Category Archives: Vietnam

The 5 Best Night Markets in Southeast Asia

best night markets in southeast asia

How do you find the best night markets in Southeast Asia? By looking for the perfect balance between street food and dry goods, tourists and locals, popular and off-the-beaten path.

It’s a delicate balance to strike, and some markets in SE Asia don’t quite get it right.

To me, a great night market is loud, noisy, packed with people, and filled with exciting things to see, buy, and – most importantly – taste.

Here are the five most memorable night markets I’ve visited in Southeast Asia (plus one market I recommend you skip completely!).

#1: Shilin Night Market, Taipei, Taiwan

The Shilin Night Market is Taipei’s biggest and most famous market, and for good reason. I visited several markets during my time in Taipei, and this was hands-down my favorite.

The market is packed with locals and tourists, has an endless array of food stalls and open-air restaurants, and there are even movies screening in the courtyard of a temple right in the marketplace.

I made the mistake of eating at a sit down restaurant in the market before I realized how much amazing street food there was to sample.
best night markets in southeast asiaThis was one of the first times I ate alone while traveling, and it was DEFINITELY my first experience with Asian-style seafood:

best night markets in southeast asia

It’s a good thing I was too scared to eat shrimp that was staring at me.

By the time I stepped back out into the market, I was still hungry enough to sample a smattering of Taiwanese street food and peruse the curious phallic-shaped paraphernalia that can be found throughout the market.

How to get there

Take the Red Line and get off at the Jiantan station stop. As soon as you exit the train you’ll see crowds walking across the street toward the market. Follow the crowds!

#2: Wui Lai Market (Saturday Night Walking Street), Chiang Mai, Thailand

There are many, many different markets to be explored in Chiang Mai. Some are local, some are touristy. Some are filled with tantalizing food, others are packed with knockoff designer clothing and cheap jewelry.

I spent two months in Chiang Mai and the Saturday Night Walking Market was by far my favorite. Fair warning, it’s totally touristy. But like so many things in Chiang Mai, it’s super popular and overly-touristy for a good reason: it’s awesome!

The market runs over 1km down Wui Lai street, but it also shoots off onto some side streets too. You’ll find the food stalls on both sides of the street, plus more food located in offshoot areas with patio seating and additional stalls. 

While you’re busy munching pad thai and cotton candy, you can listen to blind musicians playing the drums and buy all sorts of clothing, artwork, silverware, carvings – most of it cheap, some of it rare, all of it beautiful. 

How to get there

The market begins right across the street from the Chiang Mai Gate at the southern entrance to the old city (alternatively called the walled city, the old town, the ancient town, you get the idea).

Careful because there are four different gates that “guard” this area – make sure you’re at the southernmost gate to find this market. Also, if you walk allllll the way down to the end of the market, and the market is really busy, you might just want to take a taxi or tuk tuk back instead of fighting the crowds.

#3: Luang Prabang Night Market, Luang Prabang, Laos

Best night markets in Southeast Asia

The Luang Prabang night market is beautiful, intimate, and packed with gorgeous clothing, bags, jewelry and souvenirs. Yes, a lot of the stuff is cheap, but a lot of it is just beautiful anyway.

Maybe it’s because the vendors display there wares like artwork, all spread out on brightly colored rugs on the ground.

Maybe it’s because all of the stalls are packed in tightly, so tightly that the tops of each tent converge to create this outdoor forest.

It’s like climbing through a giant closet. You seriously have to weave your way in and out of other people to get anywhere, but for some reason that didn’t bother me during my two weeks in Luang Prabang

At first glance, you might miss the food altogether. Unlike the other best night markets in Southeast Asia, the market in Luang Prabang has a separate area for cheap, delicious street food (see how to find it below).

This covered food market has tons of cheap eats and cold Beer Lao. It’s always packed, there’s not enough seating, and the strangers packed together at picnic tables are forced to make new friends. 

I’ll be totally honest, the street food in Laos had nothing on Thailand or Vietnam, but the ambiance of this little food court more than made up for that. I met another solo female traveler while eating solo here, and we ended up doing a trek together and are still in touch to this day!

How to get there

Luang Prabang is tricky because there are a gazillion wats, two rivers, and it’s super easy to get turned around. The night market is in the “center” of town, but the trick is finding that center!

The market begins at Wat Mai, so find that on a map and get yourself there (it’s south of the Royal Palace on Sisavangvong Road).

From there, walk south along Sisavangvong Road enjoying the market. Just before you get to Kitsalat Road, which is a big intersection, you’ll see a little alley off to your right. Duck inside with your Kip and get ready to nosh!

#4: Bến Thành Market, Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam

Best night markets in Southeast Asia

Huge, famous, and smack dab in the center of the biggest tourist district in the biggest city in Vietnam, the Bến Thành Market is at the top of most HCMC must-see lists. 

It has an indoor day market, but at night the streets begin filling with vendors and outdoor pop-up restaurants.

Don’t bother going until after the sun goes down – I was there at dusk and ended up hemming and hawing during that awkward time between the closing of the day market and the opening of the night market stalls. 

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The surrounding area is massive and sprawling, with clear views of enormous skyscrapers and the giant Bitexco Financial Tower.

This market feels bigger than the Shilin Night Market in Taipei, but a bit more spread out. Food, clothing, and other goods are everywhere and nowhere. Instead of one main street, the market wraps around several blocks. 

It’s sort of difficult to get your bearings, but damn if it’s not exciting. DSC_0115

Like everywhere else in Ho Chi Minh City, just make sure you watch out for motorbikes!

How to get there

If you’re staying on or near Phạm Ngũ Lão street in District 1 (which you’ll probably be since it’s the main tourist area), you can walk along east along Phạm Ngũ Lão all the way to the market.

The north side of the street hugs a giant park that is packed with kids doing martial arts, couples taking ballroom dancing classes, and students passing shuttlecocks through the air with just their feet.

It’s well lit and I felt very safe walking through it “alone” (you’re never really alone in a city of 20 million) at night.

#5: Pai Night Market, Pai, Thailand

Pai‘s night market, like the town itself, is small when compared to the other best night markets in Southeast Asia. But what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in charm and unexpected culinary delights.

I had the best burger of my life at the Burger Queen, an indoor restaurant just off the market (Okay, it’s a few blocks away, but still worth a mention and a visit). And don’t even get me started on these RIDICULOUS pancakes:

How to get there

Go to Pai. You’ll find it.

The Night Market to Skip

I’m a huge traitor because Hoi An, Vietnam is my home away from home, but the night market on the south side of the river across from the main entrance to the Ancient Town SUCKS!

It’s dinky, barely takes up half a block, there’s hardly any street food (mostly just donuts) and the stalls are filled with cheap souvenirs. There are some cool lanterns for sale at the beginning of the market, but you can get them much cheaper from a local vendor anywhere else in town during the day.

In a city that’s so filled with rich history, amazing artisans, great cooks, and neverending tourists, why is there (basically) no night market to speak of? Maybe it’s because there are so many permanent restaurants and shops that line the banks of the river and they’re always packed, so there’s really no need for a night market.

Still, I’m a firm believer that all great Asian cities (and perhaps all cities) should have a killer night market to write home about. Hoi An may have amazing beaches, delicious food, cool history, and breathtaking scenery, but without a great night market, it can’t take it’s rightful place as the best place to visit in Southeast Asia.

Don’t skip Hoi An, but skip the market and go enjoy dinner at Cargo or have hot pot at a local noodle shop instead!

Southeast Asia or Bust

If you’re itching to hop on a plane and sample some authentic street food and night markets for yourself, first thing’s first – you have to figure out how to get there and where you’re staying!

For flights to Asia, I love Skyscanner and can almost always find a one-way ticket from the States to SE Asia for under $600 (usually much less!).

For hotels, I’ve just recently discovered Travel Ticker, which searches 100,000 cheap hotels from a single dashboard (none of those annoying pop up windows). The site’s interface is great because you can easily find your city, select your travel dates, and let their robust search engine do the work for you.

Which cities top your list for having the best night markets in Southeast Asia? Have I missed any? Let me know in the comments below!

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Rebecca Anne Nguyen is a freelance travel writer and the Founder of TheHappyPassport.com. Follow her @Happy_Passport, on Instagram, and on Medium.

Operation Bikini Wax

The mission:

You have less than 24 hours to a find salon or an individual to give you a bikini wax (preferably with hard wax, because we all know what a disaster crappy Sally Hansen wax can be).

“It’s too easy!” you say. “There’s a place right down the street!” you say.

I wasn’t finished yet.

Not only do you desperately (desperately) need a bikini wax: you also happen to be on a remote island off the coast of Vietnam.

How remote, you ask? Well, there’s WiFi. There’s cell reception. But there are no computer repair shops, there’s nowhere to buy a cell phone charger should yours break, and there are no English-speaking women (none that you’re personally acquainted with, anyway.)

On your mark. Get set. Go!

12:32pm: Enemy Challenge

Truong: “Would you like to go to the beach with me tomorrow?”

That depends, cute Vietnamese guy I’m dating, is this the kind of beach where wild, hairy Alpacas are welcome to roam at will? Because after 4 months without seeing the inside of a salon, that’s exactly what I resemble.

12:34pm: Mission Identified

Me: “Sure. Um. Is Anh around, btw?”

Anh is my best bet – after all, she’s the one who gave me my awesome Vietnamese makeover, she’s the one who yells at me when I braid my wet hair, she’s the one who gives me free pedicures in the middle of her restaurant when there aren’t any customers around, and she’s the one who used to own a salon.

Problem: Anh speaks as much English as I do Vietnamese.

In the nearby capital city of  Hanoi, all of the young students I’ve met speak English beautifully.  If I had to generalize I’d say that the girls tend to have a better command of the language than the boys.

But here in small town Cat Ba, it is the men who tend to speak English, their wives nodding and smiling in the background.

I can’t tell if it’s because the women just don’t care to learn, or they want to learn but their husbands don’t let them, or they’re way too busy running the family business and raising the children while the men sit around smoking cigarettes and watching cricket (I sort of think it’s the last one).

This saddens me both from an empowerment standpoint and from a bikini wax standpoint.

Back home, I wouldn’t think twice about talking to a male friend about this kind of thing, but in Vietnam, it’s different, especially in Cat Ba.

Here you can’t even hug someone of the opposite sex in public. And you most certainly can’t discuss an intimate, personal matter like waxing with a man who’s not your husband.

