Mar Issue Apr 2013 #23
DON’T MISS! MARKET LIFE TRAVEL MYANMAR VANG VIENG UPDATE
Tropical Island? ed t er es D a n o ould you Survive C : es in p p ili h P e h T www.southeastasiabackpacker.com
D ecisions, decisions, decisions… “It’s definitely for the best that we’re sleeping at this train station for the night,” said my travel buddy Gemma. “Yeah,” I agreed, “It’ll do us good – experience – what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger right!?” “Precisely! Also…” she added, shivering with the cold… “If we would have plumped for that cosy guesthouse in that last town, we wouldn’t have met Dave, that really nice homeless guy… or tried these nutritious biscuits!” She holds one up to the dim light. “Totally.” I nodded wondering just how the hell we were going to get through another eight freezing hours on this dodgy platform in this dodgy Italian station. As a rookie backpacker InterRailing around Europe for the first time with a friend from Uni, I admit - we made some pretty crap travel decisions. Totally unprepared, we would leave planning until the last minute only to make a spontaneous decision that would leave us stranded in the middle of absolutely nowhere with no onward transport and nowhere to stay. Being the chirpy enthusiastic young travellers we were, we always tried to cheer each other up and convince each other that we had, in the grand scheme of things, made the best decision in our future careers as ‘world travellers’. Bless our thermal Lowe Alpine socks! Making snap decisions is part of being a backpacker. Having backup plans, options, the ability to think on your feet. When buses are cancelled and random cyclones hit, you have to make a new choice about where to go and what to do. Do you patiently wait it out or instinctively move on? Every traveller in South East Asia knows that making a ‘concrete plan’ is tentative to say the least. I’ve had some pretty close shaves myself. Lucky coincidences that meant it was okay that I left my passport at the guesthouse and was 21 minutes late for the bus, because hey, the bus was 22 minutes late! Sat smugly out of breath on my seat I believed that it was fate that I had made the bus, that the ‘Travel Gods’ had smiled down upon me and that there was some over-arching, even spiritual reason why I had not missed my ride. Perhaps I’d meet the love of my life at the bus stop at the other end? Either way, the reason I’d made it was definitely good for my life in some way. If I had missed it, would I have convinced myself that it was right to stay? That the bus may have crashed? That the love of my life was in fact still hanging around in this very town? Sometimes travel decisions can be stressful. There are so many incredible places to go in South East Asia – where to pick? The Andaman Islands, the Malaysian Perhentians, the Thai Gulf Islands, Langkawi, Cambodia’s coast? Where will I have the best time? Meet the best people? See the best sunsets? Stock up the best memories? Some would say that such decisions are out of our hands anyway. How much control do we really have over free will and our ultimate journey? Reading this quote in a menu in Hanoi, after a split second random event which ended up in me meeting one of the best friends of my life, I pondered… “You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.” (Max Ehrman)
By Nikki Scott Photo by Issy Tomkinson (Koh Phi Phi)
Beachfront Rooms - Air-con Rooms Honeymoon Cottage - Surfers Rooms Surfing - Scuba Diving Island Hopping - Game Fishing Restaurant & Bar - Internet Cafe Surf Trainer - Wind Surfing Motorbike Rental - Massage
+63 910 8480893 / +63 919 8268837 www.ocean101cloud9.com Cloud 9, Siargao Island, The Philippines
Cover Photograph: Kat Payne
58: FOOD: Thai Food You Don’t Know 67: ANNABELLE on Moving On... 68: INFO: Visas, Exchange Rates,
SKYSCANNER COMPETITION: We announce the WINNER!
10 Alternative Therapies of South East Asia
Backpacker Photos: Thai Smiles, Teaching English in Thailand
Don’t Miss! Event of the Month: Songkran - Bring your poncho!
South East Asia Faces & Places: Permaculture People, Perak, Borneo
Climates & More
Thai Smiles: Teaching English in Thailand...
Destination Spotlight: 26:
BALI: Volcanic Sunrises and the Silent Festival of Nyepi
40: VIETNAM: Exploring Phu Quoc Island 44: MYANMAR: It’s All Change... 54: Where Next? Stowaway on the
Slow Boat to China
Off the Beaten Track: Surviving on a deserted Filipino Island!
Visit Myanmar... 44
Regulars: 8: South East Asia Map & Visa Info 10: S.E.A Backpacker Newsflash
PLUS! Exclusive Vang Vieng update
Word on the Soi: Who’s the Most Unforgettable Person You’ve Met?
Local Portraits: Market life, Asia
Festivals & Events: What’s On Guide
50: GAMES: Crossword & Sudoku 52: Traveller Thoughts, Stories, Tips
d, the Philppi
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Registration Number 0205552005285. ISSN NO. 1906-7674 www.southeastasiabackpacker.com Tel: 081 776 7616 (Thai) 084 553 8996 (Eng) Fax: 038 072 078 E-mail: email@example.com Backpacker South East Asia is Published by S.E.A. Backpacker Company. Managing Director: Nikki Scott. (E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org) Editor: Nanchaya Jaikaew. (E-mail: email@example.com) Deputy Editors: Nikki Scott, Karen Farini. (E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org) Sales & Marketing: Kitti Boon Sri, Nichawan Keawpuang. Accounts: Thipapan Jaikaew. Contributing Writers / Photographers: Kat Payne, Linda Stansberry, Greg Haywood, Swami Vivekananda Saraswati, Richard Arthur, Emma Parry, Karen Farini, Penelope Atkinson, Kimmana Nichols, Hasmira Yadev, Carolyn Goodman, Vesan Veliscek, Anastasia Makarenko, Vicki Jakes, Laura Davies, Randi Hanis, Darren Wells, Cristina Grasso, William Renville, John Early, Amelia Johnston, Colin Roohan, Marcus Allender, Simon Brooks, Oliver Brown, Jason ‘Ocean’ Dennie, Simon Bond, Alana Morgan, Martin Szymanski, Issy Tomkinson. Design & Layout: S.E.A. Backpacker Company Limited. Laura Davies, George Reed, Advertising enquiries: T: +66(0)84 553 8996 (Eng) 089 990 6556 (Thai) Email: email@example.com Writing opportunities: Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Where people in the know, go.
Top North Hotel
Chaisripoom Road Thapae Gate
Montri Hotel Ratchadamnoen Road
Changmoi Kao Road Amari Ridges
BACKSTREET BOOKS OVER 70,000 TITLES IN STOCK CHIANG MAI - THAILAND
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MAP: SOUTH EAST ASIA Myanmar
Mandalay Bagan Kalaw
Taunggyi Inle Lake
Udomxai Chiang Rai
Mae Hong Son
Four Thousand Islands
Siem Reap Tonle Sap
Vietnam Nha Trang
Gulf Of Thailand
Koh Tao Koh Phangan Koh Samui
Ho Chi Minh City
Surat Thani Phuket
South Chin Sea
Koh Phi Phi
Malaysia Kuala Lumpur Medan Berastagi
Singapore Pulau Nias
V isa I nformation: Your passport photo here
Brunei Darrussalam: Nationals of most European countries, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and New Zealand do not need visas for visits of up to 30 days. USA citizens can stay for up to 90 days.
Cambodia: Most nationalities can obtain a one month tourist visa on arrival which costs approx $20. At land border crossings, notably the Thai/Cambodia border, the fee can be more expensive as the cost is paid in baht and can be 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 and cost $30 for 30 days. Portuguese nationals can stay 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 / land border crossings. The cost ranges from $20-$42 depending on nationality. At the Thai/Laos border if you pay in Thai baht the fee will be more expensive.
Malaysia: Most nationalities are granted a free 30 or 90-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 and how long you wait. 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 three months, six 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.
andar Seri Begawan
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.
* See the information pages at the back for more detailed information, visa extensions and penalties for late departure.
At S.E.A Backpacker Magazine we try to ensure that all information provided is as accurate and up to date as possible. (Checked 20.2.13) The information in this section is vulnerable to change. Please advise us at email@example.com if information is invalid and we will be sure to rectify it.
Gili Islands Bali
Nusa Tengarra Flores
FROM BEER TO MULBERRIES:
Is Vang Vieng Turning Around Its Boozy Reputation?
umours were as thick as the clouds of mosquitos as we prepared to cross the Thai-Lao border at Huay Xing. Tubing had been banned in Vang Vieng. No, just alcohol had been banned. Too many tourists had died. A local had died. Vang Vieng was over. Was it even worth going? Of course, neither tubing nor alcohol have been banned, but the infamous riverside bars that made floating down the Nam Song the stuff of drunken legend have been shut down. Nonetheless... Vang Vieng is still worth visiting. Imposing limestone cliffs surround the valley like a mouth of jagged teeth. Caves honeycomb the rocks, inviting even the most casual spelunker to wander inside. Beer Lao still abounds, and there is still debaucherous fun to be had if you look in the right places. But if your focus is more cultural than bacchanal, look closer: some locals are trying to reinvent Vang Vieng as an ecotourism destination. Sengkeo Frichitthavong started the Sae Lao Project in 2008 (www. saelaoproject.com). His goal was to create an example of sustainable living in Laos and inspire local families to embrace green practices. His most ambitious project is introducing biogas technology, where animal manure is converted into power. The waste of four cows can provide enough energy to run an average Lao household, as well as create enough runoff to mulch and fertilise their garden. Converting to biogas would slow the practice of locals cutting trees for firewood, an important step towards environmental conservation in a country whose natural resources are already being taxed by demand from China.
At the moment, however, the Sae Lao Project has one of only two biogas converters in Laos. The material to build them costs money, whereas firewood is free. Frichitthavong hasn’t given up hope. He doggedly brings reusable cloth bags to the local market, offers a bottle refill service, and is slowly trying to convert his entire organisation to being both sustainable and plastic-free. His organic farm and restaurant run with the help of a rotating cast of international volunteers and a six-person staff of local Lao people. The staff wear green and white tee-shirts that say “Sae Lao: Another Vang Vieng.” Katharina Berg and Basti Schlepps, backpackers from Germany, said that they had heard “horrible things” about Vang Vieng prior to the closure of the bars along the river. “I think maybe we wouldn’t have come if they were still open because we do not like that kind of thing,” said Berg, “We took a tube down the river and it was very peaceful. I think that if you are drunk you will miss seeing all of the beautiful things like the mountains and the trees.” Berg and Schlepps were not alone in their enthusiasm for “another Vang Vieng.” Quite a few diners at the Sae Lao restaurant expressed their happiness at finding the former party spot to be a quieter, gentler place to visit. The Stewarts, a family of five visiting from the UK., detailed their family-friendly itinerary of kayaking, caving, rock climbing, hiking, biking and enjoying the local cuisine. Their only regret, they said, was that they hadn’t planned for a few more days.
THE ECO REVOLUTION? 10
THE OLD DAYS:
changing face of Vang Vieng’s visitors. “The tubing didn’t shut down,” says Chris Perkins, who runs the guesthouse Pan’s Place, “The danger shut down. You cannot go out and smash your head on the rocks anymore. I’ve had some cancellations, sure, but on the other hand there are less drunk people waking me up at 3am shouting on the street. Almost without a doubt all the expats are happy that it’s stopped and the drunken behavior has slowed.” Just down the road from the Sae Lao farm is the Blue Lagoon, a popular splashing spot for tourists. Thrill-seekers still clamber up the rocks to Poukham Cave in their bathing suits, clutching bottles of Beer Lao. When asked if tubing at Vang Vieng was over, one bikini-clad Australian partier delivered an adamant no. “Nah, nah, it’s not over. They don’t have the bars anymore, so my mates and I just bought a couple of bottles of beer and took them with us. It was nice.” It looks like as long as the ‘falang’ are determined to have a good time, Vang Vieng will remain a party town. Let’s hope they recycle the bottles! By Linda Stansberry
On the north end of town is the Vang Vieng Organic Mulberry Farm. Its owner, Thanongsi Sorangkoun, left a well-paid job in 1996 to become an organic farmer. Many people thought he was crazy, but Sorangkoun had a vision. He wanted to model sustainable living to local farmers and community members. Sorangkoun, who is affectionately known as ‘Mr. T.’, is a proponent of a holistic approach to social change. Both SAELAO and the Mulberry Farm are members of EEFA (Equal Education for All) and provide free English classes for local children with the help of volunteers. Today, the Mulberry Farm boasts an organic orchard and garden, a highly-rated guesthouse and restaurant, a herd of dairy goats and Laos’ other biogas converter. Ironically, Mr. T. has been credited with starting the tubing trend when he offered the use of tractor tires for his volunteers to relax on the river after a long day’s work. To a passer-through, Vang Vieng is still paradise: the hills are verdant and the meals cheap. But from their vantage point of several decades, both Sorangkoun and Frichitthavong have noted troubling long-term effects from the influx of tourism. Construction exploded in the last decade. The hills surrounding the town are being ravaged for timber to build guesthouses and gravel to mix cement. The price of local goods and services has inflated beyond the means of some residents. At present there are 150 guesthouses and counting. It remains to be seen what Vang Vieng’s next incarnation will be. Tourism has slowed since the bar closure, but unsustainable growth and environmental damage remain issues that need to be addressed. An effective solution may require the efforts of both locals and travellers. If volunteer opportunities such as the SAELAO project attract a different type of tourist, Mr. T.’s vision of a holistic change may come to pass. Some local business owners have expressed enthusiasm for the
DOES THE PARTY LIVE ON? (The latest from our man on the ground, Greg Haywood of Fluid Bar, Vang Vieng)
IN THE JUNGLE:
All those people who are apprehensive about coming to Vang Vieng, do not fear! The place is so much better now safer, cooler and more fun - and the town still boasts some great night life if you know where to look. But don’t just take my word for it - turn up at DK3, Garys Irish bar, Fat Monkeys - and of course, Fluid - and you’ll see what I mean. Make sure you check out the awesome jungle parties every friday, with around 300-400 people each week, with quality music played by international DJ’s starting 8pm - 12pm. The indoor club has funky sounds; nu disco and experimental, while an outdoor stage plays deep house tech house and techno! And for all those looking for something different in Vang Vieng, here are my ‘Top Five Suggestions’ that you won’t find in the guide books yet ( I don’t think!). 1. Hot Air Balloon over the beautiful scenery of Vang Vieng! 2. Get sweaty, then soaked - on the Naam Taem waterfall trek. 3. Rock Climb the incredible limestone karsts. 4. Spend the day at Fluid playing table-tennis, darts, foosball or just relaxing in a hammock. 5. Hit up the Jungle Party on Fridays!
Riverside ShishaBar & Restaurant Chill by the NamSong! Vang Vieng, Laos
now o Enjoy our Hammocks, Homemade ice cream Rooftop restaurant, Great pool table, Foosball & Table Tennis, Dub, Reggae, Funk & Deep House music, And much more...
IN A NUTSHELL: What have we been up to this month? From the S.E.A Backpacker Office in Chiang Mai...
...Back in time for Chinese New Year of the Snake!
TO Party Rhythm & Sands Festival in Koh Phangan
762 Curves east to the mountains of beautiful Pai...
There’s a certain island in the south of Thailand that conjurs up images of parties, parties, and… parties. Of course I’m talking about our beloved Koh Phangan! On our last visit, however, there were a few things we discovered that went far beyond the stereotype. Such discoveries took place when one day we got on our mopeds and trundled north-west to the Agama Yoga school in Sri Thanu, where we spent an hour with its renowned founder Swami
Leave nothing behind but footprints... and pick up trash while you’re at it!
...Now taking a break on Koh Rong Island, Cambodia!
Vivekananda Saraswati. Agama is extremely popular with people all over the world – folks have been known to go there for three days, only to end up staying months! As Swami said, “But you see, this is not just yoga. It is Agama.” We’d heard knew that the principles are based on Indian and Tibetan Tantra (as well as Taoism, Sufism, even Gnostic Christianity!) - but what we really wanted to know was, what does all that mean?! What is it to be human? Why are we here? What is God? And what exactly is Tantra, anyway? What followed was probably the most interesting chat we’d been embroiled in for a very long time. Want to be mind-boggled? Read the full interview at: www.southeastasiabackpacker.com and gain insight into the very essence of our Universe…
LET TH TER OF EM ON TH !
Koh Phangan is famous for its laid back beautiful beaches and the north of the Island is particularly stunning and unspoilt, assisted by average roads and mountainous terrain. Currently, the northwest has largely avoided over-development and the beaches and bays are mostly pristine, with some of the best snorkeling and beach bumming places on the island! The unique spot of Koh Ma and Mae Haad is one of my favourites. Koh Ma - a small, palm tree forested island is linked to the mainland beach Mae Haad by a sand spit causeway that is passable most of the day and night, thanks to low tides and a fringing reef offshore. A popular snorkeling day trip from the island’s adjacent beaches, this area is starting to suffer from the signs of mass tourism, with mounds of rubbish washed up on the coral beach (with tides a clear contributor). I overheard so many travellers complaining about the quality of the beach but doing nothing about it – so come on! The nearby resorts, such as Island View Cabana Bungalows, have started to undertake clean-ups with the help of volunteers and it is up to us to get involved! If everyone who visited this lovely spot picked up just one piece of trash, the beach would be considerably improved and we could rightfully brag to all of our mates about this pristine beach we discovered and all helped to improve! Now that’s responsible travel. By Emma Parry
BOOK REVIEW: I OF THE SUN: A Journey into South East Asia and the Heart of Human Consciousness. By Richard Arthur. A semi-autobiographical tale of a 22-yr old’s first travel odyssey documents an exhausting, hilarious (sometimes horrifying!) array of twists and turns as he navigates his way through a marathon labyrinth of hard liquor, odd jobs, eccentric expats, locals and travellers, and one ‘butterfly’ Thai girl after another. Based on a year’s worth of Richard’s travel diaries, our main protagonist soon realises how easy it is for the initial rush of freedom to morph into mental torture. It can have you in chains; turn you into an addict. Freedom, after all, is not permissiveness. So, what is it? And why do we desire it so much? The main narrative is interspersed with chapters that discuss the triumphs and pitfalls of being human, questioning why such tendencies, hopes and dreams seem to inherently exist in us all. Funny, thought-provoking, absorbing and refreshingly provocative, I Of The Sun makes you laugh out loud and inspires you - either to delve deeper into the consciousness of human existence, or to travel like an absolute lunatic! Which will it be? (www.iofthesun.com) - Available in Asiabooks, Bookazine, selected stores across Thailand, and in e-book format from Amazon.
