How does so much time pass in between blog posts?! I’ve been in Australia for over a week now and coincidentally I don’t have my trx with me, but I’ve been hitting the gym regularly. The trx is a good exercise tool that travels easily, but with $60 checked baggage fees on Air Asia (one way!) I brought very little with me to the land down under… I’ll get back to using it again when I’m settled in Sri Lanka though.
Are you familiar with TRX? It is the yellow and black cable system you see hanging around your gym. The TRX training system was developed by a Navy Seal, Randy Hedrick, as a means to find a way to exercise and stay combat ready that could be used in any environment. He developed this suspension system of training first by using a jiu-jitsu belt and parachute webbing but perfected his system over time.
TRX can be used to get a fast and effective total body workout and according to their site, TRX.com, “the TRX trainer leverages gravity and your body weight to perform hundreds of exercises.” All you need is the TRX and your body weight, you adjust your position in relation to the anchor point to make exercises more difficult or easy if need be.
Here are 5 benefits to training with the TRX suspension system:
1. It provides a total body workout that continuously engages the core. Because many exercises can be done at a fast pace, more calories are burned as well.
2. The TRX system will help you improve mobility and flexibility. You can maximize range of motion by adjusting body position, therefore altering weight “lifted.”
3. You can build muscle without lifting weights. There are many exercises that can be performed and resistance can be increased by adjusting body weight, allowing you to always be able to get in that last repetition.
4. Train anywhere! You can use the TRX system at your gym, or if you have your own, you can take it with you. It can be hung anywhere there is a good anchor point. From a tree in the mountains, or on the monkey bars at the park- wherever inspires you most!
5. Develop your functional strength with the wide variety of movements that can be performed. It will help to improve your overall level of physical fitness and help you in your day to day activities.
Here’s a sample full body TRX workout, but before you begin training, ensure you are familiar with the equipment and performing the exercises. If necessary, enlist the help of a personal trainer before incorporating TRX into your regular routine.
TRX Full Body Circuit Training
Start with a 5 minute warm up. Walk on the treadmill, go for a light jog, use an exercise bike or elliptical machine, or do a dynamic warm up.
For this training circuit, perform 15 repetitions of each exercise three times unless otherwise noted, all on the TRX. There are 6 circuits total. Do one of each exercise, rest at the end, until you’ve done three sets of all of them.
TRX Sprinter Start (10 each leg); Low Row; Bicep Curls
TRX Squats; Chest Press; Tricep Extensions
Delt Fly, Single Arm Power Pull, Y Fly
Atomic Push-Ups; Mountain Climbers (30 seconds each); Hamstring Curls
Suspended Plank (30 Seconds); Pendulum Swing (10 each side, alternate); Crunch & Curl
Single Leg Squat (10 each side); Lunge (10 each side)
This is a full body workout that will get your heart rate up. Add this, or any other TRX exercises to your normal workout routine to add variety. Not only will it give you something different to do, but it will engage muscles in the body that are not always targeted through standard weight lifting regimens. Engage the core more frequently, build muscle, burn calories, improve balance and flexibility, and enjoy training wherever you want with the TRX suspension training system!
My feelings on the Philippines.
So many yet so few and more importantly, I made it out unscathed! 😅 The Philippines are one of the places you often hear warnings about, but as always, you have to be alert and keep your head on a swivel. I didn’t feel unsafe, but I also didn’t feel super safe. Either way, as a solo female traveler, it’s important to stay vigilant, no matter where you are. Now, my typical “slow” travel style has taken a quicker pace. I have less than three months left of this crazy Asian Adventure and I have places to go and things to do. I only spent nine days in the Philippines not including the two travel days (on each end) and it seemed like I was mostly traveling anyway. Like anywhere in Asia, getting from point A to point B takes time and I took some bus, boat, van, and plane rides on the regular.
With such a short visit, I don’t have a great summary of this varied country, but I can say the nature I did see was stunning. Here are my main thoughts overall:
1. Filipinos listen to an inordinate amount of “soft rock” from the 70s and 80s. It plays on the radio everywhere you may go. From Cebu to Palawan to public busses and local restaurants, you could often hear Boston, Chicago, Air Supply, even Led Zepplin, and many others. I actually didn’t mind it. It reminded me of home, my mom, and some of the tunes I remember her listening to when I was a kid, Total Eclipse of the Heart being one of them. When I asked some locals about it, they really couldn’t explain this phenomena of the popularity of soft rock, it just is!
2. Food. Ugh. Meat and fat and rice. Sounds like a good keto diet minus the rice but all so unhealthy. I had some vegetables on a few occasions, and that was restricted to mostly eggplant and pumpkin. So much of the meat is full of fat and the Filipinos like their pork! (But, the boat tour BBQs were awesome). As an RD it’s a little concerning as heart disease and diabetes rates must be pretty high (although I never looked). And while in the West we think of Asians as typically being slender, that’s not the case in many places and that goes for the Philippines as well. Sorry, but I see a lot of unhealthy people and lifestyle practices here.
3. Transportation. I’ve seen so many styles of transportation with a motorbike of some sort as the main base and in the Philippines, they use “tricycles,” a sort of covered motorbike car with an attached seat. Honestly, I thought they were quite ugly yet many of them are well kept, painted with various designs, and some even have real car ornaments on the front. They are a cheap way to get around the cities and towns on the islands and I felt most drivers were pretty honest with pricing (I always asked locals average fare before I headed out).
4. Christianity. Having spent the majority of the last 16 months in predominantly Buddhist nations and a few Islamic ones, it was different seeing churches. I don’t know how religious the Filipinos are, but I saw a lot of churches and make shift churches everywhere I went.
5. Interesting conversations with locals about my physique: While pointing at me, one man asked, “Oh wow, do you play… Do you play dumbbells?” And another, our “Tour A” guide: “I like your muscles. Do you play KFC?” There was a chuckle about the crowd, then the guide laughed, “Not KFC, UFC!” So, I’m a non-fighting UFC and dumbbell player in the Philippines!
6. After 11 days, I still want to spell Philippines with two Ls and one P.
Those random things are my take home thoughts as well as the beauty I saw at my main destination: Palawan, one of the more northwestern of the 1,700 Filipino Islands. Puerto Princessa is the capital of Palawan, and after spending a full day there, I can tell you, skip it. It’s best as a transit point and is just a busy city without any real beaches. And don’t go to “Pristine Beach.” It’s far from pristine, take my word for it. I’ll spare you the pictures.
El Nido is magical but a growing area, so that in and of itself brings up issues my brain cannot ignore. How do you preserve such a pristine place while people want to visit it? I’d actually read some posts telling people NOT to go because development and tourism is ruining the ecosystem there. But I had to… In my defense I skipped swimming with the whale sharks on Cebu as that also affects ecosystems, but I won’t lie, a part of me regrets skipping it. Feeding animals alters migratory patterns and teaching them it’s ok to approach boats could eventually get them injured. But who doesn’t want to swim with the biggest fish in the world?!
One of the things I liked about El Nido, aside from the obvious beauty of visiting tropical islands, was that the boat tour guides actually tell you not to touch things, not to touch coral, not to touch animals, and not to take anything. They also don’t feed the fish and have support from the World Wildlife Fund (who also recently declared 1 million hectares of marine protected area in Palawan) to promote ecotourism to draw visitors to the area instead of exploiting the land and sea. In developing countries this happens no matter what, but hopefully with the right partnerships and focus, this can be minimized. There’s a huge benefit. El Nido and Port Barton, the two places I visited, were truly stunning. The coral reefs are lush and vibrant and have very little to no trash in them. In this day and age with all the trash in the world, that’s nearly unheard of. Plus, coral reefs are the birthplace of so much of the life in our seas and oceans. That’s a huge part of the food chain.
I really enjoyed all of the activities on the boat tours I went on. It’s the thing to do, especially when limited on time. Hop on a tour and take a closer look. In El Nido I went on Tour A and Tour C, all in all, simply island hopping. Despite the rainy season, I was lucky enough to get some sunny days and see the sea and islands in all their rays of sunshiny glory!
While my time in the Philippines was short, I did enjoy it and hold dear the experiences I had. Seeing islands like Palawan is just a dream come true, even for me, someone who has been traveling for nearly a year and a half now. If you ever make the trek that way, please do some advance planning (unlike me). There was more I could have done but just didn’t have the time. Check out the Underground River, Port Barton, and Coron. Maybe vary it up and fly into Puerto Princessa and out of El Nido or Coron to somewhere else. It’s more expensive, but a time saver. In El Nido, check out Spin Designer Hostel, http://spinhostel.com. It was the most expensive hostel I’ve been to in Asia (about $17/night), but it’s new, clean, spacious, and all rooms only have four beds and air conditioning.
There is a daily breakfast buffet complete with an egg station and they provide free coffee in the afternoon as well, which is nice after a day out on the boat! It’s a great place to mix, mingle, and meet other travelers, even when you’re the 39 year old granny of the group. 😆 I also enjoyed having a burrito at the “Burrito Bar” in the small downtown area. It’s not really Mexican, but close enough. There is a gym as well, “Peak Gym,” which was great for my rainy down day. Swimming and kayaking on the sea and weights in between. Oh, and just beware WiFi is limited at best, so don’t plan on being too connected while in town.
So, all in all a good time and mainly, I saw some of the beauty on Palawan, met new people, and made some new friends. I got in more workouts than expected, stayed in some really nice places, and got some work done as well so no complaints from me!
To say I was scared would be a great understatement. Perhaps paralyzed with fear is a more descriptive phrase. I stood on the edge of the infamous fishing troller, both feet side by side on the last bit of open space that was left on the overcrowded single mode of transport to and from Saint Martin’s Island. I was momentarily frozen, I felt the blood rush from my face down to my feet, I even felt light headed. There’s not a lot that bothers me but I was petrified.
The trip didn’t start there at that trash filled port, however, it began 4 hours earlier in Cox’s Bazar. We checked out of our two bedroom, $18/night hotel room (breakfast included), and ventured out to get the bus to Teknaf, one of the easternmost towns along the coast in Bangladesh, 5 miles from the Myanmar border. Humaira, my host, told me we would take a bus, but on the busy streets of Cox’s Bazar, filled with the whizzing buzz of vehicles and the bells of rickshaws, she motioned for me to get into the back of a covered truck. It had two bench seats on the inside and a row between the main cab and those of us in the back.
There were 14 people in that small space, the attendant hung on to the ladder on the outside of the vehicle, and another young boy sat on the top. Three plus hours in that cramped space.
The thick air barely filtered through the open windows and when it did, it brought along dirt and dust that filled the nostrils and the corners of my eyes. As we traveled, some people got off and on, freeing up some space, but it was still cramped nonetheless. Humaira spent some time standing on the back, and I eventually did the same for a few minutes, needing a breath of fresh air and to stretch my legs. The portion of the trip we spent along Marina Drive was amazing, with the endless beach and seemingly calm sea in the background.
As we traveled, people were inquisitive. Why was there a foreigner in the area during low season, and furthermore, why was there a foreigner in the area given the Rohinga refugee situation? People kept repeating, “Be careful, it’s not safe.” But our minds were clearly made up and we were making the journey to Saint Martin’s Island, a speck of land in the Bay of Bengal, just a few kilometers from the Burmese shore.
The Rohinga are considered a stateless people. When the British drew up the Burmese borders, they fell within that country, but they’ve always been denied a nationality. Within Myanmar, they are not allowed movement, state education, nor civil service jobs. The group, predominantly Muslim, has long been persecuted in Myanmar, a predominately Buddhist country, and violations against them have been termed “crimes against humanity.” In the recent past, the situation has escalated and more than 900,000 refugees have fled from Myanmar to escape the current genocide the group is facing. It’s a complex issue that doesn’t get a lot of press in the West, but the situation is likened to apartheid.
