Uncharted Backpacker

Tokyo, Japan – Sumo Wrestlers, Buddhist Monks, and Laser Shooting Robots

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Tokyo, Japan

Hove you ever discovered something that you always knew you loved, but only just learned existed? Something that you know, deep down inside, was the one thing you always felt was missing form your life? There I was, strolling through the blindingly colorful, vibrant, high definition streets of Shinjuku.
All my previous years spent traveling could not have prepared me for this. Tokyo takes the most jaded, arrogant, egotistical of travelers and expands their horizons into a whole new realm of traveling. This is exactly where I was. All my preconceived ideas of Japan being too modern, and having too little culture to be of any interest were quickly replaced. What I thought I knew about Japan had been completely turned upside down and violently shaken. Tokyo will change you.

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Weary Silk Road Travelers, Samarqand – Uzbekistan

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Samarqand, Uzbekistan 

The dust seeps into every crevasse of our old, beaten down car. Our driver, an ancient Uzbek man, cranks the speaker’s volume on high, blasting out the cords of Uzbek tunes and folk tales. Crammed beside me in the car is a middle aged man, a child, and her mother, who are all eating fermented sour cheese balls called Kurut. It’s been over four hours of this of this already, having to transfer cars twice. My friend, Matt, and I are making our way from Tashkent to Samarqand in Uzbekistan.
Just Like a mirage teasing us in the desert, the signs of civilization begin to appear. A powerline, a billboard, a large herd of goats and sheep. We were finally getting close to the legendary Silk Road city of Samarqand. In the distance, the waves of heat dissipate and the tall blue domes of mosques rise from the desert. After hours of sour cheese, dust filled lungs, and bumpy roads, we had arrived!

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Sea Gypsies, Whale Sharks and Chocolate Hills – The Visayas, Philippines

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I lie awake in the middle of the night. The rain pounds hard against the plastic shutters. The wind roars outside at frightening speeds. The sound of roosters calling is chilling. They know that this is no normal storm. The Yolanda Typhoon continued throughout the night. Luckily, I was with my Canadian/Filipino friend, Grace, at her uncle’s house in Manila. We had no idea how much this Typhoon would affect our trip, not to mention Grace’s family, in the Visayas.  

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Kuna Yala, Backpacker Caribbean Paradise, San Blas – Panama

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San Blas, Panama 

The sand is as white as snow. The water is a clear, turquoise blue, so vibrant that it almost looks like a painting. Swaying palm trees are back dropped by clear skies on a deserted Caribbean island. There is not one tourist or sunglasses salesmen in sight. This is the picture perfect image I see as I emerge from the ocean. It is difficult to express so much beauty in words. As I submerge myself into the ocean below, thousands of colorful fish, sting rays and sharks are visible in all directions.

All this beauty leads me to believe that, if there is a Garden of Eden then, after all of my numerous expeditions exploring the globe, I have quite possibly found it. This is San Blas, in Kuna Yala, Panama. Paradise on earth.

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Exploring the Temples of Angkor – Cambodia

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Temples of Angkor, Siem Reap – Cambodia

Cambodia, a country of deeply rooted culture, emerald rice fields, ancient temples, and a horrific past. Mentioning the name “Cambodia” to the younger generation inspires thoughts of of backpacking and South East Asian adventure. Ask someone whose memory stretches back a little farther, however, and you will be shocked to learn of the unspeakable acts of genocide that occurred here very recently.

Cambodia has emerged from the ashes of disparity and bloomed into one of South East Asia’s most interesting and addictive destinations. It shows great promise in continuing this path. It’s got new paved roads, five star hotels and everything else a traveler could want. The real questions is: will Cambodia be able to retain its authentic feeling with all of this new tourist infrastructure?

I have traveled here countless times. Every time I step through the gates of Angkor Wat, I can tell you that even with all the swarms of tourists, hotels, hawkers, this place is special. Angkor Wat is the symbol of Cambodia’s past. Angkor Wat is a prime example of Cambodia’s will to hang on to its culture, while giving its people a sense of belonging and pride. In short, Angkor Wat is absolutely stunning. Read More

Temple Hopping Around Bagan, Myanmar

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Bagan, Myanmar

The soft shades of light shine through the tall, prickly trees, dropping shades of orange and yellow along the dusty road. The warm air breezes past my face as I ride my electric scooter. Traditionally dressed farmers with baskets balancing impossibly atop their heads, push cattle and goats through the fields beside me. In the distance, hundreds of temples dot the horizon. I stop my bike, and close my eyes. The only sound is the odd bleating of a goat or moo from a cow. This place is magical.

This is Bagan in northern Myanmar. Its gaining popularity fast, but the Burmese are doing everything they can to control the massive influx of tourism. Only electric scooters or bicycles are allowed in effort to keep the air clean and noise level down. While the main road is paved, the rest are dirt. In between the thousands of temples are farmers’ fields, rather than shops or hotels. You can spend weeks exploring these cultural treasures!

I absolutely love Bagan. I have been there twice now, and plan to return very soon. Both visits were unique experiences, but what makes me love this place the most is how tranquil and peaceful it is, even when the tour buses arrive. Keep in mind, though, that the majority of tourists are here on private tours. This means that once the tourists have taken their photos and climb aboard their bus, you usually end up having the place to yourself! Read More

Hunza Valley, Pakistan – Land of the Immortals

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Hunza Valley – Pakistan

Paradise: A word often used to describe white sand, blue water and sitting in a lounge chair with your favourite beverage with no worries at all. This may be paradise for many, but not for me. For me, paradise is a place far removed from the fast paced life we live today. A place where the landscapes are like no other on this planet. It’s a place where you can meet people who live long, happy lives and their concerns are more to do with the simple necessities of life rather than high politics or the affairs of the world. This is the Hunza Valley in Pakistan.

I am staring into a mountain vista from my hotel balcony. It’s the kind of view that makes you question everything you know. I have never seen such beauty as this before. The valley bottom is carpeted with green, spire-like trees that are flecked with red, orange and that quintessential golden colour of fall, while jagged, monstrous, white peaks above surround the valley like a fortress. The clouds, so high up on the mountains, appear static. The human eye cannot comprehend the movement of these clouds, as they are almost 8000 m up. The setting is like a painting. It’s perfect. Read More

Mongolian Throat Singing – Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Mongolian throat singing or Tuvan throat singing, has been practiced throughout Mongolia for centuries. The Singer produces a pitch (usually a low one), and then creates another pitch simultaneously over top of the original one. Master Tuvan throat singers are able to create even more than two pitches at once!

The people of Tuva have created many styles of overtone singing, but the three basic styles are khoomei, kargyraa and sygyt. These styles of overtone singing have actually seen quite a rise in modern Mongolia pop culture, and Mongolia’s overall music scene.

While I was in Mongolia I was destined to see this singing for myself. For as long as I can remember I have been captivated by the unique sounds that the singers can create.

My third day in Ulaanbaatar brought me to the Ulaanbaatar performing arts centre. Here I enjoyed a show that displayed many of Mongolia’s different styles of song and dance. At the end of the show one of Mongolia’s most famous overtone singers belt out his many tones that vibrated throughout the halls.

This was by far one of the most amazing Tuvan throat singing I had heard in Mongolia. While in Ulaanbaatar if you are lucky enough to be there while this singer was in town, I highly recommend attending this show so you too can be shocked by how incredible this folk art is.

Indonesia Guide

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Why Travel To Indonesia?

With head hunting tribes, island paradises, jungle covered lost temples and a smorgasbord of cultures, there are countless reasons why you should visit Indonesia. Apart from Bali, most of Indonesia has flown under the average traveler’s radar. There is adventure to be found here. Indonesia’s cities are a constantly growing urban sprawl, while its countryside remains traditional and relatively untouched compared to that of its South East Asian neighbours.

Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world! Many islands, however, have their own unique religions. For example, Bali is Hindu and Papua and Sulawesi are home to an array of tribal religions. This gives each of Indonesia’s Islands a unique flavour. Arriving at each new island almost feels like entering a different country entirely.

Add in some stunning beaches, world class diving, uncharted forbidden jungle paradises and you have a traveler’s dream destination. So, travel to Indonesia and get ready for an experience in a country unlike anywhere you have ever been. When you leave this beautiful place, you will understand why so many travelers choose to return to Indonesia once again. Read More

Funeral Crashing in Tana Toraja, Sulawesi – Indonesia

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Tana Toraja, Sulawesi – Indonesia 

As I clamber deep into the cavern of death, I stumble over human skulls and the remnants of ancient coffins. The light diminishes as I ascend deeper. The smell of the dead fills the stuffy humid air. Outside the drums beat deep from the funeral processions vibrating the cave walls. My Torajan guide pauses from the foot of the last tomb, and gazes into the deep darkening chambers of the cave. This is where they lay to rest, the ones before us Torajan. The ones who we come from.

Where is Tana Toraja?

Tana Toraja is a tribal region located in the central interior of the island of Sulawesi, Indonesia. The region is very mountainous and thick with dense jungle. Unfortunately, as is the case with most of Indonesia, much of the forest has been slashed and burned. That being said, there still are many national parks filled with wildlife and adventure.

Outside Tana Toraja’s commercial centre, Rantepao, there are numerous small Toraja villages that dot the countryside. Many of the hills have been transformed into jaw-droopingly beautiful rice terraces that climb impossibly high into the mountains. Water buffalo roll in the mud while children run with their pet pigs around the town. The setting is absolutely stunning. The villages here remain incredibly traditional. Locals often still opt for old-fashioned Tong-konan, rather than modern houses. Tong-konan are colorful longhouses raised from the ground on stilts and decked out in buffalo skulls. Read More