Visiting Kerala and the Periyar Wildlife Reserve

One of our most popular YouTube videos is of Tara and I riding and bathing an elephant at Elephant Junction in Thekkady, India. The whole experience was extremely memorable, and it was just a puzzle piece in our month-long exploration of the southwestern Indian state of Kerala. It ended up being one of our favorite regions we visited during the two and a half months we traveled around the country.

Tara and Bina share a bath together.

Tara and Bina share a bath together.

Most tourists who visit Kerala choose to sightsee in four cities: Kochi, Alleppey, Thekkady, and Munnar. These are the region’s golden circle of must-visit cities for those visiting the area. We ended up visiting three of the four, skipping out on Munnar simply because it offered mainly the same activities as Thekkady but with higher accommodation costs.

Tara and I started our month-plus visit to Kerala in Kochi. More specifically, we spent about a week relaxing north of Kochi at a remote homestay on Kuzhupilly Beach. We spent our days reading, writing, jogging along the beach and enjoying each other’s company. It was a period of relaxation after a month of quick travel through the north. Continue reading

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A Guide to Buying Couture Clothing in Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An, Vietnam

A street in Hoi An, Vietnam.

The skillful tailors of Hoi An are well-known throughout the world. Many of them can trace the trade through several generations of their family, and it’s not only women who are pulling a needle and thread. With deft fingers and a keen eye, they’re known by many as master craftsmen, able to copy any design they see. If you show them a picture of a coat, suit or dress, you can expect a nearly exact replica to be produced within 24-48 hours. The best tailor shops in Hoi An are well-known, and they are the reason that Vietnamese from all parts of the country will encourage you to visit this central city.

Unfortunately, not every business operates honestly. The city has seen an increased number of tailor shops over the years because of those eager to capitalize on the influx of tourists looking for custom-made clothing. A larger variety of shops isn’t a bad thing, but the fallout of this explosion is that many of these tailors produce shoddy work. The supply has yet to exceed the demand and, as a result, some of these shops have less-qualified employees using lower-quality materials. Worse, the demand for quickly assembled clothes has led to the creation of overworked sweatshops. If you aren’t interested in giving your money to a questionable operation, read on for our tips on finding a great Hoi An tailor and how to handle the process of buying custom-made clothes. Continue reading

The Beauty of Maine [in Photos]

Mike and I just returned from an amazing week-long New England road trip. The impetus for the trip was a family member’s wedding in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. But a wedding is always a good excuse for a longer vacation, especially for two travelaholics like us!

We were staying with my aunt’s friend, Brett, outside of Boston for a few days. Since he didn’t have to work on Sunday, he offered some ideas for a day trip we could all do together, one being Maine. I’ve always wanted to go to Maine. In fact, Mike and I had even talked about starting our RTW from there. “Maine?! But isn’t that far,” I asked. Apparently not. Brett said it would be a short drive and make a perfect day trip. The three of us got into his SUV and spent the day on the road. Brett, the amazingly kind and generous host that he is, ensured we saw it all by taking Mike and I to some of his favorite southern Maine spots.

Mid-October was the perfect time to visit because the autumn weather is a little cool and the leaves are turning brilliant shades of red, orange and yellow. Between the coastline, lighthouse and lobster roll, I had the perfect first visit to Maine. Thanks, Brett!

Welcome to Maine Sign

Welcome to Maine!

Continue reading

Luxury Cruising on Ha Long Bay For a Backpacker Budget

We opted for the most inexpensive 3-day, 2-night Ha Long Bay cruise that we could negotiate. When the day came to leave, we were on pins and needles worrying whether we just made a terrible mistake.

Minibus from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay

Our minibus from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay.

That morning, we left our hotel and headed to the travel agency we booked the cruise through so they could store our large bags. At 8:15am, a tiny, wiry Vietnamese man representing FantaSea Cruise popped inside the office, “Ha Long?” We nodded and he motioned for us to board the waiting minibus. The vehicle was half full when we boarded, but after a few more stops, it was at its 18-person capacity. The man who collected us introduced himself by saying that we probably could not pronounce his name and so we should call him Peter. He would be our tour guide for the ride to Ha Long Bay pier and for the second and third day (FantaSea runs several boats each day with their own tour guide, so Peter was going on a different boat for the first day).

The ride from Hanoi takes roughly four hours with a break halfway. The rest stop is a glorified attempt to sell goods to a captive audience, but the bathrooms were clean and new and had plenty of toilet paper (always a plus in our book). The building itself had a wide array of items for sale, with an open area dedicated to workers hand-stitching patterns and images on large canvases. Scores of tourists milled inside the building as our minibuses waited outside. Continue reading

Postcard from Vietnam

Xin chào!

Greetings from Vietnam, our final country on this 421-day journey. After eating our way through nearly all of Southeast Asia (Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos), we have been loving the cuisine here in Vietnam. A lot of meat that we can’t eat, but also loads of mouthwatering seafood and delicious veggies. The landscape has also been diverse and magical. Yesterday we were in Đà Lạt, a city in the mountains, where it was rainy and cold (we were not alone in wearing jackets!). Today, only a 4-hour drive away, we are on the South China Sea in Mũi Né, a beach town, wearing our bathing suits. Vietnam is a truly fascinating country.

M&T

Postcard from Vietnam

Taking a Long-Distance Public Bus in Laos

Eating on a Bus

Mike tries to eat sticky rice with chopsticks on the bus.

Travelers through SE Asia all have their own long-distance bus horror stories. Some of them involve pothole-ridden windy roads and vomiting passengers. Others involve real danger, like an engine catching on fire or the driver falling asleep and running the bus off the road. Many people warned us about Thai and Cambodian drivers, though we never felt they were that bad. After way too many white-knuckle drives through India, everyone’s driving seems an improvement.

And then we reached Laos. They are a little more reckless than the rest, and we read a few accounts of overturned night buses. We had decided back in Cambodia that we would avoid overnight buses at all costs, and we’re trying our best to continue that in Laos. To do that, we made more stops along the way instead of just hightailing it from the south (where we entered from Cambodia) to Vientiane, Laos’ capital.

One such trip was a 10-hour bus ride from Savannakhet to Vientiane, which we were told could actually take anywhere from 8-14 hours. Many routes offer VIP tourist buses, which are supposed to be faster, more comfortable and have working air conditioning. But this route only offered a VIP overnight option, so we jumped on the public bus at 8am with the locals. We were the only foreigners onboard throughout the whole ride. Continue reading