South / South-East Asia

Being able to see every country in the world is likely most people’s dream. Budget and timing, however, are the real deal breakers when actually going anywhere.

I’ve compiled a list of the cheapest and most productive places to visit as a digital nomad or as a cultural seeker. This article is Asia specific.

Always remember that in another country, they live differently to you, even if it seems similar. Respect the laws, culture and people. Your tourism helps their economy but their economy does not depend on you. Just be respectful at all costs.

Indonesia

Australia’s neighbour is made up of thousands of volcanic islands with hundreds of ethnic groups and corresponding languages.

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While a predominantly Muslim country the traditional cultures of Indonesia are very much alive and colourful.

While most nomads head to Bali (as do the bogans) there is a treasure trove of Indonesian islands that haven’t succumbed to their own success.

Jakarta is the capital of Indonesia, on the island of Java.

Other major islands include Sumatra, Kalimantan, Papua, Maluku islands, Sulawesi and Bali.

While there are other major hub islands I can’t list them all in one article.

With lakes, hiking, volcanoes, clear water, the most amazing food (get yourself to a warrung) and the most cultured and friendly people, Indonesia is a paradise without the ego.

So here are the average living numbers:

Restaurant meal: $2.50

Beer: $3.50

Bus ride: 40c

Rent p/month: $197

(not in the city centre)

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Most of Indonesia uses the barter system, so brush up on your skills before you go and follow what the locals are doing.

Language: Indonesian with plenty of English

Healthcare: standard with lacking resources but satisfactory

Sanitation: flushing and non-flushing toilets, bottled water

Politics: Democratic republic with presidential head and multiple parties.

Religions: Mainly Islamic but also factions of Catholicism, protestant Christian, Hindu, Buddhist and Confucianism.

Currency used: Indonesian Rupiah. $1AUD= 10148 Rupiah.

 

Vietnam

Vietnam has three major cities; Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi and Da Nang. Hue is another beautiful city to stay in.

While most people associate Vietnam with the American war it is so much more than that with a rich history, unique culture and spirited people.

Before the American war, the people fought back colonial French rule and you can see the French influence all around the country. They are originally dated to be a huge agricultural economy due to the many river systems throughout the country. Notably the Mekong river.

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Americans are welcomed and the animosity is very minimal considering. The people are very resilient and polite and are always helpful and excited to share their culture. Always be polite, they don’t owe you a cultural experience.

The food is absolutely one of a kind and every town or city you go in Vietnam will have its own cuisines. From secret lotus flower dishes to meatball Pho there are a billion dishes to try out.

On the main city streets, you’ll find home draught beer and blue chairs. The beer is cheap and refreshing and the locals love a laugh.

Vietnam is also the most populated city of scooters so watch your step.

Living average in numbers:

Restaurant meal: $3

Beer: $1.2

Bus ride: 43c

Rent p/month: $350

(not in the city centre)

Vietnam also uses the barter system in street markets but not in stores. Don’t offend the locals by haggling set prices in restaurants or street food.

While the western world sees Vietnam as a poor communist country, it is, in fact, a booming economy, rich culture and progressive land that keeps tradition while unafraid to mend their policies to adjust to a changing world.

Language: Vietnamese and English

Healthcare: Standard. Pharmacies are everywhere and are super helpful but hospitals are clean and have standard care. Can be pricey though.

Sanitation: very clean. Flushing toilets and average water purity. Still, boil water or drink bottled water.

Politics: Socialist Republic. One party system with elected leaders, president and prime minister elected by the national assembly

Religions: majority atheist or local religions with factions of Buddhism and Catholicism.

Currency used: Dong. $1AUD= 16,333 Dong

Cambodia

Vietnam’s neighbour Cambodia may look similar due to its connection to the major river systems of south-east Asia but they are worlds apart in culture.

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While most Cambodians and Laotians can understand Vietnamese, Vietnamese cannot readily understand the others.

The landscape glitters with incredible and literal breathtaking ruins and ancient temples. Hidden behind tree roots and vines it’s clear why they filmed tomb raider here.

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The food is again so unique. Khmer cuisine is derived from very old recipes that have lasted the colourful history of war and imperialism in the region.

Top five dishes would have to be fish amok, banana flower anything, loc lac, Khmer curry and any of the street food.

The term Khmer is synonymous with the Khmer Rouge. While there are parts of Cambodia’s history most of the world remembers, the term actually refers to many parts of Cambodian culture and history. The Khmer empire was the Angkor empire that existed before modern Cambodia.

The Khmer script is the language spoken and the Khmer people are the ethnic group that mainly inhabit Cambodia.

Living average in numbers:

Restaurant meal: $5

Beer: $1.50

Bus ride: $3

Rent p/month: $380

(not in the city centre)

Language: Khmer and mostly English

Healthcare: Above standard. The gov is working towards universal healthcare which can be a struggle due to the majority of rural areas.

Sanitation: Flushing toilets but bottled water.

Politics: An elective monarchy with a prime minister.

Religions: over 90% Buddhist with factions of Islam, Christianity and tribal animism.

Currency used: The Cambodian Riel. $1AUD= 2831Riel

 

India

India is a huge country! Absolutely massive! You could fit India only twice in Australia so it’s pretty damn big.

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Due to its size, the country has several landscapes and climates. The Himalayas, the Indo-Gangetic plains in the north, central highlands, The Thar desert that’s 10,000 years old, the mountainous Ghats in the east and west, the beaches all around its coasts, the Andaman islands and so much more!

India is a place you’ll need a lifetime to explore.

The history before the British colonial rule was one of incredulous scientific and mathematical discoveries. It holds one of the oldest civilizations in the world with some of the first humans to leave Africa.

Remnants of the Gupta empire and before are found throughout the country and the people while portrayed in lacking in civility are resourceful and intelligent people with traditions that have brought economic power to their country.

The food is also different all over the country.

The north uses more meat and more cream in their recipes like their famous rice puddings, while the south is more vegetarian based like appams and Ishtu (crepes and stew in a way you’ve never had).

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this photo is not my own.

With countries like India, we’re going on averages, because the country is so diverse these numbers are a seriously loose estimate.

Living average in numbers:

Restaurant meal: $3

Beer: $2.45

Bus ride: 40c

Rent p/month: $150

(not in the city centre)

India also mostly uses a barter system, practice a heap before you jet.

The culture itself in India is also super diverse. The dance, customs, languages and customs are different in each city let alone each province so it’s very difficult to pinpoint the best place to stay in such a huge country.

Language: 22 languages are listed in the constitution. Most people speak Hindi or English but many others including Urdu, Bengali and Gujarati are also common.

Healthcare: state responsibility therefor is varied from place to place. Basic healthcare may be found in cities and major towns but not as equipped in many other places.

Sanitation: mostly manual flushing toilets and bottled water.

Politics: A constitutional republic with a prime minister and a president.

Currency used: Indian Rupee. $1AUD= 50 Rupee.

 

Philippines

 

Oh the Philippines, how I love you.

A country made up of over 7100 islands. Each island is unique with its own cultures and biodiversity.

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People from here call themselves Filipinos and they are found in almost every country you visit. Probably because of how friendly they are.

Before the US occupation and the Spanish empire saw a collection of ethnic groups with rich agriculture, explorers and warriors. These cultural traditions and practices still survive today with tribal tattoos that are distinct and characteristic of their homes.

The food is also different on each island as each island has similar but distinct ecosystems.

Dishes you must try while there are Lechon, Adobo, Sinigang, Kare Kare and the rum.

Emperadado rum is the local favourite in most places and it is normally drunk with lemonade.

Living average in numbers:

Restaurant meal: $4.50

Beer: $1.30- San Miguel or Red Horse is the local.

Bus ride: 30c

Rent p/month: $215

(not in the city centre)

While there is bartering in the Philippines most of the main areas are westernised and don’t use this.

When using transport, the Jeepney is the king of the road, the public bus comes second and the scooter is last on the list of choices.

Don’t bother with cars you won’t get far, especially in Manila.

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Language: Tagalog, English and some Spanish.

Healthcare: Above standard. It’s very inexpensive to see a doctor and buy medicines and the health professionals are very well trained.

Sanitation: manual flushing toilets outside the major cities and bottled water.

Politics: democratic republic with a president.

Religion: majority Catholic with Islamic factions.

Currency used: Filipino Peso. $1AUD= 37 pesos.

While there has been unrest politically due to drugs and other issues, the Philippines is a very safe place. Always use caution when being a foreigner but almost all of the Philippines is welcoming and safe.

Leave a comment with your favourite destinations or any advice on where to go next!

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How To Dye Easter Eggs

Easter time!

While I don’t consider myself religious, I come from a traditionally and culturally rich heritage that has religious holidays and rituals so I like to celebrate them with my family.

This year was the first that I didn’t do the egg preparation with my grandma as she has passed. So this time I was going solo and trying to also show off to my partner of a different background.

This is one of the most entertaining activities though. You can dye all different types of eggs or paint them yourself.

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The background

 

Growing up in a Serbian Orthodox community I was told that Easter eggs were a symbol of Jesus being resurrected and we dyed eggs to symbolise his blood.

Sounds morbid.

To me, it’s always being a part of the traditions of my heritage and spending time with my family while being creative.

The egg has also been a long standing symbol of new life, particularly in pagan spring symbolism.

The oldest example of egg decoration was found by archaeologists to be over 60,000 years ago with the discovery of a decorated ostrich egg.

This was still a time that human artistry boomed and we went from the first humans to the first creative creatures.

Growing up we could draw whatever we wanted and used whatever colours.

Some places in the world keep it more traditional with the images of the cross as well as using the colour red.

In our tradition, we use the eggs to compete for bragging rights to see whose egg is the strongest by cracking them in an egg crack showdown.

How I did it

 

Here’s the fun part.

First of all, you want to use some really good eggs. Like proper farm eggs that had chickens having the time of their life.

Fun fact, there are so many chickens on earth in this point in our history that aeons from now when they describe our time on earth, the remains of all those chickens will make us seem like they rivalled us in population.

Anyway, you want a good set of eggs because they last longer without smelling and have a great taste afterwards. Quality!

Also, you should try and support your local farms.

You’re going to need the following:

Stockings

Food dye (I chose blue)

Some garden trimmings and/ or some candle wax.

First, you hard boil the egg.

Put your eggs in cold water that covers them.

Put them on the stove or fire and leave on med-high heat until it comes to a rolling boil.

Turn the heat to med-low and leave for a good 15 minutes on this lower heat for the eggs to boil through.

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Once boiled put them in some icy or very cold water to cool them down.

Dying the eggs

While your eggs are cooling, set up some warm water with a tablespoon of vinegar.

I reused the water I boiled the eggs in.

Then try and put a few drops of colouring in. this can be hard if you don’t have a dropper mechanism.

If you are using the garden pieces and stocking, you want to put your pieces on the dab dry egg and pull the stocking over it to hold it in place and tie the stocking off like a balloon.

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Obviously, don’t squeeze hard.

If you’re using wax, take a piece of candle wax and draw your won invisible design on the egg.

Once you’ve done your design work, you carefully place your eggs in the mixture.

It doesn’t really matter if they’re touching in the pot just make sure they aren’t crowded.

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The dying process can take anywhere from 10-25 minutes depending on how dark you want the colour on your egg.

Once they’re the colour you like, take them out, dry them off and leave to cool and dry.

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The goods

So my egg was the second strongest.

My sister won by default.

But I clearly won.

Conclusion

The tradition of eggs stems from the pagan traditions from the beginning of humanity.

We use the egg religiously because it symbolises new life and Jesus’ resurrection.

We also do it because it’s a fun bonding activity for the community.

You can include many different designs with garden pieces or drawing on your eggs with wax.

While I didn’t do it this time, you can use natural dyes instead of food colouring, and you can also get some very elaborate eggs happening for Easter.

Stay tuned for next year to see what we come up with.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you and learn some new designs.

Leave a comment or a photo and show of what other techniques are out there.

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Cuban Street Food

Ahh, Cuba.

This is one of those places on earth that one you’ve been, you’re so moved that a piece of you remains behind.

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The music, the people, the terrain, the Internet (I’m Australian), the climate and of course their food!

I spent a good two and a half weeks in this beautiful island country and I cannot recommend it higher.

Firstly we’re talking about purchases so I need to clarify the currency disparity. Due to trade sanctions Cuba has two currencies. One is the CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso) that was a replacement for the American dollar and the other is CUP (Cuban Peso). Most people use both throughout the country but the local Peso is more regularly accepted.

