Travel budget: what you’ll forget to plan for

The internet is filled with travel blogs, and most of them cover the subject of budgeting in some form or another, so that’s not what I’m going to get into. But I read those and still ended up with quite a few extra bits to pay that I wish I’d considered from the start. It doesn’t mean I’d done things radically differently, but it’d have saved me from a few late-night spreadsheet panic sessions.

Not all of those are applicable to everyone, but they might come in handy still…

Storing your stuff

You’ll be leaving with only a backpack, so the rest of your stuff will have to go somewhere. As I was packing I donated a lot and threw out even more, but I’m not known for my minimalism so I still ended up with a mountain of things to store while I’d be away. I decided to avoid taking out a storage unit because they’re exceptionally expensive, especially within London.

Instead, I made good use of the boundless generosity of some of my friends, and ended up storing a few boxes with two Londoners. You’ll still have to pay for a cab or a rental van to get those boxes there (unless you’re lucky to have a pal with a car!)

I also decided to send a few boxes home to my parents. I’m obviously in a particular situation since my parents live in a country different from me – most parents can drive down and pick up boxes. If you do end up wanting to ship boxes domestically or internationally, I can recommend Parcel2Go. I used it to ship a box via UPS and one via DPD. They cost me under £20 each, and arrived within three days. Take that, Royal Mail.

Passport and visas

Do you need to renew your passport before you leave for your trip? Kerching! Here goes £100 or so. Top that with whichever visas you need ahead of your trip, and don’t forget to also factor in the price of the visas on arrival you’ll be getting as you go along (they usually cost around $30-40).

At this point, I’d like to refer you to this always valid tweet:

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I have done a separate post all about visas. Yay.

Banking fees

Can this blog get any sexier? I mean, banking fees, guys. But seriously, though: travel banking will cost you money. First, because you’ll want to get a credit card if you don’t have one already, which may cost you a fee. You might also want to get one of those cash cards that allow you to pay and withdraw cash without being linked directly to a bank account – there will also be an opening fee. Finally, and most importantly… Card fees! I will be doing a post all about banking to look into this some more, but even with the best planning possible, you can’t dodge the fees altogether, and can expect to pay for both conversion and just ‘cos your bank wants you to.

Water

In Asia, you’ll be spending a lot of time walking in very hot countries where it’s often best to buy bottled water. While this doesn’t amount to much in the grand scheme of things, it’s worth adding £1-£2 to your daily budget for water.

Goodbyes

If you’re going long term, get ready for some seriously expensive weeks as you prepare to set off. If you’re like me, you’ll want to make the most of your friends and home city, organise a leaving do or two, and possibly calm your packing nerves with a drink or a takeaway. You may be better at saying no than I was, but still – goodbyes don’t come cheap. (And, I’d argue, they shouldn’t.)

These were the ones that cost me the most and that skipped my mind a little – did you have any other surprises if you went travelling? If so, let me know, as I’ve still got many months to go…

 

Picture source

Doi Suthep and Mae Sa Waterfall

I haven’t been on the road that long, but I already love the unpredictability of it. I make very little plans, but whenever I do, something comes up and they change altogether. Like the day I had set aside to spend hours on my laptop catching up on blog posts and photo editing while I was in Chiang Mai.

But five minutes after I woke up, my friends said they were off to hire motorbikes to spend the day visiting the Doi Suthep mountain and a waterfall. Did I want to join?

Er, yes please.

Doi SuthepThe view from the ride up Doi Suthep

I’d been on a scooter/motorbike a grand total of once in my life before this trip, so it’s been great fun making the most of the Asian transportation of choice. I still haven’t had the audacity to drive one myself, but I’ve been lucky to make friends with really good riders – and I’ve been told I’m a great passenger. ‘You laugh a lot and you don’t get worried,’ said my friend Adrian after we’d almost crashed into our friends’ bike during a minute of inattention. (What else can I do? It’s not like I’m going to get off the bike and walk home…)

Doi Suthep

This mountain is situated west of Chiang Mai, and is one of the main tourist attractions in the area. All the red cars (the local ‘buses’ that you hail to negotiate a destination and price with the driver) make the trip there, but with the day-fee for a motorbike only 150BHT, it’s worth getting on two wheels. The view is superb on a sunny day; the route snakes along the mountain, with a few scenic viewpoints, and at the top is Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep temple. It’s 300 steps to get from the entrance to the temple itself, and a few more to its grand golden chedi.

