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Light the Torches! Two Things We Regret Eating!

Controversial issues are not typically things we deal with on our blog and that’s a shame. It’s a fact of life that people have differing opinions and some people are incredibly vocal in their beliefs. It’s natural to shy away from creating conflict. Part of this is due to a gene-deep need to fit into society to survive. The other part is because it’s damn uncomfortable, and sometimes painful, to be the brunt of an attack by people who disagree with something you’ve said or done and want to let you know, in no uncertain terms, that they think you’re an ass. Get those angry comments ready folks. We’re about to stir up some emotion. You may just think we’re a couple of asses by the end.

Controversial Food Around The World

Penis Shaped Dessert at Shilin NIght Market Taipei

A little more controversy: Penis-shaped waffles, cakes and popsicles at Shilin Night Market, Taipei

Cultural differences range from the subtle, almost indistinguishable to the stark, brutally contrasting. While travelling, these differences are highlighted time and time again. Sometimes it feels as though there’s a spotlight following us around as we travel from country to country, pinpointing those differences. Usually, it’s other people controlling the direction of the beam: “Did you know they have ping pong shows in Thailand?!” or “Careful when you order in Korea, they eat dog!”. These completely incomprehensible differences then become the fuel for an attack of the morals and ethics of another culture.

Don’t get us wrong, we judge too. Especially when we’re hungry, travel-weary or just plain fed up with navigating the minefield of frustrations that come while dealing with the behaviours of a culture so different from our own. In the end, we get over it and realize it’s all about perspective. We’ve even come to realize that our own steadfast (or at least we thought they were) beliefs in what is right and wrong across cultures occasionally move into a grey area reserved for those who step away from their own ethnocentrism and attempt to view a culture from within. This is especially true when we cross paths with controversial food around the world.

Having said all that, we have done a few things we swore we would never do. Two things we ate in particular that, even after mentally stepping inside the cultural-framework within which it is acceptable, we feel regret and dismay. Alright, we’ll be honest, we didn’t step inside anything mentally with the first one…we were just flat out drunk.

A Night Of All-You-Can Drink Yakiniku

japan yakiniku bbq

Two hours. That’s how long we had to indulge ourselves and reach epic levels of sloppy, delicious gluttony. And boy did we indulge.

Yakiniku, or BBQ meat, is one of our favourite styles of restaurant in Japan where you cook your own meat over a grill in the middle of your table and get in touch with your inner caveman (or woman). Conversation ensues with the smell of wonderfully marinated pork or perfectly tender steak, and oftentimes the sake is flowing. Our friend in Okinawa decided to take us to a local yakiniku that also happened to be all-we-could-eat, all-we-could-drink, for only $30. And when we say ALL you can drink, we mean spirits, wine, beer, cocktails, sake, you name it, you can order it. And we did.

Needless to say, two hours later our friend’s suggestion to go across the street to an izakaya (tapas-style) restaurant and continue drinking seemed like the best idea ever. What she didn’t tell us was that she planned to order some of their specialty dishes for us to try. Dishes we hadn’t planned on ordering while in Japan.

We followed her inside the narrow entrance, squeezing behind the occupied stools lining the bar and made our way upstairs. Taking off our shoes, we settled ourselves onto cushions on the floor around a table, a traditional Japanese setting, as the owner discussed the menu with our friend. She talked us into agreeing to eat raw chicken.

horse meat and raw chicken japan

Disclaimer: These photos were taken while under the influence

As the dish of small, light-coloured pieces of uncooked chicken made its way in front of us, we noticed the dark-red, unknown strips of meat set to the side. “That”, she said, “is basashi…raw horse”. Carolann made some inane comment about Black Beauty and Macrae stared, eyes glazed with, er, uncertainty.

The rest happened in a alcohol-fueled haze. The cell phone recording of the experience, a helpful guide to the events that transpired as chopsticks met horse meat and horse meat met mouths. We have different recollections of the taste, neither of us found it overly offensive but then, neither of us went for seconds.

While horse meat is considered a delicacy in at least 9 other countries, including Iceland and France, the taboo of eating it is far more wide-reaching, though this wasn’t always the case. Nowadays, horses are a hugely controversial food, often too closely linked with the concept of a pet to make them acceptable food items and it was this connection that had us avoiding any further consumption.

The raw chicken on the other hand, was a dish we happened to order more than once while in Japan.

That One Time in Korea

live octopus korea

They were going to eat it and it was still moving.

Standing in one of the cluttered, busy aisles of the Gwangjang market, the food stalls alight from the overhanging lamps, we watched as the plate of squirming pieces of tentacles was placed in front of the two waiting customers near us. We had stopped at a stall serving sannakji, raw octopus that is cut into small pieces, live. As we watched the bowls of sauce moved ceremoniously beside the plate and the two patrons preparing to dig in, we saw no sign of those tentacles slowing down.

Then it happened. The duo glanced over and noticed us staring, with our eyes wide and mouths gaping, and they smiled. They were either being very nice or very clever in choosing their meal-time entertainment, but they offered their plate to us and told us we could try. With that kind smile and polite offer, we gave a few weak shakes of our head. A second offer, the plate moved even closer and a new pair of chopsticks appeared. We looked at each other and knew we were both thinking the same thing “how rude is it for us to turn this down?”. We finally accepted. Both of us taking turns choosing a piece, taking way too long to think about it, and finally placing that squirming, sliding, tentacle in our mouths.

eating raw octopus in Korea

It’s a controversial practice. Something we both said we weren’t going to do. Unfortunately, that’s not all we did. We also went home and researched the topic of eating live octopus, specifically how an octopus feels when it is being chopped up. Try that kind of research about something controversial you’ve done. It’s a great way to make yourself feel even shittier than you did.

Digesting (excuse the pun) a bunch of research on cephalopod neuroanatomy, and believe it or not psychology, as well as discussions on animal cruelty and welfare, cultural sensitivity and food culture we were left with the bone-deep knowledge that we would not be trying sannakji again. We respect that it is a delicacy in the country, not just a crazy thing tourists do when they go to Korea, but to us it is also an inhumane way to treat a living creature and something we don’t wish to participate in again.

What We Learned

So, have at us! We think we were wrong too, but you know what? In the end, we can say we learned a few things:

1. It’s not as easy as right and wrong. Cultural traditions and ties are a strong force and when you are immersed in a culture, things can start to look a little different than you once thought.

2. We’re a bit stronger in our beliefs BECAUSE we tried these two things. We can say unequivocally that neither are things that we really need to be eating. Granted, if you’re a vegetarian you will say no animal needs to be eaten…so you’ve got us there.

3. We learned another lesson in “not judging others”. After all, we’ve done it too!

and

4. We’ve learned that we can do some unpredictable things when we drink too much in Japan!

 

 

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Our Top Things To Do In Thailand

Thailand: Popular backpacker destination. Exotic island beaches. A land steeped in ancient history and tradition. A culinary playground. A country mired in controversy, political conflict and, at times, civil unrest. It’s also one of our next destinations.

Yes, it’s true, we were JUST there. At least, it feels like we were just there as it was only last October that we landed in Chiang Mai and began our 2 months of travel across the country. So why then are we returning a year later, in October of this year, to Thailand? There are several reasons for this.

