How to Island Hop in Fiji

Fiji invokes images of picture perfect white sandy beaches, azure blue water, and chilled Island vibes. If you get out of Nadi, this is definitely the case.

How to get to the Islands

There is really only one company you can use to physically get between the various Islands – Awesome Adventures. They run the only daily boat from the Port at Denanru through the Yasawa island group. You can buy a pass for this boat which covers all your transfers between the Islands for the duration of your stay.  There are other options if you want to stay at just a few Islands rather than hop between.  

They also offer a Combo pass which includes all your accommodation in either 1 or 2 coconut rated resorts. If you book a 1 coconut pass, your food is also included. In the 2 coconut resorts you often pay an additional meal plan of up to 130 FJD per person per night. On balance, the 1 coconut options are absolutely fine for backpackers on an budget.

Sounds Awesome Right?

In theory, you can book your next resort when you get on the boat. In practise, you should do it a few days in advance, no matter what they say on the boat or via email – especially in high season. We were there in low season and twice there was no availability on the island we wanted to go to.  In the end we starting asking the resorts to book, or phoning ourselves.

So, not actually that awesome.  Because Awesome charge quite a bit more than the resort would direct for accommodation. They also do, at least in our case very little for the extra they charge you.  It seems they also take quite a bit in commission from the properties.

So, our recommendation would be to book your accommodation options directly.  The properties see more of your money this way. Given that the 1 Coconut resorts are all Fijian owned and mainly ran by families this an only be a good thing. – this can usually be done via Facebook.

Things to note re 1 coconut properties: 

  • Electricity: Is not 24 x 7 and not always in your room. Where there is 24 x 7 electricity, it is often in a shared place. If you have electricity in your room or dorm it will be at set times of the day
  • Water: Despite the fact that Fiji has the tastiest water in the world, there is really a water shortage in the Islands. You should expect to buy water in the resorts and you should expect it to cost more than it does on the mainland, because of the freight costs to get it to the Islands. We paid 8FJD in one resort for a 1.5l bottle of water. If you are going for a few days, then it is feasible to buy water on the mainland and take it with you. If you are going for longer than 4 days I’m not sure it is worth the extra hassle. They do sell water on the boat for less than 5FJD though if you need to buy some and aren’t willing to pay the higher prices in the resorts.
  • Dry season: If you go in the middle of dry season you should expect there to be water restrictions for showers etc. But fear not, because there is always an enormous swimming pool next to the beach.
  • Bugs: I don’t mean ants, mosquitos, and flies. If you have an issue with them you really should just entirely avoid the tropics. But, I am terrified in an entirely irrational way of spiders. Even the tiny ones. Fiji has Huntsman and Tarantulas, and we encountered both in unacceptable sizes for someone has terrified of them as I am. They are not poisonous. They did not attack me in my sleep. Everything was fine

About the 1 Coconut resorts

We had a 21 day Combo pass which covers food, travel and accommodation in an double room for 20 nights. In hindsight, 2 weeks would have been more than enough so the first piece of advice we’d give anyone is don’t Island hop for more than 2 weeks.

We had the opportunity to use all of the 5 of the 6 resorts in that time.

Waya LaiLai Ecohaven

This is a property owned and run by the local village. The Bure are spacious, you get towels, a furnished balcony and a decent shower. The food is plentiful, and reasonably varied. The people are really friendly.

Plus, you can snorkel with white tip reef sharks from here for the princely sum of 60FJD

Nabua Lodge

This is the biggest 1 coconut resort in the Yasawas and holds up 80 guests. There is entertainment each evening, the bar is open until 10pm, or whenever you stop drinking. They run a large number of different activities each day and the food is really good.  The bures are comfortable and spacious.

White Sandy Beach Resort

The beach is nice, the Bures are reasonably well furnished, which a cute outside shower area in each. The people are really nice & make an effort to get people involved so it has more of a social atmosphere. But, the food was bland, and there wasn’t enough of it. One morning for breakfast they put out cereal, but no milk. One lunch was boiled rice and vegetable super noodles. If you are a foodie, this is not the place for you.

Gold Coast Inn

Set on a really windy beach, which is perfect when the sun is beating down. It is a really pretty resort. Small and very homely. There is no electricity in the rooms but there is 24 x 7 electricity in the main lounge. The bures are set above the beach so you have great views. The family who run this place are amazing. The food was the best we had. You can also walk across to the other side of the island and snorkel the famous blue lagoon for free. The owner even gave Steve a haircut whilst we were there. 

Long Beach Resort

Another family run resort – The people are really friendly. The food is really favourful. The bures are enormous. The kids are super cute. The reef around the back of the island is huge, and has great snorkelling which costs $15 each. It’s a very relaxed and chilled atmosphere but if the right group of people are staying it can be lively in the evenings as well.

Whichever of these Islands you go to, you can be assured of a warm Fijian welcome and the best hospitality you can imagine. Enjoy!

How to get around Thailand

Thailand is a pretty big place. But the good news is there are many ways of getting about.  One of the real joys of travelling long term is that you can take some of those longer, more budget friendly options. But there are pitfalls to many travel options that it is wise to avoid!

Between Cities/Islands

Planes:

They can be expensive, but sometimes you just have to do it. There are many many low cost carriers in Thailand. Air Asia, Bangkok Airways, and Thai Lion are the ones we have used. BUT, even if the cost of the flight itself is cheap, bear in mind that getting to or from either Bangkok airport to Khao San Road is going to involve a taxi.

If you are staying near a BTS or MRT station (more later) then getting from Suvarnabhumi Airport is a relatively simple and inexpensive process. But most Low cost airlines fly to Don Mueang Airport, which does not have a link to either the BTS or MRT. There is also the exorbitant cost of food etc at airports which can be mitigated somewhat by using other means of transport.

Trains:

For longer journey between cities, Trains are pretty cool. Thailand’s overnight train service is actually okay. Its not our favourite way of getting anywhere. However you do get a flat sleeper bunk, so with the aid of sleeping pill (distressingly easy to obtain in Thailand without prescription) you can get a fairly good night sleep. It’s slightly slower than the bus, but more comfortable. The 2nd class AC bunks are absolutely fine. Though always take extra clothing, and some food with you as the AC is brutal and the food on board is terrible and overpriced!.

Note that if you plan to go to the South of Thailand by train you still need to get a ferry or bus from Surat Thani to either the East or West. To Chiang Mai in the north, it’s a very straight forward 14 hour journey.

Buses

The overnight buses in Thailand are genuinely a thing of beauty.  This is the way most Thais get places. You just need to make sure you get the right kind. Tourists buses should be avoided  – see our post on why here.  VIP buses are the best as the seats are wider and there are less of them on the bus.

There are also Minivans which ply the shorter of the long distance route such as Chiang Mai to Pai, or over to Koh Lanta from Krabi.  These are a little cramped if you are over 5 ft tall, but they are serviceable and you’ll only be on them about 4 hours max.

Ferries

Ferries are your route to the Islands.  They come in various different forms but mainly they are big passenger ferries.  The catamarans are quicker, but more expensive.  They are all pretty comfortable.  You can even get your sunbathing on if you pick a eat up top, or get your sleep on if you pick one on a lower air conditioned deck.  Something for everyone abounds.

There are Island hopping passes you can buy but our experience of the Islands was that we loved a couple so much we went back. If you buy a pass up front then make sure it allows this.

Around Town

Songthaew

These are pick up trucks with 2 benches in the back. They are used on many of the islands as a means of getting about. You’ll also see them everywhere in Chiang Mai. They offer fixed price journeys – but make sure you check the price before you get in – there are a few who will try to over inflate the price on you. They are often the cheapest way to get around a town if you don’t want to ride a scooter.

Tuk Tuks

These come in various forms depending on the city but in principle they are all 3 wheeled, with either a side car or trailer for you and your stuff to sit on. InBangkok when you are asked if you want a taxi, this is what they mean. It doesn’t matter how far you are going, they start off asking for 400 baht. They don’t tend to like it when you try to negotiate. Which is why we rarely used them there.

Taxis

In Bangkok, and Chiang Mai, Grab and Uber are available and are pretty cost effective options. The metered taxis are less so because somehow, the meters don’t seem to work, and guess what? The price is always at least 400 baht. We walked 6km one night out of spite and stubbornness after 6 taxis in a row refused to use a meter. In Koh Samui there is a well run mafia in charge of the taxi services. This means no bartering and no Uber.

MRT and BTS

In Bangkok, the Underground (MRT) and Sky Train (BTS) are very safe, relatively inexpensive and comfortable ways of getting around the centre.  These should be your go to means of transport. They are Air conditioned, and not in the poor way the Northern Line is.  People are well mannered, in a way they definitely aren’t on the northern line.  Its is a wondrous public transport experience.

Scooters.

We have rarely used these for a number of reasons. Sarah tried riding one and hated it. Her hatred of driving one was only surpassed by her hatred of not being in control when she rode on the back of one. However, if you aren’t a control freak with terrible balance. These are not a bad way of getting around some places. Please do wear a helmet though, because the Thai police will give anything to get some cash out of you in the form of a fine. A fine that no one in authority will ever see – also, coincidently it seems to 400 baht.

 

How to cope with Homesickness on the road

After nearly 8 months away, i guess it was inevitable that homesickness would catch up with us.

We were in Siem Reap. All geared up for a day at Angkor Wat. Number 1 thing on my bucket list. Suddenly, I was crying over my morning coffee.

