Thursday, 26 December 2013

Vietnam: The hills of Sapa

 After the (fairly ) rushed pace of the Harlong Bay tour I took a days break in Hanoi to relax before booking an overnight bus to the mountainous region of Sapa.

After the unique experience of taking the sleeper bus, I took a quick snooze before heading to explore the mountain town. The first impression was one of overwhelming beauty, in Sapa huge alps like hills are cut with layer after layer of rice paddies. Tribe people wander the town in the most colourful outfits imaginable and the rivers that run through the forests turn into spectacular waterfalls.

I started my first day's trek by exploring one of the local villages, where they sold the most lovely clothes imaginable. I then treked down through the town to a nearby waterfall, by this point I was ready to have lunch so I sat enjoying the scene and talked to the friendly locals who provided my lunch. They advised me to stick around until the performance of a local traditional dance, in which the tribal girls danced coquettishly with their male counterparts.

To round off the day I took a walk through the hills that ran from the centre and found a particularly lovely and isolated trail through the undergrowth. I stopped by the nearby river and just enjoyed the view.

After a night spend teaching English to local orphans and enjoying the delicious food there I took a tour to the famous flower market, where every possible product, animal and item of clothing vied with the local people to be the most spectacular sight there. We then took a tour through a traditionally village before returning to relax and enjoy the Christmas festivities in the local town square.

I took one final day to relax and wander around the region of Sapa before booking my bus on to my next destination.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Vietnam: Harlong bay

Travelling to the north east of Vietnam, i decided to tour the many limestone islands of Harlong Bay. To do so I booked a tour with my local hostel and was soon sailing through the dramatic limestone islands that pierced the seas of North East Vietnam.

Our tour guide was friendly and helpful and the food served aboard our small boat was delicious. The first day I spent in the Bay itself was spent touring the dramatic "amazing cave" located inside on of the limestone casts. It was huge and  lit with the most amazing colours and our guide talked us through the formation of this dramatic structure.

 After this we scaled one of the island hills to taken in the vista of our dramatic surroundings before being whisked away to kayak into the setting sun. We finished our canoeing trip by padding through a cave up to 'monkey island', which more then lived up to its name as we got to view the monkeys first hand cavorting through the trees that covered the island.

As the sun set we enjoyed dinner on the boat before being rocked to sleep by the lull of the waves. The next day was one of relaxation, as we sunbathed on the deck on our way back to Hanoi.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Impressionistic photography: how I stopped worrying and learned to love blur

I was showing my photography to another traveller the other day and his response amused me:

"Its all blurry" he said.

"Yes" I said.

"If you used the window ledge you could hold the camera steady" he suggested.

"Why would I want to do that?" was my response.

The truth is many travellers I meet have a similar response, why on earth would I want to take a blurry image when I could take a crisp, sharp one? The simple truth is that I rather like blur, I like its dreaminess, its trippiness, its ability to convey speed, beauty and the mercurial nature of the world.

To be rather snobby on the issue, let other photographers keep their crisp, clean reality. I want to create a dreamy other world for people to explore.

Good morning Vietnam

After a few days spent bumming around Bangkok doing nothing particularly touristy (I watched The Hunger Games and had a Mcdonalds) I decided it was time to go somewhere new. Boy did I hit the ground running with Vietnam.

Hanoi was hectic, stressful and overwhelmingly eventful, but it was also spiritual, cultured, vibrant and exotic. In other words it was love at first sight. I spent the first half of the day wandering the streets of the old quarter. I explored temples tucked into corners, walked past streets packed with shops selling things based on themes (such as christmas decorations, childrens clothing and in one particularly beautiful example and entire street packed with flowers).

After all this excitement I was ready to head somewhere a bit more meditative so I visited the beautiful Bach Ma temple. Wonderfully decorated and filled with buddhist statues, ancient poetry, the waft of people giving incense and writhing with dragons that decended from pillars set into the rooftops it was a place of awe inspiring beauty.

After visiting the temple I parked my bum on one of the many street vending stalls and had my first taste of Vietnamese food. It turned out to be both variably in cost and flavour, ranging from the exquisite to the awful (as fitting a metaphor for Vietnam as you'll as likely to find).

I felt the need for something a bit more laid back after this so I headed for one of the many lakes in the city of Hanoi. It was an ocean of calm in an otherwise hectic city and I spent a good hour or two there relaxing and watching the comings and goings of the city.

I felt by the time I left Hanoi that it was time to go somewhere more relaxing so I decided upon the verdant hills of Sapa.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Thailand: Sangkhlaburi

 Sangkhlaburi managed I think to be one of the best places I visited in Thailand. Quiet and remote, its right on the edge of the border next to Burma and as such has a large number of refugees from the people of the Mon tribe (fleeing Burma's oppressive regieme). Unfortunately they are barely given any rights in Thailand and as such have to subsist on extremely low wages with very little rights to travel. Fortunately it has become home to a large number of NGOs and so is a great place to come and volunteer.

After arriving I spent the first day canoeing with friends on the beautiful lake by which my hostel was located. We drifted past sunken villages, golden temples and the far off mountain ranges of Burma and Thailand. and afterwards we swam in the warm waters of the lake. The evening we headed out to the amazing food market that got held daily around Sangkhlaburi, with so much delicious food to choose from I was beginning to wonder if I might start getting fat.

The following day I rented a bicycle and spent the day cycling around the temples in the village. After crossing a huge bridge made of bamboo on the lake me and my fellow traveller wandered past houses that floated suspended on the water. The temples were even more amazing, appearing as they were to be made of sold gold and after wandering past the many buddhas in its halls, I follows some children's examples and spent at least half an hour trying to throw coins into the pyramid creveses within which the smaller buddhas sat.

For the rest of the day we cycled around the hills surrounding the village and came at last to rest back by the lake, ready that evening to head out for even more delicious food.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013


 Kanchanaburi was one of my favourite places in Thailand. Its a place that is both immensely beautiful and profoundly sad, home as it is to the infamous death railway. On my first day there I walked up to and over the bridge over the river Kwai. Build by the japanise using slave labour, thousands of Asians, US, Australians and British died in the in its construction (as I learned on my visit to the powerful railway musemum). The bridge and the settings around it almost seemed too beautiful to be the site of such horrific brutality but the large graveyard in the centre of town confirmed the cities' brutal history.

After visiting the bridge itself I walked over to a beautiful Chinese temple that lay over the other side of the river. It was filled with dragons pillars, massive gold statues and the most indescribly lovely pictures carved into the stone of the temple. That evening I met some of my fellow britains who led me to a Reggie bar where they reveled a talent for singing and playing Jazz. The bar became an instant favourite hangout and many a night I would lazy around a beer in hand chatting and watching my friends perform.

I also explored the beauty of the Erawan waterfalls, a seven tiered fall where I swan, slide down natural waterslides and attempted to avoid the hundreds of fishes that would swim and tickle your feet in the pools. Returning that night I sat by the river and was greeted with a spectaular sunset that turned the water a deep purple.