Colton's Asia Experience

The World Is Your Oyster

Text and Photos by Colton Powell

Yet having never quite fancied oysters, I was a little uneasy about packing my life into a backpack and setting off to explore the world. To say that I have travelled before is somewhat of an understatement. A few family road trips here or there and some tropical resorts make up the current stamp collection in my passport.

My disdain for oysters aside, I have always had a burning desire to travel. Growing up, my father always took us off the beaten path to experience a different side of our destination. Whether it was down back alleys, over no-entry barricades or on hikes into the unknown, I was taught to have a keen eye for the hidden gems of a city. Hopefully these teachings will come in handy as I embark on a 72-day trip to Asia.

Over the next few months, along with a good friend, I will be exploring over 10 countries to experience all that Southeast Asia has to offer. Leading up to this trip many people have asked, "Why Southeast Asia?" Which only has one correct answer: why not?

Southeast Asia is the quintessential backpacking route that millions have traversed over the years. It also helps that it is somewhat inexpensive, drawing young travellers from all corners of the globe. Having never been away for more than two weeks at a time, I can guarantee that we will have some interesting stories to tell as we wrestle with the challenges of backpacking.

From sprawling urban metropolises to sandy beaches, we will be testing the waters of adventure along the way.

Our trip begins with three days in the heart of Tokyo, to experience Japanese culture and to fill our bellies with its delicious cuisine. Japan, although not technically considered in Southeast Asia, has always been a bucket-list item for me to check off. Having studied it in school, Japanese culture has always fascinated me, and living in Vancouver sushi has been a staple of my university diet!

We only have a short time in Tokyo, but it will act as a stepping stone into Asia, giving us a few days to adjust our clocks and get our bearings.

As the seatbelt sign sounds, I am asked yet again to turn off my electronic devices as we begin our descent. Let day one commence of what is sure to be an adventure of a lifetime. Stayed tuned for more!

Colton Powell
The Adventure Begins

Click next to continue to Part 2 of Colton's Asia Experience


Welcome to Tokyo

By Colton Powell

Weeding through a fog of jet-lag in our heads it took a little while to realize we were actually in Tokyo. Having flown 11 hours our body clocks were backwards and we figured the best way to start our adventure was to embrace the city nice and early.

If someone was to ask me to describe my first thoughts of Tokyo it is almost impossible to put in words. First off the city spans the horizon for as far as the eye can see in every direction. For all I know I'm pretty sure it goes on forever. It is one of the cleanest cities I have ever seen. The streets are spotless yet there are no garbage cans anywhere to be found. There are also vending machines on every corner that have both hot and cold drinks. You can walk out the front door and get a can of hot coffee straight out of the machine.

This is where we learned that Tokyo has a variety of local customs and practices, that we failed to follow. It is considered rude to drink or eat while walking, a phenomenon completely foreign to North America. Therefore drinking our vending machine coffees attracted a variety of glares and glances as we made our way around the city.

We hopped on the metro which is surprisingly easy to navigate and headed out to explore the city. On the train we came across our second interesting custom, where speaking loud in a public place is not common and can be considered rude. Bryan and I attracted more glares as we chatted with our best indoor voices, while everyone around us communicated at a low whisper.

Colton Powell Tokyo 1
Looking South East from Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
 
Tokyo is absolutely massive, especially compared to Vancouver which I would now consider a small village. With a metro population close to the entire population of Canada, it's safe to say the city is always busy. With only two days to spend we tried to fit in all the top Tokyo sights. From Shibuya, crossing one of the busiest intersections, to tranquil temples and shrines in nearby Yoyogi Park to the sparkling nightlife in the LED lit alleys of Shinjuku, we managed to see most of the city.
 
We also got a tip from a local and went up the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building to a free lookout that gives you a glimpse at just how big the city really is. We went to Akihabara, known as electric town, which is considered the technology hub of Tokyo. Here stores are ten stories high where you can easily get lost in a maze of lights, wire and Japanese anime.

Our hostel was nestled down a small red lantern lit street in Asakusa, the district of Old Tokyo. Here small alleys house vendors with a plethora of Japanses knickknacks surrounded by some of the oldest temples in the city. The streets here were calm and quiet away from the busy centre of the city.

Colton Powell Tokyo 2
Shinjuku's Endless Streets, Shops and Bars
 
Beyond the sights and sounds and easily one of the best parts of Tokyo, is the food. Here restaurants line the streets and are always full of people trying the delicious local cuisine. From sushi, sashimi, ramen, yakitori, takoyaki, tonkatsu, tempura and even beef teriyaki, we gorged ourselves eating everything in sight.
 
Restaurants are usually small shops that sit about eight to ten people in bar style seating next to the kitchen. You always get to watch the chef prepare your meal right in front of you which makes for a more intimate experience. After eating in Japan Bryan and I have decided that we will have to sacrifice our waistlines in order to keep trying all the different dishes Asia has to offer.
 
Colton Powell Tokyo 4
Ramen Noodle Soup in Asakusa
 
The final note I will make about Japan, is the people. All my life I had always been told that Canadians were the most polite people on the planet. After visiting Japan, Canada has many things to learn. Never have I felt so welcomed into a country. Here people bow and greet you on the sidewalk, and asking for directions is effortless, as everyone is so polite and happy to help you. Even just buying something at a store, the entire transaction the clerk will be talking to you in Japanese and thanking you for your purchase.
 
