Melbourne – Australia

With the flight from Singapore to Melbourne in Australia at 10pm, I hadn’t managed to grab much sleep as the journey lasted an awkward six and a half hours, so I landed in quite a nauseated state. After a surprising body search and interview with the customs guards at passport control, I was glad to hop onto the bus and check into Flinders Backpackers Hostel in downtown Melbourne.

Having come from the economical way of life in South-East Asia, I was brought crashing back down to earth after Singapore in terms of western pricing, with Australia following closely behind. Flinders Backpackers was by far the cheapest of downtown offerings in Melbourne but still cost four to five times more than South-East Asia. I had also gone from my own private room to a cramped 8 people shared hell-hole. The Hostel was in a dank, dreary and quite haunting 10-storey building right in the centre of town. The reception sat in the middle of a huge communal area which was predominantly surrounded by spotty teenagers lounging around. After socialising with a few over the next couple of days, I was bewildered at the amount of them that had simply sought escapism to Australia, but that in-turn resulted in isolation within the depths of the hostel, scrapping for survival. The room I stayed was humid and stank of sweat. The windows hardly opened to let in fresh air. The corridor between bunk beds resembled a cramped cabin on a warship. It was a depressing place. But, I hadn’t much option either unless I wanted to chuck money down the drain at another more expensive hostel for a 1-night stay.

After a couple more hours sleep, I then escaped into town to buy a return bus ticket to Sydney to visit my friends Owen and Amy in Manly. Later, I then checked out the Flinders area and visited Federation Square, snapping the impressive skyline along the riverbank.

King-Street, Melbourne, Australia

King Street – Melbourne, Australia


Swanston-Street, Melbourne, Australia

Swanston Street – Melbourne, Australia


Flinders-Street-Station, Melbourne, Australia

Flinders Street Station – Melbourne, Australia


Sugar-Station, Melbourne, Australia

Sugar Station – Melbourne, Australia


Downtown, Skyline, Melbourne, Australia

Downtown Skyline – Melbourne, Australia


Yarra-River, Melbourne, Australia

Yarra River – Melbourne, Australia

The city had a small and much more European relaxed feeling to it than I expected. It was quite leisurely, with people going about their business in a very chilled out manner. The streets were lined in blocks, with rows of shops, restaurants and fast-food chains, the roads wide with tram lines splitting through. It had an American feel to it. Heading out from Federation Square, I walked through the sprawling Victoria Park, past the Governmental Buildings and through the beautiful Botanical Gardens. As I walked on, I past the Olympic Village and Rod Laver Stadium – home to the Australian Tennis Open. Back at Federation Square, I just sat and watched the world go by. A busker kept me company outside Flinders Station making what looked like at least £50 an hour playing some out of the box Acoustic guitar.

Rod-Laver-Stadium, Melbourne, Australia

Rod Laver Stadium – Melbourne, Australia


Federation-Square, Melbourne, Australia

Federation Square – Melbourne, Australia

In the evening, I ate at an all you can eat buffet in Chinatown – probably the most reasonable value at $12. The obvious shock was how it was five times more expensive for much worse food than Asia. I then headed toward Section 9 of The Lanes area to try and mingle with some locals at a couple of the bars. This proved difficult at first, with the vibe similar to London in terms of approaching people for a chat. Eventually, I settled in a more American style bar which allowed me to start up some conversation with the bar staff and a few of the locals whilst seeing the night away watching some local comedy.

The following day, I met a couple of Israeli guys at breakfast called Ofer and Yuval who had just started their travelling following completion of their 3-year military service. Having come from a 3-week trip in New Zealand and en-route to Asia, they were clearly in admiration for their freedom, talking about how much they had embraced their adventures so far, and how much they were still looking forward to Asia. Their endeavors in the army, although valuable in terms of life skills, seemed also costly in terms of self-expression and exploration.

After breakfast, we headed to the Queen Victoria Market area in the Italian Quarter near Fitzroy Street. It had a 19th century old English feel to the area, resembling parts the Eastern Coast of the U.S. We managed to pick up a delicious pie that reminded me of home and some amazing Gelato ice cream from one of the many parlours in the area. This followed a much needed carb fix in Spaghetti Bolognese, a substantial dinner before I jumped on my bus to Sydney in a couple of hours.

Queen-Victoria-Market, Melbourne, Australia

Queen Victoria Market – Melbourne, Australia


Souvenir-Signs, Melbourne, Australia

Souvenir Signs – Melbourne, Australia


Stoneman's-Butchers, Queen-Victoria-Market, Melbourne, Australia

Stoneman’s Butchers – Queen Victoria Market – Melbourne, Australia


Inside-Queen-Victoria-Market, Melbourne, Australia

Inside Queen Victoria Market – Melbourne, Australia


Butchers, Queen-Victoria-Market, Melbourne, Australia

Butchers – Queen Victoria Market – Melbourne, Australia


Charlie's-Butcher, Queen-Victoria-Market, Melbourne, Australia

Charlie’s Butcher – Queen Victoria Market – Melbourne, Australia


Beef-Butchers, Queen-Victoria-Market, Melbourne, Australia

Beef Butchers – Queen Victoria Market – Melbourne, Australia


Italian-Quarter-Stop, Melbourne, Australia

Italian Quarter Stop – Melbourne, Australia


Corner, Italian-Quarter, Melbourne, Australia

A Corner in the Italian Quarter – Melbourne, Australia


Ofer, Yuval, Italian, Gelato-Shop, Melbourne, Australia

Ofer and Yuval – Italian Gelato Shop – Melbourne, Australia


Fitzroy-Street, Melbourne, Australia

Fitzroy Street – Melbourne, Australia


Brunswick-Street, Melbourne, Australia

Brunswick Street – Melbourne, Australia


Tram-Carriage, Melbourne, Australia

Tram Carriage – Melbourne, Australia

As pleasant as the city was, Melbourne was a town that held no real surprises for me due to its obvious Western foundations. However, the fruits of the city are probably best tasted after a much more lengthy stay.

Further Reading

 
City of Melbourne Guide
http://www.melbourne.vic.gov.au/Pages/default.aspx

Queen Victoria Market – Melbourne
http://www.qvm.com.au/

Visit Melbourne
http://www.visitmelbourne.com/

More Photography :

 
“The Photography Collection” by Antematters

Posted in Australia Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Singapore – The Malay Financial Heart

After an excitable visit to Kuala Lumpur, I checked out my hostel and headed to the main bus terminal to catch a ride to Singapore. The bus was a mere £10 for a 6-hour journey, but came equipped with a full in-built massaging seat and personalised televisions, with legroom that could have accommodated the tallest man in the world!

Having checked into my first shared dorm room of my journey on Dunlop Street on the outskirts of the city centre, I quickly showered and headed downtown. I only had the afternoon and the following morning in Singapore; but to be honest, it was more than enough, especially seeing as it was one of the most expensive places I’ve ever been to.

Upon wandering into town towards Raffles City and Marina Bay Sands, I noticed immediately how the streets were immaculate, without a single piece of litter in sight, the streets so clean it almost seemed like they’d just completed tarmacking the place. There was no gum stuck to the pavements. No leaves on the ground. It even felt like there wasn’t even a speck of dust in the air.

Raffles City - Singapore

Raffles City – Singapore


War Memorial - Singapore

War Memorial – Singapore


Raffles Place - Singapore

Raffles Place – Singapore


Esplanade Theatre - Singapore

Esplanade Theatre – Singapore


Singapore Skyline

Singapore Skyline


The Wheel - Singapore

The Wheel – Singapore


Marina Bay Sands - Singapore

Marina Bay Sands – Singapore

Expensive cars casually breezed through the long boulevards lined with tall skyscrapers similar to Kuala Lumpur. It was a city that lacked any kind of suburban feeling, one full of wealth and grandeur. A city built heavily on its rich Central Business District of 6 Battery Road and the UOB Plaza – areas full of financial institutions and corporate dividends. Having come from impoverished parts of Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, this was a heavily contrasting world. Restaurants and bars would line the glitzy streets full of businessmen and women darting about in meticulous suits. Lunchtime dinners were accompanied by overpriced cocktails and aperitifs. A bar I walked past near the UOB Plaza even had an overly priced Happy Hour – a bottle of beer for $12SGD (roughly £6) or a Whiskey Bottle for $158SGD (roughly £85). Money was no objective here.

Singapore Skyline from Marina Bay Sands

Singapore Skyline from Marina Bay Sands


Marina Bay Sands Skyline - Singapore

Marina Bay Sands Skyline – Singapore


Bars of Singapore

Bars of Singapore


Downtown Singapore Rush Hour

Downtown Singapore Rush Hour


Happy Hour Expense - Singapore

Happy Hour Expense – Singapore

Aside from the city’s obvious financial prowess, it still offered an endearing experience – albeit, a complete contrast from other areas of South-East Asia. It had a romantic feeling to it and felt extremely safe. The Cavenagh Bridge backing onto 6 Battery Road is a beautiful piece of engineering. The towering buildings of the UOB Plaza with the human ants darting through their shadows were breath-taking sight to see, especially by night. The meandering river canals splitting the island offer a peaceful romantic setting for a leisurely stroll.

Cavenagh Bridge - Singapore

Cavenagh Bridge – Singapore


Colonial Building - Singapore

Colonial Building – Singapore


UOB Plaza - Singapore

UOB Plaza – Singapore


A View of the Bay - Singapore

A View of the Bay – Singapore


UOB Plaza - Singapore

UOB Plaza – Singapore


Fullerton Hotel - Singapore

Fullerton Hotel – Singapore


Cavenagh Bridge  - Singapore

Cavenagh Bridge – Singapore


6 Battery Road - Singapore

6 Battery Road – Singapore

The bright saturated colours of Chinatown and Pagoda Street in the evening brought with it the most exciting of the atmospheres, with traditional housing host to cafes, restaurants and drinking holes together with traditional food hawker stalls lining the streets offering all kinds of delicacies. The streets were narrower and quaint, the atmosphere tranquil and welcoming.

