Following my post on David Rogers’ on-the-road travel blog Last Train to Lhasa, I was very happy to finally catch up with the man himself, who has just had a very hectic few months setting up his new web design company. We had a bit of a chat, and I asked David about some of the details of his trip, from good pubs to hostels, from favourite places to laptops, from jamming sessions to crashing wedding parties:
CF: Which was the best bar/pub you came across during the entire journey?
DR: I loved Sun Island Café in Dali, China. It is a chilled out place where they offered some beds in a basic room in the courtyard out the back. It is run by a group of Japanese who know how to put on a party, inviting their friends round with instruments every night for impromptu jamming sessions sat on the floor.
CF: Which places would you recommend for a good night out?
DR: We had some great nights out in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh in Cambodia. In Phnom Penh there are some good bars by the lakeside for early evening, and then people head off to the riverside for the late night bars. Siem Reap was a small place, so all the bars were within easy walking distance of each other.
Other highlights were Helsinki, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Bangkok – which was quite an experience.
CF: Are there any places that you would leave out next time, or that you wouldn’t recommend to other travellers?
DR: Battambang in Cambodia. The boat ride adventure was worth the trip alone I guess, but once there everything closes after 9pm on a Saturday. We ended up crashing a wedding party due to pure boredom. I was not too impressed with Hanoi, dut to the rudeness of the people, but the vibe of the city in general is worth the trip.
CF: How did this trip compare with others you have made?
DR: I did an eight month trip around South America four years ago. There is no way to compare them really - different cultures, different music, different everything. I can’t decide which trip I enjoyed the most.
CF: You seem to have met some characters on the Trans-Siberian and Trans-Manchurian railways. How would you rate the safety aspects of travelling on these railways? Any advice to offer people thinking of doing the same trip?
DR: I have met a lot of people who have done the Trans-Siberian railway. Most people had completely different experiences to us. In general it is safe as long as you don’t get into vodka sessions with large Russian mafia-looking guys. The carriages are safe as they double lock from the inside. We are still unsure how Alan kept getting into ours though! At the end of each carriage is an attendant - they can be moody but do not put up with any trouble.
CF: So did you go about getting the TEFL qualification you were thinking about? Or the NGO work, or continuing the web design work but from afar?
DR: I am working on getting the business on it’s feet before I consider the other options. I can work from afar doing this, but when I eventually get bored of it I will be looking at the other challenges listed.
CF: What sort of laptop did you take? Where did you mostly hook up to the internet? Was it usually easy to get online?
DR: I took a Dell XPS m1330. The screen packed up in Bangkok, so I left it with a friend and bought a Sony Vaio. Wifi was available in most places. Estonia, China and Vietnam had free Wifi in most places. Thailand surprisingly was shocking, and where there was Wifi it was expensive and poorly connected. Cambodia had a lot of places that had it after 7pm due to prices, (most are connected by satellite). Laos, forget it!
CF: Which websites did you find useful in planning and making the trip?
CF: I understand from the blog that Hostelling International hostels are not your favourite! What do you think to Hostelling International hostels as opposed to hostels that do not come under this organisation?
DR: Too many rules and regulations, far too clean, far too similar to the next one, like the McDonald’s of hostels. You sometimes find a gem, but that is not the norm.
CF: You mention couchsurfing.com – how do you find it? Useful?
DR: I found it very useful when I went to Australia and used it a lot. You get to meet the locals and they can show you places a guide book can’t. You always have a group of new friends every time you use it!
CF: Were there any guidebooks that you found particularly useful or would recommend?
DR: I used lonely Planet’s South East Asia on a Shoestring. Unfortunately it was a three year old edition which was a little out of date. The new one came out towards the end of my trip.
CF: Which sights did you find the most memorable on the trip?
DR: Snow and ice covered Siberia, magical. Vang Vieng for beautiful scenery, Angkor Wat for the monuments, Pai in Northern Thailand for the laid back atmosphere and scenery, and Koh Phi Phi for the beaches, (in particular ‘the Beach’!)
CF: Do you think you’ll still go to Lhasa one day?
DR: Oh yes!
CF: Are there any particular gadgets, or items of equipment that you recommend to other travellers?
DR: If you take a laptop make sure it is small and very light. Lugging a heavy one round will do your head in. A PDA also does the job. A mobile phone with GPS is always handy. Most people lost their phones though, and were buying up cheap £10 nokia, which were basic and did the job nicely. A compass is a must for getting your maps the right way round, and a music player of some some sort is good to have. Most hostels had stereo systems you could plug an ipod into. Take a cable for it. It is nice not to have to listen to bar owner’s terrible music, and they love to let you play yours. If you are regularly drinking in a bar with bad music, burn some decent CDs for them. They really appreciate it!
So there we have it! There’s nothing to get you more inspired to go on a trip than to hear about other people’s journeys, and hearing about this one has certainly added a few places to my list for future trips. The tech advice is handy too.