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Iss u Ma e #2 r 9: 20 Apr 14


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ver the past few weeks as I prepare to switch continents for a while to launch South America Backpacker Magazine, I have been asked the question: “Why do you want to travel to South America?” I find it to be an unusual question to be asked. “Why not?” is generally my first response. There is no particular beach I want to lay eyes on, or monument I want to see, no particular food I want to taste, there is no one reason. Why on earth would I not want to travel there? Because it is there. And because adventure beckons… When Edmund Hillary was asked why he wanted to climb the highest mountain in the world, he replied: “What we get from adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to enjoy life. That is what life means and what life is for.” Is there a reason why any of us travel? Do we travel to get something out of our system before ‘settling down’ into the real world? Do we travel to educate ourselves? Or is it travel for the sake of travel – as Hillary said - because such experiences bring pure joy and enrich our lives for the better? A few hundred years ago it was impossible for the average person to jump on a plane and explore new lands. World travel was left to the swashbuckling explorers of old who braved malaria infested jungles and high seas in the spirit of adventure and possibly, human advancement. So is it up to us, today, to take advantage of the new travel opportunities that lay before us? The answer lies within each individual backpacker. Backpacking is not only an activity; it is a spirit, and a way that you choose to live your life. A backpacker is someone who says yes to life and yes to adventure. A backpacker is someone who cannot ever again be satisfied once the exciting inkling of a new destination forms in his or her head. A backpacker is someone who can take a walk down a street that they have walked a million times before and find something different. A backpacker is someone who is open to new opportunities and is thirsty to learn more every day about this amazing big beautiful planet we have.

Wording by Editor, Nikki Scott Photo by Courtney Muro


Why do I want to go to South America? The same reason why I want to go around the next corner. The same reason why I want to get up in the morning. The same reason why I want to meet new, interesting people. The same reason why I want to experience life to the full with all of the opportunities that are presented to me, being lucky enough to be born a citizen of a country full of choices. Never stop backpacking even after you put the rucksack down.


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Features: 24:

FREE DIVING: An Extreme Sport Adventurous Types Need Only Apply

Cover Photograph: By Dylan Wyer

40: GAMES: Crossword & Sudoku 20: Soul Searcher: Spiritual Exploration. 50: Traveller Thoughts, Stories, Tips 58: ARTS: 6 Books to take you Deeper

34: PHOTOS: Songkran! Water is Life 39: Event Pick! Borneo Jazz Festival 41: Local Portraits: Meet Chum Mey,

S-21 Prison Survivor, Pnohm Penh


South East Asia Faces & Places: The Little Village School, Kep, Cambodia


FOOD: Singapore Hawker Food Guide

Destination Spotlight: 16:

MEDITATION, KOH PHANGAN: Silence on Thailand’s Noisiest Island


STEP AWAY FROM THE GUIDEBOOK! 5 Overlooked Gems in SE Asia

44: TOP 10 Alternative Myanmar: Food to

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The Buffalo Run: Hanoi Backpackers’ Newest Cross-Country Adventure

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Backpacker South East Asia is Published by Backpacker International Limited. Managing Director & Editor: Nikki Scott. ( Deputy Editor: Karen Farini. Web Editor: Tyler Protano-Goodwin. Design & Layout: Nikki Scott. Web Manager: Nicholas Baron-Morgan. Contributing Writers / Photographers: Nikki Scott, Tyler Protano-Goodwin, Chris Stevens, Courtney Muro, Chase Berenson, Charla Allyn Hughes, Eliza Arsenault, Karen Farini, Amy Burbridge, Amy Thierfelder, Ben Turland, Laurie Atkins, Kennard Medina, Oliver Gaywood, Melanie Swan, Ian Marshall, Burton Wheeler, Veeraya Chenchittikul, Noah Lederman, Joey Bilyk, Dylan Wyer, Linda Stansberry, Tracy Stettler, Joey Millar, Lisa Marcantonio, Felix in Amerika, Gillian Duffy, Tanya Procyshyn, Anne Westerbos, Rob Armstrong.


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Fansipan Bay of Bengal

Mandalay Bagan Kalaw

Luang Nam Tha

Taunggyi Inle Lake Chiang Rai


Gulf of Tonkin

Plain of Jars


Nong Khai


Phong Nha

Udon Thani

Yangon Three Pagodas Pass

Tha Khaek




Khao Yai National Park

Kanchanaburi Bangkok

Hoi An

Four Thousand Islands

Angkor Temples

Siem Reap


Tonle Sap

Koh Chang




Andaman Islands (India)

Dong Hoi

Da Nang

Thailand Ayutthaya

Phnom Penh

Central Highlands

Dalat Mui Ne


Koh Tao Koh Phangan Koh Samui

Vietnam Nha Trang


Gulf Of Thailand Andaman Sea


Vang Vieng

Chiang Mai Bago

Halong Bay

Ninh Binh

Luang Prabang

Mae Hong Son Pai




Mekong Delta Region

Phu Quoc

Ho Chi Minh City

Surat Thani

South C Sea

Khao Sok National Park



Koh Phi Phi Koh Lipe


Perhentian Islands

Pulau Penang

Pulau Weh

Koh Phayam


Bukit Lawang

Kuala Lumpur Medan Berastagi


Lake Toba

Singapore Pulau Nias

Riau Islands



Sumatra Bukittinggi

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Indian Ocean


Java Yogyakarta


Hong Kong

Laog Vigan Banaue Rice Terraces Luzon


Philippines Donsol

Puerto Galera




Palawan Negros

Puerto Princesa

Bohol Dumaguete

China a

Cagayan de Oro

El Nido


Davao Zamboanga Kota Kinabalu


Mt Kinabalu


Bandar Seri Begawan


Celebes Sea

Irian Jaya

Sarawak Borneo




Berau Putussibau




Sula Islands


Sulawesi Pangkalanbun



Banjarmasin Buru


Puncak Jaya


Indonesia Timor Sea

Gili Islands Bali



Nusa Tengarra Flores

Komodo & Rinca


East Timor


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e’ve been building South East Asia Backpacker Magazine for almost five years now, and over that time, we’ve discovered some amazing adventure companies that we feel fit with the backpacker vibe perfectly! Forget set lunches and boring organised tours, these trips are unique, cram-packed with activities and most of all - great value for money! For solo travellers, these trips are also a sure-fire way to meet lots of like-minded people! From dive courses to Halong Bay trips, yoga and meditation to exciting group travel experiences - we’ve handpicked the best adventures on offer in South East Asia. We’ve taken them all and created a simple and easy to use booking system, where you can search for and reserve your place on the best trips South East Asia


has to offer! Not only have these trips been tried and tested by South East Asia Backpacker Magazine, most of these business owners are people who we’ve had the pleasure of getting to know personally. That’s why we’re happy to trust them with the most precious thing - our readers and fans! So take a visit to and search by country, price or type of adventure. We don’t add any commission to your booking (guaranteed cheaper than travel agencies) and you can ask questions and chat with the trip owner before booking your trip. Browse for ideas and inspiration and then select the trip of your dreams with your friends. Make sure you don’t miss out!

Group adventures in Thailand From Bangkok all the way to Koh Phangan. This jam-packed group adventure makes sure you hit the spectacular highlights of Thailand, as well as veering off the beaten path to little known gems. From sleeping beneath the stars in a floating bungalow in Khao Sok National Park to lively beach parties with fire dancing and cocktails. This trip offers a fresh perspective on group travel and is a great way to make lots of travel buddies!

Take the plunge - learn to dive in Thailand Did you know that 80% of our earth is covered in water? Yet many of us have never even glimpsed what lies below the surface. Whether you’re a beginner or a long time expert, you’ve got to take the plunge in South East Asia’s warm, clear, bountiful waters - where diving is the cheapest and the best in the world. From beginner ‘try a dive’ courses to PADI courses, and Master Dive Courses we offer you a range of our favorite options!

Get off the beaten track in the Cambodian countryside An open air tour of one of the worlds most impressive sights. Exploring the ruins of Angkor Wat is by far one of South East Asia’s most coveted experiences, but what if we turned the volume up a notch? A tour around the ancient ruins with an English speaking guide who takes you from glorious monument to crumbling temple in the back of an old WW2 American Jeep. Now that’s an unforgettable experience!

Halong Bay and Castaway Island Trips! Travel to Vietnam and decide not to book this trip and all you’ll hear the entire time is about how you’ve missed out - big time! Three days and two nights of complete immersion in Halong Bay, as well as a magical night spent on the secret Castaway Island. Swim amidst phosphorous plankton, rock climb, wake board and party with the best of them! You can also book other Hanoi Backpackers’ trips with us including the Buffalo Run and Sapa hiking.

Relax, Detox and Meditate on Thailand’s Islands Are you after total relaxation on your trip? Overnight buses, noisy dorm rooms and too much partying can take its toll on the energetic backpacker. That’s why we’ve hunted out some amazing locations to help you practice the art of chilling out. Meditation courses, massage and spa packages and days filled with nothing but healthy food and yoga… In the land of relaxation, the options are endless!


NEWS & REVIEWS H o la ! So u th A m er ic a Wide-eyed and full of wonder, two members of the S.E.A. Backpacker Team, Nikki Scott and Tyler Protano-Goodwin have just landed in South America! Munching on arepas, catching sun on the beach by day and salsa dancing by night, we’ve been having an amazing time, exploring, photographing, writing and starting to create a brand new sister magazine - South America Backpacker Mag! We begin our adventure in Cartagena, Colombia, finding ourselves infatuated with a city that is vibrant, incredibly friendly, and chock full of unsuspecting adventures. On day two we were thrilled to stumble upon an International Contemporary Arts Festival (BIACI), and found ourselves chatting with artists who have used the historic, colonial city as inspiration for their pieces. After a month in Colombia, and after experiencing an electrifying Carnival in the city of Baranquilla, we will be moving onwards to Ecuador, slowly uncovering all that the dynamic continent of South America has to offer. So the question is - are you ready to start planning your next backpacking adventure? Follow our journey at!


SAILING TO EAST TIMOR This summer, S.E.A. Ambassador Eliza Arsenault will set sail as a volunteer crewmember on the Vega, a 125-year-old historic sailing vessel that does a 7,000-mile-long circuit route around Southeast Asia every year. The ship’s owners, Shane and Meggie, are on a nonstop humanitarian mission to deliver aid to nearly 50,000 people who live in poor, isolated communities in Eastern Indonesia and East Timor. They spend half the year sailing between Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Jakarta, fundraising and collecting donated educational and medical supplies for the communities they serve. After packing the Vega literally to the gunwales with 20 tons of supplies, they sail along the Indonesian archipelago, making their first stops in Nusa Tenggara (the islands that lie east of Bali) and then continuing on to East Timor and beyond. Eliza will join the Vega in March on mainland South East Asia to help collect, organize, and pack up the donated supplies, and will sail with them until July, delivering supplies to the communities they visit. If you’re looking for a way to give back to the amazing communities of South East Asia, helping the Vega is an awesome opportunity to do so! The Vega is always in need of educational supplies, medical supplies, tools and sports equipment to deliver to the communities they visit. To learn more about the Vega’s schedule and needs, check out their website:

By S.E.A Backpacker Ambassadors, Charla Hughes and Chase Berenson - Updated 15th February 2014 Despite worrying reports from international news media, Bangkok is still predominantly safe for backpackers. “Bangkok Shutdown” began on Jan 13th, and as it passes the one month mark, there are still a couple of hot spots. However, they are easy to avoid and the city is still great to explore. Currently the majority of the action is taking place around the neighborhoods of Sala Daeng and Siam (including SkyTrain stops of Asoke and Ploen Chit). Sala Daeng is well-known among backpackers as being the home of Patpong, an all-night market and bar scene; it’s also a major business district. During the daytime it’s relatively safe, but it’s not a place to go unless you must. Shopping malls around Siam Square (Siam Paragon and MBK) have reopened and are almost back to business as usual. They’ve seen a huge slowdown in profits, and are offering big deals to lure shoppers back! If you go, avoid street level crowds, and exit directly from the SkyTrain into the shopping malls. Victory Monument area was also shut for four weeks, but it is completely open and operating normally now. Minibuses that depart Bangkok for nearby destinations Koh Samet, Kanchanaburi, and Hua Hin leave from Victory Monument and are once again running as normal. Since the protests started in Oct 2013, Democracy Monument has been the central gathering point. In the past week, protesters have mostly departed from the monument to occupy the other staging areas, which means the area around Democracy is a lot quieter than it has been in the recent past. Khao San Road is within easy walking distance, so backpackers heading to that world-famous street should be in position to party again. Wherever you are in Bangkok, always stay aware of your surroundings. Avoid going near protest rally sites after dark. There are vendors near the rally sites selling a wide range of clothing and accessories in the red, white and blue of the Thai flag, and although they look cool, if you buy them as a souvenir don’t rock them until you get home! You’d meet a lot of supportive locals wearing them around Thailand, but you might just as easily run into people who are opposed to the protests; furthermore, being in rally gear at a rally site can be grounds for deportation. Don’t cut your trip short!

KOH PHANGAN’S NEW AIRPORT! Plans for the new Koh Phangan airport show no signs of stopping. The site in the north-east of Koh Phangan between Thong Nai Pan and Than Sadet is under rapid development; areas of thick jungle have now turned into smooth road, while in the south-west of the island, on the road between Thong Sala and Baan Tai, a large wholesale supermarket next to Big C Store is on the verge of completion, implying that Koh Phangan will soon be seeing more tourism than ever before. Domestic carrier Kan Air have not confirmed exactly when the airport will be completed, but it’s likely it will be finished by the end of 2014. Previous rumours that the flights (from Bangkok only) would be carrying no more than 20 passengers at a time have now been replaced by reports that there will be up to 8 scheduled flights from the Thai capital daily, carrying between 40-50 passengers each time. By Karen Farini


By Amy Burbridge

Did you ever play that game where the living room floor was lava? And you had to cross the lava by stepping on rocks disguised as cushions, chairs, and the dog? You can turn that childhood game into awesome reality at the new 3D Art Museum in Chiang Mai: Art in Paradise. After spending an afternoon there, there’ll be photographic evidence of you exploring ancient Egyptian tombs, fleeing from angry dinosaurs, swimming with mermaids and even climbing the stairway to heaven. Chiang Mai’s Art in Paradise is the biggest 3D art museum in the world. Every painting was created by one of twelve supertalented Korean artists. Each piece encourages you to become one with the art. The 3D really comes alive when viewed through a lens, so make sure that your camera is fully charged. Visitors pose in front of, on, or in the different paintings that are spread out over three floors and eight different zones, including ‘zoo’, ‘dinosaur’ and ‘surrealism’. Go with your mates so that you can take lots of crazy photos of each other. Entry is 300 baht for foreign adults and 180 baht for Thais. It’s about halfway down Changklan Road, near the Shangrila hotel. 199/9 Changklan Rd. Changklan, Chiang Mai, 50200. Tel - 053 274 100 By Amy Burbridge

FORGET THE GUINNESS FACTORY, BEERLAO OPENS ITS DOORS! Whether your Laos trip involved hardcore trekking around the Plain of Jars, relaxation in Luang Prabang, or just an overnight visa run to Vientiane, every journey to Laos has one important similarity: Beerlao. The delicious drink comes in three varieties (Lager, Dark, and the ever elusive Gold), and its taste is the most sought-after in all of Laos. (Lao Brewing Company products account for 99% of beer sales in the country.) On a personal note, I think Beerlao is the best non-craft beer in South East Asia, so when I was in Vientiane it was an easy decision to visit the Beerlao brewery. That’s right, as of recently the Beerlao brewery is open for visits and tours. For only 40,000 KIP (or approximately $5USD) anyone can stop in and explore the brewery. Your admission fee includes a free sample of any Lao Brewing Company product and the sleek brewery bar, time to explore the Lao Brewing Company museum, an educational film, and (the best part) a chance to explore the brewery and witness the creation of Laos’ amazing lager! The brewery is a surprisingly large and modern facility, and packs in quite a bit of the brewing process for you to see. The tour starts where the ingredients are ‘mashed’ together and then boiled with hops to create the wort, and moves on to the fermenting tanks where the magic happens. Without fermentation, the golden liquid would be missing its alcohol and carbonation, so it’s arguably one of the most important steps of the process. Unlike most brewery tours in Europe or North America, on this tour you will also get to enter the control room where banks of computers regulate the brewing magic happening in all the tanks you’ve seen. These brewing wizards maintain consistency and ensure that every single bottle has the same great flavour. This brewery alone produces 280,000,000 liters a year, or nearly 850,000 bottles, so these guys are certainly working hard!

