coffee press travel mug

I love coffee and I carry my own coffee making equipment with me when backpacking, (yes really I do), but this mug is also great for the office or even for take out.

I have

So I boil the water in the tiffin tin with the huge element. Pour the hot water onto the coffee. Wait for it to brew. Plunge. Sit on the balcony watching the sunrise sipping fresh coffee. I Yes I know its a plastic cup but I can’t give it up I tell you!


I used to carry glass and metal cafetierres but they kept on breaking. I have to admit that this is one of those times when plastic is the best man for the job. I bought mine in Japan but I found something similar on Amazon. Zyliss Cafetiere Hot Mug, Blue Zyliss Cafetiere Hot Mug, Blue £8.99 


But when I need a new one I will get one of these stainless steel beauties…..

From the Bodrum Website

TRAVEL PRESS SET Coffee maker with extra lid, vacuum, small, 0.35 l, 12 oz, s/s Black:

  • vacuum and made from stainless steel for maximum heat retention.
  • closable lid with a stopper for the opening.
  • slip-proof silicone band around them comes in beautiful colors.
  • Coffee maker furthermore comes with an extra lid
    You can of course get them on Amazon
Bodum Travel Press Set Coffee Maker, Lime Green
Bodum Travel Press Set Coffee Maker, Lime G…


You can read our thoughts on Amazon here and why we sometimes suggest products sold through them.

Coffee Beans 

I try to buy my coffee loose where I go. I have found bean shops that will grind and give me the coffee in my own reusable bags in Istanbul, Georgetown, Chang Mai and Huddersfield.



Sri Lanka

Just got back from a month in Sri Lanka which was  very wet and very beautiful. There was a lot of exotic, jungly, lush greenery studded with pretty flowering trees, fantastic tea plantations, dramatic hill and some rather lovely towns. Plus ancient sites and well regarded national parks. All strung together by a sweetest railway system with the most wonderful retro stations manned by uniformed staff straight out of Boys Own Topping Tropical Tales.

So we got to trundle through rice paddies and neat tea plantations in reliable trains. We saw lovely old houses, gentle countryside, wild peacocks waddling round the fields and kingfishers skimming muddy pools. We had high tea in the last great hotels of the raj and mooched round the delightfully renovated town of Galle. And it was cleaner than a lot of other Asian countries with (comparatively) very little plastic trash.

Looking back it was lovely but at the time we were ambivalent. Which might have been in part due to the weather but it rained every day. Some days only for a couple of hours but others it went on interminably. Great big splashy soaking storms that made most kinds of out door activities more challenging then we were prepared to cope with. Even when it wasn’t raining a moist miasma lingered and meant nothing ever dried out. My trousers bloomed white mould and the bags had to be unpacked every day. The beds felt clammy the rooms smelt strange and we had to buy our own umbrellas.

And it was a little bit bland. Galle for example was like some well maintained small European town the sights. A quick mince round and an overpriced coffee and you were done. There is a lot of ancient stuff but was expensive. I cant say if it was good value for money because we didn’t get to see any of it. We did try honest we did. We set off to look at an ancient city. We had barely reached the ticket office when the rain blew in in huge tearing sheets of misery and we decided to turn back. Actually we were not too disappointed. The $30.00 dollar entrance fee (each that is) and Google pictures of the site had left us rather cool.

But that left us with nothing to do. Not all of Sri Lanka is lovely. Much of it is ugly concrete tropics and this town was drab and dull and now soaking wet. Also, unusually for Asia, food here is not plentiful. There are few street vendors selling snacks and no cute chai stalls. There are some restaurants and bakeries but they are often rather dreary. Worse still the food is not that great. Stodgy, greasy and sugary. There is some rather nice curry but they serve it luke warm often cold.

So we didn’t do the expensive sights or the national parks either. Who wants to see a wet leopard anyway? The famous beaches went the same way. The seas were too rough to swim or even paddle. Which left…. nothing. Sri Lanka shuts up shop early and by 9pm most places are closed. And this is in Kandy main tourist and pilgrim town. No night markets, no chanting pilgrims, no people sitting out on the street chatting.

And very few backpackers. Possibly they had more sense than to come in the wet season but there seemed to be little in the way of a backpacker infrastructure. There is no area to head to full of cheap hostels, cafes offering banana pancakes and cold beer.

That’s not to say there weren’t tourists. Given it’s charms, general cleanliness and wide range of attractions, plus lots of tea, Sri Lanka is perfect nostalgia tropics. It is rather like going back to an Agatha Christie like golden age of travel. Which of course attracts an Agatha Christie kind of visitor. There were swarms of white haired twitterers wandering round in cream combat pants and pale blue shirts, strapped firmly into enormous beige money belts that look more like a truss than a purse. Being ferried from charming Colonial hotel to tea planters terrace in the comfortable luxury buses. Every train had a special observation car with big windows, (for which you paid extra), that was stuffed full of top end travelers.

Given my white hair and that you really cannot judge the financial standing of a middle-aged European by their crumpled clothes and sensible shoes, I am often mistaken for one such. Tour guides, armed with rolled up copies of Saga, are constantly try to herd me onto the cream tea tour. Sigh!

What with one thing then another, we spent the first three weeks of bitching about Sri Lanka; the food wasn’t as good as Malaysia, the Buddha’s are better in Burma, the hills are more hilly in Laos, you get cheaper rooms in Thailand and it is no where near as exciting as India. And there was no one to talk to. Then the sun came out. And stayed out. After a few dry days Sri Lanka suddenly seemed way more charming.

Once you accept cold curry is the national dish, the food isn’t too bad – better than Mongolian at least. Though I have yet to eat food that is worse than Mongolian. The accommodation is not of the best value but it is of a good standard, mostly clean and comfortable which is always a plus. And while it is not as an exciting as India it is not as dirty, poor and squalid either. There is no backpacker community but nor is it overrun by young people with loud voices and silly hats.

So much so we thought we might extend our visa stay and explore a little more.

Then it started raining again. So we left.

Plastic Problems

While much of inland Sri Lanka is tidy enough that is comparatively speaking compared to say India, there is a lot of very trashy plastic pollution. Have a look at our facebook page to see how much.

Sri Lanka is still way behind in terms of packaging and pre packed goods. Loads of stuff is sold loose and given to you in a recycled paper bag. Often made from old school books and exam papers. Sadly this is changing fast.

Worse they often your food on a plate that they have covered with a plastic sheet. When you have finished the sheet is whipped off and binned. Even in the smallest of food shacks do this.

There are a lot of bins full of food covered plastic sheets. We had to be very firm but we did get our food served plastic free.

They still sell drinks in returnable bottles and for water we use tap water and our steri-pen. We never buy bottled. 


Have a look in our plastic free backpack for more travel tips. 

See the other places we’ve been and how to visit them plastic free


Why we won’t be going to India

The original post was written quickly to warn fellow backpackers not to head to Bangkok to apply for an Indian visa. Foreigners travelling on a tourist visa (backpackers) are no longer  allowed to apply for an India visa in Malaysia, Indonesia or Singapore. Many, ourselves included were redirected  to Bangkok.  An inconvenience as we had just come from there but still. After a long train journey and a lot of form filling we got to the Bangkok visa office to find the rules had been changed again and  that non thai nationals on a tourist visa, (i.e. foreign backpackers), cannot  apply for a 3 – 6 month Indian visa in Thailand, (if you have a Thai residency the rules are different).

Since then I have updated it to take into account additional information such as why, if you are on a long trip,  you cannot apply for an Indian visa in your own country, discuss the  online Indian E visa option and explain how I think it  fails the tourist, the environment, the travel experience, small towns and local business. And Nepal.

It is possible by the time you read this the situation may have changed again.

Our story ….

We are currently backpacking and our time in Malaysia was coming to an end. The gloomy weather was closing in and the monsoon storms becoming more frequent. Time to plan our next leg of the journey. There were cheap flights from Malaysia to India (Easy Jet) and you don’t even have to stay in the more difficult KL to get them. You can get a bus to the airport from Mallaka which is a far nicer town.

The fly in the ointment?

Getting an Indian visa. It seems the Indians are doing their best to prevent visitors from visiting.

Problems With The Indian Visa

Why I Couldn’t Apply In the U.K.

We wanted a 6 month multiple entry Indian visa. Such visas begin the day they are issued and not the day you arrive in India. You cannot ask for the visa to start on later date. By the time we get to India we will have been traveling for 4 months already.  So getting the visa in the UK was not practicable.

Especially as there is no guarantee you will get what you ask for. Last time we applied for a visa, in the U.K., we asked for 6 months and were given 3. Because we traveling overland this meant we could only spend 6 weeks instead of the 3 months we planned to in India. Add to of that  we had to get there more quickly. We had to replan our trip and cut short other places.

If you don’t get what you ask for, your visa fees are not returned. From the website “Fee once received are non refundable even if the visa application is withdrawn, the visa is not granted, or if visa issued is of shorter duration of period than applied for or otherwise issued or returned at a time or on terms and conditions that may vary from those sought by the applicant.”

