Decidedly urban couple who quit their jobs and successfully backpacked their way through Asia for a year. They met Buddha, drank baijiu and learned to master the squat toilet. Now appearing in a new life as ex-pats in Singapore.

Monthly archive June, 2011
Welcome to the Rickshaw Challenge!

Welcome to the Rickshaw Challenge!

In India one of the first things you must adjust to is the level of shit: cow shit, garbage on the street, the waft of urine from the slums as you deboard the plane in Mumbai. It seemed appropriate, given the massive amount of shit in India, that we drive the ultimate piece of shit vehicle – a two stroke, three wheeled Rickshaw.

Goa to Bombay. Seven Teams. Eight Days. Monsoon Rains. It’s the Rickshaw Challenge!

Rah!

To learn how to drive our new ride we were led to the local parade grounds or what some would call a swamp. The monsoon rains had begun and we were soaked, mud crept through our toes and the smell of compost soon overwhelmed the senses. The fun had begun!

Why won't this START?

It was here that we realized that driving a rickshaw is not nearly as easy as one would expect. A rickshaw is a bit like a lawnmower, you must pull up on the starter to start the engine. From there you use hand gears to shift and accelerate and a foot pedal to brake. It takes some getting used to but by the second day, it feels like you’ve been driving for years.

First breakdown of the challenge - Training Day!

It turns out that learning to drive is only 1/100th of the Challenge, the other part is figuring out how to repair your shaw. A rickshaw is an authentic piece of shit, breakdowns started on the first day. One team had an engine that was not mounted but rather tied on to the frame. Another team lost their muffler during the race. Many of the Shaws didn’t have a working odometers or speedometers or lights! Our big problem, initially, was that our rickshaw did not like neutral.

Breakdown AGAIN!

These may sound like trivial concerns until you’re stalled in traffic, surrounded by motorbikes, massive trucks and farm animals. Everyone is beeping and staring, and you don’t have a clue what’s wrong. You don’t know how far you’ve gone so you don’t know if you need gas, or possibly the engine came unmounted. Maybe you’re totally fucked and muffler fell off or the alternator burnt out. Or you’re simply not in neutral.

Figuring out just what has gone wrong is part of the adventure. The rest of the fun is figuring out just where the hell you’re going.

Sir, this address does not exist.

Directions in India are a big joke. There are no real street addresses instead a place is located “next to the Church” or “Near the Taj”. Once you know what landmark to ask for, figuring out how to get there is next to impossible. Everyone will always tell you to go straight. And when you attempt to confirm the directions, you are met with the famous Indian ‘yes, no, maybe so’ headbob.

What are you supposed to do when someone both shakes their head up, down, back and forth all at the same time. THIS MEANS NOTHING!

Make way for MELOVIN!

The headbobs, the breakdowns, and the directions, these are all just warm ups for the real Challenge: Driving in India. Nothing can prepare you for the sheer terror and exhilaration one feels when passing an ox-cart while driving in oncoming traffic down a 25% incline. Particularly when you’re staring right into the face of a shipping container on wheels.

Make way for the Ox cart!

India is a crazy country, and only someone mentally insane would decide to travel 1,043 km from Goa to Bombay in a Rickshaw.  But we did it, and it was fantastic.

Hallelujah!

 

 

Welcome to INDIA!

Welcome to INDIA!

Yes, it’s raining during monsoon season in Goa. Shocking.

Monsoon Season in Goa

It’s more of a light drizzle than the downpour we’ve heard so much about. In between showers the air is warm and the sea breeze blows away any remaining humidity.

It’s so lovely, so calm and peaceful that we wonder if we’re in India at all! Of course, then we see a cow crossing the street and realize that this is definitely the sub-continent.

We’re gearing up for our big rickshaw race and in the meantime we’ve thrown caution to the wind, eating at every small fly-covered teashop, food stand and beach restaurant. We’ve shot back fenni and against all warnings dined on chouriço sandwiches and all manner of chaat.

Goa is a fabulous and we’re so thrilled to finally make it to India.

Have you been to India?  What should we do, what should we eat and where should we visit? We want your advice!

 

Top 10 Best Beers in Asia

Top 10 Best Beers in Asia

Since we created a ‘Worst of Asian Alcohol‘ list, we felt it was only right to follow up by a list of alcohol that we really enjoyed -BEER. We have a fine appreciation for cheap beer and all of these brews are incredibly budget-friendly, readily available and taste mildly of dirty bath water.

