Sunday, 17 July 2016

travelling guide

I have already been asked many questions about travelling so thought I'd do a post dedicated to answering common questions and hopefully help people planning a similar trip:-)

How much did the trip cost?

After some rough calculations I think the entire trip, 4 months in 9 countries, was £6000. So not cheap! This included:
-flights london-bangkok, singapore-melbourne, bali-london (£1200)
-travel insurance (£305)
-malaria tablets (£65)
-contiki 9 day Thai island hopping tour (£600)
-all internal travel within SE Asia (£676)
-volunteering in India (£369 for 2 weeks)
After my initial costs in england (booking those 3 flights, insurance, malaria tablets and booking the contiki tour) everything else was booked or paid for out there, contributing towards around almost £4000 worth of withdrawals while I travelled.

Is this the best way to book?

I dont think so and I won't book this way again. We used STA to book flights and i regret this as i'm sure we could have got them for cheaper. The contiki tour was fun but unnecessarily luxurious and I would have preferred to save a couple of hundred pounds and stayed in less nice hotels.

Were you on a spending budget?

Yes, we budgeted £30 a day whilst in Asia and £60 a day for Australia. I somehow spent under budget despite going on approximately a million day trips and doing things like scuba diving. On our first day in Bangkok we booked £676 worth of night buses, trains and a couple of flights (I think we were ripped off but hey) and so reduced our budget to £15 a day for our first 2 months of travelling. We managed it! Hostels in SE Asia are an average of £4-6 per night for either a dorm bed or one bed in a triple room. The rest of our money went on food and day trips which we booked out there- it's so easy.

How did you book accommodation?

I booked our first night in Bangkok back in England but from then on in we used hostel world, checking for confirmation on trip advisor. We'd usually find a hostel we liked the night before arriving somewhere, get a tuk tuk there on arrival and then get a room if they had one as it's often cheaper to do that than book online. No disasters!

Is travelling dangerous?

No one's actually asked me this but it was a big concern of mine before leaving. There are plenty of horror stories but personally aside from being subjected to a couple of minor scams where I lost £1 or £2 nothing went wrong. If you stick to the typical tourist trail like I did for most of my travels the locals are used to seeing tourists so although obviously you're still a target for sales and scams you don't get that much unwanted attention (apart from India which is a different story..) the other travellers in dorms are in the same position as you so while you should have your wits about you and not take any unnecessary risks I didn't feel scared or paranoid which I expected to.
Most dorms have lockers do you don't have to carry your passport etc all the time and while I was careful with my stuff when out I didn't feel link my guard needed to be up particularly any more than in England. I even left my passport in a hotel and got it back and got lost alone on the way back from Delhi and nothing went wrong. There are horrible, dangerous people everywhere but as long as you are as careful as possible you've done everything you can (apart from spending your life in your bedroom) to avoid disaster.

How did you travel from country to country?

This wasn't particularly fun but also one of the most memorable parts of travelling anmake all the best stories. If you have the budget I wouldn't blame you for flying and a couple I spoke to had opted for this, figuring they'd rather spend a little more than deal with another night bus. Night buses aren't great. We did one from Thailand to Laos, Laos to Vietnam, Vietnam to Cambodia and Bangkok to Phuket. And then I also did one within India. it's never going to be the best night of your life. It's an experience and it saves you money so practically they make sense. But you're usually in some kind of bed (using the term) loosely and driven recklessly through the night before being woken to buy a visa at a random point of entry.

Where did you need visas?

Thailand- no
Laos- on arrival
Vietbam- on arrival
Cambodia- on arrival
Malaysia- no
Singapore- no
Australia- yes, purchased a tourist visa through STA
India- yes. If going for 30 days or less you can apply for an E tourist visa. This is a little complicated with lots of questions but I was accepted within 2 days and just needed a printed copy of the confirmation email at the airport.
Bali- no

You need to carry US dollars to buy the visas on arrival, which I think were about $20-$30 each. We took $150 to be on the safe side, as well as a few passport photos. I think only one country actually asked for a passport photo but it was useful having them.

What vaccinations did you get?

