Category Archives: tourism

Signing off – five lessons I’ve learned about travel over the past six months

So, this is it. After 168 days, 56 different places and 11 countries, our time away is finally coming to an end. Today we leave Kuala Lumpur for dear old Blighty. This is my last blog here and rather than focus on any one particular experience, I wanted to share a few thoughts on what I’ve learned about travel since we left London back in January. They’re perhaps not revelatory, but they’ve certainly helped in framing my experience. Hopefully, they might just push a few of you over the edge into deciding that a hefty holiday is for you. Hope you’ve enjoyed the blog and thanks for reading. Continue reading

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Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai – washing, feeding and making a difference

As Jokia ambles down the riverbank, the crowd of bucket-wielding tourists grows silent. Parting into two groups, we watch and wait as this huge, 55-year-old Asian elephant, wades into the shallows and eases herself onto her mud-covered side, her trunk snuffling through the water. Continue reading

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Alms-giving in Luang Prabang, Laos – how not to behave at a religious ceremony

They slip silently down the temple steps, sleepily adjusting their robes. Alms bowls at the ready, the monks of Luang Prabang begin to make their daily dawn collection along the streets of this UNESCO world heritage town. On the road directly outside a temple at the foot of Phu Si, local women kneel and hand over sticky rice and assorted sweet treats as the monks file past. Standing across the road at a safe distance, we are on the only non-locals around.

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Taman Negara, Malaysia – how to do it yourself

Doing it yourself is a concept frowned upon in Malaysia, much as it is in Vietnam. Ask someone about arranging a bus trip and they’ll doubtless tell you that wherever you’re heading, you need to stump for a tour too. The fact is, while we’ve been spoilt with guides in the Cameron Highlands and around Siem Reap, Cambodia, the trip has been far more rewarding, and experiences much more memorable, when we’ve sorted things out ourselves. Continue reading

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Trekking to sunrise at Mount Batur, Bali

2.45am is a time I equate with sleeping, the occasional booze-fuelled late night and Elliot Smith. But in Ubud, Bali, it’s at this time that I find myself sitting on the side of the road awaiting a pick-up to take us out to Mount Batur. One of Bali’s two active volcanoes, it’s one of the best spots on the island to see sunrise, with promised views of the towering Mount Agung and the island of Lombok.

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Cameron Highlands, Malaysia – getting the most out of wildlife in this stunning corner of South East Asia

Despite an unerring (some would say worrying) devotion to the BBC’s endlessly wholesome Springwatch and a penchant for lengthy country walks, my wildlife spotting skills are distinctly average. I try to put it down to bad eyesight, but the fact is I’m just not properly clued in on birds and other fauna to be able to tell a cuckoo from a chiff chaff at one hundred paces.

That’s not to say this isn’t something I’ve been desperate to remedy for a long time. And fortunately, in Malaysia’s gorgeous Cameron Highlands, I was afforded the opportunity to do so courtesy of some lush rainforest and guides with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the area’s plant and bird life. Continue reading

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Biking to Beng Melea – off the beaten track in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Turning off the main road out of Siem Reap, our bikes crunch across wet gravel towards one of the many small local villages that surround Cambodia’s biggest tourist town. Turning around, our guide Samnang points to four uniformed men and a white Land Rover in the adjacent field. ‘Training to clear land mines,’ he says. ‘They’ve already cleared many temple sites, but there’s much work left to do.’

It’s a stark reminder that this area, and this country, are still suffering the horrific after effects of the Khmer Rouge’s brief but brutal rule. We’re on the road to Beng Melea, an ancient temple site that sits over 50km north of the main attractions of Angkor. Our ride though, which has only just begun, will cover 75km, through lush paddy fields, arid landscapes and tiny villages, as we get off the beaten track and try to find the real Cambodia. Continue reading

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The ‘speed boat’ from Battambang to Siem Reap

Gazing out across the vast expanse of Tonle Sap lake, the glittering water dotted with locals flicking fishing nets high into the sky and birds swooping merrily in our wake, I was quietly contemplating the imminent end of our eight hour schlep from Battambang to Siem Reap. The journey had been an eventful one. It was then the catfish jumped on board. This huge monster of a fish flew directly across my field of vision, soaking me and the woman in front, before writhing like mad on deck. With a nonchalant grab behind the gills, one of the crew threw him back into the expanse.

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Vietnam’s endless development – ruin or redemption?

The road from Nha Trang is awash with litter from endless construction sites. Down to the water, rickety cranes swing huge concrete blocks into place. New golf courses and spas abound. This is wild west capitalism, where quick buildings and a fast buck have become the dominant feature of a nation in a desperate to hurry to keep pace with insatiable demand.

It’s not just on this stretch of coast either. The vast sandy beaches between Da Nang and Cua Dai are being sold off and developed at a rate of knots. Beaches that were once the R and R playgrounds of battle fatigued GIs are quickly becoming insulated playpens for those who want sun and sand without the local culture.

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