The World Nomads Podcast: Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos

The definitive answer on motorbike licences in Vietnam - The logistics of crossing Southeast Asian borders - and how to combat trafficking of an endangered mammal.

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In this episode, we explore the logistics of traveling across borders, the world’s most trafficked mammal, backpacking in South East Asia and giving back the right way

What's in the Episode

00:12 Welcome

01.02 What we will cover

02:05 Quiz Question

02.32 Cassie Wilkins on the logistics of crossing borders “…There are a lot more horror stories than there are success stories, so I just thought I'd break it down into simple steps to make it easier for everyone.”

08:54 Nikki Scott from SEA Backpackers “… “I’ve met lots of different types of people who consider themselves backpackers whether they are in their 60s, and they're taking an older gap year or couples. Then you have the whole digital nomad scene.”

15:51 Karen Leonard from the Lifestart Foundation “…Our main focus is working with disadvantaged and disabled people and helping them to become self-sufficient.”

23.24 Ashley Kelly talks about enjoying the wildlife ethically “…There are some really good conservation organizations that are doing some great work in those countries.”

32:40 Travel News

34:49 Stef Hendry on riding a motorbike in Vietnam “… If there's a crash get away as quickly as you can. Because no matter who's at fault you will pay.”

43:25 Answer to the quiz question

45:20 What’s happening in the next episode

Who's On the Show

It’s a bumper show.

Nikki Scott runs South East Asia Backpackers. Nikki says it’s not just an online business but a voice for the backpacking community. If you like the sound of writing for the website by reviewing hostels, trips and activities for free make sure you sign up for their newsletter.

Cassie Wilkins is a World Nomad contributor who lived in Cambodia for four years. Cassie shares with us a few of the logistics of traveling around Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. The full article here.

Karen Leonard founded the Lifestart Foundation a grassroots, not-for-profit charity that helps disadvantaged Vietnamese people and their families to become self-sufficient. Take a look at her website to read more about her amazing work and how you can get involved.

Ashley Kelly is a researcher and wildlife conservationist. In this episode, she chats to us about the endangered pangolin, the world’s most trafficked mammal and how to enjoy animals in South East Asia, ethically.

Check out Ashley’s work as a volunteer filmmaker at Save Vietnam’s Wildlife here.

A pangolin (Image: Getty/hph image library)

Stef Hendry is an Australian expat who has just wrapped up four years living in Hanoi. Stef owns and rides a motorbike and in this episode takes us through the difficulties and dangers of being on the road in South East Asia.

VIP Bike Rentals is run by Aussie ex-pat Andrew Souto. Stef argues he is the best person in Hanoi for information on riding in Vietnam.

Andrew also has a not-for-profit business Blue Dragon doing really important work for children and women in Vietnam.

Stef also suggests Wide Eyed Motorbike Tours.

Resources & Links

Beyond Angkor Wat by Cassie Wilkins in which she explores 9 alternative ancient sites.

Motorbike safety in Laos, all you need to know right here.

Check out sustainable travel tips for Vietnam here.

Golden Bridge, Da Nang (image: Getty/Linh Pham)

Scholarships Newsletter: Sign up for scholarships news and see what opportunities are live here.

Want to Talk to us?

We want to hear from you! If you have any travel insurance questions to Ask Phil, want to give us feedback on the episode, or have suggestions for topics you'd like us to cover, email us at [email protected]

About The Podcast

Explore your boundaries and discover your next adventure with The World Nomads Podcast. Hosted by Podcast Producer Kim Napier and World Nomads Phil Sylvester, each episode will take you around the world with insights into destinations from travelers and experts. They’ll share the latest in travel news, answer your travel questions and fill you in on what World Nomads is up to, including the latest scholarships and guides. The World Nomads Podcast is not your usual travel Podcast. It’s everything for the adventurous, independent traveler. Don’t miss out. Subscribe today.

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Intro: Welcome to the World Nomads Podcast delivered by World Nomads, the travel, lifestyle, and insurance brand. It's not your usual travel podcast. It's everything for the adventurous, independent traveler.

Kim: Hello. A big addition to the World Nomads Podcast this episode. Phil, have we bitten off more than we can chew? Three countries, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, all in the one podcast.

Phil: Yeah. Does anybody know the Heimlich maneuver? We may choke on what we're doing here.

Kim: I know. There is so much. Tell us about Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Where are we thinking, imagining in our heads?

Phil: Well, I mean, it's the quintessential Southeast Asia countries. South of China to the west, no, east of Thailand. That would be north, yeah, [inaudible 00:00:40] when you go around the clock to the east of Thailand.

Kim: Can I just say even though I'd written it for you ...

Phil: Really mountainous part of the country there, and it has been colonized by the Europeans, of course. Indochine, Indochina, the French colonized it for quite a while, and some people would even argue that the Americans have done so since.

Kim: Well, there's a point. It has a very checkered history, Phil, surviving political regimes, and war. The effects of which can still be felt.

Now, in this episode, we'll chat with an amazing woman helping disadvantaged children access education. We'll hear from a wildlife conservationist on ethical travel through Southeast Asia, and she talks about something that I've unwittingly done. You know that coffee that you can have that's-

Phil: Yes.

Kim: ... from ... I can't think of the animal.

Phil: Civet.

Kim: Yes. Yeah, I've done that no-no.

Phil: They feed the beans to the civet, and then they take the droppings and make the coffee out of it.

