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March 2017

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Finding the Party in Guangzhou, China

Guangzhou is a strange place.

It’s bustling in the daytime, but when nighttime falls the streets clear and the city empties. It’s peaceful, or maybe even eerie. As one of the top 3 largest cities in China, this wasn’t exactly what we were expecting.

Sometimes, as we walked home from a night out, we could imagine the odd tumbleweed whistling over the empty roads.

It might not have been this extreme in every area of the city, but one of our first impressions on arrival was that there seemed to be a lack of nightlife.

While there were bars more catered for dining, pub quizzes and the 11pm finishers, there didn’t seem to be the late-night parties. The bars we found at first were okay, but we like a late finish after a week at work (or, really, any time we can fit it in), and nowhere was providing that for us.

So we became determined to seek out these party places – and we found some gems.

If you ever find yourself in Guangzhou, wanting to get away from the typical western pub, here’s our top recommendations:

KTV

KTV is everywhere here! If you have a group of friends ready for a good night, you can rent a private room, buy some booze, order a ton of local food, and sing the night away. Most KTVs will let your crowd stay until about 5am.

The English playlists are fantastic, ranging through all the classics in every genre. No matter where your music tastes go, you’ll find something you’ll love.

But don’t think you can’t meet new people and socialize on a KTV night. I have found myself drunkenly exploring the mazy corridors, finding some rooms full of locals, and being welcomed in to sing with them and have a bounce around.

Some we’d recommend:

Music Box (堂会) – 1-3/F, Tianhe Hui Plaza, 160, Tianhe Zhi Jie, Tianhe District, Guangzhou.

Party World (钱柜) – SinoPec Building, 191 Tiyu Xi Lu, Tianhe District, Guangzhou

Top KTV (星派对) – Junhui Building, Tiyu Xi Rd, in Guangzhou

Sing the night away at KTV. 

Nova

In quiet Zhujiang New Town, you’d think a bouncing nightclub would stick out like a sore thumb. It doesn’t. Nova is relatively hidden, but it’s well worth the find.

It’s popular with the locals, and being a foreigner in this place will make you stand out. That shouldn’t put you off. The music is great and you’ll easily get a buzz from the local liquor, Baijiu, which is pretty much all they serve.

Zhujiang New town has a lot of bars suited for pre-drinks, such as The Brew, The Tavern, and Gails – but it’s harder to find somewhere close by to finish the night. Make this your place.

Address: 1/F, Jin Bin Teng Yue Building, No.49 Huaxia Road, Zhujiang New Town, Tianhe

Address in Chinese: 天河区华夏路49号津滨腾越大厦1楼

Feeling

Feelings, now known as BePotatoes, is a must if you want an extremely cheap night. Some of their promotions seem too good to be true. One Friday they were giving unlimited free beer until 11 – no catch!  Most nights their (already very cheap) drinks were half price.

Found right near the South China Normal University, it’s a popular student choice. We can see why. Amongst our search we never found anywhere else this cheap, and we tried.

Keep in mind, a Long Island iced tea might come out bright blue, but that was really just part of the fun. You never know what you’re going to get, but you’ll get it without a dent to your bank account.

Sometimes with a side of hilarious karaoke – with a free bottle of vodka for the most popular singer, typically shared with the crowd.

Tsingtao is the cheapest beer you will find in there, but beware the hangover is like no other.

Address: Shop 207, Shangde Mansion, 141 Wushan Road, Tianhe District, Guangzhou (Metro Line 3 South China Normal University, exit C)

Address in Chinese: 广州天河区五山路141号尚德大厦207(地铁站华师站C出口麦当劳楼上)

Tsingtao is lethal 🙂

Perrys

Perry’s is a chain in China, and there are a couple in Guangzhou. It’s another place often filled with university students, but in an expensive drinking city this is sometimes welcome.

What should you expect? A dark dingy room with an unexpected charm, blaring loud music, and crowds of people at every table. You’ll notice most people playing an addicting dice game similar to Bullshit. If you want to play, a table of locals will be happy to show you how and play a few rounds with you.

