Sunday, 28 December 2014

Highlights from my 2014 travels

During 2014,  I have visited 6 countries on 2 continents, and spent 35 days out of the UK. 

Well, of course that doesn't really compare to nearly a year travelling in 2013, but it proved that it's possible to travel quite a bit even with a 9 to 5 job. After all, in 2012, I managed to visit 11 countries whilst working full time.

So what were the highlights from my travels this year? 

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Cuba tips

Just last week I shared with you my Impressions of Cuba and then this week the US decides to normalise it's ties with Cuba, and loosen it's restrictions on travel and commerce. There is inevitably more to follow now that Obama has set the stage for Congress to follow up, although of course any changes will take time.

I'm just glad I managed to visit Cuba now and you should too, if you haven't done already.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Impressions of Cuba

"Ok chichos".

Our Tour Leader was busy greeting the rest of the group as I stumbled out of the doorway of the Hotel Presidente with my rucksack.

As I settled down in the bus, I mentally waved good bye to Havana for the next 10 days.

This was one of the lasting impressions from my latest trip. The rest of Cuba and what was to come, would be quite a different experience to the tourist infused capital and it's 2 million population.

Classic car view, Trinidad

Saturday, 6 December 2014

What to do in Malta: 5 of my recommendations

Malta left me in awe during a recent visit. The variety of things to see, do and experience was vast.

Although Malta reminded me in parts of a number of destinations, it was totally unique and distinct.

For example, the Maltese architecture varies, but the distinct wooden balconies on the majority of homes on the island are recognisable only from here; or at least I have never seen anything similar elsewhere on my travels.

There are so many other distinct experiences, and in such a condensed area it is easy to see it all during a short visit. From watersports to archaeological sites, Malta is definitely a destination for both families, couples and individuals alike.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Hampton Court Palace: tips when planning your visit

Head out of London for a day trip to Hampton Court Palace and you will not be disappointed.

There are year round events including the famous flower show, a funfair, festival and an ice skating rink. Check out the events page here for current details.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Food for thought: 5 mouthwatering Maltese delicacies

Malta offers so much in the way of things to do and see, it left me in awe when I visited last month (read my post Malta left me in awe) .

The best advice I can give you is to book a flight and just go there, but of course I will share more from my recent trip and recommendations in another post.

For this post, I wanted to share my thoughts on the foods to try when visiting Malta. Simply because, any visitor there needs to know what to look out for on the menu and ensure they don't miss out.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

A guest post from hidden Portugal

I spent a month travelling through Portugal in 2013 and was particularly taken with Porto, and of course its famous tipple. What I didn’t realise at the time is that as well as being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city is often referred to as Oporto; as my dad shared with me following a recent visit. 

There's plenty more that I missed during my few weeks travelling through Portugal. So, today I have a guest post, from my dad, to share with you some of hidden Portugal and their rather unique shaped foodstuffs. It seems there is quite a bit of Portugal to add to my list for a return visit.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Don't hibernate because... winter is coming

Winter time in the UK, for me and many other British people, can be depressing. As the SAD time of year sets in, and the wet, grey weather becomes cold and dark, it's easy to stay indoors and hide yourself away.

Yes, winter is coming. But, what better time to get away from it and take a trip somewhere. Or, if your pocket doesn't quite stretch to that, at the very least, don't let the cold weather keep you indoors.

I'm often found outside geocaching at the weekends during the winter months, it seems more so than in the summertime. As long as you wrap up warm and are prepared to get wet it's a great way to stay active and explore.

Geocaching whatever the weather, Grand Canyon

If you plan to get away and need ideas for destinations at this time of year, here are 5 of my recommendations:

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Exploring Greenwich, where time began

Greenwich is a district of South East London, situated on the River Thames and listed as a World Heritage site.

In my opinion, Greenwich is underrated and often shadowed by other areas of London. This is surprising given the fact that this is the centre of where time began, or so to speak. Or that it is one of the most featured film locations in the World - see more here.

Visitors to Greenwich will often be found taking the hike up to the observatory and the Prime Meridian line to stand astride this brass rail set in concrete. Whether or not its significance is immediately evident to the crowds of tourists, this is a monumental point in our history. This line is where from which the World measures time and position.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Malta left me in awe

I've been to Malta before, for an 18-30's type holiday, so was excited to visit again, just last weekend, for something more cultural.

