After Vietnam it was time to get the bus to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where the only form of transport is tuk-tuk, no matter how many bags and fragile instruments you have.
For those wondering about the logistics of travelling with two suitcases and four saxophones, the problem is not with the airlines! We had zero trouble taking three of the four horns onto the plane every time, and the fourth horn was always safe under the plane. No, the problem was always the tiny taxis, or in some cases, lack of any taxis...
Our concert in Phnom Penh was with Bophana, an audio-visual resource centre that has a huge catalogue of films and music by local artists. After the concert we had a nice relaxed reception where we chatted with the audience, many of whom were musicians themselves.
With only a day to sound-check, rehearse and perform, we were in a bit of a rush and glad to move on to the small relaxed town of Siem Reap...although it wasn't nearly as small as when we were there last time!
For our Siem Reap concert we were performing as part of a twice-yearly festival run by Music for Everyone School, which is a fantastic organisation offering free music lessons to disadvantaged local children. If you are ever in Siem Reap, they are always looking for travelling musicians to volunteer a bit of their time to teach the kids so check it out! The head of the school is a really nice guy who is very passionate about contributing to his local community and we also met an American who was volunteering there for a while. The performance started with some local kids doing traditional Khmer dance which was really cool to see. By the time it got dark, the noise had attracted kids from the whole area and people were almost spilling onto the street trying to listen. A lot of the audience had never heard the kind of music we play before but it seemed as though they appreciated the chance to hear something new!
Next up was a brief and busy 24-hour stop on Bangkok whilst we waited for a connecting flight to Yangon. We were really excited to be on the way to Myanmar, which was one of the few countries in the region we hadn't been to.
We went to Myanmar with no expectations and didn't really look anything up prior to arriving, so we had no idea what we were in for. But Yangon was amazing! The old colonial architecture has been completely left to the weather, so there were little English cottages hidden in rainforest on the way to the city, and the city itself was a mix of glorious restored old buildings and more dilapidated but brightly coloured ones. The food was fantastic and the whole city had a really cool vibe - quite unlike anywhere else in SE Asia.
Most streets were so busy (and the traffic so crazy) that we couldn't really get our own photos, but here's a few courtesy of the internet.
Definitely a highlight was a visit to Shwedagon Pagoda. It's thought to be the oldest Buddhist temple in the world, and is an impressive 99m high. The whole thing is covered in gold, has almost 8,000 diamonds and rubies on it and has a 76 carat diamond at the top. It's well known that there is a crazy amount of gold in this thing (between 9 and 60 tonnes depending on what you read) but it's hard to measure as gold is being constantly added - you can even buy a gold leaf outside the temple to donate to the cause.
Stunning pagoda, by day and night.
Our concert was at River Gallery, which showcases beautiful local art. It was a great place to perform and it seemed like the music was particularly well-received!
Then we were off to Jakarta to join the faculty for the Yayasan International Summer Music Festival. The Yayasan school is very active in classical music in the region and organises a wide range of events. The faculty for this festival were all foreign artists, mostly from Australia, which allowed for a very interesting learning experience for the students.
We mostly taught chamber groups and large ensembles, and gave them an introduction to contemporary techniques, graphic notation and improvising. They were particularly interested in looking at some of our scores! We also gave a seminar where we performed for the students and discussed the music we play in detail.
And if at the end of the day you still had some energy, you could climb aboard this weird party tuk-tuk that was doing laps of our hotel at night for the whole time we were in Jakarta.
At the end of the festival, there was a final gala concert, a massive event starting at 3pm and ending at around 9pm, to showcase what all of the students had worked on throughout the festival as well as the staff.
We knew the tour had been running a bit too smoothly, so it was about time that disaster struck. We had been preparing for the gala concert performance but the day before we were asked if we could present something that was only 2 minutes in length, or not play at all as they realised that a six hour concert might be a little long for most people! Since we didn't have anything that short, we declined to play, but it was a bit of a shame! By the time we woke up on the day of the gala however, we saw an email saying that the performance was actually over an hour away and that the bus from the school had already left. As the location of the gala concert had not been communicated in advance, we couldn't get there and had to miss out. It would have been nice to hear the end product of all the work the student's had been doing over the week but we enjoyed introducing them to new ways of making music nonetheless.
And with that, the tour was half over! At this point it feels like a lifestyle rather than a trip away from home!