Things you should do in Bali

Words by Anna Lebedeva | November 12

Top ten things to do in Bali

If you are heading to Bali we can say –  we envy you. Nowadays it is kinda in fashion to express the idea that “Bali is a lost paradise”, spoiled by crowds of tourists coming all year round. But, by what we’ve seen, islanders have managed to keep their integrity, and you will be able to find lots of hidden places and local villages to stay.

Bali is mostly famous as a top-class surf destination. This doesn’t mean you won’t find things to do if you are not a surfer. And I am not talking about swimming or just lazying around while sipping cocktails (honestly you’re better off heading to Thailand, beaches there are better for swimming), and neither about Spas, wellness and yoga activities, all those are abundant on Bali.

Taman Ayun Temple, travel to Bali
Taman Ayun Temple

(1) Stay with locals

There is a significant rise in guest houses operated by local families in Bali, where you can stay and get accustomed with the Balinese people’s everyday life. It is a rich day-to-day lifestyle, made of constant rituals and family celebrations. They are usually very hospitable and keen to share cultural insights and traditions. They also like talking about their families and even private questions are appreciated.

We’ve stayed for one month in Pecatu village (Bukit peninsula) with a fantastic local family, who was very helpful and attentive. They spoke decent English and even tried to teach us Balinese. They also were very tactful and polite so living with them was not that different from staying in a hotel. We never experienced any privacy issues, our room was regularly cleaned and kept in order. Some Balinese build a separate house in their yard and rent those places to travellers usually through airbnb.com.

I believe that staying with locals can be a good way to support local communities by paying directly to their pocket and not to the large companies operating hotel chains around Bali.

Homestay in Bali, Indonesia
Dikubu Home Stay, found through airbnb

(2) Rent a motorbike and go around

Renting motorbikes is very affordable in Bali – around $3,5 for a new bike per day (in case of long-term renting, usually considered from one week up). You can easily pick a bike at your hotel or go outside, there are lots of rent options around the island. Basically with a bike you can get wherever you want: roads are pretty good and traffic is not that harsh (excluding Kuta and Nusa Dua area).

Don’t be afraid of exploring Bali and trying distant beaches scattered in it’s different parts. You can try Kuta and Seminyak (tourist centre), Nusa Dua (enclave of upscale resorts), drive to the most southern point of Bali – the Bukit peninsula –  relax on one of the best surf spots in the world, or you can go to the Eastern part of the island, to the beaches of Candidasa. The options are endless and most of them are easily accessible by bike, so give it a try!

Renting a bike is also a great option to get to more remote traditional villages, to see the lives of rural locals outside tourist areas, how they are going about their daily chores, which is a completely different scene from what you will see around your hotel.

(3) Climb mount Batur

That is a kind of must-do-thing, our favourite sight-seeing activity in Bali. If you are lucky and the weather is good you will be able to enjoy the stunning views of volcanos and the lake – just amazing. Even if it’s a cloudy day the hike will be worth it. That’s what happened to us, but still we managed to take a few stunning photos.

It is around 1.5 to 2 hours to climb and not that physically-demanding, basically almost everyone can do it. The start is very early about 1-2 am (depending on your location), in order to get to the top before the sunrise and meet it there.

Batur vulcano, travel to Bali
Coming back around Batur vulcano

You can book a private guide for two people (around $60/person) or take a group climb ($25/person). All that including pick up from and to hotel, breakfast on the top (you can even get eggs cooked in the volcano crater). Nowadays the way up is a bit crowded, but on the top there is enough space for everyone. Local guides are fantastic and very enthusiastic, usually ready to help out in any situation.  We believe that you can definitely rely on them.

Wear proper shoes, a jacket and take a camera for the awesome views.

Batur vulcano, travel to Bali
Climbing Batur vulcano

(4) Dine in Ubud

Ubud itself is a top Bali destination, which built its reputation as a centre of art and spirituality. Lots of tourist arrive here (unfortunately too much) to visit the most remarkable Balinese temples, wander around local art market, buy hand-made souvenirs or fine clothing, attend ceremonies and dance performances. But what you should really do above all those things is to have a great dinner at one of the local eateries, ranging from cheap but nice places serving local cuisine to trendy fusion restaurant (some of them are on the list of top world restaurants  – who would imagine that a few decades ago).

All agree that Ubud is the best dining place in all of Bali. The diversity is very broad and the quality is very high accompanied with reasonable prices, cozy ambience and very friendly stuff.  You can walk around the city centre, basically a condensed concentration of restaurants and cafes. Just pick up one you fancy. We never had a bad dining experience in Ubud – so rest assured that more or less all places are great (or just check trip advisor in advance).

(5)  Visit temples

As it is well-known Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, but Bali somehow managed to keep its particular religion (their own brand of Hinduism) alive throughout the times. Hinduism arrived to Bali with indian trades and spread deeply its root in everyday life of Balinese people, expressed in beautiful rituals and ceremonies.

The most interesting thing about Balinese Hinduism is that it is culturally rooted, and not built on some sort of intellectualised idea of divinity. It had instead a practical and humanistic approach behind it. The “world” is inhabited by spirits and forces, that are both bad and good, and to keep the balance and be endowed with luck (attract the good and repel the bad) you should pay your respect to the “spirits” and their natural materialisation (volcanoes, sea, etc), to your ancestors and to your community.

Back in time there were many different powerful Hinduist kingdoms scattered around the island. The boundaries of these Balinese kingdoms live on in the form of Bali’s Regencies, that you can see on the island’s map. Nowadays they are not into any authority, but still revered as ex-royal families.

Each kingdom left its own temples, which are in great abundance on the island. They are all in great shape and quite well preserved. In temples, despite Bali being a famous tourist destination, you can see people praying and performing religious ceremonies regularly. Ceremonies are constantly happening on the island,  almost every day you can see locals preparing  for tomorrow’s festive or performing their family duties either in the family or community temple. For some serious ceremonies parts or the whole temple can be closed.

With bike it is very easy to go around – in two days you can manage to visit all main Balinese temples.

Travel to Bali, Indonesia
Easy ride from Ubud to the main Balinese Temple

(6) Try beaches on Bukit

Out of two months we spent in Bali one was on the Bukit peninsula, the most southern part of the island. There we found serene and cozy beaches, some of the bests we’ve seen in Bali, such as Dreamland, Bining, Balangan and many others (our favourite is Bining). All of them are surrounded by sharp cliffs on both sides, offering you great views of the ocean crashing into the rocky shore.

You can find plenty of accommodation around and good variety of surf-style cafes for very pleasing prices. The greatest thing about Bukit is that it is not as crowded as other popular tourist places in Bali (like Kuta).  The only downside of this place are the rocky shores, so you have to be careful while swimming during low tide.

Ocean at Bingin beach, travel to Bali, Indonesia
Bining beach

(7) Attend the local performance Kecak & Fire dance

Very calm and peaceful people by nature, the Balinese go through significant metamorphose while performing one of their traditional dances. For them the dance itself is a mixture of artistic and religious nature, which goes hand in hand. And for the Balinese people the dance isn’t just a simple entertainment, it is more a sincere expression of their deeply rooted spirituality.

The unique feature that distinguishes Balinese dance is the face and eye movements, which are of the same importance as the movement of the feet. The dancer’s eyes should not blink, instead be constantly wide open. Facial expression itself plays a huge role in the performance. The strongest act of the Kecak performance is the trance part – where the dancer goes through the flaming bonfire.

There are lots of options to see the Kecak dance in Bali.  You should easily find tickets in any tourist agency, but before purchasing tickets  check references on the web. Bear in mind that probably you will be only able to attend the performance staged specifically for tourist purpose, but don’t regard this as anything bad – they are usually very well staged and dancers are skilled, and the performance takes place in one of the main Temples (the best performances are considered those that take place in Ubud and Uluwatu Temple). Before attending google the story as it is not that easy to follow the plot – it’s based on the Hindu epic poem Ramayana written originally in Sanskrit.  

(8) Campuhan hill

Once you are in Ubud, don’t spend all your time wandering around. It can be really chaotic and overloaded with tourists hence a bit exhausting. Instead take a short easy trek through the pristine Campuhan hill, lined by lush-green hillside and tropical foliage, ending up in the village of Bangkiang Sidem. Karsa cafe resides there, offering food and refreshments while enjoying a pleasant view over the rice fields. There you can also visit the Karsa SPA ($12 for one hour massage), considered to be the best in Ubud (according to trip advisor and our experience), but you should book it in advance (at least one week at the high season).

Travel to Bali, Indonesia
Campuhan hill

It will take you around 25 minutes to accomplish the short version of the trek ending right after the Karsa cafe. If you want to go further and around back to Ubud, then turn to the left and take 9km walk through small villages, that go along a small secondary road at the beginning and later merging with the main road to Ubud (we aren’t particularly fond of this road for walking).

Campuhan hill, Ubud, Bali
Starting point of Campuhan hill trekk

(9) Monkey Forest

It is quite a large sanctuary for monkeys, where they live outside cages. It is the closest to their natural habitat you can ask for while at the same time providing a way for people to interact with them.  It has many beautiful areas inside, a small river, temples, a small art gallery, places to relax and enough to stretch your legs walking around. Be careful while visiting and make sure you don’t bring a candies, dry nuts, cola or that kind of stuff because the monkeys will get it from you no matter where you hide it.

Monkey Forest, Bali, Indonesia
Monkey Forest

(10) Rice fields

Through South-East Asia it is a very common landscape, but those in Bali are considered to be the most photogenic. Riding around the island’s centre, the most tropical and fertile area, you will not miss the emerald-green rice fields, they are everywhere as they are the main source of food and income. The most stunning ones are in Ubud region, forming splendid dramatic views perfect for taking photos:  Tegallalang village, Sayan,  Pupuan, Jatiluwih, Tabanan and Tirtagangga

Rice fields in Bali, Indonesia
Rice fields

More reading on Bali:

Bali, temples and meditation 
Our favourite beaches in Bali
– Bali postcards
Stay with local family while traveling


Travel to Saint-Petersburg – Russia’s North Thailand

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Written originally in Russian by Ruslan Bekurov 

Writer, Associated professor at Saint-Petersburg State University
October 17

Travel to Saint-Petersburg, Russia
View over Griboedova canal and Nevsky prospekt / Photo by https://instagram.com/evgeniaanikeeva/Are you local enough?

Sensitivity of locals

Once, at a journalist meeting, a reporter from Saint-Petersburg told me that it was kind of unethical to be overly opinionated about a city where you’ve lived for less than 20 years. “Ruslan, don’t take it as an accusation, but you don’t even distinguish  between Kronversky and Kanonersky islands. And, really, how many times have you been to Hermitage?” I just shrugged my shoulders – I’ve never been to Hermitage.

People from Saint-Petersburg are very sensitive to what others say about their “magnificent” city.  I understand that they want their city to stay as it is, to protect it from newcomers and save all  Saint-Petersburg ‘s “goodies” for themselves.

At the same time people here, in Saint-Petersburg, are very kind and hospitable. Comparing to Moscovites, they are ready to play the “charming and open intellectual” role. Here every other taxi driver is either a poet or a writer, the waitresses are also actresses and the loaders are artists as well. And I should not forget to mention the ladies whose work is to control the metro escalators. They will tell you all sort of interesting stories about Pushkin’s favourite places and even share their opinion on why Dovlatov didn’t manage to write a romance about his big love.

European provincialism

As for me, Saint-Petersburg is a great place due to its provincialism. Provincialism in a good European way. You know, there is a kind of pedigreed mediterranean provinciality of Italian, Spanish and French towns. And Saint-Petersburg, despite its wild north climate, is exactly like this. Here you can find that famous slow mode of life, unpretentious communication, procrastination over coffee tables and many other things, that make people like me fall in love with this city and stay here forever.  If not for anything else, at least to have some stories about this city and be able to tell them as I am doing now.

In my opinion, the love to Saint-Petersburg is usually  a sincere emotion and unexplained kind of affection. Everybody finds something of its own here. Some people like Saint-Petersburg for its climate, with endless rains and wind coming from the Gulf of Finland, others are crazy about the abundance of water, which comprises around 7% of the city.

Travel to Saint-Petersburg, Russia
Griboedov Canal Embankment, view from Nevsky Avenue party in the city of St. Petersburg.

Islands and my places

In fact, Saint-Petersburg people are islanders. It consists of 42 islands, some big and others smaller. Everybody feels attachment to his or her part of the city, especially during summer time when all bridges stay open at night making each island separate from the remaining city.

For instance, I like living on Vasilievsly island. To prove my laziness I can tell you that I even narrowed my day-to-day life further,  constraining it to a very small part of this island. It goes usually between the University where I work, set on the embankments of Universitetskyaya and Makarova, the Hegni restaurant on the First Line and Kadetskaya Line, where Helsinki and Brugge bars are.  Probably there are a lot of other places that could be better, more cozy and trendy, but somehow I got used to these ones.

Travel to Saint-Petersburg, Russia
Petrogradsky island / Photo by https://instagram.com/evgeniaanikeeva/

Why? Because they have become “my places” in Saint-Petersburg. Each of them is mine in a very special way. In “Hegni” bar, you will find the best falafel in the city. In “Brugge” bar, the beer is unbeatable. In “Helsinki” bar, you will meet the waitress of my dreams, which never smiles back at me.  Where I spend the biggest part of  my life is at the University, which is also here, in the main building walking through the longest university corridor in Europe,  and to the Journalism department.

I also like the pedestrian area around Vasilievskaya metro station, where you can find the well-known Georgian cafe “Alaverda” with an excellent chacha (Georigian vodka) and khachapuri (Georgian pie). This Saint-Petersburg island is my zone of comfort. There is no need to go to Nevsky prospect to be lost in the crowd of tourists.

Travel to Saint-Petersburg, Russia
Saint-Petersburg roofs / Photo by https://instagram.com/evgeniaanikeeva/

Micro-world of pit-yards

During my first years in Saint-Petersburg I specially hated walking through the famous pit-yards. I felt their despair and each attempt to understand their beauty ended up in a slight depression. I was always surprised how sincerely tourists admire all “Dostoevschina” things (those related to Dostoevsky’s vision of Saint-Petersburg). Later on, I fell in love with those yards myself.

Some days you go out of your communal flat for a beer and, voila, there is a movie being shot in your yard, and all of a sudden Mr. Sokurov (the famous Russian movie director) is asking you for a cigarette.

You fall into the chilly micro-world of Saint-Petersburg’s pit-yards, with their dusty windows, local kids playing around, grouchy old women, intelligent alcoholics, annoying doves and seagulls…what was supposed to be a simple walk for a beer ends up as half of the day outside. You forget about where you planned to go and why.

It is especially magical to look into the small parts of the blue saint-petersburg’s sky between the grey old buildings and think about something special for you.

North Thailand

Once, a famous Russian history teacher from Saint-Petersburg, Lev Lurye,  rightly said: «The main peculiarity about Saint-Petersburg is the low performance of its citizens. There is no hustling in the city. You earn a bit of money, you go to Dumskaya or Rubinshteina street, have a drink, go to Cinema House, then read a book on the beach of Peter and Paul Fortress. Saint-Petersburg is like North Thailand”.

Saint-Petersburg bars, cafes and restaurants are concentrated in few places. There are two famous bar streets, Dumskaya and Rubinshteina, which cross Nevsky avenue in the centre. Along Dumskay street you will find cheap student bars with good music and – always – some party going on.  Even without money you will find your way here.

Basically, Dumskaya is a street of bars, from “Dacha” to “Fidel” bars, to which locals and tourists are attracted like magnets: foreigners, hipsters, creative class, bohemians and all sorts of trendy people. They spend the night going from one place to another. In the summer during white nights all that fun goes out onto to the streets and Dumskaya becomes a single bar with chatting tables.

Travel to Saint-Petersburg, Russia
Restaurant Schastye / Photo http://schastye.com/

Not that young and have a bit of money?

Those who are not as young as they used to be, and with a bit more money, spend their evenings in restaurants and bars on Rubinshteina  street. It was there that the famous Russian writer Sergey Dovlatov lived. You will find nice places, restaurants such as “Schastie”, “Deti Rayka” and “Tsvetochki”. A bit farther from Nesvky you can find cult bars as the “Mitte” and “Five Points”.

The most trendy places are closer to Nevsky avenue. The imposing and snobby “Fiddler’s Green”, where visitors only drink Irish beer and Bushmills with barmen. The hospitable Cuba restaurant “O Cuba” with a fantastic cadillac from the 60’s in the middle of the room. The legendary “Bar Slona” (Elephant bar) and the hipster karaoke-bar “Poison. The cozy “Saigon” bar, where you can see some slightly drunk poets and writers killing their time while the girls from the opposite restaurant blow kisses their way. On Friday nights Rubinshteina street definitely reminds me Berlin’s Kreuzberg.

Travel to Saint-Petersburg, Russia
Restaurant Deti Rayka / Photo by https://www.facebook.com/detirayka/photos_stream

My uncle once told me that the kindest girls were from Saint-Petersburg.  I think I get what he meant. The local girls are are very easygoing (we call it  – windy) in a good way. The reason must be the endless wind.  They are smart, light and carefree.  It’s impossible to find another place in the world where you have a minimum of two beautiful girls per square metre. Of course, I’ve just made this up (but it should not be too far from being true).

At last. In the second part of the XVIII century a french traveler by the name of Ségur wrote: «Saint-Petersburg offers a dual sight: at the same time  you can see here enlightenment and barbarism, Asia and Europe, Scythian and Europeans, fine nobility and ignorant crowd». Segur is a fool, of course. But since then nothing has changed.

And it is damn amazing….


More reading on Saint-Petersburg:

Saint-Petersburg by locals


From Instagram of @evgeniaanikeeva


BEST OF RUSSIA – 2015

“Best of Russia” photo contest

Here in this post we want to share with you the most interesting photos from the annually held photo contest “Best of Russia-2015”. This contest is unprecedented in scale, covering all regions of Russia and very popular among Russian and foreign audience.

Basically any person who enjoys photography, either as a recognised photographer or amateur, can participate in the project. The only requirement is that photographs must have been taken in Russia.

The project’s goal is to authentically capture a year in the life of Russia in the most vivid and creative ways. All winning photographs are published in catalogue and presented in the exhibition “Best of Russia” at WINZAVOD Centre for Contemporary Art.

Last year more than 20 thousands photographers submited their photos to the contest, which were taken in more than 600 different locations in Russian and more than 80 thousands people visited the photo exhibition in WINZAVOD.

ENJOY THE BEAUTY

Saint-Petersburg by locals

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Written originally in Russian by Ruslan Bekurov 

Writer, Associated professor at Saint-Petersburg State University
October 17

Travel to Saint-Petersburg, Russia
Kazan Cathedral in sunset time

I am probably about to say a very banal thing that Saint-Peterburg is a different city for each of us. Some people like Saint-Peterburg’s winter, some are crazy about walking during summer without aim around Petrogradka (one of the biggest islands in Saint-Petersburg). Some love its museum and palaces, others get this insatiable desire for going out and getting drunk.

People are different and the city is perceived differently by them as well. That is why I talked to my friends and graduates from Saint-Petersburg State University about their life in Saint-Petersburg and their inner experience of the city.  Believe me, they know and love Saint-Petersburg more than I do.


Alena Davidova journalist from Saint-Petersburg

Alena Davidova, 37
Eco-journalist and teacher at Saint-Petersburg State University. She was born and lives in Saint-Petersburg.

Saint-Petersburg is a special place, not only for me, but for the whole world. It is a very big city sitting by the sea, with a beautiful centre, either historically, architecturally and culturally. With a very vivid and youthful culture, cool bars, gardens and parks. This city offers you incredible opportunities for long-miles of walking by foot, tirelessly enjoying the familiar views.

I like walking around Saint-Petersburg without aim – it energizes me, gives me fresh and new ideas, time to think about life situations from different points of view,  to mature my story or text, clear my head or the opposite, to concentrate and dive inside.

Travel to Saint-Petersburg, Russia
Photo by egra.35photo.ru

I like Saint-Petesburg’s islands a lot: small (Elagin, Kamenniy, Krestovsky) and large (Petrogradsky and Vasilyevsky). I like having a stroll there, make picnics with my friends and reading. Another of my favourite places are the bar streets  – Rubinshteina, Belinskogo, Pravdy. I love the Pesky and Kolomna areas. It is very interesting to explore the Northern part of the city. And of course I love Pushkin and Pavlovsk suburbs, and both sides of the Gulf of Finland.

Usually we have drinks with friends in the bars of Belinskogo, Zhukovskogo, Nekrasova and Pravdy streets. There is also a “Green room” in Loft Project Etazhi and emerging creative clusters on Vosstaniya,  Sovetskaya Eight streets and others.

I would recommend to have a walk around Saint-Petersburg islands, get to the city’s roofs  – it is even better to find the bars there, walk through the yards of Vasilyevsky and Petrogradsky islands. Spend an evening in Shashlichnaya (where you can try shashlik – shish kebab) on the Lieutenant Schmidt embarkment during the white nights, watching the bridges opening and closing, and again opening, at the same time glazing how the long flat barges creep into the bridges shining like congers. Try “Dockers” bar in yacht club on Vasilyevsky island, walk along the Smolenka river and visit Petrovskaya Kosa area.

Honestly, the climate in Saint-Peterburg is not one of the best in the world, especially from November to March. Points of access to the sea are lacking and there is no developed water public transport. Another thing missing, here, are green areas, parks, where you can rest on the grass and greenery in inner yards and along the streets.

Travel to Saint-Petersburg, Russia
Petrovkskaya kosa

 


Nikita Lisovoy, the owner of communication agency

Nikita Lisovoy, 29
Head of communication agency in the field of sport. He has lived in Saint-Petersburg for 12 years.

Saint-Petersburg is “specially” special. This notoriously banal metaphysical aura, about which local rock musicians like to talk so much, definitely exists. Saint-Petersburg resembles a bit a coastal resort city.  It is very difficult to work here, you constantly want to have fun, lazy around and think about life. Recently one of my friends told me that Saint-Petersburg is the best city in the world for doing things without any practical utility. Of course, there are a lot of seductions here: girls, alcohol, nature, interesting people and sports.

No matter how strong you are, Saint-Petersburg will influence you a lot. It will bring over you a kind of unique melancholia and sometimes even a depressive mood. I think for most part of the year. But during the summer season you will be thinking: OMG Saint-Petersburg, why are you like this only three months a year!

Winter in Saint-Petersburg, travel to Russia
Winter time

Last years I’ve worked closely with SKA hockey club – a winner of Gagarin Cup. Therefore I’ve spent a lot of time in the Ice Palace, where this club plays, and that is my favourite place in the city for now. I love it for the endless atmosphere of celebration.

