13 bad-ass South East Asia backpacking tips for ladies

13 bad-ass South East Asia backpacking tips for ladies

backpacking tips for ladies

Have you ever wanted to go on a challenging trip into the wilderness or to test yourself on a long adventure to remote lands? I know that limited access to western comforts (such as a hot shower or –just saying- a room with a window) might seem scary if you never backpacked before. But with the right clues, even a long trip through dirt cheap hostels and sketchy bungalows can be comfortable.

Today I share my backpacking tips for ladies and my must-bring items for all the wannabe bad-ass female travellers out there. Some of the points might also be useful for men, but most of them are for dha cool ladies out there. If you are really clueless on what to bring on your trip, check out my South East Asia packing list.

backpacking tips for ladies

1. Always carry a toilet paper roll with you

Yes, yes. More than half of the world actually survives without using toilet paper (say what?!) In rural Asia you will never find it in public restrooms, toilet paper being a rare sight even in restaurants or stations. So better be safe than sorry and always carry one roll in your backpack. Watch out: toilet paper is actually considered a luxury item in developing countries. Only tourists use it, therefore it is pretty expensive compared to the rest of the toiletries.

2. Embrace the bum gun

If you’re new to the notion, please go google it and come back. The bum gun is basically a weird hose hanging behind the toilet seat. If used properly it can be of great help, considering the shortage of toilet paper. Sometimes you’ll also find the cheaper version of the bum gun, aka the bucket + the plastic pan. This might seem even scarier but gurl, there will be times that you will need it. But that’s also why you should always carry wet wipes as well.

3. Bring a padlock and a bike locker for trains

Almost every hostel has some sort of personal safe or drawer that you can use to store your valuables or even your full backpack. This is more than great, but the bad news is that it never comes with a padlock. That’s why you need to bring your own from home. Just don’t bring a massive one: it probably won’t fit. If you’re travelling on a night train, like in India, consider bringing a bike lock to secure your backpack to your bench.

backpacking tips for ladies

4. Give shampoo bars a try – unless you have curly long hair

I’ve tried to like shampoo bars. I actually really wanted to like them! I turned to shampoo bars because no matter how few liquids I carry, one will always spill and make a mess in my beauty case. The thing is that no matter how fancy they might be (I used to buy the Lush ones) they won’t be creamy enough for curly hairs. Leave alone if you have long hair and you’re constantly in a tropical humid climate and/or in and out the ocean surfing. Big no for me, unfortunately. BUT! If you’re one of those lucky girls with naturally silky air, go for it! A shampoo bar (Lush also sell “conditioners”) can last up to a month!

5. Mini flat iron + mini hairdryer

This is my guilty pleasure. But in my defence I can say that I’ve tried to live without those for a year and a half, while I was a long-term traveller and man, it didn’t work. I have quite messy hair and, unless I want to constantly have them up in a bun, I really need some trusted styling tools. Imetec does these beautiful tiny versions that are carry-on friendly.

6. Bring a clothesline with a few pegs

On a normal basis, I will gladly benefit from the lovely ladies that take care of your laundry for a few dollars in Asia. I personally think it’s a nice way to contribute to the local women’s small business. Thus said, your laundry will usually take at least 24h to be ready. Sometimes you just don’t have that time. Because you’re staying only one night in a place or because you honestly run out of panties completely. I’ve been there many times and that’s when a clothesline comes in handy. You can quickly wash a few t-shirts and undies and hang them on the roof of your hostel or on a balcony. Or even inside of your room in desperate situations.

backpacking tips for ladies

7. Ditch the common flip-flops and invest in a pair of Birkenstock

Constantly walking in flip flops will seriously hurt your back sooner or later. On the other hand, Birkenstock will always feel comfortable, even on mild hiking trails. My first pair followed me for a year and a half of jungle hikes, desert crossing, city walks and even nights out. The fact that they have a decent sole will actually take your feet out of the mud (or worse) in many situations.

8. Buy a local sim card if you’re staying 3+ weeks

Having an internet connection to be able to find your bearings on a map, to use online translators or to call the hostel can be vital when travelling. Especially as a solo woman. And even when it’s not vital, it so damn practical. We use google maps and our telephones for everything at home, why shouldn’t we when in a foreign country. Sim cards in Asia are usually super cheap and easy to get on side-road technology shops.

9. Bring your snorkelling mask from home

I always, always forget my mask home just to be pissed when I’m on a beautiful beach with no snorkelling rent operation in sight. If you like snorkelling it’s a must. With your own mask, you will actually be able to snorkel everywhere (for free) and not only went booking a snorkelling trip. Also, the quality of rented masks can be pretty poor, and having your own won’t take up too much space in your backpack.

backpacking tips for ladies

10. Scan your passport and ID card, then email it to yourself and print it

I always suggest to carry photocopies of your passport and important documents with you, but also to email it to yourself. The email is actually the safest option, but you might need a copy of your passport handy in places where’s there not a copy shop in sight for kilometres.

11. Travel pillow + earplugs + sleeping mask

This is the sacred trinity for sleeping in hostels or on planes/public transports. After a long day of travelling, the last thing you want is to stay awake because of someone else snoring or the complete lack of curtains. Always bring your sleeping kit with you and you will sleep like a baby.

12. Bring condoms

One of the most important backpacking tips for ladies is: Bring condoms. Condoms are not so easy to find in out-of-the-beaten-track destinations in Asia. Which -funny story- is EXACTLY where handsome backpackers end up to! That’s why you should bring your little reserve from home and restock when possible. Still in doubt? Picture this: do you really want to explain to a shy rural pharmacist that only speaks Burmese what you mean by “condom?!”

13. Try the moon cup

This is tricky. I know that moon cups are a bit scary for many women, but many others (myself included) find it revolutionary. It personally took me a while to get comfortable with it, but in the long run, taking the time to get used to it was a great choice. First of all, they are made of silicone which is way less irritating than tampons and pads. Secondly, you will never again run out of pads when in far-out locations or on Sunday mornings when every damn shop is closed. Third, it’s the most environmentally friendly choice you can made period-wise. Now. Sterilising can be tricky when travelling, as you may not be able to use a clean pot and a stove to boil your cup in. But FEAR NOT, I got you covered. Milton sterilizing pills (the ones that are used for baby’s pacifiers) can be used in a regular plastic container and will sterilize your cup in 15 minutes.

