Thoughts of Nepal in the Wake of the Earthquake

I’ll never forget the first time I saw the Himalayas.

I was in the middle of an excruciatingly long and bumpy bus ride, one of many I would take in the course of my six week journey around Nepal. I was gazing out the window (I always fought hard to get a window seat) while contemplating how they built these narrow, winding roads through the mountains — when I suddenly caught sight of glistening white peaks on the distant horizon.

Himalayan Mountains in Nepal

A glimpse of the white peaks of the Himalayas. All photos by Michelle Wu. Contact: michkwu@gmail.com

It was just a quick glimpse, but it stopped me in my tracks. They were so far away, yet the shape of those snow-covered jagged peaks was unmistakable. A few weeks later, I would hike for days to reach them in person.

I visited 15 countries in the course of 10 months of traveling, but Nepal will always be close to my heart. I feel a deep connection to the amazing, kind people I met there because of the unique experiences I was lucky to have. I stayed at a 10-day yoga retreat in Pokhara and tried paragliding for the first time. I hiked for six days in the Langtang valley, one of the best experiences of my whole trip. I volunteered at a primary school and at an orphanage for troubled boys from a conflict-torn region — my first time teaching. And I got really darn good at negotiating with Kathmandu taxi drivers.

I was really rocked and saddened when news of the the earthquake broke a few weeks ago. I keep thinking about the generous people I met in Nepal who treated me like family. I’ve emailed with the director of the volunteer program,Nepal Volunteers Council, who is also the principal at the school, and he confirmed that while there is a lot of damage, the kids are doing alright. Many others aren’t. I’m sure you’ve read plenty about it and I don’t have much to add. Just that a few dollars can go a long way.

There are many great organizations to donate to. Here are a few: Unicef, All Hands, Team Rubicon, Care.

As a personal tribute, I would like to share some of my favorite photos and memories of Nepal. These photos were all taken in September-October 2013.

 Kathmandu

The vibrant, bustling capital and population center of Nepal. Home to 1 million of Nepal’s 27.8 million people. A place where people I just met treated me with humbling kindness. One example: I arrived by bus ended up at a different station than I was supposed to meet the volunteer coordinator at. I had no cell phone. An older couple at a little convenience store let me use their phone, let me sit inside behind the counter and offered me a cold drink while I waited for my ride. They asked for nothing in return but smiles.

Kathmandu, Nepal street scene

Young girls done up in traditional dress for a show during a festival/holiday.

Kathmandu Durbar Square, September 2013

A small protest gathers a crowd in Kathmandu’s Durbar Square.

Monks in Kathmandu, Nepal

Monks taking a break near the famous monkey temple.

Children in Kathmandu, Nepal

Boys trying to catch a glimpse of the show behind the curtain.

Kathmandu, Nepal street scene

A man with unbelievably good balance selling snacks outside a movie theater.

Children in Kathmandu, Nepal

They smile all the time — but then make a serious face when posing for a photo. I caught the one on the left🙂

A tourist sadhu in Kathmandu, Nepal

These tourist “sadhus” pose with visitors for money at the Pashupatinath temple. They’re very friendly.

Kathmandu, Nepal

The colorful streets and cafes of Kathmandu.

Kids in Kathmandu, Nepal

Some boys in my Grade 4 class. The boys were much more rambunctious and outgoing than the girls at this age.

Kathmandu, Nepal

View from the top of the monkey temple. The suburbs stretch for miles and miles in every direction.

Here’s a beautiful short video of Kathmandu from NYT:

 

Bhaktapur

Bhaktapur is a city just outside of Kathmandu and a cultural center with a lot of history. The dusty, cobblestone streets will transport you back in time about 50 years. I’ve seen photos beautiful centuries-old buildings turned to rubble and videos of ancient monuments tumbling to the ground during the quake.

(Check out this multimedia project of historic sites by the New York Times.)

I’ve also seen photos of young people joining together to clean up and try to slowly get back to where they once were. They know that it’s going to be a long, uphill climb, and the splendor of these great cities might not be the same again. But the history will always be there.

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The Dhaka topi is a traditional hat worn by older men in Nepal. A young man in his 20s told be that they are old fashioned and no one his age wears them. It looks like these guys might be the last generation of the Dhaka topi.

Bhaktapur, Nepal

Bhaktapur’s historic Durbar Square — like the one in Kathmandu but with even more cultural sites. Note the internet cafe… they are everywhere.

Nepal bus with people on the roof

The best way to ride. This bus doesn’t even look crowded, I think those kids just like it on the roof.

Sarangkot, Nepal

Views from Sarangkot, a peak near Bhaktapur.

 

Langtang Valley Trek into the Himalayas

 People often ask what my favorite country is, which is a hard question to answer because I love so many. But I always answer confidently that one of my favorite experiences I’ve ever had while traveling was this 8 day journey through the foothills and up into the Himalayas.

We did the Langtang Valley trek, which is less popular than the Annapurna region near Pokhara. We were hoping for something away from the crowds and we found it. It was truly magnificent and unforgettable. In total it was 6 days of hiking, 4 days up and 2 days down, plus 2 days of bus rides to get to/from the village where we started the journey. I loved every minute of it.

Nepal mountains

A little town in the foothills of the Himalayas where we started our trek.

Nepal

A girl waits for the bus on the side of a mountain road.

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A little toddler being watched over by his pet goat. No adults in sight. Children are so much more independent here.

Nepal

The cutest little town along our trek. Let’s stop for a lunch of sherpa stew and yak cheese, shall we?

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BEFORE: There are little tiny villages of along the trail where you can stop for the night and get a hot meal. Arriving here in the late afternoon, it was super cloudy. We didn’t know how close we were to the mountains.

 

Langtang Himalayas, Nepal

AFTER: We awoke the next morning to this amazing view out our window!

Yak, Himalayas of Nepal

Things I know about Yaks: They are grumpy. They do not like loud noises or when you sneak up behind them.

Langtang Himalayas, Nepal

We made it to the summit! Kyanjin Ri peak, 15,800 feet

 

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Video: Mastering the Longyi, the Traditional Dress of Myanmar

While the beauty of majestic Myanmar is fresh in my mind after the last post, let’s talk about the art of the longyi.

The longyi, or longi, or longee, (pronounced simply lon-gee), is basically a long wrap skirt made out of one big piece of cloth. It comes in every color and pattern imaginable, and can be found at any local market.

You can have a lot of fun picking out the fabric at the market, and the ladies will measure you and custom tailor it for you on the spot. There are also pre-made versions that are ready to wear. Here we are at the local market in Bagan where Jamie is getting a lesson on how to tie and tuck her brand new longyi:

They are worn by both men and women, and you will see the majority of the population sporting this look in Myanmar. It’s both a tradition that will make locals smile at you even more than usual, and a comfortable, respectful option in hot weather. Great for temples where legs and shoulders need to be covered up.

You’ll have something to wear during your trip, a beautiful keepsake to take home, and most importantly, you’ll get a chance to interact with the warm and lovely locals.

Markets are always one of my favorite places to visit when traveling, but try to avoid the super touristy markets if you can, and go to the ones where locals shop to catch of glimpse of the colorful and busy day-to-day life of local people.

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These ladies offered me one of their snacks, and asked for nothing in return. Smiling faces and laughs all around.

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Negotiating prices is always a part of shopping in Southeast Asia. Definitely try to haggle, but go easy in Myanmar where the tourist industry is still very young.

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They like bright colors and bold patterns for their longyis here!

 

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The Faces of Myanmar — A Photo Essay of a Remarkable Place

Dear Myanmar,

You stole my heart from day one. From your majestic, dream-like landscapes to your colorful markets and big smiles. I will never forget you.

Sincerely,
Michelle

Note: I will refer to this country as Myanmar because all of the local people I interacted with called it Myanmar. For example, they cheerfully told us we looked like ‘Myanmar Ladies’ when we wore the local “makeup” and longis, which are the traditional long skirts worn by most of country. Many people know this place as Burma. Traditionally and culturally, for the majority, it is. It’s possible that locals feel compelled to use the post-colonial name, Myanmar, because they are afraid of getting in trouble with the government. Political suppression and the lack of freedom of speech are very real, and you have to be careful not to bring up controversial subjects when talking to locals — many believe that the government is listening and will arrest them as dissidents.

I don’t care what you want to call it — it was one of the most stunningly beautiful and wildly interesting places I’ve been. And it has, without a doubt, the most friendly, welcoming, warm, helpful and genuinely kind people I’ve ever met.

Because the thing that made this place really special for us was the people — who not only welcomed us into their homes, but helped us find our way around and even cooked us dinner without ever asking for anything in return — I want to share what can best be expressed in photos. Much more than words can say.

Children of Myanmar

Angry Birds are everywhere — even this remote village outside of Kalaw

People of Myanmar

Our horsecart driver Winston invited us to dinner with his family, and became a memorable friend.

Children in Myanmar

The little ones look out for even littler ones.

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The traditional ‘makeup’ of Myanmar is made from tree bark and is said to protect skin from the sun.

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Genuine smiles come easily here.

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Kids near the temples of Bagan will try to sell you stuff, but mostly, they want to play.

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The parents must work, so older kids take care of the babies.

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Two very different sized flip flops.

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The kids often run up to the camera.

Children of Myanmar.

They aren’t very shy. In a village outside of Kalaw.

Children of Myanmar

Hand-drawn ‘postcards’ by the local kids make an irresistible souvenir.

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A boy selling peanuts and corn in the rain at the bus station. Like most Southeast Asian counties, the kids start working pretty young.

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The traditional one-legged rowing technique at Inle Lake is a feat of balance. He’s casting the net and rowing the boat at the same time.

Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar

The Littlest Worshipper. Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon.

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The best ever family. The three sisters learned the trade of massage from their mother and opened a massage business together. If you ever visit Nyaungshwe please go to Thae Su Family Massage.

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It seems to be internationally true that little babies look like grumpy old men.

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We got to try on the traditional headdress of the village.

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High fashion, Myanmar style.

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The photographer poses with some fans😉 Photos by Michelle Wu. Contact: michkwu@gmail.com

Myanmar is undoubtedly on the short list of my favorite countries, and I definitely plan on going back and spending more time there.

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The Best Street Food in Southeast Asia

OK, OK. I know what everyone really wants to know about…  The food! Glorious food. Street food.

One of the greatest joys of travel, and my favorite motivator to explore an unknown neighborhood, the quest for local cuisine can lead you to not only some delectable new flavors, but also to a unique cultural exchange with curious locals. Some of the best food will be in a hole in the wall where no one speaks English. (Lots of pointing, hand gestures, and smiles will help you order.)

In Southeast Asia, your tastebuds will never be bored. And the street food is so cheap, you can have as much of it as you want. I’m talking about places where you order outside, the food is made on some sort of pushcart/bike/contraption, and you eat whilst standing or stooping on a makeshift stool. Here is some of the tastiest street food I encountered in my travels.

Travel Tip: If you are worried about how safe it is eat the street food, just use common sense and intuition. Does the food look freshly cooked and do the ingredients look decent? A high turnover rate is key. If the food looks stale, like it’s been sitting out all day with lots of flies, then skip it.

Malaysia

Penang - Laksa

Laksa at a streetside cafe in Georgetown, Penang

Laksa in Kuching Malaysia

Laksa at a hawker stall in Kuching, Borneo.

Laksa — The cute city of Georgetown on the island of Penang has great street food, and usually involves streetside carts with lots of little plastic tables and chairs scattered around a sidewalk. Malay food is an interesting mix of Chinese, Indian and local influences. One of the many special noodle dishes you can get is Laksa, which has a sour-spicy curry flavor and is usually topped with shrimp.

 

Roti Canai — Mmmmm. Just thinking about it, and I hear an ‘mmmmm’ sound coming out of my mouth involuntarily. Take one freshly-fried, flaky, doughy, buttery Roti (very different from roti in India) and dip it into a little cup of delicious, rich, sweet-spicy curry sauce. Often eaten for breakfast by locals.

* Best complemented by a Coconut Shake, which I plan at home when I get a chance. According to one cafe I asked, it simply involves mixing coconut milk, sweetened condensed milk, and ice in a blender. Heavenly on a hot day with some spicy food. (Optional: add some rum for happy hour.)

Myanmar

Shan Noodles Myanmar

Shan Noodles, how can I find you again?

Shan Noodles — In Asia, every city or town, it seems, has a signature noodle dish. It’s great to try them all and taste the differences. We found this bowl of goodness on a sidewalk in the dusty town of Kalaw, near Inle Lake in the center of Myanmar. What made Shan noodles especially good was the thick, sesame sauce (it reminded me of tahini) that was added when served to make the broth when creamy and rich.

* Another really cool dish from the Burmese is Green Tea Leaf Salad. It has a really unique salty, musky flavor that I came to love. It’s not like anything else I’ve tasted.