 Address: 3/F, Zhong Yi City Garden, No.21 Linle Road, Tianhe District, Guangzhou

Address in Chinese: 天河区 林乐路中怡城市花园3楼

After a cheap night at Perrys

 Party Pier

Party Pier is Guangzhou’s most well-known entertainment destination, balancing well between a crazy party and a space for art and creativity. It’s another good ending spot for your night. You can tell your taxi driver “Take me to the party!” and you’ll end up here. Wave Nightclub is among its most popular spots, but there are a number of different places to choose from.

Address: Zhujiang Party Pier, Yue Jiang Xi Lu, Haizhu District (Exit at Modiesha Tunnel)

Address in Chinese: 阅江西路珠江琶醍啤酒文化创意园

 Huanshi Dong Lu

There are many fun bars in Huanshi Dong Lu (near Taojin subway station). While this is often promoted to be a heavily western area, we typically went during the week and rarely saw other foreigners around.

You can almost always find a good buy-one-get-one-free deal at one of the bars.

A couple we’d recommend include:

The Cave Bar: China, Guangdong Sheng, Guangzhou Shi, Yuexiu Qu, HuanShi DongLu YanXian, Huanshi E Rd, 360 510060. Address in Chinese: 环市东路360号珠江大厦地下

The Gypsy King Bar: Basement of West Tower, Zhujiang Building, No.360 Huanshi Dong Road, Yuexiu District, Guangzhou Address in Chinese: 环市东路360号珠江大厦西座地下

Some Random Bar by the River

Unfortunately, that’s all we can even remember for this one!

But we know you’ll be able to find your own unnamed random bar by the river (or park, or temple, or shopping mall) if you give this city a chance, dig under its quiet exterior, and really look.

The point is that there are some hidden gems and brilliant party spots in a city that might not give that vibe on arrival. Don’t just settle for the first Irish pub you find. Get out there and explore.

Our time in Guangzhou taught us something valuable for future travel. We like a party, and wherever we are, we can find one – and we will!

If you find any more hidden beauties in Guangzhou, let us know below.

7 Quick Facts About the Mayan Ruins in Tulum

When I first became serious about pursuing a life of travel, I immediately made a mental note that Mayan ruins should go at the top of my World Wishlist. Any Mayan ruins would do – I wasn’t picky. Also, I didn’t know any specific site by name.

Honestly, I didn’t know anything about Mayan culture at the time, aside from those circulating rumors that their calendar predicted the end of the world on December 21, 2012. But I had concluded that their culture was shrouded in mystery, magic, and prophecy – and I found this absolutely enchanting.

Of course, I planned to explore the Mayan Ruins in Tulum, Mexico just three days before “the end of the world.” I thought the timing couldn’t be more perfect.

When I arrived at my destination, I quickly discovered that I had many misconceptions about the place I was visiting and culture I was fascinating by. Here is what I learned:

The Mayan calendar does not predict the end of the world. December 21st, 2012 was the end of a calendar cycle, which means big changes, but it did not mean anything apocalyptic was about to happen. In fact, it was a promise of positive things to come, such as societal progress and spiritual enlightenment.

Mayan culture is not a thing of the past. Many people talk as if Mayan society has died out, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Mayans continue to live in Mexico and Central America today, and they have preserved their customs, language, and traditions.

Mayan ruins are not always relics of spirituality or mysticism. The Tulum ruins do include a temple and ceremonial sites, but they also served as a fortress protecting the city, and as a center for trade. These are the only ruins by the seaside, and with this position, the city was well-positioned to serve many purposes. You will see a blend of both the sacred and secular, magic and the practicalities of day-to-day life.

This doesn’t mean they didn’t take their spirituality very seriously. Walls were constructed to separate priests from commoners, and the stairs were purposely made to allow people to walk sideways up and down – this kept them from ever turning their backs on their gods.

These ruins were once called “The City of the Dawning Sun.” It is believed this name was earned because the city’s temple was built to perfectly capture the sun during the summer solstice.

The City of the Dawning Sun has a touch of darkness. One eerie site you’ll see in the Tulum ruins is the ceremonial center where animal and human sacrifices were once made. This was a common part of their ancient religion, and of most other pre-modern religions.

The Mayans were ahead of their time when it came to predicting weather and natural disasters. One legend claims that conch shells were perfectly placed along the shoreline of Tulum, and when a hurricane was approaching the shells let out a sound to warn the inhabitants.

While my visit to the Tulum Mayan ruins was not what I was expecting, it was still enchanting, and it was certainly an eye-opening experience that helped me see the importance of experiencing a place or culture firsthand.

Have you ever been surprised by a place or culture during your travels?

Do You Want to Travel? Then Get on the Plane.

Years ago, we both came to similar conclusions about our lives. From our comfortable and familiar homes, we realized we wanted more. More things to see, more people to meet, more cultures to experience – more of the whole world! There was an itch that we couldn’t scratch at home, and we both decided the answer was to live abroad and pursue a life of travel.

Others have absolutely no desire to travel. While this may be hard for us to wrap our minds around, we 100% respect it. It is always admirable to be confident in yourself and know what you want from life.

We aren’t trying to change your mind if you genuinely don’t dream of a life on the road (or across an ocean).

But we do have some encouragement for those who long for travel, the way we did, but feel held back by external circumstances.

Honestly, we see ourselves in you! We know what it’s like to feel scared, uncertain, unprepared, or unlucky when wanderlust starts to tug at you.

This is what we needed to hear several years ago, and we hope it will be inspiring for you today.

We want to encourage you to get on that plane.

You don’t need as much money as you think.

No paycheck will ever be large enough if you aren’t keeping a budget that truly reflects your priorities. If you’re determined to travel, your spending and saving habits should reflect that. This might mean giving up other expenses in your life that have become habitual, but actually aren’t as important to you.

It is also easier than you think to save money on travel costs. Learn how to fly cheaply or even for free.  Eliminate more expenses by housesitting, couchsurfing, traveling during the off-season, or searching for rooms with hostelworld.com or Airbnb. Choose destinations where the cost of living is very low, and your accommodations, food, and bar tabs will barely make a dent.

If you want to travel long-term, we encourage you to work while you travel. Your job abroad (or online) won’t need to pay too much if you choose the right country where costs are low.

You’re going to be safe.

It’s human nature to feel uneasy in unfamiliar places, especially when surrounded by people who look, act, talk, or behave differently than you are used to. But this instinct is not very accurate. Compared to America and England, many places in the world are very safe. Of course, every country has some crime. There are no guarantees whether you are at home or abroad. All you can really do is be alert and use common sense.

And that uneasiness that you’ll feel? It’s inescapable, but it’s also only temporary. It wasn’t long before we realized we were more comfortable walking in Asia at night than we ever felt back home. The streets are busier, the crime rates are lower, and the locals are friendlier and more helpful than any stranger we met back home.

You don’t need a travel partner.

There is a huge community of solo travelers exploring the world, and they will be excited to meet you and share their experiences with you. You might board your plane alone, but with the right attitude, you’ll have new friends in the next 24 hours. Your best travel companion might already be out there, not waiting around with you at home.

Your perfect travel partner might already be out there.

You don’t need anyone’s permission.

If you’re an adult, this is your decision. If a family member or friend voices concerns about your travel plans, thank them for their input. They just care about you, and you can’t fault them for that. But then come to your own conclusion about what you can and can’t do, and what you do and don’t want.

Your free time is precious – make the most of it!

If you are very busy, that’s even more of a reason to make your limited holiday time really count! Meaningful travel doesn’t have to be a 4-year nonstop trip at the opposite end of the globe. You can do a lot more than you think in the time you have.

Living in England? Give Eastern Europe a try.

If you live in America, you can take a short trip to Central America that could potentially change your entire worldview.

Get off the beaten track. Don’t go to the same place twice. Choose your flight times carefully to maximize the time you can explore.

You don’t need to speak the language.

You will be able to communicate everything you need to, one way or another. Read our best tips for overcoming a language barrier.

You aren’t too young. You don’t need to wait until you’re older. 

Take advantage of the energy you have when you’re younger – you can sleep anywhere, in any position, and wake the next day without a complaint. You can stay up all night when your flight is delayed or when you decide to take a night bus to your next destination. You can keep up with the party-goers at your hostel.  You can idealize the cultures around you with perfect innocence and optimism and people will think it’s endearing, not delusional.

You aren’t too old. You don’t need to regret that you’ve missed your chance.

