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“Come down to Melina’s Tavern and I’ll buy you a bottle of wine, and we’ll laugh and drink to nothing…” (with apologies to Joni Mitchell).

14 Aug



Having recently returned from the Greek island of Santorini, surely the most dazzling jewel of the Aegean, I’ve been thinking what thoughts I could share for future travellers (perhaps such as yourself). Firstly, however, I feel I need to mention a place I spent quite a few happy moments at and that is Melina’s Tavern, which is situated down on Akrotiri Beach, not far from the ancient ruins of Akrotiri itself (which lends its name to the modern village, about one and a half kilometres away, reached by a winding, dusty, grape vine framed road).

After the entrance to Ancient Akrotiri, keep walking towards the sea and when you reach the end of the road, before the shingle beach, turn right and Melina’s Tavern is the first one you reach. A whitewashed, bright and inviting veranda with equal room inside, Melina’s Tavern is more a restaurant than anything, although you are welcome to stop by just for drinks (especially as they serve Yellow Donkey, which as my friend said, was a “game changer”). I had to mention Melina’s in particular, because of all the restaurants on my trip (even those in Fira or Oia) it was the one I felt most at home at. Plus, and this is a considerable point, the food was excellent. My friend tucked into all manner of sea food, caught fresh or supplied locally, including crab and fish. Being a vegetarian of many years, I still wasn’t disappointed, and I can honestly say even a simple lunch time meal such as spaghetti and sauce was done so well that my own attempts since have left me a bit saddened! The local delicacy tomato balls are also offered here, and I readily recommend them as a tasty starter.


Another selling point of Melina’s is the shore view and the sound of the waves leisurely hitting the shingle. It’s a lovely, therapeutic sound and the view of the headland is beautiful (and the fact that Melina’s is not on the much admired Chaldea side doesn’t take anything away from the appreciation of the view; it’s a great spot). You even get used to the quay end boat men advertising their trips: “Red Beach, White beach, Black Beach…” Beaches around here are accurately named by colour, it keeps things simple! There is also a bold and prominent recreation of the fisherman mural design on the wall, taken from the original found in the nearby ancient town (buried by a volcanic eruption in the 2nd Millennium BCE).

Above and beyond this, I have to say a restaurant like Melina’s thrives or fails by its service and that was wonderful. A friendlier and more professional group of people you could not find. As we visited more, the staff would stop for a chat and delight us with local stories and also took a sincere interest in us and where we were from. We actually met Melina herself, who had lived in Australia for some time, and was very complimentary about our various band t-shirts. A lovely compliment from someone I think knew what she was talking about!


Finding out that Melina’s father had built the whole restaurant from scratch in the 1980s, even digging out the ‘cave’ at one side (which now serves as an art gallery), gave me even greater appreciation for the place. A family business, like many in Santorini, Melina’s offers a winning combination of great food, drink, service and views. When you leave the only thing that will touch you with as much warmth as the sea breeze will be their hospitality.

Melina’s Taverna opens from 11:30am daily, and is available for weddings and other events. Please click the link above for further details, reservations and a full menu.

Video from Youtube channel: Adam Cam Pro

Blog title inspired by Joni Mitchell’s ‘Carey’, which is a great song, although it relates to Matala in Crete. Close enough! There’ll be no smashing of glasses in Melina’s though! 😉

Glory by the Danube: five days solo travel in Budapest.

10 Aug

The Chain Bridge and River Danube from Buda Castle.

Budapest took me by surprise, I have to admit. Hungary’s capital is a known destination, but often eclipsed by the other city attractions of Paris, Berlin, Prague or Vienna, Budapest often features lower down lists of desirable European destinations. If this is your mind set, then you could be missing an absolute revelation of a trip.

For those not in the know, Budapest is historically a relatively recent amalgamation of two cities who sat on opposite sides of the River Danube, with Buda having the rockier, higher prominence, and Pest being the low lands of the other bank. Incidentally, a word about the native language; Hungarian is notoriously difficult for English speakers to master, but it’s easy to remember that you pronounce the latter part of ‘Budapest’ as “Pesht” instead of “Pest”.

Once you arrive at the airport, you’ll need to find your way to the city centre. There are several options including bus number 200E. This bus will take you to the nearest metro station from the airport, called Kobanya-Kispest (blue Metro line 3 / M3). However, there is an even better option on pace now, and that is the 100E bus, which is a direct airport shuttle service, which will cost you just 900 Florints (less than 3 Euros). You can find more information on the 100E service here.

Other than that, there is a mini-bus service you can book in advance or jump in a taxi from the airport. Both easily done, but the taxi especially will cost you quite a bit extra.

If travelling by bus, don’t forget, you need to validate the bus ticket as soon as you board the bus, using the slot machine. This is the same procedure with the Metro service make sure you validate your ticket using the machine, before going down to the platform.


My hostel choice was based on good reviews online, and a fellow blogger’s testimony. What was pleasing was to learn that the Lavender Circus Hostel had recently featured in an episode of Richard Ayoade’s Travel Man television series, and excerpt of which is below.

Inviting, bohemian and friendly, I’d recommend the Lavender Circus Hostel to most visitors to Budapest, wanting accommodation that is affordable and full of character. Within minutes of checking in, the staff were falling over themselves to be gracious and helpful. As I checked out to go to my second hostel, one of the girls Anna told me to come back if I get bored. It’s this sort of casual, but considerate attitude that lifts Lavender Circus above the rest. They only had rooms for two nights, so I had to de-camp to another place, which was the Full Moon Design Hostel, which was the other side of the city, near Margit Bridge. It looked promising, and was certainly a great stay with regards to the building and décor. However, the staff were not quite as friendly, and after a couple of days wondering where well known bar Morrison’s 2 was, it ironically turned out to be in the same building! Not just in the same building actually, but was right below as part of a huge atrium, with the second floor hostel balcony corridors looking down on it! The bonus was that there was somewhere handy to get a drink; on the down side, the music was blasting out until 5am, so getting some sleep was problematic!

I met two great Australian chaps, who were doing a tour of Europe, and Lou, who is from Germany. You get to meet some fascinating people in a hostel like this, and for all its many points falling short of Lavender Circus’ high standards, it was probably a more likely place to meet new people.

I did go out for a cold beer on my first evening, unknowingly skirting the area of the so-called ‘Ruin bars’ (more of which later), but it was really the first full day that I got to truly appreciate Budapest. I recommend spending a first full day walking along the banks of the Danube, although in the weather I experienced, walking from Petofi Bridge, right up to Margit Bridge, further north, which is well over 4 miles (about 9 km). It’s a really nice walk, but with temperatures hitting the mid to late thirties, I was definitely in the ‘mad dogs and Englishmen’ category, to quote an old phrase. All I can say is wear a hat and lots of sunscreen in summer. The sun will no doubt enhance an already beautiful sight as you witness the distinct character of each bridge, culminating in the iconic Chain Bridge, and the sights of the Palace and Castle on the Buda side, with the wooded and rocky cliffs offering a dramatic vista. This was the point I was sold on Budapest, and realised quite firmly that I’d completely underestimated this city.

A change of hostel on the second day did come as a minor disappointment, as I mentioned before, but once settle in and meeting some of the residents, I set back out on my travels. Making my way to the impressive Catholic St., Stephen’s Basilica, I met for a free city tour. The tour meets at 10:30 and 2:30pm every day on Vorosmaty Square. It’s an impressive space, to be sure, and the historical basilica is well worth a visit on its own (and is to date, still free to enter). The free tours in Budapest are some of the better city tours I’ve experienced, and our guide Riggi took us on an hugely informative and entertaining walk from the Basilica, through to the Chain Bridge and up to the marvellous Buda Castle (which is more of a governmental palace built on the remains of the medieval castle in the 18th century). Up here you can also visit St, Matthias church, one of Budapest’s most beautiful buildings and walk along the verandas of Fishermans’ Bastion, a medieval style lookout point, which offers some of the best views of the city. It’s a tourist photographers dream up there and tends to get very busy during the day time.


Fisherman’s Bastion.

While up there I had a nice meal at Aranyhordo Eteerem restaurant including traditional Hungarian strudel for dessert. I also went in the labyrinth under the castle, which was quite an atmospheric expedition. At this point, I realised I needed some extra money and went to the nearest ATM. This is a cautionary tale, because if you’ve forgotten the conversion between Hungarian Florints and Pound Sterling (or Euros for that matter), it could pose minor problems. For example, I entered 60, 000 HUF before realising that was nearly £200, and far more than I needed, so be careful. I’d say the equivalent of £50 a day for spending money, if you’re planning on eating in decent places and visiting a few attractions, but you could psend a lot less. Budapest isn’t hugely expensive, but as with all cheaper places it’s easy to lose discipline and start over spending. Anyhow, lumbered with a crazy amount of a crazy currency (but no more crazy than any other, if we’re being objective), I paid my way into the labyrinth, and then spend the next half an hour getting lost in a place where (allegedly) the historical Dracula had once been imprisoned. It was actually a lot of fun, but the mannequins in some of the caged displays looked like something out of a Hammer horror film, and the couple who were some way in front of me practically soiled themselves when the demonic sound effects boomed out of a speaker. At this point, there’s no way you’ll be able to see shit, because they pump loads of dry ice into the cavern and the only light you have is some vaguely authentic gas lamp they give you before you go inside. Also, for anyone who says Germans don’t have a sense of humour, I have to give credit to the German guy who waited round a corner for his mates and pounced out on them. It was hilarious, although by the expression on his friend’s faces, I don’t think the same sense of humour was shared amongst the group. One of them had an expression that suggested he needed a sit down and a brandy.


“Budapest by night” as the postcards would say.

The next day took me out in some of the hottest weather Budapest has had in some years (Europe is still having a heat wave as I write), so caution was expressed with the donning of a straw hat and copious sunscreen. I headed east across the city to the impressive Heroes Square and the leafy shelter of the City Park, where I went to one of the city’s many Thermal Baths. Since Budapest was once invaded and occupied by the Turks, it makes sense there would be similar baths somewhere, and as Budapest is built over many thermal springs, they were in luck. Sczechinyi Baths are one of the most famous in Budapest, so I made that one my priority and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s relatively expensive (around 4000 HUF), but well worth it to unwind in the warm water, either indoors or outside (I did both). The sumptuous architecture surrounds a scene which is like a combination of a bust beach and the local swimming baths. Trust me, you won’t want to leave and when you do you’ll feel reenergised. Basically, you’d be a fool to visit Budapest and not try at least one spa.


Sczechinyi Baths

As I feeling quite cheerful at that point, I must have felt some buried Catholic guilt at this state of affairs and headed straight for the so-called Terror Museum, to rediscover Hungary’s Communist past, and the particulars of the police state involved. I didn’t find this as engaging as some similar attractions in Prague, and as interested and fascinated by the Eastern Bloc history of Budapest and Hungary, this museum was big on presentation but a little scant on content. Plus, although much of the audio visual material was subtitled, all displays were in Hungarian only, which could be a problem for some. As a monument of lives lost under a cruel regime, it is, of course, essential, and for that reason alone I do recommend it.

Next time I visit Budapest (and there will be a next time), I’ll probably make more use of the bus services and Metro (Budapest has the oldest underground railway outside of London), but if you’re fit and healthy then walking round the city with a good map is perfectly doable. This is what I did, and enjoyed it for the most part, but in the very hot weather I experienced I would advise caution!

Other attractions I experienced included the gloriously bohemian Ruin Bars, in the Jewish District. The Ruin Bars have been developed since 2001 and are basically abandoned Communist offices and residential blocks re-appropriated as bars and cafes. Most of the Ruin Bars are partly open aired, with a central courtyard arrangement, but with lots of internal nooks and crannies, adorned with a plethora of retro furniture and decor. Well worth a visit. One of the best known, and oldest, is Szimpla.

Overall, Budapest was a marvellous destination for a five day visit and there are still a few things I kept in reserve for another visit (surprisingly for myself, I didn’t visit the National Gallery or Museum, which are situated up in the castle complex on Buda hill). Next time, I’ll also make sure I investigate more of the Hungarian cuisine, with me pleasantly surprised at the amount of vegetarian food on offer. If you’re an avid meat eater, do not be worried though, as the Hungarian diet is usually very meat heavy. One thing I did manage to do, however, is a boat trip down the Danube. I can’t advise this enough, it’s a wonderfully unwinding way to take in the sights for an hour. The boat trip I took was 9 Euros but other more expensive options are available, including ‘free’ drinks. One free attraction I did personally love was the satur of American actor Peter Falk, in character as the titular character from TV series Columbo, appropriately at one end of Falk Mikaa. The statue was put up due to Falk’s tenuous Hungarian ancestry but as Columbo is my favourite detective series, I couldn’t resist paying Lieutenant Columbo and his dog a visit.


So, Budapest is a city I recommend without hesitation, and is not a hugely expensive destination. Just avoid drinking too much palinka (the local moonshine, essentially) and don’t lose track of time in the thermal baths! Once you’ve seen the River Danube illuminated by the night lights, you’ll definitely be sold on this stylish and handsome city.








An adventure in South East Asia. Part 5: “Travelling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” – Ibn Battuta

26 Nov

So, back to the spasmodic additions to my South East Asia travel blog. Thanks for everyone’s patience; life has been busy recently, so this is a rather belated addition to the story. In the meantime, a good friend of mine has gone over to live in Cambodia, a decision I might touch upon as I give my own views on the place. He’s started his own blog as well!


Tuk Tuks are not the only way to travel in Cambodia.

Last time I left you, I was in Siem Reap and doing my temple touring. Just so you have no illusions about how great your arrival in Siem Reap will feel, after that huge train journey and tuk tuk riding, here was me sat outside a restaurant in Siem Reap soon after my arrival:

“I don’t think Cambodia will be as crazy as Bangkok” I am heard to say, which is proof positive that I didn’t know what the hell I was talking about at this stage in the journey. Trust me; this tale is going to get crazier before the end.


As for temple touring, I would give as much time to this as possible as the decayed glories of the Khmer Empire deserve a sizable chunk out of your visit. You won’t be disappointed. Here’s some extra advice from me, given before I saw the wonders of Angkor Wat:

While in Siem Reap I ate some fantastic food, including the delicious noodle dish you briefly see in the first video. I mentioned this previously, but it needs saying again, I think. I’ve been vegetarian for over 20 years, but still found plenty of diverse choice. If you’re a meat eater, then you’ll be spoiled. One word of warning though; I did consume some noodle soup from a street stall, which was partly necessitated by the gargantuan down pour that came from the heavens at that point. So while I sheltered from the rain, I got some food. It seemed sensible. Up to that point I had avoided any stomach ‘issues’, but not this time. I woke up with the worst stomach ache I’ve had in years and the next day spent the majority of my coach journey to Phnom Pehn trying not to move any muscle in my lower regions, less a tragic accident occur. Once I arrived in the capital I was able to get some remedies and my sickness cleared up. You are unlikely to get away with a reaction to the change in climate, food and general environment, but be cautious.

While in Siem Reap I found myself falling in with a group of ex-pats and long term visitors. Two blokes were discussing ‘Brexit’ in a bar at the end of Pub Street (the town’s main concession to increased tourism) and offered an opinion. Next minute, I was invited over and seven hours later was still lout drinking.  For those who visit Siem Reap, there is a bar called Picasso’s, which forms the hub of the ex-pat community, and is well worth a visit (it’s very stylish, but be warned, a bit more expensive that the usual). Nick Dale, one of the older guys I was talking to, is a writer who is trying to get a book published about his on-going relationship with his daughter, who is trans-gender, and the issues she faces. It was an extremely poignant and heartfelt story, and I was privileged Nick shared it. I hope all works out for them and the book is a success.