My favourite place to lazy around is Krestovsky island – the green point in the heart of the city. This place is special due to its respectable infantilism: I’ve noticed there that even “old” men, after 50-s, have a good-looking skin . Each time I am on Krestovsky island, I want to ask them, “What do you apply on your skin?”. Comparing to them I look like an old man, even though I am only in my late 20-s. Plus, they all drive cool jeeps (smile). And the most important,  financial crisis never set foot on Krestovky island and everybody wants to live there.

Couple in Saint-Petersburg, travel to Russia
Photo by tigrotour.kz

Regarding where to eat, I really like “Сhajhana” cafe on Griboedova channel (close to metro Sennaya) — they have one of the best lamian in the city and the prices are incredibly affordable. If you are for authenticity, harsh characters, harsh visitors’ behaviors, crazy tasty food and real samarkand pilaf, then there is another “Сhajhana” on Uralskaya street, that is a great choice.

Another of my favourites is “Teplo” cafe, which means Warm in english, situated by St. Isaac’s Cathedral. It is for those who believe that waiters can become your best friends from the first visit.

It is cool to spend a night at “Beatnik” club.  It is a bit of a glamorous place, but not too much. Rich hipsters usually party there, but that doesn’t prevent you from dancing to full exhaustion while enjoying fresh air and playing table tennis. For those who are prone to spend a night luxuriously – there is one of the well-known “Buddha-bar” here in Saint-Petersburg. But be careful with your wallet and bills – they are cheating there, smart little fucks.

And of course, for crazy parties go to Dumskaya street. Definitely a visit there comes with a strong morning headache, also,  don’t forget, there is always the possibility of getting into a fight if you drink and stay there too much…On the other hand it is almost certain that you’ll come home with a girl.

You need to love Saint-Peterburg, to live here. The thing that is lacking the most, of course, is the sun. Along with a lack of positivism, easiness and simplicity. It would be great to add a bit of Russia’s South to this city and then, I swear you, it will be the best city in the world. But as people say, a city built on bones will never be easy or light. But, God, 300 years have already passed, it should be forgotten…


Gleb Krampec, the head of PR-agency in Saint-Petersburh

Gleb Krampec, 32
Head of a PR-agency. He has lived in Saint-Petersburg for 15 years.

I would say that Saint-Peterburg is the only european place in Russia with its own image. It is a city that, surprisingly, keeps its integrity, although I feel it is becoming  more and more an average megapolis. This city still has its authentic atmosphere, which is unique and doesn’t fade, despite all the horrible things that happened to Saint-Peterburg and its citizens during the XXth century. I can’t say it has a very friendly atmosphere, but if you merge with the city, it will become for you the best city in the world. At least from April till September.

Here, I should say, the cultural level is higher than average for Russia. I’ve also noticed that newcomers try to raise their cultural level when they get here. I believe the opposite is true for Moscow, in that “endless fair”. You can’t escape comparisons with Moscow – that is another Saint-Peterburg peculiarity.

As to the comfort of life, it is spoiled by the main tourist attraction – movable bridges. And if during summer time it is a pleasure to watch them, in November, missing the last call to cross is not such a big pleasure (you will get stranded on the wrong side of the city).

Travel to Saint-Petersburg, Russia
Photo by petrushanov.livejournal.com

Life in Saint-Petersburg is a bit slower than in Moscow where most of my clients reside. This affects the business relations as well. Although, the difference seems to fade with time.

For city walks I usually prefer the centre. For such strolls I recommend you to choose comfortable and waterproof shoes (depending on season) and go around the “Golden Triangle”, from time to time dropping in bars and small restaurants. If you have time visit the suburban parks  – my favourite is Pavlovsky Park, it is the biggest and least taken care of. If you don’t have time to visit these,  have a picnic on Elagin island in the city itself.  During summer time there are lots of musical and gastronomical festivals taking place.

An obvious choice, but definitely worth going is the Hermitage. Take at least a few days to spend there, exploring its permanent and temporary collection. Besides the classical exhibition, I really recommend you to pay attention to the contemporary art. You would be lucky if you have a chance to talk to the Hermitage staff.  They are all unique and wonderful people, thanks to whom Hermitage remains as the centre of cultural life in Saint-Petersburg.

If you are crazy about Theatre, and understand Russian, then I highly recommend you BDT (Tovstonogov Bolshoi Drama Theatre) and MDT (Akademicheskiy Malyy Dramaticheskiy teatre). BDT, under the guidance of a new art director, Andrey Moguchiy, is returning its name as the foremost theatre in the country. Hurry up to catch a chance to see “Alisa”, starring Alisa Freindlich in the main role (she is already an old lady).

Hermitage, travel to Saint-Petersburg, Russia
The General Staff Building of Hermitage after recent reconstruction / Photo by http://www.nvspb.ru

Saint-Petersburg is a seaside city and if you want to have a real water excursion, don’t choose a ride through the canals, but instead visit the forts of Kronstadt  – it usually leaves a very strong impression.

I like drinking on Vasilyevsky island, in Helsinki Bar and in Brugge gastro-pub. In the first one you will find excellent nastoyka and a cheerful atmosphere, in the second one – a huge choice of beer and author’s zakuski (entrées and snacks, served before the main course).

In the city centre, for fans of asian cuisine, I would recommend Wong Kar Wine, Jack & Chan and King Pong cafes. All serve very tasty food, have original menus, good choice of wine (in the first two) and are very well-priced.

I also want to mention Bekitzer bar, close to “Five corners” crossroad . It is an Israeli street-food, which goes well with Israeli shiraz and israeli dubstep. And, of course, the legendary Rumochnaya (vodka room) on Pushkinskaya 5. It is a nice place, with tall tables and very simple, but very tasty food. It is a pity, that you can’t smoke there anymore – with smoke it was much more authentic.


More reading:

See Saint-Petersburg and die – NOT


Bali, Temples and Meditation

Words by Micael Nussbaumer | October 13

Temples and religion

Even if part of a country where the majority is Muslim, Bali has kept its particular religion alive and well throughout the times. Due to the trade with India this small island has developed its own brand of Hinduism, expressed daily at different times throughout the whole year and throughout the whole island.

We stayed there for two months and we didn’t stay exactly in the touristic centres, but rather around them, and this gave us a very good opportunity to witness the religious traditions of the island. If only staying in Ubud one might wonder if all the religious ceremonies and spectacles are kept just for sake of tourism. We all know that the romanticised idea of ancient, untouched, culturally rich and unique religious practices are a good attraction, but, as we continually saw, day after day, these traditions seem to actually be truthful expressions of the island inhabitants religious culture.

Travel to Bali, Indonesia
everyday life

When we stayed in Bukit (the first month), we got to visit some temples, including Uluwatu. What was curious and against our expectations was that the inner grounds of most temples weren’t accessible to tourists – unless you’re entering to perform prayers or attending a specific ceremony.

You also had to wear the accordingly religious outfit and women were “forbidden” from entering during their menstruation cycle. If not for anything else, this kinda gave the impression that the temples were taken very seriously, otherwise they would be completely open.

Another thing that we witnessed were the rituals that our host family did during the period we stayed there. Every night some candles were lit, every morning some offerings were made and every couple of days some ceremony was taking place, either at home, in the family temple or the community temple. Each “house” complex is formed by the main houses, “dikubu”‘s (smaller annexes) and of course a temple.

The practises involve mostly offerings, music, singing and ritualistic performances. One could think that people there would have a deep knowledge of their own religion but as it seemed – and as it happens in a great deal of religiously active communities even in the west –  they didn’t.

Religion was practised because it was culturally rooted, and not because of some intellectualised idea of divinity, it had instead a practical and humanistic approach behind it. The “world” is inhabited by spirits and forces, that are both bad and good, and to keep the balance and be endowed with luck (attract the good and repel the bad) you should pay your respect to the “spirits” and their natural materialisation (volcanoes, sea, etc), to your ancestors and to your community.

Religion was practised because it was culturally rooted, and not because of some intellectualised idea of divinity, it had instead a practical and humanistic approach behind it.

travel-to-Bali-Indonesia-traditional-dance
Little dancers are ready to perform in Bali, Indonesia

Doing your part in the community was and is a very important aspect of the religious practice there. You would be frowned upon, in a way, if you didn’t take part in the ceremonies, and it seems more because you didn’t make the effort to be part of the communal gatherings than because of some superstition related to it.

Ceremonies are constantly happening, and they’re regulated by the lunar calendar. Other than that the island is completely populated by temples. When we were already staying near Ubud we went for a few long walks and we found, completely abandoned, on the margins of the rivers, several small temples and I would highly encourage you to go around and find them by yourself – the fact that they were abandoned and completely away from the usual track really gave them a special touch – like when you think you discovered something unique and that most people will never see.

If you’re interested in symbols, Hinduism, or spirituality you’ll certainly find Bali a very interesting place to visit. I have an innate curiosity towards the symbolic aspects of religion and in that sense Bali is a never-ending stream of experiences. The swasticas – the Nazi ill-famed symbol – are to be found in many places.

If you ask an Hindu or a Buddhist the meaning of it, they all say it’s a good omen, a symbol of good fortune as the sanskrit name implies, it’s a symbol that was highly present throughout human history and throughout many parts of the world but nowadays most people in the west associated with Nazism.

Another beautiful thing is the thrones that oversee each temple. In each temple there are two smallish thrones carved in stone and standing high. Although I’m not sure of the reasons for these two thrones they seem to be inviting something to sit on them to attend the ceremonies and bless the event.

You’ll also find various depictions of spirits, both good and bad, in stone, wood and ceremonies. One interesting aspect of the Balinese religious culture is the assumption that “bad” and “good” are mutually defining and essential to each other. Although most monotheistic cultures such as Christianity and Islam place a very high emphasis on the “good” aspects of God, for the Balinese it seems that it’s understandable that goodness always goes hand in hand with badness – a yin-yang sort of thing – this, I think, is one of the most interesting aspects of this religious culture.

One interesting aspect of the Balinese religious culture is the assumption that “bad” and “good” are mutually defining and essential to each other.

Meditation

I practise meditation, and have practised throughout more than 5 years already. I meditate “every” day – ok, sometimes I don’t but in overall I would say that more than 90% of my days – and I always find interesting what people associate with meditation, among people who don’t do it and practitioners or enthusiasts.

turim_mic2860

Most people associate it with “zen” like characteristics, servant goodness, and full thankfulness for every and any thing going on. I don’t know where that comes from actually. Meditation, to me, helps me focus and unfocus. It helps me maintain a certain balance (and balance implies opposites) and I would never associate it with pure “good” or anything of the sort. It does help accepting and understanding certain things though and that propels you to move forward. It sounds quite self-defeating to meditate in order to become some sort of “all-loving” creature.

If anything related, I would say that meditation can help you keep focus when you need it, can help you understand yourself and what gives rise to your thought processes and maybe disconnect you a bit from the “real-world”. Saying more than that is in my opinion “new-age” advertisement and if you’re considering or pursuing meditation with such an intent I’m not sure you’re doing yourself any good.

As the Balinese seem to remember, life feeds on life. Their volcanoes are not only materialisation of their gods, but a materialisation that brings and destroys life. The sea for them is a treacherous, dark and powerful force.

Tanah Lot temple, travel to Bali
Tanah Lot Temple

And it seems that despite having been “colonised” by the Dutch, instead of accepting their fate as servants of these new world discoverers and explorers, most of their elite chose at the time to end their lives by marching against the Dutch troops without standing a single chance, something that I believe requires a great deal of character and moral fibre – how many would accept to end their life if given the chance to live even if as slaves or subjugated.

