Archive for September, 2009


Access Denied – Myanmar Visa Adventures

Getting a VISA to Myanmar is not especially hard in principle. Like all embassies it requires an early morning start (pre-9am we were reliably told), […]

Getting a VISA to Myanmar is not especially hard in principle. Like all embassies it requires an early morning start (pre-9am we were reliably told), several completed forms (bring your own pen), a couple of photo’s, a copy of your passport and some money. Mynanmar however, does also requires one addition – a separate form that probes your professional and recent working careers (ie last 3 jobs), this is where we hit a stumbling block.

After a bright and early start, we caught a boat down the Chao Praya river in Bangkok, fought our way through the chaos of a Hindi festival in the process of being set-up and arriving at the Myanmar embassy about 8.45. The embassy itself was basic at best and probably most efficiently described by communicating the fact, that the toilet lacked a door (I have no idea why the surrounding walls are covered in barb wire!).

After about a 15 minute wait, we were diligently issued our paperwork and set to completing our forms along with all the other prospective entrants – not your most typical bunch of tourists or travelers I can assure you.  Then, before I could intervene, I noticed Megumi write the word “technical writer” as her profession and inwardly cringed. Having read a lot about Myanmar’s paranoi, spying and aversion to foreign journalists from my limited preparatory reading (Land of a Thousand Eyes), I could sense that this was a potentially going to be an issue. Immediately distracted and put off my game, I then proceeded to automatically complete my own form by stating my previous company as being “PressArmy”, a social media analytics start-up I had been helping launch before I left.

After waiting in queue for an hour or so, we presented our documents to a very serious looking teller who immediately asked a whole sequence of probing questions on exactly these professional fronts. This really didn’t go too well and as one of those increasingly bad realizations crept over me like a winter chill, our passports were confiscated and we were directed to please sit down and wait. We then spent the next 3 hours watching about 100 other people go through the Visa process, pay their money and walk out. No-one else was asked to stay behind!

With nothing to do, but sit there my thoughts became consumed and somewhat entertained by the idea that someone in a military uniform in the next room was trying to understand what PressArmy did from the limited description on the website and ascertain whether I / we were a threat to national security.

Eventually and after a lot of attempted eye catching with the staff on my part, we were called forward and passed along to the most senior embassy official who immediately announced that we would not be allowed in! “No media”, he said, “you need a special Visa, special permission”. Immediately I launched into a careful planned argument (3 hours is a long time to wait) on why a person who writes ‘software manuals’ cannot be a journalist and how “PressArmy” was a punk internet start-up and not a media organization or involved in military intelligence in anyway at all. And would perhaps an acknowledgment that we are “just plain stupid” count?

After several minutes of this impassioned plea and debate, he paused, looked at us very closely and said we had honest faces and he would trust us – just like that!  Immediately thereafter of course, he embarked on a whole series of casual threats about keeping an eye on us, quick deportations if we were in any of the wrong areas and the classic warning tale about the Japanese journalist who had been shot the year before, after coming into the country on a tourist visa.

Somewhat chided, but still over the moon at the let-off, we proudly marched back to the teller to present our money and get the stamp – the teller looked at us with genuine surprise and gave us a shake of the head and the first smile I had seen him give all day – obviously he thought we had no chance either.

Sometimes you simply profile too well I guess, I wouldn’t have let us in either just on principle – although anyone naïve enough to fill in forms the way we did, they must figure as the perfect tourist and very especially easy to part from our money – through the turnstiles we go!

As a quick addendum, Selena our host in Yangon did a get a mysterious call from someone asking about us several days after we arrived. Could be “health flu” related – they wanted to check that we were there and healthy? But the conspiracy theorist in me likes to believe we were being checked in on…


Sunset on Koh Tao, Thailand

A glimpse of the exceptional sunsets on Hat Sai Ri, the 2 km beach on Koh Tao
タイ・タオ島に2kmに渡って伸びる白砂のビーチ、Hat Sai Ri での夕暮れ。

A glimpse of the exceptional sunsets on Hat Sai Ri, the 2 km beach on Koh Tao
タイ・タオ島に2kmに渡って伸びる白砂のビーチ、Hat Sai Ri での夕暮れ。


Learning to Dive

A few days post fasting and we were finally ready to break free of the hippies, so caught a ferry from Koh Phangan across to […]

Padi textbooks & tests

A few days post fasting and we were finally ready to break free of the hippies, so caught a ferry from Koh Phangan across to Koh Tao to learn to how to scuba dive. Koh Tao is a small island, 20km in circumference about an hour or so from Koh Phangan and is famous for diving – the island is covered in literally hundreds of dive schools and offers some of the best value dive courses in the world.

