travel stories

Lhagang Monastery, outside Tagong

Along the Map’s Torn Edge

It is in Sichuan that China’s Han majority rubs up against the edges of the Tibetan Plateau, along a fault line straddled by National Highway 318.

Krishna and his sidekick Garuda

Ancient Angkor: Stories in the Stone

The history of the Khmer Empire is written in the ruins at Angkor, from ancient Roluos to Hindu Angkor Wat & the Buddhist Bayon

Skulls in the Choeung Ek Memorial Stupa

Atrocity Tourism in Phnom Penh

The ethical consequences of dark tourism are ambiguous, especially in Phnom Penh, because the Killing Fields and S-21′s extermination camp are monuments to violence as well as its victims.

IMG_5976

A Blood Buffet in the Cambodian Jungle

Hirudo orientalis has two heads, two sets of reproductive organs and nine pairs of testes. Hiding deep in Cambodia’s jungles, it waits for unsuspecting animals [...]

The Buddha at Wat Maha Pruettharam Worawihan, supposedly from Sukhothai

The Reincarnated Capital: A History

Southeast Asian history is mostly the story of competing city-states like Bangkok and Ayutthaya, which are reincarnations, in their way, of one another, with the same karma.

A mostly Akha congregation sing a hymn at Mae Salong's Methodist church

A Sunday Service Among the Akha

In Mae Salong, a Chinese minister and his wife invited us to a Sunday service, attended mostly by the Akha, one of Thailand’s hill tribes.

Morning breaks on the Mekong

Slow Boat Home to Luang Prabang

At the foot of Lasagongma Mountain, 5224 metres above sea level, the Mekong takes its first icy breaths. Under Tibet’s cobalt skies, it tumbles toward [...]

Ban Houy Fai, with Houy Fai Peak in the background

Hike to Houy Fai Peak

A travel story about a trek in rural Laos, near Luang Prabang, and the fine line that divides tourism from voyeurism.

Fishermen float by on an green jade Nam Khan

Paying Homage to Henri Mouhot

When Henri Mouhot travelled to Luang Prabang, he was the first white man to enter Laos in 25 years. He died beside the Nam Khan, where a tomb stands as a testament to his journey and his journals, “scribbled generally by the light of a torch, and on my knees at the foot of a tree.”

Swings over the 'Blue Lagoon' in Vang Vieng, Laos

Land of the Banana Pancake Eaters

A jaded view of tubing along the Nam Song River in Vang Vieng, Laos, and other bad backpacker behaviour on the Banana Pancake Trail.

The new Fude Temple in Vientiane

The Chinese of Vientiane

A portrait of the Chinese immigrants transforming Laos’ sleepy capital.

Dining car on the night train from Bangkok to the Laos border

Night Train to Nong Khai

A night train from Bangkok to Nong Khai, on the border of Laos, is an opportunity to indulge in fantasies of the East.

Thailand's Quiet Island

Thailand’s Quiet Island

Koh Mak is Thailand’s quiet island. In the Gulf of Thailand, near Koh Chang, it isn’t visited by the hordes of tourists that fly into Phuket and Phi Phi; you can relax, and listen to the sound of the water curling its way up the sand.

The Curse of Gokarna

The Curse of Gokarna

Gokarna is a village growing awkwardly and uncomfortably into a town. It is in this sense an adolescent, unsure of itself in the modern world, but in every other sense Gokarna is old, with a history that stretches into the remotest parts of human memory.

Bubbling Over: Attukal Pongala

Bubbling Over: Attukal Pongala

Celebrated in the South Indian city Trivandrum, the Attukal Pongala Festival is the largest annual gathering of women in the world.

Allahabad boatman

India’s Touts: Journal Entry, Day 75

India’s touts treat tourists like walking wallets. Why should tourists treat them any better?

Murudeshwar's temple

Murudeshwar and the Millionaire

The ancient temple at Murudeshwar in Kerala, India, is like a Hindu Disneyland. It has the largest gopuram in the world, and even the dustbins seem borrowed from the idea of a theme park.

Travel and Nostaligia

Travel and Nostalgia

“What is the purpose, I wonder, of all this restlessness? I sometimes seem to myself to wander around the world merely accumulating material for future nostalgias.”

Hyderabad / Cyberabad

Hyderabad / Cyberabad

I awoke to the muffled beeping of my mobile phone’s alarm, heard through airline issue earplugs and the metal of the train clattering on its [...]

Cochin's backwaters

Backwaters and Beer Teapots in Cochin

The train rattled along, inducing in me the sluggish fatigue of rock-rocking train travel and blanketing heat. I sat atop a wooden luggage rack in [...]

Maharaja's palace in Mysore, it up at night

Mysore: The Demon, the Goddess and the Indian Prince

Mysore, which was one of India’s most important princely states, traces its history back to a Hindu goddess and a demon doing battle on Chamundi Hill.

Rice paddies during the harvest

A Homestay in a South Indian Village

Rural India is changing: electrifying, learning English and accepting tourists into its homes.

Cows on Vagator's Little Beach

Goa’s Haughty Hippies

Vagator in Goa has a reputation for trance parties. It didn’t live up to it when we visited, but its hippies were there, most of them drug-addled and obnoxious.

Monkeys in Matheran

Matheran: A Hill Station Petting Zoo

Matheran is hill station outside Mumbai. It where the city comes to breathe: all mechanised vehicles are banned – even bicycles – and monkeys, ponies, cows, goats and dogs roam its streets.

Mumbai's Victoria Terminus

The Mumbai Revelation

Arriving in Mumbai was a revelation. Bollywood, Indian newspapers, cows on Khar Road and crowded trains: all of them began our love affair with India.

A Mumbai slum

A Passage to India (with apologies to E.M. Forster)

“The brown skins, the bare feet, the nose-rings, the humped bullocks – all these things were foreseeable, seemed obvious and familiar from the moment of [...]

The Dome of the Rock

Jerusalem

A predawn haze lit the kilometre of road before us. We trudged along it, still groggy from the half hearted slumber of our bus ride [...]

Tout Like an Egyptian

Tout Like an Egyptian

A train deposited Iain and I in Aswan four hours behind schedule. A crowd of soldiers in combat uniforms guarded the platform, torso sized shields [...]

A man in a galabiyya selling cucumbers

Cairo’s Small Courtesies

It is in small courtesies that cultures first come together or clash, whether at the pyramids or in chance-meetings on medieval streets, aboard ferries or a badly driven minibus.

Floating on the Dead Sea

Amman and the Dead Sea

Heavy water rolled gently towards my toes, over thick layers of caked salt, like rock candy, which had sunk to the seafloor. I stepped gingerly [...]

Damascus

Damascus

Sharia ath-Thawra was a jumble of shining yellow taxis, fearlessly zipping between moving metal. Their drivers rested weary elbows on horns, hooting, blind to all [...]

Aleppo's Citadel

Mistaking Aleppo

I woke as we neared the Syrian border, my left cheek clammy and wrinkled. Saliva had collected on the headrest of my reclined bus seat [...]

Cappadocia

Cappadocia

The bedroom was icy. Fresh breaths of arctic air sifted through unseen cracks, under the door, through the glass. My foot lay exposed. I snuck [...]

Ankara

Ankara

A man pressed my thumb down onto the greasy black ink pad, and into the space labelled ‘thumb’ on the page beside it. Forefinger, middle [...]

Suleymaniye Mosque Interior

Ramazan in Istanbul

“Allaaahuu Akbaarr.” The muezzin paused, drew breath. I held out a public phone’s plastic receiver, stretching the wire, and hoped my father on the other [...]

athens

Athens

Monastiraki square bubbled with the bustle of Athenians and tourists alike. Fruit sellers, bananas hanging from the awnings of their wooden stands, bellowed the price [...]

rome

Misadventures in Rome

A single coin thrown into the Trevi Fountain, with your right hand, over your left shoulder, is said to ensure a return to Rome. The [...]

Old World Wandering

Florence

An earthy rainbow of suede belts hung from rows of open air market stalls, iron railings groaned under the weight of plush leather jackets. Wallets [...]

Old World Wandering

Venice

I sat in Hotel Caneva’s small reception area, chatting to Stephano, the night time receptionist. Water, displaced by passing boats, lapped up against a rudimentary [...]

munich

Munich

Munich is the heart of golden Bavaria, where the beer flows in litre sized steins, Sunday lunch is sausage and sauerkraut, and men really do [...]

berlin

A Berlin Walking Tour

Rain crashed on the tin roof of a small caravan dispensing draught beer. Claire and I huddled beneath it, sipping Becks from refundable plastic cups. [...]

amsterdam

I Amsterdam

It was approaching 11pm. I walked down Warmoesstraat, the main street through the red light district, assaulted by lights, logos and liberalism. This was my [...]

Andalusia

A Bullfight in Andalusia

The banderillero swaggered across the dry yellow sand, knelt in front of the bullgate, crossed himself – slowly, carefully – and spread out his pink [...]

portugal

Portugal

Claire and I stopped, panting, at the metal rods that closed a narrow road to traffic. We had been given detailed directions and followed them [...]

galicia

Fiesta Galicia

It was just before midnight and darkness masked the contours of the city. Street lights were sparsely spread and provided no more than a dim [...]

barcelona

Barcelona

Claire and I left France from Avignon in the early morning, when the city’s streets were for a moment quiet after another long festival night. [...]

provence

Provence

I sat in a poolside chair on terracotta tiles, the silver handles of the pool’s steps glinting into the pale blue water. Beyond the roof [...]

Montmartre-de-Paris

Montmartre de Paris

Paris is the world’s most photographed, most written about, most visited city. More than 30 million people arrive on the banks of the Seine each [...]

st-malo

St Malo

Our bags dampening our backs, still close to St Malo’s station, Iain and I spotted three bright awnings, a red, a green and a blue, [...]

bayeux

Crossing the Channel

Our last night in Ireland was spent in Cork, drinking Murphy’s, the local stout, while drifting between the pubs near our hostel. We caught a [...]

Doolin

Doolin

Doolin, population 200, is a village on Ireland’s West Coast. It is renowned for its traditional music, hence the busloads of tourists trafficked through its [...]

dublin

Down to Dublin

Heads aching, eyes burning and skin clammy, Iain and I took a bus from Belfast to Dundalk, far too early in the morning. It was [...]

Old World Wandering

Belfast

Claire and I walked off the ferry from Stranraer to Belfast, through the strange contrivance that takes you from land to sea without seeing either, [...]

Old World Wandering

Highlands and Islands

I’m writing while on a train through the Scottish Highlands, from Mallaig to Stranraer, along a track cut close into jagged cliffs, skirting the ocean. [...]

Old World Wandering

Glasgow’s Glorious Grime

Iain and I left York late afternoon, for Glasgow, with ample time to catch our train, which arrived already heaving with passengers, all eager to [...]

Old World Wandering

Victoria Falls: Smoke and Thunder

Soon after I arrived in Cape Town, my mother announced that she had been remiss. I’d arrived on a short visit home, before the extended [...]

Old World Wandering

Beginnings: Oxford

An almost missed bus drew the two of us into Oxford, bleary eyed and recovering from my birthday, celebrated over the previous two days. I’d [...]

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