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- Ju Issue n 2013 #24


Koh Rong, Cambodia: Backpacker paradise for how much longer?

28- 30 June 2013

Kuching, Sarawak

Follow us at: : Sarawak Travel, Malaysia, Borneo : Sarawak Travel

Organised by :

Supported by :

Ministry of Tourism Malaysia

Ministry of Tourism Sarawak

Endorsed by :

Sponsored by :


"Life begins at the end of your comfort zone." (Neale Donald Walsch)

Photo: The Annapurna Sanctuary, Nepal (Words & Photo by Editor: Nikki Scott)


’ve often wondered if I’ll ever ‘settle down’. Will I ever be satisfied living in one place, with one set of friends for the rest of my life? Will there come a stage when I’ve had enough of hitting the open road, throwing myself into unfamiliar situations, meeting new characters and stepping out of my comfort zone? The thrill of the unknown, the addiction to change and the exciting feeling that you just don’t know what will happen tomorrow... you can’t really get that freedom from anything else but open-ended travel. I know that the answer is no. But does this make me an unsatisfied person? Am I so spoilt that I can’t be content with a beautiful view anymore? The sun is shining today, the beer is cheap and the locals smiley, but I fancy a change. I’m restless. A backpacker ‘til I die, I can’t help wondering what’s around the corner. Are the beaches whiter in the next bay? The food tastier in the next city? The wild, remote areas even more wild and remote in the next country? Every good backpacker knows that when somewhere becomes too comfortable you have to… get out as fast as possible! Alarm bells ring when you realise you’ve made a home from home, know the name of every bar owner in town, know where you can buy a specific brand of biscuits and know all the best places to watch the sunset. Before you become too content you need to (very quickly!) say goodbye to everyone, have one last pina colada in your favourite spot, hitch on the backpack and get the hell out of Dodge! After all, didn’t you leave home for adventure in the first place? It’s the fundamental aspect of backpacking that reflects human nature in the bigger sense – you find a place to bed in and make comfortable – only to then leave it behind – jump into the uncomfortable – make that comfortable – then get bored and leave that when it becomes too comfortable! As Bill Bryson said, “What an odd thing travel is. You fly off to a strange land, eagerly abandoning all the comforts of home, then expend vast quantities of time and money in a largely futile attempt to recapture the comforts that you wouldn’t have lost if you hadn’t left in the first place!”


So when will it stop? Real travellers know that real travel isn’t just about sightseeing and ticking off tourist ‘to do’ lists… the kind of travel that thrills you, changes you, shakes you up, rocks your world and touches your soul. I’m talking about stepping out of your comfort zone. Leaving behind all that’s familiar and easy, lurching yourself into the unknown, sometimes the downright uncomfortable and slightly dangerous! So why do we do it? Doesn’t Buddhism say that everything is in the mind – that real happiness and enlightenment comes from within? So why do we stretch ourselves? Why do we constantly feel the need to see new places, meet new people, learn new things… in the words of Twain… explore, dream, discover? Are humans the only creatures on the planet that seem constantly dissatisfied? Wanting to build cities out of rainforests, casinos in the desert and stations in space? Why can’t we just be content with what we have? What’s with the constant ambition? I look to the animal kingdom – do fish leave the wonderful watery comfort of the ocean to ‘explore’ how the dry folks live? No they don’t… er. Now wait a minute… hold it right there! There’s that rather influential book isn’t there, written by the clever bloke with the beard… who reckons that all life came from the sea and that the little theory known as ‘evolution’ started from fish literally doing that - sprouting legs and walking onto the land! Now to all you scientists shaking your heads, I’m not saying evolution was born out of the notion of ‘wanderlust’ and the human race has the ‘backpacker spirit’ to thank for everything – but you get my drift! The last few months have been BIG for South East Asia Backpacker Magazine – we’ve got some pretty crazy ideas - and although I can’t reveal anything yet – I will say that I’m scared and exhilarated at the same time. We’re stepping out of our ‘comfort zone’ in a big way and we’re hoping it will make the magazine more accessible and more useful to everyone who comes across us… Watch this space!

Centaur Inn Back Packers Paradise @ Bangkok

1)Free Wi-fi 2)Air condiotioned 3)On Main Surawong Road, 4)Clean & Safe

Baht 120/Night only Apply now!!!

Address: Opposite to trocadero Hotel Below Surawongse Toll Booth. website: gmail: Tel: 662-6396528

Where people in the know, go.

Sompet Market

Ratchamankha Road

Chaisripoom Road Thapae Gate

Top North Hotel

Moonmuang Road

Montri Hotel Ratchadamnoen Road

Changmoi Kao Road Amari Ridges

Thapae Road


Kotchasam Road

Ratchapakinai Road

Ratchawithi Road

Loi Kroh Road

34/3 Ratchamanka Road, Prasingh, Muang Chiang Mai, 50200 / 2/8 Chang Moi Kao Road, Chang Moi, Muang, Chiang Mai, 50300




Cover Photograph: Goats on the Road



FOOD: 10 Discoveries of a Hungry Chef in Asia

62: 16:

How Do YOU Travel? Golden Backpackers, a Nomadic Family, Lone Freewheelers & more!


PHOTOS: Smoke & Mirrors - The Life of an Apsara Dancer, Cambodia


Don’t Miss! Event of the Month: Rainforest World Music Festival.


South East Asia Faces & Places: Diplomat of Drum, Malaysian Music

NEW! FLASHPACKER: Splashing out in Hong Kong!

66: ANNABELLE: A load of baggage! 68: INFO: Visas, Exchange Rates & more!

Destination Spotlight:

How do YOU travel... ? 16

24: THAILAND: Muay Thai Boxing, Phuket 30: VIETNAM: In Just Two Weeks! 40: MALAYSIA: Why Langkawi is still Backpackers Heaven.


Where Next? Sail the World for the Cost of Groceries!


Off the Beaten Track: A Spooonful of Culture in Indonesia.

Langkawi, Malaysia.

.. 40

Regulars: 8: South East Asia Map & Visa Info 10: S.E.A Backpacker Newsflash

PLUS! Exclusive Cambodia Expose


Word on the Street: Guidebook VS. Digital - YOU decide!


Local Portraits: Meet John @ John’s Gallery, Chiang Mai

36: Festivals & Events: What’s On Guide 44: GAMES: Crossword & Sudoku 46: Traveller Thoughts, Stories, Tips 58: ARTS: Yangon Calling! (Punk Scene)

0 k Scene... 6

Yangon’s Pun S.E.A Backpacker Co., Ltd.

Registration Number 0205552005285. ISSN NO. 1906-7674 Tel: 081 776 7616 (Thai) 084 553 8996 (Eng) Fax: 038 072 078 E-mail: Backpacker South East Asia is Published by S.E.A. Backpacker Company. Managing Director: Nikki Scott. (E-mail: Editor: Nanchaya Jaikaew. (E-mail: Deputy Editors: Nikki Scott, Karen Farini. (E-mail: Sales & Marketing: Kitti Boon Sri, Nichawan Keawpuang. Accounts: Thipapan Jaikaew. Contributing Writers / Photographers: Nikki Scott, Nick & Dariece (Goats on the Road), Rob Armstrong, The Kampot Collective, Dylan Goldby, Flash Parker, Vicki Jakes, Josh Smith, Emily Spicer, Gabi & Kobi Klaf & family, Annike Johanne, Lesley & Bob Strauss, Pamela Weeg, Greg & Tiffany (The Coastguard Couple), Donna Jackson, Madelaine Memmer, Christopher Davies, Simon Bond, Patrick Lowe, Amberlea Williams, Lukas & Nadia seelbach, Ryan Wolff, Yoni Verhoeven, Dawn Parks, Kimberly Bryant, Matt Grace, Gareth Little. Design & Layout: S.E.A. Backpacker Company Limited. Laura Davies, George Reed, Advertising enquiries: T: +66(0)84 553 8996 (Eng) 089 990 6556 (Thai) Email: Writing opportunities: Email:

S.E.A Backpacker Magazine Legal: All material is strictly copyright and all rights are reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in whole or part without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. Opinions expressed in S.E.A Backpacker Magazine are not necessarily those of the publisher. S.E.A Backpacker Magazine does not accept responsibility for advertising content. Any pictures, transparencies or logos used are at the owner’s risk. Any mention of S.E.A Backpacker Magazine or use of the S.E.A Backpacker Magazine logo by any advertiser in this publication does not imply endorsement of that company or its products or services by S.E.A Backpacker Magazine. (c) S.E.A Backpacker Magazine, April 2013.



Sapa Fansipan

Mandalay Bagan Kalaw

Taunggyi Inle Lake


Udomxai Chiang Rai

Luang Prabang

Mae Hong Son

Vang Vieng



Chiang Mai

Nong Khai


Udon Thani

Yangon Pathein

Halong Bay

Tha Khaek




Hoi An

Four Thousand Islands


Angkor Temples


Siem Reap Tonle Sap



Vietnam Nha Trang

Koh Chang

Gulf Of Thailand

Phnom Penh

Mui Ne


Koh Tao Koh Phangan Koh Samui

Andaman Sea


Ho Chi Minh City

Phu Quoc

Surat Thani Phuket

South Chin Sea


Koh Phi Phi

Pulau Penang

Pulau Weh


Malaysia Kuala Lumpur Medan Berastagi


Lake Toba

Singapore Pulau Nias

Riau Islands

Kuching Pontianak

Sumatra Bukittinggi



Indian Ocean




V isa I nformation: Your passport photo here

Brunei Darrussalam: Nationals of most European countries, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and New Zealand do not need visas for visits of up to 30 days. USA citizens can stay for up to 90 days.

Laog Vigan

Cambodia: Most nationalities can obtain a one month tourist visa on arrival which costs approx $20. At land border crossings, notably the Thai/Cambodia border, the fee can be more expensive as the cost is paid in baht and can be rounded up considerably.


East Timor: Nationals from Europe, Australia, Canada and the USA do not need to arrange a visa in advance. They can be granted upon entry and cost $30 for 30 days. Portuguese nationals can stay 90 days on a tourist visa.


Indonesia: Nationals of Australia, Canada, USA, UK and most European countries are eligible for a 30-day visa upon entry, which costs $25 USD. The previous $10 7-day visa is no longer available. Laos: Most nationalities can obtain a 30-day visa for Laos at international airports / land border crossings. The cost ranges from $20-$42 depending on nationality. At the Thai/Laos border if you pay in Thai baht the fee will be more expensive.


Malaysia: Most nationalities are granted a free 30 or 90-day entry pass upon arrival at international airports and border crossings. Myanmar: Visas should be arranged in advance at a travel agency or embassy. Costs can range from $20-$50 for a 28-day visa, depending on where you apply and how long you wait. Philippines: Tourist visas are free of charge for most nationalities for a stay up to 21 days. For longer stays you should apply for a visa before you arrive at a Philippine Embassy. Visas for three months, six months or 12 months are available. Cost depends on duration of stay.

na Davao

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.

Kota Kinabalu


Mt Kinabalu


andar Seri Begawan

Vietnam: Visas must be arranged in advance. You can do this at a Vietnamese embassy in whichever country you are in and some travel agencies also offer the service. Depending on where you apply for it and how long you mind waiting, it can cost anywhere between $35 and $65 for a 30-day visa.


*See the information pages at the back for more detailed information, visa extensions and penalties for late departure.




Berau Putussibau

At S.E.A Backpacker Magazine we try to ensure that all information provided is as accurate and up to date as possible. (Checked 20.4.13) The information in this section is vulnerable to change. Please advise us at if information is invalid and we will be sure to rectify it.

Kalimantan Balikpapan



Sula Islands




Banjarmasin Buru


Gili Islands Bali


Nusa Tengarra Flores


East Timor


Puncak Jaya



? h t n o m s i h t ave we been

Where h

"Life is eith er a daring adventure o r nothing." (Helen Kelle r)

1. HANOI, VIETNAM With the chaos of Vietnamese New Year (Tet) out of the way, we flew to Hanoi, the country’s pulsating capital to soak up the atmosphere. We caught up with our old Aussie mates at Hanoi Backpackers’ Hostel, got high on the nectar of one too many Vietnamese coffees, got lost amidst the alleyways of the crowded streets, greeted the happy crowds coming back from legendary Castaways Island and drank a few too many Bia Hoi’s ourselves on many a welcoming corner of the Old Quarter! We even had time to fit in a cooking course at Hidden Hanoi... (Tip: fish sauce is not a good antidote for the hangover from hell!) So, as a backpacker destination - why do we love Hanoi? Editor Nikki says; “As a rookie backpacker in 2009, I remember the first moment I arrived in Hanoi from the 27-hour (yes 27-hour!) overnight bus from Vientiane, Laos. Stepping onto the street at 5am, the smell of clove cigarettes and noodle soup wafting through the air… I instantly fell in love! I found myself wandering the streets for days, taking photos of every alley, piece of graffiti and street seller. Going back again and again – the city still gets under my skin as I’m reacquainted with that initial thrill of adventure.”



Making a beeline for the only cheap digs in one of the world’s most expensive cities the S.E.A Backpacker Team resisted the shouts of ‘watches watches, handbag, tailored suit madam?’ and found ourselves a cupboard, sorry, room, at the notorious Chungking Mansions the backpacker ghetto in the heart of the city! Hong Kong isn’t usually

regarded as a backpacker destination with its glitzy shopping malls, world class hotels, restaurants and sky bars; suits and briefcases are the attire rather than fisherman pants and flip flops! However, despite the amount of HK dollar you’re unavoidably going to drop, we believe that backpackers shouldn’t miss out on this vibrant city, the perfect gateway from SE Asia to China! Read about our urban adventure on page 62.

3. CAMBODIA Deputy Editor Karen set off to explore Southern Cambodia... “During a whirlwind week tour of Cambodia last year, I was only able to take in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. This time, I was determined to spend my entire visa exploring the south. I discovered white sandy beaches to die for, charming colonial towns, rich culture, friendly locals and some very cheap beer!” However, as we made friends with the lingering backpackers and started getting under the skin of the country, we discovered that this place is about to change - and fast! Backpackers, make sure you get there before it’s too late! Just turn the page to read what we discovered... At the end of April, we were invited to speak at ‘Digital Innovation Asia Conference’ in Bangkok, with some pretty big wigs in the tourism industry! (We do get about you know!) The topic: ‘The Chinese Backpacker’ - a species once rare on the South East Asian backpacker trail that is becoming more and more common due to a rise of the middle class in China, better education and a growing sense of wanderlust... Ni hao ma!



~ Breakfast & lunch

The Kindness of Strangers...

~ Communal Bookswap ~ Volunteer Information

So after three months or so settling into Jogjakarta, Indonesia, tomorrow I don the mad max/power ranger/ ultra man suit, weigh my bike down with gear more suited for the Himalayas than the tropics and roll out of town with no idea of when I might be back. Today I say goodbye to a town full of people that have become good friends and family, people that I will miss sorely and forever regret having to leave behind. And herein lies the devastatingly difficult part of this beautiful life; for every amazing person I meet there is a goodbye waiting just around the corner that is tainted with an uncertainty of ever meeting them again.

~ Sunday Roast

SisterSrey Cafe

~ Boutique Store

Siem Reap’s Premiere ~ Takeaway Coffee House, supporting local young Khmer Students

+855 97 723 8001 //

200 Pokambor St, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Explore Cambodia in an American Army Jeep

So, to all the people who have helped me by buying me a coffee, locally brewed alcohol, taught me something about Indonesia that doesn’t exist in the guidebooks, kept safe thousands of dollars-worth of gear and all my worldly possessions (including my bike) in your houses with no locks on the doors, and those that have shown me a kindness and affection that is generally only reserved for the closest of family – thank you. I hope to one day be able to repay your kindness and generosity in full (with interest), but for now my heart belongs on (and off) the road.

Experience the real Cambodia, meeting the locals and visiting more remote places. +855 63 678 6000 Siem Reap - Cambodia

Saya kembali. Led by Jhon, an experienced tour organiser of five years, you can simply relax and enjoy your great Cambodia holiday, benefiting from all his enthusiastic local knowledge!

By Rob Armstrong.

THIS ISSUE’S FRONT COVER... was taken on Koh Rong, Cambodia, by Nick & Dariece of fantastic travel blog ‘Goats on the Road’. The two goats left everything behind in search of cultural experiences, beautiful beaches and off the beaten path adventures. Travel experts known for finding the best experiences away from the tourist trail, their website for budget backpackers encourages others to pack their bags and leave the ordinary behind. Check out their website at and get some excellent tips for the adventurous budget backpacker!

(855) 12 766 234 //

Calling all budding travel writers!

S.E.A Backpacker Magazine is written by travellers passing through South East Asia right now. It’s our aim to have fresh new writers with new experiences and viewpoints contributing every month. If you fancy your hand at a spot of travel writing, we would love to hear from you! Please send any articles, stories, book reviews or any random scribbling you like to If possible try to include photos with articles you submit. We’ll get back to you right away with news of whether your words will be appearing in the next issue.

Thanks for your support and Happy Travelling!



Words by Karen Farini Photos by

South Cambodia: the future From bamboo huts to boutique resorts?


ots of you (particularly those travelling in Cambodia right now) will have heard about the fire on one of the main tourist drags of Occheuteual beach in Sihanoukville on 31st March. It destroyed six businesses - including the popular backpacker hostel Monkey Republic, where it’s believed the blaze started. According to a report by the Phnom Penh Post, the Provincial Deputy Police chief said the severe water shortage in the area meant that six fire hydrants in the vicinity had been closed off by the Provincial Water Supply. By the time they were back on 20 minutes later, it was too late. Within two hours, Monkey Republic, Mick and Craig’s Guesthouse, a dive shop, a laundromat and an internet cafe had been burned to the ground. Luckily, no-one was hurt. Zackery Hofelich, one of Monkey’s staff members posted thanks on the Sihanoukville Expats Facebook group to a number of colleagues he said were responsible for saving some guests’ lives – with a special mention going out to ‘Ros Blue who pulled a sleeping backpacker out of his bed... by his ear!’ (Monkey Republic tell us that so far there’s no new venue planned, but you can still buy tickets for Monkey Island (Koh Rong) just up the road at The Big Easy.) No one knows yet how the blaze started. Locals and expats alike are now focused on helping the owners of the unlucky businesses, and there have also been plenty of discussions on the drought problem. Due to Cambodia’s poor infrastructure (inadequate pipelines and power cuts), the privately owned local water supplier is often only able to pump half the estimated amount needed into Sihanoukville each day. Since the fire, all hotels in the city have been advised to build wells for their properties; meanwhile, huge regeneration plans are underway for the southern part of the country in a bid to boost the economy and improve living conditions.

Millennium Group and its Cambodian partner The Royal Group, Phase One will include ‘two spa resorts, 160 estate villas, a beach club, five restaurants and a lagoon.’ At the same time, huge changes to infrastructure will take place; including an airport in the middle of the island, a port, roads, power, water and telecommunications. Certainly a change from the chilled out backpacker haven of bamboo huts and deserted beaches that currently exists! A far more imminent change is on the cards for tiny Koh Russei (Bamboo Island). We’ve heard on the grapevine that the only accommodation – provided by backpacker huts Koh Ru – will be bulldozed in May to make way for a more luxurious setting. At least half the island is said to have been bought up by French investors, who have reportedly also made claim to Koh Ta Kiev. Also undergoing regeneration are the provinces of Koh Kong and Kampot. The collective from the popular Kampot Survival Guide magazine told us, ‘The private sector is investing at a furious rate. In the past three to five years the city of Kampot has undergone a rather dramatic makeover. The Old Market on the front is brand new, and sports a number of virtually 100% Khmer owned shops.”

Fast Development of the South Coast... Over the past few years, a number of islands have been sold to investors with the aim of attracting travellers with higher income brackets. The beautiful island of Koh Rong, which will be developed over a 20-year timeframe, is set to be Asia’s first ‘environmentally planned’ island. According to official reports from The UN-led



“Plans are afoot to revamp the old fish market/nightclub into a riverside seafood restaurant, entertainment venue and recording studio. Other grand plans include at least three golf courses, a floating eco-village downstream, extending the river promenade to the fishing village, and a new boutique hotel on the former site of the Canadia Bank. We now have freshly resurfaced roads with lines, reflectors and cross walks (all of which are ignored). More surfaced roads are being thrown down at a furious pace, water system improvements, and more government building/refurbishment.” Cambodia is certainly growing up! No doubt, in part, due to the ease of buying land. ‘Cambodia has one of the most investorfriendly environment in Asia: no exchange controls, no restriction on repatriation of profits, no discrimination between foreign and local investors; corporate income tax is 20% and there are tax holidays of up to nine years. Foreigners can take out leases of land for up to 99 years and foreign companies can buy land.’(Bangkok Post, 10/09/2012.)

The Effects of a Tourism Boom... Over the past 10 years, tourism in Cambodia has rocketed. Just 700,000 visitors arrived in 2002. Just ten years later, this number had risen to 3.5 million. Numbers are set to continue rising when international flights courtesy of Cambodia Airlines become available later this year. Concerns that continual re-development is not in Cambodia’s best interest ecologically or ethically continue to be voiced amidst fears that the natural beauty of the country is in danger of being destroyed for the sake of the tourist dollar. “The aforementioned floating eco village on the river is downstream of the city. With a population of around 40,000 and no sewage treatment, how eco can that village be?” the Kampot collective mused. “Ecology is not the primary factor in the quest for earning tourist revenue. All one has to do is look to Koh Samui in Thailand back in 1987 when the airport opened there. How much consideration to the environment was given when that decision was made?” What is definitely clear is that as a result, the country’s infrastructure will – sooner rather than later – be getting a complete overhaul. At least this will mean that any future fires, such as the one at Monkey Republic, will have far less chance of causing such devastating loss to independent business owners. Support for infrastructural projects is not given by everyone, though. The Sihanoukville fire may not have come to such a horrible end had there not been a water shortage, but it comes just one month after hundreds of villagers in the Stung Treng province in the northwest of the country marched along the lower Sesan river, protesting the construction of the hydropower dam, which, according to www., could force as many as 1,500 families to resettle. But the big question about whether or not South Cambodia would soon become a place not welcoming to the ‘traditional’ backpacker was laughed off by local expats and business owners. As the Kampot Collective said “Not unless it goes the way of Bhutan where only high-end tour groups are granted visas to visit. Saying that, the vibe cannot not be affected even if big resorts are not so big and apparently eco-friendly. But don’t forget that as long as the economic model of globalised tourism (or anything) is based on growth, everything will be affected and not always in good ways... The world is becoming a less and less undiscovered land. There is an old saying that goes, ‘Make hay while the sun shines’. Wouldn’t you take a long-term lease on a piece of beach paradise if you could? We think that the future is bright for Cambodia and Cambodians. There’s a new generation of young people who have not experienced the horrors of war and are beginning to reclaim their nation and their culture.”

