Our Travelling Life part 1

When we started this blog it was obvious there was a lot of catching up to do if we wanted to set the scene by documenting the whole journey up to now. We wanted to tell people where we’ve been, what we’ve learned and how we’ve survived financially almost as a way of justifying that we have the knowledge and experience to make us a reliable source of information.

The journals

On our first few trips we each kept a hand-written journal in which we faithfully recorded events, however mundane, on our journey. To be honest, writing our journals became a complete chore and we often lapsed for weeks, reluctantly playing catch up to make sure nothing was missed in the record of our journeys. Each time we returned to Scotland the notebooks were packed away in storage boxes to lie unread for years.

Then, during a visit to Edinburgh in 2009,  I read a library book on how to write your own life story and this prompted me to dig out a few of the journals.  I didn’t find all the notebooks and the ones I did find were dull but I transcribed some notes onto my newly acquired laptop and filed them away. Little did I know then that those notes would become a basis for a series of blog posts.

How many posts?

My first thought was maybe seven or eight posts, each one covering a specific period either at home or away. I published the first one as The Road to Freedom – part 1 (now titled The Road to Freedom) about how we met and the two years leading up to our first departure.

Then the volume of information started to overwhelm me and the cheesy title with the Braveheart undertones started to irritate me. The pressure of getting it all down started to put me off altogether.

So

The series has been renamed, the self-inflicted pressure has been taken off and the story will be told bit by bit at a pace that suits us.  It might not come out in any logical order. It will definitely take a long time.

Be warned

A lot of what we write about our travels will be self-indulgent. It’s not going to be current or detailed enough to be useful to anyone travelling today. A lot of it will have to be written from memory – and ours aren’t what they used to be. Nevertheless, the story will eventually be written.

Hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Lets start in the middle

If you can’t wait for the next instalment why don’t you look at the Travel blogs we wrote for family and friends during our trip through Latin America in 2007 and 2008.

Marie’s Latin America blog

Iain’s Latin America blog

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Is House-sitting right for you?

Eillin Donan

Sometimes the house may be somewhat remote!

We started house-sitting after we had been living in rented accommodation on Crete for about 10 months. Over that period the pound had weakened against the Euro and our UK income had become worth less with every month that passed. We were about to leave for somewhere cheaper when we were asked to house-sit. One sit led to another and we found that the lifestyle suited us.

We like to travel but we also like to settle for a while too. Having periods of rent-free living allows us to save for the times when we are ‘on the road’.

Talking to our latest sittee about the various sitters she has had made me think about the reasons why other people house-sit. I came up with the following list.

Some of these apply to house-sits in your home town or country, others abroad and a good few apply equally to both.

Kaya Coyu Turkey

"I can't find the light switch!"

Reasons for House-sitting

  • for a holiday or short break
  • temporary relocation for work or to look for work
  • while selling your own property
  • while working in your own home – remodelling/decorating
  • as a base while looking for your own place
  • to try living in a different type of area or house – old/new/town/country/with a garden/an apartment
  • to save for something
  • to pay off debts
  • to work on something creative – art/writing/photography/a new internet business
  • to try living somewhere before committing to a permanent move
  • to live abroad without a long-term commitment
  • to experience living with locals
  • you are considering getting a pet and want to see if the commitment will suit you
  • you love animals but can’t have a pet of your own
  • to extend long-term travel

House-sitting isn’t for everyone. You have to be pretty flexible with travel plans and be prepared for things to change sometimes at short notice. If this doesn’t appeal to you house-sitting might not be for you.

Reasons why house-sitting might not be for you

"And the neighbours, Fred and Wilma, are so nice"

  • you need a permanent base
  • you like to be surrounded by your own things
  • you could be needed at home at short notice
  • you do not want the responsibility of looking after someone elses property and pets
  • you do not want to be restricted to staying in one place for any length of time
  • you do not want to be tied down to coming and going at set times each day

What do you think?

