B 13 E F JAN E #22 ISSU
DESTINATION SPOTLIGHT: BANGKOK / SRI LANKA / mount kinabalu www.southeastasiabackpacker.com
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“Yesterday is but today’s memory, and tomorrow is today’s dream.” Khalil Gibran
Photo by John Einar Sandvand
an you remember where you were on this exact date last year? Chances are you probably can’t. But what if you were reading this magazine on Christmas Day? Or New Year’s Day? I bet if you really concentrated, you could cast your mind back to the last ten years of Christmases and if not recall the exact details, at least remember where you were and who you were with.
did you see Gran and Auntie Beryl with their Christmas hats and turkey dinner celebrating an age-old tradition in typical style? Did you feel lonely? Glad to be away from it all? Or did you still feel part of the ceremony even though you were far away? Whatever your feelings, if this is indeed your first backpacking adventure, you’ll likely never forget this particular Christmas as long as you live!
Whilst sending a lantern into the sky at Thailand’s Loi Krathong (Festival of Lights) in Chiang Mai this November, I thought about how important the event had become to me. I remembered the year before amongst friends casting a lantern on a beautiful beach in Southern Thailand; the year before that, setting afloat a candle-lit boat on a backstreet khlong (canal) in Bangkok; a few years before that, as a wide-eyed backpacker in Chiang Mai, I experienced the festival for the first time with new travel buddies I’d just met. I never would have thought that four years later I’d be living in Chiang Mai and running S.E.A Backpacker Magazine. Funny to think that a tradition which has now become so sentimental to me, five years ago, sat in an office in Manchester, I didn’t even know existed. Loi Krathong came and went without a lantern lit in England.
So why do us humans need such annual traditions and ceremonies? In a chaotic, random world, I think that traditions and rituals give life meaning - the circular nature of them - coming round year after year, seem to bestow some kind of order to the madness that is life. As the seasonal greetings come round once again, you’re able to take stock and reflect upon the year and what it has meant personally, to you. For many of us, these significant times can be emotional as you remember friends and family who are no longer with us.
These passed few festive months have been packed with momentous occasions for many religions and cultures – Loi Krathong, Deepavali, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year to name a few. Each one is important to a different culture in a different way. For many westerners, Christmas being an important one - you may have felt a bit weird being so far away from home – spending this special time in an exotic Buddhist country, feeling distant from family and friends. Did you Skype the old folks from the beach as you celebrated the day amongst friends playing guitar and eating pad thai? Looking at their world through the small video,
In short, festivals and traditions bring people together and give you a sense of belonging to the wider world. Raising a glass and saying cheers to other human beings on a special day whether they are lifelong friends or people you have just met, connects you in a significant way that can last a lifetime. Traditions are a link to the past and a precedent or a pattern for the future. They are something that will always lie in the bank of your memory, to either be recreated in the future or just recalled fondly. From Everyone at S.E.A Backpacker – Happy New Year!
By Nikki Scott.
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TOP RATED ATTRACTION
14: Thaipusam Festival, Malaysia 39: Don’t Miss! Event of the Month: Purma Kumbh Mela, India
FOOD: Cooking for a Cause at Time For Lime, Koh Lanta
CULTURE: Concepts of Beauty around the World
SKYSCANNER COMPETITION: Which Type of Traveller are You?
66: ANNABELLE on Massage 68: INFO: Visas, Exchange Rates,
Cover Photograph: Flash Parker
Climates & More
52: Chiang Mai Photography Tour! 54: South East Asia Faces & Places:
Life on Castaways Island, Halong Bay
Destination Spotlight: 18: LAOS: Meet Jack the Monk... 22: THAILAND: Bangkok Bucket List! 30: BORNEO: Climbing Mount Kinabalu 40: Off the Beaten Track: 10 Places in
Southeast Asia by Goats on the Road
Where Next? Motorbiking in Sri Lanka
Bangkok Bucket List... 22
Regulars: 8: South East Asia Map & Visa Info 10: S.E.A Backpacker Newsflash! 28: Local Portraits: Pai, Thailand 34: Word on the Soi:
What’s your Travel Grumble?
Events & Festivals: What’s On Guide
44: GAMES: Crossword & Sudoku 50: Traveller Thoughts, Stories, Tips 58: ARTS: A Network of Fibres at
Ock Pop Tok, Laos
en Off the Beat
Track in S.E.A
S.E.A Backpacker Co., Ltd.
Registration Number 0205552005285. ISSN NO. 1906-7674 www.southeastasiabackpacker.com Tel: 081 776 7616 (Thai) 084 553 8996 (Eng) Fax: 038 072 078 E-mail: email@example.com Backpacker South East Asia is Published by S.E.A. Backpacker Company. Managing Director: Nikki Scott. (E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org) Editor: Nanchaya Jaikaew. (E-mail: email@example.com) Deputy Editors: Nikki Scott, Karen Farini. (E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org) Sales & Marketing: Kitti Boon Sri, Nichawan Keawpuang. Accounts: Thipapan Jaikaew. Contributing Writers and Photographers: Nikki Scott, Laura Davies, Karen Farini, George Reed, Flash Parker, Darin Rogers, Derek Schimmel, Pamela McNaughton, Penelope Atkinson, Nisa Maier, Ulli Maier, Amelia Johnston, Donna Jackson, Ver Argulla, Benjamin Williams, Darren Wells, Chris Gelb, Kate Griffiths, Max Neumegen, Melissa Maslyk, Kathryn Feldmeier, Colin Roohan, Misha Patel, Jess Young, Ben BallMair, Carl King, Matt Lloyd, Nick & Dariece, John Einar Sandvand, Jeff Emmett, Emma Joynes, Zoe Jackson, Josalin Saffer. Design & Layout: S.E.A. Backpacker Company Limited. Nikki Scott, Laura Davies, George Reed. For advertising enquiries: Tel: +66(0)81 776 7616 (Thai), +66(0)84 553 8996 (Eng) Email: email@example.com For writing opportunities: Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
S.E.A Backpacker Magazine Legal: All material is strictly copyright and all rights are reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in whole or part without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. Opinions expressed in S.E.A Backpacker Magazine are not necessarily those of the publisher. S.E.A Backpacker Magazine does not accept responsibility for advertising content. Any pictures, transparencies or logos used are at the owner’s risk. Any mention of S.E.A Backpacker Magazine or use of the S.E.A Backpacker Magazine logo by any advertiser in this publication does not imply endorsement of that company or its products or services by S.E.A Backpacker Magazine. (c) S.E.A Backpacker Magazine, December 2012.
Where people in the know, go.
Chaisripoom Road Thapae Gate
Top North Hotel
Montri Hotel Ratchadamnoen Road
Changmoi Kao Road Amari Ridges
BACKSTREET BOOKS OVER 70,000 TITLES IN STOCK CHIANG MAI - THAILAND
Loi Kroh Road
34/3 Ratchamanka Road, Prasingh, Muang Chiang Mai, 50200 / 2/8 Chang Moi Kao Road, Chang Moi, Muang, Chiang Mai, 50300
MAP: SOUTH EAST ASIA Myanmar
Mandalay Bagan Kalaw
Taunggyi Inle Lake
Udomxai Chiang Rai
Mae Hong Son
Four Thousand Islands
Siem Reap Tonle Sap
Vietnam Nha Trang
Gulf Of Thailand
Koh Tao Koh Phangan Koh Samui
Ho Chi Minh City
Surat Thani Phuket
South Chin Sea
Koh Phi Phi
Malaysia Kuala Lumpur Medan Berastagi
Singapore Pulau Nias
V isa I nformation: Your passport photo here
Brunei Darrussalam: Nationals of most European countries, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and New Zealand do not need visas for visits of up to 30 days. USA citizens can stay for up to 90 days.
Cambodia: Most nationalities can obtain a one month tourist visa on arrival which costs approx $20. At land border crossings, notably the Thai/Cambodia border, the fee can be more expensive as the cost is paid in baht and can be rounded up considerably.
East Timor: Nationals from Europe, Australia, Canada and the USA do not need to arrange a visa in advance. They can be granted upon entry and cost $30 for 30 days. Portuguese nationals can stay 90 days on a tourist visa.
Indonesia: Nationals of Australia, Canada, USA, UK and most European countries are eligible for a 30-day visa upon entry, which costs $25 USD. The previous $10 7-day visa is no longer available. Laos: Most nationalities can obtain a 30-day visa for Laos at international airports / land border crossings. The cost ranges from $20-$42 depending on nationality. At the Thai/Laos border if you pay in Thai baht the fee will be more expensive.
Malaysia: Most nationalities are granted a free 30 or 90-day entry pass upon arrival at international airports and border crossings. Myanmar: Visas should be arranged in advance at a travel agency or embassy. Costs can range from $20-$50 for a 28-day visa, depending on where you apply and how long you wait. Philippines: Tourist visas are free of charge for most nationalities for a stay up to 21 days. For longer stays you should apply for a visa before you arrive at a Philippine Embassy. Visas for three months, six months or 12 months are available. Cost depends on duration of stay.
Singapore: Citizens of Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, the UK and most other European countries are granted either a 14 or 30-day tourist pass upon entry to Singapore.
Thailand: Most nationalities, including Americans, Australians and most Europeans receive a free 30-day tourist visa upon arrival into Thailand by air. However, if arriving by land you will only receive 15 days.
andar Seri Begawan
Vietnam: Visas must be arranged in advance. You can do this at a Vietnamese embassy in whichever country you are in and some travel agencies also offer the service. Depending on where you apply for it and how long you mind waiting, it can cost anywhere between $35 and $65 for a 30-day visa.
* See the information pages at the back for more detailed information, visa extensions and penalties for late departure.
At S.E.A Backpacker Magazine we try to ensure that all information provided is as accurate and up to date as possible. (Checked 20.12.12) The information in this section is vulnerable to change. Please advise us at email@example.com if information is invalid and we will be sure to rectify it.
Gili Islands Bali
Nusa Tengarra Flores
L E V A R T ! W NE ! S E S R U O C WRITING
o you fancy travelling the world and getting paid to write about all of the amazing things that you experience?
Travel writing is often pipped as the ultimate ‘dream job’, conjuring romantic images of working on your laptop from the sun lounger of an exotic beach resort in Thailand or sat in an atmospheric, arty café in Paris making notes for your next novel. But is it really all it’s cracked up to be? And how do you break into the business? Recently, we were asked to take part in Chiang Mai’s first Travel Writing Courses, covering everything from guidebook writing and travel literature (à la Bill Bryson) to travel magazine publishing (which is where we came in!). With big names such as Lonely Planet, National Geographic and Rough Guides taking part - we were honoured to be asked to host the module: ‘Pitching to Editors’. Here at S.E.A Backpacker Magazine, we receive hundreds of articles from budding travel writers every month; touching memoirs that rekindle our passion for travel again and again, tales of adventure that knock our socks off and yes we have to admit… some rather dodgy articles that quite frankly you wouldn’t want your mum to cut out and stick in the scrap book! So what do we look for in a writer? How do we decide which articles make the cut? Says Nikki, the editor and founder of S.E.A Backpacker “It’s true that I usually decide within the first paragraph or two if the article has a chance of getting published. Passion, personality and the sense that you are present with the writer on their journey are for me - the ingredients of inspirational travel writing. If the article makes me want to leap up from the office chair and get back on the road right away, then the writer has done their job! That said, tales of perfect beach holidays and sunset dinners are nowhere near as exciting as dastardly adventures which involve missed trains, lost luggage, quirky characters and most importantly - a lesson or two learnt by the writer about themselves because of the journey.” “It sounds silly now, but when I first started S.E.A Backpacker Magazine, I was so nervous about people reading my work. With a lot of passion and very little experience, the words had literally been plucked from the pages of my diary and I felt that I was baring my soul to a hungry pack of backpackers who would scoff at my private observations and emotions. Distributing in Khao San Road, I watched people pick up the magazine over their pad thai and read through the articles one by one… I scrutinized their faces; ‘were they engaged? Interested? Laughing in the right places?’
The outcome was that people seemed to empathise with the magazine and each of the writer’s personal travel tales… Whether they agreed with each author’s perspective or not didn’t really matter, the magazine served as a point of discussion, adding flavour and providing thoughtful observation of the South East Asian backpacking trail. This is how S.E.A Backpacker became a travel diary for everyone.” So, if you’re dying to see your name in print and need a few tips on where to start – this could be the course for you! If you want to refine your proposal technique to catch the attention of the highprofile travel glossies, find inspiration to start that best-selling memoir or just want to get more people engaging with your blog - look no further. The full three days costs a fantastic value for money 4,500 baht - and you’ll get to brush shoulders with guide-book writers, online travel content publishers and of course… us, the editors of S.E.A Backpacker Magazine! Most of all, we guarantee that you’ll have loads of fun… and if you’re lucky we might even give you some ‘off the record’ tips over a beer in Chiang Mai afterwards! For more info, see: www.southeastasiabackpacker.com/activities/ travel-writing-courses
Course dates: * * * * *
12-14 January 2-4 February 16-18 February 2-4 March 16-18 March
(…& so on, every other weekend)
Accept your Environment...
LET TE RO TH EM F ON TH !
While travelling, I found that I was very content with my life. Some people may say that is easy, given that my life was a permanent ‘holiday’, but it is surprising how many people still find discontent. “We hate waiting at the airport”, “It’s too hot here”, “Why can’t X be like back home?” are complaints that I hear often. I relish waiting time, as it gives me a chance to listen to and record my thoughts in an otherwise fast paced life. Accept your environment as it is, and consider changing your perspective on it before going ahead and changing the environment itself. Change it when necessary to suit your needs. But always be happy. If you are cold, don’t leap for the thermostat. Put on a sweater. Grab an extra blanket and get cozy. If you are hot, embrace it. Remember a time when you were extremely cold and bask in the warmth you are currently experiencing. If you are hurt, accept the pain as part of yourself. Do not consider it an external effect causing you discomfort. Absorb it into yourself and there is nothing more to complain about. Internalise the pain and concentrate on healing. Don’t miss the chance to recognize an opportunity when it presents itself. If you are lonely, see it as a chance to make new friends. If you are with friends, see it as a chance to enjoy a moment together. If you are bored, see it as a chance to look up something you always wondered about or read a book or learn a new skill. If you are stuck in one place for a while, see it as a chance to join something new and stick with it; enjoy your routine.
Poetry Cor ner MAKING TEA IN THAILAND: Together Thailand and I make tea. Me, A once empty cup Now overflowing with boiling water That is clearly untouched. Lucid, Formless, MalleableYet without a name. Suddenly, A concentration of herbs and spices Saturated with new placesThe essence of which Was extracted from smiling faces. A transformative potion, This medicine heals meWithout entirely changing my composition, Adds richness to my existence, Spends six months steeping. By Josalin Saffer
If you change your perspective on your environment rather than seeking to change the environment itself, you may find that it is not so bad after all. Tare yourself to your environment just as you would tare a scale to it’s surrounding biases before you step on it. Then perhaps you will see that the discontent you feel comes from within yourself rather than from without.
By Jeff Emmett
SPOTTED: OUR YOUNGEST FAN! Three-year old Jack (UK) finds travel inspiration in a cafe in Luang Prabang, Laos.
Those travel philosopher kinds say that travel makes you feel like a child again as you experience each new destination and adventure for the first time. What can be more exciting!? So what if you really are a child? While all some kids get is a trip to the park in Bradford, four-year old Ruby and her three-year old brother Jack are lucky enough to be travelling through South East Asia with their adventurous backpacking parents, Amy and Chris Mitchell... So what things have they liked best? Mum says, “Ruby has been keeping a travel diary with drawings of elephants and buffaloes... While there’s an overload of new stimulus to take in in South East Asia, it seems that the kids are remembering the simple things and that is what they talk about; ripples on the water or butterflies in the gardens. Although riding an elephant or going in a tuk tuk has been an obvious adventure, their attention to detail at such a young age is remarkable!”
Photo taken by Zoë Jackson
Which type of Traveller are YOU ? In an exciting partnership with Skyscanner, S.E.A Backpacker Magazine are offering YOU the chance to win a flight to South East Asia for the trip of a lifetime! The prize is worth a whopping £1500 GBP or $2,400 USD! But we’re not offering this incredible opportunity to just any old backpacker... We’re looking for those types of travellers who we know are going to make the most out of their adventure! So why do you want to travel in South East Asia? Is it to experience the rich culture? To climb wild volcanoes and mingle with hill tribes? Or be honest, is it to party all night at amazing beach parties? It’s about time you told us... which type of traveller are you?
I am a flashpacker because ........................ ....................................... ....................................... ....................................... ......................
How to enter: In 50 words answer the question ‘Which Type of Traveller are You?’ based on one of the five stereotypes below and send in an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org For more information please visit: www.southeastasiabackpacker.com/which-typeof-backpacker-are-you The Deadline for entrants is 28th Feb 2013.
1. THE FLASHPACKER
Mascara? Check. Hairdryer? Check. Fake tan? Check. (Just for those behind the bikini white bits that the sun can’t get to.) Boy oh boy. Backpacking just ain’t what it used to be. Gone are the days of travelling with one pair of dirty shorts and a scruffy vest you wash in the stream once a week! The ‘flashpackers’ are a new breed of travellers who don’t like to compromise on home comforts one iota along their journey. From mountain top to shore, they seek luxury wherever they go. Cockroach-infested dorm room? I don’t think so.
Terms and Conditions: 1. Entrants must be 18 years or older. The competition is open to everyone except Skyscanner or S.E.A Backpacker employees. 2. One entry per person. No multiple entries. 3. S.E.A Backpacker, Skyscanner and an independent judge will choose the winner. The winning entrants will be those deemed to be the most inspiring and imaginative. The judges’ decisions is final. 4. The competition will close at 12pm on 28th February 2013. Entries after the closing date will not be eligible to win. 5. The chosen flight for each winner must be no more than £1500 GBP (or Euro/USD equivalent – based on current exchange rates). 6. The Skyscanner Team will book and pay for your selected flights to the value of £1500. If your chosen flights are above this value, Skyscanner will provide £1500 towards the cost of the flight only after you have booked them independently and forward on the confirmed booking and receipt. 7. Winners must be available to use their winning flights between 1st March 2013 and 30th September 2013. 8. By accepting this prize, the winner accepts full and complete responsibility for their own safety and welfare at all times, including familiarising themselves with visa and other travel requirements. 9. Any extra activities and costs beyond the specified prize (£1500) are the responsibility of the winner. 10. The prizes are non-transferable. No cash alternative will be given. 11. By entering this competition the entrants will have agreed to allow their comments and photos to be shared on the Skyscanner / S.E.A Backpacker website – only in relation to this competition. 12. By entering this prize draw, entrants will be deemed to have accepted / agreed to be bound by the conditions.
MA I N A Y T R A P 2.
BeerLao, Tiger, Singha, Angkor, not to mention the infamous Sangsom whiskey… If sampling the local liquor is what travelling’s all about then this disorientated backpacker gets top marks. Pale faced through lack of daylight, the party animal is commonly spotted at the local Irish bar, donning a ‘SAME SAME’ T-shirt or occasionally an ‘In the Tubing’ vest, proof that they did actually make it off the Khao San Road! This nocturnal animal is seeing the world from the bottom of a beer glass and is having a blast meeting different people along the way to share a bevvy with. Who needs temples, museums and culture when all you could possibly need is right there in a bucket for 200 baht?
3. SPIRITUAL S
“I’m going to travel the world to find myself!” were the parting words on the lips of this bewildered wanderer as they fled the safety of the nest in search of deeper meaning in life. Sporting tie-dye fisherman pants, Henna tattoos, necklaces made out of vegetables, Hindu spots on their foreheads and Buddha bracelets round their wrists, this type of traveller is likely to enrol on meditation retreats and yoga courses in pursuit of their spiritual quest. You’ll find them lingering at temples, loitering on mountain tops or occasionally trying to converse with a very bemused beer guzzler in a bar.
Their itinerary reads like an expertly planned military expedition. Up and out at 6am, two museums before breakfast, followed by a tour of four historical monuments, a temple or three over lunchtime, a route march through a local market in the afternoon, stopping for precisely ten minutes at four ancient houses, two art galleries and a zoo, and finish the day with just one more museum, a botanical garden and a spot of local dancing before retiring. Often spotted with a guide book or map in hand, dragging around a young rookie backpacker they met on the bus who has been naively accosted into the mission. Whatever else you can say about this backpacker, you certainly can’t say that they don’t make the most out of their day. But alas, the joys of just sitting in a café people watching are unknown to this busy bee. What’s the rush?
TURE N E V D A E H T 5.
Leeches, cockroaches, six foot Komodo dragons. Give me what you’ve got. Nothing vexes this Bear Grills wannabee. Constantly striving to get off the beaten track, this explorer’s essential items include a compass, a pair of Lowe Alpine waterproofs that detach above the knee and a roll of toilet paper for those caught short in the wild moments. White water rafting, jungle treks, bungee jumping... hell, this adventurer is up for anything. Preferring to solo rather than in packs, this backpacker is the rarest to spot of all the species.
My Journey in Photos Thaipusam Festival, Kuala Lumpur
was moving forward slowly with the crowd, not walking as much as being transported, all the while trying not to lose sight of my travel partner. We had no means of communicating and/or finding each other if we got lost, so it seemed rather imperative to maintain visual contact. It wasn’t easy. The heat and crush of the throng was oppressive. Thousands of sweaty bodies were pressed up against each other, gradually inching toward the stairs leading up to the caves. Rhythmic drumming and chanting added an otherworldly soundtrack to the scene. At one point I realised we were in the wrong ‘lane of traffic’. Getting back into the correct lane required a difficult backtracking manoeuvre not unlike swimming upstream, then across a swollen river. The current of people was constantly pushing forward, doing its best to carry us downstream. The crowd would sway and an occasional eddy would take us in the wrong direction, but eventually we made it to the correct lane and ultimately the goal of the journey: up 272 steps to a Hindu shrine dedicated to Lord Murugan in Batu Caves. I was at the Thaipusam Festival in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It’s an annual event which sees tens of thousands of Hindu faithfuls making the pilgrimage to Batu Caves to pay tribute to Lord Murugan, the Tamil God of War. Most Thaipusam celebrations occur in the Tamil region of India. Outside India, the largest celebrations occur in Mauritius, Singapore, and Malaysia. The celebration at Batu Caves takes place over several days. It begins with a procession that starts at the Sri Mahamariamman Temple in the Chinatown area of Kuala Lumpur. Thousands of devotees leave from the temple around midnight for the 13km journey to the caves, many carrying pots of milk as offerings to Lord Murugan. At the Batu Caves complex, devotees begin by bathing at the Sungei River nearby. Some have their heads shaved. And a number of devotees will, as acts of penance, carry kavadi, or partake in acts of self-mortification. Kavadi is a frame that is worn on a devotee’s shoulders, and which holds an offering to Lord Murugan. The kavadi vary in size, some of them quite large. Typically, the offering is said to be jugs of milk, although the kavadi are so elaborately decorated with flowers and peacock feathers that it can be hard to tell what, if anything, they carry. The acts of self-mortification (which are probably what Thaipusam has become most famous for) take the form of skewers through the devotee’s cheeks or tongue, or hooks with weights – usually fruit – that are hung off the skin on their back. A few individuals have larger hooks embedded; these have ropes attached, which are used to pull something heavy behind them. Participants engaging in self-mortification are said to
By Darin Rogers
be placed in some sort of a trance. Although not entirely bloodless (as is often claimed), there is surprisingly little of it. For me, the scenes of what seemed to amount to self-inflicted torture – at least from my Western perspective – largely became a secondary or minor point of the event. As with most things cultural, the experience really does come down to observing, and (at least in some small way) participating.
In 2013, Thaipusam takes place on 27th January in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Getting to the Batu Caves from KL is easy, taking around one hour. Numerous buses head out there from the city, leaving from the Chinatown area and other parts of the city. The proceedings begin at 12pm at the Sri Mahamariamman Temple in the city and finish at the Batu Caves. The march takes over eight hours and covers 13km.
As experiences go, Thaipusam is definitely worth it. However, it’s not for the faint-hearted – and not necessarily because of the selfmortification. If you go, be prepared for intense heat and serious crowds. This event can really stretch your crowd tolerance level.
Darin Rogers is a civil engineer, freelance writer and photographer based in Australia. You can see more of his work at: www.darinrogers.net.
Five min to Monorail, Bukit Bintang, Jalan Alor and the bars of Changkat Bukit Bintang.
Cozy lounge with cable tv, an outdoor veranda and a great vibe! All rooms are ensuite with a/c.
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1-1 Jalan Angsoka (behind Istana Hotel) 50200 Kuala Lumpur Tel: +603-2110-2000 Email: email@example.com
HI Mid Bangkok “A hostel you can believe in”
481/3, Rachawithi Rd., between Soi 6 and Soi 8, Victory Monument, Bangkok. www.midbangkok.com Tel: 662 644 5744 - Central location - Transportation hub - A great base for exploring the city
HI Sukhumvit “Not just a hostel but a home”
23 Sukhumvit, Soi 38, Bangkok. Tel: 662 391 9338 www.hisukhumvit.com
- BT S: Thong Lo Station
By Derek Schimmel
Me & Jack The Monk..
was exploring the streets of Luang Prabang, getting lost while sampling various foods wrapped in banana leaves, now and then practicing my Lao with the locals. I knew two words: sa-bai-dee, or ‘hello’, and kop-chai, which means ‘thank you’. As I strolled along, I came across a sign posted on a telephone pole asking for English speaking volunteers to read to children at the local library from 1:00pm – 3:00pm everyday. The following day, I rented a bicycle. I cruised along the Mekong & Nam Khong Rivers and through the dust-laced outskirts of town before making my way towards the library. When I explained that I was there to volunteer, the man at the front desk brought me to a back room where teenagers were playing on computers and reading American magazines. He pulled out a seat for me at one the tables and walked away as I sat. I was expecting a jumble of young children sitting on a carpet as I read them a popular children’s book – something in the realm of the classic ‘Where the Wild Things Are’. Instead, one of the monks who’d been using one of the four computers in the room turned, saw me, immediately left his station and parked right next to me. “Hello, my name is Jack,” he said nervously. His head was freshly shaved and his apricot-colored robe left no doubt about his religious following. Jack had a surprisingly good command of the English language, and the planned two-hour volunteering session effortlessly turned into a four-hour heartfelt conversation as we both tried to grasp each other’s incredibly different lifestyles. Jack had moved to Luang Prabang three years ago so that he could attend school. He was born and raised in a small village roughly 100 kilometers north of the city; a village that, interestingly enough, was dismantled in 2010 after the majority of families moved closer to town centres in order to be nearer to schools. (Although ‘dismantled’ may not be exactly the right word here, I couldn’t imagine a similar phenomena happening in my culture back home. After hearing of a village becoming literally no more after well-over 100 years of existence surely made me wonder. Did this speak to the recent past and the near future of Laos as a whole? Or was this simply a small village’s attempt to become learned; to move with the times?)
As well as attending a traditional school, Jack was independently studying English, Mandarin and web development. Now, let’s stop here and think for just a moment. If you had to think of three topics to study in order to bust out into a world gone flat, you’d be hard pressed to think of anything more important than English, Chinese, and computer/ internet technology… Imagine the foresight of this 16-year-old boy from the mountainous jungle of Laos! These three classes were all independent of each other, in different schools; each paid for separately. Many of his friends - all monks - had sponsors from around the world (Europeans, Americans & Australians primarily) who helped to pay for their schooling. Jack never said it outright, but he did lead me to believe that the main reason he had become a monk was so that he could live in the temple in Luang Prabang, thus allowing him to pursue his education. Even if this was the case, however, there was no doubt that Jack was a devout Buddhist, and spoke highly of his religion. As much as he talked about Buddhism, however, it was computers and web development that excited him too. “Websites are important; everyone needs a website,” he told me. I hadn’t mentioned my professional history in web writing and digital strategy, but when I told him, his eyes lit up and the questions came pouring out. He dug through a pile of PC World magazines and asked me questions about laptops, Apple, iPods, iPads, Dell, keyboards… he wanted to know it all. He showed me pictures and articles in the magazines, and I gave him a lesson in Internet Marketing 101 as we dug through my website and Google Analytics.
My time spent with Jack made me think a great deal about the contrast between our lives and our upbringings. “Maybe we aren’t that different,” I thought.
But above all else, he talked about Steve Jobs. He was intrigued by the man and talked of seeing foreigners walking the streets that he thought looked like “Mr. Jobs.” Time passed quickly, and Jack had to get to his Mandarin class. We exchanged email addresses and he added me as a friend on Facebook. (Seeing a monk in an orange-clad robe using Facebook sounds weird. It was weird for me too.) On the day we next arranged to meet, Jack was already waiting at the gate for my arrival. This time, I’d brought my laptop with me. I knew he’d be delighted to play around on my computer (he was shocked when I first told him I owned a MacBook Pro!) – but in all honesty, I didn’t expect to be swarmed by at least a dozen monks as we clicked through the different applications on my desktop. Jack was the oldest of the group, and he and I continued to talk as the rest of the kids/students/monks (in no particular order) settled into their rooms within the temple. Again, the conversation turned to his love for computers and his desire to built websites. He explained to me that until he was able to get a laptop of his own, he would be unable to “practice and study.” “One of my friend’s even has an iPod,” Jack told me (which, as I already gathered, had been bought for them by their sponsors). Not Jack, though. He didn’t like the idea of asking for anyone else’s help — this coming from a kid who still found ways to support his family back in northern Laos by sending food and supplies whenever he could. In fact, I boggled his mind when I told him that I don’t help to support my family. Before we left the temple, Jack showed me his room. He shared it with one other monk, and if you didn’t know any better, you’d think it was a traditional college dorm room. Posters dotted the walls, and robes were scattered everywhere as Jack’s roommate sat reading a magazine and listening to their MP3 player. My time spent with Jack made me think a great deal about the contrast between our lives and our upbringings. “Maybe we aren’t that different,” I thought. Look past the apricot robe, the shaved
head and his childhood in the jungle, and you have a goal-oriented teenager who knows that hard work will lead to a better life. Maybe it’s the Laos/American Dream, maybe it’s globalisation… whatever it is, this 16-year old monk opened my eyes and changed my idea of the word ‘ambition’. It also got me thinking about the ‘Laos Catch 22’ that was on my mind throughout my journey through the country. Fast-paced technology, stress and riches – or simplicity, and relative poverty? When it comes to this kind of question, there isn’t a right or wrong answer – but I’m sure that once Laos has begun to leave its agrarian roots behind in earnest, and, as a result, becoming fully connected with the modern world, there will – almost certainly – be no turning back. Only then will we know which lifestyle they prefer. I watched Jack for a moment as he walked back towards his temple after dropping me at my guesthouse. He didn’t turn to offer me one last wave goodbye; instead – confidently – he walked on.
More Reflections on Laos..
lay there with my laptop on my thighs, swinging in a hammock beneath a raised wooden home on the island of Don Daeng, Laos. Don Daeng is a small island in the middle of the Mekong River near Champasak in southern Laos, and my host family was one of 700 that live on the island. As for the house, it sat roughly six feet from the ground on six wooden beams in case of flooding. There were two rooms and a kitchen, all of which were wide open (sans a few mattresses), and without furniture. The bathroom was directly adjacent to the house and accessible by a small wooden ladder. The toilet was a squatter. Through the last few days, I’d found myself in a state of reflection as I considered the last four weeks spent in this amazing country. It’s hard to gain perspective on a place while you’re still immersed in its culture and surrounded by its people, but Laos had me thinking… I’ll return to my philosophical banter later, but for now it’s time for an overview of these last four weeks in Laos - events that twisted me at my core. Strap in… It all started with the slow boat to Luang Prabang from the Thailand boarder. In Luang Prabang, waterfalls, night markets, all-you-can-eat vegetarian buffets, bicycles, and bowling took up
the majority of our time. From there, it was a boat trip up north to Nong Khiau — a small village located on the Nam Oh River – where we spent our time living in riverside bungalows, hiking to caves and playing bochee ball with the friendly Lao people. Even further upriver was the tiny, one-road village of Mong Ngoi (only accessible by boat). There are numerous cave/waterfall hikes that leave from this town, and during our explorations, we were also fortunate enough to stumble upon an even smaller village – Huay Xen – about two hours outside of Mong Ngoi. A thousand words couldn’t do our time in Huay Xen justice, but these few details will give you an idea of what life is like in this small village tucked in the Laos jungle: men grinding gun powder in mortar and pestle; teenagers cutting bamboo in order to build a fence around their tobacco garden; generators running from late afternoon until darkness (music playing throughout the entire village was the only sign of an electric powered device); rice whiskey (laolao) with the locals; being forced to go to bed at 9:00 pm; roosters clucking six hours later… To me, this country seemed to start and end with village life, of which nearly 80% of the country’s inhabitants formed part. Very few Lao people live in cities, I thought; the majority living in villages, surviving off the farming of sticky rice. On the surface, at least, it was a simple life, where everyone appeared to be hanging around (literally… hammocks are everywhere) for the better part of the day, interacting with their neighbours – and seemingly without a care in the world. (Really, the men spend part of some days in the fields while the
women care for the children, but otherwise everyone is straight kickin’ it, day in and day out.) On more than one occasion, and with a wide variety of different travellers, the conversation would turn to the difference in lifestyle between the Lao people and the Western world. The Lao people know nothing of the work-related stresses many of us face every day, yet the word ‘poor’ was thrown around quite a bit by those Laotians who spoke some English. Was it laziness or lack of opportunity? Would they prefer to give up the simple life and join the email and smartphone riddled rat race in order to get ahead financially? And if they did, would they want their old lives back – later, if not sooner? Of course, for us Westerners, the same questions are posed, just in the opposite order. I thought of it as the Laos Catch-22, and imagined it also applied to many of the other poorer nations around the world.
About the writer: As the cliche goes, Derek left his job working as a digital strategist and copywriter in July of 2011 to see the world. After writing content and developing digital marketing strategies for hundreds of different websites, Derek one day realized it was time to write about his true passion: travel. He took off for Europe, made his way towards Asia and never looked back. Derek graduated with a honor’s degree in journalism from the University of Colorado and currently makes his home in Denver. Check out www.eastgonewest.com to see more of Derek’s travel tales.
5 Facts About Laos.. 1.
Luang Prabang, Laos’ second largest city, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with one of its main characteristics the intertwining of French-style mansions with small, shack-like homes. The French occupied Laos up until the middle of the 20th century, and their architecture (and penchance for French-style baking!) still lingers.
After Vientiane, Pakse (not Luang Prabang) is the second most populated city in Laos. Often just a transit point for backpackers on their way to Four Thousand islands, you might want to stay awhile and do the Treetops Explorer – 12 ziplines that wind their way down and around the jungle’s canopy, finishing with a long flight past a waterfall.
All monks in Laos have metallic bowls, which are used as part of a Buddhist religious rite that allows the monks to receive material objects (primarily food) in ‘alms’ ceremonies.
In Laos, men have to pay a handsome fee to a woman’s family before they can marry her (dowry). Sometimes this fee reaches upwards of 25 million kip (over $3,000). Fortunately, this fee can be paid in cows, one cow is the equivalent of 5 million kip!
Champasak, a small town in the south on the Mekong boasts the ancient Khmer temple Wat Phou, that UNESCO deemed a World Heritage Site in 2001.
By Pamela McNaughton Of ‘Spunky Girl Monologues’ www.spunkygirlmonologues.com
THE Bangkok Bucket List I love Bangkok. It is a multifaceted city; then again most cities are. While many backpackers decide to skip Thailand’s capital, or only spend a day or two there, I like to stay awhile. Why? Because it has such an amazing atmosphere, and after the obvious tourist traps there are still so many things to see/do/ experience (and share with you guys!). Here’s a list of experiences that I think ALL OF YOU should consider doing in Bangkok. Some of them I’ve already done and others are on my bucket list for 2013!
DID (Dine in the Dark) Forensic Museum at Siriaj Hospital
Does it sound weird? Yes. Does it sound creepy? Yes! But despite everything I’ve heard about foetuses in formaldehyde, and other gruesome things - I promise you, I’m not a sociopath. It just sounds weird, and well, I like to check out weird things; even if it means freaking myself out.
A Fancy Night of Cocktails
It’s not cheap, but it’s something to experience in Bangkok; after all, who doesn’t like a little bit of luxury in their life?! Hit up Sukhumvit Soi 11 for a martini in the Grey Goose Lounge at QBar, or molecular cocktails at XYZ Bar (Aloft Hotel). Take the BTS to Nana and go to BED Supperclub (‘cause you definitely want to drink while sitting on lush beds, right?). Or dance the night away at RCA!
