Breaksian Travel Blog Career break traveling in Asia

Short update

It has been a while since I updated this travel blog. The career break was over a couple of months ago and I still have many drafts stories that I will finish slowly when I have the time. Now I'm working full time at a very cool startup in Berlin called Jobspotting.

The career break in Asia and Oceania, was definitively one of the most interesting and enriching experiences of my life and even if I'm happy being back at work I will always remember my time wandering around those continents.

Thank you for following this blog during my career break.

Now I will propose you a game for the next few days … I will post some of my favorites pictures in B&W and you can guess the city and the country.


Breaksian pictures on a single location

I have been adding some pictures to different posts on this blog and they are hosted in the breaksian.com domain under the "img" subdirectory. Nevertheless they are just a small subset of the complete photos I have been taking during this career break. When I was planning where to host those images, I decided to use picasaweb (Google Photos) to upload and backup the full set.

I have been using the picasaweb albums for many years and continued using it after the integration into Google Plus. I really like the uploader interface, the available space you get for free and the easiness on sharing the content with the visitors.

My girlfriend was asking me if I had plans to share Australia and New Zealand (my current travel location) pictures and I realize that even if I have been uploading pictures from those very interesting places, they are not "visible" on this blog.

So I added a "photos" link on the top menu pointing to:

//plus.google.com/photos/+Breaksian2014/albums

This url takes you to a Photos interface where you can see all the albums I have been creating in chronological order. You can always visit my google plus page and see the last pictures I shared, but this view is nice if you just want to see the albums.

I hope you like them.


Happy New Year

In my career break of 2014, I had the opportunity to visit some amazing places in Asia. As the year is finishing today, I decided to go back to my photo archive and select my favorite pictures during this ongoing Breaksian project and share them with you.


Dec 12. Four Islands Tour, Thailand: I find them fascinating, the limestones rocks on the sea. I went to the four islands tour while visiting Ko Lanta and I saw many of those formations, besides enjoying beautiful sea life while doing snorkeling.

Dec 8. Durians in Krabi Market, Thailand: Banned on the Singapore subways and in most of the hotels for its pungent smell, this big and thorny fruit is definitively one the most divisive food representatives of South East Asia. Here you can see a couple of those durians in a market of Krabi Town, Thailand.

Nov 29. Ta Prohm, Angkor, Cambodia: The Angkor Wat complex was one of the highlights in the trip. I'm still writing some post describing how nice it was. One of the most beautiful and unique places there is called Ta Prohm. When they started to restore this temple they decided to leave in place the bayan trees that had colonized the ruins, creating some amazing structures such as the one you see on the picture.

Nov 24. Giant Buddha, Ngong ping, Lantau Island, Hong Kong: Even if the place is a bit touristy, I enjoyed very much the cable car journey to the hill of Ngong ping where the Po Lin Monastery and the Tian Tan Buddha are located. I have seen in my trip a couple of giant buddhas, but the one here was really massive.

Nov 7. Kōfuku-ji temple, Nara, Japan: The ancient Japanese capital was a very special place. Its colors during autumn were really beautiful. I truly enjoyed walking around the park but my favorite spot was for sure the Kōfuku-ji temple, with its east golden hall (Tōkon-dō) and the five story pagoda

Oct 29. Sumida river from the Tokyo Skytree, Japan: Tokyo is one of my favorite cities in the world and this time around I had the opportunity to enjoy a panoramic view of the city from the Skytree observatory. I easily spent a couple of hours there, looking around, taking pictures and appreciating this excellent viewpoint.

Oct 24. Jeonbang Waterfall, Jeju Island, South Korea: In the southern volcanic korean island of Jeju there are multiple waterfalls, but one of the most interesting ones was Jeonbang. Here you can see the water hitting hard the rocks on the bottom, next to the sea.

Oct 6. Imjingak, South Korea: When I visited Seoul, I went to the Korean DMZ Zone that was established during the 1953 treaty. This war technically is not over because a permanent peace treaty was never signed and the reminders are everywhere that the Korean peninsula used to be a single country.

Sep 24. Halong Bay Cruise, Vietnam: As I described in a post earlier this year, we were amazed with my GF by the hundreds of limestones we found on our way and by the beautiful sunset and sunrise we were able to experience on our cruise in the Halong Bay. We did it in a 1906 style, on board of the Emeraude boat.

Sep 5. Jonker Walk Night Market, Malacca, Malaysia: At the beginning of the trip I visited Malacca and one of the highlights in the night market was a "Coconut Master" who was hacking and peeling a coconut in such a way, that he was able get the whole fruit in one piece.


