Gunung Bromo, Kawah Ijen, Java
In the far eastern regions of Java lie two extraordinary sites. The first is the massive volcano named Gunung Bromo. The second is the sulphuric crater lake of Ijen. These are two of the most impressive sites in Java, not to mention the whole of Indonesia. Sounds amazing, right? Well like most amazing places it comes with a catch. Bromo and Ijen and very remote places, making accessing here quite difficult and tedious. Transport from Yogyakarta can take up to twelve hours to Bromo and eight or nine from Bali to Ijen. The weather is also a major factor here, as clouds often cover up Bromo and heavy rains make Ijen hazardous. Apart from all these factors, witnessing sunrise at Bromo and the miners of Ijen will be an experience you are unlikely to ever forget.
Baliem Valley, West Papua
As the fog clears, steep, jungle-clad mountains loom in the distance. Clouds descend into the valley as they are pierced by the rising sun, painting a picture of solitude and serenity. Up until now, I had believed places of such remote and indescribable beauty only existed in fairy tales. As I crawl out from my smoky hut in the early hours of the morning, it takes an enormous effort to convince myself that this place is even real. This is the Baliem Valley in West Papua’s remote hidden interior, a place where true adventure can still be had. A place where travelers earn their stripes and become explorers; leaving all that they thought they knew behind them. Papua will change you; come prepared.
A family of five, surviving on a dollar a day, cram into a house no bigger than the average North American bathroom. Outside, a river of sewage and garbage flows. Behind the house, the railway bears deafening trains that shake the houses every hour as they rattle by. This is reality of the Jakarta slums, and here I am as a tourist. All the troubles I believe I have go right down the drain. And yet, despite living in such poverty, the people of the slum graciously invite me in to their homes, expecting nothing in return. Read More
“It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.” There you go, I said it. I’ve always felt that it was just another cliché-stupid-feel-good-about-yourself saying, but this time, I perceived it with real meaning. As my boat cut further up the River Skrang, time came to a halt. The muddy waters, the ancient, massive jungle foliage hanging over the river, the sounds of birds and monkeys, my newfound Iban family singing and laughing behind me; I took it all in. This is what travelers spend all those long hours searching for, all that hard work, all that money spent, for this one, perfect moment. This is a journey I will never forget, one that will stay with me long after I have left this place.
Sarawak Borneo, Malaysia
In an almost trance like state, I lay on my back as the needle is pounded into my shoulder with a wooden stick. Traditional Sape music is playing in the background. Two tattoo-clad Iban, kneeling beside me, concentrate deeply as they slowly punch the ink into my skin. Then, out of the silence, Boy flamboyantly calls out “Maa Guii!” and we all break into laughter. Read More
Borneo, Sarawak Malaysia
Like images on an old film projector, the jungle slowly flickers by. When the hum of the boat’s engine slows, it’s noise is drowned out by the sounds of Borneo’s deep jungle. Traveling here is not easy, but the rewards of Borneo’s interior are great for those seeking something different, something more vibrant and beautiful. As the boat pushes further downriver, the jungle is occasionally broken by the odd Dayak longhouse settlement. This place is special, a travelers absolute fantasy. I am happy to be back, back in the heart of Borneo.
Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei
The Islamic Call to Prayer fills the air with its beautiful tones from the many surrounding mosques. Locals adorning brightly coloured Hijabs and purple long shirts walk from the malls to pray at the mosque. The stifling heat almost suffocates you with its soup like humidity.
This is Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei’s capital city. Everything from the golden domed mosques, the thick surroundings of uncharted jungle, the traditionally dressed locals, and poster plastered everywhere of the current sultan resonates of this empires past glory. Brunei is something different, an unfamiliar face you should get to know.
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.
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
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