Can you believe it? It’s been six freakin’ years since Pipeaway popped into your favorite web browser! To honor this travel blogging milestone, I decided to unleash an unordinary listicle: the six biggest WTF moments from my travels.
Life on the road exposes us to all sorts of cultures, customs, and characters. We can meet people whose manners, psychology, and life habits don’t always align with ours. These encounters can range from surprising to outrageous. Some of them leave us shocked, others leave us cringing, and some just leave us questioning our sanity.
The sheer number of jaw-dropping, eye-popping, eyebrow-raising, and stomach-churning WTF moments from my travels could probably fill a small book
However, I believe they always contribute to the uniqueness of our travel experiences, becoming unforgettable anecdotes that make the journey extraordinary. They remind us that life is never scripted, but a chaotic and unpredictable adventure, enriched with often unimaginable plot twists.
Throughout my world wanderings, I came across anything from Couchsurfing horror stories to getting trapped in a Crazy House overflowed with some certifiably insane guests. I’ve seen people licking penis-shaped lollipops in the name of religion, rubbing statues’ intimate regions in the name of good luck, or stimulating children to beat bleeding adults as a fun Easter ritual.
But for the purpose of this article, I wanted to share the surreal WTF moments that haven’t made it to the Pipeaway pages yet.
As I rummaged through my most bizarre travel memories, I realized that the sheer number of jaw-dropping, eye-popping, eyebrow-raising, and stomach-churning anecdotes could probably fill a small book.
But since it’s our sixth anniversary, I’ll settle with the six of the most mind-blowing travel tales, and leave the rest for some future date.
Enjoy the 6 biggest WTF moments I experienced while traveling, and if you have some outrageous WTF travel episodes of your own, spill the beans in the comments below!
If you want to read some rather bizarre testimonies from the world hotels, check out this curated list of the greatest 'Do Not Disturb' betrayals!
6 biggest WTF travel moments
1. When plastic bags delayed our bus ride for half an hour.
Our night bus was hurtling towards the coast of Istria, Croatia. It was one of those rides during which you pray to every deity known to man for your survival. Most of the souls saved themselves by earlier disembarking; the only remaining passengers were me and a girl headed to her supermarket job in Rovinj.
Just as we thought our hearts couldn’t possibly race any faster, the bus screeched to a halt in the middle of nowhere. The GPS would tell me that we were near a small coastal village of Funtana, half an hour away from our final destination.
And then, like a polite thief, the driver asked if he could just quickly drop off some bags of stuff to his family. There was no waiting for our approval, it’s not as if we really had a say in the matter. He took his plastic bags and disappeared into pitch darkness.
The two of us waited by the side of the road, rubbing our eyes not out of sleepiness, but out of sheer disbelief at this WTF moment. We waited and waited. And waited some more. When we thought we’ve waited long enough, we waited a little longer.
Half an hour later, when we should’ve already arrived in Rovinj, the driver casually entered the bus, unfazed by leaving us stranded. To make up for a lost time (now an impossible feat anyway), he hit the gas like a maniac, putting our lives on the line again.
The girl asked if she could be dropped off at a gas station along the way, to make her walk to work a little easier. The merciless driver rejected the idea of losing additional time (sic!) on letting her out before the final stop. He was happy with dodging the rules only when it suited him.
Instead, he stepped on it, and with hearts in our throats and stomachs in knots, we continued this mad Croatiabus ride towards the central bus terminal in Rovinj.
It was a journey for the books – the WTF books, that is.
2. When a footing fiasco turned into a kinetic karaoke.
If you thought the exceptional bus adventure in Southeast Europe couldn’t be topped, buckle up because there’s always Southeast Asia. Frequent travelers already know they should expect the unexpected when it comes to transport in this region, and my ride on the sleeper bus from Nha Trang to Hoi An was no different.
Things started off on the wrong foot as soon as we boarded. A passenger behind me decided to rest his naked feet on the top of my headrest. If you remember my article on the benefits of sitting at the back of a plane, you could easily conclude that Vietnamese people just cannot help this habit of a) traveling barefoot, and b) sticking their legs in a personal space that’s not theirs.
I politely asked the man to put his feet back where they belong. Unhappy with my request, he complained to the driver about it, demanding a new seat, probably because my head was invading his legroom space.
Misbehaving passengers are even more common on planes. Check out these troublemakers!
But the biggest WTF moments of this bus ride would happen during the night, and the main actor would not be a discomforted passenger, but another very relaxed driver.
First, he made a pit stop at a random shop, to buy himself a beer. That already builds trust, doesn’t it?
At his next stop in the middle of nowhere, at 1:30 am, the driver had a quick teeth brushing session. It was his sleeping time. Beer does that to people.
Thankfully, a new driver took over, starting it off with manic scrubbing of the steering wheel and gear shifter with wet tissues. This was all in the pre-Covid era, but his hygiene standards were quite high.
