Tag Archives: cheap travel

Thailand in Pictures

My first visit to Asia, originally a five week trip, turned into twelve and has kept me too busy to update this blog. Now that things are coming to a close I am able to finally share what I’ve been doing in Thailand and the other places that have been a part of my winter.

Thailand was a mixed bag for me. It was full of trash, smoggy cities and the sky was smoky from crop fires. I felt a constant stress from being badgered by peddlers or needing to salvage a situation after a business promised something it couldn’t deliver – not something you want on a holiday. On the positive side, I met many kind and amazing travelers and Thai people who I hope will remain friends into the future. I ate the variety of delicious food found throughout the country and every city felt generally safe to be a woman traveling alone. Like most visitors to Thailand, I really enjoyed the colorful nature and animals.

The following are images of Thailand that best highlight the journey – there is so much to recap and it was hard to pick just and a few memories.

Seeing wild elephants was an experience I will remember forever. I skipped seeing captive elephants, deciding it best to spend money on parks and infrastructure keeping these creatures living free. For about $30 I traveled to Kui Buri National Park and, with a guide in a truck, played “elephant hide and seek,” driving slowly in the park with binoculars glued to my face. We were very lucky to spot a few small groups including one with a baby (!) and a few solo elephants – one was an aggressive male that spotted us from 300 meters away and stamped around a bit to show who is in charge.

A friend and I had a great time biking around the forest and roughly 200 ruins that make up Sukhothai Park. The structures date from the 13th and 14th centuries CE. We enjoyed comparing the differences in architecture and decorative details of the well preserved pieces. Some corners of the park are free of people and make nice places to just relax.

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Erawan National Park hosts a river with a seven tiered waterfall. Each level has clear-blue pools available to visitors for wading or swimming. This was the first major nature area I visited and loved it! Reaching the top tier was challenging as the path became increasingly reclaimed by nature but it was the most fun I had on a hike.

I’m not the biggest fan of Bangkok but the complex of temples around and including Wat Arun is gorgeous and worth an afternoon boat ride across the river. I actually visited twice, once around noon to see architectural details in full sunlight and once again in the evening to enjoy sunset over the city.

A trip to see Huay Mae Sai Waterfall in Chaing Rai turned into a hike in the hills. Behind the waterfall a trail leads into the surrounding mountains with no end in sight. The path zigzags through pastures and forests. I wish I’d had enough time to see where it went.

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Prachuap Khiri Khan, a half day train ride from Bangkok, was my overall favorite location in Thailand. It’s the most beautiful and quiet seaside town. Adorable natural monkeys live aside the gorgeous Ao Manao Lime Bay (inside an air force base! Visitors allowed in for free). Everything is affordable and the few travelers I met were all outgoing and friendly. After a few days the place felt like home.

I’m not a pretentious eater and just dove right into whatever I saw. Street food, evening markets and small Thai cafes helped make my $25 a day budget possible. My favorites were fresh lime juice, coconut ice cream (pictured), pumpkin curries (pictured) and pork larb. Only once did I eat something too spicy and only twice did I get a Thai whiskey hangover.

Thailand has layers in every part of life, just like anywhere else. You can really do anything and build the travel experience that works for you while getting to know the culture. I’m glad I was able to see the huge metropolis that is Bangkok, tiny island villages, mountains, rivers, jungle, 1000-year-old temples, modern arts, take a swim in the ocean, go biking, do aerobics in Limphini Park with 300 other people, eat something totally new, binge on Oreos and other familiar treats, make new friends from every continent, visit English learning classrooms and meet students, and stay with a Thai family. Spending five weeks was enough time to get a feel for the country.

I’ve appreciated some of the challenges of the last few months. It’s an amazing privilege to go half way across the world and see how things work and people live in another place, even if it’s not always wonderful.

Goodbye, Thailand! Maybe I’ll be back again some day.

Thank you for reading!

Ruby

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Central Europe: Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia 

After four weeks traveling around Central Europe I finally found time to share what I’ve been seeing and doing. My plans have undergone numerous changes, most notably skipping the Tatras, but I have been having a great time with most days spent hiking or wandering cities. Either way, a lot of time spent outside!

I avoided coming to this part of Europe before because the language is really different from what I know and have studied. However, like most languages, you start to notice patterns quickly and it’s not impossible and depending on what you’re up to, your vocabulary might work across a few borders in the region (Vodopad is used in multiple languages in central Europe for the noun waterfall, pivo/piwo for beer,  and good sounds similar, so greetings like good morning, good day etc will sound similar). I would advise against relying on a general translation app, like Google for more than individual words because it’s incapable of changing grammar structures so a full sentence will come out a little weird. Young people are always helpful as the younger a person is the more likely it is that they will have studied English or had some informal exposure to it. There seems to be very low expectations for travelers’ Polish, Czech, Slovak or Croatian language skills but per usual, a good rule is to learn how to say please, thank you, hello, goodbye, yes and no.  I noticed that culturally, the people in Central Europe appreciate a modest and polite traveler; if they interpret your behavior as condescending they will not do anything for you, even if they are someone who would generally helps strangers.

I haven’t run into any safety issues. I see less other women traveling alone in these areas than Western or Southern Europe but we cross paths from time to time. For the most part getting around is easy using public transportation apps. Actually, I’m really impressed with the public bus networks of Poland and Czech Republic! It’s possible to stay in one central location and take a bus, quite cheaply, to any number of national forests, national park or other nature areas. Sometimes it takes one to two hours but the time goes quickly with a book or at the end of the day, just recovering. This is a great service and you see all kinds of people out hiking or biking – because wonderful natural areas are so accessible! What a dream it would be if I could do this at home and hop on a bus in Minneapolis and end up 40 miles away at one of the Minnesota state or regional parks! 

August was a heavy hiking month with about 400 kilometers covered in three countries. Forest, wetlands, mountains and sandstone labyrinths were my playgrounds. All the hiking meant an excuse to try a new beer almost every night and a wide variety of traditional and contemporary fusion dishes. My favorite things included blueberry ice cream and roasted duck.

Adršpach-Teplice Rocks National Park in Czech Republic is full of gorgeous blue lakes and sandstone formations (I loved the polar bear rock). This was one of the most crowded natural areas I visited but it was definitely worth seeing. I visited on a day with on-and-off rain which made all the colors of moss and lichen throughout the park pop.

View from the top of Sněžka (1602 m) which is the highest mountain in the Czech Republic. Located in Krkonoše National Park which is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve it offers sweeping views over both Czech Republic and Poland. The mountain range and park offer numerous (and absolutely free) hiking opportunuties and I covered about 75 kilometers in three days on the lovely trails.

Enjoying the view after a 1,000 meter ascent. Turning 30 at the end of August meant an interest in abusing my knees and hips while they were still “young.”

A view of Cesky Krumlov, UNESCO Heritage Site and the number two tourist destination in Czech Republic. A very beautiful and charming city with a castle set on a winding river. This was the perfect setting for relaxing outside after a long day of hiking the nearby wood trails.

The castle tower in Cesky Krumlov with beautiful coloring and ornate reliefs. It apparently has the nickname “Birthday Cake.”

A picture from the Wawel Castle grounds in Krakow. I have avoided this city in the past do to its popularity; I feared it would feel very crowded. The old town is heavily trafficked but there is much to see, do and eat while still feeling like you’re getting a modern, authentic experience. The older parts of the city are nice for wandering and have a rich yet disturbing history.

A view of Bratislava Castle. I spent a long weekend in Bratislava, Slovakia and found it to be more enjoyable than some of the other major cities I’ve visited. Notably the smaller crowds, cleaner streets and very efficient public transportation. History blends perfectly with modern urban life here. Also the surrounding forests are a nice place to spend a day getting lost on foot or cycling.

Right now I’m in Croatia waiting out a long rain spell and recovering from 19 hour travel marathon to arrive at Plitvice Lakes National Park. I’m beyond excited to visit this park and share the experience.

Thanks for reading!

Accidental “Salzburg on a Budget”

I’ve never written a How to Travel on a Budget-type post but after reflecting on a recent day trip to Salzburg, Austria, I see that the visit could definitely be described as “budget travel.” Thus, here is an unintentional How to Visit Salzburg on a Budget post. Keep in mind I did none of the traditional “top” activities – no visits to any palaces, fortresses and no looking for one of the glockenspiels, or eating Mozartkugel (Motzart Balls) or listening to Motzart. Without doing all those things Salzburg is still enjoyable. If you feel that these activities would enrich your visit, go for it, just keep in mind that it will add significantly to the cost. Hopefully your visit can be improved by avoiding my mistakes and notice some of my luck.

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Fun on the wooded hike

Being a hugely popular destination, Salzburg is not especially cheap for staying the night. I recommend visiting as a day trip or a stop-over between any number of regional destinations (Munich, Innsbruck, Vienna). I came via train from Munich and the ride is typically around two hours – nice for throwing together an itinerary, taking a nap or, if it’s a clear day, just enjoying the scenery from a window seat. Bus service is also an option from some cities and a bus runs between the Salzburg train station and Mozart Airport regularly if you intend to fly to your next stop. The main train station has coin operated lockers and is within walking distance from most major sights; heading about one kilometer South will get you into the older area of towns.

The first and most obvious tip I have for you: Visit outside of the high summer season. I went in February but made the mistake of going on a Sunday, although the day was chosen because it promised full sunshine and warm temperatures. Sunday was tough because some shops and restaurants are closed, not all, but it narrows your options.

The second tip: Save money on transport and admission fees with a walking tour of the old town. Wandering the old streets, through squares and along the river is very enjoyable. One of my favorite aspects of this was spotting old iron signs above shops that took many forms like an umbrella, belt buckle and whatever used to be sold during a time when many shoppers were not able to read. An abundance of self-guided walking tour podcasts and PDF maps can be found on iTunes or copied from travel books. Rick Steve’s has a basic free audio guide but it’s rather Motzart-heavy (as you keep reading you will notice that I’m rather indifferent about this favorite son of Salzburg). I recommend finding a few guides ahead of time and creating your own route. It will be more fun and you can count on running into small and unexpected things that will make your adventure truly unique to you. The historic area of town feels small so it’s very easy to plan out a route that hits all of your “must-sees.” Also, think twice before paying an admission fee to see the inside of some grand building as it might not live up to the hype.

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Lunch time view! Riverside picnics are always fun.

Tip number three: Have picnic meals. As expected for a Sunday, few shops and cafes were open but that kept me outdoors and spending less money than I likely would have otherwise; to my horror, no beer garden had outdoor seating, so a leisurely picnic of bread, cheese and beer on the East bank of the Salzach had to do and it was lovely! Aside from a planned meal, it can be fun to go around and gather a selection of food, treats and drinks unique to Salzburg (or all Austria, if this is your only stop) over the course of the day and try them all at once. If you’re a “people watcher” or on a long trip and need some peace, I recommend this as an opportunity to restore your energy and get some sun. The view of the old city and mountains beyond was unobstructed and gorgeous. I’d heard that Salzburg was a very beautiful city but wasn’t fully expecting to be dazzled by it.

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My last tip: Enjoy nature! If you read this blog with any regularity you know how much I enjoy a good hike. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that I recommend climbing Kapuzinerberg, the hill in the center of the city, which was the post-lunch activity. One can find several great hikes close to the city but if you’re crunched for time, money or just don’t feel up for something more demanding, visit Kapuzinerberg. If you take the route beginning at Linzergasse, you pass six Baroque Stations of the Cross, created by Salzburg artists between 1736-1744. You will also pass the Felixpforte (from 1632) which is a great place to stop to view the landscape. One cannot visit Salzburg without being constantly bombarded with images of Motzart but on the hill path is a marker noting that for about 15 years writer Stefan Zweig lived nearby – something I never knew. Continuing up the hill, it gets woodsy with leaves crunching under your feet and little purple flowers peeking out from the grass– in warmer weather it would make a nice picnic spot – and a webbing of paths extend over the top. If you want to reward yourself, there’s an inn and restaurant at the top for refreshments on a patio. This is also a place with a nice restroom. Going up and back down takes around two hours but isn’t very strenuous. Although I can’t guarantee it, you shouldn’t require a map for this. Paths are very clearly marked and you will be able to find your way. If not there will be enough other people out to help.

Final thoughts: Mid-February was a delightful time to see the Salzburg. Do take into account that in winter less sunshine means less time for some outdoor activities but lucky timing will allow you to watch the sun set over the city, and as little as 5 hours can give you enough time to get your feet wet.

Thanks for reading!

Ruby