Favourite Places In South-East Asia

After spending nearly a year in South-East Asia, I thought I would compile a list of the best places I’ve visited.

In some countries the choice was easier than in others. My choices are highly subjective and consider the amount of fun I had in the location, the right level of tourism, the people I met there and the things to do there.

So, let’s get started…

Indonesia

Indonesia is a very diverse country with many island groups, so it’s difficult to visit all of it in one trip. Apart from two particular areas, Indonesia is a touristic backwater. I spent most of my time in Java and Bali.

1 – Yogyakarta – Central Java
For the second most visited destination in Indonesia behind collectively Bali, Lombok and the Gili islands, there are relatively few tourists, yet there is still a fair amount to do. Most importantly there are two large temple ruins, Candi Prambanan and Candi Borobudur to explore. While there aren’t many westerners, you may be accosted by Indonesian tourists wanting to take photos of you.

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2 – Bali
This resort island is so popular with Australian holiday makers it’s often called Little Australia. With beautiful beaches, so many markets, charming clifftop temples and myriads of restaurants, there is a lot to do here. The one problem is the sheer number of tourists and because of this the local sales people can be excessively pushy. As it is busy most of the year around, the popularity of the quiet neighbouring Lombok and Gili Islands has increased.

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Singapore

One of the four Asian Tigers, Singapore is the most expensive country in south-east Asia but for good reason. An island city with limited space, the nation still offers plenty for the tourist to see and do. Singapore is a great place to visit, but is more designed for the holiday maker with cash to spare than a long-term traveller.

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Malaysia

With an eclectic mix of western and muslim cultures, Malaysia is one of my more favourite countries. It has a mix of mountains, sandy beaches, small backwater towns and of course, the gleaming capital, Kuala Lumpur.

1 – Langkawi Island
Langkawi is considered a resort island, although only one side of it is touristic. This is the beauty of the island, there is a place for those who like to touristy things, and then simply rent a scooter and five minutes out of Pantai Cenang you are away from tourists to visit serene empty gold sand beaches and waterfalls.

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2 – Ipoh
Ipoh is the hidden gem of mainland Malaysia as it’s off the tourist route, with most travellers heading up to the more touristic Cameron Highlands instead. But the treasure of Ipoh is the dozens of cave temples scattered throughout the city.

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Thailand

Perhaps the country most sold out to tourism, Thailand is a very diverse country with much to see, from the drunken yet beautiful islands of the south to the peaceful mountains of the north. But let us not forget Bangkok, the city of temples.

1 – Chiang Mai & Chiang Rai – Thailand
Northern Thailand is the best place to go if you are looking to escape the party zone of the southern islands. It’s still popular among tourists but can still be an enjoyable place to explore.

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2 – Ao Nang
Southern Thailand is a beautiful place although it does tend to be overrun by 18 to 21 year olds on holiday looking to party at every opportunity. If that’s your thing, fine, but if not, then Ao Nang is the place for you. It’s still very busy, but tends to be where families to holiday in and among the islands.

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Laos

With limited time to get to know Laos I visited only three main locations on my way to Vietnam. Overall, Laos is one of the poorer nations in South-East Asia but it has a fair number of things for the traveller to experience here.

1 – Luang Prabang
Like all the major tourist places in Laos, Luang Prabang is based around the river. The city gives a more traditional look at life in Laos than the other places, although it’s becoming more touristic as time goes on. There are numerous things to do including just sitting back in these pools near a cascading waterfall.

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2 – Vang Vieng
Vang Vieng is a touristic party town based around the river. After several tourist deaths in the last few years, a lot of the dangerous activities have been banned. While it still attracts partiers it’s at a more sedate level. The river is the major selling point of the town and there are several ways you can travel along it. I chose by kayak.

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Vietnam

With much culture still spread across this country, the land known for the Vietnam-America war has a lot to offer, although a lot of it features a war-based sentiment that is often anti-American.

1 – Hoi An

While Hoi An is a tourist town not far the major city of Da Nang, it was a welcoming sight after more than a week riding through places where I was the only english speaker. The town is relaxing and enjoyable. Plus, I met a great group of people at the hostel to explore the town with.

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2 – Da Lat
In the mountains of southern Vietnam, Da Lat is the flower capital of the country and is a beautiful city with some of the more oddball places to visit, including the ‘crazy house’.

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Cambodia

While Cambodia is a lovely country overall, I got the sense that it has vastly sold out to tourism. Considering its recent history and the young population here it’s understandable. My two picks also offer very good reasons why this is the case.

1 – Phnom Phen
While Phnom Phen is a large crazy city, it still draws many tourists. The major draw to the city is the Killing Fields, the site of mass murders conducted by the Khmer Rouge regime in the late 1970s. Just listening to the audio tour at Choeung Ek brought such emotion from so many visitors. And it is this alone that gave the place a higher rating in my books.

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2 – Siem Reap
Siem Reap is home to Angkor Wat, the largest temple complex ever to be built and surrounding this amazing site are many different ruins in various states of repair. The entire area is beautiful, but it’s the popularity that is also its downfall with just too many tourists. On top of this, the locals push hard to win the tourist dollar and can often make a fantastic area a little unpleasant.