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Wat Phra That Doi SuthepRules to respect while visiting a temple: no shoes, proper dress, be quiet and respectful, and no PDA

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

After a bite of lunch in the most unsanitary place I’ve set food in Thailand so far – where our lunch was, er, running around cackling around us – we set our sight on Mae Sa waterfall. And 15 kilometres later…

Mae Sa waterfalls

Mae Sa waterfalls

Mae Sa waterfalls

The waterfall has no less than 10 levels – the hike up is about one-kilometre long, on moderately maintained trails that get pretty slippery (read: I fell again). It gets hot, it gets humid, the mosquitoes are huge but man, what a view. And the sound it makes!

Mae Sa waterfalls

Mae Sa waterfalls

Mae Sa waterfalls

Mae Sa waterfalls

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mae sa waterfallYours truly, Quechua sandals, sweat, grazed knees and all

Walking trek in the Thai jungle

A Belgium woman, a French woman, a Canadian man, two Austrians, two Spaniards and three Thais walk into the jungle.

The first Thai man says: ‘Let’s walk for four hours in the jungle.’

The second Thai man says: ‘It rained a lot yesterday so be careful not to slip.’

Plot twist! The Belgium woman doesn’t do anything silly but the French woman falls ALL OVER THE PLACE.

walking trek Chiang MaiThe gaffa tape held for about an hour then decided trekking wasn’t quite its thing

So I went for a walking trek in the jungle north of Chiang Mai. Fortunately, I managed to pick the one rain-free day that week, which made the trek much more pleasant. Unfortunately, it’d rained the day before, and a shoe malfunction (the sole separated from the shoe out of nowhere two days before – damn you, Quechua) meant my hike was akin to ice-skating. It was worth it for the sights, though…

walking trek Chiang Mai

walking trek jungle Chiang Mai

walking trek jungle Chiang Mai

walking trek jungle Chiang Mai

walking trek jungle Chiang MaiOur little group vs big tree in the middle of the trail

walking trek jungle Chiang Mai

walking trek jungle Chiang Mai

walking trek jungle Chiang Mai

The first half of the trek was one big slippery mess, on narrow mountain-side trails going way up and way down. It wasn’t the most reassuring experience but it was some well-needed exercise, and made us really keen to get into the waterfall for a swim…

walking trek jungle Chiang Mai

walking trek jungle Chiang MaiThe guy on the left was fixing the bridge while we were crossing… 

walking trek jungle Chiang Mai

baby monkey Met this baby monkey at our lunch spot – BABY MONKEY!!!!!

walking trek jungle Chiang Mai

walking trek jungle Chiang Mai

walking trek jungle Chiang Mai

walking trek jungle Chiang Mai

walking trek jungle Chiang MaiNa na na na na na Batman!

walking trek jungle Chiang Mai

walking trek jungle Chiang Mai

After the bat cave, it was back to the city for a well-deserved shower and a giant bowl of curry. And more rain. Always more rain. Another month and a half of the rainy season ahead… (Although, I’ve now arrived in Laos and it’s been wonderfully sunny for three days, so who knows!)

Thai cooking class in Chiang Mai with Xie

It is a fact universally acknowledged that mums can cook damn well.

My mum is a champ. She makes a mean rabbit in mustard sauce, the best chicken and mimolette crumble in the world, and bread to die for. (My dad’s pretty great too, but my point here stands with mums.)

The best thing about mums is you can eat all the food they make for free. The second best thing? Learning from them. Which is just what Xie did. And then she opened a cooking school, Me & Mom Cooking School. Everybody together: aww!

cooking class chiang mai me and my mom cooking schoolXie in her kitchen

Xie started her cooking school three years ago. ‘I like when I teach people this and that, and then when I taste their food it tastes so good!’ she tells me as we’re driving to the market to pick up ingredients. ‘It makes me proud. I feel like I was successful.’ She goes on to say, though, that it’s often not spicy enough to her taste. She’s a 10-chilli kinda gal. I’m a more, er, restrained three-chilli-er.

At the market, she walks me around and teaches me lots about Thai food. Rice, for example. To me, rice comes in a packet and bears the Tesco own-brand logo. But Thais buy their rice at the fresh market, and it comes in lots of different baskets – and prices! One- or two-year-old rice is for eating, whereas older, darker and cheaper rice is preferred to feed animals. Sticky rice is a different matter altogether, and has to be steamed rather than boiled. And you can also buy broken rice, often used for rice soup or congee.

cooking class chiang mai

And that’s just rice.