At 6 weeks for £82.00 this visa was expensive too.

Getting A Visa Abroad….. Or Not

However it is, or at least it was, possible to apply for an 6 month Indian visa in the country you are currently visiting. So we decided to wait until we got to Malaysia before we applied for our visa. So we got to Georgetown and went to the Indian Consulate to double check procedure only to be told  that UK passport holders (and others) can no longer apply for a 6 month Indian visa in

  • Malaysia
  • Indonesia
  • Singapore

But, we were assured, by the consulate,  this could be done in Bangkok. We sighed because we had just come from there but could see nothing for it but to get back on the train. Of course we double checked the information.

Massive Misinformation & A Long & Pointless Journey

Travel fish say “Getting a visa to India in Bangkok takes a little longer and is a bit more complicated than for most other Asian countries, but it’s not rocket science if you know where to look…..The updated embassy site now provides reliable information and working links to the India Visa Thailand page run by IVS Global.” Not blaming them as this was the case and to keep up with the vagaries of the Indian visa system is difficult.

IVS Global Indian Visa website says ”

Tourist Visa is granted to a Thai National / Foreigner who does not have a residence or Occupation in India and whose sole objective of visiting India is recreation, sight-seeing, casual visit to meet friends and relatives. No other activity is permissible on a Tourist Visa. The Tourist Visa is non – extendable and non-convertible.

They also clearly state that because the Indian Government is collecting biometric data you need to submit your application in person. You need to take your printed out forms to their office in Bangkok.

And on the Indian Embassy Website for Bangkok
Non-Thai Nationals Documents Required:
Completed Visa Application Form, 2 recent colour photographs – 2 inches X 2 inches, 2 photocopies of passport, to include current Thai visa page and the filled out reference form.
A copy of return flight ticket and a copy of hotel booking
For Non-Thai nationals visa is issued on the 6th working day.

So while it sounded stringent and a lot of bother,  it seemed that visas were  definitely being offered to non Thai nationals. So we decided to go for it. We

  • got the train from Malaysia to Bangkok
  • made a hotel reservation in India(refundable)
  •  filled out an e form on line,
  • took the photos
  • then downloaded the files from the website
  • found a printer shop and printed the application forms stuck the photos on got the required photocopies, to take to IVS visa application centre,

Then you get to the purchasing flights. This is another nasty twist in the application process. It is already stressful paying for a flight before you have permission to visit a country. Even more so if they have already refused you the length of stay time you asked for. It is nerve wracking, costly and ultimately pointless booking a  flight 6 months in advance when you may only be given a 3 month visa.

Besides which we don’t  want to fly out of India but go over land to Nepal.

So we decided to visit the visa office first. It was a long journey across the city followed by a long wait in the que. Just so you know, you are not allowed to read your Kindle while waiting in the que as it is an electronic device.

Got to the desk only to find that UK passport holders visiting Thailand cannot apply for an Indian visa in Bangkok

This important change in policy is obviously not mentioned on their websites.

The Online E Visa

But they said we can  get a one month E visa on arrival. I am not sure I believe them. But even if I do trust them to implement such a system efficiently, it is not  what we want.

FYI this is  how it works;

  • Citizens of 113 countries are eligible to apply for the India e-Tourist visa. The e-Visa is for international travelers whose purpose of visiting India is tourism, recreation, sight-seeing, a casual visit to meet friends or relatives, etc.
  • Applications must be made online at this website, no less than five days and no more than 30 days before the date of travel.
  • You can only fly into India and only into the following 16 airports: Ahmedabad, Amritsar, Bangalore, Chennai, Cochin, Delhi, Gaya, Goa, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Kolkata, Lucknow, Mumbai, Tiruchirapalli, Trivandrum and Varanasi.
  • International Travellers should have return ticket or onward journey ticket,with sufficient money to spend during his/her stay in India. (I take this  to mean a plane ticket as it is impossible to get any other kind of onward ticket before you arrive in India. I certainly would not advise anyone to turn up without an onward ticket and I would class them very brave if they tried to talk their way in clutching only a bus ticket as proof of onward travel.)
  • The India ETA allows one single entry for a stay of up to 30 days in India.
  • you cannot extend. an E Visa
  • A maximum of two ETA visas can be issued within one year.(No indication of how long you need to wait before re-applying – if indeed you do)
  • Biometric data, including fingerprinting, will be collected on arrival at the border.
  • There is no list of fees on the website that I can find. Rather you have to fill out the E Visa application form on line. And I quote “at the end of the process the basic fee shall be displayed.” but according to the Telegraph  Newspaper it costs $60 (£39), for UK citizens.