A Brief History

Firstly I think it’s best I give a little background to the country and why their food blended with their culture is so unique.

Cuba was originally an island populated by three main indigenous tribes of whose descendants still inhabit the island.

The islands like many others in the Caribbean were transformed into plantations, mainly for sugar cane.

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This is still a major source of economic growth in the country and slaves that were sent to labour the plantations also contribute to the population of descendants.

After Spanish colonial rule, the country was engaged in a treaty that declared Cuba as part of the US’ protectorate between 1898 and 1902 when the country became independent.

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(yes I wore a fedora, I accept your judgement)

In 1952 Bautista, a previous president staged a coup when he lost re-election and overthrew the country. His coup was funded and supported by the US, a trend that can be seen throughout Latin America. Cuba at the time was a safe haven for America’s gangsters with the majority of funding provided by and for the rich elite and the criminals.

In 1958 a revolution led by infamous Fidel and his brother Raul Castro ensued leading the country to become independent and form its current socialist democracy.

During it’s time as a communist entity during the cold war years led to Cuba being a perceived threat of the USA and the subsequent actions that led to long-standing sanctions against its trade.

For this reason, the money the country does have is funnelled back into the support of its people with education, healthcare, employment and this is one of the reasons behind it’s lacking in infrastructure and run down appearance. This is also contributed to the many hurricanes it faces throughout the year.

What this does mean is they subsidise a lot of things.

Subsidised Ice Creams

Thanks to the Bautista years of capitalism, Castro set up a chain of state-run subsidised ice cream parlours around the country with a home base in Havana called Coppelia. However on the street, as you, as it gets hot enough any day of the year you’ll find state-run ice cream vendors pop up all over the towns with subsidised ice cream.

I paid for this chocolate heaven (half is already missing) for only 1 CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso), which equals out to today’s rate of $1.40 AUD.

Creamy but not sickening made with real sugar cane sugar right off the island.

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Ice cream in Cuba is a bit of a big deal, make sure you indulge in the Heladerias.

Street Pizza

Ok, these seem to be the locals favourite and they are EVERYWHERE!

Most places you’re going to get these are holes in the wall. Literally. It’ll be from either a small shop window or the window to someone’s kitchen.

They come in cheese, meat lovers style, supreme and Hawaiian. Personally n9ot a fan of pineapples on pizza but the Cuban people definitely know how to do it right.

These yummers go for about 5 to 10 CUP (Cuban Peso) so that’s about 40 cents AUD.

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Coconut Shell Gelato

 

Another favourite among locals and tourists alike are the gelatos sold in coconut shells. They’re a great mix between sweet ice and gelato. They come in so many different flavours and the mobile store you buy them at always seems to have new flavours.

Every one of them that I bought was homemade with natural ingredients.

Definitely, need to have these when walking around town in the heat but maybe byo a spoon to save having to use the plastic one.

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These go for about 20 CUP so around 80 cents to $1 AUD.

Hamburguesa de Cerdo

 

This one I see a lot of in other posts but in my time I only came across it a few times and only when there were a lot of people around, particularly street festivals or hot evenings.

They come to around $1.50 AUD and are unbelievable.

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You have the option of adding pineapple or onions to them but with the chilli, they are perfection on a bun.

One Peso Coffee

This one is self-explanatory. You buy it at the food stall around the city. They are one peso. They are freshly roasted beans. Just buy them!

RON

 

According to the Observatory of Economic Complexity (https://atlas.media.mit.edu/en/profile/country/cub/) $387 million of Cuba’s $1.4 Billion exports was raw sugar. Knowing this and the fact that Havana Club is a national drink then Rum is the way to go!

Light, Dark and old there are many types of rum to moisten your palate with.

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Whether you’re having a roadside mojito on the way to Ayala cave club or just having a break from walking the sea wall, rum is your friend. Drink Responsibly!

 

Conclusion

 

All in all when you travel to Cuba (I say when because the beauty is irresistible) you cannot shy away from the street food.

Most things will cost you less than $2 AUD per item and the flavour is never disappointing.

Each morsel has a history behind it that stretches before communism and sometimes even before the Spanish era which only adds to it’s wholesome and rounded flavours.

Do you think I missed any?

Be sure to comment with any ideas or experiences of your own.

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