Maybe these reasons will inspire you to consider house-sitting as an option for yourself. Or not! Maybe you have a reason I haven’t mentioned. If so feel free to add to this list by adding a comment  below.

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Why I’ve scored smartphone off my shopping list

Is there something in the terms and conditions of your average smartphone contract that requires the user to have it on display at all times? Is it just impossible to resist playing with these things constantly? Or is it just me? Have I been away so long that I’ve got no-one to call/sms/e-mail/Facebook/tweet every 5 minutes? Or are these people browsing through their latest apps?

I honestly think that at least 25% of the people I see with the offending object clamped to their ear are not even talking to anyone. They just don’t feel complete without the phone as an appendage to their thick heids!

With others it’s the keypad that’s key! They just can’t help tap-tapping away – obviously without their phone they would look pretty stupid with their thumbs waving about in thin air!

Then there’s the ones that have to do it while they are walking about – just as you are about to follow one onto an escalator, they pause to hit a complicated sequence of buttons. Or worse, they stop just as they get off, causing you to choose between joining them in their shoes or backstepping into the growing pile of people behind you. I even sat beside a lady in the mall who ate her lunch and chatted to her friend (who was sitting opposite her) all with her smartphone held tightly against her left ear-hole.

Today, for instance, on a 40 minute MRT journey in Singapore I spotted no magazines, no books, a couple of newspapers and about 30 folk fiddling with their bloody phones!

While I’m on the subject of phones, another thing that I find extremely irritating when flying is that people find it absolutely necessary to keep their mobiles switched on till the very last minute. Then, as soon as the plane touches the ground, everyone switches on again, even though the crew have just said don’t switch phones on till inside the terminal building. Can people not bear to be incommunicado for any length of time at all? You land at the end of a long flight, you’ve been trapped in a small space with screaming children, sitting with the remains of your meal tray in front of you for far longer than you would like. And now you have to wait as huge trolley cases come dangerously close to your head as they are retrieved from the overhead bins, listening to the constant bleeping of text messages coming through as mobile phones are switched on all around you.

mobile phone

Smart enough for me!

To think I was actually thinking of getting one of these things. My seven year old Nokia’s screen was so scratched I couldn’t read incoming texts. Luckily, most of the texts I get are in Greek and from Vodaphone so it didn’t matter. But then the screen cracked completely and I did give some thought to buying a new phone. One that would take photos, play music – even connect me to the internet! Then I found a wee shop in Hong Kong who could replace the whole Nokia casing – a new clear screen and shiny new buttons – all for £2.50! No contest. Here’s looking forward to another seven years, smartphone free!

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Purple Potatoes and Pink Prawns – the downs and ups of eating in Hong Kong

As we entered our final week in Hong Kong we reached the few items left on our Things To Do lists. At last we made the trip all the way up the Travelator (the long escalator) to the Botanic Gardens which contain a small, free zoo – mostly primates and birds. All that greenery meant lots of biting little insects too so we didn’t hang about there too long.

Iain didn’t have any ID on him so I left him with a frothy latte and went up to the viewing area of the Bank of China building, my favourite modern skyscraper in Hong Kong.

Big Winners at Happy Valley

We have been watching the proceedings in Happy Valley from our lofty kitchen for four weeks now so it was time for us to get out our posh hats and have a night at the races. We spent the day studying the runners in the eight races and using our own special formulas for choosing the winners. Iain’s involved studying form and performance in previous races for horses, jockeys and trainers. Mines involved choosing the jockeys wearing the nicest coloured tops.

Luckily the weather was clear and dry and we had a great night. The atmosphere was electric and the beer was flowing. We got off to a good start with Iain winning HK$32.50 in the first race. I got a winner in race 3 and Iain got another in race 5. In the last race we picked a horse for an extra joint bet and it came in first netting another HK$66.50. I also had second, Royal Knight wearing pink with a white spot, so we won a massive HK$100 (8 quid) in the last race alone. Not enough to retire on but, hey, we don’t work anyway!

Purple Potatoes – what’s that all about?

On Saturday I was busy at the computer and Iain offered to get the shopping. He returned with some sweet potatoes he had seen in Wellcome and fancied trying. I decided to bake them and serve them with some chicken and broccoli. It was only when we started to eat them that we realised they were purple! I don’t know about you but I think there’s something not quite right about purple potatoes. Can you imagine purple chips, purple mashed tatties? Purple is one of my favourite colours but I draw the line at purple food.

A Flaw in the Research

One of the remaining sights on our list was the Aw Boon Haw Garden, also known as the Tiger Balm Gardens. They were built by Aw Boon Haw, who made his fortune from Tiger Balm. Unfortunately, for this trip we relied on a 2005 copy of the Lonely Planet for our research. We got to the location to find that Mr Haw’s garden has been replaced by a new multi-story apartment building called The Legend. Oh well, we’ve read that he built a similar garden in Singapore so we can always check that one out. Excuse me while I check the published date of the Singapore LP.

Lamma

Our final sightseeing trip was to Lamma Island, another of the outlying islands that has no cars. No cars does not mean no road works, though. As we started the walk from Yung Shue Wan to Sok Kwu Wan we found ourselves saying once again, “It’ll be nice when it’s finished”. However, once we got away from the inhabited part of the island, the path led through some scenic countryside marred only by the ginormous power station that seemed to dominate every view.

After an excellent lunch of prawns and lemon chicken in The Lamma Hilton (not part of the hotel group) we caught the ferry back to Hong Kong island for a few beers in Lan Kwai Fong.

And so our stay in Hong Kong has come to an end and we are ready to depart, the rucksacks just a bit fuller than when we arrived. It really is impossible to come here and not shop. It has been an interesting, relaxing and very enjoyable five weeks. Hong Kong is an easy place to live. There’s loads to do, great food, great shops and fantastic public transport. Just remember to bring an extra suitcase!

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Questions you should ask – Part 3 – About the Area

Part of the fun of travelling is discovering new places for yourself. House-sitting gives you the opportunity to get to know a place really well and from a different perspective from the normal tourist.

What better place to start than drawing on the knowledge of someone who already lives there – your home owner.  People love to promote the area they live in and to share their favourite spots with others. They’ll know things you won’t find in the guide books and their information will be bang up to date.

Here are just a few of the things we like to ask on arriving to house-sit in a new place.

  • where is the nearest Post Office/bank/ATM?
  • where is the nearest doctor/dentist/barber/hairdresser?
  • where is the nearest supermarket? Is it the best? What one do you use?
  • are there any local markets? Where and when are they on?
  • are there any local shops nearby – baker/butcher/wine shop/dairy?
  • where do we go to pay any bills that come in?
  • where are the best bars, restaurants, cinema?
  • what public transport is available?
  • what museums, galleries, walks, sights, beaches, parks, activities, tourist attractions would you recommend?

I’ve possibly missed something really important from this list. If you have a question you would add let me know.

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The Only Way is Up!

Wednesday

Those of you who read the last post on this blog will already know that Wednesday is free entry day at Hong Kong museums. It will, therefore, come as no surprise to learn that today we took the MTR to Sha Tin in the New Territories, where the Hong Kong Heritage museum is located. Once again, a very modern, very well presented museum but, for us, it wasn’t as good as the two we saw last week. I think a lot of this had to do with the similarity of many of the exhibits to ones in the other museums – Chinese painting and calligraphy, ceramics and dioramas of Hong Kong life.

There were two large sections on Chinese opera which I do not like but the costumes were fabulous and we had fun trying out the virtual make-up on ourselves . The exhibit on the rise of new towns was interesting and relevant as Sha Tin is one of the new towns which has grown considerably since the seventies.

