Travel

Antony Barton lived and worked in Bangkok for a year in 2008 before travelling around Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysian Borneo, Brunei, Singapore and West Malaysia for seven months.

During this time, Antony developed an interest in south-east Asian temples and temple ruins, with enough photos and notes to warrant a historical journal.

In April 2010, Antony began a three-month project for Sandals Resorts International in the Caribbean. He was stationed in Jamaica, Antigua and St Lucia and performed research and editorial work for Sandals couples’ resorts, Beaches family resorts and Grand Pineapple beach resorts.

He is particularly interested in extensive periods of backpacking and budget travel, although he also seizes any opportunity for shorter stints in various European countries.

Countries visited: Antigua, Argentina, Austria, the Bahamas, Belgium, Bhutan, Brazil, Brunei, Cambodia, Canada, China, Croatia, Cuba, Egypt, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Laos, Malaysia (West and Borneo), Mexico, Monaco, Myanmar/Burma, Nepal, Netherlands, Peru, St Lucia, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, UK, USA, Vatican City, Vietnam.

Antony’s longer travels tend to become mini adventures. These allow for plenty of Gonzo journalism to complement his more objective writing assignments. The following is a chronology of some especially notable  experiences:

Dangerous Times in Egypt and Jordan (2004)

The Treasury, Petra © Antony BartonOn a break from his work as an in-house journalist, Antony spent 15 days travelling the length of Egypt and Jordan. Between sampling the night-life, markets and mosques in Cairo, he explored the pyramids on horseback and dashed around Coptic Cairo before boarding an overnight train for Aswan, where a felluca journey along the Nile allowed him to explore the riverside tombs.

There were plenty more tombs and temples to see in Luxor and the Valley of the Kings, after which Antony found himself enjoying Egyptian tea with his taxi driver’s extended family. A severe case of food poisoning overshadowed Hurghada but didn’t stop Antony enjoying Sharm el-Sheikh, where he witnessed shady events in a belly-dancing club and rode a quad bike through the desert to a Bedouin camp.

Arriving in Nuweiba, he decided to take a two-hour taxi ride to Mount Sinai. The climb up the 3,750 Steps of Repentance became a mad dash as sunset approached, and Antony found himself wishing he hadn’t worn a jellabiya. He also wished he had made plans for his return journey to Nuweiba.

A horrendous ferry crossing took him into Jordan, leaving Nuweiba the day that an al-Qaeda bomb exploded in the area. He explored the rose-red ruins of Petra before heading to Amman and taking a dip in the Dead Sea.

Main areas visited: (Egypt) Aswan, Cairo, Giza, Hurghada, Luxor, Nuweiba, Sharm el-Sheikh, Sinai, the Valley of the Kings; (Jordan) Amman, the Dead Sea, Petra.

Up the Coast of China (2005)

The Great Wall of China © Antony BartonAntony travelled up the coast of China over 17 days, with wet weather following him the whole way.

The journey from Hong Kong to Yangshuo involved driving through fields and counting road accidents along the way, but the boat trip along the Li River and cycle ride to Moon Hill replaced such spectacles with meandering rivers and limestone karsts.

A budget ferry from stormy Shanghai took Antony to the monasteries on Putuoshan, from where he returned to Shanghai and carried on to Xi’an and the Terracotta Army.

Two Chinese families outside Beijing’s Forbidden City asked to have their photos taken with Antony, and he visited the Summer Palace in the pouring rain soon after. He practically fought against the crowds in Tiananmen Square on National Day and relaxed with a hike along part of the Great Wall of China.

Main areas visited: Beijing, the Great Wall of China, Hong Kong, Putuoshan, Shanghai, Yangshuo, Xi’an.

Across the States in 90 days (2006)

Antony Barton at Big Sur © Antony BartonDetermined to experience his own American Dream, Antony set himself a challenge. He arrived in New Jersey on the 90-day Visa Waiver Program and, after almost being sent home by the customs official, began his journey from East Coast to West Coast, zigzagging across the States and seeing as much of this eclectic country as possible within three months.

Countless sleepless nights on Greyhound buses led to another 5,000 miles behind the wheel of a Dodge Stratus and two Ford Mustang convertibles. During his travels, he sank sangria with sequined cowboys at the Burning Man festival, took a novel approach to roulette at the Las Vegas tables, marvelled at Utah’s national parks and suffered what was possibly one of Greyhound’s most delayed and eventful overnight journeys.

States visited: Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Wyoming. (Massachusetts and Rhode Island previously visited.)

A Year in Thailand (2008)

Ko Tarutao © Antony BartonA year of work in Bangkok allowed Antony to immerse himself in the culture and see the surrounding regions before travelling Thailand exhaustively over the following two months. It was an exciting period of time in the capital, during which Antony witnessed a royal funeral, stumbled upon the exile Thaksin Shinawatra and entered the “yellow shirt” protest camp set up illegally at Government House. He also took a week-long soaking in the Songkran water festival and found himself in the VIP section at the King’s Cup Muay Thai tournament.

During Antony’s travels further afield, he walked the length of Hellfire Pass, crossed illegally into Myanmar, met Karen villagers on the Mae Hong Son loop, tracked gibbons in Khao Yai National Park and set up camp on one of the most desolate islands on Earth. He also relaxed on some of the world’s most beautiful beaches, snorkeled at most of the country’s top-rated dive locations (including the Similan Islands) and visited the temple ruins at Ayutthaya, Sukhothai, Si Satchanalai, Phimai and Phanom Rung.

Provinces visited: Ayutthaya, Bangkok, Chanthaburi, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Chonburi, Kanchanaburi, Khon Kaen, Krabi, Lampang, Lopburi, Mae Hong Son, Nakhon Pathom, Nakhon Ratchasima (Khorat), Nonthaburi, Phang Nga, Phetchaburi, Phitsanulok, Phuket, Ratchaburi, Rayong, Samut Prakan, Saraburi, Satun, Sukhothai, Suphanburi, Trang, Trat.

South-east Asia on a Shoestring (2009)

Ta Phrom, Angkor © Antony BartonFollowing his travels in Thailand, Antony explored the rest of south-east Asia over the next five months. From Cambodia, he travelled through Laos and Vietnam before flying to Malaysian Borneo and crossing into Brunei. He then flew to Singapore, explored West Malaysia and returned to Bangkok.

The challenge was living off the money he had earned during his work in Thailand. This entailed plenty of haggling, some experimentation with the local language and more than a few nights in dilapidated hotels with dubious bed sheets.

South-east Asia is now one of Antony’s favourite regions in the world. During his time in Cambodia, he discussed the Khmer Rouge atrocities with some of the regime’s victims, considered blowing up a fridge freezer with a rocket launcher in Phnom Penh and enjoyed several days at the temple ruins in Angkor and its surrounding regions.

In Laos, Antony learned about the widespread problem of unexploded ordnance, inadvertently risked his life on the swings and zip-lines in Vang Vieng and toured the homes and hideouts of President Kaysone and his Communist followers. He also visited the temple ruins at Champasak and toured the Plain of Jars before spending a whole week celebrating the Bun Pi Mai festival in beautiful Luang Prabang.

The highlights of Vietnam included a trek through the villages around Sapa, the water puppet show in Hanoi, walking the quaint streets in Hoi An and touring the coffee fields and waterfalls of Dalat. The lowlight was almost being run down by an irate Hanoian taxi driver. Antony also visited the Po Nagar Cham Towers, the Museum of Cham Sculpture and the ruins at My Son.

Summit of Mount Kinabalu © Antony BartonEvery day in Borneo provided memorable moments. In Malaysian Borneo, Antony spied on proboscis monkeys, had his umbrella stolen by an orangutan, celebrated Gawai Dayak with an Orang Ulu tribe in the rainforest and climbed the 4,095m Mount Kinabalu. Brunei offered resplendent mosques and a glimpse of the palace belonging to the world’s richest monarch.

Sipping a Singapore Sling in Raffles Hotel and wandering among the bizarre statues at Haw Par Villa were two of the quirkier moments in Singapore. Memories of West Malaysia include buying Gold Lotus Shoes in Melaka and walking along the world’s longest canopy walkway in the world’s oldest jungle.

Main areas visited: (Brunei) Bandar Seri Begawan, Jerudong; (Cambodia) Angkor, Battambang, Kampong Cham, Kampot, Kratie, Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Sihanoukville; (Laos) Bolaven Plateau, Champasak, Luang Prabang, Pakse, Phonsavan, Sam Neua, Si Phan Don, Vang Vieng, Vieng Xai, Vientiane; (Malaysian Borneo) Bako, Belaga, Bintulu, Kota Kinabalu, Kuching, Labuk Bay, Miri, Niah, Sandakan, Semenggoh, Sepilok; (Singapore) CBD, Chinatown, Colonial District, Haw Par Villa, Holland Village, Kampong Glam, Little India, Orchard Road, The Quays; (Vietnam) Cu Chi, Dalat, Danang, Demilitarized Zone, Dien Bien Phu, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City – Saigon, Hoi An, Hue, My Son, Nha Trang, Sapa, Tay Ninh; (West Malaysia) Johor, Kedah, Kuala Lumpur, Melaka, Pahang, Penang, Selangor.

Three Months in the Caribbean (2010)

Dancers in Jamaica © Antony BartonIn April 2010, Antony was hired by Sandals Resorts International for a three-month project in the Caribbean. While writing hotel and resort reviews, he spent time in Jamaica, Antigua, St Lucia and Nassau in the Bahamas.

Antony discovered plenty about the luxury vacations and tours available on these islands, in addition to uncovering activities available to people travelling on a budget. He became a Padi-certified Open Water Diver in this time and visited dive sites off each of the islands.

Besides zip-lining through the rainforest canopy and surveying the island from Fort Rodney, Antony also used his time in St Lucia to visit the world’s only drive-in volcano and unwind at a “jump-up” street party.

In Antigua, Antony swam with stingrays and toured the historic Nelson’s Dockyard. A catamaran circumnavigation and tour of the villages gave him a good understanding of the island’s geography, and he wrapped up his trip with a sunset party at Shirley heights.

Back in Jamaica, Antony cycled down Blue Mountain Peak, marvelled at the cliff jumpers in Rick’s Cafe, climbed Dunn’s River Falls and visited Bob Marley’s homes in downtown Kingston, Trenchtown and Nine Mile.

Main areas visited: (Antigua) Nelson’s Dockyard, Shirley Heights, various villages; (the Bahamas) downtown Nassau; (Jamaica) Blue Mountains, Kingston, Montego Bay, Negril, Nine Mile, Ocho Rios, Westmoreland; (St Lucia) Castries, Soufriere.

Exploring the West Coast of Turkey (2011)

Antony backpacked from Istanbul to Didim, taking in Pergamum, Selçuk, Ephesus, Kuşadası and the Greek island of Samos along the way. In Didim, he began nine days of sailing to Bodrum and back again, under the watchful eye of Captain Nick and his two-man crew.

Along with admiring ruins and Byzantine churches, Antony also encountered the quirkier side of Turkey in the shape of Whirling Dervishes and a fortune-telling rabbit.

His tour of ancient sites included visits to: two of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World (The Temple of Artemis and the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus); the Basilica of St John the Apostle in Selçuk; the Temple of Apollo in Didim; the Acropolis, Asclepion and Red Basilica in Pergamum; and the city of Ephesus.

Main areas visited: Bodrum, Didim, Ephesus, Istanbul, Kuşadası, Pergamum, Samos (Greece), Selçuk

Through to the Himalaya: Myanmar/Burma, Bhutan and Nepal (2012)

Just two months after Aung San Suu Kyi declared that visitors were once again welcome in Myanmar, Antony arrived in Yangon for a long-awaited trek around the fascinating country.

One or two bank-related difficulties in Vietnam meant that Antony was left calculating every single Kyat he spent when he arrived in Myanmar. This is the country where credit and debit cards cannot be used. Effectively, travellers must survive on the cash they arrive with, and this must take the form of immaculate post-2006 US dollar bills or a bench in Yangon airport could be as much of Myanmar that the traveller sees.

Although the cash situation intensified matters, it did not stop Antony taking in sights such as the glittering Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon before taking a domestic flight on a ramshackle twin-prop to tackle the immense heat of Bagan and explore dozens of the thousands of temples dotting the plains.

Inle Lake provided some respite, with the leaping cats of Nga Phe Kyaung monastery and the friendly fishermen of the water villages providing plenty of cheer. The six-hour bus and truck journey to Kyaiktiyo Pagoda in the rainy season was less well advised, with three-metre visibility rendering the Golden Rock considerably less impressive than most photographs suggest.

The rain ceased when Antony arrived in Bhutan for his four-day experience. Famous for being the world’s most expensive country to visit, with travellers paying a base rate of US $250 a day just to be there, this country benefits from being off the typical tourist itinerary. Antony soaked up the magical serenity of traditional Paro and trekked up to Paro Taktsang, the cliff-top wonder otherwise known as Tiger’s Nest Monastery. Glorious views of the Himalaya lined the route to the capital, Thimpu, where Antony met artisans and explored nearby monasteries.

A bittersweet farewell to The Land of the Thunder Dragon was swiftly followed by Antony’s arrival in the significantly more intense Nepalese capital. Highlights of Nepal included exploring the cities containing the three Durbar Squares (Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Patan), relaxing in Sarangkot with truly staggering views of the Himalaya, witnessing the proceedings at the Dakshinkali blood temple, enjoying the laid-back lakeside life of Pokhara and marvelling at a Buddhist ceremony in the Tashi Ling Tibetan refugee settlement.

Antony was also lucky enough to be in Kathmandu at the same time that a group of teachers and Year 12 students were about to tackle the Ghorepani Gandruk circuit around the Annapurna range. This sounded infinitely preferable to the solo trek Antony was preparing, so he joined them. The four-day experience involved covering 52 kilometres and ascending 2,250 metres, with moments of torrential rain and far too many encounters with leeches marking the way. Once the students were asleep, evenings were spent learning new games in the tea houses or drinking Raksi with the Sherpas, with majestic glimpses of the towering peaks invigorating the leech fodder for another day’s hard trekking.

Main areas visited: (Bhutan) Paro, Thimpu; (Myanmar/Burma) Bagan, Inle Lake, Kyaiktiyo Pagoda/Golden Rock, Yangon; (Nepal) Banthanti, Birethanti, Gandruk, Ghorepani, Kathmandu, Nagathanti, Pokhara, Sarangkot, Tadapani, Tiki Dunga, Ulleri

Spain: Trance Nights and Tomato Fights (2013)

Antony decided it was time to see more of what Europe had to offer. A visit to friends was the perfect excuse for starting a five-week tour of Spain in the fabulously flamboyant capital. Cue night after night of street festivals and days spent savouring the galleries, churches, parks and plazas of Madrid. Hours in the largest royal palace in western Europe and admiring the artwork of Reina Sofia and the Prado were followed with delicious tapas, local cerveza and late-night churros.

A trip to the medieval ‘imperial city’ of Toledo provided meandering strolls of a Quixotic flavour, with Salamanca affording a couple more days of Unesco-endorsed sight-seeing. Antony rounded off his experience in this university sprawl of carved façades with some fine candlelit paella in the Plaza Mayor – widely regarded as one of the most beautiful plazas in Spain.

A very different side to Spain came next. Antony flew to Ibiza for five nights of clubbing, with San Antonio as his base. Days were passed experiencing the various beaches, with sunsets admired back at Café Del Mar or enjoying boat parties. The notorious drinking crowds of San Antonio were happily avoided in favour of a clubbing clientele and big names at a different club every night. After extended nocturnality, Antony eventually joined the snoring hordes dotted around Ibiza airport.

From Ibiza, Antony headed to Barcelona. Gaudi architecture coloured much of the itinerary, as Palau Güell was followed by Casa Batlló, Casa Milà, Park Güell and the phenomenal Sagrada Família, each giving a startling indication of true genius. Strolls along La Rambla and Barcelona’s beaches contrasted dramatically with the throbbing crowds and street music of Festa Major de Gràcia, where the late-night festivities in the themed streets ended with a tremendous display of close-quarter fireworks.

Next up was Valencia, which boasted the visually futuristic City of Arts and Sciences. Antony toured the various ancient monuments of the Barrio del Carmen, revelled in an evening of flamenco and took a trip out to Xativa in the lead up to La Tomatina – a festival in nearby Buñol where thousands of people gather to hurl approximately 150,000 squashed tomatoes at each other in the space of an hour. Antony found that goggles were next to useless when the tomato-throwing began. He also discovered that wearing tomato-soaked trainers on a return flight later that day is not to be advised.

Main areas visited: Madrid, Toledo, Salamanca, Ibiza, Barcelona, Valencia, Xativa, Buñol

Back on the Road: Southern Spain, the French Riviera and the Length of Italy (2014)

 Cap d'Ail, France © Antony Barton Eager to explore more of Spain, Antony flew to Malaga with his friend Hugh for a road trip that took in sights such as the medieval Alcázar in Seville, the Moorish Mezquita of Córdoba and the exquisite Alhambra of Granada.

After parting with his friend, Antony took a train through eastern Spain and into France, where he began his tour of the French Riviera in Nîmes.  The ampitheatre, Maison Carrée, Temple of Diane and Tour Magne formed an arresting suite of sights that earnt this city the title of French Rome, but the Pont du Gard proved an incredible spectacle that rounded off Antony’s time in this beguiling region.

Med-side relaxation was guaranteed in Nice, but the raucous night-life was an unexpected and welcome addition. A brief train journey and glorious coastal walk allowed for a day in Monaco, replete with the constantly replenished fleet of supercars outside the Monte Carlo Casino.

Following a flight to Florence, Antony met his friend Sam for a few days exploring the Renaissance art in the Tuscan capital before taking a rented soft-top southwards. The pair sampled the food of Volterra, the many wines of Montepulciano, the sights of Siena and the grandeur of Rome before winding up this epic road journey with the ruins of Herculaneum and a few  nights in Naples.

Main areas visited: (Spain) Malaga, Seville, Córdoba, Granada, Barcelona; (France) Nîmes, Nice; (Monaco) Monte Carlo; (Italy) Florence, Volterra, Montepulciano, Siena, Rome, Herculaneum, Naples

Going South: Peru and Brazil (2015)

Machu Picchu, Peru © Antony BartonAntony explored Peru and Brazil over six weeks, regarding the year between Rio’s World Cup and Olympic Games as the time to see Brazil at its best.

Antony saw the teeming wildlife of Islas Ballestas and the Paracas National Reserve, enjoyed a spot of dune-buggying and sandboarding in the desert oasis of Huacachina and decided to risk his life on a notorious two-man microlight flight over the Nazca Lines to see the iconic set of geoglyphs.

Further on, past Arequipa, he stayed with a Peruvian family in the mountain region to see the people of Colca Canyon and the majestic condors of Cruz del Condor. Accidental encounters with religious festivals and town parades were also part of the experience.

Antony traversed Lake Titicaca to see the floating straw islands of Uros and the vibrant Fiesta de Santiago on Taquile before heading north to Cusco, which yielded beautiful architecture and Incan ruins in the form of Qenco, Puca Pucara, Tambomachay and Sacsayhuaman.

Tier upon tier of Incan terraces in Ollantaytambo and a mountainous scramble up to its Incan storehouses prepared Antony for the rigours of Machu Picchu – surely the most stunning of the Wonders of the Modern World.

Back in the Sacred Valley, Antony took in Pisac, Urubamba, Maras and Moray before taking a flight north to Trujillo. Here, the Pre-Columbian adobe city of Chan Chan was the main draw, but Huanchaco beach and the colourful town centre brought some vibrant modernity.

From Lima, Antony flew to Foz de Iguacu in Brazil for the awe-inspiring Iguacu Falls, which he also decided to see from the Argentinian side. Next up was Mato Grosso for the Pantanal wetlands and several days of spotting jaguars, capybaras and caymans alongside a BBC film crew.

Salvador, Brazil © Antony BartonRio de Janeiro was a battery of sound and colour, with big nights in Lapa juxtaposed with trips to Cristo Redentor, Sugarloaf Mountain, Copacabana Beach and the surrounding favelas. As a stark contrast, the next four days were spent in the Amazon rainforest. Activities included swimming with pink dolphins, meeting an indigenous tribe, fishing for pyranhas, catching a caiman, handling a tarantula and dodging a bullet ant or two.

A flight from Manaus took Antony to his final South American destination  Salvador. The energetic street samba, frenetic markets and intriguing Candomble rituals left their mark on Antony (literally, in some cases), with a return trip to the continent likely in the coming years.

Main areas visited: (Peru) Lima, Paracas, Islas Ballestas, Ica, Huacachina, Nazca, Arequipa, Chivay, Colca Canyon, Lake Titicaca, Uros, Taquile, Cusco, Ollantaytambo, Machu Picchu, Pisac, Urubamba, Maras, Moray, Trujillo, Chan Chan, Huanchaco; (Brazil) Foz de Iguacu for the Iguacu Falls, Mato Grosso for the Pantanal, Rio de Janeiro, Manaus, Amazon Rainforest, Salvador

Cuba: The Americans are Coming (2016)

The Malecon in Havana, Cuba © Antony BartonThe largest country in the Caribbean is on the verge of dramatic change in the next couple of years. With Obama keen to end the crippling embargo with Cuba by the end of his administration in 2017, we could see even more of a national transformation than when Raul Castro made steps toward more economic and social flexibility in 2008 with measured privatisation and internet access.

Antony therefore recognised 2016 as the time to visit Cuba. This was particularly true for July, with Santiago de Cuba’s carnival celebrations proving the grandest in the Caribbean.

Beginning with several days in the various neighbourhoods of bustling Havana, Antony left behind the 1950s Plymouths plying the streets of the capital and took the reins for a horse ride through the coffee plantations and tobacco drying sheds of Viñales. From here, Antony explored the convergence of Parisian boulevards and a Miami-style Malecón in the former French settlement of Cienfuegos, the “Perla del Sur”.

Trinidad’s colourful colonial architecture allowed for captivating strolls through quiet backstreets, while live salsa made for livelier evenings. A jellyfish encounter and a spot of sunburn did little to detract from the gorgeously sunny Playa Ancon.

Lunch in a locomotive and ice cream in a Soviet fuselage were among the quirkier treats in colonial Camagüey, and the plaza in Bayamo where Fidel Castro gave his final public address came alive with a Saturday night fiesta of hog roasts, dog displays and goat rides. A trip to El Cobre presented Cuba’s sacred pinnacle in the form of the town’s basilica, which proved equally picturesque and moving.

The final stop was Santiago de Cuba. Here, the Oriente region’s feistiness was palpable in its evocative and dazzling and city-wide carnival. Night after night, spectacularly colourful six-hour parades followed day-long street parties where energy never seemed to flag. Antony was spoilt for invitations to share drinks and have a dance; this was the friendly Caribbean spirit at its best.

Main areas visited: Bayamo, Camagüey, Cienfuegos, El Cobre, Havana, Playa Ancon, Santiago de Cuba, Trinidad, Viñales.

A Month in Japan and South Korea (2017)

Coming soon….