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INTRODUCTION

YOUR 100 Best Travel Moments

B B

efore the sun set for the last time on the end of 2014, we asked you to share with us your ‘Best Travel Moments of the Year’. The response was incredible. From special moments shared with locals, friends and family amidst spectacular landscapes... to emotional homecomings, close encounters with nature, solo spiritual moments and much more. We discovered that these moments aren’t just your most memorable travel moments this year, but perhaps some of the most memorable moments of your entire life! Reading each one carefully, we teared up more than a few times here at S.E.A Backpacker and feel very honoured that you took time to share these emotional and spiritual moments with us THANK YOU! This magazine has always been about YOU and your inspirational stories and we think that this ‘100 Best Travel Moments List’ is something to be very proud of folks! Travel is a precious gift that is only available to a lucky few people… one that we must always appreciate and remember. THE WINNING MOMENTS (It was so hard to choose just two!): Rory Chappelle - I recently lost my Father to a long struggle with a devastating form of dementia. He was my best friend. We never had an opportunity to share in my passion for travel. I took a special photo after about a week into me returning to doing what I love and living out of my backpack... It is said that light orbs (which appear in the photo) are forms of energy presenting themselves and watching over you. I choose to believe that it was my Dad watching over me and sharing this beautiful moment from the universe. it was a special feeling getting to share that with him.

Allyce Smith - In Borneo, I was staying at the Sepilok Jungle Resort which is next door to the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. I’d spent the afternoon in the pool because I’d heard that one of the released orangutans had been seen there the day before. It came time for the pool to close and no sign of the orangutan. Disappointed, I returned to my room to change before heading to the cafe for dinner. I was on my computer backing up photos when I saw movement in my

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Wording: Nikki Scott Photo: Jarrryd Salem (NOMADasaurus.com)

peripheral vision next to me. An orangutan lent over me and stole my juice! Another cafe patron captured the moment as he took a sip. He took me by surprise, scaring the hell out of me! I spent the next 15 minutes in hysterical giggles until the shock wore off. IN SUMMARY: What is interesting about many of these ‘best travel moments’ is that they were unplanned occurrences – many of them happened spontaneously whilst getting lost, waiting to get a visa, waiting for a temple to open, or whilst on a bus or boat journey that ended up lasting much longer than expected… A lot of the moments include a re-connection with nature, a feeling that is sometimes lost in our modern, hectic world. Witnessing a marvel of nature, a gushing waterfall, a herd of elephants crossing a river, an incredible sunset, a starry sky or a school of sharks swimming right in front of you… these moments overwhelm us and make us realise that being at one with earth and nature is something that we easily forget on a day-to-day basis, living in cities or towns. Finally, and perhaps the most inspiring insight, is that the majority of the moments were shared with others. Others being good friends, old or new, foreign backpackers you’ve just met, or connections with local people from very different cultures. Travel is not just about the seeing of sights or ticking items off a bucket list, it is about sharing a special moment with a fellow human being – and realizing that no matter where we come from – we are all the same – in search of love and understanding on this great big beautiful planet. Travel is connection with people and nature. What will 2015 hold for our adventurous readers? (Note from the editor: Thank you to everyone who entered! The winners have bagged themselves an awesome oneweek adventure in Thailand courtesy of Tru Travels and The Bamboo Project!)


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CONTEN

Features:

Cover Photo: By Flash Parker.

45: Soul Searcher: Better Together? 54: Traveller Thoughts, Stories, Tips. 56: FOOD: Learning to Cook Your

43:

DON’T MISS! Shambhala in Your Heart Festival, Northern Thailand.

Favourite Thai Dishes!

68: INFO: Visas, Exchange Rates & more!

46: ARTS: Phare, The Cambodian Circus. 58: ENVIRONMENT: Underwater Gardening

in Koh Phi Phi, Thailand.

64:

EXPAT: Making Vietnam My Home.

Destination Spotlight: 14:

ar NOW! ...

visit Myanm Why you should

46

KOH PHANGAN, THAILAND: Inspiration Island.

24:

MYANMAR: Why You Should Travel Before It’s Too Late.

32:

KUALA LUMPUR: The Alternative Guide.

46:

CHIANG MAI, THAILAND: 4 Escapes From The City.

Alternative

Guide to K

uala Lumpu

r...

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60:

OFF THE BEATEN TRACK: A Detour to Komodo, Indonesia.

Regulars:

7: 8:

South East Asia Map NEWS! What’s happening in South East Asia!

10:

Letters: The Best of your Letters, Poems and Scribblings!

22:

Word on the Street: Your 10 Bucket List Destinations of 2015!

36: 40:

PHOTOS: Life on the Tonle Sap, Cambodia. Festivals & Events: What’s On?

A closer look at Koh Phangan....

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Backpacker International Limited www.southeastasiabackpacker.com www.southamericabackpacker.com Email: info@backpackerinternational.com Backpacker South East Asia is Published by Backpacker International Limited. Managing Director & Editor: Nikki Scott. ( nikki@southeastasiabackpacker.com) Design & Layout: Nikki Scott. Web Manager: Nicholas Baron-Morgan. Contributing Writers / Photographers: Nikki Scott, Jarryd Salem, Alesha Bradford, John Melnyk, Samantha Starling, Joe Cummings, Macrae Sutton, Joe Lane Flaten, Carolann Hughes, Nazia Tariq, Leann McKeown, Chris Fox, Mel Larcombe, Laura Davies, Clare Gallagher, Conor Walsh, Jen Seiser, Amy Burbridge, Melanie Swan, Emily Martin, Brittany Talarico, Chiari Pelizarri, Ian Campbell, Fuji Adriza, Matt Hilton.

Advertising enquiries: Email: nikki@southeastasiabackpacker.com Writing opportunities: Email: info@southeastasiabackpacker.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, January 2015.


Andaman Islands (India)

of Bagan

Kalaw

Orangutans

Pulau Weh

Raiilay Beach

Andaman Sea

Khao Sok National Park

Krabi

Indian Ocean

Lake Toba

Melaka

Kuala Lumpur

Malaysia

Mui Ne

Dalat

Highlands

Jakarta

Java

Mount Bromo

Yogyakarta

Borobudur Temple

Borneo

Bali

Lombok

Subawa

Gili Islands

Gili Islands

Indonesia

Banjarmasin

Sabah

Mt Kinabalu

Berau

Poso

Celebes Sea

7

Komodo & Rinca

Flores

East Timor

Dili

Buru

Sula Islands

Manado

Lake Sebu

Davao

Misool

Timor Sea

Seram

Maluku

h Snorkel wit ! Whale Sharks

Mindanao

Chocolate Hills

Bohol

Zamboanga

Negros

Cebu

Donsol

Philippines

Nusa Tengarra

Sulawesi

Palawan Puerto Princesa

Iloilo

Boracay Island

Mindoro

Puerto Gallera

Manila

Luzon

Banaue Rice Terraces Sagada

White Bora Beach cay

Taiwan

Babuyan Islands

Laog Vigan

Kota Kinabalu

El Nido

Balikpapan

Kalimantan

Putussibau

Sarawak

Pangkalanbun

Pontianak

Kuching

Niah

Brunei

lu Mount Kinaba

Palawan

Bandar Seri Begawan

South China Sea

st World Rainfore stival Music Fe

Singapore

rbour

Ne Dunes, Mui

Nha Trang

Ho Chi Minh City

Riau Islands

Bandarlampung

Bukittinggi

Hoi An

Central Highlands

Singapore

Perhentian Islands

Cameron

Kampot

Phu Quoc Mekong Delta Region

Phnom Penh

Dive Koh Tao!

Kratie

Hue

Hoi A n Ha

Hong Kong

China

Taiwan

Cambodia Vietnam

Tonle Sap

Siem Reap

Angkor Temples

Four Thousand Islands

Pakse

Laos

Da Nang

Dong Hoi

Gulf of Tonkin

Cat Ba National Park

Halong Bay

em Lake

Hoan Ki

Tha Khaek

Ninh Binh

Hanoi

Sihanoukville

Sumatra

Lake Toba

Berastagi

Medan

Bukit Lawang

Pulau Penang

Langkawi

Koh Lipe

Poipet

Koh Tao Koh Phangan Koh Samui

Gulf Of Thailand

Koh Chang

Chonburi

Bangkok

Surat Thani

Koh Phi Phi

Phuket

Ayutthaya

Khao Yai National Park

Udon Thani

Nong Khai

Vientiane

Kanchanaburi

Three Pagodas Pass

Plain of Jars

Vang Vieng

Luang Prabang

Udomxai

Thailand

Sukhothai

Chiang Mai

Koh Phayam

Pai

Pulau Nias

Bridge River Kwai

Pathein

Yangon

Bago

Chiang Rai

Sapa Fansipan

Luang Nam Tha

g Luang Praban

Mae Hong Son

Taunggyi Inle Lake

Myanmar

Bagan

Mandalay

Myanmar

te o Da ia t p s U Read h East A on Sout a Guide te Vis Websi our ow... N

Bay of Bengal

Temples

Bangladesh

India

Irian Jaya

Mnokwari

Papua

Puncak Jaya

MAP: SOUTH EAST ASIA

Spin!


NEWS

NEW! SLIP ‘N FLY WATERPARK For many years, crowds have flocked from all over the world to experience Koh Phangan’s famous ‘moon’ parties, all of which took place after dark. Now a new groundbreaking waterpark has opened to provide daytime entertainment for those looking to do more than just laze on the beach until sunset. Slip ‘N Fly held its grand opening party on November 25th 2014, and welcomed a crowd of over 650 excited people to try out its two, 40 ­meter ­long slides which toss participants into a 700,000 ­litre pool ­- the largest on Koh Phangan! From February onwards, there’ll be five parties a month, with one family day for the little ones to get in some slide action for themselves. Ticket prices will range between 700 ­1,000 baht per party. Limited tickets are available for each party, so those wishing to attend are advised to book online well ahead of time at - www.SlipNFlyParty.com.

THE BAMBOO PROJECT This month we caught up with Mark and Steve, the founders of ‘The Bamboo Project,’ an organization that puts backpackers in touch with sustainable NGO projects and creates trips that are a mix of adventure and volunteering. We wanted to find out more about ‘volun-tourism’ - a word that has become trendy on the backpacking scene recently, and on the other hand, a little controversial, with claims of some companies ripping off tourists and putting local communities at risk. Says Mark: “As long as projects are done right, open and transparent then we see no reason why supporting under-privileged schools, elephant villages, a small independent NGO in the Northern hill tribes of Chiang Rai, the Cat & Dog population on Koh Samui, the marine life around Koh Tao, a locally founded NGO that offers free education and healthcare to 15,000 people in Siem Reap... can ever be ‘negative’ for either party! If done right, it’s a simple ‘win-win!” You can read the full interview on our website - southeastasiabackpacker.com

PRECIOUS OLD MAGS SEND US YOUR PICS! Over five glorious years, we printed 30 copies of South East Asia Backpacker Magazine and there are still thousands of copies lying about in hostel common rooms and amidst the piles of mags in cafes and restaurants. Keep an eye out for these old treasures (you never know they may be worth something one day!) and be sure to send us a photo of you holding the magazine in the place where it was discovered. In this photo our ambassador, Jarryd Salem (of NOMADasaurus.com) struck gold finding loads of back copies of S.E.A Backpacker in Phong Nha Farmstay in Vietnam. Where did you pick up a copy? Email us at info@southeastasiabackpacker.com or upload your photo to our Facebook page - Facebook.com/SEABackpacker.

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LETTERS FROM YOU!

LANGUAGE... IT’S A TWO WAY THING!

of ter t e L the ! nth Mo

When we think about travel and langu age, the conversation is almost alwa ys put in terms of addition. What new phrases did you learn? How do you say 'turn left'? While every traveller is bound to pick up some new vocab and phrases, it's easy to forget about the subtle transform ation of our own language. Language is inherently flexible enough to capture any new idea or expression we migh t run across, and that's exactly what happ ens when we ride a tuk-tuk or snac k on some roti. Anything and anyone the wand erer might encounter, our language will stretch to meet and accommodate. Like so much with travel, it always starts with food and the unfamiliar . Travelling is a constant push for gastronomic exploration, most of which we lack lexemes for in our own tongue. It's always been too cumbersome to make a new word for food, so more often than not we just take it from the locals. Bang koke rs would find 'chicken fried noodles' an unfortunately over-syllabled place holde r for 'pad thai gai.' At the same time, callin g ‘nasi goreng’ anything else could seem like sacrilege to backpackers in Malaysia and Indonesia. The local cuisine is one of those things that's never meant to be trans lated, since doing so would strip it some what of its context and flavor. The same goes for the new and unfa miliar things we find, whose names we borrow from the local tongue. Afte r my first month in Thailand, the temp les had quickly become wats, I was a farang, and those winding spice-scented stre ets were now all soi. Each of these new word s crept into my vocabulary without resis tanc e or a second glance. After that, it's the small words that start to infiltrate your own language. After three months anywhere, ‘yes and no’ become completely interchangeable with the native variant. My friends in Laos say ‘khap chai’ instead of ‘thank you’ rega rdles s of company, while ex patriots in Mala ysia may ask for clarification with ‘apa’ and ‘what’ equally. Last of all it's our grammar that star ts to get affected. After too muc h time in SEA, your articles (the, a, an) star t to migrate back home while any supe rfluo us grammar is mercilessly culled. In ‘shor t time’, sentences like 'restaurant is close ' start to sound normal. The real shoc k is when you start using your own pidgin to speed up communication. On more than one occasion I've explained vege taria nism with 'eat meat cannot' without batt ing an eye. Finally, it's the long term expats who measure their time in decades that have their own special form of English. Among these folk, the language is chopped up with bits of the local tongue, bits of jargo n, visa talk, and a dollop of gibberish. At the end our journeys, we go home to frien ds and family who may ask if we'v e learn ed anything of the languages we enco unter, but they may not understan d how muc h those languages have sunk into our own. By John Melnyk.


-- POETRY CORNER --

3 Thought Provoking Reads...

Whirlwind. Take a step back. Stop, Breath, Dream, Think. Don't get caught up. Stop comparing yourself to everyone else. Be your own unique, Always be honest. Inspire people. Allow your happiness to shine in a crowd of three thousand. Smile, With the sparkle in your eyes. Treasure relationships, the good and the bad. Take a lesson away from everyone that you meet. Hold your loved ones close, even when you're miles away. Fight for what you believe, But know when to make peace. Listen to others; empathise. Wear your heart on your sleeve, Be aware of emotions but don't let them control. Appreciate what you have rather than always wanting more. Explore every land, whether it's near or far, Open your eyes and expand your mind. You're always learning. Be fun, Be dumb, Make spontaneous decisions. Live in the moment Because one day Maybe soon or in years to come You'll close your eyes tightly. You'll reflect on The most wonderful memories. You'll be thankful for A lifetime of adventure. (By Samantha Starling)

1. REVOLUTION, RUSSELL BRAND: What ever you think of this Comedian-cumChe Guevara modern icon, there’s no doubting that Russell Brand created a bit of a stir in 2014, with people deeming him a ‘dangerous ’ anarc campaigning on behalf of unions and housing estate hist. With his flamboyant social s in the UK, his YouTube channel claiming to tell the ‘Trews’ or ‘True News’, and his latest book calling for the dismantling of the establishment - we believe he’s worth a listen making the younger generations think differently for his alternative viewpoints that are about the way society is run.

2. BIO-CENTRICISM, ROBERT LANZA: Prepa how the world works. In this revolutionary book, re for a mind-blowing take on to explain the concept that life creates the unive Robert Lanza takes us on a journey Laza believes that everything comes from biologrse, instead of the other way around. looking at it the wrong way all these years! As a y, rather than physics - and we’ve been argument deserves a read and will certainly provoleading biologist and astronomer, the ke meaningful discussion amongst fellow yoga buddies!

3. FOOD OF THE GODS, TERENCE MCKENNA : From the remote Amazon jungle, to the Bwiti cults of Gabon and Zaire, ethnobotan ist McKenna takes us on an adventure to discover ‘the Original Tree of Knowledge’ giving us a radical history of plants, drugs and human evolution... He looks into why, altered states of consciousness that can be achiev as a species, we are so interested in ed by natural drugs and what they reveal about our place on the planet...

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FEATURE:

Inspiration Island... 12


F F

or three days in October last year, I had the pleasure of working with seven aspiring writers as part of the Tropical Writers Workshop on Koh Phangan, Thailand. A diverse group hailing from Australia, Bangladesh, Belgium, Canada, the UK and the USA - they blew me away with their passion and talent. Here is a spirited collection articles produced by workshop participants. Based on research carried out on Koh Phangan during the workshop, each covers a different aspect of island life, whether practical info for travelers, personal accounts or historical investigation. First off, Macrae Sutton rounds up the best spots for sunset drinks on the island, while Joe Lane Flaten tracks King Chulalongkorn’s historic stopovers. Next, Carolann Hughes takes us on a journey into the heart of burger-land - a must read for any homesick burger lover! After that, Nazia Tariq tackles the persistent rumor that Koh Phangan formed part of the inspiration for the hit novel and subsequent film The Beach. Then, Leann McKeown teaches us about green endeavors on Koh Phangan and ways you can pitch in and help. Finally, meet a few folks that Chris Fox encountered on the island while tracking his own changes of mood and check out Mel Lacrombe’s solid info and useful tips on transport to and around the island. Getting paid to enjoy a Southeast Asian island in order to write about it is a lot of fun. So, was hanging out on an island with new friends, exchanging ideas on the whys and hows of writing on travel. We hope you enjoy these stories! Joe Cummings (Renowned Travel Writer & Lonely Planet Author)

Joe Cummings.

...Koh Phangan, Thailand.

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...Koh Phangan, Thailand.

Top 5 Places for Sunset Drinks: Watch the day’s rays fade over the rim of your glass...

S

S

By Macrae Sutton

itting, watching the sunset and having a drink; as the sky starts to dim, the sun seem to be more saturated in colour, or it may be that now all your focus is on this gigantic body of fire, creating a glow through the clouds, turning them purple and pink. You look above it all and notice something you’ve never seen before: a rainbow mimicking an oil spill in a crystal clear glacier lake upon a mountain. You realize nothing really matters, not your job, not your grades, not what people are saying on social media… only what is in the here and now. The present. The moment. The Full Moon Party is world-renowned for its neon body paint, glow sticks and bucket drinks. But when the crowds slowly dissipate and the tranquility is once again restored to the island, there are some astonishing things to be seen that may have been overlooked during full moon. The perfect spot to have a drink and catch one of the best sunsets, painting a picture in the sky beyond imagination is one such thing. Here are my top five spots to catch a sunset on the island:

1.

Haad Sarikantang (Leela Beach):

Leela beach, with its soft sand, relaxing rope hammocks and mystical mangrove trees, is easily the best beach in Thailand to enjoy an unforgettable sunset. At one end of the beach, you can find a floating pier that, from land, seems to go

14

on forever reaching into the ocean’s endless abyss. Sitting at the end of the pier with your favourite drink is the only way to end a day with perfection. TIP: Go to the 7-eleven, pick up a couple bottles of your favorite beer, stick a lime in, head to Leela Beach to spend an inexpensive afternoon / evening.


2.

Haad Son (Secret beach):

Secret Beach Bar is a little hidden paradise nestled in a cove, easily missed by the usual tourist trying to find the next party. With its pearl-white sand and stunning views of the sunset, it’s a place where you can grab a drink and easily let time drift away. TIP: Don’t miss the strawberry daiquiris – simply amazing and, at just 120 Baht (like all the other cocktails on the menu), they’re a steal.

4.

Haad Yao:

Another stunning beach with pristine water, sprinkled with contrasting bars and restaurants; one place that stands out is Seaboard Bungalows. This is a perfect place to get your party on after watching the sunset, when its rays no longer dominate the sky and the beach is lit by the moon and tiki torches until the early morning. TIP: On Wednesday nights, the local expat community gathers here for some great music (usually deep house) and some fantastic specialty drinks.

3.

Haad Rin Nai:

The sister beach of Haad Rin Nok (where the Full Moon Party is held) is a place that can satisfy any budget, with its new resorts and old rustic pubs. At Seaside Bar, you’ll find a couple triangle pillows upon a mat in the middle of the beach. Pick a spot, order a drink and treat yourself to a unique sunset that will never be forgotten. TIP: Stay until dark when the sky becomes illuminated with a blanket of stars. You might be lucky enough to decipher the mysteries of the Gods and watch the story of the universe unravel above you.

5.

Ao Playlearn:

When you speak to anyone who has spent some substantial time on Koh Phangan, they’ll ask if you have been to Amstardam Bar. If you haven’t, you must go. While not located on a world class beach, it is strategically placed mountainside for the ultimate sunset experience. With a sea of triangle pillows, mats and even a pool, this is a must-stop location for anyone visiting the island. TIP: To insure an unobstructed view, make sure to get here early and grab ‘the perfect seat’ especially in peak season as this spot gets very busy.

These top five sunset drink spots in Koh Phangan are amongst many, where a good cocktail and a sensational sunset can be found. There is more depth to Koh Phangan than its full moon celebrations; it’s a unique place that is truly magical.

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IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF THE KING:

A Royal Mystery At Sadet Waterfall By Joe Lane Flaten Chulalongkorn was a traveler of eminence. During his reign in the last half of the 19th century, he became the first Siamese King to travel to the royal courts of Europe and assert his prestige – saving his Kingdom from the degradation of colonial servitude and the legacy still tasted by Indochine and Burma. The question begged to be answered – why would this great figure of worship and reverence feel compelled to visit this little island so often, I wondered? The Internet was no help and unfortunately the Koh Phangan Historical Society has not yet been founded. So the die was cast, the tale must be examined at its source – for the King has left clues for generations to follow, including a much-famed cypher inscribed on a rock at a waterfall. I climb on my cherry red Honda Wave, the tried-and-true rental companion of the weekend adventurer, and armed with GPS, I glided over majestic hills and into the mountain jungles of Phangan. The air was cool and the beauty of the sea cast its spell. Over the hills I flew in search of Than Sadet Waterfall. For at Than Sadet, lies a royal relic of the King’s, and maybe an answer to my mystery. The relic is his name, carved upon a large boulder. It’s not something widely spoken of within the throngs of the island’s party-goers, but it’s an important artifact for any devotee of The King and Thai history. Signs for the waterfall and the blessedly smooth road provide an easy gateway to the waterfall area. An imposing statue, surrounded by red roses and tropical plants, lotus ponds and a strange soundtrack piped over a loudspeaker greeted me. There were no signs in English to direct the tourists, or, it seemed, no signs at all. Only the far-off droll of a recorded voice, telling a story of what – I couldn’t interpret. I ventured through the cool forest to a very large boulder, which had a small temple for travellers to rest a spell. A gruff monk, speaking in Thai, asked me what I was doing. Luckily, my “menu Thai” skills include the word for waterfall (nam tok), and I received a gracious pointing gesture from the monk – that way. Across a tree-trunk bridge, which was iffy, and I arrived at the Than Sadet Waterfall. Maybe more like a series of baby waterfalls, or small rapids. I’m close to finding the name of Chulalongkorn. Another helpful guide appears. A very kind, smiling monk by the name of Phra Surin has come from his jungle home to tend to matters, and he asks me where I come from. My new friend and I drop into small talk before I blurt out my questions. And the answers, like an almighty stream from great Than Sadet, flows forth. Yes, it is true King Chulalongkorn ventured to this island Phagnan. But it wasn’t for leisure, or for a mystical experience or even the full moon.

B B

esides its famed Dionysian parties not seen since the days of Caligula, Koh Phangan holds a much more majestic history for the initiated. It’s here that His Royal Highness King Rama V, also known as Chulalongkorn, sojourned a grand total of 14 times and literally left his mark on this tropical paradise.

16

HRH came for water. Purely a logistical stop on a diplomatic trip he was on to Singapore and Malaysia. You see, the great traveling King had a majestic steam ship which he piloted around the world. On his way to the Malaysian Peninsula, Koh Phangan provided the perfect stop for more water, because the bay of Than Sadet beach was deep enough for the royal ship to anchor and send a crew to replenish their water supply. He did however – or so it is said – develop a keen fondness for the island as a result, and even brought bottled water from the island back to his palace. My questions answered, it was time to continue my own journey to Koh Samui, then back to Bangkok and beyond. But not before stopping to see the signature of the King on the boulder. The great loops and arcane flourishes of his cypher, the grandeur of his visit, it must have been a sight to behold.


...Koh Phangan, Thailand.

Homesick for HamburgerS

I

Where to find the perfect patty in paradise...

I

t’s something every backpacker experiences and while you don’t know when it will hit, you know it’s coming. In a place like the gorgeous island of Koh Phangan, you can get complacent, forget the impending attack. And when it strikes, you may not be prepared. One common affliction of any traveler is the dreaded food craving. True, Thailand has some amazing food, but when those nostalgic “I just want a taste of home” urges overwhelm, you won’t be satisfied until those cravings are fulfilled and for many, a burger is the culprit. Finding good Thai food is easy. Whether it’s a street vendor, a little plastic chair restaurant, or a well-known dine-in restaurant, you’re sure to find the type of food that puts Thailand on the culinary map. Finding a good burger when the craving strikes however, is tricky. Fortunately, Koh Phangan has tapped into international culinary styles offering several places that would satisfy any burger fan.

The Gourmet Burger: Crave Restaurant, Haad Yao For the ultimate burger experience with amazing service, head to Crave restaurant to find wonderfully blended gourmet flavours such as the deluxe burger with bacon, homemade mayo and brie. Don’t forget to switch your side of fries for a poutine as their Thai- version of the French-Canadian dish is a perfect complement. Happy hour is from 5-7pm, where their homemade sangria and marinated spirits are ‘buy one, get one free’.

The Simple Burger: Yummy Restaurant, Haad Rin Nok Haad Rin Nok is the destination for backpackers looking to experience the Full Moon Party and fortunately, a great burger is waiting around the corner. Simple yet well-seasoned, Yummy Restaurant offers quality burgers at great prices, served with a smile. Afterwards, satisfy your sweet tooth with their fruit shake and roti special – only 89 Baht!

By Carolann Hughes

The Veggie Burger: Vintage Burger Friends & Booze, Thong Sala If beef patties aren’t your thing, you’ll want to try Vintage Burger. While their beef burgers are worth a taste, their veggie burger, made of bean, coriander and carrot topped with cheese, onion, lettuce and homemade sweet chili sauce, is a must-try. Alongside crispy, delicious fries, this meal will satisfy any burger craving. Ask for it without cheese to make it a vegan option. A homemade mojito and chocolate mousse are wonderful ways to round-out the meal.

The Late-Night Burger Handsome Sandwiches, Thong Nai Pan Noi A long-time staple, Handsome Sandwiches is located a distance from the Full Moon Party but offers to satisfy those burger cravings when nothing else is open. Thai-style, the restaurant consists of a small stall and several tables with a simple fare of burgers, fries and shakes. The exterior may leave something to be desired but the food impresses and the prices are reasonable.

The Chicken Schnitzel Burger Mama’s Schnitzel, Haad Rin Nok As the name suggests, Mama’s Schnitzel is well-known for its chicken schnitzel. Take those pieces of crispy, tender chicken and turn it into a burger and you’ve got one mouth-watering, hungersatisfying meal. In the heart of Haad Rin, it’s a great place to eat after a day at the beach or while taking part in the Full Moon celebrations. After indulging in your meal, the restaurant's chocolate bar shakes will quench your thirst and cool you down. Whether you’re craving an all-beef patty, crispy chicken or prefer to go vegetarian, Koh Phangan has something to satisfy all your cravings and when taking your first bite into that flavourful and wellcrafted burger, you’ll be sinking your teeth into a little taste of home.

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Revisiting The Beach – Fiction or Reality? By Nazia Tariq

Was the secret backpacker society inspired by an existing place?

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hailand has always been a popular travel destination, and it was made even more popular by Alex Garland’s bestselling book The Beach in 1996, later adapted into a popular Hollywood movie, visually highlighting specific locations and islands. According to Alex Garland, that is exactly what he had hoped to avoid. The author began his novel in 1993. Three years later, the book was released, and had been translated into 25 languages by 1997. In the 90s, backpackers travelling to Thailand were not tourists, but rather travellers who had already travelled to India, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines and so on. They were passionate about being on the road to finding themselves, not caring for air conditioning or hot water: very vibrant, interactive, eccentric and most held a deep respect for other cultures. Haad Rin beach in Koh Phangan (Thailand) was the centre attraction with the rise of Full Moon parties. This continued until year 2000 before visitors branched out to the different beaches around Koh Phangan, and settled in as locals. When asked about the existence of a secret society of backpackers, a British settler who has been living on Koh Phangan for the last 23 years says ‘it wasn’t really a secret but it was like a hippie trail where through word of mouth, Koh Phangan became a destination.’ Goa had a huge party scene, Kathmandu was a popular destination and travellers who met there would hear of Koh Phangan, and the island became a place where they would gather to find familiar faces of travelers they had met elsewhere. A community began to grow. The Sanctuary, now a spa resort in Haad Tien, Koh Phangan, opened around 1991 and gained in popularity amongst these

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travellers through tales of personal experience, giving the place a reputation for paving the path to enlightenment. Travellers who gathered there for a few days ended up staying for months and years, while some eventually called it home. They found such peace, love and trust amongst one another that they did not want to invite in any more people, fearing the flow of energy would break. Everyone had a different story, yet everyone was united. A hippie community developed where many yogis, long-stayers, healers and visionaries united. Did they see Garland there, writing on top of a boulder by the beach? The manager of The Sanctuary for the last 17 years, Mike, does not deny it; The Sanctuary has seen many writers and they do not ask questions. The Sanctuary is the kind of place where people lost and found themselves renewed. “Shh! Don’t tell anyone, we used to say” says Mike. Anyone who had been to the sanctuary in the 90s and later read the book or watched the movie, all instantly felt that it was referring to the Sanctuary. Joe Cummings, acclaimed travel writer, whom Garland talks about in his book, says “he (Garland) must have heard negative comments about Lonely Planet from other travellers” referring to how travel guide books were accused of ruining hideaway spots and increasing tourist traffic, thus exposing secret paradise. ‘’The Gatekeeper Syndrome – I’m through so we’re closing the gate” “I don’t think he was trying to expose the Lonely Planet.” says Joe. Joe had been to the Sanctuary and when he read the book he knew immediately, as he had been there in the mid 80s when it was very little known and very much a secret. “It was cult-like and they did not


want maps or a mention in the Lonely Planet. I never tracked this down, Alex Garland must have talked to someone at the Sanctuary and they said yeah the Lonely planet guy was through here and we told him not to put us in the book, and he did.” Garland’s book is a work of fiction where he largely exaggerated what he experienced and amplified island fever. He imagined the worst that could happen when travellers from the developed world live isolated on an island and a dark side to them starts to come out after all the love and peace of being in paradise wears off. One person may start to get controlling, carried away by the intensity; another may start backstabbing, and dark secrets may be kept hidden with unfavorable consequences. Recent frequent travellers and visitors to The Sanctuary consist of celebrities, socialites, corporate heads as well as simple folks looking to escape the daily routine and relax and often they are pleasantly and overwhelmingly surprised at what they encounter. Warren, an Australian traveller, describes The Sanctuary as ”wonderful tribe of like-minded open folk who remain connected to this place, where yoga gods and goddesses play,” he says. “It’s becoming more popular with a less spiritual crowd, more drunken, behaving badly. Though even this scene cannot harm the beauty and fun.” Indeed, everyone must have their unique adventure, seal it in or share with the world.

Koh Phangan Takes the Environmental Initiative

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By Leann McKeown

oh Phangan culminates a variety of notions for visitors and the people who call the island paradise home; a deeply spiritual and embracing refuge for some, a hedonistic party place for others. There’s no denying that the island’s natural beauty seduces all who surrender to her charm, yet it’s exactly this allure that threatens to overcome her. Fortunately for us, the island’s inhabitants have realised the fragility of the magic, and to preserve it they have introduced several green initiatives that we can support. Need an excuse to party? In 2004, a group of expats were playing volleyball on one of Koh Phangan’s idyllic beaches when a dolphin washed upon the shore, having succumbed to an inevitably slow death due to a discarded plastic bag. This tragic incident brought the realization that, in order to continue to enjoy their home, they must strive to protect its cherished natural resources. Green Cross was formed, and together with resort owners, the Mayor of Haad Rin, and the Haad Rin Business Association, they have had many successful beach clean-ups. They’ve purchased beach-cleaning machines, employed local people to scour the beach and surrounding areas for rubbish, and introduced signage and waste disposal bins for us all to use. With many of these initiatives financed by ticket sales from the Full Moon Parties, even the revelers themselves contribute to the environmental cause – though they may not know it.

Feed your soul If cooking with love provides food for the soul, then we’d better ensure the ingredients are the most nourishing available. Luckily for us backpackers, the people of Koh Phangan have taken the green initiative and are preparing a bounty of soul-fulfilling organic goodness. Start your healthy holiday eating in either Thong Sala or Sri Thanu to discover stores brimming with organic goods and restaurants serving a bounty of healthy organic food, much of which is sourced locally. Rest easy Depending on the stretch of your backpacker budget, Koh Phangan offers environmentally-conscious accommodation from minimalist camping to green resorts catering to your every eco whim. The Tourism Association of Koh Phangan is working with the island’s resorts who have started their own environmentally-conscious initiatives, from the usual replace as needed rather than daily linen services, to aiming for self sustainable gardens to supply their restaurants.

Koh Phangan returning to green roots

Let’s get deep From the visible white sands, whether your dance floor or view from your hammock, past the shoreline, and into those deep waters stretched before you, are the reef ecosystems, the sea grasses and the ocean itself - all threatened by overuse and abuse. The Koh Phangan diving community has their attention firmly focused on sustainable diving within these waters and have initiated an education program for themselves and for the many visitors who come to enjoy their underwater utopia.

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Koh Phangan, Inspiration Island By Chris Fox

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t was Sunday morning, 5am and I had barely finished packing. Woodworking tools and sawdust were strewn all around my living room. I left my still bare condo in the hands of my friend and wished that upon my return, the contractor I had hired would transform it into my 'home' for the years to come. I arrived on Koh Phangan around noon. The rain and wind that battered the ship felt like a doorway to another world. I had been here before, but somehow the island felt different. Maybe it was me. It had been a tough year and I had been forced to make some important changes in my life. Only a few weeks earlier I had signed up for a writers’ workshop, to remove any and all excuses for not finishing my book. The team was diverse but we clicked right away. Each with our own stories and reasons, continents apart yet all connected to this point and place in time. Kaila, our head coach for the next two weeks, dove right in. As the only non-native English participant, grammar finally started to look interesting! Through fun and games and some hard work, the pieces started to fall into place. There wasn't a lot of time to fully take in the width and breadth of the island, so we found secluded spots on the nearby beaches. Seaside Sunset Bar on Haad Rin Noi proved to be our favourite. We laid down our mats and let our worries drift into the ocean as we enjoyed the sunset. Happy hour passed on by way too quickly. The first week went by, yet I wasn't fully relaxed during the day. Construction at my place in Bangkok had not progressed for days and my work permit was to be renewed right in the middle of my stay on Koh Phangan. Somehow that doorway that the ferry crossed through had not fully closed! It was truly the people who pulled me through. I decided there and then that nothing would steer me off course. By Wednesday we had built a very solid bond and got together for a delightful evening at Seaboard Bungalows on Haad Yao Beach. The atmosphere felt surreal with beautiful people, great lounge music and the most delicious finger food. The legendary Joe Cummings – one of the instructors on our course - entertained us throughout the night with his travel stories from around the world. As stars were shooting around the Milky Way, I felt that my luck was starting to change.

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The next day, I met a wonderful newlywed couple: Carl and Taya. I had met Carl a few years back, but apart from Facebook comments, we hadn't really stayed in touch. We had a common passion - publishing online - but our schedules never matched until this course. The island proved to be the mediating force to bring the right people together. It was no surprise then when I met them over lunch and Taya pulled out the exact sort of book I had been looking for: Acting Techniques by Michael Powell. It turned out she was an acting coach and acting had become my hobby this year. I wasn't terribly good at it yet, but we all have to start somewhere. Thanks for the leads, tropical island breeze! A few of us climbed the mountain and descended back onto the beach. Big buckets or freshly-blended shakes in hand, some of us dancing the limbo on the starlit beach but mostly just laughing harder than we ever had. Back in my bungalow, I filled up the bathtub and let the whole experience soak in. An aromatherapy massage in one of the island's many inexpensive shops gently kneaded away any remaining stress from my body. I was reborn. The last week started with another still relatively fresh face on the island. Adam and I had briefly messaged each other a year back. I never met him but he had just exited his job at MTV and started up his social media company. For the next few days Koh Phangan became the nerve centre of travel blogging Thailand. Together with my team mates I put those skills to good use to jolt the contractor in my Bangkok condo back into action. As we saw the results, a big smile erupted on our faces. We came to the island as strangers, we left as friends, but we remain forever a team, dedicated to each other’s success.


Traveling To and Around Koh Phangan

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By Mel Larcombe

ll arrivals to Koh Phangan are currently by boat. High-speed catamarans - such as the Lomprayah and Seatran ferry services - connect Koh Phangan to its neighbouring islands, Koh Tao and Koh Samui, and to the mainland piers of Donsak and Chumphon. The ancient Raja ferry is like taking a slow boat to China when compared to high-speed ferries. It is, however, a popular way to arrive from Donsak, often after an overnight train ride from Bangkok. The leisurely hours are spent viewing the Angthong Marine Park islands as they pass by on the horizon. Alternatively, relax back and catch a Thai movie blaring out from televisions on deck.

beach town. No driving licencelicense is required (yet). Wear a helmet, watch out for sand patches, and don't drink and drive. Make sure there is enough space between you and the vehicles ahead, before attempting the hills, which are numerous and steep on Koh Phangan, particularly around Haad Rin. If you are a first first-time learner driver, leave motorbikes to the more experienced riders, and take a songtaew taxi instead. Taxis are plentiful, and a cheap way to get around the island (learning a little bit of Thai helps drive the price down). They go from pier towns to coast coast-side resorts every time a ferry docks. The standard fare from Thong Sala to Haad Rin is 100 baht. If you are travelling alone, consider taking a motorbike taxi. Look out for skilled riders in yellow, numbered jackets. Riding pillion on a motorbike taxi is a great way to experience Koh Phangan's roads - in relative safety. Motorbike taxis can be more expensive than songthaew taxis, but easier to haggle down with a smile. If you are heading to The Sanctuary on Haad Tien, take a taxi boat from Haad Rin - or a taxi through the steep jungle interior. Taxis leave from Baan Tai to the East Coast beaches infrequently. Ask at the 7/11 in Ban Taai.

The Haad Rin Queen tugboat has been ploughing the seas for the last past two decades, and is a journey of wonder in itself. It is probably the most pleasurable way to arrive on Koh Phangan, especially after landing at nearby Koh Samui airport. The Big Buddha - Haad Rin crossing, at 200 baht per ticket, is still the cheapest ferry route between Koh Samui and Koh Phangan. All ferry tickets can be bought at the pier upon departure, or at any mainland or island travel agency. Travel in Thailand is normally so easy you don't have to think about it, and the islands are no exception. There is always somebody to point you in the right direction, and help you buy a ticket to your next destination. The freedom of a motorbike ride is a simple pleasure of life on Koh Phangan. Visitors can find motorbikes for rent at in every

Tropical Writers Workshop Hits Koh Samui!

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ould you like to take part in the the Tropical Writers’ Workshop, and learn from instructors who are among the best in their fields globally, all on a beautiful tropical island in Thailand? Join travel writing legend Joe Cummings, social media guru Adam Sharpe, and web developer extraordinaire Carl Heaton, along with a fun group of students eager to learn how to become a travel writer with it all. Students will leave with their own website, a published article as part of our Koh Samui feature in this magazine (May/June 2015 issue), a killer social media strategy, an action-plan for how to make money while travelling, and a host of other skills that will help make them more marketable as writers. The next Tropical Writers’ Workshop will be held at Al’s Resort on Chaweng beach, Koh Samui, March 1-15, 2015. Prices start from $1080 USD for the entire course, inclusive of full tuition, 14 days' accommodation (based on a shared room), breakfast, access to two beautiful pools, a spa, and much more. Find out more here: www.TropicalWritersWorkshop.com

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WORD ON THE STREET:

10 BUCKET LIST DESTINATIONS OF 2015!

If you could travel to one place this year where would it be? 22

Graphic by Laura Davies


1.

AFGHANISTAN:

would If I could only travel to one place in 2015, it media that be Afghanistan. We hear regularly from the true. We it is filled with terrorists but we know that’s not travellers other from stories ng amazi but g have heard nothin nt place to who have been there. It would be a very differe explore. (Mindful Wanderlust)

2.

EL NIDO, PHILIPPINES:

The Philippines is one of the most beautiful countries that I have ever visited - last year I visited Borocay, Cebu and Bohol and this year I want to go back to El Nido, Palawan, which has incredible beaches, karst scenery and amazing diving. I’ve heard that El Nido is developing a chilled out backpacker scene, but hopefully it isn’t too popular yet! (Paolo Guerrero)

BHUTAN:

If it wasn’t so expensive to travel there, I would love to go to Bhutan. With a limit on tourists each year and a law that says that all travellers must be accompanied by a tour guide, it’s a bit unaccessible to a budget backpacker like me, but I’ve heard the scenery is out of this world and the culture untouched. (Dan Stevens)

NORTH KOREA:

I know it’s a bizarre dream destination to have, but I’m kind of fascinated by North Korea. As one of the most closed, if not the most closed country on the planet - I’m just dying to see what goes on behind those closed doors! (Jacob Rogers)

5.

MYANMAR:

Last year, I was volunteering at an NGO on the border of Myanmar teaching English to refugees. This year, I want to explore the country from which I have met so many beautiful, intelligent people. From Yangon, I will travel to Bagan and Inle Lake and I hope to get more off the beaten track too into the villages too. I want to go there before all the other backpackers do! (Linda Rogers)

6.

SOUTH AFRICA:

Having travelled to South East Asia a few years ago, and South America last year, Africa is next on my list! I’ll go to South Africa, Kenya, climb Kilimanjaru and then volunteer in Tanzania. (Kyle Pree)

7.

CAMBODIA:

When I travelled to Siem Reap as a backpacker last year, Cambodia and it’s people stole my heart. I am now going back to Cambodia in 2015 to live and teach English in Kampot. I hope to buy a motorbike and explore more off the beaten track places while I am there for a whole year! (Charlotte Crosby)

8.

BORNEO:

I have always wanted to go and see the orangutans in their natural habitat and I have heard that this is possible in Borneo. I hope to venture into the jungle, come across exotic plants and creatures that I have never seen and glimpse our closest relatives. (Jenny Breslin)

PERU:

9.

Ever since a child, I have wanted to see the This year, I ruins of Machu Picchu with my own eyes. ay ticket to saved up enough money to buy a one-w my list! South America and the Inca Trail is top of (Jared Peterson)

BALI & THE GILI ISLANDS

10.

Bali in a I’ve already booked my ticket and I’ll be in and few months! Woohoo! Beaches, surfing, sun very cocktails - that’s all I want this year after a stressful year of work and family problems in 2014. I just want to chill out! (Nicky Smith)

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DESTINATION

MYANMAR: BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE

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here couldn’t be a riper time to visit Myanmar. The volatile country is begging for a tourism invasion after the September introduction of an online ‘e-visa.’ Where To Go? You shouldn’t plan a trip to roam the military-created ghost town of a capital, Nay Pyi Taw, which recently hosted USA.’s President Obama for the annual East Asia Summit. Nor to bicycle through the globally recognized pagoda-spotted plains of Bagan at sunrise.

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By Clare Gallagher

Nope, not to sightsee bustling Yangon, the former capital, nor to float on hyacinth-coated Inle Lake. Okay, all of these sights are worth seeing (except Nay Pyi Taw), but rural Pah-Oh villages in the centrally located Shan State are what you need to see. NOW! Spoiler alert Tourists already trek here. It can’t be completely untouched if it’s in Lonely Planet, right?


The 60-km route goes from the sleepy mountain town of Kalaw to heavily visited Inle Lake, or vise versa. Hiring a guide is easy, and it costs a pittance compared to similar-quality treks around the world. Each person in my group - a 33-year-old Spanish cardiologist, a fellow 23-year-old English teacher in Thailand and I - paid $38 USD for three days, including food, luggage transfer and a long-tail boat ride when we reached Inle Lake. Santosh, our young guide of mixed Nepali and Burmese descent, spoke close to fluent English, though this is not always the case.

In terms of trip feasibility, this is not frigid, high altitude Nepali trekking with heavy backpacks, nor tropical, leech-ridden Borneo bushwhacking. At a mid altitude (approximately 1,000 meters), with bearable heat and cool nights for Southeast Asia, suffering is not in the description. It is done in two or three days, covering rolling paths and dirt roads. It is comfortable crop viewing at its finest.

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Why So Special? The bucolic farmlands and traditional lifestyles of Pah-Oh hill tribes have existed mostly unchanged for the past millennium. Save for the occasional rusty motorbike - most vehicles in Myanmar look leftover from WWII (because they are) - and the periodic roadside mini-mart that sells packaged goods, there are few signs of the developed world. These are the romanticized hill tribe communities we fantasize about: the kind that lack infrastructure, but still blissfully exist without debilitating poverty. On my group’s trek, ridgeline panoramas stopped us cold. Undulating plots swap between terraces of kelly green mountain rice and fluorescent green water rice - the type of green in children’s

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science kits. Dense rows of mauve sesame plant blossoms, chilies, pumpkins, potatoes and white carrots add to the organized mosaic. Wood ox carts puncture the fertile earth, operated by weathered, sinewy longyi-wearing men (the traditional Burmese cloth skirt worn by both genders). Think of a colour and it’s visible either in a crop or in a traditional headscarf worn by the strikingly beautiful Pah-Oh women. Hours of walking left me so peaceful that I would often forget to take a photo, never mind remember that Facebook even exists. Of course, seasons matter and trekkers cannot see every crop at once; the dry season (November – April) vastly differs from the wet season. October felt ideal, as we evaded major rains, but the earth was still well hydrated.


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Preserved Traditions There’s been a steady trickle of tourists since 2011, when a civilian government took office and tourism was no longer discouraged. This introduced the outside world to the Pah-Oh, but tourism hasn’t altered their traditional livelihoods, unlike Myanmar’s touristcatering neighbor, Thailand. While we passed women carrying bamboo baskets heavy with produce, or monks bathing in a stream next to a monastery, invariably, the Pah-Oh people smiled at us. Some Pah-Oh went so far to say ‘mingalaba’ (hello in Burmese), but most individuals, including children, only speak a Pah-Oh dialect. This didn’t stop them from waving, often from fields away. Uninterested in blonde Americans and North Face equipment, they still welcomed our presence. One cattle herder, not older than 15, brought a bull closer to us when he saw my friend struggling to frame a shot. And since tourists have yet to replace cattle and crops, we observed without feeling, or being, intrusive. The three-day trek allows for one night in a village. Our group slept in a designated guestroom: half of a family’s raised, woven bamboo hut, above a year’s supply of drying garlic. Santosh cooked us chiliflavored local meals over fires in an unventilated hut, just as the village women do. We spent our second night at a monastery led by an impressive 24year old head monk. He was in charge of an uncountable number of novice monks, constantly skipping across the courtyard and adjusting their too-big maroon robes. Prior to sunrise, we gaped at the motley crew of boney, but clearly nourished, novices dutifully performing chores.

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What Is The Rush? The urgency of this trek is rooted in events unrelated to the PahOh. In September of this year, Myanmar’s government introduced an online e-visa option for tourists. Approved within five days, the e-visa costs $50 USD for a 28-day stay, and is accepted at the international airports in Yangon, Mandalay or Nay Pyi Taw and is soon-to-be accepted at four overland crossings with Thailand. In October, the e-visa was extended to tourists from an additional 24 countries, adding to the original 43 countries. The e-visa alone makes the 2012 government-created Tourism Master Plan goal of 3 million foreign visitors by 2015 and 7.5 million by 2020 not out of the question. Which is remarkable considering that the 1.06 million tourists in 2012 and 2.04 million in 2013 were considered impressive figures after tourism stopped being discouraged in 2011. I arrived with my e-visa in Yangon on October 2nd, stunned at how smooth the immigration process was. Myanmar is clearly prepping for the onslaught.

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But the Pah-Oh aren’t prepping for anything. Which is why now is the sweet spot to visit, before the single-track paths bear queues of hungover backpackers, or before the fields succumb to hotels, or before villages modernize solely to accommodate more tourists— the tourists that paradoxically seek a glimpse of the huts preelectricity. You guessed it, I’m already planning my next trek. Writer’s note: Myanmar has significant problems with political corruption and human rights injustices. Presidential elections are slated for next year and a win for the National League for Democracy is desperately needed to begin ameliorating the treatment of various ethnic minorities including the Rohingya of the eastern Rakhine State. About the Writer: Clare Gallagher is a Colorado native and graduated from Princeton in 2014 with a degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. She is currently teaching English in Southern Thailand and filling her breaks with South East Asian travels!


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DESTINATION:

THE ALTERNATIVE GUIDE TO KL By Conor Walsh

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o the casual traveller, Kuala Lumpur, capital of Malaysia (and KL to everyone that lives there), may not seem to have as much to offer when compared to other major cities in the region. It may not be packed with massive temples and Buddha statues like Bangkok, or possess the flashiness of Singapore. However, KL is a buzzing, sprawling metropolis, a miss mash of so many different cultures and a young, vibrant and VERY international population.

All of these give it a great, unique edge over it’s neighbours. There is pretty much always something happening in KL, to suit everyones tastes. And with a little help you can discover these treasures for yourself.

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So take this short guide as an introduction to the city and its many delights - delights that you won’t read in any guidebook! If you’re in Kuala Lumpur for more than a couple of days and are looking for an alternative to the major attractions then be sure to check some of these out...


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TRY MALA YSIA’S NATIONAL BURGER Malaysians, as a people, are comp letely is understandable when you conside obsessed with food. Which r the sheer range on offer from all the and quality between all the Ind different ethnic groups that live here. But in ian, Malay and oth unsung hero of Ma er world cuisines there is an laysian street foo d: The Ramly Bu delicious, cheap rger. They’re and a point of na tional pride for ma ny Malaysians. Ramly Burger sta nds can be fou nd across the cit stands are ever y, but no two the same. Where as most fast foo strive for an identi d restaurants cal product from every franchise, pride themselves Ramly burgers on each stand giv ing the burgers a And so it is that ma unique twist. ny KL residents wi ll frequent one ind above all others ivi their whole lives , confident that the dual stand the best in the cit y have found y. Where to find it: The stands are do tted all over the some move aroun city and while d there is a perm anent one at the Jalan Alor (the ma south end of in food stall stree t for tourists) as gardens and parks well any of the in the city. Just loo green stalls. k out for the red, yellow and

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SWING LEARN TO

, catering nce scene in KL week, contemporary da t the ran of vib ht , ng nig ivi There is a thr experience. Every of cials el so lev e d nc an da d le for almost any sty y there are classes, workshops an is KL Swing! cit far by the s fun ros st ac mo rs in ba p. The dancing m Salsa to Hip Ho ing music, swing for everything fro dedicated to sw dance up rn gro lea a to , sy m) ea .co ly (www.klswing is also a relative ing nc ill. da sk l ing ica Sw hn p. and the Lindy ho d energy than tec ch more on fun an style, the focus mu classes, host free weekly ts, KL Swing! also entive. en att ev d l an cia nt so r tie ula pa As well as reg at fun and very gre ur first are yo ers its if ch en tea le to join in. So ev for all levels. The op pe w gged ne g dra vin be ha ct to love in your life, expe And the regulars r danced before ve ne e u’v yo d night, an floor for a swing. out on the dance for beginners at ekly free classes KL Swing! hold we a short walk from Universiti LRT it: d fin to re Whe b is Bangsar. The pu Sid’s Pub in South right. the to l hil the stop, just up

SEEK OUT STREET ART KL has a big culture of street art, which can be seen sprayed across many of the slightly ruined old buildings in Chinatown, and down most of its alleyways. The local government has also embraced, for the most part, this burgeoning art scene and the city’s many parks and gardens often host exhibitions for local artists. Not all of the pieces are quite so welcomed by the government however. Malaysians are a very politically charged people, constantly on the receiving end of their governments corruption and inefficiency. Naturally this shines through on much of the street art in the capital. It can be great fun seeking out the angrier of these and trying to discern the political messages behind them. Where to find it: Pretty much any of the city’s neighbourhoods except maybe Bukit Bintang. There is plenty along the banks of the Klang river and old run down buildings in Chinatown. Lake Gardens in Brickfields sometimes holds outdoor exhibitions.

GO FOR AN OLD SCHOOL SHAVE Going for a shave at a mens salon in Brickfields, KL’s Little India, is like stepping into an odd time capsule. With their mix of Hindu kitsch, worn out 80s style posters and 60s furniture they are a throwback to a time when the salon was a place for men to socialise as much as the local pub. Except that at the pub, you might still have some women hanging around. Its not just the decor that is old school at these places: they still use single blade, sheer razors and shaving cream with a brush and a hot towel. It’s rare you’ll get this experience these days without paying for the ‘novelty value’. In KL it will set you back just $2 USD. Where to find them: Most of the barbers are dotted along Brickfields’ main streets, just look out for the red and white candy canes. There is also one in Chinatown on the corner of Jalan Hang Katsuri, opposite Central Market shopping centre.

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GO FOR AN OLYMPIC SIZED SWIM KL can get pretty hot and humid at times, and if it hasn’t rained in while it can be downright suffocating. So after an afternoon of sightseeing in the sweltering heat, you’re going to want to cool down. You could do like the Malaysians do and hang out at the numerous shopping malls. Or, a little more fun, head to the outdoor pool at Chin Woo Stadium (www.timeout.com/kuala-lumpur/things-todo/chin-woo-stadium). The pool is olympic sized, sat on a hill overlooking Chinatown and a short walking distance from most of the hostels there. It also has a small cafe and plenty of space to sun bath, read a book and enjoy a quiet oasis in the middle of the busy city. The sunsets aren’t bad either. Where to find it: Chin Woo Stadium is located on a small hill just south of Chinatown. Walk along Jalan Sultan, at the back of Petaling Street and turn the corner up the hill. The stadium is on the right.

ROCK CLIMBING AT BATU CAVES Batu Caves are the most sacred place in Peninsular Malaysia for the countries Hindu population. Within the caves are a number of shrines and temple s, the biggest sitting atop a flight 272 steps, guarded on the outside by a massive statue of Lord Murugan, to whom the caves are dedicated. Batu Caves is also home the annua l Thaipusam Festival, something that needs to be seen to be believed! Aside from the religious sites, Batu Caves is also home to some great rock climbing. The caves are part of a massive outcrop of limestone, as high as 150m. There are over 100 routes scattered along the rocks for all levels , but most of the best are found at Damai Caves to the north east of the main shrines. Where to find it: Batu Caves are 13km outsid e of Kuala Lumpur. They can be accessed by bus from Centra l Market in Chinatown or on the KTM train line from KL Sentral transit station. It takes 45-60 minutes. While experienced climbers might like to bring their gear and find their own routes, there are a number of adventure companies offering courses and guides in the area.

About the writer: Conor Walsh is the guy behind the website, www.escapingthemainstream.com, where he writes about everything from long term travel and working on the road, to his love of street food and Cambodian rock n’roll. Follow him on Facebook (escapingthemainstream), or Twitter (@EscapeTheMain.

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PHOTOS:

Life on the Tonle Sap Cambodia By Jen Seiser

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favourite and lesser-known stop while touring Southeast Asia is the Tonlé Sap of Cambodia. This UNESCO heritage site recognizes the largest freshwater lake in the entire Asian region. If you happen to be visiting Angkor Wat, this is an exciting day trip excursion from Siem Reap. Naturally, this destination is unique because of the water composition. Fresh and saltwater tributaries reverse the directions of their waterflow at various times of the year creating an unlikely ecosystem. Culturally, this destination is unique because of the way it’s people live- right above the water. After an exciting tuk-tuk ride down a very weathered dirt road to the launch site, take a stunning (and very inexpensive) boat ride through the region’s floating villages. On the Tonlé Sap, locals do everything on and in the water. As you meander around the area you will see fishermen, schools, churches, and many homes forming a suspended community. While here, enjoy lunch in a stilted kitchen over the water where kids swim and play. The people of this region are kind and vibrant despite the Tonlé Sap being still very much developing economically. The disparity between this part of Cambodia and larger the cities is apparent, however the environment is charming and extremely authentic feeling. This special place can be an incredible experience that nicely contrasts the more beaten tracks of Cambodia’s other hot spots. Be sure to catch a glimpse of the Tonlé Sap if you make it to this part of the world!

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About the photographer: Jen Seiser a designer and lifetime explorer. While traveling she strives to experience the world in an intimate way off the beaten track –interacting with people and places via colors, textures, pictures, patterns, products and emotions. Follow her travel adventures on Instagram @thejourneynotes and check out details of other destinations on her travel blog, The Journey Notes. (thejourneynotes.com)

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FESTIVALS & EVENTS: Full Moon Party

Sunrise Beach, Haad Rin, Koh Phangan

4th Jan, 3rd Feb

in the sea from dusk ‘til dawn. Expect shenanigans aplenty on a whole beach jam-packed with bars and stages blasting out a varied selection of music, including house, drum&bass, psy-trance and chart tunes.

Half Moon Festival

Baan Tai, Koh Phangan

13th, 28th Jan 14th, 26th Feb

large, professional, all night dance event is set amidst the brilliantly atmospheric setting of the Baan Tai Jungle with a huge sound system, unique UV illuminations, fire dancers and live visuals! And there’s an extra party on Valentine’s Day - so get yourself down there and get a Valentine Kiss!

Black Moon Culture Baan Tai, Koh Phangan

19th Jan, 17th Feb The most famous beach party in the world? The Full Moon Party takes place on Haad Rin Beach, Koh Phangan each month on the night of the Full Moon. Legend has it that the whole thing started with a group of backpackers playing guitars and singing on the beach to celebrate someone’s birthday, but these days it’s a full-blown, debaucherous mish-mash of body paint, fancy dress, and up to 30,000 people drinking buckets, dancing, partying and playing

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Taking place one week before and one week after the Full Moon Party, the Half Moon Festival showcases the island’s finest resident DJs with regular special guest appearances, all playing an eclectic mix of tech house, progressive beats and psychedelic trance. This

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

Jungle Experience

Baan Tai, Koh Phangan

(1 day and 10 days before every Full Moon Party)

One of the original underground gatherings on Koh Phangan, this magical flower garden is located deep in the jungle with a mountain stream leading you to the stunningly decorated dancefloor. Be enchanted


Pick of the Month! by the lush tropical garden, magical UV decorations, laser & light installations. Famous for its amazing atmosphere in the morning when the sun rises over the mountain backdrop illuminating the natural beauty of the location & bringing smiles to faces. Underground house & techno. International DJ’s. Jungle welcomes dancers, performance artists & entertainers from around the world. Professional costume & body painting & fire show performance. The Ancient Art of Muay Thai Arena.*Also see - Sramanora Waterfall Party, Shiva Moon Party, Loi Lay Floating Bar Party, Ku Club, Pirate Moonset Party, Oasis, Mer Ka Ba, Guys Bar & Eden.

Thaipusam Malaysia 17th Jan

Thaipusam is one of the largest and most extravagant Hindu Festivals in Asia and is celebrated by millions of followers worldwide. Held in honour of Lord Murugan, also known as Lord Subramaniam, Kuala Lumpur and Penang are two of the most colourful places to observe the festivities, in particular at the Batu Caves on the outskirts of KL. It’s a truly incredible spectacle to witness: participants perform incredible acts of devotion as they offer thanks to the Lord for good fortune during the year. Feats

JAN - FEB 2014 including the piercing of both body and face with skewers, dragging chariots with hooks attached to the skin, as well as huge metal frames (kavadis) that are fastened to the body and carried along. Some devotees become entranced, entering meditative states during the procession – which is traditionally believed to cleanse them of their sins.

communities all over the world. Lasting for 15 days with unique celebrations and rituals taking place on each day, traditionally it’s a time for families to get together, exchange gifts and eat lots of delicious food! Homes are cleaned for the welcoming of spring, floral decorations and red paper lanterns are raised. Children are given gifts of money in ‘lucky’ red envelopes and adults see it as a time to settle old debts and start afresh. Today, in cities, towns and villages all throughout South East Asia, a festive atmosphere fills the air. Colourful dragon and lion parades take to the streets,

Chinese New Year (of the Horse!) All South East Asia 19th Feb Chinese New Year (also known as the Spring Festival) is a massive event that is celebrated by Chinese

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FESTIVALS & EVENTS: dancing to the rhythm of beating drums and cymbals which are said to drive away any evil spirits. Fireworks and firecrackers can be heard for weeks in celebration of this significant time. Chinese temples are blanketed by clouds of incense smoke as people pray for good fortune in the New Year. Bangkok, Penang and KL are great places to witness the festivities, take in cultural performances and gorge on the huge variety of food and drink that line the streets to welcome the ‘Year of the Goat’ predicted to be an honest year where people join together!

means ‘The Feast of the First Morning’. Derived from the Chinese New Year and celebrated at the same time, Tet Nguyen Dan also marks the beginning of spring – again, just the Chinese New Year celebrations. In fact, the rituals and festivities are very similar to Chinese New Year in terms of their focus on family reunions and the concept of starting afresh. In Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and other cities, you’ll find street parties and parades; market stalls bustling with people buying decorations, food, clothes and stocking up on goods in preparation. All night drumming and fireworks also make this an extremely noisy, lively and high-spirited event to experience!

Bun Pha Vet Laos January Bun Pha Vet is an important Buddhist Festival and a significant time of the year for friends and family in Laos to gather together. Tales of Buddha’s penultimate life as Prince Vessantara are recited throughout temples across the country, and it’s considered a favourable time for Laotian Men to be ordained into Monkhood. (His final incarnation was as Prince Siddhartha, who went on to reach enlightenment and thus becoming Buddha).

Tet Nguyen Dan Vietnam 31st Jan The Vietnamese celebrate the New Year with a three day public holiday – ‘Tet Nguyen Dan’, which literally

The Giant Puppet Parade Siem Reap, Cambodia 21st Feb

This is a Cambodian children’s community arts project that involves various community organizations, and provides a creative platform for Siem Reap’s disadvantaged children to foster and promote expression and selfconfidence through art. Now entering its eighth year, the giant puppets created by the children (under the guidance of student artists and the project’s Artistic Director from Phare Ponleu Seplak, nearby Battambang) make for a sight not to be missed when they march through the city streets on the evening of the annual parade!

Victory Day Phnom Penh, Cambodia 7th Jan A national holiday established to commemorate the end of the Khmer Rouge regime in 1979, Victory Day marks this very important date with a series of cultural shows and exhibitions which pay homage this very dark part of Cambodia’s history. A gathering is held in Phnom Penh to mark the momentous event of the fall of the Communist Party of Kampuchea (the Khmer Rouge), and thousands of people participate in this yearly event to remember those who sadly perished in the genocide.

Also interesting and educational, the various themes include local culture, environmental awareness and information on hygiene issues and the country’s endangered species. Last year, nearly 600 children from numerous local schools, orphanages and ‘street kid centres’ took part alongside those children from a nearby shelter for child landmine survivors.

Trang Underwater Wedding Festival Trang, Thailand 13th – 15th Feb Met the love of your life whilst backpacking? Why hesitate a moment longer? Spontaneity is the way to go. Give your

folks at home a heart attack and tie the knot in a truly unique way at the very special Underwater Wedding Ceremony just off Pak Meng Beach in Trang, Thailand. Held over Valentine’s Day, couples dressed in the traditional Thai-woven wedding costumes plunge 12 metres beneath the water to perform this innovative marital ceremony and (somehow) exchange bubbly vows.

Makkha Bucha Thailand and Laos Full Moon - Feb

Taking place on the night of the Full Moon in February, Makkha Bucha is a festival which commemorates an inspirational speech given by the Buddha – during which he dictated the first monastic rules to a group of over one thousand enlightened monks – and also prophesised his own death. Grand parades and the circling of Wats (Temples) with candles take place in many towns across the country, particularly in Laos’ capital Vientiane and in the Khmer ruins of Wat Phu, Champasak. Religious music and chanting can be heard from worshippers during this sacred Buddhist festival.


Shambhala in Your Heart

Northern Thailand’s Best Music Festival (Feb 2015)

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hambhala (noun): A mystical kingdom hidden somewhere in Inner Asia; a Buddhist ‘pure land’ whose reality is visionary or spiritual as much as physical or geographic. “The secrets of Shambhala are well guarded and it is impossible for anyone to reach it unless they are called.” Teepees dotting the green field, prayer flags blowing in the incense-heavy breeze and happy people paddling in the stream – Shambhala in Your Heart 2014 was a beautiful festival and it’s on again in 2015 – yeah! Next February 6th – 15th, rent a motorbike and drive 70km north of Chiang Mai up to Chiang Dao for an unforgettable adventure. Chiang Dao is a gorgeous corner of Thailand with towering mountains, lush countryside, fireflies, caves, hot springs and golden temples hidden in the misty forests. You’ll find Shambhala in Your Heart at the base of the lofty Doi Luang mountain. Shambhala in Your Heart festival was started a few years ago by a group of friends from Japan, France and Thailand. It has evolved to attract more and more environmentally-conscious, self-reflective visitors wanting to kick back and relax in a spiritual enclave of openmindedness under the Doi Luang mountain. This festival offers a unique experience amongst Thailand’s more infamous parties. Festival-goers take their kids, use only organic things and take musical instruments – there are plenty of opportunities to jam. The tiny festival charges just 100 baht entry per day at the gates and promotes intercultural communication and the beauty of a simple life for all, free from greed, destruction and war.

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There are plenty of events and experiences to nourish the soul at Shambhala. You could listen to a talk about the environment or take part in a few yoga, dance, art, poetry and meditation events in the sunshine. As a happy contrast to the usual food available at festivals, there isn’t a dodgy burger van in sight! The home-made food is awesome and pleases a healthy crowd with organic sweet treats, herbal teas, raw dishes, juices, BBQ, cheap Thai food and booze. Shambhala would be a great place to explore an alternative way of eating. At night, live bands from all over the world play an eclectic mix of music. My favourite musicians last year were a pair of intense Japanese guys playing crazy tunes on guitars with a load of effects pedals. They were introduced in Japanese, but I’m pretty sure that they were called ‘Ten Cape Hepopo’ – look out for them in 2015. They took us on an emotional journey - one moment super happy ska; the next moment the soundtrack to an apocalypse; the next into dark depths of despair and back again. Powerful. Festival goers are friendly and welcoming; a smile is all it takes to strike up conversation. Anyone can go, and the divides between cultures dissolve as people from all over the world gather to socialise, learn and dance. You can take hand-made crafts to sell for no extra cost – but you can’t sell food or drink. There’s a whole array of weird and wonderful stuff to buy like crystal jewellery, dream catchers and trippy renderings of rainbow cats. Doi Luang Youth Camp hosts the event and you’re welcome to bring your tent and camp for the whole festival, but remember to bring a plate, cup, cutlery, blanket and sleeping bag too – it gets cold at night (really!). If you’re not camping, book your accommodation in Chiang Dao as early as possible to avoid disappointment. Popular choices nearby are Chiang Dao Nest 1 and 2 and Chiang Dao Hut. Check out Shambhala’s facebook page to keep up to date with festival details at facebook.com/shambhalafestival.See you there?

Review by Amy Burbridge: For more insider tips on living and travelling in and around Chiang Mai, check out her blog: www.mychiangmaieverything.com.

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SOUL SEARCHER

Better

Together?

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Melanie Swan works with travelers to facilitate deep healing and transformation for the Heart, Body and Soul. She has over 11 years' experience and has traveled extensively. Check out www.energyhealingsoul.com for more info and her special Skype package for backpackers. Send your questions to info@energyhealingsoul.com and get them answered in forthcoming issues.

hether you’re traveling with a partner, have left one behind, or are in post fling recovery, here’s our guide to traversing the highs and lows of your heart on the road.

The Infamous Traveller Romance

I could write SO much about this one! It’s one of those unmissable experiences for the seasoned backpacker. The intensity of these encounters is unique, and they have a strong tendency to be enthralling and all-encompassing; usually burning bright for just a few magical weeks, then ending just as quick as they started. Here’s where The Art Of Letting Go comes in. I’m sure that spending time glued to a computer, pretending not to stalk said person on social media isn’t what you came traveling for! It takes time to separate, and when the connections were so intense, it’s like being on a drug. There’s cold turkey time to go through as you move on. When we connect with people we literally develop energetic chords between us and they take time to dissipate. With this in mind, a great exercise is to visualise the person in your mind’s eye. Thank them for the experiences you had with them, recognise their qualities and wish them well. Then feel into your heart and send your love towards them. Even if you didn’t actually love them, just send as much pure love as you can. A quick exercise would be to list all the qualities you appreciated about the person. What did you learn about yourself in the process? What would you do differently next time? This will help to dissolve any entanglements or disgruntlements and leave you clearer. This of course doesn’t mean you never want to see or be in contact again. On the contrary, it just leaves you both clear and helps give closure. Travelling With A Partner Of the major experiences to test a relationship, travelling together is one. If looked upon as an opportunity for rapid learning, it can become a rich ground for self-development. It’s really helpful to communicate openly about each others goals, reasons for traveling and requirements before setting out. This seems simple, but I’ve met many couples who haven’t discussed this, then end up in a sticky mess later, in wondering why things have suddenly changed. Spending so much time together puts pressure on, so here are some tips on staying in a healthy relationship as you journey together: • Talk about your individual hopes and dreams before you go and keep checking in along the way. • Be aware of being ‘exclusive’ as a couple. Include single people in your group, have nights out alone, try to ease yourselves into spending 24/7 together slowly.

It really is ok to take time-out; you could agree to meet at the next destination, each making your own way there. This helps give a variance of experience as well as give some distance. It basically takes the pressure off. Learn the art of negotiation. Remember that it really will test anyone’s patience to go around the 30th Buddhist temple when they’d really like to be getting to that Full Moon party!

Both of you are likely to be going through a period of rapid change, so your relationship dynamics will naturally jostle and change. It just isn’t going to be like it was back home. You’re likely to argue more. Try to keep in mind that it’s a natural process of growth as you both evolve individually; your relationship will change too. I’ve seen many people hanging on to how things used to be and this in itself causes suffering. Your relationship will never be the ‘same’ once you put that backpack on! If you get to the point where you break up whilst you’re traveling, my absolute top tip is don’t panic. Your first instinct may be to go home. I’d really strong advice against it. This is your opportunity to do something spontaneous and unexpected... to go your own way. Making decisions when we’re upset or scared doesn’t generally turn out so well. So an effective thing to do is not make any quick decisions. Try to wait three days before taking action – take good care of yourself in the meantime, and really try not to panic. You may also be really relieved to split up. In that case, go for it! Wish the person well as much as you can and move forwards with a clear head. The empty path awaits your curious footsteps….. By Jarryd Salem After A Break-Up No matter who ended things, a relationship split can be really painful. Really, the best tip I can give you is to simply take one day at a time. Heartache does pass. There’s a period of mourning for what could have been, and that that has been lost. It’s natural to be upset, or indeed relinquished of something that was no longer working. • •

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It’s really helpful if you don’t stalk their Facebook page! - or indeed post lots of pics of yourself doing cool stuff to show how marvellously (not) you’re doing without them. Give yourself space and time to heal. Don’t jump straight into another relationship. It only delays the process of grieving. In fact makes it harder to connect, as those emotions will be bubbling away underneath. Try to stop thinking ‘if only he/she would change - everything would be alright’. This is a common illusion. It takes two to make or break a relationship. Accepting how things are right now helps tremendously. A great Buddhist teaching, ‘Resistance to the present moment is the root of all suffering’ is very apt in matters of the heart.

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FEATURE

4 ESCAPES FROM CHIANG MAI

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re you headed to Chiang Mai in search of adventure? If you want to swim in a river, hike in a forest and spot Thai wildlife, check out these off-the-beaten-track National Parks that few tourists visit. You’ll have to drive yourself or hire a private driver to get to these destinations, as they’re so rarely on visitors’ itineraries. Remember to take necessary camping provisions with you, but don’t take too much stuff! Hauling a heavy backpack in hot weather sucks. It can get cold at night, so take blankets. By Amy Burbridge.

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1. Doi Khun Tan National Park: a self-led hike up a mountain A vast teak, bamboo, oak and pine forest covers the Khun Tan Mountain in this little-visited national park. The forest shelters wildlife such as the Siamese hare, porcupine, weasel and wild boar, but hikers are much more likely to see a few bright butterflies, colourful insects and exotic orchids. Surprisingly, this national park is home to the longest train tunnel in Thailand! The 6km trail to the top of the mountain is mostly shaded by trees and easy to hike. There are viewpoints and rest stops at regular intervals and hide under a huge banana leaf if it rains! You can go the 12km up and back down the trail in a day if you leave Chiang Mai early, but sleeping overnight far from the city lights is a rewarding experience. Make it happen: The 1.5 hour journey takes you past hills, stalls selling fresh fruit and farmers working in the rice paddies. The way is signposted well when you get nearby. After you get through the checkpoint and have paid your entrance fee (100 baht), drive past the restaurant and up, up, up to the car park. Walk past the jovial guards in military uniform sitting at the trail-head and follow the trail all the way up to the top of Peak 4. Overnight campers should take a tent or book a hut before going. The huts sleep two – nine people (500 - 2200 baht a night). Book online at goo.gl/3VrA1V. The simple restaurant at the bottom is open in high season.

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2. Doi Suthep Camping: a mountain retreat above the city This is a romantic getaway for two (or three, we won’t judge) people in love, or a fun trip out of the city for a group of friends. Eat, drink and play guitars under the stars after a full day of culture up on the mountain. Happily, the tents are already up so you won’t have to wrestle with poles and crazy instruction manuals. You’ll see all of Chiang Mai below you from this lofty vantage point. It’s stunning, especially at night when the city is lit up like Christmas. Being up on the mountain in almost-silence above the nightlife of Chiang Mai offers a perspective that few travellers experience. Candles create a good atmosphere. Secure them on fallen logs by melting the bottoms before you light the wick and don’t have them too close to your tent. Make it happen: Drive all the way up the Doi Suthep mountain to the campsite, beyond Bhubing Palace and the hill tribe village. Rent a big 2 – 3 man tent for 150 baht, dump your stuff and spend the day sightseeing at the temple, palace and hill tribe village. The simple campsite restaurant is usually open every day.

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3. Ob Khan National Park: a swim and self-led hike in the jungle Ob Khan is about one hour’s drive from Chiang Mai, but it feels like you’re hundreds of miles from the city. Despite entrance being free, foreigners are a rare sight at this national park. It’s a great escape for when pushing through the night market and cramming into Zoe in Yellow gets too much. Butterflies and dragonflies are attracted to water, which probably explains why there are so many at this National Park. There were rumours in the local newspapers of a tiger sighting a while back, but you’re probably more likely to stumble across BLAH than a tiger. There’s a sort-of signposted trail to follow along the river and into the woods. The clean Mae Khan River that cuts through the magnificent rocks of Ob Khan national park is a wildly different beast to the sluggish Ping river that flows through the city. The water is crisp, clear and perfect for swimming in the calmer sections, but take care where the river rages. Dragonflies and butterflies congregate around the water around every other corner. Make it happen: Ob Khan is great for a day trip or overnighter. There’s really nothing to buy so you must take all your own provisions. Take your own tent or rent one at the park headquarters for 50 baht. You can set up camp pretty much anywhere. A local guide can take you deeper into the jungle; call +66861811068 or +66817244274 to hire one.

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4. Doi Inthanon National Park: the highest mountain in Thailand Pack an extra jumper and go with a snuggleable friend, because it can get really cold up on the top of Doi Inthanon. It even gets frosty in the cool season, so check the internet for a weather forecast. The top of the mountain is often shrouded in swirling white mist that imbues the place with a soft ethereal quality. Hikers will be delighted with the various self-led hiking routes to explore. There are more birds at this National Park than anywhere else in Thailand, and rare plants found only at these high elevations of the country. Waterfalls cascade down the mountain and can be visited on the way up to the campsite; just pull over when you see a sign. There’s even a chance you could run into an Asiatic black bear, as

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Doi Inthanon is one of their last remaining habitats. Don’t worry, though - you’re much more likely to come across some hill tribe villagers in colourful costume than an angry Asiatic bear. Bizarrely and awesomely, you can drink hot chocolate or extra strong local coffee at the top of the mountain! Make it happen: Drive through the checkpoint (200 baht) and up the mountain to kilometre marker 31 to check in at the park headquarters. You can rent a 2-5 man tent (250 – 400 baht) and blankets from the office. It costs 30 baht per person to pitch your own tent. Huts sleep 3 – 23 people, pre-book at goo.gl/3VrA1V. You can eat at one of the two restaurants at the headquarters and there’s a small shop where you can grab all that camping stuff you forgot to pack.

Written by: Traveller and English Teacher, Amy Burbridge. For more insider tips on living and travelling in and around Chiang Mai, check out her blog: www.mychiangmaieverything.com.


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ARTS

By Emily Martin

WELCOME TO PHARE: THE CAMBODIAN

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s a traveller, have you ever asked yourself how you can leave a positive impact on the communities and places you visit? Cambodia has come very, very long way since the dark days of the Khmer rouge and other conflicts that tormented the country. The people are said to be some of the friendliest and most positive travellers have met – but still, poverty and corruption is ever-present. Tourism has helped with the rapid development of Cambodia, but with a dark side to the business – such as child trafficking for the ‘Orphanage Business’ – it’s incredibly important to concentrate on responsible tourism while travelling here. Phare the Cambodian Circus, in Siem Reap, is one of these organisations concentrating on the needs of the local community. Phare is a highly acclaimed circus show (animal-free), featuring performers from the NGO School, Phare Ponleu Selpak (PPS). The school was formed 20 years ago by nine children and their art teacher returning from a refugee camp after the fall of the Khmer Rouge. They found that expression through art had given them an outlet and a way to heal themselves after the atrocities they had lived through. They wanted to share this gift of art with others and so PPS was formed. Today more than 1,700 pupils attend the free public school with arts at its centre. Young people from the streets, orphanages and struggling families come to PPS to learn, express and like the founders, heal themselves through art. The Circus venue in Siem Reap was set up in 2012 to give these students the opportunity to further their skills, perform for large audiences and earn money to support themselves. When you buy a ticket to see one of Phare’s shows your money is going directly to the local grassroots effort to improve the lives of disadvantaged Cambodian children. The shows are uniquely Cambodian and concentrate on sharing the history, culture and beliefs of Khmer people through the art. So not only will you get to see the impressive ‘tricks’ the performers can do but you will come away with a greater understanding about the country you are visiting. I can tell you now, you have never seen anything like it. Find out more at: www.pharecambodiancircus.org

You can read more about Phare’s mission and buy tickets to the show on their website: www.pharecambodiancircus.org

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TRAVELLER STORIES

Story Of The Month: Island Of Love And Other Drugs.

tany By Brit o ic r Tala

“F

“F

rom now on, I choose to follow my heart rather than my mind.” These were the words I promised myself two years ago jumping on a plane to South East Asia. There it was, the adventure of discovery I was wishing for. The year I would be young, wild and free. On a random October night, celebrating the Full Moon Party on the island of Koh Paghan, Thailand, my life was about to change forever. Dancing in a zone, after maybe one too many vodka/redbull buckets, a pair of blue eyes locked with mine and the rest is history. “Get a grip!” I would tell myself- you met him for thirty minutes! You live in Canada, he lives in England. You go home in a week, just stop thinking about him NOW. As expected, returning home had me mighty depressed.Though, I didn’t image having such dramatic repercussions. It is crazy how life and reality changes severely just by taking a flight. I went from seeing sunsets every evening, to being in cold, isolated darkness. Not thinking clear, being trapped indoors rather than breathing the fresh air. And there it was. An email, from him. “Hi. It’s Casper. We met at the Full Moon Party. Wild night huh?” Throughout the years - the word ‘relationship’ didn’t mean much to me as it was the last thing on my list I was looking for. Travelling alone for an entire year made me question myself differently though, there were times I wanted a significant other. I wanted to be taken care of. I had already proven I was capable of being on my own. We spent six months writing romantic emails, having racy Skype dates, and sending each other songs on a weekly basis on how we felt about each other. It was cheesy, but for the first time in my life, I convinced myself I was truly in love. Yes - ‘real’ love. Two serious relationships down, and five years of being single, I had never been more certain that he would be the next great love. My mom’s immediate reaction was: “What? You

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just got back from a year of travelling! Now you’re hopping on a plane to England to chase a boy?” Yes mom, this was different. Friends and colleagues would make comments such as “Long distance huh?, Must suck!” “Long distance never works out, how do you know he’s not cheating on you!” Trust. Communication. Time. Plans, and lucky enough for me, my British stranger made long distance actually the most simplest thing in the world. No one could stop me, I’m buying a ticket to the motherland. So there I was, at the airport, butterflies in my throat, waiting to see his face. And we will live happily ever after right? No. Not right. Though it turned out my romance under the moonlight, was not the “one” for me it was quite refreshing to believe in love. To feel something so overwhelming, so powerful, that makes one cross oceans for. This is where I realised that Casper was the angel that was sent to help me. While I was dealing with post depression with back to life at home Casper was my escape. He was my core, the reason why I laughed, the connection to my travels, why I woke up feeling beautiful in the morning, understood me while I vented and still wanted me when I was done. I thank him and made it clear that he re-opened my heart and saved me. He taught me how to think for two again rather than for one. Truthfully, after spending a year only thinking about what’s best for you, travelling alone can make one quite selfish even if it’s not your intentions.. Here I am, five months later, still sick to my stomach whenever he’s brought into my mind. Someone who turned into my entire life - and is the reason why I now believe in love at first sight - is just a guy I met on a random night for 30 minutes.


www.cambodiajeep.com

Facebook.com/CambodiaJeepTours info@cambodia-travelpartner.com

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’d love to hear from you! You don’t have to be Bill Bryson to send us an article (although, Bill - feel free to send one in, too!). Please send any articles, stories or random scribbling you like to: info@southeastasiabackpacker.com Your journal’s packed with interesting stuff… why not share it with other travellers? ( If possible try to include photos with articles you submit. We’ll get back to you right away with news of whether your words will be appearing in the next issue.) Thanks for your support and Happy Travelling!

The S.E.A Backpacker Team


FOOD

CookING Up A Taste Of Thailand!

H H

ow many times have you sat in a restaurant staring at a menu, completely torn between two dishes? For me in Thailand it was always the same two: green curry or massaman curry. They’re both so delicious, yet completely different and the daily dilemma never got easier. Which had I had yesterday? Which would make me happier today? It’s a rather wonderful position to be in, I realise, that as a traveller my one and only worry was choosing what to eat each day, but even so, it troubled me. Imagine my excitement then, when I stumbled across the Red Orchid cooking school in the northern Thai town of Pai, which allowed me to choose not one, not two, but TEN dishes to make and eat all in one day! I could have green curry, massaman curry and any other curry on the menu too; red, yellow or penang perhaps. I’d try all sorts of fried chicken dishes, with ginger, with garlic or with cashew and lime. I’d learn to make spring rolls from scratch, an authentic pad thai and vegetable fried rice to accompany them all. My mouth was watering at the very thought of this feast so I signed up with a friend for the following afternoon. The owner of the cooking school, a local Thai lady with a big smile and bigger belly, said she was absolutely delighted to have us on board and I genuinely believed her. She looked as excited as we felt! The next morning we skipped breakfast and hung around at our hostel waiting to be picked up. We were expecting a shuttle bus of some sort but before we knew it we saw Dao herself whizzing down the dirt track on her old, dusty moped. ‘Let’s go!’ she said in the typical blunt, broken English manner. My friend and I exchanged confused looks. Was she running us down there separately? ‘Both, let’s go!’ It seemed our silent question had been answered and so we squeezed on, helmet-less and helpless, with our lives in the hands of a woman we’d just met. Welcome to Thailand... I only hoped she took her driving as seriously as her cooking. Before getting started in the kitchen we needed to stock up on

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By Chiari Pelizarri


some ingredients so we followed Dao down to the local market (thankfully by foot this time.) We watched in awe as she winded in and out of the various stalls, throwing all sorts of strange looking plants into her basket. Being around all this food was making me hungry so I was pleased when Dao stopped at the sweetie stand to buy us a Thai treat. The round, doughy, dumpling balls didn’t look particularly enticing but they tasted incredible as they melted in our mouths, releasing the sweetness enclosed inside.

and then packed the rest up for us into plastic bags to take away. Needless to say we were very popular back at the hostel! The best part of all about the cooking course was that we were given a recipe book detailing all of the dishes we made that day. Not only has Dao given us some fantastic memories but a lifetime of good food to take home too!

Back at the restaurant there were chopping boards laid out ready for us to start hacking away. First up were the curries - perfect! After slicing the ingredients into minuscule pieces, we were given a mortar and pestle each to grind them into a paste. Half an hour and two aching arms later, we were still at it. Deliciousness does not come easy! As we continued to work hard under her instruction, Dao smiled at us adoringly as though she could eat us all up. The original plan had been to prepare all of the dishes first before sitting down to eat it as one massive feast. However, once the curries were complete, they smelt so wonderful that we found it absolutely impossible to push them aside and carry on cooking. The massaman in particular was fantastic - I’m proud to say, the best we’ve had since being in Thailand - and we have had a lot! Our plates were polished off in no time and before we knew it we were frying the chicken dishes. These were relatively easy in comparison and so we could then focus our attentions on the rice and spring rolls. The latter was a little tricky at first but Dao patiently demonstrated her folding technique over and over until we grasped the hang of it. The second sitting would have been quite the spread even if we hadn’t already wolfed down four curries. We did our very best to finish as much as possible, but as usual our eyes were bigger than our bellies (though these bellies have been noticeably, steadily expanding.) Admitting defeat, we offered the substantial leftovers to Dao as a thank you for her excellent teaching. She took her pick

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ENVIRONMENT

Underwater gardening

Koh Phi Phi... Thailand By Ian Campbell

T T

he day after Christmas in 2004 the world saw one of its most catastrophic events, the Indian Ocean Earthquake and Tsunami. Claiming over 230,000 lives with 50,000 more missing presumed dead, this natural disaster altered worlds above and below the ocean. Boxing Day of 2004 I was backpacking around Europe and was currently in Nice, France. I received an email from my mother saying my brother (currently in Thailand) was alive and ok. “Why would he not be?” I thought. Not long after did I realize the awful disaster that had taken place. Images started popping up all over the Internet requesting donations and help. Little did I know at the time I would find myself in the exact spot where the Tsunami had struck Thailand years later underwater with a knife - gardening! Fast forward several years and I had found myself living on Koh Phi Phi Island. Through a friend, I landed a dream job on the Island that included free housing, food, spa and SCUBA diving. Diving sealed the deal for me as a backpacker’s budget rarely affords such activities. Phi Phi’s beauty is next to none and is an absolute must for Island

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lovers. The northern and less traveled area was where I was located. For those of you that have had the opportunity to visit Koh Phi Phi, this is the opposite side from Ton Sai Bay, which is located at the South. Within a week I learned of the destruction the Tsunami reaped throughout the Island. Bodies were piled up at what now is a mosque near Loh Ba Gao beach, my then current home. Everyone had a story about that day and everyone who witnessed it was affected dearly. Destroyed abandoned hotels can still be found throughout the Jungle in the Northern part of Phi Phi. The biggest perk I’ve had with any job was easily this one: Free SCUBA diving all year round! I couldn’t be happier. About a month on the Island I was asked if I could help garden. I happily obliged. “Meet us at the dive center near the beach tomorrow morning.” Dive shop? “Yes, we’re gardening underwater”. Ok,sweet! I’m in. The tsunami had ripped through the coral reefs in and around the Phi Phi islands leaving mass damage to one of the most biodiverse ecosystems in the Andaman Sea. Years later the damage was still easily visible to even the most novice of divers.


Once on the boat with my gear my co-workers explained how we were to treat the coral clones in water then slide them in small plastic tubes then fix them into a floating coral bed. The floating coral bed was anchored hovering at about six meters below the surface and 12 meters above the Sea floor. After the first installation we would go back to clear the beds of debris and trash regularly. For some odd reason lionfish in the area decided this would be their new home. This proved to be more than difficult whilst cleaning the beds, always having to constantly check where the lionfish were. Stung by a lionfish and it was a immediate trip to the hospital. Eventually we were able to transplant the newly grown coral around Phi Phi with hopes that it would take to its new home. This time spent underwater gardening gave me a genuine new appreciation for life underwater. Not just the life with eyes, pretty colors and fins but the life that gives life to those marine creatures we all love to witness under the sea. I can still remember the Dive Master in charge of the project telling me how without coral reefs fish would die out. The oceans feed 30-40 million people a year. South East Asia’s coral reefs make up 34 % of the world’s total reefs and produce over 2.4 billion dollars annually. Long story short, sustaining coral reefs have a direct correlation to Human kind. The next time you see trash floating in the water please do yourself and your neighbor a favor and pick it up! For more information visit www.greenfins.net About the Writer: Ian Campbell (DJ Criminal) has been living and traveling around Asia for the past seven years, living in Phuket, Phi Phi, Bangkok and Tokyo. He is currently working as a consultant during the day and DJ at nights and weekends. (www.djcriminalonline.com / www.facebook.com/djcriminalonline).

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OFF THE BEATEN TRACK

A detour to Komodo By Fuji Adriza

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t first my three-week itinerary did not include paying a visit to Komodo, an island that’s become a world-famous destination where tourists flock to catch a glimpse of the last descendants of dinosaurs – The Komodo Dragons. The reason I hadn’t included it was practical rather than emotional; it would be too costly for a budget-traveller like me who planned to cross the whole Nusa Tenggara archipelago. Most of the travelogues I read said that one had to rent a boat, or join a fancy cruise, to get to the island. On the other hand, I needed to save every drop of my penny so I could get to Maumere in Flores. Nonetheless I changed my plan as I met a guy at Damri bus stop, in the outskirts of Mataram. He introduced himself as Tue, a 19-year-old Jakartan whose parents originally come from Lembata, an island located east of Flores, popular by its whale seasonal hunting. As often happens very quickly when travelling, we became friends. He told me that I could tag along with a boat carrying locals to Komodo Village. And the fare, he said, was extremely cheap for a three-hour journey – only IDR 20,000 one way. ‘It’s worth a try,’ I thought. And thus began the detour. Reaching Labuan Bajo after a nine-hours sail through Sape Strait, we walked our way to fishermen’s jetty next to the harbour. We sipped a cup of coffee at a warung before hopping in to one of the two boats available that morning. After a while, all of the passengers got bored by the regular heavenly scenery – calm deep-blue water, beautiful little islands, and ocassional flying fish. After a rather worrying engine failure floated us mid-sea for 15 minutes, the boat finally anchored at Komodo Village. One by one the passengers climbed up to the pier, very carefully not to fall into the crystal-clear water. We got our rucksacks, preparing to follow them. Tue maneuvered first. Before I took my turn to step off the boat, the captain tapped my back. “So have you got a place to stay?” He asked. I shrugged and before I knew he gave me his number, saying, “you can sleep at mine. I have a small house, little bit far from here.” The captain’s name is Jaharuddin but everybody calls him Deon, he told me. Watched curiously by the locals: a long, curly-haired young Indonesian man bringing a gigantic backpack followed by a blonde backpacker and my friend, Tue, we followed him through a small paved road dividing the village into two. Less than five minutes we arrived at his yard. However, I could not actually say that it was his yard because there was practically no fence at all between the houses there. It was everybody’s yard that happened to be located in front of Bang Deon’s house. “We are all families here, anyway,” explained Bang Deon later. Because it was a rumah panggung (a traditional house built several meters above the ground, suspended by wooden poles) we had to climb about two meters up through a wooden stairway. Almost every house here is rumah panggung – thanks to the wild Komodo Dragons which frequently came to visit their houses in the past. The also-made-of-wood floor squeaked when we stepped foot into the house. Since I didn’t put Komodo on the agenda, I had no particular place to go and neither did Tue. So, that afternoon we hiked to the farthest part of the village, snorkeled for a while, then sought a cosy place to set a hammock. In silence, I hung there listening to the chirps of black ravens until the sun went down and cloaked Komodo Island with darkness. Tue went fishing. Even though he had some expert help – some enthusiastic local kids – unfortunately, he didn’t get any fish, at all. It was when we came back to the house that I experienced an awkward moment.Perhaps, I haven’t described Bang Deon’s

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house thoroughly enough to you... Somehow the kitchen, at the back of rumah panggung, had just been built and didn’t seem to have a roof yet. The toilet didn’t have a roof yet either and the plumbing wasn’t ready. I was told that only a few houses here had a bathroom at all. To clean ourselves we had to bathe at the corner of the kitchen in full view of Bang Deon himself and his wife. While she cooked meals, we took a bath. Bang Deon provided us with a sarong and spare shorts. The hardest part was when I needed to maintain casual conversation with them while pouring myself with water. I tried so hard not to laugh over the absurd moment. When we had taken a bath, a strange noise started echoing and eventually lamps at Bang Deon’s house turned on. “PLN (government’s electrical company) hasn’t yet reached this village,” Bang Deon Said. In order to get electricity, they were forced to use diesel fuel machine (genset). The genset is usually turned on at 6pm and off at 12 pm. “You have to pay IDR 3,000 per night. But if you possess television, the amount becomes IDR 5,000.” Last year Komodo Island became a centre of tourist attractions when the government held the Sail Komodo 2013. Shortly after the event, I read somewhere that Sail Komodo 2013 had not been as glamorous as it had been promoted - there had been a huge problem to overcome the problem of waste due to the lack of facilities built on the island. That day in Komodo Village I witnessed it with my own two eyes. Although, the authorities had built electrical installations, (a big-wide solar panel and tens of electric poles), they were not yet working! “I hope they will be operating next year (2015),” Bang Deon said. The sanitation system was very poor as well. As I stated before, only few houses possesed a toilet, never mind a proper shower. The rest of the locals went to the toilet at certain locations along the shore, producing, as you can imagine, lots of rancid smells! The next day, when I walked back along the shore from Loh Liang to the village, I encountered something very exciting. It was a sunbathing Komodo. At the exact same moment, however, I accidentally exchanged eye contact with an old lady who was trying to finish her business, which somewhat disturbed this magical moment.

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On Sunday we travelled back to Labuan Bajo by the same boat. Bang Deon did not come because he had been taken ill with a fever (some would say a hangover) after a two night dancing session at a local wedding celebration. As we passed Batu Tiga, (three stones people believe as the gate to Komodo Island), I looked back to the island which was becoming smaller and smaller. I thought that sometimes we don’t realise the reality of people who actually live in a place that we call “paradise”. We are just passers by, but they will always be there, as were their ancestors before them.

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EXPAT:

M A o N u T r E I V ho m G N I K e A M By Matt Hilton

F F

or the past few years the thought of settling down anywhere had been as unwelcome as a fart in a spacesuit, (thank you Billy Connolly). It was against every normal instinct, a notion as a backpacker, I’d striven to avoid. I was nomadic, always on the move and looking for something new. As my Gran so elegantly put it, ‘I had ants in my pants!’ But alas I felt the time was right. I’d grown desperate to unpack my rucksack and the thought of a stable income had become more appealing than ever. So we made a decision to settle, of a sort. We, being myself and my girlfriend (the brains, beauty and catalyst behind this crazy escapade). For weeks we toiled over where to settle, not yet ready to retire our rucksacks but merely give them a break. After circling a globes worth of potential places to call our home we ended up back where we started - Asia. Having earned our backpacker stripes roaming this beautiful continent it seemed the obvious choice. A culture far removed from the ones we grew up in but this I think, was exactly what we were looking for. In particular, one place called out to us. For me, a place which held especially fond memories of a journey which flew by far too fast. For Liska a new place, but one that seemed almost familiar. Together we decided on Vietnam and set in motions plans to become English teachers. This I suppose was the easy part. Settling in, well therein lies the story. Before heading to Vietnam we decided to make a pit stop in my home town. It served as a chance to catch up with old friends and family whilst providing us with a solid base to organise our next big move. As always, time spent at home was far too brief. We spent too much time stressing over Vietnamese visas and budgeting like savings accounts were going out of fashion. Time with family and

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friends was so dreadfully limited and before we knew it we were back on a plane. I know what you’re thinking, “Oh poor Matt, off to travel again, it must be so hard for poor Matt.” Honestly I’m not complaining about the lifestyle; I love it! But it’s not all flip flops and coconuts - I value that precious resource of time spent with the important people in my life. I remind myself every time I leave of the brilliance of knowing that wherever I am I have two places to call my home - where I am and where I’m from. Arriving in Vietnam is an eye opener. We had decided to base ourselves in Ho Chi Minh and came prepared to experience what is arguably Asia’s craziest city. Modern enough that they are keeping up with the 21st century, but traditional enough to show that they haven’t quite mastered it yet. It’s a jungle of stark contrasts - adept of regulation yet never straightforward, lacking guidance but drowning in unwritten rules. We arrived with open eyes but soon realised we’d have to open them much wider. Initially we stayed with a friend in Saigon’s District One; the epicenter of crazy. Her traditional apartment, just off Vo Thi Sau, provided us with a great location from which to get to grips with the city. Our first full day was spent organizing phones and documents. From then on we put out the feelers for work, but it being a Friday responses were non forthcoming. Instead we asked lots of questions and took lots of notes but decided to leave the hard graft until Monday. Our first weekend was spent with friends. Their value has been immeasurable not only as friends but as a resource. We hopped on the back of their bikes and headed south to the Mekong Delta where we spent a day acclimatising. Great decision. We experienced the roads, we ogled at the beauty of this unique country and we


relaxed in the serenity of the Vietnamese countryside. It set us up perfectly for the week ahead which undoubtedly became one of the most stressful yet gratifying weeks we’d ever experienced! On Monday morning we took the metaphorical bull by the horns! Armed with a laptop, a strong resolve and even stronger Vietnamese coffee, we rinsed Starbucks for every ounce of free internet we could muster and sent our CV to schools throughout the city. At the same time we organised to view houses all over Ho Chi Minh and organised unholy amounts of document packets for the inevitable CV dropping session. By Tuesday morning we had interviews arranged methodically for the next three days. We felt unprepared, not expecting things to move so fast. We raced from interviews to house viewings and on to schools to drop off our CV’s. By the time the sun had set we were exhausted but dragged our tired minds around the city fueled by an obligation we felt to get to know it. Wednesday morning brought about another interview; one which we deemed promising. Between worrying about how the interviews were going, we stressed about which apartment to choose. Should it be cheap and basic? Can we afford a nice place? What if we don’t find work? What if it doesn’t feel like home? We had questions to ask and decisions to make, but no time to find the answers we craved. At lunchtime on the Wednesday we both received a call in regards to the interview we’d had that morning. They wanted to see us again - THAT AFTERNOON. They wanted to offer us a job; talk about out of the blue. Panic ensued! Should we take it? But, it’s only been a day? What about the other interviews? When would we start? To answer that question, we started the next morning. Arriving at the office at 7.30am we were shown to our desks in an office full of teachers. We observed the classes we would take over, learnt a little bit about the company and resided ourselves to the fact that we were now Cambridge English, Maths and Science teachers to a future generation of Vietnam. Oh, and that evening we moved into our apartment. Standing on our balcony with the chaos of district one in the distance and a cool evening breeze on our face we took a deep breath and slowly came to terms with the last 72 hours. It was as though we’d crashed headfirst into Vietnamese life. We’d hit everything on the way through, been battered by the debris but had somehow come through with everything we wanted whilst being mildly unsure how we’d done it. This was just the beginning. Now that we had some form of stability in the shape of a job and a place to live, we had to find our feet. We took the plunge early and rented bikes as soon as the weekend rolled around. Joining the roads in Vietnam is daunting. There is no learning curve, you learn simply by doing. It soon becomes fun, very fun, in a video game kind of way. It almost doesn’t seem real. There are very few rules and each journey is its own unique challenge. Granted the challenge is not to die, but it’s strangely entertaining! I look forward to getting on the bike every morning and there is no better feeling than mounting your two wheels at the end of a tough day. The bikes opened up the city to us. Every spare minute was spent checking out new, vibrant markets and finding new ways to bypass the city’s manic traffic. We sought out places to eat, places to hang out, coffee shops and bars. Everything was new; but it meant that every day became an adventure. Work progressed nicely, the kids were great, and building relationships with them was the most

rewarding feeling. Battling office bureaucracy could be a long and tiresome war but as with most things the thrill is in the chase. Unsurprisingly there have been tough days - sometimes all the excitement is just too much. We harbour worries about money, job satisfaction and the future. They nestle at the back of our minds waiting for an inconvenient moment to surface. We become frustrated at the fact that we hold back from nice meals, nights out and features for our home. Counting down the days till payday is a laborious task, but one not uncommon to the rest of humanity. We are slowly making that transition to ‘the real world’, albeit in Vietnam, but the real world all the same. This first month has flown by. We now call Ho Chi Minh our home, but becoming settled is a long and winding road. I’m not even sure what settled feels like; it’s a word I haven’t used for years and a feeling I have learned to live without. Settling in Vietnam is our goal and when it happens, no one in the history of time will have felt as satisfied and content as we will. We are fully committed to it; it’s everything we strive for and I have no doubt it will come. Until then we’ll delve back into the chaos and find our way. In this unique country amongst these beautiful people - we’ll make our home. About the writer: Matt is a 24-year old Business Management Graduate from Wigan, England. With his Degree tucked comfortably in his back pocket, Matt set out into the vast world to find as many ways as possible not to use it. So far his travels have taken him across Asia, through Australia in to the heart of America. He’s tried his hand at Farming, worked as a Disney Lifeguard and a camp counselor. Matt writes about his travels and his chaotic new Vietnamese lifestyle in his blog: http://matthilton2012.wordpress. com.

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o

mem

nt stuff

Importa

TRAVELLER INFO

Brunei Darussalam: Currency: Brunei Dollar, divided into 100 cents. Exchange rate: $1 USD = $1.25 BN Dollar Capital city: Bandar Seri Bagawan Main religion: Islam (official) 67% Buddhist (13%) Christian (10%) Indigenous beliefs (10%) Main language: Malay (official) English also widely spoken. Telephone code: +673 Time: GMT + 8 hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: Salam (Hello) Terimah kasih (Thank you) Visa: Nationals of most European countries, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and New Zealand do not need a Visa for visits of up to 30 days. USA citizens can stay for up to 90 days. Most other nationalities need to apply for a visa in advance which takes 1-3 days to process. (Single entry B$20 or multiple entry B$30) 72-hour transit visas are also available. Passports must be valid for at least 6 months before entering. Visa extension: Visas can be renewed at embassies in Bandar Seri Bagawan. Climate: Brunei experiences a hot, humid climate all year round. Most rainfall is between September and January, peaking in November and December, but this can vary. One random fact: Despite it’s small size, Brunei is a very rich country whose wealth depends largely upon the export of crude oil and natural gas overseas. It is the third largest exporter of oil in Southeast Asia. Emergency numbers Ambulance: 991 / Fire: 995 / Police: 993

Cambodia: Currency: Cambodian Riel (US Dollars accepted) (Most ATM’s issue $US, not local currency and you can change these into Riel at a local currency exchange. Nearly all shops and traders (especially in tourist areas) will accept Dollars, or Riel, or even a mix of the two.) Exchange rate: $1 USD = 4,062 KHR Most shops and traders operate with an exchange rate of 4,000 Riel to the 1$US, but if you changed your dollars at a money-changer, you can get 4,050 -4,070 Riel to 1$US. Capital city: Phnom Penh Main religion: Theravada Buddhism (95%) Main Language: Khmer Telephone code: +855 Time: GMT + 7 hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: Sua s’dei (Hello) Aw kohn (Thank you) Visa: Most nationalities can obtain a -month tourist visa upon arrival which costs around $20. At land border crossings, notably the Thai/Cambodian border, the fee can be more expensive as the cost is paid in baht and is sometimes rounded up considerably. You will need 1 or 2 passport photos to apply, or you will be charged extra (usually only $1-2.) Passports must be valid for at least 6 months before entering and have one blank page. E-Visa: You can now apply for an E-visa online. Pre-order at: 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

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temperatures hitting 40 degrees. The wet season starts in May or June and lasts until October. The downpours are heavy and do not last long. The best season to visit is December to February, when there is little rain, low humidity and cool breeze. One random fact: The Apsara Dance is a Khmer classical dance and very important in Cambodian culture Performed by a woman in a traditional dress and crown, the apsara represents a woodland spirit and her graceful movements tell stories of classical myths. Apsara has it’s roots in ancient Hindu forms dating back as far as the 1st century. Emergency numbers Fire: 118 / Police: 117

East Timor: Currency: US Dollars Capital city: Dili Main religion: Catholic (90%) Main language: Tetun, Portuguese, Indonesian, English Telephone code: +670 Time: GMT + 9 hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: Ola (hello) Adeus (goodbye) Visa: Visa’s must be applied for in advance, as they are not granted on the land border. Passports must be valid for at least 6 months before entering. It is important to note that there are no currency exchange facilities at the airport or other border posts, so you will need to take cash before you travel. Visa extension: Visas can be extended for 30 days, costing up to $45. You must have a valid reason for staying. Penalty for late departure: Penalties range from $70 US - $150 US Dollar if the period does not exceed 30 days. Climate: The wet season is between December and April and the dry season occurs between May to November, with temperatures reaching very high. The best months to visit are between April and July. One random fact: East Timor, along with The Philippines is one of only two majority Roman Catholic countries in the whole of Asia. The influence of Catholicism dates back to the early 16th century when Portuguese and Dutch traders made first contact with East Timor. Emergency numbers Ambulance: 7236662 / Police: 112

Indonesia: Currency: Indonesian Rupiah Exchange rate: $1 USD = 9,500 IDR Capital city: Jakarta Main religion: Islam (88%) Main language: Bahasa Indonesia (official) There are also many regional dialects. Telephone code: +62 Time: GMT + 7 hours (Sumatra, Java) GMT + 8 hours (Bali, Sulawesi, Nusa Tenggara) GMT + 9 hours (Maluku and Papua) Hellos and Thank-you’s: Salam (hello) terimah kasih (thank you) Visa: Nationals of Australia, Canada, USA, UK and most European countries are eligible for a 30-day visa upon entry, which costs $25 USD. (Cost varies depending on point of entry.) The previous $10 7-day visa is no longer available. Payments can be made in US Dollars only. You will need 2 passport photographs and your passport must be valid for at least 6 months before entering, with two blank pages. A return flight is also needed. Penalty for late departure: Up to $20 / day. For more than 60 days overstay travellers risk deportation or imprisonment. Climate: Indonesia has just 2 seasons, wet season,

which falls between April and October and dry season, which falls between May and September. Throughout all of the year the climate is hot and humid, although there are snow-capped peaks in the highlands of Papua. As Indonesia is such a long country, the difference in the seasons varies. In some areas, the distinction between the wet and dry season is great, such as the Nusa Tenggara when the wet season (December to February) can make transport difficult, with road floods and ferry cancellations. In Sumatra, the rain falls from October to January in the North and from January to February in the South. In Bali there is little difference between the seasons where weather is similar all year round. One random fact: Indonesia is the largest archipelago in the world. According to Indonesian government estimates, only 922 of the country’s 17,508 islands are permanently inhabited and only 8,844 of the islands have been named. Emergency numbers (Java) Fire: 113 / Police: 110 / Medical: 118, 119

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

Malaysia: Currency: Malaysian Ringgit Exchange rate: $1 USD = 3.10 MYR Capital city: Kuala Lumpur Main religion: Islam (official) Main language: Bahasa Melayu (official) Telephone code: +60 Time: GMT + 8 hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: Salam (Hello) Terimah kasih (Thank you) Visa: Most nationalities are granted a free 30 to 90day entry pass upon arrival at international airports


and border crossings. Passports must be valid for at least 6 months upon entering. Please note that Sarawak is a semi-autonomous state and upon entry your passport will be stamped and a new pass issued. Visa extension: Visas can be extended at Immigration offices in Malaysia. Fees depend on intended duration of stay. Climate: Malaysia’s climate is hot and tropical. The West coast of Peninsular Malaysia experiences the monsoon season from May to September, with August being the wettest month. On the other hand, the East coast of the peninsula and Sabah and Sarawak experiences heavy rainfall between November and February. One random fact: Malaysia is home to the world’s oldest rainforest, the Taman Negara. Remaining untouched by ice ages or volcanic eruption, it is an estimated 130 million years old. Emergency numbers Fire: 994 / Police and Ambulance: 999

Myanmar: Currency: Kyat (US Dollars used) Exchange rate: $1 USD = 873.000 MMK Capital city: Became Naypyidaw in 2005 Main religion: Buddhism Telephone code: +95 Time: GMT + 6 ½ hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: Min gala ba (Hello) Che zu Beh (thank you) Visa: * YOU CAN NOW APPLY FOR AN E-VISA ONLINE! Visa free entry is available at some border crossings for a short period. If you are going for the day to renew your Thailand Visa for example, you must enter and exit on the same day. Fees are around 500 baht. Longer visas should be arranged in advance at a travel agency or Myanmar Embassy. In Bangkok, at the Myanmar Embassy the cost is 810 baht for a 28-day visa, taking three days to process. Like the Vietnam visa, the cost depends on where you are and how long you mind waiting. It can range from $20 - $50. Your passport must be valid for at least 6 months. Visa extension: Visas can be extended for up to 14 days in Yangon. Ask at embassy for details of costs. Weather: May to mid-October is the rainy season in Myanmar. February to April is the hottest time. The best time to visit is November to February, although temperatures can drop to freezing during these months in the highland areas. One random fact: Mandalay was immortalized by Rudyard Kipling in his 1892 poem ‘Mandalay’ and later in the 1935 song ‘On the road to Mandalay.’ Kipling’s captivation with the country and a beautiful Burmese woman in particular is the central theme of the poem. Emergency numbers Ambulance: 192 / Police: 199 / Fire: 191

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

available. Visas take 2 to 3 working days to process and passports must be valid for at least 6 months upon entering. Visa extension: When in the Philippines, you are able extend your 21-day visa for up to 59 days at immigration offices. Costs apply. Climate: The tropical climate of the Philippines can vary depending on region, but generally the best time to visit the Philippines is January to May, when the dry season occurs. May is the hottest month with temperatures reaching 38 degrees. This scorching heat is followed by the downpours of June and October when the rainy season affects most of the country. The rains peak from July to September when typhoons are likely. One random fact: The SM Mall of Asia in the Philippines, is the fourth largest shopping mall in the world located in Pasay City. It holds an olympic sized swimming pool an IMAX theatre and a 20seat tram to transport people around. Emergency numbers: Emergency numbers Fire, Ambulance, Police: 117

Singapore: Currency: Singapore Dollar Exchange rate: $1 USD = 1.25 SGD Main religions: Taoist, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu and Muslim. Main language: English, Mandarin, Malay, Tamil Telephone code: +65 Time: GMT + 7 hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: Ni hao ma? (Hi, how are you) Xie xie (thank you) Visa: Citizens of Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, the UK and most other European countries are granted either a 14 or 30-day tourist pass upon entry to Singapore. Duration of pass depends on nationality and point of entry. USA citizens receive 90 days. Your passport must be valid for at least 6 months upon entering and you will need an onward ticket. Visa extension: Extensions of up to 90 days can be applied for at the consulate in Singapore. Climate: November to January see the most rain, however there are really no distinct seasons in Singapore. The weather is very similar all year round, hot and humid. One random fact: A huge statue of Sir Stamford Raffles stands at North Boat Quay in Singapore, an area which is said to be the spot where Raffles, the founder of Singapore, first stepped ashore in 1819. Emergency numbers Ambulance: 995 / Police: 999 / Fire: 995

Thailand: Currency: Thai Baht Exchange rate: $1 USD = 31.2 THB Capital city: Bangkok Main religion: 95% Theravada Buddhism Main language: Thai Telephone code: +66 Time: GMT + 7 hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: Sawasdee Ka/Krap (f/m) / Kop Khun Ka/Krap (f/m) Visa: Most nationalities, including Americans, Australians and most Europeans receive a free 30 day tourist visa upon arrival into Thailand by air. However, if arriving by land you will only receive 15 days. You can also arrange a 60-day Tourist Visa at Thai Embassies in major cities of neighbouring countries. Then, when within Thailand, you have the option of a 30-day extension at any of the Immigration Offices throughout the country. The 60 day tourist visa costs approx US$40 and the 30 day extension costs 1,900 baht. Visa extension: Visas can be renewed for a fee at immigration points. The cost is 1900 baht for 7 days

extra and it can be extended only once. If you leave the country and return, your visa will be renewed for free. You can exit and re-enter the country as many times as you like this way and most travel agents can arrange border runs to neighbouring countries. Penalty for late departure: 500 baht/day. The maximum fine for overstay that you can pay is 20,000 baht after this you may face deportation at your own cost or imprisonment. Climate: Most of Thailand experiences three seasons; The cool season occurs during November to February, followed by the hot season, March to May, then the rainy season, between June and October. As with many countries in this part of the world, the wet season tends to consist of short, hard downpours. The time of the rainy season however, differs from the East coast to the West. The Andaman Coast (West) experiences monsoon from June to September (Phuket, Phi Phi, Krabi, Railay) whilst in the Gulf of Thailand (East) rains mostly fall during September to November. One random fact: Located in Um Phang National Park on the border of Burma, Tee Lor Su Waterfall is the highest waterfall in Thailand. The park is about a three hour drive from Chiang Mai and remains largely unvisited by foreign tourists. Emergency numbers Ambulance: 1554 / Fire: 199 / Police: 191

Vietnam: Currency: Vietnamese Dong Exchange rate: $1 USD = 20,830 VND Capital city: Hanoi Main religion: Tam Giao (Triple religion – Confucionism, Taosim, Buddhism) Main language: Vietnamese (official) Telephone code: +84 Time: GMT + 7 hours Hellos and Thank-you’s: Sin chao (Hello) Cam on (thank you) Visa: Visas for entering Vietnam must be arranged in advance. You can do this at the Vietnamese embassies in whichever country you are in, at a travel agency or in recent years online where you pre-arrange your visa for collection at the airport and do not need to send your passport off anywhere (Try 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: Hoi An is a beautiful UNESCO World Heritage city located in the central coast of Vietnam. During the 1st century the city possessed the largest port in South Was Asia. Today it is famous for it’s abundance of skilled tailors and many travelers leave the town with a new suit, or two. Emergency numbers Ambulance: 115 / Police: 113 / Fire: 114 (At S.E.A Backpacker we try to ensure that all information provided is as accurate and up to date as possible. The information in this section is vulnerable to change. Please advise us at info@ southeastasiabackpacker.com if info is invalid and we will be sure to rectify it.)

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