Cambodia's South Coast VISIT NOW! SIHANOUKVILLE: First things first: the expats call it ‘Stuckville’ - a pretty accurate description, we soon discovered, because to be honest, we found it hard to leave! Otres Beach was a real highlight, one of the most beautiful beaches we’ve seen in SE Asia so far - and as laid-back as you like (although, like the rest of Cambodia, things are progressing rapidly... just eight years ago there wasn’t even a road here!). This isn’t to say there isn’t a party scene at chilled out Otres. Yes, Occheateaul Beach (otherwise known as Lazy Otres Beach, Serendipity) may well be home Sihanoukville to the famous backpacking party bars such as Sessions, Dolphin Shack and JJs, but Otres still has its pick, including the Market at Otres every Saturday night (where live bands and DJs play till late), and Ucha on Tuesdays for a mish-mash of dubstep, psy and electronica.

Koh Rong - Paradise sold!

THE ISLANDS: Of course, we did manage to ‘unstick’ ourselves to visit some of the beautiful surrounding islands. Koh Ta Kiev, Koh Russei (Bamboo Island) and Koh Rong (Monkey Island) all got ticked off (as well as an overnight trip to the smaller Koh Rong Samloem for the obligatory Full Moon Party!) All these islands are easily accessible from Sihanoukville and can be factored in as part of a day trip. A popular three-island trip includes a short stop at two places for snorkeling, with Bamboo for lunch neatly sandwiched in the middle. If you’ve got time, though, we’d recommend staying at least overnight on all of these. Koh Ru is the name of the only backpacker digs on Bamboo Island - but be quick - it may be knocked down any day now to make way for that luxury resort! As for Koh Rong, rumours of this island’s beauty just don’t do it justice - particularly the aptly named Sunset Beach. The only accommodation on Sunset Beach is ‘Broken Heart Guesthouse’ - and even if you don’t stay here, it’s worth doing the 45-min trek over to it via the jungle. Word of warning: wear sturdy shoes as for short periods you’ll be semiabseiling down rocks. Also, don’t forget your torch for the journey back or you’ll have to opt for a taxi-boat instead!

KAMPOT, KEP & BEYOND... A few nights’ stay in the charming town of Kampot made way for a trip to the old colonial beach resort of Kep, where we ate an abundance of fresh crab, swang in hammocks on the pier, visited the pig farm, the pepper farm, Kep National Park, and poked our ep nose around some of the empty, t Island, K Tiny Rabbi decaying old pre-war French villas (which had been wrecked during the reign of the Khmer Rouge). From Kep, you can explore a number of other islands, including the Vietnamese Phu Quoc, and the gorgeous little Koh Tonsay (Rabbit Island) fringed with palm-trees swaying in the breeze and speckled with hammocks on the bay. As our longtail boat approached the shoreline, the view was truly unforgettable.




Wat Sop Sickharam, Luang Prabang, Laos When Patience Pays Off: By Dylan Goldby


he Flash Light team parted ways at Krabi Airport after an agonising five days on Koh Lanta – five days of island hopping, Thai curry, motorcycle jousting, framing long boats, and quaffing big Chang on the perfect beaches of the southern coast. Life was just too hard. Flash would be hitting Koh Samui for a few days on assignment before flying back to Canada, and my wife, Jeehe, and I would board the overnight train from Bangkok to the Lao border in Nong Khai Province. We would then hop skip and jump up to Luang Prabang to slow down time with Lao monks on the river banks. Luckily for us, we’d booked our flight to Luang Prabang the following day, because in true South East Asian fashion, the train ride didn’t go quite to plan. We were supposed to have lunch in Vientiane, but instead jumped off our tuk tuk in time for sunset dinner on the banks of the Mekong. As any traveller will tell you, South East Asia teaches you a thing or two about patience, and patience is a photographer’s best friend. The weather gets in the way, transportation doesn’t arrive on time, and despite your best research efforts, sometimes places just close when you thought you’d be able to get that photo. This was one such photograph. After four days of failed sunsets, Laos traffic capers and closed doors, I made my way to Wat Sop Sickharam 10 minutes before the novices chanting began. I’d asked a couple of novices earlier in the day if it was okay to photograph the chanting from outside the temple and they had agreed. I arrived early and settled on a few compositions I was happy with before the chanting began. But the light was still too bright in the sky. Then it happened, the sunset I’d been waiting for opened up above the temple, the novices began their chanting. I watched and listened until the moment when the light in the sky, the lamps in the compound, and the lights inside Wat Sop Sickharam all balanced into a single exposure. For five minutes I shot varied compositions, getting closer, moving back, switching from vertical to horizontal. I


Technical Details: D800 | 35mm | f/2 | 1/40 second | ISO 2000

could have taken this frame earlier, but I would have lost the sky to a white blown out section of my frame. I could have taken it later, but the sky would have been black this time. I could have shot it in the middle of the day and been having dinner at this point. But, I waited. And, patience paid off. The ball head of my tripod had locked up earlier in the day, so I was stuck without stable support for this image. I started by setting my shutter speed to a little over my focal length in order to get a sharp image, free from the shake my hands might introduce. Then, I set my aperture and ISO to get the exposure I wanted. I decided to shoot at f/2, not because I wanted a narrow depth of field, but to keep my ISO from getting too high. High ISOs introduce noise and reduce colour recording and dynamic range. Although the D800 has spectacular ISO performance, I’d prefer the extra colour I’d get from a lower ISO here. I braced myself before each shot by digging my elbows into my sides and breathing out before gently depressing the shutter. I shot multiples of every composition to make sure I would get an image sharp enough. Professional photojournalists Dylan Golby and Flash Parker are returning to Chiang Mai this November for the Loi Krathong Festival and Thailand’s second ‘Flash Light Photography Expedition’. Expect wild adventures, quirky encounters, lots of laughs and most importantly expert knowledge and insider photography tips.


Check out: Or email: for more info!


KOHPHIPHI,THAILAND Ibex amazing 3 in 1 tour with Cliff Jumping, Bamboo Island Tour and Shark Watching! Deep water solo and climbing tours for both beginner and advanced! All hotel and transfer booking in Thailand!


125/22 Moo. 7, T. Aonang A. Muang, Krabi (Koh Phi Phi), Thailand 81000 +66(0) 7560 1423




Edited by Karen Farini

How Do You Travel?


lone, or with your partner? A once-in-a-lifetime ‘gap year’ - or just one of the many short ‘escapes’ that you’ll plan throughout your career? Or have you ditched the idea of normal life altogether and committed to a lifetime on the road? And what about your budget? Will you scrimp every penny... or will you (can you?) opt for luxury, flashpacker-style? Finally, will you plan every step of your itinerary, or will you be a free spirit and just go where the wind blows? How you travel comprises a group of decisions to make that will colour your entire ‘backpacking’ experience – and maybe even influence the rest of your life! Let’s take a look at the options…


Who will you travel with?

When you travel, the world is your oyster – but will it be yours alone? If your answer is ‘yes’, then you’ve chosen the key to perhaps the most absolute freedom that you’ll ever know - but the heady buzz of solo travel may sometimes be counteracted by pangs of loneliness, not to mention that weird confusion you’re sometimes hit with when you and a new buddy (or group) go your separate ways... On the other hand, travelling with a friend isn’t necessarily easier. What if you’re a night owl and she keeps waking you up to go rafting at 6am? Group travel’s becoming more and more of a considered option these days (as well as a phenomenon called ‘crowdfunding’, where travellers pool their funds in order to travel!) But what about taking a leaf out of Tony and Maureen Wheeler’s book (the adventurous couple who founded Lonely Planet) and sharing the experience with your better half?

THE COUPLE: Vicki Jakes & Josh Smith “I met Josh when I was 25 and discovered that we both harboured a dream to travel but had always been too preoccupied with work to actually go! Our first long-term travel was to Australia and New Zealand via SE Asia, and it was an important ‘discovery time’ for us as a couple. We all have our little comforts and the way that we like to do things... He loves to keep on the move constantly, whereas I like stop to take in our surroundings. We had to sometimes compromise on decisions to enable progress and actually get anywhere, but we both never resented this as we realised that we both brought a different thing to the table.


There are many benefits travelling as a couple, and over the years we’ve learned to work together really well. On the big road trips I navigate and he does the majority of the driving. I find the bargain hotel and he finds the off-road adventure. Over the years we have become a great team. On one particularly adventurous road trip we took, we were trying to drive through the Moldovan-Ukraine border. We’d been held up there for five hours and they weren’t going to let our car through as it was in a family member’s name rather than ours. There was a very real risk that they would impound our car and leave us stranded at 2am in the middle of nowhere. The border guard was being very difficult and so I decided to tactically burst into tears to see if that would help. It resulted in the border guard freaking out and deciding to ‘see if the car could go through’. Josh looked so worried and I winked at him as the guard’s back was turned just to let him know that I was OK. Josh’s little bribe to the border guard two minutes later resulted in us heading to Odessa with the wind in our hair! True teamwork!

Will travellbrineag k make or your relationship?

We do end up in our own little world as a couple, with in-jokes and observations, we do have to make an effort to make friends. I also find that I miss female company when I travel, and likewise, Josh just wants to sip a beer and banter with the blokes sometimes, so we’ve become a little bolder at saying ‘hi’, and making ourselves seem more approachable so we don’t miss out on the fun at beach party or on a restaurant car of a train (where we’ve found you can meet the best people!).

The strain of some of our travels has meant that we have had the occasional bicker. It’s usually just a bit of tension but it’s still hard work having to go through that when in a beautiful place such as the Mongolian desert and the argument is about losing a bottle of lemonade in the back of the car (this happened on the Mongol Rally and I never let Josh forget it!). These stress times have tested our relationship and we’ve always tried to take stock afterwards to see how we can improve our patience with each other. I guess you don’t have to go through that travelling alone, but it certainly improved our relationship to the point that we are now... happily married!”

Read more from Vicki & Josh at:

travel adventure never to be seen again… my heart breaks! After travelling alone for seven months, I was super excited to meet a group of people on an organised tour around China and really get to know them. If for nothing else, they’re useful to have around to take a snap of you in front of that amazing monument that you’ve forgotten the name of. It’s nice to have someone to share the memories with, and from experience even the best of friends have fall-outs, so it’s always nice to have that little buffer you get from travelling en masse.”

Read Emily’s blog at:

THE NOMADIC FAMILY: Gabi & Kobi Klaf & their three children “The Nomadic Family is a family of five who quit the 9-5 rat race to climb a different ladder of success. Budget backpacking the globe since March 2011, and South East Asia since May 2012 , we now cherish new measures of life achievements, including educating our children, spending blessed time being clueless and discovering with them, getting in shape, writing books, deepening our spiritual growth, and living with world citizens off this Cambodian island, that Vietnamese village, or this cool backpacker hostel in Malaysia! We’ve RV’d through Colorado’s Rocky Mountains snows, our kids have attended school with indigenous people of the jungles of

THE GROUP: Emily Spicer “Travel of any kind is both challenging and rewarding. Imagine, the wind blowing through your hair as you throw caution to the wind and set off along the open road… until your scooter breaks down and you’re stuck in the middle of nowhere with half a bottle of water and a goat for company! Organised travel exists for a reason, some of us need it - pure and simple. The fantastic thing about an organised tour is they do the hard work for you. Organising your trip can take half the fun out of it (unless you’re the colour coordinated label-making type – more power to you), with a plethora of flights, accommodation and transport to choose. How do you know which one to choose? Don’t worry; your tour guide will do it for you, phew! I’m not saying I don’t like adventure! I’m a big fan of getting out there and exploring. Nonetheless (and especially with a limited time scale), there’s just no way you can cram as much into a trip compared to what an organised tour can offer. They just make it so goshdarned easy, planning everything to perfection from start to finish so that you can enjoy the benefits of cuddling a panda one day and watching the sun rise over The Great Wall the next, with a lesson from a Kung Fu Master stuck in the middle. Think you can sort all that out yourself? Face it, you can’t. You can do it all, but it will take you a week using public transport and word of mouth. Another boon is that you instantly get to meet new people – and stay with them for at least a while! I’ve met some fantastic people whilst alone on the road who after two days have gone off on their own

Someone t photos ofo take you!


Ecuador, and we’ve gazed breathlessly at Huanchaco, Peru’s beach sunsets. We’ve surfed in Colombia, scuba dived in Cambodia, and mega-zipped in Singapore. We’ve volunteered in this rural school in La Lucha De La Tigra, Costa Rica, taught community spirituality classes in Boquete, Panama and Siem Reap, Cambodia, and have sworn (unsuccessfully) not to fall in love with locals in every corner of the globe. We are grateful that our souls have grown richer with each experience, and yet, still, have not figured out how not to mourn bits of our hearts left behind. People assume that 1) to RTW family travel for years you must be filthy rich and 2) that once you leave home family life becomes the perfect Utopia. For us, both myths are not true. We blog extensively and have written books teaching how, through ridiculous frugality, undying creativity, and a great sense of humour, almost anyone can afford the nomadic family lifestyle. We also share the honest ups, downs, tears, sweat, desperation, and joys that come with reallife family life on the road. As a backpacking family with no end in sight, we’re frustrated and saddened as to why more families choose not to break their chains of consumerist day-to-day routine life or wait for their retirement instead of making their dreams come true here and now. Through our site, books, and one-on-one Skype coaching, we feel deeply honoured to guide others through the process of living the life they always dreamed of. We figure you only live once, so why waste your life waiting to feel alive? What’s next? We plan to leave our beloved SE Asia this September 2013 and head towards Nepal, where a documentary film crew will be recording our Annapurna Circuit and Volunteer Trek. Afterwards, we’re dreaming of deeper spiritual living in India, working on a RTW cruise ship, and biking through Europe. We’ll see where the wind and inspiration takes us, and there, we’ll keep daydreaming of family life with no worries, no arguments, and no financial stress. Yeah, there, life on the road will be (almost) perfect...”

Follow The Nomadic Family at: and the deeper journey within at:


How much will you spend? Cheers!

Over the last couple of decades, the word ‘backpacking’ has been associated with budget travel. Dorm rooms, rickety old buses loaded with chickens... we’ve all been there and done it – it’s almost a rite of passage! But some people go for a different approach entirely - such as the very self-sufficient Turkish couple I met in Chiang Mai, who were going round Asia on bicycles laden with camping gear and taking their daily baths in the Mekong (and on one occasion, in a shower at a monastery!). And then, my friends, there are those who need a bit more polish…

THE FLASHPACKER: Annike Johanne “I was supposed to be on a strict budget – which I was able to stick to until Bangkok. The city ate me alive, and I saw no other option than to book myself into a $200 USD /night suite to survive the city. Since then I’ve been a lot less careful regarding money, booking fancy hotels in every major city I’ve stayed in. I guess the cities in this part of the world are so crazy I feel I need space to relax from all the hustle and bustle. While staying in beach areas however, I’m perfectly fine staying in simple accommodation but I’ll admit it – after a certain amount of time in a beach hut with only a mosquito net, I need basic amenities like a hot shower, fresh linen and a 46-inch smart TV! How do I manage this financially? Well… I know myself really


well, so there’s a budget, and then there’s an emergency budget which I always make sure is the same size! I could never ever stay only in simple accommodation I definitely could never do camping! But if I had the choice of only staying in fancy hotels, I’d probably turn that down, too. It’s not authentic, nor do you get to meet as many fun people as you would staying in dorms and the like. I’ll admit that the most fun I’ve had so far has been staying at the shittiest hostel! I don’t necessarily think this is the best way to travel, but I know it’s the only one for me. If you think you’re the same, though, then here’s a tip for you: make sure never to tell anyone about your fancy hotels – they WILL tease you and hold it against you forever!”

I'm a Secret Flashpacker!


When will you do it?

In a hostel last year in Sarawak, Borneo, we met a group of 18-year old students who had just finished their A-levels - one of whom was pretty adamant that she would never get the chance to do this kind of thing again. I know – what?! Try telling that to the ‘original Full Moon Partyhead’ on Koh Phangan, (the ‘local’ Swedish man who’s still there 40 years after he first arrived), not to mention the 63 yearold lady we met in a hostel in Bangkok who, having just ended a 30-year marriage, was about to drive through India on a motorbike! We don’t think these two would agree, either…

THE GOLDEN BACKPACKERS: Lesley & Bob “We’re 59 and 60-years old from Chicago, and we travel with a backpack each. Our first big trip was nine weeks to Australia and New Zealand (20 years ago). I’m still using the same backpack! We keep our travel clothes in a tote in the attic - at a minute’s notice I can be packed and ready to go! We loved the article you featured about the couple racing through India on “The Rickshaw Run” (Issue #21) That was crazy! And we can relate. We spent seven weeks there a couple of years ago. That was such a special trip with lasting memories - all those people with so very little sharing their food and drinks with us. We’ve learned so much from our travels. We love just sitting and taking in the local flavour of the towns we visit. Bob does all of our travel plans (though of course we NEVER make reservations – we like to just take things as they come). He has pages of notes, and has said he almost feels like he’s been there even before we’ve boarded the plane. I do the day-to-day journal and put the memory book/photo albums together when we get home. It’s my own personal way of re-living the travels. I write my journal by hand, and use

5X7 envelopes (one per week) to keep all the notes, entrance passes, info on places we’ve visited and hotel cards. Bob and I have also gotten in the habit of each of us taking a hotel card as soon as we check in…just in case we get lost or separated – which can sometimes happen when the excitement of being somewhere new has taken hold! Our friends just shake their heads. The thing is, though, we just couldn’t live any other way!”

Don't you wish your grandma was hot like me?

in a while; get excited in a new place about local food, but still go to Mickey D’s with the same enthusiasm now and then; we meet amazing people along the way; learn something really cool at some point from someone completely random; drink a lot; eat a lot; worry about money; and learn many things about ourselves. Some never stop travelling, it’s hard to stop when there are so many places to go! Others know when it’s time to go back or settle down, but I don’t think they ever stop either. We acquire an explorer’s eye even at home. You can read Pamela’s blog at:

Just another day at the office...

THE SAILORS Greg & Tiffany Lesley and Bob at the Angkor Wat Half Marathon!


How long will you stay?

Along with ‘traditional’ budget travel, taking a single ‘Gap Yah’ is a thing of the past. More and more people’s careers are becoming dependent on just one thing: WIFI, which means they’re free to live wherever they want in the world – and travel as they work if they so desire (including bloggers who make their money through advertising and affiliate marketing). There are people who take yearly sabbaticals, like a cool chick we met in Koh Phangan, who’s been going there to practice yoga, healing and meditation for 6-9 months each year since first arriving a decade ago. Some people take up teaching, or diving, and an increasing number of people are opening businesses such as cafes and guesthouses - thus making the transition from backpacker to ‘expat’.

We’re a tad older than the average backpacker, so before we left, we had a load of furniture, cookware, you name it. We sold a lot of stuff, packed up our lives, put it in storage – and then went sailing. Indefinitely. It’s always been Tiffany’s passion, and she’d just found out about a rally (it’s like a race, just with more partying and less racing!) out of San Diego, CA. We found a boat that wanted some help getting down to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. The captain’s exact words were, “I don’t want to do all the sailing myself and sleep though all the partying. This way we all can do both!” After the rally another boat asked us to help them get to Puerto Vallarta so we just began meeting people, making friends and hopping from boat to boat. Eventually someone we got to know asked us to help them sail to Tahiti. We’ve also found rides online and we’ve done a few more races and rallies. We really stumbled into this and found out that volunteer crewing is an unknown and amazing way to travel! What made us take the plunge was due to timing, really. We had

THE DIGITAL NOMAD: Pamela Weeg As a long-term traveller, blogging has giving me the balance I need to feel productive. It requires much more from me than what I had previously thought; epic writing, beautiful photography, originality, inspiration, marketing, and lots of patience. The world of ‘nomad bloggers’ is also an interesting one. The more I read other blogs the more I realise how many things we all have in common. In the end, we are all trying to tell our story in a different way; a creative and original way, perhaps. We want to connect with people; we feel homesick and lonely once

A sailors life for me! 19

just paid off the majority of our debt, the chance to take a break in our careers came up, and Tiffany was already planning to take a week or two off to sail in that rally. So we figured - why not go together... and more importantly - why come back? Since we save so much money by not paying for flights or accommodation – for three years now, we haven’t! We are planning on going home eventually... but since we’ve learned a lot about how cheap it is to travel this way and that’s not something we’re going to give up permanently. That’s one of the great thing about volunteer crewing - it’s easy to get away for as long or as short as you want. We’ve been lucky, though, in that we have managed to convince our family members to come out an visit us during our trip. Not that it was hard to convince Mom to drop by Bora Bora for a visit... The best part? Realising that we sailed to Tahiti on a 44-foot boat or swimming with humpback whales. Hard to decide.” Want to know how you can volunteer as a crew member like Greg and Tiffany? Turn to our Where Next section on page 48.


Will you plan it?

Just the other week, whilst on Otres Beach in Sihanoukille, Cambodia, we got talking to a guy who (due to work commitments and a whole array of other responsibilities back home), had given himself exactly one month to travel Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Granted, it wasn’t in the schedule that we could talk very long – he was leaving on a bus to Ho Chi Minh within the hour (and would be flying to Hanoi just three days later!). Following a strict timetable of flights, pre-booked hotels, trips and excursions, he didn’t have the luxury of allowing himself a loose rein - but hell, did he see a lot! For many, though, travel remains the last of the great freedoms...

