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May Specials from Master Liveaboards

May 3, 2017 – 8:30 pm

These special offers to be booked before the end of May…
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French Polynesia Master – Fakarava & the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve
Last Minute Special – 25% discount
• 7 nights: 24 June – 1 July 2017

Truk Master – Master Truk Lagoon
20% discount
• 7 nights: 23 July – 30 July 2017
• 10 nights: 6 – 16 September 2017

Maldives Master
20% discount
• 7 nights: 13 – 20 Nov. 2017 – Pelagic Encounters
• 7 nights: 21 – 28 Nov. 2017 – Magical Maldives
• 12 nights: 30 Nov. – 13 Dec. 2017 – Central Atolls & Beyond

Bookings must be made before the 31st May and confirmed by 14 June

Further info and to reserve your place, please contact Symbiosis Custom Travel.

May Specials with Siren Dive Liveaboards

May 3, 2017 – 8:23 pm

Siren-fleet-banner20% Discount on the following cruises:

Fiji Siren  –  Dive Beyond the Bligh
• 10 nights: 25 August – 04 September 2017  

Indo Siren  –  Komodo National Park
• 10 nights: 01 – 11 September 2017

Palau Siren  –  Dive the Rock Islands
• 7 nights: 21 – 28 August 2017

Philippine Siren  – Malapascua & The Visayas
• 10 nights: 28 August – 07 September 2017

Contact Symbiosis Custom Travel now to book. This month only.

Diving between Bunaken and Lembeh

May 3, 2017 – 5:59 pm

Siladen-14Siladen Resort is now offering boat transfers between their resorts in Bangka and Lembeh, diving along the way. This means that changing resort doesn’t mean losing a day of what you love to do most on vacation! 

Contact Symbiosis Custom Travel for more info and to book your next dive trip.

Phnom Penh Street food

February 24, 2017 – 6:19 pm

Bangkok and Chiang Mai may have the richest street food in South East Asia, but Phnom Penh is finally making an effort to join the fray…

Reflections on the Chindwin by Pandaw Founder Paul Strachan

February 22, 2017 – 12:33 pm

Reprinted from the Pandaw Blog
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‘The Chindwin is the loveliest of rivers…’ so wrote my late friend Alister McCrae of his 1930s trip up the great tributary as a young assistant of the Irrawaddy Flotilla*. And so it remains. I have been up a few rivers in my time and the Chindwin without a doubt remains the loveliest of them all. The Laos Mekong, with its gorges and rocks the size of apartment blocks is on a grander, almost intimidating, scale. The Irrawaddy is a magnificent beast as it expands and contracts through a series of vast shimmering water filled plain and tight defiles. Nothing could beat the Brahmaputra for bird and wildlife and nothing could beat the great Mekong Delta for human life.

I returned this year to the Chindwin to find it little changed in a world of great change. Timeless, soulful, the river meanders through range upon range of forested hills, through rocky narrows and great open spaces. You are up against towering bluffs to one side and shimmering seas of elephant grass on the other. Our course is punctuated by pristine villages that have not visibly changed in a millennia. On the Chindwin, you will find the real Burma: a quietly prosperous riverine economy, self-sufficient and at one with its self.

I first explored the Chindwin in 1986 when I travelled up river on a small motorboat. I was twenty-five then and spent the better part of a week sleeping on sand banks as the boatmen tried to coax our overladen vessel off these sand banks. This was in April and the river was so shallow you could walk across. I fell in love with the river and marvelled at the art treasures that awaited in long forgotten wood carved monasteries, one of which at Mingkin I believe to be the oldest in Burma.

The best places to stay, when not on the sand banks, were in the village monasteries. At Kan I formed a friendship with the spiritual, yet at the same time highly capable sayadaw (abbott), that lasts to this day. The Kan Sayadaw ran the village as a sort of benign theocracy and it was the tidiest, cleanest and most quietly prosperous village in Burma. His aura of authority was such that he was able to keep out the hordes of rapacious officials lying in wait in the nearby township of Mingkin.

The Chindwin is the Irrawaddy’s greatest tributary flowing down 700 miles from the Patkai Hills in North-East India, said to the be the wettest place in the world, which accounts for a monsoon rise of water levels of 100ft and sometimes the river can rise thirty feet in a night. In the low water season from mid-October onwards, the water level drops to three feet or less and is navigable only by vessels with the shallowest of drafts. The river is navigable from its confluence with the Irrawaddy as far as Homalin which is 400 miles.