The knights of Malta

Coastal view, Valletta

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Take a break to beautiful Bled, Slovenia

Bled has become increasingly popular in recent years, with its  brochure-friendly panoramas and beautiful scenic views across the lake; welcoming visitors all year round.

Island view, Bled

I visited in August this year. Peak season. Probably not what I would recommend if you prefer peace, quiet and tranquility, although it is possible to find a few spots to escape the crowds of sunbathing families.

Phill, as an ex-tour guide, has been there many times, so I am pretty sure he's well informed to tell me how different it is in Bled the rest of the year.

Now, after the summer crowds have dissipated, is the perfect time to visit. In the winter months it's a popular place for skiers, so another reason to put it on your bucket list.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Oyster and visitor Oyster cards comparison and other London transport info

Whatever your reason for heading to London, there are numerous options for transportation and these can be confusing to a regular in London so how visitors are meant to work it all out, I do not know!

Hopefully the below will give you a good overview if you are planning a visit to London.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

10 tipples to try on your travels

When I'm travelling, I tend to be more of a soft drink drinker. Often sipping on a fresh fruit (Mrs Pa) shake (read more about that under Food and Drink in my post 'Wat a lot of temples and my recommendations', from my visit to Chiang Mai, Thailand) or a can of whatever soft drink is available  - Lemon Fanta (Spain), 100 Plus (Malaysia) or Inca Cola (Peru) are my favourites. Although when it's hot I'm happy gulping down just water...

I miss Mrs Pa fruit shakes, Chiang Mai, Thailand

When it comes to alcohol, I'm not a big drinker, but I do love the red stuff, and a glass of Malbec will always be my first choice when choosing something alcoholic.

Beer seems to feature on the menu much more often however, and this means trying the local brew becomes almost compulsory at every destination. Sometimes there is a unique local tipple to try. Some of these are definitely worth seeking out:

Sunday, 14 September 2014

10 things to do in Southwark, London

Southwark is a borough in central London. As I shared in my last London post 'On a Budget: Free and Discounted things to do in London', wandering the streets of London is free, and one of the best walks is in Southwark, along the Southbank of the Thames, from the London Eye to Tower Bridge.

Much of the area of Southwark can be seen easily in a day, but you may want to take your time working your way through all the sights and activities that this part of London has to offer.

Over the last few weeks, I have been exploring, as a tourist and as a local, taking in as much as possible in order to share with you my highlights and recommendations, to help in making the best use of your time in this area.

So whether you're visiting as a tourist or local yourself, I am sure there will be something in my list that appeals for a day out in London's borough of Southwark.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Take a risk with Airbnb

Airbnb has been in the press recently for its controversial change of logo and new partnership with Concur. The jury is still out on whether this indicates a change in strategy, but it is starting to look like we may soon be looking elsewhere for affordable and quirky accommodation.

Last month, I decided to expand my experiences and check out what Airbnb had to offer in the way of accommodation for a flashpacking couple, in comparison to where we would normally stay.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

10 Ljubljana landmarks

Earlier this month, I headed to Slovenia for a short break.

Although the main focus for the visit was celebrating turning another year older, in Bled, we couldn't miss an opportunity for a day in the capital, Ljubljana.

In my previous post, Ljubljana, Slovenia - the city in a day, I shared my thoughts on this beautiful Eastern European city, so as a follow up, here is a quick run down of the main landmarks, and a few photos from my trip.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Eastern Europe: Ljubljana, Slovenia - the city in a day

Although its a capital city, chances are, unless you've landed on this post following a specific search, you probably haven’t heard of Ljubljana in Slovenia.

If you have ventured into Eastern Europe however, you will know that the perceived contrast between the East and the West is very real.

Eastern Europe has such diverse history, architecture and people. The culture and traditions are endless and that is why I urge you to consider taking a trip before it becomes rammed with tourists and globalisation advances this area of the world and the crowds flood in.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

On a budget: free and discounted things to do in London

If you had asked me my views on London a few years ago, you would have got my take on the city from the eyes of a commuter. However, under the surface of grey, smog and rush hour crowds, there is far more to this city than meets the eye.

In 2012, just before I left the UK for almost a year, I tried and tested some of the touristy things in the capital, and slowly my view began to change.

Since I returned to the UK in April this year, I have found myself spending more and more time exploring London on a day, out and continuously find myself telling people about the great things to see and do there.