He did all of that while driving, as caring for personal hygiene and 40+ passengers in a moving vehicle is a multitasking Vietnamese drivers do single-handedly.
To keep himself awake, he drank a can of coffee and started gargling loudly, spitting thick globs of saliva through the window. Well, hello, passing vehicles!
At 2:10, he was again at a manic episode of steering-wheel cleaning. It was dinner time. He pulled out some spring rolls and used both hands to eat them. For a good two minutes, he didn’t even touch the wheel. Okay, maybe a few times, with his elbows.
At 2:30, the driver turned on a small TV with karaoke and started singing duets with the lady from the video. He would occasionally spit out the window again, maybe to mark the mileage.
Then at 4:17, his mobile phone rang. And he talked. Those calls in the middle of the night are always urgent, you have to pick them up.
At 4:40, he turned on another karaoke DVD. He was percussing the wheel, in the rhythm of the music, occasionally honking for emphasis.
With this substantial collection of WTF moments, I never truly understood why they call it a sleeper bus. For anyone who accidentally dozed off, the driver flashed the bus lights before the final stop. Good morning, Vietnam!
3. When friendliness came with a price tag.
I had an unforgettable experience on an African bus too, but that episode in Bahir Dar could be primarily classified as disturbing. It was a part of the framework that formed my perception of the people of Ethiopia, which would become the basis of the following WTF story.
By the time I was leaving Debark for Shire, I had already spent three weeks in Africa, learning about my magnetic whiteness on a daily basis. Sadly, it was mainly attracting people who wanted to sell me something or steal from me. It was disheartening that the sequence of unpleasant experiences was enforcing prejudices.
While thirsting for a normal person who would approach me with curiosity, and not with some hidden plan of how to demonetize my wallet, I finally met a young man at Debark bus station. Daniel would ignite hope that human connection was possible. Between all those sketchy salespeople, this ray of sunshine decided to stick around to practice talking in English.
It was a long half-an-hour wait for the bus, securing a plentiful time for the conversation with Daniel. I knew how many sheep he had, how many sisters he had, and soon I considered him a friend. He even wrote some words in Amharic on a piece of paper, telling me it meant “welcome”.
At some point, he also subtly involved financial information in his stories. The sheep cost 150 birrs, he explained. The Taekwondo cost 150 birrs. Everything he mentioned cost 150 birrs. But I tried to focus on other parts of the conversation that seemed genuinely normal and friendly.
When the bus finally arrived, Daniel was kind enough to instruct me that I needed to pay the baggage handler. The handler asked for 20 birrs. I already knew how it functioned, so I did ask Daniel if he had received his half, to which he responded with a smile.
And just then, when I had to board the bus, and a sensitive soul could even find a tearful shine in his eye, Daniel broke my rebuilt trust in thousands of pieces.
“Can you now pay me for my service?”, he asked.
I dramatically gave him back that piece of paper with “welcome” in Amharic, told him I don’t feel like that, and that I thought we were friends.
I left with a disappointment I didn’t see coming, but also with a WTF lesson learned: in Ethiopia, even the friendliest conversation can come with a price tag.
4. When the taxi driver tried to abduct me.
The next contender for the biggest WTF moments during my travels brings us back to the wacky world of Asia, more precisely to Manila, the bustling capital of the Philippines.
My plane arrived quite late, and the airport was bursting at the seams with travelers, all desperately searching for their ride into the city.
The lines for taxis were extremely long, and I decided to try my luck with Grab, the Asian version of Uber. I already had the app, and it worked like a charm in places such as Bali or Vietnam.
You choose the pick-up point, so it shouldn’t be the greatest mastery to find passengers. But my allocated driver messaged me to come to the airport’s departure level. What the heck? Then I assumed cars needed to pay arrival level fees, so he wanted to save some cash.
Oh well, I started walking to the new meeting point, but then he called me to say something about making a U-turn to get to the arrival level. It was extremely confusing, and I asked if he could just pick me up normally.
He was yelling on the phone, waiting at some unknown location. “12 o’clock”, he barked directions at me as if he was seeing me, which was strange enough because I didn’t see anyone looking at me.
“Sir, this is impossible. If you can really see where I am, and direct me by clock hands, then just come over and get me”, I pleaded.
But he insisted I should come to him, not the other way around. Soon I would realize why – he was waiting in the forbidden taxi lane, where he was not allowed to be, so he didn’t want to exit the car and get noticed.
Even when I entered the car, he continued yelling at me, berating me for my supposed lack of intelligence. I wanted to leave this disaster in progress, but the doors were locked. He wouldn’t let me go, and instead of driving away, he continued quarreling about my navigation skills.
We made literally two meters in his car, and the cop showed up and blocked his path. Now he needed to pay some fine. “See what you did?”, he yelled at me again.
The policeman asked him: “Grab?”
