The never-ending adventures of a travel writer in Vietnam, Cambodia, New Zealand and throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Joshua Gates from Destination Truth, & Other Strange Beasts Lurking Vietnam

Earlier this week Joshua Gates, star and host of the Syfy Channel’s ‘Destination Truth’ tweeted that he was in Ho Chi Minh City.

The show, broadcast in the USA, and known as ‘The Monster Hunter’ in the UK, deals primarily with cryptozoology (the search for strange animals of rumour and legend, whose existence has not yet been proven) and the search for the paranormal. The show is a blend of adventure, international travel, entertainment, mystery investigation and ‘real life science fiction'. DT is well-done and enjoyable to watch as well as a chance to visit exotic locations in remote corners of the world.

Last month Syfy issued a press release stating they’d ordered a 5th season of Destination Truth, in which Gates would ‘descend into one of the world's biggest caves in the jungles of Vietnam to search for phantoms.’

Undoubtedly the cave reference is regarding the newly discovered Son Doong Cave at Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, Quang Binh Province. Whether the crew will actually get access to that cave is uncertain. There has been an onslaught of film crews visiting the cave since its announcement, including National Geographic and the BBC. Access to the cave may require considerable paperwork and a bit of waiting in line. The crew are more likely to have to substitute one of the better-known caves nearby, which are no less spectacular, if a little smaller.

As to hunting ‘phantoms,’ there’s some room to speculate on what Gates is looking for. He could be referring to ghosts or spirits of the ancient Champa kingdom that once used the caves. Indeed, there are Cham inscriptions in some of the caves, dating more than 1000 years. Vietnamese and Cham folklore is full or ghosts, monsters and spirits that haunt the jungles and caverns.

Another possibility, which Gates might be hunting for, is the nguoi rung, or forest person. The creature is Vietnam’s own version of Bigfoot. The stories most often come from Vu Quang nature reserve, a point of discovery for many amazing new animal discoveries, including the Saola (often called the Asian Unicorn, though it has two horns), and the Giant Muntjac. There are stories of similar hairy hominids lurking in the forests of Cambodia and Laos.

In my professional opinion as an ex-primatologist, it’s likely that this Vu Quang Beast is, or was, a real, living creature. There were species of now-extinct orangutans which once lived in Vietnam, and I think it’s possible that this creature is related.

More recently, tales of a new ferocious beast have come out of Quang Ngai. Many dogs have been found eviscerated and with their heads torn from the body. Nearby are large cat-like prints. Could the Beast of Quang Ngai simply be a rare tiger that’s wondered far from the jungles? Or is it a forest demon waiting for a visit from Joshua Gates?

There are a number of other rare, nearly extinct, and mysterious animals in Vietnam. Some are attributed mystical powers in folklore, but their existence seems to be grounded in reality. These include the Javan Rhino (the last individual may have been killed by poachers in 2010), the aforementioned Saola, the Hoan Kiem Lake Turtle (The remaining specimen in the lake was confirmed and captured in 2005. A total of 5 individuals are believed to still be living worldwide) and the Kting Voar. The latter is the Cambodian name for a mysterious ‘snake-eating cow’ with a spotted coat and long twisted horns, which lives in the jungle.

Additionally there is a pantheon of mythical beasts from Buddhism, Confucian legend and Taoism, such as the chimeric kylan, which often find their way into local lore. Likewise, the Cham and other minorities have their own list of mythical beasts, including the ferocious dragons of Champa, known as the makala. These however, will have to wait for another story.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Me, the Chubby Frog and an Iphone

Definitely one of my favorite critters, the Kaloula pulchra, otherwise known as a 'chubby frog' or 'Asian Painted Frog' only comes out locally during rainy season. Absolutely adorable, they prefer to crawl on all fours more than hop. Though chubby like a toad, this frog is an accomplished climber. Probably they need this ability because of how cluttered the forest floor is, where they spend most of their time. This gal climbed all up and down my arm and even up on top of my head, carefully and methodically, without ever making an attempt to jump. 

Their skin is smooth like porceline and beautifully colored with brown, tan, cream and black stripes.

Chubby frogs are voracious eaters and will swallow anything they can get in their little mouths. Unfortunately they are also popularly eaten by locals, and so beginning to disappear. Folks in Mui Ne catch all sizes and boil or steam them, cutting out only the stomach muscle, then gobbling the rest.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Contest: Be Anantara’s Roving Elephant Reporter!

Anantara Hotels, Resorts & Spas is launching an international youth competition to search for a Roving Elephant Reporter aged between 7 and 15 to ensuring that the King’s Cup Elephant Polo Tournament (Sept. 4-11, 2011) celebrates its tenth anniversary from a truly unique point of view.

The young winner will become a media star in the making as they report on the week long event and much, much more, as well as enjoying an all expenses paid seven night stay at Anantara Hua Hin Resort & Spa, Thailand, with an accompanying adult, including return air fares.

The winner of Anantara’s hunt for a Roving Elephant Reporter will become a star of the ele polo circuit, delivering international coverage of the captivating games from a VIP pitch-side seat. Exclusive interviews with Cherry the Elephant Vet and Director of Elephants, John Roberts, will allow the Roving Elephant Reporter to investigate behind the scenes with Anantara’s most experienced elephant gurus. In addition to commentating and meeting the pros, an audience that includes the almighty All Blacks rugby players, and perhaps even a member of royalty, will also offer chances for celebrity spotting.

Beyond the gripping trunk to trunk action on the field and famous spectator faces, the Roving Elephant Reporter will explore the Hua Hin area to report on journeys rich with local discovery. Anantara’s presenter will visit the exquisite teak wood palace of love and hope - Maruekhathaiyawan - one of the oldest and most treasured royal palaces in Thailand. An elephant trek through a local vineyard will also invite the reporter’s parent to refresh their own adventurous spirit with an expert tasting session. A specially devised kid’s cooking class will see the correspondent master the art of one of the world’s most popular cuisines as they recreate simple Thai dishes that appeal to their tender palate. While a day spent playing in the gentle waves of Hua Hin’s long golden shore will round off the privileged press trip in Thailand’s royal seaside town.

To enter this elephantastic competition, simply submit/upload a short video lasting between one and two minutes to

  • Press “Like”;
  • Go to ‘Share’ on the main wall
  • Click ‘Video’, where you have a choice of recording a video with your webcam or uploading a pre-prepared video and tell us why you should be chosen as Anantara’s Roving Elephant Reporter.
  • Alternatively, mail the CD to I Want To Be An Elephant Reporter, Anantara Hotels, 18th Floor Berli Jucker House, 99 Soi Rubia, Sukhumvit Soi 42, Bangkok 10110, Thailand.

The contestant with the best video entry, as voted by our elephant experts will be invited to spend seven fun filled nights on a full board basis with an accompanying adult at Anantara Hua Hin Resort & Spa, including return flights, accommodation, daily activities and transport.

Tell the world your amazing elephant tales with Anantara as your guide.

Terms & conditions:
Contestants must be aged between 7 and 15 years

  • Videos must be between 1 and 2 minutes long
  • Contestants may be of any nationality, but present their video in English
  • Entries must be submitted by August 1st
  • The competition winner will be announced on August 4th, 2011
  • Must be available to participate in the tournament from Sept 4 – 11, 2011
  • Contact organizers for full terms & conditions