2012 22.5 To Kunnar (22)resized

Neither visa works for the overland traveller.  In my case 

  • I had rather hoped to explore the newly opened land crossing from Myanmar
  • After India I want to visit Nepal and travel there overland

The month long visa is not an option as

  •  I have an itinary planned for India that took way longer than a month
  • India is a long way to go just for a month, it is very big and there is a lot to see
  • I want a double entry visa so I can visit Sri Lanka

I am prepared to compromise on some things but this is pushing it. I don’t like that the Indian authorities  do not  care  that folks might like to travel by train or, heaven forbid, bus. Or about global warming come to that. Rather than enrich a few big airline businesses, I  prefer to support an on-land transport infrastructure that benefits the wider community. That and global warming are among the reasons I choose to travel overland. To be prevented from doing so annoys me.

They don’t seem to want long term visitors either.  Just to submit an application for a 6 month visa we had to travel to Bangkok. Then browse the internet booking hotels and researching flights. Hotels I may not sleep in and flights I can’t catch if they don’t give me a visa. The Indian Visa Service is asking for a lot of money just to look at the application. Money they get to keep if they give me a different, shorter visa that because of the time constraints, may be of limited use. If you don’t want me to visit for 6 months I understand but don’t offer the visa.  This too is annoying.

Finally is it too much to ask that prospective applicants are kept informed about  changes in  policy. I doubt the Indian Government decided  this morning to refuse to take visa applications from  U.K. passport holders on a Thai tourist visa. I would suggest they knew about this before today. In which case they and Indian visa service could have posted the information on their website and saved us a wasted journey. We have travelled not just across town but across countries to visit this office. This is is beyond annoying.

Please note all the above information was copied from websites when I was writing this post, that is after we had been to the office and our application refused. Meaning they are still saying that foreign nationals  can apply for visas in Bangkok.

A Visa The Visitor Wants

Given all of the above I don’t feel welcome and I certainly don’t feel like a respected or even wished for guest.

You might ask why should I be welcomed or respected? Because I am a customer and the industry is worth a lot of money. Total contribution by travel and tourism sector to India’s GDP is expected to increase from US$ 136.3 billion in 2015 to US$ 275.2 billion in 2025. Travel and tourism is the third largest foreign exchange earner for India. In 2014, the country managed foreign exchange earnings of USD 19.7 billion from tourism. 

A business worth so much should be nurtured and the customers valued. Surely it would make sense to ensure the country is easily accesable for the very simpe reason that if I can’t get there at the time I want, for the length of time I need then I simply won’t come. Which means my money will go elsewhere. Places that are far easier and cheaper to get into. And will let you stay longer.

I can stay in Malaysia  for free for 3 months and Thailand for a month. I can visit any other number of South East Asian Countries for a few dollars. For all of these places I can get a visa on a land border just by turning up, (when it suits me), and filling out a simple, short form. I do not need proof of onward travel. I do not have to commit to flying and I can support the local transport infrastructure by using buses and trains.

Australia will only charge me £10.00 to apply online for a free 3 month Australian visa which is valid for a year. And doesn’t want proof of onward travel.

The E Visa System – Made to Benefit Big Business & Top End Tourism ?

at the expense of the environment, experience, overlanders and the local economy.

Yes I am annoyed because this inconveniences me but there are other far worse consequences. I really cant help but feel that this e visa/ flight combo will only benefit the big boys in the tourist industry and focus visitors on a fewer places and sites. For instance I originally planned to fly from Colombo to Madurai. The flight is a good price and I would love to visit Madurai and it’s wonderful temples. Except of course with an E Visa I can’t fly to Madurai. I would have to fly to a horrid sea side resort I don’t want to see and travel from there. But with only 1 month I wont have time. So Madurai gets dropped in favour of the already popular Varanasi.

And of course with only a month of travel time  places with airports will become even more popular. India is a huge country and train tickets are not always available when you need them. With a little more time it is possible to use public transport and home stays keeping much appreciated currency in the local economy. With reduced time its big hotels, booked on line and lots of flights.

Traveling overland is slower and you get to see so much more of the country and the people. It also means the advantages of tourism can be more widely distributed. And the disadvantages reduced. Rather than have a few cities2009 12 02 Street life 4 swamped with tourists who end up destroying that which they came to admire, the crowds and the cash could be spread. When I travel through slowly my money gets spent on local buses and in small cafes along the way

Pushing flights over other forms of transport  means more investment in a  infrastructure that only benefits the richer traveler. It means less investment in the land based infrastructure that benefits the poorer. At a time when local transport should be encouraged, in a country where many people depend on local transport this is a retrograde step and not one I wish to endorse.

In terms of the traveling experience it also has a negative impact. Traveling over land is more romantic, more authentic and often what attracts tourist in the first instance. One airport terminal looks very like another but Mumbai train station is unique. A tourist river cruise is never as satisfying as local river taxi. Yet as air travel increases many stunning train journeys are being cut and ferries are almost non existent.

I like travelling overland. When I leave India I want to go to Nepal. To meet the Indian visa requirements I have to buy an onward fight from Varanasi to Katmandu (if I can even get one). Yet there is a perfectly easy over land route from Varanasi to Khatmadu. It’s not always pretty but it is the “real India” and a memorable journey.

And yes crossing land borders can be a robust experience. I have had as many tussles with border tuk tuk sharks as the next lamb to the slaughter. Even so I would still prefer to see my rupees being snatched from me by small local business then have them taken as I am herded through the boarding gates of a huge multinational.

And I cant help feel sorry for Nepal. If we don’t go to India we don’t go to Nepal. I refuse to fly such a short distance so if we can’t go over land we won’t visit Nepal. If we don’t get a dual entry visa we don’t visit Nepal because we need fly home from India. So I guess we will not be visiting Nepal. At a time when Nepal is desperate for business.

But mostly I want to make my own choices based on what I feel is important.  The choice to travel overland, to limit my air mile, cross the landscape slowly, to rumble along in the local bus, to support local smaller businesses  and  to spread my tourist pounds.

It is with great regret that we will not be visiting India.





Bottle reused as a bum washer

Yes, you might think I am over sharing here but come the zombie apocalypse this information could come in handy. Plus there is a whole world out there who don’t use toilet paper, some of them because they think it is a dirty habit.

I love my husband dearly. We travel together we work together and we share everything. Well almost everything. There is a line I really don’t want to cross. That line is grubby tissues in the bathroom bin. And when I say grubby I mean night soil, poop, fecal matter what ever you want to call it.

Notice, toilet roll, bin...

Notice, toilet roll, bin…

The plumbing in many parts of China lack strength. While the bathrooms in most hotels are adequate and clean, you cannot put your used toilet paper down the loo. Instead it has to go in a bucket by the side. An open bucket with no lid. Bad at the best of times but when the toilets are squats you are closer to the bucket than you would ever want to be.

So we have bathroom rules. Wash before wiping. Use water and not loo roll to remove any …. erm.. residue. You can then use a (small no waste) piece of paper to dry off.

To this end I have repurposed a plastic bottle as the Acme Portable Bum Washer.


  • Fill the bottle with water
  • Squirt letting the water trickle over the affected area,
  • Clean with your hand OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  • Dry

Ooo and don’t forget to wash your hands afterwards, with soap – though I am guessing I didn’t I need to tell you that.

The Acme Portable Bum Washer can be used in anywhere, massively reduces your consumption of tissues and feels far more pleasant that scratchy loo roll

But don’t just take my word for it, here’s a rather more in-depth write-up titled “how to wipe your arse with your left hand” – say it how it is buddy, and this quick overview of toilets and wiping habits the world over.

See other plastic free wiping options here.

This post is my contribution to Zero Waste Week (‪#ZerowasteWeek) the brainchild of Rae Straus (also featured in our P-f U.K. directory). Each day, for 7 days, we will feature a tip to help you eat, drink and – ermmm – excrete in the most sustainable and rubbish free- way, backpacking kind of way. Each post will appear up on our advent calender of trash free tips. See them there.


Drinking The Chinese Water

But what about the water? In China according to my tap water info graphic the tap water is not safe to drink. So we are drinking boiled rather than bottled water. Most rooms have a kettle and if they don’t you can get a flask of hot water at the reception. The trains all have a water boiler at the end of the carriage.

Many people advise bringing water to a hard boil for 5 minutes, and perhaps longer at higher elevation.   More current literature, however, suggests merely reaching the boiling is sufficient and effective.

If you prefer a belt and braces approach, let the water cool and treat it with your Steripen. Of course you will need to have your own reusable water bottle. We have two.

When you get bored of water there is always fizzy orange – see our next post…..