Photos courtesy of Barry Broman and Paul Strachan

Photos courtesy of Barry Broman and Paul Strachan

I did not return till the late 90s on our first Pandaw and there was virtually no change from when I had been up there fifteen years before. Roads were few and cars fewer. The Chinese ‘colonisation’ of Burma was just beginning and had yet to reach these remote parts. It was a joyful reunion with the Kan Sayadaw, witnessed by bemused guests on board. I have been lucky enough to do the trip a couple more times in the intervening years and it just seems to get lovelier and lovelier.

This year I took my family on our Kalay Pandaw, the five cabin so called ‘Pandaw Owner’s Yacht'; not that we get to go in it very much as it is usually fully booked. The Kalay followed the nine cabin Zawgyi. In December the weather is just perfect, the temperature ranging from 15C at night to 25C by day. No one used the air conditioners and most meals were taken outside, though fleeces are a must at breakfast time.

On both the Zawgyi and Kalay every single guest, bar one couple, had been with Pandaw before, many several times. Everyone was up for an adventure and had many a tale of past groundings, evacuations and the other dramas associated with a Pandaw river expedition. Perhaps to some people’s regret, this expedition went quite smoothly, as, though low water, the channels were very clearly defined and we never hit the bottom once. Both these ships draw just under three feet and being small can manoeuvre tight bends. A couple of years ago at the same time of year, the water got so low that a number of key channels blocked and there were queues of boats waiting to get through. We had a lot of complaints that year.

Things have changed now since the 80s and 90s. For one thing, there was 3G for the entire length of the river. I am not sure that is such a good thing as one of the joys of Burma river travel was going ‘offline’. Likewise, on the Irrawaddy you are now ‘wired’ the whole way. As a result, every local you meet, from fisherman to ploughman, has a smart phone and seems to be on Facebook. New roads run parallel to the river and you see cars in the village; as with everywhere in Burma today, everyone is dashing around on a scooter. Even, there is grid power in the larger villages, yet despite the march of modernity, the intrinsic atmosphere of these Chindwin towns and villages remained the same – very friendly, very polite and still with their original wooden houses, very pretty.

I am glad to say that the Kan Sayadaw, now in his eighties, is thriving. Lots of new houses seemed to be under construction around the village and he complained to me, somewhat ironically, that now the once draconian laws of the military dictatorship were relaxed, people were cutting down trees for wood. However, he had won the argument by telling the villagers that tourists want to see the trees and the place would not be so attractive without them.

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The Chindwin was first explored in 1881 by two Scots, Fred Kennedy of the Irrawaddy Flotilla and Annan Bryce of the Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation, who had timber concessions up there from the Burmese king. Upper Burma was then ruled by King Thibaw whilst Lower Burma was British. The IFC ran paddle steamers from Rangoon, the colonial capital, to the royal capital of Mandalay and had agents there and upstream as far as Bhamo. The Chindwin, flowing up to the border of British India was of considerable strategic and commercial interest. However, the main barrier to any development of these opportunities were the water levels with, as said, an average dry season depth of about three feet and in the monsoon, a flow rate strong enough to stop any ship.

Fred Kennedy reported back to Glasgow where the legendary ship builder Peter Denny was one of the company directors. Denny went back to his drawing board in Scotland and came up with a radical new design – the Kha Byoo. In order to maintain trim, the boiler was situated in the bow and the paddles on the stern. One hundred and seventy-foot-long, it drew just two feet! The furnace was wood fired and the company went on to set up fuelling stations at regular intervals so the ship would not be weighed down with its wood pile. The loading was done by girls who would sing as they daintily stepped down the gangplank with stacks of wood beautifully balanced on their heads.

The IFC opened the Chindwin valley to trade and this rich hinterland was able to send its produce by steamer to market. In fact, the Chindwin then, as now, was agriculturally far richer than the Irrawaddy valley and had a far denser population in the arable flat lands. There were oil fields around Mawlaik and of course the rich forests, managed on a strict conservation basis, yielded many a raft of teak logs, floated down river to the great sawmills of Rangoon.

It was up the Chindwin that the British retreated in 1942 with the Japanese hot on their tail. In some instances, the Japanese would enter a town a mere twenty minutes after the British had vacated it. IFC ships were used to evacuate the British civilian population and then used to ferry the retreating army across at key points. The ships were scuppered at Shitthaung lest the Japanese use them to supply their planned invasion of India. In 1943 the Chindwin was crossed again as part of Operation Loincloth, the first Chindit campaign that wreaked havoc on the up till then seemingly invincible Japanese. And it was again down the Chindwin valley that in 1944 Bill Slim and the 14th Army marched back and turned ‘Defeat into Victory’.

