Do Something Unique When You Travel
After writing this article I spoke with the founder of Triip, a company that empowers locals to become tour guides! I thought it was so cool and relevant to this post that I had to mention it.
If you want to have 'unique' experiences while traveling, you need to do something unique.
If your idea of an exciting trip to Asia is visiting the big pagodas so that you can take your picture and prove you were there, then by all means do it. Pay your entrance fee and the 'cultural experience' will probably also include an gift shop where you can buy your Made In China (but somehow authentic) bracelets.
Me? I'll choose something more out of the ordinary.
Last week I found myself in Hue, Vietnam. I was on an 'open' bus ticket down the coast, and I'd decided to stay here for a couple days.
When I arrived I rented a motorcycle and blazed my way to the beach. The white sands were beautiful and the water was warm, but what really caught my attention where the two 40 foot fishing trawlers parked about 200 meters offshore.
Man, I just had to get out there.
"Who's on those ships?" I wondered.
The typical thing to do would have been to put it out of mind but I decided to board those vessels. The boats are far out in the bay and as my motorcycle would be useless for that final stretch of the journey the situation seemed hopeless.
This is the point where I made the decision most people wouldn't have made.
The coastline was littered with upturned rowboats owned by the locals. An oar lay inside one of the bigger vessels, and with it I dragged one of the smaller hulls towards the ocean. The journey to the big blue fishing boats ensued.
Once within 20 feet of the ships, a man popped out of a window, shouted, and motioned for me to lash up my little cruiser to the rope he was holding.
After tying up, I hopped on board to discover a rowdy group of pirates just finishing lunch. They threw some extra crabs in the boiler for me, we cracked open a few beers, and one of them took my phone to snap some memorabilia.
After 3 crabs, 2 beers, and many shouts of 'Cheers' and 'Finish it!' in Vietnamese, I shimmied back down to my own boat, waved goodbye, and paddled to shore.
Upon approaching the drag marks I had left in the sand 30 minutes earlier, it was apparent that a not-too-happy man with a stern expression was curious to know where his boat had gone.
Maybe he saw that I hadn't meant any harm or many it was that I comically fell out of the boat as I approached the shore, but he smiled after a few heartfelt 'Thank You's' in Vietnamese and we parted ways.
I had a similar experience in Hoi An, when once again I chose to avoid the main tourist traps in exchange for a slightly different experience.
Once again mounted on a motorcycle, I drove out into the rice paddies that lined the highway as far as the eye can see. Dismounting and walking into the middle of a paddy, I approached a group of women who were working.
They laughed when they saw me, and again when I picked up one of their tools.
Upon giving the universal 'Can I help?' body language, they nodded. I removed my shoes and plopped into the mud. One of the main duties in the rice field is to use a long 'hoe' like tool with prongs to pick up individual rice stalks and move them to less filled areas of the field. This was my job, and I did okay with 1 hour of training.
When the heat of the day was upon us, the women stopped working and I went on my way with one more unique Vietnamese experience under my belt.
You don't get much more off the beaten trail than these two experiences. By doing something a little out of the ordinary I got away from the inauthentic tourist traps and shared experiences that are far out of the realm of a 'typical' trip to Vietnam.
After visiting the exceptionally touristy Ha Long Bay tours (UNESCO heritage site) where we were herded onto boats like cattle and had worthless knick-knacks waved in our faces the whole way, I knew which experiences I found to be the most enjoyable.