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Jul - A u


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The essential magazine for all travellers through South East Asia.

In the company of elephants... Up close & personal with Thailand’s national animal


ISSN 1906-7674

Tropical Island Heaven in Malaysia’s Perhentians

S.E.A Backpacker


Introduction: “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.” ~Mark Twain

By Nikki Scott Worry doesn’t fit with the image of the backpacker. Scruffy unkempt hair, flip-flops, mismatching clothes and a laid back persona. We seemingly wander from place to place with not a care in the world. Stress and worry was something we left behind at home in the ‘real world’ right?

I’d like to say that living in South East Asia for the past two years has given me a cool, new attitude to life and I am now as chilled out as a Rasta in Railay, unperturbed in the face of potential danger – but sadly this isn’t true.

I have to admit that when I first began my travels as a 23-year old rookie backpacker on my first solo trip to Nepal, I was a far cry from this carefree spirit. After leaving a job in advertising just a few weeks before, my worries had gone from ‘will I get the client report out in time?’ to ‘will I get altitude sickness and die?’ My programmed mind craved new worries to replace the stresses of my previous life – and boy where there lots of exciting new worries to choose from!

A few months back I was considering flying some cheap airline in Asia that I noticed had been banned in the EU – shock horror! I Googled ‘airline safety’ and ended up reading through dodgy Forums where I came across paranoid, panicked travellers such as myself. What I was expecting to find in cyberspace I don’t know… some peace of mind, reassurance from these kindred worriers - as if they had the answer I wanted. In amongst “Ooh I wouldn’t risk it mate” and “I flew with them last year and survived” was this comment from a long term Philippines expat, which stuck in my mind and made me LOL!

I dwelled on everything and anything. Would the bus crash on the way to the mountains? Would I get food poisoning? Would there be an avalanche? Would I catch a tropical disease? What if there’s an earthquake? I’m sure I have rabies from that cat that just scratched my leg – and is the abominable snowman real? If so, I think he is outside my trekking hut. I studied the Lonely Planet ‘Dangers and Annoyances’ section in depth everywhere I went and you know what – it was pretty exhausting. As you’ll probably guess, there’s a happy ending (not that kind)… none of my worries came to light and looking back I’m so glad that my fretting didn’t become so prominent as to stop me from doing the things that I wanted. As Tony Wheeler, founder of the Lonely Planet once famously quoted “All you’ve got to do is decide to go and the hardest part is over. So go!” Like many of you I’m sure, I remember how difficult this first decision was and my fears leaving home. Will I be homesick? Will all my friends and family at home forget me? Is this a bad move for my future? Will it look bad on my CV? Will I ever get my old job back if I want it? Six months later all of these worries totally dissolved into the clear blue waters of the Andaman Sea, I had just one major concern – what if I never want to go home?


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“This topic has no real answer and is like asking if any given person will live the average life expectancy rate of their country of origin. All I have ever known in regards to danger and taking a risk is that nothing ever scared me more than living the 9 to 5 middle class lifestyle for thirty plus years until retirement age. I have always been sure that worrying about death and danger will kill me sooner than any choice of behavior or lifestyle I choose.” (Anon) There’s no doubt that travel enriches your life in so many ways and the incredible experiences and people you meet along way is so much more likely to enhance your life than affect it negatively. Although I’ve nowhere near culminated the type of ‘go with the flow’ attitude I’d like, I feel I’ve come a long way since my first nervous trip to Nepal. Things that once terrified me have now become second nature. There are so many things to potentially worry about that it is hard to know where to begin - from global warming to nuclear meltdown, catching malaria, toxic cucumbers, the confusing gender roles in Thailand, life threatening Changovers and not to forget the pending apocalypse in December 2012 - which if true, means that there are only 17 months left to worry so we better get started!

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C ontents Features :


Cover Photograph: Courtesy of Patara Elephant Farm, Chiang Mai

East Asia: Top 10 12 South Your Adventure Playground the Company of Elephants: 22 InA Closer Look at the Gentle Giants PHOTOS: 36 BACKPACKER The Best Signs of South East Asia Asia Faces & Places: Interview with 48 SE Owner of Flip Flop Tours, The Philippines

D estination spotlight : Old Town: 32 Phuket Treasures and Talismans

S... 12




km on a bik

e... 10

Perhentian Islands: 38 The Paradise Found in Malaysia the Beaten Track: 44 Off Quad Biking in Cambodia

In the Company of Elephants.... 22

R egulars :

8 South East Asia Map & Visa Info 10 S.E.A BACKPACKER: Newsflflflash! 20 Word on the Soi: Travel Scams! & Festivals: 28 Events What’s On Guide GAMES: 42 BACKPACKER Crossword & Sudoku

46 Traveller Thoughts, Stories, Tips FOOD: 50 BACKPACKER Veggin’ in Vietnam ARTS: Book Review, 52 BACKPACKER How to make a lifiving in paradise ENVIRONMENT: A visit 54 BACKPACKER to Mr T’s Organic Farm, Vang Vieng INFO: Visas, 56 BACKPACKER Exchange Rates, Climates & More

Phuket Old Tow


28 se F


... 38


n Ma ound i

S.E.A Backpacker Co., Ltd.

Registration Number 0205552005285. ISSN NO. 1906-7674

Tel: 081 776 7616 (Thai) 084 553 8996 (Eng) Fax: 038 072 078 E-mail: Backpacker South East Asia is Published by S.E.A. Backpacker Company. Managing Director: Nikki Scott. (E-mail: Editor: Nanchaya Jaikaew. (E-mail: Design & Layout: S.E.A. Backpacker Company Limited. Artwork: Saksit Jankrajang. Sales & Marketing: Chanunchida Saisema, Kitti Boon Sri. Accounts: Yanisa Jaikaew. Contributing Writers and Photographers: Nikki Scott, Ayesha Cantrell, Jason Ball, Quincy Ball, Daniel Setia, Rosanne Schwab, Stuart Guy, Danielle Wade, Courtney Muro, Selena Black, Penelope Atkinson, Lucy Gallagher, Leigh-Anne Hunter, Irene Young, Marra Guttenplan, Ellen Stott, Hamish McNair-Wilson, Bianca Gravina-Price, Stephanie Katz, Anna Costley, Anna Cleal, Mary Mann, Dana Hills, Cody McKibben, Philip Wylie, Laura Davies, Michael Alty. For advertising enquiries: Tel: +66(0)81 776 7616 (Thai), +66(0)84 553 8996 (Eng) Email: For writing opportunities: Email:

S.E.A Backpacker Magazine Legal: All material is strictly copyright and all rights are reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in whole or part without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. Opinions expressed in S.E.A Backpacker Magazine are not necessarily those of the publisher. S.E.A Backpacker Magazine does not accept responsibility for advertising content. Any pictures, transparencies or logos used are at the owner’s risk. Any mention of S.E.A Backpacker Magazine or use of the S.E.A Backpacker Magazine logo by any advertiser in this publication does not imply endorsement of that company or its products or services by S.E.A Backpacker Magazine. (c) S.E.A Backpacker Magazine, June 2011.

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mo m e ne Go

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ling !

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Myanmar Sapa Fansipan Mandalay Bagan Kalaw

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Udomxai Chiang Rai

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V isa I nformation Brunei Darrussalam: Nationals of most European countries, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and New Zealand do not need a Visa for visits of up to 30 days. USA citizens can stay for up to 90 days. Cambodia: Most nationalities can obtain a 1 month tourist visa upon arrival which costs around $20. At land border crossings, notably the Thailand/ Cambodia border, the fee can be more expensive as the cost is paid in baht and is sometimes rounded up considerably. East Timor: Nationals from Europe, Australia, Canada and the USA do not need to arrange a visa in advance. They can be granted upon entry into East Timor and cost $30 for 30 days. Portuguese nationals can stay up to 90 days on a tourist visa. Indonesia: Nationals of Australia, Canada, USA, UK and most European countries are eligible for a 30 day visa upon entry, which costs $25 USD. The previous $10 7-day visa is no longer available. Laos: Most nationalities can obtain a 30 day visa for Laos at international airports and land border crossings. The cost ranges from $20 - $42 depending on nationality. At the Thailand/Laos border if you pay in Thai baht the fee will be more expensive. Malaysia: Most nationalities are granted a free 30-90 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 for it and how long you mind waiting. Philippines: Tourist visas are free of charge for most nationalities for a stay up to 21 days. For longer stays you should apply for a visa before you arrive at a Philippine Embassy. Visas for 3 months, 6 months or 12 months are available. Cost depends on duration of stay. Singapore: Citizens of Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, the UK and most other European countries are granted either a 14 or 30day tourist pass upon entry to Singapore. Thailand: Most nationalities, including Americans, Australians and most Europeans receive a free 30 day tourist visa upon arrival into Thailand by air. However, if arriving by land you will only receive 15 days. Vietnam: Visas must be arranged in advance. You can do this at a Vietnamese embassy in whichever country you are in and some travel agencies also offer the service. Depending on where you apply for it and how long you mind waiting, it can cost anywhere between $35 and $65 for a 30 day visa. • See the information pages at the back for more detailed information, visa extensions and penalties for late departure. (At S.E.A Backpacker we try to ensure that all information provided is as accurate and up to date as possible. (Checked 22.6.11) The information in this section is vulnerable to change. Please advise us at if info is invalid and we will be sure to rectify it.)


Pacific Ocean

Laog Vigan




Philippines Donsol

nam Nha Trang





h City

Puerto Princesa

South China Sea

Davao Zamboanga Kota Kinabalu


Mt Kinabalu


Bandar Seri Begawan


Sarawak Kuching Pontianak


Berau Putussibau

Kalimantan Balikpapan



Sula Islands

Sulawesi Pangkalanbun


Banjarmasin Buru


Puncak Jaya


Indonesia Java Gili Islands Bali


Nusa Tengarra Flores


East Timor S.E.A Backpacker




The Launch,

ad, July 2009

Khao San Ro

This month, we celebrate the 2nd Birthday of S.E.A Backpacker Magazine. Boy oh boy, do they grow up fast! It only seems like yesterday that the very small and very nervous S.E.A Backpacker team set off on a preliminary trip to Koh Tao and Koh Phangan to tell people about our vision and look for sponsors to help us get off the ground. Pressed T-shirts and sweaty hands, we knocked on doors of bars, restaurants, dive schools and hostels with a basic mock-up that two years later has grown into the magazine you are reading now. It didn’t seem real until slowly companies started to believe in the idea and we were able to launch in Khao San Road in July 2009. Since then it has been a roller-coaster ride, South East Asian style! We’ve hung out with long-haired hippies in Pai, ate noodles with the hill tribes in Vietnam, chilled with cool yoga types in Koh Phangan, the dive crew in Koh Tao, dined with flashpackers in KL and drank buckets in Laos with the best of ‘em! The adventure shows no sign of slowing down… and with recent expansion into Singapore and KL, the Philippines is next on the agenda! (Watch this space.) A big thank you to the 18 customers who supported us in the very beginning and thank you to all those businesses across South East Asia who continue to do so every issue. The writers, photographers and advertisers make this magazine what it is - a travel diary for everyone - a place where you can share your crazy travel stories and your passion for spontaneous adventure. And you don’t need to be Bill Bryson to send us an article – (although Bill if you are reading this, you can send one too!) We are so lucky to receive fantastic articles every month from people who are as excited about South East Asia as we are. Here’s hoping for another amazing two years like the last…


Tamboon Ceremony...

Buddhist “Tamboon” ceremonies are a tradition in Thailand for businesses and new houses. To commemorate the two-year anniversary of the magazine we held a ceremony intended to bring good luck for the coming year. Nine monks were invited to the office, arriving at around 10am. Dish upon dish of delicious Thai food was prepared the night before and cooked in the morning for the special occasion. The ceremony began with the monks chanting in Pali language for around thirty minutes as they held a white piece of cord known as ‘sai-sin,’ which is said to become sacred during the ceremony and keep any evil spirits away. After the ceremony, it is time for the monks to eat and everybody helps to serve them in nine silver bowls, with women being particularly careful not to touch the monks. The ceremony must finish before 12 noon as this is the last time that Buddhist monks are allowed to eat during the day. Any leftovers are eaten by the guests later! To finish the ceremony, the head monk paints a protective Thai symbol over the doorway of the building. The “Tamboon” is essentially a “merit - making” ritual and a very important part of Thai culture that is tied into the belief in ‘karma,’ i.e. if you do good, you will recieve good. By feeding the monks and donating to the local temple, Thai people believe that the monks can influence their fortune. As a foreigner living in Thailand for over two years now, I never cease to be intrigued and charmed by Thai festivals and traditions where the whole family and local area become a part of wishing each other well. It is a wonderful, integrated culture that I have been lucky enough to become a part of these past two years. (Nikki Scott)

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Clues = Windmills, tulips, clogs. Mmmh... (Guess where? Ayesha Cantrell)

Not pure white sand, but snow! (Quincy & Jason Ball, Canada) Destined for Stardom: S.E.A Backpacker Magazine cracks Hollywood! (Daniel Setia, LA)


Sairee Beach, Koh Tao, Thailand

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Letter of the Month... Have you

to prayer? ever heard the Muslim call

though if movie? I just love it, even Maybe on television, or in a rance of igno my to due aps me, perh feels haunting and spooky to n I was on the island whe year last was it d hear I Islam. The first time of through a Campbell’s-soup-can of Lombok. Coming as it does r all, it Afte . rded reco be t migh it ght a broadcasting system, I thou victrola. record being played on a RCA sounds like an old scratchy volunteer for the duty, can men lim Mus all and Any But I was wrong. ently, this always be performed live. Evid and it is decreed that it must tly different sligh a to set is h holla mus is not Switzerland, because each out over ng about four minutes, stretches clock. Each sung prayer, lasti wed by the next, each follo soon ns, begi one first the a period of ten, as ty songs can always hear at least twen one overlapping the other. I they were that ar swe d coul I ugh altho from my vantage point, and not. But I have been told that they are all singing a different prayer, melody is unique, and the each , next the from rent each voice is diffe air of l notes float out into the collective cadence is varied - the mournfu red. The laye and led jumb is that us chor the Yogya sunset to create a megalike lottery balls awaiting the sounds bounce off the buildings session. It gives me a each to ard forw look I ing. million dollar draw st the y, something to depend on amid reassuring sense of constanc ancient The . ides pres it h whic over life relative chaos of the churning ling carts buzzing motorbikes and jang call soothes the sounds of the et dreams, Yo. Swe t. infan g cryin the s calm like a baby blanket (Rosanne Schwab, USA)

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Photo by Ayesha Cantrell

arning onesia, le ano in Ind lc for the vo g g in in iv m d k of a stea or SCUBA ea ia p es e king n o th ac d to coast of In nd… backp Trekking ern Thaila the rugged king th o ff u o lo o rf S rs f su le o el s how to ical water those trav p r o fo tr ere , e d H n . th d A in playgroun periences. first time ng new ex adventure yi ig tr b t u e o n o is all ab ’t miss! ast Asia is , South E rs just can for action ackpacke b at th s nture are 10 adve

You’ve sunbathed on gorgeous beaches sipping a fresh coconut by the sea and you’ve zipped from island to island on a speedy long tail boat. Now it’s time to take a look what’s beneath the surface of those turquoise, tropical waters of South East Asia. Learning to dive has to be one of the most exciting new experiences a backpacker could ask for. What other sport can promise to show you an entire new world that is just waiting to be discovered? With warm, clear waters all year round full of brightly coloured coral and teeming with weird and wonderful aquatic life, South East Asia is an underwater paradise. You can find Nemo, chase puffer fish, barracuda, angel fish, butterfly fish, glide by stingrays and turtles, even catch a glimpse of the gentle giant of the sea, the graceful whale shark, measuring up to 12 metres in length! For backpackers, Thailand’s South islands are some of the most popular places to learn to dive, with PADI Open Water courses here being amongst the cheapest in the world. If you haven’t so much as dipped your toe in a swimming pool while you’ve been away and the thought of diving gives you heart palpitations, then relax. The professional and friendly dive schools in many places in Asia will ease your mind and teach you all the skills for you to experience a fun and safe underwater adventure. If you’re looking to ‘wet’ your appetite, you can take a ‘Discover Scuba Diver’ one-day course which will give you a taster of what diving is about and you can assess whether you want to go ahead and get certified. The ‘PADI Open Water Course’, which takes four days to complete, is the most popular course amongst backpackers. This will teach you all of the basic skills and once complete, you will be certified to dive up to 18 metres deep, anywhere in the world. And, if you get addicted to diving, like many first timers do, there are advanced courses you can take, which include night dives, navigation dives, underwater photography courses and even an instructor course, which could have you becoming a teacher and living the dream, working and travelling in South East Asia! Armed with your newfound skills, the world is your oyster. As well as Thailand, South East Asia has some of the best diving locations in the world. Head to The Philippines where you can dive amongst the spooky wrecks of World War II or take a trip to Indonesia where BBC’s Blue Planet filmed some of the most abundant and varied aquatic life on earth. What are you waiting for?


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Learning to sail is an adventure that doesn’t tend to register on a backpacker’s radar. With exotic images in mind of drinking Champagne on deck with glamorous women in gold bikinis, we seemingly write it off as a sport reserved for those rich flashpacker types. However, cast your pre-conceptions overboard! If you’ve ever fancied steering a sailing yacht over the oceans Captain Jack Sparrow style, then this could be your chance. And it isn’t as expensive as you might think. Ocean Hiker Sailing School based in Koh Tao has recently started to offer sailing courses that are affordable for backpackers. A five-day course costs 17,800 baht - pieces of eight compared to what it would cost to learn to sail in Europe for example. The course is an entry-course for sailors, like the ‘Open Water PADI Course’ is to divers, and after the five-days you will receive a ‘Competent Crew Certificate’ so you can follow up your sailing career anywhere in the world, perhaps even making it a Skipper License one day! From the moment you step aboard, lift the anchor and hoist the sails, you will feel an integral part of the crew as you learn the skills needed to keep a sailing vessel running and in shipshape. Go ahead and don an eyepatch if you really need to satisfy those pirate urges! Rather than just a standby passenger, you become involved in the physical daily tasks on the boat; steer the yacht, drop the anchor, study marine charts and learn vital lessons in sailing theory, which begin to lay the foundations of your maritime knowledge. You and your newfound shipmates quickly become part of a family living in such close proximity.

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Rather than the loud chugging of long-tail boats and ferries heard constantly by backpackers being herded to and from the islands, sailing offers a truly different experience as there is nothing to be heard but the sound of the wind in the sails and the splash of water. Gliding by with only the force of the elements, you begin to appreciate this incredible, natural form of travel, that until approximately 150 years ago was the only possible way that mankind was able to travel overseas! Island hopping around Thailand’s coastline offers a glimpse of beautiful deserted beaches, coves and bays that are less visited by tourists. You can visit the awesome natural wonder of Ang Thong National Marine Park, an archipelago of 42 islands, only a few of which are populated, except by monkeys, colourful bird and exotic plant life. You can almost taste the adventure of the great explorers and captains of old, when after days of sailing unchartered waters they set first foot in the sand on an unexplored and fantastical new land. As well as Thailand, the Philippines with its 7,107 islands offers awesome opportunity for nautical adventures. Cebu, Palwan and Boracay are all places where you can learn to sail and embark upon weeklong live-aboard cruises to discover remote tropical islands surrounded by white beaches and impossible turquoise waters. Shiver me timbers, this is heaven.

Words by Danielle Wade

the noise of the traffic and the cities, the river is a place where you can be at one with the elements and experience nature full on. Monkeys swing in the trees and tropical birds chirp into the fresh air. During the rainy season in Northern Thailand, (June to October) the rivers are raging and there is great opportunity for taking one, two or three day rafting trips. The beautiful northern town of Pai is a great place to start your rafting adventure. Nestled in a lush, green valley in the foothills of the Himalayas, you can take a river journey on the ‘Pai River’ 110km all the way to Mae Hong Son, close to the Burmese border - passing by gorges, waterfalls, hot springs, colourful wildlife and birds. The rapids can rise to a grade 4 in rainy season. Staying overnight in the jungle is an incredible experience and you will feel a million miles away from civilization.

Paddle faster! As a close-knit team you navigate the rivers of South East Asia, paddles in and out of the water frantically trying to keep the raft upright over the endlessly churning river rapids. Water splashes in your face as your raft turns another daring move on the foaming white water. Your adrenalin peaks as you manage to control your way through jutting rocks in a powerful river that slices its way through the heart of the tropical jungle. Sound like fun? There’s no better way to get your heart beating than a spot of white water rafting - or kayaking for those preferring to go solo - and there are plenty of rivers in South East Asia that offer rapids of all grades (from easy 2 to unraftable 6!) Not only is it an adrenalin pumping experience, you’ll discover an exhilarating new way to travel as you explore each new section of river as if you are the first group of people in the world to approach there. Away from

Kanchanaburi, just three hours east of Bangkok and the stunning Khao Yai National Park, two hours north east of Bangkok also offer excellent rafting opportunities on the wild rivers. In Khao Yai, some of the rivers rise to a grade 5 (the penultimate level) during the monsoon season. For the worriers amongst you, you don’t have to have rafted before to navigate South East Asia’s rivers and you will be wearing a life jacket and helmet at all times. There are many professional and safe companies who can guide you on your first rafting experience. Elsewhere in South East Asia, rafting adventures are springing up all over the place. The Padas River in Borneo is sometimes hailed as having the best rapids in South East Asia, while Luang Nam Tha province in Northern Laos, Sulawesi in Indonesia and the Cagayan de Oro River in the Philippines have some awesome rapids to tackle.

Whizzing through the trees at the height of the birds and the monkeys above the canopy of the rainforest is one South East Asian experience not to be missed! You’ll feel like a bird yourself as you glide by luscious, green vegetation in the heart of the jungle from tree-top to tree-top amidst the chirping buzz. Zip wire adventures are a thrilling way to experience adrenalin-pumping action and get closer to nature at the same time. Located just one hour from Chiang Mai, Flight of the Gibbon is an exciting and safe zip-wire tour that invites you to discover pristine, 1,500 year old virgin rainforest of Thailand. The tour is based just outside the beautiful village ‘Mae Kompong,’ known for its coffee and tea plantations cultivated by local hill tribes. There are 2km of zip lines and 18 platforms, which connect the vistas and allow you to experience different layers of the rainforest ecosystem. Reaching up to a height of 50 metres it’s certainly enough to get your heart beating fast, yet with the professional and safety conscious guides you feel in good hands always - and the views are breathtaking. In Laos, the ‘Gibbon Experience’ is a true wilderness adventure. Situated in Bokeo Nature Reserve in Northern Laos, close to the border town of Huay Xai, the project is aimed at preserving the primary forest and protecting wildlife that is under constant threat due to poaching, logging and slash and burn farming. The reserve itself consists of 123,000 hectares of forested, mountainous terrain, home to a wide variety of birds and mammals, including black gibbons, elephants, wild buffalo, bears and even tigers! Exploring the jungle in the day across a network of zip-wire cables and at night retreating to your own treehouse to drift asleep to the sounds of the jungle - you couldn’t get closer to nature here. Sitting on the balcony, you may be able to spot a family of gibbons going about their daily life. Its no surprise why people go ape for zip wire adventures such as this! And very recently, there are rumours of an incredible new island-to-island zip line at Koh Nanguan in Koh Tao, Thailand, where you literally soar across the sea - it’s up to you adventure seeking backpackers to check it out...

Photo by Courtney Muro S.E.A Backpacker


Surrounded by incredible scenery, tropical jungle, steep jagged mountains sprinkled with waterfalls and hot springs; there are trekking opportunities the minute you step outside of the door in South East Asia. One of the most exciting and otherworldly trekking adventures has to be to tackle some of Indonesia’s spectacular volcanoes - their steaming, gurgling craters rising high into the wispy clouds. In a country that holds the title for having the most active volcanoes on the planet (129), Indonesia boasts incredible landscapes to explore. In East Java, popular climbs start from Yogykarta and head to the summit of Mount Bromo, (the most photographed volcano on the planet) and the constantly active and atmospheric, Mount Semeru. In Sumatra, Gunung Sinabung can be climbed from Berestagi, whilst Mount Singgalang and the recently erupted Mount Merapi, can be tackled from Bukittinggi. Treks tend to start in the early hours of the morning so that you reach the peak in perfect time for sunrise to be rewarded with magnificent and dramatic views. Gunung Rinjani on the island of Lombok is Indonesia’s fifth highest peak. Standing at 3,726 metres, the volcano can be climbed in three days and is a tough physical challenge for trekkers. Ascending through steamy sulphuric moonscapes makes for a surreal trekking experience. You are offered a peek into a pre-historic era, when the earth was being molded by these fiery, lava-spewing giants. Another attraction with trekking in South East Asia is the fascinating glimpse you can get into the lives of ethnic hill tribes living in the mountainous regions of Northern Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and many parts of Indonesia. Chiang Mai and Pai in Northern Thailand offer great bases for jungle treks and adventures into the hills and remote villages. Among others, you will come across Hmong, Karen, Lisu and Lahu tribes, who have been living in Thailand for hundreds of years since their emigration from countries such as Burma, Tibet, China and Mongolia. Sapa in North Vietnam is also a popular starting point for treks into the misty, rice-terraced landscape to visit traditional Hmong and Red Zao villages. The highest mountain in Vietnam, Fansipan, is a strenuous two-day climb that offers fantastic views of the Sapa Valley. And for those of you looking to bag South East Asia’s peak, you may be thinking of heading to Borneo to take on Mount Kinabalu? However, despite what people think, Kinabalu (4,094 metres) is actually only the fifth highest mountain in South East Asia, with Burma’s Hkakabo Razi (5,881 metres) clenching the top spot. Located in the remote northern province of Kachin, its year-round snow capped peak, crevasses and glaciers make for a serious mountain expedition. Much more

accessible is Kinabalu, which can be summited in two days from the city of Kota Kinabalu. People of all ages take on the mountain each year and there are many tour companies to guide your way up the mountain. Ascending through the clouds looking out over magical landscapes, it is easy to see why mountains have long been thought of as the home of the Gods in many cultures and are often the source of myths, legends and spiritual folklore.

Gliding along the crest of a wave in the sunlight, perfectly balanced and at one with the mighty ocean, the elements and Mother Nature. Your first time surfing is more likely to be similar to putting your head in a washing machine than the smooth moves of a pro surfer. However, we’ve all got to start somewhere and where better than Asia’s surfing capital, Bali? The southwest and southeast coast of the beautiful paradise island are affected by powerful swells, which come direct from the Antarctic Ocean, meaning wicked surf breaks for experts and beginners alike. It was in the 1930’s that surfing was first introduced to Bali when Californian surfer dude, Bob Koke brought his long board from Hawaii and opened the first hotel on Kuta Beach. He had the breaks to himself for nearly thirty years on this undiscovered isle. It was only in the 1960’s that Australian surfers began trickling in to Bali’s warm, tropical waters. For first time surfers, it is always good to take a few lessons to learn basic skills like how to catch a wave and the maneuvers you will need to stand up on the board. Lessons cost around $ US45 for 2.5 hours including board rental. Some schools will actually guarantee that you will stand up on your first lesson or they’ll give you another lesson free! After that, you can hire a surfboard from the beach and tackle the waves on your own. Renting a board from Kuta Beach for an hour costs around 35,000 Rupiah or US $4. The popular tourist hub of Kuta with its long sandy beach and constant, relatively mild surf break is the place where most beginners learn, although it can get quite crowded in peak season, June to September. More experienced surfer dudes head to Nusa Dua, the famous Uluwatu, Bingin or the aptly named Dreamland. Elsewhere in Indonesia, there are less commercialized spots where it is possible to learn how to surf, such as the laid-back Batu Keraz, off the coast of Java. The exhilaration you get from even just catching one wave will be enough to get you addicted and keep you hungry for more wave action – you’ll be doing flips soon! The day after, aching arms and legs, suntanned face, windswept hair and a vest rash, you’ll sit on the beach sipping a Bintang knowing that you were out there with the best of them. Gnarly dude.


S.E.A Backpacker

The unique landscape of South East Asia with its jagged limestone cliffs makes it a haven for rock climbing enthusiasts all over the world. Dating back to around 250 million years ago, the karst landscape of South East Asia is believed to have derived from an ancient coral reef system that stretched all across the region from China to Papua New Guinea. You can witness this spectacular topography in areas such as Guillin in China, Halong Bay in Vietnam, Vang Vieng in Northern Laos, Phang Nga Bay and of course Krabi in Southern Thailand. From first time climbers to hard-core experts, the opportunities for rock climbing are superb. There are many excellent and professional climbing schools that can show you the ropes and give you advice on the best routes to climb in the area. Most rock climbing schools offer either half day (starting at around 800 baht) or s full day course (starting at 1,500 baht) and you will tackle around 3-4 climbs per half day with a partner. Suitable for beginners these types of courses will give you an introduction to rock climbing, belaying and climbing, and you will be supervised at all times by a professional instructor. There are also opportunities to take longer courses that will teach you how to use your equipment safely and effectively, learn how to lead climb and multipitch. Some schools also offer Deep Water Soloing which is rock climbing the limestone monoliths without the safety of a rope! When you have completed your climb (presuming you don’t fall off before hand) you leap from the cliff and plunge into the deep sea below for an exhilarating finale! One of the most popular locations for backpackers to learn to climb has to be Railay and Ton Sai in Krabi, on the West Coast of Southern Thailand. With bright white sandy beaches, clear turquoise waters surrounded by towering limestone cliffs on all sides - rock-climbing addicts will think they have died and gone to heaven! The scenery is incredible and the atmosphere is friendly as climbers spend days on the rocks and nights at many of the chilled out bars that play reggae tunes into the night air. There are enough routes to keep you busy for years - including beginner grade 5a’s up to the extremely challenging 8c’s.

Halong Bay is also a fantastic area in South East Asia to climb. With over 3,000 limestone monoliths scattered over an area of 1,500 kilometres, Halong Bay is regarded as one of the most beautiful seascapes on the planet and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. The karsts of all different shapes and sizes were formed over 500 million years ago. Rising impossibly out of emerald green waters, they just beckon to be climbed! And, although many backpackers head to Vang Vieng in Laos strictly for buckets and tubing, there is fantastic opportunity for rock climbing here in this remarkable mountainous landscape! The area of Tham Nam Them offers many routes from 6a’s to 8a+’s. Gear rental, 1-day and 3-day courses are available. Although not as popular as Krabi, Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand offers some great rock climbing routes at the beautiful Crazy Horse Buttress located about one hour’s drive from Chiang Mai city centre. For those travellers who want to avoid the crowds of South Thailand during the high season, Northern Thailand can be an excellent option! There are about 180 routes suitable for beginners or more experienced climbers and the areas continues to be developed with sustainability and eco-tourism in mind.

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A blustery morning breeze sweeps across the perfect white bay as cool, longhaired surfer dudes start trickling into the waters one by one to take on the day’s waves. Dozens of multi-coloured sails and kites start to fill the air above the sea and the day’s watery adventures have begun. Welcome to the white island of Boracay in the Philippines where kite surfing and wind surfing are the order of the day! Boracay competes with Mui Ne in South Vietnam for the title of kite surfing and wind surfing capital of South East Asia, where a 10km stretch of white sand is becoming more and more popular for year-round kite surfing opportunities. Beginners can take lessons, which although a little pricy starting around at $145 USD for a three-hour lesson are a necessary introduction for total newbie’s. More experienced kite surfers and wind surfers can hire equipment, starting at $30 USD for a set complete with board, kite and harness. Other kite-surfing centres in South East Asia include Nusa Dua in Bali and Thailand’s beachside resort of Hua Hin. You can also take lessons for a much cheaper price in Sihanoukville in Cambodia where beginners can expect to pay $15 USD for a two-hour lesson. For those interested in trying wake boarding in South East Asia there are a few great spots. Hanoi Backpackers’ Halong Bay trip offers the chance to try wake boarding in the beautiful setting of Cat Ba National Park, whilst several schools in Koh Phangan also offer lessons in this tropical paradise. And if all it takes for it to be a water-sport is that you get wet, then we can stick tubing in Vang Vieng into the mix! Although this is one watersports adventure that may not leave you feeling fit, healthy and invigorated.

unlike many bike journeys - its downhill all the way! Tours can be arranged in Dalat and there’s no need to drive the bike back uphill later as you can leave your ride in Mui Ne or Nha Trang and continue your journey. Some people say that travelling South East Asia by bicycle is the best way. Out in the sunshine riding through rice fields, mountains, alongside rivers and lakes and releasing those ‘feel good’ endorphins as you exercise, you are rewarded with an altogether more intimate travel experience than catching the stuffy bus. And it’s better for the environment too! Once you get away from those busy highways... the back lanes and dirt tracks open up and offer gorgeous views of the surrounding countryside and local village life. Vietnam offers some amazing cycling. In particular, the exhilarating bike trip from the central highlands of Dalat to the coastal towns of Mui Ne or Nha Trang, where

Rather than hiring a rickshaw driver, it is also possible to rent a bicycle to explore the ancient temples of UNESCO World Heritage site, Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Free to discover hidden temples less frequented by tourists that are being repossessed by the jungle, you’ll feel like you are riding in a forgotten, lost world. You can hire a bike for the day in almost any town in Thailand, Laos and Vietnam for a ridiculously cheap cost (as low as 40 baht / day in Chiang Mai for example). For those looking for longer, organized cross-country trips you can find many week-long and 2-week-long adventures that tour anywhere from the mountains of Thailand, to the foothills of the Himalayas in Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan, China and Northern Vietnam. Unlike some adventures, such as diving, which tend to require experienced instructors, mountain biking can of course be done independently and you just need to hire some wheels and the freedom to travel at your own speed is yours. The open road offers endless adventure for the inquisitive and spontaneous and the best excursions often start with ‘I wonder where this road leads?’