“Where is it I’ve read that someone condemned to death says or thinks, an hour before his death, that if he had to live on some high rock, on such a narrow ledge that he’d only room to stand, and the ocean, everlasting darkness, everlasting solitude, everlasting tempest around him, if he had to remain standing on a square yard of space all his life, a thousand years, eternity, it were better to live so than to die at once. Only to live, to live and live! Life, whatever it may be!”
― Fyodor DostoyevskyCrime and Punishment

Pura Besakih temple, travel to Bali
Pura Besakih Temple

If for nothing else, that alone justifies visiting Bali and the numerous temples that can be found all around the island.


More reading on Bali:

Top ten things to do in Bali
Our favourite beaches in Bali
– Bali postcards
Stay with local family while traveling


 

Cafes in Hanoi or the city of a thousand coffees

Words by Anna Lebedeva | October 7

The city of a thousand cafes

There are lots of stereotype sayings about worldly famous cities like Venice is the city of million bridges, Saint-Petersburg is all about “White Nights”,  Paris is the city of love or Amsterdam is either about Red District, tulip fields or bicycles (so many things about such a small city).

After having spent one month and a half in Hanoi, we started thinking on how to describe the city in the same manner as above – and we came up with what we think is the most suitable for Hanoi – “The city of a thousand cafes”. You can say “How come? It is a communist state, I’m sure everybody is working for the brightening of the country’s future, either in slave work or closely monitored boring office work”. If you think so, you need to eat more noodles.

You can say “How come? It is a communist state, I’m sure everybody is working for the brightening of the country’s future, either in slave work or closely monitored boring office work”. If you think so, you need to eat more noodles.

Hanoi, travel to Vietnam
Hoan Kiem

Cafes are literally everywhere – like – everywhere – like ATM’s should be everywhere – you just walk and voila, another cafe. We’ve travelled quite a bit and visited pretty much of Southeast Asia and we’ve never seen such an abundance of affordable nice cafes like in Hanoi. It really boasts a plethora of cafes of different types and genres: from affordable and tasty street food with plastic chairs and tables to more fancy and cool-hipster-mustache-trendy-sort-of-things.

Such an enormous choice and good quality make deciding “where to go today” one of the most hard daily tasks you’ll ever have to figure out.

And WIFI? WIFI is EVERYWHERE and for free.

And the most interesting things about vietnamese (old or younger ones) is that they are like “professional outgoers”. It seems that whenever they have a chance they go out together, chat a lot and consider this as an important thing of everyday ritual. While in some countries that attempted socialism the ambience could be better described as monotonous, here it’s quite lively – although we aren’t sure about the communist part of it.

Among locals it is customary to relax a bit while enjoying your soup pho after having a hard working day. While many think Vietnam is quite poor in reality you never see homeless people asking for money – either young or old, everybody seems to do something for their own life. That is probably a result of the influence of Chinese culture, that has been present in Vietnam for almost all its contemporary history and is characterised by long-hours hardworking approach. As a side note, when we were in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) we got to see that many businesses were run by Chinese, even though their numbers are slightly below 25% of the population.

Back to cafes, to our surprise we got to know that Vietnam is the second biggest coffee exporter in the world (after Brazil and before Indonesia).  Coffee and everything around it is a big thing for vietnamese people – and for us as well – you can try coffee with egg (yummy!), yogurt (refreshing!) or just order the basic black or white Vietnamese coffee with ice (ca-phe-da and you have to spell it like you were a cartoon). You can get it everywhere and usually for about a dollar.

We’ll leave you with 5 of our favourite places to work remotely (not only for a quick coffee but to stay & eat):

Hanoi Social Club

Cafe Hanoi Social Club, travel to Hanoi
Hanoi Social Club

Hanoi Social Club it’s tucked in a small secondary street, surrounded by many clothing shops (girls – you’ll not regret a trip there). It has an open rooftop, several interior areas and a shop. It’s a cool place to hangout, neatly decorated. The menu is quite varied and the prices are more western-like.

Puku cafe

Puku cafe, travel to Hanoi
Puku cafe

Puku cafe is open 24h/7. It’s very comfortable to sit there working, WIFI is very good, they have a good menu with many wine options and the prices are reasonable for what you get. Besides the closed areas they have an outside terrace where people gather in the evening to have a beer.

Highlands coffee

Highlands coffee, travel to Hanoi
Highlands coffee

Highlands coffee is the vietnamese Starbucks – but with discount. It’s very pleasant to work there and there are quite a few throughout Hanoi. WIFI is good, you usually can have a set meal for about 50.000VND (around 2$), big coffee shake for 60.000VND (around 3$) and a banh mi sandwich with chicken or tuna for 18.000VND (less than 1$). We visited them near St. Joseph Cathedral (the one in the photo) but our favourite is by Hoan Kiem lake.

Сa phe pho co cafe

Сa phe pho co cafe, travel to Hanoi
Сa phe pho co cafe

This one is quite near the Hoan Kiem lake, but tucked in a small corridor behind a store front to the street. It has 3 different levels and they have many varieties of coffee. It doesn’t have air-con so when it’s very hot and you’re not heat resistant it might get a bit sticky. Nonetheless it’s a cozy place and you can try egg coffee or yogurt coffee, both of them are approved.

Cong Caphe cafe

Cong Caphe cafe, travel to Hanoi
Cong Caphe cafe

Cong Caphe is a hip coffee/bar, with an extensive list of cocktails, well-done and fairly priced. It’s specially popular with young trendy vietnamese. They have many locations and we’ve been to the Old Quarter one and another by St. Joseph Cathedral. Both looked super cool and the cocktails were worth it – which can be a problem if you’re going to work…


Related links:


Bali postcards

Bali postcards

After our one month stay in Kuala Lumpur we headed to Bali, knowing nothing at all about this place, despite being one of the most popular world destination for tourists and surfers. We were a bit sceptic about our choice  – we were expecting mobs of tourist, extremely busy beaches and inflated prices. Our fears were unfunded: we ended up staying for two months, even when we had to overpay quite a bit for our urgent visa prolongations.

For the first month we were looking to stay somewhere by the beach and we chose Bukit peninsula, the most southern point of Bali. It is especially popular among the surfer community, but much less crowded than the enormously popular Kuta and much more picturesque and authentic than the polished Nusa Dua.

Bukit is still, to our surprise, not that developed (as probably it should be) and that is the biggest advantage of this place. It consists of small villages around the beach line, offering plenty of accommodation options such as small hotels and private homestays. We wrote a separate post about beaches on Bali, check it out to get an idea where to stay.

On the second month we moved to Ubud area, a famously known town in the center of Bali – due to “Eat, Pray and Love” movie, that we never heard about before. And that was our second surprise. First, because there were many small villages around the overcrowded and deeply tourist Ubud. And it was in these small local villages that we found cozy and peaceful places to stay – independent houses rented by local families.

It was a good idea of us to go explore and ask around. In the end we spent almost the entire month in Laplapan village and then Kampung hill, which allowed us to enjoy all of Ubud infrastructure, but at the same time live in more serene areas, surrounded by nature.

Ubud itself is the perfect point for exploring Bali. It has a very good access to temples, lakes, mountains and local villages. But that is the topic of our next post.

Portraits of Asia

The portraits‬ of people we met on our way in Asia‬

We used to think that Asia was in a way a single thing, when it is so many different things even within a single country. During our trip we’ve collected the portraits of India, Cambodia, Nepal,Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia.


Our favourite beaches in Bali | Bukit

Words by Anna Lebedeva | August 27

Bali and its beaches

Beaches…This post ought to be my favourite one. You know, white sands, surfers and the monotonous yet strong ocean sound.  Bali has become our number one place in our to live&travel&freelance list. 

I will try to be as objective as I can about Bali and not to exaggerate that much, I know that when you like some place you become biased about it.   We spent there 2 months and we would have stayed there a bit more, if only the visa was easier to extend without previous proper planning.

It is indeed a very interesting place to visit or to live for some time. It combines beaches, great surf spots, lush nature, good food, “culture” and great accommodation  at the best quality&price in the whole South East Asia. It is hard to wish for more. But Bali itself is a separate topic for one of our next posts.

So let’s get back to the most important – where are the best beaches in Bali?

Surf spot at Bingin beach, Bukit, travel to Bali
Surf spot at Bingin beach, Bukit

And here is a small remark right away. If you are going to Bali just for a great beach holiday, then maybe it is not that good idea. Thailand will offer you much better beaches for swimming and taking the proper sunbath. If you are expecting bounty beaches with white sand, palms and villas surrounding them, then change your mind (smiling).

Bali is not about that, it is more about a strong ocean with character, beautiful  – sometimes rough  – scenery and of course world-class surf spots. Sometimes waves are so high, that swimming is practically impossible in many places – unless you are very comfortable in strong waters. In those kind of days you will have to wait for the low tide while reading a book and drinking a beer or coconut juice on the beach. But believe me it is worth anyway.

Bukit, travel to Bali
Map of Bukit peninsula, Bali

Bukit peninsula

Our first month was spent on the southern part of the island – Bukit peninsula, where we found the most serene and cozy beaches we’ve seen in Bali. Most of them surrounded from both sides by sharp cliffs, offering you great views of the ocean crashing into the rocky shore. At low tide when the sea retreats you can see the naked bottom made of rocks and corals,  previously bathed by the clean bluish ocean. One other thing that is great about Bukit it is not that crowded as other more popular tourist places in Bali.

Bukit is particularly famous for advanced surfing. In case you go to Bali for surf bear in mind that this part of the island is definitely not for beginners. If you are at the starting point of your “wave career” you better go to Kuta or the surrounding Seminyak and Legian. There are lots of schools and trainers available right on the beach, coupled with excellent waves for beginners.

View from Swamis cafe at Bingin beach, travel to Bali
View from Swamis cafe at Bingin beach, Bukit

Kuta is the bustling tourist center of Bali, which never sleeps. It is a compact city, full of bars/cafes/restaurants and varied accommodation for relatively good prices. There it is easy to walk around and there is no need  to rent a motorbike (although we definitely advise you to do so and explore the island).

If you are for night life, having parties and making acquaitances, then Kuta should be your choice. We personally found Kuta a bit too noisy and overcrowded, we prefer calmer  places like the ones you can find on Bukit.

Kuta beach, travel to Bali
Kuta beach

So we went to Bukit, the heart of surfing Bali. Its atmosphere differs a lot from the rest of the island, as there are mostly surfers living there, adding a very particular aura to the area. Life starts there very early in the morning to catch up the morning waves and ends almost right after the dawn, to go sleep early  – again to catch the waves next morning. No big parties or other “unnecessary extravaganza” that can divert surfers from their mission in Bali.  Bukit is a very tranquil and quiet place, with no traffic jams and masses of people, and this makes it so different from Kuta.

Bukit is a very tranquil and quiet place, with no traffic jams and masses of people, and this makes it so different from Kuta.

Strong waves at Dreamland beach in Bukit, travel to Bali
Strong waves at Dreamland beach, Bukit

Where we stayed

We found a very nice brand new place, made as a guest house in the compound of a local family, situated in the Pecatu area between Padang Padang and Binging beaches. It is very common among local families to build one or a few extra houses (they called them dikubu) inside the yard and rent it out for travelers. We enjoy staying with local families as usually it adds a bit of personal touch to our traveling and give you a great chance to learn more about the local culture and the way of living –  directly from the hands of locals.

Our place was great. We could  reach both beaches  in 15-20 minutes by walking and in 5 min by driving a bike – the only downside was the lack of internet, but this was easily solved by going to any coffee around. Other alternative is to stay closer to one of the beaches and commute to others by bike when needed. As for the accomodation prices, in Bukit area, it varies from $15 to $30 for a couple stay in a nice, well taken care of and friendly place (usually with wifi and breakfast included).

And here is the list I want to share with you –  our favourite beaches on Bukit peninsula:

Padang Padang {ups, no proper photo}

This is the most famous beach in the Bukit area, thanks to the movie and the book “Eat, Pray and Love”, which I have never actually seen, nor read, nor intend to. It is indeed a very picturesque place, hidden beneath and surrounded by cliffs. To get there you will have to hike down a narrow path of steps going through the cliff.

The best time to arrive there is early morning or by the sunset, when there are not that many people. Usually during the daytime this place is overcrowded. Anyway, I would say it is worth visiting for its beauty, good conditions for swimming and one of the best sunsets on the island. There are plenty of places to stay around, but nothing on the beach itself. Also, there is only one restaurant stall offering food and drinks right on the beach. I would not count on eating there, but for beer and drinks it is pretty fine.

Padang Padang beach in Bukit, travel to Bali
Around Padang Padang beach, Bukit

Bingin

Our second closest neighbour was Bingin beach, where we spend most of our time. It is a few times bigger than Padang Padang and thanks god it is not that popular, there is enough free space to put your towel without bumping into anyone. Bingin is a very popular beach among the surfer community, who are the most common clients there. Views of well shaped tanned bodies and broad smiles are guaranteed there.

I also think Bingin is the only beach on Bukit that is offering accommodation right by the sea, with Guest Houses and villas situated on the high cliffs overlooking the ocean. Another great advantage of Bingin is the many cafes and restaurants, with good food and wifi.  If you go by sunset you will see plenty of tables set on the sand, offering a great ambience to eat some fresh fish for a dinner.

Ocean at Bingin beach, travel to Bali
View from Swamis cafe at Bingin beach, Bukit

There is only one drawback about Bingin –  you have to be quite careful while swimming there, stones under the water are pretty high and if there is low tide you can easily cut yourself if you are not cautious.

Balangan

It could be described as something between Padang Padang and Bingin. On Balangan there is a lot of free space and a few good cafes like on Binging, but there is no accommodation right on the beach – which is the same as with Padang Padang. Balangan beach is very spacious and good for swimming outside low tide. The only  drawback of this beach is that most of the accommodations are located 15 mins drive and walking by foot is not that great.

Balangan beach, Bukit, travel to Bali
Balangan beach, Bukit

Dreamland (New Kuta beach)

What can I add here (smiling)? They don’t call it dreamland for nothing. It is a beautiful white sand beach stretching a few hundred meters, tucked between steep stone cliffs overlooking the amazing Indian Ocean. It is only 20 min drive from Kuta and the Aiport. It is one of the most popular surfing points in Bali  –  during the dry season the waves here are powerful and big.

Unfortunately, recently the beach has undergone a massive construction project and all the locals cafes, warungs, were  dismantled. You will not find budget cafes or cheap accommodation around. Behind the beach there is an elite resort area under development,  it was planned to have luxury hotels and five stars services and facilities, but it seems the project failed to come true. Nonetheless the beach itself is gorgeous, spacious and not that crowded and you get to see the amazing statue of the mighty Arjuna surfing a wave at the entrance.

 



More reading on Bali:

Bali, temples and meditation
Top ten things to do in Bali
– Bali postcards
– Stay with local family while traveling


 

Our fifteen essential travel tips after 270 days of moving around the world

Words by Anna Lebedeva | August 9

Essential travel tips

Making the most out of traveling is not only about creating the right route or having a comfortable budget. It is also about being prepared for different situations that can happen on your way. I am not gonna talk about extreme cases or so called “force major”, as thanks to the universe that kind of things have never happened to me and I hope they never will (smile).  Knock on the wood.

Here is a list of a very basic things to do before going on travel. These travel tips are very simple, yet when we prepare for a trip we tend to be overwhelmed with decisions and overlook obvious things like these tips I am going to share with you.

I wish I knew all those things before starting my traveling as at certain times they would have made my life a bit easier. But as it is said “Wisdom comes with experience”.

(1) Duplicate your bank card and check your main card expiration date

This travel tips is really the most important one. Before embarking either on a short or a long trip, it is worth visiting your home bank to request a duplicate of your bank card. Yes, you will spend some time and probably a bit of money, but the card duplicate can really “save” you in an unlucky event, such as theft or leaving your card in an ATM.

Once I forgot my card in one ATM in Indonesia, it was Friday and I spent the whole weekend without cash. However, I was lucky enough that I was spending some time in this area so it was a short distance for me to come back and pick up my card on Monday. Now imagine I had booked a flight for Saturday. All of a sudden I would be left without a card or I would have to cancel the flight. It could even  get worse in case my visa was expiring, which would leave me without choice. And we all know how difficult it is to get a new card when you are not in your home country.

Another travel tip that immediately comes to mind, if you are going for a long time, check your credit card expiration date so to be sure that it covers the period of your traveling.

Here is our post about budgeting your travel in Asia.

Travel to Asia
My bank cards

(2) Inform your home bank about your travel

When doing a transaction outside your home country, your bank may turn off your card if it was not notified about your traveling abroad. It is a common security measure to prevent possible frauds. 

(3) Make copies, scan your documents and save them to the cloud

These are important files to have with you and in case you somehow lose them you’ll at least have copies. Most of the times when you go out you will not want to take your passport, but a copy can come in handy. Also in case of applying for a visa online, the scanned copy of your ID will make this process less complicated and much easier. Besides this, if you want an extra layer of security, you can upload your scanned documents to an external cloud drive, such as Google Drive or Dropbox, this will make them available anywhere at anytime as long as you have an Internet connection.

(4) Check local Instagrammers

By using geotagging you can find photographs of places taken by locals. It is actually the easiest way to find out the best spots (which are out of track of guidebooks) in the area you are visiting. If a local  likes a place and shares it, then it should be something good and probably not that touristy. 

(5) Back up your laptop content

This can REALLY save your life in case your laptop is stolen or lost somewhere. Use an external hard disk or any reliable cloud service. Or maybe even both. 

(6) Pack all chargers in hand luggage  

That is a good practice to follow. In case your plane is delayed or your luggage is lost you always stay connected.  If you have things to be done on your laptop you are always sure you can charge it somewhere. Usually it is not that easy to find a charger store at airports, and, if you do find, the price is considerably higher than normal. 

(7) It is better to pack a bit less than a bit more

That is especially true for budget travellers who prefer traveling with budget airlines because those always charge extra for luggage. And you will see that every kg matters. Also, often, it is quite cheap to buy a few clothes if the need arises, than carrying around unnecessary stuff, that may not even be of use. 

(8) Download offline maps – Maps.me

Usually I don’t buy local SIM cards and I don’t use roaming – because it is devastatingly expensive. That means that Google Maps is not that helpful for me. I found a very good offline FREE application  maps.me  which provides you with very complete and detailed maps. They helped me a lot, either when I was strolling around a city or figuring out my route on a bike. I find this application to be the best offline map option.  It operates in the same way as Google Maps, but just offline. With maps.me you will get an instant and easy access to detailed maps. Just download the application, choose the map you need and you can be sure that you will never get lost.

Free offline maps Maps.Me, travel to Asia
Free offline maps Maps.Me

(9) A torch will not take much space and can really “light” your way

This is exactly one of the things I missed and one I needed so badly a few times. In some parts of Asia, special when you are not in a big city, electricity can go off quite often and it can take hours to come back. Let’s say you are staying somewhere in an island and you wish to go out for a meal or you are trekking somewhere and it is taking you a bit longer than expected, then a torch can save your stomach and nerves.

(10) Pack clothes that suit different occasions

If you are planning to visit a few countries or you are going on a longer trip without a predefined itinerary, bear in mind that every country has its own convention of what is appropriate to wear and what is not. In many Asian countries it is not acceptable to show up your body and you will feel uncomfortable because people will be staring at you with surprise or even slight despite.

Simply saying people dress much more modest and reserved in all Asian countries, than in Europe or Americas. Without doubt in most places locals will consider you as a tourist and give you a discount while judging your look. But at the same time it is better for you  – as a caring traveler  – to be respectful of the local culture by acknowledging their cultural codes with proper dressing. I would say that a long skirt, cotton pants and a full sleeve shirt can work out for many occasions in various countries. A rule of thumb – pack clothes that can work out in different situations.

(11) Scarf is your everything

You will not believe me, but this small piece of fabric “rescued” me, surprisingly, many times during my trip. It turned out to be the most useful accessory in my luggage-wardrobe: it covered my head and shoulders during the heat hours, it allowed me to enter temples, I used it as a sarong for taking part in ceremonies in Bali, it served me as a thing to lay down on the beach and as a protection during chilly motorbike rides  It can do literally everything, even protect you from bad spirits (smile).

Scarf collection for traveling
Scarf collection

(12) Don’t spare money on light waterproof shoes

A good pair of light waterproof shoes could be an expensive thing, I know. But they will pay off and  stay with you much longer than you expected. If you choose the right ones, you will not feel too warm or too cold wearing them (unless you are in Siberia). Basically good shoes will serve you well from +5 to +30 degrees.

They will fit any adventure you are into: rainy forest exploration, mountain climbing, trekking or sightseeing around the city. They will manage all those occasions and make you feel confident – even if you are strolling through a muddy forest you’ll feel like you are cat walking during Paris fashion week.

I had a wonderful pair of proven adventurous shoes Salomon XA PRO 3D, that I bought one year ago for my trip to Elbrus. They are light, bright colored, never get wet or never get too hot, they fit jeans and dress, and I really enjoy walking in them.

(13) Travel with a Backpack that fits your mobility

If you don’t have problems with your back, then you are a lucky one –  get a travel backpack for yourself. I got myself a wheel bag as I have a serious back problem, and that bag is now a big pain of mine.

Suitcases, handbags, wheel bags are all not that good options for a nomadic style of traveling, simply meaning moving from one place to another. A backpack will give you a certain level of flexibility and enhance your mobility. Imagine, you are finding your way on an unpaved road or you need to hike a hill to get to your accommodation, or you are in one of the Indian railway stations looking for the right platform to get to your train (usually you will not find there any escalator and the only option will be running 50 m stairs).  Believe me, a backpack will make those things much easier to handle.

Two kids with backpacks exploring a forest, traveling the world
Two kids with backpacks exploring a forest

(14) Clean your browser’s cache before buying tickets online

It is a very common practice among popular online services to show you a certain price (promo price) if you are visiting their website for the first time. The aim of the so-called promo price is to attract you as a potential customer and make you buy the first ticket online from a certain company.

If you visit the website a second time and you have cookies enabled the website will know that you are a returning customer and odds are that you really need to book a flight. Hence, they can raise the price. Before visiting again any website, just clean your browser’s cache or use incognito/private browsing. It can really make the difference.

(15) Accommodation

There are a few good platforms to help you find accommodation at your destination. We would recommend you the following ones if you want to book in advance; although, many times we book just for a few nights and, once there, we search around for  local spots and best deals. You can find many lovely guest houses and hotels around, but since they are run by not-very-tech-savvy people, you will not find them online.

  • http://www.couchsurfing.com – platform, global community of more than 9 million travellers, that helps finding accommodation with locals, where you can stay free of charge.
  • http://www.agoda.com   – the best booking resources we’ve ever experienced, often working with flash deals (kind of last-minute booking for extremely low prices).
  • www.airbnb.com – platform, initially created and known for offering bookings of nicely done local flats, apartments and guest houses.
    Travel to Bali Indonesia
    Dikubu Home Stay, found through airbnb

    I hope our travel tips can be of use for you and  that by reading this list you found something new. Bon Voyage!


