Rishikesh – A Himalayan Yogi Oasis

Rishikesh is a little yogi paradise about 5 hours north of New Delhi at the base of the Himalayas.  It’s my personal favorite city in India (not that I’ve seen too many), and also the yoga capital of the world.  Yoga was invented here.  The entire city, located inside of a national park, is centered on the ice blue Ganga, and has almost a mountain-safari vibe to it with massive white old-school jeeps full of people going trekking or wherever rolling through the streets.  I wish I had gotten a picture of one because they’re really quite a sight, and they barely fit through the little India roads.

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To be fair Rishikesh is much more westernized than any other city I visited in India.  It’s chock full of trendy health-food stores, juice bars, and vegan bakeries.  Many other backpackers I met had been there for months.  The consensus amongst Indians and westerners alike(that I spoke to) said Rishikesh is their favorite place in India.

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Even the monkeys like to “chill” in Rishikesh.  (hehe, get it?) 

Rishikesh is a nice place to just park it and chill.  Many foreigners spend a lot of time here for yoga teacher training, or to cleanse themselves and get lost in yoga at an ashram for a few weeks.  The Beatles actually came here and wrote their white album at the Ashram of Maharishi Mahesh, which is now abandoned.

Bonus – in May, when hot season in full swing, Rishikesh is just a little bit cooler than the rest of the country.  Plus, it offers the options of jumping in the ice cold Ganga or frolicking in waterfalls.  Apparently, hot season is when backpackers stick to the northern parts of India and stay cool up in the Himalayas.  They visit the Dalai Llama in Dharamshala, chill in Manali, and party in Kasol.  But I didn’t get that memo before the trip and was already dead set on seeing Rajasthan and Varanasi.  Next time.

Things to Do in Rishikesh

1) Yoga

Free yoga, hot yoga, Vinyasa yoga, hardcore yoga; there’s every different kind of yoga you could think of here.  And it’s WAY cheaper than anywhere else I’ve seen in Asia.  Most hostels offer free yoga, which was prime as hell for myself as I was poor by the end of my trip.  Free sunrise yoga?  Count me in.

2) Shop

I saw a tonnnnn of cheap silver jewelry in Rishikesh.  I’m talking 6 bucks for silver earrings.  Although I have no idea how to tell if jewelry is real or fake, and it is still India, so I would read up on how to tell if silver is legit before buying any.

They also have super cool antiques, for example vintage compasses left from when the British occupied the area.  They have a ton of cool wrought iron silver.  A bunch of the stores carry these really pretty locks made in the shape of fish or decorated with Shiva or Ganesha.

3) Raft

Rishikesh is also known for rafting on the Ganga.  Although I would be careful, there are a ton of riptide pockets in that part of the river and it actually can be pretty dangerous.  I met someone whose uncle died on the river.  It’s super cheap though, around 9 bucks a person.

4) Swim in the Ganga

Submerging in the Ganga cleanses your karma!  I did this at the convincing of some British dude who was half crazy.  Of course only AFTER I got in did he say that he may have a parasite that possibly came from the river.  Girls, I’d recommend just getting in fully clothed (I did) if you’re as creeped out by gawking Indian men as I am.  Crazy British dude said he had been in the river with some girl in a bikini & a guy rafting by literally fell out of his boat from staring.

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Crazy British dude who may or may not have a parasite.

 

5) Do ayurvedic-ish

Ayurvedic medicine originated in India.  It’s supposed to help with your circulation and general health.  You can get super cheap ayurvedic massages in Rishikesh, and many of the western/veggie/vegan restaurants even have an ayurvedic menu.  Don’t ask me how that works.  I wonder how long the ayurvedic food trend is going to take to hit the US.

6) Visit waterfalls

There are a ton of pretty waterfalls in Rishikesh!  My friends & I hiked to Garud Chatti, the easiest one to access by foot from the Laxman Jhula area.  You can also hire a jeep to take you if you’re not ballin’ on a budget.

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Downside to waterfalls in Rishikesh – you can swim in them if you want, but it’s the same deal as swimming in the Ganga.  There are usually a bunch of Indian men, and they all stare at you.  For that reason my friend & I didn’t get in, but of course some pain-in-the-ass still spent about 15 minutes trying to convince us.  I also saw a bunch of Indian women at the waterfall, but of course none were swimming.

7) See the evening aarti or pooja ceremonies on the Ganga

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Same as Varanasi, every evening there are ceremonies along the Ganga honoring the river, called aarti.  There are also usually groups of yogis doing a pooja ceremony where a bunch of westerners play dress up in sarees and release a little boat with a candle and an orange pooja flower into the river.

8) Chill with the babas

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Again, just like Varanasi, there are a ton of babas in Rishikesh.  Babas are hindu holy men.  As someone who likes to take pictures, the babas in Rishikesh are WAY more chill than the ones in Varanasi.  As in they don’t all ask for money if you want a picture.

Fun fact –

I was informed that a ton of the babas in Rishikesh are fake babas.  Fugitives who have committed really severe crimes (think rape, murder) apparently dress up like holy men and grow beards to hide from the police.  This is especially prominent in Rishikesh because everyone in Rishikesh can get fed for free at one ashram or another.  Even the stray dogs in Rishikesh are well fed.

9) See sunrise over the Himalayas at Kunjapuri Devi temple

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You have to jeep up through the mountains to get to this temple viewpoint and also leave at an ungodly hour, but it’s worth it.

10) Treat yoself with western food and cute cafes

There are a million vegan-friendly and vegetarian friendly restaurants in Rishikesh, serving everything from yogi food to vegan baked goods.

11) Visit Maharishi Mahesh yogi ashram, the abandoned ashram where the Beatles recorded their White album

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The Beatles infamously spent some time at an ashram in Rishikesh with the Maharishi Mahesh, studying transcendental meditation and recording music.  The ashram is abandoned, however for a small 600-rupee fee you can visit and see some of the graffiti that’s been painted on the ashram over the years.

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PS I’m being sarcastic about the damn fee because paying $9US to see something that’s completely abandoned and not kept up at all is absurd and irritating.  And is also classic India.

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Warning – it’s also huge, and while there are many well-known murals throughout the ruins that artists were commissioned to paint, there is no map as to where they are.  So if you want to find them expect to spend a bit of time there, it’s quite a large complex.

Double warning – the ashram is also smack-dab in the middle of an active tiger reserve.  And it’s India, so none of the tigers are tagged or tracked.  Enter at your own risk.

Although it is quite rare to see a tiger, maulings do happen in and around Rishikesh from time to time.  The last one I heard of was in February.

WTF India moment

– on my last day in Rishikesh, some poor Indian woman washed up near the shore after she had drowned.  It had been a day or two that she had been in the water, so it wasn’t exactly a very nice sight to see.  And of course, it’s India, so whoever found her left her uncovered and tied to a rock until the police arrived.  Which took 5 hours.

So there you have it.  Rishikesh really has it all – good western food, a shrine to the Beatles, fugitives on the run, waterfalls, and tigers.

 

10 Fun(Morbid) Facts About Varanasi, India

Varanasi.  Maybe this name rings a distant bell in your brain, as it’s the reigning dual title-holder of both the Oldest City in the World and the Holiest City in the World.  I have no idea by what metrics either of those are measured but that’s what I’ve been told.

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Varanasi is a city in India that’s built on the River Ganga.  The Ganga is one of 3 tributaries of the holy Ganges River, and the holiest of the tributaries.  It’s said that the Ganga flows from Shiva himself.  The city is a Hindu pilgrimage site, but not for the living.  Hindus come from all over to get cremated, or have their ashes thrown in the river.

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Not only do dead bodies go in the river, but live ones do too.  The entire riverbank is made up of “ghats” or holy baths that are used for different purposes.  Some are used to cure leprosy, and some are for bodies.  And they’re all part of one giant river of water; there isn’t any form of separation between them, not that it would help.  So you can see happy Indians splish-splashing around less than 100 feet from where bodies have been tossed in for thousands of years.  Even the Indian government has issued health warnings telling people to stop getting in.

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Why Not?

*****My friend & I go to pet stray puppies, Indian guy & his clique who are attempting to get selfies with us look at us like we’re nuts*****

Us: You won’t pet the puppies?

Homeboy: (Hindi accent)Not sanitary!

Us: So do you get in the water?

Homeboy: Of course.  Why not?

Pour one out for the lack of education on communicative diseases.

I heard tales of 3 other foreigners who actually got in the water.  Two got Typhoid and one got Hepatitis E.  I didn’t even know Hepatitis had spread that far down the alphabet.

Note – submerging in the Ganga is supposed to cleanse you of all your karma.  But this can be done very far upstream at a much cleaner part of the Ganga in Rishikesh.

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Fun (Morbid) Facts About the Craziest City in Existence

1) Not only do people come here to have their remains disposed of in the river, but also to die

Mother Theresa’s is a Catholic charity in Varanasi (with branches in other cities) where people come to die with dignity.  That means anyone too poor to afford hospital service or to get buried who doesn’t want to die in the street.  They also take care of cremations, however with ovens, not wood.  You can volunteer here and help people in their final hours.  I met one guy who did it, and he said after 1 day he had seen enough death and mentally needed a break.

