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 Travelpod.com, 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: http://blog.go-walkabout.co.uk/2013/10/reinvention-travel-writing-competition/

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 Travelpod.com. 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.