I live my life by “swings and roundabouts”. The long-term game. The bigger picture.It’s a life lesson as much as a travel one. You overpay on a taxi ride and find a bargain in a hotel, three days later.

A quick example: In Hanoi, I asked the man with the sidewalk shoe business to glue the soles of my shoe. It took a few minutes and just an ordinary glue but he charged me $3 – a lot for his business and that country. I stupidly didn’t ask the price, so I was stuck with it or without shoes, so I gave over that 50 000 dong with a grunt and maybe some dismissive words of advice. Just a few minutes later, I walked into a spectacle shop and asked if they could repair (yes, it was the day of repairs) my sunglasses. Both arms had come off, as arms do when legs and bags come down on them in buses. The man did a great job and didn’t charge me a cent. So between the two services, I had actually struck a bargain.


PIC: Oh how high we can fly when the days feel as light as rice paper

I have made some BIG errors in this trip that have cost me money and caused me, and anyone who had to listen to me, some aggravation.

Some of the mistakes I have made on this trip:

  • I left my brand new Samsung in a toilet and when I came back it was gone
  • I wanted to wear my favourite necklace from Nepal to the beach, even though my gut said it might a bad idea. I lost it doing handstands in the surf.

But the biggest one being the most amateur of all – I miscalculated how many pages I had left in my passport. Sounds like a great middle class problem to have right? But if forced me to change plans, skip countries and take more expensive routes, like flying, to ensure I would get a 30-day stay and not just a 14-day border crossing visa. And all of these details I found out as a I journeyed over mountains, lugging my rather heavy (17kgs and counting) suitcase on wheels (another mistake in muddy monsoon season.) If you met me in Vietnam, I would have probably asked if I could check your passport to see the space of the visas.


PIC: sometime it’s hard to see the beautiful droplets for the monsoon that is raining on your parade. 

In the long term it all works out. It’s easy to be zen about things when time is not nipping at your heels. Amazing Race wouldn’t have half the drama and tension if they had more time to figure things out.

In the end it’s about recognising your strengths and weaknesses and not getting caught up in either. 

On a bad day my day follows this formula:

Careless + clumsy + late planner = loss of goods, time and money.

On a good day my prana swings high:

Bargain hunter + flexible + adventurous = one in a lifetime experiences that cost very little and add value to all around.


 PIC: The lesson of rice paddies: from floods comes abundance and sustenance

And if you just don’t seem to be learning the lessons life is throwing at you; if you keep on digging in your heels and stubbornly moving against the grain, then be warned because balance will be restored one  way or another. And the other way usually involves some  pain and often a degree of humiliation (quickly followed by humility).

 Here is a personal case in point…

(Disclaimer:  the following is not to be read while eating or with a sensitive stomach)

But when you don’t learn the lesson… sometimes you have to slip in your own shit

I am going share something with you that I have only told a few close few friends.  It’s about hitting that low point that puts everything in perspective. It happened when I was last in Laos, barely 19, and all that entails, and travelling on my own. I had taken a bus to the river to get a slow boat to some town I cant recall now. But I was far north, which in 1998, meant very few travellers and even fewer English speakers. I had a bad stomach, so hadn’t slept or eaten much and had just left my short-term travel partner, which had probably made me a bit on the dependent side. And yes, it was a  muddy floody time in the countryside, which means that nothing around me was solid. Not my stool, not the ground beneath my feet and certainly not my mindset. The last thing I wanted to do was negotiate a fare for the only transport option in a remote area.

Truth is I didn’t negotiate. That would have been too rational for me at the time. I shouted and shook my head and made everyone, including myself, feel bad. Maybe they were overcharging me but more likely it was just a numbers game. If I wanted the boat and no one else did, I would have to pay for the whole ride.

So I stormed off in a huff and because I needed to find a place to squat in the bushes, far from the madding crowd. These were unsettling times, both north and south of the money belt. And as I squatted in the bushes, releasing a cowpat of brown fury into the mud, I let the rain and anger soak into my bones. And when I got up, I slipped in the mud and was pulled backwards into my own liquid pile of fury. I was literally wallowing in my own shit, and not a healthy or solid one at that. I was just one waterproof layer away from skin to faeces contact, the thought of which made me cry and laugh hysterically at the same time.

It was a moment that humbled and humiliated me into remembering my humanity. To remember that no amount of money is worth causing someone anger or pain or humiliation.  That moment really forced me to get my shit together. First to abandon the jacket and dive into the river and then to go, heart in hand, back to the boat driver and find a compromise that we could both live with. So as pungent as that memory is, I also carry it as a life lesson. Life will trip you up and let you deal with your own shit. One way or another.

Take my advice, don’t let it become a shit storm. 


Musing on the fact that I will soon be responsible for someone’s experience of Thailand as my mother will be joining me later today in Bangkok. oi vay. 

Categories: LaosTravelVietnam

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *