Thursday, March 31, 2016

Tips for Bali

  • Sunscreen will break the bank.
    • It's 150,000 IDR (about $12 USD) per 100mg (~3 oz)
    • Bring that stuff over in checked baggage if you have to. It'll save you money.
  • You can live off $20/day ($10/night at a hostel that will give you free water, shower, and wif + $3/meal that will get you pretty full)
    • But most places don't give you free water
  • But you'll more likely spend at least $50 to $80/day even while on a budget because you have to:
    • rent a surfboard everyday ($10/day)
    • rent a scooter everyday ($5-ish/day)
    • buy alcohol (infinite/day)
    • buy sunscreen and this thing called Zinc, which is some sort of rub that you put on your skin to physically block the sun. You apply this after you apply sunscreen.
      • Sunscreen, Zinc, Aloe Vera, are all 150,000 IDR per about 3 ounces.
  • You can't fully explore and enjoy bali without a scooter
  • Refrigeration rules don't seem to apply
    • The $3 meals can be had at Warungs, where they cooked the food in batches and have them displayed in a non-refrigerated glass cabinet for the rest of the day
    • You point at the things you want
    • The food is usually not warm, so it's hard to guess how many hours they have been sitting there
    • But if you're optimistic, you won't get diarrhea! (or else these shops won't exist)
  • The picturesque waters and surf are in the south (that piece of land south of the airport)
    • This piece of land is broken into 2 parts: Bukit peninsula (west part), and Nusa Dua (east part)
      • In the Bukit Peninsula, you have Uluwatu, Padang padang, etc. Those are the waves on magazine covers. The water is clear and you can see the coral underneath you
      • Nusa Dua includes beaches such as Pandawa
    • North of the airport beaches such Kuta, Legian, Seminyak, and Cangu waters are all greenish and not clear, and most of the breaks are beach breaks, so direction of waves are hard to predict
  • Avoid Kuta
    • Kuta's main attraction is a sleazy street filled with bars and clubs and go-go dancers wearing heavy makeup
    • Every few meters, you will get approached and peddled by locals offering you:
      • taxi? (you say no)
      • scooter? (you continue walking on, saying no, shaking your head)
      • mushrooms? (he follows you and continue asking)
      • massage? (you've stopped responding by now and continue to walk)
      • girls? (he continues to ask)
    • I'm not trying to blame the locals or peddlers. This is just a reality. The discrepancy between how wealthy the tourists are vs how impoverished the locals are is crazy
    • I was haggling with one surf board rental shop, and it got to the point where I didn't want to rent from them because I wanted to see what my other options were first, but as I was walking away, he said, "but I'm hungry! We hungry. We need money. We need food.". He was slightly overweight, so I don't think he himself was starving. But I got the idea. He and his family needed money. But I just wanted to walk down the beach and see some other surfboard rental places, and I apologized as politely as I could, but as I continued walking away, he began cursing at me, and yelling "fuck you". This saddened me greatly.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

