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Pulau Langkawi, Malaysia.

The Archipelago of Langkawi Malaysia

The Island of Pulau Langkawi is a tropical paradise located some 30 kilometers off the northwest coast of Malaysia. Considered the jewel in the crown of the state of Kedah it is in fact an archipelago of some 104 island in the Andaman Sea, with Pulau Langkawi being the largest inhabited in the Archipelago. Many refer to it as the Hawaii of South East Asia, but to me that title does not do it justice and having visited both I prefer Langkawi for the diversity of it landscape, wildlife and rain-forest. Mainstream tourism tends to concentrate around Pantai Cenang beach area and although this is a good base when visiting the island, being close to all the best eating and drinking establishments, there is so much more to explore and see not far beyond and all within short driving distances. I would recommend if you intend visiting Langkawi that you hire a car for at least some of your stay, if not all, as this will allow you to explore the Island more fully and freely. Driving in Langkawi is also a much easier and safer experience than what you might experience on mainland Malaysia. Being a duty free island expect to find lots of cheap tobacco, booze and chocolates.

Langkawi Malaysia in pictures by DKTravelpix (16)Offering a range of accommodation types from the cheapest budget places Langkawi also plays host to some top class and secluded luxury resorts, with the most highly rated probably being the Datai and closely followed by the Danna and the Four Seasons Langkawi. Links to all can be found at the end of this post.

A couple of places not to be missed I would suggest are the Langkawi Wildlife Park, and my favourite Gunung Raya.

Telaga Harbour Marina is also well worth a visit with a nice stretch of usually fairly quiet white sand beach just beyond the harbour area, although it’s not great for swimming as the as the base sand is muddy and slimy, I presume from pollution. There is also free parking on the beach edge at this place.

Langkawi Malaysia in pictures by DKTravelpix (1)

Langkawi Malaysia in pictures by DKTravelpix (2)

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Asia Malaysia

Thaipusam festival Penang Malaysia 2016 (post 2 of 3)

Post 2 The 10 kilometer walk to the Temple 

Thaipusam is a Hindu festival celebrated mostly by the Tamil community on the full moon in the Tamil month of Thai (January/February). It is mainly observed in countries where there is a significant presence of Tamil community such as India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia. I was fortunate enough to be in Penang this year when the festival was taking place. The picture post that follows is divided into 3 parts, but all from one festival day. The festival itself lasted for 3 days over a weekend.

Thaipusam Festival Penang Malaysia 2016 By David Keegan Photography (35)

Post 2

By now it is getting close to midday as we set off on the 10 kilometer walk to the base of the temple Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani Kovil. The sun beats down from overhead and the air hangs heavy amidst the humidity of the atmosphere and crowded streets. Everywhere is a riot of colour and sound as speakers pump out a rhythmic and hypnotic beat. Soon i find myself carried along by the sway of the music as we make slow walk to the temple. The pain and the endurance of the Kavadi Attam participants now clear to see, yet none that oi have seen falter. It must also be said that Thaipusam is not just about, or centered, on Kavadi Attam although given the visual spectacle of the bondage of hooks and hanging adornments this is a major draw for tourists and spectators. Thaipusam is very much a family based festival. Indeed on the plane from Singapore to Penang (which was mostly full of families heading to Penang for Thaipusam) I struck up a conversation with one man who was not in favour of the Kavadi as he felt he sent out the wrong message of this important Hindu festival and as such was a distraction. The pictures here tell the rest of the story far better than my words can describe. Suffice to say it has to be one of the most fascinating and exhilarating experiences of my life.

Thaipusam Festival Penang Malaysia 2016 By David Keegan Photography (16)

Thaipusam Festival Penang Malaysia 2016 By David Keegan Photography (17)

Each participant has a team of friends making sure they are ok whether it be quenching thirst or readjusting spears and pins. Each one of the cups seen in this picture is attached to the devotees body by means of a hook pierced through the skin. There are also a number of hooks lodged in his back each roped and held and pulled by the parson at back (see picture above) adding greatly to the strain and endurance of the participant.

