Unhype

Our total monthly cost of living in Thailand excludes the expenditures for the visa and travel to/from Thailand as the figures will differ depending on whether you need a visa in the first place, where you apply and where you are flying from.

It’s 31st of December around midnight, and I’m standing on the tropical island beach in the Gulf of Thailand making a wish for the coming 2019 to be at least as awesome as the passing year. My nose is slightly burned after the month of the ruthless Thai sun, and Vitamin D in my body is hardly likely to deplete until the next winter. After having stayed in Thailand slightly more than a month, I can't stop sending thanks to the destiny for being able to experience the island life.

But living in a paradise comes at a price. Not a high one, as it turned out.

Koh Chang is the 2nd largest island in Thailand and only 30-minute ferry ride from the mainland.

How We Ended Up In Thailand

At the end of September 2018, Jacob, my husband, and I set out on a long-term honeymoon adventure and landed in Delhi, India. We’ve traveled around India and Nepal for two months and were surprised to find the cost of living in South Asia to be ridiculously small – less than 500 dollars a month per person. For this amount we’ve slept in private double rooms, sometimes better, sometimes worse; followed a diverse diet – from street food and local dishes to hip vegan meals and European style breakfasts; got around by taxis, bike, and buses between the cities. The average daily cost per person was ridiculously affordable - nearly $15. But, as it usually happens, there were certain issues.

In India, there was a constant problem with electricity and the Internet. Sometimes we couldn’t work for a week simply because the speed was so bad. 4G wasn’t better either. Besides, frankly speaking, we were not fans of the country, which is a story that deserves a separate post. The Indian food, though admired by many abroad, turned out to be sort of disappointing. You can enjoy some chicken biryani, paneer, and dosa once a week, but eating similar strong-flavored food 3 times a day for a month proved to be quite a challenge.

Nepal was definitely better: fewer power outages and a better Internet. But the food still didn’t appeal to us because of the lack of diversity. It was also getting pretty cold with 11-12 degrees Celcius at night in November, so we felt this might not be the best place to spend winter.

Thailand, on the contrary, has everything a working traveler can desire. The country has been holding the top positions in the best places for expats for many years. Excellent high-speed internet and 4G, summer-like climate all year round, tropical islands and beaches at arm's length, mind-blowing food, and friendly and tourist-tolerant people – what else can you ask for? The prices would surely go up if compared to India and Nepal, but we were willing to spend more to experience paradise life at least for a month.

Monthly Living Cost In South Thailand

During this month, we stayed a few nights in Bangkok, two nights in Pattaya (not recommended to anyone by the way), but most of the time we've spent on Koh Chang – the second largest island in Thailand merely a 30-minute ferry ride from the mainland.

Just like with India and Nepal, I have grouped our expenses into different categories. Most of them are alike, but we had no need for the category of "Health" as we haven’t bought any medicine (still have a whole bag I brought all the way from home) during the month. I have also added the category "Social Life," previously non-existent.

1) transportation - any mode of transport around or out of the city, i.e., bus/train tickets, taxis, ferry, scooter rent, etc.;

2) accommodation;

3) food – all meals including snacks, drinking water, and unnecessary cravings;

4) household - personal hygiene items such as soap, toothpaste, shampoo, etc.;

5) culture – expenses for entry tickets to natural landmarks, fun activities, etc.;

6) social life – drinks and other attributes of the traditional ‘having a good time.’ Non-alcoholic beverages drank in the pub or bought as complementary to the alcoholic ones were also included in this category.

7) clothing/gear - combines the articles of clothing with the swimming gear, etc.

Our AC room in Pattaya cost us only $15 per night

Transportation

During the month, we’ve spent $210.15 on transportation – more than we did before during the last 2 months in India and Nepal.

Bike rental and gas account for the largest part of the transportation expenses. We got a bike the next day we got on Koh Chang as this is the only convenient way to get around the island. Taxis are frequent, but the price for a single ride from the north (the Ferry Pier) to south Bang Bao will cost you nearly $5-6 (150-200 baht) – the daily rental cost of the bike. With the bike, you save money, do not depend on the taxis and spare the patience and trouble of haggling with the absurd tourist rates.

We did have to use the taxi several times, just to move from one guest house to another to move the bags.

If you are on a shoestring budget and want to save a buck, you can rent the bike daily, whenever you have the need.

Contrary to Koh Chang, Bangkok has fixed-rate and metered taxis and getting around the city is rather cheap and undoubtedly more convenient than biking or taking a public bus.

Accommodation

Accommodation in total cost us $437.57. That’s almost twice more than we spent in the previous two months in India and Nepal, but usually, the quality was much better.

Thailand is generally pretty expensive when it comes to accommodation (if $15-20 per private room counts as expensive of course :D). If you're traveling on a low budget, it's a good idea to book in advance especially before holidays such as Christmas and New Year when all the prices double.

In Bangkok, we were lucky to stay in a small guesthouse near Lumphini Park for $14 a night (450 baht). We rented a double room with a private bathroom, fridge, no air-conditioning. Coffee and fresh fruit were for free. The area wasn’t great for partying, and pretty far away for sightseeing, but let’s face it – in Bangkok, every location has its ups and downs. We could always go to Lumphini park which was 10 minutes walking distance and chill on the grass.

Pattaya wasn’t our preferred destination in the first place. We knew that it’s notorious for the nightlife, packaged tourists and weird kind of travelers. It was just the most convenient stop from Bangkok towards Koh Chang, as we didn't want to strain ourselves to make the whole trip in a day (and we were still getting used to hot and wet Thai climate). We got a fantastic double room with private bathroom and AC for only $15 a night. The beach was 3 minutes away, and the location was great. It was calmer than the area near the Walking Street which we excluded from our itinerary at all.

Almost every accommodation on Koh Chang comes with a lovely green garden

Koh Chang is a different story. It has all sorts of accommodation: hostels, bungalows, guest houses, hotels and all of them are pretty pricey. You can find a private room with the shared bathroom for $9-10 (300 baht), but unless you want to live in the bungalow with holes in walls and be eaten by the insects all night, then I would recommend paying slightly more for the comfort.

On arrival to the island, we have stayed two nights in the cheap hippy-like bungalow, just a walking distance from a pretty shitty pebble beach. Our hut had no doors between the bathroom and the bedroom, no hot water, no fridge, and it was impossible to switch on lamps in the evening as every small moth was flying towards the light in the room.

For 10 nights or so we were staying in a private room in a hostel with a shared bathroom for a bit more than $18. It was way overpriced, but the view was stunning, and it was a holiday season. With the wooden terrace facing the ocean, the hostel was a perfect place for chilling, greeting sunsets and making new friends.

Most of the time though we have lived in a small bungalow (concrete with no holes) a bit far from the beach but with great owners and living conditions. For $14 per night, we got a double room with private bathroom, fridge, fan, and free coffee. This place also had the best internet and a table for working outside.

Be prepared to pay as much as $45 (1500 baht) for a basic lodging on the beach front. And I don’t even know how much the luxurious house on the secluded beach with white hammocks and bounty-ad-like setting will cost you. But the places looked pretty empty in the high season.

Food

Food can be very cheap if you know where to look. We have spent $380.52 during the month and Jacob have gained at least 4-5 kilos during our stay in Thailand – that is we eat a lot.

As everywhere, we prefer street food to the cafes because it’s always fresh, cheap, and oh my god it’s delicious! I guess Thai food is my favorite Asian food so far. I like it so much that I started to work out every day and read up on the more healthy and less calorie-loaded choices just because I felt that I was getting heavier and rounder every day.

You can cut down your expenses significantly by preparing home breakfasts. Instead of spending $1.5 on every morning meal, stoke up with a pack of oats and natural yogurts - all of which will cost you approximately $5 for eight food intakes. That's precisely what we're doing. Early in the morning, we prefer to stay at home and work. So we prepare overnight oats, and along with some snacks it keeps us full from the wake-up time to lunch.

If the hassle with oats is not for you, no worries. Bangkok offers dirt cheap selection of street food. You could get a typical Thai noodle soup for $1 (30-35 baht). On islands such as Koh Chang, the prices go up. The soup is generally $1.5 (50 baht), and it’s hit and miss. There’s one small place in Koh Chang which is so good that it ruined all the other soups for me.

The main course such as the traditional Pad Thai (stir-fried noodles with veggies) or rice with meat (chicken, beef, pork) is generally $1.5-1.7 (50-60 baht). The portions are enormous, to say the least. I rarely finish mine (only if it’s so tasty that I can’t stop eating).

Seafood and fish are pretty good prices as well. You can buy a big grilled fish for $5 (150 baht) at a street food stall or starting from $8-9 (250-300 baht) at a cafe. Middle-sized squid is $5 (150 baht), approximately 5 tiger prawns will set you back on nearly $3 (100 baht).

It is not very simple for vegans to visit Thailand. While you can ask for veggies only topping instead of meat, every soup broth is meat-based. Vegetable fried rice often includes an egg, so you have to be vigilant and ask for the dish without it. Even salads such as papaya salad are loaded with fish sauce.

Thai stir-fried rice noodles cost less than $2

Household

We didn’t splurge much on the hygiene items. A big tube of toothpaste, a bar of soap and an occasional shampoo cost us $4.67 for the whole month.

Clothing/Gear

After arriving in Thailand, we realized that Jacob’s hat has seen better days. So we bought him a new and a better one. We have also been two Decathlon (twice!) and splurged on full-face snorkeling masks, swimming suit, flotation sticks, new shorts for me, and shades. That all gear cost us a good buck, namely $130.25 but was totally worth it.

Culture

Feel pretty funny to write about it, but we weren’t involved in many cultural activities during the month. We filled our free time with swimming, driving around the picturesque hills of the Mu Koh Chang National Park wandering the jungle and discovering secret beaches.

Once, we went to the waterfalls for which we had to pay entrance/bike parking fee of $1.23.

Social Life

We’re not big drinkers, and in India and Nepal have consumed almost zero amount of alcohol apart from few random beers while watching the movie at home. In Thailand though, we were caught by the Christmas and New Year celebrations, new friends and barbecue gatherings all of which resulted in the wasted $54.07. This expense could have easily been avoided, but what’s life without a little party.

There are tons of desolate beaches on Koh Chang island hidden from the sight

Total Expenses

  • Transportation - $210.15
  • Accommodation - $437.57
  • Food - $380.52
  • Household - $4.67
  • Clothing/Gear - $130.25
  • Culture - $1.23
  • Social Life - $54.07

TOTAL - $1218.46

Roughly $610 per person for the whole month – that’s less than some people spend on their rent in their home countries. If you prefer mountains, Northern Thailand is even more affordable and hides tons of surprises, making it a perfect destination for long-term low-budget traveling.

According to studies, drinking red wine is good for your health. Moderate consumption of red wine, especially during meals, (one-two glasses a day, not more!) with its high content of antioxidants (polyphenols and melatonin) has beneficial effects on almost the entire human body and reduces the risk of many diseases.

Is White Wine Or Red Wine Better For You?

Red. A glass of red wine (125 ml) can have an average of about 210 mg of polyphenols, while white wine can contain even ten times less.

White wine can be beneficial too but it is less healthy because of its lower antioxidant content. Pink wines healthiness lies between red and white wines.

Two glasses of wine a day raise the level of good HDL cholesterol and lower the level of "bad" LDL cholesterol in the blood. Red wine is stronger than white in this aspect.

Red wine also has the ability to reduce the risk of many cancers, inhibit the growth of cancer cells and protect against oxidative stress. If you're a carnivore, it's important to drink it while consuming it as it reduces its carcinogenic properties.

What's Healthier? Sweet Wine Or Dry Wine?

Dry. Dry wines contain more healthy polyphenols as compared to sweet wines made from the same grapes. They also have lower quantities of sugar.

The Benefits Of Drinking Red Wine

It strengthens the heart and blood vessels, reducing the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, and atherosclerosis. This benefit is owed to the presence of polyphenols, melatonin and... alcohol. Wine has the capacity to reduce the incidence of cardiovascular diseases and thus reduce the risk of all fatalities associated with it. Red wine also strengthens the cardiovascular system, and aids in preventing infarcts and atherosclerosis. It also considerably reduces the risk of obesity.

Red wine can also reduce the risk of cancer and other diseases of the nervous system. It has a positive effect on metabolic factors, like lowering the level of "bad" cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood. It works pre-biotically – i.e. it affects the bacterial flora of the digestive system.

Health benefits resulting from consumption of wine correspond to some of the antioxidants contained in it, among others. polyphenols (including gallic acid, resveratrol, quercetin) and melatonin. They protect the body against any excess of reactive oxygen species (including free radicals) and oxidative stress, thus slowing down the aging process of the body and preventing many diseases associated with old age.

Most bioactive ingredients contained in red wines are extremely beneficial for health. The largest amount of phenolic compounds are extracted during grape fermentation. Large amounts of polyphenols are also be found in coffee, tea, onions, certain fruits, fruit juices, legumes and cereals (mainly in barley).

Consuming a diet rich in polyphenols and drinking moderate amounts of wine can strengthen the nervous system and limit the development of many of its diseases related to old age - Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Regular drinking of small amounts of alcohol also reduces the probability of any form of dementia.

Thanks to the content of polyphenols and alcohol, the wine also has a beneficial effect on the lipid profile. Two glasses of wine a day raise the level of good HDL cholesterol and lower the level of "bad" LDL cholesterol in the blood. Red wine is stronger than white in this aspect.

Moderate consumption of red wine with a meal, can be highly recommended especially to diabetics. Antioxidants present in the wine can prevent many diabetic complications caused by oxidative stress.

Moderate consumption of wine is also associated with a reduced risk of vision disturbance called macular degeneration.

Regular consumption of moderate amounts of alcohol reduces the risk of many diseases, and it can be assumed safely that it has a beneficial effect on life expectancy, reducing the risk of mortality.

Red Wine And Teeth

Wine also exhibits an antibacterial effect, thus it has the capacity to aid in the prevention of dental caries, pharyngitis and throat inflammation. Unfortunately, it also has the tendency to cause discoloration and erosion of the enamel. So, it would be wise to rinse the mouth with water or chew gum after drinking.

Are Wine Sulfites Bad For You?

Unless you're suffering from asthma, it shouldn't matter if you're consuming wine with sulfites or not. Contrary to popular belief, sulfites do not cause migraines.

The Dangers Of Drinking Wine

Red wine is only beneficial if you drink one or two glasses a day. Alcohol in excess is a poison. Overindulging in alcohol may lead to serious health hazards.

People suffering from severe gastrointestinal diseases and/or taking antibiotics should avoid drinking wine. It should also be noted that the acid content in wine can contribute to the erosion of the enamel.

In susceptible individuals, wine can cause migraines, cause allergic reactions (headaches, cough, redness), and in some asthmatics - exacerbate the symptoms of asthma.

Drinking more than two glasses a day is dangerous and can do more harm than good in spite of the various good effects associated with wine consumption.

Sources

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10443932/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15730856
  3. https://academic.oup.com/aje/article-abstract/124/3/481/113354
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15879002/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30487561
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=Eur.+J.+Cardiol.+wine
  7. https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/jmf.2004.7.290
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/882109
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30565341
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12042735
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15517885
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12850500
  13. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/272841122_Moderate_consumption_of_wine_through_both_its_phenolic_compounds_and_alcohol_content_promotes_hydroxytyrosol_endogenous_generation_in_humans_A_randomized_controlled_trial
  14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30583403
  15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15905131/
  16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9920811
  17. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11279601/
  18. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2212977415000022#bib11
  19. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22305647/
  20. https://www.bmj.com/content/312/7033/731.short
  21. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/367172
  22. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2359620/
  23. https://www.bmj.com/content/310/6988/1165.full

Do you drink wine with every dinner?

Let us know in the comments!

2018 was yet another tough year for our planet. The only way 2019 is going to be better is if we learn a few things, and one of the surefire ways to improve is reading good non-fiction books. Here goes my take on the best non-fiction of 2018.

I'll Be Gone in the Dark

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I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer
2,468 reviews
I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer
I didn't really know much about the Golden State Killer case. Never was a fan of the true-crime genre. Never expected this book to be so good. It is a sensational piece of investigative journalism, whether true crime stories are your cup of tea or not.

21 Lessons for the 21st Century

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21 Lessons for the 21st Century
2,122 reviews
21 Lessons for the 21st Century
Harrari asks questions about the foundations of our modern society. The book is basically a captivating summary of the authors fears in 21 essays, which are split into 5 categories: The Technological Challenge, The Political Challenge, Despair and Hope, Truth and, finally, Resilience. Food for thought and definitely a must-read.

Atomic Habits

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Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones
5,446 reviews
Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones
A simple and powerful guide to change your bad habits and introduce good ones. The most important idea of this book is the '1% rule'. When applied consistently, the author promises your life will not be the same.

Enlightenment Now

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Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress
1,315 reviews
Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress
Pinker's pragmatic and positive approach to society and politics is refreshing. He seems to have a deep knowledge of how communities work and how we were shaped by the combination of science, democracy and humanism. The book offers a riveting outlook into the future.

Russian Roulette

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Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin's War on America and the Election of Donald Trump
1,281 reviews
Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin's War on America and the Election of Donald Trump
A compelling chronological report about Russian meddling in the US 2016 presidential election. Most of it we already know from the news. It took me quite a long time to read but it was worth it. A very depressing read for sure.

How to Change Your Mind

How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence
1,161 reviews
How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence
A fascinating read about the history, personal experiences and the science behind LSD - a psychodelic drug that is on its path to becoming a legal tool for therapeutic purposes. A true page-turner.

Factfulness

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Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World--and Why Things Are Better Than You Think
3,666 reviews
Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World--and Why Things Are Better Than You Think
Rosling's last project in his final months of battle with cancer. Bought it on a recommendation from Bill Gates and enjoyed every minute of it.

Bad Blood

Currently on Sale −45%
Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup
4,726 reviews
Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup
Utterly fascinating! An account of the Theranos scandal. Funny and witty writing. A story of an entrepreneur whose only goal in life is to become a billionaire. Doing anything it takes.

Not That Bad

Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture
111 reviews
Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture
Reading this book should be mandatory in schools. It's a super-important collection of stories that will make you think about the scope to which sexual violence still exists in our culture.

So You Want to Talk About Race

So You Want to Talk About Race
482 reviews
So You Want to Talk About Race
Another culturally important book. Every white person could learn something here -- about our privileges and about the problems that marginalized people experience.

When I heard someone going on a safari, I always imagined something like this:

A person taking a photo of rhinos up close while riding in a safari jeep

But I’ve never thought safari can turn into this:

A caption of the baby tiger lying in the grass and yawning

And no, we didn’t see a baby tiger. But we were yawning just as hard and wide as it does.

What And Where Is Chitwan

Chitwan National Park is located in the southern part of Nepal and occupies the area of 932 km2. The National Park is the home to 68 species of mammals, 544 species of birds, 56 species of herpetofauna and 126 species of fish, according to the latest data. The variety of fauna is impressive. From wild boars and deer, the park is home to foxes, jungle cats, rhinos, and even leopards and Bengal tigers, not to mention the numerous population of birds, lizards, crocodiles, and other wildlife.

October to March is the best time to visit Chitwan. It hardly ever rains during these months, and the temperature is comfortable. However, Lonely Planet recommends visiting the park in the January-March period. You will have a higher chance of seeing more wildlife since this is when the villagers cut down the tall grass in the park, which can sometimes hide the view of animals.

All the tourist infrastructure is based in the small village right near the park called Sauraha. If not tourism, the place would most probably look like potato farms all over. But due to all year round adventure seekers, Sauraha has some surprisingly lovely places to get a bite and even listen to live music.

Chitwan Visiting Options

The heaps of local travel agents offer a number of tours to the National Park at different prices.

The most popular are:

  • Jeep Safari (2 hours/4 hours/full day)
  • Jungle Walk (half day/full day)
  • Elephant Safari (1.5 hours)
  • Canoeing (starting from 1h)
  • Birdwatching, etc.

Keep in mind that in addition to paying for the tour, you need to buy an entry ticket to the park, which at the moment costs 2000 NPR. It’s valid for 1 day in the park zone + can be used the next day in the buffer zone (a wetland territory around the park, which includes forests, private lands, and Beeshazari Lakes).

In case you wonder which type of tour to take to spot as much wildlife as possible, then people recommend elephant walk. That is because elephants are very quiet walkers and don’t scare off the fauna around them.

We, however, excluded the elephant walk right away and without second thoughts. We consider this a highly unethical business supporting animal cruelty and strongly suggest that you avoid this sort of ‘entertainment.’ If you don’t know how riding affects elephants, watch this video below:

https://www.youtube.com/embed/yt1zwiEpgtQ

Google about jeep safari, and you'll find pretty good reviews and information that it’s one of the best ways to get the glimpse of a rhino, sloth bear, deer, and even the 'King of the Jungle' – the Bengal Tiger. Apparently, the animals are used to the jeep sounds and tourists riding around. With a jeep, there is supposedly a high chance of seeing the animals up close, and it’s safer than walking around the jungle.

Jeep Safari In Practice

Whether you purchase the tour in your hotel or local travel agent, you don’t have to bother about entry park tickets, they will buy them for you. A representative of the hotel/agency will lead you up to the safari starting point near the Rapti river and assign you to the guide for the jeep tour.

At the start of the journey, you get to sit in the canoe that transports you across the river to the park territory. It only lasts a minute or so, but the fact that there are plenty of crocodiles in the river makes it an exciting experience.

On the other side of the river, you hop on the jeep ready for the adventure.

But that’s actually where all the excitement wore off for us.

A caption of the man sailing on the canoe in Chitwan, Nepal

One canoe can transport up to 15 people / UNHYPE

Let me get this straight. I understand that no one can guarantee that you see lots of animals during the safari. It mostly depends on the time of the day, season, and of course animal whim. But we felt that the tour got really dull at some point. Maybe it was the gentle swaying of the jeep that made us feel sleepy or perhaps we were bored because there wasn’t much happening. The French lady who was sharing the jeep with us managed to get a nap the beneficial effects of which would probably last for a few days :D.

It wasn't a total disaster, though. We did manage to spot some wildlife during 4 hours of the ride such as a few black-faced monkeys, for example. But they were so far away that it was hard to tell the difference between the tree branch and a monkey, let alone snapping a quick photo of them.

We were lucky to see one rhino pretty close and observed it for a few minutes.

We also encountered a family of deer, one wild boar, several white kingfishers flying in the distance, and a couple of crocodiles on the distant shore. Those interested in crocodiles could also check them out closer in the crocodile breeding center where we stopped for a 15-minute break.

The vegetation in the park is rather impressive, varying from incredibly long fields with the tallest elephant grass I’ve ever seen to broadleaf forests and areas with savanna-like trees. The air is fresh, clean, and very pleasant unless there was a jeep stirring up dust in front of you.

A caption of the rhino spotted in the buses in the Chitwan National Park, Nepal

A rhino spotted during the jeep safari / UNHYPE

How To Prepare For A Jeep Safari

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when preparing for a jeep safari based on our experience:

1) Put on a warm jacket and long pants.

No matter how hot it gets during the day, the jungle is thick, and there isn’t much sunlight in some places. Moreover, it gets really chilly by the end of the day.

2) Bring at least 1 liter of drinking water per person and snacks.

In case you run out of water, you can always buy it when you stop at the crocodile’s breeding center in the middle of safari trip, but be prepared to pay at least 50 rupees per bottle. As for food, we don’t know what magic was happening in the jungle, but it must have been the fresh air that made us super hungry. So better take some snacks with you so that you would focus on the safari instead of talking about food all the time. It’s also a good time killer when the jeep ride gets boring.

3) Take a camera with a good zoom, if you want to take some pics of wildlife.

Average photo or phone camera will hardly be of any use.

4) Try to sit in the front if you get motion sickness.

If you stick to the guide at the beginning and go in front of the group, you'll most probably be the first to hop on the jeep. Seeing the road all the time will help with the motion sickness (and sure will offer a better view ;-).

5) Don’t expect anything.

If you have high expectations about seeing lots of wildlife, most probably you’ll end up disappointed. Don’t be fooled by the ads promising you the experience of a lifetime and glimpses of the Bengal Tiger. A guy from the hotel told us that he spotted the Bengal Tiger only once in his life (and he lives in the area for years!). Same story with leopards and other small mammals.

A view of the road in Chitwan National Park, Nepal with savana-like tress and an evening sun

The highlight of the second part of the safari was the magnificent sunset / UNHYPE

Jeep Safari In Chitwan - Is It Worth It?

Would we do the jeep safari again? Most probably, not. If we would visit the park again, we would probably go for a jungle walk or a few days trek. It would be more exhausting, but will most likely give us a stronger feeling of connection with nature. I guess with the jungle walk you can also go off the road and have a good chance of spotting more birds or small animals.

It’s exciting to realize that you’re in the real jungle which is brimming with life. But the fact that we haven’t seen much wildlife during the safari and the inability to stop whenever you want, listen to the jungle sounds and snap some pictures with huge Sal trees left us disappointed.


It’s up to you what kind of tour to choose. But if you decide to try your luck in the jeep safari, we hope that you’ll have a great experience and won’t fall victim to a sweet sleep as we did! 😀

Have you ever went on a jeep safari? How was it?

Share your story in the comments!

The following calculations and price estimations are based on our experience of traveling in two South Asian countries only, India and Nepal. We also excluded the cost of the inbound ticket to Delhi since the price will largely depend on where you'll be flying from.


I remember discussing with my friend my future plan of the 9-month trip around Asia with my husband. We would start in India, pass through Nepal and would slowly move east all the way to Vietnam. My friend was astounded and jealous in a good way. But her first question was ‘Where will you get the money?’

Fair enough.

At that time, I already had a remote job. We were also planning to work on the way. But obviously, we would be less engaged in earning money in the first month of the trip while figuring things out. Moreover, the Internet connection is not likely to be very reliable in that corner of the world.

My idea here is to show that you don’t need shitloads of savings to travel the world (or at least, South Asia). Even if you’re not the US or Australian resident (for whom Asia is generally ridiculously cheap), but come from Eastern Europe, where prices are lower than in the West, you will still find it more than affordable. And yes, affordable as in staying in a pretty good hotel every day and eating out.

So anyway, it’s been 42 days since we hit the road. So far our travel itinerary looks like this: New Delhi – Rishikesh – Lucknow – Varanasi – Kathmandu – Pokhara.

And I bet you'll be surprised when you find out how much the first month of the trip cost us.

People in the street of Thamel in Kathmandu decorated with prayer flags

Thamel - a tourist hub in Kathmandu, Nepal / UNHYPE

Slow Travel: A Bit Of Pre-History

I have divided our expenses into eight different categories:

1) transportation – includes any mode of transport around and out of the city, i.e., bus/train tickets, rickshaws, uber and ola cabs, scooter rent, etc.;

2) accommodation – no need for explanation;

3) food – all meals throughout the day, snacks, drinks, water, and that comfort candy at the end of the day;

4) household – personal hygiene items such as soaps, toothpaste, etc. and other things we found necessary for comfortable everyday living (for example, a small cup water heater);

5) culture & fun – expenses for entry tickets to landmarks, parks, fun activities, etc.;

6) clothes – to blend in with locals ;);

7) health – all medical expenses such as medicine and doctor’s visits (thanks universe, there was no need for one so far);

8) other – stuff that didn’t fit under one of the previous categories (e.g., Indian sim cards);

Not to deceive you, I feel I should give a little bit of pre-history of our way of traveling before I break down the expenses.

Some years ago, I was one of those people who get a 3-week vacation during the year, pack their suitcase and go on an adventure. And during this tiny bit of time, I was trying to see as much as possible, visit all the local landmarks and museums, taste every possible food in the restaurants and drink in every cool neighborhood pub, pat every local cat and dog while strolling across the city all day. Coming to Barcelona briefly and not checking out Sagrada Familia? I’d move heaven and earth to visit must-see places! Even at the expense of my health and comfort. This, of course, eventually led to complete exhaustion. I flew home happy but dying for another week of vacation just lying in bed and binge-watching How I Met Your Mother.

To cut a long story short, my husband and I are not that kind of travelers (anymore) 🙂 Long-term traveling is exhausting in itself, so we dedicate as much time as possible to rest and work. That means, if we have to go four hours from Delhi to see the wonder of the world Taj Mahal, navigate several hours between the crowds, pay 10 times more for the entry ticket than a local Indian tourist (which sometimes feels not fair), then we would rather not.

We don’t care about landmarks and chasing must-visit places anymore but are rather looking for a cozy spot to work, drink tea, and chill. Jumping from one city to another every three days doesn't look fun. If the place is nice, we can stay there for a week, two or even more.

I feel it’s also necessary to mention that we don’t always do some common activities that the country is usually visited for. For example, Nepal is heaven for mountain lovers. But it's just too much for us to go hiking for a week. Instead, we rent a motorbike and go to the surrounding villages and fields to enjoy the rural beauty secluded by the mountains. We even rode a pretty big hill on a scooter once (which was one of the stupidest things I’ve ever done in my life). This might be the reason why our expenses are not high.

Three goats in the street of Varanasi, India

Indian cities welcome tourists, holy cows, strayed dogs, and even goats / UNHYPE

The Cost Of Traveling & How We Save Money

All the expenses below account for two people and are given in USD (currencies in Nepal and India differ so it will help avoid the confusion). That’s why the total amount is subject to currency fluctuations and is not 100% precise.

I’m also gonna share our experience and small tips on how to save money on some daily things.

Transportation

In one month, we have spent roughly $190 on transportation around and out of the cities.

As I’ve already mentioned, we enjoy slow traveling, which helped us big time to save money on getting around. Generally, transport is reasonably cheap in Asia. For example, a bus trip from Lucknow to Varanasi (India) took us nearly 16 hours and cost only $15 per person. And the best thing is that the bus had berths where you could sleep like a baby rocked by a bumpy Indian road.

