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Solo backpacking in India

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I have finally muster the courage to backpack to India despite the protest am getting from family & close friends. Let me clear up some misconception about that awesome country. I loved it, enjoyed it and would definitely do it again.

It’s a beautiful country. 

I see vibrant colours everywhere I go and amazing festivals. I get all excited when I see a group of women donning bright colourful saress walking on the streets. What a beautiful sight. Why do I say this? Coming from a big city where people usually just don black, grey and blue outfits on daily basis, this is a completely refreshing sight to behold. Snagged myself a few pairs during my stay in India.

Amazing local food

Cheap, unprocessed food comes in abundant in India. Don’t be intimidated by the terms, just randomly pick a few and give them a try. my personal favourites are their tea, Puri masala and dahi puri.

It’s not cluttered with tourist & selfie sticks

You get the whole place to yourself. Its a pleasant change to walk around by yourself as you visit famous UNESCO sites or art galleries. No touristy crowds and selfies activities blocking your sight. A change I highly appreciate and is grateful for during this trip.

Friendly people

Despite the language barrier, the locals are actually very friendly and chatty if they know any English. Rarely have I come across any situation, where I felt it was unsafe for me to backpack across the country by myself. In trains, there’s dedicated female coaches which you can opt for. This applies to queues as well for train tickets & in the airport.

During my trip, I had pleasant encounters with lots of older India ladies whom were more than happy to help me with my saree shopping & fitting. We used mostly used hand gestures to communicate but it did not deter us from having a ball of time picking out bangles & colours that suited me well.

Beautiful traditional attires

I need not explain how beautiful women attires can be from India. Apart from the usual Pashmina shawls,  Lehegnas skirts are worth checking out as well for its beautiful embroidery work. They are my favourite after everyday wear sarees.

Cheap tailoring

I got my saree blouse & saree sewn for USD6.50. They forgot about my order so they started sewing on the spot. Took them about 1.5 hours to sew my blouse and saree.

Mosquitos

For most of the places I’ve traveled to, mosquitos are actually not a rampant issue. I’ve only gotten bitten once when I opted to sleep outside for a night. That said, I was traveling in the South & West area during the cooler seasons. That might have played a factor.

Kitchenware & Fabric shopping

Remember to opt for a check-in baggage. Their stainless steel dining wares are of really good quality and are ridiculously cheap!

Trash

 

I can’t deny that some cities are notoriously known for their trash issues like Mumbai. Try not to let that stop you from visiting their amazing Gothic-Indian architectures that are available all over Mumbai that was left behind by the British colonial times. I was absolutely in awe with their majestic train terminal, Victoria Terminus.

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Try a bug or two

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Try Thailand’s edible insects before you write it off. The silk worms are actually not that bad. Scorpio are a nay for me due to their sharp & hard exoskeleton. If you’re keen on exploring more exotic street food, do give Philippines’s balut a try, Taiwan pig’s blood cake or Google for a list of unusual Asia dish. My list is definitely a work in progress =)

Travel by train

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Do it at least once for the old-fashioned charm this rail transport carries. My friend and I decided to go all out Hobo on our trip. We slept at ferry stations, took trains and buses. Busk at random public areas with numbers from John Lennon and The Beatles.

Volunteering with EPIC Homes

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Something about honest hard work in my six days stint with social enterprise Epic Homes felt rewarding. I enjoyed myself so much that I decided to return for my second build. The phrase ‘help yourself by helping others’ pretty much sums up what I had experienced in Kelantan. I have accumulated innumerable of positive experiences from this project that I could not possibly list them all down. Sometimes when we get lost in our quotidian chores and responsibilities, we tend to get disconnect with the community. We take simple pleasures for granted or is aware that there’s more to life than just Starbucks and Facebook. EPIC Homes help bridge that gap by providing inexperienced volunteers an opportunity to build homes for the rural dwellers.

One of a kind ride

One of a kind ride

The project I’ve signed up for is located in Kampung Serasa, Kelantan. Eight hours of bus ride from KL and 45min of rocky lorry commute into a secluded area, we found ourselves in a small quiet village. A village that will have 14 new flood resistant homes to replace the ones that was washed away by last year’s flood.

Using their feet to straighten the wood while the others secure it down with nails

To be a part of an awesome community project and witness a house being erected from the ground up – priceless. For both builds, I got to work with floor team. Being in a team consisting majority of women, I had no issue getting all fussy about the planks. Every time we lay a plank down and assess its finishing, we would discuss as a team if we were happy with it or opt for a better plank. We fought with tooth and nail to get these wood align the best we can. These girls had no clue how overjoyed they made me when they cared and played along with me when it came to giving the best we can. As a result, we could not be any happier with ourselves at the final product. Once that is complete, we started working on the foyer, stairs and walls, sequentially.

EPIC did a splendid job churning out good master builder and supervisors. They knew how to guide, facilitate and split the work among teammates. Good leaders naturally result in high morale teams. For the floor team, we had Uncle Boey, a funny retiree that was easy to work with. We were given space to make mistakes instead of fearing of making any. A huge chunk of the volunteers were first timers, and making mistake was the fastest track one could hop on to master anything quickly. The rule of thumb is to look at the mistakes as lessons and learn from them. A piece of advice I constantly dish out to my fellow teammates in my second EPIC stint.

Wood flooring

I will not lie, it’s labour work under the hot sun, but we are allowed rest as and when we require it. It’s not a boot camp as the organizer regularly remind us. To me, it’s a fun kind of labour work, as you get to make awesome new friends, learn how to use various type of power tools and learn how to solve problems on the fly. I had an enjoyable time trying out various power tools ranging from jig saw, drop saw, impact drivers and circular saws. My fear of heights was constantly being tested as well as I had to work on bare steel structure and move between floors via the scaffoldings.

The facilities and food sponsored by Prudential – surpassed anyone’s expectation when it came to living it rough. It felt more like glam camp than it was camping to me. We had constant access to water, cool drinks, snacks and food. Sleeping arrangement was comfortable and spacious. We have mobile lavatory equipped with sink and mirrors, much like the ones you would see in a mall. By dusk, we have various sort of entertainment along with those brought by the volunteers.

All in all, I have definitely enjoyed myself and would return back again.

 

Volunteering with Impian Malaysia

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Humans are creature of habits, so am I. This year, I’ve tried to break out of my mundane cycle and be spontaneous for a change. Bought an impromptu air ticket to Sarawak for a volunteer gig with Impian Malaysia. The goal was to conduct an edu camp for primary school children over the weekend.

The camp was held in a lovely Bidayuh village not far from Kuching’s airport. It was my first homestay & encounter with the Bidayuhs soI really have no clue what am going to experience. Guess that the fun part right? Not knowing what awaits you on the other end?

During this camp, both the kids & volunteers taught each other a lot. By conducting the classes in Malay, I’ve also came to realized how rusted my bahasa is! Nor do I recall what simile means when quizzed by one of the students. Funny moments indeed. Halfway through the week, we have already started feeling attached to these beautiful souls who always smiled while talking to you and have this overbundance of energy, something I had hard time keeping up with as they cajole us for yet another evening swim in the river.

My volunteer mates and me had not only enjoy the experience; we also made a few good friends amongst ourselves and the kids. Impian Sarawak had a great team that was there every day to patiently brief and guide us on how we should conduct the camp and making the best of our materials. Our camp went on smoothly and am lucky to be with a team of people who were always ever ready to lend a helping hand. I sincerely appreciated the opportunity to spend some time with the kids and to make a little difference in their life.