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Myanmar

Only recently opened to tourism, Myanmar is still rich in its culture, although this is changing quickly as it begins to accept the tourist dollar. It will not be long before it becomes the next Laos.

1 – Bagan
A truly breathtaking place and perhaps my most favourite place in all of South-East Asia. There are so many temples here it’s easy to get lost in the atmosphere of the place. Just sitting for hours on top of a temple as it grows dark as temples begin lighting up is certainly an experience in serenity.

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So that’s it, the best places in South-East Asia.

Until next time,

Keyman

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5 Most Awesome Temples In South-East Asia

Asia, the land of temples. It is hard to believe just how many temples there are on this continent and that you could barely see a tiny percentage before you never want to see another temple again in your life.

For the last year I have ben wandering around in South-East Asia, comprising just over 10% of Asia, yet there are still so many temples it can make your mind boggle. So, after spending so long here, I decided to select five of my favourite temples from this sub continent.

Candi Borobudur – Yogyakarta, Central Java, Indonesia

The Borobudur temple is the world’s largest buddhist temple and is one of the greatest buddhist monuments in the world. It was built in the 9th century and abandoned in the 14th only to be rediscovered again in 1811. It contains the largest and most complete collection of buddhist reliefs in the world.

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Borobudur is a temple hill, that is, a temple that was built like a hill. To get to the top you must climb up one of the sides. The eastern gate is the proper entrance up the structure, but monks have to walk around it three times in the clockwise direction before climbing. There are three tiers to the temple, and at each tier monks had to again walk around three times before proceeding.

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The stupa at the top of the temple is surrounded by many bell-like structures under which is a statue of the buddha. The grounds around the temple hill are vast and green.

Candi Prambanan – Yogyakarta, Central Java, Indonesia

The Prambanan temple is the largest Hindu temple in Indonesia and was built around the same time as Candi Borobudur but on the other side of Yogyakarta. The temple complex was once a collection of 240 individual temples, with the largest six temples at its centre dedicated to the 3 manifestations of the hindu god and the each of their steeds.

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Most of the temples are now just piles of rubble after numerous eruptions of nearby Mount Merapi and the earthquake of 2009. The major temples have been reconstructed and stand like ancient clawed fingers reaching up from the ground.

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While vastly different to Candi Borobudur, it is equal in its magnificence. There are several other temples on the same grounds built in a similar style and in similar conditions.

Angkor Wat – Siem Reap, Cambodia

Built between 1113 AD and 1150 AD, Angkor Wat, at 1.5 km by 1.3 km, is the largest religious monument ever to have been built. Meaning ‘City Pagoda’, the temple grounds housed an entire city and while the other temples in the region were abandoned over the years, Angkor Wat has remained in use.

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Angkor Wat is made up of concentric galleries found in most Khmer temples that lead to a main central temple. Each concentric gallery is built taller than the previous one to form a pyramid, another typical Khmer structural design. The central temple almost looks like someone took Candi Prambanan and placed it on top of Candi Borobudur to form Angkor Wat. The Angkor Wat temple is surrounded by a wide moat with only two causeways leading into it.

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Angkor Wat is a major Hindu temple designed to resemble Mount Meru in Northern India, the home of the Hindu gods. It has five main towers to represent the five main peeks of the sacred mountain.

Bagan – Myanmar

Technically not just one temple but 2,200 scattered across the valley in the curve of the Ayeyarwaddy River. They are all that remains of nearly 11,000 temples that were originally built here. The temples here were built about the same time as the previous temples on this list and fell into ruins after only 400 years. There are so many temples scattered across the archaeological area that it is impossible to take a photo of all of them.

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Of the many, many temples, the vast majority of them are different. Some are built from white stone, while most are red. Others are completely covered in gold leaf, while others have portions covered in gold. Many can be climbed to take in the views, some have pictures etched into their walls, but most have at least one buddha sitting somewhere within the structure. At night, some of them even light up.

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Sunrise and sunset are popular times to climb one of the temples and just take in the serenity of the land as light or darkness invades the land. It is true a magnificent place.

Wat Rong Khun – Chiang Rai, Thailand

Known as the White Temple, Wat Rong Khun is the most artistic and styish temple in South East Asia. Unlike the previous temples, which were built over 1,000 years ago, Wat Rong Khun is less than 100 years old. A local artist completely rebuild the original temple from his own pocket, spending over US$1.25 million in its construction.

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To enter the temple, visitors must cross the ‘bridge of rebirth’ representing the way to happiness by foregoing temptation, greed and desire. Beneath the bridge are hundreds of hands symbolising unrestrained desire which are framed by tortured depictions of demonic beings.

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So there you have it, five of the most amazing temples in South East Asia.

Until next time,

Keyman

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Tips for Motorcycling in Vietnam – Part 2

Riding a motorbike the length of Vietnam is becoming a popular tourist activity. But there’s more to it than just getting a bike and riding off.

