Perched upon El Carmel in
Thursday, March 11, 2010
Perched upon El Carmel in
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
This shot was taken of the Wellington Arch in London on Christmas Day 2009. It was a crisp winter day in the English capital, but that didn't deter the hordes of Japanese tourists from swarming the streets. It didn't deter us either, but at least we had Christmas hats on. Courtesy of my photography affiliate Sarah, at The World Through My Lens.
Monday, February 22, 2010
"One always begins to forgive a place as soon as it's left behind".
Charles Dickens wrote this line when travel was still just a function of British colonialism, before Mark Twain was an 'innocent abroad', and before Jack Kerouac was 'on the road'. But it still rings true today. For better or worse, a place will always look better in retrospect, after the choking stench has left your nostrils. For better with Berlin, where the unbearable cold plagued my stay and prompted a "I'll never come back here"... for better because of the incredibly vibrant city that was hidden beneath that blanket of torturous snow. For worse... well, I'm sure we all have some of these.
Monday, February 15, 2010
Taken from the Petrusse Valley in Luxembourg City. I love this city, I highly recommend you visit there. This shot just takes me back!
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Thursday, February 4, 2010
This year I decided to indulge in a white winter, exploiting the dwindling crowds to get a more intimate look at Europe. Armed with thermals, a scarf, and a mid-range Lumix, I snapped some photos of beautiful Prague in its Christmas glory. How romantic.
Friday, April 24, 2009
Obviously the items you pack will vary according to individual tastes, as well as the destination. But I’ll try to give a rough guide on what I believe to be essential items for when I travel, outside of the requisites (such as a passport).
First, the ‘Honourable mentions’:
Multivitamins: Unless you’re travelling through some Asian countries, you’ll find there will be a severe lack of fruit consumption. As a result, you’ll either shrivel-up and die for not adhering to the laws of the ‘food pyramid’, or you’ll merely feel less than 100%. Either way, multivitamins will help you! While we’re on the topic of ‘medication’, bring sleeping pills.
USB: I cannot stress enough how important this is! If the TAB were giving odds for the likelihood of you losing your camera, it would probably be around 1:1. Take a large USB or two, back-up your photos as often as possible!
Photocopies of Passports: If you lose your passport, this may save you some trouble with language barriers. The last thing you want to do is be stuck in some obscure Mexican police station shouting “taco taco” amidst an anxious attempt to explain your missing passport.
Now for the top 6:
6. Travel insurance: It’s hardly an object (so it gets a low rating), but it’s absolutely vital if you’re going to be on the move a lot, particularly in “dangerous” areas. Yes, it is somewhat expensive, but given the threat of theft when in transit, the dividends it will pay when covering stolen goods will cover the cost and then some. All it takes is a momentary lapse in concentration, and a ‘professional’ thief (usually gypsies who struggle with the concept of integrity or job classifieds) will swoop on your luggage faster than a fly to shit! Just remember to file a police report if something is stolen! Of course, the principal precautionary reasoning behind travel insurance is for the coverage of injury or death. Without looking at statistics, I’d say the chance of an injury increases when travelling. The road rules are different; the location is unfamiliar; you participate in activities that may be foreign to you (such as skiing, surfing or eating a baguette). For example, if you’re travelling to somewhere like Mumbai or Bangkok, the possibility of a road accident is going to be a lot higher than at home given the chaotic and unpredictable nature of the traffic (picture an agitated nest of wasps). Make sure you’re covered!
5. Power adapter + power board: The power converter is rarely forgotten, but what a lot of people fail to capitalise on is the invention of the power board. Rather than wasting money and space on several adapters, or mere time by alternating charging appliances and forgoing simultaneous use, take a power board! 1 adapter… 4-6 home-grown appliances! This way, you can charge your mobile; use your laptop; turn on your strobe light; blend a margarita; and cook a beef stew in your slow cooker all at the same time! Ah the blessings of technology.
