Tag: travel talk

How to be an ethical traveller – it’s easy peasy

How to be an ethical traveller – it’s easy peasy

How to be an ethical traveller is simple and your ethical choices will make a difference to the people you meet

  • don’t slavishly follow a guidebook – when you do that you will just end up in crowded places.  Do research on any sort of tour you are going on; are they a green company?do they invest back into the community
  • Learn something about the place you go to –  respecting how they act is not the same as agreeing with it – be culturally sensitive, don’t make judgements, be willing to and of learn dress appropriately for where you are
  • buy from locals and eat street food,
  • stay in locally owned accommodation places –   take shorter showers – hang up your towels for reuse.  Don’t waste electricity
  • use local transport when possible – one person in the car is not eco-friendly so always share
  • dispose of your own rubbish correctly – you can even pick up someone else’s rubbish!
  • watch animals in the wild – don’t disturb them – keep your distance – don’t touch or feed them – don’t use flash photography – don’t pose for photos with captured animals – most of which have been beaten into submission
  • minimise your carbon footprint
  • carry your own water bottle and food container
  • refuse straws
  • travel is not a competition – we are not impressed with the number of countries you have visited
Green Viper (Borneo)

Here is an essay I wrote before about ethical travel:

Not everyone can travel. Living in New Zealand means we have a better chance than many. We have a far higher percentage rate of people with passports than, say, Americans, for example.  There are also many countries in the world where people will never have a passport  – and of course, poor countries are much more likely to be visited than to produce travellers.

I’m a travelophile. When I travel I feel good and being a traveller who writes means I get to visit where I want to go to and not need to go the flavour of the month so can be in places that are not on the tourist trail. I get to be a cultural tourist in that I stay longer in places and get to know people; absorb the local flavour.

This means that although I don’t often sign up for an eco-tour, I practise many of the principles of ecotourism. But what is ecotourism?

My understanding of the word and the concepts behind it are, very briefly, that’s it an activity that has the least impact while providing the greatest benefits.

Independent travellers are the ones most likely (but not always) be the closest to being real eco-travellers. They leave much of their travel money in the country – those who travel on tours often have paid for their whole trip before they leave home  – giving very little to the country they are travelling in but adding huge costs to the locals – in water, sewerage, rubbish, roads.

Unfortunately, tourist money is often creamed the off a country in diving lessons given by Europeans who come in for the tourist season then leave, taking the money with them, or multinational hotels who don’t even pay tax in a country.

Because of the lack of a robust infrastructure, the rubbish – the very trash that travellers complain about – is bought to the island by them: water bottles are not refilled, plastic bags abound.

I’m reminded of Lake Louise in Banff, Canada, where I too was a body disgorged from a bus to see the great views. I have proof that I was there – a photo of me sitting with the lake and mountains as the backdrop – it looks idyllic. However, I know that alongside me, waiting for their turn to have the moment recorded, is another busload of chattering travellers.

The problems of being poured into the tourist funnel will continue if we rely on unimaginative travel agents (and of course not all are) and the forceful marketing of those who have invested in areas. While it is more economical for planes and hotels to have us arrive together and stay in the same places it also creates problems for them – not the least is the strong chance of killing the goose that lays the golden egg such as the warning in the child’s story.

This is not a new problem. Read books written years ago and the same complaints are made. Tell others you are going to Bali (or Timbuktu) and immediately you will be told “you should have gone there ten (2, 5, 50 years ago,) before it was discovered.”

Combining the universal codes of ‘pack it in pack it out’ and ‘take only photos, leave only footprints’ along with getting off the well-worn tourist trails means I’ll be able to enjoy my travels with a clearer conscience.

Independent solo traveller’s, or backpackers may be the closest to being real eco-travellers. They leave much of their travel money in the country– those who travel on tours often have paid for their whole trip before they leave home – giving very little to the country they are travelling in but adding huge costs – in water, sewerage, rubbish, roads.

Worldwide many places say they are providing an ecotourism experience but is that really so? It seems that as long as it has a natural part many claim it to be eco-friendly. That has not always been my experience.

