Packing Tips: My Must Have Items

The adventures of packing. The smallest detail which can make or break a trip. That small charger you forgot, or that extra pair of shoes you never needed. We’ve all been there. I know each time I go on a trip I play a small game of tetris with my backpack, hoping to make the most of my 55L Eagle Creek Truist backpack. After a few solid trips, I feel comfortable to share my 5. The items that come no matter where I go, hot or cold. Long or short. A trip is an adventure!

Stuff sacks.

In this day and age, most travellers will have some form of packing system. Some use packing cubes, but as I’m not travelling with a rectangle suitcase I find the stuff-sacks work better for backpacking. I purchased my Me°ru’ ones at the local outdoor outlet center for a bargain, with 5 different sizes (S-XL). I usually split them into the following categories; undergarments, t-shirts and light pants, jeans/sweaters, one bag for the trainers/hiking boots (this is always the same bag, in my case a red one, so I’m not fussed about dirt from the shoes getting on my clothes.), and dirty laundry. It works well for dirty laundry as the fabric of the stuffsacks is breathable so the clothes don’t stink a lot when put together for a few days. Unlike packing cubes, the stuff-sack pack completely flat to save space when I’m not using one of them!

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Two padlocks and a Swiss Army knife.

Although most will travel with some sort of padlock, I have found it easier to always have two. On a not-so-recent trip to Thailand, I found that my main padlock didn’t fit in the hostel lockers. My friend’s luggage lock, with a smaller shackle, fit perfectly. I now always have two, also allowing me to lock valuables away and keep my other belongings locked in my bag if necessary. When my whole bag doesn’t fit into the storage provided, I will typically leave everything (minus valuables) in my bag, as to save ‘unpacking’. The second lock is also perfect as my small packable day bag can also be locked as neccessary. Locks don’t take up a lot of room, and are definitely worth it. A Swiss Army knife is pretty standard I believe and with I use the keyring clip from my bag so as never to accidentally pack it in my carry on!

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USB retractable cable.

With technology enriching our lives (and travels!), we all have the trips where we bring wayyy tooo many cables. My first recommendation is to have everything charging with the same cable! I have never travelled with my laptop (tablets all the way!) so this eliminates the biggest hassle. My camera, phone, and battery backup all charge with mini-USB. With minimal space taken up, I usually bring the small cable with my carry-on so I can charge my phone while on long-haul flights. Most hostels (and hotels) will have USB charging points nowadays although I do still bring an international travel adapter. Battery backup is perfect for my camera, as I never want to run into having a flat camera battery!

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Rayon Sarong.

A towel, blanket, scarf, skirt, curtain, quick drying… need I say more? I got mine on my first trip to Asia and it hasn’t left my side since! They pack small and are light. With darker colours, they show less dirt too!

Add It To Your Packing List!

  1. Passport Photocopies; digital and paper versions!
  2. US Dollars; perfect for emergencies and every country exchanges them! Preferably only new notes, as countries are becoming sticklers for old, creased ones.
  3. Sewing kit. Making your clothes last that little longer! Mine is super basic.
  4. Flip-Flops. Compact and comfy, can be worn in the evenings instead of your walking shoes (even with socks when its cold 🙂 ). Although I’ve seen Crocs as a substitute, they take up more room and are fashion suicide (more so than socks and flip-flops!).
  5. Digital Watch with alarm clock. Mine is an old Swatch model that also can do two clocks, one usually set to my home timezone.

 

Happy Packing!

Himalayas 2.0

Bhutan 2017

I always think it’s interesting to look back to the moment when I choose a new country to visit. With Bhutan, I remember vividly the moment I read about the Druk Path Trek, and discovered trekking options in the eastern Himalayas. It was rainy September day, and I was waiting excitedly for our upcoming trip to New Zealand. I was reading Lonely Planet’s 1000 Ultimate Adventures. Best Treks with Killer Views? Sign me up!

“From bucolic blue pine, fir and thick alpine forests and dwarfed rhododendron trees to sparkling lakes and steep valleys nestled beneath Himalayan peaks, the landscape simultaneously feeds the soul and makes the camera happy …yet the subtle beauty of nomadic yak herders you pass while gliding through high-altitude meadows is just as stunning as the dramatic terrain.” – p72. 1st edition.