THE LONE FREE-WHEELER: Donna Jackson I always book a one-way ticket, there’s nothing more liberating! It’s brilliant to allow yourself the freedom to change direction, take an unexpected opportunity or join fellow travellers on a different path. I met an amazing girl in Malaysia, Sophie, and decided to join her for a month of Muay Thai training in Thailand instead of going to the Philippines. It was hands down one of my best experiences. I also made a detour to the beautiful island of Koh Tao, to become an Advanced PADI Scuba Diver, something I hadn’t planned but loved every second of! I always have a new goal, it’s a sure fire way to keep life exciting! Next up will be volunteering in Cambodia through an excellent organisation called Original Volunteers (who don’t charge you the

earth), then I plan to use my TEFL qualification to teach English in Thailand. I’ll also be returning to the Muay Thai camp to get those muscles toned! Nothing you want is impossible, you just need to turn obstacles into stepping stones. The perk of being an older traveller (I’m 30) is having had more time to save up! I’m incredibly fortunate to have not worked for the past 16 months but now it’s time to earn some money. People seem to think you need to go home when the money runs out and they get down about it - WHY? Open your eyes to the opportunities - when working holiday visas are available you can stop and earn money anywhere! It’s always amusing to listen to other’s take on my lifestyle, the most common interpretations being that I’m a wildcard, I’m running away from problems, I have issues facing ‘the real world’ (the word ‘crazy’ being used affectionately more than once). These views coming, of course, from people who either haven’t travelled or just saw travelling as a short-term thing. Countless times I’ve had friends and family ask when I might ‘settle’, the good ‘ol ‘biological clock’ references being the most frequently used (never mind the small issue of not yet having chosen a life partner, and I’m certainly not at the stage of opting for a turkey-baster). The avoidance of ‘settling down’ in the conventional sense appears to the majority as childish, cowardly, misguided - irresponsible even. I couldn’t disagree more. Just as it may confuse those who don’t share my desires, it is unfathomable to me that so many of us sit in an office they dislike, talking to people they dislike while carrying out a job they dislike for a salary they dislike - year upon year. Dreams and reality for most people seem to sit at opposite ends of their spectrum but WHY? I have a list of things I want to do in life and it’s a personal, exciting challenge to tick each one off. Once a true pessimist, prone to depression - which I now realise was the manifestation of pure boredom - I’m now an extremely upbeat person, excited by life, I have huge goals and I’m not embarrassed by them. I didn’t used to think like this, I owe my attitude solely to travelling and the incredible people you meet along the way. After being surrounded by so many people who not only shared my views but gave me bigger ideas and new plans, I finally understood it’s ok to be me. For years I’d tried to suppress this ‘Peter Pan’ complex, listened to those around me and tried to talk myself into ‘growing up’ and stop with all this travelling lark. I now realised I wasn’t being childish, quite the reverse - surely the most adult approach to life is to grow in the ways that feel comfortable to you. And I feel happiest when I’m travelling. A huge weight lifted off my shoulders from that point and I’ve never looked back. My Mum once said to me; “the minute you accept who you really are, you can look forward and be happy”. It sounded like a true cliché to me at the time but now I really understand. I like being a hobo, a drifter, a nomad, call it what you will. I like seeing the world as my home, I don’t need one address to feel stable. I love aiming for the skies, even if people ridicule my seemingly impossible goals. We are capable of anything if we work hard enough and refuse to allow obstacles to be permanent. I love variety, I love the unknown, I love being ‘quirky’, I love the depth I have and questions I ask, I love to help others realise this may be true of themselves and I love that I now know all these things. I have travelling to thank for that. Don’t be afraid to make your own rules, don’t be afraid to live in the way you gain most pleasure from and don’t be swayed by anyone. Opt for spectacular over standard, it’s much more satisfying. We choose our own cards, so play your hand beautifully.” HOT TIP: Are you travelling alone? Check out the forum on to meet tonnes of likeminded travel buddies and share backpacking advice. Want to read about Donna’s Muay Thai experience? Turn to page 24.




I like to combine the original books with info from the internet. I find it kind of nostalgic chilling somewhere with a local beer looking through a ‘paper’ book or magazine – but at the same time, WiFi, apps and useful sites (like southeastasiabackpacker. com!) are a great help for backpackers all around the world. Conclusion? If I really had to choose, I’d leave my iPad at home, not my guide book. (Jeroen Baetslé)

Goodbye guidebook, hello online apps, blogs and forums! I am currently travelling and my Australia Lonely Planet weighed me down for a long time until I decided to ditch the massive book and seek advice from others and my iPhone app. There is no place in a small backpack for massive books! (Jo Bee)

It’s a mixed bag really. I love Lonely Planet guides because they have so much info packed into their books. I think the information they provide is totally worthwhile. This is info from people on the ground as it happens. Unfortunately, it takes a long time for that info to be published, and by then things have already changed again. As long as you don’t focus on things like ‘$$$’ you’ll be ok - just read the reviews and forget the prices given. But,I do think that the traditional guidebook is definitely dying out. I think it is being replaced by the REAL ‘guidebook’: digital content provided by real people on the ground. (Dylan Edwards)

I think you should prepare your trip with a mixture of analogue and digital contents, which means: one good guidebook and a few online blogs and travel sites - that´s it! Travel guides in general are supposed to give only a rough path through the country, like info about ferries, where to shop and maybe where to sleep, if you don´t want to walk around searching for a cheap and comfy bed - they shouldn´t be seen as the ultimate guideline! Just let the book guide you to where you want to go and if you´re there - follow your eyes, heart or simply other travellers and locals! (Clara Rum)


Lonely Planet recommended me a very bad dinner tonight in Hoi An! (Esther de la Cruz)

Guidebooks are becoming obsolete as travellers tend to read online blogs to get more recent information, mostly for free. Case in point: I found the info on the South East Asia Backpacker Facebook page and website more useful than something written in an old copy of Lonely Planet. (Juan Pieterse)

It’s about time the Lonely Planet caught up with us online travel guides, don’t you think? (The Leaping Lemur - @ElliMurrr)

I prefer Lonely Planet’s digital content - but I prefer Rough Guides for books because they tend to focus less on the nitty gritty (open times/cost) which are out of date by the time its printed, and more on the historical/cultural context of sites - which inspire you to ‘want’ to visit those sites in the first place. (Carrie Shoultz)

Lonely Planet used to be my bible, but I stopped thinking along those lines when I visited Japan last year. There was one street we read about that was dubbed not only the most beautiful street in Kyoto, but the most beautiful in all of Asia full stop. We trawled the area what seemed like a hundred times, asking everyone we met along the way if they knew where it was - when we realised that we had already walked down it. Most beautiful street - we didn’t even notice it! Then there was the famous Cherry Blossom park. “This is it, we’re actually in it already,” my friend Colin told me, when I came out of the public loo. I couldn’t believe it, there were even a few buses parked up... We saw the famous Cherry Tree – of course, there were no blossoms on it, although I couldn’t tell you when they actually bloom, since the book says end of February in one section, and March/April a few pages in. We rapidly came to the conclusion that the book was b******s, particularly with all these pages dedicated to Kyoto and their “hidden” pockets of beauty. They got the hidden part right! (Karen Farini)

The future is in the internet (or e-content), silly... (Pete Wong)

Guidebook VS Digital


I just trade in my used guidebook for a used one in the country I am travelling before I head to the next one… simple. (Balthazar Brey)

Travelling around Asia at moment with four heavy guidebooks... and to be honest they are out of date or describe places in ways we totally disagree with (for ‘vibrant’ read ‘polluted/busy/boring’ for ‘charming and sleepy’ read empty/dead). The travel info is often still accurate but accommodation is always inaccurate; things to do change too quickly, with ownership and prices changing constantly. However, it remains a nice experience to leaf through rather than slowly going mad staring at Trip Advisor reviews. I hope the new owners of LP upgrade the accommodation and maps online, make it a subscriber site only and save on paper. (Adam)

I like the Lonely Planet for a couple of reasons – reasonably good maps and basic ideas on direction, and cool places. You can’t beat the map when you are lost in a new city. Saying that, it could definitely provide the same info in a much smaller format. (Randy Slocum - Owner of Randy’s Book Xchange, Hoi An)

It’s hard for me to find something interesting in those guidebooks - I mean where to eat, where to sleep, what to do - you can figure all that out when you’re there. I need to know how to get to the bus station, and that kind of stuff though... I find out most of the things I need by hanging out with locals. (Sébastien Dion Côté)

I refer to websites more, as guide books are updated less frequently – especially opening hours, prices etc. (Lilian Loke @lilian_sg)

ith Lonely Planet being sold by the BBC last month for a shocking £55 million loss, does this put the future of guidebooks into question? This happened in the same week that Frommers guidebooks, born in 1957 with the groundbreaking ‘Europe on $5 a day’, announced the decision that they will publish no more titles. The story of Tony and Maureen Wheeler and the creation of Lonely Planet in the early 1970’s is an inspiring one Travelling overland from the UK to Australia and ending up in Sydney with around 23 cents between them, they pondered selling their typewriter to make ends meet. Tony said, “I bet we could write a book.” And Lonely Planet was born. Since selling 1500 copies of their first book ‘Across Asia on the Cheap’, times have sure changed! The travel industry is now dominated by digital information; hotel and trip booking websites. Hostel Bookers, Trip Advisor and social networking sites like TravBuddy (and our own forum) – are ways for people to make friends and share advice before they travel. Once the ultimate Bible for travellers as little as five years ago, you couldn’t walk down the Khao San Road without seeing tons of backpackers with a copy glued to their hand. Hotels would place signs outside to attract travellers saying ‘Lonely Planet Recommended’ – knowing that this accreditation could sway a punter’s decision enormously. Understanding that people would literally not stay in a hotel or take a tour if it had not been endorsed by the Lonely Planet – you can imagine the impact that this global institution had on the tourist industry - particularly damaging or advantageous (depending on the review) for small businesses. But is this still the case? Do travellers rely on guidebooks like the Lonely Planet and Rough Guides anymore? Or do they download apps and research online before they go – or even stay connected via WIFI to digital magazines / Twitter / Facebook and Wikitravel as they backpack in the actual countries? In South East Asia you can certainly spot the changes – backpackers sit in hostels with ipads and iphones staying connected – and hotels now have signs saying ‘Trip Advisor Best Trip!’ in tribute to the referral power of web 2.0. Grubby, well-thumbed guide books remain on the shelves in the second hand book shops for 200 baht – and we can’t help but think that they just don’t have the same kudos as they once did. After all, as they are only updated every two-three years – how can they stay on the pulse in an ever-changing, dynamic travel industry? David Houghton, the Chairman of NC2, the Nashville company who have just bought the Lonely Planet brand says: “The challenge before us is to marry the world’s greatest travel information and guidebook company with the limitless potential of 21st century digital technology. If we can do this, we can build a business that, while remaining true to the things that made Lonely Planet great in the past, promises to make it even greater in the future.”

Watch this space! S.E.A Backpacker Mag for ipad and Kindle launching next month! Visit: for more information. Or follow us on Facebook / Twitter for news of the launch: Facebook: /SEABackpacker / Twitter @SEA_Backpacker




he first thing that hits you is the noise. Pads being punched, bags being kicked, trainers shouting instructions, subjects grunting, feet jumping on tires, bodies hitting the ring floor; all offset by a background of rhythmic skipping ropes and trainers padding repetitive circuits around camp. The second thing is the unmistakable smell of sweat and hard work. Sophie and I had arrived at Tiger Muay Thai and MMA Training Camp for our month of Thai boxing. Based in Chalong – a 15 minute bus ride out of Phuket Town, the camp is an impressive area of boxing rings, training areas and equipment. Impressive, and scary as hell. As a result of indulging in wonderful Thai food and a few too many buckets, the prospect of intense daily training was daunting. After checking in, we arrange to meet for 7am yoga and retire to our respective accommodations – Sophie is staying onsite and I’m a five minute walk to Forest Bungalows (9,000 baht / month for a lovely room with huge bed, air-con, fridge and TV). After a night of tossing and turning, the alarm sounds at 6am and it’s time to face the music. Like many backpackers, I haven’t seen 6am too frequently and it’s tough to consider a grueling day of exercise. Making our way to class, our nervousness somewhat dissipates on finding a darkened room with soft music and the calming tones of Ocean Bloom, world renowned yoga teacher/ex body builder/fitness instructor/personal trainer. Her power yoga class is excellent. It isn’t easy and we’re not the only ones dripping with sweat by the end, but with moves everyone can try, it’s a great start to the day.

There’s no time for a breather as all Muay Thai classes (beginner/intermediate/advanced) begin straight afterwards. Finding a space, our nerves return as we survey those around us, hoping we aren’t the only ones who might struggle. There are men and women in equal numbers, some larger, some with bulging muscles, but all are returning the same apprehensive smile. Enter Mr. Miyagi (yes really!) a small but formidable character who barks at us to start running in a circle. 15 minutes later and starting to feel like Forrest Gump, we are finally told to stop and line up where we run through some taxing warm-up exercises before being told to put on our wraps and gloves, which the other trainers help us with. Finally a chance to catch our breath and sit down! Large 16oz gloves are standard for beginners to avoid hurting opponents, and the extra weight helps tone arms more quickly. Mr. Miyagi (real name Dang) then shows us the basic Muay Thai moves using punches, kicks and elbows. When a mistake is made, the offender is hauled to the front and shown properly – a touch intimidating but it sure makes you concentrate! Stealing a glance at the clock, my stomach sinks slightly to see there’s still another 90 minutes left. But Sophie and I are both determined. Next up, everyone is paired off and shown how to combine the techniques to use against an opponent. It’s a relief to partner up with Sophie and we start to enjoy ourselves, although we agree we didn’t think it possible to sweat so much! It’s soon clear the other trainers are a lovely bunch, helping out, correcting our moves and making us laugh. It’s then time to rotate between sparring in the ring using combinations, sparring with the trainers and using techniques on the punch bags. Each rotation lasts three minutes with 10 push-ups at each 60-second interval. This is undoubtedly the toughest part of the class so far and I’m not sure I’ve ever been as relieved as I am on hearing that bell for the final time. Mr. Miyagi invites us to take off our gloves, grab a much-needed drink and join him in a circle. He’s not so scary after all. After a couple of amusing stories, we take turns standing up to introduce ourselves to the 20-strong group. Some people are uncomfortable with being in front of a crowd, but training is all about pushing yourself, and everyone wants each other to succeed. With only 15 minutes left, we all relax thinking the class will finish early – but to our dismay, we’re asked to watch and follow two of the trainers with 100 knees, 100 front kicks, 100 elbow combinations, holding the plank for one minute, finishing with 300 sit ups and 100 push-


ups! It’s torturous, especially when the trainers pound our abs with heavy medicine balls, but we’ve finally done it. Our first class and we got through it… such an amazing feeling. Waking up the next morning, I’ve never ached so much in my life. I can’t even sit up and literally have to roll out of bed. Putting my sports bra on is fun! Psyching myself up for another day is a mental challenge, but I make it through the next morning Muay Thai session - although I really can’t face another 2.5 hours in the afternoon… The weekly timetable gives lots of variety: Western boxing, Brazilian Ju Jitzu, Krabi Krabong, Muay Boran... I’m a little too nervous to try the technical-looking mixed martial arts, and instead opt to stick with Muay Thai and the fitness classes. Body Fit rotates daily between circuit training, running the 5km hill up to Big Buddha carrying car tires (!) or a beach workout. Cross Fit is a short, intense session of repetitions using various equipment. Tough but damn effective! I soon get into a routine of yoga and MT in the mornings with Cross Fit in the afternoons. Soon, week one is over. I’ve only had to bail out of one class (not eating enough the night before isn’t a good idea for energy levels for morning lessons!). Sophie and I are damned proud of ourselves, and our bodies are more conditioned, so thankfully we don’t ache anymore. By the end of week two, we can definitely see a difference in our body shape and we’re finding the classes easier. The training lifestyle brings with it two of my favourite things - good food and massages. There are great places to eat along the road – Tonys and Ja Jas being agreed favourites. Our diets become a cycle of protein shakes, eggs, muesli, fruit, curries and generous portions of succulent chicken with amazing sauces and tons of vegetables. The fact it’s all so cheap makes it taste even better! During my travels through South East Asia, massages have easily been my biggest indulgence, and I’ve often argued their necessity as opposed to being classed as ‘pampering’. At only 250 baht a go (around 5GBP), I’m a happy girl. There’s a real social side to training. Although most people are focused on getting fit and bettering their fighting skills, there’s plenty of time for meeting new people and enjoying ourselves. We clicked instantly with a great group in week one and spend our free time together enjoying the beach (Naiharn is highly recommended), browsing around the night markets, celebrating birthdays, visiting temples, attending professional fights at Bangalore stadium and having nights out at the neon-lit chaos of Patong. Tiger also have a monthly ‘BBQ Beatdown’ – a great opportunity to meet fellow students, eat good food, enjoy a few beers and a dance. Part of the evening is the much anticipated amateur fights, for which anyone can put down their name. For most participants, it’s their first fight, and along with the nervous tension, there’s a great atmosphere of encouragement and pride. By week three, we’re fully into the swing of things and the majority of our class has been moved up to intermediate level. I remain in beginners, although I’m assured it’s because the trainers like having a laugh with me. Not sure if that’s true, but I’ll take it. Then, almost too soon, our final week arrives. Sophie and I can’t believe how quickly time has flown. During our final meal, we get a little emotional as we reflect on the great friends we’ve made, the sights we’ve seen, how much we’ve laughed, what we’ve learnt and how hard we’ve worked. It’s amazing to discover just how much mental strength and determination you have inside just waiting to be tapped into. Muay Thai is a fantastic sport and a great way to immerse yourself in one aspect of Thailand’s wonderful culture. Go for it, give everything you’ve got and I defy you not to love it! About the author: 30-year old Donna hails from North London and has a huge passion for travel and writing! After spending a year travelling Australia in her younger days, she knew it was the lifestyle for her. Fast forward a few years of saving, she’s now been travelling for 18 months and has never looked back.  Donna also writes personalised poems (shout if you’d like one!). Check out her blog at:


A BIT ABOUT the HISTORY of muay thai More and more travellers these days are coming to Thailand with the sole purpose of learning Muay Thai boxing. Deeply embedded in eight centuries of Thailand’s past, Muay Thai is linked to national heritage (the people of Siam used forms of it as their primary tool to defend themselves and their land). It is derived from the ancient Thai martial art Muay Boran – a far more lethal version which allowed for even headbutts! In turn, Muay Boran itself was derived from another version called Krabi Krabong – a brutal art practiced during wartime, and which also involved the use of swords and sticks. Of course, the ancient techniques of its predecessors are illegal in today’s Muay Thai boxing ring – although we have, however, heard (unfounded) reports of a current resurgence of interest in Muay Boran. Muay Thai may not be potentially lethal, supervised as it is in the ring, but you’ll still hear it described as ‘the science of eight limbs’ (since, apart from the head, any part of the body may be used to strike an opponent, including knees and elbows). It’s also interesting to note that groin shots were only banned in 1980! Most (if not all) the fighters in tournaments are usually in their early 20s: due to the damage inflicted on their bodies, they are reported to have a shorter career than a Western boxer.

popularisation of Muay Thai, it is quickly losing its connection with the old spiritual practices, values and beliefs. What’s virtually indisputable, however, is the fact that if you practice it properly, you’ll gain a vast number of benefits (both physical and mental).

Despite its recent standardisation, no real formal sets of movements or rules exist in Muay Thai, although one of the exceptions is best explained by this very well-known saying: ‘Kick loses to punch, punch loses to knee, knee loses to elbow, elbow loses to kick’. (Sounds like a more brutal form of Scissors/Paper/Stone to us!)


Despite its outward display of aggression, however – and very much like other Eastern martial arts, Muay Thai is said to promote self-awareness, humility, self-discipline, restraint and self-control (as dictated by the Muay Thai oath). Nonetheless, unlike many other martial arts, there is no ranking system in Muay Thai. This partly explains the ongoing debate of whether it’s a martial art, or (as is argued by many), a sport. In fact, most people these days associate Muay Thai with combat, so you might be surprised to learn that it is in fact steeped with a great deal of tradition. This is linked to Buddhism (“Meditation is the foundation of all true martial arts.” - Shifu Robert Brown). There are some places in Thailand where you can still learn the practice from monks and nuns. There are a number of rituals associated with Muay Thai. These include the “Ram Muay” warriors dance (said to invoke protective earth magic), specific fight music (played by musicians on a clarinet-like instrument called the Pi Muay, in a bid to follow the peaks, troughs, thrills and excitement as the match progresses); Mongkon headbands (traditionally blessed by monks to ward off danger), and even sacred and highly respected amulets. Many of these traditions are, however, being bypassed in most modern gyms today, with many focusing on the fighting aspect only. Added to this is the huge betting culture associated with it now; as a result, a great deal of people (Thais included) want to become professional Muay Thai boxers purely for the money involved. It’s hard to say whether, what with the widespread commercial


At the very least, if you can find the time, then do try and go see a match!

Lumphini Stadium is a national institution and a visit to see a fight there is not for the faint hearted. Hot, sweaty, deafening and packed with passionate Thai gamblers whose night (and perhaps their month’s wages!) is make or break depending on the next punch or kick! (And you wonder why the atmosphere is so intense?) Seat pricing depends on whether you go for the (rather protected) VIP seating area or slum it with the crowds - can you handle the pressure? Either way, a visit to the stadium is an unforgettable cultural experience. Lumphini Stadium Rama IV Road, Bangkok Tel: (662) 252-8765, 251-4303, 253-7702, 253-7940 Fight Nights: Tuesdays and Fridays from 6.30 p.m, Saturday afternoons 5-8 p.m., Saturday nights from 8.30 p.m. Eight fights of five rounds each. Ticket prices: 500, 1,000, 1,500 Baht (ringside)

WIN 5-DAY FREE MUAY THAI TRAINING IN KOH TAO! Exclusively through South East Asia Backpacker Magazine, Xtreme Gap Year are offering two people the chance to train at the best Muay Thai Camp on the beautiful tropical island of Koh Tao, Thailand. How do you fancy training in the day, relaxing by the beach and swimming in the sea in the late afternoon before heading out to experience some of Koh Tao’s awesome nightlife? The package will consist of training from Monday - Friday, including five one-on-one Muay Thai sessions, giving you a thorough taste of this unique Thai sport. Accommodation and pick up from the pier in Koh Tao also included.

How to enter: LIKE the page at xtremegapyear and then register your details at: to WIN. It’s as easy as that!

Don’t miss out! Are you ready for the fight? 27





chiang mai - thailand


f you’re in Chiang Mai and looking for some inspiration or just bored at the idea of seeing yet another temple (there are 300 of them in this city!), well then maybe you should pay a visit to the charismatic John at ‘John Gallery’. John Monoon’s been running his funky art shop and gallery at 330 Tha Pae Road for over 30 years, creating literally thousands of beautiful and unique paintings, all of which are done by hand using acrylic paint. He has everything from postcards to t-shirts and banners sporting profound and insightful messages such as “Life is a journey not a destination” or “The lovers of God have no religion but God alone”. There are of course also the cliché catchphrases such as “Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass… it’s about dancing in the rain” and the more comical expressions “I’m not old, I’m a recycled teenager!”. But despite this, John’s art displays a world of color and personality - it’s truly something to see! The shop is distinctive partly due to the fact that on a busy commercial street, it looks a bit out of place - almost as if it’s part of a tree or a bush with lush green leaves and branches stemming out of the front. I randomly stumbled in to the sounds of Johnny Cash’s “This Land is Your Land” blasting with John’s radiant smile greeting me. Whether you buy his art or not, I can guarantee you’ll enjoy chatting with the humble and charming John. His sense of humour is shown through the signs in the shop such as the one that reads “Welcome to the John Gallery sweatshop: I sweat, you shop!”. After chatting with him for just a few minutes, it isn’t hard to see why he has literally thousands of photos posted on the walls and ceilings displaying his friends from all over the world! The John Gallery is a real gem, don’t miss it!

“I sweat, you shop!”

About the author: Madelaine Memmer is a Los Angeles native whose passion is travelling the world. She’s a spiritual seeker and a world traveller and loves to write about both! Follow her travel and life adventures on her blogs: and /



By Christopher Davies

In just two weeks!


nyone who’s looked into travelling around Vietnam will know the planning is fairly daunting. With so many exciting and historical places on the potential location list, you might have considered missing it out entirely, and ‘doing it properly’ when you have more time. However, a two-week trip up the coast of Vietnam will guarantee a wealth of memories you wouldn’t think possible in a fortnight! We begin our guide in the historic of Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon…

Following three days in Ho Chi Minh City, it’s time to take a sleeper train to Nha Trang. This type of transport is fantastic for getting around Vietnam. It is cheap, goes overnight so you have the days free to explore, and they’re all of a very good standard. Each cabin sleeps four people in two bunks with bedding provided, air conditioning and western-style toilets at the end of each compartment. Food is available; however, it isn’t to everyone’s taste, so stock up on snacks before you get on board.

Ho Chi Minh City

(Ho Chi Minh City to Nha Trang travel time: Approx 10 hours)

Days 1,2 & 3

Following reunification in 1975, Vietnam’s largest city and economic centre was renamed Ho Chi Minh City in honour of the country’s heroic leader. With a population of six million people (who at any one time all appear to be riding motorcycles!), the sight of a frantic and bustling city may feel very surreal. However you will soon realise that this isn’t the type of place where you want to stand still.

Highlights v

Cu Chi Tunnels: Enabling the Viet Cong to control a vast area close to Saigon, this infamous tunnel network stretched from the city right to the Cambodian border at its peak. Cost: 80,000 VND.

v Reunification Palace: Initially demolished after an assassination attempt on Diem in 1954, the present building was built in 1966 but taken over in 1975 when Ho Chi Minh’s NLF tanks smashed through the front gates to capture the palace from Saigon. Entrance: 15,000 VND. v Ben Thanh Market: Grab a delicious snack at one of the market’s many food stands and test out your bargaining skills.

TIPS: Where to? Eat, drink, sleep. Rex Hotel: A symbolic colonial Saigon institution featuring a rooftop bar and live music. Go Bar: Popular with travellers and locals alike. Diep Anh Guesthouse: Modern, safe and clean situated in the heart of backpacker district, Pham Ngo Lao. Hong Han Hotel: Fantastic location and helpful staff. Lofi Inn: Boutique backpacker hostel, 5 mins walk from Pham Ngu Lao. Free WIFI, clean and rooftop chill out area. A backpacker favourite!

Nha Trang Days 4&5

When you arrive in Nha Trang, you might wonder where the train has taken you. A stark contrast from our previous destination, Nha Trang boasts 300 days of sunshine each year with an average temperature of 26.5 Celsius. As a result, it’s the perfect place to unwind after a busy opening three days.

Highlights v Snorkeling day trips: Excursions usually cost around $15 USD and include a few different islands, lunch and equipment. v Vin Pearl Island: This water park has several exhilarating rides as well as relaxing water flumes. Take the cable car across the sea for great views too. v

Mineral Springs and Mud Baths: The springs are free, however you’ll have to pay for the mud baths (150,000VND per person) and traditional Vietnamese massages. A refreshed and relaxed body is worth it though.

TIPS: Where to? Eat, drink, sleep. Bao Dai’s Villa: Breakfast with a view at the restaurant. Lac Canh: Busy and easy to see why as it features ontable BBQs with beef, squid shrimp and lobster. Guava Bar & Crazy Kim’s: Next to each other on Biet Thu Street. (Bar, restaurant and cooking school) Truong Giang Hotel: Family fun hotel close to the beach. Mojzo Inn: Relatively new with modern furnishings. Fun and fresh vibe.

So, now you’ve had a good chill-out in Nha Trang, next destination is the picturesque Hoi An via another sleeper train to Danang, and then a short drive...


Hoi An

Days 6,7&8

Formerly known as Faifo, Hoi An is an ancient port once reliant on trading with the rest of South East Asia. However, things have changed: this town now boasts a thriving tourist industry. Upon arrival, its welcoming and relaxed vibe will immediately draw you in...


Halong Bay

Highlights v

Old Town Heritage Ticket: As a UNESCO World Heritage listed town, Hoi An has some magnificent history to behold. With all proceeds going toward the restoration and conservation of the old town, this ticket allows you to visit five sites. Cost: 90,000 VND.


Japanese Covered Bridge: Constructed in the 16th century to link the Chinese and Japanese communities, the bridge features a yellow and green tiled roof, two guardian dogs on the east and two guardian monkeys on the west.



Tailor-made: Hoi An has become famous for its range of specialist tailors, (however be careful - some have been known to disappear after you’ve paid your deposit!). Thong Phi on Le Loi Street is a safe bet.

TIPS: Where to? Eat, drink, sleep. Cua Dai Beach: Several restaurants along the beach serve fresh seafood with Cao Lau (local noodle dish) being a local speciality. Blue Dragon: Cooking classes available with some profits going to Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation. Try the fish in banana leaf!

Hoi An

Champa Bar: Traditional music shows on Nguyen Thai Hoc. Sunflower Hotel: Popular and convenient for shopping and beach. Sleepy Gecko: British run backpacker hostel with friendly, fun atmosphere. Also complete with rooftop chillout bar with cold beer and cocktails - a great backpacker hangout.















Nha Trang

Even if you’re leaving Hoi An without a tailor-made suit, dress or shoes, this infectious town is sure to leave some long lasting happy memories. We now have a short four-hour bus ride to Hue, but try to stop off at the Hai Van Pass en route to take in some breathtaking views of the encapsulating countryside...


Days 9&10 Former capital city located in central Vietnam, art and architecture are the main themes here, with historical monuments, temples, tombs, palaces and pagodas aplenty.

v Sung Sot Cave: This is one of the largest caves in Ha Long Bay and is home to some beautiful stalactites and stalagmites, which fascinate and intrigue. v

Titop Beach: Beautifully clear water and a crescent shaped beach make this spot great for some relaxation.


Castaway Island: A visit to the island is only possible for those who took the Halong Bay trip with Hanoi Backpackers Hostel. The aptly named ‘Rock Hard, Rock Long, Halong Bay Trip’ is the stuff of backpacker legend. An exquisite beach in the heart of Cat Ba National Park with rock climbing, wake-boarding and phosphorous plankton glowing at night - Castaway Island is a dream come true.




TIPS: Where to? Eat, drink, sleep.

Cat Ba Island: Rugged mountainaous National Park land with trekking opportunities and rock-climbing Slo Pony Rock Climbing.

Royal Citadel: Modelled on the Forbidden City in Beijing (but also encompassing French military architectural themes), this was once the home to the Nguyen Emperors. Entrance: 55,000 VND.


Su fish: Local dish of shrimp and mussels only found in Halong Bay.

Imperial Tombs: In the countryside just south of Hue lie the tombs of several past emperors. Two of the most notable are Minh Mang and Tu Duc. Entrance fee: 55,000.

Restaurant Phuong Vi: Good selection of dishes available at a decent price. 97 Duong Ha Long.


Tung Lam Hotel: Newly renovated with balcony sea-view rooms.

Motorbike Tour: Joining a local on a chauffeured motorbike tour is a great way to discover Hue. Visit the former elephant and tiger fighting arena, Thu Hieu Pagoda, Imperial Enuch graves, Thanh Toan covered bridge and discover how to make conical hats and incense. (

TIPS: Where to? Eat, drink, sleep. Hue Backpackers Hostel: Friendly party atmosphere perfect for meeting fellow travellers. Here you can organise trips such as the ‘Top Gear Tour’ where you ride a motorbike along the picturesque coastline. Mandarin Café: Browse and buy some award winning photographs while dining at this backpacker favourite on Huong Vong street.

Hoang Lang Hotel: Well-presented rooms with breakfast included. Got some great pictures so far I hope! So, as you browse through them all, let’s head to the capital of Vietnam, and the final destination on our two-week tour.


Days 13,14 Hanoi traces its routes back as far as 1010, when emperor Le Thai To made this location on the Red River his capital, calling it Thang Long (Soaring Dragon). Modern Hanoi is a vibrant and often chaotic city, with several sights and sounds to entertain every tourist that passes through.

Dong Ba Market: Grab a bite to eat with the locals. Ly Lan: Snake wine bar at 1 Nguyen Hue Street. From here we take a sleeper train north to Hanoi. However rather than remaining in the capital, we’ll head back to the coast to visit Vietnam’s breath-taking party piece!

Halong Bay Day 11, 12

Featuring over 3000 limestone karsts and isles rising spectacularly from the ocean, Halong Bay is unquestionably Vietnam’s most beautiful natural wonder. The sheltered bays and calm waters have been home to floating fishing villages for generations.

Highlights v

Seafood lunch: Take a trip to the bay on a sailing junk and enjoy a local freshly caught seafood lunch on the way.

Castaway Island, H

along Bay

Halong Bay...

And if you can squeeze in a few extra days...(Okay, we lied about the two weeks!)




Home-stay trekking: The main activity in Sapa is staying in the homes of the local hilltribes who inhabit the area: Red Zao, Black Hmong and Zay people, among others. Amazing to see this local way of life unchanged for centuries, trek amongst terraced rice fields and misty mountains.


Bac Ha Market: Colourful market where local hilltribes meet from the surrounding area to trade goods. Homemade handicrafts and clothes to buy as well as local moonshine!

Highlights v Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum: Pay your respects to Vietnam’s revolutionary leader by visiting his embalmed body. You’ll also be able to visit the stilt house where he lived and the nearby presidential palace. Entrance fee: 20,000. v

Old Quarter: Home to character and commerce, each street name represents the product and industry within. Examples include Silk Street, Paper Street and even Medicine Street.


Temple of Literature: Dedicated to Confucius, Vietnam’s oldest higher education institution is divided into five walled courtyards with beautifully maintained gardens. Entrance fee: 5,000 VND.

v Hidden Hanoi Cooking Class: Fresh, healthy and delicious, Vietnamese food is` - learn to cook favourites such as spring rolls, Ca Ba Thay and Ca Lock in an old world environment with Hidden Hanoi Cooking Class - (can book at Hanoi Backpackers Hostel)

TIPS: Where to? Eat, drink, sleep. Hanoi Backpackers Hostel, Ma May and Ngo Huyen: The most popular place to stay in Hanoi; clean, comfortable and situated in Hanoi’s Old Quarter. Friendly atmosphere with nightly events, rooftop bar, parties and ability to book tours throughout Vietnam - in particular the Castaway Island Trip and Sapa homestay treks. Water Puppets: Sample traditional Vietnamese entertainment by Hoan Kiem Lake. Tickets start from 40,000 VND. Hair of the Dog: Popular bar just down the road from Hanoi Backpackers Downtown Hostel on Ma May. Beer, cocktails, (laughing gas!) and dancing upstairs. Joma Bakery: If you’ve been craving a good bagel whilst on your travels in South East Asia - don’t miss Joma Bakery - the bagel egger is a must!


Sapa Love Market: Taking place every Saturday night, the Love Market is where girls and boys meet from the area to dance and play traditional games. Vietnamese version of speed dating!

TIPS: Where to? Eat, drink, sleep. Sapa Summit Hotel: Many of the tour groups coming from Hanoi stay here for one night - clean, convenient and good location.

Getting Around Bus:

For bus travel around each city or to another location, the best way to find out times and book tickets is at that particular destination’s main terminal. However, travel agencies are often able to buy tickets in advance, by phone or email. For longer trips, most bus companies provide coaches with AC and comfy chairs. There are several prominent operators, the most reputable include Hoang Long, Viet Thanh, Sinh Cafe and Mai Linh. Write down your destination on a piece of paper to avoid the language barrier and always keep an eye on your luggage.

Train: Sleeper trains are essential

in keeping to a time and money budget on this tour. Once again, the best place to get tickets is from the train station; however, try and book these as far in advance as possible to guarantee a place on the date of your choice. You can also book these through an agency but they are likely to charge a commission. For the best nights sleep, make sure you purchase a soft sleeper cabin ticket. Things to remember include food and drink, a sleeping bag sheet liner and some entertainment. Enjoy!


Smoke and Mirrors The Real Life of an Apsara Dancer


ife is full of contrasts; it’s one of the reasons it’s so interesting – and never more so than when you travel. Countries have many layers, although peering behind the veneer of the tourism façade isn’t always an easy task. I’ve seen temples nestled inside ultra modern business districts, but what of the people? What of the Apsara dancers in Cambodia – what are their lives like behind their masks?

The Apsara Dance

Cast your gaze upon many of the temples walls at Angkor Wat, and you’ll see that the history of Apsara spans many centuries. To this day, there is opportunity to see the dances performed live all over the country; in fact, the fine arts of this tradition have been burgeoning since their popularisation in the 1950s. This is in part thanks to the Cambodian Princess Bopha Devi, who, having been taught by her grandmother, Queen Sisowath Kossamak, went on to be the face of Apsara in Cambodia and all around the world. There are four main types of Apsara dances: Classical dance, Shadow Theatre, Folk Dance, and all male masked dance. A lot of shows you can see in Cambodia will have elements of both classical and folk dance (with the other forms of Apsara being less common). But, going back to my original musings – what about the lives of these dancers? Contemplating it wasn’t enough, of course. I decided to find out… There was, however, a slight problem – in that I didn’t actually know any Apsara dancers. Luckily, it turned out that one was, in fact, right under my nose. Over the past few days spent looking round Angkor Wat, I’d got to know my tuk tuk driver quite well. It turned out he was friends with an Apsara dancer – a lady called Nari, who just happened to be working as a chambermaid at my guesthouse. Like I said, the answer was there all along.


The Chambermaid

Just like my tuk tuk driver, and most of the Cambodians I met, Nari was a really warm person - evident not from what she said (as neither of us spoke the other’s language!) – but from her manner, the way she interacted with her friends and family. As I would see later when I visited her home, life isn’t easy for most Cambodians. Nari lives in a one-room house, which she shares with her brother and his wife. At least from an outside perspective, this doesn’t seem to be a problem. There is a real sense of community amongst Cambodians; a spirit I’ve not seen in many other countries. Everyone is happy to work together and help each other. During the day, Nari works in the guesthouse, so I and other guests won’t have to. The sheets are changed; the floor wiped, and then comes the most impressive thing… All the sheets are washed by hand. Nari and her friend scrub rigorously to get them clean and ready for the next day. The work all done, it’s now time for lunch - just about the only break in the day Nari gets. Food is shared by all the staff in the guesthouse; everything is very communal, and there’s a good atmosphere at this well-run place. It’s during lunch that I look at Nari and think, you’re a real life Cinderella. Tonight, of course, Nari will be the princess of the stage – but how many members of her audience ever think of her reality?

The Dancer

A few hours have passed since Nari was with her family, where she was busy again – this time cleaning the home and helping the youngsters with their homework. Now we’re backstage preparing for tonight performance; there is a rush and energy in the air as the performers all get themselves ready. I don’t know any of them, but it’s clear they all love being here. Nari has also worked as a Apsara

teacher in the past; it’s obviously her passion, and she smiles a lot as she works her transformation – except whilst applying the makeup, which is a serious business. She concentrates as she peers into her mirror. Everything must be perfect. The make-up applied and costume on, she’s ready to go, but must wait a short while, as she’s fourth in line tonight. Nari will be performing two dances. The first is the ‘fishing dance’, and the second, a more classical Apsara performance. This last dance of the evening is all about elegance. As Nari glides through her moves with effortless grace, it’s like seeing a butterfly spread its wings for the first time. I watch her, then everyone else around me, as they gaze at the stage, enchanted.

About the author and photographer: Simon Bond is a professional travel photographer who concentrates his time in Asia. He’s from the UK and of course made the wise choice to swap grey clouds for blue sky and sun! His first published book is now available and can be a great creative resource to improve your photography, it’s called ‘simple scene, sensational shot’. Learn more about Simon at:


FESTIVALS & EVENTS: The “Moon” Parties Koh Phangan, Thailand Full Moon Party 25th May & 23rd June

that multi-coloured paint all over your body, get a glow stick in one hand and a bucket (or two) in your other and get ready to party!

Half Moon Festival 3rd, 18th & 31st May 15th & 30th June

Black Moon Culture 9th May & 8th June

There are various stories about the origin of Koh Phangan’s infamous Full Moon Party, but as one rumour goes, it all started with a group of backpackers playing guitars on the beach to celebrate someone’s birthday. Today, it’s a backpacker rite of passage and up to 30,000 people congregate on Haad Rin Sands each month for a frenzied concoction of dance, drink and devilishness from dusk until dawn. So, smear

Underground trance and progressive beats resound through the air as partygoers dance on the beautiful sands of Baan Tai Beach once every month. With amazing décor, live visuals and an international DJ line up every month, including special guests, the Black Moon Culture is a pretty intense dance experience.



Sairee Beach, Koh Tao, Thailand

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

Rhythm & Sands Baan Tai, Koh Phangan 2 days before Full Moon The people who brought us Rhythm & Vines and Rhythm & Alps of New Zealand, now in their 10th year of success, have extended their arms into Thailand bringing with them the international dance scene and some of the planet’s biggest acts! With a festival under the sun and stars, the island’s scene is changing from minimal psy-trance to a unique blend of fresh new music styles and DJs! Set in a secluded beach venue amidst the palms of Baan Tai, two days before the full moon

Personalised service and small dive groups (4 max)

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Gokteik Gorge Viaduct



party, R&S brings you the perfect warm up party! Koh Samui Regatta Koh Samui, Thailand 25th May - 1st June The annual Koh Samui Regatta is a huge sailing event which attracts over 200 participating teams and thousands of boat lovers from all over the world. Over five days, there are a variety of races taking place around the island including long distance racing, short sprint racing and cruising displays. Expect a fun filled event, with plenty of partying on dry land too, as those sailing types really know how to enjoy themselves.

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Chanthaburi and Rayong Fruit Festival Chanthaburi, Thailand 4th - 13th May

Succulent, thirst-quenching mangosteen or rich, creamy durian? Tangy langsat or sweet, pulpy jack fruit? Visitors to the Chanthaburi or Rayong Fruit Festival can indulge their taste buds with a delicious assortment of exotic Thai fruits. Fruit buffets offer ‘all you can eat’ including dragon fruit, papaya, coconut, rambutan, sapodilla and lots more. Held once a year, during the best season for ripeness and flavour, this unique even is a great opportunity to fill

May - June 2013 up on those vitamins whilst having a great day out. Waisak Yogyakarta, Indonesia 25th May

Held on the night of the full moon in May, Waisak is a sacred festival which commemorates the birth of Buddha, his enlightenment and his death. It is celebrated by Buddhist communities throughout Java, with the most prominent taking place at the spectacular 9th Century Buddhist monument, Borobodur in Yogykarta. Ceremonial offerings are made such as fruit and flowers

and thousands of candles, representing Buddha’s enlightenment are lit in the darkness. Processions are also held throughout the city. The festival is also known as ‘Tri Suci Waisak’ or ‘Three Holy Events,’ signifying the three celebrations; the birth of Siddartha Guatama (Buddha), the acceptance of divine revelation under the Bodhi tree and his journey to heaven. Boun Bang Fai Rocket Festival Laos & NE Thailand 1st-31st May


FESTIVALS & EVENTS: Taking place over two days, with plenty of eating, drinking and dancing thrown in, the Boun Bang Fai Rocket Festival is one of the most enjoyable (and noisiest!) events in Laos. Villages all across the country gather to create huge rockets made out of bamboo, decorate and paint them bright colours and stuff them with large quantities of gunpowder ready for the big launch! As they are fired into the skies, onlookers watch to see which rocket reaches the greatest height. The owner of the highest fired rocket receives prestige and status amongst the group. Woe betide if who fire a dud! The festival is held at the beginning of May, in conjunction with the start of the rainy season in Laos. Since ancient times it has been performed by all those working on the land to request rain from the ‘PhayaThaen’ or the ‘Rain God’ to pray for plentiful rice production for that year. Bali Arts Festival Bali, Indonesia June 11th - July 9th

Taking place over an entire month from mid June to mid July, the Bali Arts Festival is a unique extravaganza of arts, music, dance and history celebrating passion and pride in Balinese culture. Amongst other performances, famous masked dances originating from tribal villages are showcased and ancient classic stories retold. There’s a vibrant atmosphere all across the island as celebrations are enjoyed by locals and travellers alike. For first time travellers to Bali, it’s a fantastic introduction to the rich heritage of the spirited destination.

Visaka Bochea Day Cambodia, Thailand 5th May

no doubt you’ll be invited into the homes of the friendly tribal people to share with them this sacred festival, and spending the night in the jungle as the locals celebrate this exciting time is an experience like no other. Feasts, songs around the fire, ancient tribal stories, animal sacrifice, and lots of betel nut chewing and drinking of the deadly local liquor, Borak, are to be expected! Bruce Parry eat yer heart out!

One of the holiest Buddhist holidays, the Visaka Bochea Day is celebrated widely across Cambodia, aswell as being a National holiday. Sometimes also called Buddha’s Birthday, this holiday commemorates the birth, enlightenment and passing of Buddha. The faithful attend pagoda, make offerings and engage in kind and charitable acts and reverent behaviour to honour Buddha’s life. This is always a colourful and busy day at the pagodas across Cambodia.

Phi Ta Khon Festival Dan Sai district, Loei province, Thailand 28th June - 30th June

Gawai Dayak Festival Sarawak, Malaysia 1st June Gawai is a religious and social festival held every June in the longhouses of lowland tribes in Sarawak to celebrate the New Year and harvest. In local language, Gawai means a ritual or festival, while Dayak is the name for the native ethnic groups of Sarawak.

During this important time, families get together for unique celebrations which last a couple of days, with weddings often taking place as it’s one of the few times of year that the community is at home in their ancestral longhouse dwelling. If you happen to be travelling around exotic Sarawak during this Gawai Dayak, it’s a jolly good idea to get friendly with the locals, as

In Thailand, spirituality is never far away, but it perhaps comes closest with this ghostly festival, unique to the Isaan culture of North Eastern Thailand. (About 450km North of Bangkok.) Similar to the Western Halloween, locals don eerie spirit masks and wear phantom costumes and strange hats, while children play tricks in the street. The festival commemorates an old Buddhist tale, when villagers hold a celebration for the return of their Prince from banishment. It is said that they made so much noise that the dead are awakened from their graves and came out to party! Musical processions pack the streets and rockets fill the sky for three days. On the last day, the villagers meet at the local temple, Wat Ponchai, to listen to the the monks recite the message of Lord Buddha.

Concrete Jungle Parties, Room 101 & More! Vang Vieng, Laos

So you thought there was nothing going on in Vang Vieng now that ‘Tubing’ has been put to rest. Well it seems that with the help of expats and locals Vang Vieng is reinventing itself as an adventure centre; with rockclmbing, rafting, kayaking, caving even paintballing! Check out ‘Shoot ‘em Up Vang Vieng Paintball’, for the ultimate (and cheapest at just $20 USD) paintball experience in Asia! (www. And after all that - there’s still some great venues to party! In fact, minus those backpackers who just got too drunk (you know who you are!) the nightlife in Vang Vieng is even better! Topping our list, every Friday night, Jungle Party presents ‘Concrete Jungle’! With rainy season in Laos on the horizon you can party outisde if weather permits or duck inside the club for an equally good atmosphere. Also check out the new event ‘Tunes on a Tuesday’ for more audio action @VVM. Finally (we’re excited about this one) the grand opening of themed club, ‘Room 101’ the brainchild of our mates at Fluid. The concept, inspired by George Orwell’s book, 1984, will be manifested in the interior design and will have clubbers confronted with their biggest fears - mwahaha! Plus international DJ’s playing deep house, tech house, tribal and nu disco, and an awesome sound system!



ko f th Mo nth e !

borneo, malaysia

“Music isn’t all about sound; it is an art-form, and with it comes culture, diversity, creativity, talent and spellbinding performances...” Traditional Sape (Orang Ulu guitar), gongs and bamboo harps mingle with the ancient oud (an ancient string instrument). A thousand harmonies seemingly at odds and yet in unison, a world apart but here, one world, together... We were there last year - and would recommend it to anyone with a pulse! Festival-goers will soon be flocking to the mythical land of Sarawak, Borneo in their thousands as the 16th Rainforest World Music Festival prepares to unleash yet another dazzling spectacle. Courtesy of some of the most renowned performers from all over the globe, an array of daytime music workshops, jamming sessions, and action-packed nightly shows will set the scene at the gorgeous 17-acre Sarawak Cultural Village, just 35km outside of Kuching, and a stone’s throw away from the quiet beach resort area of the Santubong Peninsula. Three days beginning at 2pm with workshops and lectures – and three nights crammed with concert after concert on the main stage, by the lake, under the open sky. What better place can you think of to listen to resounding world beats?! With its central lake, abundant flora, landscaped walkways, and surrounded by thick jungle and the legendary Mount Santubong, this is seriously one of the most breathtaking festival settings in the world! It’s none too shabby from a music perspective, either. The RWMF has been voted one of the Top 25 Best International Festivals by world music magazine Songlines for the 3rd year running. Looking at this year’s line-up, it’s clear why… artists from Austria,

France, Denmark, Ireland; Croatia, Iran, Australia, USA; Indonesia, Colombia, Malaysia, Ukraine… There’ll also be a big traditional representation from Sarawak itself – from huge log drums and gongs to all kinds of innovative bamboo instruments, including the haunting sape, the boat-shaped lute. Add to this a smattering of Native Chanting and the talents of Shangyin Chinese Chamber Music Ensemble, and you should be getting a picture why this festival alone has put Sarawak smack bang on the world tourist map! An annual communion whose spirit is ‘as timeless as our intricate ecosystem’, the Rainforest World Music Festival has thrived on a winning formula since its launch. Dance to the rhythms of the rainforest, chill out under the canopies of the trees; drink, dine – then pick it up again at the Tree Stage ‘til late. And if it’s anything like the one we experienced last year, then don’t miss the epic finale! All the performers playing onstage as one as the crowds danced unabashed and whooping… We want more! THE TIME HAS COME.


s) 3yrs - 12yr yrs) (RM60 for 12 0 12 rs M 3y R r : fo PASS 0 (RM160 ONE DAY SS: RM33 A P Y A D ly at: THREE urchase on Internet p on le b la ai av All tickets http://rwm



By Patrick Lowe

Langkawi: Still A Backpacker's Heaven


here’s a disturbing trend in the few backpacker blogs I’ve read that mention the island of Langkawi off the northwest coast of Malaysia. To one degree or another, they assert that the island is expensive, over-developed and lacks features that make it of interest to backpackers, making me wonder if these bloggers actually spent significant time in Langkawi, or if they simply googled their information wholesale. Online, the picture of Langkawi that emerges does look somewhat dull for the adventurous backpacker: it isn’t an exotic war-torn land on the rebound, nor does it have ancient monuments left by a vanished culture. There’s no drug-fueled rave scene for hardcore party fiends either. Langkawi’s appeal may not be immediately apparent when you land on these shores, but after a couple of days, it dawns on most backpackers that it’s a safe and beautifully romantic haven where you can chill out without being constantly worried about getting scammed, mugged or hassled. With the exception of the peak tourist seasons, the island possesses a peaceful, meditative ambiance that will balance your chakras whether you like it or not. Nowhere in Langkawi would you be swarmed by beach touts and begging urchins or be accosted by dreaded arm-grabbing shopkeepers or vendors. The local Malays, who are generally the sweetest people you could hope to meet on the planet, simply regard that kind of behaviour as barbaric. For backpackers to avoid Langkawi in favour of truly overdeveloped holiday destinations like Phuket and Bali is to be sadly misinformed. Despite recent modernisation, it’s still a land where buffalo, cows, chickens and goats roam freely through the streets, often in front of a thoroughly modern hotel. If you take a drive around the island, you’ll see that Langkawi is unapologetically and charmingly rural. Even the main town of Kuah looks like a throwback from the 70s, though it’s only 20 years old. The island also has geological features so unique that UNESCO awarded it their prestigious Geopark status in 2007, making it the first and so far only place in South East Asia to have received that status. Multi-level cascading waterfalls are relatively rare and spread out over the Malaysian peninsula, but Langkawi has three of them, all breathtakingly beautiful during the rainy season, and all with free admission. Sound tempting so far? Read on...


Surrounding the main island are about a hundred smaller ones, many of which feature stunning limestone caves, tunnels, arches and unusual lake formations. The rainforests and wildlife here are also abundant and unique, a special treat especially for diehard nature lovers. In recent years, the Langkawi tourism industry has been trying to attract affluent travellers with more swanky resorts, restaurants and big-ticket yacht cruises. But rest assured that the two busiest tourist districts of Kuah and Cenang/Tengah still retain the ‘traditional’ backpacker vibe. There are more than 60 hotels in those two areas offering rooms for under $35 USD a night. A third of these offer rooms for under $20 USD a night, and there are at least six backpacker dormitories in Cenang going for as little as $5-7 USD! Although I haven’t been able to confirm this, I also believe Langkawi has the cheapest booze and cigarette prices in South East Asia (and perhaps even all of Asia full stop). Even though the religion here is Muslim, alcoholic beverages are sold everywhere in streets along Kuah and Cenang, the cheapest being beer at the Chinese and Indian-run mini-marts where a can of Skol goes for 50 cents US. More on low prices: If you don’t mind living on local street food, you can eat for as low as $2 USD per meal, with a drink yet to come. Car and scooter rentals are cheap off-season, and fuel is just under 65 cents US per litre. A few of the artificial tourist attractions are free but outside of these, you’re only looking at between $3-7 USD to get in, anyway. The best one is the mind-blowing Cable Car ride up Matchinchang Mountain, but even that is only $10 USD. It’s clear, then, that even on a shoestring budget, there’s a lot to see and do in Langkawi for free or for dirt cheap! To have a truly memorable trip, just keep the tips on the next page in mind...

Fact Box

b Langkawi, around 30km off the mainland coast of north west Malaysia, is an archipelago of 104 islands in the Andaman Sea, and is officially a ‘Duty Free Island’. b Langkawi means reddish brown eagle in colloquial Malay. The Malay word for eagle is helang - shortened is “lang”. Kawi means the colour reddish brown. b According to ancient Malaysian folklore, Langkawi was thought to be cursed by a local woman named Mahsuri who, because of wrongdoings to her by islanders, wished for generations of bad luck to the island. This is one reason why building for tourism didn’t start here until 1986.



Try to come with a friend or a group to split the cost of a basic room and vehicle rental.


There is no public transportation. Rent a car or scooter for all or part of your trip to get the most out of your stay here. The main island is 320 sq km - too big to taxi around on a budget. Off season, compact cars rent for around $30 USD and scooters can go as low as $9 USD, so take those bike lessons before you come! The main roads in Langkawi are in excellent shape and fuel is dirt cheap.


One travel company in Langkawi offers an unbelievable cheap boat tours, undercutting all the other agents for Island Hopping tours and Kilim Mangrove Tours. Their rates vary with season but are sometimes almost half of what everyone else is asking for. They are located right outside AB Motel in Cenang. Look for a big red sign that says ‘Your Travel Station’.



Get a hotel at either Kuah Town or the Cenang/Tengah area. There are budget hotels everywhere in Langkawi, but these two areas give you the most convenient access to cheap restaurants, bank machines, money changers and mini-marts. If you can live without a good beach close by, pick Kuah, which has everything you could possibly need, including doctors, dentists, shopping malls, supermarkets, a post office and lots of new budget hotels offering very clean rooms (many of the rooms are windowless but you don’t need a hotel window in Kuah, trust me).


Kayaking is one of the cheapest and most exhilarating activities you can do in Langkawi. You can even go to the relatively upscale Berjaya Resort and rent a kayak for only $5 USD per hour and explore the gorgeous Burau Bay, which is normally off-limits to anyone not staying at one of the two resorts at the bay.


Be extra careful when ordering your meals at grotty looking restaurants with the cheap plastic chairs if they serve seafood or recommend exotic Chinese or Thai soups that are not on the menu. Don’t let the third world décor fool you. These places serve premium seafood at premium prices, and if you don’t pick out your fish or shellfish, they’ll serve you a giant portion and stick you with an equally giant bill. Make sure you know what every dish costs before they cook it.


It would be a minor tragedy if you left the island without going on a rainforest trek with a good nature guide. The $40 USD three-hour jungle treks with the two top nature companies, Dev’s Adventure Tours and Junglewalla are absolutely worth the money. But if that’s out of your budget, there’s a free trekit-yourself jungle trail at the back of the hauntingly beautiful pools at Seven Wells Waterfall. For safety reasons, never go off the trail, go with a hiking partner, bring a working cell phone and dial 999 in case of emergency. Wear a long sleeved shirt, tuck your pant legs into your socks and secure with rubber bands. Try to hike in the morning but never start in the late afternoon. If you’re physically fit, try the 4,400-step stairway to the top of Gunung Raya, Langkawi’s tallest mountain. The entrance to the stairway is at Lebuk Semilang Park (just follow the stream). For amateur trekkers, all the waterfalls provide a quick and safe experience of the Langkawi rainforest.


There’s a night market (pasar malam) at a different location every night on the island. The variety of food here is staggering, and all of it going for dirt cheap. The crowds are unbelievable and parking is hard to find, but it is worth the trip. Aficionados of deep fried food are advised to look out for the guy serving burgers in a bun that’s been dipped in batter, then deep fried! He’s hard to spot but his cart has big sign that says Saudi Gold. At RM 1.50, you have to give it a try. And yes, it does taste fabulous.

About the Author:

Has this article whet your taste buds? Want to read more about budget backpacking in Langkawi? Langkawi expert, Patrick Lowe, has written an e-book with everything you need to know. To get more insider travel and money saving tips, be sure to visit:



Something to keep you busy on all those long bus journeys! Answers on page 70. Across





















20 24







1. The world’s smallest mammal, the Craseonycteris thonglongyai (the bumble bat), is found in which South East Asian country? b) Laos

c) Indonesia

2. Marco Polo was the first European traveller to land on the shores of Sumatra, Indonesia - but in what year? a) 1293

b) 1390

c) 1535

3. Which country in South East Asia has the highest mountain, and also claims six out of the ten highest mountains in SE Asia? a) Indonesia

b) Malaysia c) Myanmar


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

1. Plot 2. Iron block 3. River crossing 5. Hanging jewels 6. Separated 7. Herb 8. Proverb 13. Type of horse training 15. Obstructs 17. Not as bright 18. Divide by cutting 19. Powerful 22. Cooking devices 23. Rise from sleep

(6) (5) (4) (8) (7) (6) (5) (8) (7) (6) (5) (6) (5) (4)


S.E.A TRIVIA: a) Thailand

1. Neckwear 4. Card suit 9. Lingered 10. At no time 11. Spy 12. Person of high rank 13. Female animal 14. Row 16. Rise and fall of sea 18. Distress signal 20. Deadlock 21. Unaccompanied 24. Mass communications 25. Severe 26. Chanced 27. Retake examination


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

1 9 7 9 6 4 5 8 1 6 4 6 7 7 2 4 1 1 4 3 8 7 5 1 9 4 7 6





By Amberlea Williams The lore and guidebooks did not lie when they warned that the road from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng is known to cause motion sickness, and to prepare yourself. I am very, very glad I took antinauseants, otherwise I would have, without a doubt, suffered the same fate as seven of the seventeen passengers on board. We were only about an hour into the 6-hour journey when the breakneck speeds around tight, winding mountain roads and being jostled over teeth-jarring potholes, caught up with those aboard the Vomit Comet, resulting in a chorus of people simultaneously throwing up into bags or with their heads out the window. It was quite the soundtrack. It began with the young girl behind us – her dad shouted something which must have meant ‘bag! bag!’ and got one just in time for her to throw up into – and then the young boy on the other side of us and his mother, and then the guy behind me… and then another few in the first row. I couldn’t believe the chain reaction! It was looking like it was going to turn into a full-on Monty Python/South Park/Family Guy/The Office-esque pukathon. But oddly enough, it was only Lao people who were affected; the five foreigners on board were fine, though I wouldn’t have been if I hadn’t dosed up.



“Thank you might not be enough but one thing is for sure: “You don’t know what you’ve got until it is gone!” South East Asia is amazing and always will be. After five months backpacking through the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia and then back to the Philippines we appreciate it even

Before the man behind me lost his breakfast, I offered him a Gravol and tried to mime what it was and how it might help. Unfortunately he threw up before it could take effect. I had to tilt my seat forward, past the vertical setting so that he could have access to the window we shared, but even still, he wasn’t always successful getting it out the window... As awful as I felt for those blowing chunks, I also felt bad for the pedestrians and people on motorbikes we were passing whom I suspect may have been impacted by either heads out of windows, or full puke bags being tossed out… And now I understand why the buses at the station were getting such a thorough wash-down... At one point, when all bags on board had been exhausted, the driver quickly pulled over to a roadside stand and got a new stash of bags which he threw into the back. Then, when we stopped for a break about halfway, the people who had been sick had lunch (I can’t say I wasn’t tempted to do a slow-motion dive across the table screaming ‘nooooooooooo!’), only to repeat the process in the second half of the trip. But hey, at least the views were nice.

more since we’ve returned back to cold Switzerland. We’re not sad that we don’t have it anymore but feel richer because of the emotions and impressions we’ve experienced - that have been so inspiring! Was it sleeping in a museum in the Philippines or getting soaked by the craziest rain we’ve ever known in Cambodia or was it the magical Loi Krathong Festival of Lights in Chiang Mai...? It is all of these experiences and so much more! But best of all is that getting S.E.A Backpacker Magazine delivered to Switzerland is like you are getting a little bit of it here as well...Thank you S.E.A Backpacker Magazine and all South East Asia! (Lukas & Nadia) (You can order your copy of S.E.A Backpacker Magazine to anywhere in the world via our website - www. southeastasiabackpacker,com - AND next month you’ll be able to download our Kindle and ipad version!)

2 MINUTES WITH A BACKPACKER! This month we chat to Yoni Verhoeven, age 21, from the Netherlands. (Interview by Donna Jackson)

TRAVELLING FOR: Four months FLIP FLOP / SUNGLASSES COUNT: Three (paid 10 times too much on the last ones!) / Three (gave second pair away to a Cambodian kid) 3 MOST MEMORABLE MOMENTS: 1. Teaching English and playing with children in a poor Cambodian village. One of the best days of my life. 2. Bathing with elephants in Chiang Mai. I was in my element. 3. Buying a motorbike in Saigon, and driving on the road 27B, 27 & 20 from Nah Trang to Dalat. WOW! MOST EMBARRASSING MOMENT: On Koh Phangan, three guys and I ended up in a go-go bar after too many drinks. All of a sudden, I was standing ‘backstage’ being kissed. I still to this day don’t know if it was a girl or... MOST INSPIRING MOMENT: The whole of Cambodia. The S21 Museum, Killing fields, Landmine museum, the poor villages... just knowing what the people have all been through. They have so little but give so much; some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Learning to appreciate things more and trying to live without wasting things.

ry et o P


n or


Hanoi Rain

There was a heavy smell And the dense air swallowed me whole Is there a protocol for this? The pitter patter starts as distinct chords But the piano tumbles into a cacophonous racket Too late to turn back The pathless tides of traffic stretch out before me I need to get back to her My sandal slips as I ford the asphalt river Fury percolates A frustrating stagger into the eye of the storm… In the heart of the blender The squall fell silent Halcyon rays fall and provide the blueprint to life The metallic taste of raindrops on the corner of my mouth turn fresh The sweet smell of smog dances with the crisp wet air A symphony of drops plays on my hood A ballet of bikes moves to the melodic thunder of horns As lightning sneaks through the alleyway, Sages peer out from their urban caves These oracles, squatting on the ashen pavement Making love to their bamboo pipes Laugh maniacally as the lone foreigner pass

By Ryan Wolff

MOST HAIR-RAISING MOMENT: I had a stuoid fight with a local on Perhentian Islands, Malaysia. Then I suddenly realised that the chief of police was at the same bar. Days after the fight, he was still looking for me with friends – even on the last morning he was wandering around on my resort with his phone! I had to hide and flee the island. SOMETHING I’VE LEARNTABOUT MYSELF: I have feelings and I can still cry. I thought I’d lost them. LOW POINT: Having a fever, being sick for six days and not seeing an Englishspeaking person the whole time. Hadn’t eaten in three days and had to ride to my next destination on a motorbike 10-hours straight. SONG OF ASIA: I’m not sure, but I hate Oppan Gangnam Style. I’LL MISS/WON’T MISS ABOUT SEASIA: Miss: The people, all the new friends I made - and the bum-gun! Won’t miss: tuk-tuks. TIPS FOR FELLOW BACKPACKERS: Backpack, map, GO! Bring as little stuff as you can. NO technology. NO plans. Go where the road takes you. Bring a rope and hang your clothes after wearing, you could wear them for a week! If you’re not sure if you’re allowed to do something, just do it! You’ll hear if it’s not okay. Eat with your hands, it’s so much better. FUTURE PLANS: Signing up for the Dutch army. Save money while doing so and when I quit the army, go travelling again. Probably with a motorbike from the south to the north of South America. SUM UP YOUR TRIP IN ONE SENTENCE: I found myself. Thanks to amazing locals, travellers, landscape/ scenery and experiences.




THE WORLD For the Cost of Groceries!


o you’ve lived the gap year lifestyle for a few months… or years… time kind of blurs, right? And that dreaded question comes up - so, what’s next? Looking at your dwindling budget, you might be a tad worried about this: you’re not ready to go home yet! You want to see more of the world! Yet at the same time you find your savvy travel spirit is far more adventurous than your wallet. But what if we could draw that budget out a little farther? And let’s go ahead and toss in Australia… or maybe Japan into the mix? Or Tahiti? “What about airfare?! Accommodation?! What the heck are you thinking!? I’ve been living in South East Asia on $7 a day and you want me to pay thousands of dollars for a plane ride to a place

where I’ll have to pay $45 or more a night!” But what if transportation and accommodation were provided? And what if you got it by riding on a yacht? Yeah, a freaking yacht! Well then you would be in the wonderful and hidden world of volunteer crewing… It’s an active community that you can join in South East Asia to travel all over the world. We used volunteer crewing to travel from the United States to Mexico and across French Polynesia all the way to Tonga with an onward leg to Australia.

To do what we did with flights would have run up to over $10,000 each! Instead we travelled for nine months through six countries, racking up over 5,000 miles, visiting 19 South Pacific islands out in the middle of nowhere on a yacht and learning to play the ukulele while we were at it! All it cost us was our share of the groceries and a little fuel for the two-cylinder small boat when we wanted to go diving in Bora Bora. This article is pretty much about how we did that for the cost of food, and how you can too! Because a lot of the boats we rode with have left Australia and are headed straight for South East Asia...