Sunset Pier, Ban Ao Nam Mao, Krabi, Thailand. By Flash Parker
fter our whirlwind workshop in Chiang Mai left us exhausted, the Flash Light Photography brain trust retired to the beach, making camp near the southern tip of Koh Lanta. We were after sun, surf, chilly Chang beers, and postcard perfect photo opportunities. To say that we found our fair share of each would be an understatement: we rode waves through underwater caves, cast silky lines into the sea at a gypsy fishing village, sampled culinary curios at traditional wet markets, and risked life and limb scrambling over razor-sharp rocks at the break of dawn in the pursuit of photographic glory. Yet I knew that we couldn’t leave the islands without capturing the most quintessential image of Thai island life; a regal longboat draped in vibrant flags swaying on gently heaving seas. There’s no question that ubiquitous longboats set against stunning limestone mountains make for irresistible photo fodder; I’ve shot these boats on Phi Phi, Maya Bay, Phuket, Samui, and other iconic islands, yet this frame here, taken in a most curious location, may be my favorite longboat shot of all. Dylan and I had originally intended to visit Ao Nang and Railay Beach, but our driver had taken his sweet time in delivering us from our hotel in Koh Lanta to our place in Krabi, so we were left with a difficult decision; jump in a boat and hope we arrived at Railay in time for sunset, or take our chances on the pier near Ao Nam Mao. The sun was falling by the time we hit the pier, so we took our chances with the boats returning from Railay Beach. This frame is the result of a total team effort, and a willingness to risk losing our gear to Davy Jones’ salty
locker. Cue danger. I’m sitting on the bottom step of the concrete dock, my legs in the water, in an effort to fill my ultra-wide-angle frame with longboat glory. Dylan is to my right, hanging precariously over the steps and supported by nothing more than a slippery rope fixed to one of the boats behind us. He’s aiming a flash at the boats, which I’m triggering remotely each time I press the camera’s shutter. Without adding our own artificial light, the boats would have cut silhouettes against the setting sun, and from this angle those silhouettes would not have been very pretty. I started crafting the image by metering for the sky; the sky would lend the image drama, and by metering for the brightest part of the image I knew that we’d toss the mountain and the boats into shadow. No problem there, since we’d be bringing the boats back to life with our own light. We wanted dramatic light, but we didn’t want it to look totally artificial; our light had to mimic the light of the setting sun. That meant paying careful attention to how the light reflected off the water, and controlling hotspots on each boat. Technical details: Nikon D800 | 16mm | f/8 | 1/40 sec. | ISO 200 | SB-800 flash | fired at full power | camera right.
Want to take photos like this?
Date for your Diary: November 2013. Flashlight Photography Expeditions will be returning to the S.E.A Backpacker HQ in Chiang Mai to host another three days of intense photography mayhem! The event will coincide with the Loi Krathong Festival of Lights - Dates TBC. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or to get your name on the list!
2. Beer Guzzler
AND THE WINNER IS... Last issue, in an exciting partnership with our friends at Skyscanner, S.E.A Backpacker Magazine offered YOU the chance to win a flight to South East Asia for the trip of a lifetime! The prize is worth a whopping £1500 GBP or $2,400 USD! But we didn’t want to give this incredible opportunity away to just anyone. We wanted to find a traveller that we knew was going to make the most out of their adventure! All you had to do was answer the question “Which Type of Traveller Are You?” in 50 words or less for the chance of winning. We gave you the above five choices to compare yourself to...
After receiving over 500 amazing (and some slightly dodgy!) entries, it was time to read carefully through all of them to pick out a worthy winner... Boy was it an impossible task! The following winner* was chosen by an independent judge with years of backpacking experience in South East Asia and the answer was deemed the most ‘inspiring and creative’. As the judge slammed down his hammer he cried ‘Damn, I like this writer’s sass!’ * To make the competition as fair as possible, the judge had no idea of the writer’s name, sex, age, origin or their email / Facebook.
THE WINNING ENTRY: CONGRATULATIONS CASSIE RECKER FROM TEXAS! Does nearly draining Barcelona of its sangria make me a guzzler? Does getting shot and half-blinded in South Africa make me hard-core? Does being obsessed with Prague’s history/beauty make me a culture vulture? So be it. June: fly to Asia, buy bike, GO! A trip almost as unpredictable as myself.
THANK YOU to everyone who entered. Watch out for more competitions in the future! TOP TIP: Check out PAGE 3 of this magazine for a brand new competition by XTREME GAP! The best of the rest!
And some dubious entries...
Going hard-core makes me want to flashpack, flashpacking leads to soul-searching, which makes me need a beer-guzzling break, leading to culture-vulture antics to make up for the boozing. It’s a neverending circle that means I have to keep travelling! (Rachel Watson)
I’m an adventurer. I like to go on adventures. (Anon) A little more description needed perhaps?
I’m the soulful beer-searching hardcore adventure vulture! I scale the steepest of temple steps to catch spectacular - perhaps even spiritual - sunrises in faraway corners of remote lands. Then I enjoy obscure and tasty local delicacies for lunch, before sharing cold suds with travellers, revellers and local folk by night. (Adam Chidell) I have to do something I’ve never done before. For example, marry a crazy Thai chef called Tan, eat a large insect, wake up in a tree or accidentally buy a Buddhist temple. I’m the type of traveller who has to feel like I’ve achieved something! (Trystan Sanders)
Culture vulture - I seek exotic men from other cultures. (Anon) At least she/he is honest! Alhough not sure we could sponsor that one!
The most popular type of traveller? Suprisingly - The Culture Vulture! Although we find this hard to believe with the amount of buckets drunk on the South East Asian backpacking trail! Come on folks were you just trying to impress us with your porkies? The judges (rather harsh) comment: “I’ve never seen the words ‘immerse’ or ‘local culture’ this many times in one reading. Yawn!
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By Karen Farini
Therapies OF SOUTH EAST ASIA
Most of us will experience at least one form of healing therapy at some point in our travels through South East Asia. These days, after all, we know that ‘we are what we eat’ and we’re also discovering that ‘we become what we think’. Is it any wonder that such a number of us are turning our backs on conventional medicine in favour of the likes of yoga, reflexology and homeopathy (or at least using them as a complement)? South East Asia has a seemingly endless catalogue of opportunities to do some pretty deep exploratory work of the self. From chakra-balancing therapy to fasting and colonic irrigation, we’ve put together our very own top 10 list of healing therapies. Make it your mission to try at least one while you’re here!
Massage & CuppingTherapy From foot reflexology and Indian head massage, to a traditional ‘Thai’, Swedish oil, or a plain, simple ‘back, neck and shoulders’, your options are seemingly endless here in South East Asia. More recently, though, has been the emergence (or at least, the Western discovery) of cupping therapy, which in fact dates back to ancient Egyptian, Chinese, and Middle Eastern cultures.
On the same lines (no pun intended!) as acupuncture and Thai massage, the practice of ‘cupping’ is meant to be the best way of opening up the ‘meridians’ by means of a partial vacuum created by cups. Nowadays, these are made out of thick glass or plastic, although the ancient Chinese used bamboo, iron, pottery cups, and even hollowed-out animal horns. The cups are heated up, placed on the skin (which gets sucked up inside), and then moved rigorously up and down and around the area. The action is said to invigorate energy to travel the whole length of the body and penetrate up to four inches of tissue. Amongst many other benefits, cupping is believed to help break blockages, release toxins, stimulate the flow of blood, and balance and realigns the flow of Qi - or ‘life energy’.
By Karen Farini
BEEN THERE, DONE THAT
I’m in Miri, one of the main cities of Borneo’s Sarawak, when I pass a massage shop and think – heck, I could do with one of those. To say my practitioner agreed is rather like suggesting that the Thai monsoon can get a tad damp; in fact, she was so horrified at my tense, knotted shoulders that my nice oil massage request was immediately dismissed in favour of a tougher, deep-tissue Thai massage. Less than three minutes in, this was also poo-pooed. “You need something stronger,” she said. “I will do a cupping therapy for you. Don’t worry, same price for you!” Feeling more stressed out by the second, I peek my head over the massage table and watch her take out a selection of glass cups from a kind of small briefcase that looks like it’s been timewarped straight in from the 1900s. She warms them by burning alcohol inside (which, as I later learn, removes all the oxygen to create the vacuum that will anchor the cup to my skin). She anchors, and my skin is pulled upward on the inside of the glass as the air inside it cools. She then moves it quickly back and forth, up and down my shoulders and back, before taking it off, cupping it to another area and repeating the process, over and over and over again for what feels like an eternity (although it’s actually only about 20 minutes). I’m not going to lie. Cupping hurts. Although, okay - I’ll admit it - my pain threshold is variable at best. It’s said that for a short while afterwards, the skin on your back looks a bit like roast beef; this I can’t vouch for because I didn’t look, but I do have to say my upper body felt totally limber and relaxed for the rest of the day. Is this in part due to relief it was over, or due to the fact that cupping is stress-relieving full-stop? Not entirely sure! Give it a try and see what you think.
Been There, Done That
By Nikki Scott
No matter how long you’ve been in Thailand, things will always surprise you. So it was that I found myself queuing up amongst lots of Thai people to get a bucket of water thrown over my head by a witch doctor dressed head-to-toe in leopard skin with long grey curly hair and a tiger tattoo on his back. My Thai friend had heard from a friend’s, auntie’s, brother’s, sister’s, son-in-law that there was a local shaman in town. Out of total curiosity when she asked me to go along, I said a yes in an effort to get underneath the skin of a part of Thai culture that so very few foreigners get to see. Based on animism (that all physical entities – including inanimate objects Despite the overarching Buddhist philosophy that pervades Thai culture, those who get – have souls), South East Asia to know Thailand will discover that the animist beliefs are still very powerful. Shamanism (indeed, Asia as a whole) is the and black magic date back thousands of years and Thai people (often in desperate perfect place to discover situations) find themselves turning to local magic men in times of need. more about Shamanic Healing… In Thai, this ‘leapordskin’ character is known as ‘por-poo’ and is said to be a reincarnation of a hermit and acquaintance of the Buddha who went off to live in a cave and pursue shamanism. His magic is white and benevolent, rather than black, and he is believed to have the powers to heal cancer, disabilities and other ailments. If you haven’t got a serious ailment, it is still extremely lucky to see ‘por-poo’, and you will find that hundreds of Thai people all over the country visit him for a variety of reasons.
The queue was getting shorter. The woman in front of me, her hands held together in a wai, kneeled before the shaman. I was next. He poured the water over her head and all over her body, washing away the evil spirits with a concoction of water, lotus petals and chopped up limes - a kind of spiritual ‘sangria’. In one hand, he held a long metal shaft (think the devils stick) and tapped her on the head quite violently as if knocking some sense, in, or out of, her being. Just as I thought it was my turn - things got a little strange. The woman began to moan uncontrollably and then contort her body into twisted shapes in a kind of effort to release something from herself (a trapped demon perhaps?). In front of a captive audience, she knelt down on all fours and began barking like a dog to the room. I sat in incredulous amazement wondering if this was real, some kind of brain-washing (mind over matter) or just a complete performance? I don’t think I will ever know the truth. Is there one? When the barking stopped. I walked over to have my spiritual shower…
DID YOU KNOW?
After more than 60 years of dedicated study, 92-year old Thai surgeon Dr Sommai Tongprasert from Singburi has reportedly achieved an 80% cancer cure rate using a mixture of Thai herbs. “I believe in the balance of nature,” Dr Sommai said. “This is how the world creates herbs as the best cure for us.” His records hasn’t even been given the time of day by Western pharamceutical companies.
“If all the medicine in the world were thrown into the sea, it would be bad for the fish and good for humanity!” O.W. Holmes, (Professor of Medicine Harvard University)
The power of natural herbs has been documented since ancient times. Arguably, we already have everything we need in abundance thanks to Mother Nature. Go on any jungle trek in Laos, northern Thailand or Cambodia (in fact, most of the remote forest areas of South East Asia!), and you’ll learn all about the healing properties that come from the trees, tree-bark and plants, that still sustain the lives of hill-tribe members to this day. In recent times, herbal usage has started to become more and more officially recognised (with a number of scientific studies reporting on the benefits). This is great in a way, albeit (we believe), slightly condescending given that 40% of today’s modern medicine is derived from plants, including penicillin! Much ancient wisdom, including herbal remedies and acupuncture, comes from China, where over 3000 years of knowledge has only really become more accessible to the West since the 1970s. Although with pharamaceutitical companies unable to patent many natural remedies (and therefore make money from them!) will such magical cures be made available to the masses?
By Kimmana Nicholls
Ayurveda is an ancient holistic system of medicine that originates from the ‘Vedas’ – ancient texts from the sub-continent of India. Its main purpose is to teach us a life of individualised balance. Covering a vast area of holistic medicine, its facets and specialties are numerous, the fundamental principle revolving around the notion of ‘like increases like’. So, for example, if we want more grounded stability in our life, then we should surround ourselves with grounded people, eat grounding foods, do grounding exercise and think grounded thoughts.
KEY TERMS “Ayur” – longevity “Veda” - knowledge
“Many people underestimate the value of health and the happiness it provides until they don’t have it anymore.” (Kimmana Nicholls)
Principles of Ayurveda:
• The Five Elements: Ether, Air, Fire, Water, Earth. These compose the universe, including the human body. • The Three Doshas: Vasha, Pitta, Kapa These diagnose individuality and balance in our environment. You will have a dominant dosha that corresponds to your physical, mental and emotional attributes. (NB – these do not need to be in equal quantities to maintain health. Each individual may be expressing the more positive aspects of their individual balance of the elements, and as such not produce disease. It is only through accumulating an excess of improperly functioning dosha that a disease occurs).
The role of Ayurvedic practitioners is to encourage the most functional expressions of their client’s unique talents based upon their dominant dosha, while also implementing opposing elements and doshas to balance weaknesses. Ayurvedic treatment has a broad range of components… For example, dietary and herbal guidance, massage, yoga, exercise, steam, vibrational medicine technology as well as mental focus points, such as prayer or meditation. For more information on Ayurveda visit www.kimmana.com Or check out the interview with Kimmana on www.southeastasiabackpacker.com 1\Sahasrara (Crown chakra) Ajna (Third eye chakra)
Vishuddha (Throat chakra)
Believed to have originated in Japan 1922 with Japanese Buddhist Mikao Usui, Reiki is based on the idea of transferring universal energy in the form of Qi (life energy) to allow for self healing and balance. The Reiki practitioner is essentially a guide for your body to send healing energy to wherever it needs it. Typically, you are lying down with the practitioner’s hands gently resting on your body; saying that, Reiki can be given anywhere and anytime: including remotely.
Anahata (Heart chakra) Manipura (Solar Plexus chakra) Swadhisthana (Sacrum chakra) Muladhara (Root chakra)
Reiki Chakra Balancing
Kundalini (Base chakra)
After a while, the practitioner’s hands become warm and you may feel heat or tingling in your body. If you have a specific pain or ache, the practitioner can focus on that area. Reiki treatment is especially helpful for those experiencing bodily or emotional pain and interested in a relaxing, non-invasive way to alleviate this pain. See ‘Energy Healing’ opposite for more information.
Fasting & Colonic Irrigation
“My life is protected because I control my eating.” (Fauja Singh, aka, ‘The Turbaned Tornado’. At aged 101, he’s the World’s oldest marathon-runner!) After centuries of being advocated by virtually every religion the world over, fasting is quite a trend now, and some people laugh it off as a fad for the ‘beautiful people’. Nonetheless, scientific proof is mounting, and juice fasting is becoming more and more accepted as a healthy way, not only to lose weight, but also to sustain health. According to recent clinical research, fasting (done either intermittently - on alternate days, for example - or for a more prolonged period), is also said to reduce levels of 1GF-1. This apparently switches on DNA repair genes, and reduces blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels. A seasonal fasting programme in the spring can be hugely beneficial with either a five-day green juice cleanse or an intestinal cleanse with bentonite and psyllium or a combination of the two. Herbal teas can also be consumed alongside juices or a clear vegetable broth, since the mineral content can nourish the body.
The colon is an organ of elimination where all the undigested food and waste matter ends up, so having a colonic is like cleaning your sewage network! It will clean out leftover food, gas, mucous and bacteria and yeast that can cause bloating. The colonic will also hydrate and stimulate a sluggish digestive system, thus encouraging better and more regular bowel movements. You’ll feel less bloated and gassy, your skin complexion will improve, sugar cravings will decrease, and your appetite will balance! Most people have a flatter tummy after treatment, feel healthier, lighter and more energized.
By Carolyn Goodman
“Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be transformed from one form to another.” (Einstein)
Been There, Done That.
By Hasmira Yadev
I have always loved going to Thailand for fasting retreats. Being able to completely switch off, relax, meditate, do yoga and cleanse the body on juices is a very addictive feeling. The first two days are the hardest but then past day three it really does feel like you could go on for weeks as the hunger and headaches go and the surge in energy kicks in. The downside is the boredom and the lack of chewing - often by the end I just need something crunchy like an apple or some nuts. Cleansing happens on both a physical level and an emotional level. We don’t often get a chance to offload and let go of old baggage when we’re desk-bound in the city. As a health practitioner, I am a firm believer that all our emotions manifest physically and for most women we tend to hold a lot in our emotional centre and hence get constipated. Doing a fast can help the digestive system and liver through cleansing, and can also help on a psychological level too. The day usually involves ‘shakes’ made with bentonite clay and psyllium husk spread, which create a sponge-like effect and help to reduce hunger, along with coconut water and green vegetable juices. Think of it like an exfoliator sweeping out everything through the plumbing system. These shakes make a great intestinal cleanse, hence very beneficial to a fasting program. There are often lots of cleansing pills to take, two selfadministered colon cleansing treatments a day and yoga every morning. Highly recommended!
Throughout our lives, each of our seven main chakras can become blocked or overly open, both of which create imbalances in the body. Chakra balancing helps us to level our chakras to alleviate physical, emotional, and spiritual imbalances that are caused by their deficient functioning. There are a variety of ways to balance the chakras, ranging from yoga to colour therapy, affirmations, music, EFT, Reiki and pendulums. I like to use a crystal pendulum as a way to clear the chakras while the client stands By Carolyn Goodman or lays down. The direction it swings in lets me know if the chakra is open or closed; then I may use reiki The concept behind Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) to balance them. I have also experienced yoga is that we all have trapped emotions or limiting beliefs in classes with poses and chants specific to each our lives that need to be released in order to live a more chakra, which is quite effective as well. enriching life. By tapping one hand on specific meridians (energy lines) in our body, such as on the face and Rebirthing: chest, and repeating phrases after the practitioner, A step-up from ‘chakra-balancing’, which is all we release old patterns or trapped emotions and about moving energy around the body, ‘rebirthing’ essentially reprogram thought patterns. Sometimes is meant to remove the specific blocks you have put called ‘tapping’, EFT can be useful for a variety of up within your energy field, and the life-patterns you reasons including losing weight, establishing healthy have established as a result. Expect to lie down, be beliefs about ourselves, allowing for improved talked through various past experiences (that have relationships, and even bringing more money into caused you to create a block/pattern, and express our lives. This healing method is perfect for how you feel as you’re guided through each one all those interested in a pain-free, (via the chakras) and encouraged to release easy way to make a profound it. This technique can achieve incredibly difference in their lives. powerful results!
Emotional Freedom Technique
Yoga & Meditation
Most of us are familiar with both yoga and meditation, and the large majority of us will already have tried at least one form or another. Yoga has many physical benefits (for one, it will make you lean and strong), but it is not just a physical activity. On the contrary, it unifies our body to our mind via focusing and breathing deeply into various poses - or ‘asanas’. Likewise, meditation isn’t just a ‘mind practice’, since in order to do it, you must not move (or at least, move in a very contemplative, restrictive manner) – and in some practices (Vipassana, for example), you are encouraged to concentrate on every physical sensation in the body you experience whilst doing so.
The practice of meditation aims to still our ‘monkey mind’, and to stop us becoming obsessed or carried away with thoughts, feelings and emotions that are not in fact real, since they are always in a constant state of change. Concentrating on the breath helps us focus on the present moment – something that is taught over ten days at Vipassana meditation courses all over the world.
Been There, Done That.
By Vesna Veliscek of ‘www.Slocally.com’
Want to try Vipassana, but not sure you’re equipped for the full ten days? You can try it out for just three days at Doi Suthep mountain temple, Chiang Mai.
Look out for gong meditation, sound healing, didgeridoo healing. The idea behind this is that the vibrations resound through all your chakras in turn as you meditate, both healing and balancing you (as well as giving you something to focus on besides just your breath!).
Before entering the Doctor Fish Spa in Kuala Lumpur, I wash my feet. I put my legs into the pool and wait. I make myself comfortable, but there are no fish. The water is slowly warming up, which provides the signal to the Kangal fish that their service is about to start. Measuring between 6 and 12 centimetres long, they live in waters with temperatures between 35 ° C and 38 ° C. I feel a pleasant tickle first on the right, then on the It’s unlikely you’ll have gone anywhere in South East Asia without left leg. I start to laugh and lift noticing adverts for ‘Doctor Fish’. Also known as ichthyotherapy, this is my feet from the water for a few the simple business of submerging your legs into a tankful of heated water, moments. Then – gingerly – I place them whereupon hundreds of tiny ‘Garra Rufa’, or ‘Kangal’ fish (named after the Kangal back in. region in Turkey’s Anatolia), will immediately gather round to nibble away at the dead skin on your feet - they’ll even get right in between your toes! The idea is that the ‘Freshwater therapists’ take their role fish clean the sebaceous glands, which makes the feet sweat less. The sucking action seriously. They begin to bite dead skin also accelerates blood circulation, so the skin becomes smooth, clean and flexible. skillfully; bite by bite. In their natural environment, these toothless fish feed Fish Therapy originated in Turkey in 1917, where it’s been growing in popularity ever off algae and plankton, while massage since. The ‘therapists’ are found in the river basins of Turkey and the Middle East, and are therapists – with a life expectancy of also used in clinics throughout the world to alleviate the symptoms of psoriasis and minor four to six years – are fed twice a day eczema. It’s not without its controversy, though. At best described as a novelty fad, there with shop-bought fish food. I soon get do exist a number of reports that the fish are actually starving. According to a Wikipedia used to their gentle bites, and start source, ‘the skin-feeding behavior fully manifests only under conditions where the food to concede that fish therapy is in fact supply is somewhat scarce and unpredictable.’ a pleasant, relaxing experience. They gently bite at my dead skin, at a rate of Now with clinics virtually all over the world, in South East Asia, you’ll see them three times per second, removing dead mostly in markets and tourist areas. There’s a place in the Night Bazaar in Chiang skin cells, fungi and other skin woes, and Mai where you can surf the net whilst getting your feet nibbled – as well as a leaving behind only healthy cells. Most number of cocktail bars in Siem Reap which have tanks just outside. attention is devoted to the heels and toes. Some of them are getting up to my tibia. I TIP: Hard to be completely sure, of course, but try to ensure watch how they rush to bite, and how precise that the water in the tanks are cleaned regularly (at least and systematic they are at removing dead skin once day) - otherwise you could develop a fungal or cells. Afterwards – and almost grudgingly – I put bacterial skin infection. Nasty! my flip-flops back on and prepare to reacquaint
my newly softened feet with the streets of the city.
Day 5 of detox at The Sanctuary It’s even easier than it looks...
“The most quirky, brilliant and unique” (Time Out London) “It is the kind of place you book into for a week and end up staying for a month” (The Guardian)
Like Thai massage, acupuncture is based on the concept that energy flows through the human body along 12 ‘meridian’ lines, which – when obstructed – may cause illness. Following a short consultation (which usually involves checking the patient’s pulse, tongue, and making enquiries about their diet), fine needles are inserted along the various lines. This is meant to re-stimulate the flow of energy, and thus restore the patient to health. As well as often being practiced as a preventative measure, acupuncture is also curative, and can help with a whole array of conditions that manifest either (or both) physical or mental symptoms: everything from insomnia and back pain to depression and asthma.
BEEN THERE, DONE THAT
By Anastasia Makarenko
As I pass by a tiny storefront in a small town in the north of Laos, I spot some herbs drying in the sun. Having witnessed their power in my childhood home in Russia, I have always been curious about natural remedies, so I hop off the motorbike and go into the store. Inside is a lovely smiling couple – husband and wife – who do not speak any English, nor Lao - they are from China. We still manage to ‘converse’ somehow with gestures, and my friend Lino and I end up having a ‘pulse reading’ done, which is the traditional way of ascertaining a patient’s overall health in Chinese medicine. In a matter of two minutes (and not using any tools), the doctor tells us about EVERYTHING that has been bothering us in detail – down to the kind of pain and the exact particular spot. Stuff that has been bothering us for years. After that, he gives us a note with a few characters written on it to a Chinese doctor back in Thailand. He prescribes some herbal remedies and acupuncture. In two weeks, there is a marked improvement, with no side effects (possibly attributable to the fact there were no harmful chemicals used?). I wish more people had access to this kind of care. If you are convinced that Western medicine is the only kind you should trust, I don’t blame you; you have been taught this all your life. But if you can keep an open mind about this, consider visiting your local TCM practitioner. I would advise to look for one who combines acupuncture with herbal therapy, and is reputable and successful at both. At the very least, visit your nearest China town and see if you can find some safe and easy ways to acquaint yourself with Chinese health care culture – maybe get a foot or body acupressure treatment (massage with special attention paid to certain ‘energy’ points), buy a balm that helps with cold and sore muscles, or even just enjoy Tip: a simple pot of herbal tea in a local tea house. That In Warorot Market, Chiang will help ease your way Mai, there is a famous traditional into experiencing more doctor Tip Antung, who speaks ways to nurture and some English, has a big herbal heal. There is a chance remedies shop and acupuncture you will be quietly yet practice with lots of patients profoundly transformed (locals, mostly) who seek by the wisdom that him out every day. has been around for thousands of years.
WORD ON THE SOI: Who's the most unforgettable person you've met on your travels and why? Travel is as much about the people we meet, as the places we travel to... From tree-hugging hippies to the most annoying dorm-mate EVER – not to mention the love of your life, that best friend you bonded with during that (so-called) silent meditation retreat, and the poor guy you found freaking out for over 12 hours by the side of the Nam Song River! Doing the Banana Pancake Trail gives you ample opportunity to meet an assorted pick ‘n’ mix of characters. So we asked you: Who’s the most unforgettable person you’ve met on your travels... and why? Here’s what you had to tell us... Who is yours?
It has to be ‘David the Snoring Israeli’ who I met when I was in New Zealand. No word of a lie – he checked into the same hostel as me in three different towns... being thus responsible for keeping my shut-eye time down to an average of three hours per night. On encountering him again on his way to the FOURTH different location, I actually called ahead to the hostel and requested to be changed into a more expensive dorm so I wouldn’t have to fall prey to any more of his nasal thundering. I’ll never forget him – and now I always make sure I’ve got earplugs when travelling! (William Renville)
Definitely unforgettable were these two guys we stumbled across at Mon Tha Than waterfall, half way up Doi Suthep to the west of Chiang Mai. They were sat by the plunge pool whilst one played a flute. We didn’t think much of it apart from the fact that it did kind of set the scene and add a bit of an atmosphere. On our way out, we were treated to the sound of very loud humming, and following investigation, we found it was coming from the same guys, who were now busy hugging a giant tree. Mother earth had two devoted friends that day! (Vicki Jakes)
A guy called Scott. He went travelling for a few months and eight years later he’s still doing it! He built his own house in the jungles of Cambodia, intending to turn it into a guesthouse so that he could meet people he otherwise wouldn’t get the chance to. His outlook on life – all the ups and downs – is incredibly refreshing. The guy has no idea just how much he inspired me, even though I’ve told him many times. (He’s also a big fella so even if there were bad things about him, I wouldn’t say…) (Darren Wells)
The Captain Jack Sparrow look-a-like in Pai! He claims he is the REAL Jack Sparrow. Amazing. (Megan Kelly)
Jonnis fron Greece. Met him on a bus in Thailand. Took a boat together. Unforgettable sunset… I will definitely never forget him! (Cristina Grasso) Erm, we get the feeling some details have been missed out of this one, Cristina!
George from Germany, I met him in San Juan de Nicaragua, We hung out for days, despite neither of us speaking a word of the other’s language, and the fact he spent most of that time taking pictures of hummingbirds. (Randi Hanis)
A man called Swami Suddhananda , who had come to lecture at an Ashram in Perth on one of the Upanishad texts. I’d never been to an Ashram before, but to say that he had a profound effect on me and the way I began to view life is an understatement. I ended up staying for the full 10 days instead of just the weekend, was the butt of all the jokes amongst my peers for the frantic way I tried scribbling down EVERY word that came out of his mouth in my notebook (and, no, of course that didn’t stop me buying all the DVDs of the same lectures at the end of it all!). An astonishingly charismatic man full of love, wisdom, wit and humour, Suddhananda’s teachings led me on to some kind of spiritual quest that’s just kept on going (and growing) ever since. His main point? That YOU are ‘happiness’, and you don’t need to look for it anywhere else but within. Incredible man. I hope to visit his Ashram in India in the not too distant future. (Karen Farini)
It was Full Moon. I was on Koh Phangan and therefore embracing everything... buckets, table dancing, fire-skipping! Drunk as a skunk, I wandered away from my friends and ended up ‘contemplating life’ (too inebriated to move) sitting on the beach. Suddenly I was joined by a Swedish guy wearing fluorescentcoloured tie-dye harem pants. He pulled me up by the hand, asked why I was alone and introduced himself as ‘The Queen of Sweden’. The next morning, once I had sobered up and been reunited with my friends, I recalled this story. But I wasn’t entirely sure if I’d made it up. Until later that day on our way down to the beach for round two, I was embraced by, guess who... Only the bloody ‘Queen of Sweden’, in those same darn fluorescent, tie-dye pants! Only in Thailand. (Laura Davies)
CULTURE SHOCK BALI
ust before my departure for Bali, Indonesia, I’m informed of two things:
1) I will be flying into Bali just before midnight on Indonesian New Year`s Eve. 2) This Balinese holiday of Nyepi means that everything shuts down, electricity is banned and it is punishable to walk the city streets after a certain time. Information like this is always a reassuring pat on the back as you’re heading to the airport for a trip to foreign lands… So, I board the last airplane going to the central Indonesian island of Bali. Exiting the plane, the heavy humidity hits me like a wet, incense-scented sponge slapping me across the face. Due to the Nyepi holiday, I won’t be able to escape staying less than two nights in Kuta (the discarded resort and club-lined residue of what was once a traveller´s gem (or so I hear)…in the 1970s. With almost all people (including taxi drivers) already locked into the darkness of their homes for the next 36 hours, I grudgingly pay four times the ‘max price’ previously advised from the airport to Kuta Beach. I am dropped off to what I assume is the front of my hostel, but which is actually a labyrinth of back alleys lined with Hindu shrine offerings. Far too narrow for a car to fit through. With all electricity cut off and the city void of life (a rare experience in Kuta), I drag my way through a foot of stagnant water in the heavy night rain, cursing my beloved
The Ogoh Ogoh Monsters
l & ot
guitar for being my necessary companion.
After an hour of soaked stumbling and backtracking, I manage to come across the delightful sound of several Englishspeaking foreigners enjoying cold Bintangs behind the front of my sign-less hostel. Ah, English: the comfort of familiarity that we all yearn to leave, yet immediately pine for when we veer too treacherously into the depths of the unknown. I sit with the group awhile, and together, we enjoy the customary swap of traveller stories – that include their experiences amidst the parade of Balinese Ogoh Ogoh monsters during that day’s New Year celebrations. I’m intrigued. Apparently, the Ogoh Ogoh monsters are the personification of Bali’s underworld. These long nailed, sharptoothed, grotesque creatures are evil spirits which can never be destroyed, only appeased, if people give them enough respect and plenty of offerings in the form of food, flowers, incense and festivals. In the Nyepi celebration, the idea is almost to give the gargoyle-like creatures an ‘outing’ and so balance the distance between good and evil.
blanket our hopes of seeing anything at all, let alone the panoramic sunrise. Being a group of Canadians, we refrain from complaining and naturally switch the topic to hockey. When our guides serve us our complimentary hard boiled ‘volcano eggs’, the clouds part just in time to catch the orange ball rising and outlining the surrounding Bali mountain line. I take the moment to be thankful my alarm clock does not have a snooze button.
As it turns out, this would be our last conversation. The following day, religious police armed with machetes would threaten us for speaking and thus not honouring their Nyepi day of silence. Hence, the rest of that day passes in contented (albeit forced) solitude via yoga, meditation – and of course – the odd clandestine whispers about why Western countries would never be capable of implementing such a peaceful national holiday. The thought of Catholic priests wearing funky hats and carrying machetes whilst marching around monitoring Christmas doesn’t quite capture the same cultural significance (although there’s no doubt it would make an interesting video game)… The following day, the silence is broken by congestion, crowds, and catcalls for taxis. Kuta won’t be quiet again until next year’s Nyepi. Before leaving, I consider renting a surfboard to catch some of Bali’s notorious waves, but figure the lineup is just way too full. I fhe surf is best saved for the south of Lombok, Bali’s little brother island to the east. So, with that in mind, I rent a motorbike (for the outstanding daily rate of 30,000 rupiah - $3 CAD) - and prepare to head north towards the island’s two active volcanoes. Breathing the smells of sweet incense, fried tempeh and feral chickens, I fill up my motorbike with petrol from one of the many roadside warungs (convenience / food shops). I find it ironic that in Indonesia, they store gas in Absolut Vodka bottles – and yet in restaurants, they serve local wine from what appears to be a 4-litre petrol container. Either way it helps explain why they both taste the same. When my alarm goes off at 2am, I not only have no clue as to where I am, but also forget the fact I signed up for the ‘sunrise volcano hike’ the night before. Mount Batur is located four hours north of Kuta, and includes a pitch black 4km trek before reaching the summit in time for sunrise. As our crew (mainly Canadians) and guides reach the top, the darkness begins to fade, showing us the mass of clouds that
Volcanic Monkeys live in the warm crater and know when the feeding hands of tourists arrive. The road from Mount Batur to Ubud – Bali’s cultural hotbed – passes through colourful montages of fruit warungs, phenomenal rice terraces chiseled into the mountain, and leftover Ogoh Ogoh monsters that were not burnt following the Nyepi day of silence and rest. Ignoring my map (which is often my choice, since Bali is pretty inefficient at posting street signs), I take the back roads, passing smiling villagers wearing their bright sarongs as they light their incense and consciously place their routine shrine offerings up to the gods for luck. I pull over to the side of the road to watch a young local fly a kite from within his rice paddy playground, when I look over to see giant Hollywood lettering stating ‘Not For Sale’. A haunting theme that sticks with me as I process the tourist influx over the decades that has provided both financial backing and burden to this small island, its people and culture. Whichever way you arrive into Ubud, it will be via one of the many busy roads dense with endless art houses, stone masons or massage shops. Ubud definitely has a different energy and modern bohemian twist amidst the ancient Indonesian village remnants. There are more yoga studios, fashion boutiques and organic cafes than the trendiest district of any major North American city. Fortunately, though, all it takes to escape the expats and woman clinging on to their copy of Eat Pray Love is to slip off the busy main street. Looking for my homestay, I disappear into a labyrinth of mossy tiles, stonework and sculpture guardians that instantly warp you in to a different time and place. Behind the inner city walls lay the quiet and original Ubud village: slow farmers tending to open rice paddies with structures and lifestyles that have not changed a jot over the centuries. There is a medium class ‘resort’ visible from my second floor homestay terrace. I see one Westerner using his WIFI as he eats breakfast, while another sips a cocktail next to a beautiful pool that cuts off directly into the area’s rice paddy that two local farmers have been harvesting by hand since sunrise. This baffles me. And yet here I am as well, with a camera in my hand, documenting this direct cultural barrier of a brick wall separating a rice paddy and a pool of luxury. We, the Westerner, love experiencing ‘culture’ – but often from a comfortable distance. And yet the Balinese people still smile at us throughout. Why? If some foreigner came peering into my yard, scotch in hand, taking pictures of me roto-tiling my garden at home,
I would tell him to help out or buzz off. Maybe I should start lighting more incense as an offering to the gods of happiness..? Bali is a lot of things to a lot of people, and has been for decades. Whether you are searching for beaches, surf, eco-tourism, culture, spiritual enlightenment, or simply that photo of someone living a different life from your own, Bali is a one-stop island. Plans are underway to rebuild Denpasar, the island’s international airport, which will reportedly extend its annual 4.5 million tourists to 20 million. This will make those amazing discoveries a little more strained to find. Which brings me back to my first impressions on arrival: Whether Bali’s infrastructure, people, or culture are ready for further masses, or not? Either way, I’m guessing that Nyepi day of silence will soon be more important than ever.
John Early is a tour manager, musician and avid traveller based out of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. To learn more about his adventures with his lactose intolerant sasquatch visit www.johnearly.ca
NYEPI WHAT: The Balinese Hindu New Year. WHEN: 27th March 2013 The Hindu Nyepi Day (where the population is over 90% Hindu) is calculated according to the Balinese Saka Calendar and falls on the first new moon after mid-March. In 2013, this will be Wednesday, 27th March. In a somewhat stark contrast to the traditional New Year’s Eve parties in Western culture, Nyepi is also known as the Day of Silence. It is a time to spend in a reflective zone - sleeping, meditating, reading - at home or in your hotel. If you’re seen wandering the streets (and rather fruitlessly, we might add, considering that absolutely nothing will be open!) you will be politely, but firmly taken back to your quarters by Pecalangs, or traditional Balinese security men.
gamelan music called Bleganjur that’s typical to the island. Homemade monsters made of bamboo called Ogoh-ogoh are paraded about in a bid to ward off evil spirits, or Bhuta Kala. They are then hoisted up on sticks, offered gifts of food and flowers, and then burnt in a huge, exorcism; a completely riotous bonfire of a ceremony! Curfew alert! Make sure you’re back in your hotel by 6am at the very latest.
But there’s more to Nyepi than just being quiet…
Following the revelries of the night before, this will no doubt be the most hush-hush New Year’s Day you’ll have ever experienced - so make sure you enjoy it - as one thing’s for sure, this will absolutely be the only completely peaceful one you’ll ever experience on this hectic island (save for dogs barking and insects humming… yes, it really is that quiet!).
THREE DAYS BEFORE NYEPI
MELASTI, MEKIYIS, MELIS (THE COLOURFUL CEREMONIES MARCH.)
A cleansing rite, one of the purposes of Melasti is to bathe all the effigies of gods from the temples in natural water (and therefore the Balinese Neptune, the God Baruna). The march to the ocean, lake or river is both long and colourful, and once there, the gods are ceremonially bathed before being taken back home to their shrines and temples.
ONE DAY BEFORE NYEPI
NEW YEAR’S EVE - TAWUR KESANGA
This is when most of the action takes place! Also known as the ‘Day of Great Sacrifices’, all the villagers dressed in traditional costume come together in the town centres for a kind of mass exorcism rite (with Denpasar staging the grandest procession!). This is a day full of colour, excitement, party vibes, and that all-important Balinese carnivalesque atmosphere. Accompanied by a type of traditional
NEW YEAR’S DAY
Now all evil has been successfully warded off, Nyepi is the day for the Balinese to demonstrate their new-found self-control. There’ll be absolutely no traffic outside – motorised or pedestrian (even the airport will be closed!). Stay inside, don’t work, talk, drink alcohol, cook, or light fires, and keep the TV and radio down low, as well as all the lights. (Oh and don’t let that last one put you in a romantic mood, though, because that’s not allowed either!)
THE DAY AFTER NYEPI NGEMBAK GENI
As of 6am, the Hindus of Bali traditionally forgive each other via an array of activities that form part of the Dharma Canthi. These include reading ancient scripts and singing ancient songs – namely, Sloka, Kekidung, Kekawin and others.
Kat Payne By KatBy Payne
Market Life of South East Asia!
Old Market - Siem Reap, Cambodia
Sangklaburi Vegetable Market, Thailand.
Medecine Man, Cambodia
he colour, the smells, the heat, the hustle and bustle, there’s nothing quite like a market in South East Asia for sheer atmosphere. Pick up exotic fruits of every size and shape, barter with the tailor over a rare piece of silk, wander down dark narrow alleyways with unusual goods hanging for sale from every hook. Jewellery, clothes, bags, shoes, meat, vegetables, religious paraphenalia, Buddhas, lockets, charms, books, old magazines, musical instruments, even puppies... is there anything you can’t buy at an Asian market? For market buffs, don’t miss Chiang Mai’s Sunday Walking Street, Phnom Penh’s Russian Market and Luang Prabang’s handicraft market - for those interested in something different check out Sapa’s love market! Above all, don’t miss Bangkok’s Chatuchak (JJ Market), the largest weekend market in Thailand (rumoured to be the biggest in SE Asia!). The market covers 35 acres, has over 8,000 stalls and receives 200,000 visitors a day! From the hundreds of fruit-sellers at Chatuchak, the lady who we’ve featured on our front cover stood out; with her Hawaiian blouse and mango shaped hat, she’s a must to replenish your vitamin C levels. She’s been selling fruit at Chatuchak for years and spends the rest of her week selling fruit in the Mo Chit area. The reason for the hat is simple; to make tourists choose her instead of her competitors. But be warned, she’s a shrewd business woman and a photo will cost you the price of a couple of mangoes!
ave you ever been greeted by a smile that warms you for the rest of the day? The Thai children, whom I had the privilege of spending two weeks with, were some of the happiest people I’ve ever met in my life. I was delighted to see their happiness and lust for life while living with the bare essentials. Their smiles brightened my day, my week, my summer and my life. In June of 2011, I had the good fortune of winning a photography contest with Smaller Earth, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping young people find the best volunteer, internships, and work and travel programs worldwide. The prize: A trip of a lifetime - a round trip flight to Thailand to teach English for two weeks. Despite having no teaching experience under my belt, I was determined to travel the world, so declining the prize was not an option I even considered. I hopped on the plane from Canada and made my way (with a few scary moments) to a rural Thai town called Ao Luek in Krabi province. This is not a town you read about in travel guides, and nor is it a major tourist town. This is the kind of town where you are truly able to experience genuine Thai culture. I lived in a house with approximately 10 other volunteers from around the world. The first weekend I arrived, we were given the basics of teaching English to the Thai children. We also learned some essentials of the Thai language, culture, and of course, cuisine. Come Monday, we were driven in the back of a truck to our designated schools. Other days, we got lucky and had an air conditioned vehicle to travel in. Pulling into the parking lot each day, we were swarmed by children hugging us, laughing, smiling and grabbing our skin yelling “white, white!” – as if we didn’t feel out of place already! None of us had ever felt so idolized before. Students fought over who would be first to get us water, sit beside us at lunch and who would be first in line to get our autographs at the end of the day. Having never taught in my life, let alone in a foreign country, I was definitely quite nervous arriving at my first class – but I stood up at the front of the room, full of children so eager to learn, and I gave it my all. For two weeks, I taught them simple English words, from animals to colours to shapes, weather, family and jobs. After my first lesson teaching the names of different animals and the sounds they make, I found myself chasing the kids around the room imitating a cow. (That’s one memory I’ll never forget.) Aside from the adorable children I never wanted to part with (and the ridiculous situations I found myself in – cow example included!) – there were countless other fond memories. I’ll never forget the drives to school every day sitting in the back of a pickup, as we drove alongside karst mountain cliffs. I’m also still curious as to exactly what I ate one day for lunch at the school cafeteria. It was either a bird or a fish.
By Amelia Johnston www.ameliajohnston.ca
! L F E T
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FESTIVALS & EVENTS: The “Moon” Parties Koh Phangan, Thailand Full Moon Party 26th March, 25th April
that multi-coloured paint all over your body, get a glow stick in one hand and a bucket (or two) in your other and get ready to party!
Half Moon Festival: 4th & 19th March 3rd & 19th April
Black Moon Culture 11th March & 10th April
There are various stories about the origin of Koh Phangan’s infamous Full Moon Party, but as one rumour goes, it all started with a group of backpackers playing guitars on the beach to celebrate someone’s birthday. Today, it’s a backpacker rite of passage and up to 30,000 people congregate on Haad Rin Sands each month for a frenzied concoction of dance, drink and devilishness from dusk until dawn. So, smear
Underground trance and progressive beats resound through the air as partygoers dance on the beautiful sands of Baan Tai Beach once every month. With amazing décor, live visuals and an international DJ line up every month, including special guests, the Black Moon Culture is a pretty intense dance experience.
Sairee Beach, Koh Tao, Thailand
Don’t miss this huge professional dance event taking place twice a month amidst the atmospheric setting, Baan 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 massive sound system, unique UV illuminations, fire dancers and live visuals.
miss ’t n Do
Bali Spirit Festival Ubud, Bali 20th – 24th March
The annual Bali Spirit Festival is a spiritually charged event that celebrates yoga, dance and music in a synergy of cultures from all over the world. Now in its sixth year, the event expects over 4,500 people present on the sprawling lawns of its atmospheric outdoor venue in Bali’s cultural heart, Ubud. By day, your creative and spiritual side will be stirred as you brush shoulders with international dance instructors, healers, musicians and gurus in inspiring yoga, dance and music workshops.
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Gokteik Gorge Viaduct
March - April 2013 By night, lively world music concerts showcase vibrant and diverse musicians performing everything from gospel to salsa to afro-beats; ensuring a musical feast for all attendees! The creative masters from around the world merge with the rich indigenous culture of Indonesia in the spirit of learning, collaboration and diversity. Not to be missed!
what this festival entails. A high energy Lombok 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 a popular event that never fails to draw in an excited crowd.
Nyepi Bali, Indonesia 12th March An important event across Bali, Nyepi commemorates the ‘Hindu Day of Silence’ as well as the start of the New Year. Read more on page 27. Malean Sampi Lombok, Indonesia Mid-April With ‘Malean’ meaning ‘to chase’ and ‘Sampi’ meaning cow, in local ‘Sasak’ language, you can pretty much guess
tattoos are believed to be spiritual, magical, and protect the wearer from evil spirits even defelcting bullets! In a day long ceremony, thousands of people are adorned and the most spectacular part of the ceremony takes place when those who have been tattooed during the day enter trancelike states becoming tigers, lions or dogs as animal spirits enter their tattoos.
Wai Kru Tattoo Festival Wat Bang Phra, Thailand 3rd March Each year, crowds gather at this famous temple in Nakhon Chaisi, about 50km outside Bangkok, to either be given a bamboo tattoo or get their current tattoos ‘recharged’ by monks. Rather than just decorative, traditional Thai
fair amount of zeal in this fun-loving part of the world. It seems that the locals readily accept Western festivals into their own culture – just so long as it’s an excuse for a good party! With the essential ‘Irish Pub’ sprinkled on islands and cities across the length and breadth of South East Asia, you’ll find yourself perched on a bar stool anywhere from Bangkok and Koh Phi Phi to Hanoi to Siem Reap, 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!
St. Patrick’s Day Ireland & S.E.Asia 17th March Okay, Asian mean won’t
so it’s not a traditional event, but that doesn’t that St. Patrick’s Day be celebrated with a
FESTIVALS & EVENTS: Save Koh Tao Festival Koh Tao, Thailand End of March
– but there is also a vast complex of other Buddhist shrines and temples that are also built into the these Huong Tich mountains. Hmong Spring Festival. Northern Thailand, Laos & Vietnam April 14th
This two-day festival is held every year to raise awareness and encourage conservation of the environment in Koh Tao. The festival aims to bring together the diving and non-diving community in a collaborative effort to preserve the beauty of their beloved ‘Turtle Island’. Residents and visitors take part in a beach and underwater clean-ups, a turtle release program, reservoir construction, coral transplantation and the installation of mooring bouys around the dive sites. As well as highlighting important issues, live music, beach games and even a Mr & Mrs Koh Tao competition ensures a fun-filled event for everybody! The event takes place at the ‘Koh Tao Founders Coconut Grove’ at the north end of Sairee Beach. Festival at the Perfume Pagoda (Chua Huong) Hanoi, Vietnam 25th March Marking the half-moon of the second lunar month of the Vietnamese year, Buddhists from all over Vietnam make the pilgrimage up the Yen River, 70km south-west of Hanoi. Following a steep, well-trodden track leading to Huong Tich, a deep cave at the summit of a holy mountain (known as the Perfume mountain), this is the central place where you can chant prayers and seek blessings
Hmong tribes in the north of South East Asia come together and celebrate the beginning of Spring with colourful upbeat parades and market days. The northern mountain town of Sapa in Vietnam is a great place to experience the festivities and take in a freindly homestay trek amongst the rice terraces while you’re there!
Saigon Liberation Day Vietnam 30th April Marking the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, The Fall of Saigon (also known as Saigon Liberation Day, Vietnam Victory Day or Vietnam Reunification Day), is celebrated throughout the whole country with festivals, parades, fireworks and street parties.
Malasimbo Music & Arts Festival Mindoro, Philippines 1st – 3rd March The Malasimbo Festival is set in the enchanting tropical gardens of Puerta Galera Oriental, at the foothills of Mount Malasimbo. Having made its debut in February
2011, the turnout last year reached over 3,500 – which is hardly surprising considering the accolades from both local and internationally renowned media sources. A mix of music, art and eco-culture, one of its main features is an amphitheatre overlooking a bay often referred to as one of ‘the most beautiful in the world’ (which this year will be playing host to everything from Sound Therapy: Harmonizing Chakras with Tibetan Singing Bowls to Joss Stone!). A myriad of breathtaking art courtesy of dozens of creatives from around the world will also be awaiting you in the Sculpture Garden. You can camp on the grounds or stay nearby; you also have the option to buy tickets for the whole three days or separately. For more info, visit http://malasimbofestival.com Future Music Festival Kuala Lumpur 15th - 16th March
Dubbed the largest music festival to hit South East Asian shores, the Future Music Festival is a must for all serious trance fans, expecting crowds of up to 40,000 people over two massive days. Hailing originally from Australia and held for the first time ever in Malaysia and South East Asia, this kind of music festival is an example of the progressive new revolution taking place in music and festivals across Asia. On 15th March, the festival presents ‘A State of Trance 600: The Expedition World Tour’
dedicated to the trance music of Armin Van Buuren. You can also expect huge headliners The Prodigy and Bloc Party, as well as music from PSY, Rita Ora, Fun, Temper Trap, Rudimental, Stafford Brothers, Timmy Trumpet, Tenzin, Feed Me, Kill The Noise, and Zeds Dead, and Borgore. Formula 1 Grand Prix Kuala Lumpur 15th - 16th March
The absolute ultimate in motor sport, the Formula 1 Grand Prix comes to Malaysia’s cosmopolitan capital this March, adding a dash of tropical heat and spice to the world famous competition. With all the biggest names, fastest cars and that irresistible touch of glamour, this isn’t your usual backpacker event, but if you find yourself in Malaysia in March - why not treat yourself! Easter and Holy Week The Philippines 24th - 31st March In one of the most verdant Catholic nations on earth, Easter is a major celebration. Easter processions take place around most towns and cities as devotees walk bare foot carrying a wooden cross in commemoration of Jesus’ sacrifice. Devoutly religious though it certainly is, you can still expect there to be a festive atmosphere here in this colourful country - after all... ‘It’s more fun in the Philippines!’
ko f th Mo nth e !
f you haven’t yet heard of the Buddhist New Year celebrations of either Pii May in Laos, or Chaul Chnan Thmey in Cambodia during your travels, we’re pretty confident that the word Songkran won’t have passed you by! All three festivals kick off this year on April 13th and last for three days (although most cities get a weeklong holiday). Featuring colourful processions, traditional games, local sports competitions, cultural shows, exchanges of gifts, wat visits both in the day (for worshipping/temple offerings and ‘making merit’), and in the evening (for entertainment), the most notable part of it all is of course, the water! And when we say water, we mean water. Loads of it – usually thrown gleefully all over you via buckets by excitable locals on street corners, or administered by water guns, hosepipes, huge containers emptied out from the roof tops – or even the tops of passing trucks… basically, if it can pelt out the wet stuff (as well as the odd bit of talcum powder), then it’s all fair game!
Prakan Province, also known as Bangkok’s ‘Green Lung’). As well as getting soaked to the skin, here you’ll get to see a whole host of activities, such as the Thai-Ramn flag ceremony, the ‘saba’ game, Raman dances, boat races, Mon folk plays, and see one of the best Songkran parades in Thailand, including procession of floral floats, swan and centipede flags. Chiang Mai: Hugely popular place to visit for Songkran, with one of the grandest processions in the country weaving its way around the whole city. Pattaya: For a fully-blown, no holds barred party, with lots of drinking and yes - wet T-shirts galore! the Songkran festival in Pattaya starts a few days after the rest of the country – usually 16-19 April.
So, what’s with all the water?! LAOS The theme of water has cleansing connotations, used to symbolise It’s the hottest time of the year in Laos (and April is also the start of a fresh start to the year, and also to wash away one’s past misfortunes. As well as this, it is used to purify oneself, one’s home, each other, and one’s elders (this last one is called the Rod Nam Dum Hua ritual in Thai, and officially happens on the first day in the Thai celebration, which is also known as the National Elderly Day). Bathing Buddha statues is also paramount to proceedings believing this will bestow devotees with life longevity, prosperity and happiness.
the monsoon season). In the smaller towns and villages, Pii May is considered more as a time to spend with one’s family, but if you’re looking to experience a big celebration (that for some reason in Laos, also involves whipped cream!) – then head to Luang Prabang or Vientiane.
Where to celebrate? THAILAND:
Thailand, and in the small towns and villages, people traditionally spend this time with their families. Still, if you’re going to be here, and want to know where to spend it – well, it’s a no-brainer really, isn’t it?
Bangkok City: It’s water-fight central on the Khao San Road and Silom Square, where there are so many people that traffic literally comes to a standstill amidst street parties full of people, food, flowing alcohol, live music – and, yes… water, ice and talcum powder everywhere. Local Bangkok: For a more traditional Songkran, head over and celebrate approximately one week later with the ThaiRaman communities in the Phra Pradaeng district (the Samut
CAMBODI A Like Laos, New Year isn’t as wet and wild in Cambodia as it is in
Siem Reap all the way – if only for the astoundingly beautiful ceremonies that will be taking place over the period at Angkor Wat! Expect some serious water shenanigans in the less holy/reverent places, though. Pub Street, anyone?! (NB - Phnom Penh – which like most capitals, is largely populated by people who come from the country – is virtually a ghost town for the whole week, as everyone goes back home to be with their families.)
SURVIVAL TIPS! You’ll be totally drenched for 3 days, so... • • • •
Dress appropriately! Wrap up all your valuables (camera/phone/wallet etc.) in a durable plastic bag. Watch out for thieves! (This isn’t particularly related to the water, but there will be so many people about in the main areas that being careful with belongings is a must.) Drive slowly and carefully if you’re on your moped. It’s not uncommon to have water thrown right in your face from little roadside devils as you scoot on past!
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Sawasdee Pee Mai! (Thailand) Sabaidee Pbeemai (Laos) Suo Sdey Chnam Thmey (Cambodia)
By Colin Roohan
The Myster ies of Phu Quoc, Vietnam
ll I can hear are waves crashing into the shoreline. There is nothing in sight. I feel like a man who is shipwrecked…all alone…on a deserted island. My initial questions flood in: How will I survive? Where will food and shelter come from? I continue to comb the beach for signs of life. The occasional iridescent crab zipping around on the sand is the only thing that breaks up the monotony of the waves. It is a rhythmic song which has timing like a metronome and is somehow comforting. My beard is not quite at castaway status, nor is my spear fishing technique, which concerns me. Suddenly, I spot a footprint. Ah-ha! A sign of life. Is this my mind playing tricks? Has the equatorial sun fried my brain? I cannot tell, but my primal instincts tell me to search for more prints… I find and I follow. The footprints lead away from the beach and into light vegetation. I am feeling confident that my chances of being rescued are strong
when the track I am following unexpectedly stops. I turn in circles franticly trying to spot the track again, but I have no such luck -there is nothing else in sight. It’s as if my saviour just vanished, right before my eyes. All signs of survival are now bleak. I begin feeling aggravated and helpless and the sun fries what’s remaining in the attic. I fall to my knees and look toward the sky, “Damn you! Damn you straight to hell!” I feel like I am on the brink of collapse when I start to hallucinate. I hear a tiny voice inside my head, it sounds foreign yet somehow I can make out the words, “Hey guy! You want massaaage?” I spin my head around in the direction of the voice. To my surprise I see an older Vietnamese woman; her skin is dark and leathery, her smiling lips reveal shell white teeth, and she is wearing a conical hat. I have found my rescuer. I reply with, “No I don’t but do you have any bia?” I’m on Phu Quoc Island (pronounced ‘foo wok;) - a tiny blip on the
map located off the southern point of Vietnam. This island refuge has been showing up in travel magazines for several years now but has seemingly managed to retain the charm that attracted visitors in the first place. The name itself is clouded in mystery-Phu Quoc. Listeners’ ears perk up in wonderment: What are these two strange syllables doing next to each other and what do they mean? Is this a place or a dish? It sounds border line offensive, and in fact, if shouted at the correct pitch can even sound hateful. (I tried this out and it actually worked - sorry random shopper in a Texas supermarket.) It is borderline racy, like it could be some strange sexual proposition. Whichever emotion the name elicits, it sticks with you. You feel you must find out more. You NEED to find out more. This island was essentially a jungle with a couple fishing villages for the longest time, but during the Vietnam War the island stored 40,000 Prisoners of War for Southern Vietnam, not to mention it was the fuse that lit the Cambodian-Vietnamese War following a conflict between the Khmer Rouge and Vietnamese soldiers in 1975. I digress, because that is a can of worms for another time. Development started slowly but has reached high levels in recent years as it searches for an identity, not knowing if it wants to grow into a tourism hotspot like Koh Phangan, Thailand, or something quieter and more wholesome.
About the Author: Colin is a travel photographer from Tulsa, Oklahoma. This dusty foot philosopher has traveled far and wide searching for inspiration and documenting his experiences with travel, culture, and life. Colin was recently included on Complex Magazine’s Top 25 Travel Photographers Right Now, an honour he is extremely grateful for. His work has been published by AFAR, Travel + Leisure, The Royal Geographical Society’s Hidden Journeys and Groove Magazine. To view more of his work please visit www.colinroohanphotography.com, and you can also become a fan and follow him on Facebook – Colin Roohan Photography.
Upon my arrival, my feet made contact with the tarmac, something of a rarity in this age. However, a new international airport which was completed this year could change things drastically. I would like to note that while researching this article all flights to/from the island ran through HCMC, Hanoi, Can Tho, or Rach Gia (all in Vietnam) and the airport’s website seems to have been suspended: leading me to believe tourism hasn’t completely changed the island. I say Phu Quoc has retained its charm but knowing where to look for it is the key. I found the market in a town called Duong Dong to be fascinating. What might be small in size (around eight blocks) is large in experiences, mainly sensory. The market made me feel like a toddler going to the grocery store for the first time, when my prior knowledge of food consisted of only Cheerios, apples, and bananas. A cornucopia bursting at the seams, I saw produce that I still cannot identify (which for a foodie is saying a lot!). I was offered a small carcass that was already cooked; it looked like squab, but had marigold-colored skin and smelled of exotic herbs. Large platters of gelatinous substance gleamed in the sun ready for purchase. Was it jelly? Was it rendered fat? Hell if I know, but it looked spectacularly odd. An old man with grey hair and glasses that had to be a century old approached me and started speaking French. I humoured him with a “bonjour!” then told him I didn’t know any more of the language.
