South East Asia – Chapter 19 – Lady I don’t want your money.

*** I’m catching up on blogging & posting stories. They are a bit out of order and I’m not currently in Asia. This particular post was written while I was there though.

Today we arrived in Siem Reap at around 3pm. After a dip in the hotel pool, I headed out to explore a bit of the city. I followed the map to the market area, stopped for a cold smoothie at Blue Pumpkin and then wandered around a bit more. People were out and about doing chores, selling fruit or street food and massages were being offered everywhere. Not to mention the plethora of drivers trying to get you to take their tuk tuks.

After a wandering around for about an hour, I headed back on a slightly different route through the side streets.

A little girl, who was about eight years old, walked up to me and touched me on the arm.
“Lady, I don’t want your money” she said in a soft voice. I looked down at her and she was carrying her little sister who seemed to be about a year old.
“I just want some milk for my sista. Can you buy some milk?”

I never give children on the streets money and I rarely buy anything from them unless I really want it. I know it is a different way of life in other countries, but I don’t like that kids learn to beg for money from tourists because they assume we are rich and that their parents force them to do this. I am, however, more than happy to give a child or family food instead of money.

I agreed to buy the little girl milk.

She quickly took me by my hand and led me in the direction of the nearest grocery / convenience store which was about ½ a block away. Along the way she held my hand tight and helped me safely cross the street, assuming that because I was a tourist I wasn’t familiar with the crazy traffic and lack of driving laws. It was really cute that she was insistent that I not cross before her and that we do so safely.

As we got closer to the store, the girl explained that she wanted powdered milk … Similac, as it would last for a long time for her and her two sisters. Her English was really good for a child of her age. She obviously must be attending school for her English to be so good.

We walked into the store and she took me directly to the powdered milk section, pointing out the exact kind of Similac that her sisters needed (for 6 – 24 months). I asked her how much they cost and she didn’t know, so I took one to the counter and asked the staff. The can that she had pointed out was $23 US.

I turned to the little girl and sadly explained that it was too much and that I didn’t have that much money. (I only had a $20 bill on me) I asked if there were smaller cans, but there were not.

The little girl pleaded with me as I put it back, saying that it would feed them for three months and that it was not too expensive. I tried to explain to her that I didn’t have the money, but she did not seem to accept this answer.

“How much you have?” she asked.

I wasn’t going to play that game with her. They are taught well to try and get every penny from you. Nor was I going to take my wallet out and show her.

“I’m really sorry, but I don’t have enough. If they had a smaller can I would buy it for you, but they don’t.”

The little girl continued to argue and plead with me, so I began to leave the store. She grabbed my hand and forcefully pulled it, begging once again for me to buy it for her. When I firmly said no, that I could not, as I did not have enough money, we continued out of the store with her saying “Give me $5 then and I can find money from someone else to buy it.” (Not a bad suggestion from an eight year old, but I only had a $20 bill)

As I headed to cross the street, the girl grabbed on to my hand with all her strength, it actually hurt a little bit! She continued to plead with me. I continued to say no.

She yanked on my hand and I stopped in my tracks as it honestly hurt and surprised me.
“I come with you to get more money.” She suggested.
I said “No, I’m sorry. I can’t. Will you be here tonight? Still on the street?”
“No. no. no. I won’t be here lata. Everyone says they will come back lata and no one ever does.”

Her English really was quite amazing for a young girl and she certainly knew how to shame you into helping her.

Still tightly gripping my hand, she again insisted on helping me cross the street. As I continued to walk away, she continued pleading with me, repeating everything that she had already said. Her new tactic though was to also pinch me to try and get my attention. She had let go of my hand after crossing the street but had begun pinching my arm and begging. In fact, she began to get very angry with me.

Getting increasingly annoyed at being pinched by a little girl and not wanting to cause a scene, I stopped and looked at her.

“Why won’t you help me? You said you would buy me milk.” She whined
“It is too expensive. I do not have enough money for it.”

She pinched my arm again to which I said “You were being nice and now you are not. I’m sorry, but I do not have the money and pinching isn’t helping.”

Finally, the little girl stopped pinching me. She didn’t stop whining and she let me go on my way.

I felt absolutely horrible about walking away. I truly had wanted to help the girl and her sisters. I had no idea how many tourists she convinced to do this on a regular basis, but buying them milk was so much better than giving them money.

So many tourists give into the pleading eyes of these children. I’m not at all saying it is wrong to help, but just how much money are you willing to give away and not know what it is being spent on or who the money is going to. These children learn their way around the streets and make a living for themselves and their families by begging on the streets from ‘rich’ people like you and I. What kind of life is this for a child?

I want to help them. Their pleading eyes cut through me too, but I try to see the bigger picture. Instead, I try to give them food or water. I try to support fair trade organizations or not for profits who teach or employ children and youth. There are so many ways to give back without giving money directly to a child.

In Cambodia alone, I’ve already eaten meals at two restaurants that support youth. Veyio Tonle and Friends, both in Phnom Penh. I also have purchased souvenirs and gifts from a couple of not for profit organizations, including Friends who have a great store with many recycled items, hand made by the children and youth that they support. You can also have a $3 – $5 manicure or pedicure at the Friends store and spa where youth are learning skills that can help them earn money.

The next time you travel, source out some reputable organizations to support, be strong and don’t give in to the children begging on the street. Rather, give back to an organization that teaches skills so that the children can earn a living and hopefully make a change to end the vicious poverty cycle that they currently live in.

Giving money to one or two children in the street may feed them for a day. Supporting a not for profit organization or charity may not help that same child, but it will help many children have a better life by gaining skills so that they do not have to live and beg on the streets.

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Traveling Visas

So far in my travels of 12 different countries I’ve been very lucky to not have to apply in advance for any visas. In fact, being a Canadian citizen makes us very lucky as there are fewer visas that we need to enter many countries. I guess technically in the Dominican Republic I probably had a tourist visa as I was there for 7 weeks and I feel like I also had a tourist visa for the Galapagos Islands, but both were done right at the airport. You paid for them, and then went on my way.

Now I’m entering a new realm of travel …. South East Asia …

With a little research on the Government of Canada Travel Website I was able to relatively quickly find out the visa situation for the countries that I will be visiting.

Burma – Visa needed in advance
Vietnam – Visa needed in advance
Cambodia – Visa needed – pay for it at the border when you enter the country
Thailand – No visa required for stays under 30 days if you fly in, or for up to 15 days if you travel overland from a neighbouring country (which is what I will be doing).

At about 11-12 weeks before my departure, I called the Burma Embassy to ask for the requirements / application and fees. The nice lady said she would send it out be email, which I promptly received.

I also called the Vietnam Embassy to get the requirements and they pointed me in the direction to print the application form.

It took me at least two weeks to get around to having my six passport photos taken and filling out the applications. Now, I can only send one application at a time because each one has to have my physical passport at the Embassy to place the visa inside. I must admit, I’m excited to see what they look like, but sending your passport away via mail is SCARY! Of course, it is sent by Xpress post or FedEx so that you can track it, but still … it’s a little scary. And, because they have your passport, you can’t do any out of country traveling while you are applying for visas. Not really an issue for me, but I can see it being an issue for someone who regularly travels to the US on business, or people who live in border towns and shop ‘over across’ on a regular basis. No passport = no other country than Canada for that period of time.

On June 20th, I made my way to Canada Post to get the required money order for payment of the Vietnam visa in the amount of $93. I had the paperwork filled out and the required passport photo, so I was all set. The directions clearly said to send it via courier and include a return pre-paid courier envelope (preferably FedEx).

So, off I went downtown to FedEx. I explained the situation to the staff member and he told me firmly that FedEx does not do any kind of prepaid return envelopes. That I could not in any way purchase something and pay for it in order for them to send me back by passport. I tried to explain that the visa application specified FedEx, but he stood his ground and told me I would have to do it by Canada Post.

I nearly lost it. But, I took a deep breath, walked out and returned to Canada Post. They were more than happy to help me both send the package and include a prepaid return envelope … both of which are trackable. Phew!

20 minutes late arriving to work that morning, but seeing as the trip is part work, I guess that will be forgiven.

Now the waiting game is on. They say 10 business days from the time they receive the application. So, here’s hoping that I will have my Vietnam visa in my hands by July 9th or 10th. I then quickly have to turn around and send off for my Burma / Myanmar visa that same week as it takes up to 15 business days. Yikes! That’s cutting right in to the beginning of August and I leave on August 14th.

I already have my money order for $30 purchased, although they could only fit TO: Embassy of Myanmar on it, not the required ‘Embassy of the Union of the Republic of Myanmar’. Hope that doesn’t cause any problems, but there’s simply not room for all of that on the Money order! Just a matter of finishing the application, getting a letter from my employer and heading back to good old Canada Post to send everything off.

This stuff is a little bit stressful! Sending your passport by mail … running around … paying the visa fees, the courier fees and the return courier fees as well. So much easier if you live in Ottawa and can just hand deliver everything to each Embassy. And, then, the worst part is the waiting … is everything filled in correctly? Are they going to approve the visa or will it be declined for not dotting an I or crossing a T somewhere along the way.

I sure hope it all works out in the end because I only have seven weeks to departure! Yikes!

I will keep you updated!

My summer adventure in Asia

Earlier this year on social media I spent some time talking about how much I wanted to do a cycling trip in Vietnam or Burma. I even joined the gym and started biking. Yay me! You know … until it wasn’t YAY me anymore and I fell off the work out train just like 75% of people who join in January.

Well, I’m still going once or twice a week … I guess that isn’t horrible. And, I’m trying really hard to get back in to it for the next 8 weeks before I head out on my first ever trip to Asia.

So, why Asia?

Initially it started with an interest in Vietnam. Funny enough, not the history which is what Vietnam is often noted for. I was interested in the amazing photo opportunities and I had heard that cycling through the countryside in Vietnam was breath taking. So, Vietnam went to the top of my wish list.

Then, through work at The Adventure Travel Company I began to take an interest in Burma. It’s a country that has only opened up it’s borders in the past few years to tourists and is just slowly gaining enough stability for people to want to travel there.

Near the end of March, I found out about a great opportunity to go Burma on an agent trip. It’s not free, but it is discounted and it sounded like an amazing adventure to a place that is little known and not well traveled. I put in my application and was immediately accepted and my place was held.

Then I took off to lead the Peru Through the Lens photo tour for two weeks and didn’t have time to think about my ‘next’ adventure because I was busy living an adventure. Tough problem to have don’t you think?

As soon as I returned from Peru, I confirmed my spot on the Agent trip to Burma with Tucan Travel and a few weeks later, booked my International flights. All the while, trying to figure out what else to do in Asia! There was NO WAY I was doing 24 hours of travel time in each direction just for a 9 day trip in Burma. Despite how fantastic those 9 days are going to be … I wanted to make the most out of my international air fare and excruciating travel time!

Since Vietnam was at the top of my list, I decided I would go there as well … and the hunt was on for the perfect trip that would fit within my dates.

I searched high and low … Tucan Travel, G Adventures, Intrepid, Travel Indochina … Nothing seemed to fit my dates and my desire for Vietnam. Through all of the searching, repeated trips including Cambodia came up and I started looking more closely at them because I wasn’t having much luck with just Vietnam. And then, I fell in love with the idea of visiting Angkor Wat. After a lot of searching through trips with different companies and trying to match them up with my dates, here is my itinerary for my super South East Asia trip this summer.

August 14 – Depart Halifax in the morning.
August 15 – Arrive Bangkok, Thailand close to midnight.
August 16 – Transfer from the International airport to the regional airport for my early morning flight to Yangon. Check into my hotel and sleep. Hopefully I’ll have enough energy to explore a little as well, but mostly, sleep.

August 17 – 25 – Blissful Burma – Tucan Travel – Agent Trip
August 17 – No planned activities – Explore at leisure.
August 18 – 19 – Shwedagon Pagoda / Overnight bus to Mandalay. Mingun / cruise up the river. Yadanabon market.
August 20 – 21 – Guided bike tour of the Temple ruins of Bagan. Optional hot air balloon ride at sunrise or sunset. (This is not optional for me … it is the part I am most excited about. I may even pay to do it at sunrise AND sunset!)
Aug 22 – Visit local villages and the Elephant Conservation Centre where I’ll get to wash and feed the elephants. EEEEEEEEKKKKKK! I’m super excited about this. There’s also opportunities to ride the elephants and trek into the jungle with them.
Aug 23 – Inle Lake visiting floating gardens and sampling local tea. Visit markets and a cheroot factory.
Aug 24 – We fly to Yangon and spend time exploring the markets, colonial buildings and the Yangon river. We also return to the Shwedagon Pagoda to see it illuminated at night.
Aug 25 – I will depart Yangon and fly to Bangkok. After several hours layover, I’ll be on my way to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam.

Aug 26 – 27 – Currently I have no specific plans. I suspect I will spend some time in my hotel blogging and catching up with friends and family back home as I expect to be without internet and cell service for most of my stay in Burma. Other than that, I might try to do a Mekong Delta home stay, a city tour or cycling tour in the countryside.

Aug 28 – Sept 5 – G Adventures – Cambodia Experience (this is for myself. I will simply be traveling with a group, not leading it, not responsible for anyone, just seeing the sites for me!)

Aug 28 – No planned activities. Sight seeing in Saigon.
Aug 29 – Mekong Delta, Vietnam
Aug 30 & 31 – Phnom Pen, Cambodia
Sept 1 – 3 – Siem Reap / Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Sept 4 – Bangkok, Thailand
Sept 5 – Departure day
Sept 5 – Arrive home in Halifax late at night.

Preparing for Adventures in South East Asia – 1

I’ve known since before I left for Peru that I would be going to South East Asia in August, but I’ve kept it fairly quiet and haven’t said much because I’ve been too busy to finalize the plans. I mean really, until flights are in place, a trip doesn’t really seem real!

All of a sudden, I’m only 2 months away from departure. Yikes! I just realized that this second and it totally freaked me out!

About a month ago, one of the superstars that I work with at The Adventure Travel Company found me a super deal on flights. Everything that I was finding was pricing at $2200 .. yuck. Mind you, I did have to get from Halifax (where we have crappy flight choices) to Yangon, Myanmar … which has even crappier flight choices. We wiggled the dates around a bit and worked with Bangkok instead of all the way to Yangon and there we have it.

In the end, I secured flights from Halifax to Bangkok, Thailand for under $1600. People keep asking me how long the flight is and what route I’m taking. Well … it was one of many options for routing and although not the shortest, it really isn’t that bad.

On August 14th I fly Halifax to Washington to Japan to Bangkok (arrive late at night August 15th).
Travel time over 27 hours.

Then I have to transfer from the Bangkok International airport to the regional one. This should be an adventure at midnight in a new country after 24 hours of travel. I’m sure I’ll be top of my game! ha ha ha

I fly out from the regional airport on August 16th early in the morning and land in Yangon, Myanmar a couple of hours later. I’ll either be totally wiped and barely awake, or excited beyond belief to see this amazing less discovered country.

A few weeks back I wrote a blog posted called I don’t want your tainted point of view … And, I completely stand by that. I have done very little research into where I am going, other than enough to know about safety, health and accommodations. I’m not by any means ‘winging’ the trip. I’m traveling with an organized group for almost the entire time I am away. However, I am being very careful about what I read and take in from others who have travelled to these areas. I really want to see it through my own eyes first. That’s what I love most about traveling to new destinations.

What I have done so far is the following:

Checked the Canadian Government website for visa requirements for Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand.

I’ve contacted the embassies of Burma and Vietnam to get my visa application paperwork. Thailand doesn’t require a visa because I will only be there as a tourist for a few days. And, the Cambodian one I will get at the border when I enter the country.

I visited my family doctor and contacted Napier Travel Health to discuss if I need any new vaccines or medications for my travels.

I have booked all of my international flights (United), my domestic flights (Air Asia), my two group tours (Tucan & G Adventures) and three nights of hotel stays in Ho Chi Minh city when I will be on my own.

I’ll soon be posting blogs with information about each of those tasks as they are not as simple or as fast as you may think and I’ve discovered all kinds of interesting tid-bits along the way.

So, watch for posts coming shortly about the process for applying for visas, domestic flights and low cost carriers and my super exciting itineraries!

It’s my first time heading off to Asia and I’m super excited! A little scared too … my comfort zone is Latin America of which I still have much more to discover! But, no time like the present to get my adventures in. Young, child-less, not married and relatively healthy … I may never be all of those things at once again!

Here’s to my life being one big adventure. I hope you’ll tag along for the updates!