Our journey has been a bumpy ride so far and I love it. It’s the only way I know how to grow. Fall, get up and try again. It’s not so much about the places we have seen. It’s about us. Me. Him. Trying to find a place for everything.
Battambang is when we realised we don’t need much to be happy. Every day has the potential to be an amazing day and everything you do is what you choose to do. This little Cambodian town awakened something in us and we haven’t been able to (or wanted to!) put it to sleep ever since. Every now and then we think back at that one day in Battambang and all we do is smile.
The year before we left was the hardest year both of us have ever gone through and we were in quite a state when we left. Little by little, everything is falling in to place. New ideas are starting to form and we are slowly making plans for the future, our future.
What happened that day in Battambang? What made that day the turning point of our journey?
Nothing really. We went for a swim in the morning. Dirtiest pool ever. Went out for lunch and had the best fried rice we’ve eaten as of yet. Our tuktuk driver for the day took us to the bamboo train. It was so much fun, sitting on a few pieces of bamboo, racing through the countryside over the dilapidated train tracks with the wind in your hair and the sun on your face.
From here, we went to a hill, I don’t even remember what was so special about that hill. But it had a cave and some temples and monkeys hanging around. Two fifteen-year old boys drove us up the hill on their scooters. They followed us around and we watched the sunset set with them. They told us a lot of stories about their lives and we ate ice cream. The best part of the day was just after sunset. Which was also when my camera died. There is a cave in the hill where 10 million bats dwell. They all come out at sunset, all 10 million of them. One of the best things I have ever seen. It was so beautiful and they just kept on coming. I’ve never seen anything like it. The sound, the smell and the whole sky filled with bats. Incredible.
When the tuktuk driver drove us back home, all we could do was smile because we both knew that this day that had lived up to its potential and had become one of the most amazing days we ever had.
After three months of Thailand we were ready for a new adventure (and our visa was running out so we were going to be kicked out anyway). It feels really good to be somewhere new again.
In our three months in Thailand we never got around to a Thai massage. Feeling obliged, our last day in Thailand, we walked into this complete shithole of a massage parlor recommended by our hotel in Trang. The fungus was everywhere and no one spoke English. I loved it, I wanted an authentic Thai massage. Nick was scared, he doesn’t really like rough massages. Our masseuses were big, old and sturdy and they folded me any way possible. I loved it, Nick still hasn’t come out of hiding.
About the jungle… Trang has a botanical garden that looks like a jungle, or was a jungle made into a botanical garden, not sure. There is a jungle canopy walk, which takes you through the tree tops. You can see flying squirrels, bats, monkeys and armadillo’s (armadillo’s are not found in the tree tops). None of that was for us, we only saw a snake, a yellow bird and some lizards. Some of the best fun we had in a while.
For now there is work to be done, food to be eaten and Georgetown to be enjoyed. Love you!
We couldn’t come up with anything that hasn’t been said about Angkor Wat, so we are just going to post our drafts (which we still edited, it was a lot worse). The rough drafts for our posts are usually full with shits and fucks, other profanities and things we find funny but are kind of inappropriate. Occasionally I have a bad mood and I wrote all of this in one such moods.
We did Angkor Wat during the time when we were still listening to the dumb things other people tell you so we woke up at 4 in the morning to go and see this magnificent sunrise. We are not morning people. Wake us before we want to be awake and we will have a bad mood. A really bad mood. And there’s two of us which makes it worse. We had expected a tranquil temple, the sun rising behind it and the whole scenery mirroring in the still ponds in front of the temple. However, the tranquility was somewhat disturbed by a couple hundred Chinese (for God’s sake, we thought we were rid of you) and Japanese tourists.
We made it through until the sun came up without using the jungle knife Angela always carries concealed in her panties.
After sunrise we told our tuktuk driver to find us a quiet spot and he managed to find some spots not infested by more than thirty people at a time, and at some places we actually found ourselves alone, making for a somewhat more pleasant experience, if you don’t count the heat and the fucking mosquitoes.
After a temple or eighteen and some walking in the sweltering sun we were kind of done with all the goddamn temples and couldn’t wait to see some modern architecture again, so we had ourselves escorted back to Siem Reap, hungry, tired and so fucking sweaty.
We actually did have an amazing day. We have the pictures to show it! We promise to be nice again in our next post.
What’s the absolute worst thing you can imagine could happen when you’ve almost had it with a country and can’t wait to leave? You get food poisoning and get stuck in the most humid wet dirty shithole of a Chinese city you could have stumbled into. Meet Nanning. We love great architecture and old buildings, every Chinese city has loads of both. Not Nanning.
We walked around Nanning for an hour, looking for our hostel. We are pretty sure after an hour the news we had arrived had spread like wildfire. The staring was definitely the worst in Nanning. Or maybe I was hallucinating from the food I ate on the train.
As we were walking, my health was quickly deteriorating and I was feeling worse and worse by the minute. By the time we found another hostel I was sweating like a pig and nauseous like I’d never been before. While checking in I was practically throwing up in my mouth and my mood wasn’t getting much better. I bounded to our room as if the pope was hot on my heels, trying to pull me under his tabard.
I had barely opened the door before I started throwing up violently. There was no sink, so the trashcan was receiving like it never had before. After that, I was sick for three days. I shouldn’t have eaten that food on the train, it’s quite clear to me now.
Angela cared for me like a little angel. The first day she brought me a slice of pizza, some chicken wings and yoghurt. I quickly disposed of the fat stuff, and the smell of it laying in the trashcan had me quickly follow it with what was left of my stomachs contents. This went on for three days, three days of extreme humidity, vomit and yoghurt. We were so incredibly ready to leave China.
In all of the Chinese cities we visited we snapped a lot of shots of buildings we liked. Chinese architecture is a style on its own. There is such a big difference between the old and the new. The old buildings are, well..old and super Chinese. Like out of a movie. The new buildings are super new and fancy. None of them are Nannings’, there is just not a lot to be seen there worthy taking a picture of.
There is something magical about the landscape of Mongolia. It calls for you to come and explore. The landscape constantly transforms, leaving you breathless from the moment you wake up until the moment you crawl back into your gertent.
This is a collection of the skulls I found while exploring. Click here for more incredible pictures of the landscape of Mongolia.
I love to visit unusual and weird museums. It can surprise and even shock you in ways a regular museum never could. It’s often in a drafty, dusty old building that smells like a proper museum, with high ceilings, filled with curiosities and devices you’ve never seen or even knew about. It doesn’t have fancy audio tours, just a scruffy leaflet printed on cheap paper, and that’s the way it should be.
There is just something about a quirky and weird museum that gets me super excited. Ever since I was young I’ve always wanted my own collection of curiosities. So far I’ve collected one mummified mouse. It’s in an air tight box and I’m too afraid to open it.
St. Petersburg has a lot of museums. The most well-known is the Hermitage of course. We could have gone there, but instead we went to the Zoological Museum. If you like taxidermy, animals or weird things, this is the place for you. It’s one of the ten largest natural history museums in the world. The crazy collection consists of over 17 million species, although only 500 thousand species are displayed. The rest of the animals are kept in a huge storage facility.
Being in a Russian museum can be slightly overwhelming. Hell, being in Russia can be slightly overwhelming. Russians are not known for their friendly and helpful nature. Upon entering the museum all English signs disappear and you are left alone in a ginormous museum with no idea what to do, where to go or how to get out.
I’m not sure what happened when they were preparing the animals. Maybe the taxidermist drank too much vodka but most animals have a weird grin on their face. Most fish look shocked and a lot of the bigger animals (deers, bears) look very angry. There was a little Bambi like deer that looked like it was about to fuck me up.
Think of your worst sunburn ever. And then add a little more sunburn. That was how my skin felt after being on the back of a motorbike for a day.
Anyone that has been in Vietnam can tell you it can get really hot. The day we hopped on a motorbike tour in Vietnam from Hue to Hoi An was no different. Excited and nervous about getting on a motorbike with a complete stranger, it never occurred to me that being in the sun all day could have a not so happy ending for me.
