Less is more. That was my big lesson in 2010. I used to have clutter, mess, piles and heaps of stuff – in my home and in my office. Now my things fit into a suitcase and a backpack. I can’t buy things that I am not willing to carry with me every day, so I never shop anymore except to replace other things. Material things has never meant less to me than they do now.
It reminds me of the saying; “If you own more than seven things, the things will own you”. The simplification I have done in my life really feels like freedom. I can honestly say that I don’t miss any of my stuff. Back home we had a “game room” with several XBoxes, a Wii and a Playstation as well as a home movie theatre; I loved it and spent a lot of time there, and I really thought I would miss it, but I don’t. What I miss from back home are the people; friends, colleagues and family, but actually I speak more to my close family now than I did, when I lived less than 100 kilometers away from them (thank you, Skype).
Money has never been a big thing for me and that is probably because I have just been lucky to be able to make a fine living for doing what I love. The IT-business is a generous place to be. Now I think even less about it and also spend much less. Living in Asia can be cheap even while enjoying some luxury. Cutting down on our spending also have the nice side effect that we don’t have to work as many hours on profitable projects and can devote more time for pet projects, sightseeing or just each other.
Some days I wake up and I can’t believe, how lucky I am, thinking that this can’t last. But I just can’t stay worried; the sun is shining and I just keep telling myself: Don’t worry – be happy.
We Danes are known for our happiness being listed as the happiest people in the world several times by OECD, the reason often cited (by Americans) is that we expect less from life. I don’t think that is the true answer; we expect a lot from life just not only material things. We value life experiences and quality over quantity, and right now I’m taking that to an extreme and loving every minute of it.
Less IS more.
When we found out that my dad was going to spend his Christmas in Thailand, we immediately jumped in; suddenly we had an opportunity to see some family even though we were so far away from home.
My dad has a house in Sangkha where he and his thai wife along with her family are staying while in Thailand. Sangkha is a small city located quite close to the Cambodian border – almost 500 km east of Bangkok, so going there takes most of a day. We decided to go by bus and didn’t regret it.
There is at least three kinds of busses between the east and west; A very cheap one which features only natural air-conditioning (all windows opened), a relatively cheap one, which does have real air-conditing but not really anything else, and then the expensive one which has both air-conditioning, onboard toilet and where food and drinks are served by a nice thai girl in uniform.
We took the latter one and it made the trip a breeze. Once there we booked a room at a nice motel close to my dads house. The room was quite spacious with hot shower, fridge, king bed and very cheap; 350 baht pr. night (about 65 DKK or 12 USD).
Before we went, we’d already talked about making a traditional Danish Christmas dinner and in one of the big Bangkokian malls we’d found red cabbage in a jar and brought along – and my dad had already purchased a duck, which left us only with one problem – how to cook it? Normally in Denmark the duck is roasted in an oven, but at my dads house there were only two gas cookers and a small open barbecue. So we went to Surin – a larger city only 45 km from Sangkha to look for duck-roasting-appliances.
Unfortunatly we were unable to find one of those half-sphere charcoal grills – we’ve been using those for ducks with great success before. Instead we settled on a big bowl-like owen which we quickly christened ‘Otto’ – I think it was the brand name, but we used it in lack of better term. It works almost like a convection oven except the heat comes from the lid and it only barely fits a whole duck. It ended up working very well – since the heat came from above, and the rest of Otto is really just a bowl, it leaves plenty of room for the juices to gather at the bottom; a good basis for the traditional Christmas gravy.
The traditional Danish Christmas dinner dessert is risalamande/ris à l’amande – not nearly as french as it sounds but very good. The basis of this dessert is rice overcooked in milk. Now we could have chosen to cook the rice in a pot as we’d normally do it in Denmark, but since rice cookers are so widely used here, we opted to use that instead, not really knowing if it would work. It turned out to work beautifully; a typically problem when cooking this dish is that the rice and milk quickly get burned on the bottom of the pot – the rice cooker on the other hand is build for this, and as soon as the rice is boiled, it changes to keeping-it-hot-mode which turned out to be a perfect temperature.
After all the eating, my dad surprised us when he dug out a Christmas tree for us to dance around (probably one of the weirdest Danish Christmas traditions). The Thai part of the family even joined us, and politely hummed along to our Danish Christmas songs.
