Sak Yant – Thailand’s Sacred Bamboo Tattoos in Ayutthaya

As soon as we arrived in Thailand we started noticing people’s traditional tattoos.  After a few internet searches, we learned more about the “Sak Yant” as they are called– magic bamboo tattoos.  Sak Yant are beautifully designed and come with a blessing, their goal to grant protection and to give strength to the bearer of the tattoo.  The sacred tattoos are given by Buddhist monks, or ex-Monk tattoo masters called Ajarns.  The Ajarns dedicated their lives to learning the ancient art, passing the traditions down to their apprentices.

Our Sak Yant Experience in Ayutthaya

After the initial research we put in, we were turned off by the whole “free tattoo in the temple thing” as from the accounts we first read the process seemed crowded and rushed, with questionable sterilization practices.  We searched for a more personable experience, and that is when we found Where Sidewalks End Travel.  WSE’s owner Ian has spent years traveling all over Asia looking for the best Ajarns masters of the art of Sak Yant.  He now offers the most authentic Sak Yant experiences for travelers by providing a translator/guide and making sure participants really understand the purpose of the tattoos they are getting.

On the morning of our appointment, our guide, Coco, picked us up at our hostel and we took a taxi to Mo Chit Bus Terminal in Bangkok.  From there we took a mini van for the 1.5 hour journey north to Ayutthaya.  We chose to go to Ayutthaya because of the amazing things we had heard about Ajarn Wao, the sak yant master there, and his psychic abilities.  He seemed like the best choice and we trusted him to use his mastery to help us decided on the right sak yant tattoos for us.

Sak Yant - Getting Thailand's Sacred Bamboo Tattoos in Ayutthaya

Once in the city, we stopped to buy marigold wreaths as an offering.  After getting the flowers we jumped into a tuk tuk that would take us to the samayant” the studio/temple where the ceremony would take place.  After driving past the temples of the old Thai capital, we arrived and were welcomed upstairs into the sacred space.

The room was open with many windows.  At the far end was a tiered altar containing many images of the Buddha, Ganesh (the elephant god and god of art), and other sacred figures.  Incense burned in the corner and the master’s apprentices sat patiently at the side of the room.  While we waited for Ajarn Wao, our guide Coco told us some guidelines to follow in order to be respectful.  These included never pointing your feet towards the altar and walking with bent knees, aiming to never walk taller than the Ajarn.

Sak Yant - Getting Thailand's Sacred Bamboo Tattoos in Ayutthaya
The altar in the samayant, with images of Ganesh (the elephant god), Hanuman (the monkey king), Lersi the Hermit, and the Buddha.
sak yant ayutthaya
9 sticks in incense each for good luck.
Sak Yant - Getting Thailand's Sacred Bamboo Tattoos in Ayutthaya
9 sticks of incense burn for each of us.

When Ajarn Wao entered the room, we kneeled at the front and lit nine sticks of incense each, nine being the most lucky number in Thailand.  We then presented our marigold wreaths which were hung on the altar.  Carrie decided to go first, since she had more tattoo experience.  Through our translator Coco, Carrie answered questions about her birth-date, along with a few details about some struggles she has had and her desire to be more mindful in her life.  Ajurn Wao made a chart in his notebook, which he used to explain her future and recent past.

Sak Yant - Getting Thailand's Sacred Bamboo Tattoos in Ayutthaya
Carrie’s age timeline.
Sak Yant - Getting Thailand's Sacred Bamboo Tattoos in Ayutthaya
The needles and equipment.

Carrie’s Sak Yant Experience:

Carrie’s tattoo was decided; she would receive a tiger to protect her and give her strength.  The tiger would be depicted looking over its shoulder at her past, which was difficult but would make her stronger.  In the future her enemies will become jealous of her strength and success, and will try to take it from her, the Ajarn said.  But in the end she will overcome, emerging stronger than ever.  Thus that tattoo was also a reminder to stay in the moment, to not worry about the future.

Tiger Sak Yant
The basic outline
Sak Yant - Getting Thailand's Sacred Bamboo Tattoos in Ayutthaya
Starting Carrie’s protective tiger Sak Yant.

