The Big Trip

If you want to know everything I got up to (well, almost) I'm afraid you'll have to read the book. But these photographs should give you a flavour of some of the places I went to. They are roughly in the order in which they were taken.

Australia and New Zealand

The Sydney Opera House

I know you've seen countless picture of the Sydney Opera House. But nothing quite prepares you for how beautiful it is. I spent the first evening of my trip sitting beneath its wings, drinking coke, and pinching myself in an effort to convince myself I was really here.

The parrot at Manly

And yes, I did go to an opera: Rigoletto, set in the 1930s. I sat right at the back, and could still hear every word. It is just as magnificent inside as out.

I can't actually blame this parrot for my being lost on a beach near Manly. But taking this photograph, from a distance of about one metre, distracted me from the fact that the sun was going down and I had no idea where I was. Ten minutes later common sense deserted me and I was on a beach with the tide coming in and a cliff behind me, the sun sinking over the horizon and turning the sea an evening purple.

Swimming in the Barrier Reef

It was my first 'oh sh*t' moment. I ended up climbing the cliff and scrambling back through the forest in the pitch black, while a kookaburra serenaded me. I still don't blame the parrot.

No 'oh sh*t' moments here, even though I was wimpy and needed a sausage thing to hang onto, but I still swam in the Barrier Reef. The water really was this blue. The sky this clear.

What I can't show you, as I have no underwater camera, is the glorious diversity of marine life twenty feet below me. The coral that waves; the fish that come out out to play. It was a childhood dream - to swim on the Barrier Reef. And worth all the waiting.

New Zealand is painfully beautiful. Photographs cannot possibly capture just how extraordinary it is.

Doubtful Sound

We (a friend's mother had joined me for a while) took a trip across the mountains to Milford Sound. There is a walk, I know - for the truly fit and intrepid. And maybe safer than the minibuses that wend their way across the high pass and down the switchback road to the sea.

We were even in a little flotilla, heading out through the sound towards the open sea. Yet somehow they didn't matter. The mountains, with their snow and impenetrable forests, towered over us. The air smelled of sea. The crowds seems to fall away. Maybe all of us were reminded just how very small we were.

Lake Tekapo

We drove through South Island, New Zealand in an enormous campervan. (That is a story in itself). Our campsite by Lake Tekapo was hidden safely in the forest behind the spot where this photograph was taken. The lake really is that blue - the colour explained by the presence of mineral washed down from the mountains. Who cares about explanations? It is, simply, beautiful.

Sunset over Te Anau

I have countless photographs of sunsets. This was taken at Te Anau, near Milford Sound.

For once, it does not suggest wonderful weather. Oh - the sun had shone. And the wind had howled up from the South. But we forgave it when the sun lit the sky so gloriously.

Nepal and India

The Boudhanath, Kathmandu

The Boudhanath, in Kathmandu, is a huge Buddhist stupa. There are various legends associated with it, included a suggestion that it was constructed as a penance by King Songsten Gampo for unwittingly killing his father. No-one can confirm what is contained within its giant dome, though it is likely that relics are buried there.

However, that feels insignificant for the pilgrims who walk around the base, idly flicking at prayer wheels and chanting om mani padme om all the way round.

An early morning canoe trip in Chitwan National Park

I mingled with the monks, twirled the prayer wheels, and gazed at those eyes. They seemed to be asking, 'What are you doing here?' As if I knew the answer.

I got up very early one morning, in Chitwan National Park, to take a canoe trip down the river and walk back through the jungle.

Suddenly the boatman put his fingers to his lips, pointed to what looked like a log, and told us to be very quiet.

Elephant having a rest after his bath

'Crocodile,' he explained later. 'Very cold in the morning, too cold to move quickly. But best to be safe.'

Later he would give us advice on how to run away from a rhinoceros.

Elephants are working creatures in India and Nepal. Of course not all are well-cared for.

But many are treasured as much as an English person loves a dog. This elephant had just been taken to the river for a bath. He lumbered into the water, then tipped his mahout from his back and sank into the river, whooshing water across his back with the enthusiasm of a toddler at play.

His ablutions completed, he clambered from the river and sank down on the back to rest. With a strangely smug look on his face. He knows something that I don't.

Caw among the rubbish

It is impossible to avoid cows in India. They stand in the middle of the road. They meander among the faithful at the temples. They shuffle among the rubbish.

They are, if you like, a personification of everything that is different about India. The western visitor might raise an eyebrow at the general lack of hygiene - yes, there are cow-plops in the street and it's a fortunate visitor who never slips in one.

The Taj Mahal at daybreak

But you learn to accept them. They have as much right to the streets as we have. And the cars have. And the tuk tuks and bicycles and buses and taxis and street vendors and beggars. If you can't manage cows, then maybe give India miss.

And then there's the other extreme - the magnificent Taj Mahal.

I thought twice about adding yet another picture of the Taj Mahal to the internet. Everyone knows what it looks like. And yet nothing quite prepares you for how it makes you feel.

This photo was taken at daybreak, as it was waking up. The jewels embedded in the marble were just beginning to drink in the sunlight. Over the hour it turned from purple, to blue, to pink, to yellow, and finally its daytime white. I spent every minute watching - it is, simply, magical.

Spices in the market

India is as famous for her food as she is for cows and the Taj Mahal.

And most Indians buy their spices at the market. There is a bit of a hoo-ha at the moment about the possibility of western-style supermarkets joining in. Maybe stalls like this, with its pungent smell of spices, will become a thing of the past. Maybe the little stalls where traders sell their meagre harvest of vegetable, will disappear. Maybe even the street traders, with their dodgy watches and phones and cricket bats, will be part of history.

I so hope not.

South-East Asia

Even the tea is perfect in Singapore

Nothing quite prepared me for the differences between India and Singapore - epitomised here by this perfect cup of tea, in a perfectly designed cup, set on a perfect marble table-top outside an immaculate museum. The museum is set on the riverside - which smells only of water. Boats chug up and down with tourists and obligatory cameras, snapping away at the perfections of Singapore.

The view from my hut on Tioman

There is only so much perfection a traveller can take. So it was on to Malaysia, to stay on Pulau Tioman, a tiny island off the south-east coast. This is the view from my little wooden hut.

Around me- another hut or two. A few shacks selling food. Fishing boats bobbing about in the bay. And, just once, a sea eagle flying across with fish in its talons. The sea was blue. The sky was clear (except from some dramatic electric storms in the evenings). A turtle lived in the rocks on the headland.

Up with the monkeys in the Malaysian jungle

This is the Pacific Island of my dreams. I'm still not sure how I made myself leave.

Even reaching Taman Nagara is an adventure - in a dug-out canoe up the Temberling River, with dense rainforest all along the river banks.

No shy turtles here. Rather there were snakes, and leeches, and ants with big red bottoms, and centipedes with poisonous bites.

So a tree-top walk, with only the monkeys for company, seemed a significantly safer option, even though it was over 100ft down to the river meandering its way through the jungle below.

Woman selling shrimps in a Bangkok Market

From Malaysia to Thailand.

Bangkok is a noisy, crowded, decandent city. Tiny soi (alleyways) are crammed with bars and stalls selling spicy street food.

Young women (and boys) strut by with creaky western men. Music pumps from the bars. Yes, it is slightly seedy. But it is also great fun.

For, just a street or so away from all the tourist-shenanigans, local women sell food to the bar and restaurant owners. Without the tourists, these women - and their families - go hungry. And here's me, behaving like a tourist and taking a photo. Which is probably why this woman looks so pleased with herself.

The feet of the golden Buddha

It's not, of course, all frivolity. Thailand also has her spiritual side - represented, for me, by the Reclining Buddha.

It is impossible to encompass the entire Buddha in one picture. To give you an idea of scale, I am probably about the same height as two toes.

Yet there is something extraordinarily peaceful about this Buddha. In spite of its size, and extravagance of the gold, I could have stood and stared at it all day. If only the tourist herds would have gone back to their bars and left me to it.

Women and children at the Painting Project

In contrast, Cambodia is recovering from its too-recent holocaust. If you don't know about the terrors of the Khmer Rouge - then google it. This picture will then make complete sense.

For here are a group of women and children, cooking on a beach. The children spent much of the time scavenging, or flirting with tourists. Who can blame them: they have nothing.

That is, until the birth of the Cambodian Children's Painting Project. Children paint little pictures, which are sold to tourists for $4 - the children have $2 to take home to their families and the project gives them food, clean water and basic medical care. Tourists have begun to sponsor some of the children to go to school.

There is an incongruous - glorious - optimism.

One Last Picture

Not the way I wanted it to end

This picture will only make sense to those who have read the book. It was not one of my most exciting moments.

But it wasn't the end of the story. As you can see from this site, no sooner have I returned from one trip and written a book about it, then I'm planning the next one!