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Top 5 travel moments of 2014

I am moving to www.thelitebackpacker.com 🙂

Blogging… it isn’t easy.  I still remember my first post about my favourite village in England.  It took me hours to write, days to re-write, weeks of feed back from friends and family, and countless hand wringing moments.  When I finally hit the publish button I felt simultaneously elated and exhausted.  The next few posts got only a little easier – and then suddenly I had an epiphany – no one but people I knew was reading my blog, I stopped taking it so seriously.  Over night, I relaxed my writing style, poured more of my heart and personality into my posts and found fulfilment in just writing.

Then suddenly there were people following my blog who weren’t related to me…

The excitement I felt at seeing that email in my inbox to tell me that someone was following my blog… AND I DIDNT KNOW THEIR NAME! I then called my mum (obviously), texted my best friend and spent the whole day smiling.

That was the beginning – 2 1/2 years ago!

Lyme Regis in Snow

The last couple of years has helped to shape me as a blogger and a writer. Through the highs of getting likes to the lows of feeling un-inspired.  I have loved every second of it and through this blog I have learnt so much, about writing, connecting, networking, how big and small the world is, and about my own strengths!

The time has now come for me to take the next step, to build further on the foundation of this amazing blog.

I have spent the last couple of months building a website that will embody all of the things that I loved about this blog and have the platform to build so much more.  It’s still about travel (obviously) but with a healthy twist!

Check out www.thelitebackpacker.com to keep in touch with my adventures!

Here you will see some of the posts that you have loved from this blog, such as:The Lite Backpacker

Looking forward to connecting with you all through my new site.  Would love to keep in contact and continue to share. If you are my wonderful family and friends who have faithfully followed this blog from the beginning – I expect you are already following my new website… 😉

Thanks,
Helen AKA The Lite Backpacker

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Cambodia: What to do, What to see, What to eat? Kampot!

Cambodia: things to do Kampot

When travelling through South East Asia it is easy to stick to the main tourist attractions and big cities – they are a tourist attraction for a reason after all! If you are strapped for time in a country jam-packed full of interesting things to do and see like Cambodia, stepping away from the tourist hordes is even more difficult. Kampot near the Vietnamese border is a little town that isn’t quite off the “beaten track” but it’s not on the main tourist route either and is a great way to see something a little different.

Falling off the “beaten track” in Kampot is the perfect way to finish my four-part series on a sample of things to do and see in Cambodia. But if sleepy rural towns are not your thing check out the earlier posts:

PART 4: Kampot

Kampot is nestled up on the Vietnamese border, surrounded by farmland and mountains.  It is a great place to base yourself if you wish to explore Bokor national park.  The town itself is still heavily influenced by the French colonial architecture, combined with the many bakeries that dot the town you would be forgiven for thinking you had somehow stepped into the south of France.

Make sure you look before you cross the road

Make sure you look before you cross the road

How Long: Kampot is a sleepy town, with limited things to do a few days here is usually enough.  If however you want to base yourself some where quiet where you can still easily travel to the other major attractions in Cambodia then this is a great town for a longer stay.

Beware: Cambodia is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world – and I am not referring to gold mining.  During the Khmer Rouge land mines were buried throughout various places in the countryside, killing tens of thousands over the years.  When in any rural area in Cambodia be careful not to stray off the road – there are still huge efforts to clear the country of these horrific bombs but it will still take many more years and a lot more money to give the country the all clear – caution if the key to maintaining your limbs.

Cambodia: things to do Kampot

Things to do:

Bokor National Park is one of the countries largest protected areas and contains many animals and birds that are on the verge of being extinct – including the tiger. You can do one day or multiple day tours from Kampot. The ruins in the centre have a somewhat eerie feel to them as the jungle slowly creeps out to reclaim them.

Explore the local countryside by hiring a tuk tuk or moto driver for the day. Ask them to take you to some of the places that they think are important in the ares, such as the famous Kampot pepper farms which is regarded as one of the finest peppers in the world and a staple on most five-star restaurant tables.

Cambodia: things to do Kampot

Ancient bat filled caves are just a short moto ride from the town.  The climb up to the caves is one of the highlights as you are able to look out at the vast region of fields and mountains below you.  The caves themselves contain ancient shrines and loads of bats – wouldn’t recommend using flash photography in there.

Take a breath while you enjoy a coffee or a meal in one of the many amazing restaurants that line the river bank. Spend some time just collecting your thoughts and admiring the sun setting over the mountains and the eye-popping steel bridge.

Kep is a ghost town just near Kampot. It was once a thriving holiday resort built by the French, but war and famine meant that it was all but deserted until recently.  A new tourist trade is slowly taking hold here. But it is even more sleepy than Kampot so I would recommend just doing a day trip there.  Walking along the seafront that is lined with huge beautiful and opulent white French buildings is simultaneously amazing and creepy as the place feels so lonely and sad.

Cambodia: things to do Kampot

Cambodia is a country that has so much to offer travellers of all interests – from the ancient ruins of Angkor Wat, to the heartbreak of the Killing Fields, to beach time in Sihanoukville but if you want to see a little piece of Cambodia that isn’t a tourist attraction head down to Kampot.

Cambodia: things to do Kampot

South East Asia is a region packed with things to do and see but at times it can be stressful (such as when you accidentally wash your passport) and daunting, sometimes you need to remember to take a deep breath and go with the flow. Once you relax you will create memories that will last a life time as the region is full of history, culture, shopping, amazing food and some of the friendliest people in the world. But if you need a little help working out this amazing region click here for 25 tips on how to survive South East Asia

 

Cambodia: What to do, What to see, What to eat? Sihanoukville!

Cambodia: Things to do Sihanoukville

On a trip to Cambodia you can be mistaken for thinking that it’s all temples and history lessons, yet there is so much more to this beautiful country.  With so many amazing things to do and see it is easy to feel overwhelmed.  This is a four-part series on just a small sample of the amazing things your can experience in Cambodia.  Once you have poured your soul out in Phnom Penh or stubbed your toe on too many ancient ruins in Siem Reap head down to the coastal city of Sihanoukville for some down time.

PART 3: Sihanoukville

The small coastal town of Sihanoukville has really taken off as one of the must visit places in Cambodia and its no surprise with its laid-back atmosphere. The town is sprawled out over a small peninsular but the most popular area is Serendipity Beach.  The roads and infrastructure are still a work in progress but this just adds to the charm and fun of the place. If you are in need of a beach escape this is the place to go! NOTE: Make sure you research what the weather will be like as it does have a rainy season and a hot season.

Cambodia: Things to do Sihanoukville

How Long: Depends on how much time you want to spend on a beach? There are also some great day trips to be done from Sihanoukville so factor in a couple of extra days on top of your lounging to do these.

Beware: There you are walking down the street, minding your own business when suddenly you hear “You want a smoke?” “You buy Marijuana?” “Hash for you?” coming out of the darkness.  Don’t be fooled by the laid-back feel of the place, drugs are illegal and having them on your person is grounds for arrest. Also there are rumours that some of those oh so friendly drug pedlars are in fact undercover cops who will exert bribes after arresting you.  Be sensible and think twice about what a Cambodian jail would be like.

Things to do:

Beach time is generally the number one thought on most people’s minds when they come to sunny Sihanoukville. However the main beach Serendipity has been divided up by the bars that line the shore front, if you sit in one of the many luxurious reclining chairs be prepared to pay for it.  You can walk down the beach to where the bars run out and set up your towel for a good old-fashioned sun bake.

Cambodia: Things to do Sihanoukville

Island hopping is a great way to spend a day feeling like you are doing something when really you are just lolling on different beaches.  You can book a one day tour at most of the tour agencies in town which usually includes some snorkelling, lunch on a nearly deserted island, more snorkelling and maybe another deserted island for some more swimming. Pack sunscreen!

Massages are an even better way to relax than lying on the beach with a cocktail in hand.  With the whole town geared up for relaxation it’s not heard to find a place for a deep relaxing massage.