Sak Yant - Getting Thailand's Sacred Bamboo Tattoos in Ayutthaya

Sak Yant Tiger Ayutthaya Sak Yant Tiger Ayutthaya Sak Yant Tiger Ayutthaya

Ajarn Wao worked fast, but Carrie’s tattoo was large and it took nearly an hour.  It was amazing the precision of his needle strikes.  After he wiped the ink away, intricate patterns were revealed.  As he went he was constantly uttering blessings, his mantras calming.  After a few more blessings were added, the tattoo was finished.

But Ajarn Wao wasn’t done.  He wanted to give Carrie a special additional oil sak yant tattoo, invisible but still powerful.  Our guide said that this was very rare.  Carrie agreed and soon a design formed on her upper back out of small bits of blood.  The oil yant would fade over the next few days, but it’s lucky magic would remain.

Invisible Oil Sak Yant
Invisible Oil Sak Yant
Invisible Oil Sak Yant
The finished oil yant — it disappeared in a few days.

Zach’s Sak Yant Experience: 

As it was my turn the calmness left me and my palms became sweaty.  I sat in silence with plans to share about some of my struggles, my idea that I was my own worst enemy.   I knelt before the Ajarn and before I could speak a word, he said to me (translated through Coco) “You need to decrease your ego.  Try to think before speaking.”  This was shocking because ego was what I already knew to be a problem and exactly what I had planned to bring up.

He then figured out the meaning of my birthday.  In the Chinese calendar, I am born in the year of the rabbit.  However, Ajarn Wao based his predictions on the Thai calendar.  Under these dates, I was born in the year of the snake, and on Saturday, the day of the snake.  This double snake made me very powerful, but my biggest enemy was my ego.  The Ajarn then asked me about what I wanted to share, and I exclaimed that everything had already been said.  I felt as if Ajarn Wao could see into my soul, which was scary but also calming in a way, as understanding your weaknesses is the only way to truly overcome them.

Sak Yant - Getting Thailand's Sacred Bamboo Tattoos in Ayutthaya

Sak Yant - Getting Thailand's Sacred Bamboo Tattoos in Ayutthaya
Ajurn Wao deciding which Sak Yant will help me the most.

My tattoo was to be a blessing, with an emphasis on a chicken.  The chicken would distract the snakes (my ego) and help bring my consciousness away from my ego’s control.  It would help me to listen and think more before speaking, allowing me to choose the right words at the right time.  After a blessing I bent forward, away from the master who began inserting the inked stick into my back.

Traditionally given with sharpened bamboo, present day Ajurns use sharpened steel poles called “khem sak”.  At first it was just a few pricks, but soon I could feel the sharpness grind against my spine.  My knuckles turned white and sweat poured down my face.  I was warned that the placement would be difficult, and I was given a mantra to repeat when it got rough.  I noticed that the others present felt my anguish and my reaction was laughter which engulfed the room.  Soon I was able to relax myself and I became numb.

Sak Yant - Getting Thailand's Sacred Bamboo Tattoos in Ayutthaya
The more pain, the more power.

Sak Yant - Getting Thailand's Sacred Bamboo Tattoos in Ayutthaya

Sak Yant Tattoo Ayutthaya

sak yant

I noticed the apprentices, who where holding me still, stand and the sak yant sacred tattooing was finished.  Ajurn Wao splashed me with cool water and a flood of energy flooded by body.  I felt a great power come over me, as if I was new.  A smile spread over my face as gold leaf was rubbed into the blessed tattoo.

Sak Yant - Getting Thailand's Sacred Bamboo Tattoos in Ayutthaya
A blessing with gold for luck.

Sak Yant Tattoo Ayutthaya

Finshed

After we were both finished we thanked Ajurn Wao and presented our donations to him for his services.  He told us that in our relationship we needed to stop trying to one-up each other, to listen more and let things go.  He was spot on again!  This man has real wisdom.

Sak Yant Tattoo Ayutthaya Sak Yant Tattoo Ayutthaya

We chose this experience because of the reputability of WSE Travel.  Other options include going to a temple where the tattoos are given in exchange for an offering.  In these places you will wait in line and receive a tattoo for very cheap, but it may be rushed and you will miss the personal experience.  While the needles at the temple are sterilized, they are dipped into the same ink from person to person.  Theoretically this could spread diseases and even though our research never found any confirmed cases, we decided that it wasn’t for us.

