IS NOV S U E 1 5: - DEC 2011
The essential magazine for all travellers through South East Asia.
Ang Thong Paradise...
Explore 42 Tropical Islands & the Emerald Lagoon in the Gulf of Thailand
INDONESIA ISSN 1906-7674
Mount Bromo & Borobodur: Ancient Volcanoes & Buddhist Temples of Java
Planting seeds of mindfulness...
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“Do not tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you have travelled.” (Prophet Mohamed)
With this month marking three years since I left England for my travels, I thought I’d reflect on a question that many people ask themselves after returning home from a long trip. What has travel and living in a foreign country taught me? Has it changed my personality? Has it changed the way I look at the world? Since the idea of backpacking began, travellers have returned home with shaggy unkempt hair, a dozen bracelets on their wrist, perhaps a bindi on their forehead and proclaimed to their wide-eyed parents “woah man, Cambodia really changed me”. I want to delve deeper into this statement and ask why? How does it change you? Rather than just an endless stream of eye-opening experiences, hedonistic pursuits and brand new activities, I wonder if there is more to it than that. How long is it after your appearance slowly returns back to normal and you get back into the routine of normal life do you start to forget everything that you thought you had learnt about the world during your travels. Does travel really teach us anything in the long term? On a basic level, you now know how to use a squat toilet without so much as a raise of the eyebrows, can make 100 baht last a week, have learnt to keep your cool in sweltering heat, can bargain the price of a sarong down to what the locals would pay, can pick up the last three grains of rice with a pair of chopsticks and know that you should always get off on the right side of the motorbike. Other achievements may include learning how to dive, becoming competent at riding a motorbike, acquiring the ability to rock climb… each one of you will have your own personal experiences. Yet these are somewhat superficial changes. Most of these new skills will be rendered useless upon returning home. So what else? What lessons have you learnt that will stand you in good stead for the rest of your life? If we’re talking skills that you can put on your CV, you may like to say patience. Anyone who has experienced an overnight bus journey, namely the 28-hour expedition from Vientiane to Hanoi, can safely say that they have become a master in the art of tolerance; dealing with border crossings, changes in itinerary and unexpected stops by the driver. Add to that; the ability to think on your feet, make the best out of a tricky situation and respond to challenges that may arise with an air of calmness, diplomacy and determination. Subtle personality changes may include the fact that you’ve become more confident, assertive and have honed your powers of negotiation. You can deal with confusing foreign transport systems, hassling salespeople and can follow the ‘Walking Tour’ in any Lonely Planet guide to within an inch of perfection. Your senses have become hardened, as has your liver no doubt (especially if you’re traveling with the Irish) and your ability to handle deathly spicy food. Plus, you’ve probably picked up a few foreign phrases – haven’t you? Mai pen rai if you haven’t. But what else is there? What have we really learnt about ourselves and the world around us? I’m looking for something deeper, more profound. I want to know what travel really teaches us. If anything? As I delve deeper and deeper into the question, a phrase springs to mind, ‘The more I learn, the more I learn how little I know’ (Socrates) For me, travel has opened up my eyes in realising that there is so much about the world that I don’t know. Travel hasn’t so much taught me, but ‘untaught’ me that the culture and society that I was brought up in, has the right idea and correct way of doing things. Travel has given me new ideas, new perspectives and forced me to re-address the way that I once thought was the right way to live. There are so many things; cultures, customs, beliefs and most importantly so many ways to live your life that I didn’t even consider before coming to Asia… and so many more things I have yet to learn. Just when you think you have a culture all figured out it can surprise you – believe me! That is how I feel every day living here in Thailand and the reason why I find travel and living abroad so addictive. The more you want to find out about the religion, politics, culture and history of a country – the more it poses further questions to the ‘knowledge-hungry’ mind. The journey is never-ending. They say travel broadens the mind and this is true. It challenges your way of thinking about things, what is right and wrong, social etiquette, prejudices, expectations and your thoughts about what you personally want to do with your life. Without overloading this introduction with quote after quote, I couldn’t resist this last one “Travel like Ghandi, with simple clothes, open eyes and an uncluttered mind.” (Rick Steves) By Nikki Scott
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Cover Photograph: Nikki Scott Ang Thong Marine Park
Features : PHOTOS: 26 BACKPACKER My Life as a Travel Photographer Asia Faces & Places: Interview with 46 SE Lonely Planet Travel Guru, Joe Cummings ENVIRONMENT: Planting 52 BACKPACKER Seeds of Mindfulness, Chiang Mai
D estination spotlight : Bromo & Borobodur: Ancient 14 Mount Volcanoes & Buddhist Temples of Java
Vietnam: 22 Cycling Why two wheels is better than four
km on a bik
Thong Marine Park: 34 Ang 42 Drops of Paradise in Thailand’s Gulf the Beaten Track: More than just 42 Off jars in Phonsavan, Central Laos
ANG THONG MARINE PARK... 34
R egulars : 8 South East Asia Map & Visa Info 38 S.E.A BACKPACKER: Newsfl f fl l ash 10 20 Word on the Soi: Your First Time! & Festivals: 30 Events What’s On Guide GAMES: 40 BACKPACKER Crossword & Sudoku
44 Traveller Thoughts, Stories, Tips FOOD: 48 BACKPACKER Beer & Curry Guide to South East Asia ARTS: Volunteering at the 50 BACKPACKER Cambodian Handicraft Association (CHA) INFO: Visas, Exchange 56 BACKPACKER Rates, Climates & More
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Tel: 081 776 7616 (Thai) 084 553 8996 (Eng) Fax: 038 072 078 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Backpacker South East Asia is Published by S.E.A. Backpacker Company. Managing Director: Nikki Scott. (E-mail: email@example.com) Editor: Nanchaya Jaikaew. (E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org) Design & Layout: S.E.A. Backpacker Company Limited. Artwork: Saksit Jankrajang. Sales & Marketing: Chanunchida Saisema, Kitti Boon Sri. Accounts: Yanisa Jaikaew. Contributing Writers and Photographers: Nikki Scott, Laura Davies, Clare Hudson, Danielle Scott, Flash Parker, Nathan Edgerton, Bridget Backhaus, Richard Hartley, Jennifer Rowe, Joe Cummings, Dan White, Rebecca Gennard, Jessica Williams. For advertising enquiries: Tel: +66(0)81 776 7616 (Thai), +66(0)84 553 8996 (Eng) Email: email@example.com For writing opportunities: Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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V isa I nformation Brunei Darrussalam: Nationals of most European countries, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and New Zealand do not need a Visa for visits of up to 30 days. USA citizens can stay for up to 90 days. Cambodia: Most nationalities can obtain a 1 month tourist visa upon arrival which costs around $20. At land border crossings, notably the Thailand/Cambodia border, the fee can be more expensive as the cost is paid in baht and is sometimes rounded up considerably. East Timor: Nationals from Europe, Australia, Canada and the USA do not need to arrange a visa in advance. They can be granted upon entry into East Timor and cost $30 for 30 days. Portuguese nationals can stay up to 90 days on a tourist visa. Indonesia: Nationals of Australia, Canada, USA, UK and most European countries are eligible for a 30 day visa upon entry, which costs $25 USD. The previous $10 7-day visa is no longer available. Laos: Most nationalities can obtain a 30 day visa for Laos at international airports and land border crossings. The cost ranges from $20 - $42 depending on nationality. At the Thailand/Laos border if you pay in Thai baht the fee will be more expensive. Malaysia: Most nationalities are granted a free 3090 day entry pass upon arrival at international airports and border crossings. Myanmar: Visas should be arranged in advance at a travel agency or Embassy. Costs can range from $20 - $50 for a 28 day visa, depending on where you apply for it and how long you mind waiting. Philippines: Tourist visas are free of charge for most nationalities for a stay up to 21 days. For longer stays you should apply for a visa before you arrive at a Philippine Embassy. Visas for 3 months, 6 months or 12 months are available. Cost depends on duration of stay. Singapore: Citizens of Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, the UK and most other European countries are granted either a 14 or 30-day tourist pass upon entry to Singapore. Thailand: Most nationalities, including Americans, Australians and most Europeans receive a free 30 day tourist visa upon arrival into Thailand by air. However, if arriving by land you will only receive 15 days. Vietnam: Visas must be arranged in advance. You can do this at a Vietnamese embassy in whichever country you are in and some travel agencies also offer the service. Depending on where you apply for it and how long you mind waiting, it can cost anywhere between $35 and $65 for a 30 day visa. â€˘ See the information pages at the back for more detailed information, visa extensions and penalties for late departure. (At S.E.A Backpacker we try to ensure that all information provided is as accurate and up to date as possible. (Checked 23.10.11) The information in this section is vulnerable to change. Please advise us at firstname.lastname@example.org if info is invalid and we will be sure to rectify it.)
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E C I F F O R E K C A P K C A B .A THE S.E OPENING IN CHIANG MAI! November is a very exciting month for us here at S.E.A Backpacker Magazine as we see the grand opening of our brand new office in Chiang Mai! Now you can see South East Asia Backpacker Magazine in action and find out what we get up to every day of the week... are you sure you want to know? Let’s forget the word ‘office’ for a minute, as there’ll be no suits, photocopiers and miserable secretaries here. Just like the magazine is a ‘travel diary’ for everyone, we want to open up the doors and invite everyone to join in creating a meeting place and travel hub for all backpackers in South East Asia. A place where you can share ideas, get advice for your trip and most importantly be inspired! As well as endless copies of the magazine on offer, there’ll be travel guidebooks, trinkets from every corner of South East Asia, maps, scrapbooks of photos and tales of adventures, indie travel film nights, travel writing workshops, backpacker speed dating events (we’re only half joking)... and we’re just getting started with the ideas! If you have any more ideas, send them on a postcard to the address below... we’ll put it up on our office pin-board and the best ideas will become a reality! This is YOUR office too remember. So stop by and have a fruit shake with us, chat about your travels, share some stories and have a strum on the office guitar... we want inspiration from you just as much as you want inspiration from us. Every person who comes through the door will have their photo taken for our wall of fame. My name is Nikki by the way (I’ll be the one sat at the back battling with writers block) and I’m quite friendly when I’m not hungover or tired or both.
WHERE TO FIND US?
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S.E.A Backpacker Office Number Nice House 23/1/1 Rajvithi, Soi 2, Chiang Mai, Thailand
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Grand Opening PARTY will be announced on Facebook & Twitter 10
OVERSEAS CORRESPONDENT! When backpacking, it’s easy to lose track of what’s going on in the world. S.E.A Backpacker Mag are here to make sure you’re up to date with your world affairs! Here’s a rundown from overseas correspondent, Laura Davies.
ENGLAND: A marathon runner has been stripped of his 3rd place
Letter of the Month...
medal. The runner was spotted hiding in the bushes then rejoining the Kielder Marathon, having hopped on a bus at the 20 mile point!
A House by the Mekong River...
ARGENTINA: Robert Mendez got a rude awakening from his
River path Whilst staying in Chiang Khong, Thailand, I was cycling along the Mekong which read ‘Yoga’. when I noticed a small sign attached to the side of a building on stilts be greeted by a Curious, I climbed the wooden steps leading to an entrance, only to Thai lady who pointed under the building and said “that way”.
AUSTRALIA: Golfers have an extra incentive to stay on the green
garage with lots The space underneath felt like walking through someone’s cluttered in the ceiling. beams from hanging s hammock and side hand right the on doors of a series of steps The garage then opened out onto an overgrown garden area and at the bottom, with metal bottle tops embedded into the concrete like a mosaic. Once Yoga - This is I finally came to a sign attached to a door which read ‘Cheeky Monkey with big ears, a it’. After several knocks and an overly excited greeting from two dogs herself as Diane smiling lady in her late 50’s / early 60’s opened the door, introduced (or Notradame, her Yogi name) and invited me in.
afternoon siesta when an airplane crashed into his roof. Both pilot and passenger escaped unharmed, but Mendez was unable to get back to sleep due to the gaping hole in his ceiling. at Carbrook Golf Club in Oz. A recently flooded lake has some pretty mean inhabitants, a group of 10 foot long bull sharks!
SWEDEN: Whilst rummaging in trees for fermented apples, a drunken elk (moose) became stuck in it’s branches. Firemen rescued the animal, who sobered up on the front lawn, then staggered off.
An eight inch, two-headed King snake has been found in Clarksville, Tennessee. It has been taken into care at the Tennessee Tech University, which has the largest collection of two-headed animals in the World.
The statue of Hindu goddess Saraswati, has begun to shed tears after an earthquake struck the island on 13th October, injuring dozens. Paranormal experts have been called in to explain the phenomenon.
OREGON: A lazy surfer hitched a
ride on the back of what he believes was a 12-foot Great White Shark, after it knocked him off his board. Eye witnesses describe how the surfer was lifted out of the water, kneeling on the back of the shark who then decided enough was enough and swam away from the area.
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space which Di-Mokshadharma’s home / yoga studio was a beautiful, airy, open plan that her and looked out onto the whole of the Mekong River and Laos. She explained Khong and she her husband had moved from Australia five years ago to live in Chiang now offers one-on-one classes for travellers for only 100 baht. mats and The following day I visited again to do a class in the evening. Bamboo g the embroidered cushions were placed out by the large open window overlookin yoga was river at sunset and candles flickered around the rest of the room. The as incredibly relaxing and one of the best classes I’ve had. However, equally there. interesting was how Di-Mokshadharma and her husband came to live in I had no idea that it wasn’t possible for non-Thai residents to own property Thailand. Di-Mokshadharma and her husband’s home did not technically belong to them. The garage like room I had walked through on the way there was actually part of a hostel and five years ago the space that is now their home was neglected and uninhabitable. With permission from the hostel owners, they did up the neglected section which is now not only their home and yoga studio, but also a space where they voluntarily teach local kids in the area English. In return, they only pay the relevant bills for their section of the property, and are involved with other developmental work in the community. I’m not really sure what you’d call this - perhaps just a friendly agreement and an inspiring story of two passionate people. I’ve certainly never heard of anything quite like it, but I love the idea.
