Tales of Night Bus Horror and How to Deal

Taking a long-distance bus, particularly an overnight one, in Asia can be a harrowing experience. During the two months that I spent backpacking in Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand I took many night buses – not one of them went according to plan.

One particularly memorable bus ride in Vietnam involved an altercation between our driver and a drunk driver on the road. Both men leaned out their respective windows, shaking their fists and hurling Vietnamese curses at each other as they careened down the dark unpaved road at breakneck speeds. After a half hour of jockeying for the leader spot in their live action version of Pole Position, each pulled over and engaged in a short round of fisticuffs that ended with the bus driver getting beaned with a rock to the temple. At this point villagers emerged, the drunk took off and our driver hopped on the back of someone’s motorcycle, leaving his busload of travelers to sit for three hours on a Vietnamese back road at 1 a.m. Continue reading Tales of Night Bus Horror and How to Deal

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Photo Book: Finding the charm of Moalboal

Moalboal didn’t look like much. We’d just emerged from the heaving, paint-chipped bus from Cebu City, had extracted our bags from the bowels of the idling beast and were already sweating. Cooking in the midday heat, we wandered in towards town in hopes of finding four things: a bed, a dive shop, dinner and a beer (or three).

We found the first two easily enough, and after a long search, found the latter two. As we sat on the curb, sipping our Tanduay Ice, we debated reworking our travel plan: stay just two days, instead of three. We’d only been in the city for a couple hours and were already writing it off.

However, on day two, the sun seemingly rose over a brand new city. We found the charm of Moalboal in the retro Coca-Cola bottles, in the halo halo (a dessert made of fruit, ice, and ice cream), in the riotously colorful tricycles (many of which bearing gospel phrases or quirky names), in the stunning beaches with ombre hues of blue water, and in the personality of the people who call the little beach town home.

Continue reading Photo Book: Finding the charm of Moalboal

Photo book: 15 Stunning Reasons Why to Temple Hop in Bangkok

I like to think that the first King who occupied the Grand Palace in Bangkok met with his designer and said something like, “Nah Bro, not enough sparkles. Slap some more gemstones up in here. And throw in a couple gold-leaf murals for good measure.”

Covering nearly every inch of the 100+ buildings that make up the Grand Palace are tiles in a myriad of hues, tons of gold coating, and elaborate murals in vibrant colors. It’s an artistic experience just walking around the grounds.

The palace was the official residence of the King (first of Siam, then of Thailand), his court and his royal government from 1782 until 1925. Now it’s only used for a handful of ceremonies a year. But, that doesn’t mean it isn’t teeming with tourists. As the number one most visited place in Bangkok, oodles of people filter in all day. But, it’s a massive structure, filled with buildings, halls, open lawns, gardens and cozy courtyards, so getting away from the herd isn’t as hard as it sounds.

One thing you won’t see below is a snapshot of the famed Emerald Buddha who takes up residency at the Grand Palace. The enlightened man isn’t about the paparazzi — photographing him is forbidden. Housed in a dazzlingly decorated chapel, he sits between a pair of yaksha (mythical giants, of course) who stand sentry over this 18-inch frame. Three times a year, he gets a visit from the current king, who gives him a little wardrobe change. With each passing season — hot, cool and rainy — the Emerald Buddha gets new royal robes.  Continue reading Photo book: 15 Stunning Reasons Why to Temple Hop in Bangkok

Photo book: 13 pictures to inspire a motorcycle trip around Nha Trang, Vietnam

Nha Trang — an area that was once a simple settlement of a few small fishing villages — is rowdy. Though its beginnings were modest, vacation goers couldn’t shake the affect of the seas siren song, and soon the stunning bay and white sand beaches were home to stripped beach towels in bold hues, swanky resorts, and Speedo clad Russians partaking in a multi-city cruises and sweating beer buckets. Once the sun goes down, vacationers retreat from the beach to luxe restaurants or clubs with the music turned up so loud the sidewalk vibrates and beer pong cup make a wobbly run for the border.

But, if shooters and Speedos aren’t your thing, you can do like we did and get a couple motorbikes to cruise around the neighboring villages. Just outside of the city limits, the raw countryside resumes. There you’ll find sweet old woman parked in plastic chairs facing the bay where their menfolk are out harvesting their living on Crayola-colored boats, hikes ending in glorious multi-tiered waterfalls, and little roadside stands specialize in fresh seafood dishes (like the seafood fried rice pictured below!).

Continue reading Photo book: 13 pictures to inspire a motorcycle trip around Nha Trang, Vietnam

Photo Book: 15 charming photos that will make you want to travel to Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An, a little seaside 400 miles south of Hanoi in Vietnam, has long held a deep devotion to foodstuffs.

We’re talking 2,000 plus years of history here. From the 7th to 10th century it was the principal spice trading port of the Cham Kingdom and then it flexed it’s commerce muscles again as a major international port in the 16th and 17th centuries. While that port has since disbanded, Hoi An is still regarded as the culinary Mecca of Vietnam, acting as a beacon for foodies and novice cooks.

Though we indulged heavily in all the nourishment that Hoi An could offer, my camera lens was far more attracted to the people and paraphernalia that made Hoi An unique.

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Continue reading Photo Book: 15 charming photos that will make you want to travel to Hoi An, Vietnam

Temple Run practice in Angkor Wat

Tiptoeing across the hotel room as to not wake my travel companion, I pick-up the various effects I’d scattered throughout the room the night before. Scarf: check; bag: check; wallet: check; temple pass: check.

I was shoulder-deep inside my backpacking bag, scrounging for a hair-tie, when a thunderous knock sounded upon the door. Both my friend and I audibly cursed. He pulled his pillow over his head and I answered the door to a mullet sporting Cambodian man in a blue polka-dotted button-up and cut-off jean shorts.

“You go tuk-tuk to temples?” he asked in a surprisingly gravely voice for such a small man. Continue reading Temple Run practice in Angkor Wat

Tips and tricks for driving in Asia

Driving in Asia is like playing Frogger in a blender. It’s a frenzied dance of thousands of bikes and cars threading their way down the street. Horns are used unsparingly. Verbal altercations while driving are frequent; crashes are common. It’s chaotic.

I bought a used motorbike back in October – a clunky, temperamental, maroon beater of a bike, which due to it’s diva-like tendencies I named Queen Elizabeth II. Her Majesty has broken down at least a half-dozen times, and each time I have had to enlist one of the other teachers to tow my motorbike using their motorbike. I’m sure it’s a sight to see for the locals: one foreigner bobbing through traffic on a fully functional motorbike, with a rope extending from their bumper to another non-functional motorbike, the latter of which being ridden by a wild-haired blonde woman and is swinging back and forth in the chaos like a crazed water-skier. But despite the bikes frequent temper-tantrums, I love the freedom it provides. Continue reading Tips and tricks for driving in Asia

The adventures, musings and mishaps of a foreigner in China