Daauw homestay guesthouse in Huay Xai, Laos

This is where people can relax, buy the women’s handmade crafts and enjoy a wonderful meal.

Now I’m backtracking to October 2013 when I was in Laos. I stayed alone in Huay Xai to do a three-day ziplining tour. I stayed at a random guesthouse the first night I was there. As I walked up to the temple, I saw a sign that pointed to a homestay, which always appeals to me.

When I went, I met the family who runs it. The family is originally from America and they run this wonderful guesthouse in collaboration with other Laos families. They teach the women life skills, women’s rights and sell the women’s handmade products at their Women Empowerment Shop. It’s a beautiful environment they’ve created and all of the revenue from the guesthouse is invested in empowering the families.

These are the daughters of some of the women who participate in the workshops.

In Laos, many women, especially in rural areas, don’t have many rights or a space to express their opinions in their lifetime. They are second class citizens and very submissive to men. The legal marrying age for girls in Laos is 15 years old and they often stop school as soon as they become a wife.

Given the challenges girls and women face in Laos, I was impressed that Daauw Homestay was running these programs for women because these kinds of projects can be controversial among the local people or condemned.

I enjoyed dinner with the founders and other guests.

The couple has an adorable story themselves. The guy was traveling for years and when he only went to the U.S. for a few weeks, that’s where he met his wife and she continued on the journey with him. Now they have three beautiful children who attend a local school and learning Laos.

Because they’re just across the border to Thailand, they have been renewing their visa for years by taking the boat ride across the water every month.

A family’s kids who were playing with Laos kids.

Around dinnertime, I walked back to Daauw Homestay to have dinner with the family. For about $4 US, you could eat as much as you wanted of whatever they were serving that night, which included rice and several stir fried veggies.

I spoke with the family and a few of the other guests who were at the home. While we ate, their children were playing with the children of the Laos women who lived and worked at the guesthouse. It was a beautiful and open environment.

These are some of the beautiful crafts made by the Laos women.

After my 3-day ziplining tour was over, I stayed one night at the guesthouse with a woman who was on my tour. She was from France and was traveling around Asia long term.

We got along well during the tour, she was very easygoing. During our dinner with the family and guests, I chatted with another retired French couple who was traveling in Asia. They were going to make their way down to Siem Reap so I told them a bunch of advice on places to go.

These are some young girls taking one of the classes.

The room was very comfortable and it was about $8 US for the entire room. There was a fan and clean bathroom. It is probably the nicest place to stay in the Huay Xai, which is a very small city, not only because of the cleanliness but the people there who create a welcoming and warm environment.

I love places like Daauw that create an open environment and attract a certain type of guest and it’s an easy place to come alone. I encourage any person to say here if they want a comfortable place to stay, meet wonderful people and also support the women who are gaining valuable life skills.
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DSC_0472 He is one of the founders of Daauw Homestay.

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Cycling in Delicious Mauritius

My cool cousin Joseph sailing down the hill east of Mauritius.

I can’t believe I went five months without sitting on a single bicycle since I’ve been in Mauritius until last week. I cycled for years in Vancouver, Canada and almost every day in Cambodia so I was getting antsy to ride.

My family’s not really into outdoor activities until finally I discovered one of my cousin’s husband Joseph used to hike every week in Mauritius for decades and cycles to work every day. For the last month, he’s introduced me to his friend Mukesh who knows all of the hiking and cycling routes in Mauritius like the back of his hand.

I took full advantage of any hills we got and pedaled as quick as I could.

The 70 km ride in the West

Last Saturday I thought Joseph was just free to ride for an hour or two but we ended up doing a 70 km ride from the centre of Mauritius in Curepipe to Bambous in the west then all the way back up the big hill to get back to Curepipe. We rode for six hours.

I haven’t pushed my body physically in such a long time. When you’re not exercising consistently, it can be a big jump. But in my head, I was determined to stay on the bike and push through and not walk the bike up. I discovered that when I look down when I’m pushing up a big hill, my body gets tired much more quickly than when I look up the sky. I forgot how much people can push their bodies to their full potential and the ride reminded me that when we put ourselves in challenging situations in life, it’s an opportunity for us to learn and grow.

