“On the twenty-third day of the month of September,
in an early year of a decade not too long before our own,
the human race suddenly encountered a deadly threat to its very existence.
And this terrifying enemy surfaced, as such enemies often do, in the seemingly most innocent and unlikely of places…”
-prologue to Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
September always has a hint of change and danger. On September 30, 2009, my first full year of travel in Asia had just finished. I was tired. I was also in northern Sumatra- the largest, and most wild island that makes up the dramatic archipelago of Indonesia.
Specifically, I was on a bumpy bus from the amazing Lake Toba to Bukittinggi exactly one year after I had first flown into Tokyo and found my apartment there. I was reflecting on the year, when … Read More »
Depends on what you’re here for.
Different countries = different prices for different things.
Do you want to explore cities, see the big attractions, or experience the food and drink? For example, if you’re here to party, the Philippines generally has the cheapest drinks at restaurants and bars. In contrast, Chinese bars and clubs are expensive- comparable to North American prices, but the daily Chinese necessities (subway, street food, bottled water) are damn cheap, so if you’re here to take photos and explore the city life, China will be cheaper than the Philippines. Accommodation also varies in quality, type and price. Your sleeping standards could make or break your budget. In Vietnam, $10 may get you a comfy room with A/C, wifi and free breakfast. In the Philippines, a $10 room is nearly impossible to find.
Asia is a place that people … Read More »
“I was driving myself, pounding out the miles because I was no longer hearing or seeing. I had passed my limit of taking in or, like a man who goes on stuffing in food after he is filled, I felt helpless to assimilate what was fed in through my eyes. Each hill looked like the one just passed. I have felt this way in the Prado in Madrid after looking at a hundred paintings—the stuffed and helpless inability to see more. This would be a time to find a sheltered place beside a stream to rest and refurbish.”
–John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley (1962)
Travel can be hard work. Adrenaline may keep our heads spinning and our feet moving, but it’s important to consider the hidden exhaustion of long trips. Weeks of momentum, scheduling and packing/unpacking will take its toll on your body and dull … Read More »
Upon my first visit to any new Asian city, I am most excited to try the local food. Perhaps the second-most interesting feature unique to each new destination is the creative ways that people are transported across the city. Below are some of my favorite modes of transportation across Southeast Asian cities:
BAJAJ: JAKARTA, INDONESIA
A bajaj, named after the Indian Bajaj motor company, is a motorized rickshaw. There are an estimated 20,000 of these in Indonesia’s “Big Durian” capital of Jakarta. They will seat two comfortably and even accommodate five or six with a little motivation. The drivers are generally upbeat and fairly honest, though a little negotiation is necessary. Just ask a young local what you should pay to your destination before getting in.
The ride can be fun. These guys will fearlessly make a … Read More »
Long-term budget travel can be strenuous and take its toll. In addition to the long bus rides, the heat, and the constantly-changing environments, your accommodations will generally be modest and sometimes downright uncomfortable. Many budget travelers try to keep to a $1,000-a-month budget, which comes out to about $30 a day, accounting for cross-border flights and visa fees. When considering this budget, it is generally wise to keep accommodation around $10/day, which will allow for a modest guesthouse or dormitory, depending on the country.
When budget allows, I recommend finding a sweet deal on a luxury hotel, arranging a 10 a.m. check-in and just spending the next 26 hours relaxing on the premises. It will give you the chance to take a steaming bath, clear your head, get excellent sleep and even wear a damn robe. You will likely get a … Read More »
Lake Toba is a place where people come for a week but end up staying for a month, sometimes never leaving at all. Located in northern Sumatra, the largest of Indonesia’s many islands, Lake Toba sits at a high altitude that gives it a year-round cool and comfortable climate. One hundred kilometers long and thirty kilometers wide, Lake Toba is the largest volcanic lake in the world. Not only is the lake of importance in archeological history, it is also a spectacularly beautiful and peaceful travel destination which offers an alternative to the thumping pop music and traffic-filled beach destinations of southeast Asia.
My trip to Lake Toba offered me the chance to take a break from the hectic pace and thick air of many Asian cities. The lake water is clean, warm and perfectly inviting for swimming. The lake also … Read More »
How is there so little street crime?
Don’t get me wrong, there is crime in Asia. There is government corruption, bribery, domestic abuse and organized crime. However, a traveler is highly unlikely to get caught up in this. “Street crime” such as robbery, assault, rape and murder are astonishingly low, especially in North Asia (Mongolia somewhat excluded). In large Asian cities, I have no fear listening to my iPod and walking home through unknown neighborhoods for two hours in the middle of the night.
Travelers and expats appreciate this quality over here, yet can’t seem to explain exactly why it is. Rich and poor are living together. Surely, there are plenty of “opportunities” for crime walking down the streets. So why is Asia so safe?
Here are a few factors that likely influence the low street crime of Asia:
THE SHAME FACTOR
In the USA, … Read More »
So, what’s the difference?
To a non-Asian, the divide between Northeast Asia and Southeast Asia is a curious one that takes much time to understand. But as a first-time traveler may find out, there are obvious differences in the people, the traditions, the daily lives and the social and political characteristics between these regions. Let’s try to break it down a bit:
Northeast Asia (China, Hong Kong, Macau, Mongolia the Koreas, Japan and Taiwan) and Southeast Asia(Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Burma, Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore) are both extraordinary places to visit- with thousands of years of history, crowded metropolises, warm people and wonderful culinary traditions.
Generally, North Asian countries, while all having unique characteristics, are largely influenced by Confucianism and ancient China. With the recent economic rise of China, the continuing growth of South Korea and Taiwan and the established prosperity of Japan and Hong Kong, North Asia is one of the world’s most prosperous regions and also one of its … Read More »
My month in Sumatra, in September of 2009, could not have been more relaxing and uneventful. I remember long afternoons with various books, sitting by Lake Toba and thinking of what kind of fish to have for dinner after the sun made its way down. There were days spent building a makeshift fishing pole and making failed attempts at catching my own fish. I had little else to do. Eventually, it was time to leave the fantasy and head down to Jakarta overland from Lake Toba. I anticipated a bit more excitement in the 30-hour journey ahead. It wouldn’t take long for things to get tumultuous.
On the evening of September 30, I made my way back to the lobby of the Orchid Hotel in Bukittingi, a pleasantly-sloped town in which I had stopped for a few days to check out Rafflesia, the world’s largest flower (another … Read More »