Angkor temples – Cambodia

In 2011, I had the pleasure of visiting the Angkor temples in Cambodia, which is located in close proximity to Siem Reap city. An example of the closeness of the city to the temples is where the airport is neighbours to the temples and that there are plans to build a new airport a fair distance away, to prevent the ancient temples from degenerating due to modern life.

Siem reap is a lovely tranquil city and has a chilled out vibe to it. I won’t go into too much detail about the city proper (as that’s another story) but the Angkor temples are amazing enough to chat about.
For our stay in Siem reap we hired a driver named Vanny for 5 days, who was well recommended by other tourists on online forums. Having a driver is excellent as you get to go where you want to go and can change plans as the days go along.

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In our case we decided to leap into the Angkor temple area and tackle the city the last few days or when we were “templed” out after each day. To access the Angkor temple areas, you need to buy a temple pass and these are purchased from the official ticketing offices which are at the entrance to the temple precinct. It’s like a visa where your photo is taken by a camera at the office and then transposed onto a paper document which states how many days visit you have paid for and other specifics like name and etc. It’s worth noting that this pass needs to be presented at the entrance of every temple location to allow entry – unfortunately drivers are not allowed free entry to the temples and if so, they will need to have a temple pass purchased. We were told that only official guides were allows free entry to the temples.

We started our first day exploring the temples of Bayon, known for its amazing Buddhist faces around and on the various temple structures. This is revealed after you enter the labyrinth of the temple complex and is an amazing sight. The faces are well known to tourists as they are often featured on tourist advertisements around the world (second to the Angkor Wat imagery). It’s extraordinary to think that these temples are still standing after being built in the late 12th century and having the luxury of being able to wander through these structures with little restriction. This can be a good and bad thing – as the encroachment of increased tourist visits can greatly increase the rate of deterioration of these majestic temples. There may be a point where the authorities will have to limit the amount of visits and areas of the temples, but for the meantime we can be thankful of the current situation.

Anyway, back to the majestic temples. We spent a fair 2 hours walking around Bayon and enjoying it’s many sights and the silentness of the surroundings. We then moved on to the majestic Angkor Wat. The main entrance is via the main stone bridge, as the entire complex is surrounded by a moat. Angkor Wat is like an onion with many different layers of architecture and structures that in total make the well known landmark. From the entrance, you encounter various terraces of temples which wrap around the main centralised Angkor Wat proper building. In all there are three layers which help fortify the entire complex – which would have been essential in ancient times to protect against invading forces. On the outside temple structures, there are amazing bas reliefs which depict the history of the ruling empire and also the events that would have occurred during that time. Also include the imagery which would have inspired them to create such lavish temples. It wasn’t even the main Angkor structure and my jaw pretty much hit the floor, at the scale and intricate work. We eavesdropped on an American tour group who had a hired local historian. They mentioned the symbolism of the Angkor wat bas reliefs and how they depict the churning of the sea which is a famous illustration in the Buddhist religion.

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Breaking away from the informative session, we ventured on and on headed to the core of the Angkor wat complex, passing through a labyrinth of walkways, stairs and temple rooms. Finally arriving to the core of the Angkor Wat structure, there is the ability to climb up to the very top via (again) another set of beyond steep steps – we noticed some tourists making their way up and having to stop half way due to vertigo. This was my case, where one look down and you are immediately paralysed by the sense of impending doom. One deep breath and continuing on, the sheer scale the Angkor wat complex shows its self – so much so that you can’t actually see the walk way where the entrance to Angkor wat is accessible from. This made we realise how special and why this temple is revered so much – to the level that it features on the Cambodia flag. As far as the eye can see, the levels of the structure emerge from a bird’s eye like view (Complemented by the experience of having walked through these layers on the way to the very core). Gazing out for what seemed like an eternity, in awe of what my eyes witnessed, I made my way back down and then spent the rest of the afternoon wandering the Angkor wat complex, not wanting to feel like I had missed any part of it and truly absorb what was on offer to be seen. It’s definitely not a place you would want to lose a friend or child in, due to its sheer scale and at times sections of the complex, being more secluded and away from the hordes of tourists. Visiting Angkor wat is awe inspiring and any tourist visiting there will attest to the feeling of not having enough time to truly take it all in. After wandering at my leisure around the complex, i took leave to my refuge in my hotel after a busy day walking around – my feet were killing me, which explains the proliferation of feet massage places near the Siem reap night market. All that in one day – not bad hey?

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On another of the days in Siem reap, I ventured out to the outskirts of the Angkor temple region to Bantei Srei. It’s a fair distance outside of Siem reap proper, but is considered the best restored temple complex in the entire archaeological area – which is why tourists venture all the way to specifically see it. We left around 7am in the morning (due to the travel time to get there) and headed there direct, passing through the many rice paddies, small villages, cattle wandering the roads and the overall Cambodian countryside. The vista of the Cambodian countryside is very unique and picturesque, with local farmers toiling the rice fields – makes for amazing pictures. We arrived to Bantei srei and to my surprise the facilities at the entry look like they were built recently and are very modern. I was greeted with a modern designed timber walk way, with vendors selling goods in the covered courtyard area nearby. The same time I arrived, two tour buses with a heard of tourists arrived and were frolicking around the temple complex. The actual temples are breathtaking to say the least. The stone carvings on the temple facades are so intricate and it makes my mind wonder how this was achieved in times way before cutting and drilling tools were formed. That I guess is the wonder of human ability and maybe how we have it all too easy now in modern times. Excuse my generalisation of describing the temples, but after you witness many of them, it is hard to remember which one is which – unless there are striking features which are distinguishing.

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After some time exploring Bantei Srei, we headed back towards Siem reap proper and stopped along the way to road side vendors, selling palm sugar sweets. My driver mentioned how they would climb the palm trees and collect the unique palm sugar pods and then extract the sweet liquid out and cook it over an open fire under it thickened up. Then they would shape it into bite size pieces and wrap it up with dried palm leaves – like a country style packaging – so ingenious. Whilst its not ideally the best food to eat (due to the high level of sugar content), the manner to which its created is admirable and to this day I have one of the packages full of the sweet pods as a reminder of this road side encounter.

Continuing on we then headed to the Cambodian landmine museum. Run by Aki Rai (I hope the spelling is correct – Awarded a CNN award for his work in clearing land mines around the Cambodian land) and a fellow former American soldier who have created a educational centre on the plight of the landmines on Cambodian society. There are stories of how cattle don’t return back to the farmer after a day grazing, as they would have stepped on landmines which ahs surfaced after heavy rains and had blown up. Not to mention many farmers who play a real life game of mine sweeper if they dare farm on land that has not officially been cleared. Its really an unfortunate case of being trying to make a decent living and getting blown up in the process. The museum shows the actual landmines, various weapons which have been found and also the history of how they came to Cambodia where by places by US forces to stop the Viet cong, to Cambodian forces fighting with the Khmer rouge in the 1970’s. This and the brutal genocide in the 1907’s, reflect the turbulent history which Cambodia has endured for quite a time and is why most of the population is below 30 years old.

The landmine museum acts a way of showing tourists the challenges of Cambodian life and why the weapons associated with war is always placing our world in a precarious situation. They also recreated a landmine field and showed how they mark out the locations of the landmines and then the manner of how they would detonate the landmines carefully.

After spending some time at this fascinating place, we headed through Siem reap proper to Ta Prohm, known for its giant trees which are engulfing the ancient temples. Upon arrival, your eyes immediately glance up to the sheer scale of the structures and how nature devours the man made stone creations. This is best known for featuring in the movie Tomb raider and showcasing the various Angkor temples. It’s not only one of the trees, but several trees and other vine like plants which are reclaiming the land. One even has to be propped up by metal poles; otherwise part of the temple structure would fall over with it. Its interesting to see how going into the future this temple structure can be preserved, in like a tug of war with nature – as if the trees which are degrading the temples are cut, then the uniqueness a and wonder of the temples is lost. That’s’ the inevitable trade off. Like the other temples, you are free to roam around (but in this case not all the areas due to safety issues). After spending the afternoon here, to cap off the day we travelled to Wat Bakheng, which is a temple complex located on the top of a large hill close by the major Angkor temples.

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Arriving at 5pm we ventured up the large walk way to the summit area of the large hill to be greeted by official Angkor temple authority staff (known as Aspara) who act like bouncers controlling the numbers that are allowed at the top for safety reasons. Fortunately for us, we arrived before they closed off access due to capacity. To get to the very summit you have to climb up very steep steps (propping yourself up by the metal railing on the temple structure) – so steep that one wrong move and you can land backwards to your peril. This is on a semi hillside formation of carved stones which all together form the diorama of a reclining Buddha – close up you don’t realise but from afar it is quite spectacular. As you climb up towards the summit, the spectacular view of the Cambodian temple landscape develops into view. Sunset over the land is I have to say the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen and sitting down with the other tourists enjoying the view is truly memorable At times the authority representatives roam around to make sure that tourists aren’t making them self comfortable, sitting on specific areas of the Angkor temple and if they are found to be doing so, get a stern telling off – which being the one witnessing can be amusing. The sunset over the land floats down bit by bit over the next minutes, as though night laps the horizon so effortlessly. After this spectacular sunset, coming down was interesting at best. With little lighting tourists come down some challenging walk ways and venture back through the paths, within the pitch black Cambodian forest area.

The following days were spent visiting the other various Angkor temples, smaller in scale, but nether-the-less equally as impressive. The unique ancient architecture of the Angkorean Empire is striking and congruent with the style of the temples around the temple area. Ranging from temples located in the middle of Cambodia swamp lands (only accessible by timber walk way across the water) to other temples located within dense Cambodian forest – needing sturdy feet to venture into them. Various other temples – one located in the middle of wetlands, one covered by grassy vegetation and another discreetly hidden within the Cambodia forest. The vast scale of the Angkor temple area is mind-blowing and to be able to experience it as a tourist is truly mesmerising.

It’s very difficult to summarise my experience of visiting the Angkor temples in one blog post and to truly encapsulate the experience of seeing it in person. I’m very thankful to my driver for showing me their lovely city and for the Cambodian people being so hospitable and generous. I highly recommend visiting Cambodia to get a real and authentic taste of Asia. I certainly plan to travel back to Siem reap very soon and once again have my breath taken by these majestic ancient structures.

– Anth

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Culture and heritage in alluring Rome – Italy

In June 2012, I had the pleasure of gracing Italy and all its bountiful pleasures with spectacular scenery. Most notably, we first stopped off in the capital Rome to take in the entire vista of heritage, food and also the rich art culture which was behind every corner.

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We arrived to Rome late in the evening (around 8pm) from our stopover in Dubai on Emirate airlines. From the plane we could see the dusk skies with the sun just about to set in the horizon. The landscape reminded me a lot of Melbourne with the bronzed land parched by the sun and country farmsteads lining the land as were landed. Rome airport is quite dated and not exactly and airport which you would want to spend a lengthy time in. We could see other flights from South America land at the same time too. Apart from the long passport control queues, we faced a dilemma of how to travel into the city proper. There is a train service but would make stops along the way and end up in Termini station – and with our luggage it was not ideal, especially at night. We settled upon taking a private shuttle bus service into town, where you are delivered to you hotel doorstop (that was the plan anyway). We set off from the airport and pass through some countryside and then emerged into the city metropolitan area. The residential properties reminded me exactly like houses owned by Italians here in Melbourne, Australia. The concrete columns, vegetable gardens and metal fencing – for a second it was a moment of déjàvu.

After some other paying tourists were dropped off their hotel, we started to head into the vicinity of our hotel. Our hotel was located 10 blocks from termini station and we had been warned that at night the surrounding areas are notorious for pick pocketers and just shady people giving naive tourists a hard time. We were not far away, then suddenly our driver mentions to us to get out and walk, due to the traffic jam we were in and the fact that many streets are one way only. Our faces dropped and faced with this predicament, left the taxi and took refuge in a hotel across the road. As we had never been to Italy before, we freaked out and called the hotel to come find us at the location where we were. With our luggage and the cobblestoned streets, it is a challenge for rolling luggage (as we found out).

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A little embarrassed and weary, the hotel representative came and chaperoned us to the hotel in the dark of night, passing some fancy eateries along the way. Upon arrival to the hotel we were warmly greeted and ushered to the old fashioned style lift. And when I mean old fashioned, this was the type with the metal mesh and required the two manual doors to be closed, before you could go up. Our room was more than accommodating and even included framed baroque artworks with tasteful decor. Out the window we could see other residents across the courtyard, with random cats jumping from balcony to balcony. The residents in Rome seem to live on top of each other, as though space is a luxury.

The following days after we settled in ,were inspiring to say the least. We went to all the major touristy places (as one would do) and also get off the beaten track and explore the various alleyway shops and sights. I vividly recall the moment we walked into the forecourt of the Trevi fountain. On the way there it was narrow streets and commercial shops, bounded by heritage buildings and we wondered ‘is this the right direction’, as the space appeared lacking for such a grand water feature. Then wham in one go the Trevi fountain comes into sight. Such a spectacle and elaborate designs within the fountain are memorable. We had seen that the fountain was undergoing a restoration phase, funded by as I recall the Italian design house ‘Fendi’.

With the economic crisis still reeling in Europe, the municipal forms of government seemed to have sought the funds from fashion design houses, in return for advertising material being allowed in close proximity to the famous locations around Rome. Nether-the-less in light of the economic issues the streets are well maintained and feel alive with the rich history at every turn. We didn’t really travel outside of the Rome metropolitan area proper (due to time constraints of four days) but this was sufficient to feel the flavour of the city and the local culture. We ventured to the nearby pantheon, with its unique skylight and moody feel inside, with impressive artwork around the inside walls. The unique part of Rome is that you talk a stroll around the streets and simply walk into such opulent and character packed landmarks with little or no cost. The alley ways have quirky shops and unfortunately some have taken the opportunity to graffiti on buildings around – not to a major extent. One notable sight was “I was born to love you” graffitied on to a roman wall. Illegal this may be, I did appreciate the thought of what was written especially in the climate of Italy being under social pressures of the economic crisis.

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Of course in Rome a visit to the Vatican is a must (that alone is another blog post), but the Spanish steps with the people chilling out and watching the city pass by with the various gelato shops scattered around is unique.

When you think Rome, the first thing many people think about is the Colosseum. The ventured in the morning to see the obligatory landmark in the historical section of the city. We thought we arrived at a time sparing the hordes of tourists, but appears that a convoy of tour buses beat us to it! After braving the long queues to get in, we roamed around inside to take in the sheer scale and think about the many stories that the walls could tell if they had a chance. Part of the inside arena flooring has been recreated with modern-day timber, to give tourists an idea of what it looked like and showing how the labyrinth below would have worked. Tourists are free to roam all around the entire radius of the structure at their leisure. Spectacular yes, but after one and bit hours, we took our leave to visit the nearby war memorial – passing the ancient roman forum area along the way.

You could be forgiven to think that this white marble war memorial was a seat of parliament of other major significance, but this was solely to remember the Italian lives which perished in the early 20th century wars in Europe. Stern military guard monitor the entrance to the huge structure and many tourists were stopped for bringing in food and for wearing in appropriate attire (e.g. not covered their shoulders). The view from the top of the memorial building is spectacular – the vista of the roman city is amazing and you can see all the way past Vatican City and admire the sheer scale of the environs.

