How To Overcome A Bad Travel Experience

Let’s get real for a second.

As much as we — and our bank accounts — would like to believe, travel is not always roses and sunshine. Sometimes shit happens that is out of our control, and we are forced to learn very quickly how to best deal with it.

Late last year, my friend and I spent a month traveling Southeast Asia. One of the most anticipated components of the trip was an excursion to Ha Long Bay, a much acclaimed highlight of northern Vietnam. The plan was to get picked up from our hotel in Hanoi’s Old Quarter in the early morning, shuttle to Ha Long and then spend the next 24 hours enjoying the resplendent views the bay had to offer onboard a luxury junk boat.

Doesn’t sound like a lot of room for things to go sideways, right?

Wrong.

The first foreshadowing of the misery to follow began at the ungodly hour of 7.15am when we received a phone call from reception informing us that our shuttle bus was waiting for us. As our travel agent, previous tour guides and itinerary had notified, the earliest we would be picked up was around 8am. At 7.15am, we had neither packed nor eaten and were barely unconscious. Panicked, we sprang to action throwing clothes on and stuffing belongings into suitcases. Reception rang us multiple times during this rush to warn us that the shuttle would leave without us if we didn’t get our act together.

“Hurry up.” the lady snapped in an ill-mannered tone. Well, excuse you.

We checked out and made it to the shuttle in a record five minutes (how’s that for two teenage girls?). The driver flung our luggage into the back and then pushed us towards the back seat. We buckled ourselves down and issued sincere apologies to the six other passengers, all whom returned cold looks that suggested the feeling was not mutual.

It was only once the shuttle had left Hanoi that I realised I had left all of my toiletries in the hotel room. It was fair to say that we were not off to a good start.

Our luck only worsened when the lady sitting in front of me spilt her takeaway coffee. It trickled down through her seat and into the bag at my feet. I may be a fan of Vietnamese coffee, but that enthusiasm extends to when it’s in my stomach and not all over my possessions. Frustratingly, the woman seemed more concerned with the fact that her morning coffee had met a bitter end (pun intended) than the fact that she had effectively ruined the contents of my luggage.

The drive from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay was an ordeal in and of itself. I suffer from debilitating motion sickness and had been reassured that the drive would take a couple of hours max, only to arrive at our destination four nauseating hours later. I had never experienced a more stomach-churning journey in my life. The driver didn’t seem to understand the concept of the brake, and last night’s dinner threatened to make a reappearance. As I had also contracted an aggressive throat infection, I took codeine which mercifully knocked me out for the majority of the ride. My poor friend however was subjected to rude and unnecessary comments from the fellow tourists that left her feeling victimised and hurt. No one — not even the driver — felt the need to stick up for her or put the other tourists in their place.

When we arrived in Ha Long Bay, the driver climbed into the back of the shuttle and yelled at me in Vietnamese to wake up. Disorientated from the drugs, I stumbled with my queasy friend out of the shuttle and towards the port. I promptly received a phone call from the junk boat company where I was informed that the boat we had booked wasn’t available and that we had been switched to another. Whilst we weren’t bothered over the change of boat, we were annoyed that our original itinerary was no longer to go ahead. Activities we had looked forward to for months were cancelled and replaced with ones we would not have opted for on our own accord.

As it turned out, we didn’t have to worry about the change in itinerary. In the throes of pain, I downed a couple more codeine and passed out in our cabin for fourteen hours straight. My friend — still traumatised from the journey and interacting with the driver and fellow tourists — was relieved to have an excuse to hide in the cabin for the remainder of the voyage. We managed to sneak onto the isolated top deck before the boat docked the next day to enjoy the view and take some gorgeous photos, but for the most part, our experience was not one I recall fondly.

Reflecting on the experience, it’s easy to let the fact that we were mistreated by the driver and fellow tourists, fell very ill, had our plans cancelled without compensation and didn’t actually get to participate fully in the cruise monopolise my memory of Ha Long Bay. But the more I think about it, the more I have come to realise that I have two options: either I can remain sour and complain that the reality didn’t live up to my expectations, or I can accept that it happened and learn from the experience (ugh, I sound like my mother).