2) Majority of the Babas/Sadus(holymen) tourists see here are FAKE

This one isn’t really a surprise.  Especially closer to the ghats there are sadus, or holy men, dressed in orange or covered in ash waiting for tourists to come and take their picture.  And then after people take their picture, they ask for money.

I found this particularly depressing because so many street photographers I follow have amazing pictures from Varanasi.  It’s sad to find out they’ve had to pay for taking them.  I was told that a baba who asks you for money isn’t a real baba, as supposedly they’ve given up material things and such.  Therefore, there’s a lot of cool pictures of fake babas rolling around.  I only found 2 babas that didn’t want money for their picture the entire time I was in Varanasi.  It was like finding out there’s no Santa Clause all over again.

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3) The fire that lights the main burning ghat has supposedly been burning for thousands of years

There’s some Hindu legend behind this, I forget.

4) The caste system is alive and well in Varanasi, and is reflected in the cremations

The main burning ghat is divided into 4 parts, one for each caste.

The only people who are allowed to actually burn bodies are Doms, a special sub-caste of untouchables

These men are all driven to alcoholism to cope with the smell of burning bodies.  People won’t let them into their homes or even look at them, but they’ll pay them to burn their relatives.

5) It takes 150 kilos of wood for 1 cremation

That’s around 300 pounds-ish.  The business of death is on & poppin in Varanasi.  If people can’t afford all the wood for a cremation, they’ll burn the body until they run out and then throw the remains in the water.  Which brings me to my next fact…

6) Dogs and other animals are known to be especially mangy here because they chew on pieces of bodies that wash up on the shores of the River Ganga

7) There are real-live cannibals that hang out here & no one bats an eye

No, you’re not in danger of getting eaten.  But there is a group of holy men in the Hindu religion that are known for being cannibals.   However, they don’t just eat anyone; they only eat bodies that are donated to them by families of the deceased.  They usually can be seen around dusk, because that is the time of day that the world of the living and the dead are most in balance, or something like that.  They’re recognizable by the ash on their face and their all-black getups.  The weird part – they’re highly respected, which is probably why people let the cannibalism get by.

8) This is where you will see the most weddings in India

Maybe because it’s a holy city?  I don’t know.  But I saw more newlyweds within my first half hour of getting to Varanasi than I did in all of my time in Asia combined.  An Indian dude who worked at my hostel in Jodhpur told me that I had my best chance of crashing a wedding in Varanasi, so I’m not making this up either.  (I actually ended up crashing a wedding in Pushkar, but more on that another day)

9) There’s a lassi shop where you can watch bodies go by on their way to the pyre

DSC_1077.jpgLassi(n). – dank Indian yogurt drink thing with a layer of milk froth on top that’s heaven in a terracotta cup.  Instead of plastic cups they’re traditionally served in terracotta cups, which you just toss away when you’re finished.  Much more eco-friendly than plastic.

The shop is called Blue Lassi.  It’s one of the number one tourist shops in the city, thank you Lonely Planet.  You pay double to triple what you’d pay at other lassi shops, which is still less than $2, so it’s worth it.  Plus the lassis are really good and the owner is nice.

Bodies go by carried on stretchers on their way to the main burning ghat (Manakarnika Ghat).  They’re covered in orange fabric, but it’s tied so you can still tell where the head & limbs are.  It’s pretty creepy, the bodies jiggle when they’re rushed down the alleyways.  If you’re walking in an alley and hear bells GTFO to the side, that means a body is coming through.

Interesting article on the burning ghats, complete with pictures.

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Saffron lassi, 85 rupees ($1.25)

Here’s a siq music video that was filmed in Varanasi along with other cities in the Rajasthani region where you can see footage of a body going by at 3:45.  You can see the actual main burning ghat at 3:56.

10) There’s more public cow sh*t per capita than there is public trash cans

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Hahahahahaaaaaaa I mean at least I think I’m funny.  Not proven but probably true.  One night I was walking through the winding alleyways when the lights went out (a normal occurrence in India).  I wasn’t concerned about getting pickpocketed, I was concerned about stepping in cow crap.

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There ya have it.  Scam artists, the caste system, and thousands of dead people.  Have I sold you on it yet?

SIDE NOTE sick music vid some French guy shot on his iPhone in India.  The beginning and the end are in Varanasi.

Trekking With Hill Tribes from Kalaw to Inle Lake – Myanmar

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Steve, our Burmese guide Mai, and a farmer from one of the tribes.

One of the more popular activities to do along the Myanmar backpacking trail is trekking from Inle Lake to Kalaw and vice versa.  My friends & I decided to trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake after leaving Bagan, as we figured that ending our trek at the lake would be a nice reward for walking, walking, and walking even more.  So we started out in Kalaw, a tiny little mountain town that doesn’t really have much to it besides trekking companies, and headed off to Inle Lake.

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Isle Lake, made famous by a recent article in National Geographic.

We used a company called Eversmile that I found on one of my favorite travel blogs, TheHungryPartier.com.  I’d highly recommend it; our guide was awesome, it was easy to set up, and it was SUPER cheap.  A guide, accommodation in a village, and a ton of food was included for only $12US a day.  We opted for the 2-day 1-night option, but 3-day 2-night options are popular as well.

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Early morning in the Eversmile trekking office

Confession – I didn’t really know what a “trek” was until I actually did one.  It’s exactly what it sounds like; walking, walking, walking, and more walking.  With some uphill walking in between.  So basically it’s the entire second installation of Lord of the Rings.

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We got off our overnight bus from Bagan to Kalaw bright & early.  I don’t remember the exact price but I want to say that it cost us around $10, everything in Myanmar is pretty cheap.  The occasional downfall of an overnight bus – we awkwardly reached Kalaw around 2 AM, and banged on the door of the first hotel we could find so that we could sleep for a couple hours.  And we paid for a gross room where I could hear termites running around in the wooden post next to my head all night.  Beggars can’t be choosers.

Myanmar Travel Tip – ALWAYS get to the bus station super early.  The bus stations in Myanmar are absolutely freaking MASSIVE, and are completely unorganized.  The busses aren’t numbered, they’re parked by their company, so we spent a lot of time wandering around these huge night markets/bus stations trying to find out bus.

There’s not much to do in Kalaw, it’s just a pretty little mountain town that serves as a base for trekking.

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Pre-trek breakfast in Kalaw

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We walked through hills and rice paddies where tribes were farming.  It was really cool to see; they still use old-school farming methods, as in they use buffalos instead of tractors.  We also walked through several villages and got to see locals up close and personal.  We saw several village people doing local things like weaving bamboo baskets and harvesting sun-baked rice crackers from the fields.

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This dude has baskets full of massive rice crackers.
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Smiling for the camera – maybe not my camera, but still smiling for the camera.

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A heads up if you decide to trek – don’t feed the local kids.  A lot of blogs I read before trekking advise bringing gifts for children, like candy and school scupplies.  Our guide told us not to give the children anything, because a) sugary things like candy ruin their teeth and b) it teaches the children to beg instead of study and grow up to actually work.

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The trek was gorgeous, however unfortunately it’s dry harvest season in Myanmar, so it was very brown.  I’m sure the trek is much more beautiful when it’s green, perhaps after Myanmar’s rainy season.

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The coolest part of our trek (probably because it didn’t involve a ton of walking) was staying in a village.  And by village I mean VILLAGE.  As in it was in the middle of nowhere; you can’t access it by public transportation whatsoever, and they’ve only had electricity since 2011.  I saw several children walking their buffalo and many girls fetching water from the river with baskets.

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We stayed in a homestay, which basically means we slept in a village-person’s home.  They cooked us AMAZING Burmese food; which consisted of a bunch of different sautéed veggies and rice with peanuts.  The trek was surprisingly FREEZING at night, and scorching during the day, probably because we were in the hills.

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Our guide for the trek was named Mai, and he was AWESOME.  He was from a different tribe in a different part of Myanmar.  He said his village takes 4 hours to walk to because you can’t access it via public transportation, and it’s actually too dangerous to visit right now because his tribe is at war with another tribe.

While Myanmar now is officially open to tourists, majority of the country is still inaccessible to tourists.  There is a government-backed genocide happening in the Northwest region, and there is civil war going on between different tribes.  I actually met another traveler who experience civil war first-hand on his trek in Myanmar.  He said that his group heard something explode; and that his guide said it was a mine.  Then his group heard non-stop gunfire from then until the next morning.  They weren’t trekking through the affected area; but they were close to the border.  I’m not sure how much of this story is true, but it is kind of a hard story to make up.

Mai was funny.  He spoke decent English, and said that he was the only person in his village to graduate from University.  He told us about his first time seeing a real city at 7 years old, his amazement when he first aw cars, and about life in his village.

My favorite story from Mai – so Mai is considered high-society in his village, as he’s the only one to graduate from University and he has a good job.  He explained that his people are very simple, and just want to live a simple, happy life.  So when little Mai trekked back to his village, carrying his basket full of a ton of random stuff and wearing brightly-colored clothes, his father said to him “Are you going to a festival?”

I died when he said that because that’s something MY FATHER WOULD SAY if he was a member of the pa-oh tribe.  “TINA we’re going to church, not a fashion show!”

Our trek ended at Inle Lake, where we were given a boat tour around the lake and transportation to our accommodation.  Inle Lake is known for the way its fisherman fish.  It’s very old-school; they use their feet to row while they catch fish with their hands.  It’s really something to watch.  Other than that we were dragged to a few craftsman/workshop/crap type things, and then it was all over.

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Mai and some village people.

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Seeing rural Myanmar on the trek was really something, and I’d definitely do it again.  It also is super rewarding when you get to Inle Lake and realize that you were able to walk 40 km uphill for 2 days.  10/10 would recommend trying.

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Chilling with Monks in Bagan

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Beautiful Bagan.

Almost every backpacker you meet in Southeast Asia likes to say they want “local experiences” and “to hang out with locals” blah blah blahhhhh insert elephant pants here.  It’s actually pretty difficult to really meet and hang out with local people in a non-artificial non-touristy setting when you’re backpacking.

Most experiences with locals are things like homestays and the like where you stay with locals(meaning you stay in a guesthouse attached to their home) and experience their cooking, but even that is packaged to make foreigners happy.  The language barrier throws an additional curveball into really having local experiences, so you really have to make an effort if you want to get off-the-beaten path.

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Our host at a homestay I did on a trek elsewhere in Myanmar.  Local yes, but the family didn’t speak English so they didn’t really talk to us, just our guide. 
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Homestay accommodation

Hack – couchsurfing.com is a great way to stay with locals.  It’s a website where you can either open your home to travelers or find someone willing to open their home to you.  And it’s completely free, although the idea is that you’re doing it for the cultural exchange and not the savings.  You create a profile, message back and forth, and find someone to stay with.  It’s pretty cool; I’m planning on trying it in Delhi for sure, and maybe even once here in Vietnam before I leave.

My friend Steve is really good at doing just that.  His lack of fear of social norms allows him to walk right up to people that speak 0 English and start a conversation.  Because of this, he often gets to hang out with locals and see the real deal, camera in hand.

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Steve was with me in Myanmar.  One day while wandering around the streets of Bagan, he wandered into a monastery and made friends with a monk who wanted to practice his English.  They became Facebook friends, and his monk friend invited all of us to come hang out the next day and have tea at the monastery.

You can do a “monk chat” in Chiang Mai, except it’s set up beforehand for you.  It’s a way for tourists to get to talk to monks and a way for them to practice their English.  It’s also easier than finding your own monk.

So of course, the next day Steve my co-teacher Calli & I awkwardly wandered into the monastery.  Keep in mind that Myanmar has only been open to tourists since 2011, so us white people are still a novelty.  The staring level was at 100.

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We eventually found Steve’s monk friend, and ended up hanging around for a couple hours to have tea.  The monk really wanted to practice his English, which was absolutely adorable.  He had this little 1964 copy of “Learn to Speak English” that was all dog-eared and weather-beaten.

At first it was just him and us, but slowly a couple other monks crept in and joined us, clearly curious about the strange foreigners.  It’s funny being in this position in a foreign country; because to us monks are the ones that seem exotic.  But they were all beyond curious about what the hell we were doing there, and wanted to hear all about what we were doing and where we were from.

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His wiseness in the flesh

One older monk (who barely spoke English) even had me check over his English notes.  They all thought that it was really important for them to learn English to keep up in this day and age.  Their English was super basic, so they only were able to ask the basics like “where are you from” and “where are you traveling,” but one especially ambitious older monk showed me notecards in which he had translated some of his monk-teachings(better word?).

After chilling for a couple hours and drinking an absurd amount of tea(glad I can cross getting served tea by a Burmese monk off my bucket list), we had a small photoshoot and were on our way.  It was funny – each of the monks wanted pictures with us to post on Facebook.  They may be monks, but they all had their little smart phones out.

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One even pushed another one out of the picture because he wanted a solo shot with us, which was absolutely hilarious.  What do you learn when you travel?  We’re all the same(same same but different for any Southeast Asia backpackers out there).

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So there you have it.  We spent a couple hours with monks, and learned that monks care about social media too.

And the adventure continues – our monk friend(dear lord I wish I could remember his name) set up Steve with his brother who is a monk in Varanasi, India; where we’re headed in a about a month.  So hopefully we get to hang with him!  Here are some other Myanmar monk pictures just for fun.

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Getting Sucker Punched in Vietnam & How it’s Hard to Love this Country

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Pho, I’m in Vietnam yalllll

I apologize for the lack of posts!  My wifi in Vietnam has been surprisingly horrible, which is ironic since my friends & I have been staying in airbnbs for the purpose of getting good wifi.

Right now I’m on leg 3 of my first real backpacking trip after teaching.  I was in Myanmar, I did some time in Thailand, and now I’m in Vietnam.

Vietnam is a country that I’ve heard both the best and worst about from friends and other travelers.  Some people love it and decide they want to move here, while others swear they’ll never go back again.  Two of my favorite travel bloggers, Alex in Wanderland and Nomadic Matt, both wrote about how much they dislike Vietnam and are never going back again.

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So far, I’ve loved Vietnam.  I could see myself moving to Hanoi for a bit.  I love it THAT much.  In Vietnam the weather is gloomy (I love dark and cold), the food is AMAZING, the French influence makes for gorgeous architecture in Hanoi, and the countryside near Hoi An is beautiful.  The shopping in Hoi An is also absolutely insane, you can get a full custom outfit made for $15.

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Outfits by Hoi An.  I got that romper brand spankin new for 160,000 dong, or about $7 US.

Scams/unkindness I’ve experienced and witnessed in Vietnam so far:

  • Men trying to “fix” my perfectly fine shoes on the street and charge me
  • A woman trying to sell me 2 doughnut holes for 200,000 dong(about $10) because she let me take her picture
  • People not having enough change, or thinking that I can’t read their sign that says “Bahn mi egg 15,000 dong” and charging me double
  • A man getting kicked out of a pharmacy after the owner saw him trying to take my friends’ wallet
  • Rigged taxi meters(not very original)
  • Vendors straight up being unwilling to negotiate absurd prices and straight up yelling at my friends & I when we won’t buy their stuff
  • Attempting to walk into a local food stall and getting straight up told “no” even though it’s full of Vietnamese people eating
  • The dog in the whiskey bar – In Saigon a man working at a little whiskey bar told us a story about how he bought the cute little bar dog from a butcher in Hanoi, as she was about to be cooked as someone’s dinner.  He then said that the butchers feed the pretty dogs steroids so that people buy them when they don’t want them to get eaten.
  • Getting handed the “English” menu at a food stall, then picking up the Vietnamese menu to see that the prices are half
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The perpetrator of the 200,000 dong doughnut scam.
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The Vietnamese love me I swear
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*sits down and talks to us for 20 minutes on the beach & says she’s widowed before asking us to buy her shit* (she actually wasn’t terrible)
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Saving grace – the only person in Vietnam to actually say “Take my picture!” in the history of ever possibly.

I’m really trying to give Vietnam a chance.  I REALLY am.  I don’t want people to be right about people constantly trying to scam you, I don’t want to think that Vietnamese people hate tourists, and I don’t want to think that every other sweet little lady I buy a Banh Mi from is overcharging me because I’m a foreigner.

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Love at first bite…until the clerk decided to charge me 60,000 dong instead of the 35,000 that it said on the menu in Vietnamese.  BANH MI PATÉ IS THE SAME IN BOTH LANGUAGES HUN

But then a few nights ago, in Hoi An, outside my friends & my gorgeous AirBnB, something happened.

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Our AirBnB
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View from our balcony

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Neighboring houses/shrines

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About a week ago my friends & I headed out to downtown Hoi An for dinner.  Hoi An is pretty quiet; you’re more like to be at a tailor around 11PM than dancing on a bar.  We planned on getting Banh Mi(Vietnamese sandwich AKA heaven in a baguette), grabbing a drink(singular) at a bar, and heading back to our airbnb for some sleep after partying a bit much in Hanoi.

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Of course, we ended up stumbling onto a bar crawl full of fellow backpackers, and ended up staying at the ONLY bar in Hoi An open past midnight until they closed at 3:30AM.  Oops.

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When we went to leave at 3:30AM, our only option for rides home were motorbike taxis that were going to overcharge the crap out of us, as they were the only show in town.  Weirdly the only taxis in town had no one in them, despite the fact that some of them had their lights on.  I’m starting to get a sneaking suspicion that they were in on the scam that ensued.

My friends & I each hopped onto our respective motorbike taxi, and off we went.

The second I hopped off my bike by my apartment and walked into the light to look through my wallet, I heard a bunch of yelling and was swarmed by Vietnamese men.  One bastard yelled SECURITY! and pushed the other guys back.  He said “no 50,000 dong for taxi, only 10,000!” trying to make it seem like he was helping me get a better cab rate.  THEN hereached into my wallet to help me find the correct bills.

He grabbed a handful of my Thai baht that I had yet to exchange.  This was when my other friend Sara who had already fought off the vultures came over yelling “GET AWAY FROM HER” and I came to my senses and grabbed my cash back.

But the damage had been done, and the sneaky bastard had already hidden away between 3000-4000 baht.  In total they got about $400US from the 6 of us.

The “security guard” wasn’t a security guard at all, and was in on the scam.

I NEVER carry that much money on my when I go out.  We just hadn’t planned on going out, and I didn’t want to leave my cash lying around with the sketchy surprise housekeepers that were living at our airbnb.

The Vietnamese currency literally sets you up for failure.  It’s so freaking inflated and all the bills look the same.  There are 2,000 dong notes, 20,000 dong notes, and 200,000 dong notes.  There are also 1,000 dong notes, 10,000 dong notes, and 100,000 dong notes.  It’s like Vietnam knew they were going to try to rip off tourists when they originally designed their currency.

The taxi drivers then tried to pull the same sh*t with each one of my friends as we rolled up.  One of my female friends actually wound up getting punched in the face by a taxi driver in the confusion because she was trying to get a picture of his license plate.

Of course we stayed and screamed and yelled and tried to get our stuff back from them.  I stood in front of the “security guard” ‘s bike and forcibly searched all his pockets after screaming in his face for about 20 seconds.  I found nothing; and in retrospect he definitely shoved my cash up his sleeve, but in the moment I couldn’t think that clearly.

My friend got a different spiel – hers was that they were with the Vietnamese mafia.  I’m calling BS unless they were like the lowest rung on the mafia totem pole based on how scared they seemed.

Men in collectivist Asia generally aren’t very aggressive.  So while they may try to confuse you and use scare tactics like surrounding you in numbers, they’re actually huge wussbags when confronted.  They’re more strength in numbers than strength in muscle mass.

The best part of this story is that 2 dillholes stayed back to try to act like they were helping us.  They gave us 500,000 dong back trying to act like they recovered it for us, and told us that it was the entire amount that had been taken.  If you ask me they were trying to cover themselves and keep us from calling the police.  You can take my money, but you can’t insult my intelligence.

So what’s the point of this story?

That I’m salty I got f*cking robbed.

Especially by a bunch of wussbags who tried to scam a group of 20-something year-old girls when they’re coming home from the bar at 4AM.  In retrospect I wish I had jacked “security” right in the face; or at least chucked his phone into the rice paddy when I was searching his pockets.  It’s not even the money I’m angry about, money is always replaceable.  It’s the principle, and the fact that I didn’t want everyone to be right about Vietnamese people being out to get you.

Also there is SUCH a double standard for girls in this country – there was 1 boy with us, and they didn’t touch him.  And he was a 24 year-old scrawny Spanish British dude who looked more like a soccer player than a football player, by no means intimidating.

I think the most dangerous thing about a situation like that is that not only do you get robbed, but the perpetrators find out where you’re staying.  In a house about 15 minutes outside of downtown, far from the police and people who would be around to witness a break it.  I carried my laptop and camera around with me for the rest of our stay there.

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Did I mention that in the same week I lost my Thai debit card, lost my phone at a music festival, and lost my American debit card, all on separate occasions?  I’ll admit that 3 out of the 4 are completely my fault.  If you need directions to the Thong Lor police station in Bangkok to file a police report I’m your girl!

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My point is that travel isn’t always as beautiful and fun as it looks on Instagram.  Yes, some weeks you’re chasing and sunsets over thousands of temples in Bagan, and some weeks you’re drinking fruity sh*t on a private longtail boat at Maya Bay off Koh Phi Phi.  But sometimes you lose your phone, Thai debit card, American debit card, and between 3,000-4,000 baht in the same week.  Sometimes you get lost by yourself in the middle of nowhere at 11PM at night when your bus breaks down and no one speaks English to tell you what’s happening.  And some weeks you have to skip sunrise hikes and temples in Bali because you can’t leave your bed due to food poisoning.

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Not pictured: food poisoning
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Not pictured: lost cell phone

It’s also by no means easy whatsoever.  People always think that you have to have money to travel, which is 110% not the truth.  But you do have to be mindful and a little savvy when you’re balling on a budget like I am, and research saves you tons of money.

Yes, it’s all worth it, and I still am going to do my best over my next 2 weeks in Vietnam to not let getting robbed ruin my opinion of the country.  But I’m definitely not taking any more motorbike taxis home at 4 in the morning, and I’m definitely not carrying as much cash with me to the bar.

How I feel about Vietnam right now:

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Burmese Bites – Food in Myanmar

Thai food is known around the world for being DANKKK.  And it definitely is better than most cuisines I’ve tried here in Asia – whenever I leave Thailand I always find myself craving Som Tam(spicy papaya salad) or Khao Men Gai(chicken rice).  But the food in Burma was  AMAZING.  It’s a cross between the countries it’s located between, India and Thailand, so that’s really too surprising.  Here’s some of the best Burmese food my travel buddies & I tried while perusing Myanmar.

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Note – if you travel in Myanmar, be careful with what you eat.  I got food poisoning, my friend Steve got food poisoning, and several people we met along the way got food poisoning.

Stuffed Tofu

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Lime juice, cabbage, tofu….yeah this sh*t’s good.  And they make it fresh for you right on the street.

Shan Noodles

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I would’ve eaten these 6x a day if it was possible.  These noodles were served kind of like a salad, with oil, peanuts, and pickled veggies on the side that you could add.  The Shan noodle soup wasn’t as good however, so if you try make sure you get the dry noodles.

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Ginger Salad

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SOOOOO good.  Way better than the tea leaf salad in my opinion, which is what you read about on every blog about Myanmar.

Tea Leaf Salad

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Sea Flower Salad

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No idea what a “sea flower” is, maybe that’s a language-barrier induced type-o?

Samosas

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I ate WAY too many samosas on this trip, but no ragrets.  They serve them for breakfast in Myanmar, or eat them with Burmese tea at tea shops.  They’re super cheap too; on the street they only cost 100 kyat (1/14 of a dollar).

Naan Ya

This was naan with chickpeas and onions, SOOOOO good.  This was another tea shop menu item; but you could also find it on the street in Yangon.  I’m not sure if it’s just a regional specialty, but it was everywhere in Yangon and nowhere in Mandalay.

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50 shades of fried noodles

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Personally I avoid fried noodles outside of Thailand, as often they’re just tourist food designed to feed picky foreigners.  However these were served to us on our trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake, and weren’t bad.

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Mohinga

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Mohinga is a fish-based soup that I read about also on a lot of blogs before going to Myanmar.  Personally it was a little fishy for my taste, but it wasn’t horrible.  It was super cheap too – only 400 kyat for a bowl.

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Chapati & Potato Curry

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Inle Lake had a lot of Nepalese food, maybe because of it’s location geographically?  Chapati is like a more oily Nepalese naan.  This sneaky monster is what gave me food poisoning, proof that eating vegetarian doesn’t always keep you safe.

Veggie rice thing

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This is something that I tried on a menu at a tiny little middle-of-nowhere roadside food stall while taking the circle train outside of Yangon.  It’s pretty popular with the Burmese; I saw it on a lot of posters throughout Myanmar, and I saw a ton of Burmese people eating it.  I have a sneaking suspicion that the little ball of meat next to the egg is a goat’s testicle, as it looks just like the goat testicles I saw in Mark Wein’s blog about food in Yangon.

 Burmese BBQ

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This I kept a 20-foot radius from.  There were these tiny little BBQ pits with skewers of various organs and meats on them everywhere in Yangon; surrounded by little child-sized chairs where people would park it to cook their food.  I’m sure it’s good, just not for the weak-stomached.

Avocados

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I’m probably just excited about these because I’m avocado-deprived after living in Central Thailand, where they cost 100 baht each at Tesco($3).  But they had avocados EVERYWHERE in Myanmar; and they only cost 500 kyat each(about $.35 cents=ish).

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Roti

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Riceberry Sticky Rice with Coconut

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Fried Dough

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At tea shops & everywhere else they serve these fried dough stick things that you can dip in your tea or whatever.  They even threw it in our rice soup at one stall.

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Coconut Filled Dumplings

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We tried these at a night market in Yangon and they were SOOO good.  They cost about 500 kyat each, less than $.50 cents.

There you have it, Burmese food alone makes Myanmar worth the trip.

People of Yangon – Photo Blog

Yangon.  To some tourists it seems like just another port city that AirAsia flies into/out of.  There’s not much to mark off your travel checklist in Yangon besides the Shwedagon and Sule pagodas.  However, personally I loved Yangon, as there was great & easy-to-find street food, along with awesome photo opportunities.

People were also super friendly and nice when it came to having their picture taken – not a single person told me no, and some of the lovely Burmese even smiled for the camera.  So here are some of my favorite shots that I got of people around Yangon.

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The cigar man
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Happy lady making my sticky rice

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She’s selling bird seed to feed the pigeons…I don’t know why but this is for some reason popular in Yangon?!?!?!

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ALSO selling seed to feed the pigeons

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This nice woman let us take pics of her cat HAHA
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Despite her expression swear she said I could take the picture
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Him too…he smiled after I snapped this

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Hope you enjoyed!