During one of the bus stops, a young woman with red, bettle nut stained lips and worn teeth sat opposite me. She had two young children, a small rice sack of belongings, and wore a black hijab. She had an empty look in her brown eyes and that face with her fine features and small nose will forever be ingrained in my mind. Her husband was killed in Myanmar and she’d recently crossed the border. Although there are various checkpoints along the roads to prevent the Rohinga from totally infiltrating Bangladesh, the woman and her two children were allowed on the bus. They were traveling from one refugee camp to another, closer to the border to meet other family members. She got of the truck and we drove away. She was clearly not Bangladeshi and I’m clearly not Rohinga.
When we finally arrived in Teknaf, the port town where we’d take the fishing troller to the island, we were running out of time. The boat was about to depart so we hopped in a rickshaw and headed to the pier. There was a buzz of commotion. A dock so narrow you couldn’t tell if the crowd was going left or right, there was trash everywhere, and the midday sun was beating down. Humaira bought our tickets and that’s when the fear set in. As I stood paralyzed, I was told to sit down, but there was no place to sit. The hull of the boat was filled with various items. Chicken cages stacked one atop another, supplies for the island, peoples’ personal belongings. My bag was tossed to the side somewhere and I found a spot about as wide as my butt on top of a grain bag. The boat was packed. Every square inch of the deck and sides was covered with people. There was no shade from the sun, umbrellas of all colors served as a roof for the troller with hijab clad women beneath them, children patiently waiting for departure, men chattering amongst themselves.
We were packed in like sardines, except sardines are meant to swim in water. If that overloaded boat sank in the sea, I don’t know who would have made it to safety. It looked like we were refugees fleeing some war torn country, but refugees were actually fleeing to Bangladesh. I sat quiet for a long time, thinking about my life and all the things I still wanted to do. I had a vision of myself sitting in a cool, clean, small apartment somewhere in San Antonio, calm and peaceful. I assured myself I could swim to safety no matter what, but I became paranoid about my passport. If that ship sank, I could be stuck in Bangladesh without it. I was thinking about things that seriously. I even emptied a ziplock bag of peanuts in case the situation turned for the worse. Hey, it was all I could think of. The waterway to the sea was a narrow river, so the boat was protected for 14 miles from whatever conditions may be out in the great wide open. We met two other Indian travelers and eventually chatted amongst ourselves. When the river opened up to the Bay of Bengal, there were swells off in the distance. The troller began rocking back and fourth, waves splashed over us and within minutes, I was soaked. We had about an hour to go in those choppy waters and it was intense to say the least. The Indian lady was near hysterics, my frustration and nervousness were released in the form of tears rolling down my cheeks as the sun burned my face. The stench of the poultry below wafted up through all of the items in the hull. Khushe, the other girl traveling with Humaira and I, began crying. Because I was stuck, wedged in between bags and on top of the grain sack, the Indian man gave us updates on our arrival. I couldn’t see anything. 50% left, 30%, and so on. I eventually calmed myself and tried to comfort Khushe and the Indian lady. Finally, we made it. Our troller hit the pier, cracking the cement railing above. People began jumping of the boat. It was pure chaos. Stuff and people everywhere. When the one white girl was seen on the troller, news spread like wildfire. The first officer of the Coast Guard was alerted and only later did we learn the Second officer appointed himself as our guardian to keep us safe on the small, 3 mile long island. We attracted a crowd, people looking at us, at me, as if no other white person had ever been there. But there had, we were just visiting in the low season, that’s why the proper ferry was unavailable. We searched and settled on a hotel room. The sun was setting. We went to that island to go to the beach and that’s what I wanted to do. I put on some leggings and a sports style t-shirt and we took off. No swimming in a bikini in a Muslim nation.
The sky was incredible. Colors you only see in professional photos, all shades of red, orange, and yellow, and as the sun sank lower into the sea, we saw pinks and purples and a blend of nature’s beauty that was out of this world. The death defying troller ride was worth it.
A few minutes later, the hotel manager and the Second Class Coast Guard officer showed up at the beach. Humaira was scolded for us females being out there alone and from that point on, it was determined we’d have our own personal body guards and protectors while there. We were reminded of the Rohinga again and told that there had been cases of bodies turning up on shore. There were some navy and coast guard boats patrolling the waters as well. I was hoping we could hitch a ride to shore with one of them!
We had dinner, showered, and got an invite to the Officer’s Club but we only sat outside. The officer had given Humaira his number in case of emergency, but he called her constantly. He knew of our fears leaving the island the next day and taking that same boat ride back. What if the weather were worse? What if there were more people. He promised we’d be safe. He said he himself would be the one to say when the boat was cleared to go and if necessary, we could even be the only ones on board.
It was late. We went to our room and crashed for the night, praying the sea would be calm the next day.
We woke up early and walked the beach. The hotel manager eventually met us and we ventured down, yet again, to the area outside of the Officer’s Club. The second officer had the hotel manager fetch us some breakfast. Paratha, lentils, and an omelette “burrito” on the beach, not a bad way to start the day. While the sea was calm, there were dark clouds in the sky. The officer ensured us we would get off the island and he would be at the pier when we left. He said to be there at 10:00 so we went to get ready. Then there was a torrential down pour. We waited longer but made our way to the pier. The officer was waiting. It was half as crowded as the day prior and they split up all the people into two boats. We puttered away under dark, drizzling skies, not having paid a single taka for the ride.
The fun wasn’t over however! Thankfully the sea stayed calm. We did get a bit wet from the rain, but all things considered, that was the least of what could have gone wrong. When we arrived back to the mainland, I was so relieved. We were all grateful and starving. After we ate, we tried to find a similar bus like we’d taken the day prior, but there was nothing in sight. Apparently, some Rohinga had died in one of the camps and available vehicles were being used to transport the bodies. It’s like that trip couldn’t get any more complex. We’d saved money on the boat but had to shell out a bit for a personal tuk tuk back to Cox’s Bazar. But we made it and we were safe. Humaira got yet another call from the officer and he wanted to provide dinner for us. His friend had a restaurant on the beach so we filled up before our overnight bus ride back to Dhaka.