Not only is Beerlao distributed all throughout Laos, you can also purchase it in 17 countries in South East Asia and around the world. With that larger distribution and growing fan base, Beerlao has also recently been winning medals in international beer competitions and getting more global recognition. Like many South East Asian beers, Beerlao is a rice-based beer, as opposed to the grain-based beers commonly brewed in Europe and North America. You owe it yourself to stop by and see the birthplace of the beer that has sustained you during your time in Laos! There are two ways to reach the Beerlao brewery from Vientiane: you can take a tuk-tuk from the city, or you can rent a motorbike and go on your own. A tuk-tuk would cost 100,000 KIP for the 16kilometer trip, whereas a motorbike cost 75,000 KIP for a 24-hour rental. I was travelling alone, so it was time to rent a motorbike! The motorbike rental shops can give you directions to the brewery, but it’s very simple: leave the city on Rue Setthathilath, turn left at the traffic circle, and stop when you get there. The brewery itself will be on your left, but you’ll want to go to the brewery offices on your right to register for the tour. When I was there tours were given on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 1:30pm, but confirm the exact times with your guesthouse before you go. If you’ve rented a motorbike, it’s only 10 more kilometers from the brewery to the Xieng Khuan Buddha Park, so you can combine the trip to have two adventures in one day! Conversely, the brewery is located on the road between Vientiane and the Thai border, so you could make the brewery your first or last stop in Laos when you cross the border! By Chase Berenson



Across the miles

There are moments in life that remind us that no matter where we are in the world, we will never lose the connection that we have to our loved ones. My twin sister lives and works with her husband in Wisconsin, USA. I currently reside, teaching English with my boyfriend, in Chiang Mai, Thailand. We are 12 hours and 12,000 miles apart. I left the states at the end of April, just as Emily began her third month of her first pregnancy. Thank God for FaceTime; it has allowed us to keep connected as much as we possibly can, sending pictures of her growing belly and tiny overalls collection, amid snapshots of my motorbike accident road burn, or the adorable children I teach. I’ve gotten video of her future (wiggly) child poking around in her tummy and sent her videos of amazing evening sunsets in Koh Phangan. And this has been enough... almost. Until this morning, when the Gods decided to give us the ultimate gift and a whole new meaning to ‘staying in touch’ via the Internet: her water broke as we were talking via FaceTime! It was the most exciting moment to witness - and as close as I could possibly be to being there. It was hilarious and amazing. Suddenly, it was the three of us: Emily, her husband, and myself, frantically discussing what we should all do next despite me being too far away to actually - do - anything! I haven’t had any children yet, either, so this moment was new for us all, and we were immediately rendered giddy and rather speechless. My decision to travel and live abroad has been a difficult one for my family to accept, as it comes as the first time someone’s done something so ‘crazy’. My fathers health isn’t that great, and with that knowledge AND the fact that my twin sister was pregnant with her first child, well, needless to say... the day I said goodbye was extremely bittersweet and filled with tears amid the excitement. As each month has gone by and this new life challenges me on all levels in personal growth and independence, I have been very happy out here - and always excited to send and receive pictures, updates, and stories from across the globe. Though our families have never even met our significant others in person, he and I have held onto our families and friends via the internet, and have had so many great moments in between. There have been many cheerfully emailed conversations... and many where both parties still struggle to accept and adapt to the new circumstances created by living across the globe from one another. It hasn’t been easy. There have been moments where I missed the hell out of my people back home, conversations when Emily and I, for example, can only keep on saying how much we both wish I could actually touch her belly (and feel that little guy kicking!) or discuss my ever growing list of reasons that she needs to start planning a trip out here immediately. Skyping into her baby shower, at 2am my time in Thailand, we both teared up (it’s a twin thing), but there we were, virtually as together as we could be. Staying in touch as best we can through these moments in our lives that are so amazing, so life changing. I can’t imagine what it would have been like years ago to travel without this ability to stay connected, and even then it’s not always enough. Until a moment happens that reminds us that, no matter what, sisters will ALWAYS be connected, deep down. And we will always be there for one another, no matter where in the world we call home. Love really is that strong. As I sit here and send good thoughts her way, I feel happy and so content - and so ready to keep on travelling, because I’ve just been reminded that its going to take more than free spirits and distance to break these family ties.

By Amy Thierfelder



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You are on an Islan d If you look closely, I'm an island just like you. My shores feel blanketed when the tide is high, and become naked when the tide is low. My invitation's extended for you to explore remain open. As I can't tell you about myself as well as I could show. Sink your battered feet in my warm golden flesh as it absorbs the kisses of the sun's vibrant glow. The winds that sway the palms are like the pages of a diary for you to let free your secrets. Just don't tell me more than I should know. Lose time when you spend it with mine. But I'll tell you I think its worth the trade. Give a holler when the light source in the sky scorches like a million torches. So I may inform my trees to find a way to give birth to shade. See this escape I try to provide you with, is more like a reintroduct ion to flames rekindled. A friendly reminder to the complexitie s of who we have become that it still can all be so simple. All I ask is your trust as it sits atop a very short list..

How to Eat a Crab in 3 easy steps:

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Power of Silence on Thailands Noisiest Island


very month, as well as the world famous Full Moon Party, there’s a ten-day silent retreat taking place on Koh Phangan, Thailand. When I first visited Southeast Asia in 2011, I’d planned to attend one of these retreats in Surat Thani, at Suan Mokkh Monastery, but unseasonal flooding ended that idea and instead I had to work with the national army to get myself free! Returning to the country two and a half years later over the Christmas period, I finally fulfilled my wordless ambition at Wat Kow Tahm. Many people asked me why on earth I’d be interested in such a thing? For me, like many others, it was simply a case of curiosity. The idea of living without words, basic human interaction, for more than a week intrigued me. It’s something so different to everyday life, and isn’t finding new experiences what travelling is all about?


The other people at my retreat had many different reasons for their attendance. Most had some sort of problem in their life and they were looking for a coping mechanism or a way to help them become stronger. Whether they were looking to overcome substance abuse, family problems or troubles in business or finance, they'd all come to the conclusion that meditation could help. If anything, my weakness was a compulsion to be always be doing something – opening an extra tab in my browser if a page took more than a second to load, having two, three or four things on the go at all times, taking a book or my phone to the toilet with me so I had something to do in there. The idea of sitting or walking and just doing nothing was one that made me uneasy, fidgety, and I’d always be looking for something to distract me.

Taking away all these sources of entertainment and ways to simply waste time was something I looked forward to. When I worked fulltime and had a short break away I’d always enjoy switching off from the internet and the outside world, just to relax and find peace for a week or so. I would still have books to focus on, so the retreat was taking things to an extreme. Koh Phangan may seem like a strange place for a silent retreat. The island, better known for its all-night debaucherous parties, neon body paints and alcohol buckets, isn't exactly synonymous with peace and quiet. With Wat Kow Tahm situated on a hill overlooking Baan Tai, it picks up the music from the various parties each night and morning, meaning that participants of the silent retreat getting up just after 4am will cross over, sometimes for a few hours, with

the waking patterns of the revellers on the island. These distractions, though, are good practise for a meek meditator. The idea behind Vipassana meditation isn't to block everything out, but rather to let sounds, thoughts, sometimes sights into your consciousness before letting them go and refinding your breath, your sense of self. As it was my first real foray into the practise, it served me well. That being said, although I signed up for a ten-day silent retreat hoping to spend the time speaking to no one and exploring my mind, that’s not how the programme was set out. Rather it’s a meditation retreat with large aspects of silence, broken by the morning chanting that you’re encouraged to take part in, giving thanks before meals


Wanting to reform the world without discovering ones true self is like trying to cover the world with leather to avoid the pain of walking on stones and thorns. It is much simpler to wear shoes. Sri Ramana Maharshi

(similar to saying grace), daily Q&A sessions and two interviews with the retreat leader that you’re urged to attend in order to talk about progress and problems. With silence the biggest draw card for me, I avoided all these tasks in order to maintain my muteness. The majority of the retreat though is spent in silence, looking in at yourself. You're not meant to be examining your life, working out what to do next or deciding anything dramatic, just finding peace with yourself. Around seven hours of the day are spent in meditation, slightly more sitting than walking, and there are times when thoughts do stray. With that much time focusing your mind it does get tired and occasionally bored, but with a group of other people in the same mindset as you it just takes a quick glance at someone else to feel the unspoken support that's everywhere around you. That’s not to say that there weren’t complications. 18 people signed up for my retreat but only 13 made it to the end. Two left by lunch on the second day because it wasn’t what they expected, two more by the end of day three because it wasn’t for them and they didn’t want to spend Christmas in isolation, and another on day six because it was getting too much for him. I think most people there had times when they wondered if it was all worth it; it was around day seven that I had my major wobble. Thankfully the end was almost in sight so I stuck to it; if it had been a 14-day retreat I may well have crumbled. I encountered a number of different difficulties. The first was with my muscles. My back wasn’t used to sitting upright for so long each day, or perhaps the hard bed, and soon started to complain. My legs started to ache, unaccustomed to the bizarre new walking style I’d adopted – exaggerating each movement involved in each step, four stages in my method but more in others. This was exacerbated by my knees’ complaints at sitting cross-legged for so much of the day. By the end of the retreat my body moaned less, whether it was getting used to the activities or I was getting better at ignoring them


I’m not sure. My physical complaints were nothing compared to what was happening in my mind. Starved of conversation – although I’ll admit slipping up and speaking to a dog at one point – my brain was buzzing. All these things I was noticing, experiencing as part of the retreat and no one to talk to about them, to share notes with or for guidance when things weren’t going quite as they should be. Although I didn’t realise it at the time, each nugget that I had to keep to myself added the tiniest bit of weight pressing down on me; when the silence was lifted it was like something was physically taken off my body and I suddenly felt a new sense of freedom. There was also an overriding feeling of boredom to deal with. Others complained of it during the daily Q&A and there were definitely some afternoons when my mind was crying out for some sort of stimulation, for anything to do, but the sessions that went well, for me in the mornings and evenings, seemed to just fly by. Despite most days having a sense at one point that things were dragging on for ever, by the end of the retreat I was amazed at how quickly the whole thing had passed by. As well as the standard sitting and walking meditations, there were two other practices undertaken. Both involved aspects of positive thinking, learning either to appreciate what's around you, how you got there and how fleeting it may be; or how to deal with things that make you uncomfortable. Much of the discomfort we experience is due to the way we perceive things, we're told, and with this in mind I succeeded in changing someone else's annoying habit – a small noise that would break the silence and niggle away at me – into something that I found amusing and smiled at every time I heard it. It's only a small step, but if it's on the path to be as happy as the retreat leader then it's definitely in the right direction. If there’s anything I continue outside the temple, I hope it’s the

practise of examining problems and emotions to find the best way to deal with them, not necessarily the most passionate or the first response to them. Out in the real world, it's easy to fall back into bad habits, but much of what I learned has stayed with me and I hope will continue to do so. It's a lot harder to meditate for eight hours a day when you have things like work or travel to fit into your schedule, but really that's a bit over the top. We were encouraged to continue the practice when we could – better 15 minutes every day than an hour every now and then. The more important aspect for me was to shift my thinking away from negative thoughts, to let other people have their fun without letting it disturb me, being more grateful for a green light than angry

for a red, to find the good in every situation. It may sound a lot like common sense, but it's something rarely practised. And if you'd seen the perma-smile and the radiant happiness of the retreat leader, you may better understand my willingness to focus on this way of thinking. By Oliver Gaywood

About the Writer: Oliver Gaywood was raised in Scotland’s rugged north before gradually moving south, culminating with a three-year stay in Australia. He’s currently back on the road, seeing what he can before inevitably having to grow up and settle down properly. His big loves include facial hair, tea and pop music. Follow him on Twitter - @olivergaywood.



1. Detoxing

What is Healing? The word healing literally means to become whole. To live in the present moment and see things as they really are. It’s the process of restoring health and balance on all levels (mental, physical and spiritual). A healer or therapist doesn’t have a magic wand, they’re not doing something to you, rather, healers facilitate the process with you. So how do you choose what’s right for you? Do you try them all (no small task!) or pick one and stick to it? Knowing that there’s rarely one ‘right’ answer, it’s more about what fits you at the moment… what best serves your needs and preferences now and the aspects of you that need some focus and nourishment. Ultimately, they’re all aiming for the same outcome, to help you become whole and balanced.

The foods we eat have a direct effect on our physical health. Toxic matter can build up within us from our environment, substances, food and emotions. Fasting, juice detoxing and cleansing diets help the body do what it’s designed to do, heal itself. Detox centres offer colonics to help clear the intestines, specific yoga postures to encourage optimum energy flow to the organs and a healing modality to process old emotions that are being dislodged along with physical blockages.

2. Hypnosis The induction of a state of consciousness in which a person loses (to a certain extent) the power of voluntary action and is highly responsive to suggestion or direction. Its use in therapy is typically to recover suppressed memories or to allow modification of behaviour by suggestion.

Get in touch with your spiritual side

Many travellers come to South East Asia seeking healing for the mind, body and spirit - precisely because there’s a smorgasbord of delights on offer when it comes to personal and spiritual development. It can be daunting trawling the internet for the right meditation retreat or staring for the first time at a holistic notice board. We share core needs and desires; to find ourselves, to know why we’re here, to live our lives more fully - and so I liken the different ways of healing as being like different flavours of ice cream, there’s one to suit everyone. So to help you choose your flavour, here’s our quick guide to all things healing!

3. Re-birthing & Breath Work Rebirthing is a form of psychotherapy involving controlled breathing techniques that simulate increased energy flow through the body, dislodging old emotions and thought forms, sometimes accumulated from birth. Breath work in general is there to increase life force through the body, moving through blockages and helping the person consciously breathe in energy (also known as Chi, Universal Life Force and Prana) as well as air.

4. Shamanic / Spiritual Healing This is where the healer works consciously in partnership with Spirit to facilitate the healing process. Spirit gives insight into the cause of the imbalance and will support the healing process in many different ways. I could write so much in this section as this is the flavour I offer! Check out:

5. Chi Nei Tsang This one’s particularly popular in Thailand and Bali... Chi Nei Tsang literally means ‘transforming the energy of the internal organs’. It works mainly on the abdomen, with a deep, soft and gentle touch from the outside in order to release stored memories and emotions as well as to address the balance and flow of the digestive system. It works with the same energy lines (sometimes called meridians) as acupuncture and Thai massage.

TIPS: Which is right for you? • • • •

• • •

Take a look at the practitioner’s website and find their picture. Do you feel a connection with them, can you see yourself talking to them about what’s going on for you? Do any words in particular stand out on the advert / poster / website that you’re intrigued by? Do you feel by doing the detox / process / retreat that it will take you outside your comfort zone in a way that’s helpful? Call the practitioner to discuss the possibility of working together and get a feel for if it’s right for you. Describe your current symptoms or what you’d like to work on and check if the person can help. It’s important to highlight that one technique is not better than another; they’re just different, serving different needs and stages of personal development. Go with your intuition, do what feels right for YOU and choose a person to work with that you feel comfortable with. NOTE: These descriptions are very general and each practitioner will have their own take on each, often intertwining several different techniques to produce their own style.

6. Energy Healing & Reiki Energy healing is a technique which channels energy into the body and energy body (aura) by means of touch, to activate natural healing processes. The relevant healing energy comes through the hands to restore physical and emotional well-being. The word Reiki is made of two Japanese words - Rei which means ‘God’s Wisdom or the Higher Power’ and Ki which is ‘life force energy’. So Reiki is actually “spiritually guided life force energy”. Reiki works with specific symbols and mainly to a set pattern and there’s usually minimal talking during the session.

Melanie Swan is based in Chiang Mai offering Healing, Training & Workshops with Energy Work, Shamanic Healing & Body Psychotherapy. She has over 10 years experience and has travelled extensively.

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Your South East Asian Secrets!


ave you ever discovered a magical place that you just want to keep to yourself? A perfect beach without a single footprint in the sand, a clear, fresh waterfall hidden in the depths of the jungle without a sign-post telling tourists of its whereabouts, or a local village that has been overlooked by the chain stores, McDonalds and 7-11? What if you told everybody about your special place and then went back years later only to find it taken over by mass tourism? Here at S.E.A Backpacker Magazine, we’re asking you to do the unthinkable - take that risk. We asked you to share your secret spots with our readers so that fellow adventurous travellers may too find that slice of paradise!



If you’re looking for the kind of paradise you’ve only read about you need to get yourself to beautifu in adventure books, near the Cambod l Koh Kood in Tra ian border. Acce t province, ssible only by bo one of the rickety, at, weathered piers or right up on a wh when you pull up at you’ll fall in love. Truly off the beate ite-sand beach, I’m n track, most tra sure to stay on the big vellers skip it entire ger, more touristy ly, choosing Explore rainfores Koh Chang. Don’t ts and mangrove swamps, kayak alo make the same mistake. island, motorbike ng the waterways along the few roa lacing the ds and chill out on tropical beaches the gorgeous co are mostly-desert astline. The ed an As the fourth large d the ocean is wa rm and crystal-clea st island in Thailan d, I can’t believe r. undeveloped, bu tha t I’m sure glad it is! Tip - bring cash t this place is so as the re ATMs on the islan are no d! (Amy Burbridge)

ILAND AYAO, THA SECRET: PH Pangandaran in East Java is one of those places where you’re so happy you chanced on a visit, you don’t particularly want to tell anyone else about it! Outside of the backpacker world it’s not really that unknown as it’s one of the premier beach destinations for Indonesians on their holidays and most weekends people drive down from the cities of Jakarta and Bandung just to stay for a Saturday night. That’s a 20-hr round trip to paddle about in the sea for an afternoon! Visiting outside of Indonesian holiday season you’ll find long quiet beaches and great surf! It’s a wonderful escape on one of the most populated islands on earth. (Ben Turland)






Located on a beautiful silver lake (Kwan Phayao) surrounded by palm trees and a mountai nous backdrop, Phayao is wonderfully pict uresque. Just three hours from backpacker hub Chiang Mai, Phayao sees little fore ign tourists and is a pleasant esc ape from the well trodden trail. The town is popular amongs t ‘weekend-ing’ Thais who walk with sun umbrellas and have picn ics in the well-maintained gard ens surrounding the lake. Fish restaurants and bars line the main Chai Kwan Road, but they do not deter from the laid-bac k, relaxing vibe of the lakeside town. The surrounding area of Phayao is extremely uns poiled in terms of natural beauty; fertile rice fields and rolling hills dotted with ethnic-minority commun ities. (Nikki Scott)

time adjusting Wat Ph toug a ar I had u, ne Pahks e, Siem os, Reap is very . I was much off thebodi ifically La spec a, n beate Cam to pa th an d dif it is well worth a fic tukt ult tods. getTuk frien with to, bu lling trave vis andan it. An old, ears 23-y cie nt tem architecture from ple and thaus for t dis ered plafood pest ys kids and boled art us, th and Hi hass nd rs uis drive m and Buddhism, overlooking a lus edtstoonhelp want you it use res beca h t an hear d your e ex a hill brok pa It ey. nsive valley. You there, pemon your rhaps just a itfew nton pers findgot once one wo many people that edan Laoti , but seem them s, so yo can ed of the temple an takite too! the serene aura elseuwant yone d its ever attention, surro undings in comp lete peace. Danger) lsea (Che (Eliz a Ar senault)






Just across the Mekong river from Vientiane, Laos lies Nong Khai. A great place to explore by bicycle, this tiny town is bursting with culture and personality. My favorite spot is the Thasadej market, where a unique mixture of goods from Laos and Thailand are sold. A great place to volunteer, sweat through spicy plates of papaya salad, and feel pretty damn far from home! (Tyler Protano-Goodwin)

The Andaman an d Nicobar Islands are an arc hiapelago of over hundred small cro three ps of land in the closer to Burma Andaman sea, and Thailand tha n mainland India. islands are uninh Some abited and others due to the protec are off-limits to tou tion of the indige rists nous population. between pristine The contrast white sand beac hes and dense rai is breathtaking at nforest times, and these are tru most amazing an d beautiful beache ly some of the s in the world. (Ian Marshall)

I believe Koh Kham is the best kept secret in all South East Asia! Kayak ove r from Koh Mak or get a tour from Koh Chang with 100 baht entry fee, you can enjoy the beauty for the day, but hurry as a very expensive honeymoon type resort is currently under construction. Paradise Fou nd! (Burton Wheeler)









KHAM Koh Munnork is a small st which is private island off Rayong coa The only resort is. Tha l loca by n eve little known ort. It’s a place Res nd Isla nork on the island is Mun uddled Thailand. ist-h tour in ity to experience true tranquil clear blue sea, tal crys l reefs, White fine sand beach, cora you don’t have so ks, moc ham and s sala and numbers of elers to occupy one! Oh, and to fight over your fellow trav in abundance! there are friendly peacocks (Veeraya Chenchittikul)


My favourite secret destinations are of the ones whose names I struggle with cycling or most because I’ve found them by accident while Penh to Phnom from y journe the made once I d. motorbiking aroun gorgeous, was y journe The e. bicycl by on Kampot, Cambodia, and back e, I met a lot people, fruit and since I was moving fairly slowly on a bicycl bike drivers who pulled up for vendors on the side of the road, friendly motor tyre repairman. Kampot is a sweet very one and ters, a chat for a few kilome e the city limits, many outsid just s option fun place with eco-friendly resort get out and explore while of which offer free bicycle lending so you can lost in the rice you are there too! I highly recommend getting paddies around Kampot or nearby Kep! (Charla Allyn Hughes)



Have you discovered a secret paradise? Email us at: to share your story!




