Thailand – Chiang Mai, Koh Phangan and Bangkok

I was going to write a blog post about my time in Thailand in August 2014, I then realised that the photos I took can probably say much more about the beautiful country than my words ever would. This is just a small collection of photos taken from a much larger collection which ended up in the hundreds! I may type up my musing that I recorded whilst there at some point over the next few weeks… we’ll see!

Ang Thong Marine Park

Ang Thong Marine Park

Pineapple Rice in Chiang Mai

Pineapple Rice in Chiang Mai

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Muay Thai Boxing in Chiang Mai

Muay Thai Boxing in Chiang Mai

Salad Beach on Koh Phangan

Salad Beach on Koh Phangan

Night time view from Salad Beach on Koh Phangan

Night time view from Salad Beach on Koh Phangan

Haad Yao West

Haad Yao West

Haad Yao West

Haad Yao West

Wat Pho in Bangkok

Wat Pho in Bangkok

River in Bangkok

River in Bangkok

Wat Pho in Bangkok

Wat Pho in Bangkok

Koh Ma

Koh Ma

Chiang Mai Rice Cooking School

Chiang Mai Rice Cooking School

Chiang Mai Rice Cooking School

Chiang Mai Rice Cooking School

Chiang Mai Rice Cooking School

Chiang Mai Rice Cooking School

Chiang Mai Rice Cooking School

Chiang Mai Rice Cooking School

The Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon

Ang Thong Marine Park

Ang Thong Marine Park

Last night on Ko Phangan

Last night on Ko Phangan

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Prague

Prague began with my boyfriend walking into a lampost. Classic.

The food in Prague is amazing and so cheap to eat out. On the first night I had Dumplings, Pickled Cabbage and Pork for my main course, Apple Strudel with ALOT of Brandy for dessert, and half a litre of Beer all for under the equivalent of £10. I also had Beef Goulash Soup which came in a charming ‘Bread Bowl’ that you can eat, on another day, which was delicious. Food is definately a priority for me, so going from eating cheese on crackers everyday for breakfast, lunch and dinner in Switzerland and Italy, to lovely warm food was definitely an improvement. Additionally, Beer is ridiculously cheap in the Czech Republic which means you can drink lots of it, no need to complain!

Whilst in Prague:

  • I went to the Communist Museum. On the topic of Communism, it felt really surreal to be in a country that has such a history of dictatorship. It was quite extraordinary to imagine the famous Stalin Monument overlooking the people of the city which the Metronome has now replaced. We went to visit this spot which is now a popular spot for skaters with an overhanging wire with alot of pairs of shoes attached. I’m not sure if the shoes are somekind of statement or whether someone merely decided to throw theres up and many others followed. Maybe I’m just looking too far into things; the HIstorian in me has made an appearance!Image
  • I also visted Prague Castle which is incredible and so grand!
  • The Glockenspiele
  • Charles Bridge
  • Painted a Brick for a Czech Mental Illness Charity
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  • Ended up in a pretty dodgy bar, which we left after 5 minutes. When the barman comes back in with a massive wad of money from what I’d presume is drug money and proceeds to turn the lights off and lock the doors with only you and a group of rough looking men in and their dog, you take it as the wrong kind of bar you want to be in! We found a nice one in the end where we managed to catch up on some of the Olympics so all was fine and dandy.

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My favourite place – Munich

Munich deserves an entire blog post to itself because it is just that wonderful.

We stayed at a lovely little place called ‘The Tent’ (http://www.the-tent.com/).This place is incredible. It is only open between May and October every year I believe and cost us about 8 Euro per night, which is definately one of the cheapest places we managed to stay at peak time during summer. The Tent consists of two or three different ‘tents’ and there is a choice between staying in the big dorm full of bunk beds, sleeping on the floor or camping outside in your own tent. We opted for the first option. You are allowed as many blankets as you like, free bread rolls in the evening, a communal kitchen and a campfire every evening. It really does have the best communal feel and to top it all off the showers were clean and warm. My week was made.

