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Walking through Yangon airport in Myanmar I make a few observations - people here are tall, smile a lot, drive on the right side of the road, men wear skirts, hip hop is big, their writing looks like ornate scribble, and their red gold and green flag is more Jamaican than Jamaica’s.
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As we stall in traffic, I ask my taxi driver what the rapper is saying, and he replies “he is singing that Yangon has many pagodas, people and singers”. I lie back and wonder whether this rapper would ever get Yeezus.
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Yangon used to be called Rangoon, a word which makes me think of wax-moustached English generals dressed dividing up countries in between firing their muskets at tigers and insurgents.
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Yangon sounds more appropriate for a bustling, polluted town that has seen better days.
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We visit the magnificent golden Shwedagon Pagoda on our second day. An afternoon storm forces everyone to huddle inside one of Shwedagon’s temples, where a grinning middle aged monk in tight fitting orange robes asks us if we speak English. Before we can say “yes I speak Wall Street English” he has convinced us to teach English at a local language school that he works with. Our monk commandeers a car and we head to the language school. He flips through his tablet computer showing us photos of his temple which doubles as a hotel, I tell him I like Burmese hiphop, he tells me he loves Jason Statham. I am beginning to really dig the Burmese.

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Peering out at a dimly-lit classroom of forty smiling twenty-somethings we are guest teachers for the evening, and we let everyone ask us two questions. The female students are excellent; their English is incredibly formal and they begin questions with “May I” or “Have you”. I feel as though I have fallen into into some colonial period drama. They explain their ambitions to travel, and learn English so that they can work with tourists. After a few perfunctory textbook questions, our grinning Burmese students begin to crank up the pressure, firing in weird and wonderful unanswerable questions :
Whom do you love most in your family?
What do you think about the current government in Myanmar?
Can you talk about your beard?
Do you like Rihanna?
(to me) How many girlfriends have you had?
(to her) Is he your first love?
(to me) Why haven’t you married her?
I finish the lesson confident that if they haven’t learnt much English, they’ve at least learnt how to make a grown man squirm.
imageThe future of Myanmar is bright, and really nosey

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With its fair share of randy gurus, high end yoga schools and top notch dining, Ubud is the perfect place to find interfaith love, sweat out all the big city bad energy, and undo a year’s worth of gym time. This small, busy inland town in Bali has a rich Hindu culture which fills every corner with colourful temples, daily festivals, rich robes and grandiose offerings for the gods.
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Ubud has also reached cult like status with dreamy American women inspired by the book and film Eat, Pray, Love. 
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There is so much to do in Ubud, from exploring the coffee plantations and  pretending to enjoy grainy coffee ground from the turds of local rodent the Luwak, to pretending you’re not a greedy pig at the buffet lunch at one of the excellent cooking schools.
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There are some spectacular volcanoes to visit including the occasionally active Batur, where you can ride around hills and a lake at your own leisure, or lose a race with an eight year old girl who rides a 250cc motorbike.
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The surrounding temples of Ubud are equally stunning, with some like the Elephant Cave, which are breathtaking pieces of architecture seemingly lifted from an Indiana Jones movie.
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Ubud has the best spread of food that I have seen for a town of its size, and after a week of gormandizing, I discover it is much cheaper to eat like a king in Ubud than to be torn to shreds by mosquitoes for an hour at an overpriced yoga school. Just as Julia Roberts’ character learns about inner peace and self control, I learn to gorge on dinner treats and eschew calorie control. Day trips to angry volcanoes and stunning temples and the monkey forest and the masseuse are planned around a strict regimen of breakfast, lunch, dinner, sorbets, and maybe a second dinner at trendily named eateries like Soma, Kismet and Kafe.

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Monkey wig
Romantic rides through the rich green rice paddies that sway gently under the late morning sun are interrupted by my urge to return to town for early lunch.
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Ubud’s lost in time feel and its welcoming locals, grow on me and I start thinking about it as a potential place to settle in. When I learn that I can hire a chef to cook meals for me every day for only $60 a month in Ubud, I conclude that I have found my El Dorado.
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I enquire about buying some land, building a house, surrounded by rice paddies whilst I build a Snapchat for global wanderlusters. The only problem is that I am not the only urban nomad to have fallen in love with Ubud.
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Property prices have risen 10% a month in 2013, they are up ten times since the Bali bombings. When you buy land in Ubud you are usually the lease holder, so at the end of twenty years you have to hand back your palace to the local rice farmer who has terrorised you and your guests by burning his rice crop for three months a year for the last two decades. If you haven’t died from complications from smoke inhalation you can extend your lease at the end of twenty years but there’s no guarantee you will be able to afford it after all those hospital bills.
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With a heavy heart and belly, I have to say goodbye to Ubud, and after a quick visa run to Bangkok, I am all set for another trip of a lifetime this time to Myanmar.
imageOne of these coffees is not like the other
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Earthquakes, typhoons, volcanic eruptions, prison breaks and maritime accidents make up some of the risks attached to any visit to Indonesia. After a choppy three hour ride in a tourist fast boat, we arrive sunburnt, sea sick, soaked and plonked on the sand of island paradise, Gili Trawangan.

The island reminds me of the aftermath of the Leo film The Beach, where after all the carnage, a group of very good looking, peace loving Europeans bohos move onto the island, open some trendy boutiques and restaurants, outlaw motorised vehicles and exile all ugly people back to Kuta Beach in Bali.

Gili would be amazing were it not more densely populated than downtown Calcutta. There are so many beautiful people consuming vast amounts of seafood, bottled water, and factor 50, that I fear that the island may eventually collapse in on itself, and the only proof of its existence will be a large great Pacific floating patchwork of Vilebrequin shorts and Intermix swimwear.

Leo Messi eyeing up the barbecue

Neighbouring Lombok island has beautiful, deserted white beaches. The only downside to this, is that you have to stay in a resort or in Kuta town in order to access these beaches.

Kuta town’s local beach is run by feral children who bark their wares at pretty European couples who want to get a quick tan whilst recovering from the previous night’s food poisoning. One English girl let a young feral draw some art on her back, whilst she flipped through The Elegance of the Hedgehog on her iPad Mini

I suspect that she was disappointed by the poor spelling he left in charcoal.

Outside of being woken up by the local mosque at 4am and the roosters at 5am, Lombok is a relaxing island, home to some stunning beaches, a lot of sunshine, some beautiful fabrics, and life threatening surf. Just bring imodium, earplugs and water wings.

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After ten days in Timor Leste, I was bored. The people were wonderful, but culturally, I felt that there was something missing. We wanted to find out why. If you ask locals for directions to former prison turned resistance museum Chega! they will look at you blankly but the museum is a true find exploring the country’s tragic history. 

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We learnt that the Portuguese colonized Timor Leste and then realized it was too far and too small to bother with. Their legacy appears to be a few churches and a strange attraction to Cristiano Ronaldo amongst the male population.

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In World War II Japan invaded in order to engage Australia in battle. The victorious Aussies handed the keys to Timor to the Indonesians whose brutal rule contributed to the deaths of 102,000 people, which was 10% of the population. In1999 a pro independence referendum led to a bloody war between pro-Indonesian Timorese and independence fighters.

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Our guide at Chega!, Noi, was forced to retreat to the jungle for three months during this conflict, where she and her family built a house out of coconut leaves and lived on potatoes and river water. After Australian-led troops (INTERFET) restored peace, they returned to their house only to find that it had been bombed to cinders. They rebuilt it from rubble. In 2006, civil war broke out again, and the UN moved in for six years to bring in peaceful elections and an end to hostilities.

Why is everyone so happy?

One thing kept bugging me, after such tragic recent history, why were the East Timorese such an upbeat people? Noi explained that the older generation were still angry about the occupation but that the young had to get on with Indonesia, and only wanted to look to the future.

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A lot of people are intrigued by my trip to Timor Leste. For the renegade unemployed looking to take advantage of new trade and Timor Leste’s vast oil resources which are being exploited with the Australians, I suspect the easy money has been made.