Maybe it was the facebook message from an ex colleague about Hendrinks glittery gin, which reminded me how much i missed her, and , in all honesty, gin.  Or the picture of our friends baby that will be 8 months old by the time we meet him. Perhas it was because whilst going round Angkor Wat the day before all I could think of was how much my mum, and father in law would have absolutely loved it, or how many photos my mother in law would have taken. Its possible it was that it was my youngest nieces birthday and i was not there, or that i suddenly realised i was going to miss one of my other nieces 18th birthday.

But I do know what set me off crying. A WhatsApp message with this photo

These are three of our best friends. People who were at our wedding in Jamaica. We spend Christmas with them and treat their kids like we do our nieces and nephews. These are people we have known for decades, and in the case of the baldy one on the left, Steve’s best man and someone who he has been friends since they were 4. The last photo of those three together included us at New Years, which was our last night in Britain before we left on this trip.  Now, they were having fun – WITHOUT US.

So how do you get past the homesickness? Its likely to hit you at some point and you can’t feel bad when it does. You do have to deal with it though.

Use Technology

This was the point I was reminded how small the world really is. Next thing I know, we’re on a WhatsApp call with said friends, trying to talk them into a festival next summer

There are very few places in the world where there isn’t any wifi. There are hundreds of apps which allow you call people no matter where you are.  WhatsApp, Viber, FB Messenger. Also, people will make an effort to keep up with you. My Grandad joined Facebook just to keep up with our trip. Set up a page so people can see what you’re up to. This also ensure that your main facebook page is not consumed with your trip photos etc and allows people to choose to see what you are up to!

I also find just dropping a WhatsApp to my sister & mum and an email to my Grandad helps me feel connected with home.

Snail Mail

Next was to send a current pic of us to the friends with the new baby, with instructions to show said picture to little Theo lots so he knew who we were and didn’t cry when he saw us in the flesh. Every baby in Cambodia has cried when I smile at them. It hurts my soul so I can’t have him scared of me too! Sending a physical picture from Cambodia to Southampton is a somewhat time consuming process without technology, but thankfully there are apps that you can use for this too. My favourite is Touchnote, which you can use to send postcards which feature your own pictures.  It doesn’t matter where you are, the postcards arrive in a few days and are at a really reasonable cost.  We have used these for birthday cards etc throughout our trip

Keep busy and try to stay positive

With operation get over home sickness in full affect off we went to Angkor Wat. Where we spent the day clambering around Tomb raider temples like Angelina Jolie with smaller lips and MUCH bigger hips.

Taking your mind off it is definitely one way to get over it. Do the stuff you really want to do. If it suddenly makes you think about how much someone you know at home would love it, remember they will probably be really pleased to hear about it from you. Who knows; you might inspire them to make the trip themselves.

Now is also one of those few times when you need to absolutely forget your budget if at all possible.  The last thing you need to be worrying about is can you afford to do something.  If your budget is super tight, think about staying in more sociable hostels  where you can always find someone to talk to.

Find familiar things

This one is very personal, and some might vehemently disagree. We find it helps to occasionally seek out familiar things. I can’t tell you how much better we both felt in Kenya when, after 6 months away, we saw recognisable brands in supermarkets or when we found a bar in Thailand that served was HP sauce.

And what could be more familiar than watching our beloved Spurs lose to bloody Chelsea? Even the annoying and unbelievably pissed Geordie behind us in the bar who knew nothing about football was strangely comforting.

Eat

Food is good no matter what the issue in my opinion. But this calls for specific food groups. Whenever we reach a new country we make a concerted effort to eat local. Its cheap, the food is awesome (the spicy Snake Steve had the other day being a very obvious exception to this), and it was one of the things we were most excited about when we started this trip. But sometimes, you just need a decent Burger and sometimes you need a meal which does not include rice. Fast food is your safest bet for familiarity. Obviously if you’re staying with a Hill tribe this will be a challenge but in most built up areas there is some kind of fast food available.  (One note – in this instance KFC is not your friend as it is entirely different in Asia and may make you end up missing home more!)

The Good News

On more than one occasion on this trip we have discussed how difficult it will be going back to the real world of jobs, responsibility and routine.  We know its going to be hard at first. But we were really worried it would continue to be hard in the long term. The fact we miss our friends and family also makes us realise that whilst it will be hard, there are things to go back for that will make the transition easier.

P.S. Sorry about the Baldy comment Andy – Love ya! x

 

Bloggers recognition award!

Bloggers recognition award!

We were very pleased to be nominated for the Bloggers Recognition Award by Travelerswhispers.com last month, and now its our turn to nominate 15 other bloggers whose work we like and want to highlight.

What is a blogger recognition award?

This award is passed from blogger to blogger, and is designed to highlight blogs which we find interesting, and that people have invested time in

The Blogger recognition rules:
  • Thank the blogger who nominated you and provide a link to their blog.
  • Write a post to show your award.
  • Give a brief story of how your blog started.
  • Give two pieces of advice to new bloggers.
  • Nominate 15 other bloggers you want to pass this award to.
  • Comment on each blog and let them know you have nominated them, and provide the link to the post you created.

 

How our blog started

When we left the UK on our 1 year trip we started out simply wanting to keep our friends and family up to date with what we were doing.  Since then we’ve added in some new parts with travel advice, and also are using the site to showcase Steve’s photography

2 Bits of advice for other bloggers
  • Get your own domain name- but for goodness sake don’t fall into the trap we did and get it from the company who host your webpage because it will cost you to get out if you ever need to.
  • Check how your site looks on a mobile device.  Most people will read your blog on a mobile device, it needs to look good on a Smartphone or Tablet
Our nominations are:

Now its time for you guys to go and share the love.  Good luck!

 

 

Low season Travel in Thailand and why its good for your budget

Those of you that know us well will not be at all surprised by the fact that we have gone over our original budget on this trip. Partly, that’s because our original budget was not realistic, but mostly its because we, well, went to Africa for 7 weeks.

The one area we have always managed to stay more or less within budget on is our accommodation costs.  At the beginning of our trip we had a sort of slush fund for those times when we just needed to stay in a decent hotel with hot water and towels. As it turns out you don’t really need to stretch your budget that much to do this.  In the month we spent in Thailand in July/August, we averaged £21.20 per night. That’s a whole £34 over our accommodation budget for the month, and at no point did we need to use our own towels.

Now, £34 is the different between the standard and the VIP overnight bus twice, and so it seems a fair amount, but what if we told you we stayed in a Villa with its own private pool for 4 nights and still only averaged £21.20 a night?

Low season is cheap

So, how did we do this?  We were there in Shoulder and low season, which means accommodation is much cheaper. You do run the risk of rain, and we did have a few rainy days, but no more than 8 in a month, which in the grand scheme of things, is not a big deal. It also means some places are a bit dead.  For example, we would not recommend Koh Chang at this time of year unless you like deserted bars and restaurants. But in general you get really good deals on places to stay that in high season would be well out of the budget of your average backpacker, or even flashpacker.

Below is the breakdown of our accommodation spend for our month in Thailand including a little bit about what we got for our money. Where a link to a website exists we’ve added it.

Samui Boat Lagoon

4 Nights, £273.00

Private Villa with own Pool, kitchen, Air Conditioning, AMAZBALLS bathroom. Never ever wanted to leave.  Heres a video from their You tube page.  Excuse the dodgy music! 

Green Canyon Hip and Cheap Resort, Lamai, Koh Samui 

4 Nights, £43.14

Bungalow with Fan for 3 nights, upgraded to Air Con on the last night for an additional £2.50. Near the beach and had a cute pool, though about a 20 minute walk from the main Lamai centre.

Coral Bungalows, Koh Phanghan

4 Nights £46.51 

AC room wth balcony.  Rooms are big and have decent bathrooms. They have a nice pool area and often have pool parties. This place is 1900 baht/£45 per night during Full moon.  We were there for Black moon, which was fun, without being a rip off.

SB 2 Cabanas, Sairee Beach, Koh Tao – not on booking sites, turn up!

4 nights, £46.51

Fan Room about 1 minute walk from the beach but the bed was decent and it was near a lot of bars and street food – Koh Tao is little more expensive than other islands for accommodation..

ABC Bungalows, Koh Phaghan

3 Nights, £36.98

A cute little bungalow 1minute away from the beach again, with a Balcony and AC.  Near the Half moon party but not TOO near the Half moon party.  Busy bars and cheap restourants within a 10 minute walk.

King Busch Reggae Beach, Mae Nam, Samui

3 Nights, £62.79

Honestly, not the best choice we’ve ever made.  Bamboo hut on a nice beach, but a really basic room.  It had portable AC (wbich means no AC), and after some of the places we had stayed in we felt robbed. Also, they did, hands down THE worst burger I have ever eaten and their bar prices were high, even compared to all the other places around.

(Please note, Website is in german)

1 night overnight bus to Bangkok – Transport costs come out of a separate budget for us. Our combined boat and bus ticket cost us £40

Samet 99 Koh Samet – booking through booking.com

3 Nights, £47.67

A really nice guesthouse and the owner was really friendly. Unfortunately the Island itself was not as amazing as many of the others.

The Stage, Koh Chang

3 Nights £58.14 Room with AC.

An absolutely gorgeous hotel, with a really nice pool area.  The weather was poor in Koh Chang, and it was completely dead which was a real shame.

Total cost £614.74

Total number of nights 29

Average cost per night £21.20


Other tips to help keep your budget in check.

Don’t stay too long in Koh Samui, & be careful about where you stay

It’s a beautiful island, but really not geared towards budget backpacking.  It is a perfect holiday destination.

The rooms are a bit more expensive in general and the food and drink costs are much higher than in more backpacker friendly areas.  If you do go to Samui, we’d recommend Lamai as it has some reasonably priced rooms, and a decent Thai food market.  We couldn’t find any decent private rooms in Chewang within our budget, but there is a lot of reasonably priced food there, so if you are happy in a dorm its probably worth a look. Otherwise, Samui could easily kill your budget.  To give you an example, a cocktail in Mae Nam, Samui will cost you 150Baht/£2.50 whereas until 10pm on Koh Tao its as little as 60Baht or £1.10. We ate a lot of 7Eleven Ham & Cheese Toasties on Koh Samui (27Baht each in case your were wondering)

Booking.com

Once you’ve used Booking.com 10 times you start getting discounts on certain hostels and hotels.  We got 10% off in 4 places we booked, plus early and late check outs for free.  Booking.com also has ‘secret deals’ and ‘daily deals’ which are available to those who book regularly.  The villa with pool in Koh Samui was 75% off on a secret deal.

Agoda do a similar thing, though we don’t like how little info you get on their site so we rarely book with them for Thailand. Hostelworld and Hostelbookers are okay if you want dorms.

Don’t book in advance for Koh Tao

Make sure you get an early ish boat and don’t book ahead. There are literally 100 of places to stay and most of them are not on booking sites.  Get a taxi to take you to the part you want to stay in and have a wander around. This also gives you the option to move if you pick badly. Also, a lot of the dive centres on Koh Tao give you free accommodation when you book an Open Water Dive course.

Avoid Koh Phanghan at Full moon

The Black Moon party was a lot of fun, and I heard Half Moon was a ‘rager’ of a party, so why on earth waste your hard earned money to stay somewhere and pay 4 times the going rate to go to a party that almost everyone we have spoken to has hated.  The rooms in Koh Phanghan are just not worth £40 a night – that’s like paying £150 for a Travelodge!  There is ALWAYS a party to be found on Koh Phanghan no matter what the moon is doing, and some decent deals to be had out of Full Moon Party season. If you really do want to go to Full Moon, then expect it to cost you.


Next up – Cambodia, where we will really be sticking to budget and spending as little as possible. See how we get on!

Malaysia – a timely reminder that timing is everything in travel

Stunning panoramic view of KL from the top of the KL tower.

There are so many good things about Malaysia, the Food is amazing, and you can try different types of food. The Malay food is spicy, much like Indian Food, the Chinese food is so tasty. There is endless variety. The Transport system is amazing. Trains go to the place they say they will, at the time they say they will, and they are comfortable. Kuala Lumpa and Georgetown are both really easy to get around as they have a free bus service. We really really wanted to love our time there.

Bad timing

But, we ended up in Malaysia at what turned out to be a bad time of year. In KL, Penang and Langkawi, it was dry/hot season which means 40 odd degrees most of the time. In the southern part of Malaysia all the National Parks were shut because it was still rainy season, and in Borneo, which was supposed to be just out of rainy season, the rains were still going on. It was a pretty spectacular fail on the whole planning front.

Added to this is the fact that the tourist attractions tend to be a little out of the backpacker price range. In Kuala Lumpur, they have this amazing Tower you can go to the top of, but its about £60 each – that was twice our food budget for just one of us to go to the top. We even found ourselves going round a museum of Mosque models (yes really, Models…. of Mosques….from around the world). It was kind of interesting, but given that neither of us are remotely religious, it was nothing more than that. In Langkawi, there some really beautiful waterfalls….in rainy season……..But it is was Hot season, so they were dry!

Everywhere’s dry

It was also fairly quiet at night. We’ve been to some places before where it was a bit dead but this is usually fixed by finding the nearest loud bar. As Malaysia is a country with a majority Muslim population the attitudes to drinking are fairly conservative – in that it is illegal for the Muslim population to buy or consume alcohol. You can buy a drink, but it is likely to cost you as much as it does in your local in England. Basically, don’t go expecting to drink on the cheap. This posed rather a problem for us. Not much we could afford to do during the day, and not enough money to have a decent drink at night. In the end we went back to Thailand for a night out.

Kuching

 

We did spend some time in Kuching, which is the capital of Sarawak in Borneo before we went on our 6 Day Rainforest trek (more on that in the next blog post) and this has a very different vibe to Peninsular Malaysia for many reasons, but mainly because it has a very different ethnic make up and was a country in its own right until the 1960’s. Kuching is a beautiful city and the people are really friendly. It still doesn’t really have a nightlife scene in the same way as other countries in the area though.

Know before you go

I don’t want to discourage people from going to Malaysia. We didn’t get to see as much of it as we wanted because of the weather so we’d both like to go back at some point in the right time of year, but if you have a budget you need to stick to, Malaysia is one of the places that might get you a little unstuck, so budget more than you think. No matter how many bloggers tell you that it’s possible to live on $10 a day, you can’t and still have fun. I reckon they must all just spend their time writing blogs and never go anywhere.

