Mae Hong Son Loop #2
Chiang Dao - "the city of a thousand stars"
27 November 2014
The Mae Hong Son Loop
Day 1 - Elephant Nature Park
Visiting these magnificent animals was truly humbling - and poignant. Aside from the 2 calves born here, these elephants have been rescued from abandonment or abuse. The stories we were told whilst being introduced to the herd throughout the day were horrific.
But it's ultimately a happier ending, as the nature park provided sanctuary, medicine and - most importantly - unconditional love.
A day I'll never forget.
26 November 2014
Chiang Mai is a University city.
The campus grounds are magical - and vast. The view overlooking the lake must be a favourite revision spot for the students.
Muay Thai boxing. It's the national sport and I can see why.
It's brutal, crooked and full of pissed people shouting.
Like a pub in Wembley
25 November 2014
Chiang Mai - The Rose of the North.
Hand on heart, Chiang Mai is my favourite city so far. After the madness of Bangkok, this place is a walk in the park. Ish..
The old city sits within a square moat, and still has remnants of the walled fortifications - in the shape of 4 "gates" that would have protected it from invading forces hundreds of years ago. These "gates" now serve primarily as navigation aids for farang (foreigners) because Chiang Mai is a maze of Soi (lanes) roads and one-way systems that change daily. And in some cases, hourly! Great fun on a scooter
24 November 2014
Farewell to Bangkok - an incredible, eclectic melting pot.
Diverse, frenzied, calm, coherent, mad.
21 November 2014
- Chinatown (some of the best street food you'll ever scoff)
- the gorgeous, serene Central Park-esque Lumphini - smack in the middle of the mayhem
- Cocktails up in the nosebleeds at Sky bar (of Hangover II fame)
- people watching at bar Vibe8: a "stall" at Jatajuk (JJ) market - the largest outdoor market in the world (15,000 stalls over 27 acres.) it's mad as a Mexican dog and utterly brilliant.
- Ferry ride along Bangkok's Mai Nam Chao river
Obligatory visit to Khao San Road. As expected very touristy and non-authentic.
That's Lieutenant Peter of the Bangkok tourist police. He likes cliff Richard. A lot. After he made it to the second chorus of "summer holiday" I made a swift exit..
Quickly pulled the emergency ripcord on Khao San Rd and made for a fantastic Thai restaurant called Krua Apsorn - you must go when in Bangkok.
Wat Pho - the largest reclining Buddha on earth.
Last time I saw that much gold I was watching darts.
19 November 2014
Until next time... xx
Pics courtesy of a random Slovak who took these as I walked along the beach last night - Haha!
For me this is the quintessential image and essence of Bali.
One of the millions (yes, really) of daily offerings scattered in and around homes, shops, warungs, offices, hotels, schools, temples... Across Bali.
Balinese Hindus offer these simple, beautiful little "gifts" for deities and demons to protect them and bring prosperity. Not only for themselves but for all Bali.
Paradoxically as a tourist they are so commonplace it would be easy to overlook them entirely. However their childlike simplicity belies an immense faith placed in them by the people, each is unique and all are - to my failing eyes at least - beautiful.
Walking past I'll often stop to see what combination of food, tobacco, spices, rice, flowers, sweets, fruit, incense (the list is endless!) they use. All exquisitely wrapped in banana leaf.
Zoom in on the picture and you'll see. This was left by one person - she'll put another FOUR out today!
May they bring prosperity and happiness for generations to come.
13 November 2014
The best meal I had in Indonesia @ Sarong with the very lovely Ka, Lisa and Suzanne.
Sunset on Seminyak beach and the view from my sick bed.
Yes, I did consider jumping and yes it worked wonders for my vertigo!
7 November 2014
I'm writing this after a week of illness which stranded me (literally) in Seminyak - where first world ignorance meets third world sanitation - not my thing.
Which makes sharing these pics something of a sweet sorrow. They are what (sadly) proved to be my final days of surfing and exploring the beautiful beaches along the Bukit Peninsula.
The night pics were taken at the weekly beach party at Padang Padang - BBQ seafood and live reggae under the stars. It's pretty special.
The Camels were (shipped in presumably?) as tacky thrills for wealthy tourists along Nikko Beach. The beaches are spectacular but several huge resort builds due for completion next year loom ominously. New MegaResorts are illegal but corruption is rife - where there's a tourist dollar, there's a way.
I sincerely hope the heart and soul of Bali endures despite greater pressures from tourism. It's a beautiful island with beautiful people and will always stay with me.
Terima kasih Indonesia. Sampai jumpa lagi x
5 November 2014
Jimbaran - home of incredible seafood and hideous resort hotels.
Thankfully in that order.
