Crossing the continents by going from Chang Mai and Bangkok in Thailand via Singapore to Darwin in Australia, was – well – very much uneventful.
Chiang Mai is definitely a nice city. However, it does not measure up to other sites throughout China, Cambodia and Laos. Being somewhat at the end of my Southeast Asian journey, I found this place to be far from being special (or: important). The days of the “Golden Triangle” – a description for an Opium producing region that attracted crowds of tourists – are definitely over. The government of Thailand aggressively fights against all drug trafficking and has agricultural incentives for Thai farmers who grow legal crops.
Although tour operators will still highlight the terminology ‘Golden Triangle’ on their prospectus, it is nothing more than an empty shell these days. Therefore, what remains to be seen in Chiang Mai are temples. A bit outside there are fantastic places featuring waterfalls, canoeing, kayaking, hiking and – you guessed it: Elephant riding. All of which I had done in a much more rural setting back in Laos.
However, for people on a tight schedule and with less interest in travelling to more authentic places (read: Cambodia and Laos), Chiang Mai might provide enough touristic entertainment for them to stay for a day or two.
After leaving Chiang Mai on a night train I arrived in Bangkok, which was a perfect stop to do administrative tasks (back-up my photos on DVD’s and mail them home, surf the Internet at relative low-cost, check out travel agencies for flight deals, etc.). Two days later I was ready to undertake the budget airline flight to Darwin – having a six hour stopover in Singapore.
After having travelled more than half a million miles on air crafts (I stopped counting about ten years ago), I have become very cynical about the sheep herding practices implemented by keen and eager government, airport and airline staff. It seems that their employees of the month invent every now and then a new method to annoy the crap out of the stoic flight passengers.
TigerAirways (as many other airlines) asks to be two hours early at the airport. But then, why do they open their check-in counter only one and a half hour before departure? And even more weird: Thailand customs at Bangkok airport takes a picture of all tourists – upon leaving. Why don’t they take pictures of people when they enter? Weird…
Singapore on the other hand, asks arriving passengers to go through a security check, where hand-luggage is scanned and where I had to remove my shoes and belt. This happens actually before immigration and passport control. Even after strong reflection, I could not come to a conclusion as to why this security check is made. Maybe it’s just a Singaporean way to show off that they didn’t trust the security checks at the airport of origin. But even then – my plane had landed. So what should I blow up now? The customs desks?
Throughout Asia, I did not prepare (with the exception of the ‘Stans‘) much my journeys. I had a rough plan about what I really wanted to see and once you get to such places, exchanging travel stories with other backpackers give a pretty good idea, what to see next.
Australia, however, is a different beast: For one, I did not meet anyone in the guest houses in Asia who would share a ride down-under – nor did I meet people coming back from Australia who could give me some hints and tips.
This was a contributing factor to plan and budget extensively my journey to and through down-under. Knowing that Australia would be the most expensive part of my round the world trip, I was looking for alternatives to bring down travel and lodging costs.
Moreover, most of the sights in Western Australia (my itinerary) are less accessible and require a 4WD vehicle. Travelling by bus definitely would be the cheapest option, renting a camper van alone would be second cheapest and renting a 4WD would be out of the budget. Factoring in the costs for food and gasoline was not very easy, because prices in Australia fluctuate a lot. One liter of unleaded fuel costs about $A 1.67 in Darwin – but this may go up to $A 2.35 in a remote roadhouse.
Being a true Swiss I made a compromise with myself (we love to do compromises in Switzerland). I’ll be travelling through Australia by bus, but I’ll be renting 4WD vehicles for the day, if needed. This still costs me an arm and a leg and burn a hole in my pockets. Therefore, although I do love Australia, I am secretly looking forward to travel onwards to New Zealand, where prices – especially lodging and transport – will be quite bit cheaper than here.
After one night (and a spectacular sunset) I left Darwin, eager to start visiting one of the last bits of Australia that I always wanted to see. The “Bungle Bungle Ranges” and the “Gibb River Road“. Stay tuned and come back soon to read more about these adventures…