Visiting the Highlights (and tourist traps) of Osaka

Osaka Castle

The samurai screamed a short, sharp battle cry, and drew his sword to expose the blade halfway from the hilt. The noise caught my attention, and I turned to see the commotion. The tourist walked away, and a new one walked up, also dressed in samurai costume, to join the staff member in full samurai gear.

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Experiencing Fushimi Inari: an illustrated walkthrough

Near the top of the mountain, we walked into a perfect view of Fushimi Inari’s torii gates. We turned a corner, and there it was waiting for us, with no tourists or anything. A long tunnel of vermillion was being illuminated by a perfectly angled sun, turning every gate a different shade of bright orange, deep and rich in front of us, and golden at the end.

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Iceland’s stunning day trip – The Golden Circle

Iceland has so many Þings to see! (It’s a joke. I’ll explain later)*

We had a car, and all of Iceland lay ahead. We were excited to see everything. First up, the Golden Circle, an easy day trip from Reykjavik that has some of the countries most spectacular sights. Here are some of the highlight of the Golden Circle.

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Why I hated Kuta… (but Seminyak was OK)

A man with a bow and arrow was stalking the beach. He had a backpack full of other weapons, like blowpipes. He probably didn’t manage to sell many. Nor the salesman sailing a pirate ship-shaped kite through the air. Who needs that crap? Suddenly we spotted a hawker that was selling something useful. A pineapple, expertly sliced by machete for us. Meanwhile, we were crackling in the supercharged Bali sun, on rented beanbags, with iced tea. As the sun burned across the sky, we constantly re-positioned under the umbrella’s shade like some kind of human sundial. When the heat faded from the afternoon, the staff set up vast fields of coloured beanbags. They looked like giant jelly beans on the beach. I was enjoying Seminyak.


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What to pack for a year or travel (and what not to)

Every backpacker has a special relationship with their backpack. Packing it and repacking it becomes somewhat of an art after those weeks and months, with each item in it’s own special place, and a million ideas on how to improve the packing system. Here is my list of things I would optimise for next time.

Obviously, this changes depending on where you travel, what activities you do, and what the weather is like. My list is for the heat of South East Asia, and European Autumn/Winter. I bought a lot of warm clothes for my time in the Canadian winter when time came, but I wore those constantly and they rarely made it into my backpack.

Well-travelled buddy
Well-travelled buddy

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A few nights on the banana pancake trail

The banana pancake trail: a nickname given to the popular tourist routes through South East Asia, where foreign influence has shaped that place to cater for foreign taste (ie. banana pancakes for breakfast in Asia!).

In June 2012, I had a little transit through Thailand, inbetween Vietnam and Myanmar. It was just four days; enter, visit the Myanmar embassy to apply for my Burmese visa, Exit. Cindy, who I was excited to see since we parted ways back in Borneo, was in Kuala Lumpur doing the exact same thing, and in a few days we were going to reunite. It felt strange to just ‘pop in and out’ of a country like that, especially one I’d never visited before, but I knew that I’d find time to explore Thailand properly later.

Doing as the Thai do
Doing as the Thai do

Applying for the visa was quite easy; read about it here.

So, with my visa being processed, 4 days to kill in Bangkok. What to do? Pad Thai. Cold beer. Relax. I followed Jeff’s advice, and tracked down a tiny family-run guesthouse called Apple Guesthouse not far from Khao San Road, the tourist centre of Bangkok.

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Getting a Myanmar visa in Bangkok

It seems scary, applying for the Myanmar visa, with many rules and limits and strictures, just like ordering a soup from Seinfeld’s ‘Soup Nazi’. But don’t worry, it’s dead simple.

It was actually quite straightforward in Bangkok (I applied for my visa in June 2012). A few weeks earlier in Hanoi I tried, but the embassy asked for all sorts of unusual paperwork, such as a recommendation letter from my employer (?), proof of inbound and outbound flights, and a detailed itinerary. So after a little internet research, I decided Bangkok was far easier.

Here’s what to do.

1. Go to Bangkok.

From my experience, and those who I talked to, applying here is a very smooth process. Kuala Lumpur is also a good option. You don’t need an agent to take care of it, it’s easily done at the Myanmar embassy.

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