travelling

Hungary: Top Things To Do In Budapest On A Budget

Ali thumbnail sml.jpg
 

Ah Budapest! How beautiful you are. I mean talk about epic architecture, scenic rivers and hilly surroundings… this city seems to have a bit of everything.

From the grand Parliament building set on the tranquil Danube River to the historic Castle Hill, there are plenty of places to explore and top-quality sights to see for the city-loving traveller. The ruin bars of the Jewish Quarter transport you to the shabby-chic akin to Berlin’s alt warehouses, and for those that love to party, these bars are open till the early hours every single day. For those of you in need of something a little more relaxing, treat yourself to one of the many thermal spas dotted around the city, or take a trip to Margaret Island to practice mindfulness in nature. There is so much history to be learnt, from the Fascist invasion in World War II, followed by strict communist ruling for the next 40 years, the wounds of Hungary’s past can be felt throughout the city and spotted in the ornate crumbling buildings.

 
Beautiful architecture on the Pest side of the city

Beautiful architecture on the Pest side of the city

 

We loved Budapest, it has definitely made it onto the top of our favourite European cities list. If you are looking for a cheap place to spend a few days, breath-taking architecture and plenty of sights to keep you busy then Budapest sounds like the place for you.

Take a look at our suggested ‘Top Things To Do In Budapest On A Budget’…..


Get Hungry At The Great Market Hall

This epic hall houses the largest indoor market in Budapest and its expansive neo-Gothic architecture makes for an impressive experience.  The metal framed roof structure is a clear draw, giving the space a light and airy feel whilst imposing its Gothic form over the hall.  Split over 3 floors, you'll find a range of cooked foods such as lángos and goulash, Hungarian souvenirs and fresh groceries including fruit and veg, baked breads and pastries, local cheeses and cured meats... yum!  The cherry strudel is worth a try, as is the pogácsa (Hungarian scone).... we really are suckers for baked goods!  A good time to head there would be for lunch when you can pick up a selection of fresh foods and take them to the Danube for a munch.  Yes it is touristy, but there are also a lot of locals picking up their groceries too.

The market is open Monday to Saturday 6am-6pm but closes early on Mondays at 5pm and 3pm on Saturdays. Address is Budapest, Vámház krt. 1-3, 1093.

www.budapestmarkethall.com

 
The neo-Gothic Great Market Hall

The neo-Gothic Great Market Hall

 

Escape The City On Margaret Island

If you’re looking for green space and an escape from the erratic Hungarian driving then Margaret Island is the place for you.  Positioned in the middle of the Danube river, the island is a hub for sports, leisure activities and leafy spaces, offering tourists and locals a place to connect with fitness and nature.  There is a 5.5km running track which spans the island (make sure you run in the correct direction!), walking routes, cycle routes and plenty of places to hire bikes, tandems and pedalos.  The island also features its own medieval ruins, a lido and national swimming pool, a Japanese garden and some famous musical fountains (although these were being renovated when we visited).  In the summer, the open-air concert venue puts on shows to the public and the green spaces are filled with beer-drinking sun worshipers.  This is one of the most popular parks in Budapest and we would definitely recommend a visit.

The island can be accessed halfway along Margaret Bridge and is open day and night all year round.  Trams 4 and 6 stop just outside on the bridge and bus no. 26 from Nyugati station takes you all the way in. Otherwise it’s a 45 minute walk from the Jewish Quarter.

 
Wintery but still pretty, one of the greens on Margaret Island

Wintery but still pretty, one of the greens on Margaret Island

 


Learn About Hungary’s Tortured Past

A visit to the House of Terror is a must when coming to Budapest as it highlights the atrocities of both the Fascist and Communist rulings of Hungary during the 20th century.  The museum tells a sad story of Budapest, from the Nazi take over towards the end of the Second World War, the result was the mass genocide of thousands of Hungarian (and European) Jews. Those horrors were quickly followed by Soviet communist rule for the next 40 years. The country was brought to it’s knees and an unimaginable number of people lost their lives in horrendous ways at the hands of both regimes.  The museum is set in the former headquarters of the Fascist Arrow Cross party and later State Security services, where it was used as a prison and place of torture for those who were thought to have gone against the government.  Some of the prison area still remains in the basement and forms part of the exhibition, it’s very 1984! Scarily it is not known how far these cells went underground because the tunnels had been filled in with concrete by the time the Soviets had left.  The information is well written and engaging, but most of the memorabilia is not described or translated into English.

Entry is 3000 huf (£8.12) per person and the museum is open 10am-6pm daily, closing on Mondays.

www.terrorhaza.hu

 
The House Of Terror Museum

The House Of Terror Museum

 



Ride The Number 2 Tram

This was recommended to us by a Budapest local who goes out of her way to take this tram every day to work.  Running along the east side of the Danube river, the tram ride is ridiculously scenic, with views of Buda Castle, Liberty Statue on Gellert Hill and the Fisherman’s Bastion on the Buda side of the city.  The tram takes a winding route around Parliament building with spectacular views from 3 sides.  The tram itself is pretty retro, with pairs of window seats facing each other in a rickety-style carriage.  We really enjoyed this trip and for 350huf (95p) a go, it is definitely worth it!

You can catch the number 2 tram northbound from the architecturally award-winning Fovam ter station, all the way up to the entrance of Margaret Island on Margaret Bridge.  We would recommend sitting on the left-hand side for optimum views over the river and Parliament building.

Make sure you punch your ticket in the machine on the tram as they are hot on fines if you get caught!

 
The view from the number 2 tram window of the Parliament building

The view from the number 2 tram window of the Parliament building

 

Marvel At The Parliament Building

Rarely do I go to a city and think that the architecture is more impressive than Londons, but Budapest is definitely one of those cities that would give it a run for its money.  The Hungarian Parliamentary Building is a prime example of this, it’s grand scale makes it the one of the largest buildings in Hungary and it’s Gothic Revival-style architecture gives it an incredibly dramatic form from all angles.  This ginormous building has 20 kilometres of stairs and 691 rooms (I mean what could you possibly need 691 rooms for?!) and is the home of legislature, a workplace for members of parliament and their assistants, and guards the safe keeping of the Hungarian Holy Crown.  It is possible to tour this building costing around 3500huf (£9.47), but we were happy just looking from the outside.  For the optimum view of the Parliament building, head over to the Buda side of the river on the promenade for a full frontal view (cheeky!).

www.parlament.hu

 
The epic Parliament building, as seen from the Buda side of the city

The epic Parliament building, as seen from the Buda side of the city

 


Be Wowed By Szimpla Kert Ruin Bar

Touristy I know, but 100% worth a visit (or maybe even two), this ruin bar is an impressive conversion of a disused factory and now is a cultural centre for music, film, food and nightlife.  The space itself is an awe-inspiring shabby chic mishmash of quirky objects, graffiti, plants and lighting, making it look more like a post-apocolyptic filmset rather than a pub.  You can’t help but be amazed on first entry, the sheer scale and work that’s gone into the decor is pretty overwhelming.  The building contains many sub-rooms and hangout areas throughout, sprawling across 2 floors and an outdoor area, so you can always find a spot to suit your mood.  

Since opening in 2002, Szimpla Kert has had a green and eco outlook; by promoting sustainable urban living, by giving up-and-coming musicians a platform to perform from, and by serving locally grown food produce to its customers.  Every Sunday the venue hosts a farmers market, where locals can pick up good quality sustainable produce at affordable prices.  It also gives the opportunity for the consumer to re-connect with the farmers which is a huge issue that needs to be addressed in our food industry today.  

Overall, this is a lovely place to come down for a coffee or beer on an afternoon, or for a few drinks in the evening with friends.  If you’re lucky enough to be around on a Sunday then the market runs from 9am-2pm, and if you can afford a bottomless brunch for 5000huf (£13.50) then you will be reassured in the knowledge that you are eating some top quality produce and supporting a sustainable food industry.

Open daily 12pm-4am, and 9am-4am on Sundays.

www.szimpla.hu

 
Szimpla Kert by night, palm plants and colourful lighting

Szimpla Kert by night, palm plants and colourful lighting

 


Take A Stroll Up To The Historic Castle Hill

The Castle District on the Buda side of the city is home to a number of key attractions including the ornate Matthias Church, the Disney-like Fisherman’s Bastion, the popular funicular and Buda Castle itself.  This medieval UNESCO World Heritage site offers spanning views over the Danube river and city, and makes for a lovely morning or afternoons exploration along the cobbled streets of the Old Town and leafy hillsides.  The neo-gothic style Fisherman’s Bastion was actually built in the early 20th century specially as a viewing platform and sits next to the colourfully tiled gothic Matthias Church.  You can walk along the old castle walls of Buda Castle for great views out over the city and explore inside the courtyards for free, and for the contemporary architecture-lovers out there, you’ll enjoy the oxidised steel staircases that lead you up to the old castle walls.

The funicular, which takes you from Chain Bridge up to the top of Castle Hill, is the second oldest of its kind in the world and was built 150 years ago.  Amazingly, it functions on a system of weights and counterweights, maintaining its traditional engineering systems.  If you want a quick and novel way of getting up the hill then this is for you but to be honest we were happy with the stroll.

We visited in February and it wasn’t too busy, but this is apparently the most popular tourist attraction in all of Budapest so expect it to be bustling in peak season.  Apparently a good time to visit is just before sunset when most tourists have headed back to the Pest side for the day.

Castle Hill is open all hours of to explore, but if you want to go into specific buildings then standard opening hours will apply.  It’s free to walk around outside so is great for the budget traveller, but you have to pay for entry to any of the attractions.

 
The colourful tiled roof of St Matthias Church on Castle Hill

The colourful tiled roof of St Matthias Church on Castle Hill

 

Enjoy The View At The Citadel

The walk up to the Citadel is a pleasant meander around the leafy hillsides, with many routes and paths leading up to the top.  As you ascend the path, views over the Danube and Pest side of the city unfold before you, until you reach the top of Gellért Hill with its beautiful panoramic views over the city below.  The citadel itself is a 19th century fortress made from stone, still with bullet holes displaying the tragedies of Hungary’s troubled past. Gellért Hill is a nice spot to bring a picnic, with grassy places to sit down and plenty of benches to perch on.  There isn’t loads to do at the Citadel other than to enjoy the view, but this is one of the free things to do in Budapest so it’s worth a trip.

You can get to the Citadel walking paths by crossing either Elisabeth Bridge or Szabadsag Bridge and then walking up.

 
Me and my bump at the top of the Citadel viewing platform

Me and my bump at the top of the Citadel viewing platform

 

Get Inspired At The Ludwig Museum Of Contemporary Art

A walk down the promenade from the Great Market Hall to the Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art is a must as it’s one of the only car-free sections next to the Danube River.  The gallery itself is the only public collection in the country that houses art from both local and international artists, and therefore is crucial to the contemporary art scene.  The museum was founded by Peter and Irene Ludwig, avid collectors of contemporary art, who owned a whopping collection of 12,000 pieces!  They needed somewhere to store their collection right?! And since 2005 the Ludwig Museum has been located in the architecturally impressive building, Palace of Arts.  Although the collection on display wasn’t my favourite, it still made an enjoyable mornings activity and I would say that the building itself is worth a visit (if you like modern architecture that is).  The museum has a perminant collection of artworks and a temporary exhibition space which changes 8-10 times a year.

