Myanmar Sunsets & Thanaka Bark Swirls
FEATURES: MOTORBIKE LAOS - WALK Manila - Volunteer India - Work OZ
JUL AUG 2012 Issue#19
EVENTS PARTY HOTSPOTS DIRTY HABITS!
DESTINATION SPOTLIGHT: CAMBODIA / LAOS / SUMATRA / UZBEKISTAN www.southeastasiabackpacker.com
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“One day your life will flash before your eyes. Make sure it’s worth watching.” (Anon)
Words by Nikki Scott Photo by Flash Parker
All of you at some point – desired change. A yearning inside of you that made you step on that plane and seek something different in the first place.
Could Shantaram have been written if the author had stayed at home in his PJs in front of the telly? Point taken.
So have you found what you have been looking for? In some ways, I bet you have. In some ways, maybe no. So you must change again, move on, shake things up, keep exploring. In order to keep moving and keep growing, change is always necessary. The secret is to be still discovering new things when you are 90 years old – no?
travel buddy and I used to have a saying that we’d use every now and again to encourage the other to make a big decision that was scary or daunting. “What would be best for the book?” The idea was that one day, when we were old and grey, we would write a biographical tale about all our adventures and we must make sure that the content was as exciting as possible!
It’s easy to stay in one place. It’s easy to stick with the familiar and comfortable. It’s even easier to stay in and live vicariously on Facebook every night. But what if deep down you fancy a change? What if you harbour ambitious thoughts of travel, adventure and a life of spontaneity? You probably do because you are reading this magazine right now. And what if you are contemplating leaving behind something that is perfectly good? A relationship, a job, a home? Why change something that isn’t broken? Why shake things up? Why head into the great unknown, which contains so much risk, possible danger and downfall. Why not just stand still? As Steve Jobs said, “Remembering you are going to die is the best way to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.” Every backpacker learns how to deal with change quickly. You meet best friends who become distant memories of your travels within weeks. You fall in love, fall in love again and then alas - it is time to hitch on the backpack and move to a new place. You have found the perfect beach, the perfect hostel, the perfect chill out bar… but you’re a backpacker - you must move on! There is more perfection to be found, and transience is the name of this game. Many of you probably left behind family and good friends back home, a life that compared to many is enviable. Many of you probably have notions to return home eventually. Some of you perhaps don’t.
The anticipation of a big change has been lingering in the air of the S.E.A Backpacker office in Chiang Mai recently. As soon as it was felt, we knew deep down that we must follow our hearts and obey the backpacker spirit that brought us here in the first place. So, we shut the office. We took our laptops to the beach and became nomadic again. We hired adventurous new people. Revamped our distribution list. Visited the remote jungles of Borneo. Started new projects that had been threatening at the bottom of the to do list for months. We hit the road. We visited Australia and Europe. We started three new websites that in time has the potential to become South America, Europe and Australia Backpacker Magazine. We decided to take our idea to the next level. We want to take South East Asia Backpacker Magazine (your magazine!) and share it with the world. There is still no other travel magazine on earth that is written and put together by backpackers – a travel diary for everyone – this magazine is truly one of its kind. Are our dreams too ambitious? Too challenging? Will we succeed? Who knows? But all we know is this: “The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one.” (Elbert Hubbard) - See you on the other side! (We’re looking for adventurous people to join our growing global team – if interested email: firstname.lastname@example.org. See page 11 for more information!)
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
PHOTOS: Underwater Photography - Make the most of your Camera!
South East Asia Faces & Places: Could you write a best-selling book?
ARTS: Walk This Way! Theatre at Street Level in Manila, Philippines.
FOOD: Eat for a Good Cause in Siem Reap, Cambodia - Meet Sister’s Srey!
Cover Photograph: Katie DeRosa, Myanmar
48: Traveller Thoughts, Stories, Tips 50: Soul Searcher: Vipassana Lowdown. 62: FLASHPACKER: The Life of a Digital
Nomad - Business Backpacker.
64: VOLUNTEER: India’s Medical Mission. 68: INFO: Visas, Exchange Rates & more!
Destination Spotlight: Travelling in Myanmar / Burma...
16: MYANMAR: Sunsets & Thanaka Bark. 24: LAOS: Biking The Bolaven Plateau. 28: BORNEO: Malaysia’s Diverse
Off the Beaten Track: Flores, Beyond the Dragons in Indonesia.
WHERE NEXT? Making Cash Down Under - Working in Australia!
Regulars: 8: South East Asia Map & Visa Info 10: NEWS! South America Here We Come! Could You Join Our Global Team?
12: 22: 34:
S.E.A Backpacker Pinboard: The Best of your Letters & Photos!
of a Digital iving the life
S.E.A Backpacker Co., Ltd.
Registration Number 0205552005285. ISSN NO. 1906-7674 www.southeastasiabackpacker.com Tel: 084 553 8996 (English) E-mail: email@example.com
South East Asia is Published by S.E.A. Backpacker Company. Word on the Street: Tell us Your Best Backpacker Managing Director: Nikki Scott. (E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org) (and Worst!) Travel Companions... Editor: Nanchaya Jaikaew. (E-mail: email@example.com)
Local Portraits: Meet Gaye, a Quirky Artist from Cape Anwa, Phuket.
36: Festivals & Events: What’s On Guide 37: GAMES: Crossword & Sudoku
Deputy Editors: Nikki Scott, Karen Farini. (E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org) Sales & Marketing: Kitti Boon Sri, Nichawan Keawpuang. Accounts: Thipapan Jaikaew. Contributing Writers / Photographers: Nikki Scott, Karen Farini, Flash Parker, Tyler Protano-Goodwin, Nick Baron-Morgan, Johannes Pudleiner, Marisa Teresa Santos, Katie DeRosa, Katherine Sazdanoff, Sarine Arslanian, Alexandra Baackes, Amber Kissner, Mike Crome, Emily Barr, Richard Arthur, Lucy Cruikshanks, Andy Hill, Paul L’Estrange, Tim Goodson, Megan Swanick, James Wyatt, Melanie Swan, Steven Reed, Ian Marshall, Simon Gillibrand, Paul Conway, Pamela White, Regin Reyno, Lauren Gravett, Cassie Gravett, Brooke Ferguson, Matt Alsevich. Design & Layout: Alexa Elizabeth, Laura Davies, George Reed, Nikki Scott. Advertising enquiries: T: +66(0)84 553 8996 (Eng) 089 990 6556 (Thai) Writing opportunities: Email: email@example.com
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, August 2013.
We are seeking female German, English, French, Spanish and Italian native speakers for long-term employment as a Customer Care Representative.
MAP: SOUTH EAST ASIA Myanmar
Fansipan Bay of Bengal
Mandalay Bagan Kalaw
Luang Nam Tha
Taunggyi Inle Lake Chiang Rai
Gulf of Tonkin
Plain of Jars
Yangon Three Pagodas Pass
Khao Yai National Park
Four Thousand Islands
Andaman Islands (India)
Vietnam Dalat Mui Ne
Koh Tao Koh Phangan Koh Samui
Gulf Of Thailand Andaman Sea
Chiang Mai Bago
Mae Hong Son Pai
Mekong Delta Region
Ho Chi Minh City
South C Sea
Khao Sok National Park
Koh Phi Phi Koh Lipe
Kuala Lumpur Medan Berastagi
Singapore Pulau Nias
o Date isa t p U Read st Asia V te Ea bsi South on our We cker.com/ ckpa Guide siaba asta
Laog Vigan Banaue Rice Terraces Luzon
Cebu Negros Bohol
Davao Zamboanga Kota Kinabalu
Bandar Seri Begawan
Indonesia Timor Sea
Gili Islands Bali
Nusa Tengarra Flores
Komodo & Rinca
! ? n io t a in t s e d t x e n Your
e’re looking for new adventure. New perspectives. New cultures. New reasons to gain weight. New cocktails to taste. We’re heading to South America: a land of extreme passion, vibrant emotions, and explosive flavours.
While half of our team sip fresh coconuts on the shores of South East Asia and continue to create the ever-inspirational S.E.A Backpacker Magazine, the other half will head onward to tackle an entirely new backpacking mecca. A place that often draws parallels with South East Asia in terms of the friendliness of its people, diversity of its landscapes and incredible opportunity for adventure! Join us as we throw ourselves in at the deep end, head into the great unknown and become first-time travellers all over again. After all - isn’t this what backpacking is all about? The unfamiliar. The not knowing where you will wake up tomorrow. The leaping out of your comfort zone. From the salt flats of Bolivia to the sand dunes of Peru, from the tango clubs of Argentina to the mud volcanoes of Colombia, all the way to the soccer fields of The World Cup in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. We’re ready to scale the Andes, trek through the Amazon, indulge in the bountiful options of the sophisticated metropolis cities, dance with a whole cast of new characters, and surf what are bound to be some pretty gnarly waves! Start planning your next adventure at...
Could you join our global team?
Become an S.E.A Backpacker Ambassador!
S.E.A Backpacker Magazine was thought up four years ago by a wide-eyed young traveller from England. She wanted to create a ‘Travel Diary for Everyone’ - a place where people could share their stories, tips and experiences of life on the road... it was also a spectacular excuse not to return home! What makes THIS magazine so unique is that anyone has the chance to be published. From poems and scribbles to special photographs and in-depth feature articles - this magazine is a combination of everyone’s travel memories. You’ll find the adventurous free spirit of the backpacker with every page you turn. There’s no other magazine like it on earth. So - we thought we’d take this involvement one step further and set up the ‘S.E.A Backpacker Ambassador Program’ allowing YOU to become part of our team while you travel!
3 Ways you can become an S.E.A Backpacker Ambassador 1. Write an Article / Review
Had an amazing travel experience that you want to share with others? Send in your articles, stories and tips for a chance of being published in the printed magazine. Have you found a fantastic hostel, restaurant or adventure company that you think others should know about? Offer to write a review or interview the owners on behalf of S.E.A Backpacker Magazine and help to spread the word of your favourite place.
2. Be Part of something unique & exciting.
We are just like you. Travel loving nomads with a lust for big ideas. We started S.E.A Backpacker Magazine with nothing but a dream and a few dollars left in our pocket... And with determination and passion we’re growing to become a global magazine. Work closely with the entrepreneurial team & be a part of this crazy ride that inspires people to travel!
3. Get free trips & free accommodation!
Open exclusively to our S.E.A Backpacker Ambassadors. We may ask you to spend a free night in a flashpacker hotel, go to a festival, review an adventure tour, try out a restaurant or be present at the launch party of a new backpacker bar. You’ll be our reporter on the ground. You’ll have your camera at the ready to take photographs and send us a review of your experience. And - you don’t pay a thing! Sound good?
Visit: www.southeastasiabackpacker.com /about/ambassadors - for more info! All potential ambassadors will need to fill out a contact form on our website, and be interviewed via Skype. Look forward to meeting you!
2. Add to Our Distribution List
Found an amazing hostel but couldn’t find a copy of your favourite magazine there? Send us an email with their address and help to get S.E.A Backpacker Magazine in the right hands to inspire more travellers across the region!
3. Help to Promote Our Digital Magazine
Share the link to our digital magazine on your Facebook or blog and help to get those folks back home in the mood to travel.
3 Benefits of Becoming an Ambassador 1. Great for your CV!
Spending a year travelling in South East Asia and worried that the strict job market back home will think you’ve spent a year as a beach bum getting drunk every day? Want something that looks good on your CV? Gain experience in publishing, journalism and marketing. We’ll give you a valuable reference if you’re good at what you do!
! U O Y T N WE WA 11
.A THE S.E ER CK BACKPA D R PINBOA
• Have you seen me?
Have you picked up the World Travel Diary?
Perhaps it will even find you! And if it does? Feel free to write, rhyme, doodle, draw, paste a photo – or do whatever you feel like in it!
“I don’t want to collect my own travel memories… just yours!”
There’s also a little bit about me in it as well – including my email address – so the last one of you guys to get and complete it will hopefully send it back to me!
Inspired by the weird but wonderful notion of the ‘six degrees of separation’ (like when you meet the daughter of a school teacher you’ve not seen for 20 years on holiday in Brazil!), I thought I’d start a little experiment...
But the most brilliant thing would be to find it again somewhere on the road whilst travelling in a few years’ time. Just like the elementary school teacher’s daughter in Brazil… imagined lost – but then found again!
On my recent trip to South East Asia I brought with me a very special diary and gave it to a random person to write something in it. But I didn’t ask for it back. I asked that person to pass it on to somebody else so that the diary starts to get filled with a variety of people’s travel anecdotes.
Honnes handed over his World Travel Diary during a snorkeling trip on Koh Phangan’s Bottle Beach on 26th July 2013 - Let us know if it reaches you!
By Johannes Pudleiner (Germany).
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Sent in by Marisa Teresa Santos.
“S.E.A Backpacker Mag - This is what happens for being always by my side! Order of Events: 1. Driving motorbike in Pai through pouring rain. 2. Fluorescent body painting before the Full Moon Party. Big hug for your team! The magazine is great and was really helpful during my three months in Thailand!"
Letter of the month:
Sometimes it Just Isn’t About Us As candy rained down from all directions, I stumbled forward, guided by the mass of people that surrounded me. The crowd moved fast, with only the occasional pause as attendees both old and young scrambled to pick up the sweets that had landed on the ground. Once I was climbing the stairs, I focused on the incense that I was clutching in my hands. A single stick attached to a marigold and an orange candle, their significance unknown to me. As I approached the coffin I took a deep breath, added my flower to the collective swell that had accumulated by the boys feet, glanced at his soft yet mangled face, and muttered ‘goodbye’.
CITI Z OF T EN WOR HE LD
Where have we been? IC FESTIVAL, ST WORLD MUSWAK, BORNEO SARA
As an English teacher in Thailand I have realised that here, grief is compartmentalised. I was informed on Monday that my student, Tomi, had passed away in a motorbike accident. He was 12 years old. I was told with a smile, a simple ‘mai pen rai’ (‘do not worry’), and a direction to go on teaching. I tried, but I couldn’t. I ended up leaving the room halfway through class as tears swallowed my instructions. Nobody cried. I was the only one. My tears seemed to evoke fear and confusion in my students; they asked if I had seen a ghost, searching for an explanation. In class the following days we laughed, the typical roar that fills the classroom, as I did my best to adopt their ‘keep it going’ mentality. It took until the funeral for me to understand their pain, to understand the loss that they were undoubtedly experiencing, but waiting to release. When the time was right they cried, deep sobs that shook their entire beings. Of course there were still smiles and laughter mixed in with the tears, a true reflection of how I have come to understand Thailand. A constant balancing act of extremes. Sad yet happy. Provocative yet reserved. Quiet yet loud. Modern yet traditional. Peaceful yet alive. The experience was equal parts surreal, exhausting, and heart wrenchingly beautiful. Here is where I could try to sum it all up and explain to you what I’ve learned. Perhaps a nice cross-cultural comparison on how we deal with grief, or a sentimental blurb about the power of community, or even a paragraph about how universal moments can break down cultural barriers. And while that might be interesting, what I feel like writing about instead is how the moment reminded me that sometimes things just aren’t about us.
THE VE SANTUBNUE: ONG PE NIN
This experience didn’t happen so that I could learn something, observe a part of Thai culture, or grow as an individual. This experience affected me, but it is not mine to claim, it belongs to a wonderful, vibrant, young boy who will be greatly missed by a family and community that loved him dearly.
By Tyler Protano-Goodwin
RE THE TS BEFO MOMEN ULAR FINALE! SPECTAC were neo for the 16th RWMF! We This June we travelled to Bor daily workshops uded incl ich (wh t even y blown away by the 3-da Iran, artists from Austria, Croatia, & concerts each night). With was it der won no e’s ther e, a, & mor Australia, Indonesia, Colombi ivals by World Music Fest l iona rnat Inte t Bes 25 voted one of the for more about Borneo... mag, Songlines! See page 28
What’s happening in South East Asia!?
SURFING IN BANGKOK?!
out area with folks relaxing, drinking beers and eating snacks, longhaired buffed up instructors looking like they’d just stepped out of the ocean - I felt like I’d stumbled across a little slice of beach right in the heart of the city.
When they say that Bangkok has everything, they really do mean it! From glitzy shopping malls, to delicious street food, markets, great nightlife, rooftop bars and surfing… WHAT!? No you didn’t misread that last one, I did indeed say SURFING! Last month, I discovered ‘Flow House’ - known by its devotees as the ‘everyday escape from Bangkok - in Bangkok!’ Traipsing through the car park of a shopping centre to get there, I was beginning to wonder if the mysterious Flow House was just a hopeful myth… Then, I started to hear funky tunes, splashes of water and laughter and I knew I was in the right place. Entering through the doors of a surf shop to a chill
TUBING REVIVAL A long way from the late ‘Tubing Mecca’ of Vang Vieng, Laos... we couldn’t believe it recently when we picked up a leaflet for this brand new activity in Chiang Mai! Had the Nam Song River with all its drunkenness, slides, mud baths and debauchery found a new home in the north of Thailand? Not exactly. It seems this tubing experience is a much more relaxing, leisurely experience - and a whole lot safer too! And who’d have thought there was a beach in Chiang Mai? Located at ‘Chiang Mai Beach Club’ in beautiful Mae Ho Phra, just one-hour north of Chiang Mai city, tubers will discover a beautiful landscape, complete with a sandy beach (did we mention that?!). There’s snacks and beer, as well as volley-ball, hammocks and bamboo huts where backpackers can chill out and enjoy each other’s company. A fantastic day out and the perfect break from the city in a scenic part of northern Thailand that many people miss! Trips are just 399 baht and include transport - see below! www.chiangmaitubing.com
It was 10pm on a Friday and the surf was up! Locals, expats and adventurous backpackers who’d dragged their asses from Khao San for a taste of something different were queuing up to master the awesome wave machine, ‘The Flow’. Some clearly had practice as they moved their bodies effortlessly making the board twist and turn stylishly over the swell. For some (yep you guessed it - me!) it was their first try… Wipe-out is the word I would use to describe my first attempt. And second, and third and fourth. After that, and some elaborate ‘Jim Carrey-esque’ dance moves on the board… I began to get the hang of it! It was so much fun and a good work out too! What a great way to practice for those travellers hitting the shores of Bali or Oz next! www.flowhousebangkok.com
We made the FRONT PAGE! ---> We were well chuffed recently to pick up a copy of the Bangkok Post and find ourselves on the front cover of the Asia Focus section! After being interviewed at Travel Conference, No Vacancy, in Bangkok earlier this year, S.E.A Backpacker Editor Nikki Scott spoke to the newspaper about the ‘backpacking boom’ and how the phenomenon is changing. With a rise in flashpackers, career breakers, ‘Golden Backpackers’ (also known as ‘SKIERS’ ‘spending your kids inheritence’) and digital nomads, South East Asia seems to be attracting more and more people who call themselves ‘backpackers’ to its shores!
MONKEY REPUBLIC RE-OPENS! In our May-June issue, we reported about the tragic fire in Sihanoukville, Cambodia which completely destroyed the much-loved backpacker hangout, Monkey Republic in the Serendipity area, along with several other establishments. While nobody was hurt in the fire, Monkey Republic was raised to the ground and the owners have since been working hard to re-build their dream. After months of planning and designing, long days and hard work, things are really coming together, and Monkey is looking bigger and better than ever. The re-launch of Sihanoukville’s busiest backpacker haunt is nearly here! One of the co-owners, Georgina told us: “We’re aiming to be open by late October, with a view to holding a massive launch party on Halloween. Thank you to everyone who has been a part of the re-build and we hope to see all of you backpackers for some tasty drinks and good tunes on the 31st October! A party guaranteed to burn the house down! (Not literally this time!) Keep up to date with developments and event dates on our Facebook page!” (Facebook.com/ MonkeyRepublic Sihanoukville).
WHEN it’s TIME TO WORK OFF THAT BUCKET BELLY... Everyone knows that when you’re travelling, it can be difficult to keep up a fitness regime. Lazy mornings, a beer with lunch, meeting friends for a spot of sunbathing and all of the days seem to blur into one. Fitness fanatics will be delighted to hear of the recent opening of Koh Tao CrossFit; a place where muscles are toned, toxins are sweated out and pad thai paunches are put to the test! Koh Tao CrossFit is dedicated to building a community of athletes who understand that hard work and dedication are the keys to achieving lasting fitness and healthy lifestyles. The program includes three elements: Cardio (building endurance and stamina), Gymnastics (using rings, pullups, and various body weight exercises to maximize strength and flexibility), and Olympic Weightlifting (developing explosive power!) There’s no “base level” fitness needed before training at Koh Tao CrossFit. Whether you’re a seasoned athlete missing their regular training program, or an out-of-shape backpacker who’s been inspired to get fit by their travels - the friendly (sometimes) trainers are there to help you achieve what you thought was previously impossible. There’s certainly more to Koh Tao than just diving! (www.facebook.com/KohTaoCrossfit)
Is this the end for lonely planet? It’s exciting when you are asked to quote on a specialist topic by a magazine. It’s even more exciting when that magazine is perhaps the most famous magazine in the world – TIME! With thousands of jobs cut recently at the Lonely Planet office in Melbourne, we were asked to comment on the potential demise of the legendary guidebook. Here at S.E.A Backpacker, the LP has a special place in our hearts: “A guidebook can be an emotional part of planning a once in a lifetime trip - starring ideas, circling places on a map & turning over the corner of pages. Can you get this same feeling from a website?” What do you think? Will the digital revolution make guideboks obsolete?
Skyscanner Winner in S.E.A! Last year, we gave away a free flight courtesy of Skyscanner, worth $1,500 USD! The lucky winner of our ‘Which Type of Traveller Are You?’ Competition, Cassie Recker, has now landed in SE Asia and is enjoying her trip to the max! “I’m still not fully convinced that this is reality and not some really epic dream! This is truly the ultimate backpacker destination, with something to offer any type of traveller. I’ve volunteered in Cambodian schools, visited ancient temples, taken care of elephants, swum in gorgeous waterfalls and shotgunned beers while kayaking in Halong Bay. Every day is an adventure and I’m so thankful to Skyscanner and S.E.A Backpacker Mag!” Watch out for more amazing competitions coming soon!
PHOTOGRAPHY COMPETITION! It’s almost time for our annual Photography Tour in Chiang Mai, run by the awesome Flashlight Photography Expeditions team, Dylan Goldby and Flash Parker. Last year was a spectacular success as we wandered through hill tribe villages, dodged motorbikes, chatted with monks, photographed tranquil mountain lakes and released lanterns at the amazing Loi Krathong Festival of lights! Once again this year we’re offering YOU the chance to win an exclusive place on the trip of a lifetime - as well as having your photograph appear on the front cover of S.E.A Backpacker Magazine! So what are you waiting for? Send in your best photos of your travels in South East Asia to the email address at the bottom of this text and if your image is selected, get ready for a Photography Extravaganza taking place from 15th19th November in Thailand’s cultural capital. To find out more or to reserve your place, email: info@ southeastasiabackpacker.com or visit the website for more info! (www.flashlightexpeditions.com)
Shout out for FOFTravel! This month we discovered a great new social network, called ‘Friends of Friends Travel (www.FOFTravel.com), which allows friends (and friends of friends) to share travel services for free. Either a bed (roof), a place to store your stuff (locker), insider travel tips (guide) or a meet-up (coffee), the world map allows you to build a network of trusted contacts. So, it’s a bit like Couchsurfing but with that allimportant ‘trust’ aspect taken care of as you already have a connection with the person you’re staying with! Cool huh?
By Katie DeRosa
ravel through Myanmar is measured in sunsets and rises. The metallic-orange reflection of the afternoon sun as it creeps down the opulent gold stupa of the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon; thousands of ancient temples, shrouded in mist as if in a dream, brought to life as they’re touched by morning rays of light in Bagan. The rippling pool of light cast onto the tranquil Inle Lake, cradled by blue-green tinted mountains; watching the hot sun give way to cool evening from the spine-like staircase that leads to Sagaing Hill – a quiet retreat from the honking mess of traffic in Mandalay. Previously one of the most closed-off countries in the world, Myanmar (formerly Burma) now opens its doors to one million visitors a year and rising. In 2012, a year which saw important political reforms under a new quasi-civilian government, the country saw a 54 per cent increase in visitor arrivals. The country’s stunning natural landscape and unfailingly hospitable people make this an irresistible choice for travellers looking to explore somewhere that still maintains an authenticity uncorrupted by mass tourism. There are nonetheless signs of change on the horizon. After years under house arrest, democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi has finally been allowed a seat in parliament, and citizens hope a free election in 2015 will vault her National League for Democracy into power. Myanmar citizens now welcome foreigners with open arms, in the hope that tourism will bring them a prosperity that to date, they have not been afforded. For now, though, visiting the country still seems like a trip back in time. Old 1970s cars spew exhaust fumes into the cracked and potholed streets of Yangon and onto the colonial-style buildings, painted bright colours of teal, peach and yellow, and deeply stained with age. Cellphones and SIM cards are still so inaccessibly expensive that many still use the payphones that dot the street corners — accompanied by a bored-looking woman or teenager sitting behind a wobbly folding table topped with three landline telephones. The men wear the traditional longyis, an ankle grazing tubular skirt tied in a knot at the waist, while the women wear custom-tailored longyis in delicate patterns and matching short sleeved tunics. The faces of the women and children are swirled with thanaka, a root-based natural makeup that protects their skin from the blazing sun. In the rural villages where the majority of the population live, bamboo hut homes stand amidst vast farm lands which are cultivated by hand, using rudimentary tools and ox carts. Wandering the streets is the best introduction to urban life in Yangon. It was the country’s capital until 2006, when the government announced it had built a new capital from scratch in
“The faces of the women and children are swirled with thanaka, a rootbased natural makeup that protects their skin from the blazing sun.” Naypyitaw, a vast and empty space 320 kilometres north of Yangon which features grand government buildings, pristine fountains and gardens that all look like they’ve been transplanted from an American megamall. The scheme was estimated to cost $5 billion, although the price tag had been kept a secret. Yangon, the country’s largest city with four million people, remains Myanmar’s business and economic hub. The air is filled with the fragrant smell of street food, most of which is deep fried, but appetizing nonetheless. The crumbling sidewalks are cluttered with people selling fresh fruit, roasted peanuts, seasoned tomatoes or paan: an addictive mixture of areca nut and cured tobacco wrapped in betel nut leaves. The teeth-staining juices are spit like chewing tobacco onto the pavement in blood red splotches. Day or night, the Shwedagon Pagoda, the holiest of Buddhist temples in Myanmar, glows like a beacon in the centre of the tangled streets. In a country where 89 per cent of the population are Buddhist, worshippers make the pilgrimage to the Shwedagon pagoda from the far reaches of Myanmar to pour cups of water over small Buddha statues and kneel down in earnest prayer. Burmese monks draped in burgundy robes walk around peacefully, sometimes leading young monks in training – kids about six or seven or eight, all with shaved heads and shy smiles. There’s something fascinating about watching the sun set without actually looking at the horizon. The 112 metre high stupa transitions from gold to a vibrant orange which seeps its way from the pointed top down to the wide base. When the sky goes black, the pagoda is flooded with Hollywood-style spotlights and flickering candle light. Myanmar is still grappling to catch up with the tourism boom that has taken off in the last four years, which means there are more backpackers looking for decent beds than there are guest houses to supply them. The cheapest price you’ll find is about $12 for a dorm bed or $25 for a double, about four times the price of what the same dingy, cold-water-only room would cost in other parts of South East Asia. The convenience of online booking is still likely years away, since most privately owned businesses still use paper ledger systems and deal in cash only. Mynt Maung, who owns White House guest
house — a popular backpacker haven in central Yangon known for its generous breakfast buffet — hopes these frustrations aren’t enough to keep travellers away. “This year, many foreigners coming. But many people afraid of Myanmar, they say ‘it’s too difficult; everything full.’” Most backpackers use those human payphones to canvas the list of the guest houses in the bid to score a booking. The other headache is the bizarre dual currency scheme which requires tourists to pay for attractions, hotels, buses, trains and boats in perfectly crisp US dollars. Even though tourists are told to bring in all the US cash they’ll need for the trip because of the lack of ATMs, some brand new ones have popped up in Yangon and Mandalay, and dispense the local currency, kyat (pronounced chat), without problems. Despite the pricey accommodation, food is still very cheap. You can feast on tea leaf salad, grilled meat skewers, fried samosas, flavoursome (yet oily) curries, mohinga — a traditional noodle breakfast — and sweet or savoury roti for between 1,000 and 4,500 kyat ($1.12 to $5.00). Transportation is also inexpensive, with taxis in the big cities ranging between 1,000 and 5,000 kyat ($1.12 to $5.60) and buses that travel between the major tourist destinations between 11,000 and 15,000 kyat ($12.50 and $17). Heading off the beaten path is a bit trickier, since the authorities in the second most isolated country in the world are still extremely paranoid about letting travellers roam about freely. Many of the states outside central Burma are off limits unless you have special permission – a laborious and expensive process. The ancient temples that dot Old Bagan are the main draw for travellers adding Myanmar to their bucket list; National Geographic this year list Bagan amongt the top 100 most beautiful places in the world. It is most spectacular around sunrise and sunset — “the golden hour”, a photographer friend calls it — when the parched, pagoda-dotted land is bathed in a warm orange light. At 5am, about two dozen people are perched atop the Shwesandaw Paya, waiting under a thick blanket of stars for the dawn to drive out the night and bring the ancient temples back into existence. Bagan, covering 42 square kilometres on the east bank of the Irrawaddy River, was the capital of the Kingdom of Pagan from the 9th to 13th century. During the kingdom’s rise, the king commissioned the building of over 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries. When the dynasty fell in the 13th century, thousands were destroyed by vandals. More than 3,000 pagodas are still standing today, despite the land being constantly rocked by earthquakes. Controversy surrounds some of the questionable restoration work, which some archaeologists have criticized as shocking deviations from the original architecture. Around 6am, the light rises to kiss the pagodas, which are shrouded in a mist that makes them look like they are floating on a cloud, like they could disappear at any given moment in a gust of wind. More than a dozen hot air balloons float into the sky, arching over the pyramid-shaped Dhammayangyi temple, as though released by an invisible hand. (The lucky people inside had paid more than $300 per person to Balloons over Bagan, the company which runs the hot air balloon rides and champagne lunch). But, whether floating above them or perched on top of one, watching the light change against the pagodas of Bagan is an experience nothing short of magical. Inle Lake is often called the Venice of South East Asia; its network of canals, floating villages and water-logged gardens make it one of Myanmar’s most stunning natural gems. Along with three other backpackers, I hire a boat (16,000 kyat for the day or about $18) which glides into the mouth of the lake, flanked by mountains shaded blue in the hanging mist, and dotted here and there by traditional leg- rowing fishermen. Balancing on the tip of a narrow, palm-shaped boat, they use one foot to row their oar, which is secured under an armpit. Their rough, calloused hands cast out a large net and haul the fish into a largecone shaped basket. In the distance, the boats start to look like
“The ancient temples that dot Old Bagan are the main draw for travellers adding Myanmar to their bucket list; National Geographic this year listed Bagan amongt the top 100 most beautiful places in the world.”
About the Author: Katie DeRosa is an award-winning Canadian journalist who has spent the last year writing and blogging from Australia, New Zealand and South East Asia. You can read DeRosaâ€™s work at www.katiederosa.com
fallen leaves on the water; and the fishermen like stems, as they leave behind the lightest crescent-shaped ripples across the glassy surface.
crimson curtain, the same material they use for their robes. Some families are so poor, they send their children to the monasteries to ensure they can get three meals a day and an education.
One of the best ways to experience the rolling, misty mountains in Myanmar is to trek through them. Many of the trekking companies are located in Hsipaw, in Shan State. Mr. Charles Guest House offers many hiking options, from half-day to multi-day guided trips. A friend and I choose the three-day, two-night trek from Hsipaw to Namshan, which takes us through winding mountain tracks tucked away Palaung villages 900 metres above sea level. Lush green rice paddy fields and tea leaf fields line the dusty brown track where women and children carry loads in bamboo baskets balanced on their heads.
From Hsipaw, I take the train to Pyin Oo Lwin ($6US for upper class) where the countryside rolls by the open window like a film strip. At the train station, all the tourists ask for seats on the right side for the best view. In broken English, the ticket seller jokes that “everyone want right side, train go like this” – and mimed the train tipping from the uneven weight distribution.
We eat lunch and dinner with local villagers who cook over a woodfired stove — simple but delicious meals of pumpkin curry, tea leaf salad, shan noodles, fish and seasoned potatoes. As dusk falls, the mountains are enveloped in a mystical blue haze which mingles with the pink of the setting sun. In the distance, lights mark the next village. The accommodation is spartan — just bedspreads piled on top of a wooden floor and topped by a hard pillow each — but, after eight hours of hiking, sleep comes easy. We spend one night in a monastery, a wooden barn-like structure with a dirt floor and wooden platform to sleep on. Little monks in training come and go from their sleeping area hidden behind a
At each station, food sellers crowd the tracks and stroll by the windows with chicken skewers, bananas and noodles piled high on their bamboo mats. In Nawnghkio, the train slows to a crawl and chugs over the highest bridge in Myanmar. The railway trestle, the largest in the world when it was built by the colonial British in 1900, is 102 metres high and spans the legendary Goteik viaduct, stretching 689 metres from end to end. Everyone sticks their heads out the window and marvels at the view below. At Pyin Oo Lwin, to avoid the two hour wait on the train at the station, myself and several backpackers climb into an overcrowded truck for a grueling two-hour ride into Mandalay. As I watch the sun set over Mandalay from Sagaing Hill on the last of my 21 days in Myanmar, I’m sad to say goodbye to this, the most interesting, frustrating and beautiful country I think I’ve ever known.
WORD ON THE STREET: Worst: The guy readin g The Power of Now who has just come back from an ashram in Ind ia and decides NOW is the time for him to ope n YOUR chakras. (Liz Miles)
Best: I met a guy in Bangkok on my first trip as there. We travelled south together and he complete strangers. I got robbed, that I would let me borrow money in good faith , I did, and able was I as soon As . back him pay people that f belie my er furth ed that really help ld do good are genuinely good - and you shou or not! to others, whether you know them Worst: Bed bugs. Standard. (Chase Nightblade Hunter)
Worst: The guy who sits next to you on the bus, who you’ve never met before & who insists on showing you every single photo on his camera of where he’s been & who he’s met. Why do I care!? (Nicola Hope)
Worst: A frog... he shared my bathroom with me for four months when I was volunteering in Thailand! (Kat Payne)
Worst: Any bloke who starts a conversation with ‘so how long have you been travelling for?’ Best: Any girl who starts a conversation. (Dave Atkins)
Best: I’d have said that my best trave l companion wa my camera – s until I droppe d it in the sea at the Full Moo n Pa rty ! Needless to been lonely ev say, I’ve er since! I didn ’t realise how taking photos much was an importa nt part of my tra experience… vel And I’m so gu tted to have lost all my pictures! (Jennifer Sand ers)
Be a kid h st: My Dad of trav e instilled in . As el and me a lo made ad v he wo me who I am venture that e u has ld to wake u day. A day!’ W t wee p an ell moun -deserved p d say ‘Let’s kends you he tains, hands icnics on th grasp the e ld tr secret your sandw embling with top of misty beach ich, lon the co e and ra ld in resu s, 20-mile bik g walks in se as lting in arc e rides it was aching throug h of becau se I wa le h seeme s a ch gs. I don’t k sun d so to pus adventurou ild that every now if h the li s mits o , but I’ll con thing (Nikki f travel and tinue life! Scott)
Best: My high school classmates are my best travel companions. We reconnected 12 years after we graduated, and found we were all still single and available to travel. We felt like kids again, and like no time had passed since high school, despite having older faces and many experiences. Since then, we make it a point to travel together every year. (Charmaine Despues)
Best: Dare I say it? My ’s best travel companion is… ME! That ngst many the beauty of life on the road. Amo y learn to other things along the way, you reall company. enjoy and be at peace in your own is a bonus! Anyone else who comes your way i) Farin en (Kar
Photo: Slowboat in Northern Laos by Courtney Muro
Best: An unlocked iPhone with Kindle. Worst: An old college frien d who kept flaking on me and my plans, ‘cause she had to hook up with a different guy almost every night! (Tyr Throne)
Best: My bright yellow Ipod from 2003 that is filled with 8GB of 80s and 90s music. No matter what the continent, it always gets everyone singing and dancing. Worst: It doesn’t matter who the person is, but a snorer is always the worst travel companion, EVER! (Sorry snorers, I like my sleep!) (Adrift Abroad)
Best: Defin my travel- sleep-every itely w pillow , earp here kit: mask bag! P and light c lugs, sleepin ott ro g even vides a go on sleepin if you’r g od nig nearb h e t’ in s sleep a bun y (an on a n d noisy) pa galow at a rty be ight-tr ach ain (Clara trip. Swee , or t! Rum)
Jasmine Lodge & Restaurant Siem Reap - Cambodia
* Local family-run * AC Dorms $8 / night * Private rooms $ 10 - $28 / night * Free WIFI / Free tea & coffee! * Bicycle rental / Rooftop Bar & Pool Table Email: firstname.lastname@example.org / Tel: +855 (0)12784980 / +855 (0)977790119
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By Katherine Sazdanoff
Motorbiking The Bolaven Plateau, Laos
ife’s grandest adventures often come about completely unexpectedly. This is a lesson that I’ve learned repeatedly throughout my around the world backpacking trip - case in point: discovering Laos’ Bolaven Plateau. When I set out on my trip, I had no interest in motorbiking. I found it to be way too fast and downright scary! Skip ahead a couple of months and I had reached the tranquil land of Laos. The country’s diverse landscape, friendly locals and wide open spaces (not to mention affordable prices), make it a long-term traveller’s dream destination. But public transportation options are slim to none in some areas, and the only practical way to get around is via motorbike. I had come to a crossroads. Would I permit my fears to get the better of me and never venture far from the main tourist circuit, or would I hop on a bike for the trip of a lifetime?
part begins. Once the sun broke through the fog and the white fluffy clouds replaced the ominous grey ones, I was stunned, practically hypnotized, by the Bolaven Plateau’s striking beauty. The afternoon mist evaporated away to reveal a landscape of rolling hills cloaked in blooming coffee plants. Marigold-coloured flowers sporadically sprouted up in between the green leaves and red berries, resulting in both a feast for the eyes and nose (oh, how sweet a smell!). As if the illustrious surroundings were not enough, my home for the week, Ban E-Tu Waterfall Resort, surpassed all of my humble backpacker expectations. With coffee plants lining the driveway,
squitoes! Fresh, cool & no mo
I wish I could say I immediately chose the latter option, but that would be a lie. In fact, I teetered towards the ‘no motorbike’ side for over a week until I serendipitously overheard two strangers in a bar chatting about Laos’ Bolaven Plateau. They spoke on and on about the famed coffee growing region, detailing the area’s cool weather, copious number of waterfalls and of course, stellar coffee. Then they said something that sounded like music to my ears, “The Bolaven Plateau has few, if any, mosquitoes”. That’s correct, none of the annoying disease carrying little devils that I had been fighting off for months throughout Vietnam, Thailand and Northern Laos. I was sold! With this, I created a plan. Not just any plan though, an awe-inspiring, spine-tingling heck of a plan! First, I would fly into Southern Laos’ major transport hub, Pakse. Next, I’d rent a motorbike (actually, I’d spend an entire afternoon stopping in every single shop in Pakse to find a motorbike in adequate condition), buy a map and outline a route. Finally, I’d depart on the trip of a lifetime around Laos’ Southern Loop, including a lengthy stop in the Bolaven Plateau. Voila, we were off (the ‘we’ being my travel partner and me, with him as the driver and me as the passenger). I may have gotten over my fear of riding on a motorbike, but thankfully I was able to leave the driving up to him! After two weeks of exploring Laos’ Southern Loop, I rode towards the Bolaven Plateau with very high expectations. So far, I had lunched with elephants, hiked amid lush jungle scenery and encountered some of the friendliest locals on the planet. Now I was finally heading to the very place that inspired my liberating motorbike journey to begin with - the much revered Bolaven Plateau. However before reaching the Plateau, I ran into one little, itty-bitty problem. It began to rain. More specifically, Laos’ rainy season decided to show its true colors leaving me in a pelting, foggy downpour for over three hours. Wet, cold and horribly muddy! Now, here is where the bad part of the story ends and the good
Dinner a with welc t Ban E-Tu Wa te oming ho st - Khamrfall Resort bay!
a rushing waterfall on the property and rustic, yet comfortable bungalows, the Ban E-Tu Waterfall Resort is as aesthetically impressive as it is peaceful. But it’s not just the property itself that is so notable, the owner, Khambay, epitomizes the very best of “Laos hospitality”. Khambay left Laos as a child, living in France for over thirty years before returning to Laos a few years ago to open Ban E-Tu Waterfall Resort. Part friendly local and part French gentleman, Khambay eagerly shared his knowledge and obvious love for his cherished boyhood home throughout the duration of my stay. So apart from learning about Laos, what did I do in this slice of paradise called the Bolaven Plateau? First things first, I explored the area’s mighty waterfalls. Though there are many, three glaringly stand out from the rest.