So… what good came out of the trip?

  • I experienced the unforgettable grandeur of Ha Long Bay (even if it was for half an hour when I was doped up on drugs)
  • The confidence that I can take ownership of a sticky situation when I have no one else (*cough parents cough*) to rely on
  • The knowledge that you should always pack the night before (again, my mother would be proud)
  • The ability to put a dreadful experience behind me and see it, not as a waste of money, but as a learning curve

I’ve made the decision not to name and shame the company we traveled with, partly because I also feel the other tourists were also responsible for our anxiety and partly because I can’t remember what they were called (🙈). The point that I want you to take away from this blog post is that shit can hit the fan. Ha Long Bay was supposed to be the pinnacle of our Southeast Asia trip, when in reality it was something that I could quite easily afford to forget. But what can I do?

In saying all of this, don’t let my experience taint your impression of Ha Long Bay. The destination was the redeeming feature of all of this, and I would quite happily return someday in the future (albeit privately and not through a company).

Be sure to check out my blog post — Postcards from Ha Long Bay — on the beauty of the UNESCO world heritage site!

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You Can’t Buy Happiness… But You Can Buy Vietnamese Coffee

(verb.) to delay or postpone action; put off doing something until you’ve had coffee.

As a third-year university student, I think that it is fair to say that coffee is my best friend. In saying that though, my love affair with coffee did not fully begin until I travelled to Vietnam in late 2016. I had experimented with caffeine early in the year as part of am attempt to demonstrate my transition into official adulthood, but had conceded defeat after I realised that drinking coffee was like drinking burnt charcoal. Nevertheless, it was impossible to travel around Vietnam – one of the coffee hotspots of the world – without trying the stuff.

Whilst coffee was only introduced to Vietnam in 1857 by the French, it has become one of the country’s biggest exports. In fact, Vietnam is the second-largest producer of coffee in the world! Didn’t expect that from a wee nation tucked away in Southeast Asia, did you? If you’re interested in learning more about how Vietnam transformed into one of the globe’s leading coffee giants, you might be inclined to check out this BBC article.

Vietnamese coffee is prepared by coarsely grinding Robusta beans through a French drip filter known as a phin. While the beans are weighted down, hot water is added and slowly trickles down through the phin into the cup. Voila! It’s as simple as that.

Whilst I do not consider myself a caffeine expert by any means, I do enjoy a bit of good old fashioned research, and the consensus is clear: Vietnamese coffee is some of the best coffee in the world. What makes Vietnamese coffee — or ca phe, as it is called — so iconic is its incorporation of sweetened condensed milk. Think think and dreamy with “notes of nuttiness” to throw your tastebuds into a stimulated frenzy. I’m not going to lie; condensed milk certainly provides a helpful hand for developing an appreciation for coffee for those who are put off by the traditional bitter taste. This is especially convenient in this case, as the Vietnamese like their coffee strong.

One of the reasons I decided to visit Vietnam — or Southeast Asia in general — was the low cost of travel there. Consistent with this, you will not find yourself emptying your pockets to purchase a cup of joe. Depending on the quality of the Robusta beans and the overall price of the venue, you’ll probably find yourself forking out between 20,000 – 70,000 Vietnamese dong for a glass. This roughly approximates to NZD$1.25 – $4.40 (or USD$0.90 – $3.00).

How to Make Vietnamese-Style Iced Coffee

Ingredients

22g of finely ground medium-dark coffee

140ml of hot water

30ml of sweetened condensed milk

100g of ice (crushed or cubed)

Method

1. Pour the condensed milk into a glass to line the base of the cup

2. Load a stainless steel phin with the coffee grounds

3. Place the coffee-laden phin on top of the glass

4. Wet the coffee in the filter with 20 ml of hot water

5. Pour another 120ml of hot water over the coffee grounds

6. Wait approximately 8-10 minutes until all of the water has drained through

5. Mix the coffee with condensed milk and enjoy!

Which country do you think produces the best coffee? Share your thoughts, and I’ll be sure to put it up to the taste test when I travel there! Furthermore, if you are intrigued by the different foods and drinks cultures have to offer, you might want to check out my blog post on 5 Foods That Will Make You Go WTF (and 5 Foods That Won’t) 👌

All photos sourced from unplash.com

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How To Spend A Day in Bangkok

“Behind a bend… the entire town of Bangkok appeared in sight. I do not believe that there is a sight in the world more magnificent or more striking; this Asiatic Venice…”

Ludovic Marquis de Beauvoir

As the capital city of Thailand, Bangkok is one swarming, electrified, confused hub. No matter where you are, there’s always something going on, and it can be difficult to know what to do if you only have 24 hours in this introduction to Southeast Asia that has been described as an “attack on the senses”.

