Markets, and Wrecks and Children, Oh My!:Surviving Sa Pa

Up in the mountains, all bundled up!

Sorry for the long delay, faithful readers! It’s been a wild ride. Well, six wild rides. For six days we rode the motorbikes, a few hours each day. There have been break-downs (of the mechanical and emotional types), loose chains, broken lights, busted suspensions, landslides, overwhelming cold and mist, road work—but we made it to our Christmas destination on Christmas Eve.
Waiting for a landslide to be cleared up on the road.
Ricky gets his suspension fixed on day 4.

I don't really need to say anything, do I?
Sa Pa is a town in the north, at a very high altitude and is thus pretty cold, and often the mist rolls in and visibility is pretty low. For the past couple days, for our Christmas season celebrations we mostly stay in the hotel room watching bad Christmas movies (Jingle All the Way, anyone?) and go out only for food. Today, however, was an interesting day as we walked around the town.

The day started off with a walk to a restaurant for lunch (yeah, we didn’t actually leave til about 2pm). On our way, a tiny elderly tribeswoman came up to us and said “Walking? I walk too!” We walked a bit and told her we were about to eat lunch to which she replied “Ah! Walking Sa Pa, hungry!”  Then, she pushed her sleeves up and showed us the silver bracelets she was selling. We decided to buy one and got a picture as well. She was adorable.

She's cute 'cuz she's little!

As we ate, however, things took a turn for the…intense? There we were, eating our sandwiches and tomato soup, enjoying a nice hot chocolate, when we heard a crash sound outside. Ricky went out to see what it was and I followed a minute later. There was a man lying on the sidewalk. His helmet was a few feet away and  his motorbike was on its side. There was a puddle of blood near him. People had come over but weren’t really doing anything. The man was bleeding badly from the head, just above his eye, and his hands were scraped up too. I took off my scarf and Ricky held it to the wound as I held the man’s head up. We tried talking to him, but he wasn’t responding. Every once in a while he would try to roll from one side to the other.

We unclipped his shoulder bag to get it out of the way and tried to get anyone to call a doctor, but to no avail. After a couple minutes, a man lifted him up like a baby and carried him to a motorbike. This man held the wounded man just like that, like an infant, behind the driver of the bike. We were worried about his safety, but grateful that someone had taken the initiative to take him somewhere for medical attention. That doesn’t often happen in Asia.

We returned to the restaurant to clean the blood off our hands and finish lunch. I was caught between feeling good for having helped a little, and a little squeamish—not because of the blood or anything, just that I was so involved with the situation.

After that, we decided to walk down the mountain a bit and see the rice terraces. After a while, though, we decided that it would be better if we left earlier and on the bikes tomorrow instead. So we turned back and headed to the market to browse. Except browsing is impossible in Asia. Any time you look at anything, vendors won’t let you leave. Usually you can get away with a smile and a “no thank you” but not in Vietnam.

At one point I was looking at some earrings and made the mistake of asking how much they were. I really was just curious, because I tend to lose all my earrings, no matter how safe I think they’ll be when they aren’t in my ears.  I had to decline, especially at the $8 she wanted. But the woman linked her arm in mine and wouldn’t let me go! I eventually had to pull away and just walk off. But she did get down to $3 for the earrings, without me even trying to haggle.

Leaving the market, we passed through a large square where some local women set up their beautifully hand-embroidered cloth goods. A couple of little girls were playing with a feathery weighted toy (played with like a hackey sack). Of course, Ricky joined in, and then more kids joined in. I shared some strawberries I had bought and then we took our leave. It was quite an adorable scene.

Those little girls never knew what hit 'em.

Note the heavy mist in the back.

As we walked around the lake, the mist rolled in and out, leaving some places with excellent visibility, and some with virtually none.

And here we are again, in our not-so-warm room, after a very weird and eventful day in Sa Pa. Can’t wait to see what strange things happen tomorrow!

Oh, the Scams: Getting Hanoi-ed in Vietnam

We really wanted to like Hanoi. Really.  And we did for a while. But then it just got so hard. By the time we left today, we were fuming.

Me on Hammond's Minsk!

