Spreading the spirit of peace


Young Thai backpacker Netting Jaruwan is on a journey that will take her to five southeast asian countries in five months

A former non-governmental organisation worker with a passion for peace, Jaruwan Supolrai set off on an ambitious journey last October that will see her cover more than 5,000 kilometres through five counties in just five months. 
A self-professed Mekong nomad, Jaruwan or Netting as she is known to family and friends on her network, will be visiting Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar as part of her dream journey. After a short break in Chiang Mai, she recently crossed the border into Myanmar and has been travelling there since early this month.
“I want to be a traveller with an open mind. My aim is to gain a deeper understanding of the people and the way of life in the Mekong region,” says the 30-something.
Netting’s plan is to spend a month in each country and take in four to five provinces. She visits the friends she has made through her network, often staying with them and experiencing the local lifestyle.
“My Mekong friends are my biggest inspirations for this trip. I want to listen to their stories, dreams and aspirations and write about them,” she says.
“The Mekong Region is rich in natural resources, boasts beautiful landscapes and a rich culture and is home to very generous people. I want to take photos of that and share them with the rest of the world,” says Netting, an avid photographer who posts photos of her journey on her Mekong Nomad Facebook page. She envisions that the pictures and the documentary she will produce from this journey will serve as “peace media” to promote better understanding in the region.
Before leaving her full-time position, Netting helped organise a peace journalism workshop for young media professionals from Thailand and Cambodia.
“When the mainstream media covers the border conflicts between the two countries, it does so in such a way that people start to hate each other after watching the news. I don’t agree with that.
“We have not even met and yet we hate each other already. This is the reason I want to go there and stay there – to learn about and understand our neighbours. I believe that the people-to-people relationship is very important to move the region forward for a sustainable future,” says Netting of her peace mission.
She is receiving funding from her former employer to produce the documentary while her savings and a little financial help from her parents help to keep her shoestring travel budget afloat. Her friends back home have been very supportive too. Some have loaned camera lenses and tripods, others regularly send her vitamin C supplements.
“The friends I met along the journey have been very kind to me as well. When I forgot to apply for a month-long visa to Cambodia, a Khmer friend who owns a travel agency sponsored my visa.
“During my stays in each country, they have been very helpful, giving me rides from place to place and cooking for me. I even had my laundry done by my friends’ mothers,” says Netting, who has also hosted her multi-national friends in her hometown.
As a lone female traveller, Netting invites plenty of attention from the locals. Language is rarely a problem as her Isaan upbringing and fluency in the local dialect has made it easy for her to communicate with the people in Laos and Cambodia.
 “The locals often say, ‘How brave of you to travel alone. Are you not afraid? Are you not lonely? Why don’t you bring your friend or boyfriend with you? Two people travelling together is more fun as you have someone to talk with’,” Netting laughs.
“But I don’t feel lonely because I prefer to travel alone. I have friends and make new friends easily in the places I visit. Obviously I occasionally feel a little homesick. I miss my mum, my dad and my brother when I see my friends having a good time with their families,” she adds.
For someone who spends so much time on the road, Netting admits that she’s no good at travelling light. “I have four bags – a big backpack for clothes, another smaller backpack for electronic equipment, a tripod bag and a small bag for food and medicine.”
Changing weather conditions in late December also required her to bring along warmer clothing to counter the days when the temperature dipped below 15 degrees Celsius in the northern Mekong region.
Having gone through the rough and tumble of traversing many mountains and crossing the mighty Mekong from border to border, Netting holds many places dear to her heart. Asked to choose her favourite destination, she singles out Xaisomboun province in Laos as the most interesting.
 “As road conditions in northern Lao are still quite underdeveloped, I had to cross several mountains, trekking along unpaved roads before reaching Xaisomboun.
“The view that greeted me upon arrival was breathtaking. The small town is surrounded by huge limestone mountains and there’s a stream flowing from the mountain to the township. It’s like heaven on earth. I had no idea the Mekong region was home to such a beautiful place,” she says.
Netting expects to complete her journey by the end of March in southern Thailand, after which she will work on her documentary and perhaps hold a photo exhibition. But with such a nomadic spirit in her, it won’t be long before she embarks on another enchanting journey.
On the road