top of page

Travel Writing

Hobbiton 1 New Zealand.jpg

WHEN IN THE WORLD - Travel Stories & More

Below is a collection of travel articles written about 15 countries, covering a 4-year journe
y around the World. They feature stories and anecdotes, descriptions of many landmarks and places and historical or contemporaneous information to help contextualise or situate them.



Travel Ebook

Available in all Amazon territories:

Pura Travel

My Costa Rican experience began in its capital city of San Jose, located in the middle of the country in the Central Valley. The city has a healthy population of around 1.4 million but still feels relatively small; like a big town more than a city. Its armature is spread thinly and with the exception of a few high-rises, has little height to it.


Costa Rica as a whole is quite a small country, at just over 50,000kms², making it smaller than over half the States in the US. All of it can be reached comfortably in a day’s drive, so it’s easy to get from San Jose to many of its best-known tourist destinations, if you don’t mind an early start.


On one such trip, I took a bus to the Poas Volcano National Park. Unfortunately, high levels of fog around the mountains meant the volcano was completely shrouded: I couldn’t see a thing! Apparently, it's 50/50 on any given day whether the volcano is visible or not.


There was however a nice alternative walkway through a spinney nearby and this was my first taster of the botanical abundance of Costa Rica. The trees and their branches assumed some amazing shapes in the woods and the overcast day, which had soiled the vegetation, gave everything a spooky feeling, which added to its allure.


In the down-town area of the city itself, there are numerous museums and galleries, none of which I was particularly partial to. So instead I went to the Spirogyra Butterfly Garden, also in the centre, and got up-close and personal with the 20 different species of butterfly there. The garden is beautifully curated and it’s not hard to see the butterflies (unlike many of the birds in Costa Rica, which I’ll come to later). The butterflies are equally as beautiful as the garden and even more colourful. The most stand-out for me were the Blue Morpho butterfly, one of the largest species, with vivid bright-blue wings with black edges and the Julia butterfly, slightly smaller, with garish flame-orange wings. These and many others, were stunning.


After a few weeks in the city, I left for the town of Monteverde in the province of Puntarenas, about a 4.5 hour bus trip north-west of San Jose. Much of Costa Rica can be reached by its fairly reliable bus network, though it can take 5, 6 and more, hours to reach some of the most popular places.


Monteverde (though really Santa Elena: Monteverde referring to a smaller area nearby) is a small town. It's become well-known for its locality near 2 cloud forests and several nature reserves but is also in its own right, an attractive acclivity amongst the mountains. Naturally, spates of other attractions have sprung up due to its popularity: coffee tours, chocolate tasting, bat jungles and kid’s forest trails, to name a few, all emerging hand-in-hand with hotels, souvenir shops and many restaurants.


After my late night arrival, I set off first thing the next day for the Monteverde Cloud Forest, serviced by a bus from Santa Elena, taking about 25 minutes. The Cloud Forest is a large nature park with trails covering nearly 14kms in total. I found I’d covered many of these routes in about 4 hours but could have easily taken more time exploring. Again, heavy fog blighted the wider views from its occasional viewing decks, but it’s not these that are the main attraction of the Park: its qualia is its thick forestry; the plants and trees, and the minutia of its vegetation. I’ve never felt so immersed in so much forest as only just a short walk from the entrance. I was one of the first to arrive and found myself mostly on my own for a good while, this only adding to the tranquillity and the feeling of being right in the heart of the jungle. Pathways around such parks are always well planned and implemented in Costa Rica and it was a sheer delight to walk through the dense and unrelenting greenery while breathing in the fresh, invigorating air of nature.


I also had my first encounter here with Costa Rica’s most famous bird, the Quetzal, though its back was turned indignantly on this occasion. I quickly realised that wherever a tour group had stopped, their guide had probably spotted something. So knowing this, I was to get an even better view of this rare bird the very next day at the Curi Cancha Nature Reserve.


Much smaller than the Cloud Forest, Curi Cancha covers just over 5kms of trails, affording visitors more time trying to spot the many and varied animals that wander its grounds.


I arrived shortly after opening time and there must have been close to 10 bird-watching groups about to set-off around the park. As mentioned, using them as markers, I was able to see the prized bird, the Quetzal again late in the day, but was also lucky enough to see a pair of Black Guans, stumbling across them on my own in the woods too.


I found the twitcher community very sharing. Sometimes, minding my own business, I would be tapped on the shoulder to be notified, ‘they’ve spotted a Quetzal over there’ or ‘there’s a sparrow just through those branches’. The birds are usually so camouflaged, I found it hopeless spotting them myself, so I came to admire the patience and the adroit eye of the tour-guides. How they can lock-on to such small creatures in the trees is beyond me!


The Quetzal is a striking bird and is often considered the most beautiful in the World. It has a turquiose coat, turning greener across its wing and a red underbelly. But perhaps it's most famed for its long flowing twin-tail (longer in the male and brighter), which can grow up to 1m long! As it sits, the tail floats around resplendently. They keep quite still otherwise but attract huge crowds. You tend to know when one is spotted as up to 15, maybe 20 people are gathered below.


The Black Guan as the name suggests, is mostly a glossy black colour, though has a blue face and distinctive red eyes. It’s a larger bird, it’s body over a meter long and weighing over 1kg. The size gave me a start as I came across it round a very quiet part of woodland. I soon realised there was also a mate nearby. Though the male and female are very similar-looking in this species, it was a privilege to see them together and interacting in the wild.


Shortly after my trip to Monteverde, I travelled to the town of Puerto Viejo on the other side of the country. It’s just an hour south along the coast from the city of Limon. The bus journey there takes about 5 hours, heading almost directly west from San Jose.


The town is very popular with tourists and is dominated with bars and restaurants that cater for them. They offer everything from American burgers to Japanese sushi as well as of course, an authentic taste of the Caribbean; chicken, ribs and lots of barbecue sauce! The west coast of Costa Rica is home to the Afro-Costa Rican community, descended from African migrant workers arriving in the late 19th and early 20th century (mostly Jamaican). A travel restriction outside of the Limon region in place until the mid 20th century then concentrated the Afro-Costa Ricans here, though more recently many have moved to the Central Valley.


My first outing here was to the Manzanillo National Park, a short bus ride further south along the coast. It’s a unique landscape combining an exotic coastline with rainforest, wetland and swamp. The beaches are beautiful and blend compellingly with the dense forestry. The tropical rain that fell during the night had muddied the trails but the beaches still glistened as usual, offering a private little oasis to spend an hour or two next to palm trees and blue seas. The beach runs for nearly 10kms and though I wasn’t fortunate enough to see most of them, all kinds of animals; crocodiles, caimans, manatees, birds, frogs, turtles and more, inhabit the 50kms² of the park.


My second visit the next day was to Punta Uva beach, just shy of the town of Manzinillo along the same coastline. It’s a spectacular stretch of lush beach, perfect for a swim in its crystal waters or lounging in the sombra of its palm trees. There is also a walkway leading up a small mound between Punta Uva and Manzinillo beaches. At the top of this mound, there are breathtaking views out to sea and of the cliffs. Another pathway leads down from here to the Punta Uva Sea Cave; a gap in the rock where the waves come crashing through beneath a bridge-way above. There is even a small rockpool, where you can take in the views whilst bathing in the swashing and swaying waters.


Lastly, on the final day, I visited the Cahuita National Park, this time in the opposite direction. The town of Cahuita is about a 30-minute bus ride north of Puerto Viejo. It's more linear than Manzinillo, though is a similar stretch of beach alongside a forest. Again, I was unlucky not to see any of the sloths, coatis or raccoons that are resident to the park, but there were enough ‘do not feed the animals’ signs to suggest they were there.


It was interesting to walk with forest and swampland on one side and a beach on the other. The swamps are full of twisted mangroves and algae-stained waters and the tall trees of the forest loom over the main pathway, blotting out the sky. The fecund vegetation is overflowing and covers everything in verdant colours, their vibrancy highlighted in the sun, which still manages to come streaming through radiantly.


Just over a week later and my last trip out of San Jose, I went to La Fortuna, another 4-hour-plus bus journey from the city. It's perhaps most famously home to the Arenal Volcano. That and its situation in the heart of beautiful Tico countryside means, like Monteverde, it has become somewhat monopolised by tourism, though it certainly doesn’t fail to maintain a rural charm.


So naturally first on the agenda was the Arenal Volcano National Park itself (at least the Volcano section; the second section around Lake Arenal, was unfortunately closed when I was there). A series of walkways takes you through rainforest around the mountain base, eventually opening out to several view-points, where the menacing Arenal Volcano, standing at nearly 1700ms, can be seen. Though often adumbrated by trees or rocks, this gigantic structure is wondrously geomorphic and dominates the skyline. Also, later in the day, I was able to watch the sun set around it from the town (it can be seen in the distance from just about anywhere in La Fortuna). The soft reddening surrounded its mighty and celestial shape, silhouetting it rather epically, until the slow descent of darkness would eventually remove it from the sky.


Second on the agenda and on the following day, I visited La Fortuna Waterfall, which plummets about 65ms from the Tenorio River above. Entering from ground level at the top of the valley, visitors are treated to the full vista of the waterfall and surrounding jungle. They then head down just shy of 500 steps to its plunge pool and run-off stream, which continues beyond the bounds of the park. Both of these can be swum in; the waterfall enacting such a force in the plunge pool, that you can actually swim on the spot. The run-off pool downstream, where the affects of the water are abated by a bend and hundreds of rocks, offers a much more leisurely lavation; it was a treat to swim in!


Lastly, on my final day here and only on a last minute whim as the bus didn’t leave until the afternoon, I visited the Bogarin Trail. Despite its feeling of reclusion and the abundance of animals there, it’s surprisingly close to town and you can even hear the noise from the road in parts of it. It’s a very small trail around what amounted to little more than a spinney, but I was blessed with perhaps more sightings of wildlife here than anywhere else.


The trail is most renowned for its sloths, something of an institute of Costa Rica. I was lucky enough to see several of them high-up in the trees, in their signature states of ennui (hence ‘sloth-like’). Their claw-like appendages mean they can cling to branches and tree-trunks and so negotiate the woods with little effort or stay in one place for long periods of time.


I was then luckier still to find one lounging amongst the thicket before it started working its way back up a tree. Its apparent nonchalance of me being there, as I swore it looked directly at me, had me transfixed and it felt like time itself was slowing down as I watched its staid, lugubrious and tired ascent.


I was also treated to a sight of the aptly named Black-and-White Owl, named for its black and white stripped breast. It also has dark grey wings, jet-black eyes and an orangey-yellow beak and talons. It was in a small wooded area in the centre of the trail, where again, a tour group had paused, indicating a sighting of something.


There was also a sizeable feeding station nearer to the entrance, attracting all sorts of smaller winged creatures. Amongst them, were the Scarlet Tanager, noteworthy for a starkly contrasting red back against an otherwise black plumage, the Hooded Warbler; a bright yellow bird with grey wing-tips and a black crown and forehead, and the Rufous-tailed Jacamar, a speckled green bird with an orange belly and a very pointed beak.


They’d even put on a row of chairs to sit in front of the feeding station. So I wiled away an idyllic hour or so waiting for my bus. I watched the birds as they came and went, fought over food or chirped happily. But soon I had to leave this what felt like chimeric scene and make my return to San Jose. Only a few days later my Costa Rican adventure would be coming to an end, so it was with a saddening feeling I spent my last few days in the city reflecting on what I’d seen.


Looking through my photos, I was surprised at how quickly I had become captivated by the esotericism of bird-watching and animal spotting as a whole. There is something quite thrilling in the chase and rewarding when you do see something. When I had spotted a sloth on the Bogarin Trail only for a small tour-group to then stop alongside me, I have to admit to feeling quite smug. Like a sniper trying to slow their heartbeat, it’s in this vein that the best of Costa Rica seems to unveil itself. Just like the sloth in the thistle and the bird in the tree will decloak themselves, so too that by just slowing down, will the air become purer, the sights clearer and the experiences more pleasurable. There is no prescribed excitement here, nothing manufactured; it’s all organic, congenital, vivid and fresh. There’s only way to be in Costa Rica and you’ll pick it up very quickly, and that’s to live the ‘pure life’.


Singapore By The Bay

Singapore 1 Singapore.jpg

I left the meticulously air-conditioned arrival hall at Changi airport, went outside and was hit instantly by the oppressive heat of Singapore. So conversation immediately turned to the weather between me and the taxi driver taking me into the city. I was told the humidity rarely relents, even when, during the November and December rainy season, sudden torrents provide temporary cooling and relief, as once the rain stops, the city quickly desiccates and it feels like it had never rained at all. The heat is no less intense overnight also, which I discovered to my discomfort my first night there, having naively turned off the air-con before bed. Though the friend I was staying with did mention the warmth allowed him an occasional sleep on a park bench after an evening on the town and once sobered up, he could then walk the rest of the way home the following morning.

Singapore is made up of a small group of islands in the Indian Ocean, accounting for roughly 720km² of land in total. The majority of this makes up the mainland of Singapore Island, known in Malay as Pulau Ujong, which translates something like island at the end, to which Singapore very much is, the island at the end, being located just off the southern tip of Malaysia.

The city has seen remarkable growth in the last few decades and as such is incredibly modern, bordering on futuristic. Singapore feels luxurious and looks glamorous, its public areas are maintained so impeccably, even walking around bare foot is commonplace. The island is somewhat famed for this regimented upkeep, though this does come at a cost: groceries, accommodation, dining and going out are all dear. Expect to pay around fifteen Singaporean dollars for the cheapest drink, around eight pounds in the UK, and this will be for less than a pint.


The city’s growth is stimulated by a high wage, low tax economy, its highest earners paying only 22% tax. A large amount of income is also tax free; up to 22,000 dollars typically, and overseas workers, like my friend, are taxed only 15% usually. This model has attracted the most ambitious and the wealthy from around the World, all coming for a piece of this particularly opulent pie.

Singapore is a young State, only in 1965 did it become Sovereign and Independent when it separated from the Federation of Malaysia. Therefore it is only just beginning to acculturate, firstly from the influence of its surrounding Asian counterparts, and now from the West too, through its high expatriate population. This can mean there is sometimes a feeling of sterility about the city, it’s almost too new and shiny. Though there is a concerted effort to introduce more of the humanities here: art galleries, music venues, performance centres and the like, currently bohemian, Singapore is not.

Where it does excel is in its visionary architecture, which is often ecologically minded. Gardens By The Bay, one such example of this, is a large eco-park covering over 1km of land in the south of the city. The Park features greenland, ponds, lakes, woods, gardens, two domes, sculptures, art works and topiary throughout. The Meadow to the south, an observation deck, provides the full gamma of Gardens By The Bay and the best view of the unmistakable Supertree Grove: a collection of twelve giant tree structures, one of the most famous sights of Singapore. Standing at between 25 and 50 metres tall, the trunks of the Supertrees are made up of a steel frame around a concrete core. Then over this entire surface, planting panels have grown a living skin of vegetation, made up of over 700 plant and flower species and varieties imported from all over the World. The large canopies that make up the crown of the trees, were hauled-up in their completed form and attached to the tops of the frames. These are plated with cells to harvest solar energy, which then contribute to a light show, called Garden Rhapsody, where the trees light up in various colours and sequences, all choreographed to dramatic music, lasting for about 15 minutes at 7:45 and 8:45 every evening. Huge crowds can be seen gathering just before these times in anticipation of the spectacle.

Gardens By The Bay is situated around the Marina Bay, an inlet from the Singapore Strait to the south. The Bay features other similar structural marvels such as the Art Science Museum: a building imitating the shape of a lotus flower, Merlion Park: featuring a statue of a Merlion; a mythical creature akin to a lion, and the Esplanade Theatres: two domes made from triangulated glass sections. But perhaps most notable of all is the Marina Bay Sands Resort, which imposes the most infamous shape of all on the Singapore skyline, that of three huge towers holding up a large skydeck that seems to lie across them. Primarily a hotel, the Sands also has a casino, a convention centre, a shopping centre, restaurants, a theatre and even an indoor skating rink. The skydeck, called the SkyPark, has gardens, running tracks and supposedly one of the best infinity pools in the World, which looks out over the whole Bay. The hull of the SkyPark is actually segmented, allowing a degree of give, which compensates for the sway imparted on it by the strong winds at that high altitude. It is an architectural feat.


The Marina Bay’s rare configuration: such a considerable horizontal structure on top of several vertical structures, has propelled Singapore to its iconic status on the World stage, hugely disproportionate to the size of this small island. The city starkly contrasted just about anywhere else I visited during four years of travel. It is a unique blend of Asian and Western prestige, providing lavish amenities in a rich metropolis. There is a hard work ethic here; the city wishes to improve itself, develop and achieve. Yet it is rewarding: work hard, and then play and relax hard too, in comfort and excellence. Singapore is calming, yet energising, sometimes other-worldly and alien, and always full of intrigue. I left it just how I arrived, discussing the weather with a taxi driver.

Aussie Rules

Ocean Road 1b Australia.jpg


A family acquaintance met me at Melbourne Airport on my early morning arrival into Australia. Their family live in the town of Mornington on the Mornington peninsula on the south coast, where I was to visit for a few weeks before moving to Melbourne itself. It was a two hour drive south, which passes through Melbourne, so was a convenient opportunity to scope out some of the city for when I would return there. I was also treated to lots of Australia-related commentary along the way too, which was equally useful.


As we progressed south to Mornington, the urbane of Melbourne was slowly displaced by the natural landscape of the coastline. The sea became visible too, once we passed the most southerly suburbs of the city. I began to see the surfers venturing out across the beaches and the fitness fanatics jogging along the board walks. This was starting to feel like the Australia I’d imagined.


The Mornington peninsula is to the east of Port Phillip Bay, south of Melbourne. The town itself, where I spent a few luscious weeks, is stunning: a quiet and wistful retreat, where the hustle and bustle of the city is left firmly behind. On the opposite side of the Bay is Geelong to the west, which marks the start of the Ocean Road: the coastal road between Torquay and Allansford; a stretch of 244kms of road, which mostly hugs the coastline. The drive is quite a thrill, with rally-style hairpins and diving hills, all accented by glorious views over the cliffs and out to the sea.


Along the journey, I was fortunate to stop at the tourist hotspot known as the Twelve Apostles: a set of 12 discernible rock formations independently jutting out from the sea. The original line-up seems to have been somewhat diminished however and now the Seven Apostles might be a more fitting name for them (though this would not have the same Messianic ring to it of course). It is still a stunning landscape and what rocks remain add form and frame an already picturesque coastal scene.


I eventually returned to Melbourne after my jaunt in the south. There isn’t so much a check list of things to see or do in Melbourne so it’s a tricky place to write about. But what I can say is that there is indefinable vibe and energy to the city that is infectious. It is an informal and trendy kind of place and is home to a buzzing coffee scene, a thriving comedy circuit and enough drinking establishments to last a lifetime. What’s more, an interesting quirk of Melbourne is that many of its bars make themselves deliberately hard to find. In doing so, they make a fashionable statement, adding panache and coolness to their hip venue. These secret bars might be down an alleyway, behind a cellar door, in an underground hideaway or up a warehouse lift to a rooftop. Wherever they might be, some of the most interesting places in Melbourne are on a need-to-know basis only.

Bondi was my first port-of-call in Sydney, home to the famed Bondi Beach. As expected, the area proudly plays up to the Aussie stereotype and was a picture of sun, sea, beaches, surfing and everyone wearing flip-flops (or thongs in Australian). With interest fostered by shows like Home and Away (some of which is filmed in Sydney), the beach attracts an untenable number of tourists, who engulf this strip of the coast. Thankfully hiking a little either way gets you away from the crowds. To the south, there are the more secluded beaches of Tamarama and Coogee and to the north, there are the beautiful Watsons and Rose Bay. Walking the coast in any direction from Bondi is a breathtaking experience, particularly the trail around Watsons Bay, where the walkway protrudes out over the ocean. A strong elemental bond is formed with the water, as you feel like you’re practically levitating above the sea. It’s incredible to feel and very therapeutic.


I then visited the harbour area of the city, where the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge dominate the view. (One observation I made of the former, was that it seemed to be a different colour to what is usually reproduced in photographs. I wasn’t the only one to remark on this subversion. The famous segments of the Opera House were more of an ochre tinge and not the brilliant white I had been expecting.) The combination of these two emblematic and world-renowned powerhouses, as they share the same skyline, is simply unparalleled.


I then travelled north to Queensland and to Airlie Beach, a town which serves largely as a base camp for visitors of the Whitsunday Islands and a section of the Great Barrier Reef. There are countless vendors here who offer sailing trips, usually combining an excursion to at least one island and either a dive or snorkel to the Reef. Being new to both, I went for the snorkelling option, thinking it would be more elementary. Though anxious at first, I was able to settle enough with my head in the water to take in the amazing techni-colour display of living and breathing coral reef and see the unimaginable sea life that accompanies it. The feeling of immersion even from just snorkelling is astounding. After this profound dip in the sea, we continued to Whitehaven Beach, on Whitsunday Island. It is touted by the local literature as being the nicest beach on the planet and I’m sure they are not far wrong: with near pure white sand, mirroring the glistening sun, Whitehaven stretches for days next to dreamy blue waters, with superb 360° island views as far as the eye can see.


I continued north later in the year to the city of Cairns. Cairns, a much larger city, is similarly used as an embarkation point for tourists, this time visiting places like Port Douglas, the Daintrees, Mossman Gorge and the Cape Tribulation, all located further north. Along the way, as I discovered on our road trip there, you are spoiled for splendid beaches: Holloways Beach, Trinity Beach and Palm Cove, to name but a few.


Port Douglas, the first of the major stops, is essentially a purpose built holiday town, its most famous offering probably being Four Mile Beach; a span of beautifully manicured beach lined with auspicious palm trees (no indication of how long the beach was though!). After a short respite in Port Douglas, we continued to the Mossman Gorge and Cape Tribulation, both part of the Daintree National Park. The Cape is a sizeable section of bayed beach surrounded by forest. What I found most interesting were the areas where the forestry meets the coastline: the roots of the trees sprout down through the rock, sprawl out to the beach and the water, and burrow into the sand, twisting into some amazing and contortive shapes. The rocks that line some of these areas are also crawling with what seems like thousands of tiny crabs, who make use of the narrow cracks and crevices. Once in a while these crabs will poke their heads out from their cubby-holes before quickly scurrying off noticing the attentions they are garnering. The other location, Mossman Gorge, we were unfortunately unable to trek through due to a torrential downpour, though we were given a sneak peak from the parking area on the hillside of a lovely view of the forest, before the insistent rainfall drove us back inside the car.

On observing my first crocodile, I was surprised at how docile they seemed, so much so I genuinely thought I was looking at a model, some kind of demo crocodile before the real ones appeared. When not dining (which we would see them do later in their natural watery habitat) the crocodile’s skin appears rubbery and synthetic and they stay almost completely still. This first croc I saw, I soon discovered was actually the grand daddy of them all and the oldest in the park; perhaps its senility was another reason I was fooled.


A little further round the trail, there is a small amphitheatre, which hosts live presentations, usually every hour. In the talk we attended, the park experts were showing off various deadly snakes and at one point, a child in the audience who had volunteered, was asked to put their hand into a barrel, which we were told contained one of the most poisonous snakes in the World. Just as the child boldly went to do it, the park expert stopped them of course and said he was only joking… you had to be there, I guess… Some Australian hearsay was also gratefully assuaged in this talk too. Snakes are apparently, not very deadly at all. Statistics suggest that roughly an average of 500 people are admitted to hospital each year with snake bites. Of those, hardly any are poisonous, and of those, almost all are treated successfully. There are so few fatal snake bites in Australia in fact that you can find all the names of the victims in recent history online. On average only 2 human deaths are recorded by snakes per year. This is more than 0 of course, but when considering the thousands of deaths caused by road accidents or any other number of common causes of death, then a sensible perspective can be gained of just how dangerous snakes really are.


At the end of the trail, there is a restaurant that serves all kinds of crocodile meat dishes such as burgers and steaks. I abstained, but I can imagine chowing down on a crocodile burger whilst looking out over the crocodile lagoon right in front of you would cause quite the ethical dilemma, especially when considering, not an hour earlier in the tour, you were likely petting baby crocodiles in the croc creche.


There is really just too much to talk about when it comes to Australia, what I explored and have written about is only a fraction of what’s on offer in this Continent-sized island. It’s full of surprises: unique ecosystems, unpredictable micro-climates, unfathomable wildlife, wonderful cities, towns, villages and communities of all shapes and sizes, there is so much to see, it’s just overwhelming! Australia is a banquet of sights, wonders and once in a lifetime experiences.



Travel Ebook

Available in all Amazon territories:

The Lord Of The Antipodes

Tongariro 3 New Zealand.jpg


Flying in from Melbourne, I arrived into Wellington, a port city on the southern coast of the north island of New Zealand (New Zealand is split into two main islands: north and south). The city sprawls from the basin harbour out over the surrounding hills and valleys. Its suburbs are cleverly constructed over some vertiginous and challenging terrain.


For my first few weeks in the city, I stayed in the area of Lyall Bay in the south. The beach at Lyall looks out across a small body of water to the airport and I remember sitting there for some time plane-spotting; watching them take-off, land and manoeuvre around a cramped Wellington air-side. Their cumbersome movements negotiating the airport apron were reminding me of my first ever attempts at parallel parking. Whilst sitting there, I couldn’t also help but notice the biting and unforgiving coastal breeze that whips-up around the whole bay area. I realised the phrase Windy Wellington, often used to describe the city, was no exaggeration.


The options, as you would expect, for perambulation around Wellington are plentiful and there are numerous walking groups to enjoy them with. One of the first walks I joined, was from Oriental Bay, near the city centre, to the top of Mount Victoria. Though only a km away, it is almost entirely uphill. But on reaching the summit, I was treated to some glorious views over the harbourside and was able to appreciate the city’s architectural prowess in admixing with the natural landscape. The harbour is also the focal point for society and entertainment in the city, having a wide selection of bars and restaurants and hosting music events, markets, parades, festivals, art shows and street performers, amongst other things.


One day, I was walking along the harbourside and I could hear occasional shouting and then applause from just up ahead. I then arrived at a small lagoon that fed out into the sea. Above it, there was a platform about 10ms high, with a queue of people formed behind it. Each was taking their turn to jump from the platform and into the water! The shouts I had heard were from the brave jumpers and the applause was that of the small audience that had amassed to watch them. I understood later this was a local past-time during the Summer months here; a social dare and a way to show-off for the young Kiwis of Wellington. It was fascinating to watch as each would amble up the ladder, hesitantly survey the drop below and after some cajoling and encouragement from their peers or the onlookers, then jump and plummet into the water below, emerging with elated faces soon after.

Also in the harbour area is the Te Papa Museum, Wellington’s multi-levelled, multi-faceted collection of installations, shows and exhibitions, some temporary and some permanent. Te Papa translates to something like container of treasures, which the museum does; focusing mainly on the history of New Zealand through various artefacts and monuments.


New Zealand’s current population is largely descended from the indigenous islanders: the Maori and the non-Maori colonials: the Tangata Tiriti. Although for the most part now amicably integrated, it is still a topic with which some sensitivity can be prudent. The current incarnation of the Museum, first opened in 1998, after several metamorphose, sets out to tell the story of New Zealand in a purely objective way. Tangata Tiriti translates to people of the treaty and refers to these peoples who lived in New Zealand after the Treaty of Waitangi. The treaty, after James Cook’s initial foray to the islands in 1769, claiming New Zealand for the British, declared British Sovereignty over New Zealand in 1840. The exhibition, Signs Of A Nation, a fixture of Te Papa, displays a large glass replica of this Treaty, describing the history of the document alongside it.


New Zealand remains part of the British Commonwealth and as such, the Queen or King of England is technically still its Head of State, though it is of course, self-governing. Interestingly, New Zealand has no fixed day of independence as there were several significant milestones contributing to its eventual sovereignty. Just 12 years after the formation of the colony in 1852 (after the Treaty of Waitangi), British Parliament passed the New Zealand Constitution Act granting the colony the right to self-govern. Then in 1907, New Zealand became a Dominion and in 1948, its people would became New Zealand citizens (rather than British citizens). Then finally, full legal independence was gained in 1986 with a further Constitution Act. In lieu of a single date of independence, the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi is widely regarded as the founding of New Zealand and is therefore celebrated on Waitangi Day every 6th February.


Wellington is the capital of New Zealand despite not being its largest city (it is only New Zealand’s 3rd largest city in terms of population) but rightfully so! The city is a fitting and glowing representative for the whole country. Not only is it a cultural hub but an architectural gem too; it manages to enhance, not detract from, the natural landscape and is a unique and fascinating dichotomy between mankind and nature, successfully, in my opinion, fusing the two.

After a month or so in Wellington, I headed north to tour some of the north island, stopping first in Turangi, the closest town to one of the most popular tourist destinations in New Zealand, the Tongariro Crossing. This is a 19km hike from Mangatepopo to the Ketetahi Hot Springs and for The Lord Of The Rings connoisseurs, it features several locations from the films: Mt. Ngauruhoe for example, the largest mountain there, was impactfully re-imagined as Mt. Doom, whilst Iwikau Village, Mangawhero Falls, Tikino and the Rangipo Desert, all depict other parts of the evil Mordor in Middle Earth. Being a fan of the films, I felt several moments of familiarity whilst on the hike, though not always able to work out why, there being no ork armies or scramble of Hobbit feet to help me recognise where I was. One location I could place however, was the Rangipo Desert, which was so dramatically re-envisioned, with its harsh and rough terrain, as the grounds in front of the Gates of Mordor.


The hike itself takes anywhere from 6 to 8 hours to complete and it can be treacherous (although to a lesser degree I’m sure than the plight of Froddo and Sam). One hillside in particularly was alarmingly steep to descend, with the rubble running away under foot as you step down. Several people were put on their backsides on this tricky slope. I ended up employing a kind of surfboard-approach with some success; shifting my feet sideways and almost riding the moving soil downwards, switching my feet every so often. I had no idea when I woke up that morning, I would be surfing down one of Mount Doom’s smaller cousins.


Before I went on the hike, I presumed I would be one of only a handful of people there, but actually thousands of people undertake the Crossing every day. In front or behind, the lines of people can look like a trail of ants and at some points, visitors are funnelled so closely together, you actually have to queue to move forward. At least with so many people around, it’s almost impossible to get lost. If you do however and you don’t report back to your transport (which drops you off and picks you up), emergency services are notified and will come out and find you, even sending a helicopter for you if needed. You may however be the one paying for it if it does. The hike is quite safe but is closed for most of the Winter and when the weather or conditions are deemed too dangerous for visitors to pass.


I could gush about the Tongariro Crossing for some time but I would quickly run out of superlatives. It is quite simply astonishing! The hike provides so many stunning and evocative views over lakes, mountains, rock-pools and volcanic land, that by the end, you are almost numb to the spectacle, so generous is it. I can safely asseverate that it was one of my favourite places in the World.

My next stop on the north island tour was Rotorua, a much larger town, all built on volcanic land. Because of this, there is a challenging aroma anywhere outdoors from its sulphuric underbelly. It’s an odoriferous place but you do soon grow accustomed to it. One popular day trip from Rotorua is to Wai-O-Tapu, home of the Thermal Wonderland Park. Visitors to the Park will walk a circuit around a large thermal land area, walking passed a multitude of graters, fissures, marshes, rocks and hot springs. The palette of colours here were most notable: the florescent greens of the waters lying next to garish orange mud, bright red rocks backdropped by a deep black smog and gurgling yellow puddles venting a miasma of grey vapour. It’s like something from a science experiment gone wrong.

Returning to more Lord of The Rings locations, Rotorua is perhaps most popular because it is the closest pick-up point for a guided tour to Hobbiton, the fictional village where the Hobbits from the films live. Hobbits are half-human size beings who live in small huts which protrude from the hillsides. It is located in the small rural area of Matamata, about 65kms north-west of Rotorua and a guided tour is the only way to see it.


In the mythos of The Lord Of The Rings, Hobbiton is antithetical to the lands of Mordor, depicted largely as mentioned by the barren volcanic lands of Tongariro. So naturally the area of Matamata is the exact opposite: full of verdant hills, green trees, flourishing vegetation and scenic countryside. The thought occurred to me how amazing it is that two such disparate landscapes could exist so close in nature; surely only New Zealand could be capable of such a feat. Furthermore, I thought how amusing it is that the lands of Hobbiton and Mordor are actually not that far from each other in real life. In fact only about 160kms separate them. So I posited that trafficking a magical ring, like the plot in the movies, from one to the other, wouldn’t actually be that difficult. I doubt though, that J.R.R.Tolkien could have padded out three novels worth from just the events of a four-day hike.


The tour of Hobbiton is a little expensive as might be expected; around the £70 to £80 mark (which I understand has increased a considerable amount since I went), though this does include transport of course. Pick up points are also available from Auckland and elsewhere, but naturally the cost increases the further away the starting point. Also, having expected just a sprinkling of Hobbit huts, I was pleasantly surprised to discover the village in its authentic entirety. Even the village pub is there, where visitors can try either a South Farthing ale or cider at the end of the tour (South Farthing being the fictional brewer from the films). I felt for the most part the price was justified given there is nothing else like this.  


For the original trilogy, The Lord of The Rings, only a temporary make-shift set was constructed. After filming was wrapped, the set was removed completely from the area. However, with the popularity of the films, a burgeoning interest in pilgrimage to the site blossomed, even with the area being no more than an empty field. Duly noted by the savvy landowner and Peter Jackson (the film’s Director), when filming began for the subsequent trilogy, The Hobbit, a permanent and fully operational village was constructed. This wasn’t just for filming of course, but so that the set could be visited in perpetuity by tourists wanting to visit the movie village. Naturally both landowner and Peter Jackson are recompensed handsomely for their troubles and how fortunate it was, for a farmer in the middle of nowhere to have land perfectly emulating a fantasy village in a highly successful book series.

I was booked originally for the morning tour but circumstance meant I was transferred over to the afternoon. This was very lucky, as the overcast weather of the morning transformed into glorious sunshine and blue skies in the afternoon. It is the only suitable weather for a visit to The Shire after all. The tour is only around an hour, with extra time for the pub stop and the souvenir shop at the end (of course they would allow plenty of time for that). All visitors are accompanied by a guide and the group you go round with are the same people sharing your bus to get there. Groups are shepherded, quite hastily might I add, along a designated route, every so often stopped to hear a brief talk. Our guide was a little enervate I must say, only really retelling a few odd scenes from the movies to us. I would have liked more information about the actual running or history of the set itself, I already knew the movies so well. So members from the group soon started to drift off and explore areas of their own volition. The guide didn’t seem to mind too much, this perhaps wasn’t the first time he’d lost the attention of his flock.


Apparently only around 25% of the visitors have actually seen any of the movies, but this doesn’t really matter, Hobbiton in and of itself is a wonderfully picturesque village and unlike any in reality, which of course, it shouldn’t be. Most of my group agreed on the bus back to Rotorua that they wouldn’t mind living there permanently.

I continued my way up north after a few more days of recuperation and arrived into Auckland where I finally flew out of New Zealand. It was with some sadness that my Kiwi adventure had come to an end. The sheer variety of this country is unrivalled and there is no surprise that director Peter Jackson chose New Zealand to film his epic film franchise (not just because he is from there): New Zealand, a comparatively small group of islands, manages to depict an entire mystical World, with landscapes and environments able to effectively illustrate such narrative concepts as good and evil and darkness and light. I will always have veneration for this wonderful country; its good natured people, its distinctiveness, tranquility, and its innate beauty.

On Fiji Time

Fiji 1 Fiji.jpg


Fiji is an archipelago of over 300 islands in the South Pacific Ocean. Its International airport is on the mainland of Viti Levu, where I arrived. On this rare occasion, I did not want the plane to land and could have happily indulged for longer on the free food and alcohol provided by Fiji airways, all being dispensed by a particularly jolly flight attendant, who grinned at every passenger. He was quite the augur of Fijian exuberance and happiness, which was continued by a live band playing the most uplifting and contagious music in the arrivals hall. The cynic in me would suggest this is to butter-up the tourists so they’ll more easily part with their money and though there may be a little truth to this, visitors undoubtedly leave the airport in high spirits, ready to enjoy themselves in Fiji.


From the airport, you are then shuttled to the area of Wailoloa, referred to colloquially as backpackers cove, where you can relax and converse with fellow travellers. Just a short bus ride away is the city of Nadi, to which there is a (loosely) guided tour you can take; providing a cultural exploration of local life, such as at the town markets. The main attraction of the city though, is the Sri Siva Subramaniya Temple, a Hindu temple designed in the Dravidian style, as such exemplified by pyramid-shaped towers, highly detailed craftsmanship, ornamentation and carvings and walls flush with fine art. The temple is notably incongruous with its surroundings: it is garish and vivid, standing out against the often gray and ramshackle scenery around it.


The mainland itself, though is a nice way to wile away a few days, doesn’t quite provide that exotic and remote island experience that tourists come to Fiji for. For that, you’ll need to travel to one of the many island resorts, which trips to, though can be booked online, are often bought from local vendors. In fact, it feels like just about anyone here can sell you a tour of the islands. I chose the most official-looking one I could find and was soon booked on a trip to two islands, Mana and Bounty Island. Boat transport, accommodation and three meals a day are all included in these kinds of packages, which would make sense, given there won’t exactly be a local Tesco around to pop to.


It’s all very unofficial in Fiji as you might expect, so when I had booked and paid for my tour, I was given only a small scrap of paper, which I was instructed to give to the lady on the beach, who would then give me another bit of paper, which I could use to board the ferry. I felt like I was starting a quest, not going on holiday! I managed to find the mythical lady of the beach, at a makeshift desk, with one tree for shade, right in the middle of the beach. She had a cash-box in front of her and reams of paper fluttering around her; she must have held the entire transport agenda of the islands in her rolled-up wads of cash, tatty log book and perforated receipt book. This was back-to-basics business, with good old-fashioned cash and paper. Just don’t lose any of your receipts in Fiji, it might be your entire booking lost with it.

The first island I stayed at was Mana Island, where the thrifty backpacker goes to enjoy island life; by far the cheapest of all the islands. Suffice to say, the accommodation here was not very agreeable; only a small assortment of run-down huts with a few bunk beds thrown in. Whilst sleeping I was serenaded by the scurrying of mouse feet (or worse) and the sound of the power generator outside. There was no hot water and often no water at all and only a few hours of electricity each day. The daily meals consisted of mostly small towers of bread, with very little actually inbetween the slices. The first few times I sat down for dinner, I confusedly inspected my sandwiches expecting there to be something inside, those who had been there longer, laughed at my naive puzzlement. I had never had a bread sandwich before, until now.


However, I only dwell on these inconveniences to make a point about how insignificant this all was. I was living on a tropical island in the middle of the ocean, spending every minute of every day surrounded by palm trees and pristine clear waters, basking in the sun on a golden beach, spoiled for views and enjoying the company of a diverse nexus of people, each having their own unique story of how they too came to be there. Beds are just for sleeping and hot showers are overrated when you are in paradise.