Now this may be the first city on our trip, but Bryan and I fell in love with Tokyo. If you are making travel plans to Asia, Tokyo is a must on your list. Whether you come for the food, the sights or the people the city has something for everyone. I know I will definitely be back to Japan to explore more of Tokyo and the rest of what I am sure is a beautiful country.

Click next to continue to Part 3 of Colton's Asia Experience


What Does Melting Velvet Taste Like?

By Colton Powell

Before going to Tokyo almost everyone who has ever been told me we had to visit the Tsukiji Fish Market.

The market is the one of the largest wholesale fish and seafood markets in the world-officials claim close to 20 percent of the world's total fish catch comes in and out of here. It is also home to an early morning fresh tuna auction, where you can see giant tuna sold off to buyers from all over the city.

Given that the auction starts at the crack of dawn and only allows a limited number of visitors, we opted to head to the inner market once it opened to the public...at a more reasonable time of 8:00 a.m.

We headed down on the metro and arrived just before opening, after a briefing at the main entrance. There we were given a map and warned not to interfere with the business of the market and to stay out of the way of vendors and buyers alike.

Using a large knife called a Maguro bōchō, a market worker filets fresh tuna
Market Worker Fillets Tuna With a Maguro Bocho Knife
 
The market was never intended to be a tourist attraction but over the years has become popular with the public. You're not able to purchase any of the seafood but are allowed to wander endlessly through its expanse to feel like a local restaurant owner on the hunt for the perfect catch.
 
A typical stall selling a variety of seafood in the inner market.
Typical Stall Selling a Variety of Seafood.
 
As we made our way into the market's depths we were greeted with the fresh scent of seafood and loud banter of locals looking for the best bargain. Stall after stall cascaded in rows with anything from sea urchins to squid, to fish that I have never seen before. Stacked in ice chests to maintain their freshness, there was what seemed like every species from local waters.
 
Large red snapper, giant prawns, lobster-you name it you could probably find it somewhere in the market. Among the thin rows of stalls workers transported fish on small electric carts in a maze of tight spaces and people. The drivers were moving as quick as possible with nothing stopping their path, not even people-we were almost run over numerous times!

The most impressive part of the market is the tuna. Some stalls housed full-size fish that had been bought at the morning's auction which were the size of a small couch. Throughout the market giant slabs sit ready to be filleted or sold in large sections. The tuna is cut frozen either with a bandsaw or with a long knife that looks like a large sword.

After seeing so much seafood, hunger took over so we headed to the sushi restaurants just on the outside of the market. Here there are long lines waiting to taste the seafood right from the market. We found a small place and had the freshest sashimi I have ever eaten. It was like velvet melting in your mouth-just incredible.

Fresh salmon and tuna sashimi with miso soup
Fresh Salmon and Tuna Sashimi With Miso Soup
 
With our stomachs full of the day's catch we were glad we listened to everyone and braved the Tsukiji Fish Market.

Click next to continue to Part 4 of Colton's Asia Experience


Meeting Makoto

By Colton Powell

It was our final night in Tokyo, and we were exhausted from exploring most of the city on foot.

We decided the best way to cap off our Tokyo sojourn would be to try one of Japan's famous beers at a local establishment. So we headed for Shinjuku, an area in Tokyo known for its neon lights and popular nightlife.

We walked the endless streets of flashing lights and were approached by people selling anything from jewellery…to a more intimate style of nightlife. It was our last night so we were set on finding a traditional Japanese watering hole, but nothing seemed to jump out at us.

A man approached us asking if we were lonely, to which we politely declined and told him all we wanted was a cold beer. He responded in Japanese and gestured for us to follow him. We were somewhat hesitant, this being our second night in Asia, and were unsure if we could trust our new acquaintance. I could hear the voices from various family members in the back of my head telling me not to follow.

"Don't talk to strangers!" my mom had always told me as a kid, preparing me for this very moment.

I definitely failed my training as we continued to follow the man down a small alley off the main street. As we entered the alley he yelled something in Japanese, and a small potbellied man appeared from a shop. He nodded and disappeared back into the woodwork through a pair of curtains.

We were told to sit, and the stranger we had just met said "Beer, enjoy."

Then he bowed, waved, and left us sitting in a small quiet alley wondering what we had gotten ourselves into. The small man reappeared out of his shop with two large bottles of Asahi, one of Japan's most famous brews, along with three small glasses.

He sat with us at the table, and with a big smile said "Drink!"

After having a few sips of what I think may have been the coldest beer I've ever had, we learned that our new friends name was Makoto. He spoke very little English, but that did not stop him from trying to learn where we were from and what brought us to Tokyo.

Meeting Makoto in Tokyo
Our New Friend Makoto
 
He continued to speak in Japanese, obviously hoping we would understand, all while nodding and smiling. We asked if he wanted to have a glass of beer, and that sent him into him rubbing his belly and explaining he was getting a little too portly around the waist.
 
He continued to puff out his stomach, rub it and laugh with a glowing smile. We talked with him for a while until the bottles were empty and it was time to make our way back across the city. We asked to take a photo with our new friend-he got excited and said "Hai," which essentially is a hearty "hi" in Japanese.

We headed back to our hostel, excited to have met such a character and astounded by how welcoming he had been to us. If you ever find yourself in Tokyo, make your way down the back alleys of Shinjuku and try and find Makoto-he'll be the guy rubbing his belly and ready to hand you a cold Asahi.

I know I will definitely be back to Japan to explore more of Tokyo, and the rest of what I'm sure is a beautiful country. Now it's off to Hong Kong.

Click next to continue to Part 5 of Colton's Asia Experience


Hong Kong Hustle

By Colton Powell

We left Tokyo in the early hours of the morning after sleeping in the Haneda airport.

And with little to no sleep arrived in Hong Kong ready to take on the next destination. Exhausted, we found our hostel and decided to take a quick nap and go exploring later in the afternoon.

Hong Kong was a complete change from Tokyo. Instead of an endless urban sprawl, towers dominate the landscape, stacked side by side, rising up into the clouds. The city felt busy, with a sense of urgency, as people hurried to complete their daily errands. The city itself is situated around the busy Victoria Harbour, as ferries shuttle people from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island.

We happened to arrive in Hong Kong during the ongoing protests against the Chinese government. We were told to expect the worst, and figured since we were staying close to the affected areas we would be right in the middle of the chaos. We soon discovered that most of the initial protests had died down, and all that remained were signs and barricades that caused a giant traffic jam rather than a legitimate safety concern.

Hong Kong at Night
Hong Kong Skyline at Night as Seen From Victoria Peak
 
Having only a few days in Hong Kong we decided to stick to some of the main attractions that the city has to offer. We took the tram to Ngong Ping to see the giant Tian Tan Buddha, which proved to be absolutely stunning. Perched atop Lantau Island, its impressive size left us speechless and amazed. We took the ancient peak tram built under British rule to the top of Victoria Peak and took in the incredible views of the skyline, and witnessed the sunset and watched in awe as the city came to life before our eyes.
 
The Tian Tan Buddha as seen from the Po Lin Monastery
The Tian Tan Buddha as Seen From the Po Lin Monastery
 
We also went to Lan Kwai Fong to experience the vibrant nightlife and navigated the back alleys till the early morning hours.
 
We even took in Ocean Park, a large theme park on the south side of Hong Kong Island. From jaw-dropping roller coasters to a plethora of sea life we figured we had managed to see it all. After two full days we headed back to the hostel, exhausted, full and content with our visit. Our heads hit the pillow and we slept a solid 14 hours straight.
 
Riding the gondola at Ocean Park on Hong Kong Island
Riding the Gondola at Ocean Park on Hong Kong Island
 
We awoke Sunday morning to our final day in the city, and decided that a true Hong Kong experience is not complete without going for dim sum. After a little research we found a place called the "Lin Heung Tea House" located in the back of a bakery in Central, which is the key business district of Hong Kong, which is located on the northern shore of the city. We were ushered to a table at the back of the room and seated with two couples. Having been for dim sum only once before we didn't really know quite where to start.
 
An old man with a thin beard first handed us a piece of paper to keep track of what we ordered, a bowl of hot water, two bowls, and some tea and a pair of chopsticks. Bryan figured the water was for drinking so he dipped his bowl into the water and took a sip. He was quickly informed it was for washing the dishes not drinking-our first mistake. We were told in broken Cantonese to go get food at the cart in the center of the restaurant. A steaming cart full of different dishes was pushed to the center of the room every five minutes.

Unlike dim sum in Vancouver, where the cart comes to the table, here you go to the cart and fight for your meal. I went first and found myself in the middle of a food auction, as people screamed in Cantonese and waved their paper, waiting for the lady to stamp it and give them their selections. I made it out of the chaos with one of the last dishes, which looked like some sort of Chinese sausage roll. Five minutes later we braved the cart again, and came back with a BBQ pork bun and a chicken leg wrapped in a local herbal remedy that one of the couples informed us was good for our health.>

We soon learned one of the guys sitting at our table was also from Vancouver, and was now working in Hong Kong. He acted as our guide for the rest of the meal, and ordered us some rice and noodles to satisfy our appetites. We exchanged numbers and he volunteered to be our tour guide for the rest of our stay in Hong Kong.

Although we only had a short stay in Hong Kong, we managed to pack in a lot of sights and attractions.

The city is extremely fast paced, and busy, and it is easy to get lost on more than one occasion. It is filled with an energy that makes you feel alive and excited the entire time you're there. I think this is why so many travellers use it as a hub to begin or end their adventure. It truly is a gateway into Southeast Asia, and a great place to get your feet wet before you head further south.

Hong Kong skyline as seen from the ferry crossing Victoria Harbour
Hong Kong skyline as seen from the ferry crossing Victoria Harbour
 
Click next to continue to Part 6 of Colton's Asia Experience

Sham Sui Po

By Colton Powell

While eating dim sum on our last morning in Hong Kong we were seated with another fellow Vancouverite who now lived in city. First he showed us how "going for dim sum" actually works, so we stopped embarrassing ourselves and learned how to order. After a great morning meal bombarding him with questions about the area and the local customs, we agreed to meet later that night for dinner in Sam Sui Po on the Kowloon side of Hong Kong, close to where he lived.

We came out of the subway in the early evening to meet Vince, now our volunteer tour guide, and found ourselves in a new area of the city. There were no other tourists to seemingly be found, and the streets were filled with people everywhere. Vince arrived and told us that he knew of good place to grab some dinner before we headed down to the markets, so we followed him through the busy streets past vendors, hanging ducks and Chinese Medicine shops selling exotic remedies, eventually making it to a small alley.

Vince explained that a lot of street food in Hong Kong had become illegal due to health concerns, but this alley was one of the only remaining places in this part of the city. This was a comforting thought before we ate.

Hong Kong Street Food
From left to right: Colton, Vince, Bryan enjoying street food in Sham Sui Po
 
We found a table on the side of the alley next to what I'm pretty sure was a garbage truck, and sat in the same plastic chairs that my grandparents also owned. Vince ordered a variety of dishes as we took in the surrounding street. The small alley had only three other restaurants, which were all very busy, and we took this as a good sign. Like dim sum, we washed our dishes with the hot water brought to the table, and disposed of the now dirty water right onto the street.

The food arrived and it was delicious.

We had chicken, pork, oysters, fresh fish and more-the table was filled with food. We gorged ourselves while Vince explained about his time growing up in Vancouver and about his new job in Hong Kong. As we ate, a few cats wandered by every once in a while, presumably to see if they wanted what we were having. We ate until we could barely move from our chairs, and fed some of the leftovers to one of the local felines.

Hong Kong Street Food
Few of the dishes we had: Clams, Chinese broccoli and chicken
 
Vince told us we should still have room for dessert, which I didn't think was possible, until we arrived at a vendor selling a popular local street food called "bubble waffles"-basically waffle batter made with large air pockets that make them delicious, and all for about 50 cents. After one of the best meals of our trip so far we thanked Vince for the tour and headed home to prepare for our next leg of the trip to China!
 
Bubble Waffles Hong Kong
Bubble Waffles. One of Hong Kong's most delicious street food deserts
 
Click next to continue to Part 7 of Colton's Asia Experience

Guangzhou

By Colton Powell

The next stop on our trip brought us north from Hong Kong to the city of Guangzhou, in mainland China.

My cousin and his family have lived here for the past three years, and they acted as our guides for our stay. Coming to China, I did not really know what to expect. I imagined a rundown version of Hong Kong, with utter chaos and traffic everywhere. I was very wrong, and this city completely surprised me.

The best way to describe Guangzhou is that it's a futuristic city which acts as a model for China's rise as a global power. As far as the eye can see are skyscrapers taller than mountains that seem to go on forever. There are cranes everywhere, and the city seems to be in a constant state of construction. However, if you happen to have a local as your guide you can still find the remains of the old city that are teeming with street markets, selling anything you can dream of. For us, we were lucky enough to experience both sides of the city.

We explored one of the market areas hidden among the highrises. Here the buildings were crumbling, waiting to make way for more skyscrapers. We lost ourselves in the tight network of alleys, where people sold fresh fruit, meat and SIM cards.

Guangzhou as seen at night from the top of an apartment building roof
Guangzhou as seen at night from the top of an apartment building roof

The most popular stores seemed to be hair salons, as locals get the latest styles in ancient barber chairs. There was even a dentist, which just seemed a little out of place. We then traded in the heavy aroma of the alleys and headed to the electronics market in the center of downtown.

Back alley market selling fruit and coffee near downtown Guangzhou
Back alley market selling fruit and coffee near downtown Guangzhou
 
This market was six floors of every gizmo, gadget, phone, computer, TV that you could think of. There was endless booths of people building computers, tinkering with phones-you name it, you could find it here. I bought a small adapter for my computer that in Canada would have cost me $35-after a little bargaining I got it for around $2. It was a techies dreamland, and given more time and more space in my backpack I would have come home with a lot more.
 
After exploring the heart of the old city we traded up to experience new Guangzhou. First stop was lunch at the Four Seasons Hotel that is home to one of the highest hotel lobbies in the world-it's located on the 70th floor!
 
View from the top of the Four Seasons Hotel
View from the top of the Four Seasons Hotel
 
We put on our fanciest attire, which consisted of shorts and a T-shirt, and headed for some high-class dining. The view was staggering; you felt so high you could barely make out the people below. We gorged ourselves and finished off the day with a foot massage and pedicure. My size-15 feet were definitely a surprise for the masseuse and they kept fighting over who had to do mine.
 
Getting our first pedicure and foot massage
Getting our first pedicure and foot massage
 
That evening we couldn't really remember what backpacking was like and our previous hostel was a memory of the distant past. We decided that maybe the five-star life is the way to go… We finished off the rest of the trip by spending some quality time with my cousins, and were able to rest and relax before embarking on the next stop on our itinerary.

Click next to continue to Part 8 of Colton's Asia Experience


In the Eye of the Storm: Iloilo City, Philippines

By Colton Powell

When you travel around South East Asia you are always on the hunt for the best deal.

Whether it's bargaining in markets or picking the cheapest hostel, saving money is always on your mind. This means that flying budget airlines is a must. However, with budget airlines comes obscure flight times often in middle of the night.

The next stop on our trip has us headed to visit a friend Bryan and I had gone to University with who currently lives in Iloilo City, Philippines.

Given our choice of a cheap $100 flight we were scheduled to leave Hong Kong at 2:30 a.m. Departure times seem to be a guideline rather than set in stone so the plane was delayed until 3:30a.m.

Iloilo City, Philippines
Colton and Bryan head to the airport
 
We made the mistake of falling asleep in the airport only to be awoken by "Final Boarding Call for Iloilo."
 
