A Critical Reflection on Travel Pictures 

 I posted a lovely little breadcrumb trail last night of some of the nicest pictures I have from the last few weeks, and now I have to admit I’m a big fat hypocrite.
You see, after visiting Angkor Wat back in February, I had some strong words to say on the role of picture taking while adventuring. I didn’t publish the piece because, well frankly, it was very angry. Which makes sense, as it took just a month to realize that the pictures you see online are often far from the truth. Now a month is no short length of time, but I just kept telling myself that I wasn’t getting those “picture perfect” moments because I wasn’t looking hard enough, I wasn’t climbing high enough. It took a 4:30am sunrise at Angkor Wat for the reality to hit me.

 From the beginning we have chased the sunrise/ sunset/ viewpoint. We’ve scrambled over dark rocky shorelines by the light of headlamps, clambered over twisting tree roots, crossed narrow canyon walkways wth long drops, and climbed waterfalls that in every sense of the word fall, were not meant to be climbed.  But here, sitting on a muddy bank, this mostly tourist free photo of Angkor Wat cost me aprox. 30 shoves (taken & given), 3 massive leaps (literally over human bodies), and the constant chatter of frustration and urgency in the background from hundreds of other people all trying to get the same photo.

  And eventually I asked myself: Why am I experiencing more tranquility from a google image of “Angkor Wat” on my phone screen than I am actually experiencing at Angkor Wat?

 If there were no cameras, or even just a restriction on camera use, what would traveling and tourism look like? What kind of experience would it be?

Because the frequency/ desperation/ frustration with which people are often taking pictures, it’s as though their trip really depends on the 4″x6″ for Facebook or Instagram. It needs to be perfect, right?

And the fact of the matter is this:

 We are not the only people traveling in Thailand right now. We are not the only ones climbing the mountains, or waking up to catch the sunset, so the pictures I post that don’t have a sign of other individuals- well thats one for every ten that shows clear evidence of other travelers. My arms might be stretched above them, or I might’ve walked to an empty space.

 I don’t want to say that all of our pictures are frauds- they’re not. We really did go to Koh Phangan (Full Moon Party island) twice during the lulls where there were no parties and considerably less tourists.

 We really did rent a motorbike and drive to the most undeveloped (and arguably most beautiful) beach on Koh Phangan- Mae Haad beach in the north.

On Koh Phi Phi we walked out a hundred meters in the muck of a low tide to catch the sunset picture I posted in the last blog, and even then that was just luck of timing; everyone else saw it from a bar seat on the beach.

 Every meal here is picture worthy, every park green and flourishing (I will admit though, the north is quite dry outside of city limits).

So let me tell you about paradise, and from the bottom of my heart apologize for my hypocrisy. There are beautiful sunsets, and more ants than you can imagine. And they bite. Hard. There are bed bugs, mosquitos, and mountain tops. Waterfalls that run faster than the water from the tap (and likely cleaner). Inescapable heat and beautiful beaches. If you adventure during the off season, you’re more likely to find some isolation, but a tourist free trip is just not realistic.
Everyone else and their dogs are traveling in Thailand, hell, traveling the world- and that’s okay. We all want that Indiana Jones adventure for culture, food, and artifacts (i.e. pictures) and some people do find it. Might be a single day, or an entire trip of adventure; we did the long hike back from Bottle Beach on Koh Phangan, and let me tell you, that was an adventure.

  Slanted forests, poorly marked trails, and everything short of rock climbing. We found abandoned bungalows. I dangled from trees while the ocean crashed 30ft below a sheer rock face. I was terrified.

The point I’m trying to make, is that a picture tells half the story; expression and the depiction of beauty are not things to be judged for their realistic qualities- there is no standard of truth held to art, and I think that’s entirely okay, even great. I just personally have an issue with these images being used to create the idea of “a perfect off the beaten path trip” via social media or sites that call themselves “informative”, like the many hip and cool travel venues these days.


So all the way from my perfectly normal and absolutely amazing trip in Thailand, I’m waving my dirty laundry about travel photography for the world to see. I’ve done the silly things to get a tourist free (and cliche) photo,

 and I’ve also been doubled over, cursing and gasping for air, trying to contemplate trusting yet another shady thorny jungle vine to hold my weight while I crossed a shady fallen jungle tree (part of the vine for all I know) spanning a chasm of doom.

All the best,
Em
P.S

No amount of influence from an English degree will prevent run on sentences, spelling errors, and/or incorrect use of punctuation, not in the past, nor in the future; all of the greats broke rules, were mocked, and later revered.
– a very creative rhetorician

The Weight of My World on My Shoulders 

  In just over a week, I will have spent 3 months living out of a 36L backpack… Brief comparison, the average school pack is between 15L and 30L, and as you will soon see, size is not the only thing my bag has in common with a run of the mill school bag. Now even though in concept I’m traveling fairly light, it’s hard not to berate myself for the weight that can make my shoulders ache- there’s a voice whispering “carry less things”, and that voice is certainly right. But for now, I just want to do a break down of what I’m carrying, if not for myself to look back on, then simply to add to the hundreds of lists and guidelines already floating around online.

