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Fast Fact: The Huangshan Mountains of China or Yellow Mountains as they are known are not yellow. They are named after the Yellow Emperor 747AD who was reportedly part mystic. When he bathed in the local hot springs he became younger so they became known as the Springs of Youth. Worth a try!

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DSC00261 (853x1280)Fast Fact: The Long Haired Red Yao women of China only cut their hair once in their lifetime, age 16 when they’re looking for a husband. At the time of their wedding their childhood ponytail is given to their grandmother who creates a hair piece which is then gifted to the husband. He then returns this to his wife who uses this as a ‘hair extension’ to the 1.7m average of this village. A second extension is made from the hair that falls out on a daily basis.  The 3 piece hairdo is wound & worn like a crown. A wrap around with a knot at the front means this lady is married with children.  What is the secret to their beautiful hair? Their jet black hair is kept silky & shiny by washing in the water used to rinse rice.  So where does this long haired tradition come from? They believe their long hair will bring them longevity, wealth & health.

Fast Fact: 19th century travellers used to describe Constantinople (Istanbul) as the Paris of the East. Istiklal Caddesi (Independence Avenue) was known as the Grande Rue de Pera where trams were the main form of transport. Today one such tram still exists & carries tourists up & down the avenue.

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Rookie Travel Mistake #12 – 6 months on you’d think we’d be masterful by now!
Relaxing in the back of an Istanbul taxi late at night, you think he knows where he’s going (you’ve shown him the address in Turkish). He gets lost & dumps you roadside at the bottom of a steep hill 1km up to home. Worst still … he overcharges you 3 times the normal amount. BEWARE OF THE TAXI SCAM … older taxis have their meters down low & its common practice for drivers to add to them as they chat away about the sights & you casually look out the window. Another trick is they claim their meter is not working & they quote you 100 TL (A$50) for what normally is 20-30 TL trip depending on traffic.  Note to Self: Don’t hesitate to say NO & get out. Look for one of the new taxis that have the meter reading in the rear vision mirror so you can monitor the whole way. Took us 4 goes 1 day but its worth it!

Rookie Travel Mistake #11
Thinking the bread & accompaniments are complimentary! In Portugal when you first sit down for a meal they bring bread, olives, pates, cheese etc to your table. If you’re on a budget & don’t want these extra costs you will need to be persistent & keep handing them back to the waiters otherwise you’ll get charged even if you don’t eat them!

Rookie Travel Mistake #10
Not checking your change to ensure all the notes are intact. We spend a lot of time in the Old Quarters of cities where there is a higher probability of receiving faulty notes. If you receive a handful of notes as change & they are folded in half … use this as a warning bell … they may be trying to pass on ripped bills to unsuspecting tourists / travellers. If you do get caught, head to a state / government back & they should exchange them for you! This has happened to us in both Hanoi & Istanbul!

Fast Fact: Yes this is bamboo scaffolding & it is still a major part of the construction industry in Hong Kong. There are over 1,750 registeredscaffold (931x1280) bamboo scaffolders still in existence. Is considered to be a master skill to be able to build sky high bamboo platforms that reach for the heavens.

Rookie Travel Mistake #9
Trusting a hairdresser that says he’s trained in London … WT? …way too short but then it was only $3 … some would say value for money

Fast Fact: Peregrines are the fastest animal on earth, 3 times faster than a cheetah. National Geographic clocked a Peregrine at a record speed of 389km/h (242mph) whereas a cheetah runs at an awesome average of 110 km/h (70mph).

Rookie Travel Mistake #8
Thinking that when Agoda or Booking.com asks for credit card details for the hotel you’ve booked … they actually process the charge! Always check your credit card statements to confirm the charge has or hasn’t gone through BEFORE you have an argument with hotel management, particularly when it escalates to getting the police involved. Not a nice way to end a 2 weeks in paradise on Koh Samui. Backstory … when we arrived at this hotel they said they didn’t have our booking & they didn’t use Agoda (not sure how they got listed there & how we could make the booking!!) Anyway, the following day through broken language we thought they confirmed they had found our booking & payment hence all was ok (Its surprisingly this budget hotel had virtually no English speaking staff which is highly unusual for Thailand). So when they accused us of trying to NOT PAY on checkout for accommodation & meals (which we had paid cash for … rather than on the tab) … things got a little heated on both sides. You should have seen Gaye fire up …woohoo … no messing with her!

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Fast Fact: Fairy Terns are graceful white birds that glide through the skies above the beaches of Seychelles. These beautiful birds mate for life & it is for their loyalty to each other that they were chosen for the logo of Air Seychelles.

handRookie Travel Mistake #7
Not washing your hands with hand sanitizer before eating Pringles or bananas on bus & train trips. Projectile banana spew banana’s is not a pretty sight for your travel companion or much fun for the sick one! You’d think Gaye would learn … it’s becoming a trend on long hauls.

Rookie Travel Mistake #6
Make sure you complete Airbnb profile. Most importantly the Verification process which involves passport information, drivers licence & linking to your other profiles on LinkedIn, Facebook, Google etc. Otherwise you’ll be rejected & won’t get the places you want to stay in!

Note to Self: How to Save $$ on Taxis – Budget travel often means overnight trains, planes & buses with 4 or 5am arrivals. Bus terminals & airports are notoriously out of town so when you arrive you are at the mercy of the local taxi or tuk tuk drivers. Be prepared to haggle & stand fast as they always overprice their initial offers. Do yourself a favour & check out Trip Advisor forums beforehand & see what the going rate is for that town or city. If you’re arriving at an airport rule of thumb is … taxi touts within the terminal buildings are usually overpriced or luxury cars. Head straight for the taxi rank outside & make sure you get one that has a proper meter.

Fast Fact: Beautiful Old Bagan has over 2,200 Buddhist pagodas & temples still standing, all within a 100 square kms. They date back to the 11th – 13th centuries when the city was the capital of the Kingdom of Pagan (what was to become Myanmar). The Bagan Archaeological Zone (as it’s called) rivals Anchor Wat in beauty, ornateness, spirituality, history & has a magical energy not yet disturbed by tourism. It should be World Heritage listed as it is testament to a lost culture & a masterpiece of human creative genius!

Rookie Travel Mistake #5
Padlock keys … you always get a spare. Don’t keep them on the same ring, leave them on the bed, have them collected by the cleaning staff when they change the sheets & have to travel with half of your bag locked for the next 9+ months! Yes … Gaye did get it cut off & popped on a new lock. Guess what … that key broke 2 days later! Maybe the universe is telling her something.

Note to Self: Get Back on that Horse! – After a scary or challenging event it’s easy to avoid confronting the situation again. Gaye showed great courage getting back on the bike as pillion straight after the accident. She also pushed aside discomfort & pain over the next few days as we continued exploring Koh Lanta island on 125ccs!

Rookie Travel Mistake #4
Just because you don’t pay a fee when using your credit card for a deposit, doesn’t mean it will be the same when you pay the end bill. Note to self … check the % of additional charges for credit card payment vs ATM fees on cash withdrawals … it could be worth another nights accommodation!

Note to Self: Motion Sickness – In Myanmar the roads are rough, windy & it’s slow going. For example, it took us 7.5 hours by bus to go 250kms from Mandalay to Hsipaw. The Burmese don’t travel very far very often so when they do, they often get motion sickness. So carry some extra travel sickness tablets on long haul bus trips. (Here’s a pic of the local medicine). It makes for a more enjoyable trip for everyone.

Rookie Travel Mistake #3
Taking a series of 90 minute yoga classes & assuming it’s complimentary! You get a rude awakening when you review your bill upon check out. Note … we did suggest to hotel management they pop the prices on the timetable as they did with other paid for services. Don’t think it will happen though … so ask before you stretch!

Note to Self: Moral Dilemma – Horse & carriages are a regular feature within Bagan Myanmar. The locals get around in them & the tourists find it a novel way to tour the pagodas. The problem is summer temperatures reach 35+c, there is little shade, 2-4 tourists per haul is not a light load & there appears to be a distinct lack of water flowing the poor horses way. I regretfully organised a horse & carriage as part of Gaye’s birthday surprise. When they arrived at 5am for our sunrise pick up we were distressed by the poor condition of the horse & were very hesitant to climb on board. We had organised a half day trip but sent them packing after the 1st hour with a load of apples, carrots & water. Yet another moral dilemma … how do you support tourism so that adopts an animal welfare approach? Do we bypass / boycott the activity or do we only support those that are responsibly cared for? Something needs to happen as tourism is booming & conditions will only worsen for these poor beasts of burden!

Rookie Travel Mistake #2
Not checking you have your passports when your transfer arrives early & it’s all rush rush rush to get on an overnight bus! Huge thank you to the staff of the Floral Breeze Hotel (Bagan) who arranged immediate transfer of our passports free of charge to our next hotel destination in Mandalay.

Note to Self: Curb your own impatience or it will curb you (literally) & adopt Safe Driving Practices
Rather than waiting for the adventure of the holiday to unfold … Gaye gave it a kickstart on the bike … cresting the hill at 60km on her scooter (with Jen on the back) … she lost control, hit the dirt & went SPLAT … Ouch!

Safe Driving Practices – We were very lucky that day! We could have ended up in hospital with serious injuries! Believe it or not we do adopt safe driving practices & these helped save our skin literally
1. Always wear helmets
2. Wear protective shoes – trekking boots or sandshoes not thongs / flip flops … we’d be minus a few toes if we didn’t
3. Cover up with long pants & shirts regardless of the temperature or humidity. Its better to be hot than having skin graphs or ugly disfigurations
4. Practice on back roads – If you’re a beginner keep to the back roads with little to no traffic, less chance of a head on!
5. Drive at a safe pace – 40kms is good for beginners! OK … that’s where we went wrong!
By taking these precautions we escaped major injury … proving prevention is better than cure!

Rookie Travel Mistake #1
Thinking you can cancel a transaction 3 times & not have your card eaten by the ATM … DOH Jen! To make matters worse it was 1.30 am in the Arrivals Hall at Yangon airport before clearing customs. Fast forward 24 hours … the lovely people at the Eastern Hotel (downtown Yangon) made a series of calls & we found out my card was safe & sound still in the ATM. On arrival at customs they waved us through with open arms … we jumped a barrier, rocked up the exchange kiosk next door to the ATM, they grabbed the keys unlocked the machine & said “are you Jenny Lincoln?” … yes I replied without having to show any ID. Thank goodness for such a trusting mentality … it would have been a pain in the butt losing our access card Day 1!

Note to Self: Trust goes a long way … after reading about the difficulty of getting a Myanmar visa we had a niggling feeling that we would get rejected on our 1st adventure leg. In hindsight that was all naivety about the unknown. We had nothing to worry about … the Burmese immigration team were the friendliest we’ve met. So much of travel is trusting the natural order & flow of things. When you get caught up in your head about all the coulds, woulds, should … you breath energy into them & bring them to life. Trust, relax & let go!

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