Our fellow passengers were a fit bunch, preferring to go exploring on our village stops by mountain bike. (All our ships carry mountain bikes now.) I was amused to see a possy of mountain bikes bombing off down some jungle track being followed by a tuk tuk containing the rather portly local guide. I could see that our intrepid passengers were really enjoying a feeling of ‘exclusivity’, being the only foreign visitors on the whole length of the river. The great thing about the river being so shallow is that only very small, ultra-shallow draft ships can make it and none of the big white cruisers that congest the waterways between Pagan and Mandalay can get up here.

We travelled with our teenage son Toni and a friend of his – living proof that these expeditions are a great experience for younger people. There is just so much to see and do and they get a real insight into another culture and way of life. Each evening the crew would set up a badminton net for a crew vs kids session. This would generally disintegrate into a football knock around in which locals would join in. We had some trainees on board and it was suggested to Toni he might do something useful and teach them some English. He roped them into a marathon Monopoly game, conducted in English of course. There were great shrieks of mirth emanating from the saloon all afternoon.

It was with a heavy heart that we disembarked at Mingkin leaving our guests to continue to Mawlaik. We drove back to Pagan in just seven hours along a freshly cut mountain road, unthinkable a few years ago when the river was the only form of communication.

The Kha Byoo runs on the Chindwin weekly from September to February from Kalewa to Homalin (high water) Monywa to Kalewa (low water). Berths can be booked through Symbiosis Custom Travel who can also advise on and plan your travels before and after your cruise.

Dive Raja Ampat last minute special

February 22, 2017 – 10:50 am

Book Raja 4 Divers now for a dive holiday stay between 01 April and 03 June and get an instant 15% discount.

ALSO

Book a stay between 50 August and 30 September and enjoy 10% off.
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CURRENT AVAILABILITY (subject to change):

April 2017
01 to 08 Apr 2017, 7 nights – 10 spaces
15% LAST MINUTE DISCOUNT on the pre-booked package accommodation/diving

08to 15 Apr 2017, 7 nights – 12 spaces
15% LAST MINUTE DISCOUNT on the pre-booked package accommodation/diving

15 to 22 Apr 2017, 7 nights – 14 spaces
15% LAST MINUTE DISCOUNT on the pre-booked package accommodation/diving

22 to 29 Apr 2017, 7 nights – 8 spaces
15% LAST MINUTE DISCOUNT on the pre-booked package accommodation/diving

29 Apr to 06 May 2017, 7 nights – 12 spaces
15% LAST MINUTE DISCOUNT on the pre-booked package accommodation/diving

May 2017
06 to 13 May 2017, 7 nights – 12 spaces
15% LAST MINUTE DISCOUNT on the pre-booked package accommodation/diving

13 to 20 May 2017, 7 nights – 16 spaces
15% LAST MINUTE DISCOUNT on the pre-booked package accommodation/diving

20 to 27 May 2017, 7 nights – 12 spaces
15% LAST MINUTE DISCOUNT on the pre-booked package accommodation/diving

27 May to 03 Jun 2017, 7 nights – 14 spaces
15% LAST MINUTE DISCOUNT on the pre-booked package accommodation/diving

June 2017
17 Jun to 01 Jul 2017, 14 nights – 16 spaces
U30 SPECIAL 2017
Only Euro 2555 for 2 weeks for all divers under the age of 30!
Includes accommodation, full board, unlimited diving, rental gear etc.

July 2017
01 to 08 Jul 2017, 7 nights – 12 spaces
Stay with Raja4Divers on the beautiful private island Pulau Pef and dive the north-west of Raja Ampat

08 to 15 Jul 2017, 7 nights – 2 spaces
These 2 spaces on request only

15 to 22 Jul 2017, 7 nights – 8 spaces
Stay with Raja4Divers on the beautiful private island Pulau Pef and dive the north-west of Raja Ampat

August 2017
05 to 12 Aug 2017, 7 nights – 14 spaces
10% RAJA4DIVERS SPECIAL on the pre-booked package accommodation/diving

12 to 19 Aug 2017, 7 nights – 16 spaces
10% RAJA4DIVERS SPECIAL on the pre-booked package accommodation/diving

19 to 26 Aug 2017, 7 nights – 16 spaces
10% RAJA4DIVERS SPECIAL on the pre-booked package accommodation/diving

