Fingers crossed for the opportunity of a lifetime!

Bang Kong Lo: Village life in Laos

Laos is wonderfully beautiful. From the impossibly beautiful landscapes ranging from riverside vistas, patch worked farmlands to striking limestone karsts. What I found more amazing (which continues to prevail throughout South East Asia) was the kindness and hospitality offered by the local people.

Life in Laos is centered on farming and rural villages. Even the capital of the country, Vientiane, is the only thing which would come close to being called a ‘city’ was most of the time 'quiet.' A few kilometers on either side of the city you’re again greeted with grazing cows and green rice paddies.

Entering Ban Kong Lo
In the south of Laos I’d been given tips about an underground cave which was described by other travelers as, ‘one of the most amazing caves’ they’d ever seen. Destination: Tham Kong Lo. Indeed the cave was spectacular with visitors making a popular day trip from Tha Kheak to visit. But what many visitors fail to discover is the charm, positivity and amazing people who live in the villages around the cave.

Deserted island paradises..

Bungalow for $5 per night meters from the beach. Hugs from the cutest Malaysian sea gypsies in the world; Dyla and Rosa. Djembe and guitar on the beach under the stars. Beachside wedding ceremonies. Barefoot and giggly village missions. Daily afternoon mini beach volley-ball tournaments with the Thai boys. Perhaps the coolest and eclectic collection of travelers in one spot..

Ko Jum, Thailand
Six kilometers of deserted white sand beaches. Sunset and whiskey in Hammock-topia. Supply missions to the other side of the island. 'Lost' style speculations and reenactments. Swimming in crystal clear 30 degree water. An overwhelming desire never to leave the island..

Ko Rong, Cambodia
Sweaty hiking missions to secluded beach bays. Private chartered boats and diving in the deep blue beyond. Couchsurfing in a hammock underneath the stars. Hanging at The Office, culinary delights at Ticks and fits of laughter playing Shithead at Rastabar. Giggling like little schoolgirls. Afternoon snorkeling with the sharks. Evenings dancing and salsa on the beach. Returning to do it all again..

Ao Lang Khai, Koh Tao, Thailand

Some of my favorite subjects

While the landscapes across South East Asia are particularly breathtaking. Nothing is more enjoyable or rewarding than hanging out and playing with the kids. Their open nature and complete lack of fear make for effortless communication and stunning natural models.. always at their pleasure. Behind every picture there is always a story of how I got them to laugh or pose, a skill which is definitely rendered with practice. They might not have much but there is certainly never a dull day if you manage to find yourself in the company of the always cheery and cheeky kids of rural villages.

The mountains of Myanmar – with nothing but a hand sketched map and a name

Arriving in what was meant to be Kalaw at 3:30am but turned out to be Aungban I grabbed my things from the undercarriage of the bus and took a moment to think on the side of the road. Apparently there had been some miscommunication with the bus driver and we had already passed Kalaw. Unsure of where I was or how far Kalaw actually was all I knew I was somewhere between there and Schwenyuang, the junction to Inle Lake. In the darkness a moto-taxi driver approached me to ask where I was going. ‘Kalaw,’ I said. After a bit of a chit-chat I was able to decipher that Kalaw was only 15kms back the other way... about 20 minutes by motorbike. The chap to my right offered to drive me there for the outrageously inflated tourist-night-price of $5. After paying more than the locals for my bus ticket (pocket money for generals) from Yangon, I wasn’t in the mood for giving my money to people who didn’t deserve it. If I waited till light I would be able to get a pick-up (mini-truck with two metal benches down either side of the tray), shared with about 20 other locals, for about 500 kyats (about 50 cents). Moto-taxis are always more, and especially at the ungodly hour of the morning I had found myself in. So I offered the guy a very modest 1000 kyats.. I’d be lucky if he accepted even in the daytime. Because he felt sorry for me, the bus didn’t drop me off where it was meant to and I was alone, he graciously accepted my offer. I wisely donned my jacket in the crisp mountain air and we set off on our way.

By the time we arrived in Kalaw I was absolutely freezing. Shivering from head-to-toe my moto-driver stopped by a small fire lit on the side of the road by some locals where I could defrost in the pre-dawn darkness. I couldn’t be bothered getting a hotel room so I waited out until first light at a small Nepalese tea shop on the side of the road where I enjoyed (for the first time since visiting Nepal) real chai and freshly cooked samosas.

Indonesia Chapter 5: Rinjani, your mine.

The sunrise which started it all
 Rinjani. Your ass is grass.

