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!
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!
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!
- Check out these Great Wall of China facts that you maybe didn't know!
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:
- See 7 good answers to the question: Why travel?
Photo by Christopher Prentiss Michel
Did you know that the Dalai Lama doesn't care much for Tibet's famous butter tea and prefers to drink it English style instead? (Freedom in Exile; 1990)
I have to agree. It was all I could do to keep one cup of the salty, fatty liquid down after ignorantly accepting a steaming cup at one of the Dalai Lama's teachings in McLeod Ganj, India, last year.
But at least the traditional tea was free. As was the small teaching. Unfortunately, that is not the case for the Dalai Lama's upcoming tour in America which starts in the next few days.
Tickets -- which are controlled by a notoriously expensive third party -- are now as expensive as $113 for the Louisville, Kentucky, teaching. Ouch.
Since the Dalai Lama never accepts any fees for when he speaks, I hope that at least some of that money makes it back to the Tibetans in need.
Photo by Greg Rodgers
Indonesia is ridiculously big.
Not only is it the world's fourth most populous country, there are more than 17,000 islands spread widely to choose from!
Deciding where to go in Indonesia is not an easy task. While a bulk of visitors go to Bali and only Bali, that's only one island out of thousands.
And Indonesia is not just big geographically. The different, discontinuous regions all have their own unique dialects, food, customs, and religions. Sometimes changing places in Indonesia is like changing countries.
So whether your plan is to enjoy island paradise in places such as the Gili Islands or to compare machete-sharpening notes with former headhunters in the jungles of Sumatra, you can find whatever makes the most memorable trip.
Use my new places to visit in Indonesia guide to choose one or several of Indonesia's adventurous regions to visit!
Stringer / Getty Images
You can't go far in America without coming across a small, yellow-signed Chinese restaurant tucked away in the neighborhood shopping strip.
And they all have one thing in common: the menu!
On a trip to China you won't actually see many of those 'Chinese' favorites that tend to taste the exact same from restaurant to restaurant. Chinese food buffets in America are nearly identical copies of each other.
A few offerings were adopted from authentic dishes, but a majority were created in San Francisco's Chinatown during the 1950s. Since China was still largely closed to Westerners, the food was never actually debunked and became what we know to be Chinese food!
- Learn about authentic Chinese food.
Photo is Public Domain
Whether you're planning on a trip to South Korea or just want to be courteous at your favorite Korean restaurant, learning how to say hello in Korean is easy!
In fact, you don't even have to learn different greetings for the various times of day or worry about tones as you do in Chinese and Thai.
The primary concern when saying hello in Korean is to show enough proper respect. Just as you probably wouldn't -- or at least shouldn't -- say "what's up" or "heya" to someone important at home, the same rule applies for other languages.
- Here's a five-minute lesson for how to say hello in Korean.
And here is a hub for learning the greetings in many Asian languages:
- The simplest ways to say hello in Asia for each country.
Photo by Joe Hastings
Who says retirement has to be boring?
About to turn 72 years old, Bill Worth from Fargo, North Dakota, is currently making an attempt on Mount Everest -- the tallest peak in the world.
Bill, the owner of Worth Construction, is climbing Mount Everest with his 28-year-old daughter, Carolyn. What a way for some father-daughter time!
If successful, Bill Worth will knock out Bill Burke's current title as the oldest American to summit Mount Everest.
Photo by Greg Rodgers
Songkran, the Thai New Year celebration, began today.
While enthusiastic kids were probably already splashing people, the northern city of Chiang Mai has chaotically turned into the world's biggest water fight.
- Read about the Thailand Water Festival.
The old tradition of blessing people with a sprinkle of water comes at the perfect time. Temperatures in April are usually scorching and residents have already suffered through months of poor air quality due to uncontrolled burns in the hills.
But why bless people with just a sprinkle when you can really bless them with a drenching?