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As a holiday destination it is disorienting. In ten days I managed to live without internet for three days, relied on the kindness of others to hitchhike around the country, had my own island for a day, and witnessed a new nation learning to forgive. All of this in a tiny country where it feels as though you are perched on the edge of the earth.

imageDili Airport’s newest customs officer

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What are all the fashion blogs missing?
Purple waistcoats. In the small town of Com, Senhora Rosa,Timor Leste’s answer to Zara, heads up a ten woman-strong cooperative that sells Tais, a colorful woven cloth native to Timor. She sells Tais skirts, bags, table cloths, wallets and my favourite, the waistcoat. Unfortunately wifi has not come to Com and there is no website for her project but do ask around if you ever end up there. 
Like most of Timor Leste, Com is very poor. Little girls slope home loaded up with freshly chopped firewood they cut with massive machets;  pigs, goats, chicken, dogs and a tied up monkey hang out under a leafless tree like a scene from a weird children’s book; the town seems like it is run by kids and animals, because most adults are nowhere to be seen - maybe they are too busy making more children. On the morning of our departure, our motorcycle taxis did not show up. We walked around looking for anyone with a car, and came across Sra Rosa, who coaxed three chatty Telkomcel engineers into giving us a lift out of town in their van. Our newly found patience had paid off, the generosity of strangers had won through again in Timor Leste, and the travel gods had been kind to us one more. We were going to make it back to Dili in time for an overpriced beer at sunset.
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"Be nice to the French" is not something you will hear me say often.

It all started with the Lonely Planet guide’s chapter on East Timor. Written either by an ultra marathon runner capable of making a carb heavy dinner from tree bark and a few poisonous frogs or by some kid who stayed at a Dili backpackers’ and traded warm beer for travel information, this traveller’s Bible is full of outdated recommendations and a lot of false hope.

I had lost faith in my Lonely Planet after our $140 taxi ride to Tutuala, and so I would have to rely on my wits, charm, a pretty white girl and a lot of dollars to blag my way back to Dili. Respect your elders, and if you can try to leverage them. At our “lodge” we met a group of elderly Australians on a tour. They offered to take our backpacks as far as the seaside backwater called Com. The following day, we started our journey at sunrise, hiking over logs, around ditches, and waving hello to smiley eight year olds who hacked their way to school with machetes. Exhausted and sweaty after our two hour hike, we arrived in Tutuala. I strode over to a local shop and declared to the keeper that I should like to employ the services of a local car driver to carry us to Com and that I was willing to pay a pretty penny (OK $15-20) for the service. The lady’s grasp of cod Dickensian English was very poor; she only spoke the local dialect of Fataluku, and really just wanted to sell me a phone card and a strawberry Fanta, so I headed into town in search of a driver. The reason there are no drivers in Tutuala, is because there are no cars in Tutuala. As I began working out whether we could walk another 15km to the next town, a French family in a 4x4 popped their heads out to offer us a lift. I made a mental note to be nicer to the French. A friendly, intrepid couple, David and Marie had inflicted a six week train journey across China on their three children last year, so five weeks of cabbage and rice, and nights spent swatting mosquitoes in stuffy gîtes in East Timor must have seemed like Club Méd.

Our French BFFs took us as far as another village, where after an hour’s wait for an imaginary bus, the world’s happiest vicar took pity on us, and drove us in his shiny new 4x4 to a town called Lautem. From Lautem we commandeered two kids on motorbikes and arrived to the quiet seaside town of Com. We were reunited with our backpacks and celebrated our small victory with a cold plate of rice and cabbage. 

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If you want to lord it up like a billionaire, but you’re unemployed or on a budget, Jaco is probably as good as it gets in terms of that private island feeling. Yes, you may arrive there with arse sores, and a bumpy head after a two day journey along some of the worst roads in SE Asia, but the flip side is a big chunk of paradise that is all yours. It’s a perfect destination to play out your James Bond baddie fantasies, perform that long delayed digital detox, channel your inner caveman, or fantasise about being at the edge of the world. Getting across the island is no easy feat. On our first day, I could make out the white speck of a fisherman’s boat bobbing in the ocean. This was our only ride to Jaco and no amount of t-shirt waving, or kid tossing (see pic) would get his attention. 

On the second day, we crossed over early to bask in the clear blue water which refreshes as you twirl around underwater and play peekaboo with the little fish; the glorious white sand makes little farty noises under your feet as you dance your way out of the water into the shade of the lush forest. And the best bit is that no one can see you acting like you are Sebastian the crab from the Little Mermaid.


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Timor Leste - The most expensive taxi ride in SE Asia’s poorest country
At the eastern tip of Timor lies Jaco, one of the most beautiful beaches in SE Asia. It is also incredibly inaccessible, taking about two to three days to cover the 170km (110 miles) by public transport. Our first overnight stop is in Baucau, a poor town teeming with fearless, friendly children. Local houses are made of sticks and corrugated iron, the disused buildings in the city centre sweat dust and crumble in the dry heat. Bullet holes are flicked across some of the building facades making Baucau look like a former war zone. I later find out that it is. Shoeless, snotty nosed little children play with a wheelbarrow full of dirt and appear to be having a blast.  Walking down a dusty hill into town, three beautiful little girls playing on a porch ask me to take their photo. They pose like they are prepping themselves to be Timor Leste’s answer to the Spice Girls. I take their photos, kiss each of them on the back of their sticky hands..  According to backpacker lore, there is a 9am bus that will take us east to Tutuala, from where we can walk to Jaco. By 1215, I have decided that there is no bus to Tutuala, and if there is one, it will be full and I will likely be passing the journey perched on the exhaust pipe. The manager at the posh pink pousada at the top of the hill finds us a driver who will take us the 48km to Jaco for $140, making it marginally cheaper per km than a taxi in Tokyo (told you Timor was expensive). 
The crumbling dry road to Tutuala is almost empty. Huge buffalo stray into the middle of the road, and because there are so few cars passing by, people crouch in the middle of the highway taking shade under the huge dry palm trees. It is the first time I have seen people standing in the middle of a highway. Taking in the beautiful scenery of a peaceful lake lapping against the foot of a mountain, I notice that we are now driving in this lake. The road has disappeared, and our 4x4 is now a makeshift boat which eventually manages to negotiate its way through the lake that has burst its banks, and back onto the dirt trail. We arrive at Tutuala but I barely notice because there is nothing there, just a road sign and a few tenements. We drive down a steep path made of rocks and occasional logs. The car chokes and clanks and splutters, hardy bushes flick at the windows, the smell of spearmint fills the car and after forty minutes we arrive at our eco hut.  Across the bright blue I can see the palm trees and white sand of Jaco Island.
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Timor Leste - Honorable mention for this house
You probably need planning permission to do what this guy did.
If you ever stay at the Melita Guesthouse in Baucau and are woken up by the neighbour’s reggaeton, do take some time to admire this guy’s backyard. I’m pretty certain the tombs cost more to build than the house did. 

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Hiphop has not caught on in Timor Leste
During the school holidays, when I was a kid, my father would occasionally outsorce his babysitting duties to three kindly Ghanaian men who worked at the local Tandy (RadioShack in the US). I would spend many afternoons playing Chopsticks on the Casio keyboards and when shoppers would enter, I would put the keyboards on demo mode and pretend to play them believing that everyone thought I was the next Stevie Wonder. Had I been suffering chronic constipation and sobbed uncontrollably whilst pretending to play demo keyboards and someone recorded it with a cheap microphone, I would have sounded a lot like the Timorese pop music that was played on full blast during our four hour bus journey from Dili to Baucau. Scrubland gave way to swampy rice paddies as our topless Cristiano Ronaldo themed bus trundled across brittle tarmac and over dry rivers at an average speed of 30km/h. Clumps of small light green mountains popped up in the distance and bullocks scrapped for food in empty fields with a wailing Timorese cabaret singer’s heartbreak for a soundtrack.