The Christmas celebration turned out to be much more fun and traditional than we could have hoped for; before even going to Thailand, we’d talked about how Christmas would be with an average temperature of 25 degrees and how we would miss the family and the food. But to us it turned out to be a very good Christmas – although next year I think we’ll spend it in Denmark and maybe go for the warmer territories between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
Merry Christmas everyone and a happy New Year.
Going out for lunch one day a couple a weeks ago we noticed that there were a lot more people out on the streets including a lot of street vendors selling flower arrangements with candles. The restaurant we had lunch at was in the Emporium Shopping center with a view out over Benchasiri Park and from there we could see that the park was especially busy that day. Deciding to investigate we visited the park and we certainly didn’t regret that decision.
In the park there were several families and couples that were there to let a flower arrangement float on the lake dominating the park. Very beautiful.
It turns out the ritual is part of a celebration called Loy Krathong. To cite one of the sources I could find explaining it:
People look forward to going out and launching Krathongs together to predict their romance future by the direction the Krathongs float. However, this season is also good for strengthening relationship in the family.
The floating of a Krathong is signifies floating away ill fortune as well as expressing apologies to Khongkha or Ganga, the River Goddess.
Realising that this ritual would be even more beautiful at night we returned to the park after dark. The crowd didn’t disappoint us – they launched thousands of “Krathongs” (as the floating flower arrangements are called).
Saigon in southern Vietnam is a very different from Hanoi in the northern parts of Vietnam. Where Hanoi is busy, smelly og too crowded, Saigon is busy, much cleaner and with space on the sidewalk for people walking (but occasionally also for people on motorbikes, so watch out).
We stayed at a great hotel in the center of town called Le Duy. We quickly found a restaurant street thanks to our Lonely planet iPhone app for Saigon; Ho Chi Minh City Guide. What a useful app! It really helped us a lot. It has a “near by”-function that shows you where you are and how far away points of interest like landmarks, shopping and restaurants are. Very useful.
Our first trip out of our hotel room to find some food, was a great success for the food but we did get caught in the rain. What we didn’t know was that the rain is a daily event in this city – we bought umbrellas the next day and brought them with us for the rest of our stay. The daily rain is not really a problem if you come prepared except for the wet shoes – they don’t dry up before the next shower.
On our second night in Saigon we went to find a good restaurant, but they were all full, noisy and not very cosy, so it was quite difficult. Then we stumbled on an Indian restaurant that was completely dark and looked really good with lots of candles and no noise. It was empty and looked closed but the staff was outside trying to get people in, so we decided to try it out. When we were reading through the menu at candlelight we realised that there was a power blackout going on. Fortunately the kitchen didn’t need power to make great food – we could see the high flames coming from the small kitchen in the back of the restaurant. It ended up being a nice experience though at one point the waiter tried to create a little ambiance by playing music from his mobile phone. That seemed a bit surreal.
Saigon is a beautiful city especially the many cloud formations. This photo is one of my favorites (and yes, we did play a little with the colors):
The biggest difference between the Saigon and Hanoi is the traffic. I have already described the traffic in Hanoi and what a nightmare it is. The traffic in Saigon is much easier to handle because it is more structured and because there is room for pedestrians on the sidewalk instead of forcing them out on the street. Well, the traffic is still pretty bad but we learned a lot about handling it in Hanoi. The trick is to just walk, keep a steady pace, be predictable and use the pedestrian crossings where ever you can find one.
We truly loved Saigon and I think it is a place I could live. Other people seems to think so too because we met a lot of expats. The food is great, the traffic seems ok, the weather is great when it is not raining, everything is very cheap and the people seem friendly enough. It is possible to live in this city using very little money and I actually felt a little bad about paying so little for great things like backpacks, drinks and food. We didn’t have many days in Saigon, but that’s ok, because I know we are coming back one day.
I just want to share this short video we made showing the Hanoi traffic.
After crossing that street successfully (which we did on several occasions) you get a feeling of accomplishment and we celebrated by going into a nearby cafe, sit down and calm our nerves every time.
I don’t know how it works – but it works.
As so many other turists visiting Hanoi we also booked a cruise in Ha Long Bay. Beautiful and tranquil Ha Long Bay. After a few days in Hanoi you really long for a relaxing and most importantly quiet oasis and that is exactly what Ha Long Bay is.
There is not much to tell about the cruise as we really just relaxed a lot and ate some really fresh seafood. We saw a stalactite cave and some friendly monkeys and that was it.