Me & my trusty ste ed!
The first, E-Tu Waterfall, not surprisingly resides on the property of the Ban E-Tu Waterfall Resort. Head to the edge of the property, walk down a steep staircase and there E-Tu Waterfall flows in all of its crashing glory.
The next, Tad Fane Waterfall, is a spectacular one indeed! The dual cascades sit on the rocky edge of a jungle forest, crashing down over 120 metres before reaching the valley floor. Tad Fane Resort has a great viewing station; though adventurous travellers should plan on
a half-day guided trek for close-up, gut wrenching views (ask Khambay or the Tad Fane Resort staff for details). The last waterfall (and, my personal favourite) is Tad Gneuang Waterfall. Apart from the mesmerizing falls, there is a nearby placid fresh water stream surrounded by a grassy bank that’s perfect for a mid-afternoon picnic and swim. And to top it off, the property contains a leafy green organic coffee farm and a picture perfect café to sample the day’s freshly brewed coffee. After full days of waterfall adventures, I jumped headfirst into the local foodie scene exploring the area’s small collection of restaurants and cafes – even taking a cooking class. Since arriving in Laos, I had become obsessed (literally) with orlam soup. Never tried it? Well, prepare for a flavour explosion! After sharing my love for the dish with Khambay, he organized a cooking class with his niece. We sliced, diced, pounded and sautéed for hours creating the perfect Laos meal, including a hearty orlam soup. Quite a feat for a very novice cook! On my final evening on the Plateau, Khambay organized a small dinner with various newfound friends (both locals and other tourists I’d met throughout my stay). We joined together at the Tad Gneuang Waterfall restaurant for an all organic meal – freshly picked greens, flavourful rice and curries and even cooked plantains for dessert. With Edith Piaf’s French classical music playing in the background (the owner of the restaurant is also a Laos-French man), lively conversation and plentiful food, the sun set before I knew it. And, that’s when the real fun began! Shots of Lao-Lao were passed around and a festive game of petanque started-the locals versus the foreigners. My team may have lost by a landslide, but we certainly had fun doing so! Soon enough, however, and in the blink of an eye, my departure date had arrived. The motorbike was again calling my name with new places to see and exciting adventures to experience. I certainly wasn’t leaving the Bolaven Plateau empty handed though - I had gained enough laughs and memories to last a lifetime. And, even a few new friends.
up! rlam So O s u io e delic cook th o t g in n Lear
My route on Laos’ Southern Loop 1. Pakse to Tad Lo (approximately 80 km):
Start off early to ensure time for numerous stops along the way. The road is generally paved and it’s an easy ride, though do make sure to frequently check the map so you don’t erroneously head off course. Tad Lo is home to a couple of spectacular waterfalls, rewarding day hikes and even a few elephants. To be up close and personal with the elephants, I stayed at Tad Lo Lodge. (www.tadlolodge.com)
2. Tad Lo to Attapeu (approximately 180 km):
Though the views of the surrounding countryside are sublime, and seeing everyday life is rewarding, the sheer distance makes for a very long day travelling. Upon reaching Attapeu, lace up your hiking shoes, as the options are endless! Be wary of using the Lonely Planet Laos for lodging as several of the places mentioned are now closed.
3. Attapeu to the Bolaven Plateau (distance unknown due to serious road construction):
Though my map showed that this would be a relatively short ascent up into the plateau, road construction resulted in a very long ride (all the way back to Pakse and then up into the Bolaven Plateau). Moral of the story, find out the details on the ground before beginning the journey. Upon arrival at the Bolaven Plateau, stay at the aforementioned E-Tu Waterfall Resort (www.waterfalletupaksong.com) for an unforgettable week of adventures.
4. Bolaven Plateau to Wat Phu Champasak (approximately 85 km):
Laos’ famed mystical ruins really are THAT spectacular. Quite simply, you would be a fool to miss them. If you’re running low on time, you may want to skip lodging in Champasak and instead make your way back to Pakse.
5 Tips for Would-Be Laos Bikers... 1. Motorbike shops abound in Pakse. Shop around for a motorbike that is in good condition (make sure to check the tires, brakes and chain). I rented a 110cc Honda Dream and didn’t have any problems, BUT I met several other travellers with horror stories. 2. Buy a trusted map and seek the advice of area experts for outlining your trip (hotel front desk staff are generally great sources of information). 3. Prepare for rain, particularly in the wet season. Bring watertight bags for all electronics, or you’ll be sorry (unfortunately, I know this from experience).
4. Fill up with petrol at every chance you get, unless you’re planning on pushing your motorbike for part of the way…
Expect the unexpected, you just never know what you’re going to get!
About the Author: Katherine Sazdanoff departed her hometown of San Francisco on an around the world trip in July of 2012. Since then she has been cycling, hiking, and motorbiking through Asia and Europe, all the while pursuing her passion for writing and photography. To follow her adventures, check out: at www.katherinesazdanoff.com
bornEo B B
orneo? It’s not some imaginary place that only exists on the National Geographic Channel. From orangutans to shamans, from jungles to beaches, and even a marriage proposal – here is my story. It started in the state of Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo… or, more precisely, in its capital city of Kuching. As soon as I arrived, my host from Couchsurfing was there, waiting for me at the airport to drive me back to her place. I was lucky enough to meet Katy, an anthropology graduate, traveller and food lover like me. From that point on, she became a great travel companion! Kuching is the perfect base for trips to the jungle. Close to many sites of interest, it is relatively cheap, quite modern, has all the entertainment facilities that you need, and there aren’t too many Westerners. Most importantly (as it is always the people you meet who make the real difference), the locals are some of the friendliest I have ever met – and I’ve been on the road for a year already! They are not trying to sell you anything, and they never harass you. All they want to know is your name, where you come from, and to welcome you with a big smile on their face. Soon enough, they’ll become your friends. All of them. Every time I went grocery shopping at the 7/11, the guys there would greet me with something like, “Hi Sarine! How can I help you today, darling?” My first day in the city started with a trip to the Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre. Here, they try and protect the orangutans living in their jungles, as well as rescue others – mainly from the Indonesian side – where the locals unfortunately still hunt them. To get there for morning feeding time, we had to arrive a little before 9am, although, since this is by no means a zoo, there is no guarantee you are going to be able to see any of these animals. If it’s raining, or the weather is too hot (for example), chances are they won’t come out… Still, I was lucky (very lucky!) – I was able to spot seven! They are really fun and interesting to watch. In many ways, they look and act just like us! After that we headed to a crocodile farm. I don’t really like to see animals in cages, but it seemed that they had a very big area for themselves. Then, at nighttime, things took a particularly interesting turn… Our host took us to a little temple slightly out of town. We were there to meet the shaman to ask him anything we liked (as long as it wasn’t some kind of hypothetical question related to the distant, unknowable future). I had seen shamans before in South America, so was expecting this experience to be more or less similar. But I was totally wrong. It was one of the most unexpected scenes I have ever witnessed. The shaman, connected to the underworld, suddenly stepped into the room, screaming as loud as he could. He ran around the shrine, banging his head against the walls, jumping around, shouting unintelligible things and sticking his tongue out. Our host explained that he was in a trance, possessed by the spirits from hell. He then
“ ...the locals are some of the friendliest I have ever met – and I’ve been on the road for a year already! "
By Sarine Arslanian
went to sit down at a table, and his assistants handed him a paintbrush. The assistants started calling out our names one by one (reading from the papers we’d been asked to fill in with our name and age before the session started). His tongue still sticking out, painting curvy shapes with black ink using his right hand, the shaman began muttering things in Cantonese that our host duly translated for us. His words were only ever positive, such as ‘’the case will turn in your favour’’, or ‘’you should not worry about things – you already have more than you need in life’’. (He even told one guy he could carry on being a womaniser, as long as he did not steal or kill!) After this part was over, he handed us a block of so-called ‘paper money’ that we had to burn in the backyard whilst thanking the spirits from hell (and the shaman) for having taken their time for us. Our host had brought some offerings to be blessed – chicken, pork and fish – and we feasted on it all once back at the house. As far as journeys off the beaten path go, this was definitely one to remember! The days that followed – though not as spiritually intense – were still so rewarding, and in many different ways… I had the chance to visit a Bidayuh tribe still living in traditional longhouses in the jungles of southern Sarawak. Back in the day, they’d been headhunters. As a symbol of pride and strength, each family would hang the decapitated heads of their Iban enemies in front of their house. In the 1940s, when the British came in, this indigenous group was converted to Christianity by missionaries, who made them stop such a practice that was judged as barbaric. However, up to this day, you will still see that some heads remain, although now of course they are skulls. At the very least, you should be able to spot a few of them piled up in a cage built for that purpose – and if you’re even luckier, they will bid you come closer and show them to you. One of the families were nice enough to entertain my friends and I for some time; they showed us their way of life. Some of the guys went to cut bamboo with the man of the house so we could cook rice in it, with the additional use of pandan leaves. We learned how to play some local music instruments, and to listen to the sound of the rainforest. We were invited to drink a very strong rice wine that they make, called tuak. It is a very peaceful and relaxing village, where locals enjoy community life by spending their time smoking tobacco pipes, fishing, swimming in the river, drinking, and living harmoniously in the nature that surrounds them. Another interesting trip we made from Kuching was to Bako National Park. It is only a 30-minute bus ride from the city centre, but after a certain point you need to take a longboat as it’s the only way to reach the trails in the park. The views are amazing, and you get to see mangrove trees. If you want to feel like you are in the rainforest but don’t have the time to go into the deep interior, then this is the place to be! There is so much wildlife – including the long-nosed, rather comediclooking, Proboscis monkey (the most interesting animal to spot there, in my opinion). You can also choose from a number of hiking trails, according to how fit you are, and how much time you have. For Katy and I, the most rewarding moment was after having trekked for quite a while; we reached the end of the trail to find a beautiful beach – and seemingly, just for us! In Kuching itself, you have a few things to do, like walking near the riverfront or going to some museums. Still, the best part of the actual city experience for me was the food! It would be the biggest mistake to go there without trying (at least) these three local specialties: Sarawak laksa, three layer tea, and evergreen kek lapis! The first is a type of noodle with seafood, the second one is a
About the Author: Social anthropology graduate, soon to begin a Masters in Development Studies, Sarine Arslanian decided to spend the year in between travelling the world in search of new adventures and meaningful experiences. She ventured first to Latin America, and then to SE Asia where she’s been revelling in experiencing life as it is lived by the locals. “Passing through someone else’s reality is exactly what travelling is about to me - it’s one of my biggest passions!”
drink with one layer of tea, one of condensed milk and a third one of pandan), and the last is a soft cake made with pandan. (By now, I think you can probably tell I’m addicted to pandan.) And, not only is everything delicious, it’s so cheap! Initially, I had only planned on spending three nights in Kuching, but I ended up there for over a week! Nothing ever happens according to plans anyway, and for me, travelling like this is the best way. I’d had no idea what to expect from this region; most backpackers do tend to overlook Borneo – but once there, I was well and truly bitten by the Sarawak bug. Result? I decided to explore even more of it, hence mine and Katy’s next move: a flight in a small MASwings aircraft to Mulu National Park (and, by the way, flying is more or less your only way to reach it – that’s how remote the place is!). On the ride to the airport, our local friend (the driver) proposed to me, which went something along the lines of “your face spoke to me. It is indescribable. Would you make me the happiest man on earth and marry me?” Well, that was fast. And so, incidentally, was the flight (which cost us just RM70 each, and included a sandwich and a Milo to boot! Yes, a Milo!). I also loved the security announcement which affirmed that smoking was a “big no no”. The same applied to your phone “that you loved very very much”; and in case of emergency you would have to take off your high heels “no matter how expensive”. And that, in a nutshell, is that. Now I find myself in the smallest airport I’ve ever been to, ready for my next adventure, the Mulu caves! What’s next? Who knows?!
o, you’ve spent hours poring over reviews and prices, and finally pressed purchase on an underwater point and shoot or camera housing. You’ve booked your diving course in the Perhentians, your snorkeling trip in the Gilis and a hotel with a rooftop pool in Bangkok. Now all that’s left? To master the advanced art of underwater photography! Unfortunately, for many, underwater photography can lead to frustration and disappointment when they don’t get the results they would on land. If you think it’s hard to capture the magic of the sunrise over Mount Rinjani, try encapsulating the moment when a Manta Ray swoops in front of your lens. But with a few simple adjustments, that perfect shot of a clown fish is within grasp. You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on equipment, and you don’t have to have studied photography for years in order to get beautiful pictures while snorkeling or diving (though I’m not going to say either of those things hurts!). The underwater world, from the ocean’s colourful coral reefs to your fellow backpackers messing around in a pool, is one of the photographer’s most rewarding subjects. No matter what equipment you are working with, these tips will help you create underwater photos that get you more Facebook likes than Farmville requests. (Okay, that might be a challenge.)
Underwater Photography! About the Photographer: Alexandra Baackes is an enthusiastic diver and underwater videographer, as well as a freelance writer and designer. She blogs about travel, diving, and living in South East Asia at www. alexinwanderland.com. You can find her on Twitter talking about fast food cravings and wanderlust at @ WanderlandAlex or on Instagram posting photos of fried rice and festivals @AlexinWanderland. She took all photos included in this article with a Canon point and shoot camera, and underwater housing.
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About the Photographer: Originally from Minneapolis, Amber Kissner has been living in Phuket since September 2011, where she teaches at a primary school and also does freelance photography around the island. In her spare time, Amber’s always up for adventures. She’s travelled extensively through Thailand, and has also visited a few of the bordering countries. You can check out more of Amber’s photography on her website: www.amberkissner.com
“SMALLPLACE”, big smiles
ape Panwa is a sleepy part of Phuket, south Thailand, and is often overlooked by tourists. The quiet nature of the area is exactly why Gaye decided to settle there. She moved from Bangkok eight years ago, and saved up to rent a space in Panwa. Over the past five years, Gaye has transformed her shop into an eclectic blend of ‘jewellery’ pieces she finds throughout Phuket, and reworks them into her own form of art. Her shop is called Smallplace, and also offers coffee and alcohol. With many years of bartending experience in Bangkok behind her, she can pretty much make whatever cocktail you ask for. This place is not your typical rowdy bar though – it’s a chilled and relaxed spot that perfectly suits its tropical surroundings. Gaye learned how to make jewellery from a book. However, the patterns she learned began evolving, soon to become designs of her own. Each piece is marked with a blue, white, and red string – which pays homage to her country. She sits for hours designing, and proudly displays her creations around her. She mainly makes bracelets, but also has a few necklaces in the collection as well. She’s constantly playing around with new patterns, so I wouldn’t be surprised if she starts adding to her collection with a series of anklet
pieces before long… and maybe even earrings! Gaye’s infectious smile and welcoming atmosphere really do make me happy to be living in the ‘Land of Smiles’. The first time I went to her shop was with a friend. He’d already met Gaye whilst living in Bangkok, where they’d worked together in a cocktail bar. So we went there for a coffee, and I was completely intrigued. It’s just so different than many of the other shops around Phuket – which isn’t too surprising if you really consider just how quirky the concept is! Gaye takes discarded pieces, then intertwines them into her shop decor. It’s really beautiful – just like the lady herself. Gaye is the only one who works here, although she does share the space with her cats. But that’s no biggie, since she loves them all dearly. What started out as a couple has turned into a family. There’s now about four that frequent the place regularly. They languidly lounge about on the chairs watching Gaye do her work – not a bad life for them at all (and in fact, this is something I’ve been prone to do myself ever since the day I first walked through her doors!). Gaye has such a kind spirit. It’s true to say I can now call her my friend.
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FESTIVALS & EVENTS: Full Moon Party
Sunrise Beach, Haad Rin, Koh Phangan 19th Sept; 19th Oct
playing in the sea from dusk ‘til dawn. Expect shenanigans on a beach jam-packed with bars and stages blasting out a varied selection of music, including house, drum&bass, psy-trance and chart tunes. Still awake at sunrise? Go find the official Full Moon afterparty at the Backyard in Haad Rin.
Half Moon Festival One of the most famous beach parties in the world, the Full Moon Party takes place on Haad Rin Beach, Koh Phangan every month on the night of the Full Moon. Legend has it that it started with a group of backpackers playing guitars and singing on the beach to celebrate a friend’s birthday, but these days it’s a full-blown, infamous, debaucherous mish-mash of body paint, fancy dress, and up to 30,000 people drinking buckets, dancing, partying and
Baan Tai, Koh Phangan 13th & 27th Sept 11th & 27th Oct
A huge professional dance event taking place twice a month amidst the atmospheric setting of Baan Tai Jungle,
Koh Phangan, one week before and one week after the Full Moon Party. Playing an eclectic mix of tech house, progressive beats and psychedelic trance, the all night party showcases the island’s finest resident DJ’s, with regular special guest appearances. With a huge sound system, unique UV illuminations, fire dancers and live visuals, this is an event not to be missed!
Black Moon Culture
Mac’s Bay Resort, Baan Tai, Koh Phangan 4th Sept; 4th Oct
Peace, Trance, Dance… these three words are the driving
force behind the famous Black Moon Culture party. This gathering takes place on the sandy white beach at Mac’s Bay Resort in Baan Tai every month at the Black Moon. Expect a night filled with great décor, live visuals, and of course, the latest and freshest progressive and psychedelic trance brought to you by both Thai and International resident and guest DJs. One for dedicated party fiends.
Baan Tai, Koh Phangan 15th Sept; 18th Sept 15th Oct; 18th Oct
September - October 2013 underground dance gatherings in Koh Phangan, the magical flower garden setting is located deep in the Ban Tai jungle with a natural mountain stream running through the party zone. Be enchanted by the lush tropical flower garden enhanced with magical UV decorations, laser and organic light installations, water features and variety of cosy chill-out zones. Jungle Experience party features the best of electronic beats, progressive house, minimal and progressive tech through to psytrance 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.
Por Tor Festival (Hungry Ghosts)
Chinese Communities 21st Aug - 27th Sept A very important merit-making event in Chinese culture,
concerts, magic and cabaret performances.
Phuket Vegetarian Festival
Phuket Old Town, Thailand 4th – 14th Oct
you’ll witness people making offerings to their ancestors (food, flowers and candles) at Chinese shrines across the region in order to pay their respects. The Festival commemorates the belief that during this month, ancestor’s spirits roam the earth and they must be fed! Turtle cakes are the most popular offering as the turtle symbolizes long life and good fortune. Head to Phuket in Thailand if you’re after a big celebration; there’ll be lots of food stands to whet your appetite as you enjoy an almost never-ending display of entertainment. Shows include the traditional merit-making ceremony and lion dance, live
Despite the misleading title, this event is a feast for the eyes rather than the stomach! Devotees partake in incredible feats of body piercing, acts such as walking barefoot on hot coals and climbing ladders made of blades during which, it is said, Gods can enter the body and evil spirits are dispelled from town. The festival dates back to 1825 when a Chinese Opera
Pick of the Month! came to town. When the troupe became ill, they turned to a vegetarian diet used in conjunction with ancient rituals to cure themselves. Locals were astounded as each one was miraculously healed and thus became converts to ritual vegetarianism. Since then, the Thai-Chinese people of Phuket have celebrated annually with the belief in its power to invite good fortune. This festival should be high on the list of priorities for actionhungry travellers!
Bangkok’s International Festival of Dance & Music
Thailand Cultural Centre, Bangkok, Thailand 13th Sept – 14th Oct The largest annual performing arts festival in Thailand is now in its 15th year! Presenting outstanding artistes and theatres from the world
FESTIVALS & EVENTS: Vietnam International Film Festival Cinemas across Hanoi October
over, there is a plethora of classical concerts, operas, classical ballets (this year to include Giselle and Romeo and Juliet), contemporary and folk dance, jazz and the occasional less common genres such as ballet on ice (this year, it’s the Nutcracker), the festival’s goal is to put Bangkok on the cultural map of the world as well as offer its youth the opportunity to see and interact with the best performers in the world. See: www.bangkokfestivals.com
Showcasing world cinema, as well as contemporary releases from all around South East Asia (not just Vietnam), there will be no shortage of drama, action, comedy and animation movies to entertain you in just about any cinema throughout the capital. The festival launched in 2010 as part of the city’s celebration of its 1000 year anniversary as Vietnam’s capital. See: www.vniff.com
baffled even the most skeptical onlookers. On the night of the full moon, at the end of Buddhist lent, hundreds of spectators congregate on the banks, eyes glued, as burning red fireballs ascend from the surface of the water into the night sky. Locals believe this phenomenon occurs because of Naga, the great serpent of the underworld who dwells in the murky depths. Once a year, Naga sends a powerful sign to all villagers to remind them to respect the river and the life source it stands for. Researchers have tried to solve the mystery, but no one has been able to explain why this phenomenon takes place on the same night each year. Dubious? There’s only one way to make your mind up!
Mid-Autumn Festival Vietnam (Esp. Hanoi) 12th Sept
Known to Vietnamese as ‘TetTrung-Thu’, the Mid-Autumn Festival is an important time for families, with a traditional focus on children. The celebration originates from an old folk tale about parents working so hard to get ready for harvest, that they forgot about their children. MidAutumn Festival became a time when parents would make it up to them. There’s a festive atmosphere in many cities as lights and flowers adorn the streets, toy shops stock their shelves and people flock to buy moon cakes which are sold in shops in the hundreds (containing an egg yolk to represent the moon). In many communities across Asia, this is a time when people believe the moon to be at its biggest and brightest, signalling a time of happiness and harmony.
P’chum Ben Cambodia 3rd – 5th Oct
P’chum Ben is the time of the year that Khmer people believe the spirits of their dead ancestors rise and walk the earth. Offerings are made at temples as early as 4am as people make their offerings of food to them in an attempt to appease them, and thus ease their own personal suffering on earth. Most commonly, sticky rice is thrown onto the ground for the spirits, as this is said to be the easiest food for them to consume.
Wan Awk Pansa, End of Buddhist Lent Thailand, Laos, Myanmar 19th Oct
Awk Pansa literally means ‘leaving the period of rain’, and is celebrated all over Thailand, Laos and Myanmar on the night of the full moon in October, marking the end of the Buddhist Lent. Rooted in agricultural tradition, ‘Awk Pansa’ indicates the start of a new season and controls the planting of crops. In many parts of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar, it’s celebrated with a series of boat processions. In Isaan province, huge boats are filled with offerings of sticky rice parcels, flowers, candles and lamps, and are launched on the river by local villagers.
In Laos, in riverside towns such as Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Savannakhet, boat races are held in a festival known as ‘Bun Nam’ or ‘Water Festival.’ Similarly in Myanmar, you’ll find such boat races on rivers and lakes all over the country, although best, we think, observed at Inle Lake.
Ganesh Chaturthi All Hindu Temples throughout S.E.A 9th Sept
Lord Ganesh, worshipped as the ‘remover of obstacles’ and the ‘one who grants intelligence’, is the elephantheaded god in Hinduism and the son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. Ganesh Chaturthi /Vinayaka Chaturthi (or ‘the birthday of Lord Ganesh’), is one of the most important Hindu celebrations in the Hindu calendar. Depending on the place and tradition, the festival lasts from between 1 to 11 days, with the last day taking place at and around all Hindu temples that includes a musical parade of Hindu idols being traditionally immersed in water.
Bangkok Vertical Marathon Bangkok, Thailand 6th Oct
Bang Fai Phaya Nak (Naga Fireball) Nong Khai, Thailand 18th and 19th Oct
Astounding miracle or elaborate hoax? This unusual spectacle that occurs along the Mekong in North Thailand on the border with Laos has
Every year, fitness freaks gather at the bottom of the luxury Banyan Tree skyscraper in Bangkok to race 1,093 steps to its 61st floor in an event known as the Vertical Marathon!
n ers o Answage 70. p
6 5 1 4 2 6 3 7 5 1 3 4 2 7 2 7 9 6 4 5 1 6 4 9 1 6
Across 1. Industrial machinery 4. Faith 9. Stupid 10. Prank 11. Wading bird 12. Hire 13. Expert 14. Tranquil 16. Deities 18. Cricket Extra 20. Judge 21. Biblical Character 24. Very small 25. Loving 26. Being 27. Nobleman’s land
Each row, column and box must contain each of the numbers 1-9
1. Which city in SE Asia has the largest population with an estimated over 10 million people? It is also the 13th largest city in the world.
Down (5) (6) (7) (5) (4) (7) (3) (4) (4) (3) (7) (4) (5) (7) (6) (5)
1. Peaceful 2. Claim to be elsewhere 3. Small branch 5. Barter 6. Suggested in a bad way 7. Wild enthusiasm 8. Receive stolen goods 13.Variety of quartz 15. Surrounding 17. Fortress 18. Fish 19. Computer feature 22. Sheared 23. Space
(6) (5) (4) (8) (7) (6) (5) (8) (7) (6) (5) (6) (5) (4)
In The Heart Of BKK! Sukhumvit 26 - BTS Phrom-Phong
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OFF THE BEATEN TRACK
By Mike Crome
BEYOND THE DRAGONS
ackpackers have been heading there since at least the 1970s, but the Indonesian island of Flores has, until recently, been a destination too far for many. Its remote location has always been a challenge for large scale tourism, but thanks to low-cost air carriers such as Air Asia, things are beginning to change. Flores will never become another Bali, but if you want to experience the place before the package tourists start arriving in their droves, then now is the time! But why visit Flores? What does it have to offer that you can’t find on easy-to-get-to places like Bali and Java? At the risk of giving away all its secrets, I have to say there is no place like Flores. This long, narrow, volcanic island is bursting with attractions, probably the most famous of which is the legendary Komodo Dragon. The main dragon habitat is the nearby island of Komodo, as well as Rinca – and both these World Heritage locations are reached by boat from Flores’ western port town of Labuanbajo. In fact, the town’s airport, with direct flights to and from Denpassar is even named Komodo Airport. We were fortunate to have arrived at the picturesque port after a
four-day boat journey from Lombok. This had stopped at Komodo and Rinca en route, so for us there was no need to take advantage of the many overnight and day boat trips that journey daily to the dragons’ lair. A destination in itself, Labuanbajo has much to offer. The town sits on a forested hillside overlooking a large, boatstudded bay. Palm trees, jungle and brightly coloured flowers soften the rusty corrugated iron rooftops of the ramshackle main street, endowing the town with a frontier, tropical ambience that is stunning. We stayed in the Gardena Guesthouse, a complex of comfortable and affordable bungalows overlooking the harbour. The single main street has several trendy, Westerner-friendly restaurants and cafés, and there are dive shops and local travel agencies where the newly arrived visitor can easily arrange trips to the dragon islands and some of the best dive spots in Indonesia. For a three or four-day side-trip from Bali, a return flight to Labuanbajo and a visit to Komodo and Rinca could be a no-brainer. But there is much more to Flores than an attractive port town and giant lizards. Flores, which is Portuguese for ‘flowers’, is a kaleidoscope of colours, culture and countryside; a mountainous
region of volcanoes, jungles, turquoise waters and black sand beaches. Flores’ biggest attraction, besides the dragons, is probably the coloured lakes of Kelimutu, a dormant volcano at the very heart of it. The biggest problem you will face is getting around this rugged island on roads that are, at times, barely passable. Transport options abound, the most basic being local buses. Not recommended unless you have lots of time, and don’t mind sitting on the roof of an overcrowded bus as it swerves around hairpin bends above precipitous drops. We began our journey across the island by booking seats on the next transport level up – a minibus that caters to local businessmen, and folk who want a bit more comfort and reliability in terms of arrival and departure times. We came to Flores as part of our long, overland journey from the UK to Australia, but we also had some important business to attend to – extending our Indonesian visas. Flores’ capital city, Maumere, is one of only two locations east of Bali where this can be done (the other being in Kupang on West Timor). Maumere, which also has direct air links to Denpassar, is almost 800 kilometres by road from Labuanbajo, a journey that can take up to 20 hours to complete – and only if conditions are favourable. Our minibus ticket allowed us to break the journey with an overnight stop in the town of Ruteng, about five hours east of Labuanbajo. We were barely out of the port town when we realised how special Flores is. The arid grasslands that blanket the west coast and its archipelago of small islands soon give way to incredibly steep gravel roads that climb to dizzying heights through lush green jungle. Along the entire route we passed through small towns and villages with colourful, tin-roofed Catholic churches, steeply terraced rice paddies and coffee plantations. In stark contrast to the predominant Muslim population throughout the rest of Indonesia, the island’s population of almost 1.9 million are for the most part Christian, hence the abundance of churches.
The capital city, Maumere is a scruffy town of about 100,000 people, but as the administrative centre of Flores, it also has an immigration and visa office (where it’s possible, though not guaranteed, to extend your visa by a month). This process is too long to describe here, but allow four or five working days, and several journeys to and from the Immigration office on motorcycle ‘ojeks’ while you gather all the documentation you’ll be asked to provide. This includes sponsorship from a reputable local person (usually someone from your hotel). Watch out for over-charging for this unofficial service – try and make friends with your hotel manager and give them a decent monetary gift for their help. That’s what we did. As more and more foreigners visit Flores, local people are beginning to set up independent tour companies to cater to this new influx. By far, the best way to explore the island is to hire a private car, which these local entrepreneurs can organise for you. With our visa extensions secured, we booked a car to take us to the village of Moni, high in the mountains. We stayed at the Hidaya guesthouse, where the owner, Brian, arranged our 4am motorcycle ride up to the summit to watch the sun rise over the cloud-shrouded mountains and the three lakes – a stunning experience rivalled only by Mount Bromo on Java. Brian also arranged an onward tour for us: Four days, a brand new private car complete with driver and a guide, all for about $350. This also included a private snorkeling trip in the Seventeen Islands National Park on the Flores’ north coast near the small village of Riung – another priceless experience. The Trans-Flores highway is currently undergoing major improvements, primarily the building of culverts, embankments and gutters that should preserve the roads during the wet season, when there must be many washouts and landslides. This is all part of the opening up of Flores, although, since most of the road works are carried out by armies of barefoot men moving rocks and boulders by hand, it will take some time before the long winding highway is completed.
Ruteng is a non-descript town that can serve as a base if you want to view the nearby ‘spider-web’ rice fields and possibly explore Liang Bua cave, where a new hominid species, Homo floresiensis (nick-named the Hobbit) was discovered in 2004. We didn’t allow for these attractions, but still wish we had. Our only night in the town was spent in the company of some local guys we stumbled upon whose genuine friendship made it hard to leave the next morning.
The finale of our Flores adventure was two days spent in the mountain town of Bajawa. Overlooked by a majestic conical volcano, there are hot springs near Bajawa, and several traditional villages where you can experience the living history of the native animist religion that co-exists alongside Catholicism and is exemplified by giant megalithic tombs, colourful woven ikat and more of those quaint tin shed churches I mentioned earlier.
‘Dreamlike’ is the best way to describe the landscapes we encountered during the following day’s marathon 15-hour drive on rough roads through high mountain passes; along the edge of the Savu Sea; past vistas over broad plateaus, and beneath lowering volcanic cones. The road meanders through villages of thatched houses with tall, tapering roofs and past Muslim fishing communities built right next to black sand beaches strewn with turquoise blue pebbles. As darkness descended on the second day of travel, we entered a deep gorge outside the town of Ende before climbing to dizzying heights that we could only sense: the view was engulfed by the pitch black of night.
Flores can be a destination in itself, although most visitors would probably require a week on a beach in Bali afterwards to recover from the rigours of travelling over the rough roads. It’s not really a sun and sand sort of place; it is one that requires effort, time and a bit of extra money. But there’s no question of whether it’s worth it. Flores will live on in your memory, not just for its spectacular scenery, but for its friendly young inhabitants who are so welcoming and pleased to meet those who make the effort to visit. All in all, a beautiful place. Just, go there soon.
About the Author: Mike Crome is an Aussie who currently lives in Norwich in the east of England. He’s been travelling in one form or another since his teens, having also lived for 10 years in western Canada. His most recent trip was a year-long journey from Norwich to Sydney with his partner, Sheila, using as little air travel as possible. When he’s not travelling, Mike works as a musician, graphic artist and handyman – in other words, self-employment through various income streams that enable him to enjoy life even when he’s not on the road. To read Mike’s blog about the journey from Norwich to Sydney visit: http://blog.travelpod.com/members/mikeandsheila
FACES & PLACES
ok o b a e t i r w u Could yo r travels? about you (These guys did!)
Interviews by Karen Farini
lex Garland’s The Beach is probably the most famous example of a backpacker turning their adventures into spectacular travel fiction. Read by millions and subsequently made into a Hollywood film, Garland’s tale of ‘paradise found’ inspired people to hit the road in search of that perfect beach! As your creativity is stirred by your environment, could you turn your adventures into a best-selling travel novel? We look at a five authors who’ve done just that! Emily Barr lives in Falmouth, Cornwall, and is the author of 12 novels, which all feature travel in one way or another. Her first book, Backpack, was written during her first trip on the road in South East Asia, and her new book, The Sleeper, opens with an affair on the Cornwall – London train before moving on to Thailand and Singapore.
When did you start travelling?
I was a journalist at The Guardian in my 20s, but I always knew I was never going to be one of life’s brilliant newshounds. I worked on the Diary column and wrote a column on the Sports pages, but my heart was never in it, and I watched my friends and colleagues being focused and ambitious with some bafflement. I used to plan my imaginary journeys around the world, but because I had a job and a life in London I never really thought that I’d do it. Then, one day a colleague at the next desk came into the office and announced dramatically that he’d resigned his job to write a novel. That galvanised me; I emailed the travel editor to ask her if I could travel around the world for a year and write a column as I went. I didn’t really imagine she’d say yes, but she did, and less than a month later I was unexpectedly on the road! That was a round-the-world trip that lasted a year, and it was South East Asia that I adored.
In Asia, I visited Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, China, Tibet, Nepal, India and Pakistan. I’ve since been back to several of those countries and am constantly trying to work out when I can go again. My year travelling was a pivotal year of my life, and was packed with memories I’ll treasure forever. I love to head off for an adventure whenever I can. ‘A book research trip’ is my eternal excuse.
Tell us about your latest book!
The Sleeper is a psychological thriller – the story of Lara, who is bored of her marriage in Cornwall and engineers a job in London that involves her commuting on the sleeper train. She meets a fellow commuter and starts an affair. When someone vanishes from the train in the middle of the night, things take unexpected turns, and long-ago adventures from South East Asia come back to haunt her. The second half of the book is set in Thailand and Singapore, and part of it is a backpacking journal from 15 years ago, the era when I was travelling. I went back to Asia for a quick research trip, and was pulled back into the magic of it all over again.
Was writing always a passion of yours?
Definitely. It was something I’d always done, which was why I’d drifted into journalism – it seemed more plausible as a career than being a novelist. I’d started writing books before but never got very far - backpacking in Asia was the thing that made me see a novel in my head and realise that I could finish it. When I was travelling, I started obsessively planning a novel set in the places I was visiting, and began my first novel, Backpack, while still on the road.
Tell us about your daily routine.
After 12 books, I know what I have to do to get one finished! I have three children and so my working day is entirely built around the primary school day. I write best early in the morning, and often get up at 5am to write for a few hours before they get up. I live in Cornwall now, and this is the base from which I go exploring as often as I can practically manage it. I write about 3,000 words a day to get a first draft done, then edit that like crazy until it’s in some sort of readable form. Then I just edit more and more and more.
Any tips on how to fictionalise travel experiences?
Every single one of my books has travel in it, and I love fictionalising those experiences. One of the great things is the fact that with fiction, no one knows what’s real and what’s made up. When I’m writing about a place, I get my head straight back into what it feels like,
smells like, sounds like in that place. Then I insert my characters and experience it through their eyes. It is one of my greatest pleasures in writing, and in life! Some of the little encounters and experiences my characters have are things that really happened to me, while others are totally made up, and nobody else can ever know which is which. I love that.
What are your writer’s tools? Any odd habits?!
I carry a notebook all the time, and often text ideas to myself if I don’t have the chance to write them down! I also love writing on the train. Sometimes writing at home is impossible, when that happens I go out and write in a café. It’s like being on the road again!
What’s next for you?
My next book is set in the Arctic, on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard. It’s a thriller and still at the early stages, but I shall be getting down to work on it very intensely as soon as I can get these children to go back to school! I had a spectacular research trip there in May, travelling alone and experiencing the midnight sun at its most extreme - it’s daylight there for the entire summer! I can’t wait to write about it. The Sleeper is vailable at ‘all good bookshops’ or on Amazon. (www.emilybarr.com) Originally from Cambridgeshire, UK, Richard Arthur has been living in Bangkok for 10 years, and recently published his first book ‘I of the Sun’ with UK publisher Matador in 2013, after an initial release in Thailand earlier this year.
Tell us about your book!
It’s about a young guy coming to the region for the first time for a year, looking for freedom and all that that entails. It’s basically autobiographical – based on my first big trip to South East Asia aged 22 – but the style varies from more straightforward journal parts to more stylized stream-of-consciousness sections and philosophical wonderings. It’s a travel book, so no overriding plot as such, other than the searching and wandering and many story arcs that come and go.
Why did South East Asia attract you so much?
It was far away, exotic and had a lot of different countries close together to explore. The book explores freedom in many ways, something we all yearn for at some points in our lives. But the narrator begins to see that this freedom is actually an empty space that he fills with his actions – so it goes on to look at why we do what we do – in ‘his’ case, lots of adventure, partying, booze, sex and general madness!
Is it all true?
Mostly. It’s all based on my diaries of the time. There were a few things I left out, as opposed to added. I guess as I edited the book over and over again, I extracted the narratives from the day to day action, and focused on them more, and tried to bring out the drama. Some of the psychological reactions may be slightly exaggerated, but nothing is invented other than the names.
What did the ‘characters’ say when it came out?
I’m still friends with some of the people in the book. I went over most of the character issues with those concerned before I finished it. Actually I did bump into a former flame recently after many years, but she didn’t seem to mind too much!
Were you still on the road when you were writing?
I decided to leave my busy life in Bangkok to get the ball rolling, and did about half the first draft on the road. After that, though, life came calling again, and I hammered most of it out in Bangkok, where I was teaching and lecturing. It wasn’t easy, particularly trying to
write creatively after a long day at work, so the rest of the first draft was mostly done in the holidays. After that, I had to work out the later drafts after the day job, and at weekends for years.
What about writer’s block?
One tip which really helped me get through the long first draft was not to look back. I’d often not re-read what I’d done at all, just hammer on, especially for the more intense, action-packed parts. I always knew what the main travel narrative was going to be, since it was mainly autobiographical. But there were other difficulties - like structure. Merging philosophical, scientific and historical parts into this was tricky, but I eventually decided to chop the essays up into smaller parts and interweave them with the main travel narrative.
less so. I felt there was scope to explore what came after. From an author’s perspective too, it’s exciting to write about somewhere so beautiful and diverse. I think that living in Western countries can narrow your perspective a little. It is easy to see the world as very black and white – to filter what is right and wrong through a privileged viewpoint. Trader tries to show that for many people, decisions of morality are not clear cut. Places with strong political, social or cultural context excite and inspire me – they are always so full of stories. Asia provides all these things by the bucket-load!
Was it easy to get a publishing company on board?
Initially, it seemed exciting; I had a strong urge to do it all myself. Perhaps this wasn’t the wisest idea, but I didn’t fancy the idea of waiting in a queue for the small chance of someone picking me out. It’s not easy marketing the book by yourself, but it seems that this is a skill all authors will have to learn in a media-crowded world.
Having written the first draft during my year-long MA, I spent two-years editing, redrafting, and doing the rounds at agents and publishers before getting my deal. It’s been almost exactly four years from first putting pen on paper, to publication. The main things I’ve learned are to persevere and not be precious about my writing. You need a thick skin – not just for the slog of getting an agent and publisher, but for facing readers too. Reading fiction is a completely subjective, personal experience. Not everyone will like it, some will hate it. You have to get over that.
