22/02/2017

Dambulla Cave Temples | Sri Lanka




                                     Dambulla was the third stop on my trip around Sri Lanka and the furthest North that we went.

We caught the bus from Polonnarawu, this took around two hours and was my first experience of buses in Sri Lanka. Let's just say it was rather intense! We'd decided to get a tuk tuk to the bus station rather than the nearest bus stop as this is where the bus started and we'd have more chance of getting a seat. We did get a seat but it soon got very packed and although I was thankful for my seat it was still very squishy so I'm very glad I wasn't standing up. As the journey went on I'm not even sure how they kept fitting more people on! The bus was also a bit of a party bus the bus driver had music blaring and flashing buddhas all around his seat. It was quite entertaining but the music got a bit too much after about half an hour. But on the plus side the bus journey wasn't very long and no where near as hot and sweaty as I'd imagined. The bus cost 100 rupees. We were going to get the train but this seemed more complicated and the bus ran pretty regularly and was very cheap.









When we got off the bus in Dambulla we were greeted by lots of tuk tuk drivers telling us they'd take us to our accommodation. We were going to get a tuk tuk but then one driver kindly told us that we could walk to our guesthouse and pointed us in the right direction. I do kind of wish that we'd paid for a tuk tuk, the walk wasn't that long but it was on a dirt track and it was very hot and I was extremely tired making my bag feel ten times heavier. I did make it, I managed to lose my travel pillow on the way but thankfully a car driving down the dirt track found it and gave it back to me. I guess it's not that hard to figure out who the bright pink pillow belongs to when there's two girls walking with massive rucksacks on and no other tourists in sight.

Day One


Our day began quite the same we headed into the main town which was around a ten minute walk from our guest house. We soon discovered that this walk was rather creepy at night when it was pitch black. We had to resort to using our phones as a torch, I also got bitten by something and boy did it hurt. I still have no idea what it was but it flew into me, I think I'd rather not know; it definitely wasn't a mosquito.

After eating lunch in town we headed back to our guesthouse where our host kindly offered to drive us to the cave temples. We went in the late afternoon to avoid it being too hot. I always try and do things in the morning or late afternoon to avoid the heat, I'm rather bad at dealing with the heat so I'd rather enjoy sightseeing when I don't want to curl up in a heap in the shade.

We were dropped in the car park for the cave temples, you then walk through a rather strange area which reminded a little of a theme park. There weren't any rides but it was all very brightly coloured. Make sure you buy your ticket from the ticket office here or you may get to the top to find you have to walk all the way back down again.

                                                                                   The walk to the caves takes about 15 minutes and isn't too demanding. It's quite easy to stop if for a rest if you wish and various points of the walk are in the shade. You should also be aware of the monkeys. Avoid eating (and drinking) anything around them as they will steal it.

You have to pay 25 rupees for shoe storage, there isn't particularly a choice on this but it's not a lot of money. Make sure your money doesn't blow away though as it's very windy! Just after the shoe storage area you'll go through an arch way area where you show your ticket. Just before you reach this there's an area on your left where you can get some really nice photos of the views, such as the two picture below. When we were there not many people stopped to use this area for pictures so it's worth stopping before or after your visit. Also, the views from the temple area isn't quite a good because there is a fence blocking some of it.











After taking some pictures we headed to the caves. We decided to start at the furthest away cave as we'd read that the first one was the best. After seeing all of them I would partially agree but I preferred some of the other caves. Whilst each is fairly similar there are enough differences between the temple caves for each to be as interesting as the last.

Each caves is home to various buddhas and wall drawings. Although, I didn't actually see that many temples while I was in Sri Lanka I think the cave temples were my favourite. And also the prettiest. I've included some photos from the temples for you to have a look at but not too many as I don't want to ruin the caves for you!
















We probably spent no more than an hour looking at the caves. You could do them in more or less time depending on how long you want to look at each one. There were a number of tour groups, if you wanted to know about the history of the caves then this may be something to consider. However, I was happy to just look and have a quick google afterwards. We got a tuk tuk back to the town centre, I'm afraid I didn't make a note of this price.


Where to eat:


There's a main street in Dambulla where all of the main shops and food seems to be (and also a few banks). We didn't spend that much time exploring the actual town so there may have been more streets but everything we wanted and needed was along this street. This was also the street that the dirt track from our guesthouse led to. There was a supermarket (Food City) as soon as you got the main street. This had snacks and water as well as lots of other things. Very good for stocking up especially for simple toiletries. While I don't have any pictures of the food I thought it was worth telling you about the places.

Benthota Bake House: We had curry and rice for 130 rupees. This place was quite strange. It was a bakery/food shop and then had a restaurant. We realised this was quite common in Sri Lanka. The restaurant had quite a few locals but also a lot of tourists. Our host had told us about it so maybe lots of tourists are also told. In all honesty, it was cheap but not that great. The food was average and the service was bad. We had to keep asking for a menu and only got to order food when a local man decided to order for us because we were being ignored. I'm still not quite sure why we were being ignored as other tourists seem to order just fine.

Mango Mango: This was an air conditioned restaurant and thus full of tourists. Definitely not somewhere to go if you want to discover local cuisine. We were a bit fed up of curry and rice so tried it out. We ate here twice. The first time I had black bean chicken with rice, the second noodles and a veggie toasted sandwich. The food was pretty good and the sandwich was really good considering we were in Asia. I found bread/ sandwiches sometimes a little strange in Asia so was pleasantly surprised. This was more pricy but still reasonable. There was wifi and large TVs. They also served cakes (which were also pretty good!).

My Burger: Slightly strange name if you ask me. This restaurant had quite a mixture of food options. There was traditional curry but this seemed to only be an option at lunchtime and burgers and even some Arabic food. The lassi's here were pretty good.