 

Traveling from Thailand to Cambodia without flights

Words by Micael Nussbaumer | August 3

Thailand – Cambodia without flights

Ok, so there are a few ways through which you can reach Cambodia, and any of its main cities, without going for the more expensive flight option. I’ve tried them all, a flight from Bangkok to Siem Reap, bus from Siem Reap to Bangkok, train from Bangkok to the border (Poipet) and then bus to Phnom Penh.

Cambodia is home to UNESCO’s World Heritage site “Angkor Wat” in Siem Reap, which is considered by many to be the highlight of the whole South East Asia regarding temple complexes and architecture.

Of course the flight option is comfortable, so if money isn’t an issue but time is, go for the flight. I got a very cheap flight from Bangkok to Siem Reap (a total of 55$ with luggage and fares) so I took it, but these discount prices aren’t available most of the times. But don’t worry, there are even cheaper options than that 55$ flight.

Sculpture in Phnom Penh - Traveling through Cambodia
Sculpture in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

In case your schedule isn’t super tight they might make much more sense. The time differences in the end aren’t that much more, plus, you have to weight in the trips to and from the airport which are usually much more expensive than the regular trips around the city. A 1h flight turns into 5h total, plus 20$ to 30$ more for the “trips”.

Sihanoukville, in the South, which caters to beach vacationers.

Cambodia is home to UNESCO’s World Heritage site “Angkor Wat” in Siem Reap, which is considered by many to be the highlight of the whole South East Asia regarding temple complexes and architecture. Besides “Angkor Wat” (Wat means temple) there’s Phnom Penh, the capital, and Sihanoukville, in the South, which caters to beach vacationers. There you can find beach and small islands where it’s possible to stay.

Let’s look into some of the options we have used and that we can talk about. We’ll start by getting to Cambodia.

Cambodian border at Poipet, travel to Cambodia
Cambodian border at Poipet

Bangkok to Phnom Penh

This is a fairly common trip for people visiting South East Asia. Many people enter SE Asia through Thailand and then go towards Cambodia/Laos/Vietnam. Bangkok also operates as a big international flight hub so it’s easy to find cheaper connections to this city, explore a bit and set off to other country.

Most trips from BKK to Cambodia overlap at one point and that point is at the border-crossing of Poipet. You can get to Poipet either by train or by bus. When you book by bus usually you book the whole trip and not only the BKK-Poipet part of the trip. We went through train and everything went fine, but due to delays it’s probably better to go by bus.

staygypsy-bangkok-train-to-cambodia

To go by train you just need to go to Hualamphong station in Bangkok, and then buy the ticket. This train leaves at around 6AM everyday, but you are advised to buy  tickets and check the times a day before at this same station. There’s another train that runs later, but your options to travel from Poipet to some other city are low (probably non-existing).

The fare is really low, it’s about 1,5$ (48THB), there’s only 3rd class and it should arrive around 12AM/1PM. From the bus station you need to take a tuk-tuk or a taxi to the border crossing, which should be between 60-80 THB (around 2,5$). This gives you enough time to cross the border and find a transport solution to Phnom Penh. We were counting on using Capitol Buses (10$ trip at 13:45) but due to the delays with the train and the crossing we didn’t arrive in time.

Train from Thailand to Cambodia
Train from Thailand to Cambodia

There will be buses throughout the day and night-buses as well. We discussed some prices and got a bus ticket for 12$. We were taken to the bus stop in another part of Poipet and there waited for our bus, in a dusty and a bit scary garage like place, where the old lady who sold us our tickets kept on sucking a beetle in her mouth and from time to time you got to see the insect legs out of her lips. David Lynch wouldn’t come up with such a vision. To be sincere at some point I thought we had been scammed but as usual everything went fine.

We left at around 4PM. The bus was ok, was never crowded, but apart from us only another foreign traveler, from Russia, went on it. It arrived at Phnom Penh by 1AM. To get to the main street of hostels and guesthouses we had to pay around 10$ (3 people with many bags). The total trip will be around 20$ per person, with the tuk-tuks, which is quite a low price – on the other hand it takes you around a total of 20h and it can be a bit exhausting. Nonetheless, you can use this time to write, read, plan what you’ll do next, think about home-cooked food and so on – it really boils down to your time and financial constraints but it’s completely doable!

Bangkok to Siem Reap (home to Angkor Wat)

This trip can be booked in full, using the same bus (you’ll have nonetheless to exit at Poipet’s border crossing) for 23$, including meals and some drinks and comfortable chairs. We haven’t done this one, but you can find more information about it by reading this post – it seems to be the best option I would say! You can also do the same as for Phnom Penh and just find your transport once on the Cambodian’s side of the border.

Anna photographing a street of Phnom Penh - Travel to Cambodia
Anna photographing a street of Phnom Penh, Cambodia

We were searching for buses to Phnom Penh and the offer for Siem Reap was much higher so that shouldn’t be a problem. If Poipet was a nice city to stay I could advise you to spend a night there and then take a Capitol Bus next day (8AM) for 5$, 3,5h trip. The only reason why you would want to stay there would be in case you missed your early train or only had the chance to take the train that leaves Bangkok at around 12AM. In this case use the Capitol Tour Bus as they’re ok, reliable and fairly cheap (I used them to get from Siem Reap to Poipet – the reverse trip).

Siem Reap to Bangkok

For this trip I booked the whole trip with Capitol Tours Cambodia. I walked to their “station” in Siem Reap, bought the ticket the day before and showed up next day at 8 a.m. It takes you on a “normal” bus to Poipet border, you go out, cross the border and after that you’re crammed into a mini-van with destination to Bangkok. The whole thing takes around 9h and it’s ok to do. The mini-van isn’t the most comfortable when it goes completely full (and it usually goes) but isn’t something that you cannot go through, especially if you take into account that the whole thing costs you 10$. It stops on the way to Bangkok for WC and eating at some gas-stations with supermarkets and restaurants/cafes.

Market square in Phnom Penh - Travel to Cambodia
Market square in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Traveling in Cambodia and to Vietnam

I didn’t have much experience of traveling inside the countries, nor did I try to go to Vietnam from Cambodia, but I would say that Capitol Tours offer some great options. It connects you from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh (6$) and to Sihanouk Ville (15$), or from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap (6$) and to Sihanouk Ville (5$). The buses aren’t super, but they are quite ok and run on time. They also offer options to go to Saigon from Phnom Penh for a mere 10$ person. Besides these routes you can also find some to other cities in Cambodia, check their website and see for yourself!

VISAS

Getting a VISA on arrival through Poipet isn’t a problem. The price might be a bit higher than the “official” price of the VISA but not that much difference. Usually for 30 days it’s around 30$ (with an extra-fee sometimes charged that you can try to ignore). Many bus operators also offer the service for an extra 5$ so you don’t have to worry with anything. I always did it myself on arrival (either through Poipet or on the airport at Siem Reap).

You can get an e-VISA but it doesn’t make much sense for Cambodia as you can get it on arrival without problems (whereas if you’re going to Vietnam you’ll need an e-VISA or a VISA stamp on your passport). If you fly to Siem Reap (the one I’ve used) it’s straightforward on arrival and the same should apply to Phnom Penh (since it’s the capital). Nonetheless check online for the actual requirements as they sometimes change.

We advise to do BKK – Siem Reap, then Siem Reap – Phnom Penh and depending on what you would like to do, either go to Sihanouk Ville from Phnom Penh or go to Saigon.

Conclusions:

If you’re on a budget traveling overland to Cambodia might be an excellent choice. We didn’t have any problem in any of the trips we did. If you are in Bangkok and figuring out how to go to Cambodia and where to start, we would advise to do BKK – Siem Reap, then Siem Reap – Phnom Penh and depending on what you would like to do, either go to Sihanouk Ville from Phnom Penh or go to Saigon. This way you maximize your time.

We went to Phnom Penh from BKK because we had decided we wanted to try Phnom Penh, but if you’re traveling around I would advise you to go instead to Siem Reap and from there to Phnom Penh (or who knows Laos or some other place). Phnom Penh isn’t that much interesting city to stay (we stayed for almost 3 weeks, although there is no reason to), but you’ll find many tourists doing the same route and it’s easy to meet people.

Backpackers' center of Phnom Penh, travel to Cambodia
Backpackers’ center of Phnom Penh

Stay with a local family while traveling

Words by Anna Lebedeva | July 23

Staygypsy reasons to “home stay”

There are many different options to find accommodation while you are travelling. The choice is endless: hotels, apartments, guest houses, and hostels. But if you want to escape those usual types of accommodation, get the maximum of cultural experience and you are willing to get to know local people a bit more than just during an ordinary street conversation, then Home stay with a local family can be easily your thing.

Home stay is a perfect choice either you are traveling for a long or a short-term. You will have your own space, exactly like in a hotel, but with an added value in the form of deeper cultural exchange. Here are “staygypsy” reasons why you should “home stay”, along with a list of online booking platforms.

You will have your own space, exactly like in a hotel, but with an added value in the form of deeper cultural exchange.

Experiencing culture directly from locals

Staying with a local family, home stay, is the best way to merge yourself with the local culture. Not only will they show you around, give you valuable tips, organise your laundry, tell where it is better to eat and buy groceries, but also they will teach you a bit of their language and home traditions. They will share with you their daily life, give you insights about family relations, religious beliefs and why they hold certain ceremonies.

Our hosts in Bali in Dikubu home stay, Wayan and Katut, found a bit of time every day to chat with us about many things while teaching us the basics of the Indonesian language. They provide their guests with small dictionaries and conversation guides, and also tried to encourage them to speak a bit of Indonesian. Also, while we’ve been staying in Kuala Lumpur with a local family, we got to know and experienced Muslim Ramadan in a much more truthful way.

Home stay is usually a very personal thing

Staying at a home stay is definitely a personal thing. At the same time you have your own private space, like in a hotel, but you also have a chance to see and share the life with locals. Another thing that attracts us the most, is that usually home stays are decorated in a very personal and cozy way, with lots of small home-style details around. Sofas, books, lights, pillows, traditional paintings, all these give it a home feeling, difficult to replicate in a hotel. As an example, every night our hosts here at Bali light candles in the common area, including in the small altar they have outside.

The typical home stay is divided into different parts: the family private section, the common areas and usually there is a separate building, hotel-style, to accommodate guests.

Blue Mountain home stay in Kathmandu, Nepal
Guesthouse in Kathmandu, Nepal

A few times in Bali we were invited by home stay family to attend local ceremonies, being provided with traditional dresses and guidance on how to behave and what to do. Even though at first sight it might look a bit overwhelming to spend long periods of time in the home of somebody else, everywhere we went, our privacy was always totally respected. The typical home stay is divided into different parts: the family private section, the common areas and usually there is a separate building, hotel-style, to accommodate guests.

Melting pot of travelers

In most home stays we stayed we met a lot of interesting people from all around the world and with various backgrounds. Each of them had a different reason for traveling: some were vacationers, some permanent travelers, while others were doing sabbatical.

The home stay ambience encourages people to chat and get to know each other a bit. We spent a few evenings chatting with people over a few bottles of beer, telling stories, which happened to us and sharing tips and opinions about this small and funny world.

Home stay is usually cheaper than a hotel

As I already mentioned above, home stay is a perfect choice to stay either for a short or long period of time. Just remember one rule, which is usually applied to home stay, – longer you stay, less you pay. Monthly rental can be up to 50% reduction from the daily price. Yes, I am not joking! Staying at least one week makes a lot of sense as well, as you can be granted up to 20% discount comparing to a few days booking rate.

Home stay of the same quality as hotel is usually cheaper and feels more authentic. From $15 to $20 we can guarantee that you will get an awesome place in Asia, with a cool host, cozy ambience and good location  – of course, you will need to surf a bit on web and read reviews, usually they don’t lie.  Also don’t mind staying a bit off the centre, many times it is calmer and the area is more local, not only made for tourists, which also reflects in the prices.

Eating local food

Staying with a local family gives you a chance to taste original local dishes, cooked at home. You are either invited to have a dinner with the host or they are happy to cook you something on your request. Our Host at the Blue Mountain home stay in Kathmandu invited everyone of his guest for a farewell dinner, where they can try traditionally home cooked dishes, specialities and drinks. Our host in Bali organized a home Fish BBQ, so to bring all people staying at his place together for the evening. In Kuala Lumpur we were taken by our host to Ramadan bazaar, where she showed us the most tasty and traditional dishes to try.

Contribution to the local community

By staying with a local family you contribute to the local economy and help small businesses. The prosperity of some regions in Asia is completely dependent on tourist inflow. For example, 80% of Bali’s GDP derives from the industry and many local families would be me more than happy to receive you as their guests, bringing them a solid side income.


Online booking platforms

How to find an accommodation at a home stay? In the age of Internet it is extremely simple. You can check the following websites, they are all very reliable and trustful. We’ve never encountered any problem while booking through them:

  • Airbnb
  • Agoda
  • Couchsurfing (stay for free)
    Dressed up with the help of our host family and ready to take part in the ceremony, Bali, travel to Indonesia
    Dressed up with the help of our host family and ready to take part in the ceremony, Bali

     

How Much Does it Cost to Travel and Live in Asia?

Words by Anna Lebedeva | July 18

How much does it cost to travel the world on a budget?

Wow, 138 days have passed since I’ve started my travel, beginning in Southeastern Asia. I joined my boyfriend, who was already traveling the world and working online for more than one year. We didn’t have any concrete itineraries, like which countries to visit or for how long the trip will last. We thought that it should be something more or less “chaotic”, so that it doesn’t feel like a pre-planned vacation, but more a kind of road trip vibe.

My decision to join him in  this “travel the world” campaign was quite spontaneous, it was made two months before leaving to my first destination – > Bangkok. The most important thing to figure out before settling on the trip was to have an estimation of how much it would cost to live in Asia. Since my boyfriend has been travelling the world already for some time the budgeting task was not that difficult to accomplish and I was able to make some approximate calculations very easily.

What type of traveler you are?

Every experienced traveler will offer you her own budget estimation driven by the traveling experience she has gone through. You should understand that there are many different types of travelers, they all have various requirements and demands, available budgets, and prerequisites to the adventurous part of their journey. This makes it even more important to understand which type of traveler you are, so to know whose recommendations and estimations to rely on. For instance ourselves – if to describe it shortly – we would say that we are backpackers, traveling on budget.

Besides the types of travelers, there are other differentiators, for instance, if you are working online while traveling you will have much less need to find extra activities to fill your days. On the other hand, if you’ve saved money to go on the road for some time without worrying about work, you will probably spend more money on making your days memorable. I didn’t include budget on any special activities, but they are available in mostly any places that receives travelers.

List of expenditures for budget travelers

I will give an estimation of a minimum list of expenditures for budget travelers, who don’t stay in spa-style hotels, who don’t mind living without hot water (in warm weather countries) or can easily stay a bit further from a beach, than the usual vacationer. I will list the range of cost for budget travelling and backpacking style of living. There is no doubt, it is possible to make it even cheaper and on the other hand much more expensive.

The reasonable comment here would be that budgeting will vary from country to country. Yes, it definitely varies, but not as significantly as we actually thought it would! I am writing this from a cozy restaurant, 15 min from the beach walking, in Bali, which is considered to be a top destination and I’ve just paid $1 for a coffee and less than $2,5 for a nasi goreng (fried rice with fresh seafood), less than I paid in Phnom Penh, Cambodia for the same kind of dish in a street stall.

A few times we were pleasantly surprised upon arrival, as we expected a bit of higher cost of living. One of the biggest surprises was the Malaysian capital Kuala-Lumpur, where we spent the same amount of money (budget) as in popular tourist destinations in India, such as Rishikesh, Dharamsala, Agra or Dheli. Meals for $2, a metro ride for $0,5 and free buses, or services ($10 hair cut in a decent place) were all well-priced and of great quality.

Regarding accommodation, we opted for a non-conventional approach – instead of staying directly in the city-center.  We spent three weeks in Sri Petaling, a very developed residential area on the South of KL, in a beautiful house with a Muslim family, within 15 min walk to metro station and 15 minutes drive to city-center. In the end, we paid $13 a night during our three weeks stay. In case of a shorter stay you would pay a bit more – around $15. Our room was very spacious and cozy, with wall-size windows, with AC, kettle and top-notch WIFI. We were even allowed to use the kitchen and washing machine facilities.

Of course, the prices are not the same in each location in Asia (India and Nepal are definitely cheaper than Thailand beach resorts, for example), but I have to tell you, you can find a very fair deal for a very good value everywhere. For more information you can find prices for basic things in various locations in Asia through our City Guides category.

So with all this in mind here follows our table with a rough estimation* of spendings for a couple travelling on budget  – without any extra-bills, like paid sight-seeings and sport activities, shopping, clubbing or perks.

*Comments:
– We cook rarely  – usually we eat outside two-three times a day
– We don’t spare on coffees
– We usually don’t spend money on alcohol and partying

Minimum list of monthly expenditures for a couple traveling in Asia

Accommodation

Note:
Nice, cozy and good located (either in the center of a smaller city or in walking distance to metro in case of a bigger one, like Kuala Lumpur or Bangkok); could be air-con and not; could be without hot water (beach places). – Longer you stay, less you pay (a minimum practice is for each week – one day for free).

Examples:
– Pokhara (Nepal): $ 12 for new fully furnished 3-rooms apartment in the center (for 15 day deal)
– Saigon (Vietnam): around $300 for an independent en-suite room with fridge, cleaning and laundry included (one month deal)
– Bali (Indonesia): $15 for nice en-suite room in a local family Home Stay, 15 min walking to the beach Padang Padang (2 week deal)
– Ubud (Bali): $16 amazing design apartment with kitchen  (for 30 day deal)
– Dharamsala (India): $10 for a wonderful spacious en-suite room in a cottage on the mountain hill (2 week deal)
– Kuala Lumpur: $15 for en-suite room in a beautiful house in Sri Petaling area (+kitchen and laundry)

total (for couple): $300 – $450

Visa

Note:
Many countries are VISA-free for most nationalities: e.g. Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines
– Check VISA requirements for your passport

$0 – $45 per person

total (for couple): $0 – $90

Food (eating 3 times a day outside)

Note:
 
Food prices are really approximately the same between countries
– Eating home can be cheaper

$12 – $20 per person

total (for couple): $720 – $1200

Transportation (to commute from one location to another: Bus/Train- Flight ticket)

Note:
– In many cases you can reach another country by bus or train avoiding flights. For example, there is an excellent bus connection between Nepal and India or throughout Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand
– There are many budget airlines operating in Asia, e.g. Air Asia and Malindu Airlines

Examples (per person):

  • Flight from Phnom Penh to Kathmandu – $200
  • Flight from Kalcota to Malaysia – $120
  • Flight from Kuala Lumpur to Bali – $55
  • Flight from Saigon to Phu Quoc – $100

$20 (bus) – $200 (flight) per person

total (for couple): $40-$400

Taxi/metro ticket/motorbike

Note:
– This is the most tricky and difficult part to  estimate as in each city you will use different means of transportation or will not use it at all. Here I put the average estimate, including taxi to and from the airport + either renting motorbike or driving metro daily.

Examples:

  • Metro ride in KL: $0,5
  • Metro ride in Bangkok: $1
  • Daily bike rent in Bali: $4
  • Daily bike rent in Thailand: $6
  • Rickshaw ride in India: $1,5
  • Taxi to/from the airport KL:  $20 Bali:  $15 Saigon: $10

$50 (taxi to/from airport) +4$ everyday ride (either metro, motorbike or rickshaw)

total (for couple): $50-170 $

Medical Insurance

Note:
– In case of emergency this is a must have. You can purchase it online with any leading insurance operator, servicing around the world. Price ranges a lot, depending on coverage and the scope of medical service to be provided.

$30 – $100 per a person

total (for couple): $60 – $200

Monthly total (for couple) 

$1300 – $2500

How do you go about budgeting your traveling? Do you have any tips you care to share? Do you spend more or less than what we’ve roughly estimated in our monthly budget?


Putrajaya – fast growing baby of Malaysia

Words by Anna Lebedeva | July 8

Twenty years ago here was almost nothing – and now practically all the government apparatus moved to Putrajaya.

Our unexpected trip to Malaysia during our current run around the world – turned out to be the right choice. When we arrived in Malaysia we were pleasantly surprised  how modern and developed it has become during recent decades. Usually visitors expect something closer to Thailand or try to compare Malaysia with Singapore. And, of course, Malaysia is not yet Singapore, different cultures and countries’ sizes.

 

Putrajaya, Malaysia
Putrajaya Garden

We found Malaysian people modest and humble, but the speed with which they are building up the high-end infrastructure  of their country can’t be called modest at all (other things are very hard to judge for an outsider). It seemed to us that one of the biggest priorities for people in Malaysia is a constant infrastructural improvement: new 10-lanes highways, state-of-the-art airport, a modern and clean metro system (very affordable and pleasant to ride). Besides these you get free buses going in four different lines around the city-center. All this makes it comfortable, safe and cheap to explore Kuala Lumpur.

During our one-month stay there we did a one-day visit to the freshly built governmental city of Putrajaya, only 25 km from Kuala Lumpur, on the way to the Airport. They call it “Intelligent Garden city” and it is just WOW. Twenty years ago there was almost nothing – and now practically all the government apparatus moved to Putrajaya, making it a complete and independent federal administrative center of Malaysia (residential area is also quite developed there).

The modern and cheap KLIA transit trains, that run every twenty minutes from the KL Central will get you to Putrajaya in 20 minutes for $2,5.  From Putrajaya Central Station you will need to take a taxi or a bus to the city center. On our arrival to Central Station, we met Diana, who just came back from a job interview in Kuala Lumpur‬ (she is a chemical engineer). We asked her how to get to the city center and instead of explaining she just took us there and showed a bit around.

There we made a nice half-day walk through the city, which appeared to be very pedestrian friendly, with big wide open spaces surrounded by green areas and lush gardens. The city is intelligently laid around water and although the weather is hot, the river and numerous trees make you feel fresher than in Kuala Lumpur.

Putrajaya, Malaysia
Ministries’ buildings

Some of the buildings in Putrajaya are still under construction. We were told that the plan is to fully finish the city by 2020  –  it is also the date when Malaysia is going to claim itself as a fully developed country.

Botanical Garden is one of the must-visit places in Putrajaya, which you can find on the North part of the city, behind the Prime Minister’s palace. It is the largest Botanical Garden in Malaysia, with lots of rare plants, brought from different parts of Malaysia and around the world.

The only thing that we were missing in Putrajaya were places to eat. During the day we didn’t find any open cafe (probably due to Ramadan), and we didn’t encounter with that many people walking around – it seems that everybody is busy working under the comfort of AC for the prosperity of Malaysia. It is amazing what this country managed to achieve. Although you never know the “inner workings”.


 

Experiencing Ramadan in Kuala-Lumpur

Words by Anna Lebedeva | July 6

Bright colors of Ramadan bazaar

We stayed in Kuala-Lumpur for a month, in June 2015, and that was quite an unexpected  turn in our traveling route. Before we had spent 2 months in India and near the end of our Visas we started thinking about where to go next. We read that the best time to explore Malaysia were June and July, the rainy season is over and the temperatures are not that “high”. We were lucky to find a very affordable direct flight with Air Asia (popular low cost Asian carriage), from Kalculata to Kuala-Lumpur.

Have you ever thought about traveling to Malaysia? It is definetely a good choice, as this country can offer you a bit of everything: cultural diversity, modern city life in Kuala-Lumpur, eco-tourism and world class beach locations such as Lankawi and Penang. It is quite a lot for such a relatively small country.

Sultan Abdul Samad Building and the center of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
The view of skyscrapers and Sultan Abdul Samad Building

A few days before leaving India we booked through airbnb a very cozy and spacious studio-type room in an authentic house of a Muslim family. The house itself was a small piece of art (originally designed by the husband), with a remarkable Arab-style 200 years old door, brought by him from Syria. In a nearby located Mosque the chanting call for daily prayers took place a few times a day, gently echoing in our room.

As usual, we didn’t have any idea of what was going on in Malaysia –  we never read much in advance about the places we go to visit.  To our surprise, when we arrived our host told us that Ramadan month was soon to start. We took it as great news, since we’ve never experienced Ramadan before. Especially in a country, where the majority of the population is Muslim.

Arabic door, from Syria
Door in our house, brought by our the host from Syria

Ramadan is the ninth month in the calendar of Muslims, the fifth pillar of Islam and the most important time of the year for Islam followers. During this month from sunrise to sunset Muslims strictly refrain from eating, drinking (even water), engaging in sexual relations, and bad mouthing others. Since we lived with a Muslim family, we were honored to observe how they follow this practice in daily life.

For us it was the first time we saw people performing Ramadan. At first it sounded harsh, but we were told that the most difficult part is the first three days, because after your body and mind get used to the fasting regime. I mean, abstaining from food could be ok, but from water… that sounds difficult. To our surprise, we were explained that actually not drinking water makes it a less daunting task, because the ingestion of water would make your metabolism work faster, requiring more energy and causing hunger.

National Mosque of Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur
National Mosque of Malaysia

The abstaining from food during Ramadan, of course, is not an end in itself. Every single ritual, tradition, rule and law has, besides the official legacy, much bigger aims to achieve. People, that were fasting, told us that they abstain from these actions for a few important reasons, among them: a better comprehension of their own way of living, life priorities and values by putting themselves in the shoes of the poor (those who struggle to eat a basic meal on the daily basis); besides these reasons they also mentioned that it is a time for self-reflection and religious studies in order to better themselves spiritually.

The daily schedule during Ramadan is changed according to the position of the sun. They wake up very early, before the sunrise (around 5 am), to have an opportunity to have breakfast, because the next meal will only be after full sunset,  that in Malaysia takes place around 7:30 pm. So for almost 12 hours you are not allowed neither to drink or eat.

Malay children in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Our little Malay neighbors in Kuala Lumpur

During Ramadan you can find one of the most interesting cultural phenomena of Muslim countries –  the typical daily Ramadan bazaar. It starts around 4pm and usually ends by 8 pm. Since cooking home in Kuala-Lumpur is not such a common practice (local places are very cheap and they are everywhere), the Malay population, observing Ramadan, go to their local Ramadan bazaar to buy something to eat with the family at home. And that is indeed a truly interesting experience to have while visiting the country as an outsider.

Murtabak, malaysian traditional meal
Murtabak – typical meal in Radaman dish

There are a few Ramadan bazaars that are well-known for the diversity of food presented there. Each bazaar often offers something different in terms of food, but the traditional dishes you can find in any one, no matter how small it is. Just ask around where is the closest Ramadan bazaar to you and go there at 5 – 6 pm (later many popular meals can be sold out), take a camera and a notebook to write down the names and recipes you like. Believe us, it will be worth visiting and tasting, especially if you are from the West.

Malaysian sweets at Ramadan bazaar
Traditional Malaysian sweets

Some of the things you must try in Ramadan bazaar are Nasi Lemak (traditional breakfast dish), murtabak (meat wrapped in a thin pancake), blue rice (very rare to find in other countries), numerous jelly type deserts that come in many colors and subtle tastes (don’t be afraid to try – it looks radioactive, but tastes natural) and a solid choice of drinks, many made from fruits, soya milk and while others you should try to guess. If you are wondering about the prices, usually everything is very cheap, half of liter of a drink will cost you less than a $1 and food will range from $,07 – $2.

Ramadan bazaar
Ramadan bazaar in Kuala Lumpur

Even if you are not willing to buy anything or don’t feel hungry, just visit one of Ramadan bazaars to get a feeling of what it is. Lots of locals hangout with their families around the stalls, making it the perfect place for observing local life, besides that sellers are usually very keen to talk and be photographed (but don’t forget to ask for permission).

Protecting your outsourcing with a NDA

profile_micael
Micael Nussbaumer

top rated freelancer in Odesk
July 6, 2015

 

 

Protect your freelancing work NDA

Although we have covered mostly issues related to the freelancers side of the equation regarding online work, this time we are going to go through a document that is mostly useful for the client outsourcing, the NDA (which is a Non Disclosure Agreement, sometimes referred to as confidentiality agreement (CA), confidential disclosure agreement (CDA), proprietary information agreement (PIA), or secrecy agreement (SA). We’ll see what it is and how you can write one, with a real sample included. Jump to the download section.

WHAT IT IS?

NDA, as the name implies, is a form of legal document that binds the client and the contractor into specific terms regarding the sharing of information provided for the conclusion of a work. This information can be all sort of things, from plain information (facts, data) to compiled information (images, video, sound files) or others.

By stating exactly the extent to which the information/content shared between the two parties while pursuing a professional relationship can be used during and after the contract ends, a client can protect himself from having certain information made public (again – be it plain information or files created to complete the contract). Although less usual, this form of document can also be used by the freelancer to protect himself and to grant him rights in sharing information later on (for instance including samples of the work done in their own portfolios or profiles).

Besides this, a NDA can be either Uni-Lateral or Bi-Lateral, depending if the information to be protected is only one way (the information disclosed by the Client) or two ways (both the information that goes from the Client to the Contractor and the information the Contractor provides back to the Client). Usually a Bi-Lateral is the correct format for online work, since you’ll be receiving back new information derived from the assignment.

Imagine you only do a Uni-Lateral NDA, protecting the images you’re providing the freelancer to work with. This means he would have to guarantee not disclosing any of that information, but the finished work (since it goes from the Contractor to you) would be ok to be disclosed to public.

Protecting your freelancing work with NDA
Online marketing tools

WHY IS IT USEFUL?

Imagine you’re a busy photographer, shooting assignments for mid-to-high level profile clients and you need total confidentiality regarding the fact that you’re outsourcing part of your work to someone else. Maybe your clients are expecting you to handle all of the work inside your firm or by yourself, or maybe your clients don’t want their names associated with outsourcing. In either case, when using online freelancing marketplaces you need to make sure that you are protected.

A Non-Disclosure agreement provides you exactly with that kind of protection. Of course, it functions mostly as a legal intimidation document, since if you’re outsourcing to India the most probable is that you will be unable to enforce the NDA, but still, in case you wish to, there are legal grounds for it because your worker as signed an explicit document agreeing to certain terms.

Other cases where a NDA is welcomed is when you’re launching something new, or when you don’t want references to the work to be available somewhere on the internet, linking your name to a freelancer or online outsourcing platform. You might also be passing sensitive information that you want to minimize to the maximum the probability of ending up online.

All these are reasonable reasons to have an NDA signed and it’s why it’s also called a Confidentiality Agreement. The scope of it can go much further.

HOW TO GET A NDA

To have a functional NDA it needs to state some basic facts about you (the client) and the contractor (the freelancer), plus the relevant wording and scope of protection for the work at hand. You need at least the following items to be explicitly stated:

  • Full name of both you and the contractor/client
  • Legal address
  • Date
  • Signatures
  • Technical definition of the scope of the Non-Disclosure Agreement

Having said this, I have to tell you it’s easier said than done. For it to fully stand in court you will need accurate descriptions of the transactions and contents to be protected in the corresponding jargon. There are a few places where you can get samples for free and we’ll include here one regarding image editing.

You can tweak this one to your needs, changing the wording to reflect your personal needs, or you can hire a freelancer to write you a legal binding document, which shouldn’t be that expensive. Take into account that if you’re going to write several NDA’s it might be worth hiring someone to write one that can be tweaked in the future, this way diluting the cost of it.

Now named Upwork, previously freelancing platform oDesk keeps the same structure for their Job feed.
Now named Upwork, previously oDesk keeps the same structure for their Job feed

SAMPLE NDA

The sample Non-Disclosure here included can be used free of charge and tweaked in any way you might want. It’s from a real freelancing job I’ve done in the past and it was provided by the client himself.

There are 4 formats provided, Pages, Pages 09, PDF, Word DocX and Word Doc 97-03.

Word DOCX Format
Word Doc 97-03 Format
PDF Format
Pages Format
Pages 09 Format

You can see by reading through this agreement that the spaces were left open for you to fill. In the case of digital media files you can just put [Digital Media] as to what it refers. You can make a more explicit reference to the material being protected. You can change the duration to which the contract applies, you can include for instance references to the usage of finished work for portfolio usage, without the mentioning of any data/names or any information that can link the work done to the client or clients.

If you’re working in a big project with very sensitive information then you might need to make sure you have a proper NDA provided by a lawyer to make sure you’re fully protected.

WHEN AN NDA IS NOT NEEDED

Sometimes people are afraid of their content going online, but in most cases you really shouldn’t worry that much. The internet is very wide and if you’re just using outsourcing services for regular tasks you don’t need to worry. There’s no problem if someone finds out you used a freelancer to prepare your product photos for etsy or amazon.

There’s very little probability that anyone can find out that you have been using a freelancer to retouch your personal images for facebook or other social media networks. But in case you’re a blog owner with a certain following it might be wise to protect yourself, you don’t want that somebody that is searching for an article they remembered on your blog ends up in a freelancers portfolio showcasing articles they written to others – that could be bad publicity since people are expecting a personal writing from you.

If you’re doing low-cost design services for others there’s probably nothing to be worried about someone stumbling upon their logo on some freelancers portfolio, but if you’re charging 500$ to 2000$ for a branding package and someone sees their branding in a freelancer profile that charges the same branding package for 100$ they might get a bit pissed of and your reputation might be affected.

If you’re outsourcing technical and repetitive tasks to a freelancer and then applying your own know-how and expertise to deliver fully polished images to your clients, then probably there’s nothing wrong in seeing that work online in somebody else’s page.

Job proposal page on freelancing platform Elance
Job proposal page on http://www.elance.com

Conclusion

Use your discretion and use an NDA to protect sensitive information but not to hide unethical business practices. If the reason why you’re using an NDA is to protect your clients from bad publicity that might arise from the use of outsourcing, then I personally believe it’s fine. If you’re using it to protect your unprofessional behaviour (charging high prices and outsourcing the job to cheap labour overseas without any additional input from you to the final product) then don’t use an NDA, change the way you work.