Time for a rethink

As a result of the time we spent in Malaysia we went back and looked at our planned itinerary. It turns out we were basically hitting hot dry season in almost every country we were going to, except the Philippines where we were going to be in the middle of typhoon season. This knowledge and the experience allowed us to revamp our plans entirely – I’ve never been more glad that we didn’t book a Round the World ticket up front – so we are going to Africa for 7 weeks at the end of May. By the time we get back to South East Asia there should be some lovely waterfalls to see, and our investment in raincoats won’t have been for nothing 🙂

Why I hate Khao San Road

Why I hate Khao San Road

After 5 days in Bangkok I was beginning to wonder if this travelling thing was for me.  I felt on edge the whole time we were in Bangkok and was understandably a little bit worried seeing as we had another 11 months of travelling planned.  I always knew it was possible that one or both us might not actually like travelling, but I never really thought it would actually happen.

After a slight meltdown at 2am I decided that it wasn’t actually travelling I disliked, but Bangkok that I had a problem with, and more specifically Khao San Road.

For those of you who have never been there, let me paint a little picture.  There is a McDonalds at one end, and a Burger King at the other.  In between are bars, shops and restaurants, tailors and massage parlours (not the dodgy ones you all imagine, and they do a cracking foot massage).  During the day there are a bunch of stalls where you can buy cheap clothes and souvenirs and at night, each bar plays house music at a level which is attempting to drown out the next place, whilst people literally try to drag you into their bars to drink cocktails out of sandcastle buckets, or Tuk Tuk drivers attempt to get you to pay them extortionate amounts of money to see Ping Pong shows.  Basically, its like Kavos, or Magaluf, or San Antonio.

So, what’s to hate about this place? I like to drink out of a bucket as much as the next person, and I don’t even object to a Ping Pong show (I am even a little curious about the one that includes LIVE birds).  I can easily eat a McDonalds and Burger King in the same day if I really wanted to, so it’s none of those things.  After some thought I narrowed it down to 3 things.

  • Constant Hassle No, I don’t want a friendship bracelet with ‘I love ladyboys on it’ or a TASER (WTAF btw) or a deep fried scorpion, or a wholly hat (WHO needs one of those in 35 degrees heat?).  Most of all I really want you to leave me alone so I can have an actual conversation with my husband, or the cool people I met in the bar.
  • Taking the absolute piss Its like they think because you are in Khao San Road you’ve left your brain at home, but you somehow managed to bring the family jewels with you, and are therefore going to pay them whatever extortionate price they want.  I know it doesn’t cost 300 baht to go from there to the Bus Station. It didn’t cost me that to go from the airport to a shopping mall 25km away so a 7km journey cannot cost that much. I also know you have a meter, and I’m not getting in your taxi unless your turn it on.

Full disclosure. I think that in Bangkok we suffered from looking ‘too old to be backpacking therefore must be rich and just slumming it’.  I suspect this resulted in much of the over inflation on prices.

  • Out of the way of everything except the Grand Palace. A little bit like Kavos, which is tucked out of the way in Corfu, Khao San Road is nowhere anywhere (except some temples and the Grand Palace which you can do in a day), and not near any public transport, so you kinda feel like you are stuck there if you don’t want a long walk or an expensive taxi.  There were buses, but we never figured out how to get on them and were hesitant to ask anyone for help as it really did feel like people were looking to scam you and take advantage at every point.

There are some really cool parts of Bangkok, but Khao San road is not one of them! Its cheap, its a bit naff, and above all it is just far too much hassle

Rant over.  Back to having fun 🙂  If anyone has a recommendation for someone to stay in Bangkok when we go back we’d appreciate your suggestions!

Life After G in Sri Lanka

Life After G in Sri Lanka

We finished our tour with G Adventures having met some really cool people and hopefully with a better understanding of how to get around the rest of Sri Lanka. After a fairly tame few weeks we decided somewhere with a atmosphere was in order, so we booked a Hostel in Mount Lavinia, the ‘party’ part of Colombo.  Well, it wasn’t too much of a party place, and the hostel we were in locked the doors at 11.30pm so even if there was a party then we’d have ended up leaving early! But, this was by far the most sociable hostel we’ve stayed in so far. The beach was, like many of the beaches in Sri Lanka, a bit rocky & not amazing for swimming, but the evenings were brilliant as we would sit in the roof terrace and meet new people. There was everyone from a 20 something Norwegian guy on vacation from his job as a English teacher in China, Paula, a Londoner living in Cornwall who was nearer our age, who was hilarious, and the very lovely nutty Francesca from Scunthorpe who was stuck in Sri Lanka waiting for her passport having lost it in Oz. Not to mention the Bavarian brother & sister who seemed intent on getting us all wasted on Schnapps!

After a few days there we decided to go to Tissamaharama, a town in the far south where you can go on Safari in Yala National Park, which has the highest concentration of Leopards in the world. After 8 long hours on a non ac bus playing Sri Lanka dance music full blast the whole way it’s fair to say we were ready for a beer & bed. As Tissa does not have a nightlife this was not a problem!

Sadly, the Sri Lanka tourism industry has ruined Yala as a place to go. There are just far too many jeeps there at any one time and this means you end up in traffic jams to see stuff. We spent 30 minutes waiting to see a bear! When we got to the front of the queue we had 30 seconds before we were getting herded along. It’s really just a series of photo opps rather than a proper safari and the jeeps were very competitive to get them too.

 

Added to this, and i promise i will refrain from too many generalisations about countries, but wow! The Chinese are EVERYWHERE and they do not seem capable of shutting up! Kind of a problem when animals tend to run away from noise and a lot were scared off before we got to see them.

Suffice to say that Tissa was not our favourite place, but we did meet a really nice couple who had travelled for a year previously and we had dinner with them whist they gave us a ton of advice which we have already used to save us money.  They were brilliant.

4 hours north of Tissa (back on the Sri Lankan Dance bus) is Galle and the beach resort of Unawatuna. Galle is a Dutch fort town with some amazing historic buildings, but on our trip it is famous as the place I officially lost my sense of humour with people taking the piss. I didn’t need a Tuk Tuk to drive 100 metres.  I can see the bloody steps to walk up to the top of the fort without you pointing them out, and I too can read the date on the stone which tells me when it was built thank you. I didn’t need to you tell me those things.  I also didn’t need you setting the feminist movement back 50 years by then asking me to get my husband to give you a nice tip for telling me things I already knew. I felt like burning my bra in his face, but I only bought two with me so I contented myself with raging silently.

Unawatuna was however really cool. We stayed at a hostel run by two Dutch siblings. It was really laid back; they made amazing banana pancakes for breakfast. They were party animals and invited us to a rooftop party that night. This was the best and most random night ever. The 1st person i saw when i walked in was the Norwegian kid from our hostel in Colombo. He was being preyed upon by a local so I tried to get him away but in the process got offered every drug under the sun and a threesome, so not all bad (joke mums!).

The night was about to get even more weird as Steve went to the bathroom and came back with Paula and Francesca, also from our Colombo hostel in tow. Funny how you greet people you’ve met twice like old friends. We had a great night drinking and dancing in the rain and managed to outlast all of the younger people from our hostel.

On from Unawatuna we stayed in Bentota. This was by far our favourite guesthouse, and Bentota was by far the nicest beach and stunning sunsets – as good as any in the Caribbean. We were the only people staying except a Bavarian lady who was really cool.

 We ended up spending every night sitting talking and laughing after dinne

r cooked by the owner’s wife. Her food was stunning, and we really felt properly looked after, if a little overfed.

 

We did have the weirdest couples massage ever where they gave us both tiny paper g strings to wear and seemed to not be to worried about covering me up at any point. I dunno who was more traumatised by it out of me & Steve! 

So, Sri Lanka is done, next stop Bangkok. Time to start really being backpackers as Sri Lanka hasn’t felt like a backpacker type of place. It is a stunning country, there is loads to do, and its people truly amazing, but it’s definitely felt more like a holiday than a travelling destination.

First Impressions of Sri Lanka

First Impressions of Sri Lanka

Its about a month since we both gave up work, and after a few weeks of tearful goodbyes to family and friends, and Steve somehow achieving the impossible by getting all our worldly possessions into a 8ft cubed storage container, we’re finally here.  But it is everything we thought it would be?

In short, not really.  We’ve been in Sri Lanka 4 days now and its not really want we expected of backpacking, That might be to do with where we are staying, and we’ve already learnt a few lessons which will help us out as we go along. We aren’t panicking yet!

Sri Lanka is a beautiful country, and the people are really friendly.  The food is so far great, if you stick to local cuisine and don’t try and get a steak (BIG MISTAKE – I dunno what meat it was they gave us but it wasn’t any kind of beef steak).  Alcohol is unbelievably expensive compared to everything else. A meal of Rice with Curry (Sri Lankan main dish) and some kind of meat or fish is about 400LKR (£2.20) and more than enough to feed you.  A beer is 350LKR (£2.00) in a restaurant.  I think we will have a fairly dry month on the booze front.

We’ve only been in Negombo so far, and one of the first lessons we’ve learnt is that 5 nights in a sleepy fishing village is far too much.  The restaurants shut at 10pm, there are no bars, and the hostel we are staying at, whilst nice doesn’t really have a communal area so there is very little socialising happening.  Lesson number 2 – make sure wherever you go has some kind of common area that you can at least chill out in.

We’ve spent more money than we had budgeted for, but after a day or so of panicking about this we remembered that this was supposed to be fun and we didn’t need to stick to the budget every day religiously.  Some days will be more expensive than others, and we just need to try and balance it out as much as possible.