We quickly gather our things and were the last ones on the plane. The plane was nearly empty and we both managed to get exit rows to ourselves. After takeoff we tried to get a some sleep as it was almost 4:00a.m.

We were abruptly jostled awake about an hour later as the turbulence began.

If there is one thing I have learned it is that flying during monsoon season is a not a fun time.

As we began our descent I don't really know how the plane stayed in the sky. With shaking, random drops and heavy turbulence we came through the thick clouds to land. As we came through the bottom of the clouds we were only about 500ft off the ground and swaying back and forth through the heavy winds.

Iloilo City, Philippines
The view outside the airplane window
 
The runway was in sight and we were moving all over the place then all of a sudden just as we were about to touch down the pilot gunned the plane and we took off back into the storm.
 
The turbulence got worse and faint whimpers could be heard from other passengers. I looked over to Bryan and he had a white knuckle grip on the armrest. Even though we had no idea if it was really that bad or if we were just exhausted we decided this was the end and we should prepare for the worst.

We said our blessings and decided what funeral arrangements our families would hopefully make. We circled in the rough skies for what seemed like hours which in reality was maybe ten minutes and made another approach to the runway.

My palms hadn't been this sweaty since square-dancing in high school.

I closed my eyes and held my breath as we swayed, rocked and got pushed around like clothes in a washing machine.

Our wheels finally touched the ground and the plane erupted in applause as we were finally safe.>

As we stepped out of the airport the wind could practically blow you over and it was still pouring rain. Most of the roads were flooded from the storm but it didn't seem to matter as long as we were alive and on the ground.

Flooded Iloilo City Philippines Colton Powell
The flooded streets of Iloilo city
 
I'm glad we have ten days here as getting on a plane is going to take some courage.
 
If there is one thing I have learned it is at least with budget airlines you don't get a budget pilot.

Click next to continue to Part 9 of Colton's Asia Experience


Boracay Philippines

By Colton Powell

Having spent the first two weeks of our trip in cities it was safe to say Bryan and I were ready to get our first taste of the beach.

We made it to the Philippines and have been staying with our good friend Sunny who is acting as our tour guide. Our first stop was Boracay, a small island located off the northern tip of Panay Island where we were staying.

We drove four hours from Iloilo City and hopped on a small boat to the island. Once across Sunny flagged down a Tricicad, the only form of transport on the island, and we crammed in. We whizzed down the tight streets finally making it to our hotel that was only a one-minute walk from the beach.

When you first walk onto the beach in Boracay you are lost for words.

I kept thinking this place couldn't exist, it's too beautiful. I had always wondered where those pristine white sand beaches' you see on the postcards were from, and now I know.

Boracay Philippines
On the boat heading to go snorkelling (left to right: Bryan, Colton, Sunny)
 
The beach is massive and it spans the entire length of the island. There are seadoos buzzing out on the waves, parasails in the sky and every shape and size getting their tan on.
 
Boracay Philippines
White Beach as seen from Station 1
 
If you can get past the view, look down because the sand is the best part. It is like soft icing sugar and its fine grains stick to every part of your body.
 
We only had one day on the island so decided to rent a boat and go snorkeling.

Sunny and her brother told us they would find the boat as they could get the best price. We watched for a good 20 minutes as they bargained with the boat driver arguing back and forth and trying everything to get a deal. From answering fake phone calls from other boat drivers quoting better prices, to walking away-they ended up getting us the sweet price of $7 CAD each for 3 hours that included a driver, a guide and snorkeling gear on our own private boat.

Sunny said we got ripped off and that it was normally cheaper.

As we climbed aboard our little skiff it looked like it had seen better days. It sounded like a loud motorcycle and looked like a small wave could sink us. They did have life jackets though so we felt safe enough.

Boracay Philippines
Our boat we rented for the day docked at our own private beach
 
We trolled around the island taking in the endless blue water and headed to the best spot for snorkeling. The water was warm and crystal clear and home to an abundance of fish. We took some bread with us and the fish would swarm and eat it right out of our hands.
 
Bryan had never been snorkeling before so he seemed to scare most of the fish away as he thrashed in the water trying to stay afloat.

We took a much needed rest in the middle of our own private bay when a man paddled over on a small boat filled with fresh coconuts. For 50 cents we each got one the size of a basketball. We downed the refreshing juice immediately in order to get to the delicious coconut flesh inside.

Boracay Philippines
Taking the ferry over to the island

Our driver took us to a few more pristine beaches as I sat, toes in the water at the front of the boat. We then headed back to the main beach and spent the rest of the afternoon skim boarding with some locals, relaxing and enjoying the view.

We capped off the night with a massage and climbed into bed exhausted from the sun, waves and snorkeling.

Boracay will go down as one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever been to. If you ever make it to this paradise make sure to stay more than one day and remember that if you pay $7 to rent a boat, it's considered expensive.

Click next to continue to Part 10 of Colton's Asia Experience


Mambukal: Hiking in a Monsoon

By Colton Powell

Before you set out on any adventure you should always have a bucket list of things you want to see or do along the way. For me waterfalls and cliff jumping was an item that needed to be crossed off.

We traveled by ferry to the city of Bacolod, Philippines to meet one of Sunny's friends and then headed off into the mountains.

We didn't have the best day for hiking, as it was still monsoon season and pouring rain. We figured we were from Vancouver, meaning we were born in the rain, and could handle anything.

We arrived at Mambukal, a mountain resort located about two hours from Bacolod. It is home to a trek that takes you to seven different waterfalls up the side of Mt. Kanlaon.

We made it to the base of the trail and were approached by two guides who wanted to show us the way. We decided the more the merrier and followed them to what they called "the shortcut" up the mountain.

Mambukal Philippines Hiking
Crossing the River
 
As we began the ascent up the muddy trail I quickly realized flip-flops weren't the best choice of hiking shoes.
 
The guides spoke some English and told us they wanted to practice so we chatted and learned more about the local area.

The trail twisted and winded up through tall trees, bush and went through several mountainside villages. The guides explained that the path we took was the only access to some of the villages. As we walked through, small children smiled and waved from their shelters. We meandered through rice fields and ran into cows, pigs and even a huge bull.

Mambukal Philippines Hiking
Waving to a local in one of the mountainside villages
 
We continued and crossed through a river up to our knees. Sunny had also made the mistake of choosing flip-flops as hiking shoes so one of the guides gave her his shoes.
 
We crossed a rickety bamboo bridge and made it to the first waterfall. It was huge and cascaded down into a pool that the guides told us we could swim in.

It felt like we had already been swimming from how hard it was raining so we jumped right in. The water was warm and the waterfall was so powerful that standing under it knocked you over.

Mambukal Philippines Hiking
The bamboo bridge across the river
Mambukal Philippines Hiking
Cliff Jumping at the fifth Waterfall
 
We continued on along the river to each of the waterfalls stopping at the fifth where you could jump off the cliffs into the canyon below. The guide explained the only sketchy part was the current was a little strong and the spot to climb back up was on the edge of another waterfall. He jumped first to show us the reins as we followed suit.
 
The path began to get steeper and steeper through the thick jungle that it was almost like a slide. We held onto whatever piece of foliage we could grasp and surfed our way down through the mud.

We finished the final waterfalls and made it back to the base as it began to rain even harder than before. I felt like a wet dog that wanted to shake all the water off.

Mambukal Philippines Hiking
The Hiking Crew
 
We thanked our guides and decided we had earned some lunch. Two items have been successfully crossed off the travel bucket list, now onto the next.

Click next to continue to Part 11 of Colton's Asia Experience


Uluwatu, Bali: Dancing with Fire

By Colton Powell

The next leg of our trip took us to one of Indonesia's most popular beach destinations. Bali is a surfer's touristy paradise, full of crazy nightlife, budget hostels and endless hawkers.

We opted to start our stay in Kuta, the main beach area of the city. Pretty quickly we realized that Bali is basically an Australian colony. You can't walk two feet without hearing a booming Australian accent calling off to one of their mates. Even the locals just assume you are from the land down under calling out in a chorus of "G'day Mate", "Transport Mate", "Surfboard Mate", in their own version of an Aussie accent.

We had five days to explore the island that we renamed Australian Hawaii and after some research decided to head down to southern tip.

There sits a temple called Uluwatu perched high above the water on the edge of steep cliffs. Unlike the rest of Indonesia, which has a predominantly Muslim population, in Bali around 90% of people practice Hinduism.

Uluwatu, Bali
The incredbile coastal view
 
Scattered everywhere around the island are beautiful statues and temples adorned with daily offerings and the sweet smell of incense.
 
We had heard about the beauty of Balinese temples and had yet to see a perfect sunset, so we set off in search of a ride.

Bali being a small island has one of two choices when it comes to transportation: risk life and limb by renting a motorbike or hire a driver so at least you have a little more protection around you. Finding a driver is as easy as approaching anyone on the main streets of Kuta, and before we knew we were on our way.

We made it to Uluwatu just as the sun was setting and donned our respectable temple attire that we purchased at the local market earlier that day. The area was incredible; the whole complex sat hundreds of feet on top of massive white cliffs that dropped off into the crashing waves below. The constant pounding of the powerful surf is the only thing that could be heard, other than the sound of a few local monkeys.

Uluwatu, Bali
Enjoying Indonesia's famous Bintang beer on Kuta Beach
 
Our driver acted as our guide and took as around the temple area showing us the best view points to snap a good picture. On one edge of the cliffs there is large open amphitheater that has nightly, traditional Balinese fire dance shows. We got our tickets and made our way into the stands taking in the incredible sights around us.

As the sun began to set, the show began.

Uluwatu, Bali

Thirty or so bare chested Balinese men swayed and chanted in rhythm as performers in elaborate costumes unfolded the story around us. The show consisted of a traditional Kecak dance that is a Balinese ritual based on the famous Hindu story of the Ramayana.

As the dance went on the sun dipped well below the horizon casting a soft red glow across the arena.

In the third act, small bundles of grass were placed on stage and lit on fire. Then one of the main characters dressed as the white monkey proceeded to kick the flaming balls around the amphitheater. They flew near the edge of the cliff igniting some of the shrubs and tall grass; another flew into the group of dancers and lit one of their robes on fire. No one seemed very concerned with the small fire that has started to burn so we just assumed this was all part of the fire code and a normal occurrence. The fire eventually burned out calming our nerves and the show ended with a beautiful dance and song.

We met our driver among the masses headed back to Kuta for a well-deserved rest. If you ever find yourself in Bali make sure explore beyond the main cities limits; you never know you may even get to see a bonfire!