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Atmospheric Pleasures in indonesia... By Flash Parker
Borobodur. Mount Bromo. One is a millenniaâ€™s old, ill-tempered volcano. The other is an ancient eighth century Mahayana monument, a towering shrine to the Lord Buddha that had long been lost to the ages. Together they are a part of the very foundation of Java, the most populous of Indonesiaâ€™s islands. They are as easily accessible as they are difficult to comprehend, yet standing in their presence affords an opportunity to connect, if only for a moment, with something fleeting, something ethereally inspiring. Bromo and Borobodur are linked by more than geographic location; they share a special position in the stratosphere of minds, as places of wonder and magic mankind may never fully understand. Standing atop their mighty peaks and gazing out over the world below is nothing short of a euphoric experience, a thousand seconds of solitude rolled into one fleeting instant, a time to reflect and connect with some of the 135 million souls dotting the Javanese countryside that may likewise be gazing skyward.
factory-fabricated one-of-a-kind, one-of-a-millions. These guys are going to wear us down, degree by sweltering degree. I can almost picture Jentik now, laughing like a lunatic as he shovels coal into the gaping maw of the woodstove on the other side of the wall. I can feel my resolve slipping away and I tell Megan we need to leave. “But we haven’t seen even half of the pieces yet,” she cries. I realize drastic measures are in order. I tell Firman that I’ll take the painting on the wall in front of me. “The big one?” he asks, surprised. “It’s nine feet wide.” “Yes,” I say. “I love it.” “The one of President Obama playing cards with Elvis and Jesus?” Megan asks. “That’s the one I like,” I say. “It speaks to me.” I reach out to touch the painting as if this is really the case. Some of the black paint or charcoal or cobra venom or whatever it was that went into creating this cultural monstrosity comes off on my fingers. I grab Megan by the arm and we make for the door. “I forgot my wallet back at the hotel,” I say. “We’ll be right back.” “You’re not really going to buy that painting, are you?” Megan asks as we explore the alleyways off Malioboro for a place to eat. “I collect three things,” I say, somewhat defiantly. “Photographs, sand and passport stamps. Whatever that thing was, it doesn’t qualify.” It’s about this time that we spy Jentik entering the alley from the other end. We’re trapped. I look around for a way out, but we’re hemmed in on every side by dry cleaners, hookah bars and expat restaurants. Then I see an out. I grab Megan by the arm once more and dive into a narrow doorway, slamming the door closed behind us. Jentik walks past and we are off the hook. We’re distracted by the sound of two chairs being dragged across the floor behind us.
Meet the swindlers I would wipe the sweat from my eyes if I thought it would make any difference at all. This room, if you can call it that, has been designed to sweat a sale out of us. We’ve been trapped in this art gallery for more than 30 minutes now, listening to Firman, owner and artist, extoll the virtues of authentic Javanese art. “Javanese art,” Firman says, rather proudly, “is the art of an oasis. It is the art of one of the last great civilizations; tropical in origin, colonial in heritage. Java was the center of the Dutch East Indies, the world’s greatest Hindu-Buddhist Empire and ascendant Islamic Kingdoms. These forces conspired to influence Indonesia’s art culture, and you are in the center of it here in Jogjakarta.” I can’t help but wonder if it was the heat that forced the Dutch, the Buddhists and the Hindus to leave. I ask Firman. “This is a simple, dry heat,” he says. “This is good weather for Jogja.” I shudder at the thought of what a complex, wet heat would feel like. A few short hours ago we were lounging by the pool at our quaint Jalan Malioboro hotel when Jentik, the guy who waits by the front door but doesn’t actually do anything, asked us if we wanted to have a look at some authentic Indonesian art. I said no. Megan, my traveling companion and the more astutely artistic been us, agrees that we’ll go along with Jentik to his brother’s gallery. Besides, Megan says, “we need an important piece of art from every place we visit.” The only thing I’ve managed to collect in this gallery is heatstroke. I’m wise to the game, of course. Neither Jentik nor Firman are artists. Nor are they brothers. But they’re going to work us over like they work over every other unsuspecting tourist that just so happens to stumble curiously into their gallery to peruse the
A tall, slender Indonesian man with a generous, gapped-tooth smile waves us towards the seats. Megan sits before I can protest and before I realize what’s going on I’m staring at a travel brochure listing tours of Borobodur, the famous Mahayana monument in nearby Magelang. The travel agent – his nametag says Boaz while his posture screams charlatan – tells us which tour he thinks is perfectly suited to our Western needs and proclivities (the most expensive one) when the door behind us opens. In walks our old friend. “Ah, I see you know my brother Jentik!” Boaz exclaims.
For Concentration and Meditation Understanding Indonesia means not losing your mind when you’re hit over the head with a big fat scam. This is one of the great realities of travel in this part of the world; enterprising men and women are going to work you over based on your perceived station on this big blue marble of ours. It has less to do with racism or nationalism than it does with social perceptions and the Western media; if your country walks, talks and acts like the streets are paved with gold, people in foreign countries are going to check your luggage for ruby slippers. You have to learn to shrug it off and turn the other cheek. Sometimes I’m good at letting these things slide and sometimes I’m not. I’m more upset with getting caught up in brother Jentik’s game than I am with having paid $20 per person to visit Borobodur. We were planning on visiting on our own time, renting a pair of scooters and exploring the complex without a tour guide shoving overpriced postcards down our throats. We thought it might be fun to rent a trishaw for the day and tour the country in a decadently leisurely manner, stopping here and there to take photographs of the side of Java less seen while feeding each other grapes. Alas, this is life on the road.
We take the massive stupa steps one at a time, our cadre of sadsack Western co-suckers in front and behind. They were outwitted by Jentik, too. There’s so much complaining going on it takes some time for the reality of where we are to dawn on us. Borobodur, abandoned in the 15th century when the Javanese converted to Islam (and the Hindu and Buddhists fled the heat), is one of the most singularly impressive feats of human construction still standing – even if no one has any idea when it was built or what it was built for. The wily English despot Thomas Stamford Raffles uncovered Borobodur in 1814 and named it after the nearby village of Bore; Raffles was unable to discover any written record referencing the monument while researching his book, The History of Java. Borobodur has remained a mystery to the Javanese and the world at large ever since, similar to the way a treadmill perplexes some of our American travel companions and the way a toothbrush flummoxes our South London cohorts. If you climb to the peak of nearby Mount Merapi – as long as it isn’t erupting violently and showering cinders and ash down upon the island – Borobodur resembles a Buddhist mandala, a representation of the
nature of mind, time and space as well as a whole host of Buddhist cosmological beliefs. From ground level it reminds me of an ornate fortress, something culled from the pages of Tolkien fantasy. I’ve left our group to climb the nine platforms on my own; as I flit among the 2,672 relief panels, the 504 Buddha statues and hundreds of fierce gargoyles I spy a young monk likewise ascending to the main dome. I watch him stop at one of the western balustrades near a large stone statue of the Buddha, legs crossed and hands folded neatly in his lap. This mudra, or position of the hands, symbolizes concentration and meditation. I wonder for a moment what this means to the young monk and why he stopped here; why did he not stop at the abhaya mudra, the Buddha with one hand raised to fend off attackers and the other resting solemnly in the lap. The abhaya mudra, according to Jentik, represents fearlessness and courage – it embodies the Javanese spirit. Yet here stands this monk, solemnly contemplating concentration and meditation in the face of a centuries-old statue. I wonder if the young monk is discovering Borobodur for the first time, like me and like Raffles did nearly 200 years ago. That we have come from such different places, only to arrive at the very same destination at the same time, is so quizzically coincidental that I wonder what the Buddhist cosmonauts would have to say about it. It makes me feel as though there is some latent connection between this magnificent place and the rest of us, between the here and now and whatever will come tomorrow. I would prefer not to give Jentik credit for any of this.
Sulfur is chemical element 16 A long journey with Western folk is different from a long journey with Asian folk. Sure, many South East Asians choose to smoke on the bus, drink on the bus and carve slabs of stinky durian for their neighbors to share. What they don’t do while traveling cross-country is complain (noisily), ask inane questions - how hot is it today? – nor do they play their iPods so loud everyone on the bus can hum the chorus (I well and truly hate Abba). Highlights of the 10-hour mini-bus ride from Jogjakarta to Mount Bromo include Mitch, the Midwestern American, asking if we can stop at the next McDonald’s for lunch (this is true); Andersen, the Dutchman who insisted he ride shotgun and control the radio, telling us how 200 years of Colonial rule was a good thing (not joking); and Timothy, the Englishman with a strange northeastern accent, causing an international incident when he tells a highway patrolman he is claiming East Java for Queen and Country (I made this one up).
This is all Jentik’s fault, of course. Jentik talked us into taking a mini-bus across the island to visit the indomitable Mount Bromo shortly after we returned from Borobodur. I wanted to rent a car; Jentik lambasted us with statistical evidence regarding Java’s road fatalities (the daily death toll, sadly, rises quicker than the mercury in August). So here I sit, all of my 200-pounds squashed into the backseat of a Japanese mini-bus, poor Megan to my right and a German woman with a vast intolerance for touching to my left. Each time I adjust my legs to keep the blood from pooling – I have a severe fear of deep-vein thrombosis since I last drove halfway across one of Indonesia’s massive islands - she clicks her teeth disapprovingly and swats at me with her magazine. I try to break the ice by telling her that I wrote the article she’s reading and I took the photos on the cover of the magazine, but she just looks at me with a raised eyebrow and frowns. “You Americans think you’re so good at everything,” she says. I’m actually Canadian, but I don’t think this makes any difference. The pain and aggravation involved in getting to Mount Bromo, a ferociously active volcano on the Tengger massif and the main attraction of the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park is nothing compared to the splendor of experiencing the volcano firsthand. At four in the morning, crawling up a steep, active volcano in a jeep that continuously slips in and out of third gear like a cobra slips into your sleeping bag, battling the nefarious mud butt goblins of Javanese lore and sharing the bench seat in the back of the jeep still makes me wish I were someplace else. Still a few minutes before 5 am and already I’m shoulder to shoulder with 2,500 people on the Mount Penanjakan viewing platform adjacent to the sulfur-spewing giant, Bromo. Point-and-shoot cameras flash all around us in an effort to bridge the distance between our station and the volcano. I quietly remove myself from the crowd and find a secluded spot further down the hill. Megan swings her camera wildly above her head in an effort to keep the horde from rallying to our position; moments before we’re overrun and my tripod is appropriated by a zealous Canadian photography enthusiast the sun breaches the Sea of Sand’s meager defenses, shines through the sulfur clouds and bathes the peaks of the ancient triumvirate in soft morning light. The jostling ends for a time. Some people shake hands with each another; this sort of thing seems quite natural at a few minutes past 5 am while standing on a mountain in Indonesia. Some people hug. I search out Jentik and tell him that I’m glad we’ve come. Jentik may not have had a hand in forging the river stone gargoyles at Borobodur and he certainly had nothing to do with carving out Bromo’s caldera, yet he remains my strongest point of contact to the foundation of Java. Jentik shakes my hand and tells me that this is how the sun rises over Mount Bromo.
W ord on the soi: Your First Time! Travel is all about firsts. Tastes, smells, feelings, sensations and new experiences... The first moment you step off the plane and are hit with the sweltering heat of the East, the first time you place your bare foot on the sands of a deserted beach in paradise, the first time you taste a tongue-tantalasing Asian curry or even the first time you meet a travel buddy who you know you will remember forever. This month, we asked travellers to tell us their most memorable ‘virginal’ moments… do you remember your first time? The first tim
e I saw para dise... I’ll never forg et my first tri p to Palawan Never before in the Philip have I seen pines. such natura the sandbar l unspoilt be at ilo-ilo with auty. Walking not a person a feeling that in si gh I was the fir t I was over st explorer ev come with perfection. It er to set foot changed my on this slice expectations of of beaches (Elliott, Lond forever. on)
The first tim e I tried divi ng It was like an other world . I couldn’t me so long believe that to discover it had taken that so muc place beneat h life on ou h the deep r planet take blue sea. I time I tried s can honestly diving chan say that the ged my life months late first – not least r I still have be ca us n’t returned e it is now my Master D home! As I six iver Course, have now co I can contin mpleted of the incred ue to travel ible underw and discover ater world of more South East (Marga, Portu Asia. gal)
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g is I anything! One thin I can’t remember d! be n ow my in up didn’t wake (Matt, UK)
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e I arrived in Vietnam ... It’s funny, I re member so many firsts first time I ho here in Vietna pped on the m… the back of a m traffic, the fir otorbike thro st time I at ugh crazy tempted to me about 15 cross the ro minutes!) th ad, (which e first time full of about took I stood up in 50 anticipat front of a ro ing Vietnam them Englis om es e kids expe h! I’ve now cting me to been living months and teach and teaching I never bat in Hanoi for an eyelid ab once thrilled three out doing th and at the sa ese things me time terri that adapt so ea fied me. Fu sily and can nny how we get used to al m os t anything pretty damn quickly! (Emily, Aust ralia)
The first time I experienced a Thai festival... I love to take in festivals on my travels and at least a few times on my trip I try to make sure that my stay in a place coincides with a local festival. Last year I was lucky enough to be in Chiang Mai for Loi Krathong Festival and oh what an incredible experience! It was heavenly as thousands of lanterns were released into the night sky… (Chris, Sweden)
The first tim e I saw the sunrise... Trekking up the last few hours in the think I was go dark I hone ing to make stly didn’t it. I was suffe that had hit ring from altit me like a to n of bricks fro ude sickness but I was de m the minut termined that e I had wok this mountai dawn rise on en up, n would not the top of M beat me. Se ount Kinaba the dawn ris eing the lu in Borneo w e for the first as like watch time ever. It and I will ne ing was jaw-dro ver forget it ppingly beau as long as I tiful liv e. D efinitely wor pain of getti th the ng to the to p. (Stefanie, Sl ovakia)
rode The first time I ngkok… a tuk tuk in Ba
t first l never forget tha y going to die! I wil I thought I was mental (possibl a h wit ffic tra the mad s a racing car! wa it journey through like le hic o floored that ve turn in drunk) driver wh s / buses at every with cars / lorrie t I’m ing tha llid es co lan wly e rro sid Na country a far cry from the lture shocked, it the road, it was cu d an ed gg me. Jet-la that I used to back ho Thailand! A first t experience of e. nc rre was a crazy firs cu oc r ula ke into a reg prefer not to ma (Steven, USA)
The first tim e I tried To m Yum Gun The first tim g... e I tried th e famous said ‘you lik Thai soup e spicy mye Tom Yum e?’ Knowin at home I Gung, the g how to ha foolishly sa waiter ndle a good id “yes the before tast strong vind sp ed such an icier the be aloo array of di tter!” My to tangy, spic ffe rent flavour ngue had y. The truth never s all at once is it nearly much ther ; sweet, so blew my he e was a sm ur, bitter, ad off and all pool be smug waite I was swea ing formed rs looked on ting so un derneath m in amusem be defeated y chair. Th ent but ther by a bowl e e was no w of soup! Fr ay I was to om now on little bit) sp I say ‘nit no icy Krap. (S y’ (a imon, Eng land)
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The first time I used a bum gun... I came out the bathroom completely soaked. I still don’t kno w how to use it. Can someone please exp lain how you are meant to dry yourself afte rwards!? Give me good ol’ poo tickets anyday. (Jake, Scotland)
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The first tim
e I made a tra vel buddy... Talking to ot her people on home in Lo the bus or ndon is just train back not somethin People would g that you think you we do. re weird. Th time I approa at’s why, the ched someo first ne in the hope companion, of making a I felt very co travel nscious and don’t want to ne rv ou s. What if th be my friend? ey What if we ha to each other? ve nothing to Of course this say story has a ha that kind) an ppy ending (n d I can now ot walk into bars start chatting on my own an to almost an d yo ne! I might ev spark up conv en try and ersation on th e tube at hom e! (Ellen, London )
t time The firs ssage... a m i Tha I had a y this n up b g beate n with the in e b s a ht I wa tuck i wom I thoug ld Tha she s er When eedy o ov . w n e , e ll m x a o t e sm en of thre back and b shot e th b g n to stre in my id out la s t of e n u e e o n e her k walked in, e I’d b ards lik for trouble. I pa d n a backw k in c I was in sho t day, I knew place the nex ssage the ma u know what r! e tt o e y b but er felt I’d nev ) r, USA (Dexte
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Cycling Vietnam: Why two wheels is better than four! Backpacker and travel writer Nathan Edgerton spent four months travelling on a cheap bicycle the entire length of Vietnam from the biggest city in the south to the capital in the north. When the open bus ticket from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi costs just $60 US some may ask the question - is he crazy? Or does he just have a more adventurous spirit than the average backpacker? In his article, Nathan gives you many reasons why travelling on two wheels is way cooler than four...