Sak Yant - Getting Thailand's Sacred Bamboo Tattoos in Ayutthaya
A tiger and a temple.

Sak Yant - Getting Thailand's Sacred Bamboo Tattoos in Ayutthaya

This was hands down one for the greatest, most spiritual experiences of our traveling lives, and the lessons we learned have immeasurable value.  WSE’s Sak Yant tattoo experiences are definitely not the cheapest, but you get what you pay for and this is a lifetime commitment.  With their inside knowledge and their commitment to sustainability and making sure the sak yant tradition continues in Thailand, WSE was the obvious choice for us.  They also offer experiences in Chiang Mai and Bangkok, with more cities in the works throughout Thailand as they search for more of the country’s best Ajarns.

We’ll write an update on our tattoos and how they are affecting our lives soon!  Do you think Ajarn Wao’s predictions will come true?

Would you get a sacred tattoo to help you on your life journey?

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Thai Smiles – A Guide To What NOT To Do in Thailand

Thailand is a land of respect and “non-confrontational culture” where losing your cool is frowned upon and everything revolves around keeping a smile on your face.  This is a list of what NOT to do in Thailand!  Follow it if if you want to keep those Thai Smiles on the local’s faces.  Mistakes happen, but trying goes a long way in keeping the locals on your side!

What NOT To Do in Thailand – A Guide to Thai Smiles

1 – Disrespect The Royal Family:

A Guide to Thai Smiles - What NOT To Do in Thailand

The Thai Monarchy is all-powerful in Thailand.  As a foreigner, you shouldn’t voice any opinions about the King unless they are very positive.  You should always give the Royal family your utmost respect.  This includes not staring at posters of the King, standing up in the theater when the pre-movie film about the King is played, and standing still at 8am and 6pm when the national anthem is played over every speaker in Thaialnd.

2 – Get Upset:

Getting visibly angry or annoyed is considered bad form in Thailand.  Keeping that Thai smile on your face is the best way to get the most out of a bad situation.  Thai culture is based on respect and it goes both ways.  It isn’t always easy, especially when you come from a place like the United States where you get upset with people every day.  Test it out the next time you are about to lose your cool; a little respect goes a long way.

3 – Leave Your Shoes On:

what not to do in thailand

Going into someone’s house or business usually requires you to take off your shoes.  Thai people (and most Asian countries) think that shoes are super gross.  If you see shoes at the front door, leave yours there too.  It’s handy to wear sandals everywhere, making the removal process a lot easier.

4 – Ride the Elephants:

thai smiles - don't ride elephants

Elephants belong in nature, not cooped up as vehicles for your enjoyment.  Most of the elephants that are ridden were taken from their mothers as babies, broken of their animal spirit and destined to miserable lives in cages.  DO NOT RIDE elephants, EVER.  Also, many of the elephant “sanctuaries” are just zoos where the animals are treated very poorly for the enjoyment of uneducated tourists.  There are several places in Thailand that have more ethical sanctuaries, however these are a small majority and in general you must question the reason that any elephant is not in the wild.

5 – Eat Shark Fin:

no shark fin soup - thai smiles

Many places in Bangkok, especially Chinatown, serve shark fin.  When the sharks are caught, their fins are cut off and the rest of the fish is thrown back into the sea.  This is a very wasteful and unethical practice.  Sharks are one of the most important parts of the ocean ecosystem and when their population declines it reeks havoc on all aspects of sea life.  World fish populations are in drastic decline throughout the world, reduced by more than 50% since 1970.  Keeping the top predators alive and thriving is the best way to support healthy marine environments.

6 – Touch the Monks:

what not to do in bangkok thai smiles dont touch monks

Monks should be treated with the utmost respect.  Never should you touch a monk, and always give them space in a crowded situation.  Most transportation systems have special seats for monks so they can avoid contact with others.  This is especially important for women.  A woman touching a monk can bring the monk great shame and hurt his standing among the other monks.  Women should also never hand anything directly to a monk, but instaed hand it to a man first who then hands it to the monk.  Your best bet is to giv them as much space as you can to avoid awkward situations.