Click next to continue to Part 12 of Colton's Asia Experience


Under the Sea: The Gili Islands

By Colton Powell

The Gili Islands are an archipelago situated off the island of Lombok in southern Indonesia. Only accessible by boat, they are a secluded oasis home to crystal clear waters and soft white sand beaches. The three small islands consist of the largest called Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and the smallest Gili Air.

Gili Trawangan is the main island and became our home for 4 days as the next stop on our trip.

The island itself is made up of endless dive shops and small resorts. There is no motorized transport on the island due to its small size so instead horses and carriages roam the island offering a faster alternative. We decided to make the half-day trek as the area has become a diving mecca due to the pristine reefs that surround the islands.

Having grown up in BC I got my dive certification when I was still in highschool and was excited to finally venture into much warmer water than found back home.

Gili Island Diving
Sunset from the beach on Gili T
 
Bryan on the other hand had just snorkeled for the first time recently in the Philippines but decided he was ready to take on the challenge and embarked on getting his dive certification while we were there. We chose a dive company and signed up to make our way below the surface.
 
Gili Island Diving
The rough seas making our way out to the dive site
 
The next morning we met our respective dive masters, donned tanks, and headed out to the boat. The boat looked like a outrigger canoe on steroids with an engine strapped to the back. It was decorated with manta rays to match the dive company name and could carry around 20 people comfortably.
 
We headed out into the open water to a reef nicknamed Shark Point as the water lapped at the side of the boat.
 
The wind picked up as we ventured from the protection of the island and waves began to crash over the bow filling the boat with water. By the time we reached the site we were soaked and it felt like I had already been diving.

We entered the water and at 29 celcius it felt like a bathtub. As we made our descent the reef below slowly began to come into focus. I was instantly lost in the colors and the sea of fish that maneuvered and darted quickly through the maze of coral.

Gili Island Diving
Bryan (left) and Colton (right) on descent
 
We made our way through the reef spotting giant sea turtles, large bat fish, yellow and black angelfish and the rainbow coloured parrot fish. Under a large rock we discovered three large white tip reef sharks and a small baby shark taking a mid morning rest. We continued on as a group of spotted rays followed us, intrigued by the multitude of bubbles surrounding our heads.
 
The water was so clear your could see for hundreds of feet around you.

I was so excited by the sensory overload of the reef that I quickly chewed through my air and after a short 35 minutes it was time to return to the surface.

Gili Island Diving
We found two white tipped reef sharks hiding
 
Over the next three days I was able to dive another 4 times and saw the most sea life I have ever witnessed. I even got to see two small seahorses and a weird looking frog fish (look it up) I'm still confused on how they exist.
 
We headed back to the mainland with a new appreciation for seafood, refreshed, relaxed and ready to tackle the next stop on our adventure.

Click next to continue to Part 13 of Colton's Asia Experience


Monkey Forest: Ubud Bali

By Colton Powell

The phrase goes monkey see monkey do, but after visiting the monkey forest deep in the heart of Bali, I think that I could be on board with doing what the monkeys do.

About two hours by car north from Kuta, lies a small community nestled on the large volcano that makes up the island.

The town Ubud, recently made famous from the popular book Eat, Pray, Love is a farming and artisan community that has become a mandatory stop on every traveler's Indonesian itinerary.

We had heard beyond the tight streets, eccentric markets and countless art galleries lies the Ubud Monkey Forest. I challenge you to pronounce the actual name: The Padangtegal Mandala Wisata Wanara Wana Sacred Monkey Sanctuary is a nature reserve and temple complex that is home to over 600 resident monkeys.

Monkey Forest of Ubud Bali
A young monkey chews on a fresh banana
 
The forest spans just under 30 acres and is a lush jungle located at the towns edge. The forest is one of the main attractions in Ubud and is great place to escape the hot Bali sun under the thick forest canopy.
 
Monkey Forest of Ubud Bali
A father and baby monkey have a staredown
 
We headed into the sanctuary and were greeted by vendors selling the favourite delicacy among most monkeys; bananas. We opted to to not buy any of the yellow fruit as it seemed that anyone that had them became and instant target to the nearby monkey.
 
Bryan and I didn't know weather to be intrigued or scared of them.

No matter where you looked there were monkeys everywhere. Swinging from trees, wrestling for bananas even baby monkeys catching a piggyback ride on their parents back.

Monkey Forest of Ubud Bali
Lunch time in the Monkey Forest. Beyond bananas they love cucumbers and yams
 
As we made our way through the forest more and more monkeys came out to greet us and to see if we had any bananas for them. I finally figured out why what made Curious George so curious was he was always on the search for bananas. Some other tourists would try and pet the monkeys and receive a quick bite or scratch in return.
 
I gave one monkey a solid stare down and once we made eye contact he chased me and I gave a quick yelp and ran for my life.

Having never really been around monkeys before, their every move was unpredictable and we never knew what to expect. One of the sanctuary's handlers explained that they are quite tame and that if you place a banana on you head they will climb up to get it. We watched a young girl let out a loud shrill as two sizeable monkeys climbed her just like a tree to get to the banana prize that waited atop her head.

Monkey Forest of Ubud Bali
A resident monkey climbs a unsuspecting tourist to try and get a banana
 
We spent over an hour wandering through the trees in awe at how many monkeys there were. They would roam around in small packs and they came in every shape and size. We left the forest with a better understanding of our human lineage and realized that I'm not the only one who really likes bananas!
 
