Tag Archives: solo female travel

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.

Facts About Travel in 2016 (updated to the second!)

Real time travel stats make it easy to imagine yourself abroad.

Need some interesting facts about travel for your travel blog, school research, or to impress a first date?

The Happy Passport‘s got you covered!

If you’ve been longing for some travel statistics on how many slices of bacon are being served in hotels across the world, right this very second, we can help.

Or if you want to know many people are facepalming themselves because their flight just got delayed, we’ve got the numbers!

Weird facts about travel are not only fun; they put our big, beautiful world into startling perspective.

The other day I was writing a colleague in Estonia who used to live in Wisconsin. He was complaining about how bored he was living in Europe, and how badly he wanted to return the United States.

As someone who is temporarily stuck in the good ol’ US of A, I was flabbergasted! How could someone possibly live in historic, rich, glamorous Europe and be anything less than thrilled with each-breath-they-take-every-second-of every-day, as they drive their tiny cars to non-Starbucks coffee shops wearing designer clothing whose sale could eradicate my enormous student loan debt in an instant?

But I digress.

Of course my buddy is bored with Estonia, just as I’m itching to return to Viet Nam after 8 months away.

That’s because wherever you go, there you are. We so quickly and easily adopt tunnel vision when we stay in the same place for too long, forgetting that there is a wide world out there filled with people doing all sorts of incredible things. (Like eating bacon in hotels and grumbling over flight delays).

“We so quickly and easily adopt tunnel vision when we stay in the same place for too long, forgetting that there is a wide world out there filled with people doing all sorts of incredible things.” Click to Tweet

If we can’t travel (and let’s be honest – sometimes we simply can’t travel), then the next best thing is to remember that travel exists. That people, and travel, and culture, and a wide, wide world of wonders are just biding their time, waiting for us to venture out into the world once more.

One of the most inspiring reminders of this idea was recently created by my friends at Get Your Guide, a booking platform for cool tours and activities all over the world.  They’ve created a real time travel infographic that shows you what’s going down around the world, right this very second.

If you’ve ever craved facts about travel like….

  • How many people are getting busted for trying to sneak pot onto the plane?
  • How many selfies are being taken around the world right now?
  • How many people are waiting in line at the Eiffel Tower?

….this infographic has the answers. Check out a snapshot below, or click this link to see real time travel updates from all over the world.

Because when you can’t travel, the next best thing is to live vicariously through the people who are.

(And who doesn’t want to know how many Americans around the world are completely drunk right now?).
Real Time Travel

What Puking in Parvarti’s River Taught Me About Life

“I am Parvati!”

She ambushes me, taking my face in her hands, her head jiggling from side to side in a way I’ve heard about but never actually seen until now.

“Are you okay? You are sick?”

Yes. Talk about a solo female travel fail – I’ve gotten food poisoning in the middle of an 8-hour motorbike journey, on the very day I’m supposed to be meeting Deepak’s family.

The timing could not be worse, and what’s more – I can’t. Stop. Puking.

Parvarti is the neighbor girl who lives next door to Deepak’s family, and her beauty trumps any that has yet to appear in these posts.

She is more fabulouss than the would-be Polish model at The Lemon Tree, more womanly than Mrs. DeKash, more angelic than Deepak in stolen moments under the covers.

Her dark hair hangs loose around her shoulders, free and wild where the other women’s hair is tightly bound and wrapped.

Her skin is pale, a stark palette that highlights the richness of her eyebrows, dark half moons sketched with God’s paintbrush.

Her nose is slightly upturned, which makes her look impish, like she’s planning a practical joke that you’re going to just love.

She takes my hand, touches my hair, inspects me all over with wonder and excitement.

I let her give me the once over as everyone else in the village stares, which is far more comfortable than the way my stomach feels after the putrid, stagnant water I just drank.

“Would you like to see my river?!” yells Parvarti, absolutely bubbling over.

How could I say no? I’ve never heard anyone refer to a river as their river, and for all I know she might mean that literally.

Besides, even if I had a knife sticking out of my stomach and had to choose between going to the ER and going to see Parvarti’s river, I’d pick the river.  She’s that charming.

The others make way for us, as enamored with her beauty as they are with my strangeness.

She is the darling of the farm, and I imagine suitors from the surrounding provinces descending in droves to beg her grandmother for her hand.

Parvarti takes my hand in hers, and for a moment I imagine myself her chosen suitor as we walk together across the dirt road towards the surrounding fields.

She leads me along a network of dirt pathways, helping me keep my balance without toppling onto the budding crops.

Each pathway is about two feet wide and a foot high, and runs the length of the land so that farmers can walk between crops without stepping on them.

“This my garden” says Parvarti, gesturing to the plot of land to our right. “I grow onion, tomato, cauli-flowers.”

“And this garden?” I ask, gesturing to the empty, overgrown, weed-infested plot to the left. “Is this yours too?”

“That Deepak garden” laughs Parvarti. “Is not very good.”

If I wasn’t so distracted by my nausea, I might be more inclined to investigate the obvious metaphor I’m now looking at – the lush, abundant field tended by Parvarti’s hand, and the hot, unattended mess that has been borne of Deepak’s neglect.

We make our way through the fields to a cluster of trees that lie along the banks of a bubbling brook.

“My river!” exclaims Parvarti proudly, looking at me to see if I’m impressed.

I withdraw my hand from hers, look wildly around for the best place to go, see nowhere, walk a few feet towards the water, and vomit right into Parvarti’s precious river.

“I’m sorry!” I gasp between wretches. She says nothing but waits, watches me, stands patiently by a tree.

Again. And again. Into the tall grass. Into her river. There is nothing to clean myself with, I am filth incarnate, I have never been so ashamed.

I dare to look at Parvati, who is doing the head bob at me, looking mildly concerned.

“I’m so sorry” I say again, not knowing what else to say. What are you supposed to say when you puke in someone’s river?

As we walk back to the house, me having completely defiled the most precious thing in her life, Parvarti takes my hand again and begins humming a soft little Hindi song.

She doesn’t care that I’m filthy. She doesn’t care that I’ve just vommed in her river, the only possession she has, the thing that is most precious to her in the entire world.

In fact, the entire episode, which seems incredibly dramatic and awful and unsettling to me, doesn’t seem to have ruffled her feathers at all.

She passes me off to the other women with an easy smile, certain that I’m going to feel better soon.

She leaves just as easily as she arrived, not knowing that she has dwarfed my childish, petulant ego with the might of her magnificent heart.

To be like Parvarti – filled with joy in the face of the everyday, unconcerned in the face of disaster – has become my only goal in life.

By Rebekah Voss. This post is an excerpt from My Week With Deepak: A memoir of Nepal, available February 2015 from THP Publishing. To pre-order your copy, click here!

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. 

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!

Driveby Banana-ing in Bucharest

This kid will not take no for an answer. I’ve been trying to shake him for blocks now, but in his thuggish persistence he’s latched onto me like a burr and won’t let go – not until I cough up “uno leu.”

He’s small, clean, well-dressed, with designer sneakers and a tricked-out baseball cap. His dark eyes contain more than a hint of malice which he tries to cover up with upturned eyebrows and a begging pout.

“Per favore” he begs, pressing his palms together in supplication. “Uno leu, uno leu!”

He’s mysteriously Italian, which makes me wonder if there’s a pocket of expats somewhere in the city cooking up something slightly more edible than the unlucky slop I’ve encountered thus far in the old town of Bucharest.

“No money” I say again, smiling at him. I should really stop smiling, because he seems to take that as a sign of encouragement.

It is 7am on a Saturday morning and all the shop doors are closed. The streets become increasingly empty as we walk north toward Herăstrău Park.

Unfortunately this tasted as questionable as it looked.

Unfortunately this tasted as questionable as it looked.

Something about this kid scares me, and my awareness of the deserted streets stokes a growing flame of fear. He can’t be more than ten years old, but he’s tough, hardened by some sort of evil upbringing.

“Where is your mother?” I ask in English.

“Mia madre è morta” he replies in Italian, then immediately regrets it.

He’s just slipped and revealed that he understands every word I say.

“Ah ha!” I say, pointing at him, grinning.

I’m slightly terrified that a) he’s packing, and b) he has a group of 10 hoodlums waiting around the corner to mug me and beat me with their tiny fists, but I like him just the same.

We seem to have an understanding – I understand that he has to beg me and follow me, he understands that I have to say no.

That is, until I bust out the banana.

This has gone on way too long, we’re too far from the safety of my hotel, and there’s not a soul around to hear me if I scream. Self-protective mode kicks in to overdrive.

I face him and step back several feet so that I can reach into my bag without the risk of him trying to do the same.

There will be no one to hear you scream....

There will be no one to hear you scream….

I fish around with my hand, keeping my eyes on him the entire time.

“I’m not going to give you any money” I repeat for the umpteenth time, “but if you’re hungry, you can have my breakfast.”

I pull out the banana I’d grabbed from the hotel.

He looks at it, looks at me, and his eyes roll back in his head like some sort of Italian-Romanian demon only found in ancient folklore.

Wanting desperately to appease the devil, I thrust the banana toward his hand, which has gathered into a trembling fist.

“Here, take it.”

He does. And then proceeds to raise it above his head, rear back, and throw the banana at me with all the force and magnitude of a 7th inning pitcher.

The banana splatters at my feet, fibrous strands and mush flying everywhere, and I’m backing away, sputtering, as if I’ve just been shot.

He backs away too like a lightning-fast crab, scuttling back towards the hotel.

And then, to add insult to injury, my little friend, the one I understand, the one with whom I have a connection, the one whose soul concerns me greatly, issues the following curse in absolutely perfect, accent-free English:

“FUCK YOU!”

He holds out his middle finger for good measure, and continues to scream, with a bellowing force, “FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU!”

Over and over again he screams, until my heart is ready to crack my ribcage wide open. I command my legs to move, move!, to create as much distance between us as fast as I possibly can.

Not where you want to be when a terrifying child is threatening you with a banana

Empty streets – not where you want to be when a terrifying child is threatening you with a banana

I glance back over my shoulder, terrified he’s right behind me with a weapon, with his brother, with his pimp.

But he’s dwarfed by the distance, growing ever-smaller as I break into a full-out run.

There is no one to hear the pounding of my steps on the pavement, no one to see the tears streaming down my face.

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Quick+Dirty Takeaway

1. Just because someone's a sweet-looking kid doesn't mean they won't throw at a banana at you.

2. If someone is following you, walk TOWARD the crowds of other people, not away from them.

3. Be extra careful when opening your bag or purse in the presence of a stranger - especially a stranger who has asked you for money.

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

Don’t F*$! With Mother India

I was 22 years old and on my way to sit in the Vipassana meditation course in Jaipur, India. It was spring of 1997. I had been traveling in India mostly alone for a few months by this time.

I was feeling resistance to the impending 10 day meditation, and I had an hour before I needed to be in the main meditation hall for the commencement of the course. I decided to distract my nerves by walking through the forest to the chai hut about 20 minutes away.

When I got to the grubby little roadside hub where the nearest rural village gathered to drink chai and wash clothes in the river, there were several young men sitting on the bridge, eyeing me as I walked past.

It was the same ignorant stare of base male desire that I experienced every day in India…on the bus, in the street. I had learned to ignore it.

But this time, something in my intuition perked up. These boys were latching on to my energy. I felt nervous about walking back to the meditation retreat alone, which entailed a 15 minute stretch through rural forest.

I bucked up my courage and went for it. As soon as I walked back across the bridge, I had a flash of knowing. These motherfucking dumb peasant punks were going to follow me.

Sure enough, I could sense that after I had passed, all three nonchalantly got up and started walking after me…keeping about 30 paces behind. I walked with quick determination, my fury and concern growing.

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As I could hear their approach, I started to fill with rage….and a strange involuntary reflex started to occur inside me.

Time slowed down. With every step I took, I could feel power coming up through my feet out of the Earth…coiling inside me with powerful wrath. It was as though the power of the goddess Kali was sucking up from the hot lava center of the Earth through my feet…steaming into a pressure of rage and power.

I felt them getting closer, and I KNEW that they were going to grab me and drag me into the bushes.

I walked faster, the contained fury filling me up with every step. As I sensed one of the men coming right up behind me, suddenly a flood of pure primal anger spewed forth like lava from the depths of the Earth and raged up through my body like a Volcano.

I felt a hand grab my shoulder…I spun around and – TIME STOPPED. One of the two men was grabbing me. His two friends were right behind, laughing and heading toward the bushes. Their intention was crystal clear. The ignorance of their gesture filled me with primal rage.

With one deep inhalation, my spirit suddenly inflated like a cobra, and with an exhaled PRIMAL ROAAARRRRRRR, for an INSTANT, I manifested as GREAT GODDESS KALI in her MOST WRATHFUL FORM.

The man’s first impulse was to raise his arm to hit me, but in a split second, his face changed. A look of sheer horror shot across his face.

His eyes became wide and his face became white with fear.

Kali was a language that his peanut-sized brain understood. In that moment, he SAW the GODDESS.

He turned on his heel and sprinted away for his life. His friend’s hadn’t seen my shape-shifting transformation, so they had one-second of confusion…looking at me, then looking at him running away. As he was the alpha of the group, they quickly decided to follow in his footsteps, and they all packed off with their tails between their legs, running as fast as they could go.

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I turned on my heel and walked on toward the Meditation Center, shaken by the experience, and sat in complete silence for 10 days through the incredibly healing experience of the Vipassana meditation.

May God bless S.N. Goenka for his commitment to teaching the medicine of meditation.

May all ignorant beings awaken to the intelligence of the Universe.

May all mothers teach their sons to respect Goddesses in all forms.

May all women be protected from abuse and violence, and have access to the innate strength that dwells within.

May all beings be free of suffering and fear.

India is a powerful entity. Traveling there as a woman is very risky. One must have a strong psychology and sense of street smarts. If you don’t have it when you go, you will definitely have it when you leave.

Don’t take Mother India lightly. She is Life, and She is also Death. Most of all, She is MAGIC.

Don’t Fuck with the MOTHER.

Elsa Bella

 

Elsa Bella is a world traveler who currently runs The Jaguar Project, a conservation project that protects the habitats of jaguars throughout Central America. You can join in saving the jaguars by clicking here

 

Gratitude in 365 Days of Travel

It’s amazing how the idea of gratitude can change so drastically.

Last Thanksgiving,  I was grateful to be embarking on an adventure to Nepal that I thought would last a few months, tops.

This Thanksgiving, I’m celebrating 365 days abroad, and a year that has changed my life in ways I never could have imagined.

Last year, I was grateful for my snazzy new boots from DSW.

This year, I’m grateful for things like hot water. And my health. And having shoes in the first place – any shoes at all. 

Don’t get me wrong – I’ll probably never outgrow my deep-held appreciation of a really great pair of knee-high’s. 

But the difference – after experiencing abject poverty and limitless kindnesses and the feeling of knowing the world to be good, and safe, and filled with love – is that now I’m not grateful for the boots themselves.

I’m grateful for the means to buy them. 

What’s more, I’m grateful for the feet within the boots –

….feet that have taken me across 6 countries and countless cities in the past year.

….feet that have managed to march me away from all of my preconceived notions.

…..feet that have taken me a step back from my former life, and step forward into something new.

I’m grateful for all of you. 

This community is what drives me to keep writing, keep exploring, and keep telling stories. 

In the past 8 months, The Happy Passport blog has morphed from a personal travel blog to a platform that shares YOUR greatest travel tales.

It is with deepest thanks that I hand over the reigns to you, the reader.

For if I’ve learned one lesson besides gratitude this year, it’s to listen more than I talk. 

What are you most grateful for today? 

Let me know by leaving a comment below. 

Happy Thanksgiving,

Rebs

 

I Dream of Cyprus…

For the past few years I’ve been slightly obsessed with the idea of traveling to Cyprus, Turkey, and Greece.  And by obsessed, I mean I’ve been pinning white-washed bungalows and electric-blue harbors on Pinterest like it’s going out of style.

I mean, what could possibly be more alluring, more indulgent, more idyllic  than swimming in one of those shallow, expansive resort pools – the ones conveniently located right next to a sparkling turquoise ocean – while sipping ouzo and lazily gazing upon stone houses built right into the mountainside?

Southeast Asia is tame. Western Europe is tired. A journey to Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, and the like feels impossibly exotic; a chance to brush up against the nucleus of the ancient past, the birthplace of Western civilization, and trace the roots of your own soul back across the millennia.

Besides stepping upon the same soil as the ancient mystics and treading in the footsteps of gods and philosophers, playwrights and poets, mythic creatures and faces that launched a thousand ships, a journey to this part of the world is a journey into the heart of our most passionate modern-day dramas.

Night view of the Paphos Castle (Paphos, Cyprus). Stupid beautiful.

Night view of the Paphos Castle (Paphos, Cyprus). Stupid beautiful.

The proximity of Syria, of Iraq, or Israel and Egypt makes a journey to Turkey and Greece like buying a ticket to humanity’s fiercest boxing match – you’re not quite inside the ring, but ringside seating is readily available.

Excitement, beauty, conflict, danger, the birthplace of the world and the imminent threat of the death of that world, all in one place. It’s as if this part of the planet is the heart of humanity itself, forever beating in and out as the human race strives to lower its own blood pressure.

But Cyprus! The conflicted island, torn between Turkey and Greece, floating in the Mediterranean sea like a polished jewel. It’s packed with the requisite bars, clubs, and white sand beaches, but the Cyprus holidays you can book offer a much richer experience of the island.

Pissouri village in Cyprus. I am annoyed by how gorgeous this is.

Pissouri village in Cyprus. I am annoyed by how gorgeous this is.

Check out Aphrodite’s Rock, rumored to be the birthplace of the goddess herself, before exploring the Tombs of the Kings in the island’s famed Paphos region. Take in sweeping views of the surrounding sea from Kykkos Monastery, set over 1300 meters high atop the Troödos Mountains. While you’re mountainside, you’ll probably be tempted to check out one of the nine – nine! – UNESCO world heritage sites that dot the foothills and peaks in breathtaking abundance.

Spending holidays in Cyprus is sort of like combining your trip to Turkey and Greece into a single adventure – and not just because the island is disputed by the two countries.

That’s not to say I’ve given up on the white-washed wonder of Santorini, or the blue-domed mosques of Istanbul. I’ve simply found a new starting point from which to begin my exploration of this fascinating region.

Aphrodite's birth place at sunset in Cyprus. STUPID GORGEOUS.

Aphrodite’s birth place at sunset in Cyprus. STUPID GORGEOUS.

 

If you’re as enamored with Cyprus as I am, check out FirstChoice to book your trip to Cyprus. I really dig this site because it gives you all the info you need, including maps of the area (crucial!), a detailed layout of the different districts on Cyprus, places to go, stuff to do, weather and seasonal tips, and what you can expect to pay for it all.  Even better, you can book flights, hotels, and packages without having to navigate away from the page. It’s sort of like Lonely Planet meets TripAdvisor meets WikiTravel.

Late afternoon view of the Paphos Castle (Paphos, Cyprus)

Late afternoon view of the Paphos Castle (Paphos, Cyprus)

While many may plan on visiting Cyprus for the nightlife or beautiful beaches, my inner nerd is far more excited to climb upon Aphrodite’s Rock (not sure if you can do that, but still), watch a play in a 2,000-year old outdoor theatre overlooking the sea, and spend my afternoons marveling at the mosaic floors of the House of Achilles.

Have you been to Cyprus? What about Turkey or Greece? 

Am I mistaken in my newfound wanderlust for Cyprus?

 

YE OLDE DISCLAIMER: This post was contributed by FirstChoice because they’re awesome. I never recommend products, services, or websites that I wouldn’t use myself. 

Quick+Dirty Takeaway

1. Cyprus suddenly trumps Turkey and Greece for the top slot on my travel bucket list.

2. You can book Cyprus holidays that combine crystal blue waters and white sand beaches with amazing history and culture.

3. The Troödos Mountains on Cyprus are home to 9 different UNESCO world heritage sites.

4. Cyprus is stupid beautiful and I hope to see you there in 2015!

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

7 Ways to Get Hotel Discounts in Asia

Do you know how to get hotel discounts and guest house deals in Asia?

I know, saving money on places where you’d like to stay doesn’t sound that sexy – but the more money you save = the more you can travel, and that’s not just sexy, that’s orgasmic! So read on!

Travelling independently in Asia, almost every price is negotiable.

Yes, that’s including the price of your washing powder at the corner shop, and your headache tablets at the pharmacy. So I always negotiate the price of my room.

How do I do that?

I never book through accommodation booking sites.

They operate on commission, so their price will always be higher than booking direct.

Plus, you can’t negotiate price and room type…

And you can’t request a free pick up from the station…

And you can’t ask about other aspects of the guest house…

And you can’t get a feel for the service you might expect when you get there…

And you can’t start to build a relationship with the staff…

So I always negotiate with guest houses directly.

How? If you’ve never done it before, don’t worry one bit. It’s easy. Even if you don’t like bargaining, it’s easy to do over email, and not embarrassing at all:

Step 1 – Research guest houses online and choose a few options

get-hotel-deals-asia-1

I tend to use Trip Advisor, and initially search by price. Watch out for a couple of things:

[i] Dates of reviews – Things can change amazingly quickly as staff and seasons come and go – only focus on recent reviews.

[ii] Nationality of reviewers – Travellers from different parts of the world can have really different opinions about everything, including how clean a place is and how far it is from the town centre.

As a Western woman, when I’m researching accommodation in Asia, I look for places with reviews from other Westerners. Especially for India, I look for reviews from other Western women – not those only reviewed by Indian men. [You usually get a quick idea of the reviewer’s nationality from the name and location on their review].

Step 2 – Check prices on accommodation sites

Search the internet for the few guest houses you’re interested in.  If they show up on accommodation booking sites, note the best price they’re offering [Hostelworld, Booking.com and Agoda are good for Asia].

Unless you’re really short of time and really not worried about price, don’t book through them!

Step 3 – Find contact details

Check that internet search again to find an email address or Facebook page for each of your chosen guest houses. If they have web or social media sites they’re often not in English, but you’ll still be able to find contact information on them – or the Trip Advisor forums can often help.

Step 4 – Write to ask for best prices

get-hotel-discounts-asia-2

I try to communicate some interest and enthusiasm in a place, hoping that’ll encourage the reader to help me [and because I am usually genuinely interested and enthusiastic about a place!] If you’re not sure how to start, you can always look up the weather and refer to that:

Hello WXY guesthouse

I hope you’re really well in X X and not feeling too hot – the internet says it’s going to be 38 degrees today!

I’m an English lady who would love to stay with you next month. I’ve always wanted to visit X X and your guest house sounds great.

What’s the very best price you can offer me for a stay in a single room with fan and balcony, from Monday X November – Sunday Y November [a stay of 6 nights]?

Looking forward to hearing from you soon, and sending very best wishes

Hilary : )

Ms Hilary Mehew hilarymehew@hotmail.com

Step 5 – Agree to the price and book

If you get a price back that’s the same or higher than you’ve seen on a booking site, quote that, asking for a better rate because you can book directly and save them from paying commission.

If you know you want to stay long term, try to get a better price by offering to pay on a weekly basis.

If they really won’t better the price, ask to have free breakfast thrown in with the deal, or a room upgrade, or something else you want.

From the offers you get, and from the “feel” you get for the place [often as important as price!] you’re ready to choose and book.

Step 6 – Ask for free pick up

Fancy a free pick up from the local bus/train station or airport? Ask for one [or failing a free one, a reduced priced one].

Check if they have any guests they’re taking back to the station/airport at the time you arrive – this option often works, especially for airport transfers, when all you have to pay for is the driver’s waiting time and parking charges between someone else’s drop off and your collection.

Step 7 – Re-confirm 3 days before

get-hotel-discounts-3

I usually do this by forwarding the last email between us, so they can easily see all the agreed arrangements re dates, room type, price, pick up arrangements etc, and tell them how much I’m looking forward to staying with them.

And that’s it!

Honestly, this approach has never failed me. Even when I couldn’t get a better rate, I’ve been able to negotiate a better room, or something else free or discounted, or at the very least got advance notice of when a special promotion will be on.

I also really appreciate arriving at a guest house, having got to know one or more staff members by name over the email, and receiving a very personal welcome.

Welcome to XYZ guesthouse and have a great stay…

hilary-mehew-headshotHilary Mehew is a big smiler and great traveller [it does make her cheeks ache!] She’s travelled extensively, but Asia is her passion – mostly as a backpacker and on business [though not at the same time!]. Years ago she thought she’d go travelling in the region for one year and ended up being away for three and a half. Since then she’s gone back every year for work and holidays. She’s just returned to the UK after backpacking for two years in Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Indonesia. Contact her on hilarymehew@hotmail.com

Quick+Dirty Takeaway

1. Research guest houses online and choose a few options

2. Check prices on accommodation sites

3. Find contact details

4. Write to ask for best prices

5. Agree to price and book

6. Ask for a free pick-up

7. Re-confirm 3 days before

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

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.

monkey-mountain-1

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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A Stormy Night in Ladakh India

“Dang it, I’m going to get soaked,” think to myself as the heavy thunder clouds up ahead finally break. The small unpaved mountainous road I’m on is headed straight into the storm. Thankfully, if my map is correct, I’ll be hitting a “town,” which will most likely consist of a makeshift stone dhaba (small tea shop) or two, in ten kilometers. I hope to spend the night in one of the small shacks as a sleepless stormy night in my tent doesn’t sound too appealing. Of course, ten kilometers up here where I’m cycling at the speed of a toddler could take me all afternoon: cycling above 4,000m on unpaved roads is no easy feat. Hours pass and I’m finally two kilometers away. So close, yet still so far. And I am indeed completely soaked, and also completely freezing. I stop for a moment to change into dry clothes just before I realize that I have a small river to cross in front of me. Dang it, I just got dry! Instead of pushing my bike through as I usually do, I decide to ride through in order to avoid soaking my new socks and pants. Of course, halfway through I trip, and my bike and I take a plunge into the icy cold glacier melt.

As I slowly pick myself up and begin to proceed on my way, I realize that I’m shaking. I’m absolutely freezing. Night is quickly approaching, and with it, my need for food and shelter is growing stronger. But the sign says only two more kilometers so I push on, there is no way I’m setting up my tent in this wet and cold mess.

I finally see a building ahead and all I can think about is a nice warm meal and my cozy sleeping bag. I’ll finally be able to feel my toes again! But as I approach I realize that something is off, these aren’t small stone dhabas like I’m use to seeing, but rather a large abandoned government building. This is definitely not what I had in mind.

I desperately yell out anyways, and to my surprise, a head pokes out from one of the doors. I ask if he has a room, and he points me into his small section of the building where blankets are laid on the floor. As I realize he is the only one around, in fact, probably the only human within thirty kilometers, I start to panic. I can’t stay here, in an Indian guy’s room, in the middle of nowhere. That goes against everything I have learned about traveling alone as a female. So I leave, I go back outside and stand by my bike in the pouring rain and contemplate what to do next.

The man comes out and tells me in broken English that it’s safe, and that in any case, I have nowhere else to go. The storm will continue all night, he says, you need shelter. So I decide to trust my instincts which are telling me he is just trying to help and follow him back in. He leaves to let me change in privacy, then cooks me a noodle soup with egg while I hunker down in a large pile of thick blankets. As I accept my second steaming hot cup of tea I realize that coming inside was indeed the right decision, though I’m definitely still on alert.

I fall asleep somewhat uneasily, pepper spray in hand under the covers, and am practically scared to death at two a.m. when someone begins viciously knocking on the door. As I cower under the blanket my host jumps up to answer. After speaking with the stranger for a few moments, he announces to me that he is leaving, and tosses me his keys.

Leaving? At two a.m. in the middle of a storm… on a motorcycle? While leaving a stranger with your keys? I quickly remind myself that I’m in India, and in India, anything and everything is possible.

After he leaves I quickly fall asleep again, and awake in the morning to a beautifully sunny day. I cook breakfast, dry my wet clothes on the fence outside, and laugh at the absurdity of a night in the Himalayas.

Shirine Taylor is a 20-year old girl cycling around the world, and a regular contributor to The Happy Passport. Follow her journey at awanderingphoto.wordpress.com

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Murder, Mayhem, and an Asshole from New York (Part 2)

When these things happen, these sudden blips on the heart monitor of life, these moments you write home about and get interviewed about by local reporters (and if the event is really shocking, national reporters), everyone always says the same thing: “It all happened so fast.”

And so it was for the American woman, the Canadian cyclist, the Ecuadorian couple, the British guy from India, the brunette writer, and the New York Asshole that night in the Turkish restaurant, the one on the right.

The smattering of locals that had slipped inside the restaurant earlier in the evening had slumped into the back left corner, and were having a ball of a time getting drunk on raksi, the equivalent of Nepalese bathtub gin.

At one point during the evening, one of the Nepali men has joined their table, slurring his words and asking them all where they were from. Upon seeing Chris’ disapproving look and making sure none of the women at the table were likely to sleep with him that night, he gave up and returned to his den of debauchery in the corner.

Later, just as the brunette was set to murder the New York Asshole, there was a flash of white light to her left.

A man had entered the restaurant from the back door. He swept in swiftly and was immediately restrained by the young hostess and two male waiters who noticed him first.

The brunette looked to her left and saw, not two feet from her face, the cold steel of a fat butcher’s knife catching a glint of the tasseled lamplight.

The man broke free from the staff, raised his arm above his head, and with a wild war cry rushed toward the back table, toward the drunken locals and their empty bottle of raksi.

It could never be said that a roar went up from the crowd so much as a gasp, an immediate silence, a rush of out, out, out, out!

Chris had never had his animal instincts completely take over before. In that moment he had no thought for the brunette or the cyclist or the American or even the Ecuadorians. His only thought was to get as far away from that butcher knife as he possibly could as fast as he possibly could.

In the ensuing chaos,  with the crowd of diners bottlenecking the front door, the women grabbing their purses and shrieking, there was pivotal moment when Chris decided that no, he wasn’t overreacting and yes, this was indeed an emergency.

In that moment Chris made to turn from the scene of the crime toward to the door. And it was in that split second turn that he saw her hips, those same hips backing away from danger, leading the brunette away from death.

And as they sprinted full speed into the night, away from the restaurant and the butcher-wielding murderer, he couldn’t help thinking “this is the dance she does when she is afraid. She is afraid of me.”

It was also not lost on Chris that in a moment of mortal danger everyone, himself included, panicked as politely as possible, not wanting to make too big a scene in case this whole butcher knife-thing was just some sort of terrible practical joke.

——————–

When the smoke cleared there were four of them left, and what a quadruplet they were: Orion, constant and belted against the black winter sky, the New York Asshole, terrified and giddy, her tough exterior melted away in the face of real fear, Chris and the brunette, panting and out of breath as they’d been on their hike up to the stupa.

The rest of the crowd had dispersed, they’d lost their friends, everyone had run all the way home in terror and the excitement of something real and tangible actually happening, and happening to them.

They stood in the street, which was silent and dark, having stopped some 100 yards away from the Turkish restaurant, the one on the right.

Chris and the two women stared in each other’s faces for a few moments, looking for signs of just how frightened they should or shouldn’t be, looking to see if what just happened had, in fact, just happened.

“Should we go back?”

“We didn’t pay for our meals.”

“That poor restaurant owner, he just lost his entire night’s earnings.”

The New York Asshole had already paid her bill, as everyone in the restaurant was well aware, so she bid them farewell and they departed warmly, bonded in the way only tragedy can bond, connected on a level that’s only realized when the ego is silenced and for one sweet moment all that’s left is sheer, unadulterated humanity – that nameless innocence and sweetness common to all who walk the earth, even the jerk from New York.

Chris and the brunette decided to return and pay their bill. Perhaps they wanted another rush of excitement, another shot of danger. They weren’t alone.

A small crowd remained outside the restaurant. The police had come, they’d be questioned, they’d pay their bill, and they’d assure the devastated restaurant owner that no, this incident was not going to ruin his business forever. After all, people could always go eat at the other Turkish restaurant, the one on the left.

The butcher had been sent home with a warning, escorted by the police. Apparently one of the drunken locals had said something rude to him, something disrespectful, something that warranted a stabbing. But in the end no one was hurt except the restaurateur.

The man who was the intended victim, the one who’d almost been butchered to death, was wild-eyed and talking a mile a minute. He grabbed the brunette, shook her by the shoulders and said “You saw. You were closest. What did I do? I just needed to use the bathroom, he was in there, I told him to hurry up. It’s not my fault, I didn’t do anything wrong. Did I do something wrong? It’s not my fault.”

Chris gently lifted his fingers from the brunette’s shoulders, speaking in soothing tones, agreeing with him.

“Of course it’s not your fault.”

They extracted themselves from the shaken victim and walked home together, both quiet, both ruminating on the fact that they themselves could have been butchered tonight.

And yet not even that, not even being faced with their own deaths, was enough to convince either of them to speak up about their feelings for the other.

And so Orion’s belt was gazed upon, the hips tilted backward to prevent the kiss that didn’t happen, and they made plans to see each other again the following day.

For Part 1 of this post, click here.

This post is an excerpt from My Week With Deepak: A memoir of Nepal, available February 2015 from THP Publishing. To pre-order your copy, click here!

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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

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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

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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)

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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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Makalu: Trekking the Himalayas

The last four hours trekking the Himalayas haven’t been that bad. In fact, even though I have gained nearly 1,000 meters of altitude, it’s been pretty fun! That is, until 10 minutes ago….

Unfortunately, the last ten minutes have proven that the rest of the day is about to get a whole lot slower.

For the first time in over a decade there is still snow on the route, snow that has normally melted by the end of February but will clearly be here at least a few more weeks.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love snow. I absolutely love the mountains, and usually when I see snow, I feel right at home being from a cold snowy place myself.

But I guess it’s a little different when that snow is greatly hindering your progress up a never ending vertical slope.

After a few more hours of panting and slipping I arrive, completely soaked, to a small house in the middle of nowhere.

This guest house, called a tea house in the trekking regions of Nepal, is run by a Tibetan Nepali woman, and is open throughout the season in order to provide climbers a dry place to sleep and eat on their approach to Makalu, the fifth tallest mountain in the world.

 

trekking-the-himalayas-5

Though there are other trekkers who simply wish to visit the base camp, this area is mostly composed of true mountaineers, many of whom have already climbed some of the world’s most renowned peaks such as K2 and Everest.

