An insight into the world of travel

Asian Food On The Go. November 29, 2009

Filed under: Malaysia,Singapore,Thailand,Travel — backpackerbird @ 10:03 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Discover the delights of  food Asian food on the go. 

One of the biggest questions before a long train ride is about eating. By that I mean not only what food there will be, but whether there will be any at all.

On long-distance trains in America, Japan, China and Siberia, I feasted on delicious finds en route, but journeys like these always start with a stock-up of unfamiliar snacks at the station kiosks.

In Singapore’s art deco terminal, bound for Bangkok, I spied something unusual: durian flavoured popcorn.

Now, the durian is a fruit which provokes abject delight or utter disgust. Its pungency is legendary: a mixture of cheese, onions, sherry, rotting meat and drains.

Author Anthony Burgess wrote that it was “like eating sweet raspberry blancmange in a lavatory”. The celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain described it far worse: “Like French-kissing your dead grandmother”. Oddly, he is still a huge fan.

So potent is the aroma from its large, fleshy lobes that the green, spiny fruit is banned from hotels, hospitals, planes and most other public transport, trains included.

Novices, like me, start the relationship cautiously.

I first sampled it as an ice-cream flavouring. So how could I resist durian popcorn? I bought one of the luridly coloured packets, tucked it into my bag and started my two-day journey.

Spicy rice

Inside train carriage
Sitting in the dining car with mugs of teak-coloured tea and fresh papaya, time flew by in a jungle tunnel.

The first part of my trip to Bangkok began on the jungle train, which burrows through the heart of Malaysia to the east coast.

Rail aficionados love the west-coast route from Singapore via Butterworth and Kuala Lumpur, a journey through British colonial history.

But I fancied fewer rubber plantations and more mystery.

I clambered into my second-class sleeper.

It was comfortable but the upper berth was a little cramped for a picnic of snacks, so I went in search of spicy rice in the dining-car.

Back in my bunk, night fell quickly and the train powered into the dark, as Rudyard Kipling’s jungle tales worked on my imagination.

The dawn barely broke through the dense vegetation.

Sitting in the dining car with mugs of teak-coloured tea and fresh papaya, time flew by in a jungle tunnel.

We reached the end of my first line at Wakaf Bharu, and the durian popcorn was still intact in my rucksack.

Off the train and to the border by taxi.

Thai green curry

I crossed into Thailand on foot.

At Sunghai Kolok station, I bought a ticket for the afternoon train to Bangkok. It was a long wait, I was hungry and the durian popcorn was burning a hole in my bag.

Map showing Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia

But the prospect of something freshly cooked was suddenly more compelling. I walked into town and feasted on Thai green curry, watching the world go by.

Back on board, I had joyfully snagged a lower bunk in second class.

“Dinner?” A young Thai man with a long pony-tail and eyes made up like a peacock’s tail came to my seat with a menu.

It was one of my most enjoyable train meals ever, memorable also because this time armed guards were patrolling past my plate.

The previous month a train had been targeted by terrorists. But my tensest moment was a light one: a soldier got his rifle trapped in my compartment door and we shared a nervous smile.

Later an attendant – with a magician’s flourish – conjured my seat into a single bed, with fine white cotton sheets and a thick white throw as seen at boutique hotels.

I smiled “goodnight” to the woman across the compartment, drew the curtain and slept better than I have in many a stationary bed.

Dawn broke on villages, paddy fields and limestone crags. Children were walking to school, motorbikes coursing across the landscape. Soon we were cruising up the east coast of Thailand, in sight of the sea.

Fishy porridge

We were running two, maybe three, hours late.

Packet of durian-flavoured popcorn
Three weeks later, back in England, the durian popcorn is still unopened

My fellow-travellers were getting tetchy and I was getting hungry. I searched for the durian popcorn.

But I wondered whether I should risk unleashing this incendiary flavour.

As I deliberated, the train stopped at a station full of hawkers bringing food onboard.

“Try!” said a fellow passenger pushing a bowl of fishy porridge into my hands.

Glutinous rice, shrimps and spicy green vegetables. Delicious.

I arrived at Bangkok station still reclining on my white-draped sofa-bed. I had promised myself a Thai beer and the noodle classic, pad Thai, before heading for my plane.

Three weeks later, back in England, the durian popcorn is still unopened.

I gave it to a friend and it has pride of place on his mantelpiece. He loves the lurid illustration on the packet and is waiting for an occasion to open it.

But he has never heard of durian. So, how much should I tell him?

Source BBC, From Our Own Correspondent, Christine Finn.


Backpackerbirds guide to, What to take.

Filed under: Travel — backpackerbird @ 1:09 pm
Tags: , , ,

Ok, so you’ve got your e- tickets, you’ve sorted out the all important travel insurance, and you are just waiting on your final visa to be approved. (heres hoping my passport makes its way back to me from the Vietnamese Consulate on time!) What next?… what to pack…

Here is the backpackerbird’s checklist. All you need to know about what you definitely do need to take and what you can afford to leave out… non of this sales pitch at Millets or over cautious travel guide talk. This is the stripped bare version. The real guide…

Ok there are a few things you categoricaly must take.

Travel documents: You dont want to get to Heathrow airport check in desk and realise you have left you tickets or passport behind. This however is a minor issue provided you have a willing parent or friend to dash back and get them. This is what the 3hr checkin time is for… isnt it!!! However it is a very different story if you find yourself rifling through your bag at the Brazilian border trying desperately to find the all important Yellow Fever certificate you were sure you packed. No documents, no entry. Remember to pack: Tickets, insurance documents, passport, vaccination certificates, visa documents, and always have a few spare passport photos for the visas you will get on entry to some countries. They usually ask for 2 photos with your application. Consider taking your references, if you are wanting to find work along the way it is always useful to have these to hand.

Medication: You mustn’t leave home without your pills. You dont want to be visiting the local Balinese backstreet doctor for your medication. Take it from me you would rather go without. Although if you do manage to forget anything there is a Boots on Ko San Road, Bangkok (assuming you are flying to Thailand 1st, most do)

Padlocks: All guide books like The Rough Guides 1st Time Around The World (a very enjoyable and informative read for those of you who have not travelled before) will advise you to take a lot useful and some unnecessary items, padlocks however are an essential. You have your life in your backpack, everything you need to survive. You dont want anything to go missing. From experience I have found that the majority of the backpacking community are extremely honest and are more interested in getting stoned and having a good time than stealing their fellow travellers belongings. It is not here you need to be too worried about, it is when you are passing across borders and flying to new lands that you need to be more vidulent. Always lock your bag at the zips and use a wire to attach your bag to the leg of your bed on any sleeper trains you go on. You will relax more if you know your belongings are safe. You dont want to be sleeping with one eye open.

Lighter: Always useful be it for lighting the fire on a Thai beach,getting the BBQ started in Australia or for use in recreational past times!

Penknife: If it’s not the knife you need it’s the scissors or the bottle opener. a very useful tool. Dont leave without it.

Sleeping bag and sleep sheet: If you are only visiting hotter climes a sleeping bag will not be needed. Take a good all round sleeping bag if you are going to be experiencing cooler weather e.g. Australian winter (yes it does get nippy). A sleep sheet however is a must have travellers essential. I have a silk one but cotton sleep sheets can be easier on the purse. Benefits to silk are, it will roll up much smaller and it will keep you cool in hot weather and warmer in cold. Not a night went by where i didnt use my sheet. If you find yourself in a grubby hostel with not so clean beds (it happens often) you can sleep easy knowing you are in your clean sheet. You can also line your sleeping bag with your sheet for extra warmth in those cold Andean Mountain passes.