Imagine that, during one of the day-long bus trips that cannot be avoided while travelling in Asia, you looked out the window and saw a lone cyclist pedaling a pack-laden bike slowly but surely along the shoulder. If you saw this cyclist, would you immediately think of the scorching sun which has already driven the locals to the shade? Would you cringe at the thought of riding for hours in sweat-soaked shirt and shorts, then turn your face to take in the cool stream of conditioned air? Or, would you envy that cyclist? Would you wonder how they are doing it? If it is safe? Whether you could do it too? When I’ve told other travelers about my 3,200km bike tour from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi, they often seem to think that my trip required extensive planning, training, cycling experience and the ability to repair various bike malfunctions. In fact, I set out with a dirt-cheap bike, without having ridden a bike in a year, and without knowing how to fix a flat tyre. Despite these and many other shortcomings, the trip went smoothly for nearly the entire distance. This article is to tell you a bit about how to do a bike trip through Vietnam and to show how cheap and easy it actually is...
Buying the right wheels for the 3,200 km journey... I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City last February with a plan to buy a bike and ride a circuit around the Mekong Delta, then loop back through Ho Chi Minh City and head north along the coast to Nha Trang, then cut inland through the central highlands along the Ho Chi Minh Highway, then back to the coast at Da Nang and north to Hanoi. The first thing I had to do was find a bicycle. I knew this would be the largest single expense of my trip, but due to a deeply-ingrained thriftiness I was determined not to spend too much on it. I had been advised by friends who know my tendencies to at least shell out some extra cash for a decent bike. But a fancy European bike could cost upwards of $400. This was quite expensive and I also didn’t want a bike that anyone would be tempted to steal. A friend pointed me toward the intersection of Nam Ky Khoi Nghia and Vo Thi Sau Streets, where I could search through numerous bike stores. There were many bikes to choose from, but I needed one with a basket on the front where I could keep my camera and map as well as a rack above the back wheel to which I could tie my camping backpack. I also needed at least a few speeds for climbing the mountains in the central highlands. In the Martin 107 shop I was lucky to find a new six-speed that was just what I needed, for only $120. I swallowed hard, reassured myself that if the bike broke down while I was in the Mekong Delta I could return to Ho Chi Minh City and buy a better one... and handed over the cash.
Now where did you get those saddle-bags...?
Next I had to find some saddlebags to hang off the sides next to the rear wheels, in which I could carry my things. The only proper saddlebags I could find were in a specialty bike shop and cost over $100. For bags! Clearly unacceptable. I left the shop and walked along the sidewalk trying to think of what else I could do, when I noticed a bicycle with a wooden yoke tied to the rear rack, from which thick woven-plastic bags filled with guava hung at each side. In faltering Vietnamese, I asked the owner where I could buy a yoke like his. Instead, he just said he’d sell his to me for $10. Done. I went to the market and bought two new bags for $5, plus some ropes and bungee cords to tie them down, and I was set. Bicycle and bags for under $150.
The first day on the road! My friend and I set out on our first day to My Tho, a provincial capital about 80km south of Ho Chi Minh City. We left early, on the road by about 7am, planning to ride for a few hours in the morning, take a long break for lunch and coffee to wait out the hottest hours of the day under shade, and then finish off the ride in the afternoon. By the time we had reached the outskirts of HCMC, though, the sun was already getting intense and I could feel the photons pounding into my skin. It was only 9am. I noticed a sidewalk stall with racks of long-sleeve shirts for sale. I figured a loose button-up shirt would be easy to get into and out of, would let some air flow through (I could leave it half-unbuttoned, Latin-American style), and would protect my forearms without my having to put sunscreen on multiple times every day. I picked up a loose-fitting white shirt for about $2 and we were off. (The shirt would last me all four months of the trip and was surprisingly well-suited for biking. I could pop the collar to keep the sun off my neck, and it was also easy to strip off and leave to dry when I stopped for rest breaks, where I’d put on a dry shirt.)
Off the tourist route on Highway 1A We continued south along highway 1A towards My Tho, through what seemed to be an unceasing suburb with squat concrete houses crowding the highway for nearly the entire distance. It ended up being one of the least beautiful rides of the whole trip. On the upside, by the end of the first day we were already off the common tourist route. Some groups make a day trip from HCMC to My Tho, but by the time we arrived in the evening there were only a handful of other foreigners to be seen. We checked into a cheap room with a fan at a Nha Nghi (guesthouse) for $5 for the night, then cycled around until we found a vegetarian restaurant (“Com Chay” in Vietnamese) S.E.A Backpacker
where we had rice with a mix of vegetables and mock meats for $0.50 per plate. After that we relaxed in a cafe by the riverside with free WIFI and then wandered around a night-market and sampled some che (dessert including mung beans, tapioca, and coconut milk) and grilled corn, then called it an early night.
What are you selling? Our next stop was Tra Vinh, another provincial capital about 60km away, hidden deep in the delta and remote from the dust and noise of Highway 1A. The ride was easy, along smaller country roads with calmer traffic, flanked by rice fields stretching to the horizon and banana and pomelo trees crowding the roadside. We stopped in a small roadside cafe around midday to rest. These cafes, where you can relax in a hammock with a cool coconut or glass of iced coffee, are unique to and ubiquitous throughout Vietnam. The owner of the cafe looked at me quizzically, clearly curious about what kind of person would ride a bicycle through the countryside at midday in a button-up shirt. She took a look at the plastic bags hanging from the side of my bike and laughed. “What are you selling?” she asked, referring to the fact that my bags were the same style the vegetable sellers use to carry their produce to the market. I laughed too, and she came over to peek inside and found my dirty clothes, Vietnamese-English dictionary, laundry detergent, and bottles of water. She gave me a “thumbs-up,” then went off to get my drink. One of the best parts of cycling is that people are naturally curious about what you’re doing so it’s a great conversation-starter and, depending on the time of day, can often lead to invitations to come drink rice wine.
I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike... From there I continued with my friend for a month around the Mekong Delta (including some week-long stops on Phu Quoc Island and in Can Tho), then I headed north on my own, covering HCMC to Hanoi in three months. I took my time, resting for a few days in quite a few cities along the way, such as Nha Trang, Hoi An, and Hue. Life was cheap and easy, so I relaxed and enjoyed it. I lived comfortably on $15 per day throughout the trip. Since I was cycling I didn’t have to pay for buses between cities and I also didn’t
have to worry about motorcycle taxis around the cities. Plus, the fact that I was spending so much time on the bike meant that I didn’t have as much time to spend money.
And finally, why two wheels is better than four! Hopefully I’ve convinced you that a big journey like this is not too expensive or difficult. By sticking along the coast on highway 1A (There are lots of beautiful stretches outside the cities) you can avoid having to do much climbing, save for the 500m Hai Van Pass north of Da Nang. If I had taken the bus, I would never have had the surprising experience of cycling through 200km of desert between Mui Ne and Phan Rang. I wouldn’t have smelled the pungent corridor of fish-sauce factories just north of Ca Na. I couldn’t have gone to dinner with a farmer who invited me to come eat with his family while I had stopped to take some photos. Nor would I have been able to savour the feeling of cruising the last few kilometers into town with the cool pre-evening breeze at my back, euphorically endorphinsaturated, looking forward to a hard-earned shower, dinner, and coffee.
6 Top Tips For a Big Bicycle Trip: 1.
It’s still nearly impossible to find a decent bicycle helmet in Vietnam, so you should bring one with you. Also, it’s a good idea to bring a rearview mirror that attaches to the handlebars so you can switch lanes in traffic without having to turn around.
Bike gloves with some padding on the palms are necessary for long distance riding. My friend rode without them for a few weeks and began to lose sensation in her fingers! They also protect your hands from the sun. Also, bike shorts will make the trip much more enjoyable. Even with bike shorts, your butt will still be really sore for the first few days, but eventually you’ll harden up!
There’s no need to worry about bringing a flat-tire repair kit or air pump. Wherever you may have a flat, you’re never likely to be more than a kilometer from a shop where you can get it fixed. I had three flat tires during my trip and never had any trouble getting them repaired quickly.
In general, you should hit a decent-sized town every 20km or so where you can find a guesthouse (Nha Nghi). These are generally cheaper than hotels (Khach San) which are listed in guidebooks, though the owners will be less likely to speak English. You should always be able to find a Nha Nghi where you can get a fan-room for about $5 / night.
Smaller towns usually have few people who can speak English, so your trip will be much more comfortable and enjoyable if you learn some survival Vietnamese. One of the best intro books is “Vietnamese for Foreigners” (Tieng Viet Cho Nguoi Nuoc Ngoai) by Dana Healy, which you can find at many PNC or Fahasa bookstores.
Buy a few ponchos (easy to find in Vietnam) so you can strap them down to your bags in case you have to ride through some rain to get to the next town before nightfall.
P hotos: My life as a travel photographer
It’s THE dream job right? Traveling from continent to continent with your camera capturing the beauty of our incredible planet. Of course many of us would trade in our jobs for the exotic life of a travel photographer. But what is it really like? What are some tips for getting started in the industry? And what are the perks!? Flash Parker is a professional writer and photographer originally from Innisfil, Ontario – a small town about 65km north of Toronto. In a previous life, Flash was a screenwriter (film credits include Wireless and I Hate Dating) and author (Night Has Fallen was released in 2008); currently he travels extensively on assignment as a freelance photojournalist. Flash has had articles and photographs published in South East Asia Backpacker, Conde Nast Traveler, Lonely Planet, Asian Geographic, American Way Magazine, Reader’s Digest, Get Lost Magazine, Escape Magazine and more; additionally, Flash has been nominated for a 2011 PATA Gold Award in destination journalism.
Finding My Muse It all began in 2008. I was mired in a creative funk. My first novel had been released earlier in the year and I had yet to start work on my second. I wasn’t working on any film projects at the time. It was the right time to take a trip and attempt to jumpstart my creative energies. I decided on South Korea; the only things I knew about Asia I had learned from Jackie Chan movies. I knew I was bound to find inspiration. The first thing I noticed about Korea was that everyone walked around with a gigantic SLR hanging from their neck. I resisted the temptation for a while but finally relented – even though I was the world’s worst photographer at the time. I would shoot anything that moved and half the things that didn’t. I thought that a big, expensive camera would make me a better photographer. It didn’t. It made me worse, if anything; I didn’t know the first thing about manual controls, f-stops, ISO or exposure. I was overwhelmed.
I decided that I didn’t like being a rank amateur with a big camera; I started to study. I consumed as much information as I could. I read stacks of photography books, I experimented with every style and technique I could think of and I joined the Seoul Photo Club to learn from like-minded folk. I started using off-camera flash to imitate images I saw in advertisements and on magazines. As luck would have it, a fashion designer in Seoul saw some of my images online and asked me if I’d shoot one of his collections. I took the money I made from that assignment and bought a ticket out of town; I decided then I would spend my photography money on experiences and not new equipment. On that first trip I had a lot of fun but since I was shooting without any purpose or focus my work was uneven at best. It wasn’t until I returned to Korea later in the year that I got my first big break as a travel photographer.
My Big Break An editor at a magazine in Singapore called and asked if I could write a luxury travel story on Seoul. This I knew I could do, so I accepted. The editor also asked if I knew anyone who could shoot images to go with my story – I had no idea if I could pull this one off, but I told the editor that I had it covered. Invariably I must have done a decent job; it was for this piece that I was nominated for the PATA Gold Award. Since that time I’ve written more than 30 travel articles and had a few hundred images published. Now when I hit the road, I think about what it is I want to see or shoot before I leave home. This way I’m able to travel with purpose and a focus; it helps me create informed images of a place and people. The fact that I get to travel for a living gives me cause to pause. I’m humbled by the fact that people are interested in the things I write and the things I shoot; that someone wants to read about the time I chipped a tooth eating a frog in Vietnam or the time I pepper sprayed a monk’s feral dog in Laos amazes me. I got into travel photography with a little bit of luck; I’m hoping that hard work can help me keep at it a little while longer...
