Would you drink snake wine?

With these bottles of unusual wine produced in Thailand, a tasty tipple comes with a potent bite. The venomous cobra snake is used to make the snake wine but the poison is cancelled out by the alcoholic content of the drink, meaning you’ll avoid a pounding hangover.

Similarly, months of fermenting means the dead scorpion encased in the yellow bottles doesn’t have the same sting in the tail as when it was alive.

Venomous snake wine
Not something I am quick to trust

Instead, the liquor is considered healthy and seemingly has many health benefits. These rice-based liquors are considered to be a strong natural aphrodisiac.

Are you brave enough to drink snake wine?

Is it Ethical to Visit Thailand’s Long Neck Women Villages?

In my earlier years of travel I would often only read about the ethical concerns about certain places after I had been there. These days I try to be informed before I go on an adventure to see the most popular tourist attraction of the area. For a lot of people, seeing the giraffe-like, long neck women is just another stop on their Thailand adventure. Many tourist agencies make a quick stop at these hill villages so that tourists can have a quick photo opportunity with exotic-looking women before being shuttled on to the next destination.

But do you know who these woman are? And the biggest question is, should you support this controversial tourism attraction?

Thailand’s Long Neck Women
Young girls keeping up the Kayan tradition

Over two decades ago, a civil war caused the Kayan residents to flee Myanmar. Thailand granted them temporary stay under “conflict refugee” status, but now they live in guarded villages on the northern Thai border.

What makes the Kayan woman unique is their custom of wearing rings to create the appearance of a long neck. This exotic tradition inspired the creation of tourism villages in 1985. Unfortunately, without citizenship, Kayans have limited access to utilities and aren’t allowed to resettle outside of these tourist villages. This is because the Thai government claims they are economic migrants and not real refugees.

Thailand’s Long Neck Women
A young kayan long neck girl

Starting at the young age of four or five, Kayan long neck women wear these rings, adding more annually as they acclimate to the increased weight. These coils weigh up to 25 pounds and depress the chest and shoulders. This creates the illusion of a disembodied head hovering over a shimmering pedestal of gold rings. Contrary to popular belief, the coils don’t lengthen the neck itself and thus can be removed without the neck snapping. Yet, women still wear these coils year round, even while sleeping.

Thailand’s Long Neck Women
Its a family tradition

The origin of the tradition is a mystery even to the Kayans. An ancient legend claims rings protected villagers from tiger attacks, since the cats attack victims at the neck. Another theory said the rings helped ward off men from rival tribes by lessening the women’s beauty. Today, people believe the opposite– the longer their neck, the more beautiful the woman. It is true that some women enjoy upholding this tradition but others feel pressured to endure the painful custom to make a living.

Thailand’s Long Neck Women
Young Kayan girls selling some of the handmade crafts

An estimated 40,000 tourists per year pay between $8-16 to stop by these hill tribe villages to gaze upon the women’s unusual appearance and take pictures. Unfortunately, the entry fee is rarely dispensed to the villagers directly. Instead, the long neck woman have to sell trinkets, crafts and photo-ops to make a living, essentially working in a live-in gift shop. The women are known for their tremendous weaving skills which is done on a backstrap loom. You can witness them practising their impressive craft while getting to know them. While some say the villages give Kayans a paid opportunity to retain their culture, others condemn this arrangement for exploiting stateless women and children in exchange for tourist dollars.

Thailand’s Long Neck Women
They learn to weave from a very young age

Here is my answer to the big question of, can you justify ethical travel to these villages?

Yes, just do your research. Most women view tourist visits as a way to make a living since their non-resident status limits employment opportunities. However, sensationalizing dress, customs, and unique traditions of these people mean nothing if they are not treated with respect.

Thailand’s Long Neck Women
Young Kayan girl

Here are some recommendations for when you visit:
1. Do some research and find a responsible tour company that will promote a socially responsible visit.
2. Make sure your money benefits the village directly instead of third party companies. Support the women by purchasing their handicrafts and by paying a fair price for their beautiful handwork.
3. Don’t just stop by for a photo shoot. Learn about the people and hear their stories.
4. Consider volunteering in a village if you are staying in Thailand for a while.

Thailand’s Long Neck Women
Youung Kayan kids playing around the village

The goal of travel shouldn’t be taking pictures of exotic things to brag about back home. Travel is about forging relationships and making connections with people from different cultures. Create a symbiotic relationship with locals by reaching out to find common ground with the people you met, instead of treating them as spectacles to exploit.

The Reclining Buddha

“When you’re traveling, you are what you are right there and then. People don’t have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road.” – William Least Heat Moon

Why you must visit the White Temple of Chiang Rai

Even though it was years ago, one of the strangest temples that I have ever been in is still Wat Rong Khun, the White Temple of Chiang Rai, found in northern Thailand. It was quite a while ago that I went on my Thailand adventure but this temple still stands out as one of my favourites and I think you should definitely visit if you have the chance.

The temple is just outside the town of Chiang Rai and well worth the three-hour bus journey from Chiang Mai where I was staying. I got to enjoy some of the beautiful countryside along the way and had some time to read up about this strange temple. 

The White Temple of Chiang Rai in Thailand
The White Temple of Chiang Rai in Thailand

I can not compare it to any other temple in Thailand as it is quite unique in it’s white colour and the use of pieces of glass in the plaster which sparkle in the sun. The white colour signifies the purity of the Buddha, and the glass symbolises the Buddha’s wisdom. Every detail of the temple and structures carries meaning and encourages the visitor to reflect on the Buddhist teachings that show the way to escape from the worldly temptations, desires and greed and focus on the mind instead.

The White Temple of Chiang Rai in Thailand
The bridge of the cycle of rebirth

The main building at the white temple, the ubosot is reached by crossing the bridge of “the cycle of rebirth”. In front of the bridge are hundreds of outreaching hands that symbolize unrestrained desire. The bridge proclaims that the way to happiness is by foregoing temptation, greed, and desire. It feels quite eerie as you walk across this bridge.

The White Temple of Chiang Rai in Thailand
The Gate of Heaven

After crossing the bridge, you arrive at the “gate of heaven”. This entrance is guarded by two creatures representing Death and Rahu, who decides the fate of the dead.

I was sure to dress respectfully, which means no revealing clothes, shoulders covered and a long skirt. You have to take off your shoes before entering a temple building. Unfortunately taking photos inside the temple is not allowed. Normally this would not bother me but I would have loved to capture the inside. Inside the temple, the decor swiftly moves from pristine white to fiery and bewildering. It was quite mind blowing with its murals depict swirling orange flames and demon faces, interspersed with Western idols such as batman, Freddy Kruger and even Micheal Jackson. Images of nuclear warfare, terrorist attacks, and oil pumps hammer home the destructive impact that humans have had on earth. I have often wondered about this strange ensemble of figurines as the presence of Superman and Hello kitty confuses me a lot. But I am quite sure that the overall moral is clear: people are wicked.

I do enjoy the fiery “don’t smoke” sign that clearly sends the message of going to hell for smoking.

Even the restrooms are worth a visit as they are situated in”the golden building: It is said that his golden building represents the body, whereas the white ubosot represents the mind. The gold symbolizes how people focus on worldly desires and money.

What are your thoughts on this strange and unique temple?

Taste of Thailand

While in Thailand be sure to visit some of the local markets and food stalls. Street food in Thailand is not only convenient, and cheap but also delicious and it’s one of the best ways to get in touch with the local culture.

The colours and smells of the different dishes can be a little intimidating, but also end up being quite enticing. I am sure that you will soon be inquisitive enough to try one of these Thai delicacies.

Wherever you go in the city, food stalls are plentiful and you will find a high concentration of them in busy areas. Often specialising in particular types of dishes, you should be able to work out the type of food a stall is selling by observing the ingredients and the way they’re being prepared. And if you are not brave enough to try something strange, there is always delicious fresh fruit available from one of the stalls.

Whatever your preference, you are sure to find something to tantalize your taste buds as Thailand is a food lovers paradise.

Bridge on the River Kwai

One of the most famous Bridges that I have visited was definitely the Bridge on the River Kwai.  During World War 2, the Japanese used Allied prisoners of war to build a railway from Thailand to Burma so they could supply their army without the dangers of sending supplies by sea.  Many prisoners died under appalling conditions during its construction, and the line became known as the ‘Death Railway’. 

