Tag Archives: laos

Traveller of the Week: Helpful Locals, Labouring in Laos and Staying Young

Name: Berkan Öztürk (friends calls me ‘Turkish’)

Age: 28

Nationality: Turkish

Time on the Road (this trip or general outline): 11 years

Funds (saving/working/’freegan’/mixed): Working

Berkan and his favourite reptile
Baby Crocodile

What initially inspired you to travel?

Getting out of my comfort zone. Initially, I was travelling for a self-oriented growing experience, to raise my awareness of different aspects of life. It was a case of self-inspiration.

Before travelling, I used to do the same things, experience the same emotions, the same behaviours. Depending on the day, I might have done things in a slightly different order. I used to get those habits, emotions, movements, and thoughts which were growing into me and making me very comfortable.

The first time I took myself out of my comfort zone (in other words, the first time I travelled) I realized that I was doing new things and creating new connections – which felt to me like it was keeping me young.

They told me that I might be the first Turk in the Vltava River, Czech Republic
They told me that I might be the first Turk in the Vltava River, Czech Republic

How have your inspirations to explore the world changed since you began travelling?

The selfish beginning eventually evolved into a style where now I am constantly looking forward to contribute to the places which I visit (especially in poor and rural areas).

What has been your most memorable experience abroad?  

I will never forget the help I received in South Thailand. Thank you guys. You are awesome! I had to catch my flight which would bring me back to Europe. I arrived to the city where I was supposed to get a bus to the airport but the bus was not there. Local people told me that it would arrive in 2 hours. I asked them if it would be possible to catch my flight with that bus. They said no. The bus company people were very friendly to offer another solution. The lady working for the bus company bought me a minivan ticket, leaving from Surathani to Phuket. I asked if it is possible to get a ticket for the minivan which was leaving in 10 minutes. She said it was full. I thought I could try to ask people on the bus if maybe there would be one person who would be willing to exchange their ticket. Five minutes before the departure of the bus, I went to the minivan. I explained my situation. There was a Thai woman who looked about fifty years old. Spoke perfect English. She explained my situation to people in the minivan. Suddenly, three people wanted to leave the bus to make a space for me. I tried to tell them that only one space is enough. But those three left. I thanked them. Everybody was smiling. Had a very entertaining minivan trip where I was showing pictures from my trips.  Words are not enough to tell how much I appreciated what they did for me.

A capture from my seat in the minivan, Surathani, Thailand
A snapshot from my seat in the minivan, Surathani, Thailand

What would you say has been your most difficult or testing experience whilst travelling?

In Laos, I was labouring in an organic farm during the day and teaching English to the children in the evening. I am a knowledge worker and I realized that being a farmer is very difficult work!

It is incredible to see how many people have to care before they can bring food to our tables. My mother and father used to work in the tobacco fields for living until they were 18-20 years old. They were always telling me stories starting with something like “When I was at your age, I was picking this and that…”. To me, it was always some kind of story. I never actually tried to understand what it meant until my time in Laos. Now I understand how difficult can life be on some people. The good news is: this is the challenge of our generation. To make things better and fair for everybody!

Learning with young Lao people in Vang Vieng, Laos
Learning with young Lao people in Vang Vieng, Laos

Where are you right now?

I am working in Berlin, Germany.

Do you have any survival advice for new travellers in this country?

Germany is probably the most organized country ever. Not much can go wrong.

My favourite city, Berlin, Germany
My favourite city, Berlin, Germany

If you had to recommend one place in the world to visit, where would it be?

Goa, India. All you need there is: Tent, sleeping bag and a scooter to explore remote places…

Where do you plan to visit next?

I am planning to be in South India in December 2013.

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How To: Barter in Asia

In a Western society this is not something one has to learn how to master and therefore can be a bit daunting when arriving in Asia for the first time. However with a bit of practice and confidence you can achieve very low prices in Asia and avoid being ripped off once you learn two things: how to negotiate to a reasonable price with the seller, and learning what the reasonable prices are for each respective country.

Bartering skills are only really necessary where market stalls, open air establishments and ‘hawkers’ (sellers often found scouting the beach selling jewellery and souvenirs) are concerned. If buying something in a shop, or if you see a price tag, the price is almost always fixed and non-negotiable.

Generally speaking, Asian prices are low by Western standards. In many parts of countries such as Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, tourism is one of, if not, the biggest economy, so they do aim to make as much as possible out of you when you visit. The average wages in many parts of Asia are very low and they get very little support from their government if business is not going so well. For this reason, touts and the market people will naturally talk to you, sometimes walk after you, to try and make a sale.

For some travelers, while an exciting part of the experience, this can become tiring. Some days you want to be left alone and other days it can feel nice to stop and chat and have a bit of banter with the locals, maybe even practice some of the language. If the seller is confident and you seem to be getting nowhere with your negotiating skills, the etiquette is usually to thank them for their offer, walk away and advise that you know of a cheaper deal elsewhere. Most of the time they will call after you with a ‘final offer’, which can often be a reasonable price. If you are not so lucky, there are usually plenty of other sellers to compare prices with.

In order to be sure of whether or not you are being ripped off, well, it comes as a learning curve, and we all get stung at first. But one of the most magical things about travelling is that we get to meet other experienced travelers who can share information on deals that they have found, and people often sit together in hostels and run prices by each other to compare who has paid what.

Many locals that I have met have personally told me that it is very difficult for them to travel outside of their own country, mainly due to financial reasons. They have said that they see Western tourists as “very rich”. This idea can feel strange at first when you are backpacking and you can be feeling pretty poor or on a very tight budget at the time. This can also make you feel quite pressured at times when you are in a local village with people who may have never met a foreigner before and it can make you start to think about the cultural differences and your perspective of money.

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