What’s next for you? Any more books planned?
Did you know your plot structure from the outset?
What was self pulishing with Matador like?
I usually live in Bangkok, but I’m currently in London trying to promote the book here after my first marketing push in Thailand. Plenty to do still. I guess my aim for the book is to sell lots of copies and get a mainstream deal for the next. Either way I’ll keep writing. I’ve spent years in Asia and love being there, but ultimately I’d like to see and write about the whole planet if I can. Watch this space!
Tips for aspiring travel authors
Have a drink to settle the mind before banging out that long first draft! I of the Sun is available as an ebook and in print on Amazon globally. You can also find it in some stores, or order it from bookshops in UK and Thailand. (www.iofthesun.com) UK-born Lucy Cruikshanks, lives in Southampton. Her debut novel ‘The Trader of Saigon’ set in 1980s Vietnam was published in July 2013 by Heron Books .
So what’s the book about?
The Trader of Saigon is a literary thriller, set against the backdrop of 1980s Vietnam, and follows the story of three characters as they navigate the chaos, corruption and destitution of post-war society. The context to the novel is incredibly bleak, but really, it’s a redemption story – and a story of self-determination. Each character is battling to take control of their life when personal, cultural and political odds are stacked against them.
Do you think you always ‘had a book in you’?
Like a lot of people, I suspect, I’d been saying ‘I want to write a novel’ for as long as I could remember, but without ever picking up a pen. I’d been bouncing between jobs that I struggled to get excited about, but finally, my husband encouraged me to think about writing and travelling differently, and to see that I could make these things my career if I stopped procrastinating, took a risk and actually wrote something. So I left my job, enrolled on the MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University in the UK, and gave myself a year to write a novel and get a publishing deal. Of course, this was wildly optimistic, but at the end of the year I had a first draft, and real drive to see just how far I could go.
So why write a book about Vietnam?
I always wanted to set the novel in Vietnam. The country has such a fascinating, turbulent history. American involvement in the civil war – and the war itself – is well-documented, but what happened next, when the soldiers, film crews and journalists left, is much
No! I started at page one with no idea where I was heading, and I just went for it. It was fun, but I also created a real rod for my back at times, and I probably had to redraft much bigger chunks than would have been the case if I had planned better. I’ve mapped my second novel much more thoroughly, giving myself a clear view of where I want each character to end up. I think the drafting process has been much simpler as a result. I’m a converted planner now!
Tips for aspiring travel authors?
To make any location authentic, identify the elements that make it unique and reflect these in your writing. Ask yourself how it looks, smells, sounds, tastes and feels, and then how these things are different to everywhere else. If you can’t answer the second question, you probably need to look harder. And most importantly - unplug the internet! The Trader of Saigon is out now in UK, and will also be released in Australia and South Africa. It is available worldwide from Amazon. Follow Lucy on Twitter: @LJCruickshanks Originally from Portland, Oregon, USA, Andy Hill taught English in South Korea for two years, then flew to Bangkok intending to live in SE Asia. He now spends his time between Ubud, Bali and Yogyakarta in Java, Indonesia, and self-published his book, Mystic Fool, on Amazon in January this year.
Tell us about your book!
Mystic Fool chronicles my own travels around South East Asia. It’s an autobiography thinly-veiled as a novel. I milk goats in Vang Vieng, build water filters in Siem Reap, and take a very memorable train ride from Chiang Mai to Bangkok. It’s a fast-paced yet philosophical, cinematic and vibrant adventure through cities and farms, ideas and conversations.
What inspired you to write it?
I happened to have an incredible, foolish year romping around in South East Asia, mostly swimming in alcohol, desire and abandon – but also metaphysical and esoteric ideas. It was a very enlightening experience. There is very much spirituality in Mystic Fool – alchemy is a major theme, and the archetypes of the tarot, astrology, meditation, and ceremonial magic are touched upon, too.
So it’s a full on memoir?
Yes. Although I published it as a novel, the only fiction in it are the names, and one or two of the conversations. I only put true occurrences in the book; the descriptions of the events in the book are entirely honest (even those that definitely
don’t serve my ego!). Plus, all the characters are entirely based on real people – some with painstaking accuracy – because they are such amazing, outrageous people. You could even say that the book is still ‘happening.’ I could start writing again just where it left off. I intend to do this in the near future, in fact.
are often quickly uncrossed, and a life where falling in and out of love is as common as the changing tides. It covers eight months indulgence through South East Asia and Australasia. Think Muay Thai, Full Moon, Sangsom whiskey drinking, Vang Vieng ‘In The Tubing’, Swedish girls... that’s only a taste.
What made you bite the bullet and go for it?
What made you start travelling?
How long did it take you to complete?
How would you describe the style?
And then? Were things plain sailing after that?
Had you ever attempted writing a book before?
I woke up in the middle of the night in a guesthouse in Bali and just kind of ‘saw’ the book in my mind; where it could begin, where it could end, and how it could describe the general evolution I went through during those travels. Also, the name came to me in a kind of flash that morning as well. I started writing feverishly on Halloween last year, and it was published by the first week of January. So, roughly two months. Everything was captured in hindsight. I was living with my girlfriend in a guesthouse in Ubud, Bali. I would get up every morning early, do some asanas, sit and concentrate on my breath for ten minutes, put the classical station on the radio, and then try to cram out 2,000 words through the course of the day. It was a fairly simple process, but there was plenty of pacing, chain smoking, and talking to myself. The whole thing was plain sailing (although selling copies has been a different story!). I was chomping at the bit to get it published from the time that I started, so I probably erred on the side of too early. Luckily my girlfriend made me slow down, read it, and edit it plenty of times. I don’t think there is anything I would change about it now. I read it every once in a while, and I like it more as time goes by.
What was the self-publishing process like?
When I began to investigate the rigmarole involved in publishing with a major publisher, I soured on it. I didn’t want to wait through the whole process of finding an agent, then a publisher. I didn’t want someone telling me to change it, and I wanted to design the cover myself. Major companies have a way of making something raw, fresh, and genuine into something corny and pre-fabricated. You can buy Mystic Fool on Amazon, Smashwords, or Payhip (for paypal users). (www.mysticfool.com) Paul L’Estrange published Twentysomething via Kindle Direct Publishing on Amazon in March 2013. The book is regularly in Amazon’s UK Top 100 Best Seller Rank for Asia, South East Asia and Memoirs and Travelogues.
Tell us more about your book!
It’s a totally honest, uninhibited (and sexually explicit) memoir that tells of life on the backpacking trail, a life where paths once crossed
I’d always wanted to see the world. After the death of my father and the breakup with my girlfriend in 2009, I was overcome by feelings of being lost – yet strangely free at the same time. So I packed my bags and set off, travelling through Thailand, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand. I’ve always been a Hemmingway fan, and his masculine, punchy, journalistic style of writing influenced my own. One reviewer described Twenty-something as, ‘Funny, entertaining, filthy…’ Sometimes I just describe it as, ‘me trying to get laid.’ But I think it’s more than that. It gives a real insight into a mind of a young man when it comes to girls, and explores modern attitudes to sex, as well as the angst of the twenty-something generation. Best of all, it’s all real life, so it’s something both guys and girls can relate to. Not a book, no – although I do hold an MA in Broadcast Journalism. But, and as with seeing the world, I’d always wanted to write one. I’m sure why exactly – for recognition, perhaps. Also, a decent pay check wouldn’t go amiss! Before I started writing, I’d been playing poker for a living. After losing a shedload of money I became desperate. I had to do something. I’d already started the book, but now I had the motivation to hammer it out to the end. It’s because of this you’ll find completely uninhibited writing. I had nothing to lose.
Were you worried about people’s reactions?
Yes. There are many very intimate experiences I’ve written about. The last thing I wanted to do was upset people, but I wanted to write about real life completely uninhibitedly (although most names have been changed on request). Some who have read it have been in touch. Mixed reactions… but on the whole they are still talking to me and haven’t deleted me on Facebook! I like to think I’m a gentleman but I’ve told everything. I’ve been tempted to un-publish the book on several occasions. Do I care about the people I have written about… Yes! Am I a little uneasy about my life out there for the world to see… Yes! In one word - naked.
Was it hard to put yourself back in the same mindset you were in at the time of experiencing it? Yes, a little. With hindsight, your feelings and perceptions change, but I shut my eyes and bought myself back into the moment and wrote how I felt right there and then. I kept a diary for the first few months, although I didn’t really keep the diary up and in fact very rarely looked at it whilst writing. Still, I think the simple act of taking these notes helped me remember things. Twenty-something is available worldwide from Amazon. You can also follow Paul onTwitter: @Paul_LEstrange
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!
Story of the M onth!
A Mop Chop in Vietnam
’d had a full head of hair since my early teens, which, over the months spent travelling, had sprouted up, down and out into magnificently daft curls – a veritable mushroom cloud that cooked me on a daily basis. Time for a trim, but where? Vinh Long, a small town in the heart of the Mekong Delta seemed as good a place as any – after all, a haircut is a haircut…right? Walking down the main busy market street, I spotted a classy-looking salon and decided this was the place for my cut – and for only 30,000 Dong ($1.5) – a snip, if you’ll excuse the pun. After lunch and a nap (ah, the backpacker life!), the moment arrived. Stepping into the salon, girlfriend at my side for moral support, I was greeted by three girls in matching yellow shirts. I gesticulated to suggest a haircut and smiled politely. The response came in the form of three smiles and some chair-pointing. I gesticulated further to express that I was looking to lose roughly an inch all round, maintaining my signature ‘scruffy look’. However, it would soon appear that my hairdresser had other ideas (that I was happily oblivious to at the time). As I surveyed the international, if slightly dated, posters on the wall, I was covered by a Wella gown. So far, so good. I smiled over at my girlfriend Emma, then relaxed back for my £1 trim. Things continued well as water was sprayed and hair was combed (however unlike my regular barber, Stella was not included…one point to Manchester!).
As the cuts came fast and varied I realised that my curls had somewhat confused my stylist and that she was now cutting as if my hair were poker straight and I were Vietnamese. Unfortunately for my lustrous curls, with each chop came another as a new curl was formed. The next fifteen minutes were spent with my hairdresser chasing curls up the sides of my head. I thought I would pipe up and say something, but what (and how?). The complete lack of English in the shop did at least mean that I could share my worries freely with my other half, as long as I smiled whilst doing so. I realised I was in this for the duration and that there was very little to be done other than plan my new life carrying hair gel wherever I went. The 15 minutes passed, and my new look was finished – as was my long shaggy mop. Losing sight of Emma I was ushered into the back room, whereupon I was laid out on a plastic bed with a U-shaped sink at one end. Oh, the old hairwash, I blithely thought, and assumed some extra cost, as is so often the case in Vietnam. I lay down and the physical abuse began. The understudy rinsing my head had been instructed to scrape out any cut hair and was doing so with a zeal that both shocked and pained me. The shampooing continued, as did the scraping; my head turned side to side to better fish out any strays. Hair rinsed, I began to sit up, but my shoulders were lightly pushed down (she had not yet finished her duties). Conditioner applied, I thought that this may be good for the old noggin (as I’d not been keeping it so well these past months); however as the scraping continued, I began to worry that the ferocity may aggravate the beginnings of male pattern baldness (a fear for any Western man who’s just tipped into ‘late twenties’). As I lay there, I began to giggle, my mind wandering to Emma sat alone wondering where on earth I’d been sent and to what end. I struggled, but my giggles came out and a tension formed between my Scraper and I. As I laughed she began to rub my forehead. I had not had this cut and wondered what was to come. She then left the room for a moment, and returned with a bottle. I felt a gel of some sort being squeezed onto my brow and assumed I was to be made up like Justin Timberlake for the walk to my hotel. I worked out this was not the case when another blob landed on my chin followed by two more, one for each cheek. I again assumed that I would be paying for this unwanted addition, but being the quiet Brit that I am,
let it continue. The gel was rubbed into my face; I hoped I was not in for a shave as I had already declined this once fearing that a clean cut face and short back and sides would render me as a teenager for days to come. However, it appeared I was in luck! I was in for a face massage – yet, as I now began to discover, not the kind you might receive from a loving partner, more the kind that a Russian coach would use to correct a knotted muscle. My temples were rubbed firmly, then my chin and forehead, followed by a painful workout for the back of my jaw. This was followed by a US-style waterboarding-esque face wash. Still lying flat on my back, water was poured onto my face, up my nose and in my eyes. I choked a little as liquid made its way up my nostrils, again inflaming my laughter (much to the displeasure of my masseuse). Finally back out front, I was sat down for a friendly blow dry. At this point, it was obvious I was no longer as shabby as even the average backpacker – more like a member of the ‘short back and sides’ brigade. Once preened, primped and dusted down, I was then presented with the bill – the not too extortionate (although enormously inflated) price of 90,000 Dong. I assumed (again) that the tripling of this bill was largely due to the ‘added little extras’, although charging by the inch might also have explained it. The upshot to this experience was that my hair will not need cutting for six months and the total cost was $4.50. All in all not too bad, and when the entertainment value is factored in, an absolute bargain. My overall verdict? Highly recommended – especially for those on a tight budget! BEFORE
dson By Tim Goo
Interview With A Backpacker...
love of history and appreciation of the world from my father. And from a very young age, my mother pretty much brainwashed me to believe that reading was the best thing in the world, and that I needed to travel a lot. What are you proudest of in your life so far? The thing that I am most proud of is that I was able to raise all the money, make all the plans, and travel to South Africa for the World Cup when I was 20. My parents thought that telling me – “yeah, yeah, if you pay for it” would stop me… guess what? It didn’t. It gave me a lot of confidence because everyone we met thought we were cool, and we started to believe it too. What business would you love to start? A travel magazine, from the perspective of being a woman traveller alone; it’s not that scary – just do it! Just take the same precautions you would at home, and maybe carry some pepper spray. What does your future hold? Lots of foreign adventures, plenty of unexpected twists, and hopefully a writing career.
By Tyler Protano-Goodwin
Meet Megan Swanick. Eleven months ago she packed her bags in Philadelphia, and boarded a plane with plans only stretching as far as completing a three week TESOL course in Phuket. She is now in the middle of her second teaching position, has made her way across both Vietnam and Cambodia, and lives permanently (for now) in Chiang Mai. Turns out going where the wind blows can bring you to some pretty wonderful places! If you had the possibility to get a message across to a large group of people, what would your message be? Read all of the books you can and go live somewhere else. What one topic could you talk about for hours? History without a doubt. I could go on for hours despite the fact that no one wants to listen to me. Oh, and Syria. What one book should everyone read? The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. Who has been the most important person in your life and why? At the risk of sounding clichéd, I have to say my parents. I got my
What makes you laugh without fail? Larry David (American actor, writer, comedian, and television producer) – and mispronounced words. When did you grow up? I’ve done the most amount of growing abroad – when you’re on your own in a foreign land, the growing process is definitely accelerated. So, I guess it happened when I studied abroad in Prague. Also, I’m still in the process of growing up, it’s ongoing. If you could change your name what would you change it to? Olga, because I wish I was Eastern European and exotic. If you could relive a day of your life again, what would it be and why? The opening day of the World Cup in South Africa. There were so many people from all over the world, the excitement and friendliness of everyone was unparalleled, and we were in a crazy beautiful city. Plus, who doesn’t want to stand on a table, drinking beer and singing their national anthem?! Where is your favorite place in Chiang Mai? The North Gate Jazz Club, because I love live music and Chiang Mai has such a wonderful array of free live music venues. Why is your life beautiful? Everyone’s life is beautiful; my life is beautiful because I realize it. To read more about Meghan, visit her blog at: theadventuresofraindancemegan.wordpress.com
One Night in Luang Prabang (By James Wyatt)
of travellers major stop will be Luang Prabang. With a constant stream After your two-day mission on the slow boat, your first you can where gem hidden a Utopia, sprung up – a favourite being through this small town, a collection of decent bars have re, Laos is a Democratic unawa those all For catch. a r, howeve is, There enjoy a floodlit game of volleyball with your beer! a curfew in place, no-one is allowed on the streets after 12am. With such Republic, and, being so democratic, this means that where the lights come on), here home at (unlike m 11.30p at So, time. on home get all bars shut at 11.30pm, so everyone can they go off and an angry local pushes you out the door!
It was 11.30pm – disorientating on suddenly being slung out from Utopia. Our initial night out in Luang Prabang was extremely one option… there’s way, same the feeling r travelle , for every other time to move on elsewhere, not home! Fortunately, though until 2-3am. Tuk tuks open s remain on attracti he-way out-of-t this ality, wait for it… the bowling alley! On a technic , the don’t want to call an end to their night. Unsurprisingly ferry confused Westerners to the only port of call if they . As a result (and despite all bowling than g drinkin on focus r heavie much a and bowling alley has a bar… is atrocious and the most common score is zero. the lanes being constantly filled), the standard of bowling d by an eerie walk through empty streets. At The journey home is a tuk tuk drive back to town, followe to pounce. Nonetheless, we were fortunate waiting cop tyle Stasi-s over every turn you fear an underc had was being caught in a tropical storm we drama only the enough to avoid any such run-ins – in fact, g!) night out. amusin and arriving home soaked through. One very weird (but
Melanie Swan is based in Chiang Mai offering Healing, Training & Workshops with Energy Work, Shamanic Healing & Body Psychotherapy. She has over 10 years’ experience and has travelled extensively. www.energyhealingsoul.com firstname.lastname@example.org
What, why and how to get the best out of your retreat.
ipassana is one of the world’s most ancient meditation techniques and is taught as a technique to liberate us of our human suffering. Its aim is the total eradication of mental impurities and the resultant highest happiness of full liberation from our deepest constraints.
A Very Brief History Around 2500 years ago in 528BC, Gautama Buddha (Buddha means ‘the enlightened one’) created and taught a meditation system which he called Vipassana. The name was derived from the word Pali which means ‘Pure Mindfulness’ – being in the present moment so that we can see things as they really are. The technique is sometimes called Anapansati Yoga or Dharma (Ultimate Truth), and it’s the meditation process that most of the Buddhist meditation practitioners prefer. So when you’re looking at meditation retreats around South East Asia, it’s highly likely that you’ll be doing some form of Vipassana. I say some form, because the basic technique stays the same, but the environment that each monastery or centre creates around it, is slightly different. The consistent factors are that the process starts early in the morning, around 4am or 5am, with 10 hours of meditation per day. There are breaks for meals and there’s a discourse (teaching) towards the end of the day. Generally, everyone is in bed by 9pm.The retreats are conducted in Noble Silence which means no interaction with others. That’s no eye contact, miming words or writing notes. This rule is to create the right environment for participants to cultivate a relationship with their inner world and focus on their internal process. There’s a code of conduct that all participants must agree to follow, which states that for the duration of the retreat, one is to abstain from killing (yes, this includes mosquitos!), stealing, sexual activity, speaking falsely and taking intoxicants. The factors that differ from place to place are practices in addition to the sitting meditations; the common ones to expect are walking meditations, yoga postures and Seva (selfless service). So, you could be cleaning your room, sweeping paths and washing up. This means everyone has a hand in running the retreat; it creates a sense of community and gives experience serving others without expecting something in return.
What is Vipassana?
The process starts with carefully observing the breath and breathing manner. This helps you to focus inwards and become more aware of the activity of the mind. Buddhists have a saying ‘monkey mind’ which refers to the way that the mind jumps randomly from one thought to another, like a monkey jumping from tree to tree. The noble silence, the focus on the breath and the code of conduct are all there to creative a conducive environment that allows you to hone in on your inner process and monkey mind.
Why do a meditation retreat? Taking time out from our usual life can be of great benefit. Most of us are constantly on the go, especially when travelling, so getting time for ourselves to really take stock of where we’re at can be difficult. Our world is full of sense stimuli – food, alcohol, media, music, adrenaline adventures, to name but a few. Just being silent for 10 days is a big enough change and challenge for lots of us. At the very least you’ll get time to just be with yourself and try a different way of operating. You never know, you may learn some valuable new skills or have some key realisations about yourself and your life.
Think it's for you? You can find more info at www.dhamma.org. Alternatively, individual retreats often advertise on local notice boards. There are no charges for the courses – however, if at the end of the retreat you’d like to give a donation, then that’s accepted. Donations are used to fund further retreats. Doing a retreat in itself will bear its own fruits. Everyone has a different experience. Those I’ve met always report it as an intense period of time that at the very least gave them time to focus on what was really important. However for those wishing to go further, it’s recommended that the practice be implemented into the daily routine.
TIP: A week or so before your course, try to live by the retreats code of conduct. It’ll help the transition from everyday life to inner focus go more smoothly. Question from a backpacker:
I’ve recently completed at 10-day meditation course. I found it quite difficult, but I managed to stay and do the whole thing. That was three weeks ago, and now I’m really struggling to remain ‘equanimous’ to my emotions. In fact, I’m not sure I was able to do this in the course. I just feel confused as I’m trying really hard to do the technique.
The Vipassana technique, although simple in its structure, can be tricky to master. The most common mistake is to suppress one’s emotions instead of remaining neutral in relation to them. It’s a trait that I’ve seen in many people as they’ve left retreats. I’m no Vipassana master, so I’m not going to give you ‘how to’ guidance here, but I can clarify the common mistake that new and practiced meditators experience that makes them feel uncomfortable and confused. In trying to remain neutral to a sensation or emotion, it’s likely that you are suppressing said sensation / emotion rather than running your clear consciousness through it. Are you tensing up? Are you tightening your breath? Are you trying not to feel your emotions? If you feel like crying, are you trying not to? These are all markers for suppressing one’s emotions. If you’re doing this, revisit your original guidance and start again or talk to an experienced Vipassana teacher. As I said, the technique is simple in its structure, but can take years to master. So, be patient and kind with yourself as you go. And remember, there is certainly no quick fix on our journey of liberation!
BODHI TREE RETREAT & MEDITATION CENTRE
Siem Reap, Cambodia A small retreat with a big heart! Enjoy yoga, meditation and stretching classes... accommodation available. Yoga & Stretching Classes Open to the Public: $5
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rdained Become nok or Nun as a Mo-14 days! for 3
By Karen Farini
Work Your Way Around
AUSTRALIA & NEW ZEALAND For many a young traveller, it’s almost a rite of passage. Fly to South East Asia, spend all your money, then head Down Under to earn it all back again! We had a chat with five people with tales to tell of their work experiences in Australia and New Zealand… One of them just finished her second working year, two are still doing it, one left quite some time ago – and one lucky fellow got sponsored!
AGE: 26 ORIGINALLY FROM: LONDON, UK WHAT HAS HE DONE? SCAFFOLDING & WORKING ON A FARM WHAT’S HE DOING NOW? ON HIS SECOND WORKING HOLIDAY YEAR VISA AS A SCAFFOLDER IN MELBOURNE
I’m a scaffolder by trade, and have been since leaving school in 2003. My original plan when I began travelling in 2011 was to go to Thailand for a month, but as soon as we learned in the travel agents that if anyone happened to flying to Queensland, Australia, then you actually got your working visa for free, we jumped at the chance! We spent a couple of months in SE Asia in the end, then in January 2012, we landed in Brisbane. Finding work here wasn’t easy, but I eventually landed a job working for World Stages – building stages for Future Music Festival at Doombin Race Course. There were around 25 of us backpackers all working here, so it was a right laugh! After six weeks in Brisbane, I decided to move down to Melbourne with a few guys – and that’s where my real luck found me! I got somewhere to live almost straight away and was working for a scaffolding company within two days, earning around $30 dollars an hour! I lived in a hostel in St Kilda called Jackson’s Manor for about two months before moving into a house just down the road. The times I had in this house were comical, but the thing with living in shared houses is there are always people with bad personal hygiene who don’t tend to wash up after themselves – and all this obviously leads to the odd argument! While I continued to work for the same company for just under six months, I was constantly applying for farm work because I wanted to stay in Australia for as long as possible. Again, luck was on my side, and in September, I started working on a farm
in Donald in Victoria. The time I spent on this farm – driving tractors and headers during a grain harvest – was amazing…the wildlife, colourful sunsets... Accommodation-wise, I had my own little hut on the opposite side of the farm, and my food was also provided. Again, these were long hours – sometimes working anything from 17 to 19 hours a day – but I managed to save a good lump of cash. I’d definitely recommend farming to anyone travelling, but not everyone I’ve met has enjoyed this kind of work, so people should definitely think before applying! After leaving the farm, I went back to Melbourne for a couple of days, then flew out to Bangkok to start my second tour of South East Asia. There’s quite a big difference between travelling in Asia and travelling Australia – the cost being the major one (this is why you’ll find a lot of people will end up sticking somewhere in Australia once they find a good job with good money). Saying all that, I definitely had more of an experience in Asia, because I had the money to do most of the things I wanted without working for a penny. I’m now back in Melbourne working for the same scaffolding company I did in my first year.
FUTURE PLANS: Melbourne’s definitely where my heart is, but my second year visa runs out in March 2014. My plans after that are to travel to New Zealand or Canada, and will be applying for working visas in whichever place I end up! TOP TIP: Ask advice from as many people as you can – but at
the same time, always remain open! It’s good to discover things on your own, and once you’ve been travelling for a while, it’s incredible just how many random opportunities pop up.
A total different country m the outback to the fro city!
AGE: 35 ORIGINALLY FROM: LEICESTER, UK WHAT DID HE DO? WORKED FOR AN INSURANCE COMPANY IN BRISBANE
I studied English in Sheffield and travelled to Australia back in 2004 after a few years working in software. I’d saved enough money for the first half of my time there, but I did need to get a job after that! I got the one year Working Holiday Visa, which entitled me to work for a maximum of three months in any company – it was straightforward to get. I travelled from Sydney to Melbourne via the Snowy Mountains and Canberra, and across the Great Ocean Road to Adelaide and back. I then went up the East Coast stopping at Byron Bay before making a beeline for Brisbane, where I quickly managed to find a three-month contract working for Suncorp Metway (a big insurance company) doing software QA work. The job didn’t take much consideration; it was actually the first thing I found and interviewed for. It was strange because I hadn’t really expected to work in an office, but it meant I could work for a lot less time and get much more money than doing anything like fruitpicking. I particularly liked the big group meetings we had, abundant with pastries and massive fruit bowls! The guesthouse I stayed at was in New Farm, a really great area on the outskirts of Brisbane. Every day, I walked along the river
AGE: 33 ORIGINALLY FROM: LEEDS, UK WHAT’S HE DOING? WORKS IN SENIOR MINING RECRUITMENT IN SYDNEY I first came travelling to Australia about six years ago, and loved the place. I hired a car in Sydney and started driving north, stopping wherever seemed interesting. I always wanted to come back, but then I hit 31, got married, and thought time had passed me by. But you know what they say – where there’s a will! One winter in the UK when it was minus 14, my wife and I both decided to give it a go and apply for roles. I’d done Executive Search Recruitment for seven years in the UK as a Divisional Director, looking after Gaming & Casino globally. In Australia, I was applying for a similar role, just in a new sector – Minerals and Metals – which I knew would be an easy transition. I spoke with about eight companies, and it wasn’t long before I had three offers from businesses who wanted to sponsor me, and was flown over on a 457 VISA. There appears to be a demand for skilled Brits; in fact, the whole process was a great deal easier than I thought!
There was strong interest from prospective employers from the start, but the issues you have with overseas companies is that it’s a risk for them to bring you over. A lot of the interviews (which were mostly on Skype at 5am UK time!) - consisted of me
to work, and in the evenings stroll down to the funky bars and cafes of Fortitude Valley. I did consider moving into an apartment, but the hostel was in a very comfortable Queenslander house, and I was sharing a room with just one other guy. We had a great community of people who were all staying long term, and our little family became very close. It was run by an Italian couple who would treat us like their children. Roseanne, making sure we were alright, and Graziano feeding us his homemade limoncello. To be honest, I wasn’t actually sure I’d last the three full months in that job, but I did see out the contract in the end; the money was very good – so this meant I was able to stay in Australia for the full 12 months. After my year was up, I went to South East Asia for six months. Hard life, eh?!
FAVE PLACES: I loved Brisbane as a place to live, but most people pass through it. Melbourne is also a lot of fun. Travelling across the desert to Ayers Rock and the Olgas was fantastic as well, stopping off at so many tiny outposts on the way. AUSTRALIA OR ASIA? Travelling in Australia is quite a bit easier than South East Asia, but correspondingly more expensive. Australia is much closer to ‘back home’, culturally less interesting – but also full of outdoor activities, and a great party scene. It’s a different crowd to the more off-beat parts of Asia, though. You might well feel old on the East Coast of Australia if you are over 21 in a lot of the backpacker places!
The beautiful Fraser Island
convincing people that I was serious and looking to stay long term. I am now Head of Minerals & Metals, which basically means I look after the mining teams globally. I should add, however, that the mining industry has actually taken a dive recently, and as such, is harder for people looking to move here to find jobs. However, they do still exist, especially in entry level.
What do I like about Australia? What’s not to like? The whole country seems a lot more positive – in the news, in the shops… generally everywhere! There is also a much stronger emphasis on life outside work, and at the weekends you can do so much – from diving, to coastal drives, to having beach BBQ’s - all year round! Since moving here, we’ve seen a school of dolphins playing on the beach at Bondi, fed kangaroos and wallabies… Although, be warned – when you see your first Huntsman, you will shit yourself! We even had a funnel web in the house! Work is great. On Friday afternoons, the companies get beers in! Money is a lot better here – although of course it’s relative – everything is more expensive! Having said that, we are definitely saving more money and have a better standard of living. We were lucky in getting a private let on a house in Bellevue Hill, near Bondi Beach (a bit of a classic British traveller thing to do!). All in all, it’s the best thing we ever did!
TOP TIP: Getting a house is hard – there’s a lot of demand. Estate agents hold 15 minute viewings, and 20 people turn up! You basically need to flutter your eyes and hope they pick you! House shares are not too bad and are advertised on Gumtree. WORDS OF WISDOM - The only things you regret in life are the things you don’t do. Besides, if the worst happens and you hate it, you can always go home… but at least you’ll have tried!
AGE: 24 ORIGINALLY FROM HALIFAX, UK WHAT HAS HE DONE? EMPTIED BINS, GARDENING, FARMWORK WHAT’S HE DOING NOW? ON HIS SECOND WORKING HOLIDAY VISA AS A ROUSTABOUT ON AN OFFSHORE OIL RIG IN WESTERN AUSTRALIA
I initially set off travelling in December 2011 for a two month trip to Asia with five of my friends from home. The plan was to return home in March 2012. On my final night in Bangkok before I was due to fly home, I just couldn’t face the reality I was about to step back into. I’d just used ALL my money in Koh Phangan (mainly on a tattoo of Koh Phangan 2012 emblazoned on my back!) – but I did still have an overdraft… So, I booked a flight to Oz! There was no plan. I knew someone in Perth so I went there – with nothing but £800 left of that overdraft. What’s the acronym I’m looking for? YOLO! All I knew was as soon as I landed in Perth, I needed a job. I’d had a varied work life since the age of 16. So, true to form, my first few months in Perth involved work that included everything from emptying bins to gardening, which, along with some farmwork, constituted my regional, and thus gave me my second year visa. It was then that I managed to get myself a job on an oil rig off the coast of Western Australia. I got the job by being proactive as hell, and calling every company involved in oil and gas to irritate them virtually every day ‘til they employed me. Keen as mustard is what I was! I already had experience in this kind of work, but the heat was just so much more extreme! Surrounded by water that was 30 degrees and reflecting the beaming sun at you is intense. A far cry from the wet and windy UK!
LIFE ON AN OIL RIG
The shifts work is 12am to 12pm, and vice versa. After a 15-minute pre-start meeting, you go and get in to your work gear, and then report to your supervisor for duty. There’s a handover from the guys who did the previous shift, then your supervisor explains what needs doing and who’s doing what. As a roustabout, I work under the crane, loading and unloading ships with food supplies, warehouse supplies, tools, specialist equipment and drill pipe. It’s a job that requires full attention at all times. You can get injured very easily, and there are no emergency services out there, and it’s not easy (or quick) to mobilise a medical emergency helicopter. (Mining may be a little easier as a plane may be close by to fly a casualty back to the city, but out on the rig it’s a much longer process.) As you can imagine, safety is paramount. Anything out of the ordinary is to be reported and rectified immediately so as not to cause a hazard to personnel or to the environment. (On the note of the environment, Australia’s coastline is one of the most beautiful and untouched in the world, so we really can’t afford to damage it in any way at all.) If you’re not comfortable with doing something, or if you think there may be a problem, you simply call a ‘time out for safety’. This means that any person involved in that task must put down their tools and regroup for discussion. Problems may include anything from equipment failure, near misses, fatigue, or a new person coming to the job (etc).
There isn’t the same kind of pressure on a rig that I’m told you get in the mines. Also, the age group of people on the rig is typically 28 to 55. Seeing as I’m just 24, this makes me a ‘young blood’, which contributes to a LOT of banter! Also, the job is four weeks on and four weeks off – which is great if you want to travel! Finally, the money is good. I’d never tell anyone how much it pays, but let’s just say it’s decent. But 12-hour days for almost one month solid in the baking heat... can anyone put a price on that? Money isn’t happiness – it’s definitely all about where you go and who you meet.
First, fatigue. You work 28 days without a day off for 12 hours every day. Second, the environment. You’re in the middle of the sea with nothing to look at apart from the same rig each day and the three supply boats that are anchored 500 metres from the rig. Beyond that, nothing but the horizon. You’re with the same people day in, day out, and living in close proximity – working, sleeping and eating together. Thankfully there’s not much tension between people and everyone gets on with their job and keeps their head down. Also, I have to say, I really enjoy the job. It can be interesting and when there’s a problem, I love to be involved and get my hands dirty.
Well, forget marriage! Australia’s awesome, but no way’s that happening just to get a visa! Sponsorship maybe; if not, there’s more of the world to explore. I nipped out for two months, it’s been 19!
Melbourne, the absolute don of a city! Festivals, comedy, sunshine, great beaches, quirky bars, awesome hostels, awesome people, the best AFL teams!
The outside Goreat Ocean Ro a f Melbou rne, Vdic,tojust ria.
Every day fashion at the oil rig!
The jobs won’t come to you. Gumtree is the bible. Everything from cars, clothes and jobs. Also, if you’re in Melbourne, head for Base Hostel in St Kilda – although be warned, it’s a party place!
AGE: 28 ORIGINALLY FROM: LIVERPOOL, UK WHAT HAS SHE DONE? TEMPED IN MELBOURNE & PERTH, CLEANED A NEW ZEALAND HOSTEL, & PICKED FRUIT IN TASMANIA I studied IT at University in Manchester, but as soon as I graduated, the recession hit the UK, and for 18 months I ended up working for the Job Centre. Since age 17, though, I’d known I wanted to travel. I originally planned to go with my best friend, but she wasn’t good at saving, so I soon realised I’d be going solo! I left England in October 2010 with a round-the-world ticket for six months.
I’d never planned to work in New Zealand, but found a job cleaning in an amazing hostel in Nelson for three months. This wasn’t paid, but I got my accommodation free. The job was amazing! I met some great people there; we’d party at night, clean (hungover!) for three hours every morning, then spend the rest of the day sunbathing by the pool, chilling in hammocks and meeting other travellers passing through. These were some of the happiest/ craziest few months of my travels. I’d always known I’d be getting a job during my three months in Oz. Firstly, I suspected my funds would be almost at zero by the time I arrived (true!) – and also because I’d heard it was especially easy to find well-paid work. As soon as I got there, I went straight to Melbourne, went online and applied for any temporary office positions. After about two weeks, I started temping with a recruitment agency in Melbourne, and ended up getting a job as a receptionist, a service coordinator and IT support. All in all, I temped in Melbourne for seven months total. Office work in Australia is nothing like in the UK. The atmosphere is so much more relaxed, everything is always “too easy”, and if you mess up or your late for work, the response is always “no worries!”
Australians are easy going by nature. BBQ’s on Friday and afternoon office drinks are standard! To get my second year visa, a friend and I moved to a working hostel that had been recommended to me by a traveller in Tasmania. We did fruit picking here for five months in total. People always have different experiences of farming – some amazing, some horrifying. Mine was fantastic; the work was hard and not well paid, but we lived in a remote area in a hostel where we were like a family. Everyone was in the same position – out all day in the fields in all kinds of weather; sometimes the work was enjoyable, other times backbreaking. When weekends came round we’d always celebrate with a box of goon (cheap box of wine!). One weekend, a group of us took a ferry to a remote island where we hired our own private beach, had a barbecue, bonfire, drinks – and slept in sleeping bags under the stars. It’s one of the memories I’ll cherish with a smile. When you do farmwork, you work hard (and lose loads of weight!) – but on the flipside, you play just as hard and make lifelong friends! Getting my second year approved for Australia was easy. I’d done (a fair bit over!) my 88 days of farming, applied online, paid the fee, and got the visa approved within days. Once that was done, I worked in Perth as a Project Coordinator for three months, then back again in Melbourne as a facility co-ordinator.
Farming in Tasmania, camping on Bruny Island, and soaking up the atmosphere of Melbourne. I also did the Magic Bus in New Zealand, swam with dolphins in Kai Koura… I have to say the entire country is just amazing.
Saying goodbye to people who basically become your family while you are away. Oh, and the initial worry about money – it’s not a cheap country to travel in!
Fruit picking in Tasmania!
USEFUL INFORMATION: WHAT CAN YOU EARN?
Despite recent reports that the global recession has finally started to hit Down Under, things are still looking good for now. Emptying bins - $26 an hour Gardening - $25 an hour Farmwork/tractor driving - $24 an hour Truck driving - $25 an hour Office/temp work – $21 - $25 an hour Scaffolding - $30 an hour Fruitpicking – Around $5 for every kilo of strawberries picked, and $30 per bin for apples (on average you pick four bins a day).
If you have no children and are aged 18-30, then you can apply for a One Year Working Holiday Visa. (www.justlanded.com/ en/Australia). You can apply in minutes online with STA Travel (currently just £295 for Australia, £138 for New Zealand). Want to stay a second year? (We don’t really blame you!) But first, you’ll need to do three months (88 days) of regional/harvest work (farmwork/fruitpicking). NB - it has to be specified work in a specified area, and will have to prove you were there by way of wage slips, bank statements and sometimes even pictures.
You then submit your application and pay your fee online, and if approved, should get your visa within a few weeks. Over 31? All is not lost, but you’ll need to be sponsored to get your 457 VISA. This allows you to work for four years, but you need to remain at the same company for the full duration. If you leave the business or get fired, you have one month to find a new role or get kicked out of the country. After your four years is up, you can apply for PR (perm residency) which means you’re free to work anywhere. Three years after, you can apply for citizenship.
www.seek.com.au – Great place to find temp work. www.gumtree.com.au – For everything! www.flatmatefinders.com.au – Need a room or a housebuddy? www.miningoilandgasjobs.com - Great for looking for entry roles in mining. (Also look into Tinto, BHP Billiton, Fortescue, Barrick Gold, and MMG - all have a lot of entry level roles on there, with a constant demand for engineers, electricians etc.) www.justlanded.com/english/Australia - Covering everything from visas, housing, jobs and finances. www.visabureau.com/Working_Visa www.immi.gov.au
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By Will Aitkenhead
TOP 10 ADVENTURES A huge country of great diversity and a real laidback attitude on life. Possibly the easiest people on earth to get along with, Australians will make you feel right at home down under. The language is English, dating back to 1776 when Captain Cook from England first anchored up off the east coast, just north of what is now Brisbane. A vast country, most of it remains uninhabited and it takes over three hours to fly across the whole country. The diversity in life and experience is huge, with the bustling cities like Sydney and Melbourne contrasted with the famous backpacker route of natural beauty up the east coast and the vast wilderness in the middle. The cities worth visiting are spread round the coastline of the country but are all easily accessible by internal flights or buses.
Australia is the only country that is also an entire continent and it is the flattest and driest continent in the world. Almost 75% of the land cannot support agriculture of any kind and as a result 70% of the population live in the ten largest cities. From Darwin in the north, which is closer to Singapore than any Australian city, to Adelaide in the South, Perth in the West and Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney in the east, there is so much to take in during a trip to this incredible country. It’s home to the world’s largest sand island, rainforests in the north, Ayres Rock in the middle and beautiful beaches everywhere!
1. FRASER ISLAND
Hire a 4x4 and camp out for two/three nights on the world’s largest sand island, Fraser Island – arguably the most beautiful place on earth, with crystal clear water at Lake Mckenzie. Make sure you get up early to take in the spectacular sunrise!
2. SAIL THE WHITSUNDAYS
Sit back with a cold beer and sail around the stunning islands for a couple of days, before returning to enjoy the lively nightlife of Airlie Beach.
3. SYDNEY HARBOUR BRIDGE
Walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge at night and witness the spectacular cityscape under the stars.
Visit Cairns – a backpacker must. Explore the Daintree Rainforest, go whitewater rafting on Tully River, dive on the Great Barrier Reef or dance on the tables of the Woolshed - you must visit this place!
5. THE GREAT OCEAN ROAD
Hire a camper van and drive the Great Ocean Road. The road stretches across the south of Australia from Melbourne to Adelaide. Whether you just do a day trip out of Melbourne or full three day trip, make sure you do it. You’ll get the chance to take in one of the world’s most attractive pieces of coastline.
Head inland and visit the one of the world’s natural wonders – Ayres Rock or Uluru. Sacred to the Aboriginal people, this giant sandstone is 450km from the nearest town, Alice Springs, but worth the trip for its collection of springs, water holes and collections of ancient drawings.
7. SPORT IN MELBOURNE
Watch sport in Melbourne. The Victorians love their sport and Melbourne is the home of sport in Australia, whether to get to the Rod Laver Arena for some tennis, The Etihad Stadium for rugby, the MCG for cricket/Aussie rules or Albert Park for the F1. Make sure you take in some action.
8. BRISBANE NIGHTLIFE
Experience a night out in the Valley of Brisbane. World-renowned for its nightlife, Brisbane is home to the best clubs in Australia. The Valley is the place to go on the weekend but if you’re there in the week, then be sure to check out Down Under Bar, a backpacker’s heaven.
9. KANGAROO ISLAND
Head off the beaten path. Once you’ve travelled the Great Ocean Road, take a well-earned rest on Kangaroo Island. South of Adelaide it is a pristine paradise with stunning beaches and incredible food.
Take a boat trip out of Fremantle Harbour, Perth. Make sure you avoid those sharks!
WALK THIS WAY...
By Karen Farini
pines lip hi p la ni a m in l ve le et re st t a theatre
y first impression of Manila was favourable. I’ve always loved the buzz of a city, and this, after all, seemed ten times the usual size of one. So what should I call it? I looked up the word ‘Metropolis’ on dictionary.com: ‘Chief city of a country’. Nah. “The word you’re looking for,” Carlos Celdran told me eventually, after his Walking Tour had finished and we found ourselves together in a jeepney, “is megalopolis. This is no ‘city’. There are 17 ‘cities’ in Manila – and by that, I mean 17 ‘systems’... And there’s no governing body above them.” There is no ‘centre’ of Manila. No ‘CBD.’ Maybe that’s why so many travellers eschew it. They say it’s got no ‘soul’. Well, in that sense, they’re right. There used to be a centre; it was the Intramuros, the old walled enclosure that was fixed by the Spanish at Kilometre Zero, just so the rest of the city could be built around it (facing the crucifix). However, it wasn’t long before Manila was thrust completely upon the Catholic Church. The Spanish King Philip II dismissed it, declaring, “This place has no gold! All it has is a soul!” (And then, during World War Two, Intramuros got bombed, so then it didn’t even have that.) I thought this may explain the warnings; all those loud and constant refrains, over and over, ‘Be careful in Manila!’ Of course, I could see the poverty – the stark contrast between the poor and the privileged (due to protectionist policies that limit direct foreign investment, apparently). I could see Makati is where the money is; the corporate, the glitz. This is the city that never sleeps. There are many bars and restaurants that stay open here for 24 hours. Makati may be covered in glitz, but there’s so much more to Manila. And for the most part, she’s bare-faced and open. Easy to read. Over in Malate, the vibe is ghetto; the buzz is urban. But – and just as in all big urban ghetto places – you just walk with purpose; you walk, and you smile. In the morning, as I look for an ATM, I see children playing; men sat on pavements playing chess with the tops of their beer bottles. Families in doorways. I sit on the kerb and share my 7-11 hot chocolate with three little girls. In a throwback nod to the US, they all call you Ma’am, even the youngsters in the park, and the boys who whistle over from their pedi-cabs. I have breakfast outside Café Adriatico, as a child tries attracting my attention. At first I ignore him, but he is persistent and begins to climb in between the gap in the fence. All he wants is the cherry from my cranberry shake. I hand it to him, ashamed. “I like your hair,” says one old man, called Jeffrey, who comes to shake my hand as I leave. “And your trousers. I like your style. But be careful of your bags when you’re walking through that park.”
I take a ride in 22-year old Meng’s pedi-cab to meet Carlos for the start of his tour. An only child, Meng rents a house in the Intramuros area for 2000 pesos a month (around $45 US), and spends the weekends with her mother, who lives nearby. When she was ten years old, her father died in a jeepney accident, so she had to leave school and go to work straight away. If my first impression of Manila was favourable, my first of Carlos Celdran was that he bears an almost uncanny resemblance to American actor Jack Black. Carlos studied Art at University of the Philippines, and lived in New York City for many years before returning to Manila. Just like his doppelganger, Carlos is an actor – albeit one with a ‘mission’: “to change the way Manila looks through the way we look at Manila.” His hugely popular ‘Walk This Way’ tour, which launched in 2001 with an eyebrow-raising eight shows a day (and initial marketing strategy of text-outs to friends), is less of a ‘walk’ and more of a theatrical production at street level. These days, it takes place at least twice a week at Intramuros – that old historical heart of the city. The show incorporates everything from lessons in history, film slides in a war bunker, and a ride in a horse-drawn carriage to a place that serves us halo halo – a famous Filipino dessert of sweetened beans, fruits, and jelly, which gets all mixed up with shaved ice, milk and vanilla ice-cream. A hodge-podge if ever there was one, which, for that matter, is just like everything else about this nation – including even its music. What the hell is this genre, anyway? I soon discover they call it pinoy, and it goes the length between native music (bamboo instruments), church songs, rock and roll and broadway show tunes. I’m confused, Carlos. “Then,” he remarks back at me, “imagine how it feels to be Filipino! When I was growing up, I actually thought I was American. We had blue jeans in our closets, pancake mix in the cupboards, and all us kids watched Sesame Street. You know, this place was so Americanised that my relatives living in Indonesia used to come here on vacation because it was cheaper than flying to the States.” As we learn during his performance, America took over from Spain in 1898. And here in Manila, you can see its hallmarks everywhere. They include an almost identical building to the White House, a number of streets whose names end in Avenue or Boulevard, and the reason why all cameras are called ‘Kodak’, and all tissues, ‘Kleenex’… because such products only arrived here with the American brands. The US is also the reason why Manila was once the true gateway between East and West, and thus why it was known as the Pearl
of the Orient during the economic boom. (Unlike the Spanish and their laid-back siestas, the Americans had come cracking their whips, and it hadn’t been long before the city was thriving with commerce). But the stamps of Spain are everywhere, too. In fact, you could say that Manila is a canvas. A projection of humanity. You can learn all its history through its layers, and you don’t even have to peel them back, because all of them are visible – audible, even. Listen to its language. When you hear it for the first time, you think it sounds Spanish – and that’s because some words actually are. What kind of words? “Names for things and objects. Nouns.” All nouns are Spanish in Talagog? Carlos, are you’re seriously telling me you call a book ‘un libro’? “Yes. ‘Cause before the Spaniards came along, we didn’t have ‘things’.” Like Japan, The Philippines is a ‘young’ country, borne mostly of volcano. Did you know that the only solid building materials in the Philippines are bamboo and volcanic ash? Incidentally, this is exactly what the walls of Intramuros are made of – volcanic ash. The Intramuros Cathedral has had to be built an incredible eight times in 300 years. Hardly solid. And the fact there are no solid building materials in this country – not even stone – is also the reason why there is no Angkor Wat in the Philippines, nor any gorgeous monuments to speak of. Again, perhaps another reason as to why Manila gets overlooked? Does this bother Carlos? “Not really. This city doesn’t put on a show for anyone,” he says, all matter-of-fact. Carlos himself is notorious. His energy is contagious – both offstage and on, where he is wont to displace one character for another in the space of seconds just by putting on a hat. His ability to know exactly when to involve his audience or to interject with a pause – plus his timing, and delivery – are faultless; needless to say, he has us all enthralled. Yet, the notoriety he has gained is not just because of this show.
Photos by Regin Reyno (www.reginstravels.com)
If these walls could talk
A cultural activist as well as performance artist, back in late 2010 he hit the headlines by marching into the Church to protest against their opposition to the reproductive health bill. He was dressed as Jose Rizal, the country’s national hero, a writer murdered by Catholic priests back in 1896. (His death, incidentally, was exactly what had prompted the Filiipino Revolution against Spain – which, given that America moved in just two years later, was still a valiant and noble rebellion, if ultimately fruitless). Carlos has recently been employed by the city council as a Consultant and will be “advising the Tourism office about how to develop tourist sites in Old Manila,” he tells me, before the solemn addition of, “Hopefully, I’ll get to choose street lamps and park benches, too.” Already planning my next trip to Manila (five days? Way too short!), I tell him just how much I’ve enjoyed the tour – and most of all, how much I’ve enjoyed being in the city itself. We agree, however, that cities are cities, and they’re not to everyone’s taste. Particularly not Manila, with its distinct lack of temples and ornate structures. “We’re not exotic. We’re authentic,” comes his parting shot. “But like any carnival ride, it’s well worth a try.” He’s not wrong.
By Karen Farini
’S R E T S I S E TH SREY!
ustralian sisters Lauren and Cassie Gravett aren’t exactly ones to follow the crowd. Originally from Geelong in Victoria, this irrepressible duo (aged 24 and 21), opened their fabulously popular Sister Srey Café (previously known as Angkor Bodhi Tree Riverside Café) in the Old Market of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on November 1st, 2012. The cosy two-floor venue quickly turned into one of the most popular hang-outs in town – and you don’t have to look too hard to find out why. With comfy sofas upstairs that overlook the river, WIFI, and a mouthwatering menu that offers everything from Sunday Roasts to some of the best coffee in Asia. In March this year they even re-launched their upstairs library/ communal bookshop area to make room for their brand-new boutique Twiggy, which sells a mixture of vintage clothes, retro jewellery and spa products as well as handmade items from local NGOs. Best of all, though is the vision that sparked off their savvy venture – to support young Cambodian students. Is it even possible to eat for a better cause? We were lucky enough to catch up with manically busy Cassie, who willingly spilled the beans (pun intended!) on how it all began… “When we left school, we both followed our mum and aunties’ career paths and jumped straight into hairdressing apprenticeships. Once completed, we travelled Europe together for three months – and that immediately ignited the ‘travel bug’ in the pair of us. We agreed we wanted to live somewhere new... Where did we plump for? The other side of the world, of course! For my sister Lauren and I, the prospect of getting working visas and jetting off to the United Kingdom seemed an exciting rite of passage. But what was supposed to be a quick peek of backpacking round South East Asia on the way to our new lives ultimately ended up with us ignoring the call of London, pooling our funds and settling in one of the poorest countries in the region. Since then, we have thrown ourselves wholeheartedly into all that is Cambodia. After arriving in Siem Reap with the intention of staying just three days, it soon turned into three months after discovering a poor English school 8km out of town that was run by a Buddhist monk. It turned out to be completely life-changing. These children, who had nothing in the way of material value ended up teaching us more about life than we could ever teach them. We stayed at this school, teaching English to all different age groups and levels of ability from Monday through to Friday. Finally, and after much to-ing and fro-ing, we ended up tearing ourselves away and jetting to London. But what now seems like
virtually the moment our feet hit the ground, we found ourselves booking a flight back to Cambodia. Neither of us could seem to comprehend the notion of being part of the ‘rat race’ just to get by, when we could actually be working for a cause. So, two weeks later, we were on a flight back to what would soon become ‘home’. “Within a few months, we had the lease on the property for a café. We’d launched our social enterprise! It was something we both really believed would give something to Cambodia. Lauren, who is a trained barista in Melbourne, wanted to bring specialty coffee to town, and train and educate the Khmers on how to make a perfect cup – something she’s so passionate about. We also thought we could work with students and provide them with a stepping stone for a brighter future. We believe that by giving these beautiful people a flexible roster, fair pay and continuous training, we are little by little helping them build a brighter future. The team at the cafe are like family to us. They each have their own story and personality. At Sister Srey, we work around our staff’s schooling hours, so they can work flexible shifts and still have time for study and to go to school. In Cambodia, this is a rarity. This is a country where, not only do you have to earn money for yourself, you also have to earn it for your parents (there’s no pension in Cambodia). This of course means that the majority of those who want to push their education further – from high school through to University – are forced by necessity to quit at some point in order to support their families. The average wage in Cambodia is $50 per month. We pay our staff double. Our little family here is thriving, and since the cafe has opened we have been fortunate enough to send two more of our boys to University, with one more starting next term thanks to the help of sponsors from home. Three of our staff also started English classes five times a week. They are driven, motivated and empowered. We couldn’t be more proud of them all!”
SISTER SREY CAFÉ 200 Pokambor St, Siem Reap, Cambodia (+855 97 723 8001) Open: Tues - Sun: 7am - 7pm for breakfast, lunch, coffee & beverages. Walk-ins welcome. Table service and takeaways both available.
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Siem Reap’s Premiere ~ Takeaway Coﬀee House, supporting local young Khmer Students
+855 97 723 8001 // firstname.lastname@example.org
200 Pokambor St, Siem Reap, Cambodia
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Interviewed by Karen Farini
MY LIFE AS A DIGITAL NOMAD... By Brooke Ferguson
hat if your only focus was to improve the value of your life?” Do you want to see the world? Do you return from one trip, just to find yourself back at home planning another? Do you wish the holiday would never end? I’m Brooke, and I help individuals build businesses online so they can work from anywhere and see the world. As an avid traveller, I’d always struggled with the question of how to have a career, and travel at the same time. So, after finishing my MBA, I realised I wanted to do a different kind of consulting... one that focused on automation and freedom; one that allowed you to have the life of your dreams, while running a business that you love, from anywhere in the world! I started my Lifestyle Business Consulting practice in 2006 in California, and in 2008 when the economy started to crash, I decided to do something drastic. I downsized all of my belongings to a few boxes, put my business consulting practice online, and left to travel the world. My only possessions as I set off were my backpack and laptop. This is when I started my online adventure, and also my blog, BusinessBackpacker.com. I had it in my head that I would be gone for a year. Let’s just say it has been nearly five years since I left! I had no idea what a lifechanging experience it would be, and how affordable it really can be to see the world. In addition to seeing the world, a literal ‘world of opportunity has made itself available to me. I have been on Discovery Channel, written for and been interviewed by top travel companies, and had opportunities to be in publications and blogs all around the world. It is really exciting! Plus, I get to do the work that I love, and help others by inspiring them to create a business that lets them do what they love. I really enjoy my one-on-one consulting calls and helping people achieve what they thought was impossible. I’ve also written a free eBook for people to help them get started, and have a very affordable video course to help show people how to work from anywhere. I feel so fortunate to have the freedoms that this lifestyle has afforded me that I want to do everything I can to pass along the information to others!
Almost any career can be put online these days and digitised. You just need to be creative, and have the fortitude to learn how. I teach this through my video course, but anyone can earn money online, and from any country they want. Here are some examples of businesses I’ve helped...
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BROOKE IN THE HOTSEAT! Do you really consider yourself ‘a backpacker’? For sure! I like doing small trips and backpacking adventures, but these days I prefer to live in places for longer periods of time to feel like I’m getting to know the place. It’s much more rewarding to really learn about a culture, eat the food, and explore the environment. Where have you travelled? I’ve seen 47 out of 50 US states, and spent time living in or traveling through 14 other countries: Canada, Mexico, the Bahamas, Australia, London, Italy, Thailand, Laos, Indonesia, Malaysia, France, Sweden, Singapore, and Myanmar. What are the biggest perks (and challenges!) about life doing business on the road? Perks: Making friends around the world and having the opportunity to do what I love whilst travelling. I also love art, and really enjoy going to galleries around the world. Also, I’m a total foodie, so I love being able to sample so many different flavours all over the globe. Challenges: Having a stable internet connection. It sounds like a small issue, but when you are travelling and Skype calls and internet updates to make, it can be a massive burden! What’s your daily routine when you are working on the road? Mostly, I like to sleep in, start my day late, and ease into things online by taking a look at Facebook, RSS Feeds and my inbox. I communicate with new leads, blog comments, or new sign-ups for my e-Book. Communicating with like-minded people is important to me, and it’s also my favourite part of my work! I love that my business connects me to those who also have a strong desire to explore the world! Beyond that, I like to exercise, go to the beach, run, climb and spend time with friends - or if I’m on the road, spend time making new ones! Favourite place to work from your laptop? While it might sound like I’m an extrovert with all the travel I do, I actually enjoy to work completely alone – anywhere with a view (though preferably of a beach or mountain!). Working alone helps me stay focused, get in touch with my ‘writer’s voice’ and stay clear on my goals without distraction. My favourite place in the world is Railay – it’s a ten minute boat ride from where I lived for four years in Ao Nang, Thailand, and a famous climbing destination with massive limestone cliffs jutting out of the turquoise ocean. For me, it’s hugely inspiring. It helps me remember there is so much to do; even in that small place, there are hundreds of climbs. The scenery is breathtaking, and there’s something absolutely magical about it. What do your friends and family think of your lifestyle? Am I allowed to quote a song? “I DON’T CARE!!! I LOVE IT!” What are your digital nomad essential items? My MacBook, of course! Ideally fast internet -- but that never really happens - ha! Good music is a MUST, I am one of those weird girls that wears headphones bigger than my head to get good sound, and I love a booming bass speaker. Essential items are also my iPod and running shoes so I can blow off some steam. That’s about it, I am fairly adaptable from all the travelling I’ve done! Where (and what) next for you? China is still on the list, I want to go on a backwoods climbing trip there... Most likely back to Thailand for an extended period of time to focus on climbing. I will continue to “I DON’T CARE - I LOVE IT!” run my consulting business, travel, write, and stay inspired in this crazy world that we live in.
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A Rural Indian Medical Mission
Yatra - New Year Pilgrimage) 2013
att! Quick! Camera!” I hear a now familiar voice, in a now familiar call from outside room No. 1 of the ‘clinic’ - a long, makeshift yet impressively assembled row of ‘rooms’ cubed off by tightly-pulled, white cloth wrapped around high, wooden stakes. I put down my blood sugar needle, and peel off my one blue surgical glove (by now we’re too short on gloves to use two). “I’ll be back,” I tell Marilyn, a nurse from Ohio and my new-found medical mentor. Marilyn calmly acknowledges, too busy and accustomed to my spontaneous summonses to react in any way other than polite indifference. Sucking in my chest and raising my camera, I squeeze my way through the open doorway, along the human wall of curiously waiting patients and into the warm Santipur sun. In the field before me, I easily spot Dr. Jaya’s white lab coat among the rainbow sea of saris. Standing next to the petite, angelic-looking Jaya is a slightly hunched over teenage boy, the man I assume to be his father, and our host, Kummar Chaterjee, a classic Indian musician and Santipur native, who has offered to personally pay for all post-camp follow-up surgeries.
Freeing myself from the crowd, I jog to the foursome, and together we begin our improvisational search for privacy. “What’s it this time?” I ask Jaya, forcing a casual tone. “Bladder exstrophy,” she replies. “This boy’s bladder is outside of his body and it’s terribly infected.” I swallow, and my heart begins to race. After a few days photographing rare medical cases - tumours, cancers, birth defects and the like - no one is privy to my weak stomach and uneasiness around even a blood vile. Distancing ourselves from the crowd, we settle into the basement of a black-bricked storage house parallel to the clinic. Upon our entering, the few loiterers inside wisely dissipate. I shut the flimsy, wooden door behind them and drop the hatch, darkening the room considerably. We naturally form a circle and, needing no further instruction, the boy drops his pants and lifts his shirt, simultaneously turning his head as to disassociate his face from his deformity. I clench my teeth. Between the boys belly button and his seemingly non-existent genitals, pushed down and dwarfed by his deformation, protrudes a bright red, tumour-like red mass, resembling somewhere between a tightly-squeezed water balloon and a human heart. Urine drops
language barrier between us, powerlessly aware the most I could possibly offer is a silent departure. I lift the door latch and push myself back into daylight. Walking back towards the clinic, a storm of mental movies play in my head— premises ranging from the boy timidly facing the common trials of a testosterone-driven youth to envisioning his deformity on my own body. “Fourteen years,” I continuously repeat to myself.
A New Year’s Resolution Like all great adventures, my first medical mission to India came about serendipitously. Living and writing in Shanghai and wondering how to spend my upcoming Chinese New Year holiday, I received a timely email from an old college friend, Anna, who would coincidentally be in India during my days off from work. In emails that followed, Anna informed me she’d be travelling to West Bengal with a secular medical mission organized by the Association of Indian Physicians of Northern Ohio (AIPNO) – a 300 physician-strong group based in her native Cleveland. On an international level, the AIPNO, founded in 1983, has actively provided natural disaster relief to various countries around the Americas, Africa and Asia. This coming February would be their annual Yatra, or pilgrimage, back to the motherland to provide free medical care to impoverished villagers. When I was informed there was an open spot for me on the volunteer roster, my New Year dilemma was solved.
Yatra 2013 - 45 Volunteers... Exponentially growing in both volunteers and reach since 2001’s maiden mission, I discover that Yatra 2013 will be made up of 45 volunteers, including over 25 doctors and specialists. Our goal is to provide care to over 7,000 patients in and around Santiniketan, West Bengal – the university town 160 kilometres north of Calcutta made famous by Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore. This year’s specialists range from pediatricians to gynaecologists; psychiatrists to ophthalmologists. Also lending priceless support will be a handful of nurses and other non-medical volunteers – friends, family, colleagues and members of various Rotary Club – all unassociated with the AIPNO.
fall incrementally from an inscrutable source and into his downed pants. A putrid smell protrudes the room. We observe. Out of nervousness and embarrassment, the boy swallows hard. I do the same.
Of the 2013 Yatris (as Yatra participants are called), a majority are retired and between 50 and 75 years old, having emigrated to the United States in their 30s. Having spent half a lifetime in India and half in the US, these Yatris harbour a unique outlook on the ying and yang of both cultures, seemingly channeling the best of both worlds into their attitudes and lifestyles. At 28, I am the third youngest volunteer, and one of only nine non-Indians.
I lift my camera. Following protocol, I take one head-on shot; two from each side. With a nod from Dr. Jaya, the boy pulls up his pants. I discretely exhale.
In an attempt to maximize reach, after breakfast each day we are split into two groups – Group A and Group B. One group staffs the clinic in Bolpur city center, and the other travels to a different rural village via jeep, roughly an hour off-road ride out of town.
Chaterjee and the boy’s father begin speaking Bengali. They exchange contact information and discuss, I presume, surgery logistics. The boy eavesdrops with intense curiosity, now oblivious to the two ‘American daktars’ beside him.
Our Base at Bolpur Clinic
Having a rare moment alone with Dr. Jaya, I ask her how long the boy’s been living like this. “Fourteen years,” she answers. Assuming she misunderstands my question, I ask again. “He’s had this since birth,” she reassures me. “At home, we’d fix this immediately with a simple surgery, but here...” The two men interrupt, this time in Jaya’s native Hindi, and I selfconsciously conclude it’s time for me to leave. Wishing to add even the slightest degree of human affection to our clinical interaction, I move over to the boy and extend my arm. My hand swallows his limp-wristed palm. Shaking his hand, I’m suddenly thankful for the
Our base this year is Bolpur’s Theism Clinic, a three-floor, fullyfunctioning medical clinic suspending regular service to house the Yatra. Each specialist – including a dentist and an ophthalmologist – is granted a proper room (of which there are about a dozen), equipped with dated but fully-functioning equipment. Unlike the advantageously-sized offices, however, thin hallways and waiting areas built for only few soon prove little match for the steady influx of eager, determined patients. After waiting hours outside in the hot sun, each patient reaches the outdoor triage table, and receives a paper citing his or her condition, before entering the clinic. Once inside, another lengthy,
more claustrophobic wait begins, this time outside the room of his or her specialist. After an examination, the patient is told through translation to either proceed to the pharmacy for free medicine, return to the clinic for a free follow-up, or quite simply to maintain his or her good health—surely the most precious conclusion to any doctor’s visit.
Out in The Villages The villagers of Kasiara, Rajatpur, Mirjapur, Dwaronda, Mauldanga and Rintala are notified of the ‘coming of American doctors’ via continuous megaphone announcements from Rotary Club vehicles sent from Bolpur-Santiniketan. These clinics are mainly hosted in vacant schools and public buildings, and call for more creativity and improvisation. Upon arrival, volunteers are greeted with a hero’s welcome of flowers, performance and fanfare. However, such ceremonies are often cut short given the day’s work ahead. Unlike the city clinic, which provides free care continuously for 10 days, the window for villagers to take advantage of ‘once-in-alifetime’ free Western medical care is only eight hours – intensifying the atmosphere.
Stats And Services In just ten days in and around Bolpur-Santiniketan, the volunteer doctors examine 7,003 patients, including over 1,000 children. Highlighting the work of just a few specialists: one dentist extracts 300 teeth, two ophthalmologists refer 700 patients to the local eye hospital for free cataract surgeries, and two cardiologists use EKGs to diagnose 98 patients with hypertension and refer 30 patients to surgery (including two children with congenial heart defects). In addition, three gynaecologists test 249 women for HPV, 16 of whom will – cost-free – undergo cancer-prevention treatment after testing positive. However, some of the Yatra’s greatest achievements will fail to show up on any stat sheet. Countless patients’ minds are put at ease with advice and assurance. For example, one man who sold his farm to treat his daughter’s headaches is assured his daughter is a healthy teenager, and his neurosis is only exacerbating her stress. Another patient, mother to two daughters in abusive marriages, simply needs a place to cry.
gynaecologist for the first time ever, women are presented with diagrammed pamphlets on self-breast examinations, and educated on how to use sanitary pads - thousands of which have been donated. In addition, dozens of local medical students and social workers are offered an up-close and personal view of Western medicine. To exemplify one case, 10 cardiology-physiology paramedic students from R.G. Kar Medical College in Calcutta shadow B. Pakrishi Sen, the Yatra’s resident cardiologist. Continuing Dr. Pakrishi’s work, the same university agrees to offer his patients free cardiac surgeries. The list of initiatives goes on and on, and is a testament to the Yatra’s commitment to sustainability, education and training – a training able to turn a medically inept Shanghai-based copywriter into a pharmacist, dental assistant, medical technician, and – most character-building case of all – ‘rare-case photographer’.
What Can You Do? (Yatra 2014) Yatra 2014 is scheduled for February 2nd to 9th in Warora, northern India, 100 km south of Nagpur. Interested volunteers and donors are welcome to contact the AIPNO directly. Unlike medical initiatives in the West, bogged down by excessive red tape and bureaucracy, the medical Yatra operates on a more organic, grassroots level, and resourcefully fills roles and offers training to eager volunteers. While those with medical experience can truthfully change or even save a life, every personal and professional talent can be put to good use. Clichés aside: just one more translator, one more coordinator, or one more body behind an automated blood pressure machine will ease the burden on doctors and patients alike. If lack of experience has kept you from sprouting the seed of service you have within, let this article be what that first email from Anna was to me - a serendipitous sign to act upon your growing desire to merge the unparalleled beauties of service and adventure.
For further information on the AIPNO visit www.aipno.org To contact AIPNO President Dr. Jaya Shah directly, email email@example.com with “Medical Yatra 2014” in the subject line.
Diagnosis = Poverty Many of the common conditions affecting the patients—bodily soreness, diarrhoea, indigestion, weakness, chest pains, etc — are a result of improper hygiene, malnutrition, strenuous working conditions or dehydration. This presents doctors with a medical Catch 22. For example, one can promote the importance of dental care, but when it’s a struggle to put even rice on the table, how can patients afford toothpaste? Or, how can a patient increase his or her clean water intake when there is no clean water to take in? Furthermore, in rural India, hearsay and superstition reign supreme. And while non-judgmental reassurances usually prove enough to combat misinformed self-diagnonses, medical myths – such as ‘severe periods are a direct result of personal wrongdoing’ – still exist. Taking economic limitations and cultural taboos into consideration, the Yatra strives to promote education through empowerment.
Education Well versed in the importance of training and time management after 13 Yatras, the AIPNO provides multiple preventative care measures in addition to consultations. While adult patients wait in line, nurse Maura George and Cleveland Rotary Club ambassador Dave Diffendal continuously hold CPR tutorials. Using similar time-management strategies, during the wait to see a female
About the Author: Matt Alesevich is a New York City-based writer, recently home after three years of traveling and working abroad. Matt has lived in Seoul and Shanghai and has volunteered with various organizations in Chile, Peru, China, South Korea, Mongolia, Malaysia, Thailand, India and Indonesia. He can be reached through his website: www.mattalesevich.com.
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Our center is home to the largest dedicated yoga temple in the world and one of Thailand's leading Permaculture farms Adi-Yoga Primal Ayurveda Tantrik Astrology Eco-Dharma Retreats Workshops Teacher Training Local Tours www.dharmainc.org www.kailashakhara.com firstname.lastname@example.org +66 87 220 2384
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: Brunei Darussalam is one of Asia’s oldest kingdoms. Chinese documents exist dating back to the 6th and 7th centuries refer to Brunei Darussalam as Puni or Puli. Emergency numbers Ambulance: 991 / Fire: 995 / Police: 993
Cambodia: Currency: Cambodian Riel (US Dollars accepted) (Most ATM’s issue $US, not local currency and you can change these into Riel at a local currency exchange. Nearly all shops and traders (especially in tourist areas) will accept Dollars, or Riel, or even a mix of the two.) Exchange rate: $1 USD = 4,062 KHR Most shops and traders operate with an exchange rate of 4,000 Riel to the 1$US, but if you changed your dollars at a money-changer, you can get 4,050 -4,070 Riel to 1$US. Capital city: Phnom Penh Main religion: Theravada Buddhism (95%) Main Language: Khmer Telephone code: +855 Time: GMT + 7 hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: Sua s’dei (Hello) Aw kohn (Thank you) Visa: Most nationalities can obtain a -month tourist visa upon arrival which costs around $20. At land border crossings, notably the Thai/Cambodian border, the fee can be more expensive as the cost is paid in baht and is sometimes rounded up considerably. You will need 1 or 2 passport photos to apply, or you will be charged extra (usually only $1-2.) Passports must be valid for at least 6 months before entering and have one blank page. E-Visa: You can now apply for an E-visa online. Pre-order at: 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: Cambodians greet each other by putting their palms together in front of their bodies and bowing. The gesture known as a ‘sompeah’ is usually initiated by the younger or lower ranked person. Emergency numbers Fire: 118 / Police: 117
East Timor: Currency: US Dollars Capital city: Dili Main religion: Catholic (90%) Main language: Tetun, Portuguese, Indonesian, English Telephone code: +670 Time: GMT + 9 hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: Ola (hello) Adeus (goodbye) Visa: Visa’s must be applied for in advance, as they are not granted on the land border. Passports must be valid for at least 6 months before entering. It is important to note that there are no currency exchange facilities at the airport or other border posts, so you will need to take cash before you travel. Visa extension: Visas can be extended for 30 days, costing up to $45. You must have a valid reason for staying. Penalty for late departure: Penalties range from $70 US - $150 US Dollar if the period does not exceed 30 days. Climate: The wet season is between December and April and the dry season occurs between May to November, with temperatures reaching very high. The best months to visit are between April and July. One random fact: 99% of people in East Timor are Roman Catholic; a legacy of Portuguese colonial rule. However, like in many South East Asian countries, animist beliefs are still held which have become more cultural rather than religious practice. 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 gorgeous island of Bali in Indonesia has been called many names; ‘Rice Island’ by early explorers, ‘chicken island’ because of its shape and also the ‘Island of the Gods’ simply because people have in mind that Gods dwell in paradise. Emergency numbers (Java) Fire: 113 / Police: 110 / Medical: 118, 119
Laos: Currency: Lao KIP (US Dollars accepted) Exchange rate: $1 USD = 8,000 LAK Capital city: Vientiane Main religion: Buddhism Main language: Lao (official) Telephone code: +856 Time: GMT + 7 hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: Sabaydee (Hello) Khawp Jai (Thank you) Visa: Most nationalities can obtain a 30-day visa for Laos at international airports and land border crossings. The cost ranges from $20 - $42, depending on your nationality. At the Thailand/Laos border if you pay in Thai baht fees can be more expensive. You will need 2 passport photos and your passport must be valid for at least 6 months upon entering. Visa extension: Visa extensions can be applied for at Vientiane or Luang Prabang Immigration Office, which costs US$2 / day for 30 days. Extensions can also be obtained from some travel agents for around US$3. 90-day extensions are available, ask at the embassy for details. Penalty for late departure: Up to US$10/day. Long overstays can lead to arrest and imprisonment. Climate: The wet season in Laos is between May and October and the dry season between November and April. Temperatures during this time are the most comfortable, and can be quite cold in mountainous areas. The hottest time of the year is between March and May, with temperatures reaching 38 degrees. One random fact: During the Vietnamese War, between 1964 and 1973 there were over 260 million bombs dropped on Laos by the US. Today many unexploded bombs (UXO’s) remain in countryside areas which injure thousands of locals, especially children mistaking them for toys, every year. Ambulance: 195 Fire: 190 Police: 191
Malaysia: Currency: Malaysian Ringgit Exchange rate: $1 USD = 3.10 MYR Capital city: Kuala Lumpur Main religion: Islam (official) Main language: Bahasa Melayu (official) Telephone code: +60 Time: GMT + 8 hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: Salam (Hello) Terimah kasih (Thank you) Visa: Most nationalities are granted a free 30 to 90day entry pass upon arrival at international airports and border crossings. Passports must be valid for at least 6 months upon entering. Please note that
Sarawak is a semi-autonomous state and upon entry your passport will be stamped and a new pass issued. Visa extension: Visas can be extended at Immigration offices in Malaysia. Fees depend on intended duration of stay. Climate: Malaysia’s climate is hot and tropical. The West coast of Peninsular Malaysia experiences the monsoon season from May to September, with August being the wettest month. On the other hand, the East coast of the peninsula and Sabah and Sarawak experiences heavy rainfall between November and February. One random fact: The longest King Cobra in the world was captured alive in Port Dickson, Peninsular Malaysia, in 1937. The world record breaking snake was 5.54 metres long. Emergency numbers Fire: 994 / Police and Ambulance: 999
Myanmar: Currency: Kyat (US Dollars used) Exchange rate: $1 USD = 873.000 MMK Capital city: Became Naypyidaw in 2005 Main religion: Buddhism Telephone code: +95 Time: GMT + 6 ½ hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: Min gala ba (Hello) Che zu Beh (thank you) Visa: Visa free entry is available at some border crossings for a short period. If you are going for the day to renew your Thailand Visa for example, you must enter and exit on the same day. Fees are around 500 baht. Longer visas should be arranged in advance at a travel agency or Myanmar Embassy. In Bangkok, at the Myanmar Embassy the cost is 810 baht for a 28-day visa, taking three days to process. Like the Vietnam visa, the cost depends on where you are and how long you mind waiting. It can range from $20 - $50. Your passport must be valid for at least 6 months. Visa extension: Visas can be extended for up to 14 days in Yangon. Ask at embassy for details of costs. Weather: May to mid-October is the rainy season in Myanmar. February to April is the hottest time. The best time to visit is November to February, although temperatures can drop to freezing during these months in the highland areas. One random fact: On the hillside of Yangon, Myanmar’s capital, the Shwedagon Pagoda is said to hold eight hairs of Siddartha Guatama. (the Buddha) The actual structure is a solid gold bell shaped structure encrusted with 4000 diamonds and a 76 carat diamond perched on the top. Emergency numbers Ambulance: 192 / Police: 199 / Fire: 191
The Philippines: Currency: Peso, divided into 100 centavos. Exchange rate: $1 USD = 42.15 PHP Capital city: Manila Main religion: Over 80% Catholic Main language: Filipino, English Telephone code: +63 Time: GMT + 8 hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: Hello, kamusta ka (hello, how are you) salamat (thank you) Visa: Tourist visas are granted free of charge upon entry for most nationalities for a stay up to 21 days. However, you may be required to show valid tickets for an onward destination. For longer stays you should apply for a tourist visa before arrival at a Philippine Embassy. The cost for a 3-month single entry visa is usually $30, but ask at the embassy for up to date info. Longer visas for up to 12 months are available. Visas take 2 to 3 working days to process and passports must be valid for at least 6 months upon entering.
Visa extension: When in the Philippines, you are able extend your 21-day visa for up to 59 days at immigration offices. Costs apply. Climate: The tropical climate of the Philippines can vary depending on region, but generally the best time to visit the Philippines is January to May, when the dry season occurs. May is the hottest month with temperatures reaching 38 degrees. This scorching heat is followed by the downpours of June and October when the rainy season affects most of the country. The rains peak from July to September when typhoons are likely. One random fact: The capital of the Philippines, Malina is named after a white flowered mangrove plant, the nilad. The shores of Manila Bay are full of the shrub. 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: Changi Airport, Singapore’s national airport received the honour of being named ‘best airport in the world’ several times by the Business Traveller magazine. Emergency numbers Ambulance: 995 / Police: 999 / Fire: 995
Thailand: Currency: Thai Baht Exchange rate: $1 USD = 31.2 THB Capital city: Bangkok Main religion: 95% Theravada Buddhism Main language: Thai Telephone code: +66 Time: GMT + 7 hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: Sawasdee Ka/Krap (f/m) / Kop Khun Ka/Krap (f/m) Visa: Most nationalities, including Americans, Australians and most Europeans receive a free 30 day tourist visa upon arrival into Thailand by air. However, if arriving by land you will only receive 15 days. You can also arrange a 60-day Tourist Visa at Thai Embassies in major cities of neighbouring countries. Then, when within Thailand, you have the option of a 30-day extension at any of the Immigration Offices throughout the country. The 60 day tourist visa costs approx US$40 and the 30 day extension costs 1,900 baht. Visa extension: Visas can be renewed for a fee at immigration points. The cost is 1900 baht for 7 days extra and it can be extended only once. If you leave the country and return, your visa will be renewed for free. You can exit and re-enter the country as many times as you like this way and most travel agents can arrange border runs to neighbouring countries.
Penalty for late departure: 500 baht/day. The maximum fine for overstay that you can pay is 20,000 baht after this you may face deportation at your own cost or imprisonment. Climate: Most of Thailand experiences three seasons; The cool season occurs during November to February, followed by the hot season, March to May, then the rainy season, between June and October. As with many countries in this part of the world, the wet season tends to consist of short, hard downpours. The time of the rainy season however, differs from the East coast to the West. The Andaman Coast (West) experiences monsoon from June to September (Phuket, Phi Phi, Krabi, Railay) whilst in the Gulf of Thailand (East) rains mostly fall during September to November. One random fact: The current King of Thailand is a world renowned saxophonist who has played with jazz legends like Benny Goodman, Stan Getz and Benny Carter. He has also composed his own music. Emergency numbers Ambulance: 1554 / Fire: 199 / Police: 191
Vietnam: Currency: Vietnamese Dong Exchange rate: $1 USD = 20,830 VND Capital city: Hanoi Main religion: Tam Giao (Triple religion – Confucionism, Taosim, Buddhism) Main language: Vietnamese (official) Telephone code: +84 Time: GMT + 7 hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: Sin chao (Hello) Cam on (thank you) Visa: Visas for entering Vietnam must be arranged in advance. You can do this at the Vietnamese embassies in whichever country you are in, at a travel agency or in recent years online (Try www. VietnamVisaConsultant.com - we’ve had good experience with these). Depending on where you apply for it and how long you mind waiting, (on average from 1-4 days), it can cost between $35$65 for a 30 day visa. You need one passport sized photograph and your passport must be valid for at least 6 months upon entering. Visa extension: 30-day extensions can be obtained from travel agents in major cities. The process can take up to 5 days and the fee is usually US$30. Climate: The climate of North and South Vietnam differ greatly, with generally a hot tropical climate in the South and hot summers and cold winters in the North. The monsoon season is between May and October which brings rain to most of the country. The central coast can experience typhoons between August and November. One random fact: It is against the law to put your hands in your pockets whilst visiting Ho Chi Mihn’s Mausoleum in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi. 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 20.08.13) 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.)
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Feature articles about Myanmar, biking the Bolaven Plateau in Laos, exploring Flores, Indonesia, a walking tour in Manila, eating for a good...