Entry is 2,400huf (£6.50) for both the permanent and temporary exhibitions and the gallery is open Tues-Sun 10am-8pm.

www.ludwigmuseum.hu

 
Contemporary architecture at The Ludwig Museum Of Contemporary Art

Contemporary architecture at The Ludwig Museum Of Contemporary Art

 

Soak Up The Vibe At The Jewish Quarter

If you are looking for trendy eateries, cool bars and somewhere to let-lose then the Jewish Quarter is the place for you.  Ruin bars such as Szimpla Kert, Instant and Fogas Ház offer clubbers a place to party until the early hours (any day of the week) in a fun and care-free environment.  The Jewish Quarter is the hub of eating out with a huge array of international cuisines being served from Thai to American-style burgers, and Vietnamese to European dishes.  You can pretty much find any food you want here including very cheap donner kebabs served from a man in a booth!  There are plenty of lovely coffee shops to relax in, independent boutiques such as the inspiring concept store Printa, and small art galleries like The Kahan Art Space to explore.  We spent a lot of our time here, wondering the beautiful streets and stopping off for the odd coffee/beer to relax our legs.  The Jewish Quarter is a great place to base yourself for your trip to Budapest.

 
Inside concept store Printa with its plywood fittings

Inside concept store Printa with its plywood fittings

 

Food

Reading of all the Hungarian foods we wanted to try before our trip, we were super excited at the thought of Lángos (a fried bread smothered in cream cheese), goulash (a beef soupy-stew with spices), Kürtös Kalács (chimney cake which is a tube of sweet bread rolled in sugar) and all the various cheeses, cured meats meat soups and cakes, we were really sad to say that we were disappointed all round and didn’t find any of what we tried that tasty.  We mostly went to étkezdes which are Hungarian home-cooked food style cheap eateries, but each time we found the food a bit underwhelming in flavour and there just wasn’t very much of it! The Lángos was probably the biggest let down, I mean surely you can’t go wrong with bread and cheese right?  But apparently you can and the whole thing was just oily and flavourless despite going to one of the most popular stalls in town, Retró Lángos Büfé.  The best thing we probably ate was a Hungarian desert of walnut dumplings with vanilla sauce (which was a bit like an English bread pudding with custard) but other than that we didn’t feel like there was much to shout about.  Sorry Hungary, did we miss something?!  

 
Believe it or not, this was the best thing we ate!

Believe it or not, this was the best thing we ate!

 

On our last day we spotted a budget cafe in a food hall called Mangalica Heaven which was actually much cheaper than the other étkezdes we had visited, such as Kádár Étkezde and Frici Papa.  You can get 2 courses for around 1200huf (£3.25) and the place was really busy at lunchtime which was a good sign.  For those of you travelling on a budget, be aware that most of the étkezdes are only open in the weekdays for lunch and then are closed in the evenings and weekends.  Perhaps you just need to spend a bit more to get tastier Hungarian food?  I really hope you have better luck with the food than we did!

 
Lángos, it looks the part but just tastes like grease!

Lángos, it looks the part but just tastes like grease!

 

Where We Didn’t Get To….

Our trip was cut a bit short due to Mark getting the flu for 3 days and so there were a couple of activities that we wanted to do but didn’t get round to.  Although they are a bit on the expensive side, we would have liked to have gone to one of the famous spas such as the Gellért or Széchenyi Baths, both known for their thermal waters and healing qualities.  There is Memento Park, a sculpture park on the outskirts of the city displaying all the communist monuments and sculptures that once stood in Budapest during the soviet regime.  If we had visited outside of the winter months when the leaves were on the trees then we would have taken a trip out to the Buda Hills, an expanse of green space in the city where you can find trekking routes and perfect spots for a picnic.  The Hungarian National Museum was being renovated when we visited, but it would have been interesting to see some national artefacts and learn a bit more about the countries history.   If you can spare 16 Euro a ticket (ouch!), then the Dohány Street Synagogue looked like it would have been worth a visit as it’s the largest synagogue in the world outside of Israel.  Other than that, I think we covered most of the main attractions that we were interested in, and mostly it was just interesting to walk around and explore the city.

 
The Dohany Street Synagogue

The Dohany Street Synagogue

 

We hope our article 'Top Things To Do In Budapest On A Budget’ was helpful for you, feel free to leave any comments in the box below (especially if you have any more suggestions about the food!).

Pin It!

(so you can find it again later)

 
Top Things To Do In Budapest On A Budget, by Studio Mali
 

You might also like…..

Sri Lanka: 5 Reasons Why It's The Perfect Destination For The First-Time Backpacker

Ali thumbnail sml.jpg
 

Tipped as the top travel destination for 2019 by Lonely Planet, Sri Lanka has it all for the outdoorsy traveller. From turtle sanctuaries and stunning white sanded beaches in the south, to the world famous tea plantations sprawled across the countries mountainous centre. 


If you are into animal watching, then you can spend your days bouncing around in an open topped jeep on safari, trying to spot wild elephants, crocodiles and leopards in the lusciously green national parks.  Mountain trekkers can head to a number of well know ranges, and can hike up some of the nations favourite peaks such as the steep and sacred Adams Peak at sunrise.  Head to the bustling and rugged city of Jaffna to soak up the culture of every day Sri Lankan life.  There are ancient temples, historical sights and plenty of religious ceremonies to attend. 

A climb to the sacred Adam’s Peak is well worth the reward….

A climb to the sacred Adam’s Peak is well worth the reward….


Whatever you choose to do in this diverse country, you really won't be disappointed because the standards are high and the quality of your experience is valued and welcomed by the locals.  Tourism is integral to the country's economy and in recent years they have seen a significant boom.  So for the first time backpacker, you have the peace of mind that the route is well trodden and the Sri Lankan people will treat you like family.  

Here are 5 reasons why we think Sri Lanka should be on the top of your to-visit list for the first time backpacker....

  1. The Friendly People

Not all people you meet on your travels will greet you with open arms, but the Sri Lankan’s are some of them.  After travelling in 16 countries over 10 months, we decided that the Sri Lankan's are some of the warmest and most welcoming folk that we've ever met.  Men would buy us coffee in the street, hosts would spend hours making us the most delicious home-cooked food from scratch, people are always on hand to help you get on the right buses, locals will share their food (and seat) with you on the train, and sometimes people will even walk down the street with you just to have a chat! You can’t get much friendlier than that.

Locals on the train to Nuwara Eliya who shared their food with us

Locals on the train to Nuwara Eliya who shared their food with us


Obviously there will always be the odd few rotten apples that are trying to get something for nothing, but on the whole we found the Sri Lankan's very trustworthy and helpful.  Impressively, nearly everyone speaks English due the empire, so if you are ever in need of help then just ask the person next to you and I'm sure they will do their best.  The hospitality in hostels and guest houses is next level, and hosts will really go out of their way to make your experience the best that it can possibly be.  We really don't have a bad thing to say about anyone we met!

2. It's Just So Cheap!

Sri Lanka is very well priced to travel around and on some days we would spend around £12 per day between us, that's with eating in the 'hotels' which are actually restaurants where the locals eat.  It's possible to find accommodation for around £6 for a double room per night on booking.com, and if you are happy to eat like the locals then a couple of kottu's (a Sri Lankan street food of chopped roti bread, vegetables and meat gravy fried on a hot plate) would set you back between £1.50 to £3.00 for 2 portions. That's a whole lot of bang for your buck!  A beer at an off-licence will be around 300 rupees (£1.50) which isn’t so bad. 

Well-priced produce at a local store

Well-priced produce at a local store


Travelling by bus is very cheap indeed, ranging from about 50p to £4 per journey (the £4 journeys would be if you were travelling for 5 hours across the country), and the train can be even cheaper but slower and far more crowded.  A train ticket to Colombo from Kandy is around 100 rupees for 2nd or 3rd class, or you can travel in 1st for only 500 rupees (£2.50)!  A rickshaw in the capital is around 50 rupees per kilometre, which isn’t too shabby.  


Visits to the national parks can however be pricy (they have to make their money somewhere right?) so if you are trying to keep your costs down then just choose to visit only one or two of them on your trip.  For example, a visit to the Kaudulla National Park on an elephant safari set us back £50 per person, and a trek in the knuckles mountain range with a guide and driver was £50 between us.  Compared with the costs of food, travel and accommodation, these prices seem extremely high, but if you acknowledge that you are paying for one or two people’s time and consider it a once in a lifetime experience then the costs aren't so bad after all.  I mean, you get to see elephants in the wild!  If you are happier eating in tourist restaurants for peace of mind of hygiene then there are many to choose from, and prices will be more like £3 to £6 for a main meal.  We ate at the local restaurants 3 times a day and never got sick, so if you want to taste real Sri Lankan food and pay cheap prices then find the nearest 'hotel’.

Kaudulla National Park on an elephant safari!

Kaudulla National Park on an elephant safari!


3. Easy To Get Around

Transport in Sri Lanka is great for the backpacker.  You can pretty much get anywhere by bus, or if you want to travel at a slower pace then taking a train is a good option.  If you don’t want any hassle with transport and money is no option then just take a cab or tuk tuk.  Remember to negotiate hard because most likely the first price will be far too high. 

We took several local buses to get to the base of Adam’s Peak in central Sri Lanka

We took several local buses to get to the base of Adam’s Peak in central Sri Lanka


The buses are the best way to get around though, and they’re are hilarious!  Travelling on one is such an experience, and in some ways they are the funniest part of the trip.  These are the local buses where the driver blasts out Sri Lankan bhangra for 4 hours straight, everyone is stuck to the sweaty leather seats, there is a line of people standing all the way down the isle clinging on for dear life, whilst the driver over-takes at full speed like a maniac.  So obviously the speedy dangerous driving is not a plus side of travelling by bus, but you will be guaranteed to get there quickly.  We would recommend sitting towards the back for safety, and not looking out the front (for obvious reasons).  Ignorance is bliss they say.  The bus assistant will be the one taking ticket money, and will tell you where to put your oversized bags.  The benches on the buses are made for small bottoms, so you will most likely be squashed up against the person next to you.  But for a couple of pounds per journey, who really cares?!  The buses are clearly marked in English where they are headed for, and there is always an assistant on board to ask if you are unsure.  Sri Lanka is the perfect sized country, because you can pretty much travel across the whole of it within a day.  

Local kids waving the train on by…

Local kids waving the train on by…


4. Diverse

Sri Lanka is a unique country with so much to offer.  Depending on what you’re into, every traveller can have a completely different experience.  If you like tropical beach breaks, sun bathing, surfing, turtle conservations and whale watching, then head to one of the many beaches that sprawl the lengthy coastline.  Along with beachy vibes brings chill out bars with like-minded travellers, parties and fun times.  

A beautiful sunset at Negombo beach near Colombo

A beautiful sunset at Negombo beach near Colombo


Looking for more of a nature-inspired trip? Well this is the place for you.  Never have we seen so many exotic animals in one country before… elephants, eagles, monkeys, crocodiles, mongoose, leopards, giant squirrels and wild boars.  The list is literally insane.  Each national park has a different focus, some are the home to the leopard whilst others of the elephant, so choose which one you visit thoughtfully.  It’s worth noting that entry to these national parks is in the form of a jeep safari, so don’t think you will be able to trek in there to enjoy the nature! 

The middle of the country is more mountainous and hilly, so for nature lovers and those into trekking you can head to the likes of the Knuckles Range, Sigiriya, Horton Plains, Adam’s Peak, Ella, Haputale and Lipton’s Seat.  There are plenty of walks to do without paying for entry to the National Parks, and luckily there are lots of local buses to get you away from the main towns and cities to start your route from.  The tea plantations are spectacular, and are free to roam around for the enthusiastic walker.

The view from our guesthouse at Nuwara Eliya, surrounded by leafy tea plantations

The view from our guesthouse at Nuwara Eliya, surrounded by leafy tea plantations


If history, culture and religion is your thing then this a country rich in all of these areas.  With Portugese and Dutch attempted invasions, British actual invasion, and civil war between the Tamils and Sinhalese lasting several decades, it’s hard to hide the very recent wounds of history, particularly in hard-hit areas like Jaffna where bullet holes are visible in the crumbing buildings.  The majority of the Sri Lankan people are of Buddhist religion, with a small proportion of Hindu’s, Christian’s and Muslims.  There are many incredible temples and places of worship to visit along with religious sights such as the ancient Mihintale and Polonnaruwa ruins.  One of our favourite moments was experiencing a Hindu ceremony at the decorative Nallur Kovil temple where men took their shirts off with the sound of live percussion instruments playing.

Nallur Kovil Hindu temple in Jaffna

Nallur Kovil Hindu temple in Jaffna


5. The Food

If you’re a foodie like us then you will probably be salivating right now at the thought of eating delicious Sri Lankan food.  Imagine coconut milk curry with an explosion of spices, beautifully balanced with chunks of sweet butternut squash, and spicy beetroot curry with home-made coconut rotis… it’s just too delicious!  The coconut milk is freshly made and my god does it taste like it.  Rice and curry is the staple, but really when you order it you end up with about 6 components including daal and fresh vegetables too.  No one goes hungry in Sri Lanka!

Fresh fruits at a homestay in Kandy

Fresh fruits at a homestay in Kandy

The kottu is incredible, it’s a street food of fried roti bread, vegetables and sometimes egg covered in meat gravy.  It’s one of the cheapest dishes you can get and it’s probably the tastiest because it’s so god damn naughty.  One of the funnest things is choosing between the surplus of fried street snacks, the Sri Lankan’s do love a deep fried snack!  Nearly anywhere, you can pick up vegetable rotis (that look like a vegetable samosa), dosa (fermented pancake), egg hoppers (crunchy pancake in the shape of a bowl), string hoppers (well-seasoned stringy noodles you eat for breakfast with your fingers), jackfruit balls… the list is endless.  And then there’s all the sweet stuff too… coconut pancakes, buffalo curd with plant nectar (like honey), and all the fresh fruits.  It’s worth going to Sri Lanka just for the food alone, we were so excited to be eating it every day that sometimes we just worked our schedule around the food!

The legendary Kottu street food. We had definitely put on a few pounds after 4 weeks of eating this bad boy.

The legendary Kottu street food. We had definitely put on a few pounds after 4 weeks of eating this bad boy.


We Dig It!

I feel like I could go on and on about all the great things that Sri Lanka has to offer, but really it would be better for you to just go and experience it for yourself.  For the first-time backpacker, this really is a fantastic country to visit because as far as travelling goes; it is relatively easy, the people are lovely, it’s got so much to offer and it’s cheap.  I would say that 2 weeks is probably the minimum amount of time to spend there, we went for 4 weeks and in that time we only went to 2 beaches!  So if you do want to visit then I would strongly suggest not trying to cram everything in and rushing around to much.  It’s a relaxed country to be in, and it’s all the small moments that make this place so special; like sharing a dinner of home-cooked food, or watching the sunrise up on Pidurangala Rock. 

For the first-time backpacker, you really won’t regret a trip to the incredible Sri Lanka….

A tranquil sunrise on the top of Pidurangala Rock, just watch out for the sneaky monkeys!

A tranquil sunrise on the top of Pidurangala Rock, just watch out for the sneaky monkeys!



Friends...

All of the articles on our website are free but if you can support us by viewing, sharing or even purchasing from our travel-inspired shop, you'd make our day! Every share, like or sale gets us closer to our dream.....you guys rock.

Pin It!

(so you can find it again!)

 
Sri Lanka - Why It's The Perfect Choice For The First-Time Backpacker, by Studio Mali
 

You might also like….

Lifestyle: Why I Gave Up My Career In Fashion For The Unknown

Ali thumbnail sml.jpg
 

There's 26 year old me, a Senior Designer in my company, designing fast fashion clothing for some of the biggest brands on the highstreet (names of which I probably shouldn’t mention). 

On busy months I'd design hundreds of items, maybe 30 styles of which got booked, and of those 30 styles, maybe a couple of hundred thousand units of garments would have been produced in factories and shipped into store. To give you an idea of the scale of the production, I could walk around a festival and every few hours probably point out someone who was wearing something that I had designed.  It was a crazy business.  You could literally have an idea, sketch it out, get a sample made in a day, and within 6 weeks it would be in someones shopping bag.  

 

For the first few years of doing this I was living the dream.  The company I worked for gave me so much responsibility and creative freedom, and looked after me well to keep me there.  It was very much a sales job too, we would have to pitch our styles to our clients every few weeks and try to convince them to buy our product over someone elses.  The people buying had such huge budgets due to good sales, that sometimes you could walk away from a meeting knowing that they had just ordered 200,000 units worth of clothing.  Occasionally a buyer would ring up our office and say “I have 2 million pounds to spend on blouses this week, what can you deliver into store quickly?”  

 

That was really the heyday of highstreet fashion where almost everyone was doing well.  Customers just seemed happy to fill up their baskets with any old stuff because it was cheap and accessible.  People were proud to have found the cheapest possible item going; tops for £2, shoes for £5, and there seemed like no limit for how cheap it could be.  When I was younger I was definitely guilty of shopping in that way too, it was the rise of the cheap highstreet brands.  But after some time I sort of realised that I didn’t value cheap clothing and my respect grew for skills found in the manufacture of vintage or second hand clothing.  I didn’t want to wear the same thing as everyone else, and also maybe I started to know a bit too much about the industry and the consequences of this kind of mass production.

 

A few years later, we had a few seasons of bad trading and had to let a few people go in our company.  We had predicted that sales were going to continue at the rate we had been used to but for whatever reason it didn’t happen and we were scraping by.  The work days seemed to get slower and longer, and I had a lot more time to think things over.  I always loved working at our office because the people made it amazing.  We had our own little family there where we looked out for each other, people of all ages and all backgrounds were friends, all working together in this funny melting pot.  Some of the older ladies would cook lunch for us on almost a daily basis, and we called them ‘mummy’ because they really treated us like their kids.

Me and the oldest employee there, Pat who's a staggering 75 and got more energy than anyone on the team!

Me and the oldest employee there, Pat who's a staggering 75 and got more energy than anyone on the team!

 

That’s one of the reasons I stayed at my job for such a long time, because I couldn’t bare to leave the work family.  It breaks my heart a bit now to think that I won’t be working with them anymore, but I knew that I couldn’t stay forever for that reason.

 

Anyway, so trading seemed to be getting progressively worse, and there was a lot of pressure to get right the orders that we did have.  Sometimes if sales weren’t good in store, we would be waiting for some sort of ‘mistake’ to be found on one of our garments so that they could be sent back to us, to get them out of badly-trading stores and to claw back some money for the client.  These sort of tactics are all part and parcel in the business but it’s obviously not a very ethical way to trade.  There was also a lot of pressure from the clients to get product made very quickly based on demand.  In effect, that would put a lot of pressure on the factories, and if they were late for whatever reason then we would get fined.  It can almost be like a lose lose situation in our industry at times; if you say you can’t get something made quick enough then you don’t get the order, or if you say you can do it and are late then you get fined.  It seems pretty tough going to me, especially when we are talking about investing hundreds of thousands worth of pounds in product, and the welfare of everyone working in the factories.

 

And then there’s the wastage.  These clothes that we are making here aren’t exactly designed and made to stand the test of time.  These clothes have been manufactured as quickly as physically possible using fabrics that have been engineered to be made in the cheapest possible way.  You will be lucky if they last a few years at most.  Some of them will shrink beyond wear on the first time you wash them, or the dye will run into your other clothes in the wash.  The fact that we are making ‘fast fashion’ clothing means that they will probably go off trend within a couple of months.  And even if there is nothing wrong with the garments, who wants to wear something that is out of fashion?  I mean the scale and quantity that we are talking here is just sickening.  It’s not just my company doing this, we are talking about hundreds, maybe even thousands of suppliers all making product in this way. 

 

On a weekly basis I would go to the shops and have a look at new garments in on the highstreet.  There were hundreds of new styles in store every week and regardless of whether the old stuff on the shop floor has sold or not, they have to make space for the new.  We are talking constant change, and constant marking down of clothes into sale.  And then there is wastage in all aspects of the chain….. garments that have been made wrong, garments that aren’t selling, fabric that has been produced incorrectly….. the list goes on.

 
This is probably where half the clothes I have designed end up, in a trash heap or floating in the sea.

This is probably where half the clothes I have designed end up, in a trash heap or floating in the sea.

 

 

Sometimes when I did my weekly trip to the highstreet I would look around in despair at the sheer scale of the industry and physically feel sick.  I knew that I was contributing to this mass global consumerism, and I was responsible for this enormous unnecessary waste.  The fact that I wasn’t the one buying these clothes was no comfort to me any more, because I was doing an even worse thing.  I was the one designing the stuff purely to sell on a mass scale and the guilt was too much to bare.

 

I stayed at my workplace another few years before I found the courage to leave.  It has been an 8 and a half year rollercoaster of success, then realisation, but all made bearable because of the amazing team that I worked with, which made day to day life enjoyable.  In the end, I had stayed such a long time because it was the easier thing to do then to confront my morals and find a new path.  Me leaving was never anything personal against my company because they had always looked after me so well, but I was having problems with the industry as a whole, it’s ethics and it’s wastefulness.

 

In the summer of 2017, I left my workplace to go long-term travelling with Mark.  A 10 month adventure that gave me the time and space to fully think about what I was doing in life and where it could take me.  I had done the hard bit, leaving not only a career but a family behind.  And now that the first steps had been taken, the opportunities seemed endless.  I can’t believe I hadn’t done it before now!

On the road to nowhere...

On the road to nowhere...

 

Travelling for 10 months was probably the best choice we ever made, in some ways even exceeding our decision to get married.  We realised that we could have quite easily stayed on the treadmill of living to work, without ever stepping back to think about whether it was truly what we wanted to do or not.  It’s so easy to get wrapped up in what you are doing, and I knew deep down that designing mass-produced clothing in the fast fashion industry wasn’t right for me any more, but I couldn’t see a path outside of it.  

 

Whilst we were in minus 15 degree weather in a yurt in Mongolia, Mark and I came up with an idea.  “Why don’t we set up a yurt camp of our own back at home.  We could make a really cool experience for people; we could design and make all the furniture, curate all the textiles from our travels, prepare some homemade foods and just give something back to others.”  We had experienced a warming openness from the Mongolian people and wanted to share the ethos back at home.  Although the yurt camp is still our ultimate goal (a very small one mind you with only about 3 yurts in a back garden), it’s going to be a long while before we get there mostly because it’s a big thing to set up, and we currently live in a flat in London.  We would need to sell up, have enough equity to buy a property with some land, and start building some yurts (along with a load of legal jargon that we haven’t even looked into yet!).  So to make this happen in small steps, we first want to set up a furniture/ product business, making and selling things that we have crafted by-hand, that we care about.  These pieces of furniture will hopefully work in our yurt camp one day, or we would have gained enough experience to design and make some new things to go in there anyway.  We want to try to make a living out of making things, and for us it’s not just about the products but the process too.  It’s the opportunity to experiment, to develop our skills and to be creative, maybe to end up as a skillful craftsman, who knows!

Where the idea started..... in a yurt in minus 15 conditions!

Where the idea started..... in a yurt in minus 15 conditions!

 

Ultimately, we are trying to get out of the constraints of working full time for someone else.  We figure that if we have our own business, then maybe we can break out of some of the norms, ie if we want to take a month off to go travelling then we can do that, and hopefully we can find a bit more balance in our day to day lives.  Maybe when we have kids we will both get to spend more time with them, and they will see us being creative at home.  It’s also important to us to be working on something that we both care about that is in line with our moral values.  Surely hand-crafting 30 products a month is much more sustainable then producing 200,000 of them that fewer people care about. 

 

I’m not saying that I have all the answers yet for how I can sustain this ideology, because I am only at the very beginning stages of setting up a business and it’s not currently sustainable (financially anyway), but at least I have the confidence in knowing that I tried to step away from something I didn’t believe in and changed my path.  

 

We’ve got a hell of a long way to go.  Many many hours of working to make this business a success, and hours of doing all the boring stuff that comes with it too like tax returns and paperwork.  But there is also a lot of amazing stuff to look forward….. like being in control of what my day looks like, and having the time to be creative and experiment with cool materials.  I can take time off when I want to, no more holiday approvals or just the statutory 20 days off a year.  Hopefully I will have the satisfaction of knowing that my products are giving someone joy to use, or that our blog is inspiring someone to make those changes too.

 
The first product I have designed and made to sell in our shop!

The first product I have designed and made to sell in our shop!

 

 

I’m not saying this sort of lifestyle is possible for everyone because not everyone is in exactly the same situation as me.  But I do ask you this.... are you happy with your life?  Are there any small changes that you could make to find a more balanced lifestyle?  Perhaps you could work a 4 day week and spend the other day doing something that you truly love, or you could try something new that you have always wanted to do like a course in carpentry.  And even if you don't know what that thing is yet, why don't you give yourself some time to figure it out.  Sometimes the idea of making a change can be scary, or can overwhelmingly take you into a dark hole of anxiety, but I assure you that when you come out the other side there is light and freedom.  You just need to find the courage and believe in yourself to take those first difficult steps……

 

Friends...

All of the articles on our website are free but if you can support us by viewing, sharing or even purchasing from our travel-inspired shop, you'd make our day! Every share, like or sale gets us closer to our dream.....you guys rock.

Pin It!

(so you can find it again)

 
Lifestyle - Why I Gave Up My Career In Fashion For The Unknown, by Studio Mali
 

 

You might also like…..

Jordan: The Backpackers Guide To Saving Money

Jordan is a country packed with outstanding natural beauty, some of the oldest and most wonderous sights on this planet, and not forgetting the friendliest people.  A visit to Petra will make you feel as though you’re discovering a forgotten city for the first time, and a trip to the Wadi Rum desert will make you want to live like a Bedouin local.  

As a backpacker, Jordan comes with a price tag and unless you have a healthy budget it’s very easy to overspend.  We spent 2 weeks in this incredible country, and came up with these money-saving tips to help you on your adventure....

The Treasury, Petra

The Treasury, Petra

 

Get A Jordan Pass

Few travellers know of the Jordan Pass (we discovered it by reading a blog) but after finding out about this money saving tip we were feeling pretty smug.  The Jordan Pass works like this, you can choose to buy either 1, 2 or 3 day passes to Petra, along with free entry to 40 other attractions and the visa price included.  A Jordan Pass with 1 day entry to Petra will cost you 70 JD (£70), a 2 day pass is 75 JD (£75), and for the full 3 days in Petra the pass is 80 JD (£80).  Now that’s pretty good considering a day ticket to Petra is 50 JD (£50) and the visa costs 40 JD (£40), so you are saving at least 20 JD (£20) just by having one.  We had a few awkward conversations with other travellers that didn’t know about the pass and had paid 3 days entry to Petra and of course the visa.... ouch.  The pass also includes free entry to some of Jordans top sights, such as the Roman Amphitheatre and Citadel in Amman, the famous ruins of Jerash in the north and many castles scattered around the country.  If you want to get a pass then make sure you book it online before entering the country, otherwise you will be paying for a visa on arrival.  You can find all info on what it includes here….

www.jordanpass.jo

 

Why not take a look at our travel-inspired design shop?

 

Bring Your Own Food To The Hotels & Camps

Places like Dana village and Wadi Rum are just tourist towns, and the lack of convenience stores, restaurants and public transport leaves you in the hands of the money-making hotel owners.  So unless you have a secret stash of hummus and flatbreads in your backpack, you will most probably have to splash out on 7-10 JD buffet dinners every night.  The food at these places is actually very good, most hotels and camps prepare a full spread of middle eastern dishes including slow cooked meats, fresh salads, dips, vegetables and breads, but eating at these hotels every night can blow the budget, so make sure you have a few dinners up your sleeve.  Breakfasts are mostly included in the room price, but check beforehand because some can be an extra 5 JD (£5) and lunch up to 10 JD (£10)! 

We always made sure we had supplies of flat breads from the local bakery, spreadable triangle cheese (the Jordanians love this and for some reason never keep it in the fridge), hummus in a can, fresh lemon to put on the dry hummus, tomatoes, apples & oranges, instant noodles and some overly sweet treats from the bakery.  That covered us for all meals of the day, and rarely did we need to buy any meals from the hotels.  I’m sure all the hotel owners hated us because we were the worst customers ever. Try to buy fruits from the local market, especially in Wadi Musa near Petra because the shop owners try to charge you 3 times the actual price.  As an example, you can get 6 oranges for 1 JD (£1) at the market, so when the shop owners try to charge you 3 JD (£3) for 6 you can confidently tell them where to go.

Stock up on cheap baked goods from the local bakery

Stock up on cheap baked goods from the local bakery

 

Purify The Tap Water

Rarely do we spend money on bottled water.  We have recently discovered aquatabs, or water purifying tablets, and use them every day to clean the water that we drink whilst travelling.  Aquatabs are only a couple of pounds for a pack of 50, and so you immediately save money by using them instead of buying bottled water.  If you have a bit more money to spend and are travelling for a long time, then you may want to invest in a fancier option such as a water filter flask for around £60 or a UV cleaning wand for around the same price.  The benefits of cleaning your own tap water means that you can fill up from anywhere, whether it be from the sink in the airport, or in a cafe in the city.  Also think of all the plastic bottles you are going to stop going into landfill, or being burnt for that matter!  Then you can really call yourself the environmentally aware traveller, well more aware then you were before anyway.  They say that it’s generally safe to drink the tap water in Jordan, but maybe best to purify it if you are on a short trip.  Buying bottled water in Petra can cost up to 2 JD (£2) for a 2 litre bottle, so get purifying to save some JD!

 

 

Hitch Hike & Bus It

Jordan is the first country that we’ve travelled to where people will go out of their way to offer you a ride.  Many times were we walking down the main roads, we prefer to walk where possible. Pretty much every time we have been offered a lift by a friendly local within minutes, people are keen to share their story and hear yours, making it the perfect way to learn about Jordan. What’s more, hitchhiking in Jordan is really safe, the drivers don’t drive like crazy people, the roads are in good condition and the people are friendly.  It’s worth confirming at the beginning of the ride whether the driver wants any money from you, sometimes they want a few JD and other times they just want your company.  Once you know the price you can then decide whether to go for it, or wait for the next offer.  We managed to hitchhike from the Dead Sea all the way back to Madaba for free, and from Dana Nature Reserve to Wadi Rum. 

Unfortunately, the public transport leaves a lot to be desired in Jordan.  There are very few buses that run to the key tourist attractions, for instance there is only one bus that runs daily to the Dead Sea from Amman and there isn’t a return bus.  The one daily bus we took from Amman to Dana Nature Reserve took 3 hours to fill up before leaving, and we had to make a change in Al-Tafilah because it didn’t even go the whole way.  JETT buses cover some of the main tourist sights, and are marketed more as luxury coaches for tourists and locals.  JETT buses can cost up to 9 JD (£9) per journey, whereas local buses should be no more than 4 JD (£4).  For short distances local buses only cost 1 JD (£1), so make sure the bus driver doesn’t try to rip you off.  Sometimes they charge you for ‘extra baggage’, just a made up fee to try and make more money.  This should never be more than 1 JD (£1) though.  Funnily enough, it’s still legal to smoke on the local buses so you’ll leave smelling like an ashtray.

Hitchhiking from the Dead Sea

Hitchhiking from the Dead Sea

 

Hand-crafted pieces, delivered to your door…

Count Your Change

How many times did we hand over money and not get the right change, or any change for that matter.  A bus driver charged us 2 JD (£2), we gave him a 5 JD (£5) note and oh look, no change.  When we pulled him up on it, he rolled his eyes and drip fed us 1 JD (£1) at a time until we had the right change, it was a slow and annoying conversation.  This does tend to be the norm in Jordan, and so if your not on the ball then you will likely be a few JD out of pocket.  It’s also a good idea to confirm all prices of things before you buy them.  Even a dish that was priced on a menu in a nice restaurant magically increased by 2 JD (£2) when the bill came, and we had to argue that it was clearly printed on the menu in black and white.  It’s a funny game but make sure you stand your ground otherwise the deceptive vendors will be laughing.

 

Book Accommodation In Advance

In high season, so around April time, lots of the accommodation can be taken by other travellers and so it’s advisable to book at least a few days in advance to get a good deal.  Even though we were booking 3-4 days beforehand on booking.com, many of the cheaper rooms had already gone and so sometimes we were having to spend up to 25 JD (£25) on a room for 1 night!  This is not good for the budget traveller.  Dana, Wadi Musa and Wadi Rum are particularly expensive, and there aren’t many cheaper options available.  Even walking into the hotels and trying to negotiate cheaper prices didn’t seem to help, and in some cases the room prices were double that on booking.com. Amman however has many cheaper options starting from around 8 JD (£8) for a double room, and so you don’t necessarily need to book in advance.  Thinking of staying by the Dead Sea? Maybe think again as some of the resorts charge up to 600 JD (£600) per night!

 

Spend Less Time & Hire A Car

Jordan is a really small country to travel around, the public transport isn’t great and cars are cheap to hire.  After visiting for 2 weeks, we came to the conclusion that it would be better to spend less time there and just hire a car to get around (if you have a bit more budget that is).  For example, we spent 8 hours getting from Amman to Dana by public bus which is only a couple of hundred kilometres away!  That’s basically a whole day spent on the bus for 10 JD (£10) between us, and then another 20 JD (£20) for a nights accommodation, so really it might have just worked out cheaper to hire a car and have the rest of the day to do stuff.  We spoke to a traveller that had rented a car for a mere 21 JD (£21) a day, which is amazing value considering that most rentals cost around 40 JD (£40) per day.  If you spent a week in Jordan, you could cover most of the key sights and spend 150 JD (£150) on a car rental, maybe even splitting the cost with some other travellers.  The roads are in good nick, the drivers are respectful and safe, and the country really isn’t that big to drive around.  If you have the budget then we think renting a car is the way to go, and you will save some money by cutting down on the travel time.

 

Swim In The Dead Sea For Free

Most online blogs and guides will tell you that you need to pay to visit the Dead Sea, 25-30 JD (£25-30) to be precise, but after visiting for ourselves we found that you don’t really need to.  There are some open sections of fence where the locals visit around Herodus Spring and the waterfall on the north east side.  You can relax there along with a handful of Jordanians, and enjoy a peaceful bob in the salty waters.  The rest of the sea however is fenced off, or blocked by fancy resorts, so make sure you head to the open section to save some money.  If you go a bit south of Herodus Spring, even 1 km down the road, it is much quieter of tourists.  Remember to rub yourself in the oily mud from the bed of the sea, whilst you smirk at your mega saving!

Mark floating in the Dead Sea

Mark floating in the Dead Sea

 

Unique designs, that you can’t find on the highstreet….

Make Sure The Taxi Is On The Meter

Jordanian taxi drivers can be a bit sneaky and some try to overcharge you for your journey.  The easiest way for them to do this is to negotiate a price in advance.  If you are travelling in and around Amman, then putting it on the meter will be the cheapest way to travel and should cost no more than 2-3 JD (£2-3), and that’s to go to the bus terminals on the edge of town.  Little journeys in central will cost around 1 JD (£1) or less, so make sure they put it on the meter at the beginning of the journey.  The taxi guys that hang around the bus terminals usually try to rip you off and give you silly prices, so it’s a good idea to step away and hail one from the main road.  The meter should read 0.25 JD by day, and 0.35 by night at the start of your trip, if it’s been put on the correct rate.  Good luck!

 

Make Sure The Taxi Is On The Meter

(Except Going To The Airport!)

There are always exceptions to the rule, and we found this out the hard way.  We were originally offered 20 JD (£20) to go to the airport from Amman city centre by one taxi driver and refused because we thought he was trying to rip us off.  Instead we insisted on travelling by a different cab on the meter thinking it would be cheaper.  28 JD (£28) later, we realised it was probably better to have gone with the fixed price after all!  Even better than that, it’s possible to get an Uber for around 15 JD (£15) from Amman to the airport.

 

Use Uber

Many drivers use Uber around Amman so it’s never hard to find a ride, and if you are looking for a fixed price before travelling then this is a good way to do it.  For a short distance, ie a few km, it would probably be cheaper to opt for a local cab on the meter, but anything over 6km we would say go for an Uber.  We got an Uber from Madaba to the Fort Of Macherus near the Dead Sea which was about 40km away, and were billed only 8 JD (£8)!  That’s so much cheaper than a local cab would have been.  If you don’t have internet on your phone, then it is possible to hail the Uber using wifi at your hotel/hostel and then complete the journey without internet.

 

Prepare For Friday Holiday

Friday is the Jordanian’s day off, and so across many parts of the country you can expect the locals to be resting and shops to be shut.  This includes many of the grocery stores and bakeries, so unless you have planned well you may be walking around for some time to find that hummus.  If options are limited then you may end up spending more in overpriced convenience stores.  It’s also worth noting that some of the restaurants had shut for the day outside of the capital.

Cheap eats in the capital, Amman

Cheap eats in the capital, Amman

 

We hope our tips will help you save money in Jordan, and if there is anything else we can help you with then let us know in the comments box below.

 

Friends...

All of the articles on our website are free but if you can support us by viewing, sharing or even purchasing from our travel-inspired shop, you'd make our day! Every share, like or sale gets us closer to our dream.....you guys rock.

Pin It!

(So you can find it again next time)

 
Jordan - The Backpackers Guide To Saving Money, by Studio Mali
 

 

You might also like.....

Lifestyle: How We Changed Our lives

Mark thumbnail sml.jpg
 

When I left my job last summer I entered a strange state of loss and lack of direction. After 4 years at my school I had made good friends, was able to help lovely students, my teaching was pretty solid and the job was getting easier, perhaps I was starting to coast a little. All the pieces of a good life were in place; I recently married my best friend and Studio Mali partner of 10 years, had a great group of buddies and the financial stability of a mortgage of a London flat. We could’ve continued with our nice life but we felt it wasn’t right. We were worried about endless work, 30 year debt and wasting away the creative passions we’d had as teenagers, it was inevitable we would continue this life forever.  Or so we thought. After a life changing trip to Patagonia in 2015, we decided on a new plan to make changes to our lives. We are still in the process of making that plan a reality but we believe it’s been the best decision we’ve ever made, yet!

Patagonia 2015, we decided to making a change

Patagonia 2015, we decided to making a change

From the moment we all reach school, expectations are placed on us to work hard, study and get good grades. For some they continue to college or perhaps a degree. If you have a degree you are likely in debt, this was certainly my first experience of large debt. I believe debt is the system that locks us into a life of work. Let me explain my thinking, the government relies heavily on the taxes it takes from it’s citizens and it wants it’s people to work, climb the ladder and progress because it’s more taxable money coming in and consumer spending rises. If you start off your working life in debt, you inherently start working to stop the interest rising and pay off what you’ve borrowed, clever system. The only way to cheat it is not to work or not get a degree.

 

Graduate debt casts an immediate pressure to get working and earn a pay rise, scaling up to mortgages, credit cards, life insurance and so on. A tightly woven financial tapestry that you must pass through to have a decent life in the U.K. Or so it seemed. We started to question whether the life that was expected of us was an enjoyable one, did it give us joy, would we look back and be pleased with our decisions? When work dominates most of the week leaving you dead on your feet for the weekend the answer is no. So we decided to escape the big smoke, experience more of the world and come back with a plan to re-balance our lives.

 

Free from work and routine, eating blueberries in Slovakia

Free from work and routine, eating blueberries in Slovakia

So leaving school last summer wasn’t just leaving a job but leaving the life that I expected to grow old living. Ali and I stepped off the treadmill and into the unknown, free from work, routine and a ‘normal’ stable life. We saved as much cash as we could save in a year, combined with gift money from our wedding, boarding a flight to Norway in July 2017. Although it wasn’t the wisest decision to travel to the worlds most expensive country first! From then on, it’s been a rollercoaster of experiences, cool people, foods, sunsets and ideas and we are nearing the end with clear motivations on how to continue this free, happy and inspiring way of life. But how will we achieve this?

 

Travelling the world on £30 a day for the both of us means you’ll need to live like a local person. That means queuing up to use the same transport, eating in the same restaurants and shopping around for a good price. It’s fun, once you get better at haggling and putting on a front. Ali is much better at doing deals than me! We learnt that to be happy we didn’t need all the luxury we were used to at home. If we could scale down our spending abroad then why not do so the rest of the time? The first part of our plan for balancing our lifestyle is to cut our spending to what we need rather than want. This reduces our day to day costs and ultimately we’ll have to live with less. In comparison to the majority of local people we met travelling, we could see that life at home in London is not balanced, quite excessive actually and sometimes wasteful too. So living minimally is one of our goals.

 

Next, we want to be more creative in our daily lives and hope that we can return to London and put our creative skills into use. We can’t say exactly how or what this will look like but we’re convinced that if you’re driven to achieve something then it can be done. This attitude has been inspired by meeting so many crafty makers around the world who work so hard at their passion. We left Studio Mali open to grow and so we feel driven to make creative projects the centre of our new life by making objects that we hope people will love!  This goal could have only come from having time to think about it, talk about it and gather the confidence to actually do it.  Travelling has given us that time and led us to people making beautiful products in all corners of globe. We’re not interested in becoming mega rich by selling products, but we want to prove to ourselves that we can survive independently doing something we both love.

We want to make objects that people will cherish

We want to make objects that people will cherish

We setup our Studio Mali blog because we wanted a project to keep us busy on the road, we aren’t chasing fame, more an output to remember our trip by. But now it seems clear, we want to use Studio Mali to inspire others to re-think what they do in their lives. In just 7 months of travelling we feel like new people, excited about what’s next and driven to inspire others to think about changes they can make to their lives. It might be that you want to work less, or explore new places, develop a skill, start a new hobby, return a to sport you once played. These are changes or activities that can help you to be happy, live in the present and grow as people. Is a full-time, debt laden life worth the money that you’re paid? If the answer is no then what can you do to cut down your spending and live with less?

 

With 2 months until our return day, I’ve been considering what returning to structured life will be like. Ultimately I don’t want a five day working week so my plan is to work three days supply teaching. I’ll be planning to spend less, enjoy free fun like nature more, cook the foods we used to get takeaways of and be active and healthy. Ali and I love seeing our friends but perhaps we won’t meet them in the pub so much, perhaps the park instead. We hope to sell our flat and find something smaller, which is perhaps the biggest irony of our mortgage debt. The flat we purchased 4 years ago seems to have grown in equity in that time. Ali and I may be able to buy something small without a mortgage. We may be able to live a low cost, debt free life where we can concentrate on doing things we love, building a balanced lifestyle in the process. We hope our story inspires you think about what is important in your life, reflect and find your purpose.

 

Although half our a plan is theoretical, we hope you will check back to see if we can achieve our balance lifestyle goal!

jenner-vandenhoek-473094-unsplash.jpg

Minimalism.Life

Update April 2018: Our pals over at Minimalism.Life have published a slightly shorter, but just just as sweet and Americanised version of our piece on their website. You can peruse the article from the link then read some of their other awesome journal entries: How Travel Helped Me Change My Life

Friends...

All of the articles on our website are free but if you can support us by viewing, sharing or even purchasing from our travel-inspired shop, you'd make our day! Every share, like or sale gets us closer to our dream.....you guys rock.

Why Not Pin It?

(So you can find it later)

 
Lifestyle - How We Changed Our Life, By Studio Mali
 

You Might Also Be Interested In Reading...

Myanmar: The Ultimate 2 Week Travel Itinerary For Backpackers 

Ali thumbnail sml.jpg
 

It’s stunningly diverse landscapes, friendly people and traditional culture makes Myanmar the perfect place to discover. From the white sands and palm-tree lined beaches of Ngapali, to the crumbling ancient temples of Bagan, you can travel around the country for weeks on end going from beautiful sight to another. 

Sunrise in Bagan, Myanmar

MYANMAR

The typical traveller route is well trodden, a well-oiled machine if you will, but it doesn’t really seem to matter because all of the highlights are so memorable and enjoyable.  We recently backpacked through this photogenic country, starting our adventure in the capital Yangon.  From there we travelled to Ngapali beach on the west coast, to Old Bagan to see the ancient temples, next Mandalay to soak up city life, then onto to Kalaw to relax and walk in the green forests.  From there we did the famous 3 day trek over to Inle Lake, finally spending some time there exploring the beautiful lake before returning to Yangon.  We have written up ‘The Ultimate 2 Week Travel Itinerary' as a helpful guide for you to follow.  If you have more time then you can always space it out over 3 weeks, like we did. 

 

Day 1: 

Yangon 

Yangon is Myanmar’s largest city, a sprawling network of British colonial buildings, streets of shabby apartments stacked on top of one another, Buddhist pagodas, and the odd modern high rise that breaks through the skyline.  Regardless of its size, the city has maintained an incredibly local feel to it, you only need to wonder down any of the central streets of downtown to see people out selling their produce, men walking around in tradition wrap skirts (bana) and women wearing the signature sun-protective paint on their faces.  A polished city this is not, and for those looking to tick off from a big ‘to do list’ may be disappointed.  Yangon is a place to soak up atmosphere and to learn about the local way of life. You just need to take the time to wonder the streets, watch the locals and observe the culture that’s around you.  

Exploring the streets of Yangon

Exploring the streets of Yangon

So either stay a night now in Yangon and head to Ngapali beach the next day, or just get on a sleeper bus that very same day. We would recommend just heading out of the city and then exploring Yangon at the end of the trip.

If you do wish to leave that day then you will need to book an overnight sleeper coach to Ngapali beach.  There are two companies that specialise in bus tickets to Ngapali and that’s Ye Aung lan and Aung Thistar. Ye Aung Ian’s bus leaves at 4pm but you will need to be at the coach station for 3pm, and Aung Thistar leaves at 2.30pm and you will need to be there for 1.30pm.  The bus costs 15,000 kyat for a local bus from either of those companies (4 people across), and a bit more on a VIP bus with 3 people across.  Get a tuk tuk driver or cab to take you to the correct bus stop/station as it’s probably the biggest bus station we have ever seen!  The overnight sleeper takes 14-16 hours and is a winding path along narrow local roads, so take travel sickness pills if you are prone to feeling ill.

It’s worth noting that both the airport and the bus station are 1.5 hours to 2 hours drive from downtown Yangon.  It’s really not that far away on a map but the traffic is really bad.

So if you are flying into Yangon on day 1 and heading out on the sleeper bus that same day then it may be worth just staying near the airport/bus station rather than making a journey into town.  Expect to pay around 7,000 kyat for a taxi to the bus station or airport from central Yangon, some negotiating may be needed.

 

What To Do

Yangon is one of those places with very few 'must-do' activities. But it is perfect for exploring by foot, watching the locals, and learn about the local culture.  There is a grassy Maha Bandula Park that you can sit and people watch in, you can explore the streets of China Town, there is an interesting local food night market by the river (maybe don’t eat the food there though unless you like munching on offal broth!), by the night market you can cut through to the water at get a glimpse at the locals being ferried across the water on boats, there is the beautiful Kandawgyi Park and lake to visit in the north east which makes for a lovely afternoon stroll, and finally the most famous of all is the gleaming Golden Temple Shwedagon Paya which is a steep 10,000 kyat entrance fee for tourists only.  It is definitely one of the most epic pagodas we have ever been to in terms of scale and beauty, but if you are on a tight budget then it might deduct from your noodle money!  

