Looking for tickets or info for the Get Happy Tour 2018 featuring Bowling for Soup, Army of Freshmen and The Aquabats?

This domain name was used for the Get Happy Tour back in its original run around 10 years ago, when I used to do work for BFS and AOF. However, for the past 5 years it has been used for my travel blog as I never thought we would have another Get Happy Tour and I didn't want it to go to waste.

But as a favour to two bands who have done a lot for me over the years, and so you don't miss out, ticket info is:
O2 Presale: 10am on 25 September
General Onsale: 10am on 27 September.

Tickets available from ticketmaster.co.uk and bowlingforsoup.com
 


Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Geckos’

Thoughts from Myanmar

March 16th, 2014 No comments

Now that I’ve been back in the UK for a few days, and have started re-adjusting to UK time, I’ve had a chance to reflect on my trip to Myanmar.

I had wanted to visit Myanmar, also known as Burma, for a while. There are a few things that drew me to the country. The first is that it’s not on the general tourist map for people in the UK, secondly I like to visit somewhere that has good experiences and unique things to see and thirdly I like to visit places that have a story, event or culture that I want to learn more about. Myanmar definitely fits those three.

The trip I originally booked is different to the one I finally went on due to changes made by the tour company. Originally I was due to spend a few days in Yangon looking at the sights and learning more about Burmese culture but I was moved onto the version of the trip starting in Phuket instead which missed out the mainland of Myanmar. This had the benefit of fewer early mornings and being cheaper but resulted in me missing out learning about the culture and also resulted in me visiting the tourist hell of Phuket. I didn’t let this change spoil the trip, however, and I had a fantastic time.

Karon Beach

Karon Beach – tourist hell for me

The scenery in the Myeik Archipelago is absolutely beautiful and this was one of the things that made me pick the trip. While walking around on the islands, snorkelling in the sea and just sitting back watching the world go by we saw some of the best scenery I have seen while travelling. I’m not much of a beach person in most places that people travel as they tend to be overcrowded, full of sunbeds and be generally ruined. This was the case in Phuket, the reason I only spent one afternoon on the beach there, but the beaches we visited in Myanmar were almost a world away.

The waters were a bit murky in Myanmar which was a shame but this didn’t affect the snorkeling. If you’re looking for beautiful crystal clear waters then this might not be the best place to go but if you’re looking for a remote, unique and beautiful trip then I’d highly recommend a visit.

Me on Island 115

Me on the beach of Island 115 – a beautiful beach that I loved

Sunset

Sunset over Swinton Island – the most memorable of the trip

 

One of the good things about doing the trip this year is that it has only just started opening up to the outside world. For years it was impossible for foreigners to visit the region, then for a while it was possible to visit on short trips with liveaboard boats, and then finally this year it was possible for foreign operators to visit the region. This hasn’t spoilt the region, however, as it must be organised on a local license instead of a foreign one, so there are hardly any boats around except for fishing boats. Except for the night at MacLeod Island we didn’t share our anchorage with any non-local boats and that was brilliant.

All of this could be changing, however, as during the trip we were told that the Myanmar Government have started allowing foreign operators to bid for permits directly rather than going through a local operator. If this is managed correctly it should still preserve the pristine environment of the area but there is a risk that up to 100 boats could be operating in the area rather than the 4 that currently do.

It would be a shame if the area opened up fully as there is a chance that it could ruin the reason that people want to visit. There are hardly any pristine areas left in the world and so the area would need to be managed fully. This would mean that prices would go up but it would be a small price to pay in the grand scheme of things. This is what the Government in Rwanda have done with the National Park containing the Mountain Gorillas. In Rwanda it is only possible for a maximum of 32 people to visit a day, which has resulted in the price of a Gorilla permit almost doubling since I was there, but it has helped to preserve not only the habitat but the Gorillas themselves.

There were a couple of things I was worried about before embarking on this trip. Firstly I was worried about the seas being too rough. I’m an experienced traveller, and used to sail around Dover Harbour when I was younger, but I’ve never really sailed on the open seas. This is one of the things putting me off other sailing related trips that I’ve looked at, such as The Galapagos Islands, the British Territories in the Atlantic and Antarctica. The seas did get a bit choppy on a couple of days but were never anything I couldn’t manage.

The other thing I was worried about was the cramped conditions on board the boat. We were told in advance that the cabin space would be limited to maximise public space and this was definitely the case. The cabin I was assigned to share with one other person had a double bed with hardly any space to move, a couple of shelves to put bags, a wash basin and nothing else as you can see in the photo below. Some people may be worried about not being able to get any personal space but I never found this to be an issue. During the sailing portion of the trip it was possible to sit in the social area and chat but it was also possible to sit on bean bags on the deck and relax, lay in the hammock, sit on the seats at the bow of the ship or sit on the sides of the boat with your legs over the edge if you needed a bit of personal space. The deck space was quite large and never felt cramped even though there was nowhere to go while sailing. Obviously this depends on which boat is in use, and I can’t guarantee that the same boat will be in use next year, but Intrepid won’t use an unsuitable boat for the trip.

The cabin assigned to myself and Ashu

The cabin I was assigned to share

On board the boat

Looking towards the bow of the boat. Win can be seen working hard as usual!

On board the boat

On board the boat

On board

Another view of on board the ship

Our boar

This is a view of our boat from the water

(Photo credit : Ashu Khanna for the on board photos)

One thing I’m amazed at is this is the first trip I’ve been on since I started travelling to weird and wonderful places on my own where there hasn’t been somebody moaning the entire trip about the smallest of things trying to make everybody’s life a misery for the sake of it. I guess as sailing isn’t for everybody and as this is a brand new trip, which we were told in advance to expect issues with, we were all like-minded and so got on well.

I like to visit a variety of places rather than going back to the same place all the time but I do want to visit Myanmar again soon to be able to visit the mainland and to experience more of the culture and history of the country than I did by just sailing. Myanmar has such a vibrant culture, detailed history and beautiful scenery so it’s a country I would definitely recommend to anybody who likes to get off the beaten path and experience a country which still has things to discover. This is, of course, as long as you’re somebody who likes to visit a country on its own terms rather than having things your way. Myanmar is a country which still has things to discover but according to reports it’s already changing rapidly and I don’t want my recommendations to speed this up.

Ma Kyone Galet

Walking through the Moken “Sea Gypsy” village

As far as the trip is concerned I would highly recommend it to anybody as long as you’re able to travel with no advance expectations. This is a new area which is only just opening up so things will go wrong, and you will be in close quarters with other people for a week, but it’s a highly rewarding trip if you’re able to do it.

After the issues I had with the travel company I’d recommend going direct with Intrepid as opposed to booking through Gecko’s, as they were completely incompetent, but if you’ve got this far in my blog I suspect you already have an idea that you want to go on the trip so I’d say go for it. Alternatively feel free to contact me using the contact form on this site – I’m always happy to hear from people if they want to comment on my blog or ask questions / advice.

Here’s a map of the route of the sailing portion of the trip.

Map of Myanmar Sailing Trip

The route that the sailing portion of my trip took

Myanmar Sailing Map

The red circle is the area that we sailed in. The two red X’s indicate Phuket and Hong Kong.

Share

This is adventure travel

January 14th, 2014 1 comment

The title of this post is s bit of a play on the phrase “This is Africa” but I’ve done a lot of travel in Africa, and there has been plenty to fix with this trip already, so I feel that it’s appropriate.

When you take part in adventure travel, be that as a solo traveller or on a group trip of what I like to call “organised adventure travel” inevitably something will go wrong. Indeed I have had plenty of examples of that. To name but a few of the memorable ones.

  • In Namibia in 2002 we had to leave our school project a week early due to how uncomfortable we were being made to feel by the officials at the school.
  • Again in Namibia we had to cut our evening plans short one night due to the police getting into a shootout with some people fighting outside the bar we were in.
  • In East Africa in 2009 we missed the final admission to a National Park after a border crossing took longer than expected.
  • Again in East Africa in 2009 our truck broke down half way up a hill meaning we didn’t get to our campsite until after dark and couldn’t take part in our planned canoeing on a lake.
  • In Central America one of our buses took too long to get to its destination and we had to have one of the fastest and scariest taxi rides I’ve ever been on, after a quick bag swap between vehicles, to get to the ferry we had tickets for.
  • While touring the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone we ran out of time to meet the resettled residents as we spent so long exploring inside the abandoned buildings which, according to policy within the zone, we weren’t due to go inside anyway.
Fixing Oscar

Our truck being fixed in East Africa – taken from my East Africa blog

Whether you will enjoy adventure travel or not depends on how you take to little mishaps like this. On every trip there tends to be one person who stands out for moaning about everything as they weren’t expecting it, and on some trips there may be more than one. For example.

  • In East Africa in 2009 we had one person who moaned bitterly about the previously mentioned delays even though there was nothing anybody could have done about them. We also had one person who moaned that we didn’t have hot dogs all trip despite the fact we were in Africa and had a beautiful, and large, selection of freshly cooked tasty food each day.
  • In Central America there was one person who every time the smallest thing went wrong felt the need to complain. Apparently the bus ride taking too long was the tour leader’s fault, as was a previous bus getting stuck in traffic in Guatemala City. This person even moaned that our leader was a few minutes late arriving back to the hotel on our last transfer morning despite the fact the leader was grabbing food for the first time in days after feeling ill – during which time all duties were performed to a much higher standard than I could ever hope to achieve. This person even made a point on the last few days of telling everybody she was going to complain which did nothing other than persuade some of us to send compliment to Intrepid about the tour leader in addition to completing the survey form.
  • In Chernobyl there was one member of the group who moaned for 24 hours continuously about missing the resettlers to the point that we all had an argument while out for a group meal as we couldn’t take any more.

However if you are willing to accept that things happen on adventure travel you can have the most amazing time. In Namibia sure the sound of a bunch of gunshots outside were scary but we had just spent a few great hours in a local bar in a town that hardly any westerners had visited in decades so it allowed us to get under the skin of the country in a way we wouldn’t have if we had stayed in our sterile camp within a walled school. In East Africa our food was the best I’ve ever had while travelling, and the delays crossing the border meant that we stopped in a town that wasn’t on our itinerary and ended up playing pool, playing darts and drinking with the locals at a local bar. Some of us also had a chance to hang out with some Park Rangers at the entrance to a National Park for a few hours while the others insisted on going on our pre-planned nature drive even though it meant delays in getting to our next destination.

Then more recently in Central America we got a true taste of the region and if it wasn’t for using public transport we would have been disconnected from the surroundings and missed so much. Central America is a chaotic but vibrant and friendly place which you won’t see as much with private transport. In Chernobyl if we had left Pripyat early to ensure we saw the resettlers we would have had to cut out the last few buildings which we were allowed to explore – and these for me were the most amazing and memorable.

Science Lab

We were allowed to wander around the abandoned buildings in Pripyat, against policy, which allowed us to see and experience so many memorable things. This was far better than a staged meeting with resettled residents.

None of the things that have happened in the past while travelling have put me off the idea of going to weird and wonderful destinations – in fact they have probably persuaded me even more that this is the style of travel that I enjoy. While camping may not be the top of my list of things I want to do right now, and while after Central America I’ll make sure ear plugs are at the top of my packing list, what I want to do with my life is get out there and see the world. I want to get under the skin of the countries I visit and see what they have to offer and I want to discover and experience things that most people I know could even dream of. I also want to do this on the terms of the country I visit rather than acting like a stereotypican western tourist who wants everything the same as back home.

That’s why when I saw a photo of the Myeik Archipelago in Myanmar in an advert on Facebook advertising new trips for 2014 with Intrepid I knew it was something I had to do. Myanmar is a place I’ve wanted to visit for some time and the idea of experiencing a side of the country that nobody else gets to see really appealed to me even though I had never really considered a sailing holiday before. However being an adventure holiday, and a brand new one at that, inevitably things were to go wrong. On this occasion, however, things started going wrong and needing fixing a few months before the start of the trip instead of during it.

The Myanmar sailing trip, when I booked, had two options available. I could either start in Phuket in Thailand and be driven up to the Myanmar border or could start in Yangon and fly to the starting point. Phuket has never really appealed to me, and I wanted to see as much of Myanmar as I could, so I chose the version starting in Yangon. However a few weeks after booking I noticed that it had disappeared from both the Intrepid and Gecko’s website. After contacting them I discovered that this version had been temporarily suspended as a temporary travel warning had been put in force by the Australian government for the town that we would fly to in the south of Myanmar. Being an Australian operation they had to put a hold on the trip following this advice for legal reasons but they recommended I didn’t change my flights yet as there was the possibility that it would be reinstated.

A couple of tense months followed where there was still no news so Gecko’s advised me to change my flights and transferred me onto the trip starting in Phuket. A week or so of heated three-way negotiaton between Gecko’s, myself and STA Travel and I managed to change my flights and managed to persuade Gecko’s that they should pay for the £350 upgrade to my flights needed to make the changes as my original trip was a guaranteed departure but was no longer operating. While I’m upset at how long it took them to make that decision they didn’t have to agree with me so I’m thankful for that. I’m also upset with the service I got from STA when trying to change my flights but that’s the matter of a complaint that’s still pending with their customer relations department so I won’t go into detail about that here – even more so as the complaint was twice as long as this post.

However despite all of these setbacks there was no point getting too stressed about it as there was nothing that could have been done either way. It’s sad that I’ll no longer see Yangon and won’t get to travel on the Circle Train, visit the many beautiful golden temples or see Aung San Suu Kyi’s house, among other things, and it’s sad that my new flights only give me one evening stopover in Hong Kong instead of two full-day ones. However there are benefits to these changes including visiting Thailand as well, the trip being considerably cheaper and now being able to see the Hong Kong skyline at night. I’m sure there will be numerous other mishaps and corresponding benefits by the time I return home but this will still be an amazing trip which I’m really looking forward to.

I still need to receive my reissued flight tickets from STA and need to book some extra hotel nights in Thailand and Hong Kong but I’ll get to these. If I can get through the chaos that the original person at Gecko’s left me in before leaving the company and if I can weave my way through the web of illogical staff and unacceptable customer service to find the one helpful person at STA Travel then I can wait a few more days until I receive my new flight tickets and can book some hotels without any problems.

Route of new trip

This is the route of the new trip I’m doing to Thailand and Myanmar.

Even though this has been a long post I guess what I’m trying to get at is, for those of you that are reading my blog to try to decide whether adventure travel is the right thing for you or not, I would say that by the time you get this far in the post you’ll already know. You’ll already know whether you’re the sort of person that thinks it’s the end of the world when your bus stops for traffic lights or whether you can’t go 24 hours without hot dogs for example. You’ll also already know whether the things I have mentioned in this post would make you panic, feel scared and never want to leave the house again or whether you see them as getting under the skin of a country and all part of the fun of travel.

Adventure travel, be it solo or in organised groups like the ones I go on, can be incredibly rewarding if you are ready for it. You get to see so much more of the world than most people and have some of the most amazing experiences and memories that will stay with you for the rest of your life. I would say if it’s something you want to do, and don’t think you’ll be that one person on the trip that moans about every small detail with the aim of ruining everybody elses’s trip, then go for it. Otherwise you may as well just lay by the pool in an all-inclusive gated community in the Benidorm for a week and never experience anything that this amazing planet and it’s people have to offer.

Sunset over the Kazinga Channel

Without adventure travel you wouldn’t see amazing scenes like this…

Playing Football

…or have great memories like our own England vs Namibia football match in a town that only a handful of westerners have visited in the last few decades….

Team Breakaway

…or meet amazing people like this who you keep in contact with for years and still consider to be friends even though you live on opposite sides of the world and only rarely see them, if at all, after the trip ends.

It has been a tubulent few months since booking the sailing trip to Myanmar but I’m confident that I’ll see some amazing scenes, have life-long experiences and make new friends. In 2-3 months expect some great photos and a new blog of my experiences. I fly out on February 27th and return on March 12th.

Share