Monday, 28 April 2014

London calling

I decided that rather then going straight home after my flight, I would to take the opportunity to have a wander around London. Now I've always considered Britain's capital to be a bit of a strange place, it almost seems to me to be one of the least British feeling cities in the entire country.

Now whether that is because of the interconnecting spiderweb that is the London Underground, the fact that the place is such a melting pot or the way that the feel of the city changes completely from district to district (try going from the market places of Camden to the river front near Westminster to see what I mean) I just don't know. Whatever it is it leads to a city that somehow manages to feel both completely alien and familiar at the same time.

I started my time there by heading over to Trafalgar square and after picking up a coffee I took in the sights of Nelson's column before heading to the National Gallery to take in some art. I was halfway through the gallery when I remembered just how much I disliked Renaissance artwork (boring, samey and full of disturbing man child like images of Christ) so I reversed direction jumped on a train and set sail for the Tate gallery instead.

The gallery was beautiful, modern and full of interesting and thought provoking pieces and I spent a thoroughly cultured couple of hours wandering around it. Afterwards I decided that I was in need of a change and so I headed towards one of my favourite parts of London; Camden Market.

This awesome place is full of shop after shop of cool clothes, alternative people, great food and a beautiful canal through which boats pass upon a regular basis. I decided to get lost amongst the maze like stalls of the marketplace and after perusing the wares I decided on a snazzy little jumper for myself. I ended the day by getting in a pint at The World's End pub before heading to the subway ready to finally travel home.

Friday, 25 April 2014

My 5 tips for first time travelers

One of the most common things that people say to me when I talk to them about traveling is; your so brave I could never go off like that by myself or I wouldn't even know where to start. Equally sad is when you hear about a fellow traveler's first experiences at being scammed, pick pocketed or ripped off over something that could have been avoided with a little more knowledge, street smarts or research. As someone whose done a fair amount of traveling by now here is my five tips for first time travelers.

1) Relax, you are not alone: I remember my first time sat alone in a hotel room in India, I had had a shit first day (India kinda specialises in that department) and I was wondering if I should just fly home. But instead I put on some music from an ipod that my friends had brought me and relaxed. The next day I found a backpackers cafe where I met a ton of awesome people and by the next week I was soaring through the Himalayas with a bunch of my fellow travelers. The truth is everyone worries that they won't make friends or have shit days when traveling. But there are (literally) tons of fellow backpackers just like you out there to befriend, party with or just cheer you up when your having a bad day, so don't stress and just go with the flow.

2) Please don't feed the touts: Doing just a bit of research can make a big difference to any trip, even if you don't have a travel guide try to read up on just some of the scams that are more common in each country. I remember just how annoying it was being led into a 'tourist office' only to leave in disgust after they tried to convince me my hotel wasn't safe and that for only £50 they could help me find a new one in  a better area. Some of the more common ones include being taken to a wrong (and more expensive) hotel or hostel by your tuk tuk driver, having people approach you in the street (usually with the chorus lines "Hello my friend, where you from, England?") being overcharged for a relatively short journey. Over time you'll develop a sense for this and get wise to any tricks that they might use on you. Having said all this...

3) Not every local you meet will be trying to rip you off: Speaking from experience, there are many many locals out there on the road who will be genuinely interested in you, want to help you and listen to what you have to say. With a little common sense you should be able to start being able tell the difference between the two (rip off merchants generally aren't that subtle).

4) Get tips from fellow traveler: Generally speaking if you're a touch unsure about where to go or what to do next your fellow travelers can be great sources of advice and guidance. They can tell you about cool places they found, things to avoid and where to get the best deals or give you ideas about experiences that you might want to try yourself at some point. You might even find yourself falling in with a few like minded travelers or groups for a little while if you like the idea of where they are headed. And remember conversely if you find yourself not enjoying the company you're with or the crowd that a particular place attracts you can always just got somewhere else.

5) Have fun but at the same time be safe: Traveling is fun and you should take the opportunity to enjoy yourself and have a good time. But at the same time theres nothing wrong with using a bit of common sense. Getting plastered can be awesome, getting plastered to the point you can't get home or lose all your stuff not so much. Be aware and use your common sense. The same is true when it comes to budgeting you can have all sorts of awesome experiences each day and still have a rough idea of how much you might want to spent  At the end of the day as with most things in life its about balance.

Hope this helps to get your travel juices going. After all its a big, fun world out there.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Back to Bangkok

My time travelling had been fun, but sadly all good things must come to an end and I came back to Bangkok with a day or two to kill before I flew back to Britain. I had previously decided to pace myself in terms of sight seeing in Bangkok and had been in two minds about seeing the (very expensive) Bangkok royal palace.

It turned out to be well worth the asking price however, as the temples within it were truly stunning. The complex itself turned out to be pretty big as well and I spent most of the afternoon exploring every nook and cranny of it only to find out that I hadn't even reached the royal palace portion of it.

The current king of Thailand Rama IX, is extremely respected and revered in Thailand (as I found out halfway through buying tickets on a subway only for all the Thais around me to stop dead for a minute as the national anthem played for him). And this was reflected in the grandness and beauty of his throne room.

 I spent that evening chilling out, drinking beer and eating with my fellow travellers at the fabulous U-Baan Guesthouse (yes its shameless hostel promotion time, but to be fair Joy is a awesome if slightly sardonic host and this is my blog so nahhh). My only hick up was in mixing up my flight times, so I arrived bleary eyed to the airport that morning only to find out I could have had a whole extra few hour lie in.

Still overall my time travelling had been a fun, beautiful and eye opening experience and I wouldn't change any of it for the world.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Reflections on water

"And what you love-but turn away-you lose.
You see a phantom of a mirrored shape;
Nothing itself; with you it came and stays;
With you too it will go...if you can go?" - Ovid Metamorphoses

I've always been drawn to water; its beauty, its mercurial nature and most of all its ability to reflect and perhaps question the fragile nature of our reality. It was therefore always going to be a subject that I would spend endless hours photographing.

Its elusive as well, sometimes what you see as the perfect reflection disappoints you or slips into the mundane when caught on camera. Your shots of the splashes and sprays that were so dramatic at the time, become tame or (worst of all) boring when pouring over them on your computer. Its a tricky siren, but one that calls you back again and again, just hoping to catch the enchantment and magic that drew you to it in the first place.

The world it serves up are for me tantalising mirrors of what could be. A world free from reality, gravity, sanity and perspective. And then you turn and walk away from it and you realise that with you gazing upon its reflections it came and with you walking away from it it will too go, if you can go?

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Thailand: Chang Mai

I flew back into Bangkok before taking the very first night bus I could find up to Chang Mai. The city itself proved to be a charming mixture of modern city, ancient temples, bustling night markets and happening night spots, all surrounded by the spectacular nature imaginable.

After arriving early into the very heart of the city, I took my first day there as a chance to relax and recuperate before doing some light sight seeing. Even this proved to unearth a whole treasure trove of wonders, as I past (and then got tempted into) glowing golden temple, after glowing golden temple.

The best was saved for the next day however, as I took a shared taxi up to the hill top temple of Doi Suthep. This complex sat like a jewel overlooking the city of Chang Mai; a rich tapestry of brightly coloured statues, shining buddhas, intricately inlayed doors and walls and in the very centre a spire covered in purest gold. It was a wonderful way to spend my afternoon.

The sun was setting as I arrived back in the city and I decided to join one of my companions in exploring the night markets of Chang Mai. We browsed the market, examined glowing laterns, past rows sequined bags and purses and sampled the wonderful street food on display, before flopping down on the ground to eat. Afterwards I parted ways with my companion and had a rather delightful evening after deciding to pull up a pew with another fellow traveller.

The next day I decided it was time to do something fun, so I decided zip lining was the way forward. As I got picked up we drove through the beautifully pristine forest through which the zip lines had been build. And after a sharp ascent through several flights of steps, I was soon flying through the trees at a rather exhilarating rate of knots. Having slid, tandemed, supermaned and just plain bombed down a zig zag of intercrossing wires, I finally found myself absailing my way down to the forest floor. We topped all this excitement off with an amazing lunch and a walk up to a nearby waterfall.

