Bag a Bargain in Bangkok

Thailand is well known as a country to bag a bargain. The markets of Bangkok are a fascinating and exciting experience, where you can wander through the maze of stalls and take in the sights, sounds and smells of the city. If you are planning to fly to Bangkok, then schedule in plenty of time for shopping.

Bangkok Thailand Bag a Bargain in Bangkok

Chatuchak Weekend Market is a must visit, while others such as those in Patpong and Khlong Thom offer exciting night-time shopping experiences. For gifts you won’t find anywhere else, try one of the unique floating markets.

 

Chatuchak

Chatuchak Weekend Market is enormous and will challenge even the most seasoned shoppers. It is home to more than 8000 market stalls and you can expect it to be exciting and bustling as more than 20,000 visitors descend on the market to buy just about everything. To help you navigate your way through the maze there is a number system. Alleyways are labelled and the market is grouped into 27 sections. This can be a huge help when you want to remember a stall when shopping around and comparing prices.
Chatuchak sells pretty much anything you could ever want…ceramic pots, spices, shoes, lamps, jeans, paintings to name but a few, so you are bound to return with a stack of goods.

 

Pratunam
Pratunam clothes market is the best clothes and textile market in Thailand. Standing opposite the giant Baiyoke Tower, you will find a labyrinth of alleyways with clothes hanging all around the narrow lanes. You can pick up bargains that are being sold for much more in the department stores, but sizing is Thai rather different than western so it might not be easy to get the right fit.

Floating market

Bangkok had many floating markets because of the easy access of water transport, but due to development many of the waterways have disappeared. Two of the main floating markets still worth visiting are Damnoen Saduak and Amphawa market. Both are within two hours of the city and can easily be accessed on an organised trip or independently. It is a memorable experience to buy goods from a boat while you walk along the banks of a river.

5439045680 15b4cd4888 Bag a Bargain in Bangkok

 

Asiatique

Asiatique combines a night bazaar with a shopping mall. This busy complex has been created around a restored pier in what was once a bustling international trade port. It has now been developed to hold over 1500 boutiques and 40 restaurants as well as offering entertainment. It’s easier and much faster to arrive by boat as traffic can be hectic in the district. Most of the shopping is in large open buildings that have been designed to replicate enormous warehouses. It may be a little over the top, but as you will find a mixture of locals and tourists there it doesn’t feel too much like a tourist attraction.

 

Mini-guide to shopping in Thailand

If you are looking to explore Thailand’s markets, here are some top tips:

  • Smile and be friendly when haggling; it’s likely to get you further.
  • Wear comfortable shoes – you’ll be on your feet shopping for a long time.
  • Travel to Bangkok with a half empty case so that you have room for your purchases.
  • Check your goods thoroughly before purchasing to make sure there is no damage, especially with furniture and antiques.
  • Don’t assume that anything in the market is genuine.
  • Make a list of things you’re looking for before you hit the shops. Just be prepared to be lured into buying more than you bargained for!
  • Take a bottle of water as it can get hot while you’re shopping.
  • Protect yourself from the sun with sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses.
  • Bring your own backpack with you to carry your purchases, although it is recommended that you either wear this on your front or you lock it so that it is kept secure.
  • Don’t assume everything for sale in the market is being sold at a good price. You still need to do your research.
  • Bring cash as many vendors don’t accept cards, although don’t store a large quantity of cash in one place on your person.
  • Don’t take valuables with you like laptops or expensive cameras while out shopping.
  • Go early and get your shopping out of the way before the crowds descend, or go late when it is cooler.
  • Pick up a free map if one is available so you can mark where you see stalls you’d like to go back to when you’ve figured out what price is best.
  • If you want to buy a number of items from one seller then you can usually get a special price.

 

Thailand has so many markets to explore. Whether you are looking for high end shopping malls or traditional bazaars, Bangkok is a fantastic shopping destination.

 

Editors Note: Today’s article was written and brought to you by Karen Bleakley. Karen enjoys travel in South East Asia and especially Bangkok’s many markets and shopping malls.

Photo Credit: Floating Market courtesy of flickr user jscoke via a creative commons license.

Why Teach English in Korea?

The number one question I got when I told people I was going to teach English in Korea was this:

“Why Korea?”

Fair question. If you’d told me five years ago that I’d spend two years teaching in rural Korea, I’d have laughed at the suggestion. I knew nothing about Korea, and even less about teaching. But it happened, and here’s why.

Visas

I’m American, and my fiancé is Australian. At the time, we’d been dating for 2 years and we were running out of options – we wanted to live and work in the same country but we weren’t ready to get married and go through the visa rigmarole. I’d already worked in Australia for 1 year and it was near-impossible for him to come to the US. Korea was an appealing choice, because we were both eligible.

Couples shirts Why Teach English in Korea?
I promise that in Korea, matching t-shirts are okay. Our co-teachers gave us these ‘couples’ shirts’ as leaving gifts.

Eligibility

Most working holiday visas are limited to applicants between the ages of 18 – 30, but there is no such age restriction for teaching in Korea. All you need is a bachelor’s degree and a passport that shows you’re from one of seven English-speaking countries: the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the UK, South Africa, or Ireland. As a college graduate from the US who was pushing 30, this was perfect for me.

Pay

Let’s not sugarcoat it: I needed the money. If I’d just wanted to break even on the cost of living, I’d have gone to Thailand or Central America. But I had a student loan to pay off, and I wanted to have some new experiences while I did it. South Korea has one of the highest pay rates for English teachers, starting at 1.8 million won per month. I had a TEFL certificate and a master’s in travel writing, which meant that my starting pay was 2.3 million won per month – about $2,100 USD.

Classroom Why Teach English in Korea?
Something I didn’t plan for – the students, who were the best part of the job.

Benefits

My employer reimbursed me for my flights at a flat rate of 1.3 million won each way, as well as giving me a 300,000 won settlement allowance. For the first year, I got paid 2.3 million won on the 25th of each month, plus an extra 100,000 a month as a ‘rural bonus.’ When I renewed for a second year, I got about 2.3 million won for severance pay and a 2 million won renewal bonus, plus I was bumped up to the next level on the payscale. Not to mention the five weeks’ vacation (which became seven weeks in the second year), the free housing, health care, and pension refund.

I’m fully aware that I will never have it that good again.

Ignorance

As I said, I knew nothing about Korea, and that was appealing. Yes, I knew that it was close to North Korea, but that didn’t deter me because here’s the thing: it’s not North Korea. It’s a small country full of scenery, culture, and generous people, and it’s really coming into its own as a tourist destination. Korea seemed just as random as Japan or China, so why not go to Korea? In the end, I couldn’t have made a better choice.

Andong Why Teach English in Korea?
Another reason to choose Korea – excellent totem poles hidden in the forests.

Now for the disclaimer: I taught for EPIK (English Program In Korea) in Gangwon Province. Pay and benefits can vary widely depending on where you teach and what program you teach for. There are a huge variety of available teaching positions, from public schools to privately owned academies, and the application process can be very confusing. The eligibility criteria can change without warning, so do your research to make sure you know what to expect.

Da Nang, Vietnam: the Most Underrated City in Southeast Asia

visit Central Vietnam2 Da Nang, Vietnam: the Most Underrated City in Southeast Asia

You know Bangkok, and Hong Kong, and Singapore, and Hanoi…but what about little Da Nang?  While it may be just a paragraph in most travel guides, Da Nang, Vietnam is worth an entire chapter.  This city of under one million – teeny, tiny by Asian standards – is not just a stopover; it’s a travel destination in its own right.  Here’s why.

Beach, Beach, Beach

In Da Nang you are spoiled rotten by gorgeous beaches.  There’s the seemingly never-ending China Beach that frames one whole side of the city in post card white sand and turquoise sea.  This stunner is ten miles long and virtually empty all day long.  In a classic win-win situation, most Vietnamese people avoid the beach during the day (tans are not popular here), giving visitors and unique chance to enjoy a city side beach all on their own.  My Khe beach is just as splendid – and just as free of anyone but you.  And, if you’re really in the mood for cliché tropical paradise, Lang Co Beach is a quick scoot away.

Cheap Food, Cheap Stays, Cheap Tailors

Southeast Asia is comparatively cheap for travel.  Vietnam is comparatively cheap within Southeast Asia.  Da Nang is comparatively cheap within Vietnam.  Your money goes far here, and can be spent on incredible fresh seafood that you choose directly from fishermen or immaculately hand sewn suits from local tailors.  For such a small place, Da Nang has a surprisingly wide variety of restaurants, bars and activities.  Splurge on champagne brunch at the Intercontinental in the morning.  Go out diving in the afternoon.  Visit the ornate temples that are scattered all around the city.  Then wind down with live music and a beer along the riverfront (that’s right, Da Nang has a beach front and a river front).  When you’re ready to turn in, take your pick from eleven bagillion hotels with rooms that will cost you a whopping ten dollars.

Culture without the Throngs of Tourists

 

When you’re finished wining and dining yourself, you might remember that Da Nang is a hub of Vietnamese culture – without the crowds and hassles of Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh.  Of course there’s the Cham Museum that pops up in most tour guides, but there’s more to Da Nang than just one museum.  There’s the gorgeous (and enormous) Buddah statue that overlooks the city from her perch on the town’s mountain.  This green jungle in the middle of the city, called Son Tra, is a protected area with just a few small restaurants grandfathered in – and plenty of monkeys for your picture-taking pleasure!  There are temples and churches all around to remind of you of Vietnamese beliefs.  And, of course, there are the people themselves, who are all the more apt to sit and chat with you in this smaller, less congested Vietnamese city.

Lovely People

Da Nang is not a city; it’s just a big beach town.  Maybe that explains the laid-back attitude of the people here.  From the moment you arrive you will find people willing to help you, willing to walk you to where you need to go, and willing to try and understand your terrible, mispronounced Vietnamese.  And, no, they aren’t looking to charge you for it.  While other cities are full of scammers, Da Nang is quite sincere in its hospitality.   It’s new on the tourist scene and the people here want you to have a good time.  Within 24 hours of arriving here I’d had people offer to carry my suitcase, offer to help me get a cell phone and scoot me across town to the beach – and all refuse any sort of money.  People here are just plain nice.

Da Nang may not be the flashiest Asian city, but it’s one of the most authentic – and most enjoyable.  Happy travels to this lovely town!

Budgeting for Japan

Indisputable Facts:

The sky is blue.

Water is vital for life.

Japan is expensive.

I’m not sure when I developed the opinion that Japan was an expensive place, but it happened well before I ever set foot in the country. When my fiancé and I planned an 8-day trip to Kyoto and Osaka, we were prepared to pay through the teeth and keep to a relatively tight budget. For the first time, I kept a detailed record of every dollar (or, in this case, yen) we spent. In reviewing the notes, I was surprised to find that it wasn’t outrageous, after all.

Here’s our budget breakdown for two people.

Total cost for 9 days, 8 nights (excluding return transport from Korea):
¥104, 960 ($1336)

Food & Drink

Amount spent: ¥43,850 ($558)
Percentage of total: 42%

Food Budgeting for Japan
Noodles for $8 at a random no-name restaurant in Kyoto. So good, we went back twice.

I was slightly embarrassed to realize that the bulk of our budget went towards food and drink, but then I thought about how much pleasure I get out of those things. Fun fact: we spent $30 on ice cream and $127 on beer, including a ¥6700 ($85) splurge on an all-you-can-eat-and-drink rooftop buffet. All of our breakfasts came from the supermarket, as did a handful of lunches and dinners. We went out for a few nice meals, but not many. Noodle shops were our savior for cheap, hearty meals with a bit of local personality thrown in.

Accommodation

Amount spent: ¥40,645 ($517)
Percentage of total: 38.5%

Ryokan Budgeting for Japan
An all-female dorm room in our ryokan in Kyoto with DIY beds.

Four nights in a business hotel in Osaka cost us ¥16,645 ($212), while 4 nights in a traditional ryokan in Kyoto cost ¥24,000 ($305). Breakfast was not included at either place.

Transportation

Amount spent: ¥14,180 ($180)
Percentage of total: 13.5%

Trains Budgeting for Japan
Waiting at the platform in the Shin-Osaka train station.

This included trains, subways, buses, and bicycles. In Osaka, a single journey was roughly ¥250 ($3), but subway passes are available as well. We took return trains from Osaka to Nara and Osaka to Kyoto, both distances of under an hour. No fast trains for us, which would have considerably increased the amount spent on transport.

Entry Fees

Amount spent: ¥5,200 ($66)
Percentage of total: 5%

Attractions Budgeting for Japan
Many attractions were free, like the Bamboo Gardens in Arashiyama, Kyoto.

In Osaka, we paid for entry to Osaka Castle and the Open-air Farmhouse Museum. In Kyoto, we visited the Silver Pavilion, Golden Pavilion, Nijo Castle, and the mysterious womb stone at the Kiyomizu Temple (it cost ¥100 each and was 100% worth it). We got discounted entry at Osaka Castle for showing our 2-day subway pass, so check for discounts if you visit.

Miscellaneous

Amount spent: ¥1,085
Percentage of total: 1%

Broken Sandals Budgeting for Japan
After this I got to limp/shuffle around Nara for a couple of hours until we found a store.

I brought one pair of sandals to Japan, and they blew out on the second day. First, I bought a pair of rubber flip-flops at the dollar store. They were worn through two days later, due to excessive walking and not, as my fiance insists, my heavy-footed walking style. I bought another pair of sandals at a shop in Kyoto, which lasted the rest of the trip. Lesson: In Japan, it’s hard to find a cheap pair of shoes that will fit a US size 10. Bring at least two pairs with you. My third miscellaneous purchase was a hand-drawn print of two geisha walking down an alley. It’s for my mom, but it’s been two months and I still have it. Oops.

Average per day for 2 people: approximately $150

It’s not exactly a shoestring budget, but it was affordable, especially over a short period of time. The key for us was to focus on a small region instead of trying to cover too much ground; we didn’t have the money or the time to see more.

In the end, I have to agree that Japan is expensive, but not prohibitively so; especially if you cut back on the ice cream and bring a sturdy pair of shoes.

 

Kangaroo Crossing in Australia

While backpacking Australia, I pitched in with three other backpackers and bought a car. It was a 1981 Peugeot named Albert, and the former owner gave it to us for 1000 bucks. The car overheated during long drives. There was no air conditioning. The windows got stuck if you tried to roll them down.

Welcome to SA Kangaroo Crossing in Australia
Bonus of having your own car – yelling “Pull over now!” and the driver actually does.

But it was our car. It took us from Coffs Harbour to Sydney, all the way through Melbourne to Adelaide, then back to Coffs. I drove it to Brisbane when I needed to renew my tourist visa and to Dorrigo National Park when my family visited. In the six months I was co-owner of the car, it covered over 5,000 kilometers – not bad for a car that had been born in the same year I had.

Dorrigo Kangaroo Crossing in Australia
Dorrigo National Park in New South Wales.

Buying a car in Australia opens up new possibilities and can bring about some uniquely Australian adventures, particularly when it comes to the native fauna. Late at night, Albert’s lights were often the only ones on the road, restricting our visibility. The four of us were extremely startled when, suddenly, a kangaroo appeared about ten meters in front of us, illuminated by the headlights.

It froze. We screamed. The driver swerved. There were two small bumps as the car ran over its tail, which prompted a new round of shrieks.

We were lucky; the kangaroo, not so much.

Kangaroos Kangaroo Crossing in Australia
This one was fine, though. Mother and baby spotted at Emerald Beach, near Coffs Harbour.

Shortly after I returned to America, Albert was sent to the junk heap, where he was compressed into a tiny hunk of metal. I like to think we gave him a good last hurrah, a nice wind down to a long life spent ferrying travelers around the beautiful countryside of Australia.

Minus that business with the kangaroo, that is.