Thaipusam Festival Penang Malaysia 2016 By David Keegan Photography (18)

Thaipusam Festival Penang Malaysia 2016 By David Keegan Photography (19)

Some do Kavadi Attam light preferring to support the frame to their bodies by means of a waist belt. However this is still a long and painful slog for all Kavadi Attam participants.

Thaipusam Festival Penang Malaysia 2016 By David Keegan Photography (20)

Thaipusam Festival Penang Malaysia 2016 By David Keegan Photography (21)

These pictures demonstrate the force used in pulling on the hooked ropes. This participant also has a very large spear pierced though his cheeks.

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Asia Malaysia

Thaipusam Festival, Penang, Malaysia 2016 (Post 1 of 3)

Post 1 The Preperation

Thaipusam is a Hindu festival celebrated mostly by the Tamil community on the full moon in the Tamil month of Thai (January/February). It is mainly observed in countries where there is a significant presence of Tamil community such as India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia. I was fortunate enough to be in Penang this year when the festival was taking place. The picture post that follows is divided into 3 parts, but all from one festival day. The festival itself lasted for 3 days over a weekend.

Post 1

Waiting at the bus stop for a bus to the festival starting point I strike up a conversation with a man from Singapore who travels with his temple community every year to celebrate the festival. He very kindly offers to take me to the preparation ceremony for their nominated Kavadi for the 2016 festival. He explained that of all the regions and communities that attend the festival the Singaporean group is the most committed to the true requirement of The Kavadi Attam (“Burden Dance”) as their devotee is speared to the flesh front and back, but also carries a metal temple on his head weighing some 25 kilos. He explained that most others preform Kavadi Atam light, using waist belts to hold the metal spines and polystyrene temples on top of their heads. I cannot overemphasise the difference and importance inherent in this given the 36 degree heat and high humidity. The nominee then has to carry the entire enterprise though this scorching heat and humidity from the starting point, a walk of some 10 kilometres, to the base of the temple Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani Kovil which itself then involves climbing some 513 steps to reach the temple.  In preparation for the devotee will fast for anything up to 48 days prior to the festival day although my Singaporean friend tells me they fast for 2 weeks. Detailed explanation of Kavadi Attam below.

Thaipusam Festival Penang Malaysia 2016 By David Keegan Photography (6)

Kavadi Attam

The Kavadi Attam (“Burden Dance”, also written as cavadee) is the ceremonial sacrifice and offering performed by devotees during the worship of Murugan, the Hindu God of War.[6] It is often performed during the festival of Thaipusam and emphasises debt bondage. The Kavadi itself is a physical burden through which the devotees implore for help from the God Murugan.[7] Devotees prepare for the celebration by cleansing themselves through prayer and fasting approximately 48 days before Thaipusam. Kavadi-bearers have to perform elaborate ceremonies at the time of assuming the kavadi and at the time of offering it to Murugan. The kavadi-bearer observes celibacy and take only pure, Satvik food, once a day, while continuously thinking of God. On the day of the festival, devotees will shave their heads and undertake a pilgrimage along a set route while engaging in various acts of devotion, notably carrying various types of kavadi (burdens). At its simplest this may entail carrying a pot of milk, but mortification of the flesh by piercing the skin, tongue or cheeks with vel skewers is also common. The simplest kavadi is a semicircular decorated canopy supported by a wooden rod that is carried on the shoulders, to the temple. In addition, some have a small spear through their tongue, or a spear through the cheeks.

The description of Kavadi Attam above is sourced from Wikipedia

 

Thaipusam Festival Penang Malaysia 2016 By David Keegan Photography (1)

We took the ferry from Kedah on the mainland to Penang Island

Thaipusam Festival Penang Malaysia 2016 By David Keegan Photography (2)

Thaipusam Festival Penang Malaysia 2016 By David Keegan Photography (3)

Preparation and offerings for the Kavadi

Thaipusam Festival Penang Malaysia 2016 By David Keegan Photography (4)

The devotee who preformed the Kavadi Attam in 2017 recives blessings prior top the start of the procession.

Thaipusam Festival Penang Malaysia 2016 By David Keegan Photography (5)

Blessing a child

 

One of his assistants check the pins top make sure they are all securely anchored in place.

Thaipusam Festival Penang Malaysia 2016 By David Keegan Photography (7)

The entire body frame is held in place by metal pins anchored in his chest and back but he is also speared through his cheeks with further adornments hooked into the face.

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Asia Myanmar

Sagar on the banks of the Beluo Chaung, Inle Lake, Burma

Sagar on the banks of the Beluo Chaung River, Burma.

Sagar, originally part of the Shan state once ruled by the Sabwas people, ruthlessly eliminated by the Burmese military dictator Ne Win  who took power not long after the end of the second world war and is largely responsible for the destruction of Burma. The village itself is now little more than a crumbling, yet friendly, place reached by boat from Nyaung Shwe and taking around two and a half to 3 hours to reach. It is nonetheless a fascinating and worthwhile place to visit.

Sagar on the banks of the Beluo Chaung river, Burma (1)
 Sagar on the banks of the Beluo Chaung river, Burma (5)
Sagar on the banks of the Beluo Chaung river, Burma (2)
 A recently restored Stupa, restoration in Burma favours restoring to what the Stupa would have looked like when first constructed.
Sagar on the banks of the Beluo Chaung river, Burma (4)
Sagar on the banks of the Beluo Chaung river, Burma (7)
 Oxen are still very much a regular feature of the Burmese landscape, here pictured on the way home from a days work. These animals are very well looked after by the farmer.
Sagar on the banks of the Beluo Chaung river, Burma (9)
The local convenience store.

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Asia Myanmar

Indein, Inle Lake, Burma

Indein Stupas

Just a few pictures here. What struck, and a sight oft repeated throughout Burma, is the coexistence of world heritage sites and daily lives. These are not places of museum set in aspic but very much an integral part of the local lived in landscape.

 

Indein The Stupas Inle Lake Burma by David Keegan 2015 (1)

Indein The Stupas Inle Lake Burma by David Keegan 2015 (2)

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Asia Myanmar

The Fishermen of Inle Lake, Burma

Fishermen of Inle Lake (post 4 of 7)

Inle, or Intha, is the second largest lake in Myanmar It is listed in the UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserves, being added to the list in 2015.  The lake is also home to over twenty species of snails and nine species of fish that are unique to the lake, not being found anywhere else in the world.  Local fishermen are known for practicing a distinctive rowing style which involves standing at the stern on one leg and wrapping the other leg around the oar. This unique style evolved as the lake is being covered by reeds and floating plants made it difficult to see above them while sitting. Standing provides the rower with a view beyond the reeds.  It is also now one of the major tourist draws on the Lake.  A number of fishermen have taken to exploiting this by hanging around the entrance to the lake posing for dollars rather than actually fishing. This has given the fishermen and the lakes a bad name with some and is in danger of destroying the authenticity of the lakes in general. Travel further into the lakes and you can witness fishermen fishing in this traditional style for real and without the request for dollars. Yopu will also witness another popular techniques requring the fishermen to work in teams. This involves one hitting/slapping the water  the water and therby driving the fish into nets held by the others. Whatever the technique there is a grace and poise to these mens movements as they go about their fishing. All of my featured pictures in this blog post were taken without payment, and are of fishermen genuinely going about their business of fishing. The best time of the year to visit is during September and October

 

The Fishermen of Inle Lake, Burma by David Keegan 2015 (1)

The Fishermen of Inle Lake, Burma by David Keegan 2015 (2)

The Fishermen of Inle Lake, Burma by David Keegan 2015 (3)

The Fishermen of Inle Lake, Burma by David Keegan 2015 (4)

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Asia Myanmar

Nyaung Shwe, Inle Lake, Burma

Leaving Rangoon for Nyaung Shwe

Leaving Yangon on an overnight bus we begin the long and arduous journey to Inle Lake. We travel on the VIP express bus (JJ Express) which has a seat configuration of what is known as 2+1, basically means 3 seats to a line, so much bigger seats and a lot more comfortable than a standard bus. I bought tickets for this in advance from ticket agent in Rangoon and all went without hitch. They were very communicative and professional in their dealings. You can find them at this linkhttp://myanmarbusticket.com/   The bus station itself is a good hour’s taxi ride outside the center of Rangoon but can take a lot longer depending on time of day and traffic. If you need a driver in Rangoon then I can heartily recommend a chap called San a wonderful chap with a winning smile great local knowledge and very reliable. I only have his email address but I found him very responsive via email:  rememberme116@gmail.com

The bus station, a noisy, crowded, chaotic and hectic place in itself. As for the bus journey I would love to be able to say this is a great way to travel, and it might well be if it wasn’t for the bus operator’s insistence on having the air con turned to artic cold conditions. I seriously mean it’s so cold even the provided blanket will struggle to keep you warm, moral of the story if you intend to catch the bus bring warm clothes. But hey it’s a lot cheaper than the overpriced internal flights, and given the travel is overnight means you are not wasting a day on travel. Our destination for discovering Inle Lake will be Nyaung Shwe where we will stay for our 5 day stay in Inle. We stayed in Princess Garden Hotel which cannot be booked online,  but you can book directly via email. princessgardenhotel@gmail.com

To read more about this place check out the reviews on trip advisor

http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Hotel_Review-g303662-d1896917-Reviews-Princess_Garden_Hotel-Nyaungshwe_Shan_State.html#REVIEWS

The only other downside of the bus is arriving in Nyaung Shwe at 5 am in the morning meaning a 6 hour wait before we could check in as all the chalets were fully booked

 

Nyaung Shwe, Inle Lake (post 3 of 7).

Pictures post 1 (3) Nyaung Shwe, Burma By David Keegan

Bustling main street

Pictures post 1 (1) Nyaung Shwe, Burma By David Keegan

If you are taking a boat trip on the lake (of course you are, otherwise why are you here) you will most likely board at one of these jetty’s but this is also a working lake as the picture shows so you will most likely share it with locals as they go about their daily business.

 

The Market

The market moves to a different location every week, being held in Nyaung Shwe once a month. If you are fortunate enough to be in town for market day its well worth a visit and is the perfect opportunity to mingle with the locals as they do their shopping.

Pictures post 1 (2) Nyaung Shwe, Burma By David Keegan

Pictures post 1 (5) Nyaung Shwe, Burma By David Keegan

The Tea Seller

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Asia Myanmar

Inle Lake Burma, The Floating Gardens.

Floating Gardens, Inle Lake (post 2 of 7).

Inle Lake Burma The Floating Gardens (1) By David Keegan

Father and son with boat full of weeds collected from the bottom of the lake which will be used to form part of their floating garden. These gardens are not only spectacular they are truly amazing in their ingenuity. No visit to Inle lake would be complete without a trip to see the floating gardens. Most hotels and guest houses can arrange, or help to find, a suitable boat trip. Top tip go as early as possible in the morning to avoid the midday crowds!

Inle Lake Burma The Floating Gardens (2) By David Keegan

Inle Lake Burma The Floating Gardens (3) By David Keegan

Inle Lake Burma The Floating Gardens (4) By David Keegan

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Asia Myanmar

Life on the Lakes, Inle Lake, Myanmar in Pictures and a few words.

The people and place Inle Lake Myanmar (Part 1 of 7)

Inle Lake shimmering in the early morning sunlight like some precious ghostly jewel. It is a place like no other with its crystal clear and icy calm waters, it fishermen, along with its many lake side towns, pagodas and stupas. I have read some really inane comments on Trip Advisor, some suggesting that Inle is nothing special and is just like many other lakes around the world, the other that the one legged fishermen don’t really fish that way anymore and its now a tourist gimmick. Well they are both wrong. This is not Disneyland, or a circus, its magical place that was closed to the outside world for many many years. Yes there are those who will perform for the tourist dollar, but the fishermen of Inle still fish in the traditional manner, you just have to venture onto the lake proper early in the morning to see them and not just stop at the mouth of the lake. Life is very much lived on and around the lake with its floating gardens, fishermen and the continuous too and fro of boats carrying an array of cargo and people .This is one on the most magical and unique landscapes on earth so  if you are going to travel half way around the globe to see it use a bit of common sense, do some research to get the most from your trip. Chances are you will only ever visit this place once in a lifetime so give it the attention, time and respect it deserves and you will be richly rewarded. I would put it at the top of my top five places i have visited in the world, in fact it is most out of this world, glowing as it does in another worldly silvery light. Enjoy and go soon as i cannot imagine it will stay as untainted by the outside world for much longer now that Myanmar is opening up to the outside world. How long before the big hotels spoil the whole place?

Inle Lake Burma Life along the lakes by David Keegan 2015 (3)

Inle Lake Burma Life along the lakes by David Keegan 2015 (4)

Inle Lake Burma Life along the lakes by David Keegan 2015 (6)

Inle Lake Burma Life along the lakes by David Keegan 2015 (7)

Inle Lake Burma Life along the lakes by David Keegan 2015 (8)

Inle Lake Burma Life along the lakes by David Keegan 2015 (9)

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Asia Malaysia

Destruction of rain-forests Borneo and Malaysia

Palm Oil Plantations, The Destruction of Borneo and Malaysia

I had a dream of what to expect before my recent visit to Borneo and Malaysia. I pictured mile after mile of roads through virtually unbroken rain-forest, a land of wildlife, and magic. Looking on the map it all seemed so far away, so full of wonder, remote even. Top of my list was to visit the Sepilok Orangutan sanctuary, looking back now i can only wonder at my naivety, did it not occur to me to question why a sanctuary was needed in the first place? In my mind i imagined a vast area of forest in which one would view wild Orangutans.

We decided that to really make the most of this area of Borneo we must hire a car in Kota Kinabalu and drive to Sandakan, the town nearest to the Sepilok sanctuary. The early part of the drive climbing hill roads as we passed by  Mount Kinabalu started off to be visually very exciting and promising as we drove through  large swathes of virgin rain-forest. Unfortunately that joy  was short lived as soon we drove for hours through scenes of destruction. For as far as the eye could see the Rain-forest was gone and in its place mile after mile of Palm Oil plantations. The pictures below give a pretty clear and depressing image of just how much of the landscape is now taken up by Palm Oil Plantations. This same picture is one repeated in Sarawak and mainland Malaysia. All of this makes a mockery of the visit Malaysia campaigns which aims to promote Malaysia and Borneo as a tropical paradise.  The sad truth, although it would once have been a spectacular tropical paradise that is all gone now to be replaced by Palm Oil plantations. We are all partly to blame due to our blind consumption of products containing Palm Oil. Another of the horrible ironies is the addition of Palm Oil to diesel in a cynical attempt to cut our reliance on fossil fuels and cut global warming. The irony, we rip out the very forests that we need to help maintain the health of our planet. It is estimated that 80% of virgin rain-forest in Borneo is now gone, but the clearance and logging continues. It is our responsibility to try and save the remaining 20% Part of achieving this is simple, check the ingredients in foodstuffs and do not purchase those containing Palm Oil. Write letters to your MP and MEP demanding and end to Palm Oil use in the EU, and finally sign the petitions available via the links at the bottom of this post.

Below a series of shocking pictures showing the true extent of the devastation in #Borneo, taken during my recent trip. This is a side to #Borneo and #Malaysia the authorities would prefer you didn’t see.

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At one time this you would probably not have seen the mountains in the distance as it would have been obscured by dense rain-forest. Now all you see for as far as the eye can see is Palm Plantation
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