This post is my contribution to Zero Waste Week (‪#ZerowasteWeek) the brainchild of Rae Straus (also featured in our P-f U.K. directory). Each day, for 7 days, we will feature a tip to help you eat, drink and – ermmm – excrete in the most sustainable and rubbish free- way, backpacking kind of way. Each post will appear up on our advent calender of trash free tips. See them there.


Tiffin Tin

There is some fantastic street food in China but they serve it in polystyrene (styrofoam) trays. So you will need to carry your own tiffin tin Dont worry if you forgot to pack one, the Chinese love tiffin tins. We got this beauty in a small supermarket. It has a screw on lid so is very secure and even a handle which made boiling water in our yurt easier. Rather it made making the tea with the boiling water so much easier.




This post is my contribution to Zero Waste Week (‪#ZerowasteWeek) the brainchild of Rae Straus (also featured in our P-f U.K. directory). Each day, for 7 days, we will feature a tip to help you eat, drink and – ermmm – excrete in the most sustainable and rubbish free- way, backpacking kind of way. Each post will appear up on our advent calender of trash free tips. See them there.



China biscuits

Glad to see even the smallest of Chinese towns has a bakery that sells loose biscuits. Shame about the bags. Seems we are the only people in China not using plastic bags. What happened to the bag ban then?

And yet despite their love affair with plastic, it is possible to live waste free in China. You can get loose cakes and biscuits, seeds and nuts from market stalls and really good bakeries. Even some supermarkets will sell them unpackaged by weight. Actually they sell a lot of stuff loose too, beans, flour and rice – but that may be of less use to the backpacker.produce bags featured

You need to take your own bags be prepared for confusion and a lot of giggling! That is why we travel with an ancient Chico bag and some produce bags. I bought these bags when I first started my plastic boycott in 2007. Since then they have been all round the world with us cutting plastic all the way.

This post is my contribution to Zero Waste Week (‪#ZerowasteWeek) the brainchild of Rae Straus (also featured in our P-f U.K. directory). Each day, for 7 days, we will feature a tip to help you eat, drink and – ermmm – excrete in the most sustainable and rubbish free- way, backpacking kind of way. Each post will appear up on our advent calender of trash free tips. See them there.



I must be sick… I want bland!

We are now in Thailand. We had planned to mooch round the Thousand Islands in Laos but I have a stinking cold with shovel loads of green snot oozing out of my snout. I am breathing hebbily through my mouth and I say hebbily because that is how  I talk at the moment. And every 10 minutes I have to blow hard or choke on the filthy stuff. I am knackered, a mass of aches and surrounded by sticky crumpled tissues containing gruesome monstrosities. Today something came out that was grey and I swear it had tentacles. I can feel a void in my skull where it used to be.

Here’s what the survival doctor has to say on thick green mucas. This is a useful site for info when help is not on the way. Their tagline not mine!

Any how Savanakhet, (see above),  for all its crumbling charm is no place for a sick lady so we have crossed the Mekong, left Laos behind and are now enjoying the delights of Mukhadan, Thailand. Rather we are enjoying the delights of the blandest of hotel rooms. The hotel is on the outskirts of town overlooking the shopping center. It is a 15 minute walk from the bus station and about as far as I could manage. It is like a superior travel lodge. Its lovely, new, clean, has air-con the biggest softest bed ever and a great shower. I cannot deal with anything ethnic, authentic or backpacker at the moment. Also, due to its completely soulless location, it is very cheap. My plan is to lie here for a couple of days and see what happens to the snot flow. Will give you detailed updates…

We were sorry to miss the Thousand Islands but it was 5 hours there 5 hours back and the  weather was on the turn…. maybe not such bad luck. And we heard there were nice things to do here in Mukhadan. And even if we don’t find anything we have been on the go since Kazakhstan, freezing in Mongolia, jostled in China and sweating in Laos – slowing things down might be a good thing.

And there is always the shopping center. It is ages since we have been anywhere that shiny. Really crossing the river has meant stepping back into the bright lights of the capitalist world. For sure China has modern shops, KFCs even, but they are always surrounded by a hive a teeny retail outlets and temporary stalls selling fried pigs heads and pickled snakes. Plus a million people pushing past you, snatching at the snacks and spitting in the doorway. Laos as far as I can tell doesn’t have any shopping centers or American fast food outlets. Certainly not the places we were. Mongolia? Ha! Ditto Kazakhstan. And, despite all these countries ditching the more inconvenient aspects of communism, (like the restrictions on unbridled personal wealth for a limited few),  an ascetic, socialist aura still lingers like a disapproving aunt who won’t join in but won’t go home either.