By Chris Stevens

“The scuba diver dives to look around. The freediver dives to look inside.” (Umberto Pelizzari)


s a surfer I’m pretty at home in the ocean - whether it’s bobbing around out back waiting for waves or simply snorkeling around. On my travels though - and in South East Asia especially - I can find myself away from the surf, the crashing waves and oneness with the big blue. I’m still by the beach but I constantly find myself craving a more fluid connection with the ocean. That’s where scuba diving came into my travels and I’ve spent heaps of time over the last few years exploring the underwater world - from the Great Barrier Reef in Australia to the backpacker diving mecca of Koh Tao and the beautiful Similan Islands off the coast of Thailand. Scuba diving is all well and good but for me, it has begun to lack something. It’s just…too… ummmm… relaxed and easy! Don’t get me wrong I love diving but it doesn't really pose any real adrenaline kick or challenge for me any longer - now that I’ve clocked up over 100 dives. So that’s where my dilemma came in - I needed a new sport, ocean orientated, that I could practice around the globe, one that was an epic challenge and wouldn’t kill my backpacker budget. And that’s when I discovered the world of freediving…

Ocean Awareness Freediving is the art of diving underwater on nothing more than a single breath and I’ve been aware of the sport in some shape and form for a while now through surfing - its techniques have long been used by big wave surfers to help them survive heavy hold downs and generally be more comfortable in the ocean. I’m not a big wave surfer by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve always been keen to improve my confidence and be safer in the ocean. In recent years free diving has gained a boom in popularity and there is a growing community of free divers across the globe, regularly meeting to compete to depths of over 100m and static breathe holds of over seven minutes! What’s more is that it’s a beautiful sport to watch and photograph - you only have to do a quick Youtube search or check out the GoPro ‘Shark Rider’ video to be convinced! So when I stumbled upon the fact that Koh Tao, Thailand now has an abundance of free dive suppliers I was pretty stoked and it was immediately penciled into my bucket list!

An Impossible Goal? Now if you’d said to me a few months ago that I’d be comfortably holding my breathe for over two minutes 30 seconds, able to cover over 55m underwater in a pool and descend to up to 30m on a single breath I’d say you were crazy. In fact I’d still say you were crazy - the only difference now is that it’s a reality! My first foray into free diving was via the SSI Level 1 - a professionally structured course designed to give you all the skills and knowledge to safely get up to 20m in depth. I quickly found out that it’s not just a case of holding your breath and going for it - it’s actually a quite complex sport which relies on some pretty incredible science and a lot of borrowed techniques from the realm of yoga. What’s even more incredible is the fact our bodies are programmed to freedive. Everyone has the necessary skills and ability to easily hold their breathe for over two minutes - it’s a case of mentally overcoming the barriers, fear and personal walls to achieve it. Take the mammalian reflex for example. When our faces become submerged in cold water our bodies engage a variety of techniques to allow us to survive. Our heart rates drop by up to 25% of the usual beats per minute, our airways seal shut to prevent drowning and our blood vessels contract to optimise oxygen to the core organs. All that without even a thought!


The first part of the course was all about gaining the confidence in our bodies’ abilities and with a few solid sessions of theory, safety, beach yoga and pool work behind me it was time to put everything to the test and hit the open ocean. I’m not afraid to admit that despite my comfort level in the ocean I was pretty damn nervous and the first few dives I did I was tackling some pretty solid personal challenges. With some reassuring support and a good lashing of peer pressure (my girlfriend was doing the same course too!) I soon found myself comfortably diving past 10m… and I was instantly hooked!

The Next Step Fast forward a few months and I was back under the ocean again - this time on the beautiful island of Gili T, Indonesia for some more training dives under the watchful eye of British Freedive Record holder Micheal Board, who recently hit the 102m mark in late 2013. With him and his team I soon found myself hitting 20m on some fun dives, so I took the plunge (no pun intended!) and enrolled on my SSI Level 2. For me Level 2 was all about really tackling my mental blocks, learning how to focus, relax and clear my mind all in one hit. It built up the foundation of my level 1 and introduced even more baffling science which allows humans to dive to depths of 40m and beyond. Did you know that to compensate for changes in pressure your body automatically takes plasma from your blood and puts it into your lungs to stop them collapsing!? It’s crazy what we’re already capable off - it’s just embracing the unknown and realising our potential. And that’s what has me hooked on free diving, that’s what now means I can dive to over 20m and hold my breathe for nearly three minutes. The incredible mental challenge and realising my full potential. For me the journey into free diving has become as much of one of personal discovery as it has been of excitement and trying something new. If you speak to any freediver you’ll find the same common


realisation. Freediving is about learning your limitations and opening your mind to possibilities. I guess in that respect it’s the ultimate sport for travellers - those who have already opened themselves up to new experiences, places and the unknown.

Kitted Up For The Road I’ve now kitted myself up with everything needed to free dive around the globe - including fins, weights and low volume free dive mask and I’m stoked to be able to practice this sport pretty much anywhere with water! My iPhone is now loaded with breathe training apps and most nights you’ll find me practicing on my bed before I go to sleep. I probably look rather crazy but hey… each to their own! Everything I need to free dive the world has easily bolted onto my backpack and what’s more it hasn’t cost me a huge amount of cash. The courses themselves set me back about $530 USD (around $200 USD for the SSI Level in Koh Tao, Thailand and $330 for the SSI Level 2 in Gili Trawangan, Indonesia) and my fins, mask and weight setup has come in just shy of $165 USD. Now that’s an epic bargain in my opinion! What’s more is it’s given me a new challenge - to go deeper, longer and be more confident - and it is something that will give me a new perspective on any destination I visit without costing me a penny! I’m hopefully heading to the Galapagos Islands later this year and I can’t tell you how stoked I am to be sharing the water alongside turtles, sharks and sea lions with nothing other than the breath in my lungs. I urge anyone who has the chance to give free diving a go. If you’re scared of the ocean it’s the perfect way to reassure yourself. If you already love the ocean it’s a great to explore it. If you’re hooked on extreme sports then it’s an incredibly unique and consuming challenge. It’s exciting. It’s liberating. It’s challenging. It’s addictive. It’s exactly what I’ve been looking for. About the Writer: Chris Stevens is a surfer, photographer and traveller from Devon in the UK. He’s been on the road since 2009 and is the guy behind the travel blog - which provide reviews, advice and stories from his round the world adventures. You can check him out on Twitter; @bckpackerbanter. Facebook; /backpackerbanter. Instagram; @backpackerbanter You can book Freediving courses in Koh Tao and Gili T direct through Chris - just email for more information.

5 Free Diving Facts: 1. Croatian Goran Colak set the record for the deepest free dive, traveling 896 feet (273m) on one single breath of air. 2. 11 minutes and 35 seconds is the record setting time for holding one’s breath underwater. We don’t recommend trying this one at home! 3. A diver once survived underwater for two days before he was rescued. How did he do it? He found a large air bubble trapped in a room of a sunken boat complete with a tea kettle full of fresh water! 4. Free diving ranks as the second most dangerous adventure sport, so make sure you know what you are doing, or are under excellent supervision, before attempting to plunge to daring depths. 5. Submerging past 300 feet affects your physical body dramatically, your lungs compress to the size of oranges and your heart rate slows to half its normal speed.



By Noah Lederman @SomewhereOrBust (

Step Away from the Guidebook! 5 Overlooked Gems...


ach time I log onto Facebook, I see that another friend has ventured to South East Asia. Their photographs are always the same: a different angle atop the Peak in Hong Kong or a snapshot of a bumper-boat session along a floating Thai market. The majestic Kuang Si Falls in Laos and the pinecone-shaped silhouettes of Angkor Wat captured at about 6am in Cambodia have become ubiquitous on my news feed. And, in approximately five of my friends' pictures, I'm pretty sure I've seen the same Hanoi traffic jam from different angles.

nails had been left undisguised, resembling either scrap homes or prototypes of futuristic dwellings.

While most of those attractions are not to be missed - and, yes, could even be shared with friends and loved ones on your social media timeline - there's no better way to experience South East Asia than by stepping off the beaten path. Sometimes roads-less-travelled are day-long journeys from the country's famous sites. But here are five little-known places that are quick trips from those crowded tourist zones.

How to get to Tai O: Take the Mui Wo ferry from Central at Pier 6. Then hop on bus 2 to see the Big Buddha (Though the giant Buddha is a major tourist site, it's still worth a quick look!) Afterwards, head down to Tai O on Bus 21. If you're eager to ride the ferry again, return via Bus 1, or head to the city by hopping on Bus 11 and then transferring for the subway at Tung Chung. (Total price of transportation: about $10 USD.)

Past the bridge, we took the narrow path that winded through the residences, ducked the fish and the laundry drying out on the lines, and listened to the subtle sounds of music, talk radio, and clinking of mah jong tiles emanating from each home. Our walk ended at the green-tiled Lung Ngam Monastery, which provided a good refuge from a pack of bulls that had momentarily commandeered the path.

1. Step Away in: Hong Kong! Every visitor to Hong Kong has the following three things on their itinerary: eat dim sum, explore the markets, and visit the Peak. But the true gem of Hong Kong sits on the outskirts of the city on Lantau Island. Lantau Island is Hong Kong's busiest day-trip destination, but for all the wrong reasons. (It's home to the world's largest seated outdoor Buddha, Hong Kong's Disneyland, and a new airport.) The most compelling case for visiting Lantau is a remote fishing village called Tai O, a ramshackle stilt-house community that balances precariously above salt flats and colorful, sea-worn rowboats. My wife, Marissa, and I entered the village by way of the market, where dried seafood is piled atop every stall and old women push around hundred-pound carts stacked with fish. After passing through this busy morning scene, we took a right through the town square, passed the food vendors frying their egg-based and scallion-topped "China pizzas" and powdering their zeppoli-shaped Tai O doughnuts, and crossed the Sun Ki Bridge, where Asia has its answer for a bucolic, mountainous Venice. Old fishing boats drifted in the canals, gardens from the stilt-house terraces hung over the waterways, and elevated canoes dripped from their morning launches. Many of the tightly packed aluminum houses had been constructed from old boats. Their seams and


Tai O, Lantau

Island - Hong


"Come," Da hollered. "Do you think this is a good idea?" Marissa asked, noticing that we were in the middle of nowhere and being invited into a thicket - a great place for a pair of teens to rob naive tourists. I followed Da through the thorns and red ants and then, a few meters later, stood before a large rock that sat in front of a dark cave entrance, which was really just a shallow pit that led nowhere. "This is where the people stood," Da said, touching the big rock at the entrance. How to get to the Kiriseila Caves: Drive from Kep down Route 33. Once you get to the busy market of Kampong Trach, turn left. When the road forks, the cave with the ruined Buddhas are to the right and the killing cave is to the left, in a big field behind bramble.

3. Step Away in: Laos


aves, K C a il e is ir K The Cambodia

2. Step Away in: Cambodia Marissa and I rented a motorbike in Kep and rode down Route 33 toward Kampong Trach in search of the Kiriseila caves. In the 1970s, the Khmer Rouge had used the caves in the area to imprison slaves and commit mass murder. Once we had arrived in the busy market town of Kampong Trach, we took a left down an unmarked road and ended up at a house where a sixteen year-old boy named Da approached us with a ticket pad. "I think you want to see the caves," he said. We nodded. Da told us that we could see the caves where the Khmer Rouge kept slaves, but informed me that the killing caves were closed. He offered to take us to the nearby pepper plantation or Rabbit Island instead. "Let's see the caves first," I told him.

Across from the beatific city of Luang Prabang is the sleepy village of Xiang Men, where you can find a few faded temples, endless jungle, and a cave where the monks keep all their destroyed Buddhas. Marissa and I crossed the Mekong River and arrived at the shores of Xiang Men. We walked up the hill and turned right down a path through the forest, where we encountered a boy named Hume and his two older sisters, Nut and Ged. The siblings fought over a bag of flashlights. Ged, who had won the tussle, handed over the torches. "Why do we need flashlights?" Marissa asked. "Dark," said Ged. First, they brought us to a temple, which had faded murals of Chinese warriors on the walls. Though poorly lit, we certainly didn't need the flashlights. "Why do we need these?" Marissa kept asking. I shrugged. Then the kids led us down a path littered with garbage and swarming with butterflies. The trail crossed over a staircase. A sign read Wat Tom Sackalim. At the bottom of the steps, the muddy Mekong flowed and saffron-robed monks-in-training stepped off of an old boat. They carried long boxes filled with thick yellow candles-offerings to the Buddha. The kids took us up the steps.

We followed Da as he drove his motorbike a few hundred meters down the road to the mouth of Dragon Cave. Kids with flashlights skipped at the entrance. "Dark. Dark," they shouted, hoping to earn a buck for leasing out their lights. The ribbed walls of Dragon Cave let out into a courtyard where a Buddha reclined and a few worshippers had gathered. In a second cave, Da showed us where his parents had been slaves. Along the cave wall, piled up in the darkness, were a dozen concrete, gold-painted Buddha faces. They had been hacked off. "Khmer Rouge was looking for gold inside the Buddha," Da said. A third cave had more destroyed Buddhas. Da pointed out the stalagmites, stalactites, and blackened coral that clung to the ceiling, alive millions of years ago when this had all been underseas. But he knew that I was more interested in the caves with a grim past. We raced back past the ticket house and turned right, which brought us to a field where farm animals grazed. Da turned after passing the dirty reservoir and drove through the grassy field, toward a rock wall fortified by bramble. He peeled back a tangle of branches and penetrated the thorny bulwark.

Xiang Man, L


Two white gates were positioned before a pair of wooden doors. The gates were made from iron rods that had been bent to form the outlines of two standing Buddhas. Hume grabbed the outline of the Buddha and poked his feet through the door. Using his little body's force, he swung the gates open. Ged took out a key and opened the wooden doors to reveal a dark cave. "There's no way I'm going down there," Marissa said. But all three children ran into the cave and I followed. "Buddha want money," the two girls advised, pointing to a three-foot statue's golden bowl, where a few thousand kip had already been relinquished. "Give Buddha." I gave 1,000 KIP, (which, at the time, was approximately 12 cents US). The two girls bowed, proxies for the appreciative Buddha. Hume sprinted circles in the chamber. "Buddha no head. Buddha no head," the children chanted, shining their lights onto a shelf where a line-up of decapitated statues sat. Buddhists had dumped these destroyed, venerable figures into the cave because they could neither be displayed nor trashed. Marissa finally joined us, shaking her fingers in an attempt to assuage the fear that lingered. Ged ushered us deeper into the netherworld. "What? No!" Marissa declared. "Buddha no head. Buddha no head," the kids sang.

Our leaders in

to the caves..

Sometimes the Buddhas were headless. Other times only the heads sat in piles on the cave floor. Hume came at me in the darkness with an amputated Buddha arm.


To Get to Xiang Men: Hire a boat to take you across the river. You'll want to spend at least four hours in Xiang Men exploring the cave and other wats. One of the highlights in Xiang Men is having a picnic at the highest temple, which offers the most picturesque views of Luang Prabang. To get to Tom Sackalim, walk up to the forest path, turn right, and walk for about ten minutes. Look for the sign and ask locals if they might have the key. Bring bug spray and a lunch.

4. Step Away in: Thailand A man wearing a winter beanie and dark sunglasses walked into the warm island waters that surround Koh Tao. He led us toward his colorful sampan docked in front of Sairee Beach. We motored across the channel to the remote, unpopulated island of Nang Yuan, which was three separate islands that, over time, had been joined together by a white-sand isthmus. Large gray boulders sat around Nang Yuan like immobile, bathing elephants. Barnacles had clasped onto their unformed knees. Other boulders balanced atop the backs of these earthen pachyderms as if symbiosis had been poorly engineered by nature. We crossed the rickety dock and past the single bar and restaurant on the island, which is operated by the lone resort that has built a collection of inconspicuous bungalows in the tree-lined hills. Initially, Marissa and I had set up on the western-facing shoreline. But a crowd of four people had gathered, pointing to three-foot shadows swimming in the shallows. It was a school of reef sharks. So, we dragged the sarong fifteen paces to the east and were now on the eastern-facing shoreline, where the majority of visitors snorkeled the turquoise gulf. The waters teemed with black and white fish that gummed at stationary feet like toothless barracudas. Since the coral nearest to the beach was bleached, I swam out toward the livelier ecosystem replete with pinkish truffula trees that sat like wigs upon coral, Christmas tree worms that ciliated and resembled primary-colored


oh Tao

n, K Koh Nang Yua

miniature conifers, crinkled blue-lipped-lifeforms that blew aquatic kisses from the reef, gardens of black sea cucumbers mottled with patches of moldy white that were at rest in the sand, orange and white beaked coral fish that raced below the surface-swimming pencil fish and outran the rainbow-colored parrot fish. (Nang Yuan is reported to be one of the best places for scuba diving. If divers venture beyond the shallows, they’ll encounter average depths of ten meters and visibility of thirty meters, swim-through arches and caves, and sea life that consists of everything from whiptail rays to yellow and blue-faced Titan triggerfish to sharks.) Later in the day, when others from Koh Tao had travelled across

to Nang Yuan, Marissa and I sought out the next respite. We walked back toward the dock, but continued along a thin-planked boardwalk, where the newer planks had replaced the collapsed portions smashed upon the rocks below. We climbed a short, steep staircase and scrambled over a miniature field of boulders. At the top was an empty peak that offered an endless stretch of blue water and the stunning bird’s-eye-view of the three verdant islands connected by the white isthmus. How to get to Nang Yuan: A boat and admission to the island will cost a couple about $15 USD. The sampan driver will attempt to convince you that you only need a couple of hours on the island, but if you like to snorkel or just relax on the beach, make Nang Yuan at least a half day visit. Save money by bringing lunch.