Of all the places I’ve been and all the experiences I’ve had, this little trip was exceptional on so many levels. The fear, the beauty, the conflict, the people, the food. At the end of it, the officer called Humaira and asked her to tell me he hoped, and they, the Bangladeshis hoped, that I had a good time. They wanted me to know Bangladesh can be a place to visit where people can be friendly and caring. All of the tourist police and soldiers manning the check points along the way were equally friendly and concerned about our safety as well. Humaira was concerned about the danger we’d faced getting to Saint Martin’s Island and she wanted desperately to be able to get off. Once we were in the clear, however, she confided she couldn’t wait to go back, but in the season! No more traveling by fishing troller.
I left Bangladesh with so many experiences. I wanted to write them all down, but more than anything, I wanted to share my story of our crazy trip to Saint Martin Island. Bangladesh is a country that ultimately does not see a lot of tourists and I’m sure even fewer make it to the easternmost point to the island. Furthermore, the Rakhine State along the border of Myanmar is closed to travelers as well for obvious reasons.
If you made it this far (I know this was a long post), thank you for reading. I hope you at least enjoy the photos of a place that you may otherwise have not known existed. I’m glad I have a unique story to tell, but no more overcrowded fishing troller trips for me. And mom and dad, if you read this, sorry!! I won’t put myself in danger again!
Just in case anyone ever searches how to get a visa on arrival to Bangladesh, now you will know! If you are not a US citizen, check the regulations for your country.
I’d done some research on line prior to my arrival in Dhaka and learned a visa on arrival is possible, although the details were a bit muddy. I hoped I’d be ok given the info I read on the US State Department website, so I skipped going to the Bangladeshi Embassy in Bangkok and took off with high hopes. When we arrived, I followed the crowd and came down a staircase with a sign welcoming you to Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport. There are two small security gates on the right you have to pass through and the VOA arrival desk is right there, just beyond the sparsely covered “health desk.”
I stood in line for 60 minutes. There were only 4 people ahead of me. In the meantime, another flight landed and a bunch of Chinese were in line. One came in front of me waving a paper in the officer’s face. Hell no. I’ve been in line for an hour, you’re not cutting me.
A Thai airways rep came to the desk and asked if anyone had luggage. We’d been in line for so long those who didn’t need a visa on arrival were likely long gone, along with their belongings. I hoped my bag would be there when I exited.
I chatted with a guy in line on an emergency medical mission for UNICEFF to Cox’s Bazar to help out with the Roginga issue.
At the visa desk, I spoke to two different officers. They were kind, but asked a slew of questions. They even called my contact here. She said she would be taking her exams and her phone was off. I thought I’d be stuck until she answered, but he motioned for me to go pay the VOA fees. I’d planned for $50 according to the US Embassy website. It was $51, but no big deal, now I just have a bunch of small bills in my wallet. Your length of stay with a visa on arrival is 15-30, discretion given by the officer. They knew, according to my paperwork, I’d be here for 7 days. I showed him the itinerary for my flights on my phone. I guess I could have made things easier by printing it out. Luckily he granted me a random 9 days. If you want a visa for a longer period, you have to have more documents and more money. A 1-5 year visa is $160 and must be arraigned prior to arrival.
He asked if I knew how to get to where I was staying and where it was. He’d already asked if it was my first time here so he clearly knew I didn’t know the city. I explained to him a 2nd time I was waiting for my friend and she would pick me up when she was done with her exam at 2:00.
When the officer finally gave me my passport back, I was relieved. I was also a bit disappointed that my visa was just a small stamp that took up a quarter of a page in my new, big passport. Before I would have been happy, but now that I have plenty of space in there, I wanna fill it up!
Not only did the VOA process take a long time, but immigration as well. There were 7 people in front of me and I waited for over 20 minutes. What takes so long? When I got to the desk, he said I was good to go because I already had my visa. Most places require you to go through immigration even if you have a visa. Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam require it and I have full page visas from those countries and got two out of three on arrival.
Hamina, my host, had messaged she’d finish her exams at 2:00. We landed at noon. Soon I was out the door and we met. Even though Dhaka reminds me a bit of Kathmandu, it’s always an adjustment arriving to a new place. Glad I’m not a solo traveler here and being with a local host is great.
Rice is life here in Asia. It’s often the main staple and comprises nearly 70% of the calories consumed in some countries. In the west, we just see rice in a bag, but have you ever thought of how it grows or where it comes from? Oddly enough, I always think about it and today, on an unexpectedly long walk, I figured out how it was all done. Take a walk with me through the countryside outside of Sa Pa in northern Vietnam to see the cycle of rice!
Even though rice is one of my least favorite foods, rice paddies are beautiful. I always say rice grass green is greener than any green you’ve ever seen! And here in Sa Pa, the rice terraces that curve along the mountainside are spectacular. They look like green carpets descending down from the misty mountains high above, their culms and blades swaying in the gentle breeze between the valley. But rice production isn’t about pretty pictures and scenic views, it’s a lot of hard work! In Vietnam, it is mostly manual labor and that means a lot of work for those involved. The country is the 2nd largest exporter of rice, just behind Thailand, and 7th in consumption. In 2017, forecasts say crops will yield over 44 million tons of paddy rice and there are over 1,600 varieties in the country.
So how does it grow? It needs a lot of water, so rice grows in a “flooded field,” and Vietnam has many areas suited for such a staple. Seeds must be planted, just like with any other crop and as it grows, roots will reach down into the earth and root below the water. Nutrients from the soil are delivered to the plant and eventually leaves emerge and grow. These young seedlings are harvested and separated and then transferred to the flooded fields. They are evenly spaced with enough room to grow to full size. These are the plants I often see growing throughout Asia, the bright green rice grass.
When the plant has matured, it will reach a height of about 3-4 feet. It produces a tiller, which is a reproductive stem. It keeps growing and will produce a flower head. At this point, the plant is in the reproductive stage. The flower head will produce up to 150 tiny flowers that will form seeds once pollinated. In the next 30 days, the rice seeds change color, some turning golden, the consistency of the grain itself changes (it hardens) and becomes ripe. The seeds can then be harvested for food and this process is what I witnessed today.
As we walked along the windy mountainous roads, we saw what ended up being the rice harvesting process. The bright green fields are all around, but some are turning golden. At one point, we saw some people further down the terraces, harvesting the rice from the flooded fields. They were working hard, bending, cutting, and carrying the loot up to the roadside.
The golden crops were laying in neat piles along the dusty road, but we wondered how the flower, or the seed, is actually separated from the stem. Luckily, just around the bend, we saw a group of men and the mystery was solved. They had a portable machine that reminded me of a wood chipper. They put the stems in one end, the seeds came out one side, and the rest of the organic material shot out of the machine into a pile below. It actually more reminded me of a snow blower, but you won’t find snow in these parts!
Once the rice is separated, it is set to dry. This process takes time and depends on the weather and conditions.
Once the rice is dry, it’s placed into a manually run machine that separates the husk from the grain. These husks are inedible coverings that protect the rice during growth. Often times, you see the husks being used for fuel (burning), but they also can be used as fertilizer or insulation material. I spoke to these two women for a bit and they said they will fill 8-10 bags of husked rice per day.
From a nutrition standpoint, this is where processing should end (aside from cleaning). Unfortunately, in Asia, rice goes off to the mill to be stripped of its nutrients to yield white rice. When I say “in Asia,” that’s very broad because Asia is huge, but everywhere I have been, this is the case. White rice rules, except in one little place, but more on that in a bit. The anatomy of a grain of rice is much more than the “white” part, or the endosperm. This is the carbohydrate and calorie provider of the food. The bran protects the seed, it serves as the outer shell, but it’s not the husk (that’s already been removed). The bran also contains fiber, B vitamins, and some minerals. The germ contains nutrients such as antioxidants, vitamin E, a bit of healthy fats, and B vitamins (just like the bran). And wow! If you want a seriously detailed breakdown, check out the FAO’s website.
The thing is, when rice is milled, so many nutrients are removed. When looking at main staples of the diet, they are a huge source of calories and nutrients, but with milled rice, so much is lost. We (dietitians) often tell clients to incorporate more whole grains in the diet, but when these simple carbohydrates have been king for so long, it’s hard for people to accept the healthier version and make that shift. When malnourishment and nutrient deficiencies are rampant, it’s sad to know so much is wasted.
The rice terraces of Sa Pa are beautiful. It was so interesting to simply walk along the road and actually see all the stages of processing once the rice has been harvested. All in all, my fellow travel buddies and I ended up walking nearly 12 miles. We saw lots of green, lots of grass, lots of rice. And at the end of the day, what do you think was served with dinner? You guessed it, a bowl of shiny white rice, straight from the local fields. Did I have some? Well, it was “rice day,” so I had a bit (maybe 1/4 of a cup). Is it my favorite? No.
The best rice I’ve had in Asia was in the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. Coincidentally, they don’t mill their rice as often there. It was hearty, healthy, and tasty. In Asia, I’m “riced out.” I’m not Asian, if I don’t eat rice at mealtime, I’m ok, but for locals, a meal without rice is not a meal at all. Hopefully one day, more people will incorporate whole grain rice into their lives. It’s a way to incorporate more nutrients into the diet and what do I always say? Eat a nutrient dense, varied diet!
What is a Sultanate? And where is Brunei? Has anyone heard of it? I feel like every now and then I want to visit a country just because I don’t know anything about it and it may not really be a tourist destination. Timor Leste is on my list for that reason and Brunei was as well. I have to say, I knew very little about it and had only seen a few snapshots of the main mosque prior to my arrival, but I wanted to pay a visit to this tiny nation nonetheless.
The word sultan comes from Arabic and means strength or authority. It is used for rulers in Islamic nations and can also refer to the leader of an area. A sultanate is the dynasty and lands that a sultan rules. Brunei is short for the Sultanate of Brunei Darussalam, or Nation of Brunei, the Abode of Peace. I didn’t know what to expect when entering this tiny country that takes up less than 2% of the land on the island of Borneo, but I knew it had a lot of money and was predominantly Muslim.
We arrived by boat from Jesselton Pier in Kota Kinabalu via Victoria Island, still part of Malaysia, so that’s where we got stamped out. Thankfully, there was a money exchange office right at the pier upon arrival and taking the bus into the city was a breeze. You could see the difference between Malaysia and Brunei immediately. Brunei is clean, and because of the nation’s wealth, buildings, housing, and other structures looked more grand and new. They recently did become a country in 1984, after all. In that time, they have gone through major change and progress. They are one of the richest countries in the world and derive their wealth from oil, and unlike Malaysia and Indonesia, their oil is not from palms, but from deep under the ocean. There are more ties to the Middle East and often signs are in the local language (Malay) and in Arabic.
With only 24 hours on our hands, we had to act fast! We checked into our two-bed room at the Joy Guest House, centrally located and just across from the “Water Village.” The woman working there was nice enough to give us free towels and coffee and she helped us make a rough plan for the day. We immediately set out to grab a water taxi down the river to see the mangroves, macaques, and proboscis monkeys. We tried to negotiate a cheaper deal with the driver, but he held firm at $30 BND (about $24 USD). He pointed out crocodiles, monkeys, and some other structures along the riverside. He gave us a tour around the water village, the largest in Asia. It’s home to nearly 20,000 inhabitants who all live in buildings and homes built on stilts above the Brunei River.
In all, there are 29 small villages connected by walkways. When we arrived to one of the main piers, we met a family outside of their home. We initiated conversation with them and they invited us inside. They told us how they were able to get the lot and purchase the home. They have prime real estate right up front and said they’ve shown their home to many VIPs from all over the world. We didn’t want to keep them for too long so one of the girls led us to another home where they make a local style soup for $1.50 BND, just over $1 USD for dinner.
A family enjoying dinner was kind enough to share their fresh banana fritters with us, so free dessert. In one of the richest countries in the world, I’d say we did pretty well on our low budget meal!
We spent the rest of the evening strolling around the downtown area, taking photos of the mosque and some other sites at night. Brunei is mostly a dry country and the night life is quiet. We went back to the hostel at a decent hour and got some rest. In the morning, we ventured out to “Empire Hotel,” a 5+ star resort over looking the South China Sea. We didn’t know it at the time, but the only bus back to the city was at 3:00 pm (and costs $2.00 BND). Our flight was at 4 pm, so that would be too late. Luckily, the city bus driver agreed to pick us up at 12:30, saving us a $25 taxi cab ride! We strolled through the enormous, shiny marble encrusted lobby. The large pillars and long staircases had golden accents and as we made our way to the back doors, we could see the neatly manicured lawns, large crystal clear swimming pools, and flowing fountains with the calm sea behind it all.
We stopped into the cafe before heading back into town and I ordered the most unusual combo of flavors all whipped into one frozen beverage: butternut toffee, espresso, milk, and peach syrup. If it doesn’t sound too appealing, don’t worry, you didn’t miss much! Once we returned to the downtown area, we finished up the last of our 24 hours with a stroll through the mosque in the daylight, but only once I paid a visit to the local post office. In keeping with my plan on sending my 9 year old niece and nephew something from every country I visit, I had to make sure they got at least a post card.
I was quite satisfied with our visit to Brunei. I only wish I’d had more time. There are some more interesting things to see there like parks, hiking trails, and an oil and gas museum that I really wanted to visit (yeah, I’m a total nerd in case you didn’t know ?). I also did not have time to visit a gym, so I definitely need to go back for that! If you ever get a chance to visit, I would say these are the top four things you must do if you’re short on time:
Pay the $30 water taxi charge and have a boat driver bring you down river and around the water village. You will see wildlife, mosques, a view of the palace, and the water village from the river level.
Stop off at the Kampong Ayer Cultural and Tourism Gallery. We did not have time to see this as it had already closed by the time we arrived, but there’s also a glass-enclosed viewing tower that may be worth a visit.
Stroll through the walkways of Kampong Ayer (Water Village) and observe local life. Make your way to the little family owned restaurant and have some “Soto” (soup) and fresh banana fritters.
Visit the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque and if possible, check it out both during the day and when it’s lit up in the evening. It’s quite stunning with it’s golden dome and bright white walls.
One thing to skip: taking the local but to the sultan’s palace, Istana Nurul Iman. You can’t get a glimpse of it from the main gate. It is apparently the most expensive “home” of a leader of a nation, and it’s set back and well protected. The sultan opens it up once a year for three days after Ramadan and locals can pay a visit. They even leave with parting gifts. If you’re interested, plan accordingly as Ramadan ends on a different date every year. We thought we’d get a view of this massive structure, but no such luck, just well maintained lawns and roads that lead up to it.
Like so many places I’ve visited and traveled to, I really enjoyed Brunei. It’s predominantly Muslim (and I’m not a follower), but I appreciate the quiet and calm found within the small capital city. I’m sure with more time, one would find their favorite things to do, neat hang outs, and of course, the best gym! I hope to make it back some day.
What “less-traveled” locales have you visited? Where would you like to visit?
Today, my blog is a year old and I still don’t post as often as I’d planned. When I look at it though, I can’t help but to wonder if I’m wasting my time. Nobody reads it. I know because I’ve learned to check the stats, LOL. In the last year, I’ve gained three subscribers. So, if I keep going, and if I live to be 100, let’s say, by the time I die I’ll have 186 subscribers. That’s not really enough to generate any income, as I’d hope may somehow happen one day. How do some bloggers make it big anyway? I’m sure they post more often than I do…
One year, 44 posts, 25 comments, 5 pages. There are some stats on my blog. How about for my travels? 9 months, 2 weeks, 3 days. Countries visited: 10. Flights taken: 14. Trips by boat: I lost count after 4. Bus rides. Haha! I’d never be able to count all of those. Train trips: just 4, in China and Thailand, the longest lasted 31 hours. Countless rides on local and city busses, taxis, motorbikes, grab cars and uber. Tuk-tuks, long tail boats, horse, metro, sky trains, I’ve flown in and out of the most dangerous airport in the world, covered 200 kilometers on foot in the Himalayas alone, and have done a ridiculous amount of steps on the bumpy and uneven streets of Bangkok, on crutches, and I’ve traveled throughout SE Asia now while in recovery from ACL and meniscus surgery. Does it get old? Never! Does it get tiring? Usually not, but I have to say, I’m getting there.
Or, maybe I’m already there? But if so, I’m certain it’s only temporary. For the first time in over 9 months, I miss home, and by home I mean San Antonio, Texas, and where my family lives in the New Hampshire/Massachusetts area. (Not my house, per se). I miss my friends, family, my dog, having girlfriends, cooking my own, HEALTHY food, regular gym sessions, a variety of clothing options.
I’m a bit tired of being on the go. Of living on a tight budget and not having the options to be more choosy at times. I’m tired of living out of a day pack. My clothes always smell and I’m often concerned about when and where I can do laundry. The heat in SE Asia is relentless. Temperatures are often in the 90s, and humidity is right up there as well. I sweat profusely, it permeates my clothing, leaving behind a salt line on my black Pureline t-shirt. I’m tired of eating unhealthy. I do my best to choose the most nutritious foods possible, but it’s not always an option. I think it’s safe to say I’m the heaviest I’ve ever been and I’m beyond the “It’s ok, you’re traveling AND injured” phase. I dream about crunchy and crispy salads full of fresh vegetables, lean protein, and slivers of perfectly ripened avocado. Fried eggs not cooked in copious amounts of oil. Ice blended protein shakes the way I used to make them at home and Quest bars, LOL. I want to go to the gym everyday, twice a day and I want my quad to fill in the extra skin on my leg now that it has atrophied so much!
I don’t mean to complain, I chose this life, but I can see now I need a break for a little while from being on the go, I need to “settle” somewhere where there is a gym, people I know, and healthy food options. But after all this time, that notion is tough too. I was in Bali, when you look at the map, it’s quite south, about 10 degrees south of the equator in fact. From there, you can take trips to the Komodo Islands but I didn’t have time. Go a little further south east and you’ll get to Timor Leste, a small island that separated from Indonesia and became independent in 1998. From there, it literally looks like you could swim to Australia… And don’t get me going on where you can go from that part of the globe… The Solomon Islands (a must do on MY list), Papúa New Guinea, Micronesia. The list goes on. It never ends. Then there are things you never heard of until you meet a traveler who has recommendations and you now have more to see. In this day and age, people feel the globe is getting smaller because of technology, but when you’re out in this world, you see how big it is and how impossible it becomes to see everything. Some days I feel like I could do this for the rest of my life, and sometimes I want to have my own bed with my dog and a large man in it. It’s hard to have both. There’s some balance with breaks and slow travel, however, and maybe having a “home base” is important. For now, I’m happy to see what I can while I can, but I’m looking forward to my visit home and will reasses my life and travels from there!
