Chiang Mai : Muay Thai experience.

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I had been to Thailand before, but never gotten around to seeing any Muay Thai. It’s a particularly touristy thing to do, especially in the bigger cities but nonetheless I wanted to experience a Thai boxing event.

As expected it was a tourist heavy crowd, the air thick with cigarette smoke and humidity. Promotions girls teetered around selling beer, and Thai men stood ringside in the betting area.

The fighters enter the ring, and begin their pre-fight rituals involving Wai Khru Ram Muay and this fantastically hypnotic music. The fighters will bow and pray in respect to their teachers and Buddha.

It’s quite an experience to see the Wai Khru Ram Muay, when you think how many centuries it’s been performed and is still being performed in modern times. To the untrained eye it looks a bit like showboating and flexing, but after a quick read up it’s an entirely respectful traditional dance.

Muay Thai is brutal, it’s not like boxing where big guys can just smash down their opponents, it’s incredibly technical, involving a range of techniques. Fighters use, elbows, knees, kicks, punches and grapples to land hits on their opponents and they all seem to be incredibly lean, muscular men.

It’s a really enjoyable, if slightly violent spectator sport. It doesn’t have the gaudy fanfare of boxing, The fighters seem very respectful of each other and their sport.

One small, but quite essentially Thai thing to point out is to be aware of ‘toilet massages’. A quick Google search has informed me it’s fairly commonplace in Thai nightclubs and sporting events, but as a westerner it’s a bit strange that one, possibly even two or three teenage Thai boys will start massaging your legs, back and neck whilst you’re relieving yourself. Most peculiar.

Please feel free to share your ‘toilet massage’ based anecdotes!

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Sydney : Dusk, the perfect excuse not to get up for sunrise.

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Sydney : Balls Head Reserve

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I’ve been coming to Sydney for years, riding the North Shore Line into the city and always passing through Waverton, wondering about Balls head. They have  this lovely Victorian signage “Alight here for beautiful Balls Head”.

It’s one of those things when, you have plenty of time in a place, and you know you’ll come back regularly that you think ‘I’ll go there one day’ Five years later, we actually got off the train at Waverton to take a look.

Once you’ve meandered down through gentile Waverton, you’re surrounded by Nine square hectares of urban bushland.

Sydney is full of surprises, and having an area of harbour fronted land, with an enormous real estate value as this small urban hideaway is pretty special. It’s incredible to think you’re just a mile or so from the CBD and North Sydneys business district. The area also has a rich Aboriginal history.

Beautiful bushland and great city views. Get away from the city without travelling too far.

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Sydney : Australia Day celebrations!

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I know, Australia Day was a few days back. I would like to say I’ve been crazy busy, working too much, or job hunting, but I’ve mostly just been procrastinating. Although, we did spend a couple of days this week getting certified as capable servers of alcohol  and apparently, We’re  now qualified to make coffee.

Anyway, Australia Day fell over the weekend which meant the bank holiday rolled over to Monday!

Three day party!? We went into the city on the 26th (Saturday & ‘Australia Day’) to see what was going on, and ventured to Windsor on the Sunday to check out a sand art competition. Monday, in true bank holiday style was a washout. Biblical rains poured down all day, and meteorologists were predicting up to three hundred millilitres. Big rain.

 

There was so much going on in the city. The areas around Hyde Park were all closed to traffic and awash with people. There were more classic cars than I  think I’ve ever seen in one place,  stretching from Hyde Park  to the State Library. Old fashioned buses were also brought out for one day only. There were some beautiful machines and curiously, some cars you wouldn’t consider classic, or even unusual in the UK. Lots of Mini’s and VW Beetles, Morris Minors and 2CV’s! Perhaps my childhood was scared with my Dad driving knackered old cars around. I remember he had a Morris Minor where all the wood was rotten, and a 2CV with holes in the floor. I instinctively lifted my feet up every time we drove near a puddle for years afterwards. I digress.

Both Darling Harbour and The Rocks had events on for the day, and we found Darling Harbour to have a bit more going on. We settled at the World Music stage just as the sun came out for the afternoon. We saw the tail end of a jazz band, who had a whole collection of old people dancing like that Rainbow Rhythms scene in Peep Show. Why is it all the crazy people come out to dance on bank holidays? One sweaty old man switched seamlessly between ballroom dancing with an imaginary partner and doing the Macarena.  Impressive.

After all the unbalanced folk were danced out an amazing Irish band, Hermitage Green played with a full compliment of unusual instruments and they were absolutely brilliant, I would happily pay to see them again. There was also a Soca band afterwards, who were also pretty good.

Darling Harbour had fireworks planned for the evening, but we headed home to  indulge in the very Australian activity of barbecuing  – Sorry Sam Kekovich, we didn’t have lamb.

 

 

On the Sunday we drove up to Windsor, to check out the sand sculpture competition. It  was pretty good, and an incredible amount of detail goes into the sculptures. The theme was fairy tales and a special mention must go to Baldrick Buckle one of the artists, for having the best name ever.

Windsor is also a nice little suburb. It’s one of the first colonial settlements in all of Australia, rich with old Australian architecture and interestingly, a guy shop selling sports items, car bits and stuff to do with killing animals.

Good weekend had by all.

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Sydney : The Queen Victoria Building.

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The QVB is probably one of my most favourite places in Sydney. Not because it’s full of expensive shops, and not because it links directly into yet more shops via the basement.

I love it because it’s an beautifully restored old building. Not old on an English scale, obviously…  It’s classy and blends the old with the new seamlessly. Plus, it has some really posh public toilets.

It was originally completed in 1898, and performed many functions. Standing on the site of the original market, it was built to house a concert hall. It became the city library, offices, and other tenants including piano tuners.

I’m pretty much in awe of any beautiful architecture, I can quite happily spend time sitting and staring at all the intricacies and detailing. Stay classy QVB…

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South Adelaide : Snorkelling, kayaking, and the Nude Olympics.

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We headed down to Adelaide for ten days to meet some of Jess’s rellies. They live in one of them most picturesque areas of southern Adelaide, in Maslin Beach.

Maslin beach, is most famous for being the first nudey beach in all of Australia, and still hosts the annual Maslin Beach Nude Olympicswhich happened to be scheduled during our visit. Great success!

Adelaide seems to get a pretty bad rep in the Australian media and whilst it’s a small city, the surrounding areas are beautiful.

During our stay we made the most of being two minutes walk from a beautiful beach (not the nudey end…) We also Snorkelled at Port Noarlunga, Kayaked on the Onkaparinga river, got up close with kangaroos at Deep Creek conservation park. we also saw wild koalas. Maslin Beach is also our unofficial home of sunsets. In ten days, we probably saw five or six spectacular skies of fire which we took great enthusiasm oversharing with our Facebook friends. Every day.

Beautiful beaches, wineries, the Adelaide hills, and National parks all readily accessible and ‘Mad March’ when festival season kicks in. We’re looking forward to coming back!

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How much does it cost to travel in India? Budgeting Delhi, Rajasthan & Agra.

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We spent three weeks travelling around Rajasthan, Delhi and Agra, an extension of the golden triangle. We flew into Delhi, travelled by train to Jaisalmer, and Jodhpur and then flew to Udaipur as there is no direct train link. We continued our journey onto Ranthambore national park, Jaipur and got a bus to Agra, as all trains were fully booked for our dates of travel. Lastly, we took the train back to Delhi.

Travel

Most people travel one of two ways, by bus or by train. We had quite a long wish list for India, and essentially a short period of time, so we booked (almost) all of our travel from the UK via Cleartrip, an English language version of the IRCTC for a small booking fee. Generally, I prefer not to book everything in advance, but being our first time in India, and after reading all about trying to book at the stations we decided it was the best way. It worked out perfectly for us, even after doing our best to miss our first train by going to the wrong station.

Generally, we looked to book trains in the ‘AC’ classes.  AC2 & AC3 offer good value for money.  AC2 specifies Air conditioned, two tiers and AC3 specifies, unsurprisingly, Air conditioned with three tiers. There is also the cheaper ‘sleeper’ class for the more adventurous. For all things train related check the train god Mark Smith’s website seat61.com.

Delhi to Jaisalmer was our longest journey, seventeen hours; and around 480 miles. We travelled in AC2. The tickets cost 1’384 rupees (£15/$25) per person. By comparison, one of our cheapest journeys from Sawai Madhopur (Ranthambore National park station) to Jaipur, was little over two hours, around one hundred miles and 300 Rupees (£3.50/$5.50) per person. Basically, the trains are very good value for money.

Travelling by train is a cheap, comfortable and enjoyable experience, as you get to meet Indian families also travelling the railways. The trains we took all left on time, and only one arrived late They are also clean and well organised. My tip would be if you’re travelling as a pair, book AC2 side upper and side lower. You get a window seat, usually with a power point and can be a little bit removed for the main area of the berth if you don’t feel like being sociable, or just want to sleep.

I wrote about our one bus journey from Jaipur to Agra in this post.

Our flight was the only transport we took that left late, and cost 3000Rupees (£35/$55) for the hour journey, which is still cheap for a flight.

