Friday, May 18, 2012

Budget Travel (and Favourite Places III

I'm on a few mailing lists from travel related companies. It's great for staying in the loop, but bad for wasting time dreaming about where you could be, maybe even where you should be, instead of doing the things that need doing right now. Anyway, every now and then I get an email that makes me think someone is a bit out to lunch, and today is one of those days.

The email came courtesy of Condé Nast Traveler ("Truth in Travel" being their little byline or subheading or whatever you want to call it), and today they are talking about Budget Travel so of course I clicked on it right away (the main image being from Angkor helped a bit).

Things go awry right off the bat. Their main thesis is that if you travel during the off-peak times, you can save a bundle. So for instance, in example one, if you want to go to Granada, Nicaragua, in the summer time during the green season (i.e. "rainy") you can expect the posted rates to be up to 20% lower. Well, not a great deal, but somewhat of a deal I guess. Then I read their quoted prices. Cost in peak season, $480 per night. Uh oh. Cost in Summer, $380 per night. I kept looking for a decimal that didn't exist.

So I scrolled down to Siem Reap, Cambodia, and see that one can save 50% by going in the summer time. Sure, it'll be hot, but if you don't mind hot, who cares? Instead of spending $445 per night, you're only spending $220 per night. Okay, now since I know a thing or two about Siem Reap, I feel the need to speak up. I suspect there are more than a few people who might think $220 a day is a tad more than budget, considering that "Budget Travel" usually means travel costs falling in the low end of the price spectrum.
They quote double rooms at the Victoria Angkor "from" $145, day long tours from $50, etc etc. so I also suspect they are talking prices for two people? Maybe.

I thought I'd give you a bit of the 275 Days Budget Travel Experience, in combination with Favourite Place, Part III.
We arrived in Siem Reap, Cambodia (via the infamous Scam Bus, but that's a story for another day) on March 5 and left on the March 12 (just a week outside peak season, so maybe we were already getting the "summer rates"). Our first night was spent in a double room at the Jasmine Lodge, a nice place but on a the very busy main road, a good walk from the markets and the river. On the morning of day two, we sought out some place a little closer to the action, and found the Family Guest House. I notice that prices have doubled since we were there, so we'll go with the new prices, $16 per night for four people. They've got a great rooftop patio where you can eat and surf, and watch the goings on down below.

the rooftop

looking out the back

Looking out the front

Getting in to see the Angkor temples still costs the same, $60 per person....for a whole week. If you're under 12, it won't cost you a penny. If you're only going to be there for the day (you came all the way to Angkor and you're going to leave tomorrow??) it'll cost you $20 a person.

Now, eating. If you're in town, you can go to a real variety of places, but remember, we're talking budget here. There are plenty of options. Maybe a nice place with balcony tables on the second floor, clean, with great food. 

That might set you back $3 to $5 dollars a person. Cheap, but not budget in Southeast Asia. We then tried the place a couple doors down from the hotel. You'll sit in plastic chairs at a reasonably clean table, enjoy the company of mostly Cambodian folks, and you'll spend a dollar a plate. That was in our budget.

If you are going to eat lunch among the temples, and why not, it's easy and it's good, you're back up to $3 to $4 a plate and drinks are a buck. If you're a good customer, you might get a discount.

These are not the restaurants, but they look more or less like this.

To get around Angkor really requires some wheels, and here we skipped the truly budget option of renting bikes, as we were into our eighth month of travel, and were looking for something cool, like the trailer attached to Mike's motor bike.

It's super fun and has the added bonus of being refreshingly cool. Mike took us all around for $12 per day, basically waiting on us as we visited temple after temple. Services (for example) today are not much more expensive, depending on how far you want to go.

So if we add that all up, that's $16 for a decent room (with a private bathroom), $13 (now) to get escorted around, $30 to $40 for food (most days we spent less than $30), and if you're there for three days (please!), that's $13.33 a day for the entry ($40 for three day entry). 

Add it all up, and that comes to $100.00 (up to $110.00 if you really splurged on meals). (edit- I forgot the entry fee X 4 = 53.33, except that in our case, it was X3 because Matthew was free, which means my total is now a whopping $100.00 instead of the $72.33 I had earlier)

For four people.
What do you get for all this?

Having a full week to explore at our own pace, we often just sat in a quiet corner while a tour group raced through and got their photo here and there before racing on to the next attraction, then we continued on in peace and quiet, often by ourselves. One day it felt too hot to be out in the ruins, so we wandered around town, bought some souvenirs and gifts, and had some ice cream at the Blue Pumpkin, in the old market area, also mentioned in the Condé Nast article. Matthew's caramel cone kind of tasted like burned coffee, but his replacement strawberry was quite nice. 

Angkor may have been the most remarkable thing we saw in the whole two hundred and seventy five days. The jury is still out on that, but we sure had fun, even as a true budget traveler. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Favourite Places, Part II

Istanbul was for us a city that conjured up all sorts of ideas and imaginings. It was our home for two weeks and became a place where we felt very at home and at peace. Riding the subway, taking the bus, walking the streets all became normal over those fourteen days. Normal, but never dull, as I'm sure any city of fifteen million is anything but dull. But what most captivated us was the skyline, the unending minarets that dotted the horizon as far as the eye could see.

We never got tired of going into mosques, just standing and staring upward at the beautiful domes, the tiled columns, light dripping from windows overhead. If we'd had more time, we would have seen every mosque in the city. But there is too much to see, even in two weeks. Besides, we also had to shop for groceries, fun, get our Syrian visa, mysterious yet successful, get out to the Apple store at the Kanyon Mall to find out what was wrong with my iPod, among other things.

So many people work so hard to eke out a living in Istanbul. Numerous shoe shine guys eager to accidentally drop a brush in front of an unwary tourist, gentlemen in their 50's and 60's selling purses or belts or wallets, all carefully laid out on a blanket. Or the restauranteurs. Wow, the restauranteurs who beckon to every passerby, especially those who look vaguely foreign, inviting them in to try the fish. Come see the fish, come smell the fish, look, hold the fish! Crossing the lower level of the Galata Bridge is like, well, I don't know what to compare it too. But you should try it. Once will do.

Istanbul was a city that welcomed us from the first smile of the cleaning woman who let us into our flat (we'll forget about the jerk who conned us into an unnecessary taxi ride from...wait, we were forgetting about that, weren't we?) to the last, from the man who sold us our train tickets that would take us on to Syria.

Friday, May 4, 2012

A Near-Perfect Day Trip from Antalya

Termessos, Turkey is a place out of my dreams. My heart actually raced a little bit after seeing pictures on the internet, and I imagined myself walking in the city with its walls intact, its people breathing, and its history playing out on the 2000+ year old streets. 

If you ever decide to go to Turkey, make the effort to get down south to Antalya and spend a few days. And on at least one of those days, rent a car from the good folks at Sabah Pansiyon (and be sure to stay here as well), then take the 40 kilometre drive north to Termessos. Only good things will happen.
If you're lucky enough to be there in October, you are likely to find blue skies, lots of green, and many leaves just starting to turn. The temperature will be idyllic. And if you are there early enough, you might even find yourself all alone. At one of the great sites in the world.

After a mildly arduous climb up the wrong side of the hill (preceded by a considerably more arduous uphill drive (on a road whose concrete edges were no longer interested in being part of the whole)) we stepped into the theatre from the back side and walked up into the seating. As I turned around, I literally gasped out loud. I call it Turkey's Machu Picchu.


Termessos is known to have been in existence around the time of Alexander the Great, as there is an account of Alexander maybe attempting to overtake the city but deciding against it due to its remarkable defensive position in the hills. There is a bit of dispute over this, but very little is known about the city's history. Of all the places we visited, this was I believe the most difficult for which to find historical information.

If you plan your time well and get to Termessos early, you can easily spend a few hours just wandering around the ruins, soaking up the atmosphere, playing on the boulders, and enjoying lunch in the theatre.

Make sure to check out the rock cut tombs - there's likely a map in your travel guidebook - as they are only a few minutes' walk away from the main areas.

From Termessos, drive about 10 kms to the east to the Karain Cave. The cave exhibits evidence of 25,000 years of continuous human habitation, I think from the Paleolithic Age. It's not a remarkable cave, but it is a cool and very quick stop. It does smell a bit like there were 25,000 years of teenagers hanging out in there, so you have been warned. It's also a bit of a walk up, so be prepared for that as well. There is a small museum there if you are so inclined.

To finish off your day, head south, past Antalya and along the coast (through the amazing hills of the area)

to Chimaera. Arriving in the late afternoon is perfect as it gives you the opportunity to explore a little bit before seeing Chimaera at its most dramatic, after the sun goes down. There are about 20 to 30 little spots on a hill where fire comes out of the ground. Yes, fire. Hopefully you've brought another meal with you as after the two or three kilometre uphill (and I mean really uphill, you're basically walking stairs for half an hour) walk you will want to rest and restore while enjoying the remarkable sight of fire coming out of the ground.

I mean this literally too. It's like someone turned on the propane on the underside of the hill and lit a match. Anywhere there's a hole, you've got fire. Very fun for kids. It's not the most incredible thing you will see in Turkey, or maybe even on this day, but it is quite cool and different. Make sure you bring a flashlight for the walk back down the hill as there are no lights anywhere. And hopefully you paid attention as to how you drove in because there aren't many (any?) signs telling you how to get back to the highway.

So, a fun day all around, and now you have to make your way back to the Sabah,

View Larger Map
just don't forget to fill the car up with expensive Turkish gasoline. And if you're not crazy about driving that car all the way back to the hotel down those twisty, winding, skinny Kaleiçi streets, get as close as you can, then get your husband to run back to the hotel and tell one of the Sabah guys where you are. They can take care of the rest.

More Termessos....

Sarcophagi literally litter the hillsides.