What do you do you when you get “tired” while traveling?
Did you know over 80% of the habitats where orangutans once freely roamed have been destroyed? In the last year alone, over 6,000 of them, the world’s largest arboreal animal, have been killed. Their habitat is diminishing and they are still lost to illegal poaching, but why?
Borneo is the third largest island in the world and the largest in Asia. It is home to one of the oldest rainforests, and there are mangroves, peat swamp and swamp forests, ironwood, and other forests on the island. Many endangered animals such as orangutans, elephants, and rhinos call it home but sadly, numbers are dwindling, along with the other biodiverse wonders of this great island.
The main export of Malaysia is “crude oil,” and that oil comes from palm oil trees. Palm plantations can be found throughout Southeast Asia, and Indonesia and Malaysia are the biggest growers. Palm and palm kernel oil is like liquid gold. Palm fruit trees grow in areas along the equator and include both palm oil and coconut trees. The oil produced from both the palm kernel and coconut are similar. Palm oil trees produce a fruit that is red and orange in color when ripe and has a thick oily flesh, this oil is high in palmitic fatty acid and is about 50 percent saturated fat. Because of it’s red color, this oil is said to have a higher antioxidant capacity than other oils, and it is sometimes used in margarine spreads and other products. Palm kernel oil, however, is derived from the kernel inside of the oily fruit of the palm oil tree. This oil has a different fatty acid profile and is higher in saturated fat, comparable to that of coconut oil.
Palm kernel oil has become a popular oil and it is quite ubiquitous- it is found in a variety of products from foods, to cosmetics, and it is even being used as a biofuel.
The roads in Malaysia are lined with palm oil trees. They are in neat rows and stretch deep into the darkening forest. I first noticed them in southern Myanmar, and in Malaysia, you can’t miss them, they are everywhere. I did some research and the results left me uneasy.
Over 3.5 million hectares of land have been cleared to make way for palm oil plantations. Indonesia and Malaysia produce 90% of the world’s oil, so many of the species that inhabit these areas are pushed off or killed as a result of deforestation.
On the island of Borneo, and likely in some other areas as well, there are a few animal rehabilitation centers. I visited one such place called the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center and got to see these animals, along with “pig-tail” macaques in their natural environment.
The center was established to rehabilitate the animals rescued from the pet trade, and since its inception, they have admitted 760 orangutans, of which 81% went through rehab, and 66% were successfully released into wild. Due to a diminishing habitat, orangutans are more vulnerable to illegal poaching for the pet trade. The burning of the land also drives them out of the forest in search of safer places. I was told that Sabah, the northern district in Malaysian Borneo would preserve 60% of it’s land, Indonesia, on the flip side, continues to burn forests at an alarming rate. Subsequently, some of the orangutans have “emigrated” from their home country.
I had an interesting, albeit brief, chat with one of the staff members at the sanctuary about the underlying causes of WHY the orangutans are at the center to begin with. Agriculture on the island is a controversial issue. Malaysia and Indonesia are both developing countries and both the palm oil and rubber plantations bring much needed money and a source of income to the people, but that clearly comes at a huge cost. I for one, don’t have a solution to this situation. Avoid products containing palm oils, yes, but some say it would lead to deforestation for other reasons, like logging, for example. From a health standpoint however, it is good practice to limit palm oil consumption as it is high in saturated fats. In fact, the USDA, the WHO, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Academy for Nutrition and Dietetics, the American Heart Association, the British National Health Service, Dietitians of Canada, and likely many more organizations do not recommend regular intake of palm kernel and coconut oils due to their high content of saturated fat.
I enjoyed my visit to the rehabilitation center. The animals truly have a home there that is free of boundaries. They are fed a “bland diet” (mostly bananas and other fruit) twice a day to encourage foraging on their own and while many of them are friendly (as they were often kept as pets), there’s a strict hands off policy. So many places in SE Asia exploit animals, so I’m grateful for organizations like this that promote their welfare.
I’m not a die hard animal rights activist nor am I an expert when it comes to agriculture. I do, however, know a bit about nutrition. When it comes to saturated fat, I encourage you to limit intake, and because deforestation makes me so sad, I also encourage you to read labels and limit your intake of palm oils.
There are some sustainable plantations out there, but much of them (from what I’ve read) are not properly regulated (because of the ?that palm oil brings in). If you’re so compelled, do your own research. As time goes on and more rainforests are cleared, there will hopefully be more pressure and focus on these issues- before it’s too late. And if you ever get a chance, pay a visit to Sepilok. Your entrance fee of 30 Malaysian Ringgit (about $7 USD) helps keep the sanctuary running.
When you’re at home, do you have a routine? You likely do and it probably includes going to work, working out (hopefully!), eating proper meals most of the time, and getting to bed at a decent hour. Although I don’t have a home, I have a routine as well and I do my best have it be something like that. While I don’t have an actual job, I make sure to set aside time to work on my freelance writing, my own blog, and interact with clients. As you may have read, I like to workout whenever and wherever possible, eat healthy food, and I’m not going to lie, I like to go to bed early and watch something mindless on Netflix, just like I used to do back in the United States. Sometimes, I don’t even do that, I just scroll through FB and Instagram to stay connected with my virtual world. That may not be the best thing to do before bed, but in the ever varying world of international travel, FB and Facebook messenger serve as the one constant I do have.
I’m now at month 9 of my “Asian Adventure” and still have that wanderlust just as I did in month one, but my knee injury has certainly changed my situation. Additionally, there’s been a recent influx of interest of traveling with me in Asia. My plans have therefore realigned with those of the others coming to see some of this world as well. Flying Solo has it’s perks, you can do what you want when you want, so traveling with a companion is an adjustment. Vacations are great! You go have fun for a set period of time, then you go back home to your life, your grind, and your job that pays you X amount of money to allow you to have fun on that vacation. Since I quit my job and sold my home last year, I’m not on vacation, in fact, it’s quite the opposite. I’m on a tight budget and since I recently paid a portion of my credit card bill used to pay for my surgery, it’s even tighter. I fear with over 6 weeks of upcoming travel with others, my budget may be an issue. My boring “routine” may be an issue as well. When I lived in the U.S. I didn’t live an extravagant lifestyle. I bought what I needed and enjoyed life modestly, but I’ve never been much of a spender, so certain activities are not appealing to me. In Singapore, I had no desire to drink $22 cocktails at C’est La Vie, the bar on the 54th floor of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. While I did want to see the view from the top, a quick elevator ride up quenched my thirst, no $6 water, $7 juice, or $22 cocktail necessary.
Visiting Singapore was awesome, but what made it great for me was seeing people I already knew, having some semblance of a normal routine, and being able to eat some really healthy and fresh food. I was able to go to the gym daily as my friend works for a large, international company in the industry. We chatted in the evenings in a normal, comfortable apartment complete with refrigerator and a washer and dryer (the things you learn to live without!), and I simply caught up on some work. Furthermore, it was interesting to reconnect with someone from home (Texas in this case), we even had brisket and cabbage slaw one day for lunch! I saw another friend I’d met in Bangkok and although we’re not super close, she’s like my sister from another mister and it was fun to just hang out with a female for a little while and have some girl talk!!
I’m hoping to find some balance in the next few weeks and through May, in fact, while traveling with others. Having someone to split costs may be helpful, it’s nice having adventure buddies, and who knows, it may influence me to do something I may otherwise choose not to do… Maybe I’ll take a “vacation” for a day and go crazy! ? However it all turns out, I’m super excited to have some of the adventures ahead of me that I do. Borneo, Bali, and Angkor Wat in Cambodia are all bucket list adventures and I’m taking them! I’ll even visit with some old college friends in Jakarta, Indonesia and meet up with my “body guard” from Bangkok in Siem Reap.
Travel is a lifestyle, and a varying one at that. Being the regimented person I once was, I still seek some semblance of a normal life, don’t do anything crazy, nor do I do anything I wouldn’t at home. Budgeting is a must, healthy food regularly is necessary, and gym access is a plus. I guess with 9 months in the bag, a major injury sustained, and surgery behind me, I’m doing ok… Here’s to the next leg, or many legs at that! ?
How do you handle long term travel? What is your routine? Must do lifestyle habits? Feel free to leave comments and tips in the box below! Happy travels. ?
It has been my goal to not only keep up my blog posts, but to also focus on food and fitness while I travel. Today, I’m going to try to do just that while I share my day spent in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur.
Every time I go somewhere new, it takes a bit to adjust. You have get accustomed to a new currency, new language, new customs, and new foods. That last one is always a struggle, the curious foodie in me wants to try everything, but the RD and injured Fitness minded person tries to hold off. I was in Thailand for over four months, so the desire to try everything lessened and I often cooked my own food or had my go-to decent meals and snacks. So far, I’m learning what I like here in Malaysia, as well. Thankfully, there are plenty of options and I can choose meals without rice and noodles. I’ve also seen a variety of juice and smoothie shops, and one even offered a whey protein add in. Cool drinks on hot days are quite refreshing, so happy they are an option.
It rained this morning and I was beyond disappointed. I don’t like rain. It just depresses me and has since I’ve been traveling. I ate breakfast in Chinatown and ordered grilled chicken with a side of sautéed cabbage and a fried egg.
I sat and mulled over how I’d plan my day considering the rain. Everything I wanted to see required me to mostly be outside. I had my iPad and notebook, so off to McDonald’s I went. They always have a reliable bathroom, cheap coffee, and I had to catch up on some work. I spent two hours (over one coffee) there and luckily, when I was ready to go, the rain stopped.
I’d wanted to hit up a gym while here, but the one that gives a free pass is quite far and may have cost me in transportation so I decided to add my own physical activity to the day and paid a visit to Bantu Caves. I saw them on the map and a google search proved they’d be quite an adventure, and a workout, with over 300 steps to reach the top. And as it turned out, there was another cave in the vicinity, so I did quite a bit of stairs.
Thankfully, I fueled up with a banana smoothie made with plain yogurt and “chocolate powder” before I set off on the 11 km train ride out of the city.
I felt so accomplished when I finished, not only did I make it up and down all the stairs, but I avoided the Indian sweet snacks and did my best to stay fully hydrated during the day. It’s hot here and humidity is a whopping 85%. I was feeling pretty ripe on that train ride back, but at least the AC was on!
When I got back to the city, the rain hadn’t started back up and I really wanted to go to the Petronas Towers. I scoped out the area and decided to leave the rest for tomorrow. Hopefully I’ll go up to the top and walk through the park.
By the time I left, my knee was getting sore so I sat and had some grilled chicken for a snack and made my way back to the hostel. It’s time to do some PT, but I’m tired of sweating! I did a lot today, walked over 6 miles, climbed a load of stairs, and managed to get some decent food in me.
I’ve found delicious chicken is available most places and chicken satay is a common meal, complete with a fairly decent sized serving of spicy peanut sauce. Cashew chicken was my go to in Thailand and here, it’s going to be chicken with peanut sauce. ?
Knowing your healthy options is important. I tell this to my clients in the states as well. If you do not have time to prepare meals, or can’t, like me now because I’m bouncing around Asia and don’t have a kitchen available, it’s good to have some “go-to” meals that won’t break your calorie bank for the day. Although I’m a budget traveler, there are times I’ll spend an extra bit of money for a healthy meal. In Bangkok, I’d spend upwards of $6.00 for a salad at Gourmet Market. Having healthy meals actually makes me happy, so that’s one area where I’ll sometimes spend the money.
So, what about you? Do you want to try everything when you travel? What are your go-to meals and snacks and how do you incorporate physical activity on the road?