Thailand

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Mango. Sticky. Rice.

Three words: MANGO. STICKY. RICE. — There is Pad Thai, obviously, (my favorite version was wrapped in an omelette, which we’d have for breakfast) and many interesting noodle and curry dishes, both on the street and in restaurants — but my favorite favorite snack, dessert, or anytime meal in Thailand was one that seemed to cater to backpackers. Mango sticky rice is often found from carts outside of the bars at night.

Just like it sounds, there is a mound of lovely sweet sticky rice, covered by fresh slices of mango, then drenched in some combination of coconut milk and sweetened condensed milk, and often topped with sesame seeds. It is so yummy, I want one now.

Shout Out: Honorable mention goes to Khao Soi, a rich, creamy Burmese-influenced yellow curry coconut noodle soup that I discovered in Chiang Mai, and can be found around northern Thailand. (Not really street found, I only saw it in restaurants.)

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Khao Soi: I only found this dish around Northern Thailand, it it was so so fresh and good.

Bangkok — Best overall street-food city, in my opinion, goes to Bangkok. There are delicious finds around every corner, markets upon markets and lots of variety.

One day we found these little fried dumpling type snack, that had a flaking pastry filled with a sweet egg and coconut concoction.

Awesome coconut-egg thing near Ko San road.

Awesome coconut-egg thing near Ko San road.

Vietnam

Banh Mi — I love banh mi, and since it was one of my favorite things to eat at home in New York, I couldn’t wait to try it in Vietnam. Yeah… not so fast. I learned a few things about the delicious sandwiches once I got there. I started my (first) journey around Vietnam in Hanoi, in the north and traveled southward over 3 weeks. I later found out that Banh Mi is from the south of Vietnam, most popular in Saigon. Also, in Vietnamese, the words ‘Banh Mi’ (which you must pronounce by shouting with a high nasal pitch) literally just translates to ‘bread’! So if you go around trying to ask for it in the northern part of the country, you will get a lot of confused looks and people pointing to bread. It exists, but it can be hard to find.

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A fresh baguette, crunchy vegetables, a mix of sauces and mystery meat … street food perfection.

In the south, however, Banh Mi is everywhere. Saigon is street food heaven. You can get really nice sandwich from a cart on the street for 15,000 dong, or about 75 cents. Look for ‘bánh mì thịt nướng’ to get a sandwich with delicious barbecued pork instead of the usual random variety of pink and gray meat slices. Ok, that is all I have to say about banh mi. Thank you.

Pho and a coconut -- a perfect lunch!

Pho and a coconut — a perfect lunch!

Pho — Pho is everywhere in Vietnam, and it is always a satisfying choice. I never understood why places with hot, humid climates often have hot soup as a staple meal–but Pho can actually be very refreshing. Vietnamese people seem to eat it for every meal. Walk down any street in Saigon and you’ll see people sitting on tiny plastic stools, slurping it up. Join them🙂

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Delicious Cafe Su’da … it runs in their veins I think.

Cafe Su’da — Vietnam has the best coffee in Asia–and possibly anywhere. It is SUPER strong and sweet. It’s extra-caffeinated–half a cup will make you feel like Superman and the Hulk combined. They like to mix it with sweetened condensed milk, hot or iced, which makes it so rich and yumderful (yup, I just made up the word). Cafe Su’da means ‘iced coffee with sweet milk’ and if you order it in Vietnamese, you’ll almost always get a giggle from the cute old lady serving you. There are little stands serving this coffee on every corner, in cities and small villages alike, and in fact, most Vietnamese men seem to spend entire days lazing away in the shade, sipping cafe su’da. Do they even have jobs?

Singapore

Dim sum Singapore

Dim sums on top of dim sums in a hawker food center in Singapore.

Hawker stalls are the staple of Singaporean eating, though not exactly street food. They are like indoor food courts with dozens of options of different bites from all around Asia. My favorite are usually the dim sum and dumpling places — though frog legs are a popular choice for locals. I felt I had to mention Singapore in this post, because there is so much good food there!

** Note: This is by no means a comprehensive list, there are many other kinds of wonderful street food I may have missed — If you’ve traveled in Asia, what have been your favorite roadside snacks? Please share!

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Your Ultimate Road Trip Kit: Gadgets to Bring on the Road

Breakfast by the sea.

Breakfast by the sea.

If you can get yourself a vehicle, driving can be a really great way to travel when overseas. Especially when you are in a big country with a lot of ground to cover, like Australia. It gives you the freedom to get up and go where ever you want on your own schedule, instead of being trapped on long bus rides or annoying tour groups.

We managed to land a one-way relocation special on a sweet campervan for 5 bucks a day in OZ, but this meant we had to drive from Sydney to Cairns (like 1800 miles) in 8 days. We managed to visit many beautiful beaches and cool forests along the way — but many hours were spent out on the open road. Our second road trip was a 3 week journey in a minivan named Johnny around the amazing South Island of New Zealand (much more on that later).

After these two long haul car journeys, I felt like quite the road trip expert — so I put together this road trip gear kit. Click through to read the Ultimate Road Trip Survival Guide — all the accessories and apps you will need to get through those endless miles.

I wrote this originally for a Canadian tech blog called The Informr. Check it out!🙂

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 P.S. —  Bonus Road Trip Tip:

The best food to have in the car for a road trip winner is:  NUTELLA.

Nutella doesn’t need to be refrigerated, and makes for a good meal or snack any time of day.  Have it in the morning with fruit like apples or bananas, or make a sandwich with bread and peanut butter and/or jam for lunch. All ingredients mentioned don’t need to be kept cold, and can keep in your car for a few days. This made up a good part of our diet on the road🙂

 

 

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Don’t Date a Girl Who Travels…Fall in Love With a Woman Who Wants to See the World

Date a Girl Who Travels

I’ve read some of the cute and corny and heavily-clichéd posts about dating or not dating a person who travels, and whether you like them or not the point is the same:

For good or for ill, travel will instill certain qualities in a person. Independence, self reliance, adaptability, uncertainty, disinterest in material things, easy-going temperament, thirst for adventure and so forth.

Whether this makes the person good in a relationship is really up to you. Overall I’m just glad that so many people are talking about traveling, because I think we all should do more of it. If a few people are inspired to buy a plane ticket and get out of their comfort zone then I think that’s great.

Nonetheless, here’s my cute, corny and heavily-cliched contribution to the slush pile!

*  *  *

Don’t date a girl who travels…. Fall in love with a woman who wants to see the world. Who loves the world from top to bottom, who wants to be a part of it all. And maybe, if you are lucky, to share it with you.

