Backpackerbird

An insight into the world of travel

Get Writing… February 14, 2010

Filed under: Travel — backpackerbird @ 4:18 pm
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Apologies to all who have been eagerly awaiting more blogs. I had all good intentions of writing a regular blog. In reality this is near impossible when being wrapped up in the travel world. Unless of cause I was to decline an offer of a night out or to reside in an internet café in the mid day baking heat when I could be out having the time of my life. Writing my journal has been a struggle enough and haven’t written too much, this I regret so I am quickly trying to catch up with myself.

A Journal is and excellent and priceless tool. In past travel I have been religious in writing, I look back on the things I have been involved in, the people I have met, I jog my memory and reminisce. It is probably Journal reading that spurred me on the travel again.

So my advice to you is to keep a note of everything you do, even all the little meaningless events will give you much comfort in reading when you return home. As well as documenting what you do write about how you feel and the smells that waft your way as you walk through the bustling markets or past that open drain, Its these very memories photos don’t capture but your journal will hold forever.

 

Thailand on a Shoestring.

Filed under: Thailand,Travel — backpackerbird @ 3:53 pm
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For any of you planning to travel to Thailand here is a running tally of where I have been, what I have seen, accommodation I have stayed in and the travel I have done. Use this as a tool, a benchmark to compare, if nothing else prices to.

Note I travel in high season so some prices may vary. High season in Asia is generally November – March this is when the weather is more bearable, not as hot or humid. So if you travel at other times of the year you my find the prices I  quote to be cheaper.

£1 = 50B

Bangkok:

Accomm: Sawasdee Bunglamphu Guesthouse, Khao San Road, 650B per night for a twin. Quite pricey but staying on Khao San is. This guesthouse is clean and well looked after. In each room there is a TV, hairdryer, bathroom with complimentary shampoo and body wash and aircon. The staff are friendly and breakfast is included. The location is perfect, right in the middle of the busiest backpacker road in Bangkok.
D and D’s Khao San Road. I’m not going to review this guesthouse apart from to say don’t stay here. Too expensive for what you get and the staff aren’t friendly.
Green House, Bunglamphu, 590B for a twin. Basic but clean with private bathroom. Free wi-fi.

Experience: Trip to Kanchanaburi to see the bridge over River Kwai Noi, the tiger temples and an elephant trek, 750B.

Nightlife: Whilst Khao San Road offers all you could ever ask for, inc bars, food carts and markets, just around the corner is the more chilled Soi Rambuttri. The street is lined with lanterns and the bars more sedate, you can smoke shish in the street and drink till the sun comes up.

Eating: Try the street food. Its cheap and very tasty. 30B will buy you Pad Thai, a fried noodle dish with stir fried veg. Add a spring roll for 20B. Green guesthouse on Bunglamphu Road offers a wide range inc falafel if you fancy a bit of western food. Not expensive. A lot of the restaurants have the same menu and offer the same prices. This is prob due to competition. I didn’t have a bad meal in Bangkok.

Travel: Bus and Boat to Koh Tao, 500B. The 12 hour over night bus ride wasn’t at all unbearable. The bus was a VIP and air conditioned, blankets were provided. We arrived at Chumphon at 5am and waited for our boat which left at 8am. The boat was basic but the 3 hour ride was made easier by sunbathing on the roof.

Koh Tao:

Accomm: SB Cabana, 500B per night for a twin. Basic beach bungalows set just off the beach set amongst colourful flowerbeds. Extremely well kept gardens. Only 20metres from Sairee Beach. Fan and private bathroom.

Experience: Koh Tao is renound for its deep sea diving. A day diving will only set you back £30.Hire out mopeds for 200B a day. Explore the island. Head for the hills to take in the breathtaking views and discover all the beautiful secluded beaches which are sheltered by huge boulders. be careful of the rugged turane there is only one road through the middle of the island so dirt tracks are the only option. Head home before sunset as there are no street lights!

Nightlife: Kho Tao doesn’t offer too much but what it has got is excellent. Head to the beach bars Fizz or Lotus for the sunset (5pm) after a day on the beach, before heading back to your guesthouse for a spruce up. The party doesn’t get going until happy hour at Lotus bar at 9.30pm, buy one get one free buckets at 200B. The bar has rugs and Thai cushions on the beach with fire dancers to get the night rolling. By the end of the night everyone is dancing on the beach or in the sea!

Eating: Along the beach front there are many restaurants offering fresh fish, some with lobsters in tanks still alive waiting for you to pick them. Sairee cottages is good for breakfast., cereal, yogurt and fruit,60B or a fry up for 150B. Seashell offers similar, for lunch or tea choose from traditional Thai curries and soups or opt for western dishes, it up to you. A Thai dish will cost you 100B and a western dish perhaps double.

Travel: Boat and bus to Krabi 750B, boat to Railay 200B. The over night boat from Koh Tao to Surat Thai was probably the roughest I have been on. The boat was a sleeper so very comfortable. A group of us had to stop our game of poker to lay down and try not to feel sea sick. The boat rocked vigorously. The bus to Krabi as VIP and air conditioned but we were dropped off in the middle of nowhere forced to buy an onward ticket. This is the typical Thai con. Once you arrive in Railay you need to head for Ton Sai, the next beach on. Railay is now full of resorts and families on holiday. Ton Sai is totally travellers and a haven for climbers. The only way to get there is to climber over the mountain or wait for the tide to go out (3pm) and walk around the huge rocks separating the beaches.

Ton Sai, Railay.:

Accomm: Mambo Guesthouse, 500B for a double. Very basic bamboo hut set in the woods with private bathroom but out side. Cold shower. Electricity from 5pm till 7am. (this is true for the whole of Ton Sai) The staff are very friendly.

Experience: Climbing is the only thing you can do really. This will set you back quite a lot of money especially if you need to hire equipment and a guide to show you where to climb. Around 5000B for the day. This does include kayaks and lunch too.

Nightlife: Limited… Ton Sai is very laid back. Climbers are tired after a whole day on the rocks. Head away from the beach to find the livelier bars. Reggae bar is set on quite a large piece of land. Loads of hammocks and cushions to sit on. fire dancers walk the slack line whilst showing off their skills. Space cakes are available at the bar.

Eating: Any of the bars and restaurants serve a standard menu but try the traditional Thai BBQ’s if you are into your meet. You can pick your fish or meet from a wide selection and pay by the lb. I haven’t heard a bad thing said about this food.

Travel: Boat to Koh Phi Phi, 350B. A long tail boat will take you to the main boat anchored out at sea then a 3 hour sail.

TBC…

 

Reviews Bangkok January 19, 2010

Filed under: Thailand,Travel — backpackerbird @ 2:52 am
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I thought I would compile a review of where I have stayed and the transport I have taken on my travels so far. Just a little guide for any of you planning to travel.

Note: £1 = 50 Thai Bart

Room prices are for doubles or twins so split price between 2.Bangkok:

On arrival its best to get on a mini bus to the centre for a few reasons… you share the cost of the ride with others on the bus. You get to meet people straight away, you might even decide to stick together and stay in the some guest house or at least meet them later for a drink. And it is safer if you travel alone. Another option is to take a taxi which suits some, if you a travelling in a group or if money is no object. If you do take a taxi ask to be on the meter if its not rush hour but if the traffic is bad ask for the flat rate. This rate is usually about 400B to Khao San Road (the main backpacker hub).

Depending on whether you are up for a mad night in Bangkok or a more mellow night will determine where you stay. I will always advise you to stay in the Khao San area but there are 2 main roads you can stay on. Khao San road is the obvious option. Its is a fun packed, mental never sleeping road full of bars and street vendors selling clothes and food. Stay in Sawasdee Bunglampoo or Sawasdee Bangkok Inn both offer a clean spacious room with air con, and even have a fridge and a hairdryer at your disposal. They also concentrate on the finer details like mini shampoo an conditioner. Perfect after a long journey. This all comes at the price of 650B which isn’t too cheap for Bangkok but is by far the best place I have stayed in the big city. Don’t stay in D & D’s, also on Khao San Road. It likes to attract you with is rooftop pool and its hotel looking exterior. For 750B you get a sweaty windowless box of a room with inadequate air con. I didn’t even get to use the pool, there was an electrical storm, I wasn’t about to dive in the water to get electrocuted! Waste of money, don’t be fooled.