I've gone from hating it, to it becoming my home. Which in some ways gives me a little more credibility when I recommend places to go, as they have had to prove themselves to me more so than the offerings of any other city.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

On a budget: Copenhagen, it's not that expensive unless there's food involved

Aside from being probably the cosiest city in Scandinavia, Copenhagen's also deemed as an expensive destination, so during a long weekend visit, I endeavoured to hunt down the things you can do on a budget there.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Gift ideas for travellers, whatever their travel style

Whether you know a long term traveller who is constantly on the road, a periodic traveller who has a permanent base, or just someone who lives to travel, finding gifts can be difficult.

Let's face it, finding gifts generally can often be difficult.

If you're searching for a gift for someone who likes to travel, just figure out the recipients travel style and determine a suitable gift accordingly.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Experiencing Malaysia during Ramadan

Ramadan started this week, commencing on Sunday (29th June) and lasts a month, until Hari Raya on 28th July.

Travelling during Ramadan, in predominantly Muslim areas, can be frustrating if you are not prepared. However it can also be an interesting and rewarding cultural experience.

Ketupat palas (sticky rice parcels wrapped in palm leaves)
Last year I spent Ramadan and Hari Raya, which succeeds the month of fasting, in Malaysia. However we hadn't really planned for this until we realised the next few weeks would take us into some of the most Muslim areas in the country.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Where to venture from Rio, Brazil

How many people have Brazil on their bucket list?

Of course, this year and 2016 will inevitably be attracting visitors, with the World Cup, Olympics and Paralympics taking place. However, if you plan your trip carefully, there are some places you should try to include in your itinerary as well as the capital, Rio de Janeiro.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

London weekend: Aldwych disused tube station

Dating back to 1907, when it first opened as Strand station, the terminus and only station on the short Piccadilly line branch from Holborn that was a relic of the merger of two railway schemes.

Main entrance, along the Strand

In 1915 it was renamed Aldwych, at the same time as the now Charing Cross station was named Strand.

During April 1917 Sunday services ended and later that year the Eastern platform was closed and became disused. This was then utilised to provide storage during a German bombing campaign, for pictures belonging to the National Gallery. Further wartime occurrences, including the Blitz, resulted in the station's use as an air raid shelter, as well as storage for items including the Elgin Marbles.

Platform 1

The station survived further planned closures, maintaining a weekday service until 30th September 1994, when it was finally closed.

What remains here today is largely the original features, although there is a false front ticket office, that was built in 1985; the original one can also be found close to the main entrance.

Public telephones

Both platforms feel a little eerie and of course there is a ghost story, of a woman who haunts the platform area that was never finished. Supposedly the ghost is that of an actress associated with a theatre which was originally sited here, prior to the station being built.

Unfinished and haunted?

What is great about this place, is that it is still maintained for use in films, featuring most recently in the Sherlock series as well as films such as V for Vendetta and Atonement.

Well worth the £25 entry fee, and particularly as access is only granted during a limited period. Unfortunately tickets for the current tours, this month, are already sold out. There was a guy on our tour who had just turned up going for a no show, so it may be possible to get a last minute ticket if you are lucky. 

Otherwise, you will need to keep an eye on the London Transport Museum events page for details of the next planned opening.

Update: Brit Movie Tours now offer a tour of the station on a limited basis. Check out their site here for dates.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

London weekend: Trooping the colour

The weather forecast threatened rain over the weekend, but that wasn't going to stop me heading into the city.

Today I enjoyed the celebrations and parade, which was part of the Trooping the Colour annual event. 

Coldstream guards

Sunday, 8 June 2014

My recommendations for Amsterdam

The bicycles I remember, and the statistics I read in the in flight magazine stating there are 880,000 bicycles and only 780,000 residents, is actually believable... it's not obvious the number of tourists who take this mode of transport through the city however.

Amsterdam lures in visitors for many different reasons. Whether you are an average city visitor, a food fanatic, going there to party or just want to relaxing or immerse yourself in the museums, you can do it in Amsterdam...

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Things to do in Kuching (Borneo, Malaysia), and ideal for kids

So, where exactly is Kuching?

Kuching is the capital of the Malaysian state of Sarawak, which is located on the north west of the island of Borneo.

Location of Kuching

This part of the world is severely underrated in my opinion. Everyone includes Peninsular (mainland) Malaysia in their whistle stop tour of South East Asia, and of course, Thailand and Singapore are well visited by both holiday makers and Backpackers. But what about the Malaysian portion of Borneo?

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Dublin: Beautiful Day(s) in a city of culture and tasty tipples

Dublin is the home of Guinness and U2. But what else does this city offer, and is it possible to get away from the cliché night out in Temple Bar surrounded by stags and hens?

