I’m on a father/son motorbike trip through Samoeng & Mae-Se, northwest of Chiang Mai. It’s Strawberry country!! Strawberry shakes, strawberry wine, sweet strawberries, sour strawberries… and every farm we pass has a giant strawberry mascot out the front. It’s one of Dad’s first times on a motorbike… so I’m glad he’s still here to take a selfie with me.
Working in the one space can bring on cabin fever. I had to get out, so I went to write in the Raming Tea House. Best mango frappes!
The past few weeks I’ve been living in Chiang Mai to get some writing done.
The inner city has a thriving expat community. Chiang Mai also attracts many digital nomads who take advantage of the lifestyle, weather, friendly Thai culture, and cheaper living costs.
I don’t recommend this time of year as the agricultural burn-off is thick and unabating, but otherwise the city strikes the perfect balance between bustle and relaxation.
Just your regular ol’ suburban Wat next door, what!
Taken in Chiang Mai at San Sai Wat.
Chatting with our neighbour in Chiang Mai today.. she has an insane number of figurines in her front garden! Tends it with great care 🙂
After the absolute insanity that is Delhi, Kerala held some of my more relaxing experiences in India, albeit still full of surprises.
After haggling at the dock in Alleppey, we rented a private houseboat overnight on the backwaters with a crew of three. The two-story residence featured a dining area on the upper deck and striped cushions we aptly named the “tiger bed”. Lying there in the sun, isolated from the grind of the motor at the back of the boat, we floated tranquilly through the trees and out on to the lake (just check your head when you stand up, or you’ll get pole-axed by live electrical wires running the breadth of the river).
It was dubbed a “luxury” boat, but easter eggs included: the biggest spider I’ve ever seen in the bathroom, no toilet seat or paper, and a twin bed with a very generous tilt towards the edge of the boat. And the motor broke down.
Our cook went renegade too, demanding money, changing his mind that we couldn’t fish, said we weren’t allowed to watch TV after 8:30pm, and pushed again and again to drink our beer. When we docked and he demanded a tip, I shot my mouth off at him and the tour owner.
It did make the experience stressful, but that aside, as was often the contradiction in India, it was a very replenishing experience, largely because of the privacy of having our own boat, and not having to move bags around throughout the day. The food was spectacular (I just assumed the cook added his special sauce at some stage).
It was wonderful to wake up in the morning and watch people’s lives unfold around the river. Everything happens along its banks – washing clothes, brushing teeth, merchants selling food from boats, even hunting fish with a crossbow!
After our stay in Alleppey, we moved on to Verkala – a touristy beach town on India’s south-western coastline (we didn’t have time to make it north to Goa). The restaurants along its cliff walk were brimming with fresh fish each night at great prices.
I remember Verkala as the most relaxing place I traveled in India, so much so I don’t have any pictures to show you! So, instead take a look at life on the backwaters of Alleppey.
During the month of May I will revisit the photographs from my trip to India. I took over 3,000 photographs on my month-long trip in December 2012, and finally I am getting around to posting some of them!
First stop is Munar, the beautiful and shapely hills of tea plantations in the south of India. I rented a motorbike with my girlfriend (she took a little convincing) and alongside some newly made friends from Germany, braved both the heat and cold of the mountains.
Once outside the busy streets of the town of Munar itself, traffic was more relaxed, and the view spectacular! Tea bushes are pruned to English garden perfection, their cell-like structures coiling through gullies and up the slopes of the hills. I was surprised to find eucalyptus forests breaking up the vibrant green of the tea plantations – a sight, and a smell, transporting me to the Australian south coast.
It was so warm in the valley that morning that I had departed with only a t-shirt, but now high in the mountains I froze as I rode through the clouds themselves. The wind picked up at this altitude and I could see the white wisps washing through the trees. At the summit we pulled over to seek refuge with an Indian family who had stopped to build a fire beside the road. They didn’t speak English at all, so we could only offer plenty of smiles as we wedged our way into their group.
Down the mountain and into the next valley, my blood began to run again and we turned off the main road to explore a little village. I guess the townsfolk don’t get visitors that often with the way they stopped their work to stare at us. Again, no one spoke English, so it was with big gestures and smiles that we interacted with some kids who were hanging out their laundry on the best clothesline possible: floating across the top of the tea bushes themselves. A kindly looking old lady stopped to give me some fruit and pause for a photograph, as did another man carrying a giant blue loudspeaker.
My most striking memory of that day was watching workers build the road by hand high up in the mountains. Torrents of thick black smoke gushed from the furnace heating the tar, to which women dumped baskets of gravel scooped up and carried on their heads. All wearing flip-flops.
Distances in India often end up being much further than they appear on a map, given the dense traffic, livestock and just general hazards in whatever form you can think of. We finally found a waterfall that we should have, according to our “not to scale” map, encountered half a day earlier, and, since the light was fading, declared that we had successfully reached our destination. The truth was, we never had a destination in mind. With perfect, endless rolling green hills like those in Munar, you’re just there for the drive.
It’s official, we survived! In celebration of making it through Rajasthan, here’s another audio update from the roads of India. On this episode, Megan and I discuss “romance” in Udaipur, killer cow attacks, and cooking classes.
Back again, David and Megan chat about India’s Pushkar Camel Fair: an annual fete in Rajasthan that brings together local camel traders and other traditions. For more about the experience, check out Megan’s article with photos on the Huffington Post here:
A radio podcast of our travels through UAE, India, and Australia!
When I mentioned to a friend of mine in New York that I was going to the Emirates, his reaction was sharply aghast.
“Oh….I hated the Emirates.”
My heart sank. Why so bad? Was I wasting my time visiting the country?
“I went dune bashing. The driver thundered along the edge of a cliff and I was thinking, ‘No, surely he wouldn’t…’ but then, yes, he does – yanks the wheel to the right and we go flying over the edge. It was the scariest thing I’ve done. I hated the whole experience.”
I was somewhat hesitant following this account, embellished by Megan’s propensity to throw herself from high places.
I’d imagined our tour as simply a cocktail of sand and fuel. Instead, it was a complete “cultural” experience. I place “cultural” in inverted commas because it was a little rushed and box-ticking:
“Now you ride camels, now a dog show, now a falcon show, now look at the goats, now drink Arabian coffee and eat dates, now pat the eagles, now dress up in traditional garb, now watch a 7-minute doco on the history of the Emirates…”
Nevertheless, in a short space of time, I felt I had a glimpse of desert life, and retained an experience more holistic than just adventure sports.
On to the main event… It was somewhat amusing to see our guide, having just demonstrated traditional activities while wearing a Thawb, don a pair of shades and jump behind the wheel of a 4WD.
Dune bashing is a freeform roller coaster, the vehicle’s trajectory materializing in the glint of the driver’s eyes scanning for a suitable embankment. Only once did I feel unsettled: with the weight of the vehicle sliding forwards into a downhill slope and sand kicked through the window.
Overnight I camped under the stars, with a fireplace and chai tea, and in the morning woke to tackle the dunes barefoot. You really can just throw yourself down a near-vertical decline: giant, sliding steps, cushioned by the pillowed sand.
My remaining time in the Emirates was spent visiting a few of the sights of Abu Dhabi: The Grand Mosque, Emirates Palace and the Heritage Village. Again, Abu Dhabi is not really made for walking – so many footpaths have craters from construction, or simply end for no apparent reason.
I’m also discovering Megan’s hangriness – that sudden evaporation of energy that makes a girl wilt unless food be applied immediately. I guess in New York there is food on every corner, but traveling brings irregular mealtimes. I’ve learnt to carry snacks at all times…and that some things really do run on peanuts.
I’m on a bus! And it’s heading from Dubai to Abu Dhabi. With free WiFi. How times change.
Dubai is an architect’s dream. Futuristic buildings line the Persian Gulf in competition for the tallest, most unique design. Surrounded by desert plains, it’s a cleaner, more serious Vegas, where Internationals come for big business and luxury lifestyles.
It’s almost too clean…the streets below the Marina’s high-rise apartments where Megan and I are staying are designed for cars rather than pedestrians, making it a pristine ghost town. The most prominent bustle is from the hundreds of migrant construction workers trekking to their meal break, prayer time or back to the multitude of busses that will carry them to their accommodation.
Construction abounds in Dubai. Everywhere you look, new railroads, skyscrapers and other fantastical I-don’t-know-what-the-hell-that-is space-aged structures are forming. The metro looks like something out of Star Wars. Sneaking to the 97th floor of the Princess Tower (the world’s tallest residential building), I could see from The Palm to the Burj Al Arab (a hotel shaped like a ship’s sail), past Internet City, all the way to the Burj Khalifa (the world’s tallest man-made structure, at 829.8 m (2,722 ft)) in the hazy distance.
I hope to have more updates soon!
With my mind still saturated with the feature film edit I’d been working on, it suddenly sparked that at some point I’d catch a great view of NYC. I glanced out the taxi window and sure enough I was in that exact spot where the BQE rises above cemeteries with a line of sight through a clear night to a perfect New York cityscape: buildings jet black, windows vibrant, and iconic structures such as the Empire State, Chrysler, and Freedom Tower, glowing.