Pagoda Street - Singapore

Pagoda Street – Singapore


Pagoda - Singapore

Pagoda – Singapore


Club Street - Singapore

Club Street – Singapore


Club Street - Singapore

Club Street – Singapore


Bottom of Ann Siang Road - Singapore

Bottom of Ann Siang Road – Singapore


Ann Siang Road - Singapore

Ann Siang Road – Singapore


Shopping in Chinatown - Singapore

Shopping in Chinatown – Singapore


Chinatown Buildings - Singapore

Chinatown Buildings – Singapore


Light Shop - Chinatown, Singapore

Light Shop – Chinatown, Singapore


Chinatown Stalls - Singapore

Chinatown Stalls – Singapore


Coliwa Department Store - Singapore

Coliwa Department Store – Singapore


Street Food - Chinatown, Singapore

Street Food – Chinatown, Singapore


Chinatown Stalls - Singapore

Chinatown Stalls – Singapore


Chinatown Stall - Singapore

Chinatown Stall – Singapore


Singapore by Night

Singapore by Night


Underpass - Singapore

Underpass – Singapore


Singapore River by Night

Singapore River by Night


Fullerton Hotel by Night

Fullerton Hotel by Night


Cavenagh Bridge by Night

Cavenagh Bridge by Night


Skycrapers of Republic Plaza by Night - Singapore

Skycrapers of Republic Plaza by Night – Singapore


Republic Plaza by Night - Singapore

Republic Plaza by Night – Singapore

But with prices still astronomically high, much of the joys of Singapore for me were seen street side. A trip to the luxury shopping district in Orchard Street gave me a glimpse at the glamorous brands such as Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana decorating the streets in lush stores.

Boutiques of Orchard Street - Singapore

Boutiques of Orchard Street – Singapore


Orchard Street - Singapore

Orchard Street – Singapore


Tube Commute - Singapore

Tube Commute – Singapore


Little India Tube Station - Singapore

Little India Tube Station – Singapore

But the glitz was all too much for me on this kind of trip – it ticked off the box to have seen the famous Singapore skyline, but I looked forward to what was to come next.

Further Reading

 
Time Out Singapore
http://www.timeoutsingapore.com/

Venere Travel Blog – Singapore Street Markets
http://www.venere.com/blog/singapore-street-markets-10815/

Travel CNN – Singapore Buildings
http://travel.cnn.com/singapore/life/best-and-worst-buildings-singapore-312466

More Photography :

 
“The Photography Collection” by Antematters

Posted in Singapore Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Kuala Lumpur – The Towering Malaysian City

I arrived in Malaysia’s capital city Kuala Lumpur at around midday the following day after jumping on the overnight train from Penang in Northern Malaysia. Although the train arrived 3 hours later than scheduled, the ride was actually quite a pleasant one with plenty of room in the cabins to stretch out for a half decent night’s sleep.

The original plan was to relax in the city for a couple of days before dashing off to Singapore to catch my pending flight to Australia; however, these immediately changed after touching down at the main train station. I’d arrived in the city for Malaysia’s Formula 1 weekend and as it was the cheapest way to catch a Grand Prix in the world (at a snap of £40), there was no chance of me missing out on buying a ticket for the main race day tomorrow, especially as I’d never been to a live race! This meant I had to try and cram in as much of the city as I could on the first day, which ended up being like a Cannonball Run.

After checking into my somewhat ill-equipped hostel downtown, I headed off towards the Golden Triangle in the Bukit Bintang area which encompasses the main shopping and entertainment district. As expected, the area was the hub of all the action in Kuala Lumpur, the atmosphere encapsulated by the intense humidity hanging in the air.

Streets of Bukit Bintang - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Streets of Bukit Bintang – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


Skyscrapers of Bukit Bintang - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Skyscrapers of Bukit Bintang – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

As I continued through the district towards the famous Petronas Towers, I passed through dense areas of towering skyscrapers that dwarfed the shops, kiosks, bars and restaurants beneath. The city’s tram network flew past on the tracks high up on concrete stilts. Expensive sports cars whizzed by through the long flowing roads that cut through the metropolis. The feeling of the city was however quite unperturbed in contrast to the day-to-day life of the locals.

Metro System of Kuala Lumpur - Malaysia

Metro System of Kuala Lumpur – Malaysia


Gran Turismo - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Gran Turismo – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


Moped GP - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Moped GP – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

As I wandered mostly fixated with the towers above, past the office towers of Jalan Raja Chulan, the Jalan Sultan Ismail hotel strip, the Jalan P. Ramlee party street and the KL Menara Tower, I eventually arrived at the Petronas Towers in the main Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC).

Jalan Raja Chulan - Bukit Bintang - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Jalan Raja Chulan – Bukit Bintang – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


Jalan Tong Shin - Bukit Bintang - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Jalan Tong Shin – Bukit Bintang – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


KL Menara Tower - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

KL Menara Tower – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

These towers were the tallest in the world between 1996 and 2003 and still remain the biggest attraction to the city. The towers were magnificently positioned, it was hard to avoid it’s on looking gaze anywhere in the city. Surprisingly, security in the Petronas Towers area seemed quite unapparent, with streams of people walking in and out of the building as they pleased owing to the shopping centre that was inside. Not only was there a shopping centre, but the city’s aquarium sat in the basement.

Distant Petronas Towers - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Distant Petronas Towers – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


Petronas Towers Horizon - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Petronas Towers Horizon – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


Petronas Towers - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Petronas Towers – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


Beneath the Petronas Towers - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Beneath the Petronas Towers – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

As I sauntered through the city, I couldn’t help but notice the amount of attention I was getting from the locals. Although friendly and approachable, I was quite bemused at their inquisitive stares. For a capital city, I would have thought that they were used to westerners wandering around the city, especially with the Petronas Towers attracting masses of tourists. Inside the Petronas Towers, after a few waves and hellos from passers-by, I was then stopped by two excitable women whom turned out to be mother and daughter. They couldn’t help but touch me for the ensuing five minutes of chatting. The girl was a student who was apparently due to take up a course at Southampton University and so they were intrigued as to how life would be for her in the UK. Somewhat to my naivety at the time, I accepted an invitation to lunch back at their home which was a short five minute cab ride round the corner from the city centre. Although I was hesitant at first, I just had to keep my wits about me and record exactly how I got to their place.

Back at the house, the whole family was in. I met the girl’s uncle and his wife who were preparing the lunch, as well as a couple of neighbours. They welcomed me into the house like they’d known me for some time, treating me like a special guest and stuffing me up on some delicious fish dishes whilst sat round the table together, chatting about my travels and the daughter’s upcoming relocation to Southampton.

After finishing up, the friendly atmosphere then started to change without warning. The women round the table started clearing up, with the noise of chatting immediately becoming cold. The uncle then put his arm round me an invited me into the back room for a quick aperitif with his neighbour. The daughter suddenly appeared to vanish from site completely. In the back room, a table was set up with what appeared to be poker sets lined up. It looked like I was being hooked up for something I really didn’t know how to get out of. The uncle sat me down and sat opposite me with a more serious look on his face. The neighbour was stood by the side of us listening in. I started to panic as there was only one exit – the exit the neighbour stood by. The daughter then reappeared and sat eerily close to me with her hand on my shoulder. The uncle then started to talk about his job as a blackjack dealer at one of the main casinos on the outskirts of town. I started to get more flushed as he went on, visions of local mafia playing in my head. He started flashing wedges of cash to me, explaining how there was lots of money to be made off ignorant, wealthy foreign business people through bent gambling. He started showing me how he would con them into parting with hundreds if not thousands of dollars without batting an eyelid. He told me a wealthy foreign business woman was being lined up to play at his table tonight – he wanted to draft me in as a hoax foreign player to suck the money out of her. As I started to get more uncomfortable, the uncle’s phone rang. A small time player was on his way over now. He wanted me in on a scam that was to take place in an hour – a practice run so to speak. I politely declined and started to get up but the uncle’s friend ushered me to sit down again. The daughter started to put pressure on me. The uncle kept on trying to sell it to me. I started giving out some lame excuses for why I couldn’t do it, including how I was due to meet some other travelling friends later that evening to head to Singapore. How that would change any situation should they actually wish to do something to me, I had no clue. But, for some reason, through my panic and hesitation, the uncle simply gave up by storming out the room, muttering some words to the neighbour. The daughter got up and ushered me out the door. She said they’d take me back to town. I said I’d find my way alone, but they insisted on getting in the neighbours car. With the fear building up evermore, the scene ended five minutes later with a disappointed, “Get Out” back at the Towers. They even took a couple of dollars off me for the privilege of the lift.

Somewhat bewildered, I headed back into the Petronas Towers for a while to make sure I was safe. And half an hour later, an excitable man approached me asking me to lunch…

A while later, I continued my tour of KL, visiting parts of Chinatown, taking in the Masjid Jamek Mosque, the Merdeka Square and Central Market, and then an excursion out to the Lake Gardens area.

Chinatown - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Chinatown – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


Old Building of Chinatown - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Old Building of Chinatown – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


Masjid Jamek Mosque - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Masjid Jamek Mosque – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


Lake Gardens - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Lake Gardens – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


Monkey Raspberry - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Monkey Raspberry – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur, like Penang, had an interesting mix of cultures and religions, but outside of this, without delving too much into the nightlife, there was very little more to draw my attention. Dinner at the Jalan Petaling in the evening to try out some Swordfish for the first time was followed by watching the Chelsea vs. Manchester United game in amongst a big gathering of locals cheering on both sides with the lure of the glamorous English Premiership evident to see.

Jalan Petaling Stalls - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Jalan Petaling Stalls – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Then I final round trip back to see the Petronas by night ended my night before the Formula 1 day tomorrow.

Petronas Towers by Night - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Petronas Towers by Night – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Further Reading

 
Malaysia Official Tourism Site
http://www.tourism.gov.my/en/uk

Petronas Towers
http://www.petronastwintowers.com.my/

Golden Triangle – Kuala Lumpur
http://www.kuala-lumpur.ws/klareas/golden.htm

More Photography :

 
“The Photography Collection” by Antematters

Posted in Malaysia Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Champions League Final 2013 – Borussia Dortmund vs Bayern Munich – When Germany Came to London

The Champions League Final 2013 was to be held at English Football’s home – Wembley, London – to mark the 150th anniversary of the English FA. The much anticipated finale was to be contested by Germany’s top two Bundesliga sides – Bayern Munich – last year’s runners-up and 4 times winner of the European Cup and Borussia Dortmund – winner of the 1997 Champions League.

After both sides comprehensively dumped Barcelona and Real Madrid out of the competition in the semi finals a few weeks ago, the power of football shifted from the domination of Spain’s La Liga in recent years – in particular, from Barcelona, who arguably fielded the best club team in the world when they won the Champions League in 2011 – to Germany.

Having lost two Champions League finals in three recent years, Bayern Munich were desperate to put to rest their losers tag against their fiercest rivals Borussia Dortmund. After Jurgen Klopp took charge in 2008, Borussia Dortmund have transformed from a club on the brink of bankruptcy, to a successful club that many will try to emulate over the coming years. Borussia’s thrifty transfer dealings, including the signing of new young superstars Lewandowski, Reus, Hummels and Götze, proved you don’t need to spend hundreds of millions on well known talent to succeed. They have also proved through their average squad age of 23 that true success can be achieved through focusing on the youth system.

The German fans turned up in London in their thousands with reportedly 20,000 of them arriving without tickets. London was covered in a sea of yellow and black of Borussia Dortmund throughout the day, dwarfing the small pockets of Bayern fans dotted around. Following the semi final victory over Real Madrid, Europe witnessed the overwhelming passion of Dortmund fans. The importance of the club to the Dortmund region is astronomical. Everybody from Dortmund grows up breathing and living Borussia. It’s a club that drives people on – something much more than just a hobby, but something engrained in the blood. And yet again, this passion could be seen on the streets of London.

We're Here - Borussia Dortmund Fans in Piccadilly Circus, London - Piccadilly Circus, London

We’re Here – Borussia Dortmund Fans in Piccadilly Circus, London – Champions League Final Day 2013


Borussia Dortmund Fans in Piccadilly Circus, London - Champions League Final Day 2013

Borussia Dortmund Fans in Piccadilly Circus, London – Champions League Final Day 2013


Borussia Dortmund Fans in Piccadilly Circus, London - Champions League Final Day 2013

Borussia Dortmund Fans in Piccadilly Circus, London – Champions League Final Day 2013


Borussia Dortmund Fans with Fake Trophy in Piccadilly Circus, London - Champions League Final Day 2013

Borussia Dortmund Fans with Fake Trophy in Piccadilly Circus, London – Champions League Final Day 2013


BVB Flag Flying High - Borussia Dortmund Fans in Piccadilly Circus, London - Champions League Final Day 2013

BVB Flag Flying High – Borussia Dortmund Fans in Piccadilly Circus, London – Champions League Final Day 2013


Borussia Dortmund Fans in Trafalgar Square, London - Champions League Final Day 2013

Borussia Dortmund Fans in Trafalgar Square, London – Champions League Final Day 2013


Borussia Dortmund Fans in Trafalgar Square, London - Champions League Final Day 2013

Borussia Dortmund Fans in Trafalgar Square, London – Champions League Final Day 2013


Borussia Dortmund Fans in Trafalgar Square, London - Champions League Final Day 2013

Borussia Dortmund Fans in Trafalgar Square, London – Champions League Final Day 2013


Borussia Dortmund Fans Outside the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, London - Champions League Final Day 2013

Borussia Dortmund Fans Outside the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, London – Champions League Final Day 2013


Kilted Borussia Dortmund Fans in Trafalgar Square, London - Champions League Final Day 2013

Kilted Borussia Dortmund Fans in Trafalgar Square, London – Champions League Final Day 2013


Borussia Dortmund Fans Under Nelson's Column, Trafalgar Square, London - Champions League Final Day 2013

Borussia Dortmund Fans Under Nelson’s Column, Trafalgar Square, London – Champions League Final Day 2013


Borussia Dortmund Fans Relaxing in Trafalgar Square, London - Champions League Final Day 2013

Borussia Dortmund Fans Relaxing in Trafalgar Square, London – Champions League Final Day 2013


Borussia Dortmund Fans Bearing Flag Under Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square, London - Champions League Final Day 2013

Borussia Dortmund Fans Bearing Flag Under Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square, London – Champions League Final Day 2013


Borussia Dortmund Fans Chanting Outside the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, London - Champions League Final Day 2013

Borussia Dortmund Fans Chanting Outside the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, London – Champions League Final Day 2013


Borussia Dortmund Fans meet Celtic Fans in Trafalgar Square, London - Champions League Final Day 2013

Borussia Dortmund Fans meet Celtic Fans in Trafalgar Square, London – Champions League Final Day 2013


Borussia Dortmund Fans Mixing with the Police in Trafalgar Square, London - Champions League Final Day 2013

Borussia Dortmund Fans Mixing with the Police in Trafalgar Square, London – Champions League Final Day 2013


Borussia Dortmund Fans in Song Under Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square, London - Champions League Final Day 2013

Borussia Dortmund Fans in Song Under Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square, London – Champions League Final Day 2013


Borussia Dortmund Fans in Trafalgar Square, London - Champions League Final Day 2013

Borussia Dortmund Fans in Trafalgar Square, London – Champions League Final Day 2013


Bayern Munich Fans in Trafalgar Square, London - Champions League Final Day 2013

Bayern Munich Fans in Trafalgar Square, London – Champions League Final Day 2013


Borussia Dortmund Fan Doing Keepy Ups in Trafalgar Square, London - Champions League Final Day 2013

Borussia Dortmund Fan Doing Keepy Ups in Trafalgar Square, London – Champions League Final Day 2013


Borussia Dortmund Fan Composed in Trafalgar Square, London - Champions League Final Day 2013

Borussia Dortmund Fan Composed in Trafalgar Square, London – Champions League Final Day 2013

However, with all the excitement that Borussia Dortmund brought with them, it wasn’t to be their night against Bayern. After dominating territory in the first 25 minutes, the power, experience and class of Bayern proved to be too much for Klopp’s young side. Performances by both Neuer and Weidenfeller in Bayern and Borussia’s respective goals were outstanding, but either side of a Gundogan penalty for Dortmund, it was a Mandzukic goal and a dramatic late winner by Arjen Robben with just over a minute to go that sealed victory at Wembley and finally put to bed their losers tag. Bayern were once again Champions League winners.

Further Reading

 
Borussia Dortmund Site
http://www.bvb.de/

FC Bayern Munich Site
http://www.fcbayern.telekom.de/en/news/start/index.php

UEFA Champions League Site
http://www.uefa.com/uefachampionsleague/season=2013/matches/index.html

More Photography :

 
“The Photography Collection” by Antematters

Posted in Champions League, Football, Sport Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Penang – Malaysia

Following the fantastic motorcycle journey through the Vietnamese Highlands, I decided it was time for some relaxation and party time by heading to Koh Phangan – an island off the coast of Thailand – to enjoy the hedonism of the Full Moon Party. After 5 days spent snorkelling, sunbathing, drinking, eating and dancing on the beautiful beaches of Haad Rin, I packed up my bag again to head for the mainland and continue my journey south for my flight to Melbourne in Australia 6 days later.

Massively hung-over from the 5-day festival, I headed to the mainland with Matt (whom I’d met right at the start of my journey) and bid farewell to him as he headed north back to Bangkok for a flight back to Germany. The journey lasted a gruelling 15-hours, combining a choppy boat with 3 minibuses. The most challenging was the 6-hour stint down from Surat Thani to the Malaysian border in a tiny Nissan minibus, squished into the back seat above the back wheel arch. I felt every single bump on the way and the driver had no hesitation in keeping his foot flat to the ground at all times meaning I kept smashing the top of my head against the steel roof. Topped with that my butt had gone to sleep within the first hour and I had to wait patiently in agony until the first stop which ended up being about 3 hours later. Not only that, but the minibus was double capacity, so it was stifling cramped and horrendously hot and sweaty. I somehow hung on through the pain barrier.

After the usual border control routine at Bukat Kaya Hitam, we finally arrived in Penang at around 10pm, and took a short boat journey across to the island from Butterworth. The place was deserted, but I managed to check myself into a small hostel just off the centre of town on the fourth attempt of asking. It was a dank, dark hostel that had nothing more to the room than a well-used mattress on the floor underneath a mosquito net that wouldn’t catch a fish. A bite to eat in the bar downstairs and a shower then saw me off to bed.

Penang is the second smallest state in Malaysia, with its constituent island (also known as Georgetown) home to the government seat. The island itself is an eerily interesting little place that felt like a quick pit-stop before continuing my journey towards Kuala Lumpur in the South. It was deserted of tourists which was surprising and for the most part was like any abandoned sea side town in the UK. It also had a strange British feel to it in parts owing to the country’s occupation by the British back in the late 1700s. In fact, the island was loaned out to Captain Francis Light in 1786 by Sultan Abdullah Mukarram Shah – this was a simple trade deal which gave the British access to local resources and acted as a hurdle to Dutch and French expansion in the area, in return for military protection against the neighbouring Burmese and Siamese armies.

Streets of Penang - Malaysia

Streets of Penang – Malaysia


Streets of Georgetown - Penang, Malaysia

Streets of Georgetown – Penang, Malaysia


Downtown Georgetown - Penang, Malaysia

Downtown Georgetown – Penang, Malaysia


Penang Modern Architecture - Malaysia

Penang Modern Architecture – Malaysia


Georgetown Clocktower - Penang, Malaysia

Georgetown Clocktower – Penang, Malaysia

However, aside from the overall empty feel of the town, it also was a perfect introduction to the diversity of the Malaysian culture. I didn’t have any preconception of the stereotypical Malay and it was easy to see why. The town was split between Chinese, Indian and Malay people who seemed to intertwine seamlessly. Christian, Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim religions would border each other in what looked like peaceful sentiment. On one side you’d have a church, the other a mosque, followed by a temple and a pagoda further on. There didn’t really seem to be any division between them – they shared each other’s space freely. The advantage of this diversity was the amazing collection of food you would come across – typical dishes being offered out on street stalls and restaurants alike from Chinese noodles, to Malay Nasi Goreng through to the curries and tandoori of Indian cuisine.

Street Stall Vendor - Penang, Malaysia

Street Stall Vendor – Penang, Malaysia


Street Food - Penang, Malaysia

Street Food – Penang, Malaysia

After wandering around the empty streets for a while, I ended up down in the harbour area where I visited Fort Cornwallis – a fort built by the British upon the island’s occupation. This was a picture of the emptiness I’d just experienced in the streets with little to offer in terms of attraction inside. But a piece of history nonetheless.

Entrance to Fort Cornwallis - Georgetown, Malaysia

Entrance to Fort Cornwallis – Georgetown, Malaysia


Tourist Guard - Fort Cornwallis - Georgetown, Malaysia

Tourist Guard – Fort Cornwallis – Georgetown, Malaysia


Inside Fort Cornwallis - Georgetown, Malaysia

Inside Fort Cornwallis – Georgetown, Malaysia

From there, I then headed south through Georgetown, stopping by a breathtaking Chinese clan house called the Leong Sang Tong Khoo Kongsi. The clan house belonged to the Khoo Kongsi – one of the Five Big Clans of Penang, and dates back around 650 years. The house was sprawled with amazing statues, artefacts and scriptures and the colours that enclosed it were stunning. Inside, families would be sat in prayer – a picture I was prohibited to take as I closed in.