To sum it up here are some pictures. It was a bit misty (even foggy at times) so the pictures are not as colorful as they could be.
Last Monday morning we finally left Denmark on a looooong adventure. 23 hours, 3 plane rides and many cups of coffee later we landed safe, but tired in Hanoi, Vietnam. Underway we almost missed a flight from Hongkong to Hanoi; tired and stressed we left the plane in Hongkong and with it we left our treasured camera behind. We had 30 minutes to transfer to another plane in another terminal at the other end of the airport and 15 minutes into that we discovered that we did not have our camera bag with us. Fortunately we did not have anything else important in the bag other than the camera and because we had people waiting for us in Hanoi airport we decided to get on the next plane without our camera thinking that we might never see it again.
Fortunately we were travelling with Cathay Pacific and they were very professional and helpful. We contacted them as soon as we got to Hanoi and even though there were some language barriers we got the message through. The next few days we called them frequently with the help from our friendly and (most importantly) english-speaking hotel staff here in Hanoi and finally they told us that they had found our camera and was shipping it to us in Hanoi. Much to our surprise this service even included shipping to our hotel from the airport and for a very small fee (300.000 VND) they delivered it express so we could have it with us for our trip to Halong Bay. We are amazed and grateful that this was even possible.
First impressions of Hanoi was not entirely good. We arrived stressed, tired and a bit sick from the flight and the city is very dirty and noisy. Fortunately we got a hotel room without a window facing the street noise – well, we even got a room without windows. At first it seemed weird not to have windows but after a few days in Hanoi we now realize that it is actually a good thing – not all of the people we have met here are that lucky, and we have been told that it is not easy sleeping and trying to get over jetlag when your room has windows facing the busy streets of Hanoi. Most of the noise comes from the traffic (there are motorbikes everywhere and they use their horn every 3 seconds) but even during the night there is also construction work going on and just general people noise.
The worst thing here is without doubt traffic. Crossing the street here is an adventure and you fear for your life every time. After the first day we realized that the best strategy is actually just to walk with purpose and keep a steady pace so that the drivers can predict where you will be at any given time – and ignore that the motorbikes are whizzing past you with centimetres/inches to spare. Hanoi is a very busy place. Even just trying to follow a sidewalk is impossible because life in Hanoi gets in the way all the time – the businesses spill out into the street and street kitchens pop up whereever you can fit a pot and two kid size plastic chairs. The pollution from the traffic is also really bad and it is a usual sight to see vietnamese with face masks.
On the other hand once you get over the jetlag and learn to walk the streets of Hanoi without fear there is a lot of great things about this city. First of all: everything is very cheap. And some of it is very good; like the food. Every meal here has been a pleasure. Even the breakfast at our cheap hotel Gia Thinh is great. The selection is small, but very delicious. The prices are about 20-33% of what the Danish prices would have been. We only eat at high-end restaurants (meaning places where they speak a bit of english and not street kitchens) and the price is about 200.000 VND on average (about 60 DKK or 10 USD for food and beverages for 2 people).
And the people here are very friendly. They will help you if they can. The guides, the hotel staff and the shop owners are all smiling and will try to make conversation even with limited english skills. Life in Vietnam is very different to life in Denmark, so we can’t walk past a street corner without seeing something interesting (just don’t visit the food market – it gets a bit too interesting when you see how they treat meat, and what animals the meat could be coming from).
Oh, and have I mentioned the food here? Tasty, fresh and flavorful. Mmmmmmm.
It’s a lazy Sunday afternoon and I’m day dreaming about travelling. I’m just looking through my holiday pictures from last years trip to Rome… What a beautiful city! I could see myself living in Rome – especially if I ever find the time to learn Italian.
Being in Rome as a turist can be a little stressful because there is so many things to see and places to go. I have been to Rome a few times now and have found my favorite places to hang out, take pictures and just revel in being a turist. For me these places are the essense of turist Rome. I will just share my top 5 with you – one blog post at a time… They are all places you should go see but I have ordered them so that I will write about my favorite place in Rome last and number five first.
My fifth favorite place in Rome is… the Vatican Museum and St. Peter’s square.
I could use endless hours in the Vatican looking at art from the different ages – some religious art, some not so religious. The range of different styles of art is amazing and it’s coming from all corners of the catholic World as paintings, sculptures and even furniture. St. Peter’s square is just around the corner from the Vatican Museums and it is a must-see. The number of people coming to this place every day is enough reason to come here too, but also just to feel the historic presence standing in front of St. Peter’s Basilica. I have only been inside the Basilica once and for me it is not worth the long line and the security checkpoint – I much prefer the square in front and the museums.
For at day at the Vatican Museums I have a few pointers coming from my own experience:
A day in the Vatican Museum is hard – you should make sure that you have saved up strenght, that you wear sensible shoes and that you conserve your energy before going (and bring food and water). If you buy tickets in advance online, you can skip the usual VERY LONG line, so consider it. We didn’t buy tickets in advance last fall and had to stand in line for more than an hour outside in the rain. We also walked half way across the city center to come to the Vatican – I can recommend taking a bus or a taxi, so you have more steps left in you when you get to the museum – though it is an impressive walk over the bridge and up to St. Peter’s square.
Once you are inside the Museums, take your time. I see a lot of people just following the crowd the long way to the Sixtine Chapel without taking the time to see the amazing art on the way there. The tour through the museum can feel like standing/walking in line for 30 minutes if you just follow the crowd. Take some time in the central yard to plan your trip through the museum and make sure you see the pieces that you really want to. I prefer egyptian, roman and greek art a couple of thousand years old and there is plenty to see.
Oh – and consider bringing lunch because the food inside the Vatican museums can be expensive and bad. I tried a pizza slice and it was mostly just dough – not enough toppings to cover the whole slice. I don’t know what alternatives that are inside the museums but I can advise you to stay away from the pizza.
And make sure to take in the architecture – one of my favorite photos from our trip to the Vatican Museums last year is the stairs at the exit.
I think that is all the advice I have about the Vatican Museums. If you have more, I would love to read about it in the comment section.
As I have said before – I love the RSA Animate videos. This one is about enlightenment, which I as a scientist at heart feel is a very important subject.
Because of our upcoming trip I can’t help but to read an extra level of enlightenment of travel into this video and the term “global empathy” really hit the nail on the head for me. I hope to learn much from our journey through the world and feeling the global empathy more is one of those fields I hope to improve in. Sometimes it is about the journey and not the destination.
First of all: I’m not really the backpacking type. The reality is that I’m going travelling for what right now looks like a year, but as my husband says: “Don’t put an end date on it. It will just confuse people if we decide to come back after 3 months or 3 years.” And he’s probably right.
Secondly, I’m too old for budget backpacking and cheap hotels. I like a comfy bed and running hot water IN my hotel room. I like to dress up to go out in the evening and I can’t live without WiFi and my computer. I’m probably a “medium” budget traveller: no 5 star hotels for me unless they are really cheap, but I’ll prefer a 3 star minimum and I love swimming pools.
We have decided to tour a bit of Asia with stops in Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia and maybe more but we really like the thought of just “winging it” as we go along, so nothing is set in stone. We need to keep expenses at about 3500 USD/20000 DKK a month to be able to stay for 12 months, that is if we do not produce anything of value as we go along. (The plan is to code up some of our own projects, that we have been neglecting and if some of those projects produce an income that would allow us to tweak the budget. Of course this blog is also a very small source of income through Google Ads.)
So… what to pack for such a trip? I found inspiration in this video:
As Nick mentions:
A security pouch, passport, copy of passport, credit card, cash, comfy shoes, clothes (in his case mens clothes), underwear, a first aid kit, medicine, sun screen, sun hat, a flashlight (head lamp), an iPod, travel alarm clock, light towel, rain jacket, rain poncho for you AND backpack, water bottle, a backpack with a day bag, camera and sunglasses.
As a girl (geek) and a more luxury traveller I will also bring:
3 dresses and a skirt,
duct tape (and I really think Nick forgot this or maybe it is in his first aid kit),
a computer (and all the computer cords that comes with that),
a computer sleeve,
an extension cord,
an external hard drive,
an external computer battery possibly with solar panel,
my idea book (long story),
makeup and other beauty products (in DK the chemical levels are closely monitored and regulated – I don’t know if that is true for products bought in Asia).
But I will leave (with a heavy heart) at my parents house:
my wedding ring and all my real gold and diamond jewelry that I can’t bear see lost or stolen,
All my other shoes and clothes,
my library of great books and
all gadgets, computers and consoles not fit for travelling.
Of course there is probably a few things on my list that I could buy during my travels instead of packing them, but these are the things I like to have with me from day one. Can you help me tweak this list? What have I forgotten? What would you leave out if you were taking this trip?