Deet: By far the best insect repellant ever. You can find it in all good camping stores. Opt for 50+%, the higher the % the better. Mozzies hate the stuff. dont get caught out, bites are itchy and not too attractive!

Sun cream: Protect your skin. The sun is more damaging than you think, even if its cloudy. A burnt nose is a real turn off! go for high SPF. I always use 30 when Im travelling. Your not on holiday, you dont have to sun worship and get wrinkled skin, you are going to be in the sun for months, build up a good tan safely.

Travel towel: There is no room for a fluffy white towel. Go for a small anti-bacterial travel towel (available in all good camping stores). They are small, granted, but  you only need it to dry the nooks and crannies, most of the time you will drip dry. Think about buying a sarong in Asia for all those trips to the beach. A brilliant cover up (even for you guys) and doubles up as a towel to lay on on the beach. I have discovered, the sarong dressed, very useful ( if you are a girl).

Ear plugs: Staying in dorms in hostels is such good fun, I think the best way to meet people, but you will always get a snorer. Equipt yourself with a set of good plugs and you will sleep easy.

Torch: Vital for midnight pee’s on camping trips in the outback where light is hard to come by once they have turned the generator off. You dont want to be peeing on the a neighbours tent. Also useful on over night bus trips in Asia when you can’t sleep and fancy reading a book.

Mac-in-a-sac: (other brands are available) It is a given that you will, at some point experience torrential rain, be it in Asia, in the north of Australia and most likely in Europe. Keep your mac handy rolled up in the bottom of your day bag ready to whip out in a second for those equally as quick showers.

Washing line: What? I hear you ask… I have always taken a Lifevendure washing line. There are usually washing lines available in communal areas of most hostels but I like to hang my underwear in the private of my room. Dont fancy everyone seeing my smalls thanks. It works on a twisted elastic basis. You simply hook the line up and trap your knickers in ech twist of the elastic, no need for pegs. Genius. Try good for all the travel essentials I have mentioned.

Electricals: Dont forget your iPod and phone and more importantly dont forget the chargers. Those 12 hr bus journeys will seem like 24hrs with no music to listen to and a phone is always useful. I tend to get a new sim card for each country I go to that I’m staying in for a while. Excellent for keeping in touch with fellow travellers. Vodafone have fantastic sim only deals in Australia and New Zealand. Consider taking a Mini laptop (notebook) I didn’t take one last time but I have head times have changed. WiFi is readily available in most places. Using your own laptop is far better than the computers you can come across is some backstreet internet cafes, trust me they are old and very slow.

Travel guides: A good tool to refer to to double check border opening times, hostel phone numbers and train times. Most information you need you will get from other travellers who have been there, done that but a guide book is always useful for planning ahead.

Aside all the above dont forget your clothes and wash kit will you. You will not get too far without these!

A more detailed kit list will follow. I will write as I pack.


Judgement day. November 26, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — backpackerbird @ 10:49 pm
Tags: , ,

The train was chanting my name. ‘Choochoochoo I’m gonna get you’. The treat of having to endure two hours on the train each day was all too real. Today was the day my fate was decided for the next month. Would my wheeltrimless, bumped and bruised old Saxo pass its MOT? It just had to. I have to trawl up the monotonous M1 daily, which is a bore in its self but can you imagine the commute from Nottingham to Meadowhall on the train? I can picture it now. I’d be stood waiting for the engine to chug into Langley Mill station which is a sorry excuse for a station. I’d call it more a platform with an out of date information board which has ‘Dave woz ‘ere 9t8’ and ‘chelsea luvz Waggy 4eve IDST’ scrawled across it in permanent black marker. In the pitch black at 6am on my own or with a shady looking character who does nothing but grunt. I’d stand near the help point which probably connects you to a guy in a warm office somewhere too far away to get to you in time if you really were in trouble. Wrapped up to the eyeballs in hat scarf and gloves trying to fend off the bitter winter winds. Id rather not. Id prefer to sit in traffic dodging the 50 mph average speed cameras any day.

