Monday, September 21, 2009

Volunteer Tourism

Volunteer tourism, voluntourism, community-work-cum-travel, call it what you like, but it's definitely getting more popular. Essentially, what you get is combining travel with certain amount of volunteering or community work. So does leisure really mix well with "work"?

Judging from the number of agencies and organisations organising it, it seems to have gained a following. I guess there are a number of reasons for it.

  • It is more memorable, as it is completely different from the usual tour package style
  • It provides more interaction with the local common folks
  • It provides those who are leading a comfortable life to have a chance to "sample" a little "hardship"
  • It provides more satisfaction spiritually - a feel good phenomena

I guess to add to the overall increased interest in volunteering work, events like the 2004 tsunami and the 2008 Sichuan earthquake have put it into the spotlight. Recently, there is even a TV program on Channel U, "Stars for a Cause", where each week, a celebrity joins one of the many voluntourism programs out there, and they share their feelings and experiences. With all these publicity, I'm sure the general public is made more aware of the availability of such travel cum volunteering programs.

From the various feedback from the participants (and apparently, those celebrities as well), most of them felt that the "work" they do is minute compared to the joys they've achieved. In today's hectic and cold world, these "feel good" experiences are certainly "leisure" to the soul. While I have only joined one such program, I too have positive feedback. Perhaps in your next travel idea, do consider volunteer tourism!

Check out this forum for links to volunteering opportunities!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Tanchos - Japanese red-crowned cranes

Situated on the eastern end of Hokkaido Japan, lies Kushiro Shitshugen National Park. The park is known for its wetland ecosystem, rich in rare animals and plantlife. In winter, it is also home to one of Japan's "treasures" - the tanchos.

Also known as red crowned cranes, these Japanese cranes are designated as a special natural monument of Japan as, at one point in time, they were almost extinct. They are migratory birds that spend their winters in rivers and marshes in Japan, China and the Korean Peninsula. The Japanese have long considered these cranes as a symbol of longevity, auspiciousness, and even fidelity in marriage. Now, you can see many Japanese tourists coming to this park in winter to view them.

And what a sight! These cranes dancing on the snow is a sight to behold! They use this dance routines for courting as well as communication. They also raise their heads to make some sort of "unison call" between the male and female before getting into the dance sequences. And when they take flight, their grace and form against the winter background is like a Japanese painting, simple, pure but artistic!

Kushiro Shitshugen National Park is accessible by public bus from Kushiro town. Of course, with private vehicle, you would have more flexibility, else if you're like me, you would be at the mercy of the limited bus schedule, esp in winter! Nevertheless, limited time or not, a trip well worth making!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Muang Ngoi, Laos

Looking for a out-of-the-beaten-path place to visit in Laos? While Luang Prabang is an excellent laidback place to chill out, it is still the most visited place for travellers to Laos. For a less frequented destination, check out Muang Ngoi.

Muang Ngoi is a wonderful idyllic village, set on the shores of Nam Ou (one of the tributary rivers of the mighty Mekong). One of the reasons it is less visited is because, the village is only accessible by boat! From Luang Prabang, a 3-hr minivan ride will bring you to the village of Nong Khiaw, whereby you will then transfer to a passenger-cum-goods boat. After another 1-hr of boat ride, you will then reach Muang Ngoi!

However, once you get through all that effort, you will be transported back to time. Bamboo mat huts, chickens digging and clucking outside, children squealing and running around; the whole ambience and atmosphere is that of a "kampung" of days gone by. Amenities is really basic, and the room that I had consists of only a bamboo mat bed with a mosquito net and a candle! Electricity is available only from 7pm to 10pm via a generator, and even then, supply is dodgy. But for only US$1.50 a night, there's little I can complain!

There is some simple hiking that you can do around the village but other than that, it is just the place for you to get away. Of course, some of the items in the cafe menu in the village may be alittle western-influenced, but that may actually make the overall experience more palatable after all!