I've been to Dublin twice, although it seems I went another time; an old friend and my mum have since reminded me of that. I don't remember it, although perhaps it simply was an alcohol fuelled visit and has been blurred into the pile of raucous weekends away with work colleagues, during my training days, that I try to blank out.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

A hop farm meeting with an extreme geocaching challenge, Beltring (Kent)

Being back in the UK has been surprising, as the renowned grey and rainy skies have started to clear and Spring shows signs of Summer.

Regular readers will already know about my geocaching hobby, which has often taken me to places I would never have ventured otherwise, such as the islands of Don Sao in Laos, which required a boat trip over the border from Thailand.

There are many others (see here), but the UK, where I live, is where you will find me at my geocaching 'best'.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

I challenge you to give Wikivoyage a try...

Updated: May 2016

I've been meaning to share this post for some time, but like Wikivoyage, it seems to get forgotten and pushed lower down the list.

So, have you used it? Or better still, have you contributed? Or are you, like many, yet to be clued up on what I'm referring to?

Officially launched in January 2013, the free online resource from the Wikimedia Foundation, Wikivoyage initially attracted a bit of attention, although most likely because it was free.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Southern Thailand offers more than the touristy West coast: communist tunnels, a million bottle temple and more

Visitors to the south of Thailand tend to stay in the west coast, where the limestone outcrops and pristine sands can be found.

The province of Phuket and Krabi are often the most popular, although in recent years Trang (with it's stretch of beaches) and Satun (with access to more islands) provinces have increased in interest. As tourism has slowly spread south, many islands have remained undeveloped, with the exception of Ko Lipe - an almost paradise island.

During the high season, there is a scheduled boat service that allows you to island hop from Phuket all the way to Penang (Malaysia), without needing to return to the mainland.

So why would visitors to the south of Thailand want to venture into the 'deep south' and the provinces of Songkhla, Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Reinvented destinations around the world

Back in January I was asked to join a panel of judges for a travel writing competition, with the theme of reinvention. Did you try your had at travel writing?

The entries have now been judged and the results are out, and I'm very proud to admit that I contributed to choosing the winner.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Nordic food for thought, in Copenhagen

I have to confess to wondering what else Copenhagen is famous for, other than being the home to Hans Christian Andersen and Carlsberg.

During a few days touring the city I was surprised to find that Nordic cuisine has become far superior to the bland foods that I have had elsewhere in the region.


Saturday, 22 March 2014

Nexus 7 case review

As you may know, I am the proud owner of a Nexus 7 tablet.  Over the last 18 months or so, it has been all over the world with me. 

I have it on me everywhere I go, so of course it sits at the top of my list of "13 things I dont travel without". It holds travel books, keeps all the information I come across on the web, assists with navigation, helps me when geocaching and most importantly, of course, I use it to write my blog posts.

I recently acquired a new 2013 Nexus 7, as a gift. My original device is still very much in use, but the new one has a camera, a better graphics chip and is faster, as well as being thinner.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Use Marmite and Crocs to avoid the same conversations when you travel

Whenever you arrive somewhere new, travellers ask the same  questions: Where are you from? Where are you going? Where have you been? How long are you travelling for?

After a while it seems like these are the only questions that people ask, almost as if they are on autopilot.

It's tiring, and I get bored of having the same conversations; almost running out of enthusiasm. So I started to make a conscious effort to create conversations that were more meaningful.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

How to enjoy cheese: with a tasting session at Reypenaer, Amsterdam

When I'm travelling longer term, particularly away from Europe, I often start to crave things that are difficult to get hold of where I am, like fresh salad, decent chocolate or, most of all... cheese!

Spending a few days in Amsterdam had me craving cheese even more than normal; every time we wandered past one of the many dutch food or cheese shops in the city centre.

Fortunately, tasting opportunities were numerous, with many shops offering sample pieces of the distinctive yellow wheels, piled up on their shelves.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Probably, the cosiest city in Scandinavia: Copenhagen

I've never been to Denmark before, but after 3 days in the capital, Copenhagen, last week, I will be going there again as soon as I can to get my "hygge" fix.

Hard to explain and even harder to pronounce, the Danish word hygge (sounds a bit like “hooglie”) roughly translates to coziness. However, there is far more to the translation, as there is to Copenhagen.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

My recommendations for maps whilst travelling (and geocaching)

Updated: May 2016

Whether I'm travelling from A to B back home in the UK, on a road trip, away for a long weekend, on holiday or taking time enjoying longer term travel, one thing I can't be without, other than my trusty tablet (these days) of course, is a map.

