South East Asia

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Southeast Asia

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This is just a quick summary of my 6 months travelling around Southeast Asia, for a more detailed account there are links to my blog and my ebook at the bottom of the page.

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I went to Southeast Asia as I felt the need to introduce myself to the planets biggest continent and figured the southeast part was the most accessible on the limited budget I had. The trip lasted 6 months during which I toured Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia (both the mainland and Borneo), then Brunei, Indonesia and finishing up in Vietnam.

5. Southeast Asia

My route around South east asia

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half car, half motorbike

Thailand

I arrived in Bangkok on the 3rd July 2008 and spent a couple of days acclimatising to the heat and hustle and bustle before taking the train to Chiang Mai in the North of Thailand. I liked Bangkok, fair enough it’s a dirty, dingy city but all the Buddha statues and temples made it visually appealing, cruising around in a tuk tuk was great fun and I saw some great thai boxing battles.

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this was one of the taller ones

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one of the more artistic temples

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I saw 12 fights and 2 knockouts

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In Chang Mai it made financial sense to jump on the tourist conveyor belt so I joined a group to tour the jungle, plus I was travelling with my partner at the time and she was on a 3 week trip so we had to pay to be quick. After the jungle tour we started heading south visiting an elephant sanctuary, Sukothai (a really cool ancient city) and saw, and mingled with, a huge group of monkeys in Lopburi.

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This little guy was on a I.V drip

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riding an elephant in the jungle

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The ruins of Sukothai

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me getting rid of some fleas

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I had my thai flakes on Koh Tao

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Our ladyboy waitress, a really nice bloke

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The infamous bridge

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After meeting the monkeys we quickly travelled down to the island of Koh Tao, where we spent several days before catching the ferry to Koh Phang-nan. We had drinks, sun bathed and had dodgy stomachs before two great days taking mushrooms on the beach, getting a bamboo tattoo and attending the full moon party. We spent a few more days on the island, which was funnily enough time for the tattoos to heal, much quicker than the usual couple of weeks. We then went back to the mainland stopping at Prachuap Khiri Khan to climb up to a temple surrounded by more monkeys and then in the evening it was really cool to be served by a Ladyboy waiter(ess). We visited a really touristy floating market and a silly bridge famous for being built by POW’s and then spent a few days back in Bangkok before my partner went home to New York.

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me getting my bamboo tattoo

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I visited Ayutthaya (another ancient city much like Sukothai) before taking the night train to Chiang Mai, only this time I paid 1/3 of the price to sit in a seat rather than a bed. We hired a moped on Koh Phang-nan and I liked driving it so much I hired another one from Chiang Mai so I could visit a cave full of Buddha’s in Chiang Dao. From there I went to Chiang Saen and hired another bike to visit the Golden Triangle, the area famous for growing opium, before I crossed the border into Laos.

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one of the more interesting statues


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me riding round the golden triangle

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a museum photo of the opium fields

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a view from the long boat

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the locals came to my aid when my motorbike stopped working

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Laos

The boat trip down the Mekong was a great introduction to Laos, it took a couple of days to reach Luang Prabang and despite the cramped conditions the time flew by due to the stunning jungle scenery. I spent a couple of days exploring the beautiful town and I also hired another bike to go see some waterfalls and a cave full of thousands of buddhas. It was interesting watching the monks walking around town under umbrellas, they walk around like they are noble and higher in society. I woke up at 5am to see the monks walk the streets of the town with a bowl to collect food from locals and tourists, I bought some cookies to give them but they had an attitude and didn’t seem very grateful so I just ate them myself.


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one of the temples in luang prabang

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the monks looking for food

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I sat in hammocks and tubed down the Mekong in Vang Vieng then went to Phonsaven to see the fascinating Plain of Jars, fields of jar shaped rocks with carvings and little understanding of why they are there, it is also a good place to see evidence of land mine usage and bombing by the Americans in the 70’s.

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me tubing down the mekong


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some of the stone jars

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this lid was carved with a humanoid figure

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the bus being pulled through the burst river by a tractor

South East Asia - (182)coming out the other end of the mountain

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I had trouble leaving Vientianne as it had been raining hard and the river was really high, it was interesting to watch the community getting together and filling bags with sand and trying to strengthen the banks. Next up I took a boat trip along one of the smaller rivers, which goes through a 7km long cave allowing you to sail through a mountain. I spent another few days in Laos travelling with the Locals rather than paying the tourist price for a VIP bus – it was time consuming but turned out to be a great experience. Before I crossed into Cambodia I visited the ruins of Wat Phu close to Champasak and the widest part of the Mekong in the area of Si Phon Don (4000 Islands).


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mixing with the locals on the bus

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the ruins of champasak

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my flakes in laos next to a ngah outside a temple

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Cambodia

I spent 11 hours in a mini-van speeding towards Cambodia, which I entered after big arguments with the border officials who were demanding a tip but asking for too much. Me and a French couple took it personally (they even called the French embassy) and after an hour arguing we all saved a U.S dollar, not much reward but it was the principle. I spent a couple of days in Banlung visiting a nearby crater lake and admiring things on sale in the market, like the decorative stuffed bats. I then travelled to the Capital, Phnom Penh where I tried Ox testicles and visited the S21 School / prison, now a museum to the horrendous genocide that took part in the 70’s.

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the stuffed bat

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a plate of ox testicles – i ate 3 or 4


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these kids were killed for being spies

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skulls on display at a memorial

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a guy i met who stood on a mine

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On my travels I got to appreciate how they get everything from their Vehicles in the developing world, I had plenty of buses break down and the drivers (who also acted as mechanics) always managed to fix the problem. I saw guys riding mopeds carrying things like furniture or 6 members of their family. I also noticed the large number of decapitated people in Cambodia, evidence of the genocide and result of the gifts the Americans left decorated and hidden all over their country.

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The driver fixing the bus

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a loaded truck

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I went to Kampot and spent a couple of days lounging around and haggling for a trip to visit the abandoned town of Bokor Hill Station. We had to climb up a mountain to reach the town with a murderous history during the genocide, we were accompanied by an armed guard and I had a very interesting experience in the night, now my ghost story to tell round the camp fire.

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our armed guard taking a break


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the abandoned town

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the view from the top


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the trees growing on the temples were incredible

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I stopped in Siem Reap to visit the fantastic Angkor Complex – At first I was annoyed at the $20 entrance fee but by the end of the day I changed my mind as the ruins on display turned out to be some of the best I have ever seen – a glimpse into the minds of our ancients.


South East Asia - (246)some cool artwork

South East Asia - (253)an entrance to the city

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From the Angkor complex I travelled straight back into Thailand and Bangkok for a couple of nights before continuing south towards Malaysia. Before I reached the border I stopped en-route at the Phang Nga Bay area to take a tour of the bay, a partly floating village and Ko Tapu, aka James Bond Island.

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my malaysian flakes on the Kecil islands

Malaysia

Once in Malaysia I spent a few days on the Kecil Islands going to the beach and doing some snorkelling, before catching the train to Kuala Lumpur. It was an interesting enough city so I stayed a couple of nights before spending a week in both Melaka, which was very Dutch and had great food at the market and Singapore, one of the worlds largest ports which made me feel like I was in a city in the future, so clean and so many tall buildings.


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the dutch buildings in melaka

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a view of the port full of ships and tankers

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Flying to Borneo with a view of Singapore island

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The monkey with a dick on its face

I liked mainland Malaysia but my main interest was in Borneo so I flew from Singapore and went straight to the Baku National Park, a cool place with its ocean meets jungle scenery and its monkeys with long noses. After a few days in the park I took a bus and a boat to arrive in the jungle town of Belaga, the jumping off point for visits to the Longhouses – lots of wooden huts all stuck together in the rainforest. It was a great experience with snail hunting, boat driving, wedding dress wearing, Ladies with tattooed blue arms, food tasting and bubble blowing for kids.

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One of the longer of the Longhouses

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An indigenous woman with blue arms and holey ears

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me hunting snails for lunch

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The traditional wedding dress I tried on

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After the longhouse trip I went to the Niah Caves to see petroglyphs and bird nest harvesting in massive caverns, before crossing into Brunei for a couple of days to see the benefits of having oil. The standard of living in Brunei was high, the people get money from the state to buy tickets to Mecca as well as significant contributions to their houses and cars, and they get free health care.

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Taken at the niah caves

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one of the numerous knodding donkeys we saw

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My flakes moment in Brunei


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The floating hotel i stayed at

   I was keen to get to Indonesia but Ramadan put a spanner in the works and things kind of grinded to a halt, all public transport was fully booked so it took ages finding the occasional vehicle that had some space. I travelled to Tawau to find out the embassy was closed so I ended up spending 3 days in Semporna, staying in a floating hotel enjoying the company of the very friendly people.

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Indonesia

Eventually I got a visa and hopped on the Ferry to Sulawesi – the journey turned out to be great fun with very friendly and inquisitive people. On Sulawesi I went straight to the Tana Toraja area, right in the heart of the island with sensational scenery and traditional living but also some very unique things such as the boat shaped roofs on their housing and the life-like dolls they leave outside the burial chambers of the dead.

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some friends i made on the ferry


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The boat shaped roofs

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The dolls outside the burial chambers

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the advert for the magic mushrooms

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I flew to Kuta on the island of Bali, an Australian holiday resort full of nice restaurants, bars on the beach and shops selling magic mushrooms. I couldn’t resist the temptation to have a few luxuries so stayed a night in town before jumping on another ferry to the island of Sumba. I hired another motorbike to explore this isolated and desolate island with more friendly people, funny shaped roofs and an incredibly dry climate.


