I am fascinated by the countryside. It doesn’t matter what country I’m in, I always feel a pull to be in the country. Open space, fresh air, sky that isn’t blocked by tall buildings. So when my friend and I got to Hue, Vietnam, we quickly jumped on the chance to do a tour of the countryside. While it was a tour open to all, it was just the two of us and our guides on our own private tour. We cruised on the back of motorcycles past fields, temples used by small communities, and saw all that the Hue countryside had to offer. Our guides even showed us to their childhood home, a series of colorful, ramshackle houses on little back roads, a flowing river just across the street. That was easily one of my favorite days. I only wish I had taken more photos but I was having too much fun enjoying myself :)
Eyebrow threading. It’s not the scariest beauty treatment to try out by any means. Especially in Asia, I could have ventured out and done something seriously strange. But I didn’t. It’s not an unusual term for most women but it was new to me. I had heard horror stories before by friends who said that threading hurt or that by the end their eyebrows were pencil thin. I swore that I would never stray from waxing my eyebrows. It was a tried and true method and I had been doing it forever. A quick trip to my esthetician, a nice fifteen minute chat to catch up on both of our lives, some warm wax, rip, rip, and it was over. Eyebrow threading was not in the cards for me or so I thought until I walked down a tiny space of a very crowded Vietnamese market in Hoi An.
Lined up against a wall were plastic chairs and a woman clinging to my arm. Thread? Thread? She asked, pointing to my eyebrows. I tried to say no at first, honestly I did. But if you’ve ever been to an Asian market, particularly in Vietnam, it is sometimes difficult to say no. It was a dirt cheap price. My eyebrows did need to be done. I was traveling. My fears were gone, I had no inhibitions. I probably didn’t pick the cleanest place. The ground was wet and I was sitting against a wall with chipping paint. I can’t even remember where she kept her tools but I’m pretty sure none of them were separate from the rest and they were likely all kept in a bundle in a tin can type of object. At the moment, it wasn’t something I was worried about.
Eyebrow threading, I thought, why not.
Would it hurt? I asked.
No, no, no, the lady giggled.
I asked her to just do a little bit before I made up my mind (I have an embarrassingly low pain tolerance). She chose the middle section between my two eyebrows where there is virtually little to no hair. Of course it wouldn’t hurt there! Obviously that was why she chose that spot! Instead I thought, wow! I can hardly feel a thing! Go for it!
Seconds in and I was already regretting it. Ladies and gentlemen, if you haven’t done it already, eyebrow threading hurts. In my opinions, it hurts a lot more than waxing. My skin is pretty sensitive but soon enough my eyes were watering uncontrollably and this horrible woman just kept laughing at me and saying gibberish in Vietnamese. I felt every single hair being ripped out of my skin by the root. I felt every tug and every shift of the thread. By the end of it the skin around my eyebrows and into my forehead was bright pink (no different than when I get them waxed, actually). It was not worth it and I will never thread my eyebrows ever again. Ever! I mean it this time. My initial instincts had clearly always been right. Waxing is where it’s at.
People say that threading is better for people with sensitive skin due to less actual skin contact. I guess it depends on the person because I didn’t notice much difference except that the redness went down faster than with waxing.
So, my final thoughts on threading vs. waxing? Threading hurts more. It’s tolerable, but it definitely hurts more. Threading, however, does last longer than waxing. Waxing is faster and less painful, but it doesn’t last as long as threading. I know a lot of people that do prefer threading over waxing but personally, I’m sticking to waxing. Everybody is different though. Have you ever tried eyebrow threading? Did it hurt or am I just a baby?
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By the time our cab driver has arrived at the bus station, we are one of the last stragglers to board. We are given plastic bags and told to remove our shoes before getting on. I’m maneuvering myself through the narrow spaces between seats, passing foreigners and locals alike doing their best to get into a comfortable position in their designated bed. Instead of seats all perfectly aligned like a regular bus you would imagine, the seats are narrow and fully reclined, two layers of three rows. All I can think is that it looks like The Knight Bus in Harry Potter. The local people seem to be used to this. Their petite Asian frames find a comfortable position and cease to move. My bed is on the top bunk, meaning that I have to climb a small little ladder and crawl into my bed atop somebody else’s. Luckily for me I am just as short as the majority of the local people on this bus and I am able to lie fully extended without my feet being crushed. My only issue is trying to fit my massive, over-packed bag beside my body on this unnaturally narrow bed. If you are anybody over 5’1 you will have a hell of a time trying to fit in these seats.
My friend climbs up onto her own bed just beside mine and we give each other knowing looks. There will be little to no sleep tonight. There are seat belts to wrap around our waists to keep us from falling out of the bed-seats during the bumpy ride. As is my luck, my seat belt is broken and the small railing (meant for the same reason as the seat belt) is also broken. Megan says she’ll keep an eye out and wake me up if it looks like I’m about to roll off. Perfect.