Bintang at the Beach

Top 10 Best Beers in Asia

#1 Hanoi Beer– After months of backpacking we watched as the sky opened and God shined his light upon us. “Go to Vietnam,” he said. “Enjoy coffee, bread and the best beer in all of Asia.” And we did. Hanoi Beer wins top prize because you can actually taste that it is beer and not lager colored water. It’s crisp, deliciously inexpensive and best of all, you drink while sitting on child-sized plastic chairs on the side of a highly trafficked city street.

Hanoi Beer is easily consumed in mass quantities

#2 Bia Saigon Lager- Yes another beer from Vietnam because, let’s face it, beer in Asia is utter crap and Vietnam knows what they’re doing. Beer Saigon is light, watery and tastes slightly of skunk.  Perfect remedy after a day at the War Memorial Museum.

#3 Singha – Oh Thailand! If your gorgeous beaches, cheap painful massages and unusually friendly people weren’t enough to encourage me to stay another day, beer served beachside would do the trick. What kind of heaven on earth serves beer in a coozie?

Enjoying the view with a Singha in hand

#4 Tsingtao – This Chinese beer (pronounced Ching-dao) was first set up by those scrappy imperialist Germans who paid for the starting capital with Mexican silver dollars. Thank God for those Germans. Tsingtao was later nationalized, repatriated, sent to a re-education camp and given a new recipe.  Today’s Tsingtao is tangy and drinkable with a slight aftertaste of industrial run off from the Laoshan mountain.

Enjoying Mao's favorite beer

#5 Bintang Bir Pilsener– The famed Indonesian beer. Famed because every English knacker and trashtatic Australian tourist owns a sleeveless Bintang shirt and proudly struts around just waiting to tell you how much fun they had in Kuta. As long as you’re enjoying your Bintang on the beach, far, far away from the club scene in Kuta, you’re golden.  The beer is tangy but mostly tastes of salt water.

Welcome to INDIA!

#6 Kingfisher – India’s most famous bad beer, ‘The King of Good Times’. King Fisher is skunky almost to the point of cringe-worthy but still manages to be a nice compliment to a delicious Goan vindaloo. The question must be asked: In a country of 1.21 billion highly entrepreneurial Indian people, why is Kingfisher the only thing on draft? I never knew that good times taste like crappy Coors light.

#7 Gold Metal Taiwan Beer – Grab a Taiwan beer from your local 7-11, walk to a night market and enjoy the cheapest, most delicious meal of your life. Everyday is a good day for Taiwan Beer!

Our Christmas Eve meal, not complete without Taiwan beer

#8 Chang Beer – The cheaper and more alcoholic but far less tasty Thai beer. It’s known as the ‘poor man’s beer’ and it’s perfect for the day when you realize the American dollar has sunk to new lows and your backpacker budget has lost a third of it’s worth.  Rumors say that Chang is brewed with fomaldehyde, and it does have a strong ‘back of the throat’ dead body taste. Also served cold in a coozie!

Beer in a coozie.

#9 Tiger – This beer is made in Singapore which means that the government brought in the best minds in the beer brewing industry, gave them thousands of dollars and told them to recreate the wheel.  Like most things in Singapore, it’s just a sterile immitation of what you can find in other major capitol cities. But it’s on the list because it’s great to drink while dining at a hawker food stall (the one thing Singapore does really well).

#10 Hite – Koreans may know how to drink but their beer of choice is surprisingly flavorless. I would rather drink a kimchee cocktail than a bottle of clear, watery piss. Of course, after a few rounds of grilled meat and soju, Hite is shockingly refreshing.

HITE-UH!

Other contenders

Bia Hoi- The freshest beer around, brewed just that morning and made to be consumed as quickly as possible. Unfortunately it tastes like water, contains very little alcohol and leads to a startling rise in sobriety. On the plus side, you’re meant to drink bia hoi as early as possible –  who doesn’t love kegs and eggs?

Bia Hoi - fresh from the street

Beer Lao – Rumored to be highly drinkable but barely remember taking a sip. Hidden inside many, many Beer Lao bottles is a nasty, mind-altering alcoholic substance known as Lao-lao.  (Lao-Lao is a potent moonshine that is often stored in Beer Lao bottles.)  Be careful when reaching for your drink, as you may chug from the wrong bottle and throw up on the table.

Dali Beer – Dali is the perfect Chinese town and a great place to indulge in a tipple. Unfortunately the only tipple is Dali beer, which is far tastier than the other alcohol brewed in dali – plum wine. Dali beer is best chased with a huge serving of dumplings. Of course if you’re an adventurous sort, avoid the beer and head straight for Foreigners street and hit up a Ganja grannie.