South East Asia - (399)riding through hot and very dry conditions

South East Asia - (407)A village I was welcomed into


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a pig was tied to one of the buses and squealed the whole journey

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From Sumba I went to Flores, an island that took a long time to travel around, then I spent a day travelling across the long thin island of Flores; 2 buses, 8 hours and a total distance of about 150km, twisting and turning up and down one volcano then another. I eventually arrived in Moni on the slopes of Mount Kelimutu which has 3 different coloured lakes on its summit.


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the turquoise lake

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the black lake (there was also a brown one)


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On Flores I met some friends from England who joined me for a couple of weeks and I joined them on their Boat Ride of the Area. It was really great sailing around the beautiful turquoise waters drinking beer in the sun and our stop off to see the Komodo dragons was an awesome experience, seeing such ancient looking beasts.

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The boys on the boat


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a mother guarding her nest

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this one was hunting – very slowly

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a beach on the gili island we stayed on

We spent a week on the Gili Islands killing some some brain cells, trying the local magic mushrooms which were on sale all over the place and on our day off we did some scuba diving. When the boys went home I made my way back to Bali for a more in-depth look around. Diving the U.S.S Liberty (which is 100m off the coast and getting covered in coral), visiting the temple of Gunung Kawi and seeing a Traditional Balinese Dance were all really cool.


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the temple of Gunung Kawi

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a mythological figure from the story the dance told 

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the crater at Volcan bromo

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I spent a couple of days travelling from Bali into the heart of Java with a day at Gunung Bromo, a huge volcano with a 10km wide crater and smaller volcanoes forming inside it. I went for a walk around and went up to one of the smaller cones steaming and smelling of egg. I travelled to Jakarta, stopping in Yogyakarta to see its Batik Artwork, and the Dieng Plateau, an area which has a lot of geothermal activity.

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one of the more modern batik pieces

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a woman placing wax on the fabric to stop it absorbing dye

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pipes in the Dieng Plateau

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amazing pressure from the asian media to look white and western

Two days in Jakarta exploring and shopping for supplies then I just about made it to my flight to Vietnam as the moto-taxi I took to the airport broke down on the way. I flew into Ho Chi Minh to meet my partner who was supposed to meet me for 4 weeks of travelling in Vietnam but flew home after a few days in the city, during which she became my X-partner.

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a statue in jakarta

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I found the Cu Chi Tunnels fascinating, seeing how the Viet Cong dug a huge tunnel system and fought the Americans with really basic weapons, in comparison to the new and modern tools to murder the Yanks had. The museums were also full of information that you don’t here in the West, I learnt all about the Fascist Behaviour from the American Government during the war with Vietnam.

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One of the traps used by the Viet Cong

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fascist american behaviour

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one of the tunnels you can go through

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The affects of Agent Orange that the Americans covered vietnam with

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The floating market in the Mekong delta

I visited the Mekong delta, the place where the Mekong river (which I followed through Laos) empties into the South China Sea and the location of some beautiful wetlands and Floating Markets. After that I travelled along the coast, for a couple of days in Mui Ne to take a look at the dunes, I was reading Sahara by Michael Palin and seeing these dunes made my very keen to visit the desert for myself.


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this woman had potatoes

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The dunes that inspired my trip to West Africa

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From the dunes I continued North taking the more scenic mountainous route to reach the pretty Unesco riverside Town of Hoi An. Like in Laos the river banks had also swelled here and flooded much of the town. I spent a couple of days in Hue then took a tour of the DMZ, the highlight of which was the Vinh Moc Tunnels, more multi-stored underground tunnel networks.

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The flooded streets of Hoi An

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a temple thingy in Hue

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going between floors in the underground city

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quite a few babies were born underground

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the street sellers in hanoi sold all sorts

I spent a week in the fascinating City of Hanoi, although I did go to see the beautiful Halong Bay with its cool looking rock formations jutting out of the water and the beautiful Ninh Binh, an area with similar rock formations to Halong Bay only surrounded by paddy fields not water. I had 3 final days in Hanoi drinking the 10 cents beers you can buy on the streets and generally mingling with the locals, then on the 12th of December I flew back to New York for 10 days to move out of Queens.

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On a boat in the Halong bay

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the area of Ninh Binh – at the wrong time of year


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my vietnamese flakes in halong bay

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Beers on the street on my last night


For More Details
My Travel Blog Link

For A country by country look at this trip with bigger photos

 Thailand   Laos   Cambodia    Malaysia    Singapore    Brunei Indonesia    Vietnam

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My Book Link

diary extracts from this trip and all the other trips I went on in my 1st 10 years

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