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March 11, 2014

Is teaching abroad compromising your holiday?


In the past three years I have become addicted to travelling – cramming my backpack to the brim with clothes and a battered Lonely Planet book, disappearing for a few months at a time and exploring some amazing places. All pretty standard stuff really.

But this summer, when I applied to teach English in China for a month, I wasn’t too sure what to expect.

Would teaching in one place for a month give me as good an experience as if I were to just see the country by myself?


Zhongshan, Guangdong Province, China


There are lots of organisations that offer teaching abroad placements – I went with AIESEC, a student run organisation.

Getting to grips with the culture

Although travelling for an extended period of time is guaranteed to give you an insight into a country’s culture, nothing beats living in a foreign country for giving you a taste of the culture. Living in another country means that you are rapidly immersed in another way of life – for me this meant sleeping on a wooden board every night, eating rice for EVERY meal (I cannot stress how much rice I consumed) and going to the toilet in what can only be described as a hole in the ground.

A wooden really is as uncomfortable as it looks!

A wooden bed…it really is as uncomfortable as it looks!


Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner, always rice!

Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner, always rice!


If I hadn’t been thrown head first into Chinese culture, I may never have come across such weird and wonderful food…


Who's hungry?

Who’s hungry? 

Turtle soup, anyone..?

Turtle soup, anyone..?

or mastered such fashionable headwear ….….nor would I have learned the dance to Gangnam Style.

Any self-respecting traveller knows that if you really want to get to know a place, you should get to know the people –there really is no substitute to interacting with locals for understanding the similarities and differences between cultures. Teaching a class of Chinese teenagers not only helped improve my own confidence and communication skills, but educated me in terms of contemporary Chinese culture- I’m sure that if I had gone to China just to travel I would have picked up basic Mandarin for ‘please’ and ‘thank-you’, but I doubt I would have learned the cheesy Chinese chat up lines and hilarious insults that the kids were desperate to teach me!

Teaching the children about my own cultural norms was a window into their own beliefs and lifestyle- they wanted to discuss everything, from politics to pop stars. By talking to the same students every day, I got to learn a huge deal about Chinese culture, not by being shown the ‘best bits’ by a tour guide or museum placard, but by talking to the people who actually lived there!

Travelling and Sightseeing

I have to admit that when I was teaching, I was sometimes very frustrated about the fact that I was stuck in one place. Here I was, over 5,000 miles away from home, and instead of scouring every inch of the country as fast as I could, I would be teaching and living in the same school for a month. I started my internship feeling claustrophobic, thinking that by taking a teaching job, I had limited my experience to one region of China.

In reality, this couldn’t have been further from the truth!

In 8 weeks I managed to visit Dubai, Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Beijing, Singapore and parts of the Phillippines – once I had paid the initial cost of a flight to China, internal flights and stopovers meant that I could continue my travels within Asia relatively cheaply.

The impressive skyline of Guangzhou

The impressive skyline of Guangzhou


Buddhist temples


The Phillippines... paradise

The Phillippines… paradise 



Although the cost of living in Asia is substantially lower than in the U.K, the start-up cost of getting there is always hefty (around £650 for a flight if you are really savvy). Some companies will pay you for teaching (I received just under £550 for a month’s teaching), so it’s important to remember that you are going for the experience, and not to make money.

With many teaching internships, accommodation and food is often covered by the partner company, and so all you really need to think about is funding any travelling afterwards.

Was it easy?

Easy is NOT the word I would use to describe my teaching experience in China. Although my contract guaranteed that I would receive a week’s teacher training, the school didn’t provide this and my first day compromised of being pushed into a classroom of 30 children, with the advice being only to ‘teach’. Looking out at the classroom to see 30 blank faces staring expectantly at me meant I had to improvise  pretty quickly, and after a few hours of panicked ad-libbing I soon got the hang of teaching. Since returning to the U.K, I have spoken to a few friends who taught abroad on similar teaching programmes offered by different agencies – it seems that a lot of them were given a great deal more training than I was, and so I would recommend researching the reputation of your employer to make sure you get the best deal.


Dabbling in martial arts with my class


I absolutely loved teaching English in China, and my experiences taught me that you don’t have to always be on the road to see a country- I saw and experienced so much of Chinese culture during my stay. Teaching in a foreign country allows you to develop confidence as well as invaluable skills, so this is one trip I’d definately recommend!

