13 great travel industry blogs you must read

Tour Guide Sexy Rexy beside his bar in Negril, Jamaica

Tour Guide Sexy Rexy beside his bar in Negril, Jamaica

I found some great travel industry blogs I thought you might be interested in. They include blogs on what it’s like to run a guesthouse, some provide the latest in travel industry trends, hotel marketing or other insightful resources. In particular, I found the on-the-ground industry blogs to be fascinating. You can get a snapshot into a day in a life of a person in the tourism industry.

It would be a great exercise for many executives detached from the day-to-day consumer facing roles to experience being on the front line. (I would love to see a blog about that – the CEO as a reservations agent for a week) It might even provide more useful knowledge than commissioning that fancy expensive agency to give you a report about ‘why we are losing market share’ or ‘how can improve the customer experience’.

This is a working  list. So please feel free to leave a comment/reply below to add your suggestions. Is there a blog that you constantly read? Please let me know? Do you disagree with any on the list? Just tell me.

I have included links to the RSS feeds and Twitter so you can add them directly.

Continue reading

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Life in melbourne and pics of our first months in Australia

Hi All,

Just a short one to let you know how things are going. We’re still living in Melbourne in the same funky neighbourhood. The person who’s place we are living in keeps extending her time away which is great for us. I have made good progress on the job front and should be able to start soon. We have been working on some of our web projects in the mean time and are learning lots and making good progress. I’m currently helping some of our mates in Amsterdam launch a drum and bass music label on-line (www.easternpromiseaudio.com)  and we have 3 other websites to work on, so no shortage of things to do.

Apart from from that, we are enjoying ourselves. We are getting further acquainted with our neighbourhood and other funky suburbs of Melbourne. I enjoy walking to the Library most days (about 40 mins) where I usually use the internet and resources in the afternoons. We often also walk back home from the city centre in the evenings and explore various suburbs at the weekends, sampling more of the great café’s and cheap eats that dot the streets.. The grittiness and abundance of quality graffiti around our area  ( Melbourne inner suburb called Fitzroy) also makes for some great shots. I recently picked up a great lens for our camera at a garage sale and am enjoying it to the fullest with all the cool things to photograph around our area.

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ABOVE:Graffiti wall in Fitzroy, Melbourne. Graffiti of this size is actually quite common around the neighbourhood.

BELOW: One mouth watering sandwich at Babida last weekend. One of the many great bars and café’s in Fitzroy, Melbourne.

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We also did a coach surf a few weeks back at the  start of the great ocean road which was a great experience. Very nice host, great food and cliff walks on the coast of south east Australia. So everything is moving on nicely, except for the fact that the winter has hit here  (damn you southern hemisphere!) . Things could be worse though, with temperatures at the level of your average Irish summers day…

I have added a good few photos that we took over the last view months roaming around. You can have a look through them below. Enjoy:

[nggtags gallery=Australia,…]
The pictures above are all images I have uploaded for Australia, If you click on one to enlarge it, you can browse through all of them in large format by clicking the left or right buttons. To see the image gallery for each location separately, Please check the Gallery pages from the menu at the top.

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Why travel writers blog…

Chicken Temple, Shangri La, Yunnan, China, New Year's Day

Chicken Temple, Shangri La, Yunnan, China, New Year's Day

This photograph was taken on the first day of this year in Shangri La (Dequin), China. I thought it would be fitting for my first post on my new blog. We were alone. A thousand sacred words written on flapping prayer flags on top of the hill at Chicken Temple, the only sound. The light danced across the valley towards the start of the Himalaya. I am so thankful to have experienced and to be able to share moments like these.

My aim for this blog is to create a space where I could put links to my portfolio of travel writing and photography for others to see. To indulge my curiosity in culture, characters, food and scenes. Maybe tickle the senses by discussing local food specialities or random festivals. I want to note my thoughts and share information about travel, travel writing and the travel industry. Things that affect me or that I find interesting, intriguing, beguiling or just plain disgusting.

Essentially, I want this to be a resource to those who share the same passion for travel that I do. Sometimes writing about travel services such as guesthouses, hotels, cafes, restaurants, galleries; other times the process of travel writing such as brainstorming, researching, editing, pitching and publishing or the place itself. Basically, to have the freedom to be creative without the editorial constraints. Continue reading

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Warning for Irish people abroad: Allied Irish Bank (AIB) Lowers its daily maximum withdrawal limit for debit cards to E100,- in many foreign countries.

[UPDATE 30/8/2015 – click here for a more recent post about Irish cards being blocked when abroad]

We made the discovery of this new withdrawl limit on AIB debit cards abroad, while attempting to take out our usual amount of money on our AIB debit card at an ATM machine in Chiang Rai, Thailand to cover the next couple of days and were declined payment of our usual amount. We then tried to use ATMs of several different Thai banks and got the same errors until we got to a very low amount of under E100 and suddenly the money came out.