I hope you have a wonderful celebration tonight and I wish you all the best in 2015. If you enjoy traveling like myself, I hope you will have some amazing trips!


Outbreaks healthmap

When I was preparing my trip to Asia and I was getting all the vaccinations required I stumbled upon a very interesting website developed by a team at Boston Children's Hospital called HealthMap. This site created by a team of researchers, epidemiologists and software developers provide realtime information about disease outbreaks from a broad array of infectious diseases.

The map is quite interactive allowing you to move around and zoom in / zoom out to get additional information about specific cities and regions. I was checking this site recently because of all the Ebola craziness in the media and I realized they offer now a section dedicated to this disease: //healthmap.org/ebola/#timeline. If you are traveling I think this is a great site to have in your bookmarks.


 


Update on laundry kit


Before I started my career break in Asia, I wrote a post here describing that I had completed my laundry kit that included: a A Scrubba wash bag (a nice gift from my sister in law and my brother) and a elastic line to hang the clothes either with a hook or a sucker.

This morning the weather was horrible in Busan so I took the opportunity to look for a coin operated machine to wash my clothes. I found it and the prices are not too bad: 3500 KRW for washing and 3500 for drying in medium size machines.

While I was waiting for the clothes to be ready I started to chat with my brother (yeah the place has free wifi too). He asked me if I had used the wash bag and I told him that it had worked pretty well while I was visiting warmer latitudes (Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam), but here in Korea, I haven't used it as often because the weather doesn't allow the clothes to dry quickly.

As you can see from the picture above both the bag and the elastic lines were a success! This was taken in Malaysia one week after I was on the road. Now I should clarify that the line hanger works well with the hooks, but the suckers on the other hand … kind of suck! :)



My tips on how to travel.

A couple of days ago my sister in law sent me a link to a blog post written by Anthony Bourdin on how to travel. The name sounded familiar to me and when I opened the page I recognized him from a couple of his travel and food shows in CNN (ie. parts unknown).

It was interesting to read his tips because even if I haven't traveled to so many different places as himself, I have been lucky enough to visit many cities in North America, Central America, Asia and particularly in Europe. I got used to fly quite frequently when I was living in Ireland and I had to do it every time I wanted to visit a city in mainland Europe.

So when I read the post from Mr. Bourdin some of his tips sounded very familiar based on my experience. I also realized that unconsciously I also have been creating for myself a set of tips on how to travel and I would like to share them with you on this post:

  1. Pack light: It seems pretty obvious but this is in my opinion one of my most important travel principles. Carrying around an overweight suitcase or backpack will not only hurt your back, slow you down and make you unhappy during your trip, but it will also increase the costs when checking in luggage or paying for extra weight. Ask twice if you need EVERY item you are packing. Once you finish, try out wearing the backpack / suitcase and remember you will carry this load all along the way. If it feels too heavy … it is indeed!
  2. Passport security belt: A passport is the most important document that you will have in your possession as a foreigner so you definitively want to keep it safe. I always keep it under my clothes using a safety belt (even when I pass through the security machines at the airport). You don't have to worry where your passport might be because you will always know.
  3. Dress for flying: When I pick up what I will wear during a flight, I try to wear the most comfortable but functional clothes possible, that will make easier to pass through security lines: I wear jeans, sneakers, t-shirts and a light jacket with many pockets. I try to avoid metal objects as much as possible. Today I tried a non-metallic buckle belt and it worked great!.
  4. Destination Airport Information: Knowledge is definitively a time saver when visiting a new city and arriving to the airport. Does it have a train or subway station? Or is it better to go by bus? How much one should pay for a taxi to the city center?. Most of the airports have websites where you can check this information out, but I found particularly useful the "Get in" section of most the Wikitravel entries. For example in the Singapore article they discuss:

    Subway: MRT trains run from a station between T2 and T3, but you'll need to change trains at Tanah Merah to a city-bound train: just exit through the left hand side door and cross the platform.

    This information sounds very useful!

  5. Get a map on your mobile device or take a picture of one: I always try to download a map of the city I'm going to visit, so when I get there I can pinpoint relatively easy where I will be (I downgraded my version of Google Maps to get the offline option). If I’m not able to get the offline map, I try to get a picture on the web and put it on my phone. If I'm already on the city I take a picture of the first map I find on my way.
  6. Blend as a local: I always try to blend as a local as much as I can, doing what they do. If I find out everybody walks a certain pace I try to follow them, if the get out subway in a particular direction I try to do the same and if I see them entering an interesting place I find out what it is. I just don't like the "lost tourist label" glowing out of me, so I try to avoid it if I can.
  7. Avoid the "Tourist Menu" restaurants: I really hate the feeling of being ripped off at an overpriced restaurant where the food is bad, the servers are rude and the bill is expensive, containing hidden charges. Everytime I see a restaurant with the words "Tourist Menu" translated in English, French, German and Spanish, I run away!.
  8. Negotiate the price of a taxis before starting the trip: I always try to use public transport as much as possible but sometimes there is no way around it and I have to catch a taxi. If the cab has a working taximeter and he will use it, brilliant, but otherwise agree on a price to avoid nasty surprises at the end of the ride.

I think those are my main tips. As usual I will update this post if I remember more "tips" but I think I put here the main ones. Do you agree? What are yours?

PS: I'm posting this from the Zurich airport on my way to Singapore. Now the adventure really starts!


Laundry kit completed

 

laundryready

In the picture above you can see the laundry kit I will be using during my Asian trip. It contains 2 elements:

  • A Scrubba wash bag.
  • An elastic line to hang the clothes either with a hook or a sucker.

I have to confess I was not thinking about this topic when I was preparing my trip, but a couple of months ago my brother asked me if I could give him my address because he wanted to give me a birthday gift in advance. I was really curious so when the package finally arrived here, it turned out to be a plastic bag with some scrub surface to wash clothes on the go called Scrubba. I thought it was a brilliant idea!. I was checking on youtube a couple of videos about how it should be used such as:

On the other hand last week I met a friend in Dublin and while I was discussing with her my travel preparation, she told me a friend of hers bought a portable clothes hanger line to use outdoors, so the day before I flew back to Switzerland I passed by a travel store and I got a handy elastic line for a couple of euros to complete my laundry kit.

My girlfriend is skeptic about the usefulness of this washing solution but I feel confident it is going to do the job. I hope I will save time and money. I will definitely update this post once I give it the first test drive.

 


Currency converter web app

I have been in Dublin during the last couple of weeks doing some paperwork I needed to finish before I go to my trip Asian trip. I have to acknowledge Ireland is a brilliant place to deal with the public offices because everybody is very nice and helpful, the amount of red tape is minimum and therefore it's possible to accomplish a lot of tasks very quickly.

I brought my laptop here and while I wait for my turn in the different offices, I have been working in a small project to adapt an existing tool that I created last year to perform currency conversion using an html5 offline web application (translation: you don't need to be connected to the internet all the time to use it).

I was thinking that probably I'm going to use this tool quite frequently during my trip in Asia. I will be traveling on a budget I would like to know on the spot what kind of money I'm spending in the different places I will be visiting. It looks like this

I decided to create a section on this website dedicated to web applications and I published there this currency exchange tool:

fxc-breakasian

The url is: //apps.breaksian.com/fxc.html

I also created an mobile application using PhoneGap so if you are an Android user you can also download the apk application here (please note you need to enable temporarily the install from unknown sources in Settings => Security):

Android FXC App apk

(I'm sorry iPhone users but I'm not planning or interested in paying the 99 USD to enroll in the iOS developer program. Nevertheless you can create a desktop bookmark with the instructions described in this lifehacker article).

I hope the application will be as useful to you as it will be for me and please let me know if you have any suggestion to make it better.

Update: Yesterday when I was chatting with my brother he told me that his only issue with the application was that people wouldn't know what the 3 letters code meant for the different currencies (besides the obvious USD or EUR). That was a very valid point so I just added this functionality. Now when you open the currencies dropdown it will show you not only the abbreviation but also the actual name of the currency:

actual

Thank you bro!.



Budget flying in Asia.

One of the first questions I needed to solve when I was planning my trip to Asia was what type of flight ticket I needed to get. Some friends at work mentioned the "Round the world" (RTW) tickets offered by some airline alliances (eg. Star Alliance, OneWorld or Sky Team). This was definitively an interesting idea since you get a ticket allowing you to hop between different countries. If you want to get one of those special tickets you need to define how many stopovers do you need, in what direction you are going to travel and how far are you planning to go. This is appealing because you get the chance to visit many countries around the world with a single ticket flying with some good airlines at a relatively low price. I read an comprehensive RTW article article in Wikivoyage, with some specific details about the different alternatives in the market.

Even if this type ticket presented as an appealing choice, I decided at the end to fly to Singapore using a normal ticket and then to start traveling using low cost airlines in Asia. My experience with low budget carriers such as Airasia has been very positive and since I'm going to be only on that region (and having the flexibility is quite important to me), I chose to use those companies for my regional flights.