My 5 tips for teaching abroad


1.) Do your research

There are plenty of organisations that facilitate teaching abroad, but from my experience some deliver better training and pay better wages than others. Don’t just work for the first company that you come across! Research the company you are interested in working for, read recent reviews and accounts written on forums, and talk to somebody that has already taught abroad if possible.

Go Overseas is just one website that offers reviews of teaching and internship programmes.

2.) Read the small print

Are you a volunteer or a paid teacher? How many hours a week are you contracted to teach? Is food paid for? Before signing a contract, make sure you know what you are agreeing too!

3.) Prepare!

If you’re a little on the shy side and  are considering teaching abroad, I would definitely recommend doing a small amount of preparation before you leave for your respective country, as there really is no guarantee that you will be trained, or even have time to plan your first set of lessons! Prepare an ‘about me’ presentation to introduce yourself to your first class so that you aren’t stuck for ideas during your first lesson – and remember to include lots of pictures of your home friends and family!

If you are stuck for ideas, British Council offers free online teaching rescources which are a great starting point for lessons.


4.) Be prepared for anything!

Although you may be hired as an English teacher, the school you are working for may expect you to help with extracurricular activities – art, dance, football, you name it. Be prepared to get involved with these activities, and remember, just because you couldn’t draw at school doesn’t mean you can’t teach drawing now!


5.) Embrace the experience

Teaching abroad can sometimes be overwhelming or challenging, but my best advice would be to just try and enjoy it. Overcoming the challenges will the good memories that you remember once you return home!

September 30, 2013

Hong Kong on £20 a day?


HK city lights

By Amy Woodyatt


I didn’t know much about Hong Kong, apart from that I just had to go there.

I’d been planning to travel on a budget, but the more I asked people about Hong Kong, the more worried I was getting. “It’s an expensive city” they warned me, “you won’t want to spend more than a night there if you are short on money”.

“You’ll never be able to afford it all”

There’s nothing I enjoy more than a challenge.

And so it was decided. I would stay in Hong Kong, spending no more than £20 a day, on food, accommodation AND activities.


Where to sleep

There are plenty of cheap places to stay in when in Hong Kong, even if you eliminate the notorious Chungking Mansions (a seedy and sprawling apartment complex where you can buy a copy watch, eat a dubious curry and sleep in a cheap guesthouse all in the same building– as long as you don’t mind waking up covered in cockroaches).  If you don’t fancy the latter, there are plenty of other options that offer safe and clean (but by no means luxury) accommodation. I stayed at Wang Fat Hostel, a collection of rooms in an apartment complex located in a central and stylish area, for just under £10 a night.


The busy and bustling Chungking Mansions

The busy and bustling Chungking Mansions


Chungking Mansions... in case you wanted a copy watch

Chungking Mansions… in case you wanted a copy watch


Where to eat

Mr. Bing’s Beijing Street Crepes

83 Wellington Street, Central

If you have reached the stage in your holiday where you are sick of rice and noodles but don’t want to deal with the shame of tucking into a McDonalds, head to Mr. Bing’s for a delicious compromise between Western and Chinese food. Possibly one of the best things I have eaten, ever, a huge crepe filled with traditional Chinese ingredients and served piping hot – for 53HKD (Around £5.30) you can eat a Peking Duck Crepe (duck, cucumber, leek, duck sauce and egg) with sour plum juice…Delicious.


mr bing creation

mr. bing


Paisano’s Pizza

12 Granville Road, Tsim Sha Tsui

I love Chinese food, don’t get me wrong. But sometimes you just need a pizza. For the best slice you’re likely to find in Asia, head to Pasiano’s.




Tsim Chai Kee Noodle

98 Wellington Street, Central

Cheap and delicious beef noodle broth for 25 HKD (£2.50) a bowl, served in a busy restaurant as popular with locals as it is with ex-pats. A huge portion of vegetables costs extra but will by no means break the bank. Head here for a taste of authentic on-the-go city cuisine, just don’t be alarmed when the staff attempt to move you from your seats as you are swallowing your last mouthful!


tsim noodle


What to do

First of all, download the TripAdvisor City Guides app.

