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Travel Stories Index

SUGGESTED READING:

The Long Road to Nowhere: A Hitchhiker’s Tale from Outer Mongolia
After the Trans-Mongolian Railway sells out of tickets, I drink too much vodka, attempt to hitchhike across the Gobi desert, and get trapped in the cabin of a truck with two mangled sheep carcasses and a fat, Mongolian trucker named Bold, eating nothing but old, boiled, unrefrigerated sheep parts out of a metal bucket for three days.

“The Mystery of the Immaculate Herpes”
After contracting a mystery disease on my genitals, I visit a traditional Chinese doctor who attempts to treat my condition with roots and dead woodland critters. Per usual, everything goes catastrophically wrong.

Detained in Bahawalpur
(PAKISTAN) After two months of contemplating whether or not to post this, I decided to risk getting shut down to finally share the story of my 16-hour C.I.A. interrogation.
Banned in Burma. Banned in China. Banned in the USA??

Kidnapped in Alipur
I find it ironic, and embarrassingly hypocritical, that not even a week after I ranted about how you should never get into cars with strangers, I turned around and did exactly that.

Stepping off the Edge
The genesis of Backpackology; my jihad on complacency.
2 Years, 15 Countries, 15,538 Miles, Zero Plans.

Please select a story from the options below:

PART ONE: BURMA

Stepping off the Edge
The genesis of Backpackology; my jihad on complacency.
2 Years, 15 Countries, 15,538 Miles, Zero Plans.

How to Survive a 16-Hour Layover
Strategies for coping with long layovers, plus a moving testament to one man’s will to survive in the face of a complete and utter mental breakdown.

The Wrong Pancake
One of my favorite stories, from a tribal market in northern Burma. There are times in life when blissful ignorance rewards you handsomely. Other times, however, that ignorance only serves to blow up in your face, shouting at you to grab your ankles, as it spits on its unforgiving hand.
I’ll let you decide which category this little ditty falls under.

The Human Zoo
The story that got my site banned in Burma. My ill-fated hunt for the Padaung Tribe, the Giraffe-necked women of Kalaw.

’Have You Eaten?’: An Angry Foodie’s Portrait of Burma (or: 5 Terrifying Dishes of Burma)
It’s likely that you’ve never tried Burmese food, or even seen a Burmese restaurant.
There’s a reason for this.

PART TWO: INDIA

Holi Moly: Do or Dye
Holi is the essence of India—a manic, technicolored festival of Vishnu and the coming of spring, when the subcontinent transforms into a delirious battlefield of projectile colors.

Steve McDonald: Bollywood Extra(ordinaire)
Behold my meteoric rise to Bollywood stardom…
I keep my mustache in the trailer.

The Heart of the Slums
An ill-conceived adventure into Mumbai’s “Shadow City,” the Dharavi slums—reputedly the largest slums in Asia and the filming location of Slumdog Millionaire.
A troubled love letter to India.

The Shaman’s Seeds of Wisdom
Drug-induced epiphanies in a culturally confused twilight zone; like a Hunter S. Thompson fantasy, set in ancient Vijanayagar ruins, all strung out on kumbayah and Prozac.

Gods Amongst Men
An epic quest into the tropical heart of Malabar in search of ancient theyyam exorcism rituals.

A Hyderabad Idea, Part One: A 500 Mile Foodie Pilgrimage By Indian Train
I thought it would be a good idea to travel 500 miles by Indian train to Hyderabad just to eat an authentic bowl of Hyderabadi Dum Biryani, before paying the bill, immediately walking back to the train station, and riding all 500 miles back. Part One of the two-part saga.

A Hyderabad Idea, Part Two: Paradise on My Plate
Part Two, the spectacular finale of the ill-conceived misadventure described above.

Laughing Yoga in Calcutta
A popular reader favorite. After several beers and a convincing pep-talk from a fellow backpacker, I decide to give ‘Laughing Yoga’ a try.
Nothing could have prepared me for what happened next.

Inhaling India (A Diarrhea Adventure): A Foodie’s Guide to India on a Budget
You might think you know Indian food. But until you’ve stepped out of Indira Gandhi International Airport, and pulled up a chair in a dingy, Delhi dhabba—until you’ve seen the smoking woks, smelled the pungent curry pots, and felt the heat of the tandoor while ogling a menu as long and indecipherable as the Rosetta Stone—you cannot imagine how robust, perplexing, and wonderful the cuisine of India truly is. This is a road map to help demystify the great banquet table of the subcontinent.

PART THREE: PAKISTAN

Walnuts & Machine Guns: A Taliban Tale
A perilous, gun-toting adventure to visit the Kalash tribe on the border of Afghanistan–ending in a hail of drunken fried chicken and Taliban gunfire.

Kidnapped in Alipur
One of my favorite stories and so far the most viral.
I find it ironic, and embarrassingly hypocritical, that not even a week after I ranted about how you should never get into cars with strangers, I turned around and did exactly that.

Goatball Superstar, Afghan Hero
Always follow your dreams—even when that dream involves a headless goat being dragged across a field by a dozen haggard Afghans on horseback.

To Go the Other Way
In case I ever need to give a commencement speech, this would probably be it.

Flirting with Afghanistan: The Smuggler’s Bazaar
I knew it was a dangerous idea to try to go to Peshawar, but its Siren’s call promised romance, intrigue, and adventure: a legendary Silk Road city of traders, warriors, and poets, a place where a hairy Pashtun might offer you four camels and a carpet for your sister, and then cut off your nose for giving him a funny look.

Detained in Bahawalpur
After two months of contemplating whether or not to post this, I decided to risk getting shut down to finally share the story of my 16-hour C.I.A. interrogation.
Banned in Burma. Banned in China. Banned in the USA??

PART FOUR: UNITED STATES (INTERMISSION)

Guilty as Charged
A detour home for my fun-filled court case, plus ruminations on life, nostalgia, and tequila squirt guns.

PART FIVE: MONGOLIA

The Long Road to Nowhere: A Hitchhiker’s Tale from Outer Mongolia
When the Trans-Mongolian Railway sells out of tickets, I attempt to hitchhike across the Gobi desert–and end up trapped in the cabin of a truck with two mangled sheep carcasses and a fat, Mongolian trucker named Bold, eating nothing but old, boiled, unrefrigerated sheep parts out of a metal bucket for three days.

PART SIX: KOREA

“A Dream Deferred: The End of Backpackology?”
Two months after the robbery that put an end to my blogging, I retell my tale; one of crime, drugs, and pigs raised exclusively on human feces.

“THE JJIMJILBANG DIARIES (Part One): Six Days Naked in a Hot Tub Full of Old, Dirty Korean Men FOR SURVIVAL”
After being kicked out of my friend’s apartment and without only $85 to last me through the week, I start squatting in an upscale Korean bathhouse located in the basement of a department store. 

PART SEVEN: JAPAN

 ”Fringe Chronicles: Tried to Order Dinner in Tokyo. Got Assaulted By a Man in a Frog Costume Wielding a Puppet Instead”
Hoping to nosedive down the rabbit hole of Japanese Fringe Culture, I’m sent to mysterious restaurant named ‘Kagaya’–the weirdest restaurant in Tokyo.  Chaos, puppets, and sexual harassment ensue.

PART EIGHT: CHINA

“The Mystery of the Immaculate Herpes”
After contracting a mystery disease on my genitals, I visit a traditional Chinese doctor who attempts to treat my condition with roots and dead woodland critters. Per usual, everything goes catastrophically wrong.

“Three Words: Midget. Theme. Park.”
A visit to Dwarf Kingdom, China’s controversial and bizarre midget theme park, where hundreds of little people are paid to live in concrete mushroom houses, wear fairy tale costumes, and sing songs. Ironically, the UN has awarded Dwarf Kingdom with a Humanitarian Award.

“Sichuan Lava Cuisine & The Top Four Most Common Myths about Spicy Food”
The purpose of my self-destructive side trip to Chongqing was to eat at 夜富火锅, home of the spiciest hotpot on the planet (chunks of meat doused in a scalding broth of Sichuan chili and flower peppers, so spicy it’ll have you hallucinating). In my vast idiocy, I thought that I could handle it.

PART NINE: THAILAND

“The Turtle & The Whore: A Downward Spiral into Bangkok’s Red Light District”
Bangkok’s Red Light District was a depraved, vomit-stained hole in the earth… I wanted to see the bottom of that hole. I wanted to scour its godless warrens and witness unspeakable shit, to glimpse the darkest, most deviant recesses of the human psyche. I wanted to watch a naked midget funneling boiling fish oil into a nun’s asshole. And I wanted to document it for the betterment of my readers.

“A Wok to Remember: A Foodie’s Guide to Thailand on a Budget”
One of the most impressive works of fiction in the English language is your local Thai take-out menu. It’s as prickly and deceptive as a durian—much of it is Orientalist fantasy, much of the rest is culinary plagiarism. Authentic Thai cuisine is one of the finest in the world, a robust kitchen overflowing with sizzling woks, rainbow curry pots, and decadent stir-fry noodles. It’s a bold and unforgiving orgy of flavors, one which many visitors can find bewildering and challenging at first. So to ease you gently into the culinary rhythms of Thailand, I’ve put together this foodie guide to help demystify the tropical pantry of Southeast Asia.

 

PART TEN: LAOS

“Detained in Laos: Lost Tribes of the CIA’s Secret War”
In the early 1960s, the CIA built a “Secret City” in Laos named Lima Site 98. It became the second largest city in the nation, even though it never appeared on any maps. From it, the U.S. used a secret tribal army to wage a “Secret War” on Laos, dropping more firepower on the country than it did on Germany and Japan in WWII combined. Lima Site 98 met a bloody end in 1975, but it still exists today, off limits in a restricted Laos PDR military zone. Only one foreigner has set foot inside the Secret City since it fell in 1975; I wanted to be the second. Also, I got arrested and it was silly and fun.

“Intern Lydia vs. LaLa & His Hippie Goons”
I GOT AN INTERN!! Which is kind of like a slave, except sometimes you have to teach them important stuff about life and sometimes to do this you employ an AK-47 assault rifle and a bayonet duct-taped to a stick and sometimes you make a bad judgement call, but it’s okay because *~*~*no one’s perfect.*~*~*.... Intern Lydia, you are missed.

PART ELEVEN: VIETNAM

“Grandma Fang’s Vomit Cabin Experience for Authentic Travelers”
After traveling to the hill tribe village of Sapa in search of an “authentic experience,” a Hmong girl and her boyfriend invite me to a mysterious celebration in her grandmother’s village. Much to my horror, this celebration involves bodily fluids, chicken sculls, and a bucket of hot pig’s blood.

“Saigon’s Buddhist Disney World: The Theme Park Equivalent to Hard-lining Angel Dust”
Saigon is an unsung paradise for theme park connoisseurs. It’s like a Southeast Asian Orlando, except all the theme parks are aggressively Buddhist-themed and hilariously bat-shit insane. With the help of two Norwegian backpackers, I attempt to complete the Saigon theme park circuit in one weekend.

“Steve McDonald Pokes Death in the Face With a Stick For Your Reading Entertainment: A Cobra Hunt”
The Vietnamese believe that by ritualistically eating the beating heart of a cobra and drinking its blood, you will gain great strength and virility; it will make you a ‘real man.’ This appealed to me, as I’ve historically been somewhat of a cupcake. Unfortunately, cobras are prohibitively expensive these days. So to complete the ritual, I thought it would be a good idea to try to capture one myself…

“Poodles & Noodles: A Gastronome’s Guide to Vietnamese Cuisine”
Going to a Vietnamese restaurant and ordering Pho is like going to a French restaurant and ordering a baguette. It’s a tasty meal, but you can do much better. Vietnamese cuisine is one of the finest in the world, but also one of the most under-represented.

 Cambodia

PART TWELVE: CAMBODIA

The Jungle Girl of Rattanakiri
On a cool October morning in 1988, eight year-old Pnieng Rochum vanished in a remote province of Cambodia. On January 14, 2007, she reemerged from the dense jungle after nineteen years to be reunited with her family. She was naked, covered in dirt, and witnesses described her as “half-woman, half-animal.” The world media descended in search of answers, but Pnieng was too traumatized to explain her story. Shortly thereafter, the journalists moved on and “The Jungle Girl of Rattanakiri” was forgotten… I decided to track her down six years later. What I saw and learned was disturbing.
For the first time, here is Pnieng Rochum’s insane story.

Tomb Raider III: Steve Falls in Quicksand Near the Rat Temple And Is Sad
I couldn’t leave Cambodia without one Indiana Jones-style adventure, so I went tomb raiding for real.
It wasn’t as glamorous as the movies made it out to be…

Malaysia

PART THIRTEEN: MALAYSIA

Getting a Deadly Illness & Other Buttfuckery
Why I’ll stop traveling in 2014.

Bungle in the Jungle, Five Days in the Hide:
An Ill-Fated Search for the Rare and Elusive Nasalis Larvatus
Hoping to glimpse the rare and idiotic-looking Nasalis Larvatus (Malaysian Penis-Faced Fart Monkey), I trekked alone into the middle of the rainforest and hid in a wooden box for five days. This was the worst idea.

Borneo

PART FOURTEEN: BORNEO

“Photo Travelogue: The Biggest Darkness
(An Expedition to the Largest Cave Chamber on Earth)”
A Photo Travelogue from Gunung Mulu National Park; a twelve hour advanced descent into the earth’s crust, to a bizarre and alien world where only the most intrepid dare wander. It’s like “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” except with more complaining and I fall over a lot.

Slumber Party with Headhunters
While the Sarawak government claims that headhunting died out a hundred years ago, headless bodies have recently turned up in the jungles of Borneo. I ventured down the mighty Kapuas River to uncover the last of the headhunters.

THEMES: PHILOSOPHY

“Getting a Deadly Illness & Other Buttfuckery”
Why I’ll stop traveling in 2014.

Life on the Lonely Road
A meditation on solo travel, self dependence, and Mongolian fermented mare’s milk.

To Go the Other Way
In case I ever have to give a commencement speech, this would probably be it.

Guilty as Charged
A detour home for my fun-filled court case, plus ruminations on life, nostalgia, and tequila squirt guns.

The Backpacker’s Manifesto
An expose on package tourism, the spirit of independent travel, and fat ladies on Mt. Everest.

THEMES: FOODIE ADVENTURES

The Wrong Pancake
One of my favorite stories, from a tribal market in northern Burma. There are times in life when blissful ignorance rewards you handsomely. Other times, however, that ignorance only serves to blow up in your face, shouting at you to grab your ankles, as it spits on its unforgiving hand.
I’ll let you decide which category this little ditty falls under.

’Have You Eaten?’: An Angry Foodie’s Portrait of Burma (or: 5 Terrifying Dishes of Burma)
It’s likely that you’ve never tried Burmese food, or even seen a Burmese restaurant…
There’s a reason for this.

Inhaling India (A Diarrhea Adventure): A Foodie’s Guide to India on a Budget
You might think you know Indian food. But until you’ve stepped out of Indira Gandhi International Airport, and pulled up a chair in a dingy, Delhi dhabba—until you’ve seen the smoking woks, smelled the pungent curry pots, and felt the heat of the tandoor while ogling a menu as long and indecipherable as the Rosetta Stone—you cannot imagine how robust, perplexing, and wonderful the cuisine of India truly is. This is a road map to help demystify the great banquet table of the subcontinent.

A Hyderabad Idea, Part One: A 500 Mile Foodie Pilgrimage By Indian Train
(India) I thought it would be a good idea to travel 500 miles by Indian train to Hyderabad just to eat an authentic bowl of Hyderabadi Dum Biryani, before paying the bill, immediately walking back to the train station, and riding all 500 miles back. Part One of the two-part saga.

A Hyderabad Idea, Part Two: Paradise on My Plate
(India)Part Two, the spectacular finale of the ill-conceived misadventure described above.

The One-Thousand Year Old Egg (& the Three Penis Wine)
(China) A soul-crushing video taste test.

“Sichuan Lava Cuisine & The Top Four Most Common Myths about Spicy Food”
The purpose of my self-destructive side trip to Chongqing was to eat at 夜富火锅, home of the spiciest hotpot on the planet (chunks of meat doused in a scalding broth of Sichuan chili and flower peppers, so spicy it’ll have you hallucinating). In my vast idiocy, I thought that I could handle it.

“A Wok to Remember: A Foodie’s Guide to Thailand on a Budget”
One of the most impressive works of fiction in the English language is your local Thai take-out menu. It’s as prickly and deceptive as a durian—much of it is Orientalist fantasy, much of the rest is culinary plagiarism. Authentic Thai cuisine is one of the finest in the world, a robust kitchen overflowing with sizzling woks, rainbow curry pots, and decadent stir-fry noodles. It’s a bold and unforgiving orgy of flavors, one which many visitors can find bewildering and challenging at first. So to ease you gently into the culinary rhythms of Thailand, I’ve put together this foodie guide to help demystify the tropical pantry of Southeast Asia.

“Steve McDonald Pokes Death in the Face With a Stick For Your Reading Entertainment: A Cobra Hunt”
The Vietnamese believe that by ritualistically eating the beating heart of a cobra and drinking its blood, you will gain great strength and virility; it will make you a ‘real man.’ This appealed to me, as I’ve historically been somewhat of a cupcake. Unfortunately, cobras are prohibitively expensive these days. So to complete the ritual, I thought it would be a good idea to try to capture one myself…

“Poodles & Noodles: A Gastronome’s Guide to Vietnamese Cuisine”
Going to a Vietnamese restaurant and ordering Pho is like going to a French restaurant and ordering a baguette. It’s a tasty meal, but you can do much better. Vietnamese cuisine is one of the finest in the world, but also one of the most under-represented.

******************

For photos and videos, check out the “Photo Travelogues” tab at the top of the page.

For tips and tricks to the art of vagabonding, check out the “Backpackology 101” tab at the top of the page.


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