By the time I arrived back in Chang Mai, I was ready for the return trip back to Bangkok and my final flight home.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Vietnam: The Mekong Delta

After a few days of being distinctly lazy on a Vietnamise beach, I decided it was time to get off my ass and do a bit of actual sightseeing. I therefore decided to take a boat/bus to the city of Can Tho, the settling for one of Vietnam's famous floating markets.

I settled on a rather charming hotel in the centre of the city and, rising before dawn, I set out on my tour of the floating markets. As our boat chugged up the river, we were treated to a truly lovely sunrise that bathed everything in a warm orange glow.

By that point me and my fellow tourists were all getting a bit peckish, so as we pulled up to the market it was a pleasant surprise to find one of the boats ladling out steaming portions of beef noodle soup. After pigging out on it and freshly prepared coffee I took in the sights and sounds of the floating market. People selling everything from fish, veg, junk food and even the occasional electronic good floated past us, all on the mostly brightly coloured boats imaginable.

After all this hustle and bustle it was a pleasant surprise to find that on the return journey our guide took us on a detour down some of the backwaters of the river. We drifted past verdant green shores, upon waters that turned to green and sparkling gold in the midday sun.

I arrived back at my hotel in the early afternoon and decided to spend the rest of my day wandering around Can Tho. It proved to be quite a nice place to spend the day and as I walked down past the river I got sucked into a rather beautiful buddhist temple decked out in the most splendid golds and blues imaginable.

My time in Vietnam was coming to an end however and the next day I took a bus back to Saigon, ready to fly back for my final two weeks in Thailand.

Friday, 11 April 2014

One perfect moment with God

"When I walk on the path, when I enter the house of Love I see you. You are the King in every town. I see You in the sun, the moon and the stars, I see Your altar in every plant, in every leaf" - Rumi

Now I don't have what you would call a typically view of  God or divinity. I'm not Christain, Buddhist or Jewish, but I do have a strong appreciation for what I see as a divine source that I feel acts upon our world.

And one of the times where I do truly see or feel such a force is when I'm taking photographs, you see for me beauty is God and God is beauty. Now when I say that, I'm not talking about beauty in a shallow way (like say that person is beautiful or those clothes look really good). I'm talking about the types of moments when I see clouds drifting across an endlessly blue sky, or sunlight dapples through leaves or the small moments of human kindness that you might see in everyday life.

And its those moments that I love trying to capture on film, not to try and nail down God into a photo but to try and share those precious moments when one is alone with something truly, truly beautiful.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Phu Quoc island

After three weeks volunteering and a few days of non stop traveling I felt the time had come to take a well deserved break. Rather then taking another flight, I decided to take a sleeper bus instead and was rewarded with passing through the incredibly scenic Mekong Delta (more on that later).

This being about my fourth desert island I decided that relaxing was the way forward and I spent much of my days there idly chilling at the hostel or on the beach, with the occasional swim or spectacular sunset to round out my day.

The food on the island was surprising good, with some truly excellent fresh seafood. The highlight came when the hostel I was staying at put on a great late night BBQ which included freshly cooked squid, some massive prawns and freshly cooked fish. What with all this, great company and a band made up of two rather free spirited gentlemen strumming away on their guitars I really enjoyed my rather brief stay on the island.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Vietnam: Dinh Quan

Dinh Quan was the next destination on my travels. I had past through the town on my first pass through Vietnam and I had been impressed with the truly stupendous boulders that littered the town. So as the bus rolled through from Cat Tien I jumped off and decided to explore.

I managed to check in to a relatively nice (and more importantly cheap) hotel and was soon exploring the town. It was bizarre to see shops and garages literally backing onto rocks that were twice the size of them and in some cases being used as billboards to advertise local products.

Wandering the town, I was drawn to the distance figure of a buddha that sat high on the rocks overlooking the area. It turned out that the area it sat in had been turned into a wonderful area of semi wild parkland and as I scampered over rocks and climbed past fences I was struck by just how beautiful the area was.

After I had toured the massive buddha I puffed and panted my way up the rock face on the other side of the park and was rewarded with a massive rock that was perched precariously on one side. I sunbathed beside it and enjoyed ice tea with the local teenagers who were hanging out by the boulders.