It was in that moment en route to JFK it hit me – that New York, that seemingly endless year discovering and rediscovering all aspects of the Concrete Jungle, had come to a close. That chapter has finished. What’s next?
For the immediate future, it’s Dubai, Abu Dhabi, India, and Australia. After that, we’ll see…
Any Torontonian will tell you the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is the perfect time of year for a city visit. Fall has just kicked in, Hollywood stars grace the streets, and the influx of visitors makes the downtown area swell with carnival buzz.
I spent the first few days celebrity-spotting the likes of Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Halle Berry, Tom Hanks, and a myriad of other silver screen giants on the red carpet (and, I confess, even attempted an iPhone snap of Colin Farrell arriving at my hotel). Ontario is the third largest entertainment sector in North America and chances are you’ll stumble onto a movie set. Walking down Richmond Street West, I encountered a motorbike chase sequence for the upcoming flick Kick-Ass 2.
As one of the most highly regarded film festivals in the world, TIFF has a history of selecting Oscar contenders. This year’s Blackberry People’s Choice Award went to the Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence-led dramedy,Silver Linings Playbook. I saw fifteen features, but could hardly make a dent in the smorgasbord of 372 films from 72 countries. After sitting in a dark theater for a week with perfect fall weather teasing me through Scotiabank Theatre’s huge glass panels, it was time to trade star-spotting for city sightseeing!
Here are a few things to see and do around Toronto beyond visiting the TIFF Bell Lightbox.
CN Tower EdgeWalk
My most thrilling activity was the EdgeWalk around the CN Tower, holder of the Guinness World Record for “Highest External Walk on a Building.” Once you trust that your safety harness is strong enough to hold the weight of a bus, leaning off the edge won’t feel so terrifying. Exposed to the sun and wind, and with no safety railing, the EdgeWalk gives you a guided introduction to the city as well as an adrenaline rush to brag about. Video and photos are included in admission. Here is video of me taking the city in stride!
King & Queen Streets
Fortunately all the TIFF theaters are located within easy walking distance of each other in downtown Toronto. King Street boasts a vibrant nightlife of clubs, bars, and cafes. Comedy club The Second City on Mercer Street has the sharpest show I’ve seen for a while: deft performances and swift lighting changes set to improvised live music.
As you head north of King Street, stop for a flat white (a latte without foam) at the Dark Horse on John Street. Two more blocks and you’ll find King’s parallel counterpart—Queen Street—renowned for its boutique shopping.
BATA Shoe Museum
If the idea of a shoe museum makes you think of trailing your girlfriend down Fifth Avenue on a Saturday morning, think again. The BATA Shoe Museum on Bloor Street takes an anthropological approach to footwear. From Ancient Egyptian sandals, to Gothic poulaines, Renaissance period chopines, and Tudor-age sabatons, even the more carpetry footwear of Buddhist, Christian, and Shinto priests, walk for centuries in the shoes of diverse world cultures.
Shoes from famous people the world over have found their way into the collection: Justin Beiber’s high-top Supra Skytop II sneakers, Marilyn Monroe’s sexy red stilettos, and even the simple plastic thong sandals from His High Holiness the Dalai Lama. If you’re interested in history, people, cultures, and pop icons, chances are it will be you dragging your girlfriend along to the footwear exhibition.
If you have time, the Royal Ontario Museum next door contains Canada’s largest collection of world culture and natural history. There are exhibits specially designed for kids, and the foyer contains the largest dinosaur cast on display in Canada—the Futalognkosaurus, measuring over 105 feet.
Gooderham Building & St. Lawrence Markets
Moving east to the wedge intersection of Front and Wellington Streets, you’ll find the Gooderham Building, Toronto’s equivalent of New York’s Flatiron Building. Though nowhere near the size or scope, this 1982 structure is frequently featured in postcards with the city’s modern skyscrapers as backdrop. Across the road is St. Lawrence Market, recently named “the world’s best food market” by National Geographic. Try some peameal bacon, also known as Canadian bacon: cured boneless loin rolled in ground yellow cornmeal.
If you’re a city-lover, Toronto in September provides the perfect mix of clear fall weather, Hollywood glamor, nightlife, shopping, and cultural activities, all within a relaxed atmosphere where you’re constantly greeted with a friendly, “eh?”
Photo credits: St. Lawrence Market via Shutterstock; All other photos courtesy of David Joshua Ford