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Travel highlights of 2010.

It wasn’t a big travelling year for me compared to last year, but the few overseas and local trips that I took were full of great highlights. From staying at five-star resorts (with our own private butler) to skiing untracked powder (in Australia no less) to dining with locals in the mountains of Vietnam (oh, except the smoked pig’s intestines part) to snorkelling with a dole of turtles (that’s the correct collective noun I believe!). So, without further ado here is my Top Ten Travel Highlights from 2010 (in no particular order):

The Balé Hotel, Nusa Dua, Bali
Fluffy slippers, private pool, cookie jars, breakfast in your own private garden and an on-call 24-hour butler. There’s nothing like a bit of indulgent opulence to make you feel indulgently opulent. I ‘won’ a bunch of nights at any one of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World (it was part of my prize for ASTW Travel Book of the Year) and we also stayed at the The Viceroy in Ubud (which was just as terrible). Read more

Sapa, Vietnam

Vietnam: The romance of parrots.

I just got back from a wonderful trip to northeast Vietnam where I was doing some volunteer work for an NGO. I didn’t help build a school (and if I did it would fall over in a week), but I was helping bring more tourists into the relatively untouched Northern Highlands. The NOGO is SNV, which is a non-profit organisation that was established in the Netherlands in 1965. They have been on the ground in developing countries for over 40 years, and now operate in 35 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Balkans. SNV has 900 advisors in the field who come from a variety of cultural and technical backgrounds. So what do they do? I’ll let them explain:

Our aim is to alleviate poverty by enabling those on the lowest incomes to be part of social and economic networks and so increase their income and employment opportunities. More than half of our work focuses on economic and private sector development. Alongside this, we contribute to improving people’s access to basic services like water and sanitation, energy and education. We achieve both by strengthening local organisations. Read more

Gili Air

I’ve been to Bali, too.

I never wanted to go to Bali. I steered clear of the ‘Island of the Gods’ because I always thought it was more like ‘Island of the Yobs’. I imagined Bali to be full of seriously inebriated Aussies in Bintang singlets drinking buckets of iridescent cocktails in the Fair Dinkum Bonza Koala Bar. Okay, that pretty well sums up the crowd at Kuta Beach, but I’ve been to Bali three times in the past 18 months and become totally intoxicated by the place (and that intoxication had nothing to do with iridescent cocktails). And, if it wasn’t for my new book that I am writing (re-tracing the original Lonely Planet South East Asia on a Shoestring), then I may not have gone to Bali at all. Not only is the island itself so incredibly beautiful (lush green mountains, terraced rice fields, stunning beaches etc etc), but the people are the warmest, kindest most gentle folk I have met in all my travels. Then there is the food, and the culture, and the temples… and, of course, the cheap iridescent cocktails! Read more

Penang, Malaysia

Travel highlights of 2009.

Another year has flown by (they really do fly the older you get) and it’s been another great year of travelling for me. I feel so blessed to have these wonderful opportunities to travel like I do and there were many ‘highlights’ in my travels this year. And often the highlights are not necessarily about a place as such, but about the people you are with, the food you ate, discovering something so new or simply a beautiful moment. So, I thought I’d put together a list of my Top Ten Travel Highlights from 2009 (in no particular order):

Bagan, Burma
My perfect day started at  5.00 am where I was met by my ‘driver’ and his horse and buggy. We rode in the dark to a temple in the middle of a field then climbed it to watch the sunrise over an endless and magnificent multitude of temples dotted across the countryside. The rest of the day was spent riding from one temple to another and each one was just and incredible and unique as the one before. Read more

Cannstatter_Volksfest

From kartoffelpuffers to nasi goreng.

My liver survived all the beer in Germany and I’m now in Ubud, Bali for the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. I ended my German Beer Drinking Tour, I mean Book Tour, back in Stuttgart to meet up with a bunch of couch surfers to attend Canstatter Volksfest (basically a big fun fair with huge beer tents in the middle). It was a Saturday plus a public holiday in Germany, so the place was packed with Germans in lederhosen. We queued at one beer tent for two hours and it looked like we weren’t getting in anywhere when another couch surfer found tickets for us into another tent. So, with ein mass (a litre of beer) in hand and half a grilled chicken I joined the throng standing on their chairs singing along to traditional German beer drinking songs. Except they also threw in some not quite traditional German songs like Cheap Trick’s  ‘I want you you to want me’ and ‘Sweet Home Alabama’. Here are a few photos from the night… Read more

Couch Surfing- Eine abenteuerliche Reise um die Welt

If it’s Friday, this must be Hannover.