The Golden Temple Shwedagon Paya

The Golden Temple Shwedagon Paya

 

Where To Stay

We stayed at the cheap and cheerful 20th Street Hostel in central Yangon near China town.  The hostel was ok, not particularly clean though in the bedroom and Ali had a cockroach on her drying sock! The staff are really helpful though and can arrange your onward journey.  They offer a free breakfast of noodles, fried vegetables and toast which was ok but not the nicest.  It cost 10,800 kyat (£5.75) per night on Hostelworld so didn’t break the bank, and lots of the other accommodation was much more expensive than this.  We would probably recommend staying elsewhere though, especially if your budget allows it.

If you need a place to stay by the airport then we would recommend Roly’s Hostel.  It’s the cheapest we could find in the area at 27,200 kyat (£14.50).  The rooms are spacious, you get a free breakfast and it’s only a ten minute walk to the airport.  The WiFi isn’t the best though, and so we would suggest heading to Life Hotel nearby to borrow their internet for an hour or two. 

 

Where To Eat

We ate some very tasty Shan noodles, a Myanmar culinary speciality, at 999 noodle restaurant on 34th street.  We ordered a bowl of Shan noodles, some Shan yellow rice and some spring rolls and the total bill came to around 5,500 kyat (£2.90).   We would thoroughly recommend this place for a lunchtime dine.

The Shan rice dish at 999 Noodles

The Shan rice dish at 999 Noodles

Vedge Indian Restaurant is a good curry house catering to western tastes.  Between 3 people, we ordered 5 of the cheaper dishes like daals and chickpea curries, 3 types of breads and a boiled rice and the total bill came to 20,600 kyat (£11) with no drinks included.  This was probably one of our more splash out meals during our time in Myanmar, but we had just met a local in the park who wanted to practice his English with us, so we decided to treat him to dinner.  

If you are by the bus station and need somewhere to eat, then Holly Hotel does a great Thai lunch for 3,000 kyat (£1.60) per person for a choice of dishes.  We opted for green Thai curry with noodles, spring rolls and a seaweed and tofu soup which was very tasty.  The restaurant also does mocktails with fresh juice for around 2,500 kyat (£1.30).  The WiFi is good and the place is air conditioned, so if you have a while to wait at the bus station then we would recommend heading there to get out of the heat.

 

Day 2 - 5: 

Ngapali Beach

Beautiful white sands, palm trees and crystal clear waters define the stunning Ngapali beach.  This gem feels particularly unspoilt by tourism even though there is a plethora of luxury resorts that line the beach front.  The only sellers you will get here are the local ladies selling fruit from trays on their heads, and the occasional fisherman offering you a boat trip.  The beach is a lengthy 3km long of flat white sands, and curves round in a scenic arc.  In our 14 years of travelling, neither of us have seen a beach as beautiful as this one. 

The stunning Ngapali beach

The stunning Ngapali beach

If you took the sleeper bus on day 1 then you will be arriving on day 2 bright and early at sunrise to settle into your hostel or resort (hopefully the room is available for you when you arrive!).  If they aren’t ready for you then just dump off your stuff and head to the beach!

You will need to book a bus to Bagan on day 5.  The journey is a really long 24 hours with a 2 hour break sandwiched in between 2 buses, stopping off at Pyay.  Expect to pay around 30,600 kyat - 34,000 kyat (£16.40 - £18.50).

 

What To Do

What is there to do other than to enjoy the marvellous beach time that has presented itself to you?! We really didn’t want to do anything other than to lay on a lounger and enjoy the spectacular scenery around us.  Our hostel didn’t have sun loungers, but you only need to ask at another place and they will most probably let you use one of theirs... the people are so nice here!

Mark enjoying some sweet beach time

Mark enjoying some sweet beach time

You can do a half day boat trip to a few of the small islands, the fisherman’s village and to snorkel, but we got a free one with our hostel and didn’t really rate it.  They took us to a stoney beach to swim, and the water wasn’t very clear for snorkelling so perhaps you are just better off spending more time on the beautiful Ngapali.  The price offered to us for a half day boat trip with one of the locals was $25 USD (£17.75) which quickly fell to 25,000 kyat (£13.33) when we said how expensive it was.

Even though Ngapali beach is a west facing beach so is optimum for sunsets, it is possible to see a sunrise if you head to the very top of the beach.  Mark was very lucky to be gifted with a beautiful sunrise of hazy pink rays when he did an early morning run down the beach front. 

 

Where To Stay

So the accommodation around Ngapali beach is incredibly expensive. Most of it consists of luxury resorts with fancy bungalows for around 188,000 kyat (£100) per night.  We would advise getting your accommodation booked well in advance so you get the most choice when you are searching.  Remember to use Agoda as well as Booking.com and Hostelworld to find some of the cheaper deals.  We stayed in a resort called Gywin Taw in the fisherman’s village down at the end of the beach.  Although the location wasn’t as dreamy (that particular stretch of beach is where the locals dry out fish and there is lots of rubbish and stray dogs), it is only a 5 minute cycle from the nicest part of the beach or a ten minute walk.  The rooms were decent, bungalow style, you get a huge free breakfast of eggs, rice, toast, pancakes, fresh fruit and a hot drink, and the staff go out their way to be helpful to you.  We literally had about 7 people waiting on us!  The resort doesn’t have everything right just yet, but they are working hard to improve things, even offering a free boat trip and free bike hire as part of the package.  The room was 34,000 kyat (£18) per night so was cheap for the area but the location isn’t the nicest.

Gywin Taw resort

Gywin Taw resort

 

Where To Eat

There are so many restaurants to eat at, either on the top end of the beach or just behind on the main strip.  Most specialise in fresh seafood that have been caught that day.  Some restaurants even display their catches at the front of their restaurants in ice buckets!  If you are willing to hunt around you can get a great deal on food.  We stopped off at a restaurant called ‘Treasure’ just on the main road, and we ate like kings for only 60,000 kyat (£3.20).  We only ordered 2 fried noodles with prawns and a green papaya salad, and the staff came out with an additional cocktail each, peanuts, vegetable tempura, fresh fruit and a honey whiskey all for free.  We couldn’t believe it so we went back there the next night and had the same thing.  What an amazing price!  

If your budget allows then splash out on some of the seafood dishes including the Rahkine fish curry.  We also saw many fresh catches such as barracuda, red snapper, crabs and lobster.

There is a selection of cheaper restaurants on the sea front at the top of the beach including Silver Full which offer the same sort of priced dishes.  This is also the cheapest place in town to get cocktails, because every day at 4-6.30pm is happy hour and all cocktails are 1,000 kyat (53p)!  We were pretty drunk on 3 of the things.  Sunset View on the beach front, a couple of restaurants down, do cocktails with 20% off for 1,500 kyat (80p), which was larger but less boozy than those at Silver Full.  The food at Sunset View on the beach actually ended up being the tastiest we found in Ngapali.

It's cocktail time! 

It's cocktail time! 

 

Day 6 - 9: 

Bagan

You will arrive in a bit of a dishevelled state after 24 hours of buses into the lovely area of Bagan.

The ancient town of Bagan is one of Myanmar’s most prized tourist attractions, and is home to where the iconic picture takes place of hot air balloons rising over a temple-littered landscape.  A few days spent exploring the crumbling ruins of the ancient temples is like no other, you just need to grab a bike or an e-scooter and get out into the dusty landscape.  Bagan is undoubtably on the top of any travellers bucket list, and so going in peak season can make the experience a lot less special when shared with so many people, so we would recommend going in January/ February time when the crowds have died down a little.  The street sellers can be a bit annoying too and very persistent, but once you see a sunrise or sunset over Bagan, all the nuances will float away.

On one of the temple roofs watching a sunset

On one of the temple roofs watching a sunset

Entrance to the ‘Bagan Archaeological Zone’ is a steep 25,000 kyat (£13.40) each, and you will be ticketed on your arrival to Bagan.

The sleeper bus will drop you off at the bus station so you will need to get a tuk tuk into town unless you are happy to walk 5km, perhaps in the dark.  The drivers really try to rip you off here, so negotiate hard.  The cheapest we could get a ride for was a pricy 3,000 kyat (£1.60) each and that was on a horse drawn cart!

When you arrive in Bagan, get your hostel or one of the agents on the main road to book your onward bus journey to Mandalay on day 9 at around lunch time.  The journey takes around 5 hours and costs 9,000 kyat (£4.80).

 

What To Do

The main thing to do in Bagan is to explore the temples at ground level, so either hire a cycle bike or E-bike daily from your hostel or a rental shop on the main strip.  Expect to pay around 1,500-2,000 kyat (80p - £1.07) for a push bike and 8,000 kyat (£4.27) for an E-bike per day.  If you are hiring a cycle bike then you may want to check that it has lights because you will be out in the dark almost every day either before sunrise or after sundown.

li exploring inside the ancient temples

li exploring inside the ancient temples

In recent years, tourists have been allowed to climb up inside of the temples and walk around the upper levels to watch the sunset.  In 2017 however, the government decided that they no longer wanted this to happen because of the damage being caused and so it is no longer allowed.  Although there are still temples that the stairwells have been left open on, so every day the tourists ride around trying to find these temples to bag themselves a good spot for watching sun down later on.  It’s half the fun of cycling round, trying to find a temple that’s still open that you can go up.  The security don’t generally seem to mind that you are up there, they just occasionally pop round to check that everyone has paid for an entrance pass.

Mount Popa is a half day trip that you can do to a monastery on top of a mountain, but we did this trip and wouldn’t really recommend it.  The accent by stairs is easy and takes around 30 minutes.  The whole sight is infested with monkeys, they aren’t terribly bothered by visitors but there is monkey crap pretty much everywhere and the monestary is very shabby.  If you plan to go to Mandalay Hill then this is a similar experience and a much nicer one! 

There is also the morning market which is worth a trip to which covers everything from longyi (a traditional woman’s skirt) to daily groceries like fruit and veg.

 
Getting lost in the market

Getting lost in the market

 

If you want to splash out then you can do the hot air balloon ride over Bagan for sunrise.  It’s a pricy $350 USD but is a once in a lifetime experience.  Maybe next time!

 

Where To Stay

We stayed at Shwe Na Di Guesthouse which was a great place to stay.  The WiFi is rubbish but the breakfast makes up for it!  It’s a lovely free breakfast of omelet, toast, churros, tea/coffee and fresh fruit and it’s fine to ask for more of anything if you want it.  One day Mark ate 3 plates of churros and syrup on his own!  When we arrived early morning of day 6, the owners gave us a free brekkie even though we didn’t have a room until that evening.  The room price was a bargain 22,000 kyat (£11.80) which was half the price of what everyone else paid, when booked on Agoda.  Make sure you hunt around for the best deal.

 

Where To Eat

There are loads of places to eat at around Thi Ri Pyitsaya 4 Street, and there you will be able to find western restaurants, Myanmar and Thai cusine, and then also the cheaper local tea shops that sell noodles.  

We ate at on of the local tea shops on that road and ordered Shan Noodles for 1,000 kyat each, and a green papaya salad for the same price.  They also did these delicious pastries filled with sugar and bean curd which were a highlight for 500 kyat a piece.

The delicious sugary pastries

The delicious sugary pastries

Tourists rave about Weatherspoon’s restaurant (funny name to choose what with the weathspoons in the U.K. being so shabby), which is jam packed every night but we found the menu a little expensive for our backpacking budget.

If you look around then you can find some cheaper Thai and Burmese food in the western style restaurants.

 

Day 9 - 11: 

Mandalay 

After an easy 5 hour drive from Bagan, you will arrive in Mandalay, one of Myanmar’s most modern cities after being totally destroyed during WW2.  Mandalay is never going to win any contests for being a good-looking city because of it's hectic rebuild, it’s pretty standard in a lot of ways, high rise buildings, lots of traffic and not very much to see, but there’s something interesting about it.  It’s great to explore some of the more local areas where there are markets, street food and temples.  You don’t need very long here, but it’s a nice way to break up the more outdoorsy places of Ngapali, Bagan, Kalaw and Inle Lake.  

 
A reason to come to Mandalay - the Mandalay Hill temple

A reason to come to Mandalay - the Mandalay Hill temple

 

To get to our next stop Kalaw, you can either take an overnight sleeper, or a shared cab, both of which were out of our price range.   So we decided to take the train instead, spending one night in Thazi between trains.  The route from Thazi to Kalaw is a slow train and is incredibly scenic, we thought even more stunning then our journey on the Trans Siberian train some months before! If you want to get the train then you will need to book your ticket to Thazi from the main train station in Mandalay at 5pm on day 11.  The train takes only 3 hours and is a cheap 2,000 kyat (£1.07) per person for upper class.  You will need to get to the station half an hour before the train departs. 

 

What To Do

There are plenty of things to do in Mandalay for a couple of days of being there, the only issue is that everything is very spaced out.  You can hire a taxi driver for the day, we think they are around $65 USD, but for our budget cycle bikes would be the only way we could get around at an affordable price.  Our hotel rented us bikes for 3,000 kyat (£1.60) each, and although the roads are busy, we thought that it was safe enough to cycle as long as you were being careful at the traffic light-less junctions.

The main attraction here is to head to Mandalay Hill for sunset, it takes 45 minutes to walk up and the likely chances are that some monks will want to walk up with you the whole way to practice their English.  Entry to the temple at the top is 1,000 kyat (53p), and is one of the most beautiful temples in all of Myanmar.

Monks on Mandalay Hill

Monks on Mandalay Hill

You can visit Kuthodaw Pagoda for free nearby, to see the worlds largest book.  

The Mandalay Zoological Gardens is a mere 2,000 kyat (£1.07) entry and has some amazing animals from hippos to Bengali tigers, and gibbons to alligators.  Nearly all animals in the zoo are native to Myanmar.  It’s worth noting though that the conditions of some of the cages aren’t really up to scratch and at one point some there was an elephant dance show for visitors, which was pretty sad.  We did enjoy most of it though because you are so close to the animals.  At home you wouldn’t be able to touch a hippo!

Most people head over to U-Bein Bridge for sunset but it is about 20km away from town so you need to get a cab.  We decided to try and cycle there and ended up stopping on the north east side of the lake which makes for an amazing sunset with a view of U-Bein bridge in the distance.  We would say that being on the north east side on Yandanabon Kyuang Street would make a great alternative if you wanted somewhere more peaceful to watch sunset from (minus the road nearby).

 
Watching the sunset over the lake in Mandalay

Watching the sunset over the lake in Mandalay

 

Our favourite bit of visiting Mandalay was exploring the villages around Mandalay Kantawgyi lake and the rail track by bike.  We were whizzing though dirt tracks with locals waving at us from outside their houses, it was a really cool experience.  If you head down Kantawgyi Pat Road going east from the lake, and then cycle south on 82nd street, you will be able to see a lot of the locals going about their daily lives.  Keep exploring the small roads to see locals living on the train tracks, vegetable markets and lots of friendly faces.

There is loads more to do in Mandalay if you get a driver and have a bit more cash to spare.  There’s the Shwenandaw Monastery (teak wood monetary), Inwa Ancient City and Umin Thonse Pagoda (30 caves pagoda).

 

Where To Stay

We stayed at Silver Cloud Hotel which was actually great and cost only 17,770 kyat (£9.53) a night.  Our room was clean and every day you get a free all you can eat buffet breakfast of hot foods, fruit and toast.  The location is perfect and relatively close to the train station.  This was the only place on our whole trip where we had decent WiFi.  The rest of the time we could barely pick up an email!  Be aware of this when travelling to Myanmar and book what you can a few days in advance in case you get stuck without internet.

The morning view from Cloud Silver Hotel breakfast room

The morning view from Cloud Silver Hotel breakfast room

 

Where To Eat 

We would say come to Mandalay just to eat at this restaurant! It is a local place serving amazing Indian food for next to nothing.  We ate a biriani, chicken curry, coconut rice, 2 handmade chapattis (you can see 7 people making them there and then) and lots of little extras for 4,000 kyat (2.15)! It was the cheapest Indian we have ever had and the best chapattis in existence.  The restaurant is opposite Unity Hotelon 82nd street and opens at around 4pm daily. 

All of this for £2.15!

All of this for £2.15!

Paradise Restaurant on 66th street east of the moat is a local place serving bbq and Myanmar cuisine, and we ate fried Malaysian Noodles, chicken curry, a zingy seaweed salad and 3 Myanmar draught beers for 10,400 kyat (£5.60).  The food was tasty and the restaurant was really busy with locals, which is a good sign. 

 

Day 11 - 12: 

Thazi 

Your train from Mandalay will arrive into Thazi at 8pm that same day.  This is only really an overnight stopover before getting the train again the next day to Kalaw.  

The epic train journey from Thazi to Kalaw

The epic train journey from Thazi to Kalaw

It’s a ten minute walk from Thazi station into town, and one of the first places you will see is the Moonlight Guesthouse where you can rest your head for the night for as little as 12,000 kyat (£6.40) for a basic room. Technically breakfast isn’t included in the economy room, but if you ask nicely then the owners may make you a packed lunch for the next morning.  Maybe leave a little tip if they go out their way to do so. 

If you feel like a little tipple then why not join the locals in one of the bars, they seemed pretty happy to see us and one guy even bought us some dried meat as a present!

Get to the station for 6.20am the next morning on day 12 and book your onward journey to Kalaw by slow train, it leaves at 7am.  The route takes 6 hours and costs 1,850 kyat (£1.00) per person for upper class.  This train ride is honestly one of the most epic routes we have ever been on, winding through jungles, countryside and mountains so enjoy it!  The train also stops in many local villages where you can pick up some snacks and noodles along the way.  It’s a lot of fun with the open sides and reclining seats on the train.

 

Day 12 - 14: 

Kalaw 

The town of Kalaw is nothing special in itself, but ended up being one of our favourite places to relax in Myanmar.  The local food is tasty and cheap, the town is surrounded by beautiful pine forests and countryside, and this is the starting place of the 3 day trek to Inle Lake.  There are tourists here, but it’s not nearly as popular as some of the other places we visited.  You could easily spend 3-4 days here just enjoying the peace and quiet and exploring the surrounding green area.

The green woodlands surrounding Kalaw

The green woodlands surrounding Kalaw

After taking the train from Thazi, you will arrive into Kalaw at 1.15pm on day 12.  We would recommend heading into town after dropping your stuff off at your guesthouse to book onto a 2 or 3 day trek to Inle.  If you book your tour for day 14, then you will have the afternoon of day 12, and another full day to enjoy the delights of Kalaw. There are loads of companies that offer the trek, and all of them take the same trekking route to Inle except for one company which takes you through different villages but charges about double the price for the privilege.  We ended up going with Eagle Tours because they have a fairly good reputation online, but we would say that our guide was a bit lack lustre.  Our trek cost $55 USD per person for 3 days plus a $10 entrance fee to Inle Lake, and it was just us two on the trek for that price.  Have a hunt around and see which one suits you.  If you want to go cheap and don’t mind trekking with a lot of people, then Ever Smile tours is your best bet for 44,000 kyat (£23.60) per person plus the $10 USD entrance fee.

 

What To Do

Kalaw is the perfect place to relax, eat local food and do some short walks into the countryside.  There is a fresh produce and flower market on every 5th day in the centre of town, and every day there is a standard market also selling clothes, snacks, trinkets etc.

It is possible to walk to the nearby MyintMathi caves which is a 2 hour walk one way through pine forests, ox-cart dirt tracks and through a minority village which is very pleasant indeed.  We have written up the instructions for the walk here from Kalaw town.  You can also walk up to a viewpoint from near the village which takes an additional 3 hours total, so all in all a 7 hour trek from Kalaw with the caves included.  It is possible to walk to another viewpoint, a 3 hour walk one way, from Kalaw town, and the view expands across the hilly countryside of clementine orchards and tea plantations.  If you want to do this walk then ask one of the locals which direction to head to, you don’t need a guide for these walks.

The ox-cart track on the way to the MyintMathi caves

The ox-cart track on the way to the MyintMathi caves

 

Where To Stay

We stayed at Thitaw Lay House which was one of the best places we have stayed in 6 months on the road.  We turned up to be offered a free upgrade to the family room, and because we booked last minute we got the room for a reduced rate of 26,600 kyat (£14.25).  The room was beautiful, solid wood floors, ethnic throws on the beds and ginormous, and the guesthouse has some very well maintained gardens just outside.  Every morning they would feed us a free breakfast of home-made banana bread, fresh bread that they had made in a wood burning oven, either a fried egg or cheese slice, vege fried rice, homemade jam, butter and a hot drink.  It was honestly the best breakfast ever!

Us in our room in Thitaw Lay House

Us in our room in Thitaw Lay House

 

What To Eat

Food is great in Kalaw, there are quite a few western restaurants if your budget allows or dirt cheap tea shops selling noodles and fried goods.  We ate at Parami restaurant on Min Street and ordered 2 chapattis, sweet potato leaf salad, okra and 2 bowls of Shan Noodles for only 3,700 kyat (£2.00) and it was delicious.  We actually ate there a few times in a row because it was so cheap and tasty!  We also ate at Picasso Healthy Spa and Restaurant, a Mexican restaurant, which was very fresh and tasty, but the portion sizes were a bit on the small side.  We ordered a vege burrito, 2 nachos and a vege quesadilla for 10,000 kyat (£5.35).  The avocado around this area is unbelievably tasty because it is grown here, make sure you try some in one of the restaurants.

Shan noodles in Parami restaurant

Shan noodles in Parami restaurant

The street food is actually great in the centre of Kalaw. We sampled a chickpea crispy pancake for 300 kyat (16p), pancakes with sugar for 250 kyat (13p), vege samosas for 100 kyat (5p) and our all time favourite coconut crumpets for 200 kyat (10p).  If you want some cheap and tasty snacks then there are loads of bits to choose from.

 

Day 14 - 16: 

3 Day Trek From Kalaw To Inle Lake

Leave on the morning of day 14 with your guide and tour group and make the long journey by foot to Inle Lake.  We are avid trekkers so didn’t find it too challenging, it was just lovely to get lost in thought whilst walking through the hilly countryside of Myanmar.  Your tour operator should have arranged to take your big backpacks to the end of the route so you will only be trekking with a day bag filled with the things you need for the next few days.  Make sure you have sun cream, a sun hat and a change of clothes in case it rains.  Taking a mozzie net is a good idea for sleeping under.  You can probably trek in trainers if it is dry, but we took our walking boots because they were comfier for the longer distance.  

On the 3 day trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake

On the 3 day trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake

The food on our trek was amazing, the local people feed you like kings!  4 types of fruit at one sitting and freshly prepared salads, we felt so lucky at the end of it to have been given some much.  You also need to take 1 litre of bottled water which you can replace at several intervals during the trek.

The scenery is very diverse, going from reservoirs to forests, views of tea plantations on the hills to trekking on the train tracks.  We loved crossing the rice paddies where the buffalos were grazing, this was probably our favourite part of the walk.

The boat trip at the end across Inle Lake is super fun, our driver was really speedy so we had massive grins on our faces as we bounced along the water, waves splashing out from either side of the boat.  