1. We have arranged to go to a Travel Blogger Retreat and TBEX, a travel blogger convention

2. There were several things we didn’t do when we were last in Thailand and would like to check out at least some of them

and

3. We absolutely LOVE the country. We had such an amazing time when we were last there, it just made sense to seize the opportunity to go again!

What We Did in Thailand

If you read Carolann’s post on 8 things she didn’t do in Thailand, you may be asking what exactly we did do the last time around. Take a look at the video and read below as we shed some light on some of our major, and most memorable, experiences during our last trip to Thailand and what we think are the top things to do while there!

The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary and Hill Tribe

chiang mai elephant jungle sanctuary elephant interaction

We’ve mentioned that one of our reasons for choosing Thailand as one of our first destinations when we started full-time travel was to fulfill Carolann’s dream of seeing elephants. We ended up with much more than we could have expected with two full days interacting with, feeding and bathing three elephants, including a baby, and spending a night in a Karen Hill Tribe village, learning about their history and culture, eating some amazing food and experiencing a few days without electricity or internet. The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary in Chiang Mai provided one of our most memorable experiences in Thailand and put a smile on Carolann’s face that stayed for days!

Driving from Chiang Mai to Pai

drive to pai, getting to pai, road to pai, best way to get to pai

Intense, exhilarating and butt-bruising. That’s right – our butts were hurting by the end of this drive! We decided to make the harrowing scooter ride from Chiang Mai to Pai, navigating 762 turns up and down mountains, avoiding potholes and passing traffic and, at one time, shimmying our bums with the scooter, and crossing our fingers, in an effort to keep it going up a particularly steep climb. With several stops and a few detours, we arrived in Pai seven hours after we first left Chiang Mai, drenched by the rain, weary from the ride and with a slightly stilted walk due to the literal pain in our arses.

It was an amazing drive that took us to one tranquil and unique area of Thailand. We enjoyed it so much, we wrote several posts on getting to and exploring Pai as well as a Guide to Pai E-book with extra tips and suggestions! We also had one luxurious stay at Soi One, after a few weeks of cold showers with no pressure and a couple nights in a low-budget hostel.

Learning to Scuba Dive in Koh Tao

scuba diving in koh tao

When people ask us what is our favourite experience in our almost one year of travel, we can’t really offer one answer. It’s all been so amazing. Definitely in the running though, is our experience getting our open water scuba certification in Koh Tao. We had no plans to dive when we first arrived on the island, known for its amazing dive sites and affordable dive costs, but as we saw more and more dive shops, our interest was sparked. What ended up being a spur-of-the-moment decisions turned into an adventure into a whole other world under the water.

We absolutely loved being under the surface, seeing the beautiful and unique creatures under the water and learning to work together as dive-buddies. While we’re not sure we’ll get a chance to dive in Thailand this time around, we’re hoping to dive again real soon!

Experiencing Paradise on Koh Phangan

Koh Phangan Thailand Best Western Phanganburi

Another spontaneous decision was to attend the Travel Writer’s Workshop on Koh Phangan. This meant spending two weeks at Phananburi Resort (now Buri Resort) on a gorgeous beach and attending daily workshops. We ended up meeting some truly amazing people, learning a heck of a lot, watching some of the most beautiful and unique sunsets each evening and each getting an article published in Southeast Asia Backpacker Magazine – Carolann for burgers on the Koh Phangan and Macrae for places to watch the sunset while enjoying a drink on the island.

It seems as though we are coming full circle, not only ending up in Thailand a year later, but also attending a retreat, albeit a different one, on the island of Koh Phangan at, you guessed it, the same resort! Whether your visit is business, pleasure or a bit of both, this is one paradise island with some pristine beaches and spectacular sunsets!

Climbing Pu Chi Fa For The Sunrise

Thailand, Laos, Thai-Laos border, phu chi fa, thailand viewpoint

One thing we rarely travelled without in Thailand was a scooter. We used it to boot around the north and rented ones in the south on each island we visited. The only time we chose public transit over a scooter was in Bangkok, where it was quicker, cheaper and safer to ride trains and take cabs.

After our drive to Pai we knew we had to explore more of the north and decided to make our way to Pu Chi Fa from the city of Chiang Rai. Pu Chi Fa mountain lies on the eastern border where Thailand meets Laos and we were told that watching the sunrise from the top of the mountain is an experience not to be missed.

It took us another 7 hours of butt-numbing driving from Chiang Rai, through some amazing scenery before we reached a hotel at the base of the mountain. It probably would’ve taken half the time if we hadn’t gotten lost, er taken a detour, which had us stumbling on a waterfall, getting stuck in pouring rain and riding almost the entire way up the mountain in fog and drizzle before finally finding someone who suggested we head back down the mountain to one of the resorts. It. Was. Amazing.

Waking up the next morning at 3:30am, we headed back up the mountain barely able to see a foot in front of us. And if we thought the potholes on our way to Pai were big, boy did we get a surprise! We passed through clouds and found a parking spot before walking up the rest of the way to the top. Unfortunately it was too cloudy to watch the sunrise but it was still a beautiful place to visit. It was also an interesting experience seeing the Hmong people that live in the mountain and we are able to say we stood in Laos, even if it was only for a minute or two!

Dining at Rock Restaurant Bangkok

Rock Restaurant and Bar Whiskey, Rock Rstaurant and Bar bangkok, best restaurants in bangkok, best bars in bangkok, best cocktails in bangkok,

One of our favourite restaurants, anywhere, is Rock Restaurant in Bangkok. With an impressive menu of traditional Thai fusion, great original cocktails and a wonderful ambiance, we were hard pressed to forget our experience at Rock! We had some amazing pork buns and some delicious crab and cream cheese wafers. We’re really hoping we’ll have a chance to dine here again when we head back to Bangkok and try some of the new additions to their dinner and cocktail menus!

Having Ancient Ruins to Ourselves

Wat E-Kang, Wiang Kum Kam, Chiang Mai Ancient Ruins

In all our research we never came across anything telling us about Wiang Kum Kam or its ruins located in Chiang Mai. In fact, we still had a hard time finding much information once we were told about the area. Our Airbnb host recommended we drive our scooter to Wiang Kum Kam and explore the various ruins. While there were a few people who were travelling around each of the ruins via horse-drawn carriage or tour, we were pretty much the only two people at most of the sites. It allowed us to take our time, see as many of the ruins as we wanted and really get a feel for it without crowds or conversation. We’re not sure why it’s not more popular but we’re thankful we had it to ourselves.

We can’t wait to see what’s in store for us when we head to Thailand in October. We know we’ll be eating lots of the food we’ve missed, visiting the friends we made the first time around and looking to make amazing new memories while exploring some new, and some of the same, places throughout the country!

Have you been to Thailand? What was your favourite memory? If not, is there a place that seems to keep drawing you back? Comment below and let us know!

 

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11 Wacky Inventions Found In Japan

Oh Japan. We’ve already put together a video of some of our best moments in Japan and talked about why we love the country so much (we even talked about the one thing we didn’t like), but we haven’t yet touched on a subject that made us alternately thankful for the ingenuity, laugh out loud and shake our heads. Crazy.

Wacky. Brilliant. Advanced. WTF? Products and systems we saw across the country can be placed in some, or all, of these categories and if you’ve ever seen a Japanese infomercial, you know that there are endless numbers of products being showcased, often in a hilarious way.