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5. Step Away in: VIETNAM On our first day in Sapa, we had followed the train of tourists along the popular Lao Chai Trail. It was crowded with tourists and the Hmong women who trekked with us bombarded us at the end with demands that we purchase their bacelets, bags and other crafted wares. The next morning, we hired a guide - who was mandatory according to Sapa law and necessary for trails that are missing on maps and have no markings. My instructions to him were simple: I wanted a challenging hike that would avoid the crowds. He proved his worth immediately as he led us through town, found the unmarked trailhead, which could have easily passed for a waterfall as the rains had been continuous for two days, and then protected us when we ran into a perturbed water buffalo. (We did not understand that the Hmong cowboy responsible for the beast had been warning us to walk off the path, so that he could pass with the angry creature intent on goring us.) The trail continued to split and we relied on our guide’s knowledge. He took us past minority villages, where baby ducks motored around giant puddles, puppies yelped from the thresholds of wooden huts, piglets feasted on the grass beside roosters that towered over them. Calves and chicks wandered the verdant forest. Jade sweeps of rice terraces, sprinkled with yellowing grains, had been chiseled into the land. “What’s that waterfall called?” we would ask our guide. “That is not a waterfall. It’s just today.” Water rushed through every dry crevice. Since fog obscured the best view, our guide suggested eating with his Hmong friend. When we arrived in the friend’s village, where a few wooden huts sat in a row, a young woman came running up the hill. She invited us into her one-room, mudfloored hut.


The room was dark and the Hmong woman flipped a switch. The one dangling light cast its faint yellow glow. A makeshift kitchen occupied one corner. Dirty pots and bowls were set on the floor beside a large bag of salt. On the shelf above was a colander of greens. The children’s bed was in another corner. Her three-yearold and newborn slept above a chainsaw. In a third corner of the home, the mother cooked rice and corn over a small fire. Behind a wall was her room. The village kids, in filthy shirts, entered the hut to stare at us. The mother added the bowl of greens to a frying pan. Dangling from the rafters were cellphone chargers and flashlights. On the floor was the broken frame of a remote control car and one jumbo, pink Lego block. Empty bottles were scattered around on the mud floor, waiting to be filled with rice wine. The woman offered us corn. We had nothing to give in return. After lunch, we left the villagers and continued the hike in the pouring rain, where waterfalls wiped out trails and fog crept higher transforming the prolific rice paddies into an ethereal landscape. We passed no one but the locals. How to get off the beaten path in Sapa: Our guide did not know the name of this hike. No matter what, if you insist that your guide take you on a difficult trail that is not trekked by many people, you’ll wind up off the terribly beaten path. About the Writer: Noah Lederman writes for the travel blog Somewhere Or Bust. His travel writing has appeared in the Boston Globe, the Chicago Sun-Times, Islands Magazine, the Economist, and elsewhere. Visit his blog to get your free copy of his humorous travel ebook, Misadventures in Southeast Asia. He is also the author of Traveling the Cambodian Genocide - a collection of travel essays and photographs, taking readers to the unexplored sites that the Khmer Rouge had once used to commit acts of genocide. The stories go beyond revealing a sense place; they offer moving profiles of survivors and the younger generation of Cambodians, who, decades later, are still effected by the atrocities. One third of all profits are being donated to a charity that helps Cambodian children and families. Learn more about this project at Somewhere Or Bust (

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SONGKRAN! Water is Life



hai people celebrate the New Year in mid-April with a huge festival called Songkran. Songkran invites the rainy season after a long stint of dry months, it’s also a time when people return to family, pay respects to their elders and make merit. Songkran kicks off a three day water fight in the streets of cities across Thailand. Rather than water fight, my students would say ‘play Songkran’ which attests to the friendly intent and playful nature of the water celebration. Dressed to get wet, armed with a water gun and a bucket of white powdered cream, people roam the streets of Chiang Mai looking to ‘play Songkran.’ The majority of the action takes places along the perimeter of the historical city center where a moat provides an endless supply of ammunition. Some people choose to stake out a home base where they have a decent water supply and can soak anyone who passes by. Others choose to go mobile and base out of pickup trucks, tuk-tuks, motorbikes and on foot. The scene is hectic with music blasting, water coming from all directions, people and vehicles packing the streets yet there is still a light and playful feel to the whole event. As an English teacher in Chiang Mai, I got to experience my first Songkran with the students at my school. We celebrated other aspects of Songkran such as making merit and paying respect


to elders. One particular ceremony was quite special. Along with other teachers, I sat facing my students with a desk in front of me and two big bowls of jasmine scented water resting on top. One by one, students would approach my desk, kneel, wai me with hands together and use a decorated cup to take water and pour it over my resting hands. I made a blessing for each student and gently and respectfully wiped my wet hands along their face and hair. I was able to exchange something wonderful with my students, each individually, that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to share with them during day-to-day class routine. It was truly a wonderful experience, the kind of special experience that makes traveling worthwhile. From small personal rituals of sprinkling water to massive drunken street water fights, water is the all important aspect of Songkran - signifying cleansing, renewal, new life and hope. After all, fresh water is the key to life, something which over one billion people in our world today do not have access to. Access to clean water is a topic of conversation in every community across the world but the urgency of the discussion is always more immediate in developing countries. Thailand is rapidly rising on the global spectrum of national development where countries ascend and descend according to their level of development and progress

Photography by Dylan Wyer (

towards modernity. Access to clean water is a perfect indicator of Thailand’s mid-level developmental status. Most homes in Thailand have direct access to clean water through blue plastic tubing. This water is clean and clear yet most Thai people prefer to drink water that’s specifically purified for drinking. In developed nations, we can easily become detached from the process of how our water arrives to us. We often forget that water is precious and sacred and that it took a lot for that liter of clean water to pour out of the faucet. Receiving a water bill every month is rarely enough to remind us how lucky we are to have so much water, so easily, whenever we want. We become detached, oblivious and unappreciative of the privilege we have. I think it’s important in rich nations that we remind ourselves of the importance of water and that we try to keep clean water access and sustainability in our public discourse. Whether used for play, for ceremony or for drinking, water is something that nourishes life and should be treated with a sacred honor. By inviting the rainy season, Songkran has become one of Thailand’s most important festivals, and for a deserving reason. By Joey Bilyk (



Sunrise Beach, Haad Rin, Koh Phangan

15th Mar, 14th Apr

in the sea from dusk ‘til dawn. Expect shenanigans aplenty on a whole beach jampacked with bars and stages blasting out a varied selection of music, including house, drum&bass, psy-trance and chart tunes. Still awake at sunrise? Go find the official Full Moon afterparty at the Backyard in Haad Rin.

appearances, all playing an eclectic mix of tech house, progressive beats and psychedelic trance. This large, professional, all night dance event is set amidst the brilliantly atmospheric setting of the Baan Tai Jungle with a huge sound system, unique UV illuminations, fire dancers and live visuals!

Half Moon Festival

Black Moon Culture

4th & 24th Mar 7th & 22nd Apr

30th Mar, 28th Apr

Baan Tai, Koh Phangan The most famous beach party in the world? The Full Moon Party takes place on Haad Rin Beach, Koh Phangan every month on the night of the Full Moon. Legend has it that the whole thing started with a group of backpackers playing guitars and singing on the beach to celebrate someone’s birthday, but these days it’s a full-blown, debaucherous mish-mash of body paint, fancy dress, and up to 30,000 people drinking buckets, dancing, partying and playing


Taking place one week before and one week after the Full Moon Party, the Half Moon Festival showcases the island’s finest resident DJs with regular special guest

Baan Tai, Koh Phangan

Peace, Trance, Dance… these three words are the driving force behind the famous Black Moon Culture party. This awesome gathering takes place on the sandy white beach at Mac’s Bay Resort in Baan Tai each month at the ‘black moon’. Expect a night filled with great décor, live visuals, and the latest and freshest progressive and psychedelic trance brought to you by Thai and International, resident and guest DJs. One for dedicated party fiends.

Jungle Experience

Baan Tai, Koh Phangan

1 & 4 days before the Full Moon Party!

One of the original underground dance gatherings in Koh Phangan, the magical setting is located deep in Baan Tai jungle with a natural mountain stream running through the party zone, leading to the

Pick of the Month! decorated dancefloor. Be enchanted by the lush tropical flower garden enhanced with UV, laser and organic light installations, water features and cosy chill-out zones. The Jungle Experience features the best of electronic beats, progressive house, minimal, progressive tech and psytrance, and is famous for its amazing atmosphere in the morning when the sun rises over the mountain illuminating the natural beauty. * Also check out - Sramanora Waterfall Party, Shiva Moon Party, Loi Lay Floating Bar Party, Ku Club, Pirate Moonset Party, Oasis, Mer Ka Ba, Guys Bar & Eden.

Songkran - New Year The Water Festival Thailand 13th - 15th Apr

The “wetter the better” is the slogan for this crazy festival! The Thai Buddhist New Year sees the entire country turn into the site of a very energetic water fight - what better way to cool off in the sweltering temperatures of Thailand’s hot season? Water pistols, super soakers, buckets of ice cold water mixed with talcum powder are thrown at innocent passersby. Symbolically, Songkran signifies new beginnings and spiritual cleansing. As well as celebration, it is an important

Mar - Apr 2014

time to spend with family and pay respect to elders. On the first day of the festival, Thai people clean their houses to welcome in the New Year and visit temples to pray and offer food to the monks, they also sprinkle water on Buddha statues. Wherever you are in Thailand, it’s hard to miss the high-energy festivities but one of the best places to witness the event is Chiang Mai. See page 34 for more info!

Cambodia New Year Chaul Chnam Thmey 13th - 15th Apr Corresponding with Songkran in Thailand, the Cambodian New Year is a three day

occasion celebrated all across the country. Religious ceremonies take place at shrines and temples and people build small sand hills on temple grounds decorated with five religious flags to symbolize Buddha’s five disciples. ‘Water blessings’ also occur as Cambodians sprinkle holy water on each other’s faces in the morning, the chest at noon and the feet in the evening. Although not as wild as in Thailand, ‘soakings’ are common as locals, armed with water balloons make unsuspecting passers-by their target.

Pee Mai Laos New Year 13th - 15th Apr Mid-April also sees in the New Year in Laos, with a festival known as ‘Pee Mai’, the most celebrated event in the country. Akin to Thailand and Cambodia, this is the hottest period in Laos and


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celebrations welcome the New Year and mark the beginning of the monsoon season. Water plays a major role as a symbol of ‘cleansing’ as homes, Buddha images and people are blessed with good fortune in the coming year. It’s also a time of meritmaking and paying respect to elders.

for one minute that St. Patrick’s Day won’t be celebrated with a fair amount of zeal in this fun-loving part of the world. It seems that the locals readily accept Western festivals into their own culture – just so long as it’s an excuse for a good party! With the essential ‘Irish Pub’ sprinkled across SE Asia, you’ll find yourself perched on a bar stool anywhere from Hanoi to Koh Phi Phi drinking Guinness or green beer easier than you can say ‘Paddy and Mick McMurphy’s your Uncle.’

perform ‘Wai Kru’, where they pay respect to their teachers.

what this festival entails. A high energy Lombok tradition, the event sees a series of cattle races taking place on a soggy racetrack 100m long and is a favourite amongst local farmers and never fails to draw in an excited crowd.

Future of Music Asia KL, Malaysia 13th - 15th Mar

Bali Spirit Festival Malaysia 19th - 23rd Mar Nyepi Bali, Indonesia 31st March

The annual Bali Spirit Festival celebrates yoga, dance and music in a synergy of cultures from all over the world. Now in its seventh year, the event expects thousands of people present at two carefully picked locations in Bali’s cultural and atmospheric heart, Ubud. By day, your creative and spiritual side will be stirred as you brush shoulders with international gurus in inspiring yoga, dance and music workshops. By night, lively world music concerts showcase vibrant and diverse musicians performing everything from gospel to salsa to afro-beats; ensuring a musical feast for all attendees! The creative masters from around the world merge with the rich indigenous culture of Indonesia in the spirit of learning, collaboration and diversity. Book tickets at:

St Patricks Day 17th Mar So, it’s not a traditional Asian event, but that doesn’t mean

Nyepi commemorates the ‘Hindu Day of Silence’ from 6am to 6pm. The date marks the start of the Hindu New Year. Business and restaurants close during the day as the whole island observes a religious time of self-reflection and contemplation. Bali’s usually bustling streets and beaches remain empty with restrictions on travel, entertainment, eating, working, even talking. Although primarily a Hindu festival, non-Hindu residents respect the occasion and tourists are expected to observe the rules. Bali’s only airport is closed for the day.

Originating in Australia, Future of Music Festival is world class festival with a blow out set list. Since 2012, the festival has taken to the stage in Malaysia’s multicultural capital Kuala Lumpur and has quickly become SE Asia’s biggest music festival! This year includes performances by over 70 international and local artists including Pharrell Williams, Macklemore, Ryan Lewis, and Will sparks. People are flying in from all over to take advantage of so many music chart toppers in one place - event organisers expect over 85,000 fans! Taking place at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium Showgrounds, tickets can be purchased from the site:

National Muay Thai Day & ‘Wai Kru’ Thailand 17th Mar Malean Sampi Lombok, Indonesia April With ‘Malean’ meaning ‘to chase’ and ‘Sampi’ meaning cow, in local ‘Sasak’ language, you can pretty much guess

A day to celebrate the national sport of Thailand, known in Thai as ‘Nai Khanom Tom Day’. Events are held at various rings throughout the country, while major events take place in Ayutthaya. It is also the day when students

Malaysia Grand Prix Speang, Malaysia 28th - 30th Mar Fast cars, loud noises, attractive women and rich folk descend on the capital for the exciting Malaysia Grand Prix. Most backpackers probably can’t afford the sharp rise in prices that is inevitable with such an event, but if you feel like treating yourself – or made it part of your bucket list to watch an F1 Grand Prix - there aren’t many better places than colourful KL!

Boracay Dragon Boat Festival Boracay, Philippines 24th - 27th Apr An ancient Chinese sport, long boats are raced on the pristine island of Boracay in the Philippines in an anual competition. Dragon boat racing was actually only introduced to the island in 2001 as the ‘Boracay Island Paddlers Association’ was asked to help promote Borocay as a sporting destination. After tanning on Boracay’s incredibly white sands, this event adds the perfect bit of action to the day!




wo days of jam packed jazz performances! Starting bright and early at 7am each morning the saxophone won’t stop until midnight arrives... This year’s Borneo Jazz festival (previously known as the Miri International Jazz Festival) will be held on Friday May 9th and Saturday May 10th in Miri, Sarawak and will feature performances from various international musicians. This year’s festival includes an impressive list of performers (check out the artist’s spotlights), musicians who are at the forefront of the World Jazz Scene. Combining acoustic talent with impressive vocals, this years line up is one sure to get you on your feet and jiving to the smooth tones and delicious beat. Each year the festival is made possible with the help of over 200 enthusiastic volunteers. Offering interested participants the opportunity to help in the shows technical aspects as well as more basic labour focused jobs. Helping out can be a great way to gain access to the shows and also gives you the chance to pick up some new knowledge about the world of jazz!

AMAZING LOCATION… On the island of Sarawak, Malaysia lies the magical town of Miri, home to this years Borneo Jazz Festival. A brilliant clash of small village charm and big city amenities, this jungle town is the perfect backdrop for this year’s Jazz festival. When the music winds down, you’re perfectly positioned to head off into some of Sarawak’s most impressive national parks or if you prefer to stay in the city there are beaches and nightlife right at your doorstep!

ARTIST SPOTLIGHTS… The Shuffle Demons from Canada Known as much for their playful performance as their incredible musical talent. Expect these five musicians dressed in wacky outfits to jump right into the audience, giving you a close up glimpse of their dynamic skills. Anthony Strong from the United Kingdom Recently signed by the same record label as Adele, Strong is quickly making a big name for himself. England’s, “new jazz superstar” his recent EP already made #1 on the UK Jazz charts. Diana Liu from Malaysia Local artist who got her big break after placing 2nd on the program Project Superstar. Recognized for her talent as a composer, pianist, and vocalist. Check out her recent album, Sunny Days. Vocal Sampling from Cuba An all male sextet that takes the rhythms of Latin America and turns them into unique a cappella performances. Three time nominees for the Latin Grammy’s these guys are sure to bring a hefty dose of energy to this year’s festival.

TICKET INFO… Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased via the festivals official website Be sure to check out the complete list of performers featured at this years event!



Answers on page 70.














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





20 24





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




Down 1. Usual 2. Fibre for making rope 3. Flower 5. Absurd 6. Foreboding Evil 7. Barbs 8. High Muslim Woman 13. Birthright 15. Drape 17. Arachnid 18. Type of quartz 19. Bright trail in sky 22. Small bird 23. Rafter



Sairee Beach, Koh Tao, Thailand

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

Personalised service & small dive groups (4 people max)

It’s more than just getting wet!

BRAND NEW Equipment for 2014: Dive Computers, Compasses & optical lenses, new rooms & three swimming pools!

