Here to There: 5 Transportation Tips I learned the hard way

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I am a solo-budget-traveler who likes to book my long-haul flights to/from home and then leave room in my itinerary for unexpected adventures along the way.  While this gives me the flexibility and freedom I enjoy, it also means that I find myself spending precious time considering all my transporation options.  Here are the top 5 things I learned along the way.

1- Land vs Air = Time vs $$$

P1070686 Let’s say I want to get from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore.  First, I’d look up bus/train time tables and prices.  Next, I’d hit up Skyscanner and find flights for my chosen time frame.  If I could find a flight for under $70, it was almost always worth it since it saved me from sitting in a minivan all day.  In Vietnam, I bought a flight from HCMC to DaNang that was the same price as an overnight train ride.  Later, I rode the train from Hue to Hanoi and really enjoyed the trip.

2- If there is a border crossing: fly

P1060325 Crossing land borders adds 1-2 hours to your trip.  First, you get out and stand in line to get your visa/stamp. Get back in the bus, drive to customs and unload your gear.  Wait in line again.  The best bus companies give you VIP passes that fast-track you through the visa process. The worst make you switch buses at the border.

3- Wait…WHERE is the bus station?!?

wpid-Photo-20141129234323.jpg I noticed that the bus stations were located miles out of town and were only accessible by taxi.  Sometimes, this means you arrive to your ‘destination’ only to find the cab drivers are charging $15 for the 7 mile drive to your hotel. The nine hour bus ride was only $14. Haggling usually works, but these cabbies know you aren’t going to walk to town, so make some new friends and split the fare.

3-Pay for the ‘Luxury’ bus

wpid-Photo-20141103072411.jpg When the option for land travel is minivan, bus or luxury bus; spend the extra $5. I rode five hours in a minivan, with my hands braced against the back of the bench in front of me  It wasn’t bolted down and tipped back, precariously, every time we accelerated.  Luxury buses often give water or a meal as well. We also paid a bit more for our overnight train berths which slept four people instead of six people.

4- Avoid driving a motorcycle/scooter

P1050520 During my pre-trip research I read it over and over again; moto travel is dangerous! I promised myself that I wouldn’t travel by motorcycle while in Asia. Reinforcing my fears, I met numerous travelers with broken bones/terrible road rash and scary stories.  I was NOT going to be one of them! The last week of my trip, I rented a ‘scooter’ from our hostel to explore the low-key island of Koh Lanta. Luckily, nothing happened to me but my scooter wasn’t so lucky. Uneven pavement and a well-placed guardrail resulted in a hefty repair fine that my travel insurance wouldn’t cover.  Lesson learned.  Next time rent a pedal bike.

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5- Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Eventually, I learned that ANY time I changed locations I should just plan on using a full day of travel time.  So, I tried to relax when in transit. I talked to other travelers, binge-listened to my favorite podcasts and watched the world go by outside my window. The journey is part of the adventure and makes the destination sweeter.

One more thing- Ride the SkyTrain from BKK to Bangkok for $3!

A cab can get stuck in traffic for HOURS and cost $27us!  Bypass that hassle and figure out if your destination is near a SkyTrain station.

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Bangkok: Trapped in a Hindu Parade

The next day I lounged around Bryan’s lovely Si Lom apartment, then spent the afternoon at HealthLand- Bryan’s local spa.

Bryan had a work engagement that evening and suggested I head over to Asiatique on the free ferry. I rode the Sky Train down to the ferry. I love the Sky Train- its clean, timely and has great air conditioning!

Asiatique is basically a fancy outdoor market with a giant ferry wheel and great food. I had a ham and cheese crepe for dinner ($2) and Japanese Mochi (soft rice paste cookies) filled with ice cream! Chang beer had a golden elephant that was cool.

Since I was on my 2nd week of traveling, I didn’t want to buy souveniers yet so I headed back to Bryan’s. The ride on the BTS costs about $1 each way. When I got off at Bryan’s stop (Chong Nonsi) there was all sorts of commotion! I crossed over the road and saw the street had been closed off for a festival.

It was a parade for the Hindu celebration of Navrati.

There were drag queens leading revelers in song…

…and people were LITERALLY dancing in the stre

The parade started and the Bangkok police closed the train station pedestrian overpass… which was the only way I knew how to get back to Bryan’s apartment. So I decided to enter the fray and see what this party was all about.

The parade had a marching band and floats, like one would expect. I had been trapped on the wrong side of the street for 45 minutes & had decided that my best bet to get home was to cross thru the parade.

I had worked my way right up to the edge of the route and was preparing to dart across road when a guy with a 3 ft bamboo spear in his mouth and a bowl of fire came around the corner.

He was spinning and weaving and seemed to be in a trance. Just when I thought the mystic might burn a spectator, his bowl of fire was traded for a bowl full of red powder that he begain to fling into the crowd.

The woman in front of me threw her arms open and shouted to the guy. He turned and flung a handful of powder right in my face. I blocked most of it with my arm but I still managed to look like I had survived a bike accident.

I made my way across the street and through the crowd of red-powdered revelers to Bryan’s. I didn’t realize I looked so terrifying until the security guard looked shocked to see me walk into the lobby. I had seen that expression once before, that one time at Uni when I face-planted off my bike. My roommate took me to the medical center with an open bag of frozen peas on my face and I left a trail of tiny green orbs in the waiting room. Ahh, memories!

 

Bangkok: What Pho, Grand Palace & Aytthaya!

Trip Date: 10/4/2014

1- Reclining Buddha @ Wat Pho

We got an early start the next day and visited Wat Pho at 8am! The reclining Buddha is the longest in Thailand @ 150 ft is quite amazing- I liked the swirly, opal inlayed on the bottom of his feet.

Along the back wall there are 50 round, brass bowls lined up. For a small fee, you chose a tin cup full of thai coins and tossed one in each bowl as you walked along. When 5-6 people were doing this at the same time the sound was musical!

2- The Grand Palace!

There were hordes of tourists already gathered when we arrived at the Royal Palace. At the gate, they checked to make sure you were wearing proper garb. If not, you had to rent long skirts.

One of the tourist ‘hordes’… snapping a selfie in his Thailand hat.

I think that is the temple of the Emerald Buddha behind us.

As we waited in line to purchase our tickets ($15 US!) the military marched by.

The palace complex was amazing full of shimmering buildings. Sam told us each golden tile on this pagoda cost $1US. They hammer the gold leaf by hand.

Scary demons raise the roof.

And of course, the Pagodas are gold as well.

The stories painted on the walls of the temple were gold too.

3- One more temple… Wat Arun!

We rode a ferry across the river to the Temple of Dawn. Two giant guard the entrance.

The pagoda is tall and covered with Chinese pottery.

Up we go!

I’m sure there was a lovely view of the river from the top but I can’t seem to find that photo. That’s ok- it was time to have lunch on the river! Check out the size of those prawns! Yes, it was still hot.

Yum, fish!

4- Ayutthaya Ruins

*Note:  We took a private taxi but there is a perfectly fine train that is cheap.  When we arrived at Ayutthaya, across from the regular parking lot, there was a elephant parking lot.

The ruins are lovely! I was mesmerized! (Althought, this is before my visit to Siem Reap.) The three stupas were built in 1448 to house the ashes of the kings of Ayutthaya.

What lovely clouds!

Next, we move on to see the Buddha head encased in the Banyon tree.

There were lots of Buddhas on this site but most of them had their heads removed when the kings would switch religions from Buddhism to Hinduism. This was a theme that would repeat itself throughout my trip.

One Buddha kept his head.

More ruins.

5- Wait, one more temple? Which one is it?

Whoa! Can you believe the size of this sleepy Buddha?

There was another temple to explore. Light an oil lamp and say a prayer.

Buddha, being protected by Naga the snake whose seven heads protect Buddha from the elements.

Behind, there was the temple, ringed by Buddha statues in golden robes.

I loved the view of the Buddhas from the top of the temple.

Lovely Buddha statue.

Enough temples for today- time to head back to Bangkok!  We were tuckered out and Bryan slept in the taxi most of the way back.  Well deserved rest.