Category Archives: General Opinion and Nonsense

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.

Money

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.

Cameras

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.

Clothing

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.

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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.

And don’t forget to follow the blog to get notifications of my updates.

My Favourite Beaches

I’m having a day of aimless pondering and reminiscence. Which inevitably leads my mind to my travels, and today, for no particular reason I thought about some of the great beaches I’ve been luck enough to relax on.

Now my idea of a great beach is possibly nothing like yours. I like my beaches natural, clean, preferably devoid of other people and I enjoy some lively waves. I also like to be able to get my hands on a cold drink easily. And I don’t do pebble beaches.

So I’m not fussy then 🙂

First up, how about this little gem at Mirleft in Morocco?

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It is hidden away from the main town and has only a handful of buildings set up against the cliffs. There are two places to stay and two places to eat – not that they appear to be restaurants. You just walk up looking hungry and the next thing you know you are eating tagine in the company of 20 friendly stray cats.

Then I remembered the Perhentian Islands in Malaysia. It’s a bit of a mission getting to these two islands, involving a flight from Kuala Lumpur, a taxi south along the coast and then a 30 minute boat ride. But it’s worth it.

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The sand is soft, the water is clear and warm and the fresh fish is wonderful.

The biggest surprise I’ve ever had in terms of beaches is New Zealand. Not being one for research I hadn’t really expected much from the coastline of NZ but my arrival in Abel Tasman National Park put paid to that.

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As I walked along the coastal path through the park I passed beach after beach that would not look out of place in Thailand. All had perfectly clear water, rocky jungle backdrops and clean white sand. Sadly the water was bloody freezing, and I say that as Brit, but I swum anyway (because I’m a Brit).

My favourite Thai island is Ko Lanta. The west coast is lined with beach after beach. Choosing the right beach is easy too. The further south you go the quieter and more natural they get, finishing up with the beaches of the National Park at the southern tip of the island.
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I found this lovely beach just before the National Park. It was almost deserted and a friendly local was on hand to sell me ice cold Coke.

My longing for beach perfection seems to be drawing me to The Philippines. I’ve read a lot about the stunning beaches with tiny villages proving the all important sustenance and shelter. The Philippines sits very high up my bucket list.

What’s your favourite beach? Have you found the perfect beach? What beaches should I avoid?

Let me know…

My Ten Favourite Things About South East Asia

South East Asia is mad. It’s also very diverse. It can be ugly. It can be challenging. But I love it.  Here are my ten favourite things I have encountered whilst travelling around South East Asia. Have a read, and let me know yours.

Thai Minibuses of Doom

If you have ever travelled around Thailand in an economical fashion you have probably sat in one of these. You have also probably clenched your buttocks in fear and held on for dear life. And you have probably scratched your head in confusion as you were dumped at the road side and told to wait in the middle of nowhere for no clear reason.

If you have no idea what I am talking about, it is probably best that you can recognise these vehicles. They tend to look something like this. With varying amounts of chrome accessories.

Thai Minibus

I have no idea how the whole system of Thai minibuses work. Without doubt they are vital. They are used by backpacker and locals alike and they seem to ply every possible route. There is no evidence of a timetable and they seem to set off once they are full. And when I say full, I mean stuffed to the ceiling with people, bags and whatever goods the locals want to transport.

That’s me below with the ginger facial hair. And those two guys had never met until the point when they realised that they had to share a seat for an uncomfortable few hours. It was a big seat, stretching the width of the minibus. But, in Thailand the back seat is always used for storing rucksacks and boxes of mysterious Thai cargo. The driver excavated that little alcove for them to climb into.

Inside a typical Thai Minibus

You will find one of these things very easily. Somebody will happily tell you which bus is the one for you, and the owner, who will look and behave like an Automobile Pimp, will happily sell you a ticket.

Some time later, when you depart at the speed of light, you may well think your next stop will be your destination. But not necessarily.

During more than half of my Thai Minibus adventures I have been dropped off in some random dusty location and told to wait along with most of the other equally confused passengers. The parting shot of the driver is to slap a coloured sticker on the clothing of the passengers who are being ejected. Then he will speed off.

Everybody looks at each other and gradually they start to discuss the situation. Eventually somebody goes to ask the only person around, the man selling ice creams, and he says to wait. Because he knows how the system works.

