After having not written on here for…ooh, let me check…10 months! Yikes…I thought I would give an update on where we’re at, seeing as we finally have another laptop!
In April, or it might have been May (time slips by so quickly!) we left Asia and came back to Europe.
In the time from leaving the UK in August 2013 until May this year, we have been having a not-so-great time abroad…
When we started out on this journey, the aim was to find a new home somewhere abroad, in a more spiritual place that was more accepting of those who don’t neccesarily fit into the conventional rat race because they just don’t bloody like it. Us, in other words. We don’t like the UK, and we don’t like most of the people there, or their attitudes..so it was our aim to find somewhere that felt more relaxing and nice for us. Being predominantly Buddhist, Thailand seemed like a good option, so we aimed for Asia after leaving Kefalonia for Athens airport.
We wanted to see some sights, so we first went to Cambodia to do Angkor Wat, the jungle country and the sunny coast; (after Thailand) Malaysia, to view the famous Georgetown Street Art, see the Hindu festival of Thaipusam (where they pull wheeled shrines by attaching hooks through their skin), to visit the island of Borneo (as it was) to see the Orangutans in their protected reservation, and find the amazing beaches; Laos, to do our visa run, see their pretty temples and catch a glimpse of the Mekong River; Thailand, to visit the silver and wood artisans in the North, to learn and qualify in Traditional Thai Massage, and to visit the hundreds of temples in Chiang Mai..these are just a few main highlights.
Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful that we got to experience life in those countries, because we stayed a lot longer than the normal traveller would, and got to really see what goes on…and that is the crux of the problem.
When you take a week (or a few weeks) to go off and travel, it’s usually as a break from your normal life. It is an adventure, to get away and see and do new things in the short time that you escape from the routine. In that time away, you cram as much as you can into the holiday so that you go back home with tons of pictures and some funny stories of your annual getaway or short sabbatical.
For us though, we were leaving the UK for good. This wasn’t a once-in-a-lifetime annual holiday to be boasted about when we got back. The destinations we visited were potential homes. This puts a very different light on why you are there, and what you look for. You view everything with permanence, and you scrutinise your surroundings and the people. Can we survive here on our budget? Are we able to live here without jumping through tons of hoops? Are the people really friendly and open if you stay a long time? Is it safe?
It is a whole different view than just “How much beer can we drink before we get on the flight back home, and have I updated Facebook with enough fabulous places to make everyone jealous?” as most people seem to do.
What made us decide to come back to Europe?
1) The complete nonsense that UK immigrants seem to have to go through, in order to live in another country (and other immigrants too, but I don’t come from anywhere besides the UK so I can’t comment on other nationalities). Apparently, if you live elsewhere and come to the UK, you can get our jobs, our benefits and our houses, and still send money back to your families in your home country without too much bullshit, but if you leave the UK for anywhere else, you get no concessions at all. In fact, in Asia you have to jump through so many hoops and have so much money behind you that it makes it nigh on impossible to stay for long if you are on a budget, as the ‘visa runs’ to the neighbouring countries every few months cost you a pretty penny unless you can fork out for a yearly one which requires tons of cash and lots of paperwork.
2) The fact that Asia was a complete rip-off, nowhere near as cheap as travel sites and other travellers would have you believe, and the local people just want to take advantage of Westerners – whether that is by how much they charge for buying things, or by stealing from you. These countries are poor – in Cambodia an average worker gets $75 per month. They pay for housing, running a vehicle, education, food, clothing etc from this, yet the average for a Westerner trying to live there is apparently $1000 per month. How the hell do they justify that price just because you are not local? The goods and the accomodation still costs the same, no matter what the colour of your skin, but apparently they are justified in being able to charge local and foreigner prices, yet funnily enough there are no price tags denoting the differences. I am sure if the UK did this, the foreigners coming to our shores would soon have something to say about paying 10 times more than we do. Another example was Malaysia (Kota Kinabalu) where a cheap hotel slipped up and wrote the wifi pasword on the back of a receipt for us – the local customer the day before paid 20 ringgits for a quadrupal room, and yet the price board we saw on the reception counter had very much higher prices – we had to pay 98 ringgits for a double! (and that was apparently discounted from the ‘normal’ listed price of 130 ringgits. To put it in perspective, it was roughly 5 ringgits to a British Pound so for 4 people the other customer paid just £4 for the night…we paid just under £20 for 2 people. Asia also does this with items in the shops, even when it clearly has price tags on it. We were told “That is not the price. You must pay (insert inflated price here)…” Needless to say, we didn’t pay it, and walked off in disgust.