I had heard of Bhutan before. My partner’s mother had travelled there a few years ago with her Buddhist teacher and was able to visit both east and west Bhutan. In the three weeks she was there, she was able to experience a very different side of Asia. Mesmerizing prayer flags, high Himalayan peaks, and friendly people… I was very intrigued! Over the years, she has extensively travelled around Central and Southern Asia, and her opinion weighted heavy on my mind. It had been life changing.

I spent a few weeks researching activities in Bhutan, as I am the more active type, and discovered there was quite a few different options in regards to treks and ‘adventure’ sports. I liked the idea of possibly rafting or biking in Bhutan but did find it challenging to source credible reviews on actitivies. Throughout my research, I had to keep a very open mind at this point in regards to price, as any activities outside of the daily ‘normal sightseeing’ tour incurred an extra fee.

I had decided early on that I would prefer a longer trek. While in Nepal a few years ago, the 12 days we took for the Annapurna Base Camp was extremely rewarding. Wanting something a little more challenging, I choose the Jomolhari Laya Gasa Trek. Although based in western Bhutan (the side known to be more developed), the trek will take me high into the Bhutanese Himalayas and into rural mountain living. Having my introduction in Nepal, I’m throughly excited to experience this culture again.


Once in a Lifetime.

I’ve always been a believer of fate. Things happening because they should, and occurring at the most influential time. Whether good or bad, we learn from each experience and those to come.

When the opportunity arose to visit Bhutan, I knew this would be one of few countries that I ‘very likely’ would not be returning to. When I spoke to my partner’s mum about this notion, she agreed. Even if it was primarily due to funds, my goal was to know make the most of this trip. Jam-packed, adventure-filled Bhutanese fun.

When I emailed Raven Tours and Treks, I had listed a few activities that I would like to do while in Bhutan. I had sent the same email to a few other companies (honestly, I think the top 3 on TripAdvisior :P) and the manager wrote me back within a few hours saying he would put something together for me. The promptness won me over immediately. Within a few weeks we had a rough plan, including some cycle tours and a two days drive to the Gantey Monastery. The flexibility and eagerness to help and answer my questions only instilled my choice with this tour company. In the proceeding weeks, only one other company had replied to my email. Something of the more genetic type. Did it matter? My 6 day trip had been upgraded to a 2 week adventure!


Travel is never a matter of money but of courage. – Coelho.

In recent weeks I have certainly heard most of them…how much will it all cost? Isn’t the visa expensive? Don’t you need a guide? Don’t you have to pay a lot? Isn’t it closed to everyone? Until I did my own research, I didn’t know myself.

I think spending 1000USD on a handbag is a lot. It doesn’t make you a better person, you don’t learn from it. 500 on a weekend in the city to purchase material objects for your wardrobe doesn’t change you as a person. 3000USD computer? 250USD jeans? 15000USD diamond ring? It’s perspective.

Travel teaches first hand experiences that one can’t get from a book. Whether is the mental growth in a surprising situation, communicating without common language, or meeting other fellow travellers with different stories to share, travelling does change people. For me, I am probably comfortable spending more on these ‘experiences’ than some others.

With that in mind, Tourism is the income in Bhutan. They don’t have a massive capitalistic, exporting/importing economy like other countries. Tourism has been developed to support the country and economy.

Depending on the time of year in which you visit, the “daily rate” can vary between $200USD (buffer season) and $250USD (high season). Including the $65 ‘Royalty Fee’ (supporting the free medical system, free education, and infrastructure), the daily rate supports a full board travel experience. Meals, Hotels, A Driver and Guide are all included. In my case for the trek, Porters, Cooks etc are also included. Raven Tours and Treks also organised the Bike Tour costs, Visa and my flight from Delhi to Paro (with Druk Airlines). Other then my flight to Delhi, there wasn’t much left to organise! Definitely a different style of travelling for me!


Adventures are the best way to Learn.

With the 30 day countdown on, the excitement is real. I get to head back to Asia, a place I have come to love over the years, and in doing so experience a new side of the region. When I was younger, I naively thought that most of Asia was similar. Same, same but different. Over the years, and getting to see different areas of Central and South Eastern Asia I have proved myself wrong! Here’s to exploring another side!

 

2-Wheeled Escapades: Bolivia’s Death Road and Cocaine.

We started the day high in the clouds.