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In Tips for Motorcycling in Vietnam – Part 1 I discussed Buying a bike and making preparations before leaving. In part 2 I look at what you’ll need once you’re on the road.

Part 2 – Tips For On The Road

Accommodation
My personal preference is to book accommodation one night ahead so I know where I’m riding to and not waste time roving around looking for hotels when I could be exploring. Booking ahead is easy using Hostelworld.com for major tourist locations, Booking.com or Agoda.com for more out-of-the-way places. Pre-booking is often handy when you’re next stop is off the beaten track and the staff at the hotel are unlikely to speak english.

A cheap hotel room in out-of-the-way places should cost around US$10 per night and include a double bed, ensuite bathroom, air conditioning, a fan and cable TV, although most don’t include breakfast. In the more touristic locations a single bed in a dorm will cost you US$10 per night but will include breakfast. Hotel prices tend to be more expensive towards the south of Vietnam.

Police and Bribes
It’s fairly common on major highways to see police stops. While they’re usually targeting trucks, they’ll pull over motorcycles from time to time, waving their baton at the vehicles they want to pull over. Luckily the majority of Vietnamese police officers don’t speak english so when they see your backpack or skin colour they’ll just wave you on.

For the number of police stops I passed on my journey I was only flagged down once, on my very first day. But when I pulled over the officer decided he couldn’t be bothered and waved me on. For the unlucky who do get stopped by an english speaking officer, they’re likely targeting you for a bribe and are expecting US$10 to let you on your way.

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Speed Limits
For the most part, the speed limit on Vietnamese roads is only 40 km/h. On the open highway this increases to 60 km/h. On some major highways the limit can rise to 80 km/h but motorcycles are still limited to 60.

Daily Distance and Time to Leave
For my average day’s journey of 175 km, I found leaving at about 9 a.m. gave me 5.5 – 6 hours on the road and several hours to explore my destination once I arrived. If you plan to stay at your destination more than one night, leaving later is fine, but there shouldn’t be a need to ever ride in the dark.

The Roads of Vietnam
Compared to Laos or Cambodia, the roads in Vietnam are pretty good. Minor roads through the mountains can have some areas of potholes, while more country roads can be terrible or just plain dirt roads. There shouldn’t be a need to use them often so avoid them if you can help it.

While the major highways are usually excellent, the Asian Highway 1 (AH1) that runs the length of the country had so many road works it was like the government decided to upgrade the entire 2,500 km length all at the same time. Take routes alternative to the AH1 if you can.

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Vietnamese Road Rules
After much study I’ve been able to determine many aspects that may be useful to know on the roads in Vietnam. They fill an entire post, so check them at Road Rules in Vietnam.

Motorcycle Problems
The most common issue you’ll have is a flat tyre. For other problems, unless the motorcycle you bought was brand new you’re likely to have at least one issue. The older the bike the more likely it will break down. Most of these problems will be based on old or dodgy Chinese parts.

Getting Repairs
When your bike has a problem it’s generally easy to find someone to repair it. Flat tyres are easy although if the rubber of the tyre has sustained damage it may need to be replaced. Away from the major cities and towns there are many small-time mechanics just waiting for you to roll up to their little shop in the middle of nowhere.

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If the damage is significant enough they’ll have to ride to a more major location to get parts. They’ll likely charge you excessively for this repair, knowing that you’ll have little choice but to pay. In towns and cities there’s more competition so prices are cheaper and repair times shorter.

Servicing and Oil Changes
For best performance your bike’s oil should be changed every 500 km. This isn’t a difficult or expensive procedure and most small-time mechanics can do it in about 5 minutes. It may also be prudent to have your bike serviced at least twice during the trip to ensure best operation of the bike. This should include cleaning out the air filter, greasing the bearings, checking the fuel lines and battery connection points.

Fuel
Along the coastal route there are plenty of Petrolimex stations and as long as you keep your fuel topped up there shouldn’t be a need to carry extra fuel. Along the Ho Chi Minh Highway there are less gas stations and areas where it is wise to carry a spare bottle of fuel just in case.

Some locals fill bottles with petrol and sell them out front of their houses, while others have their own pump. Avoid these home pumps if possible as there’s no clear indication of how much fuel you’re using and the locals will generally overcharge you for it.

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Have fun on the road, it’s an adventure worth doing if you’re prepared.

Until next time,

Keyman

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Tips for Motorcycling In Vietnam – Part 1

Riding a motorbike the length of Vietnam is becoming a popular tourist activity. But there’s more to it than just getting a bike and riding off.

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After recently riding from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City (read about my trip: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4), I’ve put together some tips for anyone thinking of doing this trip…

Buying a Motorbike

Finding a Used Motorcycle
In Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City there several places to locate motorcycles:

Hostels
Many central hostels will advertise motorbikes on behalf of backpackers who have just completed their journey. Take a walk around the hostels to see what ads they have. If there aren’t any ads the hostel manager may be able to get you in touch with a Used Motorbike Yard.

The Internet
Some backpackers advertise online at craigslist or similar. There are also companies who remodel motorcycles and sell them online to backpackers. While these bikes are usually a little more costly than buying direct from other backpackers, they tend to be better maintained.

Shops
There are plenty of small sales stores in both District 1 of Ho Chi Minh City and Old Quarter of Hanoi. They tend to rent more often but do buy and sell. Sometimes they will put you in touch with a Used Motorcycle Yard.

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Used Motorbike Yards
In Hanoi there are several used motorbike yards and most offer pick up services. They usually have large selections split by age and type. Once you’ve selected a group they will let you ride several before you pick the best. Along with the bike they usually provide registration, helmet, a map, a pack rack and often a waterproof sheet for your bags.

Getting Serviced
When a backpacker completes a trip through Vietnam, they usually don’t get the bike serviced before trying to sell it. Keep this in mind when buying a bike and make some arrangements to put the bike in for a service. There should be mechanics aplenty in the central cities or ask your hostel manager for advice or look for an ad on the Internet.

Bike Sizes
Most motorbikes in Vietnam are under 250CC with the most common bike being 125cc. It’s rare to see a larger bike as it’s very expensive to import them or to cross the border with them.

Prices
This is fairly subjective, but a cheaper bike should be between US$200 and US$300. After completing the tour on a bike under US$300 I would NEVER recommend anyone buy a bike in this range. While there’s no guarantees, generally the newer the bike the less likely it will be to break down but the more it will cost. I would recommend buying a bike around US$400-500.

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Registration
It’s illegal for a bike to be ridden on the Vietnamese roads without having a blue motorcycle registration ticket. When buying a bike ensure that it has one and that the number on it matches the one of the bike. Failure to have a registration for the bike will lead to confiscation of the bike and a heavy fine.

It’s also illegal for a non-Vietnamese national to own a Vietnamese bike. The registration you get with the bike will have a Vietnamese name on it. It’s because of this that most travel insurers WILL NOT cover accidents on a motorcycle in Vietnam.

Helmets
Just because some of the locals don’t wear helmets, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. While the bike should come with a helmet, make sure it’s a full helmet and not just a the ‘helmet’ hats the locals wear. Safety first.

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Wet Weather Gear
It will rain during your trip although it’s more likely to rain along the Ho Chi Minh Highway then along the coast. Make sure you have quality waterproof clothing and be aware that with the amount of rain, GoreTex may not be enough to keep you dry. Pick up a heavy duty poncho to wear over other rain gear. It should be long enough to cover your pack as well.

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Rain Covers For Your Pack
A simple pack cover won’t keep your pack dry. Buy some rubbish bags and pack everything inside them before putting them in your pack. Then wrap your pack in a waterproof sheet. Better to have something dry to change into when you arrive than to have wet clothing.

Carrying Your Gear
If the bike has a pack rack, it should come with a strong piece of cord or stretch hook cable as well. Be aware that often the fuel tank is under the seat, so having to untie your pack every time you refuel can be annoying, especially in the rain. I rode with my pack over my shoulder and sitting on the seat behind me. It was comfortable, balanced and didn’t get in the way.

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Route Planning
Picking a route can be more difficult than you think. There are many stop offs and side routes. Buy a map and have a look around the internet for routes other riders have taken. The distance from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh is 1,795 km, but it is more realistic to plan for 2,500 km. If you ride for more than 250km a day, that’s all you’ll be doing each day. My trip was 23 days including rest days with 4 days in each of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh city. With only a 1 month visa I didn’t get to see everything I would have liked to.

Navigation Tools
While it’s a romantic notion to use a paper map to guide you on your tour, the majority of Vietnam doesn’t have good road signs. It can be done, but can be frustrating when it’s pouring with rain and you get to a fork in the road with no road signs. Having a GPS or a smartphone with a local SIM is the more modern means to navigate. However, rain can still be an annoying feature, so ensure that you have a waterproof case/pouch for your phone/GPS. Mine got wet and I had to buy a cheap smartphone to navigate by.

Next time, Tips Once On The Road,

Keyman

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Road Rules In Vietnam

Riding a scooter through Vietnam is perhaps one of the crazier things I’ve done. While I’m confident on a motorbike and have had plenty of experience in South East Asian traffic, the Vietnamese are just crazy. And the sheer number of accidents on their roads is proof of this.

Here are some observations from my time on Vietnamese roads:

Toot Your Horn As Often As Possible

  • Horns are fun, everybody agrees
  • Toot to let people know you’re coming
  • Toot again so they will get out of the way
  • Ignore whoever is tooting at you cause tooting is someone else problem

Passengers On A Motorbike Are Okay

  • Seats of motorbikes are quite large compared to the size of Vietnamese butts
  • Three adults is common on a motorbike…
  • …as is two adults and 2 small children
  • Five people will fit on a scooter easily, six at a push and eight if you really put your mind to it.

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Helmets Should Always Be Worn When Riding

  • It doesn’t matter how flimsy the helmet as long as it’s on your head
  • As long as one person has a helmet you’re okay
  • if the adults have helmets, the kids are fine
  • When on side streets helmets are optional
  • Tourists who don’t where helmets are idiots
  • There are a lot of idiots on Vietnamese roads

Motorbikes Are Pack Horses

  • Carrying a 6 metre long pipe over your shoulder is fine
  • If the wheels still roll, you haven’t overloaded the bike

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Drive On The Right Hand Side Of The Road

  • Unless you can’t be bothered crossing the road then anywhere on the road is fine
  • If there’s a median strip drive wherever you like, just don’t hit anything

Round-a-bouts Are A Thing

  • Round-a-bouts are road obstacles in the middle of many intersections, you go around them
  • If no-one’s in front of you, you have right of way
  • If some one is in front of you, don’t crash into them

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  • Giving Way Is A Thing
  • If you’re coming out of a side road just don’t make eye contact and everyone will give way to you
  • It’s fine, looking means you might care if someone else is on the road
  • Give way to anyone you might crash into

Students Rule The Roads

  • Children go to school for 4 hours a day
  • When they get out at around midday the roads are mayhem
  • They travel in groups on bicycles and mopeds all over the road
  • They don’t seem to notice the trucks flying past right beside them

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Crossing Intersections

  • When approaching an intersection without traffic lights, beep you horn loudly, cause horns are fun
  • Don’t stop and don’t make eye contact with anyone
  • If no-one’s in front of you, you have right of way
  • If some one is in front of you, don’t crash into them

Overtaking Is Easy

  • Wait until most of the traffic coming the other way has passed, then pull out
  • Beep your horn madly and flash lights at any remaining on-coming traffic so they know to get the hell out of the way
  • Don’t fall off your bike

The Human Sea…

  • It’s annoying riding against the traffic down some streets in Ho Chi Minh City
  • Taking a different road is probably the best thing to do

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Until next time,

Keyman

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Bedbugs And Travelling

Bedbugs are both the rite of passage and the scourge of any long-term traveller. Some say you haven’t truly travelled long-term until you’ve met these nasty little creatures at least once. I’ve personally suffered through several attacks, some major but most very minor. Here’s some tips on what to do if you come into contact with bedbugs.

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What Are Bedbugs?
Bedbugs are crawling, blood-sucking insects. The rusty-brown coloured adult bugs can grow up to half a centimetre long, while the nymphs are translucent and start at around a millimetre.

Bedbugs usually eat while their ‘prey’ sleeps, after which they hide nearby until their next feeding session, up to five days later.

Where Do Bedbugs Hide?
Bedbugs get their names because they are commonly found in and around beds. But this isn’t their only ‘hunting’ grounds. They will hide anywhere where there’s a good source of food; wardrobes, clothing, living-room chairs, couches, or even buses and trains. The London Tube rail systems been known to have an infestation in recent times.

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Do You Have Bedbugs?
Unlike mosquitos and fleas, which bite randomly, bedbugs bite in clusters, leaving red itchy bites on the elbows, lower back or around the knees and ankles. The most common symptom is a line of bites, usually three or four in number. Depending on the size of the infestation, the number of bites can expand into the hundreds after only a couple of days.

Another means to determine if you’ve been attacked is by finding blood spots or smears on your sheets. When a bedbug has eaten it is slow and blood-bloated. They’re susceptible to being crushed if you should turn over in the night, exploding in a bloody smear.

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The only true way to identify if you have bedbugs is to actually see one. This can be difficult unless you have a major infestation as they are usually only active between 2 and 5 a.m. Doing a thorough search of the bed during these hours should turn up at least one, often under the pillow or around the mattress fringing.

Checking For Bedbugs
When arriving at a new hostel, hotel or wherever you’re staying, it’s always a good idea to check if there may be an infestation. While you are more likely to find bed bugs in lower market accommodations, the more upmarket hotels can suffer infestations as well.

Check under the pillow, in the folds at the edges of mattresses, in tiny cracks in the woodwork and even around the corners of the wall. If there are no obvious bugs or small bloodspots then the room is probably free of bedbugs, but there are no guarantees here.

Avoid Spreading Bedbugs
If the bed you’ve been sleeping in has even one bedbug, there’s a chance that when you leave you’ll take it with you. Here are a few tips how not to spread bedbugs…

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Don’t Put Your Bag On The Bed
Bedbugs look for places to hide both after they’ve eaten and if they’ve been disturbed. If your bag is on the bed, they may decide to take up residence. Most hotels have frames for you to put your bags on, but if yours doesn’t try to store your bag as far from the bed as possible. Unfortunately, if the room has a serious infestation they may find their way in anyway.

Shower In The Morning
The clothes you sleep in may take on a new travelling companion. If you plan to use them again leave them on the bed, otherwise shower and place them in a sealed plastic bag. As bedbugs are susceptible to heat, wash your clothes at 60ºC to kill them.

Getting Rid Of Bedbugs While Travelling
If you’re travelling long-term, limiting the infestation should be a high priority.

Wash Everything
The best opportunity to get rid of bedbugs is when you’re about to move to a new location. Just before moving, get a couple of changes of clothing washed in hot water, 60ºC is best. These clothes should be free of infestation so when they are returned seal them in a plastic bag straight away.

On arrival at your new hostel/hotel, shower immediately and change into the clothes from the sealed bag. Then wash all the rest of your clothes in hot water. Then wash everything else you own. Everything. Spare shoes, sleeping bags, even find a large sink and drown your pack in hot soapy water.

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Getting Rid Of Bedbugs At Home
If you manage to bring bedbugs home after your travels, here are a couple of suggestions as how to clean your home.

Spray Insecticides
After washing everything, spray with a suitably strong insecticide, this includes your clothes, bed and your bed sheets. Leave it a few days and then spray everything again. Note, as insecticides are poisonous, overuse may have side effects. So go carefully.

Insect Bombs And Other Haze Insecticides
After following the processes above, buy some insect bombs and release them throughout your home. Results aren’t guaranteed, as bedbugs have begun evolving resistances to common insecticides, but it may be enough.

Burn You Bed
As silly as it may sound if you have a serious infestation and none of the above methods have worked, the only real way to deal with them is to get rid of your bed. Because most mattresses have ‘breathing holes’ built in, bedbugs can hide inside and be protected from sprays and insect bombs. As an alternative, you could always just move to a new house.

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Until next time,

Keyman

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That Hose Beside The Toilet In Asia…

Last time I wrote about toilets, I was in Latin America and dealing with putting used toilet paper into The Little Bin Beside The Toilet. Now I’m in Asia and while they still have that little bin and use it for the same reasons, they have another solution. Instead of having their sewers clog up, having to empty bins full of fecally stained paper, or even supplying public toilets with paper at all… most toilets have a hose.

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The hose is connected to the water mains and can have a tap on the wall to turn it on. The idea is that once you’ve finished your business, stick the hose up between your legs and turn on the tap. It can take some getting used to… aiming at the right place, the sudden feeling of cold water on your jaxsy and controlling the pressure so you don’t spray up the seat behind you, but you get used to it.

To help, or perhaps make it harder, some of the hoses have spray guns.

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At more upmarket establishments, the toilets have spray systems built into them. This is similar to the French bidet but without having to move to another unit. After turning on the tap on the side of the toilet base, a little sprayer extends and the squirting begins.

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Most public toilets in Asia seems to be always drenched with water, and not just the floor, but often the seat and up the walls as well. Apparently, after doing their business and using the hose, people have a mini shower. Hopefully they also clean the room afterwards.

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Thankfully there are hooks in most booths to hang your pants on so they don’t get wet. The process is more hygienic than using paper and stops the bog or the sewers from getting clogged.

After a time your get used to having a hose, and a wet bum, and even speculate about having one installed at home.

Until next time,

Keyman.

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Losing Your ATM Card While Travelling

Having money is useful when you’re travelling. You can use it to pay for accommodation, food, transport and the like. There’s only one thing worse than not having money on the road, not having access to the money you do have.

I Lost My Card
In Yogyakarta, a touristy city in Central Java, Indonesia, I collected my cash from the ATM and walked away without my card. Yes, indeed I did.

In most countries I’ve been to, ATMs won’t dispense your cash until you’ve collected your card. The machines even beep madly until you do. Remove card, take cash, put in wallet, walk away. That’s the standard process. Remove card, take cash, put in wallet, walk away. Do this enough over time and it becomes ingrained. …take cash, put in wallet, walk away.

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Indonesian ATMs do it the other way around. They dispense your money and then ask, ‘Would you like another transaction?’ No and you get your card. Yes and it asks for your PIN number before allowing you to make another transaction.

…take cash, put in wallet, walk away. So when it gave me my cash, I put it into my wallet and walked away, leaving my card in the machine. Thankfully, without my PIN, no new transactions could be made. When I noticed the card was missing the next morning, I rang the bank and was told the card was likely destroyed. Fuck.

My Brother
Thankfully on this portion of my trip I’m not travelling alone. My brother agreed to lend me some money until it could all be sorted out. Thanks bro!

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Backup Options
“We can send you out a new card,” I was told when I Skyped to cancel it. ‘It’ll take three weeks to get to Asia, where should we send it?” At that stage I had only a vague idea where we were going to be in 3 weeks. They wanted an address and phone number to confirm receipt. So, I made a plan, booked a hostel in Singapore and Skyped them back.

Once the arrangements had been made they put me through to MasterCard International. I was given two options: arrange for an emergency card to arrive in 3 working days, or get emergency cash which I could collect from any Western Union outlet. It was a Friday and I wasn’t sure where we’d be in 3 working days, so I went with the emergency cash.

Western Union Emergency Cash
Two hours later I got the call that I could collect the money from any Western Union outlet within 72 hours. The next day, a Saturday, I went searching. Google Maps showed plenty so I walked the humid streets of Yogyakarta looking for them. I found only one, a postal outlet and was told to try a bank, but banks don’t open on weekends. I’d also booked a train to another city for early Monday afternoon, giving me only the Monday morning to get the cash before my 72 hours expired.

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Before the train, I visited a bank that Western Union online had assured me I could get the transfer. Nope, they didn’t do it anymore. The 7/11 next to the bank had a WU sticker on the door but couldn’t help me either. I walked the street for 30 minutes, visiting several banks, some with the WU sticker, but none could help me. I eventually found a bank, but was told that the Western Union system was down. Annoyed, I got on the train and rang MasterCard International to arrange another emergency cash advance.