It was immortalized in David Lean’s 1957 film ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’ which centers around one of the line’s main engineering feats, the bridge across the Kwae Yai River just north of Kanchanburi.  The Bridge on the River Kwai really exists, and still carries regular passenger trains from Bangkok as far as Nam Tok.

.According to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission:

“The notorious Burma-Siam railway, built by Commonwealth, Dutch and American prisoners of war, was a Japanese project driven by the need for improved communications to support the large Japanese army in Burma. During its construction, approximately 13,000 prisoners of war died and were buried along the railway. An estimated 80,000 to 100,000 civilians also died in the course of the project, chiefly forced labour brought from Malaya and the Dutch East Indies, or conscripted in Siam (Thailand) and Burma. Two labour forces, one based in Siam and the other in Burma worked from opposite ends of the line towards the center.”

Why the Floating Markets of Thailand should be on your Bucket List

One of my biggest highlights while visiting Thailand, was getting to visit the floating markets just outside Bangkok. This was one of the only outings that I had booked long in advance and I couldn’t wait to see this bustling market. It is quite a long trip and you have to get up ridiculously early but don’t let that discourage you. The trip is worth every penny you pay, which might be quite a lot as visiting the floating markets are on more than a couple of bucket-lists.

The most famous of the floating markets is the 100 yeal old Damnoen Saduak Floating Market. The original canals which now make up the Floating Market were built in 1866 on demand of His Majesty the King of Thailand to help ease communication in the province.

After a 40 minute bus ride we all clamber onto longboats that take up along the canals to the market. The roar of the boat engine disturbs the quiet as the boat glides down the narrow canals with small wooden houses on stilts covering the banks. The boat driver slowed down to let us appreciate the winding waterways and get a brief glimpse of those who live on the river. The journey took around 20 minutes and it’s great to enjoy the peace before the hectic pace of the market. It feels quite overcrowded with visitors and sellers bringing noise and colour to the area.

A large part of the Floating Market is now a souvenir stand filled with hordes of tourists from all over the world. This in itself can be a fascinating insight into Thai culture, as the vast majority of tourists here are Thais. Most of these boats are mobile food stores piled high with tropical fruit and vegetables, fresh, ready-to-drink coconut juice and local food cooked from floating kitchens located right on the boat. I sampled quite a couple of the different delicacies that were on offer. Each dish with its own strange tastes and smells that enhances the whole market experience.

The fruit and vegetable are super fresh and mostly grown by the people who live densely along both sides of the canal. Unlike most of the other floating markets, the popularity of Damnoen Saduak attracts many fruit sellers rowing their boats along the narrow canals, meaning that you’re guaranteed great pictures.

If you are ever in Bangkok, make sure you visit a floating market and be sure to do it on an empty stomach!

Floating Markets of Thailand
The Floating Market is such a unique place

Think before visiting Tiger Temple in Thailand!!

Like most people I would jump at the opportunity to see wild animals, especially in their natural environment. Unfortunately to see tigers in their natural environment was not an option for me and going to a tiger rehabilitation centre sounded like the second best option. It seemed like an exciting opportunity to interact with exotic animals, and why not if they are protecting the animals.

Think before visiting Tiger Temple in Thailand!
Such majestic creatures

I went on a morning excursion to the Tiger Temple in Thailand in 2010, which is quite close to Bangkok. It is a booming enterprise that offers you the chance to pet, feed and take photos with tigers. This opportunity seemed amazing and just too good to be true … and sadly it is. During my visit I suspected everything might not be as advertised, and it was only afterwards as I read up about the Tiger Temple and that I became aware of what was actually going on there.

Before my trip I was told that conservation is a part of the program at Tiger Temple and that they are helping to encourage the re-population of tigers to the region.

As part of our temple tour we got to posewith a majestic tiger. the Temple’s monks encouraged us to touch the tigers as the monks assured us they were docile because they have been hand-reared.

Although they insist that they care for the tigers the truth is quite the opposite. Most of these tigers looked very sleepy and they were all chained up and not able to move around at all. There are rumours that the tigers are drugged, which makes them appear “sleepy” and “content.” The other rumours are that the tigers have been brutally beaten and abused to learn to fear their captors.

Think before visiting Tiger Temple in Thailand!
This chained up tiger definitely looks drugged
Here are some facts about this temple that I came across in an article.

1. Tiger cubs at the temple were taken from their mothers, they were not orphans as the monks told us. These cubs were then handed over to the tourist for bottle feeding and non stop molestation. And yes, I did stroke one of these cubs and had my picture taken with it. Something that I am now quite ashamed of doing.

Think before visiting Tiger Temple in Thailand!
Me with a baby tiger cub

2. Cubs are bottle-fed all day long!! As the temple made most of its money from everything cub related. They had a long morning program with up to four afternoon feedings which must have been hell for the cubs.

3. The Tigers  were obviously not getting any exercise at Tiger Temple. These majestic creatures were either in tiny cages or chained down like prisoners to the ground, so that tourists could take photos with them. These things were not just done at certain times as the monks told us, this was a day long occurrence.

4. Even though these animals were raised by humans from birth, they are still instinctively wild. There will always be an inherent danger as they can be unpredictable animals. Every year a tiger mauled an unsuspecting tourist at the temple.

5. These tigers were on the equivalent of an American diet. It is awful to think that they were fed boiled chicken every day. Many were overweight and had underdeveloped muscles. Tiger Temple claimed they couldn’t give the tigers red meat because it was “too expensive.”

6. And lastly, the money tourists “donated” didn’t go to tiger conservation. Tiger Temple was a very shady Tiger Business. The money tourists gave went first and foremost into building their big Vatican-like Buddhist temple. Just because a place was run by a bunch of “monks” didn’t make it holy or reputable.

The Tiger Temple in Thailand was raided in 2015 by the government as allegations surfaced that the Buddhist monks were illegally breeding their tigers and trafficking them across international borders. Not exactly in the spirit of “conservation.” Tiger Temple was later forced to shut down and to hand over their 147 tigers to the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation.

Think before visiting Tiger Temple in Thailand!
I enjoyed walking around the temple grounds and feeding the other animals that were roaming around free!

Did you have the chance to visit Tiger Temple before 2015?

And if so, what are your thoughts on this place?

Wordless Wednesday: Streets of Bangkok

Published as part of Wordless Wednesday

Wordless Wednesday busts

Published as part of Wordless Wednesday.

Weekly photo Challenge: Humanity

This weeks photo challenge is photographs that capture humanity — of everyday people around the world — and that provoke compassion and an understanding of our differences.

These are some of my favourite captures of people around Asia.

My favorite photos capture the emotions of others and spark a curiosity about their lives. For me, these images reflect humanity and create connections between us.

Wordless Wednesday: Morning coffee

Perfect way to start your day with an ice coffee
Perfect way to start your day with an ice coffee

Published as part of Wordless Wednesday.

Wordless Wednesday: Thailand

The White Temple of Chiang Rai in Thailand

Published as part of Wordless Wednesday.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Floating Markets From Above

The Floating Market is one of the most visited tourist sites on the outskirts of Bangkok
The Floating Market is one of the most visited tourist sites on the outskirts of Bangkok
Bangkok Floating Market
Bangkok Floating Market

Change your perspective on something by looking at it from above is this weeks photo challenge. The best view of the floating markets of Bangkok is definitely from Above.  One of the most famous pictures of Thailand, and one of the most visited tourist sites on the outskirts of Bangkok, is the famous Floating Market. 

While visiting Thailand, going to the floating markets was definitely one of my highlights of Bangkok. I headed out to the floating market on a morning tour and loved walking around the market in the midst of the buying and selling bustle.

Buying and selling of delicious looking fruit at the market
Buying and selling of delicious looking fruit at the market

The original canals which now make up the Floating Market were built in 1866 on demand of His Majesty the King of Thailand to help ease communication in the province. The actual Floating Market started in 1967 and today thrives with hordes of tourists from all over the world.

The Floating Market is such a unique place
The Floating Market is such a unique place

Most of these boats are mobile food stores selling anything from fruit to barbecued chicken. I sampled quite a couple of the different delicacies that were on offer. The fruit looked so fresh and delicious but I ended up only sampling all the little things freshly cooked on these floating boats.

It is early morning, before the heat of the day sets in
It is early morning, before the heat of the day sets in

If you are ever in Bangkok, make sure you visit a floating market and be sure to do it on an empty stomach!