I’m nearing the end of my book tour around Germany for Couch Surfing: Eine abenteuerliche Reise um die Welt and scheiße am I tired. The tour has been going very well, though, and the book events have been well attended, my couch surfing hosts have been wonderful and I’ve eaten and drunk my body weight in wurst and beer. So far I have been to Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Leipzig and Rendsburg and I’m currently in Hannover. I think. Read more

clowns

Clowning around in Frankfurt.

Tomorrow I fly to Frankfurt for the publicity tour of Couch Surfing – Eine abenteuerliche Reise um die Welt. Although I have been to Germany around twenty times the last time I was in Frankfurt was 20 years ago! In fact, Frankfurt was the first city I flew to on my first Big Trip OS. But, my first taste of Germany and Frankfurt was a little bit scary (in that clown scary sort of way). As I stepped out of Frankfurt airport as a young, naive backpacker, I noticed a couple of people dressed as clowns. In the underground train station I saw two more clowns drinking large cans of beer. Sitting opposite me on the train was another clown having an animated conversation with a court jester. I had no idea what was going on (my first thought was that—because Europe is a season ahead in fashion—this was the latest look and everyone would be dressing like clowns in the Australian winter). Read more

bangkok-taxis

The Candy Cabs of Bangkok.

I love it when a city has iconic taxis. They can become a symbol of the city and add a real ‘personality’ to the place. Everyone knows what a London black cab or a New York yellow taxi looks like even if they havn’t been there before. I also love the cute green and white VW bugs in Mexico City and the tiny black and yellow Renaults in Barcelona. One of my favourites, though, is the London cab (the instantly recognisable Austin FX-4). These venerable machines had been unchanged since they were specially designed and built in 1959 (although sadly, in 1997 they finally stopped manufacturing them). But, now I have a new favourite. The Candy Cabs of Bangkok. When I was in Bangkok earlier this year, my girlfriend Beth and I would get so excited every time we spotted a fluro pink or iridescent purple or luminous orange cab, but on my recent trip to Bangkok last week I became a little obsessed with them. I set out to find and take a photo of as many candy colored cab combinations as I could find. I did quite well, but I missed getting a photo of my favourite one, however – a fetching hot pink and lime green two-tone one  – because the driver zoomed past me so quickly that he almost bowled me off my bicycle. Read more

ernest-hemingway-festival

Hemingway can’t sing karaoke.

In 2003 I went to the Ernest Hemingway Festival in Key West, Florida for my book The Naked Man Festival and met a man with a white beard called Tom Grizzard. Tom was one of 150 men with white beards who were all competing in the Hemingway lookalike competition (I took the above photo of him and his colourful fan club). It was Tom’s fourth attempt at winning the coveted prize and yesterday, after nine years of trying, he finally won! When I met him in a karaoke bar in Key West five six ago he was very sloshed indeed. This is what I wrote about him in the book…

 On the way back to the hostel I passed a Karaoke bar. Ernest Hemingway was up on stage singing ‘Chantilly Lace’. I never knew Papa sang. He had quite a good voice, too.  After Papa, another Hemingway got up to sing. Well, when I say sing, I mean howl. He howled his way through ‘Lady’ by Kenny Rodgers. He was so drunk he almost fell off the stage. Read more

cockroach races

Suck my cockroach.

That is just one of the delightful names of a ‘racing’ cockroach at the 28th annual Australia day Cockroach Races held in Brisbane, Queensland. I just got back from the prestigious event where I was ‘participating’ in the cocky races. Well, when I say ‘participating’ I didn’t actually race, but my stable of ‘cockroaches’ did. Colin and Kevin were up against some stiff competition, though, including Soft Cocky, I’ve got a Big Cockroach, Irish Cock,  Priscilla ‘Queen Of The Drains’, Osama Bin Liner, Ita Buttroach and just about every cock reference you could ever think of. The venue for the Cocky Races is the Story Bridge Hotel, which packed in 2,000 Cocky fans (or more like beer fans actually) to watch fourteen races, live music, topless girls getting ‘dunked’ and the crowning of the prestigious ‘Miss Cocky’ competition. Read more