Accommodation

Generally, we stayed in double rooms with en-suite. The standard of cleanliness in India, can quite often be a long way from European expectations, but It’s one of those things with India, you accept it and get on with it or you hate it. Kind of like the country I suppose.  We booked everything online the day or so before we arrived in a new city with Hostelbookers. Personally, I prefer to just book something and turn up, I don’t want to waste my time wandering around for deals. It might work out more expensive some times, but what price to you put on your leisure time in a location? Especially when we’re trying to cram as much in as we did.

With the exception of Ranthambore National Park, we found accommodation to be affordable, and fairly abundant. We generally paid around 500-700Rupees (£6-8/$9-13) per night for a double, with fan and an en-suite.

Food and drink

Food in India, is incredibly good value. I’m still wondering to myself how they make the bread, so light, crispy and not oily!?

Street food stalls, will sell tasty snacks, although almost always fried for between 10-50Rupees, (£0.10-0.60/$0.20-0.90) depending on how substantial it is. A simple sit down meal for two with a couple of vegetable mains, and some bread would cost between 100- 300Rupees (£1.20-£3.40/$1.70-5.50) A thali, for example would cost, on average around 200Rupees (£2.20/$3.60)

We ate out for ‘Fancy dinner’ three times in India, in Delhi we wanted to go to a restaurant we had seen on TV, famous for its chicken dishes. In Udaipur we wanted to spoil ourselves in the surroundings and in Agra, we were just quite weary and needed the peace and quiet. In all three we took advantage of the professional kitchens and refrigeration to indulge in meat! They were all around 1500-2000Rupees (£17-22/$27-36) for an amazing meal, and especially in Udaipur, a dinner experience unlikely to be matched any time soon.

Drinks in India are generally quite cheap, although alcoholic drinks in restaurants can be relatively expensive, especially spirits or cocktails. A large bottle of water usually cost around 15Rupees(£0.20/$0.30), a can of Coke, around 20Rupees (£0.25/0.40), and a large bottle of Kingfisher beer was around 150Rupees (£1.70/$2.75).

Experiences

India ticket prices can vary for historic attractions. They have a system whereby they have tourist prices, and local prices. The archaeological survey of India sites, including The Red Fort and Humayuns tomb in Delhi, and Fatehpur Sikri near Agra are all 250Rupees (£2.80/$4.50) entry for  a tourist. The Taj Mahal, is however 750Rupees. (£8.50/$13.50) Other historic sites such as Mehrangarth Fort in Jodhpur, or Jag Mandir in Udaipur are around the 300Rupee mark.

Other experiences included going on the tiger safari in Ranthambore national park, desert safari in Jaisalmer and visiting the famous Raj Mandir cinema in Jaipur.

Ranthambore, does not work out to be cheap, especially not compared with the rest of Rajasthan. Currently, (and I think the rules and prices in Ranthambore change regularly) a safari lasts around three hours and costs  555-600Rupees depending on whether you’re in a gypsy (15 seats)  or canter (4 seats) . For accommodation we paid around 1300rupees (£14.80/$24), for nothing extraordinary. It’s a small town next to Ranthambore national park and as such prices are inflated for food as well as accommodation. We spent in the region of 10’000Rupees, (£115/$185) for two safaris each, three nights accommodation and all meals and drinks. We did see tigers, so it was totally worth it.

The town of Jaisalmer was averagely priced for Rajasthan, and we wanted to take an excursion to the Thar Desert to see the sand dunes and generally adventure. It was great, we went with a small company, ate good food and didn’t see another safari group, litter or the other things we had read bad reviews of. The rate for our tour was 1300Rupees (£14.80/$24) per person, but we paid extra to go out on our own.

Numbers.                                                                                                                                                       

We travelled for twenty one days, visiting three states.

Our transport, from city to city amounted to 6’800Rupees (£78/$125) per person, for three weeks and around 1500 miles total. we travelled in the region of 1’150 miles, spending approximately thirty five hours on the train tracks. We also spent around three hundred miles travelling via bus or train. Travel in India is exceptionally good value.

Aside from the above mentioned excursions, we reckon we travelled around India, eating well (although cheaply), but drinking sparingly; sleeping in private double rooms, travelling in AC2 or AC3 carriages and doing activities, or sightseeing most days for around about 1200Rupees (£13.70/$22) per person, per day.

All prices listed are in rupees, pound sterling and US dollars. I have not included our flights in, and out of the country as they are part of a multi-flight ticket. We travelled between October and November 2012.

Since leaving India, I have written this summarising post, which also may be of interest. Any views, or opinions welcomed.

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