Nick’s tale, and many others like it, give me the impression that Siem Reap, and Cambodia in general, is a place to escape to in order to find clarity. Perhaps removed from the safe and the expected, a Westerner can find a new kind of clarity surrounded by the comparatively strange and unknown, and through that find new ways of seeing.

An adventure in South East Asia. Part 4: Not quite ‘Tomb Raider’, but my name IS Croft.

30 Sep

For a very long time, Siem Reap was a small town in the north west of Cambodia that if anyone visited it at all, it was because of the nearby Angkor Wat, one of the great monuments of the world. People still visit it because of Angkor Wat, but Siem Reap has become a destination in its own right. It has a post-French colonial cool all of its own, which is enough to tempt many travellers. But a word of caution; Cambodia has several micro climates and in this part of the country things get hot. They get very hot indeed.


On the taxi journey to Siem Reap, I met Jimi, a very interesting guy from India, who is now working abroad. As I mentioned, his brother runs the guesthouse The River Queen in Siem Reap, which I recommend you investigate.

As for Siem Reap itself, the town’s name literally means ‘Siam Defeated’, which refers to the Khymer sacking of the Thai city of Ayutthaya in the 17th Century, if you ever get the sense Thai people look down on Cambodia, this does nothing in their defence. Imagine Anglo-Euro relations if Manchester was re-christened Germany Defeated. Yeah, see what I mean? Bold and blunt people, those Cambodians. I’m just glad they weren’t on the losing side; just imagine.


Siem Reap is quite a nice town, showing off much of its previous French influence and its Colonial buildings and tree lined boulevards do give it a unique charm, although the recent addition of ‘Pub Street’ does remind me more of the more hedonistic sights of the Costa Del Sol.


My stay in Siem Reap was at The Dancing Frog hostel, which was a pleasant enough stay. However, while in Siem Reap I finally succumbed to stomach issues, a moment I had been anticipating since I arrived in South East Asia, and began eating the food and just generally engaging with an alien environment. That Khymer Soup I bought from a street stall probably didn’t help either. There were more flies than people queuing up for that business; one of them was so big it could have been thinking about taking a chair. I just wish I’d seen them all before I placed my order, sat down and put the last spoonful in my mouth.



Anyway, more about the outcome of that later, not to mention my adventures actually in Siem Reap, including the fascinating Nick Dale and his in progress book about his transgender daughter. That was quite a story. But more about him later. The main attraction, while in Siem Reap, is undoubtedly the Angkor temple complex, and Angkor Wat in particular. Angkor Wat, for those not in the know, is the largest religious monument in the world. Its name literally means ‘City which is a temple’ If there’s one thing you’re possibly picking up from this blog article, it’s that the Khymer people tell it like it is when it comes to place names. The Angkor complex is very close to Siem Reap. In a car, if you put your foot down, you could reach your first temples in less than 20 minutes, but this is a journey you’ll want to savour, so speed won’t be your aim.


Angkor Wat was built in the 12th Century by King Suryavarman II, at the height of The Khymer Empire, one of the great Asian civilizations. It was originally dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu, with the whole layout based on a mandala, the sacred design of the Hindu cosmos. It is now considered a sacred Buddhist site, having been converted to a Buddhist temple in the 14th century. There are three levels to Angkor Wat before you reach the inner shrine, and it’ll take you a fair while to walk there. By that point you’ll have had the experience of walking through the main causeway and into the temple proper, a never to be repeated experience of awe and jaw dropping disbelief. It will stay with you for a very long time, perhaps forever. One of the seminal, singularly impressive moments of my trip, I have to admit. I don’t have the in depth knowledge to do Angkor Wat justice, but I do urge you to investigate it further. It truly is one of the man made marvels of the world. Extraordinary.


The day before I’d visited many of the ‘lesser’ temples around Angkor, which proved to be on eof the hottest days I experienced in South East Asia. Trust me, if you’re not wearing sun screen, a hat and drinking lots of water you will suffer the consequences.



Here I am, looking bucket soaked and on the verge of sun stroke, and with an unreliable camera stick, but still willing to do an impromptu outside broadcast for you good people:



Angkor Wat is just one of the many temples in Cambodia. Some are far away from where I was based, and have truly been enveloped by the jungle, but are now slowly being offered as realistic tourist destinations. Other temples in the vicinity of Siem Reap include Angkor Thom, which was the largest city in the Khymer Empire at the time (late 12th Century), and includes The Bayon, an extraordinary structure  featuring 54 towers, three levels and 200 huge stone faces, which may represent the all seeing and knowing Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara. Try saying that after a few Khymer beers. Elsewhere in the vast complex, Ta Prohm is practically a ruin, but its beauty lies in the way the temple has almost become one with the forest, with great buttresses entwined with the masonry. Many of you will know Ta Prohm from its memorable appearance in the Tomb Raider movie starring Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft.


As I explain in the video clip, the usual practice for tourists is to hire a tuk tuk driver for the day. A taxi would be far too expensive, and a tuk tuck means you get to ride around din the fresh air. Well, when I say ‘fresh air’, I am referring to some of the most stifling heat I’ve ever known. Fortunately my man had a seemingly unending supply of ice cold water, so respect due to him.

So, the most visually impressive part of the trip and in some respects a highlight. But there’s still plenty more to come…

Next time: elephants, monkeys and more temples!

An adventure in South East Asia. Part 2: “Bangkok, like Las Vegas, sounds like a place where you make bad decisions”- Todd Phillips

21 Aug

Nothing prepared me for Bangkok. Perhaps because of the preoccupation with getting there and planning the Cambodian part of my journey, I’d let my first port of call shift to the back of my mind, which is quite something when you’re about to arrive there.

I was actually enjoying the flight so much that I wasn’t thinking too much about Bangkok (Qatar Airways certainly make the travel experience a joy, but more about them on the way back as well as their blatant attempts to remind us of their future stint as World Cup hosts). Arriving in Bangkok from Doha, which is considerably warmer than England, and the first thing I noticed was the temperature. Underneath the air conditioning was a heat I noticed as soon as I exited the plane. Yeah well, I thought I was noticing it then; the hottest was still to come. So, there I was, with my own sweat pouring into my underwear like it’d been raining, trying to broach the language barrier in order to give the tuk tuk guy directions. My Bangkok baptism of fire! To be honest, his English was better than my Thai and he even attempted some rudimentary conversation while we whizzed along the congested streets. I just kept smiling and nodding in the appropriate places, while gripping the arms of the Tuk Tuk seat with sweat still pouring down my bum (I quickly learned that the high speeds make the thing feel like it’s about to go over on one side, but it never does).


View from my first tuk tuk ride. It almost looks car fume free.

Now, here’s a tip for you, passed on by my very good South East Asia travelling friends (and it won’t be the last). When you arrive at Bangkok Airport, and you’ve got your luggage, keep going down. Follow the escalators as far down as possible and you’ll reach the rail link or ‘skytrain’. For around 24bt, you’ll get a plastic coin token to operate the barriers and that’ll be valid to the final stop in the centre of Bangkok, which is where you get off.


My first experience of being in the centre of Bangkok was coming out of the air conditioned ‘safety’ of the train and covered station and into the dusty heat of the streets. Prior to becoming acclimatised, it felt like standing near a blast furnace. After dropping two layers of clothing which had gamely survived on my person to that point, I hailed my first tuk tuk and off I went! My Guesthouse was near the infamous Thanon Kao San. I say infamous, but it’s more pleasantly edgy than all out scary. Think of Las Vegas having a secret affair with Blackpool front and the offspring being hastily shipped off to South East Asia to avoid any embarrassment to Vegas. That’s sort of what Khoa San road looks like; bright neon signs fight for attention on the crowded walls, there are guesthouses and hostels and bars aplenty and the market stalls never seem to close, with the smell of fresh food permeating the night air. Known as ‘back packer’s paradise’ for many decades, the Koah San Road district was originally an area of canals, now largely built over, and was once a major rice market.

The heat in Bangkok means that although some significant tourist attractions aren’t too far away, you are usually better getting a tuk tuk or a taxi to reach them. The Ratanakosin area is the best place to start your exploration of the city, and offers Wat Phra Kaeo and The Grand Palace, which I’ll tell you about later.


Wat Intharawihan

Wat Intharawihan, Phra Nakhon, Bangkok


So Khoa San road is a good spot to stay on a first visit as it’s not far from Ratanakosin. It is in the Banglamphu area of (Phra Nakhon district) about 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) north of The Grand Palace (more of which later) and Wat Phra Keaw. Journalist Susan Orlaean once called Khoa San Road “the place to disappear” for any travellers wishing to escape the West,  and anyone who has read Alex Garland’s acclaimed novel The Beach, will have an idea of the kind of opportunities for that kind of ‘disappearance’.


Ok, there are many tourist attractions in a city as large and as vibrant as Bangkok, but I know what some of you are thinking, so let’s cut to the chase and get the elephant in the room taken back to the zoo…no, I didn’t meet any ‘lady-boys’ and I didn’t go in a place with this type of sign outside:



That’s not to say I wouldn’t have been absolutely fascinated to do so (‘yeah, I bet you wouldn’t’, say several readers) but I didn’t really see many and didn’t go looking for them. Which yes, I hear you say, would be the right decision, given the misogynistic hallmarks (at the very least) of such practices! Basically, if you want to see Thai woman ejecting ping pong balls from their vaginas, then I imagine you will have an absolutely astounding holiday. Equally , if you want some good food, culture and other adventures, you’ll be equally gratified. Well, ok, maybe ‘gratified’ was the wrong word to use there, but you know what I mean. You’ll be …happy!

So, no…no ping pong balls.

Lots of Bangkok street food though, which you’d be a fool not to try. It’s arguably the best street food in the world. I now have a serious noodle desire, and Pot Noodle will not cut it.



Khoa San Road

According to Wikipedia, which I can back up as fact. Khoa San Road “…is also a base of travel: coaches leave daily for all major tourist destinations in Thailand, from Chiang Mai in the north to Ko Pa Ngran in the south…” Visas and transportation to neighbouring countries such as Laos and Cambodia, can also be organised.