Kim: Yeah, so that happens naturally.

Phil: Right.

Kim: But you shouldn't be-

Phil: Capturing them to do that.

Kim: ... capturing them and feeding them. I've actually learned something from Ash, and I'm sure that you will too. We will also touch on hiring a motorbike. Everyone talks about hiring motorbikes when you go to Southeast Asia.

Phil: Vietnam is the most complicated of places to know whether you're properly licensed or not.

Kim: Yeah, I'll leave you to get all the details for [crosstalk 00:01:59].

Phil: It's one of my favorite topics.

Kim: The logistics of crossing borders between those three countries.

But, we cannot get started without your quiz question, Phil?

Phil: Okay. Over the summer of 2018, the cues to go up the Eiffel Tower have become so long that the staff has gone strike. Apparently, they're absolutely sick of being abused by hot and bothered tourists. Though apparently they've changed which lift you can use, and people were getting in the wrong cue and cuing for hours and then finding out they were in the wrong one, and they're abusing staff. Anyway, they've gone on strike.

But, here's the quiz question, all right? How many people visit the Eiffel Tower every year?

Kim: Find out at the end of the episode.

In our last destination podcast on Guatemala, we talked to Cassie who was in Antigua. She was helping out with the recovery after the volcano.

Phil: Yup.

Kim: Yup. We've got her back on because she was so popular. Cassie, this time we're talking Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. You are really a fount of knowledge, aren't you?

Phil: You're very well traveled.

Cassie: Yeah, you could say that. Cambodia's definitely my forte. I lived there for four years, so I'd say it's my specialty area.

Kim: Great. Well, we're going to pick your brains on the logistics of traveling around Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, and you've written an article we can share. But you have everything for us that you need to know about border crossings, visas, transport, changing money before you travel. You make it sound hard. Is it difficult traveling to those countries?

Cassie: Honestly, no, it isn't. But I think a lot of it's just having the information before you go. It just kind of puts your mind at ease a little bit. Some of the border crossings sometimes can be complicated, but there are a lot more horror stories than there are success stories, so I just thought I'd break it down into simple steps to make it easier for everyone.

Phil: All right. [inaudible 00:03:43]. Which are the complicated borders to get over?

Cassie: When you're crossing the borders into Cambodia especially from Thailand, there are quite a few scams famously. It's worth just keeping your passport with you at all times and doing everything yourself rather than giving it to anyone else. Sometimes, people pose as officials and ask you for money and take your passport and runoff. Most of the time, they don't run off with your passport, but they just take extra money that you really don't need to pay.

Kim: What about you talk about having small change available.

Cassie: Because sometimes it helps to ease the process a little. They ask for money for a health check, or they ask for money if you don't have your passport pictures, or they say they're not the right size or something. It's like, "Oh, it's an extra three U.S. dollars." Generally, it just helps to have in case of any unexpected costs that may arise. Generally, you wouldn't expect them to add up to any more than three to five USD.

Phil: How does it sit with you, because you're encouraging corrupt behavior?

Cassie: Having lived in Cambodia for four years, it's actually voted the second most corrupt country in the entire world after Venezuela. You end up having to pay quite a few bribes for different things. I was a managing a guest house, for example, so you had to bribe the police a certain amount of money just to leave you alone, or they would come in and try and give monthly shakedowns and things. If you drive a bike or a car, they ask you for bribes.

It's expected behavior, and, at the borders, it generally helps to ease the way a little bit. Do I agree with it morally? No, but the police in Cambodia don't actually get paid enough to support themselves and their families, and they rely on the extra income that comes from this. Especially prior to holidays and things like prior to Khmer New Year and different things, there are a lot more police on the roads, for example, so they have enough money to support their families.

Phil: In one of the articles we have on World Nomads site about the ethics of bribing ... Obviously, as a travel insurance program, we can't condone illegal behavior. But-

Cassie: Of course.

Phil: ... both of you have got no problem with it, as our writer said, "They like to consider it giving honor and respect to the officials that you're dealing with."

Cassie: Be respectful, yeah.

Kim: And a smile goes a long way.

Phil: That's right. If you get pulled over, "How much honor and respect do I owe you, officer?"

Cassie: Will a smile count, or do I need to give you some money?

Kim: Yeah.

Cassie: Yeah.

Kim: How important then is it to do your research before traveling to these countries?

Cassie: I feel like everyone should always do their research before they travel to any country. Before I came to Guatemala, I was in El Salvador before that, and I did a lot of research before I went there, because you read a lot of horror stories. But then you get there it's not actually as bad as everyone makes it out to seem.

I just think wherever you go it's worth knowing what you're getting yourself in for in a lot of ways. I'd always say do as much research as possible. When you travel, you see so many other people reading all these blog posts, reading their guides, reading the different things. I think it's really useful to share the information that we have. That's one of the reasons I love being a World Nomads contributor because I can share the knowledge that I gain from going to all these awesome places.

Kim: What about currency exchange? I've already said that I've been to Vietnam a few times. I've found that even going into a tailor you get a better exchange rate than you would at the airport. But a lot of people don't feel comfortable doing that. What would your tip be?

Cassie: I always change money in the markets. I found that I got the best rates in the markets, but I know that a lot of people don't feel comfortable walking around with much money on them especially in the market.

I would change little and often rather than changing a lot at one time. Generally, I find that withdrawing cash from ATMs gives you a pretty good exchange rate as well with certain bankcards and prepaid cards that are available now like TransferWise and Monzo and Revolut. They give you generally pretty good rates.

It's not worth going into a country with several thousand U.S., for example. I would say it's always worth going in with a couple of hundred maximum and then pulling out cash when you're there.

Phil: Plenty of ATMs in Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos?

Cassie: Surprisingly, yes. Laos maybe less so than other places, but Cambodia when I first arrived in the little beach town I was living on, there were no ATMs, and you had to drive half an hour to get to the nearest bank. But, now, there are six in that little area, so they're just cropping everywhere.

Phil: Thanks, Cassie. Some practical tips for travel there, and you can read more of Cassie's article in show notes which also covers visas and tips for motorbike riding which we'll have more on in this episode of the World Nomads Podcast.

Kim: Southeast Asia backpackers have been the voice for the backpacking community ever since the launch of the first print magazine in 2009. That's how it started with British backpacker, Nikki. She launched this business as a magazine initially. We're touching base with her to find out who she's talking to almost 10 years later now that she's online, and what advice she's giving on travel to Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

Nikki: Well, it's really developed over the past 10 years, so when I started the magazine I was 23, and you're a stereotypical backpacker, really finding the cheapest hostels possible and having beers and going and meeting different people on a really loose schedule. Then, yeah, I think the whole concept of Backpacker has changed as my travel style has changed. I've met lots of different types of people who consider themselves backpackers whether they are in their 60s, and they're taking an older gap year or couples. Then you have the whole digital nomad scene where people take their laptop on the road and work, and that's a different kind of backpacking.

I think we're talking to all of these groups now. It's not just you're scrimp and saving budget traveler. It's flashpackers as well. It's gap years. Yeah, a whole different ... The whole word, the word incorporates a lot of different people these days, I think.

Kim: What are some of those off the beaten track places that appeal to those independent, adventurous backpackers that you deal with?

Nikki: The North of Laos, so around Luang Namtha getting up into the mountains, there is amazing scenery. You've got these huge limestone cast mountains at the side of the river. That's amazing for trekking, and there's rock climbing scene starting, so, yeah, definitely northern Laos.

Then you've got your hotspots in Vietnam, Hanoi, Hội An, and that. But it's really ... It's really easy to get off the beaten track even just getting on a motorbike and going half an hour away from the main tourist trail. You'll find little villages and places.

Yeah, we were in Hội An for a couple of ... We were there for two months a few months ago. We hired bicycles and went all around the little villages like the vegetable gardens of Trà Quế, and it's definitely not pronounced Trà Quế. It's Cha-way, I think. But the Vietnamese accent is impossible to pronounce. It's quite-

Kim: Yup, yup.

Nikki: ... difficult. Yeah, I would just say find your own little nooks and crannies for sure, yeah.

There's a place that's not so far from Hội An that [inaudible 00:11:42] which is a hill tribe region of Vietnam which is becoming a bit more of well-known on the backpacker trail, but it's ... Yeah, there are so many places off the beaten ... Even though [inaudible 00:11:55], it's a well-trodden trail, it's really easy to still get off the beaten track, and people are staring at you going, "What are these foreigners doing here? This isn't the tourist area."

Kim: Well, the thing about Southeast Asia is that they are so friendly.

Nikki: Yeah, yeah it's difficult to find a more friendly region to backpack through.

Kim: In terms of value for money, backpacking through those areas, it's just incredibly cheap.

Nikki: Yeah, it's ... You can get dorm beds for three dollars I think in Vietnam. We've just been updating some of our guides at the moment and as cheap as three dollars, a meal or a dollar. It's super cheap to travel through and great value for money.

I think as it's become more popular, there are some incredible hostels that are more like ... They really know what backpackers want. They're super comfortable, great beds and showers and everything, and it's still you're paying up to five dollars for these places. It's, yeah, great value for money.

Especially when you come back to Europe, and we arrived back in Spain the other day and we're looking at hotels, and it's like, "Right, yeah, no, we can't get anything near the airport for less than a hundred dollars," and you're like, "Oh, back in the real world." Yeah, it's definitely to be appreciated.

Western food obviously is going to be more expensive. I've known some travelers are a little bit afraid of eating the street food and in the local markets. But apart from a little bit of an upset stomach, I've never really been ill. It's just the best food, the cheapest food, and the nicest experiences. You're going to have so much appreciation from the local people that you're eating there and stuff, and it's, yeah, the best experiences we had.

Kim: People listening to this podcast that are inspired to backpack, where can we find you?

Nikki: Its southeastasiabackpacker.com is the website. We've got a Facebook community where people have lots of travelers Southeast Asia Backpacker Community basically. There are people asking each other questions and advice, so if you're looking to travel that's a great place to meet travel buddies and chat kind of thing.

Kim: How good is social media for that?

Nikki: Yeah, it really makes you feel like you're not alone even if you're going backpacking totally solo, you really have got whole community out there of people going give you advice and support. Yeah, it's so easy to meet people in Southeast Asia anyway so.

Thinking actually just to mention before I go, if you're interested in writing for us, we have a lot of opportunities to go and review hostels for free or review treks and things like that. If you are interested in writing, and you want to write about your travels and possibly get the opportunity to review things while you travel, we have a newsletter you can sign up to and find out about free opportunities.

It's kind of like we're trying to create a whole Wikipedia of backpackers collaborating with all this information for each of the ... and then also getting some of the perks of being able to stay in places and do dive trips and things for free. Because there's only two of us running the website, and we can't do all of this. It's great to get loads of people involved. That's what we're trying to do at the minute.

Phil: Thanks Nikki, and I don't think you'll have any trouble finding people keen to tell their story or review an activity or hostel, links in the show notes.

Kim: Yes, speaking of helping out amid that sense of community, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos still have many challenges. We're about to chat with the founder of a charity, Karen Leonard. But a warning. There's a little bit of static in the interview which happens when you're recording stuff over the phone and Skype, doesn't it? Just par for the course of podcasting.

Phil: You're being very generous. I think it's user error by me.

Kim: Yeah.

Phil: Sorry.

Kim: Yeah, [inaudible 00:15:48]. The Lifestart Foundation is a grassroots, not-for-profit charity helping disadvantaged, Vietnamese people and their families to become self-sufficient. Am I on the money, Karen?

Karen Leonard: You are. You are. Yes, so we're an NGO. We're a charity based in central Vietnam. Our main focus is working with disadvantaged and disabled people and helping them to become self-sufficient.

Kim: How do you do that?

Karen Leonard: How do we do that? Via several programs. Our biggest project is education scholarships. We find in order to break the poverty cycle, it's a generational change. There's no quick-fix or Band-Aid fixes. Education, taking kids who are from super poor families and getting them through their education to the end of year 12, and, in our case, then, we take them on through university. It's really not until they've completed a degree where there's a pathway for employment that you're really breaking the poverty cycle.

Kim: I know you do a lot with people with disability. Why is there a correlation between disability and poverty?

Karen Leonard: The problem is that in, well, in particular in Vietnam, there's no government assistance that we would call real assistance. If a family has a disabled member born into the family, then they often don't get access to education that means then they can't find employment depending on the severity of the disability. One family member then needs to stay home to care for the disabled person.

It's this compounding effect where you've got one person who's disabled that needs to be fed and cared for. Then another family member who can't be an income earner who then becomes the carer. Then without any sort of assistance that puts a lot of stress and pressure obviously on the rest of the family.

Phil: Sounds like the absolute definition of a vicious cycle that will never [crosstalk 00:17:57] and spiral down.

Karen Leonard: It absolutely is. Obviously, if you're a disabled person born into a poor family, it is that cycle that's incredibly hard to break.

Kim: I know all the stats say that in the '90s, poverty in Vietnam was halved and halved again in 2004. Here we are in 2018, why is there still this need?

Karen Leonard: That's a good question. I'd have to wonder where the stats came from I suppose. To the tourist, the visitor that's perhaps visiting Vietnam for the first or the third time, and they're only visiting the tourist areas, it appears to be doing really well and really affluent in parts.

But, in my opinion, that doesn't trickle down to the poor people. If you venture out of tourist towns only a few kilometers, you'll still see people that are living hand-to-mouth. This would be the vast majority of people live hand-to-mouth, and nothing's changed since the war.

Kim: How do you then identify children that are bright or children that could benefit from education? How do you find these people?

Karen Leonard: Well, because we've been doing it for so long, it's 18 years now, we work with schools and school principals and teachers in our province. We've got at least 40 schools that we work with. They know our criteria, which to get a scholarship, one of our scholarships means the child has to display academic excellence, be from a super poor family, and our third criteria is a desire to give back to the community by way of their chosen vocation.

Kim: What are the success stories?

Karen Leonard: Well, we've got our first doctor has graduated.

Phil: Wow.

Karen Leonard: He started as a scholarship with us in secondary school. We've seen him through medical university, so it's a long process, that's a 12-year scholarship with us. He's just graduated. He's a doctor at the Women's and Children's Hospital in Da Nang and now specializing in pediatric oncology. We're thrilled to pieces with him.

We've got our first lawyer graduated, first environmental scientist, first architect. With the scholarship process, it's really long. It's round about 12 years, particularly if they're going to do medicine. They take it as this huge challenge and are so determined.

Phil: Anybody listening to this right now, unless they're a brick and have got no emotions whatsoever, will be going, "Okay, so how do I help, what can I do?" A lot of people who travel to Vietnam will be going, "Well, I've got help these people."

What are the right way of helping and the wrong way? I know you'll see kids on the street selling trinkets. Is it the-

Karen Leonard: Sure.

Phil: ... the right thing to do to help them out or not?

Karen Leonard: That is absolutely the wrong thing to do because what you're doing is perpetuating that industry, unfortunately. If tourists don't buy from children on the street, then the parents are more likely to keep their children in school.

There are a lot of street kids that are exploited sadly by family members to earn an income because they're cute, and tourists will give them money. But by buying from them, you're supporting that industry of child exploitation.

If you're traveling to Vietnam seek out a reputable charity. Do your homework before you travel and find an organization that resonates with you and your ethos. Speak to them beforehand about how you could help or support them.

Phil: Just one other one, a little bit out of your scope, okay? But orphanages, visiting orphanages, I've got strong-

Karen Leonard: That's a no-go.

Phil: ... opinion about this one. Don't do it.

Karen Leonard: Yeah, I'm really passionate about this, Phil. That, again, the boom in or the growth in orphanages, particularly in Cambodia, but certainly in other Southeast Asian countries is due to the need for western tourists to go and have some sort of interaction with kids in an orphanage. My advice is that should be an absolute no-go.

The kids often are not orphans, but they're put into these places, because they'll get gifts, and they're treated to things by visiting tourists. Often children are relinquished into an orphanage, and they've got a family. It is absolutely the wrong thing to be doing.

It's like anywhere. Would you be able to do that in your own country? I think people need to do a check and balance before they do these what they think are well-meaning acts. But if it doesn't sit right in your country, and you wouldn't allow it with your children, then, what makes it okay when you're traveling?

It's terribly sad, but through Southeast Asia that would be a common, common problem. Again, it's a matter of being armed with information rather than being ignorant and traveling ... I'm not saying ... People are wanting to do the right thing. Don't get me wrong. But there's a way to do that, and there's a wrong way to do it.

Kim: We will share the right way to do it in show notes. Now, still to come in this episode what you need to consider before planning to ride a motorbike in Southeast Asia.

But speaking of the right way to travel and doing it ethically, our next guest, Ashleigh, is a wildlife conservationist who's doing amazing work not just in Southeast Asia but right around the world.

Ashley: I've volunteered quite a few countries. I recently returned from Vietnam where I volunteered for Save Vietnam's Wildlife which specializes in pangolin rescue and releases back to the wild. I also volunteered over in the Maldives with the whale shark research program. I've also volunteered over in Africa for an organization called C.A.R.E., The Centre for Animal Rehabilitation and Education, which focuses on baboons. I've spent quite a lot of time in America particularly lately with my studies looking at the human dimensions of wildlife conservation. I've been visiting lots of zoos and aquariums there and seeing how they can better improve the conservation messages that they're sending out to all their guests.

Kim: Okay, well this particular podcast is on Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia. The treatment of animals in that particular region, what would your reaction be to that type of question?

Ashley: There are some gems among the roughage. There are some really good conservation organizations that are doing some great work in those countries. But there are a lot of issues because they're low socio-economic countries the people that live in those countries do what they have to, to survive a lot of the time.

It's like Maslow's hierarchy of needs when you're personal needs aren't met then you can't really think beyond yourself to the conservation of other species. Unfortunately, that's quite relevant to a lot of those countries. They can't put food on the table for their children and their families. If it means that they need to go and poach animals from the wild, then that's something that they do, because they have to. If that means taking animals from the wild and using them for tourist attractions to try and get income to put food on the table for their families, then that's something that they'll be willing to do as well.

Unfortunately, you do see quite a lot of attractions that target animal-loving tourists, because there are some really amazing exotic animals in these countries. Southeast Asia is a biodiversity hotspot. They have heaps of incredible and unique species, and it's one of the reasons people go to Southeast Asia is to see a lot of these species. If you are an animal lover, and you get the opportunity to get up close to some of these really incredible species, you're probably going to take that opportunity.

One thing that I do is I run a social media campaign. It's called the Wildlife Friendly Traveler. It aims to demystify some of the issues around whether your actions as a tourist are supporting wildlife conservation, or whether they're contributing to the exploitation of wildlife. It's really hard to know if a place is legitimately supporting conservation, or whether they're telling you this story, but, in reality, they're actually exploiting the wildlife which happens all too often. We try to help people sieve through some of the muddy areas and allow them to make the best decisions that they can as a tourist particularly in Southeast Asia.

Kim: Yeah, for instance, riding an elephant is not all it's cut out to be.

Ashley: It's a really tricky issue. Generally, my personal stance and that of Wildlife Friendly Traveler is that any elephant experience that involves riding of the elephant is one that should be avoided. The reason for that is the process to get the animals to the point where they can be ridden, the process of breaking in the elephant per se, is absolutely brutal, and what those elephants endure being caught from the wild, being beaten into submission in order to become tame enough to be ridden by tourists is an absolutely horrific process. It really, really does put a lot of physical and emotional strain on those animals.

The condition of life that they lead is atrocious. They're often chained up most of the day with very little access to food or water. They often have really bad injuries around where the chains are. It is something that should be avoided.

Having said that, I recently went to what was called an elephant sanctuary. I'm hesitant to call it an elephant sanctuary because it was not really a very nice place. This was actually in Sumatra, a little bit outside of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, but the only time those elephants got let off their chains was when someone came to ride them. It was only time they got to stretch. It was the only time they got to eat food from the forest as they were walking along. If someone wasn't there riding that elephant, it was standing on a piece of concrete with a chain around its legs in the full sun with no food and no water. The only time it got to do anything close to an actual behavior was when someone was riding it. Which is really difficult, because that goes against are a no-riding philosophy that the only time those elephants were able to be fed and exercised was when someone was riding them.

But there are a couple of good sanctuaries in Southeast Asia, and if you really do your research then read as many reviews as you can. See if they're genuinely rescuing elephants, or whether they're breeding them, or whether they're capturing them from the wild. That's a really important point.

There's a good website waspinternational.com which has helped take the guesswork out of some of those issues that can be really helpful as well.

Kim: You mentioned the particular animal that you were in Vietnam volunteering for. You told me what you did. I believe this particular animal is one of the most traded animals in the world.

Ashley: It is the most trafficked animal in the world, number one.

Kim: Wow. What is it again?

Ashley: It is the pangolin.

Kim: I've seen pictures of it, and it just looks weird. What are you going to do with it?

Ashley: Yup, they're scaly mammals. They're one of the only scaly mammals in the world. Unfortunately, that is their downfall.

Unfortunately, there are some beliefs among some cultures that the scales have medicinal value. The scientific proof has shown that that's not really true. They're made of keratin which is the same as what our fingernails are made of, so essentially eating pangolin scales is the same as eating fingernails.

However, the scales are by far the highest valued part of that animal, and that is what is driving the trade in that animal. They're traded by the ton. This is a little animal. It's most similar to an anteater in appearance. It's small with a really long nose, a really long tongue, a long tail, and a scaly body.

Kim: What about Laos and Cambodia? Anything coming out of there?

Ashley: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, absolutely, Sunda pangolin are often found in Laos or Cambodia and transported across to China as well. As a tourist, you're never going to have any issues with pangolins. It's not something that's going to affect your experience in Vietnam, Laos, or Cambodia at all. You probably would go on holiday there and come home and still not even know that pangolins exist.

Kim: But do your research before you jump on the back of an elephant.

Ashley: Absolutely, and also before buying civet coffee. Traditionally, the civets would come through a coffee plantation and have a nibble on the coffee beans and poop out the coffee beans. A farmer accidentally discovered that if you roast up those poop beans, they make a really cool tasting coffee.

Unfortunately, a lot of places have very poor caged conditions that they make the civets live in, and the civets are force-fed huge amounts of coffee beans as their only food which is very unnatural. In the wild, it would make up a very small percentage of their natural diet. But the unfortunate thing is that a lot of the places that will tell you the best story, they'll say, "We're an amazing free-range wild civet place." Unfortunately, a lot of those ones are the ones that actually have the worst behind the scenes.

Kim: Doing great work, Ashleigh, well done. A lot to think about there, Phil, and traveling ethically, not jumping on the back of elephants.

Phil: Yup.

Kim: Thinking about going to zoos and aquariums.

Phil: Well, funny should mention that, because I've got something about that right now in travel news.

Kim: Have you?

Phil: All right, let me just skip through to that one. Anybody who's visited the Greek island of Santorini will know one of the most popular tourist activities there is to ride a donkey from the port up to the town up about 500 steps.

Problem is all the donkeys are being injured. They can't carry the weight especially of the obese tourists who are turning up. These donkeys are only supposed to carry about 50 kilos which are about 112 pounds, so you can imagine what's happening to the poor things.

The locals have even tried cross-breeding the donkeys with mules so that they can carry the weight much better there. But you know what? It's 500 steps-

Kim: Just walk it.

Phil: ... don't ride the donkeys. You'll appreciate it.

Look, as we're putting this podcast together, a bit of bad news, I'm sorry. A second major earthquake in a week has struck the Indonesian island of Lombok, this one's killed as many as 82. Lombok is-

Kim: At the time of recording.

Phil: At the time of recording it. Lombok is an island neighboring the very popular destination of Bali which we all know about, but it's a relatively popular destination too. Luckily for travelers there though, the quake is centered on the other side of the island, some 50 miles away. Where the tourists are was classed as light, although it doesn't look like it from the damage that we have seen on TV coverage, not such good news for the main town on the islands and, of course, the Indonesians living close to the epicenter. Our thoughts are with them right now.

Whilst we're on Vietnam, a new tourist attraction has opened in the Ba Na Hills behind Da Nang in Vietnam. It's essentially a semi-circular viewing platform like a bridge with amazing views over the district, a treetop sort of experience there. But they've incorporated into the bridge a sculpture which is a pair of giant hands that look like they're holding the bridge up. I've shown you a picture of it there.

Kim: Yeah, it looks amazing. In fact, it reminds me of something you're more likely to see in Berlin-

Phil: Yes.

Kim: ... than Vietnam. It's cool, it's really cool.

Phil: It's really cool. There are lots and lots of photos. We'll put some in the show notes for you to have a look at.

Kim: That's new.

Phil: About a month ago.

Kim: Don't tell me that we don't have the latest news-

Phil: No, that's it.

Kim: ... on this podcast. Good one, Phil, thanks.

Phil: All right, I know we've skirted around the issue a couple of times, Kim, but what we really need to do is find out about one of the most asked questions we had on World Nomads about, can you ride a motorbike or a motor scooter in Vietnam, and how do you get a licence to do so?

Now, I've got some pretty strong ... I've done a lot of research. I've got some pretty strong opinions about whether you can or not. But we always like to go to the insider, a local source, so joining us in the studio right now, Stef Hendry who ... You've been living there for the last four years, Stef.

Stef Hendry: Yup.

Phil: Doing what?

Stef Hendry: Working at the international school in Hanoi as a special education teacher.

Phil: Wow.

Kim: Nice gig. What brings you back to World Nomads headquarters being Sydney?

Stef Hendry: Well, I'm only here for two more days, and then I'm moving to Morocco.

Phil: Oh, okay.

Kim: Of course.

Stef Hendry: To Casablanca.

Phil: Doing the same sort of thing?

Stef Hendry: Yeah, exactly the same sort of thing.

Phil: Wow.

Stef Hendry: We've ... Four years, the kids have grown tired of the pollution and so have we in Hanoi, and we thought, "Let's do something different."

Phil: I was just reading about that actually speaking of motorbikes. They're actually talking about banning motorbikes in Hanoi by 2030. Have you heard that one?

Stef Hendry: It was 2025, and, now, they've just realized that that won't work, so they're putting it back to 2030. The plan is to replace it all with public transport. Since they took the tax off cars, there was a 100% import tax, about five years ago, they're getting an average of 50,000 cars on the road each month.

