Thursday, November 7, 2013

iSanook, a new breed of hostel

I recently went to Thailand, and the night before I left I watched one of my favourite movies - Lost In Translation. If you have never seen it, it follows Bill Murray's character as he kills some time in Tokyo. It has other elements too, but that's the one that struck me most this time because I was just going to Thailand because I needed to leave Australia, there would be alot of time to kill.
The other thing that struck me was the romanticism of the hotel in the film, I have always stayed at the cheapest places I could find, but decided this time to stay somewhere fancy. I searched online, and realized I couldn't actually afford a fancy hotel, but I came across iSanook.
It had just opened, and there were no reviews yet.
Awesome, I love being the guinea pig! It's far from Khao San Road, a place I have no desire to return to, and it looked awesome!
I even got a taxi there, not the train, just to help set the vibe. I arrived from the airport at 11pm and as soon as I walked in the door the receptionist called me by name and I was shown to my room.
What a breath of fresh air! Wonderful aircon, an immaculate room - my own space. I started to realize that I am much more into this style of residence. Hostels are great, and I will always have a special place in my heart for dirty unchanged sheets, loud rooms and discourteous roomates, but sitting on my bed drinking complimentary tea from my minibar, and looking out over the Bangkok skyline from my private balcony? This is luxury on a budget.
I sat down and talked to Joe, who runs the place, and talked about backpackers and how they are changing. The Khao San road experience is still on peoples to do list, but a backpacker ghetto - although intriguing and probably worth experiencing, is still a ghetto. iSanook is in Silom, which is an area growing in popularity with foreigners and Thai's alike. Its still really close to the city, walking distance from all the best shopping, but its far enough out of the traffic and noise of downtown. It has perfect polarization compared to Khao San Road. Even within Silom, its down a little Soi and around a corner, you walk past people doing laundry in front of their shops and all of a sudden are in a colourful and fresh new complex with a beautiful pool and garden, their own tuk tuk and still just a second from Rama 4 - a major road with all the street food and excitement you may desire. Backpackers are changing, myself included, and iSanook is welcoming a new breed of travelers with good vibes, fresh paint, and plenty of sanook (Thai word for fun)
There are many different rooms, for one person or four. With a kitchen or without, long term rooms for monthly or yearly stays in one building, short term stays in another. The rooftops are brilliant, with spas and a great bar. Common areas stuffed with beanbag chairs and an ever growing stack of blu-rays, a communal kitchen and dining room on the roof, and at night the views of the skyline are first class.

iSanook now has its first review on hostelworld, and I'm sure it will hold its 100% rating. If you're in Bangkok and looking for a place with a bit more class than Khao San Road, but you're not willing to give up meeting people and the communal aspect of hosteling - I really suggest checking it out. You wont be disappointed, and even if you're one of those people who hates Bangkok, there is certainly a place there now that you can love.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Backpacker culture, Chiang Mai and Taylor Hay - they all change.

I have been back in Thailand for about 3 weeks now, and it is such a different experience than 3 years ago.
Firstly, the town has changed. Massive amounts of Chinese tourists are pouring through Chiang Mai. The Thai's are responding by translating signs, selling Chinese food and smiling in spite of the characteristics that make Chinese tourists so unique.
Also, backpackers have changed. Very few people people sitting in the front garden of Julie Guesthouse are reading a book, or having a chat - or even asking advice of where to go! I stopped by Julies last night for dinner, and was amazed. The corner seat (seating for about five people) had 4 people sitting there each on Skype/Facetime in the middle of the bloody common area! A glance towards the pool table showed 3 people sitting on their phones, with headphones in, and across the room was a guy scrolling through the infinite Facebook newsfeed on a laptop.
I believe that the invention of medicine, tours, the internet, Skype and broad social circles (courtesy of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) has almost removed part of the adventure from traveling. I have to laugh at some of the people I see here in Chiang Mai. They are not travelers, they should be at home. But instead due to pressure from their culture, friends and this ethereal "gap year" that they must partake in - they are here. Shitting their pants in Thailand unsure of what to do.
Even in three years, the general attitude has shifted alot more into the fear of brushing your teeth with tap water, the fear of riding a motorbike, the fear of eating street food.
I met a German couple at the bus station on the way up here, it was 7am and when I sleepily stumbled my way off the train (I got lost) I found them huddled in the station wide eyed and panic stricken. I mumbled something about tourists to myself, bought a coffee and some fried chicken, and was approached by a Thai man who told me to get into the back of a pickup truck. I obliged and soon the German couple joined me. They asked where it was going, and I told them that the guy that found me had said bus station but who knows! They didnt look amused. They asked how much it cost, I said I dont know. They asked when it left, I dont know. "What time does the bus leave?"
"I dont know."
"Is your coffee made with boiled tap water that still contains bad things or bottled water?"
"I dont know."
"You shouldn't sit on the edge of the truck, its dangerous. What if they hit a bump? You better have good insurance if your sitting on the edge."
I realized that our conversation was probably over, and I didnt have the heart to tell them that I dont have insurance. They looked like scared puppies nestled amongst the cargo in the back of the truck, holding on for dear life, as we bounced around Sila At. The ride turned out to be free, a service by the bus company.
Backpackers used to desire authenticity. Real experience. The way I see it now though, it looks like they desire the iconic profile pictures, and a few trinkets. They want to get back to their home country as soon as possible. Put in their time overseas however much they hate it, so that they can put it on their CV and appear cultured. When in reality they never left their culture - just their country.
There is a whole town within Chiang Mai, its called Hong Dong, and its an expat community. Gated communities, western food, western schools, security. The chains are the hangout spots - McDonalds, Burger King, Starbucks. Im sure that most of the people who live in these places are not trying to get into the culture. They dont want to be here. They are masochistically here because of religion, or they are here on business, and would rather not be. I have always figured that was normal for those people, but never thought that backpackers would be the same.

