I suspect that the memories of our 3-month trip through Asia will distill over the next few years as I make sense of it all. There are great memories that are full of contradictions; remarkable landscapes in various states of conflict. We travelled from mid-October 2015 until mid-January this year, satisfying a long-standing urge to spend time away from the relative comfort of Glasgow.
We began by visiting a friend in Istanbul. A vast and exciting city, full of cultural combinations and clashes. We were fairly anxious – the week before we arrived, a bombing at a peace rally in the Turkish capital of Ankara had led to the death of over 100 people. Istanbul was remarkably relaxed and seemingly unaffected.
From Istanbul to Japan, and a bullet train to Hiroshima. This was my first experience of a country I had long wanted to visit and it was massively exciting. Hiroshima’s infamy is well known; the scale of the devastation caused in 1945 is made graphically explicit at the city’s memorial park and museum. Only the success with which the city has been re-built is more spectacular and mind-boggling.
In Seoul we visited the border with North Korea. Here the South Koreans are cashing in on present day conflict, offering trips to look through binoculars, beyond the silent border landscape towards the closest urban areas of the North. I didn’t know what to think, was I thrilled, amused and fearful all at once?
Vietnam was where we spent most of our time, amongst the moped mad Vietnamese. Theirs is a landscape acned by the conflict with America, yet full of industriousness and positivity. The carpet bomb craters have been succeeded by nature, or dressed as tourist exhibits. Similar contradictions were found in Cambodia. We travelled through beautiful countryside, before arriving at the Killing Fields, where we walked over fragments of bone from the mass graves of genocide, as nature continues to exhume the victims of the horrific Pol Pot regime.
Our final stop was Kanchanaburi, in Thailand. In one day we swam with suckerfish at the idyllic Erawan Waterfalls, and travelled on the Siam Burma railway. The latter is an impossibly engineered route that was constructed by prisoners of war during the Second World War, an astonishing feat of engineering that works against nature, at the expense of those who died building it.
Perhaps, if I have children, they will go travelling in places like Syria when they are grown up. This is full of optimism; that the places currently torn apart by conflict may one day begin to heal in a similar way to the places we visited. Wouldn’t it be wonderful? Almost as wonderful as if we could visit them right now.
Article and Photography by Tom Witham