Sunday, 6 July 2014

Nepal: chariot of the monsoon god



In 2014, I revisited the old Durbar Squares of Kathmandu and Patan, both former royal capitals of Nepal. We arrived in Patan during the chariot festival of monsoon god Red Machhindrana, a ritual that has been performed every year since 1673. We were staying just off Patan square so on the last day I got up at 5:30am and wandered round for a couple of hours before breakfast.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

West of Eden: the unspoilt wilderness of Papua

A construction worker looks out to sea from Jayapura
© Andy Brown/Papua, Indonesia/2014
Along with Mongolia, Papua is one of the most remote places I’ve been with UNICEF. It’s a wild land of impenetrable jungles with deep valleys and high mountains disappearing into a perpetual ceiling of mist and cloud. Outside the towns, people still live a traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyle that has remained unchanged for centuries.

I’d previously been to Papua New Guinea, on the east side of the island, but didn’t have much chance to explore. This was mainly because violent is so rampant that you cannot safely walk the streets of Port Moresby, let alone wander off into the hills. I spent most of my time in a fortified office or hotel, or traveling between the two in a sturdy van with ‘UN’ painted on its roof in large blue letters so that it could be easily spotted from the air.

So I was excited to get the chance to visit rural areas in Papua, on the Indonesian half of the island. There are problems here too, but they’re less about crime and more to do with a long running conflict between an indigenous independence movement and the Indonesian army. Journalists are not allowed into this part of the country but we were able to get in as UN staff.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Cambodia: tuk-tuks and temples



The main reason to visit Siem Reap is the nearby temples of Angkor, relics of the vast Khmer Empire that stretched across South East Asia from the 9th to 15th Century AD. It’s something of a modern myth that the temples were subsequently lost in the jungle, and the civilisation that built them forgotten, until they were rediscovered in the 19th Century by French colonial archaeologists.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Cambodia: ancient temples of the Khmer Empire

An early morning view of Angkor Wat, seen just after sunrise
© Andy Brown/Cambodia/2012
Two years ago, my honeymoon blog stalled in Luang Prabang, Laos. I returned to a busy work schedule, but it’s been at the back of my mind ever since to finish the story.

After leaving Luang Prabang, Joyce and I continued our overground trip by bus instead of boat. Our next stop was Vang Vieng, a beautiful riverside town backed by craggy cliffs that was somewhat spoilt by hordes of teenage backpackers getting drunk or high and ‘tubing’ down the river in tractor tyres. There were bars selling ‘happy meals’ laced with cannabis, and ‘super happy meals’ laced with opium. All this would have been fine on a party island like Ibiza, but felt somewhat inappropriate in rural Laos.

Out of town, however, we had great opportunities for mountain biking, kayaking and even a spectacular hot air balloon ride up the valley at sunset. We flew high over the river, then low over fields and villages. Trees cast long shadows and children chased the balloon, waving and shouting ‘sabai dee’ (hello in Lao).

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Sri Lanka: tea and trains



In Sri Lanka, the railroad is not just a track for trains. People build their homes along it, open shops on the sidings, and walk between the rails. We decided to take the train to Ella and visit World’s End, where the central plateau drops suddenly over a thousand metres to the low land below. It was like stepping back in time.