Japan is known for it’s crazy inventions and products and during our 3 months there, we sure saw our fair share of them! While some of them were confusing to us, others were absolutely genius, even if limited in use. The list of these could go on for quite some time but we decided to share some of the more useful or clever (at least we think so) inventions and systems we saw during our time in Japan.

Whether they are infomercial-worthy or just plain interesting, we’ll leave that for you to decide!

Porcelain Thrones

We could wax poetic about the toilets in Japan, they are just that wonderful. Public or private, toilets in Japan are clean, stocked with toilet paper and incredibly high-tech. Rarely did we see a basic, lift-the-lid and do your business toilet. Nope, we’re talking sophisticated loos that make you sigh in comfort rather than cringe in disgust. Let us take you through one of the most impressive washrooms we found in Japan:

Entering the washroom, you notice there is no unpleasant smell and it’s pretty clean. Choosing a stall you push open the door and, after a brief moment, the toilet lid lifts in greeting. As you step into the space, a speaker beside the toilet starts with soft water-like sounds that serve to mask any sound you will make.

A disinfectant dispenser and wipes stand to the side for you to clean the seats or if you prefer, a disposable seat cover is available. You sit on the seat and notice it’s warming feature has automatically turned on. After you do your business, you can choose from a variety of different buttons – rinses, fans, little flush or big flush or, you can just stand up and the toilet automatically flushes on its own.  

You step up to the sink and notice the automatic dispenser for soap over the sink is beside the automatic faucet AND a hand dryer. All three in one sink. You hesitate. Perhaps you can find a reason to stay here for just a little longer…

Alright, so that was a description of the best washroom we encountered but truthfully, the others weren’t too far off with most of those features and usually a disinfecting station of some sort. Needless to say, after squatting over holes in the ground for toilets in China, southeast Asia and some parts of Taiwan, we REALLY appreciate the cleanliness and comfort of Japanese toilets.

What You Want, You Know They Dispense It

Japanese vending machine

Pop, beer, cookies, coffee, T-shirts, sandwiches, cigarettes, fruit, rice,  – you name it, there’s probably a vending machine that dispenses it! This is THE land of the vending machines with estimates of over 5 million of these metal boxes you’re sure to find one just about everywhere you look. Vending machines may not be wacky or crazy inventions in Japan, but some of the products they dispense are quite different and there are even some that shouldn’t be mentioned in polite company!

Facial recognition pop machine japan

Interestingly, there are even pop machines that use facial recognition technology to identify the demographics of the person approaching in order to make recommendations about which drink you may enjoy. We saw a few of these and thought they were a pretty fascinating version of a traditional pop machine.

Puddle-Be-Gone

people-400818_1280

 

It’s raining. This generally means you’ll be unfolding that umbrella and taking it with you as you go about your business for the day.  When you reach your destination however, the umbrella becomes an inconvenience. Soaking wet, there’s nothing to do but shake it off as much as possible, and bring it with you as it drips a trail behind you, or is there another option? In Japan, there almost always is.

Usually, in restaurants and larger establishments, you’ll find plastic bag dispensers to cover your umbrella until you are ready to head back out again. Sometimes, as is the case in larger malls, there are safes. Stands to place your umbrella which are then secured and locked in place until you are ready to come back and claim it again.

While it seems to us to be an excessive waste of plastic, we still think these bags are brilliant and a great solution to the wet mess that one usually associates with rainy days and carrying an umbrella.

The Never-Ending Pencil

Japanese gadgets endless pencil sharpener

While cell phones and computers are the more common form of dictation and communication, there are still people out there that use pencils (I know we were shocked as well). Most of us can remember the days when we’d pull out a notepad, sharpen that ol’ wooden pencil and jot down a list, or a note, or really anything at all.

Most of us will also remember when that pencil got too small to sharpen any further and the small stub had to be thrown out, oftentimes with a good portion of the lead still available – if only sharpening it was a possibility. Well folks, Japan has found a way to eliminate that pencil-waste!

Let us introduce Tsunago, the pencil sharpener that will help you create a never ending pencil. This little device has three slots. One is a typical sharpener for your regular sharpening needs, but the other two are where the Nakajima Jukyudo company (a Japanese company that solely produces sharpeners) really revolutionizes the pencil sharpener.

One slot creates a hole in the end of the pencil and the other creates a protrusion that allows two pencils to be connected together with an interlocking joint. Adding some wood glue makes the connection permanent and you’ve now got a longer pencil with which you can continue writing. Crazy or genius, you tell us!

Staple-less Stapler

Japanese inventions Kokuyo Stapler

Once you’ve got your never-ending pencil creating sharpener, you’re sure to want to upgrade more of your stationery. Not to worry, Japan’s got you covered. The staple-less stapler is not only economical, as you don’t need to keep buying staples, it is also eco-friendly for the same reason. Not only that, the holes created could be placed in a position that allows it to act as a hole-puncher as well.

Brilliant?! We think so. While we didn’t end up buying one of these, we did have a friend demonstrate exactly how effective it is – and believe us, those papers weren’t coming apart anytime soon!

Take a look at this commercial to see exactly how it works. Actually, watching a Japanese infomercial in itself is worth it.

Cycling In The Rain

japan bicycle umbrella holder

Alright, so it’s raining and you’re carrying your umbrella around with you. You know you’ll avoid any inconvenient puddles when you reach your destination because there’ll be a stand or a bag for you to place your umbrella. Only one problem: You’re not walking, you’re riding your bike. This isn’t an issue in Japan as there are umbrella holders for the handlebars of bicycles allowing you to ride in the rain and keep at least the upper part of your body fairly dry.

We were amazed when we first saw these contraptions and only got more intrigued as time passed and more and more of these appeared.

Tech Savvy Transit

Japan bus system

Every time we rode public transit we thought the various systems in place were innovative even if they weren’t so wacky. Even though transportation in Japan is expensive, it seems well thought out. When we boarded a bus, we’d receive a ticket with the stop number we got on. A screen at the front of the bus would display how much you were to pay for each subsequent stop.

So, if you got on at stop number 1, you’d keep an eye on number 1 on the screen. The amount displayed would increase as the bus travelled along the route and when you got off, you need only look to that screen to pay the required fee. It made shorter trips less costly then a one-time fee might have been but could get a bit pricey for longer trips.

Japan Subway System

We also loved the adjustment machines at train stations. Let’s say we hopped on thinking to go to one stop but along the way we realize we don’t really want to go there after all, we’ll get off sooner, or later, or transfer to another line and go somewhere completely different. Think you’re stuck with the ticket you paid for? Nope! Just head to an adjustment booth at the station you end up getting off at and the machine will either refund your money if you’ve overpaid or let you know how much extra you need to pay.

It was a great help when we weren’t too sure which station we needed to exit at – we’d pay the lowest fare and top up once we got to our destination.

Smart Park

Parking garage in Japan

For some strange reason, we were incredibly fascinated by parking in Japan. As there isn’t a lot of space for parking lots, and perhaps due to earthquakes (though we’re not too sure if that’s true), many parking garages are above ground. And true to fashion, Japan has created some high-tech, interesting designs for them.