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As well as outdoor activity and pursuits, there is a different kind of adventure which many backpackers flock to South East Asia in search of. Without sounding too corny, the adventure we’re talking about here is the inner journey that many travellers over the years have dubbed ‘finding themselves’. For some, this can be as simple as learning to relax and slow down into a day-to-day existence that is less routine-driven than the West, yet for others, it can be a spiritual exploration to find deeper meaning in their lives. In Thailand, a land of Buddhism, many visitors become intrigued by meditation and Buddhist philosophy, which offers an alternative way of looking at the world to our constantly striving and competitive Western culture. The country has become a haven for people wanting to learn more about the religion and explore aspects of meditation. Yoga is the first step for many in discovering more about themselves and learning to calm the mind and emotions amidst the chaos of the outside world. Whether you are more interested in the physical aspect of yoga or learning to better control your thoughts, yoga can mean different things to different people and there are many wonderful, welcoming schools in Thailand, which are suitable for beginners or the more advanced. The effects of yoga are surprising and regular practice can improve your health, focus and even help with anxiety problems. For those wanting to take things a step further, many of Thailand’s temples welcome foreigners onto courses and retreats of up to 21-days, which offer an insight into Buddhist meditation and learning how to still the mind. Rather than jumping head first onto a course in the hope that you will gain enlightenment in a few weeks, a meditation retreat can be a difficult undertaking and self-discipline is needed. However, persistence has proven fruitful in the past and there are countless reports of travellers who have merged from retreats with life-changing stories and a healthy new approach to appreciating life to the full. Other holistic therapies and healing techniques abound in many areas in Thailand, notably the beautiful, magical island of Koh Phangan and Chiang Mai in the north. Chakra healing, reiki, past-life regression, angel healing are all possible in this part of the world. Whatever your personal take is on spirituality, no one can deny that your travels in South East Asia will change you, be it a little or a lot. Every day is an adventure into becoming more open-minded, letting go of prejudices and learning about what makes you happy.

South East ventures in , visit our activities & ad t ok ou bo ab to n w io rmat n & ho es For more info cations, price informatio iti iv ct /A st lo Asia, the be EastAsiaBac th ou n: .S io w at w website: w r more inform to email us fo Or feel free kp ac ab si ta as info@southe

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W ord on the soi: SCAMS! When you first start backpacking, worrying about travel scams can make you cautious and wary of everything and everyone you meet. We were all rookies once! You soon learn that not EVERYONE is trying to rip you off and most people just want to practice their English and make a novelty foreign friend. However, there are more than a few backpackers over the years that have fallen prey to ingenious and not so ingenious travel scams – whether it be getting ripped off for a few rupee in a taxi or an elaborate role-play which aims to empty your bank account! Read these tales of pesky tricks, double deals, hoaxes and swindles and learn the signs to look out for to make sure you’re not the next victim…


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m in Asia. It’s st talked about sca s got to be the mo LP. Honestly, I the in it t ou ab The gem scam ha s ng warni this one, but I um and there are for for fall vel to tra gh ry ou en eve le on llib eone would be gu who had to cut his som t os La tha e in at liev bo be w ’t couldn t tch guy on the slo ‘gem scam’ that cos a heartbroken Du en for the dreaded was wrong! I met who befriended ia because he had fall lf Ind ha ra, in Ag in trip rs ing deale entire backpack t some local gem on in asking him to parently he had me business propositi him thousands. Ap sented him with a pre guy that they could d tch an r Du ne the din t for n told him, taken him ou nd.The Indian me aila der his duty free Th to un es sily ton ea it ld do sive gems ailand, but he cou Th export some expen to m where they could rt the po ort air at the taxes to exp t would meet him en ag not afford the high an ) They asked , fits kok pro ng re in the he arrived in Ba uld the Dutch guy a sha allowance. When signature as he wo the price! (Giving d le an rup er ad mb qu nu for d dit car sell the jewels them. Of course, gaurantee’ of a cre l al cia ste an to t ‘fin a no t st jus tru for no money, be under great t to be coloured mstones and would us stones turned ou be carrying the ge port and the precio ngkok. In the air Ba the in at re er” sto rtn m a ge there was no “pa had taken them to y gu it’s always k tch Du thin I the se! pri plastic glass when swiped. What a sur dit card had been . Wanting to make ed mm sca are meantime, his cre o better of people wh never go right… greed that gets the e kind of deal can money out of som (Chester, Russia)

RIOSITY He appear KILLED T ed out of th HE CAT of your futu e shadow s of the al re wife and ch with an un le yways. “I ildren.” I pe usual look w ill tell you ered arou ing charac then” I said the names nd cu ter with bu . He explai shy eyebro riously and was face ned that in I would ne ws and a to face order for hi ed to follo long white w him to hi me. I sat do m to tell m beard. “G s ‘office.’ S e this impo wn and he o on uspicious rt performed an name of m t piece of of course, a tr y mother on informatio but curiosi n he had re four pieces ick where he asked ty go ad my min t m the better of paper an e to write d when he of down thre d then scru where he re e peated my wishes an nch them switched th mother’s na d the up. He trie e pieces of finding ou d to make me but it w paper. I w t my future out as quite ob asn’t impr wife’s nam me my ow essed and vious it was that e. He then n mum’s na told him I a trick got angry me! I knew wasn’t inte Naturally and deman it already! rested in at this poin ded 5,000 I said and t I legged ba ht his predic la for telling it. Although ug tions as th I was quite hed, to which he go e guy was t angrier! tempted to pure ente me would stay and lis rtainment… have been ten to sure his fo quite amus rtune for ing to say the least! (James, U K)




beware t backpackers in the world, bu ent that of ag l d ve ar tra he e or rst scam I’v taken to a shop re.’ They ing he be a It’s not the wo of vis er e rd u mak crossing the bo being told ‘yo on that d an let er en rd ev when you are t bo no the – or they may te drive from r inu ste ll be m fa wi n, u te er a yo th ll d is sti per, smoo look around an is easier, chea more than control. A quick ly ial ion will tell you it nt at ta igr bs m su im you e actual LESSON 6: MAN’S POISON ey will charge nding they are not th R get there, sta aren’t right! Th u s yo ing th en at wh th IS ANOTHE d ll an d able to te AN’S MEAT at the border of a twit… mine who ha M sts bit E co a N a e O lik vis el al fe m a friend of u’ll on the norm ckpackers yo ard of was fro absolutely no gullibility ba r he he er ot t ev gs ve ) lia th a amon s, there was vel scam I ha (Eloise, Austa en eating wi The worst tra India. Unlike many scam up n. He had be st plain mea sick, throwing g in ju s lin sly ve ou wa tra nd m hi rre en to local ho be a lt ed fe to en ly m pp hi en ha n dd take d what i and had su ded up and s, the his behalf an nt in Mumba iters had roun r. After about three hour cal restaura te t of it! The wa culously wa ou ira d lly m friend at a lo an ta d s to ha et s n tabl dizzy, he wa , the situatio been given ek ’d mething we he so le s e litt er and feeling wa a It wh g nic. the corner, t from feelin ll from the cli ng was bi hi ng et pi m clinic around pletely passed and apar op a. So a wh ronted with d com th stay in Indi the suspicious nf ha on co s m s ees re wa kn th sic he his as . It was then friend such e budget for am. ally his entir out from his turned around ing was a sc E that was basic and working a few things alized that the whole th – us lo LESSON 8: IF SH icu re in on it rid re n we c ey sio , ni th UE us cli – TR sc d ir di BE fa an e af TO rs up. After som in the whole and the waite clinic after a bit of a LOOKS TOO GOOD LY IS of the waiters red with to make him ill to leave the involvement SHE PROBAB pe ed to other m ag ta an en m d be d ll an d happened The food ha me thing ha to pay the bi ! At d sa e se ne n’t th fu yo did re at er you th if ev ey r te gay tell together. Th a few days la me of the restaurant to It doesn’t make you stol) na g… ey discovered Bri e in e, Th th th . (Le n ht ew ht? ai fig kn rig m s I kis re. I wish so that’s the travellers he okay though ermany) least he was (Dominik, G


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N 1: It NOT feelin was my s HING the fa g very na econd da IN LI iv y m e tr FE IS o ! I we avell us an like I’ ing e nt for cient FREE d jus v er an the d t step temp if I w ay to dIw les pe an twen ted a free d off the p in the city visit Du as in Ka rbar thma . lane, tour seem ty times Squa ndu guid whic When I ,b e him te d like a d ut he wo e to take h I had) arrived w re to see ecen r id a all of m e lling e g e m u ey tc ar e y me s but it nippe hap, so I down afte ound the approach ed (lookin o e te g ts of agre r aske nly laste d c m h m ple att ed an e ask inform d fo d fo in d off ing to me s. I said a for th r money r about no ab g we w fo half a tion here . I tho e mo r so e o out in nastery a ught it w n hour w and there nt around long and ut he a . n the te he his e venin d the chil s a ‘free to n he cor It was all m gave ples, ne dr ra gs u h friend im some after he en at the r ’ I said. H red me in ther inter with estin local finish ship mone a cou e ask g, o to e r r y e ds tya ph ke d an he ha d ask n too! Ho d he gav tudying. B anage wh only for a rd and w nic e me e ed fo d e r o I had in e natio g th he e! ra a nt ev en qu round a m (I thought) free ‘real e soppy id was helpin n s estio ned it onth’s wa It was on ilver ’ bra iot I am, I g celet ly late ges fo ! Gla a the b d to say, I’ r a Nepa r I realise s a eginn d tha lese ve to local (Nikit t ughe ing! a, W a ned u ales) p sin nd ce



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3: CHE

ATS NEV It all start ER PRO ed when SPER her broth a ve ry friendly e Filipino la to call him r’s house. He wa dy inivite s a U ls n o cl a e d me to very likea Jo. He to and that ld me tha ble chap if he taug t he work who told ht me so He also to e me m da e tricks, w ld me a st e could m s a dealer for a ca just the n ory abou a sino ight befo ke t a a m lo e an Singa t of mone re ha to be polit porean m y togethe e, and no d cheated him ou an called r. t of a lot t long aft 21, but in ‘M r. Tan’ wh of money. er, ended a special o I smiled a up in his Mr. Tan a way, to fo bedroom nd nodde rrived, a llow a ce being tau d suited an rtain cod a chance ght black d bo e. All of a to teach jack sudden, him a less oted elderly Chin money b su rp e ack. This se o ri n se , g and with entleman surpise, all happe with a su my help, . Uncle Jo ned very itcase full planned saw this quickly a to cheat of dollars as Picadilly! n d b M e r. a fo nd I was I pla Tan to ge re I knew intro th it, ‘Mr Tan I didn’t ha yed blackjack 21 ’ was in th is against M duced as ‘Madam ve any m e room e Penny’ oney on r. Tan, usi I owed th me, Jo le a ng the co e ‘bank’ o nt me $2 de that Jo big player from n a piece Tan wante 00, but a h of paper. a d d to see ta s u ght me. A the stake I was all my actua s rose, h far as I w set to win l money o e wrote w s as aware thousand n the tab hat - lose!). T cough up s o le f d b o e lla fo he wh re he’d sh mon rs when M ow his ca r. Of course ey to put on the ta ole idea of this sc rds am is tha ble, beca I’m not th t the victim (and - as use they’ at bloody saying I h re sure th stupid (a (m e ad none, ) will at they’ll nd I didn he a said sorr win the g ’t have an y, we’ll ha sked me to put m ame. y money y credit ca ve to fold anyway!) of the ho rd on the the game After use with . Straight table and all offers meet you away, I w I just of visiting , bye bye as ushere th e P h , ili n d ow get lo pines forg out along bu st!” I was otten! “N t I never obviously ice to felt threa they actu tened. It was more suspicious all ally thoug ht I’d fall food and for it! I go ridiculous that an amusi t some fr ng story ee out of it. (Penny, U K)


5: HE W


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d and is) a frien idn’t art like th Id st ty s ci e ri e o th st the a part of ot all my in (n ver that r ri k, a d b ko e a g t th by t in Ban friend a ar open. b ediately t m h ig im One nigh to be meeting a n ld te e were to us to the only la ured we’d eant the taxi w I were m so we fig ke n, e got into t and that he’d ta ightspots art of tow n w p k n e rk ko h a g d W n a a igh know. idea of B lie bar in e driver for the n ir o h g d n T y . d se g e a o d b h cl o we at a d bar was wanted to e got out and the city, rned up w place we st night in s. We tu e type of t to do so im just inside a th On our fir vers suggestion h ’t w sn w a o h kn ew d ri ’t n d se n u e id fo ld th d u e e le! go with set I co e taxi, w htclub. W believab m the off . Left in th n lights of the nig y was un in u g d e which fro is lk h a T o w which no e k! , n d n n n ri d a a d n S t a a u o o a him Kh ness then got ht just the dark t we buy s back to r 500 ba him into ested tha to take u followed aying ove ce! tely sugg ed passing taxis p la ia p p d u e d st m e fir nd and he im outside we ask go in the ce. We e to ri t p n d le a e b w ff in a o n la n’t r a reaso r, he exp Storming b we did uld do fo y ass clu night afte r driver wo the dodg iend the at the ba fr m th y o d m fr n t y a e a m am to get aw we finally on taxi driver sc le b n u e o h D W . . mm open Grrrrrr was a co d to go was still that this ante nd) we had w rrrrr. (Steve, Irela g


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In the Company of Elephants...


S.E.A Backpacker

By Lucy Gallagher

Regarded as one of the most powerful symbols of Thai history and culture, weaved into fabrics, carved into wood and stone, painted on walls and even printed on the label of your favourite beer, elephants are everywhere in Thailand! Sacred yet some would argue exploited, the Asian elephant draws in thousands of tourists and travellers to this part of the world every year. Animal lover or not, it is hard to resist the charm and wonder of one of natures most magnificent creations. Some travel far into the national parks and spend long days waiting for a glimpse of an elusive Asian Elephant in the wild. For most however, the preferred choice is a more ‘up close and personal’ encounter at one of Thailand or Laos’ many elephant camps, parks or sanctuaries. Having spent a year living, working and travelling in Thailand I am lucky to have had some incredible elephant encounters of my own. Memories and experiences I will take home and treasure forever. And so I feel compelled to write and share, not just my story... but also that of the Asian Elephant.

A Little Bit Of History... Asian elephants have been domesticated for thousands of years and worshipped for centuries. In Thailand, elephants have long been associated with royalty, mounted by Kings to defend Thailand against Burmese invaders on many an occasion. The sacred ‘white elephant’ even appears on the flag of the Royal Thai Navy, a testament to the strongest and most revered beast of burden. Similarly in Laos, elephants were used to transport the royal family in ancient times and of huge importance in battle. Laos was historically known as Lan Xang, ‘The Land of a Million Elephants,’ due to the great numbers of wild elephant herds that grazed around the old capital of the kingdom, Luang Prabang. Yet, nowadays it is predicted that there are only 700 elephants left in the wild in Laos. The last few decades have brought about huge changes for elephants in Asia. Previously employed to move heavy objects, carry humans on their backs, and considered the ‘super-weapons’ of South-East Asian armies, their role within Asian culture has changed dramatically with the times. In the early 1900’s there was at least 100,000 elephants working in Thailand. After the banning of logging in 1989, thousands of domesticated elephants and their mahouts were left unemployed. Logging and construction skills quickly evolved into people pleasing and performing; painting, dancing, even playing football!

Today... Today there is a huge choice for travellers seeking an ‘elephant experience’. For a few hundred Thai baht you can be ‘entertained’ by elephants painting their own portrait, kicking balls through hoops, or allowing you to climb on board their trekking chairs for a ride through the jungle. Despite the controversy and discussion surrounding this type of elephant tourism it appears to be as popular as ever with both Western and Asian tourists alike. As an environmental educator working to promote conservation and sustainability I felt a little unnerved (to say the least) watching a group of children clap and cheer a dancing elephant. This was the first, and the only time I visited one of these places. Each to their own I guess, but definitely not for me.

Happy Elephants... Elephants are highly sociable, and wonderfully intelligent animals, able to communicate with other elephants across huge distances and show emotions similar to human beings. Unfortunately however, human beings cannot speak ‘elephant’ (and vice-versa), leaving an elephant’s happiness, feelings and well being very much open to our own interpretation. Despite a continued demand for the circus-like shows throughout Thailand, in recent years a more responsible tourist choice is to visit the eco-tourism orientated elephant parks, where longer term strategies, care and conservation help to ensure a happier and more sustainable future for captive elephants. In the northern province of Chiang Mai, there are a handful of well-recognised S.E.A Backpacker


and highly reputed establishments leading in this type of tourism. Situated on a quiet hillside, in Maetaman village, along the Maetang River not far from Chiang Mai, Thai Elephant Home has been my own personal sanctuary over the last year. My escape, far from the concrete jungle of Bangkok, the city where I had been working, Thai Elephant Home is a place of warm smiles, open hearts and happy elephants. Established in 2005, founders Nayok Satiyen and Joe, were keen to provide something different, an experience offering people the opportunity to really connect with elephants and learn about lifestyles of the local community, where elephants are shown respect and love, almost treated as members of the family! As well as caring for it’s elephants, Thai Elephant Home takes an active responsibility in helping to improve the lives of local people and surrounding environment. Profits are reinvested in restoring and replanting local land degraded by tourism and in partnership with ProWorld Thailand, they have restored more than 80 acres of local forest, an area that is growing all the time. Spending time here has been the biggest highlight of my year in Thailand. Some of the photos featured in this article capture just a handful of the moments I am privileged to share. Walking through grasslands and jungle, playing in the black mud and splashing in the muddy waters of the Maetang River. Special memories...

The Future For Elephants In Thailand... Like all issues surrounding conservation and sustainability, the key to the solution starts at the root of the problem - education and awareness. With a shift towards more ‘responsible’ projects and away from the competitive market of rock-bottom prices, it would be nice to think there is a happier future for elephants in Thailand and the rest of South East Asia. For anybody looking for an elephant experience to remember (and be proud of!) I suggest plenty of research beforehand. On a positive note, there are a growing number of sanctuaries like Thai Elephant home that offer a responsible, eco-friendly experience in Thailand and Laos. Places I have had the pleasure of visiting are: Elephant Nature Park, Patara Elephant Farm and Thai Elephant Home, all based just outside of Chiang Mai. There are also some very respectable eco-friendly elephant sanctuaries based around Luang Prabang in Laos, such as All Lao Camp & Resort.

All photos in this article taken at Patara Elephant Farm (Chiang Mai) Thai Elephant Home (Chiang Mai) & All Lao Camp & Resort (Luang Prabang, Laos).


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10 ELEPHANT FACTS: The elephant is the Earth’s largest land animal. There are two species of elephant in the world; the Asian elephant and the African elephant. Asian elephants are slightly smaller than their African cousin and have smaller, more rounded ears. Asian elephants have a single “finger” on the upper lip of the trunk, while African elephants have a second on the lower tip. Although many thousands of domesticated Asian elephants are found in Southeast Asia, they are threatened by extinction in the wild. Asian elephants have an average life span of 60 years. An elephant’s trunk has many functions (smelling, breathing, trumpeting, drinking, and grabbing food!) and contains about 100,000 different muscles. An adult elephant can eat up to 140 kilograms of food in a single day! Elephants have a longer pregnancy than any other mammal, carrying their unborns for almost 22 months! You’ve heard the saying ‘an elephant never forgets’ and although this may be an exaggeration, scientists have proven that elephants can store an extraordinary amount of information in their memories. They never forget a trainer who abused them, an old injury or a friendly face! An elephants wrinkled, folding skin is essential in regulating the elephant’s temperature and humidity. The wrinkles retain 5-10 times more water than smooth skin and the mud sticks to it, keeping the animal cool.

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Lucy is originally from Manchester, UK, but has spent the last year living, working and playing in Thailand. As an environmental educator with a passion for animals, Lucy is keen to inspire individuals to take an active responsibility in helping to conserve our the planet’s natural habitats and biodiversity. It is through her most recent role that Lucy has came into contact with both Thailand’s wild and domesticated elephants.


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Sustainability with a purpose Get to know elephants in an eco-friendly, beautiful environment just half an hour from Chiang Mai. Become part of our special family at Thai Elephant Home: • Learn how to ride & command an elephant like a mahout • Feed & learn how to take care of your elephant • Bathe with your elephant in the black mud spa! • Plant trees & contribute to our reforestation project Our home is more than just a tourist attraction. It’s a safe haven for elephants and an entire project dedicated to sustainability of the environment. Our profits are re-invested in reforestation projects in the local area, teaching school children about the environment and restoring land degraded by tourism & development. We pride ourselves in being the most eco-friendly elephant home in Thailand!

TEL: +66 89 434 2047, +66 81 716 3980


102 Moo 2, T.GuedChang, A.Meatang, Chiangmai, 50150, Thailand

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W hat’s on: Festivals and Events


The “Moon” Parties Koh Phangan, Thailand

is an intense dance experience. Party animals watch out!

Full Moon Party:

Half Moon Festival:

1st - 3rd July Loei province, Thailand

A huge professional dance event taking place twice a month amidst the atmospheric setting of Ban Tai Jungle, Koh Phangan, one week before and one week after the Full Moon Party. Playing an eclectic mix of tech house, progressive beats and psychedelic trance, the all night party showcases the island’s finest resident DJ’s, with regular special guest appearances. With a huge sound system, unique UV illuminations, fire dancers and live visuals, this is an event not to be missed!

The Phi Ta Khon Festival is an annual event, unique to the Isaan culture of North Eastern Thailand. Sometimes referred to as the ‘Ghost Festival,’ the event is similar to the Western Halloween as locals wear eerie spirit masks and don phantom costumes, while children play tricks and games in the street. The festival commemorates an old Buddhist tale, when villagers held a celebration for the return of their Prince from banishment. It is said that they made so much noise that the dead were awakened from their graves and came out to party! Musical processions pack

Phi Ta Khon Festival

8th July, 23rd July 8th August, 21st August

17th July, 14th August

Black Moon Culture: 30th July, 28th August

There are various stories about the origin of the Full Moon Party, but so one rumour goes, it all started with a group of backpackers playing guitars on the beach to celebrate someone’s birthday. Today, up to 30,000 people congregate on Haad Rin Sands each month for a frenzied concoction of dance, drink and devilishness from dusk until dawn. Smear that multicoloured paint all over your body, get a glow stick in one hand and a bucket in your other and get ready to party!


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Underground trance and progressive beats resound through the air as party-goers dance on the beautiful sands of Baan Tai beach once a month. With amazing décor, live visuals and an international DJ line up every month, including special guests, the Black Moon Culture

1 1 0 2 t s u g u A – y l u J the streets and rockets fill the skies for three days. On the last day, the villagers meet at the local temple, Wat Ponchai, to listen to the monks recite the message of Lord Buddha.

Khao Phansa (Buddhist Lent)

15th – 16th July Myanmar, Laos, Thailand Khao Phansa is one of the most important occasions in the Buddhist calendar that also marks the beginning of the rainy season across the kingdoms of Myanmar, Laos and Thailand. Also known as the ‘Buddhist Rains Retreat,’ it’s a time when Buddhist monks retreat to the temple where they must remain for a period of three months. Traditionally, this was so

that they would not be in danger of treading on young plants, which sprout during this season of growth and new life. It’s a time for study and meditation and is also considered an auspicious time for ordinations into monk hood. Celebrations take place across the country to commemorate the beginning of Khao Phansa.

Rainforest World Music Festival

8th – 10th July 2009 Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo

Set in the atmospheric heart of the Borneo Jungle, Sarawak, this festival is a must attend event for music enthusiasts! Featuring performances from renowned artists from all over the world, including indigenous Malaysian

sounds, there’s an eclectic mix of world music, celtic fusion, socca, folk, baul, fusion and traditional. As well as nightly concerts, there are also workshops, mini gigs and best of all group jamming sessions where the audience are invited to grab an instrument and get involved with making music sweet music (see event review on page 31 for more information.)


Indonesia 1st August – 30th August For Muslims all over the world, Ramadan is of huge importance during a 30-day period in August. Particularly in Muslim nations, Indonesia and Malaysia, you will come into contact with Ramadan as a traveller. During this period all Muslims observe fast from

dawn until dusk and in many parts of the country restaurants will be closed during the day. Ramadan is also a time when Muslims offer prayers to Allah, ask for forgiveness for sins and attempt to purify themselves of impure thoughts and deeds. According to tradition, Ramadan marks the time when the Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. The fasting period ends with ‘Eid’ a huge celebratory feast, commemorated by over one billion Muslims around the world as they say thank you to Allah for all they have been given.

The Queen’s Birthday 12th August Thailand

The birthday of Queen Sirikit, is celebrated throughout Thailand, particularly in the capital of Bangkok. All along Ratchadamnoen Avenue near Khao San Road and in the area around the Grand Palace, you’ll see streets and buildings adorned with decorations and portraits of Her Majesty. The day is also a

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W hat’s on: Festivals and Events national holiday and Mothers Day in Thailand. The sale of alcohol is not allowed on this day.

Merdeka Day Malaysia 31st August

Throughout the country, Merdeka day is a day of national pride and a celebration of cultural heritage. The event commemorates Malaysia’s independence from Britain in 1957. Particularly in the capital, Kuala Lumpur, there are parades, performances and events taking place on this momentous day. Head to Independence Square to witness the celebrations.

Do Son Buffalo Festival Do Son, Vietnam August

Two hours South of Hanoi, the small village of Do Son hosts the annual Buffalo Festival taking place during the entire month of August. The festival encompasses fights between buffaloes that have been trained to competition level months beforehand by local farmers. The buffaloes are adorned with coloured cloth and a boisterous crowd beat drums and cheer loudly as the animals fight it out in heated knockout matches


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The Candle Festival Ubon Ratchathani 1st – 31st July

Coinciding with the Buddhist lent, the Candle Festival of Ubon Ratchathani is a deeply religious event. Beautifully carved candles, some several metres high are paraded through the streets of the town along with special displays, cultural presentations and music and dancing. The festival is a beautiful affirmation of belief in Buddhism and a demonstration of the unique art and culture of North Eastern Thailand.

However, on the night of the full moon in August, the festival of Hao Khao Padap Din, marks a specific time when the dead are remembered. In a rather sombre ritual, bones and corpses are exhumed and cremated on the night of the full moon. Gifts are donated to temples and offered to monks so that they will chant on behalf of the deceased. The festival is a long standing tradition in Buddhist Laos.

Bali Kite Festival

21st - 24th July Sanur Beach, Bali, Indonesia

Singapore Food Festival Singapore 15th – 24th July

A festival dedicated to the pleasure of eating delicious delicacies from all over the world. Each street serves up a unique range of cuisine and there’s a festive atmosphere in the air. As well as lashings of food and drink, there are also cultural activities; street shows in Chinatown, riverboat cruises, music and entertainment.

Haw Khao Padap Din Laos August

Kadayawan Sa Dabaw Taking place every year on Sanur Beach, the Bali Kite Festival is a wonderful event to witness. Traditionally held as a religious festival, the event is thought to send signals to the Hindu Gods to create plentiful harvests in the coming year. Kites of all different shapes, sizes and colours take to the skies above Bali, with some of the kites measuring up to 10 metres in length! Teams from local villages battle it out in competitions for best launch and longest flight. You will spot some of the more traditional kites here, such as Bebean (fish shaped) Janggan (bird shaped) and Pecukan (leaf shaped.) There is live, traditional music in the form of a Gamelan orchestra throughout the festival and hundreds of spectators. The kite festival takes place in the dry season in Bali (June – September) when winds blow east from west across Indonesia – this period also corresponds to wicked surf dude!

Hungry Ghosts Festival

31st July - 28th August Chinese Communities in Asia

Throughout the year the people of Laos have great respect for their ancestors and the deceased.

not actually bump into one of the actual ghosts, you will encounter the festival alive and well in Chinese communities all across South East Asia, for example in Malaysia’s Penang. You will see offerings left outside temples and houses to appease the hungry ghosts, as Chinese people believe that their ancestors can bring them good luck. There are also Chinese Opera performances and puppet shows taking place in lively Chinatowns everywhere.

Every year for a whole month, Chinese people believe that the ghosts of their ancestors descend to earth to wander the earth in search of food! Although you may

3rd Week in August Davao City, The Philippines The annual harvest festival ‘Kadayawan’ is a thanksgiving celebration that sees colourful fashion shows, parades, performances and dancing taking place in the streets of Davao City in the Southern Philippines. The festival takes place every third week of August and lasts an entire week, with the whole area taking part. Various ethnic tribes originating from around the Mount Apo region can be seen parading the streets in their colourful costumes and jewellery to the beat of tribal drums. There are also boat races taking place at the harbour, horse fighting, (similar to Spain’s bull fighting), and a ‘Miss Kadayawan’ beauty contest occurring on the final day of the celebrations. Filipino’s sure now how to have fun in this lively and vibrant event!

Borneo’s Rainforest World Music Festival For many, Borneo is an exotic, magical destination that conjurs up images of dense tropical jungle, orangutans hidden in the trees and ancient tribal people living as they have done for thousands of years. Therefore, I was quite surprised when I heard about the Rainforest World Music Festival, taking place just outside Kuching, Sarawak. Intrigued about this festival in the jungle, that made Glastonbury seem tame, a few friends and I had decided to go... True to my visions of Borneo jungle, the setting of the festival was absolutely spectacular. The gigs took place right in the heart of the forest and true to its name, it did in fact ‘rain’ solidly for two nights out of the three. The rain never stopped the gigs or the audience - and just made for more of an atmosphere in the humid, tropical heat. The crowd absolutely loved it as with the rain came this enormous mud bath! Watching the younger crowd playing in the mud fest was often as entertaining as what was going on on the stage! Locals and tourists joined in, slipping, sliding and smearing each other with mud, getting down with the music and as dirty as is physically possible! I think the Heineken they consumed helped the playful vibe a lot somehow. As well as the light-hearted mud antics, for world music buffs, there was plenty to delight! Over 20 bands played from all over the world including a South American latin influence, African, Indian, European, South East Asian and of course local instruments from Borneo. In particular, there were a lot of European and Eastern European bands, which included a great deal of bagpipes, which made me feel like I had been inside a Gaelic pub for three days! The deep, haunting sounds only seemed to make the atmosphere of the rainforest all the more intense.

TIP = From Kuching, the shuttle bus to the festival costs 10 MYR (one way) taking around an hour to reach the site. However, although we didn’t do it, we heard great things about camping near the site, on a beach reserved for festival goers. The cost was 25 MYR each and the beach is just 5 minutes from the festival grounds. I’m sure waking up to a sunrise on a beach would make the festival a completely different experience!

In the daytime, were also interesting workshop sessions taking place Travellers who had brought an instrument with them got involved in incredibly entertaining jam sessions which lasted around 45 minutes. There was such an eclectic mix of nationalities and instruments from around the world which made for a truly international vibe. The Festival this year takes place from 8-10 July 2011. A 3-day ticket costs 300 MYR and a 1-day pass is 110 MYR. STB0068_Our Den Young) • FPFC > Size: 120mm(H) x 180mm(W) (Review by Irene



Sarawak is known for her caves as much as for her rainforests. There are hundreds of caves you can explore, especially the ones in Mulu and Niah national parks. See millions of bats fly out at sunset or stare in awe at the largest chamber in the world, big enough for more than 40 jumbo jets! Come live the adventure.

w w w. s a r a w a k t o u r i s m . c o m

039970 STB0068 STB0068 Srwk Tourism-Flight Centre Aus.indd 1

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6/27/11 4:09:52 PM

PHUKET OLD TOWN Treasures and Talismans... Sip milky iced tea while listening to melodic jazz from a street café. Haggle over homemade batik at a Malay fabric shop. Sample traditional Hokkien Chinese cuisine for less than three dollars and admire historic buildings dating back a century. Just a few reasons, says Leigh-Anne Hunter, to ditch the beach for a day and wander through Phuket’s fascinating, but little-seen old quarter... “Town? I hear you gasp. I was planning on sunbathing.” Phuket’s beaches certainly live up to their postcard-perfect reputations, but after a few days of reclining in a deckchair watching pink-skinned beachcombers, it’s all a little, as the Thais say, ‘same same’. With its historic buildings and cosmopolitan culture, the island’s hidden Old Quarter has a distinctive charm and old-world flavour that will give you something more to tell your friends about than just your even tan. It’s also a more affordable option for accommodation and dining, and less touristy than the beach areas, giving you an insight into daily Thai life (don’t be surprised if you get an invitation to share a meal with your Thai neighbours.) Unfortunately, many tourists only see this cultural gem from the inside of a tuk tuk en route to the celebrated Patong, and miss out on this undiscovered corner of the Andaman. Make sure you aren’t one of them! Hire a tricycle to chaperone you through the shop-lined streets of the Old Quarter. Not the standard, rickety tricycles, mind you - some have been modernised and fitted with comfy leather seats, sound-speakers and champagne coolers! But the best way to explore this area is on foot. Get yourself a free copy of the Phuket Town Treasure Map at the Thailand Tourism Authority (TAT) on Thalang road. The easy 2km-walking trail, which covers the six roads and two lanes (sois) that comprise the Old Quarter, can easily be covered in half a day. But you might find (as I did) that you want to linger for longer. Get a few twilight snapshots of the colourful Sino-Portuguese shop-houses with their intricate designs, shuttered windows and cool balconies on picturesque Soi Romanee a red light district in the late 19th century. Or, pop in for a Chang beer at Siam Indigo, the swanky bar on Phang Nga road. At night, red Chinese lanterns light arched walkways, creating a magical atmosphere.


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A glimpse into the past... Lighting up a Malboro cigarette and smoothing strands of silver hair, 72-yearold Thanaboon Sarulthep recalls how he started working on the tin mines at the young age of 15. The precious ore drew thousands of Chinese immigrants - like Thanaboon’s father - to the shores of peninsular Siam, as it was then known. Many, married Thai locals, introducing their Hokkien cuisine and culture to Phuket. The tin supply gradually ceased, but in its place arose another profitable commodity known as tourism. “We are lucky,” says Thanaboon, who runs Airfield Café, an eatery on Phang Nga road. Tin mines have been transformed into luxury resorts like Phuket Laguna, but remnants of the island’s mining heyday before tourism are still visible for those who are prepared to look. Amassing their fortunes from mining concessions, some Chinese families established successful family dynasties on the island, building grand mansions (known as angmor-lao) that still remain today. So historically significant is this corner of Phuket that the government passed an act declaring it a conservation zone and many of the buildings are now being

restored. I loved the colonial ambience of these time-weathered estates with their ornately carved wooden doors, tree-lined grounds and arched doorways. Built in 1903 (or 2447 in the Buddhist calendar), Baan Chinpracha is the only Sino-Colonial mansion in Phuket open to the public. If dusty memorabilia is your thing, visit the old Thavorn hotel on Rasada road. The owner suffered near bankruptcy when he built the hotel in the 1960’s, citing a huge tourism boom. But his prediction was premature and his peers criticised his lack of foresight (if only they knew what was to come!) Thirty baht (about $1 US dollar) will gain you access to the hotel’s museum and its main attraction, the ancient elevator. Once the talk of the town, the elevator attracted visitors for their first-ever ride (you still can, if you dare!) If that’s not enough for you, Thai Hua museum on Thalang road exhibits ‘Baba’ arts and culture - the term used to describe people of mixed Thai and Chinese descent (many of these ‘Babas’ are now in their seventies!) However, you don’t need to visit a museum to discover the Old Quarter’s diverse cultural heritage. Just step into one of the many shop-houses and, between sips of cha (tea), chat to the owner to get a personal account. Mrs Tunsakun, a local resident, showed me the framed photos that covered a wall of her teahouse, depicting three generations of her family. Walking through the Old Quarter, you observe so much more than you’d ever see from inside a tour bus. Many families live above their shops, hence the term ‘shop-house,’ so family and spiritual life take place in the public eye. Incense burns in a neon-lit Buddhist shrine in a noodle shop. I especially loved the spirit houses built for ancestors, some with their own mini furniture and mini BMW’s!

The shop-houses of the old quarter The Portuguese didn’t just introduce chili peppers to Thai culture when they landed here three hundred years ago, taking advantage of the island’s proximity to trade routes between China and India. They also brought a new architectural style. Its fusion with the Chinese aesthetic created the Sino-Portuguese buildings that mark this area as one of the most photogenic in Phuket. With their shuttered windows and intricate Doric stucco, these rows of candycoloured shop-houses make you feel like you’ve stepped into another time. Take a walk along Thalang or Dibuk roads to see the many shop-houses still used as art galleries, antique shops, boutiques, eateries, bakeries, haberdasheries stocked full of odds and ends, printing presses, guesthouses, batik silk shops, and shops selling amulets, (to ward off evil) to name a few. Many of these are family-run businesses that have been around for generations, like the aromatic Guan Choon Tong. ‘The oldest herb shop in Phuket’ a sign proclaims. Now 85, Mr. Bamrongwong dozes on a stool in the corner while his son assists customers, grinding and weighing medicinal herbs like chestnut, sweet fennel and cardamom – all hidden in a hundred little drawers with Chinese labels.

Chinese New Year in Phuket Town

Don’t Miss! The annual Phuket Vegetarian Festival, taking place Sept 27 - Oct 5, 2011 S.E.A Backpacker


A diverse cultural heritage The Old Quarter is full of hidden treasures, thanks to its rich cultural history. One of these is The Shrine of Serene Light. Blink and you might miss this special place on Phangna road, which lacks the commercialism of some of Thailand’s temples. Dedicated to Toong Soun Tai Sai, a Chinese God renowned for his strength and fighting skills, the shrine dates back about 110 years. Do as the locals do and shake sticks to get your lucky number and read your fortune (you’ll need someone to translate for you.) Follow the passageway through the temple, which takes you to a popular Chinese eatery on Thalang road (I loved all the secret passageways!) This shrine is one of three temples in the area. If you’re here in October, make your way to Jui Tui shrine, where you can watch ‘warriors’ in traditional costume walk on hot coals for the Vegetarian Festival. The nine days of the festival are intense, with roads blocked off for the event and hundreds of vegetarian food stalls, drumming and loud fireworks. Be sure to dodge the firecrackers people throw on the road! Watch the processions where warriors – apparently possessed by Chinese spirits – skewer their cheeks with knives, rifles, flags, needles, sun umbrellas and pretty much anything! The festival calendar is always packed with events in the Old Quarter. Thai people love to party, celebrating New Year thrice annually, which would explain why you see Happy New Year signs everywhere all year round! Get ferried down the canal Venecian-style and enjoy the colourful street processions during Chinese New Year with its amazing street art, Busque performers and Miss Thailand beauty contests. Be prepared to get soaked during Songkran (Thai New Year) in April, when everyone arms themselves with buckets of water and water pistols to cool down during the hottest season of the year. There’s so much to do and see in Phuket’s Old Quarter – you may even forget about the beaches!

Phuket’s friendly residents

THE BASICS: GETTING THERE AND AWAY: From the airport, catch a bus to Phuket Town for 100 baht. From Ranong road in town it’s easy to catch a songthaew (open-backed bus) or tuk-tuk to any of the beaches from around 7am. Just be sure not to miss the last songthaew back in the late afternoon. Or you can rent a motorbike… put a poodle in the basket and cram on as many people as possible, if you want to go Thai style! EAT: Phuket’s legacy as a trading center, attracting Malays, Arabs, Europeans and Indians, gives it a distinct cosmopolitan feel and a diverse cuisine to suit any palate. Try delicious kanom jeen, a local Hokkien noodle dish, moo hong (pork stew), or one of the many spicy Malay dishes. Trendy Kopi de Phuket on Phuket road is a great option - try their mango fruit shakes! If you’re after Western food, La Romantica, run by a bona fide Italian family, serve “todie-for” pizzas. Enjoy the aroma of coffee and freshly baked bread at Siam Bakery on Yaowarat road. With its gilded front door and abundant greenery, the exquisite China Inn Café on Thalang road is also well worth a visit. And if street food is your things, grab a fresh fruit or coconut-filled pancake from one of the many mobile food carts (restaurants on wheels) or visit the fresh market on Ranong road next to the bus stop, which sells everything from fried cockroaches to dried squid. STAY: On On Hotel on Phang Nga road, made famous by the film, The Beach, is popular with backpackers. Its dark, colonial interior and ancient staircase are reminiscent of another era. Thalang Guesthouse is another affordable option in the heart of the Old Quarter. On Rasada road, Phuket Center Apartments offers affordable rates for monthly rentals. Many guesthouses offer internet access and there are many internet and wifi cafes in town. BE(WEAR)!:

An entertainer at the Chinese New Year Festivities


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Thais in town are more conservative, so save your leather thong for the beaches! Also be cautious of tuk tuks overcharging you to get back to the beaches (always bargain) and take note that prices go up for transport in the evenings.

After many years in a 9 to 5 office job in the communications industry, Leigh-Anne Hunter and her husband, Wayne, took a gap year to live and work in Thailand. She continues to blog regularly about her experiences from South Africa, her home, and hopes to have many more adventures! ( S.E.A Backpacker



Classic South East Asian signs to make you smile, chuckle, tut, shake your head, fear, pity, worry and most of all laugh!

Booooooring! India.

Singapore Zoo, covering all dangers.

Alex’s wife just won’t accept that he ran off with a skinny cow, Luang Prabang.

Laotian lady crossing. Outside a restaurant in Koh Phi Phi.

Fabulous ‘crew cuts’ at this salon in Chiang Mai.

Anyone tried these? And what do you have to do to get one free? (Question mark) Buy 10 get 1... free? Is it free?

Toilet do’s & don’ts, Vietnam.

Beware squatters in Malaysia!

Bus stops on way from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng for driver to get his hair cut - it’s the best (only) barber shop for miles!

Listen up handsome! At a temple in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Such a warm, friendly welcome to this Isaan ‘hong nam’ (toilet.) Whazzup giraffe, why the long face? Did you hear the one about the bisexual bear? “Excuse me sir!” Doh!

There are worse things you could kiss than fish in Koh Phi Phi.

Say it like it is! Noodle Bar in Vietnam.

An interesting array of goods! Things you may need when trekking in Nepal.


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Bangkok’s fashionable graffiti.

Chanel and Manolo Blahniks at this roadside store in Phnom Penh.

Top notch marketing by this english gent / tuk tuk driver in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Swindlers think twice at Hanoi Airport!

But number 2’s are OK, India.

Hot heathy springs, Sapa, Vietnam.

The World Summit or a Village People Reunion? For God’s sake put some Some thought provoking graffiti in clothes on! (Khao San Road) Nepal.

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Paradise Found! When John Milton sat down, pen in hand, ready to put the final touches to Paradise Lost, he clearly hadn’t made it to Pulau Perhentian Kecil. Hamish McNair-Wilson expounds the virtues of one of South East Asia’s most underrated hotspots. Practically unheard of outside Malaysia, a mouthful to pronounce, a mission to get to, but worth every bit of effort you put in to find it.

That South East Asia is littered with beautiful islands is unquestionable. Yet, with more and more cash-happy, sun-seeking European and Antipodean holiday makers sweeping through the continent like a swarm of friendship-band wearing locusts, year on year, some of the island’s delicate eco-systems are becoming as vulnerable as the livers of those living it up in their bars and clubs each night. Few that register on the backpacker’s radar, however, remain as untouched and in rude health as Pulau Perhentian Kecil. Kecil, which means small in the native Malay, is to be found 50km off the Eastern Coast of Northern Malaysia, a stone’s through from the Thai border, and this pint-sized paradise is exactly as its name suggests.


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Malaysia itself is far from synonymous with beachlife. With its neighbour to the North, Thailand, so heavily blessed in the tropical-islands-of-naturalbeauty department, it is hardly surprisingly that backpackers seldom offer Malaysia’s few the glad eye. After all, Malaysia is marginally more expensive and lacks the glamour of its closest relative. Moreover, if you plan to flout one of the fiver pillars of the national religion, Islam, and drink alcohol while you’re there, then, by Jove, you’ll have to pay through the nose to do so. Therefore, for the average backpacker a trip to Malaysia amounts to little more than a whistle-stop tour of KL, a few tasty snacks, an awkward encounter with a taxi driver or two and a night in a reggae bar. Break the mould, however, and you’ll be privy to not just one of the region’s, but one of the world’s best far-flung beach holidays. And that’s according to the cynical, hard-nosed hacks of The UK’s Guardian’s travel section.

Getting there... The first thing to ensure is, once in KL, you head off in the right direction. When it comes to beach holidays in the former British colony, it is the west coast tax haven of Langkawi that captures most of the attention. And if you have your heart set of finding the nation’s cheapest beers, this is where you’ll end up. Those seeking a quality experience, rather than a high quantity of beverages, however, should head over to Putra bus station, a short walk from the Putra World Trade Centre stop on Kuala Lumpur’s efficient LRT network. Here you’ll be able to book a ticket to Kuala Besut, for a paltry sum. Take a bus trip through the night with a want-to-be rally driver at the wheel and you’ll wind up at a small jetty in Kuala Besut, from where you’ll be able to board a speedboat to the Islands, big and small. Tickets cost 70RM for an open return and are worth every Ringgit you pay. As long as you’re making the trip between March and October, that is. Head out there any time between and you’ll be greeted with little other than some tropical storms, monsoon rain and the tiny collection of locals that brave them during the off-season.

Getting to know the island & where to stay? Once you’ve made it, what do the Perhentian Islands have to offer? Whip out your tropical paradise checklist and you’ll immediately be able to tick off translucent, turquoise waters and glorious white sandy beaches. A further essential is fulfilled courtesy of the abundant palm trees, surrounding each beach. There are shacks aplenty to house you, few of which it is even possible to find evidence of, let alone book, online. These range from the rather basic mattress in a beach hut to the undoubtedly opulent mattress in a beach hut, with air con, electricity and an en suite bathroom. For an added luxury, in Malaysia the island dwelling folk have fully mastered the concept of the flushing toilet! Prices range from around 20RM to 80RM a night making these eminently affordable and worth every penny thanks to the surrounding beauty.

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About the writer: When he’s not tutoring the toddlers of Japan and Korea in the manner of a mildly educational clown, or submitting hastily knocked up edit to little known UK-based rags, you’ll find Hamish McNair-Wilson clawing his way around the world, clad in little more than a lick of neon paint, uncovering cultural experiences and evading sex workers with the skill of a not-particularly-well paid professional. He’ll be doing whatever it takes, in fact, to keep him out of his native Essex...


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Affordable and friendly options include Panorama Huts, located centrally on Long Beach, and Moonlight Chalets, tucked away at the periphery, among the palm trees on the far right of the beach. Both house their own restaurants, serving up sizeable portions of pan-Asian and western cuisine at great prices and offer a host of options when it comes to entertainment. Panorama, for example, offers residents a nightly movie, a badminton court, table football, pool, books, internet access and a whole lot more.

Adventures & shisha... Rather unique to Kecil is the complete absence of roads linking the backpackers’ paradise of Long Beach with anywhere else on the island. The only way to circumnavigate this diminutive drop in the ocean and its various sandy enclaves, diving and snorkeling points is via boat, with handy water taxis always on hand to ferry you to your desired location. These sea bound answers to the dreaded tuk tuk come with the added boon of trustworthy drivers and clearly set prices, so you won’t find yourself wasting half a day haggling to secure a reasonable fare. Another option for getting about is trekking. A 20-minute stride through the jungle behind Long Beach in the right direction, will take you to the even quieter climes of Coral Beach, a stunning spot from which to catch a mesmeric sunset. I tried this, failed and ended up not too far from where I began, a few dozen mosquito bites the richer for my endeavours. With a superior sense of direction and a can of the obligatory bug spray, you may fair better... One major selling point of a trip to Kecil is the diving – some of the best priced and most stunning you’ll find anywhere in the world... or so the divers in my midst assured me. And there were a lot of them, plunging to the depths, with twenty-metre visibility, often for as little as 60RM a pop. For the uninitiated, of which I am one, the snorkeling trips offered around the island prove mindblowing in themselves. The prevalence of incredibly vibrant coral, makes for a seriously psychedelic underwater experience for all, without the need to team up, tank up and drop to new depths. With sea turtles, sharks and sting-ray among the marine life promised to the average day tripper, these certainly prove a rewarding experience. But it doesn’t end there. If you haven’t heard one of the calmer and more erudite of your party yelling “awww, look it’s Nemo” before the end of the day, then your trip will not have been complete.

A morning visitor outside our bungalow

Kecil, as stated, means small, thus it should come as little surprise that the island is also rather quiet. Those seeking the kind of intensity of nightlife a full moon party can serve up need not apply. Neon pink body paint, glow sticks, Samsong buckets and hoards of beered up geezers grappling you in sweaty hugs couldn’t be further your mind as you negotiate Long Beach’s four bars, none of which ever seem to fill up. If a dancefloor does emerge, it invariably boasts little more than a few bar tenders busting a groove, a barely cognisant European guy or two with far more confidence than their frankly robotic dance moves deserve and a couple of ladies who defences will inevitably be broken down by either/or before the night is out. For most, however, candlelight and a shisha become the order of the evening, accompanied by the odd slug on a bottle of the local rum. With relaxation the ambient vibe, it isn’t long before most of the island’s visitors slip away for a relatively early night in order to make the most of the next day on one of the continent’s most stunning destinations. And whether they’ll be found soaking up the sun, lost in a book, kicking a ball over a net with some uber-flexible locals or several metres under the ocean chasing a shark around a wreck, there can be little doubt they’ll be having the time of their life. Perhentian Kecil is a mission to get to, it was even harder to get away from, but I for one will definitely be heading back.


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Are you a South East Asia Expert?

Crossword created by Tanya Procychyn of Answers on page 58.

Across 3. The month when Father’s 15. Cambodia’s King 1941-1955 27. Better known for beaches and 1993-2004 (hint: there’s and bars, this island’s Day (and the King’s birthday) is celebrated in a beach town named after newest attraction is a big (8) Buddha on a hill (6) Thailand (8) him!) 17. Coconut milk, seafood and 32. Bangkok’s airport code (3) 5. The Malay word for ‘cat’ or a city in Borneo (7) noodles make this spicy soup 33. Year that the first Full Moon Party was held 6. Get a bird’s eye view of this from Malaysia and Singapore (5) (spell it out!) (18) capital from the Petronas Twin Towers (11) 19. Hippie hangout in Mae Hong 34. Head to Phonsavan to see (3) the Plain of (4) 9. The “dragons” are not Son 20. The king of Asian fruits (6) 35. Join a dolphin-watching tour imaginary on this small Indonesian island (6) 24. Slang for ‘coffee’ or a in this Cambodian town (5) densely populated island (4) 36. Wash a Buddha statue 10. The traditional outfit of 25. After a few Chang beers then join a water fight to Vietnam - get one custom-made in Hoi An (5) you’ll be relieved to know the celebrate this Thai holiday (7) L aos was once known as Thai word for “bathroom” (7) 13. “Lan Xang” - land of a million(9)


1. Pedal-powered transport in Cambodia (5) 2. The queen of Asian fruits (10) 3. The capital of East Timor (4) 4. This hotel takes credit for inventing the “Singapore Sling” (7) 6. What the ATMs in Vientiane dispense (3) 7. Tony Jaa is a master of this martial art (8) 8. Would you like sticky rice with this salad? (6) 11. The book “The Beach” was actually inspired by this country (11)


12. The mausoleum for this 22. This mountain town is worth Vietnamese leader is in the 9-hour train ride from Hanoi, not the city renamed in Hanoi (4) his honour (9) 23. Why backpackers swarm to 14. Bangkok’s weekend shopping Vang Vieng! (5) mecca (9) 26. This Wat is so famous it’s 15. The 5th season of this reality on a flag (5) show was filmed on Koh 27. What’s for breakfast (or lunch Tarutao, Thailand (8) or dinner) in Hanoi? (3) 16. Myanmar money (4) 28. Don’t shake hands in 18. There’s no vaccine for this Thailand, press your palms tropical disease carried by together in this traditional mosquitoes (6) greeting (3) 21. Feel like a millionaire by 29. The language of Malaysia changing your money to this and Indonesia (6) currency, $1 USD is worth 30. Singapore’s mixed-up over 20,000! (4) animal mascot (7) 31. How the Vietnamese say “hi” (7)

Each row, column and box must contain each of the numbers 1-9.

6 1 2 7 6 9 8 3 7 5 8 5 9 7 1 6 2 8 9 7 8 6 9 1 3 2

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S.E.A Backpacker 43

B off the beaten track:

g n i k i b d a Qu . . . a i d o b IN cam It’ll be easy. Just don’t look down. “Don’t look down” became my mantra, repeated over and over with a steady rhythm under my breath. I took in a deep lungful of air, held my eyes steadily on the dirt road at the other end of the bridge and eased the four-wheeled motorbike forward. Quad bikes and I do not have a good history. My last ride on a quad bike had ended with the bulky machine on top of me in a lonely paddock when I was 11 years old. The impressive black bruises on my thighs stayed visible for months. This was my first time back on a quid bike since that traumatic childhood experience. Blazing Trails have consistently been rated the number one thing to do in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh on the Trip Advisor website over the past few years. Although the legitimacy of Trip Advisor reviews has come into question recently it would be nearly impossible to rate so well and have so many glowing appraisals without doing something right. I was on the sunset tour; a two hour ride which offers a voyeuristic look at the everyday life of people living in the rural outskirts of Phnom Pehn. The base for Blazing Trails is located near the notorious Choeung Ek, the most well-known of the Cambodian Killing Fields and the tour takes in the farm land surrounding the mass grave site. Riding quad bikes along country roads is a unique way in which to observe local village life and an excellent way to get off the beaten tourist trail of temples, markets then more temples. As part of the tour we visited village shops, stopped for a refreshing drink made from sugar cane which tasted like a liquid version of barley sugar lollies and watched the sunset over the river while drinking fresh coconut milk. At one point the ride was held up by a herd of cows being moved from paddock to paddock. While waiting for the cows to pass I noticed a teenage boy discreetly take our photo using his mobile phone. It was a surreal experience to be considered a novelty by the local inhabitants. I was fearful enough bringing up the rear of our touring group on the dirt tracks that served as roads, taking corners impossibly slowly,


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Photos by Adam Hargreaves

before I saw the bridge. I didn’t want to re-enact an Indiana Jones movie. I don’t have the skill, reflexes or the hand eye coordination. The wooden bridge looked like it might once had been a sturdy construction however by the time I got to cross it is in serious need of repair. There were numerous palings missing and the only way to cross is to keep all four of the wheels of the quad bike on the cross palings that have been laid over the missing planks. Despite my mantra I do look down. What I see is the brown water of the river flowing under the bridge. I do a quick mental assessment of my swimming skills, weight of my clothing and estimated strength of the currents. If this bridge fails I don’t give myself a good chance of making it. I remind myself to keep breathing then look back up at the end of the bridge. I try to keep as steady a speed as possible despite my distress and keep the bike on the cross palings. Looking back across the rickety construction from the other side all I could think about is how I’m going to get back to base. I’m grateful when we were lead onto a major road with trucks, cars and motorbikes of the twowheeled variety all jostling for position. The trip was a fantastic, adrenalin fuelled adventures and a fantastic glimpse off the beaten track into authentic Cambodian living. I would recommend it to all backpackers visiting Phnom Penh. (Words by Bianca Gravina-Price / Photography by Adam Hargreaves.) Bianca Gravina-Price grew up smack bang in the middle of suburban Melbourne, a situation which would make anyone want to get out and see the world! Her current travel obsession is South East Asia, where she goes every Australian winter to get a good dose of vitamin D and ward off the winter blues. Bianca writes the blog ‘Day Jaunts’ ( exploring her home state, Victoria, Australia through the eyes of a traveller, so that she can pretend that she is on holiday throughout the rest of the year.

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TBRaveller thoughts, stories, tips: Identify Your Identity:

Changes you can Expect to Experience During Backpacking... Before you packed your bag, made an itinerary, or said goodbye to your friends and family: you were you. While maybe one of the reasons you set out on this journey was to do some soul searching, for the most part, you have already defined yourself: funny, shy, trendy; likes to read, likes to cook, likes to party. Yet no matter what words you choose to describe yourself, the clothes you wear, or even how you treat other people, all of this is bound to change to some degree while on the road. Everyone has their own journey, whether it be for one month or one year. No matter the duration, the people you meet, challenges you overcome, and experiences you have will inevitably change you. This isn’t a bad thing, merely a reality check; something to prepare yourself for at the beginning of the trip, or more realistically, at the end. Because it isn’t until you reappear on your home doorstep that the changes all become blindingly obvious. What kinds of changes exactly are you wondering will take place? Well for starters, your wardrobe will shift. What was once your favorite old t-shirt somehow got chucked out to make room for all those new beer singlets you’ve picked up along the way. What you once saw as the most hideously huge Hammer pants are now the most comfortable thing you own. And to top it all off, you arm is an ever-increasing collection of ‘jenky’ bracelets that showcase all the memories and good times you’ve had. While these bracelets look ‘hippie’ and ‘dirty’ to the outside world, you’ll find yourself fiercely protective of them when returning home, refusing to cut them off as if they were another limb. Also, your horizon will broaden and things you once disliked might become something you love. From spicy foods to musical taste, you will be exposed to a whole new world of options on the road. Slowly but surely your opinions will change about world politics, places you want to visit, and even what you choose to eat. Other changes will involve your personality. With false information, long bus journeys, and bamboozling of all sorts, your patience is bound to be tested. By the time you return home you will surely find yourself more tolerant of other people and situations. Suddenly that loud-mouthed person on the tube isn’t so annoying; nor is that that seemingly endless line at the market. Somehow the little things that used to get under your skin so much barely register on your radar. You’re usually too busy appreciating the conveniences now so abundant that just weren’t available whilst backpacking! And, one of the most popular changes, yet surprising to the individual, is a complete change of direction in life. When setting off for the adventure, you probably saw it as a small opportunity to blow off some steam after graduating, perhaps a short break from a few years of working hard in the real world? No matter the situation, you’ve planned on going home and staying there merely to plan short vacations in the future. But before you return home you find


yourself longing for more adventure already and planning your next trip. Perhaps a new destination like South America, or a return to a favorite beach bungalow in Thailand, or even the possibility for long term work as an English teacher as the mere thought of returning to the “real world” becomes frightening. This is the big sign that something major has shifted within you. For all travellers this is natural, common, and nothing to be afraid of. But to your friends and family back home this is terrifying. They might actually lose you to this mysterious and foreign world that you call backpacking and this is disconcerting. But then there is that one side effect rarely talked about but massively important: inspiration. While you friends back home might become jealous or bitter about your disappearance and constant upbeat status updates, you might have just inspired some to venture out into the unknown themselves. You make it seem so effortless and fun, why can’t they do it? Travelling long-term is a foreign concept to many people and something never to consider doing alone. But if they know someone who’s done it that can offer advice, experience and possible companionship, well, why not take the leap themselves? No matter what, throughout your life your style will alter, opinions mature, and preferences modify. This journey is just another step in growing up and while the transformation within yourself can be surprising and unexpected, it’s the inspiration you offer to others that make the big difference. Because not only is this journey bound to change you, you are bound to change the world.

(By Stephanie Katz)


1. Mismatched flip flops. 2. Plain rice/instant noodles take up the majority of your diet. 3. You save every seasoning packet in case it could save an otherwise flavorless rice/noodle meal later. 4. Always the bitch, never the driver of a moto. 5. You prepare your own buckets and bring them to the bar. 6. You’ve repaired several holes in the same clothes. 7. You’ve stopped washing clothes, body, etc. to cut corners. 8. You never order a full meal in anticipation of eating the leftover’s from everyone else’s meal.

9. A hammock constitutes a legitimate bed. 10. You’ve shaved your head to save on shampoo.

travel writers: t Asia Calling all buddinbygtrav Eas ellers passing through South

By Stephanie Katz

is written eriences and viewpoints S.E.A Backpacker Magazine fresh new writers with new exp e hav to aim right now. It’s our contributing every month. to hear from you. travel writing, we would love of t spo a at d han r you cy you like to So if you fan ews or any random scribbling any articles, stories, book revi d sen se Plea info@southeastasiabackpacke with articles you submit. If possible try to include photos y with news of whether your awa We’ll get back to you right next issue. words will be appearing in the Happy Travelling! Thanks for your support and


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It’s a cliché isn’t it? You can’t really tick South East Asia off your list until you’ve been on a meditation retreat. And for those of us travelling to ‘find ourselves,’ (ah come on, just admit it...) ten days in a meditation centre seems like a small price to pay for enlightenment. Definitely worthwhile if it means you can remain annoyingly serene in the face of the cynical remarks that your ‘unenlightened’ friends will insist on making once you’re home. I rather fancied the idea of my ‘Zen’ alter ego. I saw myself gliding serenely around the monastery with an esoteric expression on my face, commanding the respect and awe of my fellow monks and nuns. I saw myself emerging ‘butterfly-esque’; enlightened and ready to solve the world’s problems with my newfound knowledge and radiant innerpeace. That’s what I saw. And I’m a pretty mellow person by nature. I felt pretty confident that despite never having meditated before, I’d have no trouble bypassing the guided meditation retreats (for the plebs, clearly) and plunging straight into the ‘real thing.’ I enrolled at a famous meditation centre in Burma. Self-directed. Pure. The timetable I was handed upon entry into the centre allocated 15 hours to meditation, between 4am and 11pm. I smiled optimistically (read: naively). The first day I earnestly rose at 3am (this in itself is a miracle) and spent eight hours in “meditation”. I’m not sure if it counts as meditation when you peek at the clock every five minutes, but still, my body was there so I’m counting it. The next day I woke feeling as though I’d been hit by a steamroller. I slept 15 hours that day (exactly the amount I should have spent meditating, quite a nice symmetry I thought). After that things deteriorated somewhat. You really learn a lot about yourself when placed in an environment conducive to EXTREME boredom. If you had looked into my room at any given moment over the next four days you might have seen me: Standing on my head (just an urge) Scrubbing the bathroom floor Hand-washing every item of clothing in my pack Painting my toenails Drawing up a full personality profile for the girl across the hall Singing every song I knew, and many that I didn’t (“How do you solve a problem like Maria?” was a recurring theme) Absent - because I’d snuck out to buy chocolate and check my email

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The monk I reported to told me that my mind was like a “forest monkey”, jumping between branches. “But what if the monkey is happy?” I replied. I wasn’t trying to be cheeky, but everyone in the room gasped. The monk just chuckled, gave me a Coke, and told me to come back any time. I liked him. I lasted only six days at the centre, before making a break and hotfooting it back to my guesthouse. I’ve never been so happy to see another tourist, and spent the next four days talking non-stop to anyone and everyone who’d listen. I felt much calmer after that. So let’s just say, this “butterfly” is still very much a caterpillar. Sigh... I guess those cynical friends back home won’t be getting a slap after all. Moral of the story – if you will dabble in the art of enlightenment, don’t be cocky – try a guided retreat!



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I NTERVIEW: Se Asia Faces & places



n our brand new INTERVIEW feature, ‘South East Asia Faces & Places’ we talk to long term travellers, expats and locals about what they are doing and what it is like to live in South East Asia. We talk to everyone, from local fishermen, DJ’s, business owners, teachers, expats, long term hippies and beach bums. This month, we talk to the lovely, Anna Cleal, a New Zealander, and Director of a brand new, pioneering company ‘Flip Flop Tours’. Anna got in touch with us after reading the Philippines article which appeared in the last issue of S.E.A. Backpacker Magazine. She was dying to tell us more about the amazing travel opportunities for backpackers in the Philippines and dispel any doubts people may have about visiting the country. In an exclusive interview, Anna tells us why she loves the 7,107 islands and the aims of her company in opening up this beautiful country and giving backpackers their first taste of the Philippines experience!

How long have you been in South East Asia? I first visited South East Asia after I finished University in 2006. I did the backpacking circuit through Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand and absolutely fell in love with the place. It was my first time travelling to the developing world and it was a real eye opening, shaping time of my life. By 2008 I was back in South East more permanently.

How did you come to live in South East Asia? To be honest it wasn’t travel but work that drew me to the Philippines in the first place. My civil engineering company had a few projects on in the southern island of Mindanao and I gladly took the opportunity to work overseas. I think it went something like this; “Do you want to get paid to go and work in the Philippines?” Me: “Hmm let me think about that one long and hard – YES!” Before this, I knew very little about the country. I remember reading that the Philippines had a population of over 80 million people and wondered why I’d never heard much about it!

What do you love about The Philippines? Without hesitation, the people! Meeting Filipinos and connecting with the culture has been my absolute highlight. The Philippines is actually the second largest English speaking country in the world, so you can connect with locals at a personal level from day dot. I think this makes it a unique experience compared to other Asian countries. Filipinos are known to be incredibly accommodating and friendly people, maybe it’s something to do with the number of islands they have in their country! Second, it would have to be the beaches Oh so many beaches! I’m a summer person at heart so I just love it. Even after three years living here I’m still making new discoveries. There is so much to explore; tropical islands, amazing corals, underwater life, dramatic landscapes, rice fields, friendly locals living off the sea, mangoes, coconuts... paradise island life!

Where is your favourite place in The Philippines?


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That’s a tough one. I think I have more favourite moments here, rather than favourite places. I’m not so much in ‘box-tick, sight-see mode’ but in ‘soak up, live-and-breathe-it mode’. Hopefully that will come through in the tour I’m currently creating. I think some of the best times you have when you are travelling are when something doesn’t go to plan and you end up in a random place having a random conversation that leaves a real impact on you. Those are the things you remember.

Why are backpackers maybe put off visiting The Philippines? Most of the time I feel like people just haven’t heard much about it (which is criminal) but there are some bad reputations attached to the country as well. The southern island of Mindanao frequently gets media attention for violence, however it is important to remember that this is a very small part of the overall Philippines and there are so many places untouched by violence. There have also been well publicicised hostage situations in the past. I’d advise everyone to read through travel warnings and make their own decisions. All I can say is that I’ve been here for three years and I’ve found it an incredibly welcoming place where the people are genuinely helpful. My experiences have been only positive and I’ve met many other travellers that feel the same. The only other deterrent is perhaps accessibility. With people preferring to stick to the landlocked South East Asian countries where you travel everywhere by train or bus. However, this really shouldn’t be an issue as the reality is that you can fly from all of the Asian hubs like Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Singapore or China for a really cheap rate. Just check out some of the Cebu Pacific deals or Air Asia going to Clark (just north of Manila).

Compared to other South East Asian countries - can you tell us about ease of travel / safety / costs? I would say ease of travel is just as good as other parts of Asia, with the added bonus of English! It is harder to find information on the internet, and harder to find other people to meet and travel with, just because the Philippines isn’t so much on the backpacker radar yet - but that’s what I’m hoping the tour can overcome! has recently included the Philippines on

their website, so I think this will be a great ‘go to’ spot for information. Cost wise, I would say that the Philippines is slightly more expensive in terms of accommodation than the rest of South East Asia, but food and drinks are the same. Safety wise, as I mentioned, I have never experienced a problem, but there are certainly areas to avoid, for example some inner suburb areas of Manila. Like travelling to any country you have to be careful and do your research beforehand.

Tell us about “Flip Flop Tours” and what you hope to achieve? I’m really passionate about travel and what we all learn when we travel. You step outside your way of life, enter someone else’s shoes, marvel at the differences, then realise despite all the cultural differences we’re actually all very similar. If you can get to that last stage I think that is the beauty of travelling. The focus of Flip Flop Tours is to get to know people in the Philippines. I recently spent three months volunteering in the island of Bohol in 2010 and from that point on I knew I wanted to come up with a tourism package that would be both beneficial to those coming into the country in what they learnt from the experience, and beneficial to locals through investing money into some of the smaller communities here. On the tour, people do spend some nights in beach resorts but more often we stay with locals. There are also community projects that we visit along the way. However, true to our name, we also realise the importance of relaxing and enjoying the beaches! The importance of donning your flip flops, kicking back and living that care free beach life we all love. Obviously the diving and snorkeling here is first class, so there is plenty of time to enjoy this aspect of the Philppines too. I wouldn’t say it’s a sight-seeing tour - I’d like to think that people will take more away from it than a bunch of photos in nice spots!

What destinations will ‘Flip Flop Tours’ cover? The first tour package we have developed is an introduction to the Philippines. It’s a 12-day all inclusive package (food, accomommodation and transport.) When you enter the Philippines you receive an automatic 21-day visa so we envisage that people can come on the tour, meet other travellers, have a blast, and then do some independent travelling which I think is really important. The aim is to encourage people who may not have been confident enough to travel to the country alone, to find their feet in a group to begin with! The tour covers five islands in the Visayan region of the Philippines. They are all close and accessible by boat / van / jeepney / tricycle so there isn’t too much travel time. The trip starts in Bohol then goes via Cebu to the small islands of Malapascua and Bantayan (at the northern tip of Cebu). We then travel to Bacolod City in Negros to get a taste of Philippines City life, and finally travel through Panay (overnighting in Antique) and ending up in Boracay. Boracay is a real party island so we finish the tour with a bit of bang and let people go their own way from here. I’d definitely recommend that you check out our website for more info.

Where can backpackers go from here? Boracay is a great place to idle but it’s also fairly commercial so if people want to get off the beaten track again quickly they can head to the nearby Romblon islands, catch a boat to Mindoro, or a flight back to Manila and then check out Palawan, the whale sharks of Donsol, North Luzon rice terraces, whatever! Internal flights are extremely cheap in the Philippines, and there are even cheaper overnight boats running from most of the ports. We can help customers plan the rest of their Philippines adventure but we also encourage people to find their own path in the country.

Where are some unmissable spots in The Philippines? The Philippines in general is just a really unmissable place! Don’t miss it ok? Ok?! If you want any more information feel free to contact us through our website. I’m happy to share information about the Philippines even if it is unrelated to the tour. My only hope is that more backpackers have the opportunity to experience this place. I believe that travel in the developing world, done the right way, is an excellent means of supporting the local economy, giving people work, and changing your perspective on life. That’s the Flip Flop way!


Got a story to tell? Your friends always saying you should write a book? Or do you just want to wax lyrical about the wonderful life you lead in South East Asia? If you would like to be considered for an interview with S.E.A Backpacker ‘Faces & Places’ - get in touch! Email: S.E.A Backpacker



Veggin’ in Vietnam All I really had to base my argument on was a pho restaurant in San Diego and a very Chinese influenced place in my hometown in Indiana, but from these paltry options I assumed that Vietnam would be great for vegetarians. Some noodle soup with vegetables, spring rolls, rice, stir-fried vegetables - what else would I need? When I visited Vietnam, however, it turned out to be an amazingly diverse food country. Over 500 different dishes originated there, and, unfortunately (at least for me), a lot of the most popular contain meat. Banh bao (pork dumplings) and banh mi (egg and meat in a baguette) are on nearly every corner, from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi. Pho (rice vermicelli in broth), the country’s unofficial national dish, is most often prepared with beef in the north (pho bo) or chicken (pho ga) in the south. There are, of course, vegetarian alternatives to each of these dishes. But the best food, for the best price and experience, (everybody knows) is found on the street. When a street vendor gives you pho ‘chay’ (vegetarian pho), the odds are good that you are looking at a meat broth with all the big chunks ladled out. This made street pho a nogo, which was pretty tragic for me. Fortunately, there is always Pho 24, an inexpensive, slightly cheesy, but decent countrywide pho joint. Banh mi is by far the easiest street meal to get without meat, because the ingredients are easy to see and it’s made to order. Banh mi chay is a baguette stuffed with fried egg, marinated vegetable (usually cucumber, sometimes carrot as well), chili sauce and soy sauce. There is usually meat nearby though, and the vendor won’t hesitate to slice your baguette on a chopping block shared by a slab of flesh. So if you’re a vegetarian who needs absolutely no contact between what goes into your body and what was once moving, be cautious! Banh bao chay was harder to find. My travel partner (also vegetarian) and I had heard that it existed, but had a real hard time finding it. When we finally did, on a side street near the citadel in Hue, it was sort of a deflating experience. The woman gave us what appeared to be a steamed dumpling, but turned out to be oddly sweet steamed bread, with no filling. We found it again in Hanoi, with the same result. I had assumed it would be stuffed with veggies, or beans, or some sort of savory, delicious and nourishing filling, but no such luck - just sweet bread. And this is part of how my travel partner and I ended up addicted to sweets! Sweet, dessert-like foods are the easiest foods to be absolutely sure are vegetarian. Cake does not contain meat, and neither do cookies, mousses, puddings, or any of the thousand Vietnamese variations on glutinous rice. My favorite being deep fried glutinous rice balls, filled with a sweet mung bean paste and then glazed with sugar and sesame seeds. Women wander around the Old Quarter in Hanoi selling these for 1,000 dong a pop! At home, I don’t go in much for sweets, but in ‘Nam I got into them in a big way. I crossed over, if you will, to the dark side, a strange world occupied by energy spikes, irregular bowels, and post-meal cravings, all cloaked in an opaque curtain of condensed milk. We attempted to battle these cravings by searching out quan cafes (cheap restaurants) that are advertised as chay (vegetarian). These are usually Buddhist-run, and can be very good and affordable (main dishes that I


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ordered ran anywhere between 10,000-30,000 Dong, which is $0.50 - $1.50 USD). However, there’s not much variation or creativity. Most of the dishes are attempts at exact recreation of traditional Vietnamese dishes using soy products in place of meat. This is great for vegetarians who are veggie for moral, ethical or health reasons, but miss the taste and texture of meat. For those of us who were always a bit squeamish about meat to begin with, it’s not so great. At one quan cafe, I asked for no tofu, and received a plate full of, well, tofu. I explained that I did not want tofu, and the woman in charge said “not tofu.” “Well, what is it?” I asked. “Vegetable.” She said. “It’s not vegetable, it’s tofu.” I said. “It is vegetable. It’s beans” she replied. Well, she had me there. Tofu is made of soybeans. I ceded the point and asked instead to replace the “beans” with anything green. My request was granted. Vegetarians do miss out on certain experiences in Vietnamese cuisine, that’s for sure. But travelling vegetarians gain some experiences as well, not the least of which is being positive that you’re never eating dog! Most of our best meals began with quests: Where can we find a quan cafe chay? What street has the best veggie banh mi? We also found that many locals went out of their way to be extremely helpful, from giving us addresses of out-of-the-way spots, to taking us to those places themselves and sharing meals with us, negotiating the price down to a local rate (in one case it was three plates full of food for 22,000 dong – slightly over $1 USD). We received tips on foods to look for, and price cuts on dishes without meat. The people we encountered, by and large, were eager to be a part of our quest, pulling in their friends, cousins, uncles, etc to help as well. From this, we learned one of the fundamental lessons of Vietnam; nothing is done alone. We tasted some of the best and worst of Vietnam, without a scrap of flesh, and we could never have accomplished it without help. Words by Mary Mann, photos by Dana Hills.

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w Book Revie

How to Make a Living in Paradise Southeast Asia Edition By Philip Wylie (2010) If you love South East Asia and are forever dreaming up business ideas that will allow you to stay here in this tropical paradise, then this practical guidebook may just be what you need! There comes a time when you need to stop dreaming and make those dreams a reality - and to do that I’m afraid that you’ll need to do your homework and some thorough research first. In this guidebook, the author, Wylie covers all the obstacles you are likely to encounter during your transition from a highly structured and controlled life of routine to a freer and more relaxed lifestyle in South East Asia. It’s a great starting point for all those considering the ‘great escape.’ A common regret of expats is that they didn’t leave their home country earlier. The biggest obstacle to their freedom is fear, which is usually misconceived. As any expat will tell you, leaving home for adventure usually enriches our life rather than endangers it. In reality, we have little to lose, but much knowledge and experience to gain. If it goes ‘tits-up,’ we can always return home! Wylie, who is from England, wrote this guidebook after working as a business consultant, real estate broker and franchise manager in Thailand. He wanted to share some of the knowledge he’d learnt along the way to help other people to escape England’s grey skies and seek a better lifestyle under the Thai sun. How to Make a Living in Paradise was written for travellers who are smitten with South East Asia and are serious about making a living here. The book covers each of the main ways of doing business: starting up a new business, buying an established business (without subsequent surprises), or buying a franchise. The process of buying an independent business or a franchise is explained. If you have specialized skills and a penchant for networking there is also the attractive option of working as a freelance. When Wylie worked as a business consultant he noticed that foreigners were making the same mistakes in business, time and time again. People establish limited companies and later realised that they didn’t need it; and many buyers don’t conduct independent research (or due diligence) on their investment. This book has been written by seasoned expats and travelers in Southeast Asia, who have made the mistakes for you! The tips and guidance should save thousands of dollars and many hours of your time cutting through the red tape and other hindrances. There’s also information about the practicalities of passports and visas, health issues and other money matters. The book is full of guidance on how to survive in a foreign country and earn a good living doing what you enjoy!


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So what can foreigners actually do here? Wylie has met all different types of characters, from the entrepreneurial businessman starting a rafting adventure company to the digital nomad, making his money from affiliate online marketing.The 12 most popular ways to earn a living in South East Asia are: 1) employment with an international or foreign-owned company; 2) teaching English as a foreign language; 3) owning a local tourist-oriented business; 4) real estate and business brokering; 5) property development and management; 6) online trading and auctions; 7) freelance consulting of specialist services; 8) writing and publishing; 9) volunteering; 10) website development; 11) import/export and manufacturing; 12) online day trading of the financial markets. The main message of the book is that ‘escape’ is without doubt possible. And there are thousands of people who are now living in paradise doing what they love. If you are adventurous, go-getting and determined, you will succeed! There are many opportunities for resourceful people to make a living in South East Asia, even though the economic climate is more challenging now than in the past. For those who are unsure of the responsibilities of setting up a business, teaching is a fantastic way to get a taster of life in South East Asia, whilst giving something back to the local community. Many people who teach here to begin with, go on to fall in love with the culture and set up businesses at a later date. There are lots of teaching opportunities in Southeast Asia, particularly in Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam. Many people who work with NGO’s are based in Indonesia and Myanmar; while adventurous business pioneers are attracted to Cambodia and Vietnam. How to Make a Living in Paradise is available as paperback from Asia Books, Amarin Books and other top bookstores across Southeast Asia for 395 baht; and as an e-book from &


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By Penelope Atkinson


than tu g n ie V g n a V ’s more to

. .. m r a F ic n a g r O s ’ T r M o t e m o lc



If you’ve been to Vang Vieng’s town centre you’ll be familiar with the alcohol buckets, 24-hour ‘Friends’ marathons and souvenir shops that compose the backpacker enclave. You’ll definitely be familiar with the tubing scene. You may not, however, have heard of Mr. T’s organic farm. It is only 4km away from Vang Vieng’s town centre, but it feels another world away from the hedonistic tubing and party culture. The farm, which has been running for 15 years now, was founded by the charismatic Thanongsi Sorangkoun (also known as ‘Mr. T’) “with the goal of introducing organic farming methods in an area where chemicals and deforestation were ruining the land.” When I rang the farm from the town centre to ask for directions, I was lucky that Mr. T, a Laotion biologist, had a gap in his usually hectic schedule and kindly offered to pick me in his truck. I was impressed by this older but sprightly and dapper gent, (in pressed jeans, a clean shirt and v-neck jumper) who swept up my heavy backpack into back of the truck before springing lithely into the driver’s seat. Upon our arrival, Mr. T disappeared and I was left a little confused as to what to do with myself. Two young, local ladies - and permanent residents (wages support the many villagers who work here, and profits provide assistance for the whole community) - were bagging mulberry tealeaves for sale at the farm restaurant, so I tried to make myself useful assisting them. Although I suspect they probably had to re-do my clumsy attempts at bag stapling and labeling later! Thankfully a couple of other guests relaxing in the restaurant were able to give me the run down. It was pretty simple; just turn up and muck in with the different activities happening daily. Of course, talking to some of the more long-term volunteers was also the best way to find out how a rookie on the farm can get involved most effectively. Life on the farm adheres to a cyclical rhythm with a typical day for most guests beginning at 7:30am (or even earlier if they’re milking the resident goats), with a hearty breakfast in the farm’s organic restaurant.


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The enthusiastic backpacker need never be bored as there are a range of daily ventures and tasks get involved in. From teaching English in the local schools, helping in the kitchen or contributing to the myriad of physical jobs that occur every day on your average organic farm, the choice is yours. Work is not mandatory however. Guests can also while away the time reading in the garden or hire a bike and explore the natural beauty of Vang Vieng. Visitors may participate as much or little as they choose, although those who are boarding in the dorm room and contributing at least four hours a day receive a hefty accommodation discount. Whilst I was at the farm, a project in constructing mud houses was under operation. All the work was done through traditional methods using spades, wheelbarrows and our bodies! Most enjoyable was preparing the mud; performed with rolled up shorts and bare feet standing knee deep inside a dug out hole and squelching mud beneath our feet. Many hands made light work: heavy mud bricks were passed along in a construction line of volunteers and laid out in the sun to dry. Once dry, these bricks were cemented together with even more

mud to create the skeleton of a house. Then, bare hands were employed to spread and smear more mud over these bricks to create beautifully smooth walls. A mixture of twisted grass vines and (surprise, surprise) yet more mud were used to create decorative designs along the bare walls. If getting dirty isn’t your cup of (organic mulberry) tea, Mr. T has also made arrangements for volunteers to work in a couple of the local schools, just a five minute bicycle ride away. This became my afternoon contribution and I assisted some of the more long-term volunteers in the classroom. Not all of the volunteers may have been as proficient as trained TEFL teachers but it gave the children a chance to interact with foreigners and brought a little variety and excitement into their day. In a cheesy but true travel moment, riding back to the farm on a bicycle borrowed from the farm, pedaled by a fellow volunteer, I smiled back at the children weaving around us on their own bicycles as they made their individual ways home. I would recommend the Organic Farm in Vang Vieng as a perfect opportunity for backpackers who want ‘to give a little back’ but don’t have the money to spend, or time to commit to long-term projects. It’s also great for those spontaneous ‘drop-in’ travellers who often have no idea where they’ll be the next day or how long they’ll be staying in one place. The farm also offers the flexibility of being able to assist on the farm as much as one feels like and try a variety of projects. It’s especially useful for budding gardeners who wish to learn more about organic farming methods. Being an outstanding model of permaculture and community action, with a delicious restaurant too, the farm attracts many curious visitors. Every day or so it was amusing to witness a coach load of retiree American tourists zooming in, just long enough for a quick tour of the farm and to eat plates of fried Mulberry leaves and organic honey in the restaurant. The retirement crew would then jet off again in their AC coach to fulfill their 3-week ‘Laos-Vietnam-Cambodia’ whistle-stop tour. They seemed pretty impressed at the altruism of the young volunteers: “hey you kids are doing a really great job!” Yet it didn’t feel like hard work or sacrifice at all. In fact, sitting in the evening with MAG goat’s AD JUNE.pdf 1 a mulberry 16/06/11tea 1:38 PM freshly bakedSEA bread, cheese and it only felt justified to give a little back.


Get clo

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, Tad L


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an g, V

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mo m e portant Im


Brunei Darussalam: Currency: Brunei Dollar, divided into 100 cents. Exchange rate: $1 USD = $1.23 BN Dollar Capital city: Bandar Seri Bagawan Main religion: Islam (official) 67% Buddhist (13%) Christian (10%) Indigenous beliefs (10%) Main language: Malay (official) English also widely spoken. Telephone code: +673 Time: GMT + 8 hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: Salam (Hello) Terimah kasih (Thank you) Visa: Nationals of most European countries, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and New Zealand do not need a Visa for visits of up to 30 days. USA citizens can stay for up to 90 days. Most other nationalities need to apply for a visa in advance which takes 1-3 days to process. (Single entry B$20 or multiple entry B$30) 72 hour transit visas are also available. Passports must be valid for up to 6 months before entering. Visa extension: Visas can be renewed at embassies in Bandar Seri Bagawan. Climate: Brunei experiences a hot, humid climate all year round. Most rainfall is between September and January, peaking in November and December, but this can vary. 1 random fact: As a Muslim country, the sale and public drinkingofalcoholinBruneiisstrictlyforbidden.Foreigners coming into the country are limited on how much they are allowed to bring in. Ambulance: 991 Fire: 995 Police: 993

Cambodia: Currency: Cambodian Riel (US Dollars accepted) Exchange rate: $1 USD = 4,060 KHR Capital city: Phnom Penh Main religion: Theravada Buddhism (95%) Main Language: Khmer Telephone code: +855 Time: GMT + 7 hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: Sua s’dei (Hello) Aw kohn (Thank you) Visa: Most nationalities can obtain a 1 month tourist Visa upon arrival which costs around $20. At land border crossings, notably the Thai/Cambodian border, the fee can be more expensive as the cost is paid in baht and is sometimes rounded up considerably. You will need 1 or 2 passportphotostoapply,oryouwillbechargedextra(usually only $1-2.) Passports must be valid for up to 6 months before entering. E-Visa: You can now apply for an E-visa online. Pre-order at: and your visa will cost $25 set price. Youwillneedadigitalphotoofyourselftoupload.Processing takes 3 days and you will get the visa straight to your mailbox. See official website for up to date info on which borders support the E-visa as not all of the crossings take it yet. Visa extension: Obtained at Phnom Penh immigration office, opposite International Airport. Tourist visas can be extended 1 month. (Around US$35) For longer extensions ask at Immigration Office. Penalty for late departure: US$5 / day. Climate: The hottest month is April with temperatures hitting 40 degrees. The wet season starts in May or June and lasts until October. The downpours are heavy and do not last long. The best season to visit is December to February, when there is little rain, low humidity and cool breeze. 1 random fact: The Tonle Sap Lake near Siem Reap is one of the largest Lakes in South East Asia. Every year during rainy season, its waters swell, transforming the lake from 160 km long to up to 250km at its peak. During this time,


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many Cambodians live off its plentiful supply of fish. In an emergency: Ambulance: 119 Fire: 118 Police: 117

East Timor: Currency: US Dollars Capital city: Dili Main religion: Catholic (90%) Main language: Tetun, Portuguese, Indonesian, English Telephone code: +670 Time: GMT + 9 hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: ola (hello) adeus (goodbye) Visa: Nationals from Europe, Australia, Canada and the USA do not need to arrange a visa in advance. They can be granted upon entry into East Timor and cost $30 for 30 days. Portuguese nationals can stay up to 90 days on a tourist visa. Passports must be valid for up to 6 months before entering. It is important to note that there are no currency exchange facilities at the airport or other border posts, so you will need to take cash before you travel. Visa extension: Visas can be extended for 30 days, costing up to $45. You must have a valid reason for staying. Penalty for late departure: Penalties range from $70 US - $150 US Dollar if the period does not exceed 30 days. Climate: The wet season is between December and April and the dry season occurs between May to November, with temperatures reaching very high. The best months to visit are between April and July. 1 random fact: East Timor became a Portuguese colony in the sixteenth century. The control continued on and off until East Timor declared independence in late 1975. Many Portugueseinfluencesstillremaininthelanguage,foodand culture. Emergency numbers: Ambulance: 7233212 Police: 112

Indonesia: Currency: Indonesian Rupiah Exchange rate: $1 USD = 8,625 IDR Capital city: Jakarta Main religion: Islam (88%) Main language: Bahasa Indonesia (official) There are also many regional dialects. Telephone code: +62 Time: GMT + 7 hours (Sumatra, Java) GMT + 8 hours (Bali, Sulawesi, Nusa Tenggara) GMT + 9 hours (Maluku and Papua) Hellos and Thank-you’s: Salam (hello) terimah kasih (thank you) Visa: Nationals of Australia, Canada, USA, UK and most European countries are eligible for a 30 day visa upon entry, which costs $25 USD. (Cost varies depending on point of entry.) The previous $10 7-day visa is no longer available. Payments can be made in US Dollars only. You will need 2 passport photographs and your passport must be valid for up to 6 months before entering. Penalty for late departure: Up to $20 / day. For more than 60 days overstay travellers risk deportation or imprisonment. Climate: Indonesia has just 2 seasons, wet season, which falls between April and October and dry season, which falls between May and September. Throughout all of the year the climate is hot and humid, although there are snow-capped peaks in the highlands of Papua. As Indonesia is such a long country,thedifferenceintheseasonsvaries.Insomeareas, thedistinctionbetweenthewetanddryseasonisgreat,such as the Nusa Tenggara when the wet season (December to February)canmaketransportdifficult,withroadfloodsand

ferry cancellations. In Sumatra, the rain falls from October to January in the North and from January to February in the South. In Bali there is little difference between the seasons where weather is similar all year round. 1 random fact: The komodo dragon, the largest living lizardintheworld,isindigenoustotheIndonesianislandsof Komodo, Rinca, Flores and Gili Motang in Indonesia. It can grow up to three metres long, weighing over 70kg. Emergency numbers: (Java) Fire: 113 Police: 110 Medical assistance: 118, 119

Laos: Currency: Lao KIP (US Dollars accepted) Exchange rate: $1 USD = 8,013 LAK Capital city: Vientiane Main religion: Buddhism Main language: Lao (official) Telephone code: +856 Time: GMT + 7 hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: Sabaydee (Hello) Khawp Jai (Thank you) Visa: Most nationalities can obtain a 30 day visa for Laos atinternationalairportsandlandbordercrossings.Thecost 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. Temperaturesduringthistimearethemostcomfortable,and can be quite cold in mountainous areas. The hottest time of the year is between March and May, with temperatures reaching 38 degrees. 1 random fact: Luang Prabang in Laos was made a UNESCO world heritage site in 1995. It is the ancient capital of the Lan Xang kingdom, which unified the country of Laos in the 14th century. It is home to many ancient and beautiful temple and monasteries. Emergency numbers: (Vientiane) Ambulance: 195 Fire: 190 Police: 191

Malaysia: Currency: Malaysian Ringgit Exchange rate: $1 USD = 3.00 MYR Capital city: Kuala Lumpur Main religion: Islam (official) Main language: Bahasa Melayu (official) Telephone code: +60 Time: GMT + 8 hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: Salam (Hello) Terimah kasih (Thank you) Visa: Most nationalities are granted a free 30-90 day entry pass upon arrival at international airports and border crossings.Passportsmustbevalidforatleast6monthsupon entering. Please note that Sarawak is a semi-autonomous state and upon entry your passport will be stamped and a new pass issued. Visa extension: Visas can be extended at Immigration offices in Malaysia. Fees depend on intended duration of stay. Climate: Malaysia’s climate is hot and tropical. The West

coast of Peninsular Malaysia experiences the monsoon season from May to September, with August being the wettest month. On the other hand, the East coast of the peninsula and Sabah and Sarawak experiences heavy rainfall between November and February. 1 random fact: Mount Kinabalu in Sabah, Malaysia is one of the highest peaks in South East Asia. Many people succeed in scaling its peak. The climb takes an average of 2 days and trekkers usually wake very early in the morning on the second day to experience the breathtaking sun rise on the pinnacle. Emergency numbers: Fire: 994 Police and Ambulance: 999

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.Thisscorchingheatisfollowedbythedownpours of June and October when the rainy season affects most of the country. The rains peak from July to September when typhoons are likely. 1 random fact: The tropical, hot and humid conditions of the Philippines means that flora and fauna thrive here. It is home to over 3500 species of plants and animals, The smallest monkey and the biggest fish in the world both reside here. Emergency numbers: Fire, Ambulance, Police: 117



Currency: Kyat (US Dollars used) Exchange rate: $1 USD = 6.41 MMK Capital city: Became Naypyidaw in 2005 Main religion: Buddhism Telephone code: +95 Time: GMT + 6 ½ hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: Min gala ba (Hello) Che zu Beh (thank you) Visa: Visa free entry is available at some border crossings for a short period. If you are going for the day to renew your Thailand Visa for example, you must enter and exit on the same day. Fees are around US$10. Longer visas should be arranged in advance at a travel agency or Myanmar Embassy. In Bangkok, at the Myanmar Embassy the cost is 810 baht for a 28 day visa, taking three days to process. Like the Vietnam visa, the cost depends on where you are and how long you mind waiting. It can range from $20 - $50. Your passport must be valid for at least 6 months. Visa extension: Visas can be extended for up to 14 days in Yangon. Ask at embassy for details of costs. Weather: May to mid-October is the rainy season in Myanmar.FebruarytoAprilisthehottesttime.Thebesttime tovisitisNovembertoFebruary,althoughtemperaturescan drop to freezing during these months in the highland areas. 1 random fact: Myanmar, (Burma) boasts an amazing 1,903 kilometres of coast line, home to many untouched, underdeveloped beaches. Emergency numbers: (Yangon) Ambulance: 192 Police: 199 Fire: 191

Currency: Singapore Dollar Exchange rate: $1 USD = 1.23 SGD Main religions: Taoist, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu and Muslim. Main language: English, Mandarin, Malay, Tamil Telephone code: +65 Time: GMT + 7 hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: Ni hao ma? (Hi, how are you) Xie xie (thank you) Visa: Citizens of Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, the UK and most other European countries are granted either a 14 or 30-day tourist pass upon entry to Singapore. Duration of pass depends on nationality and point of entry. USA citizens receive 90 days. Your passport must be valid for at least 6 months upon entering. Visa extension: Extensions of up to 90 days can be applied for at the consulate in Singapore. Climate: November to January see the most rain, however there are really no distinct seasons in Singapore. The weather is very similar all year round, hot and humid. 1 random fact: Singapore is one of the 20 smallest countriesintheworld.Thetotallandmassisapproximately 15,000 times smaller than the United States, with an area of only 682.7 square kilometers. Emergency numbers: Ambulance: 995 Police: 999 Fire: 995

The Philippines: Currency: Peso, divided into 100 centavos. Exchange rate: $1 USD = 43.2 PHP Capital city: Manila Main religion: Over 80% Catholic Main language: Filipino, English Telephone code: +63 Time: GMT + 8 hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: hello, kamusta ka (hello, how are you) salamat (thank you) Visa: Tourist visas are granted free of charge upon entry for most nationalities for a stay up to 21 days. However, you may be required to show valid tickets for an onward destination. For longer stays you should apply for a tourist visa before arrival at a Philippine Embassy. The cost for a three month single entry visa is usually $30, but ask at the embassy for up to date info. Longer visas for up to 12 months are available. Visas take two to three working days to process and passports must be valid for at least 6 months upon entering. Visa extension: When in the Philippines, you are able extend your 21 day visa for up to 59 days at immigration offices. Costs apply. Climate: The tropical climate of the Philippines can vary

Thailand: Currency: Thai Baht Exchange rate: $1 USD = 30 THB Capital city: Bangkok Main religion: 95% Theravada Buddhism Main language: Thai Telephone code: +66 Time: GMT + 7 hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: Sawasdee Ka/Krap (m/f) / Kop Khun Ka/Krap (m/f) Visa:Mostnationalities,includingAmericans,Australians and most Europeans receive a free 30 day tourist visa upon arrival into Thailand by air. However, if arriving by land you will only receive 15 days. Your passport must be valid for at least 6 months upon entering. Visa extension: Visas can be renewed for a fee at immigration points. The cost is 1900 baht for 7 days extra and it can be extended only once. If you leave the country and return, your visa will be renewed for free. You can exit and re-enter the country as many times as you like this way and most travel agents can arrange border runs to neighbouring countries. Penalty for late departure: 500 baht/day. The maximum fine for overstay that you can pay is 20,000 baht after this you may face deportation at your own cost or imprisonment. Climate: Most of Thailand experiences three seasons;

The cool season occurs during November to February, followed by the hot season, March to May, then the rainy season,betweenJuneandOctober.Aswithmanycountries in this part of the world, the wet season tends to consist of short, hard downpours. The time of the rainy season however, differs from the East coast to the West. The Andaman Coast (West) experiences monsoon from June to September (Phuket, Phi Phi, Krabi, Railay) whilst in the Gulf of Thailand (East) rains mostly fall during September to November. 1 random fact: The elephant is one of the national symbolsofThailand.Particularlythewhiteelephantishighly revered and associated with royalty. Closely connected with Thai people throughout history as an essential means if transport, the elephant is seen as instrumental in the building of the kingdom of Thailand itself. Emergency numbers: Ambulance: 1669 Fire: 199 Police: 191

Vietnam: Currency: Vietnamese Dong Exchange rate: $1 USD = 20,885 VND Capital city: Hanoi Main religion: Tam Giao (Triple religion – Confucionism, Taosim, Buddhism) Main language: Vietnamese (official) Telephone code: +84 Time: GMT + 7 hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: Sin chao (Hello) Cam on (thank you) Visa: Visas for entering Vietnam must be arranged in advance. You can do this at the Vietnamese embassies in whichever country you are in and some travel agencies also offer the service. Depending on where you apply for it and how long you mind waiting, (on average from 1 day to 4 days), it can cost anywhere between $35 and $65 for a 30 day visa. You will need 1 passport sized photograph and your passport must be valid for at least 6 months upon entering. Visa extension: 30 day extensions can be obtained from travel agents in Hanoi, HCMC or Danang. The process can take up to 5 days and the fee is usually US$30. Climate: The climate of North and South Vietnam differ greatly,withgenerallyahottropicalclimateintheSouthand hot summers and cold winters in the North. The monsoon season is between May and October which brings rain to most of the country. The central coast can experience typhoons between August and November. 1 random fact: Vietnam has a flourishing film industry. Filmshavebeenhonouredatfilmfestivalsaroundtheworld, includingVeniceandtheAcademyAwards.‘Thescentofthe Green Papaya’ was the first highly esteemed Vietnamese filmofthetwentiethcentury,nominatedfortheBestForeign Language film at the 1993 Academy Awards. Emergency numbers: Ambulance: 115 Police: 113 Fire: 114 (At S.E.A Backpacker we try to ensure that all information providedisasaccurateanduptodateaspossible.(Checked 20.6.11) The information in this section is vulnerable to change.Pleaseadviseusatinfo@southeastasiabackpacker. com if info is invalid and we will be sure to rectify it.)

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