At some point later, another minibus will appear and collect whoever is wearing a particular colour sticker. This minibus may well not really have enough room, which is what happened to the two guys up there.

The minibus drivers are clearly on a bonus of some sort to arrive on time.  I once had to counsel a Scottish chap who had sat in the front passenger seat of one of these things. His eyes were unblinkingly glued on the road, aside from frantic glances at the speedometer.

But despite all of this, I have always arrived safely and only a little shaken, dehydrated and hungry. And with hindsight each trip has been enjoyable in it’s own special way.

Pad Thai

Oh wow! I already loved Pad Thai, the national dish of Thailand, long before I first set foot in The Land of Smiles. But when I first tucked into a genuine Pad Thai, in 2010 in a dark and dingy Thai alleyway, I knew I had found my perfect food.

Chewy noodles, fish sauce, egg, crunchy crushed nuts, tofu, bean shoots, tamarind, garlic and few other ingredients come together in perfect union with a squeeze of lime. and some meat or prawns.  This one here is wrapped in a clever egg omelette net.

Pad Thai

It is cheap, incredibly satisfying and available absolutely everywhere in Thailand. Make sure you try it when you get there.

Temples in Cambodia

The Temples of Angkor, the only remaining remnant of a once great empire, is the very reason I first set foot in South East Asia. The awe inspiring photographs of Angkors Wat and Thom had been calling to me for many years.

To stand and behold the behemoth that is Angkor Wat is enough to make you question whether humans have actually moved forward in the past 900 years. Angkor Wat was and still is the largest religious building in the world.

Angkor Wat

When the French “rediscovered” Angkor in the mid 19th Century the French Explorer Henri Mouhot was taken to say…

 “At Ongcor, there are …ruins of such grandeur… that, at the first view, one is filled with profound admiration, and cannot but ask what has become of this powerful race, so civilized, so enlightened, the authors of these gigantic works?”

In fact they were so sure that the Cambodians of the 19th century could not be descended from the builders of this astonishing city that they toyed with the idea that the Egyptians must have been responsible. Which probably prompted a knowing Cambodian farmer to smugly mutter…

“Good work Frenchy!”

Angkor Wat is the biggest single temple at Angkor, but for me it is in fact not the best. For starters it is intact, having actually remained in use over the centuries. I prefer my temples to be crumbled. But Angkor has many other temples, many of which were lost to the jungle for many centuries. Some retain this mysterious lost atmosphere, and for me there is not much I like more than clambering over the moss covered ruins of the temples Ta Prohm and Beng Mealea. Or gazing in wonder at the amazing detail of Banteay Samre.

Beng Mealea in Cambodia

It takes time to tour these astounding monuments Not least because the daytime heat in Cambodia is very draining. I would recommend 3 days if you are visiting. And prepare to be blown away.

Mango Lassi

Talking of the heat, nothing pleases me more when I am hot and tired than a cold, refreshing Mango Lassi.

Mango Lassi

Vietnamese Tourist Tax

Any well travelled person will agree that extracting lots of money from tourist is a trade that crosses all international borders. I’ve been ripped off and guilt tripped in most countries, but the worst and in turn most entertaining is Vietnam.

In the defence of Vietnam, when I visited I was pretty naive. But they knew it and tried to milk me dry. Just to be clear, you can find a list of some of the Vietnamese scams here.

Having read that I came off lightly actually . But I still paid for a first class train ticket and ended up in a really nasty bunk. And I paid for a wonderful tour from Ho Chi Minh City to Cambodia and got not much in return. And every single shop, which is a lot as every house seems to be a shop in Vietnam, does not show prices. You can almost see the shopkeeper’s eyes brighten as they think about what price they can get away with,

But I still loved Vietnam. I would go back, though a quick Google search suggests many don’t.

The Horn of Corn

“The what?” I hear you ask. Well, that is in fact the name I gave to a tasty Thai snack because I can’t read the packaging. They look like this.

The Horn of Corn

These crunchy corn snacks have seen me through many a tiring journey. They are so bloody morish that I have to eat a whole bag, and they only seem to come in big bags. Even better, I discovered that the Thai shop close to my home town in the UK imports them! Woohooooo!

Smiles

The people of South East Asia really do know how to smile. They don’t smile all the time of course. That would be weird, and probably annoying. But they just seem to have a happy outlook on life. Even these kids who live in the middle of nowhere in Cambodia at a brick kiln.

Battambang Kids

Dodgy Counterfeit Gear

It’s everywhere in South East Asia. Most notably, at least as far as I can tell, in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. And the shopkeeper will swear blind that the $5 pair of Oakley Sunglasses (negotiated down to 3$ of course) are completely genuine.

The whole situation left me in a bit of a quandary. If I was planning on bringing a load back to flog on eBay I would be a crook. But I just wanted a cheap rucksack, and the “North Face” offering seemed to tick all the boxes.

My North Face bag

And the “Ray Bans” were only cheap but they did a job. I’m not so sure about the “Tag Heur” watch though – it can’t always be 6.30!

Tuk Tuks

Yep. Those three wheeled things that are nothing but a novelty in the west – they seem to stitch the very fabric of the rest of the world together. I’ve ridden them in Asia, South America and I even saw one in Morocco.

They come in many guises, from the slow relaxing variant in Cambodia to the crazy, mental version that tears up the streets of Bangkok.

A typical Bangkok Tuk Tuk

They are most famous in Thailand I would say. Putting the terrible traffic congestion aside, a Tuk Tuk is a very quick way to get around Bangkok. The drivers can weave them in and out of traffic with great skill, and seem to take great delight in extracting screams and whoops of joy from their passengers.

The drivers also like to drive a hard bargain. They could teach the Vietnamese a thing or two, but I always seem to reach an agreeable price. Oh, and don’t forgot to tell them you are not interested in their brother’s suit store or their friend’s shop.

Beaches

I’ve saved the very best until last. South East Asia has lots of incredible beaches. Some of my most relaxing times have been spent on Ko Lanta in Thailand and on the Perhentian Islands in Malaysia.

But finding a good beach that suits your requirements is not easy. I like a quiet sandy beach with good swimming, low key infrastructure and plenty of Mango Lassis.

A Beach on Ko Lanta

That up there is a great little beach on Ko Lanta in Thailand. Note the clean sand, calm waters, forest back drop, and of course the dodgy North Face bag. And when I was dropped off by boat at this beach on the Perhantian Islands in Malaysia I knew I had found my kind of beach.

Perhentian Islands in Malaysia

So, what about you?

This is my top ten, but you most certainly will disagree. So what do you love about South East Asia? Add a comment, or a Tweet, or even a Facebook comment and let me know.

The Liebster Award

Liebster Award You may well be reading this and thinking “what the hell is a Liebster Award?” I certainly did when @pataschasworld on Twitter nominated me. I started thinking about my acceptance speech and where my black tie was, but then thought I best do a little research.

It turns out that the Liebster Award is a bit like a blogger’s chain letter. Though rather less annoying. A blogger nominates 10 other bloggers and sets them some questions to answer on their blog. They in turn nominate another ten bloggers and set some new questions.

The web gives endless other rules, one of which is that those that I nominate must have less then 200 followers. That’s the only rule I am sticking to (kind of) as the rest are just plain muddled. So below are the questions set by Patashcas World, as detailed here in their blog entry, along with my answers.

The fact that they nominated me is quite crazy actually. The beach at the top of their blog is the astoundingly beautiful Playa Conchal in Costa Rica. I got engaged on that beach in 2011. I love the crazy randomness of an unlikely coincidence. 

1. Do you prefer city trips or nature? Why? 

I go through stages of preferring one, and then the other. When I travelled around the world I got very bored of cities. In the end, coming so quickly one after another, they started to feel very similar. Particularly in South America. But then just when I thought I had had enough of cities for ever, a real gem would come along. Like Cusco in Peru. Or Wellington in New Zealand. Or the city I could never get bored of – New York City.

So my answer changes. At the moment I can’t wait to explore Istanbul next week and Seoul a couple of weeks later. I may be sick of cities again after that though. 

2. Where was your worst night spent and what happened? 

More than one night actually. In 2011 my girlfriend and I were in Mendoza in Argentina. We arrived during a big festival and hostel rooms were really hard to find. But we managed to get 7 nights booked at a highly regarded hostel.

When we got to the dorm we noticed bed bugs on the bunk. The hostel called in exterminators and washed all our clothes but that night my girlfriend got savaged by the bugs. We spent hours the next morning looking for somewhere else to stay but without any success.

In the meantime the exterminators were called in and the infestation was traced to the rucksack of an American girl – who seemed to have gone into hiding. In the end we stayed the whole seven nights in an eternal loop of bad sleep and extermination.

Eventually the hostel burnt the mattresses. I like to think I can sleep anywhere, but knowing that I will be attacked by bugs in the night was tough. 

3. Is a rental car a too expensive way for you to travel? If yes, which transportation do you prefer? 

I feel like I am a good person to ask this to actually. I have almost completely travelled by local transport and I love it. Local chicken buses are a real experience, and trains in far out places are nothing like westernised travel (I’m looking at you Vietnam!) and are a great way to see the countryside.

But I have hired a car twice whilst travelling. Once for 6 weeks in New Zealand and again for 6 days in Tenerife. As a result I feel like these are two places I know really well.

Having the car gives complete freedom to venture from the standard tourist routes and just check out what is down that dusty track. New Zealand really is a great place to get out and about in a car too. Every road seems to have some incredible sight to behold.

So yes, a rental car is expensive, but sometimes it is worth the expense. And what do I prefer? A tuk-tuk of course. Life is always good when you are in the back of a tuk-tuk. 

4. What is your favourite destination and why? 

Without a doubt my favourite destination is Cambodia. I’ve been twice now and long to return. My main obsession is the temples, which is why I first went. But I soon realised that the people are amazing and the food is pretty good too. I can’t wait to return and next time I want to explore the coast. 

5. What was the oddest food you’ve eaten? 

Probably Guinea Pig in Cusco. Which was nice, and like most unusual foods it actually tasted like chicken. I came close to trying tarantula and deep fried whole chicken embryo in Cambodia but bottled it at the moment of truth. 

6. What was the most dangerous situation you’ve ever been involved in? 

I work in the risk industry so I am really good at finding reasons to not put myself in danger.

But retrospectively I would say that endless bus journeys in the Andes throughout Bolivia and Peru was pretty dangerous. The mountain passes and perilous roads were both spectacular and terrifying. And the drivers have a reputation of driving whilst drunk and are exposed to long period of driving without rest.

I feel lucky that we had zero problems to be honest. Others are less lucky. 

7. Did you ever needed medical treatment during a stay. If yes, in which country and what happened? 

I broke my ring finger 3 days after getting married. I braved a rope swing into the lake at Khao Sok National Park in Thailand. Sadly it seems that my fear of heights is more prominent in my left hand, which refused to let go of the rope. Once my full body weight had done it’s job the bone in my finger cracked in half kind of lengthwaysOuch!Luckily we had a nurse from the UK in the floating hut next to us. Once I had swum one handed to get back to the huts she helped me straighten my finger – which crunched loudly enough for everybody in the room to hear. I struggled through the next 2 weeks of honeymoon – Malaysia and then Cambodia – before seeking proper medical assistance back in the UK. 

8. Hostel or suite? 

A constant debate between my wife and I. Well into our 30’s now, we do rather stand out in hostels. Not that it bothers me. But in all honesty we are now hotel  people. But I still miss the conversations and weirdness of hostels and their dorms. 

9. Your best memory of a stay… 

Hmmm. That’s a tough one. So many memories.

In March 2011 we landed in Buenos Aires after nearly 2 months in New Zealand. Which was a real shock to the system. New Zealand has just over 4 million citizens. The province of Buenos Aires alone has over 15 million and when we arrived it seemed that a large chunk of them were bustling around the streets of San Telmo. We needed a bolt hole and we stumbled upon a newly opened estancia in Uruguay by the name of El Galope. 

Getting there was a challenge. We took a ferry across the Rio Plata to Colonia del Scaramento in Uruguay and then a bus. We had to disembark at a random spot in the middle of nowhere where the owner of El Galope, Miguel, was waiting for us.

At the time El Galope was fairly new and they didn’t have much in the way of online reviews and web presence. We were the only guests and as Miguel pulled into the estancia it dawned on us just how remote the place was. Rolling green countryside disappeared to the horizon in all directions.

Despite the fact that we don’t ride horses we had a wonderful three day stay. Miguel and his wife Monica were amazing hosts, and continue to be to this day. Their dog, Tupac, kept us company. We visited a local goat’s cheese farm on bikes. The food, cooked each evening by Migeul and Monica, was good and the local wine was brilliant. I even assisted Miguel (badly) with some building alterations to the guest quarters.

El Galope was nothing like we ever expected. It was the most relaxing 3 days in a truly special place, and it was the perfect preparation for our subsequent trip into the insanity of South America. 

10. What do you collect? (Because everyone collects something) 

Nothing that I can think of in a material sense. But as a traveller I collect memories. Weirdly I have a shocking memory at work or at home, yet my memories of travel are as clear as if they happened yesterday. 

11. Why do you travel? 

Because I only have one life and there is a hell of a lot to see.   

 

My Nominations 

I am a bit new to Twitter so my nominations are rather random. Here goes…

@goneabroad – who have quit their jobs to travel. Which makes them inspirational ! Good work. 

@karthiknomad  – likes travelling and skateboarding. Great combination.

@aflyingirishman – I’ve met loads of travelling Irish. Ireland must be rubbish. 

@krystianya – I love the photo atop her Twitter feed. Burma is it? 

@GAffairTravel – are helping women travel solo. Which is good as I have witnessed first hand the difficulties solo-female travellers face. 

@wheresdariel – by the looks of his Twitter feed he is at the top a rather big mountain!

@onenomadwoman – 40 countries since 2012! Impressive. But I won’t believe she can time travel unless she comes round my house yesterday to prove it. 

@WeMustDash – a man with a moustache and his other half, setting off on the trip of a lifetime. I’ve done that and it was great. My facial hair went a bit ginger though. 

@wtravelist – Let’s travel the world! So says the WorldTravelist. I’m game…let’s go! 

@ExplorerOnEarth – also wants to travel the world. They should hook up with the @WorldTravelist. They seem to be like-minded. 

@Adrian1707 – who travelled the length of Africa and wrote a superb blog. 

My Questions for you 1. Which country sits at the top of your travel bucket list and why?

2. Top bunk or bottom bunk?

3.  Do you ever wear those weird baggy and colourful backpacker trousers? If so, post a photo to make me chuckle.

4. What is the most relaxing place you had ever travelled and what is so great about it?

5. When you aren’t tweeting or blogging, what do you do with your days?

6. What is your best bit of travel advice?

7. Have you ever been the victim of a scam whilst travelling? Yes? You best tell us…

8.  Guide Book or just turn up and wing it?

9.  What is your favourite country? Tell us why and make us want to go there.

10. What is the weirdest place you have slept whilst travelling? And how did that happen?!

The Ultimate Act of Kindness – Find it Via Your Local Airport

I was talking recently with my wife and travel partner. I can’t remember how we got on to the subject but we were talking about acts of kindness. The conversation reached a slightly depressing conclusion, but intrigued I stoked up the same conversation at my workplace a couple of days later.

The conclusion we all reached, is that, rather sadly, most acts of kindness are in fact transactions of a sort. The kindness is given but something is expected in return. Be it love, appreciation, loyalty etc. I’ll give you an example.

A man gives his friend £100 because the friend is in a bit of fix. If 2 weeks later this friend had extricated himself from the fix and then won a holiday for two, but invited a different friend to join him, it is fair to say that the kind man would be rather miffed. And £100 lighter.

Probably without really realising it, the man, now really wanting his £100 back, expected an upgraded level of friendship in return for his kindess.

You can apply this type of logic to almost any act of kindness when the two parties know each other.

In the end, after much toing and froing, my wife and my colleagues all conceded that the purest act of kindness is between two people who do not know each other and will never see each other again.

The homeless person in the big city. The anonymous donation maybe. But certainly not between friends and family.

Now this is actually a rather depressing thing to be thinking about, but then I realised that by far the best place to find pure unadulterated kindness is at the other end of an aeroplane flight.

Prove It!

I’m not sure I can, but I’ll try,

When I got off of a night train at Da Nang station in Vietnam I was concerned with one thing and one thing only. Finding a taxi to Hoi An so I could get some sleep. Sadly the arrival of a train is like a honey pot to bees when it comes to taxi drivers. A few would be handy, but in Vietnam they can be wating en mass.

So bleary eyed, I staggered towards the crowd of excitable taxi drivers, all beckoning me with great enthusiasm. Then a man appeared next to me speaking pretty good English.

“Where you from?” he asked.

“England” I responded, blinking in the harsh sunlight and wondering where my sunglasses were.

“How long you staying?” he enquired.

“Three days” I replied. “Or maybe four.”

The man touched my arm in a way that encouraged me to stop. I looked down at him for the first time. His face was one of concern. “You should buy your ticket for your next train now. There is a festival and tickets will sell out. Come with me. I will help you.” He turned expecting me to follow.

Yeah yeah I thought. I may be a newcomer to this travelling lark but I know all about that type of scam.

“No it’s fine” I responded confidently, setting off towards the baying crowd of drivers once more.

“No really” he shouted after me. “You will not get a ticket tomorrow. You must buy now. Come.” He was probably beckoning me with great vigour but I wasn’t looking back and I certainly wasn’t falling for his skullduggery.

I fell into the crowd of taxi drivers and before I knew what was happening my bag was slung into a taxi and I was on my way to Hoi An. I felt pleased with myself for making short shrift of the trickster. But of course you can see where this is going.

I arrived at my hotel and the first thing they asked me is if I had bought my onward ticket for the train. When I answered they looked concerned and told me about the festival. A boy was sent to the station to buy a ticket and I paid a premium for it.

I never saw the man again, which was lucky as he probably would have pointed and laughed. But was his act an attempt at pure kindness? Probably not. He most likely hoped that I would pay him for his assistance. I will never know for sure.

I Said Prove It!

I’m trying…

What about the young student who offered to show us the best photographic opportunities in Banteay Kdei temple in Cambodia. He was so helpful and courteous, showing us how to capture the light just right and where to stand. Then he hounded us for payment and no amount was enough. Grrr.

Or the Argentinian man who tried to help me wipe ketchup from my shirt. He worked so hard as he dabbed at the stain. He even happened to have a cloth and a bottle of water in his hand at the time. Sadly he didn’t see who stole my camera. (This didn’t really happen…though it often does)

You’re Running Out Of Time. I’m Getting Bored

Hang on….I think I’ve got it!

We were on our way to Ko Samet in Thailand. Our crazy Thai Minibus of Doom from the Cambodian border had somehow conspired to deliver us to the edge of a main road miles from anywhere. As we stepped off I looked back at the driver with a look that said where the hell am I?

He pointed down the road the behind us. “Walk” he shouted. And then he was gone, in a way that only Thai Minibuses of Doom can be gone.

Think twice before getting in one of these!

We set off, heavy rucksacks weighing us down in the early afternoon heat. The road was long. We could tell this because it was straight and flat and the end was hidden somewhere in the middle of a heat haze. Then we heard the most welcome of sounds, the rattling popping engine of a Thai tuk tuk.

We hailed it vigorously but then realised it wasn’t like the tuk tuks we had been using in Bangkok. This was a tuk tuk designed for carrying goods. Judging by the contents of it’s floor it usually carried vegetables.

Nevertheless the driver, an elderly Thai man with kind eyes, stopped and insisted we jump in. It was a squeeze but we managed to get “comfortable” and he set off. First of all he swung by his house to get his motorbike helmet. This was confusing. Maybe there is a law in Thailand that says you can ride helmetless if carrying vegetables, but you must don the head protection when carrying backpackers.

But anyway, within 5 minutes we were at the dock in Ban Phe. The man jumped from his seat and helped us out, even assisting me as I hauled by backpack onto my back. I reached for my wallet and removed a sum of money that seemed a little more than suitable, but as I turned to give it to him I saw that he was already sat astride his tuk tuk and was pulling away.

“Stop” I shouted, breaking into a run which made Bambi look surefooted. But he waved dismissively, still smiling at me with his kind eyes as he drove away.

“Please stop” I whimpered pathetically. Then I stood and watched him ride away into the distance. I was confused. I felt like I had cheated the poor guy. I was almost worried that people may have seen me not paying him.

And then it dawned on me. That was pure unadulterated kindness, all bundled up in the form of a smiling happy Thai man. Nice.

Cool Story Bro’. What are you trying to say though?

I guess that what I am getting at is that travelling delivers the most extreme high. The unbridled happiness, the awe inspiring vista, the jaw-droppingly tasty and cheap food, the most special of late night conversations with like minded nomads.

And it also delivers the most testing of lows, which make the highs all the more amazing.

For me, on that steaming hot day in 2012 I eventually came to realise that the Thai man was possibly the kindest person I have ever met. It made me happy.