We’re used to multi-level, drive-in garages that are basically just floors of parking lots for you to pick a spot and park yourself. In Japan, things are a bit more complex. The above photo is a common sight. Cars are raised above each level and “parked” in a vertical row. How they get them down without a huge amount of effort and re-parking, we’re just not sure but we’re almost positive there’s a simple and amazing way it’s done. We’ve even seen some make-shift home garage systems that look quite similar.

Japan automated parking tower

There are also automated parking towers, like the one above, that mechanically lifts the car up to one of the hundreds of “parking spots” and brings it back down for you when you return. The rotating wheel also ensures it is pointed in the right direction for you to leave. We’ve seen some footage inside one of these automated garages and it’s a pretty fascinating system!

Japanese parking meters and locks

If you’re parking in one of the rare parking spots on street-level, you’ll often find metered-lots with a style of locking or security device in the centre of the spot. The car is able to move over the hump while entering the spot but would be prevented from leaving due to the spikes on the reverse side. This means you have to pay for parking before you leave in order for the spikes to fold down and allow you to safely exit.

A Night In A Capsule

Capsule hotel in Japan

The above photo is of the capsule hotel we stayed in – just because we could – but it isn’t quite the typical capsule-style. We got this private room with bunk-bed capsules as we were a couple and capsule hotels generally don’t mix genders in the same room.

Mostly for businessmen on business trips, capsule hotels are for one night or short stays and typically there is a larger room with many pods (or capsules) open in the front, rather than the side as it was for us. We had wanted to experience a night in one of the many capsule hotels across the country, and while we didn’t exactly get the complete experience, we were happy to have seen a bit of what it is like!

Click for more information and prices for a great capsule hotel in Tokyo, Japan 

No Waiter Needed

Japan Conveyor belt sushi Kaiten

Especially convenient for those of us with limited Japanese, electronic ordering systems are amazing when dining out.

Many ramen, other noodle shops and various other restaurants (even Indian) have machines at the front where you order and pay for your meal in advance. We found it extremely helpful when there was no english menu as there are often photos of each dish on the machine. We also love paying in advance so we can eat our meal and leave at our own convenience. No waiting for the cheque. No waiting for change.

Ordering food in Japan machines

The other ordering system we truly miss is found at many chain conveyor belt sushi restaurants. Small touch screens where you can select what pieces of sushi (or other sides) you want, submit the order and wait as the plates are delivered to you by whatever manner that restaurant uses, be it conveyor belt or mini train! Definitely one of the best of the inventions in Japan, although that may be our stomachs talking!

Tiny Escalators

Garden State Plaza

Okay, we’ll be honest, this isn’t really so much of an invention of Japan and we don’t have an opinion on them either way. We just thought they were really funny. Japan has some TALL escalators, especially in their major subway stations, but we also found several very short, silly looking ones too.

 

What do you think of these? Brilliant, wacky, or nothing special? Have you found crazy inventions in places you’ve travelled? Comment below and let us know!

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Songdo: South Korea’s Smartest City?

Smart city. City of the future. High-tech utopia.

These are the words that were sprawled across almost every article we read about the newly built city of Songdo in South Korea. So, while we were prepared to see something different, and perhaps a little advanced, we were not expecting to step out of the train station into a place that felt, well, very much not like Korea – at least not the Korea we’d been experiencing over the previous month.

Home Sweet… Songdo?

city of songdo south korea

We probably would never have made our way to Songdo. We certainly wouldn’t have spent so much time there, but we had accepted a house sit through TrustedHousesitters.com and it allowed as a look into a new, unique and totally unexpected area of South Korea. For 6 weeks we stayed in this interesting, new city and got to see a totally unique side of South Korea, and city-life in general.

Our first glimpse of Songdo was pretty much exactly like the pictures of the small models used to design it – bright green trees lining the areas around modern looking buildings not yet marred by time and the elements. After a more thorough exploration we’ve come to see it as a sort of Sim City-esque community, with its strategic, pre-designed and perfectly placed residential and commercial buildings, centralized recreation centres, international schools, numerous parks and some fancy touches.

In fact, there are quite a few fancy touches. Fountains, ponds, and statues pepper the city and drawing on some of the world’s “best” cities, Songdo has installed similar features. It’s as if that crazy-haired mayor, hands-a-waving, popped up on a screen every so often and gifted someone with things like a Central Park, a Sydney Opera House and the canals of Venice (and for those of you who don’t know, we aren’t referring to the actual mayor, it’s actually a reference to the early days of Super Nintendo and Sim City… we may be dating ourselves with that one).

tribowl songdo south korea

We really felt as though we stepped out of the Korea we knew and into some pseudo-version of a North American suburban city. Before we left to travel, we lived in a city near Toronto, Canada, called Mississauga. For us, this feels like a very similar, albeit fancier, version of it.  There’s even a shopping centre called “Square One”, just like the major shopping mall in Mississauga, a short distance outside of the city.

We’re Not in Korea Anymore Toto!

songdo international business district south korea

Perhaps the reason we don’t really think of Songdo as typical Korea is because it wasn’t built to be such. Designed to attract international business and relations, it is a very “foreigner-friendly” area. English signs and translations are easily found and the entire feel for us was outside of what we had experienced during the rest of our travels in Korea.

It’s clear that Songdo was made in effort to accommodate and develop international interest. In fact, there is even a flag street – so dubbed because of the many international flags that line the centre of the road. We tested out our flag-knowledge on this street, walking from the start of the flags to the end, happy with our ability to recognize many of the countries represented until we realized that there was no Canadian flag! How could this be? We’re the only country allowed a whopping 6 months landing visa, there’s a whole host of us teaching English here and yet… no flag?

We decided to go on a mission, to verify we hadn’t just been tired or hungry or mistaken. Check out our great Canadian flag hunt down the streets of Songdo and how we took matters into our own hands!

Around The World

songdo south korea flag street international

We touched on it briefly, but some features of Songdo have been inspired from great cities around the world. They’ve taken the wide boulevards of Paris when designing their streets and a modern canal system based on Venice. They also built an expansive Central Park, inspired by the one in New York, a system of parks throughout the city like those in Savannah and a convention centre in the style of the Sydney Opera House.

Songdo also boasts the tallest building in South Korea, the Northeast Asia Trade Tower, next to the Songdo Convensia (the Sydney Opera House looking convention centre) and a pretty solid transit system via train and bus, into and out of the city.

The construction of the city is still not complete so it will be interesting to see what else pops up as they go! It’s definitely looking to pull in some unique characteristics and a fusion of familiar architecture and features.

Gizmos and Gadgets A Plenty!

songdo central park canal south korea

Not only is Songdo intended to be a global business hub, a designated Free Economic Zone, it is also the first new sustainable city in the world designed to be an international business district. It was once muddy tidal flats until large-scale land reclamation allowed for the development of the city.

Songdo has some pretty futuristic looking buildings! We love how different it looks and love some of the interesting implementation of technology in order to make this city “smart” and sustainable.

But what does it mean to be a smart and sustainable city?

Wikipedia defines a smart city as one that “uses digital technologies or information and communication technologies (ICT) to enhance quality and performance of urban services, to reduce costs and resource consumption, and to engage more effectively and actively with its citizens.”

Basically, a smart city uses modern technology and data collection in order to create a sustainable city where costs and consumption (including waste, emissions, energy, etc) are reduced but quality of life is improved.

Songdo has been developed on these principles and has some interesting features including an extensive 25 km of bike lanes, an advanced technology infrastructure, natural gas fueled central and city-wide co-generation facility for clean power and hot water, energy-efficient LED traffic lights and energy efficient pumps and motors.

We’ve even heard of a TelePresence system that allows home-bound (and probably not so home-bound) residents the ability to video-conference a wide range of services including medical and health care, beauty consulting and remote learning, although we didn’t get to see this in action.

Interesting to us was the centralized underground waste system for wet and dry waste. This underground disposal system eliminates the need for garbage trucks and also allowed us to walk around the hot and humid summer months in Songdo sans the typical odours one equates with city living, garbage and the summer heat.

We were also impressed, even when we were slightly overwhelmed and frustrated, by the extensive recycling and sorting system. EVERYTHING seems to have it’s own area for recycling and disposal.

The city was also pleasantly and literally green. With 40% designated open space, many trees and parks, the city felt less like a concrete playground than would be expected with all its tall buildings and futuristic structures.

Is A Smart City Really So Smart?

songdo south korea smart city

But, this ideal of a smart city doesn’t necessarily equate to that of a utopian society. In fact, many criticize the attempt to create such a city and have concerns as to exactly how much individuality and control citizens would have over their own lives should these smart cities become commonplace. Imagine, a city laid out perfectly to direct traffic flow, shopping and spending habits, and all the everyday choices and decisions we make. Imagine a soulless city of cookie-cutter concrete buildings and a central computer system driving behaviour based on algorithms and formulas that dictate the best flow for efficiency.

As Richard Sennett discusses in his article on TheGuardian.com, No One Likes A City That’s Too Smart, the dangers in these smart cities is that these “information-rich cit[ies] may do nothing to help people think for themselves or communicate well with one another.”

We find this concept of a smart and sustainable city incredibly fascinating and look forward to finding more cities attempting to do the same. We’d like to see the pros and cons, see whether there is truth in the benefits of the advancements made or in what Sennett describes as the soullessness of the cities that are created. Rio de Janeiro, he says, is a good compromise with its “co-ordination” of systems in place in order to aid in emergencies and natural disasters rather than the “prescription” of behaviour in the many other cities moving towards a “smarter” existence.

We’ll be looking to visit Rio in Brazil, Masdar in the UAE and other developing smart cities in an effort to see what they are all about, and see if Sennett is right in his final statement of the article:  “We want cities that work well enough, but are open to the shifts, uncertainties, and mess which are real life.”

songdo south korea smart city

We noticed that soullessness in Songdo. At times, it seemed bleak and desolate. Perhaps it was just the fact that the city was eerily devoid of human presence on the streets during weekdays and in the evenings and well, the sky was rarely without smog and clouds. But perhaps it was more than that. There was a strong sense of structure and rigidity to the area, a square of a community that had us walking around the perimeter and rarely breaking out from beyond the “prescribed” neighbourhood and facilities within. In fact, people seemed to rarely break out of the prescribed behaviours and expectations of the culture and community.

Perhaps, however, this soulless, cookie-cutter existence isn’t just present in smart cities. We’ve noticed throughout our travels in Asia, and back home in North America, a tendency to “fall into place” to accept the expectations of where to shop, where to live and how to live.  Cookie-cutter housing isn’t unique to Songdo or other like-cities.

Perhaps a “prescription” of behaviour already exists within each community and culture. We adopt and accept the cultural mores and expectations of our surroundings. We work to blend and to “fit” and rarely do we care whether it is coming from internal needs for acceptance, external pressures from peers or that controversial digital command centre of smart cities. So perhaps, we’re already primed. Already receptive to dictates of behaviour. These smart cities may just be a more eco-friendly, efficient way of doing the same thing we always do.

Back To The Future of Songdo

Songdo Northeast Asian Trade Tower South Korea

The development of Songdo, a $35 billion dollar venture, is still underway with still a portion of its construction remaining. By the time it is finished, Songdo will boast even more incredible features including more fine hotels, a luxury retail mall, museums, and the Jack Nicklaus Golf Club Korea.

Getting to Songdo

If you’re looking to get to Songdo you can get there by bus or train.  By train, the best stop is Central Park Station on Incheon Line 1. This will allow you to explore the park and the surrounding area before venturing into the rest of the city.  Check out Life In Korea for a list of buses and routes from, and around Songdo, and from Incehon International Airport.

 

What do you think of the concept of a smart city? Are cities like Songdo leading to future Utopias? or is the concept of Utopia just as imagined and unreal as it was when  it was first discussed by Sir Thomas More?

 

 

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8 Things I Didn’t Do In Thailand

By Carolann Hughes

Almost a year ago we quit our jobs and sold our stuff, started this blog and decided to start travelling full-time. We were looking for a starting destination that was practical, reasonably priced and would have tons of things for us to do and see and, ultimately, write about. Since we’ve never had a bucket list per se, we couldn’t really scan our list of countries to make a decision but there were certain things we talked about wanting to do, sooner rather than later, and I wanted to see elephants. Enter Thailand.

While we made a quick stop to Beijing for a week, to see The Great Wall, Thailand was really where we started our long-term, slow-travel experience. It was my first time to Thailand and Macrae’s second. We’d been together for almost 2 years at that point and I had heard many stories about his months in this southeast Asian travellers’ paradise, not to mention the hours I spent pouring over ‘must-do’s’ and ‘must-see’s’ of the country. With a two-month visa and a fresh outlook on full-time travel I thought we’d be seeing it all. Boy was I wrong.

How Could You Go There And Not…

Things I Didn’t Do In Thailand

Two months was a long time but we quickly started immersing ourselves in the local culture, meeting locals and expats alike, and finding less-travelled, less-tourist ridden places to eat, see and explore. We took a slower approach to travel, staying in one place for longer periods of time to really absorb the lifestyle and take time to appreciate the beauty of Thai culture and while we did, I seemed to have missed some very popular, very talked about Thai experiences.

Sure I hit up a lot of the ‘best of’ Thailand activities. We learned to scuba dive in Koh Tao, drove ourselves from Chiang Mai to Pai on a scooter, visited Bangkok, watched some incredible sunsets and, although I shudder to bring up one of the more painful experiences of my time there, I even accidentally got a Thai massage.

Now, planning to head back to Thailand in October, I’m reflecting on all the things I didn’t do that I often hear so much about. Here are 8 things I missed in Thailand and the things I usually hear at the end of the phrase “How could you go to Thailand and not…”




1. Tuk Tuk! Tuk Tuk!

Tuk Tuk resting in Bangkok

Shocking! Incredulous! How is it even possible?! That’s right folks, despite the abundance of Tuk Tuks, not to mention all the Tuk Tuk drivers shouting at us wherever we went (if you’ve been there you don’t need much to recall the constant barrage of “Tuk Tuk! Tuk Tuk!” as you walked the streets), I did not, at any time, take a ride in a Tuk Tuk. This three-wheeled vehicle that is used as a taxi by many tourists, probably due to the fact that it is considered an authentic Thai experience, is a constant presence across the cities of Thailand.

Since we walk a lot of the time or take public transit, we rarely use taxis to begin with. Add in the fact that I’m not really big on putting myself into situations where I have to worry about scams or negotiating down ridiculously priced things just because I’m a tourist, it just didn’t seem like something I had to try. Now, I think I’ll probably take the chance and hop on one when we are in Bangkok just to say I did, though as jaded as it sounds, I’ll be sure to take it only a short distance and negotiate a price in advance.

2. What the Wat!?

The White Temple CHiang Rai Thailand

Perhaps even crazier than not riding in a Tuk Tuk is the fact that I didn’t, even once, step inside a temple (wat). To be fair, we passed the outside of various temples, though rarely on purpose, and several temple ruins, but I didn’t take that last step and make my way inside. This wasn’t a conscious choice but rather just how things came together as plan after plan got shifted, twisted and turned all around.

There are a boatload of wats I do want to see. From Wat Pho and the giant reclining Buddha to Wat Tham Sua built into a cave, I’ve got my list of temples I’d like to visit, but somehow plans like that don’t always seem to come to fruition. We’ll see what happens this next time in Thailand, but I’m desperately hoping to find my way inside at least one of the many temples that pepper the landscape of Thailand.

3. Where’s The Pad Thai?

Okay, so this is a bit of a fib. I didn’t order Pad Thai at any point during our 2 months in Thailand, but Macrae did, and I may have tried a bite…or two. But other than that one taste of a night market Pad Thai meal in Pai, I didn’t taste or order it at all.

It may seem strange since this is considered the signature Thai dish anywhere else in the world, but with an incredible variety of absolutely amazing food, I was too busy trying everything else (particularly many, many plates of cashew nut chicken)! Added to that is the fact that I’m not huge on peanuts and it’s much easier to just avoid those dishes altogether then to try and customize my order.

I’m not too sure if i’ll be ordering pad Thai when we are back in the country. For one, there’s a whole host of other food I’m anxious to have again and some different ones I’ve yet to try. I also have been holding on to the probably futile hope that we’ll be able to make our way to Chiang Mai and stop at my all-time favourite restaurant, Suwee, and that means a whole lot more cashew nut chicken!

4. One Hell Of A Party

secret-beach-koh-phangan

Ah yes, the Full Moon Party – a wild event full of debauchery that overtakes the paradise island of Koh Phangan each month. While this party provides a lesson in excessive drunkenness, debased behaviour and unadulterated vice, it was a lesson I just didn’t feel like I needed to learn.

Just a boat ride away, on the island of Koh Samui, we decided instead, to enjoy the peace and quiet of the beaches nearby (since everyone had hauled out and headed to Koh Phangan) and take part in Loy Krathong, a festival that occurs on the first full moon of the 12th lunar month. That night we crouched down beside numerous other Thai locals and released our Krathong onto the water. We watched as it floated to join the abundance of other offerings, saw the hundreds of candle lights flickering through the darkness of the evening, and we knew we had made a good choice.

We did head to Koh Phangan after the Full Moon Party for a peaceful two weeks at a writer’s workshop on the beach. As our boat docked a few days after the Full Moon festivities, we noticed huge throngs of people gathered at the gate ready to board and leave the island. Walking passed them as we de-boarded, we took in their haggard looks, disheveled hair and smudges of leftover body paint, each of their stances portraying an utter lack of energy, and we smiled at each other. While there was no regret or desire to make our way to the island for the next full moon, we probably had missed one hell of a party!

5. Get Off My Back!

Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Chiang Mai Elephant

This is the one item on the list that I passionately avoided and adamantly protested. There would be no way I would be riding an elephant. The thought of everything I had read and seen about the treatment of elephants, how they are “broken in” for the tourism industry, and just how much damage elephant riding causes on the bones and spine of these majestic creatures had me rearing back in disgust every time someone mentioned their “amazing excursion” trekking in the jungle on elephant back.

It was hard not to scream out my true feelings. Surely, by now, people would be less ignorant about how bad these animals are treated? Surely, people would care? But as I travel, I’ve realized that there’s many things I too have been ignorant about and I’ve learned not to pass judgement so easily – I know there are things I’ve done while travelling that would cause others to shake their heads at me!

Regardless, I was NOT going to ride an elephant but I was going to find a sanctuary. Somewhere I could go to interact with an elephant and fulfill a lifelong dream of getting up close and personal with these giant beautiful creatures and know that they were treated as best as they could be. It took a lot of research, and a lot of worry, but we finally settled on the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary in Chiang Mai and my experience there was everything I could have imagined and more!

6. Lady Boy Show (Insert The Related Aerosmith Song Here)

(If you’re not sure what Aerosmith song I’m talking about I’ve probably a. revealed too much about my age and b. completely lost you at this point.)

Thailand sometimes seems synonymous with the term “lady boys” and we did see our fair share of lady boys while we were there. What we didn’t get to see was a lady boy show. While I may sound like a broken record, Macrae had been to a lady boy show on his previous visit but alas, my first trip to this colourful country, did not include this popular form of entertainment.

I’m hopeful that I will be able to attend one of the many shows when we are there next. On several of my many trips to Las Vegas, I went to a drag show and thought they were some of the most entertaining evenings. One thing is for certain – if we do go to one, you can be sure we’ll be dedicating a post all about it!

7. The Beach… As In THE Beach

Koh Phi Phi, Ko Phi Phi, Thailand islands, Thailand beaches, best beaches in the world, beast beaches in thailand, where the beach was filmed

This is the paradise island everyone mentions to me when they talk about their trip to Thailand. “No” I tell them, “I haven’t been to Koh Phi Phi” and “Yes, I do know that it is the beach from the movie with Leonardo DiCaprio”. I’ll be honest, I didn’t care for the movie “The Beach” itself but the images of the island caused my travel taste buds to salivate and when our plans changed and we were no longer able to travel to the southwestern islands, I was a little bit disappointed.

Since Macrae had already travelled to Koh Phi Phi on his first visit to Thailand, he wasn’t too upset to have a change of plans. For me however, missing the islands off that coast is probably the only thing I regret not seeing in all of our travels (Okay, okay, I also regretted missing the rabbit island in Japan…but we made up for it a bit with the bunnies in Central Park, South Korea).

This time around we plan to fly into Phuket and travel around the islands on that coast, including Koh Phi Phi. Sure, it’s a huge tourist magnet, sure it’s not the pristine, untouched island as in the movie, but I know it’ll make for one incredible experience!

8. An Evening With The King

Okay, it’s not really the King himself but there’s an interesting event that I heard takes place before every feature film in a movie theatre. Apparently, everyone stands while the national anthem plays and a video about the king is shown. I first heard about it from, you guessed it, Macrae, and have heard many people talk about it since. For some reason it strikes me as something incredibly interesting and unique and I just really want to experience it at least once!

We actually haven’t been to the movies in any of the countries we’ve travelled to, but I’m thinking a visit to see the latest flick may be in order when we head back to Thailand.

 

After putting this together it sure seems like Macrae had a bunch more of these typical Thai experiences his first time around! While I didn’t get to do what many consider essential for any first-time visitor to the country, the experiences we did have were rooted in local lifestyle and exploration and were some of the best memories we made. Still, I hope to cross off at least some of the 7 out of 8 things I missed when we head back to Thailand (still no elephant riding for me!) and like our last visit, I can’t wait to see what twists and turns this trip will take!

 

Have you been to Thailand? Have you missed anything you heard to be “authentic” Thai experiences? Any of these you’d recommend I make sure to see? Comment below and let me know!