I am lying right beneath the vents that rotate between blowing ice cold air or a very warm heat. I spend the majority of the night sweating profusely or shivering in the cold. On this particular bus trip, I’m all out of the sleeping pills that I’ve been using as I want to save the last one for my long flight home. Without those, I have no chance of sleeping. With them, I’m asleep for 5 to 8 hours, dead to the world even when the bus stops, the lights go on and everybody gets off for a break. They are my savior on those long and uncomfortable bus rides. However, without them I must resort to other measures.
As the bus drives towards our destination, there is a never ending chorus of loud honks both from our bus and every other motorized vehicle on the road. The use of the horn in these parts of the world is very popular. Drivers will honk at oncoming vehicles, they will honk when passing vehicles and they will honk at dogs, cows and people on or near the road. They will honk at apparently nothing at all. It is never ending and sometimes I think they do it just to keep themselves awake on these long journeys. Along with the honking is the almost never ending rocking and shaking of the bus. The roads are not amazing and it seems just as a period of smooth driving appears it is gone just as quickly. You are left being thrown around in your narrow seat, hip bones banging the sides of the bus as it quivers and quakes over every bit of gravel, every bump, every stone, and every giant pothole.
However, there are always some things that I do and some items that I carry with me that I believe truly helps me out:
- Eye Mask – an eye mask is an essential tool during these long bus rides. If you need sleep and are taking a day bus, an eye mask is needed to block out the daylight. For me, even just the pressure over my eyes from the eye mask helps to tell my brain that it is time to sleep. It’s comforting and, on the overnight bus journeys, blocks out the light that sometimes tends to stay on much later than it should and keeps the light out during those rest stops.
- Ear plugs or headphones. I don’t like the feeling of ear plugs but I find that plugging my headphones into my ears and putting my calm music on works perfectly to tune out the sounds around me and fall asleep.
- Sleeping aids. Take these at your own discretion. Some people are firmly against sleeping aids of any kind. Personally, they are my life saver. Even at home when I am unable to sleep I use melatonin to help me out. Over in Southeast Asia and on those particularly rough nights of sleeper buses, I am one of the travelers that take a stronger, over-the-counter sleeping tablet such as Xanax. *It is important to consult your doctor before taking such a medication*
- Pee before you board! This is a MUST. Oh man, there is nothing worse than being on a 13 hour bus ride, in a bus with no washroom, and having to hold it in for hours until your rest stop.
- Avoid spicy food before. Okay, so this isn’t for everyone. But if you’re someone who gets an upset stomach after eating spicy or foreign food, try to avoid it before a long bus ride. I don’t think I even need to explain why.
- Snacks. I always carry snacks with me, from dried fruit and nuts to pretzels or chips. I always get hungry on these long rides or am bored and have nothing to do but eat on the bus.
- Water. It is important to stay hydrated on these long journeys to feel awake and not so dumpy feeling when you arrive.
- A book and a headlamp or mini flashlight. I always carry a book with either a headlamp or a mini flashlight with me. I usually can’t sleep much on these overnight bus journeys and having a good book is excellent to pass the time
- Pay the extra for a better bus. Yes, you’re on a budget. I totally understand that. I am the girl who bawks at the idea of paying a whole ten dollars(or less!) more for a better bus than the one I’ve decided on. Honestly, I need to start taking my own advice and just paying the extra. They are often better enough that you get a decent sleep. Or sleep at all, which is better than none.
These are just some of the essential items that I carry with me and some of the things that I always do before boarding an overnight bus or any form of overnight transportation. What helps you make it through those long and treacherous journeys of transportation?
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I’ve just launched Whirlwind Travel’s very own Instacanvas Gallery. If you’re interested you can take a peek at the gallery. Some of my favorite travel photos are already on display and more will be added. If there is one that catches your eye you have the option of purchasing a photo, canvas, framed print, prism, greeting card, or an iphone case!
If interested in purchasing one as a gift, be sure to order before December 10th for guaranteed delivery before Christmas.
Here is a sneak peak of just some of the photos available. You can view my gallery by clicking here :)
Southeast Asia has a special place in my heart and I think it always will. When I first decided to try out traveling, I told myself I wouldn’t return to a place I had visited before until I had gone to all seven continents. Well, this summer I went back to Thailand for a second time. And during that trip I started to try to plan how I could get myself back there next summer. There is just something about that area that draws you back again and again. It could make you stay forever. Southeast Asia has also taught me many things. About myself, life, other cultures. Here are the top ten:
1. NEVER TAKE TOILET PAPER FOR GRANTED. Seriously, the amount of times I found myself in a washroom, whether it be a western toilet or the dreaded squat toilet, without toilet paper was far too many. I have learned to always carry a roll of toilet paper in my purse if I’m traveling in a developing country. Or a small packet of tissues or kleenex, which are much more discreet. It’s far better than rummaging through your purse for a random receipt to use, that’s for sure.