Clothing: How a Compression Bag Saved the Day

Rolling your clothes certainly helps to make room, but nothing frees up more space than a compression bag. Behold:

  Fill the bag with rolled clothes, pull the straps, and TA-DA! The only downside? The inexhaustible patience you will need to find deep in your soul if you forget to put something in after doing the straps up, or you begin to tire of packing and unpacking the bag.

Books: Food for the Soul
And it’s a good thing Colleen gave us the compression bags- how else would I fit all my books?

 You’re probably shaking your head, saying “there’s no way she’s carrying all those books around Thailand”, but I assure you, she is.

I would pick up a book and promise myself that I would leave it behind once I was finished, and I came so close to keeping those promises. But my sentimentality kicked in and when Game of Thrones fell down a waterfall in Koh Phangan, I had to keep it! What kind of book survives that? (the corner slid into the pool of the waterfall twice, same thing)

I have 6 different notebooks for my own writing projects, and I assure you, they are all necessary.

Utilities: DIY Devices

 Halfway through this trip I invested in what appears to be a shoe brush, as well as a bar of antibacterial soap which has since served as my on-spot laundry facilities. From fabrics to runners, nothing goes unclean on my watch. I might add, doing laundry is incredibly cheap here, however I often find I do not have enough clothes simultaneously dirty. I’ve talked about the headlamp before, love it to bits, sunscreen keeps from peeling, and the spare headphones are purely a precaution. The selfie stick, I am sad to say, has gone fairly unused and I think this is because my lust for photos floated down the Mae Ping river with my camera.

Pockets and Pouches: Objects on Hand
 My backpack has the attribute of numerous nooks and crannies, and I do my absolute best to fill them. A scarf is good to have, not only as sun protection, but for impromptu temple visits that require covered shoulders. Pony tails, tissue paper, a flash light, some meds- self explanatory in their easily accessible locations. Call me old fashioned, but a needle and thread have proved very useful for maintaining my clothes, and when I need to look good in a moments notice, my jewelry is just a zipper pull away. (I had nowhere else to store the small bits and bobs).

First Aid, Cosmetics, and Tiny Handy Tools

 First off, ear plugs have been an amazing asset, I could not imagine doing this trip or any other without them. Secondly, I have not touched my eye shadow or concealer and to be honest, I’m not sure how others find time for those sorts of things. There’s sun, heat, water, and sweat and these things have no respect for your Maybelline powder-puff rituals.

 I’d like to thank my mother for the awesome Canadian wallets, they have been put to very good use.

 This is my “between homes” travel pack, for when we’re hopping on buses or trains and my larger bag is stowed and out of reach. Food, water, entertainment, and motion sickness meds- everything you could really want for a long comfortable ride.
My Goodies: Trophies of the Trip
Besides books, I’ve bought pencil crayons and a postcard coloring book, a notebook from Elephant Nature Park, and some bits of jewelry. I bought a snorkel and mask which have been entirely worth it; I’ve been diving on every island we’ve visited and we stopped again at Koh Tao so I could get my advanced open water certification.

 I also picked up a beautiful sheet of Thai fabric (unsure of the technical name), a scarf, sandals out of necessity (the whole prissy flip-flop thing didn’t work out so well for me) and some good old fashioned hippy pants.

 In the last few weeks of this trip, I will be working to fit all of these things, along with (potentially) several puppies and/or kittens. I would love to bring back some of the weather, but personally, I think you guys would prefer the temperament of a good Canadian spring.


 All the best,

Em

P.S here’s some pictures from the last few weeks. Enjoy!


A viewpoint on Koh Phi Phi,

and a stunning sunset.

A dessert in Phuket


And the Cloud Forest in Gardens by the Bay, Singapore.


A wooden bridge in Koh Phangan,

a dinner in Koh Tao,


And my favorite sunrise viewpoint, the roof of a diving vessel at 5:30am.

A park in Chiang Mai,


And the smokey hills of Pai.


Consider this a photographic breadcrumb trail of where we’ve been the last month and half, right up to where we are now.

Once again, all the best,

Em

What My Eyes Have Seen

   And so I will tell you, with all the honesty I can muster, and all the sense I can make, what my eyes have seen.

Molten bronze in a string of droplets, dancing and hovering over the heads of passing travelers and stopping our feet, mimicking the sway of the ocean.

Forests, so tall they have asked for protection from the lightning, and so old, they remember a time when they had a truce with the sky.

We went across the city in a second it seemed, to another forest. A half sister to the forests we know, in her state of half life; truly dead in her wrought iron branches and truly alive in the first moments of a night’s true darkness- I have never seen such colors dance to such music, such stars tie to the tangle of her trunk and canopy.

And in the harbors of an ocean bay, water leaping from its place in a mist, to show words. We couldn’t make them out and unable to say more, it discarded the letters and ran the jagged line of a pulse as if to scream “I have a heart, I live too”, and finally we understood.

We, at last, found ourselves above the skyline and seeing no end to the vastness of the city, began to believe the towers when they said they were kings, holding battleships above their heads and mountains in their walls.

We have stayed, not for long, but just enough in Singapore.