We couldn’t see more than 50m around us, only taking in the windy road and sheer rock faces as inspiration for our imagination.The morning sun glistened against the rocks along the road, sunshine trying to push through the damp. At 4700m we could have been anywhere in the European Alps… but we were in La Cumbre, Bolivia about to ride down the Yungas Road. Bolivia’s Death Road.

Although throughly upgraded by the late 2000s, the Yungas Roads have quite the reputation. We were biking down the North Yungas Road, the original blood line to Northern Bolivia. Starting at La Cumbre Pass, we continued throughout the day to Yolosa, 3500m lower than our starting point. While most daily traffic uses the newer South Yungas Road, we weren’t alone. “It was incredible to see full-size trucks and coaches still use the road!”. The road wasn’t sealed for the last 60+ kilometres, adding to the excitement with our mountain bikes. Gravity Assisted had done a great job at providing sound mountain bikes, riding gear (including helmets) and various layers of outerware.

Most of the trip was on gravel…I wouldn’t say it was hard, but you definitely wanted to pay attention to where you were on the road. Some local traffic still use the road so we needed to ride on the left side (opposite to “most” traffic in Bolivia). It means that both drivers can see the outside of the road and know how close to the edge their vehicles are. We were told the last accident was over a year ago when it was the main road there was an accident every week!

We stopped every few hours to enjoy a quick break, for snacks and photos. The scenery alone was worth the trip, the view clearing as we lowered in altitude. Warming up as we journeyed down, we were soon losing the layers quickly! It became very pleasant to travel against the warm wind, an already dramatic change from the mist and wet of 4700m!

The valley that we drove through was beautiful though! Although the road was sketchy at times the scenery was something that you wanted to sit back and admire! You only needed a quick [look] over the side to remember where you were!

At the end of the day, we finished in the Senda Verde Animal Refuge. It was amazing to see all the animals rescued from various Black Markets across South America. If I ever make it make, I’ll be spending some time there!

After a great afternoon feed at Senda Verde, we drove back to La Paz. We made our way back long the same road, getting to experience driving along the narrow road! We were able to stop at the San Pedro waterfall, made famous by Top Gear a few years back. It was a quiet drive back, most of us falling asleep after a full day’s bike ride!


The best thing I have found about trips like these, although overly commercialised in some aspects, is being able to see and experience local culture. The most evident, was the widespread production of the coca plant. Although used in western medicine since the late 19th century, for thousands of years it has been a major source of income in rural areas. Long used in traditional medicine and as a source of vitamins in South American culture, it wasn’t until it was brought to Europe and cocaine developed, that the Coca Leaf’s history turned for the worse.

I’ll be very open, being someone who ‘doesn’t do drugs’, that my partner and I discussed ‘trying’ cocaine while in South America. It’s what you do, isn’t it?

No…No, it isn’t. Two Coca Museums later and with a wealth of knowledge, we both agreed very quickly that there wasn’t going to be any chance. We both had no idea the amount of nastiness that goes into Cocaine production. More importantly, it’s not even something one takes (or enjoys) to “do as the locals do”. Produced primarily for the North American and European markets, there is very little of the “coca plant” left in the final product. And yet, it has become illegal in countries were its production kept the farmers out of poverty. In spite that the natural product has remained legal in Peru and Bolivia and is relatively inexpensive in street markets, there are extensive checks at security points, (and even when we mailed a parcel back to Europe!), and you are not allowed to leave Peru/Bolivia with the coca leaf.

And as for the drug-filled South America? The only place in 5 months we were offered drugs was Cusco, Peru. Alongside Colombians, Bolivians are enthusiastically trying, and succeeding, in projecting a positive future. Who thought a bike ride would turn into a culture lesson?

Flashback: Bumpy Trains and Ginger Salad.

09. Feb. 16 -> Somewhere between Goteik + Hsipaw

Well, I’ll start by saying that it’s not that bad! We’re at the point where the train is still swaying but atleast not bouncing! The first hour was definitely the worst! We were literally jumping off our seats! However, its become particularly enjoyable now!