He didn’t seem to mind this all important fact and continued on rambling as if we had been best friends for years.
slowly led back into the sedated island feel that Phu Quoc projects.
I looked on quizzically at a store front for roughly ten minutes, seemingly managed by a baby. She was in front of a shop perched on a tiny plastic chair drinking something brown from a mug bigger than she was. She didn’t look scared, nor did she look nervous. She just sat there taking it all in; entire pig carcasses hanging from butcher hooks and excited conversations that sounded akin to yelling. I thought the heat was challenging my sanity when an adult returned to the child, helping ease my confusion.
Another incredible area to visit is located on the esplanade. The Cau Castle, a marriage of temple and lighthouse, is something of a rarity. To me it seemed like a temple for surfers and a place that deals more frequently with spirituality than it does religion. Everyone there seemed to be at ease as they stared out into the ocean, deep in thought. Talk was infrequent and the only thing that broke the silence was an occasional wave ricocheting around the temple’s rock base. A visit here had to be the way you unwind after visiting the aforementioned market.
The traffic was thick and constant, which is a true sign of a good market. I lost my wife five times in four minutes and I think at one point I was actually riding on the front a random scooter. If this sounds intimidating, let me assure you it is, but it is also exhilarating. The market crowd trickled out into the surrounding area, which
The charm doesn’t stop with Phu Quoc’s character, it continues on with her looks. Renting a motorbike to explore the southern point of the island is a highpoint for any visitor to Phu Quoc. The beach named Bai Sao (South Beach) is absolutely perfect. Bleachwhite sands and clear waters are rarely disrupted, and if they are
it is because you are playing connect-the-dots with fishing junks leading out to sea. If you’re sensitive to the sun, like myself, and can only take so many ultra-violet rays, hop back on your motorbike and go exploring. There is a war time prison that is extremely modest and takes all of ten minutes to explore, along with several pepper (think spice, not chili) farms along the main road. Except this pepper is quite a bit different than the version you’re used to at home. This stuff puts black pepper found in the United States to shame, so much so that you’ll feel like you’ve been cheating your taste buds your whole life. The tropical sun continued to show a fondness for my shoulders when I remembered my guesthouse staff mentioning a waterfall with “cool water.” I checked my map to confirm the waterfall’s location and after several wrong turns and directions from locals, I arrived. The entrance had a large gate which looked similar to the one in Jurassic Park and if the crocodiles just inside that gate had been bigger, I may have thought I was hallucinating again. I bypassed the collection of people watching the crocs do nothing at all and headed toward the beginning of a trail. I heard screams of “Banh Mi! Coca Cola! Bia!” being shouted in my direction but the idea of a cool dip outweighed all other offers. I noticed the canopy covering the trail quickly dropped the temperature, something I didn’t mind one bit. I arrived at the waterfall and hurriedly plunged in, if you were curious, cool means ice-f**ing-cold in Vietnam (same-same but different indeed). I let out a high pitched yelp, but it was one of rejuvenation not cardiac arrest. That night my wife and I sat and listened to a well-rehearsed calland-response number performed by tree frogs and geckos. We relaxed near the beach, taking in the waves one last time. As we sat listening, I noticed footprints to my left. In the little light that remained I could make out a small figure offering me two beers and a radiant smile from beneath the brim of a hat. Hallucinating or not, Phu Quoc is a mysterious place.
By Marcus Allender
MYANMAR It’s all change...
ith the ever-increasing numbers of foreign visitors, breakneck-speed political reforms and ethnic strife that sadly continues to blight some parts of the country, Myanmar (Burma) is rarely out of the news. So much is changing so fast that getting to grips with it all can be daunting. Yet if you do make the effort, you will find a country of incredibly diverse scenic beauty and rich culture... and one that is home to some of the most welcoming and friendly people anywhere in the world.
microcosm of the region, with a striking array of different ethnic groups, all with their own languages and traditions. But what they have in common is the warmth and interest with which they greet visitors, (as well as their love of a good party!). Throughout the year, there is a huge variety of colourful festivals to be found in every city, town and village.
Buddhism, capitalsand... s, hill treks and milancient es of empty
Called Myanmar since 1989 by a military dictatorship without a democratic mandate, the former name, Burma, reflects the colloquial usage, and Myanmar the formal usage in the majority Burmese language. Many governments (including the USA and UK), as well as the BBC and Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD party, continue to use ‘Burma’. But ‘Myanmar’ is now increasingly used in Western media, by the UN, and - most importantly - by most people on the street.
About the same size as France, Myanmar offers a incredible opportunity to explore - on both its relatively well-trodden routes and some hidden gems off the beaten path. The country is perhaps most famous for destinations such as the temples of Bagan,with its many stunning religious monuments, and the serene Inle Lake. But while these are must-sees, don’t ignore the beautiful and laidback beaches on the Bay of Bengal, the opportunities for trekking in Shan State, and a host of abandoned capitals near Mandalay – to name just a few of the scenic and cultural highlights. And then the people. One of the things that I love about South East Asia is the cultural and ethnic diversity. Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, nestled right next to each other, are far more distinct than many neighbouring European countries. Myanmar provides an entirely different experience, but acts as a
What’s in a name?
Travelling around Myanmar can be an amazing experience, as you take in the scenery and have fascinating (and often hilarious) encounters with locals. But the transport infrastructure is from a different age; the bus, train and boat networks are extensive, but journeys will take far longer than in other South East Asian countries, and publicised times are not reliable. If you are lucky enough not to be on a strict timetable, then by far the best way to explore Myanmar is at a relaxed pace – but if you have a strict schedule, then the domestic airline network is pretty comprehensive (but not always cheap). Large areas of Myanmar, particularly border regions, are currently off-limits because of lack of development and ongoing ethnic conflict. There’s no danger of wandering into these areas accidentally, but it’s next to impossible to enter the country by land. Most people arrive in Yangon airport (there are also international flights to Mandalay).
You can find budget accommodation all around Myanmar, but it will
typically be very basic, and backpacker hostels don’t exist - just yet! With the increasing number of visitors, accommodation can be hard to find and prices are higher than you’d expect ($10-$15 / room, sometimes more). You should book in advance, particularly in the peak season and in hot spots such as Yangon, Bagan and Inle Lake.
Most visitors arrive in Yangon (formerly Rangoon), Myanmar’s biggest city and its beating heart. Lack of development over the last five decades means it is one of the only cities in South East Asia to retain much of its colonial charm. Grand old buildings line many downtown streets, particularly along the Strand riverfront and Pansodan Street. But it is not the British influence that will strike you most – it is the sheer diversity. Indians and Chinese form a significant proportion of the population, and alongside the ubiquitous Buddhist temples, you will find historic churches, mosques, Hindu temples and a synagogue. The most important monument in the city is the Shwedagon Pagoda, which is Myanmar’s most sacred religious site, dominating the city skyline, glittering brilliantly in the sun, and magnificently lit up at night. Yangon’s nightlife is in its infancy; new bars and clubs are popping up, but don’t expect anything like the scene in more developed spots like Bangkok. 19th Street in Chinatown has a vibrant atmosphere, with its lively bars and barbeque joints, and a great mix of locals and foreigners. Also check out 50th Street Restaurant and Bar - a popular expat hangout.
by motorbike or guided tour. Nearer to Yangon is the golden rock at Mount Kyaiktiyo, another of Myanmar’s sacred Buddhist sites. The rock appears to defy gravity by teetering on the edge of the 1100-metre high mountain. A visit here truly feels like a pilgrimage – whether you hike up from the base or sit atop one of the crazily crowded open-top trucks that takes people three-quarters of the way to the summit, where you will witness stunning panoramic views. Take note, though: only men are allowed to add gold leaf to the rock!
A changing country
Myanmar is undergoing massive change, and while the increase in tourist dollars is broadly a positive thing – and the vast majority of locals welcome foreigners with open arms – the country faces serious development issues. Historic buildings and communities are in danger of being bulldozed, to be replaced by modern blocks; and ancient monuments are frequently ‘modernised’ with little sensitivity applied. And in broader terms, the country still faces ethnic conflict, as well as the scourge of AIDS and the large-scale production and consumption of illegal drugs. There is no simple solution to any of these problems, but the best you can do as a visitor is to make an effort to be as well informed as you can and engage with local communities and businesses.
Temples and ancient capitals
Evidence of Myanmar’s millennia-old culture is everywhere, but Bagan stands as the most awe-inspiring testament to this. Here you will find thousands of temples strewn across an enormous plain, a unique sight at any time – but most dramatic as the sun rises or sets. Outside Yangon, Bagan is Myanmar’s most popular tourist site, but due to its size it rarely feels overcrowded, and you are free to explore all the temples; on a budget, hiring a bicycle is the best way. Bagan is the centrepiece for most visitors, but you will find fascinating, beautiful and historic sites all around the country. Near Mandalay are the ruins of the ancient capitals of Inwa, Amarapura and Sagaing – an amazing trip back in time that can be explored in a day trip
HOUSING ON INLE LAKE
THE TEMPLES OF BAGAN
Ngwe Saung beach
There is little to do other than enjoy the sun, sand and seafood on Myanmarâ€™s quiet beaches on the Bay of Bengal â€“ which for many is the perfect way to wind down after a trip around the country. The virtually unexplored Myeik Archipelago in the south is only accessible on (expensive) boat tours, but the beaches of Chaung Tha, Ngwe Saung (both a 6 hour bus journey from Yangon) and Ngapali (further afield in Rakhine State) offer a decent range of accommodation (although you will struggle to find places for less than $30 per night).
Trekking, trains and lakes
There are many opportunities for trekking in Myanmar, and some of the most accessible are in Shan State. One of the most popular routes is from the colonial hill station of Kalaw to the famous Inle Lake, usually involving a night at a monastery or with a local hill tribe family. Inle Lake is itself another popular spot. On guided trips around the lake, things may seem a bit salesy (silversmiths, clothes weaving, market...), but it remains a worthwhile trip, witnessing the lives of the Intha people, who live entirely in communities built on the water. And all the while, you can enjoy the beauty and serenity of the lake and surrounding mountains. Further off the beaten track there are hill walks around the sleepy town of Hsipaw. Depending on the developing political situation, it may be possible to reach it overland from China through Lashio (although you’ll need a special permit). But if you are flying to Myanmar, you will need to travel into the hills from Mandalay through Pyin U Lwin, another old British hill station with old cottages and beautifully kept gardens. The journey itself is a delight – the meandering train from Mandalay to Hsipaw passes through some beautiful scenery, crossing the towering Gokteik viaduct, one of the largest steel structures in the world when built in 1900. Not much upkeep has been done on it since, so trains pass over very slowly indeed! You will find a different type of train further south near Mawlamyine – the Myanmar end of the Death Railway. Unlike on the touristy Thai side, the railway remnants and Allied War Memorial Cemetery are virtually deserted. Mawlamyine itself is a lovely tropical spot famous for its markets and seafood, and upriver in Karen State is the laid-back town of Hpa-An with beautiful karst mountain scenery nearby – including the sacred and monolithic Mount Zwekapin.
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Myanmar has only recently begun to open up to the outside world, so you will have to be patient with how things work (or sometimes don’t!). Here are some key need-to-know facts:
DOWNTOWN YANGON: PORT AUTHORITY
You will need to take $US dollars with you for certain transactions, including paying for many hotels, flights, trains and tourist zones. These need to be in absolutely perfect condition, and should be issued post 2006.
ATMs allowing you to withdraw local currency (Kyat) using international Masterand Visa cards have only recently been introduced. The network is limited (although it is growing), and the fees charged are higher than in other countries.
Getting a 28-day tourist visa is usually very simple, and can easily be done in Bangkok.
Your mobile phone is unlikely to work, and local permanent SIM cards are prohibitively expensive. You can, however, buy a temporary SIM card for $30.
Internet cafes are everywhere, and many restaurants and bars have free wifi. No websites are restricted, but in some places (particularly more remote areas) speeds are extremely slow.
Weather patterns through the year are similar to other South East Asian countries, but the further north you go, and the further into the hills, the colder the nights.
Power cuts are a fact of life, and the electricity might go off for hours at a time. Pack a good torch!
For foreigners in permitted areas, Myanmar is the safest country in South East Asia – crime is virtually unheard of.
Myanmar is a religiously conservative country, so think about what you wear and how you behave in public.
English is widely spoken, although English language place name spellings can be incredibly inconsistent!
THE Gokteik Gorge Viaduct 48
About the Author
Shwedagon pagoda, yangon
Marcus Allender is the founder of Go-Myanmar.com, the only comprehensive and continually updated guide to travel and accommodation in Myanmar. Whilst living in China in 2010, Marcus visited Myanmar, and fell in love with its stunning scenery, rich culture and beautiful people. Finding that solid, up-to-the-minute information on tourist destinations, where to stay, and how to get around was very difficult to come by online (and that even the latest print travel guides were by their nature out of date in this fast moving country), he created Go-Myanmar.com to offer a wealth of information for all types of visitor. Marcus is from London and has lived in Yangon since September 2012.
Check out www.Go-Myanmar.com for more up to date, detailed info!
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Something to keep you busy on all those long bus journeys! Answers on page 70. Across
1. It is against the law to do which of the followng things whilst visiting Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum in Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi? b) Talk
c) Put your hands in your pockets
2. How many countries does the Mekong River flow through? a) 5
(5) (6) (7) (5) (4) (7) (3) (4) (4) (3) (7) (4) (5) (7) (6) (5)
1. Pinches 2. Commandeer 3. Hard wood 5. Skilfully 6. Prominent 7. Pact 8. Curt 13. Impertinent 15. Drastic 17. Abduct 18. Lure 19. Unyielding 22. Devil 23. Cease
(6) (5) (4) (8) (7) (6) (5) (8) (7) (6) (5) (6) (5) (4)
S.E.A TRIVIA: a) Take photos
1. Confidence 4. Choose 9. Attempt to equal 10. Cost 11. Retained 12. Snake 13. Frozen water 14. Pour 16. Instrument 18. Period of time 20. Interrupt 21. Graven image 24. Female relative 25. Low padded seat 26. Ample 27. Flower
3. Why does the Komodo dragon (found in Indonesia) flick it’s tongue in the air repeatedly? a) To catch its prey’s scent b) To scare enemies c) To breathe
Each row, column and box must contain each of the numbers 1-9
8 4 2 8 1 5 2 7 9 4 3 8 1 5 8 3 5 7 6 4 1 7 8 5 7 1 6 2
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urnedMinutes with Backpacker-T ks! Entrepreneur, Simon Broo
Simon Brooks, from the UK, is the Founding Director of brand new company ‘Backpacking Through Thailand’ a unique tour company designed by backpackers for backpackers. Their trips aim to kickstart any gap year, get you off the beaten track and most importantly get more nervous travellers on the road! So, Simon how did you first get bitten by the travel bug? I left home with no solid plans. My mother was worrying because she wanted me to stay at work, but I ignored her, quit – and have never looked back since! I really think everyone needs to take at least a couple of months out to travel once in their lives. When did you first start backpacking in Thailand? I first started travelling in Thailand in 2009. I had a 4-week tour arranged for when I arrived, and had the best time of my life. That’s when I fell in love. I came back with my girlfriend two years later and I felt the same; that’s when I knew it was true love. Is that why you decided to settle here and start ‘Backpacking Through Thailand’? I was lying on a deck chair in Marseille, France. I had a flight booked the next day where I was going to go back to England to work after three years of travelling - how depressing! I had been before on a similar tour in Thailand and I really wanted to go back, even though it was overpriced and disorganised. So I decided to come back and make my own three-week tour. Did you have any prior experience as a tour guide? I was trained as an animator/multimedia developer and now I’m a student in Thailand, studying Thai! Running tours isn’t my background but I’ve teamed up with some great tour guides here in Thailand with over ten years of experience. From being a backpacker for three years I knew what was hot and what was not. There are so many tour companies in South East Asia – why is ‘Backpacking Through Thailand’ different? There isn’t another tour company that offers as much as we do at such a low price. We really want to grow as a company and we can only do that if our reviews are 5 stars. That’s our main focus! Tell us about the tour – where do you travel in Thailand and for how long? Any hidden gems that backpackers usually miss? We hit lots of spots that are off the tourist path. Backpackers either go north straight to Chiang Mai or south to the islands, but there’s so much else to see! At Backpacking Through Thailand we don’t want
to just stick you on an elephant and feed you whisky buckets, we’ve really thought long and hard to create your perfect Thailand experience. It’s a thee-week tour and our highlights include sleeping at a temple, camping at Erawan national park, a school dance performance and homestay. Personally, where is your favourite destination in Thailand? Krabi is a close second place but I really like Kanchanaburi province. The people are so friendly! It hasn’t been spoilt by tourism and it’s filled with national parks, waterfalls and hot springs. Can’t wait to go back! Being a tour guide, have you ever discovered an incredible place that you just want to keep secret? Erawan waterfalls in Kanchanaburi! It’s always surprised me just how few people go there… it’s truly stunning! And yes - I’ve never wanted to tell too many people because I would hate for it to become overcrowded. (Let the cat out of the bag there then Simon!) What would you be doing if you weren’t a tour guide? Probably depressed in England. I had almost started a multimedia design company, with 3D animation and graphic design. I had a lot of projects that I was sharing with my friends so it seemed like the obvious path, but I soon realised that being on a computer all day wasn’t for me. Future plans? We plan to open a fourth optional week at some point this year. This will include island hopping, a SCUBA diving course, volunteering with elephants, volunteer teaching - and more. In your opinion, is Thailand the best destination in the world for backpackers? What other ‘Backpacking Through...’ country would you choose? There are so many reasons why I think Thailand is the best destination for backpackers, but the main one is that it’s mainly it’s affordable. Backpackers can live like royalty! Backpacking Through Laos sounds interesting... I love the Lao culture, it’s so laid back! Maybe one day that will be available. Do you miss anything back home? Would you ever go back? I’ve only been home for three weeks in three years! My mother is so angry! I’m missing my dog and my family and friends, but not a lot else. Oh maybe chip shops too.
Calling all budding travel writers!
S.E.A Backpacker Magazine is written by travellers passing through South East Asia right now. It’s our aim to have fresh new writers with new experiences and viewpoints contributing every month. If you fancy your hand at a spot of travel writing, we would love to hear from you! Please send any articles, stories, book reviews or any random scribbling you like to email@example.com If possible try to include photos with articles you submit. We’ll get back to you right away with news of whether your words will be appearing in the next issue.
Thanks for your support and Happy Travelling!
OF RY H! STO ONT M THE
’ve never been in such a stressful situation than when a bar owner in Vietnam allowed us to take over the music being played. So much choice, it has to be perfect, this could earn the respect of my new-made friends. But what if I picked the wrong song? I’d forever be the guy who thought that choosing Las Ketchup by The Cheeky Girls was a good idea. I choose Close To You by The Cure, it goes down well and we all return to our beers before launching into a discussion about our first gigs. Here are five songs that I (as I’m sure many others) associate with South East Asia:
Oasis – Any song, ever, anywhere.
A bit of a copout you might think, just naming a band’s whole back catalogue? Wrong. Spend long enough in South East Asia and soon you won’t be able to differentiate between Don’t Look Back In Anger or Wonderwall, they all merge into one long uninterrupted track of Britpop. Oasis songs are everywhere, played by locals on treks around Chiang Mai or by backpackers trying to be cool in hostel dormitories... mate, the 90’s are calling, they want their songs back! .
2. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Scar Tissue The video for this song features the band driving along an open road somewhere in the middle of nowhere. The Red Hot Chili Peppers also happened to be what I was listening to while riding the open roads in Hue (Vietnam) and the surrounding countryside. I was with a couple of guys that I met in the hostel and we had hired motorbikes and decided to go and explore the locale.
By Oliver Brown
Whenever I listen to this song it reminds me of trying to curl up on a sleeper bus in Vietnam. Being a tall person (6ft 3 inches) doesn’t really come with any benefits with regards to sleeper buses in Vietnam. The beds are no more than 5 and a half feet long and the bars designed to keep you from falling out tend to cause a lot of bruising when the drive hits a bump in the road. The back row is the worst, though. The beds have open ends by your feet. This means that if the bus driver is attempting to break a world speed record and suddenly needs to stop, you go sliding out the bottom of the bed and into the aisle. I’ve never had such a shock wake-up.
5. The Black Eyed Peas – I Gotta Feeling Rather begrudgingly I allowed this to feature on the list. If we’re honest with each other it’s not the greatest of songs and is not from one of the greatest bands ever. However it has to feature as it is the first thing that popped into my head while writing this. At one point on a casual stroll down Khao San Road you could guarantee hearing it from at least half a dozen different bars. Bangkok isn’t where this reminds me of though. Instead, it sends me back to Chiang Mai to a lovely little place called Roots Rock Reggae Bar (which I think is now knocked down!) where for most of the night an amazing cover band would play but afterwards, the music is anyone’s to control. The Black Eyed Peas will forever conjure up fond memories of drinking inordinate amounts of Chang with friends and then dancing (very badly) to I Gotta Feeling. Was I embarrassed? Not at all, because everybody else was in the same boat as me and having an amazing time!
The Perfume Pagoda and The Citadel were our first stops; two completely contrasting places. The Citadel is large and imposing with an air of regalness, compared to the quiet serenity of The Perfume Pagoda. The most exciting things were found in the countryside. Quiet roads and single lane tracks with Scar Tissue accompanying me all the while. These roads lead us to ancient pagodas tucked away in the undergrowth desolated by years of war. Bullet holes lined many of the walls; it was obvious that no one had set foot in these places for years. It was in these quiet secluded places that for the first time in a while I felt I had actually (prepare for the ultimate cliché) gotten off the beaten track.
3. Frank Turner – Photosynthesis
Frank Turner is one of my favourite artists, a lyrical genius in my opinion. Whenever you doubt going travelling was a good idea you should listen to this song. It reinforces the idea that you have the power to control your own life rather than bowing to the beast that is social conditioning. “Oh when no one’s yet explained to me exactly what’s so great About slaving 50 years away on something that you hate Look I’m meekly shuffling down the path of mediocrity Well if that’s your road then take it but it’s not the road for me” (Frank Turner)
4. Laura Marling – Ghosts Many a long journey on the night buses and trains across South East Asia were spent trying to get some sleep so that I didn’t feel horrendous the next day. The gentle nature of Laura Marling’s music helped somewhat but I don’t think anything could help distract from the constant rattling of the bus caused by well-worn roads with disturbingly big drops down into crevasses on one side.
By Penny Atkinson
Stowaway on the Slow Boat to China...
t’s a scarcely known fact that one can travel directly from Thailand to China without the aid of a flying mobile. How? Check out a map. See that thick blue line that separates Myanmar and Laos? For centuries boats have been using the Mekong river as major trading route between China and Thailand. And on a much smaller degree, travellers and stow-aways have been using it as a transport link. This notion of reaching China via the Mekong satisfied my environmental tendencies and intrigued my backpacking spirit. Internet research proffered two options: boarding a passenger ferry (taking about eight hours) or a cargo boat, taking anywhere from two to four days. But the info I found was scant. Both types of boat left from the Thai port town, Chiang Saen. It seemed that athough travellers had caught Chinese cargo boats in the past, it was now banned by local authorities. Furthermore, the passenger boat now ran sporadically these days too. With my Thai visa due to expire soon, I called up a guest house in Chiang Saen that could organise tickets for the passenger boat. There was one leaving just a couple of days before my ‘get out of Thailand’ date. The lady on the phone said I better catch that as there wouldn’t be another one for a month! After
hitchhiking from Chiang Mai (hitchhiking was a phase I was going through) I arrived in Chiang Saen in the afternoon
and checked into a guesthouse. At a nearby coffee shop facing the Mekong, I mentioned to a fellow coffee drinker and local resident, that I was due to catch the passenger boat in a couple of days but that what I’d really like to do was take a cargo boat. “That’s possible” he said. “But it may not be so nice for you. It will just be you and the Chinese crew. Also it can take a long time and isn’t even much cheaper. Better you take the ferry.” But he’d unwittingly aroused my intrepid traveller ego. So my new friend, Jo accompanied me down to the port. Massive cargo boats were being loaded with food stuff headed for China. Neither of us could speak Chinese but Jo chatted with a Thai who seemed to have some clout at the dock, and who said that it would be possible for me to take a cargo boat due to leave - tomorrow! What luck! After cancelling my passenger boat ticket I chatted with David, the elderly Chinese proprietor of my guesthouse and Eric, an American man who lived in Chiang Saen. Eric seemed to spend his time cycling around the small town centre and stopping to talk to anyone who’d listen. I saw him several times in my short stay and every time he had forkfuls of advice ready to give: eat here, order this, don’t walk down the back sois, and DO NOT take the cargo boat. Eric is one of those older men that you meet who have resigned from their life back home in order to chill out in Asia. Nothing wrong with that. But unfortunately they often appear to have lost the art of normal social interaction (if they ever actually had it). They think that you’re someone to talk at rather than someone to talk with and you find yourself talking really fast at any gap between their two hour monologues so that you can say something uninterrupted.
with their travel agent friend. Jo had advised me to be ready to leave in the morning. “You may have to wait around but it’s better to be ready as soon as they call. I knew a French couple who were late for the boat. The crew left without them and they had to pay for another small boat to catch up with it.” He also knew of another couple who decided to actually sleep on the boat because they didn’t know when it would leave! I was showered and dressed by 9am, my heavy bag waiting by the hostel door laden with snacks. Next to that sat another bag dedicated solely to snacks. Jo didn’t know if they would feed me on the boat so I’d bought packets of noodles and – in true sailor fashion – biscuits upon biscuits. If anything, all the methane I’d be expelling from these wheaty delights, would help the boat to travel faster. With no word by 10am, I decided to go and get a proper breakfast. At 12 o’clock I went to buy more snacks. At 1 o’clock I took my laptop back to the café. I’d heard Facebook is banned in China so I thought now was a good time to update my photos from the last year of travel and reply to all those outstanding messages and wall posts. two coffees, a slice of coconut cake, and three album uploads later there
When I informed David and Eric that I was taking a cargo boat and that someone I’d met was helping me, they seemed dubious and suggested I go to a travel agents to rebook the passenger boat. “Listen, this is Asia. Bad things can happen. We just don’t want anything to happen to you.” I thanked them for their concern and assured them that if anything seemed amiss then I’d get in touch
An extra passenger
was still no word from our boat guy. Eventually my phone rang. It was Jo. He broke the news: the boat was the ‘last in line’ to load at the dock, it probably wouldn’t finish loading until after 5pm when immigration closed. Therefore we’d leave tomorrow. It was a shame because I could have used my day a little more productively – exploring Chiang Saen on a bicycle and visiting the Hall of Opium. It’s a small sleepy, but not characterless, town. But these things can’t be helped. So I used the last few hours of day light to write postcards, stroll along the Mekong, and sample the food stalls lining the bank. A meal and massage later, I had one last snack run before hitting the hay. Tomorrow would be a big day When in doubt, buy snacks. The next day it was pretty much the same deal. Jo had word that the boat would be ready to leave around 2pm. As I came out of my room in the morning, Eric turned up at the guest house. “So you didn’t get the cargo boat?” He asked. “I’m just waiting to hear but it will probably go later today.” I replied. He tried to convince me to do away with this reckless idea and get the passenger boat. “The price difference is minimal, it’s way faster, the food’s better and you’ll be safe. The cargo boat really isn’t a good idea.” When I questioned his heavy suspicion, Eric took a sigh. “Listen. You’ll be on your own with 12 Chinese men. These guys live on the boat.” I continued to stare at him blankly. Eric realised he had to spell it out to me. “These. Are not. Grade. A. guys.” Eric had obviously been on the road so long he’d lost his spirit of adventure. Some people are such Debbie Downers! I was a little surprised when, at 11:30am as I was walking to the post office to deliver the 10 postcards I’d written in the coffee shop, my phone rang. It was Jo. “The boat is leaving, you have to come now!” I ran back to the hostel (stopping to panic purchase bananas on the way) where Jo was sat in his car waiting to race me to the port. The boat was still in the process of loading when we arrived. About 15 men were carrying packs of coca-cola cans off a lorry and down across planks on to a boat. Another 15 were doing the same with bottles of gasoline. Jo pointed at a Chinese man wearing a stripy T-shirt. “That’s the captain. Stay with him. Don’t let him go to immigration without you. Don’t let them leave without you, and don’t pay any money until you’re on your way.” With these parting words, Jo left and I sat on a wall watching the procession of men carrying the cargo onto the boat. The guys hauling the coke were
taking packs of 120 cans at a time. Sweat was dripping down their foreheads. They were of different sizes but most were slim and sinewy. I counted that there had to be about 40 men working around the boat. Where will we all sleep, out on the deck? Are they Thai or Chinese? During my musings I realised that ‘The Captain’ was strolling off. My eyes followed him into a car which he pulled out into the road and drove off in. I’d lost him already! He was probably going to immigration now. I routed around in my bag for my passport and made frantic ‘passport stamping’ gestures at one of the men who was overseeing the loading. He shook his head and in return made a gesture I took to mean “later, after the boat’s been loaded.” I allowed myself to relax a little. Finally ‘Captain Stripy-top’ returned and joined some men outside the office. I sat up straight and tried to position myself so that I could keep an eye on him. I wasn’t going to make the mistake of losing him again. Eventually the trucks were empty and I was motioned to get on the boat. I was surprised that the captain remained chatting outside the office. But on board the boat I saw another man in a stripy top and realized that I’d been shrewdly watching the wrong guy for the last 30 minutes! As our boat pulled out of the dock I wondered if they’d even take me to immigration. Was I being trafficked? I also saw that there were actually only seven men on board and that the 30 others carrying the coke and gas weren’t actually going to be making the journey to China. Visions of us all stringing up hammocks and singing sailor songs under the stars disappeared. Unsure what to do with myself I went upstairs to rearrange all my snacks and enjoy the view. A couple of minutes later we pulled back in at other dock down the river. I was just munching through my bag of sticky rice and wondering what was happening now, when one of the crew (let’s call him ‘Tash’ since he had a slight upper lip adornment) approached me with an ‘eating food’ motion “Chur Fan”. From my stint teaching in Hong Kong I recognized “fan” as ‘rice’ or ‘meal’ and followed him downstairs to where the rest of the crew were sat around a small wooden table laden with bowls of steaming vegetables. I was given a bowl of rice and chopsticks. After a few unsuccessful attempts to serve myself some slippy cabbage, a spoon was thrust in my direction. I nodded my thanks and tucked in with gusto. The crew ate in silence. The food was delicious. I couldn’t believe my luck. As meals were finished, the men chucked remains overboard, rinsed out the bowls from a tap
at the side and took them to the kitchen. However, the chef wouldn’t let me do this myself and took my empty bowl off me. Who says sailors don’t have any manners? I was being treated like a lady! As lunches were digesting, a guy in a clean polo shirt, who’d been supervising the cargo loading (I’ll call him ‘Doc’ as he managed all the ship’s documents) gestured for me to follow him and made the fist pumping into an open palm gesture that I’d made myself earlier, the “passport stamping” gesture. I followed him off the boat and to the immigration office. It was all very easy and simple and the Thai immigration officer bid me farewell. Back at the boat, Toyota land-cruisers were now being added to the cargo using strategically positioned planks to drive the cars on board. Around 2:30pm, with 1000s of coca-cola cans, 100s of bottles of gasoline, 6 Toyotas, 7 Chinese crew and one backpacker we were finally ready the leave. I took my position on a chair on the upstairs deck and watched the buildings of Chiang Saen pass away, soon replaced by lush jungle. My immediate impression was that this was one clean crew. They all took off their shoes to enter the boat’s living quarters and donned a clean pair of slippers inside. One of the younger guys noticed me struggling in and out of my tightly laced Converse trainers as I alternated between the inner and outer deck. A few minutes later he approached me with a pair of wet, soapy slippers that were to be mine for the rest of the trip. In fact, this was an incredibly clean crew. They were always emerging wet haired from the small shower room and scrubbing their laundry in plastic tubs on the top deck. One lad seemed to have several wardrobe changes a day. Only showering once and doing no laundry at all, I was obviously the dirtiest on board! Not only were they a sanitary crew but incredibly polite and thoughtful. Thankfully, and I’m sure not for the first time, Eric’s opinion was completely off the mark. On being shown my own small room – with bunks enough to fit four sailors – I later saw Tash go in to change the bed sheets for me. Ten minutes later, I was sat rearranging my snacks when he entered with a small bottle of aftershave and proceeded to spray my sheets and then into my rucksack and a little bit on me. I’m sure P&O cruise passengers don’t even receive this kind of service! This consideration extended to food and beverage. The boat had a supply of M150 energy drinks on board. Personally, I can’t stand the stuff. It tastes like rancid pineapple juice and nail varnish mixed with sugar and too much gives me a shaky leg. But more than my dislike, is my desire to please. So when one of guys handed me a can, rather than mimicking gagging and having an epileptic fit, I accepted and took a miniscule sip. My inability to say “no thank you” came as a downfall at dinner. I’m a vegetarian, but not knowing how to communicate that in Chinese and feeling very shy, I tried to pick just out the vegetables. Noticing that I was missing the best part of every dish the Chef selected the most grizzled and hairiest chunks of meat from each bowl and proudly placed them into my own. Let’s just say it was a long, chewy meal for me. A mahjong table took pride of place in the upstairs living quarters – where I was spending most of my time staring out of the window and trying to fathom my mandarin phrase book – and I wondered if the crew’s evening entertainment was spent gambling and downing shots of rum. I deliberated whether I would join them; feigning interest in and chuckling at the game, maybe doing a few shots of rum and M150 myself, or retreat to my quarters and stare out into the inky blackness, listening to the ruckus of sailors having fun into the night. However, come 8.30pm when the dinner plates had stacked, the crew were washed and the night was pitch black, the men retreated, presumably exhausted, to their beds. The engine was off and the night felt completely still. Silence. It was so black that when I woke to go to the loo some time in the night it took a lot cautious treading and feeling my way down stairs to find door and not to put my foot down the hole in the floor that acted as a privy. The boat’’s engine spurred to life at 4:30am accompanied by sounds of activity. We were off. 4:30am seemed a little too early for me to arise so I stayed in bed till 7am then went downstairs to see what was for breakfast. Noodles! I sat staring into the distance
as I slurped down a massive, steaming bowl then, satiated, went to sit on the top deck and continue where I’d left off staring. One of the youngsters found me and made an eating notion. I nodded and smiled enthusiastically whilst mimicking him. He left, and returned minutes later with a new bowl of noodles. “Oh, thanks!” Of course, rather than communicating that I’d already eaten and was stuffed, I accepted the bowl and rediscovered a new capacity for noodles in my stomach. By my accounts, I was eating double anyone else on the boat and doing fifty times less activity.
Helping out with navigation!
I was on the boat for a total of two nights and three days. There was nothing to do except my Chinese studies and sit on the deck watching the muddy brown surface of the Mekong and staring into the lush jungles of Laos on one side and Myanmar on the other. Occasionally I’d spot signs of human life – a solitary hut, or a man and woman farming on steep hills, but it felt as though we were completely alone with no one to document our passing. Time passes very slowly when one is sat on a boat with no one to talk to, and the hours merged into one another separated only by meal times. In Chiang Saen I’d purchased a small notebook had hoped that through some miracle of osmosis, by copying out the contents of my phrasebook, I’d acquire some Chinese. The young guy who’d plied me with M150 spotted the Chinese script in my book and sat next to me, reading out the words. A friendship was born! Later in the second full day, a change in engine level alerted me to the fact we were slowing down. I looked over the boat rails to see a mass of other boats parked around a port. We’ were in China! I returned to my room and started to pack my bags up, deciding to leave some packets of noodles as a souvenir to the room’s next residence. After some waiting and hanging round deck, my attention settled on the “Shan Checkpoint” sign and it slowly dawned on me we were in not China, but Myanmar. There were about 15 boats of varying sizes. I was mesmerized by the sight of three wirey, strong and topless Burmese men using long pieces of bamboo to steer their small wooden boat into the port and protect it from getting crushed by our giant of a vessel. I leaned overboard with my camera aimed, to close in on these Adonis like specimens, only to be interrupted by a clapping. Doc waved his hands and shook his head at me. It seemed photography was not appreciated round here and I reluctantly replaced the lens cover. It was after lunch of day three that we joined a host of other cargoboats anchored at the Chinese port in Guan Le. Before we reached the port, the chef knocked on my door and made the thumbrubbing-index-finger, international hand gesture for ‘pay up’’. The fee was 500RMB (about 2500baht). At the port, two young police officers came on board to scrutinise passports and check our bags for illicit goods. The female officer spoke a little English and told me I was very brave to be travelling alone. She also informed me the boat was stopping here and not continuing to Jinghong as I’d thought. It was time for this stowaway to bail out. My departure from the crew was unemotional. I guess they’d had their share of goodbyes, so longs and see you laters to last them a life time. No room for sentiment on the sea (or river). I gravely bowed to the Captain as he lounged in a hammock and bid him “Xie-xie” before one of the guys lugged my hefty backpack over his shoulder and escorted me to the immigration office. It was time to enter China.
By Alana Morgan www.thepaperplanesblog.com
The Thai Food you DON’T know about...
Pad thai, green curry and mango with sticky rice are all very good… but come on now - what about trying something else?! You know, something you may have seen on the street, but don’t quite know what it’s called or how to order it? Something that looks unidentifiable, but still intriguing? Something that probably isn’t on the menu at the ‘restaurant’ at your guesthouse; maybe something that you’ve never even dreamed of? Take a look at some of these!
1.Yum Bplaa-Duk Fu – Crispy catfish with mango salad Looking for something different to go with that cold Chang? With its unique mix of flavours and textures, yum blaa-duk (as in duke) fu (as in kungfu) is a great ‘drinking’ food. Light, flaky catfish is fried to perfection, and served with a shredded mango salad, peanuts and slices of tomato. Order this dish at a Thai bar, and nibble away. Note: Yum bplaa-duk fu is best shared with others. Get several dishes to eat together instead of eating a plateful of light fried fish flakes by yourself.
2. Yen Ta Fo – Very pink soup
There are all types of noodle soups to be had. You can choose thin noodles, wide noodles, yellow noodles, chicken, pork balls, shrimp wontons, red pork... the combinations are endless. This particular noodle soup is very, very pink. Yen ta fo (pronounced how it looks) comes with your choice of meat, morning glory, wide rice noodles (usually) and tofu. The tofu has been preserved and is what creates the (sometimes) shockingly pink colour of the dish. Most noodle soups come lightly flavoured, to which you can then add your own personal mix of fish sauce, chilies, vinegar and sugar, to make it as spicy or plain as you want. Saying that, Yen ta fo is usually more sweet and sour. Get it at noodle stalls everywhere from Krabi to Mae Hong Son.
three 3. Khao Soi – Heaven in a bowl All Thai dishes are supposed to have a tantalising blend of salty, sweet, spicy and sour flavours, and khao (pronounced like cow) soi offers just that. A northern specialty (get it when you’re in Chiang Mai!), khao soi is a spicy, creamy, coconut curry served over yellow egg noodles and chicken. The dish is then topped with crunchy noodles, diced onion, pickled cabbage and lime. Normally you’ll be asked if you want your khao soi spicy. If you’re worried about it being too hot for you, be sure to say, “mai pet” (not spicy), when ordering. In the north, khao soi can be found at street stalls, and in a variety of restaurants.
four 6. Kai Yeow Ma Song Kreung – Black eggs with a lot of other stuff Known as ‘century eggs’, ‘millennium eggs’ or ‘thousand-year eggs’, these preserved eggs first shock you with their pink shells and wait for it... black insides. Kai (like kite without the - te) yeow ma song krueng (pronounced kroo-ung) is a type of Thai salad with chopped up pieces of peanuts, candied ginger, onions, chillies, chilli sauce, and of course.. the eggs! At first, it may be hard to imagine how these ingredients go together, but once in your mouth, they all turn into mighty tasty mix of flavours and textures. Really. Try it. Put together the perfect bite with a little of each item and a spoonful of rice. Look for a local restaurant that serves more Chinese-inspired dishes, and has pink-shelled eggs in the window.
5. Bua Loi – Rice f lour balls in warm coconut cream Literally meaning ‘floating lotus’, bua loi (pronounced boo-ah loyee) is a good dessert to indulge yourself with on a cool night. While most Thai desserts are served cold, bua loi comes hot and eaten with a spoon. Little green balls made out of sticky rice flour and coloured with pandan leaves, are cooked with coconut cream, then served with a sweetened poached egg floating on top. The combination sounds strange, but it works! – and the warm, sweet-but-not-too-sweet coconut and pandan flavours are really very comforting (similar to the taste of the sweetened sticky rice in mango and sticky rice). You can find bua loi served at street stalls. Don’t want the egg? Try saying, “Mai sai kai” (without egg). Want to take it back to the guesthouse for a midnight treat? Don’t worry, just like everything else in Thailand, they’ll spoon it into a bag for you.
OFF THE BEATEN TRACK
By Martin Szymanski
SURVIVOR ISLAND: The Philippines My name is Martin and I want to escape. Escape from the system. Escape money, regulations, traffic… the materialistic world. I want to reconnect with nature; try to be self-sufficient. Feel free. This is why I want to go and live on a tropical deserted island. Since I can remember, It’s always been in my head. I didn’t care where. Even after I decided to do it, I still didn’t have a specific place to goIn an ideal world, I would like to move permanently from the UK to South East Asia or the South Pacific, but right now, it’s not possible. I am working full time with only 26 days holiday. But still, I think this is enough to taste a different life. I work in the office with another freak like me, Mark. So, one day, in December 2011, I approach his desk and say: “I’m going somewhere in Asia to try to survive on deserted island for around 3 weeks. Would you like to come?” And just like that, it begins... MANILA, THE PHILIPPINES – THE GATEWAY TO PARADISE So, after 29 years waiting, I’m finally on my way. Sitting in the airport in Edinburgh and wondering if I’ve forgotten anything. Apart from my family and my dog, Kanu, I won’t be missing much, especially not the weather. Scotland is saying goodbye to me by pouring water from the sky.. We land in Manila. Arrive at our hotel after one hour in crazy traffic. Total freestyle. You know what the one of the most dangerous things in the Philippines is? Taxi drivers. We take a shower and go see the city. Child beggars, cockroaches, heat, noise and prostitutes – everywhere... “Hello Sir, you wanna women? - No. - You wanna girl? - No. You wanna boy? - NO! - Wife? She still virgin! - NO! Ganja? - Hmm....., No!” We’re easy targets, visible from far. We need to catch some tan. Few Red Horse beers and some food. Time to sleep. Tomorrow – Palawan.
SURVIVAL KIT: • Hammock and storm rings • Camo tarpaulin 2.7m x 3.5m • 30 metres of 550 paracord • Lemon eucalyptus repellent • Stainless steel pot and pan set • Snorkel mask & swimming goggles • Victorinox Outrider Swiss Army knife • Immodium Instant Diarrhoea melts • Salts Supplement sachets • Kindle 3G, Camera, mobile phone & solar charger • Travel towel, liner/blanket, waterproof money belt • First Aid kit & antiseptic gel • Sandals, hiking boots & Cargo trousers • Aluminium water bottle • Flint with compass • Polarised sunglasses • Notepad • Gardening gloves PALAWAN - PUERTO PRINCESA TO EL NIDO BY RORO BUS After an hour flight from Manila we are in Puerto Princesa’s airport. It’s dark already. Few beers, then it’s time to find some accommodation. The next morning we wake at 8am, take the tricycle to the Bus Terminal in San Jose and finally we’re on the Roro bus to El Nido. The driver is really crazy or too confident. No asphalt sometimes and he doesn’t change his driving style no matter what the situation is. Bags from the shelves above our heads are falling down. Oh my God, want to be in El Nido asap... Dust, heat, want to pee, no chance he will stop just because of one person. Yes! Break, so I can pee. (We stopped because of mango).. Really nice views on the way. Rice terraces, virgin jungle and native houses in the middle of nowhere... 6.5 hours, and finally we’re in El Nido. It’s dark already. Sleep. We need to sleep. We will sleep well. It was a long journey... EL NIDO, THE ISLAND – FIRST DAY. First thing on the morning after waking up – BIG SMILE after seeing the view from our beach huts... AMAZING. Nice surprise after our arrival in darkness. Beautiful islands around. Just on the front of my hut there’s beauty competition for Filipino children. All of the children I’ve seen here so far are always smiling and happy. There are no parents watching them and saying “don’t do this, don’t do that, be careful etc”, like in Europe. Children stick together and just have fun. And I think they are safe. Really nice childhood. I’ve always found El Nido really beautiful in terms of nature, scenery, islands and weather, but...too
many tourists. I am not surprised. It is a really beautiful place. But it’s not what we are looking for... We meet some girl who works for the Tourism Office, and she tells us we can go to an island of our choice, not a problem – but we need to get permission from the office and then go to the police station and sign some documents stating that they are not responsible for us. It will cost around 4000 pesos for the boat to go there and back – to some beach on one of the private islands. The next day we decide to do some island hopping. We speak with locals on the boat asking where we can go camping for 2 weeks and get an idea of some destinations. They say we’re crazy. Not the first time we’ve heard it. Locals tell us that some guys do camp on the islands, but for two-three nights maximum. Well, we’re not discouraged. That evening, we meet a fisherman called Ruel, who suggests a particular Island, agrees to give us a lift there and pick us up for 2000 pesos. Fortunately, because we want to do it on our own, it’s cheaper – no police and no Tourism Office involved. Half price! I think we would have to pay even more than 4000 pesos at the police station (I am almost sure there would be some ‘administration costs’ or something). So, we have the destination. Now, we just need water and rice. Yes, I know, it supposed to be survival but Ruel tells us there is no fruit or water on the island! ON OUR WAY TO PARADISE. First thing in the morning we go shopping. We buy 6 big canisters of water (4 gallons each – the equivalent of more than 100 litres; 15 kilograms of rice, and a machete. Oh, and 2 bottles of 1-litre Red Horse beer, and 3 bottles of Tanduay (Filipino rum). (What..?! Apart from survival we need to have some fun!) Ruel’s waiting for us on front of our beach huts. We load all the stuff and...that’s it. We are leaving the system. Finally. THIS is beginning of our REAL trip. Bangka = a REALLY loud boat. I’m wondering how long it takes for the fishermen driving these boats to become deaf. Also feeling a little anxious. You know, expectations are always different than reality. But, we are prepared. We are doing it, finally. My biggest dream is coming true. I wonder what other people’s Biggest Dreams are, and realize that not even the minority will be able to make them come true. I’m a lucky guy. I am doing it. Either I will be the happiest man in the world after this trip, or will need to find another Big Dream. Someone once told me that the pursuit of The Dream is the best part of it. I don’t know. I’ve been pursuing mine all my life but I can’t say yet if that was the best part. It takes us more than one hour to get to The Island. We approach Our Beach at last – and it’s amazing: long and golden, with palm trees, high mountains and, best of all, no-one there. No people, no buildings, just nature. I am here and it will be my home for the next two weeks. I think this might well be one of the best moments of my life. FIRST NIGHT ON THE ISLAND - JUNGLE IS MASSIVE! Wicked. We unload everything from Ruel’s bangka, thank him and say goodbye. Now we need to find a good spot for our camp. We walk the length of the beach, but only one place is suitable to hang our hammocks. We could do it in different place, but we would need to cut a lot of plants, and as it’s early evening already, we decide on the easy option. We still need to cut some small banana trees and some bushes and clear the ground, but this isn’t too difficult. We hang our hammocks, mosquito nets and tarpaulin. Time to eat. Make a fire to cook the rice. Beautiful sunset on the horizon, no islands in the way, just the open South China sea. No people. Just paradise. Rice still not ready. And then, out from nowhere, a big cloud of mosquitoes are upon us. Hundreds and hundreds of them, mixed with sandflies and other flies. They came for our fire, or my head torch? I don’t know and I don’t have time to think about it, either. We jump inside our hammocks, but there’s not even time to clear the mosquitoes already in there, so we still get some bites. It’s getting darker, rice is still on the fire and we are hungry. No way to get out from the hammock now, though. Jungle is massive. You know, you can read and watch some films or documentaries about some places and situations, but when you actually go there, it’s a totally different experience. Going back to jungle. is pretty scary at night... It is dark already and everything’s coming to life. EVERYTHING on the ground is moving, everything makes a noise. Insects, birds, some fighting monkeys, crabs, don’t know what else. I knew what to expect but still, as mentioned before, it’s a totally different experience when you are there. On top of all this, we can hear some big animal just under our hammocks. Don’t know what that is. Crazy night... We are hungry... but we do not move the whole time. Neither do we sleep. But we survive… just lying there, waiting for the sun.
DAY ONE IN PARADISE Sun. Bright and strong. We emerge to see the wings of flies everywhere. Strange. No flies, just wings. Everything is covered with them. ‘Strange’ because it doesn’t happen again at any other point during our stay on The Island. Later on, I find out these wings belong to some kind of ants, and there are some times when they all die at once. Anyway. We’re starving. Check the rice from the previous night. A lot of very tiny ants in the pan despite it being covered. Need to make a fire and start again. First thing in the morning – we bathe in the sea. There are a lot of small silver fish with black stripes. Funny fish, they are curious. Every time you move, they follow you. Some of them are quite big but we decide we will not catch them (we find out later it would be really hard to catch them anyway). We discover some tracks on the sand leading from the jungle to the sea. Quite big tracks. Do they belong to the big animal who was under our hammocks last night? Maybe we’ll find out soon... After some rice we feel better. More confident. I have a spear-gun which we’d borrowed from Ruel. Time to make a use of it. Take my snorkel mask and head towards the rocks on the left of our camp. This will be my fishing kingdom! There are a lot of fish near these rocks. The problem? It’s hard to swim anywhere near them as the waves keep pushing you towards the rocks and coral. Very easy to get cut. Still, in less than 10 minutes I catch two fish then struggle after that. These two little ‘uns are our only source of protein – that’s it… but, hey. We still have almost 15 kilogrammes of rice! ISLAND LIFE Every day, we wake up with the sun. It’s really good for your body. Earlier you wake up, the better you feel. Try it. Morning bathe in the sea with our friendly fish. Make a fire and cook the rice. Check the fishing net. Snorkelling. Swimming. That first night with the mosquitoes taught us a lesson (the worst time is just before the sun totally disappears into the sea, and for one hour after that). We drink some Tanduay Rhum and just do nothing. Swim, sing, laugh. Real freedom. We find out who the big trails belong to. There are at least seven monitor lizards near our camp. A lot more on the whole island, that’s for sure. One of them has dug a nest in the sand 100 meters from us. We can hear them at night, they come in very close, looking for food. Hopefully, we are not their target… We hang the rice in the bag on the tree so they can’t reach it. I don’t know if they would eat it though... After that first night, I see small holes in the rice bag. Probably hermit crabs. The problem is that the lizards are more and more audacious... Every day, they come closer and in bigger groups... Well, they are not really dangerous – that is, so long as they don’t bite you (their saliva is toxic and – since they eat everything – full of bacteria). But they’ll only bite you if they sense the danger. I don’t know what you would have to do to provoke them, to be honest. You can’t step on them by accident or anything. These are fast beasts. We dig a big hole in the sand. Want to catch one. Not kill, just catch – take some photos, then release. Well. I am just wondering how we will release the angry lizard from the hole, anyway... It takes us like, three hours digging in the sand under the tropical heat of the sun. We cover the hole with banana leaves and put some fish heads in the middle. We wait. And wait. And wait. And, suddenly, there he is. Walking slowly, and examining the air with his long tongue. He comes closer – then takes one look at the bait and turns back! Well, it appears they are cleverer than we think! The next day, the cover and banana leaves are inside the hole, and the fish head has gone. It seems that the hole wasn’t deep enough, and the lizard has simply escaped. The next day I try to catch more fish. I go to my fishing kingdom, and dive. I see a lot of fish. The big ones are very shy, but the smaller are curious and not afraid. Track one of them, quite big, maybe 30-35 cm. She tries to swim away, but I keep my eye on her. Following her, she wants to hide between the rocks where the much bigger one is hiding. The waves make it really hard to target and come closer to the hole between the sharp rocks. I don’t want to cut myself on them; the infection in this temperature on The Island would come on really quickly and be dangerous. By the way, if you do cut yourself on the coral, under no circumstances treat it with iodine – corals feeds on it and so can grow inside your wound. Anyway, I want to catch this big fish. The thing is that rocks and corals are covered with plants and seaweeds, and I don’t want to put my hand or leg into this stuff. Dunno what’s inside... But I want this fish! F*ck it, I’m keeping myself against the rock by using the spear gun as a pole, which helps me not to move too far towards the hole
where the fish are hiding. I put my legs on the rocks into the deep plants (I really want to catch this fish..!), so now I have three anchor points, and the waves can blow me only back where there are no rocks. I aim at the fish. I shoot... The spear power is like a spit of an old man. I come back to the camp with nothing. But, at least I forced myself to put my legs into the stuff on the rocks, so now I’m not afraid of it. But this spear gun sucks. No more fishing with this. Time for hook and line fishing... We need something more substantial than just rice and green mangoes… On some occasions, I come across some small jellyfish. I’ve heard that the small ones are sometimes more dangerous. I don’t know what these particular species are – hopefully not the dangerous ones. Still – and just in case – I fish wearing long sleeves, as there are a lot of tiny plankton, jellyfish-like, that are invisible in the water. I think they’re called nick-nacks (?) and are very popular in Australian waters. I can feel them sting all over my body; it isn’t really painful though, and lasts just few seconds. Just a little annoying. Regarding dangerous sea life, there’s nothing to be afraid of, to be honest – just sea urchins and jellyfish. One time, we see a really fast-moving fin very far out at sea. Neither of us know what it is, maybe a whale or dolphin? LOOKING BACK… All throughout my time on The Island, I felt I was free. Really, truly free. Did not have to go anywhere, do anything, think about anything. Just basic thoughts – ie - how to survive. We had plenty of water and rice, so no problem with the food. We built a shelter and had a place to sleep. All three basic elements needed to survive, we had. So, how was it, in summary? Most of the time, I fished. Apart from fishing, we cleaned our camp, made fires, and drank Tanduay. Nothing special, no adventures or anything we didn’t expect. And I will admit it – after one week, it got a little boring. We European people are used to do ‘something’ with our time, all of the time. We could have built a shack, but we wouldn’t have completed it in just two weeks, so we abandoned that idea, and chose to just enjoy freedom, sun and the warm waters of the South China Sea... And thus, the two weeks passed. Time to go back to civilized world. End of the adventures on The Island, but not end of adventures on Palawan... and just the beginning of my own. I’m going away again soon – for a year this time – and plan to travel the whole of South East Asia. No route planned, freestyle, no guide books; no tourists. It’s true what they say, then. One Big Dream completed. Another one begins...
About the author: Martin is a 30-year old Polish expat working in an office in Edingburgh Monday to Friday which drives him crazy, but allows him to save for the next trip. He loves the sun which gives him the energy to live (not the case in Scotland!), chasing freedom, adventures and risk. He likes drum’n’bass, riding his motorbike and cooking. He’s been everything from radio DJ, to pizza delivery man and office manager. Most of all he doesn’t want to follow the masses.
FACES & PLACES
The People of Permaculture Perak, Borneo
arlier this year, my wife and I took advantage of an amazing opportunity to volunteer for two weeks on a sustainable living and agriculture farmstay in Malaysia known as Permaculture Perak. As its name suggests, this is a place involved in the growing worldwide movement of ‘permaculture’. We were not disappointed – in fact, the experience stands as a true highlight of our time in South East Asia. Whilst there, we participated in all the chores of farm life – from feeding the animals, pruning lime trees, laying mulch, building seedbeds, and picking fruit straight from the tree. I even helped to nurse a newborn baby goat!
Situated in the central Malaysia state of Perak, the farmstay is nestled within pristine jungle acreage, halfway up a hill with incredible vistas of the valley below. The closest small town, Lenggong (recently listed as a UNESCO Heritage Site for its archaeological importance), is six kilometres away, but it seemed more like 60. Awakened by the distant haunting cries of gibbons and entertained throughout the day by the pterodactyl calls of hornbills, there is no mistaking the fact that here, you are truly confronting a wild frontier. Vladislav Kuta, who goes by the name of Ladia, is an eccentric Czech ex-pat savant who runs the show along with his partner Amy Tan. I had a chance to interview him and learn more about the project and the benefits of sustainable living and agriculture… What do you think are the three most important qualities to being a farmer in this day and age? Perseverance, common sense and humility. A farmer today needs to have the courage to question how things are done, and to change if it does not feel right. When and where were these qualities honed for you personally? They are sharpened every day for me here whilst tending to the farm – doing everything from herding goats, nurturing seedlings into trees, to solving any problem that arises. I see each day as a lesson and an opportunity to work on these qualities. Four years on, I still say “WOW” every day. Nature is an incredibly wise teacher. At least, she is definitely mine.
Helping the kids (baby goats!) to feed... 64
In a nutshell, what is permaculture exactly? Why is it growing in popularity and how does it differ from conventional farming? Permaculture is a way of living with and caring for the land. It is a catalogue of indigenous wisdom collected from cultures all over the world, and includes methods of adapting this wisdom to our current conditions.
For me, the growing popularity stems from the intense search for another option; an alternative. People who are involved in this way of life inherently believe that there must be a better way than the current paradigm thrust upon us. With the failure of our modern agricultural systems to provide us with food in a healthy, respectable and sustainable way, people are starting to take matters into their own hands. Conventional farming is all about volume, profitability and rather egoistic methods of growing food. Permaculture principles emphasise the creation of systems which allow nature to function symbiotically with humanity in order to serve the goals of farming. Unlike conventional farming, permaculture is much less about being commercial than it is about remaining sustainable for ourselves and our local community. Why did you settle on Malaysia and Perak in particular? Settling here wasn’t a decision I deliberated on as much as one should with such decisions. En route home from travelling in Australia, I spent some time on the islands in Malaysia where I was quickly able to find employment. So, I just stayed and kept working. Tropical sunshine was also a significant reason. Back home in the Czech Republic, we spend most of the year indoors hiding from the cold and darkness – but here, the sun is out 12 hours a day, 365 days a week! Living in Perak wasn’t a deliberate choice either. I was offered an opportunity to view this piece of land, so I came to camp here for a few nights – and it was truly love at first sight! You weren’t always a farmer, so what jobs did you hold in the past that you helped you prepare for a life as one now? My previous jobs were varied. Professionally, I am a qualified industrial climber and worked mostly in the construction industry carrying out structural safety assessments. I also spent some years running a furniture store specialising in South East Asian furniture. Work for me was not about focusing on building a single career, but more of grabbing hold of opportunities that came my way, then using them as opportunities to learn and grow. I didn’t simply decide to be a farmer. I was seeking a new way to live where I could care for myself whilst caring for the environment at the same time.
in the sense that Fresco envisions. Our work here is an inherent continuous attempt to bring his ideas to life as much as possible. With all its advantages and shortfalls, Fresco’s concepts provide us with an ongoing momentum towards seeking solutions which suit our real life conditions. I have come to understand how there are so many things we just don’t really need! What do you think is the most pressing environmental issue humanity has, or will have to face in the coming years? Rampant population growth, economic development and globalisation are ransacking the environment. We - humanity as a whole - need to halt all the selfish and destructive ways that we adhere to strictly for short term benefits and profits. What’s the single biggest challenge you have had to face in the four years you have been operating? In March 2010, a private company began logging operations on a neighbouring plot of land in order to start a eucalyptus plantation for plywood. Bulldozers started trudging into the untouched forest and scraping clean every bit of vegetation in complete disregard for the environment. They also cleared a quarter of our land. We continuously approached the relevant government departments requesting that they justify the horrendous impact of this operation and its encroachment on our land. We also sought to highlight the potential threat of landslides, wildlife displacement, loss of biodiversity and the deterioration of water quality in the streams. Despite our best efforts, though, we were not able to stop the company from destroying our crops, setting fires, and planting eucalyptus saplings. To this day, we are still facing extreme challenges from this operation, yet our efforts at preserving the jungle will continue on regardless. Anyone who wants to lend their support can help us by visiting the the farm, staying for some time, collaborating and joining the struggle.
What made you give up city life? What gave you that final ‘push’? My apartment couldn’t fit any more of the trees and plants I’d been collecting! It became absolutely urgent to find some land to plant all of them! I started reminiscing about my childhood escapades of camping in the forests of the Czech Republic. Nature had always been so soothing, restoring and inspiring for me. The nonsense of frantically rushing around the city for work was a big factor, too. After being stuck in traffic for hours every day, I realised I needed to use my time in a more meaningful way. How did you acquire the land and get the ball rolling? After years of searching for a suitable location, I was given a chance to present my vision to the Perak State government to start a project of sustainable farming and land stewardship. They liked what they saw and offered me a lease on this land which they owned. Previously, in the late 1970s, the land was a part of a tea plantation established by an Englishman. Once a flourishing business, it sadly deteriorated and eventually shut down due to poor management. It was then left abandoned for many years until I moved in with all my hundreds of trees! I have since converted the dilapidated buildings of the tea processing plant into living, working and farming spaces. On your website, you mention the Zeitgeist films, which have become online sensations. Can you speak a little about the influence these documentaries have had on you? What message has resonated with you the most and how has it impacted your project? The most influential message to come out of Zeitgeist for me was the introduction of Jacque Fresco, an American ‘social engineer’ and futurist, whose work on redesigning human civilisation is quite captivating. (Fresco’s Venus Project has been a worldwide inspiration, particularly in activist circles.) I found his ideas very inspiring, and began to perceive our farm here as a small community
You can also sign our online petition at: www.gopetition.com/petitions/save-the-premaculture-farmstaylenggong-perak.html. And what has been your most memorable accomplishment on the farm to date? I wish I could tell you that it has been the chasing out of the loggers who are raping the nearby forests, but sadly, this still remains a future achievement. The biggest accomplishment, I would have to say, is that we are still here. The farm is still living, and growing. Being a foreigner moving into the jungle in a remote town drew its challenges in many ways. Land management in the area is very poor, so there were squatters to deal with. Significant parts of the buildings on the property had been vandalized or destroyed. There was also no electricity because all the wiring had been stolen. Although, this was a blessing actually, since it has helped shape the farm’s existence towards further sustainability given that it is now ‘off the grid’. The manner in which the farm existed was also very incomprehensible to most people – why would anyone choose to live in the jungle?! Therefore, changing people’s opinions has also been a huge feat for us.
in farming. They feel more ready to embrace a sustainable path, respecting and co-existing with nature, and knowing now, without a doubt, that there is always another option to how we want to exist. Living in the jungle also opens up a new perspective of seeing and perceiving the world around you. It is somewhat like lifting the blinders off our urban city eyes, gazing up to the sky, appreciating the clouds drifting by, thanking the rain for watering our plants. You end up gaining a more peripheral view of the surroundings you find yourself in. What are the visions for the future of Permaculture Perak? We wish to grow into a community of people living on the land with a common dedication and love for sustainability, for the jungle and for the art of sharing. We also strive to engage with others in more academic, artistic and community collaborations, that focus on the urgent need for change in our society.
In addition to having paid guests as part of a farmstay experience, you also host backpackers who volunteer in exchange for fantastic meals and accommodation. What work could a volunteer expect to do, and what would they gain from the experience? Our volunteer program is aimed at providing a genuine learning experience. Volunteers join in our day-to-day activities to keep the farm operating, and the tasks include everything from livestock care, planting, harvesting, construction and maintenance work. As we are not a commercial farm, all the work we do is to provide ourselves with food and shelter, or you could say, doing what is necessary to stay alive! Most volunteers who have worked with us have left with a new sense of confidence, especially those with no prior experience
Perak Permaculture! How to Volunteer at and book on: Visit the website eperak.com ur www.permacult
k: Visit Permaculture Pera
Apply now!!! 66
all town etres from the sm n hub is located six kilom tio rak rta Pe po ns ure tra ult st ac se Perm of Perak. The clo sily te ea sta ite the qu in h ac ng co of Lenggo n be reached by ca tly en ich qu wh r fre sa run ng is Kuala Ka wn. Local buses ur and Georgeto . ck ba from Kuala Lump and sar to Lenggong from Kuala Kang
AnNabelle moving on...
eople keep asking me when I’m going back home; if I miss the UK, if I even miss them! I don’t know about the rest of you, but personally, I was done with all that a while back. As some of you might already have discovered, once you’ve been travelling a good while, you start to find that wherever you are in the world, there’s always going to be someone special you’re not with at any one time, so missing them is pointless. You just have to make yourself stop. Missing them is pointless, make yourself stop. Stop. Stop. Stop. Stop! Oh, Buddha. My mantra isn’t working – what else am I supposed to do, slap myself in the face? Maybe I should go for a foot reflexology treatment and actually pay to get my soles poked hard with that awful pointy stick. That usually shifts my focus (and usually half my body towards the nearest exit, too – but hey, sometimes you just have to face your problems with all guns blazing, right?). Because – OK, OK, I’ll admit it. There is indeed a problem. There’s someone I’m not with right now, you see – and his name is… George. George. Wherefore art thou, George? Well, in bloody Sulawesi, if you must know – trekking up mountains, volcanoes, and generally living a remote existence alongside whichever rustic tribe he happens upon next. Could I have followed him? Probably not. I’m still in Thailand – Pai at the minute – and if he ever thought I’d be happy trading these ravishing rolling rice paddies for overgrown thickets of jungle (and hot springs for freezing rivers first thing in the morning – or worse – no water at all), then clearly all the Sangsom we’d been pouring down our necks on a nightly basis had been cranking up his optimist levels to Notch Unreasonable. Mind you, it’s not like he invited me anyway. Travelling – we all know how it is. Transient. (Missing them is pointless; you just have to stop; missing them is pointless… etc etc ad infinitum.) Obviously, though, the trauma I’m currently facing only happens when you really like the person. You know, when you experience that ‘connection’ - and yes, I’m almost 75% sure it wasn’t just the Sangsom this time. In actual fact, it was all pretty fateful. It was in a Chiang Mai hostel where I met him. In the laundry room. He was travelling on his own, too, he said (and, by the looks of things he’d been on his own for a while. How could I tell? Easy. His back was more burnt than his front). So, anyway, of course, we struck up a friendship. To be fair, I’d hit a bit of a wall and was getting bored. I’d been in Chiang Mai for a while and wanted to move on, although at that particular time, I didn’t quite know where. So, you know how it is… you end up sitting around hostel bars night upon night with people whose names you will never remember again in your life: drinking and playing games, like the one where you do impressions of vegetables (tip – to mimic a sprout effectively, you need to hover above your seat a bit, then land heavily back down it whilst making a kind of blown-out cheek squelching sound). So. Things were reaching crisis point. What I needed right then was some excitement. How fortunate, then, that what George needed was someone to oil his back up twice a day! See what I mean about the ‘connection’?! I latched on to it straight away. It’s so weird when you have that ‘lightbulb’ moment, isn’t it? When you really think about it? In a single instant, you can see clearly the concept of an idea/concept/arrangement of a puzzle that, in some cases, might even take you least two minutes to scribble down or explain. Where
does it come from? And how does it happen? In what format do you suddenly ‘know’ what you’ve yet to express in words? I think it’s all about the way our bodies react on a cellular level. The magic of the Universe! (In any case, neither of us were up for much verbiage, so all this suited us both just fine.) Oh, Gorge... (I mean ‘George’.) What can come of it all? And what of it, anyway? I mean, for the most part, I firmly believe that travelling encounters are actually just meant to be nothing but fleeting and fun. Plus, it’s hardly difficult to find a man round these parts. Some are attracted to the most ridiculous things (or maybe that’s just the Sams… no! I’m not going to talk about that evil liquid again). I remember being at the Black Moon party on Koh Phangan during the Monsoon. It was absolutely bucketing down; still, the music was so good, I just kept dancing in the rain; kept on going, and going… to the point where the bottom of my fisherman pants were all heavy from the water, and kept falling down over my bum. I looked an absolute state, yet I was virtually beating all the guys off till sunrise (and by that, I mean with a metaphorical stick. You filthy lot). Still, it’s fine to be choosy. At any rate, you can definitely have too much of a good thing. As a very astute friend of mine once told me, “Men are like a bowl of ice-cream and strawberries. Only have them if you really crave them.” (She once had the same bowl two days running, you see, and didn’t really enjoy the second one quite so much.) “Well,” I replied, “that sounds a whole lot like ‘follow your cravings, ignore your instincts’. Sounds like trouble, I like it!” Of course, her eavesdropping brother said we were both crazy. (I told him ice-cream and strawberries weren’t supposed to talk.) But anyway, I’m digressing. I think it’s time to tell it to you straight. To help get over my loss and my heartbreak (to absolute hell with that mantra), I’ve gathered up a few others to choose from in the meantime. Well, no point in living with the brakes on, hey? I’ve got three potentials here now I’m staying here in Pai for the month – so, which do YOU think I should go for? A) Canadian/Filipino yogi with long dreads (LIVES IN MY GUESTHOUSE). Pretty as hell. Looks like Pocahontas’ brother. B) Blonde shaggy-haired, classically handsome Dutch guy but with a tad too much nervous energy? (LEAST FAVE - ALSO LIVES IN MY GUESTHOUSE.) C) Scottish, long blonde-haired Muay Thai boxing student. Body RIPPED. (LIVES NEXT DOOR.) And your time... starts... NOW! Better go, anyway. Fish to fry and all that. I know I usually say ‘wish you were here’, but honestly, it is somehow good to be completely on my own at the moment. I can say what I want, do what I want – hell, I can be who I want. Although… who is that, anyway..? ‘May you have enough happiness to make you sweet, enough trials to make you strong, enough sorrow to keep you human, enough hope to make you happy.’
Love, Annabelle xxx PS – No, no, no! I meant… who is THAT??!!
You can now follow Annabelle’s musings on Twitter! @Annabelle_In_Asia
Brunei Darussalam: Currency: Brunei Dollar, divided into 100 cents. Exchange rate: $1 USD = $1.25 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 at least 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. One random fact: Although Brunei only gained independence in 1984, the country has the oldest reigning monarchy in the world and a royal heritage that dates back to 1405 when the first Sultan ascended the throne. The current Sultan is the 29th. Emergency numbers Ambulance: 991 Fire: 995 Police: 993
Cambodia: Currency: Cambodian Riel (US Dollars accepted) Exchange rate: $1 USD = 4,062 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 at least 6 months before entering and have one blank page. E-Visa: You can now apply for an E-visa online. Pre-order at: www.mfaic.gov.kh and your visa will cost $25 set price. You will need a digital photo of yourself to upload. Processing takes 3 days and you will get the visa straight to your mailbox. See official website for up to date info on which borders support the E-visa as not all of the crossings take it yet. Visa extension: Obtained at Phnom Penh immigration office, opposite International Airport. Tourist visas can be extended 1-month. (Around US$35) For longer extensions ask at Immigration Office. Penalty for late departure: US$5 / day. Climate: The hottest month is April with temperatures hitting 40 degrees. The wet season starts in May or June and lasts until October. The downpours are heavy and do not last long. The best season to visit is December to February, when there is little rain, low humidity and cool breeze. One random fact: The riverside town of Kratie, northeastern Cambodia is one of the best
places to catch a glimpse of the rare freshwater Irrawadddy dolphin. As highly endangered species, environmentalists believe that there are less than a hundred dolphins left in this part of the Mekong. 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: Visa’s must be applied for in advance, as they are not granted on the land border. Passports must be valid for at least 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. One random fact: East Timor’s turbulent history of colonisation means that it has been influenced by many different parts of the world which have shaped it’s culture. These include Indonesian, Japanese, Dutch, Australian and Portuguese. Emergency numbers Ambulance: 7236662 Police: 112
Indonesia: Currency: Indonesian Rupiah Exchange rate: $1 USD = 9,500 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 at least 6 months before entering, with two blank pages. A return flight is also needed. 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. One random fact: In 2004, on the Indonesian island of Flores, scientists discovered the fossils of seven miniature human forms, named ‘Home floresiensis’ (Flores Man). The species of ‘hobbit’ sized men are predicted to have lived between 95,000 to 13,000 years ago and grew no more than 3 feet high. Emergency numbers: (Java) Emergency numbers (Java) Fire: 113 Police: 110 Medical assistance: 118, 119
Laos: Currency: Lao KIP (US Dollars accepted) Exchange rate: $1 USD = 8,000 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. One random fact: Most of the towns and villages in Laos are located near rivers and streams, whose tributaries flow into the Mekong. It is estimated that 80% of the population of Laos live near the water, as it provides a reliable life source for their main existence through subsistence farming. Ambulance: 195 Fire: 190 Police: 191
Malaysia: Currency: Malaysian Ringgit Exchange rate: $1 USD = 3.10 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 to 90day 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. One random fact: Sabah in Malaysian Borneo was once described by environmentalist Sir David Bellamy as “one of the world’s greatest natural theme parks.” 50% of the land is covered in dense tropical rainforests estimated over 125 million years old, with an incredible diversity of flora and fauna. Fire: 994 Police and Ambulance: 999
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. One random fact: The Philippines consists of 7,107 islands, many of which are tropical, deserted paradises uninhabited by humans. Most of the country’s 92 million people are concentrated on just 11 islands, the majority populace residing in Luzon. Emergency numbers Fire, Ambulance, Police: 117
Currency: Kyat (US Dollars used) Exchange rate: $1 USD = 873.000 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 500 baht. 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. One random fact: Bagan, in Myanmar is home to over 4,400 ancient temples scattered across the valley, dating back over 800 years. At sunrise and sunset, the view is a substantial rival to Cambodia’s Angkor for SE Asia’s most unforgettable panorama. Ambulance: 192 Police: 199 Fire: 191
Currency: Singapore Dollar Exchange rate: $1 USD = 1.25 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 and you will need an onward ticket. 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. One random fact: For 116 years, Singapore was under the colonial rule of the British. Sir Thomas Raffles first landed on the shore in 1819 and seeing its potential as a strategic trading post, signed a treaty on behalf of the British East India Company with Sultan Hussein Shah to develop the port. Emergency numbers Ambulance: 995 Police: 999 Fire: 995
Currency: Thai Baht Exchange rate: $1 USD = 31.2 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
Currency: Peso, divided into 100 centavos. Exchange rate: $1 USD = 42.15 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 3-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 2 to 3 working days to process and passports must be valid for at least 6 months
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. One random fact: South Thailand’s awesome Khao Sok National Park claims to be the amongst the oldest forest eco-system in the world. It is a protected wildlife reserve and home to many exotic creatures, such as tigers, clouded leopards, bears, tapirs, gibbons, langurs and pangolin. Emergency numbers Ambulance: 1554 Fire: 199 Police: 191
Vietnam: Currency: Vietnamese Dong Exchange rate: $1 USD = 20,830 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. One random fact: In the old quarter of Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi, the streets are named after the trade that once took place there. For example, Hang Dao Street, translates as ‘Pink Street’ as it once sold fabric, silk and dye in bright colours, whereas the connecting ‘Hang Ngang Street’ sold bluish fabrics, and is thus known as ‘turquoise street.’ Emergency numbers Ambulance: 115 Police: 113 Fire: 114 (At S.E.A Backpacker we try to ensure that all information provided is as accurate and up to date as possible. (Checked 20.02.13) The information in this section is vulnerable to change. Please advise us at firstname.lastname@example.org if info is invalid and we will be sure to rectify it.)
HI Mid Bangkok “A hostel you can believe in”
481/3, Rachawithi Rd., between Soi 6 and Soi 8, Victory Monument, Bangkok. www.midbangkok.com Tel: 662 644 5744 - Central location - Transportation hub - A great base for exploring the city
HI Sukhumvit “Not just a hostel but a home”
23 Sukhumvit, Soi 38, Bangkok. Tel: 662 391 9338 www.hisukhumvit.com
- BT S: Thong Lo Station
E R I
O R U
U R N S
N U D E
N G B O W
E C N
R M O O
A G S
8 6 9 5 4 3 7
7 5 8 2 1 6
3 1 7 6 9 4
QUESTIONS: 9 8 7 6 1 5 3 4 2 Answers =
5 2 4 8 7 1
1. All three! 2. b)* 3. a)
4 6 9 3 2 8
1 4 2 9 8 5
2 3 1 5 4 9
9 8 3 7 6 2
* China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia.
Welcome to the world of boutique backpacker hostels... Expect something more with Lofi Group!
A unique place to unwind, write your journal, talk to other travellers and share stories. The young and energetic team at Lofi, aim not only to provide a bed for the night, but a space for exchanging ideas, inspiration, personal reflections and growth... because that’s what travelling is all about.
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• • • • • • •
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THE ORIGINAL - HANOI
48 ngo huyen, hanoi email@example.com
DOWNTOWN - HANOI
9 ma may, hanoi firstname.lastname@example.org
THE IMPERIAL - HUE
10 pham ngu lao, hue email@example.com
AWESOME FOOD - SUPERIOR JUNK - SWIMMING - ROCK CLIMBING - MUSIC - WAKE BOARDING - KAYAKING - CAVING - TUBING
Published on Mar 1, 2013
Backpacker stories, tips, events & travel tales. This is the essential magazine for all travellers to South East Asia!