Day one in the city was actually pretty cool. Here's what happened:

 Ricky got to drive through the Hanoi traffic for about half an hour, while I was on a bike with another man.

Ricky and I were in a 3 person motorbike sandwich (Driver, me, Ricky). 

I sat on Richard Hammond’s pink Minsk from the Top Gear Vietnam Special episode. 

Here's a pic that was hanging up outside the bike shop. Richard Hammond has one arm on the red thing (actually a model ship) behind the pink bike.

Ricky in the jeep we got to "roll" in.

We rode down the crowded streets of Hanoi in a Wilson jeep.

We took a stroll around the lake.

We saw a show at the Water Puppet Theater. 

The Lake in the Old Quarter.
The Water Puppet show.

Day two was no disappointment either: 

We picked up our bikes. 

I learned to ride mine.

Everyone survived.

The next day was a big sight-seeing day. 

We saw  B-52 in a lake.

The B-52, still in the lake.
Got to Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum,a few minutes before they closed for lunch, but it was kind of disappointing anyway, so we didn’t mind. 

Ho Chi Minh sees everything.
Got some lunch.

Paid for "free" parking

Went to prison (Now a museum), and saw John McCain's Pilot uniform, along with a French guillotine.

 Saw a strange temple where photo shoots were going on.

Saw an embalmed 250 kg turtle found in the lake in 1965.
That could make a lot of soup.

One of the lovely models.

Now, here’s where it gets bad. See, throughout the first three days, we’d been having problems with food. We had some gross pig-foot noodle soup, when we actually ordered something different, and some pitiful portions of other foods. At every turn we were overcharged, even after asking the price before ordering. One night Ricky got me a few donut-type things these ladies sell in baskets on the street. For just a few of them (they are small and round) the woman wanted 150,000 dong, which is about $7.50. He got her down to 20,000 dong ($1) but was irritated that she would even ask for so much.

We started getting the feeling that all the scams we had heard about were very very real.

So the next day (yesterday) we drove over to the Temple of Literature, which wasn’t actually all that interesting, except for that there were a bunch of high school graduates in their caps and gowns taking lots of pictures. We had parked the bikes a ways back. As we locked up the bikes with our chains and padlocks (we’re taking no chances) people across the street laughed. Oh well, we thought.

Soon, though, we decided to head back, because we were concerned about the safety of our rides. As we walked up, Ricky saw a couple of men looking at us and laughing, and one was sitting on Ricky’s bike. He walked across the street as we walked up. We unlocked, pulled out, and were getting ready to go, but Ricky’s bike wouldn’t move. His accelerator cable was missing. I looked across the street and saw that there was a repair shop, where all the laughing men were. So, what happened was that those guys broke Ricky’s bike so that we would have to go across the road for them to fix it. And everyone on our side of the street was pointing for us to go over there.

Well, we most certainly weren’t going to do that. Instead, Ricky pushed his bike to the shop where we bought mine to have the guy fix it. I rode on ahead and was going to meet him there, except I was angry and stressed and it was rush hour (but then, what hour isn’t rush hour in Hanoi?) and I got lost in the labyrinthine streets of Hanoi’s Old Quarter. One way streets, stop lights everyone ignores, and oh the honking! I was so tense by the time I finally reached our hotel and found out that Ricky had already left the shop with his repaired bike.

We pretty much just gave up on Hanoi then. Luckily we were leaving the next day.

So today we got packed up and Ricky went to pay, and the guy at reception kept saying we owed him 3 nights’ money, not 2, when in fact we had already paid for all but the last 2 nights. He demanded a receipt, because apparently they don’t keep any records there. Fortunately, we hadn’t thrown it away, but he still didn’t believe us. Ricky just handed him the money we owed and walked out.

Then we realized that they still had our keys for locking up our bikes (they bring the bikes inside at night), so I had to go in and ask for them. A woman looked for them while the man berated me for us being “bad people! You are not good people! I never see bad people like you! First time!” I just said ok and left. As we were tying our bags on the bikes he came out and loitered around, swearing at us and telling us he hopes we die on the road today, because, you know, professionalism.

We didn’t die on the road today, but we did get blatantly overcharged for two meals. But the drive is a different story.

So, I guess our opinion of Vietnam is up in the air right now. Our initial impression was that it was a fun and interesting place, but now all we see are the dollar signs lighting up in everyone’s eyes as we pass, even more so than in other places we’ve been.  We’re fairly committed, with the bikes and visa and all, so we’ll just have to see how things go.

The Next Stage of my 2-Wheel Evolution: Hanoi

I was a kid when I learned how to ride a bicycle. It was a normal kid thing to do. My family would go on bike rides together through the neighborhood, and my sister and I rode to school in the mornings. When I was in college I got a bike and loved riding around the beautiful Hawaii scenery.

When I moved to China last year, one of my first moves was to buy a bike, which was pretty scary because the traffic was more intense than I had ever experienced. But I learned pretty quickly and rode all around town. When winter came on, Ricky and I bought a used electric scooter. I had never ridden anything other than a bicycle and was pretty freaked out. Yes, I know. Scared of an electric scooter than never got over 35 km/h. But I was.

So Ricky took me to an area of our apartment complex and showed me how to do it. I was wobbly and slow, and I got off as soon as I could.

The next day, however, I decided that I needed to do it without the pressure of someone watching me go around a tight space with cars parked everywhere. I took it on the road, and it was absolutely no problem at all. I maxed out at 25 kmph and felt like I was riding the wind. (The 35 km/h only happens when you are going down a steep hill with the wind at your back. I did it once.)

After a couple weeks I felt like a pro, and after a few months I was brave enough to carry passengers. I know, my progress is slow, but it is there.

Ricky and I had talked about doing motorbike tours on our trip, but I didn't know if it would really happen. So when we arrived in Laos and decided here would be a good place to start, I got pretty nervous. I knew there was no way to take a dinky electric scooter, so it was the real thing we needed. Well, I was half right.

We ended up getting a couple of semi-automatic bikes. There were gears but no clutch. And when Ricky taught me to ride it, well, it was rough going. It was getting dark, and we were in a rural area in the hills. My practice road was muddy and hiding tree roots. I practiced for about half an hour, and felt like I got the hang of it, having succeeded in not falling.

A few days later we bought our brand new bikes, and I was immersed in a trial by fire as we drove through the traffic from the shop to our guesthouse. It was pretty stressful, and I accidentally downshifted when I meant to shift up, but I made it.

As most of you faithful readers know, our Laos trip went swimmingly.  You can check out here, here, and here for the good. For the not so good, check out this post. It was the scariest moment of my life.

And don't forget the moto-montage that swept the nation! (Or at least this blog!)

When we had to get rid of the bikes, it was a very sad day indeed, and once we started back up with public transportation in Cambodia and Laos we knew we needed to get back on the wheels ASAP.

So here we are in Hanoi, Vietnam, and I'm ready to start the latest stage in my 2-wheel evolution. See, we went bike shopping today and ended up putting deposits down for two used Honda Win100s. That's right. A real bike. With a clutch. When we were shopping, we took advantage of the near-empty street at the garage and Ricky taught me how to drive, for the third time. It was really hard at first, with neutral being impossible to find, and my short legs having a hard time holding the bike up and using the kick-start. I killed it a few times and was shot straight back to my teenager-hood, learning to drive and stalling the car at every red light.

Because I learned to drive on a manual shift car, the idea of the clutch wasn't foreign to me at least. I got the hang of it quick enough, but I'm still nervous for when I get into real traffic with all the stop-and-go that entails.

But here's the thing. I've learned before (several times) and I will learn again. I feel like I've made good progress in my 2-wheeled vehicle driving. We'll see what the next three months holds for me! It could be a disaster, but I've got a feeling it will just be a blast.

I'll have pictures later when we pick up the bikes!

Coping with Unexploded Ordinance, Part 2: The Good

Yesterday Ricky wrote about the secret tragedy in Laos, about how hundreds of people a year are killed or injured by UXOs dropped by the America military during the Vietnam War.

However, as is common when a tragedy strikes a community, a sense of togetherness prevails. People reach out to other people, to help them, to ease their suffering, to mourn with them.

