Pilgrim without a plan

Travel targets header PWAP

To say I’ve been M.I.A on the blog front is an understatement – it’s been months since I posted… not ok.

Why have I made you all suffer through my radio silence? Missing out on the brilliance that is my writing? I can put it down to one thing – lack of travel depression… LTD for short.

The LTD struggle has been real – worse than ever before. And the reason is this: I’m a pilgrim without a plan.

I landed back in NZ after achieving my 30 by 30 plan with nothing new on the horizon… just a mortgage to pay and a 9 to 5 job.

Not knowing what I’m doing next, where or when I’m going has been a beating to my soul… But let’s be honest, as far as problems go, this is as first world as it gets, so I’m packing away my LTD and getting back on the keyboard to give you guys more tips and tales from my pilgrimages. You’re welcome.

Stay tuned over the coming weeks as I will have a celebratory article about reaching my initial 30 by 30 plan… I WILL come up with a new plan… maybe with your help and I have some crazy tales from Malaysia and India to share with you. There are terror threats, Malaysia Airlines flights and human poo. You want to read this stuff.

Taj

(Oh and here’s a tease of some of the cool stuff I got to see in India – more about this soon)

It’s been too long between drinks world… but I’m coming for ya!

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It’s been over 12 months since I have done any meaningful travel… and for someone that lives to travel that’s a lifetime.

In fact it’s why I’ve been so quiet on the blog front, I was having a no-travel tantrum. I couldn’t bring myself to write about seeing the world when the world seemed so far away from my apartment in Auckland.

HOWEVER it is now with great pleasure that I can say that as I write this just over two weeks remain between me and a trip to new countries, new cuisines and new cultures. Oh yeah, it feels good.

So where am I off to?

Well what started as a flippant discussion with friends about meeting up in Singapore for Formula 1 has led to a 3.5 week pilgrimage back to South East Asia and beyond.

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We are starting in Singapore for the mighty F1 (fully equipped with Bon Jovi for entertainment… WHOOP), then heading on to Malaysia (two flights with Malaysia Airlines… hmm) and then on to India.

Yes in true Nic travel form we are seeing a lot in a little and yes that probably means not doing enough in each area. But at this stage I’m still in what I call ‘taste test mode’ with the world, seeing as many new places as possible then figuring out where we want to spend more time.

So for now I’m in full planning mode, organising visas, insurance and itineraries and it’s reminded me of a few top tips for planning travel. Here are a few:

  • Always check if you need Visa’s. We got so caught up in life that we almost forgot to get our visa for India. Fortunately their eVisas make is super easy but it was a little ‘oh shit’ moment.
  • Insurance: Always get travel insurance and don’t necessarily go for the cheapest option. Look at your policy covers and pays out, one I looked at didn’t cover natural disasters for example, and with mother nature rearing her head more often than not recently that wasn’t an option for me. Also check how much will they pay out if you loose your luggage etc.. I know it’s the dull part of travel but read up people.
  • Do an itinerary double check: Usually when booking a big trip you do a lot of planning months before then forget what you booked. Go through, check that your flight dates marry up to your accommodation dates and how much luggage you’re allowed on flights. Nothing like trying to get on a flight with all your recently purchased goods only to find you’re either not allowed that much weight or you have to pay through the nose for the privilege.

Ok that’s all for now, I shall try to resume more regular Pilgrim with a Plan blogging and if it ends up being excited rants about my trip well you know what… #soznotsoz

Happy days!

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Nha Trang – Take a moment from the madness

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Have you ever been to a really intense party and you’re having a great time but you just need a break? With people everywhere, a range of scents permeating your nostrils and so much to take in you just need a moment to yourself? Nha Trang is that moment at the party that is Vietnam.

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This beach side town is your quintessential resort town; the main road is littered with imposing hotels, every store is geared towards tourists and there is sweet bugger all to do except lie on the beach and drink cocktails.

Now that sounds great, and it is, but it’s not my kind of place. I find these sorts of places offensive as a traveller, I don’t know why but I do. Somewhat adding insult to my self imposed injury there are direct flights from Russia to Nha Trang (a throw back from some friendly communist agreement)… as such the place is littered with Russians. This isn’t at all a bad thing but the Vietnamese subsequently speak to you in Russian and all the signs are in Russian. For me this just detracted from the charms I’d come to know and love in Vietnam.

Anyway rant over, thanks for listening. Let’s move on. I shall tell you a little more about the things you can do here to keep yourself entertained should you get bored of sunning and drinking.

Planning your pilgrimage:


 Vinpearl Land

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I introduce you to the kingpin of theme parks… the godfather, the absolute master. Vinpearl land.

What makes Vinpearl Land so special? It’s a whole freaking island dedicated to amusement/entertainment. Not only that to get there you take the longest sea cable car in the world, so the party starts before you arrive.

On the island you’ll find an amusement park with a whole host of rides, a water park spreading over 50,000m2, an aquarium, shows, food and if you’re bored (???!) a shopping street.

I actually dislike ‘rides’ with a passion, the need to scare myself shitless left me many years ago, however this place must be seen to be believed.

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100 Egg Mud Bath

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This place is surprising, different and well… down right strange. But 100% worth a visit.

Basically it’s a spa resort. It has a range of pools at different temperatures and then these wacky egg shaped ‘pools’ spread across the hillside. You hire said egg, they fill it with mud and you soak in it. It was all shades of filthy gloriousness – super relaxing and supposedly good for the skin. Win-win.

We didn’t actually hang out there too long after our mud bath as we got there so late however the property is spread over 17 hectares and I assume it would be well worth exploring.


Louisiane Brew House

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Ok so you’ve cleaned the mud out of places that mud should never be and now you need a drink… head to the Louisiane Brewhouse.

It’s right on the beach (with loungers on the sand during the day), it serves a huge range of beers (obviously… brewhouse…) and food and is quite the bustling spot.

I like to be a little more at one with the locals so it’s not my first port of call for a bevvy, however I would suggest grabbing a beer and a snack (I do seem to remember some ridiculously huge deserts) there at least once during the course of your trip.


Drink cocktails on the beach

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Finally, and as mentioned at the start, the main thing to do in Nha Trang is sit on the beach and drink.

So I shall leave you with this photo. Could be you on that deck chair, with that cocktail. Think about it 🙂

A journey through Vietnam – One Building at a time

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I’m no architect, in fact I generally struggle putting together flat pack furniture… stupid instructions that do more harm than good. But for some reason I’m infatuated with buildings when I go travelling. I think it’s because they explain more about the history of a country than perhaps anything else.

So join me now as I take you on a journey through Vietnam one building at a time…


Hanoi

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Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum in Hoi An…

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Ho Chi Minh’s Residence 

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Run down building
These sort of sites aren’t uncommon in Nam

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Room with a view
These homes overlook an American bomber jet shot down and left in this lake

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Electricity, Nam Styles
Waiting for a power company to sort power to your house can take forever… why not just DIY power like they do in Nam?

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Shopping Centre
French Quarter Hanoi… Rather different from some of those earlier pics and pic below!

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Markets and multi-coloured building
I truly don’t know if it’s my photography or the building that is on the piss

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The signs of development
Hi-rise buildings are becoming a normal site in the north


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Japanese Bridge 

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The beautiful riverside

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Vibrant colours of Hoi An

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Traditional temple

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Incredible mix of cultures can be seen in the architecture of Hoi An

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Curb side supermarket – too easy!


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Like any resort town Nha Trang has a main strip littered with hotels

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Modern meets old world, check out the differences in buildings in this pic!

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My favourite building in Ho Chi Minh – the People’s Committee Building

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Followed closely by the Municipal Theatre

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Third world?? 

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The Independence Palace, the site where the war ended in 1975

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Notre-Dame Basilica

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The most boss post office around!

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And Ho Chi Minh from above


I hope you got something out of our little journey, if not, well I had a good time taking you on it, so at least I’m a winner!

Till next time pilgrims 🙂

South East Asia: Fun facts to know before you go

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Knowledge is power right? So to make you more powerfule below are some interesting, remarkable and down right wacky facts about South East Asia. You’re welcome…

Sou1. The name “Southeast Asia” came into popular use after World War II and the region has 10 independent countries: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. (map from imagekp.com)

2. In Thailand barbers are usually closed on Wednesday because Thais think it will bring bad luck to cut their hair that day of the week.

3. Some people in Malaysia wash their babies in beer to protect them from diseases.

4. Indonesia is the world’s biggest archipelago with over 17,000 islands.

Angkor Wat

5. Angkor Wat, in Cambodia, is the largest religious temple in the world. It is estimated it took 30 years to build!

6. Vietnam is the second largest exporter of coffee in the world. Only Brazil exports more coffee, by volume, than Vietnam. Most of Vietnam’s coffee is exported to the U.S.

7. Football (soccer) is the most popular sport in Vietnam, other sports of interest include table tennis, volleyball, badminton, tennis, and martial arts.

8. The national anthem of Singapore is written in microtext on the back of the $1000 note.

9.Laos has been tagged as the “World’s Most Bombed Country.” Over two billion tons of bombs were dropped in Laos during the Vietnam War.

10. It is illegal to drink alcohol in public in Brunei.

11. The Philippines is the world’s leading producer of coconuts, having produced 19.5 million tons of the fruit in 2010 (Photocred: Internationalcoconut.com).

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Learn something? Me too!

If you have any other fun facts do get in touch. Happy travels.

 

Shocking and Spectacular – Visit Hanoi

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It’s hot, it kinda smells like burning and fish and there are bugs… lots of them.

To say Hanoi is a shock to the senses would be an understatement… but to say it’s one of the most intriguing and fantastic places I have ever visited would not do it justice.

Hanoi has a unique charm which really comes down to the fact that’s it’s the only place I’ve visited that travellers do as locals do. You sit next to a local for dinner, you buy goods from the same stores, you walk the same streets.

Adding to its appeal is the fact it’s the cheapest place I’ve ever visited. Beers are 20c and dinner is $5. You can live like a king on a backpackers budget.

So go on – embrace the madness.

Planning your Pilgrimage:


 Crossing the road

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I covered this in my last article about Vietnam, but it’s worth mentioning again.

When crossing the road SLOW AND STEADY wins the race. Don’t run across the road, literally step out and walk calmly, the thousands of scooter riders will go around you, even if it doesn’t look like it.


Eat/Drink

Eamon eating

in the wall cooking

 

Eat and drink at side of the road establishments. Yep the places with kids stools, plastic tables and no roof.

Please do this.

Yes the hole in the wall oven looks ominous, sure you’re never 100% sure what it is you’re eating, but the flavours are a treat for your tastebuds and it’s such an awesome experience. Trust me, you’ll have your best meals at these places.

 

 


Bia Hoi

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Bia hoiI’ve mentioned the price of beer, and yes it’s ridiculously cheap, but moreover drinking beer on the side of an intersection is the best way to spend an evening in Hanoi. It’s hugely entertaining as you watch locals weave around each other on scooters, narrowly avoiding collision.

There are tiny beer selling ‘establishments’ on nearly every corner – our favourite was a jewellery store by day, then by night they wheeled out the keg, set up the stools and wam bam thank you mam it became a bar!


Stay

In the Old Quarter.

Specifically I’d like to recommend the Cinnamon Hotel chain (they have hotels in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh). A first class experience on a backpackers budget. Super cheap but offer beautiful rooms, amazing service and free massages!


Visit

Ho Chi Minhs Mausoleum (where an embalmed Uncle Ho lays)

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√  Go super early in the morning as it gets really busy but in fairness the line moves quickly

√  Side notes:

  • He’s sent back to Russia to be tidied up for two months each year, so make sure it’s not when you’re there.
  • You have to cover up knees and shoulders to go in

Huu Tiep Lake and the Downed B-52

B52√  Huu Tiep Lake and the Downed B-52

  • OK this is a nightmare to find but well worth it once you do.
  • It’s an America bomber planed that was shot down during the war and now sits in a lake in a suburb of Vietnam basically.
  • They say the address is: Ngo 55, Hoang Hoa Tham, Hanoi, Vietnam, but try asking locals or getting a cab there…
  • It is walking distance from Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Explore the Old Quarter

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old town shopping√  Really take it all in. Get lost. Turn corners, take narrow side ally ways.

√  It’s a crazy place with loads going on, and each street is sectioned into a ‘theme’ so there’s home goods street, sunglasses street, children’s toys street and even party decorations street!


Walk around Hoàn Kiếm lake

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√  Located right by the Old Quarter, Hoan Kiem is a great place to go for a walk for three reasons:

1) There’s a pedestrian only track so you aren’t afraid of being hit by a bike.

2) It’s very relaxing and calm, the polar opposite of the rest of Hanoi.

3) There are always cool things happening at the lake, brides getting wedding photos, Vietnamese practicing Tai Chi.


 

So there you have it – Hanoi in 800 words or less. It really does deserve your time and your tourist dollar – go get lost in the mayhem.

Vietnam Road Rules – Or Lack Thereof

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Ever wanted to know what it feels like to run with the bulls but haven’t made it to Spain? Try crossing the road in Vietnam instead.

Using the road in Vietnam in any capacity, whether it be as a pedestrian or a passenger in a car is both hideously frightening and highly entertaining at the same time. Some would even call it an adrenaline rush.

As you sit in the back of a van on a highway and see a car overtaking a bus who is overtaking a truck and all coming towards you, you wish you’d paid closer attention to your travel insurance policy.

It’s no joke either, in 2014 nearly 9000 people died in road accidents in Vietnam and almost 25,000 were injured. This is actually an improvement from the year before…

With that said, it’s just part of the experience and shouldn’t deter you from visiting or enjoying Vietnam, you’ll surprise yourself at how quickly you get used to the madness.

But to make sure you’re safe not sorry have a read through some of my road related tips…

Planning your road related pilgrimage:


 

Crossing the road

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You are putting your life in the hands of fate by crossing the road in Vietnam.

With cars, trucks and scooters coming at you from all angles it can be likened to an adult version of the school yard game bull rush, however those charging at you have engines powering them rather than nikes.

There are four simple steps to making it to the other side of the road. They are:

1) Look for a gap in the traffic: and by gap I mean when 20 vehicles are coming at you rather than 60

2) Step out on to the road with confidence: don’t hesitate, if a scooter driver sees you step out they’ll avoid, if you hesitate you are putting you and the scooter driver at risk.

3) Walk very slowly: it goes against all logic, but literally just slowly meander across the road. The vehicles will avoid you. If you move too erratically you’re not giving anyone a chance to avoid a collision.

4) Celebrate: you made it.

Just check out this video I took at an intersection in Ho Chi Minh.

 


The sites you will see

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The way people use scooters in Vietnam is similar to how you might use your car, ute or even truck and trailer for that matter.

They will literally pile anything and everything on their scooter and make it look like it ain’t no thing. What you are seeing above isn’t actually that shocking, yes the child doesn’t have a helmet, but hey she’s safely squeezed between mum and dad… right?

From cages of animals to 3m long pieces of wood, versatility is the middle name of scooters in nam.


Anything goes

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Yep that is a cow on a roundabout. Count your luck stars it’s not on the road… that’ll happen too.

The roads aren’t limited to vehicles, you may run into live stock and of course people selling things.


When in doubt: Do as the locals do

Vietnam Road Rules

As with anything while you’re travelling, if in doubt, do as the locals do.

If, like this lady, they walk along the side of the road, you walk along side the road. If they casually stroll out onto the road and into what looks like imminent death, head on out with them. They know what’s up.


In Nam it would appear there are no road rules, that’s not true, there are, but like everything else in Vietnam they are negotiable and come down to varied interpretation – good luck!

Vietnam – Where your traveller dollar counts

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“We love tourists. Tourism in Vietnam stopped my dad from hitting my mum.”

This is a direct quote from a tour guide in the beautiful city of Hoi An, Vietnam. In two sentences this young girl depicts not only the suffering endured, but the perpetual spirit of the Vietnamese. They’ve borne hundreds of years of hardship, yet they have this welcoming openness that really does make Vietnam a fantastic place for travellers and “tourists” alike.

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I read somewhere that Vietnam is a place “whose greatest charms lie in its everyday, unexpected curiosities just as much as in the more renowned tourist attractions,” and it couldn’t be closer to the truth. From the moment you touch down you can’t help but be caught up in all that is great in Vietnam.

Sure you should visit the “must-sees” – the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi, the War Remnants Museum and Cu Chi Tunnels in Ho Chi Minh. But your memories of Vietnam will be made, as cliché as it sounds, getting yourself lost on the manic streets.