This amazing app works offline, and walks you through all of the best pedestrian routes (including bus and metro alternatives) so that you can see the city easily and cheaply.

Try the TripAdvisor routes to Big Buddha on Lantau Island (ferry) and Victoria Peak (tram), with each trip taking half a day and costing just under £4 for a round trip.

Both will guarantee amazing views and a well-deserved break from the busy city.

Take the tram to Victoria Peak...

Take the tram to Victoria Peak…

...and explore the walking routes...

…and explore the walking routes…


...Or just enjoy the view!

…Or just enjoy the view!

Big Buddha, Lantau Island

Big Buddha, Lantau Island


Lantau Island is also great for walking...

Lantau Island is also great for walking…

Big Budda


...And who cares if you get lost with views like this?!

…And who cares if you get lost with views like this?!


If you really want to experience Hong Kong, taking a day to explore the markets is a must. Although all of the markets are vibrant and lively, my favourite was the goldfish market, pretty self-explanatory and very interesting.

goldfish market

goldfish markt 2


Star Ferry

For 2.50 HKD (25 pence) you can take a ferry between the major harbours in the city. The trip only lasts about 8 minutes, but will give you the best view of the city, especially if you travel just before nightfall or during the Symphony of Lights show, where you will catch the famous cityscape illuminated in all its glory.

So there you have it. It is true what they say, Hong Kong is an incredible city, but incredible doesn’t have to come at a cost – spend your time wisely and it can be done cheaply!

Avenue of the Stars

Avenue of the Stars


March 18, 2013

Brief encounter: Friends for life or new wife?


BudgetTraveller intern Amy Woodyatt’s latest post addresses the highlights and pitfalls of making friends while on the road….


One of the best things about travelling is getting to meet new and interesting people. However , sometimes, even if you set out with the best of intentions, that new friend can turn out to be mental. Time and time again I have learned this the hard way.


Friends for life

The summer of 2010 and I was travelling without a parent for the first time around Europe with a group of friends, your standard Interrail holiday. We arrived in Vienna weary, smelly but ready to ditch our bags at the hostel and explore the city. Staying in our otherwise all-female dorm we found Josh, a chatty Australian travelling alone.


He seemed nice enough, was our age and most importantly, not at all fazed by the fact that he was sharing a room with a group of giggly 18 year olds (I half expected that he would ask the hostel staff to relocate him), so we invited him along to join us for a meal, as he was travelling alone and seemed pretty chilled. To really get a taste for Austrian culture, we went to a restaurant recommended by several locals, and due to us being obviously foreign, we were given picture menus.


Wow, this place was cheap. We ordered from a picture menu that priced every dish at 10 euros, but nothing prepared us for what would happen next…


Lo and behold, a MEAT SWORD was brought out of the kitchen and presented to us. A SWORD OF MEAT.  The thing was about half the size of me.

AMAZING we thought. All of this for only 20 euros!

Lo and behold, a magnificent sword of meat!

Lo and behold, a magnificent sword of meat!


Our amazement was shortlived when we received the bill, which revealed that the meat sword actually cost us 100 euros. Uh oh. We were nearing the end of our trip, and as true budget travellers, we only had about that much money to last us ‘til we went home.


And here’s where our new travel buddy stepped up. Unfazed, he paid for over a third of the bill, and wouldn’t even let us pay him back. With no money for a bar we shared a beer in a park later that night and it turned out the guy had some pretty awesome stories from the road. We got on so well that when I’d gone home and he continued his travels, he even made a detour to visit me in England!


Just goes to show, however brief your encounter, you can make lifelong friends when travelling.


Friend or ‘wife’

Sat on a street corner at a Bia Hoi stand in Hanoi, Vietnam, my boyfriend and I were enjoying a refreshing glass of (20 pence) beer to finish off the day. A few tourists were sat around us, it was warm and breezy; we had found an oasis from which we could sit and watch the busy, bustling city.


‘My name is Sunshine’. She certainly was a vision, wearing only a bright orange vest and neon yellow Playboy boxer shorts. Yes, that’s right, she was wearing underwear as actual clothes. A sweaty, chubby vision in underwear stumbled towards us.


