Does the Room Really Look Like This?

Do you ever think this when you’re booking a trip? I’m almost certain that something of this notion goes through your mind if not this exact question. Most of the time you’re traveling to a new destination and you are taking the leap of faith on a new hotel, resort or bnb experience. Unless you’re a frequent traveler to that particular chain of hotels or you’ve received a recommendation from a friend that you really trust regarding a resort then most likely you are at the mercy of the online photo gallery.

For the average traveler, this is a very leery yet oddly hopeful position. As you scroll through all the photos and read majority of the reviews you are praying that your diligent research will lead you to your blissful abode.

For travelers with a little more flexibility you debate whether you should book all your vacation nights at one location or simply the first night in case the place is sub par. Yet you know that you run the risk of losing out on the place for the rest of your stay, as it may indeed be a great place; so great that it’s booked!

So what do you do?

Well it has been my experience that making that decision is based on the purpose of the trip. If I am going to an all-inclusive resort then obviously I’m going to have to bite the bullet and hope that the room is decent enough. If I am traveling to a new city or country with more flexible plans then I will only book one night – maybe two at the most at a bnb. I at least want to have the first night booked when I arrive in town so that I’m not stressed about where I’ll be staying for the night. This in turn gives me a chance to explore what is nearby so that I’m not stuck with a place that I’ve booked for a week (or however many days I’m there) if it is in an inconvenient location or if the place is trash but has a strict cancellation policy that I cannot get out of.

I know we live in a world that is very skeptical about things that are posted on the Internet, but if the photos look professional enough then take the chance. You never know, when you arrive, you may be pleasantly surprised that the place actually looks like the photos or better!

Is Travel Blogging Competative?

If you’re a newbie to travel blogging you may be wondering to yourself- is there room for me? Do I stand a chance of gaining interest, followers and site views with all the spectacular looking blogs that currently provide a wealth of information?

For the less traveled folks some might even say, “but I haven’t been to 136 countries -can I still travel blog? If so what do I have to talk about?” Many people may be intimidated by their lack of passport stamps in comparison to those who travel full time. They may feel as though their input and opinions about travel may not be as sought out as the “expert” who has been around the world and back.

So this begs the question of whether or not travel blogging has created a welcome space or do existing blogging legends saturate all the attention?

Well the answer to that, I suppose, is up to you. Depending on what content you are looking to share and how serious you are about getting whatever message you have out there determines the outcome to this answer.

If you’re aim is merely to have an public place to write your thoughts about your travel experiences and you’re not concerned about followers -then by all means go for it! Quite frankly, nothing is stopping you. For the person looking to break into the world of travel blogging as a serious writer, nothing is stopping you either – except ……maybe…… you.

If you’re looking to get started but maybe struggling to determine writing content- a good point of entry is one that establishes a niche such as writing about a less talked about country or providing informed critiques on existing travel services. I’m sure there are many other avenues to explore regarding the travel and tourism industry. With so many unique markets, one could even focus in on topics such as ecotourism, culinary tourism, wine tourism, business conference tourism, etc.
One way to get started is to read existing content that is currently out there and find a lane that speaks to you.

Don’t get discouraged by the fact that you are not gaining followers at the rate that you would like. I heard some great advice recently which said don’t focus on followership, instead focus on producing quality content and let followers be the byproduct of that content. Eventually, if you stay consistent for long enough, you will begin to obtain the followers. Remember, the travel blogging gurus of today didn’t get there overnight, many of them have been writing and blogging for years and many of them have acquired a team of folks to help them produce content along the way. 

You might not be able to write everyday or even once a week. Whenever insipiration hits then go for it. Choose quality over quantity. And don’t let other well established blogs discourage you from jumping in and writing about travel! 

Where on Earth is my Wifi?

This is the magical question! When traveling abroad, one of the top things that has become essential is locating and obtaining an internet connection. Now some of you may be saying, “I’m on vacation I don’t need the Internet!” Well to a large degree this may be true, however, every now and then you may think about something important you need to do that requires access to a wireless connection. If you hadn’t already purchased the local SIM card then you are most likely at the mercy of finding a public Wifi hotspot somewhere are at a café, airport, etc.

I’ve often been in this situation and hated every minute of it, because I know these public networks are highly unsecure. I try to get on and get off as quickly as possible avoiding the roaming hackers that are lurking somewhere nearby. As soon as I’m done I hit “forget network” in hopes that I’m still not connected even after I finish my tasks.

Now for those who can afford to purchase and carry their own Wifi hotspot then this is by far the best option while traveling. For the budget traveler this, on the other hand, may be a risk that you will most likely have to take. So my advice is if you have to connect to a public Wifi spot try to spend no more than 10 to 15 minutes max and then when you’re finished immediately go to your settings and hit “forget network.” Also turn off any apps that are connected to the internet that may have personal information embedded in them, you can reconnect these apps once you are finished. I’m no expert hacker but these have been the precautions that I’ve taken while I’ve been traveling.

Happy browsing!

How to Eat. Pray. Love. in Ubud in 1 day

First off! You’ll need to get plenty of rest the night before. there are plenty of private villas and bungalows located in remote rice fields to accommodate the perfect nights’ sleep (leave a comment if you need a recommendation). A lot of these villas will bring out a private breakfast waiting for you on your terrace or patio which I highly recommend as this will give you an early jump start to your day. You’ll want to eat breakfast between 7 to 7:30a in the morning that way you have enough time to shower and get dressed to be out and about by 8am.

I recommend hiring a private driver versus trying to rent a motor bike or rent a vehicle to navigate through the narrow and often unmarked streets.

Have your driver take you to a local money changer first. Read my blog The Currency Conversion Game about why you want to go to a local money changer versus exchanging your money at the bank or airport.

Convert about $200 USD to IDR cash. You’ll need it for paying your driver, eating, going to the sites listed below and a little bit of shopping (p.s. you can take out more money if you’re a shopaholic as the local markets in Ubud are by far a shopping lovers dream).
First stop head to Monkey Forest. Monkey forest is exactly what it says it is – a forest filled with real monkeys that freely roam around uninhibited. You are merely a visitor in their humble abode. So if the idea of freely roaming monkeys freaks you out I recommend skipping this place and use the time to shop instead.

If you’re up for the adventure then be my guest and proceed ahead! Make sure you walk all the way around as there are cool looking temples in the back of the forest as well as a natural spring. I’d spend about 1 to 2 hours if you’re really into the monkeys if not I’d spend no more than one hour here.
When you’re done head across the street to some of the local shops where you can buy some handmade jewelry, Indonesian inspired pants, colorful artwork and paintings, and of course souvenirs. The keyword here is negotiate, negotiate, negotiate! If you haven’t learned the art of open market negotiation – now is the time to start. Don’t be bashful either as it’s culturally accepted to bargain.

Next up have your driver take you to one of the open are rice fields. This is a quick pit stop unless you plan to walk through the rice fields. Don’t be surprised if someone stops your driver when you arrive to charge you a fee to park the car and look at the rice fields. The fee is nominal and it’s actually really worth it to look at the breathtakingly beautiful stair step rice fields.

After your breath is taken away by the amazing rice fields head on over to one of the local coffee and tea plantations. When you arrive, there will be a knowledgeable guide that will walk you through a slew of locally grown teas, coffee’s, herbs, spices and more!

Indonesia is known for their coffee particularly in the region of Java, Bali, & Ubud (hint ever heard of Java coffee). The Luwak coffee is the most expensive coffee in the world which originates from this region. Most likely the plantation you tour will have a live Luwak animal onsite (the story behind how they get Luwak coffee is not my cup of tea!). At the end of the tour you will get to sample an abundance of their locally grown products. By far my favorite part of the tour!

After you finish drinking your self to pieces buy a few to-go coffee and tea items from their store to bring back home to share.