South East Asia Traveling - Things I'm Realizing and Learning about Myself

I left a great job in order to go travel and "find myself". I've learned that traveling with the goal of figuring out what to do in the future is a stupid goal. Traveling is play. I didn't gain a clearer understanding for what I want to do for the future but I did realize some of the following:
  • I am lucky beyond belief
    • To be a US Citizen
    • To have gone to college
    • To have studied engineering and have an engineer's mindset
      I have met college graduates in Vietnam who turned into hotel receptionists because it makes better money. And they make $250/month and get 2 days off in the whole month (not week, month). And Vietnam is not the poorest nation in South East Asia. I have seen so many workers who look miserable at their job. So many workers who are physically and mentally tired of what they have to do. For example:
      • Construction workers working in 102F, with no shirt no shoes, carrying bricks by hand
      • Tour guides who have to put on a smile. There was one tour guide at Angkor Wat, accompanying our group watching a 6:21am sunrise. He has to get up at 4:30am every morning. Someone actually asked him, "this is nothing to you right, you see this every day", he said "my gosh, I have seen it over a thousand times."
      • An female entertainer who look tired, baggy eyes, quite old, and walking with a bit of a limp, but still had to wear high heels and look pretty
      • Surf instructor who has to go out 6 days a week to teach surfing in paradise Bali. Once again 102F everyday where being in the sun becomes an almost unbearable annoyance and being in the water makes you so thirsty and the ocean water isn't even refreshing because it's also 80F and you're actually sweating.
      • Yet they have little choice. They have to do it. This is the best living they know of that they can make
  • Traveling can get lonely
    People come and go in your life. You can make an amazing connection with someone for 2 hours talking about life and your deepest struggles and joys, but in the morning, that person would be off to the next city, but you only got here. And in fact, you realize that morning that the whole group that you hung out with the night before checked out of the hostel, and you're kinda alone. But that's ok.
  • It's ok to have down time 
    You don't have to pack every minute with seeing something. It's ok to just be in your hostel or hotel room, by yourself, listening to music, blogging, reading, just as you would at home. I used to have a sense that every minute money is burning by because I'm not earning money and the flight, hotel room, food etc, all costs money, so I have to be doing something vacation related. That feeling is fine for a 2 week vacation (I used to have super packed 1 or 2 week vacations, see things in the day, party at night, no sleep). But I'm out here for several months. I will take it easy.
  • Things aren't the way they seem
    • The grass is always green on the other side
      The picturesque beach on the magazine cover looks so beautiful. When you get there, you realize it visually beautiful but physically feels like hell because it's 37 degrees hot with 80% humidity, and the water doesn't cool you off because it's 34 degrees.
    • Partying is the same all over the world
      Alcohol, loud music, dancing, revealing skin, girls, and guys trying to get with the girls
    • No FOMO
      Too many times I've experienced "this event sounds like it's gonna be awesome, I have to get there! It's gonna be so much fun!!!"No, I don't have to be there. It was just like the event I went to yesterday, or the week before that
    • If it's too good to be true, it really is
      That $6/night room that said included AC online actually didn't include AC
    • Don't trust a girl when she is too eager, approaches you first, or asks you out first, and you've known her less than a few hours (unless she is really is just there to party, but even then watch out)
      • Local girls at bars who are nice to you are often prostitutes
  • I don't deserve to travel for so long
    A few months into my traveling, it gnawed at me that I was traveling without meaning. I didn't know what I was traveling for. I also felt like I didn't deserve to travel for so long. I didn't just finish finals, graduate from school, or successfully launch a rocket. I wasn't celebrating. I hadn't worked hard to deserve this respite, and I wasn't working hard nor pursuing my ultimate dreams (although I sometimes contemplate it, my ultimate dream/goal in life is not to travel, because I think that would be silly/ridiculous/selfish/not-beneficial-to-mankind)
  • I already overpacked
    The ideal pack would have been 30 liters (e.g. a Northface Recon day pack) to fit a laptop, 2 pairs of shirt/underwear/boardshorts, and 1 pair of pants in case you want to do something fancy. Forget the DSLR and use your $800 smartphone. I packed too much, and since I didn't want to carry dirty/smelly clothes, I frequently wash clothes in the shower. Most hostels have a clothes drying rack. If you have good boardshorts, you don't need underwear.
  • The  discrepancy between rich and poor saddens me
    The locals are so poor. I was haggling with one surfboard renter and it got to the point where I didn't want to rent from them because I wanted to see what my other options were first, but as I was walking away, he said, "But I hungry! We hungry. We need money. For food. You first customer, good luck for day, rent please." He was slightly overweight, so I don't think he himself was starving. But I got the idea. He and his family needed money. But I didn't want to get ripped off, and I just wanted to walk down the beach and see some other surfboard rental places and surf spots, and I apologized as politely as I could, but as I continued walking away, he began cursing at me and yelling "Fuck. Fuck you. Fuck you!!" This saddened me greatly.