Speeding along on a boat on Inle Lake

Speeding along on a boat on Inle Lake

It is also possible to do this trek over 2 days if you don’t want to do 3, the tour operator will just drop you slightly further into the route by tuk tuk.  If you want to do a 2 day trek from Kalaw on your own then you can find instructions on how to do it here.

We loved the trek but perhaps we weren’t ready for the number of other tourists we had to share it with.  On our second day we came across about 10 other groups on the route, some of them made of 12 people, and apparently some 20 groups will stay in the same village at any one time.  Although this isn’t a problem as such, it felt decidely un-special to be doing the same as everyone else, to be in the countryside ‘on tour’.  If you can get your guide to leave any earlier in the morning to avoid the crowds then it’s probably a good idea.  Otherwise you may get stuck behind big groups if you are walking faster than them.

 

Day 16 - 19: 

Inle Lake

So after lunch at the end of your trek you will take the boat over Inle to arrive in the city of Nyaungshwe around early afternoon.  Head to your hostel and give your legs a well deserved break after 3 long days of trekking.

Nyaungshwe is an alright place to chill out, eat some tasty food and this area is popular because it’s the cheaper backpacker destination close to Inle Lake.  It’s mainly just set up for tourists, there’s bar upon bar lining the streets, loads of western restaurants to choose from, hostels and hotels, tour agencies, and places to hire bikes from.  We didn’t love it, but it does seem like the most affordable place to base yourself for access to the highlight, that is Inle Lake.

Inle’s glistening waters are breathtakingly beautiful, and you can see why this is one of Myanmar’s most loved sights.  Surrounded by mountains on the east and west sides, the scenery is unrivalled and one of the most stunning places we have ever been.  Bamboo housed villages hover over the waters on wooden stilts, and locals wash themselves in the alluring waters.  Fishermen paddle using one leg, making a scooping motion to move themselves along the surface.

 
A posing fisherman on Inle Lake

A posing fisherman on Inle Lake

 

To arrange the next step of the journey, get your hostel or an agent to book your return coach journey to Yangon on day 19 in the afternoon.  We searched around for the cheapest prices and went with Full Moon coaches, where a 3 across VIP sleeper was 18,000 kyat (£9.65), or a 4 across VIP sleeper was 13,000 kyat (£7.00) and because there wasn’t enough people on the cheaper one, they upgraded everyone to the 3 across coach for free.  The journey takes 12 hours and leaves at 3pm from Nyaungshwe.

 

What To Do

Go on a boat tour.  This is the must-do thing at Inle Lake and is really easy to organise.  Just get your hostel to book it for you, or if you want to hunt around then there are loads of agencies that can arrange it for you, or local boat men walking around offering boat hire.  The main thing to be aware of is that the boat hire is generally cheap but the drivers get commission on where they take you, so they want to drop you off in their mates restaurant or shop, which can be very annoying.  You will need to discuss with your driver beforehand if you can make your own itinerary.  Expect to pay from 15,000 kyat (£8.05) to 24,000 kyat (£12.90) for an all day hire on a boat.  The more people you get then the cheaper it is.  We would recommend visiting the following places on your boat tour: the lotus root weaving factory in Phaw Khone, the middle of the lake to catch some fishermen in action, the boat makers workshop, one of the local markets (not the floating market), the Inn Tain Monastery and bamboo forest in the west, the Nga Hpe Kyuang wooden jumping cat monastery (although there are only about 6 cats when we visited and none of them were jumping!) and the floating gardens.  We would say give the silver smiths, the long neck weavers, the cigar makers and the umbrella makers a miss. There are loads of beautiful villages to visit which are hovering over the water on stilts, like the Nampans or Maing Tauk villages, and a canal network which is almost like a boat road system.

A cat at the Nga Hpe Kyuang jumping cat monastery

A cat at the Nga Hpe Kyuang jumping cat monastery

You can hire a bike from Nyaungshwe and do some cycling to nearby villages and the countryside.  Bikes cost around 1,500 kyat (80p) from a local shop. 

Get a massage in Win Nyant for an experience of a lifetime! Be prepared for the masseur to stand on you with their full body weight, pinch and grab your muscles through clothes.  It was pretty funny watching Mark’s pained expression for an hour and worth the 7,000 kyat (£3.75).

 

Where To Stay

We stayed at the Green Valley Inn Guesthouse in Nyaungshwe and the place was good value for money, including a breakfast of eggs, toast, churros, fruit and tea/coffee.  The staff are really friendly and look after their guests.  There are loads of hotels and guest houses around Inle depending on your budget, and if you can splash out then it may be worth staying in one of the bamboo huts actually on the lake itself rather than staying in the city.  We have heard that the south side of the lake is much quieter and very scenic, whereas there is a lot of boat action in the north.

 

Where To Eat 

Namastee Indian restaurant do an amazing set menu of meat curry, vege curry, popadom, nan bread, mint yoghurt dip, daal soup and fresh salad for only 3,500 kyat (£1.90) per person and it’s really tasty.  We had that a couple of days in a row because it was such good value for money.

We also went to Mo Sin, a local restaurant, which has a set menu for 4,000 kyat (£2.15) for a bbq’ed meat, rice, small beer and tom yum soup.  Ali skipped the set menu and ordered a Thai vege curry, rice and papaya salad which also came to the same price.

The highlight of our food experience in Inle was a local tea shop on the bottom of Sao San Htun Street where we got 2 bowls of Shan Noodles, pastries filled with sugary coconut bean paste, crispy wonton and bhaji, and a chickpea pancake for a total of 3,000 kyat (£1.60).  You really can’t beat the local food, it’s cheap and ridiculously tasty.  The only problem is that the local tea shops / restaurants were just a bit harder to find in the touristy Nyaungshwe.

The local restaurant we recommend dining at in Nyuangshwe

The local restaurant we recommend dining at in Nyuangshwe

 

Day 20 - 21: 

Yangon

So you will probably arrive in Yangon bus station at the ridiculous hour of 3am after being on the night bus.  From there you will have to negotiate a tuk tuk driver to take you into downtown Yangon, maybe grab some other people to make your journey cheaper.  A taxi normally costs around 7,000 kyat (£3.75), but these guys know you don’t have many other options at this hour so may bump up the price.  Have somewhere to stay booked beforehand so you can head straight there.  If you stay one night in Yangon then that’s probably enough time to soak up the city atmosphere.  All of the other info for What To Do and Where To Eat is at the top of this page.  

Local life in Yangon

Local life in Yangon

That takes us up to day 21 on the itinerary which is your final day in Myanmar.  We hope you have found this guide helpful, you can easily stretch this out into a more leisurely 3 week itinerary if you have the time.

 

Things To Note:

Travel Advice

What with the troubles in the north western part of the country in the Rakhine state, many embassies have advised against all travel to several parts of the country.  The tourist areas of Ngapali beach and Hsipaw are still reachable for tourists, but it’s best to check in advance the conditions of visiting from your government embassy website.  For example, it is possible to travel to Hsipaw by train from Mandalay, but we believe it is not possible to do any trekking in this area at the moment.  Places such as Ngapali beach are under military supervision and so it is necessary to expect passport checks are several points during your journey there.  From our experience of visiting Myanmar during this time, there is nothing to worry about as a tourist.  This is one of the safest countries we have ever visited and the people are some of the friendliest and most peaceful we have met.  (Written January 2018)

 

Time Of Year

We went in January and it was a great, because the earlier crowds visiting in the dry season had dispersed and you got to enjoy lots of the sights with fewer people.  It felt very quiet at times around the touristy restaurant areas in Bagan and Inle Lake, there are obviously quite a lot of travellers but apparently nothing compared to what it is like in November/ December time.   The weather is very pleasant in the day and can get a bit nippy at night times in the countryside, but as long as you take some warm layers there is nothing to worry about.  We didn’t have any problems finding accommodation, in previous years we read that there hasn’t been enough for the number of tourists, but because of the ongoing political situation we believe there are fewer people visiting at the moment.

 

Animals And Insects

There can be quite a few mosquitos in the cities during the dry season and we have heard that there are a lot more during the wet season, in the countryside also.  Check your embassy for advice on Malaria and other mosquito-born diseases.  At the time of visiting, there was a low risk of Malaria in most places in the countryside and none in the cities.  We were take a lot of care not to get bitten, and this time Ali decided to take anti-malarial drugs because she is prone to getting bitten regardless!  

We were told by a trekking guide that there are a lot of snakes in the countryside in the Kalaw area during the months of March and April and that some can be aggressive when near fires.  Local people like to burn their crops and when that happens the snakes make a slithering escape!  So if you are trekking in the countryside at this time your guide should be able to advice whether it is safe to trek that particular route or if you need to take another one.

There are many stray dogs across the whole of Myanmar, and sadly it looks like a lot of them have had a very hard life.  Be careful walking around small streets at nighttime when dogs can become scared and territorial, we carried a stick around with us just in case!  Also there are some cases of Rabies in Myanmar so make sure you check your embassy website for travel advice and get vaccinated.  

 

Conservative Myanmar

Myanmar is a very traditional country where nearly all of the women dress conservatively, wearing Longyi’s (mid calf length wrap skirts) and they cover their shoulders.  As a tourist we think it’s only fair to dress appropriately and follow suit, particularly in the villages.  The only place Ali had her shoulders and knees out was at the beach in Ngapali, and even then the locals were completely covered up, swimming in the sea fully clothed!

 

Food And Drink

Some of the tastiest food we have eaten in Myanmar has come from the local restaurants and tea shops.  Although we wouldn’t necessarily advice eating things like meat from the street vendors, we ate lots of the breaded and fried goods and didn’t have any problems at all.  If the locals are eating there then you are probably fine!  Some of our favourite dishes were Shan noodles, green papaya salad, tea leaf salad, curries, chapattis, avocado salad, churros and papaya.  You can find food as cheap as 400 kyat (22p) for noodles in a tea shop.  A good price for a draught Myanmar beer in a local tea shop is 800 kyat (43p), and 2000 kyat (£1.07) for a large bottle.

 

Transport

It is incredibly easy to organise your travel in Myanmar.  Most hostels can book onward coach journeys for you and you can always pick up a tuk tuk or cab at a bus station.  The journeys by coach can be long and laborious though, the roads can be long and winding in places and the drivers love to play their dance tunes all night long on the loud speakers.  If you are prone to travel sickness then be as prepared as you can be with travel sickness or sleeping pills.  The train is a really nice way to travel, very cheap, but it takes a lot of time compared to the bus.  From our experience, traveling in Myanmar was always to schedule, well organised and straight forward.  You can just arrange it all when you get there unless you want to fly.  When getting a cab or a tuk tuk, you will need to negotiate hard to get a good price, or try to get your hostel to book it for you.  

 

Visa

You will need a visa to enter Myanmar and, due to the political state, there are current restrictions as to where and how you can enter the country.  In January 2018, the only way to enter is to fly into the cities of Yangon, Nyi Pyi Taw or Mandalay, or to cross the border by land at Tachileik, Myawaddy or Kawthaung.  We believe you have to exit the country the same way that you entered and flying is more straight forward than a land border crossing.  Make sure that you research the most up-to-date information on the government embassy website, because the situation may change quickly.  An e-visa cost us $50 USD each and was for 28 days access to the country.

 

We hope you find our guide helpful, we would love to hear from anyone who followed it.  

 

Friends...

All of the articles on our website are free but if you can support us by viewing, sharing or even purchasing from our travel-inspired shop, you'd make our day! Every share, like or sale gets us closer to our dream.....you guys rock.

Pin It!

Did you find this article helpful?  If so then why not Pin It! so you can find it again next time.

 
Myanmar - The Ultimate 2 Week Travel Itinerary For Backpackers, by Studio Mali
 

 

Continue Reading...