Our thinking was that we may as well get a basic scuba diving license here, then in our travels as we came across those amazing underwater locations like Zanzibar, Egypt, Galapogas or anywhere in Central America, we could just charter fun dives to experience it, without the hassle and expensive overheads of the courses etc.

For those that haven’t scuba dived before, the PADI system of diving seems to be a fairly global standard these days. The most basic level of PADI training you need to be able to dive is the “Open Water” certificate, which license you to dive to a depth of 16 metres. The certification requires a combination of basic training, written tests and supervised open water dives.


Playing around underwater

So we signed up to a reputable dive company on the back of several friends recommendations – “Buddha View” and booked into a cheap bungalow next door (The Tropicana) and prepared ourselves for 4 days of study and diving. The total course costs around 9,000 Baht (Just under US$300), plus textbooks and bungalows (About US$12 or so a night)

I wont bore you too much with the details here, suffice to say lots of stuff happened underwater and we passed. The diving course and diving in general is pretty easy once you have nailed the basics. We did however get very lucky with both our fellow divers and instructor James, (an Aussie guy who has been instructing on Koh Tao for 6 or 7 years) which made everything that much more enjoyable. As a result we decided to extend for an extra couple of days to do some more diving. This mean’t that on top of our “Open Water”, we did another 5 dives and were able to complete our “Advanced Open Water” certificate as well – thus licensing us to dive to 30m and at night etc.


Megumi Style

Some of the key highlights:

  • New Horizons – Realizing we now have access to a whole new dimension to our global travel destinations – ie underwater.
  • Night diving with Barracuda’s: Giant Barraccuda’s (2-3 m) hunt other fish by swimming alongside us and using our spotlights as spotters for other fish at night. They then swim right past you to go for a kil. We saw 3 different Barracuda’s, make 4 kills this way in our 45 min. night dive.
  • Several amazing “Aquarium like” swims at the “Shark Bay” and “Chomphon” dive sites, just teaming with aquatic life.
  • Drinks & Sunset on Sai Ri beach – quite stunning.
  • Knowing we can now dive wherever / whenever we want!!

Dive Boat Kitty

A Mama Cat with 4 kittens lived on the dive school boat in Koh Tao, making everyone smile.

A Mama Cat with 4 kittens lived on the dive school boat in Koh Tao, making everyone smile.


8 Days, No Food & a Beach – Part 2

Simply put I found the “fasting” experience fantastic and right up there with one of the best things I have done! In part this was […]

Simply put I found the “fasting” experience fantastic and right up there with one of the best things I have done! In part this was purely the physical effects of the cleansing – my skin felt great, the body free of toxins (possibly for the first time in 20 years) and I generally felt healthy and full of energy. Certainly there was also the satisfaction that comes with actually finishing the fast itself (and quitting smoking for that matter), something I wasn’t too sure I could do when I started.

But I think the real value for me was the result of the overall process, what I would perhaps call the “body meditation” – effectively 10+ days of reading, thinking about (and experiencing) the bodies various “ins” and “outs”, how we treat it, what it needs. And in doing so I realized that this process was something I had never really sat down and thought through in a lot of detail before – quite amazing really, how much we take our bodies for granted. Taking time out to educate, experiment and “clean house” so to speak, couldn’t make more sense to me in the context of our co-dependency (body + mind).

All of which created a lot of clarity and resolve for me personally, on how I aspired to live my life moving forward – perhaps moving my diet away from processed foods – starches, dairy and meat towards more raw food – fruit & vegetables. And in other ways looking to control my acidity better and more regularly cleanse – the “liver” and “kidneys” are definitely next!


