China: Trip Summary

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Our trip to China was interesting, eye opening, and we had a lot of wonderful experiences, but it was definitely one of our most difficult. Of course having a five month pregnant girl in tow makes it a little less comfortable, but their were many other factors. First of all it was winter, we decided to visit in January and February which definitely made it a little more difficult to travel and limited our options of where to go. Second of all, China is not as cheap as its neighboring countries and prices can be extreme for certain things. For example, you can easily get a nice meal for less than $2 but an entry to a site can cost over $30. Also train and bus travel are not cheap and as distances are long that needs to be budgeted in as well. Third, very few people almost none outside of very large cities in China speak English (or any other language), nor use or can understand roman letters. Plus, Chinese is very difficult to even try to learn making communication more difficult than normal.

Budget: $15 per day per person. What we spent (including a week in Hong Kong): $13/day/person.

A delicious hotpot in Xiamen
Food: Food was actually not as easy for us to find and definitely not as easy to order compared to South East Asia. We were usually couchsurfing and had dinner with our hosts and several hosts showed us around and we would order together which made it easier as they could translate. Plus with others we could taste many of the delicious traditional hotpots! When alone we would point and ask the price (in Chinese) and often succeed. As a side note, the more expensive restaurants ($3 and up per person) usually has menus with pictures. We usually ended up eating Baoxi which is a steamed bun filled with meat, vegetables, or sweet bean pastes never knowing what would be inside, but was almost always delicious, warm, and cheap at 2 yuan or less (30 cents). We often ate noodle soup at 7 yuan (1 dollar) or if we were lucky found these sort of food stands where you could choose some meat or veggie items with rice and soup for 10 yuan ($1.50). The food is not as good as nearby South East Asia, Korea, or Japan, but is not bad. We found the food to be quite oily and often bland. Of course the regions we visited and places we went surely had                                                                    an effect on the kind of food we ate.

Flight: We found a flight for $673 round trip per person from Atlanta to Shanghai on Air Canada.

Itinerary: We changed our plans and itinerary several times as we were traveling but here was our final route: Shanghai- Ningbo- Quanzhou- Xiamen- Guangzhou- Kunming- Kaiyuan- Yuanyang Rice Terraces- Mengzi- Tonghai- Kunming- Hongkong- Shanghai

Yuanyang Rice Terraces
Lodging: We exclusively couchsurfed minus

two occasions, the first being the Yuanyang Rice Terraces  (of which hopefully I will have a second article exclusively on this wonderful place) where we stayed at a guest house for 60 yuan ($10) per night for a room with a private bathroom. Secondly, as we had to stay one night in Shanghai after returning from Hong Kong we decided to just book a hotel by the airport which cost 139 yuan ($22) for a room with breakfast and a private bathroom.

With our couchsurfing host and her old classmates




People: The people we met were all a lot more friendly that I anticipated. Of course our couchsurfing hosts were amazing always going above and beyond to make us feel comfortable. People in the streets did not go out of their way to talk to us or smile at us but were always kind if we tried to ask a question or get directions. People were curious more than anything we were constantly stared at.



Square dancing: Square dancing happens in every large city and every tiny village. Locals (mostly older women) gather in a square and there is usually a teacher with a big sound system and they have synchronized dances. We finally joined in on one towards the end of our trip in Kunming with our couchsurifng host and her mom and it was one of the highlights of our trip for sure!

Charles Schwab, the Traveler's Dream Bank

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Charles Schwab may just seem like another financial institution, but if you look a little closer you may be surprised at what they offer. First off, it's helpful to keep a separate bank account for traveling as you can see exactly what you are spending on your trip and keeps your travel funds organized. While traveling a few years ago, we met a couple who mentioned a bank in their country that with a minor fee per month they could withdraw an unlimited amount of money and be reimbursed for the fees incurred, which made us look for a similar option in a US bank. Then after some research we found Charles Schwab.


Why we love it:

It’s Free
There is no cost for setting up the account. No annual fees. No fees for transferring from one bank account to another.

Reimburse ATM Fees
It’s true. All ATM fees. Anywhere in the world! Seriously. For those of you who have traveled using a debit card you know those fees add up. Especially if you have a small budget. The fees can add up to around 10 percent per withdrawal. That can be around ten dollars or almost one whole day of travel per each $100 you withdraw. Charles Schwab charges you no fees at all and then the fees the other bank, or the ATM charges you, which you still have to pay are reimbursed by sweet Charles at the end of the month. What a guy! I’ve searched and searched and it seems that is one of the only banks that offers you that without any fees on top of it!

But that’s not all...

Pyay: A Special Place in Myanmar

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Reading our article on Myanmar’s people, you can see how that can be one of the main draws in coming to Myanmar. Not to sit and gawk and take pictures of the people, but to befriend them and learn a type of honest generosity and friendliness that exists very rarely in the world, Pyay is one of those places where we went and though the sites we saw were unimpressive we left with one of the best experiences and the happiest of memories.