FREE WIFI & Dive Insurance Email: Tel: +66 (0) 77 45 61 64 / Mob: +66 (0) 87 26 53 533


4 9


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




1. Of the nose 4. Physical exertion 9. Determination 10. Large animal, in short 11. Friend 12. Imaginary creature 13. Not her 14. Dull pain 16. Too 18. The whole of 20. Separation 21. Cheese 24. Type of play 25. Quiver 26. Graded 27. Musical scale





1. What is the tallest mountain in South East Asia? (a) Hkakabo Razi, Myanmar (b) Mount Kinabalu, Malaysia (c) Puncak Jaya, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia 2. Which city in Thailand has the longest name (in Thai language)? (a) Bangkok (b) Kanchanaburi (c) Chiang Mai 3. What is the most common surname in Vietnam? (a) Minh (b) Nguyen (c) Jones




he heavy silence I'd maintained for the past hour and a half hung about me like cold, damp blanket. I'd just finished my visit to Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, formerly known as Security Prison 21, or S-21. This was the largest secret prison maintained by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge during their nearly four-year genocidal reign over Cambodia that resulted in the death of around two million people, or a quarter of Cambodia's population. Today, the building, a former school, remains almost the same as it was on January 7, 1979 – the day it was evacuated due to the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia. If they could speak, the dirty yellow walls would tell horrific stories of torture, forced confession, and murder. Eerie rooms containing nothing but a bare metal bed frame, and a picture of a corpse on that very frame, stand as a testament to the crimes against humanity that were committed at S-21 against thousands and thousands of innocent, terrified Cambodians. Even more unbelievable are the constructed prison cells that fill other rooms in S-21: makeshift brick-walled cells measuring a mere ‘one by eight meters’ crowd the former high school classrooms. This was where prisoners were made to live, in silence and fear, for days, weeks, and months, before they finally gave into exhaustion from interrogation, starvation, and torture and confessed to fabricated crimes. After providing a false confession, the prisoners were taken to the nearby Killing Fields to be murdered and buried in mass graves. Estimates vary, but most believe that somewhere between 14,000 and 17,000 Cambodians came through this prison. Out of that number, only a handful survived. As I was walking away from the prison, my mind felt like it was both blank and racing at the same time, trying to process and comprehend what I had just seen and experienced. The weather was drizzly, and I had a poncho on to protect me from the rain. My hood was up, and I had tunnel vision as I aimed for the gate to get myself out of this godforsaken place. As I was walking, I heard a woman calling out, "Survivor. Survivor." I barely heard her through my own thoughts and my crinkly plastic

By Eliza Arsenault

poncho hood, but something made me turn to see what she was talking about. Sitting there was an elderly man, aged about 80. The first thing I noticed were his eyes. Cloudy yet clear, brown and blue at the same time, and filled with both hope and pain. They were the eyes of Chum Mey, one of the very few survivors of S-21. Mey is now 82 years old, but he was 47, with a wife and four children, when he was taken away to S-21 on October 28, 1978. He lived there for about two months, enduring questioning and torture; the prison guards of the paranoid Khmer Rouge regime interrogated him, asking him who he was working for and who else was involved. Mey endured as much as he could, but in the end, as with all prisoners at S-21,eventually confessed to crimes he did not commit and named names of innocents in order to avoid further torture. When Vietnamese invaded Cambodia in 1979, Mey and the other prisoners were marched away from the prison. Once they were away from Phnom Penh, the guards ordered the prisoners into a rice field in order to gun them all down. Mey escaped, but his wife and newborn child did not. Mey lost his entire family to the Khmer Rouge. Today, Mey is the director of the Victims Association of Democratic Kampuchea. He has also appeared as a witness in the trial against Kang Kek Iew, also known as Duch - one of the heads of the Khmer Rouge regime, who is now in prison for life. Mey spends many of his days sitting outside of S-21, interacting with patrons and sharing his story. He has also written a book - Survivor: The Triumph of an Ordinary Man in the Khmer Rouge Genocide – about his life and his time at S-21. He is an unbelievably strong survivor to sit outside S-21, his former place of torture, in order to educate people about the horrors of genocide. He hopes that through education and awareness, the horrors of the Khmer Rouge will not be repeated again. Although the work is difficult, and the story painful, the retelling of this story is necessary to help people see and understand the atrocities of genocide.





he Little Village English School of Kep, Cambodia is a big success story. Some people dither and worry their way into stagnation before they actually get busy changing the world. Not Tracy Stettler. She and I met on Boxing Day 2013 at a guesthouse in Kep, Cambodia. I was getting ready to move on. She was getting ready to stay. We bonded immediately over our shared California background, horrendous bus journey to get here and titter-filled tales of Khmer men. Thanks to the magic of social media, I’ve been able to follow her efforts to launch a free school for children in this beautiful former French resort town. Every day I’m inspired by her ‘hutzpah’ and how-to. She didn’t ask an aid organization to forge her path for her. She saw what needed to be done and got down to work. She has made a life for herself in Cambodia and lifted the lives of countless others in the process. Tracy, you’re my hero. What was your life like prior to moving to Cambodia? In the year prior to moving to Cambodia, I left my job as a Field Marketing Manager for Walt Disney Studios, moved back to Los Angeles from San Francisco, ended a long term toxic relationship, started my own online retail recruiting business and became a stay at home aunt. But as luck would have it, right after I started my business, the economy took a nose dive and the job market was in shambles. I had really reached the point where I was unhappy with my life and felt like I needed to make a drastic change. At the time, I didn’t even own a passport but I decided I wanted to travel and find a place where I could go and teach and give something back. It’s always been a goal of mine to visit Thailand but in the end, I felt like Thailand was a cliche location for Westerners looking to teach English and I felt like I could be more helpful in a country underserved by ESL Teachers.


By Linda Stansberry

What made you decide on Kep? Originally, my plan was to settle in Phnom Penh and with resume in hand, locate a decent ‘paid’ teaching job. My plans quickly changed when I arrived in Cambodia at 2am and hit the streets of Phnom Penh in a tuk tuk. Maybe it was the jetlag or the fact that I had never really travelled outside North America before that time, but I was very overwhelmed (scared as hell) with the sight and smell of such large scale urban poverty. It was just me, alone in a tuk tuk with everything I owned and no real plan to speak of.

The following day, I decided that Phnom Penh didn’t feel right to me and after all, if this was going to be my new home I needed get out and explore Cambodia. I figured that I would instinctively know when I had found the right location. Don’t believe the myth that you can just walk into a school armed with an American accent and get hired on the spot. Even with qualifications, and a nice appearance it’s just not that easy! In Kep I met a tuk tuk driver who invited me to have a traditional Khmer lunch with him and a few other guys. We sat outside drinking beer, eating crab and engaging in conversation ranging from who the best boxer is today (Manny Pacquio, of course) to what happened to Michael Jackson. That was really the turning point for me. I knew then that I loved Cambodia and I adored the Khmer people, and my tuk tuk driver Thy and I have been great friends since that day. In fact, he has helped me in more ways than I can count. Kep is kind of known as the little sister of Kampot--a sleepy little seaside town facing the Gulf of Thailand. Mainly it’s famous pepper crab. The main attractions in Kep are the Crab Market, pepper plantations, the old French colonial style mansions that were gutted during the reign of the Khmer Rouge and Kep’s close proximity to Rabbit Island. The latter being my favorite weekend get away spot for relaxing, swimming, and eating some killer shrimp sandwiches. The water is clean and the modest bungalows generally average $5 USD per night. Kampot on the other hand is a busier riverside town with tons of cheap guesthouses, a diverse range of food options, several bars and crabby old ex-pats who now call Kampot home. Tell us about your early experiences with the locals and the children. Cambodian children are really amazing. Always smiling and saying hello to the Westerners. My first experiences with the kids in Kep were incredible. The kids are always smiling, laughing and love to greet the foreigners with a hello and sometimes the more daring ones will even throw in a “whatisyourname?” They love it when you speak to them in Khmer. Many of my students at the public school come from the local ASPECA orphanage and I would like to eventually open a second school to help provide them with good English language lessons. At present, our village school is too far for them to travel safely. What made you decide to open a school? Most children in Cambodia live within the grip of poverty and the older generations depend on them in order to survive, whether it’s leaving school at an early age in order to work and support the family or tending to younger siblings while the parents go out and work. Education is absolutely essential for children to have a prosperous future in Cambodia. Our school currently provides English lessons to 50+ of the poorest children in Kep.The school is located within the Uhn Phnom Toach village a short distance from the Seh Sah market and the famed white horse statue. The majority of the students live within the village and are extremely poor. Most of their homes are stilted shacks with little more than four aluminum or grass walls and a roof. They have no running water which means no clean drinking water and no bathrooms.

The school is open to all children regardless of age and ability and their families will never have to pay in order for them to receive a quality education. A portion of the donations received have also gone towards healthcare, new school uniforms, feeding the children and purchasing school supplies they can use in public school as well. We have even stepped in to help a family keep their home. After I made the decision to open a school here in Kep, I learned about a small house that was for rent in the countryside. When I went to go check out the house, I was met by at least a dozen eager and curious children along with their families and I knew this would be the perfect location! It was really in bad shape but I knew that it had the potential of being a great little schoolhouse. The kids and I spent the first few weeks cleaning it, removing all of the wildlife residing inside (including frogs and snakes!) and sealing up some holes. We went through at least 10 gallons of paint in order to cover up the concrete walls and mismatched brick. I don’t think anyone really believed that I would be able to transform it into an actual schoolhouse but it turned out really well. It was important for me to give the kids an environment that was better than anything they’ve had seen before. I decided to give the students the final say as to what the name of their school should be. One that I received from one of my younger students during a roundtable was “Kep School of Ice Cream.” We decided to go with something a bit more conventional. Are the kids enthusiastic? If the children could have their way, they would attend school seven days per week. Hopefully we will be able to hire a second teacher soon. Currently, our classes are held in the evenings Monday through Friday and most of the children are so eager to study, they arrive one-two hours early. It’s funny because many of them will come inside and ask me if we can start yet - they don’t want to wait. What has transitioning into the culture been like? Transitioning into the culture has been extremely easy. I think in large part because all of my friends here are Khmer. They’ve really adopted me as their own. The most frequent question that I get asked is whether or not I’m married and if I want a husband. Western woman generally do not date or marry Khmer men here in Cambodia but I decided to buck the trend. Who knows, maybe I’ll end up with a Khmer husband after all! I can’t really see myself moving back to the States. It’s just a very uncomplicated way of life here. I love what I do and have never been happier, so I’d have a hard time giving that up at this point. How can readers support your efforts? To help make a donation to the Little Village English School of Kep please visit - and check out our new blog at: Interview by Linda Stansberry: Linda is a freelance writer who lives in Northern California. She and Cambodia are deeply in love and trying to make a long-distance relationship work!





yanmar. Whether newly-discovered for some, a long-awaited and deferred trip for others or on the itinerary of backpackers hitting South East Asia, the country formerly known as Burma is shooting straight to the top of travel plans. The ‘Golden Land’s’ allure to visitors stems in part from its recent a history - a formerly-closed country steeped in history and shrouded in mystery. Many are drawn to the more popular icons of the country - the spectacular Shwedagon pagoda in former capital Yangon, the ‘field of temples’ in Bagan, the ancient royal capital of Mandalay and the majestic beauty of Shan State with its unique Inle Lake. Together, these ‘must-visit’ destinations form the standard ‘loop’ most tourists to the country will traverse. Missed by many travellers, however – and even hidden to some locals and more intrepid explorers – is the vast range of locations and activities on offer in this vast country. Want to visit the house where George Orwell lived and wrote ‘Burmese Days’ and some of the famous novel ‘1984’? Not sure why ‘The Ten Flowers’ (the ten traditional arts of Myanmar) are so important, especially after censorship was lifted? Tired from trekking and want a five-star pampering at affordable prices? Long-established local tour agency Myanmar2Go teamed up with S.E.A Backpacker Magazine to bring you ten alternative activities in Yangon, which will immerse you in the life, history and activity of the country often missed by many. If you’ve already done ‘the loop’, maybe it’s time to start planning that second visit!


Photo by Diana Reyes -

1. Step Back In Time: Yangon Heritage Buildings Tour

Yangon is one of the last remaining Asian cities with some of its grand colonial buildings still intact. The country’s lack of development during the period of military rule has led to these buildings remaining, yet in some cases dilapidated and neglected. Now, an international effort, locally-led, aims to save these buildings from demolition to give way to the glass and steel that dominates most cities around the world.

From the crumbling Pegu Club or the Secretariat, the behemoth that served as the headquarters for the British administration of the country, to the impressive parade of architecturally-breathtaking buildings lining Pansodan Road and Strand Road which now serve as hotels, embassies and restaurants, each building’s history and function are as remarkable as the buildings themselves. A guided walking tour of the city’s colonial ‘quarter’ can enrich your understanding and appreciation of the buildings and the role they played in Myanmar’s recent history, which can help you grasp why there is so much worldwide interest in the country as it reengages with the outside world.


2. Your Own ‘Burmese Days’: Visit George Orwell’s House

George Orwell lived in Katha in 1927 when serving as a policeman in the British colonial regime. His life and experiences in Katha formed the basis for his book ‘Burmese Days’. The Myanmar government has recently lifted restrictions on tourist access to Katha, so you can use a local tour company to arrange a visit via boat from Mandalay. You will need to spend a night on the boat during the journey. After reaching Katha, you can visit George Orwell’s house, as well as the former British Club, now a corporate office building. The tennis court of the club, mentioned in ‘Burmese Days’ has been restored from its former state of disrepair.


Tours can include lunch at the house for groups of 10 people or more. When in Katha, you may also want to check out the market and observe daily life around this community hub. With some planning and advance permission, you can add an extra layer of adventure to your visit with a two-hour train ride to Na Ba through a majestic teak forest – not an experience to pass up on.

3. SIT STILL: Meditate in a BURMESE monastery

Let’s face it – South East Asia is full of temples. At first, they’re incredible and unlike anything many visitors have seen before. After you’ve seen more than a few though, they start to blend into one and its hard to remember which one is which. But monasteries are more than just gold-leaf stupasand statutes.

They’re workshops, environments constructed to support the life and activities of Buddhist monks as they endeavour to understand and apply the teachings of the Buddha and guide the practice of lay people who support the monks and come to the temple to practice. For the abbots of some monasteries, the grounds serve as a center of operations from which community activities ranging from healthcare to education are conducted and managed. Monks and lay people at monasteries alike are usually more than happy to talk to overseas visitors, and you shouldn’t be afraid to approach them. Even if their English skills are poor, you’ll usually end up with a guided tour of some of the highlights of the temple. For monks, however, you should avoid shaking hands or touching them out of respect for their rules and practice. It used to be said that one of Myanmar’s biggest exports to the world was meditation, in the form of accessible techniques and revered teachers invited to give instruction all over the world. For many Myanmar, regular meditation is as much a part of daily routine as brushing one’s teeth. You’re more than welcome to sit in suitable areas of a monastery and practice meditation if you already do so. If you want to find out more, you’re in one of the best places in the world to learn and ask questions! You’ll walk away from a monastery with plenty of books, pamphlets or CDs in English about Buddhism and meditation, eagerly distributed by Buddhists enthused that meditation is of interest to others overseas. Depending on the monastery you visit, you can learn a lot from the daily lives of monks (including novices). In Yangon, you can visit the “Mahasi Monastery”, especially during lunch time, which is usually around 11am as monks may not eat after midday. You will be surprised to see hundreds of monks lining up to go to the mess hall in a peaceful manner.The monastery is very famous for meditation instruction and regularly hosts international meditation practitioners on group or self-organised retreats. Instruction is available and many different languages can be accommodated. Note that you can’t stay overnight on a tourist visa. You can also visit the ‘Naga Hlainggu’ monastery, a teaching monastery for novices and monks. In Amarapura (near Mandalay), you can also take a look at ‘Mahagandaryone Monastery’, famous nationally for its strict adherence to the rules of monastics, known as the vinaya.

4. Bite-sized Myanmar – TRY Ethnic foods

Myanmar’s food scene is incredibly varied but little-known outside the country. As Yangon in particular attracts international visitors and expatriates, restaurants catering to all sorts of international cuisine are opening, while ethnic foods from across the country are increasingly available for those who have come from their home states. Only a tiny fraction of these are mentioned in guidebooks and they simply aren’t aimed at tourists (but do welcome them), so there’s no need to advertise; word of mouth among their communities is enough to keep them in business. For some places, a little bit of caution is needed when considering hygiene and preparation standards. For example, ‘Ma Phyu Mohinga’ is a typical Myanmar breakfast consisting of curried fish paste with rice noodles and fries (not French fries). Mohinga is ubiquitious and no preparation is the same since there’s no set recipe. Ma Phyu Mohinga, however, is a special treat. Feel Myanmar is a popular Yangon restaurant that is a frequent stop for tour groups. But there are others abound and often less crowded, such as ‘KhineKhineKyaw Myanmar restaurant’ where the Myanmar food – particularly salad – is served in a clean environment. If you want to try some ethnic food from elsewhere in Myanmar, ‘Shan YoeYar Restaurant’ in Yangon, serves many different Shan foods in a very clean and pleasant setting.

5. Bottoms up!

Myanmar vineyards Good wine isn’t just limited to the Old World or New World. Shan State in northern Myanmar is home to several vineyards set among rolling hills with stunning views, proving that vines can grow in the tropics. The mere existence of a vineyard in this part of the world is not the only thing that’s surprising; the presence and use of the latest technology and winemaking techniques,combined with some necessary experimentation to adapt to the challenges of producing wine in this part of the world yields a product which often impresses even other international vineyard owners! Even if you’re teetotal, a visit to the vineyards, such as Red Mountain or Aythaya, should not be missed. Well landscaped and offering good food, they are a pleasant and relaxing way to pass a couple of hours as part of your time in Shan State.


6. Wake Up And Smell

The Pyin U Lwin coffee Another product for which Myanmar isn’t yet on the map – but soon will be - is coffee. The centre of the country’s rapidly-growing coffee industry is Pyin U Lwin, formerly known as Maymyo. This charming small town, formerly the British summer capital when Myanmar was under military rule and now home to the major military training establishments, is worth a visit in its own right and its strawberry industry is already well-known. Coffee plantations form an increasingly large share of Pyin U Lwin’s economic activity, with several factories processing the coffee for local distribution. A local tour can be organised so you can see for yourself how your daily mug of coffee comes into existence! You can pick up bags of coffee – either as whole beans or ground - locally in Pyin U Lwin as well as in most supermarkets around the country, particularly in Yangon. Expats in Yangon often report converting to Myanmar coffee for their daily supply, thanks to its great flavour and low price. We have no doubt that delicious Myanmar coffee will soon be on the shelves of supermarkets internationally too. A quick piece of advice for your time in Pyin U Lwin – don’t take photos of soldiers or military bases. You wouldn’t in your home country, so don’t do it here! There’s much in this city far more photogenic to train your lens on.

7. Get Up Close and Personal:

Trekking in Kalaw Most travellers to Shan State will only ever witness its gentle natural beauty from the roadside or behind a glass window. But to truly appreciate one of the most unspeakably beautiful parts of the world, you need to be walk with nature rather than observe it from a distance. Trekking from Kalaw to Inle Lake takes three days and two nights, leading you through hill tribe villages, panoramic vistas and the very heart of local Myanmar life unaffected by the frenzy of development all the way back in Yangon. With the right

guide, you’ll be able to lunch and homestay with local families or sleep in peaceful monasteries, waking early in the morning to devotional chanting that reminds you of the non-material elements of life. Moreover, you will be able to visit and see a elephant camp on the way. A longer journey to Inle Lake than road transport but infinitely more rewarding, the trek isn’t strenuous and may well be the highlight of your time in Myanmar.

8. Don’t Look Down!

Take The Train Over

Goteik Viaduct Bridge Want to combine a ride on a 1950s train over a 100-year old steel bridge, against a backdrop of stunningly beautiful mountain scenery and have plenty of time to photograph experience? Only in Myanmar! Goteik bridge forms part of the rail journey between Pyin U Lwin and Lashio. During the two hour train ride you will see marvelous mountain scenery and traverse the enormous steel bridge connecting two mountains. Built by an American company and still in use, this bridge retains significant historical value. Be warned - this trip is not for the faint of heart. There’s a reason the train slows to a crawl over the bridge. Ask AFTER you’ve taken the journey for the explanation! You can alight at the next station after Goteik and come back with a pre-arranged car. You’ll mingle with locals on the train – where a little bit of Myanmar language will go a long way - as well as having some great photo opportunities to capture the rolling scenery that forms northern Shan State.

9. Explore Myanmar’s

Flourishing Art Scene Myanmar’s arts are deeply embedded in the country’s history and culture, particularly literature, lacquerware, painting and jewelry using precious stones or jade. There are many galleries in Myanmar where people can enjoy the works of talented local artists. While art is still subject to censorship, returning visitors to Myanmar have often commented that, since the new government took over in 2011, the range of art has certainly expanded, particularly nudes among serious artists, as well as pieces involving depictions of Aung San Suu Kyi. A great place to discover vibrant art culture is Pansodan Gallery (286 Upper Pansodan Street) and Pansodan Scene (144 Upper Pansodan Street), both founded by local artist U Aung Soe


Min and his wife Nance Cunningham. Located on the same street as each other in downtown Yangon, Pansodan Gallery is home to a wide collection of art for sale from local artists and hosts a buzzing open social gathering on Tuesday evenings. If your heart settles on a particularly inspired piece, U Aung and Nancy can help you find the most practical and economical way to take a piece of Myanmar home with you. Pansodan Scene, meanwhile, is a larger space for exhibitions and events, including documentary screenings. Live performances, storytelling nights, and other special events are also in the works. For the latest calendar, grab a copy of Pansodan Art & Culture Journal when you’re in town and see what’s on. You can also browse hundreds of books on Myanmar and at the same time browse various arts and carfts at the Myanmar Book Centre (55, Baho Road) and Nandawun Myanmar Crafts Centre, a one-stop shopping experience for book and craft lovers.

10. Call it a day… spa. RELAX with a well-

deserved pampering Normally spas and massage are associated with Bangkok, but next-door Yangon is home to a rapidly-growing day spa scene as hard-working locals and expats join tired tourists to unwind and relax after busy schedules of work or leisure. Yes, fun CAN be tiring! The premier day spas in Yangon are Inya and Thaya (check out and, each offering a full menu of spa treatments from massage and facials to nails and body treatments. Using international brands at very affordable prices, Inya’s garden retreat provides an oasis of escape from the hectic city outside, while Thaya’s location opposite a major shopping mall is the perfect mid-spree break!

The Tripadvisor reviews for each place pretty much speak for themselves, and people who come in for a cursory first treatment strangely find themselves coming back again and again for more. After travelling around Myanmar and experiencing what this incredible country has to offer, round off your time in the Golden Land with a relaxing wind-down before heading to the airport – both spas are close to the main road leading to the international terminal. You can reflect on your incredible experiences as you enjoy a cold, refreshing smoothie from the in-house Boost Bar while the miles of trekking and walking accumulated by your weary feet are massaged away by the deft hands of skilled masseuses. Check out: Inya Day Spa –16/2 Inya Road, Yangon and Thaya Day Spa - Building #17 3rd floor, Junction Square Shopping Center, Pyay Road, Yangon

Myanmar has so much to offer now, but the government hasn’t thrown open its doors to visitors quite yet, just unlocking a few rooms at a time. This means, as more travel restrictions are lifted, more parts of the country previously off-limits to travellers become accessible for exploration. Can you travel independently in Myanmar? Absolutely – it’s easier than ever before. But unlike many countries frequented by travellers, info is often hard to come by beyond the popular destinations. This is where a local tour agency can make a big difference, opening more of the country to explore. In many cases, hotel rooms – now becoming famous for high prices – are often substantially cheaper when booked through a local agent in Myanmar rather than by yourself in advance, on the internet or even walking in on the day. Myanmar2Go started life in 2002 to offer tours in Myanmar for international travellers. With a focus on tours that emphasise historical, educational and religious significance of Myanmar, you’ll experience a varied and fulfilling tour of one of the world’s most diverse and culturally rich countries. For more info, check out:



Sto the ry o Mo f nt h!

“People in town don’t understand”, says Mr Tee. He holds his arms out wide, looks around at his workplace, and laughs. “They think I’m crazy!” He laughs again – a short, sharp rat-a-tat - and shakes his head ruefully. Crazy? Maybe. What is certain, though, is that this wiry, smiley man has created something not seen anywhere else in Cambodia. At first glance, there is nothing particularly special about the setting. My girlfriend and I are sitting with Mr Tee at a blue plastic table, battling the early afternoon sun with a few cold cans of Coke and some very welcome shade. Around us is a token South East Asian mix of children and animals – Mr Tee’s kids and pets - while beyond the fence behind us a parade of motorbikes, tuk-tuks and cars kick up dust on the incredibly bumpy road into Siem Reap. In other words, the scene is a fairly standard one in these parts. It is only when we scrape back our chairs, leave the shade and venture out into the glaring sun that we can see why there is nothing ordinary about Mr Tee’s business. Stretching out in every direction are beautiful temples. Immaculately detailed, they gleam in the sun, while dragonflies collide overhead. “I did a lot of the building myself”, he tells me proudly. “The contractors didn’t understand what I wanted so I did most of the work”. I am impressed. Not everyone can boast about personally building a dozen temples, even in this wat-strewn country. Nearby a cat is sprawled over one of the temples, covering nearly all of the roof. I walk over and crouch down to get a better look. The temples, I perhaps should have mentioned, are just two feet tall and made of plastic. Welcome to Angkor Wat Putt, “the only crazy golf course in Cambodia!” It’s a bizarre place. The novelty temples, the fluorescent golf balls, the immaculate, wacky courses – it all feels completely alien here. “Most people in town don’t even know what crazy golf it”. Indeed, even Mr Tee was unaware of the game until recently, when a tourist brought it up in passing. His interest was piqued and he began doing some research. How did he do that in a country with no crazy golf courses? “YouTube and internet games”, he says, and smiles at how ridiculous that sounds. Inspired, he quit his job as a taxi driver-cum-tour guide and got to work. A couple of years have since passed and the course has been built and is in good shape. On most holes there is a beautifully detailed temple (based on those at Angkor) that you must putt your ball around or through – a tiny Ta Phrohm here, a miniature Elephant Terrace there. It’s good, old-fashioned, simple fun, and my girlfriend and I spent a very enjoyable couple of hours or so making our way through the course. For now, though, the course is something of a hidden gem. “I don’t have enough money to make posters”, Mr Tee says, “I should have done it when we first opened but now we need the money for other things”. Because of this the course is not advertised anywhere in the city, and the place is still under the radar. On the afternoon we visited we saw just two other groups. It’s a perfect antidote for those who are “templed out” by the crowds and size of the real thing. There are no tour buses or hawkers here. When we leave we thank Mr Tee and tell him that he should be very proud of what he has achieved. He tells us immediately that he is not done yet. His dream is to save enough money to buy either the land Angkor Wat Putt is built on (he currently rents it) or a completely new plot, to which he could move the course. Then, he says, he will be able to develop the site even further, making it bigger and better. If helping towards this goal doesn’t tempt you down for a couple of rounds, then Mr Tee’s very generous free-beer-for-every-hole-inone certainly will! Angkor Wat Putt is located on the left hand side of Angkor High School Road (7 Makara Road), about 2.5km east of central Siem Reap. If you ring them (012302330) they can arrange for a $2 tuk-tuk to take you from your accommodation and back again. See for more info.


By Joey Millar

A unique gift shop in Hue, Vietnam Follow the sign to try something different...’ Strolling away from the backpacker street, leaving the thriving hostels, busy bars and buzz of the DMZ cafe behind, I found myself stumbling upon a quaint little tea room. After being greeted by smiles from the staff, I took a seat and pondered over the many forms of reading material on my table: a drinks menu, a couple of charity leaflets and a mini book of Vietnamese sign language. I quickly learned that the tearoom and adjoining gift shop was run by deaf, mute and disabled local Vietnamese. All of whom make the gifts in the nearby workshop using recycled materials such as plastics, paper and telephone wire. I was soon presented with a complimentary bowl of nuts and a cold, sweet tasting green tea (I think!) and the waitress seemed rather impressed when I signed ‘thank you’ to her. Signing ‘WC’ was not quite as straight forward but after a few goes, they laughed and pointed me in the right direction! As I was enjoying my tea and peacefully studying the sign language book, I groaned as a coach load of tourists turned up and flooded the tearoom. As I always believe, things happen for a reason and this turned out to be of my benefit... A disabled member of staff switched on her mic and explained to the group the work that the organisation does. Staff members then brought round a huge basket of colourful telephone wire and told the tour group they would learn to make a ring using just this. I asked if I could join in and they were happy to let me choose three coloured lengths and helped me to make a very funky ring. I hung around as

By Lisa Marcantoni o

the tour group disappeared then asked the staff to help me to make another five rings which I bought for just a dollar each for my friends back home. It was great to see this successful project and skill of these people in action and this unique, random experience really made my trip in Hue. Moments like this is what travelling is all about. The project in Hue: ‘Healing the Wounded Heart’ Non-Profit Humanitarian Project. 23 Vo Thi Sau Street, Hue, Vietnam and

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! You don’t have to be Bill Bryson to send us an article (although, Bill - feel free to send one in, too!). Please send any articles, stories, book reviews or any random scribbling you like to: Real life travel stories from backpackers like you are exactly the kind of thing we’re looking for. Your journal’s packed with interesting stuff… why not share it with other travellers? (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!

The S.E.A Backpacker Team 51









hen I read about a new trip by Hanoi Backpackers Hostel entitled ‘The Buffalo Run’ I was intrigued. Was this the Vietnamese equivalent of La Tomatina? The Spanish festival where locals (and some stupid tourists) run with the bulls in the town of Bunol, except with buffaloes involved? Or would taking the tour mean that I would be travelling the length of the skinny country on a grumpy buffalo with my rucksack strapped on the back? I never did get to find out why it was called the Buffalo Run... but what I do know is that I had an awesome time during the seven-day, actionpacked adventure! The tour begins from the legendary Backpacker Hostel in Vietnam’s crazy, atmospheric capital, Hanoi, and finishes 990km south in the charming town of Hoi An, renowned for its streets of tailors, kitting out grubby backpackers with cheap tailor-made gear for when they finally return back home to normal life and discard their beer singlets and Havianas.

CUC PHUONG NATIONAL PARK There were 14 of us altogether on the trip, which was the perfect number to get to know everyone really well and also have enough variety within the group. At 9am, we left Hanoi’s bustling streets by bus and by 12 noon we arrived in beautfiful Cuc Phuong National Park. 120km southwest of Hanoi, the park is the oldest National Park in Vietnam. With steep limestone mountains jutting out of lush green rice terraces and a dense forest backdrop, the park is home to some of Asia’s rarest flora and fauna, such as the clouded leapord, Delacour’s langur, Owston’s civet and Asian black bear. First, we took a trip to the Primates Endangered Rescue Centre (EPRC) to learn about the work of the organization in the process of rescuing, rehabilitation, breeding, research, and conservation of the endangered primates of Cuc Phuong into the wildlife again. The Centre is home to over 150 primates, including six species, which are kept only at the EPRC and nowhere else in the world. After that, we jumped on motorbikes to ride deeper into the depths of the National Park. On the way we stopped at a hidden cave in the jungle. Apparently there are many caves within the park, including the ‘Cave of Prehistoric Man’, the site of one of the earliest discoveries of human habitation in Vietnam, dating back 7,500 years! It was so great to be exploring with the freedom of two wheels, riding along empty roads in such beautiful surroundings. In the evening, we had a delicious dinner all together and afterwards took a night hike through the jungle with a local guide. Prepared with torches and sprayed head to toe with insect repellent, we saw incredibly weird looking and brightly coloured bugs. The jungle really came alive at night time with deafening sounds and movement all around – this walk is not for those with arachnaphobia


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as we encountered poisonous spiders that were as tall as my hand! The next day served mainly to move down further south the Ho Chi Minh Trail – a historic route, shrouded in secrecy, which allowed communists of the National Liberation Front of Vietnam during the Vietnam War to travel south to Saigon. With the exemption of some stops to take photos, have lunch and go to the restroom, we spent most of the day on the bus. So it was delightful to arrive at a really nice hotel the same evening.

PHONG NHA KE BANG NATIONAL PARK The spectacular Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park was our destination for our third day. The Park lies in the Quanh Binh province of north-central Vietnam and is rich with natural wonders, most of which have only recently been discovered. Phong Nha Ke Bang has only very recently gained international acclaim as home to the most majestic cave systems in the world – some over four million years old – that have been formed due to the purity of the limestone here, and the multitude of rivers flowing throughout its karst mountains. Over 170 new caves have been discovered by two British cavers Debbie and Howard Limbert since 1990. It was only in 2003 that the Park was listed as one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. We took a day-trip to what is now known as the world’s largest cave (Paradise Cave - Thien Duong), which was amazingly only discovered, (by the Limberts) in 2005! The scenery was epic. This cave has a length of 31km and the height can reach to 100m with a width of 150m. Only parts of it can be visited at the moment, as the process of exploration is still ongoing. Our group of young backpackers jointly agreed, that this would be a great place to enjoy an electronic underground party (an unlikely future for the newlydiscovered natural phenomena). That same afternoon, we enjoyed another delicious Vietnamese lunch in the jungle and took an afternoon dip in a hidden river. At this time of year, in July, the current of the water was strong and the temperature was rather chilly, so the swim was definitely refreshing to say the least! The scenery of the park was breathtaking and definitely some of the most amazing scenery I’ve seen in Vietnam, or even South East Asia so far! Everything felt so undiscovered and wild…

THE DMZ - A HISTORY LESSON After a day in nature, the following day, the Hanoi Backpackers crew mixed things up a little with a little history lesson, all about the Vietnam War, or American War, as they call it in this country. We drove to the DMZ, the former Demilitarized Zone – which was the dividing territory between North and South Vietnam. The narrow battleground terrain strip is just few kilometers deep and runs a hundred kilometers east to west across the country. The area saw some serious war action during 1954 – 1975 and ruins of old American military bases still exist.

UNDERGROUND VILLAGES One of the most interesting experiences was to walk through the underground tunnel complex of Vinh Moc. These tunnels sheltered more than 600 people between 1965 and 1972 and were originally built by the local villagers to protect themselves from intense bombing by the Americans. The villagers of Vinh Moc were accused of supplying food and armaments to the North Vietnamese communists and so the American forces designed bombs that burrowed down 10 metres into the tunnels. Incredibly, and testament to the resilience of the Vietnamese people, the villagers dug the caves to a depth of 30 metres. With wells, kitchens and family rooms, the cave was literally an underground village where 60 families lived and as many as 17 children were born within the tunnel walls! The way these people continued to make the most of their lives in the face of such adversity was inspiring.


After exploring the tunnels, that evening, we arrived in the city of Hue. Hue is a really beautiful town with the majestic Perfume River floating through the city centre. The next morning we took moto-taxis to ride to a temple outside of town and explore the most famous landmark, Hue Citadel, dating back to 1805, it was the home of the Nguyen Dynasty.

BEACH CHILL OUT That afternoon, after taking in all the nature, adventure, history and culture of the past few days, it was time to just kick back and relax! And where better to do it than the beach? Yes - it really does seem like Vietnam has it all with so much diversity cram-packed into this thin country. The beach was pretty remote and the Hanoi Backpackers crew wasted no time in setting up camp and making a delicious BBQ for us all! Most of the guys played soccer on the beach with some local Vietnamese kids. Although they did not speak any English, and we didn’t speak a word of Vietnamese, with smiles and giggles, communication worked out well and we had serious fun!

THE BEST RIDE OF MY LIFE If the previous five days seemed hard to match, the final day was undoubtedly my favourite of the entire trip! All 14 of us were given motorbikes and helmets (of course!) and drove an epic six hours from Hue to Hoi An. (There was an option for those who didn’t feel comfortable riding to take the bus, or take a motorbike with a driver). The road hugged the ocean all of the way and we made sure to take plenty of photo-stops, as well as stopping for lunch right on a deserted beach.


The second part of the ride in the afternoon brought us through incredible scenery of mountains, ocean and up close and personal with nature. The famous ride is known as the Hai Van Pass and for those Top Gear fans out there, you may have seen it featured on the program, where it was described by Jeremy Clarkson as one of the most beautiful rides in the world! For sure, this was one of the most jaw-dropping driving experiences I had ever experienced. At 10pm we reached our final destination, the Sunflower Hotel in Hoi An. Of course, as this was the last evening of our trip, we went out for a finale dinner and hit several (I forgot to count!) of the quirky bars in the city – as some of us would be going our separate ways in the morning.