10am

Embrace Heights

Bangkok isn’t a city that has an iconic skyline like Paris or New York, but that’s not to say it’s not worth the climb. If you’re especially motivated (unlike me), then I would recommend setting your alarm for 6am to catch a breathtaking Thai sunrise. Or, alternatively, if you’re like me and jet-lagged out of your mind, sunset does the trick as well 👌

11am

Practice Your Bartering Skills

Make like the tourists and catch a tuk-tuk to weave through the zig-zagging streets of Bangkok. Although the tuk-tuks here aren’t as crazy as they are in Cambodia, it’s nevertheless an experience you won’t forget in a hurry.

There isn’t a set price for a tuk-tuk ride, and you will be expected to barter with the operator to determine a price. As someone who hates being assertive with a passion, I had been dreading this ever since I set foot off the plane. For the most part it went without a hitch, but I’m not going to lie; being a young and unaccompanied white woman in the middle of Bangkok definitely draws attention to yourself, and there were many times tuk-tuk operators tried to take advantage of me. When I rejected the exceedingly high price one requested, he gestured towards my wallet and made a rude comment about me being a rich white tourist. I tried to explain to him that I don’t just carry around wads of cash in my pocket, but it was no use. In times like those, you just have to walk away and trust in the fact that there is always going to be someone else just down the road who will take you where you want to go without trying to scam you of all your money.

3pm

Recline with the Buddha

There’s countless places you can wile away hours of your time in Bangkok, but if you’re looking for somewhere cultural, I would highly recommend paying a visit to Wat Pho. Located by the river in the Old City, Wat Pho – or Temple of the Reclining Buddha – used to be the first public university in Thailand with specialities in religion, science and literature.

As it’s name suggests, Wat Pho features the gold-plated reclining Buddha that measures a whopping 15 metres tall and 46 metres long. 46 metres! I’ll just let that sink in for a moment. Also be sure to wear clothes that cover your shoulders and knees; it is a sign of respect in Thailand not to expose skin in these areas whilst in sacred places.

8pm

Explore the Asiatique

Just a nifty ten-minute (and free!) boat ride down the river from Saphan Taksin BTS station lies the Asiatique. This riverfront bazaar is the ultimate night fusion market. There are more restaurants and shops than you can count, with different live performances on offer to entertain you every night. If you’re looking for some retail therapy, then you’ve come to the right place; with over 1,500 boutiques selling everything you can imagine – and for prices that seem too good to be true – you’ll be shopped out before long. Even if you’re not the biggest spender, it’s certainly an experience to simply meander through the warehouse and take in all the sights.

Don’t forget to buy a ticket for the ferris wheel to see some stunning views of Bangkok lit up at night, and if you’re looking for something a little bit quirky, why not book in a session at the fish spa? Wallow in a small tank whilst flesh-eating fish nibble at your toes for an eccentric Thai experience. If your excuse not to do this is that you’re too ticklish, then don’t worry – if I can stick it out for 15 minutes, then so can you!

11pm

Expand Your Palate

If an evening at the Asiatique hasn’t exhausted you, then finish off your day by dropping by some street food stalls on the way home. After all, who doesn’t a love a sneaky midnight snack? Thai street food is dotted all over Bangkok, and vendors operate well into the night. I’ve had some of the most succulent fresh fruit I’ve ever from these stalls, including fruit with names I can’t even pronounce.

If you’re feeling adventurous (or still adrenalised from the fish spa), then this is the best place to expand your palate and try some bugs. Yes, you heard me right: bugs. Grasshoppers, beetles, worms, crickets… you name it. Oh, and don’t worry – they’re seasoned.