  • I'm not rich enough to live lavishly
    It bothers me too much when I spend a lot of money. I usually stayed at places there were $10/night. For 3 nights, I stayed at a $55/night place. The place was jaw droppingly beautiful. You can see the stars at night with an ocean view. But it bothered me that money was burning by. The place had a very smart system where you don't pay for items individually, but you just have a tab that you pay when you check out (But the place didn't even give free drinking water)
  • Being white makes you a god, but also makes you stick out
    Not politically correct, but quite true in South East Asia. I'm not white, but if you are, you will probably be a foot taller than everyone in South East Asia, and looked upon as gods or aliens, especially in less developed nations like Indonesia. I was walking through Jakarta (capital of Indonesia, population 9.6 million) with a few other caucasian travelers, and we kept getting swarmed by locals wanting to take pictures of us. And by us, I mean my traveler buddies. As in, the locals grabbed my white traveler buddies and took them aside to a take a picture with them and gave me the camera and asked me to take the picture, because I'm not white, I look somewhat like the locals, and therefore I'm not special. But this also helped me evade getting pulled over while on a motorcycle because I blended in more. (While white tourists in Bali frequently got pulled over and charged for not having an Indonesian license)
  • I am racist
    In Southeast Asia, many resorts and hostels have white/caucasian owners, 1 or 2 caucasian staff as managers, and locals (asians) making up the rest of the staff. Everyone is happy and smiling on the outside. Everyone is probably smiling on the inside too because in fact, the locals working at these kind of resorts are sometimes paid much more than what they can make in other jobs because the owners are generous and kind to workers, and all of that is great, but it's just kind of sad to see that the non-locals of the country have bought land, created resorts to attract other non-locals, and the locals are the ones doing the heavy lifting. Being asian american, it made me think of this:
    I saw an argument break out between the white owner of a resort and an asian surf instructor. That surf instructor was usually always very confident, joking, and outgoing, but in that argument, he was not. It was sad to see this side of him. I almost wanted to tell him "hey, I'm just like you, a minority in the white man's world".
    It's not that I dislike one race over another, it's more that maybe I'm jealous, and I sometimes wish that I wasn't who I was. That the color of my skin was white instead of yellow. It's very defeatist and victimizing to feel this way, and I usually don't
  • The road less taken is not always the best
    There is a reason the road more taken is more taken. Throughout the past few years I've been changing my life from being risk averse to more risk tolerant, with the thought that since I eventually want to become an entrepreneur, I should become more comfortable with risks of all kinds - from illegal u-turns when no-one-is-looking to motorcycle riding without the proper motorcycle license in a 3rd world country that doesn't have good hospitals and is known for crazy traffic. But that kind of risk taking has high costs, low reward, and does not translate to entrepreneurship, which requires smart, calculated risk taking. For a large chunk of my life now, I've pursued "interesting" instead of the "normal" almost as if because I want a good story to tell, but what's interesting may not always be what's necessary, nor right, nor best, especially in areas that might not be worth it. I don't need to jump off that 15 meter cliff anymore to prove to myself that I am a risk taker. I've jumped off the 10 meter one and it was enough. I'm going to save my risks for when the rewards are higher
  • I don't like anthropology or ethnology museums, but I do like war museums
    I don't want to learn about the daily basket-weaving life of 40 different tribes that now make up 5 percent of the population and how their baskets were different from each other. I need more action. I'd rather learn about how the US prevented a general election in Vietnam that pissed off north Vietnam and caused it to invade South Vietnam to start the Vietnam war, and how the US prolonged it to last 20 years at the cost of the lives of 58,000 American troops, but about 2 million asians, only for the US to quit, give up, leave, and lose the war, even though it never lost a major battle
  • I'd rather experience and participate than watch
    • This was the case for watching TV back home - I didn't follow sports because I was too lazy and too self-focused that I'd rather make meeble attempts to experience and play the sport myself than watch someone else
    • I realize that the same goes for watching temples and historical ruins - I get more satisfaction from surfing, riding a motorcycle, bicycling, or rock climbing. And all the better if there was an amazing view associated with it. But if all there was was an amazing view or temple or ruin and I didn't do anything to reach it, then I'm not as satisfied, and the view does not wow me as much, and since I have seen so much of it now, it does not wow me anymore
  • Traveling expedites some aspects of life, and joy, and pain
    • The spring fling that taught me to be more careful that included all the stages from starry eyes, to intimacy, to arguments, to breakup, to tears, that occurred over two weeks that would normally have taken 6 months
    • The becoming proficient at riding a proper 650cc motorcycle that I thought I would eventually get around to back in the US over a decade or so
    • The getting better at surfing because I surfed 10 days in a row but back home I was only surfing once or twice a week

Friday, March 4, 2016

South East Asia Vacation Planning

Vacation planning for 3 months in Asia

Goals for vacation:
  1. Surf: Get barreled, learn how to do turns and cutbacks
  2. Visit the following countries/places: 
    • Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, China, Mongolia
    • Areas of China I've never seen before: Yunan, Tibet, Chongqing, Urumuqi
      • Basically start south in Indonesia and trek northward, eventually ending up in Tibet, then maybe even Mongolia
  3. Stop by Shanghai on the way in and on the way out of Asia to see grandparents
  4. Keep total expenditures under $10k, including flight, immunization, everything
  5. Continue to work towards my other new year's resolutions
The rest of this post is broken into 3 sections: Pre-travel, Gear, Itinerary.

I must have regrettably spent over 40 hours on researching and buying the following gear. Analysis lead to paralysis. I had some ridiculous requirements for each gear (that good ol' product development and system engineering mindset). But in the end, I'm very happy with what I've picked. I cared heavily about weight, especially because some airlines like Air Asia only allowed for 7kg carry ons. Every ounce mattered.

Waterproof cellphone case requirements:
I plan on surfing, but a lot of surf spots are not near hostels. So I plan on carrying a phone and cash with me for directions and surfboard rentals and then just surf with the phone on me in case the place didn't have lockers.
  • Find a pouch/case to allow me to surf with the phone in my board short pockets
  • I thought about using an armband attachment, but was concerned about this because the armband can get ripped off by a strong wipe out. So my goal remained to keep the phone in the pocket.
  • Roll top pouch instead of plastic top pouch. The plastic seal can break or get crushed or cracked if hit the board.
I ended up getting the Crenova BP-02 that has a roll over velcro enclosure system.
The MOKO IPX8 certified case was runner up, but I was concerned about the plastic top part breaking in case it got crushed between my hip and the surfboard.
I was also consider ALOKSAK (glorified zip lock bags), but I thought nah forget it, yo, holmes to Bel Air.

The Crenova phone case arrived and I didn't like how it just had snap on buttons on the top (3 ziplocks that roll over each other and then a flap with 2 snap on buttons to close the roll).
Being a paranoid person without a day job, I spent 3 more hours looking at waterproof phone pouches and then bought the DiCAPac, which uses velcro (a single ziplock that rolls and gets held in place with two velcro sections.)
The DiCAPac also came in different colors, and that embarked a google-fest of what was the most visible color underwater for fear that I would drop the phone and it sinks to the bottom. I came upon a few interesting articles explaining how water basically absorbs light in the ROYGBIV order. So a few feet underwater, red will appear as black, then a few more feet, orange will appear as black, etc. The exception being if the color was fluorescent (gives off light, aka glow in the dark).
Articles about color visibility underwater: -If a diver is bleeding at 60', where there is no red light, the diver bleeds a greenish-black blood
But then this wikipedica article quoted a study that said the most visible non-flourescent color was usually yellow.
In hindsight, the phone case I bought floats. I didn't need to do all that research about visible colors underwater. Damn.