The Minister of Tourism in Mae Chaem asks us how to bring tourists in.
The other reason for the difference is me. I have changed more than Chiang Mai has in the last three years. More than the backpacker culture even. The things I used to find appealing are slowly losing appeal. The man in the picture here to the left asked us about tourism. Why we travel. He asked how many countries we had each been to, and when it came to me and I said 27 - he nearly spit out his food. I didnt feel cool about it, I felt bad about it. Thats new. He explained that he wishes he could have traveled, but unfortunately now he has a good job, a family, and a car. He said he is not happy. I told him that in my experience visiting 27 countries - I am not happy either. I desire a good job, a family and a car. He recited a Thai proverb that for the previous couple of weeks I had been considering getting as a tattoo - ใด ๆ ในโลกล้วนอนิจจัง - it means "All on this earth is unstable, not lasting, uncertain and transitory." We went on to talk about how to attract tourists, as he wants to grow the industry. We assume that someone called his office when they saw us sit down for breakfast - there is no tourism in this town. I imagine him rushing out to fake a random meeting with us, and have this chat.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Prepare your iPhone for adventure!

I am heading to Thailand in a couple days to spend a month wandering around on trains. I have to leave Australia, because I have been here for a year now! (That's insane!) I'm just leaving for a month, then coming back on a tourist visa to spend all the money that I earned in the last year, and do some motorbike trips. Sweet.
But I have been thinking alot about this trip to Thailand, I have changed a fair bit since I was there last, and I'm certainly doing it differently. In one regard I'm preparing more, and in another I'm preparing less. Last time I had no idea what to expect, and it was my first real forte into long term solo travel. This time, its short term, and I know what to expect - maybe even to much!

Also I'm bringing my iPhone. I'm not bringing my laptop, and I'm getting my phone ready to go so I thought I would compile a list of what I have been doing to help any fellow travelers unsure of how to prepare their phone for adventure.

Step One - Apps

I downloaded a few apps that I think will be really helpful, here they are.

1. Google Translate - pretty useful to type something up, then have someone be able to read it in their language!
2. Couchsurfing - perfect for throwing up a quick public request when arriving in a new town.
3. Schemer - Its a newish Google product, I'm trying it out on this trip... Suggests things to do that you like.
4. Google Search (formerly Google Goggles) - take a photo of a sign or some text, and let this app (maybe...) convert it to English. Giving it a try.
5. Hostelworld - Ill be honest, I dont like hostelworld. But its a great database to search, find a place, and then show up or call them to book without paying a fee. Sweet!
6. Google Voice - not just for traveling, but useful to text friends and family in the US of A and to keep up on voicemails from credit card companies!
7. Viber - My personal choice in the WhatsApp/Viber/Kick/a million other messenger apps. Good for voice calls and pic/video messages to people without iMessage.
8. Blogger - has good offline abilities, so I can write a post, add photos, and save it offline. Then upload it when I can. Cool beans!