Note: The workers don’t look kindly upon making a fort with your blankets, so don’t do it, or, um, make sure you take it down it the morning…

A lovely lad from Plymouth gave us advice on Berlin and Colin a book with was nice, whilst another lad from California appeared to hate life and everything about Germany (which he had been travelling around for a month); I think maybe travelling isn’t for him.

The day after arriving we decided to go and visit the concentration camp memorial site for Dachau. Dachau was very much the model for other concentration camps and mainly detained political leaders who disagreed with the Nazi regime. We spent hours and hours here after buying an audio guide each for 3.50, which was much better than the disruptive tours that companies were charging 25 Euros for. I’m quite glad we dodged the tours in retrospect as I found many that we came across to be distasteful and sensationalist; the memorial site where tens of thousands were killed speaks in volumes, an annoying tour guide is just not needed. Anyway, it was a really interesting day, albeit an extremely eerie place, especially the gas chamber. After visiting such a place it is just mindblowing to believe that people such as David Irving deny the exstence of the holocaust.

When we eventually got back into central Munich we visited the Hofbrauhaus. Hitler had given his first ever political speech on the top floor of this beer hall. The top floor has generally been used for politcal meetings; they would tank the guests up to make them more agreeable. I didn’t think that I liked beer, but Munich definately changed my mind. There is a bavarian beer law that only allows Barley, Hops, Water, and more recently, Yeast as the ingredients. This means that it tastes fresh, there are no hangovers and you’ll be ready for more! To end the day we went for food a a lovely little food and music festival that was happening.

The next day we decided to go on a ‘pay-as-you-like’ tour. I was expecting quite a large group, seeing as it was techincally a free tour if you wanted to be mean; there were six of us. It was a really lovely tour by a man from Staffordshire and his dog. The small group meant that he was able to give us loads of tips on our other planned destinations and each of us payed him about 10 Euros at the end (he ‘subtley’ suggested this as an average price) – this is much cheaper, and better quality than a pay-in-advance tour.

A small list of things covered:

  • The Glockenspiele dance
  • Marienplatz (the new town hall)
  • A typical Bavarian breakfast of Beer, Bratwurst, Mustard and Pretzel… interesting.
  • The place in which some SS guards were killed during the Beer Hall Putsch; we could see where there used to be a memorial for them in bricks which has been of course covered up with concrete now.
  • The biggest Deli in the world with wine costing half a million euros… we had a wonder around the Deli after the tour, I have never been so nervous in a shop in my life.

After the tour we went to the English Garden to watch the surfers on the lake, followed by the Hofbrauhaus, naturally.

One of the things that I really loved about Munich was the intimacy that it had. It is the third largest city in Germany and yet it felt like a small town. They also don’t allow supermarkets in the centre in order to keep smaller businesses up and running which I think is really lovely, it’s just a shame that capitalism has got to everywhere else in the west.

If you are unsure of where to visit in Germany, go to Munich. Go. Go. Go.

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Vienna

I experience an overnight train for the first time between Venice and Vienna. It was a pleasant experience where we shared a cabin with 2 German girls and 2 Chinese girls who were very nice and like us, wanted a little bit of sleep before arriving in Vienna the next morning; however, the people outside our cabin had a different goal in mind – to party all night. I suppose that’s what you get for opting for a 9 Euro seat rather than a 30 Euro sleeper couch. Anyway, remembering that I am indeed a 20 year old and not an OAP as it may often appear, we began our time in Vienna by getting a McDonalds brekkie and thereafter  getting lost in the rain on our way to the hostel. Good start?! Hmm.

When we finally found Jack’s Hostel (good hostel to stay in, I recommend), we left our bags and went exploring.

One thing I noted about travelling around to different hostels is the amount of different types of people and personalities that you come across. We were sharing a room with a middle aged man who liked to stare but not talk… the quiet type maybe? He appeared to be in his bed everytime I saw him and I’m not entirely sure whether he left it within the 48 hours that we were in the city. There is quite obviously a constant turnover of room mates which is brilliant but when the two twenty-something girls in the bunk bed opposite appeared to have morphed into two quite large hairy men the next day, it can feel slightly odd.

My Viennese activities:

  • Ate plenty of Bratwurst and Currywurst
  • Visited the Kunsthaus (a lovely arty house which even has sophisticated arty toilets!)
  • Visted the Austrian Parliament
  • Attempted to find Mozarts house. Failed.
  • Went to Prater fun park
  • There were naturally plenty of classical buskers
  • Film Festival
  • ‘Crazy Chips’ and ‘Mango Groove’ at the Film Festival bar (The Mango Grooves were incredible)
  • History museum
  • Hofburg Palace – there was a Marching Band when we had a visit which was exciting
  • Old city walls

Overall, I loved Vienna. One thing that I missed about England whilst I was here though was our free museums. After seeing the price they charge throughout Europe, I vowed to never again take free museums for granted.

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Milan and Venice – Continuation of my InterRail Adventures

Milan, the fashion capital of the world and the second-largest Italian city. We had four hours in the city between trains. Having been to Italy a few years ago, I knew to anticipate the busy roads, crazy Italian driving and serious lack of road markings… I was right to expect this! London roads and ruthless black cab drivers ain’t got nothing on the Italians.

When we finally got to the centre of the city, after fearing for our lives on several occasions might I add, we managed to take in the surrounding beauty of the architecture. It is certainly grand, especially the Duomo di Milano. A lovely girl from New Zealand that we met in Luzern had given us a few tips on Milan, a free visit to this magnificent cathedral was one of them. I’m not religious at all but I absolutely adore visiting cathedrals purely for the beauty and the history of that they hold. It was worth a drop in visit for this, and of course for a chance to peer longingly into the windows of Prada, Armani and Versace… if only.

Duomo di Milano

Something that I’m unsure whether I’m disappointed or not over is how I didn’t get time to try an ‘interesting’ looking spinach and cereal smoothie-esque treat.

Back aboard the train, and we were finally on our way to Venice. Of course there was disagreement over directions to our Hotel, but we got there eventually after buying a map (which I then lost soon after arriving at the Hotel). The Hotel itself was a let down; this isn’t snobbery talking (a majority of the month was spent in dorms and the sharing of grubby, broken-locked, hair-blocked showers – that didn’t faze me), but when the one hotel you stay in during a month is worse than any hostel, that’s saying something. Anyway, lets not get bogged down with my complaints about the hotel because Venice is absolutely beautiful and overhauled any qualms I had about the hotel. But seriously, avoid Hotel Alla Salute at all costs.

Top ten tips:

  1. Don’t attempt to video record a singer serenading people on a Gondola. He will stop singing and he will shout at you in unintelligible Italian. (I take no responsibility for this happening!)
  2. Try a Bellini cocktail. I could quite happily drink these until my heart’s content (or my liver has failed).
  3. Eat pizza – it is Italy after all and they are very reasonably priced.
  4. Do not have three pairs of primark shoes as your only shoes. I’m pretty sure my feet were wrecked by the end of the month due to my naive trust in their shoes to get me through the amount of walking I did.
  5. If you don’t have the necessary funds to afford a Gondola Tour, try what I like to call ‘the poor man’s Gondola’ where you pay about 2 Euro to cross the Grand Canal stood up on what they call a Traghetto. It is probably the quickest and cheapest way of experiencing a gondola if only for a couple of minutes.
  6. Check to see whether any festivals or other free events are happening. We managed to catch a lovely little Jazz festival in its last days where you can perch on the floor and appreciate the music. Watching street performers is also a fun way to relax in the sun; we managed to catch an acrobatic clown – there really is all sorts going on.
  7. Take advantage of the water fountains dotted around – they will save you a bomb on buying water bottles.
  8. If it is possible for you to do so, visit Venice outside of the peak summer months – the heaving tourism which takes place throughout July and August can be frustrating in the narrow streets.
  9. Visit San Marco’s Square and of course all the other landmarks (this doesn’t really need to be a tip as it goes without saying!)
  10. Visit some of the museums if you get too hot and sticky out in the sun. I went to the Leonardo Di Vinci museum which focused on his inventions – this might not be for everyone but it was a surprise fascination for me!

