Honest Burgers – A Great British Burger

4a Meard Street
London W1F 0EF
+44 (0)20 3609 9524


I’ve always loved burgers and I always try and check out the burger scene when I travel. My passion for burgers was really ignited in New Zealand in 2011. There the burger seems to have become an institution, with every town and city being proud of their own champion. I’m not talking big chain restaurants either – these were all small independents with an almost fanatical following. My personal favourite in New Zealand was Fergburger in Queenstown, which has legendary status amongst travellers.

But anyway, to Honest Burgers. I don’t go to London very often but the excitement caused by Honest reached me well in advance of my trip. Good news does indeed travel far and wide it seems. Thus I decided to seek them out whilst I was in London for New Year. Created in 2011 by two guys, the excitement for good burgers in London has quickly led to them opening a total of 9 restaurants. I went to their small and well hidden restaurant in Soho, which almost seems out of place in a fairly quiet residential street.

The buzz for burgers, and food in general, seems to have created a strange phenomenon here in the UK. Queuing for a table. I know Brits love to queue, but less so for a table in a restaurant I would say. I had read about the need to often queue at Honest Burgers though, so I went prepared.

As it transpired I actually became the front of the queue when I arrived. After being told that the wait for a table inside was going to be lengthy my smile faded and I motioned to leave, only to be quickly offered a seat outside. They actually have a couple of heaters and blankets to make eating outside a little more appealing in these cold months. A nice touch.

I ordered their basic burger, named “Beef”, which comes filled with a little lettuce and a dollop of onion relish. The burger was cooked to perfection, pink and juicy, and the onion relish seemed to be an ideal match. The chips, of which I got plenty, were crispy and satisfying, with just a hint of rosemary. As I was feeling like I needed a treat I also had a portion of their fat and crunchy onion rings. Delicious.

Honest Burger - The

(Image taken from www.honestburgers.co.uk , because quite frankly I am not capable of taking a decent photograph of food.)

I think I am a little fussy when it comes to burgers. Simple things can really ruin the pleasure of eating one for me. But I had no such problems at Honest Burger. The whole meal was superb – as evidence by the satisfied and slightly gormless grin on my face during my visit.

I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend honest burger. It seems to me to be the perfect place to get a handle on the great British Burger.


Hot Air Ballooning in Cappadocia

If you research Peru you will be presented with glorious photographs of Machu Picchu. If you research Cambodia (or Vietnam!?) you will see Angkor Wat. Italy – The Colosseum. Thailand – Beaches. And when I started to research Turkey I was continually presented with a stunningly unusual landscape complete with various hot air balloons. Cappadocia, as it transpired, is one of the poster boys of Turkey.

I do tend to be taken in by the stunning headline images to be honest, so Cappadocia became part of, and the centrepiece to my trip to Turkey.

Getting to Cappadocia

Getting to Cappadocia is easy, and easier than you might expect given that it sits right in the middle of a country that seems to be more about the coastline than anything else. I flew from Istanbul to Kayseri Airport which was easy and cheap. Turkey has a good budget airline in the form of Pegasus Air as well as an excellent national carrier – Turkish Airlines. I paid around GBP£50 return for the flight with Pegasus and this seems to be their standard fare.

Transfers from the airport into the region are easily arranged and reasonable too. I arranged mine through my hotel in Goreme.

Goreme – A Great Town

Goreme itself seemed to me to be the perfect place to stay in the region. The town is delightful, some of the hotels are built within the otherworldly rock formations and many of the main attractions are close by.

Goreme High Street

Hot air ballooning was a new activity for me. Being a little uneasy with heights I decided to do some research and settled upon Butterfly Balloons – one of at least 25 in the region. I stopped my research short of the disasters which unfortunately do happen from time to time in ballooning, all around the world and occasionally at Cappadocia. Butterfly seemed to get great reviews and was recommended in the Lonely Planet guidebook though.

Before the Flight

The logistical aspect of the build up to the flight was slick – as you would expect as they do this twice a day almost every day. I was picked up very early from my hotel and driven to their main offices. Here they provided breakfast to the 50 or so passengers (don’t worry, they have more than one balloon!) before we were split into groups. Rather inexplicably I was placed with 14 Chinese people, of which only a couple spoke English. Not that this bothered me but looking at the other groups Butterfly were clearly trying to group people together with a system of some sort. For the record, I am rarely mistaken for a Chinese person.

