as a symbol of ‘cleansing’ as homes, Buddha images and people are people are blessed with good fortune in the coming year. It’s also a time of merit-making and paying respect to elders. You will see ‘sand stupas’ created on temple grounds similar to those in Cambodia. But, like all of the New Year Festivals, the emphasis is on having fun! Expect to get wet as friendly Laotions take pleasure in drenchings designed to wish you a long and healthy life!

‘Sasak’ language, you can pretty much guess what this festival entails. A much loved Lombok

Okay, so it’s not a traditional Asian event, but that doesn’t mean for one minute that St. Patrick’s Day won’t be celebrated with fervency in this fun-loving part of the world. It seems that the fun-loving locals readily accept Western festivals into the Eastern culture as long as it’s an excuse to have a good party! With the essential ‘Irish Pub’ sprinkled on islands and cities across South East Asia, from Koh Phi Phi, to Hanoi to Siem Reap, you’ll find yourself perched on a bar stool, drinking Guinness easier than you can say ‘Paddy and Mick McMurphy’s your Uncle.’ Culture vultures will wince as green beer is downed and Thai bands cover Irish folk songs complete with the ‘local’ accent.

Malaysia F1 Grand Prix 23-25 March Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Bringing such acclained artists as Stevie Wonder, Al Jarreau and Erykah Badu to the Indonesian capital, this massive annual celebration of jazz music is spread over the first weekend of March. But it’s not just international artists worth seeing here, there are a number of local artists hoping to share their talent (and some of them have it in abundance!) with an international audience. A daily pass is 600,000 rupiah or 1,600,000 for a three-day pass – or you can buy online for a decent discount. Ooh yeah this is jazz....

Raptor Watch

10th – 11th March Tanjung Tuan, Malaysia

No, not a scene from “Jurassic Park” where the characters are hiding in the toilet from deadly dinosaurs. This is an event organised by the Malaysian Nature Society to celebrate the return of migratory birds of prey (spring raptors) to their breeding grounds in the northern hemisphere. A unique event for nature lovers and twitters (not the electronic kind) held at Tanjung Tuan forest reserve, Port Dickson.

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On bicycle through South East Asia

One couple, two bikes, five countries & 6,000 miles... Bas (24) and Eva (23) live together in Amsterdam, a European capital with more bicycles than inhabitants. Both travelling and biking is in their blood and they decided to combine the two by biking through South East Asia for six months. Here’s their story in a nutshell. By Eva de Jong

Joking around It all started as a joke, while cycling through cold, rainy Amsterdam. That night we’d been brainstorming, about the big journey we were planning to make next year, in an Amsterdam pub. We were cycling back home a little tipsy, ‘‘I can’t wait to leave this country but I’ll certainly miss my lovely bike’’, I said half joking to Bas. It made him laugh. ‘’I don’t see the problem’’, he said ‘’we could just take our bikes travelling with us’’. Even if that idea made me laugh more, a seed was planted. Six months later we arrived in Bangkok airport with two sets of professional cycle bags and two big boxes containing our brand new travel bikes (obviously we didn’t take our regular city bikes with us). What had been a joke on a rainy evening turned out to become reality for six months in South East Asia...

Off the tourist trail The idea of travelling by bicycle is to see the countries in a more unique way. Instead of driving on hot buses through the landscape and making stops, we get to experience the country in a more intensely. Furthermore, cycling for six months allows us to improve our physical condition. It feels great to have such regular exercise and to feel your body getting stronger every day. At the same time our bicycles do restrict us sometimes. We cannot fall asleep in Thailand and wake up the next morning in Cambodia. It takes time to get somewhere and while ‘getting there’ we get to know the country, the people and their habits in a way few travellers will.

Our itinerary In six months our legs managed 6,000 kilometers, we’ve crossed five countries, and we spent about half of our days cycling. We started near Bangkok and we went up all the way north to Chiang Mai. After this we crossed the border to Laos in northern Thailand and headed south for the beautiful cities of Luang Prabang and Vientiane. After a month of cycling in Laos we crossed the border back to Thailand. We started cycling towards the south again and made a stopover on Koh Tao before crossing into Malaysia. In Malaysia we kept going south to reach Singapore where we took the airplane to Bali, in order to cycle on Bali.


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Highs and Lows After cycling for six months we have seen parts of South East Asia up close up and personal. Most of the experiences were fantastic but we also had to cope with difficulties. As any biker will tell you; itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s all about the highs and lows, both literally and figuratively! Sometimes cycling can be extremely tough having to climb up steep mountains that never seem to come to an end. In those moments we had to keep going because we had to find a place to sleep, even if we were exhausted and our muscles hurt. On the other hand, there is almost nothing that can beat the feeling of a high-speed descend surrounded by dazzling mountain scenery, feeling the cool wind in your hair, hearing only the turning of the wheels, enjoying every second of the way down. While cycling through all these different countries, we experienced highlights and troubles of a different kind in every country.

Thailand Thailand was the first country we cycled in. It was also the country where we spent most of our time. Overall it was a wonderful experience. Cycling in Thailand was a delight. The locals were friendly and helpful and the roads led us through wonderful scenery, passing by small villages and temples. There wasnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t too much traffic and the roads were, on the whole, in good condition. While cycling by, families would wave and greet us cheerfully. Everybody was ready to help us if we came across a difficulty and a few times somebody would even guide us by car or by motorbike to our destination. Accommodation was cheap, so after a long day of cycling we could afford to take a warm shower and to sleep in a nice bed.

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A less appealing aspect of cycling in Thailand was the presence of aggressive dogs! We cannot explain it but in Thailand they seemed to be far more aggressive than in other countries! Theyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re not kept behind fences. Almost every day we seemed to be chased by them, grunting and baring their teeth. It made one of us (Eva) panic every time it happened. After a few nasty experiences we decided to take a stick with us in order to threaten the dogs. Luckily this approach seemed to help. In the end we also got used to it and we noticed that they never truly attacked.