Taking a night bus or train for a long distance kills two birds with one stone: you will save money on accommodation and reach your destination.

You can even go cheaper than what we spent, but it’s gonna get a bit rough. For example, you can take local buses between the cities. They cost less, but are usually packed, less comfortable, and have no fans, let alone air conditioning. Good haggling skills will be super useful when taking rickshaws and tuk-tuks around the city or when renting a motorbike. The drivers often charge an arm and a leg for driving you from bus stations and airports so be persistent or walk away. You will find a decent price sooner or later.

We were also trying to balance between walking and local transport. In huge cities, such as Delhi, you will most probably stick to taxis. During 2 weeks in Kathmandu though, we took a taxi only 3 times: from the bus station and to/from the Thai Embassy. In Pokhara, we stuck to walking only.

Accommodation

Accommodation per month cost us $245. We saved on taking night trains/buses. And once we stayed for free at the friend’s place.

First three nights we stayed in a dorm room in the hostel. From that time on, we only booked double rooms with a private bathroom.

Bed and sheets in the hotel in Rishikesh, India

Our $11 double room with private bathroom in Rishikesh, India / UNHYPE

On average, you can get a clean double room with a bathroom for $10/night. Prices differ from city to city and depend on landmarks or center proximity. In Delhi, we had a place for $7. During the first night, I was woken up by the rat stealing our garbage bag. By far, it was the worst experience during the trip. The whole room was also super dirty and not suitable for easily impressed people.

While in Rishikesh, for $11/night, we stayed in a brand new hostel with fantastic service, roof view, and constant hot water (this is not very common). We stayed a few days longer in the city just because the hostel was so good.

And here’s the view we woke up to every day in Pokhara. And the room cost only $11/night, including a free breakfast. Pretty neat!

A view on the Phewa Lake and mountains from the hotel in Pokhara, Lareside Dsitrict

Tasty breakfast, stunning view, what else do you need for the perfect start of the day? / UNHYPE

Accommodation with breakfast included is the best value. Food is usually simple: toast and egg with a coffee/tea, but it keeps you full until lunchtime. If you’re gluten intolerant, some better hotels (such as OYO hotel chain) or homestays can offer a fruit bowl instead of the toast or porridge with fruits.

Food

Eating out, by far, was our largest expense – $337.

We weren’t splurging on food in fancy restaurants. At the same time, we weren’t stuffing ourselves with fast food. I’d say we managed to maintain the right balance between the two.

Local food is the cheapest option. Indian and Nepali foods are generally not the healthiest, to say the least. Both cuisines are based mainly on bread, rice (in most of the cases fried), deep-fried meat and snacks, dough dumplings, and somehow call a piece of cucumber and onion a salad.

A caption of the Indian meal consisting of naan, rice, tomatoes and Indian sauces

A typical Indian meal in a local restaurant in Delhi / UNHYPE

Upon arriving in Delhi, we sometimes managed to eat street food for 80-100 Indian rupees – that’s about $1.30-$1.50. And most importantly one portion was enough for two people (Indian vendors are very generous with rice). Street food is hit and miss, somewhere better, somewhere worse, but it keeps hunger at bay. Cafes charge you more and give you smaller portions. Some touristy areas such as Rishikesh and Varanasi are more expensive because they are oriented at tourists, who usually don’t mind spending more. At the same time, cafes in touristy places will also offer you a wider variety of food, such as Chinese, Thai, or Korean.

If you crave for a salad, less spicy and healthier food, no sweat. There are organic vegetarian cafes everywhere, but they are always a kind of ‘luxury.’ These sites are filled with white people with MacBooks, and sometimes prices go up to $5 or more for a simple meal. Sushi and Japanese cuisine in general is more expensive. A meal in a Japanese restaurant will cost at least $5 per person.

A frontal caption of the plate with rice, veggies, and veggie soup

The cheapest vegetarian restaurant in Kathmandu, Nepal - just over $2 for this beauty / UNHYPE

A frontal caption of Korean kimchi fried rice, kimchi soup, and rice

A $6 meal for two - Korean kimchi fried rice, kimchi soup, and rice / UNHYPE

We pampered ourselves with sushi sometimes or with a mouth-watering Mexican enchilada with lots of cheese and a side salad, but that wasn’t our everyday routine.

We also always a handful of bananas at hand (pun not intended :)) for a quick snack.

Water, though cheap (0.20 cents per 1 liter), will be an essential part of your daily life. We drink a lot of water, especially when it’s hot outside and use it for brushing teeth. So three liters a day is a minimum. According to my calculations, we have spent roughly $20 for water/month. That’s like 20 meals of street food in Paharganj in Delhi.

What helped us to cut back is avoidance of alcohol. We almost don’t drink, and we don’t take drugs (except for one glass of bhang lassi in Varanasi). In India, drinking is not very widespread. In Nepal, we preferred to buy a plate of rice with veggies instead of paying $3 for a beer in a bar. If we had drunk at least once a week, the expenses would have skyrocketed.

I also don’t drink tea in cafes, because I don't find it tasty. Coffee is decent only if the price starts from $1.3-1.5 per cup. A cheaper price will get you a coffee solution of instant Nescafe.

Household

Soaps, toothpaste, toilet paper, etc. amounted to $26.

Locals in India and Nepal don't use toilet paper, and I suppose that's why it's insanely expensive (as for a simple toilet paper) – 0.80 cents for a single roll. Hotels that charge more per night will provide you with one paper roll initially, and generally, you have to pester the reception for more.

We also bought a tiny water heater and two cups, so as long as there’s electrical socket, we can enjoy a warm cup of tea or coffee anywhere and anytime. That’s exactly why I don’t buy tea in cafes.

a monkey holding onto the colorful prayer flags in Kathmandu, Nepal

Monkeys keep you company all the way up the stairs to Swayambhunath Stupa in Kathmandu, Nepal / UNHYPE

Culture & Fun

In total, we’ve spent $50 on cultural activities. These include a visit to Humayun’s temple in Delhi, rafting in Rishikesh, a sunrise boat ride in Varanasi, and so on. We mostly look for the ‘emotional activities’ such as rafting rather than investing in 'seeing some landmark' time-passing.

Clothes

Nepal and India sell the cheapest clothes ever. We brought most of the things with us but wanted to ‘blend in’ a bit with the local hippie style. So in total, $40 covered flip-flops, 3 pairs of pants, a skirt, a shirt, a jumper, and a hat. If you're good at haggling, you're gonna pay even less. The quality is not the best, but I don’t think that you want to smear your 100 dollars jeans on an Indian train. And moreover, nobody really cares here about how you look.

two people sailing on a boat greeting the sunset in Varanasi, India

Greeting the sunset from the Holy River Ganges in Varanasi, India / UNHYPE

Health

Luckily, we have spent only $3 on medicine. I’ve dragged the whole bag of painkillers and stomach aids with me. So far, we haven’t gotten sick and didn’t need any doctor’s appointment.

Other

This category includes only one item – two Indian sim cards that we bought at the airport upon flying into Delhi. They cost $20 in total and provided us with 4 gigabytes of 4G a day. Sim cards are valid for 90 days. We could have bought the sim cards cheaper in the city. But apparently, we would have had to hassle with paperwork and to prove the details of a person who vouches for us. There are also lots of scams so better safe (and more expensive) than sorry.

If you're not planning to get a sim card, you can easily download Google Offline Maps, and moreover, there’s WiFi in almost every cafe. Though, we felt that in such a chaotic country like India, we would be better off with a constant Internet connection.