The story begins in Bago where Aurelien met an old university friend who ended up suggesting for us to go to Pangabar Guesthouse as they were friendly, cheap, and had the best breakfast possible. Pyay would make a convenient stop between Yangon and Mandalay (or Bagan) and of course we are always eager to discover places not really on the tourist map.

Leaving Bago we went to Yangon, spent two days and then went to the bus station to get our tickets for Pyay. Waiting for the bus we had a few hours to kill so we decided to hang out in the conveniently located Beer Garden to try our first Myanmar draught beer. Drinking our beer we ended up chatting with a super friendly local who ended up giving us his card as he turned out to be the manager of the guesthouse we were already planning to visit. As he handed us his card I pulled out the card that our friend had already given us and we had a few laughs and he bought us a round of beers and some snacks.

Myanmar: A Land of Spectacular People

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When people recommend a place to visit it is usually based on its beauty, or sites, but Myanmar has other reasons for visiting. Myanmar is a country of vast natural beauty, and a plethora of temples and religious sites, but the main reason for visiting is the people.

Myanmar’s people have suffered a lot under a series of unjust governments and continues to do so today, but this seems to have only made the people friendly and happy though with unevenly spread wealth and little options in life. People in Myanmar are called Burmese. But the Burmese only refers to one of the several tribes that make up Myanmar so I refrain from using that term.

Myanmar’s people are very traditional even in the most modern of cities almost every man and woman will be wearing the traditional longgyi, which is similar to a long sarong. Different tribes or regions have different sarongs and people can be identified by their longgyi. In Myanmar everyone should try going to a local market and buying a longgyi with the help (ask for it) of surrounding locals as tying the longgyi takes a special technique.

Four women with their beautiful longgyis.

Fly on the Cheap: Low Cost Airlines

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There are many websites and airlines that allow us to fly for a very low price within a region, country, or continent, of course our normal go-to website is Skyscanner (read our previous article), which compares many of those sites, but often by going directly to the airline’s site, better deals can be found. Here are our favorite discount airlines:

Asia

Air Asia (flies almost everywhere)

Tiger Air (mostly flights which pass through Singapore and thus a chance to experience the most awesome airport Changi - check our upcoming article)

Peach (mostly within and in or out of Japan)

Firefly (within and in or out of Malaysia)

Lion Air (within and in or out of Indonesia)

Indigo (within and in or out of India)

Europe

Easy Jet

Ryan Air (watch out for out of the way airports and hidden fees)

Couchsurfing: A "How To"

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Couchsurfing is one of those things that will revolutionize the way you travel and even change your life and perspectives. When traveling, not being a tourist on vacation, but really traveling we often try to find out more about those places we pass through or linger in for awhile. We hope to find out more about the culture, history, sites, food, and most importantly people. We count on those small interactions at the market, getting invited to a beer or coffee with a friendly guy at a restaurant, playing with some children in the train, those small interactions make one’s experience. Couchsurfing, check out our article, gives us the chance to get a sort of full immersion in the culture even feeling a part of it, living, eating, and so much more as a local. If you have an open mind and hope to discover this side of a city, country, or culture then go ahead open up a new tab and set up your account.

If you don’t have a couchsurfing account, here’s how to set one up, and if you already have one, but have never used it you might want to check out this “How to” for some tips in guaranteeing you’ll get accepted when you write your next couch request!

Vietnam to Lao: The Road Less Taken (Na Meo)

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It’s no secret that Southeast Asia is a backpacker’s favorite due to its numerous sites as well as affordable food, accommodation and transportation. One of the best things about traveling around Southeast Asia is that the most popular countries Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand can all be crossed by land quite easily for the most part. We decided to make our first of these crossings from Vietnam to Laos. After an epic month of couchsurfing, hitchhiking, teaching and a little too much drinking in Vietnam, Laos was calling our names from afar. That’s when started analyzing maps, and going through blogs to find out the best way to enter Laos, trying as usual to find the cheapest, and least traveled route.

At the end of our Vietnamese odyssey we were in Hanoi, the capital, which happens to be inconveniently located in regards to the available border crossings in to Laos. We thought our choices were limited to either taking a direct bus to Vientiane, the Laotian capital or taking a bus to Dien Bien Phu in the north, known for its importance during the war for independence, and also a frequented and prone to scams crossing. A bus to Dien Bien Phu costs a rough 300,000 dongs, approximately $15, our maximum daily budget, plus it is not even located on the border, that would have implied more money to spend on taking motorcycle taxis to the actual border and our other option, the direct bus to Vientiane would have changed our expected itinerary going from the center to the north and then back south again towards Cambodia, on top of costing $20. A little hopeless and with our visas ending soon, we noticed that another crossing closer to us existed, but how to get there. Very little information could be found online, but by chance we found this blog.