Don’t get me wrong, I love those countries and personally I think the aunt has a lot to offer. I hope the old besom sticks around…. but not when I am ill. When I am ill I want bland and the capitalist shopping center certainly provides that. It is big, modern, quiet and peaceful. Everyday we visit the Big C supermarket. Most stuff is plastic packed so we don’t buy. Rather we wander round marveling like a couple of hicks from the sticks! Grubby hicks at that. We are extremely travel stained and need to get our clothes washed.

On that note I will go get a shower

Later Gators


2015 Plastic free July Mongolia

… hard. Here’s an update. So far we are totally about  4o items that contain some plastic and 4 plastic wrappers each.

It has been pouring down here (with a light dusting of snow – sigh!), so we have been sitting in a lot of cafes in an effort to keep warm and sometimes try to log on to what they advertise as wifi but is in fact an exercise in optimism. Something I am rapidly running out of.

When we sit we have to buy a drink. Here they serve milk tea. A confusing name because it contains no tea at all. It is a dash of milk a lot of hot water, a dollop of grease (butter?) and enough salt to make your lips twist. It tastes…..another sigh! I’ve tried, I really have – but I don’t like hot milk at the best of times. And these are most definitely not the best of times!

So we have been drinking a lot of plastic related beverages. Never a beverage from a plastic bottle! I’ll never sink that low but glass bottles with plastic lined lids, plastic lined cans and the occasional tea bag (which of course contains plastic).  You can find out more about these sneaky plastics here.

This adds up to around 2 items a day each.

When we have access to hot water we are making our own tea with loose leaves we bought in China.

For water we are using our Steripen to sterilize tap water.

But we have been trekking and camping in yurts so have had to buy some of our food. Outside of Ulan Batur the choice is poor. There are markets but they sell mostly pre packed processed food – plastic packed sweets, plastic wrapped processed sausages, instant noodles and packet soup. The only fresh food is weird buttery cheesy stuff that looks like grimy wax and tastes mildly yet unpleasantly of rancid butter. There are a few shriveled fruit and veg that are extremely expensive and meat. And lots and lots of meat. All around sheep are being skinned or carved up into bloody chunks. Furry feet are discarded on the floor, and once a sheep head staring up from the park bench where it had been absently left.

But we have had to eat something while huddled in our yurt and so we have bought 3 plastic wrapped loaves of bread and 3 packets of biscuits. Rather then leave them out in the national park rubbish bins I burnt the wrappers on the fire. There were simple polythene and so (it is claimed) safe to burn.

Back in Ulan Batur and our hotel gave us a sandwich for breakfast. It was included in the price and made as we thought in house. Today they served it in a plastic box. I ate it anyway. And I bought another packet of real coffee. Plastic packed of course.


With all this plastic packaging hardly surprising then that there is quite a lot of plastic trash. Everyday we litter picked in the national park collecting huge amounts of bottles.

Waste disposal methods in the city also leave a lot to be desired. Plastic bags are dumped in the street to to be collected by truck at some point. Stray animals scrabble through it looking for food. Then bin men go through the garbage first looking for cans. Inevitably some plastic rubbish escapes in the process.

Check out our FB album for updated photos.

CAMFORR Keep It Real Keep It Clean

So for Plastic Free July I am begging everyone to join in campaigning for real rubbish. You can read about it here.

Keep Our Glass

And asking folks to sign the petition asking Dairy crest to keep their refillable glass milk bottles.

In the pack

Rummage in our plastic free backpack here


Plastivan and the plastic free UK tour…

We have done the plastic free home and nailed backpacking plastic-free – it’s time for a new challenge. How about packing everything up to travel round the UK in a van? A plastic free van… a plastivan if you will!

Our plan? To travel high roads and low dives of the great and glorious U.K. It’s been a trip long in the coming but one of the advantages of advancing years is that I can finally afford to travel England. Before this it has been backpacking in Asia and I know Varanasi better than I knew Bath. In fact I didnt know Bath at all and while both places encourage bathing in the local waters, I was fairly certain Bath didnt do public cremations. Unless it was of reputations. Get that Jane Austin reference there?

So armed with a National Trust card we set off to explore our heritage. It went so well that when winter came, we decided to take the van to Spain to explore some one elses.

NB When I say afford, this is not luxury travel. It involves a good measure of wild camping and we can only look wistfully through the windows of the NT cafe (in the delightfully converted, scullions punishment room). But who knows? Maybe bed and breakfast and cream teas are the rewards of retirement.