Hello Dali!

Budweiser – Why, dear God? Why must American exports be so stereotypically mass produced and lacking in all quality? I think Bud is actually made from the American tears we cry as we watch the dollar die a slow, painful death.

Sadly, The King of Beers

Stone Sober in Asia (NOT REALLY)

Stone Sober in Asia (NOT REALLY)

As we’re getting ready for the last leg and potentially deadliest part of our trip (racing a rickshaw across India! Huzzah!) there are a few things that I want to reflect upon, notably how many incredible hangovers we have endured from the spectacularly awful alcohol found in Asia.

Our first morning in Asia - welcome to Korea!

Top three worst drinks in Asia

Baiju – China’s moonshine smells of paint thinner and nail polish and derives it’s uniquely foul taste from added herbs like tiger bone, bat and ginseng. One shot is enough to make grown Irish men lose their lunch. Although you don’t see many Chinamen with facial hair, I’m sure if you took off their shirts you would find a furry beast.  This shit puts hair on any chest.

Baiju is the communist drink of choice. When Chinese business men get together, the Baiju isn’t far behind. And you are obliigated to participate. This earns the top spot as the absolute worst alcohol in all of Asia. Guaranteed hangover.

Tiger bone and bat in Baiju

Lao-lao –Lao’s famous whiskey doesn’t even have it’s own bottle or brand.  This potent mixture is homemade so it could be 5 proof or 100 proof. For ultimate confusion Lao-Lao is stored in Beer Lao bottles, so be careful when taking a generous gulp from your open beer as it could very well be a fiery mouthful of clear hooch.

Lao-Lao is served at any hour of the day or night.

Rumor has it that you must take three drinks of Lao-Lao. The first is foul, the second is less bad and by the third you’re dancing with naked hill tribe people and fucking goats.

I’ve seen this happen.

Down that Lao-Lao

Soju – Soju comes in a very distant third for worst alcohol in Asia. It’s not as potent as Baiju or as omnipotent as Lao-lao, but Koreans drink like dickheads. They are the world’s most efficient alcoholics. One minute you’re enjoying a simple beer, and the next minute you’re guzzling soju from the bottle, or roaming the streets of Busan with a plastic bag filled with soju slushy.

Korean’s don’t stop.  They will drink until they pass out, even if that means sleeping on the street. And this is why soju is so bad. You drink it in excess, excessively.

Booze in a bag - Soju slushy

Finally, an honorable mention, Mushroom Shakes – For obvious reasons, this can not be considered an alcoholic drink but it will make you sick as shit.

Drink too much and you’ll see skulls swimming out of the ocean (him).  Drink too little and you won’t see anything but your stomach will cramp for hours and you’ll sit on the toilet praying to God that your bowels will rid you of those vile poisonous fungi (her).

Tred carefully: Mushroom Shakes

Asia, it’s been real. Thanks for the memories, those of them that I managed to remember.

 

The Urban Hikers play Ping Pong in Bangkok

The Urban Hikers play Ping Pong in Bangkok

Warning: This post is sexually explicit, morally questionable and potentially offensive. If you are my parents or my parent’s friends, please don’t read this. Thanks -K

Welcome to Bangkok!

When I was a child I thought that ‘Bangkok’ was a dirty word.  At the time I didn’t know that the real name for the city Bangkok is:

Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Yuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Phiman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit

In English this translates to:

The city of angels, the great city, the eternal jewel city, the impregnable city of God Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in an enormous Royal Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated god, a city given by Indra and built by Vishnukam

None of this matters at all because what you really want to know is:  While in Bangkok were you involved in the degrading, demoralizing, dehumanizing, misogynist, anti-femenist sexploitation of women?

Did you see a Ping-pong show?

To which I will say, yes. And it was a sight to behold.

A trip to Bangkok is not complete without a visit to the ne plus ultra of tourist ghettos, Khao San Road. The famed street of hostels and whores where you can not walk for 5 meters without hearing a man smacking his lips together, ostensibly the sound that ping pong ball makes when exiting a vagina. Who can resist wheezy little men who sidle up to you with an overpriced drink list and a promise of sexual depravity?

Not us, apparently.

Cheap! Cheap! Sexy Lady! Cheap!

We soon found ourselves exiting a tuk-tuk and walking down the tiny, raucous Patpong alley where you could pursue the market for a handbag, purchase some fashionable Ray Bans or pop into one of the dozens of strip clubs that line the street.

I chose to look at the handbags. That’s right.  We went all the way to Patpong, walked along the street and turned right around and went home. I just couldn’t manage to walk into a club full of bored bikini-clad women, and watch them place foreign objects into their hoo-ha.

Round one winner: Moral Compass.

Patpong, Bangkok taken by bridgeandtunnelclub.com

Round two went a little differently. Notably, I was drunk so it was much easier to walk into a dark club, order a 200 baht beer and watch a 75 year old woman shoot a pellet gun with her kegel muscles.

The club was full of incredibly bored young women who stood on stage gazing soullessly at the crowd. Together we all watched as an old, skinny topless woman hopped on the stage and without  any fanfare whatsoever whipped down her panties.  She didn’t shimmy or shake or dance, she simply stepped on stage, grabbed both sides of her red underwear and pulled them down.

Grandma had the hooha of a teenager.

She enthusiastically placed a hollow stick inside herself, took aim at the floating balloons and with her legs spread wide, shot a bullet and burst the balloon. I wasn’t quite sure what I was seeing. Is it even possible to shoot a pellet out of your va-ja-ja? We watched a young guy from the audience joined her on stage, placed a balloon in his mouth and closed his eyes. POP! Yes it is possible and the woman had perfect aim.

I learned that there are a lot of things that you can do with your vagina, like open coke bottles!

I watched a man pull eight feet of multi-colored neon ribbon from a woman’s vagina. He pulled and pulled and pulled until yards of ribbon stretched across the room and gathered at his feet. I saw a woman use a straw to suck up tiny rings and gently stack them in a row. But the highlight of the night and the real reason d’etre was the ping pong show.

It’s exactly like what you imagine, except you’re HOLDING THE PING PONG PADDLE.

This I did not expect.  I didn’t realize that this was a two-player game. It wasn’t until a bright orange ball was bouncing towards my chair that I realized that I could either hit the ball back or have it touch me.

Please god, don’t let the ping pong ball touch me.

Although by this point in the night I could barely focus (having indulged in several courage boosting belgian beers) and my hand-eye coordination was severely impaired, I managed to hit almost all of the ping pong balls. Mostly because they don’t move that quickly.  The balls sort of bounced towards me rather than fly.  I assume that’s because it’s really fucking difficult to shoot a fucking ball out of your hooha.

And now we’re seen it all and there is only one thing left to do.

Tonight we leave for India where we will drive a rickshaw from Goa to Mumbai. That’s right!  It’s time for the nine-day ass numbing, death defying Rickshaw Challenge.

 

 

 


 

Human zoos and elephants

Human zoos and elephants

Four days on the Mae Hong Son loop can give you a serious case of raw-ass, but with scenery as gorgeous as what you find in Northern Thailand, raw-ass is a small price to pay.

Gorgeous views!

There are a number of strange and unusual sights to behold while scooting the loop, from elephant variety roadblocks to entire villages of longneck Karen woman. I expected to see amazing views but I did not expect  to find an entire animal kingdom on the road back to Chiang Mai.

The mahout’s (elephant drivers) couldn’t seem to understand my excitement at finding a parade of elephants in the middle of the road.  I threw my scooter to the ground and charged towards the giant beasts. “TAKE MY PICTURE!” I shouted at the guys who were walking alongside the group.

I also tried to befriend the baby elephant hiding between her mother’s legs but the entire group refused to stop walking. I guess they must encounter many overly excited white people during their afternoon strolls.

Roadside elephantal encounter

OMG! OMG! OMG! Elephants!

I didn’t have the same enthusiasm for taking a pictures of the Long Neck Karen.  The tribe is utterly fascinating. The women of this Burmese refugee tribe elongate their necks with metal necklaces, eventually crushing their collarbone and weakening their neck muscles to the point that they are unable to remove the jewelry for fear of asphyxiation. (According to some sources the women would be unable to hold up their head.) This practice is illegal in Myanmar.

Instead of living normal village life, these women are kept sequestered in a small section of houses where people (including me) pay to visit. The women sell handicrafts while dozens and dozens of tourists gawk, buy scarves and take photos. It’s a human zoo.

Long Neck Village sign

Long Neck Karen and Big Ear Karen

In between facing down elephants and losing a battle with my moral compass, I attempted to avoid the rain. I was not successful.

Seriously unsafe driving conditions

Soaking wet and in the middle of nowhere