She may leave her home as a girl who travels, but at some point in her journey—not in one defining moment, but in a series of random, intangible experiences—she will find herself and her place in the world. She will discover that her place in the world is exactly wherever she is at that moment. She will be fully comfortable in her own skin, and will inspire you to feel the same way in yours.

She will be a woman who will find humor in tense situations, who will see every misstep as a learning experience, who will never take for granted the simple things in life like a beautiful sunset, the kindness of a stranger, or a quiet night at home.

True, her desire to roam may seem insatiable, because as soon as you start to see the world, the first thing you learn is that there is SO much world out there to see. This does not mean that she will be hard to impress. Travelers often find charm in the simplest gestures, as long as they are sincere. She will see right though any bullshit or dishonest intentions. And she will not pretend that she knows everything about the world, because the more you travel and the more people you meet, the more you realize how little you know and how much you have to learn.

Fall in love with a woman who sees the world as a big adventure and wants to share it with everyone she meets.

She will have big eyes that take in everything around her and a big appetite for everything new. Most of all, she will have a big heart and compassion for people from all levels of the human experience. She will make you push your boundaries, and you may find yourself lost or in places of discomfort, but you will never forget the times you have, especially when they are challenging.  You will always appreciate the new things that you learn about yourself. And you will always have good stories to tell. 

If you fall in love with a woman who loves to see the world, you will never be bored or grow tired of the routine, because you will always find exciting ways to fill your days and hours together. But best of all she will know that the most important part isn’t just how you fill your days, but who you spend them with, and she will cherish every moment.

But if you fall in love with a woman who loves the whole big world, be true to her, because she will not wait around for things to get better. She will move on to new horizons. Because she knows with so many choices in this life—where to go, what to eat, who to be with—the best path is the simplest: just choose the things that make you happy and you’ll never lose your way.

http://bamboobutterfly.com/dont-date-a-girl-who-travels-marry-her

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Literally Touching the Clouds: Paragliding Over Pokhara

My crazy Italian paragliding pilot told me there are two things he loves most about his job: flying next to big birds like eagles, and flying up into the clouds.

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First time paraglider.

After launching off the hill and gliding into the air, I immediately understood why. It was really amazing to ascend to an elevation of more than 1500 feet and reach the cloud level, watching the earth drift farther and farther below, as we floated into a thin layer of misty white.

“Cool, I feel like I’m flying!” I said right after we ran off the side of Sarangkot Hill and into the clear blue sky.

“You are flying,” he replied.

The ride was about 12 minutes until we touched ground, but it felt like we were gliding around up there for hours. I didn’t want it to end. I felt so light and free.

Paragliding is really popular in Pokhara. From our perch on the side of the hill at the yoga retreat, we’ve watched dozens of paragliders drift by all day, everyday. It’s easy to arrange from Lakeside when you get into town, with prices averaging around $70 and I’d say it’s totally worth the money — the views are absolutely amazing and it’s just a really cool, free, uplifting experience to be up there with little more than a harness and a parachute above your head. They offered us a photo and video package for an additional $17 — skip that, you can bring your own camera and hold it in your hand.

Paragliding in Pokhara Nepal

Looking down, there is nothing below your dangling feet but air and the earth is a long way away.

At one point, your pilot may ask you if like rollercoasters. What he means is, are you up for doing some flying tricks, like spinning in fast circles and looping upside down. Those who get motion sickness easily should beware: the spins and twirls will get you quite dizzy.  I love rollercoasters and have never gotten sick on one, but I ended up feeling really dizzy after landing and walking again on solid ground. The trick part of the ride was kind of intense, so if you’re not into that sort of thing ask your instructor to go easy, and if you’re prone to dizziness I’d recommend taking a motion sickness tablet before you go. Either way you will have an amazing ride.

Reach for the sky, friends, reach for the sky.

Paragliding in Pokhara Nepal

View from the hotseat

Paragliding in Pokhara Nepal

Jamie is getting suited up for her turn to jump off the hill.

Paragliding in Pokhara Nepal

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What I Learned in 3 Days of Silence: A Yoga and Meditation Retreat in Nepal

Oh, meditation. It’s a fickle beast, gently lifting you up into the air one moment and then quietly slipping out of grasp the next, like grains of sand falling through your fingers. I never really tried meditation before arriving at the Sadhana Yoga and Meditation Center in the hills overlooking Pokhara, Nepal, for a 10 day retreat. I very quickly discovered: I suck at meditation.  Though perhaps everyone does at first? (Feel free to share if you agree.)

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A boat on Fewa Lake in Pokhara. Had a gorgeous view of this lake for 11 days.

Here are some thoughts I jotted down during my trials and triumphs over the course of the 10 days immersed in yoga and meditation practice, including three days of silence and fasting:

Day 1: We arrived yesterday evening and settled into our room, which has big windows with an amazing view over the lake, and then joined the other students in the yoga hall for an introduction to the program. There is a pretty regular schedule for each day. The morning bell rings at 5:30 a.m. to awake all the students just as the sun is rising up over the hills.

The view overlooking Fewa Lake and Lakeside Pokhara from the balcony outside of our room.

The view overlooking Fewa Lake and Lakeside Pokhara from the balcony outside of our room.

We have mediation 3 times a day: morning, afternoon, and Thataka, or candlelight mediation before bed. We have two yoga sessions as well as self-practice time. (The yoga is all very traditional Hatha Yoga, which was a bit slow and repetitive for me, but it was nice to try something new.) There are other activities throughout the day, including tea, lots of tea, which I love, morning ‘Neti-pot’ nasal cleansing, nature walks, a mud bath or steam bath, and ‘karma yoga’ — which means giving back, usually involving weeding the garden, watering plants, cleaning windows, or helping in the kitchen.

In the afternoon we have Chanting class, one my favorite parts of the day, where we sit in a circle and sing mantras together along with drum and tambourine rhythms. At the end of day one, it feels like we’ve been here for a week. The days are long and full, and you are exhausted and ready to go to bed by 9 pm… which is a refreshing change from most of my trip so far.

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Day 2: I was feeling extra tired by the afternoon today. It feels like more than half the battle of meditation is just keeping your head upright and staying awake! Sitting in a dim, quiet room with your eyes closed = a very nice atmosphere for a nap, last time I checked.  It was nice to hear from some of the other students that they were also nodding off during afternoon meditation. We are given a mantra to repeat in our heads to help focus our breathing and clear our minds: So Hum.  This means ‘I am that,’ which is a meant to be a shorter version of ‘I am that supreme consciousness.’ Basically, I am one with the universe or something. So (inhale) hum (exhale). Soooo huummmm. Sooo zzzzzzzzzzzzzZZZZZZZzzzzzz…

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Durga leading yoga holiday students in a prayer.

Day 3: Sitting in one place without moving for 30 minutes is hard. It’s really hard. Harder yet: to clear your mind of thoughts and focus on nothing. My mind is constantly jumping from one thing to the next, racing through thoughts and ideas, rehashing memories, daydreaming make-believe scenerios. So far, I’ve found that our daily Morning (6 a.m.!) Meditation session has often become my ‘Morning Thinking Time,’ where my mind has space to work out whatever lurking thoughts have been floating around in dusty corners of my head — and yes, I realize this is the opposite of meditation, but still it feels worthwhile and productive! Before this, I’ve always thought it lovely to have an active brain and I’ve quite enjoyed random thoughts and the long tangents my mind wanders off into.  It’s hard to let go of them. Bippin, our eternally cheerful meditation instructor, said that a person has over 60,000 thoughts a day. Obtaining the ability to turn that off and keep the mind completely blank seems like it could be a lifelong journey and I fully admire those who can do it.

For me, baby steps. I’ve considered it a small victory this past few days to narrow my thoughts down to one or two tangible things, such as only thinking about how numb my legs are and if my stomach grumbling is audible and how much time there is until lunch. I think this counts as being ‘present’ in the moment because those are the things that are presently important to my being… that’s what it means to be mind and body conscious, right? Well, at least its gotta be closer to meditating than pondering on topics like why I can’t still can’t grasp the metric system or debating who is hotter, Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park or Jeff Goldblum now?

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Flying high over Pokhara with nothing but a parachute and a harness and a camera.

Day 4: While it’s nice to have a structured schedule, after a few days it is starting to feel monotonous. Today, we mixed things up and 8 of us arranged to go paragliding off of Sarangkot, a 1700-ish meter peak overlooking Pokhara. It was a totally thrilling and amazing experience. [Dear readers: I plan to have a separate post and video of paragliding up soon!]

Day 5: It’s now day five and I can sit in a crossed legged position for the full 30 minutes without moving my feet around! And I think I’m actually getting better at meditating.

Somewhere between ruminating on the numbness in my legs and fighting to stay awake, I’ve actually hit some pockets of ‘stillness of the mind.’  A few times I’ve caught myself suspended in nothingness — but of course, the moment you realize that you are there, it is ruined and you fall right back into a swirling mess of thoughts.

Days 7-10, aka ‘How I Learned to Shut the F Up and Just Be’:

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Three apples a day … is better than no apples a day!

The 10-day program here includes three days of fasting: on the first day of fasting you get six apples and several glasses of honey-lemon tea, on the second day you get three apples and honey tea, and on the third day, no apples — just the honey tea.  On the 10th day, after fasting is over, we do a ‘gastro-intestinal cleansing’ program, which I’ll spare you the details of (it involves chugging warm salt water, doing jumping jacks, and running to the bathroom.) After the fasting and cleansing, your system will be clean and efficient and you’ll supposedly feel amazing.

On the last day of fasting, participants are asked to maintain silence. Some of the people in my group decided to remain silent for all three days of fasting.

I’ve never attempted any period of silence before. At first, the idea of it sounded like it would drive me crazy in a few hours, but here was a challenge and a chance to try something new and different that I hadn’t had a chance to do before. So I decided to go for the three full days.

Interestingly, I find meditation to be more difficult when I am in silence. I guess not speaking my thoughts and getting my words out throughout the day makes it harder to quiet my mind for mediation sessions. I’ve basically gone back to square one… ah well.

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Relaxing before a yoga class in the courtyard.

So overall, I did not find silence to be very hard. After I got into it, it was pretty easy to keep quiet. I found fasting for three days while thinking about all the delicious food that exists in the world to be MUCH more challenging.  Sure, there were plenty of times when I wanted to speak up, when there were conversations going on in the room that I was dying to add my opinions too — but there was something nice about sitting on the sidelines and observing everything without having or needing to partake.

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The Annapurna mountain range can be seen peeking through over the hills of Pokhara.

The experience of being silent has made me think about how we choose our words and when and why we decide to speak out. Sometimes people tend to talk and talk without really saying anything — and at other times they may stay quiet when there are important things that need to be said.

I learned that at times it is just fine to say nothing at all. Being silent has also allowed me to reflect on times in my life when I held back and perhaps I didn’t say the things that I should have. Now that I’m back to speaking again, I hope to be more conscious of the things I say to the people in my life, and I hope to consider more carefully the power of the words I share.

— Michelle

PS.. Every day after chanting the instructor would tell us to sit quietly and ‘feel the vibration’ in the room, and every day this song played in my head:

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Bukit Lawang: Must Love Orang-Utans. And Rustic Jungle Jams.

Sumatra. I just like saying the word.

I like the way it rolls off the tongue; at once sounding mysterious, dark and exotic, igniting the imagination and stirring up all of the things that have driven me to travel to distant edges of the earth, that have inspired me to lift up the corners of the carpet in unknown lands to see what’s underneath.

After more than four months of backpacking, I’m often asked what my favorite places have been. One that always comes to mind is a small, rustic town on the banks of the Bahorok River in Northern Sumatra. A little place called Bukit Lawang.

We heard of this town because it’s one of only three places on the earth where you can see orangutans in the wild. We came for the apes, but what we found was a friendly, happy, little village like no other, that in a matter of hours felt like home.

The friendly riverside town of Bukit Lawang.

The friendly riverside town of Bukit Lawang.

We arrived in the ‘bus station,’ which was really just a dirt lot with a few cars and vans, and made our way into town. Most of the accommodation in Bukit Lawang consists of little wooden and bamboo bungalows located on the far side of the river. The river splits the town in half, and three footbridges provide the only means to get across — each more rickety than the next. The shaky Indiana-Jones-like bridges only add to the town’s charm. All day long, there are children laughing and playing on the riverbanks and riding in tubes down the fairly fast current.

IN THE JUNGLE…

There are many outfits in town that organize one, two or three day trekking expeditions into the jungle to search for orangutans, gibbons, some smaller monkeys, birds and other wildlife while clambering up and down steep hills in a dense forest. Our guide, Edwin, spoke good English and was very friendly and fun. And as we were hoping, we saw a ton of orangutans.

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A mother and baby orangutan are close enough to touch… though you shouldn’t do that. No no. Never touch an ape in the wild.