Towering above the Bali sea at 3726 meters Rinjani is one monsterous volcano. The concluding statement in a guidebook states, ‘Finally, understand that people die every year on the mountain; it shouldn’t be approached lightly.’ A reason why I deliberated for so long on Gili Air about the weather conditions. After negotiating a very nice price with a trek operator and deciding that, surely, the weather would hold up I headed straight from the Gilis up the mountain.

Travel in an unknown culture..

So I had a crack at the 2011 World Nomad Travel Writing Scholarship.. to no avail. Here it is anyway:

I am in Sabah. The Malaysian state of Borneo and the scene before me yields a peculiar air. The city in the peak of the afternoon is quiet. Restaurants are closed. People seem wary and on edge and can be seen silently napping in the stall side chairs and hammocks.

It occurred to me I had arrived during the religious month of Ramadan where Islamic devouts abstain from food, drink, sex and cigarettes between the hours of sunrise and sunset. Things already move quite slowly in this corner of the globe and it seemed as though the world had eerily come to a standstill.

It was difficult to judge the mood of the people, especially the ladies, their heads and faces veiled with the hijab. In much of the Western world the thought of an Islamic culture breeds nervousness. In the past images of serious white clothed Arab men with checked scarves nestling on their heads and women in full length black would flash across my mind. Although I was fairly well covered I still felt the piercing stare of wandering eyes. I was as intriguing to them as they were to me. But as I wandered through the streets I felt no need to fear the unfamiliarity of the unknown culture I was witnessing for the first time.

Change of plans

After nearly 9 months on the road and an appauling lack of posts to show for it, I've decided to change my game plan on the posting front. I'll instead try and upload short stories and photos from places that I've really enjoyed. So the format will be somewhat ecclectic but easier to follow and enjoy and for me to post more regulary. I feel way too overwhelmed with information if I even have to think about writing about all the things I've been up to!

I'm not sure if anyone even reads this.. but stay tuned and enoy!

Indonesia Chapter 4: Komodo Dragons, Lombok and the Gilis

Forgetting the journey to the springs and getting back to reality we realised that it was quite a trek to get back to Bajawa. With no idea if there was any more transport or if it was even possible to get back to the town that day the road had to be hit. Commence walking. Hoping for a ride from someone, it was getting dark and cold; we stopped two guys on motorbikes and negotiated for a price back to the town. They had to drop some things off to their home before they could take us. Not two minutes later a ‘trek,’ truck with planks of wood in the back for seats, passed by heading to the town for an eighth of the price of a motorbike. Some things are just meant to be.

Hiking across Rinca
Descending into Labuan Bajo at sunset, west Flores, on the next day you could see islands scattered across the bay. The light reflecting from the water accenting their silhouette. It was absolutely beautiful and instantly I forgot about the long, and loud, 8 hour bus ride it took to arrive. Labuan Bajo is famed for its world class diving (and snorkeling) and close proximity to the Komodo Islands National Parks which includes Rinca Island. Heading out to the islands you can instantly see the change in landscape. A bizarre thing really when they are so close in proximity, but have obviously been separated for many, many years. On Rinca the scenery is savannah, a dramatic contrast to the tropical rainforests and volcanoes of Flores. Hiking across the island you feel like you’ve taken a step back in time. Komodo dragons prowl the land, some as big as 4 meters. It reminds me of a time when dinosaurs roamed the earth. It’s important to keep your distance though as a bit from one will become severely infected due to the bacteria in the dragons’ mouth. For sure, you cannot survive such an encounter. The Komodo can smell food and blood from kilometers away so for this reason the kitchen is strategically built up on stilts. It’s also said that menstruating women should stay off the island for safety.

Indonesia Chapter 3: Westbound, Flores and the Simple Things

Landing in Maumere in Flores, much closer to Australia but still miles away from home, the choice of which direction to travel in was much simpler. Options were east or west. But with visa limitations and consideration of an exit strategy the only viable option was to head west, exit stage Singapore.

The first thing I notice about changing locations in Indonesia is the 'vibe' of the place and the people. This is largely influenced by the location (beachside vs. jungle) and more-so by the religion. The general initial feeling about Maumere, where there is substantially more Catholic influence, was that the people were a little colder, perhaps guarded. This didn’t last long once you busted out a swift set of pearly whites and threw in a ‘selemat pagi’ or ‘siang.’ Also, the feeling of villages by the beach is, as you would expect, a lot more relaxed. As you will notice everywhere in Asia, but perhaps more so by the beach, people spend the days lazing about sleeping and, well really.. just doing nothing. ‘Ojek [motorcycle taxis]’ and ‘bemo [public minibuses]’ drivers in Indonesia are especially good at this.