My crazy driver stayed silent, but I jumped in: “Yes, this is Grab. And I’m locked in. Please tell him to let me go, I want out of this lunatic’s car!”
He ignored my request, but the strict policeman’s gaze made him press something. However, my door still wouldn’t open.
Then he yelled that I am so stupid that I don’t even know how to open the door.
Somehow, finally, I did get out and ran away. To wait for another hour at the metered taxi lane.
Believe it or not, this WTF moment was not the last time a driver in Manila attempted to abduct me. On the second occasion, I wasn’t lucky enough to be saved by an unexpected police officer, but that’s a story for another day.
5. When the b&b owner showed me his secret foreskin.
Surprising travel moments wouldn’t be complete if we wouldn’t cover the accommodation adventures too.
On this particular trip, my friend Anita and I were traveling through eastern Cambodia, and we decided to visit Banlung, not the hottest tourist destination on the map.
We booked a simple b&b at the Happy House, run by Mr. and Mrs. Puthe, and assisted by their cheeky toddler, Ton-Ton.
The first night, we were walking back to our room, navigating through dark alleys full of barking dogs on the loose. What an ominous thriller intro that was!
At home, we found Ms. Puthe wrapping their puppy in lemongrass leaves, like it was a sushi roll, claiming the little guy was “broken”. The toddler said that the dog fell off something, but the leaves treatment looked like a dog-soup preparation to me. Would the poor thing be cooked for dinner? It wouldn’t be the first time I witnessed Cambodians eating alternative sources of protein.
The next day, nobody was mentioning broken legs anymore. Mr. Puthe’s theory was that the puppy ate the toad eggs, and was going to die in the next days. He explained that lemongrass wrapping was meant to heal the dog’s stomach.
But later, black magic entered the diagnosis. There was no more mention of broken legs or spoiled tummy; the dog became the victim of some evil witchcraft.
Dogs in Banlung protect houses against black magic, Mr. Puthe explained, and now, our first-night walk through the town made us feel like evil intruders. Were these dogs protecting their homes, or attacking the demons?
Our host explained that nothing was left to chance for people who had to leave home for work. He pulled out his belt, and in the hidden pocket, there was a dried piece of a foreskin of a black dog. His mother had given him this lucky charm to ward off ghosts while he was out of town, working with “black people”.
We didn’t understand their beliefs completely, but their actions and stories definitely raised our eyebrows. If someone had told me I’d be once renting a room from a man hiding an extra foreskin in his pants, I would have thought they were joking.
6. When someone didn’t press flush in the hotel elevator.
You never know what kind of crap you’ll encounter on your travels. The last on this limited list of my biggest WTF moments happened in Riga, the capital of Latvia.
I was staying at Grand Palace, a sophisticated and elegant 4-star hotel in the historic center.
One should never miss a free breakfast in a hotel, but I also assume one would think that missing one’s own room is an even more extreme omission.
I woke up, and headed down to the dining room, only to find out that someone used the hotel elevator as their own personal toilet. In the corner, there was this giant smelly pile of poop.
Now, I understand that nature calls and sometimes you have to answer. But who in their right mind chooses not to relieve themselves in their own pants, but instead take a less embarrassing solution (?) of squatting in the corner of an elevator, while not knowing who they’d encounter once the door opened at their chosen floor?
I concluded it was human feces, because well – it was there. Certainly, I couldn’t imagine anyone with a dog not having the decency to clean up after it messed up the hotel elevator. The fact that the culprit just ran away was telling me he or she was running on two legs.
People can be truly disgusting, and surprise you with their surreal choices when you least expect a surprise. I wanted an all-inclusive, but that was certainly not the best appetizer for the breakfast I had in plan.
Biggest WTF moments in travel – conclusion
We travel to be surprised. Usually, we hope for those surprises to be positive. We don’t normally expect surreal experiences to haunt us in our nightmares.
People with different habits, beliefs, and circumstances than ours can leave us feeling shocked, bewildered, and sometimes nauseous.
WTF moments make me cherish travel as a one-of-a-kind, almost addictive adventure
During my global gallivanting, incentives for getting surprised were plentiful. From fellow passengers feeling the wind between their toes to drivers behaving like possessed, from room renters that give you too much information to friendships that break before they had the chance to start, it’s a fine line between moments that are pleasantly memorable and those that you’d rather forget as soon as possible.
Funny turns into bizarre, bizarre turns into shocking, and the next thing you know: shocking turns into downright disturbing or even dangerous.
When life prepares such scenarios, my jaw drops like a barbell. On the other side, these surreal experiences make me cherish travel as a one-of-a-kind, almost addictive adventure. It’s the thrill of the unknown, the unexpected, and the downright weird that keeps me coming back for more.
I don’t know if these are the biggest WTF moments in the history of WTF moments, but if you have your own crazy travel experience with a twist, contribute to the discussion below. Thank you for traveling with Pipeaway for six years already!
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