Derek’s Travel tips and tricks

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After living in a bunch of different cities spread across various countries and continents, I’ve come to realize that we can create the feeling of home anywhere we may find ourselves. From the first time I left my family in Toronto, Ontario to move across the country to Vancouver, I made the UBC campus my home and built a solid support group around me. As I began to travel and live abroad, this become easier and easier to accomplish. With every additional travel experience, you will be more confident in your ability to be able to build this home around you. That being said, never forget to keep in touch and call your parents as often as you can while living abroad. It’s easy to get caught up in your new surroundings, especially if you feel right at home (pun intended).”

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Canada is Derek’s home and native land. Derek was born in the great white north in Canada. Originally from Toronto, he went to University in British Columbia for four years, where he fell in love with the diversity of people and landscapes in west coast of Canada.

“It’s the only place I have lived where I can go for a swim in the Pacific Ocean in the morning and then hit the slopes of a world-class ski resort later that same day.”

Derek lived in Brazil

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The World Cup in Brazil is what originally took me to this big, beautiful country in 2014. With a couple friends, we traveled around the country to watch some matches in. The people wear their heart on their sleeve which makes it easy to connect with them almost instantly. The energy and passion of Brazilian people is unlike anywhere I have ever visited. It was a big change from the more conservative and reserved nature of Koreans. When you visit most countries, the number one thing you wish you could do is speak the native language. However, in Brazil you quickly realize that knowing how to dance is almost more important than speaking the language.

There are a wide variety of dancing styles for the different music genres including samba, pagode, Brazilian funk and my personal favorite: forró. When you start getting your dance on and mix in drinking some caipirinhas, the atmosphere is contagious. I enjoyed my one month World Cup tour in Brazil so much so that I decided to come back and live in Rio for six months in 2015.

Living in Rio didn’t come without its annoyances. There were frequent power outages and the internet connection was slower than I was used to (especially after living in Korea). However, the pros certainly outweighed the cons. Brazil and especially Rio, have a very special place in my heart.”

Travel tip Brazil

One excellent tip I received early during my time in Brazil was to look around and observe how the locals dress and copy them. Keep your jewelry, watches or anything flashy at home. I spent over six months in Rio and was fortunate to never get robbed. This is good advice for anywhere you visit, but especially Brazil. Take some day trips and get out of the busy touristy area by visiting places like Ilha Grande and Recreio. Check out the secret beach in Recreio and do some surfing on Macumba beach (some of the best surfing in Rio).

Derek Traveled around Malaysia

Malaysia - Langkawi

You will most likely be flying into the hub of Kuala Lumpur (KL) if you visit Malaysia, so make sure to take some time and enjoy all the city has to offer. Bukit Bintang is one of my personal favorite areas with lots of different street food and nightlife options. It’s less than an hour bus ride away from the airport. You feel like a kid in a candy shop with all the types of fresh meat, snacks, drinks and fruit you can imagine as you walk along. If you happen to be there during Chinese New Year, there will be giant parades flooding the streets and its one wild party. 

Travel tip Malaysia

KL is the hub for the low budget airline, Air Asia, which lucky for you means that you can fly to many nearby cities for dirt cheap.

Check out Langkawi for a relaxing experience away from the busy city. The Perhentian Islands are absolutely gorgeous. It’s a bit of a trek to get there, but if you have 4-7 days and need somewhere to spend it in total relaxation, Palau Perhentian is the place to be. There is also excellent scuba diving sites here and I was thankful I decided to become a licensed diver during my time here.

Derek’s travel around Laos 

Laos - Vang Viang

The party scene has died down now that the tubing is closed in Vang Vieng. Prior to 2012, it was a hedonistic scene and struck me as the type of place that would exist if teenagers ruled the world without any rules from parents. Since the tubing closed down, Vang Vieng is much quieter. That’s a good thing. Rent some bikes and check out the caves outside of town. 

Travel tip Laos

The blue lagoon is breathtaking with its turquoise waters and massive cave next to it that you can explore. Make sure to ask the motorbike rental guy if you can get a map as usually they will give one to you. And wear a helmet. You may find random goats and chickens crossing along your bike path. 

Derek’s travel around Vietnam

Vietnam - Hanoi 

Hanoi is home to some of the most delicious street food and the cheapest beer in the world. Bia Hoi, which you will see signs of along the street, are 15 cent beers that are brewed and served on the spot. Check out the snake village where you can pick out a snake and eat out its heart which is supposedly good for your libido (once you go visit, you can’t back out). There is a waterpark in Hanoi that is cheap and a lot of fun to visit for an afternoon. Halong Bay is a must see. I’d recommend going with a reputable Vietnamese company for a 2-3 day boat tour. Don’t try to take the cheapest option as I’ve heard horror stories where boats have a hole on board and it is cheaper for the company to pay a Vietnamese employee to empty the water with a bucket than to fix the boat. 

Travel tip Vietnam

Try to befriend a local or someone who speaks Vietnamese and have them take you to get some proper street food. The restaurant staff won’t speak a lick of English and you’ll be eating on a little plastic table and stools next to a gutter. It won’t matter because it’ll be some of the best food you’ve ever had and it’ll cost barely anything. Order all the craziest stuff on the menu. Tell your Vietnamese friend to ask for the chef’s specialties. Be adventurous and try the roasted pigeon. You won’t regret it. 

Derek’s travel around Indonesia 

Indonesia - Bali

Don’t stay in Kuta beach for more than a day or two. It is full of tourists and that attracts the worst of the worst Indonesian shady salesmen trying to sell you everything from hookers to motorbikes to cocaine while walking along the street. Don’t let that turn you off of Indonesia. Bali is full of incredible places that you can take a bus or boat to get to including Uluwatu, Amed and Ubud. If you are into scuba diving, check out Nusa Lembongan and the Gili Islands. Or if you have more time, go to Sumatra. 

Travel tip Indonesia

If you rent a scooter in Kuta beach, be aware of the police setting up road blocks to scam tourists into paying ‘fines’ for not having their international driver’s license on them while driving. Instead, ride right by the police and wave while you do so. It is not worth their effort to chase you because what they are doing is illegal and they will catch the next person going by. I learned this the hard way by paying $50 my first time stopping at the road block.

Derek lived in South Korea

busan-south-korea

Busan, the second largest city in South Korea, was my home for almost 5 years (2009-2014). I liked to call it the Vancouver of South Korea since it had a fairly temperate climate and the largest port in the country. As soon as I arrived in South Korea, I was shocked at the level of efficiency and hard-working nature of the Korean people. While it does take some time for Koreans to open up to foreigners, once they feel comfortable around you, it is easy to feel at home.

I only had one friend that I knew living in Korea when I moved there and I left the country with many more close friends. Two things I really liked about Korea were the convenient lifestyle due to cutting-edge technology and the diversity of its food.

The internet in South Korea is the fastest in the world and electronic goods are relatively cheap. Healthy and delicious Korean food is also reasonably priced and you can eat for almost the same price going out to a restaurant as cooking yourself. Kimchi quickly became a staple in my diet as I started eating it almost more than the locals – for breakfast, lunch and dinner. While South Korea has developed at an unprecedented pace on the global stage since the 1960s, the population is highly homogenous and lacks diversity. There is an overwhelming desire to chase an ideal when it comes to beauty and physical attributes. And, if you don’t fit in with the cultural norms, it’s easy to feel like an outcast. Hopefully this will change in the future with more foreigners moving to South Korea.

Derek’s travel around Korea 

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Over my 5 years in the Land of the Morning Calm, I was able to travel extensively around the country. For a smaller sized country with a large population, there are surprisingly many places to escape the crowds and get away from it all. 

  • If you like hiking, check out Hallasan which is the largest mountain on the southern island of Jeju. 
  • There are also some decent ski resorts north of Seoul called High1 and Phoenix Park.

Travel tips for Korea 

Try and eat as much strange food as you can when you visit Korea. From galbi tang (beef short ribs soup) to gamjatang (pork bone soup) to kimchi jigae (spicy cabbage soup), there is plenty to choose from. Don’t hold back and be like my one friend who came to visit me in Busan and only ate pork and snickers bars (not together thankfully) while he was there.

Derek’s travel in China 

Korean wedding party photo

China was the first country outside of Canada that I visited right before Beijing hosted the Olympics in 2008. It was an eye-opening experience for me as I visited the country for three weeks and saw both the major cities of Beijing and Shanghai as well as the countryside in the Fujian province. I was amazed of different way of living in the most populated country in the world. For one meal I tried Rabbit brain stew which was a delicacy in this small village, which turned out to be surprisingly tasty.

Travel tip China

Chinese vendors will try to make as much off ny foreigner they see, so be sure to haggle with them in the markets. There were times where I bought an item for 50% of the originally stated price but I found out later that I overpaid substantially. As a general rule, offer 10% of the original stated price and don’t translate the price back into your country’s currency to see if it’s a fair price. You can usually find items for much cheaper. Also, beware of the tea house scam where tea houses drastically overcharge foreigners for a tea ceremony.   

Derek’s travel around Hong-Kong 

Hong Kong

A bustling city with a major international port, many would call it the New York City of Asia. The view of the skyline both during the day and at night is worth the cost of visiting alone. The nightlife is humming, especially in Lan Kwai Fong. For a major city that appears to be all concrete, there are some nice hikes that you can take to escape the busyness.  

Travel tip Hong-Kong

Take a day trip to one of the islands from the ferry terminal. The ferries are running all day long and the cost is reasonable. I personally chose Discovery Island for an afternoon and it was one of the highlights of my trip. I couldn’t believe how easy it was to get away from it all and enjoy some peace and quiet inside Hong Kong. 

Derek’s travel around Taiwan 

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I had six days there. The night markets in Taipei are an absolute must. As soon as you walk into the night market, you smell all kinds of delicious food that hits you like a wave. 

Travel tips for Taiwan

Don’t fall into the temptation of staying in the big city of Taipei for your whole trip. Go and venture out to the countryside and you won’t be disappointed. I went to visit Hualien on the east coast and came upon Taroko Gorge. It was the highlight of the trip and my friends and I still talk about that excursion down south.

Derek’s travel around Thailand

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There really is something for everyone in the Land of Smiles.

A friend of mine once told me that if your dreams don’t come true in Thailand, they weren’t possible to begin with.

Whether you are into scuba diving, rock climbing, beach bumming, or temple exploring – you can find it all in Thailand. The first time I went to visit Thailand was in 2010, and I enjoyed it so much that I went back to visit five more times over the next few years. Thai food is one of my top three favorite cuisines in the world as I could eat a bowl of Tom Yum Gai (spicy and sour Thai soup) every day of the year. Thai people are some of the friendliest people I’ve met while traveling. Tourism is one of their largest industries so they are used to ‘farang’ (foreigners) traveling in their homeland.                           

Derek’s Travel tip Thailand

If you have the chance to visit Thailand in April, don’t miss the annual Songkran water festival. It’s almost impossible to miss because you will get soaked with water within seconds of stepping outside in a busy area. Eat as much street food as you can as it is significantly cheaper than the restaurants and often times it’s just as tasty (or moreso).

Derek’s travel around Japan 

Japan - Kyoto

One of the most well-organized and clean countries that I have ever been to. Visiting Tokyo for the first time can be a daunting task, but the reward is certainly worth it. Japanese people are well known for being extremely polite (they even put Canadians to shame). On my first trip in Japan, a Japanese man apologized for stopping the elevator on the 7th floor to get on because I was heading up to a higher floor. Japan has a rich culture and there is no shortage of temples to visit and mountains to hike.

Travel tip Japan

If you aren’t into sushi or seafood, be prepared for your tastes to change and try some of the best sushi in the world. Japanese food is another favorite of mine and you can still catch me eating a late night bowl of ramen noodles wherever I may be in the world. The Japanese hot springs or ‘onsens’ are a truly unique experience and worth visiting. A bottle of sake while enjoying the onsen may go against the recommendation of health experts, but I found it to add to the experience.

Derek’s travel around SingaporeSingapore

If you are into shopping, Singapore is the place to be. Everything is very clean, organized, and fairly expensive relative to other cities in that SE Asia region. Check out Clarke Quay and Boat Quay. They are both right along this nice canal with lots of great restaurants along the water and exciting nightlife. The clubs/bars are hopping there after 10pm. If you feel like checking out a huge amusement park for a day, go to Sentosa. You can get there easily by subway.

Travel tip Singapore

Go up 63 floors to see the most amazing view of Singapore at night. The bar is called 1-Altitude and it is located at One Raffles Place. You have to pay $10 or $15 to go up and it is worth every penny. You get a free drink as well. Remember to take your camera.

Derek’s travel around Cambodia 

Cambodia - Angkor Wat

This country is one of the poorer ones in SE Asia, but I found it to have some of the kindest people I’ve met. Don’t skip Phnom Penh if you have some time to travel around Cambodia. Angkor Wat is certainly the highlight, but Phnom Penh is well worth the visit. I would recommend not taking the bus between the two cities as it is a bumpy ride on a highly uncomfortable bus. An entertaining experience to be sure. Check out the Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng Genocide museum. It’s harrowing stuff but you have to see it to believe it. Find a tuk-tuk driver you like and stick with him. They will wait for you as you go from place to place.

Travel tip Cambodia

When you visit Angkor Wat, everyone says to make sure you see the sunrise. Personally, I didn’t find it that great (quite possibly due to being tired and hungover). You can see lots of the temples in one day if you start at sunrise though; just make sure to get a good night sleep before. The thing is with the sunrise its hit or miss depending on the quality of the sunrise. And make sure to try some Happy Pizza while you are in Cambodia. It’s awesome. Flex your muscles to tell them you want it strong. They will know what you mean.

Derek’s Travel around Peru 

Peru - Inca Trail

Whatever you do, don’t rush your time spent in Cusco. I booked a four day hike of Machu Picchu and didn’t give myself nearly enough time to enjoy the city of Cusco. The high altitude will take a day or two to get used to, but it is well worth the wait. Do yourself a favor and eat at the Inca Grill. Without a doubt some of the best food I’ve tasted in South America. The main town square is breathtaking as you walk through it and there are some shorter hikes nearby that you can take which provide a stunning view of the city. As for the Machu Picchu hike, go for the longer multi-day adventure as you get to experience what it was like to trek through the Andes Mountains along the Inca Trail.

Travel tip Peru

Make sure you have enough warm clothing before going on an overnight trekking adventure to Machu Picchu. Bring extra socks and a warm pair of gloves and hat. The temperatures drop substantially at night. And if you are doing the four day trek, don’t try to save the $60 by carrying your own backpack. Pay for the extra porter. Believe me – I learned the hard way.

Derek’s Travel around Colombia 

Colombia - Tayrona National Park

The tourism industry is growing in Colombia and nowhere more so than the coastal city of Cartagena. You will be treated like a king as soon as you step foot on the beaches of Cartagena as Colombians are constantly walking along the shore catering to your every need. Forgot your sunglasses? No problem. Need a buy a bracelet as a gift for friends? Check. Fresh oysters? Check. Oil massage? Check. Almost anything you need, it will be at your service. Make sure to bring a few extra Colombian pesos along with you to the beach in case you find out you needed more than you thought. If you are looking for a less touristy experience, take a bus to Santa Marta and enjoy the sights and smells of South America’s oldest surviving city along Colombia’s Caribbean coast.

Travel tip Colombia

If you are into scuba diving, check out Taganga which is nearby Santa Marta and explore some spectacular diving. And if you don’t dive, take a course or do a discovery dive. Tayrona National Park is highly recommended as either a day trip or overnight camping spot. Walk all the way to the end and stay at Cabo San Juan. It’s worth the trek.  

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