Laos In Laos we also had some good and some bad moments. The experience of cycling in the northern mountainous region was unforgettable and the views were stunning. It was extraordinary to cycle around in the remote mountain areas of Laos. It was like seeing another era. We cycled through different hill tribe villages that consisted of hand-built wooden huts - piglets, puppies, kittens, chickens and cows were all roaming around freely. Children were running along with us screaming with joy and laughter. The combination of the view and the opportunity to see the way people still live in the villages was amazing. The ingredients that make cycling in Laos well worth it also have a dark side. Cycling through the mountains is exhausting and takes its toll. After those days, it seemed impossible to find a decent place to sleep. In the remote areas we ended up sleeping in some very rough places where we couldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t find anything else to eat apart from sticky rice and omelets for days in a row! Whereas most of the locals were friendly and kind, we also felt uncomfortable in some villages, where people would stare at us in a suspicious way. Moreover, we were struck by the dire poverty of some of the villages seeing bony children and adults searching for food between piles of garbage.

Malaysia Thailand - Always fresh snacks along the way!


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On the whole, we had a great time in fascinating, multi-cultural nation where everybody speaks English very well. We enjoyed the hospitality of the people (one day we ended up at a wedding of complete strangers!), we marveled at

the impressive cities with their splendid colonial heritage and we loved the tasty cuisine of the different ethnical groups (Chinese, Indian, and Malay). Malaysia is a very prosperous South East Asian country which allowed us to benefit from some western luxuries as well. We went to the cinema, visited museums and treated ourselves at fancy restaurants. You certainly didn’t feel like the ‘rich foreigner’ in this country. One, quite important, aspect that made the trip to Malaysia less successful is the fact that cycling on its west coast was a disaster because of the traffic. This is no surprise because the country is wealthy enough for almost everybody to have one or more cars. The roads are packed with honking and speeding cars, trucks and motorbikes which can make cycling a dangerous and unpleasant experience. Another less appealing aspect of Malaysia is the fact that your money is worth less here than in other South East Asian countries. The food is still cheap, but you will have to pay more for accommodation or settle for the very basic digs.

Indonesia In Indonesia we have only cycled in Bali and Lombok. In Bali, we cycled with two friends who came travelling with us for four weeks. In Lombok we only cycled for a few days because we spent too much time diving on the amazing Gili Islands! In consequence we can only speak out about Bali... In general we had a great time in Bali but even here we sometimes had to struggle. Bali is a small, hilly, volcanic island with a lot of traffic. These may not sound like the best cycling conditions but we enjoyed cycling in Bali a lot. Because of Bali’s small size we could take our time to explore the island from the inside out. We took detours on little unpaved roads that led us alongside marvelous rice paddies and small villages where it seemed like there were always some religious festivities going on. Besides that, we enjoyed the fact of being on an island which allowed us most of the time to cool down in the sea after a long sweaty day.

A detour to the Batu Caves, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Playful elephants in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand

Curious children in Bali, Indonesia S.E.A Backpacker


A less attractive side of this beautiful island is the fact that you’re not the only one that’s exploring its striking beauty! For the first time in our five months of travelling we had to deal with such a huge amount of other tourists. This made contact with the locals more difficult. We were quite conspicuous as they were constantly trying to sell us something or to lure us into some trekking or snorkeling trip. Accommodation was not always easy to find since hotels and guesthouses where often fully booked. Moreover, it was not always possible to take the small roads so we had to cope with quite busy traffic and dangerous manoeuvres. Both the traffic and the size of the island made it impossible for us to cycle long distances.

Why cycling? After six months of cycling we have a brilliant experience to look back on. We never regretted the decision to travel by bicycle for a minute. Cycling through a continent might seem like a big step but in reality everybody could do it if the motivation is there. It just requires some investment in the right gear, some planning, and last but not least, the ability to improvise. We would recommend this way of travelling for those who like a bit of a challenge and the feeling of complete freedom. It’s fantastic not to depend on anyone but yourself and your bicycle. No rip-offs, no hours of waiting, no sweaty tourists in rickety buses. Not to forget one of the best parts: after a long day of cycling you have really ‘earned’ your cold beer and your big plate of food and you’ll sleep like a baby.

Smiling locals in Bali, Indonesia,

The incredible scenery of northern Laos


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P hotos: Cambodia

iver from r e h t n o s t n e m o M ... g n a b m a t t a B o t p Siem Rea It was dawn and I was sat on the back of a pick-up truck making its way to Siem Reap’s nearest floating village, Chong Kneas. There, I would board the boat to Battambang, Cambodia’s second largest town. By eight o’ clock after a typical delay, we departed. Due to the extreme flooding of South East Asia in 2011, the Tonle Sap lake was still very high, making for a smooth trip ahead. The journey can be split into three parts – crossing the mighty Tonle Sap, winding through the floating villages of the reserve and finally traveling down the narrower stretch towards Battambang. The scenery changes quite noticeably along the way...


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The morning sun light up the floating villages beautifully. Locals were busy going about normal morning chores. Men were out to check the nets, women were cleaning the floating homes, and children, as you’d expect anywhere in the world, were messing about in the water. Everything we passed was floating; schools, health clinics, even a mobile phone shop! They all boobed gently up and down with the level of the lake. A few hours in, we passed by a beautiful Burmese pagoda on stilts, on the southern side of the river. After an early lunch stop on a floating convenience store, and the pick-up of several live chickens, the scenery changed as the skipper took us down some extremely narrow canals, with thick vegetation either side. Speed was a problem – the driver clearly wanted to make time! At one point, racing round the bend, with visibility no more than ten metres, we struck a house boat coming the other way. The family sounded rather angry, but after a quick assessment that they weren’t sinking, and our engine began to roar once again!

The thick flooded vegetation gave way to a high riverbank, as we began to approach Battambang. The river was crowded with small dugout boats. In the mid-afternoon locals were busy checking nets. As our boat steamed passed, some fishermen were readily prepared for the wake, whilst others were thrown into the water! The locals must hate this ferry, I thought... As we approached Battambang, the houses on the riverbank gradually improved in quality, until most had roof tiles. We began to frequently pass pagodas – with some mosques thrown in – and we sensed that the end of the journey was near. It was an amazing experience; watching the communities change, from stilted to floating to river bank dwellers was fascinating. However, as my fellow passengers and I found out, expect the unexpected every time! Dominic Stafford has been based in Siem Reap, Cambodia for two years, where he photographs and teaches. You can view more of Dominic’s work, and contact him at

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Something to keep you busy on all those long bus journeys! Answers on page 58.







20 24







1. Rubbish 4. Shovels 9. Praise 10. Mistake 11. Bird 12. Small house 13. Cooking utensil 14. Fever 16. Obtains 18. Chop 20. Responded 21. Rabbitâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s tail 24. More factual 25. Chase 26. Passes on 27. Avarice

(5) (6) (7) (5) (4) (7) (3) (4) (4) (3) (7) (4) (5) (7) (6) (5)

1. Trails 2. English racecourse 3. Qualifying race 5. Status 6. Asleep 7. Thoroughfare 8. Protection garment 13. Type of wind 15. Unhurried 17. Hollow 18. Proficient 19. Expressed 22. Vulgar 23. Smug person

(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.

5 9 1 8 6 2 9 5 5 2 6 8 6 7 1 9 9 1 3 4 1 9 4 5 2 8 7 9 Question What popular SE Asian food was used in the building of the Great Wall of China? a) Sticky rice


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b) Tapioca

c) Noodles

d) Coconut

e) All of them!

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B off the beaten track: RAIL T E H T F F STEP O .. ULAWESI. IN S

By Oliver Slow Two hours into the walk and I look down at the hiking-shoes lent to me by my housemate back in Jakarta. Not a speck of dirt on them. ‘There’s no way I can give them back looking like this’ I think to myself ‘it’ll look like I didn’t go anywhere in them.’ I veer slightly off the paved track into a puddle just to muddy them up a bit. I am in Tana Toraja, Sulawesi the oddly-shaped island in the northern part of Indonesia’s vast group of islands - making the trek from Palawa, a village just outside the main town of Rantepao, to Batutumonga, a tiny village highup in the mountains. A guide is apparently a good idea on this trek, but I am feeling adventurous, and stingy, and decide instead to trust a decent map, some borrowed trekking boots and my somewhat loose sense of direction. So far it seems to have been a wise decision. The track is very well-maintained and I walk through gorgeous, small villages where the friendly locals want to come and meet the strange Bule (white-man) passing through their village. What is most interesting about these villages I pass through, aside from the friendliness of the locals, is the homes that the Torajan people live in, also known as Tongkonans. The most unique part of the Tongkonan is the roof, shaped like a bull’s horn – an animal very important to the Torajan people – and the homes play a key part in Torajan life. These homes are never allowed to be sold and it is around these homes that important events, particularly the famous funeral ceremonies, are held. At one point along the walk I am joined by a group of school children who follow me asking for money, sweets, sugar anything. The kids are good fun, if a bit cheeky, and I try to satisfy them by pulling from my pocket a bar of soap that I had stolen from my hotel that morning. The boy I give it to unwraps it and goes to take a bite out of it. “Ngga, ngga. Cuci, ngga makanan.” (No, no. Washing, not food). Perhaps because they think I’m trying to poison them, or aware that I have nothing for them, the kids return to their village and I am alone again. The track flattens out and I come to a fork. I gamble on going left and shortly pass a rice farmer. “Batutumonga?” I call out. “Lurus” (Straight) is his reply. The paved track disappeared and became a bumpy, boggy path. I wound through paddy fields, over crevices, into burrows. I came to a river, bounded across like


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Frodo and washed myself in it like Huck Finn. After the river, the track rose away from the villages and suddenly I was somewhere remarkably remote. I passed a couple of rice farmers toiling away in the field but that was all I saw for some time, before the track came to an abrupt end at another river. This river was much larger, and more aggressive than the one I had bounded across so confidently earlier. Two large, boulder-like stones sat in the middle, apart from that there was nothing to help me across. Off to the left, just a few metres from the first stone, was a large waterfall that would have meant a grisly end had I misjudged my jump. Mustering up as much courage as I could, I made the first leap and managed to clamber onto the first boulder. I stood atop it for a moment before planning my next move. I edged myself down slowly, so that my left foot could rest on a stone slightly emerging from the water and pushed onto another, much smaller stone. I balanced precariously here as the water rushed by me. The waterfall felt closer, and more aggresive from here, and I was well aware that making a mistake now could mean big trouble. Another large boulder was next and, with as big of a leap as I could manage I made my move. My face planted intself onto the rock, but my fingers managed to find some crevices and I hauled myself up. From there it was an easy hop on to safe, dry land. Once across the river, however, the track had disappeared completely. To my left vegetation; same to my right; and ahead of me nothing but endless paddy-fields. I considered heading back across the river in the hope of finding the track, but after the fairly arduous ordeal of getting across, I gambled on making my way across the fields in the hope of finding my way again. Off in the distance some farmers were working away, so I made my way towards them hoping they could shed some light on the destination of Batutumonga. Paddy-fields are divided into mini-fields of their own and, as such, are very difficult to walk across. These mini-fields are boggy in the middle – to allow the rice to grow – and have a dry lip around the outside. The fields are also tiered, stair-like, so I found myself precariously walking around the lip, like my very own tight rope, with the hope of not tumbling either into the boggy middle of the field or onto a lower tier. Thirty minutes or so later I reached the farmers. I looked down at the boots, which by now had well and truly had a working out, covered in thicky, clayey mud after I nearly lost

both of them in the boggy paddy-fields. My legs were also covered, up to the knee, in the thick mud. Managing to gain some composure and get my breath back I called out to one of the farmers. “Batutumonga? Dimana?” (Where?) He pointed ahead and I followed the line of his finger. Right at the top of a thick, forestry mountain that I had somehow missed. I double checked and he confirmed. Smiling. Across more fields I trudged, narrowly avoiding the interests of a water buffalo, hoping to find a gap in the trees. I found another farmer at the bottom of the mountain and again asked the direction of the town I was heading, hoping he would point to a chair lift. No luck, but he did point to a path that led very steeply up the mountain. I reached the path and it was indeed steep. I looked at my bottle of water, a maximum of three mouthfuls remaining. The day was nearing its hottest point and my legs were definitely on their last, well, legs. Taking a deep breath I put out a foot onto the mountain to begin my ascent. Instantly the muscle - I have no idea which one, possibly all of them - seized, spluttered and gave up and I tumbled pathetically into another puddle of mud. I turned to check the farmer wasn’t looking, inhaled again, fell forward onto all fours and crawled, babylike up the track. After perhaps 10 minutes of this I gained enough energy to function on two legs and carefully edged higher. The higher I climbed, the steeper the edge became until I was eventually looking to an almost vertical drop to nothing but rocks and certain death. That good old friend ‘Paranoia’ made an appearance just about then. “Do you remember” it said “that nice young backpacker, didn’t look to dissimilar to yourself actually, who went out trekking on his own, fell off a precipitous edge and his body was never found?” Shut up Paranoia. I had to take a seat on a rock at this point and was just about ready to give up, lay where I was and wait for death’s sweet kiss to wash over me (this may sound overly-dramatic as I sit here in a comfortable, air-condition cafe, but it was genuinely how I felt at the time)! I sat back, drained the remaining dregs of my water bottle and gave it one final push. And I was rewarded. Life has a funny way of doing that; just when you feel ready to pack it in and give

up, it makes everything worthwhile. What a fantastic reward it was. I climbed higher, then out of the side of a rock appeared the distinctive edge of a Torajan house. Did you get mirages in the forest? Relieved, refreshed, whatever it was, I pushed on and, within minutes, stumbled out of some forestry and onto a paved road. Oh, it was beautiful! I soon found out that I was in the town of Lempo, just 3km from my destination and, looking at a map later on, learned that I had taken a quite audacious shortcut right across the paddy-fields. That house that I had seen turned out to be a trekkers’ cafe, with one of the greatest views I have ever enjoyed. I ordered a coffee and sat on the verandah enjoying the Tana Toraja area as it stretched out for miles and miles. Directly below I could make out the fields that I had trudged across, but no sign of the farmers, that was how high I had climbed. Off to the right the sparkling lights told me that that was Rantepao, the town that I had set out from that morning. There are moments when you allow yourself to sit back and really enjoy the moment you are in. This was one of those. They don’t happen often, but when they do they are magical. I had earned this. And if I didn’t have a 30-minute walk ahead of me I would definitely have enjoyed it with a beer. Refreshed I set off again and I was in the town of Batutumonga earlier, and more exhausted, than I had anticipated. The view was even better from here and finally I could enjoy the satisfying reward of a well-earned beer. Batutumonga sits high on the edge of Sesean Mountain and is home to a school, a hotel, two guesthouses and not a great deal else, but there is not much else you need when the views are as good as they are from here. With the hotel well out of my budget-range I checked into the first of the two guesthouses that I came to. Mama Rina’s Guesthouse is a basic, family place and I was shown to my room inside a Tongkonan that the guesthouse has. The room was as basic as it gets; a mattress, enough space for a backpack and a flimsy torch that dangled precariously from the ceiling. After the long day trekking I didn’t think I would need much else and, sure enough, by 8pm I was tucked up in bed. When I awoke, the view I was expecting of the valley below wasn’t there. But this view was even better as fluffy white clouds sat in the valley and I had the unusual experience of looking down on them. Then as I sat on the verandah enjoying breakfast, the cloud dispersed and there was that miraculous view again, confirming that the previous day’s struggles were worth it. After breakfast I began the descent down the mountain and back to Rantepao. This was a much easier walk and exactly what was needed. Within three hours I was just at the edge of Rantepao and dreaming of a decent shower and a relax in one of the hotel swimming pools when I felt something on my shoe. Assuming I had trod on something, I looked down and there, dangling was the heel of my walking shoe. Perhaps they had had a good working-out after all.

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thoughts, stories, tips TTraveller B


How NOT to impress a girl whilst on the road: I’m not what you call a “ladies” man, I’m not the hunchback of Notre Dame (nice bloke), but I’m far too geeky and awkward to smooth talk a piece of plain white bread, let alone a member of the opposite sex. On occasion however a female has been known to be of sufficient drunkenness to consider talking to me, and oddly on even rarer occasions they have actually decided they’d like to talk to me again the next day with a view to locking lips at some point in the future… maybe even when sober. Smiley face. With so much opportunity to meet people on the road, I get over excited. The thought of even reaching ‘first base’ all gets a bit too much and I implode, ruining any prospective ‘moment’ that may have been heading my way, and no I don’t mean that in a rude slightly messy way! I mean I just say or do the wrong thing and ultimately fail. You have sick minds, the lot of you! So, with the above legacy of woe in mind, I’ve created a listing of my own and others greatest failings with members of the opposite sex whilst on the road. Let it serve as a reminder to you as to how not to behave around a female whilst backpacking, if you’re at all interested in them. Laugh and learn...

1. DO NOT under any circumstances decide to get

your ear pierced two days into a new travel romance when you have an unequivocal fear of needles! I fainted, she held my hand. I died a little inside (true story).

hire them however, lads especially. I can appreciate they are an inexpensive way of getting around countries such as Thailand, but if you insist on pulling wheelies at 3am after you’ve had a skin full only to crash, write off the bike, break you leg and leave a small puddle of blood in the road which I later trod in (true story), I have very little/no sympathy for you. You will also look an idiot, and I’m pretty sure that girl you’ve been chatting to will not find your leg cast and weeping wounds sexy.


always a little silly. I’m sure a bunsen Playing with fire is

burner taught you one or two harsh lessons whilst at school. Yes we’re talking about literal fire here. Those fella’s twirling beautiful coloured fire sticks on the beach may look impressive, and yes they probably get lots of attention because of it, good for them. They are also sober and have practiced for many hours to become that good. You on the other hand are drunk and completely void of any co-ordination. Do not think that attempting to jump an enormous flaming skipping rope, tripping and burning yourself so badly that you have to have treatment for the remainder of your trip is an attractive gesture.


invite a member of the opposite sex back to you hostel dorm room thinking that it’s a romantic gesture. Your room probably stinks, will have other couples at it during the night and someone will probably try to piss in the bin at some point. It is not a romantic setting, avoid!


7. Do not lay on a thick

NOT ok

Kissing after vomiting is a no-no. It is to vomit whilst in the process of chatting someone up, only to try kiss them after said vomiting. This is especially bad if you have been drinking a vodka-red bull bucket all evening. I suggest trying to avoid the vomiting bit altogether

4. The “lasso” is NOT an acceptable move on the dance floor. My mate in Sydney swore by it but I was never to see it provide any positive results. If male, stick to the dance detailed by Will Smith in Hitch. Do not leave that two-step position or else fairies will die.

5. I’m NOT

a fan of mopeds, they usually have chavtastic kids who have no road sense driving, they weave through endless traffic jams and knock off any wing mirrors that might be in their way, and to top it off they sound just awful, like a handheld vacuum. People do

(fake) cockney accent as soon as the word London is mentioned in a conversation. Firstly its quite an aggressive dialect (lack of a better word), and secondly the other person probably won’t have a clue what you’re saying and will just stare at your blankly before leaving the room.


Lucky for me, times have now changed and the whole geek thing is now working for me to a certain extent. I have a lovely Mrs. who being half Irish, hovers at just the right amount of drunk throughout the year to put up with me. Take my advice though and avoid scenario’s like the above, they will do you no favours, sexually or otherwise. You’ll have to let certain standards slide whilst on the move and backpacking, but your standard of human decency is one that should remain intact, especially if you want to make friends.

travel writers! Calling all budding trav East Asia ellers passing through South

is written by nces and viewpoints S.E.A Backpacker Magazine h new writers with new experie fres e hav to aim our It’s . now right contributing every month. r from you! el writing, we would love to hea cy your hand at a spot of trav ews or any random scribbling you like to fan you If ies, book revi Please send any articles, stor


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’ll get back with articles you submit. We If possible try to include photos whether your words will be appearing in the next issue. of to you right away with news Happy Travelling!

Thanks for your support and

The Bucket Shower: How do you take yours? Now I don’t mind roughing it. Camping, dorms, basic rooms, cockroaches, no air-con is fine by me. I certainly wouldn’t call myself a flashpacker. However, the bane of my life whilst travelling is the horror that is the bucket shower - especially when you are backpacking in mountainous regions of South East Asia where the temperatures are less than tropical. Recently g deal is! what the bi on a trek in northern Laos, I don’t know I found myself fantasising each night about a hot power shower. After a strenuous trek, oh what luxury! With the provincial bucket shower, I feel myself dreading the act so much each day that I end up not having a shower at all… Yes that’s right folks, I would rather endure my own body odour and have those embarassing moments when you notice that others are also enduring your body odour than attempt a bucket shower. The situation was getting desperate and so I brought up the topic with some fellow travellers. How do they do it? After in-depth research, I’ve discovered there are two main methods:

Bucket Showers for the Timid: FEET FIRST Although this method tends to be the one preferred by the least adventurous / more timid washers… it can be suggested that this is in fact the most painful as the length of the bucket shower is dragged on and on prolonging the agony. The performance begins with an essential toe test - splashing a bit of water on your feet to get the rest of your body prepared for the cold. Then you move on to your legs rubbing them up and down with some water on your hands. Next comes the nether regions (always a shock) followed by the rest of your “front parts”, with a quick tickle under each armpit. All this preparation is intended to work your way towards the back wetting… the most feared and awful part of any bucket shower - guaranteed to induce a blood curdling scream amongst all timid washers!

Bucket Showers for the Brave: HEAD FIRST Fill your bucket up to the brim and without hesitation launch it over the top of your head, drenching your shoulders, back and rear end simultaneously. This method will almost certainly provoke a breathless a gasp but is sworn by those washers who just want to get it over and done with! Brave washers will leave the shower room grinning and clean feeling a sense of achievement whilst timid washers can only look and sniff on in envy.

QUOTE OF THE MONTH: at io n, “If yo u’re in a bad si tu ge . If yo u’re in a do n’t wor ry it ’ll ch an wor ry it ’ll ch an ge .” go od si tu at io n, do n’t (Joh n A Si mone Sr.)



orthern otel in n f at a h viously took e h c is h T has ob is the best Thailand “honesty e ic v d a the e too far! Fox, UK) tl lit a ” ve policy in by Da t n e (Photo s


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I NTERVIEW: Se Asia Faces & places


n a sunny Tuesday afternoon I made my way through the Chiang Mai traffic to visit the striking Wat Suan Dok on the western edge of the town for one of their “Monk Chats.” As I arrived at the gates (after being chased by some angry-looking dogs - why aren’t the dogs in temples calm too?) I found that they were locked and was about to trudge back to town when a smiling Monk passed me and asked if I needed help. Bounpheng was a student monk here at the temple and agreed to sit down and talk to me about his life here... Bounpheng, thanks for taking your time to speak with me. How long have you been a monk here at the temple? I have been here for five years. I’m originally from a small town in the north of Laos and came here to study. Before that I had studied Buddhism in Laos for four years. And why are you studying as a monk? It is according to Laos tradition. Men must spend a part of their lives studying to become a monk, but I have continued my studies out of choice and want to continue for eight more years. I’m 22 now and when I finish I want to go back to Laos to become a teacher of English at a Buddhist High School.

What is an average day for you? I wake-up at around 5am most days and take part in meditation and chanting - in chanting we usually recite the teachings of Buddha - and then we go out on to the streets where people leave food for us. We then come back to the temple for breakfast. Then we spend the day studying or in meditation, but we also get some free time. I usually go to sleep around 11 o’clock. What is your favourite subject to study? My favourite topic is philosophy and my favourite philosopher is Plato. I particularly like his quote “For a man to conquer himself is the first and noblest of all victories.” That quote is very true to what I believe. And what do you do in your free-time?


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I like to read books about philosophy and general knowledge, research on the internet and I also enjoy to chat with friends. What are the key beliefs in Buddhism? There are five key precepts of Buddhism; 1) Do not kill 2) Do not steal 3) Do not engage in sexual misconduct 4) Do not lie 5) Do not abuse alcohol or drugs - which monks must follow at all times. These are rules to keep us on the straight path. There are also the ‘Four Noble Truths’, which offer all Buddhists the path to enlightenment. These are 1) Life means suffering (everyone experiences pain, sadness, fear and depression at some point in their lives) 2) The origin of suffering is attachment (when humans desire transient things this causes suffering and we must realise this) 3) The end of suffering is achievable (this can be achieved by calming our desire therefore removing the cause of suffering) 4) The path to the end of suffering (A gradual path of self improvement leads to nirvana, freedom from all worries) We also have a very strong belief in Karma, if you perform good actions and have good thoughts then you will live a good life, and if you do bad things then you will live a bad life. This also extends throughout past lives. We believe in reincarnation, that the cycle of life and death continues and continues until people reach Enlightenment. What is Enlightenment exactly? True happiness I guess. A state of pure mind when you are free from all suffering and have no cravings for anything. We try to reach this through meditation, when we aim to free our mind from all cravings and desires. What do you think of other religions? Buddhism accepts all other religions freely. In essence, I think that all religions are good, because they teach people how to be a good person and that can only be a good thing right? Could you tell me a bit about the history of Buddhism? Buddhism began with Siddhartha Guatama – who we now know as the Buddha. He was a prince in India and for the first part of his life he saw nothing other than the

happy, comfortable lifestyle that he lived inside the palace walls. When he became restless and travelled outside into a nearby town, he was exposed for the first time to people who were old, sick or dying. He began to realise that life is suffering and no matter how many material things you have around you, no one can avoid old age, sickness and finally, death. At the age of 29, he left the palace to seek enlightenment and discover an end to suffering. After testing his body and mind in many ways and for many years he achieved enlightenment through meditation under the Bodhi Tree in India. He became the Buddha, which means ‘one who is awake’ and from then on he travelled around teaching people about life and the path to enlightenment. What are some of the rules that Monks must follow? There are in fact 227 rules that monks in Thailand must follow including shaving our heads and moustache and also wearing this robe, which represents simplicity and takes us back to the time of Buddha. One of the most important rules of being a monk is to spread the word of Buddhism to other people, which is why I appreciate monk chat so much, being able to share with people from different cultures. We want to show people happiness and that is part of what we must do. What do you think of Western lifestyle? Things like the internet? I think everything has two sides. Something like the internet, say Facebook for example, can be a good thing as it allows you to talk people but we must remember that it does have a down-side, that people can spend far too much time on it and that it doesn’t make us happy to look at other people’s lives and envy them. What do you think about a Western person becoming a monk? I think it is good because it means that we are doing our job. If someone from another country feels the draw of this lifestyle then it means that the word of Buddhism is spreading. It also means that when these people return to their own country, then they will expose the word of Buddha to more people. What do you think of people who like to travel? Again, I think travel is good. Travel teaches people new things, makes people more open to new surroundings and ideas. And would you like to travel? Yes, I like to travel to the countryside. To feel the fresh air, nature and see how people from the countryside live their lives, more simple than in the cities, yet in many ways more fulfilled. I would also like to visit India one day, the land of the Buddha. This may seem a strange question, but are monks allowed to drive or ride motorbikes? It’s just that you never see it. No, we are not supposed to. Although when I have been to the countryside I once saw a monk driving a car, although he wasn’t very good at it. Have you reached Enlightenment yourself? Not yet (smiles), but through meditation I hope to. Can people come here to learn how to meditate? Yes, we have meditation courses here that are taught in English and are suitable for foreigners to learn about Buddhism and meditation. We have a two-day and a fourday course where people can come to learn the art of meditation. I finished the interview and shook hands with Bounpheng. As I made my way back into town I thought over my interview and found myself really taking to the philosophy of Buddhism. Particular in today’s age where there is so much anger related to different religions. I felt inspired by the simple idea that if you live a good life and are good to every living creature then you will be rewarded.

Monk Chat & Me ditation Courses at Wat Suan Dok Monk chat is an initiative founded by Pra Dr.Saneh Dhammavaro on behalf of Mahachulalongkornrajvidalaya Buddhist University. It has been running since 2000 in an attempt to give foreigners an opportunity to learn about Buddhism and to provide a forum for monks to share their ideas with people from different cultures. So far, the program has been a great success. Address: MCU Buddhist University Chiang Mai Campus, Wat Suan Dok, Suthep Road, Chiang Mai, 50200, Thailand +66 (0)53 27 8967 ext 210 / +66 (0)84 609 1357 Getting there: Take a red songtaew from anywhere within the city walls. It should cost you around 30 Baht. Monk Chat: Held every Monday, Wednesday and Friday 5pm - 7pm. Meditation Retreat (two-day course): Tuesday to Wednesday (every week). 300 Baht for new clothes (optional). 500 Baht for the course (includes food and transportation from the temple to the retreat). Meditation Retreat (four-day course): Tuesday to Friday (last week of the month). 300 Baht for new clothes (optional). 1000 Baht for the course (including food and transportation from the temple to the retreat). If you are embarking upon a meditation retreat bring: Loose white clothes, toiletries, photocopy of passport, patience S.E.A Backpacker



In Search of the Perfect Cuppa... Cameron Highlands, Malaysia “If a man has no tea in him, he is incapable of understanding truth and beauty.” (Japanese proverb)

By Steven Carter and Hayley Lochhead We’re not sure whether it was the promise of a cool climate or the sprawling tea plantations amidst dramatic forest landscapes that really drew us to The Cameron Highlands, but we were very eager to get there. So after tearing ourselves away from the Melaka’s ample charms, we once again took on KL’s chaotic bus stations and wound up on a swashbuckling bus ride into the mountains. After more than a few hair-raising moments (apparently keeping the hooter blaring whilst you steer a 60-seater bus into hair-pin bends at break-neck speeds is perfectly sufficient warning for all oncoming motorists to clear the way!) on the amazingly scenic, but serpentine pass, we arrived in Tanah Rata relieved, and maybe just a little, green in the face. But all memories of the bus ride were eradicated as soon as we stepped off it, and were welcomed by a strange sensation: cold. The Highlands air was crisp, and the wind was just chilled enough to inspire a mild dusting of goose-bumps. It was a delicious novelty after the heat, humidity and relentless mugginess of the past month. Tanah Rata, itself, is a rather unremarkable town, littered with severe looking block-ish buildings, all heavily beset with a creeping black mould. Luckily, our accommodation (Twin Pines) was a little more appealing, being only one storey and set back off the road in a lush garden. Now, just a small bit of personal info is necessary here; Joff drinks copious amounts of tea. None of the herbal, fruit-infusion or spice variations, just a good ol’ cuppa of Joko (the South African version of Ceylon Tea), preferably with some cheap chocolate biscuits. Since arriving in South East Asia, he has not been able to get a ‘decent’ cup of tea anywhere, a fact that he bemoans at least once a day. Hence, the first thing