WHAT?! Why is a currency exchange not on this list?! Because thats not useful. In about 30 seconds of being in a country you will memorize that there are 29.26 Baht to an Aussie dollar. Then when you cross to another country, another 30 seconds and you're set.
WHAT?! No flight seach app?! Why waste space when the webapp works perfect? And I will probably be looking for a flight like two times...

Step Two - Maps

I simply downloaded home high res maps from Google images, and sideloaded them to my phone with Google Drive. Stellar!
Another option is to use Google maps, and zoom into the area that you will be traveling, then just type "ok maps" into the search bar. The app will download and cache the area! Cool huh? I got this tip from Digital Inspiration. Doesn't work in Thailand though.

Step Three - Settings

I spent a whole day setting up my contacts (not just for this trip, It needed done badly!) I exported all my Google Contacts to a CSV. Uploaded it to Google Sheets, and then went through and manually cleaned them ALL. I went from 3800 messy contacts to 1300 clean ones that I actually know. I added country and area codes to EVERY contact using scripts! I can pop a Thai sim card into my phone, and call Thai friends without having to edit each contact. Then pop in a US sim card some day, and it all will just work.

I also spent a long time organizing the music on my phone.


I set up an IFTTT recipe that monitors my Instagram for posts tagged #whereistaylorThailand2013 and saves them to my Google Drive. Feel free to use it for your trips!

IFTTT Recipe: Save photos from my Thailand trip to Google Drive

Step Four - Guides

I don't really like guidebooks, but they can be really useful sometimes when you're wandering. I installed Pocket on my phone, and saved a bunch of WikiTravel articles that I might want to read. Also for cities that I think of on the fly, I set up a system with WikiTravel (my preferred source of travel knowledge) IFTTT, Gmail and Pocket. Basically I email myself with a city or country that I want more info on, and within minutes its download to Pocket on my phone ready for me to read offline! Here is the clever IFTTT recipe if you would like to use it.

(note! This recipe requires you to guess the article URL pretty accurately. Therefor compound names need an underscore - "hong_kong" for example. Works great with things like "Bangkok" or "France" not so great for cities like Springfield, which there are a million of.)

IFTTT Recipe: Email yourself a city or country name, and get the #wikitravel article in Pocket! #travel

Step Five - Ready?!

And thats about it! I chucked a password on my lock screen, and am thinking about downloading find my phone... I spent $20 on a knockoff Lunatik Taktik iPhone case (refered to as Batman's phone case) its waterproof and basically indestructible. The real one is probably better, but $20 is the right price for me. I still have my Thai sim card from a couple years ago, if it works then Ill use that - if not Ill just buy a new one. But with these systems, I should be able to do most of what I need offline or on wifi, and save on a data bill.

Happy trails!



Sunday, May 12, 2013

A Photo Update From Australia

I have been in Australia for 7 months now, and I reckon its time for a bit of an update with some photos! Here are some of my favourite photos so far, from my 35MM film camera, Instagram, Facebook and my new Canon 650D. Enjoy!
(click a picture to view it bigger!)

 My flight was awesome, because this was my seatmate!
We talked for almost the entire 14 hours.

I moved into Dave's room, and lived in this corner for the first month.
 It was great!


 One of my first outings was to Hay, in New South Wales and
I fixed thismotorcycle and hunted kangaroos and foxes!

I killed this fox.

We moved into a new house, and began brewing
 lots of delicious beer.
TASTY!


 Dave and I spent an awesome Christmas in Tasmania,
 and worked at a music festival!


 We also camped alot, and avoided bush fires.

A mate lent me his sick motorcycle!

I welded this billy cart together for a film, it has an engine and
 panels and it looks like a small car. Pretty cool!

See, its pretty dang cool!!!

 I live with some of the coolest people, and we eat dinner
 at this fish and chip shop quite often.

 I have been able to explore some of the most beautiful places,
and this lovely spot was one of them!

 I hung out with this dog. I forgot her name though.

 I began working in an office - something I never thought I would do!
 But its actually alright.

 We have a whole building for parties, we call it our brewery.
I built this sweet bar one weekend,
 and we have lots of good times in this place.

Here is a party we had, with a sweet band called
 
The Scrimshaw Four - it was a great party!!

I have been exploring.

And finding some cool places!!

And drinking lots of coffee.


Australia is pretty awesome.

The seafood is delicious and fresh!