STILL NO BUFFALOES All in all, (even though I didn’t get to actually run with the buffaloes in the end) the trip was an amazing experience – with a great mix


of learning about the history and culture of Vietnam, which I think is essential for anyone to gain an understanding of this country, as well as the incredible natural scenery and bio-diversity for which Vietnam is blessed. Unlike many tours I have experienced in Asia, I really don’t think I could have done the trip independently and got so much out of it! Plus the guys at Hanoi Backpackers made sure the whole trip was non-stop fun from start to finish. I would highly recommend the trip to any backpacker looking to cram as much as possible into their Vietnam adventure – and it’s great value for money, seven days with accommodation, transport, tours and food included for only $450 USD. So what next for me in Vietnam? After chilling out in the cafes and getting myself some tailor-made shorts in this beautiful town, I’ll travel further down the coast to the coastal resort of Mui Ne. If the wind conditions stay like they are at the moment, I can enjoy some great days kite-surfing there. Woo hoo! By Felix in Amerika and Nikki Scott.

...more than just a bed Because a Backpackers' Hostel should be MORE THAN JUST A BED! It should be a place where you feel safe, comfortable, relaxed and meet great people both that work there and fellow travellers. After all it's the people you meet along the way that make the places special.




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Books That Take You Deeper into South East Asia Spirituality •














ravelling is so much more than the simple act of moving from place to place. It’s the people you meet along the way (both locals and other travellers), the experiences that you file away in your memory, and the knowledge you gain of the world while you’re in it. Although there may be a trend to eschew guide books in favour of discovering more ‘off the beaten track’ experiences, I still think they are a valuable resource to travellers. They provide not only direction and recommendations, but also a glimpse into the history and culture of an area. They are a great starting point for delving into a country and a jumping point for further exploration. Guide books shouldn’t be the end of your journey into learning about the places you’ll be visiting; there are plenty of other books to read in preparation that will help you discover your destination...


History Books

Reading the stories of those who have gone before you can give a really good picture of what you're in for. Travelogues have become very popular not only in the blog format but also as published books giving a glimpse into life on the road. Some are funny, anecdotal tales of travellers skipping their way through a country while others offer more serious insights of a region and its culture, politics, and struggles. Choose those that speak to you; maybe the author is your age and travels in a style you like, or writes about a particular area you are interested in, or delves deep into a culture you'd like to learn more about. Travelogues are a very personal view of a place and are a great starting place in your research.

Tell someone to read up on the history of a place before they go and likely you'll see their eyes glaze over and their interest wane, but learning about what shapes a country can give great insight into how that place behaves today.

Here are two interesting ones: Stranger in the Forest: On Foot Across Borneo. Eric Hansen was the first westerner ever to walk across the island of Borneo. Travelling through the jungle, meeting tribes who had never seen an outsider, and relying only on himself to get through, he tells a tale that it both entertaining and fascinating. A great adventure story.

Tuk Tuk to the Road: Two girls in a tuk tuk travelling across Asia to raise money for a charity. These sort of adventures make great reading; they cover plenty of ground as they move from country to country and find themselves in odd situations because of it. Off the beaten track, interacting with folk who might not normally see tourists, and learning as much about themselves as they do about the world. An inspiring read.


History doesn't have to be dusty text books, memorizing dates, and remembering the great victors of wars. It can, in fact, be very interesting if you choose to focus of the pieces of history that draw you in. Learning more about the French occupation of Vietnam can help you understand why baguettes are so popular (and good!) in Saigon and knowing that the Dutch were everywhere during the war explains the plethora of Dutch words in the Indonesian dialects. History isn't boring if you weave the stories into your travels. Why not check out: Saigon: A view of Vietnamese history and the Vietnam War from a different perspective. It's a novel that follows French, American, and Vietnamese characters through an intense period of history. It's a sweeping, arching, story that teaches how history is perceived differently depending on where you're from. An informative and interesting story.

Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded. The eruption of Krakatoa was one of the largest explosions ever to have occurred on earth. This book is a great example of a natural, physical force having an effect on culture and history. The island known as Java, now in Indonesia, was then part of the Dutch East Indies - and so we learn about a part of the world that no longer looks (physically or politically) how it does today but that is heavily influenced by that history.

Memoirs A deeper look into a place can sometimes be found in the memoirs of those that have spent a tremendous amount of time there. They tell not only their own story but that of those around them, of the culture, the landscape, and of their impact on it. Phra Farang: An English Monk in Thailand. The author, Peter, had a long fascination with Thai Buddhism and eventually gave up everything of his life in England to become an ordained monk in Bangkok. His story give a peek behind the curtains of the life of an orange robed traditionalist. What makes it more interesting is his western perspective on this eastern life; there are just some things that cannot be achieved without having grown up in a culture.

I highly recommend you visit), and the culture of the people who surrounded him then, and now. It's an unpolished tale told from the heart that beckons back to days of simpler travel before the time of wifi and Skype calls. Worth reading.

By Gillian Duffy

About the Writer: A traveller, a blogger, a serial expat, an adventurer, a reader, a giant-stepper, and a Canadian. You can follow Gillian’s adventures, mis-steps, and personal journey at You can find more great travel books to help you go beyond the guidebook at

Wild Times: This is not a book that is widely distributed but should be. John Spies entered into northern Thailand at a time when it was just opening up to westerners and tourism (such as it was back then). With a love of hiking in the mountains, an adventurous spirit that has seen him map most of the caves in northern Thailand, and a commitment to the people of the area he tells the story of his early days in the region, the beginning of the Cave Lodge (which is still a functioning guest house that

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




By Tanya Procyshyn

How to Feast like a Singaporean: Insider Guide to Hawker Centers


ou won’t find noodle carts cluttering the sidewalks in Singapore, but that doesn’t mean street food culture isn’t alive and well in this infamously strict city state. In the 1950s, in efforts to make street food healthier and more hygienic, Singapore’s street cooks were relocated to shared complexes with modern amenities like running water. Here, the cooks stayed true to their street food recipes – many of which were brought with them when they immigrated to Singapore from China, Malaysia, or India – and the customers kept coming to enjoy the fresh, affordable food now served in a comfortable setting with tables, public restrooms, and even a fan to combat the tropical heat. This was the birth of the Singapore hawker center, which now number more than 100 and serve over a million meals per day! “Hawker centers are an important and central aspect to a typical day in a Singaporean life,” says Peiying Loh, a student at the National University of Singapore, “They are one of the few places that connects people from all walks of life and race.” If you walk into any hawker center and survey the hungry crowd it’s clear this statement is true – all Singaporeans dine at hawker centers, from corporate types who can only spare 15 minutes for lunch, to retired neighbors whiling away the tropical afternoon drinking iced coffee and playing chess, to uniformed students treating themselves to an after-school snack. The appeals of the hawker center are manifold. There’s the intoxicating aroma of dozens of spicy foods simultaneously being cooked, the convivial atmosphere and, of course, the opportunity for a reasonably priced meal in a country that boasts one of the world’s highest costs of living. With a typical hawker center meal costing $3-5 SGD, it’s easy to see why most Singaporeans’ minds turn to hawker centers when their stomachs start to grumble. “It’s a delicious and easy solution for a meal,” explains Peiying, “What you spend on a McDonalds meal could buy you three plates of chicken rice! That’s pretty cheap to me!” And just because hawker food is affordably priced doesn’t mean you’re sacrificing flavor or variety. Drawing from the country’s multicultural heritage, hawker centers offer Chinese, Malay and Indian food all under one roof. And as Singapore changes, so does the menu – you’ll now find hawker stalls serving Thai curries, Japanese bento boxes, Korean mixed rice dishes, Vietnamese soups and, yes, even hamburgers. But it’s the traditional Singaporean dishes that keep most customers coming back: “My favorite hawker center food has to be chicken rice. It’s comfort food to me, and I can smell it from a mile away!” says Peiying. As they truly offer something for everyone, it’s fair to say that you haven’t been to Singapore unless you’ve been to a hawker center!


Chef’s Specials... Can’t decide what to order? These are some of our favorite Singapore hawker dishes and they’re so common that every hawker centre will have a stall offering them.

Chicken Rice:

Don’t be deceived by the simplicity of this Singaporean staple of poached or roasted chicken with white rice – it’s delicious! The secret to the scrumptious rice is cooking it with chicken fat and herbs like garlic and pandan leaves. To complete the meal, it’s served with a bowl of broth, veggie garnish and side of homemade chili sauce..... $3-4 SGD.

Fried Carrot Cake: Not at all what it sounds like – but still delicious

– Singapore-style carrot cake is a stir-fry of rice flour dough, crunchy daikon radish bits, egg and spices. Order it “white” and it’ll look like an omelet or “black” for a chopped up version with extra soy sauc..... $3-5 SGD.

Kaya Toast:

Start your day the Singaporean way with toasted bread slathered with kaya, a jam-like concoction of coconut and eggs. Pair it with a strong cup of kopi (coffee) for a hawker center breakfast of champions..... $2 SGD.

Char Kway Teow:

This noodle dish is a heart attack waiting to happen, but a must-try at least once! Thick rice noodles are thrown in the wok along with prawns, cockles, Chinese sausage, egg and pure lard and stir-fried until irresistibly crispy..... $3-5 SGD.

Rojak: Fruit salad, Singapore-style. Chunks of pineapple, jicama,

apple, cucumber and tofu are tossed in a sweet-spicy sauce and topped with crushed peanuts. Eat by spearing each piece with the wooden skewers provided. Rojak typically comes in different sizes – small, medium or large – so is perfect for sharing..... $3-5 SGD.

BBQ Stingray: If you’re craving some of Singapore’s famous

seafood, we suggest you try this instead of an expensive chili crab. The stingray is slathered with a chili paste called sambal, wrapped in banana leaf to keep in the moisture, and grilled to perfection. Squeeze on fresh lime and dig in with chopsticks..... $10-15 SGD.


Tiger Beer: We know it’s not food, but it’s worth mentioning that

hawker centers are the cheapest place in Singapore to get a cold Tiger beer – half the price of a restaurant or bar and often a few cents cheaper than a supermarket. Don’t be surprised if you’re offered a glass and ice cube! $5-6 SGD for a large bottle.

Hawker Center Etiquette Don’t be intimidated by the chaos of a busy hawker center. Here’s a how-to guide that will have you chowing down like a local in no time! Get a table first. Where there’s good food there will be lots of people, so you’ll want to secure a table first and then go browsing the food options. Locals do this by leaving an item on the table - typically a packet of tissues, but it could also be a book or umbrella – a practice called “choping” in the local lingo. This also means if you see tissues on a seemingly empty table, don’t take it!


2. so there’s rarely a language barrier when ordering. Practically Order at the stall. The majority of hawkers speak great English

all stalls have an English sign displaying the dishes they sell and prices.


Bring your own tissues. Oddly, tissues are not provided at hawker centers and food courts in Singapore. Instead, it is common to see elderly people selling packets of tissues to diners – the going rate is three packs for $1 SGD. to use a hawker center restroom. Most charge a small fee that 4. goes toward cleaning and maintenance. Speaking of tissues, bring your own and $0.20 SGD if you need

5. there is no expectation of a tip! Leave the dishes on the table. Every hawker center has 6. cleaners, so you are not expected to clean up after yourself. Payment is in cash only – Singapore dollars, of course - and

THE BEST Hawker Centers We’ve never met a hawker center we didn’t like, but these rank among our favorites: Maxwell Food Center: A Chinatown institution! If you’re not in a rush, look for the stalls with a long line of customers and order from there – Maxwell is home to more than its fair share of ‘famous’ hawker stalls like Tian Tian Chicken Rice where you can expect a wait of 30 minutes for your meal. Tekka Market: In the heart of Little India, this is a multi-purpose building with sari shops, a wet market, and a hawker centre specializing in spicy curries, biriyanis, and roti prata. Get off at Little India MRT then follow your nose! Old Airport Road Food Center: Tucked away in a residential area, local foodies swear by this hawker center. Believe us when we say that everything is good here. Pasir Panjang Food Center: This is where the locals go for a late night feast of satay and seafood. It’s probably the cheapest place in Singapore to gorge on crab and stingray, plus conveniently connected to Pasir Panjang MRT station. East Coast Lagoon Food Center: Delicious and affordable food with an ocean view – what more could you ask for? About the Writer: Tanya Procyshyn is a Canadian travel writer & photographer who spent five years living (and eating!) in Singapore. Follow her on Twitter: @idreamofdurian and check out her travel and food blog at: www.




The Long Way Home By Anne Westerbos


he first idea started in Australia. Marc and I had been travelling through Australia in an old van, and really enjoyed the travelling overland. Consciously watching every kilometer pass, gives you a feeling of freedom. After a year and a half we were ready for some new cultures and a new continent. We decided to try to get home to The Netherlands overland, taking as much time as we wanted. The next seven months we spent in South East Asia. We had amazing times exploring all the different countries and cultures, and got a funny feeling in our stomachs every time we got a bit closer to Europe, seeing everything pass from a Thai train or a Vietnamese sleeper bus. Every free minute with WIFI access we spent researching the internet to find the best routes, the best stops and all the other in’s and out’s of organizing an overland trip that crosses three different continents. In South East Asia, we mostly just enjoyed the great beaches, and learned about new cultures, moving from place to place was not that difficult. Things changed when we got to Hong Kong. It was planning-time. We were making jokes about travelling being a fulltime job, more than 40 hours a week behind a computer in order to get the best experience on the trip ahead of us. After contacting many tour operators, and being shocked by the prices they offered us for the trains through China and Siberia, we decided to take a risk and book the tickets on the go. We still had to arrange a lot of visa’s for this trip and the best place to do this was in Hong Kong. (For Dutch people, Hong Kong is the only place where it was possible to obtain a Russian visa.). Unfortunately it took the embassy 12 days to put the sticker in our passport, and it left us just enough time to literally sprint to the Chinese embassy to make sure we would have our Chinese visa ready as well (only four hours! So quick compared to all the other countries in SEA) before we would leave for China. It took us one week to cross from South China to North China. All sorts of trains, and all sorts of classes. From sleeping among 60 burping and farting Chinese men, to super speed trains to Beijing. Beijing would be the starting point for our epic trip from Asia to Europe. There are three different routes from Asia to Europe. The Trans Siberian Railway (from Vladivostok to Moscow, only through Russia) The Trans Manchurian Railway (from Beijing to Moscow only through China and Russia) and The Trans Mongolian Railway (from Beijing to Moscow through China, Mongolia and Russia)

Our preference would go to the third and also most popular one: the Trans Mongolian Railway, simply because we would see the most diversity and we would get the chance to make a stopover in Mongolia. But before that would all start we couldn’t leave Beijing without seeing one of the biggest world wonders; The Great Wall. And great it was. Finally it was time to enter our first Trans Mongolia train. Our first stop would be in Ulan Batar, the capital of Mongolia. In order to get there we found out that we have two different options. Option one; buy a ticket with the Chinese travel agency for tourists straight to Ulan Batar, or Option 2; buy a local train ticket (with our minimal Mandarin language skills) to Erlian, the border town to Mongolia, spend the night there, cross the border ourselves by a dodgy Russian jeep, and buy a train ticket from the local Mongolian train station to Ulan Batar. We chose for the second option, but surprisingly a third option appeared when we arrived in Erlian. In a very small, almost unnoticeable, ticket office we were able to buy a ticket for the same train that had dropped us of in Erlian to continue our journey to the capital of Mongolia. We didn’t know that the train would stop for two hours, and without any problems we could hop on again, quietly giggling about all the other backpackers who paid triple the price for exactly the same ticket. Soon after we crossed the border with Mongolia, we saw the landscape changing. No glimpses of the Great Wall anymore but deserted plains with every now and then a horse or sheep. The views became unbelievable, such an empty, desolate country. We spent another night in a pretty comfortable carriage and the next morning we arrived in Ulan Batar. A bit afraid of what was awaiting us, because apparently this is the city with the most pickpockets. Lucky enough the manager from our hostel was waiting for us at the train station. In the car to the hostel we already realised that these people must be one of the happiest and funniest people we came across on our travels. In the hostel we met some pretty inspiring people (two Americans who travelled more than 166 countries!) who were happy to share a three-day tour with us to national parks nearby the capital. We took off in a four wheel drive to go and explore the nature and culture of this beautiful country. As soon as we left the city we were driving in

History of the route: The main reason for the development of the Trans-Siberian express was to do with the transport of goods, until then this was only possible by river or horse sleds and took months. In the early 1890s the Russians started building the tracks from Moscow to Vladivostok, and in 1916 the railway was finished. During the years additions have been made to the main railway. The first is the Trans-Manchurian, from Moscow to Beijing (only through China and Russia). This route is 8,988km long and takes six days to complete. The second addition was developed a lot later and is the Trans-Mongolian railway, also from Moscow to Beijing but going through Mongolia as well. This also takes six days to finish the 7,858km.