Where to stay:

Our guesthouse was called Roberts Inn. It was around a ten minute walk to the main street. Our room cost 4000 rupees for three nights. This price was between two of us. Our room had two beds, however, I wouldn't say there were doubles. I had to sleep at an angle as the bed was too short and Kate who's pretty short struggled a bit too. If you were a couple and sharing a bed then it may be very tight but I'm not sure if this was just our room so they could fit in two beds. That was the only really negative. Our hosts were lovely, Robert's youngest daughter had her birthday while we were there and we were invited to the party there were having. They also took us to Dambulla Cave temples free of charge and dropped us at the bus the following day. They offered various paid tours to sights around Dambulla at fairly reasonable prices. 


Summary:

  • Stay in a guesthouse, the families are often very friendly and will cook you dinner if you don't want to head out (for an additional cost of course)
  • You can visit both the Cave Temples and Sigiriya Rock from Dambulla 
  • Entry to the caves is now free. The only cost is the shoe storage (25 rupees) and any donations you wish to make 
  • There are people selling souvenirs on the way up to the caves, I purchased a lovely wall hanging for 400 rupees. Don't be afraid to barter but also remember to be reasonable. 
______________________

Have you visited Dambulla? What were your thoughts on the town and the sights?


Sophie 




20/02/2017

5 reasons you should go interrailing

5 reasons to go Interrailing


Well, there's absolutely no reason why you shouldn't go! But, if that was the only reason I gave you then this post would be very short indeed. So I'll go into a bit more detail, just incase my first reason wasn't enough to persuade you...

From the moment I learnt that Interrailing was a thing, I wanted to do it. I spent summers seeing Facebook friends post pictures of their interrail adventures and wanted in. My wish came true at the end of last summer when I headed off for five and a half weeks (yes, a very exact amount of time) to see what Europe had to offer. And, boy, did it offer me everything I ever wished for and more.


IT'S FUN

This is probably the most obvious answer but it's true. Interrailling is one of my favourite trips to date. I was travelling with good friends, visiting amazing places and, of course, enjoying all the great European food!



YOU MEET PEOPLE FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD 


This is true for most backpacking trips. Especially if you stay in hostels. Most people are incredibly friendly and you'll meet people from around the world who have great stories to tell. It's also great to see how people live in their countries. We met an American girl who had been in a Sorority for a while at uni and it was really interesting to ask her whether they were like they're portrayed in tv shows! 


EUROPE DOES HAVE CULTURE


Europe is a lot different to Asia and while I'd experienced traveling in Asia I didn't know what to expect in Europe. For one, there's no tuk tuks! I think a lot of people assume that Europe doesn't have as much culture as Asia because it's a lot closer to home and a lot more similar to our own culture. However, Europe has plenty of culture to offer. It may not be quite the culture shock Asia is but that doesn't make it any less cultural, it's just a different kind. 



YOU GET LOTS OF CITY BREAKS FOR THE PRICE OF ONE 


Ok, maybe not quite. But you'll only be taking one lot of flights or maybe no flights at all if you're taking the Eurostar to your first destination. Rather than jetting off for a number of weekend breaks you can do lots of them in one go! 


GOOD FOOD 


Do I even need to expand on this point?! Probably not but I will anyway just incase merely the mention of the word food hasn't persuaded you. You'll get to try a range of local cuisines. And ice cream. ALL the ice cream! If you fancy something a bit warmer then ALL the hot chocolate. And Europe does great hot chocolate. These of course aren't quite local cuisine but there's plenty of that on offer too! 


_______________________

Sophie 

17/02/2017

Things to consider when looking for a house at university

If you're in your first year at university then it is likely that, at some point, you'll begin looking for a house for your second year. Most students (but not all) choose to move into a house for their second and third years. In your first year you'll probably be living in student accommodation that's on campus or nearby which consists of a flat. In first year you'll also, in most cases, end up living with complete strangers who may or may not end up being your friends. That's why second year is so great. You get to choose who you want to live with. If you get along with your flatmates then that's perfect. But if you don't then you can choose to live with course friends or other friends you've made. If there's one particularly annoying flatmate then the rest of you can finally ditch them and they're annoying friends who appear in the middle of the night!

Having searched for a house myself I thought I'd put together this post offering advice and tips for finding a student house. These will be based on my own experiences so will not necessarily apply to everyone.


                                        1. Choose who you live with wisely


It's hard to know whether the people you're sharing your flat with or the people you've become friends with on your course are people you'll want to live with. If you live with them already then this will give some indication of whether you'd be able to live with them again. It's also hard to know who you'll still be friends with the following year. Even if you sort your house quite late in first year there's still the rest of the year and the summer before you move in together. Things can happen, people can fall out. Because of this choosing who you live with is kind of a guessing game.

Also, this is a place where you'll be both chilling and working. While you can work at university or in the library it's realistic that you'll be doing at least some of your work in the house. If the people you live with are constantly going out while you stay in then they're going to disrupt you. In my second year of university, we were all quite social and went on nights out. Not always together though. And while most of us came back quietly some of my house mates didn't seem to understand the whole I don't want to be woken up at 4am when I have a 9 am lecture because you decide to come in and shout.

2. Location, Location, Location 


At my university there was a main area where second and third years lived. I guess you could refer to it as a sort of suburb of Nottingham. There were other residents but your neighbours would most likely be fellow students. There were other areas students could choose to live but this was the most popular. It was further from the campus but there was a bus to campus that ran every 8 minutes on weekdays and it was a 30 minute walk, which really isn't too bad. It was also closer to the town centre. We chose to live in this area because we wanted to be in the main student hub. The location was the perfect in between of the city and the university campus.

I'm not sure how other university's work with student housing but I'm guessing most of them also have a certain area where most of the students choose to live. However, the most popular location might not necessarily be the best for you or your group. You may be studying at a separate campus to the main one and so another area may be better for you. I think it's important to work out walking distances and transport options.

You may also hear scare stories, student areas sometimes have a higher crime rate because people know the houses will most likely have quite a lot of laptops, tv's etc in. We were broken into in our second year but we only one thing was stolen. While this is bad it didn't put us off living in the same area the next year. We chose a different, more secure house, with a different landlord and had no problems. This should be a consideration obviously but I think our break in was more due to the fact that the house wasn't very secure. We didn't have a back gate until after the break in and the landlord only put on in because the police told them too.

3. Make sure everyone's on the same wave length


Before you start looking make sure everyone knows what you're looking for. And the budget. It doesn't matter if one person can afford any budget if the rest of the people need to stick to an exact budget. This also applies to the quality of the house. Obviously, you don't want a mould infested house but at the same time the very modern, fancy looking ones are pretty pricy. Again, sit down and discuss budgets and what people want. For example, how many bathrooms do you want, this depends on how many of you are living together but if someone wants an ensuite then you'll most likely have to tell them this isn't possible.


4. Bills included or separate?


Student houses either have bills included or you have to pay them separately. Both houses I rented did not include bills. My third year house included the water bills which saved us some money. If the bills are included then the rent is most likely to be more but this will equal out because you won't be paying for separate bills. Most instances where the bills are included there is a limit so if you use excessive electricity or always have the heating on your landlord may charge you extra. 

We didn't purposely choose to have separate bills, all the houses we looked at where like this and we weren't really fussed. Not enough to keep searching for a house with them included anyway. My friend at another university did get a house with bills included. She was sharing with less people in a completely different area of the country. I think it depends on how many people you'll be sharing with and your location. We were already quite limited as we wanted an 8 bed house for second year and then a seven bed for third year and most houses in our student area were 6 bed or less. 

If you are doing the bills yourself then decide who will be in charge of them. This doesn't mean that the bills are only that persons responsibility. Obviously, they'll be the person who has the main interaction with any companies and the one setting up the direct debit but it's everyone's responsibility to ensure they pay their share on time and are careful about the amount of electricity etc that they use.

I did the bills both years and every time I had to tell people we were using too much or that the price needed to go up I felt a bit like they thought it was my problem and fault. Not everyone but most were very unbothered but as soon as I told them they'd have to pay more they were very concerned. Of course, no one changed their habits but if you're going to be in charge of bills make sure you're happy to do some nagging and be the bearer of occasional bad news. You may be completely fine and live with people that also take an interest but it's easy for people to leave you to do the work. However, I don't necessarily regret being in charge of bills as it's another skill I learnt at university. 


                                    4. Deciding on rooms


In most cases they'll be at least one small room. The other rooms may only be slightly bigger or they may be quite a lot bigger. If this is the case you should decide whether the person in the smaller room will pay slightly less rent or whether everyone will pay the same. You should also see if anyone is actually happy in the small room. Try and decide who's in what room before you move in. Either decide between yourselves who will have each room or if you can't decide make it fair and do it out of a hat. We did this for our third year because we'd left it too long to all be able to sit down and have a discussion so decided picking at random was the only fair way to decide. In my second year, however, we left it deciding rooms too long and it got to the point where me and another house mate needed to move some stuff into the house so we just chose a room. Everyone was disorganised and while I had tried to sort rooms out it had never got sorted so I had to just choose on the day. This obviously benefited me as I got to choose one of the better rooms but I'd only been able to because everyone seemed so unbothered about rooms. In my experience sorting rooms out with plenty of time is the best option because even if people say they don't care what room they get they usually do. 


_________________


Sophie 




15/02/2017

10 things to do in Budapest

Budapest, Hungary
10 things to do in Budapest




                                                                            In September I spent three days in Budapest, I enjoyed exploring the city and thought I'd share 10 things to do in Budapest. I've tried to include a range of activities and not just the usual things so hopefully this will be useful for anyone planning a trip to Budapest. 

1. Go to a thermal bath


You can't google Budapest without a picture of one of the many thermal baths popping up. Probably the most famous of the baths is the Szechenyi baths. This is also were Sparty is located. I didn't actually get to visit the baths in the day which is my biggest regret from my visit to Budapest. If I ever go back visiting one of the baths is top of my list. 


2. Go to the local market 


10 things to do in Budapest: Budapest central market



                                                                    There are a few markets in Budapest. We visited the central market. There's plenty of local food to try, slightly overpriced. I'd recommend sharing a dish as the portions are quite large. There's also food stalls and souvenirs.

3. Visit the House of Terror museum


The name of this museum is probably a bit misleading, it's not a house of horrors type museum. In fact, it's a museum with information about the fascist and communist regimes in Hungary. Two people recommended this to us and said it was a very good museum. We unfortunately didn't get chance to visit but if I go back it will be on my to do list. If you want to do something a bit more historical then you should try this out. I wish I'd gotten a chance to visit as I don't feel like I learnt as much about Hungary's history compared to other countries I've visited such as Poland.


4. Explore Buda and Pest


Budapest used to be two separate cities separated by the river. The river still separates the two halves but now they are one city. We stayed on the Pest side. The Citadel and Fishermans Bastion are on the Buda side, while the Basilica and Parliament are on the Pest side. This side seems to be were the main city is while the Buda side is slightly more residential.  It is very easy to go between the sides, which are split by the Danube river, either by the metro or walking over one the bridges.


5. Go to a ruin bar


I wish we'd had time to visit more of these and visit them in the day, as well as, the evening. We visited Szimpla, one of the more well known ruin bars on our way to Sparty. There were tonnes of different rooms to explore and a photo booth which we obviously took advantage off even though people kept trying to photo bomb us. The photo booth cost around £2 but I love them so much!


6. Climb the Citadel


10 things to do in Budapest: Views from the CitadelThere are various ways to walk up to the Citadel. We walked up on our first day in Budapest, considering it was October it was pretty hot, it was over 30 degrees! Thankfully, a lot of the walk was in the shade. The views were amazing. However, I didn't love the amount of bugs at the top. One of my friends called them sting bugs but I'm still unsure if they were or if she'd just made the name up! Other than the bugs it was a great place to sit and relax whilst enjoying the views.


7. Go to Fishermans Bastion


10 things to do in Budapest: Views of Parliament over the river


                                                                                            The Fishermans Bastion is both beautiful and slightly odd. I say odd because the architecture is so different but it doesn't feel old it feels a bit like it was made for disneyland. However, it's still worth a visit and you can visit for free! The toilets cost money and I think some of the view points do as well but the over all area is free to walk around. There's a restaurant which overlooks the river that has lovely views. We ate here but I found it expensive, the food was traditional but made for tourists. I'd say skip it or just have a drink. We ate there because we really needed food but in hindsight we should of eaten before we walked up. There are plenty of picture opportunities and it's a great place to relax.

10 things to do in Budapest: Exploring Fishermans Bastion



 

                                           8. Go for brunch


There's plenty of options for brunch in Budapest. We only tried two of them out. There's also a great range of restaurants in general. We found a really good sushi restaurant and while I don't usually eat at the same place twice (because obviously I want to try as many places as possible) we returned to this restaurant the following day. Partly because one of my friends hadn't come with us the first time and want to try it out and partly so I could eat all the sushi again!

10 things to do in Budapest: Trying Sushi


                                            9. Visit the Parliament Building 


We crossed the river to get a picture of the Parliament Building. We didn't spend that much time looking at it but it's more of a have a quick look and take a picture thing to do. I like these because they're quick and can be done in between other sights. We stopped off before making our way up to the Fishermans Bastion.

I would have loved to see it at night when it was all lit up but we never got a chance, if you can I'd definitely recommend seeing it at night as well because it looks stunning!

10 things to do in Budapest: Parliament Building








 

10. Go to Sparty!


I saved this for last because it's probably not to everyone's taste. Sparty is basically a night out in the thermal baths. There's music, drink and a lot of drunk people. We spent so long researching this and whether it was worth going to. We wanted to go but there was a lot of negative reviews of it. Even on our travels we got mixed reviews about the event. Although, it seemed most people who had a negative story to tell us hadn't been to the event themselves and had rather heard it from someone else. We opted not to buy tickets in advance and got them from our hostel. My personal opinion is that Sparty is nowhere near as bad as some of the reviews suggest.

_______________

Sophie

Pin it for later! 


10 things to do in Budapest pinterest graphic



13/02/2017

Planning a trip around SE Asia

United Kingdom
My usual trip planning posts are about how I planned my trip after the trip has happened. However, this post is a little different. This time I'm going to tell you how I'm planning my SE Asia trip without having done the trip. I'll probably do a follow up post after the trip to tell you whether my planned route etc worked out but for now I thought I'd write about my planning process.  I always enjoy reading these posts just to see other peoples planning processes as it's always useful to learn new tips and ways of planning a trip.

MY PROCESS 


This planning is still ongoing so I'm going to breakdown the steps I've taken so far and finish off with my current route. This will most likely change but if it does I'll update it.

Planning a trip to SE Asia


 

THE LENGTH OF YOUR TRIP 


When I first started thinking about this trip back in the summer it was more of a hypothetical trip than one that was going to happen so there was no specific time frame. I was just thinking that the trip would last as long as it took us to see everywhere we wanted to and of course, when we got low on money. I'm doing the trip with my university friend Soph who I went interrailing with, we're both doing a TEFL course so we can teach English in Asia and are hoping to go to Vietnam. This was also something to consider when thinking about the length of our trip.

Long story short after lots of different variations such as doing some teaching and then travle after, we eventually ended up with a set time length. Our trip has an end date due which is the 24th of July. Initially, I wanted an open ended trip but after working on a route and places to go it's slightly easier having an end goal. It means we have to do more planning to ensure we fit everything we want in but it also gives me a starting point for deciding where to visit.


DECIDING WHERE TO GO


Like I mentioned in the previous section when I initially starting thinking about this trip I wanted to see as many places as possible. Having a start and end date meant we had to choose where we wanted to go and be more specific. We had to cut some places from our route such as Malaysia and Philippines. If we had included them we would have only had about a week in each which really isn't worth it so we decided it was best to spend longer in the other countries and see as much as possible in them.

planning a trip to SE Asia blog post

 

Looking on google maps


At the moment we're planning on visiting Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Indonesia. This is still quite a jam packed route for the length of time so there may still be changes. To plan the route and order of the countries I started by getting up google maps. Very simple but effective. I wrote down various routes, trying to find the one that made the most sense and was the most efficient for the time we had.

This took longer than I'd imagined, especially as the countries we were going to kept changing. I also looked at flights between countries that we could not cross by land. We decided that we would cross by land where possible. Checking flights helped as I was able to see which countries were the cheapest to fly to from one another, if any of the small flights were looking to be expensive I would try and edit the route to make them cheaper.

Reading travel blogs


Travel blogs were my next point of call. I looked at lots of different SE Asia routes and itineraries. This helped me plan more details. It's a great way to read about travels from a personal point of view. You can read what went wrong/ whether they wished they'd spent more time in a certain country.

how to plan a trip to SE Asia


Deciding how long to stay in each country


This links to the previous point. Obvisouly, you could spend as long or little as you wanted in each country but I wanted to make sure all of the main sights were seen in the time we had. For example, I wanted to make sure we had enough time in Thailand to see both the North and South as well as Bangkok. I also wanted to fit the Full Moon party into our route. This meant that our visit to Thailand had to be planned around this date. Obviously, if the date for the Full Moon party was really awkward I would have chosen just to remove it but at the moment it's fairly easy to work around and fits into our route.

So far we have planned:

3 weeks in Myanmar
1 month in Thailand
10 days in Laos
2 weeks in Cambodia
1 month in Indonesia

If you have any suggestions about changing the length of time in a country let me know as I'm always looking for advice! We've purposely not included Vietnam in the route because we are going there to teach English so will travel around the country during/after this.

Focusing on individual countries


This step is linked to the previous one. After planning the overall route I began focusing on one country at a time. I looked on Instagram and travel blogs to see what you could do in each country and which places people visited. I also started looking at country specific itineraries. I did this in the order of the countries we'd be visiting. So I began with Myanmar. Soph noted down all the places in each country she wanted to see and then I worked it into a route. There are occasionally places/sights that don't really work in the route and would take too much time to travel to so we have to cut them but overall we've managed to fit most things in. This is how it links to the previous step, once I know the places we want to see this allows me to work out how long we need in that country. I then compare this to the other countries to see if the time needed in each fits into the actual time we have for the whole trip.

SE Asia trip planning




 















TRANSPORT 


Flights


The main transport is the flight out to SE Asia. After working on our route for a while we decided that Bangkok would be the best city to fly into. From there we would fly to Myanmar. There will be other small flights that need booking but these will be done after the main flight. I'm planning on booking these before we head off so there's one less thing to worry about while we're out there.


Buses/ trains


Part of planning the itinerary involved looking at transport options and durations for individual countries. This part of planning is sometimes frustrating. Some routes or destinations seem to have very little information about the length of the journey to them or the logistics of getting there. If I'm finding it really hard to find information I just use the google maps duration. It tells you how long it will take in a car so in most cases the journey will probably be longer due to stops but at least it gives me an idea. From this information I start to decide whether the journey will take a whole day, whether it will be overnight or whether it is quick. If it's a whole day then that day becomes a travel day and so is technically a 'lost' day because we can't do any sight seeing etc. If this is the case then I try and add an extra day for that place to compensate. Also, if there are overnight journeys I always try to make the activities the next day either start later or very relaxed. I know personally that I don't sleep well/at all on over night transport so will be dead the next day.


ACCOMMODATION 


Like most of the other steps I found this one varies depending on the length of the trip, where I'm going and how set my end dates are. If I didn't have a set return day then I'd probably not book up as much accommodation pre trip as I am going to. But I'd also not plan my itinerary in such detail and just let the trip flow and see where I end up. But I can't do that so it's back to the detailed planning.

I'm planning on booking all of Myanmar before we go as well as some of Northern Thailand and hopefully some nicer accommodation in Bali. I will also book the Full Moon party accommodation beforehand.

Obviously, some places I may have to just turn up or book whilst I'm there. Sometimes booking online is not the best option, especially if you're going somewhere less touristy. We found this when we went to Sri Lanka and India. We visited Munnar in India but didn't find accommodation until we arrived because the ones online were very pricy and there was very little on offer. After researching we found that a lot of guesthouses don't appear online or charge extra if they are. So we risked it and just turned up. We got a very cheap price and were the only ones in the guesthouse! It was low season so this also helped because most guesthouses were empty or had only a few guests.

This may also be the case for some places we visit on this trip. However, for places I can book I'm using mostly Hostelworld and Booking.com. These are my go to sites for booking accommodation and I have used both on my last three trips. I've also started using Air BnB more, especially when I want somewhere nice but for a good price. We used Air BnB in Prague for my birthday and had a lovely apartment. It was great because we had our own space and a kitchen.

SE Asia trip blog post



 















IMPORTANT CONSIDERATIONS 


Visas


It's very easy to find updated visa information for each country, as well as other information such as safety and how to respect the countries culture on the GOV.UK website: https://www.gov.uk/
Simply type in the country you want information about and it will take you to a page with lots of information. Doing this allowed me to quickly note down requirements for each country so I know which I did to apply for beforehand and which I can get over there.

Here's a brief breakdown of visas for the countries I'm visiting:

Myanmar: Online visa around $50

Loas: Visa upon arrival $35

Cambodia: Visa on arrival

Thailand: Can enter by land or air for 30 days without a visa. Can only enter twice in one year for 30 days if coming into the country by land.

Indonesia: Purchase at airport $35 (approx.) Duration: 30 days from entry

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So there you go, an insight into how I plan my trips. I'm currently still doing plenty of research for the trip so may do an update post when everything is finalised.

How do your plan your trips?

Sophie 

10/02/2017

Tips and tricks for staying in hostels




Before I ever stayed in hostels I imagined them to be dirty, uncomfortable and loud. I was wrong of course, I'd painted such a negative picture which wasn't true. Well, some hostels are dirty, uncomfortable and loud but on the whole they're pretty decent and help you save some money.

Book a hostel with bed curtains


This may sound odd but more and more hostels are beginning to have a curtain you can pull across your bed area for when you sleep or when you want some privacy. I personally, really like this as I sleep better when I don't feel like people can see me sleeping.


Take a pair or earplugs 


If you're a light sleeper then sharing a room with other people and having people going in and out of the room may keep you awake. I've found that having a pair of earplugs handy helps a lot. They don't shut out all the noise but they block out enough to get some sleep.

Book a smaller room


Another way to help guarantee you a bit of sleep is to book a room with less people in. For example, in a four bed room you only have three other people to worry about or less if you're already travelling with someone. Obviously, this can back fire and you could be sharing with less people but have the loudest people in the hostel! But this depends. In my own experience I've found *most* smaller rooms to be booked by people who want more privacy and quiet so basically people who are on the same wave length as you.

Small rooms are perfect if you're travelling in a group, especially a group of four. You can have the whole dorm room to yourself without having to pay the price of a private. You may even be able to get a dorm with an ensuite then you don't even have to share a bathroom with strangers!

Take flip flops


I'm not ever that bothered about showering bare foot in hostels, maybe I should be but usually I don't bother with flip flops. However, they still do come in useful for the walk to the shower room. Sometimes the bathroom is not that near your dorm. For example, in Mexico I had to walk through reception, through a gate, through the breakfast area outside to the shower. This was especially annoying when I needed a wee at 2am. Flip flops came in extremely handy, especially as I was having to go outside! Sometimes I do wear them in the shower too because quite frankly some hostel bathrooms are a little grim.

Know the type of hostel you're booking


This may seem obvious but it's always useful to not only read the description the hostels written about itself but the reviews. For example, if you're not a big drinker or partier then it's best to avoid party hostels. Most party hostels make it clear that's what they are so just double check because you don't want your trip ruined by lack of sleep.


08/02/2017

Interrail Pass Guide

Interrail Pass Guide




                           Todays post, as the title suggests, is all about Interrail passes. In September I went interrailing for five and a half weeks along with two of my university friends. This doesn't make me an expert but I've learnt a lot about the pass and how to use it so I thought I'd create a guide to help others thinking about buying a pass themselves.

What is an Interrail Pass?


Most of you will probably know this already but the Interrail Pass is a pass that allows you to travel through Europe by train. There are various options for the pass depending on how long and often you plan to travel, I'll go into more detail about this later on in the post. One thing that should be noted is that you cannot use the interrail pass in your own country, for example, I wouldn't be able to use it in the UK. I don't think this is a negative as the reason you buy a interrail pass is to explore new countries! The Interrail pass is called a Eurail pass for those outside of Europe. 


How to buy your Interrail pass


Just hop on over to the Interrail website and follow the instructions. They offer protection for your tickets if you want the extra safety net just incase your pass gets lost in the post! The pass is delivered using first class and usually arrives within a couple of days of ordering.

Which pass is right for you?


Interrail Pass wallet

 
                                     I thought I'd do a brief breakdown of the different passes you can buy. It's important to get the right one, not only to save money but also so you don't end up wasting rides. You can get a global pass, which allows you to travel through more than one country, or a one country pass which as the name suggests limits your travel to one country. So here are your options: 

1. A continuous pass 

This pass allows you to travel whenever you want within a certain time span. Basically, with this pass you don't need to count or worry about the number of trains you take. It's unlimited within the time span you've chosen. 

2. Days within pass

The second kind of pass does limit the amount of journeys you take and the amount of days you're able to take journeys on. For example, I purchased the 10 within 1 month. This meant I could have ten travel days/ rides. These did not have to be consecutive but had to all be within a month. 

It's best not to rush into buying a pass even if this means missing out on any discounts. I initially thought I needed a one month continuous pass but after looking at my route again realised I could save money and get the 10 days within a month pass. So even if I had purchased the continuos pass with a discount I still would have spent more than I needed to. It's best to work out your route in more detail so you have a better idea of how many trains you will need to take. 


How much does it cost? 


This completely depends on what type of pass you choose. The global (more than one country) pass range from £182 to £434. I purchased the 10 days within a month pass, this cost me £265. Interrail offer various discounts throughout the year on the passes. You can buy your pass during the discount but don't have to use it straight away. You have up to 11 months to travel on it. At the moment Interrail are offering 15% off passes (until the 31st March 2017).

If you need transport for more than a month then you have to purchase another pass. However, I would recommend taking coaches if this is the case. We used our interrail pass for a month but when we first began our trip we used coaches so we didn't have to purchase another pass. We wouldn't have been able to just get a pass with more travel days as our trip was five and a half weeks and no pass offers travel for more than a month. Coaches are relatively cheap especially in Eastern Europe.

There are youth prices, I think anyone up to the age of 25 falls into this category so make sure you buy this pass if you are 25 or under as it saves you a fair bit of money!

What's included 


Interrail Pass map





 
When you open up your Interrail Pass you'll find various items. Firstly, the actual pass holder which is a blue wallet. You'll also get a map, the actual pass which is where you fill in all your journeys, a wristband and a order summary. 

You can use your map to mark out your itinerary. I only got my pass on the day my trip as it had been delivered to my friends house since I was away. But if I'd received it before the trip I would have definitely mapped out my route. 

The wristband is just a souvenir I think. When we first opened the pack we assumed we had to wear it but there was no information about it so we didn't bother. Good job we didn't as it isn't necessary at all. The only thing that is necessary to always have easy access to when using transport is the pass.


How does it work 


If you have an Interrail Pass (rather than a Eurail one) then you don't need to do anything with your pass beforehand. Simply check all the details are correct and hop on your first train! Fill in your pass and show the pass when they come to check tickets. If you have a Eurail pass then you will need to validate your pass before it's first use. This can be done at a train station before its first use. Those who have the Interrail Pass don't have to do this.


Interrail Pass instructions

 
You must ensure that you fill the pass out each time you take a journey. I never did this before I was on the train just in case our plans changed but I made sure I did it as soon as I was on the train. In some cases our pass wasn't even checked or it was checked but not dated or stamped. When this happened we asked in the ticket office at the station we got off at whether it mattered if the pass was stamped, they said it did not as we'd filled it out and done everything we needed. 

Another reason for not filling it out until you are on the train/ know you're definitely getting that specific train is if you make a mistake filling in the date of travel then you lose that journey. Say you accidentally put the wrong date and cannot correct it without crossing it out and having to use a new date box you don't get that box back. If I'd filled out one of my dates wrong then I would have lost that travel day and only had nine journeys rather than the ten. I don't think this matters for the continuous pass, I'm pretty sure you don't need to use the date boxes on the pass for this pass because you don't have any limit on the amount of days you can travel on. 

Additional costs


While the Interrail Pass covers all of your train journeys (and occasionally other forms of transport, best to check individual countries on the website) it does not cover any reservations that may be required on these journeys. If reservations are required then you must ensure that you make the reservation and pay the fee. You can do this online or at the station you're leaving from. Reservations do mean that you have to be more organised, there may be none left if you leave it too late.

I only had to make reservations for trains in Poland, every other train I took I just got on and filled in my pass. Both times I needed a reservation we ended up getting them on the actual day of travel. This was only because both times we'd arrived at our destination in the evening and the ticket offices had been closed. We allowed extra time and had a back up plan of getting a coach if there were no reservations left. Luckily, we were ok both times but it was stressful not knowing if we would get on the train or not.

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I hope this post has been useful for anyone considering purchasing an Interrail Pass. My Interrail trip was amazing and a great way to explore Europe. I'd love to go interrailing again, maybe just around Italy. If you do go interrailing I also recommend downloading the Interrail app. It can be used without internet and tells you all the train times. I used this to plan all my journeys, it tells you all the stops, the length of the journey and whether any parts of it did a reservation. It's honestly so useful!

Have you ever been interrailing? What countries did you visit?

Sophie 

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06/02/2017

Yala National Park



Yala National Park is the second largest and most visited national park in Sri Lanka. I did quite a lot of research on the different national parks in Sri Lanka to see which one was the best to visit. I actually decided against Yala National Park and favoured Minneraya. However, due to our route and after some further research we finally chose Yala.


When planning my trip to Sri Lanka I'd imagined lots of 5 am starts. But this wasn't actually  the case. In fact, my trip to Yala National Park was probably the earliest I'd been up the whole trip, apart from my visit to the Taj Mahal of course!  I'm the first to admit that I'm not a morning person, I don't try and pretend I am. I like my sleep. A lot. But when my alarm went off I got out of bed rather easily. This may have had something to do with the fact that I had a double bed to myself and we'd treated ourselves to a nice hotel (with aircon!) rather than the usual hostel or guest house.

                                                                                 I was the definition of bed head on the safari but hey when you're on the look out for elephants and leopards who cares! I got up and dressed, ate a slightly stale muffin so I didn't get too hungry on the tour and headed to the hotel lobby. Our driver was waiting. And so we headed off into the pitch black ready for our safari.

It wasn't long until we started seeing other jeeps. I can only describe the pitch black drive in the jeep as the wacky races (remember that TV show?!). Or should I say what  I imagine the wacky races to be like in real life. The jeeps went so quick! We kept overtaking ones and then they would overtake us again. They'd be sharp turns in the road that we'd shoot around. If I wasn't awake already I definitely was after this drive. I decided to sit back and try not to think about the fact that our driver was overtaking other jeeps at an incredible spend in the pitch black. All the drivers seemed to be in one big race. And I guess in a sense we were.

The race was to get to the ticket area for the park. Once we got there we parked up and our driver collected our money. After about five minutes we were off again, this time heading to the actual entrance. This is why the journey had turned into wacky races. Everyone wants to be as near to the front of the queue as possible. We got there about 15 minutes before the park opened and were already about ten jeeps back. The queue behind us quickly increased too.





When the park opened the jeeps lined up sped in, while most followed the same route some began to split off and head down other dirt tracks. Our driver seemed to be pretty good at knowing where to go. He was on his walkie talkie a lot. I think a lot of the drivers talk to one another and tell each other any animals they spot.

We started to see animals quite quickly. We saw peacocks, a fox, some crocodiles. All were quite far away but I had my zoom lens on my camera so was able to use that to take pictures/ use as binoculars. In hindsight, I should of worn my glasses as I did struggle to see things sometimes.

We headed off to a quieter area of the park, our driver then got a message saying that there may be leopards. This was the main reason we chose Yala so we really hoped we could see one. We first went to the area they were spotted but there was no sightings. Then we moved to another area where there were already some jeeps. We parked up and waited. We were there for about a good ten to fifteen minutes. That's part of the safari though, you need to wait and see if the animals appear. It's not something that can happen instantly. They're wild animals so you may go and not see any. We very nearly left to go to another area of the park when one of the other jeeps motioned that there was a leopard.




It then turned a bit chaotic. The jeeps all shot forward, trying to get nearer to the area. At this point there was about five jeeps. It took me forever to spot the leopard. Mostly because I wasn't wearing my glasses. Kate kept pointing to where it was and I just couldn't spot it. But then I did! We were incredibly lucky as another leopard appeared and the a youngster! Our driver said this was quite rare.

It must have been because our driver seemed more excited than us! He took my camera and took some photos for me which were really good! Then even more jeeps arrived, there were about 50 people in various jeeps leaning out trying to get a look at the leopards. It was quite bizarre. By this point we were quite far back meaning jeeps were blocking our view, however, they couldn't move as there was no where to go. There was a child in the front jeep just casually eating his food and not even paying attention to the leopards right beside him!



After getting some pictures and watching the leopards play we headed off. Just in time because more jeeps were coming to the area. Our driver proudly told every other jeep we passed about our sighting. After the excitement of the leopards we didn't see many more animals. I was really hoping for some elephants but seeing the leopards definitely made up for this. We saw some warthogs and some beautiful birds.

