I have added a new page to the website called the "City Guide." Here I have written a small entry on every city I've been to, listed in alphabetical order by country. It will be updated intermittently, as I visit more places. I hope it is useful for your own travels and/or reading pleasure!
India has been added to the "Nationalities I've Met" page, bringing the total to 41!
I recently had a really wonderful meal at a restaurant in Battambang, by the name of "Coconut." So wonderful, in fact, that I decided to pay for a cooking class.
For those of you who don't know, many restaurants throughout Southeast Asia offer cooking classes, in addition to food. I had turned down several offers for cooking classes in Thailand. After all, why should I pay for something I can learn for free on on the Internet? The food was so good at this Cambodian restaurant, however, that my curiosity got the best of me. I promptly signed up for the 3:30 PM class.
When I arrived for my lesson, the chef informed me that he had just opened the restaurant ten days ago, and that I was his first student! We walked (in the pouring rain) to the local market, where he gave me a rundown on all the different kinds of fruits and vegetables. The list was mountainous; I'd never seen so much produce in my life!
After a few choice purchases, we headed back to the restaurant to commence the class. He showed me how to cook a full three-course meal: two main dishes, a side, and dessert. For the next two hours, we chopped, diced, crushed, and blended dozens of ingredients. Having never been much of a cook myself, it was a fun, informative session.
Finally, it was time to eat the fruits of my labor. Sprawled before me on the table was Fish Amok, Beef LokLak, Fried Spring Rolls, and Coconut LyLy. It was one of the best meals I have ever had. Finally, the owner handed me a cookbook, and I was on my merry way. The price for a three-hour lesson, gigantic dinner, and cookbook? $10.
I hope to share a recipe or two with you someday. These are authentic, delicious Khmer dishes. Never underestimate whims; they lead to the most interesting days!
A few days ago I was lying in bed and it suddenly hit me: I'm living my dream! After years of planning and waiting, I am finally living a lifestyle that makes me happy. I get to go to sleep and wake up when I want, travel where I want, and eat whatever I want. I can play and listen to all the music I want, read and write all I want, and soak in all of my surroundings. No more alarm clocks and deadlines. So far, I've met people from 40 different countries, and have made several new friends and connections.
Many people follow a routine their entire lives, and rely on retirement or Heaven to finally relax. They become slaves to desks, beliefs, and public opinion. There is no shame in doing the things you love now, and no need to punish yourself for having a good time. If for whatever reason (money, family, school, etc) you cannot do what you love at the moment, set a time and/or savings goal. C'mon folks, "30 years from now, when you are a millionaire" is not a reasonable goal! I'm not saying there is anything wrong with having a job. Just remember, nobody feels bad on his/her deathbed for not putting in overtime at the corporation. They may, however, regret not following their passions.
Have I accomplished everything I ever want to? Certainly not! However, I understand that each goal can be completed. What cannot happen, is completing something I NEVER TRIED to do! Sure, I could be worrying about what will happen when I return to the United States. Money doesn't last forever, and some day I may be back New Jersey, working a day job to pay rent. For now, though, I'm having the time of my life. If you spend all your time worrying about what could go wrong, you will never actually DO anything.
It doesn't matter if your passion is travel, music, archeology, or all the above. Don't hold back for convenience's sake. Delving into your passion is the most rewarding thing you'll ever do; it means being honest with yourself. Ask whether or not you feel good about your life's current path. If the answer is yes, keep going! If not, take a moment to think about what you are doing with yourself, and what you'd like to accomplish. Admitting your feelings should not be uncomfortable; it should be a celebration!
Before leaving the United States, I thankfully did research on how much "stuff" to bring on my trip. With the exception of my guitar (which I admit, is fairly difficult to carry around), the only thing I brought with me was a backpack. It cost me $54 on Amazon.com, and has yet to disappoint me. Unless you are bringing specialty gear (hiking boots, camping gear, etc.) you do not need a large backpack. Mine is a standard 40-liter bag, with more than enough room.
So, what content is in this wonderful bag of mine? Clothing, a laptop, a notebook, and a few toiletries. For my trip, I packed:
3 shirts (2 t-shirts, 1 button-up)
2 pairs of shorts
1 pair of long pants
1 pair of pajama pants
5 pairs of underwear
2 pairs of socks
1 pair of shoes
This is more than enough clothing to travel with. It is very inexpensive to do laundry in Southeast Asia ($2-4 per load). In my opinion, washing your clothes on a frequent basis is FAR less annoying than carrying extraneous weight.
Some days I wish my laptop was lighter. It doesn't seem that heavy until you factor in a charger and surge protector, then add it to your increasingly widening backpack. I love my durable Thinkpad. However, a small netbook or even Ipad will suit the average traveler perfectly.
Toiletries should be kept to a minimum. It is actually cheaper to buy most toiletries in Southeast Asia, so don't bring soap, shampoo, deodorant and tubes of toothpaste (well, maybe a small one for the plane). Besides the fact that you will save money, it will also force you to choose what your essential items are. Do you have room for hair-styling gel? Depends on how much of a strain your back is feeling.
Other "essentials" to leave at home: a towel (most guesthouses/hotels provide one free of charge), blanket (same), and pillow (unless it's one of those comfy ones for your neck). I learned my lesson from visiting Israel back in January. I did my back no favors, and vowed to pack just the bare minimum for Southeast Asia. This is a very hot region of the world, so you won't be needing coats, jackets, sweaters, etc.
Finally, if you'd like to carry a book with you, keep it to ONE book at a time! You can always trade it in to a used bookstore and buy a new one. Right now I have three books in my bag (as soon as I finish this monstrosity of a J.K. Rowling novel, off to the bookstore it goes), and they add a lot of unnecessary weight.
Before starting my trip, I booked a one-month stay in a single room in Bangkok. Phiman Riverview Guesthouse was indeed an awesome place. However, I have since learned that my initial method of accommodation-seeking was not as inexpensive as it could have been. Here, I will try to break down some of the ways I have found cheap accommodation, and highlight some common mistakes.
My first mistake was booking a single room. While extremely private and comfortable, it dramatically inflates your living costs. For my first 30 days, I paid over $9 per day, just to have a single room. It did not seem like a lot, until I realized a mixed dorm at the same guesthouse cost roughly half the price. Unless a single room is extremely important to you, or you are traveling with someone (hence, being able to split the cost of a room), I'd recommend going for the mixed dorms. Not only is it way cheaper, you will also meet more people using this method. It's easy to sit in your room alone all day, but dorms force you to meet other cool travelers. Most guesthouses even offer some sort of locker to stash your valuable belongings!
It took me a while to realize that Booking.com is not the only site for booking hostels. In fact, it is rarely the cheapest site. Up until now, I had been booking stays only through Booking.com. My current guesthouse in Siem Reap, Cambodia cost $5 per night. Turns out if you go to Hostelworld.com, there's a hostel available for only $2 per night! If you are booking in advance, browse multiple websites. Some of these include: Booking.com, Hostebookers.com and Hostelworld.com. You can even head to Hostelz.com, which searches multiple booking companies and gives you the best deal. However, I have found that it is not always up to date with the cheapest rates. Search at least three or four different websites; you will be surprised that what is advertised on one, is not always available on the others.
If you are adventurous and have time to burn, you may want to simply skip booking websites. It is generally cheaper to book directly at a guesthouse, and you can sometimes haggle the price down. One of my cheapest island stays in Thailand came from booking a bungalow in person (albeit we split the cost between three people). Downsides to this method do exist. Booking websites have user reviews, so you can find a highly-rated place without worrying about "surprises." You may also miss out on an affordable gem if it's off the beaten path.
While it may only seem like a few dollars at first, saving on accommodation is VERY important for budget traveling. This stuff adds up fast. If you save $2-3 per night during a six-month trip, you'll have an extra $300-600. That's potentially an entire month of travel in Southeast Asia! It's definitely worth it to take the extra time, especially if you have lots of it.
I'm usually a pretty skinny guy, but working a desk job for a year got me into some bad habits. By the time I went to my doctor to get my travel vaccinations, I had a bit of a belly. Not a big deal, especially because most people would not have been able to tell. However, I acknowledged that I had become somewhat lethargic. It's easy to snack on junk food when you are sitting down for eight hours. Also, going to the gym is the last thing on your mind after a stressful day of work. Before traveling, I could feel my body winding down and becoming sluggish. I'm pleased to say, since hitting the road I have never felt so healthy in my life! I've lost about ten pounds, have increased stamina, and generally feel happier. Here are a few possible reasons why:
Change of Diet - It was not until I started eating Thai street food, that I realized just how unhealthily I'd been eating back in the States. My standard "American college student" diet had waaaay too many empty calories in it. I found that Thai food has fresh ingredients, very little sugar, and an abundance of flavor. I found it very hard to eat vegetables before traveling, but now it's second nature. Meals usually keep me satisfied, sating the urge to incessantly snack throughout the day. Also, a Thai milk tea will always beat out soda!
Heavy Lifting - I thought lugging around a heavy backpack and (even heavier) guitar would be my least favorite part of traveling. However, I've found it to be fantastic exercise, as well as an outlet for building endurance.
Sunlight - Sure, you can get sunlight anywhere, but here in Asia it's ALWAYS sunny. In the States I stayed indoors way to much. Why? Because it was easy to, and I was lazy. Now it's not so easy to hide in the dark. C'mon! Gotta go out into the blazing sun to go see Angkor Wat!
Backpacking is a fun way to stay fit or get into shape. In actuality, there are probably thousands of reasons why. Find out for yourself!
I don't think I'll be able to find a developing lab anytime soon, so for now I will be using pictures shot on my Ipod.
Cambodia is a very sobering place to visit, especially when going there straight from Thailand. It is still recovering from a horrific genocide at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. Between 1975-1979 the Communist Khmer Rouge regime killed off a quarter of the country's population. If you opposed them in any way, were an intellectual (wearing glasses automatically made you one), or were educated in any field, you were killed. So it's not surprising that this had a profound effect on Cambodia's development. Unlike Thailand, it is a very poor country, where roughly 53% of the population lives on less than $2 per day.
Arriving via plane was an almost mystical experience. As we touched down, I could see beautiful foliage that stretched for miles. I saw no metropolitan skyscrapers or the like. The first thing I noticed outside the airport, was how quiet everything was - almost eerily quiet. It felt like a land from the old times, before globalization reached out its hand.
In fact, if Siem Reap has any fast food joints, I have been kept blissfully unaware of them. Unlike Thailand, full of its McDonalds and 7-Eleven chains, Cambodia seems quite untouched. I have only been in one city so far, but I love it! The street food, while not as good as Thailand's, is cheap and decent.
Yesterday, I went to Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world. It is housed in a giant complex, which is also home to several other temples. It was incredible; pictures cannot do it justice! As I walked toward the building, I imagined Angkor as it was, hundreds of years ago - multitudes of Hindus and Buddhists walking about. While I usually don't care about monuments and structures, I would HIGHLY recommend everyone visit it sometime, especially if already traveling in Southeast Asia.
Malaysia, The Philippines, and Ukraine have all been added to the "Nationalities I've Met" page, bringing the total to 40!
One thing I bet you didn't know about Cambodia, is that they primarily use U.S. dollars. Their official currency, Riel, is usually only given as change. Shortly after my arrival yesterday, I bought $1.35 worth of items at a shop - the change for my two dollars? 2,600 Riel. The dollar is king here (well, they do actually have a king, but you get the gist). Therefore, month three will be very easy to track financially, as most transactions will be made with my home currency.
Anyhow, I could go on for hours about Cambodia, and I will (in future blog posts). For now, however, I want to do a financial breakdown of my second month. It was spent primarily in Thailand, and spans the dates 06/21/14 thru 07/20/14. Once again, there will be exceptions. I bought a Northern Thai instrument (Seung - which I had to leave behind at a guesthouse in Bangkok), which will not be factored in. Additionally, costs related to my film photography are very specific, and I don't foresee most people needing to factor such prices in.
Here we go! Month the second:
Accommodation - $127.64. Average of $4.25 per day. I more than halved my accommodation costs from last month ($282.93). There are several reasons for this, primarily the fact that I was traveling with a friend. We were able to split double rooms, paying half the price. Even when I was alone, I opted to stay in mixed dorm rooms, whereas last month I stayed in a (far more expensive) single room. Thought I thought dorms would suck, they actually turned out to be a great way to meet new people. They also saved me a lot of money!
Food - $180.39. Average of $6 per day, or $2 per meal. Roughly the same as I spent last month, just a few dollars more. I didn't make much of an effort to stay away from restaurants. Additionally, food in the South was slightly more expensive (as was everything else). I would never have dreamed this would be my biggest expense - even more than accommodation!
Alcohol - $65.33. Average of $2.18 per day. Same as food: roughly the same as last month, but with a few extra dollars due to inflated costs.
Transport - $164.29. Other than food, this was my biggest expense during the month (up from $35.37 last month). The reason is that Lisa's method of traveling involved seeing as many places as possible. Sometimes this resulted in very expensive bus rides, some of which did save us money on accommodation (overnight buses). I don't regret a single penny that I spent; however, future months will certainly not be this costly for me.
Water - $17.46. Average of 58 cents per day. Roughly the same as last month.
Toiletries - $6.42. Much lower than last month ($18.61). This is because I had already purchased most of my toiletries last month (toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, etc).
Miscellaneous - $77.37. Includes ATM fees ($21.24), unintentional motorbike damage ($15.40), a haircut ($9.24), laundry ($4.56), and other items/admission costs, etc ($26.93).
Total amount spent - $638.90. Average of $21.30 per day. Slightly less than last month, but much more than necessary (especially with such low accommodation fees). Transport and miscellaneous things (such as costs associated with the Full Moon Party) really added up, inflating my budget. Though I am once more by myself in Cambodia, I hope this month will cost less!
Thank you once more to the creators of Trail Wallet. This app has been essential for me.
Stay tuned, readers!
Colombia, Ireland, and Iran have all been added to the "Nationalities I've Met" page, bringing the total to 37!
After traveling Central Thailand (Bangkok, Ayutthaya, Kanchanburi) and Northern Thailand (Chiang Mai, Pai), we headed down south, exploring some of the country's islands. Along the way, we went to Nakhon Si Thammarat, Ko Pha Ngan, and Ko Samui.
Nakhon Si Thammarat - Quite literally, the friendliest place I have ever been in my life. This island may be the highlight of my trip so far. When they said Thailand is the "Land of Smiles," I was a bit disappointed. I mean, everywhere I've gone so far has been somewhat friendly, but the Land of Smiles? Let me paint a picture of Thammarat. Everyone that passed by us, waved. We were constantly honked at by passing cars. Young children giggled as we walked by. Unlike in Bangkok (where people usually just stare at you), people would actively smile and say hi to you. Lisa and I were invited into a random person's house and given cake. From what I hear, we stayed in the friendliest area of the island (Khanom). Additionally, there were very few to no tourists there, giving the island a small-town, personal feel. If you're looking for a chilled-out, relaxing time, I cannot recommend it enough.
Ko Pha Ngan - OK. The only reason we went to this island was to attend a Full Moon party. I really can't comment on the island itself, as I was there less than one day. Full Moon party was alright, nothing to write home about. In all honesty, this island sucked more money out of us in one day than I'm OK with.
Ko Samui - Without exaggerating, this island is the most touristy place I've been in Thailand - even more than Bangkok. The beach was very nice, but prices were generally expensive, and everywhere was very crowded. I haven't been to Phuket, but I'd imagine the level of tourism is similar. If you're into bars and clubs and expensive accommodation, this island is for you. If not, I'd recommend finding a more relaxing place.
The South of Thailand has many nice places to offer. However, it is by far the most expensive area I've been in the country. Unless you are traveling with a lot of money, I'd recommend skipping most of the hotspots. Perhaps go to one or two lesser known islands, or just skip it entirely. Look to spend approximately twice as much in the South as elsewhere. Transportation and accommodation are not cheap.
On another note, I said farewell to Lisa yesterday. She is traveling back to South Africa, and will be missed.
Up next: Cambodia, which I leave for in two days!
Austria, China, Guinea, Hungary and Senegal have all been added to the "Nationalities I've Met" page, bringing the total to 34!
Pai was beautiful. Out of any city I have been to so far, it felt the most like I had "pictured" Thailand to be. It was just a small town with rural outskirts (we stayed in the outskirts, and had to therefore motorbike everywhere). Scenic huts and elephant camps littered the long stretches of land. Though I had been extremely excited to finally see elephants, the camps were not pleasant. In fact, they added a dark, depressing layer to my trip.
It's no surprise to me that many of the elephants in Thailand are mistreated, but seeing them up close made it especially bad. Some of the elephants had chains on their legs, and were forced to stand in cramped quarters. If a customer happened to request a ride, the elephant would be led by a guide. The guides carried sharp scythes, which they would prod, and sometimes even hit the animals with.
At night, the elephants are brought to sleep in the jungle, where they are kept chained to trees. When we saw workers lead them to the jungle in chains, it looked exactly like a funeral procession. Keep in mind, the elephants get to walk only a few steps their entire lives, except for when they're forced (at knife-point) to give rides to ignorant tourists.
I would like to publicly denounce Thom's Elephant Camp, which, according to Tripadvisor and many guidebooks, treats its animals well. Although they do not keep their elephants chained up (well, by day at least), they still used the scythes during rides. Additionally, Lisa and I saw an elephant crying (yes, actual tears) as he angrily shuffled around his cramped pen. They told us it was an eye problem, but we could see it was clearly an elephant in distress. As he hugged us sadly with his trunk, I vowed to do something to help.
Short of starting your own charity (a complicated and costly venture), there is little an individual can do to rescue the elephants from their abusive masters. However, a number of successful charities already exist, and I urge you to take a look at them. Thankfully, Chiang Mai has a well known elephant nature park, where rescued animals are brought to a new, safe home. To donate and help the elephants, visit the Save Elephant Foundation. If you are a U.S. citizen, you are also eligible to make a tax-deductible donation to the charity's partner: The Serengeti Foundation.
The Asian elephant is Thailand's national animal. There are not that many of them left in Thailand (2000-4000 in the wild, and roughly the same amount in captivity), and they need to be saved. After seeing them up close, I cannot sit back and ignore the enslavement of these majestic beasts.
My name is Yonah Paley. I quit my job in the United States to travel. I also write movies and do photography. As I backpack across the world, I share stories, philosophy, and travel tips.