Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Guest Post: 10 Essential Safety Tips for Travelers in Far Flung Places

I'm so thankful to Julie for featuring me here on her blog! I've followed her travels for a while now because, honestly, it gives me so many ideas to add to my own travel bucket list—like this series on trekking in Nepal that I'm so jealous of! I'm really pleased to be here. 

Although my parents got me hooked on travel from the time I was young, I think they were a little surprised (and no doubt nervous!) when I told them about my first solo trip abroad. And when that spiraled into a months-long trip traveling the world with just the contents of a backpack, they were right to worry about me. 

Unfortunately, no matter how seasoned a traveler you are, things can happen while you're on the road, just the same as if you were in any city in your home country. 

But I think that parents and friends might worry a bit more when you're in far flung places around the world since you aren't likely to bump into them every day!

Here's a list of my top ten safety tips that have helped me throughout my travels:

(1) Check the government's website. The government is there to protect you, and you can count on them to issue travel alerts or warnings if an area is too dangerous for you to travel to. They've also compiled a list of dangers to be on the lookout for, recommended vaccinations and all sorts of other information that you need when you're traveling. Download the information and you can read it on the plane.

(2) Keep abreast of changes while traveling. Of course, the situation is always changing, especially in volatile regions, but it's sometimes hard to keep up with the news when you're busy exploring and planning where to go next! Make sure you don't miss anything by registering your travels with STEP—they'll send updates right to your inbox.

(3) Read up on local customs. The more you know about and abide by the local norms, the less you'll stick out—and the safer you'll be. Disrespect local customs—for example, by eating in the streets during Ramadan in Istanbul—and you may find yourself a target for anger and frustration.

(4) Know the local laws. When you're traveling, you're subject to the local laws, even if these laws are different from the ones back home, and even if you weren't aware of the laws. The last thing you want is to end up in jail or stuck paying off a hefty fine because you didn't realize, for example, that it's illegal to take pictures of police officers in many countries around the world.

(5) Research common scams. From keeping yourself safe to keeping your money in your pocket, knowing about common scams can save you in a lot of ways. As soon as you know what to look out for, you're much less likely to fall for things like that taxi driver who seems oh-so friendly but is really working on commission for a local shop! Identity theft is one thing that's particularly common with travelers, who access public WiFi networks without considering the consequences. Make sure you're using a VPN on all your devices (including your phone) so that your passwords and other personal information stays encrypted between you and the site you're accessing.

(6) Let people know where you are and where you're headed. I know there's an appeal to going off the grid, but don't just disappear! If something bad does happen to you, you want someone to be looking out for you. Even if nothing bad happens, well, it'll make your mother worry less if she knows where you are and how to contact you!

(7) Know where you're going! Don't get me wrong, I love the idea of a totally spontaneous trip, and there are times when I've hopped a plane with very little idea where I'd be going when I arrived. But if you do nothing else, at least download some offline maps on your phone so you're not totally lost. The last thing you want is to accidentally end up in a bad area. 

(8) Use common sense. Too often, people on vacation seem to forget all sense, especially after a night of partying. Even back home, you probably would avoid sketchy areas and avoid walking alone at night, right? There's no reason why things should be any different while you're on your trip—especially if you don't know the area very well! Above all else, the best way to keep yourself safe is to trust your instincts.

(9) Respect immigration authorities and other officials. One of the easiest ways to get into trouble with the authorities is to be a smart-ass. Again, this ties in with the whole common sense thing: the last person you want to annoy is the person who has the authority necessary to ruin your trip. On the flip side, the more you respect local authorities, the more likely they will be to help you if necessary.

(10) Steer clear of demonstrations and politically charged events. Such events can be really interesting, and honestly, they can be hard to avoid since they often happen right in front of the places that tourists want to check out (right in downtown). But you don't want to find yourself in the middle of a rapidly escalating situation or in trouble with the police because of your curiosity! 

Travel is an amazing experience, but with all the chaos going on in the world these days, it can also be a frightening experience both for you and your loved ones. 

Dangerous situations can really ruin a trip; to avoid them, do your research ahead of time and follow these ten tips!

About the Author: Jess Signet is an avid traveler who enjoys writing about her adventures. Jess loves off the beaten path adventures but also knows it's important to travel safely. She hopes these tips will help you to enjoy memorable, happy and safe travels. You can follow Jess and her travels at www.tripelio.com

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Mount Popa - Temple in the Clouds

This is a damn long overdue post (we went in July 2014!) that I could just ignore. But I want to share with you about Mount Popa.

Mount Popa is located about 50km from Bagan in Myanmar.

I was too lazy to find out whether there were any form of public transport to the mountain, so we joined a tour arranged by our hostel in Bagan.

This is the lorry that brought us to Mount Popa:

The lady at the hostel charged us 10,000 Burmese Kyat each for the return trip. On the way to Mount Popa we bitched with the other travellers that she had overcharged us.

As you can see from the photo above, the lorry was not the best form of transport for a group of 7 travellers (8 including the driver). We were all seated at the back of the lorry on the hard floor. I kept on shifting myself because my bum was getting numb.

I was glad the driver made a pit stop at a place where they made food stuff like palm sugar, peanut oil, snacks, etc.:

So much fascination with a guy on a coconut tree!

Sample of some of the products sold at the shop:

Only July and it felt like Chinese New Year!

I don't particularly buy foodstuff when I travel but I bought this assam (tamarind) to support the shop:

Kept this for so long in my home that I had to eventually throw it away when it started moulding.

Mount Popa approaching:

Looks like a fairy tale temple. Somehow Jack & the Beanstalk comes to mind.

Two elephants welcomed us at the entrance of Mount Popa:

According to superstition, pilgrims or travellers to Mount Popa should not wear red, green or black as  those colours are reserved for spirits called Nat who live on the mountain. I wore a grey t-shirt and pants that day.

We had to leave our footwear at the entrance of the temple and enter barefeet. As I mentioned in my previous posts on Myanmar, the temple floors are covered with animal poo and I had to look carefully where I stepped.

I had read beforehand that there are many monkeys on Mount Popa, so I had prepared myself like not wearing anything bright and not carry things like sunglasses or wear a hairband in case the monkeys do a grab and go, just like their counterparts in Uluwatu in Bali.

But I was totally unprepared for the level of aggression of the Mount Popa monkeys.

They hissed and threatened to attack anyone who gives them even the slightest glance. Worst if it's a female monkey carrying a baby because she thinks you want to attack her baby. The best is to ignore them and walk on.

The monkeys was the main reason I didn't take many photos on the way up the mountain because a slight movement like taking out the camera or aiming the camera at an object is deemed as an attack on them and they will start hissing fiercely.

I was so pissed that I was contemplating of having live monkey brains (with wine) for dinner.

Anyway, back to the story.

Signage to show the height of Mount Popa:

At 2,417 metres above sea level, we had to climb many flight of steep stairs to reach the top. 

Rows of shops that we saw on the way up:

Reminds me of Kek Lok Si Temple in Penang which has a similar layout.

We saw shrines and altars like this: 

People who made a donation to the temple had the option to engrave their name on plaques:

I was surprised to see an acquaintance's name on the wall. I snapped a photo and asked him whether it was really him. So busybody.

As you can see on the plaque, some well wishes and pilgrims came all the way from San Francisco, California in the United States of America:

I deduce that a Burmese restaurant owner made a pilgrimage to Mount Popa to offer prayers for his business.

Pagodas at the top of the mountain:

View from the top:

The village at the bottom looked so small:

A man praying so fervently till his forehead touched the ground:

Maybe this man will also put his name on the plaque if his prayers are answered.

All signages are in Burmese:

Couldn't help noticing these yellow bottles:

Still haven't figured out what's inside.

My thighs were aching for a few days after I returned to Bagan and Yangon - something strange because I only get aching thighs after a steep climb. So either the steps in Mount Popa were relatively steep for my level. Or maybe I was climbing at top speed to get away from those darn monkeys.

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