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Oz – Canberra
December 192016

If you asked most people what the capital of Australia is, they’d probably say “Melbourne” or “Sydney”. Maybe even Brisbane.

None are correct…

The capital of Australia is, in fact, Canberra. I took a short visit there on my way to Melbourne from Sydney.

What is Canberra like?

Capital Hill Canberra Australia

My opinion is that it’s a kind of weird place. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived. I came in on an overnight coach from Sydney and spent just 1 day there.

It seemed like quite a well planned, well thought-out town. Kind of like Milton Keynes in the UK. A new town that was designed for people. Not a place like London that had grown organically over years.

The Layout

It reminded me of something from a futuristic movie. Look at the layout on Google Maps. Looks kind of weird, right?

The Residents

From some people that I spoke to Canberra seemed to be home to a lot of government officials, understandable seeing as it’s the capital. So politicians live there.

There was also supposed to be quite a large population of military personnel. Again, understandable.

Things to do in Canberra

I had just 1 day there so I wanted to wander around, see what it was like and get a feel for the place. I visited Capital Hill to see the Parliament House, Questacon for a bit of educational fun and a shopping centre which shall remain nameless as I don’t know what it was called…

The place felt quite sterile and lifeless to be quite honest with you.

Questacon was fun and definitely worth it, as was seeing capital hill just to see it.

Would you go again?

In short, no. There isn’t anything of significance to see or do there unless you are really into government buildings.

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Oz – Sydney
February 112015

My next stop after Byron Bay was to be Sydney. I was really looking forward to heading to Sydney, to see the famous opera house and harbour bridge especially because they are such iconic landmarks and I was not disappointed.

Opera House through Wire

Accommodation

I decided to change my travelling style a little and use a website called AirBnB. Air Bnb is a way for people who want to rent out a room, whole apartment or even sofa bed, usually for short periods of time, to advertise their place. It allows people who maybe go away on holiday for a month to pop it online to make some money while they are away. It also allows people who have a spare room but don’t want a permanent lodger to get a little money when they want to rent it out for a period.

Bondi Beach Sunny DayI found a place down on Bondi Beach, with a sea view, where I would be sharing a flat with one other girl who already lived there while her housemate (the person renting out the room) was away on a course. When I arrived I knew I had made the right decision because it felt like I was at home. This is one of the biggest benefits of Air BnB in my opinion. You are immediately transported into the lives of people who live there, usually in a residential area so it allows you to get a feel for what the place would be like to live in. The room itself was spacious, bright and clean. There was some room for me to put my things but the majority of the girl’s belongings were still there.

Bondi Beach

Bondi beach was amazing. The weather was great for a lot of the time I was there, apart from the worst storm they have had in 100 years one night which I totally slept through…The way of live down that way seems so much about being outdoors. Going to the beach, swimming, skateboarding, surfing, running, walking, etc are all easy to do and lots of people are doing them all of the time so it motivates you to do it too.

Selfie in Sydney

It would be hard to guess that Bondi was so close to a really large city like Sydney. It’s just a short bus ride away which is easy to get to but it feels very different, like a seaside town which is a little stuck in time. I heard that a few reasons for this are that they don’t allow modern, tall buildings to be built up around the area because they want to keep the look and feel as it is. That’s a great idea because it prevents large apartment blocks from being built everywhere. Also, there are just a few large chains stores around but not that many and you can easily find smaller food shops that serve good food.

Ferris Wheel Luna Park Sydney

Touring Sydney

I was lucky enough that the girl who rented her room to me was actually still there because her course was cancelled so she stayed with her friend in the flat while I was there. She had time to show me around the area so we checked out some food places and went for a walk along the coastal walk, from Bondi to Bronte. It’s a great place to go for a walk and see what’s around and along the coast.

Sydney Harbour Bridge

I made a few trips to go into the city, too. I spent a lot of time visiting the harbour bridge in the day and night and walking around it to get some good shots which I think I managed to do. There are some great vantage points for taking good shots, especially if you have a DSLR with a wide angle on it and a tripod to take some long exposure night shots. The shots I took were with a small, compact camera but still turned out well. I have one of those Gorilla pods which is a small tripod that can be carried in your bag.

Sydney harbour bridge

I’d highly recommend walking over the bridge in the day and at night because you get a great view. You can also walk around on both sides of the bridge to various places and get more great views of the place from small little park like areas that are dotted around. My favourite night time viewpoint was next to Lunar Park which is over the other side of the bridge from the main city and right below it. This viewpoint allows you to get a shot of the bridge with the opera house in the background all lit up at night.

Watson's BayI took a day trip up to Watson’s bay because it looked really beautiful from the pictures that I saw. The boat trip up there was really nice, cruising along the water on a hot, sunny day and getting a view of the Opera House, harbour bridge and all the other buildings alongside the water. The boat left from the main quay which was right near to the Opera house and took about 20 mins to get there. Once there, I walked around and up to the old lighthouse which is about 2km away. The views from there out to sea a great and the trail has some informative posts along it telling you the story about why the lighthouse was built and also why the large Watson's Bay Lighthouseguns were placed there during the war time.

Going Out in Sydney

I was lucky to have a friend from the UK who was living in Sydney so I was able to meet up with her and we went out Coffee in Sydneydrinking quite a bit…We had a good laugh, ate some food and went walking around some different areas of the city. I also had another friend who I had met in India who was an Aussie and lived in Sydney so I went out with him a few times too. Having those friends there definitely made the experience a lot more enjoyable. One night we went out to a casino. sorry, two nights we went out to the casino…As well as to a salsa night and to some other places.

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Oz – Byron Bay
February 92015

Moving on from Hervey Bay I came back down the coast to Brisbane for just 1 night and then left early the next morning to get another Greyhound bus down to Byron Bay. I didn’t look to spend much time in Brisbane because I had heard that it was not that spectacular and to be honest I wasn’t looking to spend that much time in the cities any longer because that wasn’t what I came travelling for.

I had decided upon Byron Bay because I had heard from many people that it was a beautiful place and one area that I should definitely visit.

Note: A small side note about taking the Greyhound buses is that during the day time if you catch a bus you will often get two seats to yourself because they are not very busy. If you take the bus at night, however, it’s very often full of people because they are saving a night on accommodation and they also don’t want to waste the day. To be fair it’s probably more likely that they are saving money on a night of accommodation because it’s generally backpackers who are the ones using the service.

So, I arrived in Byron and walked to my backpackers hostel which was a Nomad’s place I seem to remember. The hostels in Australia are properly large businesses, run exactly like businesses. There is no personal touch from an owner of a small business who treats you very nicely because he wants your return business and because he has a passion for what he does. No. The staff are mainly travellers themselves getting free accommodation for working several hours a day. They don’t really care about you coming or going so just get on with it. That’s the general feel I get from the hostels in Australia, although there was one notable exception to that down in Melbourne but that’s for another post.

I could walk to the hostel from the bus stop because it’s just a couple of hundred metres away. The hostel itself was clean and had everything you needed. They had a large communal area and a decent sized kitchen. The first day that I arrived I noticed that they had a free lighthouse walk arranged for that afternoon so I went on that to see what it was about and try to make some new friends.

Byron Bay Lighthouse Walk

There were around 5 of us on the walk. We started at the hostel and walked along the road through the main town of byron bay lighthouseByron Bay and to the beach front. Then we turned right and walked along the beach path and continued to walk parallel to the beach until we came to a road which had a pedestrian walkway running alongside it to take you up the start of an incline towards the lighthouse. The road wound around the hill for quite a long while it seemed, and for a lot of it we just followed the road way. Upon turning the last corner to the flatter road towards the top we were greeted with a great view of the sea.

We spent 10 minutes looking out dolphin and whale spotting. We saw around 20 or so dolphins, a few whales and Beach in byron bayquite a lot of surfers. With my inexperienced eye, it was difficult to spot the difference between a dolphin fin and a shark fin so it looked like the dolphins were sharks and about to attack some of the surfers.

From the top the path continues around and past the lighthouse and then down the other side which is through forested areas and towards the shoreline. We went to one of the small beaches which had no one on it and we were supposed to watch sunset there but the guide had forgotten that the clocks went back one hour so we were actually one hour ahead of time…Instead we continued to walk along the beach back towards the main Byron Bay area and the hostel.

Fitness Trail Run Byron Bay

One day I decided that I needed to go for a run to keep at least a little bit of fitness up while travelling around. I went in search of the fitness trail that I had seen part of while on the lighthouse walk. It was easy to find and along the route there are some fitness stations, equipment like chin-up bars, dip bars and other exercise stations are positioned at various intervals along the route. That’s one thing I love about Australia, it’s really geared up to get people active and outdoors. In any of the cities that I visited I was able to find people skateboarding, surfing, running, walking and generally being out and about. In addition to the fitness types of trail are the free bbqs that you find in nearly all parks. They are topped up with gas and you can use them whenever you like just at the press of a button.

Thoughts on Byron Bay

I really liked the town itself because it was small and had the feel of a place that had not been spoiled by commercialisation, such as lots of starbucks and McDonalds all over the place. In fact, I was told that there are laws that prevent those kinds of large scale companies from setting up shops in that area which I think is great.

The other funny thing about it is that there are some seriously strict drinking rules in place. According to the guide on our lighthouse walk tour, who was also a barman in the evenings at a local bar, the rules that he told us about were almost unbelievable. Rules such as if the bartender sees that you have downed a drink he has to give you a byron-bay-cliffswarning and if you get two warnings you are thrown out. They are not allowed to serve shots of alcohol to anyone and no one person can buy more than 4 drinks at a time. My understanding is that this is because Byron Bay is a place that loads of Australians go to during the holidays from school and college and get really drunk which has lead to some bad fighting and general behaviour.

Apart from that the feel of the place, I did notice that there are a lot of what I call pseudo hippies around there. I call them that because they dress and want to be like hippies but they are not really like that at all. They are just travellers mainly, who want to be in the cool gang. I have nothing against that but I’m not the long haired, surfer looking type that dresses in those ways so I did feel as if I didn’t fit in that well. It came across as quite pretentious in many ways but I could be wrong. Maybe that’s what I projected onto the people that I saw because of my own opinions.

Note: One bar I went to on a night out was called Cheeky Monkeys and was quite good fun where they play drinking games where you can win prizes for winning but it’s very “club 18-30s” in style. It reminded me of when I used to go on holidays as a young 20 year old to places like Zante in Greece where everyone was getting really wasted and playing all kinds of games. But then again I guess that’s what a lot of the people there want to do because the age range of people who go there is quite young.

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Hervey Bay was to be my furthest point north on the east coast of Australia. I had thought about going up further but time and budget were two concerns. First, time because it was quite a lot further to get up to some of the more well known places such as the Whitsunday Islands and second was budget because I knew that all of the tours I would want to go on would be very expensive. Also, I only wanted to travel between places by road or rail instead of flying because I don’t like flying and the costs also add up.

My main reason for using Hervey Bay as a stopping place was because I wanted to do a trip to Fraser island which is a large island which consists of only sand. There are large fresh water lakes and forest on it, not to mention the beaches which act like super highways to 4x4s travelling up and down the length of the sandy land mass. They even have speed limit signs…Unfortunately!

When I arrived in Hervey Bay I had already booked up my hostel but I hadn’t booked a tour because the tour I wanted to go on to Fraser Island was full. It was called the drop bear tour and apparently you can take turns in driving the 4×4 as well as being accompanied in the group by 1 tour guide. Anyway, once I got to my hostel, which was called Flashpackers, I managed to get onto a tour called Cool Dingos.

Cool Dingos Fraser Island Tour

I opted for the 2 day 1 night tour, although there was also the option for a 2 night 3 day tour. I’m glad that I took the first option because it was an intense and action packed, as well as drink fuelled, couple of days with early mornings and late nights. The driver of our tour bus was crazy and drove the bus around way faster than any of the 4x4s did and we even had to pull one out at some point.

We stayed in lodge style accommodation which was actually quite nice and the food served was high quality. I think the cost of the trip was around $380 which icluded all transport, accommodation and food for the 2 days so it wasn’t bad value considering what we did.

Fraser Island

Having known not very much about Fraser Island but having been told how beautiful it was I was a little disappointed by the experience. It definitely has potential to be a great place to visit because there are spots on the island which seem untouched and very beautiful. However, we were on a tour bus with 15 people and there were at times actual traffic jams along the routes that we took so not so picturesque, untouched, deserted, desert island…

The fact is that as beautiful as the island is, sticking to the routes that everyone else travels is busy during holiday season. Also, the beach on one side of the island is actually a road. It has a speed limit with signs stating what the speed limit is with 4x4s driving up and down it all day long. To do that to a naturally beautiful place seems totally against what should be done in my opinion.

We visited lake McKenzie which is a very popular place. The water was fresh, blue and beautiful and the sand next to it equally lovely but unfortunately there were a large number of people there so it was actually difficult to find a place to sit down…I took the photo below at just the right moment in order to miss any people.

Flight Over Fraser Island

While going along the beach we were given the opportunity to take a flight over the island, albeit at an extra cost. It was $95 per person I think for around 15-20 mins of flying. It was in a small, 6 seater plane. I really enjoyed it and loved the take off and landing on the beach. Flying over the forests of trees made them look like broccoli heads and we were also given a perfect view of the lakes from the air. I’d definitely recommend doing it if you get the chance.

Fraser Island Flight

Whale Watching

While I was in Hervey Bay I found out that it was still the migration season for whales from northern Australia back down to the Antarctic Ocean where they spend the summer. The female whales were with their calves, having given birth sometimes just a couple of months or so earlier. The female whales can produce up to 250 litres of milk a day for their calf and the calf can grow by adding up to 50kg in weight each day. The animals are huge.

Whale Breaching Hervey Bay

We were guaranteed to see whales and that we did. We saw loads in fact, all over the place. One mother and calf even circled the boat many times as if in a showing off ceremony. From a far we were able to see some of them breaching, which is when they jump out of the water. It was a great sight and very nice to see.

Burger Shop

Opposite where I was staying there was a burger shop called Katmanzoo Cafe on Denmans Camp Road. I went there several times during my stay because the owners were super friendly and made a really nice burger. Sure, it’s not the healthiest food around but they added lots of salad and the burgers were not greasy like some you get. The couple were always making sure that I was happy with the food and went out of their way to provide a great service and I really appreciated that. I’d highly recommend visiting them if you get the chance.

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I flew down to Alice Springs from Darwin. I had wanted to take the Gahn Express down but when I finally got around to booking the ticket I found out taht it was around $450 and a flight was $230 so it was a no brainer, especially when getting the train would have taken 21 hours…The airport in Alice Springs is very small so it was very quick to get in and out the other side.

I got the airport shuttle bus from the airport to town this time because I knew how much a taxi was going to cost from my previous experience in Darwin. I planned to meet a good friend of mine who I knew from back home in England who lived in Australia and has permanent residency there. The plan was to go out into the wild and do some camping in the outback.

The Outback

I had found myself a friend to head out into the bush with because there was not enough room in my friend’s 4×4 for me to jump in with them because they were moving house and had everything in their car. I got a Hyundai i20 car from Wicked Campers for $375 for 3 days and 2 nights. The guy who rented the car to me was really nice and helped me out massively by letting me come back late and pick it up early so that we weren’t as rushed on the drive.

We had initially planned to leave one day but my friend had a breakdown on his 4×4, the starter motor broke, so we had to postpone until the next day. Somehow he managed to find a spare part and get it fixed all within the same day that it broke.

Uluru, Kings Canyon & The Olgas

This was our itinerary for the road trip which lasted for 3 days and 2 nights:

Day 1 – Drove to the Olgas, 500km, walked around for 2 hours, drove to Uluru for sunset, camped out at Uluru resort which was very touristy and cost $38 dollars for two people on one site and $16 for each extra person. $25 for park entry fee to Uluru.

Day 2 – Got up at 0500 and drive to sunrise point. I think sunset point could be better because of the backdrop with sunrise. It was very busy, lots of people. Drove to the camp site which was free and located around 50km up the road towards Kings Canyon from the Lasseter Highway.

This camping experience was the best I have ever had. The view was genuinely amazing with no one else around apart from the 4 of us. We had a camp fire and cooked a roast dinner under the stars. From the picture below hopefully you can see just how incredible the sky looked. I have never seen anything like it. I didn’t realise that you could see that many stars in the sky.

Stars at Night in the Outback

Day 3 – We got up early to get to Kings canyon to do the rim walk which took just under 2 hours, with taking photos and not rushing too much. Drove back on the road from there to Alice Springs, 500km.

Petrol is expensive anywhere off the main Stuart Highway. Normal price was $1.75 per litre and went up to $2.08 near to the Olgas and up to $2.30 at the maximum price that I saw so make sure that you fuel up at the cheaper places and have a large petrol tank.

Driving a Hyundai i20, 1.4 litre cruised along at 110-130kph. total fuel cost was $230 for 1,40 kms. $375 for the car rental for 3 days and 2 nights.

$25 for park entry. $19 per person for camping on one night, next night free. $45 on food and booze.

Uluru

We did a base walk around Uluru, which was formerly called Ayers Rock. The reason for this is because originally the rock was named Uluru and is the original name but when foreign settlers came to Australia and decided to take the land away from the aboriginal people they changed the name of the rock to one of the finders.

The walk was 9km in total and was pretty good but also quite hot and this was at 7.30 in the morning until around 10am so if you start any later than that it is going to be super hot in the middle of the day and early afternoon.

Walking up The Rock

I had decided that I wanted to climb Ayers Rock, even though it is considered to be against the wishes of the aboriginal people because they see it as a holy place. I understood that but I have wanted to climb it ever since I was a child and there are ropes that allow you to climb it so I decided that I would…When we first arrived there it was closed off due to high winds but later on, after the base walk around Uluru, it was open so I took the chance.

Top of Ayers Rock

 

 

I thought that it was just a short climb up to where the metal chains stopped so I went very fast up that first section. Unfortunately I was mistaken and I had actually only reached about half way. I think it took me about 11 minutes to get up the first part and then another 15 to get up to the top. The 2nd section is nowhere near as steep so there are no ropes attached to help you climb.

Accommodation

I stayed in a hostel called Alice Lodge Backpackers. It was a short walk to the town so in a good location and was OK. The atmosphere was quite nice and everyone was friendly. On Saturdays they had a free BBQ with sausages and kangaroo meat which I had not tried before and I found it to be pretty tasty. The place had some longer staying residents who lived in small, permanently set caravans in the garden area. Although the place was in need of a good clean I liked the people there and the way that it was done so I would recommend staying there.

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Oz – Darwin
December 262014

Darwin was to be my first port of call in Australia and I had never been to Australia before. When I got off the plane I was used to being in other SE Asian countries so got a taxi straight to my hostel. It wasn’t far, just 4km away, but that cost me $30! That was a sign of things to come throughout my trip around Oz.

I stayed at a place called the Youth Shack hostel. If you go there, you can get 7 nights for the price of 6 if you book directly with them but if you book any of those nights online you can’t get the same deal, I found out to my dismay…It’s a weird hostel because, unlike any other that I had been to before, there were a high percentage of workers there. People who worked full time and lived in the hostel. A lot of people worked at the hostel itself because it was a large operation so required a large number of staff to keep it running smoothly. I found that there were a large number of Irish workers there because there was a high demand for building and construction workers.

Price

Everything in Darwin was expensive for me because I had just come from Bali, but even so I did find that compared to the rest of Oz it was also quite expensive. Hostel rooms were around $32 a night and there were only several options to choose from, all in the main town. Food was not cheap, either, with kebabs costing around $12 and a meal in some places costing at least $18. However, I did find that in one sushi place you could get a plate of salmon or tuna rolls for around $6 which was pretty cheap and quite healthy.

Amenities

There is only really one main street in Darwin, as it’s a really small town/city. The main street is called Mitchell Street and this is where you will find all the bars, hostels and main shops. There are a few on the streets further back but nothing much really.

Things to do in Darwin

A lot of people are working up there so it’s a massive weekend place for going out, although you will find a lot of people out in the week too. The weather is hot so everyone loves a beer or two…I was there in September and it was up to 35 degrees. Some places that I visited when I was in Darwin were:

Cullen Bay – This is a nice place to watch sunset and go for a walk along the beach. It’s about 3km away from Mitchell Street and a relatively uneventful walk. It’s kind of like a small complex of more expensive apartments and houses, with people who have yachts and boats around the area who can easily live next to them. It’s nice to watch sunset with some fish and chips from the shop there which were only $3.

Waterfront – there is a man made beach here which has nets around it under the water to prevent fish and sea life from getting in. It’s really nice around there and good for sunbathing and taking a dip when it’s hot outside. You have to be careful in the sea because there are deadly jelly fish. But if you get stung apparently vinegar is a good solution to treat the stings. Crocs have been known to be around the area, too, so watch out…

Night Market – Mindil Beach sunset market is a great place to go for some food. Out of all the stalls there at the market, I think about 80% of more of them are for food. They have stalls selling food from around the world so you have loads of options. You can also pick up some souvenirs, like shark and crocodile items.

Things Near Darwin

I went on the Croc and Litchfield day tour, which was excellent. It was called the spectacular jumping crocs tour and jumping-crocs-jumpit was spectacular. I loved it. We were on a boat going down the Adelaide River and the workers on there were dangling food overboard and getting them to jump. What I really liked about it was that they seemed to have a reason as to what they were doing in order to keep the crocs wild and not allow them to get too lazy and wait for the boat to come along and have the food from it.

Some facts about crocodiles that I found out were:

– Can go for up to 4 hours underwater on one breath
– 6.8 meter hannibal the cannibal crocodile
– 100 years old, over 1000kg
– Can slow heartbeat to 1 bpm when injured or underwater for long time
– Can’t get infections
– May lose all limbs and still be ok, just tail and teeth are important
– can last up to 12 months without food

Litchfield National Park

As part of the tour I also went to Litchfield national park. It was 1.5 hours drive away from Darwin. We visited some places, such as Buley rock hole and Florence falls. It was 135 steps or 1.1km trail down to Florence Falls from the car park, so you had a choice of which route to take.

While we were driving through we stopped off at some termite mounds which were 5 metres high. Looking at them Termite Moundyou would think that they were just made of soft mud and might come down an moment if hit, but they are nothing like that. You can hit them as hard as you like and it’s more likely to hurt you than it is for you to do any damage to them. There were two types of termite mounds that we saw, magnetic and cathedral types. They are huge and really unbelievable. Apparently they are made so that the termites can stay in them, above the water level which rises up high in the rainy season.

After my trip to Litchfield, I went back to Darwin, stayed another night or two and then left via plane to head down to Alice Springs for the next leg of my journey.

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We decided to head up to the Gili Islands for a couple of nights. I needed to be back in Kuta because I had a flight to catch on the Monday down to Australia, but the other guys, Izzy and Joseph, had no definite plans so could return when they wanted to. We caught the boat up to Gili T which is where I stayed for the next 2 nights.

There are no motor vehicles allowed on Gili Trawangan, which is nice, so instead there are a lot of bikes and horse and carts for transporting larger items around. When you first arrive on the island you just jump off at the beach and have to walk up the sand to the little street that runs along parallel to the sea. There are a lot of people around there asking for you to stay at their place, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but just make sure that you are getting a good deal.