As we were sure the balance in our accounts was not the issue and we had taken out an amount a lot higher than E100 several days earlier, we checked the AIB website. After some searching on the internet and AIBs website we found the following information on the AIB site:

Use your card for cash withdrawals from ATMs in Ireland and worldwide (up to a daily limit of EUR600) where the Banklink/LINK/Maestro symbol is displayed. Please note: at some ATM’s abroad, particularly in non-European locations, the daily cash withdrawal limit may be reduced to EUR100 or less.

This unclear and vague statement is the only piece of information to be found on their website and no other notice has been provided by them on any other system – not even on 0nline banking. At least we did understand that we are in a country that seems to be affected by the E100 limit (Thailand), but as we will be traveling to several other countries, this limit makes a barely workable solution for us for the following reasons:

  1. It will be costing us on average 3% more on each transaction in Fees (All Thai ATMs impose a 150Baht or ~E3.75 for each foreign debit card ATM transaction no matter how small). This is multiplied by 3 again as we have to make up to 3 times the amount of transactions to get the same amount of cash which means that we lose an extra 9% on fees to Thai banks for withdrawing the same amount of money and  we lose another 1 or 2% due to the minimum fees imposed by AIB…
  2. We will have to go to bank machines daily and take out maximums on both our cards for several days before we can make any additional purchases or go to a remote area where ATMs are not available
  3. We will have to walk around with more cash money to have cover any eventualities as we can not take it out when something happens. Or having to take out money out of an ATM on a credit card which has a limit 250E and is even more costly to use abroad.

In our case the damage done by this careless change is costly and very inconvenient but manageable. However, we are sure that there are many travelers with Irish bank accounts abroad who might run into major difficulties due to this decreased withdrawl limit that was imposed without any notice.

Of course we called AIB to get this clarified further and see if there was a possibility to change this or ways around this. The friendly but tired employee at phone banking told us that indeed this limit has been lowered from maximum E250,- (which is already half of what can be taken out with for instance a debit card of several Dutch banks we are aware of) to E100,-. This has been done for any bank that does not use Chip/Pin verification due to a high level of fraud around the world. The bank employee added that this was “A change made by Irish banks” but did not clarify which other banks are also imposing this. When asking about alternatives to take out more money than the new daily limit she basically admitted that this cannot be done using the banks services and that many people that are affected by this change have already contacted the bank.

Out of curiosity and because we are also planning to go to other more expensive countries like Australia we looked into which banks do use PIN/chip verification. As far as we can find, outside of Europe only some banks in Canada use the pin/chip verification method. In short this indicates that your debit card is now pretty much useless as a main source of money outside the EU.

CONGRATULATIONS AIB and the Irish banks who participate in lowering the daily limits on their debit cards to this unacceptable amount without notice. By avoiding your responsibility to deal with the debit card fraud cases and letting the insurance companies do what they are designed for, but instead removing access for your Irish customers abroad to the bulk of their funds… You have SUCCEEDED TO LOWER OUR CONFIDENCE IN YOUR SERVICE ONCE AGAIN….

To all affected Irish citizens abroad in the US/Australia and other affected countries. If you run in to problems due to this unannounced change. Please file complaints with AIB and also write an email to alert@aib.ie/or your affected bank. Also write in or call in a complaint to the financial regulator.

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Ayatthuya, Thailand – a 3rd class train ride, a relaxing at Baan Lotus guesthouse & a lot of temples

After a one night stop over in Bangkok with the usual long islands and some dinner at Hemlock restaurant we went on to catch the third class train to Ayutthaya from Hua Lamphong station in a pretty hungover state.

 

getting-some-air_third-class-train-to_ayutthaya_thailand

getting-some-air_third-class-train-to_ayutthaya_thailand

 

To our surprise the ticket price for the 3rd class two hour+ long train ride was only 75baht (about E1,90) for the 5 of us. We found some seats in the rickety but pretty clean coach without windows and soon departed. We crawled slowly through the the city, stopping at small stations or just grinded to a halt on the track on various occasions – we passed many track side shacks and restaurants which you could touch if you reached out of the window. After about 1hr15Min’s we where out of the city and going through swamp lands and rice paddies ricketing across the occasional river. Simmered out, after all the fresh air and mesmerizing views of the train ride we headed out of the station and took the small ferry across the river (the former capital of Ayutthaya is on an island surrounded by rivers) which we shared with some locals and monks. We found a coffee and had some food while Vourneen set out to find us a nice Guesthouse.

 

The ferry accross the Chao Praya River in Ayutthaya

The ferry accross the Chao Praya River in Ayutthaya

 

We ended up staying at the Baanlotus guesthouse, which is one of the most relaxing and enjoyable guesthouses we found in Thailand so far.[singlepic id=295 h=130 float=left] The guesthouse sits on a big plot of land with an impressive size lotus pond behind it and a covered jetty running over the middle of it. The back of the pond is surrounded by dense woodland which adds a very rural feel to it. The Guesthouse is run by a dotty pensioner biochemist who had to come back to Ayutthaya after her parents past away to look after the house. As she had so many international friends come over that she decided to start a guesthouse. She has many enchanting stories to tell and the pond is full of fish, some very large lizards and even a 30 year old turtle that pops its head up occasionally.

[singlepic id=293 h=120 float=right]From this relaxing place we set out to explore the old capital ruins, many temples and the old trade settlements over the next 2 days, while having relaxed lunches at the river side and eating at the local night market stalls. we visited the museum in the old Japanese settlement which gave a lot of information about trade and foreign influence. It also showed the important role the Dutch VOC shipping company had played in the area by documenting and mapping the surroundings and trade relations.

Ayutthaya has a very relaxed atmosphere and not too much to offer in the form of nightlife but we got extremely relaxed and were almost sad to leave Ayutthaya after the 3 days we had stayed. However, we had spotted the prospects of a reggae festival so were ready to head to Chiang Mai on the evening of the 19th of January…

Find a selection of pictures from our visit to Ayutthaya, Thailand below. You can also visit the gallery page for a slideshow of these pictures.

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Koh Chang & Koh Wai – Snorkling, Kayaking and Motorbiking

We had decided to travel from Bangkok to Koh Chang by first class government bus which was more comfortable and trustworthy then using the private operators from Khaosan road. The only problem with this was that we had to get up pretty early in to catch a taxi to the bus station which was slightly tricky with our pattern of getting up around noon and partying until late at night. We ended up being stuck in traffic for most of the cab ride and stopping in front of the bus just as it was getting ready to depart. Luckily our mates taxi driver had taken them over the express way which meant that they had arrived early enough to buy us a ticket and hold up the bus a bit.

 

Vip bus from Bangkok to Koh Chang

Vip bus from Bangkok to Koh Chang

A bus ride, ferry crossing and about 7 hours later we found ourselves within the palmed surroundings of Koh Chang (island) where we hitched a ride on a songthaew (communal taxi service) to Lonely beach. As many places had been booked out due to high season Vourneen had booked us in to a place called Sunflower bungalows, which was run by a very relaxed German guy and his Thai staff. The place had a very nice atmosphere and bungalows of various quality and price, set in a landscaped garden. We got comfortable and then headed to the beach – which was a couple of hundred meters away for our first sunset across the sea. One thing that amazed Vourneen and me is the sheer amount of development that happened since our last visit to the island in 2007. Lonely beach a very laid back area back then is now a big party place full of late night parties, bars with even an open air cinema screen on one of the beach resorts. It was as the owner of Sunflower aptly said no longer lonely in any way. We went on to have some nice food at nature rocks – a beach front resort with a good restaurant and the beach front and ended up back in our usual evening pattern of bars and cocktails.

 

 

sunset-splash lonelybeach_koh-chang_thailand

Sunset splash Lonely Beach Koh Chang Thailand

The next 2 or 3 days or so were spend in the increasingly routine way of getting up late, some hungover lazying at the sunflower restaurant with a fruit shake and breakfast. Then heading for the beach, going for a swim, heaving a beer, going for some food, watching the occasional monkey play at the roadside, and heaving a party at varying bars and at our bungalow.

 

After these days we decided we should get a bit more active and agreed to do some beach kayaking the next day to one of the uninhabited islands of the beach. What we had not foreseen however was that there was another party going on that evening at the Magic Garden bar and resort, which would get quite out of hand, particularly as Chris ordered us 5 buckets of Long Island ice tea by mistake (he had wanted to order 1 bucket and 5 long island ice teas). Needless to say things went downhill quite quickly from there and we ended up getting to the beach kayak place after 4PM which didn’t leave us with a hell of a lot of time to chill at the uninhabited place. We did our little excursion none the less and felt a bit better for it. After this we decided that it became time to actually start doing something during the day from now on..

 

Magic Garden Bar buckets Lonelybeach Koh Chang Thailand

Magic Garden Bar Long Island buckets Lonely Beach Koh Chang Thailand

The next day we agreed to rent a motorbike and set out to explore a bit more of the islands different beaches and nature. We drove south to find some very chilled beaches, and then drove on to basically the end of the road. Where I gave Hans some driving lessons on a quiet patch of road as he had never driven a scooter or motorbike before. All of us really enjoyed the drive and we decided to the the same thing again the next day. We rented slightly better quality motorbikes this time from one beach up and circled all the way to the southeast side of the island and back, stopping of at various sights along the way.

 

 

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The motorbike crew Koh Chang Thailand

 

We had an early night after this as we had decided (for the 3rd time) to go to the Island of Koh Wai tomorrow. The next day we indeed made it to Koh Wai and enjoyed the great hospitality and pristine beaches of Pakarang resort (one of only 3 resorts on the island, which had pretty much no roads and only generator electricity). Koh Wai was pretty much exactly as we had remembered it from our 2007 visit, the ultimate laid back island with pristine quiet white beaches of which some where only accessible buy climbing through thick jungle or kayaking to them. As it was still early in the day and we would be staying only one night we jumped right in to the sea – did some snorkeling.

 

Snorkling in Koh Wai Thailand

 

 

After the snorkeling we rented kayaks again to explore some of the beaches. After a few deserted beaches and a couple of stops we found another resort on the opposite side of the island where we had a beer.  We had about another 90 minutes of daylight left and after being told by a local that both directions were equally long we decided to continue on in the direction we were headed.  We had 2 problems however. The Kayak shared by Tommie, Chris and Hans, seemed to be slowly sinking and the seas where a lot rougher on this side and 2 contrary to what the man at the resort had said the distance on this side was quite a lot longer. After 90+ minutes of extreme speed kayaking and emptying kayaks we made it back to our resort just as it got completely dark. That night didn’t get very late and the next day we set back for Koh Chang and we’re headed on to Ayutthaya through Bangkok the day after on the 17th of January.

 

Kayaking Ko Wai Thailand

 

 

 

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Arriving in Bangkok – The massive meet up mash up

Backpacking in Bangkok

Backpacking - The arrival in Bangkok good times!

After flying from Shangri La to Kunming on the early flight, a short night and another early flight from Kunming, China we finally arrived in Bangkok on the morning of January 5th to meet up with our mates Tom, Chris and Hans who had arrived a day earlier.

While on the flight from Kunming to Bangkok we got talking to a very nice Chinese girl with surprisingly good English who was on her first trip ever outside China to study further in Bangkok. She was a bit nervous and was supposed to meet a person from the university there to pick her up and had no idea what to do if he would not be there. We decided to go through immigration with her to make sure she was OK and ended up staying in the airport for quite a while to help her find the person that was supposed to be there, but in the end it all worked out.

When we had finally left the airport it immediately struck us how western everything felt and of course how lovely and warm it was after the freezing temperatures in the Himalaya.  When we got to the guesthouse we found our mates in deep coma’s due to jet lag and the previous nights drinking.  We settled in to our room as they got ready for the day.

Afternoon walk Khao San Road Bangkok Thailand

Afternoon walk near Khao San Road Bangkok Thailand

Afterwards we went for a wander around the neighborhood and gave them a bit of an introduction to the back alleys and other places they hadn’t seen in the Bang Lamphu neighborhood before, like the hidden mosque and the remarkably tranquil Chana Songkhram temple, which is in the midst of the main tourist areas and around the corner from khoasan road. We ended up having dinner in one of the cheap but excellent cooking school restaurants The flow and went on to have drinks in one of the many street (cocktail) bars where we ended up drinking Long Islands untill late in the evening. And things naturally got pretty messy while scoring disgusting snacks and beers at the seven eleven after closure.

Street bar Banglamphu Bangkok Thailand

Street bar Banglamphu Bangkok Thailand

The next day we went to show Chris who had come to South East Asia for the first time the shopping craziness of MBK center in the business district (Sukhumvit). Instead of taking a taxi, we decided to take the longer but way more scenic route there using the Express ferry that takes you across the Chao Phraya  river to the Thaksin bridge (a scenic boat ride of about 30 mins for about 40 euro cents) from where we took the sky train, an elevated railway which snakes over the road between the sky scrapers of the business district. After this long Journey and a shopping overload we headed back to our area in Banglamphu and headed for the relaxing ambiance of Hemlock restaurant and on to the street cocktail bars again for some Long islands.

MBK Shopping madness Sukhumvit Bangkok Thailand

MBK Shopping madness Sukhumvit Bangkok Thailand

The next day on the 7th of January, it was time to head for the Archipelago of Koh Chang for some beach side relaxing and island hopping.

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Celebrating New Year’s Eve in Shangri-La China

View-over-shangrila-old-town_yunnan_china

 

View over Shangri-La old town Yunnan China

UPDATE: I just found some very sad news that in January 2014 most of the Old Town where we stayed in ShangriLa also known as Zhongdian or Diqing had a major fire which destroyed most of the area. You can see more updates in this thread. If anyone has visited recently I would love to know more about your experience.

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After several hours in a minibus that took us to the start of the Tiger leaping Gorge to collect our bags and then up through the mountains we arrived at Shangrila after dark. It was immediately clear that we had gained quite a bit of altitude as it felt slightly harder to breath and the temperature had dropped to what felt like minus something degrees.

We had booked in a place called Ns kitchen together with various people we met during our trek. After some scouting we found the place in the old town. When we came in the girl behind the counter told us to follow her and walked outside – she kept on walking through the old town for a some minutes after which we arrived to what looked like a different hotel, which looked very closed. She then showed us our rooms which looked ok and told us to call her on the phone that was in the empty lobby bar area if we wanted to leave so she could open the front door of the lobby and lock it behind us.

new-years-eve-yak-meat-feast_shangrila_yunnan_china

New Years Eve Yak meat feast Shangri-La Yunnan China

It turns out that the pipes in Ns kitchen itself where frozen so they had struck a deal with a hotel that was closed for the winter to put us up there. There was no-one else staying in the hotel.

We kicked off the NYE celebrations with a Yak meat hot pot dinner washed down with several Dali beers from a local restaurant. Before heading back to the hotel where  we claimed the bar/lobby area for ourselves and the other travellers to have our New Year’s Party in front of a log fire.

new-years-party-in-private-bar_shangrila_yunnan_china

NYE party in private bar Shangri-La Yunnan China

After new years the hotel slowly drained of people. In the 4 days we had after new years, we did some small excursions around town and outskirts.  We didn’t get that far however as the altitude (over 3200Meters) and the cold made it tiring to get around. It was very quiet around town and the atmosphere felt desolate but also a bit magical.

prayer-flags-on-top-of-the-world_shangrila_yunnan_china

Prayer Flags at Chicken Temple Shangrila (Zhongdian) Yunnan China

As Shangrila is close to the border with Tibet, the population in the Shangrila area is over 80 percent Tibetan and prayer flags and temples are abundant. The lack of tourists also made the experience feel more real to us (few tourists make it out to Shangri-La around late December/January and many hotels close due to the very cold weather and possibilities of closed roads around).

We flew out of Deqen (Diqing) Shangrila Airport to Kunming. It must be one of the highest airports in the world with an elevation of 3280m.

Deqen runway 3280m view of the planes & Himalaya

Dêqên runway 3280m - view of the planes & Himalaya

The view from the plane was extraordinary. Pastel peaks of the Himalaya protruding from the mist.

View from the plane from Shangrila to Kunming Yunnan China

View from the plane from Shangrila to Kunming Yunnan China

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Some places to visit in China – Yangshuo & around

After a couple of days exploring Hong Kong it was time to check out some places to visit in China. We headed into the mainland to explore Yangshuo, a touristy but beautiful spot surrounded by karst limestone peaks. The overnight bus would leave Shenzhen in the late afternoon. The local train would take us across the border to the bus station. It sounded very easy, too easy. In reality was not as straight forward as it sounded. The bus station we went into was for shorter local buses only and the people that we asked had no English to explain this. However, after some confusing minutes and being pointed in several random directions we found our way and boarded the bus.

The bus had comfortable horizontal berths and only a few others were occupied. We had a lower berth and upper berth by the window which was great for watching the landscape go by. There were seat belts provided and I thought they were superfluous until the bus set off at a lightning speed  ( I estimate about 170KPH at times). We shot through traffic on the major highways, amber street lights blurred past and the city never seamed to end. For the next 4 hours or so we saw city landscapes fluctuating with major industrial zones that seemed to have toxic chimneys and looming factory buildings. Patches of green heavy smog blurred the horizon. It really felt like we had found the worlds central production line. The industrial zones thinned and the mountain silhouettes became visible in the distance with dark grey lines of major roads occasionally heading straight into bright and hazy yellow circles of tunnel entrances. I was pretty comfortable but could not get to sleep with all these memorizing visuals shooting by.

Just as I felt I was getting to sleep suddenly karst peaks surrounded us and we drove into Yangshuo. It was about 3:20 AM, 2.5 hours earlier than our projected arrival time. We wandered of the bus and shook of the touts, making our way to West Street and into the 24 hour KFC on the main tourist drag. We spent the next couple of hours trying to wake up various night guards in hotels that either were unwakeable or could not be communicated with. In the end after watching the sunrise over the river we found a place and went to sleep.

We had come completely unprepared for the big drop in temperature that had taken place (24c in Hong Kong – to around 5 – 10 degrees in Yangshuo). So we were pretty cold but the surroundings made up for it. There was a lot of Chinese tourism going on but almost no westerners in sight. The place had a sleepy atmosphere with many cool characters around. We decided to explore the park and walk along the river for the day and booked in to the Double Moon Guesthouse. A random but ok place. Complete with free daily thermos of hot water (for having tea). In the evening we went to Monkey Jane’s roof top bar. A cozy and buzzing place with many backpackers starting off their evenings. It was run by a very bubbly Chinese girl and her friends.

After having a couple of beers and having dinner I started feeling quite sick. the next 3 days I spent mostly in bed with severe cold flashes an infected throat and all the standard flu symptoms. We only went out for short walks and quick meals as I could not handle more. We also did find some clothes to weather the cold further as the temperature went down. Vourneen spent some of the time to work on her writing.

After 3 shivering days of recovering from the flu and finding warm enough clothes we changed guesthouse again to Bamboo Hotel  which was cheaper and more comfortable and set out to explore more of the surrounding areas mostly on foot. We still couldn’t go to far as the temperature was very low and the days were very rainy but we managed to walk further down and up river and enjoy some of the beautiful views the and reflections that the karst peaks and river had to offer. Meanwhile we did our share of people watching , being stared at, watched and having  our pictures taken with some of the Chinese people around. They’re reactions to us varied from confusion to enthusiasm and shy interest to down right shock at times. It did make us feel being the tourist attraction occasionally.

It was amazing how much the old and the new mixed randomly around town. 1930’s style trucks with open tractor engines still spluttering along the streets alongside brand new BMW Land Cruisers. All sorts of 2 and 3 wheeled transport weaved in and out sometimes motorised, sometimes not. Old woman bearing baskets of fruit walked next to Iphone fiddling teenagers. Open fire cooking was very common but so was wifi. We walked past an open shacks which had 40inch lcd tv with random Chinese programming on it.  This really brought home how quick and confusing the development must be for the Chinese.

After some more lazy days and crazy nights at Monkey Jane’s and around the town including going clubbing with random backpackers and young Chinese people we had hooked up with  along the way. It was time for us to head to our next destination, Chengdu on Monday the 13th of December.

 

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Visiting Hong Kong and the Chungking Mansions

Buddha at Repulse Bay, Hong Kong

Buddha at Repulse Bay, Hong Kong

After hopping on a local bus to the station and negotiating the massive immigration lines around Luohu train station in Shenzhen, we got on the short distance train to Hong Kong which is only about 30 – 45 minutes long.  Foggy mountainscapes slowly evaporated into Skyscraper cityscapes as we approached downtown Hong Kong.As soon as we walked out of the station we were mesmerized by the sheer mass of people, infinite towers and multicolored huge signs. We were so disoriented by all this that it took us several attempts to find the building where our guesthouse was even though it was less then 100 meters from the station exit and well sign posted.

Chungking Mansions Hong Kong

Outside Chungking Mansions Hong Kong

We had done a bit of research to figure out where to stay and had not come across almost any budget places except for several guesthouses that were in 1 specific building in central Kowloon district called the Chungking mansions. Chungking mansions has 2 floors of shops and 80 Guesthouses, several restaurants and many other small companies are a housed in its remaining 14 floors.

Our Room in Apple Guesthous

Our Room in Apple Hostel & foot tan!

There are several lift blocks spread out over the different areas of the ground floor which would lead to specific areas on each of the other floors.  The reports online had been mixed and several travellers had reported that they had felt a bit unsafe as there were many Indian hawkers trying to get business in to their restaurants or guesthouse as you made your way up to the elevator and the place looks very run down.

However we soon found out that we had come to the right place as all people we met here were all very nice and interesting and some of the best Indian food and cheapest drink could be found inside the building. We went out up in one of the lifts and got out at some random floors before finding a nicely clean place called Apple Hostel where a very bubbly and feisty Chinese woman called May showed us to a very small but comfortable room.

Hong Kong skyline at night

Hong Kong skyline at night

After getting our accommodation sorted we set out for the harbour to get a night view of the skyline of Hong Kong Island and soak ourselves in the the colorful bustle of the nightlife.  The harbour is very nicely landscaped to give you plenty of sit down options with nice views and bustling with people until late. We walked through several malls which all seem to go on endlessly and are never quiet even well past midnight.

Hong Kong Tram

Hong Kong Peak Tram

The next day we set out to Hong Kong island and took the peak tram up to the top of the hill. The tram was the first public transport unit build in 1902 but even feels like a modern gadget today. On its way to the top you pass between the skyscrapers at around 45 degree angles which feels quite surreal. At the top we went for a walk around the various viewpoint overlooking the skyline of Hong Kong island and central Kowloon.

Viewpoint overlooking Kowloon

Viewpoint overlooking Kowloon

We then discovered a small entrance mentioning pok fu lam country park. We headed down the  path just over the top of the hill which instantly descended into lush jungly parkland, where you heard no traffic and saw nothing but greens, flowers and small streams.  It was almost as if central Hong Kong that literally lies just over the hill didn’t exist.

Steaming food in downtown Hong Kong

Steaming food in downtown Hong Kong

After our hill top run we set out to explorer the trendy mid levels and Soho neighbourhoods that are build up against the steep slopes. One quirky way to get there was to take the public escalator which runs all the way up to the mid levels from the bottom of the hill between the buildings, passing close by first and 2nd story windows of the apartment blocks.

Sunset at Repulse Bay Hong Kong

Dragon Sunset at Repulse Bay Hong Kong

We could see several trendy bars as we were rolling up the hill some of which were filled with expats. The area felt strangely New York/European like but the Chinese/Asian touches were never far. After some drinks which were extremely expensive we tried to find budget food which seemed pretty impossible as we passed from one trendy restaurant to another.  We decided that these were definitely neighbourhoods best avoided while on a budget although the are very cool.

Sunset at Repulse Bay Hong Kong

Sunset at Repulse Bay Hong Kong

We spent the next couple of days wondering down the various night and day markets, temples and we even found very nice beaches just over the hill which were beautiful and had very well kept facilities.

Sunset at Repulse Bay Hong Kong

Dragon Sunset at Repulse Bay Hong Kong

In the evenings we often sampled the different hidden areas around the Chung King mansions were we ended up finding some great hidden restaurants and bars, including a Pakistani place on the fourth floor of block B that was like entering a Pakistani community with a great food and a very talkative owner.

Bismillah Fast Food Shop 75  Chungking Mansions

Bismillah Fast Food (Shop 75) Chungking Mansions

We also found a tiny Nepalese bar in the far corner of the ground floor – where cheap drink kept flowing as long as you wanted it and there was always a bit of fun to be head. One night we ended up in a discussion with 3 Nepalese Sherpas who were close friends, of which one was a Tibetan Buddhist, one Hindu and another Christian. A heated but friendly debate and many subsequent toasts later the night ended with exchanging email address and stumbling back to the lift of our block.

After about 4 days we decided to leave for our next destination of Yangshuo back in mainland china.

Have you been to Chungking Mansions? What was your experience like? Leave a comment below…

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Entering China – a first impression of urban Shenzhen

We flew into China on the evening of December 1st. We had no idea what to expect from this booming metropolis. We chose to fly there due to the cheap air fare and the need to book an inbound flight for our visa. Besides Shenzhen is short hop  to Hong Kong where we planned to travel to the next day.

After descending into a thick smog we where thrown into a crazy and way too expensive taxi ride from the Airport to Shenzhen. The traffic was still dense even after midnight and the skyscrapers kept on getting higher with misty neon signs flying past. The area of our hotel looked very grand with major roads and skyscrapers all around yet it felt a bit seedy. We  booked the hotel purely on guess work as no reliable information was available in English. The Garden Inn turned out to be a pretty good standard budget hotel. It even had a floor with an internet café dedicated to gamers!

The Garden Inn Schenzhen

The Garden Inn Schenzhen

The next morning after checking out and leaving our bags in the hotel we went for a wander around the area (Lohu?) before setting of to Hong Kong. The streets seemed a lot friendlier by day with major shopping malls and market areas all around us. We saw no westerners anywhere but the city did have a strangely American/European feel. Not what were expecting at all.

Shenzhen shopping

Shenzhen shopping

Christmas decorations were being put up and the people were all very smartly dressed in suits. Even though there seemed to be no other foreigners we could spot all the signs and even the menus had both Chinese characters and English translations. After a quick breakfast of coffee and croissants in a department store we went on to get our bags and on to get the bus to the train station to our next destination in Hong Kong.

Shenzhen city shoppers

Shenzhen city shoppers

Shenzhen city skyline

Shenzhen city skyline December 2010

Staircase in Shenzhen

Staircase in Shenzhen

Shenzhen skyline 2010

Shenzhen skyline 2010

Have you ever been to Shenzhen? Would you like to go? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below?

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Exploring Lanta Island – The southern beaches viewpoint and beyond

Lanta island was big enough to spent several days exploring the Island (with our leisurely speeds).

(Published on: Nov 15, 2010 @ 15:45)

First Sunset on Koh Lanta Thailand

First Sunset on Koh Lanta Thailand

One particularly demanding trip that we made twice by motorbike was to explore the southern Beaches of Koh Lanta Thailand. Up to about 2/3 of the Island on the east coast the roads are pretty good but when you get to the southern bays the road suddenly goes into very steep ascents and descents  and when you get to Nui Bay the road surface suddenly just stops all together while on a steep descent, turning into a messy track with big sharp rocky patches and muddy/sandy parts.  This winds its way up and down over the rocky hills surrounding the southern bays. Very punishing to bums and motorbike but offering beautiful views. on our 2 trips we saw various monkeys and a some stage also an elephant crossing the road with its minder.

Roads in Southern Koh Lanta

Road to souther beaches on Koh Lanta, Thailand

Jungle road to Southern beaches Koh Lanta, Thailand

The beaches of these bays looked very nice and felt very remote still with almost no tourists wondering along the shores and dense jungle coming right up to the beach. Unfortunately large scale building projects were happening even here so its probably only a matter of time before the road is improved and the area will loose its remote charm. For now however the southern beaches still feel pretty far flung and quiet. There are a view scattered resorts and bars and the atmosphere is very laid back.

Southern Beaches of Koh Lanta

Koh Lanta southern jungle beach Thailand

Koh Lanta southern jungle beach Thailand

Another drive brought us up to the viewpoint cafe which is halfway down a winding road that cuts through the islands hilly interior, to connect the  west coast of the island with its eastern coast. It has 2 decks hanging over the Jungle and giving 180 degree views over the paddies/fishponds and the small islands and mainland that lie beyond. The view was mesmerizing and the coffee a mouthwatering strong Arabica definitely added to the excitement.

Hammock shop in Koh Lanta

Cat in hammock shop Koh Lanta Thailand

White cat in hammock shop Koh Lanta Thailand

From the viewpoint onwards we drove on to Lanta old town on the East coast. This quiet one street town was all traditional style with quiet shops and cafes almost no traffic. We saw several cats walking around and it felt as if there were almost more cats than people about. We visited the local Hammock shop which specialised in the handmade hammocks made by minority tribes and sold on fair trade principals. A cat was a sleep in its own small hammock in the corner and a large selection of hammocks was available to satisfy Vourneen’s obsession with anything hammock. After swinging around in the different hammocks for a while we set out to the south western side off the island.

Quirky treehouse accomodation in Koh Lanta

Treehouse bungalows remote resort Koh Lanta Thailand

Treehouse bungalows remote resort in Koh Lanta Thailand

On the southwest tip of Lanta Island accessible by a good but extremely winding road sits a quirky and very cool resort with a range of different style bungalows varying from 2 story wooden bungalows shaped like boats to Tree Houses and cave bungalows.  There was a pool and the place had its own rocky and sandy beach for chilling and snorkeling. The place was completely deserted except for a couple of staff. We asked for the prices but unfortunately they were a bit outside our budget. After a quick drink it was time to wind are way back home.

Thirsty Monkey at southern beach resort Koh Lanta Thailand

Thirsty Monkey at southern beach resort Koh Lanta Thailand

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Interview with Toots and the Maytals

Toots and the Maytals

Toots and the Maytals

Backstage at the Reggae Geel festival in Belgium Frederick “Toots’’ Hibbert removed his rock-star shades. He leaned forward intensely and said, in a husky Jamaican accent “I was the one who coined the word Reggae, I was the one who invented the word reggae”.

He took ‘Streggae’, a Jamaican slang word for someone “who dosn’t dress nicely” and repurposed it for the song titled ‘Do the Reggay’ in 1968. It is not often that you come across a musician so genuine and humble that has also named a genre of music and has accomplished so much in their career. He is a Grammy award winner, was voted by Rolling Stone Magazine as one of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time, has had 31 number 1 hit songs in Jamaica, reputedly more than any recording artist and is still working as hard as ever. Continue reading

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NEW TRAVEL WRITER INTERVIEW: with Abbie Mood


This weeks interview is with the conscientious Abbie Mood. Abbie is an ambitious travel writer who lives in Southern California and loves sipping green tea! She also teaches preschool Special Ed. and writes about the impact she has and the contribution she can give to the world to inspire others to do the same. Check out her blog at http://matadornetwork.com/author/abbie-mood/

Read the rest of this interview ➜

NEW TRAVEL WRITER INTERVIEW: with Clare Kleinedler

Clare Kleinedler is a freelance food and travel writer living in Los Angeles. She is a regular contributor to Intermezzo Magazine, for which she has written destination food pieces on Mexico, New Zealand, Tahiti and Japan, among others. Her work has also been published in Virtuoso Life, Los Angeles Times and People magazine. She also publishes her own food blog, Rainy Days and Sundays.

Continue reading

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NEW TRAVEL WRITER WEEKLY INTERVIEW: with Lauren Quinn – lonelygirltravels.com

Every Wednesday I will be publishing an interview with a budding travel writer. To launch this series I am both honoured and delighted to have had the opportunity to interview the talented Lauren Quinn. This tattooed Californian prodigy has a BA in Creative writing and when not detained at Venezuelan police stations enjoys a good old cup of coffee on her back porch in Oakland.

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Looking for new travel writers to interview

This post was written on another blog sometime ago but I have decided to re-post it here. I received some excellent feedback from people so I want to slowly re-publish my interview series with these travel writers. Hopefully,  I can follow up with some of them to see how they are doing now.

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I will be launching a new series of interviews with fellow, up and coming travel writers. My first interview which I will publish here next Wednesday will be with Lauren Quinn from lonelygirltravels.com. So remember to stay tuned!
Lauren’s work has recently appeared on Matador, BootsnAll, SoSauce, Pology and NileGuide. She also holds a BA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. So I am really interested to hear her story.


Recently, I have started to wonder about what the real motivator is behind my need to travel. Sometimes it feels more like a physical addiction. I can feel the effects of my dependence if I am unable to travel and have to stay static in one place for too long. Soon after this severe listlessness occurs I usually just blow my budget and book flights.

I have also questioned my sanity in trying to become an accomplished travel writer. It is one of the most competitive and niche areas to get into, with little or sometimes even no monetary reward. So why do I bother investing hours of my time with this ludicrous ambition. Surely it is easier and more profitable just to work in an office, settle down in a nice house in suburbia and live out my days?

All this questioning has triggered an interest in what other travel writers go through. I am curious to uncover why others have chosen this relatively unusual career option. Detailing their motivation behind their decision in my series of interviews. I will also focus on what struggles and success they have encountered along the way so others may learn from them.

Maybe there are other similarly neurotic folk out there that I can relate my experiences with? Does anyone else find themselves constantly refreshing email to see if an editor has answered your query? Or maybe you day dream about seeing your name written on the by-line of a top notch publication?

If you have started travel writing recently and have been published and would like to be interviewed please let me know by leaving a comment below with your blog details or contacting me on twitter. By the way you don’t necessarily have to be neurotic but it helps!

 

Image by swimparallel

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