A Day in the Life Many people ask, ‘what is a typical day for you?’ which is an impossible question to answer. I live two lives – like a dull James Bond imposter. There’s the exciting, adventurous life of the road, where I live out of a suitcase or backpack and travel to far flung destinations chasing images and creating stories. That’s the fun part. That’s the part people tell me they are envious of. No schedules, no restrictions, no commitments. People have a romanticized vision of how life on the road really is, and for the most part those visions are fairly accurate. It’s the greatest job in the world and a lot of fun. The other side of the coin is my life behind a computer. When I’m not traveling or when I have an assignment due I’ll put in 12-14 hours at the keyboard. I also spend a lot of time communicating with my editors, planning trips, researching destinations and mapping out shooting itineraries. It’s harder than people think to come up with good travel material; it’s more than just showing up to a place and writing about it. For every 2,500-word travel article I have published I may have put in another 100 hours of research – not to mention the time on the road. I put in more hours at “work” than most people I know. Not that I’m complaining – it beats a 9-5 in a suit and tie. One of the biggest perks is working from home in my underwear (it’s harder to get away with this when working from a hotel veranda).
Starting My Own PhotographyBusiness I had been teaching photography workshops in Korea while I was a member of the Seoul Photo Club and I wanted to expand and build upon that experience. I wanted to reach more people after returning to North America. I knew that to be successful I would need to have an edge - there are plenty of companies out there running S.E.A Backpacker
photo workshops, more or less offering the same sort of services. I decided that we wouldn’t just teach people how to use their cameras; we’d teach people how to appreciate the world as photojournalists. Our courses would go beyond the photographic and incorporate elements of reportage and journalism. I recruited a fantastic team of associates that includes photographers Dylan Goldby, Megan Ahrens and digital design guru Len Payne; from this Flash Light Photography Expeditions was born. Running the first series of workshops in South Korea was a natural fit; Dylan Goldby has been taking care of one and two-day workshops for more than a year now, ahead of our first one-week expedition to Jeju Island. We’ve since expanded to offer workshops in Malaysia, Cambodia, the United States and Thailand. We run everything from weekend crash courses to expansive expeditions spread
over two weeks. Basically, if there’s a demand for our unique brand of services we’re willing to accommodate our writers and photographers.
The Future Going forward, I want to make Flash Light Photography Expeditions a success. I want to show people how to travel well and how to shoot better; I think there’s a direct connection between the way we appreciate the world through photography and the way we experience it as travelers.
Also, I hope to write and shoot pieces that elicit change, motivate or move people to make a difference in their community or on a larger scale. Doing as much travel as I’ve done over the last few years has opened my eyes to how a lot of the world works – and just how much we can do as fortunate, privileged western folk. I’ve started to do more conservancy writing and I hope to continue with that. If my writing or my images have the ability to evoke change then I’ll have done something positive with my life.
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W hat’s on: Festivals and Events The “Moon” Parties Koh Phangan, Thailand Full Moon Party:
10th November, 10th December 25th December, 31st December
from dusk until dawn. Smear that multi-coloured paint all over your body, get a glow stick in one hand and a bucket in your other and get ready to party! And, there are special parties on Christmas day and New Year’s eve for those wanting to bring in 2012 with a bang!
Black Moon Culture: 25th November 24th December
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
and an international DJ line up every month, including special guests, the Black Moon Culture is an intense dance experience. Party animals watch out! And just because you’re in Thailand this Christmas and you don’t have to face the turkey with the family, you can dance the night away on Christmas Eve too!
Half Moon Festival:
2nd & 18th November 2nd, 18th & 30th December
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 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
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! P TH ICK E M OF ON Loi Krathong TH
Festival of Lights, Thailand 10th November
1 1 0 2 r e b m e c e D – r e b m e v o N One of the most enchanting and magical festivals in the Thai calendar, takes place on the night of the full moon in November, marking the end of the rainy season. Night skies all across the country become illuminated as glowing lanterns are floated into the air and rivers and lakes glisten with candles as tiny boats are set afloat in honour of the Goddess of
their ‘Durkkha’ or suffering and may wish for good luck in the future. The name of the festival comes from the small lotus shaped boats, which are called ‘krathong.’ Made of banana leaves and filled with candles, incense and other offerings. The boats can also contain locks of hair, photographs or symbolic remnants of the past.
Yi Peng Lantern Festival Chiang Mai, Thailand 10th November
wondrous sight to behold. It is an alternative take on the Loi Krathong Festival of lights, where thousands of people cast their fortunes into the night sky. The paper lanterns, known as ‘khom-fai’ look like big luminous jelly fish hovering up above. Parades, music, markets, street entertainment and of course lots of street food surrounds the festivities by the river.
Bon Om Touk (Water Festival) Cambodia 10th – 14th November
Water. The roots of the festival lie firmly in Buddhist origins and the beliefs centre upon the concept of ‘letting go’ or ‘being freed’ from your troubles. As the lantern or boat is launched and drifts away, it is believed that people can be released from
For those lucky enough to be in Chiang Mai at this time, the festival, known as ‘Yi Peng Lantern Festival’ is a
Bon Om Touk, in Khmer, or the Water Festival to you and me,
begins on the night of the full moon in November, marking the end of the rainy season in Cambodia. It is one of the most enjoyable and vivacious festivals in the country that attracts thousands of captivated partakers to the capital Pnohm Penh. The event celebrates the amazing natural phenomenon of the reversing flow of the Tonle Sap River. Not only is it an important cultural event, it indicates the beginning of a plentiful fishing season for many Cambodians who rely on the water as a vital life source. There are colourful street parties, market stalls, street food, floats, dancing and firework displays, but the main event is the traditional boat races on the Tonle Sap River which date back as far as the 9th century. The exhilarating final is very popular amongst locals and is even watched by the King of Cambodia himself.
W hat’s on: Festivals and Events That Luang Festival Vientiane, Laos 3rd – 9th November
A deeply religious event, the That Luang Festival in Laos’ capital, Vientiane takes place, like most Buddhist Festivals on the day of the full moon in November. On this day, before the break of dawn, thousands of Buddhists surround the beautiful golden temple, That Luang to say prayers and give alms to the monks who have travelled from all across the country for the festival. As the sun rises, the tradition is to circle the stupa three times in an anti-clockwise direction. Flower processions, market stalls, live music and dancing ensue.
Luang Prabang Film Festival Luang Prabang, Laos 3rd – 10th December
in venues around the town that reflect the history of film in Laos and throughout the region. The entire event builds on a longterm sustainable project that seeks to support a burgeoning local industry and art form and encourage a Southeast Asian film community. And, best still for backpackers on a budget, all screenings and activities are completely FREE and open to the public. This is a not to be missed cultural event!
of Kanchanaburi during the remembrance week of the world famous, River Kwai Bridge. Historical exhibitions and displays explain more about the history and a light and sound presentation enacts the World War II legacy.
Christmas All over South East Asia 25th December
Hmong New Year Laos, Vietnam and Thailand December
Early December sees a New Year celebration unique to the culture of the Hmong people, one of the largest ethnic groups residing in Northern Laos, Vietnam and Thailand. The event takes place at different times each year as the timing depends on the harvesting of the rice. The superstitious beliefs of the Hmong people mean that the festival must be at least three days long, as it is bad luck for events to last for an even number of days. Celebrations have been known to proceed for a month and a half!
Dreaming of a white Christmas? Although snow may be a little light on the ground and there ain’t a mince pie in sight, you’ll be sure to find the twinkle of Christmas Spirit in many places across SE Asia. The big question is, where’s the best place for a homesick backpacker to fill their stockings with festive cheer in SE Asia? You can Full Moon it, Khao San Road it, or even tube it! Maybe you fancy a quiet one, just a few beers with a few friends on the beach? Guaranteed, the welcoming people of this part of the world and the joyful atmosphere will ensure you have a merry time wherever you are! (Parts of the Philippines, East Timor and Indonesia hold traditional Christmas celebrations, (known as Hari Natal) amongst the large Christian populace.)
River Kwai Bridge Week Kanchanaburi, Thailand The second annual Luang Prabang Film Festival will present dozens of films from across Southeast Asia over eight days this December, in an exciting celebration of the region’s cinema. The festival’s primary venue is the outdoor Handicraft Market in the centre of town while other screenings will take place in non-traditional spaces in the former royal capital, as Luang Prabang has no working movie theaters. There will also be several special exhibitions
25th November – 6th December
The King’s Birthday Thailand 5th December
Cultural performances, folk dances and a carnival atmosphere pervade the town
The 5th December marks a national holiday throughout the country as Thailand’s beloved
King celebrates his 83rd birthday. Streets and villages across the land will be adorned with decorations and flags and the Grand Palace in Bangkok shall be lit up in his honour. Also, in the capital, there’s to be an alms-giving ceremony, followed by a large festival of music and Thai culture held at Sanam Luang. And, in Phuket, from 28th November – 5th October, the Phuket King’s Cup Regatta, Asia’s largest and most popular Yachting event is held in honour of His Majesty.
International New Year All over South East Asia 31st December / 1st January
As you backpack around Asia, you’ll find yourself at more than one New Year’s celebration...the lunar calendar, the Buddhist calendar, the Chinese calendar. However, the 31st is a big night everywhere in the world. Wherever you’ve chosen to spend the night, rest assured you’ll have a ball! Fireworks in cities, carnivals in towns, house parties in villages. Beach destinations cram with backpackers revved up for a night they plan to remember (but probably won’t after the first bucket!) Popular places include Koh Phangan for Full Moon Party, Koh Tao, Koh Chang’s Lonely Beach or chilled out Sihanoukville, Cambodia.
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Night after night sat in a chilled out beach bar on the west coast of Koh Phangan, we watched the sun set a thousand hues of red over a distant archipelago that rose like a dragons spine out of the sea. Cold beer in hand, camera in the other, gazing in awe at the changing colours of Mother Nature’s most spectacular show, I photographed the islands again and again. It was a magical panorama and my imagination conjured up a place out of Conan Doyle’s ‘The Lost World;’ a place where only sea eagles soared, wild monkeys jumped from tree to tree and quite possibly prehistoric predators still roamed the land. The group of 42 islands that make up Ang Thong National Marine Park lie just 45 kilometers off the coast of Koh Phangan, taking around an hour to get there by speedboat. Gaining status as a protected National Marine Park in 1980, it is rumoured that ‘Ang Thong’s’ incredible natural beauty captured the imagination of none other than cult backpacker hero, Alex Garland, who made the Marine Park the setting for the utopian beach society of his famed novel.
‘Ang Thong’ literally means ‘Bowl of Gold’ and the park covers an area of 250 square kilometers with limestone karsts of different shapes and sizes, reaching between 10-400 meters into the sky. As well as pristine coral reefs and abundant underwater life which attracts divers and snorkelers alike, the area promises picture-postcard white stretches of sand, hidden caves, tropical forests, bizarre rock formations and most appealing of all; an emerald lagoon enclosed on all sides by limestone cliffs. Rather than having to follow a secret map, sneak through druglord protected land or jump from cliffs to get to paradise... I was pleased to discover that there was a day trip from Koh Phangan with a company called ‘Safari Boat’ leaving the next day.... Setting off at 9am from Tan Tour Office in the main port of Thongsala, we boarded the speedboat with a cool looking crew. The kind of ‘Captain Jack Sparrow’ cool that some Thais in this part of the country tend to possess the kind of cool that comes with being brought up in paradise. We sped off into the ocean, leaving behind a white stream, the sun beating down on the deep turquoise ocean. It promised to be a hot day. We anchored the boat at Koh Talap and were given a snorkel and mask and free reign to explore the underwater treasures. We were told to be careful not to stand on or touch the coral as not many people know that it can be damaged so easily. Plunging into the warm waters, the visibility was fantastic. Straight from the boat I followed a colourful pouting parrotfish along the line of the rocks, through a silvery shoal of Barracuda, past a shy baby goby fish poking his head out of the sandy rocks, into a group of elegant angel fish and back out into the ocean where it became too far from the boat for me to follow. I love to lose myself amongst this unusual, peaceful realm and seem to forget the worries of the real world down here so easily... Invigorated we jumped back on the boat for the much anticipated next stop, the Emerald Lagoon, known in Thai as ‘Tha-le Nai’ or the ‘Inland Sea’. We arrived at a small beach where a few other boats were also moored and made our way off the boat and up the steps over the mountain. It was a wonder to behold; a shiny bright green glistening under the sun making the image that you were seeing look like it had already been ‘photoshopped’ and the colours enhanced to appear in a luxury travel magazine. It is believed that the lagoon was created from a huge 250 metre cavern with a limestone roof. Over thousands of years, rainwater eroded the roof causing it to collapse and exposing it to the air. Tourists are not allowed to swim or snorkel in the lake and so the water remained so calm like a sheen of glass that no one dared touch. Under the rock, you could just make out a gentle current where the underground tunnels connected the lagoon to the mighty sea.
on the beach we were greeted by another resident of the Marine Park; a ‘dusky langur’ whose cheeky black furry face looked down at me from the canopy of the trees. As it eyed me up and down our guide reassured me that the friendly monkeys didn’t bite. We boarded the boat once again for our final stop at Ko Wua Ta Lap, where lunch was served! The island is one of the largest and most spectacular of the National Marine Park and anyone’s idea of paradise. Pulling up through turquoise waters onto the white sand, fringed with palm trees all around made me think about the concept of ‘paradise’ and why so many people if asked to sketch a picture of their ideal, would draw something similar to Ko Wua Ta Lap. Standing there on the beach, despite the fact that there were many other tourists around, I decided that there are many versions of paradise, but that this was certainly one of them! After lunch, we set off on kayaks to explore a nearby island. We stayed close to the rock, paddling under natural caves that at one point was so low that you had to lie down to get under the rock. Birds nested in the cliffs above and we spotted a sea eagle soaring nearby. Arriving back
As well as 54 different species of birds, including herons, kites and hornbills, the Marine Park is home to many mammals such as otters, langurs, hogs, silver haired bats, dolphins, whales, not to mention the many reptiles dwelling here such as hawksbill turtles, iguanas, pythons and cobras. Eager to explore the island as much as possible in the three hours that we were there, I followed a wooden sign that said ‘Pha JunJaras Nature Trail,’ which pointed
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upwards to a steep path through the jungle some 500 meters. By the time I had finished kayaking and staring at the monkey, it seemed that everybody was already on their way down. Red faced and sweating, they looked at me scrambling upwards and said “good luck – it is worth it!” Climbing up the rocky jungle path, short on time and flip flops letting me down, there was no way I was turning back. The trail promised a view to end all views. It got a bit tricky at the top where the path became all exposed rock and you had to hold onto the rope to keep your balance, but the trickiness was not enough to make me go back as I could feel the view behind me and I knew that I was in for a treat. Scrambling up the rope the final few metres to the top where a lonely wooden platform was waiting, I didn’t want to look behind me yet. Wanting to save the view for the best possible vantage point. Standing on the platform out of breath, hot and sticky, I turned around to see my glorious reward.