We had a late lunch in a massive shopping mall, appropriately named the New Town Plaza. Loads of fancy shops and a great food court. Iain pointed out to me the many similarities to the Scottish new town of Glenrothes. I don’t know Glenrothes at all but I’m sure he’s right.

After lunch we climbed to the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery. The 400+ steps are lined with hundreds of life-size Buddha statues and the walls of the main temple with thousands of miniature ones.  We tried to reach a smaller temple slightly further up the hill but some ferocious monkeys barred the way and we turned back. I think they thought we were after their babies……….do I look like Madonna?

Thursday

After our visit to the Big Buddha and the Ten Thousand Buddhas I was starting to detect a pattern. Why, I asked myself, is the path to wisdom, enlightenment……………and the best views……….always up? However, today, the only way was up as we took a ride on the Mid Levels Escalator through Soho. Installed as a solution to traffic congestion caused by workers in the business districts heading home up the steep hill, at 800 metres it’s the longest escalator in the world. In the mornings the escalator only travels down, but from 10am onwards the only way is up!

The area around there – Hollywood Road, Soho and Lan Kwai Fong – is a little older and a bit more arty with galleries, antique shops and plenty bars and restaurants. I liked it, even in the rain! Two for the price of one Happy Hours in most of the bars makes a pint affordable too. A second visit to this area is definitely on the cards.

Friday

The day started sunny and clear so we set off early for Victoria Peak for the best views of the city. We have done this trip before but it was worth repeating, especially for Iain who wanted to add a few hundred photos to the several hundred he already had. First we went up to the viewing area of the Peak Tower and there we were entertained by a woman who seemed to be communicating via walkie-talkie with someone at the bottom of the hill using phonetic code. She certainly knew her alpha, bravo, charlies and as she signalled over and out I expected Z Victor One to appear screeching up the hill.

Saturday

Another lovely day so we had to get out and about again. Iain has been wanting to go to the Botanic Gardens but we headed the other way taking the tram as far East as it goes to Shau Kei Wan to have a look at a few temples out there. We ended up visiting the Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defences even though it wasn’t Wednesday and we had to pay! It was built around an old fort and many of the exhibits are outdoors so it was kind of like the Botanic Gardens but with guns.

It wasn’t all hardware though, they had a variety of uniforms on display some dating back as far as the Ming Dynasty when they wore armour made of studded satin. What a great idea, glamorous yet practical!

One thing you can’t fail to notice in Hong Kong is how worried they are about germs! Everything seems to be disinfected on a hourly basis. It makes you scared to stand still for any length of time in case you end up smelling of Dettol for the rest of the day!

Sunday

Today we visited the Chi Lin Buddhist nunnery and the adjacent Nan Lian Garden. The nunnery is a beautiful, peaceful place and the gardens are beautifully landscaped in Tang Dynasty style. It’s easy to forget that you’re in the middle of such a busy city until you catch sight of all the surrounding high rises. Definitely worth a visit and no climbing involved. If you’re in the area head to The Hollywood Plaza for lunch and some retail therapy.

Useful information

If you are on a budget it’s much cheaper to take the bus to the Peak rather than the Peak tram and you see a lot more from the bus (bus no 15). Also, going out for a drink in Hong Kong is expensive. If you want to go to a few bars go during Happy Hour – usually about 4-8 (Monday to Friday only) when drinks are often 2 for the price of 1.

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Kowloon, High Noon and the Path to Wisdom

Wednesday

Carrying on the theme of extreme budgeting we visited two excellent museums on Kowloon today – The Hong Kong Museum of Art and The Hong Kong Museum of History. They were so good that we wouldn’t have grudged paying the entry fee of HK$10 each per museum. However, entry to both museums is free on Wednesdays so it would have been rude not to take up such a generous offer. The total saving of HK$40 (approx £3.34) may not seem like a lot but it does buy us 8 large bottles of beer from our local Wellcome Supermarket.