Our balloon being readied

Then we were bussed out into the middle of nowhere where our balloon was waiting. Once it was ready we were loaded into the basket, given a short safety talk by our pilot and took off.

The Flight

I won’t tell you about the flight, as photos do a better job. Suffice to say though that it was a really special experience and the gradually rising sun helps to show off the astounding geological formations of the area to perfection.

Take off - note the number of other balloons


Landing was a different matter though. Our pilot, who was clearly talented and instilled great confidence throughout, had told us that we were very lucky. The winds were carrying us along at a good pace and as a result we were seeing a lot more than most. Which is good. Until landing time approached.

As we descended we were asked to take up landing positions – which is to be crouched down in the basket and holding on tightly to the handles. From this position, despite my height I could see nothing.

The pilot’s calls for us to brace ourselves became a little more urgent and then we hit the ground hard. We all whooped in delight, as if we were on a rollercoaster, but then the balloon crashed down again, this time much harder. The laughing and cheering turned to screams.

The third time the balloon hit the ground it was pulled over by around 45 degrees and was then dragged along. The basket filled with dust and vegetation. At this point I could still see nothing, but I later learned that the ground crew had all thrown themselves on to the basket to try and cease its undignified journey through the olive trees and rocks.

Eventually we did stop, on our side, with the weighty gas cannisters within the basket thankfully remaining in place above my head.

After the crash landing

The landing was laughed off by the crew, and in all honesty I enjoy a little drama. But when I went for a stroll I noticed that had we been dragged a little further the edge of a deep ravine awaited.


So are balloon flights in Cappadocia safe? I’m not entirely sure. Certainly Butterfly balloons are a professional outfit, with good equipment and excellent staff. But I am inclined to think that the sheer number of balloons in the air at once is the most likely cause of accidents. Our pilot had a walkie talkie and though I couldn’t understand what was being said I am pretty sure he was speaking with the other Butterfly balloons, Probably looking out for each other, letting each other know what was above and below the balloons, in the huge blind spots.

My concern would be that single balloon or cut price operators may not apply the same level of caution. I don’t think hot air balloon flights are something to choose solely in the basis of price.

As for the landing, this was caused by the strength of the wind on the day. I suspect that in many countries that amount of wind would put paid to balloon flights for the day. Not so in Cappadocia where the balloon flights are a huge money spinner.

Balloon flights, like many of the best activities, carry an element of risk. Based on my experience in Cappadocia, it is a risk worth taking. So my advice would be that you should do your research and be wary of the cheaper balloon companies.

How about you?

Have you been to Cappadocia? What did you make of the balloon flight?  Let me know, either in the comments or on Facebook.

Gatwick to New York for £299? It Seems Not.

Earlier in 2014 Norwegian Air launched their budget flights to New York from London Gatwick at £149 each way. The fact that it was supposedly possible to fly directly to New York from the UK for under £300 return was a bit of a watershed moment. I couldn’t recall a standard price for this prestigious route being under £300 for many years.

Six months on, I thought I might eventually take advantage of this bargain flight offering so I took a closer look. Only to find that the each way cost of £149 doesn’t exist.

The very best price I could find on the Norwegian website was around £350 return, but this was only at very specific times during 2015. This is still not too bad, but barely any better than the typical fares of £380 ish offered by Virgin, Delta and the like.

Reviews of the Norwegian service are varied, and mention charges being made for water and blankets. I’m well used to budget flights, and I am happy to deal with these additional lines of revenue, but only if the headline flight price is truly at budget level. It seem to me that Norwegian is not though. Which is a real shame.

Ko Samui to Ko Lanta – a typically random Thai journey

Getting to Ko Lanta from Ko Samui was never going to be straight forward. The journey was to take me right across Thailand by way of the able awful catamaran I had staggered of off a few days earlier, two buses, two minibuses and two ferry journeys. Even as I set off I was thinking that such a journey in one day was a little ambitious.

I bought my ticket though my accommodation. I probably paid over the odds but to me it seemed cheap, and the promise was that I was sorted all the way to Ko Lanta.

Getting off of Samui

This party was easy,which was lucky as I’m a bit dopey in the morning.

I woke at 6am to be picked up by a coach at 7am and taken to the dock. Having swallowed sea sickness tablets I was mildy confident of not heaving up but the sea looked a little choppy. Despite this the journey was nothing like my first a few days earlier and I arrived at Surat Thani by 11am

Surat Thani to Krabi 

I was shown to a reasonably decent coach not long after arriving at Surat Thani. This coach departed in short order but took me to a random bit of pavement somewhere or other where I was ejected along with a small group of travellers and a huge bag of cuddly toys.

You really do have to just relax and let things happen in South East Asia. Just typing this makes me realise how weird the system can be. If you bought a bus ticket in the UK and after only 10 minutes you were ejected onto the pavement and told to wait for some other coach to collect you at some point in the next hour or you would be far from pleased. But in Thailand this is normal, and it does no good to fret. So I sat on my rucksack and made some new friends (the travelers, not the cuddly toys).

After a short while a decrepit old coach arrived and we once again began loading suitcases into the hold, which was as usual too small. So most of the cases went on the back seats and on the floor down the aisle. When I boarded I realised that my relaxed approach hadn’t done us any favours as I ended up standing in the aisle….for the whole 2 hour journey. During the journey a Thai man clambered over the cases in the aisle to attach coloured stickers to the tourists on board.

My vantage point for the 2 hour standing bus journey

During this hair raising 2 hours the bus stopped to collect a couple of local people. We also stopped to discard some huge packages into a road somewhere. As we drove away from these parcels people were appearing and poking and prodding them. Again, totally random, unless you are Thai.

Eventually the coach pulled into a dusty yard and all of the tourists were once again ejected. Depending on what sticker we were wearing we were told we would have varying amounts of time to wait before being collected.

I found out later that this was the outskirts of Krabi.

Krabi to the Ko Lanta Ferry

I was told I would need to wait for 1 hour, but 10 minutes later I was being bundled into the back of a pick up truck with 5 others and taken to a tour operator’s office close by in Krabi. I transpired we were all destined for Ko Lanta and once we reached the tour office we were again told we were to wait. As a group we took the chance to grab a bite to eat and to get to know each other. Crazy journeys like this do bring people together it seems.

After an hour or so a mini van appeared. It had tinted windows and a little too much chrome – as do most minivans in Thailand. We bundled into it, again with cases on seats and the floor and set off to make the ferry crossings which would eventually get us to Ko Lanta.

The Ko Lanta Ferries – Any Excuse for Race

This was where the journey became slightly terrifying. We guessed that we were behind schedule and may miss the ferry. This was the best explanation I could find for the absolutely insane driving. During the journey I chatted to my fellow passengers but it was very hard to concentrate due to the overtaking on corners, hard breaking and fast cornering being expertly performed by our non-communicating driver. Again random locals climbed in during hurried roadside stops and after 30 minutes or so we reached the first ferry in time for sunset.

Sun set from the Ko Lanta ferry

One fellow passenger, a Swede, had made the journey in 2009 and told us that when crossing the island between the first and second ferry drivers race as the second ferry is smaller. So again we had to hang on for dear life during a white knuckle journey complete with some insane overtaking by our driver. We made it to the second ferry just in time and took the final space on board.

Eventually, some 13 hours after departure I arrived at my resort at Hat Khlong Nin beach, Ko Lanta.

My Thoughts on the Journey

I find these kind of journeys fun, but many wouldn’t. They are often frustrating, sometimes dangerous and they can take a very long time.

It seems that flights from Sumui over to the Western coast are fairly reasonable. Or you could break the overland journey up into two days maybe.

But one thing is for sure. The overland journey can give you some great memories and an amusing story to tell your friends.

I have to admit to enjoying the surreal and often terrifying overland journeys in Thailand. This one was particularly fun.

However this would not be for everybody. If you are new to Thai adventures like this it can be stressful, tiring and it is a great way to wast a whole day.

Bare in mind that you can fly from Ko Samui to Krabi for around £60 too.

Battambang in Cambodia – Insects, Home Made Trains and Frenchness

The city of Battambang was recommended to us last time we were here but at that time the lure of Thai beaches was too much. But this time we had no excuse as it was en-route to the Thai beaches.