 

 

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Travellers’ Views Of Cultural Taboos

With every new place we go, we make an effort to learn the do’s and don’ts (the cultural taboos) of the country and the culture. It’s not always easy, navigating seamlessly through the cultural customs and taboos of a new place, but it’s usually never as bad as you would initially think. We tried hard to follow the cultural customs of the diverse ethnic groups in Malaysia but weren’t always able to prevent our natural gestures and tendencies from coming out.

Most people are understanding, willing to help correct you when you get something wrong or do something out of place but every so often, you end up breaking a custom you either didn’t know about or completely forgot about, and find yourself in an awkward situation. Take Shawn & Katie, The Lucky Couple Abroad’s, experience in Singapore that they shared with us:

singapore

Photo courtesy of The Lucky Couple Abroad

Singapore is notorious for its strict laws on chewing gum, smoking, and littering so before we went, we did some research in hopes of not offending anyone. We went for a meal at one of the famous Hawker Stand Centres, and sat down at an empty table with our delicious Indian food. A minute after sitting down, a group of Singaporean women came up to us and told us that they had reserved that table. We were confused, but moved to another table quietly. We were slightly embarrassed, and still confused, when a women sitting nearby told us that Singaporeans place packets of tissue paper on tables in food courts to reserve a table. We thought the tissues were provided by the Centre!

You can also follow The Lucky Couple Abroad on Instagram.

Some Rules To Know Before You Go! Remember The Cultural Taboos!

We asked fellow travel bloggers about etiquette and cultural taboos from the different countries they’ve visited and to share their experiences and what they found were important rules to follow. If you’re heading to Singapore, you’re going to want to remember Shawn and Katie’s words, but if you’re headed to, or just plain interested in, Japan, Germany, Mongolia, Kenya, Poland, Italy, Spain,  Argentina, Thailand or the UAE, you’re going to want to keep reading!

Japan

By Paula and Gordon of Contented Traveller

Japan etiquette

Photo courtesy of Contented Traveller

Understanding Japanese etiquette is quite difficult, and despite visiting there annually for a long time, we are still discovering more and more about these codes of behaviour.

Shoes. You need to remove your shoes whenever you enter a house and many cafes and restaurants too, especially if you are in the villages. There is a historical reason for this. The streets were muddy and dirty, and the Japanese houses had and have tatami mats, where they eat and also sleep. Bringing dirt in would have been unhygienic, and this custom continues. Tip, wear easy shoes to slip in and out of in Japan.

The etiquette of having an onsen. These are the wonderful hot water public baths, and there are many rules that need to be observed. You need to remove your shoes before entering the sex-segregated onsen, and then remove clothes in a specific area. You enter the onsen area and wash yourself thoroughly outside of the onsen itself. Then you rinse off completely, before entering. There are quite a few more rules to be observed before enjoying this experience. I still don’t get it right.

Slurping. Loudly slurping food, particularly ramen noodles. This is a way of showing enjoyment of the dish, so if you like it, raise the bowl to your mouth and slurp away. A small hint, if you are dining with Japanese people and eat everything on your plate, they will not feel that they have fed you enough and will continue to fill your plate. Ditto, sake – so beware and leave a little in your glass when you have had sufficient.

Japan may have many etiquette codes, and they really respect that visitors try to observe these.

Paula and Gordon of Contented Traveller regularly travel to Japan. Follow them also on  Instagram.

GERMANY

By Annemarie of Travel on the Brain

dresden germany opera house

Don’t jaywalk. If you want to experience the German death stare, practically the equivalent to a muggle avada kedavra spell when it comes to angry looks, then just stand at traffic lights when children are within a 500 metre vicinity. And start walking. You might even get a death threat thrown in there for good measure. Of course, while the children are watching and listening. It is funny how the kids might not even have seen it but adults will draw total attention to such a ‘crime’ (you could get your licence revoked, too!). But having said all that, students or busy worker bees usually do not care very much (and are most likely late and in a rush).

Shake that thang. We Germans like to be practical and seize opportunities. This might be taken quite literally when meeting people, especially in a work environment. A firm hand shake is the way forward. The older or higher in rank men are, the more bone crushing it gets, in my experience. Women usually have a softer grip and struggle a lot with that in job interviews as a solid hand shake is seen as powerful and self confident. But nobody likes a bone crusher either.

Don’t come close. If you like to play a prank on a German and create a very uncomfortable situation, try sitting next to them. This goes particularly in places where there are enough seats available (and those are hopefully far away). To add a little more awkwardness, why not start talking and puting on a big grin? You will be taken as positively lunatic and can slowly watch the German squirm in their seat, racking their brain to get out of the situation while still retaining the dignity of both people involved. They will usually mumble some excuse to themselves and less than subtly sit somewhere else a little bit further off.

MONGOLIA

By Jub of Tiki Touring Kiwi

mongolia

Photo courtesy of Tiki Touring Kiwi

As we bumped along Mongolia’s Gobi Desert in our Russian van for hours a day we would see just a handful of people before experiencing the Mongolian nomadic lifestyle ourselves at night. The nomadic lifestyle is very unique, with these three rules crucial:

Never let meat go to waste. With minimal fridges and freezers in the Gobi Desert, a large kill will not last long in the summer heat so you give some to your neighbours (the Gobi Desert brings a new meaning to neighbours).

Do not do your toilet business near fence lines. Not all families have squat facilities so the one rule in place is never to do your number ones or twos near the fence line where people walk; the rest of the desert is fair game.

Do not put rubbish in the stove. The stove inside the nomadic gers (yurts) provides warmth and the ability to cook, therefore it is sacred.

Mongolia is a truly unique landscape and the nomads live a very different lifestyle compared to the rest of the world.

You can also follow Tiki Touring Kiwi on Instagram

KENYA

By Michaela of AweInclusive

kenya2

Photo courtesy of AweInclusive

Kenya is a spectacular country with expansive cultural, geographical, and biological diversity. And while this country is home to over 40 tribes, there are a few customs that are shared across the region and learning them will add to the enjoyment of your trip.

Religious freedom is built into Kenya’s constitution and you will notice various religious facilities during your trip.

Although the handshake is a common greeting in this country, note that Muslim men and women do not shake hands with the opposite sex. “Jambo,” which means, “How are you” is the common greeting.

When using names, it’s best to address people using a title and surname until a personal relationship is developed. While greetings are mostly indifferent in the large city where I live, I learned to take my time when greeting Kenyans because rushing this gesture is a form of disrespect.

Dining is formal at many locations and diners are expected to wash their hands before eating. At some restaurants, you’ll even notice wash bins near the tables. Plan to eat everything on your plate. At a recent meal with Kenyans, we had a meal of fish and ugali. I thought I’d finished, but my Kenyan host urged me to eat the brain of the fish. According to him, it makes people smarter. I obliged and it was actually quite tasty. If you are offered food or drink from a Kenyan, it is impolite to decline.

You can also follow AweInclusive on Pinterest.

POLAND

By Ania & Jon of Hitch-Hikers Handbook

krakow poland

Poland is still quite a traditional and formal society and good manners are very important to us.

Firstly, if you visit a Polish friend you should never walk into the house with your shoes on. This is very important to the Poles and if you break this social norm you will be considered very rude.