3) It is not safe in Malaysia. No ifs or buts – it just is not. We were in Ipoh when Thaipusam was celebrated – there (and pretty much anywhere else in the country too) everyone is watching you – some are actually nice, genuine people who just want to talk with you, but the majority are looking to see what they can steal – there is a high concentration of non-Malay Indians (mostly illegal immigrants) here and most have mafia connections. They are watchful and calculated and will be on the lookout for an opportunity to pilfer what they can. Many tourists make the mistake of thinking that they are the object of curiosity and wonder, but if you really pay proper attention they are checking out your watch or your jewellery, or your camera, laptop, tablet, iPhone, smart phone, your bumbag, security belt or handbag with your passport in it. In countries where everyone has the same as you, you are used to walking around without thinking twice about it, but in poor countries you are just flaunting the fact that you have something valuable which they don’t have and can rarely afford. We didn’t flaunt anything – we were very careful, apart from the fact that we had a camera to take photographs. We still got robbed in Malacca of our netbook and camera which happened to be in a nondescript bag we were carrying back to the hotel one night – nothing was on show, it was just a bag…but they had been watching us either through the day or evening and took a chance when our guard was distracted by a very loud car going past. They robbed us by driving past on a scooter with no lights on, on a road running parallel to the main highway, in full sight and full of street lights – they swiped the bag from behind us, and it’s impossible to hold on to it. (They don’t just target foreigners either – we were told by the police that locals have been killed by either being pushed under moving vehicles or stabbed, in order to be robbed) The island of Borneo (as was) didn’t get seen, because we caught our flight there just after we were robbed seeing as it was already booked, and then we had to go through all the crap of cancelling bank details etc. This left us unable to go any further than Kota Kinabalu due to money, and by the time we had experienced the locals there (yikes!) who were meant to be much nicer than mainland Malaysia, we got money wired to us asap and hotfooted it to Chiang Rai, Thailand in the cheapest way we could (train and bus). Oh, and trying to get a flight back off the island booked without a bank card – almost impossible!
4) The locals do like to make fun of foreigners, and whilst we do have a great sense of humour when it’s done harmlessly, sometimes you just know they are not being nice even when you don’t speak their language. We had a horrible experience in a restaurant in Malaysia (just outside Malacca, near the water park and three temples) one evening where the men serving were incredibly rude and disrespectful. They brought our drinks and we accidentally said ‘Thank You’ in English (we do usually try and use their language out of politeness) and they mimmicked us and started to strike stupid poses whilst saying it over and over again behind us, while the waiter at our table shouted and laughed hysterically over our heads whilst joining in with the others heckling. We thought they would stop but they kept on, and seemed to have no interest in serving us with food so we got up and walked out, leaving our full drinks on the table unpaid for.
In Thailand, at first you can ignore it, but they call you ‘Falang’ or ‘Farang’ (same thing, some just spell it how they say it, with an L) and it IS an insulting word meaning ‘Bird Shit Foreigner’ (this was actually confirmed by a Thai that most Thai’s use it as such, and not as a term of endearment/fun as most travellers believe) – they will shout this to each other so that people can then yell at you to compete with rivals for hire of a taxi or tuk-tuk – they know that ‘Falang’ = ‘Money! Lots of it’. It is a common perception in the whole of Asia, that if you are Western, you are rich, and they also (as a Nation) really do not like tourists – in fact anyone who is not Thai – ‘Land of Smiles’ it is not, except on the surface. We actually got called liars by some random Thai person when they blatantly stated we were rich and we replied that in our own country most people struggle to pay their bills too, and that only a minority have lots of money. They said “You are here – that means you have lots of money” – if only they could experience the other end of the ‘plane ride and see how the majority of people live. It may be a step up from their lives, but people in the West are essentially in the same position, it’s just the standards of that poverty that are far apart.
5) Rich nearly died in Cambodia from a bacterial virus, and we both got Malaria and were really sick for quite a while; we narrowly avoided several disasters (along the way, between destinations) such as bus and train crashes, severe storms, and major earthquakes (Chiang Rai, with the destruction of the White Temple) – some within half an hour, and others within a couple of days.
These are just some of the things which happened to us along the way, and which shaped our view of the journey over the last year.