One word of warning though, is to veer on the side of caution when dealing with street vendors and tuk tuk drivers and the like. My first tuk tuk trip from Khoa San Road was a minor disaster. An agreement to pay 100 baht for a trip to the Grand Palace and other sites, ended in numerous visits to tailors and gem shops. Because I made a point of challenging this (which is common practice), I ended up walking fifteen minutes to the Pace as the guy had just dropped me off, realising his scam was revealed. 100 baht is no big deal; just a few quid, but it was frustrating. Some tuk tuk drivers are in cahoots with the owners of businesses such as a tailor, and get commission from bringing in tourists. It’s not what you’ve asked for, so don’t be afraid to challenge this. Even better, I’d avoid any tuk tuk drivers down Khoa San Road, and pick one up elsewhere. For 100baht you might even get him to wait around while you explore the various sites. Seriously, they’ll be glad to do it, and before I put you off, most of the Bangkok residents are hugely friendly and honest people.


I’d arrived in Bangkok during a Buddhist festival prohibiting all sale of alcohol. Just so you understand, I wasn’t tripping over myself to get plastered and hit the town, but it did make my first impressions of Khoa San Road more subdued than they would normally be. One frustrating outcome was that any bars selling alcohol were closed, including the wonderful Altern the 13th Blues Bar, which I had to visit on my return visit. I’d check in advance about this sort of thing, especially if you’ve got designs on having an ice cool beer when you arrive.

Buddhism is, as you probably know, a huge part of Thai culture and is the majority religion by a significant margin. Buddhism permeates the life and culture of many South Asian countries, and the very least you can do before visiting is just educate yourself on the etiquette and customs, more to make your journey a pleasant embarrassment free one more than avoiding offending anyone. Wats (Buddhist temples) will require you to cover up your arms and legs, so simple considerations like that are what I’m talking about. I’ll write more about Buddhism later.

20160719_222550Laksameenarai Guesthouse

Laksameenarai Guesthouse

The guesthouse I stayed in is one I heartily recommend. It’s a traditional Thai house, that’s been converted and was a welcome oasis of calm just five minutes from the hustle of Khoa San Road. If you’re in Bangkok you can do worse that book yourself in The Laksameenarai Guesthouse. It was truly great, with friendly service and comfy surroundings. The staff couldn’t have been more friendly or helpful. Now, that’s just my recommendation, so feel free to shop around. There are more guesthouses and hostels in that area than you can shake your keys at. If you want to go upmarket, a plusher hotel room need not coast you an extortionate amount, but again, just spend a bit of time comparing prices and reviews. For westerners, Thailand is still good value for money. As I said in my Istanbul blogs, two years ago, some accommodation lends itself more to meeting people, which I would suggest is a better idea if you’re travelling solo. Even if you’re a bit more introverted, you’re going to want more than going back to the same four walls at some point. I met some nice people at the guesthouse, including a large proportion of Dutch people, who were unrelated, they just happened to all be there at the same time. The first of many late night drinking sessions occurred at Laksammnarai, which half the conversation in Dutch and half in English. Maybe that’s the true meaning of Double Dutch?

Bangkok’s assault on the senses means that a few days is not really enough to truly appreciate it, and I was glad to be returning in a few weeks, so this blog will return to the Thai capital in more detail. Bangkok is a relatively young capital, replacing Ayutthaya as the capital in 1782, following the Burmese sacking of the old capital. It now has a population forty times that of the second city, Chiang Mai, and has become one of the most vibrant and fashionable cities in Asia.


After a few days in Bangkok, my plan was to leave Thailand for Cambodia, which meant some careful planning on an early morning train and the not inconsiderable challenge of getting to Aranyaprathet, near the border, navigating tuk tuk journeys, border scams and immigration and a trip by bus or taxi to Siem Reap. Next time I’ll give you an almost fool proof guide to getting from Bangkok to Siem Reap without paying a fortune, and having an adventure along the way.

See you next time, on the Bangkok to Aranyaprathet express!

An adventure in South East Asia. Part 1: Destination: Bangkok!

10 Aug

“What am I doing in this place?” was a question to enter my mind on several occasions over the last month, only equal in its regularity to “Why didn’t I come here sooner?” From the highs of seeing the awe inspiring remains of an ancient empire to the lows of being essentially stranded without a plan, I will share it all!

Regular readers will remember my trip to Istanbul two years ago, which I documented here and many of you gave me some positive feedback following those blogs. So, with that in mind, I thought I’d repeat the idea for another trip, this time a much longer one. As I also said two years ago, when I did those similar travel blogs, “…this is ostensibly a blog about creative arts, particularly music and film. But occasionally I do like to submit something a little more personal, which hopefully doesn’t drift too far from the blog’s remit”. Hopefully that still stands, and be assured, that all things creative will feature.

Back in 2014, I made the observation that “…as I was travelling on my own, I didn’t necessarily want to culture shock myself with a week in rural Peru or a sabbatical in Yemen. You’ve got to take these things in easy stages”. Yes, I can wryly laugh at that now (which, admittedly, was a sensible attitude to have for a first significant solo trip), because in 2016 I did go much further and really did aim to culture shock myself. I largely succeeded as well, but I’m getting ahead of myself. I also said that Istanbul was, “exotic and foreign enough without sending my usually high stress levels into outer space with worry about whether I was going to get by with no language or culture in common”. Again, this trip was almost going to be a deliberate attempt to push the boundaries beyond what I would have been comfortable with just two years ago.

Solo travel isn’t, as I’ve observed before, for everyone. It does require a certain level of tenacity and boldness. That isn’t to say I had those qualities in boundless supply, or didn’t make some significant mistakes on my travels, but it did make sure I got off on them in the first place.