It is moments like this that you will never forget on your travels. No matter how many beautiful sights you have seen in South East Asia, this place never fails to take your breath away again and again. I could have stayed up there all day taking in the amazing vista of Ang Thong Marine Park but our boat was about to leave in 15 minutes and I would have had to camp on the island. I did consider it briefly. After legging it down the mountain, two cut knees later I arrived back at the boat just in time to see the Thai crew load the last boxes. Just another day in paradise I thought as we headed back to Koh Phangan. Trip Details: We took a one day trip from Koh Phangan with Safari Boat costing 1600 baht per person or 1800 baht with kayaking. Entrance to the national park costs an extra 200 baht for foreigners or 40 baht for Thais. Trips can be booked in any travel agency on Koh Phangan. You can also take trips from nearby Koh Samui or Koh Tao and there are options for camping overnight on the island.
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6 5 1 1 3 7 4 8 6 4 8 1 5 4 9 8 1 6 2 9 7 6 8 3 1 6 7 9
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B off the beaten track: S O A L , N A V A PHONS BIG JARS...
By Bridget Backhaus
Photos by Adam Hargreaves
T S U J N A H T MORE
Do yourself a favour: get off the beaten track and onto the dusty trail through central Laos. Bus rides in Laos will have even the most seasoned travellers clutching their backpacks with white knuckles, or in some cases, decorating the side of the bus with their breakfast. It is possible to fly into Phonsavan but, let’s be realistic, we are backpackers, so you’ll most likely arrive by bus. So even if you’re not emptying your stomach, it’s worth sticking your head out the window to see the changes as you head towards the Xiang Khouang Province. After winding your way down through the jagged mountains, the road flattens out to gentle hills, the lush, smothering jungle that towered over your bus gives way to fields and grasslands, and, most likely, your driver floors it on the straight roads. Far from the green mountains and boozey, tube-riddled rivers of Vang Vieng, and the bafflingly-French streets of Vientiane, Phonsavan is not the Laos you’ve already seen. The town of Phonsavan could almost star alongside Clint Eastwood in a western movie. Centered around one dusty main street, there are a few quirky places around town definitely worth a visit. Everyone’s first stop should be the UXO Information Centre. Laos has the unenviable record for the most bombed country per capita in the world. During the Vietnam War between 1963 and 1974, the US military dropped more than 2 million tonnes of explosive ordnance on Laos, a declared neutral country. More bombs fell here than on all of Europe during World War II. The legacy of this secret war remains, particularly in Central Laos. Unexploded Ordnance, UXO, kills more than 300 people in Laos every year. Most of them children. Initially it seems quite kitsch: seeing bowls, spoons and other household items made out of the casings of bombs, a nifty trinket to take home and show the family. In reality, kids get used to seeing bombs inside their homes and don’t associate them with danger. So a game of catch played with something they found on the ground can turn into something terrible. Do your part and don’t
buy any souvenirs made from old bombies. After getting some history, it’s time to head to the main attractions scattered outside town: the Plains of Jars. There are a few theories floating around about these mysterious, ancient jars covering everything from funerary vessels to alien eggs. The local favourite is that, long ago, after 10 years of war, a king defeated his enemy. This king ordered hundreds of giant stone jars built to hold the LaoLao for a year-long celebration of the victory. Chances are, at your guesthouse you’ll meet someone very friendly who just happens to have a friend/family member who just happens to be a tour guide. Be sure to shop around if you plan on taking a guided tour, because there are friendly people with tour guide relatives all over town. Bear in mind the DIY experience can be just as rewarding. By far the best way to explore these remnants of an epic, ancient party, the Plains of Jars, is by motorbike. The roads are quiet and generally, in kind of, almost reasonable shape by Laos standards for any uneasy riders and the scenery is breathtaking. There are heaps of jar sites surrounding Phonsavan to choose from. Sites 1, 2 and 3 are the closest, biggest and are mostly cleared of UXO, but are also, obviously, the most
popular with other tourists. That said, the Plain of Jars hasn’t experienced the tourist boom that has blessed/plagued Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang. Site 1 is speckled with giant stone jars and bomb craters in almost equal numbers. It’s home to some of the biggest stone jars spread across a rolling hillside with views stretching far beyond Phonsavan. The biggest jars weigh up to a tonne and would hold an awful lot of LaoLao, if the rumour is to be believed, your head almost thrums with the potential hangover. While it’s easy to get distracted by these incredible whisky cups, be sure to watch your feet. The areas between the red and white markers have been thoroughly and professionally cleared of UXO. The hillside is scarred with trenches and craters that act as a constant reminder of what can potentially happen if you disobey those little markers. Threats of an explosive demise aside, the Plain of Jars is a magical place, no matter how many tourists charge through, it always seems to be quiet enough to hear the wind in the grass. Heading to Sites 2 and 3 takes you past fields, schools and a few villages. If your visit to Phonsavan and the Plains of Jars teaches you one thing, it’s how to drive a motorbike/hold on for dear life one-handed while waving frantically at locals with the other. But it’s not all about the Jars. The hills around Phonsavan are also home to some beautiful waterfalls and even hot springs. If it’s more of a cultural experience you’re after, head a bit further out of town to visit a Hmong village and learn a bit more about one of the most mysterious and persecuted ethnic groups in South East Asia. Scooting through the centre of Laos gives you a better look at a country renowned for being unbelievably friendly and welcoming. It only takes the occasional crater, red and white marker or skull and crossbones sign to trigger the harsh reminder of just how much this country has gone through. All things considered, the warmth and optimism of the Lao people is even more incredible after a visit to Phonsavan.
Traveller thoughts, stories, tips B T
GUESTHOUSES: A THAI OVERVIEW When I signed in at the guesthouse they gave me a third floor room. A week later and I’m still here. I don’t know why put me all the way up here because the place is empty. Perhaps they thought I wouldn’t mind clambering three flights of stairs several times a day, or maybe I just looked the noisy type the staff wanted to section away. There was a time where I’d be proud of both, but that time has been and gone. The lady who handed me the key was half my age. The woman she hollowed at to show me to my room was probably my Nan’s age. Back arched like Notre dame, I followed her slowly up the stairs, my backpack crushing down on me, I observed her every step with thoughts that my back pack was gonna cripple me in this way too if I didn’t dismount it soon. Once at the door she opened it and looked at me with a beaming smile. Her look suggested that I would be overwhelmed by the room. She was wrong. Of course I wasn’t expecting the Al Capone suite or the Hilton penthouse. I knew what to expect from a room of 200 baht a night, after two and a half months of living on a shoestring around Asia I was fully aware of what I was in for. The old lady (bless her) scuttled away and I took a second to examine the room. A second was all it took. The room comprised of a single bed, four bare white walls and a tiny little table that looked more like a foot rest, or as my grandma used to call it, a poof. The poof made a great resting place for my hat, my wallet, my fake Ray Bans and my book. There was even room for my camera. Who needs four stars when you can have the simple life? Initially, I chose this place because it boasted Wifi. I didn’t realize until after I’d paid for the room however that the Wifi was at an extra cost. Being the blissfully tolerant Yorkshire man I am, I simply accepted the fact and went shopping. Now you can stay in a hundred different guest houses throughout Thailand but most of them possess the same characteristics. Most will have a young woman (rarely men) who acts as the ‘front house’ representative. This figure usually has the best English speaking skills and it is because of this she acts as the main host. They are generally friendly and will always great you with ‘Sa-wat-dee-kaa’ no matter how many times they have seen you that day. These dominatrix of the guesthouse world are the most relevant to the vulnerable traveller and usually can give advice on almost anything that certain town or city has to offer. Don’t piss these cats off cause you never know when they’ll come in handy. Down the working hierarchy, you have the guesthouse slaves, who I’ve categorized into three classes. The first one is the drone. The drone is a friendly character, male or female, aged between 12 and 21, shy, hard working, always eager to better their English, generally skinny to the point of under malnourished, wears skin tight jeans and will normally be found catering to patrons downstairs in the restaurant. They are, more often than not, warm hearted, timid, Hartley By Rich honest individuals. The second is the skiver. Skivers tend to be female and will more than often be found sat on the top floor texting boyfriends or chatting with girlfriends. They giggle a lot when you pay them notice and their favourite words are “I don’t know” followed by a fit of chuckles. The skivers couldn’t be
STORY OF THE MONTH
anything further than their name suggests, they are the hidden back bone of the guesthouses clean image but you rarely actually see them cleaning. My theory is that they wait until every last person has gone off exploring before they unleash their mops and dusters. Skivers play an important role to the running of a guesthouse and should be treated with just as much respect as their peers. Skivers will generally have the key to all rooms so it’s best not to piss these cats off either. The third and final worker is the capable granny. Capable granny is older than your Nan by about two decades but is tougher than an Irish gypsy boxer. Eye contact with these beings is rare as most find it difficult to look up due to many years of hard labor endured in rice fields or carrying bricks on a building site. Gran can be found on all floors carrying out random tasks such as unnecessary towel changing or wiping an already polished banister. Gran’s main job is to remind bewildered patrons of the fact they’ve idly left their toilet rolls in shared bathrooms and other such idiotic discrepancies we tourists make. These reminders are generally communicated with an innocent thunderous gargle of Thai which is always harmless even if it does sound like you’re being given the third degree. Joking aside, you’ll very rarely experience difficulties in a guest house in Asia. Staff are usually polite, the rooms basic but clean and they’re a great way to form friendships with other travellers. Approach every place with an open mind and you really can’t go wrong. Welcome to Thailand. Same same but different.
About the author: Hi! I’m Rich and I’m from the UK. Do I miss home? No! I’m currently teaching English in Thailand, but before that I was doing what you’re probably doing now, backpacking. You have to get it out of your system now... you’re approaching 30! I started my travel blog in 2010 after two years travelling in Australia. To check out my full blog (it’s very interesting) visit: www.mytb.org/Richmeister
By Jennifer Rowe
You’re a Backpacker When...
TE TRAVEL QUO H: OF THE MONT e,
1. You confuse baht with kip, mistake rupees for ringit or riel, but still manage to argue the price down. 2. You can spontaneously decide that tomorrow you’ll go to another country. 3. Taking three different types of transportation on a journey is standard… things only get interesting when it’s five or more. 4. You can arrive in a new country at 3am with no sure idea of where you’re going and instead of being nervous you see it as just another day on the road. 5. You see a storm on the horizon and you still set out to sea. In a boat that you’re pretty sure may leak. 6. You think it’s a little cold if the temperature drops below 28°C. 7. There are ants in your soup but you keep on eating. 8. You know that tiger balm cures all. 9. You think that going shopping and spending more than USD$5 on any one item is very expensive. 10. You can say ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ in four different languages… but can never get the right word in the right country. 11. You can dump your backpack on a boat and only check to see if it’s still there when you return five hours later. 12. You know that lion, tiger and kingfisher are better enjoyed cold from the refrigerator than in a wildlife reserve. 13. You forget to put your shoes back on when leaving a restaurant. 14. You’re just about to order your noodles and see a huge rat, you shrug your shoulders and order anyway. 15. “Mai pen rai” has become your quote for every tricky situation. 16. The closest approximation you can give to your location is… ‘Thailand?’
l to prejudic “Travel is fata s, and many of rrow-mindednes Broad, bigotry, and na these accounts. on ly re so it ed gs cannot be our people ne of men and thin s ew vi e bl ita ar of the earth wholesome, ch one little corner in g tin ta ge ve acquired by ” ~ Mark Twain all one’s lifetime.
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I NTERVIEW: Se Asia Faces & places
hirty years ago, there was no guidebook to Thailand in print. Hard to believe isn’t it? Teaming up with Lonely Planet founders, Tony and Maureen Wheeler, Joe Cummings wrote the first ever travel guide, ‘Thailand: A Survival Kit’ in 1980 and continued to work for Lonely Planet for the next 25 years. He has written over 40 guidebooks and books about Asian culture and continues to write extensively about travel related themes in his role as Deputy Editor of the Bangkok Post’s TheMagazine. We met up with Joe in Bangkok at a very swanky ‘flashpacker’ hotel to find out more about life as an iconic travel writer. Were you interested in Asia from a young age? How did your fascination begin?
How did you find out about new places, things to do and see at the beginning? What was the first thing that you did when you arrived in a new place?
My father was in the military and travelled all over the world. He would bring back interesting objects of art from faraway places like China; masks, artefacts, paintings. As a child they stirred my imagination immensely as I made stories up about the places where each object came from. I guess that is where my passion for travel began. As I lived in France from age 10 to 13, I travelled all over Western Europe from there. Later, when I was about seventeen, I began reading about Buddhism and became extremely interested. Consequently, Thailand was the first country in Asia I visited to learn more about the religion.
I would head straight to the night market to chat with the locals! They’d invite me over to share a bottle of whiskey or I’d ask if I could join them. Then I’d ask about the places to see and things to do around the area. They would recommend waterfalls, museums, monuments... and more often than not they’d take me there on the back of the motorbike the next day.