Side Alley to the Khoo Kongsi - Penang, Malaysia

Side Alley to the Khoo Kongsi – Penang, Malaysia


Leong Sang Tong Khoo Kongsi - Penang, Malaysia

Leong Sang Tong Khoo Kongsi – Penang, Malaysia


Entrance to the Leong Sang Tong Khoo Kongsi - Penang, Malaysia

Entrance to the Leong Sang Tong Khoo Kongsi – Penang, Malaysia


Architecture of the Leong Sang Tong Khoo Kongsi - Penang, Malaysia

Architecture of the Leong Sang Tong Khoo Kongsi – Penang, Malaysia


Porchway of the Leong Sang Tong Khoo Kongsi - Penang, Malaysia

Porchway of the Leong Sang Tong Khoo Kongsi – Penang, Malaysia


Main Room of Leong Sang Tong Khoo Kongsi - Penang, Malaysia

Main Room of Leong Sang Tong Khoo Kongsi – Penang, Malaysia


Decoration of the Leong Sang Tong Khoo Kongsi - Penang, Malaysia

Decoration of the Leong Sang Tong Khoo Kongsi – Penang, Malaysia


Architecture of the Leong Sang Tong Khoo Kongsi - Penang, Malaysia

Architecture of the Leong Sang Tong Khoo Kongsi – Penang, Malaysia


Art of the Leong Sang Tong Khoo Kongsi - Penang, Malaysia

Art of the Leong Sang Tong Khoo Kongsi – Penang, Malaysia

After a short walk further up the street, I then came across the Masjid Kapitan Keling mosque. Afternoon prayer had just finished, so I was sat amass the mobs of mix-raced Muslims that swamped past me.

The Dome of the Kapitan Keling Mosque - Penang, Malaysia

The Dome of the Kapitan Keling Mosque – Penang, Malaysia


Kapitan Keling Mosque - Penang, Malaysia

Kapitan Keling Mosque – Penang, Malaysia


Crowds of the Kapitan Keling Mosque - Penang, Malaysia

Crowds of the Kapitan Keling Mosque – Penang, Malaysia

A stone throw later, I then stumbled upon the impressive Kuan Yin Teng Temple. Luckily, it was the temple’s 210th birthday and there was teems of people in and around it, praying and offering messages to ancestors inside. Outside, there were huge incense sticks that people would put up as an offering to the temple. Next to it, a huge bell sat where people threw messages and gifts into the fire for their ancestors. Inside, hoards of people would sit or stand praying with offerings for Shiva and the various deities and Gods. It was a bustling atmosphere that kept me there for a good hour or so.

Kuan Yin Teng Pagoda - Penang, Malaysia

Kuan Yin Teng Pagoda – Penang, Malaysia


Kuan Yin Teng Pagoda - Penang, Malaysia

Kuan Yin Teng Pagoda – Penang, Malaysia


Offering to the Kuan Yin Teng Pagoda - Penang, Malaysia

Offering to the Kuan Yin Teng Pagoda – Penang, Malaysia


Incense Sticks - Kuan Yin Teng Pagoda - Penang, Malaysia

Incense Sticks – Kuan Yin Teng Pagoda – Penang, Malaysia


Bell Furnace - Kuan Yin Teng Pagoda - Penang, Malaysia

Bell Furnace – Kuan Yin Teng Pagoda – Penang, Malaysia


Inside the Kuan Ying Teng - Penang, Malaysia

Inside the Kuan Ying Teng – Penang, Malaysia


Prayer Offering - Kuan Yin Teng Pagoda - Penang, Malaysia

Prayer Offering – Kuan Yin Teng Pagoda – Penang, Malaysia


Prayer Inside the Kuan Yin Teng Pagoda - Penang, Malaysia

Prayer Inside the Kuan Yin Teng Pagoda – Penang, Malaysia


Thoughtful - Kuan Yin Teng Pagoda, Malaysia

Thoughtful – Kuan Yin Teng Pagoda, Malaysia


Peaceful Profile - Kuan Yin Teng Pagoda - Penang, Malaysia

Peaceful Profile – Kuan Yin Teng Pagoda – Penang, Malaysia


Monks of the Kuan Yin Teng Pagoda - Penang, Malaysia

Monks of the Kuan Yin Teng Pagoda – Penang, Malaysia


Messages to Ancestors - Kuan Yin Teng Pagoda - Penang, Malaysia

Messages to Ancestors – Kuan Yin Teng Pagoda – Penang, Malaysia

Yet another two minutes up the road, the St George’s Church sat solemn in the sunlight, completely in contrast to the noise of the two Chinese temples and Mosque that I’d jumped from nearby.

St George's Church - Penang, Malaysia

St George’s Church – Penang, Malaysia

After some more snacks from street stalls, I then wandered past the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion – another UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was unfortunately closed, but I could see the striking blue façade that has become known to be Cheong Fatt Tze’s most elaborate and lavish works – the detailing and artisan works are even more refined than even those in his native home in Tai’pu; and is reputedly one of only two such buildings of its size outside China.

Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion - Penang, Malaysia

Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion – Penang, Malaysia

With most of the town covered off and at the height of the heat of the day, I then headed off to the hostel to grab my bags and head out for a bite to eat. A few hours went by watching the locals come and go amongst the bustling street stalls. As prominent with most of Asia, street food is central to its culture and the best place to catch local life. It’s as almost if the stalls acted as everybody’s kitchen – the streets could be virtually deserted before families fill it to the brim for dinner.

Lunch Gatherers - Penang, Malaysia

Lunch Gatherers – Penang, Malaysia


Locals of Penang - Malaysia

Locals of Penang – Malaysia


Local Pose - Penang, Malaysia

Local Pose – Penang, Malaysia


Local Advertisement - Penang, Malaysia

Local Advertisement – Penang, Malaysia

A few mixed juices later, it was then time to catch an 11pm overnight train to Kuala Lumpur.

Further Reading on Malaysia

 
Georgetown Penang Blog
http://www.georgetownpenang.com/

Leong Sang Tong Khoo Kongsi
http://www.khookongsi.com.my/

Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion
http://www.cheongfatttzemansion.com/

More Photography :

 
“The Photography Collection” by Antematters

Posted in Malaysia Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Vietnamese Highlands – A Motorcycle Journey – The Final Part – Kon Tum to Kham Duc and Hoi An

After an action packed few days on the motorcycle, the most southerly part of the Ho Chi Minh trail now awaited me on the final stretch of the motorcycle tour – this leg concluded the journey, heading up the trail from Kon Tum to stop off overnight at Kham Duc before arriving at Hoi An. The trail was the most important spinal network during the Vietnam War for the logistical transportation of Viet Cong troops, supplies and ammunition from the North to the South of Vietnam, with parts crossing over into nearby Laos and Cambodia. It was an area of supreme strategic and tactical importance and was therefore host to many bloody battles. Apart from the historical aspect of the trail, the landscape it cuts through is some of the most breath-taking in the world. The trail was originally quite compact, but its modernisation has led to the construction of long winding roads that cut through a the complex terrains. The next couple of days gave me a chance to see just what the jungle was about and ended up being the most enjoyable for cruising on the bike. The majority of time on both days was spent just taking in the sights and enjoying the bike ride.

As we moved on past Charlie Mountain and headed past the remains of a US airfield, the vegetation started to spring out at us more readily – the landscape was still trying to fight off the war remnants, and as we headed further out of Kon Tum towards Kham Duc, the scenery changed into thick forestry with the occasional beautiful waterfall, until finally becoming full grown jungle territory.

Breakfast with Mui Ne - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Breakfast with Mui Ne – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Charlie Mountain - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Charlie Mountain – Kon Tum, Vietnam


War Memorial - Kon Tum, Vietnam

War Memorial – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Schoolkids with Guns - Memorial at Kon Tum, Vietnam

Schoolkids with Guns – Memorial at Kon Tum, Vietnam


Kon Tum Airstrip - Vietnam

Kon Tum Airstrip – Vietnam


Start of Ho Chi Minh Trail - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Start of Ho Chi Minh Trail – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Ho Chi Minh Trail Roadsign - Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh Trail Roadsign – Vietnam

En route, the only main stop off we had in terms of culture, was a brief visit to the Ve Tribe. They had much more traditional housing, bungalow in appearance, but again on stilts. In contrast to what I’d seen so far, they were built widely rather than deep, with the main entrances to the side of the building. For them, the bull was central to their sacrificial ritual, and in similar vein to the Ba Na, sees the bull with great power and presence – a protector of their people.

Ve Tribe Dwellings, Vietnam

Ve Tribe Dwellings, Vietnam


Ve Tribe Dwellings, Vietnam

Ve Tribe Dwellings, Vietnam


Interior of Ve Tribe Dwellings - Vietnam

Interior of Ve Tribe Dwellings – Vietnam


Bulls Skull - Ve Tribe, Vietnam

Bulls Skull – Ve Tribe, Vietnam


Interior of Ve Tribe Dwellings - Vietnam

Interior of Ve Tribe Dwellings – Vietnam


Ve Tribe Councilman Dwellings - Vietnam

Ve Tribe Councilman Dwellings – Vietnam


Ve Tribe Councilman - Vietnam

Ve Tribe Councilman – Vietnam


Children at Play - Ve Tribe, Vietnam

Children at Play – Ve Tribe, Vietnam


Twig Bridge - Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam

Twig Bridge – Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam


Wobbly Bridge - Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam

Wobbly Bridge – Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam


Schoolgirl Walking Home - Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam

Schoolgirl Walking Home – Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam


Restful Boy - Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam

Restful Boy – Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam


Hills of the Ho Chi Minh Trail - Vietnam

Hills of the Ho Chi Minh Trail – Vietnam


Farming along the Ho Chi Minh Trail - Vietnam

Farming along the Ho Chi Minh Trail – Vietnam


Smoky Invasion - Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam

Smoky Invasion – Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam


Jungle Post Agent Orange - Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam

Jungle Post Agent Orange – Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam


Ho Chi Minh Trail - Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh Trail – Vietnam


Rice Farming - Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam

Rice Farming – Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam


Hidden Waterfall - Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam

Hidden Waterfall – Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam


Modern Ho Chi Minh Trail - Vietnam

Modern Ho Chi Minh Trail – Vietnam


Peaceful Jungle - Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam

Peaceful Jungle – Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam


Jungle Canape - Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam

Jungle Canape – Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam


Jungle Valley - Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam

Jungle Valley – Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam


Local Kids of Kham Duc - Vietnam

Local Kids of Kham Duc – Vietnam


Woman Making Pancakes - Vietnam

Woman Making Pancakes – Vietnam

Upon arrival at Kham Duc in the Quang Nam province, I was at complete ease with myself and was completely blown away by the scenery. It was the final night of dining with Mui as the following day would complete our 5-day journey to Hoi An, so we decided to have a few beers and rice wine to see off the night. At this point, having spent the last 4 days with Mui, we felt a good bonding between us and it was a shame that it was to end soon…

The final stretch between Kham Duc and Hoi An was quite a short affair with some final spectacular jungle foliage to cut through with some wide rampaging rivers to cross over.

River Cutting Through the Jungle - Vietnam

River Cutting Through the Jungle – Vietnam


Rapid River - Vietnam

Rapid River – Vietnam


Colourful River - Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam

Colourful River – Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam


Riverboats - Vietnam

Riverboats – Vietnam

Mui did his usual emergency stop when he spotted something interesting. One touching visit was to a farmer and his wife who had apparently built shelter in the middle of nowhere. Mui questioned why they were so isolated on their own, and we learnt that they ran away a couple of years ago in order to be together and start a family. The customs of their village forbade them from marriage; so daringly, they decided to start life elsewhere on their own. They haven’t been back since.