4. Locks: Padlocks, combination locks, zip locks, chain locks… you name it! If you’re travelling through somewhere like Eastern Europe or South America – in other words, areas renowned for mysterious cat-burglars or gypsy families raiding unbeknown sleeping train passengers’ luggage – bring lots of locks! Combination locks will give you peace of mind when you sleep in transit, and a chain lock will secure your luggage to a train pole whilst you catch some Z’s. If you’re staying in a hostel, bring your own locks! They’re often not provided, and given the… er… ‘integrity’… of some people that frequent such places, it’s a good idea to secure your valuables. Maybe put a lock on your kidneys too.
3. iPod – It’s hard to believe how normal an iPod has become since it’s initial launch in 2001. It’s essentially an icon of the decade, a symbol of contemporary lifestyle. When travelling, its value increases ten-fold. Transit can be a terribly boring experience, particularly if you’re unfortunate enough to be stuck with long, monotonous day travel (save for a scenic trip past the Bavarian Alps or a Lucerne-Interlaken route!) This tiny accessory will carry 8 or 16 gigabytes of your life. A simple rotation of the thumb and press of a button will see to it that an otherwise unbearable nine hour stopover in Singapore will be transformed into a retro ho-down courtesy of ‘The Very Best of Prince’. Face it, music is a large part of our existence, and an iPod will save you carrying a discman, two-hundred CDs and twenty AA batteries. Thank-you Steve Jobs!
2. Digital Camera: Yes, it’s stating the obvious (as are a lot of these), however your trip will be immortalised if you put your camera to good use. I specify digital for obvious reasons (unless you’re a photography enthusiast) – they’re extremely compact; you can review photos instantaneously and delete unwanted photos; it avoids having to worry about the issues with film due to the potential for backups.
1. Diary: Similar to the camera, there will inevitably be some priceless stories that will be soon forgotten. Whether it is a drunken encounter with a Swedish backpacker in Berlin; a jail-term in Brunei for revealing too much skin; or losing a kidney in a Brazilian slum… a lifetime of alcohol abuse will erase such unremarkable memories. A daily entry into your diary could ensure such stories aren’t lost to Alzheimer’s or in the drunken haze that is your life. Furthermore, a quick report on your feelings and emotions in a certain location could trigger that nostalgic longing for a return upon reflecting a few years down the track!
Well there you have it, my top 6 "must packs" before you travel. There are other objects on my list that deserve a mention, but you'll have to figure them out for yourself. Good luck!
Friday, April 17, 2009
If hundreds of drunken tourists and a disturbingly high concentration of lady-men is your thing, then I’d advise you camp yourself as close to Bangla Road as possible! [tip: without the benefit of experience, I’m willing to bet most are post-op given how convincing most of them are, just a handy tip for those of you who believe in the “what happens in Thailand, stays in Thailand”] Once you can get past the seedy appearance of it all, there is an extremely vibrant atmosphere that is difficult to dislike if there is ‘fun’ somewhere within you. Tens and tens of bars with pole-dancing ‘lady-boys, tourists getting loose and abundance of cheap drinks… what more could you possibly want?
Here’s a tip for the lone traveller in Patong: Ring the bell at any of the bars, you’re bound to make friends pretty quickly! Just remember though, it will cost you 1000 baht (about $35 AUD or $25 USD), but everyone at the bar gets a shot! If you’re lucky, you’ll find a bar with a group of rowdy Australians looking to lighten their pockets (I know because I was in that group, strangely we found our ‘group’ grew pretty quickly).
If you’re really looking for a headache, ask for “the bucket” (a bucket full of vodka and red-bull… somewhat out of proportion). While you’re circling through the congregation of bars, be sure to challenge the bar staff to a game of connect 4 or the ‘hammer and nail’ game. I even came across a 4-year old boy - who was the son of the bar owner and was extremely skilled -challenging (and beating) all of the rowdy tourists till sunrise!
Something to possibly avoid: There are “hidden” nightclubs above some of the bars on Bangla Road. Overall, they’re similar to most mainstream nightclubs anywhere else, including a cover-charge and more expensive drinks, but it’s the fact that it resembles a cross-dressing red-light district crammed into a room that makes it something to avoid… unless that’s your thing. Adding to this notion, there are countless other night spots in Phuket that are just poor attempts to mimic Western nightclubs. The reality is, most people are seeking something a little different, that’s why I think Bangla Road is the place to be!