Destinations covered • • • •

Beijing Erenhot UlaanBaatar Irkutsk (Laike Baikal)

• • • • •

Moscow St Petersburg Helsinki Copenhagen Amsterdam

“After the first day on the train we got into a rhythm. There is nothing to do really. Breakfast, watch the landscape pass, read a book, lunch, find out which km sign we’re at. Every day the clock moves at least two hours backwards which makes the days even longer but I didn’t get bored. I could have looked through the window for days longer. Seeing the landscape change is amazing.”

big plains of nothing again. Mongolia is the country that surprised us the most, we didn’t know what to expect, but the people are so friendly, and their culture is really interesting. We visited several people from Kozak families as well as Mongolian. Every six months they pack everything and drive to new spot somewhere in the desert. They are completely self-sufficient and only visit the supermarket once every two months. The nomadic families hold their herds of sheep and goats, and produce their own fruits and veggies. Pretty amazing. The next day it was time to catch our train to Irkutsk. Only two nights in the train but - oh my what a border crossing it was! Eventually it took us 11 hours to cross the border from Mongolia into Russia. I was asked for my passport at least 20 times, and our compartment was checked for drugs, alcohol and illegal babies in the ceiling (really) several times, but eventually our visa turned out to be okay and we were good to go. Irkutsk was pretty different compared to Mongolia. English is an unknown language and people seemed a lot less friendly. Our hostel made a mistake with our booking and therefore we couldn’t do the tour to Lake Baikal, so we decided to do it on our own. Lake Baikal is an hour away from Irkutsk and pretty easy accessible by public transport. Since it was still winter when we were there, the lake was completely frozen. One white blue-ish plain where you could easily walk on. We couldn’t leave the town without trying the local specialty which is Omul a smoked fish caught from the lake. After our icy adventures in Irkutsk it was time to enter the train where we would spend the most time. 84 Hours in total. How do you prepare yourself for such a long train ride? We made sure to bring enough snacks for four days. Hot water is provided 24 hours so we decided to bring loads of instant noodles, tea and coffee. Some bread and cheese was a nice change from the noodles, and it was cold enough to keep the yoghurt outside the fridge. Life in the trains is definitely interesting. You never know who’s going to be your new roommate, you never know how much vodka you will drink that night, and you never know what turns conversations can take. The compartments in second class all have four beds inside. Two upper beds and two lower beds. The place is not much bigger than four square meters and therefore you are forced to live very closely with the other people in the compartment. Our first roommate was a very big and tall Russian man who didn’t speak a word of English. Fortunately we brought our Russian Phrase Book and were we able to communicate about the necessary things. His body odor was not


too appealing and we were happy when he left the train after one night of trying not to breathe through our noses. During the second night our sleep got extremely disturbed by the loud entrance of a Russian lady. The next morning we found she was actually rather friendly and spoke a little German. With a notebook full of drawings, our phrasebook, and help from her daughter through the phone we got to know each other and she told us a lot about her job (sewing decoration for coffins, how random) and the Russian culture. After the first day in the train we really got into a rhythm. There is nothing to do really, but still. Breakfast, watch the landscape pass, read a book, lunch, find out at which km sign we are and what is going on there, listen to some music or watch a movie and have dinner. Also the time differences are strange. Every day the clock moves at least two hours backwards which makes the days even longer. I have to say though that I didn’t get bored even once. I could have looked through the window for days longer. Seeing the landscape change is amazing. But after four days without a shower or a clean toilet we were relieved we arrived in Moscow. Even though it was cold in Moscow, it was a great city, and we couldn’t stop staring at the amazingly colourful St. Basil’s church. Moscow is a pretty lively city, quite expensive, but definitely worth it. At one point we did finally get bored of photographing all the churches that looked like they had onions on the top. Our hotel room was by far the smallest we had ever stayed in (nothing but a bed really, not even space to get to the bed). Because it was freezing cold in Moscow, we just did a quick run through the city, and spent the rest of our time trying the Russian cuisine which we found refreshing after all the noodles and rice we consumed in Asia. Now, usually Moscow is either your starting point or your final destination. There are many flight options to most of Europe’s biggest cities, but we wanted to finish our trip overland. Therefore we decided to continue our journey by train to St. Petersburg, Helsinki, Copenhagen and finally Amsterdam, where our family were awaiting us after more than two years! A trip we will never forget. So many hours in the train, so many different people we met, but for me, most of all, the landscape changes you witness is the most incredible thing. Moving overland from Singapore all the way up to China and all the way West to Europe. The environment is changing, the people look different, the foods taste different. And seeing that happen, and feeling that you are getting closer to home every second you spend in a train, was the highlight of my trip.

Did you know? • • • • • • • • •

The route from Moscow to Vladivostok is the longest direct rail route in the world and entirely within one country. The journey covers eight different time zones 30% of the Russian export travels on the Trans-Siberian railway. Trans-Siberian is longer than the Great Wall of China and US Route 66. Mongolia and China use different gauge railways, therefore on the border all carriages have to be lifted to have their bogies changed. The whole thing including passport and custom control can take several hours. 19% of the route is through Europe and 81% through Asia. There are 990 stations on the entire network. Russian people consume 12 liters of pure alcohol a year on average, therefore the right drink to order on the train would be Vodka. The trains have four different classes. 1st class has compartments with two beds and a private bathroom, 2nd class has compartments with four beds and communal bathrooms on both ends of the carriage. The Platskart or third class is like a big dormitory sleeping 54 people with reserved places, and the 4th class is with no reservations, so big chance you won’t have a place to lie down.

Backpackers Guide - How to book! •

Determine your time limit, how much comfort you demand and your budget. The cheapest and most fun requires the most time. Book all your trains on the spot, with the risk that they might be full. But hey, that’s the adventure and will bring you the best local experiences! Check out the Tran-Siberian Handbook by Bryn Thomas Decide if you want to book the whole trip in one go through an agency or book along the trip as you go. If booking through an agent there’s a big difference per agency and per country. Quoting is free with no strings attached. Before you book, have a good look into visa’s - especially when you are planning your trip from another country than your own. It can be difficult to obtain visas for Russia, China, Mongolia. Hong Kong is visa heaven (depending on your nationality). Go with the flow! Find a local who can help you translate your order at the ticket offices. Especially in China and Russia, people don’t speak much English. Learn at least a few words in local language to break the ice. Make sure you bring some souvenirs for the friends you make on the train. Also take enough time to get off on the way, there are many interesting places to be seen! Make friends with the Provodnitsas, these are the ladies who in charge in the train, be nice to them and your journey will be all the more pleasant!



Just me, my bike & Kalimantan



o that’s the ferry ride from Semarang, Java in Indonesia to Pontianak, Kalimantan also Indonesia. A two night, three day, 800km odyssey that, highlighted by overcrowded sleeping quarters with minimal air conditioning (or even ventilation), everyone smoking inside, sleeping carpet crawling with bed bugs and a TV right above my head that is on 24 hours a day. Between trying to get some sleep while bathing in my own sweat, trying to work out where and when the food was served on-board and finding a quiet place where there was no one that would just sit next to me and stare (being the only white person on board and with my limited Indonesian, conversations quickly came to a standstill). I managed to busy myself with learning the skills to make a net that I later plan on using to make a hammock. Roadside rests will never be so comfortable. I still need some practice and it becomes apparent that so do some of the locals, as they begin arguing about the best way to teach me. The journey is topped off by the ferry nearly rolling over at the docks in Pontianak as the trucks are unloaded; the shifting bulk of the overloaded trucks carrying everything from vegetables to household appliances is almost too much for the flat bottomed ferry and in the end trucks already on dry land are employed to tow the other trucks off as the constant rolling of the ship makes the boarding ramp too steep for the trucks to drive off, even I reverse. This ended in exhausts being ripped off trucks amongst other carnage, which didn’t seem to worry the drivers who just rolled off down the docks, engines roaring as they filled the air with black smoke. As soon as I could get my bike off I was out of there, but not before a quick photo with the armed police that ride the ferry just in case pirates are encountered on the journey. A night in the port town of Pontianak on the west cost of the island dispelled any fears brought on by the warnings of locals in Java of the prevalence of black magic and voodoo and even the name of the town that directly translates to ‘Vampire’. A night ride on the


back of a local mans motorbike took me around the city and took in the sights which included the local cafes full of beautiful women who couldn’t help but stare at what may have been the only white man in town, more for the novelty of my presence than anything else. In the night markets a man offered to tattoo my complete back for $25 using the same piece of bamboo he just finished an ankle tattoo on a local girl with. Tempting as it was I declined. As the night wore on I grew more and more tired, my attempts to maintain a conversation in Bahasa Indonesia grew more and more feeble and all I could think of was going back to my hotel that had come with the warning of there being some noise through the night and a lot people coming and going. It wasn’t hard to work out what was going on there after my curiosity took me up to the third floor, past the local man sitting at a small desk at the top of the stairs that eyed me cautiously as I walked past and into the midst of a hallway full of scantly clad local women that all took an immediate interest in me. True to the hotel managers word though I wasn’t propositioned or disturbed by any of them, just pleasant conversation all round. Not to mention I didn’t have the money to pay any of them even if I had wanted to. But before I was allowed to retire, my guide insisted on visiting the khatulistiwa and, despite not knowing what it was he was talking about, he had been far too generous to me or me to refuse. So after bribing the security guard to let us in, I found myself standing on the khatulistiwa (aka the equator) for the first time in my life. The rest of Kalimantan was defined by near empty roads that were a lot better than I was led to believe, despite a few sections of deep mud and some motorcycle swallowing potholes, a free lunch of fried (everything in Indonesia is fried) prawns that ended in food poisoning in a tent the jungle that had me so delirious with fever and cold sweats I thought I had malaria (again), a visit to a military hospital that led to free military grade malaria drugs, riding past lines of trucks kilometres long waiting for fuel which was in such

By Rob Armstrong

short supply police were stationed at the pumps to ensure the rationing of 10 liters per person went ahead without any problems and sleeping amongst rubber and palm oil plantations (they are good for something) when I wasn’t being allowed to sleep in the homes of various locals that asked for nothing, and priests that only asked what my religion was before agreeing to let me stay. I quickly learnt to become a very devout religious man. It ended up being a game of ‘guess the right religion’ to get a nights accommodation free from awkward moments.

all my luggage down to the boat. At the other end of the boat ride the bike was essentially carried from the deck of the boat, straight up a ladder with no handrails and onto the jetty that sat about 2.5m above the level of the water by me and four Indonesians. Then it was off through the maze of wooden boardwalks that make up the streets of the fishing villages built high above the tide line that I’d been delivered into the middle of to find somewhere for the night.

But the real highlight were the Indonesian motorcycle communities that I met along the way. Once I had hooked up with one of them, they started to phone ahead and tell the other clubs along my path that I was on the way, so that I was constantly in contact with strangers or waved down from the side of the road by club members that were waiting for me to come through. As a result I now have an extended family throughout eastern Kalimantan and through the rest of Indonesia, a small pile of souvenirs from the respective clubs and even got put up in a hotel for a night that had hot water, a bath and air conditioning; things I hadn’t experienced in over four months. To top it all off, on leaving Berau I was not only treated to a full tank of fuel (all 30 liters of it), but even had a fuel pump turned on specially for me so I could jump the ordinary queue of local motorbikes and get on the road. And in typical Indonesian fashion, not a single complaint was heard from the line of locals waiting for fuel.

After a night of being disturbed from my sleep by immigration officers who all seemed to have heard there was a white man in town whose visa was danger of running out soon (they all left disappointed and empty handed after realising I still had one day left on my visa), I went in search of customs office to get stamps of the bike, immigration to get stamps for me and then to the harbour. The boat for the day, the one to Malaysia required the bike to be lifted up about 1 meter in the air to get it on the boat (the easiest loading so far) but the unloading in Malaysia was another story. The Malaysian side has about 20 or 30 locals all employed by the port to help unload the passenger ferries. As my bike was the last thing off, I had no shortage of helpers that wanted to help unload the unusual cargo. So as 40 hands with no leadership helped to lift the bike over the 1 meter-high railing of the boat and then pass it across 1 meter of open water, my heart sat firmly in my throat as visions of her slipping through all those eager hands and falling between the ferry and jetty before disappearing under the waves flashed into my head.

Indonesia was finished off by one of the most memorable boat rides so far. To date, all the boats have been roll on, roll off type affairs that can accommodate everything from passengers to buses. The boats in the northeast corner of Kalimantan are not designed for vehicles of any kind. The first involved sliding the bike down a muddy bank where the road ended at the edge of a mangrove swamp where an Indonesian man helped me lift the bike over the side of the boat, one wheel at a time, while his four children carried

Thankfully, through sheer number of hands grabbing at every part of the bike they could, more than any kind of coordinated effort, I watched as my bike landed safely on the jetty. Then it was up the ramp (as quick as I could to get away from the waters edge), down the stairs, through the narrow maze that is the immigration queuing area (like I said, no accommodation for vehicles of any kind) and into a quarantine area for the customs inspection before being released onto the streets of eastern Malaysia for the first time.




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: Despite it’s small size, Brunei is a very rich country whose wealth depends largely upon the export of crude oil and natural gas overseas. It is the third largest exporter of oil in Southeast Asia. Emergency numbers Ambulance: 991 / Fire: 995 / Police: 993

Cambodia: Currency: Cambodian Riel (US Dollars accepted) (Most ATM’s issue $US, not local currency and you can change these into Riel at a local currency exchange. Nearly all shops and traders (especially in tourist areas) will accept Dollars, or Riel, or even a mix of the two.) Exchange rate: $1 USD = 4,062 KHR Most shops and traders operate with an exchange rate of 4,000 Riel to the 1$US, but if you changed your dollars at a money-changer, you can get 4,050 -4,070 Riel to 1$US. 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 -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: The Apsara Dance is a Khmer classical dance and very important in Cambodian culture Performed by a woman in a traditional dress and crown, the apsara represents a woodland spirit and her graceful movements tell stories of classical myths. Apsara has it’s roots in ancient Hindu forms dating back as far as the 1st century. Emergency numbers Fire: 118 / Police: 117

East Timor: Currency: US Dollars Capital city: Dili Main religion: Catholic (90%) Main language: Tetun, Portuguese, Indonesian, English Telephone code: +670 Time: GMT + 9 hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: Ola (hello) Adeus (goodbye) Visa: Visa’s must be applied for in advance, as they are not granted on the land border. Passports must be valid for at least 6 months before entering. It is important to note that there are no currency exchange facilities at the airport or other border posts, so you will need to take cash before you travel. Visa extension: Visas can be extended for 30 days, costing up to $45. You must have a valid reason for staying. Penalty for late departure: Penalties range from $70 US - $150 US Dollar if the period does not exceed 30 days. Climate: The wet season is between December and April and the dry season occurs between May to November, with temperatures reaching very high. The best months to visit are between April and July. One random fact: East Timor, along with The Philippines is one of only two majority Roman Catholic countries in the whole of Asia. The influence of Catholicism dates back to the early 16th century when Portuguese and Dutch traders made first contact with East Timor. 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: Indonesia is the largest archipelago in the world. According to Indonesian government estimates, only 922 of the country’s 17,508 islands are permanently inhabited and only 8,844 of the islands have been named. Emergency numbers (Java) Fire: 113 / Police: 110 / Medical: 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 Vientiane or Luang Prabang 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: Sticky rice (khao neow) is a staple food in Laos and generally eaten with every meal. In villages you may see sticky rice lined on trays drying in the sun. For sticky rice with a twist, locals barbecue the rice with butter and egg to eat as a tasty, crunchy snack. 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: Malaysia is home to the world’s oldest rainforest, the Taman Negara. Remaining untouched by ice ages or volcanic eruption, it is an estimated 130 million years old. Emergency numbers 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: Mandalay was immortalized by Rudyard Kipling in his 1892 poem ‘Mandalay’ and later in the 1935 song ‘On the road to Mandalay.’ Kipling’s captivation with the country and a beautiful Burmese woman in particular is the central theme of the poem. Emergency numbers Ambulance: 192 / Police: 199 / Fire: 191

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 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 SM Mall of Asia in the Philippines, is the fourth largest shopping mall in the world located in Pasay City. It holds an olympic sized swimming pool an IMAX theatre and a 20seat tram to transport people around. Emergency numbers: 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: A huge statue of Sir Stamford Raffles stands at North Boat Quay in Singapore, an area which is said to be the spot where Raffles, the founder of Singapore, first stepped ashore in 1819. Emergency numbers Ambulance: 995 / Police: 999 / Fire: 995

Thailand: 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. You can also arrange a 60-day Tourist Visa at Thai Embassies in major cities of neighbouring countries. Then, when within Thailand, you have the option of a 30-day extension at any of the Immigration Offices throughout the country. The 60 day tourist visa costs approx US$40 and the 30 day extension costs 1,900 baht. 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: Located in Um Phang National Park on the border of Burma, Tee Lor Su Waterfall is the highest waterfall in Thailand. The park is about a three hour drive from Chiang Mai and remains largely unvisited by foreign tourists. 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, at a travel agency or in recent years online where you pre-arrange your visa for collection at the airport and do not need to send your passport off anywhere (Try - we’ve had good experience with these). Depending on where you apply for it and how long you mind waiting, (on average from 1-4 days), it can cost between $35$65 for a 30 day visa. You need one 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 major cities. 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: Hoi An is a beautiful UNESCO World Heritage city located in the central coast of Vietnam. During the 1st century the city possessed the largest port in South Was Asia. Today it is famous for it’s abundance of skilled tailors and many travelers leave the town with a new suit, or two. 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 15.2.14) 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.)




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rom the balcony of a friend’s apartment in La Quinta neighborhood in Cartagena, Colombia we watch children below dash in-and-out of family households where powerful sound systems paint the streets with Afro-Caribbean rhythms and decorate daily life with an acoustic backdrop. On this typical Wednesday evening, the neighborhood children run from house to house, pausing only to laugh and dance, often in pairs as if adults, in a scene that is perfectly Colombian. Music and dance are a natural part of life in South America. South America is a place that doesn’t allow you to quietly remain on the peripheral as a spectator - it reaches for your hand and leaves you with no other option but to jump in, get moving and become part of the family. From region to region and country to country, South Americans are eager to introduce you to their local culture and show you why there’s nowhere they’d rather be. The diversity of the people and landscapes in South America become increasingly evident with each exciting adventure and every new friendship. In Colombia, life bounces to its own distinct rhythm – a rhythm of festive music, sweaty dance, warm embraces, loud smiles and an expressive happiness for life. An Afro-Caribbean word exists for this particular rhythm of life – tumbao. Tumbao can be most closely translated to ‘swag’ or ‘swing’ but it generally refers to a way of walking through life with a lively energy that invites passion and joy into daily routine. If tumbao were a scent, the streets would be fragrant with the odors of people living daily life with an edgy and emotional, minuteto-minute sense of enjoyment. This festive atmosphere creates an environment where simply the act of walking with friends can easily unravel into a burst of dance, laughter and passionate conversation. South America is a continent buzzing with diverse rhythms. Don’t expect to casually stroll in - a roaring parade will celebrate your arrival.

Every week we’ll bring you snippets from our sister magazine, South America Backpacker. If that travel bug is still itching after South East Asia you know where to go to start planning your next adventure! By Joey Bilyk
















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Answers: 1. (a) / 2. (b) / 3. (c)

JUL AUG 2012 Issue#19


ISSN 1906-7674





48 ngo huyen, hanoi


9 ma may, hanoi


10 pham ngu lao, hue




South East Asia Backpacker Issue 29  

Download PDF for stunning travel photography, up to date articles & tales by backpackers, as well as insider travel tips! IN THIS ISSUE: Fe...