A Travellerspoint blog

Packing (lightly)

The Art of

27 °C

There has been plenty written about the art of packing lightly as a backpacker. Whether for a weekend trip or a sojourn lasting several months, everyone has their tried and tested methods. Here’s some of the Art I have created through my years of backpacking.

1. Never pack more than one day before a trip. Even better, pack on the day of the trip. You can kill a whole hour on the flight wondering if the underwear you packed were clean or whether you packed enough Dental Floss (See below)

2. When packing, lay out everything you think you’ll need. Take half of that and pack it in your bag. Now take the other half and see how much of it you can sneak into your travel partner’s bag. If you do not have a travel partner, find one, loser.

3. Quick Dry clothing! OK, so they’re not the most fashionable but you’re not either, so get over it. No more than two pairs of jeans rule. Use the layering system for cold weather and carry washing powder for hot weather so you can hand wash and rotate those singlets and shorts. No matter how desperate you are, never use the inside/outside/backward/frontward reuse underwear method. That’s just gross. Neverfail Converse Chucks are the best for the feet.

Floss your teeth, and then sew a button.
Just make sure you suck off the left-overs first

4. Do your research - Are toiletries cheaper where you are going? If so, pack a toothbrush and toothpaste and buy everything when you get there. This can extend to underwear, shoes, clothing, budgie smugglers etc

5. What about spare this and spare that? The only thing spare you should really bring is a spare liver. But first be sure to check your destination on whether a) it is illegal to smuggle organs b) Whether there is a black market for organs (ever seen the movie Turistas?) or c) whether that particular organ is a delicacy

What a vital organ is to you, may be a delicacy for others
6. Do not leave home without:

a. Thongs/Flip Flops - Trust me, you’ll know why on your first shared bathroom experience. Shoes? Seriously ladies, how many do you REALLY need.

b. Music! - Only cool stuff. ‘Maroon 5’? Get that shit outta here! Don’t forget the charger.

c. Book to read - There’s really no need to carry more than one reading book at a time, and if you do read more than one book at a time, time to look up and enjoy the scenery. George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four NOT recommended (later blog). Can also come in handy as emergency toilet paper. Just don’t flush down toilet.

d. Dental Floss – You know what you can do with floss? Hang clothes on to dry, tie stuff together, even floss teeth. Safety pins always handy for unexpected flip-flop blowouts.

e. Compass and map – Compass? I have never carried a compass but try and orientate a map of Tokyo using street names (or lack thereof) and you’ll know why I’ll always be carrying one from now on.

f. Sun screen – Because skin cancer kills stupid. Plus, it fights the aging process.

g. Pain killers or Ibuprofen – Yes you can probably buy this but chances are you’ll be in no mood or condition to be going to the pharmacist in the morning stinking of last night’s alcohol and cigarettes.

Shop carefully. Budgie Smugglers may be cheaper at
your destination and where shame is not in the vocabulary

Remember, there’s no right or wrong way of packing lightly. Just a sore back or missed connection.

Posted by Al Jam 17:28 Archived in Thailand Tagged packing backpacking budgie smugglers lightly floss Comments (0)

One night in Bangkok

...And the world’s your oyster.

overcast 27 °C

Well really it will be two nights as we arrive at Bangkok airport at 11pm, the first night in Bangkok is a non-event and we are driven to our hotel without incident. Sam has booked us into a fancy hotel thinking it would be a good way to start off our holiday around South East Asia. We check in and Sam is in bed before I can say “Check out the view”. I decide to take a few quick snapshots of the Bangkok skyline from our hotel balcony and then bed down for the night. Two hours sleep on the plane is motivation enough for me to follow Sam’s lead.


I know I’m in Asia when I’m about to eat one of many breakfasts consisting of fried rice and egg

We wake to a grey, humid morning in Bangkok, just as I remembered it. Sam and I had been here three times before and I can’t recall it ever being sunny in Bangkok and have never really figured out if it’s because of the smog or if it’s just the weather. “You look like shit” Sam says to me as we head down to the buffet breakfast. Maybe she was practicing her Thai but I’m sure she meant to say “Good morning”. I know I’m in Asia when I’m about to eat one of many breakfasts consisting of fried rice and egg. Love it! It reminds me that although I am an Aussie and love my meat pies and beers, that on a genetic level, I am still Asian. In the daylight, I see that the hotel is right on the banks of Chao Phraya River that runs through Bangkok. We eat breakfast watching boats go by, ferrying office workers from one side to the other, poor bastards. We decide to head to the rooftop pool but not before hit the hotel gym, knowing that this will be the only time in a month that I will get a physical workout besides carrying my 40 lbs Backpack.

I think it was a mixture of luck, good resume writing, and Aussie charm

First time visiting Bangkok was exciting but on the third time, it was like any other modern city. It has the unmistakable ‘aroma’ of an Asian city, a mixture of street food, humidity with intermittent whiffs of open sewage. You get accustomed to it after a while and I find it kind of pleasantly familiar, reminding me this smell indicates that I am once again travelling.


Parts of South America had a similar smell. We had travelled around Argentina, Chile and Peru for six weeks in September 2009. Prior to that, we had done a road trip around America’s Deep South (At one point in Arkansas, I think I was the only Asian within a 100 mile radius). We would have kept travelling but had to return to Australia in November for a short visit. Returning to the US, our funds almost dry, Sam and I decided Chicago was where we would base ourselves and arrived there on Christmas Eve. I think it was a mixture of luck, good resume writing, and Aussie charm that Sam and I found jobs within 3 weeks of arriving. Admittedly, we both took the first job offered but we are both on a ‘good wicket’. Sam, a Training Manager at an insurance company, with her own office, I managed to settle into the IT department of a mid-size company dealing in revenue management and consulting for hospitals (I think). We would probably never talk about our respective industries during a social outing, but we both work with great people and I have a killer view of Michigan Ave/Lake and Chicago River. Sam enjoys the Chicago traffic in her BMW SUV we purchased as soon as we found out she was working out in the burbs (She picked it out whilst I was hung-over and I was in no condition to look at anymore cars). I said we were both lucky but I don’t think that’s entirely accurate. We both knew what we were getting into and both knew the risks. We worked to make sure that those risks never occurred and from that we managed to find a place to live, jobs to finance this trip and an ever increasing circle of friends in Chicago.


Infinity pools are so pleasing to the eye. The Hotel’s rooftop pool merges with the river and skyline. We decide it’s time to venture around the city, or in particular MBK, Bangkok’s largest shopping centre for ‘Same Same, but not Same’ fake goods. Sam loves to bargain and therefore loves this place. Unfortunately it has changed for the worse since we first visited in 2004. Most stalls have become proper shops and bargaining down to below half-price is damn near impossible. “This sucks” Sam comments as we walk away from another Hand bag shop, unable to get the price down even close to half. What’s worse is that prices have generally gone up. “Well we can probably find them cheaper in Vietnam or Cambodia” is my comforting reply. Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, but shopping is her Religion. Sam agrees and we head back to the hotel to grab our stuff and move to another hotel where we will be starting off our South-East travels proper. Luxury hotels and taxis are about to take a backseat to mid-range hotels, beach bungalows, tuk-tuks and public buses.

Posted by Al Jam 16:25 Archived in Thailand Tagged bangkok mbk Comments (0)

Sydney, Australia


semi-overcast 28 °C

“I’ve been to cities that never close down. From New York, to Rio and ‘Ole London Town. But no matter how far, or how wide I roam...I still call Australia, home”.

Yeah, cheesy but that song had always held true in the past as the plane approached Sydney Airport and this time was no different. Strangely, I am feeling more homesick at this moment than I had felt since leaving Sydney for Chicago. As Sam and I enter the airport, an air of familiarity sets in, and as I’ve done numerous times in the past, I grab my trusty backpack from the baggage collection. The queuing system at Sydney Airport Customs seems to get more elaborate every time I come back but somehow seems to remain efficient. Pity I can’t say the same for Sydney roads.


First stop is lunch with the family at my Aunt’s place, which could double as a karaoke crack house for all those karaoke addicts out there. Seriously, they have five wireless microphones and a karaoke machine that would put Ding Dong Dang’s to shame. You’ll find out what Ding Dong Dang’s is in a bit. My half brother, whom I haven’t seen in a year and is now only a month away from his third birthday, shows us how to work an iPhone and sings a rendition of Justin Bieber’s ‘Baby Baby’. "Are they suppose to be able to do that at that age" I ask no one in particular. I will spend the next two days singing the chorus in my head, not having ever heard the original


We head to Darlinghurst, where we will stay with our good friends Sara and Amo and get down to the serious business of catching up with friends. We spend the next 5 days hanging out at our favourite restaurants, watering holes, beaches and cafes. Sydney is in the grips of El Nina with above average rain fall and Spring had apparently been a real disappointment. It is warm and grey but the week improves with sunshine and beach weather. We hit Bondi Beach to hear the waves crashing on the shore and the visual sensation of cliffs surrounding Bondi is overwhelming. “I gave this up for snow and wind?”.


Too bad about the 8 months of bitterly cold weather

It had been just over a year since Sam and I had finished backpacking around South America after moving to the United States in June of 2009. We had taken a six month break from the Rat Race but with funds running out, we had decided to base ourselves in Chicago and rejoin the race. New York was too ‘hectic’ for us (maybe if we were younger) and San Francisco wasn’t a ‘real’ city, also being quite expensive. Chicago was a good mixture of city living, clean and not too hectic. Too bad about the 8 months of bitterly cold weather. We also had friends from Australia, Ray and Charissa, who had made our transition to Chicago so much more inviting (with their adorable son, Cal).


We drove from Tampa to Chicago in shorts and shirts over two days in an SUV with all our worldly belongings, only to arrive in jackets and boots to a snowy Christmas Eve. We both had no jobs and were on a three month ‘sink or swim’ budget. This had been the third time in my life I had quit my job, packed everything I owned into a backpack and started a new life. It was the second time for Sam so this was familiar territory for us. It was a great feeling to know that both of us could do that. We could trust in each other to do that for each other. Sam to move to Australia for me, and for me to move to the States for Sam. But that statement doesn’t seem to fit well with what it really meant for both of us. We didn’t do it for each other, but rather we both did it for us.


It is noon on Saturday and a slow gathering of friends start to trickle into the Nelson. Once my local watering hole, now the start of a Pub crawl spanning 10 pubs/bars over 12 hours to catch up with friends. We work our way through the familiar pubs and bars of Paddington and Woollahra, even walking past our old house. I take a quick peek at the house’s recycling bin to see whether the new tenants are worshippers of Bacchus. A few nice bottles of wine and, a healthy stack of imported beer bottles. Good to see.

"fuelled by a steady stream of booze, nothing will stop my us from belting out classics"

More familiar faces join the crawl and I catch up with friends from many circles. I catch up on gossip and tell a few tales of life in the States and talk about our coming trip to South East Asia. A few of the girls we met in Chicago join us, including Anna, who surprises us by dropping in. It’s comforting to know that even half a world away, Sam and I have wonderful friends and family that will always welcome us back (and of course try and convince us to stay whenever we visit).


Things get messy at the Light Brigade as we watch Australia lose to the Kiwis in the Rugby League Test match. We are at pub number eight (I think) and it’s time to move on. We make a quick appearance at Paddington Inn when a few die-hards decide that it’s time for Karaoke at Ding Dong Dang’s. None of us can really sing individually but collectively, and fuelled by a steady stream of booze, nothing will stop my us from belting out classics like “Don’t stop me now”, “Sweet Caroline”, “Delilah” and 'U can't touch this". I look to Craig and Mick, as they belt out another classic, remembering that they are the only two still standing (or rather singing and sitting) that were there from the first pub. It’s 1am and it’s time to pull the curtains on my creation.


I have this uneasy feeling of having to go to work the next day

We end our visit to Australia with an early thanksgiving meal. Sam and I had started the tradition four years ago with our friends and good to know we were still able to carry the tradition. I have this uneasy feeling of having to go to work the next day. I think I’m confusing it with the realization that I will once again be saying farewell to family and friends. The fact that I will now be travelling around South East Asia for three weeks doesn’t even enter my mind let alone ease the trepidation of leaving Sydney, again. I overcome this by concentrating on the work at hand, packing.


We say a final farewell to Amo and Sara who have been the best hosts (again). Especially to Amo, being such a trooper for giving up her bed for us and sleeping on the couch. My mum and Aunt see us off at the Airport and my mum is so accustomed to saying farewells to me that a quick hug and shove off is all I get (jokes).

Until next time Sydney...My chair reclines and I put on my headphones. ‘Inception’ does my head in and I can’t sleep.


Posted by Al Jam 18:59 Archived in Australia Tagged sydney beach australia pub bondi crawl Comments (0)

South East Asia - 4 weeks, 5 Countries

Australia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Japan

snow -5 °C

What follows are blogs of our travels through these countries. I also reflect on the past year and the new life Sam and I have built in Chicago.

Flying to Sydney, Australia to visit family and friends for 9 days, we then started our South-East Asia travels in Bangkok, making our way through Cambodia to Vietnam by Bus, stoping in Siem Reap, Phnom Penh and other smaller towns. In Vietnam, we flew from the southern city of Ho Chi Minh City to Central Vietnam's Hoi An, finally ending our Vietnam trip in the Northern city of Hanoi with a 2 day boat trip in Halong Bay. Our stopover back to Chicago was through Japan where we spent one night in Yudanaka to see the famed snow monkeys and the last night of our trip in the bright lights of Tokyo.


So here we go...

Posted by Al Jam 18:14 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Day 29 to 31 - Machu Picchu via Ollantaytambo

Just Awesome!

sunny 27 °C

I’ll try not to write too much about Machu Picchu and just let the photos tell you the story. If you ever have the slightest inkling of visiting, I suggest you do. I also suggest you stay at Ollanta, rather than the town of Aguas Calientes, which resembles the Gold Coast or Times Square, instead of the entrance to the awesome Machu Picchu.

Unfortunately the town square was getting a ‘Backyard Blitz’ renovation

Ollanta, short for Ollantaytambo is the last village before Machu Picchu and is only 30 minutes train ride away from Machu Picchu on the express train. It is situated on the foothills of Mayan ruins is probably the best example of ancient Mayan city planning still around. Unfortunately the town square was getting a ‘Backyard Blitz’ renovation, with bulldozers and cranes looking out of place, like alien behemoths amongst the mud brick shops and modest town square. Still, it did not steal away the charm of the small village. In between this and tourist packed coaches who come and visit the village and ruins, there is plenty to explore and cafes and restaurants to check out. We stayed in a cosy little hotel called KB Tambo Hostal which had a great candle lit restaurant. The nice little garden courtyard gave Sam and I an area to relax, chill, drink wine and hang out with a cat which we named Simon Baker. It was the quiet season for tourist and the Ollanta was pretty empty which I didn't mind one bit after Lima and Cusco. We decided to head for Machu Picchu on the second of the three days we would spend there.


To beat the hordes of tourists, we decided to catch the early 5am ‘Backpacker’ train to Machu Picchu. The air was chilly but atmosphere at the train station was drowning in anticipation. You can feel it as you watched groups of people talking way too eagerly for a cold 5am start. We boarded the train and within minute of pulling away, I was asleep. I was keen, but there’s not so much in the way of sight-seeing at 5am. That wasn’t so after 20 minutes as the sun rose and revealed green jungles, valleys and rivers, which only 20 minutes ago was a dark, mountainous and rocky desert.

It’ll only cost you half your soul, or your fist born

We arrived at Machu Picchu Village and did our best to buy tickets bus and entry tickets to Machu. We weren’t about to waste our 5am train ride so that we can get on the 10th bus up to Machu. The bus ride was interesting in itself. Steep switchbacks and killer curves. I was getting use to it. No I wasn’t. Finally reaching our destination, we were there...Machu Picchu. Before I start this, when they say no water bottles allowed inside, ignore it! Bring your water bottles because they don’t sell water once INSIDE Machu but they do sell water at the entrance/exit. It’ll only cost you half your soul, or your fist born, whichever is trading strongest on the ‘Foreigners are suckers’ market. Just make sure you don’t bring in disposable water bottles and you should be fine.


So there we were. At first, you’re just climbing stairs and you don’t even get the feeling of where you are. The bush is thick and the stairs are steep, but once you get to the first lookout and the trees give way, it’s absolute eye-candy. I would often describe to people how it is to see a migration of Wilderbeast and Zebras in real life. To watch it on a 60inch HD LCD TV would do it no justice. Animals as far as the eye can see, to the left, the right, toward the Horizon. You have to see it with your own eyes to feel the enormity of the spectacle. This is also true for Machu Picchu. An amazing feat of human ingenuity, a wondrous creation. To see the walls of city, tapered to the sides of cliffs, dropping hundreds of metres to the valleys below. You keep asking yourself How? But for some reason, without anyone telling you, you know ‘why’. It’s because they could, they did, and now millions of people have visited and ask How. It is likely only those that built it will ever know, which I think makes it that much more special. Give yourself a good whole day to explore, because it not only takes that long to really appreciate such a wonder, but because it basically deserves it.


I Couldn’t say the same for the town of Aguas Calientes. It’s an absolute tourist trap. The only thing going for it is that the bottled water is cheaper, but not by much.


Posted by Al Jam 16:53 Archived in Peru Tagged peru machu picchu ollantaytambo Comments (0)

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