And I totally see why Melbourne was rated
"Worlds Most Livable City"

I really like Australia. My work is sponsoring me at the moment, so I may be here for quite some time! But I already have about eight big trips planned for in the future... so dont worry. This blog will have heaps more content coming!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Australia! Im heading down under!

Its happening everyone! I sold my motorcycle yesterday, and then I spent $275 and applied for my Working Holiday visa this morning, and got this email an hour ago....
Dear Taylor Hay
RE: Application for Subclass 462 - Work and Holiday (Temporary) (Class US) visa
This is to advise that you have been granted a Work and Holiday visa on 20 June 2012.
Woohoo! Upon hearing the good news of being accepted, I bought my one way ticket to Melbourne with the rest of the money from my motorcycle, and now its officially happening!

I am moving to Australia on September 26th 2012

Ironically enough, its 2 years to the HOUR from when I left for Thailand on my last adventure. That one lasted 14 months before making it back to LA, who knows how long this one will last! My hope is to work in Australia for up to a year, and then take what I was able to save and head to Thailand with it and begin preparations for starting a hostel there. I figure that Australia will be a good place to network, as alot of Aussies go to Thailand for holiday, and some to start businesses. PLUS, I will be reunited with Dave. One of the best guys I know.



Im super excited. Now to work, and save, and start selling off my belongings once again, in preparation for the road. Although not the same kind of road that I was on last time...

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Chicago


I got into Chicago finally, after a four hour delay.
Kristin, Cheyenne and Chris where there to meet me at the station, I had worked with them in Amsterdam and seeing them again was great, we walked right to Ed Debevicks, and I ate a huge plate of nacho's, and washed it down with a Blue Moon. 'Merica!
We dropped off my bag in Chris's dorm room at Moody Bible Institute, the school my dad attended 31 years ago, I was just a couple floors above where he had lived! We headed out and explored, the Bean, Navy Pier, the El, the tunnels, it was great! We finished the night off with Lou Malnaties Chicago classic deep dish pizza, and I crashed into bed at 9pm and was asleep before I could realize I was laying down.
Kristin and I got coffee the next morning, and ended up talking at starbucks for a long time, then we headed across town to the Burgeous Pig and drank more coffee and talked more. Kristin headed to her house, and I headed to Wheaton on the train, and met up with Erin, Cheyenne, Linley, Jessica, Maria, Kara and later Kristin for dinner! Taylor and the Amsterdamsels...

The next morning I went to class with Kristin and learned a bit about the law in her Hermaneutics class, even though I think I disagree with the prof a little...
We hung out in the lounge, and ate lunch with a bunch of cool Moody students, I made a couple sandwiches and stashed them in my bag for the train ride, and at 2pm we headed to the train station. I climbed abord, and here I am. Sitting with my sandwiches, some gin I bought in Iceland, plenty of books and movies, and 40 hous to go until Los Angeles.



Thursday, November 10, 2011

New York


The train pulled into New York Penn station, and I had three hours before my train upstate to visit my aunts and uncle's there.
I walked down 8th to Times Square and just took in the imensity of the place... I thought about how much the various companies spent on the billboards around there, and how much I had been doing and learning over the last year. I spent about $7,000 in total ($3,000 of which I still owe to a couple credit card companies...) and a small chunk of advertising on times square is around three million a year.
I wanted to film a video of me dancing there (yes, a wherethehellismatt style video of me dancing all around the world is coming soon folks!) but my video camera wasnt working. So I asked a random guy if he would film it on his iPhone and email it to me, he agreed and we are still emailing! I danced, shot some pictures, and then set into eating. I ate a bunch of pizza, a White Castle burger, and a street dog. I called my old friend Bryce and he and his wife Channelle came down to the train station to meet me, they showed up at the perfect time, I needed an excuse to get out of the 30 minute conversation I had been in with a crack dealer who kept showing me his head, he had been stabbed 30 times in the face and head the night before. I chatted to them for a while, and then got on my train onward. And 6 hours later I was hugging my uncle Randy in Syracuse, New York.
The next day I went to work with him and helped set trusses on a building that he is building.
I spent a few days there, hanging out with my aunts and uncles, working, eating amazing food, and I even got to visit my grandfather in his nursing home! One day after helping him work, my uncle asked if I wanted to ride Harleys with him... I did. We did. It was amazing! Then after we god back, he asked "wana shoot guns?" and we shot a bunch of guns then. Awesome.

My uncle took me to the train station a few days later, and I took the overnight to Chicago, for yet another couple days of exploring American cities!