Secondly, if you are a man and you go through any door (enter or exit a building, a lift or any form of transport) you should never walk in before all the women around you do and it’s good manners to open the door for them. This can sometimes lead to comical or awkward situations especially in lifts as men would refuse to leave before the women even if that means that the ladies have to squeeze past them in very confined places.

Another thing you should keep in mind is that you should NOT say ‘thank you’ if somebody offers you something before this thing arrives. Let me give you an example. If your host asks you if you would like to have some tea and you say ‘thank you’ (dziekuje) before the tea is made, this will be understood as ‘no, thank you’ (nie, dziekuje) and you will never see the drink. The best thing to do in this situation is to answer ‘yes, please’ (poprosze) and say ‘thank you’ after the tea is brought to you.

Similarly, if you are in a restaurant or bar and you pay your bill, you shouldn’t say ‘thank you’ to the waiter before they bring you the change as it would be understood as ‘keep the change’. You can thank them after they bring you all the money back and leave the tip on the table if you please.

Furthermore, you should never invite Polish people to your birthday party if you are not willing to pay for their drinks. It is a custom for us that if you want to see people at your party you should pay for their beverages (or at least the first drink for each person if you invite them out) or buy the alcohol if you throw a party at your place. Likewise, it would be considered very rude if you made your Polish friends pay for their drinks at your wedding party. Polish parties are great, as a guest you always drink for free!

Lastly, the majority of Polish people are Catholics and the person of John Paul II is a very important one. He is considered not only a religious figure but also somebody who helped bring down Communism and one of the most important individuals in Polish history. So you should avoid insulting him in public or sometimes even joke about him. Just be careful what you say as you may easily hurt people’s feelings, it’s a delicate topic.

ARGENTINA

By Laura & Nick of Savored Journeys

buenos ares argentina

One of the customs in Argentina that will affect you the most as a tourist is the acceptable time to eat dinner, which is probably quite a bit later than you eat back home. In order to avoid embarrassment, you should plan to eat no earlier than 9 pm. Actually, 10 or 11pm would be better.

We love drinking wine with our meals in Argentina, and when we do, it’s important to remember that pouring our own wine, especially with the left hand, or while grasping the neck of the bottle are all considered rude and inconsiderate. You should always pour for your friends and allow them to pour for you.

If you’re in Argentina for any time at all, you’ll likely make some new friends and maybe even be invited in for dinner or an impromptu gathering. Be aware that it’s rude to just wave and say goodbye when you leave. Friends, and even acquaintances, will expect a kiss on the cheek both when you arrive and when you leave.

ITALY

By Martina of Pimp My Trip

venice italy gondola

In Italy, the galateo is a set of behavioral norms that people should always follow, even if a lot of italians don’t know it!

Italians love food and, in Italy, the galateo should always be applied when eating.

Don’t eat “pasta” with a spoon! Moreover, it is not a polite thing to cut “spaghetti” or any other kind of long “pasta” with a knife, either. When you bring spaghetti to your mouth do not “suck” them in. There is an exception, though: sucking is allowed with oriental noodles, since they are usually served in a hot soup.

Never ask a woman’s age! If she is quite witty she will tell you the truth, otherwise she will come back to you with a prickly joke for an answer.

When you are guest and want to come with a gift,  never give umbrellas as a present, since they bring bad luck. To give an umbrella as a present is a kind of like wishing rain. But there is of course a remedy to such bad luck and that is to give a little coin, like one or two cents, as an exchange gift.

THAILAND

By Sally of Sally Around The World

thailand traditional boats

While there are many customs in Thailand, most Thai people are used to tourist and can be very tolerant of cultural errors. The below, however are taken very seriously.

Take your shoes off. By far the custom I kept unintentionally breaking while in Thailand was the ‘no shoes inside rule’. Whether you are entering a temple or someone’s home, you must remove your shoes before going inside. This is even the case for shops and business. If you forget, the reaction can range from an evil death stare to being chased out of the building. Yes, I have had them both happen. It is unhygienic to wear shoes indoors and as Buddhists do a lot of kneeling and sitting in the lotus position or cross legged, they need the floors to be clean.

Do not touch peoples heads or show the soles of your feet. The head is considered spiritually the highest part of the body, and the feet the lowest. Touching someone’s head is seen as disrespectful, even little children’s. Although I did not feel the need to go around patting people on the head, I did cringe every time I saw a westerner with their feet up on the table.

Respect the King. Disrespecting and even criticizing the king is a criminal offence in Thailand. The Thais love their monarchy. You will see their picture in every business and in every house. Thailand has some of the world’s toughest lese majeste (injured majesty) laws protecting its extremely popular monarch. The national anthem is played at  8am, 6pm and before a movie in the cinema and you are expected to stand. The first time I went to see a movie and everyone stood up, I was very confused. I did actually end up enjoying it. I was moved by the Thai’s sense of pride and loyalty to a monarchy they love so much and who clearly loves them.

Standing on a coin or a note with the king’s face on it is seen as an insult to an image of the king. In 2011 a US citizen was sentenced to two and a half years in prison for writing a blog post seen as disrespectful and posting a link to an unauthorised biography of the king.

SPAIN

By Inma and Jose of A World to Travel

Yet another flysch one. #Euskadi

A photo posted by A World to Travel (@aworldtotravel) on

If you are lucky enough to spend some time in our country, please remember:

We take our time. Don’t rush a Spaniard unnecessarily. It doesn’t mean we are lazy or slow, we just have a different life philosophy where relationships and enjoying our everyday come before work.

We get close. Shaking hands is only a custom for business and between boys. If you are introducing yourself to a Spanish girl, two cheek kisses will follow. Also, please do not get intimidated by a closer than usual personal space when talking (aloud, by the way).

Respect our schedules. Shops usually open 10-14/17-20h, having breakfast at 11 is accepted and dinner can be served till at least midnight. That’s how we roll.

Inma and Jose run A World to Travel, a site focused in unique experiences around the world, photography, music festivals and the great outdoors. Follow them also on Instagram.

United Arab Emirates (UAE)

By Jennifer of Made All The Difference

abu dhabi United Arab Emirates

Don’t eat or drink in public during daylight in Ramadan.  It is against the law during this time and could get you arrested.  If you are arrested during Ramadan, enjoy your jail cell.  You will be there until the end of Ramadan.

Dress appropriately in public.  The UAE isn’t the place to wear short, tight, and low-cut clothing.  While not illegal in most of the UAE, it is disrespectful and makes you a target for staring.

Don’t get drunk, especially in public.  Islam does not permit drinking.  The UAE tolerates drinking alcohol in the hotels and private non-Islamic residences but nowhere else.  It isn’t unheard of for taxi drivers to drop drunk passengers off at the police station.

Don’t ask for pork in a restaurant.  Islam considers pigs to be unclean.  They do not eat them or touch them.

Our Encounter with Cultural Taboos – Do Your Reseach

We recently wrote about what not to do in Malaysia which gives a good look at the cultural customs and taboos of that country as well. It’s one place where different cultures combine and often travellers can be confused as to what exactly you should, or shouldn’t, do!

 

Have you ever run into different customs while travelling? Had an awkward experience when you weren’t aware of what you should or shouldn’t do in a country? Comment below and tell us about it!

Want to save this for later? Or share with others? In addition to the above images, you can hover on the top left corner of the below pin for the “Pin it” button and share on your Pinterest account!

 

Travellers' views of cultural taboos