During my stay on Mana, there also happened to be filming taking place for the TV show Survivor, which is a show coincidentally, about people marooned on a desert island. I can certainly understand why Mana was chosen to highlight desertion and primordial living. Unfortunately, this meant half of the island was cordoned off to visitors. Where normally you can walk the circumference of the island, security staff were stationed at each end to shepherd you back if you wander too far. Touted as a bonus by the vendors selling the tour packages, as if you might have some brush with fame, it really just meant an entire part of the island was closed off. Mana is Fijian for magic, but amongst the traveller community, Mana Island is often sardonically referred to as Prison Island (affectionately I might add) due to its tight sleeping quarters and the basic meals provided. These patrolling security guards did not exactly help dispel this label. Having said that, some of the crew from the show did spend an evening with us and paid for all our drinks; recompense I suppose, for depriving us of the nicer parts of the island.

After Mana, I island-hopped to my second destination, Bounty Island. Certainly several steps up from my experience on Mana, Bounty is a luxurious and lavish affair. Words do not do justice to this 48acre postcard-worthy, jealousy-inducing, picture perfect oasis. It cleanses the mind and the soul the moment you step foot on it. Its indulgences include a bountiful and delicious buffet at mealtimes, an attractive and sleek pool area, peaceful seating areas and hammocks, spacious and cooled dorm rooms, beachside huts, all-day free tea and coffee, a beautiful decking area and a well stocked bar. Walking round the island was a heavenly afternoon of glorious views of the seas and skies Monet would find inspiring. I also had the great fortune to take in the sunset from the beach at Bounty, one of those life-affirming moments.

A day later, I had to board a boat bound for the mainland, only having a few more days before left in Fiji. Soon, the humdrum of normal life would be upon me and the buzzing of technology, unmistakably absent from Fiji, would disturb me once again. I can’t describe just how refreshing the lack of digitisation is around the islands; there is little or no WiFi and the mobile signal is thankfully fairly bad in most places. I was dreading turning my phone back on and hearing the pings of messages reminding me of my responsibilities. Being able to completely escape the clutches of modernity allowed me to really saviour my time in Fiji and my time in general. Breaking free from the grip of the digital World and from the associated routine, leaves a profound appreciation for human connection and a deeper sense of your surroundings and their inherent beauty. A lack of structure, of routine, of a sense of time: needing to be somewhere or do something, allows Fiji’s guests to revel in the most felicitous fundamentals of living.



Travel Ebook

Available in all Amazon territories:

The Authentic Tonga

Tonga 5 Tonga.jpg


Tonga is a comparatively small Polynesian group of islands, comprised of roughly just 750km² of land in total and with a population of only 103,000 approximately. 70% of this population reside on the mainland of Tongatapu, which can be circumvented in just a few hours by car.


What was most noticeable about Tonga, was how little tourism there is here, (especially compared to Fiji). Locals were very affable but the island has not uniformly embraced tourism and certainly doesn’t rely on it economically (as Fiji does). Its reluctance to capitalise on the economic benefits of tourism, from what I could tell, is rooted in a desire to keep the island as un-blemished and natural as possible. This is hugely admirable given Tonga would lend itself perfectly to mass tourism. There are only a handful of resorts, all in the coastal areas and only a few hostels in its capital city. There are generally very few tourists around and nowhere is ever too crowded.

I was picked up from Fua’amotu Airport by the complimentary taxi service taking me to my accommodation. As we neared the modest resort, the calming aroma of fresh seaside air triggered a Pavlovian response in me and I immediately felt peaceful and calm. Located near the most north-westerly shore of the mainland, the resort was made up of small huts for guest rooms, with a reception, dining area and a small house for the owner. At the foot of a large outdoor space was what was effectively a private beach. It was eerily quiet here, only a few other guests around. I felt like the only person in Tonga. Budgeting for just a few days at the resort, I spent it content to read on the beach, kayak in the sea and relax as best I could. It was the ultimate opportunity to rejuvenate and revitalise, which I seized fully.


I then relocated to the capital city of Nuku’alofa to see a more authentic side of Tonga. Walking the city is a pleasant and short stroll. I was able to eat at an acclaimed fish ‘n’ chip shop by the harbour, which more than lived up to billing. The harbour is the busiest part of the city, transporting lots of cargo as well as people from island to island. Travellers looking to explore the much smaller islands can do so by jumping on these cargo boats. (Flights are of course astronomically expensive for these niche trips.) The downside is you’ll likely be sharing the boat with all kinds of things and even livestock, the journey will take days too, not hours, as the boats do not detour from their delivery routes. You’ll also need to be very flexible too, though there is a timetable, the ferries are unlikely to stick to them. Some tourists I spoke to, said they arrived at 6am for their boat, only to be told it was now leaving at 6pm, a full 12 hours over schedule.

The next day, I partook in a road trip around the circumference of the mainland. We roughly followed the route suggested by a readily available tourist map, which marks out the most interesting places around Tongatapu. There aren’t too many roads you can take, so we headed clockwise from the capital. Our first stop was the Captain Cook Landing Site on the north coast. Cook originally came ashore here in 1777 near Holonga village, about 16kms east of Nuku’alofa. (He was not the first to reach Tonga though, this honour bestowing Abel Tasman in 1643, for which there is another landing site to the north-west, which we also visited.) There was little monumentous here beside a small commemorative plaque and the slightly sad remnants of a cafe and gift shop, perhaps over-ambitiously opened thinking the site would produce the necessary footfall.


Another 14kms along the coast was our second stop, the Ha’amonga ‘a Maui. Similar to Stonehenge, though made up of only three segments, this stone trilithon is equally perplexing, considering how it could have been built as early as the 13th century. Further along the trail is the Tau’atonga Langi, an ancient royal burial mound in the area of Mu’a: widely regarded as the first capital of Tonga. Here lies the buried Kings of the Tu’i Tonga dynasty; from 950 to 1500/1600 CE. There are some 28 burial mounds here, laid within a pyramid of enormous coral slabs. Tongan grave-sites are usually very colourful and decorative, so families can celebrate a passed life, not mourn it, so it was surprising how morbid and unkempt the Tu’i tombs were. It was like being in some horror film: broken branches, desolate ground, burrowing roots, rustling debris and contorted trees, created a twisted landscape, about as far removed from the beach-side resort I was at just days earlier.

The last stop on the trail was the Mapu 'a Vaea, better known as the Blowholes. They are located about 15kms south west of Nuku’alofa (we had lapped round to the other side of the island by then) and refer to a section of coastline where water explosions splash out from the rocks below. They are created by the waves that flood into the rocks being pressurised, then forcefully blowing out into the air, creating unique and dramatic water shapes each time. There are vantage points all across the cliffs to see the display. You can stand close, be sprayed by the sea and experience the full force of it or head up to the hills and see the water dance along the never ending cliff-faces. It’s quite an affronting sight, the harsh winds and cacophonous crashing of the waves only adding to this invigorating onslaught.

The day trip round the island was an eye-opening voyage around some unflappable natural landscapes. Tonga is raw, rough and ready and revels in this potency. The sand is coarse, the air abrasive and the land abrupt. Thankfully, Tonga remains largely untouched by tourism. Only in the years to come will we see how Tonga will develop, as it may reluctantly embrace some inescapable change. But currently, and stubbornly so, Tonga refuses to become what at its core, it is not: it is not a pretty picture on a postcard and it’s not an excuse to be pampered, it is much more compelling than that. Tonga is an experience, challenging and unusual, layered and textured. It was not what I was expecting, but because of precisely that, it was captivating and like no other.

Chasing The Rising Sun

Fujisan 3b Japan.jpg


Only after a short time in Japan, did I realise that very few people spoke English, even in the capital city of Tokyo. Luckily, I found the people I met to be some of the most altruistic I had come across, wiling to go out of their way to help you.


There is no tipping custom in Japan, prices reflect a service earnestly and anything extra will not be accepted. I was quickly made aware of this when I once handed a restaurateur payment with something extra, only for him to bridle and promptly hand the extra back to me.


Tokyo, where I started my trip, can be best appreciated from the Government Metropolitan Building in the area of Shinjuku. Ascend to its 45th floor to experience the vastness of this gargantuan city from a 360° skydeck. On a clear day, even Mount Fuji is visible to the west. The city is so dense with infrastructure, spanning so far into the distance, that no other city can match its glare and flare at night. The vast quantity of lit-up skyscrapers, advertising banners, large digital screens and flashing signals, all glow and colour the night sky. This really was the prowess of Tokyo that I’d imagined from Manga films and Godzilla movies I loved as a child.

On my first day trip from Tokyo, I visited the city of Kamakura, around an hour train journey away. Kamakura is famous for its forest and mountain trail, located just behind the Kencho-ji Temple (in itself an interesting Zen training monastery, one of the oldest in Japan). There is an unassuming and ornate walkway leading up the mountainside, adorned by hundreds of small statues carved in stone, called Tengu. The Tengu, who are goblin-like creatures, guard the mountain and the Hansobo shrine just beyond them.

On another day trip from the city, I visited Nikko, this time a little further, about two hours train away. For the best price, transport and various area passes around Nikko are best purchased as a bundle before leaving Tokyo. Some of the many highlights around this area, include the Yunodaira Marsh to the north of the city in the town of Yumoto. The volcanic land here creates mud fissures and boiling water rises up through the ground generating steam that seeps through small wooden structures on the marsh. There are boards so you can walk right over the hot bog. The odor is pungent and the heat fierce. To the south of Yumoto is the Senjogahara Plateau Trail, a large area of vegetation surrounded by mountains and forests. There is also a stream that leads down to the beautiful Ryuzu Falls, which open out to Lake Chuzenji. The lake passes the foot of Mount Nantai as well as the town of Chuzenji itself.


My trip to Nikko couldn’t have provided surroundings more starkly contrasting the bright lights of Tokyo. With the natural beauty, clear air, earthly landscapes and even volcanic land, Chuzenji shows off the Japanese countryside gloriously. Nature in Japan can often take a back-seat to its manufactured counterparts, so it’s worthwhile travelling out from the cities to see some of its sublime and sometimes undervalued scenery.

After spending a few weeks in Tokyo, I took a bus to Kyoto, taking about 9 hours. Kyoto, the capital of Japan from 794 to 1868, feels much older than Tokyo. It was spared the air raids of WWII as it was identified by the Allies as a city of historical value and significance. So much of the pre-War buildings still remain intact, unlike many other cities in Japan.


With this historic architecture, Kyoto is the ideal place for visitors to adorn authentic Japanese Kimono and spend a day walking around its cultural landmarks. The city is full of tourists bedecked in this traditional dress, many even wearing the accompanying sandals, called Zori or Geta: basically two blocks of wood with a small strap for the feet. They did not look comfortable and I admired anyone able to walk around in them, particularly on the cobbled pavements of Kyoto. Kimono translates roughly as things to wear and is a formal style of outfit associated with good manners and politeness. Most will take photos of themselves or their friends in their regalia as a keepsake, often around the older parts of the city for the full Japanese effect. Interestingly, it’s mostly a tourist past-time, Kimonos aren’t commonly worn in Japan, except sometimes at Weddings, Graduations or other similar functions.

Kyoto is also close to the south-westerly shore of Lake Biwa, the largest freshwater lake in Japan at 670km². On the north-western land quarter of the Lake is the area of Otsu, most well-known for the Shirahige-jinja Shrine there. Shinto shrines like this have what are called Torii gates located at entrances or within the shrines themselves. They are essentially two vertical columns connected by two roofing beams that can be walked under. Torii translates as something like, a bird’s abode and passing through these gates symbolises the transition from the profane; the everyday, to the sacred; the holy World, as you pass into the shrine itself. What’s unusual about the Shirahige-jinja shrine, is that its Torii gates are located off-shore in Lake Biwa and the base of the gates are submerged under water. There are concrete steps down from the shrine to sit at and look out at them. The view across the water is generous enough but with the gates, standing so stoically in the endless sway of the water, it was only made that much more memorable.

A short train ride away from Kyoto, about 50 minutes, is Osaka, home to the Minoo Waterfall on its eponymous river just outside the city. At 33ms tall, the waterfall is grand but enchantingly winsome: the whites of the water flow down passed the rich yellows and greens of the vegetation around it. It’s a bewitching sight, with a sleepy soundtrack.

The city is also home to Osaka Castle. Originally built in 1583 as a symbol of unity, the castle was ironically destroyed by rebels to the city rulers of the time. It was then rebuilt in the 1620s before it was destroyed again (!), seemingly hexed, burnt down after a lightning strike in 1665. It remained in this state until its most recent reconstruction in 1931, retaining much of its original aspect and design. The Nishinmorim Gardens, which surround the castle, are full of cherry trees, citadels, gates, turrets, stone-walls and moats and provide some great views of the Castle itself and out over the city from its ramparts.