Was writing always a passion? Or was it born from an interest in becoming a travel writer? As school I enjoyed writing and I was always good at writing essays, but I never seriously thought of it as a profession at that time. I wrote for the school newspaper until they censored what I wrote and so I started my own student magazine called ‘The Judgement’. I was very political in those days, not so much now… Later, when I became interested in Asia and travel, I started to write a column called ‘Asia in Print’ for a newspaper in the US called the ‘Asia Record’. How did you get your ‘big break’ with Lonely Planet? Lonely Planet began in 1974 with their first three books; ‘South East Asia on a Shoe String,’ a guide to Sri Lanka and one to Burma. I contacted them by writing a letter, (there was no internet back then!) and suggested a guide to Thailand, seeing as it was a country, even then, with more tourists than Burma and Sri Lanka put together. I was their first paid author and ended up writing for Lonely Planet for 25 years. Tell us about your first guidebook ‘Thailand: A Survival Kit.’ How long did it take for you to put it together? As you can imagine I was very energetic and enthused about writing my first guidebook! I traveled around Thailand for two months visiting every place and doing research and I actually managed to write the entire book in just three weeks!
Be honest, was there ever a place, a beach, a restaurant or anywhere you found that you thought ‘No, I’m not going to tell anyone about this. I want to protect it and keep it this way’? Yes, quite a few times actually! Although it never worked as the places were always discovered through word of mouth eventually. Even today, word of mouth is more powerful than a guidebook or travel writing anyway. But then I guess that the modern day forum / Twitter / Trip Advisor is today’s word of mouth. To ask the obvious, was travel thirty years ago more adventurous without all today’s modern technology / guidebooks / tour packages? Hell yeah! Traveling back then in Asia, if you saw another backpacker walking down the road you would run over and wrap your arms around them! Have guidebooks changed travel to become less adventurous? Did the Lonely Planet make places less ‘lonely’ so to speak? At first, guidebooks opened up places that people may not have considered travelling to before, so called ‘risky’ third world countries. So, you could say that guidebooks contributed to an expansion of tourism in these places, but I don’t think that a guidebook actually affects the choice of someone wanting to visit the country. For example, people don’t see a Thailand guidebook and then decide to go. They decide to go first and then they check out more information. How do you feel about ‘over-touristy’ places that
some people may say are ‘ruined’ by tourism? Do you think guidebooks are to blame for this?
Photography by Dan White
Places that are the most desirable to the greatest number of people are going to have extreme pressure put on them to become over-developed and ‘ruined’. On the other hand, places that only fit a niche market, like Isaan (North Eastern Thailand) receive only 2% of tourists, despite the fact that I write about it all the time. Being the number one driver of tourism, beaches and islands are always under the most extreme threat of becoming over-popular. At this point, the responsibility really falls on the shoulders of not just the travel writers providing the information, but the local communities with legislation to protect the area. And then of course, travellers themselves need to be aware to not demand services which may overtax the environment. It continues to be a big problem. On the flip side, does tourism have its benefits? Yes certainly, tourism can be a force for good. For example, before Phuket relied on tourism, the main industry was tin mining, which was ravaging the island’s environment much worse than tourism is doing now. There are also examples of dynamite fishing destroying coral and other bad practices going on in so called beautiful spots way before tourism arrived, many of which have been stopped now as the environment becomes more protected to ‘show off’ to tourists… Sometimes tourism can help to preserve a place; even in things like locals becoming proud to show off their culture and traditional ways if they notice that foreigners are interested. But yes, it still remains a double-edged sword. Where are your favourite spots in South East Asia? I love Laos. I would say it is my favourite place in Asia as it just has so much wonderful nature, mountains, history, not to mention the friendly people. The country is under-populated with only four million people, so there are a lot of open spaces, which I love. Second would be Burma. Despite the terrible government, which we’re all aware of, the people are so beautiful and the landscape is incredible. I was actually blacklisted to go there by the Myanmar government for many years after writing the Lonely Planet Guides to Myanmar 1986-98. Although there are concerns about travel there supporting the government, I would definitely encourage more people to visit! When I was travelling there I didn’t meet a single person inside Burma who said that they didn’t want tourism. They were just so happy to see me! Why punish the large civilian population to target a small group of people at the top. Is there a country that you haven’t been that is still on your list? Morocco has been on my list for ages so I’m excited to be finally going there soon! Other than that I’ve never been to Turkey. Er... Mongolia. Probably some more countries in South America; Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Argentina one of these days... oh and Eastern Europe! Romania, Bulgaria, Albania... quite a lot of places actually! So after 25 years working as a travel writer, you do still very much have a passion for travel I see!? My passion for travel has never ebbed. I just got a little tired of the travel writing industry. Like everything these days, travel publishing became more corporate. It used to be that the writer decided everything to put in the book. Then, it became little suggestions from editors which turned into 60-page briefs about where to go and what to see! Next, there became marketing ‘focus groups’ which would result in the editor saying “Hey Joe, we notice you have this little town in Northern Thailand that none of the other guidebooks are mentioning, Rough Guides doesn’t have it, Frommer’s doesn’t have it, Fodor’s doesn’t have it... so I don’t think we really need that!” Another time they said, “Hey Joe, a restaurant that you mention here, you say has no sign or menu in English - do you think tourists really want to go to a place like that?” “Jesus!” I remember saying, “how do you think Lonely Planet made its name in the first place? We went to places that no-one had been before.” It all became so corporate that they couldn’t take a chance. And, for the travel writer, this meant that the job became less creative with less freedom of style. Do you still use guidebooks? If you go to a new city? No, not anymore I have to admit. Perhaps if I was going to a place to live for a month or longer I would, but for just a holiday, I use the internet. I’m going to Morocco next month and I’m downloading Lonely Planet chapters, printing them out as pdfs to take with me – just to get exactly the part I want rather than the whole book. Do you still hang out with Tony and Maureen? When they were bought out by the BBC for 260 million US dollars there became somewhat of a wealth gap between us – as in I could no longer
afford to drink in the same bars! What are your other interests besides writing? I hear you are in a band? I was recently in a band called ‘Tonic Rays’ that broke up in 2008 but are actually reuniting next month for a brief set of gigs in Chiang Mai. I play lead guitar and I write songs. Also, I’ve been playing recently with a band visiting Thailand from Mexico City and we play ‘Cumbia’, which is a latin-american, progressive urban sound... really exciting and tropical, similar to salsa but more upbeat. How do you manage to blend passions of writing and music? Could it ever be one or the other? I love music more to be honest. Many times I actually thought that I wanted to quit writing and pursue a musical career. I tried ‘making it’ once in my early 20’s and then later, in 2006, I quit writing guidebooks for three years and all I did during that time was play music. But it was just so difficult to make a living. During the whole time I was writing I never gave up playing privately but I guess it just isn’t in the cards for me. Tell us about your latest book, Sacred Tattoos of Thailand? For people who know nothing about tattoos in Thailand - can you enlighten us? It is a really fascinating subculture. Unlike in the West, tattoos here in Thailand are not just for decoration, but are spiritual. People get them to make adjustments in their life, fix their karma, get more personal charisma, wealth or courage, even protection from bullets! There is a lot of ritual involved in getting the tattoo and the strength of the tattoo comes not just from the ink design but from the power of the master who plants the magic in you when he is creating it. The tattoo acts almost like a portal for the energy to come through. Finally, you have to protect that energy by following certain rules which if you don’t adhere to, the tattoo loses its power. This is what happens to 99% of people in Thailand, which is an easy outlet when the bullet does pierce the skin! Rules include the basic five Buddhist principles of not killing, lying, stealing, abstaining from sexual misconduct and becoming intoxicated. Every tattoo master has different rules, for example Ajarn Noo, the tattoo master who did Angelina Jolie, has 19 unique rules. There are some really strange, archaic rules such as dont eat purple ‘gourd’ (vegetables) or star-fruit or don’t walk under a bridge without a cap on! Have you visited the Tattoo Festival here in Thailand? Yes it is incredible. It is usually held in March / April about an hour outside of Bangkok at Wat Bang Phra which attracts around a thousand people each year. People who have tattoos go into trances and become tigers, bears or other wild creatures. In essence what is happening is that they are recharging their tattoos and the power that they have lost during the year from breaking all of the rules. Are there any tips you have for our readers in getting into a career as a travel writer? Well I would have to say it is tough these days... much harder now. I think that there was a peak in travel guidebooks and travel publishing in general in the late 1980’s to mid 1990’s. I started to notice less titles being published in 2000 and the pay coming down for travel writers – which was the same for freelancers in newspapers and magazines. It started to become a lot tighter. Having said that, the talented writer will always find a way to get published! Joe’s latest book ‘Sacred Tattoos of Thailand’ is out in book stores in Thailand at the beginning of November. You can also order your copy on Amazon right now! S.E.A Backpacker
They go together like fish and chips, like cheese and biscuits, like peaches and cream, like Brad and Angelina, like Oreos and bus journeys... okay so you get the picture! Beer and curry... a curry and a beer. A “burry”. Spicy, tangy flavorus swilled down with ice cold, crisp liquid nectar! It doesn’t matter which country you are travelling in South East Asia, it’d be rude not to sample the local ale and national curry! We’ve put together a beer and curry matchmaking guide for backpackers. Cos let’s face it, you drink enough of the stuff!
E D I U G Y R R U C & R E BE to South East Asia
THAILAND: Massaman Curry & Singha Beer Mostly found in South Thailand, this coconut based curry is Muslim in origin and is usually made with beef or chicken. The actual word ‘Massaman’ is believed to be an ancient word for ‘Muslim’ as many of the spices used in the curry were brought to Thailand by early Muslim traders and later the Portuguese who picked them up in the Middle East and India and brought them to the Southern coast of Thailand. Made with crushed peanuts, cardamon, bay leaves, turmeric, cinnamon, tamarind, fish sauce, potatoes, onions and of course coconut milk, it’s a rich, flavoursome and aromatic curry. It can be served with rice or with a roti (indian flatbread). Unlike many Thai curries, this one won’t blow your head off as the coconut milk counteracts the spices, keeping the flavour mild. With more Indian influence than traditional Thai, the dish has been likened to a korma by some.
abundance at ‘Bon Om Uk’ Festival which celebrates the incredible turning of the water of the Tonle Sap River and marks the end of the monsoon season.
Angkor Beer is a source of National Pride to Cambodians; “My Country. My Beer” so the advertising slogan goes. You can’t go anywhere without seeing an advert, umbrella or beer mat dedicated to the country’s favourite drink. The perfect beverage to wash down Cambodia’s national dish.
Sat in a Khmer restaurant in Siem Reap’s down-town Pub Street area, watching the street life go by and gearing up for yet another wild in Angkor What? Bar.
THAILAND: Penang Curry & Chang Beer
Clean and crisp Singha Beer is one of the most famous Thai beers, perfect as a refreshing beverage on a tropical hot day in Thailand. Drink in a glass with lots of ‘namkeng’ (ice) for a true Thai-style experience.
Usually made with thin strips of beef, Penang Curry is a strong, spicy dish with a very distinct flavour. It’s name suggests that it derives from the small island of Penang, on the west coast of Malaysia. However, like many dishes, it is likely that Thailand have put their own unique twist on the recipe. With many traditional Thai herbs such as galangal, lemongrass, coriander, cumin, garlic and shallots plus lots of fresh chilli - the curry paste is fried with coconut cream until it is almost dry and then topped with fresh kaffir lime. You can buy Penang curry paste in a packet for about 20 baht so you can make delicious curries to impress your friends when you get back home!
Overlooking the sunset over the Andaman Sea on a beach bar in Koh Phi Phi. The perfect meal to get you ready for a night of dancing on the beach... involving lots more Singha Beers!
CAMBODIA: Amok Curry & Angkor Beer Another coconut based, tongue tantalising curry is Cambodia’s most famous traditional dish, Amok, mostly made with cod or monkfish, known as ‘amok trey’. With a subtle, mild almost comforting taste, the gentle flavours come from the fish being steamed rather than fried and the coconut base perfectly compliments the deep fragrant mix of spices which goes into making the curry paste called ‘kroeung’. Spices which are ground together to make the base include turmeric, ginger, garlic, fresh lemongrass, kaffir lime zest, galangal, shallots, dried red chillies and of course fish sauce! Attractively served in a banana leaf bowl, garnished with kaffir lime leaves and served with a side dish of boiled rice, this Khmer curry is a must for anyone visiting Cambodia. It is served in
Chang Beer is cheap and dirty and if the Penang Curry is as spicy as it is supposed to be you’ll need to neck plenty of ice cold bottles of Chang to calm your burning tongue. Plain ol’ water just doesn’t seem to hit the spot like Chang does. But then there is the tiny detail of a ‘changover’ to consider the next day... don’t say we didn’t warn you!
Bangkok, Koh Phangan, Chiang Mai, Kanchanaburi, you’ll find Penang curry on the menu in many places in Thailand, in each place made slightly different - usually due to the preferences of the Thai chef.
INDONESIA: Rendang Curry & Bintang Beer Rendang curry originates from the Minangkabau ethnic group of Indonesia who are native to the highlands of wild West Sumatra. As with all dishes of Islamic origin, pork is not a popular meat, with beef or chicken being the most frequently used. It is a much loved, much celebrated dish that is popular throughout Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei. Cooked slowly over three or four hours to create the rich fragrant flavours, the meat absorbs the spices and coconut milk making it tender, rich and oh so tasty. More of an aromatic thick stew than a regular curry, spices include turmeric, galangal, garlic, ginger and lemongrass. One of the key ingredients is ‘kerisik’ made from toasting grated coconut and then grinding it into a paste, sometimes also called ‘coconut butter’. Delicious! Rendang is often prepared during festivals or served to honoured guests at ceremonies and was mentioned in Malay classic literature as early as 1550! Like a good lasagna or hot pot, Rendang gets better with age and some chefs prefer to serve weeks after they first cooked it!
Bintang Beer is the national beer of Indonesia that is often compared to Heineken in taste. The beer is a ‘pilsner’ which for all you beer rookies out there means a clear, bottom fermented lager. Grab a big bottle as the perfect compliment to your Chicken Rendang!
Sat in the middle of nowhere watching the sun set on one of Indonesia’s 17,508 islands.
SINGAPORE: Chili Crab & Tiger Beer Although not technically a curry, we feel we couldn’t miss the irresistible combo of Singapore’s Chili Crab and Tiger Beer! Originating in 1950, Chili Crab was created by Singaporean chef ‘Cher Yam Tian’ and has since become famous throughout the country and a world-renowned dish, recently named number 45 of CNN Go’s 50 Most Delicious Foods in the World. Commonly made with ‘mud-crab,’ which despite the unappetizing name is a soft, juicy and very tasty crustacean, the dish is flavoured with a thick tomato and chili based sauce, not too spicy. Ingredients also include garlic, rice vinegar and soya sauce. Eggs are beaten and added at the end to create egg-ribbons in the sauce.
Okay, so the beer is three times more expensive here in Singapore than what you were paying in Laos, but a backpacker’s got to treat themselves once in a while right? Savour every mouthful of your meal with Singapore’s national beer, Tiger.
Best eaten at a hawker stall or outdoor restaurant in Singapore’s atmospheric China Town watching people go by and chatting with fellow travellers.
By Rebecca Gennard
Lending a helping hand at the Cambodian Handicraft Association Lunch is provided for all of the women at CHA and I was also invited to join them, which I did every lunchtime. Throughout my time on the project, I ate a range of different things from unripe papaya to stuffed frogs! I have actually grown to love the Khmer food and feel lucky that I was able to experience Khmer culture first hand. They have also taught me to cook a Khmer dish, which I helped to prepare one lunchtime. The main project that I was working on throughout my time in Cambodia was the new company website. I spent a lot of time sorting out written work; cutting
I recently volunteered with an organisation called Outreach International, where I worked directly for a company called the Cambodian Handicraft Association (CHA) for landmine and polio victims, based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. CHA was set up in 2000 by a local group of Khmer people who realized how difficult it was to obtain any sort of employment as a disabled person in Cambodia. The organisation offers the disabled artists a new skills base which will eventually allow them to return to their communities and lead a normal life. This helps immensely with their rehabilitation into society. My application to take part in Outreach International was a very impulsive decision. I wanted to have an adventure, I wanted to help someone and I wanted to have a taste of a different culture. This decision turned out to be by far one of the best things I have ever done. Everyone at CHA was very kind and welcoming, although at the beginning it was a little lonely as there was such a great language barrier. The women’s English was not that great and my Khmer was obviously non existent at the start, but I found that laughter is a universal language. Having a sense of humour helped my success on the project. I was so happy to be accepted into their close-knit community.
out what was not needed and correcting the English. I also photographed some of their newly-made products which will be put on the website with the idea to start selling things on the web. By creating a fresh, new website the hope is that they will receive more orders soon! Eventually, they aim to set up an online shop so they can sell their products all over the world to earn more money. This will mean that they will be able to invite more women to attend the project giving them a better chance in life. As I have come from a textile design background I was also helping Thai Ly (the design director) with design ideas for orders that come in from other countries. I taught some of the women new embroidery stitches and new techniques, such as appliqué, so that they can use them in their everyday work. I showed them how to transfer patterns onto fabric and created the tools that they need to carry this method out, so hopefully, it is something that they can use for years to come. The process is called ‘pricking and pouncing’. I also produced some new products that use their scrap fabrics, with the hope that they can sell them in the shop. The products include bunting, embroidered cards and embellished purses. Throughout the project I taught basic English to three women who knew no English at all. The English lessons went well. At first it was really difficult as I didn’t know any Khmer and they didn’t know any English. One of my students also didn’t know how to read and write in Khmer, so using an English/Khmer dictionary wasn’t that helpful either. After I had a few Khmer lessons, it made my job a lot easier. I was able to teach them easy greetings, for example “hello” and “how are you?” as well as names of animals, body parts and clothing. I also began teaching them the sounds that the letters make, with the hope it will help them with the pronunciation and eventually help them to read English. I taught them through drawing pictures and playing games. Surprisingly, in Cambodia students are not traditionally taught in this way, but are taught through repetition; saying words over and over again. I tried my best to make the lessons fun. Sometimes I would take the whole class when the main teacher could not attend. These lessons were a lot more interactive, as
most of the women understood what I was asking them to do. We would do role plays and include the whole class. I didn’t think I would enjoy teaching, but I really do, it is good fun! It’s a wonderful, inspiring feeling to know that I am helping the students to become more employable when they leave the CHA project, because even knowing a small amount of English will go a long way. Throughout my time here I have had the opportunity to travel. I have fallen in love with Cambodia. The people are so lovely, friendly and fun-loving. They don’t take life too seriously and they have a strong sense of community. I was invited on a few trips with CHA, the first being a Cambodian wedding, which I was very excited to witness. The wedding was in Takeo (in the country) so we had to travel three hours to get there. We arrived at a small village, where they lived in wooden houses and appeared to be quite poor. Three generations would live in one house, which was just a large room with dividers separating the area into bedrooms. I don’t think that many of the young children here had ever seen a white person before, so I got a lot of attention! I was made to feel very welcome and was included in all of the wedding traditions. It was completely different from an English wedding; for one the bride and groom changed their outfits about six or seven times. Each outfit was equally elaborate and each one was a different colour. The bride’s dresses were intricately decorated with beads and sequins. Another trip I attended with CHA was to a weaving village to see how people made long lengths of silk and scarves. It was fascinating for me to see these processes as textiles is very much my passion! They would receive the plain white strands of silk and dye the strands to the right colour before they started. The whole village was involved in creating silk fabric and every house had a loom. The villagers would learn the trade from a young age, so they could help their families and use weaving to create an extra income. I very much enjoyed my unique Cambodian experience and I believe that it has made a long-lasting impression on me. I would like to thank the Catenians for their support in making my dream possible. Join CHA on Facebook to show your support: Facebook.com/CHACambodia
By Jessica Williams
‘Meditation is like cultivating the land. Look very deep into your mind every day, and try to weed, because every day seeds are coming in the mind. They will take root and if you let them stay there long, their roots will become very strong.’ (From Burmese Monk, Sayadaw U Jotika’s book, A Map of the Journey) At Mindful Farm, Pi Nan not only aims to grow organic fruit and vegetables, but also to grow the seeds of mindfulness in all the people who come to volunteer on the farm. Being in a peaceful environment, free from distractions we can see what parts of our mind that may need to be weeded, and which seeds we need to water so they can grow into peaceful flowers for all we meet to enjoy. After having been a monk for more than 20 years, Pi Nan left the monkhood and started Mindful Farm, however he stills lives a simple Buddhist lifestyle; vegetarian, few possessions and meditates every day. He laughs as he tells people the story that he arrived to his brother’s piece of land outside of Doi Saket, Chiang Mai, North Thailand, with 500 Baht in his pocket. After he had run out of money he was forced to sell some second hand books to bookstores in Chiang Mai. But with some of this money, he bought a rose bush to plant on the land because he wanted to have something beautiful growing to inspire him.
From this inspiration a year ago, he has, with the help of volunteers from around the world, developed the farm and created a calm and peaceful haven for people to come and stay, meditate, learn how to build with mud, grow vegetables, live together as ‘brothers and sisters’ and most importantly grow mindfulness within themselves. Mindfulness is a word used in connection with Buddhism and meditation, but what is mindfulness? Essentially it means to be in the present moment. It is knowing what we are doing while we are doing it. As Pi Nan often instructs people who are staying at the farm; ‘when you are planting seeds, you know you are planting the seeds, when you are cutting food to cook, you do so peacefully and concentrate your mind on cutting; not on the past, not on the future, but on cutting. When you are angry, know you are angry, and it means mindfulness is there. Mindfulness will take care of your anger or sadness like a mother takes care for her baby. And then your anger, sadness or whatever emotion, will change to be better, to be positive. So often our minds are busily racing ahead thinking
or worrying about the future, or alternatively regretting or reliving the past, mindful thinking brings us to the present moment. A beneficial way to create conditions for mindful living is to make time to meditate. At Mindful Farm we all meditate together in the morning after waking up. Often we do walking meditation by walking up the hill overlooking the mist filled valley to greet the day, and then do sitting meditation amongst the trees, plants and animals. Other times we practice yoga and then sit in meditation. In the evening we all come together again after dinner to sit in meditation. Having this time at the beginning and the end of the day is a chance to bring our minds back home, to focus on the breath and pay attention to our minds. The benefits of a regular meditation practice are enormous, and persistence to coming back to meditate each day is a gift to yourself and others around you that will benefit from your peaceful energy. There is nothing stopping us from meditating in a backpacker guest house too! During the day we all have the opportunity to put mindfulness into practice, because as many great teachers say, if we think negative thoughts all day, we cannot expect to find peace in the half an hour we meditate. Every moment is an opportunity to practice mindfulness. Pi Nan tells people who have newly arrived to the farm, “slow down, take your time, no need to be in a hurry here.’ His voice can often be heard floating through the valley singing his favorite song, ‘happiness is here and now, I have dropped my worries, nowhere to go, nothing to do, no longer in a hurry.’ Regardless of where you are, you too can apply this way of being to your own life. In my time at Mindful Farm I have witnessed the visible slowing down of people who arrive. Often people who come to volunteer or visit the farm have
been travelling for a long time, or are used to living in the fast-paced lifestyle of a city. They take a deep breath when they step onto the farm, look across the vivid green valley and begin to let go of their worries, the need move quickly, the need to talk to fill the silence. Rather they find a place to just be, a place to find peace in this often manic and demanding world. The way of life at Mindful Farm is free from many of the distractions we often use in our daily lives to avoid seeing what is truly going on in our minds. We may use television, internet, mindless chatter and so on to fill ourselves making it hard to find any clarity or space. We also constantly pour in thoughts about the past and future, worries, anxieties, until we are rarely living in this moment. Adding further to this many of us are disconnected from nature, rarely feel mud between our toes or under our finger nails, many have never seen a seed sprout or picked vegetables from the garden for our dinner rather
than racing through the supermarket aisles. As Thich Nat Hahn says, (a Vietnamese Monk whose words are often used as inspiration at Mindful Farm) “Nature is our mother. Because we live cut off from her, we get sick. Some of us live in boxes called apartments… around us are only cement… our fingers do not have the chance to touch the soil.’ It is very true many people do not know how fruit and vegetables grow, the disconnection is so vast, they have only experienced them in the supermarket. Here at the farm, it is with such childlike joy that people plant beans and see them sprout a day or two later and treat them like their little babies, watering them, weeding around them, and getting a great sense of the simple joy of growth - something so many people are no longer connected with. Every day there are such lessons to be learnt at the farm and from our lives wherever we find ourselves. Sometimes when we go to meditate outside amongst the leaves, there are many insects and ants. It can be a challenge trying not to react to every little itch or movement in the grass. This is a wonderful lesson to see what our minds are habitually trained to do; always react without taking a moment to consider the sensation that has risen within us that is forcing us to react in such a way. What will happen if we do not react to the ant walking up our leg? Sometimes by not reacting the ant peacefully goes on its way, but if we do react we get bitten. The same goes for watching anger rise within us, what happens if we just watch the anger? Often it will then pass away more quickly than if we react, and also cause less damage. Often Pi Nan and I have been walking around the farm as he points out the properties of various plants, this one that sprouts all over the place and seems to be a weed is good to eat, this one is effective for constipation, this helps for kidney stones…The other morning he stopped, looked around, and smiled with his peace filled, innocent smile and said “THIS is Paradise.” And it is. At the moment we are making a lot of compost in preparation for planting fruit and vegetables so we can be as self-sufficient as possible at the farm. Compost is one of the most important things you can do in farming or gardening. We are making what is called 18-day compost or the ‘Berkely Method’. It involves layering dry brown organic material, green organic matter - ideally use weeds you have collected and manure. Then you make a compost cake, one metre high and one metre round. It is quite a meditative process laying down each layer and becomes even more so when looked at through Pi Nan’s metaphor, that ‘suffering is the compost of wisdom and enlightenment.’ When he said this, he then laughed and added, if you want it to sound more poetic, you
can say ‘a flower of wisdom comes from the compost of suffering.’ Development of mindfulness to me feels to be enhanced by simple living. At Mindful Farm accommodation is in simple bamboo and wooden huts. We often walk without shoes and have dirty feet all day, I do not use a mobile phone here and rarely use the internet. Without so many distractions I find myself in the moment more and more, I feel lighter, free of worries, and can just be. I can be with the seeds I plant, the vegetables I pick, the food I eat, the rain water I drink. Things make more sense living like this. I write this article to inspire others to practice mindfulness in their everyday lives and reconsider the need to possess so many material things; do they make you happy or do they weigh you down? When I am travelling now, I have a much lighter backpack. It not only gives greater physical freedom but also allows for greater mental freedom. Listen to your breath, listen to the birds, the insects, feel the sunshine, step onto the earth and know you are stepping on the earth and do so in peace. These lessons allow me to reflect on life and consider how by letting go of many things is the best way to finding something within ourselves that is much more valuable. For more information about Mindful Farm, please visit: http://mindfulfarmers.blogspot.com/ About the author: (Jessica Williams) I like to think of myself as a global citizen, however I grew up in the Adelaide hills and later in Alice Springs, Australia. Both places run through my blood although the land is very different. I love trees and think we should sit with them and climb them more. My life philosophy is to live many lives in one. I am currently living at Mindful Farm, finding deep peace and growing a glorious tree of mindfulness within myself. I am enjoying meeting the diverse mix of volunteers that come to the farm and learning from them. I am also learning enormous lessons from Pi Nan’s example of simple, mindful living and deep compassion and I thank him with great gratitude. I currently write in the occupation space on immigration forms a variety of things each time... some recent ones; farmer, writer (aspiring), jackfruit promoter... more to come!
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Brunei Darussalam: Currency: Brunei Dollar, divided into 100 cents. Exchange rate: $1 USD = $1.23 BN Dollar Capital city: Bandar Seri Bagawan Main religion: Islam (official) 67% Buddhist (13%) Christian (10%) Indigenous beliefs (10%) Main language: Malay (official) English also widely spoken. Telephone code: +673 Time: GMT + 8 hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: Salam (Hello) Terimah kasih (Thank you) Visa: Nationals of most European countries, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and New Zealand do not need a Visa for visits of up to 30 days. USA citizens can stay for up to 90 days. Most other nationalities need to apply for a visa in advance which takes 1-3 days to process. (Single entry B$20 or multiple entry B$30) 72 hour transit visas are also available. Passports must be valid for up to 6 months before entering. Visa extension: Visas can be renewed at embassies in Bandar Seri Bagawan. Climate: Brunei experiences a hot, humid climate all year round. Most rainfall is between September and January, peaking in November and December, but this can vary. 1 random fact: Bruneians call their country the ‘Abode of Peace.’ With its spotless, quiet streets, shimmering mosques, calm rivers and reverent people it’s easy to understand why. Ambulance: 991 Fire: 995 Police: 993
Cambodia: Currency: Cambodian Riel (US Dollars accepted) Exchange rate: $1 USD = 4,060 KHR Capital city: Phnom Penh Main religion: Theravada Buddhism (95%) Main Language: Khmer Telephone code: +855 Time: GMT + 7 hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: Sua s’dei (Hello) Aw kohn (Thank you) Visa: Most nationalities can obtain a 1 month tourist Visa upon arrival which costs around $20. At land border crossings, notably the Thai/Cambodian border, the fee can be more expensive as the cost is paid in baht and is sometimes rounded up considerably. You will need 1 or 2 passport photos to apply, or you will be charged extra (usually only $1-2.) Passports must be valid for up to 6 months before entering. E-Visa: You can now apply for an E-visa online. Preorder at: www.mfaic.gov.kh and your visa will cost $25 set price. You will need a digital photo of yourself to upload. Processing takes 3 days and you will get the visa straight to your mailbox. See official website for up to date info on which borders support the E-visa as not all of the crossings take it yet. Visa extension: Obtained at Phnom Penh immigration office, opposite International Airport. Tourist visas can be extended 1 month. (Around US$35) For longer extensions ask at Immigration Office. Penalty for late departure: US$5 / day. Climate: The hottest month is April with temperatures hitting 40 degrees. The wet season starts in May or June and lasts until October. The downpours are heavy and do not last long. The best season to visit is December to February, when there is little rain, low humidity and cool breeze. 1 random fact: North Eastern Ratanakari Province is one of the least visited, yet most beautiful parts of Cambodia. Rolling hills, mountains, volcanic crater lakes and some great opportunities for trekking to local minority villages; it is slowly becoming an intrepid destination for adventure seeking travellers.
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: In many places, the architecture of East Timor is a reflection of over four hundred years of colonial rule by Portugal. In the capital, Dili, the ruins of a fortress built by the Portuguese in 1627 still remain. Emergency numbers: Ambulance: 7233212 Police: 112
Indonesia: Currency: Indonesian Rupiah Exchange rate: $1 USD = 8,625 IDR Capital city: Jakarta Main religion: Islam (88%) Main language: Bahasa Indonesia (official) There are also many regional dialects. Telephone code: +62 Time: GMT + 7 hours (Sumatra, Java) GMT + 8 hours (Bali, Sulawesi, Nusa Tenggara) GMT + 9 hours (Maluku and Papua) Hellos and Thank-you’s: Salam (hello) terimah kasih (thank you) Visa: Nationals of Australia, Canada, USA, UK and most European countries are eligible for a 30 day visa upon entry, which costs $25 USD. (Cost varies depending on point of entry.) The previous $10 7-day visa is no longer available. Payments can be made in US Dollars only. You will need 2 passport photographs and your passport must be valid for up to 6 months before entering. Penalty for late departure: Up to $20 / day. For more than 60 days overstay travellers risk deportation or imprisonment. Climate: Indonesia has just 2 seasons, wet season, which falls between April and October and dry season, which falls between May and September. Throughout all of the year the climate is hot and humid, although there are snow-capped peaks in the highlands of Papua. As Indonesia is such a long country, the difference in the seasons varies. In some areas, the distinction between the wet and dry season is great, such as the Nusa Tenggara when the wet season (December to February) can make transport difficult, with road floods and ferry cancellations. In Sumatra,
the rain falls from October to January in the North and from January to February in the South. In Bali there is little difference between the seasons where weather is similar all year round. 1 random fact: The highly endangered species, the Sumatran Orangutan is native to the rainforests of Indonesia’s largest isle. Due to the ongoing destruction of their habitat there are only an estimated 6,600 orangutans left in the wild. The orangutan viewing centre in Bukit Lawang, Sumatra is one of the only places where you can get close to these amazing creatures in their natural environment. Emergency numbers: (Java) Fire: 113 Police: 110 Medical assistance: 118, 119
Laos: Currency: Lao KIP (US Dollars accepted) Exchange rate: $1 USD = 8,013 LAK Capital city: Vientiane Main religion: Buddhism Main language: Lao (official) Telephone code: +856 Time: GMT + 7 hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: Sabaydee (Hello) Khawp Jai (Thank you) Visa: Most nationalities can obtain a 30 day visa for Laos at international airports and land border crossings. The cost ranges from $20 - $42, depending on your nationality. At the Thailand/Laos border if you pay in Thai baht fees can be more expensive. You will need 2 passport photos and your passport must be valid for at least 6 months upon entering. Visa extension: Visa extensions can be applied for at the Vientiane Immigration Office, which costs US$2 / day for 30 days. Extensions can also be obtained from some travel agents for around US$3. 90 day extensions are available, ask at the embassy for details. Penalty for late departure: Up to US$10/day. Long overstays can lead to arrest and imprisonment. Climate: The wet season in Laos is between May and October and the dry season between November and April. Temperatures during this time are the most comfortable, and can be quite cold in mountainous areas. The hottest time of the year is between March and May, with temperatures reaching 38 degrees. 1 random fact: Pha That Luang is a dazzling golden stupa situated on the East side of Laos’ capital Vientiane. It is a highly important symbol of Buddhism and the national monument of Laos. Legend has it that this was once the site of an Indic temple dating back to the 3rd century that housed a piece of Lord Buddha’s breast bone. Emergency numbers: (Vientiane) Ambulance: 195 Fire: 190 Police: 191
Malaysia: Currency: Malaysian Ringgit Exchange rate: $1 USD = 3.00 MYR Capital city: Kuala Lumpur Main religion: Islam (official) Main language: Bahasa Melayu (official) Telephone code: +60 Time: GMT + 8 hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: Salam (Hello) Terimah kasih (Thank you) Visa: Most nationalities are granted a free 30-90 day entry pass upon arrival at international airports and border crossings. Passports must be valid for at least 6 months upon entering. Please note that Sarawak is a semi-autonomous state and upon entry your passport will be stamped and a new pass issued. Visa extension: Visas can be extended at Immigration offices in Malaysia. Fees depend on intended duration
of stay. Climate: Malaysia’s climate is hot and tropical. The West coast of Peninsular Malaysia experiences the monsoon season from May to September, with August being the wettest month. On the other hand, the East coast of the peninsula and Sabah and Sarawak experiences heavy rainfall between November and February. 1 random fact: The Cameron Highlands in central Peninsular Malaysia covers an area of fertile land 1,500 meters above sea level, hence the cooler climate. Discovered in 1885 by Sir William Cameron, a British colonial government surveyor, the region has become famous as the home of Malaysia’s largest tea plantations. Emergency numbers: Fire: 994 Police and Ambulance: 999
Myanmar: Currency: Kyat (US Dollars used) Exchange rate: $1 USD = 6.41 MMK Capital city: Became Naypyidaw in 2005 Main religion: Buddhism Telephone code: +95 Time: GMT + 6 ½ hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: Min gala ba (Hello) Che zu Beh (thank you) Visa: Visa free entry is available at some border crossings for a short period. If you are going for the day to renew your Thailand Visa for example, you must enter and exit on the same day. Fees are around US$10. Longer visas should be arranged in advance at a travel agency or Myanmar Embassy. In Bangkok, at the Myanmar Embassy the cost is 810 baht for a 28 day visa, taking three days to process. Like the Vietnam visa, the cost depends on where you are and how long you mind waiting. It can range from $20 - $50. Your passport must be valid for at least 6 months. Visa extension: Visas can be extended for up to 14 days in Yangon. Ask at embassy for details of costs. Weather: May to mid-October is the rainy season in Myanmar. February to April is the hottest time. The best time to visit is November to February, although temperatures can drop to freezing during these months in the highland areas. 1 random fact: The great Irrawaddy River dissects Myanmar from North to South before opening up into the Andaman Sea. Due to monsoonal rains, the water level varies greatly throughout the year. With a drainage area of over 400,000 kilometres, the river is an important life source for the people of Myanmar. Emergency numbers: (Yangon) Ambulance: 192 Police: 199 Fire: 191
The Philippines: Currency: Peso, divided into 100 centavos. Exchange rate: $1 USD = 43.2 PHP Capital city: Manila Main religion: Over 80% Catholic Main language: Filipino, English Telephone code: +63 Time: GMT + 8 hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: hello, kamusta ka (hello, how are you) salamat (thank you) Visa: Tourist visas are granted free of charge upon entry for most nationalities for a stay up to 21 days. However, you may be required to show valid tickets for an onward destination. For longer stays you should apply for a tourist visa before arrival at a Philippine Embassy. The cost for a three month single entry visa is usually $30, but ask at the embassy for up to date info. Longer visas for up to 12 months are available. Visas take two to three working days to process and passports must be valid for at least 6 months upon
entering. Visa extension: When in the Philippines, you are able extend your 21 day visa for up to 59 days at immigration offices. Costs apply. Climate: The tropical climate of the Philippines can vary depending on region, but generally the best time to visit the Philippines is January to May, when the dry season occurs. May is the hottest month with temperatures reaching 38 degrees. This scorching heat is followed by the downpours of June and October when the rainy season affects most of the country. The rains peak from July to September when typhoons are likely. 1 random fact: The world’s longest subterranean river system accessible to man is located in St. Paul National Park in Palawan, The Philippines. Flowing through the enormous chambers and passages of St. Paul Cave, passing awesome stalagmites and stalactites; the river flows directly into the South China Sea. The National Park was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1999. Emergency numbers: Fire, Ambulance, Police: 117
Singapore: Currency: Singapore Dollar Exchange rate: $1 USD = 1.23 SGD Main religions: Taoist, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu and Muslim. Main language: English, Mandarin, Malay, Tamil Telephone code: +65 Time: GMT + 7 hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: Ni hao ma? (Hi, how are you) Xie xie (thank you) Visa: Citizens of Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, the UK and most other European countries are granted either a 14 or 30-day tourist pass upon entry to Singapore. Duration of pass depends on nationality and point of entry. USA citizens receive 90 days. Your passport must be valid for at least 6 months upon entering. Visa extension: Extensions of up to 90 days can be applied for at the consulate in Singapore. Climate: November to January see the most rain, however there are really no distinct seasons in Singapore. The weather is very similar all year round, hot and humid. 1 random fact: The name ‘Singapore’ comes from the Malay word ‘Singapura,’ meaning ‘Lion City.’ Research shows that lions probably never lived there, so its origin is uncertain. Some say it was given in the 13th Century by a prince from Sumatra who was shipwrecked on the island and saw a creature he believed to be a lion. (Though it was more likely a tiger.) Ambulance: 995 Police: 999 Fire: 995
Thailand: Currency: Thai Baht Exchange rate: $1 USD = 30 THB Capital city: Bangkok Main religion: 95% Theravada Buddhism Main language: Thai Telephone code: +66 Time: GMT + 7 hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: Sawasdee Ka/Krap (f/m) / Kop Khun Ka/Krap (f/m) Visa: Most nationalities, including Americans, Australians and most Europeans receive a free 30 day tourist visa upon arrival into Thailand by air. However, if arriving by land you will only receive 15 days. Your passport must be valid for at least 6 months upon entering. Visa extension: Visas can be renewed for a fee at immigration points. The cost is 1900 baht for 7 days extra and it can be extended only once. If you leave the
country and return, your visa will be renewed for free. You can exit and re-enter the country as many times as you like this way and most travel agents can arrange border runs to neighbouring countries. Penalty for late departure: 500 baht/day. The maximum fine for overstay that you can pay is 20,000 baht after this you may face deportation at your own cost or imprisonment. Climate: Most of Thailand experiences three seasons; The cool season occurs during November to February, followed by the hot season, March to May, then the rainy season, between June and October. As with many countries in this part of the world, the wet season tends to consist of short, hard downpours. The time of the rainy season however, differs from the East coast to the West. The Andaman Coast (West) experiences monsoon from June to September (Phuket, Phi Phi, Krabi, Railay) whilst in the Gulf of Thailand (East) rains mostly fall during September to November. 1 random fact: The Garuda is a national emblem of Thailand often seen on Thai Bank and Government buildings. The winged creature, half man, half eagle is derived from ancient Hindu and Buddhist mythology and appears on bank notes, official documents and the personal flag of His Majesty the King. Emergency numbers: Ambulance: 1669 Fire: 199 Police: 191
Vietnam: Currency: Vietnamese Dong Exchange rate: $1 USD = 20,885 VND Capital city: Hanoi Main religion: Tam Giao (Triple religion -Confucionism, Taosim, Buddhism) Main language: Vietnamese (official) Telephone code: +84 Time: GMT + 7 hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: Sin chao (Hello) Cam on (thank you) Visa: Visas for entering Vietnam must be arranged in advance. You can do this at the Vietnamese embassies in whichever country you are in and some travel agencies also offer the service. Depending on where you apply for it and how long you mind waiting, (on average from 1 day to 4 days), it can cost anywhere between $35 and $65 for a 30 day visa. You will need 1 passport sized photograph and your passport must be valid for at least 6 months upon entering. Visa extension: 30 day extensions can be obtained from travel agents in Hanoi, HCMC or Danang. The process can take up to 5 days and the fee is usually US$30. Climate: The climate of North and South Vietnam differ greatly, with generally a hot tropical climate in the South and hot summers and cold winters in the North. The monsoon season is between May and October which brings rain to most of the country. The central coast can experience typhoons between August and November. 1 random fact: Vietnam boasts an impressive coast line of nearly 3,500 kilometres of rugged sandy beaches and sheer cliffs that back onto National Park land in many areas. At its thinnest point, the country is only 31 kilometres wide. Emergency numbers: Ambulance: 115 Police: 113 Fire: 114 (At S.E.A Backpacker we try to ensure that all information provided is as accurate and up to date as possible. (Checked 20.10.11) The information in this section is vulnerable to change. Please advise us at firstname.lastname@example.org if info is invalid and we will be sure to rectify it.)
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5 9 3 7 2
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6 7 4 8 1
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9 3 7 6 8
3 2 9 1 5
2 8 5 4 7
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