Happy hour bar hopping is the cheapest and best way to get to know the Sihanoukville nightlife.  At nearly every hour of the evening a different bar will have a happy hour going.  During the day work out which one has the earliest and start there – ending at the one with the latest. NOTE: As mentioned previously the infrastructure isn’t very developed, including street lights, if you are pub hoping to a new place go with a friend as there are many dark alleyways which may not be the safest place for a drunk traveller.

Feeling hungry or need a place to stay? Hit up Mick and Craig’s an institution of Sihanoukville, for affordable food in a clean and homely restaurant. If you are there over christmas they do a great roast turkey dinner.

Ream National Park is another great day trip that you can do from Sihanoukville.  A great way to see the countries natural landscape filled with jungles, mangrove swamps and beaches.  Most tours involve a boat trip down the river to the sea, where you might see flying fish and if you are REALLY lucky – dolphins (I wasn’t lucky), a jungle trek and some beach time to finish up.

Cambodia: Things to do Sihanoukville

Make yourself pretty by getting a pedicure and manicure.  For the low price of $2 you can spend half an hour having your hands and toes preened leaving you feeling sparkly and fancy!

Did you say all you can eat Indian? Head to Tajmahal Indian Restaurant for some of the best Indian you will ever have.  On the night I was there they had a buffet and for the equivalent of $5 you could eat as much as you like! I am not sure if this is a regular thing they offer but it was absolutely amazing. I went back for thirds and fourths… which was a great way to line the stomach for the happy hour pub crawl that happened later. If it isn’t a regular thing I would still recommend it – because it was absolutely heavenly!

Make sure you leave some time for this gem of a beach town as Siem Reap is great for temples, Phnom Penh is full of political history and heart renting tales, but head to Sihanoukville for some sun, sea and cocktails!

Cambodia: Things to do Sihanoukville

Cambodia: What to do, What to see, What to eat? Siem Reap!

Things to do in Cambodia, Siem Reap and Angkor Wat

Cambodia is universally known as one of the friendliest countries in the world. Full of laughing children, cheeky monkeys and breathtaking views, combined with it’s rich history and ancient architecture, Cambodia becomes a must visit country for all travellers.

As you can rightfully imagine there is so much to see and do, therefore this post is part one of a four-part series on things to do in Cambodia. Stay tuned in the next few weeks for what to do in Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville and Kampot!

PART 1: Siem Reap and Angkor Wat

Cambodia: Things to do Siem Reap and Angkor Wat

Some information: Siem Reap is the launching pad for tourists to explore the giant Angkor Wat temple complex. Angkor Wat was the capital or the Khmer Empire up until the 13th century and it contains many more temples and ancient artefacts in the 400km area than just the iconic Angkor Wat. These ancient temples were lost to the world as border conflicts infused the region, until during the French Occupation the temples were “rediscovered” and protected (I imagine that the local people never lost these spectacular buildings).

How Long: There is a lot to do in Siem Reap and the surrounding area so I would Things to do in Cambodia, Siem Reap and Angkor Watrecommend an extra day or two on top of what you plan on spending at the temples. You need to buy a tourist pass before you enter the Angkor Wat complex. I recommend the three-day pass, as it gives you time to see what you want and come and go as you need. If you are pushed for time you can buy a one day pass and just see the big temples.  There is also the option of a five-day pass – this would be best for ancient history enthusiasts only, as no matter how spectacular the temples are they soon become confused in your mind after a few days.

Beware: There are many scams that are in effect in the area. Some involve your moto driver dropping you off in the middle of the countryside where you will wait long enough to become panicked before a bus comes along and charges you a huge amount of money to take you back to town. On the bus from Phnom Penh there are companies that will drop you off at a specific guest house and tell you that all others are full – I suggest booking your accommodation in advance to avoid this. There are many children who beg around the temples, they are very poor and so will snatch up your bag if you leave it unattended. Like everywhere, be sensible and follow your gut but also be polite.

Things to Do:

Angkor Wat is spectacular in half-light, I recommend sunrise as opposed to sunset as there are less crowds and once you have finish at Angkor you can wander around the rest of the temples near by without the hordes of people ruining your photos or spiritual contemplation.

So many temples, there are three circuits of temples. Circuit one can be walked around and contains the big ones such as Angkor Wat and the Bayon temple. Hire bikes and cycle through Big Temple Circuit, where you will discover loads of little artefacts that you might miss as you whizz past in a moto. Outer Circuit is best explored in a moto with a driver who knows some history about the temples – your guest house should be able to recommend a good driver.

Feeling hungry? A great way to experience the amazing food of Cambodia is to do a cooking class. You will be taken through the markets and shown what ingredients to pick, then taught how to make more food than you can possibly consume (take the left overs back to your home for a midnight feast). My choice is Tigre De Papier.

Things to do in Cambodia, Siem Reap and Angkor Wat

Swimming is a great way to wash away the tension you may have built up from cycling through all of those temples, not to mention a great way to cool down in the humid oppressive heat. You can pay just $5 to most of the major hotels to use their pool and towels for the day.

Still hungry? Give back by eating or drinking for a cause.  Places like the Butterflies Garden Restaurant are a great place to grab a coffee, cake or lunch while supporting Things to do in Cambodia, Siem Reap and Angkor Wat
causes such as reviving the traditional Cambodian performing arts.

Tomb Raider was filmed at the Ta Prohm Temple, so not only is it a movie set but it is one of the most magical and intact temples in the complex. Spend sometime getting in touch with your inner Lara Croft as your scramble over the ruins.

Psar Chaa is the market to go to if you are planning on doing any souvenir shopping. It dominates the old quarter most evenings and it has everything from silver jewellery, slogan T-shirts, place-mats and chopsticks to finely carved furniture and woven rugs. If your feet are a little callused from all that temple walking, stick your feet in a fish tank and have the amphibians eat all the dead skin off your soles.

Cocktail hour is done with style in Siem Reap where a bubbling nightlife ripples through Cambodia: Things to do Siem Reapthe two main tourist streets.  Pub hop from Temple Club to Funky Monkey tasting the rich array of cocktails that can be bought by the jug. Some places even offer a free T-shirt if you buy two jugs!

Siem Reap has so much to offer that you can easily spend a couple of weeks in this laid-back lazy town, just soaking up the history and a few cocktails. The people are constantly helpful and friendly – service is always done with a smile (if a little laid-back). You will fall in love with the people as much as you do the temples.

Final Tip – Educate Yourself: Cambodia has a very chequered past filled with conflict, however, I am not going to delve into that in this post – there is just too much to be said.  If your education, like mine has a few holes in it where this country is concerned then I suggest reading up on the Khmer Rouge, the French Occupation and the Khmer Empire before you get there (seriously when I arrived in Cambodia and learnt all about the history of the area I was shocked that they hadn’t taught us this during school).  In learning about these many complicated aspects of Cambodia’s history you will greatly enhance your whole trip. 

Plate of Deep Fried Tarantulas - a local specialty

Plate of Deep Fried Tarantulas – a local specialty

 

What I Learnt in Yosemite

I didn’t learn about how the valley was formed (I did go looking for the information but got side tracked by ice cream), nor did I learn about any of the wildlife that are native to the area (I did see a squirrel though) and I definitely didn’t learn anything about the geology of the famous rock formations.

Things I learnt while hiking Yosemite Upper Falls Trail

Instead I made much more practical and in-depth discoveries that will last me a life time – though, I am not saying that geology and wildlife aren’t important things to assist you in life – especially if you are prone to participating in pub trivia nights.

 What’s the story: I travelled to Yosemite from San Francisco with a tour group called Green Tortoise. A tour was the right option for me as I was backpacking through Nor Cal and didn’t have a car, plus I was on my own and wanted to meet some friends.  A short trip through Google and Trip Advisor narrowed the choice down to Green Tortoise, and as an added bonus the date of the next trip was perfect for me – stars had aligned. The tour bus would drive through the night while we all slept so that would arrive in Yosemite as the sun was rising, in time for breakfast and then a day of hiking.  We would spend one night camping just outside the valley so we could spend the next day exploring as well before another night ride back to San Francisco – easy! It turned out to be a three days of little discoveries.