Nothing more attractive than a woman in boxer shorts

Nothing more attractive than a woman in boxer shorts


Although she came to sit next to us, it became clear after a while that Sunshine didn’t want to be friends with us… well not both of us, anyway.


‘Your face is so old. You are wrinkled. I am so young, my skin is so young, don’t you think? But you look so old!’ she charmingly told me.

(At this point, can I point out that I was 19 and she was about 40…)


‘Everybody says I am beautiful. You agree.’

Conversation between myself and Sunshine had stopped. She had moved on to my boyfriend.


‘You want to take me to tourist office? Get me a visa?

Wow, she was forward alright.


‘I always wanted to marry Western man. So we go tourist office?’

My boyfriend politely declined, at which point her comprehension of English also dramatically declined.

‘Get me visa. I am very beautiful and want Western husband. Get me visa.’

It took an hour and a tenuous story about food poisoning and sleep deprivation to get rid of her.

My advice: if they seem crazy when they approach you, don’t kindly give them the opportunity to prove you wrong. Run for the hills.

The next day our taxi driver drove past her, burst into laughter, pointed and screamed ‘she crazy!!!’.

No shit, Sherlock.

December 9, 2012

Things to do in Thailand…against your better judgement

New BudgetTraveller Intern Amy tells us the fun things to do in Thailand that the travel books don’t recommend..

1.)  Go to a ping-pong show

Yeah, the idea of Thai women firing ping-pong balls out of their ladyparts is a bit grim. So is watching them fire darts, smoke cigarettes, draw pictures…the possibilities are endless, and get gradually more disturbing. Although I can’t deny the whole experience is seedy and a little uncomfortable, it is equally hilarious, and by far one of the best holiday stories I have to retell. Like it or not, the sex trade is a massive part of the Bangkok experience, and whilst I am NOT encouraging you to sleep with a ladyboy, being able to brag to your mates about having a ‘Hangover 2’ sexperience is priceless.


Ugh. We all know where that’s been…


Top tip: to avoid being harassed by Thai prostitutes, take your girlfriend along to a show. They will be more inclined to leave you alone if she looks pissed off i.e. not open to a threesome.

No acting will be needed.

Remember these golden rules when at a ladyboy show…


2.)  Get a massage from an ex-con

When in Thailand, you will obviously get a Thai massage. You’d be a fool not too. But what you might not think about doing is visiting a massage centre that aims to rehabilitate prisoners. The best thing about visiting here is that not only do you leave the parlour feeling relaxed, but you also feel good about helping some women get a second chance in life.

Try the Lila Massage Parlour in Chiang Mai to look as relaxed as this:


Never thought having an ex-con rub me up and down would leave me smiling..


3.)  Go to Bangkok zoo

If you are at all concerned with animal rights, DO NOT GO TO BANGKOK ZOO. About a quarter of the animals are dead, or on the way out. But again, it’s kind of funny, in a heartbreaking and I-feel-bad-for-laughing kind of a way.


Bangkok zoo: not for animal lovers


4.)  Go and watch Thai boxing

The idea of sitting in a cramped, sweaty arena, watching Thai ‘men’ beat each other to oblivion may not seem immediately appealing, but the skill and art to the sport, along with the incredible enthusiasm from the audience, makes this a brilliant experience. Think blindfolded boxing, snake charming showmanship aplenty.



And finally… things you still shouldn’t do

1.)Eat fast food over street food

When you’ve been away for a while and all you can remember eating is noodles and rice, the temptation to go for a cheeky fast food binge is great. Can I please recommend that you resist…

Tempting, I know. But don’t go there.


Whilst my travel buddy and I never got ill from eating traditional Thai food in a restaurant or from street stalls, I cannot say the same for fast food. The day after a KFC my partner fell victim to a particularly nasty case of chronic diarrhoea in the middle of Bangkok shopping mall.

Biggest. Mistake. Ever.

Stick to good old tasty street food…


…Even if it sometimes surprises you

Top tip: Take the time to take a Thai cooking course… Save money by using your activities budget to cover your food as well!


2.)Ride a motorbike without practise

One of the most popular things to do in Thailand is to rent a motorbike. Sure, it’s an easy, fast and fun way to get around, but if you are going to rent a bike, I’d advise getting some practise in beforehand. I can’t begin to tell you how many people I saw hobbling around in casts and on crutches, and most of these accidents could probably have been avoided if the riders had been familiar and confident with their motorbikes.  Traffic is hectic, with little to no regard given to road rules, hospitals are haphazard and grim, and most importantly, do you really want to have to cut your holiday short?


…and finally, never…


3.) Book the rest of your holiday through a travel agent in Bangkok

Whatever they tell you, there ARE hostels available, and you do NOT want a 5 day trek that will set you way over budget. Travel agents in Bangkok will rip you off mercilessly, so it’s better to book treks, tours and hostels when you get to your next destination!


December 13, 2011

Stories from the Road: Life and death in Kolkata






I am back to the place where my life began.


It’s always a deeply moving experience, going back to the place where you grow up.


Sleeping on the bed where you daydreamed for years, dreaming of a life you never had.


Being back in the safe cocoon of your parents care.

Mums food!


Mum is serving up dollops of nostalgia, cooking all the food you love and know so well.


Dad has turned 70 but still is showing the enthusiasm of being 20.


We talk about everything from the state of English football to exchanging tips on photography over umpteen cups of his favourite Darjeeling tea.


In the hot afternoons I retreat to the comfort of my library of books- I dust off the books I have read, re-read and know so well from my youth.


Amitav Ghosh’s ‘ Shadow Lines’ , Leo Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’ , Short stories of Guy de Maupassant, Collected works of Roald Dahl- leafing through the pages of these books, I feel like not a day has passed since I left Kolkata in 1998 to study in Scotland.

Suddenly, death pays a visit {Courtesy of }


Just as I settle in the warm embrace of the past, death pays a visit.

Few days ago, Calcutta woke up to the shocking news of the death of 90 people at a fire at one of the city’s leading hospitals.

The scene of the disaster- AMRI hospital is just a stone’s throw away from my house in Jodhpur Park.


As the tragedy unfurled, horrific images of the dead and the next of kin who have lost their nearest and dearest appear on national TV.

Everyway I go, the talking point on the street is the tragedy and why in this day and age, it could not have been prevented.

Once the fire was spotted in the middle of the night, the fire service was not alerted for a few hours.

Staff were not trained in fire evacuation procedures.

Even worse, after failing to control the fire, night staff ran from the scene leaving patients to a horrible death.


I feel morbid. Suddenly, the holiday is over.

Then in the evening things take a turn for the worse when my 83 year neighbour is rushed to the hospital with chest pains.

The events have rattled me and my parents too.

Death is suddenly our neighbour.


My parents are concerned about my health and insist I go for a medical checkup.

The medical checkup- a pain but had to be done!


I haven’t been to see the GP in 13 years.

I feel good. I don’t feel the reason for a checkup.

However recently, one of the few downsides of travelling constantly has been an irregular lifestyle, not enough sleep and the pressures of trying to carve out a career in an area where few people have gone before.


I am not complaining.

I feel alive, I’m living life to the fullest.

Sometimes only when you take life to the edge do you really see the difference between life and one where you do no exist.


I see this difference clearly when I go for my executive healthcheck.

For a sum of 2700 rupees, I am being given a full MOT.

Everything from an E.C.G, blood test, Ultrasonography, Chest X-Ray, lung function test and also being put on a treadmill to check my heart rate. For just £35 ( $55) it’s an amazing service.


Spending the whole morning in hospital is a wakeup call- going through all those health checks-being strapped onto a bed and all kinds of things prodding/poking your body, confronted by all the smell of antiseptic and ethyl alcohol, the sight of those pallid, glum looking patients , the depressing dim lights and narrow long corridors.

I start developing an appreciation of how complex my self is and how important is it to look after myself.


I emerge, feeling much happier. Results are due today so wish me luck but it looks ok…. other than a wee problem of high blood pressure.

After the trauma  of recent events, comes the hope of new beginnings.


I attended a wedding yesterday.


One of my oldest, dearest friends from school – Kamalini is finally taking the plunge.

I am happy for her. His name is Souvik. He looks like a kind, caring guy.

Plus he’s always smiling, cracking jokes- I get a good positive, good vibe from him.

I am an optimist.

Despite marriage having not worked out for me, I am still positive and admire those who decide to take that big step and make a life long commitment towards spending their lives together.


It’s not a perfect idea but its at least offers people a starting point, a base on which to build something of meaning.

Marriage is like a seed.

If cultivated properly, it flourishes, promises something fulfilling and nourishing.

If the seed is not watered, looked after…ultimately it will die an untimely death.

However, marriage is a choice of life for some.

Just like life and death can be a choice.

So it’s sad when people are not offered the dignity of choosing between life and death.

As the AMRI hospital tragedy showed, that choice is often taken out of our hands.

The lesson is that we have to live life to the fullest while we still have the power to make that -so carpe diem folks!

Make the most of now friends.


If you missed here are my earlier instalments of the Kolkata Diaries: Part 1  and also a photo essay of my friend’s wedding .


December 8, 2011

Stories from the road: Kolkata Diaries.Part 1





Hey folks- greetings from Kolkata, India !


I’m in Kolkata for the next 2 weeks , taking some time out (trying to!) but in between will be writing a few posts about my time here and the things I love the most about my hometown.

Yes, there will be a lot of talk about food since that is my/the  favourite pastime of people here so prepare for a few gastro-orgasms

So…I present to you my first instalment of the Kolkata Diaries. Enjoy!


I am still jet lagged after 2 days in Kolkata.

My body is still adjusting to the different cycle of life here.

I fall asleep late at night to the bedlam of stray dogs on the street fighting their territory and wake at 5am to the sound of crows bawling from the rooftops.

I left Edinburgh on the first day of winter snowfall 2 days ago.

It was 4c.

I’ve arrived in Kolkata which is around 27C.

The winters are mild here.

Despite having lived here for 9 years, everytime I visit Kolkata…it takes my breath away – I call this city my ‘parallel universe.’

Beneath the chaos and confusion there are plenty of stories happening in front of my eyes.

The tailor



For instance, I visit our family tailor on Rashbehari Avenue.

I hop on a tuk tuk or auto rickshaw. The fare from my house is a measly Rs 10.

My old pair of jeans needs loosening at the waist a wee bit ( I’ve gone from 30 to 33W in 3 years) -for the adjustment, he charges a paltry Rs 50.

I am also getting a tailor made shirt done for Rs 160 ( $3 )


Great Expectations


While he notes down the measurements I observe outside a stream of cackling mothers gathering in hordes, waiting expectantly for their children to finish school.

Exams are on.

Finally, I see a few children emerging pale faced, worn out with their test paper in hands.

Mums grab the paper from their hands.

The kids are virtually made to resit the paper then and there, mumbling all the answers standing on the street.

In a city of 30 million people where good jobs are at a premium, a good education is the ticket to a better life.

The rat race begins at an early age and the weight of expectations are high.


One person who has survived the Kolkata rat race and built a successful career is my very own father.

At 70, he is still quite an active guy and works as an ENT consultant, part-time.




He still has the biggest smile and enjoys life as if he was 20.

He is my hero and my greatest inspiration in life.

I arrived in Kolkata on the day of his 70th birthday.


The ultimate in Bengali Home Cuisine- Alu Posto and Kolai er Dal



We celebrate with a delicious homecooked lunch that my Mum has prepared.

The meal consists of traditional Bengali classics- Alu Potol Posto, Chana Alu Tarkari with rice and  Kalai Er Dal [dal made of split white (skin removed_ Urid dahl ]

This is the ultimate in traditional Bengali cooking for me – as I eat, I feel a tear of happiness coming into the corner of my eye. There are so many happy memories associated with the food you love and know so well.

The years melt away…

After a nice wee siesta in the evening we go for a nice cup of coffee at Cafe Coffee Day at the local shopping mall -Southcity.

Coffee here is great. Standard cup of cappuccino is Rs 30 ( $0.75)


Birthday cake for Dad is the black forest gateau.

Its sensational and highly recommended [ Rs 70 $1.20 ] If you’re feeling peckish they also serve a nice range of grilled sandwiches at around the Rs 70 mark.

Shame that they don’t have free wifi

It’s a strange feeling to be in a city where there is a sparsity of free wifi points.

I guess there are some benefits of not being connected when you’re on holiday.

In that sense, Kolkata is a great place to come on holiday if you’re looking to switch off.











November 30, 2011

Seeing the Taj Mahal, without hurting your Wallet






Every month, I’ll be inviting a few intrepid ‘Budget Travellers’ to share their experiences on the blog and this week I’m very excited to introduce you to Sarah Kloke, travel blogger at the very cool

Taj Mahal is something that most travellers might visit at some point of their life so this guest post is incredibly handy guide to making the most of your time at the ultimate shrine dedicated to love. Enjoy. Take it away Sarah…..



Taj Mahal



With cheap accommodation, even cheaper eats, and some of the most rewarding cultural experiences on the planet (ya, I said it), India is a practical yet challenging paradise for the budget conscious traveller.


It is undeniable that the cost of travel in India will only put a minimum dent on your wallet, especially if you respond to those “foreigner” prices with some playful (and hopefully successful) bartering.

But sometimes the price tags in India can’t be altered.

Like for instance, the Taj Mahal’s entrance fee (leave your bartering skills back at the guest house for this one).

With a foreigner admission price of 750 rupees, this attraction could very well end up being the bulk of your daily budget.

But it’s the Taj Mahal…and you’re in India. So even with a steep (by India standards) price tag, the Taj Mahal almost always ends up being a must on everybody’s India To-Do List. But there still are a couple ways to pay the Taj Mahal’s entrance fee, see one of the greatest wonders in the world, and still keep that wallet dent to a minimum. You see, it’s all about the before, after, and in-betweens of that beauty of a palace.




The Before….

Walk into the grounds

With harmful CO2/ gas emissions of vehicles and the generally high index of pollution in India, the Taj Mahal has recently seen a lot of environmental wear-and-tear. Reactively, the city of Agra has outlawed all vehicles within a 500 m radius of the Taj Mahal. Now you can opt to travel in using one of the millions of tuk-tuks eagerly waiting for you, but it’ll cost you. Alternatively, it’s not such a bad walk into the actual grounds. And it doesn’t cost you a single rupee.


The In-Between

Make a day of it (It IS the Taj Mahal after all…)

Depending on lines, time of the day, and your wavering patience, you could probably spend about 2 hours within the Taj Mahal itself. But why rush it? The three outlying red-stoned buildings of the Taj ( in picture above) are pretty gorgeous in their own right and the grounds itself provide a nice (and green!) escape to some of the typical chaos that may exist in Agra. Take your time enjoying one of the greatest wonders of the world. And just think, the more time you spend INSIDE the Taj Mahal, the less money you spend OUTSIDE the Taj Mahal.

Taj Mahal, from the Gardens


See a new angle

From the front, the Taj Mahal has been photographed like, a gazillion times. But ever wonder what the back of the Taj Mahal looks like? Well, go see for yourself and cross the river to the historic Mehtab Bang Gardens. For a not-so-frightening admission fee of 100 rupees, you enter a much less crowded tourist attraction and are rewarded with a much more unique (and probably less photographed) view of the Taj Mahal.


The After

Avoid the souvenirs


If buying a plastic replica or better yet, a glass snow globe of the Taj Mahal is your thing, it’s best to avoid any of the souvenir stalls located both within and directly outside the gates of the grounds. Sellers are usually more reluctant to bargain with you here and you will definitely be paying a serious rupee for anything bought in this area. Your best bet is to make your way into (or out of) Agra and find your little keepsake there- most likely for 1/16th the price.

Even with these tips, it’s best to keep in mind that the price of entrance to the Taj Mahal is outside the norm for the rest of the country…which is practically angelic harp music to a budget-conscious traveller’s ears.

India manages to find a pretty harmonious balance between lowering the cost of travel and heightening the experience of travel.

And you know, it’s got that lil’ thing called the Taj Mahal.



About the author


Sarah personifies the travels of her toothbrush on her travel site,

Between a slight obsession with dental hygiene, travel, and natural crunchy peanut butter, Sarah has been making various parts of Asia her home for the last two years.

Often heard bragging about the time she was stranded on a train in India for 31 hours, she’ll probably continue to do the same routine (travel. write. brush teeth. repeat.) until she runs out of stories. Or countries. Whichever comes first, really.

July 29, 2011

Budget Places to stay: Majnu ka Tilla, Delhi





Amongst the rickshaws and crowds of Old Delhi, travellers might be forgiven for forgetting Delhi has a sky, let alone the Yamuna River. But go north, to the New Tibetan Colony, and you can stay by its very edge.


Majnu ka Tilla, Tibetian Colony in Delhi



Accommodation here is not expensive. This writer stayed in a twin room at the Wongdhen with a river view for Rs. 375. The scope for bargaining, however, is lower than Pahar Ganj and there are far fewer hotels to choose from. Travellers should also be prepared for the narrow, twisting lanes of the settlement.


While the original purpose of the Colony was simply to house refugees, today it has become an outpost of Tibetan culture.

Prayer flags dominate the skyline, and every second person seems to be a monk.

In general, restaurants here retain a distinctly Tibetan menu and are clean, cheap and good.

As well as chow mein, try momos (stuffed dumplings), thukpa (chow mein in soup), shabalay (spring roll cum Cornish pasty), fing (vermicelli) and tingmo (a steamed bun eaten with gravy).

For the genuine Tibetan experience, it’s impossible to escape trying Tibetan tea (tea with yak butter).



The Colony is situated outside of the centre, and travellers should be aware that the Colony lacks some conveniences, not least an ATM (the nearest is at Delhi University).

From personal experience, this writer ventures that monsoon is not the best time to stay: river flooding caused all Internet facilities to shut, and at one point part of the street was shut off due to the fact a stray wire had electrified the puddles.


Nevertheless, for more leisurely budget travellers the quieter atmosphere can be worth the journey.

The area of Majnu Ka Tilla is not without charm: colonial buildings fester away in the undergrowth, boys play cricket on the road, and Delhi University is close by.


Furthermore, a rickshaw to the nearest metro, Vidhan Sabha metro costs Rs 15 local price but it is also possible to walk.


July 29, 2011

East Timor on a budget: 5 tips




East Timor, an ex-Portuguese colony, is a tropical island just one hour north of Darwin.


Getting there


Once you have overcome the initial panic of seeing the odd shell of a firebombed car by the side of the road, and one or two burned out villas on your ride in from the airport, is does get better, a lot better! A taxi from the airport to Dili, no matter where you are staying is US$5.

Standout features?

There are beautiful early 19th century Portuguese villas scattered throughout the hills overlooking Dili, and the coffee everywhere in town is exceptionally good.


Where to sleep


I’d recommend staying at the La Esplanada Hotel on Beach Road. Its friendly, the AC works, and there is a great pool to relax by when you most need it. A double room will set you back USD$75 a night with breakfast. Bookings are best made via email at[email protected]


Where to eat


Castaway Bar and Grill (Beach Road) is exceptional value and a fun, lively place to hang out. They serve mostly Asian fare and Jeffrey the owner, is one of Dili’s most enduring characters. An Australian, he arrived in Dili as a contractor in 1999, at the height of the conflict with Indonesia, and never left. Most of the meals at Castaway are between US$5-11.



The beaches in town are nothing to write home about but once you leave Dili they are simply gorgeous. There are no amenities so take everything that you will need for the day with you. Don’t leave anything of value in your car and make sure you leave the doors unlocked.

The SCUBA diving in Timor is world class and Dive Timor Lorasae, an Australian owned and managed organization; operate two of the fastest boats in town. Contact them at [email protected]


About the authorKeith Hockton


I was born in England but spent my schooldays in Malaysia, Borneo and Singapore and I have just moved back to Malaysia after living in Sydney for the past 10 years. I have no idea where home actually is but I like that idea, and love the idea of just traveling and writing for the rest of my life.


Food is a large part of my travel experience and Malaysia has some of the best in the region. Penang, where I now live, has arguably some of the best fare in the country.


Prior to pursuing a career in freelance writing, I wrote a SCUBA diving travel book for Australia, “Atlas of Australian Dive Sites, Travelers Edition”, published by Harper Collins, and I was in the investment banking industry for longer than I would like to remember. I’m a qualified Master Diver and a technical diving instructor, and I was actively involved in the clean up Australia campaign, where I organized teams of divers to help in the cleaning of Sydney’s beaches and waterways. Something I hope to emulate in Malaysia or at least help with.


I have written articles for the New Straits Times and various other magazines in Asia.