Tag Archives: South East Asia

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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Myanmar/Burma 101 – travel info June/July 2012

Myanmar, or Burma as Aung San Suu Kyi still dares to call it, is changing. Fast. This country is at last beginning to open up, with NLD offices apparent in every town we’ve passed through in our three weeks here, not to mention a willingness to openly talk about The Lady herself. Hell, we even drove past the airport the day she returned to Yangon from her European tour and the streets were lined with flag-waving supporters.

For all that, Myanmar remains desperately poor and is lagging way behind the rest of South East Asia. Yangon’s streets are filthy and its people seem abandoned by a regime that’s moved lock, stock and barrel to the fantasy capital Nay Pyi Taw, a couple of hundred miles north.

In the six months since the most recent Lonely Planet Myanmar guide was published, it seems much has changed on the ground for tourists too. So, I thought I’d provide a quick snapshot of what to expect if you’re planning a trip here in the coming weeks. Doubtless, much of this will change as the pace of opening up to the wider world continues, but hopefully it’ll be of some assistance if your Myanmar jaunt is imminent.
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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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Kuala Lumpur – is this the most pedestrian-unfriendly city in the world?

Standing at the intersection beneath Bukit Bintang monorail station, I was beginning to lose patience. Traffic had been roaring past in both directions for five minutes, with nary a sign that the lights were going to change and let the growing crowd of pedestrians cross. Then, as the fast flow of cars ground to a halt, the lights phased to allow traffic to come across the crossroads and turn right, leaving us stranded on the sidewalk. Continue reading

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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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Checking cynicism at the door at the Yoga Barn, Ubud, Bali

Lying prone, the gentle sound of music that errs worryingly on the side of New Age filling my ears, I’m beginning to wonder exactly what I’ve let myself in for. And when the tutor asks ‘what we’re hiding from’ by living busy lives, I’m fully channeling my inner Mark Corrigan and wondering ‘What kind of hippy free-for-all is this anyway?’

The short answer is the Yoga Barn, Ubud’s most-recommended spot for those looking to stretch their sinews and maybe find some inner peace while on the road. Airbnb hosts, friends and fellow backpackers have all told us to check it out, so here I am, on my back and starting to fear the worst. 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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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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Mekong Delta tour – how to do it yourself in Vietnam’s rice bowl

Finding a Mekong Delta tour is the least challenging thing a backpacker can do in Saigon. Operators from Sinh Tourist to Hanh Cafe offer similar variations on a theme.  A bleary-eyed 5am start on day one, visits to handicraft stores and various local industries and a whistle stop trip around a floating market. This is largely repeated on days two (and three), with the hours punctuated by hotel meals and little chance to interact with the locals that make the area tick.

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