Some of the orangutans in the Gunung Leuser National Park are “half-wild,” we were told, meaning that they lived in the Orangutan Rehabilitation center for a period of time and then were released back into the wild. So these apes are not afraid of getting close to people, they will swoop right down from the tree branches and grab a banana out of your hand. They will climb down and pose a few feet above your head, making for great photos. The few fully wild orangutans would stay high in the tree branches, keeping their distance from the gawking people below.

The faces of orangutans are so expressive and almost creepily human-like. Orangutans move slowly and deliberately through the trees and make a lot of noise, so you can hear one rustling in the leaves before you will see it. I found the gibbons to be just as cool to watch as the orangutans, too. They move so fast and stealthily through the trees — blink and you’ll miss one fly by.

A mama Siamang, with her youngin.  Siamang is the largest of the Gibbons.

A mama Siamang, with her youngin. Siamang is the largest of the Gibbons.

Though an average orangutan’s got a good 80 pounds on a gibbon, a gibbon would win in a fight. (We asked our guide, of course.) Gibbons are much faster, and quicker to attack. Edwin had even witnessed a fight before, he said, probably over territory.

Written locally as Orang-Utan, the term comes from the Indonesian words ‘Orang,’ meaning person, and ‘Utan,’ meaning jungle — so literally ‘people of the jungle’. The local people are all about orangutans, too. It is part of their identity, almost a point of pride for them. They like to tell jokes and sing songs that somehow involve orangutans. “We are now people of the jungle,” said Edwin, near the end of our hike, “So we are now Orang-Utans, too!” (He had a lot of cute jokes like this.)

At the end of our long full-day trek, we descended down to the river for a little rafting adventure. The other big activity in town is tubing down the river, and it is a great time! The guides will tie a bunch of big tubes together, creating a makeshift raft, and steer with a long stick as you float down the river back to town. The water was on the low-side for us, but we did hit some small rapids. This was the most fun part of the day for me. Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos because our cameras were wrapped up in waterproof bags with the rest of our stuff.

BIG ELEPHANT LOVE

We also opted to go on a half-day trip to an elephant camp, where for just $10 each we got to play with the elephants, wash them in the river, and feed them.

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Elephants take a dip before their bathtime.

It’s about a two hour bus journey from BL through some beautiful scenery, but there is no paved road for most of way, so get ready for a bumpy ride. There is some controversy about elephant tourism throughout Southeast Asia — for example in Southern Thailand, some people have found that elephants are kept in bad conditions, are overworked and are even beaten by their handlers. This elephant camp seemed really great and the staff treated the elephants well.

There were about a dozen tourists in our group, and we followed along as 7-8 elephants of all sizes were paraded down to the river for bath time. It was great to watch the big animals swim and splash around in the water. We broke up into groups and each got an elephant to hand wash with a big brush. Pretty luxurious treatment for these elephants, I think… we were also told to massage them and scrub their toenails. The elephants were very playful and followed the directions of their handlers, even spraying us with water from their trunks, and blowing air in our ears when we weren’t looking.

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Olive the elephant gets a day at the spa. Mani, pedi, massage and body scrub. I think she gets this everyday, actually. Lucky lady.

Things I learned about elephants:  The males are very territorial, and only one male can live in a tribe, or there will be trouble. He gets to have like 7-8 girlfriends, and the ladies don’t seem to mind. Elephants love playing in the water. They can take down a whole pineapple in one gulp, with the leaves and all. Their appetites are seemingly insatiable. They know when you have food, and will soon lose interest and move elsewhere if you don’t. They are very intelligent and expressive — by looking at an elephant move her trunk, it is almost like she is talking to you. They like to play, blow water or air at you to get your attention, and make a fake kissing sound with their trunk on your cheek, it’s very cute.

RUSTIC JAM TIME

We ended up staying at the Indra Valley Inn which really kind of made the trip for us. The  young local guys who run this place are so cool and nice, they create a great atmosphere for everyone. The restaurant had some of the best food in town, too. The room itself was very basic. Usually, when you hear a room described as ‘very basic’ in Southeast Asia, it means cold water and a manual flush toilet, and maybe a fan. But at $5 per night, split by three (that’s $1.33 each, yo), we did not mind.

Every night, after the sun went down, the guitars and djembes would come out. Everyone in the bar would be coerced to participate in a group sing-along and jam session. The staff has a book of songs and lyrics that they pass around, and guests take turns choosing the next tune. Several Bintangs later, you’ll find that hours have passed as you were engrossed in the nightly 90s alt-rock tribute. This is not the song, it was just a tribute.

Don't miss the tubing here in Bukit Lawang.

Don’t miss the tubing here in Bukit Lawang.

Indonesia has some of the most cheerful, friendly people around. Soon after arriving in BL, we met many nice locals who not only learned our names, but would always say hi and stop to chat as we walked around town. Even three days later, these guys would remember our names. “Hi Jamie, hi Michelle! Where are you going today?” we would hear while shopping or taking a morning stroll. As I also experienced on the small island of Gili Air, the memory of a place a can really be made by the people who live there. This place is special in my heart. I would definitely recommend a few days in Bukit Lawang to anyone traveling around Indonesia, and let me know when you’re going — I’ll go back with you.

— Michelle

P.S. My personal favorite jungle jam, obviously:

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Learning About the Hindu Religion

In the novel “Shantaram” the main character Lin explains that at times in India you have to learn to surrender. Surrender to the country itself, surrender to people and the place, just give in and go along with the flow.

“Sometimes you have to surrender…before you win. Surrender is at the heart of the Indian experience.”

The first time I experienced the feeling of having to “surrender” to India was when I visited the crowded Mahalaxmi Temple in downtown Bombay. A rush of visitors to the temple were queued up, waiting to reach the shrine. The ‘queue’ was not so much a line… it was more a rowdy pack of people jockeying for a place at the front. I had no choice but to be thrust forward with a sea of dozens of Indian ladies pushing their way up (at this temple, there are separate lines for men and ladies). I just smiled and surrendered, allowing myself to surge forward with the crowd.

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A Hindu goddess holding lotus flowers at at temple near Goa, India.

Once at the shrine, ladies handed (shoved is probably more accurate) their offerings of flowers, coconuts and fruit over to the priests to be blessed before the presiding god with a prayer. The priest then returns the offerings and other presents back to the people.

I admittedly knew almost nothing about the Hindu religion before traveling to India. I quickly became fascinated with the beautiful temples and rich, colorful practices of Hinduism. Every small detail and action has some sort of meaning. Throughout my travels, I’ve visited many sacred Hindu places and I’ve more or less received a crash course in the religion.