What makes the entire experience better is that every time you sit to eat, enjoy a beer or take part in a tour you are helping the Vietnamese (like our guide in Hoi An) provide for their families, taking away the stresses that once plagued and devastated families.

So there you have it people – what better reason to travel, spend and drink!

Over the course of the next few weeks I’ll be writing about the main centres of Nam – Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh etc. so tune in for my tips. For now though, here’s some important intel for someone going anywhere in Vietnam.

Planning your pilgrimage:


What to pack:

eating√  Always carry tissues – there will be more than one reason you need these

√  Hand sanitiser.

√  Diastop:If you don’t eat on a curbside from a local vendor while you’re in Vietnam you’ve done it all wrong. This can wreak havoc with your guts but it’s worth it, so just go prepared.

√  US Dollars – this is good for most things in Vietnam, and you will pay your hotel in USD, there are plenty of HSBC or ANZ bank machines around Vietnam to get money out. Get the maximum out (around two million dong), it sounds like loads, but you’ll get through it.


BYO nerves of steal:

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√  Everything you’ve heard about the traffic in Nam is true.

√  Best tip when walking, take it slowly across the road. It goes against your better logic, but trust me, slow and steady wins the race as motorists will go around you, they can’t plan for you if you’re running.

√  If you’re on the roads for a tour or whatever be warned, they pass each other three abreast, they pass on blind corners, they pass when a truck is coming towards you. It’s horrifying – but somehow they make it through. Tip: Close your eyes if you’re a nervous passenger.


Practice your hand signals:

The Vietnamese are great at communicating even if you have no common language, get ready to sign your way to buying food or reaching a destination.


The people are excellent

People

Tourism is fairly new to Vietnam, so in my opinion the place and the people still find the whole thing a novelty. As such while people are always selling you something, they’re not as annoying as vendors in say Thailand for example.

I actually enjoyed every encounter with the Vietnamese, I found them incredibly accommodating, willing to help and willing to have a laugh.


Don’t be afraid to barter

Selling stuff

Like any markets around the world the first price they offer is not the last. So do barter – you’ll know if you’ve pushed them too low.

Interestingly we learned from a friend who travels there regularly that the people running the stores don’t necessarily own them, so they get a cut of the profit made off you. SO if you ask them what their lowest price is then offer to give them personally a little something on top of it (do it with a bit of a wink, but not too creepy) you’ll usually get a better deal.


What “motorbike” really means

MotorbikeThere are loads of men (particularly in Nha Trang, and some in Ho Chi Minh) that will yell out “motorbike, motorbike” to you. They are NOT trying to rent you a motorbike, they are trying to sell you drugs. Be careful.


There are some starting tips, there’s plenty more where that came from so keep checking back to Pilgrim With a Plan for great stories and intel! 🙂

 

 

South East Asia – The place travellers dreams are made of

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With beers for under $1, food that your taste buds thank you for and something new to marvel at around every corner – South East Asia is the destination travellers dreams are made of.

After our travels around Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand last year I fell head over heels with the region. Someone told me before I left “you’ll love it, it gets under your skin” – that’s on point.

It may be third world, it may be hot and it may be manic but South East Asia is endearing. It’s my destination of choice and we will definitely be going back.

So on that note for the next month or two I’m dedicating Pilgrim with a Plan to South East Asia, and below is a bit of an overview as to why it should be on your list!

Why plan your South East Asia pilgrimage:


The people are welcoming

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(Kids in Cambodia – I know I’ve used this photo before, but I can’t help but use it again, so cute)

After travelling through Europe, S.E.A was a whole new kettle of fish, particularly in regards to the welcoming nature of the people.

In our experience the people are genuinely willing to help you, feed you, serve you or just have a yarn. Yes their economy is largely reliant on the tourist dollar and yes that helps, but there’s an unrivalled willingness to open their doors to you in a very genuine way. They want you there, they want to find out more about you AND let you understand more about them.


Getting off the beaten track is easy (and affordable)

Cambodia

(Remote floating village in Siem Reap – we didn’t go in rainy season… hence not floating)

One of the biggest catch phrases in the travel world is “getting off the beaten track”. Problem is it usually costs you two days travel and a whole lot of your budget to get off said track… not in South East Asia. Never have I visited countries where it’s so easy to get away from the tourist hot spots and into the eye opening every day lives of the people.