The next day, in Bandung, West Java, I went to a large post office, presented my passport, waited an hour and was finally given my cash.

The English Backup Card
I’d worked in London while in the UK and had about £250 in a British account that I hadn’t wanted to touch. But a week later and two more cities along our route I decided to use it instead of Western Union.

The ATM declined my attempt telling me to contact my bank. Since I hadn’t planned to use the money, I hadn’t told my UK bank I was going to Asia. I Skyped the UK and was told it had been blocked because of my attempt. So, they unblocked it. Next day I tried again, still blocked. I Skyped again, went through 4 sets of security checks before the fraud team finally unblocked it. It felt great to have direct access to my cash again.

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Your Card Has Arrived
We were two days from arriving in Singapore when I got the email. It was from my bank and the Subject line read, “Your Card Has Arrived.” Relieved, I opened the email and read that my card had arrived in the Sydney. Fuck.

I politely wrote back explaining my card was supposed to be in Singapore. Checking the notes in my account, they kindly sorted it out, arranging to courier the card to Singapore. As a precaution, I arranged for an emergency card from MasterCard International as well. Two hours later I got the message that my bank had declined the emergency card.

Skyping my bank, I discovered it had been declined because there were no notes about my plans to travel in Asia! But… I’d rung them before the trip to let them know and I’d just gone through the saga of reporting my card lost and getting a new one shipped to Singapore! We added fresh notes and they approved the card.

My Card Really Has Arrived, But…
In Singapore, my emergency card arrived and I went to collect it. It had no PIN so I needed to get cash advances across the counter at a bank. I managed this and had cash! Then 3 days later, my new ATM card arrived. I collected it and was pleased that the saga was finally over. Or so I thought. When I tried to use the card, I got the message, ‘Incorrect PIN’. Yup, fuck.

I Skyped the bank and was told that it must be an ATM issue as no PIN change request had been registered. I tried another ATM with the same issue. I had no choice but to get a new PIN sent to me. It would take 3 days to anywhere in Australia or 3 weeks to Asia. I chose to have it sent to my parent’s house in New Zealand, a 7-10 day wait. I’m glad I’d ordered the MasterCard International Emergency Card.

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And Finally
I got the message 6 days later from New Zealand, the letter had arrived. Now in Kuala Lumpar in Malaysia, I tried my card and it works!

Time to get back to enjoying my travels!

Until next time,

Keyman

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A Tale of Hostel Woe

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In my travels I’ve stayed in many hostels, with many different people. Mostly experiences have been good, people are friendly and are usually quite considerate. Sure, there have been noisy early morning packing and noisy drunken roommates, but cases of true woe are very rare. But they do happen…

I live in a long-term hostel while working in London for a few months before going travelling again. I got home from work on Monday to find a new guy had moved into my 3-bed dorm. He was French, spoke little English, was about my age and seemed like a nice enough guy, although perhaps a little fixated on his phone.

It was 3 p.m. and I was relaxing on my bed after a half day at work. He went out, returning 10 minutes later with a 1 litre bottle of vodka. I figured he was going to have a couple of drinks later until he opened the bottle and started chugging. In three chugs he gulped down half the bottle! This is only having been in the hostel an hour.

I decided to vacate for a bit, so grabbed my laptop and headed to a local cafe, letting reception know what was happening as I went past. An hour later I returned to find him standing out front of the hostel hanging onto the steel fence totally unaware of the world around him. I even spoke to him, but if he heard be he didn’t show it. I went inside but came back out to find him sprawled on the ground. I picked him up and half dragged, half carried him to the room, where he promptly passed out on his bed. His phone rang a few times while he slept oblivious.

We need a fob to get into the hostel and he’d dropped his outside. I’d picked it up and put it on the table at the end of his bed. A few hours later he awoke completely disoriented. Our beds are quite thin and his was in the middle of the room. Whenever he tried to get up, he would fall off the other side. He would then get back onto the bed only to fall off the other side. This happened several times.

Finally upright, he searched through his pockets and sighed loudly, then started taking off his clothes. In his underwear, he searched the pockets of his pants again and sighed, again. All this time he was checking his phone every 30 seconds or so.

There is only one window in our room, near the end of my bed and I have a bag under it. He got up and groggily made a b-line towards it with the obvious intention of pissing out it. Yes, pissing. I stopped him, dragged him back to his bed, where he promptly fell off again. Then sitting spread-eagled on the floor, he began to pull down the front of his underwear. I dashed across the room, grabbed the room’s small rubbish bin and thrust it between his legs just as he let rip. Not the most pleasant experience I’ve had, that’s for sure. It didn’t all go into the bin either, some pooled around him. When he’d finished, he slumped onto the bed and went back to sleep.

I went to speak with reception, the police were called, but could not do anything as he hadn’t been violent. They suggested we let him sleep it off and ask him to leave the next morning. I asked for a cleaner to come up with a mop. While the cleaner mopped up the piss, he simply sat on his bed and said nothing, checking his phone. Afterwards he went back to sleep.