7 – Dress Inappropriately in the Temple:

A Guide to Thai Smiles - What NOT To Do in Thailand

Temples throughout Thailand and Asia in general are places of modesty and should be treated with respect.  Men and women should wear pants below the knees, while women should always cover their shoulders and chest.  Ignoring these rules is extremely disrespectful and puts a bad face on tourists.  Also, the images of the Buddha should never be used in appropriate ways.  The Buddha should never be displayed in a bar, or put on your body in the form of a tattoo.  If you have a Buddha tattoo and it is visible when entering Thailand, Thai customs agents can deny your entry into the country and permanently ban you from entering the Kingdom.

8 – Display Affection in Public:

no kissing in thailand - thai smiles - what not to do in thailand

Thai people are very modest in public and couples should avoid displaying affection on the streets.  Holding hands is frowned upon, while kissing with tongue in public is illegal.  Keep your hands to yourself and save the smooching for your hotel room.

9 – Shake Hands:

thai smiles from mcdonalds

Shaking hands is a very western thing.  Asians are very clean people and dislike spreading germs through touch.  Opt instead for the classic Thai wai.  Many Thai people will wai you and this should generally be returned.  Do this by placing your hands like a prayer at your chest and bowing your head until your nose touches your finger tips.  Don’t wai people of lower social status than you, as this is embarrassing to everyone around you.  This includes waiters, service people, and anyone who is obviously younger than you.   Don’t forget those Thai smiles with your wai!!!

10 – Point at People:

Pointing at things or especially people should is considered extremely rude in Thailand.  This is especially true when pointing with your feet. Use your head to direct attention in a certain direction.

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There are more things that could have been added to this list.  For instance, it’s bad luck to whistle at night, don’t dress sloppy, and don’t push too hard for the best deal.  The most important thing is to always keep those Thai smiles on your face and things will work out just fine!

Enjoy this post about what NOT to do in Thailand – a guide to Thai smiles? Check out our archives for other adventures! Also, don’t forget to follow us on Instagram @laaventuraproject and subscribe to our Youtube Channel.

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How To Get Around Bangkok, Thailand – A Guide For Travelers

Figuring out how to get around Bangkok, Thailand can be overwhelming at first.  Navigating the big city can seem impossible, until you figure out the different transportation systems.  The options are many and all have their time and place and ideal use.  Taking advantage of the right method can save you time, money, and headaches.

HOW TO GET AROUND BANGKOK

how to get around bangkok

1 – Taxi

Metered taxis can be the cheapest way to get around the city.  They are best when the roads are less busy (before 7 am), midday (10am-2pm) and after 8pm.  Taxi’s should always be running the meter.  If the driver offers you a price upfront then move on to the next driver because he’s trying to rack up the price.  They usually will only do this during rush hour when the meter price isn’t worth it for them to drive you.  At these times it’s best to take another mode of transport anyhow because it could take you hours to drive a few miles.  Sometimes the taxis around the very touristy areas will also refuse to use the meter.  If you just walk a couple blocks out of the super touristy area you should be able to find a taxi not trying to scam you.

Uber is another decent option.  They are usually a little more expensive than the meter taxis but you get a set price in advance.  You need a Thai phone number to do this, as the drivers usually like to call you in advance.  Set yourself up in front of a 7 Eleven to make it easy for the driver to understand.  Just say “Farang 7 Eleven” and they can usually find you.  Your hostel can usually help you talk to the driver as well.  You can use the code zackm5528ue to get 50 Baht off of your first ride.

Grab is an app like Uber, but more popular in Asia.  Most of the metered taxis also run this app.  It is usually a little cheaper than Uber and a good option during busier traffic times when the drivers don’t want to run the meter.  Same as Uber, they will usually call you so be prepared to communicate with someone who has rudimentary English skills.  Most taxi drivers at least know basic English though, so don’t fear.

how to get around bangkok

2 – Tuk Tuk

Tuk Tuks are little motorized rickshaws that are on every street corner in Bangkok.  Slightly more expensive than the metered taxis, tuk tuks are SUPER FUN to zoom around town.  The price starts at about 100 Baht for a 10 min ride and you always have to negotiate to get a decent deal.  Ask your hostel before you start for a fair price.  They hold three people comfortableyand up to six if you want to get super cozy with your friends after a night out.  They are best to use at night for bar hopping when it’s cooler and you care less about the lack of A/C.  Keep in mind that you will get wind in your hair and the dust from the street may irritate your eyes a little, but it’s totally worth it for the experience.  Everyone who comes to Thailand has to take a tuk tuk at least once.