Isolated Family - Ho Chi Minh Trial, Vietnam

Isolated Family – Ho Chi Minh Trial, Vietnam

As I was coming to terms that the trip in Vietnam was ending, Mui had one last trick up his sleeve. He took me into nearby Quy Thang to visit another temple – this time; it was of the Caoist religion. This is a modern day religion that attempts to combine world religions bringing together Buddhism, Christianity and Islam. Their core belief is for peaceful homogenisation – that all beings should be able to live and share the same space, irrelevant of beliefs and worship the god that they choose unchallenged. It was an interesting premise that was working here…

Caoist Temple - Vietnam

Caoist Temple – Vietnam


The Three Saints of Caiosm - Vietnam

The Three Saints of Caiosm – Vietnam

At Hoi An, it was time to say a fond farewell to Mui after an incredible journey. Although it had only been 5 days since we met, it seemed a long time ago that he wandered into the hostel in Da Lat to offer me his services. And I’m glad he convinced me…

Mui and Me - Hoi An, Vietnam

Mui and Me – Hoi An, Vietnam

Further Reading on Vietnam

 
Off Road Vietnam
http://www.offroadvietnam.com/eng/13-45.php

Easy Riders – Motorcycle Tours of Vietnam
http://www.easy-riders.net/

Lonely Planet
http://www.lonelyplanet.com/vietnam/central-vietnam/history

More Photography :

 
“The Photography Collection” by Antematters

Posted in Vietnam Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Vietnamese Highlands – A Motorcycle Journey Part 3 – Buon Ma Thuot to Kon Tum

The third day of the motorcycle journey through the Vietnamese Highlands was the most ambitious one in terms of distances, needing to cover around 300km up to the next resting point of Kon Tum. In terms of millage, it doesn’t seem that long on the face of it, but on a motorbike doing around 60km/h average, it’s a fair distance with the stoppages planned on the way. Not only that, but we were greeted by a ferocious gale which froze us to the bone during the morning hours, the fight against the wind unbearable at times. Strangely, it painted a perfect picture of what we would see throughout the first couple of hours. Buôn Ma Thuột was definitely the starting point for more tales of the Vietnam War. The day was heavily based around its history and the journey was unable to escape the hangover of the war.

Our first stop off point was in fact at a War Memorial which gave me a chance to take a look at the vast amounts of names of people that had succumbed to the battle.

War Memorial - Buon Ma Thuot - Vietnam

War Memorial – Buon Ma Thuot – Vietnam

Moving on, we battled our way through the wind on the incredible zigzagging roads through lower mountains, but the weather couldn’t spoil the breath-taking views of the countryside. I have to say, as much as I love photography, I really struggled to capture the ambiance and atmosphere that I was experiencing on the road without real preparation – this was definitely more a personal feeling of freedom over the photography of what you would probably define as customary countryside.

Setting for the Ride from Buon Ma Thuot to Kon Tum, Vietnam

Setting for the Ride from Buon Ma Thuot to Kon Tum, Vietnam


On The Road - Vietnamese Central Highlands

On The Road – Vietnamese Central Highlands


Cut Through the Forest - Vietnam

Cut Through the Forest – Vietnam

En route, we managed to veer off track to check out a vast Vaseline and rubber tree plantation. With the wind at full force, it was a brilliantly eerie setting, with the tunnels of noise thundering through the canapés as we wandered about.

Vaseline Trees - Vietnam

Vaseline Trees – Vietnam

After scaring ourselves silly, we then hopped back on the bike and stopped off at a nearby rice noodle factory. Again, one might expect the factory to be a huge full blown production system – in fact, it was yet again owned by a small family who milled the rice noodles by hand and basic machinery.

Local Rice Noodle Makers - Vietnam

Local Rice Noodle Makers – Vietnam


Rice Noodle Rack - Vietnam

Rice Noodle Rack – Vietnam

Not too far down the road, we then came across some peppercorn ranches followed by my first proper introduction to the best fruit I’ve ever tasted – the Star Fruit. Mui told me I’d had it in the spring rolls yesterday and this could have been why they were so succulent. As I’d picked these from the source, they were ripe and irresistible, the freshest and sweetest fruit I’ve ever had!

Coffee Groves - Vietnam

Coffee Groves – Vietnam


Peppercorn Groves - Vietnam

Peppercorn Groves – Vietnam


Star Fruit Plant - Vietnam

Star Fruit Plant – Vietnam

It was then time for lunch. We couldn’t have stopped off any further off the beaten track. It was like the American mid-west. There was nothing insight apart from farmland and forest in the distance, a gas station and this one restaurant. We’d obviously arrived just after lunchtime as the place was a complete mess. Mui said that the mess showed signs of why we are here – it gets busy because it’s the best crispy chicken around. And boy was he right. I was beginning to wonder if I was getting carried away, but the chicken was amazing. Crispy as hell skin topped with some secret spice recipe with succulent tenderness beneath. All served with rice noodles and shrimp sauce. We had two servings each…

Back on the bike, we then headed onwards to Kon Tum. This took us through Play Cu and Ham Rong which is otherwise known as the Valley of the Dead and borders Skeleton or Charlie Mountain. Having come through some thick vegetation en route from Buon Ma Thout, this was a complete contrast in scenery. The scars of the Vietnam War were substantial here. There were huge flat plains which were left lifeless from the huge from Agent Orange bombings.

Charlie Mountain - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Charlie Mountain – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Rice Gathering - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Rice Gathering – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Effects of Agent Orange - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Effects of Agent Orange – Kon Tum, Vietnam

Mui told me how the area used to be thick jungle, the scenery true to the depictions in Vietnam War movies. It used to be brimming with life and the jungle would dominate the area for hundreds of miles. This was a key area for Viet Cong outposts that the US army couldn’t infiltrate and one of the most underestimated treacherous areas the US soldiers would enter – an area the Viet Cong thrived in and ultimately led to their victory. The only way for the US to take the Kon Tum area was to bomb it, even if it meant sacrificing US troops. And the scars were here to be seen.

We arrived in Kon Tum late in the afternoon – a little battered and weary from the earlier winds that then turned into red hot sunshine. The first thing that we bizarrely went to visit was the Kon Tum Wooden Church or the Christian Church of the Tay Nguyen people. The church was built in 1913 by French christian priests during Vietnam’s occupation. It is perfectly designed under the combination of Roman architectural style and Ba Na people’s architecture for stilt housing which resulted in the beautiful convergence of Tay Nguyen culture and Western style.

Kon Tum Wooden Church, Vietnam

Kon Tum Wooden Church, Vietnam


Facade of the Kon Tum Wooden Church, Vietnam

Facade of the Kon Tum Wooden Church, Vietnam


Shaded Wooden Church of Kon Tum, Vietnam

Shaded Wooden Church of Kon Tum, Vietnam

From there, we ventured off to visit the more traditional side of Vietnam and meet two more tribes – the Ba Na and Gie Trieng. As with each tribe, they both have their symbolism and rituals which we had a chance to peek at. The Ba Na Tribe is easily recognised by the huge sky-scraping village halls or communal housing (rong), built on high stilts with huge thatched roofs and long corridors. Within the Ba Na tribe, the focal point of marriage is the responsibility of the individuals – which is quite rare. They also worship the God of Water and the Mountains, with human spirit being central to life. Music is a huge part of the Ba Na tradition, and I had a chance to watch the local councilman play on his hand built t’rung xylophone and even have a go at playing myself.

Ba Na Tribe Hall - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Ba Na Tribe Hall – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Skeleton of a Ba Na Hut - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Skeleton of a Ba Na Hut – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Rafters of a Ba Na Hut, Kon Tum, Vietnam

Rafters of a Ba Na Hut, Kon Tum, Vietnam


Beams of a Ba Na Hut - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Beams of a Ba Na Hut – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Ba Na Councilman on the T'rung Xylophone - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Ba Na Councilman on the T’rung Xylophone – Kon Tum, Vietnam

The Gie Trieng Tribe were located nearby and were quite similar. However, the buffalo is the most symbolic to them, with regular ritual ceremonial sacrifices. They believe that this transfers the strength and presence of the animal to their tribe.

Gie Trieng Dwellings - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Gie Trieng Dwellings – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Gie Trieng Dwellings - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Gie Trieng Dwellings – Kon Tum, Vietnam

As we wandered through the villages in the late evening sunshine, we were greeted once more by local children on their way home from school. As we sat witnessing the sunset over the nearby river, we also saw the local rush hour home, with horse and cattle carts coming back across the bridge from the nearby farmlands.

Sunset over a Bridge - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Sunset over a Bridge – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Rush Hour - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Rush Hour – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Rush Hour - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Rush Hour – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Farmer En Route Home - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Farmer En Route Home – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Steel Bridge - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Steel Bridge – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Children behind Bars - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Children behind Bars – Kon Tum, Vietnam

Suitably chilled out, we ate at a local pancake stall in the village – a concoction of rice flour, eggs, beef and vegetables. Simple and delicious again. Then, it was time for bed in preparation for Day 4…

Further Reading on Vietnam

 
Off Road Vietnam
http://www.offroadvietnam.com/eng/13-45.php

Easy Riders – Motorcycle Tours of Vietnam
http://www.easy-riders.net/

Vietnam Travel Guide
http://www.vietnam-travel-guide.net/central-highlands/kon-tum/

Lonely Planet
http://www.lonelyplanet.com/vietnam/central-highlands/kon-tum

More Photography :

 
“The Photography Collection” by Antematters

Posted in Vietnam Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Vietnamese Highlands – A Motorcycle Journey Part 2 – Lak Lake to Buon Ma Thuot

For the second day of my journey through the Vietnamese Highlands, Mui and I woke up at around 7am with the aim of reaching the waterfalls of Drây Sáp and Drây No on the edges of Buon Ma Thout – a couple of hundred kilometres further North for around lunchtime.

After a traditional beef noodle breakfast, we headed to some local M’Nong Villages in the early morning sunshine to take in the beautiful view across Lak Lake. It was peaceful scene with some elephants wandering around the banks with their keepers and the occasional out of towner.

Peaceful Solace - Lak Lake, Vietnam

Peaceful Solace – Lak Lake, Vietnam


Morning Stroll - Lak Lake, Vietnam

Morning Stroll – Lak Lake, Vietnam


Stork at Breakfast - Vietnam

Stork at Breakfast – Vietnam


Grazing - Vietnam

Grazing – Vietnam

Looking around the M’nong villages once again highlighted how there were distinct social class divisions within the tribe. There were two particular families with greater wealth and prosperity – one of their homes was built out of good quality solid wood with tiling on the roof, with the inside spacious in comparison to the standard fare. The other was built out of concrete, with a sheet metal roof and densely decorated on the outside. These two homes were completely removed from the disorder of some of the shacked huts we saw yesterday. What was more intriguing was that the style of housing remained consistent. They were also on stilts, oblong shaped and with a gable roof (a roof with two sides only). What differentiated them was purely based on the quality of the materials used and how they were decorated.

Mui Entering M'nong Tribe Home, Vietnam

Mui Entering M’nong Tribe Home, Vietnam


Upper Class of the M'nong Tribe - Vietnam

Upper Class of the M’nong Tribe – Vietnam

Mui managed to get us an invite into one of the local’s homes to have a look around. The house was quite spacious inside and as with yesterday’s fair, limited in terms of luxuries. However, they did have material possessions which were key to their social class status within the tribe. Just like having an expensive car on the front drive or a conservatory on the back of your house, certain possessions had certain meanings. For example, I touched on the importance of the huge jars that sat at the foot of the tombs of the M’nong cemetaries on the first day of my trip – these jars were hugely significant before you passed away. A family’s economic and social status within the village would grow with each additional bigger and better quality jar. At time of your passing, these jars would then sit at the foot of your tomb to show others how important you had been. They even had huge metal pan type objects which were apparently as important – again, quantity, quality and size qualified you. I found it quite fascinating how only a few kilometres further on from tribes like the Chil and the Ma, there’s another tribe who actually thrives on social infrastructure and materialism. Two complete extremes within touching distance of each other. The M’nong Tribe also embraced foreigners and was used to them, often capitalising on them through trade. The secluded Chil and Ma Tribes yesterday had barely seen an outsider. Their roots were the same; however the M’nong Tribe – even though still not technologically advanced – decided to try escaping isolation.

M'nong Tribe Dwellings, Vietnam

M’nong Tribe Dwellings, Vietnam


Social Status Jars - M'nong Village

Social Status Jars – M’nong Village


Trophies - M'nong Village

Trophies – M’nong Village

As we moved on, the heat intensified throughout the morning – much more so than yesterday – which meant we stopped off quite regularly to take on some fluids. One stop was at a huge brick producing factory – this again was not a machine dominated factory, but instead driven by manual labour. There wasn’t that much interest here, but it gave me another opportunity to take a couple more interesting snaps. Further on, we relaxed whilst looking out at some fisherman going about their days business on a stunning lake encircled by a beautiful mountainous backdrop.

Men at Work - Vietnam

Men at Work – Vietnam


Fishing in the Mid Afternoon Heat - Vietnam

Fishing in the Mid Afternoon Heat – Vietnam

After around 4 hours, we arrived in one of the most important towns in the Central Highlands – Buôn Ma Thuột. This was a hugely influential strategic post for the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War and the current capital of the Dak Lak Province. It was here I encountered the next real gem of the trip. Mui did his usual by randomly pulling up in someone’s driveway. After knocking on the door and smiling at me, he beckoned me forward. At the door was a very old frail man who invited us in. Upon entering, all I could see hanging on the walls were certificates of the Viet Cong, with flags and emblems scattered around the place. The old man was a 90-year active communist who served for the Viet Cong throughout the war and has been a member of the Communist Party for over 50 years. He’s still an important spokesman of the Northern Vietnamese committee that still congregates within the town. His wife was a radio operator – although she was there, she kept to herself, with obvious affects from the war taken toll on her mind.

War Tales of an Old Vietcong Man - Buon Ma Thuot, Vietnam

War Tales of an Old Vietcong Man – Buon Ma Thuot, Vietnam


Radio Operator of the Vietcong

Radio Operator of the Vietcong

Coincidentally, it was also the 35th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War, and although he was a practiced communist, he was due to meet up with US veterans of war in Buon Ma Thuot that week! As Mui spoke to him, he recounted tails of fighting off the Americans and how to this day, he’s still proud of standing up to them in the fight for their own freedom. He described tales of shooting US soldiers from point blank range to save his own skin, to the extreme tales of shooting fellow comrades in order to help injured enemies. He said he mainly did this as dying was an easy way out of the pain. He’d gone through it all – the main story that stuck out centred around the horrendous napalm bombing – many times whilst evading the shells himself he would stand watching friends scratching away at their skin to try and release themselves from the burning sticky mess that had concealed them – again he would shoot them to ease the pain. He also explained how although 35 years had passed, the war scars were still there to be seen in his town and throughout the highlands. And it seemed like he was right from a brief tour round town, with the Vietnamese flag in full flight everywhere you go in amongst the War Memorials and statues. Mui told me to expect more to come as we move up through the Ho Chi Minh trail.

Buon Ma Thuot - Vietnam

Buon Ma Thuot – Vietnam


Iron Bridge - Buon Ma Thuot, Vietnam

Iron Bridge – Buon Ma Thuot, Vietnam


Bridge View - Buon Ma Thuot, Vietnam

Bridge View – Buon Ma Thuot, Vietnam

It was then time to bid farewell and head for one of the best lunches I’ve had. Again, it was nothing too complex – just some traditional fresh spring rolls – but their taste and freshness was just unbelievable. The rolls were served open for you to make up as you wished. Aside from the rice wraps, it came with rice noodles, banana cucumber, lettuce, pork scratching, fried batter, the delicious star fruit and some incredible shrimp sauce. Wrap that all up and it exploded in your mouth – the freshness combined with the impish fats of the pork and batter.

With our stomachs content, we then headed about half an hour further up the road to the second highlight of the day – the beautiful Drây Sáp and Drây No Waterfalls. The lunchtime sun was a killer, beating down on both of us and it was a perfect way to cool off – diving into the lagoons with the waterfalls coming down from high above for a good hard massage. After taking a dip, it was time to relax in the surrounding jungle foliage before heading to our hotel.

Krong No River - Dray Sap Waterfalls, Vietnam

Krong No River – Dray Sap Waterfalls, Vietnam


Dray Sap Waterfalls, Vietnam

Dray Sap Waterfalls, Vietnam


Dray Sap Waterfalls, Vietnam

Dray Sap Waterfalls, Vietnam


Dray Sap Waterfalls at Sunset, Vietnam

Dray Sap Waterfalls at Sunset, Vietnam


Massaged - Dray Sap Waterfalls on the Canon Ixus 50, Vietnam

Massaged – Dray Sap Waterfalls on the Canon Ixus 50, Vietnam

Dinner was another interesting affair – we headed back into Buôn Ma Thuột to a huge diner. This was one of the best places to get duck stew and I wasn’t let down. What was amazing was the fact the whole duck came in the stew. Not just the unrecognisable meat – but we’re talking feet, neck, and head! But the stew was incredible – the duck fatty and delicious, the soup itself refreshing yet tangy.

Mui Stirring Duck Stew - Buon Ma Thuot, Vietnam

Mui Stirring Duck Stew – Buon Ma Thuot, Vietnam


Buon Ma Thuot Restaurant, Vietnam

Buon Ma Thuot Restaurant, Vietnam

With day 2 over and the stories of the war in my head, we were gaining ground on the Ho Chi Minh trail itself…

Further Reading on Vietnam

 
Off Road Vietnam
http://www.offroadvietnam.com/eng/13-45.php

Easy Riders – Motorcycle Tours of Vietnam
http://www.easy-riders.net/

Vietnam Travel Guide
http://www.vietnam-travel-guide.net/central-highlands/dalat/

Lonely Planet
http://www.lonelyplanet.com/vietnam/central-highlands/sights/other/dray-sap-dray

More Photography :

 
“The Photography Collection” by Antematters

Posted in Vietnam Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Vietnamese Highlands – A Motorcycle Journey Part 1 – Da Lat to Lak Lake

After a mid-morning breakfast on yet another hot and humid day in Saigon, it was time for me to head to Da Lat in the Vietnamese Highlands. Da Lat is the capital of the Lam Dong province and is a perfect place to start plotting a journey up through the Central Highlands, taking a trip up the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail that was created during the Vietnam War . This was a transport link between the Northern and Southern Viet Cong outposts against the US allies. Most people have heard about motorcycling through the country’s beautiful mountain ranges and jungle terrains, and being an avid motorcyclist, this was an opportunity not to miss out on.

Da Lat - Vietnam

Da Lat – Vietnam

The 8-hour bus journey from Saigon was long and sluggish, heading up to around 1500 metres above sea level. The bus was barely capable of hitting 40kph on a flat straight and it really struggled to get up through the slithering mountain roadways up to Da Lat. The journey was fraught with danger as sun set in, with the driver throwing the bus around treacherous roads that were perched on the edge of vast cliff faces, centimetres away from plummeting to our death. Not only was he avoiding the massive gaping holes in the road in complete darkness, but he was also playing quite a good tactical game of chicken with any oncoming truck coming down towards us. I just had to relax, stick on the Animal Collective and not fall asleep in fear of not waking up ever again.

The next morning at breakfast in the hostel I’d checked into, a man called Mui Ne walked into the bar. He was geared up in motorcycle clothes and sunglasses and looked like a man on a mission. He also had an “Easy Rider” jacket on – I’d heard of these guys before I’d arrived in Da Lat, and it was like someone had sent in a premonition. I introduced myself to him, and within about 20 minutes he had me sold – I’d hop on the back of his bike the following day for a 5-day tour through the rest of the highlands. I was a bit apprehensive at first, wanting to actually ride myself, but taking his advice to let him do the driving was the best decision I could have ever made. Mui was overwhelmingly passionate about his country and this could only be a positive thing for my journey onwards.

The following day, Mui met me at the hotel at around 8am. The first port of call was to a nearby Buddhist Temple on the outskirts of Da Lat.

Buddhist Temple - Da Lat, Vietnam

Buddhist Temple – Da Lat, Vietnam


Golden Dragon - Da Lat, Vietnam

Golden Dragon – Da Lat, Vietnam

Mui gave me a more detailed explanation of the meanings of Buddhism to the Vietnamese, how Karma was central to it, the huge importance of the balance of Ying and Yang between all beings and also how the dragon, the phoenix and the turtle were also embodied in all temples representing power, knowledge, wealth, long life and happiness. The afterlife also has significance, with the belief that your soul passes onto paradise when you’re your body completes its life. However, Buddhists continue to communicate with their ancestors, and one of the most common ways to do so is by writing letters and then placing them within a huge bell within a temple. The bell would then be sounded in order to pass the message on.

We then hopped back on the bike and started the sweeping journey up towards Lak Lake, where we would eventually rest up for the night. The first day of the journey brought with it a plethora of sites, cultures, ethnic minorities and tribes, landscapes and some incredible food. Although the air was quite dry and warm, the landscapes were lush green owing to the rainy seasons preceding the current summer one, a perfect environment for the vast wealth of rice fields that we passed by.