Total Expenses

  • Transportation - $190
  • Accommodation -$245
  • Food - $337
  • Household - $26
  • Culture - $50
  • Clothes - $40
  • Health- $3
  • Other - $20

TOTAL – $911

You can always go lower or higher depending on your lifestyle and budgeting (and haggling skills). But it makes me smirk every time I read blog posts that you need A MINIMUM OF $25 a day per person to travel in India or Nepal.

The total amount is not bad for two people considering the fact that we used to spend more every month in our countries. What we get in return is the change of scenery every now and then, +25°C (77°F) during the day in the middle of November (and absolutely no rain so far!), exotic food, new cultures, and surprises every day.

A reader sent me an email with this question:

I've heard about buying expired domains, but I can never get a step-by-step covering how to find an affordable domain, checking if the domain is any good, and then using that domain to boost my other domain's SEO. I would pay money for a full guide on how to do this. Perhaps there's some savvy SEO that would like to put together a guide? — Jim

Ever wondered how all these startups get to buy expired domains with strong backlinks? I will show you how to do that, without using any paid tools. Whether you're looking for an expired domain for your startup, SEO portfolio or to create a PBN (which I don't endorse), I got your back.

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What Happens To Expired Domains?

If you fail to pay for your expiring domain name, it will go into grace period. It's a time which usually lasts about two to four weeks, depending on the registrar, when you still can pay for the domain to get it back. After that, the domain enters the redemption grace period. It's a 30-day period when you can still get your domain back, but you will have to pay an additional fee to ICANN.

After that period, the domain is dropped entirely, and anyone can claim it for a regular registration fee. That's where services which monitor expired domains come into play.

I've been asked, "How long after a domain expires can I register it?". The simple answer is - usually after about 6 to 8 weeks, once the previous owner stops paying for it.

What's The Best Tool For Finding Recently Expired Domains?

For years my go-to expired domains tool has been ExpiredDomains.net. It's a 100% free tool that stores and analyzes a huge database of dropped domains, daily. There are no limits or quotas and they are never asking for any payments. Our website is not affiliated with them in any way and this article is not an ad. The owner makes a few bucks every time you register a domain through their affiliate links.At the time of writing this article, the site has a database of 1795922 (that's almost two million!) .com domains available for registration right now. The only thing you need to do is to create a free account on the site, so you can save your searches and access their full database and filtering. I've been using them for years and never got a single spam email.

How To Filter Out Bad Domain Names And Find Gold

It's actually very easy. Once you create a free account and verify it, go into the deleted domains section. It shows all TLDs combined of domains dropped in the last 7 days. If you go into a particular section like deleted .com, you will we able to see older dropped domain names too.

Once you're in, you need to filter through millions of domains. I usually filter down to 50 to a 100 domains and then go through them manually using an external SEO tool like Ahrefs or Serpstat.

In the filter section, I usually use the following settings to filter signal from noise:

  • Common
    • only available Domains
    • no Adult Names
    • ACR -- min 5
  • Additional
    • only gTLDs
  • Majestic
    • Citation Flow -- min 10
    • Trust Flow -- min 15
    • IP Pop -- min 3
    • Ext BL -- min 10

After applying I went from 1175558 to 98 domains. Majestic trust flow filtering is especially useful, as it filters out all these sites that have mostly spammy backlinks, pharma, and adult sites.

Bonus tip: you can filter domains based on if they have links coming from Wikipedia (section Adwords & SEO in the filters.)

Evaluating Expired Domains

Let's take a look at one of the domains I've chosen -- BeardedMagnum.com. The first thing I always do is go to Serpstat and Ahrefs and check if the domain reputation data aligns with Majestic data from expireddomains.net database. Now, if you don't have access to premium SEO tools, there are lots of freemium opportunities on the market. As far as I know, Majestic, Serpstat, and Moz allow for a few domain lookups with a free account and there are others.

After that, I will check how many referring domains are there and how legit they look. Expired domains tend to lose backlinks over time, so I rarely register domains with less than 10 incoming referring domains.

The next step is checking anchors to see if they are not spammy. I'm looking for anchors that a human being would create.

My last step is going to archive.org to check what content was hosted on that website, was it legit and if it aligns with my plans for that particular domain name.

The domain had pretty good metrics for a reg-fee pick. It looks like at first it was a private blog, which then has been revived and turned into a low-key PBN. Finally, I decided not to register this one.

What's Next? What Can You Do With Expired Domains?

There are two reasons I hunt for expired domains. The first one is I'm always trying to keep a strong portfolio of around a dozen brandable domains in different niches for startups that I work on. Starting out with a nice gTLD with several solid backlinks sets you off on an easier first few months with Google -- your website will be treated much better in comparison to having a fresh domain name.

The second reason is SEO. Dropped, valuable domains can be sold, used for 301 redirects to get the SEO juice or used for PBNs. I will go over these topics in my next write-up.

What's your experience with buying expired domains? Let me know in the comments!

Is an expired domain still valuable? Does is still work for boosting SEO?

Yes, expired domains are still working... if you use it in the right way.

Does domain authority get passed on if the domain and all subdomains and links are 301 redirected to another domain / single page of a new site or does the content have to be preserved to maintain the DA?

Google confirmed on multiple occasions that link juice is being passed from old links.

Just from my personal experience, I can tell you that it's worth to buy expired domains for new websites, as is for PBNs, and as 301 redirect to boost new sites a bit. 301s have to be topically relevant and have clean backlink profiles.

What metrics to pay attention to when it comes to expired domains?

In my case, I always check the following metrics:-

  • Backlinks pointing towards the domain. Check the backlinks carefully for spammy links.
  • What type of content was there on the site. For that you have check the web archive records, check if the domain has Chinese or suspicious content in past. Also in web archive see if the domain is redirected to another domain then mostly the value has passed away. Dont use it in that case too.
  • If the website is banned for Adsense.
  • Its TF and CF. Trush Flow & Citation Flow, metrics of Majestic tool. Just like Moz have DA and PA.

Also, it is up to you whether you want to use the domain for a good cause or use it as a PBN.

How redemption period works for domains?

After a domain expires, it goes into a "Redemption Period" where the owner has a chance to get it back in case they hadn't noticed the 47 emails from their registrar telling them it was going to expire. The period varies. I know the last one I picked up was in redemption for 70 days, but it was at a non-us registrar. Many are 40-45 days.

Contact the current registrar, ask them what their redemption period is. Add those days to the listed expiry date and watch it every few hours if possible from the day before that date to the point it gets deleted.

If it's a popular word/phrase you may have competition and someone may have a bot trying to register it, in which case you might be out of luck. Be very careful if you try to use a service that offers to buy it up for you. Some will see that there may be an interest, buy it, advertise it, then auction it off among you and anyone else that's interested.

How to buy a domain name that is expiring soon

Look into domain backorder / sniping / drop catching services. Shouldn't be much more than the normal price. Or just be ready the second it expires to be it again directly.

Personally, I've let a lot of unused domains expire and I often see them get purchase immediately after. So make sure your domain names are always renewed if they are important!

Check out Snap Names and place a backorder. If it ever becomes available it will try to buy it immediately. There are 3 major sites that do this but snapnames has been the best for me.

Also don't do any searches or hits on it. The owner or registrar may be tracking it and renew it thinking they will sell it to whomever keeps looking it up.

Won't Google penalize me for using expired domains?

Google doesn't penalize people for almost anything. They are still a pretty dumb company in many cases. Also, this prevents negative SEO.

Google never deindexes formerly expired domains or penalized 301s.

It'd be all fun and games blocking expired domains until Google gets it wrong for a big company who renews their old domain - or buys an expired one for a name to expand their brand.

Then that company will go to the press and make an accessible story to the public about Google censoring them or whatever - and Google won't be able to explain how dropped domains for SEO works to your average Joe.

They'd need to explain links and how they work for SEO, what SEO is and how that all affects a sites authority in the algorithm - which no one will care enough about to listen to them. They'll just brand them as against free speech and move on.

If you work with the idea that most people don't know dick about SEO, Google's methods are really hard to explain to them in a soundbite.

Beware of Godaddy

I never check domains with these pricky fucks. I switched over all my domains a long time ago when they backed SOPA or whatever the hell it was. Fuck them.

Godaddy does a scam that has been going for over 10 years. When you check a domain name they sometimes reserve it and try to sell it back to you for a premium price. Scum of the domaining business.

Godaddy is also more expensive than others.

Namecheap all the way.

Get an exclusive Namecheap discount

Imagine taking a long cab ride. The driver is lovely, and you’re having a nice chit-chat and a few laughs on the way. Imagine the driver sneezes. Nothing extraordinary, maybe he got an allergy or caught a cold.

Now imagine that you know your driver is HIV positive.

If you don’t cringe and take off out of the taxi like a shot from a gun at the mere thought of it, then you are a minority in this world.

In 35% of countries with available data, more than 50% of the population report discriminatory attitudes towards people living with HIV, according to the report by UNAIDS.

Paradoxically, despite the years of research, public and media attention, national initiatives, and abundance of educational resources for medical personnel and the general population, HIV/AIDS is still one of the most misunderstood diseases.

Continuous stigma, prejudice, and discrimination towards people with HIV in their day to day activities directly contribute to the further spread of HIV while deteriorating the quality of lives of those who already bear the burden of physical and health complications.

Stigma-HIV Conundrum

We have reached remarkable progress since the first case of human immunodeficiency virus in the 1980s. Nearly 8 million lives were saved over the last 15 years, and according to the WHO report from May 2018, HIV/AIDS is no longer among the world’s top 10 causes of death. Continuous years of medical studies and advances in science have given hope to those with HIV+/AIDS status, who, if diagnosed in the 90s, were given 6 months to live at best. Also, PrEP has proved to be highly protective against the infection.

People with HIV can now live longer and healthier lives. But why do the new annual diagnoses have been so ‘uneven’ and stagnating over the recent years?According to the latest statistics on the AIDS epidemic, 95% of new HIV infections in eastern Europe, central Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa occur among key populations - men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs, sex workers, transgender, and incarcerated people. These marginalized groups of the society are especially vulnerable to the infection.

And there is a reason for that.

World Health Organization estimates that:
- Nearly 37 million people were living with HIV in 2017 globally. The vast majority of the people with HIV reside in low- and middle-income countries.
- Only 59% of the people living with HIV were undergoing treatment with ART.
- So far, an estimated 35 million people have died from HIV-related causes.

The long-term target now is to decrease the HIV incidence rates to less than 200 000 of new diagnoses per year

The long-term target now is to decrease the HIV incidence rates and HIV-related deaths to less than 200 000 and 400 000 per year correspondingly. Key populations are usually caught in the vicious circle of stigma and HIV. They remain on the fringes of the society, which makes them more prone to HIV, leads to poverty, and poor access to the healthcare services. Key populations are not always mentioned in HIV plans, and even if the policy exists, the quality of care for them is not equal.

If it seems that in 2018 negative attitudes prevail mostly in the developing countries, which are the most affected by HIV region in the world, this is not entirely the case.In 2016, 60% of nations in the European Economic Area announced that prejudicial and biased attitudes of the healthcare sector employees towards marginalized groups such as men who have sex with men and people who inject drugs negatively impacted the provision of adequate HIV prevention services for these key populations.

People Living with HIV Stigma Index also indicates that on average 1 in every 8 people with HIV is being denied health services.

HIV-related stigma is a commonly cited barrier to HIV testing, disclosure to partners, engagement in biomedical prevention approaches, and medication adherence, particularly for vulnerable and key populations.

International Center for Research on Women

HIV testing is still limited. According to the 2018 WHO fact sheet, on average 25% of people with HIV or 9.4 million people remain undiagnosed and unconscious of their infection status. At the same time, those who are unaware of their HIV status are 3.5 times more likely to transmit the virus to another person if compared to people who know about their infection.

Fear of stigma and prejudice is one of the main reasons people hold off on HIV testing, disclosing their status and starting ART treatment. People with HIV are often ostracized by their immediate environment, family, friends, employers while lacking access to adequate healthcare. As a result, people are diagnosed late, increasing the likelihood of virus transmission to others, complications in treatment, and early death.

Early Diagnosis Matters

Surely, prevention of HIV is crucial, but an early detection is no less important to reduce the spread of the virus, decrease the likelihood of symptoms, and hinder the infection from penetrating the organs. It can also mitigate the side effects of anti-HIV treatment.

There is no cure for HIV/AIDS so far. The recent RIVER study, which showed promise in producing a remission or cure for AIDS and whose results were eagerly awaited, failed to live up to expectations and kill dormant HIV cells.

At the moment, it is possible to inhibit HIV. A therapy called antiretroviral treatment (ART) also known as ‘AIDS cocktail’ proved to be effective in decreasing the patient’s viral load by stopping the virus from reproducing and decreasing the risk of transmitting the disease to almost a zero. When stopping the ART, though, HIV tends to return after hiding in the so-called ‘reservoirs.’ It sure saves and prolongs lives, but solves only the part of the problem.As every medicine, ART causes side effects, both short-term and long-term. They can vary from person to person and depend on a number of factors. These include genetic variations (e.g., anti-HIV drug abacavir causes a severe allergic reaction in case you have a particular gene), ethnic background, lifestyle choices (such as smoking, recreational drug usage, and consumption of high-fat food or alcohol), medical family history, and the timing of the diagnosis being one of the most important.

My daughter refused to go hospital to receive medicines [sic]. My daughter died because of the fear of stigmatization and discrimination.

Patience Eshun
A grandmother from Ghana who lost her daughter to HIV

Common short-term side effects may include a headache, diarrhea, sickness, fatigue, mood swings, sleep disruptions, mental problems including anxiety and depression, rash, and sexual dysfunction.

ART also often leads to various long-term side effects. Most of the anti-HIV drugs are processed in the liver, so long-term treatment might result in liver disease. The issue may be aggravated by heavy drinking as well as taking complementary medicine along with anti-HIV drugs.

Increase in lipids and blood sugar is common, which in its turn poses a higher risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. In case your diet is not balanced, you may gain weight, feel dizzy, and have an increased chance of developing diabetes.

Most of the anti-HIV drugs can lead to kidney problems over time. Those who were suffering from kidney issues before starting the treatment are at the highest risk of developing complications.

Peripheral neuropathy is another long-term side effect of ART. Either HIV itself or the treatment with anti-HIV drugs give rise to the condition. Peripheral neuropathy results from the injury of peripheral nerves and manifests itself in numbness, tickling, and pain in limbs.

Some of the anti-HIV drugs have also been proven to cause changes in body shape through fat built-up or fat loss – lipodystrophy as well as the loss of bone tissue – osteoporosis.The long-term side effects can be counteracted if diagnosed early, but that would mean consuming more medicine along with three essential anti-HIV drugs, which would put more pressure on your liver and thus keep the patient in the constant loop of health complications.

There is also evidence that people living with HIV suffer from an increased risk of cancer when compared to HIV negative people of the same age. By contrast to the general population, people with HIV are 19 times more likely to be diagnosed with anal cancer, 3 times more likely to suffer from liver cancer and 2 times – from lung cancer, according to National Cancer Institute. The risk persists even when undergoing an ART treatment. People with HIV also have a 50 percent higher chance of a heart attack and an increased chance of heart failure.

The main reason for the higher susceptibility of people with HIV to various health complications is because their immune system has already been impaired by the HIV virus. The longer you delay the treatment or the later you are diagnosed with HIV, the more damage is done to your immune system.

A recent study also found that 1 in 9 people may be able to manage their viral load after disrupting ART treatment. Most of the participants started treatment less than 6 months after having been infected. Researchers assume that interrupted treatment may play a critical part in achieving HIV remission.

There are many initiatives to normalize HIV testing and increase its frequency among affected key populations to foster early detection.

Self-testing kits have been proven to improve the early HIV detection in young South African bi/gay men who preferred to test in the privacy of their homes compared to testing in the clinical setting.

This spring Grindr, the world largest social networking app for queer people, released a new feature that sends users notifications with a reminder to get tested for HIV in a non-judgmental environment every 3 or 6 months. It also provides free ads for HIV testing sites across the US including those in rural and underserved areas. It allowed to reach the hard-to-get-at population and proved to be successful in engaging a large percentage of gay men who have never been tested before.

The Survival Advocacy Network (SAN), a Fiji based network of transgender and female sex workers, is one of the numerous organizations whose aim is to enable sex workers to access health care without fear of stigma or discrimination by training healthcare providers.

Prevention via condom use and access to health care is vital, but it is us who hold the key to eradicating the virus once and for all. By reducing the stigma and prejudice against marginalized groups, we can create a safe and trusting environment where every life counts and the help is given to those who most need it.

Recently, TheBody produced a piece on HIV that I think is a valuable resource. "9 HIV/AIDS Facts to Combat the Most Harmful Myths”, arms the public important facts about HIV -- from the prognosis of HIV/AIDS to who can get it -- to combat the hysteria that surrounded the virus for so many years.

While in Lviv, we decided to visit the nearby Four Paws bear sanctuary. You can get there using a cheap public-transport bus or by taxi. Public bus will be a difficult trip without a local guide, as there are no obvious bus stops and the drivers don't speak English. The tickets to the sanctuary are only 60 UAH for a tour per an adult person.

Getting There

The place is located 22 kilometers north-west of Lviv. It takes approximately 30 minutes to get there by car.

One-way bus ticket costs around 10 UAH. One-way Uber trip will be 220 UAH from the center of Lviv. It's quite easy to hitch-hike a ride back to Lviv - a lot of people visit the place by car.

Location

Google Maps Link
Zhorniska, Ukraine
[email protected]
Facebook Page
+380 67 509 3058

Opening Hours

Tue-Sun
10:00 AM - 6:00 PM

The sanctuary was founded with the support of an Austrian charitable organization, Four Paws International.

Bear Sanctuary Reception Building

The organization works with animals - rehabilitating them after torture. They rescue bears from zoos and circuses. The volunteers do what they can to retrieve bears that are held captive by irresponsible people around Ukraine. They offer hope to brutally mistreated animals, which now have a chance to be rescued and be given a new home where they will be taken care of by specialists.

The sanctuary is surrounded by a cozy village/forest area. Bears have access to play-pens where they can exercise and take a bath.Abuse of bears in Ukraine is a longstanding cultural problem. Most notably, the bears are exploited across the country within hunting stations - they are being used as bait during the training of hunting dogs.

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In the sanctuary, bears are rehabilitated both for mental and physical reasons - due to bad treatment from previous owners. One of such bears is living in the sanctuary now. She's suffering from severe mental issues. She gets stressed easily, and one of the solutions to ease her nerves is feeding her tomatoes.

Almost all of the bears that live in the sanctuary were born in captivity.

Former dancing and circus bear Kristina was released in the adaption enclosure at BEAR SANCTUARY Domazhyr.

The sanctuary's area is 24 acres, but the organization is planning to expand it to 60 acres. Currently, eight bears are living there, but there is a plan to host around 20 as soon as possible. The sanctuary is home to one type of bear - the brown bear - a bear which is most wide-spread across Ukraine.

In captivity, bears live, on average, 35-40 years. In one of the Polish sanctuaries, there was a bear who lived until the old age of 50. In Greece, the record lifespan was 48 years old.

In the wild, bears can live up to 30 years old. Their lives are shorter because of more dangers in the wild, less balanced diet and lack of healthcare in the forests.Surprisingly, the bears are usually 80% vegetarian in the wild. Each bear in the sanctuary has its own taste for a particular product. Some like fish, others grapes or tomatoes. During the summer months, they eat bear ice-cream, which is frozen fruit mixed with ice. Each bear has access to a pool where they can rest, swim, and cool down.

Bears don't start their own families. They don't understand the concept of a pack. They lead a lonely life. During the pairing season, the female bear lets the male approach her to have babies. When she gets pregnant, the male gets sent away and she stays alone bearing the child and bringing it up. The child stays with her for 2 or 3 years never to see their mother again.

Brown bears don't have more than 2-3 children in average during their lifespans. The gestation period lasts from six to nine months.Thanks to the work done by Four Paws, bear-baiting has been banned in Ukraine in 2015. Unfortunately, it does not prohibit hunting bases from owning bears. That's why there's still a lot of brown bears held and illegally used for baiting.

Although the use of bears for dog-fighting has been illegal In Ukraine since 2015, many bears still suffer being a part of it. Confined to tiny cages next to restaurants, motels or petrol stations, these bears live awful, lonely lives.

Held in filthy cages, baiting bears are only let out when they are exploited for the training of hunting dogs. Held on a short leash, they are supposed to fight off aggressive dogs in preparation for the hunt. The bears often have their teeth and claws removed so they don't injure the dogs. The emotional and physical stress these bears feel is tremendous.

A new law could finally put on end to these animal practices. Proposition No. 6598, which is currently discussed by the Ukrainian government, forbids the keeping of bears on private premises. The hunters' lobby is trying to oppose the legislature, as it would mean a financial loss for their businesses.During our visit we were able to meet 5 out of the 8 bears living there. Our tour guide had something interesting to say about each bear and here are our notes on that.

Kristina

Before being rescued, Kristina was used for circus performances for her entire life. She was kept in a tiny cage.
Kristina is the oldest beat at the sanctuary. Despite her age and health issues, Kristina is rather active and brave. She enjoys swimming and playing in the pool.

Potap

Before being rescued, Potap used to live in a small cage next to a restaurant. Potap is a very positive and friendly bear. Potap is forgiving. He loves to play, swim, and solve different tasks.

Tyson

Tyson was rescued from the hunting station in October 2017.
Tyson is self-confident, well-balanced, and a bit shy. Most of all he enjoys playing with his big toys and swimming. He's learning to trust humans again.

Mashutka

Before her rescue, Mashutka was used as a bait at a baiting station where she was constantly attacked by hunting dogs.
Mashutka is a very smart and persistent bear. She loves to play and run.

Manya

Before moving to the sanctuary, Manya used to live in a small cage next to a restaurant.
Manya is a bit mysterious. She carefully observes everything. She likes to solve tasks, which increases her self-esteem and supports her psychological rehabilitation.

Our trip to Four Paws Bear Sanctuary in Ukraine couldn't have been more exciting. We've seen a couple happy bears and learnt a lot. We hope that you will visit the sanctuary when you're around Lviv too. Four Paws also has a donation page. See you around!

Bonus -- Check Out The Brown Bears of Katmai Alaska

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