So there are more than 300 million Hindu deities, and each male god has a female counterpart. A lot of the female gods are pretty badass too, often yielding knives, swords and spears in the various tapestries and wall paintings. The weapons are used for chopping the heads off of a demon when one gets out of line. How the heck Hindus can remember all of these gods and the multitude of myths and stories about them is beyond me. It seems like a lot of work!

The three main gods are Brahma, the creator, Vishnu, the sustainer, and Shiva, the destroyer. (The three are often referenced as a shorthand for the word GOD — Generator, Operator and Destroyer.) All three gods have several names and appear in many forms, or incarnations.

A pretty temple near Goa, India

A pretty temple near Goa, India

Ganesha is probably my favorite Hindu god — and I’m not alone on that. The half-elephant-half-man god is a favorite of many. Ganesha is always the first God that you pray to when embarking on something new, such as a new job or school or trip. He is the remover of obstacles, and his mode of transportation is on the back of a mouse.

VISITING A TEMPLE

After visiting what seemed like hundreds of temples over a few weeks in India, we became pros. The first sign that you are close by a temple: You will you see many vendors lining the road selling flowers, orange garlands, incense, and little baskets of offerings.

A basket of offerings

A basket of offerings

At the famous temples that draw big crowds, you will also find women and children sitting along the paths waiting to watch over your shoes. You will pay a few rupees to check your shoes and they give you a number. The fun part comes once your shoes are off, then you must hop barefoot across the scorching hot stone and marble tiles to reach the temple. When outside, you buy a little basket filled with flowers, herbs, half a coconut and other offerings, to get blessed at the shrine. The priest will put water in your hand, which you are supposed to take a tiny sip of, and then pour the rest over your head. When the priest returns your basket, he will also hand you a lotus flower and a few little pieces of candy, which you are to share with your family.

The Mother Temple of Besakih, the biggest and most important Hindu temple in Bali

The Mother Temple of Besakih, the biggest and most important Hindu temple in Bali.

There is often a big bell at the entrance of a temple. Hindus will ring the bell as they enter to awaken the god and let them know of their presence. There are times of the day when the idol, or statue representing a certain god, is covered with a cloth or turned around — this is when the god is sleeping or eating and priests will not perform blessings at this time.

You will often see Hindus touch the floor of the doorway when they enter a temple in respect, and some will even walk out backwards when the leave, as to never turn their back on the god.

COCONUTS

Utilizing the coconut-chopping station at a temple in Pokhara, Nepal.

Utilizing the coconut-chopping station at a temple in Pokhara, Nepal.

Outside the main temple at Mahalaxmi in Bombay, I noticed curious a sign that said ‘Please do not break your coconuts here.’ We asked what that meant, it turns out many Hindus break coconuts as a sacrifice to the gods. This is in place of sacrificing a sheep or goat, as many don’t believe in harming animals. This temple prohibits guests from breaking their coconuts inside, as a way to preserve the nice marble from being cracked. Once the coconut is blessed, the family brings it home and uses the coconut meat as an ingredient in their next few meals.

At the temple on Fewa Lake in Pokhara, Nepal, there was a designated coconut-chopping machine located at the side of the main temple. Here, we were able to chop the coconuts we brought on site and share the water and meat amongst our group.

HINDUISM IN BALI

While most of Indonesia is Muslim, Bali is a Hindu state. The Balinese have their own customs and ways of celebrating Hinduism that was a little different from what we saw in India.

The ubiquitous bamboo baskets of offerings in Bali

The ubiquitous bamboo baskets of offerings in Bali

Balinese people create hundreds of these small bamboo boxes every single day and fill them with offerings to the gods. Usually flowers and incense and maybe little treats. The boxes are scattered everywhere around Bali: outside any business or hotel or house, at temples and shrines, in cars, and even seemingly random places in the woods or on an otherise empty sidewalk. It’s for good luck and blessing, showing respect to the gods.

We are ready to be blessed at  Istana Tampak Siring‎, the Holy Spring Water Temple near Ubud, Bali

We are ready to be blessed at Istana Tampak Siring‎, the Holy Spring Water Temple near Ubud, Bali

I found it beautiful how Balinese people easily intertwined their religion into their everyday lives. They start the day with prayers and blessings and everywhere you go there is tangible evidence of their devotion.

NEPAL

Though known as being the birthplace of Buddha, the population of Nepal is 80% Hindu. Over the next 2 weeks in October, Hindus will be celebrating the Dashain festival, and schools will be closed. This is the biggest holiday in Nepal. I learned all about Dashain at the Deeya Shree school in Lokanthali, outside of Kathmandu, where I’ve been volunteering for the past week.

According to an 8-year-old student, this is what happens for Dashain: “We go to my grandmothers house, and my grandfather gives me a teeka, and then we get money and presents.” How much money do you get? I asked, naturally. “LOTS of money! Like, 300 rupees.” That is equal to $3 USD.

Happy Vijaya Dashami! A poster made by students at the school.

Happy Vijaya Dashami! A poster made by students at the school.

A teeka is the red circle you see on the forehead of many people in Nepal, and the eldest member of the family applies it to the younger ones. Red represents strength and power. Dashain is celebrated to worship Durga, the mother of the universe and goddess of protection. The focus of the holiday is on family togetherness. The 10th day of Dashain is Vijaya Dashami, one of the most important days of the year.

I’m excited to be in Nepal at such a special time of year, and looking forward to watching the festival unfold over the next few weeks. I’ve learned much about Hinduism in my travels — I can even sing several Sanskrit mantras that I learned at Yoga school — but it is such a rich and deep culture, I think in reality I’ve probably just scratched the surface.

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Just Havin Some Fun at Angkor Wat

The glorious, sweeping complex of temples at Angkor Wat in Cambodia was definitely a big highlight of the trip for me so far. You can easily spend hours wandering through the crumbling doorways, misty corridors, and sun-mottled courtyards of the many gorgeous temples — or you could spend them hiding in random dark corners and suddenly popping out and shouting at people.

There are lots of really good hiding spots at Ankgor. I fully recommend a good ol’ fashioned game of hide-and-seek to anyone who goes there. Just watch the following video to see what I mean.

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The Art of Getting Lost | Wandering Around Angkor Wat

Getting lost can be one of the most time-consuming and frustrating parts of travel. It can also be one of the most exciting, and occasionally it can lead you to discover something you never expected to find. It’s a fine art, to be able to get lost and make it into something meaningful.

Some of the most special moments I’ve had while traveling have been happened upon by chance while wandering aimlessly around. Sometimes you don’t know what you’re looking for til you’re looking at it.

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat at daybreak.

We had an amazing two days exploring the vast, majestic, fairy-tale temples of Angkor Archaeological Park. I plan to do a longer post about that adventure at a later time.

Millions of tourists come to Siem Reap to visit Angkor Wat each year, often on packed tour buses and tromping around the temples in droves, getting in the way of everyone’s photos. To avoid the crowds, we decided to do the ‘Little Loop’ of Angkor backwards, starting with the temple most do last and working are way around to the beginning. This worked pretty well for avoiding the mass of tourists.

It did, however cause a little bit of confusion as we tried to navigate some of the trails backwards, following signs with arrows that say “Way of Visit –>” in the opposite direction.  Inside the complex of Angkor Thom, we were randomly strolling around the forested footpaths, looking for the next temple, when we came across a bunch of local boys swimming in a serene, mossy pool.

Angkor Thom

An ancient pool in Angkor Thom.

Looking for some fun after a long day of hawking bracelets and postcards outside of the temples, the young boys were having a water fight in an ancient pool in the ancient city, built by King Jayavarman VII in the 11th century. A blissful reprieve from the afternoon humidity. They didn’t realize that some tourists were strolling around the pool, or didn’t care.

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Splash fight!

Jumping, swimming and splashing around in the overgrown green pool, it was the perfect portrait of carefree youth, and I couldn’t resist from taking a few pics.

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Fountain of youth.

This is what travel is all about to me: Finding a genuine, personal moment of a place and a window into the lives the local people who live there. Even if you can just catch a glimpse from afar. It’s these moments that stay in your emotional memory and make you feel connected to the places that you visit.

There are amazing little moments to be found everywhere in the world, if you just open your eyes and open your heart, and look around.

Well, that’s all the sentimental babble I have for today. Thank you.

— Michelle

Other memorable places found when taking a wrong turn:

An idyllic lily pond on Pulau Ubin, Singapore

A creepy hotel in the mountains of Kerala, India

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Backpacking in the 21st Century: Gadgets for Staying Charged While on the Road

Ladies and Gentlemen, today I present to you the first, and what probably will be the only episode of “Backpacking in the 21st Century.” Here Jamie and I reveal our secrets to keeping our devices powered up while traveling and staying in budget accommodations, which often have only one power outlet in the room. Here are some of the best gadgets to charge your gadgets, anywhere in the world. Gadgets.

You’ve got the power.

Now just try not to use it to cause a blackout that takes out the whole town. We may have done that once or twice.

– Michelle

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How to Negotiate with a Tuk Tuk Driver in Bangkok

Hey! Here are some quick, non-comprehensive tips for negotiating with a Tuk Tuk driver — many of these tips could apply anywhere, but Bangkok has some of the sheistiest drivers around. Tuk Tuks may not be the safest form of transportation, but they sure are fun to ride in! And they can weave through traffic better than cars.

And hey, you’re in Asia… haggling is half the fun!  If you’ve not acquired some mean haggling skills after a few days in a Southeast Asian country, there may not be much hope for you. Also, my favorite thing about Tuk Tuks is that they are named for the sound they make. Love me some onomatopoeia.

Tips for yo Tuk Tuk’in:

Don’t. Grab a meter taxi instead. The meter fares are so damn cheap in Bangkok, even in traffic it’s usually less than 100 baht to get anywhere around town. If a driver doesn’t want to turn on the meter, just hop out and hail the next taxi. But, for those times when a meter taxi is nowhere in sight, you may have to go Tuk’in…

Offer way less than the driver asks for. At least a third of his starting price or less. So a typical encounter with a driver will go like this:

– Driver:  Tuk Tuk? Tuk Tuk? Where you going?

– You: Royal Palace. How much?

– Driver: 200 baht

*At this point you laugh at him and start to walk away, scoffing. ‘Scoff scoff scoff. I’m such a seasoned traveler… can’t fool me!’

– Driver: Okayyy, okayy!  How much you pay?

– You: 50 baht

*Now it’s his turn to laugh and scoff. ‘Noooo… too far! So much traffic this time of day! 180?’

So it will go back and forth like this for a bit until you meet somewhere in the middle, you will probably pay around 100 baht in the end. Don’t pay anything more than 150, unless you are going quite a distance. Also, don’t pull your money out until you’ve agreed on a price. If they see a wad of bills, your negotiating powers may have just gone kaput.

If a fare sounds too cheap, it is.  Sometimes a driver will offer you a really cheap price, and then mutter something about making a stop on the way. ‘Just one stop, ok.’  Don’t get in the Tuk Tuk and in fact get away from this guy quickly — it’s a scam and he’s trying to take you to a gem shop or somewhere random. Unless you are in the market for some fake gems… then go for it! Christmas presents for everybody!

Know where you’re going, and at least three ways to describe it. If the driver isn’t clear on the destination, he may still take you in the general direction and drop you at some random spot.  Know the name of the place, the main street, cross streets, any landmarks in the area, and a map will definitely help. The tourist maps are not drawn to scale and can sometimes be confusing. You can download Google maps on your phone when you have wifi, and it will be saved for offline viewing later.

Be ready to walk away. If a driver is not bending enough on the price, just walk away and find another one. In the end you may only be haggling over 2 bucks, but this is how it’s done. Don’t give in!

– Don’t pay 600 baht for the driver to take you to a ping pong show. There are better rates from the guys on Pat Pong.

 

– Michelle

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In One Photo: Penang

It’s not easy to sum up the entire experience of a place in just one photo. It’s also hard to keep up with documenting everything you see when you change cities every few nights. Backpacker problems. So for now, when I don’t have time (or enough to say) about a certain place I’ll pick my favorite photo from the day and let that tell a little story for itself.  Here’s to your short attention spans! Weeeeeeee. Enjoy!

Rickshaw Penang Malaysia

A hard day in the life of a rickshaw driver in Georgetown. American customers are so demanding.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

Well dang, it was more difficult to choose just one photo than I expected, because now that I think about it, the thing that stood out to me the most about Georgetown was the street art. It’s actually quite a hip little artsy neighborhood. This mural of the kids on the bike is one of the most recognizable in the area. It’s on posters and t-shirts too.

Street art in Georgetown, Penang

Jamie and Caitlin carefully waiting to cross the street.

And, just for kicks….

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CAUTION: Old people crossing.

— Michelle

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