Life on a marine reserve sounds wonderful right? A great eco experience? Yes, the natural sights ( and sites!) and walks are fantastic; money spent on food and accommodation does stay with the locals providing it. Unfortunately, the big money is creamed the off the islands in diving lessons given by Europeans who come in for the tourist season then leave, taking the money with them. Because of the lack of a robust infrastructure, the rubbish – that travellers complain about – is bought to the island by them: water bottles are not refilled, plastic bags abound.

We think of New Zealand – and market the country – as a clean green destination but pollution is not just rubbish on the ground. Have we (or travel agents) have sold the visitor a too narrow view of places to visit; given them a list of sites they’ must see’, activities they should take part in? This produces problems such as Milford Sound could have – buses arriving in droves, disgorging visitors (and fumes from the buses) to see wonderful pristine sights. An oxymoron? This of course is not only a New Zealand problem.

The slogan 100% pure New Zealand was created as an advertising slogan with no reference at all to being clean and green  – what it was talking about in those early days was that we would give visitors a 100% New Zealand experience  –  so pure New Zealand, not a copy of other places.

Sadly, a generation or two later, that has been forgotten, and people often think it means we’re 100% clean and green.

It doesn’t, and we aren’t, but we’re working on it.

Please help us give you a one hundred percent pure Kiwi hospitality and please, please, use our toilets and rubbish containers – do not leave such stuff on the side of the road, or in our bush.

 

 

 

Put Oman on your bucket-list

Put Oman on your bucket-list

‘Oman is one of the cleanest and most beautiful countries in the world’ a local business man tells. He put it down to the thousand street cleaners, in their green uniforms,’who work daily from 6 AM to 11 AM and then again from 3 to 530′. I agree, it needs to be on your bucket-list.

The Sultanate of Oman, the third largest country of the Arabian peninsula is certainly beautiful: with low rise buildings which must be painted white or cream. And, unlike its neighbour Dubai, this country has not traded its heritage for shopping malls, high-rise hotels, and imported workers.

In this delightful country it was easy to meet locals and today’s photos are from the fish market Muscat, the country’s capital.

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Thaipusam .. piercing – on Penang Island, Malaysia

. . .  “Two weeks later I’m on Penang Island, named after the betel nut so loved by many older men and women: all recognisable by their stained teeth and frequent spitting. It’s early in the morning: very early. Standing in the dawn light, at the colourful temple I’m unsure if I should go in. A few other tourists are also standing around, talking in low whispers, cameras around their necks.

It’s Thaipusam; a day of consecration to the Hindu deity Lord Murugen who is confusingly also called Lord Subramanian. Hindus who have made a vow to him carry frames decorated with coloured paper and flowers, fresh fruit and milk. When these tributes are placed at the feet of the deity, their penance or gratitude is accepted. Some 2000 people will carry the kavadi or silver milk containers, the 12 kilometres to the Natlukotai Temple in Waterfall Road, Penang Island on this annual pilgrimage.

Continue reading “Thaipusam .. piercing – on Penang Island, Malaysia”

From the plains to mountains: Arthur’s Pass National Park. New Zealand

Arthur’s Pass has always been special for me. As a child our family would have day trips to the area for tobogganing. We also would do an annual steam train trip, and then at high school, (Linwood High, Christchurch)  had a holiday house where we would have week-long trips for skiing. (unsuccessful lessons in my case )

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And now I travel there again. It takes less than three hours to travel from plains to mountains; ocean to snow-fed rivers; city to village; from the current time to the ancient forests of Gondwanaland. (The Jurassic period super-continent from which New Zealand separated some 85 million years ago.)

Unlike the pre-European Māori who walked, or the settlers in Cobb and Co. coaches, I travelled by the TranzAlpine train to Arthur’s Pass.  (Leaves Christchurch daily for Greymouth on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island.)

Sharing the carriage were tourists from many parts of the world.  It seems some were ready to test their stamina and muscles in the Arthur’s Pass National Park, while a family group was day-tripping, with five hours to explore the village, and me? I was just looking for some rest and recreation including revisiting the popular walks near the village – The Devil’s Punchbowl and the Bridal Veil Falls.