In February this year, I was fortunate to travel to Myanmar for three weeks. With a crisp Lonely Planet on hand, I was eager to see another side of the Asian culture. On my first night in Yangon, I met up with two other amazing travellers, one from Germany and the other Australia. We teamed up for the Circle Line train the following day, and meet another traveller from China. Meeting up again in Bagan a few days later, we would travel the majority of Myanmar together- definitely influencing it for the better 😀

We spent 3 days in Bagan, cycling around and filling ourselves with Burmese donuts and Sweet Tea. Delicious curries for dinner, and an amazing hostel topped it off! (We stayed at Ostello Bello Bagan). From Bagan, we took a day boat to Mandalay. Coming from peaceful Bagan, unfortunately the highlight of Mandalay were the 600Ks Shan Noodles we had for dinner. “With alittle of the pickled spice vegg, it turned out to be the best 60cent dinner in a long time!”

Our 4am departure from Mandalay to Hsipaw meant we weren’t going to be getting much sleep!

This morning meant another early rise to take the train to Hsipaw [pronounced Sis-paw]. We decided to make the trip up for the night as our friend leaves on the 11th and we all wanted to the Goteik Viaduct (built in 1900!). The first hour we bounced around like dice in a cup and established very quickly we probably weren’t going to get much sleep! Our german friend didn’t feel well, and after putting her head on her backpack, in her lap, she was able to sleep. I slept for about an hour, in 2 half hour stints, and again for about 20mins this afternoon.

One of the best experiences of the (will be 11.5 hr) journey is definitely the food!! Each stop, we purchase difference baggies of food. Although the hostel in Mandalay was super kind and made our breakfast takeaway, we got some sticky rice (the dark one again) on our first stop. The boys also picked up some friend things but that was unfortunately very hit+miss. There was only one thing that we all liked (with vegg inside) and most of the other stuff went to the dogs. We also found Chinese tea and milk tea along the way! The boys also tried chilli-salted fruit (papaya + pineapple). For “lunch” we had the fried noodles from another station after Pyin Oo Lwin.

Flashback: Culture Shock and Cambodia

We were pushed inside to a gorgeous air – conditioned room, given visa forms and asked for 40USD.

18.03.12     Cambodia

its not a far away country, but I’ve had my culture shock for the month. Leaving Khao San Road at 7am, we didn’t arrive in Siem Reap until 8pm. Our original first leg of the 30 minutes to the bus station [by public bus], Mor Chit, ended up clocking close to 2 hours due to an uncounted-for Buddhist holiday! It rerouted the original journey for a massive tour around Northern Bangkok 🙂 Had we known that was only the beginning…

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An empty Thai Bus.

The actual bus station & ticketing was pretty standard. The adventure definitely started at the Cambodian Border- its a life that I definitely wasn’t expecting to be pushed into our faces.

It was literally as though you could see green grass on the Thai side and dirt roads on the Cambodian. It was the first land border that I would cross in Asia and I didn’t think I would see such starch differences in the two countries. The entire area seemed to be an unorganised Market and somewhere in the middle was a bridge and a border. Even half an hour a tourist bus would show up and everyone took their chances. We had read about the famous visa scam in the LP guide to South East Asia, and knew (to some extent) what to expect.

From the bus station, six of us were crammed into a overly eager Tuk-Tuk and taken to a pristine white, in the middle of nowhere, building. We realised that something was wrong when we couldn’t see the other half of the border. We were pushed inside to a gorgeous air – conditioned room, given visa forms and asked for 40USD. No stamps or paperwork were to be given in return, just a receipt and a lighter wallet. Although the air conditioning was enough for us to stay put for a quick minute, we were sitting on an uncomfortable gut-feeling. There was no border security in sight. Two other travellers got wind of the possible scam and decided to organise lunch. We left the air conditioning and had a quick team meeting outside. Re-reading the LP guide then and there, we realised that the visa scam was organised to a T.

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A Tight Fit? Six Backpackers & Luggage.

We literally had no idea where we were, and how far from the actual border we were. The orginal Tuk Tuk driver lady decided she wasn’t available any more. Now we were going to be walking where ever we needed to get. Heading back onto the main road and turning right, 150m in front of us (in the middle of the crazy Market) was buildings that looked like they had seen better days. Well-used and full of people, it had the vibe of a border.

…people trying everything on- eventually it boils down to a few relaxed security checking passports through a small plastic window- America’s VOA it isn’t! The next mission led us through to the actual customs for those walking across. Looking out the window and you’ll probably see caged birds and buggies of product (where’s their visa?)

After a few minutes later, we saw signs for Immigration and people in battered security shirts. It was a slight improvement but atleast the gut-feeling were slightly eased. After going through Thai Immigration and being stamped out, the procedure was relatively straight forward. We picked up immigration forms for Cambodia, filled them out and went into a large room with some security guards. Our entry stamp cost 2USD (the bribe as some like to call it- but 2USD was better then 40USD!) but we were on our way.

Outside the Cambodian immigration, there were more buses waiting to take us to Siem Reap. After properly proving that he was indeed government officiated we jumped on and continued our journey. Free as well? Such ironies!

The last leg was Poipet to Siem Reap- for the fact the straight road was once in “shocking condition” I can’t imagine what it would of looked it! Although it is sealed, we shared the road with everything that moved- animals, carts, buses and family vans. Its still a slow journey- something most countries should be able to half! Once we rocked up to our digs for the night we took a look around the town- welcome to the NEON CITY!

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Money for Myanmar?

Do we ever have enough?

Money is on everyone’s minds, at least those of backpackers and travellers. There is no other intriguing time to draw up budgets and tally assets then when one is travelling. As a pre-trip boost I was going through my current travel diary, one that I have used for Romania and two quick trips to Berlin and Zermatt. In the back of the book, there is a small pocket in which I had stuck some Romanian Lei. Although not worth much in Switzerland, the notes I had would at least get me a coffee in Bucharest. It got me thinking about money and how it may influence my impact on Myanmar next month.

I have accepted without restriction that Myanmar certainly doesn’t compare to Thailand in terms of prices, or at least in the accommodation sector! Many seem to expect that all of Southeast Asia can be travelled on 30USD but as we found, especially in cheaper countries such as Laos, when everything is cheaper we (as tourists) tend to indulge a little… and sometimes a lot! Before I had ever backpacked I had no idea what a budget was, honestly. Although I was working full-time before my first trip to Thailand in 2012, I had no idea how to save or budget. I literally got on the plane with two months savings and worked it out when I got to Bangkok.

In comparison, our trip to South America (2013) and then Nepal (2014) we established that 50USD/day. In South America, I was happy that we had travelled Argentina (without using Black Market exchange rates) and Chile first, as they were the most expensive. We then slightly adjusted our budgets when we got further north, but it was certainly tough at times! (It didn’t help that daily bike rental in Chile was 20USD a day!). Once we were in Nepal, we realised we could adjust our budget to around 40USD.

I’m still going to cap my travel budget for Myanmar at 50USD. In Switzerland, that would get my partner and I dinner (without alcoholic drinks). For Myanmar, I have seen some hotel rooms at that price! Doesn’t leave much room for food and activities! We usually end up taking out some local currency, and seeing how long we can go with that amount. As my Lonely Planet is certainly out-of-date on the ever-changing technicalities in Myanmar (currency being one of them), I have accepted that the LP’s Myanmar guide is more of a this-is-how-you-get-there guide. It will be interesting to see how “money matters” are effecting a country with a rapidly changing tourist infrastructure.

Myanmar Part 2: Frustrating Synonyms?

I seriously feel as though I am out on my own on this one. It could be that alot of my friends sort it out back “home”, where its cheaper and doesn’t have a massive language barrier. I have to try and get records sent from Canada. Eventually certain aspects of travelling do catch up.

Immunisations.

It’s totally a 1st world problem. I understand. But I am pro-vaccination and I learnt that I’m at that age where (almost) everything needs boosters or done again. When we lived in Australia a few years ago, we got our Yellow Fever and Typoid/Hep A. Nobody told us that the 400 AUD we spent wasn’t going to last forever… a few years later, and I get another Hep A shot. I thought I was being really good when I pulled out my little yellow booket and showed him what I had done… The german doctor had to take it away and assess. Or translate. Still not sure on that one.

Probably didn’t help I leave in two weeks and there is usually an 8 week recommendation… There was an eyebrow-raise at that point.

Even though I had the whole appointment in German, and didn’t understand 100% of it, I know I need to go back tomorrow. Afternoon. And pick up something. I think tablets. Another Typhoid boost?

In Switzerland, the private medical will cover any immunisations that are part of the regular system when your a kid… but anything you need (or want) when it comes to jet-setting around the world is on your shoulders. And bank account.

I asked how much I needed to pay today. We’ll send you a bill. And a heart-attack. (This is Switzerland after all).