About one hour into the tour, I started to notice my skin turning red. This happens, I’m a pale Dutch girl and I turn red before I tan. At this point I could have asked the driver to take my backpack off the motorbike and get my suntan lotion. But I didn’t. I thought I would be fine (the drive takes about 5 hours, I don’t know what I was thinking). So we just drove on. And it was hot, even on the motorbike there was no escaping the Vietnamese heat. With every stop I could see myself getting redder and redder. Somehow I kept hoping that it would be okay and that I wasn’t really sun burnt but just looking a bit reddish today. When we finally arrived in Hoi An I was turning purple and Nick was a nice bright shade of red.
At first I didn’t think it was that bad but when I looked at myself in the mirror I knew I was screwed. We were out of after-sun lotion and apparently we also left our brains in Hue. So instead of looking for a place to buy some after-sun, we went straight into Hoi An’s happy hour. To soothe the pain we made sure to drink a lot of happy hour mojitos. It worked, nothing beats sunburn like a couple of mojitos.
Did you ever forget your suntan lotion anywhere? Or anything else clearly essential?
We’ve done all of our traveling in China by train and we absolutely loved it. China has one of the most extensive train networks in the world and you can explore almost every corner of China by train. Doing so will get you great views, convenience, decent comfort, cheap travel and a brief look into the everyday Chinese life. Here are five reasons why you will love train travel in China!
Train travel gets you some of the best views of China you can get
Lush valleys, misty rice paddies in full growth or during harvest, gargantuan cityscapes, bamboo forests in the south of China, dramatic mountain scenes, stretches of desert in the north of China, gigantic rivers meandering through the land, there is simply no end to the list of things we saw from China’s trains. We’ve been amazed again and again by the beauty of China. China’s landscape, as seen from a train, is ever-changing. The views just keep on coming.
Train travel in China is convenient and easy
Almost every train station of the larger cities in China has at least one ‘English-speaking’ ticket booth. This means that with a lot of pointing on our side and some broken English on the other side of the window you’ll get the tickets. What always helped me was a guidebook or a note with the Chinese characters for my destination on it. Your hotel/hostel staff won’t mind writing such a note for you if you ask. The ticket-seller has a monitor facing your way with all the information on it, like date of the ticket, prices, train number and departure/arrival time.
The signage in Chinese train stations is always clear enough make out where the train is leaving, in what waiting room you have to wait and at what time you are expected to stumble onto the train. If you are ever in doubt, just follow the herd that gets up as your train is announced.
Chinese train-stations will generally be in the center of the city, and I always make sure to pick our hostel or hotel strategically, so we can either walk there or take a short bus ride. This is great compared to airports, which are usually located 10+ km outside of cities.
There are lots of different classes in Chinese trains all the way from ‘deluxe soft sleeper’ to ‘hard seat’. Deluxe soft sleeper is a private cabin with two beds and sometimes even a toilet and a sink. This class is offered on only a very small percentage of Chinese trains, so you’ll be very lucky to find one every time. Hard seat can be as spartan as wooden benches, but usually they’re just regular train seats in a not air-conditioned carriage.
In all day time trains I’ve taken so far, I always had a soft seat. These carriages are air-conditioned and not as busy as the hard seat carriages.
I also took a night train several times and I can recommend it. It saves you some money on a night in a hotel and it’s comfortable enough. As a couple, we opted for hard sleeper every time, and it’s fine. It’s six beds in an open compartment. Three beds above each other, facing another three beds. We only had a snorer once or twice and earplugs work fine in that situation. Watch out for the tiny, frail grandma’s though, they fart a lot and it isn’t pretty.
You can pick the berth (lower, middle or upper) when you get your ticket. I liked the middle berths best as they have lots more space than the upper berths. The upper berths are a quite cramped. The lower berths will seat the other people in your cabin until it’s sleepy-time (lights go out at 22:00 and on again at 7:00). The lower berths are a lot more spacious though and Angela prefers those. You get clean sheets and pillowcases every time. If not, complain with the train-attendant as they probably just didn’t feel like changing them.
Do some grocery shopping before you get on the train. In some trains there’s a dining cart, or train-attendants will come by with a food cart. I ate the food served on two separate occasions. The first time it was delicious. So naturally I took it again on the next trip. It gave me food poisoning. You can’t pick, they just serve one dish, or maybe two. The price should be on the cart, make sure you don’t pay too much, I speak from experience here.
There were some telltale signs the second time, I should have used my common sense. The first time it was served by a fresh-looking lady, with a clean uniform, from a well-kept food cart. The second time however, the food was served by a grumpy teen in (very!) dirty cooks garments, that obviously hadn’t been washed for a while. The cart was a little rusty, my rice was overcooked and the meat was undefinable. The first time it was clearly chicken, but I’m still completely in the dark as to what I’ve eaten the second time. That’s an common occurrence in China though.
The toilets in Chinese trains are squat toilets. After a little practice these are actually more hygienic than Western-style toilets because you don’t have to touch anything while you’re using them. Make sure to bring some toilet paper as it’s always out.
Train travel in China is cheap
We got our train tickets at a fraction of the prices of flights. For example, a hard sleeper middle berth ticket from Beijing to Xi’an costs RMB265, which is around €31,- with current exchange rates, and that’s for 1,200 kilometers of train travel! That same trip by plane ranges from RMB777 (€93,-) to RMB1300 (€156,-).
Make sure to bring your passports when you go buy train tickets. We forgot them once. We were in Beijing and it was Golden Week. It was horrifying. It was our first time buying a train ticket in China and it had cost us an hour and a half to get from our hostel to the train station (always go to the train station to buy tickets, travel agents and hotels/hostels will charge you extra), about 45 minutes waiting in line, 15 minutes of discussing the specifics of our tickets with a stressed out ticket seller only to be asked for our passports. We nearly shit ourselves. By the time we got back at the English-speaking booth with our passports, around two and a half hours later, it was closed. We had to wait in line at the information desk for another half hour to get the number of the new English-speaking booth. The tickets we wanted were sold out by that time, so we had to get hard seat tickets, for an overnight train journey of around 14 hours. We survived though.
After that, we took a night train several times and we found it convenient to know the Chinese signs for the lower (下铺), middle (中铺) and upper berth (上铺) when you’re buying tickets, so you can specify which berth you want. They differ a little in price, with the lower being the most expensive, and the upper the cheapest. The soft sleeper is around RMB200 more expensive than the hard sleeper. You get a compartment with a door and only an upper and lower berth for that.
Train travel in China gets you an inside look in everyday Chinese life
As much as the Chinese stare at you on the train, or everywhere else, it’s fun to watch them go about their business. The Chinese are very social people and will often engage in conversation with each other (about you). It doesn’t necessarily sound nice to our Western ears, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t. Chinese often shout in conversation, or just stop halfway through a sentence to retch and spit. It’s so completely different from our standards of human interaction that it’s very interesting to watch.
All in all, I loved train travel in China for these reasons and we know for sure you will too. Did you travel by train in China? What were your experiences? Did you love it or hate it? Let us know in the comments!
Chinese culture is so completely different from Western culture
We’ve have traveled China for two months. The first couple of weeks were, although great fun, quite difficult and different. Chinese culture and people are so completely different from what we know that it seems impossible to ever fully understand what’s going on. Traveling in China leaves you feeling bipolar. One minute you absolutely love it, the next you hate it and want to see the whole country burn. I’m still not sure if I liked China or not.
When we were in Xi’an I picked up a copy of Xianease where Jennifer Yip wrote this article. Reading this made me understand a little more about the Chinese culture and why they do like they do. Jennifer wrote some more articles about understanding China and Chinese culture. You can find them on the Xianease website, just look for ‘Perspective’. We’ve got her permission to post it here.
Perspective: Individuality VS unity
Over the summer, several things happened. Most importantly, the Olympics were held for 16 days. Of course, everyone had Olympic fever during that period.
I taught summer intensive classes over the long break. In the teacher’s lounge at the language training school where I worked, the Chinese teachers there would often discuss the Olympic competitions from the night before. One teacher expressed how she thought the Chinese athletes took the competitions a lot more seriously, were a lot more anxious about the Olympics compared to their counterparts, and gave themselves more pressure to succeed and to win medals. Another teacher said her husband cried when he watched Chinese sprinter, Liu Xiang, fall over a hurdle and suffered an injury. When I heard that, I thought, “Cry? Isn’t that a bit extreme, even for watching the Olympics?”
I did not understand nor could I relate to the Chinese people’s emotional reaction to the athletes at the time. So I asked the resident expert in my household, my husband, about the mentality of the Chinese as related to this topic. He explained, “You know with the Chinese people, we always think and operate as a unit, not as an individual like westerners. For example, when Chinese people identify themselves, they always tell you their surname first, then given name. This is to explain which family they belong to, i.e., which group they are part of. Whereas, when you introduce yourself to someone, you always say, “Hello, I’m Jennifer Yip.” You say it that way because you are Western. That is based on individualism. You always tell the others exactly who you are, based on your given name first, not your family name.
If we look at the way the Chinese write addresses, we can also see how they view themselves as a unit. For example, when you mail something at the post office here, the address that you write in Chinese, for the sender’s and recipient’s addresses, always starts with the country first (e.g. China, province, city, street name, number of street). This method of writing an address is indicative of Chinese culture, i.e., you identify which country you are from first, not which street you live on first. Again, this is based on the mentality of belonging to a group. For westerners, it is the complete opposite. You list the number and street name first in the address.”
Now based on the perspective of belonging to a unit or a group, I can understand the Chinese people’s emotional reaction to their countrymen and women’s Olympic performances and why the Chinese athletes gave themselves more pressure to win. For them, it is like putting the weight of the entire country on their shoulders.
As a foreign teacher at the university where I work, I’ve noticed the prominent theme of belonging to a unit or operating as a group from my students as well. When the students talk about their plans after graduation, they always speak in the same fashion. They always include something about “When I enter society…” For the young adults at the university, they already know their role, i.e., they will become a part of the massive society in China. Many of them will obey their parents’ wishes and do what their parents ask them to do, even if it means sacrificing their own dreams and not being truly happy.
Even a few of my students said to me last semester, “Individualism would not work in Chinese society. There would be too many conflicts, too many people in one group who want different things.” Decisions are made based on the consensus of a unit here, such as your parents and/or grandparents, your team members, etc.
Even in the summer intensive classes that I taught in, conforming to a group or to group standards was prominent in the way the kids (between the ages of 8 to 16) played team games. For example, when we played jenga, a team member rarely pulled out a piece just based on his or her own decision. The student always waited for the advice of his or her team mates and listened to them carefully before making a move. The students were reluctant to act on their own. Whereas, if I were playing jenga with my friends, we’d pull out a piece any way that we’d like without caring much of what our team members say or advise us to do. That’s because for westerners we are accustomed to making decisions based on individual thinking, not conforming to please the entire group.
Taking the entire group into consideration is admirable. Or does it not mean you are not able to think for yourself? Acting on something just based on your own wishes may be selfish. Or is it? These are some of the differences between individuality vs. unity.
Rượu thuốc means medicinal liquor and is a special Vietnamese drink. I’ve never seen anyone drink it but I guess there must be people drinking this. Vietnamese people believe Rượu thuốc will improve their health and in this case, make them a super man. It comes with different animals and herbs. The most famous is the snake or scorpion version. I particularly liked this white horse penis one.
A long time ago, I studied art and my main focus were the male genitalia. I don’t know how I came up with that but somehow all of my work was penis-related. I once crocheted a giant penis table-cloth in traditional Doily style. It was beautiful. I still have it if anyone is interested.
Even though I don’t make penis-related art anymore, I can still appreciate things like this. And a white horse, that almost sounds like unicorn. Unicorn penis alcohol, who wouldn’t want to drink that!