*** Yes, we also had some lovely simple experiences – not least from the locals who just come and speak with you because they want to practice their English, people that don’t speak your language gesturing that they want to share their food with you on the train, or from the calm, elderly Thai Buddhist monk who slowly limped his way over to us during the Loi Krathong festival (where they send lanterns up into the sky) just to gesture that he wanted to see our photographs and my tattoos. No language neccesary, just a lovely simple interaction before he wandered back into the temple a couple of minutes later. We had a lovely chat in a shopping mall with an ex-champion Thai boxer, and many other interactions such as the group of elderly Laotians who greeted us with huge smiles and local ‘hello’s’ at one of the temples, as they got to the top of the climb on their Sunday stroll and saw us sitting there. We have also had wonderful food, and enjoyed sampling things out of our normality. ***
6) We didn’t do the typical tourist attractions, because they are unethical and a complete rip-off – sadly those who do partake of these things are contributing to the illusion that Westerners are rich because the entrance fees are about the same (and more) as what the average local person would earn in a month. One of the Tiger attractions is around US $65 (a months wage) and one of the elephant attractions is over $400 for the day. Tigers and elephants seem to be hugely popular in Thailand, and both are subject to cruelty and mis-management. Tiger Kingdom has recently been featured in the news again for a mauling. When will people learn?! It is only docile because it is drugged. If people had any respect for wild animals, they would know that in order to approach one it has to be coerced in some way to allow that, as it’s nature is to attack and maul anything to death for food that is lower in the pecking order. Let’s face it, tigers are much stronger than us, and we were never meant to get close to them – however beautiful they may be. We also didn’t fancy anything to do with the Mekong River – it’s basically just a really really big, dirty river which causes stupid tourists injury or sickness every time they swim in it or go tubing. Who in their right mind would swim in sewerage in their own country? So why do that very same thing abroad?!
7) It is also nigh on impossible to enjoy the heat and humidity there and be able to go out walking, which we love to do. The jungle is impassable and full of highly poisonous things…
…which we knew, but we hoped we may be able to walk trails. Not advisable without a guide…and they cost a pretty penny…so you can’t just go for a walk in the countryside and watch the wildlife like you can in the UK and Europe. At its peak season, it is hot until around 0200 when it becomes bearable to sleep at a moderate temperature, and gets hot again at around 0600 – it is hard to get out anywhere because the moment you move, you sweat, and that’s without clothing! Put clothes on and walk somewhere, it looks like you have been stood under the shower in your clothing. Not pleasant, at all,
It does seem that when people go for holidays, their common sense is left at home – ours went with us, so we thought, but on reflection we lost it before we left the UK – the reason being that if we knew then what we know now, we would never have wasted our time and money going there.
Sure, we saw some cool things, but in all honesty, once you see one temple, the rest start to look the same. Once you have seen many many arsehole tourists doing really stupid things, constantly updating Facebook as they look round historic sites, and listened to them talk utter shite to anyone who will listen, you have had a gut-full of arrogant boasting idiots – and that is mainly the type who travel to Asia: gap year students whose parents pay for them to get out of their hair for a few months so they don’t have to deal with them. Well, we didn’t really want to deal with them either, but alas they were everywhere. Fortunately, rescuing animals like this little one that we called Rocky in Cambodia (and the one called Pretty that we looked after in Kefalonia) made dealing with some of them worthwhile…
Nothing that we saw or experienced (apart from the animals and a few decent humans) was worth the extortionate prices that we got charged in basically poor countries, and it’s about time someone wrote the truth about Asia in the media, instead of bigging it up like it’s the best place on earth to go. We read countless reviews of the countries before we went there, along with government websites, and nobody is honest in what they write because it would stop tourists visiting, and stop people reading their travel websites or blogs and therefore stop them earning money by writing reviews. We read an article on ‘The Mail Online’ about Thailand this week, and we were pleased to see a Westerner who lives there actually being honest about all the shit they go through, and not just some sensational journalism to promote crap or your ‘best-ever’ travel blog. Sorry, but after reading so much shit, we are very cynical about most writers and their need to appear as if they had a wonderful time on their dream vacation…when really they nearly died in a scooter accident (because they think they can ride one, having never done it before) and don’t want to admit they had to get wasted to ignore the pain of severe gravel rash and oozing gashes for several days before flying home.
Malaysia currently has a huge tourist campaign going on for 2014 – what they don’t disclose is that even Malay locals are being attacked or murdered for their purse or bag, camera, laptop etc by the immigrants. They don’t disclose that there are 40,000 Indian gangsters in the country, and that tourists as well as Malays are a BIG target. They do not tell you that there are strict Muslim laws in a lot of areas, and that you could put yourself in danger by going there or not adhering to dress codes, public customs etc – believe me, we saw plenty of tourists who wore next to nothing when they should have been covered up. We did our research so that we knew these things about customs etc, but some of the above facts like the crime and the Mob were only told to us by the Police themselves when we reported our drive-by scooter attack. They also told us about the gangs and individuals hanging around the shopping malls, ATM’s, hotels and beaches – they work in tag-teams communicating by text or phonecall, and they watch for tourists in order to follow them around and mug them or pickpocket. We actually saw this happening all the time, and had to use evasive tactics on some occasions, even though we had nothing visible for them to steal.
