Matt Hassam

Backpackermatt

Matt Hassam

Having spent my whole life in Brisbane without so much as a week off work - much less an actual holiday - in six-and-a-half years, I suddenly decided (on my 27th birthday) that I'd had enough and needed to get a life. So I quit both of my jobs, moved out of my apartment, packed anything I could fit into my car, and three weeks later I hit the road. Over a thousand kilometres later I ended up in a tiny little town that I had heard about from a friend, with only one street, a few pubs, a few backpacker hostels and a beach. That day was the 1st of June, 2006... I haven't stopped travelling since.



South America » Colombia » Bogota March 21st 2020

The title for this blog was inspired by an English friend of mine... not a particularly intelligent one, mind you, but a good friend nonetheless. When he enquired into my immediate travel plans in the present climate of global paranoia, and I mentioned that the Colombian president had just announced a nationwide curfew from 8pm Friday to 5am Tuesday (the announcement was made on Thursday afternoon) and that I was therefore considering making a quick dash for the capital, Bogota, before the curfew came into effect, he responded that it sounded like the plot of a Hollywood movie: 'Escape to Bogota', with Bruce Willis in the lead role. I would have suggested someone younger, taller and better looking, but I was hardly in a position to argue. If anything I felt more like Jack Bauer racing ... read more
Sunlight and Shadows
Prowling like a Panther
Tranquility

South America » Colombia » Santa Marta » Ciudad Perdida March 17th 2020

With my first week in Colombia having been spent on the Caribbean coast, it was only natural for me to want to spend my second week in the mountains... and what better way to shake off the big city cobwebs than by joining a 4-day guided trek through the rainforest-clad lower slopes of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta – the world's highest coastal mountain range?! But having neglected to take my passport with me to the Expotur office in the centre of Santa Marta when I paid for the trip a couple of days prior, I first had to take a minivan into town on the Monday morning (9thMarch) to take care of this little aside... only to find that the centre of Santa Marta had lost power, so that not only was the office ... read more
A darker shade of green
Lush Valley
Forest Giant

South America » Colombia » Cartagena March 8th 2020

Colombia is an enigma. Named after a man who never set foot in the country, it contains a greater wealth of biodiversity than any other country on the planet apart from Brazil, which is seven times larger. With coastlines fronting both the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea, it also boasts over a thousand kilometres of the Andes mountains (which split into three parallel ranges on the way north into Venezuela) as well as a separate mountain range in the north, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, that rises straight out of the sea to heights of over 5700 metres – making it the highest coastal mountain range on Earth. Add to that an enormous expanse of grasslands, known as Los Llanos, and a significant portion of the Amazon rainforest, and you end up with a natural ... read more
Gateway to a city's historic heart
El Libertador
Atmospheric streets

Asia » Malaysia » Sarawak » Gunung Mulu National Park August 21st 2019

Thirty percent of Sarawak's population belong to various indigenous groups known collectively as 'Orang Asli' (meaning 'Upriver People'). Customs, traditions, spiritual beliefs, language and way of life vary from one group to the next, though there are common threads that connect some (or all) of them to each other in different ways. The people who have traditionally lived a nomadic existence in the vicinity of what is now Gunung Mulu National Park identify themselves as the Penan. Interestingly, while the Penan have words for every kind of animal or plant that occurs within the rainforest, they have no specific word for the forest itself: they refer to it simply as 'Tongtana', which roughly translates as 'the world in which we live'. This makes sense given that traditionally the Penan spent their entire lives here, finding everything ... read more
Scenic Journey
Heading into uncharted territory... for us at least
Under the forest canopy

Asia » Malaysia » Sarawak » Gunung Mulu National Park August 16th 2019

With just ten days left in our month-long Malaysian holiday – and having fully immersed ourselves in the country's cultural offerings during the first three weeks – Linda and I decided it was time to heed the call of the wild and discover some of the country's natural assets. And when it comes to natural attractions in this part of the world, nothing we'd read about came close to matching the aura and mystique of Gunung Mulu National Park. Located in the heavily-forested interior of Borneo, the 500sq km park packs in mountains that rise up to 2300m high, featuring extraordinary geological formations such as the razor-sharp limestone spires of the Pinnacles, riddled with caves of truly epic proportions, and cloaked in some of the densest old-growth rainforest to be found anywhere on Earth – which ... read more
National Park entry point
Wok Frog
A Splash of Colour

Asia » Malaysia » Sarawak » Kuching August 12th 2019

After two weeks on the 'mainland' of the Malay Peninsula, Linda and I took a flight two hours east from Kuala Lumpur to Kuching – the capital of the Malaysian state of Sarawak, and, if the guidebooks were to be believed, the most cosmopolitan city on the world's third-largest island: Borneo. With Linda still putting her insides back together after suffering some serious anxiety during the flight (and in particular the descent) we hopped in a taxi and headed into town, where thankfully our hostel was not only located smack bang in the centre of the city, just one block from the Sarawak River; but also a significant step up in comfort from our two previous hostels in Penang and Melaka. (It took the air conditioner in our room mere minutes to cool the room down ... read more
A City Icon
Riverside scenery, Sarawakian-style
The city's oldest surviving temple

Asia » Malaysia » Melaka » Melaka City August 5th 2019

After five mostly sunny days in Penang, Linda and I awoke to the sound of pouring rain on Thursday (August 1st) to face the eight-hour bus ride to Melaka. With the forest-clad spine of mountains in Penang's interior buried under a thick blanket of clouds, we crossed back over to the mainland via the 24km Sultan Abdul Halim Muadzam Shah Bridge – which has a name almost as long as the bridge itself! As the only passengers left on the bus (which was actually more like a luxury coach, with fully-reclining seats that enabled Linda to sleep comfortably for most of the journey) we then spent our forty-minute stopover in Kuala Lumpur at an outdoor canteen beside the intercity bus terminal, where we were the only non-Malaysians (and Linda the only female!) amongst the motley crew ... read more
Harmony Street House of Worship #1
Harmony Street House of Worship #2
Harmony Street House of Worship #3

Asia » Malaysia » Penang » George Town August 1st 2019

After five days in the hustle and bustle of Kuala Lumpur, Linda and I took a bus five hours north to Butterworth on the coast, from where a small ferry (with passengers and cars sharing the top deck!) tackled the ten-minute crossing of the North Channel to George Town, on the island of Penang. Despite being uninhabited until around three centuries ago, Penang's past status as a vital port on the trade routes linking Europe, Africa and Asia has endowed it with a historical significance that – along with that of Melaka further south – rivals that of any other town in Malaysia, if not Southeast Asia. Indeed the central cores of both George Town and Melaka have been inscribed on Unesco's list of cultural World Heritage sites. With such a history of trade between empires ... read more
Evening Prayers
House of Culture (and Colour)
Stunning Symmetry

Asia » Malaysia » Wilayah Persekutuan » Kuala Lumpur July 27th 2019

Apart from a couple of trips to Turkey and six confusing hours in Bangkok - about which I remember very little other than getting hopelessly lost and tasting some sort of unidentifiable fruit - I'd never spent any time in Asia, much less the classic backpacker destination of Southeast Asia. But since Linda and I were in desperate need of a travel fix without wanting to spend too much money, we decided to split the difference between the two great backpacking meccas of Bali and Thailand and instead go somewhere ever-so-slightly off the beaten track: Malaysia. And since we would be flying into the country's capital city, Kuala Lumpur, and I had always wanted to see the Petronas Towers close-up since first seeing a picture of them twenty-odd years ago, it was only natural that we ... read more
Muddy Confluence
Flagpoles & Cricket Pitches
Hawker Food Heaven

Europe » Switzerland » South-West » Kandersteg July 11th 2018

After turning my back on the Thunersee (Friday 6thJuly) for what I assumed would be the last time, I took a train south to Kandersteg and immediately checked into the Hotel des Alpes near the centre of town. My reasons for choosing the Hotel des Alpes over the International Scout Centre (where I had stayed when I passed through Kandersteg twoyears ago) were three-fold: 1) I wouldn't have to walk for twenty minutes out of town to reach my accommodation, 2) I wouldn't have to share the breakfast buffet with a couple of hundred obnoxious teenagers each morning, and 3) I would have a guaranteed venue in which to watch all four World Cup quarter-finals, without even having to go outside... which, with the rain still bucketing down upon my arrival in Kandersteg, would have probably ... read more
Three Peaks
Starting Out
A Long Way To Go...




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