Markets are my favourite place to go to understand a new place. Food markets tell you so much about a country’s culture and its people. Street markets are great to get a feel for local art, cheap food and, er, what tourists are after (coughfakesunglassescough). This one is definitely a popular spot with groups of Westerners on cooking classes, but Thais are also around picking up groceries. There are stalls packed high with sauces – fish sauce goes in soup, soy sauce in fried rice, dark soy is used for colour, tamarind sauce for pad thai. There’s buckets of curry paste in various colours, piles of dragonfruits and rambutans, bags of mushrooms, shallots and curry paste, pork skewers for breakfast, and meat aplenty.

cooking class chiang mai

cooking class chiang maiThai sauce roulette

cooking class chiang mai

cooking class chiang mai

cooking class chiang mai

cooking class chiang mai

cooking class chiang mai

cooking class chiang mai

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Then it’s back to the car and off to the outskirts of Chiang Mai, where the school is hosted in an annexe to Xie’s mum’s quiet, leafy house. There’s a garden full of the ingredients we’ll be using: kaffir limes, pandan, lemongrass, Thai basil, galangal and chillies amongst others.

cooking class chiang mai

When it’s time to step behind the stove, Xie tells me the basic: Thai food is sweet, sour and spicy. I’m making tom yum soup with shrimps, pad thai (my favourite), stir fried chicken with holy basil, vegetable green curry and mango with sticky rice. And aside from the slightly lengthy process of pounding the ingredients for the curry paste, it’s all pretty quick and easy. ‘That’s why Thai food is called fast food!’ Xie points out with a smile.

cooking class chiang mai green curry chicken holy basilFried chicken with holy basil and green curry

cooking class chiang mai tom yum soupTom yum soup with shrimps

cooking class chiang mai pad thaiPad thai

cooking class chiang mai‘Okay so how do I plate this so it’s Instagram-worthy’ is a thing I actually asked out loud

cooking class chiang mai mango sticky riceMango with sticky rice flavoured with butterfly pea tea. 

cooking class chiang mai

Xie was the nicest host and helped me learn how to cook delicious food – I really recommend you check out Me & Mom Cooking School if you find yourself in Chiang Mai. And if not, she was kind enough to let me share a recipe on the blog. I chose pad thai, because it’s damn delicious. Ready, steady… cook!

Pad thai, serves one

80 grams rice noodles (soak in cold water for 5-10 minutes)
1 cup bean sprouts
2 tbsp tofu, cut into small pieces (or small diced pieces of chicken and pork )
1 egg
1 tbsp of chopped pickled white raddish
1 tbsp chives (or spring onions)
2 tbsp oil
2 cloves chopped crushed garlic
1 tbsp dried shrimps (optional)

For the sauce:
1 tbsp of crushed roasted peanuts
1/3 cup juice of ripe tamarind (or 2 tsp white vinegar, mixed with 3 tbsp water )
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp fish sauce or soy sauce
1 pinch chilli powder
1 tsp thick soy sauce (or molasses)

Heat up the oil in the wok on medium heat. Fry tofu or meat until crunchy. Turn the heat down to low. Add garlic, pickled radish and dried shrimps. Add the egg and scramble. Next, add bean sprouts and chives. Stir until the vegetables are well done (one or two minutes).

Set aside and get the noodles in the wok. Add the sauce and turn the heat up to medium. Stir fry until the noodles are soft. Turn the heat up to high and add meat back in and stir fry thoroughly until well mixed. Enjoy!

Sukhothai in pictures

When visiting Thailand, all loops almost always include Bangkok and the northern city of Chiang Mai. But since it’s a 10-hour bus ride from one to the other, it’s frequent to stop halfway through to discover another place… And that’s how I ended up in Sukhothai.

The city was founded in the mid-13th century, and prospered as the Kingdom of Sukhothai under the reign of King Ramkhamhaeng. He introduced Buddhism, created the first Thai alphabet, and supported the arts. All that comes together really well at the Sukhothai Historical Park, one of the biggest historical sites in Thailand (and for sure a popular one with foreign and Thai tourists alike). The park being massive and made up of several zones, the best plan is to hire a bike and cycle around to discover the various ruins of temples and city walls.

