Pre-Travel Routine of an OCTP* – Part III: Visas, Packing and Getting the Word Out

And now for something completely different… well, not quite! Just like quoting Monty Python! Only some technicalities are left to be taken care of, but let’s finish it up, shall we?

Click here for PART I
Click here for PART II

  1. Visas and any other travel requirements

This part of the planning is just a consequence of the history learning. What’s the relationship of one’s country of citizenship with one’s country of destination? I make a point to learn about this, if there are any cultural similarities or differences, jokes that I can or can’t make, what their cultural customs are, but, most importantly, what is the political relationship and current situation between the countries?

I am very fortunate to have dual citizenship. I am the odd combination of brazilian/irish. Not only am I fortunate to have two citizenships, they are of countries that have very good diplomatic relations with most countries in the world. In short, “no visa required” intersection between the two countries is very large. The countries for which I require a visa, well, everybody else does! This is a harmless step, with not much required. In case I must obtain a pre-travel visa, I am also fortunate to live near London, where most of these countries have embassies and consulates.

An useful link to check the visas you may require.

And now with the visa at hand… shots! Do you require shots? Not only for diseases that you may catch in the country, but for the ones you may bring as a gift to your hosts! It is a two-way street. You need protection and the country may want to protect themselves against you!

I travelled to Southeast Asia in 2009 and if I had had a mere slightly high temperature due to some food poisoning while crossing the border, THE COUNTRY WILL BE CLOSED FOR YOU. At the airport in Thailand, I had to show my yellow fever vaccine card: Not to be immune, but because Brazil is a high risk zone. So, look it up carefully!

Don’t be jealous! I get them for free while in Brazil!!! Make sure you look that up well in advance, as some countries require you to take the shots up to one month prior to departure.

These two points are not to be taken lightly: Don’t think you can get away with getting the visa at arrival or pretend you lost your vaccine cards: These are rules that are mostly unbendable.

  1. Packing… the only last minute thing!

There is a reason why I only pack at the very last minute. Meteorology is still not able to give us precise weather forecasts well in advance. And even so, due to the chaotic nature of the atmosphere, weather can only be predicted accurately up to 4-5 days ahead (NEEEERD). Most of my trips lasts two/three weeks, but some are just one week long. This allows me to know exactly what to expect, at least in the first week. I check the 10-16 days forecast and pressure charts to have an idea, but always expect changes.

Now I can pack! I know what the weather has in store for me and I can pack accordingly.

It doesn’t matter how little I pack, there will be at least one piece of clothe that will not leave the bag. So that’s exactly what I do: Pack little! I pack for one week and wash my clothes at the destination. Usually, my bag contains (again, for a solo trip for one week):

  • One t-shirt per day;
  • A pair of jeans and two shorts (weather dependent);
  • One light jumper/coat (destination dependent);
  • The usual under-thingies and socks (at least one per day);
  • My hiking boots and flip-flops;
  • A hat. Being bald is no joke;
  • A shirt;
  • Netbook to download photos.

This will barely occupy any space, so there is plenty of space for my tripod and camera in my backpack. I hardly need to check in my backpack, unless I am travelling with my guitar. Sometimes a guitar can come in handy! There is yet another anecdote here for another time!

  1. Getting the word out

I like travelling with people. I have done that so many times that I can now find very clear patterns that I tend to avoid. There are pros and cons to travelling with company, but here is what I think about it:

  • Travel alone: Do whatever I want, however I want, whenever I want (That was the point of these posts, doing things my way);
  • Travel with one person: Compromises can be reached without any major stress;
  • Travelling with three or more people: Only if I have been to the destination before OR people are willing to follow my itinerary (even so, highly dependent on who they are and I still avoid it) OR it’s a celebratory trip (I, too, can follow other people’s rules of travel).

    I don’t like the feeling that I am wasting my time. People change their minds constantly, agreements are hardly reached and, usually, the person being difficult are always the one who get it his/her way. Group travelling is not at all a democratic system. It’s a dictatorship ruled by annoying/hard to please/moody people. When it’s time to go and “everyone” decided where to go, some people have walked off, other are not talking to each other…. it’s a mess! That’s why I make a point to go somewhere I’ve been before and know well, so that I can just take a stroll, relax and let them decide what to do. Just take me out of the equation!

By the time I get the word out, I have my trip planned, I send the plans to friends and people are welcome to join me. Once one person has booked the tickets, others usually follow. Group trips hardly work when someone is trying to just to chat with the group and organize. Someone must take the lead.

Travelling is great! And planning is an essential part of it for me. I don’t think I can do it any other way. I am sure some people I know feel repelled by this “methodology” and are not willing to do it. Ah well!

It doesn’t matter if you are an OCTP, like me. There will always be someone who is happy to follow you in your adventures!

Grand Palace, Bangkok – Thailand

A must-see place in Bangkok!

Bangkok is not the most attractive city in the world, but you must stay at least a couple of days for a few reasons: Two of them being the nightlife and the other is to visit The Grand Palace! (Maybe that’s unfair, there is plenty to do in Bangkok!)

Travellers beware! On your way to this magnificent place, you will be stopped by many “tour guides”, claiming that the palace is closed for several reasons, and offer you trips to see a smiling Buddha or other things that don’t exist. Unless a trusted website says that the palace is closed, do not believe anyone in the street! Just ignore anyone who tries to offer you anything other than to point you towards the entrance to the palace!

Bangkok is a very hot place, but when visiting it, make sure that you are not wearing shorts. Your knees and calves must be covered at all times (don’t forget, it is a sacred place!) and normal t-shirt (no tank top or sleeveless t-shirts!). This will save you a lot of time at the entrance, they are quite strict about this!

Another rule of thumb: When entering temples to adore Buddha, sit with your feet pointing AWAY from Buddha. It is considered offensive to point your feet towards his image. One of my friends who was travelling with me almost got kicked out of Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) because of it!

An amazing place! Just don’t be fooled by con artists and get caught in cultural differences!

For more interesting places to visit around Bangkok, visit the link (in portuguese) What to do In Ayutthaya.

Luang Prabang to Thai Border – Speed Boat Style!

In order to go from Luang Prabang to Chiang Mai, I decided to take the fast route… Speed-boat style! There are no road (up-to-date) linking that part of Laos to the Thai border. It was a gruelling experience, sitting down in a fetal position for about 7 hours… well, it was painful! It just made it worse going from a couple of hours after sunrise, through the midday sun into early/mid afternoon! Time was of the essence, so that was the most efficient way to get to Chiang Mai. I am not sure how much sunblock I used on my knees, but however much was not enough! Burnt knee skin… difficult to walk afterwards! Bit it was a great experience, on that really fast boat along the Mekong River, not many people can say they did that! Having a massage on arrival in Chiang Mai was not my wisest decision up to date! Trip not recommended for the fair skinned! Even though it is a difficult, it was worth the experience!

Erawan National Park – Thailand

After going elephant riding, I had some time to take a few pictures around the place. I came across this beautiful elephant, the oldest of the park. He was 73 years old and its carer about 78. They both grew up together and his carer started caring for him when he (the elephant) was 5 years old. It is a beautiful friendship story!

Erawan Falls – Thailand

Erawan National Park was an amazing day trip… in my Bucket List, elephant riding was probably a top priority for this trip. Once that was done, it was time to go for a dip in the local amazing waterfalls! Several of them in fact! It is just a pity I had to choose between photos or swimming… I took a couple and swam for the rest of the time! Worth it!

The Bridge Over the River Kwai

In 2009, me and two friends took a trip to Thailand and there was no way that I would not visit the Khwae Yai River bridge, part of the Burma Railway (set of the film The Bridge Over the River Kwai, or for brazilian trashy tv of the 90s, A Ponte do Rio Quecai.. hehehe). This bridge, as most of you know, was home of one of the worst WWII events in Asia. Kanchanaburi was home to a Japanese Prison Camp. Burma was, at the time British and Japan controlled part of Thailand. The bridge was build by the Japanese Empire during the war. An air raid was planned to destroy the bridge, crucial for Japan. Japanese officials saw the approach of the American planes and ordered some allied prisoners of war to stand on the bridge, assuming the planes would not bomb it. The pilots were ordered to carry out the bombing anyway, killing most of the prisoners and destroying the bridge. The water of the river was red for two days, said a local tour guide during my visit.

As I was finishing crossing the bridge, colours looked quite dull (just rocks of the track, what was I expecting?) with a green background, I spotted a yellow flower right in the middle of the tracks. That spec of colour brightened up the whole place and I couldn’t stop photographing it! It was a brilliant! This is probably not the best shot, but it is my favourite! If you get the change, do visit Kanchanaburi! It is an amazing place!