We left the park around 8.30 am, got a picture by the sign and were dropped back at our hotel. We were initially planning on moving on that day but had decided to book one more night in the hotel because the pool was so nice! It was the first 'luxury' accommodation we'd stayed in and it was great to relax and catch up on some reading. My room also had a bath, I don't have one at home so I took advantage of this. I think I may write a post about the hotel because it was so nice!

Summary

  • You can organise a tour through most hotels, however, ours told us that we'd get a cheaper price finding a driver ourselves.
  • Most accommodation for Yala is located in the town of Tissa or nearby. If you choose to stay in a hotel it will most likely be located just outside. You can get a tuk tuk to the main town for around 200 rupees. 

Sophie 








03/02/2017

Exploring Mostar

Exploring Mostar








Mostar is situated on the Neretva river in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The bridge was destroyed in the 1990s and wasn't rebuilt until 2004. The bridge, as well as the Old Town area, is now a UNESCO heritage site. It was also my second stop on my interrail trip.

We travelled by bus from Split, which took around 4 hours and cost us 69 Croatian Kuna (£7.90). We thought it was a direct bus but we ended up having to change bus, once we were in Bosnia, for the last half an hour or so. We only had one full day in Mostar, we'd planned on having another half day but we stayed in Split for longer so we could have a day trip to Hvar 

There are various places to visit around Mostar and our hostel offered a tour of some of these. However, due to time constraints we chose to prioritise the actual town. I do wish we'd had time to see the surrounding area but who knows, maybe I'll go back one day!

Our hostel was around a ten minute walk from the Old Town area. The main town is pretty average. We passed a supermarket, stocking up on water and snacks then headed straight towards the Old Town. You know you've reached this area when the concrete pavement becomes cobbled streets. There are lots of little shops and stalls selling souvenirs. They're all pretty similar but the actual souvenirs were really nice rather than being tacky. I bought myself a copper bangle which I've worn everyday since!

As you wander down the cobbled street you'll eventually spot the main attraction; the Stari Most. If you're feeling brave you can jump from the bridge into the water. We kept missing the jumps so didn't get a snap of anyone.
Stari Most, Mostar








Mostar Mosque


We walked over the bridge and made our way through the side streets on the other side, then headed back towards the bridge, stopping off at a cute little cafe that served traditional Bosnian coffee for 2 km (88p). The coffee came with a piece of Turkish delight and a glass of water. The more I travelled though Europe the more I realised that getting a glass of water with your coffee was quite common, especially in Austria. The coffee was strong! So strong that Soph thought there was alcohol in it. It's very thick in consistency but after adjusting to the first taste I enjoyed it a lot.

The cafe is called Lasta and is just after you walk over the bridge. You'll be able to spot it from the cute tables on the outside such as the one we sat at. 

Trying traditional Bosnian coffee in Mostar




Traditional Bosnian coffee, Mostar

After enjoying our coffee we wandered around some more. We found the staircase that lead down to the river front. We took some pictures and waited to see if anyone was going to jump off the bridge. After waiting a while with no luck we decided it was time for some lunch.

There's plenty of restaurants to choose from, most are found once you've walked over the bridge (if you're coming from the Mosque side). When we were buying our postcards earlier in the day Soph had asked the women in the shop to recommend somewhere to eat. She'd been very useful and told us a restaurant that served traditional Bosnian food that was off the main drag, down a quieter street. To get to it you take your first left after you've walked over the bridge. At the end of this side street you can either turn left down the stairs to the river or right up another smaller street. You continue walking up this, you'll reach a bridge and just after that is the restaurant.

The restaurant was called Hindin Han and was very cute. Some tables had a very nice view of the river. We ordered the meat platter which cost us just over £10 so about £5 each. Which was crazy cheap because there was so much. We got so much meat, two chicken breasts, kebabs, sausages and more, plus some salad and chips. Before we ordered we'd stupidly asked the waiter if the platter would be enough for two and he just laughed and said yes, when it arrived we understood why. I didn't get a picture as I was too busy eating but it was so tasty! The restaurants on the main strip did the exact same platter for €23 euros. So much more, I can't compare the actual quality or taste but it looked exactly the same and ours tasted amazing. I'm so glad we asked for a recommendation otherwise we would have paid that price at the more touristy restaurant!

The best places to get a picture


Seeing as Mostar is so picturesque I thought it would be useful to tell you where to get the bet pictures. You can probably figure it out for yourself but this might save you some time as you'll know where to head straight away.

The first picture opportunity is also where you will first see the bridge. Unless you've already visited the Mosque and its lookout tower. This is just as you enter the old town. There is a wall where you can sit and get a picture.


You may also need to stand on the wall to get a better angle of the bridge. There does end up being a 'line' for the spot. We managed to get some time without anyone waiting but we soon had people waiting to get a picture so we felt a bit rushed.

From Below


To get down to the river you need to cross over the bridge and take the first left, turn left again and you'll find some stairs. There's a few restaurants and a bar on the way down. The area can get quite busy so you might have to wait a while to get a picture. It's also a great place to sit and eat an ice cream. Or get a snap of someone jumping from the bridge. This is where those who jumped from the bridge get out the water so if you know someone jumping this is the place to be.
Mostar from below



Mostar river front

From above


For this picture you'll have to pay to go up the tower. You can also pay to go into the Mosque grounds to get a picture and enjoy the view. This is cheaper than buying a ticket for the tower but the view isn't quite so good. I actually didn't go up the tower myself because I can't handle heights. I end up freezing and not being able to move because I'm so scared. Soph is fine with heights so went up alone.

Mostar from above

In conclusion:


  • Mostar town can be done in a day BUT remember there is plenty to see around Mostar so if you have time make the most of the surrounding area
  • The markets and stalls accept both the local currency and euros so you can pay in either 
  • Head down the side streets for cheaper (and just as good!) local cuisine 
Have you visited Mostar? Did you love it as much as I did?

Sophie 

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