10 points really isn’t enough to say all that I’d like to about Venice. It really is lovely. Enjoy it and do your homework before you go – Venice was probably my least researched place of InterRail travels but I loved it nonetheless.

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The Switzerland Stretch Of My Interail Adventures

    During my time interailling last summer I decided to keep a little book to document my adventures; I knew that everything would just end up a blur if I didn’t do this and I’ve finally decided to type these up.

    After a week of terrible weather in England I couldn’t wait to get away to ‘sunny Switzerland’, but funnily enough as the day arrived, the sun also decided to make an appearance. At full force. It’s safe to say I was burnt even before boarding the train to Manchester airport, typical! As neurotic as my boyfriend and I both are, we arrived in plenty of time; four hours before our flight to be specific, but soon enough we were on our flight to Geneva with an interail pass, a FairFX pre-paid money card (I definitely recommend), a rucksack, and a hat.

    Geneva, and Switzerland in general, is a place of expense. Not so good if you’re on an extremely tight budget and I’m embarrassed to admit that the first meal I had on my month away was a Mcdonalds. Shameful, but it was the only hot food we could afford, and yet it was still the most expensive Mcdonalds I have ever eaten. We mainly stuck to cheap food at Aldi for the subsequent days in the land of lakes. Highlights of Geneva were definately swimming in the lake, seeing the famous Jet De Eau and going to the United Nations. Being a summer month also meant that we managed to catch a talent show in full swing in the English Garden which included a Eurovision-esque singer – not going to lie, she was entertaining, but probably for all the wrong reasons. Geneva in general was beautiful and an all round pleasant experience, although if I was planning my trip again I would probably give it a miss and opt for a cheaper location and more for your money.

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It was the early hours of the morning that I officially began my Interail experience. This began with hopping on a double decker train to Bern, Switzerland’s capital city. We only had about 7 hours here and so we left our luggage at the train station and picked up a free tourist map. I recommend picking up as many maps and other free information at tourist information points as you possibly can; they save a ton of money that you may otherwise have spent on guides and books. We managed to fit in the Swiss Houses of Parliament, Munster Cathedral, Zytglogge Clock Tower, a Swiss steel band (which we then found out were not Swiss at all and were actually from Teeside), a dip of the feet in River Aare and a steep walk to the Rose Garden to see a beautiful and peaceful view of the city. What struck me was just how friendly everybody we met were. As we were having a disagreement over directions (this became quite a common theme throughout the month away) a taxi man came and asked if we needed his assistance. I politely said that we wern’t going to be needing a taxi, which he accepted and then proceeded to chat with us for quite a while longer about our travel plans, because he felt like it. It just shows how fast paced England is, where you might never expect to have a casual chat with a taxi driver without him pestering you for a journey or having somewhere to be and money to make.

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At the end of the day we got back on the train to Schaffhausen. This began with a steep trek in search of our 16th Century Manor House Hostel which included free breakfast the next morning. Morning made. We sneakily cut off some extras from the breakfast bread loaf to take with us for lunch to make a change from the Aldi crackers and cheese we had been getting far too familiar with. This was also the beginning of our ‘public transport mistakes’… apparently in Switzerland (and the rest of Europe for that matter!) you buy your ticket on a machine which is situated aboard the bus. This is quite disheartening after having spent a large amount of time that morning perfecting my speech for the bus driver, “Ich mochte zwei ruckflug nach neuhausen zentrum”, and also quite embarassing when I couldn’t work out how to use the machine, failing to find the ‘English’ option. Talk about ignorant English!

