Monday May 20, 2013
Photo by Greg Rodgers
From Bangkok to Rajasthan in India, the sputtering, three-wheeled motorcycle taxis known as tuk-tuks clog Asian streets.
I've logged countless hours in tuk-tuks, even survived a fender bender in one, but I still get both excited and filled with dread when I first approach a driver.
Which isn't too often, anymore. The reality -- which tourists aren't supposed to know until they learn the hard way -- is that metered, air-conditioned taxis in Bangkok are often cheaper than taking tuk-tuks with no meter. The fare you pay for a tuk-tuk is completely determined by your negotiating skills and how (dis)honest your seasoned driver happens to be.
Think of that old cliche of a sketchy guy standing on a street corner, chewing a toothpick and flipping a nickle into the air. His eyes light up as you approach; he just hit the lottery.
You can smell the scam coming.
But sometimes it's fun. With literally thousands of tuk-tuks competing for lanes and passengers, drivers often go out of their way to stand out.
Some tuk-tuks have more flashing lights and psychedelic decoration than a party circa 1970. Cambodia even launched a fleet of tuk-tuks boasting Wi-Fi, but how you could do anything productive in one is beyond me.
While sucking down rush-hour exhaust fumes is a novelty the first few times, shouting "no" to the driver's up-sell attempts can grow old. I've had tuk-tuk drivers offer me everything from women to tours. The oldest scam in the books is to give you a low fare in exchange for stopping at a few shops -- where the driver receives fuel vouchers -- along the way.
So, if you've never taken a ride in a tuk-tuk before, go for it -- roaring along in traffic is certainly a rite of passage for travelers in Asia. But if you just need to get from point A to B, taxis are a roomier, if not predictable, option!
Thursday May 16, 2013
Photo by Greg Rodgers
Hitting the ground for the first time in busy Asian cities can be challenging and sometimes frustrating.
Particularly if you happen to be landing in China or India, in which case, prepare for lots of attention!
While the extra attention is harmless, it can become tiresome. Along with combating jet lag your first week, you'll most likely have a healthy dose of culture shock in China as well.
From dodging mucus expulsions on the sidewalks to pushing your way through crowds, don't get overwhelmed. You'll quickly get the hang of life at local speed after a few days on the ground.
To speed your adjustment and to keep culture shock at bay, here are some tips to know before you go:
Don't worry -- the energy in Beijing is thrilling once you get the hang of things!
Sunday May 12, 2013
For years, the claim that the Great Wall of China was the only man-made structure visible from space was generally accepted as a truth.
Astronauts claim otherwise. Even Neil Armstrong and Yang Liwei, a Chinese astronaut, have said that the Great Wall is not discernible from space.
While many man-made objects such as highways are visible from a low Earth orbit, catching the Great Wall of China with the naked eye is still nearly impossible. Part of the problem is that the Great Wall is only 30 feet across at its widest, and the wall was constructed with local materials that are generally the same color as its surroundings.
In 2003 the European Space Agency again stoked the claim that the wall was visible without optics, but then later admitted that they had mistaken a river for the Great Wall.
Even if you can't see it from space, the story behind the Great Wall of China is absolutely fascinating!
Thursday May 9, 2013
Photo by Greg Rodgers
Flying isn't as fun as it used to be. No longer do people dress their finest and mill around on the plane to socialize with Singapore slings in hand.
Now passengers are happy not to get frisked too much and to arrive on time, and depending on the airline, without food poisoning!
So with all the extra effort, expense, and potential headaches involved, why travel?
Aside from the obvious benefits such as eliminating stress and coming home with photos to torture envious cohorts, travel leaves lasting personal repercussions.
I'll never forget my first trip to Cambodia. After visiting old Angkor ruins in a remote village, I was face to face with devastating poverty. Beggars, legless because of the many land mines left in Cambodia, didn't ask for money -- they asked for the last swallow from my water bottle in the suffocating heat.
When exposed to new stimulus through travel, both good and bad, you can't help but get a new perspective. Suddenly, you realize that a bad day at work isn't really all that bad after all.
A shift in paradigm is just one small benefit of international travel: