Tag Archives: culture

Laos Pt1: Luang Prabang

I left Thailand from Pai, taking the slow boat into Laos, a popular way to across into the northern end of the country. You’ve got to get lucky with this boat, as the people you meet are likely to be your friends for the next couple of weeks.

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DCIM100GOPROSo getting the bus and boat over and into Laos is ok, don’t expect luxury, and don’t expect much fun, it’s all very basic and the ‘slow’ part is correct. The bus over to the border is pretty standard, after which you do all the visa stuff before shipping down river to the town to sleep your first night in Laos before the second half of the boat ride. Don’t get duped into spending any extra money on the hotel at Pakbeng, they are desperate to eek every penny from you, and don’t care about what happens to you down the line. Those that paid the extra wasted money on rooms hardly any nicer, even if the one I slept in ranks in the bottom 5 of rooms I’ve stayed in. It’s an early start the next day, but the little town you stay in is not nice, and I was glad to see the back of it.

DCIM100GOPROIt’s a good thing you’re going down river otherwise the boat would hardly move at all. The views are pretty good as you go, but it’s not enough to keep you from getting bored for 5 hours. Find somewhere to sit, near some people the same age and that speak the same language and prepare to learn everything there is to know about them. Thankfully my crew were lovely, and we bonded quite nicely, mostly English with a couple of exceptions. With the hard seats and no chance to nap, we were all grateful to reach Luang Prabang and head to our hostel – Lemon Lao/Spicy Lao. The hostel was supposedly started by the same guy that ran the ‘spicy’ hostels in Thailand, it was rather clear why he’d given up on this one (if he really had anything to do with it). While the staff was lovely, and most of the place was pretty chilled out a friendly, it was freezing cold. There were only a few rooms with windows and doors, and those that did were loose or broken, which wouldn’t have been a problem if it wasn’t winter and very cold at night.

DCIM100GOPROLuang Prabang was actually a great little city, with some lovely French Colonial architecture and the whole town had a strangely European feel to it. Excellent markets and some some great bars made it a nice place to spend a bit of time, just be a little careful of the table football sharks, they’ll let you win a game, then start betting and win so easily.

DCIM100GOPROThe best bit of the town is the waterfalls nearby, the first day we checked out a complex which has plenty of falls and one area that has featured in a thousand Facebook profile pics. Kuang Si Falls has a beautiful green water pool, and a great waterfall flowing in that makes it just perfect for posing in swim wear. There’s also a rope swing that has plenty of people queuing to use it, but it’s all very friendly, and there’s lots of people having fun, so the ‘Oooohs’ from the crowd when someone belly flops in is quite impressive. Of course there’s a few trying flips and things, but mostly everyone is just happy to be there. Thankfully the sun warms the water nicely, and the cold of night is long gone. This site also had a little bear sanctuary, and being a big fan of bears I found this rather pleasant. Of the zoo style places I’ve seen this seemed to be one of the nicer, with no metal cages and plenty of space for the animals. Apparently all of the bears here have been rescued from farms or zoos, so support the charity and help some of these awesome creatures

DCIM100GOPROThe next day was a another waterfall network, Tat Sae Waterfalls, not so great for swimming and diving, but we still found plenty of spots. The most fun at this one was finding the highest place we could jump from. Certainly lots of adrenalin pumping as we clamber up platforms and over rocks to the high perch, only to plummet straight back down into the water. You need to be careful where you land though, the depth isn’t obvious and I’m sure it would be very easy to hurt yourself if you mis-placed your jump.

DCIM100GOPROOne of the most interesting things about Laos is that they have a curfew, everybody must be home by midnight, so everything shuts at 11.30. There is one exception, which was the bowling alley. The tuk-tuks line up outside the  bars in town ready to take westerners out of town to the mythical bowling alley, which continues serving until the last people leave. There’s not much music, and absolutely no atmosphere, but the venue serves it’s purpose – allowing tourists to keep drinking. After a couple of games the novelty wears off, and people start drifting home, only the hardcore and the desperate stayed very late here.

The food here has a outstanding mix of French and Laotian influences, so it’s possible to find crepes and croisants along with noodle and rice dishes, just be aware that if it looks too nice, the price may be too much. Some good views from the town across the Meekong make this a much nicer introduction into the country than the previous stop.

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Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

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Where Next?

I have some holiday time coming up from my new job, I should be able to get away for 9/10 days depending on how nice my boss is, so I’m thinking about Central/Eastern Europe

While I feel like I’ve done a decent amount of traveling, I certainly haven’t done loads (especially compared to some people) and one huge gap on my map is Europe. So, along with my aversion on spending £100s on flight tickets if I don’t have a lot of time, Europe seems to be the best choice.

I have a friend in Prague, who is willing to let me stop over for a night or two, so that’s on the list. But where else should I go? It’s tempting to try to head down to Croatia and check out the beaches, which will hopefully still be warm in October. Train seems to be the best way to get around over there, either with single tickets, or using an inter-rail pass, and then staying a hostels again, in typical backpacker fashion.

I need to do a lot more research on what there is to see and do in that part of Europe, and finding out which are the best airports to fly into and out of to keep costs down, while letting me see plenty while I’m there. I’m a pretty big adrenalin kinda guy, so it would be nice to get some action sports, or extreme adventure type activities in while I’m over there. I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of European history, and a little more of the culture that has grown in that region of Europe. The UK is rather separated from all that, so it’ll certainly be an experience.

So, the plan: Find the things I want to see most, find the cheapest airports, find the cheapest route to see them all, find some hostels and get booking! Fun times ahead

If you guys have any helpful hints or suggestions I’d love to hear them.

EDIT: I have decided on flying into Berlin, and out from either Vienna or Budapest, either way I’ll see Berlin, Prague, Vienna and Budapest, in about 10 days. It would be nice to have a little longer, but I’m assuming this is all I’ll get, may have to cut one of them out.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Bath, Historical Town

Bath, down in the South-west of England is great town for those looking for a little more history, and the feel of a real English town

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Split into two main areas: the first is Southgate, a relatively newly built commercial zone with the usual suspects of high street stores, fast food and chain restaurants. It doesn’t have much to offer that any other town in the UK doesn’t with the exception of a couple nice little coffee shops and trendy bars, the rest of the town, further North is the real heart of the city. The old streets with charming little stores and cafes mixed in with the huge Abbey and Roman Baths, along with the Georgian architecture make for a very pleasant experience strolling through the area.

IMG_20150202_134029Bath has a lot to offer tourists who visit, from the obvious choices of the Abbey and Baths, to the luxurious Spa and the historical streets it also has several museums including the excellent Holburne Museum and the Jane Austen centre (even though she famously said she didn’t care much for the city herself). It’s worth taking a stroll up to visit the Royal Crescent and the Circus, with it’s impressive buildings (and another little museum) overlooking the park and the city below it’s a fantastic place to check out.

IMG_20150202_135859The Abbey is open all day during the week, but only at selected times at the weekend, but with a small donation you are welcomed in. It’s centre very impressive inside, with an incredibly high ceiling and huge stain-glass windows depicting the usual religious scenes. There statues inside add even more to the sense of grandeur, although the plaques on the wall brought the whole place to a much more real level, honouring those buried below the floors, and bringing a strange sense of community to the building.

The Roman Baths tend to get very busy during the summer, and at weekends, as this is one of the main reasons people come to Bath. If you’re lucky you’ll visit at a quieter time and be able to experience the Baths a little more privately. Although perhaps with hordes of tourists you may get a better sense of what it would have been like when they were first built. Not too expensive and worth a visit if you’re a history fan.

IMG_20150202_140131It’s not these attractions that really make Bath shine though, it’s the original old streets and parks that really shine out. With so much of the UK being diluted it’s wonderful to still find a town that feels so genuine. Of course with it being the South-west you can’t complete a day here without stopping for a Cream Tea, an English tradition. It’s simply English Breakfast Tea (we call it Tea) and a scone with jam and clotted cream. Make sure to put the jam and cream on in the right order, there’s some long running debates on this.

IMG_20150201_134814There’s not much in the way of clubbing here, but there’s plenty of nice old pubs, and more modern bars to keep you warm at night. The student population help keep some of the youthfulness around, although it’s fairly common for them to run of to nearby Bristol for a big night out. If you’re into music or theatre there’s usually something going on as well.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

South Africa Part7 – The South Coast

So the rather unimaginatively named South Coast stretches on from the start of the Kwazulu Natal up until Durban, where it switches again to Zululand.

Oribi Gorge

UmzumbeOnly a couple of stops along this stretch for me, although there’a good few options for Bazbusers. Umzumbe was my first, and unlike the name may suggest, it’s much more westernised than places like Coffee Bay. The hostel I stayed in was charming, and gave me one last chance to catch up with the Swedish girls I’d been chasing since OudtshoornMantis and Moon backpackers lodge is charming and friendly, and really seemed to embrace the lone traveler better than most places. A few trips were available, although not running with so few people, the barman was friendly enough though, and kept me company the first night.

Oribi GorgeIn the morning, I was fortunate enough to meet a nice Dutch couple who were heading off for the Oribi Gorge and let me  jump in their car, along with a German guy as well. Together we explored the impressive canyon, crossing the massively over-hyped rope bridge, and taking a look at the huge canyon swing. A shame it was closed for the day, else I think it would have been a must do for me. They also have SAs longest zipline, although that didn’t look so impressive. After a nice day exploring we headed back to the hostel, and I disappeared off to Durban.

Tekweni BackpackersDurban is well located for the party scene on Florida Road, one of the coolest areas of Durban, according to the hostel staff at least. It sure it’s fair share of western luxuries (McDonalds, KFC and all the rest) alongside a good selection of interesting bars. Exploring the city is a good way to spend the day, just be a little careful where you wander. The beach front is long and flat, perfect for a longboard, or bike if you fancy traveling a bit quicker and getting nice and warm.

ArtSimilar to Cape Town, I got a good sense of culture while in Durban, youth art projects, both black and white influences being nurtured and given a chance, with galleries and projects open to the public. There’s a touch of history here and there, and the incredibly cheap maritime museum was an odd, but entertaining little stop. That evening, through a mistake at the hostel and the World Travel Conference happening in town the next day, I was left without a bed for the night, thankfully my faithful friend Tinder was at hand, and I spent the evening with a wonderful local who took me to some of the hidden spots away from Florida Road. We also saw an art/music minifestival at the nearby Uni campus, lots of alternative types wandering about and some very impressive music being played as well, including a young man playing acoustic guitar like a piano. Not like pressing the keys, but simply playing so many notes it was hard to know how only six strings could make such a sound. And the reaction he got was very good, rather than the UK where something like this would be walked past or complained about as ‘too loud’ the students lapped it up.

Rope Bridge

So after a comfortable night in another bed, I arose early to jump on yet another bus out of Durban and towards the Drakensberg.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Dublin – City of booze

IMG_20140730_230935 So it’s coming up to 8 weeks in Dublin, I think I know it well enough to give a fair review.

Dublin is cold and wet on the whole – it’s not a place you go to for a summer holiday. It’s also not got a whole load of adventure/adrenalin sports or activities (there’s a couple hidden around, but it’s definitely not a hotspot for it). So what has it got? History and Culture.

CourtsHistory: It’s got this in bucket loads, recent and pretty damn old, there’s museums for the artifacts and quite a few sites of historical importance as well. Dublin castle and Killmainham Gaol which sit pretty central to Dublin are obvious points of interest. The streets as well, are filled with a variety of buildings from different eras, it’s possible to spot where some of the major historical events have affected the designs of the city. Along O’Connell street you can see the buildings which were rebuilt after the battles for independence.

BonesCulture: Well culturally, it’s mostly drinking! Certainly it doesn’t feel very different from the UK (which is understandable) and it’s definitely European. It’s nice that there’s a good amount of buskers and live music in the streets. Although there is a lot of repetition, the groups that play in the commercial areas tend to be boring covers, but hidden away there’s some spots (like Dame Lane) where you’ll hear great bands playing original music. The pub scene is a bit hit n miss, with terrible cliche bars with horrible cliche live music (I’ve never heard so many versions of Country Roads) and plenty of pretty boring bars. If you’re looking though, it’s definitely possible to find something you’ll like. There’s even a few places in town where the drinks aren’t crazy expensive.

Street MusicOverall: I think Dublin is a wonderful stop for two reasons. Firstly those who are looking for history, interested in a country that was one of the first places of western civilization.HedgehogIt’s not as impressive as London, but it certainly has a lot of charm and generally more friendly vibe. Secondly for those who want a good night out or two in a different city. It’s not cheap but it has a lot of options for those who want to party.

Like so many other cities though, it’s impossible to experience it all in a weekend, but a week here would leave you bored. Getting out of the city is highly recommended, there’s plenty of good day tours that while not exciting, show you much more of what Ireland is like outside the ‘big smoke’

So if you’re planning a trip to Ireland, either keep it kinda short, or have a few weeks and go see the rest of it.

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PS: Watch out for terrible pub food, they haven’t realised yet that a packet of crisps and a slice of cheese does make nachos, and they’ll be happy to charge 7 Euros for it. Unless it’s a gastro pub, don’t trust the food!

Culture Tuesday – Dublin Culture for free! – Blog for Isaacshostel.ie

Dublin is famous for its history, it’s bars and it’s music, but what about the more sedate side of life? Where is the Dublin Culture?

There is a huge range of galleries and museums often overlooked by tourists who are distracted by the bigger atractions. But if you’ve got a little extra time, or you’re running low on funds, these cultural stops are an amazing way to enrich your trip.

IMMA Irish Museum of Modern Art

A wonderful collection of modern art, including photography, installations and much more, there is something here for everyone from the critic to the novice. The Gardens offer a chance to enjoy the sunshine, while the main gallery can shelter you from the rain – perfect for the bi-polar Irish weather.

Mind the Hedgehog- Irish museum of modern art - versestravel

National Gallery

This collection of classical artwork includes some of the most prodigous artists from the Emerald Isle. It’s not the largest gallery, but it means it doesn’t drag on for those that are fresh to the subject. By keeping it short and sweet it showcases only the best works, keeping attention close and telling a rich story of Dublin culture through each exhibit.

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National Museum

It would be possible to spend days exploring this museum if you wish, with exhibitions on natural history, the Viking invasions, science and loads more. Easy to find from the museum LUAS if spend anymore than a few days in Dublin it would be crazy to miss this.

The Chester Beatty Library  

Finally this collection of books and scripture donated by the library’s namesake is a wonderful little stop. Its eclectic collection of writing and a few other odd bits makes for a gallery of particular interest to those curious about religious texts and scripture.

Chester Beatty Library - Quran

Benjamin Duff

Versestravel