Photos from Vietnam

12 06 2010

…and here are some photos from Vietnam

How much does it cost to backpack in Asia?

31 05 2010

Finally I’ve taken together how much we spent during our four month trip through South-East Asia and China.  As you can read about here on the blog we tried to keep our budget down with the occasional splurge when we felt like it.  We most often stayed at budget hostels and guesthouse (see further here) and travelled with local transportation as much as possible but money was never an obstacle when it came to activities that we really wanted to do.

Before we flew out to Asia we basically bought three things.  These three things are not calculated into the average spending per day below.  These three things were (note – all numbers are in USD):

Flight tickets $3,354
Vaccinations $800
Chinese Visa $200
Total $4,354

The flights that we booked beforehand were Reykjavík-London-Bangkok-Hong Kong-Beijing-London-Reykjavík – in that order.  We bought all our tickets through a company called airtreks and were very happy with their services.

I think that we had all possible vaccinations available – or at least those that were recommended by the tourist clinic in Zurich.  The vaccination cost might be a bit higher, at least this is what we can remember for sure.

For the most of the trip we used debit cards to get money from ATMs so it was fairly easy to see what we spent in each country.  I just had to look up the dates, when we crossed the borders and voila!

Country Days stayed Total spent in country Spent per day per person per day
Thailand 42 $2,449 $58 $29
Cambodia 10 $503 $50 $25
Vietnam 25 $2,212 $89 $44
Laos 7 $591 $84 $42
Hong Kong 4 $251 $63 $31
China 22 $1.548 $70 $35
Total 110 $7.554 $69 $34

As you can see we spent on average $69 per day including everything except the three things mentioned at the top.  Cambodia seems to be the cheapest country according to our experience and Vietnam the most expensive one.  To be fair to Vietnam we did spend over $400 on clothes in Hoi An and if I subtract those $400 the average spending goes down to about $72 a day.  We also did a few expensive things in Laos like the elephant ride that pushes the spending in Laos up a bit.

In total we spent close to $12,000 on the trip or about $1,500 per person per month, which is definitely on the low side.  At least what we got out of the trip is worth so much much more!

Of course we did everything as a couple and people travelling alone can expect to pay a bit more for accommodation and food but maybe not that much more.

In the end I would just like to encourage anyone thinking about taking such a trip to just to go for it – it’s easier and less expensive than people think!

If you have any comments or questions, don’t hesitate to post them below.

Are tourists evil?

6 05 2010

This is a question I have often pondered and no wonder if you think about the reputation tourists have:  the French tourists are considered intolerably arrogant, the British are always wasted (as are the Icelandic), the Germans are so cheap that they fill their pockets with the bread from the buffet, the Japanese don’t care as long as the get the picture, the Swiss get agitated if the train comes one minute too late, the Russians don’t know the meaning of courtesy, the Americans are way too loud and the Chinese respect no rules and so on and so on.

As I’m writing this we are graduating from being tourist to just ordinary people in transit :)  We’ve been tourists, surrounded by tourists for a few months now and we’ve thought about and talked about tourists a lot.

What we have noticed is that tourists are very special people in deed.  For one, tourists dress in a way that is immediately noticeable.  Somehow they are always a bit out of tune – too heavily dressed in trekking shoes and fleece sweaters, too lightly dressed in flip-flops and shorts, too much new gear, too much Columbia and North Face or too much local stuff that no local would ever wear – what ever that may be.  Tourists definitely don’t dress in the same manner as they would at home that is for sure.

Tourists are not the best mannered people either.  Often they are pressed with time or money or both and act accordingly.  They want everything – right now – this minute – either free or for as little money as possible.  They are on a tight schedule and want to get their money’s worth, including pictures and all and can get a bit agitated is things are not going their way.

According to our observations, the bigger the tourist group – the more exaggerated this (mis-)behavior becomes.  I thought that when people come in groups they would be more concerned about their behavior so that the others in their group would not condemn them but it seems that in big groups one’s misbehavior is another one’s license to misbehave.  Who hasn’t been in a group where you really want that perfect photo of that local person doing that local stuff but you feel it is inappropriate just to go for it.  But when someone in the group takes the first picture everyone thinks that it is OK to fire away.

Throughout our trip I’ve thought a lot about the impact tourists make on the local communities and the environment and quite often the picture isn’t pretty.  Communities and ecosystems have been spoiled and even ruined due to the arrival of too many tourists and same goes for invaluable cultural sites that have been tramped down by tourists hungry for that perfect photo.

So are tourists evil?  Just so that I can live with my self for being a tourist for the past few months I’m forced to think of some good things about tourists and the tourist industry.  So what is positive about tourists …humm ….?

I think there are two great things about tourists and tourism.  First, it is the money tourists bring with them and spend along the way.  Tourists spend huge amount of money and they are most willing to spend their money where prices are low and most often that is in low income areas so tourists often make the most impact where there is the most need.  One can therefore argue that to some extent tourism is one sort of income or wealth distribution. 

Secondly, I think that tourism or rather travel provides a great platform where different people can meet and get to know each other, share experiences and learn about each other.  This should bring us all closer together and lower the walls between different cultures.  It is just like the small town rivalry where I grew up, we hated (ok, more disliked) people from Akureyri and despised all that they stood for – there was simply no other option.  But all (most) the people from Akureyri that I’ve gotten to know have been very nice people indeed – so getting to know them has eliminated my “hatred” :)

I’m sure there are more positive sides of tourism like spreading knowledge,  stimulating the economy, extending the collective gene pool, decreasing racism, showing that all the animals in the forest need to be friends and so on but I’ll let do with those two above.

During our trip we (the tourists) tried as much as we could to stay away from other tourists during our travels.  Maybe not because tourists are evil but because we weren’t travelling to see them with all their quirks – we were travelling to see the natives and local people and their quirks.  

What do you think?  Are tourists evil?  Have they changed your community?  Do you have a compelling story about tourists?  …or better yet, a funny story of tourists?  Bring it on!

Top five… in South-East Asia

23 04 2010

There are now two weeks since we were in South East Asia and we have had a little time to digest all the things we did and all the memories that we created.  Therefore I decided to create a few “top five” lists.

Top five places we visited in South East Asia

  1. Angkor Wat (Cambodia) and the surrounding temples – just stunning
  2. Ko Phangan (Thailand) – the beaches and the sunshine and the food – what more do you want?
  3. Halong Bay (Vietnam) with its 2,000 limestone islands and relaxing cruises
  4. The Cham towers in Nha Trang (Vietnam) had a deep impact on me
  5. Dalat (Vietnam) and surroundings – great relive from the heat

Top five activities we did in South East Asia

  1. Mahout elephant training close to Luang Prabang in Laos
  2. Snorkeling in Ko Phangan in Thailand and Nha Trang in Vietnam
  3. Thai cooking class in Chang Mai, Thailand
  4. Zip wire ride with Jungle flight in Chang Mai, Thailand
  5. Tubing in Vang Vieng, Laos

Top five foods that we ate in South East Asia

  1. Thai red curry with rice – hot and yummy
  2. Fried coconut pudding (Thai sweetmeat coconut) – so delicious
  3. Tom Yum soup with shrimps – will be a regular back home
  4. Cambodian amok – a more subtle curry than the Thai curry
  5. Vietnamese shrimp spring rolls – they melt in your mouth

Top five disappointments/annoyances of South East Asia

  1. Theft on Thai busses (Bangkok to Surat Thani)
  2. Plastic garbage laying around almost everywhere
  3. Loud traffic in Vietnam and drivers unnecessarily honking their horns at us
  4. Annoying and pushy tuktuk drivers everywhere except in Laos where they are too laid back to be bothered
  5. Expensive and ultra touristy Andaman coast

We have done some much in the past three months that I’m sure that I’m forgetting something.

Western impressions from South-East Asia

20 04 2010

Below is an article that I wrote for a friend’s blog.  You can check out Natasha’s blog here and a permanent link to my article here.  I was very amused reading Natasha’s introduction that I included at the end of the article.


The first thing that I noticed upon arriving in South-East Asia was the entrepreneurial spirit of the people—a spirit that was noticeable everywhere we went. It might be the case that a lot of the people have been forced to start their own business out of lack of options, but that certainly does not apply to all of them. I started thinking about all the people I know who dream of starting their own business. Do we need to be forced to live the lives we dream of? Being your own boss, though, is not just fun and play, since there is often no one to take care of business for you—and this leads to the next topic: work-life balance

People in South-East Asia seem to work from very early in the morning to very late in the evening, often over sixteen hours a day, and work seems to be their life. If you work sixteen hours and have kids, you have a problem. That problem seems to be fixed in two ways: either people take their kids to work or they depend on their extended family. As you know, the elders in Asia are not put in old people’s homes, but live with their families and have their role there. I’m not saying it should be like this in the West—it’s just nice to see how that works well in Asia.

There is one thing that has bothered me for a long time and that is the feature creep. All too often in the past I wanted to buy something that I had previously been very satisfied with, like the computer that I bought two years ago or the Nokia 5110 phone or a bike with just five gears. Those things should be available at a fairly low price but no, you can only buy the latest model with all the new features that have been invented since. In Asia this is actually possible! It is possible to buy a phone that only does SMS and phone calls, or a bike with no gears, or a low-cost computer that does what you want it to and nothing more.

You can’t miss the great importance of spirituality in Asia. In three of the four countries I visited, Theravada Buddhism is the main religion and participation is very high. Buddhism is quite different from the Abrahamic religions and it seems like spirituality is intertwined with every aspect of people’s lives. In the West there has been more focus on organized religions than on individual and private involvement.

During my travels I also noted at least three issues that are connected with the development of the countries of South-East Asia and their quest to be among the developed nations of this world. I have a lot of questions around those topics but haven’t had the time to find the answers. Maybe you have some insights?

First, how will Asia deal with all the pollution and garbage in the coming years, as they develop? As we consume more resources we create more waste—unless something changes in the way we act. Both garbage and pollution are already a problem in the region, so it is imperative that these countries find new solutions to deal with the waste they create.

Second, how can Asia sustain its agriculture, as the food consumption moves away from rice production towards greater use of meat and grains? When nations become richer they consume more meat and grains than before, which puts more pressure on local resources and on the environment. This will become a big problem in regions that are already under much pressure.

And third, how will Asia deal with even more traffic, with the increase of cars on the roads? When people have more money to spend, more and more of them choose to opt for a car instead of the more traditional scooter. This will put pressure on the already congested traffic system. As I said, I don’t have the answers to these questions, but they kept popping up as we traveled though the region.


Örn Thordarson was born in Húsavík, on the northern tip of Iceland—the most beautiful place on Earth and home of the Icelandic Phallological Museum. He has a background in computer science and worked in the financial sector for about ten years before getting his MBA from the University of St. Gallen, where he is known for introducing fellow students to fermented shark and sheep’s balls (in addition to numerous other qualities). He is currently travelling in China and plans on returning to Iceland in May 2010.

The trip’s income statement so far (losses and gains)

4 04 2010

Now that we are about to leave South East Asia for China I started thinking about what we have gained – and lost – during the trip.  It is difficult to pinpoint exactly since most of the gains are memories and experience and other internal stuff but I gave it my best shot.


  • Like any tourist we have bought a few souvenirs, not too many since we have had to carry them, but a few – and a few presents as well.
  • So far we have gained over 1,300 photos and videos that we didn’t have before.  I’m especially excited about the videos that I plan to edit and post here when back home.
  • We have gained a few items of tailor made clothes.  Suits and shirts and dresses that we hope that will still fit us when we get back.
  • Surely the biggest item that we have gained is experience and the peta bites of memories that we are storing from the trip.  Traveling on our own for three months has been a great experience and hopefully we have matured a bit – wishful thinking but one can always hope :)
  • It is invaluable that we now have more appreciation for the things that we have back home.  Both seeing so many that are not as privileged as us and also just being away from everything that we have have taken for granted has definitely given more appreciation of everything we have back home in Iceland.


  • We have lost combine 11 kg of body weight.  Without really trying the weight seems to fall off.  I credit this mostly to proper portion sizes since we are eating all food – fried, baked, roasted, candy, ice-cream and everything else.
  • Surely we have lost (or rather invested) a few thousand dollars.  I would say though that the trip hasn’t really been expensive and definitely well worth it.  Maybe we’ll calculate the real cost when we get back home and post it here on the blog.
  • In the annoying bus incident I lost a wallet, gaffer tape, a flash light and one thousand krónur so that must be accounted for.
  • After the bed bugs attack Elínborg threw away her sleeping bag so that one is definitely lost.  She also washed her purse and then left it outside in the sun to dry and someone took it by mistake so the purse can be written on the bed bugs as well.
  • We were quite happy to loose the white/gray skin color that we brought with us.  It has, at least momentarily, been replaced by darker/browner color.  I hope that we can bring some of that color back home but we’ll have to see what China has to say about that.

So if we balance the books I think that we have gained a lot more than the few items that were lost and most of them we were quite happy to get rid of (grayish skin and fat).

Tomorrow we’ll be flying to Hong Kong for a couple of days and then it’s China baby!

Happy Easter everyone!