Helpful Guide for Beginning SEO Keyword Research

I wanted to pass this along to people who are just starting with keyword research, because while there is tons of info on the topic, often the guides lack practicality or contain too much “fluff” and not enough actionable content. I’ve used this guide when beginning the keyword research for my sites and after you go through the process a couple of times you will understand how to target your site’s content much better. Obviously this is not a comprehensive solution for all of your keyword needs, but it provides you with a great starting point. Note that this is a five point series, but if you are familiar with SEO then you don’t need to go through Parts 1 and 2. Part 3 is what I’ve linked to below, which begins with keyword planning.

SEO 101, Part 3: Keyword Planning

I want to add one tip if you follow this guide that will help you find high volume, low competition keywords you can immediately start plugging into your site. When you get to step 5 and are inputting your keywords to find related suggestions from Google, it is wise to further filter the search terms.

The guide recommends the following search filters:

Using the Keyword Planner and filtering out suggested search terms.

Using the Keyword Planner and filtering out suggested search terms.

This will return all keywords regardless of competition or search volume. When I’m looking for keywords for a newer site, it serves me better to target keywords with lower competition. Therefore, I add the following filters to the Keyword Planner:

Add a minimum search volume and Low and Medium competition filters to your search results.

Add a minimum search volume and Low and Medium competition filters to your search results.

With these filters, the returned search results will give you higher value keywords that have better search volume and lower competition. These are much better than trying to fill your site with high ranking keywords you won’t have any chance of ranking for.

Hope this helps with your keyword research, let me know in the comments if you have any questions, and follow me on Twitter.

Brad

Goodbye Koh Tao – Back to the States

This post is somewhat belated, as I have already been back home in the Bay Area for a couple days. But after spending a year on Koh Tao building Koh Tao CrossFit, I decided that it was finally time to return home. What was originally planned to be a three month backpacking trip then turned into a three month building of a CrossFit gym which then turned into one of the best years of my life coaching and living on an island in paradise. I know it may come to a surprise for many that I am already back home, but I purposely did not broadcast the fact that I was leaving in order to truly enjoy my remaining time on the island instead of planning for what life was going to be like back home.

Over the past year, I had the fortune of building and running Thailand’s fourth CrossFit gym, of deep diving into the world of eCommerce, of living outside the 9-5 lifestyle, of surrounding myself with the awesome community that is Koh Tao CrossFit, and of meeting an incredible girl. Before I decided to build the gym, I had sent an email to several friends asking their opinion on whether I should go or not. Would it put me in a bad position career-wise when I returned? Would I miss out on life back home? Am I sabotaging what I’ve worked for through college and beyond? I can honestly say that at the end of this year I have absolutely no regrets, and that’s a great feeling.

There’s so many things I loved about Koh Tao and how different life was compared to home. Some of my favorites though include:

  1. Cider Sundays down at Maya Bar.
  2. Friday Club with anyone that was up for midday workouts.
  3. Forgetting what day of the week it was because weekends didn’t differ in importance from weekdays.
  4. Becoming an advanced (and I think Nitrox and sidemount certified, right Dave P?) scuba diver and setting the world record for most tanks on a diver.
  5. Enjoying the best coffee on the island at Phung’s Hammock Cafe.
  6. Dodging taxi drivers, cats, and tourists with my trusty 125cc Sonic.
  7. Learning from people from all different walks of life, lifestyles, age, and countries. In Koh Tao, your friends aren’t determined by your occupation, or your age. It doesn’t really matter to anyone.
  8. The communal spirit that surrounds Koh Tao – because none of us actually came from Koh Tao, there is a camaraderie and spirit of helping each other out that I’ve never experienced in the same magnitude.
  9. Having the opportunity to spend my days doing what I loved.
  10. Convincing KTC to go to all you can eat Korean BBQ with me.
  11. Traveling to Bangkok for Thailand’s first ever CrossFit competition with the KTC comp team.

To the CrossFitters from all over the world that had the opportunity to visit Koh Tao CrossFit and work out with me while you travelled, thank you (and I apologize for butchering your names!). It was awesome seeing new faces in the gym everyday and I hope you were able to pick up on something that you could take back to your own box. To all the members at Koh Tao CrossFit, thank you for supporting me throughout the entire process, for trusting me with your fitness journey, and for working so hard in our box. From running free workouts for a couple months to building our membership and such a tight knit community – it was a blast. As a coach, I couldn’t have asked for more. We are very fortunate that we have Zack stepping in until Tomi arrives in September. As we all know in Koh Tao, as soon as you spend any significant time on the island, you will be coming back at some point and I can’t wait to see where the gym will be at that time.

The KTC Crew

Live Tweeting the Worst Ferry Ride Ever

Had the pleasure of taking the Lomprayah ferry from Koh Tao to Koh Phangan the other day. While typically a calm ride, the boat left at 6:15AM and winds were up around 19 to 20 knots. Needless to say, it wasn’t the most pleasant trip. Decided to live tweet the experience:

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My Response to “Why I Don’t Do CrossFit”

kettlebell-graphic

It seems every three months or so an ill-researched, hyperbolic article is posted that blasts through the internet condemning CrossFit and what it does for the fitness community.

This month’s article comes from Erin Simmons, a self-described fitness model dedicated to “promoting healthy lifestyles through diet and exercise”.

I want to point to the article she wrote first so that you have a chance to read it in its entirety:

Why I Don’t Do CrossFit

At last glance, this article had over 300k shares on several mirrored sites around the world. The article has also gone around on Koh Tao, and I usually get one of two responses: 1) questions about my opinion on the article, which often leads to great discussions with people about its merits and its weaknesses; and 2) blind reposts, which by negligently sharing with others leads to more misinformation about what CrossFit is about. Because I was having these conversations with so many people, I wanted to share my thoughts:

1) The fact that CrossFit coaches can get certified in a weekend is a legitimate critique of CrossFit.

Many people who argue against the efficacy of CrossFit talk about how easy it is to become a coach (it only takes a weekend certification) with the ability to then teach groups of people complicated movement patterns (including Olympic lifts) This is a legitimate critique of CrossFit. If CrossFit advocates technique above speed, then we must have coaches that are knowledgeable and experienced in teaching and correcting those lifts.

So what can we do about this? I believe two things:

1) When joining a CrossFit gym, shop around. Watch one of the classes – is the trainer looking to correct movement? Are they just setting a timer and stepping back or are they actively involved in guiding classes through the movements? Can they discuss movement in a way that you understand? Just like you would shop around for a personal trainer, shop around for a CrossFit gym. If you are brand new, get some opinions from friends, preferably those who have been in the athletic community for some time.
2) CrossFit HQ needs to address this. Several years ago, the majority of people getting certified were those that had been in the CrossFit world for some time. I believe the overall quality of coach those weekend certifications were pushing out was higher, because CrossFit wasn’t as popular back then. As CrossFit gains in popularity, there has to be a way for HQ to continue to develop and maintain standards in their coaches.

2) I have never heard of any CrossFit coach celebrating pain or making pain the goal of a workout.

“The goal of a workout shouldn’t be to hurt! I’m not saying that workouts won’t push you, or that you won’t ever hurt during a workout, or you won’t ever be sore the next day. I AM saying that hurt isn’t the goal.”

“CrossFit seems to think that the more pain you are in, whether on that day or the days following the workout, the better. The more you disregard the pain and keep pushing through it, the “tougher” you are. But this is not true, and more importantly, it’s not healthy.”

I’m not sure where Erin gets the idea that the goal of CrossFit workouts is to hurt. Several times this article talks about working for pain and that the mentality that the more pain you are in, the better. The goal of CrossFit is never to celebrate pain. Does muscle soreness exist after certain workouts? For sure. But if that soreness rises above moderate discomfort, then a rest day is needed.