Vietnamese Central Highlands

Vietnamese Central Highlands


Vietnamese Central Highlands

Vietnamese Central Highlands


Terraced Farming - Vietnam

Terraced Farming – Vietnam


Mountains of the Southern Highlands - Vietnam

Mountains of the Southern Highlands – Vietnam


Late Afternoon Sunlight on the Southern Highlands - Vietnam

Late Afternoon Sunlight on the Southern Highlands – Vietnam


Farmlands - Da Lat, Vietnam

Farmlands – Da Lat, Vietnam

Continuing onwards saw us pass through huge expanses of farm land; at one point, we took a break to chat to some potato and onion farmers at the side of the road – what was surprising was that there was no machinery in sight – it was pure manual labour as the farmers picked each and every potato and onion by hand underneath the powerful sunshine. But, they were all very sprightful, kind people. They didn’t need any machinery. They enjoyed their work and saw nothing more in it than harvesting for local needs – money and materiality was a distant thought. As a gesture, they even insisted we take a bag of potatoes with us. We said we were on the road and probably wouldn’t use them, so we promised to hand over to someone else on route.

Potato Picking - Vietnam

Potato Picking – Vietnam


Potato and Onion Farmers at Work - Vietnam

Potato and Onion Farmers at Work – Vietnam


Man Picks Potatoes - Vietnam

Man Picks Potatoes – Vietnam

As we rode on, it wasn’t long before we stopped off at some flower and rose orchards, before riding through acres upon acres of coffee farms, as well as the more secluded mushroom and silk worm farms.

Rose Farming - Vietnam

Rose Farming – Vietnam


Mushroom Farming - Vietnam

Mushroom Farming – Vietnam


Close-up of Mushroom Farming - Vietnam

Close-up of Mushroom Farming – Vietnam


Coffee Groves - Vietnam

Coffee Groves – Vietnam

At one of the silk farms, we had a chance to go in and take a look at the whole process. The silk worms would be harvested in huge cold damp warehouses, left to eat vegetation for days on end, before the eventual transformation into cocoons that would form the basis for the silk. These cocoons would then be cleaned off, with the silk manually extracted from each before being transferred to huge machines for stretching and drying out, then moved into a small clothing factory nearby.

Mui Ne and the Silk Worm - Vietnam

Mui Ne and the Silk Worm – Vietnam


Silk Worm Shop Floor, Vietnam

Silk Worm Shop Floor, Vietnam


Silk Worm Farming - Vietnam

Silk Worm Farming – Vietnam


Silk Worm Cocoons - Vietnam

Silk Worm Cocoons – Vietnam


Silk Worm Cocoon Nest - Vietnam

Silk Worm Cocoon Nest – Vietnam


Silk Extraction - Vietnam

Silk Extraction – Vietnam


Threading Silk by Hand - Vietnamese Silk Factory

Threading Silk by Hand – Vietnamese Silk Factory


Hands at Work on Silk Machinery - Vietnamese Silk Farm

Hands at Work on Silk Machinery – Vietnamese Silk Farm


Silk Preparation - Vietnamese Silk Factory

Silk Preparation – Vietnamese Silk Factory


Silk Dryers - Vietnam

Silk Dryers – Vietnam


Silk Dryers - Vietnam

Silk Dryers – Vietnam


Silk Press Machine - Vietnam

Silk Press Machine – Vietnam


Woman Sewing - Vietnam

Woman Sewing – Vietnam

Jumping back on the wheels, we headed off through the farmland once more and stopped off at the next temple. I was beginning to think, are we really going to stop off at every temple? Like sensing my thoughts, Mui told me not to worry about seeing too many – he would only stop off at those offering something different. And he was right about this one as I got to meet a huge 150 ft. giant smiley blue Buddha!

Blue Buddha - Lak Lake, Vietnam

Blue Buddha – Lak Lake, Vietnam


Man Cleans Buddha - Lak Lake, Vietnam

Man Cleans Buddha – Lak Lake, Vietnam

Only 4-hours of the journey had passed by and I was already completely at ease. As we approached the province of Dak Lak, we then started to move off from the farmlands into some small local villages.

On the Road - Lak Lake, Vietnam

On the Road – Lak Lake, Vietnam


Village of the Chil Tribe - Vietnam

Village of the Chil Tribe – Vietnam

It was home time for the school kids for some kind of siesta in the heights of the afternoon sunshine. Tens of school children came running over toward us on the bike as we entered one village, all waving, smiling, saying hello, giggling and completely transfixed by us. It obviously wasn’t often that they get to see a westerner on the back of a motorbike – it was still completely alien to them. We stopped off to say hello, but after all the jubilation; they were actually quite hesitant of approaching me at first. Mui beckoned them over to say it was ok, and within seconds they rushed over and started touching me, feeling my hair and just generally checking me out!

Schoolkids - Chil Village, Vietnam

Schoolkids – Chil Village, Vietnam

We then headed over into the home of a local family of the Chil Tribe. I wasn’t quite sure if Mui knew them or he was just being friendly, but they eventually invited us in for some really strong green tea and a chat. I say a chat, but of course it was mainly to Mui, describing how they were mainly coffee farmers but also had a livestock farm out the back. Their housing was extremely basic – a hut they built themselves with the bare necessities of a hot stove in the corner, a kitchen table, some pans and utensils hanging about the place and some bedding in another room. They didn’t even have running water into the house, this was all out the back and irrigated from a nearby well. They were extremely humble and knew nothing about the material side of life. They were together, happy as a family, working hard for each other and had no need for anything else. Yes, they looked economically impoverished, but they all looked healthy and happy for it. Their lives were much richer than some people I see back home. The man was also strong and fit, and their skin was so well kept you couldn’t really tell how old they were. Before we left, they handed me a blue and white necklace to keep which acted as a symbol of being welcomed into their tribe.

Chil Family - Vietnam

Chil Family – Vietnam


Kitchen - Vietnam

Kitchen – Vietnam


Me with Chil Family - Vietnam

Me with Chil Family – Vietnam


Two Vietnamese Chil Girls at Lunch - Vietnam

Two Vietnamese Chil Girls at Lunch – Vietnam


Kids Hanging Out - Chil Tribe, Vietnam

Kids Hanging Out – Chil Tribe, Vietnam


Inquisitive Children - Vietnam

Inquisitive Children – Vietnam


Smiling Vietnamese Girl - Ma Tribe, Vietnam

Smiling Vietnamese Girl – Ma Tribe, Vietnam

After bidding farewell, it was time for lunch at a stop off point perched high up on a mountain peak. This was the first of many buffets of amazing fish, meat, chicken, rice soup and noodles – all succulently fresh and moreish. There was enough to feed a family of 4 and it only cost around $2.

Back on the bike, we then stopped off at a few other villages which included a quick visit to a rice winery. This was my first opportunity to have some proper rice wine, straight from the source and it almost blew my balls off. The winery itself was like everything I’d seen so far, meek and humble. There was no huge machinery around. Instead, it was the family manually producing it.

Woman Preparing Rice Wine - Vietnam

Woman Preparing Rice Wine – Vietnam


Rice Wine Boilers - Vietnam

Rice Wine Boilers – Vietnam

It seemed quite a simple process on paper – the wine would be sifted and cooked slowly in a stewing pot for a few hours. Later, the rice would be crushed down and left for a few days to ferment before going through the distillation process to produce the wine. We of course took a bottle with us to enjoy at dinner time later…

As we continued onwards, we started moving through lavish forest lands before entering Dak Lak. It was here I had my first real moving moment in Vietnam. We took a right off the beaten track and headed towards a small village home to the Ma Tribe. This was a very small village with only a few homes and farmland around it, but once again, upon arrival, the locals were perplexed as to what they were seeing. Mui convinced them to invite us in – one that proved difficult at first because of my big camera. They still didn’t really understand what a camera was, but were intrigued by it. A blacksmith invited us into their home for a brief chat. His wife was also there with him. They were beautiful amazing people, soft and humble and just couldn’t wait to get in front of the camera! Having said that, the flash scared them, so I had some trouble getting the right shots of them, especially in bad lighting, but the results were impeccable. They were overjoyed by it themselves, but a little disappointed they couldn’t keep the photos! They both had such smooth skin that didn’t look too weathered other than the more obvious cracks you get upon ageing. Their hands were huge – workman like and clearly put to good use over the years for their craft. There was a strange moment where they touched my face and hair and I touched them back. Mui then told me that the man was 95 and the woman 84. Again, their surroundings were basic. But they had survived…

Blacksmith and Wife - Ma Tribe, Vietnam

Blacksmith and Wife – Ma Tribe, Vietnam


Blacksmith of the Ma Tribe - Vietnam

Blacksmith of the Ma Tribe – Vietnam


Blacksmith Wife - Ma Tribe - Vietnam

Blacksmith Wife – Ma Tribe – Vietnam


Mui and Blacksmith of the Ma Tribe, Vietnam

Mui and Blacksmith of the Ma Tribe, Vietnam


Aged Innocence - Vietnam

Aged Innocence – Vietnam


Humble Face - Vietnam

Humble Face – Vietnam

As the day wore on, we then headed onto flatter rice field land.

Sunset Over Lak Lake - Vietnam

Sunset Over Lak Lake – Vietnam


Cut Through Rice Fields - Vietnam

Cut Through Rice Fields – Vietnam


Rice Fields at Sunset - Vietnam

Rice Fields at Sunset – Vietnam


Lost Dwellings - Lak Lake, Vietnam

Lost Dwellings – Lak Lake, Vietnam

We also stopped off at the M’nong Cemeteries which at first may seem a little strange to visit. However, this was important to explain the local religion and ritual. The M’nong believed that once you passed away, your spirit lives on elsewhere and that your body can still enjoy food and drink and maintains status within the community. This meant that the deceased were encased in tombs nearby; however, these tombs also had outlets through which food and drink were poured so the body could absorb. At the foot of these tombs, huge expensive jars would sit as a symbol of wealth for the deceased. Bottles would also be strewn about the tombs after families would sit getting drunk around them. They really ensured the deceased didn’t miss out!

M'nong Tribe Tombs - Vietnam

M’nong Tribe Tombs – Vietnam


M'nong Tribe Tomb - Vietnam

M’nong Tribe Tomb – Vietnam


Side by Side at Peace - M'nong Tombs, Vietnam

Side by Side at Peace – M’nong Tombs, Vietnam

We then stopped off at the nearest M’nong village and again were invited into a family home. This time, although again their foundations weren’t rich, they appeared to have some wealth behind them. They had better infrastructure and their housing, albeit still huts on stilts. Underneath, their livestock and animals would be kept out of the blazing sunshine. Within the village, there were obvious differences in wealth. Some housing would bear thatched roofs on top of basic wooden walls. Inside, it would be decorated with basic furniture. Others would have sturdier foundations, even girdered or tiled roofs, more expensive looking furnishing and even stereo systems and instruments. So even villages in the remotest areas had social infrastructures and status.