Just go to your travel nurse (mine was just a nurse at my local GP surgery), tell them where you're going and for how long and they'll advise you on what to get. I had Hep A (requires a booster 6 months later), hep B (requires 2 boosters before you go) and typhoid. I was also prescribed anti malarial tablets to take within some of SE Asia, I think in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. If you are prescribed them GET THEM FROM THE ASDA PHARMACY! I tried a different pharmacy and they tried to change me £130, but they were £60 ish from asda. Don't pay more for the same drug. I also took them every day at 9pm in order to sleep through any side effects.
Hep B usually costs around £150 but for some reason I wasn't charged. Not complaining! You're also offered a rabies vaccination, cholera etc. I opted not to have these but that's your own choice. Rabies only buys you more time if you are infected. You basically need 5 shots in total if you contract rabies, and the vaccine is the first 3. I figured if I was bitten I'd rush to a hospital which could administer all 5 and I'd rather incur the £150 or so cost there than beforehand just in case.

What did you pack?

This is my most asked question.  If you're going to the same countries as me my advice is simply pack the thinnest clothes possible. You accept sweating as just a permanent state that you've entered into and I'd given up trying to dress well by day 2. No denim, no even vaguely thick tops, they're just taking up space and making you carry unnecessary weight. Your thinnest cotton to shirts and skirts/shorts will be fine, and just buy out there. Honestly the classic hippy elephant trousers are a God send and I wish I'd packed nothing and just bought loads of pairs on arrival. They're not the best quality (both my pairs had ripped by the end of the 4 months) but for £2-3 a pair I can't complain. Paired with a thin cotton to shirt you're good to go. I also bought a dress as a Thai market which was perfect. These people live their all the time so their clothes are best for the climate. Oh and to blend in in India I bought some traditional Indian clothing beforehand. I was in KL, Malaysia and visited their Little India to get a Punjabi suit and long sleeved top. This wasn't essential but I liked to fit in a bit more.

I really didn't take much clothing as we were washing our clothes out there. 3 tops, 2 pairs of bottoms, 3 pairs of underwear, a pair of pyjamas and a swimming costume is definitely sufficient and there are markets everywhere where you can stock up. If I go travelling again I will definitely adopt a 'less is more' policy!

Apart from clothing I took standards like shampoo, conditioner, suncream, insect repellent, a hairbrush, tooth brush and tooth paste, deodorant, tampons (very difficult to get in SE Asia, you can get sanitary towels but bear this in mind if you're going!), hand sanitiser, plasters, dehydration sachets. I'd also suggest immodium which basically in the nicest way possible stops you shitting yourself if you have diarrhea. Not pleasant to think about but so necessary. Don't ignore that. You can buy everything out there if you're not somewhere too rural but it's good to just have a little emergency supply. I didn't go full on first aid kit though.

I also took a travel towel which was very useful as not everywhereprovides them, a padlock (same reason), a print out of my travel insurance details, some passport photos (we were told we'd need these for visas, I think I used 2), a diary, a packet of cards, 3 phone chargers (can't be too careful), 3 pairs of headphones (same reason), a travel charger for my phone (a life saver. Mine was £15 on Amazon and sooo useful), a spare phone battery (bit of a theme here) which I didn't actually use, my camera, 2 other lenses, camera charger, a little adaptor thing to connect my camera to my phone and running stuff. Which I used a handful of times. Asia's hot. Heat and running don't mix well. I carried all if this in one massive rucksack and a little one. I hated the big one so much that my friends took it home with them 3 months in. No regrets.

Where was your favourite/least favourite place?

I loved so many places but my top three were:
Vietnam. It's so cheap, busy, there's loads to see and do. The cities are modern enough for it to feel almost comforting but it's still got its own strong culture. We went to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City and did a lot of day trips and it was great!

India: also amazing though I was volunteering there. I dont know how I'd have felt if I'd just travelled there, and I wouldn't have done alone. Nothing bad happened to me but I saw potential for it. It's so vibrant, colourful, noisy in Delhi and on public transport, but places like Dharamshala where I visited were peaceful, green and mountainous. We were treated like celebrities because we're white which was almost comical, posing for photos constantly, and fortunately everyone was nice, friendly and helpful. It's not for everyone and it's really bloody hot but I loved it.