We’ve done some really cool things despite it not being what we really expected.  The lagoon trip we did was great fun.  We got to feed some monkeys (not sure about the Ethical tourism credentials of that but it was a good day nonetheless), I got to skip in the lagoon like a small child, Steve got some practise with the complicated camera we bought for the trip. We’ve seen more churches and temples than I can count – Buddhist temples are pretty awesome to look at, and we also experienced the Fish Market, which was, well, Smelly.  One thing we’ve both noticed is how there are at least 4 different religions muddling along quite happily side by side here.  Everyone we meet is very religious, but no one seems to hate people who are a different religion.

We’ve also experienced the local town centre on a Saturday which was little bit like Reading on a Saturday before Christmas, only hotter, busier, and with some more expensive things.  One guy tried to sell me a pair of trousers for 2,800 LKR (about £15) and genuinely seemed surprised when I told him I’d bought the same thing 5 minutes ago for 600LKR (about £3.50).  Still, I bought a lovely Sari which will double everywhere as a beach mat, and the ladies tied me up in it which saved everyone one from seeing my whiter than Casper/Mosquito bitten legs for a bit.

We start an organised tour with G-Adventures tomorrow where we travel inland to Kandy and Tea Country so we are hoping for a sociable bunch and a good insight into the rest of Sri Lanka., plus a few beers for a bit cheaper!

 

 

Next Up:

Why We are giving it all up to see the World

Why We are giving it all up to see the World

When we first started thinking about going travelling, we totally expected most people to think we were just a little bit mad.  At 37, we aren’t exactly the gap year student types.  We’ve both been fully paid up members of the work for a living club since we left College/University, racking up a good 40 years of working life between us.  We’ve been surprised that most people think its a great thing to do, though there have been a few who consider us irresponsible. So what would make us decide to give it all up to see the world?

Sarah

“It came down to a really simple thing for me.  Whilst I loved the people I worked for and with, and recognised that in my industry, I worked for one of the best, my heart just wasn’t in it anymore.  No matter how great the company, and no matter how great the people, working for someone else involved compromises, and I was getting tired of making them.  For example, I’ve never been to Glastonbury, because I can’t take holiday at the end of June.  Last year I ended up on a conference call on Friday night at 9pm in the middle of a campsite with my friends all looking at me like I was crazy, and I didn’t think anything of it because that’s just ‘how it is’ in my job.  We consciously book our holidays around when deals might or might not happen so I don’t feel like i have to work on holiday, and when we’re on holiday we’re both so tired that we don’t get a chance to properly see the countries we’re visiting. 

Then there’s work email.  I have, until recently been surgically attached to the email on my phone and even now, in my last few weeks in my job, with frankly very little to do, I still check my email when I first wake up”

Steve

“For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to go travelling to see different cultures, meet people from all walks of life – both locals and fellow travellers and yes even party a bit too (We’re not THAT old).  I’m always saying to Sarah ‘ there must be more to life than just going to work every day, watching TV, going to the Gym, waiting to go to bed so you can do it all again, and then, the final insult- retiring with a crap pension, if any and not having the money to do the stuff you always wanted to do. So when I realised Sarah really wanted to do it to, It was a pretty easy decision for me.  Of course I’d miss my friends and family a lot but they have all been so supportive and thats made it so much easier and I know we would both like to thank them for that, besides the internet is everywhere now and has made the world so much smaller so we can easily stay in touch with everyone”

Admittedly giving it all up and going travelling for a year is an extreme way to rid yourself of an email addiction, or relieve the boredom, but at the same time as we started thinking about this, the world went a little bit mad. Leicester won the Premier League which was great for everyone except Spurs fans and well guess what? (What the hell btw) Us Brits voted for Brexit, which in itself is not a mad move, but does seem to have led to some mad stuff.  In the UK now we all seem to hate the people that voted differently, forgetting that it is okay to disagree on stuff and still get on, and suddenly, it’s okay to treat immigrants appallingly, even though most of them are here to treat us in our hospitals, or look after our elderly, or are here because our government decided to bomb them.  Its got to the point where we hardly recognise the country we grew up in.  It was beginning to get us both down.  Also, I promise we won’t talk about politics loads in the rest of our posts.  Everyone needs a break from that at the moment!

And then,  just when we thought Britain would win most stupid country of the year award the US elected a full on crazy to be President and Leader of the Free World. This did help us on the budget front as we decided not to go there as a result, so you know, swings and roundabouts!

There are of course lots of things we could have done with a year off but both of us have a real passion of travel, and seeing new things. When we started discussing where we would go and what we would do if we did this it turned out we had lots of the same ideas. It seemed silly not to take the opportunity to see some new cultures, try some new food and tick a few things of our joint bucket list.

As it gets closer to us leaving, and its getting real, we are more than a little terrified about the whole thing.  But mostly we’re excited to see some new stuff, meet a whole bunch of new people, and let go of a whole lot of baggage.

 

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