Kim: Yeah, but, having been in a car from Ho Chi Minh to Nha Trang, there are two lanes, Phil.

Phil: Yeah.

Kim: But there's three cars going one way, three coming the other way, and one down the middle. It's a scary experience.

Phil: Which brings me to-

Stef Hendry: Well, plus you've got ... Before you get to the licenses, plus you've got the electric bikes coming on the roads now. A lot of the kids are riding those to and from school. They just are on the highways and everywhere, so it's really dangerous.

The whole traffic system works on, it's called yield and forgives. No matter what anyone does in front of you, you give way, and you then forgive them.

Kim: Yield and forgive.

Stef Hendry: The number of times you nearly get killed by somebody and you go, "Okay."

Kim: Yeah, sorry.

Stef Hendry: As an Australian, you want to beep the horn and yell at them.

Kim: Oh, but there's heaps of horn beeping going on.

Stef Hendry: But the horn beeping is just to let you know they're coming. There's no road rage.

Kim: I didn't realize. I thought the beeping was road rage.

Phil: There's actually a law against road rage in the Emirates. Is there a law against it, or is it just the custom, just the practice?

Stef Hendry: There are laws for lots of things, but there's no enforcement of laws.

Phil: How stupid, what was I thinking.

Kim: Well, yeah. Like Cassie was saying when we chatted to her about traveling through Laos, Cambodia, they take bribes, don't they?

Stef Hendry: Yeah, especially, around Tet.

Kim: Yeah.

Stef Hendry: That's when you get pulled over a lot.

Phil: Because they need the spending money.

Stef Hendry: My wife got pulled over for not indicating which in Hanoi is hilarious. While she was waiting for the policeman to finish yelling at her, he's holding his hand out. There are people going the wrong way past them. He's trying to explain to her ... She took her helmet off, and he's seen she's a westerner. She just threw 10,000 dongs at him and rode off which is what you do.

Kim: Yeah, exactly, exactly. It's what you do.

Phil: That was ... What's that a couple bucks, five bucks?

Stef Hendry: 50 cents.

Kim: Yeah, 50 cents.

Phil: 50 cents?

Kim: It's nothing, yeah. What is the rule with alcohol and scooters?

Stef Hendry: That's a good one. I was asking some students about how old you have to be to drink, and the general consensus was when you look old enough to drink you can drink, and if you're a westerner you can drink any time you want.

Kim: And get on your bike?

Stef Hendry: There's not breath testing. If you're in a crash, it doesn't really matter. What we're told by government agencies, let's just say, I won't say which ones, that if there's a crash get away as quickly as you can. Because no matter who's at fault you will pay. An extremely high chance of a motorcycle accident in Vietnam.

Kim: Yeah, my girlfriends had one. My son nearly became a cripple with a bus. It's ... For anyone listening that's thinking about it, don't take it lightly.

Stef Hendry: No.

Phil: Well, that's one of the things that I actually wrote in our safety advice as well. It's if you don't already know how to ride a motorbike, Hanoi's not the place to learn.

Stef Hendry: No. No.

Kim: It's not. What are the rules then around licenses?

Stef Hendry: I had a motorcycle licence before, an Australian one before I left. It doesn't translate to Vietnamese, so you're not licensed. There's no ... International licenses aren't recognized in Vietnam. If you're staying for more than three months, you can convert your Australian licence to Vietnamese through the help of the embassy in Hanoi, or there's a consulate in Ho Chi Minh. But if you're not, you can do the licence test.

Phil: But that process takes a couple of weeks.

Stef Hendry: Yeah.

Phil: Yeah. It's also-

Stef Hendry: You have to be the-

Phil: There's a waiting list for it and everything as well.

Stef Hendry: You need to be on a work visa as well generally.

Phil: Right.

Stef Hendry: But I know a lot of people that have been there for three or four years plus with no licence.

Phil: See, but this is the problem you see, because for travel insurance-

Stef Hendry: Well, you'd never-

Phil: ... you're not insured, because you're not licensed. Yeah, you're not going to get caught. Yeah, you're only going to pay a 50 cent fine, but if you do get cleaned up, and you need evacuating back home, and a hundred thousand dollar emergency medical evacuations, it's not covered.

Kim: Why is it in places like Southeast Asia that you get a little scooter, and you have six family members on it, including a tiny baby?

Stef Hendry: Why is it only the adults have the helmets? That's what I-

Phil: I never-

Stef Hendry: ... always wonder.

Phil: That's exactly what I was going to say.

Stef Hendry: That's what I always wonder.

Kim: Apparently, the helmets though aren't accredited.

Stef Hendry: They brought in a law saying you have to wear a helmet. I'm not sure how long ago it was. The response was unanimously negative like, "Why would we need helmets?" You're right, the helmets I think you can buy them for about 4 dollars probably, so they're terrible.

But what happens on big roads like [inaudible 00:40:40] something where 10 lanes of traffic, the police will set up a check, a helmet checking station like an RBT here. A couple hundred meters before that a guy will set up a stall renting helmets and a couple hundred meters after-

Phil: You return them.

Stef Hendry: ... you return it.

Kim: Well-

Stef Hendry: It's awesome to watch.

Kim: ... an entrepreneur at work. He's seen a need, and-

Stef Hendry: It's just great. The Vietnamese, they have a way around everything.

Phil: The guy renting the helmets is the cop's cousin or something, I take it.

Stef Hendry: Probably.

Kim: There are companies though that do tours, bike tours where you're a pillion passenger. Am I guessing you would be covered in that situation?

Phil: Yeah, licensed operators all that sort of stuff, yeah.

Stef Hendry: There's Wide-Eyed Tours. They do really good ones. I have been on day ones with them where you ride along with them. I've had friends that went to the Northern Vietnam one as pillion passengers, and they love that, and you stay in houses with families. They really, really enjoyed that.

Kim: Yeah. Tell us about that company you mentioned when you first arrived at the studio.

Stef Hendry: Well, yeah, so one of the things about Vietnam is there is no air pollution because when it's bad, they just turn the monitors off. There's no ... I work in special education, and it's been a real battle getting them to recognize things like autism as being a real condition.

There are people who've started charities. An Australian, Mike, I can't think of his last name, Brosowski or something, he came over in 2005 and started a charity called Blue Dragon. One of the things they do, they help a lot of kids and orphans, but they rescue a lot of women from sex trafficking in China. They get taken from Vietnam to China.

Another offshoot of Blue Dragon is VIP Bikes which is [inaudible 00:42:14] Andrew Souto, and he got there in 2005 and saw a lot of ... He's a licensed mechanic. He found a lot of kids on the streets who needed skills. He upskills them. He teaches them. Does an apprenticeship for them. He charges really cheap rates for really reliable bikes, and that's a big problem with the rental places where all the tourists are. You get cheap rentals but the bikes break down, and there's no service, so you can be stuck in the middle of nowhere.

Phil: What are you going to miss the most?

Stef Hendry: Oh, the people without a doubt. We, working with the school, went out on a lot of trips out into the countryside and met kids at schools, and those are amazing-

Kim: Later in the podcast, we'll touch on a foundation that's actually helping within the poor communities identify bright kids, people that would normally miss out on an education and offer it to them through scholarships.

Phil: Mate, thanks so much for coming in.

Stef Hendry: Thank you.

Kim: Yeah, awesome, Stef. Always great to have someone live in the studio, it just makes it fun.

Phil: Feel real, doesn't it?

Kim: Yeah it's fun.

Phil: Yeah, it's great, great.

Kim: It's really fun.

Phil, the answer to your quiz question. We kick off an episode with this each time, and then we finish it with the answer.

Phil: Okay, how many people go up the Eiffel Tower every year? Six million.

Kim: Whoo.

Phil: Six million people, I did the math, see. If you average it out over the year which it doesn't because, of course, summertime is the most-

Kim: Yeah, the peak.

Phil: Their peak time. That's like 16,000 people a day.

Kim: Have you been up it?

Phil: I have it's fantastic.

Kim: No, I walked past it if that makes sense. Obviously, I stood-

Phil: I really like that-

Kim: ... in front of it.

Phil: ... the area around there as well.

Kim: Yeah, it's really nice.

Phil: Actually, when you cross over the Seine onto the other side that's quite a nice district around there.

Kim: That is where Princess Diana was in her car accident.

Phil: No, I thought that was over near the Louvre, wasn't it on that tunnel there?

Kim: I'm pretty sure. No, so, okay, let's pretend-

Phil: I'm now Googling where Princess Diana died.

Kim: Let's pretend you're the Eiffel Tower.

Phil: I'm being the Eiffel Tower. You can't see, but I'm holding my hands by my head.

Kim: You walk down, and you cross the little bridge-

Phil: You're now heading down-

Kim: Towards the Champs-Élysées.

Phil: Right, okay.

Kim: Is that where you're thinking?

Phil: That's the road there?

Kim: Yeah. That's the tunnel, and there's a whole memorial to her, and you can actually write on it and leave your message.

Phil: Fair enough.

Kim: Is that the direction you were talking?

Phil: No, I thought it was elsewhere, but I ... I'm not always right. Look-

Kim: Oh. Yes, he is.

Phil: I tell you what I have done in Paris. I've been to Jim Morrison's grave.

Kim: Oh, where'd you find that?

Phil: Oh, it's in the Père Lachaise Cemetery just north of the main city.

Kim: Right.

Phil: There's always flowers and arrangements there and lots of graffiti on his headstone, and what have you.

Kim: How cool. Hey, speaking of ... I know we're venturing far and wide, but speaking of those kinds of things, I was in Munich and came across this shrine to Michael Jackson.

Phil: Where he dangled his son over the-

Kim: Yes, it was-

Phil: No, really?

Kim: ... it was where he dangled his son, Blanket, outside the window.

You can access the World Nomads Podcast on Stitcher, Google Play, iHeartRadio, and iTunes where you can rate, share, and subscribe.

Now, next week, it's a bit of a special though. We're not focusing so much on amazing nomads or a destination as such.

Phil: One of our most popular travel insiders guides is the Thailand Safety Guide. We've revamped it. We're going to have another look at Thailand through the lens of some of the weird laws there like you're not allowed to go out without wearing underwear. Seriously, who's checking your underwear? What police officer is doing that?

Kim: Can't wait for this episode.

Phil: And a bunch of quirky stuff like that. It's such a popular destination. While we're touring in Southeast Asia, it's really important to understand how to stay safe there, so that you have the best experience you can, so we'll talk about that.

Kim: Excellent. That's next time. Contact us too by emailing [email protected]. See you.

Phil: Bye.

Close: The World Nomads Podcast. Explore your boundaries.

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