on our agenda was to get to one of the Highlands’ numerous famed plantations so he could his fix. We were advised that it would be too wet and muddy to do the forest trail that led to the plantation we had in mind, taxis were extortionately expensive, and waiting for the one and only public bus could have taken over an hour, so our last option was just to walk the 11km down the main road. About five minutes in, Joff stuck out a cheeky thumb, and within seconds a Malaysian gentleman pulled over and offered us a ride as far as the turn off (from which it would only be a 2km walk). No sooner than we jumped out of the friendly guy’s car, the rain started, so we pulled out our dorky disposable plastic raincoats and trudged on, thinking of how satisfying our rewards would be. But it wasn’t to be. With less than 1km to go, we bumped into another couple on their way back from the plantation, who reported that it was closed on Mondays. This meant we could go and look at the tea, but we could not actually drink any. A little more than disappointed, we turned around and braced ourselves for the 9 or so kilometers of uphill that we had just cruised down in a warm, dry Chrysler. As if on cue, the moment we turned back onto the main road, the drizzle turned into proper rain, and promptly washed the magic out of Joff’s cheeky thumb. For some reason, people are not that willing to pick up wet, sweaty tourists in dorky plastic ponchos. Don’t get us wrong, the road is beautiful, and we were always surrounded by green canopies and undulating hills, but there’s just something about trekking up a tarred highway in the rain, trying to avoid the exhaust fumes and muddy spray of the logging truck that has just nearly run you over, that puts a damper on a good view. And then we saw the sign, promising freshly brewed Highlands Tea only 5kms up the road. This kick-started the torturous process of counting down the kilometers, sign by sign, during which time the steady rain turned into a torrential downpour. For a while we sought cover in the forest, and Joff even considered crawling into a cement building cylinder, but we eventually decided that since we couldn’t possibly get any


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wetter, we may as well keep on until we could be totally drenched, but with the bonus of having those elusive cups of steaming tea in our hands. We actually ran the last kilometer, and then stood outside the tea-house for a good ten minutes, trying vainly to get ourselves halfway decent (dry) enough to walk in. I don’t think a single cup of tea has ever felt that well-earned. We sat back, clutching our warm glasses, drinking in the delicious contents (as well as the view) whilst savouring our enormously decadent piece of chocolate cake (the closest thing to cheap biscuits available), and we didn’t think twice about calling a taxi for the rest of the trip back to Tanah Rata. Since our misadventures the previous day had seen us spend a large amount of time and energy attempting to ‘do it ourselves’ with very little success, we just caved in and signed ourselves up for a whistle-stop tour on the Tuesday. This included a lucky packet mix of sights, namely; a Buddhist temple, a bee farm, a vegetable market, a strawberry farm, a butterfly/insect farm, a cactus/flower farm, and most importantly, a tea plantation. We got some good views from the flower/cactus farm, and there were some seriously beautiful (and creepy) specimens at the butterfly farm, but we always thought that the plantation would be the highlight, and it certainly did not disappoint.

Ten Tea Trivia


By the middle of the 18th Century tea had replaced ale and gin as the drink of the masses and had become Britain’s most popular beverage.


Tea contains catechins, a type of antioxidant which has been found to reduce people’s risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes (also found in cocoa!).


Teabags can make a great, cooling eye mask. Just pop one on for 20 minutes to reveal brighter eyes. Or use a teabag to cool sun burn, apparently helping the skin to heal faster.


Tea is the second most consumed beverage in the world, playing second fiddle only to water.


A cult in Malaysia worships a giant teapot, as it symbolises “the healing purity of water”.

bush produces 250 grams of black tea a year, which is equal to 6 One one pack of Typhoo 80s. 7 One teabag will take one bush about 5 days to grow. 8 Brunettes can add shine to their hair by rinsing it in cold tea. the nineteenth century, solid blocks of tea were used as money 9 Until in Siberia! average of three billion cups of tea are consumed every day 1 0 An worldwide.

The BOH Tea label is one of the biggest brands in Malaysia. They harvest the equivalent of 80,000 cups of tea every day, and every leaf is hand-picked. Once again, we found ourselves enjoying two steaming cups of BOH’s finest while looking out over their vast rolling plantations and tucking into blueberry scones and chocolate brownies; happy as could be with our new afternoon ritual. On our final day in the Highlands, we were determined to do one of the forest hikes, and luckily woke up to clear, sunny skies and reasonably dry ground. We set off on trail ’10′, hoping to join with ’12′ on the way back - that way we could summit the two highest peaks in the area, whilst getting a decent amount of time in the forest. Forest we got, as the first hour or two we found ourselves navigating through landscapes that could have inspired the likes of James Cameron and Tim Burton. But, as a result of what seemed to be our Cameron Highlands curse (or the poorly marked trails), we took a wrong turn and the peaks eluded us. We eventually popped out of the forest at a power station, where one very excitable and obviously lonely man kept us chatting for ages before pointing us in the right direction back to town. At least we avoided the rain this time, as just as we sat down for our afternoon tea, it started up outside again. That night we savoured our last chilly evening under blankets and duvets, and tried not to think about how we were going to kick the 4pm tea and cake habit we’d picked up. But, considering that our next stop was Georgetown, the capital of Penang, a place that is legendary for one thing in particular - fantastic food - this should never have been a concern.

