14 September 2016

Travel rants and stories from our Big Trip - because after 15 months of travel it's better to just get some things off your chest

5 November 2016

There’s not much we would have changed about our first 15 months of long-term travelling. Of course, there have been plenty of memorable highlights we’ll cherish forever. But there have been some lowlights, too. 

As the following eight travel rants painfully demonstrate…

The Basil Fawlty Award For Shoddiest Service

There’s nothing better to lift the spirits after a long trip than being welcomed at a guest house by the smiling faces of people who genuinely want you to enjoy your stay. And, most of the time that was very much the case.

But there were some places where we were treated by hotel staff as a mild irritation at best. And a few seemed to think they were doing us a favour by just allowing us to stay there.

Our award for the shoddiest service boiled down to a close-run thing between three guest houses/hotels. They were united in their mission to offer the worst possible service. And with the added bonus of employing downright rude staff.

For instance, there was the ironically named Glory Hotel in Hpa-an, Myanmar, whose management provided a masterclass in how not to treat its guests. The continually sullen and disinterested reception staff (including the manager) were bad enough. But when we reported the invasion of dozens of black flies that were dropping from the ceiling onto our bed their response just descended into farce. And, no, sending a guy up to our room to brush the flies onto the floor and then leave is not what we would call “resolving the problem”.

Mind you, at least they did at least try to do something. Our three night stay at the Umaid Bhawan Heritage House Hotel in Jaipur, India was supposed to be something of a treat. Instead, the “junior suite” they assigned us was directly under the rooftop restaurant. Which meant that every time someone dragged a chair from a table (which was A LOT) the whole room shuddered with the vibration. Of course, our complaints were completely ignored, to the point that the reception manager resorted to dismissive looks rather than actually respond.

We also considered the frankly grotty Daniel’s Lodge in Moni, Flores. It was by some distance the filthiest place we stayed at. But what really made us decide to check out a day early was the faulty water pump that ensured we had a sleepless night, despite the owner’s promise to switch it off after we went to bed. And he even had the gall to question whether we’d paid him the following morning.

For that reason alone, this place gets our award.

Yes, I know, first world problems and all that. But a basic common courtesy towards your paying customers is surely not too much to ask. No matter where you are in the world.

Hotel Glory

The less-than-glorious Hotel Glory

Our loudest neighbours from hell

You may be aware that we both cherish our sleep. And anything that gets in the way of our nightly appointment with the dream factory is sure to make us grumpy as hell.

Sure, we’ve had some sleepless nights we wouldn’t want to repeat. For instance, camping in the Kashmir Valley alongside a herd of goats, accompanied by a pack of barking dogs was always going to be a mismatch of epic proportions. But that’s ok. They’re animals just doing what animals do.

Which you could argue is what our American neighbours were doing after the lights went out at our jungle hut accommodation in Khao Sok, Thailand. But was there really any need for the crazed animal noises to accompany their bed-shaking activities. Or the regular whoops of ecstasy that literally echoed through the still of the night? And, which went on, and on, and on. To make matters worse he didn’t even get the baboon impression right.

My patience had already snapped after they’d retired to the balcony for yet more jungle animal impressions. But that was obviously just a minor reprieve as we were treated to further shrieks and moans when they returned to the bedroom. 

The breaking point was when she suddenly stopped her moaning to shriek that there was a bug in the bed. His reaction was to scream “What?! What?!! WHAT?!!!”  I decided it was time to take some evasive action in the only way I knew how.

And so I just let it out.

“Will you just shut the $%&@ up!!”

Which, to our amazement, they did. Not a peep afterwards.

We never did see them before we checked out the following morning, either.

My Jungle House

Our jungle house (left) and the love shack (right)

The most annoying scammer

Scammers, bless them! Always on the lookout for the next unsuspecting tourist.

But it certainly pays to do a little research before you arrive in a destination so you can spot them before they fleece you.

Take, for example, the “baby milk” scammers who approached us in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and Pushkar, India. We’d read about them in various blog posts so when we were approached in the street by a woman with a baby in her arms, pleading with us to take her to a shop across the road to buy some milk, we were ready for her. The scam involves buying her the most expensive brand of baby milk, which the woman then takes back to the shop and splits the money you’ve just paid with the shopkeeper. Brilliant in its simplicity. But still a disgrace.

Our knowledge of the gemstone scam in Colombo, Sri Lanka enabled us to get away from a particularly insistent, well-dressed chancer. But, despite all the warnings we’d had about accepting advice from people in Delhi’s streets, we still fell for a scam that seemed to involve a whole team of people.

But the award for the most annoying scammer undoubtedly goes to the taxi driver at Maumere airport in Flores, who clearly felt he was capable of taking on a fired-up and well pissed-off Nicky. You just shouldn’t have gone there, mate.

Having convinced us that his was the taxi-of-choice for the three-hour journey to Moni, we dumped our bags in the back of his air-conditioned cab and looked forward to a comfortable journey through the mountains of eastern Flores. Things took a turn for the worse, however, when after five minutes or so he pulled up at the kerbside and got out to talk to a number of other guys nearby. After about ten further minutes he returned to inform us that he wouldn’t be taking us after all and that we needed to move our bags into another “taxi” nearby. The taxi in question was an already over-filled mini bus full of people who looked like they’d been there all night.

We refused of course, but then he came up with an alternative that was at least a private car. I’m not kidding you, it looked like a rejected prop from an episode of The Beverley Hillbillies. Oh, and he wanted some extra money, too.

Blue touch paper securely lit, Nicky launched into a verbal deconstruction of his plan that has now earned legendary status in our household. It culminated in a swift removal of our bags from his cab and a walk back towards the relative sanctuary of the airport. I swear, the incredulous look on the face of the guy was worth all the hassle and inconvenience of the previous hour or so.

Thankfully we caught a bus instead.

The relative sanctuary of the bus to Moni

The biggest WTF moment at 5 am

First of all, when we travel to other countries we’re acutely aware of the need to embrace other cultures. Indeed it’s something that we positively want to experience as we travel around the world.

So, when we visit Muslim countries we understand there will be a call to prayer five times per day. It goes with the territory and we embrace it as would do with any other culture that’s different to our own.

So when we stayed at the otherwise excellent Freddie’s Santai Sumurtiga in the sharia law-controlled island of Weh, Sumatra, we were naturally aware that there would be a 5 am call-to-prayer from the local mosque. And sure enough, we were awoken by it each morning in our bamboo-constructed bungalow.

What we weren’t prepared for, however, was the DIY attempt at a call to prayer from some guy in the house opposite our bungalow, who’d thoughtfully placed a loudspeaker on an outside wall pointing directly at our front door. And, once the “official” muezzin had finished, our man would then charge into a full 45-minute session of chanting that would fill our room with a cacophony of ear-splitting noise. Repetitive, tuneless, wince-inducing noise.

Occasionally he would take a break, only for what sounded like his mother to take over. She was ten times worse.

To be fair, Freddie (our host) admitted that he’d complained about it to the local authorities. But nothing changed during the seven nights we were there. And the resort was full, so we weren’t able to move. Hopefully, someone will persuade the guy to move on to something quieter like computer games in the not-too-distant future.

The worst behaved tourists

Some notable entries in this category, too.

The people who thought climbing and then hanging off thousand-year-old sculptures at Angkor in Cambodia just for a photograph were particularly odious.

And the obnoxious Australian who verbally abused the female receptionist at our Kuala Lumpur hotel as we were checking in. 

“How about just checking in and stop abusing the receptionist?” I shouted over.

“Are you British?” came the reply. Then, “Have you colonised any other countries lately?” he hilariously enquired.

Holding back the almost uncontrollable laughter I came back with a deliberately childish “No because there’s always a chance it will produce pricks like you”.

Made me feel better anyway.

First prize though goes to the group of East Asians who thought it was a hoot to abuse the turtles that live in the waters off Apo Island in The Philippines as a sanctuary. I watched in disbelief as they started to take it, in turn, to stand on the back a turtle as it was feeding in the shallows and then jump off as if it was some sort of launching pad. I wish I could say I managed to stop them but they’d already moved on before I was within striking distance. It left me feeling cold and somewhat disillusioned about the attitude of many tourists who have zero interest in the welfare of the animals they come into contact with. And there ARE many.

Turtle at Apo Island

Does this look like a trampoline to you? Thought not…

The David Brent award for biggest jobsworth

Oh dear. The guy in charge of the audio guides at Jaipur’s City Palace.

Having already felt cheated by the indiscriminate raising of “foreigner” fees to enter many of India’s historical sites, we were confronted by a request to leave our passports with a neatly dressed official just so we could enjoy the privilege of wearing a set of headphones around the palace while listening to a suitably sycophantic audio guide. This, on top of the recently hiked audio guide “foreigner” rental charges, of course.

Nicky was having none of it. There was no way we were leaving our passports with someone we didn’t know as “security” for a cheap set of headphones. And, in a world where security of personal information is a way of life we were sure he would see our point of view. He sure didn’t.

“We’re not thieves” he complained. “Neither are we,” replied Nicky in a now world-weary sort of way.

“Well, you can’t have the audio guides without leaving your passports with me,” he insisted.

“OK, refund our money and you can have all of your equipment back,” Nicky responded.

And so it went on.

Then, out of nowhere – maybe because he realised he wasn’t going to win, or he’d just lost the will to live, he relented and we were able to explore the palace complete with both our guides and our passports.

Love India. But sometimes, its bureaucracy leaves you scratching your head.

City Palace, Jaipur

Jaipur’s City Palace by audio guide – with passport safely tucked in pocket

The most brazen attempt to take the piss

Our nine-day trek to Nepal’s Khopra Danda at 3600 metres was to include just the three of us. In fact, just us, our guide and the mountains. A deliberate move to avoid the crowds and noise of some of the more popular routes.

So when, at the last minute, our guide pulled me aside to ask if it was ok for his niece to come with us as part of her “training” I was slightly taken aback and gave him nothing more than a puzzled look. Turns out she was already packed and waiting to be picked up for the ride to the trek starting point.

My mistake had been to not completely reject his request at the outset. And if this was indeed his nineteen-year-old “niece” then my name’s Sir Edmund Hilary.

For the next nine days, she never left his side. Nor did she seem to know how to shut up. And he treated her as his first priority, only breaking off occasionally to guide us as he should have.  Ultimately it was a difficult experience for all of us. And we could see that he was torn between his loyalties to her and to us.

We did challenge him about it, but as we were halfway up a mountain it wasn’t an option to just send her back.

We were tempted, though.

Nicky and a yak

Trekking in Nepal with a yak in attendance

The surreal moments we just can’t get out of our heads

These were the moments that left us scratching our heads, trying to figure out what exactly had just happened.

Like the time at Sri Lanka’s Colombo airport where I was casually catching up with the latest sports news on one of those public internet booths. I didn’t really notice much about the young guy who stood beside me as he tried to make small talk. That was until he asked me to join him for a couple of minutes over in the gents toilet. My polite responses had obviously fallen on deaf ears as he pleaded with me over and over again. But, as the red mist began to cast a shadow over any rational thoughts I might have had left, I managed to give him my best steely stare and provide him with a simple two-word piece of advice. Which thankfully, he took.

But the moment that we still look back on and shake our heads in disbelief was during our last night at the Sun Beach Guest House in Prachuap Khiri Khan, Thailand. Ordinarily a modern, ultra-clean, Mediterranean-influenced small hotel, resplendent in yellow and white, and featuring a lovely swimming pool. Only it’s owner was a German guy who clearly liked a drink.

We were awoken at 2 am by the sound of screams and crashes coming from the pool area directly below us. Like a couple of nosy neighbours, we parted the curtains and peered out to see what was going on. We half-expected a domestic fight between a couple of drunken tourists. What we saw just beggared belief.

Our German host was screaming and charging around the sun deck while throwing pieces of furniture into the swimming pool. Chairs, tables, sun loungers – the lot. And each time he threw something in, an old Thai guy (who must have been in his 70’s at least), and wearing nothing more than a pair of pyjama bottoms, would fish them back out again with a large pole.

Then he started on the newly installed Buddhist shrine beside the pool, which had only arrived that very morning. He tore it down piece by piece and threw what he could into the pool and into the street. Still shouting and screaming intelligibly, of course.

Sun Beach Guest House Pool

The Sun Beach Guest House pool area before the carnage

Turns out he was saving the coup-de-grace for the very end when he smashed his boot through the pane glass window of the reception area.

And then it was all over. Off he went into the night on the back of his motorbike. Presumably to prepare his letters of apology to his staff and guests. Not to mention the local Thai population and the old guy in the pyjama bottoms. In fact, everyone he’d either insulted or woken up that night.

But if you’re planning on staying there anytime soon, do say “hello” for us, though, won’t you?

What did you think? Do you have any travel rants of your own to tell us about? Even if you don’t, we’d love to hear from you so please add your comments below. 


Travel rants and stories from our Big Trip - because after 15 months of travel it's better to just get some things off your chest

Hi, we’re Ian and Nicky, an English couple on a voyage of discovery around the world, and this blog is designed to reflect what we see, think and do. Actually, we’d like to think it also provides information, entertainment and inspiration for other “mature” travellers, too. So please feel free to pour yourself a glass of something suitably chilled and take a look around.










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