I order a “dalbaht,” the typical rice and lentils found everywhere in Nepal, and though it’s much more expensive than usual, I understand why.

As we are now a four day’s walk from civilization, the food has to be carried up here everyday in order for us trekkers and climbers to eat.

In fact, on my way through the snow I met three teenage boys racing down the hill (in flip flops no less!). They were making their way down the mountain to a lower supply village in order to fill up the empty baskets on their heads, and then begin the long trudge back up the steep snowy slopes.

It is wet and cold as I set up the tent, and throughout the next two nights trekking the Himalayas I realize that the weather in this particular area is absolutely miserable.

The clouds are constant and the cold is bone-chilling because everything is so wet. I do get a fifteen minute break at sunrise though, and realize that the giant Himalayas are indeed surrounding us, tantalizing us by staying so hidden most of the time. 

trekking-the-himalayas-2

After talking with the lady who runs this tea house I realize that her family owns the guest houses farther along this trek as well.

While she is in charge of this one, her husband caters to the one on the other side of the gigantic pass in front of us. And beyond that, her husband’s brother is stationed at the next one.

Their children are all in private boarding schools lower down, and one is even going to school in Kathmandu. There is good money in running a tea house such as this, but it is also a lot of work.

trekking-the-himalayas-3
The woman is up at dawn preparing tea and food for the climbers and trekkers who want to get an early start to the day, and then spends the rest of the morning cleaning up in order to prepare for the next group who may or may not be trekking the Himalayas that day. 

It is cold, and in this case, very snowy, and to run this guest house she is forced to live away from her family for months at a time.

I’m thankful she is here though. Even though I am carrying a fair amount of food and am mostly self-sufficient due to the tent, there is no way I could carry enough to last me along this twenty-day trek without being able to buy meals at the mountain tea houses such as this one.

The Makalu base camp trek is a great alternative for trekkers who want something less crowded and popular than the overrun treks of Annapurna and Everest.

trekking-the-himalayas-1

 

Situated in the East, it’s inaccessibility is what keeps most people away as it requires a twenty-five hour bus ride (or half an hour flight) from Kathmandu to reach the last town in the area where the trek begins.

The long travel overland is more than worth it for the beauty this twenty-day trek grants you, and the peacefulness of being nearly alone among the 8,000-meter giants.

Shirine Taylor is a 20-year old solo female traveler cycling around the world, and a regular contributor to The Happy Passport. Follow her journey at awanderingphoto.wordpress.com.

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Quick+Dirty Takeaway

Trekking the Himalayas doesn't have to mean over-touristed circuits like Annapurna and Everest.

Head east of Kathmandu to Makalu for isolation and amazing views!

It takes 25 hours by bus to reach the trail head from Kathmandu, so be prepared to be surrounded by hardcore adventure travelers and true mountaineers.

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

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

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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.

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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.

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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!

Women of Nepal: At home in the kitchen

The family knew that Christmas was the Achilles’ heel of Westerners.

There were a few scattered festivals and parades throughout the town, but they were all presented in a way that lacked the cheer of the season.

A lone, Charlie Brown Christmas tree guarded the entrance to an alleyway on Lakeside Drive, and a handful of restaurants hung a few extra lights in honor of the season.

Many wrote “Happy Christmas” or simply “Christmas!” on the chalkboard signs that served to entice customers to enter, but besides the copious amount of mulled wine Chris and the brunette had enjoyed together, there wasn’t much that felt like Christmas.

And so Christmas was the family’s chance to unwrap her, unwrap the mystery of the writing room, find out more about the man who came to visit in the mornings, about the days at a time when she’d disappear completely and sometimes call them to say she wouldn’t be returning, but that of course she’d still be paying for the room.

The wife had prepared a special dinner – dried buffalo meat as an appetizer, followed by an extra special dahlbat with curried vegetables and potatoes and a beautiful, rich yogurt that may as well have been a dessert.

The brunette brought a handle of Red Stag at the husband’s request – it was his favorite, expensive.

Chris had managed to find a bottle of red wine which had definitely turned, but that him and the brunette drank anyway, painful sip after painful sip.

The husband talked about American music, then American movies, then American books.

The wife hid in the kitchen, periodically appearing to disperse more and more food. The sons were lost in a football match on the tiny television set, and the husband eventual lost himself in the bourbon.

And so it was that the Christmas dinner belonged to the two of them alone, surrounded as they were by an entire family, a silent family who spoke to each other and not to them, a wife who, as was custom, never joined the table to impart in the meal she’d just so painstakingly created.

And all they could see on this, this Christmas Eve, was each other, laughing across the table. Laughing, eating and drinking as the only two people on earth, until the yawns of the family forced them to retire to the brunette’s guest room.

“You make it feel like Christmas” said the brunette, and Chris’s heart swelled in his chest, ripe to burst.

They sat in the little alcove created by a table and two chairs, their stockinged feet upon the table, him smoking, her drinking, both marveling at how the wife never joined them.

“I feel bad she never ate! When does she eat?”

“It must be perfectly normal. It must be a woman’s duty, a wife’s duty.”

“It’s slavery. Indentured servitude. I’ll have none of it” he said.

“You’re such a feminist,” she said.

“Can you imagine slaving away for hours then standing by and watching while everyone else gets to eat, and no one even thanks you?”

“But to her, it’s honorable. To her, she is acting as a good wife. It’s only when you tell her something is wrong with it that she becomes dissatisfied.

And that’s what we do, isn’t it? Go around the planet telling people they she be dissatisfied with their lives, that they should want plasma screen televisions, that they should be discontent unless and until they have all the things we have, all the things we think we need to be happy.

And we do it not for them, but to convince ourselves that the pursuit of stuff is worth it – that the endless chase has some sort of purpose.

The most offensive person to the American ideal, the enemy of the ideal, is the person who is perfectly happy living a simple, quiet life without a car, without a nice house, without ego, without identity.

Shova is no one special. And Shova is happy as a clam. Her happiness defies everything we’ve been taught about what happiness should look like.

Happiness is waking early, lighting a stick of incense, and giving thanks for all the days that have brought you to this one.

I see the beauty in her eyes when she looks at her husband with pure adoration, and the tenderness with which he looks at her. And the honor and esteem she feels having cooked a wonderful meal her family enjoys, whether they say thank you or not. I see a woman who is thriving, at the top of her game, a woman who is living the dream.

We have decided there is no honor in her position, but she doesn’t know that, and because she doesn’t know that she is happy.

It is the greatest cruelty in the world to force your reality onto someone else, to say ‘See? What you have isn’t nearly good enough, you should be devastated.’

And I think that a lot of the time, that’s what we do when we come into developing countries trying to ‘help.’

But you know what? For all of our Western medicine and flat screen TVs and technology and individualism, all of our efforts to “fix” the “Third world,” it is our countries that are filled with miserable people.

People whose egos run their lives, people who are never content with what they have, people who have to schedule kid-time into their smartphone app, people so spoiled and stuffed with poison that they pay other people money so that they can eat less food, people who abuse themselves for decades then expect doctors to be able to fix them, people obsessed, obsessed, obsessed with fame and success, people who resent the famous and the successful, hypocrites who strive to be beautiful then hate those who achieve beauty, people for whom the best is never, never, never enough.

And me, and you, and all of those people could learn a thing or two from a woman breathing in and out, breathing life into her nostrils each morning as she lights her incense, with a song in her heart and on her lips, more than content with her lot, perfectly grateful to be of service, aware of the perfection of her position in the world, certain that she is blessed by her God and certain she is fulfilling his calling.”

He had listened to it all as he always did, letting her spew her ideas into the air of the room, watching her as whatever entity was speaking spoke through her. And he loved her fully and completely then.

“I still say she should open her own restaurant” he said softly, smiling.

She threw a pillow at him, laughing.

They regarded each other for a moment until she removed herself from the visual embrace, stepping out of it on tiptoe.

“You have to leave” she said suddenly with no explanation.

“Ok…” he tilted his head, confused. What had he done to offend her?

“It’s late” she said in way of explanation. A bullshit explanation.

He didn’t budge from his perch, and she sighed and stood up and began pacing the floor, backing her hips away as she’d done every night when they’d parted under the constellations.

“You have to leave because if you don’t leave, we’re going to make love, and I can’t. I just can’t.”

By Rebekah Voss. This post is an excerpt from My Week With Deepak: A memoir of Nepal, available February 2015 from THP Publishing. To pre-order your copy, click here!

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Nepal’s Holi Festival of Colors

As my face is gently smeared with color for the fourth time I suddenly think “Oh! So that’s how it’s done.”

While foreigners viciously throw the powdered color used to celebrate Holi Festival, the Nepalis smear it on your face. gently, with reverence. And I’m trusting them to know how it’s supposed to be done – it’s their holiday after all.

As I parade down the street with my group of friends, we are continually smeared with paint and shot with water guns. This mix of water and color creates a sloppy yet beautiful mess all over our faces and clothes. And little do we know, this is just the start to the crazy festival of colors known as Holi Festival. 

The screaming and singing confirms that we are close before I can see the thousands of colorful Nepalis dancing in the square.

We have followed the crowd, which has led us into the heart of the city to the scene of a bustling party of extreme proportions, and of course, color.

As we try and make our way through we are “attacked” from every side. Being a Westerner, every Nepali wants to smear their own handful of power on your cheeks no matter how covered you may already be.

It’s hard to make any progress when all you see are green, red, and yellow hands in front of your face, but I don’t mind. Today is all about the experience.

Holi-festival-2

A group of young Nepalis pull us into a dancing circle, and we suddenly find ourselves learning to dance as they do, the music pounding in our ears.

It’s fun, but as I prefer to watch, I quietly sneak out to the sidelines to observe.

Around me there are thousands of young Nepalis laughing and celebrating, and I realize that a city has rarely looked as alive as it does today.

Though smearing color may be the purpose of this gathering, it also looks like a perfectly good excuse for a day off to party, get together with friends, and celebrate life. It’s the buzzing atmosphere that makes this day feel so special.

We sit down to eat at a small outdoor restaurant and watch as children run up and down the street chasing each other with water and color, mercilessly pouring both down on their friend’s heads. What a festival indeed.

I have always seen documentaries of Holi Festival depicting this infamous color-throwing Hindu holiday, but I never thought I would get to experience it for real.

Holi-festival-3

 

Though I knew the holiday took place in India, it didn’t occur to me until I saw it with my own eyes that it would also be celebrated in Nepal. 

Being smeared with the powder myself fulfilled my lifelong dream of partaking in the chaotic festival of colors. Creating and receiving a mess has never been so much fun.

Have you experienced Holi Festival? Where? Would you do it again?

by Shirine Taylor a 20-year old solo female traveler cycling around the world, and a regular contributor to The Happy Passport. Follow her journey at awanderingphoto.wordpress.com.

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

1. Holi Festival takes place in Nepal as well as India, Bangladesh, South Africa, and many other countries around the world

2. One part of the Holi festival involves getting smeared head to toe with brightly colored paints, throwing paint at friends and strangers, and using water and water guns to liquefy paint powders

3. You probably don't want to bring your camera or smartphone to Holi Festival!!

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

Solo Travel Challenge: How to eat alone without feeling awkward

What is the biggest thing stopping you from indulging your fantasies of solo travel?

For many women, it’s not money, time, safety issues, or feeling overwhelmed with the details of planning your trip.

If you’re like a lot of people out there, you’re afraid of solo travel because you’re afraid of feeling lonely, and because you’re afraid of feeling awkward.

If you travel solo, you’ll have to do things like go out to dinner alone, go to museums alone, and engage in all sorts of activities that you’d normally do with a partner.

Solo travel is awesome for so many reasons, but namely because when you travel solo, you end up getting know a really incredible travel partner that you’ve probably been ignoring for years – you.

But you won’t realize that until you’re on the road, and my job is to help you get on the road already.

If you’re like Karen, one of my VIP coaching clients, the fear of eating alone is enough to make you scrap the whole trip altogether.

It’s sort of like not writing a novel because you’re a bad speller.

With that in mind, here is your handy dandy “spell checker”  for eating alone in restaurants when you travel solo.

1. Use your phone or bring a book

Your smartphone can serve as your dinner companion if you’re terrified of simply sitting at a table with no one to talk to. A book serves the same purpose.

In those awkward moments before your meal arrives, you can connect with friends and family on Facebook or dive into your favorite novel. This will keep you feeling connected and less lonely while eating alone.

2. Chat with the waitstaff

Almost every single one of my friendships with locals has begun in a restaurant.

Chat with your waiter or waitress – they’re friendly and they’ll have fantastic stories for you about where they come from and what life is like for them.

Then, go back to that same restaurant or café every day. Before long they’ll remember your name, and each time you return you’ll feel like you’re going to visit friends (which you are.)

Awkwardness = crushed.

3. People-watch

I hate to break it to you, but no one is looking at you and thinking “Oh how sad and pathetic, that woman is all alone, it must be because no one loves her and she tried really hard but just couldn’t get someone to join her for dinner.”

I promise no one is thinking that. (And if they are thinking that, they’re dicks and you wouldn’t want them in your life anyway.)

Why?

Because people aren’t thinking about you, they’re thinking about themselves.

If they are thinking about you, they’re most likely wondering what that confident, independent woman eating alone thinks about them as they sit with their significant other, envying you your freedom.

4. Have a cocktail

There’s nothing more romantic than a mysterious woman sitting by herself in an exotic location sipping a cocktail and watching the world go by. It’s pure sex on a stick. You must try it.

(Wine works too, but so does some kind of delectable coffee or tea concoction. Anything that comes in a fun glass. Milkshakes count.)

5. Don’t

As in, don’t eat alone.

During solo travel you never really have to eat alone unless you choose too.

I enjoy eating alone because I like to actually taste my food and enjoy the sensory experience of eating, but also because I’ve come to enjoy my own company.

I don’t have to be involved in a conversation every second of the day because I’m not trying to cover up some uncomfortable pain that I haven’t yet dealt with.

When you travel solo, you’ll get to that point to, but until you do, try eating with strangers.

I’ve already written about this phenomenon, but when you dine alone in a foreign country, people tend to invite you to eat with them. It’s happened to me countless times, and it will happen to you too.

In addition to invitations to join someone’s table, I’ve had countless people approach and ask to sit with me.  And I’ve always said yes.

Which means that you can feel free to approach people and ask to join them.

You might say “Hi, I’m so-and-so, I’m from XYZ country, do you mind if I join you?”

People will say yes because people are terrified of appearing rude. Then you’ll charm them with your sparkling personality and everyone will be glad you were brave enough to break the ice.

Bon Appetit!

The fear of solo travel is all the more reason to choose solo travel.

If you’re uncomfortable eating alone, going to the movies alone, or traveling alone, know that you’re not alone.

Most people are scared of the same things, which is why it’s rare to see people eating in restaurants alone, which is why you think you should feel awkward about it.

But here’s what’s actually going on – if you’re scared to eat alone, it’s means you’re either

a) terrified of what others think of you, or

b) terrified to be alone with yourself and your thoughts

In  either case, the remedy is to launch yourself into solo travel headfirst, watch the discomfort as it arises, and begin to ask yourself questions like “Why on earth do I care if a couple from Germany who I’ll never see again thinks it’s sad I’m eating alone?”

When you choose solo travel and eat alone, you make a statement to the world and to yourself that says “I am enough.”

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Quick+Dirty Takeaway

1. Use your phone or bring a book.

2. Chat with the waitstaff.

3. People-watch

4. Have a cocktail and be mysterious.

5. Don't eat alone - ask to join someone's else's table or say "yes" when someone asks to join your table.

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

5 Symptoms of Reverse Culture Shock

"What do MEAN this won't be my backyard anymore?"

“Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” – Miriam Beard

Though almost every long-term traveler experiences reverse culture shock to some degree after returning home, this rarely-discussed condition often takes travelers by surprise, which makes the transition from the road to home all the more difficult.

At seventeen I returned from a year-long exchange in Belgium, an amazing year filled with friends, school, and festivals in a place I learned to call home.

Within a week of returning to Oregon I was no longer the happy carefree girl I had been. I was depressed, angry, and disconnected from the world around me.

I gradually lost all of my friends, spent much of my time wandering aimlessly alone, and, in retrospect, wasted a perfectly good eight or nine months of my life as I struggled to deal with reverse culture shock.

I had no idea that returning could be so hard, and part of what makes the transition so difficult is that it is impossible for non-travelers to understand what you’re experiencing. Your friends back home won’t be able to do much to help you transition.

At nineteen I returned from another year abroad, a year backpacking through South America, and luckily this time I was prepared to deal with the shock. I made new friends, explored my own country, and was able to transition smoothly into “normal life.”

Here are a few tips about what reverse culture shock can feel like and how to deal with it when it strikes:

1. No one understands you.

This may very well be the most difficult aspect to deal with, especially if you aren’t prepared for the shock of returning home.

You have amazing stories to tell, yet no one wants to hear them.

In fact, people will probably get annoyed when you start every sentence with “When I was in…”. It is hard to realize that most people haven’t undergone the same changes you have, and you will probably feel lost and possible even angry for a while.

Find a way to share your experiences with those who are willing to listen. Start a blog or do a presentation at a local school or community event, or even an informal dinner presentation for a few of your friends or parent’s friends.

Though it is hard, try not to impose your stories on friends who aren’t interested. Instead, find something you and your friends share in common and focus on that.

2. Nothing has changed.

Your friends are still exactly the same, but that’s the problem. You have changed, you have new ideas about the world, your life path, and about who you are, and you may find it hard to fit in with your old group of friends.

Understand that you have changed, accept it, and love your new self while working with your friends to strengthen their friendships with the new you.

Since they haven’t experienced what you have, realize it may be hard for them to understand why you are suddenly different.

Feel free to share your ideas acquired on the road, but don’t impose or force your friends to change as well.

To supplement your old friendships, try meeting new people, maybe like-minded travelers who, like you, have recently returned home.

3. Home is…well….kind of boring.

After traveling, especially across multiple countries or continents, you have probably encountered amazing history, culture, and traditions.

Every day on the road seems like an adventure, with new sights and sounds around every corner.

Once you get home, shopping in a store is nowhere near as exciting as the chaotic markets filled with foods you have never seen. Everything seems so mundane and boring.

Travel, if done right, is more about how you see and experience life than how you see and experience a physical place.

Apply what you have leaned on the road to your life back home. Try cooking new dishes  that you tasted during your travels, pick up a new sport or hobby, and explore your own country.

Chances are there are some amazing things to see close to home, so go out and explore as if it was a foreign land.

After returning from South America I made sure to plan weekend getaways almost every week. I went backcountry skiing, snow camping, and hunting and fishing for my first time.

When I got itchy feet a few months in, I took a week off to hitchhike up to Vancouver where I was able to get my fill of traveling and travelers.

4. Your friends suddenly seem shallow. 

As you travel, you become accustomed to meeting amazing and inspiring people around ever corner, people who have climbed the tallest mountains, started their own orphanages, or dedicated their lives to discovering our world.

With these international-minded friends, you have grown used to debating world issues, and in your own way, discussing how we can make our world a better place.

Once you arrive home, you may feel like your friends only talk about superficial things. Who’s dating who, shopping, consumerism, etc.

You will probably start to crave the intellectual debates that had become part of your normal life on the road.

Try discussing a few of these issues with your friends back home, find friends who read the news or who are up-to-date on current events.

Also, go out of your way to meet new people. Though it may seem impossible at first, there are sure to be at least a few like-minded people living in your town.

Watching documentaries, reading the news, and attending cultural presentations or events are also great ways to keep expanding your international mind.

5. “Everything was so much better in _____________.”

Upon returning home, travelers have the tendency to think that everything was “better in [insert favorite country here],” which makes it hard for them to be content at home.

It is typical for travelers to hold the countries they traveled through in higher esteem than may be deserved. If you really think about it, you weren’t so crazy about Vietnam that day the motorbike broke down, and you were definitely ready to leave Nepal the day you got food poisoning.

This feeling will fade over time, and eventually you will be able to look back at those places and experiences with an unbiased view.

When I returned from Belgium I thought that “everything was better there,” yet now, in retrospect, I realize that I would much rather spend my life in Oregon.

Just because you are at home doesn’t mean life has to stop being fun.

Create new friendships, go on small trips, and embrace every opportunity.

The change in you is permanent. Learn how to deal with the new you back in your old home, and you will begin to see life, even at home, as an adventure.

Shirine Taylor is a 20-year old solo female traveler cycling around the world, and a regular contributor to The Happy Passport. Follow her journey at awanderingphoto.wordpress.com.

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

Symptoms of reverse culture shock may include:

1. Feeling like no one understands you.

2. Feeling like nothing has changed.

3. Thinking that home is really boring.

4. Thinking all of your friends and family are really shallow.

5. Believing that "everything was SO much better in _________"

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

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