Now, do I advocate overcoming mental barriers to push yourself through a workout? Do I want to conquer the “I can’t” that often comes to your head ten minutes into a tough workout? You bet I do. But pushing yourself mentally and pushing through pain are two completely separate ideas that Erin needs to understand.

3) The combination of solid CrossFit programming with scaling techniques for different athletes creates individualization.

“There is no individualization. Workout of the day. That’s the norm.”

My goal as a CrossFit coach is to create a general level of fitness in my clients. I want my gym to be able to run, jump, push, and pull. CrossFit HQ talks about the ten general physical skills: cardiovascular endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy. This is the goal. I want my clients to be able to go outside the gym and engage in any type of sport or physical activity and have the fitness level to accomplish that.

The programming, which is done on a weekly basis, is done to address these ten physical skills. If I program a particular workout, then we scale and change the workout based on that individual’s level of fitness. That creates the individualization. Beyond that, we have our client’s set their own monthly goals and give them the opportunity to spend time working towards those, further individualizing their experience in the gym.

At gyms that have more members than our little island, they have created additional classes for their client’s goals – Olympic lifting classes, barbell clubs, endurance classes. I would hope to offer these sometime in the future. Again, more individualization.

Now, if an athlete is training for a specific sport (as Erin talks about her track and field experience) then the demands of that athlete are different and perhaps the daily WODs are not the best method to excel in that sport. When I have an athlete like that, we discuss the best ways to accomplish those goals and many high quality CrossFit gyms are now catering to these sport specific athletes in separate classes (see below). But it is important that Erin distinguish the elite sport-specific athlete from the majority of CrossFit gym members.

4) Just because Erin’s coaches never took her through any CrossFit-type workouts does not invalidate CrossFit as a strength and conditioning tool.

“The strength and conditioning coaches that I have worked with as an athlete all have master’s or doctorate degrees in kinesiology or a related field. They have interned as graduate assistants for years. They have attended and presented at conferences, taken numerous certification exams, and have had to pass demonstration practicals in order to work with athletes in the weight room or on/in the field, track, court, or pool. These professionals have dedicated their entire lives to providing a safe and effective strength-training program for high caliber athletes, NOT a single weekend plus some cash. And not a single one of them recommends CrossFit. Not a single one of them has ever given me workouts that look like CrossFit WODs. Even athletic training staff (medical/PT/rehabilitation/chiropractors) that I have talked with have said that they would love CrossFit if they didn’t work with athletes, because they would always have people to treat.”

CrossFit is a new method of fitness, and as Erin’s coaches were getting their Master’s or Doctorate’s, CrossFit was just beginning to develop. But as fitness and CrossFit has matured, professional athletes are continuing to use it for their sport-specific demands. Here are several examples below, but just type “crossfit professional NAME OF SPORT” into Google to find you own results.

Matt Hasselback – Professional NFL Quarterback

Knowshon Moreno – Professional NFL Tailback

Rich Froning – Assistant Strength Coach of Tennessee Tech football team, and three time champion of the CrossFit Games trains both professional motocross riders and the football team using WODs:

“9 a.m.: Train a group of professional motocross athletes (and occasionally jump into their workout).
11:45 a.m.: A member of the Tennessee Tech football coaching staff comes over to work on some big lifts, like squats or deadlifts. Afterward, they complete a WOD that will include the lift that was just practiced.”

Jason Terry – Professional NBA Player

To find these links took about four minutes of my time. Erin needs to do better research next time she makes a ridiculously hyperbolic statement like the one above.

My Conclusion
Do I think CrossFit is the only way to achieve a desired level of fitness? Absolutely not. But I do believe it is the most effective. Is there an increased risk in CrossFit compared to “normal” gym workouts? I think you’d have to admit there is with any higher intensity training. That being said, the fitness reward is greater in CrossFit and for me, the intangibles that come through CrossFit (goal setting, confidence, community, motivation to come in to the gym) also justify that increase in risk.

Here’s the thing. Erin Simmons has done a great job promoting “Erin Simmons Fitness” with this article that has managed to go viral. But for those reading it, do a little bit more homework and see where her motivation comes from. It’s too bad that she had a bad experience at whatever gym she visited, but while she would like to paint the picture that most CrossFit gyms are as she has described, they are not.

Is CrossFit for everyone? Nope. But for those that find the right gym, you’ll find a community full of hard working people who work out, motivate, and support each other through their fitness journey. And I bet all of them would argue there’s more to a strong core than Erin’s other equally well-researched piece: Ten Minute Abs.

Am very open to continuing this discussion. Please write in the comments or find me on Twitter.

I’m Baaaaaack!

Alright, so I have a confession to make. Updating a blog while traveling sounds like an awesome idea. Keep family and friends in the loop, make a record of your experiences, get some time for reflection… all good.

In practicality, not so awesome.

“Hey Brad want to go out and get buckets of cocktails and rent a longtail boat to go down the river?”
“No, I’ve got to update my blog.”

“Hey Brad want to do anything other than sit in the room and type on your Kindle?”
“Sorry, still have eight weeks left to update my blog.”

“Hey Brad want to join my three girlfriends and I for dinner and then go out to the bars? Who knows what will happen afterwards!
“No, I’m a couple weeks behind on my blog.”

You get the picture.

So, although the blog didn’t get past week three, I did journal everything by hand so if you want any information about my travels or things to do/see in Vietnam, Thailand, the Phillipines, or Indonesia, drop me a line and I’ll help you out.

Current Update
Where am I now? Originally, the plan was to be back in June 2013 after three months of travel. However, while on the island of Koh Tao (recently voted the 10th best island in the world) in April, I met some people who were thinking of opening up a MMA/fighting gym. We began discussions of what it would look like to build a CrossFit gym instead, and the idea for Koh Tao CrossFit was born.

I built the gym with the fundamental focus being on both fitness and community. It is much more important for me to see someone get their first pull-up after months of attempts than the best athlete in the gym get a five pound PR on their back squat. The community at KTC is incredible – supportive, motivating, and challenging – everyone pushing each other beyond their preconceived limits. We are unique in that we get more drop-in clients than most CrossFit gyms (given that our 8 sq. mile island gets over 1MM visitors/year) and it is a testament to our members in how visitors feel so welcome every time they join a WOD. I truly enjoy coaching and running the gym, and have grown both as a person and as a CrossFit coach over the past year. It is true that CrossFit affects all facets of one’s life, and the transformation that I’ve seen in so many of the members since last year is amazing. We recently sent a team from KTC up to Bangkok for Thailand’s first ever CrossFit competition and did extremely well… it was hard to believe that all six members of the team had never done a CrossFit workout before last June!

There is a stark contrast to what life looks like back home and what it looks like on Koh Tao. I love what I do, and in my free time I get to work on my other “startup-y” projects (more on that later). We talk about how life slows down here, but because it slows down (and we are enjoying ourselves), time actually passes by much faster. It is awesome to be living out a passion of mine in one of the most beautiful places in the world.

Check out this video of one of our monthly “beach workouts” and get a sense of what it’s like to workout at KTC.

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I’m going to be using this blog more regularly now as my free time has been spent in the world of eCommerce and I’ve got some exciting announcements coming in the future regarding a couple of other projects I’m working on.

And follow me on Twitter. Now.

Week 3 Recap: 3/24/13 – 3/30/13

3/24/13 – Day 15 – Hoi An
Arrived in Hoi An around 7:00AM with plans to stay at Sunflower Hostel, but decided it was too far from the Old Town which is where I would be spending my time. Walked for another hour and a half – hot, frustrated, and getting accosted by touts until I finally found a place in the heart of Old Town for about $16. Went off exploring and to grab lunch and found Hoi An extremely charming – the town is driven by it’s hundreds (literally) of tailors and custom fabric shops, but the small shops are all done in French inspired architecture and are dark yellow in color. They surround a river which runs through the heart of Old Town. Lunch and a beer on the river then spent a couple hours researching which tailor to visit for custom suits (decided on Kimmy’s). Met up with Laura and Kate, two American girls I had met in Nha Trang, and a friend of theirs, Shannon, also from US. Beers on the river ($0.25!) followed by pool playing at the aptly named “Cheap Fun Bar”.

