Tag Archives: budget travel

A Breathtaking Ancient Wonder & the Kampong Phluk Floating Village.

8 Dec

Unfortunately, no words or photographs will be able to sum up how magnificent the Angkor region really is – with thousands of tourists flocking to Siem Reap every year to catch a glimpse of this incredible Wonder of the World. We decided to make the most of the day, waking up at 4:30AM, quickly gulping down a cup of coffee and heading downstairs to meet our tuktuk driver, Adam. With the crisp morning air breezing past us, we zooted off to buy our tickets (20 Dollars for a full day pass, 40 Dollars for a 3 day pass) and to begin our day. Sunrise is breathtaking and although there are heaps of fellow tourists plonking themselves wherever they can catch a glimpse of the rising rays, there is more than enough space for everyone to find a piece of tranquility and absorb one of the most beautiful sights at such a special time of the day.

After sunrise and a stroll around the grounds, we walked outside of the temple and enjoyed a delicious breakfast at the Blue Pumpkin restaurant – where our wonderful guide, Mr V, met up with us. Once we were all ready, we jumped back on the tuktuk to begin our day exploring the Angkor region, being fed incredible information from an experienced tour guide. Paying the 30 Dollar guide fee for the day, is worth every single cent! Being able to ask questions, know where exactly you are and have an array of knowledge sitting next to you – means that the experience is made that much better.

Kamphong Phluk Floating Village

If you are planning a trip to Siem Reap, you have to go and visit a floating village! I desperately wanted to see one but the reviews were mixed and I did not want to spend unnecessary money being ripped off in another tourist scam. However, we decided to take our guide with us, which (once again) made the experience even more wonderful and ensured that we did not get ripped off. As a treat, Mr V organised an old World War Two Jeep for us to get from the guest house to the port – how lucky we were! :) The drive through the local villages, off the beaten track to the port of departure set the scene for what was to come. The drive allowed us to see how the Khmer people live, how the locals ride their bicycles from one point to another and what a local market looks like.

This year has allowed us the privilege of travelling and exploring a number of different places, but very few places can compare to the floating village experience. After cruising through the village, passing floating government buildings, a school and community hall – we stopped off at a point where the engine boat could go no further. We decided to pay $10 and hop on a much smaller, slightly less stable, canoe – paddled by a local woman. Once we managed to collide comfort with stability, we peacefully glided through the alleyways of the floating village, seeing the most incredible sights and gaining a glimmer of insight into the way in which these fascinating people live.

During the wet season, the houses are floating. During the dry season, the stilted houses stand proudly off the ground. When we visited, the water was still a considerable 8M deep. Seeing children paddling home from school, babies being bathed in buckets and fishing nets being erected around us – was a truly magnificent experience. The locals were friendly, taking little notice of our presence – often appearing blissfully unaware of the magnitude of awe and manner in which we silently pondered just how people across the world survive and the depth of gratitude we felt to be exposed to such a unique way of living.

Siem Reap travel tips…

If you are planning a trip to Cambodia, with a few days to spare in Siem Reap, don’t have an excessive budget and are looking to make the most of your time – I highly recommend hiring a tour guide and dedicating one day to the Angkor region and another to exploring a floating village. We were privileged to know people who had already spent a considerable amount of time in Siem Reap, so we did not need to spend much time figuring out the simplicities of the town, pondering what we should/should not do. I am certain that without a guide accompanying you to the floating village, you may run into some complications relating to being ripped off. However, if you do decide to go alone – you are likely to be charged $20 per person to hire the engine boat, rather than $20 for the whole boat. Also, on the optional canoe trip through the village – you will more than likely be charged a per person fee, rather than the $10 flat rate which we paid for the trip – which lasts about 45 minutes.

Bangkok to Cambodia, Noodle hot pot & just chuck it…

3 Dec

Friday marked the start of our travels and the end of a wonderful teaching era in Bangkok. Packing up our apartment, saying goodbye to the truly dear friends we have made this year and getting ready to move onto the next chapter of our lives – was by no means easy. This experience taught me a tremendous amount about myself, about others and the divine truth in realising that as human beings – we are all the same. We come from vastly different cultural, ethnic and social backgrounds – but, no matter where we have been brought up, no matter where in the world  our hearts lie – we are all the same.  The sweeter end of the bitter-sweet farewell was knowing that we have some well-earned travel time ahead of us – starting off in Cambodia! :)

First stop, Siem Reap…

Deciding on how to get from Bangkok to Siem Reap, Cambodia proved to be one of those ok, yes – lets fly. No, wait – lets bus. Oh no, lets fly. But, if we fly…….  And so on. The difference in price from flying to bussing was enormous – especially for those, like us, who are on a budget. Much reading and online research led us to the conclusion that a 750 Baht bus drive was our chosen mode of transport, rather than the almost 4000 Baht cheap flight. Reviews and advice had us feeling confident that we had made the right decision and reading countless tips from experienced travellers on Tripadvisors definitely aided our decision. Booking your ticket from Bangkok to Siem Reap is easy-peasy! You can either go directly to Mo Chit station, or call the Thai Ticket Major call centre on 022623456. Phoning the call centre, allows you to book your tickets over the phone – collecting and paying for your purchase at 7/11 with the booking code provided. You will be issued with a receipt which is then handed over at the Thai Ticket Major desk at the station prior to your departure.

So, in a nutshell – the bus drive is absolutely fine!! Yes, it is long. Yes, it is not the most comfortable and yes, you do need to be prepared for border/visa scams – but, overall it is an easy, extremely affordable and comfy enough trip. We opted not to acquire an online E-visa from the Cambodia Embassy before our trip as neither of us had access to credit card funds and were equally concerned that the visa would not arrive in the specified 3 working days (although I have only heard positive feedback from fellow travellers about this online service – so go for it if you have the time and have access to a credit card.) The bus leaves from Mo Chit Station (which, by the way – is not near the Mo Chit BTS station – but rather a taxi drive or quick bus drive away.)

Leaving Bangkok is easy, arriving at the Poi Pet border has the potential to be rather challenging – but be prepared, and you are A for Away! :) Before you arrive at the official border post, you will stop at an area where a man will go on the bus claiming that anyone without an E-visa needs to get off the bus and follow him to get your visa… DO NOT go with him. He leads you to a plastic, collapsable table, with an A4 printed sign saying “Make Visa Here”. If you have spent some time in South East Asia, you will know not to fall for scams like these – but unfortunately, there are many people who still do – aiding corruption and giving these arrogant individuals the power to continue ripping off innocent travellers. No sooner had a few naive tourists (determined that this was in fact the border) stepped back on the bus, was the makeshift border post folded away and the scene cleared of any evidence…  Hmmm.

Once the first visa stop is made, you will continue to the official border post where a visa is easily and legally attained. The visa cost us 800 Baht each and took all of 30 minutes to be issued. The only waiting we did was in the prefabricated building where we had to pass through the Cambodian arrivals section once our 30 day tourist visas had been issued. We stood in a long queue which moved at snails pace for over an hour – which I could imagine could be rather unpleasant in the harsh, humid summer climate. Other than that – our journey was painless, quick and easy – coming highly recommended to those travellers who are looking to travel cheap, save some cash and have the time to spare sitting on a bus soaking in the Thai and Cambodian landscape.

Wonderful Siem Reap, Cambodia.

As we were meeting my mom in Siem Reap who arrived a few days earlier, our accommodation was already booked at a lovely little place called Sweet Dreams Guesthouse. This guesthouse is conveniently located just out of the main hype of Siem Reap town, in a street filled with lots of other guesthouses. A double room with  fan and hot water costs 8 Dollars a night, the rooms are spotlessly clean, the restaurant makes delicious coffee, fruit shakes & food and the owner is delightful! I will be sure to write a full review of our stay at the end of our week! But, before we could settle our exhausted minds – Mother Dear decided to invite us along to a local dinner with some of new friends. Um, yes – this was definitely an experience… Upon arrival – besides being the only foreigners in sight – I was rather confused by the tremendous amount of litter on the restaurants floor. I was about to have sense of humor failure, unable to fathom why we would be coming to this filthy place – when my mom quickly prompted our tour guide, Mr V, to explain that in Cambodia – it is normal and acceptable to throw your litter (napkins, used chop sticks, tissue paper, beer bottles etc.) onto the floor (“just chuck it”…) – as all the rubbish is then swept and cleaned at the end of the night. I am still struggling to fathom the logic behind such a trend as it seems easier just to save time and energy by throwing your rubbish into a bin at the time – but after a while, I awkwardly followed the locals and started slipping my rubbish onto the floor. The meal? It was a traditional beef, noodle soup prepared in a hot pot – which is heated on on a gas stove, neatly placed in the middle of the table. The meal was interesting and the experience wonderful. Sunday night bedtime was warmly welcomed and our excitement to be in a new country and the realisation that we were travelling again began to settle in! :) :)

x

When it Rains, it Pours.

2 Jun

Teaching is terrifying….

Tomorrow marks the beginning of our third week of teaching in Bangkok… So far, I have found the teaching experience to be entertaining, humbling, exciting and (most of all) exhausting. Each week I teach a variety of kindergarten and lower primary school children. Most of my classes are full of children with a lot of  energy, who demand a lot of attention. Its not rocket science to know that kids pick up on your energy levels, mood and feelings very quickly – so being bubbly, enthusiastic and full of energy all the time has taken some getting used to! At the end of our first week, I have never been more excited to welcome a public holiday in my life. But, by the end of our second week, I felt far more alive and I think we are slowly adjusting to the schedule, early mornings and late afternoons.

Before I actually started teaching, I thought that the younger the children/age group, the better. Well, I was mistaken. Don’t get me wrong – the little Thai kids who are just starting their first year of kindergarten, are ridiculously cute… They are also ridiculously dumb struck at the sight of a Western face – and at times, terrified. Most of my first kindergarten lessons consisted of a symphony of crying and screaming petrified 4 year olds. Oh, and the few who did nothing but wet their pants… Literally. I’m used to seeing the home room teacher discreetly exit the classroom, only to return with a mop and a child no longer dressed in school uniform – but a dry set of pyjamas. Teaching a class of 25-30 little kids who are genuinely petrified of you, takes some getting used to. But as each week passes, they seem to be getting more and more comfortable with the sight of my Western face, ‘hairy’ arms (the Thai’s do not have much body hair at all) and bizarre sounding voice.

The primary school kids are great! Most of them have already been taught English for a number of years and are not scared of me (thank goodness!). I love being able to interact, have a laugh and converse with them on a basic level. Most of the students are extremely eager to learn, practice their English and participate in the lesson which you have prepared. It does, however, break my heart when these young kids – no older than 7/8 – come rushing up to you shouting “Teacher! Teacher! ——–“ and then start rambling off in Thai. Their enthusiasm sets the tone for an incredible story or adventure and I, unfortunately, can do nothing but smile and ask them to please tell the Thai assistant teacher. The disappointment in these little kids faces when they realize you have no idea what they are talking about is terrible, but my minimal Thai (for now) just does not permit two-way conversation! :)

Oh, the names… I have to mention the names. Not a day goes by where I don’t have a little giggle at the names of the kids in some of my classes. Each child has a Thai name and an English nickname which they are given at birth. I have a Chesecake, an Autopilot, T-Pain, Pancake, Gun, Pooh, Fart and Coffeegrinder… And that’s to name just a few! Sometimes I catch myself thinking – are they for real??! All in all – I am teaching at two wonderful schools, the kids are lovely and my days are predominately full of fun!

Let’s be friends?

One of the benefits to waiting so long to sign and formalize a teaching contract in Bangkok, is that we really did our research into the company which we are now working for. We both wanted to work in an environment which would allow us to meet other foreign teachers, make friends and socialize with young people in the same boat as us. And that is exactly what we have done. We have honestly met some of the most wonderful people since being over here… People who will come and go throughout our Bangkok journey, but who we will stay in contact with for many years to come. I miss my friends back home terribly – but meeting new people over here – people who I can relate to and have a lot of fun with – makes things so much easier!

So, how’s the weather?

The general topic of conversation is the weather at the moment… Primarily because it has become much cooler in Bangkok in the last couple of weeks, compared to when we first moved here in April. I couldn’t be more grateful. It is the start of the rainy season here. What this means is that we have a thunder storm almost every day or night. Unlike back home in South Africa, thunder and lightening can light up the sky for up to two hours before there is any sight or sound of a serious downpour. Most of the thunder storms take place in the evening – a truly magical sight to witness from our apartment on the 26th floor!

Time is flying and I struggle to fathom where the last 4 months have gone. I have days where I hate every single thing about this city – the smell, the inability of the street food vendors to satisfy my craving for a home cooked meal, the pace at which I have to stroll to get to the BTS station, the weekend traffic and constant language barrier… But I only have these days ever so often. Most of the time, I continue to love Bangkok, the teaching experience and wonderful lessons I learn each and every day. I am so grateful to have airconditioned classrooms, a beautiful apartment to come home to in the evenings and an amazing person to share this adventure with. Long may these happy, cool days last! :) :)

Wishing you all a happy week x

Magnums, Purple People & Sweat Towels.

20 Apr

“The happiest of people don’t have the best of everything, they just make the best of everything” – Unknown

Post Songkran and the Purple People

Although we had a great time drenching ourselves (and others) during Songkran – I was quite happy to see the celebrations come to an end. From Thursday until Tuesday, the majority of the (limited) street food vendors and restaurants were closed in our area – which resulted in two grumpy individuals who wanted nothing more than to enjoy a steak on the braai, a Webered chicken, creamy potato bake and some fresh veggies.

There are only two (controllable) situations I am placed where I struggle to maintain my sense of humour… When I’m hungry and when I’m tired. Combining the two has never been too pleasant for the company I am surrounded, but being hungry myself and having a starving boyfriend, did not lead to the happiest of looking couples. When we first moved in, we were introduced to this street food vendor which earned the nickname “The Purple People”. The waitresses all wear purple aprons and because the vendors generally have no formal name (well, at least not in English), naming them ourselves has been the way to go! Anyway, the Purple People make the most divine “Western meals” – you can order a chicken breast with fries, salad, pork chop or chicken nuggets for the equivalent of R15! But, sadly, not paying rent or being bound to any formal lease agreement means that the street vendors come and go as they please… Our favourite little dinner spot has been MIA for the last 2 weeks! Nonetheless, we still walk down every evening to check if they are back in action. So, lets hold thumbs…

The Magnum Cafe

For my friends and family, it is no secret that I have a raging sweet tooth. I’m not really a sweets or chips-kinda-girl, but chocolate… Oh wow. Until the end of May (apparently and sadly) a Magnum pop up store has been set up on the ground floor of the Siam Shopping Center. This delicious outing included some great fun, excitement and a taste bud frenzy! In my marketing course last year, we discussed pop up stores at length, but never before had I actually witnessed or experienced such creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. Once you arrive at the store, you are welcomed with a list of options – starting with your choice between milk or dark chocolate, then you choose 3 toppings from a list of 30 and finally the type of chocolate you would like to drizzle over your concoction. The toppings ranged from corn flakes, to red velvet, to chocolate brownie to sea salt and caused a vast amount of confusion amongst our indecisive counter parts (Kyle)…

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The store was immaculately decorated, with each and every piece of furniture, music and decor having been clearly thought of so as to enhance your Magnum experience! I’m actually not sure what I was more impressed by – the Magnum itself, or the marketing team who developed the concept? If you are heading to Bangkok anytime soon (diet or no diet), you MUST go and have a look at this prime piece of creativity and experience a piece of taste bud heaven! :)


Same Same, but Different

A widely used saying in Thailand is “Same same but different”. The phrase can be seen printed on numerous t-shirts and is a quick response to bargaining tourists who are trying to windle their way to lower prices – “Same Same!” Although I do believe that a vast amount of similarities exist across nations, there are a few things I have noticed in Thailand which I just did not think I would ever come across. For starters, we noticed that many of the Thai men have long baby finger nails. At first we thought maybe it had some religious or spiritual meaning, until we asked someone who has been living here for 5 years… He informed us that it was in actual fact a nose picking aid. Need I say more?

A second phenomena which I have not quite grasped, is the notion of utilizing a communal sweat towel at gym. We have a really nice, really basic gym in our apartment block but one thing I cannot fathom is how fitness enthusiasts share two towels which are neatly folded at the entrance to the gym. Now, you must understand, the heat in Bangkok is sweltering and often the aircon is switched off. Such a combination leads to intense sweat workouts – so sharing a sweat towel is just another thing I just have not quite gotten used to!

We start training in just over a week and I am really excited to get into a routine, start learning and finally get a pay check! We are still sleeping in our camping sheets which we brought over for traveling, as linen is a luxury we have not yet been able to afford! Having so much time and very little money to do fun things has been quite a challenge as neither of us are the type of person to sit indoors all day. But, we have tried to make it work as best we can. Getting out and doing something fun every now and then has been great and we just have to remember that, soon, we will have money to go out and enjoy ourselves, go shopping and buy a bottle of wine! :)

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In the past week, we have met up with two stunning South African couples which has really made us feel SO much better! Hearing from other people about their experiences, traveling and budgeting together has been both comforting and hilarious at times! When you are at home, in your comfort zone, you tend to take for granted the friends, family and company you are surrounded by. When you move to a new country, you realise that if you are going to make things work, you have to go out, meet new people and make new friends. The best advice I can give to anyone leaving home on a new adventure is to accept offers to go out and meet new people whenever you can – it is through others that you learn about places to see, things to do – what you should definitely do and what you should definitely avoid. The one thing we have learnt and gathered from others who are in the same/similar situation to ours, is that things do work out! Most of the time, you have to hit rock bottom, contemplate packing your bags to go home and shed a few tears in the shower before (and almost suddenly), things fall into place…

Happy weekend to you all! :)

Evelina Galli

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