Next you’ll want to head to one of many hindu temple sites that allow tourist entry. My driver took me to Tirta Empul. It was pretty popular and well trafficked when I arrived. You will have to wear a traditional sarong before entering. If you do not have one they will let you borrow one in exchange for a small donation. This temple was pretty cool as it’s architectural structure was quite fascinating. If you’re not careful you can spend a lot of time looking around here. Keep track of time and spend no more than one hour walking around.

At this point you are probably right and ready for lunch! Ask your driver where the best bamboo roasted duck is. Trust me – you will not be disappointed! ALL the food in Ubud is by far the best food I had throughout SE Asia.

After lunch you can either take a stroll through the many art galleries nearby or head on over to a waterfall like the one below.

When you are done, depending on your energy level, you can either head to a traditional Balinese cultural dance performance or simply take a nap before heading to dinner (I recommend finding a place that grills local fish).

And that’s your day folks! Whew! If it sounds like a lot it’s because it is, but guess what?

You can now claim that you Ate. Prayed.and Loved Ubud in one day. 

How Technology has affected Travel 

The technology boom has given humanity some amazing advances. Simultaneously, it has affected some of our most primitive forms of interaction. Particularly our native communication channels such as verbal and nonverbal speech. You may be wondering what this has anything to do with travel. Well, throughout my recent travels around SE Asia, I noticed in 5 out of the 6 countries I visited that everyone’s head was in one direction: down.

Photo by Khalil Benihoud on Unsplash

They were all looking at some electronic device everywhere I turned. As I walked through the streets taking in the sights, smells and sounds I was eager to get a sense of the local people and their specific cultural interaction with each other. What I found instead was the same non-descript and sterile body language influenced by one thing: electronic distraction. I began to realize that while I had enjoyed the benefits of using technology to book an affordable flight and bnb in a new country – I realized this same technology stripped away much of my anticipated organic experience with a new culture.

Each time I rode the buses and trains and scanned the audience for any sign of cultural nuance- I found very little. I began to wonder how my travels may have been different say 15-20 years ago. If I would have seen how a mother interacted with her child on the train in Malaysia instead a device occupying the child’s attention. Or how two friends conversate in Auckland about their jobs on the bus after coming from work instead of scrolling through Facebook. Don’t get me wrong, this post is not a full bash against technology – as I believe technology has brought people together in its own unique and often cost effective ways. Yet, I would be remiss if I didn’t bring to light some of its effects that often go unnoticed.

At the end of the day, we should use technology to interact with people not avoid people to interact with technology. So the next time you travel – remember while it’s good to stay connected (wifi) the real enriching connection is the human interaction in the direction of (eyes) up.

Top 3 Places to Visit in Thailand

1. Wat Rong Kung (White Temple) – Chiang Rai

Number one on my top 3 places to visit in Thailand is Wat Rong Kung or better known as “the white temple.” On this top 3 list I specifically chose to only put one temple on the list of hundreds of other possible temples one could visit as this is the best bang for your buck. It is very easy to get “templed out” visiting the country of Thailand as there are Wats on  “every corner” (like US southerns say there is a Waffle House on every corner). The White Temple is located in Chiang Rai which is in the North Eastern part of the country. You can fly into Chiang Rai, however the airport hub is a pricier ticket than if one were to fly into Chiang Mai and take the 3 hour bus ride over.  You could possibly strick a deal flying from Bangkok to Chiang Rai using the in-country airliners Thai Smile or Nok Air (note: these are budget airliners that often charge you for everything (seat, baggage, food, etc.) so don’t expect the fireworks with these folks). Anywho, however you choose to get there- just make sure you get there! It is definitely worth the long trek as are the other places listed in this list. When you make the turn into the entrance (most likely from the wheels of a tuk tuk driver that you’ve flagged down) you will begin to see sparkling shimmers of light emminating from the magnificently bedazzled structure. Truly a work of artistry, this must see site wreaks of handcraftsmanship and pure innovation beyond its time. It’s voted in the top three temples for all of Thailand, but my bias puts it #1. The landscaping that surrounds it is perfectly manicured and well treated. It’s clean and well-kept all over proving how much of a traveler’s delight this site truly is. Make sure you walk all the way around and try to go on a day when it is not raining (which is tough in Thailand – especially during raining season between May-Oct) so that you can take a peak inside the main temple (it’s closed off when it’s raining). Get there early too as this site is very popular and you’ll want to snag a photo without a bunch of people in it. When you’re done- walk over to the nearby shops and stop in for a post temple treat and get a Thai tea or freshly made smoothie!

2. Maya Bay – (Phi Phi Islands) – Phuket

Do you remember the 2000 movie starring Leonardo Di Caprio called “The Beach?” No? Well, what about the 2016 movie starring Jason Stratham “The Mechanic?” Not a movie buff and these references mean absolutely nothing to you? Well no worries! I don’t need a movie reference to relay the wonders of the incredible island of Maya Bay. It truly is a magical place, but the journey to get there is as tough as trying to pull a rabbit out of a hat. After the long flight to Phuket (or Krabi), one must take a shuttle, private taxi, or tuk tuk ride to the pier that departs from the coast of Phuket (or Krabi). Upon arriving at the pier, you board a medium size speed boat (200-400 passengers) that takes you on the two hour wadey ride (if you are prone to sea sickness I recommend knocking yourself out with some sort of medical aid-wink) to your pre-selected island of choice (Koh Phi Phi, Long Beach, etc). If you have selected to arrive at Koh Phi Phi (which is the main island) you will be bombarded by loads of hotel and tour guides vying to get your attention. Once you settle into your place, you must then schedule and pay (if you have not already) for a speed boat or long tail boat ride to Maya Bay. Sound exhausting yet? Hang on! Don’t give up, it will be worth if it you keep trucking! One tip for the choosing whether to pick the speed boat or the long tail boat depends on your budget at the very least and adventure level at best! The long tail boat ride to Maya Bay is less expensive and more of an authentic experience, however, be prepared to get soaked by the sea waters and up close and personal with death lol ….just kidding! But the trip is not for the faint of heart! Once you arrive at the island, you will have a choice to stay on the boat of pay the 450 baht fee to enter. My advice- pay the fee! You didn’t come all this way not to see the magic that awaits inside. One should note that if you cannot swim, do not opt for the long tail boat ride as you will need to swim from the boat to the island. The speedboat drops you off on the other side where you simply hop off. Once you arrive at the beach, the magical experience begins! You will enjoy crystal clear blue and light green waters and soft clean sandy shores. You can swim around, but be careful of the jellyfish (there are signs). It literally is the most spectacular beach experience I have ever been to and you won’t be disappointed by the view!

3. Kwan Phayao – (Lake Phayao) – Phayao

This site is probably one of the most underrated places in Northern Thailand. Nestled between the two Chiang superpowers (Rai and Mai) the sleepy town of Phayao is a hidden find that contains one of the most stunning views of the picturesque mountains of Thailand. To really appreciate this beaut, one must either rise early or time sunset perfectly. Kwan Phayao is the provinces’ gathering point for nature reflection, picnics, exercise, or a post-work wind down on the strip of pubs and eateries. While still an overlooked tourist destination, this spot is rapidly growing with commerce and development to accommodate is growing audience. To get here, one must either fly into Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai and take the bus ride in. It’s about 1 hour from Chiang Rai’s bus terminal and 2 hours from Chiang Mai’s…Chiang Rai’s bus ride is easily more enjoyable than the twisty turny mountainous (cross your fingers) ride from Chiang Mai. You’ll have to weigh out your preferences more when it comes to cost, time and what’s worth it to you (for example: Chiang Rai’s airport is more expensive and has a quicker ride than Chiang Mai, however, you’ll likely find a cheaper deal flying into Chiang Mai). One other thing to note is in regards to the amount of seasonal rain the lake receives (this determines how high or low the water level is). When there is a drought, they usually build a bridge that you can cross to visit the floating temple on the lake. When the heavy rains come in, there is a boat that will paddle you across. You can rent kayaks and paddle yourself or simply enjoy the view from it’s long stretch of sidewalks. Either way plan a stop in town for the weekend to enjoy this serene view!