Monkey Forest of Ubud Bali
Trying to make some new friends
 
Click next to continue to Part 14 of Colton's Asia Experience

Koh Phi Phi

By Colton Powell

The next stop on our trip took us to Thailand.

Thailand is on the list of almost every South East Asia backpacker and is home to some of the most famous spots for the young traveller to explore.

We started off in Phuket to get grounded in Thai culture and then headed off to the island of Koh Phi Phi located just off the coast of Thailand in the blue waters of the Andaman Sea.

Having done very little research about Koh Phi Phi (KPP) I had no idea what to expect. The only knowledge I had was I knew it had been hit very hard by the tsunami in 2004.

We arrived via a large tour boat that brought us to the main dock on the island. We found our guesthouse and made our way down to the beach. We only had one day on the island and decided to rent kayaks to explore the bay. We bartered with the kayak man and headed out on the water.

Koi Phi Phi Thailand
View of Koh Phi Phi from the lookout
 
The water at Gili Islands had felt extremely warm, but in KPP it was on a entirely different level. It felt like a hot tub and wasn't even refreshing.
 
You probably can't believe I'm complaining right now, but when it's 37˙C out you need something to cool you down!

We paddled out further from shore and quickly realized how stuffing our faces with food mixed with small amounts of exercise caused us to tire very easily.

Koi Phi Phi Kayaking
Kayaking and exploring the bay
 
The islands around KPP are made up of large limestones seamounts that tower out of the water all around you. They are covered with jagged edges and shrubbery grows all along the side. We meandered amongst the giant rocks that towered above us in total isolation out at sea. It was calm and quiet and we both laid our heads back for a quick nap.
 
Well rested we returned to shore as darkness began to fall.
 
We had heard from a local that there was a lookout that gave an incredible view of the island. We donned our shoes and headed up the mountain. Again our fatigue from a long day of paddling came back to haunt us, as we sweat every ounce of water from our bodies.
 
Koi Phi Phi Thailand View
The hike up to the lookout
 
Asia can be extremely hot and humid and over the course of our trip this was by far the warmest my body had ever run. To our relief we reached the top and everyone around us seemed to be feeling our pain. Every shirt was soaked from their determination to make it to the top.
 
As we gulped down our water I took my first look at the view and was lost for words.

KPP has one of the most beautiful vistas I have ever seen and will go down in my top five sunsets. It is hard to fully comprehend what the town looks like until you see it from above. The only way to describe it would be paradise. Once we managed to close our gaping jaws we made our way back down to the town, found a small shop and rewarded our hard work with a heaping plate of Pad Thai.

Koi Phi Phi Best View Thailand
The view from the top feeling sweaty after a long hike
 
Click next to continue to Part 15 of Colton's Asia Experience

Koh Tao

By Colton Powell
 
When you find yourself in Thailand, a large majority of your trip seems to take you island-hopping. After Koh Phi Phi we headed to Koh Samui in the Gulf of Thailand for a couple days of rest and relaxation. We quickly learned that it is very hard to relax while battling food poisoning. Note to all travellers: Don’t eat a sandwich from a bus station.
 
From there it was on to the famed Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan which, needless to say, was quite the adventure. We decided it was time to adopt a slower pace, so we jumped aboard a boat and set sail for the island of Koh Tao.
 

Koh Tao is known to be one of Thailand's best dive sites and is home to clear waters and an abundance of marine life.

 
We spent the first couple days diving, but recent monsoon rains had spoiled the water’s visibility leaving us searching for any life in the murky green depths. After two days of getting up at 5:30 a.m. and battling torrential rains on the dive boat we decided that this was a vacation after all, and some much needed beach time was in order.
 
Colton Powell Koh Tao 3
Koh Tao as seen from the dive boat
 
We grabbed a map and decided to make our way to Sai Nuan Beach, located along the coast about an hour's trek from where we were staying in the main town along Sairee Beach. We found the path and began by heading into thick woods. The path was perched along the edge of the ocean, twisting and turning through a variety of beach bungalow resorts that were only accessible by longtail boat from the main harbour. We walked through groves of palm trees and thick bushes in the hot afternoon sun until we finally reached the beach. 
 
Colton Powell Koh Tao 1
Hiking along the path to get to Sai Nuan Beach
 

To our surprise it was completely empty except for a few stray dogs that greeted us as we made our way onto the sand. Somehow we had managed to find a secluded beach, a place we could truly relax. Hot from the hike we immediately jumped in the water and lounged as the warm ocean surrounded us and the waves lapped at our toes. 

Colton Powell Koh Tao 2
The view from Sai Nuan Beach
 

Reinvigorared we ventured out onto the rocky outcrop at the edge of the small bay and lazed until the sun baked our skin. As the sun began to set we found a swing hanging from one of the tall palm trees. We relived our childhoods and took turns swaying over the beach below as the sun sunk below the horizon. 

Colton Powell Koh Tao 5
Swinging as the sun sets on another beautiful day in Koh Tao
 

A few visitors arrived by boat and disappeared into the bungalows nested in the woods behind the beach. Refreshed, relaxed and definitely sunburned, we made the journey back to our hostel, amazed that we managed to find our own private beach.

Colton Powell Koh Tao 4
A longtail boat arrives with passengers for bungalows hidden in the forest behind the beach

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