3/25/13 – Day 16 – Hoi An
Rented motorbikes with Laura, Kate, and Shannon, and drove out to the coast for a beach day. Continued reading “Delivering Happiness” by Tony Hsieuh and went for a run along the beach. We were fortunate because at night it was a full moon and the city of Hoi An comes alive with a lantern party on the river. Old Town was completely packed and the bridge and streetlights beside the river were lit up in incredible color. Hundreds of floating lanterns slowly made their way down the river, each one carrying its own wish. Lisa, Jen (both from my earlier Makong Delta trip, recently arrived in Hoi An) and I got a boat to take us out in the river where we floated out several of our own lanterns in the water. Back to “Cheap Fun Bar” at night for another night of great conversation with new friends.

3/26/13 – Day 17 – Hoi An
Met up with Shannon in the morning to do our own walking tour of Old Town. After breakfast on the river and one of my suit fittings at Kimmy’s, we rented motorbikes and went to explore Marble Mountain, a collection of five huge marble outcrops topped with their own pagodas. The largest, Thuy Son, had several natural caves with both Buddhist and Hindu sanctuaries inside built completely out of the marble. They seemed like something straight out of a video game. Shannon’s hotel had a swimming pool so we hung out there for awhile afterwards to beat the heat. Dinner at a place called White Rose, which specializes in a Hoi An wanton dish by the same name. Had a drink on the river and randomly met up with some of the crew from the Nha Trang boat trip.

3/27/13 – Day 18 – Hoi An, Hue
Last day in Hoi An, woke up and had my last suit fitting at Kimmy’s (they turned out fantastic). Decided to rent a motorbike again for the 130 km trip north up to Hue via Hai Van Pass, once known as Vietnam’s most dangerous road (and featured in Top Gear). Views from the pass were incredible – the small road cutting through the side of the mountain overlooking dense jungle and the ocean. At the top of the pass was a bullet scarred French Fort, later used as a bunker by the South Vietnamese and US armies and as the division between North and South Vietnam. Lunch on a bridge overlooking the ocean and then tried to get through the remaining part of Highway 1 as quickly as possible (that part was not very fun). Checked into Hue Backpacker’s Hostel and crashed.

3/28/13 – Day 19 – Hue
Day of planning in the hostel. Walked around town a bit but other than that spent a lot of time working out the next couple of weeks. Broke down and ate a hamburger. Boarded an overnight bus to Ninh Binh around 6:00pm.

3/29/13 – Day 20 – Ninh Binh
Arrived in Ninh Binh around 5:00AM in the rain. My guesthouse wasn’t open yet so I fell asleep for a bit on their porch. Met two Italians, Roberto and his girlfriend Mia, at breakfast and we decided to explore the Tam Coc caves together. Tam Coc (meaning “three caves”) is a 2km stretch of the Ngo Dong River amongst towering limestone cliffs, rice paddies, and underground caves. Rented motorbikes and we headed for the pier. Hired a boat and driver and we set off in the river with the driver paddling with her feet (as is customary). Drove to Bich Dong pagoda (temple) after and explored the temple (not entirely impressive) but after climbing a set of limestone rocks at the top we had an amazing view of the surrounding countryside. Lunch of goat meat served with rice paper and mint leaves, then CrossFit back at the guesthouse. Had banana eel soup for dinner and split a small bottle of vodka with a Finnish guy I met at the restaurant.

3/30/13 – Day 21 – Ninh Binh, Hanoi
Took a public bus in the morning to Hanoi and had to deal with the drivers trying to scam me and then getting thrown off the bus. Arrived and found my way to Hanoi Backpacker’s Hostel, an awesome hostel with a bar downstairs and great lounge upstairs. Went out that night with Alex and Faye, two English girls in my dorm, and a Swedish guy, Ansii. It was Ansii’s birthday and we had a blast celebrating with him and a bunch of local Vietnamese that we met. Flashback to high school prom as there was a dance podium we found at one of the later clubs and all of us made our way up there at some point (patented shoulder shrug, of course).

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Week 2 Recap: 3/17/13 – 3/23/13

3/17/13 – Day 8 – Mui Ne
CrossFit workout in the morning followed by fresh coconut from the French owner of the bungalow. Set off on a tour in the afternoon and met three girls traveling together – Juliet (Holland), and Amy and Zoey (England). Visited natural springs set amidst red sandstone walls, the fishing village of Mui Ne, white sand dunes, and watched the sun set perched atop an expanse of red sand dunes. The girls had an extra bed in their room and offered a place to stay. Ended up at a fresh fish barbecue with them and sampled some of the day’s catch including crocodile, squid, shrimp, and scallops. Also witnessed the process of preparing a live cobra to eat, including milking the venom and removing the still-beating heart to be eaten as an appetizer. Finished the day on the beach with beers in great conversation about life and travel.

3/18/13 – Day 9 – Mui Ne, Dalat
Left the girls in the morning and boarded a bus heading northwest into the mountain town of Dalat. Mountainous winding road bordered by lush green forests, waterfalls, and farms terraced on top of one another. French inspired architecture – tall, narrow, buildings that reminded me of San Francisco in the way they sat crushed up against each other on the hilly streets. Lunch in the market in the center of the city with an older UK couple and then explored the market (read: got lost) for a couple hours. The Dalat market is different from others I’ve been to due to the volume and variety of the produce and meats available. For example, the first time I’ve seen blackberries, strawberries, and artichokes. CrossFit back at the hotel and dinner at the market again where I happened upon the UK couple again and sat with them for a few hours listening to their travel stories.

3/19/13 – Day 10 – Dalat
Researched how to trek up Lang Biang mountain without a guide, went to the market to pack a day’s worth of supplies, and found a public bus to take me to the base of the park. Lang Biang mountain is the tallest peak in the province at 2200 meters tall. The trek is about 6.5 km, beginning in the hills of the local farmers and ending in a 1.2 km climb and ridiculously vertical ascent. The views during the trek were incredible, and once I reached the summit I sat down and grabbed lunch overlooking the forest and surrounding mountains. If I did it again I would try to go with someone, the last of the trek was intense and extremely humid in the middle of the forest. Should have brought more water than I did… Got back to Dalat and went to “Crazy House”, a house built by Đặng Việt Nga to reflect the fusion of nature and architecture (think Dr. Seuss).

3/20/13 – Day 11 – Dalat, Nha Trang
Boarded a bus (6 hours) from Dalat to Nha Trang, a city on the eastern coast known for the beautiful beaches and fun nightlife. Three friends from Canada that I had met in Saigon – Sydney, Chelsea, and Adriana, let me know they were also in Nha Trang and I checked into their hostel – the Sao Mai 2. Went out to the beach after checking in to find beautiful white sand and clear blue water set against several islands in the distance. The only thing taking away from the view was the huge “Vin Pearl” sign on one of the islands, done in a Hollywood sign manner and symbolizing the location of Vietnam’s Disneyland. Dinner was followed by a night at the backpacker hot spot, “Why Not?” featuring 35,000 dong ($1.50) cocktail “buckets”, foosball, pool table, dance floor, and outdoor patio.

3/21/13 – Day 12 – Nha Trang
Cocktail buckets are great except for the fact they are mixed with Vietnamese moonshine, which my body didn’t particularly like the next morning. Woke up to a fidgety stomach, decided best plan to recover would be to visit the Thap Ba Hot Springs for a relaxing natural mud bath. Went with the Canadian girls and spent a couple hours going from natural mud bath to warm hot springs to massaging outdoor shower to resort-like pool. It was relaxing, but almost more comical than anything else. Got in a CrossFit workout on the beach afterwards and then had dinner at a small Russian restaurant (Nha Trang is VERY popular with Russian tourists). Had a couple beers at The Red Apple and Oasis but called it an early night.

3/22/13 – Day 13 – Nha Trang
Boarded a “junk cruiser” (think hundred year old fishing boat) with the Canadians and twenty other backpackers (easy to find as the Captain hand-picked the passengers by yelling “young people here!”). First stop was an unimpressive aquarium, modeled as a pirate ship, housing a few species of local fish, sharks, and turtles. Canadians dropped my camera in the water (thanks Chelsea and Sydney). Snorkeling afterwards, but the real fun started on the boat after lunch when “Vietnam’s Best Boy Band” got everyone singing and dancing to songs from their respective countries (top song was the unassuming Korean man who absolutely killed “Gangnam Style”). Then, the captain set up a floating bar in the middle of the ocean and we all jumped in and listened to music and drank rice wine. Another beach followed, and by then everyone on the boat had gotten to know each other pretty well. Met up with several of them for dinner, cards on the beach, and stops at Oasis and Why Not for dancing.

3/23/13 – Day 14 – Nha Trang, Hoi An
Quiet day because I was getting on an overnight bus in the evening headed to Hoi An. Spent some time in an internet cafe and then went to the beach for a CrossFit workout. The bus was the first “sleeping bus” I’ve ever been on, and while my compartment was small, I was able to sleep just fine. That being said, the the 11 hour ride was sketchy as we would stop in the middle of nowhere to meet covered trucks and load and unload cargo into the bus’ luggage compartment. Felt like we were enabling the Vietnamese drug trade – thought it was wise not to ask questions.

I’ll try to get updates done quicker!

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Week 1 Recap: 3/10/13 – 3/16/13

NOTE: I have delayed this post because I am working out a server issue that is causing me issues when I upload images. Pictures will come as soon as the server issue is worked out.

3/10/13 – Day 1 – Saigon
Arrived in Saigon after 18 hours of travel. Motorbikes crowd the street in unbelievable numbers, making crossing the street a life-or-death game of Frogger. Check into Saigon Youth Hostel, meet two girls from Colorado, Kaylee and Hentley, and set out to tour Reunification Palace, the site of the end of the Vietnam War when a North Vietnamese Army tank crashed through its gates (April, 1975). Went out for dinner with five others from the hostel and had traditional Pho for the first time. Pham Ngu Lao, the backpacker district in Saigon, turns into an outdoor bar at night with hundreds of plastic chairs and people sitting around enjoying $0.75 beers.

3/11/13 – Day 2 – Saigon
Woke up early to join a tour of the Cu Chi Tunnels, a 250km network of underground rooms and passages which headquartered the Viet Cong’s guerrilla force. Tunnels were booby-trapped to protect them from American forces and Viet Cong would stay underground for months at a time while fighting. Crawled around the tunnels, which were not built for someone 6’5″, and also shot an AK47. Back at Saigon, visited the War Remnants Museum which paints a very different picture of the “American War” through photos and stories of some of the atrocities that American troops committed. The “Agent Orange” exhibit was particularly horrific. Night was spent out with six or seven others from the hostel on the streets of Pham Ngu Lao as well as a club called Apocalypse Now.

3/12/13 – Day 3 – Saigon, Ben Tre
Met Lisa my first night in Saigon and discussed embarking on a motorbike tour of the Mekong Delta in the south without the typical accompaniment of a guide. We woke in the morning and set off via public bus to a to town called Ben Tre, along with Lisa’s friend Jen. Only foreigners on the bus – had hilarious time letting older woman listen to my music (her favorites: Gangam Style and anything Calvin Harris). Arrived at Ben Tre and found ourselves on a tour of the Mekong waters with local guide, Lan. Incredible glimpse into life on the river – coconut plantations, coconut candy, fishing, pig farms, carpentry, etc. Boat ride back into Ben Tre at dusk spent looking up at the stars. Dinner with the crew from the boat, which had grown to six.

3/13/13 – Day 4 – Mekong Delta
Rented motorbikes in the morning. Met up with one of the older guys on the boat from last night, Bob, who was going on a five day motorbike tour with Lan, the guide. Bob had invited us to join him on the first day of the tour,at which point we would separate from him on the next day. Drove along Vietnamese backroads, both paved and dirt, as we followed Lan through the heart of rural Mekong. People didn’t see many foreigners and seemed thrilled, yelling and waving as we went by. Also forced to use six ferries as we made our way south across the tributaries. Made our way into Soc Trang which gave us our first glimpse of the amazing green rice paddies, just as sun was setting. Food is amazing in the Mekong.

3/14/13 – Day 5 – Mekong Delta
Said goodbye to Lan and Bob with nothing but out good looks and a map to get to Vinh Long, our destination for the night. Set off through more amazing rice paddies (wish I was a better creative writer because I don’t do them justice). Even more remote than the day before, road has turned into a sidewalk flanked on both sides by either rice paddies or Mekong river. Lunch in Ke Sach, after which we were supposed to go north to find a ferry to take us across to Tra On. Got completely lost for four hours, English is useless, finally thought we were on the right track when we came out of a clearing and found our same lunch spot in Ke Sach. Backtracked to a major highway and sped farther north, ended up in Can Tho for the night. Being lost is no fun, but when you’re lost with good company with incredible scenery it makes it a lot better. Food still amazing.

3/15/13 – Day 6 – Mekong Delta
Third day on the bikes. Made it to Vinh Long in the morning and plotted a course by backroads back to Ben Tre. Jen crashed into a tree, no lasting injuries though. Got sent in the wrong direction after following a tributary we weren’t supposed to but quickly realized it and changed course. Passing through small villages along the way, again everyone thinking our small caravan was hilarious. Somehow managed to find the right ferries and made it back to Ben Tre as darkness fell. Lisa and I went for dinner and beers to celebrate the end of the adventure.

3/16/13 – Day 7 – Ben Tre, Saigon, Mui Ne
Public bus in the morning back to Saigon (3 hours). Rested during the day and hung around Pham Ngu Lao, then took a bus north to the beach side town of Mui Ne at night (5 hours). Paid a little more than usual for my own bungalow on the beach ($12) but the Newport side of me wanted to wake up by the waves. Mui Ne is known for fresh fish and had an incredible dinner of grilled snapper. Beers with a couple of guys I met on the bus but early sleep as the motorbike adventure had taken its toll.

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Southeast Asia Preliminary Itinerary

My Southeast Asia backpacking trip begins this Thursday, March 7th when I fly from San Francisco to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Many have asked about my itinerary so I have posted what is known of it below. Know that these dates are subject to frequent change as I will be traveling alone (for the most part) and adjusting my itinerary based on other’s recommendations.

March 7: Depart San Francisco
March 8: Arrive in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
March 9 – 25: Backpack through Vietnam up north to Hanoi
March 25: Fly from Hanoi to Manila, Phillipines
March 26 – April 6: Backpack through Phillipines
April 7: Fly to Bangkok, Thailand
April 8 – 10: Stay in Kanchanaburi, Thailand
April 10: Brandon and Luke arrive in Bangkok
April 10 – 21: Explore Bangkok, Chang Mai, Southern islands
April 21: Say Goodbye to Brandon and Luke
April 22 – 29: Southern islands of Thailand
April 30: Fly to Indonesia (destination airport TBD)
May 1 – May 17: Explore Indonesia
May 18: Fly to Singapore to fly back to San Francisco

Traveling at the same time? Have any recommendations? Leave a note in the comments!

-Brad

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