2. COLD SHOWERS CAN BE ENJOYABLE. And preferred. There comes a time when you’ve been walking around with a backpack on your back, shirt soaked through, eyes stinging from the sweat dripping in your eyes, and all you want is an ice cold shower. At home, this works the opposite way. My showers are burning hot and any limb that is not under the water has goose bumps. In Southeast Asia, any limb out of the refreshingly cool water is hot and humid feeling.
3. TIME MEANS NOTHING. Life moves at a slower pace over there. There is no rushing for deadlines. Scheduled appointments are really only a guideline. The person you’re meeting with might just need to go have one last cigarette outside before he meets with you. Sometimes, this kind of atmosphere is really awesome. Usually, I do like it. But sometimes, when you’ve slept in and really need to be somewhere, like to catch a flight, it can be frustrating. Time also means nothing in regards to scheduled transportation times involving buses and trains. They are frequently, if not almost always, delayed. Get used to it. Grab a fruit shake and wait.
4. FLIES ON MY FOOD IS REALLY NO BIG DEAL. My falafel was being made infront of me and flies were everywhere. Flying around my face, the cooks face, her hands, they rested on the pile of lettuce, pickles and other vegetables. They went for a ride on my pita as it was passed from her to me. But you get over it. Soon it becomes almost… normal.
5. ANGER GETS YOU NOWHERE. In the Western world, people get angry. They yell that there wasn’t the right amount of cream or sugar in their tea. They yell because there’s no cheese left on the shelf. They’ll raise their voice to an absurd level and argue about something to someone that usually has no control over that situation. In other parts of the world, it gets you absolutely nowhere. If you’re upset about something, all you need to do is remain calm and try to explain yourself. Even if you have to try saying the same thing with different wording ten times until they understand. And then, they still might not get it. But if you yell, they will think less of you and they will walk away. Or laugh at you.
6. AIR CONDITIONING IS MY BEST FRIEND. I can’t handle just the fan rooms. Waking up with my hair stuck to the sweat on my forehead. My sheets damp, skin damp, hair never actually drying in the humidity. I could have handled it if I had just stuck to fan rooms and never had the experience of the air con rooms. But I did experience air con and after that, the fan was not enough. In my last few days I splurged by spending twenty dollars a night on a guesthouse. Private room, air con. After the first night I thought twenty dollars was too much, so I switched to a fan room for half the price. I spent that evening laying motionless on my bed in nothing but a bikini top and underwear, hair tied as high on my head as possible. It was so bloody hot, it was disgusting. The next morning, I switched back to the air conditioning and embraced the freezing cold.
7. DRINKING BEER MAKES YOU FRIENDS. It’s true. The easiest way to make friends is to sit in the hostel common room or whatever social area they have(chances are they have something of the sort) with a local beer in hand, sitting in a circle while someone plays the guitar or plays cards and tells stories. Or has ice cube wars. I don’t even like beer when I’m at home, but when I travel it’s almost the only thing I drink. Well, until the buckets are introduced.
8. THE HAPPIEST PEOPLE ARE THOSE WHO LIVE SIMPLE LIVES. Most of the locals in Southeast Asia don’t have a lot. Their closets are not full of clothes, they have no ipads or all of the excess that we have here. They live simply. They have little possessions and little money, but they are always smiling. Thais, Cambodians, and Vietnamese people are truly some of the kindest, happiest people I have ever met. We could really learn a thing or two from them.
9. VEHICLE HORNS CAN BE USED TO EXPRESS SOMETHING OTHER THAN ANGER. Who knew?! Here in Canada the only time people honk their horns is if they’re really unhappy with the person infront of them and are in a fit of road rage. I generally don’t use my horn because my first car’s horn was broken, so I rarely even think to. But in Southeast Asia, that is the music of the road. Music.. or the reason you will go deaf in one ear as a bus flies by you with the horn honking for a full minute. But over there, they use the horn for everything. They honk if there’s something in their way, they honk to let other drivers know that they are coming up beside them, they honk even if there is nothing to be seen for miles!
10. ALL ABOUT ASIAN ELEPHANTS. Yeah, that’s a big reason why I want to keep going back. Whoever has read this blog from the beginning has read my posts about the Elephant Nature Park. But really, Southeast Asia has taught me a lot about elephants. Particularly their rapid endangerment. While there was once over 100,000 in Thailand alone, there are now only an estimated 3000-4000 left in Thailand. Only about 30,000 globally.