Imagine yourself lying on a soft, comfortable bed while pair of skilled, hard-working hands massage out your muscle knots. Or sitting in an armchair and letting your tired feet be treated by professional masseuse. Well, this is the reality of every massage parlor in Thailand. Every tourist that has experienced massage practices in Thailand, will tell you two things: they are extremly cheap (3-5 € per session) and painful (Thai women do know how to get rid of your muscle knots!).
When it comes to tourism, Thailand has it all: hot weather, white sand beaches, turquoise waters, mountains, delicious food, ancient ruins, big cities, friendly people and beautiful girls. No wonder why Thai government soon started to promote these advantages to boost national economy and increase tourist expenditure. It introduced visa-free stay for up to 30 days for almost all foreign nationalities. For the past years, tourism has become main driving force for economy growth and Thailand has become paradise for everyone in search of sunny beaches, delicious foods, parties and sex.
Most of the tourists that choose Thailand for their travel destination, come here exclusively to have fun and experience hospitable Thai culture. They are in the land of paradise, so why not take what Thailand offers to them and have the time of their life? After all, when they return back home, they will get back to their old habits and Thailand will remain as a nice memory...
Well, there is nothing wrong with that - apart from the fact, that Thailand is not what people think it is. Beyond cheap food and clothes are indefatigable masses of people, working their asses off and hoping next tourist will buy something from them. Most of the local people have become intrusive, nosy and annoying. Their main goal has become to feed the family and get as much from the tourists as possible. Their main goal is to survive and not to marvel at the beauties of their own land - Thailand.
I was able to witness the harshness of the tourist industry in Thailand already on the first night of my arrival.
On one of my strolls around the hostel I was staying at, I stumbled upon a massage parlor, tucked away in a less busy street in Bangkok. There was one beautiful Thai lady, sitting on a porch, observing the street and smiling to everyone. She smiled at me and invited me to take a sit next to her. This was my first evening in Bangkok and at first I hesitated to join her, as I didn't know what was her intention. You need to take into account that as a tourist in Thailand everyone would approach you and offer you his or her services or products in trade for money, so you get used of people asking you for money very soon. I slowly approached her, but as soon as we started chatting, it turned out I was completely mistaken about this girl's intention.
Her name was Christine and she was a masseuse. She introduced me to the massage practices at her parlor, which could be applied to any place in the country and also in Southeast Asia.
Massage prices in Bangkok are in comparison with Europe extremely cheap and affordable. There is even one saying, that you shouldn’t leave Thailand without getting a massage. Massage business must have been quite lucrative at the beginning, but with the higher influx of tourists and high-paced development, they are now swarming on every corner, making them even more unappealing.
Christine confessed that her share of the profit was 50%. The other half belongs to the owner of the parlour. With an average price per massage 150 BHT, which equals to 4€ she earns app. 70 BHT, or less than 2€. Massage business is really tough, she confessed. But that's the only thing she is good at and can make money with. Apart from that she still has to pay for accommodation and food. But that didn’t seem a very big issue for her, because Bangkok is cheap. She referred to Bangkok as a land of smiles and warned me to be cautious while travelling here. We parted with smiles and she wished me good luck.
The conversation I had with Christine is still reverberating in my head – I believe such profit shares and working conditions are the same in every business in Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries. The working staff is paid extremely low, despite the long working hours – up to 12 hours per day. From them on, every beauty parlor caught my attention. There are on every corner with more employees than clients inside. Some of them even offer free wi-fi and water to attract more clients. I couldn't help but ask myself how the hell they survive in this competitive market, among so many other massage providers?
And every time I peeked inside one of them, I saw Christine with sparkling smile and her thoughts for better future.
When I start telling people about the countries I have visited and places I have seen, we usually end up with this conversation:
Friend: Wow, you are so brave. You have travelled to so many countries. I wish I could do that as well.
Me: Well, why don’t you? It’s not as hard as you think it is. You just need some courage to do it.
Friend: Yeah, but you know. I could never leave my country, I will get homesick, I have a boyfriend and not enough money.
Me: It’s all about priorities, you know. If you want to do something, you will find way to do it.
Friend: Yes, I know. But still, I couldn’t do it.
I am really getting tired of such conversations. They are never-ending. It’s true that travelling on your own, without a plan seems daunting, and it’s not for faintest of the heart. But I always do my best to encourage people to go travelling as often as possible.