Sukhothai

Sukhothai

Sukhothai

Sukhothai

Sukhothai

Sukhothai

Sukhothai

Sukhothai

The park contains a statue of King Ramkhamhaeng, and when I went to see it, one of the many, many groups of school kids out visiting that day happened to be sitting down on the steps for a picture. All the kids I saw that day would wave and say ‘hello!’ enthusiastically. I wish we’d been that adorable and welcoming when I was on school trips in Paris as a kid.

Sukhothai

Sukhothai

Sukhothai

Then at some point, the thunderstorm kicked in and nearly drowned me and my bike. Luckily we found refuge on the steps of a temple, where I sat with two Italian people and waited for the rain to stop.

Sukhothai

Sukhothai

Sukhothai

Sukhothai

Sukhothai

Sukhothai

Sukhothai

Sukhothai

It’s worth spending a day in Sukhothai, if only to find out what is considered a huge touristic site in Thailand; and also to see a side of religion that does away with opulence and luxury, and shows its belief in a way that’s more artistically raw.

Sukhothai

Two days on Ko Samet

I haven’t really done classic backpacking Thailand, so far. I spent time in Bangkok without ever getting close to Khao San Road, never planned my route to go through Phuket, and originally hadn’t even considered going down to an island.

But losing my wallet meant delaying my Chinese visa application, so I would need to spend a couple extra days near Bangkok while it got processed. So a quick Google search for ‘beach near Bangkok’ suggested Ko Samet. Or Koh Samet. Or Koh Samed. I still don’t know, and nor do the islanders themselves from the contradictory signs I saw on the island. Either way, two days on an idyllic beach seemed exactly like the relaxation I needed after the fuck up of the arrival.

But that was before my dear friends at the Chinese Visa Centre in Bangkok told me that, actually, regulations changed just recently and that it now takes three weeks for a tourist visa to be processed for someone in Thailand as a tourist, making me an angry, emotional and stressed-out mess.

Then I went to the beach.

ko samet

ko samet

ko samet

The trip to Ko Samet is really easy: I bought a return bus ticket to Ban Phe from the Ekkamai bus station, together with a return ticket for the ferry from Ban Phe to Ko Samet for 393BHT altogether. It’s a four-hour ride, the bus has AC and you get given a bottle of water. Truth be told, it’s worth it for the AC enough.

ko samet

Ko Samet is a relatively small island that doubles as a national park, Khao Laem Ya – Mu Ko Samet. It’s small enough that it’s walkable – you could probably do it all over a day. I only had two nights on the island, so I decided to spend my full day doing very little walking. Rather, I had breakfast there:

ko samet

Then a few hours later, I headed to the main beach and walked down the coast until I settled on this bit of Ao Phai for a dip, tan and snooze:

ko samet ao phai

 

Terrible, I know.

Ko Samet isn’t one of the big party islands, but it’s supposed to have a bit of a nightlife still. So I went wild… and had a grand total of one beer. That is the only alcohol I have consumed on this trip so far. Would you believe it? (I wouldn’t, and yet).

I made a friend at the hostel who had rented a motorcycle for his time on the island, so on my second night we went around the island to catch a bit of the sunset.

ko samet

ko sametShortly after this was taken, these fire-throwers did a trick that involved throwing burning embers all over the place – all the way into my top. I have marks to prove it. Thailand is where my luck goes to die.

Here, like in Bangkok, religion is omnipresent. There are shrines dotted around – in between two shops, at the end of a beach, all always crowded with bottles of sodas, juices and plates of fruit – and suddenly a bigger temple. I rarely saw the young bowing to them or praying at the temples, though. In Bangkok, I actually noted that some of the shrines were also… Pokestops. I wonder what Buddha would say about that.

ko samet

ko samet

Going to Ko Samet?

  • Take the Cherdchai bus from Ekkamai station to Ban Phe, then a ferry from Nuanthip pier to Nadan pier. You will have to pay 20BHT when you arrive to pay for the maintenance of the pier.
  • Entry to the national park costs 200BHT for foreigners, which you have to pay as you get near to the entrance to the main beach, Haad Sai Kaew. If you’re staying on the main road between the ferry terminal and said entrance, and enter without carrying a rucksack or suitcase, chances are you won’t have to pay the fee.
  • Budget a little higher than on the mainland. Islands are for tourists, with matching prices.
  • Tours are organised to take tourists to the island’s various beaches by boat over the course of one afternoon, or to island-hop to Ko Samet’s neighbouring islands. Prices are 400-600BHT. I can’t comment as to whether they’re worth it, as I chose to plop myself on the beach and stay there.

ko samet

ko samet