8 Backpackers’ paradises for the outdoor lovers

8 Backpackers’ paradises for the outdoor lovers

This week I wanted to make a selection of my favourite playgrounds around Asia and Australia. Some of them are really mainstream while others are still a bit out of the backpackers’ trail. But that’s the point, I love to travel out of the beaten path, but sometimes I also like to stop in a chill place where I can meet like-minded travellers and enjoy a laid-back routine for a while. These are places for outdoor lovers, where you can surf or hike or do yoga every day, but where you can also sleep in a comfy bungalow every night and have fresh fruits for breakfast. These are my favourite backpacker destinations in Asia and Australia.

backpacker destinations in Asia

1. Bali, Indonesia

Bali is still the ultimate backpackers’ paradise. You might have to get over the crowded shores of Kuta, but then the heart of the island will unfold into lush jungles and rice fields. Driving a motorbike up and down its green hills dotted with temples and coffee plantations is one of the most rewarding experiences I ever had in Asia altogether. Bali for me means dreamy beaches, clear water, incredible cliffs and rock formations. The outdoor lovers won’t risk boredom. If you’re into surfing, you will find breaks for any level. Waves are consistent and the water is crystal clear. You can check out all the surf spots here. The turquoise waters are also a blessing for snorkelers and divers. In Bali you can dive in the north and on the east side of the island, but also around nearby islands. Hikers can choose to trek around the rice fields or to climb Mount Batur (1700m) or Mount Agung (3000m) the two Balinese volcanos.

Where to stay: Bali has so many wonderful accommodations that it would be impossible to choose one. Just avoid busy Kuta and try to book your nights in expat favourites Canggu and Ubud.

When to Go: The dry season here is pretty long, it runs from April to November.

backpacker destinations in Asia

2. Gili Islands, Indonesia

Just 45 minutes of fast boat away from Bali you will land on three tiny paradise islands: The Gilis. No cars nor scooters here, just horses and. Gili T is the party Island, Gili Meno is a teeny tiny islet, very quiet and honeymoony, and Gili Air is the happy hippy place where I spent four days eating fresh grilled tuna and swimming with turtles. The islands are surrounded by calm waters and wonderful reefs that you can reach just swimming off the beach.

Where to stay: in every island with a little of bargaining you can win a decent bungalow with a beach view for a few dollars. But if you’re feeling spendy, opportunities are endless!

When to Go: As in neighbouring Bali, the dry season here is pretty long, it runs from April to November.

backpacker destinations in Asia

3. Pai, Northern Thailand

Pai is the backpackers’ paradise and the hippy headquarters of Thailand northern circuit. Hidden on the northern mountains, it is reachable with a 4h winding minibus ride from Chiang Mai. The chill out atmosphere, the cheap and tasty restaurants, the night markets (where we ate the best pizza in more than one year of travels), the pool with a bar and a sound system, the natural hot springs and the night parties around bonfires basically make it the best playground for backpackers. The surroundings of the village are dotted with traditional wooden huts shadowed by lush vegetation. Nature lovers will find a bunch of jungle trails that lead to waterfalls and natural hot springs. Not too far from Pai, you can also explore Tham Lot cave and visit some traditional tribe villages.

Where to stay:  I don’t really have a special place to recommend in Pai, but I can definitely recommend the guesthouse we stayed in Tham Lot: the charming Cave Lodge, one of the best guesthouses I ever stayed in my life.

When to go: November to March are the driest months. A lot of sunshine but not so much water to pump the beautiful waterfall.

backpacker destinations in Asia

4. Koh Phangan, Thailand

Koh Phangan: home of the infamous Full Moon Party that every month brings something like 200.000 people at the biggest beach party of the world. That place is legit. Way, way, way cheaper that Ibizia, Mykonos or whatever in Europe is considered a party island, Ko Phangan kicks ass. The good thing about it is that it actually gets rid of the 200.000 clubbers as soon as the morning comes. Leaving the island to the quiet, hippie paradise that it is for the rest 29 days of the month. Everything is extremely sweet here: the mix between some of the most beautiful beaches I ever seen, parties, cool travellers, good food and charming bungalows on the beach. Phangan is also the place to be if you’re into colourful and rich diving. You can also hike from the west coast the eastern on a kinda steep 2h trail. It starts from Haad Khom and goes to charming Bottle Beach. From here you can get back by boat if you’re too tired. The island also has a small kitesurfing scene if you fancy the wind sports.

Where to go: The area around Haad Rin (the Full Moon Party beach) can be three times more expensive than the rest of the island, especially around the full moon. The west coast is cheaper and quieter.

When to go: The dry season runs from mid-December to April. You can still find mostly sunny weather with the occasional storm until September

backpacker destinations in Asia

5. Siargao, Philippines

Siargao is a surfers’ paradise located in the south-west of the Philippines archipelago. It’s a tiny island covered in coconut tree forests, still untouched by mass tourism. The island has a chill-out vibe and is visited year-round by surfers and local backpackers. The only two locations that offer accommodations are General Luna and Pacifico. GL is actually where most of the surf spots are located, world-class Cloud 9 included. The island offers a lot for non-surfers as well: island hopping and snorkelling, diving, scooter driving to beautiful lagoons, yoga classes and beach parties every night, where you can meet young locals and travellers alike. This is going to be my home base from January 2018, so no need to detail further how much I am in love with the island and its lovely people.

Where to stay: I can’t recommend enough the chill and friendly Paglaom Hostel. Sunny, Koy and their cute doggies are going to make you feel at home.

When to go: The dry season in this area of the Philippines runs from March to October. For surfers, the best period is August to November, when the swell and wind conditions are at their best.

6. Noosa, Australia (QLD)

Noosa is the not-so-secret pearl of the Sunshine Coast, a long strip of beach that connects the bustling South to the jungle North of East Coast Australia. A small surfers’ town surrounded by the last stretch of the rainforest. The water is about the warmest it can get when it comes to Australian surf spots. I still had to wear my full sleeves wetsuit but I’m a spoiled Mediterranean girl used to the warmth of the South East Asian Pacific waves. There are several breaks for any level. As a beginner, I had some of my best Australian waves there. For those who aren’t into surfing, you can hike under the thick canopy of the Noosa National Park: a maze of lush jungle trails that end up in ocean viewpoints and small waterfalls. You can also kayak on the Everglades, the mysterious and tranquil mirrored waters of the wetlands. At night Noosa is alive with its casual surfers’ hangouts and a tiny but lively party scene. Backies claim that “Noosa Bug” is a thing: once you arrive here, you’ll never want to leave.

Where to stay: Halse Lodge is a YHA Australia Hostel in a marvellous historical Queenslander, the traditional wooden houses of Queensland. Vanlifers can park their vans there and use all the hostel facilities for a small fee, while long-term travellers can work a few hours here in exchange for accommodation. The chill and friendly atmosphere and small parrots that come visit at breakfast time will make you stay forever.

When to go: the dry season in Queensland runs from April to November.

7. Byron Bay, Australia (NSW)

Byron Bay is a hippie enclave in the North of coastal New South Wales. This is the place to be if you want to surf with dolphins in crystal clear waters. Which should be more than enough to go there if you ask my opinion! Surf is the biggest outdoor activity here, but you can hike and cycle in the surroundings. The coastal trail from the main beach to the lighthouse it’s just stunning. You can also rent a kayak for the day and go in search of dolphins. Not too far from Byron Bay you can hike to lush Minyon Falls, or make a day trip to Nimbin, aka the hippie capital of Australia. In the early 1970s, a group of Sydney University students choose Nimbin as the location for the Australian version of Woodstock; a counter-culture festival that celebrated art, sustainability, harmony and freedom. Many young hippies decided to stay in the area after the festival starting small businesses like alternative healers, therapists and yoga teachers. Nowadays Nimbin is a colourful, decaying, weed-powered hill community. Definitely worth a visit. If you stay long enough you can also have the chance to attend one of their famous parties.

Where to stay: Definitely stay in Arts Factory Backpacker’s Lodge in Byron Bay. It’s a 5-acres subtropical campground with tepees, bungalows, dorms, parking for vanlifers and a pool (yay!). Various workshops are available including drumming, didgeridoo making, yoga and juggling. The nights here are filled with music and artsy entertainment. A bit far out but totally worth it!

When to go: the dry season in Byron runs from April to November.

8. Pushkar, India

One of the classic stops of the Rajasthan Circuit, Pushkar is built around a sacred lake, a popular pilgrimage site for Indians. Sitting by the lake at sunset while the neighbouring temples raise their chanting prayers is a magical experience. If you’re into hiking, the real gem of the place is the Savitri Mandir, a hill temple where you can have the best 360 view of the lake and the surrounding desert. The one-hour long hike to get there will reward you with the best picture opportunities, especially if you get there at sunset or at sunrise. Despite the holiness of the place, Pushkar is also a hub for backpackers. You can start the night in one of the local bars as the Pink Floyd Café, the Funky Monkey Café or the Rainbow. Here you will meet travellers and regulars alike and will probably get invited in one of the frequent rave parties happening on the hills. Those parties are only spread by word-of-mouth, so keep an ear out!

Where to stay: I tried really hard but I can’t remember the name of the wonderful backpacker’s Haveli we stayed in! This is why you should keep a diary while travelling! Anyway, the city is filled with extremely charming (and cheap) options for backpackers.

When to go: Pushkar is dry for most of the year. You should be fine from October to May, then the monsoon kicks in.

8 things to do in North Queensland besides the great barrier reef

8 things to do in North Queensland besides the great barrier reef

things to do in North Queensland

The coast line of Far North Queensland has nothing to do with the infinite expanse of waves, sharks and surfers of the South. In this part of Australia, the rainforest dips into the ocean with its enveloping mangroves and crocodile infested estuaries. Moving northward from Cairns, the ocean takes on a greenish colour due to its swollen and angry tributaries. Not that going for a swim is an option. Here the crocs eat a human or two every couple of years. But hey, even if swimming is highly discouraged, there is plenty of adventurous things to do in North Queensland!

1. Exploring Daintree National Park

What is really amazing about this piece of coastline is the intricate and chirping density of the rainforest. The canopy is so thick that in some places the light struggles to sneak in. The drive on the Mossman Daintree Road, which crosses the park, is an attraction in itself. Forty winding kilometres under a thick canopy inhabited by trees kangaroos, “flying foxes” bats, colourful parrots, snakes of all sizes and spiders bigger than a baseball glove. Along the road you’ll find several trail heads for forest walks that range from 10’ up to 6 hours. Check them all out here.

things to do in North Queensland
things to do in North Queensland
things to do in North Queensland

2. Sunbath on stunning beaches (but don’t take a swim!)

Occasionally, you’ll pass a secondary road that stretches to the coast. In Daintree National Park, the beaches of Cow Bay, Thornton Beach and Cape Tribulation look like frames taken from a Robison Crusoe movie. Mangroves and palm trees stretch into the ocean, serving as a perfect hideout for crocs. The only beach furnishings that you’ll find here are cobwebs and fallen tree branches. In the evening, the backpackers’ vans are parked next to each other despite the empty parking, as to create a compact formation in the event of ranger raids (or crocodile’s). Free camping is not allowed here, but it’s kind of overlooked by the rangers. Vanlife tip: every beach parking has toilets and running water (one of the many reasons why I love Australia).

things to do in North Queensland
things to do in North Queensland

3. Jump with a liane in the Emmagen Creek (and actually have a swim!)

Between the things to do in North Queensland, swimming is not tipically an option. The swimming hole at Emmagen Creek is actually one of the few safe places to swim in the Daintree lowlands. Walk upstream along the creek for about 400 metres through the rainforest until you reach the deeper pools. Watch out: the water is pretty chilly because it doesn’t get a lot of direct sunlight.

things to do in North Queensland
things to do in North Queensland

4 Climb Mount Sorrow on a jungle trail

This 7km trail climbs from the coastal lowlands of Cape Tribulation, up the rainforest-clad ridge of Mount Sorrow to a lookout offering views of the beautiful Daintree coastline, Snapper Island and beyond. It’s supposed to be a 6/7 hours’ trail, but it took us around 4 hours. The trail has some steep sections but as long as you are quite fit and you’re wearing decent runners you should be fine! Remember to bring along at least 2L water per person (in the cool season). Watch out: on the top you only have a small lookout platform, there’s not really a space to have a nice picnic.

things to do in North Queensland
things to do in North Queensland
things to do in North Queensland

5. Chill by the fancy pool at PK’s Jungle village

If you are wondering where to stay in Daintree National Park, well you have plenty of options ranging from campgrounds up to fancy Eco lodges. We stayed at PK’s Jungle Village , a super cool backpackers that also offered campgrounds for van-lifers. After months of semi-solitude in the Outback, it was nice to hang out with other travellers around the common kitchen or by the wonderful jungle pool. Definitely recommended!

6. Feel some off-road adrenaline on the Bloomfield Track

Once you reach Cape Tribulation, the northern tip of the park, the asphalt road ends abruptly and turns into an off-road track: The Bloomfield Track. To continue, you need a 4WD. Even in the dry season, you have to cross a couple of streams and face extremely steep rises and slopes that usually end with a sharp turn. Without a 4wd you will likely roll ruinously in the jungle. The Bloomfield track is actually a shortcut to reach Cooktown faster, but you have to be kind of an adrenaline junkie to take it.

things to do in North Queensland
things to do in North Queensland

7. Sip a coffee in old Cooktown

Once you’re safe and sound and out of the Bloomfield Track, in a hundred rough kilometres you will reach Cooktown, the last proper town before the wild Cape York peninsula. Despite its epic past, the town itself is not super interesting. Exploding from two hundred to two thousand inhabitants in just over a decade, at first glance Cooktown might look more like an open-air yard than a real community. But willing or not, Cooktown is the northernmost point you can reach without having a serious off-road vehicle.

things to do in North Queensland
things to do in North Queensland

8 Venture to the Cape York Peninsula (only for the bravest)

The Cape York Peninsula is the largest unspoiled wilderness in northern Australia and one of the last remaining wilderness areas on Earth. Also known as “The Tip”, it is crossed by a long dirt road of nearly four hundred kilometres, crossed by actual rivers and countless off-road side tracks: a paradise for Australians adventure lovers. The ultimate trip to discover the Far North, that leads to the narrow strait that connects Australia with Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. Only for true explorers with seriously pimped up rigs!

things to do in North Queensland
things to do in North Queensland

Want more?
Browse my Australian Photo series:

THROUGH THE JUNGLE

BEACH AUSTRALIA

OUTBACK AUSTRALIA

GREAT CENTRAL ROAD

That addictive mix of hope, excitement, anticipation and fear

That addictive mix of hope, excitement, anticipation and fear

becoming digital nomad

On a frisky morning of 2009, around this time of the year, I was standing alone in a half empty airport, holding a one-way ticket to Paris. I was moving out of my hometown and of my parents’ place, on my way to my Erasmus semester. It was the first time I ever travelled alone. I was overwhelmed by a mix of hope, excitement, anticipation and fear. It was supposed to be a short Parisian get away from my otherwise fully Italian education and future, but life had different plans for me. On that frisky morning of 2009, little did I know that I’d never really come back to my parents’ hometown if not for short layovers. That I would have continued my studies in France to then relocate again and again going through 11 houses, 21 jobs and 8 Countries in a little less than ten years. But most of all, I didn’t know that I would get hooked to that one-way ticket feeling for life.

A primal crave for drastic change,
for bigger challenges,
for pressing reboot

 

I’ve seen the same hunger in backpackers and expats, fortune seekers and off the grid hippies, van-lifers of all ages and citizens of the world I met on the road. “There is not only one way” they said “we built our own”.

I’m not sure where this hunger comes from. My family isn’t really of the explorers’ kind. It might have stared on that very frisky morning of 2009, while I was standing at the airport alone for the first time. Or four years later, while I was crossing a much bigger airport clutching a one-way ticket for Australia in one hand and my then boyfriend’s in the other. He used to say that I’m a travel-bulimic: always craving for more until it gets too much. I know he’s right, but that’s the best way I know for growing as a human being. Moving, changing, binging on experiences, stories, faces and life in general.

becoming digital nomad

Back home though, some said that it was just a matter of struggling with commitment. Usually these people are those who can’t conceive a different lifestyle from their own. “Ok, you went traveling, but now you’re back and it is time to adjust to real life.” I never got this thing of real life. I fear that many people use “real” because they’re ashamed of using less flattering adjectives. As I see it, for someone with my education, real life usually means spending most of the day at work staring at a computer screen, to then go out and squeeze whatever is left of your life into a 2-3 hours’ window before passing out in bed. Moreover, life in big cities is expensive AF and working ten hours a day barely gets you by. But hey, you got to save some cash to buy yourself a decent car and maybe one day open a mortgage for a nice small house in the suburbs. And don’t be such a fool to believe that someone is going to pay you back when you’ll be retired, so you better start saving for that as well.

becoming digital nomad

Despite all of that freaked me out, I tried. I really, really tried. In 2015, after coming back from almost two years of work-and-travel, I pushed myself in the 9-to-7, steady income, subscription at the gym and to the phone company lifestyle. Of course the cracks were plainly visible from day one, but I tried to push through. Despite I always worked as a freelancer, I still struggled with the amount of time I spent in an office. I cried almost every given morning when crossing Milan on my way to work. Anxiety and numbness came in waves and I never really got to love (or even like for that matter) the city. But hey, you got to adjust to real life sooner or later right? Especially if you’re almost thirty! I got to the point where sometimes I stayed late in the office kinda-working just because I had nothing else to do outside that interested me. All of my friends were still working anyway. That actually scared me out for real. So I cracked. As I always knew I would.

becoming digital nomad

On 2017 new year’s eve I was sitting around a bonfire on a small island of the Philippines with a mixed bunch of people I met just days before. Each and every one of us was in their twenties going thirty and struggling with the rat race. Some of them just jumped out of it, the others were figuring out strategies. That’s when I decided that I would give myself another year to understand if the real life really wasn’t for me, to give love the chance to make up for all the rest, or to find the courage to really go freelancing outside of my comfort zone, to travel extensively alone and to face for another time that mix of hope, excitement, anticipation and fear that only a one-way ticket can give you.

becoming digital nomad

I spent the year asking myself what it would be like to do that alone, with no boyfriend on my side. This required a lot of peace-making with my infinite traveling-couple souvenirs and to find the courage to take the leap as a solo woman and becoming digital nomad. Strangely enough (or maybe not) I didn’t really meet any real life advocate anymore, instead I kept meeting free women from all over the world that did choose to jump on that train made of hope, excitement, anticipation and fear and were happy with it. Top level marketers that travelled the world and became surf teachers. Airways hostess that quit to surf full time and freelance under a palm tree. I reconnected with girlfriends of mine that have called at least half of European countries their home or explored the world on their own since they were nineteen. And then I talked to my beloved mum, my all-time role model and biggest supporter. A woman that considers even a short day trip outside of her hometown a tiring chore. She said “I’m scared off my mind, but go girl. Go and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t because you’re a woman. You want to be an explorer? So just be it.”

So let be it.

becoming digital nomad
Travel back in time in this 8 wicked locations around the world

Travel back in time in this 8 wicked locations around the world

One of the things that really thrills me when it comes to travel, is the feeling of going back in time. I love the poetry of places that have kept strong customs and tradition for centuries. Those which stay true to their culture, either because of the scarcity of contact with the outside world or for the pride of their people. This is pure travel magic for me.
Today I collected eight of this magical places. Some are easy to reach, while others are hidden corners of rural regions that I found strolling around with a motorbike and that I would struggle to place on a map myself. Or maybe I just want to keep them secret for a little bit longer. But you can read their story and see some pictures further below. So keep on reading and follow me in this very special trip back in time.

