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Using the smugglers route to cross from Vietnam into China

In May 2016 I visited Lung Cu all the way up the most northern part of Vietnam but this is not what this story is about

After Lung Cu I thought it would be cool to see the border here. I’m drawn towards the border because I’m intrigued with the idea that a border to a country as closed as China would be completely unsupervised. I’ve always had this idea of a completely remote border, you know, without even a border control post where only shepherds roam somewhere deep in the mountains.

As I drove out the road the pavement suddenly stopped and before me was about 6 motorbikes and a tiny dirt path along the ridge of the mountain. It looked like something you would only want to walk and the direction took you straight towards China. This is it I guess – the border.

I could see pretty far ahead and it looked like at least a 15-minute walk down along a very muddy path before anything would change so I decided to opt against it. However, as I turned around a little bit I noticed a definite path going up the mountain, not towards China, so I figured it would be safe to go up there, at least for the view over the valley.

When I got up I saw several road marker stones with skulls on them all over the area. Skulls, just skulls. Frightening.

Thoughts of land mines and stuff like that popped up in my head and I was about to turn around. Enough is enough.

But when I was about to turn around I saw a shepherd with two cows on a definite path, albeit small, meaning that at least it would be safe, landmine wise – and so I continued towards him.

Around the corner I saw a paved road pop out in the middle of nowhere, Chinese signs and more skulls. I’m pretty sure this was the border. I walked up on the pavement, talked some with the farmer – who was Chinese! – and walked back to my bike.

On the way out, with mud all over my shoes, I got some concerned looks from locals who could only wonder what I’d been doing out there. I’ve heard from other people that the area is used for smugglers as well – which would make sense since it’s so easy and remote.

Long term travel Insurance

You’ve decided to go long term travelling and you are looking at long term travel insurance. This can be tricky and is something I spent some time on. First of all there is the difference between travel insurance and health insurance.

Types of travel insurance

  • Single-Travel travel insurance is something you get for a set period of time. You have health insurance in your home country but it doesn’t cover worldwide travel so you need to expand your insurance. Usually your normal insurance company offers a solution for this. What it covers is smaller immediate healthcare needs (like medical attention when you get food poisoning) but also and more importantly – your trip home. You will then be getting taken care of in your home country.
    • Pros: You can take care of everything before you leave and not worry about it again (unless you overstay your pre-set period of time).
    • Cons: You both need to know (roughly) how long your travel is and you need to pay up front. It is hard to extend and in general less flexible. Just offers a plane ticket home unless it’s a small illness. Moderately Expensive
  • Yearly based travel insurance is running continuously all year through your normal insurance company and covers all travels you go on and you pay even if you don’t leave the country. This type of insurance usually covers all travels you go on – short, long, extreme and you don’t have to deal with insurance every time you go travel. There are, however, usually restrictions so that your travel cannot be longer than 2 months before you have to return home and just like with single-travel travel insurance you get a plane ticket home unless it’s a small illness.
    • Easy, simple, always active, cheap
    • Travel restrictions for travels over a certain period of time (usually around 2 months). Just offers a plane ticket home unless it’s a small illness.
  • World wide health insurance is the full deal, not just a plane ticket home but actual health coverage worldwide. With this you won’t be getting a ticket home paid by the company but the actual hospital bill wherever you are. You can also extend it on a monthly basis.
    • Pros: You won’t need to know your return date or length of trip. You also won’t have to end your trip unwillingly if you extend your stay longer than originally planned or need hospital care half way through.
    • Cons: Expensive, you might have to deal with two insurance companies (home and worldwide)

Which travel insurance to recommend?

For trips shorter than a month or two, or for trips where you know your end date I would recommend normal travel insurance. Call your current insurance company and ask what a travel insurance costs. Personally mine is about $100 year and I’ve had that for many years. As long as I don’t travel more than 60 days (on one trip) I will always be covered on my travels and I’ve always travelled a lot making it an easy decision to maintain this insurance.

For longer trips it get’s tricky. My current trip is without an end date meaning that I will pass my 60 days. This means I will need actual worldwide health insurance and not just “travel insurance”. Alternatively I could come home every 2 months and keep the cheap insurance as I would technically start a “new” trip every 2 months (note: I don’t know if all insurance companies sees it this way but for mine: I just need to be home a day to “reset”). Seeing as my travel insurance is $100/year and worldwide health insurance runs at about $100/month it actually almost makes sense, moneywise, to just go home every two months. However, personally, I don’t want to deal with the hassle of interrupting my travels all the time. Ultimately I’ve chosen to have both yearly travel insurance and worldwide health insurance.

If I do decide to visit home I can use my yearly travel insurance for the first two months after I leave again and save the money I would have otherwise spent on the worldwide health insurance. After two months I activate my worldwide health insurance again and travel as long as I want. I save a lot of money but the downside is that I will have to remember cancelling and activating my worldwide health insurance. Also it requires a company that allows this type of behaviour and World Nomads allows just that which is why I’m recommending them.

Overview chart

For other travel insurance companies and for a great overview (no really), check out this chart:

Conclusion

There are many choices out there for you and the topic is not easy to wrap your head around. I’ve written about some of the problems you will run in to and what I’ve consequently ended up doing. It offers the cheapest solution while maintaining flexibility.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me or comment on this page if you have any questions!

Note: this post includes affiliate links meaing that if you buy travel insurance though these links I get a slight commission, however, the words in the above article are entirely my own and have in no way been censored or altered.

One night in Bangkok

Waking up late

Bangkok is a rough time if you don’t like noise, people, beer, lights and general chaos… However, if you do it’s an experience worth having.

Bangkok Temple crawl

Me and two mates (Chip from the US and Soloman from Scotland) decided to go for a bugs and temples day which would start out with temples in the morning and then later bugs in the evening. I’d looked up a couple of temples that I thought interesting and dotted them into Google Maps so with those we had a general plan.

Soloman had to switch hostel and since most of the temples were in that vicinity, we jumped in a cab got him checked in at the new place and started walking towards the temples.

We saw the Royal Grand Palace and it is incredibly large. We got 4 tickets at the entrance and only ended up using one. After walking around in the sun for a couple of hours without food or water we got to a point where we’d seen enough Grand Palace. It’s amazing but also huge so after seeing the emerald Buddha we left to get some water.

Royal grand palace in bangkok
One part of the Royal Grand Palace. The palace is huge!

Next stop was Wat Pho which is where the Reclining Buddha is at. It’s a massive gold Buddha located inside the temple. It’s called the Reclining because of the very relaxed position the Buddha is assuming. Definitely worth a visit.

reclining buddha in wat pho
The reclining Buddha in the Wat Pho temple in Bangkok. It is not possible to see in this picture but the buddha is about 50 meters long

Final stop was Wat Arun. Unfortunately, it was closed for renovation but we did get to cross a river using a local boat. It was an interesting experience since the river is completely filled with boats – large, small and even a tugboat with a barge was coming through. A bit chaotic but we managed to get across. And as it was only 2.5Baht (7 us cents) there is not really any room for complaining. The area around it was very interesting and we did manage to get lost, suddenly ending up in a school area surrounded by thai kids in uniforms and some very small local streets. So even though the temple was closed, the trip across the river most certainly was not for naught.

Back at the hostel

After visiting Wat Arun we were all tired and needed food and rest after a full day of walking in the sun, so after watching a free Muay Thai fighting match for about 15 mins (the match ended with a brutal KO), we got back to my hostel.

Every day there would be someone sitting out on the terrace in front of the hostel having a beer and today was no different so we quickly joined them. This lasted the next 4 hours from around 8pm to 12pm, the same as every day, as this is when the hostel stops serving alcohol. During this time, I managed to get some food and an hour of sleep too so that I was a bit more rested. I still hadn’t gotten to eat bugs yet and I was determined not go to bed before tasting bugs.

Finally getting to eat bugs

Around midnight we all grabbed a cab to a place called Nana Plaza in the city center. It’s the second most party street of Bangkok but not really that appealing. It’s characterized by a lot of old white people walking the streets, overpriced beer and working girls everywhere. It’s a place you can visit once and then the charm goes off pretty quickly. Debauchery and gluttonous indulgence at its finest so we only stayed for one beer. As I was anxious to get a bite of some zesty bug I convinced the others to make the next stop a street food vendor around the corner that we saw on the way in.

bugs in bangkok
Eating bugs in Bangkok

The bugs as you see them above are not as bad as they look. The easiest bugs to eat are the little white maggots as the taste resembles salted chips. The crickets (both large and small) have the same taste but the legs are annoying as they are hard to eat and get stuck in your teeth. I later learned that the trick is to hold the legs and eat the rest – just like you would not eat the tail of a shrimp. The beetles were the hardest as the hard shell makes for a very inconvenient bite to eat – not a single one of us managed to eat one without spitting it out. However, we later learned that the way to eat them is to peel the shell off and only eat the inner part of the bug. This makes sense and would certainly be easier but it’s hard work for very little food.

All in all bugs were a very interesting experience and I was pleasantly surprised with the taste although I would probably steer clear of them if I had the chance to eat a good pad thai instead.

Khao san road

After the bug eating experience we went to Khao San Road which is the main party street of Bangkok. After a cab ride with a man that enjoyed breaking the law by going 120km/t while blasting through red lights, we made it. The night was just a “normal” Bangkok style party after this where we ended up in a disco dancing the night away until around 4:30am. By the end of the evening my MiFit watch told me I had moved around 30000 steps or the equivalent of about 13miles – the target is 8000 steps. It was a rough day but included so much of what you can do in a city like Bangkok. Although I only had 3 beers total the entire night, it was quite a rough day/night and one I’ll remember. I also slept like a log that night.

banana-stand in khao san road
Doing a banana-stand at Khao San Road in the heart of Bangkok