Take advantage of the resources you’ve accumulated and free time you’ve earned. You can spring for the luxury hotels and a bit of fine dining. You can travel slowly and intentionally, and no one will pressure you. You will be offered respect and courtesy, and you will have amazing experiences while appreciating the comfort you’re able to afford.

There is an advantage to travel at every age. Enjoy whatever it can offer you right now.

Bring the kids!

We can’t speak about family travel from personal experiences, but we are always relieved and impressed to see families traveling far and well even with small children in tow. It can be done, and it might even instill a sense of curiosity and adventure in your children at a young age that will carry them through their adulthood.

You don’t need luck.

We are often told that we are lucky to live the way we do. We do feel lucky in some ways: We are lucky to be native English speakers, because it gives us employment opportunities basically anywhere in the world. We are lucky to have met each other, because we both want the same things from life and we push each other forward instead of holding each other back.

The choice is yours. Keep going straight.

But a lot of it is choice, not luck. We know what we want, and we chose the right path to get it. If it’s also what you want, waiting for a stroke of “luck” is not the way. It’s time to act! And we’d love to help. Not sure where to begin? Let us know your situation, and we’ll offer any pointers we can.

Beyond the Mona Lisa: Interesting & Unusual Art in the Louvre

I didn’t expect to be overly impressed by the Mona Lisa the first time I visited the Louvre.

I’d heard that it was small and constantly surrounded by crowds of tourists, so I set my expectations accordingly.

But here was something I didn’t expect: while the Mona Lisa was tucked away down several maze-like hallways, the entire museum had signs pointing visitors toward it. It seemed that many people rushed with a single focus from sign to sign. They were not looking at anything else. Their only goal was to find the Mona Lisa, snap a photo, and make a hasty exit.

Of course, if you are visiting the Louvre, you will want to see its most famous piece – but we encourage you to keep exploring from there. Neither of us have any specific passion for art and we aren’t very studious museum-goers, but I still believe the Louvre can spark your curiosity and interest if you seek out the more unusual pieces.

These are the paintings, drawings, and other works of art I found the most intriguing, beautiful, or pleasantly weird:

The Seasons by Giuseppe Arcimboldo

These creepy, otherworldy portraits feel like a dark fairy tale. Scratch below the seasonal imagery and they are also depicting men of the royal house of Habsburg. The painter sought to both romanticize them and offer an ironic political commentary.

Monkey as Painter and Monkey as Antiquarian by Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin

These playful paintings may have a few tongue-in-cheek things to say about humanity – especially when we start to feel a bit too self-important.

Three Monkeys Stealing Fruit by Frans Snyders

Here’s a much more humorous take on the cliche fruit-in-a-basket drawing. Also, maybe I have a thing for strange monkeys in my artwork?

My Friends, Let Us Not Refuse a Clever Guest by Pierre-Jean Mariette

During a great feast, several guests are suddenly uprooted by their tables and shot up into the air. Typical dinner party problems – we’ve all been there! This drawing was inspired by a comedic Italian play.

The Gift of the Heart

Ah, courtly love. I am a sucker for a romantic fairy tale scene, but I also like that the coloring is so dark – almost sinister.

Corinthian Aryballos in the Shape of an Owl

Basically just a really cute owl! Oh, and he used to hold perfume.

Have you been to the Louvre? Did you find anything that captured your eye, made you think, or made you laugh? Share it with us below.

10 Recommendations for the Thailand Traveller

Thailand is a must-see country. It’s cheap, cheerful, random and provides endless fun to anyone who visits – whether they are backpacking with a budget or looking for a luxurious getaway. The country has it all, from a huge bustling city, to stunning tropical beaches, a quiet countryside and old Asian villages. It is popular on the tourist trail, and for a good reason. Here are some of our top recommendations to consider when visiting.

 

Party hard in Bangkok.

Get jolly in one of Bangkok’s many party spots.

Bangkok is mental. It’s a city that never sleeps. No matter how late you want to stay out, you will never have a problem finding somewhere to dance, drink and have a good time. First-time visitors often find themselves on Khao San Road, but we recommend getting out around the city for other cheap drinks and a different atmosphere. There are bars and Thai clubs all over. Here are few alternatives to consider: A Sukumvit bar crawl, Snop on Rama 4 or Sukumvit Soi 4. Inebriation is cheap here if you know where to go, especially if you’re ordering local beers and spirits.

And end the night nice and merry.

Take a bicycle around Ayutthaya.

Ayutthaya is an interesting little town just an hour outside of Bangkok. If you’re looking for ancient temples and a lot of culture, this is the place to go. Rent a bicycle and have an adventure. Should a bicycle not be to your taste, you should be able to find a Tuk Tuk guide for pretty cheap, although you won’t be able to explore as freely.

The ancient temples of Ayutthaya.

Enjoy the island life down south.

Get out and about down south.

Heading south, you’ll discover some of the best beaches the world has to offer. Soft white sands, turquoise water, and warm temperatures all year – you can’t ask for more. Craving peace and tranquility?  Take a boat trip or rent a canoe to get around the more remote locations. We love Koh Phi Phi and Koh Lanta. Despite some bad press, we definitely recommend checking out a full moon party. As we’ve said before, sometimes tourist hot spots are popular for a reason. These parties are always crazy, and you’ll have a great night.

And see the stunning sights.

Do Songkran in Chiang Mai.

Thailand celebrates a few festivals, but we strongly believe that Songkran is the best one. The cities swarm with people drinking, dancing in the streets, and throwing water at anyone and anything (including moving traffic). There are endless smiles and fun with other tourists and the locals. Songkran is celebrated throughout the entire country, but Chiang Mai is the top place to be. The central square is full of chaos and excitement, usually lasting 5 days in mid April.

Cause a splash at Songkran.

Rent a villa with friends and have a weekend to remember.

Rent one of many luxury villas in Thailand.

Here is the perfect way to take advantage of Thailand’s cheapness: Get a group of friends together and rent a luxury villa. When you split the cost, it shouldn’t be more than an average hotel, but you’ll get so much more privacy, comfort, and quality. All the beach towns and islands have them available. During our villa weekends, we sometimes never even leave the property. It’s easy to make your own entertainment with a pool to yourselves and speakers for your music. Bring your own booze and food, and you’re set for a great holiday for a low cost.

And enjoy the villa life. 

Experience Pattaya’s Walking Street.

Pattaya may have a certain reputation, as does a lot of Thailand, but sex tourism is undeniably part of this country. If you’re like us, you’ll want to see every part of the places you travel to, even if they initially make you a little uncomfortable. Get to Pattaya and check out Walking Street while you’re there. You’ve never seen anything else like it, and it can be a good laugh. If you have a girl in your group, the bar workers will flock to her. They always seem fascinated by foreign females, maybe wanting to practice their English or just have a normal conversation. Take advantage of that, because they are usually fascinating people and quite fun to joke around with.

Things get interesting beyond this point.

Visit the White Temple in Chiang Rai.

The White Temple (Wat Rong Khun) is one of Thailand’s most famous landmarks. This art exhibit was designed to seem like a Buddhist temple, but with a style that is uniquely its own. If you are fan of the kooky, strange, and creative (or you just love to get a good photo), you need to make time for this attraction while traveling Northern Thailand.

The famous White Temple in Chiang Rai.

Spend some time in Kanchanaburi.

Start your weekend at the famous Bridge Over the River Kwai.

Kanchanaburi has a pleasant countryside feel to it. Wooden huts and shacks by the famous River Kwai make it the perfect place to relax. It’s unbelievably cheap, and the common presence of backpackers has inspired many restaurants to include favorite foods from home on the menu, along with vegetarian versions of many popular Thai dishes. One of our favorite spots in Konchanaburi? The 10 Baht Bar, of course, where you can get mixed drinks for about 20 pence. Konchanaburi also has an array of sights to see including the Bridge over the River Kwai, and Erawan Waterfall, which is located about an hour outside of the city. Should you wish to avoid the crowds Erawan attracts, there are a number of other waterfalls to visit in the area.

And end it at a great waterfall.

Pamper yourself with a spa day.

Nothing beats a spa day, and in Thailand it’s actually affordable. Whether it’s a spa in the center of Bangkok or a simple massage by the beach, these simple pleasures are highly recommended. Most spas offer a wide range of treatments, including the infamous Thai Massage. Be warned; the full Thai massage is rough and you might find your arms and legs going in positions you didn’t think possible.

A Thai spa is a relaxation must do. 

 Visit Lopburi.

Lopburi is about 90 miles outside of Bangkok and it’s well worth a look. You’ll find it to be an unusual place that has a surprising number of wild monkeys roaming about. They are fun to see, but don’t trust them. Like any tourist hot spot, you’ll need to keep an eye on your possessions. But unlike the average pickpocket, these little thieves will be the monkeys hoping to claim your valuables. While you’re here, you should also check out the temple ruins. Other spots of interest include the bat caves and the sunflower fields.

Be careful of these little terrors.

Did we miss anything? If so, we’d love to hear your recommendations.

How I Know I Was Born to Be a Travel Writer

I was kind of a weird kid.

Can any fellow travel bloggers relate to these childhood quirks?

To begin with, this is how I spent many of my weekends: I’d pick a country, go to the library, and play a “game” trying to fit as many facts as possible about that country on an index card. The winning card was the one with the most (teeny, tiny, nearly illegible) words stuffed on it. Oddly, none of my friends ever wanted to play.

In a small town, my research hobby was newsworthy. 😉

Afterward, I’d ride my bike around, keeping a creepy eye on all my neighbors, writing down what they were doing. I loved to observe, I found other people fascinating, and I firmly believed that absolutely everything was interesting enough to be recorded.

Whenever I visited my grandparents, I’d touch the outside of the airplane before stepping on board. Somehow I’d come to believe that, through touch, I could take a piece of all the exotic places (and not-so-exotic places) it had been and keep them for myself.

I was eager to travel anywhere on Earth and beyond!

I was also the world’s smallest and most annoying poet. My 3rd grade teacher surely regrets her poetry unit, as this prompted me to write 3-5 poems a day, insisting she read each one and provide feedback.

My favorite “toy” was a typewriter, and later a word processor my mom used when she went back to school.

I wrote a weekly newsletter about the pets in my neighborhood.

Typical headlines:

“Peaches and Junior Battle at Dawn”

“Cats Complain of Unfamiliar Dog on a Walk”

I wrote a series of horror stories about haunted puppets.

I loved everything about words. I loved how they could rhyme. I loved how they beat out their own rhythms and patterns. I loved how they’d create any emotion out of thin air. I tried to teach myself French so I could enjoy even more words. (Also France was my absolute DREAM destination at the time – no surprise it was my first solo trip as an adult.) Then I tried to develop my own language.

One day at the beach, I spent the entire afternoon trying to literally dig a hole to China.

Now I am 31 years old, teaching English in Thailand. Last year I was in Guangzhou, China. I am always traveling, and my stories are collecting. Not much has changed since I was a child; I still firmly believe that absolutely everything is interesting enough to be recorded, and I’m ready to do it.

Tell us – how did your childhood foreshadow who you became as an adult?

The Language Barrier: Best Tips & Awkward Stories

Too many people are reluctant to explore the world because they are afraid of trying to communicate with non-English speakers.

We want you to know that there is always a way around not knowing the language.

You might believe that if you can’t speak the language, you won’t be able to communicate at all. After travelling to over 20 non-English-speaking countries, we can assure you that you will find a way to communicate (and understand) no matter what.

We’ve found that not knowing the language has never prevented us from finding food, shelter, or transportation. It has never stopped us from meeting locals and having a laugh with them. It has never kept us from enjoying our travels in any way, but it can be hilarious and create some bizarre scenarios.

So how do we do it?

A Few Basics Go a Long Way.

To start with, it’s always helpful (and polite) to know a few simple phrases, at least “hello” and “thank you.” If you have a few weeks before your trip, or even just a long plane ride, practice greetings, directions, numbers, and how to order food and drink.

Learn how to order the essentials.  

Use Your Phone

Many situations can quickly be resolved with the use of a translation app, like Google Translate, on your phone. Make sure the language you need is downloaded for offline use!

You can also search Google Images to help you out, or use a drawing app.

Google translate could become a very good friend. 

Try New Words, New Phrases, New Gestures – Just Keep Trying!

Not sure where your attempts at communication went wrong? Remember that no two languages line up perfectly. You may have unintentionally used some local slang that confused the meaning of your words (I’ve gotten in trouble with accidental idioms that use words like “yellow” or “egg”), or there might not be a direct translation of what you’re saying, causing your translation app to miss the mark.

No two languages line up perfectly. 

If you’re trying to speak an Asian language, tones can often change your meaning. In Thai, ‘gly’ can mean near or far, depending on how your voice rises or falls. That can definitely cause some confusion!

Even body language and gestures can occasionally mean something different in another culture. I remember facing a room full of laughing teenagers (and one very red-faced boy) in China when I asked one to come talk to me with my index finger. Apparently, that gesture is quite inappropriate in their culture.

These obstacles and missteps are inescapable. You just have to laugh it off, think of another way and try again.

Accept That You Will Look Silly Sometimes.

We all have, and it’s okay!

When your limited vocabulary fails you, it’s time to use the easily-misunderstood but universal language of facial expressions, gestures and prop use. You will become a charades master. 

Some efforts will go better than others. Some will be a stroke a genius! Others will end with you looking absolutely moronic. Some will accomplish both at the same time.

We have looked like complete idiots on more than one occasion, but these are all fun stories to laugh at now.

There was the day Kristin needed some feminine hygiene products from a shopkeeper and found herself trying to demonstrate a heavy flow and miming the act of inserting a tampon. She has had prouder moments, but she did leave the store with what she was looking for.

There was also the day we needed a toilet plunger. The gesture we used could be (and was) interpreted in some very interesting ways, and the Thai woman clearly thought we’d lost the plot.

And one night at a Chinese KTV party we tried to explain we needed another microphone. That looked like something entirely different being pulled towards our mouths.

Embarrassing? Of course. But the point is that it’s all good fun. You will get some strange looks, but when everyone finally understands what you’re saying, it can be taken as a joke all around.

Anything to get that microphone!

We just have to remind ourselves that travelling is worth it. It is worth the extra patience and extra effort. It is worth every moment that frustrates, confuses, or embarrasses us – and it’s only temporarily. We eventually reach understanding, we learn from every encounter, and we always have something to laugh about later.


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A Crazy Quick History of the Forbidden City: What You Should Know Before You Go

If you’re planning a trip to Beijing, chances are the Forbidden City is near the top of your must-sees. It definitely was for us – it was the first place we visited, even before finding a hotel for the night.

But, we’ll confess, we didn’t know too much about it when we arrived. We just knew it was a globally-revered tourist attraction, and that we couldn’t visit this ancient city without having a look.

This is a situation we often find ourselves in: exploring a place filled with history but not really understanding what we’re seeing and why. I always plan to prep myself beforehand with tons of research, but the next thing I know I’m boarding the plane and I still don’t really know the significance of what I’m about to see.

And while I am a bookworm who honestly can spend all day on the couch reading, when I’m out and about, we find that we don’t have much patience for reading plaques in museums or other tourist hot spots. We like to keep moving!

Can you relate? If so we’d like to help, starting with Beijing’s Forbidden City.

Here’s what you should know:

WHY IS IT CALLED THE FORBIDDEN CITY?

The simple answer is that this “city” was the home to the Emperors of China, and people were forbidden to enter or exit without his permission.

But there is also a bit more symbolism to it.

When written in Chinese characters, the name alludes to The North Star, where the Jade Emperor lives in the heavens. According to several common Chinese religions (Taoism, Caodaism, certain sects of Buddhism) this is the “first god,” often called “Heavenly Grandfather.”

The Forbidden City was seen as the earthly version of this mystical palace.

It was both a spiritual and political center for the nation.

HOW OLD IS IT?

In 1406, a new emperor (Zhu Di) moved the Chinese capital to Beijing from Nanjing. Here he began construction of his residence: The Forbidden City.

It took 14 years and over 1 million workers.

In its history as a royal residence, it housed 24 emperors from two dynasties.

WHAT SHOULD YOU LOOK FOR?

The Forbidden City is filled with symbolism if you know how to find it.

During the Ming dynasty, the predominant theme of the Forbidden City was supremacy.

The Qing dynasty emphasized harmony, and also added a lot of shamanistic imagery.

Keep an eye out for these symbols:

  • Colors – Yellow was the color of the emperor and his empire. You’ll see that most rooftops are a dark yellow. Green rooftops are above the residences of the princes – this was believed to encourage growth. The library has a black rooftop, which brought protection to the books and knowledge inside.
  • Numbers – The organization of the buildings often includes groups of six or groups of three. Six represented heaven, and three represented Earth. The overall message was that this was a place where divinity and humanity mingled together.
  • Jade – In Chinese culture, jade’s significance is similar to our views about gold in the west. It represented wealth and beauty. There are also superstitions that it could preserve health and prolong life.

WHAT DOES THE MODERN FORBIDDEN CITY OFFER?

The Forbidden City ceased to be a place of residence when Imperial China came to an end in the early 1900s. It is now open to the public, with several bragging rights as a museum:

  • It is the most visited art museum in the world.
  • It has over a million works of art in its permanent collection.
  • It has the largest collection of art from the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368).
  • It has the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures.

These are just the basics to give you an idea of what to expect at the Forbidden City, and why it is so important to the history and culture of China. Have you visited? What would you add to the list?

A Scooter in Bangkok: The Best Kind of Death Trap?

At first, renting a scooter in Bangkok seemed like one of the best decisions we could have made. This sprawling, chaotic city is notoriously difficult to get around, but with the scooter we had found independence and freedom.

We could go anywhere. No more taxi drivers refusing to turn on the meter. No more long ticket lines and crowded trains. We took our scooter to work. We spent weekends zooming all around the city. We even took it on holidays to Pattaya and Kanchanaburi. After 4+ hours on the road, we’d arrive at our accommodations sore and grumpy, but adamantly insisting that the discomfort was worth it to avoid the horror of public transportation.

The scooter gives you the option to stop and see at any time. 

We even named him – Tooter the Scooter. He was an essential part of our life – until a collision from behind sent me flying and thinking: is it worth it?

Traffic here is the 2nd worst in the world, after Mexico City. Cars and buses are crammed on every road. There is no such thing as a smooth journey around Bangkok. I’ll never forget the day that I spent 4 hours in a taxi – without the traffic congestion, it should have been 25 minutes.

The BTS and MRT trains only cover a fraction of the city, and the buses are always packed, vile, and reeking of body odor. You might occasionally see a public boat on the river, but that route won’t take you many places either. A scooter seems like – and is – such an appealing option.

However, our biggest regret was becoming so reliant on the scooter, to the point that even the thought of using other modes of transport was stressful. The reality is, after such collision, they’re really not that bad.

It became the ONLY way to travel.

While we’re not going to say never ride a scooter in Bangkok – honestly I’d probably encourage you to give it a try – we do want to offer some insight into the annoyances and potential dangers you could face.

The first point is the traffic. You’d think a city with so many bikes on the road would know how to accommodate both cars and scooters. Ideally, cars would stay in straight lines within their own lanes, and scooters could easily move between them when traffic gets congested. Instead, you’ll find cars all over the place, making it beyond infuriating to find the best path through. What should be a quick skip through the middle of still cars takes twice the time because you have to weave in and out – and it’s not easy dragging a scooter in a city with stifling temperatures 12 months of the year!

Notice that most cars are not directly behind the one in front. 

Always be vigilant! Always! I’ve seen cars cut 3 lanes of traffic just to get 10 metres in front of where they were originally. Pointless and idiotic, but that’s what you have expect.

Meanwhile, buses think they own the road, and the not-so-rare moron can be found speeding around traffic on a motorbike doing wheelies.

To be honest, the majority of the people you share the road with are going to be idiots.

The point is, even the safest driver can’t be assured that he will avoid an accident. There is always a risk. We couldn’t have been more careful. We drove slowly. We paid attention to our surroundings. We stayed in the left lane whenever we could. But it wasn’t enough, and after 7 months an accident did occur.

You might do nothing wrong, but you can’t control what another driver will do! Even trying to be safe and going slower will usually result in a car up your backside blasting their horn at you. It was difficult not to get shaken up when that happened without warning. Just what a scooter driver who lacks a little confidence needs, being scared from behind!

The chaotic roads of Bangkok. 

After the accident, I immediately realized I never wanted that horrible collision feeling again. But I can honestly say that if it didn’t happen I would still be on the scooter because it makes travelling the city so much easier. It’s quite a dilemma. But for us, never again!


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