11 Questions with monkii Kien: A lifehacker who has pushed his limits while traveling the world

11 Questions with monkii Kien: A lifehacker who has pushed his limits while traveling the world

How many countries have you visited?
Nifty 50. The number is slowing down as I've started to return to many of the same countries to do more exploring.

How old do you feel? 
I feel exactly my age, 33, and it feels great. I think in general, people feel and look younger at a given age than previous generations. Whether it's due to a better understanding of our physiology and nutrition, or something else altogether, I know at 33, I feel stronger and healthier than I did in my 20s, and that for me is awesome.

What does wildness mean to you?
Wildness is about returning to the basics—channeling that part of yourself that has been dampened and silenced by the comforts of an advanced society and technology. We work less and less with our hands, at least compared to the ways of the past. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but it means we are, generally, less physical. Technology makes it easier and easier every day to minimize effort for most tasks. We build bridges instead of fording rivers and take well-marked paths instead of forging our own.

You’re a fantastic chef. Do you always eat for taste?
Competitive eating is just something I do from time to time. It's not any different from any other challenge on my bucket list. At the end of the day, there is a goal and I have to come up with a plan to achieve that goal. I love eating in general, so it's a natural pairing.

What are your competitive eating goals?
It doesn't interest me to maintain a lifestyle that is conducive to competitive eating, so that means it's about finding a challenge here or there that excites me, like the Big Texan Steak Ranch challenge in Amarillo, Texas. 72 oz rib-eye steak, baked potato, 3 fried shrimps, salad, and a roll in under an hour. That one currently haunts me because last time the steak won. I plan to return to Amarillo to complete that challenge.

What is the wildest food you've ever eaten? I eat almost everything and I'm not afraid to try most things. Some things are one-and-done items, but there are other things that I eat on a regular basis, things that people balk at on reality TV shows. Dried frogs, partially developed duck embryo eggs, and sheep brains are a few things that I love. I've eaten live squirmy grubs in Vietnam, the citrusy butts of ants in Australia, but perhaps the wildest thing I've eaten recently was a whole fruit bat in Palau. It was simmered in a coconut taro soup with everything intact: fur, wings, eyes, and protruding tongue. Aside from the soggy fur, it wasn't bad at all.

What is your approach to fitness, both at home and traveling?
I have a drastically different approach to staying in shape when I'm at home than on the road. At home, I have access to an amazing gym that offers everything from climbing, muay thai, boxing, lifting, and yoga. I take advantage of this and do a lot of cross training and cardio. It's easy to work out if you are not bored. On the road, it's about doing whatever you can, wherever you can. Running is a great way to see more of a place and explore. There are a lot of bodyweight exercises you can do anywhere, so I'll throw that in with the runs. Box jumps, stair hops, crawls, squats, dips, push-ups, and burpees to name a few. If I'm somewhere less urban, I can pick up a heavy rock and do some overhead presses or holds while walking. Working out on the road comes down to being creative with some very basic movements. There really is no excuse.

What is your go-to monkii bars workout?
I split my monkii bars workouts into two parts: a high, and a low; the height at which I have the bars set up. In the high position, I do pullups and chinups as well as power moves like muscle ups. I also work on my front and back lever which is a great full-body and core intensive workout. In the low position, I do a tabata/HIIT style workout where I do 4–8 sets of 10–20 reps of several movements, with a short 15–30 second break between each. In the low position, I can quickly move from exercises like pushups and rows to mountain climbers and pikes using the footstraps.

How did you become an adventure photographer?
I started going on adventures with my camera. It didn't matter what it was, I wanted to document it as I had documented everything before. And who wouldn't want a photo of themselves doing something awesome outside? The challenge and fun part is figuring out “how.” It's hard enough to be running along a ridge or rappelling down a waterfall; compound that with trying to do it with thousands of dollars worth of equipment. Your efforts aren't always noticed, as people tend to focus on the subject of the image, but the self-satisfaction is all that I need.

People dream of quitting their job to travel and see the world. Any advice for them?
Even while climbing the corporate ladder, complete with expensive client dinners, trips to London, and stays in 5-star hotels, I was still using my holidays to backpack, staying in hostels, and taking the road less-traveled. For these short periods, it was such a contrasting lifestyle to what I was currently living. I spent time with other travelers who had little money, but all the time and freedom in the world. They would budget out a few months of adventure and easy living on an island somewhere and then fly to Europe or Australia to work for a few months before repeating it all over again.

Meanwhile, after my two weeks off was over, I would go back to working for what would feel like a never-ending stretch of time before I could take some time off again. The money was good, but I didn't have the time to use it the way I wanted to. After enough of these short trips over my five years in the world of finance, I could not fathom letting the last few years of my 20s disappear in the same manner. I could always find a way to earn money later. I simply chose to quit my job knowing I had a little bit of savings and used that to fund a year’s worth of travel to all the places I've always wanted to visit. After that I decided to pursue my passion of photography and see if I could earn a living through my camera. Long story short, when you put all your efforts into something you care about, you will find some way to succeed. I truly believe that. Where people fail is when they lie to themselves about the effort they are willing to put forward. If you knew nothing about cooking today, but wanted to become a chef, there is a clear and logical path to doing it. It's nowhere near impossible. It just takes time, patience, and a lot of effort.

What has traveling taught you most?
Traveling has given me perspective. You no longer live in a bubble, nor can you pretend that you do. Beyond the sights and sounds, you see different ways of life. You see what makes people happy in one place versus another. For me, over time, it's helped me discover what makes me happy and directs me to seeing and doings things that I enjoy. Compared to when I first started traveling, I am now almost certainly traveling on my own terms. Traveling is about the people, the journey, and the collective experience.

Kien’s Lifehacker Workout

Fitness, training, or working out does not have to take place in a designated 1-hour time frame in a special gym with special machines and supplements. When traveling, your environment becomes the gym, and that’s all a part of the fun. Focus on seeing how you can be creative and use your surroundings to stay active while on your adventure.

Here’s a way to get in a 505-rep, full-body workout, spread throughout the day. Each “micro-workout” should only take a few minutes and leave you with a good pump, but not totally wasted. Do each session wherever you can setup your monkii bars. Think differently, be wild.


All Photos by Kien Lam. See more here: whereandwander.com

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