If all this talk about eating bugs has whet your appetite, then don’t forget to check out 5 Foods That Will Make You Go WTF (And 5 Foods That Won’t). Also, feel free to give my Thailand Vlog a watch if you need some more convincing on how incredible this city is.

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Postcards from Ha Long Bay

Perhaps one of the most recognisable sights in Southeast Asia is Ha Long Bay. Located on the northeast coast of Vietnam, the bay is a bumpy 3.5 hour drive from the capital city of Hanoi. The vastness of the UNESCO heritage site quite literally took my breath away. With a name that translates to ‘Bay of the Descending Dragon’, Ha Long Bay spans an impressive area of 334km² and is populated by 1,600 monolithic islands made of limestones and hollowed by beautiful grottos. Some of these islands are even believed to be over 20,000,000 years old. Upon the glassy water, junk boats spread their sails like amber wings and fisherman cast their neats over floating villages.

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If you liked these photos, you might also be interested in checking out my 2016 Vietnam Travel Vlog on my Youtube Channel. 0:43 is where the Ha Long Bay magic happens!

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Everything You Need to Know About Getting a Tattoo in Thailand

If you had asked ten year old me if I were likely to ever get a tattoo, I would have given a squeaky, pre-pubescent laugh. Me? The goody-two-shoes kid who always checks twice before she crosses the road? Not fudging likely. But as you will know, young adulthood always turns up late to the party with a plus one of experimentation, and why not explore your new identity with getting a tattoo that you will be stuck with for the rest of your life? That’s the exact opposite of a recipe for disaster, if you ask me.

Nine years later and — much to my parent’s disgrace — I have initiated a tradition of acquiring a tattoo in every new place I travel to. I have homage to New Zealand, the United States and Rarotonga permanently etched into my skin, and plans for many more. I have so many ideas and opinions about tattoos that I would love to share, but they alone warrant their own post. For now, I am going to share my experience of adding to the collection with a Thailand tat.

So there we were; me — the veteran with my measly three tattoos — and my ink virgin friend Poppy, roaming the sleazy and drunken streets of Pattaya for a semi-reputable tattoo parlour. Just that sentence in and of itself is a parent’s worst nightmare. We had investigated maybe seven or eight studios before settling on one that looked to offer a sanitised and satisfactory experience.

And so I present to you: Eve Tattoo Studios.

I’m not going to lie; I was drawn to my tattooist Jim because of his devilish good looks. Very professional of me, I know. The other factor that ticked the box for me was that he looked to be of European descent. This stemmed purely from the fact that I was searching for someone who would speak English well, and that I would be able to communicate with throughout the process. In light of the fact that we were tattoo-hunting in Southeast Asia, this was quite the priority in my books. I consider the Thai artists to be very talented and innovative, however when you are getting work permanently inked into your skin, you need to be on the same level of understanding. A language barrier is the first step to painful and expensive regret.

Having not really committed to any particular design yet, I opted for a spontaneous rendition of my favourite piece of artwork: The Great Wave off Kanagawa, a woodblock print by artist Katsushika Hokusai. And yes, incase you feel the pressing urge to remind me, I am very much aware that I got a Japanese-style tattoo to honour Thailand. Don’t question my motives. Meanwhile, Poppy stuck to her guns and settled on an intricate dragon fly that she’d had her eye on ever since I had thrown the idea of her also getting a tattoo into the mix.

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The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai

If you have never gotten a tattoo before, then I’m sure you probably have a lot of questions. I was exactly the same. Whether it hurts or not tends to be the most pressing, and I’m not going to lie; it hurts like a bitch. In saying that though, I am a complete and utter wuss. I cry when I have to get a blood test, and I have avoided piercing my ears for fear of inexplicable agony (*cue derisive laughter*). Yet somehow, I manage to drag myself into that chair time and time again.

The best way I can describe the sensation of the needle upon your skin is by likening it to that of a prolonged cat scratch. What’s more, the beauty of tattoos — as opposed to piercings, as I have been told — is that as soon as the artist removes the gun, the pain vanishes (at least, in my experience that has been the case). Sure, you get some itching and irritation during the healing process, but you will not have to endure months and months of tenderness or rawness in the aftermath. The pain itself is a very concise and fleeting sensation.

Things to be Mindful of when Tattoo-Hunting in Thailand

Avoid Language Barriers

If you cannot clearly communicate what you would like done, then maybe it is time to consider another studio. There are so many important things to discuss — whether that be finalising a design, settling on a price, answering any burning questions or detailing the healing process — that crossing your fingers and hoping ambiguous hand gestures will do the trick just isn’t good enough. If you are prepared to walk away with a tattoo you are not happy to have on your body forever — with no idea how to look after it — then by all means, ignore this tip. But if you want the process to be smooth sailing and stress-free, then this should be at the top of your checklist.

Do Not Use a ‘Cheap Bargain’ as the Dictator of Where You Get Your Tattoo Done

As is the general rule of thumb with most goods and services, a higher price is indicative of higher quality. Tattoos are no exception. In a place such as Southeast Asia where bartering is the norm, quality can be harder to gauge as artists are always trying to beat the previous price. We ended up going with Eve Tattoo Studios, who provided the most expensive quote.

Cleanliness

There’s a reason for all the jokes around HIV and AIDS when telling friends you’re getting a tattoo in Thailand. Okay, maybe that is reserved for the worst case scenario, but there are still plenty of consequences to reap from short-cutting the process. You need to make sure the studio is sanitised and clean. A professional artist may tell you that they are using a new needle straight out of the packet, and some — such as Jim — will even show you as they open it for peace of mind. This tip is more common sense than anything, but as someone who understands the feeling of getting caught up in the excitement and adrenaline of a new tattoo, it is not difficult for the basics to get brushed to the back of your mind.

Do Your Research!

Can we please take a moment to appreciate the magic of Tripadvisor? You wouldn’t send your child to a new school without looking into the quality of both the institution and the employees. Okay, strange analogy, but you get the gist. Another thing I strongly recommend doing before committing to a studio, is asking to view work done by the tattooist that is similar to what you are looking at getting done. I have found that this is especially relevant to conventionally feminine designs, as studios are more likely to advertise their big, colourful pieces that accumulate hours and hours of work, and tens of thousands of dollars. It is one thing for an artist to be adept at these styles, but if you are more interested in minimalist pieces, it definitely pays to ask to see their personal experience with these.

Find the Balance Between Assertion and Flexibility

I learnt the hard way that it is unfeasible to waltz into a tattoo parlour lacking the mindset to adapt your design according to the artist’s recommendations. You need to remember that your artist has your interests at heart, and is just trying to negotiate a compromise on a design and placement that will both suit your tastes and look good at the same time. In saying that, if they suggest a final design that you do not like, you need to make it clear that you are not happy with it. As a naturally passive person, it took a number of goes for me to muster the confidence to tell my tattooist that I didn’t like what they were suggesting, but that I was willing to explore other options.

Choose Your Timing Wisely

This is especially applicable to traveling. The healing process of a tattoo is not long and complicated, but there are a handful of things you need to abide by for your designated time period. One of these is that you must avoid swimming and sun exposure. As you can imagine, this can prove a hassle if you are traveling to a tropical destination where lounging on a sun-drenched beach is one of the selling-points (ahem Thailand). If this is the case, you might want to book your tattoo in for the end of your trip. Otherwise, it’s hello layers.

Cultural Appropriation

If you have culturally-orientated ink lined up in your sights, you may want to double check what is appropriate and what is not. In Thailand, it is considered disrespectful to have the Buddha tattooed onto you. Whilst this may not appear to be such a pressing issue once you are on the flight home, I firmly believe that respect and courtesy to the customs and values of your host country are of the upmost importance.

So there you have it; my tips and tricks for getting a tattoo in Thailand. And if you ever feel like making a spontaneous and permanent decision in the southern town of Pattaya, I highly recommend you pay Jim and the rest of the team at Eve Tattoo Studios a call.

The ‘Deats

Name: Eve Tattoo Studios

Location: Pattaya, Thailand

Number: +66 87 130 1808

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Enjoying my fresh ink at Ha Long Bay

Have your own crazy tattoo experiences or advice to share? Comment below! I would love to hear all of your stories!