Thankfully the car passed. With only a few light bulbs needed changing. Granted I did know about these lights but I’m not that great with changing a lightbulb in the house let alone in the car (thats what boyfriends and Dads are for). I’ll leave it the experts. So, a chat with the mechanics about travel and a good strong cup of tea later, I walked out of the garage £70 worse off but the proud owner of a new Mot Certificate. Phew. No blustery mornings on the platform for me, no delayed trains because of ‘leaves on the line’. Just the M1 again.


Termination of contract.

Filed under: Travel — backpackerbird @ 6:36 pm
Tags: , ,

I’ve done it, I’ve written my notice… They know it’s comming but it doesnt make it any less eventful. Some would say 3 years isnt that long, I tell you its long enough. Time to get back to the world I know and love. Get me back to the streets of Bangkok with a Mai Tai in one hand and a woo woo in the other, back to the pure white beaches of the Whitsunday’s with my fins and snorkel at the ready and the beauty of Queenstown at the foot of the Remarkables.

I’m kinda nervous, this is ‘closeur’ as Katie Price would say. Have I really just quoted that daft,attention seeking, press manipulating woman? Guess so. It feels like the beginning of a new chapter. As of tomorrow (27th november 2009) I will be working my notice, counting down the days till I set off on the trip of a lifetime. I will just add that I have actually been counting down the days since June, nothing like getting excited early! But, now there are only 5 weeks left everything is definitely starting to become much more real. No longer are my plans for the future, they are for now. I need to get visas sorted out now. I need to sort out the insurance. I must plan what I am taking now. Time is running away from me, soon it will have run out on me, gone, and all that will be left to do is step onto that Boeing 747 bound for Bangkok. From here on in all I am interested in is travel plans and spending as much time with friends and family. There are just not enough weekends left to see everyone. I’m going to have to squeeze people in. I simply must see everybody before I go. Who knows when I’ll be back……

So I wonder how I will feel tomorrow after I have done it, after I have passed that little envelope across to my manager…FREE. bring it on.


Sacrifices. November 25, 2009

Filed under: Travel — backpackerbird @ 7:26 pm
Tags: , ,

If you can count the times you have been overdrawn on one hand there is definitely something wrong with your spending habits. We’re all as bad as each other. There is rarely a month goes by that I’m within budget. I can’t help myself, it’s those must have shoe-boots that Pixie Lott is rocking or that Benefit product that looks good enough to eat, it’s packaged so beautifully. I would go as far as to say I’m a marketing executives dream. Im drawn in by all the big lights, the all singing, all dancing gimmick, the BOGOF’s. It’s all one big scam to draw the credulous consumer (AKA me) in. I know what you’re game is. I know how these things work, so why can’t I stop myself? 

1 st it was the backpack. I just had to have the last model, the most appealing colour, the one with the most gadgets. Of cause non of which is really necessary and when I’m away. The colour of my bag is of  little importance, it’s more the amount of pockets it has and the comfort of it that really matters. Thankfully I know a man who can and I managed to wangle a rather large discount off my fabulous bag. It is certainly who you know not what you know. 

So, backpack aside I realised I am going to have to curb my spending habits or I would end up with more products than I could possibly want or even need to take away with me. After all there is limited space in my 55l monsoon. I will have to eliminate the un-necessary and only pack the essentials I require for my trip. Afterall if I am going to want to squeeze my  hair straighteners in, the 5 bikinis, 4 pairs of flip-flops, 3 hoodies, 2 pairs of leggings, 5 boobtubes, 4 skirts and a mac-in-a-sac might just have to be reduced. The straighteners are staying! 

I am trying to combat my addiction by staying away from shops, which is near impossible when I work in a shopping center. It’s a case of straight in and out of work, blinkers on so no shop window has chance to lure me in. I have even decided to leave my bank cards at home so I’m not tempted by all the beautiful new stock we have in our shop daily.  I keep telling myself  it will all be worth it. Its killing me.

I didn’t even cave in when Kasabian tickets were dangled in front of me like a carrot in front of a donkey. A few weeks back I would have snapped them up. I love them. All my friends were going to the gig. There was so much hype. But rationality took over and I did not buckle. I didn’t need to go, so I simply said no. I bloody wish I hadn’t, it sounded like an amazing night. However: I am now not in my overdraft for the 1st time in forever and I havent had to eat into my travel funds. I am only half way through the month though. Well here’s to making do with the 15 different types of lip gloss I own and digging out those shoe-boots I already had.


One of Lonely Planets top 10 regions 2010. November 23, 2009

Filed under: Australia — backpackerbird @ 11:19 am

The lush south-west of Western Australia offers variety in spades. Well-heeled Perth weekenders make the three-hour trek from the big city to the gourmet paradise of Margaret River; families of adrenalin-fuelled kids hit the Busselton beaches; recent city escapees live side-by-side with long-established farmers and long-haired hippies who’ve been hanging out here since the 70s. While word is out about the south-west, distance still dissuades many Aussie eastcoasters – take the opportunity to make it here before they do!

Life-changing experience
Waking and walking at sunrise on the Bibbulmun Track, with birdsong and a backdrop of crashing surf. Take weeks to walk its 963km length, or a couple of hours to stroll a section.

I havent ventured over to the West coast of Australia yet, but I will definitely be heading there this summer. I’m off to dig out my board shorts and rash vest right now!


A sunday well-spent brings a week of content November 22, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — backpackerbird @ 11:25 pm
Tags: ,

Who said Sunday was a day of rest? After a hectic, jam-packed week  trying to fit the gym around working late shifts followed by early shifts, setting up my blogs and trying to spend quality time with the family, I could have done with a lazy, kick back kinda Sunday. Alas; with only 6 weeks left until I fly to Bangkok and commence my long-awaited tip of the ever beckoning world I had to deal with one slight, and unforseen problem.

I have rented my house out while I travel to help pay for the mortgage. I opted for the all singing, all dancing fully managed deal with my letting agency. The idea is to let them deal with every eventuality whilst I am away.  Saves me worrying, thats the last thing I want, receiving a message mid snorkel… beep beep, beep beep… This is a message for backpackerbird, a pipe behind your toilet has sprung a leak, the bathroom floor have fallen through to the dinning room… No thanks. However; I have instructed them to contact me while I am still in the country if anything needs to be sorted, just incase I can fix it. A backpackers budget can be tight as you know. I can turn my hand to a bit of light DIY to save a few pounds.

I received the call on friday…. The guttering was overflowing and dripping on my next door neighbours wall thus causing damp. One thing I do know is damp is not good. I better get this sorted, pronto. So, with a little help from my devoted Dad and the neighbours (terraced community spirit, gotta love it) we set up the ladders and got to work clearing the gutter. Guess who was nominated to scale the less than stable, had seen better days, would definitely not pass a Health and safety test ladder?…. you guessed it….me! One stong gust of wind, one slip of the foot and I’d be a goner. Im not at all afraid of heights or of falling but this was no rock climb with safety ropes, no sky dive with a parachute, oh no this was extreme gutter cleaning. Balancing precariously on the top pun of the ladder I began to scoop. I had prepared myself with heavy-duty latex gloves, a light weight bucket and an old trowel. It was revolting. Gunk layered on top of moss on top of more gunk. I ended up looking like I had undergone a good old session in the mud wrestling pit!

All slime removed and we celebrated with a good strong cup of tea to warm us up as my fingers and toes were on the verge of frostbite.

Here hoping next Sunday is all bout lay-ins, eating way too much for dinner , chilling and catching up on X factor!