The City of Angels and Beyond – Thailand, Nov. 26 – Dec. 17

Howdy folks – TL;DR photos here. Enjoy!

. . .

Thailand is Vietnam’s older sibling in the world of tourism in Southeast Asia. It’s more convenient, the roads are cleaner, the prices are higher, and the scams are slicker. Beneath all that, though, was the same beautiful depth of history, cuisine, culture, and friendliness we found on the eastern edge of Indochina. That is to say that, once again, all our overblown fears about a new country were just that.

We spent three wonderful weeks traveling from Bangkok (full name, and I am not joking, Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit) to Ayutthaya, then Chiang Mai, back down to Sukhothai, and back to “The City of Angels” (Bangkok’s other, shorter, translated name).

We traveled by foot, taxi, tuk tuk, ferry, bus, sleeper train, and motorbike. We had the best Thai food of our life and, ironically, some of the best Mexican and Japanese food we’ve had on this trip. We successfully drove hours to the top of Thailand’s highest mountain. A few days later, we had our second motorbike crash. We saw more gold on more temples than we knew existed in Asia. We took our first step towards India by experiencing the syncretism of Thailand’s unique brand of Buddhism.

So, enjoy the photos, plan your own Thailand adventure, and get ready for our next installment – a special batch of photos from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia!

Love,

E&E

 

Taiwan 2k17, the “We Are So Behind on Photos” Edition

Howdy folks! We’ve been in Vietnam for 3 weeks, but here’s hundreds of photos from Taiwan. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Hualien! Taitung! Kaohsiung! Taichung! Sun Moon Lake! Taipei (again)! It’s all here and more, plus plenty of pics of Emily’s lovely mother Nancy, who joined us for 3 abso-scooterly wonderful weeks.

Part 1: Hualien-Taitung-Kaohsiung

Part 2: Taichung and Sun Moon Lake

Part 3: Taipei – Round 2

Vietnam photos are coming soon (we survived)! Leaving for Bangkok in just two days; the trip goes ever onward.

Love,

E&E

Top of the Sweet Potato – Taipei Photos

Howdy folks. Ethan here.

TL;DR – Long live Taipei! Long live stinky tofu! Photos here.

If you look at a map of Taiwan, the whole island looks a bit like a sweet potato. At the northern end of that delicious green root vegetable is a big, beautiful city called Taipei.

Em and I had been told a lot of things about Taiwan before we arrived – literally all of them positive. The capital city is wonderful, the mountains are gorgeous, the eastern coast breathtaking, the food to die for…you name it. I had personally gotten a rushed glimpse of Taipei during a long layover back in 2016 and all I had were good memories. Suffice it to say, we arrived with high expectations.

Right off the bat, Taipei started to fulfill them.

Our first week in Taiwan was spent visiting museums, sweating our brains out, eating at night markets, and marveling at the curious mix of China and Japan that Taiwan represents. We also got to welcome the lovely Nancy (Emily’s mom) on our trip for a 3-week jaunt around the island.

And as always, lucky reader, you get to follow along with us! Until our next batch of photos. ❤

Love,

E&E

China Photos – SAR Edition

Howdy folks,

TL;DR – The Brits and Portuguese left some unusual places behind after that weird colonialism phase. See photos here.

The Special Administrative Regions (SARs) of China – both within and at the very fringes of the Middle Kingdom. For six days, Emily and I got one last taste of the People’s Republic in the two places that least represent it – Hong Kong and Macau.

The former we were experiencing or a second time, though this time around we stayed on Hong Kong Island, did more hiking, and generally saw HK’s non-Kowloon side. Macau, though, was a fresh place, and it surprisingly felt very different from both China and Hong Kong. I really liked it, though! (Minus the oppressive heat) See Emily’s soon-to-be-posted take on it soon.

Stay tuned for pics from what is by-far my favorite place on this trip so far – TAIWAN!

Love,

E&E

Ten-thousand Li From Home – Life in Sichuan

Hello e-travel companions,

TL;DR – Omg cute panda pics, cloudy landscapes, and Ethan getting his ears cleaned by a random dude. Pictures here!

Emily and I recently wrapped up three weeks – half our China trip! – in Sichuan province.

Sichuan is China’s “land of milk and honey,” or as it’s better (actually) known in Chinese, the “Land of Abundance.” It’s name Sìchuān (四川) means four rivers, referring to the waterways that have been tamed and diverted for thousands of years to irrigate the broad Sichuan basin. Free from flooding and strong influence from other parts of China, this region has given birth to separate kingdoms, unique languages, and – of course- really spicy food.

Our home base and first stop was the provincial capital of Chengdu. “Oh, Chengdu!” Chinese people will exclaim. “Did you go for the pandas?” No, we didn’t just go for the pandas…but hell yes we saw them and they were hilarious/adorable. But my favorite part of Chengdu was by-far its more laid-back culture, focused – it seems – on tea drinking, river strolling, and overall having a good time (read: eating). The city is large, but not overwhelming, and its public transit system has far surpassed the efficiency and ease of BART in less than a decade. Pair all of this with a wealth of museums, bars, and restaurants…yeah, Chengdu is already up there as one of my favorite cities ever.

However, half our time spent in Sichuan was outside the city – on a farm an hour to the southwest, as well as a brief stay on a sacred mountain to the northwest. Farm life – for me – was stupendous. Not because it was comfortable, but because it was rewarding. I forged lovely friendships with an Israeli couple, a Puerto Rican-American girl, a wild dude from Maine, and several of our fellow Chinese hosts/workers. I help rig an overhead irrigation system, ferried people about on an electric tractor, learned the finer points of wood sculpting (with a power sander, that is)…all around, it was an excellent Workaway.

Our adventure out of these lovely three weeks was…not so stupendous. However, that I will save for another post, because it’s a funny story that some of you may have followed-along with live on Facebook.

I write to you now from a hostel in TAIPEI, AKA Quite Possibly the Raddest City in Asia. But until we get to here, we’ve gotta get through Hong Kong (round 2!) and Macau pics. So! Until next time.

Love,

E&E

Rivers and Roads – Guilin, Yangshuo, and Chongqing

TL;DR – China is hot in the summer; pictures here.

The second half of August found us next to a whole lot of rivers. In Guilin and Yangshuo, where the Yulong and Li meet; in Chongqing, where the Yangtze and Jialing meet. These were hot weeks in the southwest, but life in China doesn’t stop no matter where the mercury’s at.

After taking a high speed train from Guangzhou, we spent a few rainy sick days in Guilin – the center of karst country. As the weather and our health cleared, we bused down to a smaller (yet somehow more touristy) town named Yangshuo. There, we lost half our clothes, rode motorbikes through fields, taught English, and met our favorite Egyptian (shoutout to Mohamed!).

After a few more days in Guilin, we took our first domestic flight to Chongqing. Chongqing is massive, with over 10 million people in the city proper and 30 million in the broader region. In some ways, its skyline and sheer beauty rivals Hong Kong. But life here is pretty laid back, and the cityscape, with all its bendy roads and many hills, reminded me of San Francisco and Haifa, Israel. Here we enjoyed an excellent museum, were taken to hot pot by our lovely AirBnB host and her family, and cuddled a kitten.

We write to you now from Chengdu, after having spent a week on a farm an hour away from this amazing city. Pictures, as always, are on their way. Until then!

Love,

E&E

 

“The Eastern Expanse” – August 1-14, Guangzhou

Howdy folks! Ethan here (on Emily’s laptop, because she stole mine to play videogames).

TL;DR – Here’s a link to our photo album!

On August 1, we put those Chinese visas we got to good use and crossed the border north of Hong Kong. If HK was scary, Shenzhen was terrifying; never had we felt more out of place on this trip, wandering from the subway to our hostel. Suffice it to say, staring is not considered rude around these parts, and Emily’s hair is a roving tourist attraction. As I kept stupidly saying, “We aren’t in Kansas anymore.”

However, arriving in Guangzhou (just a quick high speed train ride away) released some pressure. Guangzhou (and the broader Pearl River Delta region) is a kaleidoscope of sights, sounds, and smells, befitting of its sometimes-nickname of “The World’s Factory.” The people are direct, friendly, and have places to go, and their obvious hustle is a living testament to China’s incredible economic growth.

But, as soon as we arrived, we departed – off to a eco-village/meditation center (I know, right?) outside the city. It wasn’t the best experience (hippies aren’t the most organized folks), but it meant a week to get used to China in the surreal surroundings of the subtropical forests that ring a not-too-far-away megalopolis. There, Emily and I were put to work clearing trails that led away from the village and into the forest, armed with machetes. When we weren’t exhausted from doing that in 35 degree C (~90 degree F) heat, we became good friends with a Danish dude (not annoying) and a 17 year-old Chinese kid who didn’t speak a bit of English (sort of annoying; he’s a sweetheart though).

…and then off again! With the Dane in tow, we spent a week back in the city proper sightseeing, sweating, and eating lots of dim sum. Already, I’m eager to repeat what I said above – Guangzhou is a mesmerizing hive of activity. And yet, it’s a strangely cozy place, with plenty to eat, convenient public transit, and tons of things to do. For instance, I was amazed by not only the number of museums, but just how busy they are. Folks in Guangzhou might not be the most quiet or polite in museums…but they seem to really love learning about history, culture, science, and more. That I can really appreciate.

I write this to you now from a small village outside a slightly larger town outside a city 2 hours north of Guangzhou (by high speed train) – it’s called Yangshuo and it’s surrounded by unbelievable mountains. We’re working at an English language school for a week – our job is to talk with the students for 2 hours in the evening.

Will our heroes go have an insightful cultural experience? Will Ethan talk too fast for non-native English speakers to possibly understand? Will Emily go crazy from having to chat with – ugh – people? Tune in in two weeks.

Love,

E&E

 

 

How We’re Doing This Travel Thing

By Emily*

This post is going to focus around a lot of the questions we get, as well as an overview of what the trip is like from a day-to-day perspective. If you have a question for us that isn’t answered here, go ahead and ask!

“Why are you doing this?”

Short answer: We both love traveling.

Long answer: After experiencing Japan for the first time during a trip in 2016, Ethan was eager to return (and add a few other Asian nations to the itinerary). I hadn’t been on a trip longer than one or two weeks since 2010. We spent a few months discussing the pro’s and con’s (mostly the pro’s) and deciding how/when we’d be able to undertake a long term trip.

A few factors in our decision to travel now, versus later: we’re both at an age/life stage where we don’t mind “rougher” living situations (hostels, walking all day, etc); we were both ready to leave our current jobs and experience something different for a while; we don’t have too many responsibilities (like mortgages, kids, school, etc) that could affect future travel plans.

“How are you paying for this?”

When we made the decision to undertake a year-long adventure, it was about a year in advance of our planned departure date. We read a lot of travel blog posts online about how different travelers budgeted for such a journey, and came up with the figure of $10,000 each for a year of travel. We spent the year saving money, adjusting for planned expenses (phone bills, travel insurance, etc) and researching cheap travel tips (as well as Workaway and CouchSurfing). Currently, we both make money while traveling via remote working – I write articles for BabyNameWizard, and Ethan advises high school students applying to college via email and Skype. We’ve also adjusted our length of trip from “one year” to “when the money runs out” – we would rather have more flexibility/comfort now than prolonging an uncomfortable trip.

“How did you plan ahead?”

Internet! It is easier than ever to find destination recommendations, cheap flight websites, and free daily itineraries in almost every language for every country. Travel blogs written by people like us (millennial Westerners without an infinite sum of money) have been incredibly helpful. We also depend a lot on WikiTravel, Google Maps, and Reddit. Being who I am, I’ve made quite a few spreadsheets to keep track of flights and hostels, what to pack, and weekly plans (when necessary).

“Why are you traveling in Asia?”

Ethan was the impetus for this decision – being an amateur scholar of Japanese history and language (#weeaboo) and working with recent Chinese immigrants to the United States sparked his curiosity to explore these particular countries. When we started researching travel plans, we found that adding Southeast Asia to our trip wouldn’t be too difficult once we were already in the “area” (continent).

While my travel experience prior to this has been in the US and Europe, I was eager to expand my knowledge on a part of the world that I’ve learned very little about. There’s also not many places in the world to which I *wouldn’t* go – I’ve got one life, might as well use it to explore all there is to see!

“What’s in your backpack?”

Probably too much. I’m currently using Flight 001 bags to organize everything, so at least it’s not all in a jumble. Here’s a quick run down:

  • Clothes: Three dresses, four tops, two undershirts, skirt, jeans, belt, leggings, shorts, pajama shirt/shorts, swimsuit, sweater, scarf, two pairs of socks, three bras, five underwears (ExOfficio is amazing!!), Birkenstock sandals, tennis shoes
  • Electronics: Laptop (MacBook Air), iPhone, mobile charger, charging cords, international outlet adapters, earbuds
  • Toiletries: deodorant, lotion (doubles as styling product), acne cream, face wash, toothbrush/toothpaste, floss, tweezers, mascara, lipstick, sunscreen
  • Medical kit: ibuprofen, band-aids, tampons (which are incredibly hard to find in Asia!!!), anti-malaria pills, antidepressants (I stocked up on a year’s worth in advance)
  • Documents: passport, driver’s license, immunization record, visa paperwork
  • Miscellaneous: quick-dry towel, sewing kit, travel blanket and pillow, tissues, pens/notebooks, reusable utensils, safety pins, lint roller, inflatable hanger, rain poncho, umbrella, mini combination locks, hair elastics, laundry soap packets

Being able to carry everything I own feels limiting in some ways but liberating in others. For example, I’m not very into fashion, but I really miss wearing more than three different outfits and putting on makeup when I want to. On the other hand, I’m always very proud when I find ways to use my limited tools to solve problems – tweezers and safety pins are surprisingly versatile!

“What do you do every day?”

It depends on the day!

  • Travel days – Going between cities usually involves either a bus, train, or plane. On these days, we pack up and check out of our hostel/Workaway, then spend a few hours schlepping our gear through turnstiles and subway stations. Once we arrive at the new location, we check into our hostel/Workaway, and usually rest. These days are sweaty and very tiring, so we don’t usually get to do much sightseeing.
  • Workaway days – We wake up, eat breakfast, and work for a few hours. Then we spend the rest of the day checking out the local sites or relaxing until dinner. Naps are often involved, as is socializing with other workers. Check out my post on Workaway here.
  • “Work days” – I usually sit in a quiet air-conditioned room and write a baby name article (with occasional bouts of procrastinating on Sporcle). Ethan will follow up with students via email or hold Skype meetings (with occasional bouts of procrastinating on news websites). We also use these days to plan travel logistics, such as buying bus/train tickets, creating itineraries for cities, or contacting Workaways we want to go to in the future.
  • Sightseeing days – We walk, look at things, and sweat. Well, a little bit more goes into it: we usually come up with a route or neighborhood of a city that contains a few sites we’re interested in. This can include museums, statues, parks, shopping streets, monuments, cool buildings, and temples. While we’re walking through it, we take a lot of pictures and usually embarrass ourselves in one way or another. We’ll also try to sample the local cuisine!

*Because this is written by Emily, some facets of Ethan’s travel experience are not included (obviously). Feel free to message him directly if you have questions for him!

The Ups and Downs of Workaway

By Emily

Today is my 76th day of travel (105th for Ethan), and I’ve been working for roughly half of it – 14 days in Nagano, 6 days in Osaka, 13 days in Kuma Kougen, and 4 days in Guangzhou (soon to be 5). For those who don’t know, part of the way Ethan and I have been keeping costs down on our trip has been through the Workaway program. Workaway connects international volunteers with community-oriented businesses, promising cultural exchange and a way for travelers to stay in areas that might be expensive or difficult to find. Businesses post about themselves on the site, and talk about what kind of work volunteers will do as well as what they offer in return – accommodation, food, activities, etc. We volunteers then email these places and apply to work for them, usually for a minimum of two weeks. Workaway puts in place an hourly maximum (no more than 5 hours a day, maximum 5 days per week) and allows volunteers to review the businesses and vice versa.

When I first heard about this program, it sounded too good to be true. Free food and lodging for hanging out at a hostel a few hours a day? (Childcare, farm/garden work, and English teaching are among the other popular opportunities). I agreed with Ethan, that this program could help us travel for a longer period of time, and help us explore these towns that we might never see otherwise. So, we decided to base our trip through East and Southeast Asia around the Workaway opportunities we could get.

37 work days later, my opinion on Workaway has changed a bit. Here’s a breakdown of my perspective on the pro’s and con’s of the program:

Advantages:

  • People: Through Workaway opportunities, I’ve met dozens of travelers and become friends with them; in countries where I can’t speak the requisite language(s), this has been a godsend. Because we’re eating, living, and working together, we can form friendships quickly based on common ground. I’ve heard stories from their home countries and their travels, gone out drinking, karaoke-ing, and sightseeing with new friends, and made connections for further travels (looking at you, Europe and Australia). Being homesick for my friends and family has been made so much easier with these new connections and new friends.
  • New Skills: While the opportunities we’ve chosen have mostly centered around cleaning and gardening, I can definitely say that I’ve learned new ways of getting things done. I can now thoroughly clean a bathroom in under 5 minutes, shuck freshly-chopped bamboo for use in meals, and make a bed in at least 4 different ways. I’m now much less grossed-out by tasks that previously annoyed me – washing dishes, scrubbing toilets, and ignoring large bugs (much harder than it sounds). If nothing else, I’ll be able to return to the US and complain less about emptying the dishwasher (this is for you, Mom).
  • Saving Money: Whether or not meals are provided with the Workaway opportunity (about half the time), staying at a Workaway location means saving money. There’s not having to worry about hostel/AirBnB fees, avoiding transportation costs, getting meals and/or drinks covered by the business (or at least discounted), and spending a few days working instead of going out and spending cash on museum visits, souvenirs, etc. For people I’ve met who are staying at a Workaway for two months or more, this is a crucial part of their budget.