If you fancy a more chilled atmosphere or have had enough of the crazy Khao San opt for Soi Chana Songkhram, a road just round the corner from Khao San. Personally my favourite place in Bangkok. The street is lined with pretty multicoloured lanterns and is full of chilled out bars and restaurants. There are no Tuk Tuk men hassling you to go see a ping pong show and no lady boys luring you into their cabaret shows like on Khao San. For basic accommodation stay in My House. Its clean and well presented. They play films every night at 8pm and is a great place to meet people. Prices start at 500B. Or if you fancy a pool go for Rambuttei Guest House, a large and hotel like. Prices start at 750B.

Things to do whilst in Bangkok:

Take a boat ride up and down the river. Khoa San is near pier 13. There are 30 piers so plenty of river to cover. it’s a bargain at 13b a ride. If you fancy, visit the Golden Palace or the reclining Buda easily reached on the river, only a few stops down. Go to the Prison at stop 30, but pre book your visit. You can obtain the name of an in mate through the British embassy and visit them for free to chat about their experiences behind the Bangkok bars. Just take along a few treats like cigarettes and food. Take a day trip to Kanchanaburi, prices start at 750B pp for a full day tour depending on what you want to see. Options include The bridge over The River Kwai, Floating markets, The Tiger Temple, Elephant Treking, and Bamboo Rafting. All in all a brilliant day out.

 

Advice to a Traveller.

Filed under: Thailand,Travel — backpackerbird @ 2:43 am
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The best advice I can give to all you budding travellers,…never book ahead. I have come across friends who have booked flights or accommodation whilst at home before they set foot into the unknown, not knowing what to expect of the world. They have regretted every minute of their premature actions. Say for example you book a flight from Koh Samui to Bangkok on the 23rd Jan, you have got to be there on that date but many find they want to change their plans according to who they meet and what the crowd is doing. Or you may have booked a few nights accommodation on a remote island that you we advised to do in STA because ‘Its high season and you might not find anywhere to stay’ this will restrict you to having to stay in that beach hut at that time even if you want to stay with the friends you have made.

There is always accommodation to be found everywhere you go, even if you do have to trapes the streets with your 20kg backpack to find the best deals, you will always pay less when you are out here too. And flights are easily obtained on the internet. So book things only when you are out in the big wide world. Plans always change.

Take me for example. I planned to go North after Bangkok to Chang Mai to trek the mountainous jungle for a few days before heading into Laos: However I met up with a girl and get on like a house on fire, we gathered a group together and fancied some island hopping 1st so that is what we did. We will head North after discovering what the islands have to offer. If I had booked a flight to Chang Mai at home or a trip up North I would have had to sacrifice my trip or my newly found friends. Nether would have been ideal.

 

Straight in. Get on it. January 4, 2010

Filed under: Thailand,Travel — backpackerbird @ 5:05 pm
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I was the first to sit on my row on the plane. Would I be in luck? would I have all three to myself? No chance, the plane was packed out. I was joined by Chris and Nadia, like minded seasonal travellers. We chatted about where we had been and where we were heading. We gassed until dinner arrive. Great, I had forgotten to order a veggie meal. I had to settle for two starters from the meat dish which luckily didn’t contain meet.

After watching (500) days of Sumer, which made me laugh uncontrollably and embarrassingly, I fell asleep until breakfast was served, I opted for the healthy choise: cereal, gotta keep my figure this time.

I didn’t recognise the airport at all to say I had flown into Bangkok 3 times now. It wasnt until I realised it was only build 3 years ago that i knew why. I walked through arrivals with my bags weighing me down like a pack horse and was supposed to be meeting a transfer man, you know the type, waving a card with my name on it. He was nowhere to be seen. A slight sence of panic set in. A realisation that I was truly on my own in Asia. After waiting by a taxi rank which clearly wasnt the correct place I wandered back inside the airport only to be greeted by a women holding my name up. Phew.

I met Paul and Kate on the mini bus. They were staying near me. Perfect. We arrived on Khoa San Road at 6.30pm local time and agreed to meet in half an hour outside the hostel. A quick turn around, just enough time for me to freshen up. but we just had to get on it.

Khoa San Road was starting to get busy. All the market stalls were selling Thai pants and knock off watches. Street food made the smells I remember from before so tempting. Walking whilst eating we saw a fish massage bar and had to give it a whirl. 290 Bart bought me a beer and unlimited time in the pool. Dipping our feet in the water the fish instantly nibbled my toes. Expensive but worth it. The next bar was advertised with a sign saying ‘ Very Strong, We Dont Check ID’!!!  to be continued…….

 

Snow Way December 26, 2009

Filed under: Home life — backpackerbird @ 1:40 pm
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When I woke to a light sprinkling of powder white, untouched snow, I couldn’t have imagined how the day ahead would turn out.

I had the usual 5.30 am freezing my ass of whilst I struggle to scrape the frost off my windscreen, and run up to Sheffield. This was to be my last trip, the final journey. No more commute up the monotonous M1, no more 50mile an hour speed restrictions, whoop.

The day panned out in the usual manner. A quick last-minute shop for forgotten christmas presents on my lunch and a meal at Homemade Burger Co. with Kay rounded off the working day nicely.

The doctors were waiting for me as I rolled up 5 minutes late to my appointment. I blamed it on the weather, little did they know that the roads where clear (for now). A consultation about missed jabs (too late now) and a prescription of two later and I was ready for the long sluggish drive home.

I had a change of mind. As my time here is limited and the car insurance runs out soon I decided to get in touch with an old flame.

3 hours later I was still nestled into my armchair toasting my feet in front of the crackling fire in the Phoenix. It wasnt untill we saw many a punter trudge through the door covered in pearly white snow that we thought it would probably be a wise idea to head home.

Problem… the snow had come down thick and fast whilst we had been putting the world to rights in th comfort of the pub. I didn’t even attempt to try to get my car out of the drift it had been encased in. Shaun braved it. The wheels span but the car did not budge. I got out, too scared of sliding into the hedge or worse still, another car. Thankfully there were many guys to get behind the car and push it to freedom. I jumped in and hoped the roads would be clear. Not so much….. they were as bad if not worse. A quick consultation into which route to take and we headed out on possibly the most treturous journey I’ve taken since the dreaded Bangkok to Siem Reap all those years ago.

I know very little of driving in such conditions. Traction? Wheel spins? ABS? I didn’t drive, I left that to Shaun. We crawled at no faster than 10 miles an hour. The hills around Sheffield were unforgiving. The moment we felt safe to put on the gas we would collide into the curb or skid across to the other side of the road. The junctions proved to be hazardous. There was no stopping the car, the breaks were redundant. Praying other cars would realise our fate and stop to let us by was our only hope. Thankfully on arrival to the junction at the bottom of one hill we were met by a 4X4, perfectly equipted with all the essential technology for these conditions, about the only time these Chelsea tractor drives have a purpose for their road beasts.

There was no way I was driving back to Nottingham on my own and no way Shaun could come with me. The only option was to say over in Sheffield.

Funny how things turn out. Fate is a mysterious thing.

 

Day Pack Essentials and Dodging Excess Baggage Fines December 9, 2009

Filed under: Rio,Travel — backpackerbird @ 4:55 pm
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I thought this day would never come. 6 long months I have been waiting patiently ’till the day when I can start packing. ‘You still have 3 weeks left until you hit the road’ I hear you say… 3 weeks of  trying to fit all my friends around the last few days of work. Many a boozy night is ahead of me now, I simply haven’t got time to wait any longer. Of cause I will probably pack, unpack, re pack and pack again. Im that kind of organised freak.

So I thought I would compile a detailed list of what I would call Day Pack Essentials. I will follow this blog up with Backpack Essentials. But for now here is all you will need in your day pack, all the things you will need to hand, a fool-proof guide to getting it right when travelling.

I must add, the day pack is an extension to your backpack. If you are anything like me you will be struggling to fit all you want to take in one rucksack. Things tend to overspill into the daypack particularly when you have been on the beaten track for a while. No matter how hard you try not to buy useless tack that at the time you thought would be a perfect gift for your mum, you inevitably end up carting around more than you set out with. Curbing spending money on such things is a skill I am yet to acquire.

