Saturday, 14 November 2009

Travel Advice—how to do it, and stay good

Advice is sometimes, justifiably, considered the worst vice, however, here goes. My thoughts on how the smart traveller will maximize his (or her) travel pleasure. Things to do, and one or two things not to do. In no particular order of importance.

* If hotel wireless internet is not advertised as being free, then it is not free. *

updated: 5/02/2012.

a. Pants
Wear lose baggy pants, with lots of pockets. These trousers can be bought cheaply in most 3rd world corners of the world (or even 2.5). The advantage—cheap, and it is amazing how much, from time to time, you need to carry. Putting things in your pockets is the easiest way to do this. Also, by wearing ‘cargo’ pants, you are telling the world that you do not care about their trivial fashion rules, and that you are a traveling man.
b. Tips.
I have already posted a blog entry about tipping, but a good story bears repeating. Tipping in 99% of the world is mandatory, almost, certainly if you feel that it is justified due to exemplary or even adequate service. To tip, never over tip, give, say, around 10%, or the lose change from your payment. Important, make sure that the staff realize that you are giving the tip, not them demanding the tip. Power. Who has it. Who wants it. Who keeps it. Respect.
c. us$1
Carry a few us$1 bills, these are useful in a range of situations. A dollar is too much for most tips, but they can come in handy when you need to flash some cash and get things done. (like crossing a border, at a small border crossing, getting that stamp—all can be expedited by a small, friendly, ‘rapid processing’ charge.)
d. Money
Speaking of money, carry some larger notes hidden on you, and in your stuff, as a backup. For example, I have a back belt clip in which I keep a knife and notes in various currencies (including US). Ditto, stash some cash in your backpack, in your travel bags, in your camera bag. Sometimes, not very often (hopefully) you might just need this extra money right there, right now.
e. Your (i)phone/your life
Phone camera, smart phones, really smart phones (like the iphone). Phone cams are a gift from Darwin. Take a pic to be your backup memory. Take a pic of a place you have been so that you can show it to a samloar driver, store a pic of place to which you want to go and show it to your taxi guy, take a snap of that receipt or the face of that guy who sold you that thing (taking the snap itself ensures a measure of attention), and a pic of that thing, snap that document, that visa stamp, your passport, your visa. Anything you might want, at any time, any where, take a pic. And upload it somewhere, backup.
f. Location Location Location
GPS, google maps = mana from heaven for the switched on traveller (i.e. the iphone user)
How did we live in the ‘good’ old days? Thick rubbery condoms, no internet, and no google maps! The ability to find a place, be it a restaurant, a shop or a hotel, is amazingly useful, as is the ability to see your route, view an overview of your journey, and basically see where you are going. Totally cool. Of course, you need to have a good phone to be able to do this. Totally.
GPS—related and equally useful. Take a gps spot of your fav spots, determine distances, etc. GPS/google maps, digital compasses—all totally, unreservedly good. Use.
g. Duct tape!
Yes, duct tape. You know, that wide very sticky, thick, strong tape that sticks and binds to most things? Carry some. Every now and then, not too often, you will be in a situation where it is useful. A small roll will suffice.
h. Sex.
Always have a few condoms and some lube stashed within easy reach. You never know when the situation will arise.
i. Plastic bags
Minor, but useful. Have with you a few plastic shopping bags at all times. Stick a few in your backpack, your bags. They have 1,001 uses, and they are waterproof. Speaking of waterproof, carry a waterproof bag with you in which to place your valuable, non-waterproof gear, for example, your iphone. I use a Dri-Dock, $15au, and works a treat.
j. Locks
I always have 2 or more combination locks with me. These can be used to secure a host of things to other things, and to lock things and to keep things safe. I prefer combination locks over key locks in that keys can be lost. Buy 4 digit combination locks, not 3. Three digits can be ‘hacked’ relatively easily.
k. Medicine Man
Sigh, in four years I have done two things. a. drag around a swag of med gear and kit, and b. never needed to use any of it. Ditto for med insurance. Just what to do? I would recommend the bare minimum, disinfectant and bandaids, but after that it is up to you. Do some research, assess your comfort level, and buy accordingly.
l. Shoes,
Wear good shoes, and, if it is possible, if you are a woman, wear sensible shoes, not pretty shoes, but good shoes. Good shoes are shoes which cover your feet, and provide protection. I prefer MBTs. They provide good protection and great feet support.
m. The sun.
It is bright, strong, hot, and puts out a lot of UV. Wear a hat at all times during the day, and good sunglasses—the type which block UV, as opposed to merely looking stylish. Follow this advice and you will avoid becoming one more burden on the public health care system. And of course, suncream, it goes with the hat. Add to this a scarf. A scarf wrapped around your neck, which can be pulled up over your face when in direct sunlight. I don't care what it looks like, I don't want to join the annual 2000 dead Australian skin cancer victims.
n. Depression, yes, depression.
Travelling can be depressing. It can be stressful. Learn when to take a break, learn when it is necessary to take a break before it becomes necessary to take a break. Take it easy from time to time, take a day out to rest alone, read a fav book—take it easy. Note, alcohol does not help you relax, if anything the reverse, ditto for smoking. Learn to think, not to drink.
o. Business cards; yours and theirs.
For various reasons people will ask you for your name and number. If we are dealing with foreigners (of whom you will meet many in foreign countries), spelling names and reciting phone numbers can be slow and error prone, so make yourself up a ‘name’ card. This should have your name and number (possibly several of your phone numbers from different countries, if that is what you want). Also put a pic on the card, something from the country you are in, if you are staying in one country for a while. This will make the locals smile, as you are being courteous to their country, and perhaps in a small way make things easier for you. If not, put a pic of you in your home country, again, something to make the locals smile. In the case of Aust, a kangaroo. Everyone loves Kangas.
p. Be A Timelord
Keep track of times and dates, be it time for a new visa, leaving a hotel, getting onto a bus, whatever. It may sound unnecessary to say this, but after traveling for a while, life and dates can blur.
q. Important docs, put copies online.
Get yourself a gmail account, specifically for this purpose. Take a pic of your important docs: passport, visas, credit cards, statements, invoices, receipts, whatever, and email these to your doc gmail account. Do this regularly, setup a process—it is neither difficult nor time consuming. Time spent here will save you big time when something (as it inevitably does) goes wrong.
r. Stay calm, except when you should not.
I say this because you will be ripped off from time to time, even the best and most experienced of us have weak moments. Stand your ground, state your case. Sometimes it is necessary to pretend (try and make it only pretend) to get angry, and sometimes a smile and a joke will save the day. But, stand your ground.

s. Beware of online hotel booking services.
I cannot give hard evidence or figures, but from what I have seen most of these are near scams. There prices are either higher than the norm, or the hotel throws in an extra charge or two. Contact the hotel directly, get there best price. You can negotiate. One website: asiarooms, I have read bad things about, and it looks sus.

t. Photograph your money.
If you carry a few (or more than a few) large denomination banknotes, as a security measure, photograph these notes. This will be evidence of your ownership if there is any dispute over ownership or theft. You have a record of the notes and the serial numbers. Upload copies of the notes.

u. Dogtags.
Wear a set on your neck. Show your name, an emergency contact, blood type, insurance details, medical issues—all this will help in a situation.

v. DEET (N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide) is an insect repellant—USE IT. 
Insects (mosquitos, ticks, fleas, etc.) spread disease, diseases which kill or gravely incapacitate people. Use a concentration of up to 50%, reapply every few hours. Spray it onto your clothes when they come back from the laundry. Keep a tube by your door to use when you leave your room. Keep a tube in your backpack. As you travel you will hear many people say they never use it and that they have never had a problem. Strangely, the people who have died, or are house bound because of the diseases spread by insects are never seen out and about telling you this.

CITRONELLA, the same as DEET. Cit repels mosquitos. Do you need both DEET and Cit? I am not sure, but put it this way, 2x is better than 1x, most of the time. I spray both onto my clothes. Better safe than sorry!  

w. Stay fit.
This may seem strange advice for people who are out and about, but it is good advice. In reality, there is not a great deal of physical exertion involved with travel, certainly not the prolonged and varied exertion of good exercise. It is all too easy to sit back and relax, and let the kilograms increase while the cardiovascular system sinks into a morass of lethargy. Have you tried climbing five flights of stairs? How long does it take, feeling out of breath?
Visiting a gym while travelling can be a little tricky, but far from impossible. Finding a gym which is not bank breaking is the key, usually 4 and 5 star hotels have, but for non-guests these are pricey things. Ask around, do a google search, check expat fora, and find a gym. A workout, a swim, sauna, and a massage can be had for only a few dollars, if you look around.
Failing a local gym, work out in your room. A variety of exercises are possible, from simply pushups to more elaborate. There are websites with non-gym exercise routines, take a look. Stay fit, and stay in the game. Don't be that 200kg fat expat sitting in the bar all day.

x. Dogs.
Dogs, and maybe cats and other animals, carry rabies, not all of them, in fact a minority, but it is a scary minority. Rabies is a nasty, fatal, disease. Avoid.  
Play it safe, don't pet animals, try and avoid them. Also, dogs see you as a stranger, as someone different from the people they regularly see, thus a threat, therefore a dog might just attack you, even when it is peacefully inclined to the other people around. Consider vaccination.

y. Bag ID.
Your bags contain your gear and your travel documents, important stuff. You need to make every effort to keep these things secure. One means of doing so is to tag your bags. Tag with your name and contact details, and also with something which is immediately recognisable. Write your initials in big white letters, wrap a red scarf around the handle, do something to make your bag visible.

To do nots
  1. ‘bum’ bags. No. They look gay.
  2. Get drunk, or drink alcohol. Most of the mistakes made by most people happen when they are drunk. A waste of time and money, and self-respect and one more burden on the public health system. Don’t drink alcohol. Let the idiots do that.
  3. Smoking, see above.

Thanks to Yuki Ling 보연 for editing advice.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Geocaching / Waymarking — more ways to waste time in pointless activities using state of the art tech.

Over the last two decades gps units have decreased in price, increased in accuracy (no small part due to Prez Bill Clinton’s decision to turn off the ‘inaccuracy’ in the civilian version of the us mil controlled gps service. Bill—he was a president to be proud of), and gained in functionality. These beneficial advances have given rise to many different improvements in our daily existence: navigation, the saving of lives, etc., however, as always, technology has produced a beneficial effect in our recreational life (but this time not sex). The rise of the gps has also given rise to gps based recreational activities.

Today I will discuss two of these: geocaching and waymarking. The two are related, but the first—geocaching, is the more prominent. In its simplest form one obtains a gps spot from a website, navigates to that spot, and then records the site in a log. Not too exciting you might ask, well you would be wrong if you answered in the affirmative. One must plan, think, and hunt to track down the elusive gps spot. It is an enjoyable pass-time.

You might think that the gps location itself would be enough info to find the cache, if so, you would also be wrong. A gps is accurate to no more than a few metres at best, and tens of metres at worst. Also the cache is usually hidden so as to not be too obvious to the casual passerby.

To find the cache you need to follow the info on the website. This info includes pics of the geocache, its surrounds, and a description of the location. Even then it is not always easy. There are also different types of caches, some small, some larger, some contain trinkets for the finder, some have items which are slowly making their way around the world to a destination courtesy of each geocacher who finds them, and is going in the right direction. The minimum of each cache is a logbook into which you can record your find.

As geocaches are frequently placed in interesting spots the journey itself can be fun and pleasant. Some can be a few minutes walk from your home or hotel, and located in the middle of a tourist sport, others can be in obscure spots and require info from locals.

The flip side of finding a cache is to create and then manage a cache. This involves finding a good spot, selecting and placing the cache, documenting its details on the website, and then managing it over time. As I am traveling at them moment, it is unlikely that I will be able to create my own caches any time soon.

My first cache I did not find. It is located on a busy portion of the Pattaya beach rd. It is a micro-cache, and hidden from easy view. I found its location with my iphone 3G gps, read the clues, but still could not find. I am not alone, several others logged their non-discovery of the cache. I will go back and try again. My second cache was more successful. It is located under a beam in the ‘The Avenue’ shopping mall. A few clues as to its location, a pause or two to wait for wandering ‘muggles’ (a term for those who are not geocachers borrowed from ‘Harry Potter’—hopefully not copyrighted), and then I reached down and under and retrieved the microcache. After a few moments of elation I opened it, recorded the date of my discovery, wrote my name, and then returned the cache to its original location. Success!

The second of the two gps sports is waymarking. Waymarking is similar, and easier, in that there is no cache to be found, simply a gps spot with, usually, an easily identifiable feature. The feature can be one of many things, from nothing more complex than a McDonalds restaurant to a famous historical locale, or an obscure geographical feature, even an attractive piece of scenery.

The overall process is similar. A waymarker finds and records a waymark for other users, who are then free to find and log their discovery.

Both geocaching and waymarking have their own ‘official’ websites (is that a surprise?). Here one can both add gps spots and find gps spots to visit. You can register, and become an official member, buy merchandise, and become fully informed as to your new hobby and interest. These websites have all the information you need to start your own geocache/waymarking career.

Take a look:

Have fun.

until next time


Friday, 21 August 2009

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Mobile Blogging from here.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

A birthday event—helping the orphans and socially disposed of Thailand

A birthday event—helping the orphans and socially disposed of Thailand

Here, residing in the 3rd world, we can forget how relatively wealthy we in the first world are. While it is true that the ‘western world’ does have many problems and social injustices which should be addressed, it is equally true that we should also turn our attention outwards to others, in other countries, and do what we can to help. Or at least that is what I believe, in accordance with my humanist beliefs.

Thus I decided, after consultation with the people concerned, to not simply give a gift to my family when each birthday rolled around, but to rather give a donation to a worthy cause in whatever region I found myself in at the time.

Being in Pattaya near the time of my brother Brett’s birthday I decided that a donation to a school for orphans and deaf students would be the way to go. So, along with my two friends from the Gothia bar, Noi and Yee, I visited the school on the 11th August (a week before Brett’s birthday on the 17th).

The school I made a donation to, on behalf of Brett, was named the Sotpattana School. The school has approximately 170 students, a mix of orphans and deaf students. It was established by the local Catholic diocese (Chanthaburi). The orphanage and the deaf school are separate legal entities but both share and use the same facilities. Due to a slight communication breakdown (not uncommon in Thailand) when we arrived the school’s students were enjoying their mandatory midday sleep, and would not awake for two more hours. Therefore we did not see any of the students!

I decided that an appropriate sum to donate would be 5,000 baht. This sum converts to au$176. In buying power, as a rule of thumb, I assume that the Australian dollar equivalent is half the Thai money. Thus 5000b translates into au$2500. My two Thai friends each donated 500b, bringing the total sum donated to 6000b. A worthwhile sum of money which will help many deserving students. A teacher in Bangkok earns ~8000b a month.

Myself and my two friends spent an hour or so at the school. It lies approximately 10mins and 4kms from my hotel, outside the ‘tourist’ area of Pattaya. We were shown around the school by the deputy director. It is a smallish school, with only a handful of buildings. The facilities also looked rather crowded as compared to what I am familiar with in Perth. However, the school was clean and well managed. The staff dedicated and knowledgeable. I wish the school all the best for the future. It was an enjoyable visit.

For those interested in the school here is their website:

For those interested in making a donation (additional info on website):
Bank Information:
Account Name : Pattaya Orphanage
Name of Bank : Bangkok Bank Ltd.
Branch : Banglamung
Savings A/C No. : 342-0-96666-9
Swift Code : BKKBTHBK

Till next time.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

A few days in the 'deep south' town of Hatyai --- 'Hard-Yai'

When I disembarked in Singapore I had originally planned to stay a few days in the gleaming metropolis that is Singapore, see a few sites and maybe make contact with an acquaintance or two, however, change of plan. When I was booking my bus to Thailand the guy behind the counter told me that there was a bus leaving in 1/2 an hour, so I thought for 1/2 a sec, and then bought a ticket. In reality, apart from shopping — and I am not much of a shopper — Sing is not terribly exciting. As soon as the prospect of Thailand beckoned, I succumbed.

The plan was to travel from Sing directly through Malaysia to the Thai town of Hatyai. This journey consumed 14 hours, but as I did the trip overnight, the time went quickly. Also the bus was near deserted, giving me plenty of personal space, which I like

The attraction of Hatyai is that it lies half way between Sing and Pattaya, making it a convenient stopping point, also it is relatively small and quiet, but it does have a few sites worth seeing. Note: due to the variable means by which Thai names (the Thai alphabet has 44 characters) are transliterated into English the word 'Hatyai'—which means 'Big Beach' is more correctly pronounced (at least to my ear) as 'Hard Yai'. JIC you wanted to know.

Hatyai lies in the 'deep south', as Thai people say. That is to say it is at the bottom of the long, winding peninsular of southern Thailand. Much of this territory was wrested from the Malay states in the early 20th century. As such its culture is noticably different from that of northern Thailand. There is also a measure of unrest in the 'south', how much of this is due to what is debateable, however, I myself saw no signs of trouble. Dangerous? People always ask this, and the answer No! The greatest danger you will face in s.e. Asia is the traffic. No joke.

There is a surprising amount of tourism in Hatyai, largely from Malaysia and Singapore. The numbers are not huge, and at the moment, the numbers are less than a year previously, but there are always a few Malay/Sing tourists to be seen wandering the streets. The number of farang is low, westerners are something of a rarity in this city. I came across three or so 'farang' bars, that was about it. To be frank, most of these Sing/Malay tourists are sex tourists, visiting the town for only a few days.

During my time in Hatyai I stayed at the 'Regency Hotel'. This is just about the most expensive hotel in town, costing 1,300b a day (including a small breakfast). I probably should have stayed at a cheaper, but as I was only in town for three days, no biggee.

Hatyai is considered to be 'poor', but there are no obvious signs of poverty. There are no beggars in the streets and there are the usual signs of civilisation: Sizzler, McDonalds, etc. The town has a somewhat 'seedy' look, that is to say, it is worn and just a little gubby. There are also lots of drivers and other people waiting to help/exploit you. One thing to be aware of, there are many touts at the train and bus stops ready to 'help' you. By and large, ignore these people. Grab a taxi to your hotel and go.

During my stay I saw several temples. First, the Hatyai Nai temple located in the city itself. It has a large reclining Buddha (35m long), resident monks, 'funeral facilities', and a tourism trinket stand. The day I visited there were a bunch of men in the process of signing up for their three month stint as a monk. About an hours drive outside the town, on a hill top, is a Buddhist Wat, and just below it is a shrine to Quan Yin. From this spot there is an excellent view of Hatyai.

After my time in Hatyai I made ready to travel to Pattaya. In doing so I made a neophyte mistake. I got ripped off in a typical tourist move. Frak, you would think that I would not fall for these things but I did, having seen it a 1,000 times before! I walked into the bus station, and a guy said to me, come with me, I will sell u a ticket. He then took me to his family bus booking agency across the road, and sold me a pricey ticket for a VIP bus, which did not in fact exist. When I came to get onto my bus I saw it was a 'normal' bus, but he was not to be found frown. Alas -- the wickedness of the world.

Overnight to Bangkok, and from their a two hour taxi ride to Pattaya where I returned to my fav guest house.

Jog-dee-krap (good luck, in Thai)