Heck, the best I can get from my sweetie is a kiss on the cheek – and that’s only if it’s dark out and no one’s looking. So I can’t imagine bringing up the subject of waxing with one of my English-speaking male friends  – I might seriously cause some instances of cardiac arrest.

1:17pm: Location Surveillance

I go to the restaurant. Anh is there, smiling her placid smile, but everyone else is there too. Her husband, his brother, and half a dozen (male) staff under the age of 25.

I hem and haw and order a coffee, and then I remember the powerful tool I have in my pocket – my Google translate app!

1:31pm: Brush Contact

“Where can I get a bikini wax?”

I type the question into Google translate, hoping for the best. The translation includes the English word “bikini” but everything else is magically transformed to Vietnamese. Looks good!

“Anh! Pssssst, Anh!”

I wave her over and covertly show her my phone’s screen. She reads the question, doesn’t bat an eyelash, and nods her head without looking at me.

Stealthy! Anh clearly knows how to be discreet, and she also must know exactly where to go to get the weed whacking done.

1:34pm: Covert Operation

She disappears into the back of the restaurant and magically reappears with two motorbike helmets.

Score!

Anh says something to her husband in Vietnamese, and he looks at me and giggles.

Oh, no! Anh! I thought we had an understanding!

“You go with Anh, you go shopping now” he says.

Ohhhh, I see what she did there. Good thinking, Anh.

“Yes!” I say. “We go shopping!”

I wink at Anh and she winks back and smiles at me. This was so much easier than I thought it would be, especially since I haven’t seen waxing offered as an option on any of the salon signs in town.

Anh probably has a friend who’ll do it in her back room. Or maybe Anh herself can do it – I sort of don’t want her poking around down there, what with us being as close as two people could be without speaking the same language, but oh well. I’m on a mission, after all. Some sacrificial awkwardness is to be expected.

1:47pm: In the Field

We’re off!

Anh’s motorbike races down the main drag, past restaurants and hotels, and makes a sharp right towards the local market.

For some reason we stop here and park. Fruit sellers and baskets of vegetables and electronic stands and shoe stalls are packed on top of one another, creating a loud, smelly, vibrant city within a city.

There are plastic shoes for sale, and fish sauce, dried pork, sweating fruit, leafy greens, duck eggs and knock off designer clothing. So it stands to reason there could also be a woman somewhere in the bowels of the market just waiting to pour hot wax on my hoo ha.

1:49pm: Gloria the Mole

I follow Anh through the market, my flip flopped feet stepping carefully around mysterious puddles of stank liquid.

She stops at a vegetable seller squatting in front of huge baskets of garlic. They exchange a few words, and I imagine she’s asking “Hey Gloria, does Debbie still do waxing, and is she still in the same location?”

1:51pm: Secret Lair

Anh thanks Gloria for what must have been an affirmative answer and we continue on, swimming from the primarily food section of the market to an outdoor mall of covered tents packed with clothing.

We step into an enormous closet. I feel like Alice after she’s gone through the lookinglass – rack upon rack stacked 20 feet high, pants and blouses and dresses leering at me from every angle.

Anh smiles brightly and rifles through the nearest rack until she finds what she’s looking for – a top in XL. She holds it up to me and says “Big! Big for you!”

One of the favorite topics of my friends here in Cat Ba is how large I am, especially compared with the tiny man I am dating.

Dear reader, I am 5’6” on a good day, and about 135lbs. And to them, I am the epitome of obesity. They are very concerned about my health, and everyday demand that I wake up at 5am to exercise with them (this has yet to happen).

2:07pm: The Drop Point

I pay the cashier 1 million dong – about $50 – and emerge from the closet with a new dress, and several Anh-approved (XL) outfits. Anh is very happy because the tunic top she’s chosen for me hides my stomach.

Fine. Good. We had been meaning to go shopping for a while, so I’m glad that’s out of the way. Now we’re going for my wax, right?

2:15pm: Anh’s tries a Starbust Maneuver

Anh straddles the motorbike and hangs her many plastic bags onto the bike’s convenient hooks. We’ve been to the pharmacist, to buy shoes for her husband, and to buy tank tops for my sweetie to wear while cooking in the steamy kitchen.

Is it possible that Anh…..didn’t understand what I meant when I wrote “bikini wax”?

“I need bikini wax” I say again, gesturing vaguely to my nether regions.

Anh smiles and nods, gesturing for me to get on the scooter already.

Ok, phew. I’m probably being really annoying. Clearly we just needed to run a few errands, and now we’ll go get waxed.

2:32pm: Back at Camp Swampy

Back at the restaurant. Anh just wanted to drop off everything we’d bought. We give the guys their gifts, Anh puts the vegetables in the fridge, I stand up to leave again and she….sits down. And pours herself some tea.

2:34pm: Abort?

My sweetie emerges from the kitchen just long enough to smile at me and say “beach tomorrow!”

I muster up as much enthusiasm as possible and smile at him, nodding.

As soon as he leaves, all decorum goes out the window. This is now officially an emergency.

2:33pm: Canary Trap

“Mr. Twin? I need….I need wax.”

Mr. Twin, Anh’s English-speaking husband, stares at me blankly. Anh just smiles and nods.

Oh, crap.

In this moment I realize that Anh smiling and nodding does not, in fact, mean “Yes, I understand” but instead means “I don’t have a clue what you’re saying but I like you and want to be polite.”

How the hell did Google translate “I need a bikini wax” into “Let’s go shopping for XL clothing right now”?!

“Mr. Twin, please. I need….”

I gesture ripping hair off my arm.

He’s not getting it.

“Much hair, Mr. Twin. I need off. No hair for me, please. Where can I go?”

His eyes suddenly light up in recognition, and for a second I think I’m in.

“You want hair gone?”

“Yes! Please! Where can I go to get hair gone?”

“I can do” says Mr. Twin, which is his answer for everything from cooking to teaching English to his daughter to hunting wild birds to online marketing. (and in most of those cases, he really actually can do.)

I blush, hoping Truong can’t hear our conversation.

“No, no, you don’t understand.”

“I can do!” Mr. Twin insists. “Many women come to me and I do. I do like this.”

He mimes the action of threading eyebrows.

“Not there” I say, gesturing again to other areas of my body without going for the gold. Meanwhile, Anh is happily sipping her tea, engrossed in her phone.

“I do anywhere!” says Mr. Twin. “The chin, the lip, hair gone anywhere.”

Last chance: give up or go for the jugular?

I think of Truong, hairless Truong with woven silk skin the color of caramel, lounging in the sand and surf like a Vietnamese Adonis.

And me on the beach  next to him in long pants.

“Mr. Twin, I need no hair..for swimsuit.”

And then it happens. I, a grown woman, standing in the middle of a restaurant, speaking to my friend’s husband right in front of her, point to my vagina.

Mr. Twin dies laughing.

“Noooooooo!!!!” he roars. “I cannot do there!”

And then “Truong! Come here!”

No no no no no don’t call Truong, pleeeeeease.

“I cannot do for you there, but maybe Mr. Truong must do for you!!!”

“But Mr. Twin, please, can someone do? Someone on Cat Ba can do for me?”

He says something to Anh in Vietnamese, who suddenly looks very surprised, and shakes her head ‘no.’

“No one” says Mr. Twin.

“Cannot do” says Mr. Twin.

I give up, defeated.

Maybe I can suggest a hike instead of the beach? Or a boat ride? Or anything where the entire lower half of my sasquatchian body can remain covered?

2:41pm: Mission Impossible

OPERATION BIKINI WAX: 100% FAIL

Here’s what I’m dying to know – what the hell did Anh read when she looked at my phone? What had I accidentally written in Vietnamese?!

And worse, what on earth did she think when I asked again in the market and gestured to the area below my waist?!!!

And finally, the fact that there is no waxing available on Cat Ba does not mean that Vietnamese women just let themselves go – I’ve never met a group of ladies so pleasantly obsessed with beauty, so pulled together, so fashionable, so diligent about straightening their hair and making sure each painted nail is perfectly glossed at all times – even if – no, especially if – they spend their days peeling garlic and washes dishes and shelling crab underneath the hot sun.

Which leads me to believe that they don’t NEED bikini waxing, because just like my hairless honey, they are blessed with this smooth, silken, velvety skin – sort of like human versions of hypoallergenic cats.

I wish I was a hypoallergenic cat. Or, at the very least, I wish I had a hypoallergenic va jay jay.

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Quick+Dirty Takeaway

1. You may not get a bikini wax on Cat Ba Island in Vietnam - best take care of your business in Hanoi before you come.

2. Google Translate is not only FLAT OUT WRONG, the translations it comes up with are specific and absurd!

3. There is no way to communicate "bikini wax" without pointing to your hoo ha. If you find a way to do so please let me know.

4. If you are an esthetician of some sort, you could make a killing on Cat Ba because you will have zero competition and hordes of hairy tourists in need of your services.

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

Luxury Travel on a Backpacker’s Budget

“The best things in life are free. The second-best things are very, very expensive.” ~ Coco Chanel

You can experience the wonders of luxury travel on a backpacker’s budget.

How do I know?

Because the most luxurious time in my life was spent traipsing through Asia for 13 months with nothing but a backpack and a laptop.

Let me explain.

By luxury travel, I’m talking about the energized, eye-opening kind of travel that makes your heart burst out of your chest and your soul dive headlong into the present moment.

Sure, there might be a fancy hotel room involved, or a tropical drink sweating in the palm of your hand, but those things aren’t the point. Those things aren’t what makes travel luxurious.

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True luxury can’t be bought. Oh sure, you can spring for a stay at an all-inclusive resort, guiltily tip your dedicated waitstaff as they tidy your 16-bedroom beachfront bungalow, or enjoy wine tastings on a yacht made of diamonds.

All of that’s well and good, but none of it is enough to make you feel luxurious in your mind and your heart.

True luxury is time. True luxury is freedom. True luxury is a break from stress, responsibility, and the cares of the world.

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There’s nothing more luxurious than freedom.

 

While traveling long-term in Asia, I experienced true luxury travel even though I was more “flashpacker” than luxe traveler.

By working as I traveled and carefully choosing midrange hotels, I experienced the luxury of having money for the first time in my life.

  • I ate out every single meal
  • I stayed in high-rise beachfront hotels
  • I stayed in riverfront bungalows
  • I had my laundry sent out
  • I even splurged on the occasional massage or mani/pedi!

…and all of this on a budget of about $15-$25/day.

But the perks of being an American traveling in South and Southeast Asia had little to do with the threadcount of my sheets or the view from my hotel room.

Simply having the free time to travel and the money to see, eat, and do whatever I wanted was easily the most luxurious experience of my life.

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True luxury is being able to afford meals and restaurants you never could at home.

 

Now, in order to experience this kind of luxury travel, choosing the right destination is key. I could probably have never gotten away with this in Europe, or North America, or even in pricier Asian cities like Shanghai or Ho Chi Minh City.

But by choosing destinations that were more affordable, I was able to live as luxury traveler on a budget of about $15/day.

Da Nang: The most luxurious budget travel destination in Southeast Asia

Da Nang is as beautiful as Vancouver BC except sunnier and cheaper.

Da Nang is as beautiful as Vancouver BC except sunnier and cheaper.

Da Nang, Vietnam is one of the best luxury travel destinations on the planet, regardless of your definition of luxury.

There are scores of resorts that line the coast between China Beach and Hoi An, and they run the gamut from $200/night hotels to $10,000/night luxury villas.

But Da Nang is truly decadent because of the possibilities for backpackers and midrange travelers.

  • The beautiful beaches lining China Beach are free and open to the public. If you’d like to drink or dine somewhere posh right on the water, you can enjoy happy hour for less than $10 USD.
  • There are amazing outdoor seafood restaurants everywhere in Da Nang. They offer fresh-caught, live seafood in all shapes and sizes. Customers get to point to their lunch and enjoy ice-cold cans of Bia La Rue while their lobster is being boiled to perfection. You can have a seafood bonanza for two for less than $15 USD.
  • Monkey Mountain commands a skyline that overlooks a glistening city of bridges and sparkling architecture. It’s free to explore the mountain and there’s only a nominal cost to gain entrance to the Lady Buddha statue (Vietnam’s tallest!), which guards the East Sea like an angelic Madonna.
True luxury travel: feeling free on a Vietnamese beach in a weird outfit.

True luxury travel: feeling free on a Vietnamese beach in a weird outfit.

Luxury abounds throughout the world, but it’s possible to experience luxury travel without breaking the bank.

For me, the true mark of luxury lies in the freedom of low-cost living. Being able to truly relax and enjoy each destination is infinitely more luxurious than any yacht or swanky resort could ever be.

What does luxury travel mean to you?

 

 

Monkey Mountain in Photos

So I didn’t see any monkeys on Monkey Mountain, but I did encounter the largest Buddha statue in Vietnam, a thousand year-old tree with roots that grew up, not down, and views of the entirety of Central Vietnam.

Not to be confused with Marble Mountain, the more well-known tourist destination to the South, Monkey Mountain is located on a peninsula that juts out from the mainland just north of China Beach.

The mountain provides spectacular views, whether you’re gazing at it from the white sand beaches below, or standing atop its highest peak.

I first visited Monkey Mountain in February of 2014, when I walked 7 kilometers from my hotel in Da Nang to the Lady Buddha crest.

Later, in July, I was back in Hoi An and got to spend an entire day traipsing around Monkey Mountain, drinking in the views and marveling at how puny the enormous Buddha statue is compared with the mountain itself.

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Ocean and mountains within walking distance of each other – at China Beach near Monkey Mountain

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It’s possible to walk to Monkey Mountain right from the beach

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Fishing boats line the sand after being dragged in from the morning’s catch

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The beach is beautiful from below, but even better when viewed from Monkey Mountain

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Holy crap! Check out the view of Da Nang and we’re not even at the top yet!

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No one knows how to nap like the Vietnamese.

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Shrines and pagodas surround the grounds beneath the giant Lady Buddha statue

Thar she blows! Enormous and looking very much like the Virgin Mary

Thar she blows! Enormous and looking very much like the Virgin Mary

The waters surrounding Monkey Mountain are filled with islands and islets - you can't tell which way is up because the ocean is on every side!

The waters surrounding Monkey Mountain are filled with islands and islets – you can’t tell which way is up because the ocean is on every side!

Monkey Mountain is a popular place for Vietnamese tourists to come and pray

Monkey Mountain is a popular place for Buddhist tourists to come and pray

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Monkey Mountain is a popular place for school groups and families

When I first visited in February, the clouds over Monkey Mountain were CRAZY

When I first visited in February, the clouds over Monkey Mountain were CRAZY

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There is a huge debate about how old this tree really is - somewhere between 200 and 2,000 years!

There is a huge debate about how old this tree really is – somewhere between 200 and 2,000 years!

While the Lady Buddha is the main event, it's not uncommon to find other statues and relics scattered across the mountain

While the Lady Buddha is the main event, it’s not uncommon to find other statues and relics scattered across the mountain

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You too can do yoga on top of Monkey Mountain!

This woman derobed and climbed this rock JUST so this dude could take her picture.

This woman derobed and climbed this rock JUST so this dude could take her picture.

The prettiest sky ever over Monkey Mountain

The prettiest sky ever over Monkey Mountain

After your 7k hike (or 14 if you're up for the round trip), you can take a dip in Temple Da Nang's sweet pool to cool off

After your 7k hike (or 14 if you’re up for the round trip), you can take a dip in Temple Da Nang’s sweet pool to cool off

Have you ever been to Monkey Mountain in Da Nang, Vietnam?

How was it? What did you do? 

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Travel Yoga in a Rice Paddy in Vietnam

Travel yoga can be a challenge, especially in remote locations or areas that simply don’t offer yoga classes.

Luckily I’m spending the summer in Hoi An, a town that has managed to create a perfect balance between touristy offerings (waxing! Western-style lattes! Fast WiFi!) and authentic Vietnamese culture (coffee! plastic chairs! swimming in your pajamas!).

That means that yoga studios don’t dot every corner like in over-touristed Luang Prabang, but the yoga classes that are offered here in Hoi An are dynamite.

Stephanie of Hoi An Yoga in Hoi An, Vietnam invited me to do “rice paddy yoga” just outside the city.

The surroundings were gorgeous – you really are in the middle of rice fields, and on the way there I biked past many people working in the paddies. They were wearing traditional hats, raking the land with rusty tools, the whole nine yards.

I had never done yoga outside before, and being able to breathe fresh air while watching the sun set over the river was a truly spiritual experience.

When you’re in Hoi An you can book with Stephanie by visiting http://HoiAnYoga.com.

Click play now to check out my yoga adventure:

Have you ever done yoga in a strange location before?

How do you keep up with your yoga practice while traveling? 

Don’t forget to SUBSCRIBE to our email list to follow my solo female travel adventures and get your FREE travel guide, 175 Ways to Travel Today.

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Quick+Dirty Takeaway

1. Travel yoga is a great way to stay fit on the road - you can do it inside during bad weather and outside during great weather!

2. Travel yoga in Asia is a lot cheaper than yoga back home - $5-$7 per class instead of $10-$15 per class or more.

3. In Hoi An, you can do yoga on the beach and yoga in a rice paddy with Stephanie from Hoi An Yoga.

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

12-City Southeast Asia Travel Itinerary

Planning Southeast Asia travel can be really daunting.

There are a million places to see and things to do, and if your time and budget are limited it can be tough to pick and choose where to go and when.

That’s why I’ve laid out this year’s Southeast Asia circle tour in detail.  If you’re feeling overwhelmed while planning your trip, you can simply follow in my footsteps!

Below I’ve listed

  • Which city/country I visited
  • What hotel/hostel/guest house I stayed at
  • The best thing I did/saw in that city
  • How much time I spent there
  • What to watch out for
  • How I traveled between each city (bus/train/plane)

Let’s go!

1. Vientiane, Laos

southeast-asia-travel-vientiane

Where I stayed: The Funky Monkey Hostel – private room for $12/night. This place definitely had a hostel vibe, but the private rooms are on a different floor from the dorms so they’re pretty quiet.

The best thing I did: Visited Buddha Park

How long I stayed: 6 days – if you’re not working as you travel, you can easily see all there is to see in Vientiane in 1 or 2 days.

Watch out for: The Lonely Planet Guide to Laos, which says you can take a bus to Buddha Park. In fact, you can only take a bus to the Friendship Bridge. From there you have to take a 50,000 kip tuk tuk to Buddha Park.

Also, don’t buy electronics (ear buds, cell phone chargers) at the “Apple Store” in the Talat Sao mall. They’re shit quality and will break as soon as you buy them.

How I got out: 12+ hour bus ride to Luang Prabang.

2. Luang Prabang, Laos

southeast-asia-travel-luang-prabang

Where I stayed: Central Backpackers Hostel – very hostely, private rooms from $12+/night, thin walls, noisy, friendly staff, slow WiFi, free breakfast but it’s pretty gross (and I’ve had a LOT of free hotel breakfasts on my journey).

The best thing I did: It’s a toss up between a trek with Tiger Trail and teaching English to the monks at Big Brother Mouse.

How long I stayed: 2 weeks.

Watch out for: Flies at food stalls in the day market, scammy tuk tuk drivers, women on the street who ask you to “come talk to my daughter, she just happens to be leaving for college in the town you happen to be from, won’t you come have dinner at our house?” (SCAM! RUN!)

How I got out: Mini-bus to Nong Khiaw (3-4+ hours)

3. Nong Khiaw, Laos (and Muang Ngoi Neua)

southeast-asia-travel-nong-khiaw

Where I stayed: The Sunrise Bungalows ($10/night for a private riverside bungalow. Beautiful, bare bones but your own bathroom and balcony. Pray your neighbors are quiet because you’re basically sleeping outside and can hear everything).

The best thing I did: Hiked to “the Lookout Point” – it’s a tough hike up the main mountain in town and may take you a good 90 minutes to reach the summit, but the stunning views are more than worth it.

How long I stayed: 6 days. There’s not much to do here but relax. I could’ve stayed longer.

Watch out for: Noise. The set up couldn’t be more peaceful (picture yourself lounging in a hammock on a balcony that overlooks a sweeping river gorge below), but there is constant thumping music coming from the boat dock and noisy boats passing by all day.

How I got out: Mini-bus back to Luang Prabang followed by a flight to Hanoi, Vietnam.

southeast-asia-travel-muang-ngoi-neua

A note about Muang Ngoi Neua:  This is a tiny river village about an hour’s boat ride north of Nong Khiaw. I stayed here for one night at a bungalow owned by a Swiss guy named Gabriel. (He’ll be the only white guy waiting at the boat landing and he’ll walk you to the bungalow himself). It’s definitely worth a visit but keep in mind that it’s off the grid completely – Lonely Planet says there is WiFi but THERE IS NOT. There is barely cell reception. 