I had been in South America for 3 months when I was due to fly from Rio to Lima. I had the mistake buy, my Roxy soft surf bag (mentioned in Getting the right backpack. (a follow up on what to take)), my day pack, additional hold all I had purchased in Argentina and a stiff cardboard tube containing a large (100cm x 30cm) panoramic photo of  Rio. Arriving at the check in desk I was asked the usual… ‘Has anyone helped you pack your bags to day?’ No… ‘Has anyone offered to carry your bags today?’ No… and ‘How many bags will you be checking in today?’ Ummm. Well I did try my hardest to check in just the one bag and sneek the rest on as hand luggage but of cause there is a weight restriction on this. And yes you guessed it, my bags were over that limit, even over the check in bag weight limit. I was carrying 45kg, 23kg over the limit.  Oooppps.

A moment later and a receipt was presented to me, the charge of my 3 month long over spend in South America… $200. £200? I can’t have had $50 to my name at this point of my travels, how was I going to pay for that. Jesus I’m in trouble. Panic set in, I had to battle with the tears that wanted so badly to steam down my embarrassed red cheeks. I took a huge gulp and asked to speak to someone about this matter. I quickly composed myself and put on my ‘I can talk myself out of anything’ head and walked towards the smartly dressed official who was coming my way, he had a look of purpose across his face. this wasnt going to be easy.

My Spanish wasnt the best let alone my Portuguese, I didnt have a hope of understanding this guy. I tested my charm on him, it didnt work. He soon got fed up of me begging in a language he didn’t understand and sent me to an office behind the check in desks. Here I was pleasantly greeted by a good looking petite girl, I’d say a reject air hostess who didn’t meet the hight restrictions to be a fully fledged hostess so had been shoved in an office. I sat in front of her and tried my very hardest to explain my situation. After a good old grovel and an animated shaking out of my purse to reveal only a $20 note and a few coins. we came to an agreement. I would slip her the $20 and she would work her magic. I couldnt believe it, I had got away with a $200 fine for a backhand $20. I went on my way. Result. Lets hope I don’t acquire too much excess baggage this time round!

So, a good place to start when deciding what to pack in your day pack would be to look in the bag you use on a day to day basis in your normal life. If you usually carry medication pack that, if you chew gum, throw that in. There are the additional seasonal indispensable, sun cream and mosquito repellant. This is what I plan to have in my day pack and why.

Camera – any one who knows me knows that I cannot leave home without my camera, capture every moment forever.

Sun cream – avoid looking like a lobster.

Passport – you wont be going anywhere without this.

Vaccination record – some countries can be funny about you entering without proof of vaccines.

i pod – helps ease the 17hr flights and 24hr bus journeys. (although mine has just decided to die, typical)

Phone – not only can you communicate but doubles up as a clock. I never wear a watch when travelling, the only time you really need to know the time is if you are catching a flight.

Purse/wallet – goes without saying or you’ll get nowhere.

Insect repellent (deet) – avoid being eaten alive in the tropics.

Lip balm spf 20 – to soften lips on the air conditioned planes and to avoid burning lips in scorching heat.

Condom – you never know when you might need one,always protect yourself.

Sunglasses – or you will be blinded by the lights

Lighter – dont get caught out when you fancy a little recreational drug use.

Antibacterial hand gel – get those hands clean before eating.

Deodorant – freshen up on a  long journey.

Toothbrush and paste – get rid of that travel breath after being asleep on the bus for hours.

Chewing gum – freshen your breath before liaising with the opposite sex.

Spare memory card – you dont want to run out of photo space before you have chance to download them.

Padlock – lock your bag when you are in crowded places or if you are leaving it to persue an activity like sky diving.

Penknife – Always useful, make sure the blades are less than 6” or you will run the risk of being interrogated for carrying an offencive weapon.

Medication – paracetamol, antihistamines etc

Guide book – always good to read up on where you are heading.

Journal – you never know when you might be inspired to write. Good for scrawling down contact details of people you meet.

Mac-in-a-sac – A good a place as any to keep your rain coat, at hand to whip out in a flash tropical storm.

As you become more comfortable with travel you will tailor your day pack to your individual needs. You will realise what you need regularly and can’t face digging deep down into the depths of your backpack for every time you require it. You may leave your backpack on the roof of an Asian mini bus or in the hold of a Boeing 747 but your day pack will by always by your side.