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.

Onsens in Japan, or better known as Paradise

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Onsens in Japan are what the Greeks must have imagined life to be like for the gods on Mount Olympus, paradise. Imagine a room full of jacuzzis some boiling, some medicinal, some ice cold, giant pools, steam rooms, relaxation rooms with comfortable longe chairs, soothing music, and refreshments. The Japanese consider this relaxation time an integral part of their culture and we see why. Of course that is once you get over the fact that your walking around and taking a bath with nothing but a towel on your head with several Japanese none who find this odd at all and have no concern to look at anyone else as they are more concerned with their own relaxation time.

Our first "rural" onsen in Hokkaido

What exactly is an onsen?

Onsens, or hotsprings, are an integral part of Japanese culture and as Japan is volcanically active they are usually found everywhere. The word “onsen” is usually used in reference to a bathing facility. Now there are many types of onsens: indoor, outdoor, public, private, big, small, in a commercial building, in a random hut in the country side, and even in hotels. Many of the “baths” contain herbs, sulfur, etc usually with a health benefit attached. Some are very simple with only three or four baths while some are luxurious with many baths, saunas, relaxation rooms, massages, and much more.

Video of the Week #4

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While volunteering at a small primary school in rural Thailand we were lucky enough to live at the school along with a few other teachers. This is one of the teacher's daughter who is in Pre-k and would sing this song on a daily basis, mostly due to us prompting her as we thought it was possibly the cutest thing we have seen. Basically the song is about killing a chicken to grill it. 

video

Video of the Week #3

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video of the week 3

The Video of the Week is back today and for the first time it features a music video. Mocca Garden, a Ska/Reggae band is on top of the Thai billboard with the song "I love Thailand". Fun, pop and refreshing, the song actually talks about "Falang", or westerners in Thai, and why they love to visit this country of South East Asia. The music video shows well-known areas of Bangkok and could be used by a tourism agency to promote Thailand. We don't know if the band is making fun of tourists but the song will stay stuck in your head for a while.

9 Months

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We have now been traveling for nine months, or around 276 days. In that time we could have conceived and birthed a child, made a lot of money, or built a house, but instead we...

Ate silk worm larvae, partied, sang and dance with old Korean ladies, visited the super secretive North Korean border, were fed the delicacy raw crab by our host’s super eager to please mom at 7am, listened to the soft chants of the monks in countless temples and visited one of the world’s top amusement parks in Korea.

Trying Silk Worm Larvae in Pohang. 

Picture of the Week #4

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Thanks to HelpX we spent an amazing, memorable month volunteering teaching English to primary school students in a not-on-googlemaps village. This village, Klong Bai Phat is around 30 minutes from Wang Nam Khiaw, not far from Nakhon Rathcasima in Northeast Thailand. These are some of the kindergarten children who love to run up to our door in the morning to yell out "Hello teacher!".

Japan or Korea ?

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Asia is an immense and diverse continent, spreading from Turkey to the end of the world, the far East, where you will find two powerful nations, rivals since the dawn of History yet sharing so many common aspects, Japan and Korea. Japan on one hand, has been a powerful country for ages and thus has fascinated many generations of travelers while Korea, though mysterious, has always been the underdog, even once colonized and enslaved by its neighbor, Japan.


Nowadays, a lot of things have changed. While Japan is still in the mind of many travelers, Korea is finally, though slowly, catching up with its neighbor, becoming a popular destination as well, thanks to a boasting economy and a music and cinema industry spreading Korean culture all over the globe. While most people will chose Japan over South Korea, we will try to give you a more complete comparison of these two Asian dragons.