4. Hanoi, Vietnam

southeast-asia-travel-hanoi

Where I stayed: Lakeside Hostel and Hanoi Hostel on several different occasions. Both were around $12/night for a private room. Lakeside has smelly rooms without windows and unfriendly staff. Hanoi Hostel has friendlier staff, good free breakfast, and large (if a bit dusty) private rooms.

The best thing I did: Walked around the Old Quarter and Hoan Kiem Lake area. There is so much to see in Hanoi simply walking around – the colors, the people, the sites and smells are simply brilliant. Seeing Tet fireworks over the lake on Vietnamese New Year’s Eve was stunning too.

How long I stayed: 5 days, then two weeks, then on and off again for a day or two here and there. Hanoi is a travel hub so if you’re journeying to Cat Ba, Sa Pa or southern cities you’ll probably have to stay here and depart from here.

Watch out for: Scammy taxi drivers, scammy street vendors. Do your research on what things should cost before you go, and don’t be afraid to bargain and/or walk away if the price is too high.

How I got out: Bus/boat/bus combo to Cat Ba Island.

5. Cat Ba, Vietnam

118

Where I stayed: Ali Baba’s Hotel and Restaurant

The best thing I did: Boat tour of Ha Long Bay and the floating villages surrounding Cat Ba

How long I stayed: 6 days initially, then I went back later for 6 weeks

Watch out for: Slow WiFi, no computer shops, nowhere to get a bikini wax.

How I got out: Bus/boat/bus back to Hanoi, followed by a 16-hour bus ride to Da Nang.

6. Da Nang, Vietnam

southeast-asia-travel-danang

Where I stayed: Sea Wonder Hotel near the beach – $14/night, semi-private balcony, walking distance to the beach. Friendly staff, the food in the downstairs restaurant is decent but overpriced.

The best thing I did: Hiked to the big Buddha statue at the base of Monkey Mountain – the views of Da Nang from here are simply stunning. The Cham Museum in town is also worth a visit. There are also beautiful bridges lining the river that leads to the ocean – at night they are lit up in stunning electric.

How long I stayed: 8 days. You may not stay as long if you want something more touristy. Da Nang has beautiful beaches, great coffee culture, and amazing seafood, but it is very much a ‘local’s town’ – not many tourists, simply a shining, modern city where regular Vietnamese people live and work. I loved it here.

Watch out for: No menus in English depending on where you go, less English spoken here than in Hanoi or HCMC. Also, if you stay by the beach you should rent a motorbike b/c it gets pricey taking a taxi to and from the ‘downtown’ part of the city (where you’ll want to go for dinner, museums, etc).

How I got out: Motorbiked down to Hoi An, returned by motorbike then flew to HCMC.

7. Hoi An, Vietnam

southeast-asia-travel-hoian

Where I stayed: Jolie Homestay – $16/night for a huge private room in a house with a very kind Vietnamese family.

The best thing I did: Hard to choose – I loved taking the Hoi An Photography Tour almost as much as I loved swimming with the locals at An Bang Beach.

How long I stayed: 4 days initially. I’m actually back in Hoi An for the summer because I loved it so much (at the time of writing I’ve now been here for 5 weeks).

Watch out for: Scammy food vendors (a baguette should NOT cost 15,000 dong, it should be 10,000 or less!) My friend got pick pocketed here by way of a very common ‘coin scam’. If someone wants to show you their coins or see your coins, run.

How I got out: Motorbike back up to Da Nang then flew to HCMC.

8. Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

southeast-asia-travel-hcmc

Where I stayed: The Spring House Hotel in District 1. $17+/night. Very much a hotel. Nice enough room, no free breakfast, good location across from the park and a block away from some seriously astounding nightlife.

The best thing I did: Visited the War Remnants Museum. I can’t begin to express how moved and shaken I was by this experience.

How long I stayed: 5 days. You could easily go higher or lower, the city is positively massive and I didn’t begin to explore all it has to offer.

Watch out for: Motorbike pick pockets. Hang on to your stuff and make sure to utilize zippers.

How I got out: Bus to Sa Dec booked through the hotel.

9. Sa Dec, Vietnam

southeast-asia-travel-sadec

Where I stayed: Thao Ngan Hotel. $11/night. Pure hotel, windows that looked out onto a brick wall. Close to the market and the bus station.

The best thing I did: Enjoyed the best pho I had in Vietnam. The restaurant is called Pho Hien. From the hotel, walk across the bridge back toward the bus station and it will be on your left, set back away from the street.

How long I stayed: 4 days. The only thing “to do” here is to see the The Lover house – a local one-story abode made famous because it used to be owned by the nameless lover featured in Marguerite Duras’ novel.

Watch out for: Scammy cab drivers and scammy transpo in general. The taxi driver that took me from the bus station to the hotel tried to charge me about 10x what it should have cost. The hotel also massively overcharged for a bus ticket out of town.

How I got out: Local bus to Chau Doc.

10. Chau Doc, Vietnam

southeast-asia-travel-chaudoc

Where I stayed: Trung Nguyen Hotel across from the main market in town. $15/night. Balcony. Free breakfast and transpo to the boat to Cambodia (which is why you stay in Chau Doc – to catch the fast boat to Phnom Penh).  

The best thing I did: Walked along the riverfront. It’s amazing to watch people living their lives on the water – eating dinner on their tiny wooden boats, paddling across the wide waters standing upright, living their lives on floating structures.

How long I stayed: 1 night

Watch out for: Not much English spoken here – if you need help ask at your hotel before leaving the building. Tuk tuk drivers will ask for tips for taking you 100 yards.

How I got out: The fast boat to Cambodia arranged through my hotel.

11. Phnom Penh, Cambodia

southeast-asia-travel-pp

Where I stayed: The Mad Monkey Hostel. Friendly staff. Privates from $13/night. Overpriced Western food in the downstairs restaurant. The first floor is a bar and the music pumps all day and night and can be heard in the upstairs rooms.

I was so irritated with this I changed to the Salita Hotel in the central part of the city. Three times the price but much, much nicer (and quieter!).

The best thing I did: Feasted in the night market near the river. There are a lot of different markets to see in Phnom Penh and lots to do. By the time I got here I was beat and could only manage to gorge myself on street food.

How long I stayed: 6 days.

Watch out for: Oppressive heat, pollution/car exhaust, pick pockets, traffic, diarrhea, and – say it with me now – scammy tuk tuk drivers.

How I got out: Mini-bus to Siem Reap.

12. Siem Reap, Cambodia

southeast-asia-travel-siemreap

Where I stayed: Sam So Guest House. Best free breakfast of them all, incredibly friendly staff, $12/night for a private ($17/night if you want air-con).

The best thing I did: Angkor Wat was incredible, but I really loved taking a private motorbike tour with my friend Ratha who showed me the surrounding villages and countryside outside the city. (If you’re in Siem Reap and want to see “the real Cambodia,” email me and I’ll put you in touch with Ratha).

How long I stayed: 3 weeks. You can do Angkor Wat in a day, or in 3 days, or in a week. The area is enormous and the ruins seem to never end. But Siem Reap is a lovely river town, a great place to live and work. I found it to be a fantastic resting place to relax at the end of 3 months of hectic Southeast Asia travel.

Watch out for: Theft. I never had anything stolen but have heard countless stories of people getting their phones jacked. Also, watch out for “the milk scam” – if a kid comes up to you begging for you to buy her milk (for “her baby” or “her sister”), don’t do it.

She has a deal with whatever store she takes you to where she can sell the milk back to the store for cash. Cash that she then gives to her “keeper” (like a pimp for begging kids) so the child you think you’re helping does not benefit in any way.

How I got out: Flew to Hanoi because one month was not enough time in Vietnam!

Where will you go on your Southeast Asia travel itinerary? 

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Why Vietnamese Women Don’t Get Fat

Before I came to Vietnam, I was under the impression that Vietnamese women, and Asian women in general, were simply genetically gifted.

That is to say, I thought they just came out of the womb tiny and beautiful, and naturally stayed that way their entire lives without having to exude any sort of extra effort to do so.

After all, the  typical Vietnamese woman or Thai woman is all of the things Western women strive to be – thin, petite, with gorgeous straight hair and creamy, chestnut-colored skin (skin they spend their lives trying to whiten, but that’s another post).

They don’t get fat. They don’t age. They seem to be walking miracles of beauty, earthly Goddesses who can get away with wearing pajamas in public and somehow still manage to look fantastic.

Imagine my surprise when, after nearly four months in Vietnam, I began to realize that Vietnamese women put in a monstrous effort in order to remain tiny and thin and beautiful.

Sure, a small part of their good looks can be traced to genetic good fortune, but a larger part has to do with cultural habits that are woven into the fabric of their day.

Here are 7 things Vietnamese women do (and don’t do) in order to keep looking and feeling their best.

Warning: This post is filled with gross generalizations. 

1. They don’t eat wheat

vietnamese-women-fresh-food

Notice I didn’t say carbs, I said wheat. There is a whole lot of rice being consumed here on the daily, but hardly any wheat or other grains. Noodles, dumplings, it’s all made out of rice.

A typical meal at my guesthouse consists of rice with a small serving of fish or meat (typically pork) plus vegetables and soup. No bread, no pasta, nothing fried, nothing microwaved.

It’s interesting to note that it’s most definitely white rice too, not supposedly-healthier brown rice we’ve always heard is better for you.

2. Their desserts aren’t sweet

You’d be hard-pressed to see a Vietnamese woman mowing down on some cake – heck, you’d be hard-pressed to find cake. One day at the beach I decided to treat myself to an ice cream cone, and I was given some sort of cross between sorbet and gelato – definitely not the creamy, fatty goodness I was looking for.

Traditional desserts are naturally sweet and include things like coconut, coconut milk, peanuts, fruit, and even beans. The other night I tried some kind of green tea gelatin thing, which was light years away from the Western idea of a dessert.

It’s brilliant thinking – make desserts kind of gross and no one will want them.

vietnamese-women-old-lady

Vietnamese women (and men, and kids!) also eat a lot of fruit. Fruit is incorporated into one’s daily diet – sometimes as dessert, sometimes as a snack.

But even the fruits aren’t as sweet as ours are – many are sour, bitter. People’s palettes are different, trained to enjoy foods that are healthy and dislike foods that are heavy, sugary, fatty.

My friend Tina took me for “dessert” one day and we had large glasses filled with all different types of fruit.

“Do you want sugar in yours?” she asked.

“Does the rain in Spain stay mainly in the plain?” I replied.

After we’d finished, I asked her if she had also gotten her dessert “with sugar.”

“Of course not” was her reply.

3. They don’t drink beer

After 3 months in Vietnam I have seen exactly two Vietnamese women drink beer. The first was this terribly obnoxious person who I think was on drugs, the second was my guest owner who indulged in half a glass of beer while out to dinner for a special occasion.

Beer, alcohol, and cigarettes are considered “men’s business” in Vietnam. It’s not ladylike to walk around sloshed, but it’s also not practical – women need to be stone cold sober so the house stays clean and the kids stay fed.

Thanks to these cultural roles and beliefs, the women also don’t develop beer bellies.

4. They LOVE to exercise

vietnamese-women-exercise

The Vietnamese love to go to the beach and play in the water (though many don’t/can’t swim). They also love to exercise every day!

Whether it’s outdoor aerobics in the park or Tai Chi in front of the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, they are out there, working it, in the early mornings or late afternoons.

vietnamese-women-beach

It also helps that in many cities across Asia there are outdoor exercise parks – imagine your health club, except outside, and free. Fitness is not only a cultural priority, it’s government-sanctioned.

5. They play with their kids

My current guest house owner is the general manager of a hotel and works up to 60 hours a week. But the second she comes home, she’s down on the floor, rolling around with her 9-year old daughter and 18-month old son.

They play, they dance, they sing, they laugh. Family time is a top priority, and I swear the calories she burns from chasing the baby around are a big part of what keeps her so slim.

6. Their food is labor-intensive

The Vietnamese make it really difficult to eat, which means they eat less, which in turn keeps them thin.

You can’t simply shovel food into your mouth, because that food first has to be unshelled, de-boned, pitted, separated, or defrocked in some way.

Nothing is packaged, most foods come straight from the source. So if you’re having shrimp, you first need to remove the shell and the head and the legs. And that takes time.

vietnamese-women-featured

At the end of your meal, you’ve spent about 50% of your time preparing to eat, and 50% actually eating. The end result is less food ends up in your stomach (and on your hips).

I think this technique in particular would be great for Americans. Make it harder for us to get at the pie – like, put it behind a locked glass door or at the end of a complicated maze – and we’re much less likely to eat it. Too much effort.

7. They’re constantly on the move

Vietnamese women are always on the move. My guest house owner is back and forth from work to home a half dozen times per day. She’s taking the kids to school, picking them up, going back to work, running to the market, and on and on and on, all day every day.

You might be saying “But Rebekah, I’m a stressed out mess and I’m constantly on the move too, how come I don’t weight 90 pounds?”

vietnamese-women-manual-labor

The difference between our running around and the running around of Vietnamese women is that they do it joyfully.

If I have 87 places to go in a single day, I’m stressed out and grumbling. If Phuong has 87 places to go, she thinks nothing of it.

Why?

Because she has no sense of entitlement. We have this secret belief that we shouldn’t have to do all these errands – that someone else should be doing them for us.

We resent hard work, which is the main factor that leads to our increased stress levels (and we all watch Dr. Oz – stress is the #1 cause of weight gain!)

Vietnamese women, on the other hand, have no inkling that they shouldn’t have to work hard – they expect it. They accept it.

And because of that, life flows through them in a way that keeps them healthy and content with just enough.

Which of these habits could you see yourself adopting into your own life?

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Quick+Dirty Takeaway

1. They don't eat wheat

2. Their desserts aren't sweet

3. They don't drink beer

4. They LOVE to exercise

5. They play with their kids

6. Their food is labor-intensive

7. They're constantly on the move

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

Top 10 Things Said During 6 Months of Travel

Last December, when I’d been out of the country for less than a month, I met Shirine, my friend and co-conspirator who frequently guest posts here on the blog.

At the time, Shirine had just finished 6 months of travel and was looking forward to another 5-6 years on the road.

I remember thinking “Wow! 6 months?! That is such a long time!”

The other day I passed the 6-month mark, and I really can’t believe I’ve made it this far, especially after getting off to such a rocky start.

I’m not a seasoned traveler like many bloggers – I’m a total newbie, especially compared to folks who’ve been on the road for 3, 5, 10 years.

But 6 months has been enough time to a) completely shift my perspective on, well, just about everything, and b) collect some awesome travel quotes.

I like when bloggers do milestone check-ins, recounting what they’ve learned after 12 months, 2 years, or a decade of nomadism.

Instead of going into what I’ve learned, which can be easily summed up as “Everything I thought I knew about everything was wrong,” I thought it’d be more fun to honor some of the verbal gems that have been thrown my way during my time in Nepal, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

#10 – “Why are you so fat?”

This woman is only 87 years old, but looks much older from a life of hard living

“Why are you so fat?”

Where it happened: A remote village somewhere outside Chitwan, Nepal

Who said it: A paper-thin, impossibly frail, startling ancient grandmother. She was 87 but looked about 127, and she wasn’t trying to be rude. She really wanted to know what the hell I was eating to make me 4x her size.

My response: “Because I’m American. Can I take your picture?”

#9 – “Your number is old, but your face is young”

"You number is old, but your face is young"

“You number is old, but your face is young”

Where it happened: Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Who said it: My friend Thida, after asking how old I was. She was interested in hooking me up with her friend Ritti, but once she found out I was 32 (ancient in Asia, but especially in Cambodia), she changed her mind.

My response: “Thank you. In my country, it’s hip to date older women. Ritti should reconsider. I can be his cougar.”

#8 – “You give me your money!”

Where it happened: On a rickety local bus somewhere between Sa Dec and Chau Doc, Mekong Delta, Vietnam.

Who said it: An old woman sitting next to me on the bus. I was the only foreigner on the bus, and when she saw me, I could see the wheels start turning.

I could tell she used to speak English, used to use it regularly, but that it had been years since she’d spoken the language, and languages have a funny way of abandoning you without constant attention.

She sat next to me, smiling and struggling, and I waited patiently for her to remember “Hello” and “How are you?” and “Nice to meet you, my name is Phuong.”

Instead, what popped out what the most important phrase in the English language,

My response: I smiled, repeated the phrase back to her, and held out my palm so she could give me her money. We had a good laugh and she didn’t pester me again.

#7 – “I would never eat my own dog”

Where it happened: Cat Ba Island  Vietnam

Who said it: My friend Mr. Tuyen as he was explaining the subtle nuances of dog-consumption to me.

“But to me, a dog is like a member of the family. I could never eat a dog.”

Mr. Tuyen then clarified that one never eats the family dog – that would be barbaric – one only eats other people’s family dogs. Or stray dogs, because they’re tasty too.

My response: “You’re sure this is chicken, right?”

#6 – “Why must you wash your body every day?”

"Why must you wash your body every day?"

“Why must you wash your body every day?”

Where it happened: The middle of nowhere in Nepal

Who said it: Deepak, in response to my request to take a shower after a gnarly round of food poisoning.

My request was denied because there was a) no shower, and b) no reason that Deepak could see to shower, since I’d just showered yesterday.

My response: Silence. Because when pressed, I honestly couldn’t think of one good reason that I absolutely had to wash my body every day.

#5 – “Turn! It! Off!”

"Turn! It! Off!"

“Turn! It! Off!”

Where it happened: That same village in Nepal

Who said it: A group of 12 screaming children who were first frightened, then awed, then utterly bored with my iPhone.

They sort of hated my iPhone, in fact, and had much more fun chanting “Turn! It! Off!” then they did playing with the phone itself.

My response: I turned it off, and we played with the goats instead.

#4 – “My father is possessed by the Monkey King”

Where it happened: Siem Reap, Cambodia

Who said it: My friend Ritti, as an explanation for his father’s symptoms of mental illness.

My response: “Why the Monkey King?” Why? Because my father screeches, scratches himself, throws things, and crawls around on the roof, that’s why.

The diagnosis actually sounded pretty reasonable to me when explained like that.

#3 – “What is this remedy?”

"What is this remedy?"

“What is this remedy?”

Where it happened: Chitwan, Nepal

Who said it: Deepak’s brother, after I asked him for some soap and hot water.

My response: “This remedy is called soap. It is a foamy liquid that, when used regularly, can prevent rounds of vomiting like the one I’ve just endured due to your total lack of soap-use in preparing my meal.”

Just kidding, I didn’t say that. But he really was curious, as if hot water + soap was some sort of magical elixir with powers to wake the dead and move mountains. As if he’d never seen someone combine the two before (and truth be told, he probably hadn’t).

#2 – “She is 13 and just married. I think it is too young.”

Where it happened: Nepal. The village. Are you starting to notice a pattern of one-liner awesomeness here?

Who said it: Deepak, when a 13-year old newlywed stopped by my sick room to ogle me along with the rest of the villagers.

My response: “Ya think?!

#1 – “You know, I won’t be a monk forever.”

"You know, I won't be a monk forever."

“You know, I won’t be a monk forever.”

Where it happened: Muang Ngoi Neua, Laos

Who said it: A 16-year old Buddhist monk who had just given me a tour of his temple.

My response: “I’m old enough to be your mother.” Ok, if I had gotten knocked up at 16. But still.

We then took some photos together, him giggling the entire time and saying things like “You know we can’t touch you, right?”

What’s the best one-liner you’ve heard while traveling?

What questions do you get asked all the time?

When people ask you questions that would be considered rude in your culture, does it piss you off or do you take it with a grain of salt?

Author: Rebekah Voss – the Founder of TheHappyPassport.com and a cheerleader for solo female travelers everywhere.

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

Quick+Dirty Takeaway

10. "Why are you so fat?"

9. "Your number is old, but your face is young."

8. "You give me your money!"

7. "I would never eat my own dog."

6. "Why must you wash your body every day?"

5. "Turn! It! Off!"

4. "My father is possessed by the Monkey King."

3. "What is this remedy?"

2. "She is 13 and just married. I think it is too young."

1. "You know, I won't be a monk forever."

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

A Morning at Marble Mountain – Part 2

In our quest to see the entirety of Central Vietnam in a single day, Dan and I must move quickly – it’s already almost noon we’re only halfway done!

Having survived a near-death free fall from the top of Marble Mountain to the bottom, it’s time to head south to heavenly Hoi An.

11:47am: Hoi An Ancient Town 

We drop my bags off at my hotel, park the bikes, and continue on foot to Hoi An’s Ancient Town.

The city is set along the banks of the Thu Bồn River, its well-preserved ancient town bursting with colorful buildings and narrow, winding streets that make you feel you’ve stepped into another time and place.

120,000 dong ($6) gains you entrance into the five “attractions,” of your choice.

marble-mountain

Hoi An Ancient Town

We check out….

  • The Japanese Bridge
  • The Museum of History and Culture
  • The Tan Ky family house (200 years old and the ancestors of the original family still live here!)
  • The Cam Pho communal house, where Chinese immigrants held meetings and discussed town matters
  • The Quong Cong Temple, where huge circular spirals of incense are always burning to bless those who have purchased a “place” in the temple
marble-mountain-lanterns

Quong Cong Temple

The Japanese Bridge, Hoi An

The Japanese Bridge, Hoi An

After a quick lunch of traditional Cao Lau, a Hoi An specialty noodle dish made with pork, fresh greens, peanuts, and mint leaves, we are off to our last destination – the incomparable My Son ruins!

2:12pm My Son

The Champa ruins at My Son date back to the 2nd century. This collection of Hindu temples is yet another UNESCO World Heritage site in Central Vietnam, and according to Dan, is supposed to be “the most beautiful place in the entire country.”

Pronounced “MEE sun,” My Son is about 50 kilometers from Hoi An.

We learn that the site shuts down at 5pm.

“How long will it take us to get to My Son?” we ask my hotel concierge.

“Two, two and a half hours” she says. “You’d better leave now.”

We exchange a look that says “There’s no way it’s going to take us over two hours to go 50 kilometers!”, hop on our bikes, and head southwest towards the sun.

4:52pm My Son?

It’s been nearly three hours since we’ve left Hoi An, and neither Dan, I, or our combined smartphone powers have been able to get us closer to our goal.

marble-mountain

Somewhere between Hoi An and My Son

Names of streets appear then disappear, or change completely, or never existed in the first place.

Highways suddenly end, turns are missed, roundabouts send us back where we came from.

But we’re on the right track now, we think. I hope.

The sun is inching ever closer to the horizon. I’m tired and stressed that it’s so late, but the incredible surroundings make it difficult to succumb to negativity.

We’ve been up and over an enormous mountain that offered sweeping views of endless green fields and colorful towns.

We’ve seen gravestones painted like Christmas presents, bright altars lined up along the perimeter of lush rice paddies.

We’ve descended said mountain into a secret valley where locals plough their fields with the help of beefy buffalo, and children’s eyes bulge at the sight of white skin.

Dan’s GPS steers us down a dirt road that’s becoming increasingly narrow, increasingly rocky.

We pass a group of construction workers and then there is nothing, just us, the road, fields in Vietnamese green and blue mountains like Japanese brush paintings.

The road becomes more of a path – the kind you walk on, not drive a motorbike upon.

We stop to double check our phones. Yep, according to King Google this is the way. And we’re close, maybe just another five kilometers.

If we get there before the strike of 5pm, maybe we can bribe the ticket taker to let us in, if only for a few minutes.

We’ve not lost hope! Let’s go! Let’s do this! Let’s….

Start the motorbike already.

Dan disappears around the bend, and I struggle with the ignition.

It’s not turning over.

I wait a second, breathe, then try again.

Dead.

Am I doing it wrong? This is my first day on a motorbike, after all, and there does seem to be a delicate finesse required as one presses the left handle while revving the right.

I try doing it wrong on purpose. I try doing it backwards. I try waiting. I try again.

Dan is long gone, out of site beyond the curve of the road, and I am alone, all alone in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the central coast of Vietnam.

The sun is starting to set, and there is a chill in the air at this higher elevation. I’m in nothing but a tank top, with nothing else to keep me warm.

Seconds tick by. Then minutes. Dan doesn’t return.

I watch my thoughts with interest. These are the moments in which I thrive. My mind can make a mountain out of a molehill, but when faced with an actual mountain, I become instantly present, instantly calm. Someone cutting in line in front of me at the airport gets me more riled up than this….

marble-mountain-sunset

I wonder if I could camp out in that rice field tonight…

This being the strong possibility of being stranded on a dirt road leading to nowhere, unforgiving rock face to my right, sweeping fields of nothingness to my left.

“I wonder how cold it will be if I have to sleep outside tonight?” I think.

“If I walk back now and try to find help, will someone steal my bike?” I think.

“Dan’s not coming back for me” I think. “I’ve slowed him down all day.”

And truly, I have. Something about Dan made me relax, to point of indulging in solo travel sloppiness. I was so relieved to have a travel partner, if only for a day, that I relied entirely upon Dan for my survival.

He watched as I lost control of the motorbike while parked, the heavy burden crashing to the ground in front of a group of locals.

He saved me when twice I tried to pay for a 10,000 dong bottle of water with a 100,000 dong note (they look so similar!)

Something about Dan made me let go, let my guard down, take a much-needed break from a constant state of self protection.

And now he is gone.

marble-mountain-featured

“Where the hell are we?”

I begin to worry about paying for two hotel rooms tonight – my room back in Hoi An and whatever room I can find after walking to wherever the nearest hotel might be.

My phone is about to die.

I start to shiver from the mountain air, and have resigned myself to leaving the bike and continuing back the way we came on foot, when….

A blue silhouette appears around the bend, backlit by the setting sun, a lone figure against fields of brilliant green.

He is running up the road toward me, an Adonis kicking up dust, a savior from some ancient dimension sent to rescue a maiden in distress.

I almost cry with relief, but Dan would never go for that, so I play it cool and wait patiently as he catches his breath – he’d gotten a few miles up the road before he noticed I was no longer behind him.

The bike is indeed dead, very dead, and just as we’re weighing our options as to what could possibly be done in the middle of nowhere in the middle of Vietnam, we hear a rumbling sound.

This road, this path, is definitely not made for motorbikes, and it’s most definitely not made for cars, let alone giant flatbed trucks.

And yet there it is – this truck that just happens to pull up right when we need help, just happens to be the kind of truck meant for hauling large items, just happens to be completely empty with a bed just dying for a dead motorbike.

With much hand gesturing, we get two Vietnamese construction-worker-angels to load the bike into their truck bed and drive me back to town while Dan follows behind on his motorbike.

They take me to the only motorbike repair shop in town, then drive off into the sunset as if they’d never existed.

“You didn’t thank them” says Dan.

The repair shop owner takes one look at the bike, one look at me, and grabs the key from my hand.

He places it into the ignition, puts a practiced palm on the handles, and starts the bike instantly.

Dan and I stare in shock. The owner – and surrounding children who’ve gathered to gawk – laughs heartily. He turns the bike off and turns it on again, just to rub it in.

 

7:45pm Back in Hoi An

Dan and I commiserate over dinner. Our mission has been a partial failure which, to a Wisconsinite like Dan, is a total and utter travel fail.

Drowning our sorrows in cao lau

“Hey, three out of four isn’t bad!” I say.

“My Son was the only thing I really wanted to see” says Dan.

At least we got to see Marble Mountain. And the charming ancient town of Hoi An. And some seriously breathtaking countryside that we never would have seen if we hadn’t gotten lost.

The moral of the story?

It’s stupid to try and cram a zillion things into a single day. You end up feeling rushed and stressed, and you don’t begin to scratch the surface of what your destination really has to offer.

Plus, you’ll probably end up lost in the middle of nowhere with a dead motorbike.

For Part 1 of A Morning at Marble Mountain, click here

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Quick+Dirty Takeaway

1. Technically, can you can see Da Nang, Marble Mountain, Hoi An and My son in a single day.

2. It's better to see less stuff than to try and cram a zillion things into a single day. We didn't have nearly enough time in Hoi An, and were so rushed that we ended up getting totally lost on the way to My Son.

3. I am infinitely grateful to a pair of construction-worker-angels who came to our rescue when my motorbike died in the middle of nowhere.

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

A Morning at Marble Mountain – Part 1

The second I hear Dan’s voice I know I know him.

“California!” I shout, pointing at him in the middle of a hotel lobby in Da Nang, Vietnam.

“Wrong” he says. “Weak guess,” he says, and I instantly like him.

How ironic that I guessed he’s from my home-away-from-home, when it turns out he’s from my home-home, the great state of Wisconsin.

After having a very typical “Oh-my-God-you’re-from-Wisconsin-too?!” discussion, which inevitably includes phrases like “Miller Park!” and “Don’t you miss cheese?” and “Isn’t it funny how PBR is now a hipster thing?,” I learn that Dan is in Asia to teach English.

On a break between teaching gigs in South Korea and China, he has exactly 2 weeks to see Vietnam. And in true Sconie style, Dan is determined to use those 2 weeks to see all of Vietnam.

The next day I find myself renting a motorbike for the first time in my life and hoping to God Dan knows what he’s talking about when he says it’s “really easy” to ride.

7:23am China Beach, Da Nang

Swimming "spectacle" at China Beach

Swimming “spectacle” at China Beach

We start at China Beach in Da Nang because our hotel owner says that each day just after sunrise, hundreds of Vietnamese take to the sea for their morning swim. “A spectacle!” he says.

Our reward for waking up at this ungodly hour is half a dozen swimmers and a couple of dudes kicking around a soccer ball on the beach.

So there weren't hundreds of swimmers, but we DID see a few guys playing soccer!

So there weren’t hundreds of swimmers, but we DID see a few guys playing soccer!

“Fail” says Dan. “I’m in charge now.”

It’s all I can do to keep up with his speeding motorbike as it soars down the highway that hugs the coastline between Da Nang and Hoi An.

8:40am Marble Museum and outdoor showroom 

marble-mountain

Before we arrive at Marble Mountain, the next stop on our list, we’re distracted by an outdoor museum filled with enormous marble statues of all shapes and sizes.

There are many such places lining the road to Hoi An, which boasts 5-star resorts on the ocean-side of the road, and marble shop after marble shop on the mountain-side of the road.

It’s free to walk around and check out the statues, and we get the idea that purchasing one would easily cost billions of dong.

Before leaving we see a group of women polishing the marble, and one who even seems to be making adjustments to the size and shape of one of the statues with a power tool of some sort.

marble-mountain

I fancy her an exquisite artiste, though from looking at how the women are dressed and seeing their lack of a proper workspace, I assume the brilliant artistes are getting paid less than artiste wages.

9:01am On to Marble Mountain!

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Not to be confused with Monkey Mountain, home to the biggest Buddha statue in all of Vietnam, Marble Mountain is south of Da Nang and is exactly what it sounds like – a giant mountain made of marble.

The hill juts out of the earth suddenly, as if someone had been slowly carving away at her foothills for centuries (and people have – where do you think all the marble statues come from?)

Dan’s stuff is back at the hotel in Da Nang, but I’m staying in Hoi An this week and have all of my worldly possessions balanced precariously on the motorbike.