I moved on from Osaka soon after, taking another bus further west to Hiroshima, taking around 7 hours this time. Arriving close to the Memorial Park extremely early in the morning, I walked over to it and had it almost exclusively to myself. The park is ground-zero for the 1945 atomic bomb attack towards the end of WWII and commemorates the thousands of lives lost through various installations and monuments (estimates for the exact death toll are varied, anything from 80,000 to 135,000 is estimated). The A-Bomb or Genbaku Dome, located to the north of the park, marks the exact point of detonation and is one of the only remnants of the original city. As the explosion was directly overhead, the downward impact was withstood by many of the vertical columns and some of the outer walls, which still stand. The ruinous dome is now a subject of some controversy, with some locals wanting it torn down and others wanting it to remain as a symbol of peace and remembrance. At this early hour, there was a haunting feeling about the park, given the immeasurable significance of the history here. Walking around it and seeing its monuments is a deeply cathartic experience; the sheer tangible weight of loss here can be felt almost vicariously, it was suffocating and greatly humbling.


The A-bomb attacks are deeply embedded into Japanese culture. Their films, TV shows and comics, will often be set either before or after some kind of apocalypse. There’s often a deep sense of misanthropy in any Japanese story. The effects of Hiroshima and Nagasaki will naturally be felt through generations, but it seems that, rather than having fermented bitterness, it has imbued a sense of reverence and humbleness in the Japanese people.

Japan is a delightfully riveting and engrossing country and absorbing all it’s quirks and interests are a pleasure. It sounds different from anywhere else; the language is upbeat and staccato and this rhythmic conversation accompanies the rest of its playful and tuneful soundscape. Its cities have a unique sonic blend from shops, arcades, taxis and even pedestrian crossings; that play a merry digital jingle to soundtrack your safe passage across the road. Its architecture is poised and emphatic, its countryside is charming and restful and even in the heart of Tokyo, there is a sense of peace and calm. Everything is just so in Japan; everything works and everything runs smoothly and on time. Doors never slam behind you, toilets invitingly open as you approach them and packaged food opens blissfully for you every single time. Bowing is a common way to show appreciation and respect in Japan. Japan has my appreciation and most certainly has my respect.



Travel Ebook

Available in all Amazon territories:

Train To Busan...And Back Again

Busan 5b South Korea.jpg


Three consecutive nights in South Korea saw me dragged out by a cohort of backpackers into the centre of Busan to enjoy its lively and robust night-life. For each of those nights, we would not return to our hostel before 5am the following day. Encouraged by the spirited attitude of the locals to let loose after a hard days’ work, we would make the most of our time here. The simple mathematics would suggest that with breakfast served between 7 and 8am, there would be little time for recuperation, but ingratiating oneself into the local culture is only polite of course!

On one of these mornings and ignoring our hazy insomnia, a couple of us headed for the Haedong Yonggungsa Temple, a Buddhist temple on the coast in the north-east of the city. The temple is believed to be founded by the Buddhist Master, Naong Hyegeun, in the same year of his death, in 1376. It was subsequently named Haedong Yonggungsa, which translates as Korean Dragon Palace, by its Head Monk, Jeong-am, because of a vision he had of the Sea Goddess of Mercy (or Haesu Gwaneum Daebul) riding the back of a dragon. Jeong-am would be practising Jeong-Geon Kido at the time; a form of meditation through intensive prayers and chanting every day for (usually) a 100 days.


The legend surrounding the temple begins with a severe draught befalling all of Goryeo (the Korean Kingdom). Crops were unable to grow and extreme famine set in. The people felt betrayed by the Gods for not providing rainfall. In a dream, Naong Hyegeun was visited by one of the Gods, who instructed him to build a new temple in this topographically significant place by the coast. The position between the hillside and the sea adheres to the principles of Pungsu-Jiri-Seol; the harmonising of wind, water and earth. If Naong could complete the task and then pray to the Gods at this new temple, the rain would fall once again and the people’s suffering would be no more.


Inside the temple entrance, one of the first things visitors will see, are a row of 12 anthropomorphic statues. Each has a human body with a different animal head, representing the animals of the Zodiac. In Buddhist mythology, a race between the animals decided the respective order of each animal's year in a 12-year cycle (the year of the rat, the year of the ox, the year of the tiger and so on).


Further along the temple trail, there is a huge wishing well, where basins of varying sizes are held by monk statues. Visitors are encouraged to throw coins into the basins, the smaller the basin you can hit with the coin, the more likely your wish is to come true. There are a huge number of statues all around the well, one of them of a rabbit, another zodiacal animal, which, among other things, represents hope and nobility.


The monk statues continue right through the temple. Some of them are tiny, smaller than the size of your hand and sit among the rocks or on tree branches. They are turquoise or green and are often holding little scrolls. There are Buddha statues of all sizes too. They are gold and have big bellies, signifying a laughing and happy Buddha. Rubbing a Buddha belly brings good luck and fortune; the bigger the belly, the better.


The temple is fascinatingly integrated into the landscape, best appreciated from a viewing platform further up the hillside (there is also a statue of the Sea Goddess of Mercy here, appearing in Jeong-am’s vision). Many of its structures seem to mimic the natural forms of the rocks around them and despite its conspicuousness, the temple somehow remains in-keeping with and compliments its surroundings. There is perfect harmony here, as denoted by Pungsu-Jiri-Seol, between the temple, the sea and the land.

A few days later, I visited the Lotte Department Store to the south of the city and its rooftop observation deck; providing a panorama of the whole of Busan. On the roof itself, there are art installations, sculptures and some topiary (of swans and other animals), as well as a cafe and even a petting zoo; with pigs, deer, squirrels, guinea pigs and more. Some of the art has a way of framing the city backdrop in a very creative way, juxtaposing a simple and plain foreground with the very busy cityscape behind.


I waited for night-time to descend to see the city really come to light in all its glory. Busan is a spectacle when the sun goes down and suddenly, from almost nowhere, its Rainbow Bridge (or Gwangandaegyo Bridge) shines, radiates and dominates the skyline. The bridge stretches over 17kms and is equipped with thousands of LEDs that even adapt seasonally, providing different colour patterns depending on the time of year. This prismatic bridge is a graphic feast and combines with the rest of Busan’s pageantry to provide some stunning views.

This warm and jovial city made me regret the brevity of my trip to South Korea, for as quickly as I had arrived, I was due to leave. Having enthusiastically roasted the candle at both ends, it had finally burnt out. My time here had been quite an eventful ride; interesting, diverting and packed with brilliant sunshine, absorbing night-life, one amazing temple, exceptional barbecue food and an incredible light show to send me on my way. Busan is definitely a ride well worth taking.

A Muddy Confluence & A Red Eagle

Kuala Lumpur 1b Malaysia.jpg


I arrived into Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to spend a week in the big city. The most expedient way to see the sites here is to use the Hop-On Hop-Off KL Tour Bus; stopping at 27 designated points of interest. My first stop was the down-town area of Jalan Ampang, which is overseen by the looming and imposing Petronas Twin Towers (or Menara Petronas; Menara being Malay for towers). On its completion in 1998, it was the tallest building in the World at 452ms high, usurping at the time, the Willis Tower in Chicago, which stood at 422ms. They’ve since been upstaged themselves however, firstly in 2004 by the Taipei 101 observatory in Taiwan (508ms), then by the Burj Khalifa skyscraper Dubai in 2010 (828ms!). The Petronas Towers still remain the tallest twin structure in the World though.

My second hopping-off point was at the National Palace near the Jalan Duta area. The Palace and its gardens are not open to the public but can be viewed through a giant gate house, in itself an extravagant piece of architecture. The Palace was completed in 2011 and is the official residence of the Monarchy of Malaysia (or Yang di-Pertuan Agong in Malay, meaning the Supreme Head of State or King). It’s unapologetically majestic and unashamedly palatial and powerfully helms the salubrious hillside around it. The entire plot is over 28 acres and has many buildings all over the grounds. Most of these are roofed by bright yellow domes, making 22 in total. They looked like some kind of overgrown vegetation dotted around the hillside, like huge yellow mushrooms growing up through the grass. It felt like something out of someone’s imagination.


My final hop-off was at the Eco Forest Park in the Bukit Kewangan area, part of the Bukit Nanas (Pineapple Hill) Forest Reserve. The Park is the only remaining section of natural rainforest left in the city. It boasts various jungle trails and canopy bridges, all with views around the city. But perhaps most interesting, is the monkeys that congregate around the bridges and swing from the suspension ropes. They seemed friendly enough, but I did notice a few marshals keeping an eye on things when the tourists would come near them!


Close to the Park is also the Menara Kuala Lumpur, which looms in the background when walking anywhere in the Park. This communication tower was constructed in 1994. Its antenna adds on 86ms to an already impressive 421m high building. The majority of the tower is made up of a support column, only wide enough for an elevator and an emergency stairwell. This stairwell is used for the annual International Towerthon Challenge, where participants run up its over 2000 steps to the upper-level lobby. On non-Towerthon days, the elevator takes personnel up to a large circular dome, about 335ms high, where several communication companies operate. There is also one area open to the public, which has a restaurant and a sky-deck offering views across the city. Its observation deck is actually higher than that of the Petronas Towers, despite the building itself being shorter.

I hopped back onto the KL tour bus for the last time and returned to my accommodation for the night. The next day, I visited the more peremptory Batu Caves, about 11kms north of the city. The Sri Venkatachalapathi & Alamelu Temple is the first thing that visitors will see, just a short walk from Batu station, 45 minutes on the train from the city centre. From the statues of her in the interior, the temple is likely dedicated to the Goddess of War, Durga. It was a fittingly magnificent and auspicious introduction to the rest of the Batu Caves complex.


To the left of this temple, is the Ramayana Cave, which through dioramas, tells the story of Rama, a Hindu diety known for his slaying of the Demon King Ravana. The cave is guarded by a statue of Hanuman (the monkey God), a well-known companion and devotee of Rama and is an imposing 15ms in height. The Cave is made up of a small network of caverns, colourfully embellished with these dioramas, as well as models and other regalia, all illuminated with a huge array of fluorescent strobes and back-lights. Of most note, was a giant model of Kumbhakarna, the sleeping giant and the brother of Rama, in the middle of one of the caverns. His states of deep-sleep are legendary so he is naturally depicted lying down and fast asleep. There are other much smaller figures all around him, who are comically crashing cymbals and banging drums in a vain attempt to wake him up. The somewhat psychedelic lighting aside, the caves are surprisingly meditative, with the soft and gentle sound of a waterfall tenderly passing down one of the cavern walls heard throughout.

Most famously at the Batu Caves, is the 43m tall dwarfing figure of Murugan, who stands outside the entrance. Also known as Kartikeya, Muragan is the Hindu God of War. Unveiled as recently as 2006, this colossal statue is the tallest of its kind in Malaysia. It’s constructed of concrete and steel and gilded from head-to-toe in gold. It’s hard to miss as it stands at the foot of the 272 steps that take visitors up to the Caves themselves.


Taking their name from the Batu river nearby, the Batu Caves are made up of several limestone caverns formed over millions of years. The entrance opens out to the largest of these; the Cathedral (or Temple) Cave, where the ceiling can be as high as 100ms. There are many Hindu shrines and ornaments throughout the caverns and there’s even enough room for a temple: the Sri Subramaniar Swamy Temple, built in 1891 and also dedicated to the War God Murugan, was founded by K. Thamboosamy Pillay, a wealthy businessman and leader of a local Hindu community in Tamil (the name of the region at that time).


The grandeur and the sheer scope of the Batu Caves is greatly impactful, it is overwhelming and its vastness indescribable. Although some artificial lighting is used, the majority of the light floods in naturally from a large opening at the back of the caves, just above the temple. When seeing the light flood down, there is a sense of the numinous about it. It’s a grandiose and angelic sight.


I then flew on from Kuala Lumpur to the islands of Langkawi, off the west coast of Malaysia in the region of Kedah. Langkawi is often referred to as the Jewel of Kedah and is a popular holiday destination for Malaysians and travellers alike. It’s most famed for the Langkawi Skybridge: a 125m curved suspended walkway, straddling parts of the mountain range next to the Mount Mat Cincang peak. To access the Skybridge, you’ll need to take the Langkawi Cable Cars, some of the steepest in the World. It’s an unnerving 15 minutes to reach a height of over 700ms but once there, there are some spectacular views over the Skybridge, where this extraordinary feat in engineering can be truly appreciated. The extent of the prefabrication requirements to fit the structure around the mountainous terrain and the specificity needed for the supporting pylon to balance the bridge adequately are remarkable to consider. The entire bridge unit had to be transported in one piece up to the mountain top by helicopter, then connected up with its supports over the ravine.


With the plummeting views and wavering stability, walking the Skybridge is a little disconcerting. Its many panels of see-through glass underfoot don’t help either, seeming deliberately put there to look like holes in the bridge. When you can focus on something other than the shaky platform you’re on, the Skybridge offers some breathtaking views over the mountains and out to the Andaman Sea to the west.

Back in Kuala Lumpur, in my first week in Malaysia, I had taken a cooking class at my hostel in the city. Malaysian cuisine is usually centred around curry and rice with a side of lettuce or chopped-up vegetables. So our tasks in the class were fairly remedial and we were only trusted with frying vegetables or slicing cucumbers. It felt like a long wait for our food, especially with the prophetic smells of cooking, but when it was ready, it was worth the wait. Though it may be a tenuous link, this feels rather symbolic of my journey through Malaysia. Malaysia is a uniquely compartmentalised group of islands and it provides a continually rewarding but also challenging trip around some amazing places. It was by no means seamless, but with its brilliant nature and epic architecture, what Malaysia has to offer, like its food, is also worth the wait.



Travel Ebook

Available in all Amazon territories:

A Tale Of Two Worlds

Bali 6c Indonesia.jpg


I arrived into Bali late in the evening and after surviving the enthusiastic solicitations of the taxi drivers at Ngurah Rai airport, I finally made it to my hotel. I was shocked to get my room bill for over 1 million rupiahs, but then realised, this was only little over £90. The upside of the high currency here is that you’re officially a millionaire the moment you arrive, the downside: you’ll spend lots of time counting zeros on price-tags.


The following morning I went down for breakfast to find a charming pool area, generously foliaged with palm trees and serenaded by traditional Balinese music. With the rooms of the hotel boxing-it in, it was a perfect little oasis.


I was staying in the area of Seminyak, sometimes maligned for its reputation, along with its neighbours Kuta and Legian, as something of a party destination. Coming for the cheap accommodation, year-round sun and convivial atmosphere, Bali is a de riguer destination for young holiday-makers, who look to meet like-minded fun-seeking travellers. But Bali is much more than this, it is also a beautiful island, rich in nature and offering gorgeous beaches and scenery. Seminyak in particular, which is recessed from the noise of down-town, I found to be a relaxing and quiet escape.

After a short while mostly lolling about in Bali, I flew on to the city of Yogyakarta in the south of the mainland of Java. Yogyakarta is the closest city to the famous Borobudur Temple and Prambanan Temple. As might be expected, there are separate entry fees for tourists at both temples, so I was quickly re-directed when I arrived at the first temple, Borobudur, to an alternative entrance. If remembered correctly, the fee for Indonesians was 44,000 rupiah, about £3 and the tourist rate was around 650,000 rupiahs, closer to £40 (though this does include a slightly warm bottle of water to take round with you!). This is common practice and understandable; any attraction of  significance in the UK would be priced similarly and the fee also includes both temples, so all in all is not bad value for money.


The Borobudur Temple was built in the 8th and 9th centuries during the Syailendra Dynasty and is located near the town of Muntilan, about 40kms north west of Yogyakarta. In its design, the temple reflects the construct of the Universe in Buddhist cosmology. Accordingly, the Universe is divided into three worlds: Kamadhatu, Rupadhatu and Arupadhatu; the realms of desire, form and formlessness respectively. Desire is the worst of human nature, while form is the mastery of desire whilst retaining form and then formlessness is the absence of both desire and form, so the optimal state of consciousness. The three worlds work sequentially, representing the journey from desire to formlessness and full enlightenment.


The three main areas of the temple map these three worlds. The square base of the temple denotes the Kamadhatu, the square terraces above these are the Rupadhatu and the circular terraces at the very top, are the Arupadhatu. The whole temple is essentially a terraced mountain and ascending it metaphorically symbolises the journey through these three worlds and so reaching the central Buddhist concept of Nirvana. On the highest platform; the Arupadhatu, there are 72 small domes called Stupa, typically containing the ashes of Buddhist monks. There is also one crowning Stupa at the very pinnacle of the temple. It is deliberately left empty to signify the end of the journey to enlightenment.


Only after a short time at the temple, I couldn’t help notice the attention I was receiving. One older lady then asked me for a photograph. Assuming she meant of her, I went to take the picture but was soon corrected: she actually wanted a photo of the two of us together! This was the first of perhaps 50 photographs I posed for with locals (with perhaps another 50 at Prambanan). Afterwards, I understood this was quite common for foreigners. Though the cities are more used to tourists, many of the visitors to the temples are from rural areas, often on school trips, so I was something of a novelty. It was rather overwhelming at times, especially given the busyness of the temples, but was flattering nonetheless, giving me a rare feeling of celebrity likely never repeated. If it wasn’t so expensive, I might go back for the sake of my ego.


Borobudur is quite phenomenal and traversing to the top in the absurd heat of the mainland, does feel like quite the arduous journey it’s supposed to represent; there is a palpable sense of achievement when reaching the Arupadhatu. From there, the glorious views around the Stupa and of the rest of temple below, are quite something to behold.

The second temple, Prambanan, is the largest Hindu temple in Indonesia. It is located near Kalasan, about 20kms east of Yogyakarta. Built in the 10th century, the temple is dedicated to the three great Hindu Divinities; Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma. There are eight main and eight minor structures around the temple and the three largest represent these three Gods. The Shiva Temple, the tallest of these, is about 47ms high. Each shrine is a large rectangular shape, crescendo-ing into a spiked roof. There are smaller towers leading to the top, all with similarly sharp pointed edges. The structures have highly intricate crenellation, classic of Hindu temple architecture. Many of them can be entered, their interiors decorated with lavish carvings of Hindu legends and statues dedicated to the Gods.


I found Prambanan Temple to be a little more palatable than Borobudur in terms of the crowds there. This could have just been the time of day but I was able to wander around much more freely and better appreciate my surroundings. All the minutia at Prambanan are exquisitely detailed and the temple’s sharp edges and dramatic design give it a striking gothic look. The large grounds offer the chance too, to step back and see the full collection of its 16 structures; providing a staggeringly dynamic view.

These two temples; Borobudur and Prambanan are wonderful examples of some of the many treasures that can be unearthed in this unique country. For me, Indonesia was a tale of two worlds: on one hand Bali, almost synthesised to be the perfect post-card holiday, is indulgent and spontaneous and on the other, Yogyakarta, the traditional heart of Java, is rooted and gripping. Both provide wonderful experiences in this welcoming and humble country. It was a trip of endless riches and a trip that I will greatly cherish.

Elements Of Vietnam

Da Nang 2b Vietnam.jpg


Ignoring very salient advice, I arrived into Da Nang in November amid the throngs of its rainy season. I didn’t realise quite what this meant and had no idea that 11 out of my 14 days in Vietnam would be a complete wash-out. Even short trips for groceries would mean an afternoon drying my clothes with the hotel hair-dryer. The one benefit of this was the price of hotels at this time of year were a fraction of what they usually were, so I ended up staying in some unfamiliarly luxurious places.


The city of Da Nang is situated on the east coast of Vietnam, roughly half-way between the capital city of Hanoi in the north and Ho Chi Minh in the south. The Han River, coming from the west, bifurcates the city of Da Nang and feeds into Da Nang Bay to the north, which opens out to the South China Sea. The area around the river is the main leisure district in the city. It’s particularly brilliant at night, with many buildings lit-up in very creative ways. Even more flashy, are the lighting displays over the 9 bridges along the Han River. Dragon Bridge, over 600ms, the longest bridge in Vietnam, is the most spectacular. Opened in 2013, with 6 lanes for traffic, it marked the 38th anniversary of the liberation of Da Nang.


In 1954, French occupation of the city, then called Tourane, came to an end and Da Dang became part of South Vietnam. In 1965, the USA would use the city to land forces during the Vietnam War. They assumed partial control of the city with the South Vietnamese Government. After 10 years of American involvement, Da Nang would gain independence in 1975 with the Fall of Saigon: the capture of Saigon by North Vietnam (it was renamed Ho Chi Minh after a former leader of North Vietnam). This 1975 date that unified the north and south is what the bridge commemorates.


Dragon Bridge is named because of its grandiose dragon model that spans nearly the wole length of the bridge. It’s lit-up by 2500 LED lights, which co-ordinate to create a flowing effect from tail to head. On weekends, the dragon even breaths fire and spits water from its mouth as part of a display that lasts several minutes.


Although less ostentatious, the Tran Thi Ly Bridge, just a few 100ms down river, offers a more staid but vivid alternative. Opened in 2013, the bridge is named after a famous resistance fighter in the Vietnam War. Tran Thi Ly escaped from capture by the South Vietnamese Government and was tributed for her bravery in the face of likely torture there. Such commemoration not only recognises fallen heroes but hopes for their continued protection from the afterlife. The bridge’s suspension cables radiate out from a central pylon. They illuminate at night in a satisfying geometric way and are reflected attractively in the water below.

On a rare dry day, I ventured over to the Marble Mountains: a collection of five large marble and limestones hills to the south of the city. Each representing one of the 5 universal elements; metal, earth, wood, fire and water, they were originally named Ngu Hanh Son or Five Element Mountains, in the early 19th century. It was the French colonists who would later give them the name Marble Mountains due to their marble make-up. The franco appellation would likely have stuck as the site became popular with tourists.


The unusual position of the mountains on such a low flood plain was of fascination to the local Buddhists, who saw them as spiritual. Temples were built all over the mountains and inside the mountain caves, becoming local places of worship. Despite their sacrosanctity, the caves have often been used during war times: firstly, as a hideaway for rebels of French occupancy in the mid 20th century, then by American forces over a decade later, as a military station and training facility during the Vietnam War.


The grandest of the marble mountains is Mt Thuy Son, the Water Mountain. It has the largest interior for visitors to explore and even has an elevator, taking guests from the parking area to its upper levels. Though it does look rather tacked on, it speaks to the mountains popularity. There are many walkways around the Mt Thuy mountain taking visitors around its cave network and gardens. The main cavern is the Dong Huyen Khong Cave, which contains carvings and sculptures created over hundreds of years by Buddhist worshippers. They are hauntingly lit up by lanterns and candles.


Outside the caves, there is the Chua Linh Ung pagoda, a beautiful garden at the top of the mountain. It’s flourished with an abundance of flowers and plants, setting off its many sculptures, mosaics and carvings. Its crowning feature, the Thap Xa Loi tower, is a seven-tiered pillar standing at 15ms tall. It has green and gold tiers that curl up at the ends, with a golden spire at the top. All around the tower, there are views over the city and of the other Marble mountains, as well as a glimpse out to the East Vietnam Sea.

Da Nang is also popular for its proximity to Hoi An, an attractive port town about 40kms south of the city. It sits at the mouth of the Thu Bon River. It has unusually retained much of its 18th century look due to a rapid decline in its trade in the early 19th century. Built of timber frames and wooden walls, it remains mostly in its nascent form. Its buildings are set at right angles to the river banks so traders could collect cargo from boats, then sell them in their stores to passers-by. Nowadays, these buildings are mostly restaurants and souvenir shops, due to a surge in tourism in recent years.


There is a collegial effort to keep Hoi An as close to its 18th century roots as possible, any modernisation likely vitiating it immediately. As such, the town was declared as a National Cultural Heritage Site in 1985, meaning any construction is carried out under the strictest regulation. Proceeds from the public funding are also funnelled back into restoration projects. The telos of all of this, is to preserve the town’s original civic tissue as best as possible.


On my first evening in Hoi An, I took a boat trip a little way down the main strand. Boats, formerly for fishing, line the banks of the river offering rides to tourists. They are small and elongated like punts. I was able to survey the town at night and see the glow of its red and orange lanterns light up the night-sky. There was a cosy feeling seeing the busyness on-shore from a distance.

The next day I would take another boat trip, this time 2kms downstream, around the Cam Thanh Village and this time, in a Bamboo Basket Boat. As the name suggests, it’s a small circular boat, only about 2ms wide, designed to navigate the smaller estuaries of a river. Many of them are painted elaborately in bright blues, greens or reds. The route around the village is lined with coconut-palm trees (part of the Bay Mau Palm Forest) and abounding with plush vegetation that spills out over the water. There’s even a chance to get-off and walk amongst the coconut trees. The shoreline, in places, is lined with ramshackle huts that hang over the water; their struts embedded into the riverbed. They provide an interesting contrast against the dense ecology of the river and forest. The basket boats offer a unique ground-level perspective on this intriguing environment.


Hoi An was a stunning and quaint town and an avolitional get-away from a rapidly developing Vietnam. Through careful management, its kept its totemic status and is a perfect anodyne to commercialisation. It remains a gorgeous town of beautiful antiquity.


One evening on a stroll along the Da Nang riverside, I came across a dance class on a large open area of the board-walk. Couples seemed to be joining in randomly and I watched as a painterly scene played out: elegant intertwined figures swaying back and forth in the moonlight, the artificial stars of the city-lights twinkling around them. It was a wonderful display of impetuousness and frivolity. Da Nang and Hoi An are curious places and would not always be first on the tourist agenda, but they are unique and interesting and they offer a charming sentimentality that can often be hard to find.




Travel Ebook

Available in all Amazon territories:

It's More Fun In The Philippines

Cebu 7 Philippines.jpg


I started my Philippines journey on the island of Cebu, one of over a 100 islands in the region of Central Visayas. Cebu is considered one of the main islands in this region and its eponymous city is considered the capital of the south of the Philippines.


Very much the sine-qua-non tourist attraction on the island is the Osmena Peak, located to the south in the area of Badian. The journey there is a 3-hour bus followed by a 20 minute motorbike ride to reach the foot of the Mantalungon mountain range, where the hike to Osmena Peak begins. At the town of Dalaguete, where the bus stops, the local taxi riders have specially built bikes that can accommodate 2 or 3 people. They tend to gather around the bus stop to take visitors up to the mountain. Due to its remoteness, they also wait for you and take you back to the bus stop when you’ve finished hiking the mountain.


Osmena Peak is the highest point on Cebu island at just over 1km above sea level. It offers wide angle views around Cebu and out to sea. The immediate landscape is a combination of farmland and the mountain range itself. The Mantalungon mountain range is a curious collection of jutting out mounds; they aren’t wide so they look like squashed hills. There are perhaps a 100 of these strange shapes. They look like something a child might draw or better still, something Mario might jump around in a video game. It was a cartoonish and comic-esq landscape.

The following day I visited a Taoist Temple in the northern part of the city, in the Beverly Hills area. The temple was built in 1972 by the local Chinese community. The Taoist faith was brought over to the Philippines as early as the 9th century by Chinese settlers. The temple has exactly 81 steps to reach its highest level, each representing a verse in the Tao Te Ching, a foundational text in the Taoism religion. The text is credited to the Chinese philosopher Laozi, or Lao-Tze, who is regarded as the pivotal figure in Taoism, developing its key ideas in the 4th century BCE. Archaeological findings suggest some of the Tao Te Ching dates further back, perhaps to the 6th century BCE, so it’s likely the text has multiple contributors. Whatever its exact origins, it’s an important document in Taoist thought and practice. Its eighty-one chapters, composed in a poetic style, regard the Way Of Virtue (an approximate translation) and an ideal interpretation and understanding of existence. It’s based around the idea of enlightened awareness leading to personal harmony.

I found the temple particularly incommensurate with its surroundings; being in the middle of Cebu city. But it fascinatingly juxtaposes its curvy and colourful shapes with the modernity of the city skyline; its many dragon models and sculptures flowing against the linear high-rises of the neighbourhood. They lurk in and around the temple and along its roof-tops, watching over the city and ready to pounce if any foe should attack it. Dragons play an important role in Taoism, not only do they embody the spirit of the people but they’re believed to control the weather too, providing essential rainfall when needed. Dragons are seen as benevolent and wise creatures and of great benefit to humanity.

My final venture in the Philippines was to the Cebu Tops Lookout, about 12kms north of the city. Set in the mountains of Busay, this circular viewing deck provides the full aspect of Cebu. The best time to visit is just before sunset to enjoy a spell-binding display of rich blues and purples that make-up a dark and gloomy but highly evocative sky.


There is a jovial atmosphere to the Tops. Locals will come here with drinks or to enjoy the food served from the small stores near the entranceway. It’s an attractive place to socialise, especially at night, with the lights of the city shimmering and glinting in the background. Locals and tourists alike can enjoy a relaxed and feel-good atmosphere with an amazing view.

The Cebu Tops were emblematic of this good-natured country. Its warm and pleasant people are the cherry on top of an amazing place (a cherry that they will likely give you, with all the ice-cream underneath). Its lively bars, stylish coffee stops, sweet bakeries and eclectic restaurants, serve up an array of delicious treats to remember. Cebu island was a story of the little things, the little things that added up to make something fun and enjoyable.

A Resplendent Island

Ella 3b Sri Lanka.jpg


On my first morning in Sri Lanka, I was treated to a Sri Lankan breakfast on the rooftop of my hotel. I had arrived the previous evening into the city of Negombo at the main International Airport (which still calls itself Colombo Airport (or Bandaranaike Airport) despite being in Negombo). (Negombo is about 40kms north of Colombo but is generally considered the better holiday destination, for its beaches, smaller size and more relaxed atmosphere.) To mention just a few items in my Sri Lankan breakfast: there was Pani Pol, or Sri Lankan pancakes, made with coconut milk, Rotu bread, Egg Hoppers; a fried egg laid on a crisped dough casing, a spread of  fruit, many I’d do well to name and finally the more familiar option of toast, jam and butter.


After breakfast, I ventured out to the nearby St. Sebastian’s Church (St Sebastian being the patron saint of Negombo) in the area of Wellaweediya a short walk away. The church is modelled on the French-gothic style and features a central nave-structure between two large rectangular spires. The church is abrupt, sharply defined and its contours sudden. Its walls are a passive beige-grey, but have the effect of adopting whatever colour is around them, so for example, if the sun is shining, the whole church glows orange and red, but at night, it will turn soft blue and purple (as I saw later that day).


I then circumvented part of the Negombo Lagoon by the seaside area of the city. Around the lagoon, there is a disorderly mix of battered boats, mangled fishing nets, gnarled vegetation, wiry mangroves and slumbering wildlife. The stark and vivid livery of the boats provide some much needed colour to a fairly sombre affair. It was quite the environmental nebulous.

After a few days in Negombo, I took a bus to the town of Kandy, a little over 4 hours journey. I soon regretted this decision, realising the train would have been the better option. Though quiet when I boarded, one stop picked up an entire bus-worth of passengers and I was squashed into a small corner, my large bag pressed up against me. With every bump in the road, which was a lot, it would bounce up, hitting me in the chin.


Kandy, in the central area of Sri Lanka, lies on a plateau around the Hanthana mountain range. At its centre is Kandy Lake (or Bogambara Lake), which can be walked around in only a few hours or even quicker by taking a rickshaw, which are on hand all the way around. One of the major tourist attractions round the lake is the Temple Of The Tooth or the Sri Dalada Maligawa: Maligawa meaning temple and Sri Dalada the name of the area.


As the name suggests, the temple houses a tooth, thought to be a Sacred Tooth of Buddha. The legend goes that from the ashes of Lord Buddha, only three bones and four teeth remained. These were distributed to various parts of Ancient India during the 5th century BCE in order to placate various clans that all laid claim to them. This particular tooth, the upper-left canine, was given to the King of Kalinga, an Ancient Kingdom in the eastern coastal region. When conflict broke out in Kalinga in the 4th century CE, the tooth was moved to Sri Lanka so it wouldn’t fall into enemy hands. It was then moved to Kandy during the 16th century when it became the capital. The Temple of The Tooth was built (by Vira Narendra Sinha) to house this sacred canine, where it remains, cased in 7 gold caskets and covered in gemstones. The exact history is unclear, as you might imagine. Another story suggests for example, the Tooth may have actually been stolen by one of Buddha’s disciples, then smuggled into Sri Lanka illicitly. A much more scandalous version of events.


My homestead in Kandy, like most of the city, was built into the hillside. Its rooftop provided some great views of the surrounding countryside. When I went up there, I noticed a rifle leant against the doorway. I didn’t really think much about it until a small furry figure came and joined me and perched on the balcony in front of me. I realised why the rifle was there: I stood face-to-face with a monkey! Though fairly unassuming, I’m sure the situation might have been much worse if I had had food. I carefully backed away to the sanctity of the inside, keeping my eyes on the little fella the whole time.

After a short stop in Kandy, I took a train to the town of Ella. I had been reliably informed by the book, 101 Journeys You Must Take Around The World (or something like that), that the Kandy to Ella train had some of the most scenic views in the World. So I must take it! The Sri Lankan railways were developed by the British in the 1860s; used primarily to transport tea from the inland plantations back to Colombo for international shipping. The trains were described by the local Ceylonese (Ceylon the British name for Sri Lanka), as metal devils sprinting to Colombo.


The train journey to Ella is a very popular tourist activity and 1st and 2nd class tickets, the only tickets with reserved seating, sell out quickly. There is just a 30 day window to book and many are bought by travel companies to sell on at inflated prices. 2nd class unreserved and 3rd class seats are available to purchase on the day, but they don’t guarantee seats of course. This did mean that for the majority of this 7-hour train journey, I was in the gangway between carriages, very much standing. The train was packed and I couldn’t even see the windows to appreciate all the great views I’d heard about.


Yet still the vendors somehow manage to get up and down the train and what felt like every 5 minutes, someone selling food or goodies squeezes passed you, heartily bellowing out what they have to offer. It started to sound like some kind of strange atonal chant as they shouted in exactly the same way each time.


With perhaps an hour to go, the numbers finally dwindled and I was able to sit next to an open doorway. I watched as a fascinating onrush of nature zoomed past me; a cavalcade of lush greenery, views over tea plantations, bridges flashing over and under, hills, villages and kids running by the tracks waving. It was an amazing display and well worth the wait.

I arrived into Ella late in the evening, the following morning I was to leave first thing to reach the summit of Little Adam’s Peak for sunrise, which I just about did. A surprising amount of people had had the same idea and a crowd had already gathered when I got there. For most of my walk to the top, I was accompanied assiduously by a dog. If ever there was proof that dogs are a man’s best friend, this was it: it matched my every stride, clambering up rocks and steep walkways beside me. I’m guessing he wanted some food, I don’t think it was for a tip.


Little Adam’s Peak is named after its big brother, Adam’s Peak, as it traces roughly the same contour over the sky. The walk around Little Adam’s Peak spans two peaks and the views from both were ample; the low light of the morning percolating around the valleys sumptuously. I was well rewarding for my early morning endeavour.

On from Little Adam’s Peak, I walked to the not so distant Nine Arch Bridge, perhaps the most famous site in Ella. This train bridge lies between the stations of Demodara and Ella and stands at over 900ms above sea level, is in places as high as 30ms and spans roughly 120ms.


A popular folklore regarding the construction of the bridge is about a man named Appuhami. The story goes that in 1913, Appuhami bumped into a British official from the Ceylon Government Railway. This official had been tasked with continuing the railway through the area. Appuhami took it upon himself to help the official and supplied him local labour from the surrounding villages. But then came this enormous chasm just before Ella where the train route was supposed to go. With the majority of steel being redirected to the War effort during WWI and the particularly unstable quagmire below, it was going to be a challenge to bridge.


Appuhami, due to his friendship with the British officials, convinced them that he could not only build a bridge without steel but he could stabilise it on the ground below. And so he did, devising a method where rocks were dropped into the chasm to create a firm footing, then brick archways were anchored on the bedding and the rest of the Bridge could be built. Just a year later, in 1914, in an extraordinarily quick turn-around, it was completed. The British were sceptical so Appuhami promised he would lie under the bridge when the first train came over. He did so, further ingratiating himself with British officials. He was rewarded for his help with the exact money the British had saved from the prompt completion and the cheaper materials used. Appuhami returned home wheeling four carts of silver coins. He shared them with his local villagers, giving them one silver coin each as a thank you.

This folklore would have become the patter used by locals to impress visitors to the area later in the 20th century. The actual history is much more boring. In 1922, Harold Cuthbert Marwood, the engineer responsible for the construction of this section of the railway, submitted his report to the Institution Of Engineers entitled Construction Of A Concrete Railway Viaduct In Ceylon (an imaginative title). This report suggests the Bridge was completed a few years later in 1919, though it does validate the use of materials in regards to the absence of steel. The documented materials were concrete, stone, sand and wood (teak), with cabook (a Sri Lankan material) and small amounts of mica making up the foundation. The existence of a difficult quagmire also has veracity. Concerning this, Marwood wrote, it was therefore desirable to found well into the slopes of the ravine and spread the weight as far as possible. Other concerns indicated in the document, were the curvature of the basin and the gradient from one side to the other, leading to the design of 9 semi-circular arches, each 30ft wide and 15ft feet in radius. Marwood also states that contractors were used from the local area. So it could well have been that Appuhami was one of them. However, it’s likely the workforce were paid a fixed rate, provided accommodation and rice; Appuhami was probably not paid with four carts of silver coins.


The Nine Arch Bridge is impressive; a no-nonsense, tough and sturdy unit, now standing steadfast for over a 100 years. On both sides there is room to descend a short way down into the ravine. From here, the prowess of the bridge can really be appreciated in all its nutted and bolted glory. I was fortunate enough to see the bridge in action as a train came by in the early afternoon. There was palpable excitement as it blared a strident horn that echoed around the hillside. There was a sense of theatre and circumstance about it all. Onlookers were frittering about like children in anticipation and awe. The sight of the train over Nine Arch Bridge was the missing piece in this wonderfully bucolic scene.

Lanka means island in old Sinhala (an old Sri Lankan language) and Sri can roughly be translated as resplendent. Sri Lanka was an earthy, tangible place, classic and old fashioned: I felt some of my journey here should have been in black and white if it didn’t mean missing out on its marvellous colour scheme. With historic tea plantations, Sri Lanka warmly welcomes you and says, have a cuppa. It really was a resplendent island.



Travel Ebook

Available in all Amazon territories:

Intercontinental Travel

Antalya 1b Turkey.jpg


Transferring from Istanbul, I arrived into the town of Bodrum on the south-west coast of Turkey in the area of Mugla. Formerly a fishing port, tourism is now a heavy contributor to the local economy. Visitors come for its beautiful seaside location and generally relaxed atmosphere. There is no immediate airport to the town but a regular bus services Milas-Bodrum airport, about 36kms to the north-east.

My small hotel tucked away in the avenues of Bodrum included breakfast. Despite being something of a bread enthusiast, I was not prepared for how bread-centred Turkish food really is. For breakfast, I was presented with a whole basket of bread, with a selection of jams, cheeses, olives and a boiled egg. For lunch, I was invited to join the staff where we had more bread, this time with dips, ham and butter. And in the evening, I had a Turkish-style kebab; a wrap with morsels of meat. Bread seemed to be an absolute staple of the Turkish diet.


After breakfast, I walked the main strip of Bodrum along the coastline. It was full of sea-facing restaurants, some even having tables out on the beaches, which I’m sure are moved hurriedly inside when the tide comes in. Further along was Bodrum Castle, which unfortunately due to restoration works, was closed, though I did see some of it through the gaps in the surrounding fencing (albeit very small gaps).


I continued on to Bodrum Milta Marina, the port area of the town. Its high birthing capacity means that hundred of boats are docked here, the mass of masts making for a photogenic view across the water. Up on the Gumbet road (the main road circumventing Bodrum), there are even better views of the Marina. This is also where the Bodrum Amphitheatre is. Built in the 4th century BCE, it was then enlarged in 2nd century (during the reign of King Mausolos). It’s still occasionally used for festivals today. The placement on the hill accentuates the structure so it appears much bigger than it actually is. Combined with its views across Bodrum and out to sea, it was a real highlight of the tourist trail.

The next day, I marched to the Bitez Bay area to arrive before sunrise. Bitez is a smaller, more tranquil town on the peninsula, about 2kms west of Bodrum. Its beaches are much wider. There were some splendid views of the Bay, especially at this sleepy time of morning. I was mostly alone and sitting out on one the groynes, my legs dangling towards the water, gave me a sense of zen; I felt like I could have been floating in the sun-kissed, golden ocean itself.

After a few idyllic days in Bodrum, I travelled to Antalya, another popular tourist destination in Turkey. Antalya is an interesting mixture of modernity and antiquity. Its Old Town, or Kaleici, which translates as within the city walls, is the historic centre of an otherwise mostly developed port-town. The Old Town is a maze of cobbled pathways punctuated by several ancient ruins from the Roman and Ottoman eras, all in varying states of disrepute: Hadrian’s Gate; the entrance gate to the old city, the Clock Tower; the last remaining tower of the old city walls and the Kesik Minare Mosque (or Broken Minaret); originally a Roman temple. Many of the older buildings have been adopted as shops, bars and restaurants, catering for the surge in tourism here. There is constant reconstruction and refitting going on. Kaleici is a maze of avenues and crossroads, so having these kinds of places for refreshment and possibly directions, can be handy.

I visited one bar in Old Town in the late afternoon. The service is so responsive, even a slight nod of the head will mean another drink brought to you. Sitting outside in this vintage street, cold beer in hand, was a relaxing and gentle way to wile away a few hours. Antalya and Bodrum are perfect places to kill time and are indicative of the wistful charm of many Turkish towns.

Turkey is one of very few countries that are actually transcontinental, i.e. it belongs to both Europe and Asia. In Turkey’s more exceptional case, its contiguous landmass alone crosses the continental border (unlike several other countries, like the UK or the USA, which have non-contiguous territories in different continents), i.e. part of the north-west is in Europe while the rest is in Asia. Moreover, the city of Istanbul itself is the only intercontinental city in the World, it too crossing a continental border. So it’s no surprise that Turkey is a melting pot of influences from East and West. It has highly modern infrastructure, amenities and services with a rich historical backbone and blends cultural flavours from all around the World. Turkey is an affordable option for a well-rounded, calming yet colourful experience.

The Great American Travel Article

Antelope 4c USA.jpg


My first destination in the USA was San Francisco. On my first morning, I walked along the coast from my accommodation and enjoyed the glorious sunshine as it flooded the bay area. Despite the sun’s best efforts, the Golden Gate Bridge, about 3kms from my hostel, did not appear very golden. It’s actually more of a red colour, chosen not only to compliment its natural surroundings but so the bridge was more visible in foggy conditions.


About 1.6kms in length, the Golden Gate Bridge connects the city of San Francisco to Marin County. The local literature touts the bridge as the most photographed on the planet, which is probably true; it certainly is one of the most recognisable landmarks in not only the States but around the World. Designed by engineer Joseph Strauss, it was, at the time of its opening in 1937, the longest and tallest suspension bridge in the World.


The limitations of the ferry service prior to 1937 was highlighted as a possible cause for the stagnation of the local economy as it fell well below the national average. Experts were sceptical such a large bridge could be built, particularly given the strong tides and high winds that would impede construction. But as the need for the bridge grew, an ambitious design by Strauss was finally green-lit and development began.


Fort Point, at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge, stood to defend the San Francisco bay area from naval attack during the American Civil War. Now a historic maritime monument, it’s a robust edifice and boasts some impressive masonry. It also provides the most in-depth view of the Golden Gate Bridge, being almost directly underneath. The real guts and braces of its complex steel work and concrete base are on full show.

Next were San Francisco’s ineluctable Cable Cars back along the coastline. Only 3 tracks remain of the 23 original lines that were built, all between 1873 and 1890. The cable cars are almost never used by actual commuters, only by tourists and understandably so; they are painstakingly slow, sometimes slower than walking. They have not been modernised deliberately and are still operated by levers. I watched them for awhile climbing the famous stepped slopes of San Francisco: a quintessential scene here.


I only had three days in California so was soon on my way to Las Vegas. Though I was not particularly interested in the casinos, it’s the closest city for tours to places around Nevada and Arizona. I’d booked two tours; the first going to Lower Antelope Canyon and the Horseshoe Bend. This is America, so to reach anywhere is a considerable journey. The pick-ups around the larger casinos in Vegas generally start at 4am!

I had little idea of what to expect from the Antelope Canyon, near Page in Arizona. Though there is an Upper Antelope Canyon tour, I chose the Lower Antelope Canyon, which is about a km walk through what is essentially an underground ravine, about 37ms deep. It can get very narrow in places. The Navajo name for the Canyon is Hazdistazi, meaning spiral rock arches, which is an apt description for the flowing, wave-like rock-faces on either side.


The canyon was sculpted by millions of years of flash flooding, where water runs into the basin of the inlets, picks up sand and speeds through all the cracks in the rock. This burrows out and forms these passageways, then smooths the hard rock edges to create the Antelope Canyon’s famous striated sandstone.


The opening above the gully allows light to flood in, bringing out the rock’s stunning red palette. We were informed by our Navajo guide that a photograph here was used for the cover of National Geographic. This came as no surprise: the shapes and colours of this completely naturally formed anomaly, make the Antelope Canyon an amazingly unusual and strange place, different from anywhere else I’ve ever seen.

Our second stop was Horseshoe Bend, part of the Glen Canyon, also near Page, Arizona. The Horseshoe Bend is a sharp hairpin meander in the Colorado River. The abrupt twist  has left a huge jutting-out cliff, a sort of widow’s peak in the rock-face. How the water has carved out such a tight corner is quite remarkable. The abutment of the river and the cliffs provides an amazing contrast, yet they both sit epically in this raw and natal landscape.


Two days later, I went on my second tour, this time to the better-known Grand Canyon and its South Rim. The Grand Canyon was most likely formed from the erosion process of the Colorado River through the sandstone, limestone and shale of the Colorado Plateau. The process carved out huge chasms of rock around 445kms long and in places, over 1.5kms deep.


The South Rim tour includes a hike from Mather Point in the east to the Grand Canyon Village in the west (so the Grand Canyon is always on your right (to the north) as you walk). The first of many spectacular views is at Mather Point, where the sheer scope of the Grand Canyon hits you for the first time. There were so many amazing views along the hike, but the best for me was at the Lookout Studio, a surprisingly obscure viewing deck outside a souvenir shop in the Grand Canyon Village. The view from here was phenomenal: a plunging valley between two gargantuan cliffs; their layered, infinitely detailed rock disappearing into the horizon below a beautiful blue sky.

Given the vastness of the USA, I only had the pleasure to experience a fraction of what it has to offer. But this taster was delicious! From the golden bay of San Francisco to the dazzling Las Vegas and from the desiccated abyss of the Arizona desert to the ethereal caves of Antelope Canyon, it was a flattering amuse-bouche of sights, sounds and experiences, all proudly presented by its kind and outgoing people. Everything is bigger in the USA: its cities, its landscapes and its countryside, it’s grand and plentiful and I was spoiled for choice. Another re-fill please!



Travel Ebook

Available in all Amazon territories:

Mexico Tranquilo

Progreso 1b Mexico.jpg


After a delayed flight, I arrived into Mexico at around 2am with only an address and a 3-digit padlock code. I found my apartment okay but was shocked to find a padlock with 4 digits and not 3! After a momentary panic, I realised there couldn’t be too many combinations if I had 3 of the numbers, so by simply turning the remaining dial, I was able to find the last number and get in. This wasn’t exactly the best time of night to be solving this kind of puzzle though.


I had arrived into Merida, the capital of the State of Yucatan, about 30kms from the north-west coast of the Yucatan peninsula, which extends out into the Gulf of Mexico. Merida was built on the ruins of the Mayan city of T’Ho (or Ichcanziho). Mayan civilisation spanned across what is now Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador. During the Classic Era in Mesoamerican chronology, Mayan influence was at its most prominent from 250 CE to 900 CE; its epicentre around this, the Yucatan peninsula.

In the Centro Historico area of Merida, stone from the ruins of the city of T’Ho were used to build many of the Spanish colonial buildings during Spanish occupation. Spanish occupation began in 1521 with the formation of New Spain in the central and southern regions of Mexico. This marked the fall of the then Aztec empire, which ruled from 1325. Then in 1821, after an 11 year War of Independence, the Treaty of Cordoba was signed between Mexico and the Spanish Viceroy; symbolising the beginning of Mexican Independence and the formation of the Federation of Mexico.


One such building is the Cathedral of Merida or the Catedral de San Ildefonso, where the ruins of a Mayan temple were used in its construction. Completed in 1598, the Cathedral is situated on the east-side of the main town square, in the centre of the city.


The Cathedral is named after Saint Ildefonso, who served as an Archbishop of Toledo in Spain. He is an important figure in the Spanish Catholic Church; a proponent of Marion theology, which is the study and veneration of the mother of Jesus, Mary. San Ildefonso’s teachings on Mariology were proselytised around the Catholic world as well as here in Mexico.

Merida itself was founded in 1542 and named after a city in Spain of the same name. The city prospered in part from its natural preponderance of the Agave fourcroydes plant. A fibre called Henequen can be cultivated from this plant and used to make ropes and twine; highly lucrative during an era of naval dominance. The town’s resulted affluence can still be seen today, with its many large and decadent buildings in the Peseo de Montejo area in the city centre.


Merida has a highly expatriation population, attracted to the city by its modern level of infrastructure, its number of leisure pursuits and its laid-back, relaxed atmosphere. Particularly popular with Mexico’s northern neighbour, that incandescent American twang can often be heard in cafes and restaurants all around the city.

Just a short 45-minute drive from Merida is the Mayapan Archaeological Site. Mayapan was home to the last Mayan community in Mexico, formed after a brief period of civil war and made the new capital of Yucatan in the Post Classic Era (from 900 to 1521 CE). Construction of the city could have begun as early as 1000 CE.


The Mayapan ruins were very quiet, only a handful of other people around, so we were able to walk around at a leisurely pace. One of the most interesting features of the ruins are the number of lizards that have inhabited them. These iguanid lizards, native to the Yucatan area, camouflage themselves into the dull ground. So be careful where you’re treading. They tend not to move much either, though the big ones, called the Tolok lizard, are much easier to see.


The shapes of the ancient structures around the Mayapan ruins mesh together to create a geometrically diverse landscape. All were distinctive and random and augmented wonderfully by the brilliant blue skies, the white clouds and the scorching sunlight.

There is a playful charm and exuberance to Merida; a satisfying mixture of relaxing cafes and exciting bars. When the Mariachi bands start playing, as they patrol the heart of the city, they brighten up any day, start toes taping and minds forgetting. Merida is the ideal place to relax and indulge, to embrace the cordiality of the people, to eat, drink and be merry in its ornate and old streets and to enjoy, just how agreeable Mexico really is.



Travel Writing          Travel Stories          Travel Photography          Travel Information

The above page feature a series of travel articles from 15 countries around the world. These are accompanied by a series of photographs. More photographs are available at:

All of these photographs are available to order on all kinds of media, such as canvas print, poster print, mugs, mousepads, t-shirts and just about anything else that is printable.

To order canvas prints and prints, for any questions and more information, please email:

All of the above articles, along with many more photographs are available in one e-book. If you are interested in ordering the When In The World e-book, it is available on Amazon at:

If you are interested in publishing your own book to Amazon, then we offer a publishing service to get your book up and running and online. For more information, please visit:

We also offer help with writing. So if you're only at the idea stage, then we have a professional writer who can help. For all publishing information and for any questions, please email:


Self Publishing          Publishing          Help with Publishing          Publishing Help
Canvas Prints          Prints          Photography Prints          Photo Prints          Mug Prints
Travel Photography          Travel Pics          Travel Photos          World Photography
World Photos          World Pics          World Travel Pics          World Travel Photos
Travel Writing          Travel Articles          Travel Information          Travel Stories
Singapore Travel          Australia Travel          New Zealand Travel          Fiji Travel
Tonga Travel          Japan Travel          South Korea Travel          Malaysia Travel
Indonesia Travel          Vietnam Travel          The Philippines Travel          Sri Lanka Travel
Turkey Travel          The USA Travel          Mexico Travel          World Travel

Website Designed by Cherish Stories


bottom of page