 

Places to travel back in time

1. The holy city of Varanasi, India

Varanasi is a place of life and death. India’s oldest and holiest city, it has been sitting on the sacred waters of Ganges since 1200 BC. The ones who get cremated on its shores attain peace, stopping the endless reincarnation cycle. Varanasi is quintessential India: sharp contrasts, devoted spirituality, dirt, flowers, life, sickness, death. Everything happens under the sun: the funeral processions, the chanting and the burning never stop. The codified movements of the low cast wood porters and the experienced acts of the corps burners have been unchanged for centuries. The same goes for the traditional wooden boats, the crumbling temples and buildings, the sunset puja ceremony at Dashashwamedh Ghat, the sadus, the pilgrims bathing just a few meters downstream of the burning ghats, the ladies washing their laundry, the lepers, the wandering cows, the stray dogs and the goats. Everything is timeless.
[SEE ALL VARANASI PICTURES]

 

Places to travel back in time

2. The hill tribes’ villages around Kentung, Myanmar

The small town of Kentung is hidden between the mountains of Shan State, in the eastern Myanmar area known as the Golden Triangle, where China, Thailand and Myanmar meet. A place full of charm and history, once renown for the cultivation of opium and drug trafficking. The surrounding area is the home of more than 30 local ethnicities like Akha, Lahu, Wa and of course Shan. You can spot tribes people at the local market early in the morning, sometimes donning colourful traditional costumes. But the best way to meet them is hiking or biking to their hill villages. One of my biggest regrets is that the day of the hike I felt super sick, so I only have a few poor pictures and I couldn’t really hike a lot. We weren’t hiring any guide; we just went around the area with two local motorbike drivers. We met Akha ladies with black theeths, local men dragging huge logs for construction, armed hunters (with rifles dating back to the 50’s) and we crossed a couple of villages with wooden made aqueducts and every sort of wind chimes. Probably one of my best experiences in Myanmar.
[SEE MYANMAR GALLERY]

 

Places to travel back in time

3. The hidden fishing island of Pulau Weh, Indonesia

Pulau Weh is a tiny island north of Sumatra. It’s the northern tip of Indonesia. Miraculously spared from the 2004 tsunami, Pulau Weh is a fishermen’s island slowly converting to tourism (the enforced Sharia law still keeps the crowds at bay). A mecca for divers, it still holds the feeling of a lost paradise covered in jungle. Riding a motorbike all around the island is an adventure in itself. The winding single track road crosses the thick jungle and the local monkey’s territory. Be mindful if you meet one sitting in the middle of the road staring at you, that’s their home and they’re ready to fight for it!

 

4. Folegandros, the forgotten Cyclade, Greece

This tiny pearl of the Cyclades is a couple of hour boat ride from crowded Santorini and Ios. Probably because of its famous neighbours, Folegandros has been spared by mass tourism. Its bare hills are mostly populated by goats and dotted with white and blue orthodox churches. Almost ten years ago, while hiking there with friends, I heard silence for the first time. Most of the fishermen live downhill, close to the port or in the Chora (the main village), a place where time seems to have stop fifty years ago. The cobblestone lanes are lined with white and blue houses decorated with colourful flowers. The local eateries often display the catch of the day, so it’s not rare to see octopus hanging on a line outside of a restaurant. The dream-like turquoise beaches are usually reachable only on foot, hiking for a good hour. If you get lost, do not fear: ask the local toothless men. Some of them are so old that they can still say a few words in Italian.

 

Places to travel back in time

5. The mountain district of Val Brembana, Italian Alps

The valley of the river Brembo, aka Val Brembana, connects the smooth Bergamo hills with the high peaks of the Italian Alps. This is a wonderful place to go hiking, with paths ranging from mildly steep to vertical ice peaks. The communities that live here are mostly tiny villages scattered on the slopes of the valley. A bunch of stone houses perched upon cobblestone lanes and an old church. The feeling of history and remoteness lingers there all year long, but the best time to visit is in summer, when communities are alive with local Patron Saint festivals, which usually include a Catholic rite, traditional dancing, music and a shitload of local tasty food. Unmissable.

 

6. The lush rural villages in Barisal region, Southern Bangladesh

This is an example of what I mean by not being able to locate a place on the map anymore. I went to Bangladesh in 2014, following my aunt while she was checking on the many projects she built there with her NGO. Southern Bangladesh is a thick jungle full of water and life. Rivers, ponds and lotus flowers are the typical rural scenario there. Following the maze of tracks that cross the rice fields and the fishing ponds, you end up in tiny villages made of straw huts. Their curious people can be Muslim, Indus or even Catholic. I was there just after the rice harvest. The grains were laid out on a cloth to dry in the sun. So were dung patties, used as a stove fuel.
[SEE BANGLADESH GALLERY]

 

Places to travel back in time

7. Hill tribe villages around Tham Lot, Northern Thailand

Another gem of the Golden Triangle is the Mae Hong Son region in Northern Thailand. Bordering Myanmar, for decades now it has been the home of local tribes as well as of refugies from Myanmar. From the lush village of Tham Lot you can start long hikes on the hills, were local families don’t wear the old costumes anymore but still keep their legacy alive, staying in traditional huts and living off farming and the spare cow or chicken.
[SEE NORTHERN THAILAND GALLERY]

 

8. Oudong, the former royal capital of Cambodia

I know that when thinking of timeless Cambodia, the mind goes straight to the centuries-old Angkor Wat temples. Which surely is a wonderful display of Khmer history, but it’s also jam-packed with tourists all year long, so that it’s not easy to feel the magic. A lesser known historical site is city of Oudong, the former royal capital of Cambodia, a few kilometers away from Phnom Penh. A complex of temples and palaces from the 19th century, nestled in a thick jungle inhabited by a band of monkeys. Climbing the 509 stone steps to the hill top temple will reward you with astonishing views of the surrounding countryside. That’s the thing, all around there isn’t any touristy infrastructure. Instead, the countryside is dotted with rural villages bustling with life. People going around for their daily chores in old Vietnamese bicycles. Kids going to school in outdated (but super cute) uniforms, chickens running, everyone shouting hello and eventually pointing in the direction of Phnom Penh for you: the dusty red tracks that connect one village to the other have no road signs. [SEE CAMBODIA GALLERY]

Ninja Packing: how to travel with a 6kg carry on

Ninja Packing: how to travel with a 6kg carry on

south east asia packing list

Ninja Packing is a fine art that you can master with time and experience. As a former long-term traveller, I learned the hard way that the less the better, even if travelling for shorter trips. Travelling with a carry on can be more than sufficient for most destinations and will allow you freedom of movement while sparing you a lot of stress.

The priciple of ninja packing is that the less you carry the less you’ll stress. Carrying around plenty of clothes means struggling with the weight when travelling and stressing out when trying to figure out the right outfit. On the other hand, carrying less allows you to have a few stress-free, preplanned outfits that you just have to wash more frequently. Laundry is usually cheap and easy worldwide and, trust me, an extra laundry is better than carrying around plenty of smelly clothes just because you have enough.

Ninja packing is not an exact science though. Wheater conditions, planned activities, sports and the lenght of the trip can make a huge difference. Thus said, over the years I fine-tuned my basic South East Asia packing list (or for warm Countries in general) and I’m pretty happy with my less than 6kg carry on 50L backpack.

south east asia packing list
south east asia packing list

How to choose the right backpack

I travel with a Decathlon 50L backpack with front zipper and rain cover (bought separately). The front zipper is key, because it allows you see the full content of your backpack if you pack it properly. I find the 50L size super flexible. In its full capacity it can be used as a hold luggage for long trips or for journeys that need both light and warm clothes. When used for warmer climates though, it can be filled partially (all external pockets must be empty) and actually fits as a carry on.

I also carry a daypack that can be folded and put away when on planes. This one varies depending on the trip. If I have to hike a lot, I will take a proper outdoor backpack and if I have to carry my laptop I will have a properly padded one. In this case I’m stayng two weeks in Portugal and I wanted something sturdy enough to go hiking and at the beach, but also nice enough to be weared with dress and sandals at night.

Being sure that all your clothes,
shoes and accessories match
is a key point of ninja packing

My South East Asia packing list

Clothes

4 panties + 2 pairs of socks + 2 bras

2 t-shirts

2 shorts

2 beach robes

1 sleeping T-shirt

1 dress

1 long trousers

1 light sweater

1 rain jacket

1 comfy shoes + Birkenstock + plastic flip flops

Personal Care

Travel toothbrush + toothpaste

Bar of soap + mini shampoo and conditioner

Mascara + concealer + pencil eyeliner + lipstick

Mini deodorant

Disposable razor

Brush

Mini SPF + Mini aloe cream for burns + SPF lipbalm

Mosquito repellent (with +50% DEET)

Mini hair straightener

Condoms (they're not so easy to find in SEA)

Travel essentials

Sleeping mask + Ear plugs

Sunglasses

Locker for hostels

Head lamp

Inflatable travel pillow

Moneybelt

Camera / Iphone / Kindle + chargers

Medicines

Maalox (antacid)

Dissenten (anti-diarrheal)

Buscopan (antispasmodic for angry bellies)

Ciproxin (broad-spectrum antibiotics)

Cortisone cream (for insects sting or burns)

Antihistaminic (for allergic reactions)

Paracetamol + Ibuprofen (painkillers / fever treatment)

Disinfectant + Plasters

Beauty and awareness. Why backpacking in developing countries is not just about saving money

Beauty and awareness. Why backpacking in developing countries is not just about saving money

M ost of my longest journeys have been through South East Asia and in the Indian sub-continent. South America is just next on my bucket list. In the backpackers’ world, these two maxi regions are a destination of choice for many. An interesting aspect that they have in common is that they are both characterized by a predominance of developing countries, with large poverty-stricken areas, unstable political situations, scarce social justice and deeply-rooted corruption.

Despite being popular in the backpackers’ world, these destinations can leave friends and families a bit puzzled, if they aren’t accustomed to long distance travel.

  • “Why the hell do you need to cross half the world to stay in hostel with 10 other people in a dorm without a flush toilet?!”
  • “What’s the point of traveling to a Country ruled by a dictator?”
  • “Will you have enough medical support if you get sick?”
  • “Are you ok with seeing all that poverty while on vacation?”
  • “We have wonderful beaches here in Italy, people come from all over the world to see them, and you want to go to the Philippines just for a beach vacation?!”

These are some of the most common objections I get from non-so-frequent travellers and the elders of my family and colleagues.
Of course one of the reasons for the popularity of developing countries is the low cost of life. Food, accommodation and bus rides are way less expensive than in the western world. Traveling for a month in South East Asia can only cost a fraction of a month of everyday life in a major European city.

But being dirt cheap is not
the only reason that leads me,
and many others,
to travel to developing countries.
Here are some more meaningful ones.

 

Southern Bangladesh
Southern Bangladesh

1 – Enjoying Raw natural beauty

Lush forests to dreamy beaches; thick juggles to volcanoes; corals reef and surf breaks. Tropical Countries are a paradise for nature lovers. Some of my favourite places are Bali and the Gili Islands, Thailand Beaches and the Northern Forests of the Golden Triangle

2 – Witnessing a very different culture.

The further you go, the more different will be the traditions, the way of living and the customs. Your curiosity is as big as the locals’, ad you can end up in very interesting conversations or just in funny exchanges of pointing and laughing. By traveling this far you discover that the westerner way of living is not the only one, and for some of us may not be the best. In terms of cultural heritage, the place that struck me the most is Angkor Wat and its temples in Cambodia.

 

Cabo de Rama, Goa
Palolem, Goa

3- Traveling back in time

This is my favourite one. I realized this in India, where it is pretty evident. Traveling in a Country that hasn’t been completely overturned by modernity and technology and that jealously preserves its colours and culture is simply magic! When wandering through the streets of Varanasi, you can sense that nothing has changed for thousands of years. Same cows wandering freely in the narrow lanes, same crumbling buildings, same hustlers, same religious traditions. At a funeral, the family follows the porters crisscrossing through the narrow lanes, keeping the crowd at bay by chanting and ringing bells. Rags covered wood-porters march with their heavy loads to the burning Ghats. The legend says that the flames of the funeral pyres at Manikarnika Ghats have been burning for some 3,000 years. Being able to witness such an ancient ceremony for me is just pure time travel magic. Check out my Varanasi photo set.

4 – Developing awareness of the international social and political issues

Witnessing poverty and social injustice really open our eyes on the world problems. Experiencing developing countries living conditions or listening to stories from the locals is way more powerful and conscience-awakening than just reading an article on the news. Going to see with our own eyes is necessary, considering that these places usually do not make the news in the western world. Learn more about Burma here or have a look at the pictures I took there.

Varanasi, India
Varanasi, India

5 – Acknowledging how blessed we are

Another effect of witnessing poverty and social injustice is gaining perspective on our own lives. It made me reconsider how many things I took for granted. How lucky I am to be born in a country at peace and never having experienced war or sickness. Lucky to live in a democracy; to live in a Country that (at least on paper) consider man and women equal, where birth control pills and abortion are legal, where medical care is good and free for everyone, as it is school; where police and justice is not (so) corrupt. I’m sure that many of my fellow nationals may have a say on this. In some case I may agree with them but, in the big picture, seeing the living conditions of developing countries made me reconsider my daily complaints and sorrows. See my photo series on Rural Bangladesh and my Bangladeshi portraits.

6 – Discovering that, when it comes to the human race, affinities are more than differences

I learned that despite the differences we are all the same people. When it comes to feelings, many things are the same wherever in the world. The love of a mother that feeds his newborn while waiting for a train in India, the worry of a wife in the Philippines when she tells the story of her husband being attacked by a shark, the colourful happiness of kids playing in front of a school in Bangladesh, the crankiness, or the kindness, of old people. Joy, anger, sadness, fear, love: we do feel them in the same all over the world. We’re all humans.

Traveling by train in India
Jaisalmer, India

7- You don’t need so much to be happy

Who doesn’t enjoy luxury, in theory? Staying in an infinity-pool-hotel with an extra-large suitcase, filled with fancy dresses. Well, Asia taught me that being bare foot on the grass, wearing the same three plain outfits for weeks and sleeping in an open dorm with ten other people without flushing toilets nor hot showers is enough to make me the happiest person in the world. Having a laid back lifestyle, waking up with the sun and being surrounded by interesting people and fierce nature is eye opening on how many bullshits our rich Westerner society consider necessary to be happy. Discover my dearest paradise island in the Pilippines.

Things I’ve learned from life on the road during my Australian Working Holiday

Things I’ve learned from life on the road during my Australian Working Holiday

working holiday australia

Twenty-four thousand kilometres of road tripping
Twenty nationalities encountered on the road
Nine months of work
Five States
Four climatic zones
Three oceans
Two lovers
One van

Oh-man, my Australian year was intense! We mostly spent it travelling. In every way that a person can travel. We roamed through forests, deserts, steppes, big cities, countryside, pastures, beaches and mountains. We also worked quite a bit, with jobs that ranged from burning fields to serving tables in a sailor attire, from smashing rocks with a tractor to cleaning toilets, from cooking for a crew of starving cowboys to housekeeping in an ocean front hostel. My first year of long-term travelling teach me many lessons, that’s sure. So here are some of them!

Everything you need can fit in a 50L backpack

While traveling long-term I learned to get rid of the superfluous. Everything that you own has to be carried around, sometimes even on your back. We bought a van as soon as we got to Australia, but even if its storage space was larger than a 50L backpack, it had to be shared with utilities and gear. Living on the road makes you reflect on how many unnecessary things we cumulate in our spoiled westerners lives.

You won’t always love the road

While I loved the ghost towns of the outback, the endless expanses of cows and sheep, roadside sleeping and waking up with the sun, I also hated the endless drives, the humidity in the van when it rained, the broken back, the confined space, the flies, the heat. Long-term travelling can also get boring after a while, I swear! But this will be the subject of another post.

Living on the road creates many more occasions for learning and meeting interesting people than living in one place.

We’ve been surrounded by friends and alone like hermits. We changed five houses, bought and sold a van, a surf, two bikes and a pair of shoes. We dived to see the corals and we searched the sky to spot the eagles. We have seen kangaroos, koalas, goannas, crocodiles, opossum and a whole lot of marsupials of every shape and size. But most of all, we shared the road with such a diverse humanity that we would have hardly ever met otherwise.

We worked with cowboys from Queensland. Lads that in their twenties are already married with kids and leading giant cattle stations. We lived with the nomads of Coral Bay, who sold everything in exchange for a motorhome and a seasonal job by the ocean. We mixed with the Melbourne hipsters, with their festivals, horse races, and trendy restaurants. We talked to Aborigines, either sober or not, and with Australians who never left their island and asked if Milan was by the ocean. But also with other Australians that have travelled the world and worked as agricultural pilots in Tanzania. We met Israeli vacationers and exiled Iranians; Korean dishwashers and Nepalese bartenders; Italians who took the working holiday in Australia for the Erasmus in Spain and, above all, we met many, many Chinese.

Even when the situation looks desperate, remember that behind every defeat there’s an opportunity

In Melbourne I changed five jobs. Each time I had to scout for a new one, I cycled the whole city and its suburbs exploring hidden lanes, ethnic enclaves and outlet districts. I had a laugh with shopkeepers, drank coffee with coffee makers and always ended up finding a job after the other, meeting new people and finally finding myself invited at two Christmas parties on the same day.

No matter how much you know that racism is wrong, it is always around the corner

In Melbourne I worked in a restaurant for a while and I soon learned that Chinese customers where the toughest. Because of the huge cultural difference, they treated the staff in a way that in the western world was considered impolite at best. Chinese table after Chinese table that treated me like a slave, I discovered that slipping into racial hatred is easier than you might think. Staying true to your values can be difficult when people keep calling your attention by snapping their fingers and shouting orders every five seconds.

I experienced what does it mean to be treated as an economic migrant

We moved to Oz in 2013, while in Europe (and in Italy in particular) the economic crisis was still raging. Although we went to Australia to explore (working was just a way to sustain our travels) we were often judged as economic migrants. The immigration policies also started to tighten that year because of the government shifting to the right. I have been reconfirmed that there are a thousand reasons behind migrating but only one behind the intolerance: ignorance.

 

It contributed to define my European identity

I learned that Australia is beautiful but I can’t live there. I missed Europe as much as I missed my family and friends. It is part of my heritage, my culture and myself as a person, and living so far from my loved ones and from my continent it’s not an easy choice. Spending one year in another western country yet so different from my own helped me put into perspective the issues that we have in the Old Continent and to value its culture and beauty. Even if I’ve been back for three years now, I still appreciate Italian and European wonderful scenery and distinctive customs and traditions with tourist eyes (at least most of the time :D). Last but not least, comparing myself to Australians I noticed how closer we are between us Europeans. I spent my childhood and youth being defined as the one from the little village, then the one from Bergamo, then the Italian. In Australia all this regional differences seems to fade away in the big picture.

Travelling is addictive.
You can overdose and get sick about it,
but once you’re hooked you can’t help it.
The siren call of nomad life
will always sing
in the back of your head.

Want more?
Browse my Australian Photo series:

GREAT CENTRAL ROAD

OUTBACK AUSTRALIA

BEACH AUSTRALIA

Life-saving tips to travel in South East Asia by motorbike

Life-saving tips to travel in South East Asia by motorbike

South East Asia by motorbike

This is not a post for people that have never driven a scooter in their lives and decide to give it a try in Ko Phangan to reach the Full Moon Party. Which, by the way, it’s something that I don’t recommend considering that Ko Phangan has probably the steepest roads of Thailand, usually followed by sharp turns. You’ll see plenty of bandaged backpackers there; they call it “the Thai kiss”. Anyway, this post is for the experienced drivers, the ones that are comfortable with bike riding at home and want to travel independently and adventurously. Long distance travel by motorbike in South East Asia is for motorbike lovers, those who do not fear dust, misadventures and a fair amount of super-fast and life-challenging decision making.

If you fit this description, check out my guide for travelling around South East Asia by motorbike!

Getting the bike:

  • Get an international driving licence before you leave home. Not that it’s really needed, but this is just one of the trillions of excuses that a local policeman will find to fine you.
  • Make sure that your travel insurance covers motorbike accidents.
  • If possible, rent (or buy) from a local place that has been suggested to you by fellow travellers (either online or live). This way you will probably find a seller / renter that speaks English and is kinda trustable. Otherwise, if you feel rich, rent from a foreigner business. You will find them in major cities. They are definitely twice or trice more expensive than local business but you will actually get insurance and a customer service.
  • Choose the most common model on the market. In Asia it’s Hondas. Choosing a common model is fundamental to be able to find spare parts easily along the journey (yes, the bike will break down, it’s a matter of fact).
South East Asia by motorbike
  • If your bike breaks down, you will have to pay for the mechanic even if it’s not your fault and you just rented it 2 days ago. Don’t be afraid, it’s usually minor fixies that will cost you a few dollars. Anyway, it’s always a good idea to have the mechanic to call the renter. This way they can agree on the solution to the bike problem and you’ll probably get a better deal.
  • If the bike gets stolen, you’ll have to pay for it. Same for accidents. This is always true, road insurance is almost never included (it never was in my experience)
  • It is normal to leave your passport to the renter as an insurance that you won’t stole the bike. It’s a common practice that everyone requests. Just take a big breath and trust the renter (but carry photocopies on you). If you’re pulled over, the police will ask for your licence but is well aware that the renter has probably kept your passport as a guarantee.
  • Renting from locals is cheap, but you won’t have a big choice of bikes. Usually they rent only 100cc or, when you’re lucky, 250cc up to 600cc (that only happens in the most tourist destinations like Bali). If you’re planning a long trip, rent one bike per person. Please don’t assume that you can travel with your girlfriend behind you just because you do it back home. Even if you rent the biggest and “comfiest” bike, you will still have to secure some luggage behind the passenger. The restricted space, the dust, corrugated or semi paved roads and the hectic traffic will be a little too much if you’re travelling on the same bike of your partner. I tell you this from experience.
  • Always ask for a helmet. I know that wind in your hair is the best feeling ever and that locals almost never wear helmets, but please, do. First, because driving in South East Asia is crazy dangerous most of the time. Secondly, because not wearing a helmet is a popular excuse for police to fine you (even if no one else wears it).
  • On police: avoid them. If you see a patrol on the right side of the road, drive as left as you can. Do not stop unless you really have to (like there’s a bunch of cops on both sides of the road).
South East Asia by motorbike
South East Asia by motorbike

What to do if the police stop you

In South East Asia you will notice that locals travel on motorbikes in a very creative way. You will cross entire families of six on the same scooter, people carrying animals (dead or alive) or transporting massive loads of goods. Sometimes I even crossed people driving with a sick relative behind them, who was carrying a medical drip along. Despite this street anarchy, you will notice that policemen tend to stop only pale foreigners. They will then fine them for whatever tiniest problem they may or may not have (no helmet, no local licence, lights not working, speeding, running a red light, you name it). This happens because fines are a big part of their wages. That’s exactly why you should avoid them as much as possible, but if the police stop you, remember to:

South East Asia by motorbike
South East Asia by motorbike
  • Take the keys out of the bike and put it in your pocket. This is the first and most important thing to do straight away. If a policeman gets hold of your keys he will be able to ask you whatever amount of money to give them back to you.
  • Have a close look on where your documents go if you hand them out to the police (for the same reason of above).
  • Don’t be scared by the random menaces (“you will have to come to the police station with me” / “we will take your bike”). Try to play it cool and negotiate your way out.
  • Start haggling the “fine”. Propose at least half of what they ask and keep on bargaining. Police “bribes” standards vary a lot from Country to Country. In Cambodia, 1 to 5 dollars is considered ok for minor issues, while in Bali they asked us 30$. Just keep it cool and work it out like it was just another market negotiation.
South East Asia by motorbike
South East Asia by motorbike

Unwritten rules of the road

In Asia they honk a lot. But fear not, there’s always a good reason. With so many vehicles doing whatever on the road, honking means “watch out I’m moving close to you”. So it is usually a life-saver used to signal overtaking, turning, sudden U turns or simply that someone close to you is going to do something risky.

South East Asia by motorbike
South East Asia by motorbike
  • Before overtaking, always check that no one is overtaking you already and then honk while you accelerate. While you do this, you may notice that someone else is doing the same manoeuvre in the opposite direction. Try to stay cool, zig zag the least possible and move quickly.
  • Cover yourself up with long sleeved T-shirts and long trousers if you do not want to be beaten up by the strong sun and the dust. For the same reason remember sunglasses and a scarf to put on your mouth when the dust / smog situation becomes too much. Put heavy sunscreen on your hands and knuckles. If you burn them, you will have to buy gloves (not the easiest task in rural Asia) to be able to drive again.
  • Secure your backpack behind you with hooked elastic bands. Don’t carry it over your shoulders or you’ll suffer from back pain for the rest of your life.
  • Always carry a rain cover for your backpack and a plastic poncho that is large enough to cover your legs as well. Tropical rain is sudden and strong.

A SUV that overtakes a bus in the opposite direction
while you’re overtaking a massive truck full of rocks
which is exhaling black exhaust gas will soon become familiar.

  • It’s cool to have a local sim card to be able to use data and google maps while driving, but bringing a good old paper map is a good idea. If you’re lost, ask the locals. In the most faraway places they may not be able to read a map but they will be more than happy to point out the direction of your destination.
  • If you can, refill in gas stations, but don’t be afraid to stop along the road to the local mamas that sell gas in old coca cola glass bottles. It’s a bit more expensive but a life-saver in most cases.
  • Never underestimate distances. What looks like a major state road on a map can turn out to be a super busy, one-lane road used by oxcart, scooters, huge trucks, SUVs, local bus, etc. In Sumatra it took us a good 12h a day to cover 350km.
  • When you park in crowded areas, along with many other scooters, it’s normal to find your bike somewhere else. People will move it in order to get theirs out. Before panicking, have a look around. Top tip: if you just rented the average black scooter, try to personalize it with a ribbon or something that will help you spot it easily.
South East Asia by motorbike
South East Asia by motorbike

In general, keep it cool, travel at slow pace and enjoy the journey. Sometimes you will be driving through horrendously polluted and busy cities. Other times you’ll peacefully ride along jungle roads or close to the ocean. You will end up in places that are impossible to reach with any other mean of transport. You will really eat and sleep with the local communities and you will find yourself laughing together even if they don’t speak a word of English. You’ll break the bike, repair it, and then break it again. You may get sick. Or very sick. And convince yourself that you’re gonna die that night, in the middle of nowhere.

Well, It may not be for the faint-hearted but it’s very, very rewarding. So good luck and enjoy travelling South East Asia by motorbike!

Want more?
Browse my Cambodia photo gallery:

CAMBODIA ON TWO WHEELS

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