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Vlog: Thailand Edition

I wish I had the luxury to say, ‘you may have noticed that I have been absent from posting for the past month or so’ like most bloggers, but that would have required me to make regular updates in the first place. As this is only my third post, I’m going to let that slide, but worry not! My goal is to create new content every MONDAY, WEDNESDAY and FRIDAY! Now, let’s see how long that lasts for…

One of the perks of having my own blog is that I have complete creative freedom over what I create and produce. For me, this means that I am not limited to sharing my experiences in just one format. So I have decided to experiment with my cinematic side, and have put together a vlog (or ‘video log’ for the less informed – looking at you, mother) to document my adventures in Thailand this past November.

Without further ado, please enjoy my Thailand vlog! And feel free to stop by my new Youtube Channel and give it a cheeky subscribe (and a thumbs up if you’re feeling extra spicy).

Comment with your own Youtube channel and/or videos – I’d love to check them out!

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Riding a Water Buffalo in Vietnam

There are many things you can do in Vietnam. You can swim in Ha Long Bay, you can crawl through the Cu Chi Tunnels, and… you can ride a water buffalo.

When I saw ‘Ride a Water Buffalo’ on my trip itinerary, I didn’t quite know what to think. So far, we had stuck to the conventional tourist activities you might see topping lists on TripAdvisor. But hey – I was up for anything!

Our travel agent hooked us up with a company called Jack Tran Tours, an environmentally-friendly family-run business in Hoi An, central Vietnam. Their mission is to expose travellers to the traditional Vietnamese culture and encourage them to engage with the local people.

And so it was that one drizzly morning, we hopped on the Jack Tran bus and were driven to where we would embark on our tour. After donning some sexy disposable waterproof ponchos, we were each assigned a bicycle which we were to cycle through a patchwork quilt of rice fields to our final destination.

We had only a rudimentary idea of what we in for. After a meet and greet with the lovely Spanish couple also in our tour group, we were introduced to the real star of the show: the water buffalo.

Having ridden an elephant in Thailand only days early, I was extremely anxious to dive headfirst into the action. As soon as our tour guide – a bubbling ray of sunshine called Yen – asked who would volunteer to ride it first, my hand shot up faster than lightening.

5 Things You Didn’t Know About Water Buffalos

  1. They are typically found throughout Asia, although also in places such as Australia, Turkey, Italy and Egypt as well.
  2. They are used (among other things) for ploughing and other forms of labor; although they have been replaced by tractors in many parts of the world, they are still used in Southeast Asia for tilling rice fields.
  3. Although they are more expensive than cattle, they are favoured by rice farmers because they are stronger and ideal for working in deep mud due to large hoofs and flexible foot joints.
  4. They spend a majority of the day submerged in water to maintain a stable body temperature.
  5. They can grow to 2650 pounds and 10 feet tall.

If the water buffalo was even aware of me climbing clumsily onto his back, then it didn’t feel the urge to show it. The first thing that struck me was how it’s bones jutted out from it’s skin, and how it lazily rocked side to side as it ambled onto the rice paddies.

As one of the richest agricultural countries, Vietnam – after Thailand – is the largest exporter of rice in the world. It is also the seventh-largest consumer of rice.

Perhaps the highlighting of the experience aside from riding a water buffalo was sifting rice. This is one of the latter parts of the farming process that requires sieving harvested, dried and pounded rice kernels in a flat basket to separate the loose husks.

As you will observe below, my friend and I had varying levels of success.

This was definitely one of the experiences that has stuck with me long after I returned from Vietnam. There’s just something about sitting and looking like an echidna on the back of a water buffalo and stomping through muddy rice paddies barefoot.
If you are passing through Hoi An, I strongly recommend you take the time to pay the team at Jack Tran Tours a visit and book yourself in for this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Not only will you gain insight into the underrated process of rice farming in Vietnam, but you will receive the epic opportunity to ride a water buffalo. Make sure you ask for your tour guide to be Yen; I don’t think I’ve ever met someone as vivacious and charismatic in my life.

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