Portable charger requirements:

I had a devastatingly hard time deciding how big of a charger to get. At first I thought I'd try to match one that is the weight of the Kindle Paperwhite since I had decided to forego taking a Kindle (7.6oz), but I realize that's actually too heavy for day-to-day pocket carry. My phone is 5.71oz and I decided I didn't want anything heavier than my phone in the other pocket.
  • USB port on top
  • 2A output at least
  • 2A input at least for faster recharging (I saw one company has a 4A input, but the battery was huge)
  • Preferably includes a built-in usb cable
  • Curved edges and pockets (so they don't poke holes in my pockets when I do a backflip) 
  • No bigger or that my phone. To keep things in perspective, my 5.5" phone:
    • Dimensions 152.9 x 75.9 x 8.9 mm (6.02 x 2.99 x 0.35 in)
    • Weight 162 g (5.71 oz)
I had a hard time deciding between:
EasyAcc 6000mAh (which was featured on Wirecutter) and Anker PowerCore 10000 Portable Charger, The Smallest and Lightest 10000mAh External Battery. I bought one, then canceled it, then bought the other, then bought the first one again. So I bought both. FML.

Packable daypack requirements:I wanted something smaller than my 44L backpack to use for a second pack
  • Packable
  • Max 16oz weight, preferably half of that
  • Chest sternum strap
  • Side mesh pockets with tightener, or at least carabiner attachment to attach Nalgene bottle to carabiner
  • Laptop sleeve inside
I had a difficult time deciding between L.L. Bean Stowaway Daypack and Gonex Lightweight Packable Backpack Hiking Daypack Upgraded Version 30L.
I ended up with the Gonex because it was a few ounces lighter. I got it, and found out the side mesh pocket couldn't fit a Nalgene bottle. Damn.

Waterproof dry bag requirements:
I'll be trekking during rainy seasons, so I wanted a dry bag to keep my laptop dry, but I also wanted to be able to use it as a daypack (I know, scope creep and redundant requirements with the packable daypack, no bueno).
  • Two removable straps (so I can stuff into my backup, can carry as duffel, or use a backpack)
  • Zip pocket for easy access to stuff
  • Packable
  • Side mesh pocket to hold water bottle
  • Less than 1.5lbs
  • Compression valve, or eVent or eVac material so that you can compress the air out of the bag but still ensures water-proofness (it turns out this is what separates the average bags from the bugie/expensive/elite bags)
It was impossible to find something that met all of the above. I ended up getting Mava sports 15L. No compression feature, but that's ok. We'll see how well it holds up.

Board shorts with zipper pockets
I didn't have any boardshorts with zipper pockets big enough to hold my phone. They only had velcro pockets. Luckily, I was trying to use up a North Face gift card from a gift my old college roommates gave me (thanks guys!), so I hit up TNF store and ended up getting the Washoe shorts. These were the most expensive shorts I have bought in my life. I didn't go to TNF store with the intention of using the gift card on shorts, but that's just what happened.

Pre-Travel Financials, Insurance, Etc.

Debit card for no foreign ATM fees to get cash:
I opened a Charles Schwab account. After comparing ING (now Capital One), Ally, Simple bank, and other no foreign ATM fee debit cards I could think of, Charles Schwab seemed to be the best. I don't want to walk around with thousands of bahts or millions of rupiah on me. (USD to IDR is 1 to 13070?!)

A co-worker told me about T-Mobile's Simple Plan that has unlimited text and data in 140+ countries ($65/mo+tax for 6GB LTE data). I googled around and it was indeed the best thing I could find. Out of the places I was going, it covered China, Thailand, Cambodia, and Indonesia (no Mongolia nor Vietnam), but good enough. I'd like to avoid having to get local SIM cards at every country.

I will miss the rumble of her boxer engine.
I'll be trading it for the roars of crashing waves on a foreign ocean.
From what I read on some blogs about storing a car:
  • Overinflate the tires
  • Use tire blocks instead of the hand brake
  • Moisture absorbing crystals in the cabin to prevent mold/mildew growth (home depot)
  • Fill the tank full to prevent condensation
  • Add fuel stabilizer to the tank

I got vaccinated for:

  • Tdp: Tenatus booster
  • Hep-A: requires 2 shots, 6 months apart. 1 shot provides 6 to 8 months of immunity, and the second shot provides 20+ years
  • Typhoid fever - Can be taken as 1 shot that provides 2 years of immunity, or 4 separate pill to be taken every other day
  • Malaria: After googling around, I decided not to get malaria pills.

    • China:
      • Present year round in rural parts of Yunnan Province, primarily in the counties along the China-Burma (Myanmar) border. Limited transmission in rural areas of Anhui, Hubei, Guangxi, and Motuo county in Tibet.
      • Some major river cruises may go through malaria endemic areas in Anhui and Hubei Provinces.
    • Bali, Indonesia:
    • Thailand:
      • Rare to few cases in other parts of Thailand including the cities of Bangkok, Chang Mai, Chang Rai, Koh Phangan, Koh Samui, and Phuket.  None in the islands of Krabi Province (Koh Phi Phi, Koh Yao Noi, Koh Yao Yai, and Ko Lanta) and  Pattaya City.
    • Cambodia
      • Present throughout the country including Siem Reap city. None in the city of Phnom Penh and the temple complex at Angkor Wat.
    • Vietnam
    • Mongolia:
      • None
  • Dengue fever
    • No vaccines exist.
    • Sweet! So I don't have to worry about it! (JK, bathe thyself in mosquito repellent)

Travel insurance requirements:
  • Allow for surfing
  • Allow for riding a motorcycle
  • Have emergency evacuation
  • Cover Theft and loss of personal belongings
  • Prefer to cover:
    • Diving
    • Renting a car
After many hours of reading and forgetting what I read about different insurance policies, I went with: TBD (still trying to decide on this)

Achieving the goal of surfing required more thought because I need to take into account rainy seasons and wave size. (And even freaking El Nino)

Best surfing places in SE Asia that I'd want to visit:
1. Bali, Indonesia
2. Phuket, Thailand
3. Vung Tau, Vietnam (near Ho Chi Minh)
3. Da Nang, Vietnam (probably not, because it's a bit too far from Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi)

Things I'm concerned about: internet availability, rainy season and wave size, El Nino's affect, religion, year round temp, water availability, food/meal cost, hostel cost, surf cost, ocean bottom type.

I decided on doing the following:
Shanghai - 2 weeks
Kuala Lumpur - 1 day, 15 hour layover (because I've already been there for 1 day layover previous)
Jakarta - 2 days
Bali - 10 days
Chiang Mai - 8 days (For a frisbee tournament, and then this water fight national holiday festival)
Rest of Thailand - 10 days ish
Cambodia - 1 week
Vietnam  -  2 weeks
China - 2 weeks (Tibet and the western part)
Then back to Shanghai (for another frisbee tournament)

So I'm basically going all the way south to Bali, my southernmost destination, and the trekking up.

Some things I'm noticing: I don't need to stay very long at any place and I get bored quickly

Searching for Places to Stay
The way I book hostels is to look on Trip Advisor for the map view of top things to do, and then book hostel locations near those things.
Like this:

Then I will do more googling for specifics, such as the fact that in Chiang Mai, the food stalls aren't everywhere, but mainly near the North and South gates, which I learned from this guy's blog:
This Levels guy is basically my role model of a traveler/hacker.

And sometimes, I'll get lucky and realize I'll be in Chiang Mai for their biggest holiday, and I'll do more specific googling and find more details, such as the following:

I found this planning and preparation part to be agonizing because:
1) I'm a little paranoid
2) I can be very detail oriented
3) I hate shopping around because it sucks all my energy. Feels like I just did 200 SWOT analysis on travel gear