26 Aug to 02 Sep 2017, 7 nights – 16 spaces
10% RAJA4DIVERS SPECIAL on the pre-booked package accommodation/diving

September 2017
02 to 09 Sep 2017, 7 nights – 16 spaces
10% RAJA4DIVERS SPECIAL on the pre-booked package accommodation/diving

09 to 16 Sep 2017, 7 nights – 18 spaces
10% RAJA4DIVERS SPECIAL on the pre-booked package accommodation/diving

16 to 23 Sep 2017, 7 nights – 16 spaces
10% RAJA4DIVERS SPECIAL on the pre-booked package accommodation/diving

23 to 30 Sep 2017, 7 nights – 16 spaces
10% RAJA4DIVERS SPECIAL on the pre-booked package accommodation/diving

30 Sep to 07 Oct 2017, 7 nights – 16 spaces
Stay with Raja4Divers on the beautiful private island Pulau Pef and dive the north-west of Raja Ampat

Contact Symbiosis Custom Travel today to reserve your space.

Indonesian villages powered by locally sourced sustainable energy

February 13, 2017 – 1:29 pm

7 February 2017 / Della Syahni – Mongabay

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A Pandansari resident tends mangroves plants. Photo by Donny Iqbal

Indonesia’s national energy strategy relies on large fossil-fuel plants, but remote villages show alternatives are possible.

An estimated 1.6 million poor households in Indonesia are not connected to the electricity grid.

Indonesia’s national energy plan, which targets 35,000 megawatts of new generating capacity, relies primarily on coal and other fossil fuels.

In rural, off-grid areas, the government has shown more support for renewable energy generation, but progress remains slow.

In the meantime, villages like Reno on Flores Island have built their own small-scale renewable energy sources.

In a country where much of the rural population lives off the grid, villages on the Indonesian island of Flores boast their own renewable energy sources — all built by local communities.

Reno village on Flores hosts only 134 homes. The local economy revolves around weaving, raising chickens and selling snacks. Now, a micro-hydroelectric generator is powering the village.

Rural electrification is a persistent and evolving challenge for Indonesia, especially for remote communities on the fringes and uplands of the vast archipelago. By the end of 2015, Indonesia’s electrification ratio stood at 88.3 percent, behind Southeast Asian neighbors like Singapore and Thailand. An estimated 1.6 million poor households are not connected to a grid.

Indonesia is currently planning to add 35,000 megawatts to the national power grid, but it is projected to continue to overwhelmingly depend on fossil fuels, with plans to build 117 new coal-fired plants as part of the expansion policy.

Catholic Pastor Marselus Hasan had a different idea for Reno village.

Full story on Mongabay

Wild Haven of Cambodia

February 7, 2017 – 9:39 pm

BEFORE THE FLOOD: Can the Bunong Culture Survive Cambodia’s Sesan II Dam?

February 3, 2017 – 12:14 pm

Published on Mongabay, 27 January 2017: Story and photo by Luc Forsyth
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Divided by promises of compensation, ethnic minority villages in northeastern Cambodia face relocation for a hydropower dam.When completed, the Lower Sesan II dam will inundate 36,000 hectares (89,000 acres) of forest and force 5,000 people to relocate, activists say.

The Bunong, an ethnic minority group whose livelihood and culture depends on the river and the forest, will be among the most affected by the dam.

Even before the dam is completed, Bunong villages like Kbal Romeas have been divided, as some residents accept compensation packages while others staunchly refuse to leave their land.

At a time when much of Cambodia is developing at a breakneck speed, where smartphones and BMWs have become almost as ubiquitous on the streets of Phnom Penh as saffron-robed monks, the village of Kbal Romeas inhabits a world apart. Tucked deep into the jungles of the country’s untamed northeast, the village has no convenience stores, streetlights, or paved roads. Instead, a visitor would be more likely to find a stretched snakeskin nailed to a piece of teak, drying in the midday sun as a testament to the animist beliefs of the people who live there.

Full story here.

Cycling in Burma

January 31, 2017 – 11:46 am

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Step back in time and be mesmerized by spirituality and pace of life of modern day Burma. From temple hopping, exploring the countryside, and discovering the coastline, touring Burma by bike is one of the best ways to experience this truly unique destination.

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14 Day, 13 Night Burma Adventure. Guaranteed departures 12 February and 17 December, 2017.
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7 Day, 6 Night Burma Heritage by Bicycle. Available Departures : 6 February, 10 April, 10 July, 04 September, 20 November, 04 December 2017.
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5 Day, 4 Night Shan Hills by bike. Departures every Monday, 2017
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14 Day, 13 Night Bangkok to Yangon by bike. Available dates: 12 February, 12 November and 10 December 2017
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Contact Symbiosis Custom Travel now for full information and to book your space.

Angkor Wat walkthrough with Vina

January 31, 2017 – 10:44 am

A walk through the amazing Angkor Wat with my friend, Vina.

Raja Ampat Feb 2017. Last available places

December 18, 2016 – 8:52 pm

There are still a few available places for the following cruises in Raja Ampat aboard the lovely Ondina sailing pinisi early next year:

12-21 February 2017. Sorong-Sorong. 9 nights. €2,745/person
23 February – 04 March 2017. Sorong-Sorong. 9 nights. €2,745/person

This route covers the very best dive sites of Raja Ampat Marine Park, one of the most diverse diving destinations in the world! Make your reservation now before it gets completely full! Contact Symbiosis Custom Travel now.
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This amazing pic by Alfonso Exposito, taken during his cruise with the Ondina, won the First prize in the Macro Category Deep Indonesia 2016

Yoga & Diving Cruise, January 2017: Special last minute discount

December 18, 2016 – 8:41 pm

Our friends from Yoga Natura are offering an astounding 25% discount for their Raja Ampat cruise between January 8 and 17, 2017 to dive in the amazing waters of Raja Ampat and enjoy the best yoga with Sandra Bicker aboard the SMY Ondina!

ondina-yoga-dive_660Sailing a Phinisi schooner through the stunning waters of Indonesia is an amazing, romantic, adventurous and unique experience and exploring this incredible underwater world with the SMY Ondina and combining it with Yoga just makes it unforgettable and relaxing.

Inhale the sea-salt air. Exhale. Enjoy the silence. Consciously observe the body and breath. Develop mindfulness. Swim in crystal clear turquoise water. Relax & laugh… Dive into Yoga!

Yoga
In the mornings and/or evenings we practice Yoga at the beautiful sun deck for about 90 min. – remaining mindful, loving and focused throughout. In the mornings, start with vitalising breathing techniques (Pranayama) and invigorating body postures (Asanas). After diving or snorkelling we unwind with gentle stretching postures, conscious breathing and deep relaxation. A further enrichment to our yoga classes will be the silence we experience when observing nature – above and under water.

Diving
The optional integration of diving into the yoga vacations offers participants the opportunity to realise even more the meditative stillness of diving. The breathing is calm and smooth due to the practice of breathing techniques (Pranayama). Non-divers can go snorkelling and/or simply admire the stunning views and relax. Just below the surface of the water, you will find some of the most pristine and untouched coral reef in the world.

The Raja Ampat archipelago owns the worldwide record for the greatest number of different species found in one single dive. Add the most pristine and colourful coral gardens, outstanding landscapes, fishing villages and of course, Birds of Paradise.

.. only 15 participants – reserve your space as soon as possible. Contact Symbiosis Custom Travel.

Last Minute Dive Liveaboard Specials 

December 18, 2016 – 6:43 pm

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Indo Siren
Raja Ampat, Indonesia – 30% OFF
10 nights: 3 – 13 January 2017
WAS 4690 Euro – NOW 3283 Euro

Fiji Siren
Beyond the Bligh – 40% OFF
10 nights: 7 – 17 January 2017
WAS 4150 Euro – NOW 2490 Euro

Truk Master
Deep Dive into History – 35% OFF
7 nights: 8 – 15 January 2017
WAS starting from 3095 USD – NOW 2012 USD

The Junk
Similan Islands of Thailand – 20% OFF
6 nights: 6 – 12 January 2017
WAS starting from 947 Euro – NOW 758 Euro

French Polynesia Master
Rangiroa to Fakarava – 40%OFF
10 nights: 25 January – 4 February 2017
WAS starting from 5975 USD -NOW 3585 USD

Palau Siren
Get wrecked – 20% OFF
7 nights: 16 – 23 February 2017
WAS 3450 Euro -NOW 2760 euros

Contact Symbiosis Custom Travel now for full info and to grab your berth.

Heavy flooding in Gulf of Thailand

December 8, 2016 – 12:15 pm

Floods in Thailand have killed 14 people and badly affected southern holiday islands as the country heads into the December to January high season for tourism.

A low pressure system has brought heavy rain to parts of the south including the islands of Samui and Phangan in the Gulf of Thailand, and floods have also severed the rail link to the south and Malaysia beyond.

Full story on Coconuts Bangkok here