You might be thinking this is about ‘super yachts’ – those giant white billionaire playthings. On a super yacht, you are a paid employee working under a contract. Or you might be thinking of those “pay to sail” ships that go out and, for an insane price tag, you too can join the crew to work (right…you pay them to work). Or you might be thinking this is about cruise liners and how to work on them. This is not any of those. There is another totally different community of sailors out there. While it’s the least well-known of the groups, this community is by far the largest one of them all: Recreational Cruisers (or just, ‘cruisers’ as they call themselves).

provides a ride with a place to sleep. Now as you might imagine with most volunteer experiences, the details after that vary boat to boat. The most common deal is that everyone on the crew evenly splits groceries and shares the boat tasks. Since the captain/owner decides where you are going and how fast you get there, they get to pay for the gas, docking fees and any materials for their own boat. There are other arrangements out there, and it comes down to what you and the captain agree on as fair to both of you. Don’t I need a license or something? It depends. In order to legally work on a yacht or cruise liner – in order to have a job where you are paid – then yes, yes you do. However to be a volunteer – to be someone who gets asked aboard a recreational sailing ship to help out and who is not under any form of contract and is not receiving compensation? No certification is required. You’re just a friend of the captain along for the ride! Again, it’s like WWOOFing. You’re not working for this person so much as just going sailing with them and helping out. That leads to a great question though: Is it safe? Just like anything else when travelling, there are risks and when you plan ahead those risks can be mitigated. Remember, you are responsible for your own safety! You need to make sure that you choose a boat that ‘should’ be safe, along with a captain and crew that will act in a safe manner. Boats with water in the bilge, rusted or broken equipment, missing or expired safety and navigation gear, owners and crew who are completely new to sailing, act in an unsafe manner or who want to sail during typhoon / hurricane / cyclone season or go to places where piracy has occurred – any of these should be a major red flag for you that would indicate maybe the next ship would be a better choice. Remember you will be asleep miles from land - is this the boat and the people you want to be in that situation with?

The kind of ships we volunteer on are primarily 35 – 75 feet (10.5 – 22.5 meters) long. Every year thousands of these boats are in motion all over the planet sailing to the world’s most amazing destinations: San Diego, Mazatlan, Fakarava, Tahiti, Bora Bora, Niue and New Zealand are just a few of the places we have gone. These ships are ‘crewed’ by the owners – usually either a single person or a couple that bought the boat in order to sail off into the sunset for the voyage of a lifetime. These are casual sailors looking to have a good time. But that good time hits a snag pretty quickly when those vacationers have to drive the boat 24-hours a day, and there’s a lot to do. Cooking, cleaning the hull, driving, pulling lines, setting sails, boat chores, etc. does not a perfect vacation make. These casual sailors usually want help – someone to stay awake a few hours at night, cook dinner every now and then and help out where it’s needed. Often they don’t want to hire a professional crew because it’s expensive and they don’t want to give up command of their ship to a charter captain. What they really want is someone who is flexible on time and destination, reliable, easy to get along with and is also willing to help out in exchange for a bed and the promise of adventure. Sound like anyone you know? Because that’s where you come in: • Are you a responsible person who likes to be helpful? • Are you capable of staying up by yourself for three hours a night? And, sober, we should add – fair warning, you’ll need to be sober while driving the boat! • Are you a good roommate? • Are you willing to trade the ability to decide on exact destinations in order to visit remote islands that get, maybe 100 visitors / year? If the answer is YES, then volunteer crewing could be for you! It’s a lot like WWOOFing, except you replace the farm with a yacht and the animals with sails! The basic deal: you give your effort and time, and the captain


This is another reason why, while no official licensing is required to be a volunteer, we still recommend you know enough to keep yourself out of trouble. Check out the sidebar to this article ‘Not a salty dog?’ for some tips on how to get started growing a healthy set of sea legs without busting your budget. One article really can’t cover all the specific details of how to volunteer onboard sailboats so if you think this might be for you, our blog has a ‘How to Crew’ section that covers how we do what we do. Also, we love to answer questions so please shoot us a line! (Just not a rope!) Volunteer crewing comes with no contracts but tons of awesome. You can volunteer on a boat for as long as you and the captain want to travel together. While you get little-to-no say about exactly where you’ll end up (though they should tell you before you leave), or how quickly you’ll get there – in exchange, you’ll get to experience isolated pieces of the world that most other travellers rarely get to see. For those travelling with specific dates and obligations this may not be the best opportunity but for those willing to take a few months to follow where the wind will actually blow, you can be amazed at where you end up!


AMAZING! We need volunteers to help at our Happy Animal Sterilisation & First Aid Centre on the island of Koh Lanta in Thailand. You’ll help to look after our cats and dogs - stay for a month and we offer free accommodation! & Facebook

Not a Salty Dog? What about seasickness? Worried about the motion of the ocean? Yes, seasickness is a real thing and there are real ways to prevent it from happening to you. Greg has learned from extensive personal experience that the best cure for seasickness is a massive dose of prevention. Check out our blog for details, remedies and tricks to keep your stomach ship-shape.

Learning the ropes! While licenses are not required to be a volunteer, knowing your bilge from your bow is probably a good idea before you find yourself 500 miles from land on what our friend once described as ‘a bedsheet powered bathtub. There are lots of cheap and free ways to get on boats and learn the ropes… …except, you know, on the boat they call them ‘lines’ sometimes… Volunteer to join a casual evening racing team, hang out at a yacht club (sounds cool right!? No ascot required.) Make friends at the cruisers bar (if you see yachts in the harbor, then trust us – there’s a cruiser’s bar in town.) Or check out our blog for other cheap and easy ways to get started.

Yarr! I be ready! Where be me ship!? Actually, there are lots of ways to find a ride. Most sailing magazines have what’s known as ‘crew lists’, which are online forums where captains and crew connect. You can also do an online search on that term to find those lists alongside some of the websites that provide this service to recreational cruisers. We keep a running list of things that helped us find rides on our blog. Personally though, we have found the best way to find a ship is the old fashioned way: go to a cruiser port, hang out with people, make friends, join the sailing community and be helpful. Once people understand that you’re pretty cool and willing to help out onboard, you’ll probably be offered a ride. South East Asia is a destination for recreational cruisers and many of the coastal destinations travellers visit also cater to the cruising community. Because, let’s face it. You didn’t really want to be going home yet…did you?

About the authors: Greg and Tiffany are travelling around the world on sailing yachts and keep a video blog of their (mis) adventures. If sailing to Tahiti on a 44ft sailboat, getting pooped on by seagulls, hand-crafting coconut bikinis, sailing past tornadoes and learning to play Christmas carols on a ukelele sounds like fun to you - check them out at:



How did you all meet? ALL : A few of us started off jamming together at a friend’s Christmas party, and we sounded good as a collective. At that point, we just wanted to share our grooves and put a smile on everyone’s faces – something that we still aim to do.

omprised of a whopping 13 members, ‘Diplomats of Drum’ have been billed the most exciting ethnic-flavoured percussion ensemble in Malaysia, and been voted “Best Live Act” by MTV Asia three times! Formed in 2006 as an allpercussion ensemble with just five core group members, their performances these days include all kinds of world sounds ranging from the Australian Didgeridoo, African Djembes, the Brazilian Repenique and Surdos, Malay Gendang and Rebana; the Indian Dhol, Sitar and Tabla, and the Scottish Bagpipe.

Has music always been your passion? Mark: Yes, for me this passion has evolved over the years - from an internal passion of listening and learning to the different styles of music - to a passion of expressing it in the form of creative art and performance. Amin: To me, music = oxygen. Rav: Yes, it started when I was a kid, running around banging on everything and anything I could get my hands on, so naturally I progressed to playing percussions. It’s like breathing to me, even a fleeting moment without music would be disastrous. Satpal: Kabir (a famous Sufi poet) once said “Music without words means leaving behind the mind. And leaving behind the mind is meditation. Meditation returns you to the source. And the source of all is sound.”



A mix of professional accountants, consultants, engineers, lecturers, ophthalmologists, physiotherapists, television broadcasters & producers (as well, of course, as full-time musicians), these guys have an exciting year ahead that includes releasing their first single Forza in May, a live album coming out in August, their debut studio album at the end of the year – plus a tour of Australia. Luckily, they weren’t too busy for a quick chat with us… (Interview by Karen Farini)

First of all, an observation: Malaysia is a melting pot of different cultures - something you seem to collectively personify through your diversity! ALL: Yes! And here’s a fact that we just found out ourselves – each of us comes from a different state in Malaysia! Our different backgrounds and cultures seep into our music, making us a truly Malaysian band!



You call your music style ‘Music Without Borders’, and describe it as a mixture of ‘ethnic Malaysian melodies and rhythms with modern day phat grooves and melodies from around the globe.’ How did your initial vision progress into the style you have pioneered today? Amin: We basically throw almost anything - foreign folkloric and/ or indigenous musical elements into our pot and let them melt together with our strong foundation of Malaysian musical elements. Similar styles (amongst others) include funk and zapin, shuffle and bhangra, joget and gigue… Some musical languages are juxtaposed, giving high value of polarity, but perhaps our aim is to create something you can’t actually label! We just call it DOD (Diplomats of Drum) music - a new genre! Satpal: We visioned music that demonstrates synergy. Synergy



that brings the best out of local and contemporary music. Rav: While we began with the intent of mixing Malaysian drums and keeping it groovy, it grew into something bigger. We wouldn’t feel as complete now without melodies and vocals. We’re proud to claim that there’s no other band like us, anywhere in the world! You say that anything and everything that you see, touch and hear, you use to apply to your music. How did you collectively bring all these influences to the table? Mark: We all come from different musical backgrounds - traditional, classical, contemporary - giving us a large pool of instruments to work with. Satpal: We don’t play on tables. Enough said. Rav: While we’re deeply rooted in Malaysian influences, we’re all like sponges, we absorb a lot. Something as simple as the rhythmic sounds of raindrops on a zinc roof can inspire us to write a new percussion piece, which could then evolve into a full on track, just like one of our most requested tracks, The Diplomat Express, inspired by the pitter patter of raindrops. It’s a track that starts off at a frenetic pace and just gets faster and faster, it’s crazy, it takes on the character of the monsoon rain that we get here in Malaysia. Tell us more about your musical backgrounds. What were your influences growing up? Eddy: My grandfather loved singing classic Shanghai Jazz tunes, especially if he was in a good mood! He’d come home sometimes singing Rose, Rose I Love You, and we’d know he’d a good day. Karim: I was brought up in a family that practices and performs classic Islamic music called qasidahs, and that has always been an influence till now. It’s a heritage I’m proud of. Rav: Growing up in a Punjabi family, I had the usual dose of classical Indian, bhangra and Hindustani music; however, I was always curious of the different cultures and music around me, so I grew up playing things that not many other Punjabis would play, or even know; like the joget, the inang, dikir barat, boria. I even


had a chance to play Chinese drums! This helped shape my love and appreciation for all things Malaysian, and that’s apparent in the musical styling of the DOD. There’s a strong Irish/Celtic connection in Malaysia; and in your music, bagpipes fuse effortlessly with Indian rhythms. Can all music blend together, do you think? ALL: Malaysia was once a British colony: when the Brits left, they left behind a lot of their culture, and that has remains strong today. The bagpipe fits with any rhythm. In our opinion, all music CAN blend together, we do it on a daily basis; then again, you need to be as daring/adventurous/crazy as the DOD to be able to pull it off! You represented Malaysia at the Rainforest World Music festival in Sarawak, Borneo, last year (great performance, by the way and we’re excited for this year!). How was that experience for you? Amin: Individually, some of us might have travelled and performed at various international stages with renowned acts and icons worldwide. But as a band, carrying our national flag, Rainforest was one ‘hell’ of an experience. Indeed, a humbling experience! Rav: Thanks! It’s on par with our performance in Korea; we had a bigger crowd in Korea, but playing in front of your home crowd is a different thing altogether. There was a point in our set that everything came together: the melody, the rhythm, the audience, everything and everyone was in sync... that for me, was THE best moment of my musical career to date! How important would you say music is in Malaysian culture? Satpal: We communicate our history, lifestyle, traditions and emotions though music. We’re proud to be part of a very interesting country. Time magazine quoted Malaysia as the most culturally diverse country on the planet, and for a country so diverse, we need something to bring us together. And since Malaysian football sucks (you can charge me under article 88!) –music is the thing for us.


More and more music these days is becoming ‘globalised.’ Do you think this crossover is a good thing, or do you think that individual cultures are being watered down as a result? Mark: Globalisation diversifies and creates new cultures, which is a good thing. If we examine Malay traditional music for example, it is the product of many crossover elements whose roots can be traced to Arabian, European and Asian influences. In modern times, and in light of the decline in traditional music due to the popularity of contemporary music, it would be of certain importance to adapt and crossover between the two to preserve the heritage of traditional music – while retaining its musical appeal because of its contemporary nature. This is what ‘world fusion music’ is about – and this is what Diplomats of Drum does best! Satpal: I’d flip the coin on this one. Without events like the Rainforest World Music festival, for example, the general public and particularly the youth wouldn’t even be exposed to such music. Eddy: I think as long as there are backpackers travelling, and spreading word of different cultures, the world will keep getting smaller and more familiar. This is a good thing! Karim: It’s important to stay original. But as a musician or as an artist I wouldn’t want to stay stuck in a single spot. As I grow I want my music to grow. But before we can start dabbling with our own ideas, we must learn the classic and originals and respect it. What about the Malaysian music scene. What’s hot right now? Amin: Whatever that’s happening musically elsewhere takes place in Malaysia. Mainstream and underground, all the same – a lot of

western influence has creeped into our music. Eddy: There’s a hot new band called Greasy Fingers. Karim: Our taste in music scene is just as vast as our food. And the movements keep on evolving, until you have to evolve as well to follow the tempo. Rav: The Indie music scene is pretty hot at the moment, and we have some amazing acts popping up and putting in some killer performances, The Impatient Sisters are ones to look out for. What are your plans for the rest of the year? ALL: We’re focused on recording! It’s been a long time coming. We’ve got two albums coming out; one will be a live album of our favourite tracks from the tours of 2011 & 2012, and the other, our debut studio album! Recording is no mean feat with 13 members! It’s like herding cats into a room! Do you all get on? Go on, spill the beans. Any bad habits?! ALL - We get on pretty well actually! We’re like a bunch of brothers! Occasionally, we have massive bouts of kickboxing! Kidding! There will be disputes, politicking and whatever you want to call it in a band of 13 people, the biggest issues being those revolving around artistic directions. Shit happens, and it happens regularly and we live and deal with it! As brothers, we try to keep each other in line and we let the big picture override any petty disputes we may have. Tell us about your workshops! Rav: We conduct all sorts of sessions worldwide, percussion workshops, community drumming/drum circles, traditional Malaysian Dances, traditional Malaysian drums and melodies and the occasional traditional Malaysian food workshop! These sessions allow us to be closer with the audience, which often creates a lasting bond. They also give us the chance to demonstrate the wonderful properties of our culture and music. Here’s a fun fact - if a group of people sit and drum together or even just clap along, all of our heart beats will slowly sync and beat as one, isn’t that wonderful? It’s truly powerful. Get us to conduct one session for you and experience for yourself! What place in Malaysia would you recommend that our readers visit the most? Mark: Our studio while we jam! And we’ll take you to visit a nice mamak after that! Amin: Kelantan, magical land! Satpal: You thought you’d hear Perhentian Island… but no, I’d say KL…walk the streets of KL and be amazed by the musical experiences you’ll find on the street and down the little alleyways. But if you’re determined to take a flight somewhere, fly to Kuching. Rav: Well, I vote for the Perhentian Island, it’s such a beautiful place. You won’t want to leave. Where else in Asia really floats your boat? And the rest of the world? Mark: I love Thailand and London. I’d love to visit South America on tour! That would be awesome. Amin: Indonesia is brilliant. Especially Bali. Satpal: We’re touring the United States in 2014, so that covers my end! Eddy: Thailand is a really special place. Europe is beautiful, but not for me – give me the tropics anytime. I’d like to visit Mexico next. Karim: Thailand is a place I feel connects with me. I’ve never been to Istanbul but I keep dreaming of the place, and I definitely want to go to Morocco for the culture and food. Rav: In Asia - Hong Kong, I just love the energy and the ‘chic’ vibe of the place. Southern Spain is a really nice place too, it’s the real Spain. Given the chance, I ‘d like to tour Africa, share our ideology and culture, and bring smiles to the whole continent! Finally, being internationally acclaimed as Malaysia’s chief world music percussion troupe…


what do you think lies behind your appeal? Mark: The percussive styling of our music which makes people want to groove. But there’s also a certain depth that emerges whenever traditional or cultural elements are added to the music, which makes the appeal more meaningful. Our performances are basically a celebration of cultures! Satpal: Our ability to connect and communicate with the crowd. We don’t perform for an audience, but we take the audience through a musical journey which they participate in. Eddy: Other percussion ensembles sound, like fast food tastes. Karim: Other than just the music I believe our strongest appeal is the joy we have sharing it and performing together on the same stage. We believe the listeners can feel that joy too Rav: I guess it’s that full package – as Satpal says, we don’t just perform for an audience, we get them involved, their contributions complete our tracks, that and the fact we have so much fun on stage…plus, we’re all really good looking. We give boy bands a run for their money!

All music from The Diplomats of Drum is available from iTunes and other digital stores (Amazon, Spotify, Nokia Music etc). Booking or general enquiries can be directed to:



By Dawn Parks

A Spoonful of Culture indonesia


firm rule to ‘real’ travelling - experiencing the area, meeting the locals - is to ditch all First World luxuries and join the locals in their transport. Not only can it help the budget, but it also gives one some of the truest views of the local culture – a compelling reason to take local transport even when it doesn’t help the budget (in areas such as Indonesia, it is not uncommon for budget airlines to offer cheaper airfares than long-distance ferries). The following tale offers a glimpse into one of the many unique moments such a travel mandate can bring about. It describes a 24-hour ferry ride in Indonesia, from Batam to Medan. With the thin mattresses laid out one next to another and the intended twentyfour hour ferry lasting nearly a full day longer than expected, passengers had little entertainment options available but that of interaction. Needless to say, the locals were quite curious about this unusual sight in Economy Class - a westerner from a privileged country... Minutes upon awakening, I heard my name being called. I gamely tried to ignore it, continuing to walk the few steps back to my mattress from the porthole, as I tried to escape my feelings of doom at the fact there was still no land in sight. Dawn, the westerner in Economy, isn’t such a pleasing zoo attraction in the morning. Upon sitting down on my thin mattress, I discovered my attempts at deafness were not accepted. The cook who had taken a shine to me came bearing a present. A Styrofoam box was thrust at me. “It’s

bean porridge” he explained, grey water dripping from his hands. “For you!” His face radiated pure joy at this opportunity for charity. “Sorry, no spoon,” he added as an afterthought. It was 7am. Total sleep time: four hours. I managed a dim smile as I took the proffered box, which was still dripping grey liquid. Unlike some, I have no inclination to eat when my brain is still trying to navigate the foggy world known as Barely Conscious. At 7am, even the prospect of steak and eggs would have revolted my stomach. Drippy grey matter never stood a chance. He beamed at me, grateful to be of help. “Thanks”, I acknowledged weakly. After all, I did appreciate the sentiment. And since my gifted meal the previous night had not been drugged or charged for, chances were he was sincere in his attempts to be friendly. He walked away. After several minutes, I realised I had been staring vacantly in the distance. No good. Must wake up enough to eat. I attempted to rouse myself with thoughts of cheeseburgers… Milky Ways... hot fudge sundaes… mashed potatoes… pasta alfredo. Anything tasty. It didn’t help. And that was before I even opened the box to glimpse it. Things I Know: I know what it feels like to be hungry, to appreciate any food at all, no matter how taste-defying. I knew the cook had made a considerate gesture, possibly a welcoming gesture. I knew that, if treated wrongly, it would seem as if I was turning up my nose at being welcomed. What is bean porridge, anyway? I remembered the punchline to the old joke. “I don’t care what it’s been, I want to know what it is!” the joke stated. I truly didn’t know what it was. I had never encountered it before. I had never encountered anything that dripped grey liquid. Removing the rubberband, I opened the lid. Brown beans in a gray broth, an unidentifiable black substance on top. Liquidy. Fighting a churn in my stomach, I closed the lid, replaced the rubber band, and dabbed at the new puddles which had formed on the mattress. Oh. So that’s what bean porridge was. Another thing to add to list of ‘Things I Know’: Any of the other passengers would have been grateful if they had been given such a treasure. I would have known this even if my 50 bulkhead companions hadn’t been staring at me, clearly apprehensive on my behalf, and waiting to guage my reaction. Sigh. Guess I should find a spoon... “Miss”, cried one of my perpetual visitors. Sometimes, I wished I really was a zoo exhibit. A separating glass partition would have been welcome. I glanced at Miss Noisy wearily, too exhausted to consider baring my teeth.


ner.. the foreig o t e in h s Taking a

“You have much water”, she demanded. I knew “much” could easily have meant “more” water, but I was clueless as to the meaning. Was she trying to comment on the puddles, tell me I had too much

water, or ordering/asking if I wanted more water? Since her voice rises and harshens at the end of each expressed sentiment, I couldn’t tell if it was a statement, question, or order. She glared meaningfully, mistaking her expression for a more pleasant one. I gotta be honest, I wasn’t sure how to answer. I knew I didn’t want any more water. Perhaps she was trying to comment on the number of puddles forming? “Um… I have plenty of water”, I mumbled. “What???”, she demanded, her voice somehow managing to both rise and harshen even in a single-syllable sentence. Responding again would’ve required more energy than I had. Instead, my hands raised in the universally-understood gesture for “I don’t know”. My vacant staring resumed. Too early in the morning for this. Should eat. Don’t wanna. Should eat. How? “Miss,” a voice cried again. It belonged to a checked shirt from the next aisle of mattresses. I looked at it. At him. Through gestures, the shirt explained a startling concept - I should eat the food. Well done, Einstein. As if I hadn’t already worked that one out. If I hadn’t mentioned it already, mornings really aren’t my best time. “No spoon”, I explained instead. Maybe that was the answer to it all. No spoon. Can’t eat boxed soup without a spoon; it’s indisputable. I placed the box in a bag, wiped up the mess. Started to recline. Drowsiness dove in.

A unique form of entertainm

ent onboa rd!

A man from another nearby bed stopped in front of me with a drippy spoon. Real, not plastic. Brought from home for personal use. Freshly cleaned in the men’s washroom. “For you,” he said, bowing, “please”. What could I do? “Thanks”, I bowed back. Spoon problem solved. Recline ended.The box was reopened, spilling grey tendrils into the plastic bag. I stared into the murky depths. Still not hungry. I scooped a little up. Closed my mouth over it. Fifty sets of eyes on me, maybe more. Did passengers from other bulkheads come over to watch the spectacle? Next on Springer! White Girl Offered Breakfast: Will She Reject It? Spooned another. So it’s not tasty. It’s still better than plenty of food. Better than takoyaki. Better than spicy chicken, spicy anything, greasy anything, pork fat... Another spoonful. Half a spoonful, actually. All eyes on me. Not as good as cow tongue, depressingly enough. Worse than squid. Stop thinking like that.

g the journey... Making friends durin

Travelling Economy cCass on a twenty-four hour ferry, my bulkmates curiosities are easily understood – poor, possibly hungry, valuing the bits of life those more privileged take for granted. They’re curious about this white girl, possibly a rich snob; possibly okay. Cautious about welcoming. I swallowed another bite. Gag reflex overruled. I had to quickly remind myself what it’s like to be so hungry that you’re grateful for any food, even if it turns your stomach. Another nibble. I reminded myself how considerate the gift was. How insulting it’d be if I didn’t eat. Another half spoonful. It took me two tries before I could swallow that small bite. Over the spoon, I met the cautiously approving eyes of the checkered shirt. I managed a weak smile. Another spoon. When I was finished, I placed the spoon on top of the box. Black shirt man took it back. I nodded my thanks. “Thank you,” demanded Miss Noisy, her voice rising in ferocity. She had remained overlooking my mattress throughout the meal. “Thank you,” I corrected myself obediently. Bridging culture gaps, one spoonful at a time.

The sleeping q uarters


for self-expression; one which urged you to create something out of a rough situation as opposed to just passively crumbling inward. In short, punk was (and still is) more than just music. It is a mentality. Groups like the Slits and Bikini Kill used it to give a kick to feminism, further promoting the ideal of the message over the music. The genre’s DIY aesthetic, rawness and no-holds-barred physicality in the performances found a home wherever people were feeling oppressed, and with energy to burn. According to Dluzak, it was the mid-90s when the punks in Yangon first gained exposure to the punk sub-culture. A Burmese named Koh Nyan ‘found a music magazine with an article about the Sex Pistols in the litter bin of the British embassy in Yangon.’ Teens in Myanmar quickly seized the genre as their own, claiming the look, sound, and style of Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious for themselves.


he brand new film documentary Yangon Calling features an inside look at the punk scene in Myanmar’s capital city, Yangon (formerly known as Rangoon). Matt Grace is a UK born documentary photographer and writer who provided stills for the film’s PR and is currently based in Yangon as he collaborates with Dluzak in producing the accompanying book to be released along with the DVD. Travel writer Kimberly Bryant had the opportunity to speak with both Dluzak and Grace about Yangon’s underground punk scene, the impact they hope the film and book will have on viewers’ preconceptions of this very underground subculture, and of Myanmar itself. Over the years, hundreds of documentaries have been made on colourful chaotic punk life. The best ones give us a look at the vulnerable, passionate people behind the hard-edged exterior. Penelope Spheeris’ The Decline of Western Civilization does this for LA’s early 80’s hardcore scene, while Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten shows an intimate view of the complex person behind one of the most influential punk bands ever. Yangon Calling, a film by German-based filmmakers Alexander Dluzak and Carsten Piefke, now adds to the list, offering a look at the challenges faced by punks living in the capital city of Myanmar. Filmed in 2011, just before the country began undergoing significant socio-political change as it switched to an open economy, the documentary explores this lesser-known side of the country… Punk. Even the word alone is confrontational; divisive. In ’76 the Sex Pistols rolled onto the scene and solidified punk rock as a legitimate subculture in the UK. Influenced by the Ramones, the New York Dolls, Eddie & the Hot Rods and countless other groups that came before them, this confrontational group rocked out loud clothes, loud studs, loud tattoos and, yes – loud music. Lyrics were screamed – not sung – at performances filled with kids who were sick of the way things were. It wasn’t long before the movement caught fire outside the UK, and soon after that, punkers were pounding three chord progressions in places like DC, LA, New York and Australia. Why? Because this was a movement that stood


This timeline perhaps offers new insight into the scene’s history. In an article on punk in repressed countries published via the Guardian on March 17, 2012, journalist John Harris figures that punk in Myanmar began about a decade later. “In Burma, the country’s punk rock milieu has been fomenting since around 2007, when musicians came together in brazen opposition to the country’s ruling junta.” Nowadays, punk teens stroll Yangon’s cracked pavement in full spiked Mohawk and studded regalia; their clothing and music stand for the punks’ refusal to take what the oppressive Burmese government has been doling out for years. Juxtaposed with the majority of modestly dressed, repressed Myanmar citizens, the look is shocking. Matt Grace, a UK born documentary photographer and writer currently based in Yangon, has spent a fair amount of time with the punks and empathizes with their motivations. “The scene in Yangon is more about a group of guys who have grown up in a very restricted environment - politically, socially, and economically - and identify with the punk ethos as a way of expressing their discontent and unwillingness to conform.” The punks, in turn, are more marginalised because their mode of creative expression subverts the country’s traditional dominant paradigms. Economically, they face challenges similar to other underground musicians. These include high costs of venues and equipment, making it difficult for them to put on shows. What is clear now, Grace says, is that some things will certainly be less complicated for the punks with the new regime changes. The elimination of pre-publication censorship will make things easier for anyone in Myanmar producing music, art, literature and media. “[The punks are now] able to release music and videos without having to wait for permission, and the laws [regulating the content] also seem more relaxed.” However, Dluzak points out that while the socio-political changes have made the situation for the punks a bit more laid-back, their standard of living hasn’t changed very much. “Lots of western countries are starting do business with Myanmar now but unfortunately this doesn’t necessarily lead to the Burmese people having money in their pockets. Often, only the political elite benefit from this process.” Social media is not only what first led punk into Myanmar, but it is also leading it back out. The continuing influence and effects of social media paired with the country’s new open economic policy have provided the Yangon punk scene with some much-needed acceptance and approval from abroad. Grace says he now gets fairly regular requests for information about the bands. “The punks here are happy to have people interested in them in a positive way rather than the negative or (at best) confused reaction they get

from most Burmese.” With foreign interest in Myanmar increasing, the punks are being granted admission into the international music scene. The band ‘Side Effect’ recently played in Germany while ‘Rebel Riot’ are currently touring in Indonesia. “They are now members of the international punk community rather than just the tiny Yangon community.” When the film and book are released later this year, the intention is to right misconceptions of the mysterious country and increase understanding of its youth culture. Grace says, “I hope it starts to break down some of the stereotypes and preconceptions which surround Myanmar...” The young people in the book are almost never represented when Myanmar is discussed in international media – that’s what I hope will change.” Dluzak, similarly, wants to show a different side of the country. “They have an incredible underground scene that is not just a copy of western fashion or music styles. Youth culture is far more political there than in the West ... [Our work shows] that their dreams and wishes do not differ that much from ours.” While the country changes dramatically over the next decade, the future of the Yangon punk scene is anyone’s guess. Says Grace, “Yangon is almost certainly going to go through a period of economic improvement and increased freedoms, so what will the punks be rebelling against? Whether they retain the spirit that brought them together in the first place is up to them.” No doubt, the unwritten future of this righteously rebellious subculture will continue to shapeshift as Myanmar navigates its own growing pains in adapting to a global economy and ever-present social media. I look forward to watching the story of the punks’ metamorphosis unfold, as they find their way in this new world. For more information on Yangon Calling, please visit www. To donate to the film and book, please visit

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About the author: Kimberly Bryant is a visual artist exploring the myriad colours, sights & sounds on offer around the world. Originally from Canada, she holds a major in Studio Arts from the University of British Columbia. With interests in travel, music, and visual anthropology, her passion for creative expression shapes who she is and how she interacts with the world. You can see her art and photo work at: Photos in this article by Matt Grace. To see more of Matt Grace’s work, please visit

Inya Day Spa Thaya Day Spa 16/2 Inya Road No. 17 3rd Floor Kamayut Tsp Junction Square Yangon, Myanmar Shopping Center 01537907 Pyay Road, Sanchaung Tsp Yangon, Myanmar 0973173979 Please contact us by facebook or email




1O Discoveries of a Hungry Chef in Asia


’d been in one place for too long, so at the beginning of August, I packed my bags and flew to Singapore to start a new adventure: over three and a half months backpacking around mainland South East Asia. It had taken a lot of saving and planning to get to his point and I was glad to finally begin. Saying that, though, there is only so much you can leave behind. Being a chef can be more of a vocation than a job; I love to learn – and I couldn’t wait to sample the infamous culinary delights that awaited me. Would I find the same highlights as others, or would they be more personal? Here are my top ten discoveries…

4. Jonker Night Market, Melaka. Often overlooked in Malaysia in favour of its northern neighbour, Georgetown, Melaka has many of the same historical traits which have led to such a vibrant food scene. The colonial port’s night market of Jonker Street is wonderful. The otak otak is a study in smoky goodness; the onya laksa is stunning – a sweet, spicy fresh seafood broth soured with tamarind – and the deep fried baby crabs, eaten whole, are a delicious crunchy treat.

1. Singapore.

My first taste of Asia. This city is surely a foodie’s paradise. The home of the hawker centre and the gastro food court, it seems impossible to be more than a few minutes away from a delicious meal here.

5. Hoi An.

2. Ugly things taste nice.

People all over the world have always had a nose to mix philosophy with food out of sheer economic necessity, and South East Asia’s history means this heritage is far from forgotten. The secret, though, is not that people eat some weird stuff, but that they make it taste great. What is the best bit of mum’s roast chicken? The skin, right? So put it on a stick and barbeque it! To get more adventurous, head to Cambodia - bugs, fried with chilli, spring onions and sugar taste great, a bit like prawns. Stuffed frogs, charcoal-grilled, are also excellent. Even the baby-inside duck eggs are a tasty venture into texture. Go on, I dare you.


3. Rice.

Now I know this is obvious, but these guys really know a lot about rice! There are traditional options, like sticky rice, delicious with mango, baked inside bamboo Sapa-style, or just plain. Then there are less obvious uses… I mean, how versatile is rice paper? You can roll-your-own-lunch to make some battered deep fried durian parcels. Mmm. And those pancakes we all love with the bananas and the chocolate, guess what’s in those?


Hoi An is not only beautiful to look at. This central Vietnamese town has a number of specialities: fried wantons topped with mango salad; fresh doughy noodles, sweet and salty and served with pork called ‘cao lao’; white roses (a kind of prawn dumpling), and pork and prawn pancakes, stuffed with herbs and rolled in rice paper at the table. You can tell this town is proud of its reputation for good food!

6. Pho.

The mainstay of Vietnamese cuisine. At its most basic, it’s noodle soup, but that description doesn’t even begin to do it justice. A good pho exemplifies all that’s good about street food. Pho is eaten mainly for breakfast. As you sit on your plastic stool at 7am you’ll probably see someone preparing it for tomorrow, boiling bones which will cook for 24-hours to extract maximum flavour. This, poured scalding hot over noodles, cooks them instantly. To these are added two types of beef, roasted brisket, with all those lovely roast beef flavours, and raw minced beef, imparting a deep fresh beef flavour. At your table, add fresh herbs by the handful and whichever seasonings you like.

7. Amok.

Cambodian cooking represents an interesting fusion of its Asian neighbours. The best example of which must be Amok, a subtle-flavoured fish stew thickened with eggs, like a coconut soup but with egg sauce staying longer on the tongue, giving you time to savour it.

8. Weasel coffee

9. Tofu.

I had a dilemma. Should I buy some weasel coffee as a souvenir even if it might not really have been though the intestinal tract of a civet cat? There’s surely a discrepancy between the demand for coffee beans and the number of beans a cat can actually eat - so the beans I could buy would at best be a blend, and at worst a fake! But the coffee tastes good: rich and fruity like really good dark chocolate, intensely bitter and wonderful served with condensed milk typical of Vietnam. Never mind if it’s not really poo - it tastes good!

Not just vegetarian food, who knew? I’ve considered tofu a complete waste of time my whole life, so imagine my surprise when I discover it’s a whole host of completely different products in Asia - not just that random cube in your lotus leaf sticky rice that you couldn’t identify! From the silky smooth cubes just holding their shape in a pork broth, to some crispy-on-the-outside-soft-inthe-middle slices in the best pad thai I’ve ever had – in Asian cuisine, tofu is a homage to the importance of texture.

10. Glowing coals.

Wherever you go in SE Asia, you’re never far away from the smell of charcoal and roasting meat. I’ve seen small burning barbecues mounted onto bicycles and mopeds - everywhere you look there seem to be meaty morsels on sale, from snacks-on-sticks to whole ducks and fish – with all of it with one thing in common… the wonderful flavour of wood smoke. So there you have it – my top ten discoveries in South East Asia. Some I were expecting, whilst others were a surprise – and I’m sure if I did it again I’d find another ten. What are yours?

About the chef: Gareth Little is a professional chef of 15 years. Having worked in the UK, France and Australia and eaten his way around South East Asia he now writes to share his passion for travel and food. You can read more of his foodie adventures at: www. geatssoutheastasia.



Flashpack Your Way

Around Hong Kong...

By Nikki Scott and Karen Farini Main photo by Flash Parker


What IS flashpacking?


ackpacking culture is changing fast, it’s not just for bearded barefoot wanderers anymore - oh no, these days it can be more about ‘treating’ yourself than ‘finding’ yourself! Luxury backpacking, known as ‘Flashpacking’ is a new phenomena popular in this part of the world in part due to the fact we can stretch our dollar a lot further here than we can in the likes of Europe. And who amongst us doesn’t like to indulge oneself and splash out now and again? And, so – with no further ado – let’s introduce you to our brand spanking new Flashpacking section! These are the pages to turn to if you’re after something slightly different from your travel experience – from quirky cafes and art deco spaces to cocktail bars and trendy boutique hotels. Because, if you’re slightly older and have long since earned your backpacker stripes, or have work to do in true ‘digital nomad style’ - sleeping in dorms and drinking dodgy buckets every night isn’t always the way forward... (No seriously!) So, let’s try something different. First stop? The ultimate in Asian flashpacker cities - Hong Kong! We’ll say goodbye for now to tuk tuks and flip flops and dripping humidity, and a big hello to the glamour and glitz of a neon metropolis! One of the most exciting and fast-paced cities on the planet; world-class restaurants, skybars, fashion, the buzz of business… Not only this, Hong Kong is blessed with beautiful national parks. On the same day as you shop ‘til you drop, you can be on the beach… or even go hiking in the mountains! With its proliferation of skyscrapers and high-end retail outfits (Rolex, Armani, Louis Vuitton), Hong Kong isn’t usually regarded as a backpacker destination, and we’re not going to deny that this is one of the most expensive cities in the world. Still, the vibrancy of this place is such that you really shouldn’t miss out if you can help it! Thinking about China? Just two hours away from Guangzhou by train, Hong Kong makes the perfect gateway. Dreams of the Trans Siberian Express? As a lovely Dutch couple travelling overland from Australia to Holland told us in Pizza Express (don’t judge us!) – Hong Kong is the only place in the world (apart from your home country) where you can get a visa to Russia. So if your budget can only manage a few days in the city, make sure you cram in as many of these highlights as you can...


NATHAN ROAD: Get lost down the winding backstreets branching out in all directions from the famous Nathan Road. All are pulsing with trendy independent boutique shops (most open every day till midnight!), cute bars, cafes, and almost as many dim sum places as there are tailors and beauty parlours. MTR: Tsim Tsa Tsui

TEMPLE STREET: Don’t miss Temple Street Night Market surrounding the Tin Hau Temple in Kowloon. Be entertained by opera singers, get your fortune told, haggle over trinkets, electronics and antiques, and slurp noodles at this hugely entertaining nightly bazaar. MTR: Yau Ma Tei

THE WATERFRONT: Indulge in a caramel latte at Starbucks on the famous Victoria Harbour Promenade, and sit outside overlooking the jaw-droppingly beautiful (and busy) harbour curtained by a backdrop of seriously impressive skyscrapers. New York/Chicago eat your heart out! This is where you’ll also find everything from the HK Museum of Art, Cultural Centre to the New World Centre and the Space Museum – and you can walk from one to the other along the Avenue of Stars, modelled after the one in Hollywood. MTR: Tsim Tsa Tsui LIGHT SHOW: The multimedia ‘Symphony of Lights’ is on at the Victoria Harbour every evening. It’s the ‘World’s Largest Permanent Light and Sound Show’ (Guinness World Records), and involves more than 40 buildings on both sides of the harbour. MTR: Tsim Tsa Tsui


THE PEAK: Take the tram that takes you up to ‘The Peak’ (the highest point on Hong Kong Island, and the city’s most exclusive neighbourhood since colonial times). We were expecting to actually trek up here (we even substituted our high heels for trainers especially for the occasion), but the ride itself was amusing, bringing back memories of trips as children with our parents and a lot of accompanying old ladies with blue-rinses on their group day out. It’s also pretty commercial at the top – but the views overlooking the island when you reach the top are well worth being a tourist for the day. MTR: Central

BIRD GARDEN: Dozens of stalls selling exotic birds in beautiful bamboo cages abound at the traditional Chinese-styled Yuen Po Street Bird Garden. Let’s face it, you probably won’t want to buy any birds, but it’s definitely worth a visit, if only to watch the plethora of locals who come to sit, feed and coo over their feathered friends. MTR: Prince Edward Station (Exit B1. Walk along Prince Edward Road west towards the Mongkok Stadium for about 15 minutes.) HISTORICAL SHEUNG WAN: One of the oldest settlements in HK, Sheung Wan is becoming a bit of a hotspot. Historical streets lined with traditional medicine shops, antiques and souvenirs blend easily with the quickly emerging hipster scene, as all the city’s creatives move in to work and play. Expect cool shops, art spaces and funky people. A visit to the Man Mo Temple also recommended! MTR: Sheung Wan

RED LIGHTS OF WANCHAI: Another old area of Hong Kong, Wanchai is steeped in history, and is also one of the world’s most famous red light districts, as described in the 1957 novel (and later movie): The World of Suzie Wong. As well as taking a walk around Golden Bauhinia Square (where the fireworks and flag-waving that marked the Hong Kong handover took place), look out for the Woo Cheong Pawn Shop – a renovated piece colonial architecture – and The Blue House, a protected historical building (and one of the few remaining examples of pre-war tenement buildings). MTR: Wan Chai


SOHO: Navigate your way up towards each of the quaint little streets crammed with antique shops, cafes, bars and restaurants from all over the world via an escalator. Soho and the surrounding areas (Staunton Street, Elgin Street and Hollywood Road) is buzzing at the weekend when all those yuppies hit the tiles. MTR: Central

LANG KWAI FONG: Just a short hop skip and a jump from Soho, Lang Kwai Fong is where you’ll find everything from cheesy bars (a little too much like England!) ‘members only’ clubs, ‘resto-bars’, ‘all you can drink’ bars (that means exactly what it implies - some offer a completely free drinking hour (or two) on certain days every week!) - as well as underground clubs (e.g. Volar, regularly attracting international DJs including Berlin techno duo Smash TV). MTR: Central. TSIM TSA TSUI: Tucked away off Kimberley Road, the charming Knutsford Terrace is just a stone’s throw from Chunking Mansions on Nathan Road. Tucked away down an alleyway you’ll stumble upon a hidden string of seriously cool little restaurants, cocktail establishments, tapas enclaves and live music bars. MTR: Tsim Tsa Tsui

SHOP: The perfect place to stock up on luxuries you’re missing, shops are everywhere in Hong Kong, even down in the MTR (it’s a far cry from the drab old London Underground!). No wonder the national cliché is ‘fong bin’, which means ‘convenient’. Head to Causeway Bay to windowshop amongst a vast array of unabashed luxury consumer emporiums in a surprisingly compact area, including Times Square and Fashion Walk, and the Island Beverley Centre. If you’re a true flashpacker, then come here to spend spend spend! Pacific Place is another absolutely fabulous mall – if only to browse longingly! (MTR: Admiralty)

ISLANDS & TREKKING: Visit the outlying islands via either Ordinary or Fast Ferries from Central Pier. Within as little as half an hour, you’ll feel a million miles away from the hustle of the city. LAMMA ISLAND: The perfect place in Hong Kong to explore beaches, caves and rustic villages dotted about numerous trails. This is also where you’ll find the Tin Hau Temple, the Lamma Fisherfolk’s village, and an abundance of gorgeous little craft stores and small restaurants. An exciting blend of Western and Eastern culture awaits you here on this laid-back island, and it’s one of the many reasons that this is the most visited outlying island of all.


CHEUNG CHAU: Eat delicious seafood and take a stroll around this charismatic island. Just 30 minutes away from Hong Kong Island, it’s closer in ambience to quaint Hoi An in Vietnam than it is to glitzy Hong Kong! TREK TO THE BUDDHA: If you only do one trek whilst you’re here, make it this one on Latau Island. A 25-minute cable car ride up the Ngang Ping Plateau will take you to the world’s largest seated Buddha statue. From this point, prepare to puff and pant an extra 500 metres up an incredibly steep trail via scary stone staircases – and be rewarded at the summit by a 360 degree view of rugged coastline, twisting bays and coves over the South China Sea. The largest outlying island, Lantau is also where you’ll find (yet another!) top-end shopping mall,

THE CHEAPEST DIGS IN TOWN? Chungking Mansions - the name sounds rather grand, doesn’t it? But don’t get excited. Or rather do, because this 17-story tenement apartment block in the heart of Hong Kong is the only affordable way for backpackers on a budget to experience this incredible city. And experience Hong Kong you certainly should! Packed with more characters than a soap opera, with Western Union money exchanges, cheap rip-off trainers, laundromats, mobile phone shops, curry stalls and visa services… the building harbors a mish-mash of Hong Kong’s recently arrived immigrants, entrepreneurial international traders and dollar-conscious backpackers. “Watches…” “Copy handbag…” “Tailored suit?” As you cram into the tiny lift up the floors to your guesthouse, backpack squashed against the door, body pressed against the face of a small Indian lady - the claustrophobia creeps under your skin and threatens you to run outside into the street, scream and take a long deep breath. (Or is that just me?) A room the size of a shoebox, with no windows (forget about a fire exit) awaits… but hey you’re paying 300 HKD ($40 USD) in one of the most expensive cities in the world, what do you expect? “Ghetto at the Center of the World” as described in the title of Gordon Mathews’ book, Chungking has gained iconic status since Kar Wai Wong’s 1994 movie “Chungking Express” (one of Quentin Tarantino’s favourite films) and has become a literary muse for creative types. I’m getting excited just talking about it. Mathews himself spent four years living in a number of the 90+ guesthouses while he researched his book which is an interesting read about the culture of the import and export business which centers around the building. Goods from China sold in Africa, goods from India sold in Hong Kong... Mathews reckons that up to 20% of mobile phones used in Africa passed through the building at some point. The place is a landmark. And even if you’re money belt is bulging with HKD, how can you resist one night’s ‘experience’ in legendary Chungking? As well as cheap digs for the backpacker, the building is a cultural icon and a symbol of ‘lowend globalization’ with individual traders flogging suitcases of goods from their home countries in stark contrast to the massive corporate globalization that dominates most of the city. a gorgeous stretch of beach, oh... and Hong Kong’s Disneyland!

