Holding Hands With a North Korean

As some of you know, it was my birthday yesterday (this is Talia, by the way). I've had birthdays away from home before, in Hawaii, Argentina, and China, but never one so amazing as this one.

The birthday festivities continued with massages (Cambodian and Japanese), a pedicure, swimming at a nice hotel, real lasagna for lunch, a riverside walk, Legos, a personalized towel, and the best companion a girl could ask for.

As you can see, there was quite a lot going on for the birthday celebration. In a city like Phnom Penh, you can pretty much find anything you would want to do on your special day. However, my favorite part of the birthday weekend was the dinner we had the day before my actual birthday. See, we had dinner at a North Korean restaurant, staffed completely by North Koreans. Now, as some of you may know, North Korea isn't really known for its liberality in letting people leave the country, so it was quite a treat to be served traditional dishes (yes, that includes dog) by actual North Koreans.

The girls were lovely, taking moments from serving us to perform on stage. Our waitress was a drummer. Others played guitars, keyboard, sang, or danced.  We enjoyed the performances immensely, and soon we were nearing the end of our meal.

However, as I was chopsticking a few noodles from the serving bowl to my plate, the music changed, and all of a sudden I was surrounded by Korean women, a bouquet was in my arms, and more flowers rested on my head.  They were singing Happy Birthday to me, and then pulling my arm to join one girl on stage as she sang in Korean. We held hands and marched back and forth to the beat of the lively song. When the song ended, I returned to my seat, giddy from the experience.

On stage, holding hands with a lovely N. Korean girl.

Walking back to my seat.

Now, I'm pretty sure that most people have been at a restaurant when their family or friends tell the waiter it's your birthday, and you sit there in humiliation as the waiters gather round to sing you their non-copyrighted version of Happy Birthday. But this was different. It was so much more than just another birthday song.

Not many people can say they've seen a North Korean. Even less can say they've held hands with one and been sung to by several. And I think that's pretty cool.

Top 10 Travel Apps (Even When You're Not Traveling)

When we left northern China on our great journey it took quite a bit of time to decide what technology I wanted to bring with me. I had just bought a new, very lightweight laptop just for the trip but once it came to the crunch I wasn’t sure if I wanted to bring it and risk it getting damaged or stolen.

So I made a decision to bring an iPod touch instead.

Let me just say that I am not just recommending an Apple product or the standard apps therein (such as the mail and Safari apps which will also be useful for travel). I am recommending the third party apps created by companies who make their profits through other means such as in-app advertising.

Now, this might sound a bit strange as an iPod surely can’t be worth more than a computer while travelling, can it? Well, funnily enough, it can actually be better! Let me explain why….

-all apps listed here are completely free from the App Store at time of writing and some of them work offline without 3G, 4G or wifi networks-

 Booking.com speaks for itself. It is quite simply an app connected to the booking.com website. Booking.com is handy for getting a very cheap last minute reservation in almost any city in the world. –Requires internet connection-


 THIS. IS. PHOTOSHOP! This app is outrageously fun and cool on the go. Edit pictures, make collages and more all while waiting for your noodles at a noodle stand. It’s fast, it’s very easy, it’s intuitive and best of all, it’s free!


 Couchsurfing is a relatively recent phenomenon where a person offers up their couch for new friends to stay with them for free, with the expectation that the surfer will also host other surfers when they finish travelling. Well the clever buffs over at Couchsurfers finally released an official user friendly app earlier this year. A must for any cheapskate traveler! –Requires internet connection-


 The first of the guides! Tripadvisor gives a user information about things to do, see and, of course, eat in pretty much any city in the world with user reviews available for thousands of restaurants and places to stay. It’s perfect for people who don’t want to search for hours to find that Yak burger in the Himalayas or that North Korean restaurant in Shanghai! -Requires an internet connection-


 The standard photos app is where all of your photos are stored on your iPod. It seems like a pretty standard app which doesn’t require a mention until you start to uncover its other uses. The photos app can double as a place to store maps you download from the internet. Once again, this might seem simple enough but becomes essential once you realize that city maps are not always widely available and in a lot of cases the city maps offered at the train stations or hotels omit very important  features such as subway maps, etc.


 Using this app on your travels may seem obvious, but sometimes it just isn’t. We have met several travelers who depended solely on their SLR cameras or digital compacts, only to realize the memory was full, the battery died, it fell into the blue lagoon, got splashed on by the kids etc. Well, with your IOS device you have a very capable backup camera with 7mp images and 720p video…. Very very handy.


 iBooks gets a high ranking because it is a double whammy app. I recently read Dracula, Through the Looking Glass, Burmese Days and many more books on my little iPod FOR FREE! I don’t have to carry heavy books around and the screen is more than capable of displaying readable (albeit small) backlit pages of books, saving weight big time.

The second whammy is that I can also email pdf files to my iPod and read those on the device. Why is this so great you ask? Well I recently uploaded the Lonely Planet books I need, including maps, ratings, suggestions, etc. from all over the world onto my little iPod and it all works offline! A real prize winner.


 More than once I have been in a country where more than one currency is accepted for a purchase and I think to myself “I wonder in which currency my purchase will work out cheaper….” Well this little beauty is ideal. Every time I go to the bank I have the most recent exchange rates downloaded from the internet and I can see how much I lose on exchanges.

It is so up to date that recently while exchanging $100 into Cambodian riel I had more up to date rates than the bank teller and in the exchange I actually gained $3 thanks to this app!


 Skype. Absolutely essential. With Skype I can video call my friends and family, voice conference with several people at once, instant message friends from work and send large files like recent pictures of my trip.
ALL.        FOR.      FREE.

Add a little Skype credit (similar to phone credit but all done online) and you can call cell phones for less than the cell phone rates actually cost. That means I can call my mom for less on Skype from the other side of the world than if I called her from a cell phone while sitting next to her! –Requires internet connection-


 In keeping with the travel app genre here, this has to be a clear winner. The biggest difference between this app and the other Tripadvisor app is this app works completely offline. Tripadvisor city guides is in a complete league of it’s own. Let me lay it down for you: this app can…
1.Display recent maps at varying degrees of detail
2.Suggest sights
3.Recommend restaurants, hotels, bars and nightclubs (all at different price ranges)
4.Show recent reviews of everything it has listed
5.Display other users’ walking tours, as well as TA recommended tours
6.Allows you to make your own walking tours
And way more.

When in China Talia and I took a walking tour of the forbidden city in Beijing and at the entrance we were approached by some tour guides, looking for 30euros or so to give a tour. Well with this app we got a self guided tour, with history and pictures of the sights, a map and descriptions of everything around us all offline, in clear English and for free. It really saved us a lot of money and time and it really doesn’t get any better than that!

Well there you have it! We use all of these apps in some shape or form during our travels and I would recommend all of them especially the last few, which I would consider essential. Hope this post was helpful and informative!

How to Ruin Your Border Crossing in 7 Easy Steps

Crossing the border from Laos into Cambodia was not the easiest, or the most pleasant, of experiences. In fact, it was a downright nightmare. For your convenience, we have decided to share our secrets of misery. Behold the list of surefire ways to ruin your own border crossing. Pay close attention.

1.       Believe everything you read on the internet regarding transport of vehicles, especially motorbikes, across borders. It is very important to get as much information as you can pertaining to this particular situation. Check out Lonely Planet and various southeast Asia biking websites. They will promise that you can take your bikes across the border, and you will believe them. Soon enough, you will find out you cannot, no matter how much bribing you do, because when you actually need border officials to be corrupt, they won’t be.

2.       Return to town to sell your bikes. This will ruin your plans for nearly the rest of your trip, or at least the next few months, but really, what choice do you have? As a bonus, hordes of townspeople will gather to paw at the bikes, twisting knobs, scratching at paint, smelling the exhaust pipe, with no intention of purchasing them. You then have to deal with false hope for a few hours. If for some reason your conscience is doing ok at the moment, try promising the bike to someone, and while he is away to get the money, sell the bike—for less money—to someone else.  After all, you need to catch that tuk-tuk back to the border now.

3.       Make sure to do all of the above in the blistering heat of midday, without any lunch.

4.       When you arrive at the border for the second time, do ensure that the man at the counter is the one you had a shouting match with earlier in the day when he promised to buy both bikes, made you wait for him to eat lunch, and then told you never mind. He will be ever so glad to see you, especially after that comment about his mother.

5.       When said man stamps your passport and demands an illegal $2 stamp fee, go ahead and pay it. You don’t want any trouble, and didn’t need a bottle of water anyway.

6.       When you reach the Cambodian side of the border, don’t forget to pay yet another illegal fee of $5 straight to the pocket of the finally-corrupt official. He’ll give you a nice grimace for it. Oh, and on your way out and you have to pee and don’t know where the bathroom is, ensure that the only person you can find to ask is the official who told you to go away after standing and begging at his table, waiting and waiting for him to change his mind and tell you that yes, you can bring your bikes to the border. But he won’t. Instead, he will see your face and roll his eyes as he attempts to ignore you. But you will persist and demand his attention. Because you really have to go.

7.       Finally, once stamped and into Cambodia, you will be lucky enough to find that your only option to get into town is a $40 minibus. After told this price you will be ever so grateful that you refused the driver earlier who said that he would take you for $10, because that was obviously a rip-off.

There you have it folks, the 7 steps to ruining your perfectly planned border crossing. If all goes according to these steps, you won’t have any surprises, and will be able to handle whatever comes up. As for us, we’ll probably skip the steps next time.

Change of Plans of the Highest Order

Hello to all our readers once more and a massive huge ginormous tremendous apology for our absence and lack of interesting and informative blogs recently. We really are sorry.

So here’s the update:

We are in Cambodia. We crossed the border a few days ago into a small town called Stung Treng and now we are in Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia. We have finally settled into a nice guesthouse with decent internet and we can kickstart our blogging after too many blogless days!

Right now we are very tired and we had a lot of early mornings and late nights just to get ourselves to this point. I will be writing a blog very soon telling you guys exactly how miserable and eventful the border crossing was for us (it really was one of the craziest days) during which we had two casualties. Yes friends I’m afraid we have lost our gallant steeds, Lady Stark and Betsy Black.

Which makes me a sad panda. (Cue montage music)

So in the face of adversity and two fallen comrades, a huge development has emerged.  “What could that be?” you might ask. Well here it is: Our Spanish friends who we met on top of a holy mountain in Laos are going to India in a few weeks and asked us to join them.

Now initially we weren’t really planning on doing India until everything else (Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand, etc.) was done, and we still had money left. But since we lost our wheels, which pretty much cuts our entire plan in half and burns it to ashes, we are left in Cambodia without any plan. At all.

So we have pretty much decided to go to India for a while! Now, I don’t know the first thing about India except something about a Taj Mahal, curry and what Indiana Jones told me in the Temple of Doom--

So we will be heading there planless and ready for anything. I already have my trusty spoon in hand ready for some monkey brains.

Stay tuned so we can tell you all about our border crossing experience, Phnom Penh, Cambodia so far and much, much more as we prepare for Talia’s (and our new friend Andrea’s) birthdays, the killing fields, Angkor Wat and loads of crazy things. It has certainly been a ride!

Chat soon and please send us loads of comments and e-mails because we love hearing from you guys!

p.s. big thanks to Febe our reader from Indonesia for her recommendation on visiting “Pindul Cave” near Jakarta. We will definitely keep it in mind when we head that way.

Pay?! Wat the hell Pho?!

In south East Asia there are a lot of ruins from an era known as the Angkor era. This was a time around 800 a.d. when a King in what is now Cambodia started expanding his empire into what is now Laos, southern Vietnam and eastern Thailand.

This period in time left a lot of amazing ruins and structures around these countries which attract a lot of tourism with the most famous one being Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the head of the Khmer empire.

A couple of days ago Talia and I visited one of the ruins of this period in southern Laos, ruins called Wat Pho. We hopped on Talia’s bike as we normally do for our short spins and got under way. We drove an hour or so and crossed the Mekong river on a little catamaran type raft with the motorbike and drove the rest of the distance.

Now as many of our readers know, Talia and I have kinda had enough of paying extortionate entry fees along with a load of other little payments here and there for parking, tolls etc. which annoy me to no end. For more detail on our hatred of busting out the wallet, see here.

Well this day was no different.

As we pulled into the parking area for the site we woke a guy sleeping in a little shack near the entrance. As he awoke, and we parked the bike, he sleepily scribbled a note and wandered over to us. He handed us a ticket charging us 3000 kip to park our motorbike inside this car park. Well needless to say that didn’t happen, and I pushed the bike back out the gate and onto the grass, right in front of this guy’s hut. I figured a sleeping Laoman would be just as good as no protection!

We saw a museum-like building which had an entrance fee written on it so we decided to take a different entrance, thinking it might be cheaper. After talking to a passing Dutch couple we discovered that we had just gone in the exit and gotten in for free!

We were happy to have saved ourselves almost $10 as we looked at the ruins and philandered about. We entered one “restricted area” to have a look around and couldn’t really see what made it so restricted, but the massive thrill of it all and the view of these ruins from the inside made our visit a little special (albeit illegal).

A long climb up some bumpy steep stairs (a bit like the stairs in China in the movie Kill Bill, except a lot steeper and older!) and we reached a small temple at the top of the holy mountain behind the ruins. As I reached the top of the stairs there was a couple sitting there looking at me dripping in sweat and trying to catch my breath in the scorching heat.

As it turned out they were a Spanish couple and were very pleasant. We chatted for a while and saw the rest of the sights together before going off our separate ways.

P.S. If any of our readers would like to check it out, the Spanish couple also had a blog at mamaestamosbien.blogspot.com, some of the posts are in English and some are in Spanish. Also the name is epic! It means “MA! We're ok!”…….. .com…… one of the best blog names I’ve seen!

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