Monthly Archives: July 2010

You Know You’ve Backpacked S.E. Asia When…

You know you’ve backpacked Southeast Asia when…

1) A large percentage or your grungy travel shirts are emblazoned with local beer logos, including this one:

2) You’ve drank a cocktail or two out of what normally would be considered a child’s beach toy:

Sangsom Whiskey Buckets (photo by Kullez-flickr)

3) You know that the term “Yellow Bible” has nothing to do with religion:

Lonely Planet's "Yellow Bible": the holy grail of SE Asia travel books.

4) You have a scar or two on your body from intertubing in Vang Vieng, Laos:

Zip line on the Nam Song River in Laos (Photo by: lanz-flickr)

5) You think street Pad Thai is just about as essential as water:

Street Pad Thai in a wok (Photo by: Charles Hayes-flickr)

6) You don’t think a 17-hour bus ride is particularly long, anything over 30-hours might be pushing it, though:

A bus in Laos (Photo by: joaquinuy-flickr)

7) You’ve grown used to cockroaches and have even snacked on them once or twice:

Cockroach (Photo by: Anil Jadhav-flickr)

8 ) You’ve seen some of the prettiest men ever:

Lady Boy in Patpong, Thailand (Photo by: fitri.agung-flickr)

9) You’ve often found yourself wandering malls just to take advantage of the air conditioning and clean bathrooms:

Mall in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (Photo by: Julien Menichini-flickr)

10) You consider a tuk-tuk ride across town a sufficient alternative to using a hair dryer:

Tuk-Tuk ride in Thailand (Photo by: bfick-flickr)

11) You know it’s not uncommon for there to be three 7-11s within a two block vicinity:

7-11s are everywhere in Thailand. (Photo by: iaminthailand-flickr)

Excellent Reader Suggestions:

Here are some extra hilarious ones via Epic Asia Travel readers. Got some more? Make sure to comment below!

12) You start to believe the hose is better than toilet paper after all (Suggested by Jon):

Asian toilet with hose (Photo by: wonder-flickr)

13) You realize that a scooter can easily carry a family of four whilst the driver texts (Suggested by Jon):

Family on a Bike in SE Asia (Photo by: emilio labrador-flickr)

Surviving Long-Distance Bus Trips

Asia is famous for its lush scenery, mouth-watering street food, religious diversity and crumbling temples.  It may also be equally as famous among the backpacker types as home to some of the most harrowing bus trips on the planet.  Traveling by bus is usually the transportation mode of choice by budget backpackers because it is cheap.  Those who are constrained by time (and not by money) usually prefer to fly between cities, rather than take the bus.

10 hour bus rides are commonplace all over Asia.  But, more experienced backpackers know that 10 hours is nothing.  16, 20, 24, even 32 hour bus trips are relatively common in Asia.  Although you might step onto the bus feeling chipper, you’ll likely exit the bus 24 hours later feeling as though you’ve been trampled by a steam roller.  Long-distance bus rides can be bumpy, stiflingly hot, sticky, smelly and all around hellish.  So, whether it’s from Kathmandu to Pokhara in Nepal (7-9 hours) or Hanoi to Vientiane (24 hours), there are some steps you can take to make these extreme journeys slightly more manageable.

1) Ear Plugs

Ear plugs are an absolute must when embarking on a long-distance bus trip, especially one that will drag on through the night.  It is fairly common on bus trips, especially in Vietnam and Thailand, for the bus driver to blast cloyingly sweet and poppy music videos all through the night that will eventually make you want to cut your own ears off with the nearest butter knife.  Be sure to have a set of ear plugs to end the music video madness.  You’ll be happy you did.  Ear plugs will also block out people’s conversations, crying babies, meowing cats (yes, cats have been known to be on long-distance bus rides in Asia), and the sounds of people vomiting.

2) Extra Sweater

Photo by: lululemon_athletica

When you think “Asian climates” you often think “hot.”  This is true, in many Asian destinations, temperatures regularly rise above 90-degrees Fahrenheit.  Despite this fact, long-distance bus drivers in Asia find it immensely pleasurable to crank the air conditioning in the bus to sub-arctic levels.  You’ll quickly forget you’re driving through the sweltering tropics and wonder why in the world you feel like you’re trekking through Antarctica with nothing but a bathing suit on.  Vietnamese long-distance bus drivers are especially notorious for turning up the A/C and refusing to turn it down or off.  The solution is to bring an extra sweater (or two, or three) always when on a long-distance bus trip.  If, for some reason, you do not have icicles coming out of your nose, you can always ball up the extra sweater and use it as a pillow.

3) Baby Wipes

Baby wipes are a definite must for maintaining sanity on long-distance bus trips.  After only a few hours on the bus, you’ll probably begin to feel greasy, grimy and covered in dirt.  There may or may not be someone throwing up continuously in front of your seat (bringing extra plastic bags may be a good idea, too, especially on Laos bus trips).  Baby wipes come in handy for a quick wipe down of your arms and face.  You’ll instantly feel more refreshed and ready to take on the next 10 hours of the trip.

4) Snacks

Photo by: maskoen

Throughout the course of most bus rides in Asia, the driver will stop somewhere several times for food and drinks.  Passengers can get off, go to the bathroom, grab some chips or crackers and stretch their legs.  But, it is not unknown for the bus driver who may or may not have had 15 energy drinks to power straight through to the destination.  Whether or not there is a stop on the bus ride, it is always wise to bring a few snacks for yourself.  While rat-on-a-stick (Laos) may sound tasty to some, others may want to munch their own snacks.  Bring a small stash in your backpack to keep your blood sugar up.  It is also nice to have fresh snacks, like a bag of rambutans or a bunch of bananas.

5) Sit in the Front

Photo by: joaquinuy

It is wise to arrive at the departure bus station early and find seats about half-an-hour before the bus leaves.  Bus drivers and bus attendants in Asia have been known to stuff those silly farangs (foreigners) in the way, way, way back of the bus, next to the stinking bathroom and everyone’s luggage.  If you have no choice and are forced to sit in the back, embrace the adventure.  But if possible, sit in the front of the bus where the ride is infinitely less bumpy and you’ll have easier access to get out on rest stops.

6) Reading Materials/Entertainment

Photo by: Brian Lane Winfield Moore

Bringing a book, a magazine or some music on your bus journey is sure to ease the pain.  To be honest, you might not even touch your book because there is always an endless stream of entertainment outside the bus window. No matter where you’re going, looking out the window is usually always fun and exciting because everything is so new and the scenery is often spectacular.  When you get bored of window watching, having a book is nice, but not always feasible to read, especially if the trip is extra bumpy.

Other Things to Bring/Remember for Your Bus Trip:

Photo by: ToastyKen

*On long-distance bus rides a toothbrush and toothpaste are your best friends.  A quick teeth-clean can be the difference between feeling hellish and feeling normal.

Photo by: swimparallel

*Always keep your passport and valuables ON YOUR PERSON.  It is very important not to stow passport, cash, credit cards, etc… in your backpack that is under the bus.  Sneaky people have been known to riffle through bags under the bus, helping themselves to whatever catches their fancy.

The Trade-Offs of Long-Term Travel

Photo by: laurenashley

Cruising from one foreign city to another with nothing but a backpack and a guidebook is exciting. Hanging out on tropical beaches, exploring crumbling temples and trying new foods: these are some of many benefits and exciting things about long-term travel.  To have the funds and the time to do an extended around-the-world trip seems like a dream for many, and it’s true: an extended travel is guaranteed to be life-changing in more ways than one.

Of course, along with the good also comes some down sides.  I’ve been considering the cons of long-term travel a lot lately because I am about to embark on  a one year trip to Kathmandu, Nepal where I’m moving for a job.  I’ve also been on several long-term trips in the past three years.  The first for ten months, the second for three months.  After these trips, and in anticipation of the next one, I’ve begun to consider both the pros and cons of long-term travel.  Just what are you trading to travel/live/work abroad for an extended period of time?  What are the trade-offs?

I think the major trade-offs of long term travel are the small things, things that you wouldn’t normally even notice during everyday life back at home.  You miss the everyday occurrences and events in the lives of your friends and family. You miss stories about encounters at work, updates about someone’s mood on a particular day.  You miss random phone calls from friends who just want to chat and see what’s going on.

In the age of social media and hyper-connectivity, it is easier to stay connected than ever before.  The internet can be accessed from most places in the world and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter make it easy to send friends and family quick updates.  Skype is available for phone and video chatting and we have blogs to share all the abroad experiences with our loved ones.  But, even with the technological avenues, we still miss the mundane-ness of everyday life.  It is is sharing these run-of-the-mill details that create strong friendships and relationships.

Although extended travel is an incredible opportunity, there are inevitable trade-offs.  The trade-offs are the small things in life, which sometimes make it easy to stay in one place, near home.  Traveling is an incredible opportunity, but there are drawbacks too.  It is necessary to find a balance between maintaining connections at home and being connected to your abroad experience.

How do you stay connected with friends and family while traveling or living abroad?  Do you think there are other trade-offs of long-term travel or other things you miss when away from home?

Trip Preparations

Photo by: cod_gabriel

Today is July 1st and I’m leaving the states for Nepal in exactly three weeks.  In fact, at this time (12:28 p.m.) in exactly 3 weeks I’ll probably be sitting in the San Francisco International Airport, drinking coffee, playing on my laptop and waiting to board my flight to Seoul, South Korea.  It still hasn’t quite soaked in yet that I’m leaving for Asia on an extended trip yet again.  This will be my third long Asia trip in the past three years.  Although, I’m not quite sure this trip will be the same as my past travels.  I am not just backpacking or wandering anymore, I’m going to Kathmandu, Nepal for a magazine job.

As with the month before any long trip I have an overwhelming amount of preparations to do.  Some pleasant and exciting, like buying camera equipment and working on my website, and other things not so pleasant, like figuring out the intricacies and fine print of travel insurance packages.  Within about two weeks I’ll begin the meticulous process of packing up my bags to bring abroad, and packing up my life here in the U.S. into taped-up cardboard boxes.  The whole process is exciting and tiring at the same time.  Each item that goes with me will require careful planning and consideration.

I learned my lesson about over-packing on my first trip.  I had 2 guide books, multiple pairs of shoes, a water purification system, all sorts of bug repellants, and way too many clothing items.  With in one month on the road, I had slowly but surely left a trail of my things that I didn’t need across Asia.  I ditched water bottles and clothes in Singapore, gave away books and extraneous toiletries in Nepal and finally ended up with a decent sized backpack.

My upcoming trip, as I mentioned, is different than any previous trip I have taken because I am actually resettling in Kathmandu for a while.  This means I’ll probably want more than just the items I can fit into a backpack.  I’ll want some books and other items to make my new apartment in Kathmandu (which still remains to be found) more comfortable and livable.

So, as the weeks and days tick down to July 21st, I have a lot to do, a lot to think about, and a lot to pack.  Although tedious, all the trip preparations and planning are surely worth it.