10 Surreal Flashpacking Experiences (in two parts)

May 4th marks the 2nd anniversary of my having left home to go on this big flashpacking adventure.  A few of the things I’ve seen and done were things I’d planned from the start.  Most of the highlights, however, have been unplanned or unexpected.

I am a firm believer that travelers should create a loose plan for where they are going and what they want to do, but then be very flexible in the way they implement those plans.   You might happen upon a festival or hear about an amazing place nearby that could completely alter your trip – and it should.  Chase those experiences down and you’ll usually be rewarded with something you’d never have expected.

Here are 10 surreal experiences I’ve had while flashpacking the last two years (in two parts):

Zane Lowe, another Radio 1 DJ, was one of the few DJs that got away from total electronic and mixed in popular rock, classic rock, and rap tracks.

Zane Lowe, another Radio 1 DJ, was one of the few DJs that got away from total electronic and mixed in popular rock, classic rock, and rap tracks.

Shooting Radio 1 weekend at Privilege in Ibiza

I went to Ibiza expecting to work as a bartender over the summer.  My goal when I arrived was to find work and then try and hit each of the big six clubs at least once before I left at summer’s end.

Three weeks of looking for work after my arrival furnished me with three job offers, dependent on getting the proper paperwork that gave me the right to work there.  Unfortunately that wasn’t going to happen.

Through the networking I’d already done, I switched modes and found work as a photographer for a clubbing website based in the UK.  By summer’s end I was shooting in the clubs 4-5 nights a week while running a small team of photographers on the island.

The highlight of the summer was “Radio 1 Weekend” – a huge weekend where BBC’s Radio 1 takes over a number of venues and throws huge club nights with major DJs.  It was the one time I gained entrance to Privilege with press credentials and I had a blast shooting Pete Tong, Eric Prydz, and 2 Many Djs among many others.

The logo for Ibiza Ice, an alcoholic drink launched during my time in Ibiza, Spain.

The logo for Ibiza Ice, an alcoholic drink launched during my time in Ibiza, Spain.

Meeting a photography client in a private members only club in London

During the summer in Ibiza, I was recruited for other photo projects like covering private parties and shooting a marketing campaign for the adventure boats on the pier.  One of my on-and-off clients was attempting to launch a fledgling wine cooler and occasionally had me shoot product shots for him.

While I was in London, transitioning from Ibiza to Japan, I got a call to meet him at a high-end, members only club in the center of London. Well-dressed elite discussed who-knows-what in polished surroundings that reminded me of a Sherlock Holmes novel.  We discussed his project over lunch but it was the club itself that I had never thought I’d see, and certainly not with a flashpacker’s limited wardrobe.

On top of Mt. Fuji with a sea of clouds in the background.

On top of Mt. Fuji with a sea of clouds in the background.

Sitting on top of Mt. Fuji waiting for the sunrise

From the start, I knew I’d be heading to Japan to teach English.  The only items on my list of things to do mostly involved devouring various forms of Japanese cuisine and exploring Kyoto and Tokyo.  As my departure from the country got closer, I pitched the idea of climbing Mt. Fuji to Koji, my co-worker, who was up for it.

The day after my last day of work, I had my backpacks packed, route in hand and we’d worked out the timing.  We hit the base about 8pm, climbed for about 8 hours and waited for the sun to rise over the morning clouds.  We didn’t get the perfect sunrise, but had a great view of a sea of clouds on the way down.  All in all, climbing my first mountain ever was a grueling experience, but one I’m proud to have done.

The Emperor of Japan and his family wave to onlookers on January 2nd at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.

The Emperor of Japan and his family wave to onlookers on January 2nd at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.

New Years Eve at Meiji Shrine followed by the Emperor of Japan

I had two sets of visits during my year in Japan.  Mike, a good friend from Los Angles, came during the Christmas holiday.  I met him in Tokyo and we spent a couple weeks exploring Tokyo before I had to go back to work and he moved on to Kyoto.

While there were many closures we had to work around during that holiday period, there were also some unique events that we were able to attend.  We spent New Years Eve at Meiji Shrine – a shrine in the center of Tokyo that draws hundreds of thousands of people starting at Midnight on New Years Day.  The countdown was a bit anti-climatic (the only people counting down to midnight were foreigners) but it was an interesting place to be.

The follow up to that was seeing the Emperor of Japan and the royal family at the Imperial Palace.  Only open twice a year on January 2nd and the Emperor’s birthday, we entered through the Nakamon (inner gate) with thousands of Japanese holding national flags.  The whole process took about an hour and we were allowed 5 minutes of witnessing the Emperor and his family through very thick bulletproof glass.

The Wynn and MGM Grand casinos in Macau - Southeast Asia's Las Vegas.

The Wynn and MGM Grand casinos in Macau - Southeast Asia's Las Vegas.

Playing poker in Macau

I’ve always enjoyed gambling, and especially poker and craps.  I didn’t play a ton before I left on the trip, but I’ve played most chances I got and have always toyed with the idea of spending the time necessary to get really good and earn some money from it.

While traveling through China on a single entry visa, I discovered that my plan on taking a ferry from Hong Kong to Vietnam was impossible – there was no ferry.  Since I’d already set things in motion to be in Hong Kong, my only option was to catch a plane to Southeast Asia from there.  It turned out that the cheapest option was Macau to Bangkok and then train to Vietnam.

Macau is the Las Vegas of Southeast Asia, and I don’t mean this lightly.  Major Vegas casinos such as the Venetian, the Wynn and the MGM Grand all have sister casinos in Macau.  While in Hong Kong, I’d met up with a number of backpackers I’d traveled through China with and one of them came with me to Macau.

I had a day before my flight left and we explored a bit of the city during the day, and hit the casinos at night.  Maintaining my budget mentality, I made a small buy in on a no limit table and played for a couple hours with a range of characters.  I left with a small loss but scratched an itch for an exotic version of something familiar from back home.

Next week

I realized while writing this that it seemed a bit long for a single post, so I’ve split it into two.  Here are next week’s surreal experiences:

–       Team Chiang Mai

–       Luang Prabang International Film Fesival

–       Couchsuring Christmas Eve

–       Bed Supper Club in Bangkok

–       Songkran and Ombashira

  • http://www.bohemiantraveler.com Stephen

    Congrats on two great years!!

    • Anonymous

      Thanks!  Been a wild ride!

      -T 

  • http://www.yTravelBlog.com/ yTravelBlog

     Cool experiences! I love how you picked up the photography work along your travels- awesome. And the sunrise over Fuji must have been spectacular

    • Anonymous

       Yeah, having lucked into that situation was really great as it gave me a ton of confidence in my ability to work as a photographer.  I just have to carry that back with me to Los Angeles and see about doing that in the film biz when I get home.  That’s the plan at least…

      -T

  • http://twitter.com/skinnybackpackr Dustin Main

     Congrats on the 2 year anniversary!

    Shooting at the  clubs would be a lot of fun.  Too bad we weren’t in CM at the same time.
    You’re not making it to TBEX are you?

    • Anonymous

      Yeah, the clubs were a blast, though it has kinda ruined me for clubbing elsewhere.

      I’ll still be in Australia during TBEX but hope to try and make it next year, wherever it may end up (hopefully west coast US) :)

      I’m sure we’ll cross paths down the road…

      -T