The truth is, that people only understand from their point of perception and my entire endeavor is just a waste of time.
We all have these preconceived notions about travelling and in this post I want to break them.
1. I don't have enough money to go travelling.
The biggest misconception people have about travelling, is that you need to be rich to start travelling. It breaks my heart every time I hear it and I wish people would be more educated in that area. You need to be rich to start travelling only if you seek high-end experiences in luxury resorts or if you want to go with the travel agency. If you truly dream of travelling the world and seeing the beautiful places on our planet, you will find the way to do it. You will save some money, sleep in cheap places, eat street food and even try to earn some money on the road to finance your next trips. Travelling has never been a matter of money, but matter of courage.
2. I have a family. I cannot travel.
Who says you cannot travel with your family? I have met hundreds of families during my travelling; some of them were travelling for months, some of them just for a short time. I even come across a family of 5 people, travelling around the world.
But it’s true that in case of travelling with a family you need to be a bit well-off and have a lot of savings.
3. I will get homesick if I go travelling.
Getting homesick during your travelling is completely normal and it happens to everyone who is away from home for a longer period of time. There is nothing wrong with being homesick - it is an indicator you love and care for your family. BUT the sooner you realize that homesickness only prevents you from enjoying the life and experiencing new things, the faster you will overcome it. Our mind cannot be stretched by new experience if we choose to live our life in the same place with the same people. Our family will still care for us and love us dearly, after we come back, so why not explore the world and see what it offers.
After all, we never know what may happen on the road or whom we may meet while travelling.
3. I am too old to go traveling.
Again, during my journey I met people from all backgrounds and ages. And I felt the most inspired by the elder people. For young people it’s very easy to go travelling, because some situations require proactive thinking and fast movements. Young people tend to have more energy and are well versed in digital technologies. During travelling you may encounter some unexpected situations, where you need to think and act fast. Although younger generations tend to perform better in these situations, the age should never be an obstacle when it comes to travelling.
Once I was sharing the dormitory room with an elder woman, over 60 years old. Among all backpackers there, she was the first one to help and give advice.
From the moment you hit the bustling streets of Seoul you are confronted with just one thing: you are not beautiful enough and you should fix this as soon as possible. Subway stations, bus stations, street signs, shopping malls - there are advertisements everywhere, shouting at you how you should look like.
Korean obsession with beauty standards is beyond understanding. The beauty ideals are imposed on Koreans from early age, and the only way for them to feel accepted in society is to go under the knife.
Before my visit to South Korea I heard that the percentage of people which goes under the knife is the highest in South Korea, but I never imagined to what extent it actually goes.
Seoul is not only national capital, but also capital of plastic surgeries in the world. Just to imagine: in Gangnam area - Seoul's most affluent neighborhood and birthplace of infamous Gangnam style, there are around 500 beauty clinics on just 40 km².
The statistics is overwhelming as well. Every one in five Korean girls will undergo plastic surgery at least once in her life – making it 20% of the whole population. Getting a plastic surgery has integrated into Korean society and if your face doesn't look according to the beauty standards, you are immediately considered as "ugly".
One of the most common “gifts” for entering adulthood is plastic surgery. It is also nothing unusual to have your nose fixed during the break at work and later continue with work as nothing has happened. The Korean society is also pretty straightforward about the whole beauty ideal. If the girl is overweight or have imperfections, her relatives and friends will tell her that directly and encourage her to “correct it”.
When I was in Europe, I never felt strong preference towards Taiwan. I knew Taiwan is a small country, somewhere in Asia with Chinese population and is often misconfused with China. That's all I knew and I wasn't eager to learn more. If you would invite me to Taiwan at that time, my answer would definitely be NO!
Fast forward to today, Taiwan is my second favourite country I visited (right after South Korea) during my journey and I can only tell you the reasons why you definitely should go there!
1. Hospitality beyond borders
How many people do you know who would meet you on the street and immediately treat you as a family member? Who would offer you help, give you a lift and share with you food, regardless of your nationality and skin colour? Well, people on Taiwan are like this.
I haven't met more hospitable and friendly people as the ones on Taiwan. They are curious about travellers, want to show them around, practice their English, take you to best retsaurants and give you a lift to nearby places. They may even invite you to their house to offer you a place to sleep. Hospitality is in their blood and they are taught from early age to take care of others.
