Taking the ‘slow boat to Laos’ is a Southeast Asia backpacker classic, and also a misnomer. The boat actually starts on the Laos side of Laos/Thailand border, so technically you’re not taking it to Laos.
However, it’s still a must-do when you’re in the area and heading to Luang Prabang.
You can book a trip from anywhere in the northern region of Thailand, with many starting off in Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai and booking a package that takes them all the way onto the boat. We decided to make our own way across the border and spend the night before the boat journey in the tiny Laos border town of Houayxay. We took a bus from Chiang Rai across the border, and then teamed up with some other travellers for a tuk-tuk to Houayxay.
A note: I know it’s been almost a year at this point since I was in Southeast Asia, but time has been mostly meaningless for the last 10 months and I still have stories to share. Hopefully this will be helpful to people who are planning their travels for when the world is open again, and entertaining to everyone else in the meantime.
Most tourists who go to Indonesia head straight for Bali or the Gili Islands to relax, drink cocktails on the beach, and complain about bogan Australians (or be bogan Australians). That was definitely on our itinerary (apart from being bogans), but our first stop in Indonesia was to do one of the things I was looking forward to most on our backpacking trip, so when we touched down in Denpasar we got straight on another flight to the neighbouring island of Lombok to hike Mount Rinjani.
One of my regrets when leaving New Zealand after my working holiday last year is that there were so many amazing hikes I only found out about once I was already in the country, and I didn’t have enough time to plan all the tramps I wanted to do. When we left Australia at the end of our visa there, Steve and I agreed our first stop would be back to NZ for a few more walks. We decided that apart from Queenstown, which we’d fly into and stay long enough for a Fergburger, and Wellington, where we wanted to catch up with friends, we would focus our itinerary on places we hadn’t yet been. After all, who knows how long it’ll be until we get to come back to this side of the world again?
Our route looked like this: Queenstown – Dunedin – the Catlins – Stewart Island (Rakiura track) – up through the Haast pass to the West Coast – Glaciers – Greymouth – Picton – Marlborough Sounds (Queen Charlotte track) – Wellington.
I know that the weather in Tasmania, especially in its many wilderness areas, is famously unpredictable, but when I saw “snow” on the forecast for Steve and my recent hike on the Overland Track that runs between Cradle Mountain and Lake St. Clair in the island’s centre, I imagined we might be encountering a few flurries, maybe even walking through a dusting of settled snow along the path.
Yesterday I went to the National Gallery of Victoria to see their current special exhibition, Escher X nendo | Between Two Worlds, before it closes next week. First off, if you live in Melbourne and you have the time between now and 7 April, please do try to give it a visit. The fantastic show creates a dialogue between the work of Dutch artist M.C. Escher, most known for his fantastical optical illusion creations, and Japanese design house nendo, who drew inspiration from Escher’s art to create a series of interactive displays and installations that guide you through the exhibition and into a dreamy, yet high-contrast world of black and white geometry.
I brought my camera intending to take a few photos of works in the exhibition, but instead I found myself captivated by other people’s photos. Everywhere I looked, folks had their phones out, cameras on, capturing their own photos of the lithographs, prints, and installations. I was fascinated to get this glimpse into everyone else’s experiences of the show. It’s so rare that we get to see through someone else’s eyes in real time, our windows into their perspective coloured after the fact by the pictures they choose to share, the filters they use.
As I walked through the exhibit, I spent as much time looking at the other visitors as I did looking at the works of art. I loved seeing which pieces they connected with, which ones they wanted to remember. I liked seeing the way they chose to document the art they saw: did they faithfully capture the full work or try to put their own artistic spin on their photo by cropping a detail or including a companion? Did they photograph the information card as well, or were they content to divorce the image from its title and history?
With apologies to the people through whose viewfinders I creepily photographed, seeing the exhibit through multiple points of view added a new layer to my understanding and enjoyment of the art. Escher’s work is all about reflections and twisted perspectives, and looking at the photos that others took brought that fascinatingly distorted outlook to my own experience of the exhibit. I definitely recommend seeing Escher x nendo | Between Two Worlds at the NGV if you can, but whether you go to this exhibit or any art show in the future, look around at the other visitors and see what they see for a moment or two.
Every year, a neat nine-square grid takes over Instagram as folks post their #bestnine of the year, the nine photos they posted that received the most likes. Mine is nice: a mix of places I went, things I did, and people I spent time with.
That said, I’ve also noticed a new trend this year, which is photographers posting their own “best nine” of photos that aren’t necessarily the ones that received the most likes, but the ones that the photographers themselves are most proud of. Photography is something I really worked hard on this year, and something on which I feel I really made improvements and progress. With the help of my trusty Olympus mirrorless camera, I captured moments throughout my time in New Zealand, and so I wanted to share my own “best nine.” Some of these photos I posted on my Instagram, and some I didn’t. Some received a lot of likes, and some very few. They’re not necessarily my favourites of the year when it comes to memory—every photo with my partner or my friends or my family is a thousand times more my favourite than even the most beautiful mountain or lake—but in my opinion they’re my best work from 2018, and I’m proud to share them.