We paid the almighty sum of £4.50 each to travel the 4 hours from Siem Reap to Battambang. We got the hotel to book the ticket but had we arranged it ourselves we would no doubt have been promised a luxury modern air conditioned toilet toting bus. But we would have known that such a bus didn’t exist, unlike the British father and daughter we met at the bus station.

The daughter was mildly ranting at the bemused ticket checker (that’s him with the white cap) when we arrived. Her admittedly rather valid concern was the lack of toilet and the state of the bus.  I offered some calm words and defused the situation. Then I told her about one of our Bolivian bus journeys. Twenty hours on perilous roads with no toilet and children sleeping in the aisle is an experience that will remain with us forever I think. A trundle along the dusty roads of Cambodia is a cake walk by comparison.

This was a proper local bus with just a smattering of western travellers amongst Cambodians going about their daily busibess. A family of 5 sat in the two seats accross from us. The father had only one leg (land mine no doubt Cambodia is still littered with them) was sat with his wife and 3 daughters aged around 2, 4 and 6 I would guess. They were great fun and I exchanged a few funny faces with one of girls. Previous experience means we now carry sweets and lollies, so we handed some over which they loved.

Somewhere around half way to Battambang (pronounced Baddambong. I got blank looks until I realised this) we stopped for lunch. After a visit to the obligatory hideous squat toilets I considered trying a deep fried grasshopper. I bottled it though. I never even thought about munching on a battered and deep fried freshly hatched chick though.

After that things progressed smoothly and we arrived in Battambang by mid afternoon. We had booked a hotel through Booking.com but did no more than this, so we were surprised to see a guy within the waiting crowd waving a card with my name on it. We worked our way through the huge shouting clamour of tuk tuk and taxi drivers and eventually found him. He was the tuk tuk driver stationed at our hotel it transpired. The fact that he had my name seemed to ensure this wasn’t a clever ploy on the part of some cunning opportunist.

This situation demonstrates two things about Cambodians which endear them to us so much. Firstly, what a wonderful thing to do for somebody. Its 35c in an unfamiliar city and 30 drivers are competing loudly for our attention. In this situation it is very hard to know what to do as a traveller arriving in a strange place. Secondly Cambodians all seem so keen to work so hard to make money to better their lives. It is humbling. Sam, the tuk tuk driver, didn’t know when or where we were coming from or by what means. So he had made his way between bus station and boat port waving the card in the hope that he would find us. Amazing.

When we got to the hotel he didn’t even want any money. His hope, which was realised, was that we would book an all day tour with him for the almighty sum of US$20, plus what we always add on because we bluntly refuse to employ somebody for a whole day for so little money. I’m not tight enough to be a hardcore backpacker.

The city of Battambang is a funny place. The French, when they ruled Cambodia built lots of French looking buildings. But aside from that it is pure Cambodia.

The city itself doesn’t seem to have much to offer. The big attractions are out of town so the next day we arranged to set off at 8am with Sam on the standard tour circuit.

First stop was the Bamboo Railway. I have been mumbling about wanting to see this to various people in the UK for a while. I doubt any of them listened though. Most of my friends and colleagues glaze over when I talk travel.

In the French Colonial era the French built railway lines, including a route from the capital Phnom Pehn in the south to Battambang further north. Most of the line is now out of service but a group of localpeople have kept a short stretch open. On this stretch they run their own home made trains which consist of a small bamboo platform which sits on two axles and wheels. The train is powered by a scavenged petrol engine taken from a generator.

Whilst I am sure these services do serve the local people I suspect most of their trade comes from tourists. So much so that a Tourist Police Officer was manning the station when we arrived. We paid US$2 each for the short return trip and very quickly we were hacking along at 40kmh and becoming worried. The lengths of rail mostly don’t quite line up which doesn’t make for a smooth ride. But it is incredible fun nonetheless once you overcome the feeling of impending doom.

We soon arrived at a small settlement which looked to be on the site of an old station. We were ushered to a tiny shop and fed fruit and sold drinks. Four kids immediately came and sat with us and soon offered to show us around.

The settlement was based around a brick kiln and we were given a very thorough tour. The bricks are made from clay taken from the local fields. Rice husk is burned to heat the kiln and then the ash is used to fertilise the earth to grow more rice. All quite impressive.