An attempted selfie.

Bicycling focuses my mind and puts things more in perspective. I reflect a lot while I’m riding and concentrate on breathing slowly. It is a unique meditation that makes me refocus on the bigger picture that is nature. It’s so easy for our minds to fixate on negative things going on in our lives or negative moments. But when you’re outdoors, you are reminded than those problems are small dots in the big picture and that there are many more positive things to focus on.

We enjoyed a local roti before the long ride up the hill.

While I was pushing through the ride, I kept thinking of what our friend Pi Nan on Mindful Farm told us in Thailand, “We feel sad when we think of negative things on the past. Just focus on your breath and be present. When you are meditating just focus on the present. And remember to smile while you meditate.” Pi Nan was a monk for 20 years before starting his self-sufficient organic farm in northern Thailand.

I’m fascinated by how little food I need to eat while I’m doing full day hikes or bike rides. All we ate was a local roti, a type of Indian bread, with curry and a pineapple on the road.

A pitstop at Les 7 Cascades, a popular place for people to hike and do canyoning (repelling down on a rope by the waterfalls).

Mentally I didn’t give myself the option of stopping, I just kept looking up the sky and didn’t focus on how many more kilometres we had to go. I just kept pedaling towards the sky. My body kept magically gained energy from somewhere. I see how if people don’t have the mental willpower, their bodies will not push through to achieve what they want. Our bodies respond to our minds so if people don’t believe something can be done, then they won’t act.

By the time we finally reached home, I was proud that I managed to bike the whole route without getting off the bike.

The 80+ km ride in the east

I call Joseph’s friend Mukesh Santa Claus because he has a long white beard. But he’s ok with that, I asked him permission.

We did a fantastic ride going from Montagne Blanche in the east of Mauritius then riding along the coast to the south of the island then back up to where we started. There were surprisingly not that many hills on this route, especially compared to the route we did the week before.

On the way to the coast.

It was nice to pass through very small villages and the weather was perfect. It wasn’t too hot and we had a beautiful breeze by the water.

One highlight of the day for me was when a woman we bought snacks from came up to our table 10 minutes after we bought food and she genuinely said, “I’m so sorry sir, I owe you 30 rupees from what you bought.” In a country where many people are trying to scam you, it was really beautiful to see this lovely woman acting so honestly. But every country I’ve been to in Asia where scams are common, there are just as many, if not more, good people who are honest and genuine whether they are rich or poor.

Within minutes after we came back after riding for 7 hours, rain began pouring heavily. We had perfect timing. Even if it rained, we would have gone out somewhere. Life doesn’t stop just because it rains.

When we finally arrived back, Santa Claus’ wife was so kind to prepare farata (an Indian pancake bread) with a curry and soup for us.

Another day, another beautiful ride.

This wonderful woman who we bought cakes from came to our table and returned some change to Santa Claus when she realized she kept an extra $1 US by mistake.

Joseph cut us a sugar cane to eat.

This sugar cane was actually sweet. Sometimes when you suck the sugar cane it’s not that sweet until it’s been processed.

Going off the road through private land.

Santa Claus getting us into another private area where we can see the dam.

Good quality bikes.

A scenic ride away from the coast.

The rain is coming.

A very peaceful rest stop on the east coast.

A local snack called gateau piment, which are chilli cakes made up of split peas, chilli, onions, coriander and cumin.

 

A local snack called channi pourri.

We took two samosas, 5 gateau piments and three chani pourris all for 28 rupees, just under $1 US.

View on the southern coast.

These were the cannons that were used when former colonials battled for the land.

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Hiking Mauritius’ mountains

This is the viewpoint from one of the peaks overlooking the south of Delicious Mauritius.

It’s taken me months to find family and friends who enjoy hiking in Mauritius, Africa. There aren’t many high mountains on the island but you can do full day hikes at some locations like Black River Gorges National Park where we went. I have now hiked at the national park twice, including a 25 km hike last week, and it’s been beautiful to see this natural wonders of Mauritius.

This is the first time I’ve ever seen a rainbow form at the bottom of a waterfall. It began as a half rainbow then transformed into a full one.

The Black River Gorges National Park is the largest protected forest of Mauritius and has over 50 km of trails. It used to be a common hunting ground but the area became protected in 1993 when a group of scientists identified over 300 species of plants, birds and a population of giant fruit bats. The area also has the island’s most endangered species including the Mauritius kestrel, echo parakeet and pink pigeon.

One of several beautiful waterfalls at the park.

The park is often filled with locals and expats who do their regular walks on the variety of trails as well as people who enjoy mountain biking. There are nice picnic areas in the park where you can enjoy your food. The first time we went to the park, my cousin Josef was very nice and picked me up and brought loads of food to share with the group.

I wanted to wait until I hiked with either a group or local people because I don’t know the trails well and there have been some attacks on tourists in some areas of Mauritius. I don’t believe it’s widespread and this national park has quite a few people around in the daytime.

The trails on the map are categorized as easy, less difficult and difficult. But the “easy” trail we went on in the morning was quite rocky and had varied trail. I enjoy these types of trails but it was funny to me that it was classified as “easy.”

You’ll need a car to get there as it’s not accessible by bus. You can do one of the trails and go back the same way to get to the car. Or if you have energy and faith in your sense of direction, you can do a full day and do a circle loop to get back to your car.

If you like hiking and visiting Mauritius for even a few days, I recommend doing one of the trails at Black River Gorges and has one of the best views of the island.

A nice hangout hut overlooking the south of the island.

This is the group we went hiking with a few weeks ago and we enjoyed a delicious lunch eating samosas, sandwiches and hot drinks before we set out for our afternoon hike.

 

This is Mukesh, I call him Santa Claus because of his beard. He showed me this tree called, “arbre du voyageur,” which means traveler’s tree. When you stab it in the right place, water pours out. I tried the water, it tasted clean.

A rainbow appeared during the first 30 minutes of our full day hike while we were walking at the top of one of the mountains.

 

 

19 uncensored tips from a woman traveling solo in India

Jaime making beautiful crafts with an artist in Srinagar city in India.

I’ve known my fearless and adventurous friend Jaime for a few years now. We met in Vancouver, Canada, enjoyed Burning Man together, and experienced many outdoor adventures and cooking nights with our friends.I’m very proud that she pushed herself to take a long break from work and set out to do a long term travel.

She is currently in India for a few months and despite the many scare stories, she’s been able to navigate through the country, connect with people and picked up street savvy tips on having the experience of a lifetime while staying safe. J

aime took the time to share how she picked up the courage to take a break from work to do long term travel and share a load no BS advice for travelers, particularly if you’re a woman exploring India. She talks about how to deal with men staring, how to minimize scams and the three important words you need to know in India.

Why did you decide to take a break from work to travel? 

I wanted to travel India since I graduated from university, but my parents thought I was too naive (they weren’t wrong) and I had no money to travel. Hence I postponed it for a few years. I was feeling there was something missing in my life: my independence and I wanted to really truly live my life to the fullest, battling my insecurities and just be me.

After a few years of working with a company, it dawned on me that it’s always been my dream to travel either South America or India. Three weeks of holidays is just not enough. I did a lot of research, like I pretty much interviewed all my friends plus more about India.One friend told me – the slogan for India is ‘incredible India’ take this opportunity to really see how incredible India is.

Pretty much all my friends who have been to India said it was their best place they have to travel, even as a lone woman. And when I heard stories of you traveling, I really wanted to fulfill my dreams of traveling.

Jaime in Leh, India watching the Dalai Lama celebrate his 79th birthday on July 6 with Richard Gere.

What would you say to people who fear getting out of their comfort zones and daily routines to travel?

I personally feel that it was the surrounding people like your friends (not the ones in Vancouver) and family who love you and care about give you the most fear. Before coming to India, my friends and family were like “What the hell – are you insane? Did you hear about the rape cases in India? Don’t go there.” Hence I was postponing my flights and was just not sure until my boyfriend Shuvi said, “Honey, don’t let their fear get inside you. Do want YOU want to do, it’s time to start living your life and not theirs.”

I used to be an executive assistant and hence an OCD planner. Everyday, every time there was something to do. If there was nothing, then I’d freak out. Coming to India, I had somewhat a plan (for my mom’s sake). But plans always change, and India really will teach you a lesson on “routine”, or that it’s impossible to have one since nothing is really on time in India, including people and transport.

Prior to starting my travels, I did an ‘Osho Meditation’ session in regards to ‘no mind’ and I learnt, there is nothing in life you should have possession off. Life is full of surprises so just sit, relax and wait for those surprises to come.

How has it been traveling as a woman alone in the areas you’ve been in India?

“This is one of the coolest temples I’ve seen in Bhagsu.”—Jaime

India is still a patriarchal society, so men are everywhere. And they just don’t mind their own business, they stare and you just have to get used to it. And also, they are full of shit (literally full of bullshit) and you can’t trust a single guy (even some young Indian men who are my friends).

You need to accept that they are many Hindus and Muslims so there is no sex before marriage in the culture. And many of them see ‘foreign women’ as an opportunity for some fun. So hugs are generally a no-no but a simple handshake is allowed. If you are too friendly with them (even the younger ones like my age) they want to take you as their bride even if you have a boyfriend or husband. So let’s say – play it safe.

What advice to you have for women traveling solo in India?

1. Be confident and assertive

I am not a mean person, but seriously India, you need to be a little mean because many men just won’t leave you alone. And a little meanness makes them GO AWAY. I had this guy who has a wife and kids and he constantly calls me and gets out of his way to try and see me to the point a female friend from Mumbai said, next time he calls you “tell him to stop calling or else you will call the police.” This is how straight forward it is. There is no niceness in this game, you just need to stand your ground.

Triund mountains, sleeping under sars, shepard and goats

Jaime trekked up the Triund Hill in Mcleodganj. “You would think we would be sleeping under the stars but instead we were sleeping under crazy lightning show, hail, snow, rain and crazy gusty winds which we thought we may get blown off the mountain. Thank lordie for my friends sleeping bag. And a Shepard just slept under a tarp like structure with his many goats and sheep,” Jaime explained.

Also Indian men have no boundaries and they think that foreign women have none. So they will take any chance for some fleshy advantages. If they touch you on the shoulder, brush it off, meanly. I think India has turned most solo travellers into monsters.

2. Three words you need to know in india:

“We did a wonderful overnight journey to Phuktal Monastary, Zanskar. But due to High altitude sickness we didn’t end up checking the place out fully. To our surprise the Monastery was closed. Thankfully we didn’t have to break into a school and catch a wild bird for supper. A homestay invited us to stay at their place and their 2-year-old was so curious about us.”—Jaime

(i) Neh-hi: No. You need to say it strong and loud and they will pretty much leave you alone, especially in Delhi.

(ii) Bai- yah: brother. Once you say it to an Indian men, they can no longer touch you because you have put them in the brother class meaning brothers don’t mess around with sisters.

(iiI) Namaste: hello/ good bye. Still say hello to women, and children. And that you are not aggressive, just assertive with men.

 3. Travel light

Traveling in India is exhausting, with many hours on public transport and having to find hotel rooms. Pack what you need only, not what you think you need. You can buy everything you want in India. Maybe not lighters but matches are available. So many women have such heavy backpacks they can’t even carry which gives men opportunities to grab their ass sometime (happened me in Delhi). Last thing for you is to be exhausted and not have any signs of defense.

When you are traveling as alone girl, you never leave any of your belongings behind. And there are some places that are dirty and full of urine, feces and puke. So you have to learn how to squat (with easy access to your own toilet paper) with both backpacks on. Always carry a small rucksack in front of you, not only you protect your breasts but makes you bigger and the men smaller. And combined with a scary looking face, they literally fuck off.

“I’m so inspired by this French woman Sonia. She is a single mother of two wonderful children. She has had continuos battles with family politics of being a vegetarian and a single mother, yet she still stands strong as a steel rod. Through her many journeys through India some 40 years ago she seeks simplicity, kindness and calmness – shanti shanti. Plus she loves dancing trance too!”—Jaime.

4. Indian women – probably the best people on the planet

If you are stranded in a bus/ train station at night or early hours in the morning, stay in the station at least until dusk. Luckily, many women travel with their families throughout India. So if you see an Indian woman, even if you don’t know Hindi and she doesn’t know a word of English, go straight to her and try to communicate with her in sign language. They are more than happy to have you join their company. I had a friend who slept in the bus station next to a group of women and their kids.

5. Indian men and unwanted attention

Indian men are not there to rape you, or harass you. But if you give them an opportunity, some of them will take it. So always stay on the safe side. You are already traveling alone, so unwanted attention is glowing around you.

“This was on a six-hour bus ride on local transport. They pack everyone like sardines. Luckily no one vomited.”

My friends cannot emphasize this enough: dress appropriately in India. Cover your chest, arms and legs, even if it’s 40 degrees. When I was in Praharganj, in Delhi, a group of young women were walking around in shorts and spaghetti strap. And men were staring at them in googly eyes. So really if you don’t want attention dress moderately like the Indian women.

6. Rape alarms and pepper spray

Touch wood, I’ve never had to use it, but I know I can if I need to use it. So again, if you have a chance get one. It’s better for you to feel safe traveling alone.

7. Paying a little more for protection

I know as travellers, we are always on budget. But staying in a place where you need to pass through many alleys just to save a couple hundred rupees is just pure stupid. 50 rupees is $1 US, do the math.

Also, since you need to be on alert all the time, a good night’s rest is heaven rather than hell, especially In Praharganj in Delhi where a lot of rape cases happen at night you do not want to be strolling around after 9 p.m., so get back to your hotel by 9 p.m.

8. Buses

Many travelers opt for the Volvo buses, but to be honest, I have been in India for two months and I haven’t taken a single Volvo bus. Normally local or non-AC (don’t tell my mother). As a general rule, if you are traveling in the daytime, take a local bus.

Jaime hanging out in Triund mountains.

For overnight journeys, take a Volvo (even though they drive like crazy) because it’s better to be with the travelers. Apart from traveling from Mcleodganj to Delhi where all the Tibetans take the non-AC bus, do yourself a favour and don’t count pennies.

9. Trains

I have met a few women who take the cheaper class trains. I spoke to a bunch of Indian travelers and even they don’t travel the cheaper classes because it’s not only less safe but a lot of people (from outside) can just pop into your compartment and steal your luggage.

Just let you know there are hardly any lockable doors on trains in India. Everything is open. The cheapest I take is 3-tier AC meaning that there are three bunk beds, and you are on the upper deck. Pretty much it’s all to yourself. If you are traveling overnight, be wary of the staff sleeping on the floors just before you enter the toilet. See if anyone is following you. And when you get in, lock it immediately.

10. Get used to exercising your kegel muscles

These are the muscles that keep you from wanting to pee. There are many times, and many nights I refuse to go to the toilet if the toilet is outside (not in your room) and many local buses don’t stop for pee breaks (maybe after 5 hours). So get used to exercising those muscles.

Jaime connected with another global explorer in New Delhi who took off six months to travel.

11. Having no expectations

Meaning ZILCH! India is full of surprises, I think that’s part of the “Incredible India” slogan. Remember, you may not get what you really paid for, for hotels, transportation, food, clothing, tourist sights, everything. So travel India with an open mind because you never know what surprises will bring you.

12. Always receive the item first before paying and check the price printer on the item

This goes for hotels, public transport, phone recharge, groceries . . . everything! Hotels: go in and check bathrooms, beds and bedsheets, air conditioning, TV, and especially the lock. All rooms comes with one or two bolted locks which you can lock from inside. Check locks that are working before agreeing with price.

13. Public transport 

People are always trying to scam you even for a few rupees (literally less than a cent). So do your homework and check around for the prices. There are many public transportation options, so make sure the receipt you get is actually what you want.

Auto richshaws: this is best way to travel and negotiate the prices first. I prefer these than taxis so if you feel a little unsafe, you can always jump off. They only go around 20km/hr and always stop due to traffic jams.

Prepaid taxis: if you have a smart phone really check the address they put on the slip, because in Mumbai, I was at the counter with one address and he printed a completely different address. So I spent 30 minutes arguing with the damn taxi driver. They are also the safest transport from the airport.

A local artist in Sinegar, Kashmir.

14. Phone/SIM cards

I’m writing this because obviously I got scammed. Pretty much it takes 24 hours if I register your SIM (security reasons). If they demand money at first, just pay for the SIM (50 rupees) and you will come tomorrow to pay the rest once your SIM is registered.

Obviously I didn’t and shelled out $22 for a 3G data plan, talk time and SIM. And when my SIM card got registered there was zero balance. Every time you top up, wait for the message that pops up on your phone saying “recharge successful” stating how much you put in, its validity, and then you pay. Do not pay them the rest until you receive that damn text.

15. Groceries

there is always a printed cost of the maximum they will charge you for an item. So make sure they don’t get more money than it is worth. When buying fruits and vegetables, make sure that you pick the veggies not them because they end up giving you the rotten ones in a new paper bag. So if you go back to your hotel with a sack of rotten vegetables, don’t start feeling sorry for yourself.

Scams are bound to happen to everyone in India, even the locals get scammed all the time. So take it with a grain of salt and say at least it was money and not your life.

16. Asking for directions

“I went to a birthday party in Bhagsu. You know it’s a brilliant party when you danced with people who are constantly smiling, when your knees and feet hurt, your clothes are stinking with sweat and it only costs you $8 which includes a full meal too!”—Jaime

There are no street signs anywhere in India and sometimes it is impossible to find a place. Don’t ask a stranger for directions at night, you are just asking for trouble. Ask shop owners and women. If a man approaches you and tells you to follow him-don’t. You are asking for trouble. If you have a smart phone with data, that’s also a good idea to find where the hell you are.

17. No where is safe in India

Many solo travelers and locals have agreed that there isn’t a single safe place in India where you can roam around alone at night or in quiet places. Even in Mcleodganj (where majority of the Tibetans live), I don’t walk alone at night. So be smart and always travel with another traveller.

When I was in Rishikesh (the yoga central of the world) some solo women were going to the beaches alone, and literally, Indian men would be masturbating on the next rock. So don’t think you are ever safe.

18. Tell people where you are going

Tell people where you are going, whether its another traveller, a local or even your parents/ friends at home. Sometimes as a lone traveller, you just want to go anywhere. Yes feel free to go anywhere but let someone know where you are going so they don’t get worried sick about you.

It also helps, when you are talking about the place you are going because a group of university students may approach you and ask if you want to share a taxi with them.  And if there is a female student, best to stick with her.

“We stayed one night at Golden Palace houseboat, accompanied by many younger children and having dinner ‘Kashmir’ style at their home!. We attempted to paddle a small route and failed miserably. It was nice just being a kid again.”—Jaime

19. If you get harassed, please don’t just do NOTHING

It drives me bonkers when I hear other female travelers who get harassed and they are too embarrassed to do anything. This does not teach the violators anything. I’m just waiting for that one guy to touch me and my whole hatred with harassment will just get dumped on him. I got pinch on the butt in a packed metro in Delhi with my big backpack. And instead of doing nothing, I turned around I shouted, “Who the fuck touched me?!” And they all turned around in shock. An Indian woman and I gave the man a good slap on the face with my Lonely Planet Book. It’s big and heavy for a reason.

On the bus, when a man tried to reach something over me, I turned around give him an assertive stare and he hasn’t done it since. Also, in Mysore I heard there are a lot of flashers. This is when pepper spray is handy. I don’t think the men will love it when their precious parts gets pepper sprayed on. Also take a picture of the flasher and show it to the police. The good thing about Indian men is that they literally fuck off if you put them in their place.

“Getting ready for our Zanskar Valley trek from Padam to Photoskar with our three little donkeys!”—Jaime

When me and two other girls arrived in Delhi by bus, we were surrounded by taxi drivers wanting to take us to our destination. Literally we pushed them, and said ‘neh-hi’ or simply, “fuck off”, then they give you maybe a feet of space. Then we ran to an auto rickshaw, quickly negotiated the price and left .

Post-traveler’s depression

Peaceful breakfast in the Mae Hong Song mountain in northern Thailand during our 600 km motto journey.

After meeting many travelers last year around Asia and speaking with my closest friends, every single one of them have a hard time transitioning back to their home countries. I’m talking about the people who have been exploring parts of the world for more than a few months, not two-week holidays.

Being able to travel is a huge privilege and it is most definitely not to be taken for granted, especially when most people you meet can barely afford to leave their own cities. So I realize me even talking about this is a problem of a minority of us.

My friend Sopheak generously invited me to her home town to stay with her family in Banteay Meanchey in northern Cambodia. Travel rule: when people invite you to their homes from their hearts, go. It will be among the most meaningful experiences of your journey.

I’m not trying to be condescending with people who don’t do long term travel or a experience a huge life transformation. All I’m saying is it’s hard to connect with people the same way. It’s like people who have a passion for World Cup can’t connect with me the same way because I’m not that interested in soccer as much as many other people. So for them to talk to me about it, I couldn’t contribute much to the conversation and share the same excitement.

After you have these incredible experiences, what often makes the transition back to our home countries is not being able to express your experiences with similar types of travelers and most things seem the same after you’ve gone through so many meaningful experiences. When we meet similar types of travelers, we understand each other and listen to their stories all day.

I met Cheap in Koh Chang island in south Thailand. For just under $2 US a night, you can stay in his self-built bamboo house by the beach, join him anytime for a jam session and cook with him. One night he just made a huge BBQ for everyone who was passing by his place.

When we were on Mindful Farm, a meditation farm in northern Thailand, I met the most amazing and open group of travelers from around the world. We would share stories about some of our experiences throughout the day and soaked in their unique experiences. You will begin traveling with other people you met after a day or a few and meet up somewhere else in the world the same year, which I’ve done twice.

On the farm, I met a Jewish couple planning to live in a collective community in Isreal who also happen to happen to know two gay couples in California who are both raising a beautiful daughter together. I also met a traveling family from Switzerland. The parents took their kids out of school for a year so they could travel the world together while the mom home schools them. Their 9-year-old daughter formed a strong bond with the farmer’s 2-year-old daughter and they were inseparable for the three weeks they were on the farm. Where else could you have these experiences if you don’t leave the walls of your home?

I met my two adopted families in Marinduque island in the Philippines. They were extremely hospitable with us, showed us around the island and told us to let them know next time we come by so they can prepare properly for our visit and stay at their home.

I met a woman from the UK on a two-day elephant tour in Laos and she lived in Bangkok for a few years. She wasn’t looking forward going back to the UK at all and we both got annoyed when people asked us, “How was your trip?” after having a year or more of having diverse experiences. She said, “After going through so much, to say ‘amazing’ just doesn’t do the experience justice.”

One of my friends has been able to build her life so she can work while she travels. She is from the U.S. originally but spends more of the year working on projects in Laos and Cambodia. She said, “Every time I go back to New York, it’s the same thing. No one wants to hear your stories. They’ll give you ten minutes and then tune out. Then they’ll go back to complaining about their mortgage and problems with the neighbours.”

This is the best bathroom I’ve seen in my life. This club bathroom in Bangkok had a live jazz band for people who wanted to enjoy some music after doing their business. There were very comfortable couches and they played great music! And no it didn’t smell.

When you’re in another country and open to new cultures and experiences, the spontaneity of connections and all the different types of people you meet gives you a high. When we explore, every day is a new adventure and change becomes the new normal. When you have grown so much and share some of the experience with people who think the entire world is dangerous and judge you with their eyes for not working full-time instead, it’s very disheartening.

Another annoying thing with speaking with some narrow-minded non-travelers is  is when they think they know how a place or how a certain group of people are when they have never left their home town. They believe most people in the world want to steal from you or will attack you, particularly poor countries. Most people who haven’t traveled outside of their hotels are surprised when I tell them I felt much safer in most parts of Asia than parts of Vancouver or that I felt very comfortable stay in the poorest villages in Cambodia because people take care of you when you are friends with them. You never know what a place is like until you step foot in it and see for yourself.

These are my awesome friends I became close to while I was in Siem Reap. This is our Cambodian wedding photo shoot. You can go to a studio and they dress you up Cambodian-style.

Every time I have gone to a new place I’ve been forced to never assume anything about a place or its people and every place has its on complex history and situation. To oversimplify a country  or its people to say, “It’s dangerous there” or “People will attack you.” is offensive and is an unrealistic perspective of the world.

This wonderful homestay guesthouse is in Huay Xai in northern Laos. The American couple who founded this guesthouse works with women to empower them by teaching them life skills and family planning. The women and their kids live at the guesthouse and travelers support the project just by staying at this guesthouse. For a few US dollars, you can have as much as you want to eat of the meals they cook the nights you stay.

A few days ago I went to a wonderful beach wedding in Mauritius, Africa. It’s been 4 months since I’ve stopped traveling around on my own and have been living with family. By chance, I met a woman at my table who has been to many country and travels the same way I do, which is often going to non-touristy areas and connecting with locals.  She was on a work assignment in the third poorest country in the world and told me about the wedding she went to that was organized where people pull out chairs, no one dresses up and just dance and celebrate together. She felt very safe where she was and connected with families there. We spent most of our dinner swapping travel stories and my brain felt alive again.

After seeing many places, you start to compare things to your home country from the weather to the friendliness of the people around you. And traveler’s often find their new homes and discover that home is not necessarily the place you grew up the longest but where your heart is most content.

No matter where we are in the world, if we are unsatisfied, it is no one else’s responsibility but ours to make the changes in our life that will make you happy. Now that we’ve have discovered what makes us happy, it’s up to us to not get trapped in an unfulfilling routine and live to other people’s version of a “proper” life. We are the drivers of our own life and if you need to make your life work so you can be in another country for awhile, then do it.

Canyoning in Mauritius

 

DSC01749I’ll be honest. The first time I heard the word canyoning in my home island-country Mauritius, I thought it meant that people swang on a rope between two cliffs.

When my cousin took me canyoning at Les 7 Cascades, I discovered that we would be repelling down a cliff beside a waterfall 25 meters down. Les 7 Cascades means “seven waterfalls” and there are many local and international visitors who visit the area for trekking.

It’s recommended to go with a guide or a local who knows the route very well because it’s quite easy to get lost. If you can afford it, you can get a group of four to share a guide and it’s about 1600 rupees per person without lunch or 1900 rupees with lunch.

Our guide Oliver was great and he explained how to use the canyoning equipment very well. He first gave us wetsuits since we would be going in water. He gave us a good training session on how to repel down the rope properly and how to also be the safety person.

Les 7 Cascades has the best views and landscape around Mauritius and I highly recommend making a visit here if you appreciate our dear Mother Nature.

The hardest part was actually at the beginning where you are just clipping on the cliff and you can see the right to the ground. Repelling down is easier and the more fun part. We did about 45 minutes of walking and trekking to get from one point to another.

Our training session on how to use the ropes and clips.

Oliver guiding us from the top of the cliff.

Getting used to the ropes and walking at the top is probably the scariest part of the whole experience.

Jon just hangin’.

Our training session on how to use the ropes and clips.

Checking out the view without falling.

Our guide Oliver enjoying himself while repelling down.

After we repelled down the first waterfall, we had the option to cliff jump 6 meters into the water. I’m a pretty adventurous person but cliff jumping scares me quite a bit. I had to push myself to do it. I always believe in pushing yourself in challenging situations. Once you start, you’re committed and there’s no turning back. Three of us made the leap and jumped.

A fantastic view by the waterfall.

The landing.

 

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My cousin Jon with his son, me, and his daughter-in-law. They were visiting Mauritius from Australia.