I have walked many trails in the Lake District using a traditional OS (Ordnance Survey) map, complimented by a compass and heavy rain, so am not adverse to old school tools.

However, these days, there are numerous map Apps for phones and tablets.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Pancake day (Pannenkoeken dag) in Amsterdam

"Do you celebrate Pancake day in the Netherlands?", I asked the waitress at breakfast this morning. She didn't seem to know immediately, that it was indeed Pannenkoeken dag (Dutch for Pancake day). But I guess working in "The Pancake Bakery" makes every day Pancake day in Amsterdam!

Also referred to as Shrove Tuesday (mainly in English-speaking countries), Mardi Gras, and Fat Tuesday, Pancake day is the day preceding Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.

And where better to spend pancake day than in Amsterdam?

Saturday, 1 March 2014

What to pack: for a short break to Europe

On Monday I am off for a short break to Amsterdam and Copenhagen, and of course I haven't started thinking about packing yet; although I know I should at least make sure everything I want to take is clean.

Short breaks to Europe mean a change of baggage for me. Reluctantly I have to rethink the practicalities of my hand bag as well, so that it is suitable for all my needs, including geocaching, whilst being stylish enough to be taken seriously.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Getting creative, and handmade paper, on my travels

I often end up with too much to carry, as I stuff my bag with "just a few bits" of craft stuff that I find along the way.

As a long term traveller that just doesn't really work, so I try to be disciplined by finding each and every opportunity to get creative. For example, when I was volunteering on a turtle conservation project in Tioman Island in July last year, I made 'turtle' ash trays out of empty drinks cans!

Recycled ash tray made from 'Sprite' can

Saturday, 22 February 2014

My travel inspiration and a summary of 2013 travel shows in London, UK

I don't watch television, and that means I have had to accept the fact that I can't join in those conversations about the latest soap, sitcom or drama series, or even the Olympics coverage.

However, it rarely bothers me. But I do have to admit to being a little disheartened when I hear about a travel programme that I missed.

I'm a huge Michael Palin fan, proudly owning the DVD box set of his around the world adventures. And I must confess to obtaining copies or downloads of travel shows or documentaries when I can. 

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Bum guns on my travels and why I recommend you give one a try

I'm a bum gun convert! There, I've admitted it. I've joined the cult. And I'm embracing this new religion.

Humour aside, I'm not confessing to anything untoward. Many other travellers through South East Asia have done the same during their time there. Look it up, there are blog posts everywhere, everyone is doing it.

What am I talking about?

Saturday, 15 February 2014

New York by five

I’ve visited New York twice, but I’ve never been a fan. However, I do have a friend who is. Today I have a guest post to share with you, from that very friend, Mario Hinksman – maybe on reflection, I should give NYC another chance…

Thursday, 13 February 2014

The latest travel inspiration, in London

Today sees the start of the Outdoor Adventure & Travel Show at Excel in London. Of course, I'm heading along for some more travel inspiration.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

An 'almost' paradise island: Koh Lipe, Thailand

Koh Lipe is as far South as you can get along the Andaman (West) coast of Thailand, and close to the border with Malaysia, so a popular border run destination.

Arriving from Pak Barra (on the mainland) you get dropped off at a floating jetty, more like a barge, pay the 20 baht 'entrance' fee and 50 baht for a long tail boat which will then take you to anywhere on the island.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

My favourite footwear, ideal for travel - Crocs

You either love them or hate them. But despite efforts from friends and family to convince me that it's not acceptable to wear, let alone own, a pair of Crocs, I still do both everywhere I go... well almost!

Honestly, I totally agree with people who think these are an ugly choice of footwear. But what does that really matter when they are so comfortable, and you can take them anywhere.

I think a post showing my Crocs on my travels, is well overdue. So... Here it is!

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Geocaching on my travels, why not give it a try

I recently contributed a piece for an interview over at the Departure Board site about my perfect travel day. It was mostly food related, but also gave me a chance to talk about my love of Geocaching. Check out the post here: Meet the STEPPERS - Jade of 

I've mentioned this hobby in many a post, but if you are not familiar with what it involves, it is often referred to as treasure hunting for adults (although kids enjoy doing it too).

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Overnight at Bako national park, Borneo (Malaysia)

Bako national park, near Kuching on the island of Borneo in the state of Sarawak, Malaysia, turned out quite a bit more pricey than we had budgeted for, but if you are travelling in a larger group, this won't be a problem. It is still totally worthy of a visit, and I recommend heading there overnight to be sure of sighting the famous proboscis monkeys.

Friday, 31 January 2014

Celebrate Chinese New Year and ... eat

Happy New Year to all my friends and family who celebrate Lunar New Year (農曆新年) or spring festival (春節), better known as Chinese New Year.

Today is the first day of this 15 day period of festivity, celebrating the year of the horse, which incidentally, is my year too.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Malaysia roundup: so much variety

If you like city life, trekking, historical sights or just laying on a beach, Malaysia has something for each.

Nearly 4 months is quite a long time to spend as a traveller in one country in one year. However, I have spent quite a bit more time in Malaysia over the years and will often recommend this as a destination to anyone who hasn't visited, as there is so much variety.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Try your hand at travel writing

Do you have a travel story to share? 

When I first started blogging about my travels back in 2006, it was just really for friends and family to see what I was up to and 'dip into' rather than be bored at length when I returned.

However, I'm probably one of my biggest readers, as I love reminiscing about places I have been, and often find myself looking over what I have written when planning a future trip.

I urge you to do the same next time you travel - keep notes, a journal or even better a smash book ;) and don't just leave your photo's on a memory card...

If you're not particularly technical and just want a place to share your travel related thoughts, I do recommend, which I used for many years, and still keep up to date. It has a cool map that marks where you are, and uploading photo's from a PC is fairly straightforward.

There are many other blogging tools and applications available, so you should be able to find something to suit your needs.

I personally find that writing whilst on the road is made easier by my trusty tablet. 

I spent a long while researching what would suit my needs before investing in my Nexus 7, and I have yet to be disappointed. Everything I need to stay in touch and keep my journal, notes and blog updated is on this device.

Want a chance to win one for yourself and want to give travel writing a try?

Last year, you may recall, I entered a travel writing competition run by Go Walkabout Travel Insurance.

No, I didn't win, but I did get my travel writing published in the "Hidden Gems Travel Tales - An Anthology of Travel Writing Entries", that was produced afterwards - see here for more details.

This year I have been asked to join the panel of judges for the latest competition. The deadline for entries is 28th February - so you still have plenty of time to craft something and enter. Why not give it a try, and be in with a chance of winning your very own Nexus 7.

Full details of the competition can be found here:

If you make the top 10, I look forward to reading your entries. Good luck!

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Get inspired by travel

Have you planned your holiday for 2014? Are you in need of some inspiration?

Well, this weekend I will be at the Adventure Travel Show at Olympia in London, gathering inspiration for off the beaten track adventures. Why not join me - book your tickets before 1pm tomorrow and get discounted entrance.

This does also mean that I am currently back in the UK for the time being, working on a few projects and hoping to inspire you to get out and about a bit more.

In the meantime, there is plenty to come from my recent trip around South East Asia, so do check back soon.

If you haven't done so already, please do stop by and 'like' my Facebook page where I will be keeping you updated with other travel news and advice.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

13 items you probably don't need to carry when you travel

So after sharing with you the 13 items I don't travel without, here are the things that, from my experience, are just not needed when you travel.

However, there are a few caveats concerning destination, so I have incorporated my thoughts on a few things to consider before crossing it off you're list.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

13 items I don't travel without

Can I travel without it? Will I cry if it gets stolen? And can I buy it locally?

These are the questions I ask myself when packing my essentials for a trip. Whether it's an overnight stay, a long weekend, a holiday, or a longer adventure.

Often the items I don't travel without are the same, with a few exceptions, depending on the destination.

Are you planning a trip soon? If so, hopefully my top travel essentials may help you in thinking about what to pack.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Paper handicrafts in Laos and Thailand

Wherever I travel I'm always on the look out for craft supplies. I'll always be a crafter, and I guess that finds me in places that are not always on the typical travellers' path. 

In Laos or Thailand you will find paper handicrafts in abundance. Sometimes the quality isn't the greatest, but there are a few places that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend for a visit.

Ban Xang Khong, Luang Prabang, Laos

The village of Ban Xang Khong, just a couple of kilometres from the city of Luang Prabang in Laos, has specialised for many years in manufacturing and selling products made from silk and Saa Paper (paper made from the bark of the Mulberry Tree).

Whether you are just passing through, on holiday or looking for a place to source from, this area is where you will be able to fill a couple of hours admiring the handicrafts and stocking up on souvenirs.

There are a number of little stores run by local people still using traditional methods to create beautiful handicrafts. What I enjoyed most is the opportunity to see items being entirely made by hand, including the Saa paper.

Ban Xang Khong - paper making

To be able to appreciate the diversity of products, you will have to wander through a number of shops, but the larger ones in the centre have the most variety.

How to get there:

Go to the North station (you can take the little wooden bridge if you go by bicycle). At the North station, continue for about 50 yards, and turn left (just after the petrol station). Then, go straight on. The village is on the left, along the Mekong. A great way to get there is by bicycle.

Bo Sang, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Most people head out to the Bo Sang handicraft centre in Chiang Mai on a tour, combining a visit to the silk, silverware and gem factories.

Is this a must do whilst in Chiang Mai, well it is if you are a keen crafter like myself or if you are looking for good quality handicrafts for souvenirs.

It is easy enough to get to independently, by bus, taxi or even Songtaew (a little more complex). We took a motorbike.

I didn't entirely know what to expect, anticipating something very touristy and people pushing to sell their wares. And it was a bit touristy, in terms of set up, but that just made it more enjoyable than having to struggle to communicate and understand what it was all about.

There is a well laid out 'tour' of the 'factory' where the paper umbrellas and parasols are made by hand. Each worker is responsible for a different stage of the process of whatever item they are making that particular day. 

Bo Sang - making handles

Bo Sang - mini umbrellas

After wandering round the production area, there's an area with local artists who are offering numerous choices of hand painted designs. These can be painted right there in front of you in minutes, onto items you have purchased in the shop or whatever you have with you: mobile phones, clothing, bags. Someone even had a design painted onto their shoulder.

Bo Sang - suitcase painting

I wasn't prepared for this opportunity, or the price. It is really very cheap, particularly when you realise that these designs will make a lovely hand painted gift for absolutely anyone.

After much deliberation, and consideration of my attire for the day, which really would have been a waste of a good painting. I settled on getting my bag decorated.

The result was absolutely lovely, and I have been sporting my bag with pride every where I venture, ever since.

I urge you to visit this place, just for this! Bring items to be painted with you take home a personalised souvenir for that special someone.

Getting there

Head South East, out along San Kamphaeng Road, from Chiang Mai city. Bo Sang is 8km, but you can't really miss it amidst the silk, gem and other showrooms in the area.

If you go there around the third weekend in January they hold the Bo Sang Umbrella & San Kamphaeng Handicrafts Fair each year, where all the local artisans compete to see who can make and decorate the best products. Now that would be so cool!

Have you been to any places where they make paper handicrafts by hand... I would love to hear your recommendations?

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Lonely Planet: Out of date and possibly behind the times but it's still my favourite guide book

I have become a bit disheartened with Lonely Planet, which has often been my guide of choice for as long as I can remember. Whereas I used to find them a reliable source of information (with the exception of the Colombia edition that faced much controversy back in 2008), I now find the quality has dropped somewhat.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Saving suggestions: for some of Singapore's sights

Singapore is expensive in comparison to the rest of South East Asia, but that shouldn't put you off.

I am fortunate enough to have family there, so a month long visit in September of last year meant not just seeing the sights, but really getting under the skin of what there is to do there.

Believe it or not, there are many things to do for free in Singapore (mainly parks and gardens) and a few things you can do to save a little more when visiting tourist attractions. I've already blogged about many of them, so, here's a summary of a few tried and tested suggestions, along with links to related information on my blog.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Supporting the International Day of the Travel Blogger #IDOTTB2014

On 8 January 2006 I signed up for my own travel blog on But it took me until 2 April of that year to write my first every blog post.

These days I spend a lot of time reading other blogs to collate information for planning my next destination.

My attitude to writing about my travels has changed from just being about keeping friends and family up to date, to trying to also share information that will help other travellers.

Today I'm supporting the International Day of the Travel Blogger over at The Departure Board here.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Tiggerbird's travel site Facebook page launched

I've just launched a Tiggerbird's travel site fan page on Facebook and would like to encourage anyone who wants to follow this blog through FB to "Like" it.

It should provide a direct feed of all the content that I post on here. In addition I will share some of the things that often are not worthy of a blog post, such as travel news and advice that I stumble across during my travels.

Bangkok's hidden beauty - the "green lung", Bang Krachao

I've lost count of how many times I've been to Bangkok. For the third time on this trip alone, I found myself back in the thriving city once more.