Ok, so for one reason or another, for three weeks in July and August 2016, I ended up in Thailand and Cambodia in South East Asia; a long way from home basically, but fortunately with a plan. Sort of. What I was to discover was that having a plan isn’t the all ensuring preliminary against disaster I might have thought. When you’re in a very foreign land, with potential language and culture barriers, shit can, and often will, happen. Hopefully this series of blogs might help prepare any would be traveller to South East Asia, and hopefully we can have some laughs along the way.


My first advice would be to book your flights well in advance, if possible, in order to get them (much) cheaper. Prices apparently tend to drop nearer the time as well, but that’s not a gamble I would personally take. I left my purchases a bit too late, but you should be able to get cheaper flights than that. I booked through Qatar Airways, but I’ve been told Emirates have some good deals. Once you’re over there, things are generally quite cheap (and in comparison to some of the locals, you’ll have the money reserves of a king). Speaking as a westerner, that’s good news for a potentially cheap holiday, but those costs can rack up pretty quickly unless you’re mindful of what you’re spending. I’ll go into that in more detail later, but be assured that it is hugely affordable, but as with anywhere, it depends on how much you want to spend. You can make it as expensive as you want, in other words (or as cheap), depending on the type of holiday you want. Bear in mind that 1 Thai baht equals 22p or thereabouts, at the time of writing, and it will give you an idea of any comparative prices I might mention.

Doha airport

Palm trees and a giant cyborg teddy bear/lamp. Welcome to Doha International Airport.

My first connecting flight took me via Doha airport, in Qatar, which is an experience in itself. Looking like the set of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century or a ‘60s Bond film (it even has a monorail), the whole modernist expression is topped off by a huge sculpture of a yellow teddy bear with a black lamp shade up its arse. Created by Urs Fischer, the sculpture was previously on display in New York and was auctioned off there, at Christies, going for $6.8m. The Qatar royal family have a vested interest in modern art, so that goes some way to explaining its inclusion at the airport, which only opened in 2013. It’s certainly an eye catching talking point, and often photographed by passing travellers. As for Doha Airport as a whole, it’s an excellent airport, and all the expected facilities are in place. However, I still have no idea of how you get out of the main hub. The crystal clear maps and signage tell you where everything is, except the exit. I did think of asking, but lethargy overtook me. I believe you could see a fair bit of Doha in the seven hours I had to wait, but I played it cautious on the way to Bangkok, considering that any risk of missing my flight wouldn’t be a smart move.


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But for me it was still exciting stuff: half way to Bangkok!


Next blog title: Touch down in Bangkok! Or…”You wanna tuk tuk?” Or… I love Bangkok long time! Or “…what the hell, it’s raining and I’ve got sunburn”

Six days in Istanbul: Day Six. “I found that the loudest fans in the world are in Istanbul”- Roger Waters.

21 Sep

All things come to an end, and my Istanbul adventure is no exception. As this was by far the least eventful day, this will no doubt be the shortest blog.

Aside from the wonderful people I met, amazing places I saw and emotions they both aroused, I also found a great deal more about Istanbul, Turkey and the Turkish people. I have come away a true fan of the city, and hope to return one day. I won’t repeat all my musings on the importance of travel broadening the mind, you can read my earlier Istanbul blogs for that, but I will say that learning more about a place really enhances any visit to said location. For example, learning more about Mustafa Kamal Ataturk and the revolution of the ‘20s certainly made me understand Turkey’s more recent history far better. Ataturk is a title bestowed upon Kamal by the people: literally ‘Father of the Turks’. He was arguably the founder of modern Turkey; the beginnings of the modern republic and the end of Ottoman Turkey. His image hangs in many places of administration and business, including the main Istanbul airport, which is named after him. Continue reading

Six days in Istanbul: DAY THREE. “Istanbul was not an anonymous multitude of walled-in lives…but an archipelago of neighbourhoods in which everyone knew each other”, Orhan Pamuk

25 Aug

Day three of my Istanbul adventure was a prime example of why, as a solo traveller, you should be prepared to deal with things going wrong. Well, not ‘wrong’ exactly, just not exactly as planned. So, you know, it’s about being able to deal with that and not have an almighty melt-down because you’re on your own in a foreign country and the one big thing that you’d pinned a lot of your holiday aspirations on just doesn’t happen. Continue reading

Istanbul, not Constantinople!

4 Aug

This is ostensibly a blog about creative arts, particularly music and film. But occasionally I do like to submit something a little more personal, which hopefully doesn’t drift too far from the blog’s remit.

First, I’d just like to mention how much I’ve been listening to music in a cathartic sense, which I suppose I often did anyway, but especially this year. 2014 started with a huge life changing event (as much as I’d like to play it down as one): the loss of a close loved one, which came soon after the loss of an old friend. There’s also been another kind of sad goodbye, but I know that person is headed on a different path to find a happier place, and my love and luck go with her, so in that respect there is some consolation in it. People sometimes come and go out of your life like that, and it’s truly bittersweet, no matter how much you convince yourself it’s for the best.

Those are the hard, cold times when actually, the last thing you often want to do is play your beloved music loud. But earlier this year, the voice of support and understanding would come from the most unexpected place. Not from one of my favourite bands, but elsewhere. For me, hearing Adele’s Bond theme “Skyfall” helped. Seriously, stay with me on this one! (Don’t be fooled however, I did play some rather heavy angry rock very loud indeed, and some truly depressing indie dirge as well). But as for the Adele song, the lyrics seemed to present an empowering message in the days before a funeral, at which I gave the eulogy. And since then, that’s been the message to myself for this year: “to stand tall and face it all”, and embrace, rather than deny, any creative suggestion that comes as a result of it. So, I’ve started writing more, and pushing for more fulfilling professional avenues. I did a painting recently as well, but honestly, you don’t want to see that; it was terrible. Oh god, yeah, really crap. But I enjoyed doing it, so that’s alright isn’t it!

Anyway, the more specific thing I want to talk to you about, now I’ve got all that emo stuff out of the way, is that in two weeks I take off to Istanbul in Turkey, one of the world’s historically greatest cities, and one of the modern world’s biggest; a tantalising blend of old and new. I’m still trying not to call it Constantinople, which I bizarrely insist on calling it, despite the fact it hasn’t officially been called that by anyone in a very, very long time. I’m going on my own, in a brave move to maybe discover more about the city, that I might not find in a group excursion, but also to discover more about myself and what I am capable of. I’ll also be taking in the city’s music, art and general culture (which will be feeding into these pages). On the first Friday, fourteen full hours will also be spent on The Other Tour, a radical and exciting personalised tour to discover the ‘real’ Istanbul, away from the tourist routes. I am promised lunch made by the tour guide’s mum (yeah, really), a boat trip, a Turkish bath and some Turkish dancing (I’ll perhaps be pissed on Raki by then). But I will of course, be entering the apparently magnificent Hagia Sofia and Topkapi Palace, and even seeing the hotel where Agatha Christie regularly stayed. There will be no Murder on the Orient Express, but there will be plenty of excitement I’m sure. All in all, it’ll be the Serendipity3864 site’s almost live experience, from Istanbul!

Maybe I’m trying to escape a challenging year, but I’m already richer for the gains and experience of coming through some tough times. In the last twelve months I’ve also added some more letters to the end of my name, so it just goes to show: even when things are tough, we can still achieve so much. You don’t give up, you get up!

I’m well up for an adventure now. Join me in late August!

Don’t ruin New York before I get there!

2 May

Two friends of mine have suggested a road trip across the United States. As I live hundreds of miles away in England, this isn’t the first suggestion I’d have for a cheap holiday (or one that requires just a week). Anyway, in the spirit that I’m provisionally up for this idea, and with the thinking that the more I want it to happen the more it shall (economics and work leave permitting), I got to thinking of some of the sights I’d like to experience on the potential first US stop of this would-be tour. We’ve talked about landing at JFK Airport, ‘doing’ New York, heading up into New York State and the Catskills to see some of my friend’s friends, before heading across to Chicago. Parts of the old Route 66 will hopefully feature, and if I don’t see Monument Valley before I drop off my perch, I’ll be all the slightly more disgruntled (presuming I get the opportunity for such quibbles when my physical battery leaks). LA is our last stop, if this dream scheme gets off the ground.

Anyway, this is all pie in the sky at present, but it got me looking at New York in more detail, and the possibility that the underbelly of NY (it’s more subversive and creative aspects if you will) might have changed beyond recognition in recent years. Although ostensibly a film by women for women, Desperately Seeking Susan first introduced me to this side of the city when I was a teenager. Of the locations seen in that film, the cool thrift shop Love Will Save the Day is now gone, along with the trendy Manhattan club Danceteria. But Battery Park City promenade is still there, and much of the city in a film of that vintage is going to resemble what’s there now, I would expect. But seeing the outside of what was iconic live den CBGBs, for example, isn’t going to be the same as seeing its interior, and the place actually being active. Just as Bernie Sumner, of Joy Division and New Order, once pondered that the Manchester of the late ‘70s was like living in some Eastern Bloc country, but still inspired such great music, so the NYC of the recent past was less than inviting to some but inspired (or allowed for) such wonderful creativity. The place that gave us Blondie and The Ramones was crime ridden and filthy, but the visual and aural evidence suggests a vibrancy and life that I really hope hasn’t been lost in the apparently successful attempts to clean up and modernise the city.


But I’ll see when I eventually get there won’t I! Another film that has had a lasting impact on me is Blake Edwards’ Breakfast at Tiffanys, based on the Truman Capote story. God, what am I saying…I’d like to think you knew that already. So yes, two of my favourite New York films are Desperately Seeking Susan and Breakfast At Tiffanys. Who knew! Forget Taxi Driver, these are my NYC classics, and I’m not even a girl! Or gay!

Also, one of my favourite albums is The Doors second, from 1967, which is Strange Days. I won’t go into the music here, but the cover, with photography by Joel Brodsky, is an emotive winner. Looking like it was shot in some Eastern European location, the atmospheric looking mews in the photo is actually Sniffen Court, off East 36th Street. Another location to visit in my personal NYC itinery.

Some great web links here, well worth checking out. The Sets of New York one is quite extensive. NYC really has been the living set of so many great films. I’m thinking it may be a case of blissfull sensory overload when I get there.  I may have some kind of fatal orgasm when I see the Empire State Building.

I shall keep you all posted!


Desperately Seeking Susan in 1985, and more recently:

Sniffen Court, and as it was in 1967 for Strange Days: