Myanmar- Many a traveler has set off to explore lands “off the beaten track.” Although a wonderful concept in theory, finding those lands in this increasingly globalized world is difficult, and becoming increasingly so. Last Christmas, two good friends, my girlfriend and I aspired to truly find out what it means to get off the grid and experience people and culture that have not been tarnished by tourism. To do this, we explored far into the Burmese countryside.
Destinations - International
Sapa, VIETNAM — We sat on plastic chairs big enough for a 5-year-old while drinking warm beer on a broken sidewalk in Hanoi. It was 2008, my second night in Vietnam after nearly two years in Korea. The Aussies sitting to my left mentioned a trek and homestay they had just signed up to do. My ears perked up.
“What’s Sapa?” I asked, intrigued to hear of a destination in the North that was not on my “must see” list.
“We don’t know, but we’re going … Want to come?”
I agreed, and off we went.
We were lost. We were only 10 minutes out the door of our guesthouse. We were even told where to go, or so we thought … Yet, we were lost. Fortunately, I had absolutely no problem with it. I was in heaven. I was in Old Kathmandu.
At 6:15 p.m. the narrow cobblestone streets are choked with people moving at a snail’s pace. I clutch my empty shopping bag and try to calculate how long it will take to reach the grocery store, purchase the necessary ingredients for the pasta dinner I had planned, and make it back home through the crowd. I crane my neck around the cluster of dark-haired Italian men in front of me, wondering why the streets are suddenly so crowded after being empty for hours.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia —
I am struck by the unfamiliarity of everything as I weave a path through the market; some stalls covered, some exposed to the blazing sun. I feel disoriented.
“Why the hell are those peanuts bright orange?”
“Watch out for that scooter!”
“Mmmm something smells incredible.”
“I wonder how much batik fabric is here.”
“That guy looks friendly; ask him for a portrait.”
Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh state, India —
Millennia ago, gods and demons battled over a pitcher that was said to be filled with the “nectar of immortality.” While they were fighting, four drops fell to the ground, sanctifying the cities of Allahabad, Haridwar, Ujjain and Nasik in northern India.
Today, millions pilgrims from around the world flock to these cities on the banks of the Ganges. Hindus, Buddhists and Jains bathe in the holy river to wash away their sins, a ceremony that is necessary to attain “moksha,” or liberation from the cycle of birth and death.
Rising competition among low-cost air carriers means one thing for you, the intrepid traveler — lower prices and more destinations to choose from.
It wasn’t long ago that a flight to and from Korea would set you back 1 million won. But with the arrival of several international and Korean budget airlines, there are more places around Asia that are accessible for less than $500. And the list is growing.
I thought that living abroad for the majority of the past six years and traveling widely around Europe and Asia during that time would have prepared me, at least a little, for a year-long trip around the world. After 50 days, I’m here to tell you that I’ve learned a thing or two about long-term travel. Having a “home” in a foreign country or taking two-week trips here and there simply don’t prepare you for the madness that can sometimes be your round-the-world journey.
For 17 years, no one knew Sharbat Gula’s name. Everyone knew her face, though — the haunting green eyes, olive skin, her apprehension and beauty. That face appeared on the cover of National Geographic in 1985 and instantly made her and her photographer — Steve McCurry — famous.
It’s 10 o’clock in the morning. The breeze is calm, the tide is gentle and the elderly Englishmen nearby have just ordered their first round. Island life is good. The allure of Thai islands is no secret, and throughout history travelers have been coming to the Land of Smiles for much needed rest and relaxation. Ko Chang, or Elephant Island, situated in the northeast corner of the Gulf of Thailand, is the second-largest Thai island. Despite being in the land of tourism, the island has retained remarkable charm.