The highlight, and the entire reason we visited Schaffhausen, was to go and see the Reinefalls; the biggest and most powerful waterfall in Europe. We paid CHF8 (about £5/£6) for a boat ride up to the falls and some time on the ledge, plenty of photo and filming opportunities! We also visted Munot Castle and it’s vinyards, dipped our feet in the Reine (this was fast becoming a ‘must do’ at every lake/river we visted), and beat the boyfriend at table tennis AND foosball back at the hostel. This is quite a popular place to travel due to the falls and Schaffhausen is a very convenient town to stay at close by.

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The train to Zurich saw the next part of our ‘public transport mistakes’ where we ended up in first class, on a double decker train where we then couldn’t find the standard class without having to walk through some restaurant and in the process nearly knocking over some woman’s bottle of wine with my bag in the process. When we did find the right carriage there was some drama going on which involved a woman, her dog and a very angry man. To this day I have no idea what the fiasco was about, but it had the whole train in hysterical laughter.

Our time in Zurich saw us dipping our feet in Lake Zurich (tick!), treking to some art gallery which we then discovered would cost CHF20 entry… I definately began to appreciate free museum and gallery entrance fees that we have in England at this point. I also discovered in Zurich the intense level of hate that I have for midges, turns out they like the taste of my blood far too much. We also saw Zurich opera house and Zurich cathedral with a statue of Charlemagne (who I’ve read recently is thought by some German historian to have been fictionalised by Otto the Great… definately worth another blog post!).

Zurich was undoubtedly the most touristy place I visited in Switzerland but it is beautiful and green, just like the rest of the country!

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Lucerne was our next, and last Swiss stop. We managed to arrive on the last day of the ‘Blue Balls Festival’ (slightly suspect name…) which had food stalls from around the world, beer tents, and live music. One of the bands playing was a trio from New York called ‘Jukebox the Ghost’ who I absolutely fell in love with (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xdUvaIV0t7E). Bought a cheese fondue kit (there’s fondue restaurants all over the place, but we went cheapo). It was so disappointing. Don’t misunderstand, I absolutely adore cheese and everything about it, but this was just plain wrong.

This bridge was built in 1333 and is absolutely stunning:

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We got lost trying to find a rock bar so just sat with an icecream by this bridge (and by all the posh restaurants that we were too poor to eat at).

The next day we went on our travels to Mount Pilatus. The Lion Lodge Hostel that we had been staying at was selling decently priced ’round trip’ tickets to the mountain which we got a discount on for having an interail pass. We caught the bus to Kriens around 10am where we then had to walk roughly 10 minutes to a Gondola. It was quite frightening travelling through all the clouds where we then changed into a cable car and arrived at the top. After a day wandering around the mountains we caught a cog-wheel train (the steepest in Europe) back down which had the most amazing view, especially since all the clouds had cleared by this point. Once arriving at Alpnachstad we popped across the road to a boat which would take us back to Lucerne. Our day in the mountains resulted in a hungry belly and sunburn, despite the fact it was barely sunny, although I guess that’s what you get for being 7,000ft above sea level.

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Switzerland overall was beautiful and I could not get over how clean it was. The downside was the expense. Whilst there’s beautiful scenery and things to see, there isn’t much else to do without spending alot of money. Also, this isn’t something that I was particularly going for, but more an observation, that there isn’t a whole lot of nightlife in Switzerland, well at least not in the way that the British know it. It’s extremely sophisticated and I think I came to the conclusion that it’s probably far too sophisticated for me. No regrets at all, but if you’re thinking of including Switzerland in tight-budget interail trip perhaps only visit a couple of places for maybe 4 nights as it’ll save a fair bit of cash for cheaper places that you can explore more (we were in Switzerland for 6 days, 7 nights).

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