There is also a really cool app called Tuk Tuk Hop.  It’s like Uber for tuk tuks, and takes you around the historic temple area of the city.  You pay a set price and get unlimited rides for the day.  It’s really nice because you don’t have to negotiate or search for vehicles.  Check out our article HERE for more information about this app.

how to get around bangkok

3 – Moto-taxi

Mototaxis are the scariest way to travel in Bangkok.  The drivers are crazy and you might spend the whole time praying that you live to see the next day.  However, during rush hour this is sometime the ONLY WAY to get places because the mototaxis will cut between the traffic.  Look for the guys with orange vests and the price usually starts at 50 Baht and foreigners usually have to negotiate.

how to get around bangkok

4 – BTS, MRT, ART (Skytrain, Metro, Airport Rail)

The train system is by far the easiest and safest way to get around.  It goes to most of the most popular Bangkok neighborhoods and get your their fast.  You can pay as you go or purchase a re-loadable card for 100 Baht.  The hard part about the trains is that there are three different systems and each has it’s own top-up card.  Also when transferring between lines you usually have to leave one station and navigate around a corner to the other.  Use the trains during rush hour or on weekends when the roads are clogged up.

how to get around bangkok
Bangkok BTS, MRT, and ART Map

how to get around bangkok

5 – River Boats and Canal Boats

River Boats – The best way to get to the temples from central Bangkok.  Just take the BTS to Saphan Taksin station and walk down to the Chao Phraya River.  There are several options of boats that can take you across to Wat Arun for around 50 Baht as well as a free boat at night to the Asiatique Market.

how to get around Bangkok map
Chao Phraya River Boat Map

Canal Boats – These boats cruise through the small canals in central Bangkok.  This is the best way to get from the BTS to the Golden Mount and Khao San Road.  The boat is a 9 Bahtt flat free and cuts your travel time in half over the bus, even more at rush hour.  Buuuuuut, the downside is that these boats stop running at 7pm.

how to get around Bangkok map
Bangkok Canal Boat Map

how to get around bangkok

6 – Bus

Public buses run all over Bangkok and are the cheapest form of transport.  They are pretty much useless during rush hour, so keep that in mind.  They also are not air conditioned but have open windows.  Just wait at the bus stop, get on and sit down.  Someone will come around to collect your money.  The best way to figure out which buses go where is with Google Maps– it’s usually accurate enough.

how to get around bangkok

7 – Songthaew

These are pickup trucks with bench seats installed in the truck bed.  Less common in Bangkok, they are very popular in Chiang Mai and other cities throughout Thailand.   They usually have a set route and a cheap price.  Just flag them down, hop in, and pay at the end.

how to get around bangkok

8 – Bicycle

Bicycling in Bangkok can be downright scary when traffic is crazy.  However, cycling around the temples at night can be an amazing experience.  Check out the Bangkok Night Bike Tour put on by Grasshopper Adventures.  Also, biking is the best way to get around Bang Krachao, the “green lungs” of Bangkok.  Take a whole day to explore this neighborhood and escape from the grind of city life without going too far from the urban center.

how to get around bangkok

9 – Walking

Walking is always our favorite way to get around.  You see more and interact more with the local people.  Some nice places to walk in Bangkok include Lumphini Park, Chatuchak Market, and Khao San Road.  Use the maps.me app listed below for nice downloadable maps to show you how to get around Bangkok by foot.  There is also a free walking tour by Take A Walk BKK once a week.  Check their Facebook page for more info.  Note that if you walk more than two blocks by choice, Thai people will laugh at you in a lighthearted way.  The concept of walking by choice for exercise or sightseeing is pretty foreign here.  Thai people jump on moto-taxis to go two blocks!

Other Useful Advice

Maps.me – The most useful app for world travelers.  Just download the country map of wherever you are going then you are all set once you arrive.  It navigates you around without using data.  The app picks up location data from pinging WiFi signals, giving you constant location updates in towns and cities.  It’s very handy to make sure the taxi driver is taking you in the right direction, or just for general exploring of a new city.  This is the app we use the most while traveling, don’t skip it.