The 4 kids were brilliant fun and their English was great. So much so we could have some pretty good conversations. The girl in fact even spoke a little Spanish so we practised together for a while.

As we walked they were making things from the local plant leaves. Like origami is the best way I can describe it. Grasshoppers and stars seemed to be their favourite. By chance I had bought some stars in Siem Reap made in exactly the same way but in bright coloured plastic.  I handed this over and they excitedly split them up between themselves.

After around 10 minutes one of the boys decided it was time to set out the terms of our tour. US$1 for each of our tour guides. A bargain which we doubled and then supplemented with some sweets. I am under no illusion that these kids were essentially doing their jobs, but they were great fun nonetheless.

One of the novel things about the bamboo train is that there is only one track, and thus trains moving in opposing directions have to decide who will get out of the way. On the return journey our train had to be dismantled and flung to the side to let another through.This took a matter of seconds, though the wheels did look very heavy!

After the bamboo train dropped us back at the station we tuk tuk’d cross country to a winery. In fact this was apparently Cambodia’s only winery. We had a quick stroll through the vineyard and then sampled some of their wine (not great), brandy (tasted like brandy), ginger cordial (excellent) and grape juice (delicious).

After this Sam took us to see the Wat Banan temple. This was much like some of the smaller temples we saw at Siem Reap, though at Siem Reap we didn’t have to climb up a small mountain! Sam sat at the bottom and relaxed whilst we struggled up the steps in the incredible heat. In all honesty, having come from Siem Reap it really wasn’t worth the climb though the view was impressive.

After this we pressed on to another temple on a large hill. Before climbing we had some delicious lunch in the form of Lok Lak Beef, and then negotiated a ride each on the back of a motorbike to get to the top.

This hill was a sobering experience. Atop the hill is a Buddhist temple and a deep cave known as “The Killing Cave”. During the Khmer Rouge years prisoners were brought to the temple and incarcerated. Their crime was nothing more than being educated or perceived as a thread to the Khmer Rouge. Their punishment was to be hit over the head with a big stick or the butt of a rifle and pushed over the edge and into the cave. A drop of around 25 metres. Most died from the fall. Those that survived died of starvation, unable to escape the cave.

I am sure we said similar in our last blog entries from Cambodia, but what happened to the wonderful people of Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge is heartbreaking. It is estimated that a quarter of the population were killed or died from overwork, starvation or illness. Some even killed themselves to escape the terror. It is incredible that despite this being in living memory of so many Cambodians, the country is so amazingly friendly and welcoming. This visit completed our day and we wordlessly headed back to Battambang to jump in the pool and cool off.

That evening we attended the Circus. This comes highly recommended but I think we caught it on a bad night. The 6 performers were clearly very talented but whoever choreographed their performance is less worthy of praise.

The next morning we set off for Thailand. This was to be our most ambitious journey of the trip. We took a taxi to the border. This bit went well though we did wonder why we were the only people not holding reams of paperwork. It transpired that everybody else was on a visa run. They were crossing into Cambodia for the sole reason of getting a new visa as they returned to Thailand. Below is the exciting border at Pailin.

We then negotiated a taxi ride to the Thai town of Chantaburi. Our guide book told us that from here we could catch a minibus to Ban Phe. Sure enough our taxi dropped us off near the market and mini buses were waiting. However it seemed they would only drop us at the main road and we needed to get to Ban Phe pier. There was talk of motorbikes waiting for us which wasn’t appealing as Claire’s backpack weighs the same as a small adult. But we climbed in and went for it anyway.

When we were pretty much ejected from the minibus we could see no motorbikes, taxis or anything. I shouted to the driver and he pointed us down a road. So we started walking. At this point we didn’t realise that we had a good 3 miles to walk in blistering heat.

After a couple of minutes a tuk tuk drove past and Claire hailed him. We climbed in and set off. The driver was an old guy and whilst friendly he spoke no English. We don’t think he was actually on duty as he had to drop into his depot to grab his helmet. When we arrived at the pier he refused to accept any money and I even resorted to trying to chase him with some notes but he was having none of it. What an absolute gent.

We had a 30 minute wait for our boat so we jumped into an Irish type bar for some food. Our first since breakfast 7 hours previous.


Have you been to Battambang? What did you think of it?

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Travel Advice – Try not to look like a traveller

I learnt this particular “skill” the hard way. At 6’3″ and with dazzlingly white skin (which at best becomes pink in the sun) I doubt I ever truly blend in, but I give it my best shot. I try to not look like a traveller.

What is definite is that there are certain behaviours that which unwanted attention in unfamiliar cities. Here are some of my mistakes that you might learn from.

Maps and Guidebooks

I am an accomplished map reader.  But I also have the memory of a goldfish. So I have to continually look at my map as I navigate my way between locations.

Nothing screams opportunity more than a tourist looking at his map with a slightly confused look on his face. Or thumbing through a copy of The Lonely Planet. If you do this you will receive offers of help at best. At worst you will be relieved of your wallet.

My advice? If you are lost, step into a shop and ask for directions. Or use the relative safety of the shop to examine your map. The good thing about asking shopkeepers is that they can’t leave their store, so they aren’t going to take you on a confusing dash and expect payment in return.


Which leads me nicely on to wallets and ATMs (cashpoints to us Brits). If you flash your cash in any big city you will be spotted and marked as a target.

When I use an ATM abroad I make sure nobody is watching and very quickly slip the cash into a money belt. I retain only a small amount of cash for my wallet, which I stow in a pocket on the front of my shorts or trousers. That way I can keep a hand on it without looking like I am protecting something worth taking.

Also, when I travel to cities that concern me (some have a reputation – Barcelona for instance) I will take a decoy wallet. In this wallet I place an old expired credit card and a small amount of cash. I put this in a more obvious place. That way if I am targeted by thieves they will waste their time and I get to keep my money.

I also stash emergency money in a really unusual place. Either my shoe or my hat. Just so I have enough money to get me back to my hotel in an emergency.


These are like wallets. If you aren’t careful a talented thief will become the new owner around 20 seconds before you realise it has happened.

I cringe when I see a tourist strutting around a major city, often in a poor country, with a huge DSLR hanging around their neck, or in a very obvious camera bag. Thieves will use knives to cut the straps on these in order to take them,

I favour a small camera, which lives in a secure pocket in my trousers or shorts. If needed I can quickly take a shot or two and have it packed away in seconds.

My advice? Be careful. Undoubtedly a DSLR takes superb shots (unless I’m using it) so be aware that you will be a target. Carry the bag carefully and keep a hand on the bag at all times. Don’t leave it on the ground at restaurants and if you don’t plan to use it for a while stash it in your day bag.


Brightly coloured clothing draws the attention of chancers and scammers.  I know this because I have experimented. I now buy my travelling clothes in dark green, beige and grey.

Try to blend in. That way the pickpockets and “guides” will go after the American in the basketball shirt and the Australian in no shirt before they even notice you.

I am by no means an expert. But in the last 250 days of travel the only things I have had stolen are a bottle of milkshake and a t shirt which I no longer wanted (which I wasn’t wearing at the time!)


Do you have any tips? Have you been the victim of pickpockets or scammers? What is the worst city you have visited for crime?

Let me know, and don’t forget to follow the blog.

What Does the Future Hold for Cuba?

I have never been to Cuba but it is a country that has always sat quite high on my bucket list. With the news of a thawing in relations between Cuba and its big, angry brother America, it seems likely that Cuba is poised to undergo great change.

As a traveller this gives me mixed feelings. All travellers will at some point talk about how a country has changed for the worse. Personally I hear this said most about Thailand and Cambodia. My wife travelled extensively in Thailand in 2002 and then again with me in 2011. She was quite shaken by changes to the places and the people.  “They seem to smile less” she said.

Similarly with Cambodia I hear people talk about how Siem Reap was once a sleepy village and that the temples were deserted. Usually whilst enjoying the cheap booze at a bar in Pub Street.

The same conversations will happen with regards to Cuba, if American money pours in as is expected.

But is this change a bad thing for the people living in these countries? More money should mean a better life, generally speaking. More opportunity. Better education. Better access to health care?

So is this traveller desire for things to the stay the same just selfishness? Probably.

But one thing that I am sure of is that money pouring in to a country is both good and bad. I will keep my fingers crossed for Cuba as I do for Burma.


What do you think? Have you been to Cuba? How do you think things will change?  Let me know.

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