Ko Phi Phi/Gili T: one's in Thailand and one in Indonesia but they're both luxurious, beautiful travel resorts. Honeymoon style places, both really chill and cool. A little more pricey than the rest of the countries as they're notorious for travellers but so worth it! Scuba dive in Ko Phi Phi and snorkle with turtles in Gili T, they're great.

My least favourite places come to my mind immediately, and I  met a girl in Bali who'd been to the same places and agreed which was a blessing because I thought I was the only one who didn't like them!
The first was VangVieng in Laos. The only appeals of this are tubing (going down a really long river in a rubber ring-fun for about 20 minutes, not 2 hours), and getting drunk/high. I just couldn't really see the appeal of the place unless going across the world to have a joint in a restaurant appeals to you. It all seemed a bit dodgy, the couple I spoke to's hotel room was robbed and I would personally just give it a miss. Luang Prabang was lovely though.

Siam Reap in Cambodia: Cambodia has a horrifically sad history that I was completely unaware of, and learning about this in Pnomh Penh is heartbreaking but I feel very necessary. Siam Reap however I'd give a miss. Its attraction is a large series of temples, the biggest called Angkor Wat. they were nice to look round but we'd seen sooo many temples and it was really hot. I think we visited in record short time. Apart from that there's not a lot to do. There's a lot of poverty in Cambodia, loads of scams and from what I've read online some kind of large scale Mafia organisation operating. There are a lot of children involved in the begging, babies who are supposedly drugged etc. We were subject to a floating river scam which wasn't the end of the world but annoying.

Melbourne: This is purely my experience and I know a lot of people love it! We stayed in an area called St Kilda which was just dodgy. A large group of homeless people congregated outside our local supermarket who all either had mental health problems or were on something or both, and would shout to themselves or each other. We were asked for money a few times including by a girl who looked about 15 who came over to where we were sat eating dinner. A guy who worked at the hostel said there was "a crackhouse down the road with deaths every week". It was just a bit of a dump. We were also staying in a 16 bed dorm with a lot of quite rank teenage boys which was dirty and horrible despite costing double what we'd paid anywhere in Asia. The city centre was alright but was just a city. Definitely wouldn't hurry back.

Any advice?

Barter like crazy. They're taking advantage of you being a tourist and the locals are paying a fifth of what you are. Whatever they see, whether a tuk tuk driver or a market stall owner, laugh and then firmly say half of their price. If they disagree either say something slightly higher or start to walk away. Honestly they'll be calling after you to come back.  You do have to remember that a lot of the people you encounter are living in poverty and so need the money you give them, so find a balance. If they're asking for 50p more than you know you should be paying, sometimes you just need to think 'it means a lot more to them than me'. But don't go crazy and splurge on everything, unless your budget allows I guess!

Look up the currency before you arrive, just to have a rough idea what a pound is worth. I think it's Vietnam where 30,000 dong is £1, worth knowing when you're withdrawing cash on arrival. In Cambodia the ATMs withdraw US dollars- I didn't realise this was entering '100,000' as the amount I wanted to withdraw. Oops

Get some kind of card that's good for travelling. I have one made by MasterCard which is supposedly the only one not to charge additional fees when withdrawing cash abroad. The ATM will still charge a bit (usually about £1 but in Cambodia $5) but this was supposedly the best option. And remember that a lot of ATMs give you the cash then the card! I had walked away from a machine before being called back by some English guys to say I'd left my card in the ATM. Saved my life.

Ask to look at your hostel room before paying. Even these prices are negotiable, and don't make our mistake and manage to agree to a room with no curtains or bathroom door which turned out to have a rat in it...

Try not to get scammed! A lot of people are friendly but if money's involved be wary. People aren't "giving you a good deal" to be nice. If you're in a tuk tuk and they claim the place youve asked to go to is closed they're lying and will take you to a shop they're getting commission for. You'll only lose a couple of pounds but it's annoying af. Be firm, keep your wits about you, and to quote the real hustle, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

And finally; go with the flow. You might find the culture change a shock, you might get freaked out seeing whole fish not on ice at the markets, you might find the people offering you tuk tuks or selling you stuff in your face or annoying. But his is just how it is. There's no point getting annoyed or frustrated, this is a different country to your own. Enjoy your time and throw yourself into it because you might not get to visit again!

Laura x

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