Disadvantages

  • Workaway Profile vs. Real Experience: As would be expected, many businesses play up their amenities and play down the work itself in order to attract volunteers. However, in 2/4 of the places we’ve been, the work has just not been accurately advertised – one place said that gardening and painting cabins were the main projects, but when we showed up, the work was cleaning cabins and bathrooms daily. Our current location advertises itself as an “Eco-Village,” and said teaching dance and music and gardening would be our primary focus, but the last three days have been spent hacking a trail through the nearby forest in 90 degree heat. Honestly, I wouldn’t mind a week cleaning a hostel if they were clear about it on the website (and I’m really efficient at it now), but promising one thing and delivering another feels like a trick.
  • Difficult Managers: Having left my favorite boss ever at my last job in CA (miss you, Linda <3), I might have some high expectations. Two managers through Workaway have been particularly amazing (Maya!!! and Kate!!!) and wrangled dozens of wacky millennial volunteers with grace and fairness. But at the other locations, management has been… disorganized to say the least. In some instances, the volunteer managers can’t speak enough English to explain the tasks, the daily schedule, etc., and since the default language for most international travelers is English, it’s been rough. In other cases, they’ve been uncommunicative for other reasons, asked more work than was originally requested, or shown a lack of respect to the workers. One issue we’ve run into a few times is what a fellow traveler called “being a petting zoo”: Workaway staff are “shown off” to guests as exotic foreigners (while we’re working, and we’ve even been asked to show up to locations just so the locals can see us), but we’re discouraged from actually speaking to guests and practicing the language.
  • Fatigue: With a maximum of 4-5 hours work per day, I was anticipating a lot of free time to explore the cities or get some writing done. But a lot of the work has been exhausting, to the point where I’m too tired to leave the Workaway or even read/write effectively. Maybe I was naive to think that I could do helpful work in four-hour shifts that wouldn’t make me want to lay down and sleep for the rest of the day. But combining work with the stress of being in a brand-new location with a new language, having your body get used to new foods/living environments/time zones, and doing the necessary upkeep for personal and mental health (socializing, hobbies, exercise, etc) is a lot. I suppose there’s a reason many people separate travel and work!

To counteract the negatives, Ethan and I have been alternating Workaway weeks with strictly travel/sightseeing weeks. This allows us to feel like we’re doing more of what we want and still saving money. We’ve also started including “work/relax” days in our plans, without any attractions/excursions, to help us catch up on much-needed mental and physical rest. As we identify possible Workaways to visit in the future, we’re more careful to get clear instructions from businesses on what they’re looking for and how they’re managed.

Ultimately, I still think that Workaway is a great option for people who want to travel, save money, and live like a local for a bit. It definitely helps if you have energy and a sense of humor! But if you’re looking for a way to travel for a long period of time without A) being rich or B) working… keep looking. And tell me how when you figure it out!

On the Edge of the Mainland – Hong Kong, July 24 – July 30

Howdy folks,

After leaving Japan, Emily and I spent a brief week in Hong Kong before crossing over into mainland China for the first time (our current location: in the forests outside Guangzhou). Check out our pictures here.

Our time in Hong Kong was the first time I experienced culture shock on this trip. Even after the crowds and sheer size of Tokyo, Hong Kong assaults the senses in a way that took several days to get used to. Sometimes pictured but not fully captured in our photos – the frequent smell of sewage, the oppressive consumerism, the trash on the sidewalks, the aggressive touts along Nathan Road in Tsim Sha Tsui, and the large difference in public manners when compared to Japan.

All that said? I found the shock of Hong Kong to be an exhilarating new experience and look forward to going back before flying from Macau to Taipei at the end of September. I’m sure my initial apprehension is nothing a little seasoning from the mainland can’t fix!

Love,

E&E