Diving into the Night
Dec05

Diving into the Night

My sister, Sarah, has always been competitive. It’s tough growing up with four younger siblings, and especially tough when one of those siblings is an adrenaline junkie. So when we heard of night diving in Koh Tao before our trip to Thailand, it was only a matter of time before one of us suggested it, silently hoping the other would decline. This is how we ended up boarding a boat at dusk, afraid of the dark, and afraid of the ocean. Our collection of Discovery Channel’s Shark Week instilled sheer terror in addition to the mantra: “act like prey, become prey”. That being said, there is no thrill quite like the moment you wake from a nightmare. Despite the fear factor, night diving is popular because it’s similar to walking through a forest with a flashlight. Daytime exploration limits what you see. The sunlight will show you the trees and plants and butterflies, but lots of weird critters only crawl out at night. One needs only to walk into a busy Las Vegas night club to see proof of this. So there we were, geared up at the Red Rock dive site, walking the plank. Our guide, Jack, gave me the signal to jump in three times before I complied. The cool waves splashed, and, as with every previous dive, salt water managed to invade my tightly pinched nose. After inflating my BCD (Buoyancy Control Device), I leaned back and bobbed over the black waves. Stars lit up the dark sky. Once Sarah jumped in, we engaged in our customary “Who can hold their breath longer?” match. My lungs inflated like a blowfish, and my head dipped beneath the surface. My eyes peeped open, but the harsh salt forced them shut. When I felt the internal kicking of a lack of oxygen, I popped my head out of the water: Sarah was still below the surface. I considered dropping back under, but she popped up at that exact moment. Defeated, I admired her ability to portray a look of superiority amidst gasping for air. When she caught her breath, Jack asked if we were ready. Together, we raised the BCD hoses and deflated, slowly sinking under the ocean waves. I panicked. The darkness beyond my beam of light triggered my sinister imagination. I sucked up far more air than necessary on the way down. My flashlight jerked around in a million directions at once as I desperately tried to uncover any predators looking for a midnight snack. The parrot-talk in my mind kept repeating over and over again: sharks hunt at night. My anxiety diminished when my fins touched...

Read More
Recycling My Own Pee in Northeast Thailand
Nov12

Recycling My Own Pee in Northeast Thailand

Dragging my cumbersome bags through Mo Chit bus station (confusingly named Chatuchak) searching for the elusive gate number 130, I found myself thinking I really am quite fried at present, and a week of relaxation and proper sleep is just what I need. All I had to do was endure the eight-hour bus ride from Bangkok, and I would have it. I signed up for a yoga retreat – having wanted to try one for a while – in Phu Ruea, northeast Thailand. The region, Loei, boasts some impressive nature, as well as Thailand’s coldest temperatures. (In winter, these mountainous parts can drop as low as zero degrees). Luckily, I was still a month from experiencing that; cold weather and I just don’t get along. Moreover, rainy season just finished, so I assumed conditions would be perfect for my exhausted body and mind to get some much-needed rest. I probably should have guessed from the ancient condition of the bus that achieving relaxation would be harder than I thought. Hustled on board in that curt, get-moving-you-stupid-farang Thai way I’ve come to know so well, I spent nearly twenty minutes trying to find my seat, receiving politely apathetic looks from passengers. No one reacted even when I smacked my head against the roof. Hmph, I thought bitterly, in Malaysia, people would have chuckled. Eight hours of bumps, only one toilet stop, and gently coaxing my sleeping neighbour off my shoulder later, I arrived at Phu Ruea – not Kok Pho, where I asked to be released. My host somehow knew this would happen, and was able to deliver me to the retreat with no awkward delays. Outside, the sky was pitch-black, and stars were glinting. My host helped me dump my things in the dorm, before navigating around the property and showing me the facilities. When we reached the bathrooms, she proceeded to explain that, in keeping with the retreat’s permaculture principles, visitors would be involved with recycling their own, erm, waste. Say what, now? The process reminded me of camping in the Northern Territory when I was a kid, though this was more of a professional set-up. In separate cubicles, visitors have large buckets for number one and two (the latter encased in a makeshift Western toilet box), a bottle of liquid charcoal, and a ceramic pot filled with leaves and sawdust shavings. Once you’ve done your business, hose everything with the charcoal, before covering up with a generous heaping of sawdust. Then, when they start to fill up, buckets are carted away and emptied for the sake of creating natural compost. Many plants on the property benefit from the...

Read More
Snake and Noodles with the Karen
Nov06

Snake and Noodles with the Karen

I wake to shouting. Beyond my mosquito net, the flies form black constellations onthe concrete walls of the room. We are somewhere near the Thai–Myanmar border, staying in a small Karen refugee settlement where we (a group of eight school kids and our teachers) have come to teach English for a short time. Outside there is a full moon; its light comes through the windows, which are just squares cut into the concrete with no screens or glass to keep the bugs, or anything else, out. Everything is grey and concrete.The shouting is coming from outside. Though the voices at first seemed upset and angry, they now seem victorious. My roommates haven’t woken. I slip out from under the net and follow the sound of the voices outside. Through the doorways (there are no doors) of other rooms, I spot the gently swaying slings where babies sleep suspended from the ceilings. The day before, our hosts showed us three tiny black and pink piglets that had just been born, which slept in the slings just like the human babies. Then I see it. A python, at least three metres long, lies draped over a boulder, directly in front of our host’s doorway. Its head is missing. Three men stand around it, one pointing at it with his knife. Dark blood stains the grass, as though someone spilt black paint by accident. One of the men sees me and explains in half English, half Thai that the snake was coming to eat their pigs and children — but it’s alright now, we’ll eat the snake for lunch tomorrow. I am not sure if I hear him right. He invites me to reach out and stroke the snake. Its skin is drier than I expect, and its body still warm. The next day, I almost don’t believe the snake ever existed, except that the grass by the boulder is still stained. We spend the day sitting and talking with women as they stitch their traditional skirts and shirts to later sell at the markets to tourists. These clothes, and the occasional butterfly, seem to be the only bright colours in this settlement. Our teacher, who spent time with these Karen people years before, looks over an old photo album with one of the older men, pointing out the people he used to know. “He’s dead now,” the man says, one too many times. Or, “She died from malaria. He disappeared. The soldiers got her.” We have shared all meals with our hosts during our time in the village. Mostly it has been plain noodles every meal, and some cornflakes we brought...

Read More
Feeling the Moment in a Koh Lanta Sunset
Oct28

Feeling the Moment in a Koh Lanta Sunset

Hey travellers, and welcome to my first post as Vagabundo’s new blog editor! It’s been a mental few months with the magazine (as usual), and the last place I expected to find myself after such a short spell was here. The whole experience has kicked to the curb any doubts I possessed that travel would shake things up. You’d think that with all the uncertainty, I’d learned a thing or two about living in the moment. Moreover, I’d quit the pesky habit of trying to predict – read: control – the future. Truth is, I often have trouble slowing down, immersing myself in moments, and simply enjoying the ride. That is, until I finally made the trip down to the island of Koh Lanta, on Thailand’s western coast. I’ve travelled to this country about six times now, and failed to venture this far south. After just two days there, I was kicking myself that I never made the effort sooner. Koh Lanta is a lifesaver for those practically allergic to life in present tense. With every incredible sunset, crashing wave, uninterrupted view from the mountain roads, and bite of international cuisine (done properly!), I envisioned a dreadlocked, pierced, flip-flop-wearing hippie reeling dramatically with a delayed mutter of, “Chill out, maaaaaaaaaaaaan. You only live once.” And he’s right – even if he does take way too long to make a point. Producing content for Vagabundo has caused me to reevaluate my travel style. I have a tendency to be a bit of a shut-in, but that’s harder to justify when editing epic travel tales for an adventure magazine. So, for this island getaway, I decided to rent a scooter and see Koh Lanta on two wheels. (This was totally my idea, and not at all influenced by Brendan’s recent feat of ploughing Anne Murray down the west coast of Africa…*cough*). Scootering Koh Lanta proved to be one of the more awesome things I’ve ever done. It’s tough to worry about fickle future problems when faced with a winding jungle road full of potholes that require dodging. It’s hard to justify not stopping to take pictures on the beach when you’re in a hurry to go nowhere. It would be criminally insane to ignore the natural artwork all around you when locals pull over to watch the sun go down. On my first day here, I took a leaf out of their book. I sat on the sand for an hour and watched the most magnificent colours paint the sky. Sure, I had work to do, and performed all necessary Instagramming in order to feel productive. But for once in my life,...

Read More
A Third Path to Freedom: Introducing Lauren Crabbe
Aug11

A Third Path to Freedom: Introducing Lauren Crabbe

I’d just hit the “confirm” button, and seen details in black and white flash up on the screen. I suddenly felt sickening panic where exhilaration used to be. My whole body started shaking. Thoughts popped uncontrollably into my head: Three months away…I booked too soon – What if I hate Bangkok? – What if something happens to the pets while I’m away? What if something happens to mum and dad while I’m away? I’ll never forgive myself! I’m a selfish bastard for doing this. Needless to say, I already doubted my decision to become a long-term traveller before I’d even left my home country of Australia. I’m a rational person, and only make life-altering choices when I’ve given them weeks – sometimes months – of thought. As far as I could tell, I’d safeguarded my arse by waiting six months to book my ticket instead of, say, a week, when I first a) learned it were possible to be a full-time, sustainable traveller, and b) got truly psyched by the idea. So why, oh why, was I so bloody terrified? As it turns out, there’s a pretty simple answer to that question: The decision to become a full-time, sustainable traveller, and to fill my life with culture and colour and adventure and uncertainty, was the most important I’d ever made. Everything hinged on me getting this right. Almost exactly one year on, I chuckle at my naivety. How I got it wrong, so astonishingly quickly! I made one mistake after another in crafting a lifestyle based around travel. I slowed down when I should have sped up. I sped up when I should have slowed down. I backtracked all the time because of poor planning – despite my efforts to prevent this by knocking out itineraries and the like. Then, I winged it when itineraries would have actually come in handy. I formed ambitious plans, only to scrap them for trivial reasons. I initially chose to embark on this adventure with someone who, despite being pleasant company, was not inherently an adventurer. I felt lonelier than ever – even when I wasn’t alone – and wondered desperately and repeatedly when I would ever achieve my goal of becoming an intrepid, free, and self-assured traveller. I wouldn’t have it any other way, for a number of reasons. For one, I’m writing this from England, mere weeks away from visiting a country I’ve idealised since the age of six, and returning to the city where it all started – Bangkok. Moreover, if I hadn’t experienced a crisis of confidence and retreated to Chiang Mai for a second round of volunteering, I’d...

Read More