I wanted to explore with this post what are the other low cost airlines available in the Asian market. This is what I found (I will keep updating this post as I found and try out more):


 

Airasia

Headquarters: Kuala Lumpur
Destinations by country:

map1

Country
Destinations
cambodia
Cambodia
Siem Reap,Phnom Penh
cambodia
Hong Kong
Hong Kong
india
India
Chandigarh, Kochi, Bangalore, Jaipur, Kolkata, Goa, Tiruchirapalli, Chennai
indonesia
Indonesia
Balikpapan, Lombok, Semarang, Pekanbaru, Makassar, Padang, Denpasar, Jakarta, Solo, Surabaya, Palembang, Bandung, Yogyakarta, Banda Aceh
japan
Japan
Nagoya, Tokyo, Osaka
korea
Korea
Seoul, Busan
laos
Laos
Vientiene
macau
Macau
Macao
malaysia
Malaysia
Kuala Lumpur, Kuching, Tawau, Alor Setar, Langkawi, Penang, Labuan, Sandakan, Bintulu, Kota Bharu, Kota Kinabalu, Miri, Johor Bahru, Sibu, Kuala Terengganu
myanmar
Myanmar
Mandalay, Naypyidaw, Yangon
china
China
Shanghai, Xi'an, Guangzhou, Nanning, Guilin, Beijing, Hangzhou, Changsha, Chongqing, Kunming, Wuhan, Shenzhen, Chengdu
phillipines
Philippines
Puerto Princesa, Kalibo, Tagbilaran, Iloilo, Clark, Davao, Cebu, Tacloban, Manila
taiwan
Taiwan
Taipei
srilanka
Sri Lanka
Colombo
singapore
Singapore
Singapore
thailand
Thailand
Ubon Ratchathani, Trang, Udon Thani, Surat Thani, Krabi, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Phuket, Khon Kaen, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Nakhon Phanom, Narathiwat, Hat Yai, Bangkok
vietnam
Vietnam
Da Nang, Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi


My Experience:
So far, I'm extremely satisfied with their service. In the past I traveled from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, Chiang Mai to Phuket and Singapore to Bali, using this carrier. It's a low budget airline so as expected you have to pay for the food and drinks, but the service provided on board is top quality, the flew crew is really polite and the aircraft's appear properly maintained (they use mainly Airbus A320). I will fly more with Airasia during my trip so stayed tuned.


 

Tigerair

Headquarters: Singapore
Destinations by country:

map2

Country
Destinations
china
China
Guangzhou, Haikou, Macau, Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Xiamen
indonesia
Indonesia
Jakarta, Padang
phillipines
Philippines
Manila
thailand
Thailand
Bangkok and Phuket
vietnam
Vietnam
Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City
india
India
Chennai, Tiruchirapalli, Bangalore and Trivandrum


Tropical diseases prevention.

5 years ago I had the opportunity to visit India. The department where I was working in Google had an office in Hyderabad and I went there on a business trip. Since I was going to be there already I thought it would be great to go on a small trip, so we did some research with a colleague of mine and we visited the golden triangle: Delhi, Jaipur and Agra:

Before traveling to India I paid a visit to the Irish Tropical Medical bureau to get an idea about the vaccines boosters I needed and to get advice on the preventive measures I should take while visiting the Indian subcontinent. I remember while I was in India I had an encounter with a pack of stray dogs, so vaccination is always in the back of my mind when I'm traveling to certain countries.

 

Recommended vaccination

I will be traveling for months in the Southeast Asia region this time around, so I decided to paid a visit to the Swiss Tropical and Health Institute to discuss with a specialist if I needed some additional vaccines and what other advice should I take into consideration during the long Asian trip. The Swiss TPH staff are really good! The conversation I had with them was very informative and the recommendations were spot on. The vaccines they recommended me were:

 

Vaccine Dose Reason
Hepatitis A. 1 shot (booster) Booster to increase the existing immunity
Hepatitis B 3 Shots. (every 2 weeks) Transmission by infectious blood or body fluids. Still it is recommended because of the length of the trip.
Rabies 3 Shots. (every 2 weeks) Recommended because the illness is deadly and it's endemic in parts of central southeast asia
Japanese Encephalitis 2 shots (28 days apart) It's the leading cause of viral encephalitis in Asia. Periodic epidemics in Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, India, Nepal, and Malaysia.

 

Malaria and Dengue

I also asked about Malaria, since I know this is one of regions of the world with relatively high prevalence of the disease and as far I remembered from my studies, this mosquito-borne infectious illness can be nasty. They recommended me to be careful in the countryside, trying to sleep with a mosquito net if the room doesn't have air conditioner. I should be particularly mindful if I travel in Indonesia to the west of Bali (in this case I should get some doxycycline tablets). Here is WHO map with the incidence of Malaria (2000 - 2012):

I'm not sure if I will visit West Papua, Lombok or Flores but if do I need to get treatment. The doctor also discussed with me a couple of tips about Dengue. Unfortunately there is no vaccination to prevent the Dengue virus so the main advice is to use adequate clothing and repellent to avoid being bitten. The other good tip I got from him was to use paracetamol instead of Aspirin or Ibuprofen since they can increase the risk of bleeding.

 



Vietnamese visa

Fortunately I don't need a visa for most of the countries I want to visit in the coming months and if I need one I can get it easily on arrival (VOA). Vietnam was an exception since I had to either get a visa beforehand or get an approval letter from a tourism agency, so I could get the visa "on arrival" when landing in SGN.

I probably could have tried to get this visa in Singapore but since we had to get one both my GF and myself, I decided to go to embassy in Switzerland a couple of weeks ago and make the application in person. The procedure was straightforward. What I needed was:

  • The original passports
  • The completed form.
  • A color picture
  • The fee paid at the embassy (110 CHF! per passport)

VietnamVisa


I got the passport back with the visa stamped after 20 minutes. It should be noted that the procedure can be 20 CHF cheaper if you use a self-addressed registered return envelope (I don't know about you, but I always get itchy when I have to send my passport by mail). Anyway I have the visa, so another "done" for my checklist.

Now some of the facts that I learned while I was researching how to go about getting this visa where:

  • The citizens of Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden are the only ones from the EU who don't need a visa to visit the country (they can visit Vietnam for up to 15 days).
  • The Vietnamese "Visa on Arrival" is a bit of misnomer since a letter of approval has to be obtained before arrival. This is handled by an approved on-line agency but it's hard to know whether a company has a legitimate arrangement and can provide those official documents.
  • The top level domain "gov.vn" does not necessarily guarantee you are dealing with government agency. Just make a search [site:gov.vn visa] to check it out yourself

So we are ready for SGN!

 

update: Just to highlight some of the points I was discussing before. You can even get comment spam from some of those "gov.vn" sites:

commentspam
s



Backpack ready

IMG_20140806_080630

I'm so very grateful with my former colleagues: Last week when I finished my job, they gave me a gift card for a travel and outdoors store and yesterday I was able to find a beautiful and handy backback I will be using during my trip. They were extremely generous so I was able to buy some other accessories and gadgets I needed such as a mosquito net, a compact day bag and a sleeping bag among other items. I felt like a kid in candy store! So thank you very much guys, I have now a shiny new backpack, so gearwise I'm almost ready to go.



It begins here.

Today I was grabbing lunch with a couple of former colleagues from Google and I briefly explained them my plans for the next months: I'm taking a career break and I’m traveling to Asia: I will start my trip flying to Singapore, I will then go by train to Kuala Lumpur and I will fly to Ho chi minh city to meet my dear girlfriend to start a small trip in Vietnam.

I will continue the trip on my own going to different countries and cities I always wanted to visit. I have a list of places that I would really like to see but I don't have a strict plan to follow. I want to make sure I will have enough time to enjoy the places I like the most.

MapSEA

I always loved to travel! It's extremely rewarding to treat your senses with a broad array of fresh experiences: To see different art expressions, to hear new types of music and novel sounds, to taste unique meals prepared with exotic ingredients and to see some beautiful landscapes, gives an overall rejuvenating feeling. I have been fortunate enough to visit different parts of the world but I have never embarked before on a long trip, so when I decided to take the plunge and take a career break, traveling was definitely my first option.

Every person has its own reasons to make a decision and I always thought a career break would be an interesting experience, but some of the online resources that encourage me even more to take mine were:

  • Stefan Sagmeister has a very interesting TED talk where he discusses the power of taking time off. The Austrian designer takes a sabbatical period every 7 years in order to refresh himself and get a new perspective that translates back to his work. It was very interesting to see the outcome of his Bali trip in the different projects he worked in afterwards.
  • I'm not an Apple fanboy and I would have hated to work for someone like Steve Jobs. Still I agree 100% with the message he delivered in his 2005 Standford commencement speech: "Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life… have the courage to follow your heart and intuition". I know too well this lesson.

So it begins here. I will update this blog before and during my trip in Asia. It's going to be an exciting adventure and I'm looking forward to it!