Tag Archives: coach

48 Hours in… Grunau

Grunau, Austria; a tiny but incredibly picturesque village hidden away in the Austrian alps, surrounded by mountains, lakes, lakes and mountains. Now that might not be enough to make you want to visit, but perhaps we can persuade you…

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The Accommodation:

IMG_20161029_105423Probably one of the best reasons to visit is the wonderfully Austrian and uniquely Busabout Treehouse. Run by an ex-chef and his family this ramshackle traditional old house really feels like a home. There have many people to the comforts of the bedrooms, the glorious surroundings and the pure sincerity of the welcome they receive from Gerhard and Co.

The dogs run freely through the garden, down to the river and into the neighbouring fields without a worry, and you can too. Those that only stop for lunch (and we’ll come to the food next) often find themselves wandering a little far from house as they follow the river, or meander through the woods.

The Food:

IMG_20161029_112313As mentioned, Gerhard, the owner/manager/dad was a professional chef, so you can imagine the food he cooks up is a little special. But he doesn’t bother with fancy flourishes of parsley or drizzles of balsamic vinegar. He makes good hearty home cooked food, the kind of thing that’ll have you craving mums cooking, then scratch that itch with the first bite. His legendary lasagne is a must-try while everything else on the menu is just a delight. Forget the diet though, he doesn’t mess around when it comes to portions that’s for sure. You’ll end up sitting around the dinner table together, laughing and joking like you’ve all known each other for years.

The Countryside:

IMG_20161029_133730Yes, the mountains, lakes, lakes and mountains of course are a huge part of what makes Grunau so incredible. For your window every morning you’ll have to collect your jaw as you stare out and the awe inspiring Austrian Alps, still snow capped from winter. It’s these behemoths that channel the water down into rapid rivers that and just so instagrammable you’ll be flicking through your photo albums for days. Follow these along though and you’ll get to the epic lakes that are dotted along the valleys. A personal favourite is the Almsee, a nice bike ride along from the Treehouse (yes you can rent them there). This lake spreads out across the valley floor and offers amazing opportunities to spot wildlife, take in the amazing views reflected off the lakes surface, or if you’re the romantic type, woe that special someone in your life. You may fancy a dip, which is highly recommended, it’ll certainly leave you feeling fresh as the water is all glacier-melt (AKA ice!) and not much above freezing temperature. Just take a towel and sunbake yourself dry again. If that doesn’t warm you up, there are numerous hikes, easy and challenging up the sides of the valleys, and for the very adventurous, to the very peaks of some of the nearby mountains.

The Activities:

IMG_20161029_111705If all that wasn’t enough, there’s a few special activities offered by the guys at the Treehouse. After taking the bikes for a spin through the valleys, horse riding is the most popular choice. With treks designed for all abilities, from beginner up to fully competent riders, there’s something for all. Beginners will get a chance to enjoy the natural surroundings from horseback (no need to pedal) while more advanced riders can let loose and feel the wind in their hair as they follow the experienced guides through the various terrains. Finally, if all that isn’t enough to can take a try at archery, heading into a secluded section of the woods to ping some arrows into various targets and trees (please no animals though!)

There’s never been a passenger who stayed in Grunau that didn’t wish they could stay longer, and plenty more who wish they hadn’t skipped it. Don’t make the same mistake and make sure you add Grunau to your Busabout adventure.

Written for the Busabout Blog

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

 

Festival Season Pt.2 Music Festivals in Spain – BBK and Benicassim

It’s a bit lazy of me to roll both these in together, but for every difference, there’s a similarity. While BBK is in the town of Bilbao in the north of Spain, and Benicassim (or FIB as it’s known officially and by locals) is in Benicassim on the south coast both run with a similar attitude of easy going enjoyment of music, a relaxed atmosphere and late nights.

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img_20160707_222802619I’m not talking late nights like British or Australian festivals where the headliner will wrap up around midnight or 1am, after which the noise curfew kicks in and it all goes quiet, I’m talking headliners starting after 2am, and the music going through until 6. It actually makes for an interestingly diverse event, with more of the bands playing before midnight and the DJs on afterwards, so while the headliners are the peak, it doesn’t drop off instantly leaving several thousand pumped up (and drunk) festival goers with nowhere to go. Instead those that have reached their limit can head to bed, while those who are just getting started have plenty of time to blow off their steam.

img_20160708_213713054_hdrBBK, up in the hills above Bilbao focuses more on the indie rock for it’s main headliners, and this year hosted some great acts including, Foals, The Pixies, Editors, Aussie favourites Tame Impala, New Order and plenty more. Quite a small arena with two main stages which alternated acts meant it was easy to catch all the big names, while a third ‘band’ stage had a few more obscure acts and the forest hosted trance DJs late into the wee hours. The setting is very cool, the top of the hill, overlooking the city, with rocky outcrops and patches of woodlandOver the course of three days I saw a good few bands, highlights certainly were Foals, and the newly popular punk band Slaves, impressive performances from The Pixies, Hot Chip and Arcade Fire as well.

img_20160716_244919273Bilbao town has one major attraction, the Guggenheim museum. A spectacle from inside and out, it is a masterpiece of modern architecture, covered in shiny titanium tiles it gleams in the sun. The collection of artwork inside is very impressive as well, having been made available to view for the public by Peggy Guggenheim, the heiress that had received the vast collection, so much artwork there are several Guggenheim museums around the world. That’s not all there is though, a fascinating old building has been converted to contain three, free standing modern buildings on pillars, but that’s not all, there’s a swimming pool on the roof, with a glass bottom. So while you’re wandering through the main hall you may notice some odd shaded shadows drifting by. The old city offers some lovely walks, and probably the best food in the city, with pintxos on offer in every other building. There’s a great park there as well, on the side of the hill, a good climb, although I wouldn’t recommend it at the peak of the midday heat. The city has just enough to keep you interested during the day, if you’re not too busy sleeping off the previous nights fun.

img_20160714_200223343Benicassim, a lot warmer, and in tents rather than the comfort of a hostel, meant this felt more like the kind of festival I was used to. The hard dusty ground made me very grateful for Busabouts air mattresses, if only there was a way to install A/C in a tent. The festival was a full 4 days and I had arrived a couple days early to set up and prepare, so I knew the area reasonably well. The old town provided us with excellent tapas restaurants, while a waterpark and the beach nearby meant there was plenty to do during the day. The arena was about twice the size of BBK, but it was nice to see some of the same food trucks there, Spain certainly does good festival food, with a range of options, including asian, mexican and argentinian cuisine, there was even an Aussie place, for all those odd things that Australians never actually eat.

img_20160716_124643118_hdrThe layout of stages meant there was no noise pollution and it was never more than a few minutes to where you needed to be. Some big names performed, the biggest was of course Muse on the Saturday night. For them the crowd was huge, with the arena completely sold out, and plenty people around the outskirts, outside the fence listening in as well. There were plenty more though, Kendrick Lamar, Biffy Clyro, Massive Attack to name a few. It was some of the smaller acts that really impressed me though, the surf/punk/rock FIDLAR really appealed to me giving me the kick I love about music, Rat Boy from the UK were highly entertaining, with a very drunk frontman rap/rambling his way through lively indie rock tunes, but it was Reykjavikurdaetur who put on the most memorable set.img_20160717_201025974With completely incomprehensible songs (my Icelandic is lacking), supposedly about heartbreak, love and feminist freedom the 15 member strong, all female rap troupe ruled the stage with quirky hip-hop tunes and a healthy sprinkling of nudity.

Both festivals were amazing experiences, similar, but different as I said before. If you’re a fan of music and want to experience something truly cultural, you wouldn’t be far wrong from heading to these festivals, especially when Busabout makes it so easy for you.

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Delphi and Meteora

With the time off I get in Athens, it gives me a lot of chances to see more of Greece, so I decided to do an actual tour. I wanted to see some of the real history of the country, so Delphi and Meteora were a must do. Epic scenery and some great stories as well

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I booked through a website called GetYourGuide.com which was pretty good, their price was about 30EUR less than if I’d booked direct, and the company I went with was called Key Tours. It’s a two day tour, and the price included a stay in Kalambaka at the base of the Meteora cliffs.

img_20160816_093201012I was picked up, transferred, fussed around and faffed about until eventually I was on a coach heading up to Delphi for our first stop. The guide was an impressively knowledgable lady called Anastasia, talking almost constantly all the way out of Athens, and then from Athens the whole way to Delphi. Honestly it was very hard to listen to her talk for such a long time, there was just too much chatter that didn’t interest me, so I fell asleep. The service breaks were depressing tourist traps full of over-priced tat and rubbish food, but we didn’t get much choice.

img_20160815_122408611_hdrOnce we got to Delphi there was a little more fussing, then the group followed our guide on a rather uninspiring tour of a hugely inspiring location. The site itself is incredible, ruins of treasuries, a huge temple, a stadium and so much more, all built around the Oracle, on the side of a mountain. The views in all directions were wonderful, the valley spreading below us and the mountain peaks above, while the ruins showed how the ancient holy location functioned. The story goes that Zeus released two crows who would meet at the centre of the world, then hurled a rock down in that location to mark it for mankind. There is a fissure in the rock there, where sulphuric gasses rise from the depths of the planet, and they found that breathing this gas caused strong hallucinations. They would use a virgin, who sit atop the fissure, breathing the air and explaining what she saw (or just mumbling nonsense) and priests would translate this into advise and prophesy for the leaders of the various city-states. The most well known of the prophecies is the story of Croesus who was told that he would destroy an army if he went to war. He went to war, and his own army was destroyed.

img_20160815_123438774It was a holy location, so nobody lived there, meaning there are no remains of homes, just the main temple of Apollo and various treasuries, or gold supplies for the city-states. The location at Delphi meant it was close to the coast and accessible relatively easily by all. The formed a council of elders, and it was at this location they could make decisions for the entire nation. The Oracle features in several movies, including 300, which depict it as a truly mystical place – It’s unlikely to have been quite to fantastical, but the Ancient Greeks certainly believed in the power of Oracle.

img_20160815_162113848We missed the museum, which contained many of the statues and more delicate artefacts in order to get going towards Meteora. We did get a brief stop at the monument to the Spartans who died Thermopylae. A mighty spartan warrior stands atop a wall, with a carved depiction of the battle of the 300 against the immense Persian army. Since the water level has lowered the narrow passage shown in the movie is now much much wider, and would be impossible to defend with so few men.

img_20160816_085842672We switched out guide when we left Delphi, and I had been hoping that our new guy would make the journey a little better, with shorter talks about the most important sights, however he also decided to expel every nugget of information he could about the regions we travelled through, including a wonderful 20 minutes on a special cheese, 40 minutes of the plains of mid-greece and plenty more that I was more than happy to sleep through. I expect I missed a lot of the interesting and relevant information, but trying to concentrate was just impossible. We arrived at Kalambaka tired and drowse, but a reasonable feed and a stroll around cleared my head before bed.

img_20160816_090721228An early start meant we were on the cliffs before most of the tourists, and actually had a chance to view some of the very impressive sights of Meteora. The place is famous not only for the high cliffs rising out of the plains below, but also the monasteries and nunneries built upon them. Built by religious hermits who had been residing in the caves, the cliffs gave the monks the solitude to worship and act according to Gods will. Nowadays there are roads up there, and tourist crawling all over the churches and holy areas, so I imagine the solitude is less effective, but the idea of constructing entire buildings on rock outcrops and effectively inaccessible cliffs, back in the 11th Century is just unimaginable.

img_20160816_114643010_hdrWe visited two of the main complexes, and viewed one from the outside (it’s closed on Tuesdays) and each had it’s own charm, and was an impressive structure when you consider the challenge of building on the pure rocks. The views were possibly the most spectacular, although our guide insisted on teaching us about every mural in each chapel, which took up most of the time inside. I decided to skip out of tour to enjoy the location without being surrounded by other tourists, and there’s something about musty church air that makes me feel pretty bad (I must be a sinner).

img_20160816_094120506The trip home was long an uneventful, I tried to sleep as much as I could, I had certainly had enough of the guide. At least the ride was smooth and there was minimal faffing around.

I’d absolutely recommend the sites, they’re excellent, and good value for entry, but if you can find a way to see them without doing a tour do so. Greek guides have to go to school to qualify, and the school teaches them to talk as much as they can, for as long as they can, and it’s exhausting to listen to. I’m surprised they can still talk at all.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Busabout

Well I’ve been rather busy lately.

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I decided a while ago to apply for a few positions as a guide as I wasn’t overly satisfied with my work at Flight Centre. I wanted to get back to the source of the travel, to be truly involved in making peoples holidays, talking to the people having fun, not just booking their flights. Of all of the positions I applied for, it was Busabout that I wanted most (although a position in Africa was pretty tempting as well). The Hop-on Hop-off style is how I would want to travel Europe, with a guide to help out, but no restrictions time wise. With so many cities visited in so many countries, it allows you see the best of Europe, and gives you the tools to see the rest of it as well. Plus the coach gives people a chance to meet new friends, much more sociable than the trains.

I got through the interview process with a hastily written presentation on Barcelona FC, and wowed them with my one on one, which meant I got invited to join the 7 week training trip – visiting every city on their loops, through 14 countries in Europe. So I handed in my notice, packed up all my things and hit the road again.

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It was a gruelling 7 weeks of coaches almost every day, rushing around cities to find out as much as we could, bike tours, pub crawls, cooking classes, boat trips and much much more. There were some late nights, some stressful situations but I felt it was all manageable, they tested me, but I never felt like I would fail. Once I got into a routine of having everything prepared a day before, I could hop up and give a talk on cities and countries I’d never even been to. It was a lot of fun in fact, meeting so many like minded people, learning huge amounts about European history and every city on our network. Now I’m sure all my friends will complain about the constant barrage of facts.

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Then as the end was in sight, they told me I’d be flying off to Greece for an extra 10 days of training on the Greek Island Hopper adventure product. While I was craving some rest, I jumped at the chance to educate myself in Greek gods, mythology, and how to avoid sun burn when it’s 40+ everyday. As we experienced the product I learnt how much fun it would be, parties every other night and some beautiful islands to explore.

I am now happy to say that I am employed by Busabout as a European Guide, and have started with my first sector just two days ago – Munich to Paris with just 10 passengers. Tomorrow I will be hitting the road with many more, heading to Amsterdam. Time to brush up on my Dutch history.

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I have to thank all of the trainers who helped me prepare for this, pushing me to my limits, making sure I’m ready for silly questions, difficult questions, and everything else they can throw at me. Here’s to a wonderful summer in Europe.

Cambodia Pt3: Phnom Penh

So, another long and uncomfortable bus over to Phnom Penh.

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However, this one had to be one of the nicest. The coach had beds in it, admittedly they were slim and you had to share, but thankfully I had someone with me that I didn’t mind sharing with. There was a tiny little TV in there and a power supply, so we could even watch a movie or two. It still wasn’t comfy, but once you’re asleep, you really don’t mind.

We had a really nice hostel (11 Happy Backpackers) in the city, with a very cool rooftop bar, and some great food. I really loved the pumpkin soup, I haven’t had any since that beats it. Phnom Penh isn’t really about the night life though, it’s a much more serious place to visit, as the main attractions are the Tuol Sleng (S-21) Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields. As the capital from which Pol Pot ruled, the city was the site of some incredibly horrific events and places.

DCIM100GOPROTuol Sleng museum was originally a school, but when Pol Pot took over he began to change things, education was not approved of, so many schools closed, often to be re-used for other purposes, in this case as a prison. The treatment of the prisoners here is what is most shocking, and as you explore the site you can see the appalling conditions they were kept in. As you continue through the museum you come across some of the smaller and more cramped cells, knowing that these people were rarely allowed out, often denied food and punished heavily for any misdemeanour. The last part includes some of the devices and techniques that were used on the inmates, things that I will not speak about here. While very sad and upsetting, this shocking example of Cambodias’ history is a must see, to understand what the people have been through, so recently and yet are still smiling and living their lives in such a positive way.

DCIM100GOPROThe Killing Fields, popularised by the movie of the same name is another must see in Phnom Penh, It is an incredibly well kept site, with an excellent audio tour that takes you through the now peaceful site that is grave to countless Cambodians massacred as part of the cultural cleansing. The tour explains the various areas, starting with relatively innocent stops like where the barracks once stop, and the guard houses, until you find yourself at the first mass grave. While there are few bones uncovered, you can see where rags and scraps of clothing have surfaced through the soil, and tourists have tied these to the fences and trees in the area. Wristbands from all around the world are hooped over posts marking out the edges of these graves, and despite the thousands of dedications, it is believed thousands more were murdered.DCIM100GOPROThere is a small lake a little away from the main site that allows tourists to stop and reflect on the horrors that had happened there, although it is hard to comprehend how, especially so recently, something so disturbing could have happened at all. The hardest part is the infant grave, and thinking of how innocent children and babies were taken and killed, more like cattle than people, before being dumped into another mass grave. The final stop of the tour is the Stupa, filled with the skulls of victims, hauntingly beautiful as the architecture and the interior clash. We visited very late in the day, just before closing so it was very quiet, and very peaceful. It seemed almost silent, except for the audio tour that we could pause at any time.