The Devil’s Punchbowl waterfall with its impressive 131-metre drop is an easy one-hour return journey through stands of majestic white-limbed mountain beech trees. As you approach the waterfall, clouds of spray rise like mist, just as one might imagine the devil’s steaming cauldron does.

The other easy, yet even more beautiful walk, takes you to the Bridal Veil Falls. Although the falls are viewed from a distance, the walk itself is wonderful. Colours abound; crisp greys to soft emerald, or lime greens nestle alongside bright reds and orange. Numerous native ferns, lichens, trees, and shrubs seem to invite one to stop, admire, and record their beauty, while the piwakawaka (fantail) that go with me are an absolute joy.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAll through the village, population 55, and surrounding areas, are the sounds of birds. Bellbirds with their dulcet tones are so different to the cheeky, intelligent kea with its loud calls as it glides loftily above all, displaying its orange under-wing plumage to us. The occasional gull calls from overhead too, reminding me what a narrow land New Zealand is.

Walking beside beech trees it is easy to believe that the forests of Gondwanaland looked just like these South Island beech forests. Fossils of beech found in Antarctica and descendants that survive in Chile, Australia and Papua New Guinea support this theory.

 

I love our beech trees!

Brothers Arthur and Edward Dobson rediscovered the pass in 1864. Māori had used it as an east-west route to collect or trade Pounamu, the greenstone from which the south island is named, Te Wai Pounamu. The brothers named it Bealey Flat and finding the route made it easier to travel from coast to coast.

Some sixty years later travel became even easier with the railway and Otira tunnel, signalling the end of the coach era. Tunnellers huts, from early 1900’s, remain in the village linking past to the present. Originally unlined, austere dwellings, they were sold on the tunnel’s completion in 1923.

Some of the pioneering characters of Arthur’s Pass who bought these cottages includes the family of Guy and Grace Butler. One of New Zealand’s foremost landscape artists, Grace has works hanging in many places including the Robert McDougall Art Gallery in Christchurch. Along with Guy who, according to his granddaughter Jennifer Barrer “gave up his legal practice to carry his wife’s easel,” Grace ran what was the first hostel in the village. Now called the Outdoor Education Centre, its front lawn was the site of the first skiing in the area!

Arthur’s Pass National Park, created 1901, has 114,357 hectares within its boundaries and both tourists and locals appreciate its variety of tramps and some 28 public huts. If you plan to stay in some of the remote huts, tickets, or an annual hut pass, must be purchased from the Department of Conservation before your trip.

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NOTE: on any walk in New Zealand mountains or bush: fill out an Intentions Card. Leave it at the local DOC office; don’t travel alone, take extra food and everything you need to make sure you’re safe . . . our NZ weather  has dramatic changes extremely quickly. This is because we are a little country in the middle of a huge ocean and most travellers are not used to such conditions and this results in deaths . . . don’t let the next one be you!  

Other activities in Arthur’s Pass include skiing at Temple Basin, while the village itself is a good base for exploring Cave Stream Scenic Reserve with its 362-metre cave and interesting limestone outcrops.

Accommodation ranges from backpacker hostels to motels, holiday homes, or bed and breakfast. Food covers the same budget to moderate price range. (See your local visitors’ information centre for details)

the endangered red mistletoes bloom whenever the possums have been culled
the endangered red mistletoe blooms when the possums have been culled

 

If you want ski-fields and terrific tramps (the kiwi word for hiking!) or just a place to chill with your holiday reading, Arthur’s Pass needs to be added to your holiday destination list – make sure you post a letter form here!

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The dangers of travel

Once again I see the dangers of travel. Not the rare physical danger of airline or vehicle crashes; not the occasional danger of being robbed or becoming sick, but the every-day common danger of your heart getting to know people and places. People we would not usually met. Then each week, hearing of train accidents, deaths in the Middle East, and riots in India, earthquakes or floods somewhere I’m conscious of that emotional danger.

Geography was always of more interest than history at school. One could have a stab at answering questions if I knew a couple of other facts. Distance from the equator could give clues to temperatures or climate. Mountains, plains, rivers all added up to some understanding of a place that dates and historical facts didn’t – well for me anyway.

Now travel gives me a different perspective to places. Geography remains important, history and religion helps to understand people and combined with travel experience, they give me a sense of, not exactly ownership or belonging, but something like kinship, I’m attached, I leave a bit of me in every place and take some of them with me

This feeling of oneness is particularly acute at times of high emotions; small countries meet a goal; someone overcomes an obstacle; a national team wins; and in particular, really acute in times of national pain or pride. I watch TV, or listen to the radio, tears or pain or pride well up in my eyes too.

My first real experience of this came after I’d been to Ireland and then shortly afterwards ‘the troubles’ flared up again. I was devastated that the wonderful little city of Londonderry (or Derry, depending on the history or map consulted) was yet again the centre of violence. Streets I’d walked down were now dangerous. That people I had maybe spoken to or walked past were now dead or injured had me crying in front of the TV.

Turkey and Greece had earthquakes, people in Israel and Palestine were killing each other, years ago London had rubbish bins removed from the street for fear of terrorism, New York and the New Yorkers I loved were traumatised, monsoon floods in Asia, and Egypt, a fabulous country with generous people, is grief-stricken with deaths after buildings collapsed and Indian pilgrims die during a festival.

Whatever the cause, when I think of the diverse people I’ve come to know, love, empathise with, or judge, when I see their pain I feel helpless. After all, what can we do to ease the pain – nothing. The one thing that would help – having loved ones live again – is way beyond anything we can ever do.

However maybe travel-writing that gives the texture, flavour and smells of a place helps bridge that gap between us and them. After all scenery and monuments are the same on everyone’s photos. It’s our experiences that offer the difference.

Travelling, or reading about travelling, help us realise people are not like those presented in the headlines of our papers or in the sound-bites of radio or television. Young or old, male, female, Christian, Pagan, Muslin, or freethinker as a Japanese friend describes herself, we’re all part of the human family and when a family member is in pain we feel it.

99.9999999% of the people I’ve met are kind and caring, helpful and generous, and of no danger to me – or you.

No shark-fin soup in this five star hotel!

After 11 hours and some 9 thousand kilometres I arrive in Kuala Lumpur, (KL) Malaysia. An express rail link runs from the KLIA airport(s) to KL SENTRAL and for the first time I take it: arriving in the city more ecologically, and faster, than a taxi.  From Sentral I caught the monorail for the last 6 mins to the hotel. The punctual rail system runs to and from the airport every 20 minutes.

My destination was Times Square, well the hotel Berjaya Times Square to be exact: the hotel was hosting me for a night while I took a bike trip in Malaysia’s capital and checked out a couple of other ‘things to do’.

View of the 15th floor pool from my room
View of the 15th floor pool from my west tower room

In the heart of the city, the twin tower building is ideally placed in the entertainment and shopping district of this city. Playing on the ‘times square’ location it embraces the New York theme with Central Park being located on the 15th floor (pool, children’s playground, fitness centre, squash courts, sauna and steam room).

Central Park links the two towers and has great views of the city including the impressive Petronas Twin Towers and is a great place to relax … not that I had much time to enjoy relaxing by the gazebo! However, I did relax with a wonderful relaxing massage on the same level and can recommend the ‘wellness centre’ – Bunga Raya Spa – to rejuvenate your mind and body. I had their signature massage, which the masseuse said combines old traditions with modern elements. It used kneading strokes focusing on muscles and pressure points.

Some facts about this 5-star hotel: 650 rooms and suites with all the usual comforts to be expected at such a hotel.  It’s worth noting they are also well set up for conventions of many sizes too with the Manhattan Ballroom holding 2000. (See their website, above, for more information about convention or conference facilities). As a travel writer I particularly valued the free Wi-Fi to update Facebook and Instagram as I don’t blog while travelling – too busy experiencing.  After many hours in the air, relaxing in the full-size bath was wonderful too. (I recommend either KL, or Malaysian Borneo, as great stopovers on long-haul flights.)

Food-wise they cater to all tastes (American, Western, and Asian) and when I met with staff in the Broadway Lounge for a briefing then tour through the hotel, I tried their signature drink: Berjaya Kool. This was a refreshing drink of rose syrup, lemon grass, sugar syrup and sour red plum. The glass was rimmed with a granulated powder that I recognised but couldn’t place … it was the sour red plum and I just loved it. Try it!

Berjaya Kool
Berjaya Kool

I ate in three of the hotel’s restaurants: fine dining in Samplings on the Fourteenth, local and western food for lunch and breakfast in The Big Apple, and breakfast in a smaller restaurant which I believe was just for people on the club floor where my room was.  All were impeccable.

As well as their excellent amenities, another bonus is that the hotel’s attached to 900-retail shops in the Berjaya Times Square Shopping (BTS) Mall –which is also home to movie theatres, bowling alley, and for adrenaline junkies, 14 rides at the BTS Theme Park. As I’m a wimp of the first order, and rides with names like Space Attack, Dizzy Izzy, and the Haunted Chamber,  I did not ride any of them! If you have, or do, please leave comments below so others know what they’re like.

One of the many things I liked about the Berjaya were  cards I saw that said (in part) that they will not serve shark-fin soup in their restaurants, a company wide policy made some years ago. It also says “Because sharks are at the top of the marine food web they serve a vital purpose to maintain the precious balance of species in the sea.”

By-the-way: I enjoyed my hosted stay at Berjaya so much I paid for, and stayed, another night – sort of says it all doesn’t it!

Check out some of the food options – and their award-wining Thai Chef, one of  their many specialist chefs.

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A night and whisky with the Borneo Headhunters

A frisson of fear runs through me as I step into the canoe on the man-made lake as I leave for a night with the Borneo Headhunters – the Iban tribe in their Nanga Mengka longhouse.

Ironically, it’s a man-made lake, Batang Ai, created for power generation, that I’m travelling on to stay with a displaced tribe whose region was drowned and who now have generator power for about 3 hours each evening.  Dry season means the lake is low with dead trees poking above the water and the banks showing the usual level. Our boat has very little freeway and it feels as if it could easily tip over and I have fears for my camera!

my boat arrives
my boat arrives
drowned trees and farms
drowned trees and farms

The boat is full with supplies and we too have bought many vegetables and meat for our hosts. I also have bought my gifts for the 37 families.  Using a recommendation from my guide I have 37 kilo bags of salt, one of the essential commodities they need to buy, and 80 lollipops, along with some colourful kiwi-pens, from New Zealand, for the children of the 37 homes within this longhouse.

Our boatman nearly slips as he climbs the steep bank to get up to the homes on stilts.  We pass a carved wooden figure that guards the complex and I’m soon introduced to the family I’m staying with. They have turns as being the host family and I’m staying with the 73-year old chief – a role he’s held for 30 years.  Although it’s a hereditary role, if his son does not want it, an election will be held among the men.

we arrive at the longhouse
we arrive at the longhouse
We approach the longhouse
We approach the longhouse

 

 

 

The human heads that this tribe had acquired over many generations of head-hunting were buried within their old longhouse when their valley was flooded: there are none in this new home.  Interestingly they still build canoes for the lake in the same way as they used on the river and I watched as they were adzing a new one that had been ordered, one of their ways of earning cash. It usually takes about 4 weeks working full-time but this time many men and women are occupied with it to get cash for the longhouse.

 

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With our language differences, it’s not easy to communicate with this extended family and I had dreaded the welcome and the accompanying drink. They make a wine and then distil it to make a 20% proof ‘whisky’. As I am allergic to all alcohol I had learnt the word pantang which means forbidden, a term they will respect without me seeming rude in refusing it. I had also told my guide and think he had forewarned them and it was not a problem.

home-made whisky
home-made whisky

The only problem was me trying to emulate the dance they welcomed me with. I felt, and no doubt looked like, a clumsy elephant among the graceful hornbills they were dancing as. Only about half of the families joined in the welcome which finished when the whisky’ bottle was empty.

a celebration meal is prepared with the food we bought
a celebration meal is prepared with the food we bought

 

My bed, in the long communal corridor room that the ‘doors’ lead off, is a blow-up mattress and I cut my liquids in the hopes I don’t have to go to the toilet in the night – it didn’t work and I hear the roosters at 3, 4, 5, and 6am. I know the time as they have three chiming clocks: one is stuck at 6.29 but the pendulum is still rotating left them right.  The other two are about 30 seconds out of sync with each other so 2am produces 4 chimes and 6am, 12!