Calypso Ladyboy Cabaret
Oh yeah, it’s a cabaret show that is all ladyboys! Oh, and you can eat dinner there too if you like. Forget going to a bikini bar in Patpong and playing ‘Which one is a dude?’. I’m a geek for cabaret; and Chinese Opera. Calypso is one thing I plan to finally check out when I return to Bangkok.
Tuk Tuk Ride throughBangkok
Yes, tuk tuks are a lot more expensive than taxis and the BTS (sky train), but it’s something EVERYONE should experience in Bangkok. If you’re worried about pollution, wear a mask. I recommend shooting a little video, or snapping some photos. Keep your eyes open and enjoy the craziness.
When I first heard of Dine in the Dark, I was intrigued. It’s exactly as it sounds - you dine, in the dark! I know, it’s a shocking revelation. Aside from eating in pitch blackness, the interesting fact is that all the waiters and waitresses are blind, and that a portion of the proceeds go to a charity which supports the blind. Dining for a good cause!
Cruise along the Chao Phraya River
It took me four trips to Thailand before I decided to check out the Chao Phraya river and when I did, I felt like a travel knob for not going sooner! Buying a tourist pass is worth it if you plan to spend a day taking the ferries up and down the river, stopping to visit Wats, markets and Chinatown. Much better then taking a taxi through the rush hour traffic!
Watch a Muay Thai Fight at MBK
Sure, you could pay some money to see Muay Thai fights in almost every city in Thailand, but if you’re on a budget I recommend going to MBK to watch the FREE outdoor showcase fights that take place every Wednesday night.
A Bakery that sells Body Parts made of Bread!
Oh my, this is AH-MAZING! The bakery is in Ratchaburi, and each body part is hand painted. It’s supposedly a tad gruesome. I know, it’s kind of creepy and morbid, definitely a must visit.
Eat Shwarma. Eat Shwarma.
So, if you’re in Bangkok, you NEED TO EAT SHWARMA! I am obsessed with Shwarma in Bangkok. In fact, if you ask my friends in Bangkok about what I’ll do as soon as I get back, they will probably tell you I’ll go see my Shwarma guy. Yes. I have a Shwarma guy! If you’re going to Bangkok, you MUST eat Shwarma. That’s it.
The Grand Palace and other awesome Wats
Although the Grand Palace is a must see, it is also a one time only type of site. There are several Wats that should be visited during your trip in Bangkok. I HIGHLY recommend visiting Wat Arun around sunset. As well as stops at Wat Pho, Wat Ratchanatdaram, and The Golden Mount (Wat Saket).
Stay at Bangkok Treehouse
I read about this place last year and I am DYING to go! After all, who wouldn’t want to spend a night in a stylish treehouse, in the buzzing city of Bangkok? This place has a couple of options that are completely outdoors, as well as a couple with roofs.
Thip Samai Noodle Shop
(aka The BEST Pad Thai in Bangkok) I was taken to this gem of a place on my last trip to Bangkok, and OMG! The Pad Thai is to die for, and an absolute must; especially late at night. Dishes cost about 60THB (roughly $1.75). Thip Samai is Mahachi Road between the Golden Mount and the Giant Swing. Oh, and it’s open until 3am. You. Are. Welcome.
Street Eats at Sukhumvit Soi 38
Some of the BEST street eats can be found at Sukhumvit Soi 38 (Thong Lor BTS stop). Go hungry and try as many things as you possibly can, then go back and eat some more.
Yadong is a Thai Rice Whiskey that will probably corrode your stomach! It’s strong (think Moonshine) and can be found at street stalls, or at Lub d Silom and Lub d Siam Hostel on most Wednesday nights. Tip: Be conservative. This stuff packs a massive punch and you can get quite sick if you drink too much. Seriously.
A visit to Chinatown is a MUST in pretty much every city that has a Chinatown, but especially in Bangkok. Chinatown has a labyrinth of souvenir streets which are even more crowded than you’d think. Seriously. When you think another person could not possibly walk past - a scooter comes by. It’s a crazy hot mess and totally worth it. Be sure to hide your money and valuables, and come back after dark to eat at the Night Market!
Lumphini Park is a lush oasis in the middle of Bangkok. It’s a great place to go for a picnic, relax, jog, yoga, or collect your thoughts. I highly recommend trying the various vintage exercise machines or taking part in the sunset aerobics where everyone from teenagers to grandmas work out to the backdrop of the city.
Visit Prisoners at the Immigration Detention Center
There are a couple of NGOs in Bangkok that keep lists of refugees who have been arrested and placed in the Immigration Detention Center (IDC), and they can make arrangements for you to go to IDC and visit with a refugee (and if you can spare some cash, buy them some real food and supplies). This is a oncein-a-lifetime experience and something that means the world to those on the inside.
Dinner & Cocktail at Sirocco
Sirocco has one of the BEST views of Bangkok. Dinner and cocktails at Sirocco is a bit of a splurge, but totally worth it. However, if you just want to check out the view, you can buy one cocktail for 350 THB (mandatory minimum charge to get into Sirocco). I also suggest checking out the view from the plush sky bars at Vertigo and Moon Bar.
W hy we
Khao San Road !
When I used to work and live in Bangkok as an English teacher, a fellow expat once asked where I lived. When I replied “close to Khao San Road”, he said, “Urgh, I’m sorry! Personally, I prefer more local places...” Thus followed a short exchange where I clarified that I didn’t actually live on Khao San Road, while he extolled the benefits of his ‘local’ neighbourhood. It was later, whilst dwelling on this ridiculous conversation that I thought of all the reasons I wished I’d given him... why I love the Khao San Road area!
People watching Where else can you see a family sitting down to breakfast at 7.30am next to a table of beer drinkers who’ve been putting the world to rights since 3am? Complete the scene with monks from Wat Chana Songkhram on their morning alms walk, and you’ve got a nicely surreal juxtaposition of people. Take a seat on one of the Soi Rambuttri cafes or street stalls and watch a whole smorgasbord of different groups of people pass, of all nationalities and ages. Hippies with no shoes on, gals shamelessly strutting in bikini tops (er, where’s the beach, gals?); Europeans with massive cameras, tall Korean travellers with their hair in top knots, groups of newbies still white from colder climates, the ‘Same Same’ vest wearers, and the obligatory old farang (foreigner) talking someone’s head off (whoever’s the closest, he really doesn’t care). Later on, when the crowds hit the bars, so do the exhibitionists and money makers. A few weeks ago, I was privy to a break dancing session from a group of skinny Thai lads, and was amazed to see them repeat the performance three times outside different bars down the soi (I gave up watching after that but I wouldn’t be surprised if they did it at least 10 times that night). Stick around till 3am-ish and you’ll probably witness the amusing spectacle of a very drunk and confused young man being enticed away from the crowds by a ladyboy of the night. From sunrise to sunset and all those dubious hours in between, there’s always ‘visual stimulation’ around KSR.
Melting pot of entrepreneurs and characters On Khao San, yes – you can find tourists from all over the world, but the vendors and characters who make the place tick are also international: Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Myanmese, Indian, Nepalese... Don’t assume they’re illegal immigrants; many have lived there for years, can usually speak at least three or four languages, and are always ready to have a friendly chat (even if you don’t want to have a wedding dress made or buy their handmade leather sandals).
By Penny Atkinson
Your plane’s leaving at 7am tomorrow, and you still haven’t bought your mum any unusual chopsticks, your mates any ‘ethnic jewellery’, a fake student ID for back home, or a handbag full of luminous ‘Ray Bans’. Don’t panic. Any time is peak shopping time around KSR. For a post-shopping snack, grab a smoothie and a pad thai/chicken satay/45 baht fruit, muesli and yogurt (or even a cocktail out the back of a mini van) on the way back to your room to pack your bags just in time to catch the airport express!
Second hand book stalls Browse through old backpacker favourites (Mr Nice Guy, The Beach), have a sneaky peak in guidebooks you can’t be bothered to buy, or get esoteric with a range of spiritual self-help books. My fave shop also has the latest English (and other European) language magazines for a snip of the original price. I don’t know how these guys get their mitts on such recent editions almost brand new, but whether I want Grazia for lazy poolside browsing or The Economist to keep up with world affairs, they’ve got it all covered. Best of all, books can usually be returned for 50% of what you initially paid for them.
Pop up bars Pop up venues are the recent trend in London and New York, but Khao San’s been doing it for years. Can’t remember where that reggae bar (the one with the cheap Mojitos and where you met that Aussie who you’ve arranged to visit the temples with) is? - that’s because it’s not there anymore! With any luck, though – and just like a magical mystery store – it will pop back up tonight. Likewise, you don’t need to find a shwanky sports bar to watch the big football match. Out of nowhere, a minivan with a TV sticking out the back will suddenly be parked up on one of the sois. Just add a few folding tables and chairs and all you need now is a big cooler filled with ice and beers... what’s that, chilled Singha? Score!
Meanwhile, further afield..
Every time I go back to KSR I see the backpacker enclave has expanded just a little bit more. Rambuttri is heaving all the way down to Swenson’s End - where you can find more cheap and delicious food stalls for dinner time. Samsen sois 1-8 are becoming less undiscovered, and have their own slightly more chilled scene going on with small bars, cafes and guest houses.
Pampering at your fingertips It’s a sheer luxury to be able to walk into a Thai massage shop within 10 minutes of deciding that your shoulders are a bit sore. But to have an hour session for less than 200 baht and then maybe followed up by a pedicure and facial (if you happen to be so inclined) seems far too indulgent to be real!
Just a five-minute stroll from KSR is Phra-athit park. Who’d have thought that such serenity could exist in such close proximity to KSR? Sit and watch the boats cruise up the Chao Praya river, chill out on a bench with a book, or pick up some grub from any of Parathion’s food stalls or the Roti Mataba restaurant and have a picnic on the grass. Come evening time, there’s free aerobics, kids perfecting their street dancing, hippie travellers practising their juggling skills, and couples enjoying that anonymous privacy that only a public park can provide. Just by this park you may also be lucky enough to spot one of the ‘canal beasts’! Legend has it these lizards have grown to mammoth proportions just from feeding on the canal algae and waste. Stand on the bridge crossing from the park to Samsen Soi 1 and prepare to be shocked!
Authentically Thai.. Backpackers looking to have a drink in a place where the only Thais in the building aren’t just the bar staff, don’t have to get on a bus or ask the nearest tuk tuk driver to ‘take us to the locals’ (in fact that’s a risky strategy... Buddha knows where you’ll end up, especially if it’s one of the drivers hanging round the KSR!). Phra-athit Road is lined with bars where Bangkok locals come to chat and drink away their Friday night (and in fact any other night of the week, for that matter). You can feel smug as you like, sipping on a Sangsom whisky and nodding along to live acoustics surrounded by a trendy crowd of Thai drinkers who’ve come here from all over the city.
The market and Thai supermarket
So, these are just some of the things I could have told that smug, silly boy when he dissed and scorned my beloved Khao San Road. Yes, it can be sleazy and tacky. Yes, there are some questionable characters around – and of course I would encourage all to break out of the KSR bubble at some point if you find yourself getting a little too comfy there. But also look beyond the blatant consumerism and hedonism, and you may find yourself returning fondly time and time again to this interesting, bizarre piece of backpacker history.
Not local? Not local? Yes the KSR area has a Maccie D’s, a Fish and Chip shop, and a Burger King – but there’s more authentic Thai grub round these parts than you can shake a Subway baguette at. You can’t walk down the pavement on Chakrapongse Road for all the stalls of noodles, meat, curries, vegetables, and hosts upon hosts of unidentifiable (but undeniably) sweet things... all ready to be scooped into a small plastic bag and sealed with an elastic band. Look out for the small Thai store (not the supermarket) that sells some ready made food and all kinds of healthy stuff – bee pollen, herbal shampoos, coconut oil, instant congee and nut mixes... You can even buy a colonic irrigation kit from behind the counter. (An extra bonus is it’s all so much cheaper than any fancy shmancy health store).
BANGKOK’S TOP 5 MARKETS 1. KLONG TOEY FRESH MARKET
Klong Toey Fresh Market is Bangkok’s biggest fresh market, and almost seems like a village within this sprawling metropolis. Why? Two reasons: First, it’s so huge that just by walking around in the distict Klong Toey, you’ll somehow end up at the market... there’s no need to walk through little side alleys to get there. And second, you’re simply going to find every single thing you need - whether it’s food, stationary, kitchenware or clothes. Plus, the district Klong Toey is the biggest seaport area in Bangkok, so there’s a crowd around all the time. It’s a big must for every market fan!
Opening hours: Daily from 6am – 2am How to get there: Take the MRT subway to Klong Toey station, exit up the escalators and then walk east on Thang Rakfaiko / Rama IV Road for 10 minutes until you reach the large intersection of Rama IV and Narong Road. The market will be on your right-hand side. Or, you can take bus numbers 45, 46, 72, 102, or 107 to the area.
2. CHATUCHAK MARKET
Opening hours: Wed/Thurs (plants) 6am – 6pm Fri (Wholesale day) 6am – 6pm Sat/Sun (Miscellaneous) 6am – 6pm How to get there: Skytrain (BTS) to Mo Chit station; take exit no. 1 and follow the crowd.
The Chatuchak Market (JJ) is one of the world’s largest weekend markets. It covers an area of almost 30 acres, is divided into 28 different sections, and contains more than 15.000 booths selling goods from all over Thailand! (You can imagine my face when I stepped out of the BTS train and saw this huge market! What a jaw-dropping sight!) This is a very popular shopping destination for Thais, who come from all over the country to buy goods for their local shop – but it’s also becoming increasingly popular with tourists. As a result, Chatuchak Market is BUSY, attracting an estimated 200,000 visitors daily (30% of them tourists).
3. BO BE TOWER CLOTHING MARKET
Bo Be Market has been known as the epicentre of garment wholesale for over 30 years. Today, there are well over 1300 shops under one roof, making Bo Be the biggest garment wholesale centre in Thailand. Furthermore, Bo Be offers you shipping services to send your cargo worldwide. It is THE place for all types of clothing – for men, women and children; casual and formal. I liked this market because it was not so overrun by people. (And I actually bought something for a change! - a shirt for my dad for roughly 40 baht… pretty darn cheap!
4. SAPHAN KHAO FRUIT MARKET
I have never seen so many fruits in one spot as on the Saphan Khao Fruit Market. Truly unbelieveable! Tonnes and tonnes of different fruits – whatever kind you’re dreaming of, you’ll find right here! We were told that all of Bangkok come here for their fruit; whether it’s the local food vendor from next door, or the chef of a 5-star restaurant. Make no mistake about it – if it’s fruit you’re after, Saphan Khao is THE place to go to!
Opening hours: Daily How to get there: Taxi or bus no. 1, 4, 7, 25, 53
5. Pak klong talat flower market
Pak Klong Talat is a large wholesale flower market. Merchants travel here from all over Thailand to sell their flowers, so wandering the streets here is a colourful and fragrant experience. Out of all the markets, we found this one to be the least ‘spectacular’; not because there was nothing to see – but more because by the time we got there, it was 3pm – and the ‘trading traffic’ was already over. Next time I’ll be there at 2am – that’s when business starts here!
Photos & wording by Nisa and Ulli Maier of Mother & daughter team of www.cookiesound.com
Opening Hours: Daily from 6am – 6pm How to get there: Bus no. 2, 59, 60, 79, 511 or taxi
Opening hours: 2am – 6pm How to get there: The market is on Chakphet Road. You can either get there by taxi, or with the Express Boat (station Saphan Phut), and then by foot.
TIPS FOR MARKET SHOPPING 1. Chances of getting lost in the crowd are high. If you Are there with a friend, make sure you choose a meeting point before. 2. Wear comfy shoes; you will walk a lot. 3. Drink, drink, drink. you will sweat like a pig, so keep yourself hydrated!
Welcome to The Slow Life... Pai, Northern Thailand
About the Photographer: Amelia Johnston is a 21-year old freelance photographer from Ottawa, Canada. Check out her Thailand photos and more of her work at: www.ameliajohnston.ca.
elcome to The Slow Life in Pai! Itâ€™s a mini artisan cafe and shop where you can buy wonderfully ornate items such as handmade wooden spoons, pottery and notebooks - as well as some beautiful postcards and illustrated photographs... I came across this shop just off the Walking Street in Pai. We managed a lovely conversation with the owner despite the language barrier, and he was totally delighted to be photographed in front of his artwork. He was genuinely nice, and (as you can see!) very photogenic, with that warm smile so typical of the Thai people.
Article By Donna Jackson Photo by Flash Parker
An Experience to Remember... The Climb of a Lifetime
man with calves of steel has three 65 litre backpacks tied to him while another carries gas canisters on his back. I joke we’ll probably see someone carrying a door up at some point, and unbelievably enough - there is! I’m struggling with my small backpack! After weeks of preparation and excitement, today is the today I will climb Mount Kinabalu. Set in the beautifully luscious Kinabalu National Park in the (Malaysian) Sabah region of Borneo, my first glimpse of this majestic peak does not disappoint. At 4095m above sea-level, Mt. Kinabalu stands proudly as South East Asia’s highest fifth heighest peak, surrounded by a vast area of lusciously dense flora and fauna. If the actual climb is a little intimidating, drink in the beauty on one of the stunning nature walks. With a 90% success rate for climbers reaching the summit, the climb is deemed an achievable feat. This fact attracts a huge variety of partakers – dedicated climbers, holidaymakers, backpackers, older people and families with children. Do not be fooled into thinking this means it is easy. Whilst you can rock up with little or no preparation, it is wise to have a reasonable to good degree of fitness. After taking a few shots for the photo album, I’m introduced to two fellow climbers – Japanese couple Maya and Ton, and our guide. Fearing we’ll be matched with an athletic type, I’m relieved to meet aptly-named ‘Eater’, a friendly, rotund, middle-aged Malaysian woman. She tells me she completes the climb two to three times per week, which increases my confidence - if Eater can nail this mountain so frequently, I should be able to! We start the 6km walk up to Laban Rata, where we’ll stay overnight before tackling the summit. The steps aren’t particularly user-friendly for the verticallychallenged, and my thighs are given a thorough workout. I thank myself for the hours I’ve spent on the step machine. At 35 degrees, I am literally sweating enough to fill a small bucket, and like most others, we stop at each kilometer mark for a breather. As my muscles become sore, I marvel at the numerous Malay men almost dancing up the mountain in their sandals carrying all manner of things – one
The increasingly amazing views provide a good distraction from the tiredness, as do the beautiful plants, flowers and cheeky squirrels after our food. As I booked through a tour company, I’m provided with a much-needed packed lunch of fruit, boiled eggs and cheese spread sandwiches. Spurred on by my injection of poor man’s Dairylea, Eater allows me to go on ahead while she stays with Maya and Ton. This initial section takes between three and seven hours, so I’m pleased as punch to arrive at Laban Rata in just over four. Being above the clouds, the view is already awe-inspiring, as pinks and reds begin to move in to mark the diminishing day. Sadly, the sharp drop in temperature prevents any lengthy amateur photography on my part. Laban Rata is a welcoming, homely place with great staff, good food, brilliant photos and inspiring quotes - the perfect place to make you feel ready for the summit. All the rooms are shared dorms and I’m sharing with a lovely Malay man, who tells me that while he knows he is significantly overweight, he is fiercely determined to succeed. I love his positive spirit. Being so high up, no hot water is available and this determines the length of my shower at 14 seconds. I will never forget how cold that water felt! There’s an air of excitement over a plentiful, tasty dinner, as we are advised to retire early and to set our alarms for 1:30am. Not believing I’ll be able to go to bed at 6:30pm, I start to read, only to fall asleep within 10 minutes! Waking at 1:30am for the summit climb, I immediately feel the sense of excitement and anticipation at camp - everyone is smiling and wishing each other a good climb. After the earliest breakfast I’m ever likely to have, it’s time to don my many layers, fix on my head torch, pull on my gloves and head out into the pitch dark with Eater. Our ascent begins fairly easily with stone or wooden steps paving the way and a pleasant temperature. As we’re now over 3000m above sea level, it is usual to feel light-headed or have a headache, both
LEAVE NOTHING BUT FOOTPRINTS
of which right themselves after descending slightly and waiting for around 10 minutes. It’s fantastic to talk to other climbers along the way and discover their motivation for tackling the challenge. I spend most of the climb with a particularly inspiring Australian lady, Heather, who beat cancer two years ago but isn’t letting her chemotherapy-damaged lungs stop her. After around 90 minutes, the rock face starts to become sheer and it’s time to start pulling myself up using ropes. The extra exertion combined with the altitude and increasingly cold temperature means digging deep. But then climbing a mountain isn’t supposed to be easy. Taking a few moments to stop my heart hammering, I smile back at the beautiful snake of lights created by some 500 climbers. It may be tough but I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else at this moment. The last part of the climb is grueling, mainly due to a wickedly icy headwind and zero shelter. I’m informed it’s 2 degrees, but it feels arctic to me! Pulling my hoodie and waterproof so tight only my eyes are exposed, I grit my teeth and make the final push. With extremely numb hands and sore legs, one relieved and happy climber arrives at the summit – as clichéd as it sounds, I feel on top of the world. The sunrise is incredible; a multitude of terracotta hues spill slowly over the horizon, bathing the mighty Kinabalu in a new dawn. Huddling in a small hole and sitting on my hands, I try to ignore the cold and take in the moment. After a few minutes, the cutting wind becomes unbearable and I make a hasty retreat back down the rope line to a more civilized temperature, where I can marvel at the awesome terrain. Jagged rock formations, jutting peaks, deep crevices - it’s how I imagine other-worldly planets might look. As I descend to Laban Rata digesting the awesome sights around me, I pinch myself. I’ve just climbed a mountain. A big one! Arriving back at Laban Rata at 7:30am, it’s time for a totally guiltfree and delicious breakfast of French toast, pancakes, eggs and a much needed caffeine fix. People I talk to are tired but happy – for most, it’s the first time they’ve completed a summit climb, and the sense of achievement is awesome. Most people choose to tackle the remaining 6km descent straight away to avoid stiffening
muscles. With the lure of a cosy bed just too much, I opt to crawl back under the covers which although pleasant at the time, is perhaps not advisable! It takes a mammoth effort to resurface at 10am for checkout, but there’s no avoiding the final part of my challenge back to ground level. Muscles tight, I set off with Eater who blessedly provides me with walking sticks. She tells me that she is doing these climbs to subsidise her husband’s income, which helps put her six children through school. She is very matter-of-fact about the difficulties they have, and it strikes me, not for the first time during my travels, how huge the chasm is between our different worlds. These are special moments – sharing stories and connecting with someone from an entirely different culture; they never fail to open my eyes a little wider. After about a kilometer, we join father and son Pete, and Jeremy from Britain, the latter of whom has titanium rods in his spine following a horrific accident. Each kilometer gets tougher, each step more painful than the last, but seeing this man push through the pain barrier makes me plough on when every one of my leg muscles and both hips are screaming. There is no shortage of inspiring people to find throughout this hike. After four and a half hours of focus and drive, we enter into the last stretch, exhausted and motivating other climbers to keep going despite some barely being able to walk. The final 100 metres consists of a somewhat cruelly placed incline, but mercifully, the downhill steps have finished. Climbing the final steps to the finish feels like magic and torture in equal measures. I’d done it. Feeling elated, I pose for my ‘I did it’ photo, walking sticks in the air, and cannot stop smiling. As I’d completed the climb for charity, I could now proudly hand over the £300 in donations I’d raised from kindhearted friends and family to a wonderful charity called ‘Hope for Children’. They can be found on the Just Giving website should you wish to also fundraise for this worthy cause. Climbing Mt Kinabalu was a truly brilliant experience, and one I will never forget - the achievement is just an incredible feeling. If you do one thing today, add this climb to your bucket list!
Helpful Tips for Your Climb 1.
Book in advance! Some people come to this area just to do the climb, but leave disappointed when the dates are fully booked.
The standard two-day/ one-night package should cost around 1000 MYR. Many operators will charge more; I found Borneo Global Backpackers helpful.
Guides are compulsory; you cannot climb alone. You can share the cost with others if you are in a group but not part of an organised tour.
Walking shoes are advised (especially during rainy season), but you can use trainers with good grip.
It is easier to arrange your climb with an operator, but you can book independently if you prefer - by arranging your bed with Laban Rata and paying the national park entrance fee on arrival.
It is often a good idea to stay close to, or inside, the national park the night before your climb to help acclimatise (staying outside is much cheaper).
Bring warm clothes. Gloves are a must unless you want your fingers to fall off! If you book a three-day/two-night tour, the first night is simply the cost of accommodation at the national park. Most people book a two-day/one-night trip and take the 90 minute transfer from Kota Kinabalu on the morning of the climb.
Bring sugary snacks – you’ll appreciate that Snickers bar!
12. 13. 32
Bring a head torch; you will need it for the summit climb.
Use walking sticks for the descent you’ll be grateful for them. Stay overnight nearby once you have descended – give your muscles a chance to recover.
Take lots of photos! You will want to remember this experience.
WORD ON THE SOI:
What's your travel grumble? Snoring dorm mates? Persistent frog ladies? Smelly companions on an overnight bus? (Come on – soap is cheap!). We all know that backpacking is one of the best things you can do in life...but let’s face it – it’s still ‘life’ – and what’s life without a good old moan sometimes?! We threw you the gauntlet and gave you the chance to let off a bit of steam – ‘what makes you miffed?’ we asked...‘Go on - have a grumble!’ And grumble you did – and in some cases, giving us a fair old chuckle to boot! Here’s our pick of the best…
This guy fell from his top bunk, urinated on our dorm room floor – and then wondered why there was another person on his bed. (It wasn’t his). We became friends. (Chris Gelb)
I really can’t stand those highpitched squeals of Thai music playing at full blast well into the middle of the night on buses in Laos and Thailand. That, along with local passengers’ phone habits on buses seems to add up to a total disregard for transit noise pollution or personal space... Saying that, though, one of the funniest things I think I’ve ever seen is a Laotian guy pulling a ringing rotary phone out of his bag and answering it. Apparently it was a working mobile! (Benjamin Williams)
The ‘look’ I get whenever I tell someone I’m travelling alone. (Ver Argulla)
Having to take my damn sandals off all the time whenever I want to go inside! Not always easy when you have a heavy bag on your back! (Kate Griffiths)
One word: Mosquitoes! (Max Neumegen)
Dodgy night ferries! We tried to save a few dollars by getting one in the Philippines from Cebu to the Palawan Islands. It was hours late, finally arriving in the middle of the night. When it did arrive, it was like a mob fight just to get on! We were hot, exhausted and dying to get into our beds – but words can’t even begin to explain what it was like when we FINALLY got on that boat! Cattle-packed on the bottom deck like sardines with the smell of rotting faeces, our sleeping deck had approximately 50 beds for the 200 passengers scrambling on. It was so unbelievably packed with people, animals and cargo, we were almost certain it would capsize! Needless to say, we did not get either of the beds we paid for, and spent a very, VERY long night on the floor, shoulder-to-shoulder with other travellers.... oh, and rats. But, man, I miss those days! Travel like that is priceless, the experiences it gives you is so enriching. I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat! (Melissa Maslyk)
Backpackers who try to outdo each other with their stories on who’s been to the most obscure places – or the most places full stop! It’s not a competition, guys! Slow down and enjoy the journey... Oh, and I also have a quibble with people who treat their guide book as a bible. Just use it as a reference...you’re missing out on so much if you don’t leave it at the hostel for a bit and just go for a wander! (Darren Wells)
“You want magnet, I sell you one dollar...” “You want book, I sell you one dollar...” “You want picture, I sell you one dollar...” “Water? one dollar...” “You look hungry, one dollar...” “Map?” (whilst holding map in my hand)... “One dollar...” “Bracelet?”(I’m wearing five)...”Four for one dollar...” “No thanks, I have”.... “You need more like dis? Eight for one dollar...” (Carl King)
The sleeper buses in Vietnam where it’s impossible for anyone taller than five foot to actually fit in! I’m six foot with UK11 sized feet. Those were some uncomfortable nights... (Ben Balla-Muir)
Sairee Beach, Koh Tao, Thailand
Personalised service and small dive groups (4 max)
It’s more than just getting wet! Tuk tuk, tuk tuk, moto, tuk tuk, moto, TRANSPORT?! Tuk tuk, tuk tuk, moto, moto... (Misha Patel)
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Getting ill! I ate something dodgy at the Cambodian border, and had the most horrific journey to our guesthouse. The driver stopped immediately when he heard me heave into a plastic bag – at which point I was deposited outside to heave on the road instead, with a load of Cambodian kids walking cows on ropes past me and laughing. The whole saga ended with me being taken to a pharmacy and put on a drip! Nightmare at the time – but would I do it all again? Hell, yes! Just another memory to add to all the others...and of course, the amazing times always outdo the bad! (Jess Young)
I had a guy by the name of Scott sitting next to me on a bus from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh. He had the worst cough I’d ever heard, which didn’t stop until he fell asleep on my shoulder. I woke up some time later with his drool all over me – and ended up very sick for at least a week after. I blame Snotty Scotty! (Kathryn Feldmaier)
FESTIVALS & EVENTS: The “Moon” Parties Koh Phangan, Thailand Full Moon Party 26th Jan, 26th Feb
sea from dusk until dawn. Expect many shenanigans to take place on a whole beach full of bars and stages blasting out a varied selection of music including house, drum’n’bass, psytrance and chart tunes. Guaranteed a wild time - just go easy on those buckets! Half Moon Festival 4th & 18th Jan 2nd & 16th Feb
One of the most famous beach parties in the world, the Full Moon Party takes place on Haad Rin Beach, every month on (or around) the full moon. It’s said the original party was simply a group of backpackers celebrating a friend’s birthday but which over time has become an infamous gathering of up to 30,000 people in luminous clothing, body paint and fancy dress! Drinking buckets, dancing, partying and playing in the
an eclectic mix of tech house, progressive beats and psychedelic trance. This large, professional, all night dance event is set amidst the atmospheric backdrop of the Ban Tai Jungle with a huge sound system, unique UV illuminations, fire dancers and live visuals – this is one party not to be missed! Black Moon Culture 11th Jan, 10th Feb
month at the black moon for a night filled with the freshest progressive and psychedelic trance brought by Thai and International resident and guest DJs for an intense dance experience on sandy white beaches amid amazing décor and live visuals. One for serious party animals. Jungle Experience Baan Tai, Koh Phangan 1 & 4 days before Full Moon One of the original underground dance gatherings on Koh Phangan, this magical flower garden is located deep in the jungle with a mountain stream leading you
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 appearances, playing
Peace, Trance, Dance… these three words are the main motivation behind the famous Black Moon Culture. The gathering takes place on Baan Tai Beach every
Nov-Dec 2013 to the decorated dancefloor. Prepare to be enchanted by the lush tropical garden, magical UV decorations, laser and organic light installations, water features and cosy chillout zones. The party features the best of underground house & tech, ranging from deep house, tech house to progressive, and is famous for its amazing atmosphere in the morning when the sun rises over the mountain backdrop illuminating the natural beauty of the location and bringing smiles to faces.
a monthly festival under the sun and stars, the stereotype of the island is changing from minimal psy-trance to a unique blend of fresh new music styles and DJs! Set in a secluded yet accessible beach venue amidst the palms of Baan Tai, two days before the full moon party, R&S brings you the next level of the Thai Beach Party Experience… The perfect warm up party!
Rhythm & Sands Baan Tai, Koh Phangan 2 days before Full Moon Those people who brought us Rhythm & Vines and Rhythm & Alps of New Zealand, now in their 10th year of mega success, have extended their arms into Thailand bringing with them the international dance scene and some of the planet’s biggest acts! With
Aguman Sanduk Manila, Philippines 1st Jan Manila’s men have a very interesting way of bringing in the New Year. A walk through the city on the 1st of January
Thaipusam Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia 27th Jan (See page 14!)
2013 will have you wondering what on earth’s come over the usually macho Manilan chaps as you see them sporting ladies dresses and prancing around in a huge cross-dressing parade! It’s a fun event with an exuberant atmosphere and a lot of laughs from the delighted crown of sisters, mothers and daughters. The festival dates back to 1934 when a group of playful blokes fuelled by copious amounts of alcohol pulled the stunt, which quickly became a novel and popular way of welcoming in the New Year! You’ll find even the most respectable of townsfolk casting off their inhibitions and getting involved in the frolics.
Thaipusam is one of the largest and most extravagant Hindu Festivals in Asia and is celebrated by millions of followers worldwide. Held in honour of Lord Murugan, also known as Lord Subramaniam, Kuala Lumpur and Penang are two of the most colourful places to observe the festivities, in particular at the Batu Caves on the outskirts of KL. It’s a truly incredible spectacle to witness; participants perform incredible feats of devotion as they offer thanks to the Lord for good
FESTIVALS & EVENTS: fortune during the year. Feats including the piercing the body and face with skewers, dragging chariots with hooks attached to the skin and the carrying of huge metal frames (kavadis) attached to the body. Some devotees become entranced, entering meditative states during the procession, believed to cleanse them of their sins. Bun Pha Vet Laos Jan - date TBC
Bun Pha Vet is an important Buddhist Festival and a significant time of the year for friends and family in Laos to gather together. Tales of Buddha’s penultimate life as Prince Vessantara are recited throughout temples across the country and it’s considered a favourable time for Laos Men to be ordained into Monkhood.
Trang Underwater Wedding Festival Trang, Thailand 13th - 15th Feb
Today, in cities, towns and villages all over South East Asia, a festive atmosphere fills the air. Colourful dragon and lion parades take to the streets, dancing to the rhythm of beating drums and cymbals which are said to drive away any evil spirits. Fireworks and firecrackers can be heard for weeks in celebration of this significant time. Chinese temples are blanketed by clouds of incense smoke as people pray for god fortune in the New Year. Bangkok, Penang and KL are all great places to witness the festivities, take in cultural performances and gorge on the huge variety of food and drink stalls that line the streets to welcome in the year of the snake!
Tet Nguyen Dan Vietnam Feb 10th
Met the love of your life whilst backpacking? Why hesitate a moment longer? Spontaneity is the way to go in 2013. Give your folks at home a heart attack and tie the knot in a truly unique way at the Trang Underwater Wedding Ceremony. Held over Valentine’s Day, couples dressed in traditional wedding dress and suits, plunge 12 metres beneath the water to perform this innovative marital ceremony and (somehow) exchange bubbly vows. I boo.
Marha Puha Laos 25th Feb
Chinese New Year All over South East Asia! 10th Feb
The Chinese New Year marks the first day of the new moon and is a massive event celebrated by Chinese communities all over the world. Lasting 15 days with unique celebrations and rituals taking place each day, traditionally, it’s a time for families to get together, exchange gifts and eat lots of delicious food! Homes are cleaned to welcome spring, floral decorations and red paper lanterns are raised. Children are given gifts of money in ‘lucky’ red envelopes and adults see it as a time to settle debts and start afresh.
In Vietnam, there’s a three day public holiday to celebrate the New Year, ‘Tet Nguyen Dan,’ meaning ‘The Feast of the First Morning’. Derived from Chinese New Year and celebrated at the same time, the celebration also marks the beginning of spring. The rituals and festivities are very similar to the Chinese in terms of their focus on family reunions and the concept of starting afresh. In Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh and other cities, you’ll find street parties and parades; market stalls bustling with people buying decorations, food and clothes. All night drumming and fireworks also make this a very noisy festival and a highly spirited event to experience!
Taking place on the night of the Full Moon in February, Marha Puha is a festival that commemorates an inspirational speech given by the Buddha, in which he dictated the first monastic rules to a group of over one thousand enlightened monks. In the talk, he also prophesised his own death. Grand parades and the circling of Wats (Temples) with candles take place in many towns across the country, particularly in Laos’ capital Vientiane and in the Khmer ruins of Wat Phu, near Champasak. Religious music and chanting can be heard from worshippers during this sacred Buddhist festival. Victory Day Cambodia 7th Jan All across Cambodia, the 7th of
January will be a public holiday to commemorate 34 years since the end of the Khmer Rouge regime (ended 1979). It is traditionally a day for the Khmer people to spend with their families. However, if you happen to be in Phnom Penh, you’ll find yourself sharing the city with millions who have gathered to remember the day that the bloody rule of Pol Pot fell, and to honour the thousands of people who died. A touching day for all those who experience it, the main activity takes place at the Independence Monument, but there will also be countless other commemorations being held in other pagodas around the city.
The Java Jazz Festival Jakarta, Indonesia 1st-3rd Mar It’s a little known fact that Jakarta is actually home to one of the largest Jazz festivals in the world, attracting up to 100,000 fans over the three days! Taking place at the Jakarta International Expo, Java Jazz attracts some bonafide examples of jazz royalty presiding over its dozen or so stages. Past performers have included Stevie Wonder, and this year, the line-up (of over 100 performers) is set to include Kenny Garrett, New York Voices, Joss Stone, Lisa Stansfield – as well as a fair number of Indo-Jazz bands to boot, all playing everything from big band bepo to ska, reggae and gypsy jazz. Tickets can be bought online at: javajazzfestival.com/2013
KUMBH MELA INDIA
ko f th Mo nth e !
The mesmerising Purna (meaning complete) Kumbh Mela pilgrimage kicks off in northern India this year on January 27th in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh. Not just a festivity like Deepavali or Holi, the Kumbh Mela (described as a collective dream), lasts for a month, and is currently the largest spiritual gathering in the world - a huge tribal congregation of saints and yogis who emerge from their Himalayan caves to spend an entire month blessing people and sharing their spiritual wisdom. Until February 25th this year, Allahabad – just 125 km from Varanasi – will be transformed into a vast, tented city, filled with a myriad of camps that provide a temporary home to the millions of Hindus who come to experience this ancient holy fair (the last one took place in 2001, at the turn of the Millennium – the auspicious nature of the event attracting an incredible estimated 70 million people from all over the world!). A vast array of cultural programs and yoga and meditation regimes are on offer daily, plus religious debates and discourses, devotional singing, and ongoing aartis, pujas, Bhajans, Kirtan, seminars, theatre, musical presentations and exhibitions in the various Satsang Halls. The quintessence of the festival, though, is the holy bathing. A most primitive ritual that was popularised in the 8th century by the Hindu god Shankara (although it goes back much further than that), bathing in the rivers is believed to provide liberation from harmful past karma – and so, also, from the vicious cycle of birth and rebirth. There are specific bathing times in place that are set down each time by complex astrological conjunctions, when the river is said to turn to nectar (which – be aware! – we suspect may or may not be a euphemism for ‘pollution’!) - although you’ll also see people taking to the water up to three times a day. However, if you’re looking to experience the main bathing day at the very heart of the festival, then aim to arrive before February 10th. At 3am on this, the most auspicious day of the new moon, you will bear witness to the many processions made by the different groups of sadhus as they wait in line at the river banks, each competing with a level of grandeur and degree of fanfare that will, at first sight, appear utterly unsurpassable. A magical slice of life that comes around only once every 12 years, The Purna Kumbh Mela is something that every ardent spiritual devotee needs to experience for him or herself. Even if you’re just curious, or willing to metaphorically dip in only as much as your big toe, then the sole prospect of being part of such an incredible mass of humanity – as well as the sheer spectacle of it – should be enough to get you booking that plane ticket. Don’t miss it!
By Karen Farini.
Travel Info and Advice: If you’re only able to stay for a short time, then aim for 9th Feb - 19th Feb. This will give you access to three official bathing dates. Keep your eye out for the Holy Dip schedule. Book your travel tickets in advance! This includes train tickets once in India (go to www.irctc.co.in). You can camp independently onsite, stay in an Ashram or hotel, or join one of the multitude of camps already organised on the banks of the Sangam. You can book some of these online, (try www.mahakumbhfestival.com), but if you decide to wait – then make sure you arrive before the main bathing date of 10th February. Allahabad is on the train routes from Delhi to Kolkata, and from Mumbai to Kolkata – one of the best options being the PrayagRaj Express which leaves daily from New Delhi Railway Station at 21.30 hrs and arrives in Allahabad at 6.30am the next day. Allahabad (or Prayaga, to give it its ancient Sanskrit name meaning ‘place of sacrifice) is one of India’s largest growing cities. As well as Khumb Mela, things to do here include a planetarium for astronomy lovers. January and February equals winter in Allahabad, although temperatures rarely drop to freezing. Expect anything from 10 degrees (50 F) to 22 degrees (72 F). Keep luggage to a minimum, and take photocopies of all important documents - just incase! http://kumbhmelaallahabad.gov.in/electronic.aspx is the official government website for Kumbh Mela.
OFF THE BEATEN TRACK
By Nick Wharton & Dariece Swift From‘Goats on the Road’ (wwwgoatsontheroad.com)
10 Places Off the Beaten Track in South East Asia
e all know that South East Asia is a tried and tested travellers’ mecca with thousands of youngsters in bathing suits running around with buckets and face paint - but there is still so much more to this part of the world than beach bars and night clubs: if you really look, you can find some amazing, untouched paradises. So with this in mind, we’re going to let you in on our favourite places that hardly any people know about, names you won’t necessarily hear tossed around the hostel dinner table. And of course, they’re all secret – so please don’t tell anyone…
Koh Rong Island, Cambodia
If you’re looking for the perfect beach (and we mean perfect), then look no further. Eight kilometers of silky soft, powdery white sand dips into an aquamarine sea at a gradient perfect for swimming without a rock or weed in sight. This beach is so astoundingly beautiful that it’s hard to pull yourself away to visit the friendly village or hike to the surrounding waterfalls. Koh Rong lies just outside of Sihanoukville, but there are two Koh Rong Islands (and it almost seems as though one of these is set as a decoy to keep people from knowing about the true jewel!). The larger and harder-to-get-to Koh Rong Island is the one that you’re looking for, but luckily it’s not that difficult to get there nowadays; there are ferries that head there fairly regularly - and a few excellent bungalows to choose from once you get there. One word of advice, though - the perfect time to set sail and discover this remote piece of paradise is most definitely now! Plans for big development, including resorts and casinos are well underway – but don’t worry, there are a couple of years left before this affects the island.
Okay, so Myanmar may not be the untouched paradise that it once was, but take a trek into the villages around Hsipaw, and you’ll find some amazing Shan culture within easy reach. When you arrive, don’t be discouraged – or tempted – by the daily tours that leave Hsipaw with 10-15 tourists awaiting leadership from their guide. Ignore them, ignore the guides, and just walk out into the surrounding villages by yourself. You’ll be rewarded with waterfalls, farmland, natural hot-springs and genuine local hospitality. You’ll most likely have locals invite you in for meals, where you’ll have the perfect opportunity to witness their amazingly laidback lifestyle first-hand. You may even be able to teach some English, if you come across Hope and her incredible school in Naloy village.
We know it’s a huge region to list as ‘off the beaten track’, but Sumatra really is an untouched, jungle-clad Eden. There are places here where you’ll almost certainly run into a bunch of backpackers, but even in those places you can sneak off and find a spot of your own. For the most part, Sumatra is extremely non-touristy, and boasts some of the most striking sights in the entire region. Lake Toba and Lake Meninjau are bodies of crystal clear fresh water smack bang in the middle of volcano craters. Here, you can stay in local Batak-style houses built right over the sparkling water. Definitely don’t miss Sumatra if you’re trying to avoid crowds; in this respect – and in so many others – it’s one of the best places to be.
Kapas Island, Malaysia
How does nobody know about this place? Well some people do – the Malaysians – and they keep it all to themselves. Don’t worry, though, outside of the holiday seasons, you’ll probably be one of the only people on the island, and the beach here is sensational! Stay with the Captain at The Captain’s Longhouse, and meet one of the coolest characters you’ll ever come across on your travels. He’ll take you in, treat you like family, and send you on your way with a smile on your face. There’s nowhere quite like Kapas Island.
Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia
Don’t confuse this with the tourist trap of the same name in Bali. A laid-back surfing village with just enough to keep you entertained for a week or so, Kuta Lombok is entirely different. Unless you surf (in which case you could probably just pack up and move here), Kuta beach itself is not fully off the beaten track, but rent a motorbike and ride to one of the many secluded coves or distant villages in the surrounding areas. Find a little piece of heaven to keep all to yourself.
Koh Kood, Thailand
Be warned, this is SO off the beaten track that you may get bored if you stay here longer than a few nights. That said, the place is absolutely breathtaking. Its jungle-clad interior boasts dazzling waterfalls and tourist-free monasteries where you’ll actually meet Thai people surprised to see a tourist. The beaches are powdery white perfection, and the huts very comfortable. The roads are pretty poor on the island, but you can rent a motorbike (at admittedly exorbitant prices), and head inland to seek out some seldom visited sights. And we mean seldom – it’s deserted every evening, even in peak season – and especially away from its coast. What an island! If you’re down for some serious relaxation and privacy, then Koh Kood is the place for you.
El Nido, Philippines
‘Whoah!’ you say, ‘El Nido is a place that shows up in bold in the front of our Lonely Planet Philippines book. How can it be off the beaten track?!’ Well, El Nido itself is clearly no longer off the beaten track, but some of the surrounding islands definitely are – and we don’t mean the ones frequented by boatloads of snorkelling day trippers. Take your pick of one of the other 45, pack your sleeping gear and some food – and head on out! If you’re concerned about how to get there, talk to the friendly people at Cliffside Cottages and ask them to set it up for you. Just make sure you explain that you want to be far away from other tourists, and you will find yourself on an island, alone, living out all your Robinson Crusoe fantasies.
Don Kong Island, Laos
This remarkable place is actually on the trail, but the trail that leads to the more popular neighbouring island of Don Det. Don Kong can be found in the Four Thousand Islands region of southern Laos – a little piece of hidden calm inside a tsunami of tourists that force their way up from Thailand. When everybody else hops on the first boat out to get to backpacker haven Don Det, you should consider staying behind. Rent a bike and head around this tiny island, and take in a piece of Laos culture that you won’t see again unless you head far north past Luang Prabang. Small villages with kind and inquisitive locals will greet you on your travels, and you’ll be able to witness something few other travellers here do – the real Laos.
Southern Inle Lake, Myanmar
Inle Lake itself definitely shows up on the tourist radar, but most people stick to the boat tours that putter around the northern reaches of the lake, taking in cats that jump through hoops, pushy cigar factories, and a couple of packed temples and monasteries. Avoid these completely. Find a boatman who is willing to take you as far south as you can go (the closer you get to the ‘Permit Zone’, the fewer travellers you will see, and the more authentic experiences you will have). It may cost you a few extra bucks to get down there, but it’s definitely worth it. Also, don’t forget to rent a bicycle and bike around the lake yourself; stop off at a winery, meet local fishermen, and enjoy watching Myanmar go by. Most people who come to Inle Lake think it’s a tourist trap because they don’t take the time to find a place for themselves. The southern part of the lake in particular is not to be missed.
Sumbawa really is in the middle of nowhere. It’s on the way to the more popular islands like Komodo and Flores, but 99% of people who see this place do so only from the window of a bus on their way to see the Komodo Dragons. If you’re not a surfer, there’s not a whole lot to do here, but there are some stunning beaches, hidden villages, and amazing coral that’s yours alone to discover.
So there you have it – our very own list of the least visited places off the beaten track in South East Asia. Make sure that whilst you’re here in this beautiful part of the world, you at least attempt to get away from the crowds. We guarantee that if you do, you won’t be disappointed. And of course, we were joking about the ‘secret’ part! When you find that special place that’s just waiting to be discovered by your fellow travellers, then tell them about it. Spread the joy that these miraculous places bring you, and help others find their next adventure. Travel gems are meant to be shared.
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Something to keep you busy on all those long bus journeys! Answers on page 70. Across
1. Who colonised the Philippines after the Spanish? b) Portuguese
2. Which popular ingredient in Asian cooking comes from a native African evergreen tree, is found in Indian curries, chutney, pad thai and is the secret ingredient in Worcestershire sauce? a) Fish sauce
3. Which South East Asian country is at threat from a fish that can climb trees? (the Climbing Perch, nicknamed Fishzilla!) a) Thailand
(5) (6) (7) (5) (4) (7) (3) (4) (4) (3) (7) (4) (5) (7) (6) (5)
1. Small 2. Hurl 3. Fool 5. Scolding harshly 6. Went in 7. Bird 8. Unsteady flame 13. Trickled 15. Dishonourable 17. Moves furtively 18. Perspiration 19. Partners a mortar 22. Ferret out 23. Agitate
(6) (5) (4) (8) (7) (6) (5) (8) (7) (6) (5) (6) (5) (4)
S.E.A TRIVIA: a) America
1. Hasp 4. Oppose 9. Upheaval 10. Helicopter part 11. Patch of grass 12. Comes back 13. Female deer 14. Jetty 16. Naked 18. Droop 20. Weapon 21. Eye infection 24. He invented dynamite 25. Lure 26. Stable 27. Medieval steward
Each row, column and box must contain each of the numbers 1-9
8 5 3 1 7 2 9 1 4 7 6 5 3 6 9 2 8 4 5 2 5 7 5 3 6 4
Dont w ant th is dre am to e nd? By Johnny Early
? t a h w s s e Gu
It doesnâ€™t have to! Did you know that in just four weeks you could be qualified to teach English anywhere in the world. And you donâ€™t have to go back home to study... with TEFL courses all year round in Thailand you can start your adventure right now !
Tel: +66 (0)84 553 8996 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Or pop by our office in Chiang Mai: 23/1/1 Rajvithi, Soi 2, Mueang Chiang Mai, Thailand
By Matt Lloyd
he dirt road narrows to a mere goat track, threading its way through the endless tea plantation; my bike’s turgid howl the only sound. I wonder where I am, exactly? Rounding the bend, I see a jet black snake lining the full width of the path, and panic grips me. It’s too late and too dangerous to stop so I roll over him, terrified his body will coil round the wheel and he’ll rise up behind me, serpentlike, to exact his revenge. As I glance back, he slithers into the tea bushes, apparently unhurt. I rumble on. Oh yeah, I remind myself, I’m in the Sri Lankan highlands. This is all perfectly normal. It’s been a week since I left Hikkaduwa with my rental, a new(ish) Yamaha Baja 250 dirt bike – very reasonable at $14 per day. I’d originally planned on spending time in the famous surfing town of Hikkaduwa on the east coast; however, a lack of research meant I had completely missed the surfing season – and now it was monsoon time. Sri Lanka has a curiously divided seasonal weather pattern (as well, incidentally, as the world’s coolest flag) – when the surf’s up on one side of the island, it’s rainy and insipid on the other. Solution – get a bike, strap on the backpack and see some of the country on two wheels. I hug the coastal road, jockeying for road position with ancient public buses all apparently engaged in a maniacal race with one another. The sea air combines with diesel fumes in an intoxicating miasma which forces frequent stops, the first of which is the old Portuguese, then Dutch, then British, port town of Galle. Like most of Sri Lanka, Galle was devastated by the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, but is now reborn as a gentrified artist enclave and tourist destination. The Fort and Old Town offer a pleasant wander and an insight into a tumultuous past of seafaring trade and maritime warring. The starshaped granite fort bastions still stand, now home to young cliff divers flinging themselves fearlessly into the rolling surf below. I wave and offer the friendly Sinhalese ‘Ayubowan’ greeting, and am met with broad smiles. In fact, the Fort is a World Heritage Site, well preserved by the British since 1796, until Sri Lanka gained
their independence from colonial rule in 1948. British legacies still prevail across the island formerly known as Ceylon – from colonial architecture and tea plantations, to the favourite pastime of cricket, perhaps only rivalled by India in terms of a fanatical national obsession. The coastal road snakes past exclusive beach resorts and through the laidback surfing haven shacks of Unawatuna and Mirissa; yet however tempting the empty white sand beaches and azure crystalline waters are, I have an urge to go deep into the highlands to see firsthand why Sri Lanka is the world’s largest tea exporter. Soon enough the map fails me, and I’m lost amongst swathes of fragrant tea estates and lost world hills shrouded by ethereal mists. Each vista is heavenly, and I suddenly realise, how the ‘Pearl of the Indian Ocean’ got its name. The uncoiling roads are among the best I’ve motorbiked through anywhere, and they’re strangely (but pleasantly) decongested. The cloud forests and tea plantations are pregnant with moisture, so I ease the bike along slick roads, passing waving locals sheltering from within roadside stalls. I stop for fresh King Coconuts (my pre-emptive upset stomach cure) for 20 rupees, marvelling at the deft machete skills required to open one. The traditional Sri Lankan rice and curry plate is a steal at 120 rupees, and each time presents a subtle blend of flavours I believe are not found anywhere else on this planet.
“Soon enough the map fails me, and I’m lost amongst swathes of fragrant tea estates and lost world hills shrouded by ethereal mists”
As I venture north, I pass by Ambewela and its transplanted New Zealand farm, its detail accurate right down to the dairy cattle and No.8 wire fences. It’s all too weird being 10,000km away in a foreign land, yet feeling like I’m back home in the Waikato. I push on further to Horton Plains, a plateau of montane grasslands and preserved biodiversity at 2000m above sea level, and the bike starts hiccupping due to the lack of oxygen. The sheer precipice of World’s End is a popular tourist look-out; however my view is nothing but a blanket of clouds concealing the country below. The brief dry season in the highlands is January through to March. Again through lack of trip research, I’m travelling in April, so it’s fairly moist, which, despite being a condition that slows a bike journey down, nonetheless offers a verdant freshness as a welcome trade-off. To make up for my non-view at World’s End, I join in with the pilgrimage up Adam’s Peak (or Sri Pada). At 2,243m, this isn’t the highest peak in Sri Lanka, but it’s definitely the most spiritually significant. The Sinhalese name translates as ‘sacred foot’, which refers to the shape of the peak’s rock outcrop as seen from above. Any evidence of this is obscured by the Buddhist, Christian, Muslim and Hindu holy shrines, all claiming space in equanimity, prayer flags whipping fiercely. The steps to the summit are ascended at 2am, so that sunrise can be fully appreciated at the top. I clamber past a full diorama of tourists and worshippers alike, stopping at alpine food stalls to fuel up on, to my delight, Chocolate Milo. Adam’s Peak stands largely by itself, so the rising sun casts the mountain’s shadow in a near perfect triangle over the valleys below.
The sunrise is other-worldly; the distant thunderclouds are orange and mauve atomic explosions - well worth the effort.
allows me to explore the troubled yet mysterious north, so I turn east and head for the coast again.
The cultural triangle of Anuradhapura, another must-do, is awash with Buddhist stupas and intricate temples, perhaps the most famous of which lies atop the rock fortress at Sigiriya, another of Sri Lanka’s eight World Heritage Sites. Seeking a secure spot, King Kashyapa erected a huge palace, complete with swimming pools, atop the formidable buttress in the 5th century. While mere fragments remain, wandering the site allows the imagination to roam wild, and to picture the ornate extravagance as it was over a millennia ago.
My goal of learning to surf is finally achieved in Arugam Bay, Sri Lanka’s very own world class point break, and now a feature on the ASP tour. Despite being a brutal break over a razor sharp reef, the wave caters to both learner and expert abilities. I lazily spend the rest of my trip shuffling board in hand and barefoot around the sleepy surfing town, mingling with like-minded backpackers from all over the globe…the perfect end to any motorbike trip.
Another sacred site is the sprawling bodhi tree, planted in 288BC from a sapling of the original bodhi tree in India where the young Lord Buddha is said to have achieved enlightenment. This makes it the oldest verified human-planted tree in the world, and remains to this day one of Buddhism’s most holy worship sites. The barren road north takes me past grazing wild elephants, towards what was once Tamil stronghold land. Although the horrific civil war officially ceased in May 2009, the roadside military presence is still prevalent; lone soldiers rest on their machine guns in tree shade every 500m or so on some roads. I make it as far north as Vavuniya, at which point, for my own safety, I’m turned around at a military blockade. Even years later, it seems all pockets of Tamil unrest haven’t been fully tamed by the Sri Lankan government.
About the author: Matt is a 29-year old Kiwi engineer who prefers two wheels and adventure over four wheels and traffic! And in case you were wondering, here’s the “world’s coolest flag”...
There is also of course the constant threat of unexploded ordnance. As a solo traveller (ie - not on a guided tour), no amount of pleading
STOR Y OF THE MON TH!
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS IN KOH PHANGAN...
Having done my open water PADI diving course ten years previously, I didn’t think that when I arrived on Koh Phangan for a relaxing two week retreat, that I would have a very close encounter with one of the most dangerous animals apparently known to man! Initially I had planned a snorkelling trip whilst staying on the island. However when the owner of one of the local diving companies turned up at our hostel for a beer one sunny afternoon he persuaded me otherwise. Vic said I could refresh my diving skills and go diving on one of their day trips to a popular dive spot the next day. Well it didn’t take much persuasion, and I was ready for pick up at 7am sharp the next morning with my fellow divers. We had a heads up from Vic that there was a high chance of seeing bull sharks on the dive as there had been multiple sightings over the past few weeks. According to National Geographic, bull sharks, also affectionately termed ‘Zambezi’s’ (after Africa’s Zambezi River) are aggressive and considered by some experts to be the most dangerous sharks in the world. They are unique in their ability to survive in both salt and fresh water. They are up there with tiger sharks and great whites as the most likely sharks to attack humans. However the sharks hadn’t attacked anyone yet, so we weren’t deterred. After a rough boat ride and a few queasy stomachs and pale faces, we arrived at the dive site. After a brief classroom re-cap we were all geared up and in the water heading for Sail Rock, a well-known
dive site on Koh Phangan, renowned for its wealth of vibrant sea-life and common whale-shark sightings. As we descended to our 12-metre spot underwater, I was surprised at how easily I remember the diving basics: equalising my ears and clearing my mask. Buoyancy took a little longer for me to master however! Pretty soon the sharks started appearing. My stomach sank with fear as my instructor put his hand to his forehead in a fin-like shape and pointed below and in front of us to signal the looming greyblue shape which emerged closer than I would have liked and glided past us. A few minutes later another appeared, and then two together only a few metres from us. Bull sharks often hunt in packs and we were lucky enough to see as many as four sharks together. Although my heart was in my throat for most of the dive, it was a privilege to dive with such amazing animals at close range. One of the sharks came just over a metre away from us; at that point I took to hiding behind the instructor’s shorts and hoped it wouldn’t come closer. You’ll be pleased to know we all survived unscathed, board shorts intact – phew! I must admit I didn’t feel completely comfortable until we were safely back on the boat again, but it was an amazing experience and one I certainly will never forget.
By Emma Joynes
Calling all budding travel writers!
S.E.A Backpacker Magazine is written by travellers passing through South East Asia right now. It’s our aim to have fresh new writers with new experiences and viewpoints contributing every month. If you fancy your hand at a spot of travel writing, we would love to hear from you! Please send any articles, stories, book reviews or any random scribbling you like to email@example.com If possible try to include photos with articles you submit. We’ll get back to you right away with news of whether your words will be appearing in the next issue.
Thanks for your support and Happy Travelling!
Minutes with a Backpacker!
Name: Tim Upson Age: 37 Originally hails from: Southampton, England. How long on the road: Two months. Flip flop count: Just one. (pretty sure that’s a record) Sunglasses count: Three. Book recommendation: The Repairman Jack Series (horror / thriller novels) by author F. Paul Wilson are brilliant! Your three most memorable moments:
1. Partying on Koh Phangan. 2. Tubing in Vang Vieng where a Dutch girl we’d met relieved herself on the dancefloor of one of the bars without a care in the world. I’ll never forget my friend Dave’s face! 3. Don Det, Four Thousand Islands. Loved every nook of that place.
High-point: Admiring the love and companionship between two people on Don Det – a beautiful young Thai girl around 17 years old, and a large bald man about 50. It’s good to know that true love can blossom between two different cultures, as well as a comfort to know where to live in my twilight years. Truly inspiring. Low-point: Having to leave my new travel friends on Don Det in Laos.
Injuries: Many! I fell off a table at a Half Moon party and
cut the back of my leg, which got infected and grew to five times the size. I also got a three-inch friction burn under my arm whilst tubing when I jumped onto a rope into the river from a bar. My friend had to dress it twice every day!
Something I’ve learnt about myself: I like ginger people; my ignorance about their kind has been lifted through exposure. Oh – and I’m clumsier than I thought.
One thing I’ll miss/won’t miss about Asia: My new friends / Mosquitoes.
Tips for fellow backpackers: Find fellow travellers who already have routes planned, and attach yourself to them like a parasite. Buy an iPhone. Always locate the air valve on a tube before you jump into it! Don’t scratch your mozzie bites. Interview by Donna Jackson
Chiang Mai Flashlight Photography Tour! the best local spots in Chiang Mai from the beautiful Wat Pra Singh, up the mountain to Huay Kaew watererfall, to Huay Tung Tao Lake, the budding photographers managed to capture some amazing shots - and even better memories to take home! Kat Payne from the UK, a student on the tour said “I rocked up in Chiang Mai having absolutely no expectation of what the course would be like. I figured if it wasn’t great then at least I’d still get to see a new place in Thailand. Little did I know when I arrived at the S.E.A Backpacker office that I was about to meet some people who I’d have a ridiculous amount of fun with over the ensuing three days and also discover a crazy amount about photography! I learnt not only about the technical elements, but also about visualising my photo before taking it and really working on my composition. The experience totally inspired me with my photography and it was easily one of the best (and fun) things I’ve done this year!”
lose encounters with hill-tribe villages, watery blessings at twinkling temples, wrong turns in Chinese markets, one of the most beautiful festivals in South East Asia (and a dangerous experience with a firecracker!)… What an incredible three days it was at the S.E.A Backpacker HQ as we hosted the very first of the Chiang Mai Flash Light Photography Expeditions in November to coincide with Loi Krathong, Thailand’s ‘Festival of Lights’. Ten people, eight cameras, seven nationalities, two ‘professionals’, two iphones, thousands of photos and millions of laughs… it was one of those magic trips where the whole group seemed to ‘click’ (excuse the pun) from day one! The hosts for the expedition were Flash Parker and Dylan Goldby; professional photojournalists whose work has appeared in National Geographic, Lonely Planet and Condé Nast Traveller to name a few! (Flash’s photo is also this issue’s front cover shot!) Over three jam-packed days, Flash and Dylan mentored an already talented group, in the art of travel photography; from how to take natural portrait shots to learning to make the most out of your flash. As editor Nikki led the group around
When day three was over and everyone was proud of their achievements, it was time for a celebratory knees-up in the UN Irish Bar round the corner from the office! It was a little emotional as we shared the best pics from the three days, shared tips, shared pies and beers and Facebooks… One member getting a little carried away with a 2am announcement that he was about to get a tattoo to commemorate the experience! With a 6am flight the next day Dylan and Shawn (like true professionals) stuck through the night partying with the group before flying off to the castaway island of Koh Lanta to photograph for a feature about sea gypsies – oh the life of a travel photographer someone’s got to do it!
Some of the Best Shots!
Bracelets (By April Black)
I shot this images in Shutter Priority to try and control how much of the monks were blurred. (20mm Focal Length F/14 1/6s). I knelt down and rested on a nearby wall so I could get the background crisp. The monks just walked into the right of the shot and voila!
Travellers in SE Asia often have a collection of bracelets from their travels and all for different reasons, be it friendship bracelets, a collection of them from tubing in Vang Vieng, or they merely like them as jewellery and a reminder of their travels or a time or person they want to remember. This shot was taken up at Doi Suthep and I love the addition of another bracelet to their growing collection of memories. (Shooting notes: 18-200mm, ISO 1/25, f14.)
Bearded Man with Coffee (By Kat Payne)
Reflections by the Lake (By John Sandvand)
I love the contrast of his white beard with his dark skin and just how relaxed he looks drinking his coffee! I shot this photo at an aperture of 4.0 because I really wanted the main focus of the image to be him, but also include all the fantastic details like his coffee cup, his ring and even his Playboy branded belt!
Our assignment was to shoot the lake landscape in an original way. But I felt I needed something interesting in the foreground to make it compelling. I asked a monk, who I’d chatted with earlier, if he could be my photo model - he was thrilled. In my opinion the presence of the silent monk is what really makes the picture.
Ghost Monks (By Alex Gonzalez)
It was such a success that we’ll be most certainly carrying on the tradition next November (2013) – watch out for details on our website.
See you r! next yea Preparing for Loi Krathong (By Dave Tanner) One of my favourite shots from the three days... girls passing by the S.E.A Backpacker office on their way to place their handmade floating Loi Krathong boats into the river.
Thank you for the photos: Dave Tanner, Kat Payne, Alex Gonzalez, John Einar Sandvand, April Black, Iris Fehse Van Dyk, Beerend Van Dyk, Dylan Goldby and Flash Parker.
FACES & PLACES
My LIFE ON CASTAWAYS ISLAND... James Lander from Ipswich, UK, is currently living the dream as a Tour Guide on Castaways Island for Vietnam Backpackers’ Hostels. Having set off travelling in September 2011, he discovered the paradise of Castaways and then clinched the job in November 2012. Responsible for everything on the three day, two-night trip from coordinating the activities to getting everyone involved - this is a euphemism for ‘socialising’, right?!... James says he’s travelled the world three times over already, but also remarks that this was never the plan… it’s just how it’s all turned out!
We love your style James - so much so, in fact, that we thought we’d quiz him some more… particularly on the Castaways lowdown. The thing is, though, would we actually get him to reveal any juice?! So, tell us all about Castaways Island! It’s described on your website as your very own private party island… And that’s exactly what it is! It’s the middle of Cat Ba National Park in Halong Bay, and no other tourists set foot there. In fact, the only way to get to the island is via the Hanoi Backpackers’ sail boat – the ‘Jolly Roger’ that sails from Tuan Chau Harbour, close to Halong City. Most backpackers book the trip from Hanoi and travel direct by minubus to Halong Bay before jumping aboard! You travel through amazing scenery on the boat to get to the island, passing limestone karsts, floating fishing villages and hidden caves... it takes about a day to get to the private spot where you feel like you’ve left the rest of the world behind. We’re also the only ones to do water sports there, which is awesome! Working every day wakeboarding whilst living on a private island is pretty epic. Throw in a massive party every night on top of that, and your life is pretty much guaranteed fun! Alright, don’t rub it in! How did you manage to clinch the job of being a Tour Guide on a paradise island?
! James gets acquainted with the crew 54
I was travelling the world with my best friend and came to Hanoi after recommendations from fellow backpackers in Thailand to do the tour with Hanoi Backpackers’ Hostel. We’d originally planned a six-month trip, so it was never my intention to stop anywhere and work, but of course we had an amazing time on Castaways. Then, after a few beers back at the hostel and a chat with some of the staff, we both ended up getting tour guide roles. The rest is history! We’re both outgoing people and the idea of working on an island in
Vietnam seemed pretty cool! We’ve heard the island is totally deserted. What’s it like to live in such a place? It sounds like such a cliché, but I really do wake up every morning and wonder how I ever managed to end up working in such a beautiful place! Not to say I don’t experience a little bit of cabin fever now and then, but in any case, it certainly beats an office in rainy England.
Yep, I think we’re definitely in for giving it a go! Sounds brilliant – a bit exhausting for the tour guide though? Lack of sleep is probably the hardest thing about being a tour guide... you’re up early every morning, then of course having fun at night-time – but you do get used to it! As for actual sleeping, all of us (tour guides and customers) sleep in open air huts that look out on to Halong Bay. Not bad, eh?!
The tour itself, the ‘Rock Hard Rock Long Halong Bay Tour’ has become rather legendary on the backpacker trail. Sounds pretty hectic! How long is it? Is it as crazy as people say? It’s a three-day, two-night tour, and yeah – hectic would be a good word! People do love to come and party, and there’s no better place to do it than here! It certainly lives up to its legendary status, which is why it has such a great reputation! Go on then, tell us what it all entails! We’ve heard reports of everything from banana boat rides to volley-ball and tabletennis tournaments (not to mention tonsil-tennis!)… even a spot of skinny dipping… Can you talk us through the first day? Wakeboarding, kayaking, high speed tubing, rock climbing… at the moment, people also love massive games of beer pong! It’s crazy how people take that game so seriously! Tonsil tennis? I don’t know what that is so couldn’t possibly comment! Oh, yes – and right in the bay, we have the phosphorous plankton that glows in the dark, so people love to go swimming at night just to see it (and, I can’t lie – some skinny dipping may very well take place!).
high keboarding, kaybeeakir ng, Volley-ball, Waroc g… pon g, bin clim k speed tubing, the islands activities! just a few of
And the second? Do you get to choose what kind of activities you want to do whilst you’re on the island? Is there an option to just kickback and sunbathe? The second day on the island is in fact usually very chilled. In general, though, it’s the customers’ island for the entire duration they’re there, so of course if they want to kick back the whole time, that’s absolutely cool! Lots of people just enjoy sunbathing and some quiet time reading books, but one of the really great things about the tour is that it’s all-inclusive, so it’s almost impossible to avoid trying out the activities when they get here! It’s always really good to see so many people facing their fears when they go rock climbing, for example – they’re always so happy when they get back to the bottom! And if you love wakeboarding – to be honest, I really don’t think there are many better places in the world to do it! Right, now what about all these drinking games?! None of us here at S.E.A Backpacker have heard a single story from any backpacker without at least one reference to the ‘ring of fire’ and ‘confessions’… what exactly would we be letting ourselves in for? Haha! The thing with these drinking games is that people think we’re the ones who come up with all the crazy rules and games, but the truth is usually that when a game is introduced, it virtually always comes from a customer… then if we like it, we keep it! That said, we do sometimes spice it up a little! As for what you’d be letting yourselves in for… I think the best thing would be for you to come on the tour and experience it first-hand! You may even win the title ‘Hard Rocker’!
So what’s it really like being a tour guide? What’s the best bit? And are there any low points? The best bit by far is meeting loads of people, which is, for a lot of people, one of the main reasons for travelling in the first place (I’m hoping that when I do finally leave here, I won’t have to look too far to crash for the night anywhere in the world!). The main thing involved in being a tour guide, especially on such a busy tour, is making everyone feel welcome and being nice… which sounds simple enough, but as you mentioned earlier, things can get a bit hectic out there! Low points, er... the hangovers! Has there been any one trip that’s really stood out for you? What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen? Yeah, there’s always the odd tour or group of people that come through that make it all just that little bit more special, but saying that, I haven’t had a bad tour yet! Always nice to keep in touch with everyone, too. There’ve been some very crazy people I’ve met, some of them never fail to amaze you, no matter how many tours you’ve been on! As for the craziest thing I’ve seen – I think that’s going to the grave with me! Oh, come on – dish the dirt! We’ve heard that being the Castaways Tour Guide makes you an automatic hit with the ladies – what’s the deal with that, then? Do you pick one lucky girl each tour? No comment! Haha… no it’s nothing like that, I assure you! But it is our job to chat to lots of people and party most nights… so yes, some fun is had by all (and that’s the most you’re gonna get me to say!). Backpackers from all over the world come to Halong Bay especially to do the tour. Are there any particular traits you find common to each nationality? Do the Aussies or the Brits drink the most?!
YEP! Hit the nail on the head – it’s another very old cliché, but for a reason right?! The Brits, Irish and Aussies love a drink; they definitely have more of a drinking culture then other nationalities!! But there again, there are always some crazy Dutch around, and the Canadians also know how to party! The lesson I’ve learnt? In the right situation, everyone likes to let their hair down! What other places in Vietnam would you recommend to backpackers? Hanoi Backpackers’ also have a hostel in Hue (as well as two in Hanoi)… what would you say about these two places to those who have never been? Hue is great for a few days, especially after the craziness of Hanoi and the Castaways trip! After Halong Bay, though, the best place for me is Hoi An. Awesome old town with great food, cheap beer, and of course, great beaches. You really get a chance to be a lazy backpacker there, and feel like you’re on a proper holiday, even for just a few days! It must be a shock to the system going from deserted island back to Hanoi – arguably one of the most buzzing cities in Asia? How do you cope? Is it good to get back to civilisation – or just plain scary? Scary at first after a week on a deserted island, but after a few hours you get used to the hustle and bustle again! All the bikes and the constant horns are a bit intense, but – just as with any big city – once you know your way around, it has so much to offer! I really love Hanoi! As tour guides, we generally spend a week at a time on the island, with two days back in the city, which is a perfect balance. Why do you think that Vietnam is such a must for a backpacker’s travel itinerary? It’s got a little bit of everything! Beautiful beaches, crazy cities with great nightlife, great food, brilliant opportunities for motorbiking and trekking, world heritage towns renowned for their beauty (Halong Bay itself is a UNESCO World Heritage site). And, of course, everything is comparatively so cheap! And finally, if you could give up the life of a Castaway tour guide (assuming you ever would!) – what would be your dream job? Rock star of course! Or maybe a professional surfer – that wouldn’t be too bad either! Right now though, I’m convinced I have one of the best jobs in the world!
ays Island! How to Book Castaw
ge and book on: m A) Visit the tour pa packerhostels.co ck ba www.vietnam of the ok at either one B) Walk in and bo ’ Hostels! ers ck pa ck Ba m three Vietna Hostel, Hanoi: 1. The Original , Hoan Kiem. St n ye Hu o 48 Ng stel, Hanoi: Ho wn 2. Downto m. Kie an 9 Ma May, Ho Hue: l, ria pe Im e Th 3. o. 10 Pham Ngu La
By Colin Roohan
A Network of Fibres: Ock Pop Tok, Laos
am mesmerised, in a trance, as I watch the shuttle glide back and forth across the loom. Feet occasionally move two bamboo rods up and down with machine-like precision. The whole process of silk weaving is fascinating, from the gathering of the silk cocoons and the spooling of the thread, to the dyeing. I am at Ock Pop Tok (Lao for ‘East meets West’), a collective of weavers and crafters who specialise in creating Laotian textiles. Perched above the mighty Mekong, Ock Pop Tok has been creating quality fabrics and products in Luang Prabang for roughly 12 years. Founded on principles such as fair-trade and self-sustainability, this organisation has done a great job of empowering women and creating an outlet for local Lao women to make and sell their goods while also helping to promote the beauty of Lao textiles to the world. Ock Pop Tok offers free guided tours of their Living Crafts Centre (that includes free transport from their store in central Luang Prabang). Participants can view pretty much every step of the textile production process. I joined a tour of less than ten people that allowed us that intimate experience with the weavers. The highlight of having such an intimate experience with the weavers was, for me, being able to watch them arrange the patterns on their looms – something so intricate and detailed that only a select few possess the skills to do it well. Witnessing
all of the work that goes into creating these textiles makes you appreciate the value of silk and handmade fabrics so much more. Another specialty of the Ock Pop Tok crew is hand crafted batik. Hemp is made into a durable yet comfortable fabric then designs are drawn onto fabric with a mixture of wax and indigo. The wax markings resist the dye and after the right amount of dyeing and drying, the cloth is boiled , melting the wax and revealing the design. In addition to creating textiles, Ock Pop Tok offers a plethora of other services. There are four rooms available to rent (prices ranging from $60.00 - $90.00 a night), which are decorated in textiles produced in the workshop. For those wanting the ultimate hands-on experience, classes ranging from silk dyeing to bamboo weaving can be scheduled. The two and three day classes equip you with the skills necessary to assemble your own scarf – a souvenir you’ll never forget. For more information on classes and lodgings visit: www.ockpoptok.com.
Riverside ShishaBar & Restaurant Chill by the NamSong! Vang Vieng, Laos
now o Enjoy our Hammocks, Homemade ice cream Rooftop restaurant, Great pool table, Foosball & Table Tennis, Dub, Reggae, Funk & Deep House music, And much more...
By Maeve Henry
E S U CA NTA
A H LA R O O
F E, K G IN IM
K RL O O FO
E M I T
or all the travelling “foodies” out there, a visit to Time for Lime on the beautiful island of Koh Lanta is a must. Opened in 2003 by Junie Kovacs, a Norwegian-American with an impressive knowledge of Thai cuisine, this restaurant and cooking school (along with eight cosy bungalows) is located on Klong Dao beachfront on Koh Lanta, in the south west of Thailand. They offer quality, fresh ingredients, which can sometimes be surprisingly difficult to get in very touristy locations, where even the Thais themselves sometimes resort to shop bought curry pastes. Time for Lime is run on a different philosophy, and the passion for delivering a superior food experience is obvious. I decided to try out the cooking class after several word of mouth recommendations. In particular, I was drawn to it on hearing that the profits from both the cooking class and the restaurant are donated to Lanta Animal Welfare, the only animal welfare organisation on the island (more on this later). The menu for the cooking classes changes on a daily basis, meaning there is an option to take classes over several days or even the full complement of six classes in a week. I chose the Thursday class, tempted as I was by the opportunity to master dishes such as pad thai and papaya salad, not to mention learning how to make red curry paste from scratch! There were 10 of us in the class, everyone from a different country! It was fun to break the ice with introductions over a yummy lemongrass margarita (Time for Lime’s signature cocktail – I was given the recipe for this too!) – and then the class kicked off with an hour of theory. For me, this segment was fascinating, and having already taken several different cooking classes while travelling around Thailand, I was amazed by how much was covered in the theory element at Time for Lime – stuff I’d never been taught before! We were told how to cut ingredients a certain way, why they are cut that way – and which bits of the meal you’re not actually supposed to eat, as they are purely there for flavour (I wish I’d known this the first time I tried to munch on a slice of galangal floating in my Thai soup!). We were then given advice on which brands of fish sauce and soy sauce were the best for flavour – I didn’t know there was such a difference in taste and quality among all the different brands out there. We were encouraged to take photos of the ‘good’ bottles, to have something to refer to when shopping for ingredients back
home – a very helpful hint! In that first hour, we were given so much useful information about Thai cuisine that I found myself writing pages and pages of notes to keep with my recipes. All of this took place as we sat facing directly on to the beach, with relaxing chill out music playing and our instructor’s jokes generating a lot of laughter. Then it was time to get serious! We all took to our cooking stations, woks and “killer” knives at the ready. The actual cooking part turned out to be just as much fun as the theory before it. We chopped, pounded and stir-fried and then, after a little lesson in food presentation, we were ready to eat! I was pretty amazed at how good everything tasted, and couldn’t believe it had all been created by my own hands! While we ate, I took the chance to read a brochure about Lanta Animal Welfare. This organisation was founded by Junie with the primary aim of being a sterilisation centre for Koh Lanta, in order to keep the dog and cat population of the island under control. It receives no government funding and runs purely on donations (and the profits from Time for Lime); it is run mostly by volunteers, and has so far sterilised and treated over 5,000 animals, as well as helping over 25 homeless dogs get adopted by new homes in Europe and North America. My food (and my cocktails!) tasted even better when I realised where my money was going. In total, the class lasted about five hours, interspersed with a few eating and drinking breaks. By the time it ended, I was totally full – not just with the delicious
AMAZING! We need volunteers to help at our Happy Animal Sterilisation & First Aid Centre on the island of Koh Lanta in Thailand. You’ll help to look after our cats and dogs - stay for a month and we offer free accommodation! www.lantaanimalwelfare.com & Facebook
FOOTPRINTS RESTAURANT AND ECO SHOP Koh Phangan, Thailand
Vegan, vegetarian, live-food bar & eco store * Sea breeze and ocean view * Chilled atmosphere * Ambient music * Great food & cooking classes!
Smoothies, salads, soups, gluten free crackers, live food desserts, herbal elixirs, tasty veggie burgers, healthy pizzas, many cakes and guilt-free ice cream!
A g tin mee e for c a l p cious d s con ers, foo ell urs trav nnoisse e co reativ & c rits... spi
food I’d created, but with so much more knowledge about Thai cuisine than I’d expected to learn from just one class. If you’re travelling in the area and interested in a cooking class, make this your first stop. Not only will you be amazed by how much you Contact Time For Lime will learn and the delicious food you’ll prepare, the Address: 72/2 Mo 3. Klong Dao money you pay for the Beach, Saladan, Ko Lanta, Krabi, experience will go to Thailand, 81150 benefit one of the most important charities on the Phone: +66 75 684590 island. And if you need any or +66 899675 017 more reason than that, then may I suggest the Lemongrass Margarita..?
Open: 7 days a week, 9:30am - 9pm Saturday and Sunday open until 10:30pm
Find us inThongsala in Koh Phangan, right-hand from the Pier, then follow the Footprints!
Tel: 0901745072 firstname.lastname@example.org
Concepts of Beauty Around the World
hat do you consider beautiful? Au-naturel or all made-up? Toned and lean, or pumped and muscular? Blonde and fair with round rosy cheeks, or those more exotic attributes, such as smooth brown skin and high-set cheekbones? We all have our preferences. But what do you think of entirely tattooed faces? Or necks elongated by solid brass rings till they measure more than 12 inches long? What about lips that have been stretched so far by clay or wooden discs that some bearers can pull them right over their heads? These are just three of the many concepts, that, in the name of beauty, are rigorously conformed to by cultures the world over; concepts that seem unfathomable (if not entirely bizarre and downright unattractive) to those of us not familiar with the significance behind the practices. Let’s face it, an asymmetric haircut is pushing it for some – so can you imagine trying to identify with the envy of Le Ly Hayslip’s neighbours from the remote Vietnamese village described in her memoir When Heaven and Earth Changed Places? (The source of their jealousy? Well, Le Ly’s beautiful mother, of course. Or, more specifically, her long, Buddha-like earlobes… and dark, stained teeth.) Our notions of what is beautiful have been more ingrained in us by the dictates of our culture than many of us actually realize. Some of these differences appear to be driven by fashion – the vibrancy of Indian saris and jewels compared with Western minimalism, for example – or by the constant striving for what is rare, exotic, and not so easily attainable; a symptom of the ‘grass is always greener’ syndrome – such as the West’s ideal of a ‘sun-kissed glow’ compared to the ardent longing for pale skin in Asia. On the subject of the latter, I remember just how long I spent when I first arrived in Thailand as I tried (almost in vain!) to find a face-wash or a body moisturiser that wasn’t full of whitening properties. “I’ll be like a ghost if I get any paler,” I explained to the shop assistant (who couldn’t in a million years have looked less understanding). But of course, all this is not just a matter of fashion. There are much deeper implications at stake that have influenced our ideas of beauty since the beginning of time, which, when you really consider them, make you wonder what beauty signifies, really? Status? Power? Studies have shown that those who are beautiful receive better pay for their work, and have even been viewed as being more competent and trustworthy. Studies or no, it’s a fair assumption. Myths that define good versus evil based on looks alone exist in many cultures – you’ve only got to cast your mind back to any one of our traditional fairy tales for confirmation of this. All evil sorcerers are ugly; good queens beautiful. Ever heard of a pretty bad witch? Me neither – except for maybe the one in Snow White with the mirror and all those insanely obsessive ramblings of ‘who’s the fairest of them all?’ that came along with
it. Saying that, wasn’t that the whole point? She wasn’t the fairest of them all, so she clearly wasn’t going to win that handsome Prince – and no, of course that had nothing to do with the fact she was an absolute psychopath, although it did always seem fairly clear to me that if she hadn’t been quite so insecure about her relative lack of beauty, then she mightn’t ever have been so wicked in the first place. Traditionally, good looks don’t just indicate character, though. Asian cultures in particular are full of myths about facial features. For example, a wide nose is meant to be a sign of future prosperity, and is therefore considered one of the heights of attractiveness. The message is seemingly clear. Beauty means success, which can, ultimately, mean only one thing: Wealth. Is that what beauty is really about? A measure of one’s worth, as well as a means by which one might acquire more? Is beauty just a currency? The brass rings worn by the tribal women in Myanmar and northern Thailand are there in part to symbolise their wealth; the length of the neck almost a by-product of a public display that shows off just how many rings they’ve been able to afford. Likewise, the size of the lip discs worn by the women of the Mursi tribe in southern Ethiopia is a measure of the number of cattle owned by their families. Being plump (or even fat) in some parts of drought-filled Africa provides yet another channel of flaunting one’s wealth, and as such, is seen (in Mauritiana on the Atlantic coast, for example), to be very beautiful (a feature which is also revered in India – so much so that there have been many reports of Indian mothers force-feeding their daughters milk in a bid to fatten them up). All of these beauty dictates apply to women only; their roots for the most part intertwined with the intention of marrying well (and in some cases, quite overtly: for one, the size of the Mursi women’s lip plates determines the marriage dowry). Throughout history the world over, it is clear that sexual attraction has time and time again come a very poor second to one’s financial status when into the equation comes the fine (and very important) matter of being chosen as someone’s wife. In many cultures to this day, a woman is no-one if they don’t have a husband. For females in such societies, marriage is essential for a ‘better life’ (the phrase ‘better life’ intimating far more, of course, than the mere pleasures of love and romance). And it’s the same all over the world. In the West, pale skin was
once a sign of beauty because (just as in Asia today), it showed you were wealthy enough not to have to toil outside in the fields, under the burning glare of the sun. Plumpness showed you had enough money to eat. (Not that eating in public was necessarily always seen as attractive; stuffing your face in front of others – particularly in the Deep South of America in the 19th century – pointed to a personal state of affairs in which you might privately be starving – denoting low social standing as a result, and decreasing in turn your chances of marrying into a reputable family).
The Assini women of West Africa used to encourage the larvae of insects to attack their nipples, so the consequent swelling would make them appear larger.
Nowadays, our preferences for the physical form are quite the opposite. Most of us in the West favour a tanned, slim body over anything that’s soft and dimpled (and God forbid, pear-shaped). But, does this not just stem from the very same root, just in a different package?
Our preference for the simplicity found in symmetry has been documented since ancient times, whether it refers to life, art, or music. This is not to say that attractiveness can be governed by a determined set of principles – Cleopatra was apparently more charming than really beautiful – but the virtues of balance, harmony and unity have been expounded by ancient philosophers of both East and West, from Plato and Aristotle to the Chinese concept of yin/yang, and the Eastern mysticism known as Sufism, which believed that the world was created in accordance with ultimate harmony and beauty.
Isn’t a person who’s tanned, toned and healthy, as a general rule, seen to be someone who’s pretty well-off? How else could they afford that personal trainer and exotic holiday? (And let’s be honest here, McDonald’s costs far less than it does to eat healthily, whatever Jamie Oliver says). So, what does this really say about beauty? Is it really just a construct to show power and status? Or are its underlying interests even darker? Feminists have been discussing this for decades. Naomi Wolf, author of the famous Beauty Myth published in the late 80s, states that beauty is a construct designed to control women. “The beauty myth is always actually prescribing behaviour and not appearance,” she writes. Which is tantamount to saying that if, through the bombardment of media and advertising, women are kept nicely busy with shaping up, looking sharp; and getting our nails done, hair waxed, eyebrows tweezed, etc etc ad infinitum – then we’ll be far less inclined to meddle with the real affairs of the world. What’s really interesting on this note is when you notice just how clearly the media ploys have indeed changed over the years. Back in the 1950s, women were kept on the leash with advertising that propagated the perfect housewife. Then what happened? The sexual (and political – the two surely go hand in hand, don’t they?) revolution of the 1960s! Suddenly, women were infiltrating the workforce and competing with men for jobs – so what did we get instead? Adverts on how to make our lips (not our oven tops) sparkle, and advice for getting abs like Madonna. ‘Advertisers are the West’s courteous censors,’ Wolf goes on to say. ‘Soft, rounded hips and thighs and bellies were perceived as desirable and sensual without question until women got the vote.” I’m no conspiracy theorist, but I have to say it does raise an eyebrow…doesn’t it?
Plastic surgery is on the rise as never before, with a great many Westerners coming to Thailand to take advantage of the largely cheaper prices. It works the other way too, of course, with an increasing number of Asian women undergoing surgery to create European-esque eyelids. These small differences aside, the results that most surgical procedures try to achieve are similar all over the world. Women want symmetrical features, plumper lips, a smaller waist-hip ratio, and fuller breasts, while men want a chiseled profile and a strong jaw line, which denotes strength. And it all comes down to biology. “Beauty is health,” a well-known psychologist is reported as saying. “It’s a billboard saying ‘I’m healthy and fertile. I can pass on your genes.’”
In addition, both ancient pre-Islamic and medieval Muslim Azerbaijan considered such harmony to be the very criteria of perfect beauty. Balance (including facial balance), it seems, equates familiarity, which is comforting; synonymous with the order of nature, and of the Universe itself. I was in a taxi in Malaysia not long ago. “You look like that singer… Katy Perry!” said the driver. “But you would look so much more beautiful if you were wearing a burka.” In the Middle East, beauty is connected with that which is only fleetingly visible (hence also the popularity for scarves, fabrics and dark-kohled eyes). Still, it’s funny, though, isn’t it? That something that Western culture believes to be oppressive to women has been so ingrained in the East that it’s actually thought of as beautiful? So, what exactly is beauty? It’s something, and then it isn’t; both opposite sides of the spectrum at once, provoking questions and hypotheses that roll forward, and then back; merging into each other and moving away, as fluid and changeable as nature. There are some aspects of beauty we all agree on; and others we don’t. What is fundamentally true, though, is also something that the Buddha taught. Beauty is fragile. Beauty will not last. Beauty will die. Yes, beauty, in its many forms, can bring happiness. It can also bring comfort, friendship, companionship, and security. But what is also clear is that we must open our minds, open our eyes and open our hearts. We must always remember to look a little deeper. Don’t grasp what can’t be ours. Enjoy what we have. Search beneath the skin.
By Karen Farini
Whatever the cause, the desire for beauty is something that outstrips most others, and has spanned centuries and continents. A relief in the tomb of the Egyptian nobleman Ptahhotep, who lived around 2400 B.C., shows him getting a pedicure. Renowned beauty Cleopatra wore kohl, an eyeliner made from ground-up minerals; while, to emphasise their noble blood, women in the court of Louis XVI drew blue veins on their necks and shoulders.
10 Beauty Trends
from Around the World 1) Elongated Necks For females of the Kayan tribe in Myanmar and the Karen tribe in Thailand, a long, elegant neck is the most prized attribute, and signifies both social status and beauty. The collarbone and shoulders of the women are weighed down from the age of five by ring upon ring of pure brass. But wearing those pounds upon pounds of brass neck rings can also be hugely damaging, and runs the risk of severely deforming the wearer’s collarbone and weakening the neck muscles to such a degree that, if removed, it may simply no longer be able to support the head.
2) Foot Binding The aim behind the Chinese practice of foot binding during the Ming Dynasty was to transform female feet into the highly coveted ‘three-inch golden lotuses’. Banned in 1912, some women nonetheless carried on in secret. It is still said to continue to this day in Liuyicun, a village in Southern China’s Yunnan province.
3) Dreadlocks The dreadlocks worn by many people of African descent in the West, a feature so far removed from the Western ideal of pokerstraight sheets of silk, is said to symbolize the pride they have in their black heritage.
4) Lip Disks For centuries, the women of the Mursi tribe in the lower valley of the Omo River of Southern Ethiopia have been wearing lip disks to display their sexual maturity and social status. Girls who have reached puberty have their bottom teeth removed and a piercing made in the lower lip. The lip is then inserted with a peg, which is changed for bigger ones until the lip – now stretched to about two inches – can be stretched around a clay or wooden plate.
5) Ear Gauging Large, stretched earlobes are – or at least were – high on the list of aesthetic ideals in many Asian countries. The tradition apparently stems from the Buddha, whose incomparable wealth as a Prince was reflected partly by his earlobes, which had been irreversibly stretched by the many precious, heavy jewels that adorned them. In his quest for the truth, The Buddha – or Prince Siddharta, as he was then known – turned his back on his royal roots; his stretched earlobes (now bare) thus signifying his rejection of the material world, and his self-sacrifice. In traditional cultures, stretched earlobes are still seen as a sign of wisdom and good fortune, a belief that in modern times has also stretched (no pun intended!) to large ears in general, whose owners are said to be blessed with wealth. Ear-gauging has been common practice since the year dot. Ancient Egyptian Pharaoh King Tutankhamen is of one of the earliest known to have stretched ear lobes; while, as sign of wealth and status, the Mayans and Aztecs of Mexico and Central America wore ear gauges designed to give them permanent large-diameter ear piercings.
