Places with photo galleries in Asia
For a Javanese metropolis, Surabaya is a pleasant surprise. Low on anything that could be considered as a tourist attraction, Surabaya's charm lies in the contrast between the modern downtown with wide tree lined streets, and the crowded old city with narrow lanes and crumbling colonial houses. The old city consist of the Arab Quarter and Chinatown, and along other nondescript neighbourhoods. Some of these residential alleys are no wider than an arm span and packed with kids, grandmas, filled laundry lines, parked rickshaws, and dirty dishes. There are small markets and the locals are as friendly as ever - for not many bule (foreigners) come here.
Tana Toraja is a region of exceptional beauty and soaked in the rich Toraja culture. The pretty countryside is a patchwork of mountains, terraced rice paddy fields, and small villages with rows of traditional Torajan houses with boat-shaped roof. Since death plays a central role in the Toraja culture, many of the region's sights have something to do with that. There are cave graves, hanging coffins, "baby in a tree" grave, and the very bloody Torajan funerals, where pigs and buffaloes are slaughtered in great numbers. Strangely – or should we say luckily – the Toraja people don't mind uninvited guests to these mind blowing events, as long as you act accordingly (wear dark and bring a gift). The main town in Tana Toraja is Rantepao and where most travellers base themselves, while exploring the region, but there are homestays throughout the region. It is recommended to hire a guide for the graves can be hard to find, and they know when and where the funerals are and what to bring.
The Toraja people have several ways to get buried. Babies can get buried inside a trunk of a particularly chosen tree. Grown ups can get a house grave in a more normal looking mausoleum made of concrete and tiles. A more fascinating burial tradition are the cave graves, where a small cave is hollowed out of a boulder and mounted with small door and maybe guarded by tau-tau statues who looks like the deceased. This kind of graves are still in use today. Previously they also hang the coffins inside natural caves. There a family could have a hanging coffin and restuff it every time a family member passed away. Though this tradition has more or less eased out, there are still a lot of hanging coffins left in the Tana Toraja region, some not dating more than 20 years back.
A Toraja funeral is a full on event that can last for days, sometimes even weeks, all depending on the family wealth. As funerals are expensive the deceased has often been dead for a long time, up to several years, before the funeral is held. During that time the body is injected with formalin and kept in the house, where the deceased will be considered "sick" and offered to join meals. During the funeral ceremonial slaughtering will take place. Pigs are tied up and killed with a deep stab to the lungs, while buffaloes have their throat sliced. Sometimes, a buffalo get loose during the killing and run with spraying blood into the screaming funeral crowd – hopefully not resulting in another funeral. When the coffin finally has to be taken to the final resting place, let it be a cave or mausoleum, it will get push around, as the carriers on each side of the coffin are "battling" each other. Expect a lot of waiting at a Toraja funeral, but when the action starts, it will be one of the most mind blowing thing you have ever attended.
Tomohon town lies between two volcanoes at the altitude of around 800 m. Due to the fertile soil and the temperate climate, the local market is flooded with spices, fruits, and vegetables - but it's not the only thing the market is known for. The meat section is a slaughter house full of local specialties, like wild boars, rats, civets (or are they cats), bats (pictured), snakes, and dogs. There are blood everywhere and often bits of meat fly off the fast cutting knives. Most of the animal are already dead, but dogs are sometimes kept alive in cages until sold. They are then killed with a knock to the head, blow torched, and chopped into pieces suited for a shopping bag – it's not a sight for the fainthearted. The stall owners are friendly and don't mind a curious traveller, but leave your opinion about animal rights at home.
The small fishing community at Lamalera still practices traditional whale hunting. From small boats, they hunt with harpoons thrown by hand from the stern. The usual prey are manta rays, dolphins and the occasional hammerhead shark, but a couple of times a year the big game comes by, the sperm whale. Being many times bigger than the boats, it is not unusual for an angry whale to flip over a boat, or even smash it with its tail. The black sand beach at Lamalera is dotted with wooden pieces from splintered boats along with whale bones. The few fishermen with missing limbs just add to the evidence that this kind of whale hunting is insanely dangerous. Since the number of caught animals is small, the village is excluded from any hunting ban, letting them continue their truly unique hunting tradition. You can join the whalers on a hunt. If a whale is in sight, you will be kept in safe distance, but with smaller preys you will get in on the action.
Right before the Cambodian border, where the Mekong river drops into a series of waterfalls, lie a series of tiny sandy islands. Home to tranquil farming and fishing villages, shady trees and mud covered water buffaloes, the Four Thousand Islands (in Lao Si Phan Don) is the near-perfect setting for some quiet days in the hammock. Besides some lazy tubing (this is not the new Vang Vieng), Irrawaddy dolphin spotting and exploration on crappy bicycles, there isn't much to do other than chill and watch the gorgeous sunsets from your bamboo balcony.
The best way to explore the beautiful countryside of southern Laos is with your own set of wheels. Rent a scooter in Pakse and take a road trip around and through the cool and coffee growing heaven of Bolaven plateau and see some of the best waterfalls in the country. There are so many waterfalls along this way with small villages that you will have to pick out the best ones and give the rest a miss. The saved energy can then be used for waving at all the kids along the way. The round trip can even be extended with a return trip to the trader town of Attapeu and even further east passing Pa-am village, heading into the jungle for a crazy attempt to reach the mythical crater lake of Nong Fa (as of 2010 we couldn't find any road all the way to Nong Pa, but it should be possible).
The iconic image of Borneo is a zoo like forest with big trees and an ecosystem teeming with life. Danum Valley gives you exactly that. Danum Valley is made up of 438 square kilometres of protected forest. It has the highest concentration of orangutans in the world, pygmy elephants, clouded leopards, and many more animals. Staying at the research centre is amazing because at the restaurant, you can converse with scientists that are studying the ecology of the forest. Very helpful if you have questions about the Bornean rainforest. There are many activities to keep you busy there from trekking to waterfalls to doing night safaris through the jungle. Bring some leech socks because it is a very healthy rainforest, and so that means lots of leeches! Go to the ridge observation tower for sunrise and watch the clouds burn off from the forest as the day starts. We guarantee it will be something you will never forget.
The Kinabatangan River meanders through Northeast Borneo for 560 kilometres. Because of the encroaching palm oil plantations, wildlife has been squeezed into the forest reserves that border the river. Batu Puteh sits along the river in the Pin-Supu Forest Reserve. The people of Batu Puteh have established a community-based forest restoration project that is very successful, restoring forest that has been illegally logged in the past. A great way to experience the jungle, and do something good for our planet, is to volunteer your time in the village. You get to see the amazing biodiversity of Borneo, and meet some very cool people. All of the wildlife congregrates on the banks of the Kinabatangan in late afternoon, making animal viewing very easy.