Accommodation

The price of accommodation varyies depending on what you want and where you want to stay. We managed to get a room to ourselves with Gili Backpackers Indonesiaan attached bathroom for 150,000 a night which is around £8. But we also stayed in a place called Gili Back Packers which was a lively hostel, with a swimming pool, climbing wall and loads of drinking games each night. It was a cool place to hang out and meet people but you didn’t have to stay there to take advantage of the place, you could easily stay somewhere cheaper and then go there in the evenings. That’s what I would do given the time again.

Places down the front of the beach which were similar to those we paid 150,000 for were going for around 300,000.

Overall, Gili Trawangan (Gili T) as it is known, is a large party island. I’m quite sure that there are other parts of the island which are less busy, more scenic and less party prone. It really does get pretty messy down around the main areas on an evening.

Playing Games

The aim of the GBP (Gili Back Packers) hostel is to make the place as much fun as possible, which is one reason why they have the climbing wall next to the swimming pool. They also put on loads of games at night like beer pong and cup flipping races.

The Return Journey

We had paid 550,000 rupiah for the return journey from Kuta which I thought was a pretty good deal considering you got a door to door service. That was around £25 at the time of writing (August 2014).

On the way back the boat ride was horrible. It was really rough and I was stuck right next to a window downstairs. Water was seeping through the window frame and there was nothing I could do about it. Not only that but it would start to open slightly every time we went over a large wave, which was pretty frequently. I was sweating and getting wet from the water so I came out soaked. It took around 1.5 hours to get back.

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Indonesia – Ubud, Bali
October 272014

It wasn’t until I arrived in Bali that I started to learn a little bit about what other activities there were to do. The ones that were mentioned by all travellers were Ubud and the Gili Islands. The two American guys that I met in the Bed Bunkers hostel, which I talked about in a previous post, and me, along with a German guy called TJ, all decided to head up on our scooters to Ubud for a couple of nights. Those couple of nights turned into 3 long nights…

Bali Rice Fields in Ubud

The Ride

I had previously ridden my bike through India and Nepal for 4 months so I felt confident riding and I also knew that in most places in SE Asia it was possible to bribe the police if you needed to. It is the same in Bali, but the bribes are higher when compared with India. Also, I didn’t have any problems not having an international driving license in Thailand. When I got stopped by the police they accepted my UK driving license without a problem and allowed me to continue, but not so in Bali.

Anyway, to cut a long story short we got stopped and fined 250,000 each on the way up to Ubud from Kuta. We negotiated down from 500,000 each but he wouldn’t have it to go any lower unfortunately. With hindsight we should have taken more of the back route along the smaller roads. You could tell that the cops were waiting for tourists like us to ride along so they could pull us over and get a nice bonus for their beer fund.

Paradise Hostel

We had been told to stay in a place called “In Da Lodge” which at first sounded a little bit hip, but when we eventually arrived after a lot of messing around with directions because it’s located up a steep ramp from the main road, we discovered a real hidden little gem. The entrance to the place was a very narrow set of old, wooden doors with a metal knocker on it. The door was set in the middle of a weathered wall, which barely came half way up the frame so you could easily see over it. There were 3 superfluous steps leading up to the door.

In Da Lodge Ubud Indonesia - Paradise

Upon squeezing through the door, which I had to do sideways, I was greeted with a narrow pathway which lead over a small concrete paved bridge alongside which were some very well kept lawns and flower beds. Hanging among some poles within the garden were hammocks. The path continued along past more hammocks and the start of some buildings, which all had overhanging, slate roofs below which were the steps and a small tiled area along which people kept their shoes.

We went up to reception half thinking that we had come to the wrong place or that it was going to be very expensive to stay there. We were wrong on both counts. It was the right place and it wasn’t expensive to stay there, just 100,000 ($5) for a hostel bed but because there were 4 of us we were able to take the family house, which contained a double bed upstairs and two bunk beds downstairs, plus our own bathroom. It was super cool.

Nights Out

While in Ubud we went out all three nights and we drank at the bar in the late afternoon and early evening at the hostel. I all it a hostel but it was more like a hotel standard of food, bar service and places to relax on. They had large sofas which were easily large enough for two people to lie next to each other and there were a lot of them in squares with large tables in the middle. The bar served cold beers and good food, like the classic nasi goreng.

In general Ubud doesn’t seem to be a place where you would regularly go on an all nighter because it seems much more relaxed than that. However, there are a couple of places that we went to alongside the football pitch area in town. One place was called the XL Shisha Lounge and it was open until 2am so that was a bonus, they served shisha there, as the name suggests, and had beer towers. It was a cool place actually and they had live music one of the nights that we were there.

Eating

It’s a very chilled out place and there are a large number of people who go there to practice yoga and meditation, and I assume that there are many retreats there for this purpose, too. Because of this it’s easy to find vegetarian and vegan food places. We stopped off at one down a smaller road off the main street which was called Warungsopa. The food was very nice there and I really enjoyed eating it, plus the atmosphere was very relaxed and chilled.

Things to do in Ubud

Monkey Forest – A forested area which is full of monkeys. They seem to have feeding areas to keep them coming back so I’m not sure that it’s a totally natural monkey forest, it’s just an easy meal for the monkeys. The have banana sellers there but be warned that if you buy some you will get jumped on immediately so have your camera ready!

Monkey in Monkey Forest

Volcano Sunrise Trek – I didn’t actually do this because I had injured my knee but the other three guys I was with did it and they loved it. It started with a collection from the hostel at 2am and they got back around 4pm. The pictures that they had were amazing.

Rice fields – From Ubud you can ride around 15km to a place called Tegallalang which is a more hilly area and, as such, is home to many rice fields all terraced along the hills. It looks spectacular, especially at sunset. It’s well worth the trip up there. In fact, at one point along the main road you can go and have a drink at one of the coffee shops overlooking the fields or just grab a beer from a local shop and sit down on one of the unused balcony areas which are down a few steps just off the road.

Market – There is a market in town which is worth a look but to be honest it’s nothing special, it’s just another market with the usual souvenirs for sale.

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Indonesia – Bali
October 272014

Before I had arrived in Bali I had heard about its reputation. Kuta was described as being like Benidorm is for English visitors to Spain; an area where the boozed up Brits abroad go to get wasted for a 2 week holiday and cause loads of trouble. At least this time it would be the Aussies getting the bad reputation and not me, as a Brit. Having said that, I had been mistaken for an Aussie pretty much the whole time while travelling by any foreign person who was not English or Australian so maybe it wasn’t such a good thing after all…

Bed Bunkers, Bed Bugs

I had booked into a hostel called Bed Bunkers which was only around 1.5km away from the airport. There are loads of taxi drivers waiting for fresh meat to arrive so that they can rip them off by charging an extortionate amount of money to take them a small distance. I ended up paying 100,000 (£5) at the time (August 2015). You could probably walk it if you wanted to but it was hot and it looks to be tricky to get out of the airport because it’s closed off with metal fences.

There are two Bed Bunker hostels, this is the 2nd one. It’s right next to a place called the Discovery shopping mall, which is on a main road which leads you all the way up to the main beach, Kuta beach.

Meeting People

It’s so easy to meet people when you are staying in a hostel because there are a lot of people in the same situation as you are and they also want to meet people. I often find that I would have to go out of my way and be quite rude in order to stay by myself. I’m not complaining because I do like meeting new people but this usually leads to a night out drinking and too many nights out are not ideal for the body…I met a lot of people there, including two northern English guys, who were about to go on a road trip to India on Royal Enfield motorbikes. I have since stayed in touch with them and helped them with a load of questions that they have had about certain parts of India and what to do with the bikes.

For a few nights I went out with Stefan, Emily, Anthony and Kelsey, all of who were English apart from Stefan who was Norwegian. All really good people and I enjoyed going out to places like Alley Cats, Sky Bar and Vi Ai Pi. All of which have great deals on…

Meal Deal

Alley cats did a great deal on what they called “double, doubles”. They are double vodkas with red bull. You could get 1 for 15,000 rupiah or 12 for 180,000….Which wasn’t actually a better deal now that I come to think of it! Clever marketing, or poor marketing, perhaps…Still, at the time in August 2014 it worked out at around 80 pence per drink.

The place called Sky Bar did an all you can eat buffet every night between 5pm and 10pm, but the food changed each night that it was on. The food quality was very high and if you just ate there it was a fantastic deal. Where they got you was on buying drinks. Everyone bought one and it was very expensive so they made their money back pretty easily.

The place next door, which I think was called Vi Ai Pi did a deal on pizza and beer. It was one large pizza which was thin and crispy and pretty decent quality and as much Bintang beer as you could drink between 6pm and 8pm every night of the week. Amazing deal! All that for just £3.50.

iPhone Theft

I’m usually very careful with my possessions but I guess there is always a chance that you have a bad night and I had one of them in Kuta. After quite a few drinks some of us decided to head down to the beach and get in the water. It was around 1am, so we left our clothes on the beach and went into the sea. At the time I can remember thinking that it was a bad idea to leave all our items on the beach unattended at that time of the night and I was right…When we came back my phone had been stolen and some money was stolen from another girl’s purse. Nightmare. Lesson learned. I upgraded my phone to an iPhone 5S after that so it actually worked out as a bonus!

Police Bribe

It’s common knowledge that in a lot of countries in SE Asia you can bribe your way out of most situations and Bali is no different. The problem with corruption is it works so well, as I once read in a book called Shantaram which I was reading when I made my way around India. It’s too true how valid that saying is. In India it’s not that expensive to bribe the police so it’s not an issue but when in Indonesia the fines were a lot higher.

In order to ride legally you need to have an international drivers license which I did not have. It’s easy to get one before you go away but I hadn’t bothered because I didn’t realise that I would need it. Anyway, if you don’t have one they will try to charge you up to 500,000 rupiah. That’s about £25 which isn’t that much but you can get stung a few times which gets super annoying because you know that the money is going into the pocket of the police man. The official fine they say is 1,000,000 if you go to the police station so it’s cheaper to pay the bribe. You can haggle your way down so that’s what I did one night when i was riding back home…

They love setting up small road blocks and checking everyone’s papers in order to make some money. So, I got stopped and managed to negotiate my way down to 75,000 saying that it was all I had left in my pocket after my night out. The police officer accepted it and I asked him how to get back to my place. I thought I was going the correct way but 5 mins later I ended back in the exact same place at the same road block…I had to tell them that I had already paid earlier on. Luckily it worked so I went off again but this time a slightly different way. However, 5 mins later and I was back in the same place again…I laughed as I rolled up to the police and they laughed as I approached! 3rd time lucky and I managed to get back to my hostel, albeit a very long way around but I was determined not to get caught up in the same spot again.

Scooter Hire

I got my scooter for 50,000 rupiah a day which is around £2.50. This was in August 2014. It’s pretty cheap. If you are looking to get one I would recommend going through the hostel because they are more likely to protect you if something happens. If you are getting one from the street the prices start really high and they are also more likely to rip you off. The hostel have a reputation to keep so they don’t want to ruin it by screwing over the backpackers.

Surfing

I wanted to learn to surf in Bali, that was one of my main aims of going there to do a surf camp. I got recommended that I head down to one called Rapture Surf School which is near to Uluwatu and Pedang Pedang by my friend Damien, so I went down there to check it out.

The place is in a very much more untouched and quieter part of the island, which I really liked. It felt as if you were really far out in the middle of nowhere with just the beach not too far away. The camp itself was amazing. Very well laid out with great chill out areas a bar and place to eat. The prices were not cheap, though, so I had to have a look around to see what other options there were. It was possible to just do the surfing with them and not stay there so I went on a search.

I met a Spanish girl who was also looking for places to stay around that area for her and her friend so we ended up riding around together trying to find some places to stay. After a long search we found a place that was 250,000 a night in a nice location and great rooms. That’s about £14 a night for your own room.

After that I rode back up to Kuta thinking that I would head back down to that place and stay there for two nights, but the plans changed pretty quickly as soon as I met some people back at the hostel and we ended up going out drinking to Alley Cats…I never ended up going back down to Uluwatu, so it will have to wait for another time.

In the end I decided that I could just hire a board and get one of the guys who I was hanging around with, Lucas, to show me how to ride. After 1-2 hours of surfing I had discovered that it was a lot harder than I thought it would be. I couldn’t even stand up, I just kept falling off. I didn’t try to surf again for a while, until I met a couple of American guys called Izzy and Joseph. They had been surfing for longer and showed me a different way of getting up onto the board, which seemed to work much better for me. It was like a stepping motion rather than a jumping one which I had been shown before. Within 3 attempts I could stand up and at the end of that first day I could stand up almost every time.

I went again on another day and managed to move from a longboard to a 7’2″ board but that was much less stable and I was more tired after having ridden for a bit already so I only got to partially stand up on that one.

Beach Workout

While at the hostel I met a guy called Lucas. Me, Lucas and Stefan were all standing outside of the hostel where there is a large outdoor area for relaxing in and we started to practice handstands and it turned out that Lucas was into something called calisthenics, which I had heard of before and also really liked but had yet to get into. The next day we went for a beach workout just using a bar and a couple of chairs that we borrowed from one of the people who run a stall on the beach. I ached for a few days after that!

Kuta Return

I had a small bit of time away in both the Gili islands and Ubud but upon my return I was originally going to stay back at Bed Bunkers 2. However, on my last night there when I got up in the morning I noticed that there were 3 little insects crawling around in my bed…I thought they looked like bed bugs so there was no way I was going to stay back there again!

I met a couple of other guys there called Jacob and Yoske who I went surfing with and a couple of girls, too, but they went to get a lesson from someone on the beach and we met up with them later on at Alley Cats, which was now becoming a usual visit for me on any night out…

So, instead of staying at Bed Bunkers I went and got a place at a nearby hotel called Warapsari Inn. I paid 300,000 a night for it which converted to around £15. It was a nice room, comfortable, air conditioned and had TV from which I watched the Mayweather vs Maidana fight on. That alone saved me a trip to the pub.

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Singapore
October 242014

I was not originally planning on heading to Singapore because I had heard that it was very expensive and there wasn’t anything in particular that I really wanted to see there, apart from the F1 race but that was going to be a little bit too late for me to be there for that. But after meeting a new friend in Thailand, who lived in Singapore, I decided that on my way through to Bali I would make a stop over in Singapore.

Arrival

When I was attempting to get through the arrival gates and customs, I had to state an address where I was staying but I couldn’t remember where it was so they wouldn’t let me through. They said that it was because of the recent outbreak of a reported Ebola case and they needed to have everything completed just in case they needed to contact me. Luckily I had the number of my friend who I was going to be staying with so I could call her and find out what the address was.

Clarke Quay Singapore Skyline @ night

Clarke Quay

I arrived in the afternoon and went straight back to my friend’s place. She had picked me up from the airport which was very nice of her and not expected at all. We went out fairly early to get some food, drink and found ourselves out in Clarke Quay where there are loads of bars. A long island ice tea cost me $25 so quite a few drinks and it’s not cheap. The place that we went out to there was called Highlander.

There is also a great boat cruise that leaves from Clarke Quay and goes around the marina so you can see the laser light show that happens twice (I think) every evening. We got the boat that went out for the 9pm light show. The lights are bounced off the water from the Marina bay sands building. Definitely worth watching because it’s a great show.

Sentosa

This is an area of Singapore which contains a beach, Universal studios, shops and restaurants. The beach I think is man made and definitely has that feel to it. The area itself is really nice and, just like the majority of the rest of Singapore, is kept really clean and ordered. It is well worth a visit down there because it’s a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon relaxing.

Marina Bay Sands Walk

I went on a walk around the marina with my friend. We walked past the Marina Bay Sands Hotel and through many different shopping malls. It seems that there are a large number of malls there, very much like in Malaysia.

Somerset 313 & Emerald Hill

Another shopping mall area was called Somerset 313, which is next to a small street called Emerald Hill. Somerset 313 is pretty large and new, and contains the usual mix of designer label shops, food outlets and everything you’d expect to find in a modern shopping centre.

Opposite the centre is Emerald Hill and just up on the right hand side is a bar called 5 Emerald Hill. It’s a nice place to meet for a drink which is exactly what I did. I met my friend Ryan who is Viatnamese but has lived in Singapore for many years. I had met him in India, Pondicherry earlier on in the year. It was good to catch up with him and see how his businesses were going that he had been talking about several months earlier.

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A friend who I have known since I was around 5 years old from back home in England left to travel around 5 years ago. He travelled around a lot of places and eventually settled in Kuala Lumpur for work. Knowing that I would be out in Thailand I thought it a great time to go and meet him and also see another place at the same time.

First Impressions

On the 15th July 2014 I took the flight from Phuket down to Kuala Lumpur, with a return flight booked for the 30th July, which gave me around 2 weeks there in the city. Upon arriving at the KL terminal with Air Asia, I immediately noticed that it seemed to be a little more developed when compared to all the other places that I had been to. But then again, maybe this was just because the airport terminal was new!

I got a taxi straight down to my friend’s place which was near to the Swiss Garden hotel in a place called Pudu. This was conveniently located very close to one of the main areas that you would want to go out in called Changkat. Every Malaysian person that I had met so far spoke very good English. I assumed it was because they were dealing with foreign people everyday and also because they lived in the city. The taxi ride down took around 45 minutes and cost 100 Ringgit, which was a little overpriced because apparently a standard taxi on the meter should cost around 80 Ringgit. This converted to around £16 at the time.

Cost of Living in Kuala Lumpur

Apartments to rent near to the Changkat area are around 3,000 – 3,500 Ringgit per month (August 2014) which equates to around £600-£700. This gets you a 2 bed, new apartment on a high level floor (15th to 23rd) of a new block with 24 hour security. I thought that was pretty reasonable, especially for what you get. The views from the bedroom windows were great and you could look out over the city. At night time it was really nice.

Going out to eat and drink was a little more pricey than I had expected. A pint of beer in one of the trendy bars was around 25 Ringgit. Whenever you see a cost with ++ next to it, that means you have to add tax and service charge to it. Tax is 6% and service charge is 10%. So, your pint of beer now costs you nearly 30 Ringgit which equates to around £6! That’s very expensive. A few drinks, whether it be beer or spirits, and some food will end up setting you back quite a large amount. Probably the same cost as going out in London to be honest. That dented the budget quite heavily.

Shopping

You can pick up some fake and cheap items of clothing, like boxer shorts, t-shirts and other basics from the markets that they have around the area so that’s not too expensive but as soon as you head into the shops you are looking at normal prices for these items.

For some reason the Malaysians love shopping malls. I think I saw an advert for Kuala Lumpur where they quote that there are over 30 shopping malls in central KL and that doesn’t surprise me. When walking around the city we were ducking in and out of various malls, both old and new, in order to use it as a air conditioned short-cut on our way to another area.

There is a street called (I think) Petaling street which is well known for selling cheap goods, usually fake, and food items.

Going Out in Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur

I went out mainly to a place called Changkat and I stayed quite a few nights there that part of town, too. It’s not exactly the nicest of areas because at night there are people drinking and eating at portable, road side burger bars but it’s close to everything and there are plenty of sleeping options. The cheapest one I found was a place called Havana which was down the end of a small street. It cost me 55 ringgit a night and that included breakfast, not that I ever got up in time to have it…

Havana Guest House Location

Before that I stayed at a hotel called Hotel Rae. It was a little nicer and larger than Havana but it was double the price so definitely not worth it. Also, for that price the room had no windows so it can get a little claustrophobic and cause some cabin fever!

I stayed at one more place called the Star Hotel I think it was. This was a bad place to stay for two reasons. 1) It was more expensive than Havana but around the same quality. 2) The people who worked there made a lot of noise overnight and there was no door between them and where the bedroom doors were so it was very loud at night and I couldn’t sleep properly. All of these places are around an area called Tongkat Tong Shin.

Bars in Kuala Lumpur City

  • Marinis 57 – Great view of the Petronas towers, but very close up. 43rd floor I think.
  • Sky Bar – swimming pool inside. Go early and get your name down on the list for a window seat. The view is amazing. 43 ringgit for a cocktail
  • Helipad – helicopter pad on top, aviation theme in Menara KH building
  • Changkat (area) – Wednesday is ladies night where girls get free drinks. Bottle service is well worth doing. A couple of memorable places were Havana & Pisco. Havana because it was relaxed and had a pool table and Pisco because it was a busier place with drinking and bar downstairs and dancing/club area upstairs

Things to Do

Batu caves – from Kuala Lumpur terminal to Batu Caves directly was 25 mins. Trains leave every 30 mins during the day. You arrive right outside Batu Caves. There are around 280 steps to the top. Inside the main area there is not really anything there, just a cave. There is a dark caves tour but I didn’t go on it because I was sweating, hot and didn’t really feel like it. Be prepared to get very hot and sweaty so don’t wear a shirt! Ladies, you have to wear something that covers your knees or you can buy/rent a wrap around skirt on arrival.

Petronas Towers

Petronas Towers – I didn’t go up them because to quote Karl Pilkington “I’d rather be in a save looking at a palace, than in a palace looking at a cave”. Which translates to me going up the KL tower and other sky bars, as mentioned above, to look at the twin towers rather than the other way around.

KL Tower – This was really cool to go up. There are different levels to it, so you can go to the observation deck or open deck. I went to both because I bought an open deck ticket which is more expensive and higher up, then went down to the observation deck afterwards. On the open deck it is what it says, open. There are waist level protective glass areas but that’s it. You can see over the entire city so go at night because the views are great.

The observation deck is enclosed with glass. It’s nowhere near as good as the open deck in my opinion, but it does have some high powered binoculars that you can use to look around for free. You can easily see people working in the twin tower offices, they are super powerful.

KLCC Park – I went around the park in the day and at night time. For me the night time experience was the best. I walked through and took some pictures of the twin towers. One night I was there and they had a show on in front of the KLCC shopping centre (which is the building underneath the towers) with music which was quite nice to watch. If you walk up and around onto the higher area of the grass you can get some nice shots with no one in them. Just watch out for snakes as while I was setting up my camera on the ground I saw a baby one moving along.

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There were a group of five of 6 of us hanging around together quite a lot, we’d meet up for dinner, go on trips to the beach and the shopping mall, etc. At one stage we were even all wearing the same waterproof ponchos because we were getting rained on while riding our scooters. They were all bright green, in Luis Vitton and Burberry patterns…We called ourselves The Wolf Pack!

We had many adventures together but the one I am writing about today is our little outing to the Phi Phi Islands.

The Ko Phi Phi Islands

I didn’t realise at first that there are in fact two main islands that are both called Ko Phi Phi (there might be three, as I was told, but I can’t find the third one on Google maps so it might as well not exist…). The larger one is called Ko Phi Phi Don, obviously…, and the smaller one is called Ko Phi Phi Le.

We took a day trip outing from the training camp that we were at called Tiger Muay Thai. The trip cost 1,600 bhat (June 2014) and included a pick up from Tiger, minibus to the ferry terminal, a speed boat day trip around the islands, lunch and transfer back to our camp.

Speed Boat View of Islands

The Speed Boat

I was a little worried that this part of the journey was going to be really bumpy, but I needn’t haven’t worried because it was actually OK. The sea was very calm, but because of our speed we were jumping over small waves occasionally. It was best if we sat outside on the front of the boat I found so that I could see the land or horizon and not get sea sick.