Stilted – M’nong Tribe, Vietnam

Stilted – M’nong Tribe, Vietnam


Chicken Coup - Vietnam

Chicken Coup – Vietnam


M'nong Tribe Neighbours - Lak Lake, Vietnam

M’nong Tribe Neighbours – Lak Lake, Vietnam


Girdered Roof - M'nong Tribe, Vietnam

Girdered Roof – M’nong Tribe, Vietnam


Middle Class - M'nong Tribe - Vietnam

Middle Class – M’nong Tribe – Vietnam


Stereo Life - M'nong Tribe, Vietnam

Stereo Life – M’nong Tribe, Vietnam


Vietnamese Dwellings - Vietnam

Vietnamese Dwellings – Vietnam


Weary Home - Lak Lake, Vietnam

Weary Home – Lak Lake, Vietnam


Protected - Lak Lake, Vietnam

Protected – Lak Lake, Vietnam


Lak Lake Village - Vietnam

Lak Lake Village – Vietnam


Homeward Bound Farmer - Lak Lake, Vietnam

Homeward Bound Farmer – Lak Lake, Vietnam


Cow and Chicken - Lak Lake, Vietnam

Cow and Chicken – Lak Lake, Vietnam

To end the day, we headed over to the local river side. Mui got me to buy some shampoo en route and told me I would know why when we got there. The local kids were playing in the river and the shampoo would be a perfect gift for them to wash themselves. They were glad to see us and very appreciative for it.

Children Bathing in River - Lak Lake, Vietnam

Children Bathing in River – Lak Lake, Vietnam


Shampoo Distribution - Lak Lake, Vietnam

Shampoo Distribution – Lak Lake, Vietnam


Vietnamese Girl Washing Hair - Lak Lake, Vietnam

Vietnamese Girl Washing Hair – Lak Lake, Vietnam

After dropping off our things at the hotel in Lak Lake, it was time for dinner in town. Mui took me to a small little open kiosk restaurant which was basically a local’s front room. As with many of the eateries to come, it was very basic and completely unhygienic. However, the food was irresistible. It was my first proper Bahn Cahn – a simple rice noodles dish with catfish, but it blew my socks off. The appetizer, however, didn’t have the same impact – Trong Cot Lon or baby foetus eggs. I simply watch as Mui cracked open the eggs to a small bird inside and guzzled it down…

Local Restaurant of Lak Lake - Vietnam

Local Restaurant of Lak Lake – Vietnam


Mui Pouring Rice Wine for Dinner - Lak Lake, Vietnam

Mui Pouring Rice Wine for Dinner – Lak Lake, Vietnam

Mui was a brilliant rider and he was completely justified in convincing me to relax on the back of the bike. I had a chance to chill completely out and take in the sites, and I would never have stopped at the places see and experience what I did. And there was plenty more to come…

Further Reading on Vietnam

 
Off Road Vietnam
http://www.offroadvietnam.com/eng/13-45.php

Easy Riders – Motorcycle Tours of Vietnam
http://www.easy-riders.net/

Vietnam Travel Guide
http://www.vietnam-travel-guide.net/central-highlands/dalat/

Lonely Planet
http://www.lonelyplanet.com/vietnam/central-highlands

More Photography :

 
“The Photography Collection” by Antematters

Posted in Vietnam Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Mekong Delta – Vietnam

Before I headed north from Saigon towards Da Lat in the Southern Highlands of Vietnam, I took a short trip out to the Mekong Delta in the south west by bus.

The Mekong Delta is host to one of the largest rivers in Asia – the self-named Mekong River – one that stretches over 4000km crossing through Laos and Cambodia from Northern Vietnam. The natural design of the province with its numerous brown-coloured meandering canals provides a perfect watery habitat for small quiet provincial villages built on huge lush rice fields. The area is most famous for its production of rice and to this day remains the most important source of rice for the country, with enough surpluses available for foreign export. The area is so densely irrigated, it also provides perfect cultivation for all kinds of fruit, coconuts, sugarcane and fish.

Mekong River from My Tho - Vietnam

Mekong River from My Tho – Vietnam

After only about an hour’s bus ride, I arrived in the small town of My Tho, the closest point of entry to the Mekong Delta from Saigon. Much like the Floating Markets of Damnoen Saduak in Thailand, the area attracts droves of tourists to check out the local delicacies, culture and landscape. With limited road access, I hopped on a river boat trip as this was the only real way to properly gain a glimpse of life in the district. The banks of the river were lined with numerous floating houses and markets, each standing on precarious foundations high above the water line to escape the daily rising tides. The dense green jungle sat behind the buzz of the river industry, with the Mekong River slithering its way out into the distance.

Mekong River Bank Housing - My Tho, Vietnam

Mekong River Bank Housing – My Tho, Vietnam


Buildings Flanking the Mekong River - Vietnam

Buildings Flanking the Mekong River – Vietnam


Casting View of the Banks of the Mekong River - Vietnam

Casting View of the Banks of the Mekong River – Vietnam


Boat Driver - Mekong River, Vietnam

Boat Driver – Mekong River, Vietnam


Mekong River Boat Taxi -Vietnam

Mekong River Boat Taxi -Vietnam


Man Cleaning Front Porch - Mekong River, Vietnam

Man Cleaning Front Porch – Mekong River, Vietnam

As we chugged along the river, we passed by local industries going about their business – anything from fishing and agriculture to rice transportation, as well as the production of sugar cane and fruits. The area is the largest exporter of rice to neighbouring Thailand in the world, and also has a large industry of shrimp, catfish and basa fish, all again hugely exported.

Local Industry - Mekong River, Vietnam

Local Industry – Mekong River, Vietnam


Trading Boat - Banks of the Mekong River, Vietnam

Trading Boat – Banks of the Mekong River, Vietnam


Parked Fishing Boat - Mekong River, Vietnam

Parked Fishing Boat – Mekong River, Vietnam


Pineapple Boat - Mekong River, Vietnam

Pineapple Boat – Mekong River, Vietnam


Agricultural Boats - Mekong River, Vietnam

Agricultural Boats – Mekong River, Vietnam


Guard Dogs - Mekong River, Vietnam

Guard Dogs – Mekong River, Vietnam

With access to local villages restricted mainly to the waterways of the Mekong, we stopped off on one of the banks to the South and entered the jungle on foot for an early lunch. The heat intensified greatly throughout midday, with the jungle vegetation enough to at least keep the sun rays from beating down on us.

Boats Parked on the Jungle Edge - Mekong River, Vietnam

Boats Parked on the Jungle Edge – Mekong River, Vietnam


Hut Protected in the Jungle - Mekong River, Vietnam

Hut Protected in the Jungle – Mekong River, Vietnam


Hut by the Side of the Mekong River - Vietnam

Hut by the Side of the Mekong River – Vietnam


Fish Dish - My Tho, Vietnam

Fish Dish – My Tho, Vietnam


Passive Thoughts - Mekong River, Vietnam

Passive Thoughts – Mekong River, Vietnam


Vietnamese Family - Mekong River, Vietnam

Vietnamese Family – Mekong River, Vietnam

After a short break, we then moved on further down the river by kayak. The Mekong District is renowned for its export of coconuts and fruit including bananas, so we managed to pass by some sizeable coconut and banana plantations, stopping off at the factories en-route to see how they prepared coconut candy. A couple of farmers also impressively climbed the huge coconut trees to show us how dangerous and rigorous their daily labour lives were. There were no health and safety precautions in place – just a bunch of guys jumping from tree to tree knocking coconuts to the ground using their huge machetes. The farmers had big rough hard working hands, with years of labour showing on their faces. Their core strength and skills were ordinarily enough to keep them out of trouble, but one of the farmers explained to me the plight of falling from great heights, showing me the marks of a huge puncture wound in his side.

Once the coconuts reached the production line, they would then be cracked open using industrial machines to extract the lush milk from inside. The milk would then be mixed with sugar cane and other ingredients, before being melted down and blended together. Once thickened, the mixture would then be stretched out onto a long preparation board and cooled down before being cut up into sizeable chunks for packing and shipping out.

Coconuts - Mekong Delta, Vietnam

Coconuts – Mekong Delta, Vietnam


Coconut Candy Preparation - Mekong Delta, Vietnam

Coconut Candy Preparation – Mekong Delta, Vietnam

Later on after tasting some of the sweet goodness, we strolled through the jungle towards a rice wine factory. This whole afternoon was a strange experience and not quite how I imagined entering my first jungle. I had vivid pictures of the Vietnam War jungles in my head, but this was more like a luxury holiday stroll through less deadly terrains with some other tourists in tow. We were in the jungle, but apparently risk free.

Into The Jungle - Mekong Delta, Vietnam

Into The Jungle – Mekong Delta, Vietnam


Canals of the Mekong Delta - Vietnam

Canals of the Mekong Delta – Vietnam

As we headed away from the rice wine factory, we took to the kayaks to move onwards. The canals slithered in and out as we passed down through the huge dominating jungle and bamboo trees, the thick dense foliage making it difficult to see further than a few metres in. The ride through was completely tranquil, with a chance to absorb the sounds of the jungle life ringing around you.

Boats at Peace - Mekong Delta, Vietnam

Boats at Peace – Mekong Delta, Vietnam


Me Wearing a Non La - Mekong Delta, Vietnam

Me Wearing a Non La – Mekong Delta, Vietnam


Smoking Man - Mekong Delta, Vietnam

Smoking Man – Mekong Delta, Vietnam


Kayaking through the Jungle - Mekong Delta, Vietnam

Kayaking through the Jungle – Mekong Delta, Vietnam


Happy Smile - Mekong Delta, Vietnam

Happy Smile – Mekong Delta, Vietnam


Tourists in the Mekong Delta - Vietnam

Tourists in the Mekong Delta – Vietnam

At the other end of the ride, we then stopped off at a snake sanctuary which gave me my first ever chance to hold one. Of course, there was nothing to worry about as the snakes were tamed, but I couldn’t help but be slightly fearful of the beautiful creatures. Despite the appearance, it’s skin was actually quite sticky, yet so tough. The animal was so dense, it was quite a weight on the shoulders.

Snake Bearer - Mekong Delta, Vietnam

Snake Bearer – Mekong Delta, Vietnam


Me with Snake - Mekong Delta, Vietnam

Me with Snake – Mekong Delta, Vietnam

As the snake was finally passed around and I had one last chance for a close up, the visit came to an end and I headed back to My Tho before heading back on the bus to Saigon. This was a brief glimpse into to rural life of Vietnam and a perfect introduction for what was to come…

Further Reading on The Mekong Delta

 
Wikipedia History – Mekong Delta
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mekong_Delta

Lonely Planet Guide to Mekong Delta
http://www.lonelyplanet.com/vietnam/mekong-delta/

More Photography :

 
“The Photography Collection” by Antematters

Posted in Vietnam Tagged , , , , , , , , , |