The Hong Kong Museum of Art had some fine examples of Chinese painting and calligraphy. The antiquities galleries included examples of Chinese gold, accessories and ceramics and there was an excellent exhibit of works by Chinese artist Wu Guanzhong who is 91 and still producing some great paintings. However, the modern art was made up mainly of installations which went whoosh over my head – not my thing – but all in all an enjoyable visit and we spent a lot longer there than we had anticipated.

We returned to Chungking Mansions, where we stayed on our previous visit to Hong Kong in 2006, for lunch. Don’t be fooled by the name, unless your idea of a mansion is a multi-story monstrosity filled with ‘Guest Houses’ that are no more than hovels. Nevertheless, you can get a cheap and tasty Indian meal here, which is what we did. It was nice to know that we would be returning to our Happy Valley apartment and not the cell that we occupied back then.

The Hong Kong Museum of History is in another modern building – they don’t really do old here. The museum walks you through The Story of Hong Kong from 400 million years ago to present day. Luckily they skip through the first 399.99 million years fairly quickly so we had enough time to appreciate the dioramas and audio-visual displays depicting Hong Kong life from The Dynasties to present day. My favourites were the Folk Culture gallery with full size replicas of junks, temples and houses of four ethnic groups and the post war displays. I got quite nostalgic when I entered the classroom of the 60s with desks identical to the ones I sat at in my own school days.

Saturday

As the cleaner was coming today we got out of her way and went for a wander round Wan Chai market. After an early lunch of Dim Sum we found ourselves in the vicinity of the noon day gun so decided to take a stroll down and watch the firing ceremony. At 11.55 we found ourselves wandering through a labyrinth of tunnels trying to get from the World Trade Centre across the multi-lane highway to the waterside where the gun is fired. We made it with 2 minutes to spare. It wasn’t as atmospheric as the ramparts of Edinburgh Castle (for those who don’t know we have the one O’clock gun) but definitely as loud!

Monday

Best day weather wise so far so we took ourselves off by tram, ferry and bus to the Ngong Ping Plateau on Lantau island.The main things to see here are the Po Lin Monastery and the Tian Tan Buddha. This is the largest, seated, outdoor, bronze Buddha in the world. For a minute there, as I read that description, I was transported back to Oz, you know the kind of thing,’this is the biggest plastic banana with Coffs Harbour printed on the side in the whole world’. The Buddha is very impressive and worth climbing the 271 steps (I didn’t count them, Lonely Planet did) for a close up view of the statue .The views of the surrounding mountains are good too. The monastery is beautiful but there’s a lot of construction work going on. Still, it’ll be nice when it’s finished.

We concluded our visit with a short walk to the Path to Wisdom. I really should have done that before I bought the ice-cream that melted down the front of my clean t-shirt – not a wise move.

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The Road to Freedom

Many people we know and meet are envious of our lifestyle. They think we are lucky.  They think we are brave.

Yes, there is an element of luck in how we have ended up together free of debt, free of commitments, free of responsibilities wandering the world wherever the fancy takes us. I suppose it did take a bit of courage too. BUT – we are not rich, we did not win the lottery and we do not finance our travels by any sort of criminal activity!

In this series of articles we will take you through the process that got us to where we are today.  Our circumstances, though not unique, will not always be the same as yours.  Nevertheless, if you want to change your life believe me, it can be done. We did it and we’re not special.

The first step I would recommend to anyone contemplating such a change is stop buying the lottery tickets. Statistics indicate that you are more likely to die in the queue for your ticket than you are to win the jackpot.  Start saving that money. What do you spend on the lottery? £2 per week? Thats £104 per year. You can live for a week on that in SE Asia.  £5 a week, £260 a year? We recently paid less than that for both of us to fly from Malaysia to Hong Kong for a five-week house-sit and back to Singapore for another.

Enough lecturing for now. Back to the story.

Meeting

The main piece of luck in this story is that we met at all. Maybe it was inevitable. We did have some mutual friends. We did follow the same national football team. And, on 11 October 2000, we did end up in Bar Donna, Zagreb after a magnificent 1 1 draw against Croatia.

Not so lucky was that we lived 536 kilometers apart (as the crow flies). Not being crows, this restricted how often we got together.

However, get together and stay together we did.

The first two years

We met in Berlin, Bydgoszcz, Brussels, Paris……and Glasgow. We travelled together to Greece. Occasionally, my job as a Training Consultant got me a freebie trip to London. We scoured the travel web sites for deals by train and plane to London and Edinburgh.

Our phone bills were enormous, our travel bills bigger than that! We were single, we had good jobs, we could afford it. But we started to realise that the money could be better spent.

An idea began to form. A year away from work travelling. We knew others who did it. What was to stop us doing it too?

By January 2002 the decision had been made. By May the Round the World flights were booked. By August we had both resigned from our jobs. A final football trip to Iceland and then in October 2002 we  were off. First stop, Cape Town.

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Hitting the Heights in Hong Kong

We are now cat-sitting in Hong Kong, arranged through Housecarers.com, a five-week stay which will give us plenty of time to immerse ourselves in the culture, see the sights and of course drink copious amounts of wine and beer.

Our first night we ate in a small Chinese restaurant in the Causeway Bay area. I just had to write down a few of the English translations from the menu:-

The balsam pear meat fries the egg high
The fragrance fries the cotton rose egg
The sand whines the beef to fry the bean or sweet potato starch noodles

For anyone who is interested I’m trying to get the recipes! To be safe, I opted for beef curry and boiled rice.

We spent the first week settling in to our very nice 22nd floor duplex apartment. We thought we were high till we saw our building from the 46th floor of Central Plaza. We are dwarfed by many of the buildings around us. Still, it’s high enough for us and we don’t spend much time on the balcony or roof terrace.

This could, of course, be something to do with the weather which so far has been rubbish. It is warm but grey and foggy every day. Today it is particularly bad, constant drizzle, and it’s race night at Happy Valley. We’ll watch from the window this week and go to the races later in our stay.

Our mission today was to get our visas for our trip to Myanmar in June. While we waited we had lunch in Cafe de Coral. A busy place at lunchtime, the lady cleaning the tables was rushed off her feet. Then disaster struck. She tipped the tray she was carrying and leftover noodle soup went cascading down my back. “Solly, solly” she said as she dabbed at me with paper towels. I just smiled as the warm liquid made its way down my trousers and into my pants……….

This week we’ve done a bit of walking around and a couple of excursions further afield. We are trying to limit our visits to tourist attractions to weekdays as they get very busy at the weekends.

On Friday we took a ferry to the outlying island of Cheung Chau. A refreshing change from Hong Kong island as there are no cars. We spent a couple of hours walking around the southern part of the island, dodging cyclists and taking in the sights – cemetery, crematorium, sewage works etc. There were a few temples and a pirate cave too. It was all very pleasant.

On Monday our excursion took us to the aptly named Statue Square, apt if you think one statue of some bloke who isn’t famous warrants such a description. I don’t know how I had got this picture in my mind of a tree filled square where every clearing had a beautiful sculpture at its centre. That must be somewhere else. Anyway it is square and there is a statue so I can’t complain. In fact, before WW2 the square was full of statues but the Japanese took them all down and, although they were found after the war, the Chinese decided not to put them back.

Enough about statues. My next rant has got to be about the weather. One of the main reasons we don’t stay in Scotland is because we like good weather. By that I mean hot, sunny weather. We can stand the hottest, stickiest humidity if the sun is shining. Hong Kong in spring gets heat, it gets humidity………but where is the sun? I know its up there, we’ve seen it once or twice through the low cloud that descends onto our 22 floor abode. Maybe we should get out more!

Later


I take that back. It has been quite sunny today and we had a lovely day in Stanley on the South Coast, a seaside resort with a pretty good market. We had a look at one of the few surviving colonial buildings in Hong Kong, Murray House. They moved it to Stanley from Central to make way for the Bank of China Building and managed to find some extra pillars somewhere along the way. After making a couple of purchases in the market (we’re not totally mean) we gave the trendy looking pub doing fish ‘n’ chips and a pint of Carlsberg for a tenner a body-swerve (yes we are) and joined the Chinese tourists for huge portions of Chinese food for a fraction of the cost.

A wander around the ultra new, ultra modern, ultra free Hong Kong Correctional Services museum was interesting and air-conditioned. They didn’t need to lay on the band to pipe us out to ‘The Road to the Isles’ (memories of singing class in primary school) but it was much appreciated.

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Thailand Revisited

11 to 25 March

Our four month long trip to SE Asia begins in Thailand. We were last here in March 2007 and notice one or two changes. Here are some excerpts from my Thailand travel blog.

Bangkok

Having left Greece with just hours to spare before a National Strike would have grounded us, we arrived in Bangkok almost 36 hours after leaving Crete. We are, naturally, very tired so we are trying to put some of our negative feelings down to fatigue. Still, in the 5 or so hours since we arrived we can’t help noticing a few changes around here – not all for the better. Prices have gone up, ATMs won’t cough up without taking a little cut for themselves and the pound is weakening by the minute! What haven’t changed are the cell-like hotel rooms with walls as thin as paper and loos way down the hall. They may be just a bit cleaner. And those far away loos are western style with paper provided. But is that enough to label them ’boutique style’ and charge double? I don’t think so Sonny Jim! Then again, its only day one. The sun is shining, we get free WiFi and breakfast…….and surely Gecko Bar still does a cold Chang for 40 baht!

Contrary to what you may have surmised from this blog so far, we have actually dragged ourselves away from the computer screens once in a while and we are enjoying being back in Thailand and Bangkok. The food is as fabulous as we remembered – noodle soup in Chinatown, takeaway pad thai in Banglamphu eaten from the carton and washed down with iced beer in Gecko – yes the bar is unchanged and still our favourite. The best spot for watching weird people! If you are a weird person reading this, ‘weird’ is a compliment. We’ve wandered up Khao San Road, taken a river ferry down the Chao Phraya and eaten spicy green and red curries at a street food stall.

Some Additional Useful Information

We paid 500baht per night for 2 nights in a fan room then 650 per night for an air con with telly in Samsen Sam Place. Nice place, nice location, breakfast included. Clean loos and showers. WiFi. Big Chang is now 60baht in Gecko – still a bargain! Good cheap food from stalls opposite Gecko and in Samsen Soi 2 which is closer to the hostel. ATMs in Thailand now impose a charge of 150baht for every withdrawal. Only Aeon and HSBC have no extra charge.

Hua Hin

For any non Scots reading this blog the title for this entry is a well-known Scottish exclamation of surprise and wonder with a touch of concern. This perfectly describes our feelings as we were shown to our room in Jing’s Boutique Guest House and Spa (I kid you not). The term ’boutique guest house’ has been used in the loosest sense………..but at 350baht (7 quid) a night we’re not complaining.

I know, I’m back on the taboo subject of money again but, believe me, this time I’m not moaning, more trying to illustrate how we travel. For all you folks who wonder how we afford it, this is how.

It’s rather windy in Hua Hin. Maybe we should have expected this. We were aware, after all, that the town is currently hosting both the  International Kite Festival AND the Inter Continental Kite Boarding World Cup 2010. Still at least there’s a breeze. I’ve no idea what the temperature is but its hot. 

Hua Hin’s quite a nice place, kind of touristy but not on a par with Patong yet! Its got a lovely long white beach, night market, lots of top end hotels and resorts and air-conditioned shopping malls to escape the heat.

We’ve been pretty lazy, a walk along the beach and a trip to the railway station were quite exhausting. I have at last found time to work on my book again. As a couple of you have asked, I am NOT writing my memoirs or the story of our travels. I have written the first draft of a novel and will be rewriting it many times I’m sure before it sees the light of day.

We ate in the night market on our last night in Hua Hin and found ourselves being serenaded by the man at the next table who whipped out his mandolin when he discovered we were Scottish. Ignoring my request for Rod Stewart’s Mandolin Wind he played a tune he called Flowers of Edinburgh. I must confess I did recognize the tune having Scottish country danced to it many times.

We are off on the sleeper to Songkhla tomorrow, looking for a slower pace of life.

Useful information

We paid 350baht for OK room. Shared shower/toilet clean. WiFi. Best places to eat – Night Market and Food Court in Hua Hin Market Village.

Songkhla

The overnight train was late and slow and it shoogled all the way to Songkhla. It was around this time that Iain developed a problem with his big toe making it increasingly difficult for him to walk. I took on the task of scouring the streets of Songhkla for a hotel, leaving Iain in a coffee shop close to where the bus dropped us. This is where we spotted our first live rat – we’d already spotted a (not long) dead one in Bangkok.

On Sunday I left Iain to  nurse his foot and took myself off on a walk around town. I returned two hours later with a very red face, not from embarrassment but from underestimating the power of the sun. The sights of Songhkla don’t take long to get around so on Monday, the foot slightly improved, we:-

– watched monkeys play in their very own play park at the bottom of Khao Tang Kuan

– took the lift to the top of Khao Tang Kuan to see the Royal Pavilion, the chedi and views of town

– watched another monkey cheekily upend a bin and rake for choice morsels in the rubbish

– ate spicy chili prawns for lunch at Laem Samila (Samila Beach)

– saw the statues of the mermaid and the cat and mouse after whom the two islands off the shore are named.

Unfortunately, the Songhkla National Museum which gets rave reviews in all the travel guides, appears to be closed for renovations.

Today we went back to the Coffee Shop. There was no sign of the rat but I kept my bag off the floor just in case it decided to take refuge there. As I drank my (dire) coffee I browsed through an old airline magazine and came across an interesting section called English for Tourism. The very first phrase sounded more suited to English for Espionage. To me ‘The cold wind is coming from the north-east’ sounds more like something a spy would say to identify himself to a contact than an essential phrase for a Thai tourist!

Useful information

Found it hard at first to find anything – decent shops, guest houses or eating places. Took a bit of wandering around to find stuff. Didn’t help that we arrived at a weekend. We could have used a map! Eventually found night markets for food and slightly better places at the beach. Watch out – they give you extra stuff then charge you and even charge extra for ice.

We paid 450baht for a very nice room with WiFi, bathroom, air-con, telly and fridge. It was worth paying the extra here to get something a bit better. The bathroom was bigger than many of the rooms we’ve stayed in before. The hotel had no sign in English and I only found it as I spotted a ‘Rooms for Rent’ sign at the end of a lane off the street behind the National Museum – same street that Yoma Guesthouse is on.

Hat Yai

Hat Yai was anything but hassle free. If only we had had details of previous visits to refer to we might have avoided this. We have passed through here before and experienced similar hassles. So, the point of this post is to help us if we ever visit Hat Yai again and maybe to help other people who are doing the same.

We arrived on the local bus from Songkhla. Held up by road works and frequent stops to pick up and drop off, in retrospect a minivan would have been a better bet. It would probably have dropped us in the centre of town instead of a good way out. The bus dropped us outside a place where a man came out and said a minivan to Penang would cost 400baht. We were suspicious, this seemed too expensive. We decided to look around but could find no other agencies and no-one who could offer us any help.

We knew we were near the bus station but we didn’t want a government bus as it would drop us at the Malaysian border. We had forgotten that there is a row of travel agencies behind the bus station who are less likely to try to rip you off, having a few
competitors around. These people do minivans all the way to Penang and bus/boat packages to the islands. We ended up paying 280baht for the mini van to Penang.

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