The Islands

They were incredible. The beaches were almost white, the sea in the bays where the beaches are were a beautiful green. The bays looked only accessible by boat as there were no obvious roads or pathways to get there and the surrounding areas of the island were near vertical rock faces covered in trees and other vegetation. It was like something out of a movie, which is more than a coincidence because one of the beaches was actually used for the film The Beach, starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

The only downside to this tour was the sheer volume of tourists who were on it. The beach was totally rammed with people and the boats were literally parked side by side along the water front. If you were there alone I can imagine that it would be a totally different and much more atmospheric. As if you were stranded alone on a desert island with no one else around.

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I had heard many things about the full moon party in Thailand from friends back in the UK. They all said it was amazing but that it was dangerous. I agree with the amazing part but don’t agree that it’s dangerous if you act normally, and that’s where the problem lies….

Alcohol

I normally like to write my posts like a shit sandwich; start off with positive things to say, add some shitty things in the middle, then finish with some good again. It’s a great way to disguise a rant. But today my first thought seems to be moving towards the shittier end of the scale first.

The amount of alcohol that people drink in Koh Phangan is crazy. The bucket is what is mostly consumed, each one containing a full bottle of alcohol (a small, 300ml sized one), a soft drink (just one small can) and a red bull or similar energy drink. These are served up in a bucket that you can carry around with you, usually one per person! Before you know it, you have drunk half the bucket and subsequently are hit by a slap in the face from the alcohol monster within.

This leads many overly excited drinkers to consume far too much for their own good, get completely smashed and do silly things like pass out on the beach, or play with fire ropes. Well, you know the saying “If you play with fire you are going to get burned”.

Safety

So what about safety? I, like many other people drank a lot of alcohol, many buckets a night in fact, but I never got myself into a state where I was unable to look after myself. If you were in such a state in most places in the World, even really developed areas, you are very likely to get your money, phone, wallet, etc stolen from you. That’s life, it might not be nice, but deal with it and stop putting yourself in a risky position. People know that there are thieves and pickpockets but they still get this way, it’s totally irresponsible. I’d even go so far as to say that if people didn’t get like this the thieves would leave and go somewhere else that was more fruitful, leaving everyone to have a great time.

The Good Stuff

So, moving on from the bad things. I had a great time. The atmosphere was brilliant, everyone there is there to have a good time. You are on a beautiful island and planning to go to a beach party so life is good. It makes for a fun experience.

People are mainly there for partying so every night is a party night on the beach. There are fun things to do, like fire rope jumping! Or things that are less dangerous like arm wrestling, basket ball hoop shooting or you can even have a go at fire blowing! This is all for free, too, as the bars along the beach must pay for the entertainment to get people down there.

There are some really cool guys doing fire shows, too. They are really skilful and great fun to watch. It’s a blaze of fire, flesh and boozed up brits abroad. It’s true that there are a large number of UK and German tourists there.

Getting There

We were down in Phuket at the time so we made our way by bus and ferry. It was quite a long journey. From Phuket we drove up to Surrat Thani whic took 4.5 hours, where we then changed and drove for 1 more hour on a larger coach to the ferry terminal. The boat from there took 3 hours, which included a stop off at Koh Samui. The bus and ferry ticket cost us 800 bhat which I thought was pretty good. So you’re looking at 1,600 bhat to get there and back, plus 100 bhat each way from the ferry terminal on Koh Phangan to your hotel.

Note: The standard rate for the taxis out there seems to be 100 bhat per person, whether it’s short 5 min ride or 25 mins, It’s the same. You all share the back of a pickup truck/jeep type thing.

We were travelling in June which is considered low season so things weren’t quite as busy. I much preferred this as I can imagine in high season that it gets absolutely crazy with people. There were still plenty of people there though.

When to Go

I can only comment on my experience, but I have heard from others that in high season you can’t move on the beach. It wasn’t like that in June, it was perfect. Lots of people but not too many. Granted, you are more likely to experience rain but who cares. You are walking around with just shorts on and body paint and it’s not cold. You also get better deals in the low season on everything.

Places to Stay

I stayed in a place called Drop in Resort. It was a huge place, with multiple swimming pools and even a gym. The pictures looked amazing online. It was opened in 1989 and I think we were looking at the original pictures! When we arrived it was run down, the toilet in our room did not work or any other toilet in the hotel, one of the pools was totally unusable and the gym equipment looked as though it was one of Man’s early inventions.

But, apart from that, the place was OK. It wasn’t too expensive and it served a purpose. For us to crash after a long night out partying. We made the mistake of booking before we went. In low season I can see that if you get there 3-4 days before the party then you are going to have no problem finding a place to stay. You have much better bargaining power, too.

We saw many places for a room with AC for 300 bhat a night. Your own room that is, not a dorm. If you want to stay in a dorm you can expect to pay only 100 bhat a night. Your choice, 200 bhat extra a night for some sleep? Or you could go and buy some sleeping pills instead…

The Long Journey Home Scam

We paid 800 bhat to get us home and we were told that we would get dropped off at our hotel. We got the same ferry back to the mainland from koh Phangan, then to the bus terminal area in Surrat Thani. All fine. Had some food, had to wait for over 1 hour here. I think they do this to make sure you buy food and drink from them. It’s really annoying when it’s an hour as you only need 30 mins max.

Then we were shuttled to a large coach where we were told we would only get dropped off at the main bus terminal in Phuket. Getting to Patong or Chalong (where we were staying) was going to cost us another 300 each! We didn’t take that and said we would get a taxi when we arrived. It was too much and another way that they try to get you to prepay for things.

Note: Not always, but most of the time in any SE Asian country, when somone asks you to pre pay for something like this you are paying well over the odds. You don’t know how much it should be so have no idea if it’s a good deal or not.

So we continued the coach knowing we would get a taxi at the other end. When we were near to the station, and most of the people had got off at an earlier stop, the driver pulled over onto the hard shoulder of the highway. He spoke to someone on the phone and then asked us all where we were going. We told him Chalong and he told us to get off the bus because he had another minibus that would take us there….We got off, waited with him until the minibus arrived and then, when we were asking what the deal was with the minibus driver, the coach driver started running back to his coach, got back in and drove off! Leaving us with little option but to take the minibus.

The guy wanted 300 each, but we didn’t accept that and started to walk off when he wouldn’t accept 200 each either. Eventually he took 200 each because he knew that we were actually very close and that we were his only chance of filling the bus. In hindsight, we could probably have got it for 100 each. Anyhow, we made it home. Broken. Tired. And one guy hospitalised 1 day later when he was admitted to hospital and diagnosed with pancreatitis! Oops…

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Before I left the UK back in November I had knew that I would be visiting Thailand and I thought that I would try out a Muay Thai training camp, especially after I had spoken to one of my friends who had been out here to visit Tiger Muay Thai gym. I had heard good things about it from him, so I decided to go. As I mentioned in my previous post about Bangkok, I had a pretty drunken time out in Bangkok and I knew it would be before I went there. I saw it as my last proper time of drinking before I started training properly.

The Arrival

After flying in from Bangkok to Phuket airport, feeling completely rough due to all the drinking the night before, I got a taxi straight down to Tiger Muay Thai gym in an area called Chalong. It’s on the South Eastern side of the island. There is one main road, a small road, called Soi Ta-ied. I got out of the taxi and started walking around looking for somewhere to stay.

Accommodation Near Tiger Gym

I asked around at a few places and the lowest I could find at a place that looked pretty good was 13,500 bhat for 1 month. This was at Muay Thai House. It was clean, spacious and right in the middle of the street so close to everything that I needed. They clean everyday, have a laundry service so you just leave your clothes in the wash basket outside your door and pick it up again usually the same day around 6pm! Just like living back at home…You also get a TV, attached bathroom, really good air conditioning and a swimming pool.

I have no complaints with Muay Thai House, I loved it there. Highly recommended. The only thing I would mention is that the walls to adjoining rooms are not all that thick so you have to hope that you don’t have noisy neighbours. In general, though, most people staying there are looking to train and not go out drinking to all hours of the night.

Lower Cost Accommodation

I decided that I wanted to lower my costs for the 2nd month so I went on the hunt. I found out that the Anchan Boutique Hotel have a hostel. It’s not like your conventional hostel, you get your own room, air-con, attached bathroom and access to use the pool at the main Anchan Hotel which is directly across the road. There is a desk, large LCD TV and large fridge. Everything you need to be comfortable. The rooms are basic and small, but I was only paying 10,000 bhat a month so that’s a big saving.

The only complaint I would have are that there were a lot of bugs and ants in the room. The door was night tight against the frame so they could get in and whatever material the building is made out of the ants love building their colonies inside it. Ants in your pants!

Note: this is not reflection on the actual Anchan hotel which is amazing, it was just way out of my price range at the time.

UPDATE: Since returning to Chalong after 2 weeks in Kuala Lumpur I moved into another place called Baan Khun Yui. It is rung by a lady called Yui who is really helpful and friendly. She has two places, one right at the end of the street called Bann Khun Yui 1 and another one slightly further up the road called, yes you guessed it, Bann Khun Yui 2! This is the cheapest place I stayed and really worth it. Large rooms, clean, shared kitchen, paid washing machine which is cheaper than giving your laundry to the shop and good sized beds, includes a large bathroom and air conditioning.

The Training

As I write this post this will be my 6th week of training. I signed up to 1 month at Tiger gym mainly because I was recommended to go there from a friend but also because I needed to in order to get a 3 month visa in Nepal. After that I did 1 week at Unit-27, followed by 1 week off for the full moon party and now I am back at a combination of Unit 27 a Yoga studio down the road and Tiger. Here is what I think about them all…

Tiger Muay Thai Gym

This place has so much potential. It’s been there the longest time out of all the gyms, around 12 years I believe. They have large facilities, lots of employees, many trainers and offer a selection of fighting and fitness classes. You can fo BJJ, Muay Thai, Krabi Kabong, Muay Boran, Western Boxing or stick to fitness classes such as body fit, running and hit the weights room.

Cost

The first thing to note is that on top of the advertised price is a 7% tax that they don’t tell you about. I assume this is because they turn over a large amount of money and therefore are liable for tax but I’m not sure.

The costs are roughly the same as most of the other gyms, if you exclude the 7% tax, perhaps a little higher than average in fact. You have mainly two choices. Do you want to do a fighting schedule or a fitness schedule. The difference per month is around £20, so you can have it all for a little less.

Tiger Muay Thai Boxing

When I first found out the cost I was amazed how expensive it was. £250 for a month!? I can pay £70 a month in central London for Gymbox which has all of the classes I get out here. But that’s the price, there are a lot more instructors and they are of a higher standard.

Quality

I have to say that I was not impressed by the level of teaching at Tiger. Having boxed for 2 years in London I knew how to throw punches and move around, but that was boxing, muay thai is different. I was expecting a full breakdown of how to stand, move my feet, kick, elbow, etc. It never happened. You are thrown into a beginner class which is 2 hours long with many trainers (almost a 1 to 1 ratio of trainers to students) and there is very little effort put into technique. I wanted technique, we all needed technique. We were beginners, flailing our arms and legs around with no clue how to effectively kick, elbow and knee.

The trainers have totally lost motivation. I’m not surprised, the classes follow the same format every single day. There is no variation in what you do, so it became boring very quickly. Not only that but in order to push yourself and learn more you need to mix it up. Sure, I definitely agree that you need to repeat the basics over and over but there is more than one way to repeat them.

My overall impresion was that Tiger is for a very touristy crowd who are coming there for 1-2 weeks, have never done much training so find it entertaining enough to learn a few things in that time. If you want to get some real tuition you need to take the 1 to 1 private sessions which cost a lot more. I now refer to Tiger as the jack of all trades, master of none gym. You can try out loads of different things there but never excel in any one.

Unit 27

I saw Unit 27 because it is on the same road as Tiger, just 100m up the road. It is a new facility and dedicated to conditioning, be it strength, speed, endurance or any other kind of conditioning. Total body conditioning is what they say I believe and I totally agree. I love this gym and it delivers.

Unit 27 training

Cost

The costs are not too disimilar to the other gyms on the road but in my experience the difference lies in their willingness to adapt to what you want to do. They are open to different plans that are not on their list of packages which are more suited to what you want to do. This really makes you feel appreciated and that your business counts.

Quality

I’ve trained a lot over the years, for various sports such as boxing, 10km runs, Ironman and just generally at many gyms so I feel that I’ve experienced a lot of coaching and workout plans. I can honestly say that what the guys are doing here is incredibly good. Everything has a justified reason as to why they are doing it and they explain it to you. The classes are very different, they have a focus and a goal in terms of what you are trying to achieve from that session. It’s great.

The level of change I have seen since training there is much larger compared to a much larger time when I was training at Tiger, mainly because it’s not just all cardio based. They use a lot of resistance training methods in order to build strength and power which drastically improves your physique and quickly. It’s a great fat burner, too, by the way.

Overall, if you want great conditioning which is varied, a lot of fun and gets results fast you should check out Unit 27. No question about it.

Yoga

The one class I loved at Tiger was the yoga session. The instructor at the time was called Jaroon and he was Thai. He had such enthusiasm for what he did and looked like he loved teaching it that you couldn’t help but feel motivated too. I was new to yoga but he got me hooked on it really. He changed it up, too, somedays doing power yoga, twisting and other times a more traditional type. But he always mixed it up and changed what we did to keep us engaged and also had various levels of each move for beginners to advanced.

It’s such a shame that I wasn’t able to go back for just this class but it was going to cost so much more for me to do that when compared to the place I started going to which was called the Little Yoga Room.

This place is run by a young woman called Becky who is English. It’s a small place around 2km away from Tiger so it was a good opportunity to run down there and get a little more exercise done in the process. Because it’s small there is a high chance that there will only be 1 or 2 people in the class. That’s great because you get a lot of attention. Becky is a great instructor, very relaxed and welcoming.

Where to Train in Phuket

It depends on what your goals are. If you want to burn fat and get in good shape then I would highly recommend Unit27 because that’s what they specialise in and you will get results if you continue going to their classes while sticking to a reasonably good diet. If you are after more muay thai, you should check out a few places before you commit to anything. There are loads of gyms around. Along the main road near to Tiger there is Dragon and Phuket Top Team that you should also try out. There are other places, too, all around the island.

UPDATE: I have since trained at another gym called Titan. The actual gym is two floors with a yoga studio on the top floor. It has more equipment when compared to any other gym area on the street in terms of traditional weight training style stuff. The place is not air conditioned. They also run classes which I have not been to yet but I am planning on going to one which is outdoors because they have a large obstacle course there which looks like a lot of fun.

If you want to try a bit of everything before you commit to one then Tiger is a good choice because you get a sample of everything. When you have made your mind up what you want to do you can tailor your training schedule to suit what you want to do.

Good luck and feel free to ask any questions that you might have in the comments below.

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On one of my first days down in Khao San Road I managed to have not such a big night out because I didn’t really like it down on that road and I was with a guy who I’d met along the street and I didn’t particularly want to hangout with after a little while. We were just very different so didn’t have that much in common to speak about, but sometimes it happens like that when you are travelling. So, I managed to get up at a decent time and head down to see some of the sights.

Wat Pho Temple

This was an amazing sight, with the reclining Buddha being the centre of the attraction. The number of buddhas around the complex was incredible, all decorated in different styles and colours. I got some really cool photos and I spent a lot of time playing around with my camera settings to capture them in different lights. It was fun.

Inside a Thai Temple - Wat Pho

I attempted to see the Grand Palace, too, but I wasn’t wearing trousers so they wouldn’t let me into the palace unfortunately. I will have to save that place for the next time I visit, which I surely will at one point or another.

This post is a little short because most of my time was filled up with drinking and debauchery so the cultural aspect of the city was a little lost on me…

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Thailand – Bangkok
June 182014

After being reasonably good in Nepal and not drinking too much, I knew that Bangkok was going to be a bit of a blowout. Not only because I was going to be staying back in hostels with a load of people who were probably only there to go out on the piss, but because it was going to be my last few days before I headed down to Phuket for a couple of months training. I didn’t realise just how much of a blow out it would be…

Old Friends

I got some news from one of my friends called Jim that he was going to be in Thailand, Bangkok, at the same times as me. I know Jim from my uni days and hadn’t seen him for a long time so I was looking forward to meeting up with him. He arrived around 3pm to find me still in bed with one of the worst hangovers I have had, and that was because of the night before…

The Night Before

After having already had one big night out down in Kho San Road area, I decided that it was time to get out of there because I didn’t like the area so much. It was full of aggressive looking people running around totally smashed with their shirts off. I was well informed to check out an area called Soi Sukhumvit. It’s a really long road with many areas to it, running for kilometres. I stayed around Soi 11 in a little hostel with my own room. It was a nice place and only £8 a night.

I had met a guy the night before the night before down in Khao San road so he came out to meet up before heading out. There were also some Northern lads staying in the hostel who wanted to go out so we all grouped together. First stop was Soi Cowboy.

Soi Cowboy

Soi Cowboy is right near to Soi Sukhumvit 11. It’s a red light area, well just a street really, with around 40 bars on it. They are all strip clubs where loads of expats go (some very old men there which is a little weird…) and tourists. It’s full of strippers who are also prostitutes. You buy a drink, go into the bar and watch them dance. Very much like any other strip club. However, if you want to chat with any of them you can buy them a drink (they all have numbers on them so you can choose easily…). Then, if you want to go home with one of them you pay the bar for them to leave and then agree on a price and head to a hotel for an hour or so. Anyway, I digress…

Clubs

There are many clubs around the area but first we went to a street called Soi 11. This has a club down the end of the road called Levels. We didn’t get in there because we didn’t have shoes and long trousers on. I think it’s a bit more of a smarter place to head out to. However, along the same street there are some roadside bars which are actually old VW camper vans that have been converted into bars. They look really cool and serve up a really strong cocktail.

There is another club which you have to go into the car park of a hotel to get into, called Climax. It’s on Soi 11 and I think it’s underneath the Ambassador hotel. It’s easy to see the signs and just ask anyone, they will know.

There is another area called RCA which I never went to but is supposed to be where more of the locals go to instead of the tourists who all hang around the main areas. If you don’t speak Thai apparently it’s more difficult to speak to anyone because a lot of people don’t speak English.

The Morning After

So, after lots of shots and drinking cocktails from the VW camper vans we made our way to Climax but unfortunately it was an anti-climax. Not many people inside and luckily one of the guys was allowed to go inside and check how busy it was. We made our way over to Insanity club and stayed there until around 5am…It was a long night and one that took me some time to recover from.

The Next Night

So, as Jim arrived I was still feeling sick and couldn’t go out of the room because the heat was causing me all kinds of problems. It mainly made me feel sick. Jim came to the rescue and managed to get me a croissant and drink, coupled with 3 more hours in bed and I was ready to go again, albeit a little more slowly this time, or so I thought.

Again, we headed out to the main streets with the outdoor VW camper van bars on and started immediately with a long island ice tea. Start as you mean to go on, they say. So we did…After dinner we continued and ended up back in Insanity club which I had been to the night before. After that we went to another club but I can’t remember the name of that one. We ended up getting home around 7am the next morning. Jim needed to leave around 8am and I needed to leave around 10am, both of us having to catch flights.

It was great to catch up with Jim and I had a big 4 nights in Bangkok. Next it was time to head to train down in Phuket, which is where I was flying to with a massive hangover, unable to eat or drink through fear of being sick. Great start to the training week! I resorted to tucking into my stable food source when I feel bad, which is a croissant. I love em!

I’d recommend checking out this site: http://www.bangkok.com/sukhumvit/nightlife.htm for some decent info on places to visit while in Bangkok.

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The Road to Muktinath
June 182014

One of my aims when arriving in Nepal was to do some mountain riding up into the Himalayas so when I arrived in Pokhara I started asking around for somewhere not too far away which would be a good ride. The unanimous answer was always a place called “Muktinath”. Muktinath is within the Annapurna Conservation Area and around 180km ride from Pokhara. It doesn’t sound like a lot but as I was about to find out, it took a long time…

Group Riding

I mentioned in a previous post that I had ridden in something called The Poker Run from Kathmandu to Pokhara and I found out when I was signing up for the event that some of the guys who run it were planning on a ride up to Muktinath the day after the event finished in Pokhara so they invited me to join them, which turned out to be a major blessing.

The Permits

As a foreigner I needed two permits. One was called TIMS and the other was for the Annapurna Conservation Area. In total, as at April 2014, the permits cost a total of $40 and were easy to get in Pokhara. The hotel sorted them out for me but I think I could have got them cheaper directly from one of the travel agencies around the area. You needed 2 x passport photos and that’s it.

The Ride

We set out from Pokhara on the 15th April with the aim of getting to a place called Jomsom on the first day, which would allow us to reach Muktinath and back to Jomsom on the 2nd day, before heading home on the 3rd day. That was the plan, anyway, but things don’t always go according to plan…Especially not when there are 5 people on motorbikes, practically riding off road on bikes which are big, heavy and built for only on-road!

Road to Muktinath

Winding road to Muktinath

The road from Pokhara for the first 70km is nice winding so you can cruise along at 60-80kph. After that, at a place called Beni, things change quickly. The road becomes less road and more dirt track and starts to climb quickly at times. The road has large rocks all over it, wedged into the ground forming sharp edges which you don’t want to ride over but sometime can’t avoid.

The Breakdown

We made it quite a way up the road, through some tough conditions and then we had a problem. Saqil’s bike wouldn’t work properly and continually stopped. In the end we spent around 3-4 hours attempting to fix it and using a small number of tools to do the job. We continued to make progress albeit very slowly until finally the bike gave up completely and was not ridable.

In the distance we saw a bus coming towards us. It’s hard to understand just exactly how a bus service operates between the towns up there along that road but they do. The bus was empty and we needed to get the bike to the next town so after removing some of the parts from the bike we managed to fit it, along with Saqil, into the bus.

Night Rider

By this time it was dark so the other 3 of us continued along on our bikes following the bus but a way behind because we had stopped

Night Rider Breakdown

Catching a ride…

for a beer in a local, little stopover place. It was hard riding, and that wasn’t because of the beer! I couldn’t see too far ahead as there was zero light apart from my headlamp. I had times where I was having to put both feet on the ground and pull away up the hill in first gear in order to make it up the hill. It was really steep!

I got completely stuck in one area where the ground was just a mud pit but I hadn’t seen just how bad it was because it was dark and I was the first one riding up the hill. Still, we managed to get outselves out of that with some pushing and made our way up to a place called Lette where we stopped at a place that Saqil’s good friend ran with his family. It was a really nice hotel and restaurant so it was very comfortable to stay there.

Muktinath

The next morning we organised another bike for Saqil from another of his friends, it was an off-road bike and much better suited to the roads that we were riding on. After that we set off to Muktinath with the aim of coming back the same day to Lette. However, with all the photo taking and stops for food and drink we ended up getting to Muktinath pretty late, so we decided to stay the night near to Muktinath. It was a good job really because at around 5.30pm it started raining and we found ourselves a place to stay for the night. The hotel name was Dragon Hotel.

