Tag Archives: transport

Taipei Main Station Airport Station

How to get from Taipei Airport to Taipei City Centre

There are a number of ways of getting from Taipei Taoyuan Airport to the city centre with a range of prices. Your choice of transport is going to depend on your budget and the time you arrive at the airport as not all options operate 24 hours. I found this out the hard way when arriving at midnight.Taipei Airport to Taipei City Route Map

Cab

Cab is the quickest and easiest way to get from Taipei Airport to the city centre. You’re looking at a fare of around NT$1200 (US$40/€35) and a travel time of 45 minutes from the terminal to your hotel door. Note that the taxi will charge what’s on the meter, plus 50%, plus tolls. That’s why the price ends up being so expensive.

Train

The train from Taipei Taoyuan Airport to Taiwan City Centre has just started operation! This makes life much easier than in the past. Just hop on the train from the main terminal and it will whisk you away to Taipei Main Station in 35 minutes! From Taipei Main Station, you can then hop on the citywide MRT system in the direction of your accommodation. Either that or catch a cab. Whatever you do, it’s going to be far cheaper and only slightly slower than catching a cab all the way from the airport itself.Taipei Airport Train Inside

Frustratingly, this train service does not operate 24 hours. This means if you’re arriving late or departing early, you simply cannot use this service. In other words, many flights arrive and depart at hours outside of the hours of operation of the Taipei Airport Train.

  • Departing Taiwan Main Station: 06:00 – 23:00
  • Departing Taiwan Airport: 06:05 – 23:35
  • Price of the Taipei Airport Train is NT$160.

Taipei Airport Train Ticket MachinesBus

Bus is the cheapest way of getting from Taipei Taoyuan Airport to Taipei city centre, but it does come with drawbacks. First of all, you need to figure out which bus number to catch. This will depend on where you want to be dropped off.

If you want to be dropped off near Taipei 101, catch CitiAir Bus 1960. Last bus is at 1:05am and if you’re lucky it will depart 10 minutes late like it did for me. Cost is NT$145 (US$4.74/€4.46). Timetable here -> http://www.taiwanbus.tw/information.aspx?Lang=En&Line=3471

If you want to be dropped off around the Taipei Main Railway Station, take bus 1961 or 1819. Last 1961 bus is at 1am and 1819 runs 24 hours. Cost of 1961 is NT$90 (US$2.94/€2.77) and cost of 1819 is NT$125 (US$4.08/€3.85). Timetable for 1961 is here -> http://www.taiwanbus.tw/information.aspx?Lang=En&Line=3463. Time table for 1819 is here -> http://www.taiwanbus.tw/information.aspx?Lang=En&Line=4645

There are a range of other buses that you could choose, but disregard them! Why? Because they just serve to confuse you. The buses I have listed cover all your options. If you arrive after 1am and want to get into the city by bus, catch the 24 hour 1819 bus to Taiwan Main Station. From there you can catch a cab or walk to your hotel.

Most people are going to catch the train between Taipei Taoyuan Airport and the city centre because it’s easy and relatively cheap. The bus is becoming less and less relevant as time goes by, but if you have a late arrival, it’s still going to be useful. And cabs are really only for people who are comfortable paying top dollar for the ultimate in convenience.

Whichever mode you use, I’d love to hear your feedback so I can keep my advice up to date!

 

How to get from Seoul to Sokcho & Seoraksan

Updated: 16 March 2017

We’ve just recently been to Sokcho and the awesome Seoraksan National Park (also known as Mount Seorak) and getting here wasn’t too difficult. Finding out how to actually get to Seoraksan from Seoul was a little bit challenging so I thought I’d whip up a few quick tips for those wanting to do it themselves.

  1. Catch a metro train to Gangbyeon Station in Seoul which is on Line 2 — the green line.
  2. Exit at exit #4 at Gangbyeon Station.
  3. Walk across the road into the bus terminal (Dong-Seoul) and simply buy a bus ticket to Sokcho. The cost at time of writing was 17,300 Won and travel time including stops was 3 hours. Don’t get all wound up about whether to buy the express bus or not. Just buy a ticket for the next departing bus — there are over 40 departures per day to Sokcho between about 6am and 11pm.
  4. Note: The Dong-Seoul Terminal is a different terminal to the Seoul Express Terminal which is in Gangnam. If you catch a bus from the Seoul Express Terminal, the instructions below are more or less the same, but the departure point is in Gangnam (Metro Line 3 Orange). Buses from the Seoul Express Terminal are direct whereas buses from Dong-Seoul drop off along the way.
  5. Get off the bus at its final destination, the Sokcho Intercity Bus Terminal. You have arrived in Sokcho! Walk to wherever your hotel is or catch a local bus direct to the national park or your hotel if it’s on the road to the Seoraksan national park (see next point).
  6. Walk out of the Sokcho Intercity Bus Terminal and turn right. This is important. About 50-100m down the road is a local bus stop (on the same side of the road as the bus terminal). Wait here and flag down bus 7 or 7-1 when it arrives. Buses are supposed to arrive approximately half hourly, but they don’t necessarily run to time. (if you happen to arrive at the Sokcho Express Bus Terminal, bus 7 and 7-1 can transport you to Seoraksan or Sokcho centre — depends on which side of the road you catch it from)
  7. The bus costs 1,100 Won and needs to be paid in exact change. Pop the money into the plastic box as you enter the bus. Tell the driver where you need to get off and he will stop for you. Best to have the name of your hotel and address on a piece of paper in Korean characters! The journey will take around 40 minutes to most of the hotels along the road to the national park.
  8. Bonus tip: It’s bus 7 and 7-1 which plies the route from Sokcho to Seoraksan National Park all day, back and forth, meaning it’s also the bus you’ll use to get to the national park from your hotel when you’re ready to make that trip.

So there you have it. Seoul to Sokcho and Seorakson in a few easy steps!

P.S. I’ve been receiving a lot of emails asking if it’s possible to self-drive to Seoraksan. Yes it is! All you need to do is hire a car from Seoul and hit the road. It’ll take under 3 hours and you won’t have to stuff around with buses. I’ve recently been using these guys for hiring cars all over the world. They’re basically the skyscanner of car hire. You should be able to get a car for about $50 per day.

P.P.S. People have also been asking where to stay in Seoraksan. I stayed at cheap but decent Goodstay Smile Resort. I got a good deal on booking.com and paid about $35 per night –> Check current prices here.

How to get from Lisbon, Portugal to Morocco

It’s been a long time between drinks, but I’m still alive! Having just finished 5 weeks on the Camino de Santiago (more on that later), I nicked down into Portugal for some R&R. Porto and Lisbon to be exact. Both of those places were charming, the people delightful and the food refreshing. Cheap too! But after that we wanted to get into Morocco and we just couldn’t figure out the best way to get from Lisbon, Portugal to Morocco. Well now we know.

Stairs of Lisbon
Stairs of Lisbon

Of course, the best way is to fly. But flying is REALLY expensive at last minute, so we decided to try out the buses instead. We booked our ticket directly at the bus station in Lisbon, but it’s also possible to get online to this bus website and book your trip. You want to book through from Lisbon to Algeciras if you’re heading to Morocco because Algeciras is where most ferries depart from. For us, it was a 9:30pm departure from Lisbon with a change of buses in Seville. From Seville a bus goes to Algeciras port directly. But to get from Lisbon to Algeciras, just book the one ticket right through. Cost was 59 euro each.

Gibraltar from the ferry to Ceuta
Gibraltar from the ferry to Ceuta

Once in Algeciras the next morning, things start getting interesting. The first thing to do is to buy a ticket. You can buy a ticket to a number of different places, but if you’re going to head to Chefchaouen like we did as your first stop (do this!), then you need to catch the ferry to Ceuta, a Spanish enclave in north Africa. It cost us 36 euro each. If you’re heading down the west coast first, catch the boat to Tangier.

How to get from Ceuta to Chefchaouen

Once in Ceuta, you need to get to the Morocco border. It’s quite easy! Walk out of the ferry port in Ceuta and hit the road out the front. Turn left down this road and walk about 500m where you will pass a gas station on your left and some supermarkets on your right. Keep walking until the road makes a sharp 90 degree turn to the right. Turn right here and up a slight hill for 100m up to a roundabout and then turn right again. From here it is 150m to the bus stop. You need to get on bus 7 and get off at the last stop. You will know it’s the last stop because the bus will empty out and the border is right there in your face. Cost is 0.80 euro.

Morocco Ceuta border
Morocco Ceuta border

Border control is a bit disorganised from the Moroccan end. Random guys without uniforms pointing you back and forth to different booths, across the road to the vehicle entry, back to the pedestrian entry… basically all around the place as if they’ve never checked in a foreigner before. Once you’re past this and in Morocco there is a cash machine and a bunch of taxis. From here you are probably best off having local currency although Euros are accepted, it makes things slightly more complicated with getting change.

Taxis at the Moroccan border
Taxis at the Moroccan border

You need to catch a collective taxi (one with other passengers) to the town of Tetouan for 2 euro. You might need to wait 15 minutes for other passengers and then you will be on your way. 45 minutes later you arrive in Tetouan. If you are dropped off at the proper spot, you will be just outside of a park and across the road from the CTM bus terminal. CTM is the good bus service through Morocco and costs slightly more than the beat up buses from other companies at the other bus station.

Book a ticket from Tetouan to Chefchaouen or Fes or anywhere else in Morocco for that matter (25dh). The trip to Chefchaouen is only about 3 or 4 hours and is a great first step in Morocco. More to come on this fantastic journey into Morocco, so check back soon.

How to get from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

I really had no idea how I was going to get from Singapore into Malaysia before the day of departure. Was I going to take the train or bus were the main decisions to make first of all. Secondly, is it cheaper to catch a bus to Johor Bahru (Larkin terminal) first and then change to a Malaysian bus or get a bus straight through from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur? After finding out where the bus to Johor Bahru departed from, I decided to give this option a lash!

The bus from Singapore to Johor Bahru in Malaysia, just across the border, leaves from the Queen St Bus Terminal right next to Arab St and very close to Little India. Look it up on google maps for the exact location. From here, there are a number of bus options all taking you across the border to Johor Bahru. Firstly there is the public bus 170 which picks up passengers along the way as it travels to the border. It costs $1.60, there is no space to store luggage and many people stand up for the journey. Secondly there are a few private bus companies charging $2.40. These buses also have no space for luggage, but because the buses travel half empty, you can just plonk your bags on a spare seat. These buses do not stop before reaching customs/immigration at the border.

The Border

Lemur at Singapore Zoo
The border can feel like a jungle

The border has two aspects to it. Firstly you must clear the Singapore exit requirements on the Singapore side of the causeway. Everyone exits the bus here and takes all of their luggage with them as you will not be catching the same bus on the other side. You go through the normal immigration/customs procedures and look for a bus that looks similar to the one you departed 15 minutes before.

Once on the bus, this will take you through the no man’s land to the Malaysian border post. Here you will be required to take all your luggage off the bus again, fill out an entry card and clear customs/immigration. Once you have completed this process, you head back downstairs and try and find another one of your buses. My experience was that the private buses come much less frequently on this side of the border than the public ones. Still, I only had to wait about 15 minutes for a bus to turn up to take me to the Larkin terminal. It is also possible at this point to simply walk into the centre of Johor Bahru if you want to spend the night there.

Larkin Terminal


At the Larkin terminal in Johor Bahru there are buses to all over Malaysia. Everywhere. And the buses are cheap. My 4 hour bus journey to Kuala Lumpur cost just Rm31 — less than $10. There are a range of food stalls here and a market so you can get a cheap bite to eat without any problem. Buses to KL leave 6 times every hour with a range of companies. One piece of advice: don’t purchase a ticket from a tout as they are notorious scammers. Just head to a window and buy a ticket. Transnational have a good reputation, but cost a little more than the rest. My Transnational bus was only 3 seats wide meaning I had plenty of room.

Arrival in Kuala Lumpur

Jaguar at Singapore Zoo
Who doesn't love a jaguar?

You arrive in the outer suburbs of Kuala Lumpur approximately 13km from the centre of town. This isn’t much of a problem as for 50c, you can catch the train towards Masjid Jamek. Every bone in my body wanted to catch the train away from Ampang, but in reality, you want to head in the Ampang direction to get to the centre of KL. Where you want to get off the train is up to you, but be warned that information at the bus terminal/train station is very poor.

So there you have it. It’s easy and cheap to simply catch a few buses and a train to get to central KL. Forget going direct from Singapore for $30 by bus and forget the train unless you’re a train buff. Bus to Johor Bahru, then bus to southern KL bus terminal and then train to central KL is the way to go!

Giving Singapore a Second Chance

I first visited Singapore a couple of years when doing a visa run from Bali which was part of a larger 4 month journey around southeast Asia. I guess the purpose of the visit had something to do with how I felt during my short stay in Singapore — that of a destination that I was simply there to transit through and not to explore with any great effort.

I left Singapore at that time thinking that it was the only non-Asian country in southeast Asia and far too expensive for a cheap-arse like me. I really didn’t like it.

Singaporean Kids
Singaporean Kids

When looking for flights to Indonesia for my current jaunt, I checked all the usual points of entry such as Bali, Jakarta, via Malaysia…and also Singapore. It just so happened that I got a really good deal on a ticket to Singapore from Melbourne — $200 for an 8 hour flight. So rather than skip straight through Singapore as my first instinct told me to do, I decided to hang around a little bit longer to do some walking, some eating and some animal watching. It turned out to be a fantastic experience helped by an Indophile friend I met on my first night, Judith.

Walking

I love walking. I especially like walking when I’m in a new place so that I can get my bearings and feel at ease. It’s also the best way, in my view, to get a feel for a place and to discover hidden treats. It’s often too easy to whip out a copy of the Lonely Planet and make a beeline to a restaurant or activity thereby passing all the cool stuff in between — like creepy alleys, culinary delights and my favourite — banal local life.

The Esplanade (Durian) Singapore
The Esplanade (Durian) Singapore

Around the harbour area there are some really cool things to see on the architectural front. My favourite is probably what is referred to as the ‘durian’. It’s real name is the Esplanade and it regularly hosts world class performing artists in its concert hall and theatre. Other buildings I loved were the Marina Bay Sands which charges $20 to get to the top op unless you are sneaky like me in which case you can as if you are staying there and use the internal elevators.

Eating

Singapore has always been known as a great food destination, but I never saw it on my first journey. This time I was determined to crack the nut that is the hawker centres where I’d read it was possible to get a good feed for under $3 which is good value in anyone’s language. Judith and I hit up the Old Airport Rd food hall for starters and it delievered the goods. I got myself a laksa with a massive dollop of sambal balancing precariously on the side. Needless to say I needed hardly any of it as it was spicy enough for me.

Laksa with Sambal
Laksa with Sambal

I also got around to a few hawker centres near Little India and they all dished up lovely food. The mainstays of most of these joints was chicken rice, prawn mee and miscellaneous crazy Chinese stuff that didn’t take my fancy. It truly is possible to eat great food on the cheap in Singapore.

Singapore Zoo

Apart from walking around aimlessly, was there anything else I did? Why yes there was, as the sub-heading might suggest. Judith and I headed off to the Singapore Zoo. Being a fan of giving local transport a go, I indicated to Judith that I had the directions to the zoo all sorted out. After the first bus told us to get off in the middle of nowhere, we looked for a cab. Apparently there is some weird ‘no pickup’ rule in Singapore (one of about a billion rules that you can’t be expected to get a handle on) and we walked around a little like zombies (sans drool) until we managed to get to a bus stop (perhaps the same one that we were dumped off at). We jumped on another bus, jumped off it again just up the road and changed to the zoo bus. All in all, a silly decision by me to do public transport. For a few dollars more, it would have been better to get a direct tourist bus or even a cab.

Hamadryas Baboon at Singapore Zoo
Hamadryas Baboon at Singapore Zoo

The zoo itself is incredible. It’s easily the best zoo I have ever been to although that’s not really saying a whole lot since I’ve not been to that many. Top on my list of wishes was to see a mandrill. I did indeed see a couple of mandrills and that made my day. I think the mandrills, 80 hamadryas baboons and the jaguars were my faves. I think it’d be pretty easy to spend a full day there, but we breezed through quite quickly as Judith had a plane to Indonesia to catch. The next time I visit Singapore I wouldn’t mind doing a night safari which apparently goes from next door.

So all in all my visit to Singapore was a successful one. I stayed at the Inncrowd in Little India which truth be told was a little disappointing for the $15 price tag. 10 bed dorms, no decent spot to put your bag and a breakfast not worth bothering with. Free WiFi was nice, but who needs that nowadays anyway?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on Singapore. Ever been? Want to go?

Buying a Campervan

This is the third in a series of posts about my 2011 roadtrip around Oz. Check out Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia!

Before embarking on the recent roadtrip around Australia, Heather of theresnoplacelikeoz.com fame and I gave quite a bit of thought to the process of buying a campervan. We really had no idea how much we should expect to pay, what sort of features we should expect or how roadworthy they would be, but after conducting heaps (in other words next to zero) research, we went ahead and bought a campervan. After having travelled in said van and speaking with other campervanners, I’m quite confident now with the state of buying and selling a campervan in Australia and these are my expert (done it once – I’m an expert!) observations.

Roadworthiness

Most of the vans we looked at when purchasing our van looked like bombs. Since that time, most of the backpacker campervans we’ve seen are bombs. We thought ours was bad, but it had nothing on most of the vans out there. Most have a lot of rust, dodgy tyres and bits hanging off them or taped on. This poses a bit of a problem in that many of these are unsafe, but more importantly for people on a tight budget, they are hard to get registered because of mandatory roadworthiness inspections. The only way to avoid this is to pay a lot of money for a van that will easily pass the pre-registration roadworthiness inspection or try and find a dodgy mechanic to pass it for you.

Campervan in Tasmania
Campervan in Tasmania

Registration

In most Australian states, vehicles over 5 years old require an annual inspection to verify that they are roadworthy. If they don’t pass this check, they can’t be registered. The question is, how do most of these vans get registered if they are unroadworthy? Well, it would appear that there are “ways” to pass vehicle inspection checks. Most cheap backpackers seem to be willing to take a few safety risks for the sake of some money. I understand that.

The process of transferring registration from one party to another after purchasing the vehicle is quite simple. You need to make sure that the registration papers are with the vehicle and that the reverse side of these is filled out when handing over the cash as this is how the vehicle registration people know that ownership has been changed. Once this paperwork is filled out, both parties must submit their half of the paperwork to the relevant state registration authority and pay a fee for the transfer (based on sale price – about 5%). It’s quite a simple process.

Mechanical Integrity

Aside from issues of roadworthiness and safety, there are also a multitude of mechanical issues that can arise with an old beat up van. We had to replace our engine before we hit the road because it was so badly damaged. Even a mechanic wouldn’t have been able to determine this prior to it going into a workshop. Most of the vans we’ve seen on the road go OK, but some blow smoke and we’ve heard of countless people breaking down and having to conduct repairs in remote towns.

I guess the point here is that the purchase price of the van is just the start. You are almost guaranteed to have to fork out more money to have it repaired as you go. On top of this, regular servicing will be required as well as run of the mill maintenance issues such as new tyres, wiper blades and cracked windscreens. We saw plenty of vans with pieces of cardboard for windows!

Seats Inside Campervan
Seats Inside Campervan

Features

Most vans we saw were simply an empty shell with a bed and some storage built into the back of them. Most of these vans can seat 2 or 3 people. Ours could seat 5 as the bed could be folded away whereas most beds are permanent fixtures. Most vans also don’t have fridges or external electricity supplies, so keeping stuff cold and charging electronics can be a pain. We regulalry bought ice and used an esky whenever we needed to keep stuff cool and utilised long life milk all the time. We also had a power inverter which allowed the charging of electronics through the car lighter.

So really, none of these vans have any features at all! Most of the stuff inside is just basic camp equiment that can be picked up at Kmart such as camp stove, tent, storage containers, chairs, water canisters and pots and pans. For example, a 3 man tent can be had for $15 brand new as can a portable stove.

Where to Look

There are basically two ways to do this. Either go onto gumtree.com.au and search for vans there or head down to Kings Cross in Sydney and look at all the vans on Victoria Street. There are heaps of them and they all seem to be for sale.

Bed Inside Campervan
Bed Inside Campervan

Prices

So for a featureless campervan that is unsafe, mechanically unsound and an allround nightmare, what would you expect to pay? We had heard $3000 bandied around as a price to aim for and this region proved to be correct for us. Cars with 300,000km+ will generally go for $3,000 and those with 200,000km+ will go for about $4,000. Add fridges, air conditioning and other luxury items and the price climbs VERY quickly to $5,000. Most people are content with the basic deathtraps and hence try for campervans closer to $3,000, although some vans we have seen on the road are definitely not even worth that much. The people inside them have been pretty trashy too. Next time I buy one, I will plan on spending $6k all up. $3k purchase and $3k for repairs up front.

How do the costs stack up to renting a van? Well, let’s just say you did spent $6k in total on a van (purchase + repairs + rego) and sold it for $3k. It cost you $3k out of pocket. Hiring a van is sometimes as cheap as $80 per day. So it would be cheaper to rent a van if you were going for for anything less than 37 days. That’s not really that long. But there is hassle in buying and selling plus the stress of mechanical issues. Realistically, I’d look at renting for anything up to about 45 days. More than that and buying would be my choice. Better than renting altogether would be buying a cheap station wagon and camping… Plenty of people do that too.

So there you have it. My uber-comprehensive guide to buying a backpacker-style campervan. I’m happy to field questions or provide “expert” advice.

Bali Misconceptions

Bali misconceptions — there are a few. And a lot of them depend on where in the world you’re from and in which parts of the world you’ve travelled. The main one for Australians is that it’s a beachside destination full of bogans, chavs, trailer trash, etc. The main one for people coming from other parts of Asia is that public transport is going to be cheap and easy and therefore the best way to get around. The other that has been bandied about on twitter and the internets is that internet access in Bali is poor. So it’s time to clean some of this rubbish up.

Bali is a Bogan Haven

Bali: Kuta -- A great place for sun, sand and cheap booze -- It's not all like this
Bali: Kuta -- A great place for sun, sand and cheap booze -- It's not all like this

As with many myths, there’s an element of truth to this. And it’s usually confirmed by those that don’t extract themselves from the one bogan-centric place on the island — Kuta/Legian. Yes, there are plenty of bogans, chavs and trailer trash here, but they are having a great time drinking cheap beer, eating cheap meals and lounging by the beach or hotel. I say good on them. I actually enjoyed doing some of this for about 2 days as well. I saw hundreds of other backpackers partaking, despite claims of it being “unauthentic”. Of course, it’s not for everyone, but it is only one tiny spot on an island that takes 4hrs to cross so you do not have to be trapped by boganism for a minute longer than you can stand. Most people choose to go to Ubud to avoid bogans, but usually run into bus-loads of other foreign tourists and hordes of monkeys which they inevtiably whinge about too. Me, I love Ubud. But if this is still too touristy, head to other places like Amed, Pemuteran, Yeh Gangga, Munduk, the Bukit. Anywhere. In fact, Bali has so many places that are hardly touristed at all that calling Bali a bogan haven is rubbish.

Public Transport is ALWAYS the Best Way to Travel in Asia

Bali: Public transport is not always the best option
Bali: Public transport is not always the best option

Bzzt. Sorry filthy backpacker that did it tough in India for a year. The same doesn’t apply in Bali. Sure, it’s possible to get from the airport to Ubud by public transport, but it will probably take you 4 hours and about 4 or 5 buses. The price will be more than the price of hiring a motorbike for the day. If there are two of you, the price will be about the same as a rental car. Ubud to Amed? Sure, you can do it, but the costs are going to be running at about $5 each and will involve at least 3 buses, but probably more likely 4 or 5. Estimated time of travel, the better part of a day. Yes yes, it’s authentic, but it cost you more than me in my hire car, your luggage got wet on the roof, I’ve been snorkelling while you’ve been crammed in the bus and I don’t smell like you. So while public transport is definitely a viable option in Bali, it’s often quite inconvenient and you need to pick your battles. Forget the notion that it is always going to be cheaper than the alternatives. It only is for point-to-point travel or short journeys requiring few changes.

Internet in Bali is Crap

Bali: Trunyan -- 3G internet blazing along even in a tiny village across a lake inside a volcano crater -- GREAT internet!
Bali: Trunyan -- 3G internet blazing along even in a tiny village across a lake inside a volcano crater -- GREAT internet!

Oh dear. How this has been bandied about on the interwebs recently. Bali does not have poor internet access. Firstly, I’d like to put some context to the argument that internet in Bali is bad. Bali is located in a very poor country and local 6 day/wk wages are approximately $100 per month. This fact is indisputable as it is set by the Government, regency by regency as the minimum wage and most businesses in the tourist industry tend to stick to this. Some of the better resorts might increase this by 50% and provide free health insurance. Many of the cheaper joints will simply pay their staff what they can afford. Some as low as $30 per month. These people don’t need blazing fast internet, yet in larger towns, ADSL with speeds of 1mbit is readily available. This means that many cafes and guesthouses in tourist towns hook into an unlimited ADSL plan for about $90 per month in order to attact more business. Most of the time it is fast, but as with a lot of infrastructure in Bali, you have occasional blips. If you’re frequenting a place with lots of blips, find another place. I always found Roma Amor in Legian to have fast internet. Likewise Casa Luna in Ubud. Further afield where fewer tourists travel, this sort of free wifi situation dries up and I was left to rely on the mobile phone network. Well, I’m happy to report that in the vast majority of rural Bali — the places where many many poor people live — 3G broadband internet access works like a dream and is CHEAP. Occassionally I’d take a wrong turn and end up in a cloudy valley on a dirt road and my signal would drop to GPRS, but it was still internet and I could still make phone calls. In Yeh Gangga in the hotel I was in, internet was poor. No phone signal most of the time, but that could be rectified if I could be bothered to head up the road to the local mini mart. Plenty of free wifi in tourist towns and great 3G access everywhere else. So in the context of a 3rd world country, the statement that “internet in Bali is crap” is just…

As you can probably tell, I’m extremely sensitive to criticism — particularly of Bali. Happy to argue these points.  🙂

Taxis in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

We interrupt our Bali programming for a good old fashioned rant. The taxi services in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia are bad. Really bad. There’s two problems. First of all, the drivers are lazy. They very rarely can be bothered to drive you anywhere unless they are paid a lot for it. Secondly, they’re dishonest. I think they’re more lazy than dishonest, but dishonest they are! OK, so perhaps I shouldn’t lump all drivers in Kuala Lumpur into the same basket. It’s not fair to the 5 that are hard working honest men.

So this is how it goes down in Kuala Lumpur. You go to a taxi stand and are about to hop in the cab and the driver asks you where you’re going. When you state where, they quote a price. The law in Kuala Lumpur is that prices must be determined by the meter, but 90% of drivers refuse to use the meter when tourists get in the car. So what does this mean? You either pay about 4 times as much as the real fare or you just don’t travel by cab because it is too much of a hassle to constantly flag down cabs only for them to quote ridiculous prices. And they’re not even nice about it. My experience has generally been that not only are they incredibly shifty, they’re rude too — especially when you challenge them and insist on the meter.

One guy I challenged insisted that the meter doesn’t pay him enough. So instead, he rips tourists off. But not just by a little bit so he can make ends meet, by a factor of four just for good measure. In reality, if it’s not good enough pay, he should get a job doing something else.

So this is my message to the universe to say that Kuala Lumpur really needs to do something about the taxi situation because at the moment it is unworkable and makes travel around the city very difficult when you’re not near a train line.

Transport in Bali

Bali Transport. It was a constant item of discussion with travellers I met across the island when I was driving around doing research for the Travelfish Bali guide. Many independent travellers in Southeast Asia become accustomed to utilising public buses and tourist shuttles to visit the must-see destinations within a country and expect the same transport arrangements to be in place in Indonesia and more particularly Bali.

Unfortunately for travellers, the paradigm in Bali is different because of the way transport infrastructure evolved which was based around the needs of the local people — connecting large towns and cities through transport hubs and servicing smaller towns out of these hubs. Many of the tourist towns in Bali were historically small villages and therefore were offshoots to the main hubs. To this day, they are serviced quite poorly by public transport when compared with other Asian countries — the alternatives are as follows:

Tourist Shuttles

Tourist shuttles are a mainstay of the tourist infrastructure in many Asian countries and Bali is only slightly different. The main tourist destinations are serviced by a number of companies, but the most popular is Perama which charges about 50,000 rupiah (US$5) between the main towns. The problem with tourist shuttles throughout Bali is that they only service the main tourist towns and skip what I would consider some of the best areas of the island.

Car and Driver

For more flexibility, many people choose to do day trips from the main tourist towns with a car and driver. Drivers line the main roads of the major tourist towns touting for business and most will jump at the opportunity to take you on a tour around the island on a day trip. The usual cost is around 400,000 rupiah (US$40) for a full day trip involving a long drive, but most will quote enormous prices and fierce negotiation is required. The big tip here is to have your own itinerary otherwise you might be taken to all sorts of tourist traps and shops where the driver gets commissions.

Bali: Miscellaneous Transport
Bali: Miscellaneous Transport

Ojek

Ojek is the term given to motorcycle taxis in Indonesia. In the main tourist areas, it’s easy to find ojeks on the side of the road and most of the time they will find you. They’re usually looking to transport customers short distances around town, but are happy to take people on full day trips which usually cost about 100,000 rupiah (US$10), dependent on distance. The problem with ojeks is that you get wet when it rains and carrying big backpacks is a bit of a pain. But they are perfect when traffic is a problem or you want to go somewhere without a lot of luggage.

Bali: Motorbike Transport
Bali: Motorbike Transport

Self-ride Motorbike

Many people in Asia choose to rent a motorbike and it’s possible to do the same in Bali. A licence is not necessary, but riding without one is illegal and bribing the police when you are pulled over is par for the course — the fee is 50,000 rupiah (US$5) after ruthless negotiation and threats to take you to jail. Motorbikes can be rented for anywhere between 25,000 and 50,000 rupiah (US$2.50-$5) per day dependent on the length of the rental and the quality of the bike. It’s a great way to see the island, but it can be dangerous (as it can be throughout Asia) and some might want to stump up an extra few dollars to get a car instead.

Self-drive Car

My favourite way to travel Bali is with a hire car. It sounds like something that a grandma and granddad might do when visiting a place for a week away from home, but the cost of hiring a car in Bali is so low that it makes sense for budget travellers as well. You can get a Suzuki Jimny for 80,000 rupiah (US$8) per day or something better for the same price if you hire it for a month. It gives you the best freedom in Bali and shields you from the regular tropical downpours that tend to creep up on you while you’re out amongst the ricefields or up in the mountains. The freedom that a car provides is brilliant when visiting such places as Pemuteran (the best snorkelling in Bali) or Yeh Gangga — you can just hop in the car, rain hail or shine, and find food, visit off-the-beaten track places and experience parts of Bali that most don’t have the opportunity to experience.

So the moral of the story in Bali is that public transport is only for the patient. Use the shuttles for the major tourist towns and get a car or motorbike to get out and about. It enhances the experience to levels that most visitors don’t experience — absolutely fantastic!

Is it Really Worth Saving a Dollar?

When travelling through South East Asia and probably other parts of the world, you meet all sorts of different travellers.  You meet the package tourist, the flashpacker, the stinky backpacker, the know-it-all backpacker and also a bunch of “normal” backpackers.  But there is a subset of these people that I am really interested in.  It’s the stingy traveller.  The type that will do anything to save a dollar. At times, I’m this person and it annoys me no end because in most cases it’s nonsensical.

Myanmar: Local Transport
Myanmar: Local Transport

I’m particularly frail when it comes to transport – taxis, tuk tuks, becaks, etc.  I will tend to argue for extended periods of time, refuse countless offers of transport and even walk miles just to prove the point that I won’t be ripped off by a taxi driver.  Ripped off, as in, not paying an extra 50 cents or a dollar over what I believe a reasonable price to be.  And I base my pricing on the wages which I know the local populace are getting.  Now, in the heat of battle, it all seems fair – why should a local person get an extra dollar for a short ride when the daily wage is $3?  And from an economic perspective, it does make sense.  There are farmers slogging their guts out in the ricefield for $3 in the beating sun, yet a taxi driver lounging under a tree all day waiting for a tourist to sting can make double that for a short ride.  From a moral perspective, however, it’s probably not right to quibble over a dollar and from a convenience perspective, I’m certainly doing myself a disservice!

Myanmar: Budget Accommodation
Myanmar: Budget Accommodation

As far as saving a dollar goes, the same issues apply to accommodation.  Sure, you can screw down prices to almost nothing, but if you spend an extra couple of dollars when travelling in SE Asia, you can really boost the quality of your digs.  Moving from $4 to $6 can mean attached bathroom, better outlook, less noise and a generally more pleasant stay.

What about food?  Many places in Asia are dirt cheap.  $1 for a substantial meal.  But occasionally, it’s nice to have an even nicer meal that might cost double.  Yes, $2!  I’ve met lots of people that will refuse to pay the extra dollar because it’s essentially a doubling of the expenses for the night.  But come on…  it’s an extra dollar.  And for an extra dollar, it might mean an even more awesome meal than the dollar meal.  More food, better produce and perhaps some meat that might otherwise be missing.

Myanmar: Samosa
Myanmar: Samosa

Some will argue on the flipside that the cheaper you travel, the longer you can travel.  Spending $20 vs $22 per day means you get to travel for 10% longer. For some, this might be wise, but for me…  I’m usually getting travel weary in the last 10% of my journey anyway and getting home a little earlier is no big deal – and I get a more pleasant experience while I’m at it.  What’s your view on saving a dollar?