We park and find that there are no lockers, so I stash my backpack with the parking attendant and opt to carry my laptop case – filled with computer, chargers, my DSLR camera, and anything else remotely valuable – up the mountain with me.

marble-mountain

Marble Mountain is filled with labyrinths and caves and temples built into the slippery rock. You can see and feel the marble beneath your feet, and have to be careful so as not to slip and slide all the way down to the ground!

Dan leads me into a cave and through a narrow opening in the rock that may or may not be an official climbing area.

This guy is from Wisconsin, which means I’ll never hear the end of it if I punk out, so I squeeze through the narrow rock tunnel, shoving my giant bag in front of me and pushing it upwards with my hands.

It's Dan!

It’s Dan!

Next thing I know, we’re climbing upwards at an incredibly steep incline, and the entirety of Central Vietnam  suddenly sparkles into view. A large, flat rock juts out above all the others, and Dan is quick to leap upon it.

“Get up here!” he says, do-see-do-ing with me since the rock is only large enough for one person.

Alright, it’s no Nepal, but I do sort of feel on top of the world.

Until I have to get back down.

Climbing up was easy, but in order to get back down I must leap from one rock to another. The problem? Said rocks are a good 5 feet apart, the space between revealing a 500-meter drop to a cartoonish-looking receptacle of sharp marble spikes below.

I picture myself splayed across those spikes, each one stabbed through various major arteries. I imagine Dan attending my funeral in Wisconsin and trying to explain to my mother how I perished on top of Marble Mountain.

“No big deal” says Dan.

“C’mon, we’re wasting time!” says Dan.

I dance back and forth, about to make the leap, then thinking better of it, then working up my courage again.

It takes a good five minutes, but I finally get a running start and shoot my legs in front of me, landing hard on the rock face and scraping my legs up in the process.

“Was that so hard?” says Dan, shaking his head.

Yes. Yes it was.

I’m antsy to get back on the road, knowing we have a lot left to see.

“Five more minutes” says Dan, turning the corner to enter yet another cave. He disappears briefly then reappears, waving for me to follow him.

And I’m so glad I did.

Check out the guard in the lower left corner of the photo to get a sense of the scale

Check out the guard in the lower left corner of the photo to get a sense of the scale

Huyen Khong Cave is easily the largest cave I’ve ever been in, and the most beautiful. It is positively massive, with an enormous Buddha statue carved into the rock face, floating high upon the cave wall above our heads.

Candles illuminate the din, the face of the Buddha in shadow except for a few rays of sunlight that stream in from cracks in the cave ceiling.

We are afforded a solid two minutes of solitude here before a mass of tourists break the silence, but in those two minutes neither of us speaks. The energy is palpable – a sacred place.

marble-mountain-7

For some reason, Chinese characters have been carved into the rock face just to the right of the Buddha.

Dan is studying Chinese for his upcoming work assignment, and is eager to look up the meaning.

We throw out guesses, expecting no less than the profound, wise words of the Buddha or some poetry from Lao Tzu.

"Big dark cave."

“Big dark cave.”

“I found the translation” says Dan.

“What does it mean?” I ask.

“It means, ‘big, dark cave’” says Dan.

God, I love Vietnam.

Check back for part 2 of this series where Dan and I head to Hoi An and My Son on our 1-day lightning fast tour of Central Vietnam.

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Quick+Dirty Takeaway

1. Marble Mountain is definitely worth seeing - it's about halfway between Hoi An and Da Nang and is filled with beautiful temples, statues, and incredible caves.

2. Make SURE you wear slip-resistant shoes - the marble is incredibly slippery!

3. If you park "for free" at one of the many marble shops, you will be pressured heavily to buy something. If you don't, you'll probably be charged for parking. (luckily the parking and entrance fees are only a few dollars.)

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

My Life in One Pair of Shoes

It all started when I broke my cardinal packing rule, AKA the Noah’s Ark Edict of 2013.

In preparing for world travel, I only allowed myself two of everything – two pairs of pants, two t-shirts, two long sleeved shirts, two bras, and so on.

The only areas in which I let myself splurge were with underwear and shoes.

I’ve never been as stylish as I’d like to be.  I’m not one of those women that can walk into a store, grab three pieces off three separate racks, and emerge from the dressing room looking like the lovechild of Audrey Hepburn and Jackie O.

Maybe it’s because while I greatly admire fashion and the fashionable, I just can’t be bothered to make the effort. I’d much rather sleep in than spend time putting myself together each morning. I’d much rather take a bicycle ride than go shopping.

Or maybe it’s because anything that looks dynamite on a 5’11”, 110-pound fashion model always manages to make me look like I’m wearing a Robin Hood costume. That, or Mr. Potato Head.

Whatever it is, I wasn’t blessed with an innate sense of style.

Unless you’re talking about shoes.

I speak the language of shoes the way other women speak French. I can look at a pair and instantly know if the heel is the right size, if the curve of the arch is tall enough, if the color is a bit too camel-toned.

I could probably pick out a fantastic pair of shoes just by feeling them with my eyes closed.

So when it came time for my great exercise in minimalism, it was easy to give up the fabulous leather jacket I’d never wear during springtime in Southeast Asia, and the cocktail dress that would be painfully out of place in Nepal.

But my shoes? How could I possibly narrow them down to just two pairs?

Nearly 6 months later, none of the four pairs of shoes that made it into my bag that fateful November day are with me any longer. They’ve perished, dissolved into the mist of world travel, sacrificed to unseen nomadic gods.

As the proud owner of only one pair of shoes at this moment in time, I thought it would be fitting to eulogize my fallen comrades, seeing that they’ve carried me some 7,000 miles around the globe and back again.

Shoelogy – Remembering those shoes no longer with us

1. DSW Boots

Beloved reminders of Los Angeles, devoted protector of lower legs, eclectic chameleons for any season

I don’t even remember the designer (see? So not a fashioinista!), but I bought these fantastic over-the-knee leather boots right before I left for Nepal, and refused to leave them behind.

Then I arrived in Nepal, and the sheer fabulousness of these boots seemed to scream “MY FOOTWEAR COULD BUY AND SELL YOU ALL THREE TIMES OVER!”

They were embarrassing, inappropriate. When it came time to leave Nepal for the 85° weather of Southeast Asia, I simply left them in my Kathmandu hotel room.

I hoped the guy who worked at the front desk would give them to his sister or his girlfriend.

It felt so good to be rid of them, like an enormous weight was lifted.

2. Super Cute Chinese Laundry Flats

Humble servants, queens of comfort, examples of that elusive, true beauty to which we all aspire

Yes, they were sort of ballet flats, which I realize is so-five-years-ago but I didn’t care.

They were patent leather in a shade of pink so pale, so understated that it was like wearing an 18th century Geisha on my feet.

During the great boot sacrifice of New Year’s Eve, 2013, I closed the door to my hotel room, thought better of it, opened the door again and unpacked my bag.

I placed one flat inside the left boot, the other inside the right boot.

That way, whoever inherited the boots would be gifted with a little something extra, like being given a new car only to be told “that’s not all – look what’s on the passenger seat.” (In my gift-of-car fantasy there’s always a diamond ring on the passenger seat.)

3. Really Comfortable Hipsterish Brown Sneakers from Sketchers

Champions of long walks, climbers of many mountains, supportive confidantes

I did everything in these sneakers. Hiked the Himalayas. Trekked through the mountains in Northern Laos. Went jogging along the oceanfront in Vietnam.

They were getting old, and kind of smelly, and rather than stink up my hotel room at night I’d leave them outside my door. I was staying in my dear friend’s guest house, and thought it highly unlikely that anyone would want to steal my smelly old sneakers.

Until I woke up one morning and they were gone.

“Mr. Ba!” I said. “Where are my sneakers?”

After a few phone calls and much discussion, it turned out that one of the new staff members threw them in the garbage when he was cleaning my room.

That was the turning point, the moment that lead me to…

4. One Single, Solitary Pair of Flip Flops

Beach lovers, protectors from dirty bathroom floors, whimsical scamps on a mission

And then the ocean ate my flip flops.

It was nighttime, and the moonlight tide swirled in all around me, soaking my clothes and gulping up my remaining pair of shoes. (But it wasn’t my fault – I was justifiably distracted when it happened.)

For a few hours of my life, I was completely and utterly shoeless.

I was then gifted with a new pair of flip flops to replace the ones gobbled up by the sea, and I’ve yet to add another pair to my collection.

I sort of don’t want to.

After all, in Southeast Asia one can perform most required tasks while wearing flip flops, including riding a motor bike, doing construction work, exercising, and working in the rice fields.

Plus, I sort of like having one pair of shoes. World travel has highlighted the importance of traveling light, sure, but it’s more than that.

I used to have this terror of letting go – like if I didn’t own enough shoes, or enough pairs of jeans, I wouldn’t exist. I wouldn’t know who I was. I wouldn’t be seen. Ownership gave me an identity, a relationship to the world around me.

“I am Rebekah and those are my jeans, my laptop, my flip flops.”

When you’re sitting on the beach with the ocean sparkling beneath the moonlight and the taste of salt on your skin, you realize that the world has so much more to give you than shoes (or clothes, or a new car, or really good knives).

You realize that instead of making you feel more important, more secure, more together, the shoes have been blocking the moon from your view.

Of course, my shoelessness is infinitely different than many people’s shoelessness, because I can go out and buy another pair whenever I want. That’s not the case in many parts of the planet, as world travel to places like Nepal and Cambodia has been quick to reveal.

While I can’t promise I’ll be a one-shoe wonder forever, for right now it is the thing that is keeping me grounded, and the thing that’s teaching me who I really am – sans baggage, sans fear, sans desire to acquire more and more and more stuff, just for stuff’s sake.

Minimalism is addicting, like getting a tattoo. If it feels this good to own one pair of shoes, imagine how I’ll feel with one shirt? One pair of pants? One pair of underwear?!

Okay, maybe not one pair of underwear, but you get the idea.

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Quick+Dirty Takeaway

1. Accidentally owning a single pair of shoes has been the most spiritually fulfilling part of world travel thus far.

2. A Shoelogy is a eugoly for all the shoes you’ve lost during your travels. Don’t forget that it’s important to grieve.

3. Outfits that look good on fashion models make me look like Robin Hood.

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

Top 10 Travel Photography Tips for Aspiring Shutterbugs

Your visa is secured, the flight is booked, and you’ve been willingly injected with a cocktail of vaccinations to protect you from diseases you can’t even pronounce.

In short, you’re finally off to see the world!

In addition to scribbling wildly in a wine-stained journal and blogging about your adventures, you’re probably going to want to take some photos of your trip.

The problem? You have no clue how to take a great photo, and the last thing you want is to have your pictures of such a life-changing period in your life turn out like a fourth grade art project.

Before you resign yourself to applying 37 Instagram filters to each and every lackluster snapshot, check out these top 10 travel photography tips from professional travel photographer Etienne Bossot.

Based in Hoi An, Vietnam, Etienne spends his days helping newbie and established photographers capture the beauty of their travel dreams on camera and in living color.

Travel photography tips from an actual travel photographer

1. Get some gear

travel-photography-tips-2

And by gear I don’t mean big, expensive gear. I mean something from this century. Technology is evolving so quickly that just about any kind of camera you buy today is going to be light years better than a used camera from five years ago.

Look at the latest trends, like the new lightweight DSLR cameras. They’re as small and compact as a cheap digital camera but take photos comparable to their bulkier counterparts.

2. Learn about settings

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Spend a little time learning about your camera’s settings.  Nowadays the auto mode of most cameras is more intelligent than ever, but why let your camera have all the fun?

Adjusting your settings as you shoot gives you far more control over your photos than simply leaving your camera in auto mode. Besides, there are only 3 things you need to know to be in total control of your camera, anyway.

3. Do your homework

travel-photography-tips-4

If you only want to capture tourist snapshots for Grandma to see, then stop reading this instant.

We’ll wait for you to leave.

Phew, not that she’s gone, let’s dive in to the juicy stuff – creative inspiration. I want you to do some research on the place you’re traveling to by searching for relevant photographs. You can use Google search, Flickr or 500px to find high quality images.

Find photographs that inspire you and save them somewhere you can see them. These will serve as a jumping off point for the photographs you’ll be taking in the very near future!

4. Stalk someone you like

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…on social media, that is.

In step #3 above, you probably found at least a few photographers whose work you love. Connect with them via social and check out their blogs.

In addition to examples of great photography, you will most likely find a huge amount of information on the craft of photography.

If you’re following a travel photographer, you’ll score travel photography tips in the form of top secret shooting locations, cultural idiosyncrasies, and so on.

5. pho·tog·ra·phy (or, the immense importance of light)

travel-photography-tips-6

How can you begin to master a craft if you don’t even know what it means?

In case you skipped out on all of your Ancient Greek classes at school, the word “photography” literally means “writing with light.”

Yes, it is that simple. You camera is your pen. The light is…well, the light!

Once you understand that, you’ll understand that beautiful light gives you beautiful photos.

And when is the light most beautiful?

Before 8am and after 4pm, so don’t forget to pack your alarm clock!

6. Get to know your subject

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If you are keen on landscape photography, go back and re-read tip #5, because it’s all about the right lighting.

travel-photography-tips-11

If you want to photograph people, learn about the customs of the place you’re visiting. For example, you will probably have a much easier time approaching people in SE Asia than you would in, say, Saudi Arabia.

7. Get lost

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I’ll go ahead and assume that since you’re a solo female traveler you’re not traveling in a country that’s particularly dangerous.

If that’s the case, I give you permission to get lost!

If you stay where all the other tourists are, and only visit sites all the other tourists are visiting, chances are you’ll be taking the exact same photos Aunt Jane took when she visited Thailand 10 years ago.

Get lost, get away from the tourist areas, find some local villages and walk through them. People will be surprised and happy to see you there, and that will make your experience – and your photos – that much more captivating.

8. Get close

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If I could only give you one tip it would be this one – get close to your subject.

There are many reasons why this is important, but getting close will greatly improve the overall quality of your photos (not to mention help you immerse yourself in the culture and make friends with locals).

Disclaimer: this tip does not apply to African safaris!

9. Lose the badittude

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Remember that you are a guest visiting another country and culture – smile! Your attitude and approach will have a huge impact on both your subjects and the photos you take of them.

10. Shoot!

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You’ll most likely be using a digital camera, so start shooting! Don’t be shy, and remember that the best shots almost never happen within the first few clicks. Work your subject and shoot as much as you can.

What questions do you have for Etienne about his travel photography tips? Post them below!

Etienne Bossot is a French photographer who’s been based in Hoi An, Vietnam for the past 7 years. In addition to shooting commercial and travel assignments for local publications and huge corporations, Etienne runs a variety of photography tours and workshops throughout Southeast Asia. For more information on his photography and photo tours, visit http://www.picsofasia.com/photo-tours/

All photos © 2014 Etienne Bossot

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How I Live Abroad on $662 a Month

Um. That's the view from my room.

Right now I live abroad on a tiny island off the coast of Northern Vietnam, and my monthly expenditures total about $662 – for everything.

After spending 4 months straight traveling nonstop throughout Asia (while working full time, mind you!) I needed to recover, recoup, and stay put for a hot second.

That also meant I needed to choose a place where it was easy to get a visa, easy to find affordable accommodation, and easy to save money for future travels later this year.

Vietnam was the 3rd country I’d visited in as many months, but by the time I crossed over into Cambodia from Chau Doc in the Mekong Delta region, I was not ready to leave.

The country was so vast, so varied, so rich and diverse that one month wasn’t enough to begin to scratch the surface of all Vietnam had to offer.

A room with a view

A room with a view

My original plan had been to move on to Thailand as soon as my Cambodian visa expired, but as my days in Siem Reap came to a close, I felt called back to Cat Ba.

Cat Ba is an island off the Northern Coast of Vietnam. Its craggly limestone cliffs are perhaps the most photographed natural phenomenon in the world – I’m actually looking at them out my window as I write this sentence.

Cat Ba Town is a small fishing village on the southern side of the island. In the past decade, it’s been built up ferociously to cater to hordes of Vietnamese tourists who descend upon the island in massive droves each year beginning in June.

I mean, it's just stupid.

I mean, it’s just stupid.

But the town itself is anything but touristy. There’s not much to do here, besides take a boat tour of Ha Long Bay, rent a motorbike and explore the surrounding hillsides, or hike up to Canon Fort for breathtaking views of the East China Sea (sorry to my Vietnamese friends – the East Sea.)

Saigon was more exciting, Da Nang had better beaches, and Hoi An positively dripped with charm. Besides, there were so many places I hadn’t yet been to in Vietnam – Da Lat, Sa Pa, Hue, Nah Trang…the list of “don’t miss” places I had missed the first time around was extensive.

So why return to a place I’d already been?

A fisherman rowing his boat with his feet

A fisherman rowing his boat with his feet

Because in addition to being beautiful in a dark, romantic, even tragic kind of way, and in addition to great weather, and in addition to being home to some of the friendliest locals I’ve encountered on my journey, Cat Ba is friggin’ CHEAP.

And this is coming from someone who just spent a month in Nepal, one of the cheapest countries in the world for budget travelers.

I don’t consider myself a backpacker, and I don’t go out of my way to spend as little as possible. I work as I travel, so I’m not on a fixed income and I can always make more money if need be.

That's me, out on the boat.

That’s me, out on the boat.

I get private rooms instead of dorm rooms, I mix street food with restaurant fare, and if I can afford it and it’ll save me time, I’m quick to opt for a plane over a bus ticket.

But Cat Ba is so cheap, you automatically become a budget traveler without even trying.

The first time I stayed here, I rented a room at the Alibaba Hotel, which is on the main road facing the harbor. My high-rise, ocean-view room with en suite bathroom and two double beds cost $5/night.

I wondered if I could get it for cheaper. Not because I can’t afford $5/night, but because ever since I met some professional budget travelers in Nepal, I realized what a fun game budget travel can be.

My friends would one up each other constantly, asking “How much is your guest house?” And then, “Oh yeah? Well my guest house is only $2 a night, and I have hot water!

Kayaking, anyone?

Kayaking, anyone?

I knew I planned to stay in Cat Ba long-term (which, in travel terms, is anything longer than a few days’ stay). I wrote to the guest house owner and asked what he could do for me.

Here was his offer:

$3/night during the month of April

$9/night during the “high season” of May and June

He actually apologized to me for tripling the price, explaining that it was very busy during that time, and that “regular” customers would be charged $40/night.

Wowza!

That makes my monthly rent average out to $216/month.

Did I mention there are 3 beaches within walking distance of my hotel?

Did I mention there are 3 beaches within walking distance of my hotel?

As if that weren’t awesome enough, everything else on Cat Ba is cheap too.

I spend about $12/day on food and drink, and could easily spend less if I chose cheaper restaurants. (alas, I’m a sucker for ambiance. And dynamite spring rolls.)

That brings us to $588 for rent and food. So what other expenses do I have?

  • I pay nothing for utilities since those are included in the hotel room (hot water, electricity, WiFi, etc.).
  • I pay nothing for transportation because the town is small enough to walk anywhere, or I can hop on a motortaxi for a few thousand dong.
  • I spend about $10/month on things like shampoo, soap, and other toiletries.
  • I spend 100,000 dong (about $5) per month on a prepaid data plan for my cell phone. This comes in handy when the power goes out and there is no WiFi.
  • Visa fees: I paid $130 for a three-month Vietnam visa, which averages out to about $43/month.
  • I spend roughly $6/month on laundry

Grand Total: $662

i-live-abroad-6

Now, if I had no debt or other bills to pay back home, I could truly live a backpacker lifestyle in Cat Ba.

Unfortunately I have a big fat student loan payment that’s due each month, plus credit card debt and other expenses related to running this site.

But only having to spend $662 to live allows me to focus on writing my book and running this website.

If you’re looking to pay off debt while living a great quality of life in one of the most beautiful places on earth, I can’t recommend Cat Ba enough.

But if you do decide to come here, don’t tell anyone else, ok? I don’t want this place to lose its small town charm and become another Luang Prabang.

If you’re coming to Cat Ba, hit me up! Write to me and let me know if you want to stay at Alibaba’s too. I will speak with Mr. Ba and see what kind of discount I can get you!

Would you live abroad if it meant your could save hundreds, even thousands of dollars per month?

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Quick+Dirty Takeaway

1. When looking to live cheap abroad, it's all about location.

2. There are cheap places just about everywhere - Vietnam isn't considered the cheapest place in SE Asia by any means, and yet it's been even cheaper to stay here than in Nepal.

3. Make friends with locals! Many people will give you a discount if you return to their hotel a second time, or if you're staying long-term.

4. Places that are slightly less touristy and difficult to get to will always be cheaper (but not less beautiful!)

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!