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“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life.” A Book Review, By Ellen Stott As a book that has been described as being ‘one of the most important novels of the century’ and as ‘an American classic’, Jack Kerouac’s most famous novel is perhaps one of the most essential pieces of reading for any traveller that sees themselves as someone trying to get the most from life. Written in a time when travel was both unusual and restricted to the wealthy, ‘On the Road’ transports you to mid-century America to follow two young friends and their search for soul and meaning. Reading this book on a long bus ride through Thailand, I was taken back to a world before the days of foreign holidays, hostels and backpacker tours, to an era of hitchhiking, journeys in overcrowded trucks and overnight stays in strangers’ houses that made my lengthy bus rides seem like a luxury. Set in the 1940’s ‘On the Road’ is a semi-autobiographical novel based on Kerouac’s experiences of his and his friends’ many trips across America. The narrator and protagonist of the book is Kerouac’s fictional alter-ego, the young and innocent Sal Paradise, an uninspired writer living with his Aunt in New Jersey who decides to give up the common drudgeries of everyday life to join his friend, Dean Moriarty, ‘on the road’ for a series of journeys across America in the search for something more to life. Dean acts as Sal Paradise’s hero, a friend who is bursting with energy and willing to reject conformity to the materialistic norms of modern life in exchange to live an exhilarating and at times manic life in the American underworld. The book follows the often crazed friends adventures on their breathless journeys back and forth across the United States where they continue to reject mainstream middle-class American life in the search of ‘it’ - alcohol, drugs, sex, music, parties and soul-searching conversations that last entire nights. In the first chapter Kerouac makes one of his most famous quotes when he states that “the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centre-light pop and everybody goes ‘awww!’” This statement sets the tone and theme of the story that is to follow - a series of ‘mad’ adventures that see the friends live life not as many of us know it, but instead live on the very edge of sanity in a whirlwind of drunken and drug fuelled parties, various sexual exploitations and a series of unusual relationships. Throughout the book Kerouac’s writing style at times takes on an almost deranged manner that for me made it possible to picture him writing his


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work in an absolute frenzy where the thoughts in his mind couldn’t be filtered before the words reached the paper. This gives the book a fastpaced nature and unlimited energy to it, something that almost adds to the crazed actions of the two friends and exemplifies the speed and franticness they operate at. Initially the writing style takes a little getting used to but after the first few pages I found I fell easily into it and was reading through the book at speed. Many things have been written about this book and having been named as one of the century’s most important novels it has been studied and reviewed a million times over. However, the one thing that seems to reoccur when discussing this novel with anyone, is that everyone has their own take on it and what it means, and there appears to be a very love / hate reader reaction to it. Some feel it is a hedonistic search for release and meaning, others think it is two lost souls in search of some form of holy grail, while many believe it to be just a story about two young, self-obsessed idiots out using and abusing people and the circumstances they find themselves in. However for me this novel is about living and self discovery, it’s about turning your back on what is expected of you - the career, the marriage, mortgage, kids and an office job life - to instead pursue something that despite being against the grain gives you a deeper satisfaction and sense of fulfilment in your life. For me there were huge parallels between Kerouac’s feelings of suppression and want for something more out of life at the beginning of the novel, to feelings I have experienced myself in the past. It’s a book that makes you want to go out there, seize the day and live life to the full. ‘On the Road’ has been attributed to having inspired generations of people to challenge the status quo, to try new experiences and is also best known as the novel that inspired the ‘Beat Generation’ - a revolutionary cultural phenomena of the 1950’s that led to people challenging the perceived ‘norms’ of society and instead celebrating non-conformity and spontaneous creativity by indulging in music, art and taking very liberal views to sex, drugs and alcohol. An endless number of writers, poets, musicians and artists have claimed to been inspired by Kerouac’s novel, most famously Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Tom Waits and Hunter S. Thompson. However despite having been first published in the 1950’s, this book is as relevant to the modern reader today as it was to the people it inspired over the years. So for all those of you who find yourself backpacking across South East Asia in the search of something more, ‘On the Road’ is definitely a book that is worth a read.

Recommended by Lonely Planet!

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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: Brunei Darussalam is one of Asia’s oldest kingdoms. Chinese documents exist dating back to the 6th and 7th centuries refer to Brunei Darussalam as Puni or Puli. 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. Pre-order at: 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: Cambodians greet each other by putting their palms together in front of their bodies


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and bowing. The gesture known as a ‘sompeah’ is usually initiated by the younger or lower ranked person. 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: 99% of people in East Timor are Roman Catholic; a legacy of Portuguese colonial rule. However, like in many South East Asian countries, animist beliefs are still held which have become more cultural rather than religious practice. 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: The gorgeous island of Bali in Indonesia has been called many names; ‘Rice Island’ by early explorers, ‘Chicken Island’ because of its shape and also the ‘Island of the Gods’ simply because people have in mind that Gods dwell in paradise. 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: During the Vietnamese War, between 1964 and 1973 there were over 260 million bombs dropped on Laos by the US. Today many unexploded bombs (UXO’s) remain in countryside areas which injure thousands of locals every year. 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: The longest King Cobra in the world was captured alive in Port Dickson, Malaysia in 1937. The world record breaking snake was 5.54 metres long. Emergency numbers: Fire: 994 Police and Ambulance: 999

Myanmar: 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: On the hillside of Yangon, Myanmar’s capital, the Shwedagon Pagoda is said to hold eight hairs of Siddartha Guatama (the Buddha). The actual structure is a solid gold bell shaped structure encrusted with 4,000 diamonds and a 76 carat diamond perched on the top. Emergency numbers: (Yangon) Ambulance: 192 Police: 199 Fire: 191

The Philippines: 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 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: The capital of the Philippines, Manila is named after a white flowered mangrove plant, the nilad. The shores of Manila Bay are full of the shrub. Emergency numbers: Fire, Ambulance, Police: 117

Singapore: 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: Changi Airport, Singapore’s national airport received the honour of being named ‘best airport in the world’ several times by the Business Traveller Magazine. Ambulance: 995 Police: 999 Fire: 995

Thailand: 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 (f/m) / Kop Khun Ka/Krap (f/m) 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: The current King of Thailand is a world renowned saxophonist who has played with jazz legends like Benny Goodman, Stan Getz and Benny Carter. He has also composed his own music. 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: It is against the law to put your hands in your pockets whilst visiting Ho Chi Mihn’s Mausoleum in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi. 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 21.2.12) The information in this section is vulnerable to change. Please advise us at if info is invalid and we will be sure to rectify it.)

S.E.A Backpacker



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South East Asia Backpacker Issue 17  

The essential magazine for all travellers in South East Asia. Issue #17 out now

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