Traveling abroad has completely shifted my perspective on a lot of things, but what’s changed the most is what it takes to shock me.
When I first started traveling abroad I remember being surprised to see stray dogs and cats just walking around wherever they pleased. I couldn’t believe there was no toilet paper in the bathrooms. I couldn’t believe grown men were peeing on the side of the road like the world was their toilet!
Now all of that stuff feels completely normal, as do a lot of the items on my list below.
So when I say the things I’ve seen are “crazy,” I don’t mean it as a judgment. I just mean crazy to a Westerner who’s never imagined these kinds of things before, let alone experienced them firsthand.
All of these visions have been burned into my mind – some of them are impossibly beautiful, others terrifying, others devastatingly sad. I love each of them because they serve as reminders of my state of mind at each phase of my journey, and through them I’m able to track my own prejudices unraveling.
A mother pulling down her 2-year old son’s pants, positioning him to face me, then flicking his penis with her fingers to make him start peeing. Both of them stared at me somewhat menacingly as he proceeded to relieve himself. [LAOS]
Vietnamese women physically pushing and even punching each other while standing in the ocean in thigh-high rubber boots. Apparently this is a ritual that plays itself out each morning as fishermen bring in their catch from the night before – sort of like MMA fighting meets The Old Man and the Sea. [HOI AN, VIETNAM]
A monkey riding a donkey riding a truck [DA NANG, VIETNAM]
A man hanging on a suspended wire over an enormous gorge that must’ve been a 1000-meter drop to the river below. He was sitting in a makeshift basket that had been designed as a transportation pod of sorts, and he was pulling himself across the great divide using nothing but the strength of his arms. [NEPAL]
A man transporting 25-foot wooden planks on his motorbike. The tail end of the bundle was propped up on top of a bicycle which was dragged along behind him. [VIETNAM]
Cambodian fisherman casting their nets in the Siem Reap River right next to the spot where construction workers were dumping cement and (presumably) chemicals into that same river. [CAMBODIA]
A Lao woman changing into her bathing sarong right in front of a huge group of foreign tourists, and bathing in the river with her naked sons as if 100 pairs of eyes weren’t watching them. [LAOS]
A very-much-alive pig strapped to the back of a motorbike. The craziest part was that the pig wasn’t squealing in protest. [LAOS]
A Cambodian girl in the laciest, most delicate formal dress imaginable mounting an enormous motorcycle and driving off into the dusty sunset. No one ever looked so much like they were starring in a music video of their own life. [PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA]
A very-much-alive wild bird resting in the hands of a Vietnamese man, who would periodically stretch out its wings to full span, just for fun. The bird did not struggle or squawk or try to get away. I still don’t understand this, it was like he was some sort of bird whisperer. [CAT BA, VIETNAM]
The dismembered, fully-cooked body of an endangered Cat Ba langur right before it was eaten by my Vietnamese friends. [CAT BA, VIETNAM]
Rat’s nests of wires in Nepal that were so tangled and thick they blocked out the sun – and yet still somehow managed to provide electricity 67% of the time. [POKHARA, NEPAL]
Young Khmu village children who had been trained to pose for photos with tourists, and who sat for nearly an hour modeling for our group. Older children who were no longer “cute enough” watched the photo shoot from the sidelines, like cast members of Annie who’d been fired for being too tall. This was perhaps the most disturbing and conflicting thing I’ve seen. [LUANG PRABANG, LAOS]
A Nepalese girl in high heels and a knockout red dress climbing an enormous hill with a bundle of 6-foot long sticks thrust over her shoulder. [NEPAL]
A drunk Nepalese man attempting to stab another man with a butcher knife in the middle of a busy Turkish restaurant in Pokhara, Nepal. [POKHARA, NEPAL]
An infant in Nepal being given a hard candy to eat and a plastic bag to play with. The crazy part was that he neither choked nor suffocated. [VILLAGE NEAR CHITWAN, NEPAL]
Monks doing everything you’d think monks shouldn’t do – texting on iPhones, flirting with girls, saying things like “y’know, I won’t be a monk forever” and then winking. [LAOS]
A Nepali woman washing her dishes with clods of dirt (because when there is no soap available, you use….dirt.) [CHITWAN, NEPAL]
A Cambodian man holding what must’ve been 15-feet long, 1-foot wide mirrors upright on the back of a motorbike as he rode in the passenger seat. He held the base and the remaining 13+feet of flimsy mirror flapped back and forth like a skinny palm tree swaying in the breeze, practically hitting other motorists that were driving in front of and behind him. [SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA]
A mama monkey breast feeding her baby monkey at The Monkey Temple in Kathmandu. [KATHMANDU, NEPAL]
My guest house owner chasing after her 8-year old son with what could only be described as a pitch fork. [CAT BA, VIETNAM]
Wild cows as thin as deer living in the mountains in Laos. [LUANG PRABANG, LAOS]
A man tracking fowl with an “informant chicken.” This back-stabbing chicken had been trained to call the other chickens out of the woods just so his owner could shoot them. [LUANG PRABANG, LAOS]
My trekking guide cutting a foot-long section of bamboo from an enormous shoot and whittling it into a flute in a matter of minutes (I still have the flute and play it sometimes when I’m feeling pensive). [LUANG PRABANG, LAOS]
An entire village of Khmu people gathered in a single room around a single tiny television set. [LUANG PRABANG, LAOS]
A beautiful young woman in a fabulous fuchsia coat riding side saddle on the back of a moving motorbike while reading the daintiest velvet-covered book. I watched as she carefully turned a single page and continued reading, as if she was taking tea in a European drawing room instead riding a moving vehicle in the middle of a crowded highway. [VIETNAM]
Nepali men unloading huge tanks of gas next to a pig roasting over open flames. [POKHARA, NEPAL]
Men sleeping on top of sacks of grain that had been piled 30-feet high on the back of a moving truck. [NONG KHIAW, LAOS]
A spa in Cambodia that looked pretty typical at first, with large hanging posters of women getting beauty treatments and enjoying hot stone massages, but upon closer inspection revealed one enormous, framed poster of…..Leonardo DiCaprio (wha??). It was like he was some sort of god, and every treatment was meant to beatify the recipient in preparation to meet Father Leo. [PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA] #random
Two newborn kittens dying in the Cambodian heat, their eyes crusted over with disease. They were so near death that they wouldn’t even drink water. [SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA]
People in a Cambodian fishing village just outside Siem Reap living in thatched, open air huts with no doors, no windows and no possessions. They didn’t even have a mat to sleep on, which meant they had to lie down on the bare wood floor in order to rest. [SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA]
A baby with a distended stomach playing with her healthier brothers and sisters and unconcerned-looking mother. [CAMBODIA]
An Australian man complaining about getting paid $200/month in Cambodia in front of his local colleagues who made $50/month. [CAMBODIA]
Grown men wearing women’s sun hats – pink ones, with flowers. [CHINA, VIETNAM]
A two-year old Vietnamese kid being dressed in girl’s clothing by his parents so they could laugh at him and take pictures. [CAT BA, VIETNAM]
Makeshift gas stations that look like hospital IVs, where the gasoline is stored in clear pouches or bottles and administered to your motorbike as if it was a sick patient. [VIETNAM, CAMBODIA]
An elephant slapping my hand with her trunk. I thought she was giving me a high-five, but she probably just wanted a banana.
What crazy things have you seen while traveling abroad?
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Since traveling abroad I've seen my fair share of
- public urination
- live animals put into extremely uncomfortable situations
- starving children
- enormous objects being transported by motorbike
- women in pretty dresses doing manual labor
I've also seen a decidedly evil informant chicken whose questionable morality continues to haunt me.
Want to dig deeper? Go for it!