My bed in the communal area .. opposite the Chiefs dood
My bed in the communal area .. opposite the Chiefs door

Another noise I heard from 9pm until 5am is a very regular noise, rather like a cicada. It chirped every 60 seconds or so, and in the morning I ask Wayne, my guide, who is also Iban so can translate for me.  The longhouse is in a fuss about it. Seems the same noise had been  heard a few nights earlier and some of the men had gone outside to find and find it. Nothing was found and they were left wondering, was it a ‘bird, a frog, cicada’ or the top choice, ‘a spirit-bird’?

IMG_4296Morning saw me successfully having a lesson with the blow pipe and manage to hit the target each time and then we went for a BBQ picnic lunch of traditional foods  at one of their local farms.

I do hope they get enough money hosting people as it seems some of the families don’t really want to engage with visitors and being the only one made it hard for me too.  On the noticeboard I see this is their peak month for visitors, I’m the only overnight guest, with 38 day-trippers during this July.

Leaving the longhouse, on a Sunday, I’m asked if we can take three children back for their schooling where they stay Sunday to Friday. Of course I willingly agree to that – it means the transport for them and a few mothers is free, the fuel being paid for by my trip and I suspect this may be of most value to them all. Earlier in the morning others had left, leaving behind crying younger siblings and a couple crying themselves.

As I’m dropped off at the Hilton as they go on to main jetty, my guide tells me ‘Heather your trip has helped a lot of people today.’  Maybe, but it feels obscene to be going from poverty to luxury. From the locals tiny global footprint to the guests here, like me, with a huge print on the earth.

This experience reminded me of  the hard work behind survival in remote places and how it depends on a strong sense of community and self-sufficiency  but it’s now a community  quite dependent on tourism – and children who send money back from their city jobs.  As with all traditions worldwide many of these will die out too despite the help to try to keep them alive. We also cannot expect people to stay living in poor conditions while all around them, and the tourists, have hot water, power and a far easier life

Foodie heaven – it seems all Malaysians are foodies

Foodie heaven – it seems all Malaysians are foodies

All Malaysians are foodies. Ask a local where to get the best rojak or Sarawak Laksa and they will tell you. Ask  what is the best dish in this resaturant or food stall? Once again they will immediately answer you, or have an animated conversation with others at the table as they try to reach a consensus about ‘the best’.

Sarawak makes if very clear as to the grade each café or restaurant has with large A. B. or C letters on green, orange or red!  A bus driver taking a group of media people ( here for the annual Rainforest World Music Festival )around the city suggested we visitors would be better to eat at places with  A and B’s – however, I ate at all and had no tummy problems in my 8 weeks in the region.

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Food markets are always interesting
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Kek lapis .. the amazing, and famous, Sarawak layer cake – a blog about these will follow in a week or so!
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Sunday market, Kuching
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Biscuit making .. demo at the Cultural Village (Damai Beach)
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part of the Kuching Sunday Market

 

red, orange or green?
red, orange or green?
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We are introduced to the fabulous Sarawak Laksa .. the great Borneo breakfast! (I forget what the yummy sour green drink was called)

Returning to Kuching, the capital of Sarawak,  after staying at an Iban longhouse  (on the beautiful Batang Ai lake)  on the my driver tells me  ‘Go to stall number 25 at Topspot. That’s the one I always go to and I always have the wonderful  omelette with oysters.”

A local radio station reporter introduces me to ‘the best laksa in China Street.’  We walk under  Harmony Arch on Jalan Carpenter where, directly opposite the Sang Ti Miao temple, is an unpretentious but very busy  Chinese hawker food hall. She is right! The laksa served there was wonderful and for the rest of my 8 weeks in East Malaysia it became the standard I used to compare various dishes of Sarawak Laksa. 

For recipes about the great dish see these web pages – both here and again here.  I will be interested to see what the Facebook group,  Kuching food critics,  and  Malaysian friends,  have to say about the recipes.

I have heard Sarawak Laksa being referred to as the “great Borneo breakfast” as that’s when this noddle dish with it’s spicy and sour shrimp paste and coconut gravy, is served – unlike in Singapore or peninsula Malaysia ( or New Zealand!) where it’s usually  a lunch or evening meal!

On my last days in Kuching its time for the annual, 3-week, Kuching Festival Fair, where many concerts and exhibitions are held, it seems the food fair  -with some 220 food and or drink stalls – is the main attraction. There for the first night,  it was good to watch the fireworks as they exploded nosily, and colourfully above us.

With a city of foodies, the Sunday market, Medan Niaga Satok,  is a must-visit for locals and travelers alike.  Many of the stalls are open every day, so just hop into a taxi and say “Sunday market’  on any day of the week and your driver will take you straight there!

How much of your travel dollar do you leave behind?

How much of your travel dollar do you leave behind? Do you leave any for this woman or her relatives? Or is it all going to to multi-national companies?

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I recently read something by Chris Ball that said “When you travel to less developed countries, you might think that just by being there you’re helping provide a better quality of life for the locals. You’d be wrong. Just $5 of every $100 you spend stays local.” I have often heard those figures but could not find his reference.

As he says, “Tourism is one of the most powerful change agents on Earth.  And, “We as consumers must vote with our wallets and support local people with local businesses.” I totally agree and contacted him – he is the Adventure Honey founder and CEO Chris Ball said that in addition to supporting local travel operators, 25% of Adventure Honey’s proceeds are invested into their ‘Changemaker Program.’

“Our site is designed for independent adventure travellers who want to find not only the coolest things to do in the world, but also ensure their travel has a positive local impact – that the locals truly benefit from their adventure.”

He also tells us “When you buy adventure tours and activities through a website like Adventure Honey you help ensure a positive impact from your travel and have an incredible adventure at the same time!

After some searching I found the United Nations Environment Programme reference to the negative impacts of tourism here.

This is topic is something I blogged about (first published in a newspaper column) about some years ago and reprint it here.

What is an eco-tourist? Ecotourism?

Like Asians need rice, Italians love pasta, British their curry, and us Kiwi’s love fish and chips, I need to travel and being a traveller who writes means I get to visit where I want to go to rather than have to go the destination flavour of the month.

This means I’m often in places that are not on the tourist trail. As a slow traveller I can stay longer and get to know people, to absorb the local culture and flavour. This also means that although I don’t always sign up for an eco-tour, I practise many of the principles of ecotourism. But what is ecotourism – a word that’s often thrown around and frequently means nothing.

My understanding of the word and the concepts behind it are that’s it an activity that has minimum impact while providing maximum benefits to the locals.

I believe independent travellers are most likely to be the closest to being real eco travellers. They leave much of their travel money in the country while those who travel on tours often have paid for their whole trip before they leave home – giving very little to the country they are travelling in but adding huge costs – in water, sewerage, rubbish, roads.

Worldwide many places say they are providing an ecotourism experience but is that really so? It seems that as long as it has a nature component many claim it to be eco-friendly. That has not always been my experience.

Life on an Asian marine reserve sounds wonderful right? A great eco experience? Yes the natural sights and walks are fantastic; money spent on food and accommodation does remain with the locals providing it. Unfortunately, the big money is creamed the off the islands in diving lessons given by Europeans who come in for the tourist season then leave taking the money with them. Because of the lack of a robust infrastructure, the rubbish – that travellers complain about – is bought to the island by them: water bottles are not refilled, plastic bags and straws are left on the beach.

Have travel agents sold us too narrow views of places to visit? Given us a list of sights we ‘must see’ or activities to participate in? This produces problems all over the world with buses arriving in droves, disgorging visitors and fumes to see wonderful pristine or historic sights.

It reminds me of Lake Louise in Banff, Canada, where I too was a body disgorged from a bus to see the great views. I have proof that I was there – a photo of me sitting alone with the lake and mountains as the backdrop – it looks idyllic. However I know that beside me, waiting for their turn to have the moment recorded, is another busload of chattering travellers.

The problems of being poured into these tourist funnels will continue if we rely on unimaginative travel agents (and of course not all are) and the forceful marketing of those who have invested in areas. While it is more economical for planes and hotels to have us arrive together and stay in the same places it also creates problems for them – not the least is the strong chance of killing the goose that lays the golden egg such as the warning in the child’s story.

This is not a new problem. Read books written years ago and the same complaints are made. Tell others you are going to Bali (or Timbuktu) and immediately you will be told “you should have gone there ten (2, 5, 50 years ago,) before it was discovered.”

So, what can we travellers do? I don’t know what you will do – what I do is travel slow, travel cheaply, and use local products whenever I can.

So, by combining the universal codes of pack it in pack it out and take only photos, leave only footprints, along with getting off the well-worn tourist trails means I’m able to enjoy my travels with a clearer conscience.

Gum diggers, fish, and great accommodation in Northland, NZ

Doubtless Bay Villas
Doubtless Bay Villas

Northland has it all – you are spoilt for choice and today it’s gum diggers history, fish, swimming, and great accommodation.  I check out the fabulous, add-to-your-list Kahoe Farms Hostel and head off to the historic seaside village of Mangonui – home of the famous Mangonui Fish Shop. Browse the little craft shops and walk the Heritage Trail around the village. ( for a map see here, or buy one at the little visitors centre.)

Beautiful and peaceful Mangonui
Beautiful and peaceful Mangonui

The walkway is dedicated to the men and women, Maori and European, who sailed vast oceans to make a new life. The Polynesian navigator Kupe visited the area about 900 AD and later, another canoe, the Ruakaramea, was guided into a harbour by a shark. The canoes chief, Moehuri, named the harbour Mangonui, which means ‘large shark’.

This was known as a safe harbour for whaling vessels by the late 1700s and in 1831 the first European settlers arrived. By the mid-1800s, Mangonui was a centre for whalers and traders with sawmilling, flax and gum industries flourishing.

the World Famous Mangonui Fish Shop
the World Famous Mangonui Fish Shop

Now, it’s better known as the home of the ‘world-famous’ fish and chip shop’ but I’m sad to say, for me, the tagline did not live up to its food on the day I was there – but as it gets many rave reviews perhaps I was just there at the wrong time!

Cable Bay beach in Doubtless Bay
Cable Bay beach in Doubtless Bay

After the disappointing lunch I continue in my rental car  onto the lovely Doubtless Bay Villas in Cable Bay  and where I immediately head for the golden sands and blue water.

Travelling alone it’s not always easy to go swimming: where do you put your car and accommodation keys? Mostly, in NZ, I just leave them with my towel, but when the keys belong to someone else I find it easier to pin them inside my swimming gear, or on a chain around my neck – what do you do when alone and wanting to swim at the beach?

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I spend the evening, night and morning relaxing, reading, just soaking up the view and great accommodation before heading off for Kaitaia and the Mainstreet Lodge, taking a side road and stopping for lunch at the fantastic Karikari Estate. For wine buffs make sure you have a sober driver when you tackle the samples of tasting wines.

web karikari sundae
My very yummy sundae

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I continue along SH10 on to Awanui then turn right and head north for Gumdiggers Park , an authentic Kauri Gum digging site that’s over 100 years old.

Amazingly, 40,000 to 150,000 year old Buried Kauri Forests have been exposed by the gum diggers and the Gumdiggers’ village, equipment & recreated shelters brings the stories to life.

Newly formed tracks show extensive ancient kauri deposits and the  bus tour tourists who  were also visiting told me they too enjoyed the walk around the very natural park.

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With the scenery around Northland, as I said in a earlier blog  with other photos  –  no wonder TV shows like The Bachelor and Top Model have used this area for some of their programmes.

Sometimes it's hard to be a travel writer with view like this. Not! My view from Doubtless bay Villas
Sometimes it’s hard to be a travel writer with a view like this. Not!
 Doubtless bay Villas