That’s was the gist of it at least – it is hard to really distill the whole experience into words, but I have structured a range of other thoughts below to summarize this where I can.

The Big Picture (My version at least) – The modern diet in the last 20-30 years has changed dramatically with all its processed foods, alcohols, cigarettes and drugs etc. These have created a lot of new challenges for a body that was never designed to deal with these things. The end result is that these come into the body much more acidic than simple fresh foods would be and your stomach has to break all this down and make it more alkaline to process it. As the body is not designed to operate at these levels, it reacts by compromising maintenance in other areas of your body – stomach, colon etc (Likely responsible for many modern cancers) and also fortifies your intestines / bowel with a special lining in order to protect the body from the higher acidity levels of food that is now required to process. Over time, the typical westerner’s intestine becomes lined with 20 – 30 feet of this ‘Mucoid plaque’ that is lining the walls, some of it up to an inch thick. The net result of this plaque is that

  • Many toxins get caught up in the lining (including those from stress & bad memories !)
  • The lining makes it much harder (and much less efficient) to extract nutrients from food and
  • It therefore takes much longer for important titbits to enter the blood stream & get distributed

With all that said, the goal of the cleansing and colonic is really to remove much of this plaque and return the digestive system to its peak operating efficiency. Lots of amazing stories abound on the results of this from cancer sufferes etc, I’ll leave that paraphrasing to the Americans, but you can find out more by reading the following book by Richard Anderson, ‘Cleanse & Purify Thyself, Book 1, I highly recommend it and it forms the background to the cleanse program as we did it.

The colonic cleansing itself – Not as bad as I feared, the first day was intense but after that the whole process was fine. In terms of results, I certainly made a lot of progress clearing some of the mucoid plaque away from the intestines (several metres at least – big stuff!!), but can see that this needs another few fasts to really finish the job. Not many other fellow fasters had the same success on this front as me I think – as they were mostly healthy vegetarians, hippies and women I can see that I obviously fitted the bill and needed this the most.

Of hunger – was not really an issue actually. The first day was a little challenging, but after that I was pretty ok and didn’t crave food at all. I certainly felt that I could have kept going past day 8 (though I was ready to stop). The much harder challenge was the tobacco cravings. Megumi was different, after day 6 she had no energy and felt faint and really needed to eat or balance out things with some iron. She did some blood analysis after the colonic that was really interesting in showing this as well.


Me, Ange & Megumi post fast

Of weight loss – Not very significant, I lost about 3.5 kg, which is not as much as I was expecting and I pretty much put it back on within a week of finishing the fast. Since I have lost almost 20 kg or so in the last 9 months anyway, I had probably already burned the easy stuff off.

Of first meals – Suprisingly disappointing on day 8, I had a bowl of fresh papaya and couldn’t finish it. After that, it was not the food, but the f lavours that I craved really, so once the stomach was ready to handle solids again, I quickly launched back into lots of thai soups, spicy salads and anything with a real zing or taste to it. I did manage to steer clear of meats, processed foods and starches for about a week though. Noticeably when I did start eating non-fresh foods again, I feel heavy and tired immediately afterwards.

And of the future – I would definitely do it again in the next 12 months I think and apply some of the principles and thinking to the rest of my life, hopefully. I do wonder though why we aren’t taught / educated better about these things as part of growing up though. Its not like fasting or enema’s are modern, it is mentioned in the bible and many other cultures fast religiously – obviously though its not in big corporates (Food, Medical & Pharma’s) interest to see us all eating better and more healthy, but maybe our kids will be better off.

Next time around, armed with some more foreknowledge I will probably do a more thorough preparation so I can get the maximum out of it. I also intend to flush my liver and do a kidney cleanse as well when I find some time in my travels, as these are the 2 organs I have probably been working the hardest over the last 20 years 😉

Also check out:  ‘8 Days, no Food & a beach’ – Part 1


Haad Thien, Thailand

"The Sanctuary" at Haad Thien on Koh Phangan, the site of our detoxification...
今回の旅はタイ・パンガン島の Haad Thien にある "The Sanctuary" のデトックスセンターで始まった。

“The Sanctuary” at Haad Thien on Koh Phangan, the site of our detoxification…
今回の旅はタイ・パンガン島の Haad Thien にある “The Sanctuary” のデトックスセンターで始まった。


Buddha Row, Thailand

Cute little row of Buddhas outside a bar in Haad Rin.
タイ・パンガン島の Haad Rin に建つバーの外にちょこんと並ぶかわいらしい仏像たち。

Cute little row of Buddhas outside a bar in Haad Rin.
タイ・パンガン島の Haad Rin に建つバーの外にちょこんと並ぶかわいらしい仏像たち。


8 Days, No Food & a Beach

Seemed like a great concept really, start our around the world adventure with a “Detox”... a chance to recalibrate the body for the path ahead...


Sept 5-14: “The Sanctuary”, Koh Phangan, Thailand


A Thai LongBoat (Haad Rin)

Travel Notes: Departed Bangkok and took a bus / Catamaran south to the island of Koh Phangan. The trip took about 8 hours or so. From the ferry at Koh Phangan we took a combination of taxi and long boat to a secluded bay, called Haad Thaan. The bay is about 15 minutes by long boat from Had Rin and is home to “the sanctuary” – a set of bungalows, restaurant, spa and detox centre with a quiet little beach. Our home for the next  10 days.

On an island paradise, reknown for its parties, “the sanctuary” is indeed that. A labrynth of buildings into the rocks, hills and bay resplendent with relaxation spots, hammocks, cushions, yoga sites, massages and book libraries – it is designed for relaxation & comfort and seemingly keeping you from straying into the toxifying boys, towns and bars around every corner. A hefty challenge in itself.


The Sanctuary

All of which seemed like a great concept really. Start our around the world adventure with a “Detox” – a 7 day fast and colonic treatment on a tropical island. For me at least it was pretty symbolic, a chance perhaps to recalibrate the body (and mind) for the path ahead; to mark a new beginning, by spending some time repairing the damage of a sedentary and unbalanced Tokyo lifestyle! Megumi I think was just happy to go along with it and likely hadn’t paid much attention to this part of the trip preparation, so I fancied she was in for a little bit more of a surprise.

The fast isreally more like a 12 day program to detoxify your body and very much focused on cleansing bowel and intestines as a priority. It is a significant process which I had done some research on & together with a few recommendations from friends, felt right about enough to give it a good ol’ try, though its certainly not for the faint hearted!

Relaxing at the sanctuary

The Wellness centre at the sanctuary - note the Hammocks & Ange in the background

For those not to scared off by the word “bowel” and willing to keep reading at this point –  let me paraphrase the experience for you a little. The Fast program (from the sanctuary at least) essentially involves 4 key components:

  1. Preliminary Detox – cutting out all meat, dairy, alcohol, carbohydrates etc for 2-3 days prior to starting. This is in order to bring your bodies PH (ie overall acidity) down to within a certain range. (I also chose to quit smoking again for good measure!)

  2. The 7 Day Fast – All day for 7 days you take a course of clay / psyllium shakes, fruit juices, herbal pills and probiotic pills designed to brush & flush  your system. You end up essentially ingesting something every 1.5 hours so you don’t feel that hungry or get cravings except at night. (well me at least anyway)

  3. The Colonics – This is the bit for the not so fragile. Every day around 4pm, we would have a colonic treatment. Which essentially involves flushing your bowel with 7 litres of coffee. Certainly one of the more interesting body interactions out there, feel free to look it up, if you want more detail 😉

  4. Post Colonic – You finish the fast and get to slowly reintroduce solid foods to your system, this takes several days and you need to build up your bacteria levels again to help with digestion.

In all, we had factored in 9 days for the fast, plus changed our diet completely for a few days before hand. On arriving, we walked straight into the Wellness Centre only to find Angela, a good friend from Japan, comfortably entrenched in a hammock 2 days already into her own fast. With another fast buddy in play, we were well encouraged and as we were literally able to pass our litmus (PH) test first time (many people fail) we were good to go – one last salad before we started!

I will give you the full post-mortem of the experience in a follow-up post.

Continue to ‘ 8 days, no Food & a Beach’ – Part 2


The Traveller’s Skin…

Comfortably seated, book and beer in hand, trying to re-aquaint myself with the concept of idle time and no fixed agenda.......... I am a traveller too now I realize, but what kind of traveller do I want to be?


September 3: Bangkok – Khao-san Rd

Megumi has been trying to finish up a translation project before we depart to the islands, so we are chained / leashed to a stable wi-fi connection for the first few days of our adventures. Forced off my computer (we are trying to share), I get to spend several days roaming the streets, shopping for essentials, sorting out travel details and just generally kicking back around Khao-san Rd.

For those that haven’t been to Thailand before, the area around Khao San Rd in Bangkok is to backpacking, what I assume the Vatican might be to catholics. It really does feel like a multinational mecca for young and independent travel. Packed with cheap accommodation (Sub US$15), travel outlets, internet cafes, cheap clothes & endless other trinkets. The place teems with thousands of backpackers and travellers from all around the world – shopping, meeting, partying, relaxing and just generally preparing to embark on travels to anywhere in South East Asia or decompressing for the return home.

Back from the main street, past the Buddhist temple, there is an area around Rambuttri Rd that heads down towards the pier where things are a little more settled. Here the guest houses all have downstairs restaurants with Internet access and are quite comfortable, it attracts a little more mature traveler seeking to relax a little more, (vs the drunken chaos of Khao san) before foraging out into the Bangkok or SE Asian ether.

Appropriately I guess this is where I now find myself – comfortably seated, book and beer in hand, trying to re-aquaint myself with the concept of idle time and no fixed agenda. Slowly watching the backpackers in all their curious shapes, stereotypes, ethnicities and varieties stroll past me. And I find myself trying it all on like a new skin I guess – testing each for its different taste and feel. I am a traveller too now I realize, but what kind of traveller do I want to be?

To old for the thrillseekers and party animals, too wise hopefully for the standard gap year, tourist trappings and quite probably a little too cynical & twisted to settle for anything short of the new and challenging. All too quickly, I realize I am seeking experiences and new perspectives, not sights.

While the destinations are important, this journey to me seems as much about a reconnection with the self, as anything else. I am looking at travel as the chance to get out of my shell & break the deskchair evolutionary spiral; push some personal limits physically, emotionally and spiritually. I guess travel is the medium for doing this – new situations, cultures & perspectives of life to stimulate introspection. New environments that allow us to ask the big questions and test new limits or horizons more easily than those that we know.

Perhaps I need to adjust the itinerary to better reflect this I ponder and quickly realize again that I am still very much at the start. All this lies ahead unknown at this point I guess, the magic and unwritten p0tential of a new destination & horizon… Stay tuned!


Auspicious Beginnings..

Sept 2: Bangkok, Thailand – somewhere in Banglamphu / Khao san Rd.


Following a crazy week of packing, cleaning and trying to get things all wrapped up in Tokyo. We arrived at Monday morning having staying up all night with taking care of the last minute details. Monday was then full of symbolic activities – disconnecting the internet that has been my lifeline for the last 12 years; handing in and canceling the mobile phone number that I have had my entire time in Japan; handing over the car keys for shipping to Australia; passing on the house keys to my mate Marc and then the final act of lugging our last meager possessions onto our backs for the mad scramble to the airport. (Alm0st missed it as usual)

We finally arrived at Bangkok at 1am for the start of our travels and after checking into a late night hotel, the plan was to very happily sleep in and make up for several days with no such liberties in the chaos of our Tokyo departures. And as is the case with all great plans, our sleep-in  was in turn interrupted when we were woken up by the most magnificent sound eminating from a Mosque loudspeaker, right outside our room!

“The Azan” is a muslim call to prayer and you would really struggle to find a more beautiful piece of song / music anywhere in the world. A fantastic way to wake up & great omen really – Tokyo this most certainly not…!