If you’re looking for an… ahem… ‘experience’, then follow one of the countless local marketing geniuses promoting the ‘peep shows’ all along Bangla Road. Their tactics rarely surpass the “look at this brochure, you like? Now follow me”, but for a first-time visitor, it’s tough to resist curiosity. You’ll sometimes be led down seedy side streets and into a tacky building, then you’ll emerge through a door and be confronted with countless other embarrassed faces of curious tourists, anxiously awaiting the horrors ping-pong balls and small birds (yes, birds) will bring. [Tip: There is no cover-charge for the show, however the drinks are grossly overpriced in the 300 baht vicinity, and you’re obliged to buy one. Do make sure that you have several witnesses when you pay for your drink, as they can try to intimidate you into paying twice!]
Basically, Patong Beach is a fairly chaotic westernized fragment of Thailand that boasts beautiful beaches and a hectic nightlife. If it’s a serious cultural experience that you seek… look elsewhere! If you seek sheer relaxation, perhaps head to Phuket's calmer neighbours to Patong - Karon or Kata Beach, only about 20 minutes away! Otherwise, there are various alternatives in Thailand such as Koh Chang (relatively untouched when compared to Phuket) or Phi Phi Island. But if you're just looking for a bit of fun with loads of beer and cocktails, ignore the recent negativity... go to Patong!
I guess the foremost criticism of the area is that despite the glaring differences between Thai and Western culture, the effects of globalization and the consequence of the high-profitability of tourism in the region, have seen to it that Phuket is merely a “home away from home”, rather than a cultural experience. That’s not to say that there aren’t aspects of the culture to be absorbed, because there certainly are. However, after spending even a few hours in Patong Beach, it becomes somewhat clear that there is a unified purpose amongst the locals to simply serve and please the tourist population.
It probably doesn’t bother them too much, given that their lives are sustained by the continuous influx of foreigners and their heavy wallets, and this has been the case for several decades. But you can’t help but feel guilty for the erosion of their traditional lifestyle, just so that we wouldn’t have to go a couple of weeks without McDonalds or cable TV (we wouldn’t want to miss the footy).
Daytime at Patong generally consists of several trucks patrolling Thaweewong Road (the beach strip) sporting cheesy PA promotions and some old school rock tunes, preparing Patong for the coming night, which is no surprise given the “party” reputation Patong has compared to its more subdued neighbours Kata and Karon. Nonetheless, there are countless activities worthwhile during the day. The beach itself does little to fulfill Phuket’s image of ‘paradise’ despite the crystal clear water and white sand, as it is generally littered with thousands of tourists, and the water littered with jetskiis.
On that note, if water sports are your thing, Phuket is the place to do it! You can hire a 2-seater jetski for around 1200 baht for 40 minutes (which equates to around $45 AUD), a very cheap proposition when compared to prices in Australia! However, be extremely weary: there is no insurance on the skis, and any damage sustained will see you out of pocket by at least 10,000 baht (sometimes up to 60,000, as it turns out, you can even barter for reparations in Thailand, but maybe just bring the credit card for this!). So in other words, be careful! Also, try to stay calm if an accident occurs. Defuse the situation with rational discussion and don’t lose your cool, as this is considered to be very dangerous by the locals! If you’ve been mistreated or threatened, find the ‘Tourist Police’ and let them rectify the situation (yes, such a thing exists!)
If you’re still feeling a little sporty, make your way down to the North end of Thaweewong Road, just next to the Graceland Resort. There is a soccer pitch that is predominately gravel with some undersized goals on it, but you’ll generally see a couple of scratch matches throughout the day, as well as some at night. I mention this because they’re extremely welcoming people and won’t hesitate to let you participate if you wish, however do expect some bruised and bloody feet afterwards, as they play in bare feet, and nationalistic pride dictates that we wouldn’t want them to think we’re soft. And there is some serious talent there, too.
Be sure to visit the various markets in the area. Thaweewong Road is predominately a stream of market stalls, with countless rows of stalls running off perpendicular to the main strip. There is also a large market area a few blocks inland, just south of Bangla Road. The products are fairly limited, and you’ll notice that most of the t-shirts and clothing is the same, but it is good fun hunting and bartering for a bargain. The majority of the stalls sell fake brand-name clothing, handbags, watches, tailored suits [tip: make sure your tailor is close to your hotel, because it will generally require a lot of return visits for alterations] sunglasses and other little goodies. They’ll always try to insist that the products are legitimate (whether it be the brand-name or ‘real’ leather), but when you question it, you’re sure to be satisfied with the “yes, real fake leather” response. But I’m sure the main attraction for most is the abundance of DVDs.
This is more serious than the peep shows, as you’ll be led down corridors, up stairs, through basements and down ladders just to get to the room with the DVDs, this is to avoid the ‘raids’ on the street. It’s usually worth the trip just for the air-conditioned room, but there are literally thousands of titles to add to your collection. Just make sure you check the quality first, particularly with newer titles. [Tip: Stating the obvious, never pay what they ask for. You can always get the price a lot lower, except in the case of DVDs. 50 baht is the going rate for a DVD, and you won’t find any lower than that unless you buy in huge bulk. If you can, try to make friends with a tailor you use, and they’ll make sure their friends give you the best price on other products].
Eventually you’ll tire of the generic products and incessant calls of “massssaaaaagge?”, “looks like you need a suit” and “are you from Wagga Wagga my man?”, and you’ll force yourself to branch out a little. Either grab yourself a tuk-tuk driver for the day, or hire a scooter / motorbike (for as little as 300 baht for a day). But like the jetskiis, they are uninsured, and the road traffic is an unpredictable, chaotic, nightmare. So again, be careful!
There are activities to cater for all tastes within a reasonable distance of Patong, including go-karts, paintball, motocross, shooting-ranges (where you can shoot anything from a pistol to a sniper rifle) and Phuket Zoo (where you can get a photo with an orangutan, plus an adult tiger and a cub, as well as seeing some incredible elephant, monkey and crocodile shows). Of course a ‘must-do’ is the elephant riding, which is almost a symbol of Thailand. Word is that the elephants must earn a living much the same as a tuk-tuk driver! If they don’t have passengers, they probably won’t be eating that night! So don’t feel like you’re exploiting the animals or being inhumane, because you’re practically donating money to the World Wildlife Fund by riding them.
As the sun begins to set and your mind turns to food, be sure to try the beachside restaurants near Bangla Road. You can score yourself countless bargains with local Thai food for as little as 50 baht for a main (that’s about as cheap as eating a can of tuna for dinner, so put away your credit card, you won't need it here!) These open-air restaurants themselves can often seem very tacky, whether it is the gender-questionable manager or the seemingly diseased dog lying near the entry, but don’t let appearances fool you! The food is fantastic and brilliant value, the staff are extremely friendly and the location is perfect. [Tip: Make friends with the staff by regularly eating there, and they’ll let you bring your own drinks, including beer! Be sure to buy it from family-mart on your way to dinner, you’ll get a Chang long-neck for around 25 baht!] The only downside is the regular appearance of Thai versions of door-to-door salesmen, trying to guilt-trip you into buying useless junk while you’re trying to enjoy your dinner. They're good for a laugh though.
If the mobile propaganda and rooftop feinted sparring grabbed you like it did most, then by this stage of the night you’ll start heading towards Patong Boxing Stadium. Western pop-culture has already climbed aboard the muay-thai bandwagon, with a series of ‘The Contender’ dedicated to it as well as the popularity of movies such as ‘Ong Bak’, and the real-life action doesn’t disappoint! You may cringe at some undercard bouts that often involve young children resembling Ali and Frazier, but it’s entertaining nonetheless. And once the main-events begin, the experience is really something to remember! It’s a brutal combat sport, so do keep that in mind if you don’t enjoy that sort of thing.
Once you’re done, families will recede back to hotels and resorts, and you’ll be ready for a night to remember... that you'll probably forget.