If you really want to experience Taiwanese hospitality try to get in contact with locals as much as possible. I even encourage you to try Couchsurfing - application for staying with locals and learning about their culture.
Another great thing to try in Taiwan is hitchhiking. If you have never tried it before, in Taiwan you will have a great opportunity to overcome your fear of hitchhiking and experience Taiwanese hospitality. I have never hitchhiked before and always had preconceived notions of hithhiking being dangerous and only for poor travelers. But as soon as I started hitchhiking I couldn't stop! You will save hundreds of dollars and meet amazing people on the road.
When I was telling people that I have been over 6 months on the road and that my trip is still not finished, the most common reply was: Wow, that must be so cool. I wish I could do that as well. Although it sounds like a dream job, constantly traveling, the reality is totally different.
I don’t want to write more about how beautiful Southeast Asia is, or how delicious food there is. There are enough blogs where you will find this information. What I really want is to explain that being constantly on the road isn’t always roses and that long-term solo travelling can be depressing as well.
First thing I struggled with was loneliness. Solo travelers, we are always alone. We are actually quite fine with being alone, because we can deal with everything. There are just special moments, when we wish, just like everyone else, to have someone by our side. Someone who would just be there to talk to, smile and do silly things with. We don't need another backpacker who would brag where he has been or some locals, interested only in taking selfies with us. We need someone who would understand, support us and run wild us. And that someone is extremly hard to find.
2. Fear of losing money
Another thing, we need to deal with, is to constantly lose money. In reality, we fear losing everything, but money plays an important role, as it allows us to survive and have a decent living.
This fear is even bigger, when we are not able to generate passive income during our journey or don't have a high-paying job, waiting for us at home.
We fear, that someday there will be no money left. We fear we will not be able to get a job. We fear that we will stay without everything. Everything that is related to spending money, horrifies us. Consequently we avoid spending too much money and save as much as possible. That's the reality of many backpackers I came across to, including me. Instead of experience everything that travelling offers, we are rejecting it.
I have seen so many travellers, who have become tired after travelling for so long. After 2 or 3 years of being constantly away from home, without a steady place, you get tired. You become tired of changing places, seeing more or less same scenery, eating same food and planning everything yourself. No matter how you like being abroad, there is part of you, which wants to go home, visit your friends and family and sleep in the comfy old bed. When I told locals my story and how sad I was getting by travelling without a purpose, they all advised me to go back home. You look tired, you should go home, was their usual reply.
China was the most challenging and unusual country I visited on my trip. There were times, when I just wanted to pack my bags and get out of the country, because I couldn't accept and deal with certain cultural differences. Western world is completely different from China and the faster you adapt to Chinese culture, the easier would it be for you to survive there.
After living and travelling there for almost 5 months, I can only advise you to visit China - this powerful country, full of contrasts.
In order to save you some nerves and time, I collected some facts which will hopefully help you while planning your trip.
1. Google is banned
When I tell people that Google and its services are banned in China, everybody is shocked. But how can you survive, they ask me. Well, you have to use VPN – virtual private network. By connecting to VPN your computer ID remains anonymous and you are able to share and access public networks, in that case Google services. Keep in mind, that once you are in China, you are unable to download and install VPN. You have to do it before entering the country, if you want to use it there! Another bad news is that since last year Chinese government has been fighting very hard to get rid of all VPN-s. I have no idea about the current situation – but the iPhone may be the safest bet.
2. No English spoken
Next thing you should consider is no English spoken. In Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, the biggest Chinese cities where most expats live and more people speak English, you might come across someone who will help you out. Although most of the kids start learning English from early age; in general NO ENGLISH is spoken in China. Keep that in mind before planning your trip to China and learn some basic Chinese vocabulary. It will not only impress Chinese people but also show respect to China.
3. Spicy food
Chinese people love eating spicy food, what reflects in adding chili to almost every dish.
If you are for some reason, vegetarian, vegan, don't like spicy food, or allergic to certain ingredients, you should definitely start learning Chinese.
Although some Chinese people claim they can speak a little English, their knowledge is limited and as soon as you start talking about specific topic, they will be confused. If you really, really cannot stand eating spicy food, then I suggest you to learn a phrase "Bù yào lá de", which implies that whatever food you have ordered it will not be spicy.