Australia, Camping, Money saving, Travel

Tungamah Lions & RV Park

Tungamah is a small town located in the North of Victoria, 24kms south of Yarrawonga and 250kms north of Melbourne. It is surrounded by plains used for sheep and beef farming and sits along the Boosey Creek. Despite being a rural town, it boasts a general store, a hotel that offers accommodation and meals, a police station as well as many sporting clubs.

Overview

Tungamah Lions & RV Park is situated along the north side of Boosey Creek and offers numerous spots to set up a tent, camper trailer or a caravan of any size. The road through the campground is not sealed but it is suitable for any 2wd.

Entrance to Tungamah Lions & RV Park

Although there is no set fee to camp here it is important to place a donation in the honesty box to help towards the cost of upkeep. Please note that you may stay up to 7 days.

Facilities

The facilities offered at Tungamah Lions & RV Park are exceptional considering it’s all for a donation. Near the entrance of the park there are free undercover barbecues, picnic tables, a toilet and shower block, 5 taps for drinking water, bins as well as a covered playground.

Children’s Playground
Undercover Barbecue Area

Fire pits are dispersed around the campground but please check that there is not a fire ban in place on hot days and make sure your fire is extinguished before leaving.

Our Fire Pit next to Boosey Creek

Experience

We had intended to stay two nights at Tungamah before heading along the North East Silo Art Trail, however, we loved this place so much we ended up staying four nights.

Our campsite on Boosey Creek

The creek offered entertainment for my son who loves to fish and a peaceful tranquil sight for the rest of the family to enjoy. The birdlife in and around the creek was wonderful to watch and it was toped off with a spectacular sunset at the end of the day.

What a way to end the day

Be sure to stop a night or two, (or maybe four!) when next travelling through this welcoming region. It’s a great way to support small local towns and this one certainly far exceeded our expectations. It’s definitely on our visit again list.

Australia, Camping, Travel, Walks

Yarra Valley and Surrounds

We don’t often holiday within our own state of Victoria but with the uncertainty of recent times and possible border closures we decided it was our best option. Turns out it was a great decision as Victoria placed a hard border on NSW just days before we were due to leave.. Many people who were travelling within or through NSW were forced to race against the deadline to get home before having to hotel quarantine. Holidays are meant to be stress free, sadly that’s not the case right now.

You may be wondering why we don’t holiday regularly within Victoria, especially when there are so many must see destinations here. There’s no main reason, like many people around the world the least places visited are often on your doorstep.

We travelled with our caravan to Doon Reserve Caravan Park located in Yarra Junction just 66kms east of Melbourne.

The caravan park has a number of powdered and unpowered sites some of which are located alongside the Yarra River. The facilities include two amenity blocks, a camp kitchen, a laundry and a kiosk. The facilities are immaculately kept and the beauty of this caravan park is the easy access to the river for swimming and kayaking. Be warned the water is icy cold even in summer!

There are numerous options to keep oneself entertained in the Yarra Valley, no matter what your interests there’s something for everyone to enjoy. We had three full days to explore the area, this is how we spent our time:

Day 1 – Fine Food and Drink

You really can’t visit the Yarra Valley without tasting it’s rich offerings. The rolling green pastures and its cool stable climate creates a perfect haven for food and wine producers. It is considered Australia’s oldest wine region, dating back to the 1830s and is renowned for its Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. There s an abundance of local produce from trout and caviar to cheeses, dairy and preserves. As a family we chose to visit three local producers:

Yarra Valley Chocolaterie and Ice Creamery

When children (and big kids) are involved there is no way of avoiding a visit to the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie and Ice Creamery. The scenic drive to get here is breathtaking, from the moment you first arrive you are drawn into the immense landscape. All ages will enjoy exploring the vast lawns, gardens, wetlands and orchards.

Ok let’s be honest, you’ve not come here to look at the views, did someone say chocolate and ice cream? To be exact there are over 250 chocolate products all of which are hand crafted. The whole process can be watched behind a glass window and there are information boards explaining each step in production.

Within the complex there is an all-day cafe serving breakfast and lunch as well as a large shop and toilets and did I mention that there is delicious chocolate to be enjoyed!

Who can resist a metre long chocolate bar?

Yarra Valley Dairy

If you are a cheese lover like myself then you must make a visit to the Yarra Valley Dairy. They have been producing a variety of fresh artisan cheeses from cows and goats milk for many years. The shop is located in the 100 year old milking shed adding to the charm and is open from 10.30am-5pm Thursday through to Monday.

Unfortunately due to recent health considerations, tasting of the cheese is not possible, but rest assured it is delicious. We purchased the renowned Persian feta and the Yering soft cheese, both of which were incredibly delicious and consumed very quickly.

Yering Station Winery

In the Yarra Valley a person is spoilt for choice when it comes to wine tasting, in fact it can be a difficult decision to decide which winery to visit. We had read that Yering Station Winery had stunning grounds, tranquil gardens, a small art gallery and a sculpture terrace as well as great wines. My whole family loves looking at works of art so Yering Station got our vote.

The cellar door is located in the original winery building dating from 1859 and in itself is worth the visit. There is a $10 fee per person to taste the wines that can be offset against a purchase. The cellar door is open 7 days a week, 10am -5pm Monday to Friday and open until 6pm Saturday and Sunday. Even if you’re not a wine drinker it is worthy of a visit for the rich historic and cultural experience.

For some, visiting a winery can be quite tiring!

Day 2 – Exploring Noojee

Noojee is a small town located 44 kilometres south east of Yarra Junction making it a perfect destination for a day trip from the Yarra Valley. This historic timber town perched on the banks of the LaTrobe River amongst dense towering mountain ash trees boasts the tallest surviving wooden trestle bridge in Victoria.

The trestle bridge, built in 1919, sits within a eucalypt and fern forest as part of the old railway used to freight timber outside of the district. Upon entering the car park below the bridge it is hard not to be impressed by the 100m span. To the right there are steep steps leading to the top of the bridge where you can walk across and proceed along the rail trail walk into town.

The walk takes you along the original railway line through the looming mountain ash trees for 2.2 kilometres into Noojee.

When we visited the weather was being particularly unkind to us, it rained for the entire walk.

Not to be deterred we donned our raincoats and set off through the impressive mountain ash forest.

It is an easy flat walk and took us about 30 minutes to complete.

At the end of the rail trail you will arrive at the Noojee Railway Precinct.

Noojee Railway Precinct

The Noojee and District Historical Society run by volunteers was formed in 2006 to undertake several projects to restore and bring to life the regions timber and railway history. With the help of local donations, grants and volunteers they have created a Heritage Centre, restored a steam locomotive, QR wagon and a railway goods shed. There are information boards located around the precinct for those interested in the railways past. The Heritage Centre is open on weekends and public holidays from 12noon-4pm.

Day 3 – Dandenong Ranges

The Dandenong Ranges located within a 40 minute scenic drive of Yarra Junction offers a plethora of attractions to suit everyone. Nestled among valleys and hills the area consists of dense temperate rainforest and a carpet of ferny undergrowth. Scattered throughout the region are charming villages with tranquil gardens, boutique shops, gourmet restaurants and galleries. The biggest attraction being the Puffing Billy, one of the world’s finest preserved steam railways that runs from Belgrave through to Gembrook.

William Ricketts Sanctuary

We were expecting a brighter day weather wise but sadly the grey sky persisted and the clouds continued to drizzle. I guess when you are in an area with dense rainforest a little rain is to be expected. Our first stop for the day was William Ricketts Sanctuary, a garden consisting of 92 striking sculptures created by artist William Ricketts. Such an inspirational gentleman who had lived with aboriginal communities in central Australia. He created the sanctuary as a place for quiet reflection and for replenishing the spirit. He believed that all Australians should adopt aboriginal philosophies and respect the spirituality of all living beings. The drizzly misty rain actually added to the magical atmosphere of this extraordinary place.

The garden is now maintained by Parks Victoria and admission is free. There is a gallery featuring additional artwork and information on William Ricketts life as well as a souvenir shop near the entrance.

Kyeema Track and Aircrash Memorial Site

Come rain or shine we were determined to do a walk whilst in the Dandenong Ranges. As the weather was proving quite unpredictable we opted for a shorter walk with a twist of history.

We started the walk from the small car park at the end of Osprey Road. The track to the right is 1.5kms and is fairly steep in places. We chose to follow the track for 200 meters to the left taking us to Burke’s Lookout. At 628 meters above sea level the lookout rewards you with magnificent views towards the skyline of Melbourne. Despite the gloomy grey skies and misty air we could just about see the outline of the city.

The faint outline of the city of Melbourne
Burke’s Lookout

The Kyeema track is named after the Australian National Airways Douglas DC-2 airplane that tragically crashed into Mt Dandenong on 25th October 1938. Sadly all 18 people on board perished.

On 25th October 1978 marking the 40th anniversary a memorial cairn was unveiled by the Mt. Dandenong Historical Society. Later in January 2003 another plaque was added at the site naming all the people who perished.

The memorial cairn and information board

Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden

Fortunately there was a slight break in the weather, just enough time for us to explore the beautiful Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden and enjoy a picnic lunch.

Formerly known as the National Rhododendron Garden, this cool climate garden is part of an Aboriginal cultural landscape in the traditional Country of the Wurundjeri People. Covering an area of 36 hectares displaying eye capturing rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias, native and exotic trees among many other plants.

The gardens are open from 10am – 5pm and are free to enter.

Monbulk Trestle Bridge

A photographer’s delight, the Monbulk Trestle Bridge is not only artistically engineered but it makes for a perfect picture as the Puffing Billy traverses the narrow gauge rails above the valley.

We chose to stop by in the late afternoon to catch a glimpse of this extraordinary sight but sadly it wasn’t meant to be as the Puffing Billy was not operating due to the Pandemic.

The Yarra Valley is sure to please every type of traveller with so many attractions on offer. This was our second visit and I feel that there is still so much more to be explored. I’d love to hear what you love about this must see region, share you experience in the comments.

Australia, Camping

Off-Grid Camping in the Nariel Valley

Nariel Valley, a tranquil rural Victorian region located south of Colac Colac and around 296kms north-east of Melbourne. The area is noted for its peaceful beauty, colourful hills, a picturesque creek and valuable cattle and dairy farmland.

Many people around Australia will know the valley for the ‘Nariel Valley Folk Festival’. This event started in the early sixties, making it the longest running festival of its kind in Australia. Being a not for profit community event the artists perform without charge during the Christmas to New Year period. It is held at the Nariel Creek Recreational Reserve, 12 kilometres south-west of Corryong.

Nariel Creek Recreational Reserve

Nariel Creek Recreation Reserve has long held a special place in my heart. My husband grew up in Corryong and his parents had been involved with the festival for many years, with his Mum playing the accordion. I was introduced to the Reserve on our first family camping trip as it was a safe place to take young children. It offers a spacious grassed area alongside the creek with many shade trees for the hotter months. One end of the reserve is further away and fenced off from the banks of the creek, making it a safer spot for small children.

Since 2011, we have camped at Nariel a total of eleven times in our tent, camper trailer and more recently our caravan. It holds so many memorable moments for us and our extended family who on many occasions camped along with us. So what makes this place so special?

Aside from the natural beauty of the scenery and the fresh running creek, Nariel reserve offers a low cost option at just $5/night to camp off-grid in a safe well maintained environment. The camp fee, paid into an honesty box on site, covers the upkeep of the camp grounds, the use of drop toilets, water (not suitable for drinking) and fire pits. It is advisable to bring your own fire wood although on many of our trips fire wood had been left behind or donated by other campers. There is a fenced off section within the reserve with picnic tables, an undercover area and the stage used during the festival.

Even during the busier holiday periods (not including the festival period) due to the size of the reserve you never feel on top of anyone else. The expanse of the area also makes it suitable for all types of camping accommodation including caravans and big rigs. You won’t need to back up into a tight spot here!

The biggest drawcard to the reserve is the ability to camp right next to the creek. Nariel Creek gently meanders its way through the campground, offering swimming holes as well as safe shallow areas for younger children. It is also a great place to throw in a fishing line, although due to recent bushfire activity there are very few fish at the present time.

One of the greatest pleasures whilst camping off-grid is having a campfire. Fires should never be lit during total fire ban days, check the CFA website for up-to-date information. Please make sure that you keep the fire contained and have access to water nearby. Collection of firewood is permitted in certain places during autumn and spring, click here for more details.

If you find yourself travelling through this magnificent region make sure you stay at Nariel Creek Recreation Reserve and check out this wonderful spot for yourself as I’d love to hear about your experiences too.

Happy Camping!!

Australia, Camping

Our Camping Evolution

One of my greatest pleasures in life aside from travelling to other countries is to set up a campsite somewhere in Australia. I love the resourcefulness that comes with setting up your own accommodation and living with a minimalistic amount of stuff. It’s also very economical especially when we go ‘off grid’ and bush camp.

As soon as my youngest child started to walk we decided to invest in a Coleman twelve man tent. Yes, you read that correctly, twelve man! Why you ask would we need a twelve man tent for four people? Our reasoning was that we would have our children in one section we’d sleep in another section and the third would be for storage, getting dressed or a place for us to sit if the weather was inclement. We loved our tent and we had so many great adventures.

Coleman Tent collage

As the children grew, as they have a tendency to do, we had to create more space in the car for our camping needs. First a cargo barrier was installed so we could stack the boot to the highest point and a few years later a roof rack. We were loaded to the maximum and we still needed more space! It was time to make a decision, purchase a box trailer or make the bigger leap and upgrade to a camper trailer. The camper trailer won and we purchased a second hand 2004 Jayco Swan.

Our first Swan seemed so luxurious and it was a breeze to set up, usually taking us around 20 minutes. The layout of a Jayco Swan has not changed very much since they were first produced in 1975 proving that they are a great design. The advantage of these campers is they are lightweight, compact and easy to tow and once set up they provide plenty of space and storage. They offer a queen and double bed at each end and a dinette that can also convert to a single bed. The swan compared to other models has the added bonus of a club lounge and a wardrobe.

Jayco Swan Layout

I loved that everything we needed for a trip away was stored inside the van, kitchen utensils, pots, cutlery, plates, lanterns, bedding, it was all ready to go. The only items we needed to pack were clothes and food.

After experiencing a couple of trips we decided to explore our options for an ‘off grid’ set up. The van already had a 60 litre water tank, just enough for cooking and washing up for a week. We considered purchasing solar panels and having 12 volt plugs installed so we could charge devices and battery operated items. It was at this time that we saw a 2012 Jayco Swan for sale that had all the ‘off grid’ features we wanted. Our 2004 van sold quickly and on December 24th 2014 we purchased our second swan.

Our 2012 Jayco Swan

Our newest edition had a 90W solar panel on the roof and a battery system to run the led lights, bed fans and charge devices through a usb port. It enabled us to camp off grid for longer, although it soon became apparent that water storage was our weakest component. Nevertheless we managed to camp in remote spots for up to 7 days before needing to access additional water.

After numerous trips in our camper trailer and endless great memories it was becoming clear that as a family we were outgrowing this set up. Our son and daughter were at the age where they needed their own space and seperate beds. For a short time we persisted and used the dinette as single bed for our son but on wet days we would have strip the bedding to use it as a table. It was time to start thinking about our future needs.

My husband and I had always talked about purchasing a caravan for our retirement years to travel more of Australia. We considered a family van but soon realised our years of camping with children were numbered. Then the pandemic hit and we were in a lockdown, unable to get away for our usual autumn camping experience. It gave us some time to think about what we really wanted and it always came back to the same decision, we wanted a two berth caravan. You’re thinking ‘what about your children?’, well after many discussions with them they decided they would be happy in their own swag.

Welcome to our new caravan, the Crusader Lifechanger Passenge 2020.

In November 2020 we purchased our Crusader through RV World Albury Wodonga as it is a local dealership and they offered outstanding customer service. On collection day they spent around two hours taking us through step by step on how everything works, tips on loading the van and assistance with hitching. We were excited and nervous all in one and driving it home for the first time was a massive learning experience. For all the specifications and features on the Crusader Lifechanger series click here.

It is truly exciting to begin a new phase of our camping evolution, there is so much knowledge to acquire and many challenges to overcome but we are going to enjoy every minute along the way. I can’t wait to share all our discoveries and knowledge, I’d also love to hear about other people’s camping evolution.

Australia, Walks

Yackandandah Gorge Walk

With the recent restrictions on travel it has forced us to discover our ‘own backyard’ and boy are we lucky to live in the north east of Victoria. As a family there’s nothing we love better than being at one with our natural surroundings and walking through stunning scenery, so it is surprising that there are so many walks within our locality that we haven’t experienced. That is up until now.

Having dropped our son at a friends house for the day and not being able to convince our fifteen year old daughter to accompany us we were child free!

A Place Steeped in History

Yackandandah is a historic town located 308km from Melbourne and is situated close to the New South Wales border. At the time of writing this article we are unable to go across the state border without a permit! Yackandandah is Jiatmathang country and the Aboriginal word for the town is Dhudhuroa meaning one boulder on top of another at the junction of two creeks. European settlement began in 1824 and the with the discovery of gold in late 1852 there came a surge of alluvial miners settling in the region. From then on Yackandandah became a thriving town and many of the original buildings and disused mines from that era are still in existence today.

The Gorge Walk

This is a gentle, easy track that meanders alongside the Yackandandah Creek. The walk took us around 90 minutes to complete (with frequent stops) starting and finishing at Yackandandah High Street. For more details on the walk visit Explore Yackandandah’s website.

Map of Walk
Map of the Gorge Walk

To start the walk turn left on Wellsford Street at the top of the High Street, cross the bridge over Yackandandah Creek and immediately turn right onto the path. You will see a sign and information board explaining the historic significance of the walk.

Gorge Walk Sign

At the beginning of the walk you will pass tennis courts and the sports ground on your lefthand side. This part of the trail is suitable for prams and bikes. I have read that there is a resident Platypus in the creek here, sadly we didn’t see it.

Start of Walk

There are times when the path forks and you’re not certain which route to take. We found that both ways would take you to the same place but one path just took you closer alongside the creek. There are plenty of opportunities to stop and watch the water racing down the creek and I can only imagine how beautiful and refreshing it would be to take a dip in the hotter months of the year.

Yackandandah Creek

There are several information boards along the route that are worth taking the time to stop and read.

To save you the effort of climbing a hill unnecessarily, as we did, make sure you take the pathway on the right shortly after the bird information board. You will see another information board further along the path so you know you’re on the right path.

Take this path
This is the correct path

A short time later the bushland opens up and you will reach the miners gorge. Before you cross the bridge over the creek take sometime to sit on the rocks and listen to the sound of the energetic water rushing along.

Walk onto the bridge to observe the incredible gorge and you will realise why this place is so special. The 100 metre gorge was created by miners in 1858 so they could sluice gravel and sand in the hope of finding gold. They cut through the granite using only picks, shovels and blasting powder, it’s an impressive achievement.

Gorge bridge
Gorge Bridge

Gorge
The Narrow Gorge

After crossing the bridge the path gets fairly steep and slippery and extra care needs to be taken when it is wet.

Steeper part of the walk

Continue along the path for a few hundred metres and you will arrive at the dam wall. The dam wall was built to divert the creek and is believed to have powered a water driven timber mill. At a later date in 1859 a tail race was constructed when the miners deepened the gorge with the use of dynamite.

Shortly after the dam wall you will come across a wooden stye that doesn’t look like it goes anywhere. Being the curious people we are we decided to scramble over the stye and check out the other side. There were lots of blackberry bushes on the side of the path so care needed to be taken not to cut ourselves on the thorns. We discovered the path ended abruptly just around the corner so you won’t miss anything if you don’t go over the stye.

Stye

To return to the High Street you can either walk along Bells Flat Road (about 2kms) or return back the same way as you came.

Yackandandah Township

Yackandandah is an attractive, quaint town with many historic buildings from the gold mining days. A considerable number of these buildings have become boutique shops or eateries. The town became better known when the film ‘ Strange Bed Fellows’ starring Michael Caton and Paul Hogan was filmed on location in the High Street.

The town also has a very strong community and it shows in many of the initiatives undertaken. One such example is Totally Renewable Yackandandah, a 100% volunteer run group with a goal of powering the town with 100% renewable energy and achieving energy sovereignty by 2022.

You are spoiled for choice when it comes to dining in Yackandandah with two pubs, numerous cafes, an asian restaurant, a bakery and our favourite Gum Tree Pies. We couldn’t visit Yackandandah without enjoying one of their delicious pies, go and google them and you will see the positive reviews from all around Australia.

Gum Tree Pies Photo

To finish off the perfect day we soaked up the beautiful winter sun with a hot drink at Sir Isaac Isaacs Park. The park is named after Sir Isaac Isaacs who was born in Yackandandah in 1855 and was the first Australian born governor-general. The park has an excellent playground, public toilets, electric barbecues and plenty of picnic tables.

cuppa in the park

Next time you are able to visit North East Victoria be sure to spend a day in the beautiful town of Yackandandah. You won’t be disappointed.

Let me know about your experiences in Yackandandah.

 

 

Hotel Reviews, Thailand, Travel

Sam Roi Yot National Park

No matter how prepared you are, travel doesn’t always go to plan, sometimes you end up travelling in the wrong direction! Well that’s exactly what happened to us and it just happened to be on the shortest leg of our trip, how embarrassing.

We were travelling from Hua Hin to Sam Roi Yot, a journey that should take around 45 minutes. It was convenient that there was a mini van station right next door to our guesthouse (Baan Talay 51) or so we thought.

Tickets purchased and a few moments later we were stuffed into a minivan like sardines, bags and all. No more than 10 minutes into the journey it hit me….we were going the wrong way. It transpired we had bought a ticket to Phetchaburi and we were meant to be going to Pranburi. Being at the back of the van involved every single person having to hop off to let us alight but to their credit nobody seemed to mind.

After a few minutes confusion we found someone who was willing to take us in his songtaew all the way to our guesthouse in Sam Roi Yot.

Songthaew

Beach Box @ Pran

We had originally booked three nights at the Oriental Pearl Resort as we wanted to splurge and pamper ourselves for the Christmas period. On the surface the resort appeared to offer a taste of luxury with spa baths, a large swimming pool and a poolside bar. Upon further investigation reviews on the internet expressed that the property was in need of maintenance, the private spa baths were dirty and many didn’t work at all and it was a fair distance from the beach. We are not fussy people when it comes to accommodation but we do like to get value for our money. I cannot comment personally on the state of the resort and it would be grossly unfair if I did as we didn’t experience the place for ourselves. We stumbled across exceptional reviews on accommodation called Beach Box Pran and our stay there backed them all up.

The hosts Mo and Maem made our stay exceptional and memorable, always going well beyond our expectations. Upon our arrival we were warmly greeted with a delicious refreshment. We had booked two rooms, a deluxe family suite and a superior twin room. Both rooms were impeccably clean and had all the amenities you could possibly need including robes and slippers. An unexpected surprise was the roof in the bathroom retracted so you could shower under the sky or stars at night.

Beach Box Bathroom
Spacious Bathroom

Beach Box Room
Modern Family Suite

It’s clear to see why Beach Box Pran gets such wonderful reviews. The grounds are beautiful and include a huge swimming pool with well maintained gardens. They also provide free use of bicycles and kayaks and if you are staying for a few days they will give you a free transfer to Phraya Nakhon Cave, a place not to be missed. Breakfast is included in the rate and they offer a wide selection as well as an egg station.

The location tops off this exceptional choice in accommodation being 100 metres from the beach and within a couple minutes walk of amazing restaurants. If you find yourself in Sam Roi Yot do yourself a tremendous favour and stay here.

Things to See and Do around Sam Roi Yot

It is clear to see why Sam Roi Yot means ‘three hundred mountain peaks’. The limestone cliffs surround you and create a stunning backdrop to this stunning coastline. Many people chose to visit Sam Roi Yot as a day trip from Hua Hin, however, if you have the time I believe it is worth spending a few days here to enjoy everything this place has to offer.

Phraya Nakhon Cave

Phraya Nakhon Cave is located within Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park and is without a doubt the biggest draw card for the area. It is possible to visit the cave as a day trip from Hua Hin, however, if you want to spend more time at this remarkable site then it is advisable to stay locally.

There are differing opinions on how the cave was discovered. Some believe a local ruler Nakhon Srithammaraja discovered it 200 years ago when he was forced to take refuge from a storm although many historians think a nobleman named Nakhon stumbled across it in the 17th century. Nevertheless, it is a truly majestic place to visit.

In 1890 a small pavilion was constructed in Bangkok and assembled inside the cave to commemorate the visit of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V). Every morning at around 10am the morning sunlight floods the cave and radiates the pavilion. In later years it was visited by King Prajadhipok (Rama VII) and King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX).

What you need to know before you visit:

Now you are familiar with the history of the cave it is advisable to know what is involved when visiting Phraya Nakhon Cave.

You will read several accounts from people who have trekked to the cave and most will agree that it is not an easy walk. As a family we walk regularly and as a whole are reasonably fit, however, this was a tough trek. Having said that my 81 year Dad managed to get to the top, although he admitted that it was almost ‘broke’ him. Adding to the element of difficulty is the extreme humidity, expect to sweat bucket loads!

Sam Roi Yot Map
Map of Sam Roi Yot National Park

You will be dropped off at the village of Bang Pu where you need to pay the entrance fee of 200 Baht per person to enter the National Park. From here you have two options to access the beginning of the walk, on foot or by boat. The walk will take you around 45 minutes and it relatively easy but bear in mind that the next stage is incredibly challenging so it’s best to save your energy and take a boat. The boat costs 200 Baht per boat not per person as I believed, hence why we walked.

Walk to Temple Gramps
The walk before the hard part!

View - walk to Temple
Rewarded with beautiful views

Signage leads you a few hundred meters from the beach to the start of the walk. Make sure you carry plenty of water and wear sunscreen. There is a rustic restaurant and toilets available before you start your ascent.

Sign walk to temple
Good to know!

Beach before temple walk
The beach area just before the uphill climb

Take your time, stop often to catch your breath and enjoy the remarkable reward once you reach the pavilion. It really is worth the effort and believe it or not the pavilion is more beautiful in real life than in the pictures on the internet.

Beaches and the Local Scenery

To be honest the beaches at Sam Roi Yot do not even compare to the paradise of the beaches located on the Southern Islands of Thailand. Having said that they are still beautiful in their own way and offer a much less crowded experience. The long stretch of sandy beach at Ban Phu Noi (Dolphin Bay) offers a safe swimming environment for children and is a great place take out a kayak in the calm waters.

Kayaking

The roads are very quiet and the area is relatively flat making for an easy exploration by bike and within a few minutes you are cycling in remote countryside.

Bike Ride beach
You get the beach all to yourself

Bike ride

Restaurants

Surprisingly for a such a small resort there are a variety of excellent restaurants, the majority of which are situated along the beach front. One great place was Phen Thai, a family run restaurant situated right next door to our resort and we had been given discount vouchers to top it off. They offer a traditional Thai menu and an extensive drinks list, you can chose to sit in the restaurant area or across the road on the beach. The food was delicious and very fresh, just don’t expect the food to come out all at the same time (this is typical of most Thai restaurants!).

20191225_124831
Phen Thai Restaurant

We then discovered Blue Beach Restaurant, tucked away in a tropical surrounding just a couple of minutes walk from our resort. The atmosphere was fantastic and both nights we visited we saw the same people as the previous night! Once you discover this gem of a place it’s hard to go anywhere else. The food was amazing, we tried a variety of dishes and they were all exceptional and the drinks were very good value.

Did Sam Roi Yot Meet our Expectations?

Sam Roi Yot not only met our expectations but the place went above and beyond and exceeded them. If you are looking for a quiet resort, away from tourist crowds and loud music then this is the place to visit. We could easily have stayed longer and explored the area further if we’d had more time. A stay in Sam Roi Yot will definitely be on our list again so we can discover the many walks and places of interest we didn’t have time to visit on this trip.

Where to next….

A four hour minivan trip and we were ready to explore the delights of Bangkok.

Hotel Reviews, Thailand, Travel

Hua Hin

Hua Hin was the second place on our itinerary around Thailand. We travelled from Kanchanaburi by train with a connection at Nakhon Pathom, where we saw Phra Pathom Chedi, the tallest chedi in the world at 120 metres.

Getting to Hua Hin
Phra Pathom Chedi

We pulled into Hua Hin’s historic train station at around 2pm. The station is one of the oldest in Thailand and it features a royal waiting room that used to welcome the King for visits to his summer Palace. The main station building is in Victorian style and dates back to the 1920’s when the resort became fashionable.

Train Station
Hua Hin Railway Station

We had intended to use a public songtaew (a converted pick-up truck) to get to our guesthouse but we couldn’t find any information about where they departed. Fortunately there were plenty of tuk-tuk drivers vying for custom so it wasn’t hard to negotiate a good price.

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Travelling by Tuk-Tuk

Baan Talay 51 Guesthouse

We had booked two family double rooms at Baan Talay 51 guesthouse for a very reasonable price. The room had one single bed and one double with a private bathroom. Towels, toiletries and a hairdryer were included in the room rate. There was also a kettle, tea and coffee, a tv and air conditioning. My only criticism about the room would be that the beds were very firm even for Thailand standards.

It was the swimming pool and quaint garden area that made this place truly great. The swimming pool is not very deep but this can be an advantage if you have young children.

Pool
Pool and Garden Area

Wat Khao Takiap (Monkey Mountain)

We arranged for a tuk tuk to take us up to the temple on Khao Takiap Mountain as it was too hot and humid to walk all the way. At the base of the temple there are a few shops selling drinks, snacks and souvenirs.

It’s entertaining to sit here for a while and watch the monkeys clambering over the roof tops avoiding being sling shot by the vendors. We were also joined by dogs, cats and a cockerel!

Monkey
No Monkey Business Here

It only took us around 10 minutes to walk up the steps to the top. Along the way there were lots of monkeys but they didn’t bother us at all. It’s best not to have any food that is visible to the monkeys as they are prone to stealing it from you. Arriving at the top awarded us with beautiful panoramic views of the area.

Hua Hin Night Market

We decided to walk to the night market in the centre of Hua Hin, although crossing the busy roads to get there was challenging. The night market had a huge range of stalls selling homewares, clothing, souvenirs, food and beverages. It was quite lively and a very popular place for tourists.

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Hua Hin Night Market

Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT)

One of the big draw cards for visiting Thailand is the unique opportunity to get up close and personal to their national animal, the elephant. Everywhere you go there are elephant images, they appear on posters, postcards and even on the Chang beer bottles. Chang is actually the Thai word for elephant so even their beer is named after this majesty creature.

Sadly though tourism has led to the destruction of their habitat and even worse the mistreatment of these iconic animals for financial gain.

I wanted my family to have the experience of seeing elephants but strictly at a genuine, humane sanctuary where elephants are not mistreated. After a substantial amount of research on the internet I found Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand. WFFT is located around 40 minutes from Hua Hin and this was a major reason for our decision to stay in the city. Click here to read my full article about Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand.

Restaurants

We were only in Hua Hin for two full days so it wasn’t much time to discover the culinary delights of this region. We found a few local restaurants within walking distance of our guesthouse that offered tasty affordable meals.

Drink
Thailand’s Known for Exotic Drinks

Hua Hin is a popular resort and many of the restaurants along the sea front are upper market and expensive. The area prominently focuses on seafood from its heritage of being an ‘old fishing village’.

Did Hua Hin Meet Our Expectations?

Originally we had planned to stay in Hua Hin for five full days as it appeared there were plenty of things to do. Upon further reading we decided to break the stay into two sections and book seperate accommodation in Sam Roi Yot instead of visiting the National Park in a day trip.

I am very pleased that we didn’t stay longer than two full days in Hua Hin. Maybe my expectations were a little unrealistic as I knew that it was not renown for having tranquil beaches. What I didn’t expect was an urban jungle of high rise buildings and polluted congestion in the centre. Luckily our guesthouse was a peaceful oasis to return to at the end of each day.

The highlight of staying in Hua Hin was the full day excursion to Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand but in hindsight they offer transfers from other less developed places.

Where to next……

A short hop found us in Sam Roi Yot National Park.

Animals, Thailand, Travel

An Ethical Interaction with Elephants…..Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand

When someone mentions the word ‘Thailand’ a number of images pop into ones head, tropical beaches, spicy curries, temples and elephants.

blue and green elephant with light
Photo by Chris F on Pexels.com

A trip to Thailand would not be complete without seeing their national animal, however in recent times there has been greater awareness surrounding the mistreatment of these majestic creatures. Sadly there are aspects of tourism that create cruel, inhumane behaviours and elephants are very often the victim of these practices in Thailand.

Never, yes that’s right NEVER ride an elephant.

Here’s why:

Have you ever asked yourself how an elephant ends up in a town or sometimes a city in Thailand taking tourists for rides? Before you even contemplate riding an elephant you should ask this question because the answer is truly heartbreaking.

Asian elephants live in herds made up of a matriarch (the oldest, largest most experienced female elephant), female relatives and their offspring. Once a male elephant reaches puberty they leave the herd and live a solitary life other than when they mate. The elephants that end up in the tourism trade get taken from their herd at a very young age (usually around three months old) for the sole purpose of holiday makers. It’s not just riding, some elephants are forced to perform tricks, paint pictures and play football for the spectators. The process of obtaining an elephant is not as straight forward as just taking the young elephant because the herd is very protective. The majority of the time both parents are killed to gain the youngster and the cruelty does not stop there. The young elephant is then placed in a cage and the process of breaking its spirit begins. The spirit has to be broken for the young elephant to forget its herd and natural instincts. Can you imagine if this occurred within the human race? There would be outrage on a global scale, well this is happening to elephants right now.  I won’t go into any further detail here but if you want to read more click here for this in-depth article by One Green Planet on the cruel practice.

I bet that’s changed your mind.

Just in case you need any further persuasion this article by Roger Lohanan talks about the elephant situation in Thailand and this article by the National Geographic discusses the role of the Mahouts and elephants in captivity.

It’s Not All Doom and Gloom

Thankfully there are many organisations and people within Thailand that are making a difference by providing animals with a safe environment and educating the public to rethink their choices. One such organisation is Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT).

WFFT Logo

Our Experience at WFFT

Like many people who visit Thailand I wanted my family to experience an ‘elephant’ activity but I didn’t want to contribute to an unethical business. It took a lot of research on the internet to find genuine sanctuaries as many claim to be but the reviews (many from volunteers) stated otherwise. Eventually I found Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand and the reviews were overwhelming positive.

We chose to book a full day tour with return transfers from our hotel. It is not a cheap activity but I felt that every baht spent was worthwhile as this is a genuine charity helping over 600 animals (not just elephants). It is worth noting that the sanctuary limits the number of visitors per day so book early to avoid disappointment.

When we arrived they welcomed us with free tea, coffee or filtered water. Our guide then drove us to the Wildlife Rescue Centre and we started on a walk through the park. At every stage our guide was informative with details about all the animals, their names and background stories and answered all our questions.

The Animals

The Wildlife Rescue Centre has over 600 animals and most of them has a sad story regarding their arrival at WFFT. The centre provides such great medical care and it is evident that every possible avenue is explored to get them back into the wild. Sadly it is not possible for all the animals to be released but it’s comforting to know that they are in a safe environment without exploitation.

Here’s a few of the many animals we saw:

Asian Sun Bears

Sun Bears

Turtles

Turtle

Lizards

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Samba Deer

Deer

and lots of monkeys

Monkey WWT

Yes these monkeys are in large wired cages but it is for their own protection until they can be released back into the wild. Some of them had been raised in peoples houses and appartments around the world so they do not have the instincts or skills to survive on their own in the wild. Every animal at WFFT has the opportunity to be rehabilitated and released back to freedom unless of course their ailments are irreversible. 

Lunch

As we were doing the full day tour a buffet lunch was included and the food was delicious. Drinks other than water were not included but they have a bar where you can purchase alcoholic or soft drinks.

An Afternoon with the Elephants

The afternoon focused on learning about the elephants at the centre. The centre had recently implemented a change where you are no longer able to walk with the elephants. This is for the safety of visitors and for the well being of the elephants. You have to remember that most of these elephants have been through horrendous experiences and their welfare takes priority.

Having said that you do get to interact with these beautiful animals by feeding them fruit and washing them with a hose and brush.

Feeding Elephant

Bathing ElephantBathing Elephant 1

Did it meet my expectations?

It was a truly humbling experience. The centre far exceeded mine and my families expectations and we thoroughly enjoyed our day here. I am glad I chose to support this centre as the work they do is crucial for the survival of these animals. I hope that one day I can return and volunteer my time at Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand but in the meantime I will be making online donations to this great cause.

 

Hotel Reviews, Thailand, Travel, Uncategorized

Kanchanaburi

Way back in 1998 Thailand was my introduction to South East Asia and it was love at first sight. I was travelling with three friends and we planned to visit Kanchanaburi, however for one reason and another it didn’t happen. Subsequently in 2001 when I solo backpacked around South East Asia intending to make Kanchanaburi a priority it still didn’t eventuate. Fast forward to December 2019 and a holiday with my husband, two children, my 81 year old Dad and Kanchanaburi was the first destination on our six week itinerary,

It felt like the universe was telling me it was not meant to be with our airline deciding to strike on the very day we were flying to Thailand. This meant a possible delay in our arrival, hence pushing our itinerary days forward. I couldn’t bear the thought of missing out on Kanchanaburi again. So quick action was taken and we arranged to fly a few days early, hallelujah, my dream was back on track.

Getting to Kanchanaburi

Having the time we opted to take the 3rd class train from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi and experience the historic ride along what has become known as the Death Railway. There are two trains a day from Thornburi Station, one at 7.50am (a good option if you are visiting on a day trip) and the later one at 1.55pm.

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The best way to get to the station is to take a river boat to Thornburi Station Pier no.11. From here it is about a twelve minute walk past the Siriraj Hospital. My Dad had travelled from Thornburi station in 2002 and we expecting a large station building so it took us some time to find the current station. The original train station building was sold to Siriraj Hospital in 2003 and a new train terminus was built around 900 metres down the line.

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Alternately a taxi ride from Khao San Road should take around 20 minutes and 40 minutes from the City Centre. It is important to negotiate a price if the driver refuses to use the meter.

The station is very small with only one platform, public toilets and a ticket office. All tickets are 3rd class and cost 100 Baht per person for both Kanchanaburi and Nam Tok. Despite being 3rd class the train was surprising comfortable with padded seats, although we realised some carriages do have wooden seats. The journey took us around two and a half hours and when we arrived I was beyond excited to explore this beautiful town.

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My children enjoying Thai train travel

Siam Guesthouse – A little Oasis

Our accommodation at Siam Guesthouse was an easy 10 minute walk from the station situated at the end of a very quiet street but merely a few minutes walk from numerous bars and restaurants. Our booking included a family room (consisting of two interconnecting rooms and two bathrooms) and a twin room for my Dad. All rooms were spotlessly clean and provided a large fridge, air conditioning, towels, toiletries and other amenities such as toothbrushes and combs. The only amenity not provided was a kettle, although there is free tea, coffee and hot chocolate available all day in the communal kitchen area.

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Communal Kitchen Area

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Bedroom

The owners, Nueng and his family continually went above and beyond to make our stay memorable and their generosity was genuinely heartfelt. The real gem at Siam Guesthouse is their beautiful lush garden and courtyard. After a tiring day sightseeing in the heat we loved sitting in the shady garden enjoying a few cold refreshments.

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Things to See in and Around Kanchanaburi

Kanchanaburi is well-known for its dark cruel history where thousands of prisoner of wars lost their lives during World War II building a railway from Thailand to Burma under Japanese brutality. It is also a place of exquisite natural beauty, rural and located on the confluence of Rivers Kwai Noi and Kwai Yai. It is worth taking your time to appreciate Kanchanaburi’s history and beauty.

The Bridge over River Kwai

A quick internet search ‘Bridge Over the River Kwai’ will soon render results of the 1957 movie with the same title directed by David Lean. Whilst being hailed an epic war movie at the time of its release the sad reality is that the six academy award winner doesn’t even come close to the truth. I guess the gruesome reality of events that occurred in Kanchanaburi would not fit your traditional Hollywood blockbuster. You can read further details on the history of the bridge in this great article written by Barry Fox for the New Scientist.

The Bridge really is the iconic image of Kanchanaburi and it is definitely worth spending the time to walk across the structure. We visited in the morning and it was very quiet and at times we had the bridge all to ourselves.

Located on the south side of the bridge is the Chinese Temple ‘Wihan Phra Phothisat Kuan In’, a great place to sit and admire unobstructed views of the bridge. The temple itself is also worth strolling around to enjoy the beautiful architecture and colourful ornate shrines.

Thai – Burma Railway Museum and War Cemetery

The Thai-Burma Railway Museum was the first place we visited in Kanchanaburi and for good reason. The museum is very well laid out and provides a wealth of information about the prisoner of war’s and the conditions they were exposed to whilst building the railway. In the gallery upstairs there is a 3 metre deep diorama of Hellfire Pass demonstrating how the cutting got its name. The museum charges 150B for adults and 70B for children.

Across the road from the museum is the Don Rak War Cemetery where 6982 prisoner of war graves are laid out amongst neatly manicured lawns.

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JEATH Museum

We hadn’t planned to visit this museum as I had read that the Thai-Burma Railway Museum is more informative and better organised. However, we had a few hours to fill in so we decided to take a look and I am glad we did. Ok so I will admit that the reviews are spot on, this museum is a little run down and there was no real logic to the positioning and relevance of some of the exhibits. Having said that when you’ve only paid 40B per person it is not really a major issue.

JEATH is an acronym for the nations that were primarily involved in the war; Japan, England, Australia, America, Thailand and Holland.

Not many people realise that there were in actual fact two bridges built in Kanchanaburi by the POWs, the famous steel and concrete one and the less well-known wooden one. The wooden bridge was built several times (due to bombing) 100 metres downstream from the steel bridge. We discovered that within this museum there are remnants of the original wooden bridge despite lonely planet saying nothing remains. Another highlight upon entering this obscure museum was feeding the large fish of which looked like they’d eat your hand given half a chance!

Hellfire Pass (Konyu Cutting)

Konyu Cutting infamously known as Hellfire Pass aptly named because of the glow at night from burning torches were said to resemble scenes from hell. The 600m stretch is a place of great historic significance and has become a memorial to those who worked on the railway. It is one thing to visit the museums in Kanchanaburi and learn about the sickening brutality and cruelty inflicted on innocent POWs but a visit to Konyu Cutting brings it to life in an unfathomable way.

The Hellfire Pass Interpretive Centre and Memorial Walking Trail built and maintained by the Australian Government is a located 1½ hours by bus from Kanchanaburi. We caught a local bus (8203) from Kanchanaburi bus station at 8am at a cost of 80Baht each. In hindsight it would have worked out cost effective for us to hire a tuk tuk for the day. It would also have saved us some extra walking as the bus drops you off on the highway and it is around 500 metres to the entrance of the centre.

The Interpretive Centre is an introduction to the atrocities that occurred at Hellfire Pass with narratives of the men involved at Konyu Cutting. The information and digital media is displayed respectfully and with great sensitivity. It is truly heart breaking to discover the extreme mistreatment of fellow human beings. It is difficult to even begin to imagine the suffering these men endured and it is unthinkable how some of them survived the torturous conditions.

The Memorial Walking Trail is linked to the Interpretive Centre by a boardwalk and stairway. The centre provides free audio guides that explain each section of the walk. There are two parts to the walk, the memorial walk and a section that takes you further along the railway line to Hintok Cutting. The memorial walk takes around 30 – 40 minutes including stopping to listen to the audio guide. If you chose to walk further along the trail to Hintok Cutting (around 5km) the centre will equip you with a two way radio for your safety as certain parts are steep, uneven and rocks are prone to falling.

Upon touching the rock along the cutting my heart sank, with every step along the track another tear rolled down my face. I can say with my hand on my heart that I can’t remember any other time where I’d felt so emotionally moved.

Wampho Viaduct

Sadly this trestle bridge is the only one to survive along the Thai – Burma Railway, although originally the bridge was built with bamboo and has now been replaced with wood. The bridge consists of 164 trestles up above the Kwai Noi River and appears to cling to the side of the mountain. Incredible to believe, this section of the railway was considered to be ‘lucky’ as only 4000 men died.

You can get to Wampho Viaduct by taking the train to Tham Kra Sae station and just a few hundred meters down the line brings you to the trestle bridge.

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Strolling along the line to Wampho Viaduct

Walking over the bridge is not for the faint hearted with a fear of heights and you will also need to consider the time of the trains crossing the bridge. The walk beneath the bridge is equally as rewarding as you get to marvel at the engineering prowess of this structure.

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Wampho Viaduct

On the far side of Wampho Viaduct is the Suansaiyot Resort and the Bridge Bistro Cafe, a great place to stop for a refreshment and admire the bridge against the beautiful back drop.

There are two train stations at each end of Wampho Viaduct.

Wamphu Map

We chose to walk back over the bridge so we could ride the train over the viaduct and it was an incredible experience. The train rides so close to the mountain but the best views are on the other side of the carriage. It’s fascinating that such a heavy train can still meander its way over this ‘pack of cards’ bridge. The journey back to Kanchanaburi took around one and a half hours.

Pak Prak Heritage Street

Meaning ‘crossroads’ in Chinese Pak Prak Heritage Street takes you back in time and displays 20 heritage buildings of mixed architectural styles. Each of the significant buildings have signs explaining the construction and architectural details. It also details how the building were used during the Second World War, some of which were occupied by Japanese officers and others by wealthy families who profited from the war.

Pak Prak

Erawan Falls

Erawan Falls came as a welcome relief, not just from the emotions of the devastating historic events of Kanchanaburi, but also from the humidity and heat. We had planned to catch a local bus to the falls but as I mentioned previously it was cost effective for us to hire a tuk tuk for the day. For those that catch the bus; it departs from the bus station hourly from 8am to 5pm, costs 45 THB per person and takes around one hour.

The entrance fee does seem expensive especially as the locals pay so much less than tourists but I felt it was worth the money. Firstly, it is a full day out and secondly, it is apparent that the money is used for conservation and keeping the park clean.

The falls are made up of 7 tiers each with a refreshing pool. Food and drink cans are not permitted past tier two to stop the spread of litter and if you take a drink bottle past this point you will need to pay a 20 THB deposit.

Erawan Falls 1
Clear walking tracks to most of the tiers

Is it worth trekking to all seven tiers of the falls? Firstly it depends on your level of fitness. Sections of the path are very steep and the last section doesn’t really consist of a clear track, at times we were climbing over trees and rocks. Having said that my 81 year old Dad managed to get to the top, although he is much fitter than your average pensioner. It is also very slippery in places so it is sensible to wear good walking shoes or sandals. Secondly, consider how much time you have at the falls, it took us almost an hour to reach the top. I had read on several sites that the first two tiers are very busy and as you progress it gets quieter and quieter, so I was expecting to have the seventh tier to ourselves but it wasn’t the case. In hindsight I’d have probably spent more time at tier five where the swimming was equally as good.

Just one word…FISH!!! Not just any fish, fish that nibble on your dead skin. It doesn’t hurt at all, it just tickles. At tier 5 we noticed that there were really big fish in the pool and we were afraid that they’d nibble our skin but thankfully we discovered it’s only the smaller fish that have that fetish.

Overall we had a wonderful day out in what can be described as paradise on earth.

Restaurants

Kanchanaburi has a wide range of places to dine and has the added appeal of many riverside restaurants. The vast majority of restaurants are located along Th Mae Nam Khwae a kind of ‘backpackers’ street although the quality of food varies greatly.

Here’s where we ate:

Zeb Zeb

We ate at Zeb Zeb on our first night in Kanchanaburi due to its close proximity (a 2 minute walk) from our guesthouse. The restaurant has ample seating inside and a few tables outside. The vibe is quite lively although not too raucous that you can’t enjoy your meal. The food was delicious although like most restaurants in Thailand it doesn’t come out to the table all at once. It was so good we ordered extra dishes from the menu.

The Good Times Resort

The Good Times Resort is a great place to enjoy the peace and quiet with a beautiful river view. The dishes we ordered for lunch were large portion sizes but I found my curry wasn’t overly flavoursome. My husband and son however really enjoyed their dishes. Their prices were also higher than many other places in the area.

Keeree Tara

Keeree Tara restaurant is located a few minutes walk north west of the famous bridge. Many people go to the Floating Raft restaurant due to the close proximity to the bridge but we had read mixed reviews about the service, high prices and food. Keeree Tara has equally good views of the bridge and the ambience and garden-like environment are truly charming. The food was so delicious and excellent value for money that we ate here twice.

Blue Rice Restaurant by Apple & Noi

I have to say hands down Blue Rice was my absolute favourite place to eat in Kanchanaburi and we visited twice just to be sure! It is located on the opposite side of the river to the main strip but it is worth the effort to get there. We walked to the restaurant and travelled back in a tuk tuk, yes, 3 adults and 2 children in a single tuk tuk. This restaurant has everything going for it, a perfect view on the river, a lovely owner and friendly staff and last but not least some of the tastiest Thai food we’ve eaten.

On’s Thai Issan

Considering On’s Thai Issan only serves vegetarian food and being a meat eating family we were really pleasantly surprised. It is a very small place and the owner has a cooking station at the front of the restaurant. They don’t serve beer but they happily let you bring pre-purchased drinks from the store next door.

The Balcony

If you find yourself along Pak Prak Heritage Street then you must stop by at The Balcony. The interior is delectably modern with satisfying decor that you’d usually only expect in the western world. Wonder through to the back of the cafe and you find a hidden beer garden. Unfortunately we didn’t have the opportunity to enjoy a meal here but the snacks and drinks we ordered were amazing . To top it off the owners were super friendly and the prices are very reasonable.

Did it live up to my expectations?

Kanchanaburi offered my family so many beautiful memories with it’s history, culture and overwhelming natural beauty. I can truly say that it far exceeded my expectations and I couldn’t imagine anyone not finding pleasure in this fascinating town. I’d love to hear about your experiences with Kanchanaburi or maybe it is on your must see list.

Where to next….

After five fabulous days exploring Kanchanaburi it was time to move on to our next destination….Hua Hin.

Money saving, Packing, Travel, Travel Tips

10 Money Saving Tips Whilst Travelling

I truly believe that spending money on travel is an excellent investment in yourself. Not only does it reward you with beautiful memories but it educates your mind and opens up endless possibilities. You may learn some of the local language, try new tastes or just find out that your tolerance levels only reach a certain point!

Having said that, the majority of us have a budget and the costs do start to add up especially when travelling with a family. I am sharing my own tips for saving money whilst on a trip and you can apply these to your own itinerary. To save money on flights and accomodation please see my previous articles Planning an Overseas Trip and Finding the Perfect Accomodation.

1. What is Important to you?

Saving money whilst travelling is a personal choice and it really comes down to a more mindful approach as to what is important for you. For some it maybe enjoying a cocktail during a sunset, visiting a theatre or staying in a five star resort. Work out what is actually important to you and hence worth spending money on.

Our family of four chose one attraction each when we visited London. It was a great way for everyone to experience something that was important to them. My daughter chose the Cutty Sark and my son chose the London Eye.

Bottom line, don’t spend money on experiences and sites that don’t interest you.

2. Pack Lighter

This is something my family continue to improve on with every trip. It has become a mindset for us to take carryon sized bags only and I personally couldn’t go back to checking in a suitcase. How does this save me money?

  • Many budget airlines charge high fees for checking in a bag.
  • Lugging around heavy bags is not fun and you will avoid the cheaper option of public transport.
  • You can take you own bag to your room and avoid ‘porter fees’ (this probably only applies to fancier resorts).
  • Zero risk of your bag going missing during the flight thus avoiding the need to spend precious time and money replacing lost items.

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3. Do your own Washing

When you pack lighter it goes without saying that you will need to do some laundry along the way. Most hotels offer laundry services but it can be very expensive especially as many charge per item. To save money we always carry a small laundry kit that comprises of a washing line, universal sink plug and some laundry detergent. We usually wash smaller items in the bathroom sink and occasionally rinse less dirty items whilst taking a shower. We have also used local laundrettes which provides a fun experience chatting to the local people.

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Photo by Ali Müftüoğulları on Pexels.com

4. Eating on the Cheap

There are several options to save money when it comes to eating:

  • If you are staying in accommodation that has cooking facilities it makes sense to self cater. Quite often basic items such as milk, margarine salt and pepper are included in the rental so you just need to purchase the main ingredients. It’s also a great experience to wander around a supermarket in a different country.
  • Who doesn’t love a picnic in the park? This is a really great option if you have younger children who prefer not to sit for longer periods of time in a restaurant. We chose this option a couple of times whilst we were in Paris with some family friends. At the time our daughter was four and our son twelve months old. One evening we ate take away pizzas and drank red wine in a beautiful park in the centre of Paris. On other occasions we bought soft cheeses, cold meats and baguettes.
  • Always carry a few snacks and water with you especially when visiting popular tourist attractions. This is even more important if you are travelling with children. Nobody likes to pay three or four times the usual price for a bottle of water. Trust me we learnt this the hard way!
  • Try to avoid eating close to major tourist attractions as prices are always higher. You usually only have to walk a couple of hundred meters to find cheaper options.
  • Look out for promotions or happy hour deals at restaurants. Some restaurants offer cheaper meals on certain days of the week and who doesn’t love happy hour.

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5. Drinking on the Cheap

Now this is where you will save lots of money. Other than a select few destinations drinking alcohol and soft drinks is a costly exercise especially when there are four of you. For most of us though cutting out a few relaxing drinks is not a desirable thought. If like us you enjoy a few bevvies then here’s how you can save a few dollars:

  • Purchase a few drinks from the shop to enjoy before you head out. Cheaper drinks can be purchased at 7-11 stores throughout Asia, supermarkets throughout Europe and bottle shops in Australia.
  • Always look out for the locally made drinks as they are usually much cheaper.
  • Carry a reusable water bottle so you can refill at any time. It’s not only better for the environment but it’s also good for your own health.

Enjoying a beer with a perfect view

6. Search for ‘Free Activities’

The best things in life are free, sound familiar (I bet you’re singing it in your head) well quite often when it comes to travel it’s true. Do some research on the places you are visiting and check out all the free sights and activities. Some great examples are taking self guided walks, swimming at the beach, people watching, talking to the locals and looking around markets. More often than not the free activities show the true character of a place without the touristic hype.

Major cities can be particularly expensive, here is a list of great websites offering free activities in the following places:

Many of the activities my family love are free and have given us wonderful memories. Just to name a few stand outs:

  • Strolling through an endangered animal habitat park in Hong Kong and witnessing two large birds perform a mating dance in perfect choreography.
  • Listening to a powerful Russian quartet performing acapella at Carcassonne Cathedral.
  • People watching at a traditional Souk in Ras al Khaimah.
  • The very first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower as we turned a street corner……

……and so many more but I won’t bore you with them all! It really confirms the best things in life really are for free.

7. Getting Around

It will depend on the distance you need to travel as to what mode of transport you take. As a family we prefer to walk as much as possible, not only is it good for us but it’s free. You also get to see everyday life occurring right before your eyes.

Of course for longer distances we always try to use public transport. Along with being cheaper it is also better for the environment and you get to experience travel the local way. Having said that we did find taking a taxi in some Asian countries was cheaper than four tickets for the train.

Always do your research to find the cheapest option, this will save you time and money when you arrive at your destination. Most cities provide excellent connections and quite often children under a certain age are free.

For even longer distance travel consider overnight trains or buses as this has the benefit of saving you a nights accommodation.

8. Souvenirs

Without any doubt we’ve all succumbed at some stage in our life to purchasing a souvenir that ends up in a cupboard or worse still in the rubbish bin. Go to any major tourist attraction and you will find a shop full of over priced souvenirs.

I’m not saying don’t purchase any souvenirs just be mindful of the souvenirs you do chose to buy. Ask yourself the question…will this souvenir add quality to my life and will it serve a purpose?

Some great examples of souvenirs that serve a purpose:

  • T-shirt or item of clothing that you would wear
  • Picture or painting that can be displayed in your home
  • Keyring (if you don’t already own a myriad of them!)

And these examples of free souvenirs:

  • Tickets
  • Leaflets
  • Local free newspaper
  • Photo’s taken on you camera/phone

So next time you are tempted to buy a plastic model of your favourite building/sight look on the bottom of it and you will probably discover it’s made in China. And yes I purchased a plastic Eiffel Tower at the age of twelve only to discover the ‘Made in China’ sticker on the bottom. Lesson well learnt!

9. Books

Many of us take the opportunity to read whilst we are on vacation but purchasing and carrying around heavy books is not ideal and costs a lot of money. As I mentioned previously we travel with carryon only and this has size and weight restrictions. Taking books is not an option for us.

My husband happily reads books on his iPad or iPhone whereas I prefer the feel of a real book. When I am transiting from one place to another I usually buy a magazine to read as it is a cheaper option, it is lightweight and can be recycled or donated when I’ve finished with it. Years ago when I backpacked around South East Asia I swapped books at hostels or purchased at second hand book shops. Another option that we actually use here at home is purchasing our books at a charity shop and when we finish reading it we donate it back. Win, win situation.

Guidebooks are another expensive option and it is worth asking yourself whether you really need one. We are currently planning a trip at the end of the year to Thailand and Myanmar. My husband and I have travelled extensively through Thailand and have decided that along with all the information on the internet we will not require a guidebook for this part of the trip. However, Myanmar is a whole different story and we felt that having a lonely planet guidebook is going to be a great benefit and will save us money in the long run. We decided to get it as an e-book, not only is it cheaper but it doesn’t take up any of our weight allowance.

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10. The Local Currency and Banking Cards

If you are travelling to a country with a different currency you will need to do some research into the best way to convert your money. Banks make vast amounts of money on the difference between the buy and sell exchange rate known as the spread and on top on this they also charge a foreign exchange commission to change your money. It may not seem like a lot of money each time but add up multiple currency exchanges and you’d be surprised how much it costs you.

Some of the ways to keep the costs down:

  • Find a bank that allows you free access to your money. We moved our money into ING as they offer free ATM access globally. If we get charged they rebate us the fee within 5 business days. All we have to do is deposit $1000 into the account per month and make 5 card payments each month. A trip we did previous to making the change cost us $60 in withdrawal fees alone. We also found that they offered a favourable rate upon each withdrawal.
  • Look for places that offer commission free exchange. We exchange money at our local Post Office where they have a commission free arrangement. We don’t usually exchange a lot of money before we travel, just enough for the first day. We find that the rates offered here in Australia are usually lower than the local exchange rates in the country we are going.
  • Avoid changing your money at the airport as they usually offer unfavourable rates and charge a much higher commission.
  • In a few countries (for example, Cambodia and Myanmar) you will get better exchange rates for changing higher denomination notes.
  • Use a credit card that doesn’t have an annual fee and offers free travel insurance when you book your flights. Whilst we avoid using our credit card overseas it is always good to know we have it in case of any larger emergency costs.

I would suggest carrying a mixture of cash, bank cards and a credit card. We always carry an amount of our local currency just in case our cards don’t work. If we don’t need to use the cash we haven’t lost any money on the exchange rates. Just make sure it is kept in a secure place like a money belt.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

What to do with all the money you have saved? Well book another trip of course!

I’d love to hear some of your ways for saving money whilst travelling.

Happy travels!