Whoever said all roads lead to Bangkok, really was right. What they didn't say, is that over time you will begin to see the craziness very differently.

When I visited Bangkok in May, I tried to see past the pollution, and the memories that clouded my mind from previous visits. I'd always seen it as a transit point with the grand palace and a few temples chucked in for the tourists.

That visit changed my view somewhat (see previous post: Same same, but not quite like this).

Then when I stopped off here for a few days in November, it almost felt like 'home'. I guess the familiarity and the availability of great food helped, particularly after what I had gotten used to over in Malaysian Borneo.

Visiting again towards the end of December, it's almost a different place. The high season prices hadn't deterred people and neither had the political demonstrations. It was busy.


We did a lot of exploring of Bangkok during our December visit, helped by the numerous geocaches placed here, which guided us to many lesser visited spots.

The most memorable was Bang Krachao in Phra Pradaeng district, perhaps better known as 'Bangkok's green lung' but still unknown to anyone who works in the tourist information office, and many of the residents of Bangkok it seems.

Unfortunately it isn't as unexplored as I would have liked, as there are a number of tour agencies offering tours here by bicycle. Looking at the prices, that start from around 3,500 baht (£65/US$107) I was intrigued at what was included that you couldn't cover off independently. Was it worth spending all this money?

Our budget wasn't going to stretch to one of these tours unless there was no other option, so I did a little research and we were soon enjoying the day exploring this hidden oasis by ourselves.

The weekend is the best time to visit, with a large floating market (only about 10% actually floating however). Otherwise take a picnic, as there are few places to eat there on a week day.

To get there from the city, it's necessary to pass through the Khlong Toei district. This is a bit of a slum area, but once at the pier there, you can look forward to the green that awaits just across the river.

A small boat (warning: you will potentially get a bit wet on it) costs just 10 baht per person each way.

There are bikes for rent at the pier when you arrive, but if they are all gone (as we found due to a late start) the botanical park also has them and is only a 1km walk.

The alternative is a motorbike taxi, which costs approx 30 baht across to the market (6km).

Ideally a bicycle is the best option to get around, so get there early.

There are no maps of the area available so prepare to get lost. We managed perfectly well with offline maps and GPS on my tablet, and by following the geocaches scattered around the area.

There are a few signs along the main road, but once you head down a board walk, mostly only Thai script can be found.

Places to visit:

Talad Bang Nampun (floating market) - very little of this market is actually floating, but the parts that are should be you first stop for a steaming bowl of noodle soup. The rest of the market is well worth a visit for items and goods you don't see in other Bangkok markets.

Siamese fighting fish gallery - this very well manicured garden around a lake is the setting of a rather odd gallery consisting of row upon row of glass jars with specimens of the famed Siamese fighting fish. 

Si Nakhon Khuean Khan botanical park - areas of this park have seen better days but it's great to just wander or sit and relax. Bikes are permitted along the nicely maintained paths but there are some rougher areas which are more prone to swarms of mosquito's so take repellent if you plan to explore.

Herbal jos stick home stay - just a short walk from the east side of the floating market area, turn left at the end of the walkway at the bridge, head about 50m down the main road and you will see a board walk to your right signposted in Thai with a small sign directing towards the handmade incense home. You can try the art of making incense for yourself, as well as learn about the different herbs and plants used in the making of the different varieties that are also sold here.

Wat - nothing special about the temple located close to the market area, but it is a good spot to rent a bicycle from.

I will have to venture back sometime and search out the other recommended spots, including the eco friendly hotel (without walls) and its organic restaurant, perhaps even brave a bicycle tour.

Getting there:

From Baglamphu, this involves a ferry, BTS sky train, metro and taxi. The easiest route I found was:
Ferry to: Central/Saphan Taksin (15 baht)
BTS from Saphan Taksin to Sala Daeng (28 baht)
Metro to Khlong Toei (17 baht, advertised as 18?)
Taxi to Khlong Toei pier (approx 50 baht), it's worth having a map handy for this part as many taxi drivers don't know where it is. There's a wat by the same name located there so they may be more familiar with that. On Kasem Rat Road there a 7-eleven store on a corner just before a large archway to the temple. Head through this alley towards the temple and the pier is tucked away at the end.

Incidentally if you just get a taxi it will probably cost around the same depending on traffic. We went back that way and there was little traffic, and it cost 110 baht. Certainly worth it for more than one person.