Sure, you get lovely people and locations too, and perhaps if you are closeted in your hotel, nightclub or at the beach, you may think it’s wonderful and really friendly…and there are some people and places that make it worthwhile, but sadly they are in the minority and there is not a hope in hell that we would live there, or even visit again. Once was enough.
So, now we have come back to Europe and we are staying in Bulgaria. What a contrast! We chose it here because the landscape was meant to be like Scotland, Wales or Cornwall, and we love that ruggedness. We were not disappointed at all. When we arrived and got the bus to our next destination, we were just loving being back in good old fashioned countryside with rocks, mountains, valleys, and nice pleasant heat – even when in the 30’s and 40’s. You can still walk about here and explore, without the need for a guide or a shedload of armaments against the wildlife (although there are still plenty of mozzies, but not the Malarial or Denghi ones!)
We have had a few ups and downs whilst here because we started out on a ‘Workaway’ placement, where you get your room and food in exchange for work around the place. The English woman was the filthiest I have ever seen, and her 3 dogs were allowed to shit and pee all over her house – and most of the time she would leave it for someone else to clear up. That was just one complaint about her, but it annoys me to even think about it so I won’t go into everything else. Needless to say, we lasted 3 days and left on the 4th. We also attempted to buy a house here – beautiful house and location, but the agent and the owner screwed us over with the roof (they had masked a huge problem) and in the first week we had a tremendous thunder storm which ended up in our kitchen! We told them to stick it where the sun doesn’t shine because they didn’t want to fix it, and we left.
We are now renting an apartment for a year, and have rescued 2 gorgeous kittens off the streets here (we can’t help it, we love animals). We can survive on our budget, we get to eat good local produce, and the people are lovely. Bulgarians really are old fashioned and value many things which seem to have gone to the dogs, like manners and customs. We are trying to learn the language, which is like a cross between Greek and Russian, and quite complicated but we will persist. It’s fun here, we have made some Bulgarian friends, and with 300+ days of sunshine a year, it’s a good place to be. We have the choice between lakes, rivers or beach, mountains or plains, city or country, and if you avoid the areas where the Turks (Muslims) have congregated, it’s really friendly. Common sense as a foreigner is still needed here though, because you do still have crime and also the Mob, along with lots of gypsies. There are danger zones, but it’s far more manageable than Asia.
I know it may seem like we are being racist with what we have said, (and tbh when we tell people about our experiences in Asia we get very negative reactions, as if we imagined all the issues) but in all honesty we were the ones on the receiving end of the discrimination whilst travelling and it opens your eyes to what really goes on across the world.
You get very jaded with always being charged way more than anyone else, and seen as someone to rob or con. Quite honestly, if people have the attitudes we have seen, they deserve whatever attitude comes back at them. They are rude, obnoxious, disrespectful, and judgemental, and if they were treated that way they scream “Racism!” yet it is fine for them to do it to others visiting their country. We have judged on what we experienced, and this is what our opinion of our travel is based on. If we had had a different experience then we would have a different opinion, obviously. We tried to still be respectful of others we encountered, even when they were not nice to us, but it does all mount up to colour your mindset and form your experiences. With the current Muslim situation being what it is around the globe, we can now understand from firsthand experience their attitude towards non-Muslims (unless they are nice people as individuals, which some thankfully were) and it is quite shocking, and very exclusive – if you are not a Muslim, you are basically looked upon as shit and treated accordingly. Honest fact, and not a pleasant one.
On that note, I am signing off now – back in October we had our first days of snow here in Bulgaria. The tv doesn’t work due to the weather, and it gets you back to the basics. It’s wonderfully cold, brilliantly white, and almost silent outside. It has a surreal quality to it, and a great beauty, and we are extremely grateful to now be in a country where they actually have proper seasons but still lots of sunshine (300+ days per year). Even though the snow only lasted a few days last month and winter has yet to really arrive, it was still over a foot deep and we cannot wait for the next snowy couple of months, even at -20 degrees Celsius at its worst. Forecast says end of November for more snow…brrrrr
Over and out!