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Continuing on, our map alluded to a majestic piazza close by called ‘Piazza Navona’. Strolling through the street leading into the piazza, we were greeted by various artists showcasing their various artworks in various mediums. The spectacular vista of the piazza soon came into focus as we ventured closer. The fountains which are grand and opulent dot the piazza and the artists located in the centre add to the feeling of the rich culture and curiosity. Quaint cafes and restaurants line the perimeter of the piazza, with bougavilleas and assortment of coloured planting varieties complementing the infrastructure of the area. Passing the noticeable Brazilian embassy (you can spot their Brazilian flag waving around a fair distance away, you eye is drawn to the works of the artists showcased on easels and other props around the area. The artworks generally reflect the Italian landscape, but varies from portraiture, baroque style art and other contemporary style oil paintings. The opportunity to pick up such great art at relatively accessible prices as too much to resist. I just went for some small prints due to the travels we had upcoming. The artists all show that their talents with many painting in front of curious tourists right in the piazza. Viewing them in action is truly mesmerizing and challenges my idea of the human capacity. I must say that the piazza was a highlight of the trip, more so than the Colosseum and even Trevi fountain – for being more relaxed, authentic and the space to explore around.

These were just some of the amazing sights witnessed and experienced in the enduring city of Rome. There’s that well used saying that ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’ certainly applies with its intricacies of art, architecture and lavish style appearance making it an infectious place to visit. Apart from annoying lingering pickpocketers (which are spotted with distinction from others), I highly recommend a visit. Ideally next time I’d like to spend more time in the city but I guess once you pull on a string, it leaves you wanting more and more.

– Anth.

Hill tribe village experience – Chiang mai, Thailand

In November 2011, as part of my Thailand trip, I travelled to Chiang Mai (located in Northern Thailand). The northern part of Thailand is regarded as very lush, culturally diverse and very chilled out.

On one of the days we ventured outside the city proper and travelled to the Maesa Region – Located just west of the city, past doi suthep lookout. We hired a driver for the whole day and visited an assortment of sights and other off the tourist trail places.

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I’ve visited the the Maesa area of the countryside twice (2009 and again on this trip in 2011). It’s very picturesque and includes well known attractions like Queen Sirikit Royal Botanical gardens, Orchid farms and also the Baan Hmong Maesa agricultural village.

We arrived at the village and as it was my second time I felt like the place was very familiar to me. The village hadn’t changed drastically and I recall some familiar faces, whilst I was strolling through. Entry to the village is allowed by paying the entrance fee – with the proceeds mentioned to help the villagers’ infrastructure (although many would argue that a large chunk of it ends up in wealthy pockets). The village is run as an initiative by the Thai government (part of plan to make the people self reliant and self empowered to create their own successes) and is well visited by tourists to Chiang Mai. Forgive me if the name is incorrect (my research and remembering the name is a bit sketchy), but the Baan Hmong Maesa Agricultural village although is not really off the tourist trail, but gives an interesting insight into the lives of the many different village minorities that make up the Northern Thailand area. Even though it is not regarded as 100% authentic or genuine, the people i met whilst strolling through the village are captivating and friendly, to say the least.

As you wander around the village, you pass through the areas of different ethnicities, represented by signage. At first it’s a bit awkward strolling through the villagers homes and feeling like you are intruding in their lives, but they seem to be well accommodating of the tourists that pass by each day. The villagers vary according to their cultural background and this is reflected in their clothing attire and goods they have to sell. This ranges from hand woven goods textiles, hand woven plant ware and also other trinkets and gifts – your purchase helps them to make a living.

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Passing each house in the village bring about an greater appreciation of living simply and living authentically. The villagers aren’t hindered by the temptations of the fast paced modern lifestyles and instead vary from growing their own crop to spending quality time with their family. How do they make a living you ask? When we were there we noticed a lack of male villagers and we were told that they had gone out to work, away from the village. It was mentioned that they return each day, bringing back the earnings of the day to their loved ones. Obviously they may have challenges to make a living, but really it comes down to what we need, rather than what we want. That’s’ the pitfall of our modern lives and what I admire most about my experience to the village.

With camera in hand, I went around and politely requested some photographs of the local villagers and their unique landscape. I was greeted with happy smiles and a ‘Linga Franca’ like understanding of the body language that was shared in our communication. No words were said, only some apprehension and the sense of respect.

The village is like a haven, where the kids walk around confidently and without fear. On our visit in 2009, we came across a young toddler who was roaming around by the rice paddies with a can of soft drink. The mother was nearby watching from a distance and as we approached the little toddler greeted us with a wai (Thai hand greeting) and we politely returned the same. We couldn’t resist a picture with the young toddler, as they were wearing the most elaborate attire in the village and they were fearless in their approach to us.

At the very same spot in our 2011 visit, we encountered grazing buffalo wandering the rice paddies, where they seem indifferent to the tourists that were passing close by them. For such a beast of an animal, it was surprising how placid and gentle they were. We wandered into the Karen tribe area – most notable for their metal coils around their neck. We were shown an example of the weight of the coils and they were definitely heavy! In their culture the long necks are a sign of immense beauty, so the coils act like a vice stretching the womens necks. We were told that young girls start this when they are very young and each year the coils are replaced and refitted to meeting the growth needs.

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We were shocked to find out that if the women suddenly decide not to wear the coils, that their necks are so reliant on the coils, it would make the necks collapse – creating major health issues and even death. So once the coiling process starts, they are pretty much held to at least maintain the lifestyle. It’s a very unique look (similar to how the African tribes have the giant earlobes) and very challenging for the ‘long neck’ women to have some sense of conformity if they are to go out to the bigger cities, in amongst the Thai locals.

At one of the Karen villagers’ huts, I was beyond surprised when they responded back in clear English to my greeting of hello. The mother of three proceeded to engage in a conversation with me so effortlessly and with such poise. Her children were around the hut and the youngest in a tub in front of her. I asked to the lady how she learnt to speak this excellent level of English and she responded in detail explaining that it was learnt by listening to the tourists (who would speak in English) who would visit. The lady didn’t know how to write in English but could read, and gained the skills by reading some English development books which were given as a gift. The resourcefulness and initiative of the lady was so inspiring and really makes you feel motivated to achieve more in life. With the little resources she had, they made the most of the opportunities that was presented in front of them to try and create a better life.

I felt compelled to have a lasting photo with this amazing lady, to remember this unique experience I had. Still to this day I feel compelled to help her by providing English language books – and I still look forward to making this possible by contacting the appropriate channels. I left giving her a hug and the gratitude of being in her presence – it’s one of those memories that will always remain with me.

Proceeding through the village, I then came across a busy female villager tending to their corn crop in the fields in close proximity to the path. They didn’t speak any English but again the body language was more than enough to build rapport and a connection. They showed me their flourishing fields of varying crops – helping to support their aim at being self reliant and maintain some level of food security in the village. The lady was very poised in her manner and encouraged me to take a picture of her lovely fields and what she has grown. They were not fussed at all and even offered some of their vegetable crop to me – ever so generous in their nature. I left them to tend to their fields and proceeded along.

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After this encounter, walking through the rest of the villages there were happy people relaxing in hammocks underneath their homes – taking retreat from the scorching heat. Many saw my camera and immediately knew that I was keen on capturing the moments within the village. They were all too happy to smile and show off their quaint homes and surroundings.

My experience at the village was very rewarding to say the least and there were definitely many memories from my visit there to inspire me into the future. My appreciation of living simply and especially to grow crops has grown immensely, and also seeing the rewards. Many life lessons which can be transferred into modern lifestyles – including mine for sure.

– Anth

Motor scooter riding in Chiang Mai – Thailand

I had the opportunity to visit Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand during my 2011 trip (which covered Thailand, Cambodia and Singapore. This was my second visit to this great city – where on my first visit I was lured by its relaxed city vibe and natural wonders which surrounded the picturesque city. Within the most recent visit I couldn’t resist the chance to hire a motorised moped / scooter and travel around the city. Risky business (I know), as you often hear in the news cases where tourists are injured and vendors taking advantage of the tourists (knowing that they are cash cows for their business). Knowing the risks, I decided to proceed as the chance as rising around and feeling a sense of freedom is too great to deny.

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Near my hotel (which was close to the old gate in inner western Chiang Mai city and near the night market district), I stumbled across what appeared to be a well organised rental business. As a surety they required me to surrender my passport (I was definitely hesitant at first, but I figured this was a consequence of being in a foreign country where you passport is the only main thing of value). After tentatively handing over my passport, I was given the keys to a well maintained and shiny motor scooter. The vendor asked me “have you ever ridden a motorcycle before”. Naturally knowing that if I said no, that I would face resistance to the vendor allowing me to proceed with the rental of their prized mode of transport – so I said ‘yes’. The funny thing is the vendor was not quite convinced and in a certain way tested me as to how I would manage.

Then afterwards after some false starts and accidently gripping back the accelerator, I was on my way to start my journey around this great city. The only condition of was that I had to return the motorised scooter in one piece and with a full tank of fuel (which was the way that the mode of transport was presented to me).

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I had no set plan on my travels around the city. This was the last day of my time in Chiang Mai, as my flight to Bangkok was around 6pm that evening. So being carefree and in a way naive, set out with the Nancy Chandler Chiang Mai map and just went out to see what caught my eye. I tried to ensure that I did not wander too far from the squared boundaries and the moat parameters of the city, so I would not end up in a foreign country in a compromised position (without fuel).

In saying this, i seemed to have immediately broke this pledge and soon found my way at a McDonalds in what appeared to be a Thai factory outlet on the outskirts of the city. After indulging in some fast food, I soon found out that I was headed away from Chiang Mai and was heading to Lampang (which is located heading south towards Bangkok). Lucky I stopped, or I could have found myself riding through the Thai country side, not knowing where or how long the fuel could last me – a very scary prospect indeed. After discovering the error of my ways, I made my way back towards the heart of the city and reoriented myself. Navigating the Thai traffic can be a challenge not for the faint hearted or those who are not comfortable riding on two wheeled modes of transport (which was my case for sure!). It is especially the case when you edge you way through the stalled cars at the lights, within the cramped spaces between. I soon learnt that in Thailand, space is a luxury and that applies to the road as well – where you won’t see any empty spaces at the front. This is why safety can often be compromised, with the cares and other modes of transport being within centimetres of each other and within a setting where infrastructure is not quite established as many nations have it.

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My travels continued through the city taking in many of the Thai temples, Buddhist centres, markets and other things that caught my eye. The feeling of having a mode of transport where you can simply wander around and whenever you feel like stop and have a look is highly rewarding. Not being restricted by public transport, 3rd party taxi drivers or other normal ways of travel makes you engage more with the locals and have a greater, more authentic experience. When riding around I would often see foreign tourists who also were compelled by wanderlust to explore the city by motorised scooter. Along my travels, some locals would giggle as they witnessed a ‘Farang’ (foreigner) trying to play it cool in their nation and trying to learn the ways of the locals. Riding around the locals are all too happy to provide guidance and assistance where needed and are more than friendly.

During my 4 hours riding around the city I must have circled the city 7 times and visited more places than my fingers could account for. The pictures below give a glimpse of the journey. With some disappointment, I returned back to the vendor to return the source of my freedom and exhilaration. Nothing compares to the experience had rising around Chiang Mai by motorised scooter. Enjoying the moment and having the wind lapping around as I ride is just magical – there is nothing like it in the world (well on that budget anyway). You only live once and whilst I don’t recommend rising a motor scooter without having prior experience, I would urge you to leave the comfortable confides that you put yourself in and do something that your future self will thank you later on for. Something as simple as rising around Chiang Mai on a motorised scooter is one of the moments that will echo in my mind for years to come. The world beckons to be discovered – so get out there whilst you can!

– Anth