DCIM100GOPROThe next day was rather more cheerful, exploring the markets and finding replacement shoes and just enjoying the city sights. We also took a trip out to the local wildlife park, the Phnom Tamao Wildlife rescue centre. South East Asian zoos do have a bad reputation, but this example was very nice; large open spaces and not a huge amount of tourists, all the animals were rescued from other zoos, or from private collectors, very few were taken from the wild. Certainly the animals looked healthy and happy, and checking out the various Asian bears was impressive, they do miss the Pandas, but when they’re so expensive it’s understandable.

The last thing I did before jumping on the next bus was to have a tooth pulled out. It was cheap, easy and quick (and I got to eat lots of pumpkin soup) so good in fact I went back not long after to get two more out. Goodbye wisdom teeth.

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Our next destination was the infamous Sihanoukville.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Val Thorens with Wasteland Ski – Part 1

So my first trip out to the Alps in nearly 5 years was as a rep for Wasteland Ski. A company that specialises in student group snow tours, and a company I had been a customer of several times.

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IMG_20141211_084237I was flown from Gatwick to Geneva (my first time in Switzerland) to meet the transfer up to Val Thorens. I met several other reps on the flight and as like minded people enthused about a week on the snow we all chatted and got along pretty well, after only a few minutes. I already knew Andy from Pre-Fit and had communicated with other via the various social media networks and the training weekend.

On arrival in resort we were allocated rooms, mostly with reps we had only just met and told to await instruction. This led to a couple days of exploring and adventuring in the town, as well as a little work and a bit of play. The bars in Val T are much like many others in the alps, playing a variety of euro-house or commercial pop and serving expensive drinks in impractical glasses. The staff are friendly and fun though, often not French which can be confusing at first but easy to work out, often encouraging the reps or dishing out shooters to be delivered to the students.

IMG_20141214_001954On arrivals day it’s all hands on deck to get everyone into resort and geared up before the first day on the snow. With over 1500 arriving in one day, and so much for them to collect and sort out it was quite a mission. Even with Pre-fit we still had queues outside the rental stores as people picked up their hire gear, although the midnight waits in the snow are a thing of the past now. We also had some fun with coaches arriving early, so room keys were not yet ready. But with crowd management and some smart ideas the day went smoothly. I was posted at the coach arrival park, telling drivers where to go in the town and where to park up for the week. It was a long day out in the cold, but everything went well enough.

IMG_20141214_162231That night was the first of our room rounds; knocking on the doors of customers to let them know all the things they need to know about that evening, and the next days’ events. It was nice to get to know the people over the course of the week, and they were friendly folks. Thankfully mostly quite tame as far as the parties went, which meant I didn’t have to nag them to keep clean or tidy throughout the week. Some free food also went down very nicely.

Day 1 of the actual trip meant taking beginners to lessons and sorting out problems with rental gear. After eventually getting (nearly) everyone off with their lessons in the right groups and helping those with problematic rental gear we were allowed to pick up our own rentals and hit the hill.

I was originally given a 161cm Saloman board, which while in reasonable condition was much longer than I like and a very plain board, classic camber and edges de-tuned to make it an easy beginner board. I swapped this later the same day to a brand new 151cm Yes board with a nice amount of flex and a much lighter construction. While this was shorter than I’d usually ride it felt very nice on my feet. Much more responsive and although it was naff in the more powdery stuff it was a great fun board to mess around on. Lots of flex made butters super easy while it still had enough pop to bounce off the odd kicker or rock.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

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Vietnam Pt7 – Nha Trang

Nha Trang is the first of the really commercialised touristy areas we hit, but very different to the commercial areas in Thailand and Cambodia because this town is geared to Russian Tourists not Europeans.

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PagodaWhile you may not think it would be very different, seeing restaurants with names in Russian lettering, with unknown themes mixed in with the occasional English, and even rarer Vietnamese signs was a little surreal. I can only assume it’s how non-native English speakers feel as they wander around the rest of South East Asia. It also warps the travel style to be in favour of the Russian, which is resort holidays, packaged tours and expensive, high quality at every turn. The complete opposite of the western way, constantly searching for the cheapest (but still high(ish) quality) way to do everything. So, less hostels, less local places to eat and more fancy themed bars.

BuddhaArriving earlyish in the morning, we dodged the over-charging taxis, choosing to find the nearest place with wifi to google our hostel. Turns out the bus stop is right next to the main hostel area, so a short walk later we found it and dumped our bags. If you’re getting the bus in, make sure you don’t get a taxi or moto, it’s less than 1km to walk. With our shoulders a little lighter we headed out to see the town, and well, it’s pretty big and fairly nice. The beach was very windy so wasn’t much fun for sitting on, but walking along the promenade was pleasant enough, and there’s a few monuments to keep it interesting.

BuddhaThe bus system here is blissfully easy to navigate, so we explored the Po Nagar Cham Towers which are across the far side of town. Very cheap entry and a wonderful little sight, if you have a little time to kill in Nha Trang then I highly recommend it. Another good stop is the Long Son Pagoda which is also on the bus route, so long as you can get your head around where each bus actually goes. Again, pretty and cheap, and with a huge Buddha to see, at the top of the hill with excellent views it would be crazy to miss.

Tower ShrineThere’s a good couple of bars near all the hostels, the most popular being the infamous ‘Why Not?‘ bar, which has been repeated from city to city around SE Asia. Be careful of the sharks in there, they’ll play a game of table football or pool with you, let you win, then offer to play another game, but make a bet with you. This is how they make their money, so don’t fall for it, you will lose.

CablecarNext day we hit what I had been looking forward to since arriving in Vietnam, the Vinpearl amusement park. It’s situated on an island accessible to the longest over water cablecar, along with a large resort complex, think Disney Land, but a lot more Vietnamese, and no cartoon characters wandering around. Entrance isn’t cheap, but it allows unlimited access to all rides and games all day, so it’s not a bad deal. Mostly, the queues were short, but you do need to be at the ride at the right time, they cycle through, usually a short window for each ride, so timing is pretty important.FlumeThere’s also a large waterpark, which is most of the fun really. The lazy river is great if you fancy being really lazy, but the flumes they have are great fun, big fast ones, big ones with a giant halfpipe, spinning ones, and plenty on inflatables. I advise taking your flip flops (thongs/jandles) with you to climb the towers, the metal gridding really starts to hurt the feet after a while. Just throw them off the tower at the top and pick them up after. If you lose them, just buy some new ones later, not expensive in Vietnam. We spent most of the day there, and filled it happily with slides and rides. Definitely the highlight of Nha Trang.

The last day was spent just hanging out and waiting for another bus over to Hoi An.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

 

Vietnam Pt6 – Da Lat

After the somewhat disappointing Mui Ne, we were looking forward to Da Lat, with it’s unique Swiss Alps reputation.

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ParkAnd it’s a reputation it deserves, while still un-mistakingly Asian, it’s really possible to get that alpine feel with the wide open but winding roads that weave and knot across the towns hills and suburbs. It’s got a lot of charm, with occasional European style bakeries, and some nice local food stops as well. We enjoyed a meal one night in (one of the many) Art Cafe, which features paper tablecloths and crayons, meaning you can draw yourself a picture before your food arrives. Functional accommodation at a decent price wasn’t hard to find which is always nice as well. The town has a pretty decent night market in the centre, ranging happily from the usual touristy fair through to more authentic basics, including some of the best thrift store style sale rails I’ve ever seen. It was be possible to stock up on fancy dress gear (especially 70s and 80s) for the next decade for less than a tenner.

Crazy HouseJumping on the mopeds again, we did a tour of the sights within the city which included the Crazy House, Palace, Cablecar and the steam train. Starting at the top, the crazy house is an Alice in Wonderland inspired piece of ridiculous architecture, fanciful staircases and archways span the gaps between castles and trees and towers. Imagine the Disney castle on acid and you’re about there. The Palace was an odd stop, not particularly exciting itself, as a holiday getaway for the Royal family, and not as impressive, either architecturally, or significantly as the Reunification Palace in HCMC,Palacebut they do allow visitors to try on some royal robes and pose for photos, which we did, and the results are quite hilarious.

The cablecar goes from the top of one hill near Da Lat, to another, a little further away, which gives you access to a very nice Temple and Gardens, which lead down to a lake. The temple building were nice, not overly impressive, but fitting for the location, and the garden was wonderfully taken care of. The ride in the gondola was quite pretty, with some nice views over the nearby hills and farmland. Finally, we hopped on the steam train, as it was leaving shortly after we had arrived to visit the station.TrainWhile the station was fairly pretty, the train ride lead through some more authentic (ugly) parts of the towns suburbs, more urban than the rural we had seen from the cablecar though. We arrived at the far end, with an hour to kill and no clue what to see, but thankfully the train staff were on hand to direct us to a big temple area, with several huge shrines and statues, along with a big statue manufacturer with plenty on display. Up in the towers, the views offered some impressive vistas both over more countryside, and across the temple grounds. Certainly no gardens with this one, but some interesting building structures, and highly ornate decorations. On our return home, we passed the ‘love garden’ a park filled with so many more of the giant tacky concrete sculptures that the area seemed to have in abundance. We didn’t venture too far in the dark, but having seen enough love heart benches and other overtly cheesy romantic features, we didn’t feel the need to go much further.

WaterfallThe next day saw us exploring a little further afield, checking out some of the local water features AKA waterfalls. The first was a touristy feature, with a strange little luge ride, another cablecar and shrines all over the place. While the waterfalls themselves were impressive the features somewhat ruined the area. The bottom waterfall is the bigger and more impressive as well as quieter, but you have to pay to take the elevator down to reach it. Once there though, it’s a much nicer part to spend time in, and a quick swim in the pool is very refreshing. Jumping into each waterfall seems to be a habit of mine. The luge was a peculiar event, as it’s on rails the only control you have is the speed, and it would seem that about 20% of the people on these rides like to go very slow, and with no overtaking lane, this means everyone ends up going very slow. So, really, I don’t recommend the luge, it’s just really annoying!

Elephant waterfallThe second waterfall is much further out and takes a bit of skill to get past the roadworks going on. Make sure your driver knows what they’re doing, it’s really not for beginners. That said, when you finally make it out there it is worth it; the waterfall is huge, and has plenty of climbing opportunities around to get different angles. The fallen rocks create quite a challenge to climbing, and getting as close as possible really is an adventure. There’s also a good pool to have a swim in, which is a must in my book. At the top there is another temple, this time featuring a massive Buddha, although this is the fat Buddha, rather than the skinny ones you find in Thailand.

DCIM100GOPRO

I don’t remember exactly where or what the waterfalls were called, although I believe the second was the ‘elephant waterfall’. The wikitravel page for Dalat was quite invaluable for this stop.

So after a good few swims, and plenty of moped adventure it was time to hop on the bus again heading overnight for Nha Trang.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

water

Vietnam Pt1: Border Crossing and Phu Quoc

After our time in Cambodia, we took the southern border crossing into Vietnam near the coast, it was all part of the transfer package we’d got to get us to Phu Quoc island.

Beach

The border crossing and transport was the usual ramshackle, but functional affair, and while I don’t remember the exact buses, I’m sure they were fairly typical unremarkable Asian style buses, which means they can’t have been too uncomfortable.

Vietnam sunsetPhu Quoc is actually closer to Cambodia, but is officially part of Vietnam, which means you must cross the border on land before doubling back by boat to the island. There is a hostel, but it was far from the beach but did look very cool, and with the abundance of mopeds the distance would be no issue. If you can find it, get in early and you might meet some other  (non Russian) travelers. Myself and Nico, the Dutch guy who had accompanied me since leaving Thailand, found a decent cheap twin room, and ventured out to find a bike for the couple days we were staying.

WaveThe main town is a fishing port, but the touristy area spreads southwards of here, mostly big fancy Russian filled resorts along the beach front, with a smattering of restaurants and shops either side of the road. We stayed at the far end of this road, where the natural village feel started in again. The restaurants do a reasonable job of catering to western tastes, while still offering a decent selection of local dishes. The fish/night market at the northern end of the strip offer seafood BBQs of some magnificence, and with decent prices too – after the long day we put this off till the next day.

ForestThe next day we took off to really explore the island on our moped. With some dodgy maps and a bit of googling we made a plan, and started looking. We gave up on the first waterfall, but found the second. Nothing overwhelming but pleasant in it’s jungle setting. We also bumped into a few locals posing in their underwear. After a bit more adventuring we returned to the entrance to find them drinking a very odd bubble tea. We were asked to join, and after a very odd (and pretty gross) bubble tea, we hit the road together and hit the beach. It was an odd way to spend an afternoon, joined by more and more of their friends, all hoping we’d be getting the drinks in, and then as soon as they’d appeared, they all disappeared again.
Phu Quoc PrisonContinuing our tour, we found a big ugly concrete wave, and the prisoner of war camp, with some interesting signs. The Vietnamese have no problem with showing their contempt throughout these historical displays, no sense of keeping un biased. Some of the torture devices they had on display were pretty horrific, and the conditions certainly didn’t look nice. This was an island controlled by the South Vietnam government, or ‘puppet government‘, which was indirectly under the command of the US. Some back roads along deserted areas, and past a few huge future resorts took us back to try the seafood market.

