Archive for October, 2009


Bodnath – Kathmandu, Nepal

The magnificent Stupa at Bodnath near Kathmandu - the most vibrant & accessible Tibetan community in the world...  ネパール、カトマンドゥー近郊のボダナートに建つネパール最大のストゥパ。ボダナートは世界有数のチベット文化の中心地として発展を続けるエネルギーに満ちた地だ

The magnificent Stupa at Bodnath near Kathmandu – the most vibrant & accessible Tibetan community in the world…  ネパール、カトマンドゥー近郊のボダナートに建つネパール最大のストゥパ。ボダナートは世界有数のチベット文化の中心地として発展を続けるエネルギーに満ちた地だ


Touring Laos

After the excitement and surprise of Myanmar, Laos turned out to be a totally different adventure again. From Bangkok, we caught the overnight sleeper train […]

After the excitement and surprise of Myanmar, Laos turned out to be a totally different adventure again. From Bangkok, we caught the overnight sleeper train to ChangMai in Northern Thailand, a pleasant slow paced 12 hour journey that reinforced many of the aspects of travel that you miss when simply jumping on an plane. I had been reading a fantastic book by Tiziano Terzani called “ A Fortune-Teller Told Me”, which narrates the tales of a year spent traveling around Asia by land and boat (after a fortune teller told him he would die if he caught a plane) and his subsequent embrace of time, mystics, distance and the experience. Sitting on that overnight train and later on a 2 day boat trip down the Meekong, these ideas resonated strongly within me. Somehow watching the cities slowly give way to villages and the farms, fields and rice paddies fading into mountains is immensely satisfying. You absorb these transitions to the rhythms of the journey without thinking, your subconscious celebrating the minor changes. Reaching a destination has such a greater sense of expectation and arrival that way.

After a few days enjoying the relaxed city, food and magnificent markets of Chang-Mai we then took a minivan to the Thai border with other like minded traveling brethren. From that moment to crossing the Laos border at Houei Xay (via boat over the Mekong River) until reaching Vientiane and heading back into Thailand, Laos felt like a strange, alternative travel, SE Asia backpacking theme ride. We seemed to follow a route so defined by Lonely Planet and others as the “backpacker adventure trail”, that we rarely felt we had an original experience, even when out “trekking” amongst the Hill Tribes or kayaking down a river. Thankfully though, it was not Contiki or P&O and we had a great time doing it and of course there were several fantastic exceptions.


Slow Boat folk

From the border, we took the 2 day slow boat down the Mekong, stopping for the night in Pak Beng before arriving at Luang Prabang. We had heard conflicting tales alternating between the glowing and the horrific about this trip (mostly referencing the wooden seats, nightmare accomodations & drunken revelry), but actually found the experience to be a lot of fun. Packed onto a large boat with about 70 other like minded souls, the Mekong banks, eddies, fishermen and occasional village flow by at a steady, almost dreamlike pace. You have little else to do but read or interact with fellow passengers. (Typically an interaction that becomes more boisterous towards the end of the day, as the beer flows more freely). One tip if you do ever take the slow boat though – its definitely worth making the effort to be at very least friendly to the other travelers; we spent the rest of our time in Laos crossing paths – sharing tours, restaurants and transport with them.

Arriving in Luang Prabang, we shored up in a cheap guesthouse room, just back from the old city centre. Luang Prabang is a wonderful city, sitting at the junction of two rivers it is the ancient capital of Laos, home to its former kings and royalty. As a result, the place teems with temples, style and good food and is so unexpectedly civilized, orderly and relaxed for South East Asia, that it would be more at home in Europe, made more pronounced by the distinct french influence on the food and architecture. Several days flew by simply soaking up the markets and many shops showcasing wares of the Hill Tribes, cycling around the town and trialing the wonderful delights of the Laotian cuisine. We also did a single day trek out through a Hmong village, some jungle and a spectacular waterfall before moving on with some regret.