Jimbaran has three huge fish markets that pepper the seemingly never ending beach for miles. Local fishermen bring home the catch every day and it's straight to your plate in the evening.
It was at one of the aforementioned resorts that my awesome travel buddy Lisa and I splashed water behind a Chinese couple taking hilariously cliched, godawful wedding pics in a pool.
With any luck they'll have an album full of us doing handstands and David Brent poses in the background.
3 November 2014
Hindus believe that In the end we all go back to the beginning...
And so it is with my trip to Indonesia.
I suspect this will be the final chapter in my visit here. Rather than venture west towards "little Australia" (Kuta, Legian etc which sound utterly hideous) I've decided to return to where it all started 5 weeks ago - Padang Padang & Uluwatu - to surf (with Bintang the leopard spotted pug) chill and get some headspace ahead of the next leg of the adventure...
31 October 2014
TirtaGangga - the water Palace.
Set against a backdrop of perfectly terraced hillside rice fields, Tirta Gangga is a beautiful, spiritual experience. The waters here give long life.
Though sadly not long hair.
30 October 2014
Sunset in Amed.
Trust me the pictures don't do it justice.
Coast road to Amed.
The rice fields across Bali are irrigated almost entirely from the two volcanoes Batur and Agung. The system ensures even distribution using the most basic materials (bamboo etc.) It's been in existence for many decades and is an astonishing feat of agricultural engineering
28 October 2014
The dude pouring petrol onto the fire is part of the Balinese Kecak (fire trance) dance. It's then kicked and stamped inches from the audience - it's utterly mesmerising and pictures simply don't do it justice. Will post a video on FaceSlap so you get a better idea.
Nearby I took a trip to Klungkung to try Whitewater rafting. It was cool right up to the point I dropped my iPhone into that waterfall. I was scrambling around in pools of water for ages trying to find it - like Gollum looking for his preciousssss. Miraculously someone found it. Even more so that the bloody thing is still working. Predictive text is still shit though.
Now North to Amed (what a sunset over Mt. Agung) to complete my advanced dive course over the wreck of the USAT Liberty, crippled by a Japanese sub in 1943 then towed to Bali to save its cargo. It was sunk by the biblical volcanic eruption / earthquakes of 1963. The force of the eruption was so great, it split the ship in two!
First stop back in Bali is Ubud, the Cultural centre of Bali.
Although it's also a Mecca for shopping, spas and expensive Italian coffee. Oestrogen everywhere. It was all a bit too Sex In The City for my liking.
However head in any direction from the centre and you'll be treated to stunning views across rice fields and nearby villages.
And it does have monkeys. Lots of them. The sacred monkeys of monkey forest. Yes, that's their address. Really.
And by sacred I mean cheeky, ravenous, thieving little bastards!
23 October 2014
Diving Komodo National Park
What a place to take your Open Water certification!
White tipped sharks, Hawksbill and Green Turtles, trigger fish, Oriental Sweetlips, cuttle fish, fusiliers, bump head clown fish. It's an embarrassment of riches and the sheer variety of marine life you'll see in any given day is staggering.
But the real stars of the show for me were Manta Rays, with wingspans up to 4m. To see them just a few feet away at one of the many coral "cleaning stations" whilst fish swim inside their mouths to clean out parasites was one of the most extraordinary things I'll ever see. It was truly magical and I feel truly blessed to have seen all the magnificent marine life over the last 2 days.
Meanwhile the people of Labuan Bajo are so kind and welcoming - everyone waves and says hello as you pass - we've lost these simple graces in big cities and we are all poorer for it. I wonder who truly has the wealth
This place is in my heart and I hope to return here one day...
21 October 2014
Labuan Bajo - sunsets don't get any better than here.
Or diving - Will take my open water qualification here.
God knows what the creatures of the deep will make of my pasty white body - giant calamari!
The languid, ramshackle and utterly charming fishing town of Labuan Bajo.
Rarely have I been anywhere so completely at ease with itself. It's alien yet familiar - like meeting an old friend you haven't seen in years.
For the first time in a long time I'm not constantly reminded that I'm tourist and I feel virtually anonymous - this place and everyone in it just goes about its business...
It's also a diving mecca - decided to take the plunge and get my open water qualification here.
The Indonesian guy with me in the pics is Iskander - one of the boats crew and a thoroughly good bloke. Brilliant footballer too (random beach football match pics to follow)
20 October 2014
DAS BOOT to Komodo
18 October 2014
The 4 day boat to Komodo island. A gruelling and - at times - downright terrifying journey but well worth the reward to see 3m lizards perfected and unchanged since the prehistoric era.
These badass bastards can run 20km an hour and kill you with a lethal bite of bacteria. Can take 3 weeks for a buffalo to die from septicaemia.
Reminds me of one if my ex's...
17 October 2014
Surfing at Gerupuk
16 October 2014
Selong Belanak, Lombok.
15 October 2014
Wedding with mobile band. Or mobile wedding with band?!
Surfing Don-Don and "Inside" breaks in Gerupuk - accessible only by fishing boat. The entire bay is strewn with makeshift lobster platforms - each one is owned by one of the local families and can pull in a dozen or more lobsters a day.
14 October 2014
Surfing lombok. The guys on this island are the friendliest people you'll ever meet.
Don't ever change.
12 October 2014
Goodbye Gilis. If I don't leave now I'll never leave!
Onto Lombok. Bali, without the tourists
10 October 2014
8 October 2014
7 October 2014
Gili T is famous for 2 things:
1. Doing Sweet FA
2. Après Sweet FA
The latter typically consists of catching sunset, hopping over to the east coast main strip for food at a posh joint (for wankers) or hitting the local market and / or multitude of "Warung" (street food vendors.)
Stomach lined? Good, because food is followed by consumption of a variety of local herbal "remedies" - the ailment they remedy appears to be maintaining control of basic bodily motor skills. Not that I can even remember.
Then onto a pub / club / party. TBH the music was universally pretty awful - if there were DJs on the island they all suffered from acute ADHD because the music switched genres like a bad mix-tape every 2 minutes.
Thank God for the reggae band that played a couple of nights.
And those herbal remedies...
6 October 2014
I'll never get tired of that view. Apologies in advance if there will be more sunset photos!
To the gilis, by boat and horse (Cidomo).
Captain let a few of us sit on the roof - then starts handing out Bintangs - at 9am. Got soaked and smashed. Not sure insurance covered that but best commute I've ever had.
Stayed at Exile - aptly named, awesome reggae bar meets Indonesian bungalows
5 October 2014
Dawn surf @ Padang Padang beach. The locals had a small religious celebration as we set out. Either that or they were praying for the stupid White guy heading into the ocean.
Then onto a Warung (roadside shops / restaurants of various sizes) for more amazing eats. Surrounded by Buddhas and other statues - just watching the endless convoy of Australians and locals buzzing around in their bikes.
Onto balangan beach - a bike ride of biblical difficulty on barely roads and dirt tracks. I'm rather enjoying being in danger and general peril on the road.
The Warung in the beach here are propped up on stilts - a great place to chill and watch more spectacular surf.
4 October 2014
Someone toking on a huge spliff (I wish) and an ancient Balinese dish called "Hawaiian Pizza." As a foodie I'm ashamed for not staying authentic but it's Trattoria - the best Italian in Indonesia apparently - literally next door to my digs so rude not to frankly.
Nyang Nyang - a beach so nice they named it twice. Either that or they have a bad memory.
At any rate its stunning and well off the beaten track - accessible only through a 300m climb down virtually sheer steps carved out of the cliff face.
No ideas what that huge urn is - a vessel of Hindu worship no doubt but it's set in beautiful, arid gardens overlooking that beach - whatever it's called.
Loving darting around the island on a scooter - never ridden one before (the rental guys face was a picture when I informed him) but so far accident free...
On said bike raced over to Bingin for a cheeky beer overlooking the huge surf breaks - could spend days here doing nothing but eat Nasi Goreng and sink Bintangs.
Finally into a Warung for some proper Balinese food - I called it badaas chicken because it was spicy and properly badass. Hopefully I won't get a badass as a result of eating it
Nyang Nyang - the deserted beach.
300m of virtually sheer cliff side steps to get there might have something to do with it!
Uluwatu Hindu temple - for 500 years it has sat on the precipice of a cliff overlooking the vast Indian Ocean. When I asked Maide, my temple guide if he was worried corrosion would bring it crashing down he simply said that their prayer holds it in place. Not that I'm not a believer, but I didn't hang around too long after...
There are over 500 monkeys there - they must originally be from Merseyside as I was told they'll nick anything and everything.
3 October 2014
My breakfast, my room and my ride.
2 October 2014
Big Cocks, bigger Geckos and even bigger surf. Welcome to Bali!
1 October 2014
Shit I learned today.
1. The first rule of Balinese lifeguards is there is no Balinese lifeguards.
2. See point 1
3. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.
4. Seriously check point 1
5. Near death experience in the surf today. If I believed in reincarnation I'd recommend coming back as a Balinese lifeguard. Easy life. They do fuck all.
6. Beer makes everything better. Including hangovers.
6. Did you check point 1??
30 September 2014
Overlooking Impossibles and Dreamland at Bingin Surf Camp. Suspect impossible refers to the odds of gingers not being killed by the walls of water these guys call waves. Dreamland must be Balinese for graveyard.