Ear rings of large ear piercing gauges similar to plugs are also referenced to the Hindu goddess Lakshmi in the Vedas. Ear rings have been found in a grave located in the Ukok region between Russia and China, and these large gauge plug ear rings for pierced ears date back to between 400 B.C. and 300 B.C.
6) Scarification In Ethiopia, the stomachs of the Karo tribe women are traditionally scarred in a decorative process that involves repeatedly branding and cutting a large area of skin with knives or even glass. The skin heals leaving lumps in a series of delicate and intricate designs. These may be varied, but scarification itself is considered fundamental in attracting a husband, since it represents sensuality and sexual appeal. The women are not allowed to marry or have children until the process has been completed Archeological research also suggests that scarification was practiced thousands of years ago by Aboriginal Australians, as indicated by markings on the bodies of humans shown in prehistoric rock paintings. Stone sculptures dating around 1000 BC have also been found at Villahermosa in Mexico. They feature incisions on the face and shoulders, suggesting the practice of scarification.
7) Grooming and Adornment
8) Body Painting
Not all cultures view beauty as something difficult to achieve. The Maasai people of East Africa approach beauty as an attainable quality that people can control. They focus on a tidy appearance and jewellery as adornment. Bright white teeth, a clean appearance, and short cropped hair are easily attained with brushing, washing, and cutting. Beaded jewellery is easy to find, make and wear. Proper grooming demonstrates personal pride, a healthful outlook and adherence to cultural norms.
The Kayapo tribe, who inhabit a vast area of Amazon rainforest near the Xingu river in Brazil, paint each other’s faces and bodies with colourful patterns that resemble animal or insect markings, as a tribute to social insects such as bees (from whom they believe their ancestors learned the tools and secrets of communal living). The women also shave a distinctive V shape into the scalp, which represents their connection with the universe, while during ceremonies, the men wear an ostentatious Kayapo headdress, its feathers fanning outward. This represents the universe itself.
9) The Snaggled Tooth
A very recent trend, a ‘snaggled’ tooth in Japan has become the very epitome of beauty. This cosmetic dental practice involves capping the teeth to make them look crooked, and is known as ‘tsuke yaeba’. Girls in particular all over the country are queuing up in their thousands to get it done!
Moles are hardly a passing trend; in fact, they appear to be universally popular, and have been ever since fashion began to lobby its rules onto societies the world over. Both men and women in England in the 1700 and 1800s used to draw moles – or ‘beauty spots’ – on their (whitened) faces (sometimes even in fancy shapes such as hearts), while in Asia, a particularly hairy mole is thought to be a very auspicious sign of good luck and prosperity (nb - having a hair grow out of a mole implies that the mole is ‘live’ and therefore healthy). But the international fondness for moles doesn’t just owe itself to fashion or Asian myth – it’s now actually been confirmed by science! According to a recent study on twins, a woman will look younger for her age and is actually healthier if she has more moles (something that won’t come as too much of a surprise to fans of Scarlett Johanssen, Marilyn Monroe and 80s supermodel Cindy Crawford, to name just three very famous, marked beauties).
Museum of Enduring Beauty Want to know more? The Museum of Enduring Beauty is an absolute must if you’re interested in the many varied notions of beauty prescribed to by different cultures, as well as the torture they’ve endured throughout history in a bid to attain those hallowed results! Open since 1996, you’ll find it at Level 3 of the People’s Museum. One piece of advice, though – it’s not for the queasy! (Museum of Enduring Beauty, Jalan Kota, Bandar Melaka (p. Jawa), Malaysia; +60 6282 6526.)
You’re probably wondering what I’ve been doing since I made it out of the jungle in northern Laos (alive)? Well, as you can imagine, once I’d eaten a massive plateful of chocolate pancake in my favourite café in Luang Nam Tha and slept for 16 hours, I made it out of northern Laos full stop, hopping on the bus over the border, and trundling down to Chiang Mai in Thailand: home to somewhat more of a civilization. Thank Buddha for that. There are tonnes of courses in northern Thailand – of the hippie kind for the most part: meditation, reiki... I know I was raving about all that stuff a few months ago, but I’m not quite ready for any of it yet, and obviously I’ve drawn the line at anything cooking-based. (As if!) What I’ve mainly been doing, then, is honing my massage techniques. Or perhaps I should say, honing my appreciation techniques. Having a massage here is virtually standard practice, so I have to admit that now it’s one of my daily treats, although sometimes the appreciation aspect can be pretty hard going. I mean, of course I understand that doing the same job over and over can get a bit boring (I left my old 9-5 back at home, after all; I’ve been in Asia for the last six months doing sweet FA) … but still, I feel like telling some of them, you do realise that one of us is on holiday here, right? Can you not put a bit more welly (or at least some joie-de-vivre) into it instead of soaking through my pores with your feeble strokes and apathy? Also, please put your sodding phone away. It’s not like I can even eavesdrop. I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently. Why it is that lying down having a rubbish massage is so much worse than just lying down? Yes, some massages are certainly better than others, but frankly, none are particularly unpleasant – and I certainly don’t have anything pressing to attend to (see lack of job comment above). Even so, there’ve been more than a few occasions where my cortisol levels have risen so much I’ve felt like springing up off the mat, thrusting some kind of paddle-brush in my masseuse’s hands, and squealing, listen, can’t we make it a little bit stronger? What do you think I am, a cat? Of course, I never say a thing. Well, that’s the Thai way, isn’t it? – to not display your anger; to always save face. In general, I do always make the effort to enjoy it regardless, which is sometimes helped along by external stimuli, such as the very dulcet tones from the French couple on either side of me that last week sailed soothingly through our adjoining curtains to hover in the ether of my mounting despair (and at other times hindered – on one occasion by an extremely talkative German who actually stood at the entrance of the shop for the entire duration of my (nb: very good) foot massage, firing undecipherable questions at the owner and taking endless photos of the reflexology chart. Silly cow. I probably need to assert myself a bit and learn to speak up if the massage isn’t to my liking, but up till now, I’ve just been practicing damage limitation, which means not even thinking about it after 5pm. See, humans aren’t the only species who like going out for dinner. Can you imagine how stressful it is to be lying trapped there, having a rubbish massage, and getting bitten at the same time? I never thought I’d use the phrase in this kind of context, but these last few weeks, I’ve been absolutely beasted. The flipside of
the whole massage/mosquito conundrum, though, is that if you’ve already been bitten, then even the worst old massage can turn out grand. Of course, what you’re looking at in that case is essentially a glorified hour-long scratching service – but what the hell, it feels good – and all the better because someone else is doing it for you, so you can’t quite tell when they’re going to hit all the hot spots! So exciting! Obviously, it wouldn’t be appropriate to start giving them a few ‘right a bit…a bit more…yes, there! There!’ instructions – and neither am I inferring anything about the service itself. What I will say, though, is that I went for one the other day with three absolute corkers on the back of my right calf, and it was worth every baht. Now, I don’t want you to get me wrong. 95% of the massages I’ve had since arriving have been top notch. It’s just that A) - I bet none of you really want to read about any of those (you’ve probably had at least ten dozen of your own), and B) – you can take a girl out of Britain, but you’ll never take Britain out of the girl. This at least in part goes quite some way to explain my deep-rooted fondness for whining. It also means, however, that even during the good massages, I still encounter problems. For one: What happens when you shift about a little and your hand ends up grazing your masseuse’s arm? We Brits are notoriously polite and uptight about this kind of thing – and in such an intimate setting, I feel embarrassed. The funny thing is, if we were both sat next to each other on a bus, I wouldn’t even flinch; Buddha knows I’ve spent many an hour fast asleep and dribbling upon my poor neighbour’s bosom, but the last time I accidentally touched my masseuse, the woman had her palms right on my nipples! I don’t want to sound like a prude, but I’m a firm believer in the fact that in these kinds of circumstances, it’s a matter of simple decorum that at least one party should keep their hands to themselves. And finally: What happens when you get a sudden urge to giggle? I was full of the joys of spring just this morning, and was lying there lost in my own little reveries – when (terrifyingly), I felt the bubble of a chortle rise straight up my windpipe. I swallowed it down – I mean, I couldn’t let it out, could I? I mean, I’ve got a man (yes, it would have to be a man this time, wouldn’t it?) doing circular motions with his thumbs on my upper left arm – what on earth would he imagine I find funny about that? Does the Thai way of ‘saving face’ also apply to inexplicably good moods? Well, you know what they say - ‘When in Rome’, and all that – so I try to look solemn; after all, he might think I’m weird – or even worse, that I’m enjoying it a bit TOO much, so instead – and despite my mounting hysteria – I concentrate hard… before concurring that the result of my facial contortions combined with the odd little tremor is probably doing me no favours either. Man, it’s a hard life in Asia sometimes. On that note, then, I think I’ll pop off for a beer.
Wish you were here! Ciao, Annabelle xxx
Ps – How many calories in Chang, does anyone know?
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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: As a strict Muslim country, the sale and public consumption of alcohol is strictly forbidden. Foreigners coming into the country are limited on how much alcohol they are allowed to bring in. Emergency numbers Ambulance: 991 Fire: 995 Police: 993
Cambodia: Currency: Cambodian Riel (US Dollars accepted) Exchange rate: $1 USD = 4,062 KHR Capital city: Phnom Penh Main religion: Theravada Buddhism (95%) Main Language: Khmer Telephone code: +855 Time: GMT + 7 hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: Sua s’dei (Hello) Aw kohn (Thank you) Visa: Most nationalities can obtain a 1-month tourist visa upon arrival which costs around $20. At land border crossings, notably the Thai/Cambodian border, the fee can be more expensive as the cost is paid in baht and is sometimes rounded up considerably. You will need 1 or 2 passport photos to apply, or you will be charged extra (usually only $1-2.) Passports must be valid for at least 6 months before entering and have one blank page. E-Visa: You can now apply for an E-visa online. Pre-order at: www.mfaic.gov.kh and your visa will cost $25 set price. You will need a digital photo of yourself to upload. Processing takes 3 days and you will get the visa straight to your mailbox. See official website for up to date info on which borders support the E-visa as not all of the crossings take it yet. Visa extension: Obtained at Phnom Penh immigration office, opposite International Airport. Tourist visas can be extended 1-month. (Around US$35) For longer extensions ask at Immigration Office. Penalty for late departure: US$5 / day. Climate: The hottest month is April with temperatures hitting 40 degrees. The wet season starts in May or June and lasts until October. The downpours are heavy and do not last long. The best season to visit is December to February, when there is little rain, low humidity and cool breeze. One random fact: The Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia is one of the largest in South East Asia. Every year
during rainy season, its waters swell over a period of three months, transforming the lake from 160km long to up to 250km. Ambulance: 119 Fire: 118 Police: 117
East Timor: Currency: US Dollars Capital city: Dili Main religion: Catholic (90%) Main language: Tetun, Portuguese, Indonesian, English Telephone code: +670 Time: GMT + 9 hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: Ola (hello) Adeus (goodbye) Visa: 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 became a Portuguese colony in the sixteenth century. The control continued, on and off, until late 1975 when the country declared independence. Many Portuguese influences remain today in the food, language and culture. Emergency numbers Ambulance: 7236662 Police: 112
Indonesia: Currency: Indonesian Rupiah Exchange rate: $1 USD = 9,500 IDR Capital city: Jakarta Main religion: Islam (88%) Main language: Bahasa Indonesia (official) There are also many regional dialects. Telephone code: +62 Time: GMT + 7 hours (Sumatra, Java) GMT + 8 hours (Bali, Sulawesi, Nusa Tenggara) GMT + 9 hours (Maluku and Papua) Hellos and Thank-you’s: Salam (hello) terimah kasih (thank you) Visa: Nationals of Australia, Canada, USA, UK and most European countries are eligible for a 30-day visa upon entry, which costs $25 USD. (Cost varies depending on point of entry.) The previous $10 7-day visa is no longer available. Payments can be made in US Dollars only. You will need 2 passport photographs and your passport must be valid for at least 6 months before entering, with two blank pages. A return flight is also needed. Penalty for late departure: Up to $20 / day. For more than 60 days overstay travellers risk deportation or imprisonment. Climate: Indonesia has just 2 seasons, wet season, which falls between April and October and dry season, which falls between May and September. Throughout all of the year the climate is hot and humid, although there are snow-capped peaks in the highlands of Papua. As Indonesia is such a long country, the difference in the seasons varies. In some areas, the distinction between the wet and
dry season is great, such as the Nusa Tenggara when the wet season (December to February) can make transport difficult, with road floods and ferry cancellations. In Sumatra, the rain falls from October to January in the North and from January to February in the South. In Bali there is little difference between the seasons where weather is similar all year round. One random fact: The komodo dragon is the largest living lizard in the world and is indigenous to the Indonesian islands of Komodo, Rinca, Flores and Gili Motang. It can grow up to three metres long, weighing over 70kg. Emergency numbers: (Java) Emergency numbers (Java) Fire: 113 Police: 110 Medical assistance: 118, 119
Laos: Currency: Lao KIP (US Dollars accepted) Exchange rate: $1 USD = 8,000 LAK Capital city: Vientiane Main religion: Buddhism Main language: Lao (official) Telephone code: +856 Time: GMT + 7 hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: Sabaydee (Hello) Khawp Jai (Thank you) Visa: Most nationalities can obtain a 30-day visa for Laos at international airports and land border crossings. The cost ranges from $20 - $42, depending on your nationality. At the Thailand/Laos border if you pay in Thai baht fees can be more expensive. You will need 2 passport photos and your passport must be valid for at least 6 months upon entering. Visa extension: Visa extensions can be applied for at the Vientiane Immigration Office, which costs US$2 / day for 30 days. Extensions can also be obtained from some travel agents for around US$3. 90-day extensions are available, ask at the embassy for details. Penalty for late departure: Up to US$10/day. Long overstays can lead to arrest and imprisonment. Climate: The wet season in Laos is between May and October and the dry season between November and April. Temperatures during this time are the most comfortable, and can be quite cold in mountainous areas. The hottest time of the year is between March and May, with temperatures reaching 38 degrees. One random fact: Luang Prabang in Laos was made a UNESCO World Heritage city in 1995. Home to many old, beautiful temples, it is the ancient capital of the Lan Xang kingdom, which unified the country in the fourteenth century. 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: Mount Kinabalu in Sabah, Malaysia is one of the highest peaks in South East Asia. Many people succeed in scaling its peak. The climb takes up to two days and trekkers usually wake before the break of dawn on the second day to experience the breathtaking sunrise on its rocky pinnacle. 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: Myanmar boasts an astounding 1,903 kilometres of coast line, home to many untouched, deserted beaches. 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 tropical, hot and humid conditions of the Philippines means that a vast diversity of flora and fauna can thrive here. It is home to over 3,500 species of plants and animals. The smallest monkey and the biggest fish in the world reside here. 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: Singapore is one of the the smallest countries in the world. The total land mass is approximately 15,000 times smaller than the United States with an area of only 682 square kilometres. 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. Your passport must be valid for at least 6 months upon entering. Visa extension: Visas can be renewed for a fee at immigration points. The cost is 1900 baht for 7 days extra and it can be extended only once. If you leave the country and return, your visa will be renewed for free. You can exit and re-enter the country as many times as you like this way and most travel agents can arrange border runs to neighbouring countries. Penalty for late departure: 500 baht/day. The maximum fine for overstay that you can pay is
20,000 baht after this you may face deportation at your own cost or imprisonment. Climate: Most of Thailand experiences three seasons; The cool season occurs during November to February, followed by the hot season, March to May, then the rainy season, between June and October. As with many countries in this part of the world, the wet season tends to consist of short, hard downpours. The time of the rainy season however, differs from the East coast to the West. The Andaman Coast (West) experiences monsoon from June to September (Phuket, Phi Phi, Krabi, Railay) whilst in the Gulf of Thailand (East) rains mostly fall during September to November. One random fact: The elephant is one of the national symbols of Thailand. Closely connected with Thai people throughout history as an essential means of transport, the elephant is seen as instrumental in the building of the kingdom of Thailand. Particularly, the white elephant is highly revered and associated with royalty. Emergency numbers Ambulance: 1554 Fire: 199 Police: 191
Vietnam: Currency: Vietnamese Dong Exchange rate: $1 USD = 20,830 VND Capital city: Hanoi Main religion: Tam Giao (Triple religion – Confucionism, Taosim, Buddhism) Main language: Vietnamese (official) Telephone code: +84 Time: GMT + 7 hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: Sin chao (Hello) Cam on (thank you) Visa: Visas for entering Vietnam must be arranged in advance. You can do this at the Vietnamese embassies in whichever country you are in and some travel agencies also offer the service. Depending on where you apply for it and how long you mind waiting, (on average from 1 day to 4 days), it can cost anywhere between $35 and $65 for a 30 day visa. You will need 1 passport sized photograph and your passport must be valid for at least 6 months upon entering. Visa extension: 30 day extensions can be obtained from travel agents in Hanoi, HCMC or Danang. The process can take up to 5 days and the fee is usually US$30. Climate: The climate of North and South Vietnam differ greatly, with generally a hot tropical climate in the South and hot summers and cold winters in the North. The monsoon season is between May and October which brings rain to most of the country. The central coast can experience typhoons between August and November. One random fact: Vietnam has a flourishing film industry, with a number of films being honoured at festivals around the world, including Venice and the Academy Awards. ‘The scent of the Green Papaya’ was the first highly esteemed Vietnamese film of the twentieth century, nominated for the ‘Best Foreign Language Film’ at the 1993 Academy Awards. Emergency numbers Ambulance: 115 Police: 113 Fire: 114 (At S.E.A Backpacker we try to ensure that all information provided is as accurate and up to date as possible. (Checked 20.12.12) The information in this section is vulnerable to change. Please advise us at email@example.com if info is invalid and we will be sure to rectify it.)
L A T C H O B J E C T I H O F E N H T U R M O I L R O T O R T O F A A E U L A W N R E T U R N S E D O E I E H P I E R N U D E S G I S A G P L O N G B O W S T Y E I O B E S R S N O B E L A T T R A C T K L E T I C L S T E A D Y R E E V E
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QUESTIONS: Answers = 1. a) America 2. b) Tamarind 3. b) Indonesia
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