Things I learnt while hiking Yosemite Upper Falls Trail

What I Learnt in Yosemite

How to turn a bus into a moving dorm room (complete with stinky feet and snorers): Green Tortoise have these spectacular buses that work the same way as caravans. During the day you have chairs and tables to lounge on, but when you want to go to bed they turn into three-tiered bunk beds – the bottom bunk was the best as you had less chance of rolling out when the bus went round a corner a little sharply. Definitely wouldn’t pass Australian road rules…

How to cut a watermelon: You would think after a life time of devouring this amazing fruit that I would have mastered the art of cutting it up.  You see, all these years I have cut my watermelon up into triangle pieces so that I could eat it off the crust.  However, over breakfast on the first morning I was put on fruit salad duty and it was here that the Green Tortoise chef, Adam, taught me the best way.

  1. Cut the ends off so it stands on its head easily
  2. Slice the crust off the sides off – curving the knife around fruit
  3. Chop up the flesh into bite sized piece – no crust to worry about
  4. Simples

People are all talk: As we drove through the valley we all discussed which hike we would spend the day doing.  Our bus driver gave loads of advice about difficulty and time required.  By the time we reached the car park 50% of the group said they would be doing the Upper Yosemite Falls hike.  Once out of the bus our driver pointed to a giant rock with a waterfall careening down the side “that’s where you end up when you get to the top”. Only five of us ended up taking up the challenge – we could tackle 12ks with an elevation of 2,600ft in 6 hours, no problem…(famous last words)

Things I learnt while hiking Yosemite Upper Falls Trail

What half way REALLY is: About a quarter of the way up the side of the mountain my fellow waterfall enthusiasts and I decided that we must be about half way.  2 more hours and 2000ft taught us otherwise.

The power of positive thinking: It was pure enthusiasm and excitement that got me two-thirds up. The final third was a war between “you can do it” and “quit winging your annoying yourself” or “quitting this close will be the lamest thing you have ever done” and then there was the old standby lie that your parents taught you “just one more corner I promise” – what didn’t help was the people who were bounding down and saying things “it’s still a long way to go”

Getting to the top is the best feeling: Flopping down in the shade and draining the last of your water while stuffing a sandwich in your mouth is pretty awesome. What makes it the absolutely best moment ever, is the view you have of Yosemite Valley stretched out below you.

Drink the water: We saw some people using filters on the water up the top of Yosemite Falls, but we were so thirsty we didn’t bother.  It was by far the best tasting water I have ever drunk, no chemicals, no metallic after taste – just pure deliciousness. For the record none of us got sick.

Things I learnt while hiking Yosemite Upper Falls Trail

Hiking boots were invented for a reason: As this was a side trip I was just wearing my normal running shoes instead of hiking boots.  On the way up this didn’t seem like much Things I learnt while hiking Yosemite Upper Falls Trailof a disadvantage (except for when I tripped over rocks – no protection). On the way down the advantage became clear, my runners just didn’t have the grip or the sole to deal with the slippery dust coated granite.  Impending death flirted with me the whole way down as I took tiny steps to avoid sliding of the edge of the mountain.

Going down hurts more than up: Up takes mental power, real mental power – but it doesn’t hurt your body that badly, just drains your energy.  Going down… well that’s another story! Soon your calves ache, then your thighs, then your abs and back, soon your whole body is shaking making the whole thing so much worse.

Standing still is not the best reaction when someone yells bear: All trip I had been pleading with mother nature to grant me a bear sighting.  Almost back down the bottom of the trail I hear someone scream “bear” – it took me a full minute to process what to do, my immediate reaction was to run up the trail to see it, which then collided with the sensible reaction of running away from the bear, leaving me standing there gaping like a fool. By the time I ran back up the path the bear had been scared off.

Things I learnt while hiking Yosemite Upper Falls Trail

Ice cream and a Yosemite Beer is a great mix: ONLY once you have returned from the Upper Yosemite Falls climb and are in need of sugar and beer.

You can eat what you want: A little chart at the information centre advised me that i had burnt 3400 calories in climbing the Upper Yosemite Falls track.  I took this to mean that i could have seconds at dinner and not be stingy on the sour cream.

It hurts more the day after: As painful as it was coming down the mountain, that was nothing compared to trying to walk the next day. What I needed was a hot bath and a massage. Instead I went for a walk to the beautiful mirror lakes where I waded through freezing cold glacier water and had a nap under a tree.

Things I learnt while hiking Yosemite Upper Falls Trail

The oldest Saloon in California can make a $2.50 beer taste like an $8 beer: Maybe it was because the classic barman who was constantly cleaning glasses, or the juke box that played 90s hits, or the great wall memorabilia, or the fact that we were in the middle of no where, or complete exhaustion – either way that beer tasted fabulous.

Watching the sun rise over San Francisco is pretty spectacular: Wake up early one morning and see it – its worth it!

Things I learnt while hiking Yosemite Upper Falls Trail

Learning to Live While Still Budgeting.

Budgets – they always start with the best intentions, then slowly those intentions are forgotten as we wander through shops filled with shiny things, or head out for a dinner and decide to have just one more bottle of that REALLY nice wine.IMG_0049

I have always thought that I am good at saving – having been on several big trips over extended periods of time, therefore I must have saved up a fair bit to get started.

In keeping with my new year’s goal I have created a rather ambitious savings plan for myself where I will live off only $350 a fortnight – that’s $125 a week – after rent and bills. When I first came up with that number I was like, shme whatever, that is so easy – I could totally do that! To prove that I could do it I spent this last fortnight recording all of my spending’s – while also consciously ensuring that I lived as frugally as possible.

I spent a whopping $733.10

I was gob smacked – how on earth did I spend so much when I thought I was being good? Luckily I kept a full break down of what I spent my money on.  Looking back over my expenses for the last fortnight I clearly wasn’t as frugal as I thought when there are things like “Sneaky Cupcake” and “Australia V England Cricket Tickets”

Watching England lose... again!

Watching England lose… again!

I decided to divide up the list so I could get a better idea of my frivolity.

Essential for living

The bare essentials such as groceries, suncream (I live in Australia after all), doctors and a bus tickets only came to $249.10. If I am honest I wasn’t stingy when I was grocery shopping, if I thought things through a bit better and planned things ahead I could probably shave off another $50.

The cheapest things to buy are vegetables so I may just have to get in touch with my inner vegetarian (I tried to be a vegetarian when I was eight after watching a David Attenborough marathon… it only lasted two days) – no more fresh salmon and prawns!

Because I wanna or should

This category hit a massive $310.80! At the time all of these items felt like they were essential but in retrospect… eh… maybe not so much. I could definitely walked on the days I lazily took the train to the gym.  Basketball registration is essential if I’m going to fulfill my New Years Goal of winning some games… but it’s not something I would die without. Farewell gifts for a workmate and team lunches are important for the workplace bonding – so they are almost essential – but maybe I will have the cheap soup next time.

Seriously you don’t need this

$173.20 of stuff I clearly didn’t need – or even want that badly. A sneaky donut forced me to do an extra Zumba class, the cheese and crackers evening was tasty – but maybe a triple cream brie could be exchanged for my famous avocado dip (a 3rd of the cost), I definitely didn’t want that sack of goon on Australia day, and although I loved going to the cricket (watching Australia obliterate England, again), having friends round and watching it on the TV would be just as fun and cheaper. The thing I regret the most was the takeaway Chinese – it left me feeling blah for days – so blah I didn’t even want the left over’s.

The trick when saving for a trip is not to forget to live in the place that you are.  If it becomes all about the saving you run the risk of wasting time, and traveling is all about appreciating time – don’t wait until you are on a plane to start. Although I am cutting back on things like goon sacks, I am doing more bushwalking (swimming in a waterfall beats a goon hangover any day), less cupcakes and more strawberries (healthy and yummy), passing on the cricket matches but having friends round for dinner – or better yet going to theirs.

Bush Walking

Bush Walking

Cheap Seats – Not Worth the Savings!

Trip planning – my second favourite thing after actually travelling.  I am in the midst of planning a trip at the moment to the UK and with a quick sidestep to Croatia for a little sun and fun.

I am heading there with one of my oldest and closest friends who has been living in Europe for the last two years (lucky much!) and so I have been treating her as the authority on how best to travel through Europe (it’s been a while since I was last there).

We did all of this over Skype over the last few weekends and despite Skype’s best effort at disconnecting us at the most inconvenient points we managed to book our flights.

It was a work of art on her part it must be said!  As soon as we had narrowed the field of dates she pulled up three different flight websites. First she looked at which were the best airports to use from London, then she fiddled with dates, then we reversed the trip (Dubrovnik -> Split became Split->Dubrovnik), went back to the original dates, changed London airports one more time and came up with two relatively good deals (considering the time of year we are flying that is).

It then came down to decision time – here were the options

Flight one – Hard to get to London airport, 6am flight, cheapest

Flight two – Hard to get to London airport, 2pm flight, not as cheap.

Our natural bargain hunting instinct was to go for the cheaper option – cheaper is always better! However, we paused for a moment and thought about it. The 2pm flight would be a lot more convenient for me, as I would have only arrived the night before and was hoping to have breakfast with my cousin, not to mention the trek I was going to have to do across London to Luton – the question then became was the 20 pound saving worth losing the convenience? Quick answer was no – problem solved, flights booked!

It did get me thinking though of all the trips I have done how the backpacker thrift mentality takes hold, bargaining down to the last penny in spite of my own personal preference.

When I was travelling round South East Asia I was pretty skint and so did as much of the trip on the cheap as I possibly could – however, in reflection, there were a few times when I wished I had spent a little more money to enjoy the experience:

Beds V Bugs: Rocking into Chang Rai we began the usual hunt of looking for a place to place our heads for the night, the first two hostels we looked at were charging the equivalent of $8 a night – we had just come out of Laos so this was extraordinarily high for us.  Eventually we found a place that had a room above a pub for $4 a night… bargain! In retrospect I would have paid the extra $4 to avoid sleeping on the suspiciously stained mattress above a juke box that played Black Eyed Peas “Good Night” over and over again – wasn’t a good night.

Groomed V Gross: All through Asia you can get great pedicure or manicure for great prices. Trick is to make sure you don’t fall for the allure of having your nails done by those lovely smiling ladies who come round while you are on the beach.  Sounds like bliss – lying on a deck chair sipping a cocktail while having your nails done – and it is for all of five minutes! Then you realise that there is no way they could have sterilised the utensils between doing your nails and the German man’s down the beach… ewww factor. Don’t risk infection – head to one of the salons, there are loads of them, they are still cheap but what you pay for is a little bit more peace of mind.

Slow Boat V Fast Boat: There is a scam in Thailand run on tourists heading out to Koh Phanang for the full moon party. Everyone knows about the it and naturally tries to avoid falling for it.  Basically there are two tickets, slow boat or for $2 more fast boat – the scam is that they are the SAME boat!  We bought the slow boat tickets and transfer to the wharf. SCAMMED – we ended up sitting in a little booking office for three hours while being bullied/conned into buying the fast boat tickets.  We gave in.  Wish we had given in sooner – because as soon as we did we were taken to the wharf where all the other travellers were lolling about waiting for the boat sipping beers and eating great food – $2 for three hours of my life, sure!

Bed V Bells: Jumping off the bus ride from hell in Luang Parbang we bargain down with the scalpers who met the bus for a great deal – a room with TV and air-con, close to the city centre, five nights for the price of three! Score! Except that across the street was a very big and special Buddhist Wat that was celebrating a festival – that was going on for 8 days.  This involved little gongs being played constantly (which eventually you could drown ignore) and a big gong being played sporadically ever hour or so (no one could have drowned this one out) – wish we had packed our bags and gone somewhere else – missing sleep is never a good thing.

Sometimes paying a little bit extra can save you loads of hassle in the long run – note to self don’t be stingy!