Sunset & Beer Lao in Vang Vieng

Reluctantly dragging ourselves away, we endured the nightmarish, 7 hour bus trip along the treacherous winding roads to the bizarre tourist oddity that is Vang Vieng. Set on a river, with a spectacular backdrop of limestone cliffs and caves, Vang Vieng is a once beautiful undiscovered village oasis, evolved into a tubing and adventure sports wonderland. Full of cheap, garish guesthouses and bars – it attracts with the triumvirate of traveller offerings – low cost, parties and adventure. Not that we were any different mind, all across Asia you will see people wearing singlets with the logo “In the Tubing, Vang Vieng”, equally you will hear tales of ‘tubing’ as being the most fun to be had in Asia. Big claims and despite our reservations and initial horror at the circus we were now joining, we found a somewhat secluded guesthouse with a view and signed up for the ride.

Tubing refers to a big day out on the Nam Son river. You rent a tractor tire tube in town and jump in a mini truck for a lift up to the river. Once there you jump into your tube and float down the river to one of the 20 or 30 bars that dot the shore especially for this purpose – each with its own range of activities, swings, drink specials, shots and “mystery” shakes. The goal is really to get back before 6pm or lose some of your deposit on the tube. Tacky perhaps, but without doubt a lot of fun, if not simply because its something you just don’t get to do anywhere else!

Food markets, Vientianne

Food markets, Vientianne

After couple of days of this, we decided to Kayak our way to Vientianne, a pleasant outdoorsy break from the constraints of bus travel. Vientianne though was really very simply about the food – we spent a couple of days working through the menus at some nice Laos and fusion restaurants – incredibly cheap for the quality. While most of the Lao food was great, I can especially recommend the Lao salads (Laap) – vegetables and / or meat minced together with mint and other herbs, highly addictive and refreshing and goes perfectly with Lao beer which was also very good.

All told, with more time and flexibility we would have loved to get off the track and probe Laos further, especially in the far North where the hill tribes and mountains remain largely untouched. While our trip felt quite shepherded it did not really detract from the experience, the people are friendly & relaxed; beautiful vistas and the food fantastic. Very hard to complain, but we were quite happy to move onto the real travelling.

Recommended Reading:

  • Ant Egg Soup“, By Natacha Du Pont De Bie (A fantastic travel guide to Laotian cooking)



“In the Tubing” – Vang Vieng, Laos

Sunset over Vang Vieng - after a day floating wasted down the river in tire tubes. Simply fantastic! ラオス・バンビエンで、タイヤチューブに乗っての川下りで童心に返ったあとに見た夕焼け

Sunset over Vang Vieng – after a day floating wasted down the river in tire tubes. Simply fantastic!



Hmong school kiddies, Laos

Kids attending a school in a small Hmong hill tribe village in Northern Laos.  ラオス北部の山岳民族、ハモンの子供たち。そっとのぞいた小学校の質素な教室は子供たちのにぎやかな声でいっぱい

Kids attending a school in a small Hmong hill tribe village in Northern Laos.  ラオス北部の山岳民族、ハモンの子供たち。そっとのぞいた小学校の質素な教室は子供たちのにぎやかな声でいっぱい


Hmong Chilli’s, Laos

Chilli's drying on the roof of a hut in a Hmong (Hill Tribe) village   ラオス北部に住む山岳民族、ハモンの村で、屋根の上に干されていた真っ赤な唐辛子を見つけた

Chilli’s drying on the roof of a hut in a Hmong (Hill Tribe) village   ラオス北部に住む山岳民族、ハモンの村で、屋根の上に干されていた真っ赤な唐辛子を見つけた


Tiger Temple – Kanchanaburi, Thailand 

Megumi living her life-long dream of feeding & playing with the big cats 

大の猫好きの私、その度合いはというと、道端でネコを見かけたらその脇にしゃがみこんで話しかける。それがTVの画面であろうと写真であろ うとおかまいなし、ついつい手を出してナデナデし てしまう困り者。そんな私の数年来の夢、それはタイ・カンチャナブリ近郊にあるタイガーテンプルを訪れることでした。

初めてタイガーテンプルのことを知ったのは、友人からのメールに添付されてきた写真を見た時のこと。友人の膝の上に頭を乗せて大きな猫そのままにリ ラックスして写真に写っているトラたちの姿、広い敷地内やお寺の境内らしきところで遊ぶ子トラたちの写真を見た時、「いつか絶対ここに行く!」と心に誓っ たのでした。それから数年が過ぎ、今回世界一周旅行を計画するにあたって、「行きたいところリスト」にタイガーテンプルと真っ先にリストアップしたのは言うまでもありません。

タイガーテンプルについてはここ数年、かなりのメディアで取り上げられてますよね。ナショナルジオグラフィックスやアニマルプラネット、NHKで も、お寺でお坊さんたちと暮らすトラたちを紹介する映像を見たことがある人も多いかと思います。その影響か、タイガーテンプルはいまやかなりの人気観 光スポットのよう。バンコク・カオサンロード周辺にある旅行代理店に行けば、どこでも半日や終日ツアーが用意されていて簡単に参加することができます。も ちろん個人で電車とタクシーを使って行くこともできるけれど、翌々日ラオスに向かうことになっている私たちは手っ取り早く、ゲストハウスに併設の旅行代理 店で半日ツアー(850Baht)に申し込み。カンチャナブリ観光と抱き合わせのツアーもありましたが、タイガーテンプルで過ごす時間を削りたくないので今回はタイガーテンプルのみの訪問です。

Tiger Temple Admission Agreement


朝10時、迎えのバンに乗り込み走ること3時間程、カンチャナブリに到着。カンチャナブリは第2次世界大戦時、日本軍による戦争捕虜の強制労働が行 われた場所であり、映画「戦場に掛ける橋」の舞台となったところですが、私たちのバンはそこから更に30分ほど走ったところにあるタイガーテンプルへ。は やる気持ちを抑えつつ、ドライバーから指し示された入り口らしきところで、まずは入場料の支払い(500Baht/人)と入場に際する注意事項を確認すると・・・









ひとしきり写真を撮り終え、ボランティアさんの示すその日のアクティビティメニューを見ると、虎の谷でのトラたちの水遊び見学と赤ちゃんトラのミル クフィーディングの2種類があり、私はトラたちと一番ふれあいが多そうなミルクフィーディングを選択。ミルクの時間まで1時間弱の間、虎の谷の見学に行くことにしました。



ちょうど午後1時過ぎ、目が眩みそうな強烈な日差し中虎の谷へ向かう坂を下ると、少し奥のほうに仕切りがあり、いくつか立てられたビーチパラソルの ところで沢山のビジターが並んでいるのが見えました。そしてその更に奥、これまたかなり大勢のボランティアが立つ中、地面にごろごろと寝転ぶトラたちの姿 が!

思わず小走りに近寄り、仕切りの前でしばし立ち尽くす私。長年夢見てきたタイガーテンプルの虎の谷に実際に立ち、放心状態に陥ってしまったのでし た。スコットはそんな私の代わりに受付でトラたちとの記念撮影料金1,000Bahtを支払ってくれ、私はボランティアさんに手を引かれて仕切りの中へ。



仕切りの中には10頭前後のトラたちがおり、真昼の暑さでかなりだれている様子…。私たちはボランティアさんに手をひかれてトラたちの傍に近寄り「ここに座って!」と指し示されるまま、地面に寝転んでいるトラの横に腰を下ろしました。と、別のボランティアがトラの頭を持ち上げ、ドサっと実に無造作に私の膝 の上にトラの頭をのせ、案内役のボランティアが私たちのカメラで数枚角度を変えてパパっと写真撮影。終わるとすぐに次のトラのところへ移動し、ただただボ ランティアさんたちの言うままにポーズをとって写真撮影、そしてまた次のトラのところへ。ものの5分程度で撮影は終了。完全に 流れ作業化されていて、「トラたちとの触れ合いを楽しむ」というようなものではありませんでした。













  • 赤系の服を着ていると虎が興奮するので入場出来ません。また、タイガーテンプルはあくまでお寺ですので、露出の多い服装の人は入れてもらえません。気をつけましょう。
  • 谷に虎が現れるのはたしか午後1時~4時の時間帯で、天候によっては中止になることもあるようですので、事前に確認することをお勧めします。
  • ツアーで訪れる方は、タイガーテンプルで過ごす時間が何時から何時になるのか、事前に確認することをお勧めします。カンチャナブリ等と抱き合わせのツアーの場合、タイガーテンプルで過ごす時間が1時間程度と短く設定されていることも多々あるようです。



Magical Myanmar

Wow – its not often you go somewhere and are completely taken by surprise. I found Myanmar amazing....


Wow – its not often you go somewhere and are completely taken by surprise.

I found Myanmar to be amazing for a whole raft of reasons; reconnecting with an old friend; beautiful & friendly people; totally unexpected (and photogenic) sights and most significantly I think – the fact that it just seemed to operate as a wonderful time capsule of Asia as it used to be, a romantic Asia – untouched by the desperate race towards modernity that now seems to pervade Asia everywhere today.

With Sel our wonderful host

With Sel our wonderful host

It was an experience perhaps also made more magical by the impromptu and spontaneous nature of it. On a whim, we thought we would go simply because an old friend, an ex-girlfriend of mine, Selena, was working for an NGO (CARE Australia) there. It was a nice reminder that not knowing a place is often where the real magic occurs, no plans, no research – just genuinely being open & surprised by what’s put it front of you. All of which is heightened considerably when someone also tells you that you are not allowed to go either.

Myanmar (or Burma as it used to be called) has largely been cut-off from the outside world since a revolution in the 60’s & the resultant ruling military class decided to combat capitalism, by closing off the Burmese culture from the rest of the world. A hibernation of sorts that took a significant turn for the worse in the 90’s, when the next generation of generals purged their democratic opponents and most famously put Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest. Since then – not many people go in or leave really, most international companies have trade embargos in place and Myanmar as its now called, operates in almost isolation. Many things we read, said not to go (thereby financing and supporting the regime), but the people we met and talked to provided a different perspective – they want the interaction and by not staying at major hotels or doing organized tours, you do put money in the pockets of real Myanmar people. I couldn’t be more glad that we went and it felt like we only scratched the surface. We left promising to return.

But back to the trip itself! After arriving inYangon, we spent several days at Selena’s place, an old colonial building in the ‘rich’ part of town where we were spoilt by maids, gardeners, language teachers and Sel’s many other Burmese friends who took it upon themselves to cook for and engage with us. An experience perhaps sadly shaped (though certainly made more intimate) by the unfortunate death of Selena’s pet cat, Samadhi. That aside, with a comfortable Yangon base, we were able to relax and explore the cities atmosphere, markets, backstreets and almighty Shwedagon in complete comfort.

Reluctantly, we did manage to pull ourselves away for a few days. Flying first to Bagan and then onto Inle Lake for  further exploration. All said we only spent 10 days in the country, simply not enough time to really do justice to the Myanmar that we encountered. Truth be told, it was a little expensive in parts, mostly the fault of a tightly packed  itinerary that forced us into taking planes when boats, trains and other transport would have evoked infinitely more memories.  More significnatly though it was a strong lesson for our future travel endeavours and we left with firm promises never to allocate less then 2 weeks to any country for the remainder of our trip.

Anyway, the whole experience as usual is hard to distill into words, so my apologies if I jump into bullet point highlights and let photo’s do the talking. We took thousands of great photo’ s for exactly that and I have outlined some of the key highlights below:

  • The Myanmar People – certainly coming from Thailand where everyone seems a bit jaded and over the tourists and foreigners in general, Myanmar people were refreshing! From the way they dress in their traditional longhi’s and the women (& men) use yellow facepaint as sunscreen in every day life, the  Myanmar people, poor as they may be also still tend to smile a lot more. Frequently we would have people go out of their way to walk across the street, just to say hello – simply because it is the little English that they know and they really don’t get the chance to use it very often!


Shwedagon, Yangon

Shwedagon, Yangon

  • Yangon & Shwedagon Yangon (Rangoon) as a city wasn’t a lot to write home about as much of the good stuff is locked away – several times we wandered around huge 100 year old buildings only to be waved off angrily by army dudes. But the place still teemed with a wonderful colonial past and history. Yangon itself is very green (no skyscrapers) and feels quite relaxed which has a lot to do with the fact that the generals have banned all motorbikes / bicycles from the city (a security risk), quite unheard of in Asia. The streets are lined with markets and tea-houses and the downtown area and ‘Scot’ market were captivating with their textiles, gems, craft wares and ability to sell almost anything no matter how antiquated. Without pale though, the dominant memory I have of Yangon is that of the Shwedagon pagoda. A huge 2,500 year old, gold buddhist stupa (and set of surrounding temples) that dominates the city from every vantage point – this is mecca for Theravada buddhism. Not only is it one of the most magnificant structures to behold, especially at night, but what struck me most was how active it was. This is where lovers stroll, parents come after work, kids go to play. There really aren’t many “great sites” in the world that can claim that anymore, most represent lost or forgotten cultures such as the Pyramids or Ankor Wat, which in itself is a nice lead in for…

    Flying into Bagan

    Flying into Bagan

  • Bagan – North about 2 hours flight near Mandalay, are the plains of Bagan, flanked on several sides by the mighty Ayeyarwady river. The plains contain about 4,000 temples built between 1,000 and 1,300 AD. As a horizon it is quite breathtaking in its scale and grandeur, something especially satisfying to behold at sunset. It is also made all the more magical by the fact that the majority of the ruins lie empty and abandoned in the fields and relatively open to intrepid explorations by bicycle or horse & cart. Individually though, while many were interesting and contained remnants of ancient murals or external carvings and surprisingly still exist as ‘active’ Buddhist sites for the locals (we were there during a holiday and were crowded out by locals at the big temples), they do not equate to the mystique or magnificence of the great temples at Ankor Wat. We also took a drive through the real countryside and villages to visit the hilltop monastery of Mt Popa, home to 37 animal spirits. Mt Popa is over-run by monkeys was not especially interesting in itself, apart from its stunning location, but the drive did really connect us with the area and give us the opportunity to interact with the people more.

A floating village, Inle

  • Inle Lake – An hours flight to the East is the Inle lake district, a huge waterworld supporting more than 70,000 people on & around it. For someone from rural Australia this rated right up there in terms of challenging concepts for me. The Inle people grow tomato’s and other crops on the water in huge aquaculture farms, the villages are self contained on the water, with floating markets, temples and a myriad of different tribes (Shan, Pao, Kayan etc) represented at various points of the lake. All of which is accessible by boat either through the daily floating markets that take place or boat tours that ply the lake and showcase village life to tourists from any of the numerous hotels (and restaurants) also set up around the lake. It is quite an amazing experience and something I suspect is totally unique to Myanmar, amazingly the peole seem to thrive on the tourism aspect to things and the lake culture seems to be well protected and dealing with (almost exploiting) this very well.

Some Myanmar reading recommendations:

  1. Land of a Thousand Eyes“, Peter Olszewski
  2. Any of the letters and books by Aung San Suu Kyi”
  3. The Glass Palace“, Amitav Ghosh
  4. Burmese Days“, George Orwell

Photo Exerpts from Myanmar:



(Have shared many more on Facebook)




Floating Village – Inle Lake, Myanmar

Some of the many thousands of houses, villages, monasteries and farms that exist on Lake Inle.

Some of the many thousands of houses, villages, monasteries and farms that exist on Lake Inle.


Oxen bathing, Myanmar

Just about everything happens in the water, around the Inle Lake region.. 

Just about everything happens in the water, around the Inle Lake region..


Bagan, Myanmar

A small representation of some of the 4,000 ancient (1,000-1,200 AD) ruins that permeate the Bagan plain...

A small representation of some of the 4,000 ancient (1,000-1,200 AD) ruins that permeate the Bagan plain…