MACAU: Better leave the fisherman’s pants at home and prepare to spend some serious dollar, or should we say drop some MOP (Macau’s own currency) in your bid to be labeled a bonafide flashpacker! Macau was featured in the latest Bond film, Skyfall, and is notorious for being as brazen gambling mecca. Shaken or stirred? (Or should that be ‘stick or twist?’)

(Chungking Mansions, 36–44 Nathan Road. Tsim Sha Tsui). ALSO STAY AT (all in Tsim Sha Tsui): * Kimberley Inn: Kimberley Road, Tsim Sha Tsui. Comfortable private rooms with bathrooms and power showers, for a ‘let’s-not-break-the-bank-too-much’ 700 HKD / night. * Hop Inn: 19 - 21 Hankow Road, Tsim Sha Tsui. A backpacker favourite! There’s Lemon Project and The Spirit of a Sportsman for single rooms, Cooler Cool, Boom, Landscape of Traveller’s Palm or Bird Lover for doubles, and Like a Balloon or White Tone for triples. There’s also a twin (bunk bed) called Altostratus. Prices from 410 HKD - single to 650 HKD - triple. * The Salisbury, YMCA, 41 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui. Just a 2-min walk to the Star Ferry to Hong Kong Island, splash out for a flash room that’s nothing like you’d expect from a YMCA! Rates from 900 $HK for a twin/double.



see that the last time I wrote, I was pining for that that boy in Pai. Well, my days haven’t contained any such drama since – which, by the way, isn’t to say that they do, once more, contain George. Not that I care, anyway. Fast-forward a couple of months, and George is not so much forgotten, but remembered with such distance that now it’s like he belongs almost entirely to another dimension (and a foggy one at that). I suppose this is quite in keeping with the mindset of a backpacker. We don’t have routines; instead, our lives are all packaged up into segments; a box-set series of highly entertaining, yet short (and totally unrelated) episodes. The road forks, and then virtually all things – our location, companions… then finally, our attitudes – change forever. The frequency of this can sometimes be astounding. It’s more often than some of you change your clothes. Now, I don’t mean this to be rude. I actually envy the fact that the vast majority of you feel so comfortable in your own skin that you choose to honour it accordingly, and keep it free from any marks or friction burns from a rucksack weighing 20 kilos. In that sense, I do the same (since mine can only be wheeled), but there’s still 20 kilos of stuff in there. I was monumentally failed by Lonely Planet’s ‘packing tips’ – you know, all that stuff about packing everything you think you’ll need, then halving it, then again once more? Well, I followed that to the letter, and still ended up with 20 kilos. Wedges? Check. Assortment of multi-coloured ties? Check. Pink leopard spotted lip tattoos? Check. A load of tops that all look the same and a dozen pair of shorts? Check. Well, Lonely Planet, what kind of advice was that, anyway? After all, one man’s rubbish is another man’s treasure. I still pick the odd thing up at the markets, too. Once a Material Girl, always a Material Girl...? Constant exposure to Buddhism appears negligible… I salute all those happy enough with boardshorts and face-paint. I’ve always had a lot of ‘stuff’. My wardrobe at home used to scare me so much I hardly went in there. I swear that all this clutter was partly why I wanted to get away in the first place. I mean, even then I used to just wear my favourites over and over (that were largely kept draped over the bath). Funny, though, that I’m doing exactly the same here, albeit on a (slightly) smaller scale. I have my favourites, and they’re either on my body or in the laundry.

Last issue, our would-be ‘intrepid explorer’ Annabelle was getting over George, one of her many transient relationships on the road. (Don’t we all know how that feels?!). She appears to have moved on now, though - but she still seems to have a lot of baggage...

shorts, but if I lost my knickers… oh my word. Ladies, have you ever tried buying underwear in South East Asia? The pants here are so tiny, you could fool someone into believing it’s the custom round these parts to stop wearing them past the age of 12. Seriously, though, I’m sure I can downsize. I’ve changed lately. I’m not the same girl who was too self-centred to notice that the girl pinging the balls out in Patpong got no more applause than I did for batting them back. And ok, I can’t quite identify each country by flags, but I’m 100% by the bottle – Chang for Thailand, Bintang for Indonesia… I guess what I’m trying to say is, if I can adapt to all the twists and turns of the life of a backpacker… then surely I can adapt to a smaller wardrobe? If I seem to be doing ok with sticking old memories where the sun don’t shine, then surely I can do the same with my actual baggage? Surely I can get rid of my wheels and be a ‘real backpacker’? Perhaps I could even be like a nun – they have only two sets of robes! (Saying that, nuns don’t go clubbing, trekking or swimming, so let’s not give them too many bonus points. They’ve got it easy.) Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the clothing and shoes I’ve already got in my rucksack, the courage to throw some away if I really MUST buy anything else (for Christ’s sake), and the wisdom to... well, just some wisdom would be great, thanks.

Wish you were here! Love, Annabelle xxx PS - ‘It’s not about how you look. It’s about how you see.’ Noticed that written on a T-shirt in Siem Reap’s Night Bazaar last week. Lovely, eh? PPS – No, you cheeky lot, I didn’t buy anything.

So why not let go of the rest of it, you ask? Well, it just so happens that I’m practicing this very concept right now. I got the boat to Gili Trawangan from Bali yesterday; I’m here for five days, and all I’ve got is just a little bag. I’ve left my other stuff at the hostel in Ubud – some of them even in in the wash! It’s crossed my mind that maybe they won’t be there when I get back, maybe they will have been mixed up with someone else’s or thrown away in the trash in my extended absence (which only goes to prove that the saying about ‘one man’s rubbish’ works just as well the other way around). I actually think I’m at the stage now where I could handle not having my denim


You can now follow Annabelle’s musings on Twitter: @Annabelle_In_Asia




nt stuff



Brunei Darussalam: Currency: Brunei Dollar, divided into 100 cents. Exchange rate: $1 USD = $1.25 BN Dollar Capital city: Bandar Seri Bagawan Main religion: Islam (official) 67% Buddhist (13%) Christian (10%) Indigenous beliefs (10%) Main language: Malay (official) English also widely spoken. Telephone code: +673 Time: GMT + 8 hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: Salam (Hello) Terimah kasih (Thank you) Visa: Nationals of most European countries, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and New Zealand do not need a Visa for visits of up to 30 days. USA citizens can stay for up to 90 days. Most other nationalities need to apply for a visa in advance which takes 1-3 days to process. (Single entry B$20 or multiple entry B$30) 72-hour transit visas are also available. Passports must be valid for at least 6 months before entering. Visa extension: Visas can be renewed at embassies in Bandar Seri Bagawan. Climate: Brunei experiences a hot, humid climate all year round. Most rainfall is between September and January, peaking in November and December, but this can vary. One random fact: Bruneians call their country the ‘Abode of Peace.’ With spotless, quiet streets, shimmering mosques, calm rivers and reverent people it’s easy to understand why. Emergency numbers Ambulance: 991 Fire: 995 Police: 993

Cambodia: Currency: Cambodian Riel (US Dollars accepted) Exchange rate: $1 USD = 4,062 KHR Capital city: Phnom Penh Main religion: Theravada Buddhism (95%) Main Language: Khmer Telephone code: +855 Time: GMT + 7 hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: Sua s’dei (Hello) Aw kohn (Thank you) Visa: Most nationalities can obtain a 1-month tourist visa upon arrival which costs around $20. At land border crossings, notably the Thai/Cambodian border, the fee can be more expensive as the cost is paid in baht and is sometimes rounded up considerably. You will need 1 or 2 passport photos to apply, or you will be charged extra (usually only $1-2.) Passports must be valid for at least 6 months before entering and have one blank page. E-Visa: You can now apply for an E-visa online. Pre-order at: and your visa will cost $25 set price. You will need a digital photo of yourself to upload. Processing takes 3 days and you will get the visa straight to your mailbox. See official website for up to date info on which borders support the E-visa as not all of the crossings take it yet. Visa extension: Obtained at Phnom Penh immigration office, opposite International Airport. Tourist visas can be extended 1-month. (Around US$35) For longer extensions ask at Immigration Office. Penalty for late departure: US$5 / day. Climate: The hottest month is April with temperatures hitting 40 degrees. The wet season starts in May or June and lasts until October. The downpours are heavy and do not last long. The best season to visit is December to February, when there is little rain, low humidity and cool breeze. One random fact: North Eastern Ratanakari Province is one of the least visited, most beautiful parts of Cambodia. Rolling hills, mountains,


volcanic crater lakes and opportunities for trekking to local minority villages; it is becoming an intrepid destination for adventure seeking travellers. Fire: 118 Police: 117

East Timor: Currency: US Dollars Capital city: Dili Main religion: Catholic (90%) Main language: Tetun, Portuguese, Indonesian, English Telephone code: +670 Time: GMT + 9 hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: Ola (hello) Adeus (goodbye) Visa: Visa’s must be applied for in advance, as they are not granted on the land border. Passports must be valid for at least 6 months before entering. It is important to note that there are no currency exchange facilities at the airport or other border posts, so you will need to take cash before you travel. Visa extension: Visas can be extended for 30 days, costing up to $45. You must have a valid reason for staying. Penalty for late departure: Penalties range from $70 US - $150 US Dollar if the period does not exceed 30 days. Climate: The wet season is between December and April and the dry season occurs between May to November, with temperatures reaching very high. The best months to visit are between April and July. One random fact: In many places, the East Timor’s architecture is a reflection of over 400 years of colonial rule by Portugal. In the capital, Dili, the ruins of a 1627 Portuguese fortress remain. Emergency numbers Ambulance: 7236662 Police: 112

Indonesia: Currency: Indonesian Rupiah Exchange rate: $1 USD = 9,500 IDR Capital city: Jakarta Main religion: Islam (88%) Main language: Bahasa Indonesia (official) There are also many regional dialects. Telephone code: +62 Time: GMT + 7 hours (Sumatra, Java) GMT + 8 hours (Bali, Sulawesi, Nusa Tenggara) GMT + 9 hours (Maluku and Papua) Hellos and Thank-you’s: Salam (hello) terimah kasih (thank you) Visa: Nationals of Australia, Canada, USA, UK and most European countries are eligible for a 30-day visa upon entry, which costs $25 USD. (Cost varies depending on point of entry.) The previous $10 7-day visa is no longer available. Payments can be made in US Dollars only. You will need 2 passport photographs and your passport must be valid for at least 6 months before entering, with two blank pages. A return flight is also needed. Penalty for late departure: Up to $20 / day. For more than 60 days overstay travellers risk deportation or imprisonment. Climate: Indonesia has just 2 seasons, wet season, which falls between April and October and dry season, which falls between May and September. Throughout all of the year the climate is hot and humid, although there are snow-capped peaks in the highlands of Papua. As Indonesia is such a long country, the difference in the seasons varies. In some areas, the distinction between the wet and dry season is great, such as the Nusa Tenggara when the wet season (December to February) can make transport difficult, with road floods and

ferry cancellations. In Sumatra, the rain falls from October to January in the North and from January to February in the South. In Bali there is little difference between the seasons where weather is similar all year round. One random fact: The highly endangered Sumatran Orangutan is native to the rainforests of Indonesia’s largest isle. Due to the destruction of their habitat there are only an estimated 6,600 left in the wild. The orangutan viewing centre in Bukit Lawang is one of the only places to see these amazing creatures in their natural environment. Emergency numbers: (Java) Emergency numbers (Java) Fire: 113 Police: 110 Medical assistance: 118, 119

Laos: Currency: Lao KIP (US Dollars accepted) Exchange rate: $1 USD = 8,000 LAK Capital city: Vientiane Main religion: Buddhism Main language: Lao (official) Telephone code: +856 Time: GMT + 7 hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: Sabaydee (Hello) Khawp Jai (Thank you) Visa: Most nationalities can obtain a 30-day visa for Laos at international airports and land border crossings. The cost ranges from $20 - $42, depending on your nationality. At the Thailand/Laos border if you pay in Thai baht fees can be more expensive. You will need 2 passport photos and your passport must be valid for at least 6 months upon entering. Visa extension: Visa extensions can be applied for at the Vientiane Immigration Office, which costs US$2 / day for 30 days. Extensions can also be obtained from some travel agents for around US$3. 90-day extensions are available, ask at the embassy for details. Penalty for late departure: Up to US$10/day. Long overstays can lead to arrest and imprisonment. Climate: The wet season in Laos is between May and October and the dry season between November and April. Temperatures during this time are the most comfortable, and can be quite cold in mountainous areas. The hottest time of the year is between March and May, with temperatures reaching 38 degrees. One random fact: 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. Ambulance: 195 Fire: 190 Police: 191

Malaysia: Currency: Malaysian Ringgit Exchange rate: $1 USD = 3.10 MYR Capital city: Kuala Lumpur Main religion: Islam (official) Main language: Bahasa Melayu (official) Telephone code: +60 Time: GMT + 8 hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: Salam (Hello) Terimah kasih (Thank you) Visa: Most nationalities are granted a free 30 to 90day entry pass upon arrival at international airports and border crossings. Passports must be valid for at least 6 months upon entering. Please note that Sarawak is a semi-autonomous state and upon entry your passport will be stamped and a new pass

issued. Visa extension: Visas can be extended at Immigration offices in Malaysia. Fees depend on intended duration of stay. Climate: Malaysia’s climate is hot and tropical. The West coast of Peninsular Malaysia experiences the monsoon season from May to September, with August being the wettest month. On the other hand, the East coast of the peninsula and Sabah and Sarawak experiences heavy rainfall between November and February. One random fact: 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 is the home of Malaysia’s tea plantations. Fire: 994 Police and Ambulance: 999

Myanmar: Currency: Kyat (US Dollars used) Exchange rate: $1 USD = 873.000 MMK Capital city: Became Naypyidaw in 2005 Main religion: Buddhism Telephone code: +95 Time: GMT + 6 ½ hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: Min gala ba (Hello) Che zu Beh (thank you) Visa: Visa free entry is available at some border crossings for a short period. If you are going for the day to renew your Thailand Visa for example, you must enter and exit on the same day. Fees are around 500 baht. Longer visas should be arranged in advance at a travel agency or Myanmar Embassy. In Bangkok, at the Myanmar Embassy the cost is 810 baht for a 28-day visa, taking three days to process. Like the Vietnam visa, the cost depends on where you are and how long you mind waiting. It can range from $20 - $50. Your passport must be valid for at least 6 months. Visa extension: Visas can be extended for up to 14 days in Yangon. Ask at embassy for details of costs. Weather: May to mid-October is the rainy season in Myanmar. February to April is the hottest time. The best time to visit is November to February, although temperatures can drop to freezing during these months in the highland areas. One random fact: The great Irrawaddy River dissects Myanmar from north to south before opening into the Andaman Sea. Due to monsoonal rains, the water level varies greatly throughout the year. With a drainage area of over 400,000km, the river is an important life source for the people. Ambulance: 192 Police: 199 Fire: 191

upon entering. Visa extension: When in the Philippines, you are able extend your 21-day visa for up to 59 days at immigration offices. Costs apply. Climate: The tropical climate of the Philippines can vary depending on region, but generally the best time to visit the Philippines is January to May, when the dry season occurs. May is the hottest month with temperatures reaching 38 degrees. This scorching heat is followed by the downpours of June and October when the rainy season affects most of the country. The rains peak from July to September when typhoons are likely. One random fact: The world’s longest subterranean river system accessible to man is located in St. Paul National Park, Palawan, The Philippines. Flowing through the enormous chambers of St. Paul Cave, passing awesome stalagmites and stalactites; the river flows into the South China Sea. The Park was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1999. Emergency numbers Fire, Ambulance, Police: 117

Singapore: Currency: Singapore Dollar Exchange rate: $1 USD = 1.25 SGD Main religions: Taoist, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu and Muslim. Main language: English, Mandarin, Malay, Tamil Telephone code: +65 Time: GMT + 7 hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: Ni hao ma? (Hi, how are you) Xie xie (thank you) Visa: Citizens of Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, the UK and most other European countries are granted either a 14 or 30-day tourist pass upon entry to Singapore. Duration of pass depends on nationality and point of entry. USA citizens receive 90 days. Your passport must be valid for at least 6 months upon entering and you will need an onward ticket. Visa extension: Extensions of up to 90 days can be applied for at the consulate in Singapore. Climate: November to January see the most rain, however there are really no distinct seasons in Singapore. The weather is very similar all year round, hot and humid. One random fact: The name ‘Singapore’ comes from the Malay word ‘Singapura,’ meaning ‘Lion City.’ Some say the name 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. (It was more likely a tiger) Emergency numbers Ambulance: 995 Police: 999 Fire: 995

The Philippines:


Currency: Peso, divided into 100 centavos. Exchange rate: $1 USD = 42.15 PHP Capital city: Manila Main religion: Over 80% Catholic Main language: Filipino, English Telephone code: +63 Time: GMT + 8 hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: Hello, kamusta ka (hello, how are you) salamat (thank you) Visa: Tourist visas are granted free of charge upon entry for most nationalities for a stay up to 21 days. However, you may be required to show valid tickets for an onward destination. For longer stays you should apply for a tourist visa before arrival at a Philippine Embassy. The cost for a 3-month single entry visa is usually $30, but ask at the embassy for up to date info. Longer visas for up to 12 months are available. Visas take 2 to 3 working days to process and passports must be valid for at least 6 months

Currency: Thai Baht Exchange rate: $1 USD = 31.2 THB Capital city: Bangkok Main religion: 95% Theravada Buddhism Main language: Thai Telephone code: +66 Time: GMT + 7 hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: Sawasdee Ka/Krap (f/m) / Kop Khun Ka/Krap (f/m) Visa: Most nationalities, including Americans, Australians and most Europeans receive a free 30 day tourist visa upon arrival into Thailand by air. However, if arriving by land you will only receive 15 days. Your passport must be valid for at least 6 months upon entering. Visa extension: Visas can be renewed for a fee at immigration points. The cost is 1900 baht for 7 days extra and it can be extended only once. If you leave the country and return, your visa will be renewed for

free. You can exit and re-enter the country as many times as you like this way and most travel agents can arrange border runs to neighbouring countries. Penalty for late departure: 500 baht/day. The maximum fine for overstay that you can pay is 20,000 baht after this you may face deportation at your own cost or imprisonment. Climate: Most of Thailand experiences three seasons; The cool season occurs during November to February, followed by the hot season, March to May, then the rainy season, between June and October. As with many countries in this part of the world, the wet season tends to consist of short, hard downpours. The time of the rainy season however, differs from the East coast to the West. The Andaman Coast (West) experiences monsoon from June to September (Phuket, Phi Phi, Krabi, Railay) whilst in the Gulf of Thailand (East) rains mostly fall during September to November. One random fact: The Garuda is a national emblem of Thailand 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 the King. Emergency numbers Ambulance: 1554 Fire: 199 Police: 191

Vietnam: Currency: Vietnamese Dong Exchange rate: $1 USD = 20,830 VND Capital city: Hanoi Main religion: Tam Giao (Triple religion – Confucionism, Taosim, Buddhism) Main language: Vietnamese (official) Telephone code: +84 Time: GMT + 7 hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: Sin chao (Hello) Cam on (thank you) Visa: Visas for entering Vietnam must be arranged in advance. You can do this at the Vietnamese embassies in whichever country you are in and some travel agencies also offer the service. Depending on where you apply for it and how long you mind waiting, (on average from 1 day to 4 days), it can cost anywhere between $35 and $65 for a 30 day visa. You will need 1 passport sized photograph and your passport must be valid for at least 6 months upon entering. Visa extension: 30 day extensions can be obtained from travel agents in Hanoi, HCMC or Danang. The process can take up to 5 days and the fee is usually US$30. Climate: The climate of North and South Vietnam differ greatly, with generally a hot tropical climate in the South and hot summers and cold winters in the North. The monsoon season is between May and October which brings rain to most of the country. The central coast can experience typhoons between August and November. One random fact: Vietnam has an impressive coastline of nearly 3,500km of rugged beaches and sheer cliffs that back onto National Park in many areas. At its thinnest point, the country is only 31km 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 20.04.13) The information in this section is vulnerable to change. Please advise us at if info is invalid and we will be sure to rectify it.)


HI Mid Bangkok “A hostel you can believe in”

481/3, Rachawithi Rd., between Soi 6 and Soi 8, Victory Monument, Bangkok. Tel: 662 644 5744 - Central location - Transportation hub - A great base for exploring the city

HI Sukhumvit “Not just a hostel but a home”

23 Sukhumvit, Soi 38, Bangkok. Tel: 662 391 9338

- BT S: Thong Lo Station














QUESTIONS: Answers = 1. a (Thailand) 2. a (1293) 3. c (Myanmar)


















































































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1 9 3 2 7

6 8

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2 8 7 4 5

3 1

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4 2

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7 5

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9 6 8 1 3

2 4

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9 6

6 1

5 4 9 3 2

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1 9

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5 3

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48 ngo huyen, hanoi


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South East Asia Backpacker Magazine Issue 24  

Inspiration & travel tips for backpacking South East Asia & beyond! This issue: Vietnam in 2 weeks, Langkawi on a budget, Muay Thai, Flashpa...

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