Sorry, a day late, I needed a break—don’t we all!
In case you missed it in all the madness of the US election last week, we published our latest long read. The story is by a Malaysia–based author on the UNESCO Heritage site in Lenggong, Perak State. Our long reads are entirely funded by Travelfish supporters—thank you!
On pay to read Couchfish I’ve been going on about Vietnam’s Mekong Delta. I started off with a wrap on 150 days of writing Couchfish—that went fast! Since then I’ve covered a bad tattoo in Rach Gia, the biggest wetlands outside of the Amazon, a trip to the southern extremity of the country and a dire bird park.
On free to read Couchfish, I wrote about single serving friends—this one has proved to be very popular—thank you for all the kind comments.
As always, the photos in today’s newsletter are all from the last week of Couchfish issues.
This is what it means when people say they love to travel
“This is what it means when people say they love to travel,” I thought. My head was full of the sound of languages I didn’t know. I had seen the faces of hundreds of bodhisattvas on temple walls. I knew the thrill of seeing a truck slow down to pick us up. I had let the magnetic pull of adventure take me and in return I had fallen in love with everything strange and beautiful and unknown, with the sheer joy of discovering anything new.”
So writes Pam Mandel in her first novel, The Same River Twice: A memoir of dirtbag backpackers, bomb shelters, and bad travel. I finished it the other morning in my hammock. Who can not identify with the above quote?
The novel is not Southeast Asia focused. Pam turns back west after touching on the Subcontinent, but still you should read it. If you’re a traveller, read it. It is available at all the usual online booksellers, though try to support a local bookstore if you can. It is far more than a travel diary, it is a brave and engaging read.
A lifetime ago, I was in Nepal, in Pokhara to be specific. If you’re nor familiar with Pokhara, it has a big lake and a portion of the Himalayas reflect onto it. My friends and I would rent a paddle boat at dawn, row out, and watch sunrise with the peaks reflecting.
Once done with paddling and gazing at peaks, I trekked to Annapurna Sanctuary to be surrounded by them. The utter majesty of basecamp is mind blowing. I’d go back there tomorrow.
I was there in November back then, so it wasn’t snowed in. Once I settled in, I went for a wander. I followed a trail for a spell, eventually there wasn’t another human in sight—or so I thought. I had these cheap binoculars, and once I sat, I trained them on a distant ridge.
I could see six or seven people coming down. Through my binocs, they were tiny—ant–like—I couldn’t make out faces, but it looked like slow going.
Later, I put the binoculars down and sat. Between me and the folks on the hill, there was a glacier. Once I closed my eyes, and listened, I could hear it rumbling. At the time I didn’t understand, but that night someone’s porter explained the sound was the glacier moving.
I’ve a self–portrait in a shoe box somewhere of me sitting on a rock, listening to a glacier grind mix. If you were to look at the photo, it doesn’t give away much. A pic of an underweight (thanks India) guy with bad fashion sense sitting on a boulder. There are some big peaks behind him.
When I sat there, and set up my Minolta XG–M to take the photo, I’d never felt smaller in my life. It was, as a pretty naive twenty something, a long way from Sydney.
This was in 1993, so, my god, 27 years ago. Yet, if I close my eyes, I can remember it as clear as day. Including my fashion sense.
Back to Pam’s book. She’s in northern India with her deadbeat, abusive British boyfriend. They’re doing a trek in northern India, through snow and cold stuff. Their stove breaks, and Pam goes looking for a solution. She takes her food, finds a village house, and (with no local language), gestures if she can use their open fire to cook.
Of course the local woman lets her in to cook. This is early 80s and Pam is, I think, just shy of 20. While she cooks, the two of them sit across from each other and don’t say a word. Food cooked, Pam says thank you, and leaves.
I saw Pam revisit this scene in a video the other day. She’s talking about something she experienced almost forty years ago, yet spoke about it like it was yesterday.
These are the experiences that make people love travel—and they stay with us forever.
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FIFTEEN THINGS WORTH READING
The $5 forests
The case for climate pessimism
“Some might caution against these statements. Because when scientists and pundits say that 1.5 degrees Celsius is off the table, they tell the public that humanity will fail to save the coral reefs, the fisheries, and millions of people in developing countries, no matter what they do.”
How a secretive hippie hideaway in Thailand transformed into a world-renowned beach retreat
Joe Cummings on one of my favourite places on earth to drop off the map.
Thailand’s future $
“In the background of this mayhem, the big monopolist business families quietly grew richer and more powerful.”
On systemic racism in Malaysia
“My mother took on the responsibility of making sure we would get out of Malaysia. It was—and I don’t think I am exaggerating here—her life’s mission. ”
Coronavirus deepens Cambodia’s loan crisis
“In Cambodia where the average yearly income is a meagre $1,700, borrowers in 2019 racked up a total debt of $10 billion to microfinance lenders.”
The desertion of Cambodia’s spirits
“Others say these spirits have been bribed and corrupted by the enormous wealth accumulated by the new Cambodian elites.”
Travelling to Little India means seeing it with new eyes
“To get the full experience of Little India, you’d have to go on a Sunday morning, when locals run their errands and go through their weekly rituals. The point of visiting the neighbourhood is to feel the energy of the crowd, to take in the people, sights, and smells.”
Sipping cocktails on plastic stools is a special Saigon street treat
“More than its cocktails though, City Beer created a blueprint of sorts for those wanting to open a street bar, one that’s still being used to this day: a sturdy bar-top and signage set half-indoors, alongside a proliferation of chairs and tables haphazardly spread across a quiet side street, but all of it with its own individual charm.”
How a human rights angel lost her halo $
“Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, 75, has turned into an apologist for the very generals who once locked her up, downplaying their murderous campaign against the Rohingya Muslim minority.”
A Buddhist monk was accused of Criticizing the Thai King. He fled the country.
“But when Panya reported to the police station, he was told that the charges had changed to violating the country's computer crimes act, which human rights groups say is increasingly used in place of the harsher royal insult laws.”
A Thai royalist in a divided kingdom
“Change is evident. Not everyone stands for the royal anthem in cinemas any more. When a woman slapped a teenager who didn’t stand for the national anthem at a railway station, it was she who faced public condemnation.”
How western travel influencers got tangled up in Pakistan’s politics
A great long read—on a whole bunch of things.
Orange skies and verdant dreams
“Many villagers did not believe that tourists who came to the island for sun, sand and sea would be interested in visiting the small fishing and farming village.”
Thai hotel that put American in jail gets new label on Tripadvisor $
Something to read
The Same River Twice: A memoir of dirtbag backpackers, bomb shelters, and bad travel
“With no guidance and no particular plan, utterly unprepared for what lies ahead, Mandel says yes to everything and everyone, embarking on an adventure across three continents and thousands of miles, from a cold water London flat to rural Pakistan, from the Nile River Delta to the snowy peaks of Ladakh and finally, back home to California, determined to shape a life that is truly hers.”
Photo of the week
Thanks from reading the Travelfish newsletter. Please feel free to forward it to all and sundry and your feedback, as always, is much appreciated.
Stuart & the Travelfish team