An hour later he woke and got dressed. He again searched his pockets, sighed, grabbed his cigarettes and took one out. He searched his pockets again, then headed to the window where he tried to light the cigarette. I stopped him and told him to go outside. After another failed check through his pockets he left the room.

A minute later someone came in and said he was smoking in the hall. I rushed out and stopped him, then called the receptionist who arrived with a french speaking guest in tow. A verbal warning was given. He then found his fob under something he’d put on the end table and went outside to have a smoke.

He slept through the night, but woke at 5 a.m. and woke us up by noisy packing and leaving the room. He returned about 15 minutes later, took another chug of vodka and went back to sleep.

It was my day off, so I went to breakfast and spoke with the morning receptionist who told me they’d given him a written warning. One more issue and he was out. After breakfast I went to the local cafe and on my return found he’d been evicted.

We speculated that this had all been over a breakup, based largely on his constant checking of his phone. But it could have been anything, none of us will ever know. Ah well, another story to tell of my travels…

Until next time,

Keyman

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Nine Things I Learned While Travelling – Part 3

Back in Part 1 I discussed The Cost of Travelling, Is Travelling Dangerous? and It’s Not Always Paradise
and in Part 2 I discussed Travelling Alone, Tourist vs Traveller and Travelling Speed

Here are more things I learned while travelling…

7) Travelling Leads To Travel Burnout

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When going overseas on vacation for a week or two, most people try to do as much as possible as to not waste any of their precious time off. But on getting back they often complain about needing another holiday… They are suffering from short-term travel burnout. Imagine doing that for a year? You’d die from exhaustion.

To avoid this type of burnout, long-term travellers tend to travel more slowly, following something called the ‘three night rule’. This means stopping at destinations for a minimum of three nights. Three nights gives adequate time to explore the new location, go on a tour, sample the food, talk to the locals, buy supplies, talk to other travellers, rest, relax, go out for drinks, have a hangover and still have a day to yourself.

But even long-term travellers can suffer from burnout and this usually occurs somewhere between the third and ninth month. The major causes of long-term travel burnout are overstimulation constant change.

If you follow the 3 night rule, on average after 3 months of travelling you’ve been to 30 places, stayed in 30 different hostels, slept in 30 different beds (or more depending on what type of person you are), showered in 30 different showers, walked through 29 different markets selling mostly the same items, been harassed by 706 different locals either begging or trying to sell you something, seen 16 volcanos, climbed 8 of them, seen 4 different crater lakes, snorkelled 7 times, and… well I think you get the point.

After a while you start dreaming of sleeping in the same bed and seeing the same people for a while. It’s recommended to take a week or two off every three months or so. Large cities are good for this although you can stop anywhere. There are plenty of things to do during a break such as: take a language course, get in touch with a group that shares an interest with you, teach a language or just sit on the beach for a couple of weeks reading books. Then, after a year, go home, get a job, save some more money and begin planning your next trip.

8) Travelling is Addictive

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When you begin travelling you quickly discover just how large the world is. Then after a year exploring a continent you go back to work and straight away begin dreaming of your next travel destination. You can’t help it, there are just so many places in the world you haven’t seen. And watching travel shows just make it all worse, you start to get the itch to get back on the road again. It’s then that you realise your addicted.

When you discover the nuances of the different countries and cultures on just one continent, you can’t help but see more. Some people like to think there is a cure for this addiction, citing something called ‘a mortgage’, pregnancy or lack of money. And while this has worked for some, the cures are not always effective as most addicts have found a way around them.

You can tell you’re addicted when you get a rush arriving at a new destination and can’t wait to go exploring. No matter how you’ve administered travel, whether by bus, boat, train or plane, or how long the trip since taking the last dose, be it 2 hours or a year, the rush is still there. Every place you will visit is different and there is always a gem to be found, sometimes you just have to look hard but it’ll be there. Most of us have accepted that once a travel addict, always a travel addict.

9) Travelling Changes You

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When you begin travelling you start to learn things about the society you live in, the rest of the world and most importantly, yourself. If you can travel for months or even years with only the possessions in your backpack, you start to learn how frivolous the western world is and how there is far more to life than buying a larger house, getting the latest car, the coolest gadget or that name brand handbag. Life changes from being about consumption to simply living.

More importantly, travelling can teach you how to be happy. Not the happy we learn going to work at that average job, to pay off those massive debts we’ve accumulated because of that house, car, gadget or accessory. We’re happy because we are doing something we love, be it the travelling itself or something the freedom of travelling allows us to do. For me, this is writing.

Travelling also teaches you how to overcome adversity and to be more relaxed, as travelling is not as easy as it would appear. Every day there are challenges to overcome, and while many revolve around communication difficulties (especially in countries that speak different languages), but can include differences in food, thieves, beggars, lack of facilities, sickness, dodgy tour operators and many more.

Most often it will make you a stronger, more relaxed person and capable person, more ready to take on the world than to submit to a life of unhappiness.

Until next time,

Keyman

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