Travelfish #424: The slowest kind of travel

Hey Mum, I’m off to walk 21,000 miles, so I won’t be home for dinner.

Hi all,

So this week I’ve got an epic story about slow travel. The term is all the rage, but I think deciding to walk for 21,000 miles is, well, a bit special. Yes, he is still walking.

There’s also the Moken in Burma, Chi Phat in Cambodia, the Bugis in Indonesia, 70 bequeathed crocodiles in Laos, and cannibals in Malaysia—yes really ... ok, it was a while ago. Then there’s the island where time stood still in Singapore, some striking photos from somewhere you probably haven’t been in Bangkok, and an upbeat story about a Vietnamese woman doing more than her bit to combat the illegal wildlife trade.


This week’s photos are of islands, as this week’s featured newsletter is David Luekens’ Thai Island Times.

Please feel free to share this newsletter with all and sundry, and suggestions, as always are appreciated.



Insert quip about Indonesian beaches being covered in trash. Mekaki Beach, Lombok, Indonesia. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Newsletter of the week: Thai Island Times

If you’ve ever used Travelfish in Thailand and found yourself on a beach or island, chances are you were travelling on research by travel writer David Luekens.

A funny story, when he started working with us, his first gig was covering some of Thailand’s Southwest islands. He did a great job, but when we finally met in person a few years later he confessed it was ... a steep learning curve. “I wasn’t actually a beach kinda guy at the time” he laughed, as we sat by the beach here in Bali.

It is funny thinking back to that conversation, as David now runs the leading newsletter dedicated solely to Thailand’s islands and beaches—the aptly named Thai Island Times. I hear that name and all I want to do is get in a hammock.

Subscribe to Thai Island Times

David’s newsletter currently features bi-weekly news wraps on Thailand’s islands and beaches, and take my word for it, they’re exhaustive—again, hammock, please! He also publishes issues dedicated to specific islands and beaches. One of my favourites is this: Ko Mook: The island that turned me into an island lover.

Thai Island Times is currently free, but it will be switching to a mixed paid and free newsletter from September 20. If you sign up for the paid version before then, it will set you back US$5 per month—after the 20th, the price will increase slightly. So, be quick—you can put your savings towards a new hammock! If you’d rather not pay, the free version is still absolutely worth signing up for.

Vaccinations snapshot

The following chart is per capita—not total numbers. The dark green bar is the one that matters—it represents the percentage of the eligible population that are fully vaccinated. You can see a full-size and interactive version of the chart here.

Source: Our World in Data

Travel summary

So where is open and where is closed? This chart by Hannah Pearson at Pear Anderson summarises the state of play in the region as of Sunday, September 12, 2021. If you’re after a detailed weekly report on the region, Hannah’s report is the absolute business.

To receive Hannah’s report in your email mailbox every Sunday you can sign up here (it is free!). This is my go-to report for where things are at in the region. If you have any queries or suggestions about how the chart could be improved, please drop her a line via the Pear Anderson website.

Source: The Impact of Covid-19 on the Southeast Asian Tourism Industry (PDF)

⭐️ The big read: Out of Eden walk

By Paul Salopek in National Geographic ongoing since January 2013

There’s slow travel and slow journalism, and then there is Slow travel and Slow journalism. Paul Salopek commenced his 21,000-mile walk in January 2013—and he’s still going. The latest instalment (as far as I can tell, the NatGeo site navigation is confusing) is from May 27 this year, when for the first time in 11,000 walked miles, he’s jumping ahead to China due to security concerns in Burma. Don’t fret though, there are the past 11,000 miles and eight years worth of entries to enjoy. Hell, and you thought Couchfish was bad!

On the eighth year anniversary he wrote:

Eight years after leaving behind my house keys and lacing up my boots at Herto Bouri, I can only pass on what I’ve seen.

Tread lightly upon the Earth. Share what little you have with strangers. Scan the horizons for rain. And then maybe, if we pay close attention, and if it’s not too late—and to be sure, if we’re lucky—our descendants will look upon us with more compassion than contempt when it’s our turn to melt out of the ice.

🇲🇲 Burma: Moken fear a sea grab in the Myeik Archipelago $

By Hein Thar and Ben Dunant in Frontier Myanmar on December 29, 2019

The Myeik Archipelago contains some 800 islands, many of which are home to coral reefs and beautiful beaches. They’re also home to the Moken, a primarily sea-dwelling, fishing people who follow a traditional nomadic lifestyle. As Burma opened up to foreign tourism, much money was seen to be made in the region, and, sadly the Moken are not seeing much—if any—of the upside. This story, by Hein Thar and Ben Dunant covers many of the challenges they’re facing—from loss of language and culture to their traditional fishing grounds being stolen and over-exploited. Tourism hasn’t always played an enviable role.

Not all were forcibly settled on these islands by the government, though some claim they were. One of the most notorious examples is Bocho Island, where in 2004 the military junta held a “Salone Festival” for tourists in a “Sea Gypsy Village” populated by forcibly settled Moken.

🇰🇭 Cambodia: Cardamom Mountains, full of secrets

By Nick Boulos in The Washington Post on August 12, 2012

This is an old story, but I’m sick to death of reading about fancy pants glamping resorts. There is no need to spend the earth when, for a fraction of the money, you can arguably have more impact at the long-running Chi Phat community-based tourism scheme. There’s dust and dogs and humble stilted homes, but in the evening, when the rain comes, the cicadas sing. This is the real deal.

That evening we set up camp in the heart of the forest. There was little for us to do except tie our hammocks to the bamboo pillars of a special open-sided structure erected in a small clearing. Mr. Crab immediately set about rustling up a feast. Hunched over a sizzling wok on an open fire, he fried slivers of spicy beef as night began to fall. Suddenly, every animal call, every rustling of the trees, grew more mysterious and sinister.

🇮🇩 Indonesia: The isle of five genders

By Daniel Stables in BBC Travel on April 13, 2021

There are an estimated six million Bugis people in Indonesia and while Sulawesi—particular Makassar—is home, thanks to their historical seafaring ways, they’re spread across the archipelago. While best known for their seafaring and trading skills (hence their dispersal), they’re also remarkable for their recognition of five separate genders. In this piece, the author strikes north from Makassar (by bemo, with chicken and ibu) and encounters a bissu ceremony for a good harvest. While bissu may be possessed and ready to deliver a blessing for a promising harvest, Indonesia’s growing conservatism isn’t repaying the favour.

A third gender known as waria (a portmanteau of wanita, meaning woman, and pria, meaning man) has long been acknowledged in societies across Indonesia. Since the mid-20th Century, however, wider Indonesian society has become less tolerant of non-binary ideas of gender, which has resulted in persecution towards calabai and bissu people in particular. Beginning in the 1950s, a wave of violent attacks started against the LGBTQ community.

🇱🇦 Laos: The Lao Conservation Trust for Wildlife

By Claire Boobbyer in Champa Meuang Lao Magazine on February 5, 2020

I’m ashamed to say I had no idea there was a zoo near Vientiane, and, well, how can I put this sensitively? A zoo better than you might expect near Vientiane. This profile piece by Claire Boobbyer tells the story of the young British couple who took over the zoo in 2018, and it sounds like they have their work cut out for them. But then, their Facebook page is upbeat and promising—and has some beautiful photos on it. I can’t imagine what they inherited at the beginning, but this had me—who bequeaths 70 crocodiles?

It’s the 70 bequeathed crocodiles who represent one of the most exciting challenges for the trust. Many are Siamese and saltwater hybrids but DNA tests on one-fifth of the population revealed shocking news – 90% were pure Siamese. With less than 70 crocs in the wild in Champasak and Khammouane provinces, this news brings high hopes for a breeding programme with the aim of releasing new crocs back into the wild where it’s safe for the animals and locals.

🇲🇾 Malaysia: Cannibalism in Melaka?

By Alex West in Medieval Indonesia on June 11, 2020

From the man who authored an almost 5,000-word takedown on a bad cockatoo story in the New Yorker (yes, seriously, do read this one too), Alex West is one who’s never short of words. What differentiates him, I guess, is they’re mostly sensible words. Here he looks at a claim that Melaka’s pre-conquest rulers had a group of captured cannibals from New Guinea on hand. He starts with a digitised copy of a manuscript from 1576 (to be honest I’m surprised he doesn’t have an original on his shelves) and runs with it. I won’t give away the answer—you’ll have to read it to find out.

The topic is a tricky one; accounts written by cannibals themselves are extremely rare and we’re often forced to rely on descriptions by outsiders or by Christianised/Islamised people writing about their pagan ancestors.

🇸🇬 Singapore: A tiny island that’s home to 130 people

By Katie Warren in Insider on August 13, 2021

I first stumbled upon Pulau Ubin when I’d arranged myself about a 675-hour layover in Changi to save myself $20 on a connecting flight home. I spent a chunk of the day cycling around and stuffing face—all at a fraction of the price of two beers at the airport. It was a revelation. It seems Katie Warren’s experience wasn’t all that different.

That image certainly doesn't represent most of Singapore, and that was never more apparent to me than when I visited Pulau Ubin. While Pulau Ubin also doesn't represent most of modern-day Singapore, it does offer a glimpse into what it used to look like.

🇹🇭 Thailand: Faces of Khlongtoey

By Tim Russell in Faces of Khlongtoey on December 2019

Tim Russell is a Bangkok-based photographer and this collection documents the people of Khlong Toei, Bangkok’s largest “slum”. Home to over 100,000 people, few travellers find themselves there unless they’re visiting the sprawling wet market or they’re cycling through to Phra Phradaeng. Russell’s black and white photos do a fine job of capturing the nuance of the place and illustrate that it is far more than a repository of yaa baa dealers, organised crime and poverty. As with the rest of the city, change is coming.

Sadly, the news for Khlong Toey’s residents is not good, with the area due to be levelled to be replaced by yet more condos and shopping malls within the next couple of years, and the locals moved out to who knows where. To better conditions perhaps, but at the expense of what strikes me as a strong community spirit and an area that, for all its negative points, has bags of character.

🇻🇳 Vietnam: Young Vietnamese Vs illegal wildlife

By Sen Nguyen in Aljazeera on September 10, 2021

Vietnam gets flogged regularly, and rightly so, for its involvement in the illegal wildlife trade. According to Sen Nguyen, in terms of consumption of tiger parts and bones, Vietnamese are second only to the Chinese. This piece on Trang Nguyen, the founder of WildAct, a Vietnamese conservation NGO, is an interesting story—not just for what she has achieved, but also for the hurdles she faced as a Vietnamese woman for choosing the path she has.

The organisation is collaborating with Animal Doctors International, a veterinary clinic and animal welfare consultant with offices in Vietnam and Cambodia, to provide rangers and WildAct’s community conservation team with training on administering first aid to injured animals and to members themselves while on patrol. Although often overlooked, these are important skills to improve the survival rates of wild animals after rescue, as well as the wellbeing of the rangers and community members, according to Trang.

Just in case you forget where you are, it reminds you on the side of the longtail. Libong Beach, Ko Libong , Thailand. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

See you next week!

So that’s the wrap. I hope you are all in good health and weathering Covid19 as well as possible.

See you next week,