Five Asian Places Surprisingly Difficult to Pronounce

Adapting different languages into a romanticized alphabet can be tricky. Many places in Asia, especially countries with the more squiggly alphabets, are difficult to translate into English. Obviously something like”Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit” is a bit of a mouthful, but you can get into linguistic difficulty with far fewer syllables.

Here are five places more difficult to pronounce than you might guess.

Hspiaw, Myanmar




Looks like: Hiss-pi-ah
Actual: See-Paw (or Tee-Bor) !!!

Myanmar has a lot of places that are tongue-twisters for most westerners, but Hspiaw with two distinctly different pronunciations is an easy choice.

Ubud, Indonesia




Looks like: Oo-bud or Uh-bud
Actual: Oo-bood

The culture capital of Bali, where you can pay good money for plenty of “authentic” dances is a little tricky to say for a four letter word.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Phnom penh

Phnom penh


Looks like: Fu-nom Pen or Pa-nom pen
Actual: Nom-pen or P’nom (one syallable, aspirated p) pen

This sexpat capital is full of middle age blokes adding needless p or f sounds, but at least their linguistic crimes are not as momentous as their moral ones.

Sihanoukville, Cambodia

A water buffalo in the water

A water buffalo in the water


Looks like: Si-han-ook-ville.
Actual: Say Hack nook wheel

Cambodia earns two entries with this dire seaside resort that few travelers know how to say. Most Cambodians will understand it’s the one that isn’t Siem Reap or Phnom Penh.

Pie, Thailand

Slice of Pai

Slice of Pai


Looks like: Pie
Actual: Bye

Almost every westerner says “pie,” which fits because this little town is so sweet, but in the Thai langauge it is pronounced “bye.”

Rambling Namsan

One of my favorite things about spending almost two months in the HBC area has been how close Namsan is. Namsan is a little hill in the middle of Seoul, where the Seoul Tower hangs out. There is a cable car to take those not interesting in walking up, but also many ways to climb up. (I actually seem to find a new way to the top each time I go up there.)

At the top are the usual convenience stories, overpriced restaurants, colored locks clinging to fences, and teddy bear museums.It’s high and shaded enough that snow lasts pretty much all year and on a rare clear day, the view of the city below is quite nice.

From HBC it takes a little less than half an hour to get up to the top. It’s not steep as other Korean mountains but you will see Koreans walking backwards or utilizing the exercise equipment. Anyway, here are some pictures taken from various parts of the surrounding areas.

A Kold Day in Korea

On a cold windy day in January, I went to visit Yeoido Island. (Technically, I suppose, it’s Yeoi Island, as “do” means island, but that sounds weird.) One of my favorite Korean movies is The Host (aka Gwoemul) and I’d heard there was a statue of the monster here.

It was quite easy to find old Gwoemul and on this cold day there weren’t many people out. I love sunny, clear cold Korean winter days. The antithesis of drizzly, cloudy, not-that-cold and hardly ever windy Oregon winters. Later I wandered over to the 63 building and though it is so big I couldn’t find the entrance, it had a really cool reflection of the river behind it.

I was able to get some pictures of the area. Take a look for yourself!

(More than) A Cure For Monsoon Afternoon: Backpacking with Board Games

Some of the games mentioned below

Some of the games mentioned below

I have been living in Asia since early 2009, traveling when I can and teaching ESL when I need to replenish travel funds. As both a traveler and a teacher, I use board games a lot. Much of the weight of my backpack is taken up with games and other geek paraphernalia. (Cheap flights limit you to 15 kilograms of weight, and my game collection takes up between 5-7 of those kgs.)

A deck of playing cards is standard fare for most backpackers, but we live in a golden age of board games and there are plenty reasons to travel with a larger selection.. From Settlers of Catan to Cards Against Humanity, from Elder Sign to Munchkin, there are hundreds of great games that backpackers can use to make new friends or cure boredom on a monsoon afternoon.

Although your local game store, Amazon, and boardgamegeek have hundreds of games, many countries, especially in the developing world, will be limited to the likes of Scrabble and Uno. As a backpacker, you need to carefully consider every thing you put into your bag, but the social aspects of board games as icebreakers and smartphone-free time you can spend with fellow travelers are good reasons to bring them. And many games are either small to begin with or have a portable/card version. (For those travelers who are also ESL teachers, or considering to be, many games have a creative/English learning function as well.)

Whatever the country, I’ve found most locals are interested in the games (though wary as well,) and language barrier prevents them from joining anything too complicated. As far as travelers, I’ve encountered those who like board games, those who like winning, regardless of the medium, and those who simply have no interest at all. The games I have likewise, can be lumped into three categories.

Those that are worth their weight (pass), those are not (fail), and those yet-to-be-tested (incomplete).


Deck of cards

Not just for King’s Cup or Arseloch, this versatile deck (if you have enough people) can be used for intriguing games like Werewolf as well. You can find them everywhere, and people all across the world have their own games.

Settlers of Catan (card game)

For up to 4 people, this is a highly addictive and easy-to-learn (yet difficult to master) game that I prefer to the full board game. It’s easy to learn and only takes 30-60 minutes. Great game to bring hiking as it’s more than slightly addictive.

Elder Sign

This is surprisingly popular with people who have never heard of Cthulhu, Azazoth, or even HP Lovecraft. Because each game is different, it is highly repeatable. It’s too complicated to teach to young children or without a common language, but most backpackers and travelers have learned it quite quickly. Without the packaging, it’s also quite portable.

Dominant Species (card game)

Another light, easy game that is popular with almost everyone. Not that fun multiple times, however.

Love Letter

If you’re talking sheer size for fun, this is a really good game. It’s tiny, and the turns can be really quick but it’s a bit addictive and hours can go by. This is one that children and different language learners can learn quite easily as well.

My Dwarves Fly

Another game that is surprisingly popular even with people who aren’t entirely conversant with goblins, titans and cyclops. It’s small, only takes about an hour to play, so it’s perfect in areas of the world where your food takes some time to come out.


I have the original deck and all the supplements (minus the dungeons but plus the Necromunchkion and Faerie Dust supplements) which makes for a ridiculous amount of weight. It’s (almost) worth it. There is a steeper learning curve than any of the above games, but for those who play a few times this usually becomes their favorite.

Zombie Dice

Simple but super fun. Really good for trekking or other times when the weight-to-fun ratio is vital. Children as young as six can quickly grok the rules and some Nepalese porters on the Everest Base Camp trail loved it as well.

Cards Against Humanity

You probably know this game, but it’s quite different playing with a group of German and Israeli backpackers when a card like Auschwitz is thrown down, or explaining “queefing” to a young group of Japanese and French women. I have seen more people reduced to tears (of laughter, usually) from this game than anything since the heyday of Mystery Science Theatre. My deck is ghetto–not laminated and poorly cut, and I’ve made the deck more internationally friendly by removing both the American politicians and all the trademarked products. (Lunchables is never going to be funny to a group of Asians or Europeans.) This is THE social game to have in your pack.


The grand winner. This epic game of tile placing is popular with almost everyone and doesn’t even rely on common languages to play (it does, of course, help a bit.) The tiles and meeples themselves fit into a small bag (think Crown Royale) and then it’s just a matter of putting the board in a folder or at the bottom of your bag. This game has retired almost every other game I have. It’s just too much fun.


Gloom (original and Cthulhu)

No one is ever interested. Too much spontaneous storytelling is involved, and neither the Addams Family-like nor the Lovecraftian themes have much appeal to the average traveler or locals.

Once Upon A Time

This is largely the same case as Gloom. I talked one person into trying once, but he stopped halfway through. I keep this one because it will be great to use teaching ESL. And it’s one of my personal favorites.

Apples to Apples dice game.

Another game that requires a bit of creativity and is not popular. It’s like Cards Against Humanity only not funny. It’s very small though and I will use it to teach elementary students.


These big books aren’t ones that I even offer to play with anyone, but reading through and creating characters and designing adventures is an entirely great way to spend an afternoon or three. However, they take up a lot of space and weigh a huge amount. And in addition to being big old book, they also necessitate having a bag of Dice/pencils/sharpener/

RPG Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea (Players Manual & Referees Manual)

This game looks amazing–it’s been described as “Dungeons and Elder Things” (plus Conan) and has the most fun set of classes I can recall seeing. I have spent long bus rides and rainy afternoons reading through, plotting scenarios and rolling up characters. But these two book are not light! I did end up playing with some friends back in the States and it was quite a lot of fun.


This six page complete role-playing game is the perfect travel RPG. I’ve played quite a games of this with my geek homies and the system is surprisingly robust.

RPG Mythic Iceland

Maybe a bust, as I don’t even have the Basic Role Playing system to go with it. But the research that went into this book is amazing, and it’s great fun to read through as well.


In the Resistance family of games, this mafia/werewolf game is a lot of fun for those who want to match wits. It’s not for everyone though and you need a minimum of 5 players to even start.

For me, having these games is mostly a no brainer. I’ve made friends, met locals, had creative and hilarious evenings that otherwise would have been much less fulfilling. However, I do wonder. If travel teaches you one thing, apart from patience, it’s that minimalism makes a lot of sense. As such, carting several kilos of games around for months at a time does seem a bit ill-advised. Nonetheless, their versatility as both educational and entertainment really makes them worth their weight. For my next trip, I might remove some of the less popular ones, but overall I’m geek enough to be proud to introduce dopplegangers, Azazoth, and wool for sheep into people’s lives.

The Best of 2014

I’ve been doing this for  2009, 2010, 2011,  2012 and 2013. How does 2014 stack up? While not without blips, it had some of the highest highs (literally).. When I look back on this year though, however, I will remember another amazing year on the road.

2014 will be characterized for me by the hospitality of so many people who took me in, cooked vegan dinners, showed me around their home towns, and just were genuinely nice. It’s a year that I’m very grateful to have had.

January 2014

Life of Pai

Life of Pai

Pai is one of my very very favorite places in the world. For me, it’s nearly a perfect town–filled with vegan cafes, surrounded by nature ( waterfalls, gorges, and hot springs) and moving at an easy pace of life. If I could move there tomorrow, I just might.

February 2014

Back to Kuala Lumpur

Back to Kuala Lumpur

February was a great month for me. I saw Ayutthaya and Sukkothai, spent some time on the resort island of Langkawi, and rediscovered Bangkok. The return to KL, where I stayed at my home away from home Agosto Inn, though, is what I’ll remember the most. KL is my favorite city in Asia and it remains a great place to wander for hours.

March 2014

The High Himalaya

The High Himalaya

The hardest hike of my life, but so incredible. 3 weeks in the Himalaya, with highlights including Everest Base Camp, Gokyo Ri, and thousands of Yak sightings.

April 2014

Kathmandu Tattoo Convention

Kathmandu Tattoo Convention

While not quite as low-tech as Burma, the Kathmandu convention does experience several power cuts a day.  It’s also great to walk out to the posh Yak & Yeti hotel, where international businessmen give the stink eye to the scroungy backpackers who trek in one weekend a year. I was lucky enough here to work with Nic Pretty Ink, who designed and delivered an Ent tattoo in less than ideal working conditions.

May 2014

The tea plantations of Bali

The tea plantations of Bali

Though I didn’t really enjoy Indonesia, there are a lot of beautiful places there. I didn’t really have a camera during this time, only a 1 megapixel phone camera. So this picture does not do the reality justice. Another thing I do love about Bali is the preponderance of Hindu temples everywhere. They’re beautiful and unlike other temples I’ve seen.

June 2014

The almighty Trolltunga

The almighty Trolltunga

My first weekend in Norway was close to midsummer. My friends and I drove to the west coast in one of the most beautiful road trips I’ve ever been on. After some stealth camping on the side of the road, we got up, mountain biked to a hiking trail, hiked to a cliff, climbed a via ferrata up the rock wall, and then made our way to the Troll tongue (long one of the places in the world I most wanted to see). Just an average weekend for the hardy Norwegians, but for me truly one of the best experiences of my life.

July 2014

Rocking at Roskilde

Rocking at Roskilde

I’ve raved about the festival already, but it was a chance conversation with a Canadian and a Dane at about 13,000 feet up in Nepal that brought me there. Not only did I see bands like the Rolling Stones, Jack White, Stevie Wonder, Outcast, and Les Claypool, but I made so many awesome new friends.

August 2014

The Streets of Stockholm

The Streets of Stockholm

Of course, I shouldn’t have even been there. My plan was to go to the UK, Ireland, and France. I even had flight tickets and places to stay.  UK Immigration had other plans though and to be honest more time in Denmark and a chance to meet with friends in Sweden was a pretty awesome backup plan.

September 2014

Autumn in Portland

Autumn in Portland

I had just been back in Portland last summer, but lacking a proper autumn for years made the pumpkin crazy time so nice. Portland is so walkable and always changing and though I don’t get to NE that much, I do enjoy that area quite a lot.

October 2014

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon

A grand road trip has to culminate with the Grand Canyon right? Though I saw Zion and Vegas and the redwoods and Lassen and Shasta, the Grand Canyon was damn impressive. I wasn’t really expecting it to be so vast and incredible and I’m so lucky to have finally seen it.

November 2014

Hiking the kalmiopsis with Mom and Storm

Hiking the kalmiopsis with Mom and Storm

A good deal of my time in the States was spent at my mom’s place in Southern Oregon, where we cooked, baked, played games, and went on lots of walks. This day, a hike with Storm the Wonderdog, was one of the best as we had chickpea salad sandwiches and dill pickle chips plus the day was so clear and beautiful.

December 2014

Olympic Park in Winter

Olympic Park in Winter

December should have been my first month on a 9 month contract in China, but I had to call an audible and ended up back in Seoul. Catching up with old friends and realizing that Seoul is sort of a second home to me–plus finally getting a real winter after years in SE Asia–made December a great month.

Vikings Vikings Everywhere

One of the coolest parts of Scandinavia is how much they embrace their Viking heritage. And why shouldn’t they? Far from their brutish reputations, Vikings were traders, explorers, guards, farmers, and of course excellent seamen. (This isn’t too say that Vikings didn’t kill or rob or burn villages to the ground; but this was true of everyone in their world; more abbeys in Ireland, for instance, were burnt down by rival Irish than by Viking warriors.)

You can find pretty much anything in Scandinavia with a Viking brand, from everyday necessities like beer or bread to buses, restaurants, and gift shops. You can buy something called Viking Blood (not that I recommend that or even know what it is.) From what I could tell, Denmark and Sweden were a bit more pro-Viking than Norway, but that might just be a small sample size.

Walk like a Malaysian

Some video from 2013 travels throughout (mostly) Malaysia but also Nepal and Myanmar. Sadly this camera was stolen the day before I went to the Taj Mahal, so the ultimate shot is not there. But this video does include locations in Georgetown, Malakka, Bagan, Mandalay’s Teak Bridge, and Nepal’s Thorung La. And then with a theme song like that, how can you go wrong.