Muktinath Riding

Looking at the peaks

In Muktinath there is a temple so we visited that and also Bob Marley’s guest house. I don’t think it was officially his to be fair. The weather up there was very cold. We were only at 3,800m but I was shivering it was that cold. It didn’t help that my boots had become soaked from going through the water and stopping in it!

We stayed the night on some makeshift beds at the Dragon hotel because it was full. It turned out quite well actually because it only cost 200 for the night each and the beds were warm and comfortable, albeit all of us sleeping in the living area, but it was a large one. The hotel was near a place called Kagbeni.

Send it Packing

The next morning we awoke to some amazing views because the clouds had cleared and it was a clear blue sky with perfect sunshine and high mountains surrounding us. It was really nice to be there and I kind of wished that I didn’t have to leave that morning. I would like to have stayed a while longer, but I know that I will be going back that’s for sure, but next time on an off-road bike!

When we reached Lette where we had left Saqil’s bike we managed to organise a truck to deliver his bike back to Pokhara to a place called Bullet Basecamp which is where a mechanic called Raju works and he knows his stuff about Enfields.

We made our own way back to Pokhara which took a total of 14 hours which included a few stops along the way. A long ride but definitely an amazing trip and I met some great people along the way, including: Manish, Saqil, Anew, Hec Tor, Gatty, Sonam.

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I was scanning through Facebook one day and I saw a post from a girl that I had met in Palolem, Goa. She put up an amazing photo from sunrise where the mist was in the valleys and she was staying in a place high above the clouds. The place was called Nagarkot and I immediately wanted to go there.

Into the Hills

I looked up where it was and it turned out to be very close to Kathmandu, just 30km away. I was planning on visiting for a Thai visa anyway so I made plans to spend a couple of nights up there.

The ride out was good. Along the highway which is newly built from Kathmandu to Bhaktapur and then a turning up towards Nagarkot and out into the winding, country roads. I really enjoy riding along those kinds of roads with their twists and turns as you make your way up high into the mountains.

Accommodation

I was going to stay in a place called something like “hotel at the edge of the universe” because two friends recommended it but when I got there the person running it was moody and not friendly at all so I didn’t bother staying. I went back down to a small junction where there was a young lad who had tried to get my attention on the way up. He took me to a place called Hotel Greenland where I ended up staying for 2 nights.

I had a really large room, double bed and a massive balcony which looked out over the valley. It was a little run-down inside but was still good enough. The staff were very nice, friendly and helpful.

Restaurants

I went for a walk around to a place nearby which was another hotel. I think it was called Hotel Himalaya Villa. The place had recently been refurbished and was also having a new block built to accommodate more people. The design of the place and decoration was very well done, with comfortable cream, material chairs, dark wooden tables and an exposed brick finish on the walls.

I would definitely stay there if I was to go back. I ate breakfast and dinner there a couple of times and got talking to one of the waiters who worked there. He was a young guy, 21 years old, and worked there 7 days a week from morning to night in the restaurant. He had 7 people living in his home – his Mum and brothers and sisters – but no father because he had died some 8 years earlier fighting in the army.

This guy was really friendly, happy and smiling all the time. I eventually got to ask him how much he got paid and it was 5,000 NPR a month which worked out at the time to be around £35 a month! It’s incredible to think that someone can survive on that little. He wanted to go back to school and get more education in business to be able to get a better job but he couldn’t afford not to work and didn’t have any spare time because working meant working every day of the year from early morning until late night. I gave him 1,000 rupees when I left and asked him to put it towards his college fund.

Trekkers

I met a girl staying in my hotel called Nitzan. It’s the 2nd person called Nitzan that I now know and they are both from Israel. It seemed funny at the time that I had met someone else with such a seemingly unusual name but I guess it’s like meeting two people from England called Rob.

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I went to Kathmandu from Pokhara for one reason only, to get my Thai visa. I had researched it enough and found out that I could get a 2 month tourist visa which would mean I wouldn’t have to do any visa runs when I was training at Tiger gym in Phuket. When I arrived at the Thai Embassy with just 15 mins to spare before it closed I was a little surprised to find it closed. Then I found out that it was a public holiday so that as well as the bank was closed!

Thai Visa Troubles

I went back the next day with all the paperwork and my cheque (which has to be issued from the Bank of Kathmandu), ready to get my visa. After speaking with the staff at the embassy, they told me that I could not longer get that Visa. After a little discussion, I told them that I was going to Thailand to train at a kick boxing camp and they said that I could get a non-tourist visa for 90 days!

After a lot of running back and forth between the Embassy, Tiger gym to get a confirmation letter and the Bank of Kathmandu I finally managed to get my 90 day visa just 1 days before I had to leave Kathmandu to head back up to Pokhara. Lucky!

Just a note to all those people who are taking the advice of the Thai Embassy believing that they can get a multi-entry 2 month visa from Kathmandu in Nepal. You can’t (at the time I tried, which was April 2014). They used to do it, but apparently the consul decided that those types of visas were not granted any longer and a normal, 30 day tourist visa should be obtained on arrival, even though on their own website it advises against this.

My advice would be to someone get a different type of visa if you can because having to do “visa runs” in Thailand is really annoying and adds expense.

Random Roads

One thing about travelling through places like Nepal and definitely India on any form of transport is that there is never a dull moment. Everything and everyone uses the road, from motor vehicles to animals, to children, to goat herders and everything in between. Guaranteed, you will see some of the most bizarre things while travelling along the road. Here is something I captured on video in Nepal:

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=891934645892&l=6711265348924198475

 

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Nepal – Pokhara
June 172014

I looked up whereabouts to stay in Pokhara before I left Butwal and it seemed that all of the good places were around the Lakeside. This looked like a pleasant area to stay in so I headed that way.

Mountain Riding Without Brakes

Approximately 1,500km before I arrived in Pokhara I had a brake problem. I had gone to the mechanic because I had a an annoying rattle on my bike. It later turned out that it was actually the mudguard rubbing against my tyre but before we found that out the mechanic had the front wheel off and was checking the brake pads. In fairness they were very low and needed changing so he changed them.

When testing out the brakes after that the spring which sits inside the brake housing broke, too. This meant that there was no pressure when applying the brake lever so I had no brakes. It was fixed with a new spring and plastic part with a seal.

About 5kms away from Pokhara the same failure happened again, on my way down a mountain road. Not the best time for it to fail but I was able to stop without any issues. I road the rest of the way with just the back brake, slowly.

More Problems

After a failed attempt at getting my bike looked at by the mechanic when I arrived because he was closed, I attempted to take the bike to him the next morning but unfortunately the bike would not start. This had not happened before. The mechanic, Raju, came down to help me and managed to get it started but said that there looked to be some lack of compression which accounted for why it would not start.

At the workshop we opened up the cylinder and looked at the piston and cylinder. There was too much play between the piston and cylinder so I needed to get a new one, along with a load of other work that needed doing like the brakes, front forks which were leaking oil, mudguard welding because it had cracked, battery recharging, head clean and polish because the insides were really black where oil had been leaking through the valve oil seals. The total cost for all parts, cleaning and labour was going to be 30,000 Nepalese rupee which was around £160 at the time of writing.

Reminiscent of Goa

Pokhara down by the lakeside is very much a tourist hot spot. It’s full of people who are going trekking into the Annapurna region, paragliding from a nearby mountain called Saranghkot and some yoga enthusiasts. This mix of people means that every night of the week there are those who want to go out for eating and drinking. When you don’t have anything in particular to get up for in the morning it is very easy to go out each evening doing what comes easy – eating and drinking!

It reminds me of when I was in Goa as each night I would be going out drinking. However, Pokhara is a little more expensive because when I go to drink I am drinking from the bars and not back at the hotel. A cocktail like a long island ice tea costs around £3.50 and a beer around £2 per bottle.

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India – Munsyari
June 42014

I recently wrote about my way to Munsyari, so if you haven’t read that check it out first.

Upon arriving in Munsyari, I saw the first hotel up the top of the hill which looked liked somewhere I would like to stay but I didn’t go in because I wanted to see what else was around. Turning the next corner a guy came running out of a hotel and beckoned me over. The rates on the poster outside the hotel said rooms from 800 to 2,500 rupees but I asked the price and he said he could do one for 500 rupees a night so I went to have a look.

This place was called Vijay Mount View Resort. He showed me to the room and said they had wi-fi. I have learned not to take it on face value whatever someone at a hotel says and to check everything. He came up with an excuse that the wi-fi was down, but I insisted in seeing it. Eventually the manager came along after I had filled out the register and told me that they do not have wi-fi…

I said I was leaving to find another hotel and he said that no other hotel in Munsyari has wi-fi…I didn’t believe him so went up the road to check at the first, nice looking hotel. They had wi-fi, the manager was very nice and honest and let me use the wi-fi to check it was working. I said I’d be back so went to pick up my bag from the 1st Hotel.

I went straight to my room while telling the manager that they have wi-fi at another hotel. He tried to tell me to stay but I got my bags and left. He then tried to tell me that there was a 500 rupee entrance fee for the hotel! Many hoteliers that you come across are unscrupulous, liars and will tell you anything to make you part with your money. This was a particularly annoying situation because they had lied to me twice and now wanted me to pay. I just left and said “you are a joker!” Haha, but I wasn’t laughing, I was pissed off.

Milam Inn

The hotel I settled on was called Milam Inn. Milam in the name of a glacier located around 60km away which is an option for a trekking expedition from Munsyari. I could see the large Himalyan mountain range directly from my bedroom window which was very large. They had a restaurant and wi-fi so I was pretty much set….The only downside was that they didn’t have pancakes or any desserts, or maybe that was a blessing in disguise. It meant I have to walk into town to buy some biscuits, so at least I burned off some calories in doing the walk down and back up the steep hill.

Amenities in Munsyari

At the previous petrol station I had tried to fill up my tank but they were out of petrol so I couldn’t. I still had quite a lot of fuel but I like to play it safe, especially when out in the mountains with little help around. When I arrived in Munsyari I found out that there was no petrol station apart from the one I had just come through, 70km away. Also, there was no ATM so it was a good job I had brought a decent amount of money with me.

Things to do

I felt very relaxed up at the hotel in Munsyari and my days were spent by reading, writing, sitting outside, tinkering with my digital camera (which lead me to make some great finds in terms of settings which I should have known about a long time before) and practicing yoga for 45 minutes every morning.

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The next leg of my journey I knew was going to be tougher than the previous because I was heading high up into the mountains, along smaller roads where landslides were common as were blocked roads. However, I didn’t realise that I would be stuck up a mountain.

I planned to ride from Rishikesh to a place called Dungari. I had no idea if there were going to be any guest houses there but I had looked up online and seem many places located in remote locations so I assumed there would be, but I was wrong. I got to Dungari and rode straight through. Part of me was happy because the roads and riding conditions were amazing. There were few cars on the roads which wound through the mountainous areas along, mainly, smooth roads.

Part of me thought about trying to make it all the way to Munsyari which would have been 400km in total. I knew that my average speed was around 30kph so that would have taken all day. Unfortunately, the weather made the decision for me. I was passing up and over a mountain when I saw that the clouds were gathering. Very quickly the sky went from sunny (I had even taken my base layer off) to dark, cold and cloudy with rain threatening. Then the thunder started. Then the lightening in the distance.

I continued as I had no other choice. I had not seen any guest houses for a while so wanted to make it to the next larger town with some place to stay. I had no waterproof gear really, not to wear anyway. I had a leather jacket, jeans, thermal trousers underneath for warmth and some leather boots.

The Weather

I had to stop because it started snowing…I took cover under a tree thinking that it would stop soon, but instead it got worse. There was a halestorm, really heavy rain, snow, wind, thunder and lightening. It was not looking good as the cloud continued to remain overhead. It was 4pm when I stopped and I was waiting for 1 hour and there were no signs of it letting up.

I had used a waterproof cover for my bike but that had gathered heavy snow on it and come off so my main bag was getting wet. I didn’t see it happen because I was taking cover under a shelter nearby as the tree was not working too well. I had to make trips back and forth to check on the bike and then take shelter again. I didn’t want to ride the bike down there because I thought i would get more soaked. It’s funny in those situations where you have to make decisions, you’re cold and wet and tired and often the decisions are not what you would make if you were warm and clear headed.

I was a little worried as I was taking shelter under metal roofed sheds with high, metal poles next to them for electricity. Probably where the lightening would strike first? And I was at the top of a mountain. I was next to some houses and a military training base, but there was no sign of action from anywhere.

Waiting Game

After 1 hour I decided that I needed to make a go for it. I couldn’t use my phone properly because my hands were wet and so was the phone so the screen couldn’t interpret my finger swipes. I had no way of getting it dry because everything was wet. I made a dash back to the bike and folded the waterproof cover over my main bag, put on my helmet and gloves and rode off. The spray was ridiculous. It was coming up to my seat level at times as I went through large streams of water which were running off the mountain. I was limited to a max of 40kph which even then was a little too fast, so I stayed at most around 30kph.

I was happy to see that I was only 18km away from a place called Baijnath which I hoped had somewhere to stay for the night. It took me a while to get there and I was shaking uncontrollably when I arrived. I found the only place in town to stay and took a room for 800 rupees a night.

Concentration Dwindling

The guy at the guest house asked me to put the bike up next to the restaurant which was up a really steep and narrow ramp. I was cold, wet and not keen on doing it because I knew the ramp was too steep for the bike. I couldn’t get a good run up because the ramp was not even and too narrow to hit it at speed. I got as much speed as I thought possible and hit the ramp but it was no good, I gradually lost power and speed and got stuck half way up the ramp.

Leaning over to the left hand side against the wall while still keeping my right foot on the back brake and right hand on the front brake, I held the bike there perilously close to falling off the ramp. The guy just watched me telling me to “start the bike again”. It was not possible because I would have to kick start it with my right foot and the bike was slipping back if I did not use both brakes. I had to ask him twice to come nd help me…I don’t think he wanted to get his hair wet.

He pushed from behind while I started the bike and, while slipping the clutch and giving high revs, I managed to crawl the bike up the steep slope and onto the flat area.

Lakeside View

This was the name of the guest house. It was quite nice actually and the man running it was very helpful. He got me a heater because I wanted to try and dry out my clothes and boots. In the process of drying them I burned one pair of pants, a pair of shorts and my boots…The boots melted a bit and the clothes had brown, burn marks in straight lines where I had laid them across the heater. Still, the pants were only 80p so I could throw them away and that saved some washing!

Early Rise

I had noticed the night before that there was a lot of noise coming from nearby. Apparently there was a temple and they had some ceremony going on where people were singing and dancing. It stopped at around 10.30pm so that was good. Unforunately, it started again at around 5am…This was just music though and it was really loud. far too loud, so I had a really disturbed sleep.

I got up and packed my luggage which took a while as I had take everything out to dry it. Not everything was dry though still. That’s when I burned my clothes in an attempt to speed up the drying process.

The manager/owner helped me to load my bike and luckily I asked him the best way to Munsyari. I was going to use Google maps to head there and the route I had in mind was apparently a bad one. It was shorter but much harder with dodgy road conditions. So I opted for the route the manager suggested which was along main roads. The roads were actually amazingly smooth and well maintained and the ride was superb in the early morning sunshine.

My next stop was Munsyari which was at 2,290m above sea level. I was suprised how long I went and how close I got to Munsyari before I started to climb, which meant that it was going to be a steep ride. I was right. The road continued around switch back bends and traversed its way up the mountain for what seemed like infinity. It was really nice to ride along, if a little scary at times because there are no barriers and sheer drops off the sides of the cliffs.

At times I had to change down into 1st gear to make it around some of the sharp turns on the roads and in preparation of the poor surfaces which I had to go over, with running streams and cobbled paving made from loose stones where landslides had broken the road surface.

The views from the top of the mountain were something very special. There was snow on the ground and I could see where I had made my way up the roads though the valley and over the mountains. Munsyari was actually lower down than the peak, sitting in a small valley area with amazing views of the Himalaya mountain range in the distance.

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India – Rishikesh
May 302014

Rishikesh was on my original plan but I almost left it out because I was thinking about heading straight into the mountains to a place called Munsyari. It’s a good job I didn’t because Rishikesh was one of my favourite places to visit.

Karma

If there is one place that good karma is all around us, it’s Rishikesh. This is the home of many ashrams, yoga schools and the spiritually enlightened, hippie-types. The creative, musical and pot smokers flock here in flocks, high on life and looking to get higher as they embrace the dread lock hair, shoalss, and buddha looking robes. Regardless of how the people dressed, it was a very happy and peaceful place with good people and I liked it very much.

Two Side of the River

When I arrived I rode through the main town and uphill towards an area that looked much more peaceful and relaxed. It was, so I stopped in at one of the hotels and asked about prices and rooms. They only had 1 night available because the other nights were fully booked. They guy who was working there was Australian, so I really trusted him automatically. The room rate was 2,000 but he said he could do it for 1,500. I agreed and he said that all the hotels in the area were around the same cost.

I didn’t have anywhere to stay for the 2nd night so I rode around the other side of the river. There are two ways to get there. You can go across the bridge by foot or even by bike as a lot of people do, but they’re not supposed to, or you can ride around the road which is around 10km but an amazing ride.

I found a place called Hill Top Hotel and they were only charging 600 a night, after a little negotiation. They had a lovely roof top restaurant overlooking the large temples and a large area in the north of Rishikesh. I could tell that I would like it there and I was right.

Friendly People

In my first day there I met with a girl called Louise who was Swedish. I also got speaking to the hotel staff, Mani, Rahul and Pawan. They were really nice people and very friendly. Pawan even started showing me how to play the hand drum (I have no idea what the actual term for it is). He also had a digaree doo which he played.

I wanted to stay longer there and I did stay one more night than I had intended because I liked it so much. I would definitely go back there and stay longer and participate in some more yoga.

Yoga on the Roof

I didn’t fancy going to a proper yoga session because I didn’t have any kind of map to use and I was a little intimidated by how yoga-pro all the people there looked to me. But I found out that the guy at the hotel, Rahul, ran classes every morning. I think it was just a case of him doing the class anyway on the roof for personal reasons and he allowed others to join in for 200 rupees, so I did. It was nice to see how to do some of the poses, some of which I had done before and it was like a more advanced and structured stretching session.

I have been keeping it up almost everyday since then, which was around 1 week ago now. I really enjoy it and it makes me feel so much better for doing it in the morning when I wake up.

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India – New Delhi
May 302014

I had intended to miss Delhi, or just use it as a stopover point, because I did not want to visit another city. I’d seen enough of those over the past few months so I wanted to have more time in the mountains where the air is clean. The original plan had been to stay in Delhi for Holi festival because I had two friends living there. Unfortunately both of them were going to be away when I had planned to visit but then at the last minute Patrick said that he was still going to be there so I could come and stop with him.

I knew Patrick from Prison. That’s Prison Hostel in Goa and not real Prison, as I haven’t been there yet. He was living there for a couple of months because he was looking to get a job there but it hadn’t worked out so he was heading to China in a week or so. I made the decision to go and stop with him and celebrate Holi festival while I was there.

It was nice to be staying with someone who I knew and who knew the place better than I did. We went out quite a few nights to a place called Hauz Cauz which was about 100 rupees in a rickshaw away. I love that in India you can get anywhere in a rickshaw, meant both in terms of distance and through any kind of traffic, for very cheap. It’s effectively a motorbike with a wooden bench attached to the back. Cheap to run and maintain and small to fit through lots of gaps in the traffic.

Delhi Kitchen

While there we ordered food from the same place at least once a day! It was called Delhi Kitchen and they did great chicken rolls for 100 rupees. They delivered too, and were just around the corner so very convenient for speedy delivery. We ordered so often that in the 5 nights that I was there they got to know me and my usual order of butter keema parantha and chicken roll…If nothing else I am predictable.

Holi Festival

One of Patrick’s flat mates previously went to a university nearby and she knew that they would be celebrating Holi on the campus and it would be good fun so we decided to head down there for the event. We went down around 11am to find things in full flow already. There were people throwing paint at each other, rubbing it in their hair, on their faces and clothes. There were guys ripping each others shirts off and throwing people into the mud on the floor which had developed as a result of numerous Holi-ites (what I call people at the festival) throwing buckets of water over each other.

It was like nothing else I have ever seen before. I don’t think it would work in many countries because the rubbing of paint on each other would turn aggressive but not in India, everyone was going about it nicely and with no problems, even with people that they did not know. Another tradition of Holi is to drink a concoction called “Bhang”, at least that’s how I think you spell it. Essentially it’s marijuana mixed into a drink with some alcohol thrown in for fun. I didn’t particularly want to have much so I just had a couple of mouthfuls of someone else’s drink that was offered to me. I didn’t actually feel any effects to be honest which was probably a good thing. Patrick did feel something, but not for 2 hours by the time we were on our way home.

Bike Repairs

I had left my bike in the garage area at the bottom of the flats where Patrick was living and hadn’t looked at it for 5 days apart from to check it was still there. I packed my luggage ready to go and noticed that the indicator had been broken off. I assumed it was because cars had been driving in and out of the garage so hit it. However, after loading up and starting the bike, I noticed that the front tyre was flat! It wasn’t a slow puncture because I found a twig in the valve which means that someone intentionally let it down. Not particularly nice…Luckily Patrick knew a guy who was standing outside and he had a decent large, manual pump so I used that to pump the tyre up and it was fine for me until I got to another place to do it properly which I didn’t actually need to do.

Shopping

I wanted to buy a leather jacket and some warmer base layer style clothes before my journey up to higher altitudes because I knew it was going to be cold and I was already starting to feel it on the legs. We went to a place called Yashwant shopping centre because it was a leather market, among other materials. The competition was high among traders which was good for me because it meant that they went much lower on the prices that they were offering. I found one that I liked. It had harder leather than most of the others which was good for riding in and a warm lining. It was a green, grey colour which would hopefully not show the dirt as much as a black one would. Originally he was asking 7,000 for it but I managed to get it for 4,500. I think that was a pretty good deal as they seemed to go for around $150 when I looked online.

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I was very happy to arrive in Agra because I was looking forward to seeing the Taj Mahal again. I saw it for the first time about 5 years ago but we only had 1 day to see it, which was a Friday, but we found out when we arrived that it was closed on a Friday! So we had just a couple of hours to see it on the Saturday morning and it was overcast and cloudy.

Taj Mahal View

The Taj Mahal through my eyes

This time I was determined to spend some more time there and see it in a good light, both sunrise and sunset. I was not disappointed. On my first day there I went for a walk and found a friend of mine that I had first met in Goa. His name is Maxi. I’d seen him twice before, in both Hampi and Varkala so it was odd to see him walking down the street again, or maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised at all! Maxi was there with another guy I had already met called Nat and another guy I had not met before called Mikey.

Maxi and I went for a walk down to the river which runs behind the Taj Mahal. We were really close to it, took a few photos and had a look around. We then decided to walk further along the bank to some old ruins that we could see which were nearby. When we arrived we saw two kids standing around who offered to show us around…I was a little skeptical but we went along with it. I’m happy we did because they took us up on top of some ruins which had an amazing view of the Taj.

Sunrise @ The Taj

We all decided to meet up the next morning and head on over to see the Taj for sunrise. We met around 6.30am and made our way down to the entrance and joined the large crowd of people who had already started to line up in front of the gates. It’s a popular time, early in the morning.

Inside the Taj grounds it was just as I remembered it, beautiful and an amazing sight. The Taj itself is pristine white in colour which would be impressive anywhere in the world but is even more so in India because of the contrast to the pollution and dirt that is around outside of it. The grounds are incredibly well maintained.

Photography Skills

While wandering around the Taj and taking as many photos as my camera could store and my fingers could keep up with, we started to take some pics of us doing handstands and cartwheels, me and Mikey that is. We found a great position and snapped away. In the background we saw a man with two cameras – there are two options when someone has two cameras. He’s either a pro or has more money than sense. In this case the guy, called Goutam, had a bandanner on his head so I assumed, rightly so, that he was a pro!

He came over and asked if he could take some shots of us and we agreed. We spent the next 30 minutes taking hundreds of photos each with precisely sketched out with Goutam’s artists eye having final approval before shooting could commence. His camera, one of them anyway, had a fish eye lens and was a superb piece of kit. The quality and angles of the shots were far better than anything we could have accomplished even with the same kit at our disposal.

The Taj Mahal Handstand

We took many takes at getting a perfect handstand in front of the Taj with Nat and Maxi sitting in front of it and myself doing the handstand. I can do handstands but when there is added pressure it makes it more difficult. Not to mention the fact that there was a drop of a few feet right behind me and I was supposed to open my legs and look back at the camera while doing the handstand, so not much to ask for…

Goutam had a rapid fire, continuous shooting option on the camera which sounded more like a fully automatic machine gun when pressed rather than camera. The result was a flipbook style account of our actions, in a fish eye effect which captured the Taj in all its glistening white glory.

Accommodation

I couldn’t stay exactly where I had wanted to because I was not able to get my motorbike down the areas where I wanted to sleep. To their credit, the Indian government and police have done a good job around the Taj because they’ve made it a pedestrianized zone. The lack of car fumes and noisy horns is a blessing.

I stayed slightly further out from all the hustle and bustle near to the ticket office which is around 1km up the road from the Taj Mahal entrance in a place called Hotel Rishmi. It was a nice place and the staff were helpful and friendly. The room was pretty large and cost 700 rupees a night so I was happy with that. I’m not really into slumming it so I’m happy to pay up to 1,000 rupees (£10) a night but sometimes I have had to pay up to £25 a night in a larger city where I stayed in more business style hotels.

Great Views of the Taj Mahal

As I was saying earlier on, Maxi and I went for a walk down to the river and to some old buildings. To get to this spot you have to walk to the right hand side of the entrance to the Taj Mahal as you are looking at the gate. Continue along the path until you reach a fork in the road/path. Most people continue straight on, and that is one place to take some nice photos from, but if you stick right and walk for 5 mins or so it will take you into a small little village area.

Taj Mahal, Agra, view from village

Great views from old ruins in a small village close to the Taj

The little village is completely untouched by tourism. It seems as though it has completely avoided any interaction with it and even some of the people did not know who the name of the king was who had built the Taj Mahal. As you go through, there is a small wasteland area which you can walk across and then go towards as small ruin which is overgrown with weeds and grass. Upon closer inspection it looks as though it has some of the same designs that are on the Taj which made me wonder if it was a miniature one which they had tested out before creating the full scale one. Or maybe they had built it as the original mausoleum and then thought that it was a bit pathetic and built a proper one.

Across the Pond

Another good place to view the Taj from at sunset is across the river where there is a park. You have to drive around in a rickshaw to get there. One piece of advice is to not pay the 200 rupee entrance fee for the garden unless you actually want to see the garden beause you can walk down the side of the garden to the river and get just as good of a view from there for free.

View of Taj from across the water

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I left quite early to head on up to Lucknow. I had already found that there was a Royal Enfield dealership there so I wanted to get a few bits checked on the bike, little did I know that I would have to get some repair work done, too….

On my way out of the hotel in Varanasi I mentioned to the manager that I was heading to Lucknow and he commented that it was a hard ride because the road surfaces were not great so it would take quite a long time. With that in the back of my mind, I set off looking to make some good speed while the roads were clear early in the morning.

Bump, Skid, Bump

After a few hours on the road I was making good progress, then I was halted in my ride with a bump straight into the back of a 4×4 jeep. He was braking and had not brake lights. I broke hard, but because the bike is heavy, the brakes are not good and I noticed him late I did not have enough time to stop. I narrowly avoided my front wheel hitting his jeep but hit the headlamp against the rear lights, skidded a bit and then fell off.

A few people on bikes stopped and helped me up while the driver inspected any damage to his vehicle. There was none so he was not too bothered and drove off. I took stock of what had happened and checked myself and the bike over for damage. I was fine, just a bumped knee, small scrape on my knuckle (no gloves) and a bruised ego!

The bike was also pretty good apart from the broken headlamp. The brunt of the fall had been taken by the bars on the front of the bike, which acted like a roll bar protecting my leg from getting trapped and smashing any of the fragile parts on the bike. Result! Now it was time to visit for Enfield service centre in Lucknow that’s for sure.

Repairs

The cost of the headlamp was only 650 rupees (£6.50) and I got an upgrade; I added a small headlamp visor which you usually only get on the newer classic model of Royal Enfield. Every cloud and all that.

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India – Varanassi
April 232014

I was really looking forward to my trip to Varanasi because I had heard from many people that it was a great place to visit. Unfortunately, that was not my first impression of the city…

First and Last Day

On arrival I attempted to head towards the areas where I knew there were going to be some good hostels that I could meet people in. I rode into town and hit the first obstacle – traffic, and lots of it. After making my way through most of it, I hit my 2nd obstacle – road closures, most of them. I couldn’t get to the hostels by bike so I had no option but to look for another place. I found one pretty quickly but it wasn’t great. It was cheap though and had parking for my bike so it was safe.

Upon unloading my bike I noticed that I had something missing, it was the 3 litres of oil that I had put into my pannier of my bike. I had not tied it down so someone must have stolen it when I was stuck in traffic. Now I think back I did feel a bump which must have been someone taking it out. Bad first impression.

Sightseeing is Not Free

I decided not to worry too much about it as it was only oil after all and I had not got anything important missing. It was about £8 but nothing major. I tool a stroll down to the Ganges, through the pedestrian streets. It was pretty chaotic, and when I got down to the water there were no end of people trying to get me to have a shave! I couldn’t tell if they were giving me their opinion or wanting to get me to let them shave me, neither of which I appreciated…

I went to look at one of the ghats where there was a burning going on. The ghats are where people burn the bodies of the dead so that their ashes can go into the Ganges. On a side note, if you are ever to get into the Ganges, do it upstream of Varanasi…Make sure you don’t swallow any because they even throw dead cows into the river because the cow is holy and so is the river.

So, I was watching the burning and a guy was trying to tell me that he worked there and wanted to show me around just for a small donation for the old people’s home which is nearby. I didn’t want to so i said no, politely. He continued to insist that I take it, I said “no”. After some time of this he told me that I should leave because I was not getting to know the culture and reasons why people do the burnings in India. I thought it was a scam.

So I moved about 10 metres away and continued to watch. He came back again and quite aggressively asked me to leave so I did.

Moving on

After those two experiences and the fact that I couldn’t stay in a place that I wanted to, I decided to leave the next day and head along to Lucknow which was a stopover before I went to Agra.

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India – Kolkata
April 192014

Kolkata wasn’t high on my priority list to be honest, but because I had met Ishani & Marc in Goa and because I was heading over that way, it would have been rude not to pay a visit. I was also looking forward to seeing the city from a locals perspective.

Where to Stay

I decided to stay near where my friend lived, which was in Salt Lake City which is just on the outskirts of Calcutta. The town is relatively new, with lots of construction still ongoing. The roads are large and well deisgned for lots of people, so it makes life a little easier.

When I arrived at a guest house which was quite local to Ishani’s place, I was happy because the place was clean, looked nice and was in a nice area. Unfortunately, that’s where it ended. The staff were the worst I have met and made my stay really unpleasant, especially when I was ill and they continually hassled me ringing me to ask for payment of the room and the cleaners would not stop knocking until you answered it at 8am. The place was called Sushama and I left a horrible review on Trip Advisor.

Indian Hospitality

I met up with Ishani a lot and went to her house most days where she and her Mum would spoil me rotten by cooking food for me and generally looking after me really well. It was like being back home again, and I really appreciated the home comforts. When I was ill Ishani’s Mum, Bunty, made me food and helped find out which medicine I needed. Then Ishani brought it round to me and saw that I was OK by popping in several times a day. It was so thoughtful of them and I think this is a real indication of what Indian families are like; they really look after one another.

Around Town

When I wasn’t ill, I went to the city and looked around at places such as the Victoria Memorial which was really impressive with well

Kolkata at Night

Kolkata at Night with Bokeh

kept gardens to walk in. We got told off a few times for taking photos when we were not allowed but it seemed a little strict to me. I have no idea why they didn’t want people to take photos.

We had coconut water, rasgulla and went around some of the places where they sculpt religious statues which was really interesting and not something that I would have done myself because it was down some small alleyways in a part of town that I would not have been in. Great to have a local guide!

Kolkata Bike Zone

I was in desperate need of getting a bike service. In so many other places I had been told I didn’t need to change my oil and that it was fine but the bike had started to steadily decline in performance and felt not quite right. It was jerky when riding it and didn’t start first time like it used to. I was beginning to give up hope of finding a good mechanic but luckily I decided to head to a Royal Enfield specialist.

I hadn’t changed my engine oil in over 5,000km. I got the guys at Kolkata Bike Zone to do a full service and check everthing out on the bike. I ended up with a bill for 6,000 rupees (£60) but it was well worth it. I had lots of new parts and the bike felt like new afterwards. A completely different bike and the rear brakes were also much better because I had a new rear hub. I also got a new speedometer fitted because the odometer on mine was not working.

While there I met a guy called Anne. He organised tours around India, Bhutan and Nepal for foreign tourists. He really helped me out while I was at the service station making sure that everything was done properly. We chatted a lot and he even gave me some chain lubricant and a spare oil filter, which was really nice of him. He even took me to a place to buy oil which was a lot cheaper than other places. We went out for a Chinese meal and chatted about bikes and how he could get more visitors to his website which was really interesting because that is what I have been working on for the past 2 years.

Time to Depart

I had to leave my bike in Ishani’s garage because the hotel said that it was not safe leaving it outside of the hotel, which was another problem because they said that they had somewhere I could park my bike. I picked up my bike and then made my way to Varanasi. I knew that I was going to miss Kolkata because it had been like stopping at home for a week, albeit with 2 days of illness. 1 case of Delhi Belly in 3 months isn’t too bad I didn’t think!

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India – Puri
April 182014

I was considering skipping Puri altogether as I was a little bit fed up with some of the places I had been to and wanted to see a familiar face in Calcutta – I was head up that way to meet a friend of mine who I had met in Goa, a couple of months before. But, I’m really glad that I didn’t skip it because I really enjoyed my stay there.

I was searching around for a place with a good wi-fi connection and which wasn’t too expensive. I drove past many hotels, most of which did not have wi-fi. I then drove past a place called Z hotel. I didn’t think about going in because it was gated and they were closed and it looked very uninviting. However, after finding another hotel which was full they recommended I go there.

The hotel itself is a really old, mansion type place. I guess at one time or another it was owned by one person who lived there with servants also living and working there. It had high ceilings, large rooms and a very grand presence about it. I liked it immediately, I also liked the price (600 rupees a night) and that it had wi-fi with several large communal areas to sit in.

I stayed there for 3 nights in the end because I liked it so much, when I had only intended to stay for 1 or 2. I wish I could have stayed longer because the food was also amazing. The guy who worked there cooked everything fresh and he was a great cook. I ate there three times a day, with snacks in between and chai and my bill for two days came to only £13. Really cheap and some of the best food I have had.

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This was my second stop on my way up the coast to Kolkata. Previously I had been in Visakhapatnam and now I was arriving in Golapur-on-sea. The first thing that I noticed was how small it was. There was a road running parallel to the beach with a few guest houses dotted along it and a small town surrounding it. I asked around at a few places for somewhere to stay and the rates were very reasonable. About 400-1000 (£4-£10) rupees a night.

I was looking for somewhere with wi-fi but I could not find anywhere. Two of the hotels told me that the only place with it was the “Mayfair” hotel up the road so I decided to take a look. I was met by some large gates which had large lion sculptures outside, which should have been the first sign that it was out of my price range.

Luxury Residents

I had to leave my motorbike outside of the gates and walk up to the reception area. I was amazed at how luxurious the place was, like some exotic mansion that was for the super rich to stay at. Inside at the reception area I was given a hot, wet towel to wipe my face and hands with while I waited to be seen by the hotel staff. After a few minutes, they passed me the room rate sheet and soon thereafter I handed back the sheet, the used towel and left…The minimum rate was 10,000 rupees a night. That’s around £100. In India, that gets you so much. It’s incredibly expensive.

I decided that I would have to go without internet and stayed at a place for 500 rupees. It had a pigeon living in the first bathroom so I moved to another room. That had a pigeon living next to the air vent but it wasn’t much of a problem. I had a terrible night’s sleep because a had some kind of allergy to the dust in the room I think. Or something on the bed-sheets.

The lodge itself was actually quite quaint and the hotel manager was really nice, which is why I stayed there actually. I had been looking around for somewhere with wi-fi and asked him about his place. He was very helpful and friendly so when the Mayfair place didn’t work out I went back there. Good karma.

Around Golapur

I decided to take a look at the beach and sit around for a while in the sun so I parked my bike up and sat on the steps that lead down onto the beach. Within 5 minutes a guy came up to me and asked the usual “where are you from?” question. I answered him but didn’t engage in anymore talk because I didn’t feel like it and he turned away and told two other guys that I was from England. He then sat about 3 metres away from me to my right hand side.

His two friends came and sat right next to me on the left hand side. After a few minutes of not speaking, the guys on the left asked me where I was from and as I turned to talk to them the guy on my right, stealthily moved in closer to me. Unfortunately for him, and fortunately for me, it was not stealth enough and I noticed. I looked at him and laughed, while immediately getting up and jumping down off the steps. It was obvious that they were trying to pick pocket from my open topped bag, because the zip had broken, that I was wearing around the right hand side of my body.

That was not a particularly nice opening to the place so I went back and got an ice-cream and some food from a nearby restaurant.

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I hadn’t thought about heading into Nepal when I first bought my Royal Enfield Bullet in India, mainly because I had not even planned on buying a motorbike even when I arrived in India; it all happened spontaneously.

Researching Crossing the Nepalese border from India

After I make my mind up that I wanted to visit Nepal on the motorbike after touring around India, I started to do some research. I found various questions on forums and posts on blogs which discussed what you should do but I still was not 100% sure so I wanted to write out the details of what I did and how I did it. This is accurate as of the 26th March 2014.

Documents Required

  • 1 Passport photo
  • Dollars for Nepal visa fee – you can pay in other currencies so check the visa embassy website
  • Registration certificate for motorbike – Does NOT have to be in your name
  • Pollution certificate – Not sure if it’s compulsory but it’s only 100 rupees to get in India and looks good
  • Passport with Indian visa inside so you can get a stamp out
  • 1 Completed Nepalese (optional but nice to have it all filled out before you get there)

Border Crossing Process – Indian Side

I crossed the border at Bhimdatta, which takes you to Mahendranagar in Nepal as the first town. I had been up in the mountains in a

Riding in the mountains and across the border

Cruising on the open road

place called Munsyari which I would highly recommend if you are travelling around on your bike and have time. I rode from there to the border in one day, but it took me 11.5 hours and it was tough riding with only 2 x 5 min breaks for water, no food. The last 20km down to the border area or Banbassa are some of the best roads I have ridden on in India. They are smooth, very wide and when I came down on them around 3-4pm there were very few vehicles.

Anyway, I digress. I made my way to the border crossing at around 5.30pm. As you go over a bridge, turn left along a narrow part of a bridge and you will turn right at the end. There is a very small immigration office there with some people sitting outside at a desk. It’s not well signposted at all. They will take your passport and stamp it and give you a form to fill in for Nepal if you need one. That’s it, simple. Took me 10 mins.

Border Crossing Process – Nepalese Side

You have to ride about 1.5km after the Indian border crossing, where you cross a small bridge (again, there are no signs so ask) where you will come to a barrier and be asked to head into the immigration office. It’s a very small building and I totally missed it. There was no one there when I arrived at around 5.45pm.

I got my visa in 10 mins and changed up some money from dollars and Indian rupees into Nepalese rupees. Very quick and easy with no fuss. I then had to visit the customs office which was another very small building but on the other side of the barrier. There was no one there and I walked in, sat down and got my road tax for 1 month.

They only asked to see the registration certificate but I gave them the pollution certificate as well. The bike is not in my name and they didn’t ask any questions about it but I had a story ready. My story was that I had borrowed the bike from a friend, whose name is on the registration certificate and I was going to get a visa extension in Kathmandu and go back to India.

Roads from Mahendranagar to Pokhara via Butwal

I was expecting it to take me a while to get from the border crossing down to Butwal area, which I wanted to stay near to because I wanted to visit Lumbini before heading up to Pokhara. However, the roads were so amazing and clear that I got to Butwal in one day. It’s around 400km.

The roads go through large forests which have quite a few police checkpoints along them. It’s no problem when going through the checkpoints as most of the time the police have no questions to ask. They are mainly interested in checking lorries which have larger loads in them.

You can cruise along the roads at good speed. I was sitting at 80kph for most of the time apart from when I needed to stop or slow down for checkpoints and turns…There are very few cars along the road so it’s really nice to drive along this route. I hadn’t realised how much it hurts when a leaf hits you in the face at 80kph until this part of my journey. The leaves which were pretty hard because they were dry and falling from the trees were falling like rain from the sky so avoiding them was very difficult.

Lumbini

I stayed in Butwal and planned to go to Lumbini the next day. I stayed at a hotel called Sindoor and it was pretty good. The staff were very helpful, if a little on the lazy side when I first arrived. I like them and then helped me out, especially with getting my iphone fixed that I broke on the way to Lumbini when I dropped it on the floor after asking for directions.

Lumbini Development

The area itself is massive. I read that it’s 5km by 2km in size and it certainly seems that way. There are no signs though, so finding what you are looking for is very difficult. I was looking for the large golden temple. I spoke to a few people and they didn’t know where it was. I also spoke to a French guy who had been there for a day already and was staying inside of the park and he had not been able to find it either so I gave up and made my way back. On the way I had one more look and stumbled upon the World Peace Pagoda. It was an impressive building with very few people around because it was in the middle of the day and it was extra hot.

Google Maps

I used Google, as I usually do, to find out the route to get to Lumbini. It took me down some nasty roads which were very dusty and with no road surface at all. I was covered in dust and dirt by the time I arrived but on the plus side I had been riding through some small villages which were very nice and quiet.

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I was headed back to the coast as I made my way from Vijayawada to Visakhapatnam so I was expecting a little more beach time. Although as I have been up the coast on the Eastern side of the country I have been very reluctant to head out onto the beach and into the water for a few reasons. First, the beaches and water are really dirty. There is rubbish, broken glass and even human waste dumped on the beach…Second, most of the people are fully covered up in clothes so going there in just some swim shorts would make me look a little out of place. Third, I would get a lot of stares and people coming up and asking me questions and just staring at me which makes me feel a little uncomfortable. I now know what it must be like to be a girl who gets a lot of unwanted attention…

Beach Road

I made my way to the beach road because I had read in Lonely planet that it’s where all the main hotels are. How wrong they were. There was a large, expensive, 5* looking Novotel hotel which I didn’t want to stay in because it would have been too expensive. so I kept on riding and moved away slightly from the beach road as I thought there would be some cheaper places. I found one and stayed there. It was only 800 a night for a pretty decent room but there was a broken antenna on the wi-fi router so it didn’t really have internet unless you sat next to the router. There was a cheap little food stall there that sold noodles for only 90 rupees and delivered them to the room so that was a good bonus and kept the costs right down.

I visited a submarine which was docked on the beach front. It was a Russian submarine that had been bought by the Indian army in 1969 and used right up until 2001 when it had been decommissioned. The insides of those vessels are amazingly complex and condensed. The piping and cabling is all over the place and the sleeping quarters just as cramped. It would get very claustrophobic being down there for months at a time.

Ancient Ruins

Bavi Konda Site

I visited a site high up on the hillside called Bavi Konda Site. It was believed to be in use from around 300 BC until 300 AD by monks who lived and meditated there. It was only discovered fairly recently, and there area had not been fully excavated even when I was there so they were still uncovering areas and artifacts. It was very peaceful with no one else looking around at it while I was there.

Motorbike Mechanic

As I was unsuccessful in my previous attempt to get a service I asked the hotel manager who was very helpful and spoke excellent English. He seemed genuinely honest and told me about a few places, one of which he had not used but was the closest and was a Royal Enfield garage. With that in mind I visited the place that day in the afternoon. They guy appeared to be a mechanic and they have several Enfields outside, looking very shiny and ready for sale. It didn’t look as though there was much of a workshop, but I didn’t think much to it, but I should have read those early warning signs. I had actually thought that I’d found the first mechanic in India that kept a very clean and ultra tidy workshop, with no oil on the floor.

Drying FishAfter the supposed mechanic phoning his boss to come and look at the bike and see how much it would cost for a service, and the boss man taking my bike for a ride, he said that the full service would be 2,000 rupees. Having not had a proper service before I got him to lower the price to 1,800 and thought it would be a good job. At first they wanted me to leave the bike with them until the next day but I said that I needed it that evening and would bring it back in the morning and wait with it until the work was done.

The next morning I arrived and they seemed to want me to leave the bike with them and come back later on. That should ring alarm bells whenever they are not happy for you to wait with the bike and watch them work. After some talking they agreed to let me wait and said that they needed to go and get the bike cleaned fitst. I thought this strange because it would be best to clean it after the dirty work had been done. 1.5 hours later and he arrived back with a shiny bike but I suspected that nothing had been done.

He told me that they had aligned the back wheel, fixed the spoke and changed the bearings and then tightened the tappet screws. I knew that the spoke had been changed but the wheel did not look like it had been removed and the head screws needed tightening, which I asked them to do, so I suspected that they had not changed anything inside of the engine either.

I think he realised that I was not happy and asked me if I was…I told him that I was not and why I was not. He then gave me back 250 rupees out of the 1,000 advance I had given him because he realised he was in the wrong and it was daylight robbery. He also said that the engine oil didn’t need changing, which was nonsense, and he had the guy who said he was the mechanic overfill the engine oil which was very annoying. He also overfilled the brake fluid level just to make it look like they were actually doing something.

Overall, the service was really bad and kind of what I had come to expect from Indian mechanics. So, I left Visakhapatnam still in need of a service and losing hope that I would actually find one that could do a good job.

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India – Hyderabad
April 22014

I made my way up from a stopover in Tirupati, which turned into 2 nights because it was a really nice hotel with good wi-fi and I knew I had a long ride ahead to Hyderabad. I decided to try and make the 550km ride in one day. Well, I actually thought that I would not make it and started out a little later on in the morning because I was tired and got up late, but half way through the ride I decided that I would make a run for it.

The Ride

The ride started out like any other normal day. It started to get interesting when I was about 9 hours in because I had not ridden for that length of time before. I was starting to get tired, my arse was sore, my back ached and I was mentally drained. For the whole ride I only had 2 coconuts and some cashews for breakfast, so that probably didn’t help.

I was approaching Hyderabad as the sun set and got to experience what driving tired on the highway is like at night. It’s not a pleasant experience that’s for sure. There are just as many obstacles but this time it’s dark and a lot of the highways do not have lighting on them so it’s impossible to see what’s happening. I had to concentrate incredibly hard in order to avoid cars without lights and see vehicles in front of me while the car headlights coming the other way were on full beam. Not something that I will repeat again.

The Hotel

I arrived at a hotel that I thought was going to be reasonably priced but I couldn’t find it so I looked out for the nearest one I could find. I found one, but it was the most expensive one I have stayed at. 3,600 rupees a night. The room was nice and the hotel was very luxurious. I ate at the restaurant and the food was very good. Because I checked in at 8pm I had 24 hours for the room so I didn’t have to check out early the next day, which gave me time to find another cheaper place.

What you have to remember is that the cost of rooms in India is way cheaper than in England. So £30 a night, 3,000 rupees, is going to get you a very luxury room probably equivalent to a £150 a night room in England. If you stay in £10 a night rooms then you will get something decent still. This does vary from place to place and in the cities it is often more expensive but you can get a decent place for £6 when not in the major cities.

Bike Mechanic

I had been looking for a place to service my bike because it was in desperate need of a good service. I read up on the internet about a Charminar in Hyderabadplace that was in Hyderabad and decided to try to find it. I thought I had found it so asked the guy to do a service. I definitely wish that I hadn’t bothered. The garage was run by two old guys, probably 65 years old or more, and they were really struggling to hold bolts still when trying to screw them back in, were very clumbsy and could not move down around the bike like they needed to.

After watching him try to do various jobs on the bike I wanted to ask him to stop! He cross threaded the bolt which covers the gearbox next to the kick start so that was a problem which they then bodged up with some kind of sealant to hold the bolt cover on with.

He didn’t change the oil or air filter so I left it as it was because I didn’t want him to do anymore work on it. I walked away knowing that I still needed a service but thought that it could wait until I found another place, a better place, to get it done.

Hyderabad Sights

I visited the Charminar when I was there because it was one of the main attractions. It was a nice monument but completely surrounded by cars, buses, loads of vehicles and hundreds of people. The people were fine but the vehicles caused the worst pollution I have seen. You could see the fumes rising up from around the cars and people were walking through it all. It was horrible. I didn’t stay there long because it was so overcrowded and there was too much pollution so I made my way to Golkonda Fort.

Golkonda Fort

This was such an unexpected gem of a site. I had no idea what to expect when I arrived, but the drive in through the small streets and what still remained of the old outer fort wall, some 0.5km away from the main fort, should have given me some idea. The fort was huge, sitting high up on the hillside with 360 degree views of the surrounding city. In the near distance, you could still see the remains of the old fort walls which would have protected all of the people living inside of the walls. It was really impressive how large the area was.

Golkonda Panorama View

View from top of the Fort

Like a lot of sights in India, they are not too protective over what you do there and where you walk. In Europe, there would be lots of roped off areas and no touching of anything. Not in India. You can pretty much go wherever you like, climb over walls and touch whatever you want to. It’s great. It really allows you to experience the place as though you were really there without the reminder that you are not there with lots of notices, signs and ropes that prevent you from going where you want to go. The only downside is that the place is not as well kept as it could be, so there is a large amount of rubbish scattered around the place as well.

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India – Pondicherry
March 232014

I first knew of the place Pondicherry when I saw Michael Palin travel to it on one of his BBC documentaries. It looked like a strange place because there was a large French influence still there. The traffic police were dressed in very French looking uniforms and the buildings were also very French looking. I knew that I would visit there for that alone, and there was another one more reason.

Auroville

A friend of mine called Nitzan who I met in London through Couch Surfing lived in Auroville. That was the first time that I heard of it. In essence it is an attempt to bring many people together, regardless of faith, to work as one towards a common goal.

Auroville Matrimandir

The Matrimandir in Auroville

The Auroville site was first established in 1968 and has been growing ever since. The idea is that you live and work there, perhaps teaching children or working on one of the many projects that they have. The projects range from generating solar energy to finding cost effective and eco-friendly ways to build housing. The ideas get funding from outside sources.

Auroville Ideals

It is said that Auroville belongs to no one and that the land is there for the community to grow and develop together in harmony. I love the idea of it, but I can’t help thinking it’s a little too idealistic. When the whole World around you is using money to exchange goods and services, moving to a system where money is no longer in use kind of isolates you. For example, if you live and work in Auroville you get paid a “maintenance” each month. This should be enough for you to live day-to-day but doesn’t give you any real way to save money, so you are unable to travel or go on holiday or even buy a home of your own without extra funding from some other place.

The Matrimandir

At the heart of Auroville is the Matrimandir. It is a large, round shaped building which looks like a gold golf ball. Inside is a space which is to be used for concentration. It is not called meditating because Auroville is separated from any kind of belief system or religion. The idea is to be fully conscious and aware of oneself, so the thinking is that you go to the Matrimandir to concentrate.

I would love to have been inside of it but unfortunately the timing was bad. A friend of a friend, Kavitha, had met me the day before. Kavitha lives in Auroville and agreed to meet up and show me around. There was a chance that I could go to the Matrimandir with her and her Dad the next day but it was too late to add my name to the list of allowed guests. I’ll have to visit it next time I am in India.

Pleasant Inn

I stayed in a place called Pleasant Inn which was in the centre of Pondicherry, on a busy street. It was a new place, around 6 months old, so everything was incredibly clean, fresh and new. I liked it from the moment I entered. The staff were really friendly and helpful and the rooms were only 600 a night for a double bed with en-suite bathroom and cable TV.

I met a guy there called Ryan who was Vietnamese but had been living in Singapore for the past 12 years. He was a cool guy and we

Pondicherry Lighthouse

The Lighhouse on Pondicherry Beach

hung out together for a day until he had to leave to fly back to Singapore from Chennai. He told me about something called Vipassana which is like a meditation retreat in Malaysia. I have heard about it before from a few other people. It’s a 10 day silence, where no contact is allowed, both between the outside world and those in the retreat. There is to be no eye contact, and you meditate for 10 hours per day. Many people have described it as life changing. It was interesting to hear his account of what it was like and I think I am going to try it when I fly down to Malaysia.

Pondicherry Area

There are two parts to Pondicherry. The French area which is closest to the sea and then the normal area which starts after roughly 4-5 blocks inland. Walking around the French part is very nice and gives you a sense that you are not in India. There is a large park, small cafe shops which have a very European flavour to them and pastel coloured building down most streets.

If you are looking to buy something, anything, then this is the place to do it. There are so many shops here that you can get whatever you need. From clothes to jewelry. I’ve never seen so many jewelry stores in one place.

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India – Kodaikanal
March 162014

I decided at the last minute to head up to Kodaikanal because I had heard about it from some people a while before but hadn’t added it to the list of visiting places. I had really enjoyed visiting Munnar and Kodaikanal was supposed to be very similar but a little more less touristy.

Into the Hills

The drive up to Kodaikanal was similar to the one up to Munnar, but the roads were a little worse towards the top compared to Munnar. They were still a lot of fun though and I loved riding on them, weaving around the bends, switching from a sharp left to a sharp right turn very quickly. I noticed a large number of monkeys hanging out by the roadside, some of which had cans of Fanta in their hands! Another reason why people shouldn’t throw their rubbish on the floor without thinking about it; this is India.

Wi-fi Communication Problems

I stayed in a place called Kings Park. It seemed to be a nice place, pleasant enough and a decent sized room for 800 a night. I was glad that it had internet, too. I was only staying there because it had internet. The guy who worked there, and I think managed it, turned it off at 10.30pm while I was on a Skype call. I wasn’t particularly happy so I asked if he could switch it back on. As it turned out, he couldn’t/didn’t want to. After telling him that I needed to use the internet later on the next evening because I needed to work he said that “The wi-fi is not for customer use, only office use”. But he had told me the day before that it was for me to use and I would be charged 50 rupees a day for it. I agreed but if you are paying for a service you expect it to be working.

The conversation did not go well and it ended up with him kind of asking me to leave the next morning. The next day the tension between the two of us was palpable. I wasn’t going to say a word to him because I didn’t have anything good to say. I think he felt the same. I left and then wrote a review on Trip Advisor…

That’s one of the annoyances with the Indian culture in my experience. They will say anything to get you to do something even when it’s not true, such as that the place has wi-fi, there is such and such a service, etc. Then, when you want to use it, there is another reason why it’s not working. He also charged me 250 rupees for a late cancellation for the following day. I couldn’t be bothered to argue as it would have just got me even more annoyed and it’s only £2.50. This is India.

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India – Madurai
March 92014

Madurai was a place that I hadn’t read anything about, hadn’t planned to go to and wasn’t expecting much from. Fortunately I went there because it turned out to be a very cool place indeed and a place where I met some cool people.

Temple Town

I had a vague recollection of someone telling me that Madurai was a place where there was a great temple to see. If I’m honest, I’ve seen quite a lot of temples and I was a little templed out so that was not a great selling point for me. If that sounds familiar and you are not sure whether to visit Madurai, please do visit. Even if you don’t like temples, you should visit.

The temple complex is comprised of a large square. The north, south, east and west walls of this complex incorporate four large towers, around 20 stories high, with up to 2,000 individually carved sculptures of many Indian gods painted in many different colours. The result is incredible. It’s a sight the likes of which I have not seen before. They are well maintained, too, which is unlike most of the sacred places in India.

THe 4 walls and towers house a grounds which have a walkway around the perimeter of the walls. There is then a roofed complex which has active temples, what I can only describe as a swimming pool like structure, a museum and a place where people sell goods, of course…Inside one of the areas there is an elephant dressed in bells, but no whistle. The elephant keeper sites beside its leg counting the money, while the elephant rocks from side to side and accepts money from any visitor wanting a blessing. To get a blessing, you walk in front of the elephant and give it some change or a 10 rupee note. It takes the note in its trunk and passes it to the keeper, but before that it hits you over the head with its trunk. I say hit, but it’s more of a light brush really. I’m not sure how effective the blessing is but it’s definitely fun to do.

As the elephant lifts its trunk up to accept the money it opens the end of the trunk up to reveal what look like two nostrils. I guess it is the nose after all, so it makes sense, and it makes a kind of sucking sound…I was a little hesitant to put my hand too near it at first but went for it and the elephant took my money without any problems and dropped it straight off to the keeper.

Home Comforts

On my first day in town I was sitting outside of the temples and I met three people. An English guy called Ryan, an English girl called Giullia and an Australian girl but I don’t remember her name because she went home very soon after we met as she was feeling ill and had a flight to Delhi to catch the next day. I went along with Ryan and Giulia for the rest of the day and Ryan invited me to an event at the school he was volunteering at that evening. It was their 21st annual awards ceremony. He was due to make a speech and present an award. We went that evening, the three of us, and it was entertaining. We even got a free meal out of it so that was a bonus.

It was the following day that we met up again to go to the temple and see the elephant. That day I met a Japanese guy called Naoki at my hotel. He was staying there, too. I invited him along to the temple with us and he came along. After that temple Naoki wanted to head back to the hotel but myself and Ryan decided that we would go bowling, for a bit of a home comfort treat. We went to a local shopping centre where they had bowling, fast food, shops and arcades. We played a game of bowling and then used the arcades for an hour. It was good fun.

Volunteering

Ryan and Giulia were both volunteers in Madurai. They were doing it with a company called projects abroad. Ryan worked at the school for free and in return he got accommodation and food from a local family. It wasn’t free though, as he had to pay to do it. It was a 5 week program in total. Giulia was working for a local magazine because she was interested in journalism and also stayed with a local family. It sounded like they were having a great time, working in the week and then going away on weekend trips with people that they met who were also volunteering abroad.

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India – Kanyakumari
March 62014

Kanyakumari is the southern most point of mainland India. I wanted to go here because I am a man who likes to accomplish things, be it the fastest, strongest or, as in this case, the furthest. I think that Man has learned a great deal by pushing boundaries and achieving goals which to some may seem pointless. Goals such as climbing the highest mountain, reaching the north pole, etc, fall into that category. I think it’s a good thing to want to achieve such goals.

Where Oceans Meet

When I arrived I was expecting something a little more grandiose than what I found. There is little more than a small town at this Sunset in Kanyakumariwindswept part of India. Nestled between the main road and the shoreline are some hotels, some of which are very luxurious. There is one, I can’t remember the name, which has a 7th floor restaurant. I think it’s called something like sea shore view. It’s a very fancy place but is, apparently, the only place in town to have sea views from such a high vantage point for dinner. The views were great, the food very nice and the service very attentive.

Fine Dining

I had two strong beers, a channa masala, one butter nan and one aloo parotha and some ice-cream. I can honestly say that I have never eaten so much before in my life and I hope to never eat that much again. I felt physically sick with fullness, to the point where I was actually a little sick in my mouth…Fine dining in style.

Fine Dining Restaurant

Sitting on the 7th floor restaurant overlooking Kanyakumari

Accommodation

I stayed in a hotel called Tri Sea view, named because there are three seas which meet here; The Arabian, the Bay of Bengal and the Laccadive sea. It was a large hotel complex, with a swimming pool on the roof. I went to have a look but there was no one around. It amazes me how many plaes I go to in India where there are so many staff, around 5 in this case, doing absolutely nothing for the best part of the day. Labour is so cheap that they aren’t spending much by having the staff around doing nothing and it pays when they have a large number of guests I suppose.

Sunset Riding

Sun set RidingOne thing that I love about having the bike is freedom that it gives me to ride around wherever I want to. I can ride out on a road for sunset and go to places that no one else is and explore around the local area. In this case I went up the coast about 5km and rode through a small village area. I rode over a large bridge from which I could see the sun reflecting off the water and the silhouette of a church in the distance which looked like an artists impression, painted in water colour.

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India – Varkala
February 282014

I had heard mix reviews of Varkala, from it being a beach paradise to the place which has been overrun with tourists and gift shops. It turned out to be the latter, and quite a boring place I found.

The Cliff Top

As with all the places where tourists flock, there are a large number of restaurants and people trying to sell you something. Varkala is no exception to this. The cliff top, which is actually amazingly beautiful, is littered with shops, restaurants and bars. It’s a cliff that is eroding quite quickly actually so maybe they won’t all be there that much longer. Maybe that’s a blessing in disguise.

I didn’t actually make it down onto the beach because I was in a not so impressed mood about being there in general and was incredibly hot. I had only a few days ago been in the mountains and then to Alleppey which was cooler due to the wind around the waterways and having stayed indoors for a fair amount of time, so I was incredibly hot when I arrived. I didn’t really want to sit out on the beach and get cooked. One day I managed to find some decent wi-fi so I did some work and caught up on some emails.

Meet-up

I met up again with Mark, who I had met originally in Fort Cochin and travelled with to Munnar. He had stayed in Munnar with some Israeli guys because one of them was getting their bike sorted out. I went to the place that he was staying at, I think it was called Red House, near to the cliff top. I paid 500 a night for quite a nice, freshly built cottage. It’s called a cottage but it’s just a room really. This one was a pentagon shape, which was kind of unusual.

After just 2 nights at the place I decided that it was time to move on and make my way down to Kanyakumari, so I did so alone because Mark was waiting for the two Israeli guys to turn up but they were quite a way behind at the time.

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India – Munnar
February 272014

Munnar was not on my list of places to visit when I first arrived in India, but I am really glad that I added it. I heard several people speak about it along the way and after getting the bike it was a definite place that I wanted to see. The reason was simple. There were lots of winding roads, weaving their way through the beautiful tea plantations and up to a high, hill station at around 2,500m.

The Location

Munnar is around 130km inland from the West coast of India. I rode there from a place called Kochi, Fort Cochin to be precise. I rode out there with a guy I met called Mark who, I soon realised, I had already met when I was in Anjuna but just very briefly.

Cruising to Munnar

Cruising with Mark to Munnar

We rode out along normal roads to start with and then stopped for lunch along the way. After filling our stomachs we headed on out along some very nice, winding country roads which steadily started to climb up more steeply as we road further along the roads. The area was quite heavily forested with large, well established trees.

The roads were brilliant for riding along because they turned often and smoothly and the road surface was very smooth. We found ourselves high up in the tea plantations very quickly and we had arrived in Munnar.

Sunsets

After settling in at our place in a small hotel in the old area of Munnar, we headed up to the new part of Munnar. The area outside of the main town is called Old Munnar and the main area in town is new Munnar. There is not much to see there really, just a few shops, restaurants, travel agents and a petrol station. It also had the only bar in town.

Cruising at Sunet

Finding the perfect sunset in Munnar

We decided to try and watch sunset from a good vantage point so asked around for the best place to view it from.

Top Station

Probably the best riding I have done was up to Top Station in the Munnar Hills. It was 36km each way, through tea plantations, winding roads and beautiful scenery. I loved it so much that I did it two days in a row. The first day was with Mark, two Israeli guys we met (David and Yonni), an Australian guy called Ben and a Spanish girl called Rach.

Mark and I rode on our own bikes and the other 4 went on two other Enfields, so there were 4 Enfields in total. It was great to ride around in a group, cruising around Munnar through the beautiful scenery.

Sunrise Trek

The surrounding hills of Munnar seemed like the perfect place for a sunrise trek to the top of a nearby mountain and it just so happened

Sunrise Trekking

Yoga Headstands for sunrise in Munnar

that there was a guy who went by the name of R Mani who was willing to take us for a small fee…700 rupees per person, with breakfast included, but that didn’t work out in the end so he did con us a little bit!

We had to get up early, around 5am, and take a 12km auto rickshaw ride to the base of the mountain where we parked up and started our ascent. We made it up quite a way before the sun rose and we had an amazing

Sunrise Trek Summit

Jumping from the top of a Munnar Mountain

view across the other mountains while the sun was shining through the morning haze. We stopped and watched it rise while our guide and Leah, who was on the trek with me, did some morning yoga headstands.

We continued up the mountain and made it to the top an hour or so later. The views were great and it felt nice to be up high in the fresh air. We stopped for half and hour and then headed back down, after we had taken some photos, of course.

 

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India – Allepey
February 262014

Alleppey is one of the areas known for backwater tours, which is located on the south west coast of India. Tourist, both domestic and foreign, travel to this water side haven in Kerala to escape the hustle and bustle of the city life, only to be faced with similar conditions on the waterways.

The Houseboats

I have no idea when it started but over the past 10 years or so the number of people going to Kerala for a backwater excursion has certainly increased massively. Kollam, Alleppey and Cochin are all home to many house boats which will take you on anything from a day to multiday trip around the waterways. The boats are very impressive, some very large which must have 8-10 bedrooms with a dining area, kitchen and bathroom facilities, and some smaller but still having all the mod cons necessary to charge a good rate for a day outing.

Alleppey Canoeing

Open water and a canoe

From what I understand the backwater experience costs anything from 4,000 to 10,000 rupees per person (100 rupees to the pound) for 1 night on the water. That includes lunch, dinner and breakfast the next morning. It’s quite an expensive way to travel. I decided not to go ahead with the houseboat tour for a number of reasons, mainly because I was on my own and the cost of it. I instead decided to go on a different kind of backwater experience.

Canoeing

For 1,000 rupees (I think it could have got it much cheaper if I went directly to the canoe guy instead of through the hostel but I wasn’t to know) I had a full day of canoeing with one of India’s top stand up paddlers. His name was Rocha and he took us around the backwaters in his small, 3 man canoe. First up, we got a public ferry to his home in a small village which was about 45 minutes outside of Alleppey. The ferry ride was only 15 rupees each way and gave us a good taste of what a houseboat experience would be like. We saw hundreds of the houseboats while we were going along on the same routes as them.

I was on the trip with an Italian couple, Sofia and Jas. It was an early start, around 8am for the ferry, and then we started with breakfast at Rocha’s family home where his mother cooked us a fresh breakfast. After that we set out on the canoe.

We spent many hours canoeing through the small waterways that the large houseboats could not get down and we did not see one other tourist boat, or tourist, for the whole day. In fact, a lot of the time we just leisurely paddled past locals going about their daily routines

Canoe in small channels

Making our way through the swamps…

such as washing their clothes and preparing meals. It was very calm and relaxed.

Coconut Beer

We tried some coconut beer which I have to say was disgusting! I hated it, but Jas seemed to like it so he had most of it. It sat in the boat a lot of the time and Sofia had to open it from time to time in order to let the gases out. This was right behind my chair and every time she did it I felt like I was going to heave because of the putrid smell.

Accommodation

I stayed in a place called Prince’s Guest House. I came across it quite strangely. I was riding down one of the main streets near the town centre when a guy pulled alongside me on a scooter and asked if I was looking for a guest house. It’s quite obvious that I am because I have all of my belongings attached to the bike and I’m usually riding slowly looking for guest house signs. I was a little skeptical at fist but I decided to go with him because he showed me a picture of the guest house on his business card and I’m glad I did.

The house was very new, modern, had high speed wi-fi, had large rooms and was cheap. I paid 400 rupees a night for a double room with attached bathroom. The guys running it, Dinesh and Richad, were very nice. A third guy worked there, his name was Jins. All three of them were nice and I got to know them a lot better over the course of the three days that I stayed there because I stayed in quite a lot using the wi-fi, catching up on some work and chatting with them. I bought some snacks and some beers on a couple of the nights and they got some rum so we had some drinks out on the roof terrace.

I met a couple of French guys who were there, an older English couple, a young couple (the guy was called Mario) and a Japanese student called Soskue (Sol for short). I got on pretty well with Sol and we spent a little time together before he left the following day on his way back home to Japan.

Alcohol

Buying alcohol was a funny experience because I was there on the 1st Feb. The 1st of Feb, in some places at least but I’m not sure if it’s all of India, is a dry day. Dry meaning no alcohol. Apparently it’s to prevent the men from buying lots of alcohol with their pay packets….But it means you cannot get alcohol. The next day I saw lots of people queuing up outside the two liquor stores from around 2pm…The queues only got bigger in the evening. Men were buying alcohol, stashing it in their clothes so that you could not see it and making their way home or wherever to drink it and save some of it for another day.

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India – Fort Cochin
February 202014

Having set off from Thottada beach very early in the morning, around 6.30am, I was hopeful that I would reach my next destination of Fort Cochin in good time. It was a 270km ride, which appeared on the map to be quite straight forward…How wrong I was. 9 hours later and I finally arrived in Fort Cochin to a hostel called Vedanta Wake Up and to a very icy reception.

I had got lost a few times on the route, mainly because I’m not amazing at following routes and knowing what direction I should be traveling in, and partly because the road signs in India are almost non-existent at times. Or very misleading when they are present, usually obscured from view or so dirty with road dust and exhaust fumes that you can no longer see them. Still, even with my getting lost it was still a slow journey. 9 hours to cover 270km is 30kph average speed. I can do that on my road bike and I had bought a bullet so I was a little disappointed.

Now back to that icy reception. It wasn’t from the reception itself, but from a couple of guests who were staying there. I was on my way out to find some food and two guys were sitting outside talking and using the wi-fi. I said hello and didn’t get much recognition in return, so a few minutes later I started talking to one of the guys. His answers were usually of the “Yes” or “No” kind…Then he left!

The Area

Near to where I was staying were some old fishing nets which dated back to a long time ago (I’d love to say that I knew the date but I don’t without looking at Wikipedia, so you should do that if you are interested…). They were basically just a large net which gets dropped into the water and then hoisted back out again. The idea being that there would be a catch of fish in there. I didn’t see one working close up so can’t comment on how effective they are, but they look impressive, if a little medieval in construction.

Fortunately I did make some other friends who were staying at the hostel. One guy called Craig was a from the States and another guy called Vincent was from France. They were both very interesting guys who had done a lot of things in their lives and travelled a lot, so it was cool to hang out with them for a while.

Fort Cochin

Fort Cochin is a strange place. When I say strange I mean it in a good kind of strange way…It felt very unlike the other parts of India that I had visited before, a little like the Goa bubble. Fort Cochin is an island on its own and can be reached only via bridge and ferry crossings. The streets were well kept and had a very English feel to them, being tree lined in places and having old buildings with a lot of character.

Just riding around the place it felt very homely, with school children wearing smart uniforms with pigtails in the girls hair. It seemed like a very affluent area of India, and that was represented by the way that the people dressed and the kinds of shops and cleanliness of the area.

I spoke with an Indian man who was having breakfast at one of the street stalls. He was about 45, well dressed in a shirt and trousers and quite a serious looking man. Well built and definitely liked to eat a little…He was a self employed trader working in Fort Cochin. It was interesting to hear his account of what it is like to work in India. He was happy to make between 1,000 and 2,000 rupees a day, so something like £10 to £20. He said that he used to gamble a lot more on the markets but then got stung for a big loss. He also mentioned how the public sector workers worked less, from around 10am to 4.30pm, but I think this was exaggerated a little like most people who want to make a point do, but there still must be some truth in it.

Bikers

I was driving down one of the side streets when another Bullet approached from the opposite direction. It was a white guy, of a similar age, who also had panniers on his bike so he was travelling. We both stopped and he said hello. We got chatting and small things and I realised that I recognised him…I remembered that I had actually met him about 1 month before in Anjuna, Goa!

We went to get a beer and met an older couple who were from England. They were travelling across India by bike! Now that takes some doing. They were around 60 years old and obviously very adventurous to be taking on a challenge like that. We sat with them for an hour or so until we had to go and meet up with some other people that Mark had spoken to early on in the same bar.

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India – Thottada Beach
February 192014

I was making my way down the West coast of India, from Goa towards the southern most tip of India called Kanyakumari. I was riding my Royal Enfield so I had to make quite a few stops along the way. Some of them I already knew, places like Kollam and Alleppey which are tourist hotspots and in all the guide books. But they are very far from where I was at the time so I had to look for a stopover on the way. Thottada was one such place, but it’s funny how the intentional stop gaps can become something a little more…

I had spent the previous night in Malpe which is a fishing port a few hundred kilometers down from Goa, in the state of Karnatka. I stayed in a place called Hotel Karthik and it was quite bad. The heat in the room was unbearable. I lay there, fully naked with the fan on full power and I was still sweating. I woke up in the morning with a severe headache from dehydration and I left…

I had picked out Thottada by chance really, just through looking at a guide book and online. I decided to make a stop there and see what was there. It was supposed to be very idyllic.

Hidden Treasure

I had trouble finding the place at first. I was riding around what appeared to be a small town, down lots of back roads and parts of town where only locals lived. There didn’t appear to be any kind of tourist concentration like you see in Goa. I eventually found the beach road, which was down a very steep, dirt track leading almost to the beach. The road ran parallel to the beach, just 20 meters away.

I found a place called Shoreline, which looked more like someone’s home with a gated driveway, than it did a tourist resort. I was dirty, sweaty and tired after a long ride and a bad night’s sleep so I was very happy to find myself in one of the most tranquil settings that I have found so far in India.

The House

It was actually a house, converted into rooms with 4 double bedrooms and a small outhouse which housed another 1 bedroom. It was exceptionally well presented and clean. The bedroom I stayed in was spacious, clean and had cable TV. In total I was paying 2,000 rupees a night, which is around £21, for the bedroom and 3 meals a day. Pretty good for a place with a sea view and not many other tourists.

The Food

Shoreline had one cook and a house manager, both of whom stayed at the place. The food was freshly prepared every morning, lunch time and evening. It was some of the tastiest, freshest and delicious food that I have ate in India, which is part of the reason that a planned 1 night turned into 3…

The Area

Around the area there are many beaches and small villages that you can walk through if you want to explore a little. The beach is so quiet that I found myself on it alone one day at around 2.30pm. Something that you do not find on many beaches in Goa in my experience, at least not on the more popular ones. There are some hidden ones away which are less busy.

There is a small town a few kilometers away which is easy to get to with a bike but a bit of a hike up some hills if you want to walk it. You can find everything you need there, from food to ATMs.

The beach itself is around 6km south of Kannur, which is a larger town. It is easy to get to from there by auto-rickshaw.

The Staff

The staff at the Shoreline were amazing. They were very helpful and did everything they could to make the stay more enjoyable, from helping with local knowledge to preparing excellent food and adjusting the mealtimes when necessary.

The Experience

The fact that there were 3 other couples who intended to stay there for a whole month shows just how much people liked it. 2 of the couples had not planned to stay there long at all, they had wanted to explore some other beaches and areas but they just couldn’t leave…It was too comfortable and nice to leave it.

In the afternoons there it would quite often be just myself and the staff there. I would be sitting up in the dining area, doing some work or using my laptop, listening to the sounds of the sea and the birds. That it literally all there was. No noisy horns beeping or anyone trying to sell you anything. Just the beach and the ocean. A very beautiful place and one I would recommend anyone passing through that area should stop at, but be warned that you might never leave…

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India – Peaceful Patnem
February 102014

After some time in Hampi, and having liked some rest time from too many parties in Palolem, Goa, I decided that I would visit one of my friends who was staying in Patnem. Nathan was also there for the same reason; to get away from all of the parties.

Patnem is a very quiet beach compared to Palolem. There are a lot of couples and groups of people who want to get away from the often very crowded beach next door. It was a nice relaxing place. We stayed on the beach, in a hut just a little way back from the actual beach for 300 rupees each per night. We were sharing a room and Nathan was snoring so loudly that I didn’t think I would be able to stay there another night…So I got some ear plugs and all was OK.

I met a guy who worked there in the restaurant who was from the north of India. He was a really good guy and was a personal trainer and dance enthusiast. Break dancing he liked so he had good gymnastic skills and could also use nun-chucks!

It was here that I got introduced to Old Sailor which was the cheapest rum I have ever had….85 rupees, so the equivalent of 85 pence, for a 750ml bottle! Unbelievably cheap, but who knows about the quality of the product so we only had the one bottle…

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How to Buy A Royal Enfield Motorbike in India

When I originally thought about my trip to India one of the ideas I had was to buy a Royal Enfield Bullet and ride it across the country. I loved the idea because I love motor racing, motorbikes and cars. It was definitely what I would love doing. The freedom to go wherever you wanted to go and whenever you wanted to go there really appealed to me, so I did some research…

What I found changed my mind. I read on many forums that you need to be a motorbike mechanic, have very good knowledge about engines and take spare parts with you wherever you go. I read many posts about issues people had with their bikes and how expensive it was to fix. In short, everything I found out put me off the idea so I didn’t think about it anymore. Until I got to India, that was.

Why Buy an Enfield Bullet

I was resigned to the fact that I would be travelling around India by bus and train which, by the way, are excellent forms of travel in India. Particularly the train which is a very efficient way to get around when you take overnight sleepers, but that’s for another post. I met a guy in Anjuna who had a Royal Enfield 350. He had bought it in Chennai and ridden it 2,000km already. His version of events was way different to what I had read and heard about before.

He had only positive things to say about the experience and loved it. Any problems that he had were easily fixed by a mechanic in the nearest town and people were only too willing to help him when he needed it.

For those who have been to India they will know what the culture is like. It’s very much more community based so people are prepared to help one another, not like many places in Europe where people wouldn’t spit on you if you were on fire!

Searching for an Enfield

After being very inspired by this guy’s stories and experiences I decided to get a bike so I started my search. I looked at 5 or 6 bikes and each one of them was no good for one reason or another. Some were too old and seemed very likely to breakdown. They were hard to start, didn’t idle even when warmed up and seemed very temperamental which is not good when you are covering long distances. Others were new but the owners had their name on the paperwork so were not prepared to sell it to a foreign tourist, which brings me nicely onto my next point, paperwork.

Top Tips on Searching

  • Look around and don’t buy the first one you see
  • Always take a test ride
  • Try to see the bike getting started from cold, in other words before the owner has had a chance to warm up the engine
  • Ask around local people to see if they know someone selling a bike
  • Trust your instinct, always
  • Get a second opinion from a friend, even if they know nothing about bikes just see what they think and feel about it

The Paperwork

If you want to own a bike in India you are going to have to accept that you cannot get it in your name. Not unless you have a connection that most people don’t to get around the law or you have a very long visa. The government just don’t allow it. The downside to that is that you have to ride around with a bike that is not legally yours. But don’t worry, this is India, so there is always another solution…

Another downside is that you cannot buy a new one from a dealer and also anyone selling a newer bike whose name is on the paperwork will not sell it to you because they are the one responsible for any issues that arise from you riding the bike. If you get a speeding fine or the bike is in an accident you could just leave it there and the owner would have to pick up the pieces while you run off without a trace.

That’s also a positive about not being on the paperwork, no one is going to know who you are so you aren’t responsible for anything that happens. Hopefully you won’t need to worry if you are sensible on it.

So, what ends up happening is someone will buy the enfield new and have their name on the paperwork. They sell it but the next person does not change the name on the paperwork so when they come to sell it they do not care who buys it because they never officially owned it. And this is what you need to look for because it’s the only way really that you are going to be able to buy a bike.

Here is what you want in terms of paperwork:

Signed 29/30 forms – this allows an Indian national to register the bike in their name if they so wish when you sell it. This means that the bike holds more value if selling to a local. If selling to a foreigner this doesn’t matter too much as it’s of no concern to them but it helps you make a case for a higher price.

Registration Certificate (RC) – this is essential. You need this to prove who owns the bike and that it is legal, what the engine number, chassis number and registration plate are, etc. When stopped by the police you will want to show this to them.

Insurance – insurance, from what I could tell, is very cheap. I bought my bike with nearly 1 year left on the policy so I didn’t get it myself. It was 1,100 rupees for a year which was about £12 at the time of writing. Pretty cheap and good to show the cops if you get pulled over.

Road Tax – This is usually paid for at the beginning of the life of the bike and I believe that it lasts for 20 years so unless you are buying a really old bike it should still all be valid and paid for so nothing for you to worry about. Just check it out though, to see how much time is left on it.

Pollution under Control Certificate – this needs to be obtained in order to cross the border to Nepal. Cost was 100 rupees in 2014. If you have a word with them and say that you need it to pass then they should look after you, or pass them 200 instead of 100 and you shouldn’t have any issues…

If the paperwork you have states “hypothecated with XXX” where XXX is a bank then that means a loan was taken out to purchase the bike in the first place. You should make sure that there is some kind of information that shows the loan was repaid in full otherwise the resale value of the bike is much lower if selling to someone who knows what they are looking at.

International Driving License – You should really have one of these. It’s easy to get apparently, from your home country. You just apply for it and pay a little money. I didn’t have one and it cost me in other countries like Indonesia but it never caused a problem in India. Strictly speaking if you get pulled over by the Police you should have the international license.

Your Story to The Police

If you get pulled over by the Police you need to have your story straight. You need to say that you are BORROWING the bike, not renting, because rental bikes need to have yellow printed number plates on them and you shouldn’t be riding them too far out from the state that the bike is registered in. So you are borrowing it from a friend who is the owner. You are going to return it to them after a few weeks and you have all the paperwork. You do not have the number for the guy so he is not contactable by the police should they ask. If you are having any issues then a small bribe usually does the trick and you can get out of most situations by paying 200-500 rupees.

When you are riding along the road, if someone tries to stop you at any point and you can feasibly get away with not stopping by saying you didn’t see them just carry on as normal. Don’t speed off, just make it look like you didn’t notice them. The fewer questions the better and if you’re a foreigner any security or police will always try to get as much money out of you as possible. Best to not have that conversation or negotiation as you will always come off worse…

Price of a Royal Enfield in India

In 2014, when I was in India, the price of a royal enfield was very varied depending on where you purchased the bike from. I bought mine in Goa so it was expensive. I paid around $1,500 for a 2006 350cc Bullet. It was in great condition, came with all the paperwork, seemed like a good bike, had luggage racks, two helmets and some other bits and pieces.

I paid a little more than perhaps I should have but it seemed worth it. You can find them from 65,000 rupees up to 100,000 for similar bikes. Shop around and remember to negotiate as much as possible. Check the bike over, too. You don’t want a smoker or anything that looks run down with oil leaking out all over the place. You don’t need to be a mechanic to know that leaks, dents and signs of neglect are going to usually result in a lot of repair work.

350 vs 500 Royal Enfield

I would always go for a 500 now. They are harder to find and apparently harder to work on. Fewer of them means that there are fewer spare parts and the new parts are harder to get and cost more. But the power is worth it…The 35o is really under powered for such a heavy bike. It’s not much faster in acceleration than a scooter. In truth, it doesn’t matter that much because you don’t want to be bombing around fast as the roads are not made for it but it’s nice to have a little blast when it’s appropriate.

The main reason you want a 500 though is if you’re going up any mountains and hilly, hard terrain. I found that out the hard way on the route up to Muktinath. It was mountainous, hilly and hard work for the bike. At times it barely made it up the hills.

The Trip so Far

So far into my trip I have ridden approximately 1,700km and have had no major issues. When I bought the bike I found it on a website called www.quickr.in which is a classified ads website like Gumtree or Craigslist for India.

It was a couple who were selling the bike and they had ridden it down from Nepal to Palolem in Goa. The bike was clean, looked good, well maintained, new tyres, well serviced with all the receipts and all the paperwork mentioned above in order. The oil was clean and sufficiently topped up, it didn’t blow smoke out of the exhaust when started and revving the engine so it was all good. It also started first time with just a small kick of the kickstart and had a front disc brake when quite often the Enfields tend to have a drum brake on the front so less stopping power.

A Final Word on Buying an Enfield in India

I finish by saying to all of those negative people on the forums that put me off doing it that they are wrong. So wrong. To anyone who reads this who is thinking about buying a Royal Enfield in India and riding it around the country to go for it. Just remember a few things about buying the bike and get someone who knows a little bit about bikes to check it over with you if you are really not sure. Also, don’t get too caught up in the moment and buy on impulse. There are loads of bikes available to buy from all over India so you will always be able to find another one.

If you have any questions please drop me a message in the comments below and I will do my best to help you out. The beauty of buying a royal enfield in India is that there are no hard and fast rules. Everything is possible, it’s not like Europe where you have to have everything in order with loads of rules and paperwork sorted.

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India – Hampi
February 22014

After 2 months worth of partying, drinking and abusing the body it was time to start a new year and a new destination…That destination was Hampi and we left the confines of the Prison hostel in Anjuna, where we had been imprisoned for over 1 month. Well, I had but my friend Tim had been there for nearly 2 months. It was time to escape!

We left Prison hostel on the 3rd January on a sleeper bus, Hampi bound. A very rough and bumpy ride awaited us and fortunately we were sharing a double bed area between ourselves so we weren’t too cosy with complete strangers.

Hampi

There are two sides to Hampi. The dry side without any alcohol and the other side with alcohol. The dry side is home to many temples and sites, whereas the other side is home to a lot of travellers who do not want to go dry! Amongst the boulders you will find many people bouldering at sunrise when it is not too hot and again in the late afternoon just before sunset. There is a big community of people bouldering and you can hire shoes if you want to try it out.

It seems as though everyone who visits Hampi and stays for a longer period of time has dreadlocks…They are usually music playing, weed smoking types so every sunset is usually accompanied by some home-made music which is really quite nice. The jam sessions spill over into the bars and restaurants so you can easily find some live music every night of the week if you so wish.

Movie nights are another favourite past-time and the bars take it in turns to play movies each night of the week. There is only one place at that we found to have a good screen, albeit with not so great sound. The other places all have very small screens, like 15″ old style monitors which are not exactly good for watching anything on.

Temples

I did a bike tour from early in the morning, around 9.30am, from one of the main temples with a guy called Hanuman who was the guide. It was 350 rupees for a 4 hour tour. It was really good and the guide had loads of stories to tell about how all the gods came to be and some very interesting ideas about what people believe happened.

I would highly recommend getting a guide because they know so much and make it a lot more interesting. I saw so many people just looking around on their own with a rickshaw and they would come, look around and then leave almost straightaway because they did not know what they were looking at.

Accommodation

I stayed in a place called Gopi on the other side of the river, after having stayed for 2 nights on the dry side. The accommodation at Gopi was not great because the room we had stank due to a not so high wall surrounding the bathroom with an Indian style toilet which did not flush properly.

Royal Enfields

Tim and I hired out two Royal Enfields. A red one from 1975 and a black one from 1987. They were very difficult to ride because the gears did not work perfectly and they did not idle all the time without stopping. Starting them in the middle of the day when it was very hot meant that it was a hard workout! But the noise they made was amazing…Riding through the small town with the sound vibrating the walls and echoing throughout the area was great.

The guy was trying to sell both of them. The 1975, red one for 90,000 rupees and the 1987 black one for 70,000 rupees. The black one was quite nice but unfortunately it was bent. The front wheel was completely out of alignment with the back wheel so that was a no-go as it looked like it had been in an accident.

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India – Palolem Parties
December 312013

After 4 nights in Prison hostel I had become friends with a few guys here, and mostly two guys called Phill and Kiernan. Kiernan was heading on down to Palolem before hitting Cochin so I decided to go along with him for a few nights.

We got a taxi down from prison hostel to Palolem for about 2,500 rupees which wasn’t too bad for a 2.5 hour taxi ride and managed to get ourselves a beach front hut for 1,000 rupees a night so just £5 each. It was very basic, no hot water just a basic shower and sink which was built into thin wood. The best part was that they had a mosquito net and I suffer from massive amounts of mosquito bites so I was very happy to have one of those around.

To be fair there don’t appear to be as many mosquitos in Palolem as there are in Anjuna. I have days where I get bitten 10 or more times and other days where I don’t get bitten at all. I have no idea why but they seem to love me. Either that or I just react badly to the bites where other people are fine.

Silent Disco

I had never been to one before so I thought it was a good time to try it out. The silent discos have become popular because the government in Goa are trying to clamp down on late night parties and have imposed a curfew of 10pm for loud, outdoor music. Of course, the police are always open to being bribed so if the bar earns enough money they can usually pay off the police and carry on.

The silent disco had three DJs, each having a small area of the DJ booth and a colour below their area showing you which one is playing under which colour. Then, you can change channel on the headphones you are wearing to listen to each of them. The headphones have a colour on them so you can easily see which channel each person is listening to and how popular they are.

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India – Prison Hostel
December 312013

I was in Mumbai and I had not met many people because I was staying in a guest house in a private room and there was no communal area inside, but on one of my last days there I met a guy who had just come up from where I was headed, Goa. He told me about a place called Prison Hostel which was a really cool party place to stay at. Having stayed on my own for a few days I felt it was time to have a party, and that’s where it started…

Imprisoned

As I am writing this I am still in prison…I have been here for a total of 20 nights, with two short breaks; one away in the Jungle and the other to Mario’s guest house to save on costs. The prices have been hiked up over Xmas for everything, from scooter hire to accommodation. The scooter was originally only 200 rupees a day when I arrived and now some people are charging up to 1,000 a day! A room in Prison hostel was 400 rupees a night when I arrived and has steadily increased up to a peak of 2,500 for a night…

As a result of all the increased prices it seems to have scared away all of the travellers and they have been replaced by more tourist types, such as Russian and Indian holiday makers who are away for a week break over the Xmas and New Year period.

Festivals

I didn’t know about them before but I found out that there were to be two large music festivals on while I was here. One called Sunburn and the other called Supersonic. Sunburn was in Vagator next to a club called Hill Top. Tickets were pricey, at 4,800 for a day and 6,500 on the last day. It was a little too expensive for me so we looked at supersonic and it was much cheaper but further away, down in a place called Candolim.

One of the workers at the hostel, Mandy he was known by, had two VIP tickets for it so me and my friend Tim bought them for 3,000 each and they lasted for 3 days. Full power, 24 hour! I decided not to go on the last day so I sold my wristband to an American guy for 500 rupees and he went down with Tim.

There were DJs like Booka Shade, Ferry Corsten and Above and Beyond playing there so it was predominantly a trance music festival. I liked the music in the end as at first I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it.

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I am in Mumbai at the minute and I wanted to get a mobile phone SIM card so that I could use data roaming for Google maps and be contactable. These were bonus things but the main reason was that I needed an Indian mobile number in order to pre-book train tickets, but that’s a story for another post…

I thought I’d share my experience here so if anyone finds this post it might help them out. I was staying in Traveller’s Inn, in an area called Fort (apparently named so because it was where the British used have a large fort when it was under their control). I just walked down along the main road near the hostel and went into a small mobile phone shop.

Mobile Phone Deal

There were lots of posters on the walls which stated how many minutes you get for your money, how much data and whether it was 2g or 3g. I opted for a 3G data plan with no minutes or texts and this is what I paid:

127 rupees for 1GB of data, valid for 30 days. This is an amazing deal compared to UK deals. No contract, just a SIM card which you top up every 30 days for 127 rupees which at the time of writing was around £1.30. Can’t be bad. The SIM card itself cost me 399 rupees which is about £4.

The guy in the shop registered it for me and activated it. I didn’t need to show any form of ID like a passport, driving license or give them a passport photo. I was lead to believe that I would need to do that but they didn’t ask so I didn’t mention it. Result in the end and very much hassle free.

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Indian Train Ticket

It can be a lot of hassle buying a ticket in India for the train, especially if you are on a tight timeline while on holiday and from abroad. I did it 4 years ago without an India mobile number and the process is this:

  • Sign up at https://www.irctc.co.in/
  • Put a dummy mobile phone number in
  • Scan your passport and send a copy of it to care@irctc.co.in
  • Include your user ID in the email from when you signed up
  • They should allow you access using this email and send confirmation through

Advanced Booking

It’s usual for you to need to book many days, weeks or even months in advance if you are intending to travel on a busy route in peak season, say around Christmas for example. However, if you are a tourist they reserve some places especially which is really quite nice.

Beware Around Train Stations

A lot of con men hang around the train stations because it’s an easy area for them to con tourists. They will tell you all kinds of things and lead you around to places where you are told to hand money over for tickets but don’t believe them. Only pay money at one of the kiosks from someone who is working behind the desk otherwise there is no guarantee that they are who they say they are. Even if the person has ID they make fake ones, I know because I’ve been conned before and this is how they got me…

Mumbai Train Station

So, if you are looking to buy a ticket from CST in Mumbai, which is the main train station, you can go to the 1st floor in the “mainline” building and at window 52 you will find a place to buy tickets which is exclusively for tourists. You must take your passport with you and be ready to buy there and then. I bought a ticket to Goa for the next day and it was the last one in the 3A class of carriage. The cost was 925 rupees. I’ll let you know how it is…

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When I arrived at my hostel in India, Traveller’s Inn, the receptionist asked me if I wanted to go on a slum tour. I wasn’t sure at first as I didn’t know what to expect or even think that the people of the slum would be happy about it, but I went anyway and I’m really glad I did.

The Slums

Slum Tour Dharavi

Slum Tour Mumbai

Slum to me brings up images of dirty, poor and ill people living illegally in squalor. The tour guide was quick to point out that it’s only the illegal part of that description that is actually true. A slum is an area of land where people have built homes and live there but without permission to do so. He also told us that Dharavi produces around 600 million dollars worth of exported goods every year! Apparently the area is 1.75 square kilometers and is home to 1 million people.

It was certainly cramped when we arrived but didn’t seem to different to some other areas of Mumbai that I had visited before. They had roads, taxis there and shops. But that was the outside area, and we went deeper inside. The slum id divided into two main areas which are separated by a main road. On one side is the more reidential part and the other is the more industrial area. They have tried to keep them separate because the fumes from a lot of the working areas are toxic, like melting tin foil and aluminium, but that doesn’t seem to stop the workers from doing it for 18 hours a day without any kind of protection.

Types of Slum Areas

There are areas within the slum which are for a certain type of skill. For example, the pot making areas are all grouped together in one part and the recycling workers in another.

The religious belief of the people also determines where they live. There were riots in 1992 in which the hindu and muslim people fought one another so they all moved to their own areas to separate themselves. They live peacefully today, especially because the younger generation who have forgotten about the riots want to live together in peace, just as they socialise, go to school and live together.

Women Workers

Because it is mainly the men who go out to work while the women stay at home and look after the children, they have come up with jobs for them to do. They get delivered the materials to make poppadoms and then they roll them out and put them out to dry, then the trucks come to collect them again. I’m told that each woman can make around 6-7kg a day and they get paid around 20 rupees per kg.

Schooling

Apparently a law was passed in 1995 which said that all children have to go to school between the ages of 6 and 14 and that it is compulsory. Also, the people realise the value of education and being able to speak English so all of the classes apart from two are in English to help them learn.

The tour guides that I went with, called Magical Mumbai, were really good and the guide was really friendly and told us a lot about the area of the slum.

Slum Impressions

It’s amazing to see how creative the people have been with the space they have and how to maximise the use of that space. This is not only present in the work areas but also in the houses. They usually just have one floor space which is used for everything; sleeping at night, working in the day and cooking for mealtimes.

I believe that the Dharavi slum is actually a sign that they can work, be productive and help people who are in a difficult position. Whether this is representative of every slum I’m not so sure. You do hear of young children working in horrible conditions, drugs and criminal activities going on inside of the slums but this didn’t appear to be the case in this one.

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My flight out was booked and I was ready to go. The date for the flight was the 21st November 2013 on BA flight 0199, leaving Healthrow terminal 5 at 21:35. I was lucky enough to have gained enough air miles so as to upgrade my flight to business class. Boom!

The Lounge

Mumbai WeatherWhenever you have a business class ticket you get access to the lounges in terminal 5, the North and South lounges. Always use the south lounge wherever possible because it’s the biggest and has the most facilities, so I’ve been told. It was nice, massive and all free food and drink. Help yourself buffet style. I got there 5 hours before my flight to take advantage of this…

The alcohol was pour yourself, too, so there were bottles of Grey Goose vodka and whiskey just lying on the side for you to pick up and pour yourself a glass. Nice.

The Flight

The area you get for a seat is large with loads of legroom and a foot rest so you can lie the bed completely flat and make a bed. This is ideal if you are on an overnight flight and can deal with the turbulence…I hate turbulence so I felt sick for most of the flight! I had a nice meal and some alcohol, again there is as much as you want. The food quality is way higher and you get proper knives, forks, plates and glasses. Even the bread comes out warm…

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I’m an Ironman
October 302013

11 months after deciding to take on the Ironman UK triathlon, when I could not swim because I had a fear of putting my face in the water, I finally managed to complete the course in 12 hours 56 minutes. I was aiming for under 12 hours but I had no idea how hard it would be…

The journey I went through to get there was long and hard. There were many times when I did not want to train, especially on the cold and wet days when I needed to go out on the bike. Fortunately I managed to keep disciplined for most of the time and put in the hours I needed to.

All Play No Work

For the last month before the race on August 4th 2013, I was able to train full time because I finished my job. This gave me quite a large amount of time to organise myself and only go out when the weather was good on the bike. I was able to get 5 rides in which were over 150km so that was great preparation for the big day when I needed to ride 180km.

Swimmingly

The biggest achievement for me was the swim because of where I had started from. Not only did I have to learn how to put my face in the water and swim front crawl in the pool, I had to learn how to swim in open water and that is a completely different skill. It took so much effort to get there, so many times when I hated going to swim but I got there in the end.

The skills I have learned in the water will always be there now but I still feel nervous when I go swimming. I want to keep swimming when I can and now when I’m away on holiday I can swim in the sea. Simple things that people take for granted, such as jumping into the water and snorkeling I was not able to do before. Now I can so these are actually life changing skills. It might even be a life saving skill if I ever find myself lost at sea…

The Bike

I think I was all triathlon’d out after this because I only rode my bike once in the two months after my Ironman race! I sold it just a few weeks ago to someone who was planning on completing Ironman Wales in 2014 so hopefully it went to a good home. I want to take on some downhill mountain biking next.

Published

I wrote quite a lot about the Ironman experience because I felt that I had a lot to share from my experiences going from an absolute beginner to Ironman within a year. I managed to write 5 articles totally over 8,000 words. It is getting published on the Beginner Triathlete website starting in November so I will post up the links to the articles on here as they become available.

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I’ve always heard good things about New Zealand. About how peaceful and beautiful the country is and how the way of life there is much more relaxed and about quality of life rather than how much money you earn at work. I have an auntie and uncle who live there, along with a good friend who I used to work with, so I thought it would be a great place to visit and work in.

My idea was simple. Start of travelling in India, work my way up to Nepal, through Thailand and around SE Asia then down to Australia and New Zealand. The next mission was to find out what options I had for a visa, and that is where the journey really begins…

The Options

I wanted to have the longest visa possible because, well, because it’s always better to have the longest and biggest of everything. Because I was 30 years old I knew that to get a working holiday visa I had to apply before I was 31. I had two options:

  1. Apply for a 12 month visa where I could work for 12 months
  2. Apply for a 23 month visa where I could work for 12 months

I opted for option 2, obviously. After some more research I found out that I needed to get a medical, chest X-ray, blood tests and urine samples all done before they would accept me. A bit of a headache, especially as there are only a select few places that you can get it done nearby. No worries, I thought, it’ll just be a simple procedure and it was to a certain extent after I had paid the hefty £370 for it…

A Medical Abnormality

I have a stomach condition called ulcerative colitis. Just a mild form of it, which means that I take some medication but not a lot. The problem with that is the immigration people wanted to know how I was going to control it for the 23 months that I would be there. In order to do that they needed a report from a specialist gastroenterologist. This was going to cost a further £250!

I didn’t want to get that done because I knew that the specialist would say just because I have been able to control it up until this point doesn’t mean that I will be able to control it in the future. Gutted, pun intended.

Immigration Battle

So, I’d been battling back and forth with the non-human appearing immigration officer via email without much success. I was trying to say that if I could prove that I had no needed any hospital treatment in the last 5 years for this would that be sufficient to allow me a visa. The answer was definitely “NO”. Eventually I asked what other options I had and she said that I could just get a 12 month working holiday visa, not the 23 month one…I hadn’t realised it at the time but if you just wanted the 12 month working holiday visa you didn’t need the medical! Serves me right for being greedy and wanting the 23 month one.

Age Discrimination

The reason I applied for the 23 month one was because with the 12 month visa you can apply for an extension when it runs out if you are in New Zealand but you have to be under 30 for that and I was going to be over 30. That’s age discrimination if ever I’ve seen it.

Still, I have ended up with a 12 month working holiday visa which is great. I can come and go as much as I want in that time to New Zealand and work for a single company for up to 6 months but not more than that. As an added bonus I have 12 months to get there so it means I can travel around SE Asia before I head down that way. All worked out well in the end.

Moral of the Story

Don’t declare anything that you don’t need to. I was always taught that honesty is the best policy but to be honest with you I don’t think it necessarily is. Not in this case anyway. It was something I could have left off the application form and managed myself because I would not have asked for treatment for the case. So, if you are applying for a New Zealand working holiday visa just think about that before you make your application official.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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On the 15th June 2012, my friend and I decided to enter a triathlon race. Why? Because my friend wanted to get fit before his 30th birthday and he knew that I always like a physical challenge, so I accepted. There was one small problem: I couldn’t swim!

I say I couldn’t swim but that’s not totally true. I could tread water and swim breast stroke as long as my face never went in the water. Whenever I put my face in the water I would panic and breathe in through my nose…That’s not a good idea, by the way.

The Fear of Water

I had been scared of the water ever since I could remember. My memories of swimming as a child at school were dominated by being in the “baby” pool wearing bright orange arm bands and doing doggy paddle. After that compulsory episode I had never needed to swim or go underwater, apart from in the shower, so it didn’t seem like a problem.

Find a Good Coach

I knew that the journey to completing the swim of my first triathlon would be quite tough because I had tried to learn how to swim properly before. About 3 years earlier, I had decided that I should learn how to swim properly so I booked up a lesson to see a swim coach at a local pool. I arrived for my first lesson very nervous but looking forward to learning how to swim. I had, wrongly, assumed that I just needed to know how to swim to get over my water phobia.

To cut a long story short the message from the swim instructor was “You need to learn how to put your face in the water because I can’t teach you how to swim until you can. Go fill the sink with water and get used to putting your face under the water”, he said. Great, thanks for the support mate!

I was totally demoralized and resigned myself to the fact that maybe I was just not meant to swim. Perhaps I was too old to learn? Perhaps I was just not naturally good at this? Maybe I had some kind of issue where I could not control the water going up my nose? Every conceivable thought about why I couldn’t swim went through my mind. Needless to say I didn’t go back to see him.

Self Teaching Made Difficult

So that’s why I knew that learning to swim for this triathlon was not going to be easy, but I was older and a lot more confident so I thought I must be able to teach myself how to do it. I went online, to You Tube, and searched for videos and “How To’s” for swimming. Most of what I found I now know was far too advanced for someone starting at my level. Most of the videos assume a comfort in the water that I just didn’t have.

I took the advice of the unhelpful swim instructor and used my sink at home to practice putting my face under the water. It worked, to some extent. At first I just couldn’t do it. I would uncontrollably breathe in through my nose when my face went under the water, but with time and effort I was able to put my face under the water without breathing in through my nose.

Over time I built up my skills and before I knew it I could breathe out under water (still in the sink) through my mouth, breathe in through when turning my head to the side and repeat that. I was happy and confident that I could take these new found skills to the pool and be swimming in no time at all! I was wrong…

Sink vs Pool

Breathing out under the water in a swimming pool was totally different to doing it in the sink. For starters, I was completely in the water. It felt different, not like normal breathing. I would feel panicked and short of breath, like the feeling when someone throws a large bucket of freezing cold water over your head. I did not feel comfortable or relaxed at all.

Time was ticking by and I only had a couple of months until my triathlon so I decided to cut my losses and just do breast stroke with my head out of the water. I was beginning to really hate going to the pool because it made me feel nervous and helpless, neither of which are feelings to make you keep going back to do something. I know from other parts of my life that if something is hard to do, you don’t like it and it’s not easy to do it you will stop doing that thing and I didn’t want the same to happen with swimming.

I became very efficient at breast stroke with my head out of the water and could cover the required 750m in about 21 minutes. Not bad. Race day came and I got in the water and swam a 19:04 time for that 750m. I beat quite a few people who were doing front crawl actually….

Time for Change

The very next day I decided that I needed to learn how to swim properly as breast stroke with my head out of the water was so inefficient and not suitable for any distance over 750m. So I signed up to a lesson for that Tuesday. Tuesday 25th September to be precise, just 2 days after my first triathlon swim.

I had my lesson with a company called Swim for Tri and a lady called Keeley Bullock. It had taken me some time to select the right coach because I didn’t want the same experience as I had the time before that. I had been looking at a lot of websites to find out who was able to help someone with what can only be described as a water phobia. Keeley had ticked all the right boxes, having dealt with many aqua-phobics in the past.

The lesson went well. In truth it was less of a swimming lesson and more of a getting comfortable in the water kind of lesson. She was very understanding and made me feel completely at ease with no pressure about doing anything I really didn’t want to do. By the end of the first lesson I was able to put my face under the water and breathe out. Success! This was just the beginning…

Consistency is King

After that first lesson I went 5 times a week to the pool for the next 4 months. I taught myself how to swim and was making good progress, but it didn’t happen overnight. I built up gradually over those 4 months. I started by just putting my head in the water and practicing breathing out, then I walked along the bottom of the pool while holding a float, breathing in to the side and out in the water. The next step up was to kick while doing this, then kick still with the float but take a single arm stroke when I needed to breathe to the side.

It was slow, often painful progress. I can’t remember how many times I felt like I wanted to quit. Sometimes I would feel like I was making progress, others I would have a bad day and feel like I couldn’t do it anymore. It was so up and down in terms of how I was doing. But, I just had to look back a few weeks and see that I was actually making very good progress.

Eventually, I was able to swim. Or so I thought. I was so inefficient, tense and not comfortable in the water but they were ongoing issues I needed to deal with.

The Big Challenge

I should point out at this stage that just 4 weeks after my first proper swimming lesson with Swim for Tri I signed up for an altogether larger race. Ironman UK! For those not familiar with Ironman it is a triathlon, but a long one. 3.8km swim, 180km bike ride and a 42km (marathon) run. So, I had good motivation for learning how to swim properly. Not only that but I had to pay £400 to enter…Money is a good motivator!

A Milestone

On the 18th February 2013 I swam 2km in the indoor swimming pool in 58 minutes. I was amazed. Less than 5 months ago I hadn’t been able to put my face in the water. Now I could swim 2km with only 2 minutes rest in that whole time. Now that’s progress! I did it on this day because it was my 30th birthday and I wanted to have something to remember it by, instead of the usual going out and getting drunk. In addition to the swim, I did a 90km bike ride and a half marathon. In total it was a half ironman distance, just to see if I could do it and I could, but not without pain…

Half Measures

So, I was getting better at swimming but still had a long way to go until I could be confident in completing a 3.8km swim in August of 2013. I know from previous experience that the best way to achieve something is to have a target or a goal. So I signed up to a half Ironman distance triathlon in Mallorca. This involved a 1.9km sea swim. I had better get training, I thought…

I trained, and actually got some proper lessons this time around. I went to an endless swimming pool which is basically like a treadmill for swimmers. It’s a tank about 4 metres long and 2 metres wide. It has multiple cameras in it and a mirror so you can see yourself swimming – this is amazingly useful, too. The lessons I had were at Swim Canary Wharf with a guy called Ray Gibbs. He is an excellent instructor, with a waiting list of people to see him!

After months of training and a couple of lessons it was time to take on the swim in Mallorca. We went out a few days before the race to get some open water practice. I had never swum in open water doing front crawl before, let alone in the sea. I’m very glad that we did because dealing with salt water took a bit of getting used to. A successful swim in Mallorca saw me complete the 1.9km swim in 40 minutes. Progress, again.

I Get Knocked Down, But I Get up Again

After the relative success of the swim in Mallorca I felt ultra confident. Like I could take on any open water swimming event…So, I signed up to a 3km open water swim event near to London in a place called Windsor. It was to be a River Thames swim, but this meant very little to me at the time…

Upon arrival at the event, I saw that there could be a few problems. First, the water was very cold which means that it’s hard to get your breathing going properly. Second, the water was really murky and I had no experience in this kind of water which I found out made me panic…Thirdly, the current was so strong that if you needed to catch your breath and do breast stoke for a couple of minutes it would take you back downstream!

After 10 minutes and less than 200 metres swum, I got out along with two other people. One of which had been in there from the wave ahead of me and hadn’t swum more than 200 metres in 30 minutes…I didn’t feel so bad after all!

This really did knock my confidence massively. I was so worried that I couldn’t swim properly in murky, cold water and this is precisely the kind of water that I would be swimming in for my Ironman race. I needed to do something about this and quickly. So, the next day I signed up for 3 lessons in open water in Hyde Park in the Serpentine Lido to get more exposure to open water as I knew that was what I needed. I also went on my own after the first lesson. The lessons I had were again with Swim for Tri.

A Swimming  Test

3 weeks later, I had another triathlon race planned and guess where the swim was? In the River Thames! Great…This would be a great test for me to see if the 4 open water sessions had paid off. And, they had. I felt so much more comfortable in the open water and with people all around me.

The Common Factor

Floyd Mayweather’s mantra says it all: “Hard work. Dedication.” If you apply yourself, work hard and dedicate yourself to achieving a goal you will achieve it. Will it be easy? Definitely not. You will face many obstacles along the way, you will question yourself and your reasons for doing it many times during the process and perhaps be on the edge of quitting quite often. That’s OK, it’s all part of the process. Deal with it and move on. Accept that there will be ups and down.

Dealing With Failures

If you are feeling particularly down about your progress or something that has happened when you are working towards a goal the best thing to do is look back for motivation. Every so often you need to think about where you have come from. What have you achieved. For example, when I was having problems being able to swim further, and I was getting frustrated all I had to do is look back a few months and realise that I had made massive progress. I couldn’t even put my face in the water 3 months ago, I could tell myself. Look at me now, I can swim!

What’s the Message?

So, why am I telling you all of this? Because it’s an example of responding to failures. I couldn’t swim, so I went out and tried to learn. I hit a few hurdles along the way, it was uncomfortable, difficult, mentally very tough. I had to persist and try to stay motivated to overcome this problem in my life. But I made progress. And then when I thought I had made amazing progress (after Ironman 70.3 Mallorca and before my River Thames swim), I had another setback. But I didn’t give up. I responded to that failure and overcame it, proving that it’s all about how you respond to failures and obstacles in your life that matters.

When I write this you can tell what mind set I have because I’m describing these problems as failures…To me I see them that way. When I can’t do something I see it as a failing on my part, which doesn’t always make me feel great, but I know that I can overcome any failure if I want it bad enough.

I hope that by sharing this it will encourage people to take on any challenge knowing that they can complete it. You can definitely do anything you want to if you work hard enough and put time and effort into it. To steal the mantra of Ironman….“Anything is Possible”

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I was speaking to a friend of mine the other day who I was giving some advice to about training, health and fitness. I’ve been training for one event or another for so many years that I have managed to build up quite a bit of experience doing it. The thought occurred to me about why I was able to achieve many goals when some other people couldn’t many times before but I had never really come to any concrete conclusion. But it was in this conversation that my friend said to me:

“Remember, you’re very disciplined and stick to your commitments better than most.”

It really struck a chord with me because I have always been very self-disciplined and achieved a lot by being this way. Then I got to thinking about other environments and how they achieve success and two fundamental ideas it came back to where discipline and routine.

G.I. Joe

If you think about workplaces, the army, sports teams and pretty much any other organised group of people, the way they achieve great success is through discipline and routine. For example, you have to go to work from 9-5, Monday to Friday. Your football team trains twice a week, 7pm on Tuesday and Thursday. By sticking to this routine, results are achieved. People don’t just turn up when they feel like it and get good results.

Making Order our of Chaos

I’ve read many a psychology book which has suggested that the mind is, naturally, in a state of chaos and in order to achieve we need to give focus to our minds. If you’ve ever tried meditation you will know how many thoughts are rushing through your mind about all kinds of things, and trying to think of nothing is actually very difficult.

If our minds are naturally in a state of chaos, and our minds are in control of us, then we will be in a state of chaos if left unchecked. That’s why we need routine and discipline. We get that by setting targets, goals, achievable milestones, and rewards for doing something.

Self-Discipline & Routine

So, how do we become self-disciplined and have a good routine? Well, in my opinion, you first need a goal. Something that you want to work towards, a target. This could be a very basic goal, like earning enough money to live or it could be a self-improvement goal such as learning another language. Once you have a target you need to know how to get there, what resources you will need, what skills you will need to learn along the way, and perhaps some milestones along the route so that you know you are on the right track.

I think that the reason a lot of people fail is because they have a goal or target but no idea about how to get there. They fail to plan out what steps they need to take to achieve their goal. Then, the goal just seems to large and there is no motivation to accomplish it because it seems too big, too far away and too difficult. The trick is only to think about the main goal at the beginning and then focus on the steps to get there, one at a time.

Small Chunks

Let’s look at an example. Say I wanted to run a marathon in 6 months’ time and I had little running experience. I might think “oh, this marathon is long. 42km will take me hours and I can’t even run for 10 minutes. How am I going to complete a marathon?!” Well, the best way to approach it is to break it down to smaller chunks of achievements. So the first thing to do would be to map out a route from where you are now to where you want to be in 6 months time, usually working backwards. An example route could look something like this:

  • Today: See how far I can run
  • Today + 1 months: Run 10km
  • Today + 2 months: Run 15km
  • Today + 3 months: Run a 21km half marathon
  • Today + 4 months: Run 27km
  • Today + 5 months: Run 35km
  • Today + 6 months: Run a 42km marathon

So now I have monthly targets and I can say to myself that in 4 weeks time I want to be able to run 10km. Then I break that down into weekly and daily objectives. I won’t go in to the details but that’s how you do it. Then the task of running a marathon doesn’t seem so daunting because you are just completing one day, one week and one month at a time.

For added incentives I would add rewards in. For example, when I can run 15km without stopping I will buy myself a new pair of running trainers, but not before.

Accountability

So, you have a plan but how do you make sure that you will stick to it? The plan is really the easy part, it’s the sticking to it that requires self-discipline. There are a few good tactics to help you with this.

  1. Tell as many people as possible what you are attempting to do
  2. Join a team or get other people to set the same goal as you
  3. Create a diary of what you are doing

The first of these, telling people what you are attempting to do, works very well because of something called commitment and consistency. The explanation is quite long but I will attempt to summarise. The idea is that people who do what they say they are going to do are more trusted and respected in society. This means that you feel obligated to do what you have said you would do because otherwise you will look like an untrustworthy person and not someone who does what they say they will. There is a lot of social pressure here so you want to maintain your reputation, so it plays on very deep routed human traits.

Joining a team or sharing the same goal with someone else will help you to motivate one another and hold each other accountable. When one person is feeling low, the others can help get them motivated. There are loads of other reasons that I’m sure you know already, too, like having some competition to help motivate you.

Creating a diary is similar to suggestion number 1. If you write something down it means more than just thinking about it. It’s more permanent and a reminder of what you have said, and set out to achieve. This really is a great way to motivate yourself.

In short, you need to feel the you are accountable for your actions and a little social pressure will always help with that.

I think that they are the key ingredients for achieving goals and ensuring that you have self-discipline and routine. These traits will really help you in every area of your life.

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