I am speaking specifically of an organization called COPE, headquartered in Vientiane.  COPE is the Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise and is a non-profit organization that provides artificial limbs and other help to those affected by the UXOs.

A couple nights ago, we heard about a charity concert taking place at the center to celebrate its 15th birthday, so we took the free shuttle and headed there. There were tons of foreigners and locals alike, dancing along to Lao hip-hip group Cell-T club and pop singer Aluna. 

Aluna serenading the audience.

One of the most amazing things about the concert was that it was held at the center of the complex of buildings that comprises an area that caters to the physically disabled. To our left was a school for the deaf, and those kids were the first ones dancing when a new song started.  

These kids know how to rock.

When the birthday cake was brought out, it wasn’t long before Ricky and I had frosting all over our faces, much to the enjoyment of the deaf kids. Soon enough, they too had frosting on their faces, courtesy of me.

The event was amazing, and all the proceeds from food, beverages, t-shirts, etc. went directly to COPE.  The next day we decided we’d take a trip to the visitor’s center and see what it was all about.

We arrived at the visitors center and began an enlightening/heartbreaking/angering/touching tour. Along the walls were descriptions of the types of bombs used, and what kind of damage they were capable of. Next we learned about how villagers used metal remnants of the bombs to make everything from buckets to ladders to doors for their homes.  There was a display home set up, where we could walk through and see how much these people relied on something so dangerous.

Pots, pans, cups, and other things made from bomb pieces.

At one point I stopped to ask a staff member some questions. He was a young guy, missing both hands and was blind. His name was Peter, and he was a good-humored guy, asking me why my name didn’t sound American if I was from the States.  We chatted about the center and Lao architecture with easy smiles and friendly tones.

After that, we watched a short 8 minute video of an interview of a set of parents that lost their 9 year old child to a bombie. His two friends died immediately but he was taken to a hospital a few hours away. There was no oxygen or blood to help him, so they took him home and let him die.  The mother cried. The father was indignant. Their pain was real.  

We then read stories of people who had been injured by the bombs, losing arms, legs, eyes. Their entire lives were changed. Most of them lived in very rural villages where working in the fields was a necessity. There was no workman’s comp, no light duty. They simply had to carry on. Many of them made artificial legs from wood or bamboo.  Others simply had no other choice than to remain at home. Injured children had to stay home from school, and could barely move around without assistance.

Enter COPE. 

COPE is with the victim from day one of their recovery. They pay for travel, accommodation, and food for those that live in villages outside of the city. Once at the center they are measured for prosthetics and given ample physical therapy.  They are instructed and aided in making their homes more accessible to them.  They are refitted for new prosthetics when old ones are damaged or outgrown, all free of charge.  But most of all, they are given hope. Victims are taught that they can have a normal life, that they can carry on as before, with minor adjustments.

Furthermore, COPE offers help to those who suffer not only from UXOs, but also children born with clubfoot and people who have lost limbs in car accidents or suffer from other physically disabilities. 

Through COPE, families and communities are strengthened and brought together. There is more education on what to do if you come upon a UXO and trained people voluntarily trek through the jungle searching for UXOs to be detonated.  There is hope that the Lao people will overcome this trial.

The red poles mark UXOs found. They will be detonated by trained professionals.

After leaving the center, I felt so moved and wondered if there was anything I could do. I remembered the mother in the video saying there was no blood in the hospital, so they could not help her son. I remembered passing a Red Cross Blood Transfusion Center a couple days before, so Ricky and I headed there so I could donate.  Sadly, my iron was too low and I was unable, but if the opportunity ever arises, I would like to try again.

In the meantime, I’ll encourage you to visit COPE’s website. Learn more about it. Donate if you can. 

Laos is an amazing place. It is a country of survivors. They are some of the happiest, most cheerful people I’ve ever met, despite everything they have gone through and are still suffering today. They are hard-workers; they care for their neighbors and their community. They are determined to thrive. Their pain and tragedy is real, but they are full of hope and love.

I think that’s something we can all strive to be. 

Coping with Unexploded Ordinance, Part 1: The Bad.

First a little history lesson….

Most people don’t know much about Laos. Most people couldn’t point it out on a map, or even tell you which continent it’s on.

 Well, let me tell you a little bit about it.

Laos is a small country in South East Asia. It borders China, Myanmar (Burma), Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand. And over the last thousand years, it has been invaded by each and every one of those countries, and other countries from the other side of the world.

The most recent of these wars that Laos has been involved in was the Vietnam war. Which doesn’t even make much sense when you think about it. How was Laos involved in the war between North and South Vietnam forces? During the Vietnam war Vietnamese troops made a series of routes called the Ho Chi Minh Trail through Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam to carry munitions to the troops around the country.

When the Americans found out about the Ho Chi Minh trail they instigated “the secret war”. The secret war was in the late 60’s and early 70’s when American bomber planes and fighter planes attacked areas of Laos that they believed were involved in helping the Vietnamese carry arms.

Here are some facts about the Secret War:

·         *On average a plane-load of bombs was dropped on Laos every 8 minutes from 1964 to 1973. That’s nine whole years.
·        * The quantity of unexploded ordinance (UXO) dropped over Laos during this time exceeds 2,000,000  metric tonnes.
·      *   The American government orchestrated over 584,000 missions to deliver this ordinance.
·         *The number of cluster munitions (bombies) dropped over Laos exceeds 260,000,000
·       *  The estimated failure rate per cluster bomb is roughly 30%
·       *  The estimated number of cluster bombs (bombies) contaminating Laos today is 78,000,000
·         *The number of people killed by UXOs annually exceeds 300. The number of people injured or maimed is in the thousands.
·       *  Laos remains the most bombed country per capita in the world

As you can clearly see from the facts, there is still a massive problem with the unexploded bombs dropped by American planes almost 50 years ago. The reality is that more people die in Laos (a country about the size of Ireland) from bombs dropped by Americans 50 years ago, than have died of ‘terrorism’ any year except 2001.

Here is a map of where some of the recorded bombing missions (of rice farming villages) in Laos occurred:

Talia and I have traveled all over this country. There are people in every village affected by the remains of the American Secret War on Laos. Every couple of days you see a person without hands, missing a leg or with a badly damaged face, due to farming for sustenance in an area that hasn’t been cleared of bombs dropped half a century ago.

Here are some accounts written by children in the refugee camps during the years of the bombings:

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Cluster Bombs are designed to be dropped from a certain height, open in the air and drop a cache of apple or plum sized ‘bombies’ over a large area, each bombie giving around the same explosive force as a hand grenade.
A hanging model of "bombies."

The UXO situation wouldn’t be such a large problem if Laos were America or Ireland, where the economy allows for funds to be allocated to clearing land quickly to allow people to farm. And most people in Laos make such a meager living that sometimes farming alone doesn’t make enough income so the people of Laos have to find other sources of income.

Because of this a lot of Laotians turn to the scrap metal trade. A lot of adults and children go out into the countryside with spades and sticks to see if they can fish some of the casings from exploded bombs out of the ground, and sell the metal on the local markets. The people in Laos search fields, knowing there are unexploded bombs ready to explode, so they can have enough to feed their families,  or just to have some minor luxuries such as pots or pans.

One of the biggest problems with cluster bombs is that though many countries have outlawed the use of cluster bombs, many countries still use them. Even today.

Even today the United States use cluster bombs in areas of the middle east and as awful as it is to destroy a family’s livelihood (or even massacre entire villages with bombs dropped from drones controlled from hundreds of miles away) the land that cluster bombs are dropped on can remain unusable for decades, as we can see in Laos.

Check out part 2 of our article on cluster bombs when I tell you how people in Laos are living and COPEing with UXOs.

Around the world in 7 moustaches!

It’s Movember at 2feet! Around the world in 7 moustaches!

Well Talia and I are busy with the old volunteering again! It took me several weeks to grow sufficient facial hair to shave this many times but in just over a month I managed to produce the world’s 7 most epic moustaches in awareness of Testicular cancer!

7. “The Depp”

6. “The mutton Chopper”

5.  “The Douche Canoe”

4. “The WHAM!”

3. “The Creeper”

2. “The Chap-tler”

1. “The Father-in-law”

Hope you liked our list! More volunteer work soon!!

New Stuff Just for You!

I mentioned in the last post that we are back in Laos. We've also mentioned before that we have a store. Laos has some pretty cool stuff that we would like to share with you. Thing is, as we are traveling, we can't buy a ton of this cool stuff and wait for orders.

Fortunately, we will be in Vientiane for about a week more, which is plenty of time for you to tell us what you want.

Let me give you an idea of the possibilities.

This stuff.
Coffee. Lao coffee is apparently pretty great. It is grown on the Bolaven Plateau near Pakse. In fact, on one of our motorbike drives, we passed a massive field (orchard? farm?) of coffee plants and saw coffee cherries drying in the sun at one small village. For the true Lao experience, sweeten with sweetened condensed milk! (We can get whole bean, ground, or instant)

Silver. Silver is abundant here, and beautiful jewelry and other lovely handcrafted things can be found.

Traditional Lao dress: Skirt (or sinh) with matching shoulder sash.
Clothing. Not just any clothing, though we can get that too. We can get you "fisherman pants," which are unisex, one size fits all, and tie to close. There are also what I call "hippie pants" but I guess they're close to harem pants. They usually have an elastic waist (or cute ruched ones for the ladies) and elastic ankles, so you can leave them down, or pull them up to your knees to make shorts. The fabric is very light and airy, and they are extremely comfortable.

Another option for clothes are traditional Lao skirts for the ladies. They are gorgeous and come in different colors and patterns. They usually come to mid-calf, and pair nicely with high heels and a nice shirt, or with a tank and flip-flops.

So think about it. If you are a coffee drinker, let us know and we can hook you up. Need a gift for your lady-friend? Silver earrings!

Let us know what you are interested in, and we will send you pictures and prices. Seriously, don't miss out on this cool stuff. Comment here, or email us, or tweet us, or whatever else you want to do to get a hold of us. We're all ears!

Something Familiar, Something Foreign: 5 Months on the Road

A lot has happened in the past week.

One of the things that Ricky and I decided is a must for the trip is a motorbike tour of Vietnam. (We have Top Gear to thank for that.) We were in Chiang Mai for a little over a week and decided that Vietnam was our next stop. But how to get there? Flying seemed to be far too expensive, and we really wanted to do the trip without flying at all.

Then it hit us. Laos. We knew there was a bus from Vientiane to Hanoi, where we wanted to start the tour, and going by bus would be cheaper than flying.

So after a 14 hour mini-bus (like a 12 person van) ride, we are here in Vientiane. Yesterday, we decided that our first item of business would be to get our Vietnam visa. As we walked to the embassy, it struck me how much I liked Laos, and this city in particular. We walked the streets that were familiar to us, yet everything was also so foreign.

We had traveled the same roads before, knew where the too-large shopping mall was, and that the green walking man never showed his face signaling the time to cross the street on foot.

We still don't speak the language, though, or recognize a lot of places. It's still possible for us to get turned around on the side streets.

And that is great!

When you're at home, you sleep in the same bed every night, eat at the table that is always in the same place, leave your keys in the same little dish. Traveling, though, everything is different. Your bed changes often (sometimes more often than your underwear), and you hardly ever have time to have any favorites in a town.

So when we returned to Vientiane, where we stayed for a week two months ago, it was amazing to have the two sensations at once. We are staying in the same hostel we stayed at before, but in a different room with different people. We've eaten at a couple of the same places as before, and found some new ones too. It's a lot easier to branch out this time and try some new things, because we're not so wary. We feel confident in this town.

The same can be said for traveling in general. I was just telling Ricky how I felt like such a noob when we first started in China, and everyone we met had been traveling for a while. Now, though, it's different.

Today is our 5 month mark for the trip. We feel pretty experienced as travelers and are confident in the way we do things. We've made a ton of mistakes, but we've learned from them. Every new country or city we visit throws something new at us, but we are learning to handle them better after having messed up in similar situations before.

We are excited to go to Vietnam, excited for the challenges, the new experiences. We know that there will be things that are very different from what we've experienced so far, but we are confident that we will be able to handle them.

Subsidizing travel, Making your travel last longer

Hey guys, Ricky here, sorry for the Hiatus but I am back! I want to talk to you about how to subsidize your travel, making you travel for longer and experience more of a place before you leave.

There are a million ways for a person with absolutely no qualifications or prospects to make their pennies stretch further on a trip. And when there hasn’t been a return flight booked, what’s the rush?! So far Talia and I have met many people along the way and we have discovered some very interesting ways to stay travelling, for longer.

We met one young French guy (19 if I remember correctly) in Laos who we didn’t particularly see eye to eye with on any topic. But in particular one thing we were truly opposed to was how he funded his travel. This guy decided to buy large quantities of marijuana in Vietnam and carry it (in his underwear) around Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia and sell it. Needless to say I would NOT advise this and I can’t see this guy going very far with the way he boasted about it within twenty minutes of meeting him.

 FYI the punishment for drug-dealing in many Asian countries is Death.
If you're lucky this'll be the worst of your troubles!

Just recently we met a guy from Turkey (he’s actually asleep in the dorm bed across from me) who is a photographer. He decided, and I thought this was an amazing idea, to take photos of the town he is in, get the photos printed onto postcards etc. and sell them to the local shops. Personally I reckon this is one of the most genius ideas on how to make a little on the side!

It can be quite interesting when we see a foreigner who is quite obviously not an expat selling wares in the streets or working behind bars.

A couple of weeks ago we were on Otress beach on the southern coast of Cambodia and on the same day that we arrived two South Africans started working behind the bar of the place we were staying at. As it turned out they simply walked up to the bar, asked for work and got it right there on the spot! Needless to say they weren’t paid but given free accommodation and food which is pretty much the only costs a person will have. The South-Africans’ names were Danny and Gaby and we ended up being good friends with them, and they brought a GREAT vibe to the bar!
Us with Danny and Gaby at the Sunhine Cafe.
 As it turns out Bar work, Rep work and public relations are VERY common ways to lengthen your stay. So far we have met several people who simply walked up to a bamboo hut on a beach, asked for work and got it there and then!

Last week when we were in Bangkok we stayed with a new friend. He told us he made a little extra by buying premium antiques such as opium weights in countries like Nepal or Myanmar and selling them on Ebay. Though, admittedy, he knows a hell of a lot about antiques which would certainly give him an edge on the market.
This is an opium weight...
I haven't a clue what it does.
Teaching English (or French/German/Spanish/Mandarin etc.) has become a very pleasant and breezy way to travel longer. Sometimes the experience can be so amazing and life changing that people stay in teaching jobs for years afterwards just because they love it so much. I have to mention that finding short term teaching jobs can be very difficult so consider getting qualified and getting long term work if you find yourself interested.
Me volunteer-teaching in Luang Prabang
While we were in Laos we bumped into one young guy who we helped out with trips to the embassy while he was renewing his Vietnam visa. This guy had travelled from England, around Europe, all over South America and landed in Vietnam with low funds. So one day, while on a tour he asked to tour guide if there was any work and within a week he was employed.

The reality is that if you enjoy travel and don’t mind staying on a beach for a few months sipping on a free martini with a lovely little umbrella in it, you don’t have to stop and go home any time soon. A person can very easily come to Asia and do well enough to enjoy life and experience the world without a massive bank account.

Do you have any interesting travel subsidy stories? Leave a comment, a mail or send us a tweet and let us know!

When the World Isn't Enough:Traveling with Depression

 I was diagnosed with severe clinical depression almost two years ago. I was put on anti-depressants and started going to therapy.

 But this isn’t a coming-out story of my depression. Instead, I’d like to talk about what it’s like to travel with this illness.

 For those of you not familiar with depression (not the kind where you get sad when your dog dies), it’s really really tough. It’s different for everyone, but for me it includes extreme fatigue and I can go for days without eating or eating too much, and gain weight very easily. Sometimes, during a depressive episode, I feel rage, but most often I feel nothing.

 You can understand my anxiety before we left. I worried about whether or not I would be able to handle the stresses of traveling long term. I wondered what would happen on the days I just couldn’t get out of bed. I prepared as best as I could—making sure I had enough meds, discussing things with Ricky. But in all honesty, there’s not a lot you can do to prepare.

 I did ok for a while.  The momentum of beginning such a great adventure carried me through fairly well. Because of the medication, however, I still suffered from fatigue. Some days were hard to get through simply because my body was too tired. On those days, I napped. Ricky would usually occupy himself with the guitar, or video games, or chatting with fellow travelers. And things were fine.

 They didn’t stay that way, however. After a while, when the novelty and some of the excitement of traveling wore off a bit, and the stress set in, the depression came back.

 On my bad days, I am barely able to get out of bed. I don’t want to see sights or talk to people or eat. I just want to sleep and cry. Sometimes this presents a problem when we are on a tight schedule with sightseeing or traveling to a new city. The last thing I want to do when I feel this way is be surrounded by hundreds of people with body odor on a train, or walk for hours looking at temples that kind of just look the same. I know it can be frustrating for Ricky when I slip inside myself, unable to talk or care about what we may have to do that day. Somewhere deep inside my brain I know I have to get out of bed or keep walking or simply communicate a little, but it’s as if the rest of me won’t allow it, and it’s all I can do to keep breathing.

 The worst thing, however, is knowing that I shouldn’t feel this way. I am here in China, or Laos, or Cambodia, or wherever we are at the time, seeing beautiful things, eating amazing food, meeting wonderful people, and all I want to do is sleep through it all. I hate feeling like I just don’t care about anything, especially the amazing time I could be having if only I found the strength. I feel guilty for not appreciating the opportunity I have to travel. That guilt adds to the depression which makes it even worse. It’s a cycle that often threatens to destroy any possibility of enjoying what I came here to do, which is simply to enjoy being here.

 Back home, I had more freedom and ease in keeping my depression under control. I saw a therapist once a week, had regular checkups with my doctor, attended Zumba classes 3 times a week and went running another 3 times, I ate healthily, and made sure to have quality time with people I cared about. It all worked very well for me.

 But traveling, it’s very difficult. Eating healthy food is hard, especially if you’re on a budget. We can’t cook for ourselves so we resort to fried rice, noodle soup, and other less-nutritious local dishes. Exercising is hard without proper shoes (I love my Keens, but not for running), and I often don’t feel comfortable enough in an unfamiliar city to go running (which I hate to do anyway, and without the motivation of a large class, I don’t last very long.). All said, it’s pretty difficult to do those things I know work to keep the depression down.

 Coping with my depression isn’t easy, for me or for Ricky. But we do our best. We’re trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t and what to do when I get really down. It’s a struggle, and both of us are learning patience as we try to work through it.

 It’s hard but it’s not impossible.

A Day at the Market

As I mentioned before, Ricky and I recently visited one of the largest markets in the world.  Now, we love to visit markets. There’s always so much to see that sometimes it can get pretty overwhelming.  This was our first market to visit in Thailand and it was a great first indeed.

Shops featuring handmade soaps and herbal balms offered fresh fruity and floral scents, while the pet section (puppies, kittens, birds, turtles, sugar gliders, and other exotic creatures) offered a scent not quite as fresh.  Clothing shops, purse shops, shops for toys and towels and amazing art filled the place. I was dizzy with the sights and sounds and smells of the market, loving every minute of it.

When I got hungry I snacked on a banana roti, glazed with sweetened condensed milk, and had a honey/lemon drink when I got a little parched.

We saw artists, hippies, lady-boys, beggars, and everything in between as we wandered the aisles.

I could go on and on about the wonders of the market, but instead, I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves…

A monster iguana. Monsterguana?

Pipe fish.

An albino turtle, stretching out its neck.

Coconut phone charms

Predator, hanging out with the towels. And a scale.

This kid was having a blast playing that thing and dancing around, watching the coins clink into his basket.

A scorpion made from spare parts.

How did they get that tuk-tuk in there?

Handmade soaps, using lots of Thai scents like lemongrass, plumeria, and ginger.

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