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Rocky ride – Ko Phangan

I still find it amazing to this day that on such a far island stretching into the pacific there can still be such a cluster of communities and life. Today’s experience was Koh Phangan.

Stretched out into the far fetched islands in Thailand, Koh Phangan is one of the further of the tourist destinations. I was travelling from Phuket so it was a quick flight over to Koh Samui, a ferry over to Koh Phangan and a bus to Long Bay Resort (pictured).

The flight is the quickest leg of the journey, and quite possibly the easiest, given flying in South-East Asia isn’t always that peaceful. After landing in the airport our group of eight had to broker with the ferry and bus agents for a good deal to our rest spot. We made our way from the airport to the ferry terminal via a 15-minute shuttle.

We were greeted at the terminal by a young traveller being escorted off the ferry with staff carrying an intravenous bag of saline, she was obviously a casualty of the Full Moon Party and perhaps had too good of a time.

The ferry ride itself takes the good part of an hour so we, as good-natured Australians do, decided to fill the time with beer and music. It’s times like these that I would like to introduce an essential item for any traveller, which is a portable speaker, and preferably a fully-charged battery pack. I have caused too much excitement in my travels with a portable speaker and a subsequent let-down at not having any power for it.

As expected, the water between the two islands is not calm. As a matter of fact there can be times where the ferry will replicate scenes of the Perfect Storm. The staff like to show off in these instances by maintaining their perfect balance on the deck of the ferry despite people falling around them trying to get to the toilet, or the bar. Depending on how many drinks you consume during the ferry ride, the walk to the toilet can prove to be quite challenging under these conditions. Note: drink responsibly, otherwise you might end up with an intravenous bag as well.

Danube – Vietnam

Have you ever seen those tourists fall out of a kayak on a river boat cruise? You’re not a traveller until you’ve joined the club of embarrassment at falling in the Mekong River, in plain sight, with, at the very least, one-hundred spectators. Yes, that was me, adventurer Ben in all of my glory.

FullSizeRender-26Okay, for the backstory. It was my second day on a Mekong River tour in Vietnam. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to get on the trip given I am bit of a business nerd and wanted to learn more about the agricultural importance of the Mekong. The tour wouldn’t be for everyone, it goes through the culture of rice farm families, small industrial towns, the history of the Mekong and the future prospects of the different areas.

The more entertaining, and partially active, part of the trip is the kayaking in the Mekong. I say partially because, as we are all lazy travellers, the locals paddle the boats and tourists (of all shapes and sizes) hop in the kayaks in two’s and three’s.1524635_10152121316466047_912443208_n

Qui (from my featured image), my guide for the kayak ride was a former rice farmer-turned kayak extraordinaire. She put an effort into talking to people and telling them as much of the interesting side of the Mekong as possible. Qui¬†enjoyed speaking gossip stories of which farmer’s wife was cheating and which farmer’s kids are being kept out of their parent’s will. At one point, she started speaking about the importance of the bamboo that grows along the Mekong’s shoreline. It creates a fine valuable paper and can be picked from the water. Qui motioned for me to grab some of the leaves to feel their texture. Bad mistake. I reached to the side, carefully, and outstretched to the tree. Before I knew it I was wading through the dirty coffee-like water to get back into the boat. Thanks Qui.

From that experience, I can now tell you I am closer than many other tourists to the Mekong, and I think I gave a good story for all of the other tourists to tell.

If I learnt anything out of that, it is to make sure you always take a dry-bag with you as my camera, phone and wallet remained dry, while the rest of me was covered in Vietnam’s pride.

Ramadan – Jakarta

For those of you who enjoy celebrating festivities in the latter of the year, namely Christmas, you may be at a loss if you’re in a muslim country. All of your favourite foods are more expensive and alcohol becomes that little bit more expensive. But it is not all that bad, while I missed out on Christmas this year there are plenty of islamic-based events that are still about the same ideology – celebrating something with loved ones.img_1387

We spent some time in Jakarta, Indonesia, to get to know local customs and traditions. In September I was lucky enough to be caught up in the ramadan celebrations. I had never really known too much about the celebration except for knowing a few acquaintances from university who would complain about being hungry for a certain part of the year – now it was my turn. The family I was staying with was muslim, but were hospitable to the point where they were offering to keep the kitchen stocked with food for breakfast and lunch, I opted to go without, and instead follow the custom of eating before dawn and after sunset. To be

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Probably the best traffic jam I have ever seen

honest, it was very hard to go without food for a thorough 12-14 hours. I go to the gym quite frequently so for a guy who expends energy it was difficult. However staying with the family and having them as support and in turn giving them lots of laughs at me complaining was helpful.

Now that’s the bad side, the good side, actually, the great side, was the amazing meal time festivities that were put on every night. It’s surprising how much of a joyous occasion it is to eat after a big day of fasting. Every night streets were lined with small stalls of different foods with a festival-like atmosphere where people

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This is one of Jakarta’s biggest shopping malls, complete with an ice skating area.

would eat, drink, meet other families and socialise.

To say the least, it was nice to experience a small part of what is such a big festivity for so many people in the world. Given, I did not experience the religious side of it except for my host family’s teachings of where Ramadan originated. I enjoyed the whole experience and would recommend to anyone in a similar situation to give it a go.

For me, travelling isn’t just about seeing sights and finding a bar to drink in, it’s about exploring both the cognitive and physical side of a new world, with every single sense available to you. That’s what I will remember when I am old looking back on my journey.

272 steps – Malaysia

There is a vast difference between travelling and holidays. Some people are nearing the point of exhaustion while travelling and have to schedule intermittent rest periods. The Ministry’s travels are no exceptions and fitness is a must if you’re intent on exploring. For example, a majority of the fascinating houses of worship in the world all involve some standard of fitness to get to.

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The Batu Caves are no exception. The Ministry doesn’t usually flock to mainstream tourist areas but this hindu shrine is a must on any explorer’s list. The Batu Caves are popular for its photogenic 43 metre golden statue of the hindu deity Lord Murugan. While he is the main spectacle, most game travellers pass him and climb the 272 steep steps into the cavernous, ancient, limestone caves. The caves themselves are 100 metres above the ground and host three main caves, the biggest is known as the Cathedral Cave, or Temple Cave. The caves host several hindu shrines inside, each of which relate to the story of the Murugan statue.

FullSizeRender 3When the Ministry visited the caves it was a quiet weekday and there few tourists in the area, so it was a great chance to spend some quality time in the system. Their are a number of monkeys around the area who are opportunistic as most travellers know and will not hesitate to steal anything off you. At the top of the stairs, and recent travellers may be able to update this, but there are the snake men, who, for a small amount of money, wrap a live snake on you for photos.

The Ministry recommends going to the Batu Caves in mid-January as that is when the crowd-drawing Thaipusam festival. The Batu Caves draw the biggest crowds outside of India for the Thaipusam festival where men will pierce themselves and walk up the stairs to reach their deity in the cave system. It is an amazing event and if you are in Malaysia at the time it is a must.