My advice when it comes to seafood – make sure you try lots of different things, but also get a decent amount of something you know you like. Nothing worse than trying lots of new things that taste rubbish if you’ve got nothing left to eat afterwards. Also, there’s a reason some of these things aren’t available in supermarkets in Europe, they simply taste terrible.

DCIM100GOPROThe next day we’d booked a snorkelling and fishing trip up on the northern side of the Island. It was good value including food, and lunch was some of the fish we’d caught earlier on. Not exactly fancy as far as the fishing went, just a line off the back of the boat, and the captain caught so many more than we could, I guess practice does make perfect. The snorkelling was very nice though, very clear and warm water and a good selection of fish and coral. Nothing I hadn’t seen before, but still a pleasant trip overall, and nice to see more of the northern half of the island, unspoilt and tranquil, especially compared to the somewhat ruined beach along the strip.

Our bus out left the next morning, and some more faffing and waiting at tranit centres got us on the bus to Can Tho

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

The Best (and Worst) Ways to get around the world

There’s a lot of different methods of public transport in the world, each one has it’s benefits and problems, so here’s a little of my favourite. If you’re got any transport horror stories, or favourites that I missed, let me know – if I get a lot, I’ll turn them into another post.

  • Trains

One of my favourites, they’re simple, they’re hard to get wrong, and generally pretty quick. If you’re lucky, you’ll be on a nice quiet coach with a few seats to yourself able to lie down and get some shut eye. The Sydney area double-decker trains are cool, although uncomfortable, and most British ones are passable. The Overnighters in Thailand are a little odd though, not uncomfortable until you need to go to the bathroom.

  • Buses and Coaches

I don’t think these are anyones favourite, but as far as cheap transport goes, these are the bomb. From the Greyhound and Premier buses that cart loads of backpackers from stop to stop, with the occasional riot/party on board, and some of the worst nights sleep imaginable to the Thai VIP buses with complementary food and water, big comfy chairs and plenty of stops. Then there’s the coaches in other parts of SE Asia, where it’s goodbye to any idea of luxury, and you’re lucky if you’re not sat on a stool in the aisle. Dangerous overcrowding, awfully maintained seats, sitting with your bags, it’s not good.

  • Mini-buses

Proabably the worst form of transport I’ve ever experienced, and rarely are they any good (outside of a western country that is). I’ve shared mini-buses with chickens, pigs, motorbikes, twice the amount of people the bus was designed for and so much more. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a real seat, not a wooden one, and if you’re really lucky, you’ll get it all to yourself. Sharing with your bag is not unusual, but makes it tricky to go to the bathroom. Often there’s no choice but if you can, avoid these death-traps!

  • Tuk-Tuks

They change depending on the country, but the typical Bangkok tuk-tuk is what most people think of. Named after the noise they make, these are little trikes that usually fit no more than three passengers, are cheap, and a great way to get around in the citys. Often confused with Song Thaws, which are more like pick-up trucks (or backies/utes in Africa/Australia) Tuk-Tuks are more common, and much smaller. Cambodian tuk-tuks tend to be a motorbike, with a carriage attached, while in Loas you’re looking for miniature minibuses. Always check what your journey should cost before you go, so you know you’re getting a good deal, but these should always be good value.

  • Airplanes

The best way to go to a long way, and sometimes the only way into some countries, but if you can avoid the short haul flights, please do. They really aren’t even close to being sustainable, even with the £1 carbon offset donation. I love them, because they take you a long way fast, but I hate waiting in airports. I think my favourite thing about them is watching all the movies during the flight, and not having to worry about food for a good few hours.

  • Metro/Tube Systems

Love them, I don’t care how confusing they are, how many people are squished in, there’s nothing better than zipping around a city via a network or tunnels or above the streets on tracks. I am have done three laps of Kuala Lumpur city centre before I got where I needed, but hell, it was fun. Singapore has a nice system, as does Dubai, just be aware that you may need to push to get off, they’re not as polite as the British.

  • Trams

Better than the metro/tube lines because you can see where you are easily so can hop on and off exactly where you need, or at least, where you think you need. But best of all of course, you rarely need to pay for these, especially as a foreigner. For 6 months in Melbourne I got away with playing dumb on the rare occasions I got caught. The same in Dublin, where the moment they heard a non-irish accent they just kicked you off to buy a ticket.

There’s a few I missed, local buses tend to be useful, but never popular, boats, which are really just very damp coaches, and I’m sure there’s some odd ones out there I’ve missed totally.

Have fun, and as my Dad always told me, ‘Mind the Trams’

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel