A Week-In-The-Life of Saben and Lin

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Saben and Lin are two twenty-somethings backpacking around the world on a tight budget. Leaving the cube farm and the class room (respectively) they left with a vague plan and a small savings account that has turned into an adventure crossing 5 continents and over 20 countries. You can check out daily updates from the road, detailed cost analysis, photo galleries and random awesomeness at Saben and Lin. Please enjoy a week-in-the-life of Saben and Lin as they travel through Nepal and India.

This post was originally published in 2010 . It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content. 

Day 1

Spend the morning hunting for an empty Internet cafe to put up new posts on our travel blog. Finally find one after 20-30 minutes but then the electricity shuts off after being there for half an hour. Decide to get some lunch at a local “hole in the wall” that serves good Dal fry for a cheap price.

Dal Fry thali in India; photo by Saben and Lin

After lunch we take a walk to check prices on bus tickets to Chitwan for tomorrow. It takes six different agencies before we decide which one has the best price (everyone charges different commissions on each ticket). Unfortunately, all seats are sold out for tomorrow because of a local festival. We end up booking seats for the day after tomorrow and are lucky to get the very last two seats available. Whew!

Day 2

Woke up this morning with thoughts of breakfast at a yummy looking bakery we passed yesterday. Are out of money so need to hit the ATM first. We discover that there is a currency crisis due to a religious festival and the Nepalese government not purchasing any new currency in many months.

By the third empty ATM and second closed bank (closed for many days because they are literally out of money), we are getting very worried about not being able to pay for our hotel when we leave for Chitwan tomorrow. Since so many locals are withdrawing money from banks and ATMs to travel for the holiday, we had to go to eight ATMs before finding one off the path that has a little cash.

Finally we can get some breakfast. Later we work on updating our website because we got kicked off-line yesterday by power outage. Just after dark we make our way home from a cheap dinner of the usual dal baht.

Day 3

blue bus in india on narrow mountain road

Up and waiting at the bus station (which is just a side of the street where all the buses park) by 6:30AM. It is a very long, bumpy, furiously fast and reckless drive in a sweaty, cramped seat of a rickety local bus (not one of the nice, cushy A/C tourist buses).

We have no idea which stop will be ours so we ride it to the end. It terminates in the small village of Chitwan but our actual destination is an even smaller village on the edge of Chitwan National Park called Sauraha. We try to hunt down a taxi and end up walking the length of the village which is really just a single road about one kilometer long.

We can not for our lives find a taxi so we stop at a soda stand for a drink and ask directions on how to get to Sauraha. Here we discover that “taxi” means either a bicycle rickshaw or a horse cart. We knew ahead of time that it was 9km to Sauraha and even though it seemed inhumane, especially considering the blistering sun, we took the cycle rickshaw.

It took less time than we expected, only about 45 minutes, The kids on bicycles following our rickshaw and the locals taking their elephants for a walk got a kick out of us and our limited Nepali. It was awfully bumpy on the dirt and rock road but it was a nice view across the rice fields and plains to where the mountains stood high. Going up two hills we had to get out of the rickshaw and help push it uphill.

The rickshaw dropped us at the very first lodge at the edge of Sauraha and after having a look at the rooms, we decided to keep checking rooms and prices. Settled on one after checking about 10 places and were very happy to get our packs off our sweat soaked shirts.

We had dinner at a small cafe where we watched elephants walk by and chickens scuttle around the floor for bugs. Feeling well-fed and a bit rested, we went to 6-7 travel agencies to find best price for tours for tomorrow. We deliberate amongst our selves and return to our chosen place to set up our activities.  We enjoyed a nice sunset by the river before heading in for the night to combat mosquitoes through our hole-ridden net.

Day 4

This morning we had to check out of our room at 6AM because it was booked for tonight by someone else. We had nowhere to go so asked the tour office we booked with to store our bags for the day. No places open for breakfast before our 7AM boat ride and jungle tour so a package of cookies and bottle of water was breakfast today.

Spent an hour floating noiselessly down the calm river and another 2-3 hours hiking through a hot, buggy jungle trying to spot rhinos. We had an unusually lucky day and got to see not just one rhino but five! Even our guide was giddy.

rhino coming out of a river in India; photo by Saben and Lin

After the hike, we returned soaked with sweat and caked with mud to the tour office to get our bags and find a room before heading out for lunch. We showered up and had a mediocre, overpriced lunch before resting beneath our helicopter ceiling fan through the heat of the day.

riding an elephant

In late afternoon we loaded into the back of a truck to go to the elephant park where we boarded our elephant with another couple and spent the next 2 hours bumping and jostling atop a very large, very old pachyderm. Got very close to the resident rhinos and a few spotted dear but nothing close to the thrill of the less “tame” rhinos in the jungle.

Not looking forward to that border crossing we have to do tomorrow. India, here we come.

Day 5

Turns out the bus ticket we bought from the tour office was for a crappy local bus. We are heading to the Indian border this afternoon. Bus drops us 2km from the immigration offices and have to take a rickshaw the rest of the way. Don’t have any change so have to buy some snacks at a stand to break a big bill.

We ask the vendor how much we should pay for a rickshaw: it should be 30 rupees, not the 150 the drivers are asking. Grab rickshaw to frontier; he refuses payment saying we owe him 30 rupees per person, not the 30 total we agreed on before we left. Leave 30 on the seat and walk away.

Go inside Nepal border office to get stamped out and within five minutes we are crossing the border. No signs or obvious offices so we have to hunt down the Indian immigration office. Barraged with private taxis while we do paperwork and none will take us to next town four hours away for a fair price.

Walk 200 meters down the road and get a local bus that takes an extra couple hours but is eight times cheaper. Finally arrive to the town and are lucky to grab the last train heading to Varanasi. Fight rats and stray dogs for a decent spot to sit and wait for our train for five hours. Spend the night on our first Indian sleeper class train.

train station in India

Day 6

Arrive in Varanasi early in the morning. Over pay at the pre-pay taxi stand because we don’t know any better. Walk around district of Assi ghat trying to find a place to sleep for the night. Sweating in heat under our packs and combating hotel touts who try to put us into expensive hotels so they can get a commission.

Most places have raised their prices for the festival or are full, but we finally find a cheap place. Eat a cheap lunch and rest beneath the ceiling fan with occasional power outages and afternoon napping.

Evening finds us at Man ghat with thousands of locals celebrating a religious festival with lots of rituals, ceremonies, prayers, and colorful idol floats. Best of all is the electric float which has 20-30 people with giant lit florescent lights balanced on their heads with lines running to a generator being pulled behind them.

parade in India

Day 7

woman selling potatoes in large baskets on the street in India; photo by Saben and Lin

Spend day walking around the area and hanging around the ghats. Catch a little Internet time but not much thanks to more power cuts. Lazy day with intermittent visits to the room for some rest and respite beneath the fan. Having trouble getting used to the heat after nearly freezing in Tibet just a couple of weeks ago.

Traveling on a budget as you can see can be a constant exercise in searching out the best deals you can find, using knowledge and tenacity to get what you deserve. Saben and Lin are currently exploring Thailand, before heading to Laos, Vietnam, and eventually Cambodia around April. Check out their latest adventure at sabenandlin.com.

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5 thoughts on “A Week-In-The-Life of Saben and Lin”

  1. It’s funny how the first two comments are so different. I think it has a lot to do with what we want out of our travels and lives. Traveling on a budget can be a fun challenge – despite the work and apparent compromises. I also think that after active backpacking for a long period, it can be tiring. What matters are the memories created…living on a tight budget can be even more tiresome “at home”; why not hit the road if that’s what you want to do? 🙂

  2. Traveling on a budget can be rough sometimes but that is really where the adventure lies. This would most certainly not be a fun 2 week vacation but for us this isn’t a vacation, this is our life. If we had a wallet full of cash we would still take the local bus or stay at the off the path guesthouse. This is where you find the genuine moments that make traveling beautiful and not the guidebook pre-manufactured experience. The hard times really make the great times a thousand times better.

    Also, Thanks Nora!


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