Sim Card – Get yourself a Thai number.  You can pick one up at any 7 Eleven for 49 Baht then just top it up 100 Baht at a time to keep yourself connected in case of emergency.  If you phone is locked you can get it jailbroken at many phone repair stores for a cheap price, or just buy an old used phone to use as a travel phone.

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7 Ways To Be A Better Traveler – Positive Impact Tourism

Many of us go traveling without any real purpose or direction.  This can be great but sometimes our travel can cause harm to the local economies, environments, and people.  Being mindful about how your travel affects others can make a real positive difference, especially in the developing world.   Here is our list of 7 ways that Positive Impact Tourism is important when you’re on the road.

1) Dress Like the Locals:

If you travel to a Muslim or more religious country, you don’t necessarily have to wear a hijab or dress to your ankles.  However, you might consider ditching the crop top and short shorts for a more conservative approach.  This is especially important when entering temples and other religious sanctuaries.

2) Understand Local Customs:

Before you embark on your trip, take a moment to Google “how to be polite in __________”.  This will go along way to encouraging the local people to not hate you.  For instance, in Thailand it is very impolite and unheard of to get visibly upset or mad at someone.  Keeping your cool can go a long way to having a more positive traveling experience.

3) Avoid Businesses Profiting Off of Animals:

Playing with the elephants, petting tigers, feeding the monkeys.  These things all sound mighty fun but these businesses are profiting off of keeping wild animals in cages.  These places are sad and there are few that should be supported.  Spend your money in National Parks where the wildlife is wild and will eat you if you try to pet it.

4) Reduce Waste Along Your Journey:

Carry a reusable bag and water bottle on your travels.  When you go shopping, insist that they put your purchases into your reusable bag.  Also, many hostels have drinking water stations so refilling your bottle can save a lot of money along with reducing waste.  Try to avoid plastic bottles in general, as usually you have an option to purchase soda in a can.  Refusing plastic straws is also a great way to help the environment as single use straws are very destructive.  Check out these bamboo drinking straws which are reusable and make you look super educated when you use them.

5) Eat At Local Restaurants:

When you go to a new country and immediately go straight to McDonalds, you are being a very bad tourist.  Eating at the local establishments keeps the money you spend in the community.  Skip Starbucks and drink the local coffee.  It will be cheaper and you won’t look like a total douche.  Spending your money the right way is one of the most important parts of positive impact tourism.

6) Volunteer The Right Way:

Stick to volunteering on farms or at hostels to extend your stay.  Many “voluntourism” options create more harm than good.  Make sure to do your research especially if it involves elephants or orphans.  Make sure your work is having a long tetm positive impact before you begin your stay.  Here is an article from the Huffington Post about “voluntourism” and the “white savior complex” and how terrible it is for third world nations.  One of our favorite Instagram stars, Barbie Savoir, sums up the problem pretty well through her clever satire.

7) Learn The Language:

Locals understand that most travelers can’t speak their language.  However, it’s really easy to pick up a couple words to make yourself a more polite traveler.  Learning “hello,” “please,” and “thank you” in every country you visit can earn you a lot of respect and smooth over awkward situations.  Do not just show up and start yelling at everyone in English.  Bad Tourist!!!

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7 Types of Terrible Hostel Guests

Hostels are great places that laid back traveling people can enjoy.  They are some of the best places to meet new friends and share your favorite backpacking stories.  However, we’ve all met some types of people who just shouldn’t stay in hostels.  While there are more, these are our top seven types of terrible hostel guests.

terrible hostel guests

 

Top 7 Types of Terrible Hostel Guests:

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5 Reasons Couchsurfing Lost It’s Magic

couchsurfing

When we started using Couchsurfing in 2010, it was new and exciting and very few people knew about it.  We used it all over the world, hosting almost 200 travelers and surfing in more than 10 different countries.  We’ve had people take us out on their boat, buy us expensive dinners, show us secret hikes, teach us new games, drive us long distances to explore new areas… the list is never ending.  The generosity shown to us through the Couchsurfing community was unbelievable and it restored my hope in humanity at a time when I really needed it.  However, recently I’ve noticed the quality of my experiences decreasing, and I’m feeling like the good times are over.  Here are my top 5 reasons Couchsurfing has lost it’s magic for me.

1 – People Using Couchsurfing Like Tinder:

Couchsurfing is NOT a way to find people to hook up with.  Sure, it happens a lot, but if you come into it with that mindset you are missing the point.  I’ve heard too many stories of male hosts that only host girls, or take their surfers out for a night on the town and then try to convince them to get in bed with them at the end of the night.  This only makes things awkward and ruins the experience for everyone.

The new “Hangout” feature on the Couchsurfing app perpetuates this problem.  Every time Carrie lists herself as “available” to hang out, she almost exclusively gets responses from local men.  Coincidence?  I think not.  I repeat, Couchsurfing is NOT a dating site.  People that use Couchsurfing like Tinder are the reason why the majority of Couchsurfers left are men or couples traveling together, and solo female travelers are quickly turned off.  We did an experiment where Carrie listed herself as available to have coffee.  Within minutes her inbox looked like this:

Couchsurfing
Couchsurfing Meetup Problems. We don’t want to sound like we don’t like to hang out with locals, this is just what happens every time.

2 – Too Many Unused Accounts:

Way too many people are signing up for Couchsurfing and then never using their accounts.  Now when you look for hosts in a new city, you have to scroll though sometimes hundreds of profiles with 0 references and a 0% response rate before stumbling upon someone who actually hosts people.  These are the same people who are messaging every pretty face that pops up in the Hangout section, leeching off the system but never giving back.

3 – People Using It For Just a Free Bed:

I get requests almost every day to stay on my couch that are usually something along the lines of “Hey man, I’m poor – do you have a couch for me?”.  Couchsurfing is supposed to be a sharing of cultures, experiences, and a way to make amazing friends in new places.  If you don’t want to spend time with your hosts/surfers then just go to a hotel or hostel.

4 – People Labeling Themselves “Couchsurfers” But They Have Never Traveled

I have stopped going to Couchsurfing meetups.  They used to be cool groups of local hosts mixed up with different weekly travelers.  Now there are so many people who use it just to find drinking buddies or make friends.  Many of these people fit into point “2” and don’t do anything for the community except go to meetups.  People like this don’t contribute anything to the community, but instead just use it to make friends with the few real traveling surfers who are left.  It’s like being in the Hell’s Angels but not owning a motorcycle.  Go surf someones couch, or at least host a few, so you qualify for this group before you participate in the perks.

5 – The People In Charge Are Douchebags

The people who run the Couchsurfing organization are way too focused on growth and never think about whether they should grow.  It’s become too mainstream, and mainstream people don’t make good Couchsurfers.  Get over yourselves, Couchsurfing CEOs, and get back to your roots: free beds and cultural exchange for cool people through word-of-mouth referrals.

Things You Can Do To Be A Better Couchsurfer:

Don’t get me wrong, I still love Couchsurfing.  Some of my favorite people I’ve ever met were friendships made through Couchsurfing and the experiences I’ve had were some of the best of my life.  I just think that by spreading the word about the problems we can all create a better community that refocuses Couchsurfing on it’s original mission: encouraging travel and bringing people together in cultural exchange.  I think we can still fix the community, we just have to be the positive change we want to see in the world.

– Host before you surf:  Give back to the community from the start and get yourself some references.  Having good references is the best way to ensure you get hosted when you travel.

– Stay active: When people message you, always message them back.  Update your profile often and let people know what kind of person you are.

– Stop introducing Couchsurfing to your loser friends: Couchsurfing used to be a place that only the cool people knew about.  Some people were not meant to be Couchsurfers and should just stay in hotels.

– Hang out with your surfers/hosts: Get to know the people you are sharing a house with.  Go out and have some drinks, play games, tell cool stories of your travels.

– Send proper requests: Don’t just say “Hey I’m poor and need a couch to crash on”.  Find similarities and only request people you think you will bond with.

– Read my profile before you message me:  Find common interested and understand what you are getting into before you message me.  My profile might say “Hey, I’m a nudist and don’t wear clothes in my home”.  (This does really happen.). These are things that it’s nice to know before wasting peoples time requesting their couch.

– Say “yes” to new experiences: Don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone.  You might learn something about yourself and find something amazing that you’ve been missing out on your whole life.

– Leave good references:  When you have a nice time with people, write some nice words about them.  This will help them get more hosts in the future.  Spread the love!

– Bring beer or cook food for your host:  It’s a nice touch to show up with a gift of sorts and it’s a great way to bond with new friends by cooking a meal together.

There have been several Couchsurfing competitors to come along, sites like WarmShowers.org and HospitalityClub.org, but they never gained the following or appeal of the original Couchsurfing.  Even Airbnb (which came around after Couchsurfing) monetized the original idea.   Maybe the good days are over, or maybe it’s just time for a new site to take the lead.  I just can’t wait to find the magic of Couchsurfing again, however we can make that happen.

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Backpacking Malaysia: A Guide for Easy Asia Travel

Backpacking Malaysia is great for easy Asia travel.  Easier than South America, easier than Thailand.  We traveled the length of the Malaysian peninsula from Malacca to Penang, Kuala Lumpur (KL) to the Perhentian Islands through the Cameron Highlands.  The people are friendly, welcoming, and excited to have you in their country.  The buses are clean with organized stations and the roads are smooth with minimal traffic, especially in the countryside.  The highlight of backpacking Malaysia was the food.  From Malay to Chinese to Indian, the cuisine is an amazing fusion of different cultures, living together in relative harmony.  Low food costs are easy for every budget traveler and in Malaysia you can get a full meal starting at $1.50 for a vegetarian banana leaf lunch.  Even though the government just added a tourist tax to all hotel rooms, Malaysia still has good deals for travelers on a budget.  We stayed in some of the nicest and most fun hostels of our lives, and our 15 days in the peninsula didn’t scratch the surface of what the country has to offer.

Pick a Route:backpacking malaysia easy asia travel

Picking a backpacking route though Malaysia is easy.  For a two week trip we would recommend starting in Singapore and working your way north from Malacca to KL, Cameron Highlands, Perhentian Islands, then back across to Georgetown, Penang.  If you have three weeks we would suggest adding Taman Negara National Park and Langkawi Island.  These are both trips along the standard backpacker trail, great for your first time in Malaysia.  Since Malaysia has much fewer tourists than Thailand, you will run into the same friendly faces as you go.  There was one lady on our trip that we ran into in at three different places on our adventure.  Of course there are many other parts of Malaysia worth exploring, mainly the jungles of Borneo where things are more wild.  On a four week trip we would suggest spending a week there getting off the tourist path.

Enjoy the Food:

backpacking malaysia easy asia travel

The food in Malaysia is easy and good for any backpacker’s budget. The most we “cooked” for ourselves in Malaysia was to peel a banana, maybe once.  The local markets are great places to pig out economically.  Check out the laksa, poh piah, mee koring, and nasi kandar.  Western style restaurants are there, but they are the most expensive and generally not as exciting as the local flavors.  Every city has a Chinese neighborhood and an Indian neighborhood.  Little India was always our favorite spot to eat, great for vegetarians and meat eaters alike!  For one meal I had seven different curries and spent a total of less than $3. For these reasons, Malaysia was my all time favorite country to eat in!

Stay in a Hostel:

Frame Guesthouse backpacking malaysia easy asia travel
The Frame lobby — a minimalist hostel in an old framemaker’s shop. Frame is a very zen/minimalist place with cedar ceilings and antique stairways. We really liked our private room here and stayed for three nights enjoying the AC and waterfall showers.

Backpackers will love Malaysia for the hostels which are cheap and easy to book online.  Sometimes they do fill up, especially in the busy season, so we suggest booking in advance.  They range in price and quality and there is a new 10 Ringgit tourist tax for every room.  Our favorites were the Lemongrass on Long Beach in the Perhentians, and Frame Guesthouse in Georgetown, Penang.  Prices range from $10 per night for a dorm bed, $15 for a beach bungalow, or $18 for private room with A/C.

Speak With the Locals:

Backpacking Malaysia is easier than other parts of Asia because most people can speak or at least understand English.  A majority of the signs are also in English and Malay, so you will never have a hard time finding your way around.  Malay also using the English characters so it’s easy to pick up a little bit along the way which always makes the locals appreciate you more.   Knowing few words like terima kasih (thank you) can get you a lot of respect points and make you look a little better than the average traveler.

 

When looking for easier Asia travel, backpacking Malaysia should be at the top of your list.  With top notch people, food, nature and adventure, and hostels, never ending aventuras await you in this tropical paradise!

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