There is an endless variety of travelers wandering about the world. There’s those backpackers who buy hideous elephant pants and wear them everywhere, perhaps not noticing that the only other people wearing them are other tourists. There’s the oblivious, obnoxious, loud-mouthed over-tanned American who considers herself a gift to the world. There’s holiday travelers on the road for just a week or two and splurging in five-star resorts we only dream of. There’s gap year kids whose primary concern is getting drunk. There’s the massive Chinese tour groups that every other traveler hates because of how loud and inconsiderate they are. There’s the retirees who spend half their year on the road and the other half (or less!) at home. There’s those who make a distinction between a tourist and a traveler and pick a side (guess which). If I had to describe Matt and I, we are part of the band of ultimate players roaming around — low profile until we congregate at tournaments and go nuts.
These are some tips that are good for any trip, long or short. And probably for just going to the grocery store at home, too.
smile and say hello
We noticed in Laos, many people initially regard us warily or suspiciously. But as soon as we smiled and said, “Sabaidee!” (hello), people break into huge grins and wave at us. People are much more welcoming as soon as you demonstrate friendliness and a willingness to try to speak their language. Even something as simple as smiling helps people feel less threatened and breaks down walls, and it’s hard to resist smiling back at someone who is grinning like a fool at you.
Along those lines, always learn how to say: “hello,” “thank you,” “delicious,” “beautiful” and “very.” “Yes” and “no” are helpful but most people understand head shakes and nods or hand signals (be careful with hand signals as they vary greatly across borders!).
Make an effort to learn as many words as you can and people will love you. Even if your pronunciation is awful, people will appreciate the effort.
It’s very useful to have one other phrase up your sleeve, too. In Myanmar, Matt found that saying “See you later!” in Burmese (“nah mah twee may”) was a huge hit — it’s such a simple phrase, but no one had ever heard a foreigner say that! The reactions Matt got were hilarious; lots of gasps and laughs of excited surprise, and people often wanted to engage us even more afterwards. Having a phrase that is more casual or that is slang is a great way to endear yourself to the locals.
I’ve read a few books while on this trip, but the choosing of these books has mostly been at the mercy of fate. The library from which I could select was whatever books were available on the day’s hostel’s book exchange. Between photocopied versions of travel guides and books in German and French, the selection was often very limited indeed. I had very low expectations of finding thought-provoking reading. Imagine my surprise, then, when I came across this quote in “The Ground Beneath Her Feet” by Salman Rushdie and my brain started churning.
The end of our trip through Myanmar happened to coincide with their lunar new year which meant we would be around to see the beginning of Thingyan, or the Water Festival. By far, this has been my favorite local celebration that we’ve come across, and it might be one of my favorite experiences of the whole trip!
What’s a water festival? As best I can tell, it’s a giant water fight that the whole country participates in. This is the hottest part of the year, and the 4-day festival is a way for everyone to celebrate the new year and cool down before the monsoon season starts in May. Traditionally, splashing water is seen as a blessing for the new year or a washing away of sins from the previous year, but it didn’t exactly seem like people had that in mind as they rowdily soaked each other!
I’ve been bad about keeping the blog photos up to date, so if you aren’t seeing them on Facebook, you can now view photos from the last several months of our trip.
Also, we probably won’t write a post about, so if you want to read about our trek from Hsipaw to Pankam, you can do so on the blog run by a couple of our trekking companions!
Finally, after five months in Southeast Asia, we are leaving Myanmar tomorrow and headed to Nepal via Kuala Lumpur. On the itinerary is a ten-day monastery stay in Kathmandu and trekking the Annapurna Circuit! We may be off-the-grid for large chunks of this time.
Sure, I invented this food eating contest, but that’s pretty much the only way I’m going to become the winner of one.Lisa and I arrived in Hsipaw, Myanmar on a train from Pyin Oo Lwin. The signature moment of the ride was crossing the Gokteik Viaduct, a railway bridge built in 1901 that was, at the time, the second tallest (318 ft) in the world. Almost the entire ride, however, was scenic and we would link up with Zoe and Mg who, together with Laura, Jazzer and Alesha, would accompany us on our two-day overnight trek to Pankam Village. After the six of us signed up for the trek (Laura would add on later), we grabbed dinner at Mr. Food and headed our separate ways. I had seen some positive online reviews about a place called Mr. Shake, and if you read the post about my favorite drinks of Southeast Asia, you can imagine how anxious I was to try it.
After the awesomeness that was the Boracay Open, we hung around on the island for a few days of relaxing (from our super-stressful life of ultimate, adventure, and travel) with some of our favorite ultimate players and backpackers. One day, we headed to Puka Beach which claims to be one of the 10 most beautiful beaches in Asia. That’s like me claiming to be one of the 10 funniest, most awesomest Lisa’s in existence, but maybe there’s some truth to their claim. It is really pretty:
Unfortunately, after a few hours of relaxation on the beach, we had two of our most negative tourist experiences of our trip.
I love sweet drinks and, fortunately, Lisa is usually quite excited about them as well. It has become something of a routine for us to find our favorite drinks in each country and then partake in them endlessly. In the states, I usually accomplished this with unlimited coca cola during at least one meal a day. When I travel, it is rare for me to buy soda as I prefer it from a fountain, loaded with ice and free-refills, something you just don’t find often outside of North America.
Here is a recap of some of the better drinks I’ve run across. Unfortunately, I don’t have photos of all of them, as I was usually too excited to just start drinking.
When we set out on this adventure back in November, visiting Myanmar had never crossed my mind. I am embarrassed to say that I didn’t even know how close we would be to it — it borders both Thailand and Laos — and I barely knew that it used to be called Burma. But as we began meeting other travelers, the most common advice we got was that we absolutely had to go visit Myanmar because it was just opening to tourism, it is one of the last places you could go to “get off the beaten track,” and that the people are incredible and not yet tainted or jaded by mass tourism.
Well, we’ve made it! We arrived in Yangon (formerly Rangoon) on March 22nd, and we will be here for 25 days before heading to Nepal. So far, we’ve visited Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay, and are currently in Pyin Oo Lwin. We’re only a week into the country, but these are some quick thoughts on what we’ve found so far.
After playing the Big Phat Phnom Penh Hat ultimate tournament, I had three days before I needed to be in Bangkok to catch a flight to Boracay for yet another tournament. Two days would be filled with bus rides, which always take longer than expected in Cambodia, and the middle day would be spent in and around Siem Reap, seeing the many ruins of Angkor Wat, Baphuon, Bayon, and Ta Prohm. Lisa had rented a tuk-tuk for the day and managed to hit both sunrise and sunset at Angkor Wat, filling the rest of the day with additional ruins along the big and small loops. I knew that I would probably burn out faster on temple sight-seeing and instead opted to rent a bicycle in town and go at my own pace.