Take the above pic for example, this was taken at a floating village in Siem Reap. I think the locals could count on one hand how many times they’d seen a white person. The beauty of it all? It took us one hour and perhaps $20 to get out there. It was hands down the best part of my trip and I will write more about it in an upcoming blog post.


It’s cheap

Cheap food

(The man with a bottomless pit for a stomach is beaten)

Everything is dirt cheap in South East Asia, buying a beer for 20c is normal and paying $20 each for a room for a night will get you luxury, like free massage and cocktail on arrival type luxury.

A great example is the meal you can see in the pic above. This meal broke Eamon, just look at his face. It was a smorgasbord of epic proportions… the cost? Under $10.


The food is unbelievable

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(One of our best meals in Cambodia)

On that note, the food may be cheap, but it’s next level incredible. I’m salivating just looking at the above picture.

The thing with food in South East Asia is not just the taste – it’s the colours, the textures and the scents that make it what it is. They have the most incredible way of pulling together a meal that excites so many of your senses and whether you pay $1 on the side of the road or $10 in a restaurant your taste buds will thank you for it.


It suprises you

SEA suprise

(Truck tipped over in Cambodia while people ravage through the contents strewn on the roadside)

Just when you think you can’t see anything stranger you turn a new corner and something more bizarre smacks you in the face (hopefully not literally, but don’t rule it out).

South East Asia is wild, wierd and wonderful. It will shock, suprise and amaze you. Go with it. It makes for a great story back home.


The service is amazing

SEA service

(Standard welcome in any hotel in Nam)

You know when you go home and see your parents after a really long time and they’re super glad to see you and will do anything to make you feel comfortable? That’s the feeling you get every time you arrive at a hotel in South East Asia.

They’re welcoming, they make animals out of your towels and they’ll help you in any way they can, whether that’s booking a trip, making you a drink or just telling you about life in their world.

It’s fantastic.


If that hasn’t convinced you to put South East Asia on your ‘must-do’ list, well you’re a tough crowd, but as promised the next few months will be dedicated to my South East Asia experience.

Prepare for wanderlust travellers!

Humans of the world

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Part of the attraction of travel for me is meeting new people and experiencing new cultures.

You could call me nosy (many have) or you could call me curious, curious to see how others live, what puts a smile on their face and what their struggles are.

Over the years I’ve captured some pretty ace photos of people I’ve met around the world from street performers to children in remote villages of Cambodia, and as the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Here’s a collection for your enjoyment:

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Jolly Germans playing a tune in a beer hall.

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A street performer makes sweet beats on makeshift drums in London.

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How the guards at Buckingham Palace can stay still for so long is beyond me.

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A train station in Tokyo, so many people but in orderly lines, organised chaos…

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A friendly lass pours me a Suntory Premium Malt at the museum in Kyoto.

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A belly dancer for the crowds enjoyment in Dubai.

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An amazing group of souls I met on my sail Croatia trip when travelling alone.

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There’s some trick to these involving a fake arm and a plank – regardless it’s amazing.

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The jolly gents who entertained the crowd waiting for buses after the ANZAC services at Gallipoli.

 

 

 

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A street performer and I in London.

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An army of dumpling makers at a Michelin Star restaurant in Hong Kong.

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This beautiful being poured us beer in Hanoi (at 20c a glass) for hours.

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This lovely lady has been affected by agent orange (check out her right hand). She and others affected now make and sell art to help them get by.

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Not a playstation in sight yet the kids are still having fun in Vietnam… Intriguing.

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Eamon with a hat seller in Hanoi – look at her face, she was bemused by us.

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Street vendors in Hanoi trying to keep cool.

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The cutest kids ever in a daycare in Hoi An. Love their different expressions.

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A Hoi An farmer showing us how they cook (note his foot – blown off by a land mine in his rice fields).

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Vietnam road safety 101: Don’t worry about a helmet for the child, just pop her in between mum and dad!

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A puppet DJ on the banks of the Thames in London.

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Children with gangster as moves performing in London.

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Amazing performers at a circus in Cambodia.

Mr Fisher taught us about absenth

Mr Fisher who taught us about Absinthe in Austria.




 

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And finally these adorably hilarious kids from a remote village in Cambodia – excited by seeing us white folk roaming their streets. Too cute!