The Van

Spring 2013 we converted the work van into a home. It was been something of a recycling, upcycling kind of project. The design was dictated by what was in the cellar, parts cannabalised from the old van and what was going cheap on ebay.

We insulated the walls with plastic bubble insulation as it was the thinnest most efficient and liner we could afford. Put in some lights that VB wired up to a leisure battery.

  • We cook on an old, 2 ring camping stove.
  • The sink and tap are from the old van the plate racks are from Ikea.
  • The curtains are what we had in the fabric pile.
  • The paint is from the cellar.

The overall impression is …. eclectic? Hendrix on chintz?

April 2014

we set off round England


We spent winter in Spain.

Plastic Free Living

Of course every month is plastic free for us but you can read our write ups of plastic free July, here.

You can find all our van posts here


Iran, Buses & Take Your Own Snacks

Every bus we traveled on in Iran dished out snacks. The better the bus the more snacks you are given. Biscuits cakes water and juice all of it plastic wrapped. A single journey will generate bag loads of non biodegradable trash. So we don’t accept it and we bring our own snacks.

Despite Persia’s love affair with packaging there are still hundreds of places that sell loose.You can nuts dried fruit and all manner of things by weight from the bazaar. loose food iranIf you are squeamish about eating unwrapped dried apricots from the dusty bazaar, the bakeries are extremely clean and hygienic. They sell bread, biscuits and cakes loose and by weight. Make mine a kilo of pudding.

Finally there is always  fruit.

Fantastic – but still not out of the woods. While some of these places might have paper bags most use plastic so you will need to take your own. We travel with bio bags and reusable cotton produce bags.

For a drink its water in our reusable, refillable bottle treated with a Steripen.

So when everyone else is creating rubbish with a life span of forever, we are not. Smug? You know it! For more posts on plastic in Iran read up here  



Crossing land borders in South East Asia has been unusually stressful this trip thanks to the big bag of  white powder I am carrying in my rucksack. No we are not funding our trip by an ill advised foray into drug smuggling but trying to back pack plastic-free. Which means no plastic toothpaste tubes. So we have brought a sack of home-made tooth powder with us. While carrying tightly wrapped packs of dentifrice may be innocent, it sure doesn’t look it. I dread the day I have to explain to some grim-faced custom official. The response I fear  involves rubber gloves.

So why do it?

Well we are visiting wild and remote places, the kind of places you have to walk to. Places with no garbage collection service and your rubbish goes onto the village dump just out of town. A system that has been in place forever and that used to work.plastic pollurion mabul featured

But in the old days of course most trash was biodegradable, animals ate some of  it, the rest would compost down, it was safe to burn and the ashes could be used as fertilizer. The system was not perfect, but people have lived like this for centuries and maintained  sustainable landscapes. The introduction of plastic rubbish has changed everything. Because most plastics  do not biodegrade plastic lasts for a long time  possibly for ever. It cannot be eaten, does not rot or compost down and it is difficult to burn.

You can see some photos of plastic pollution in remote tourist places on our Facebook page Planet Trash 

When it does eventually break up or degrade, it only breaks down into smaller pieces of plastic. It cannot be left in the landscape as before. Basically every bit of plastic rubbish has to be collected up and specially disposed of either by being  buried in landfill, incinerated or recycled.

Whatever your method of plastic disposal, it requires amongst other things a decent infrastructure, some roads, machinery, power, vehicles and a lot of cash. You don’t get that the places we go. So  now the ditches alongside the rice paddies are choked with plastic crisp bags, the beaches littered with plastic water bottles and  plastic bags cover huge swathes of land. Many communities can only deal with their plastic waste by burning it. Evil smelling bonfires of smoldering plastic trash are now as much a part of the backpacker experience as tinkling temple bells. These filthy fires add to air pollution and global warming and worse; certain types of plastic, when burnt release release extremely toxic carcinogens.

Bali rubbish featuredAnimals that forage amongst the rubbish for food will often accidentally eat plastic. Which is a poor diet and sometimes a fatal one. Here are a few facts;

If plastic trash is not dumped, rubbish is often thrown into rivers to be carried off down to the sea.   Encyclopedia Brittanica states, “it has been estimated that 6.4 million tons of debris end up in the world’s oceans every year and that some 60 to 80 percent of that debris, or 3.8 to 5 million tons, is improperly discarded plastic litter “. In our years of travelling we have seen plastic pollution increase massively and we  don’t want to add to that pile of everlasting, carcinogenic, potentially lethal trash. That is why we travel plastic-less.

Here’s how.


Top Tips

DON’T Buy bottled water.You may not need to – check out this site that tells you if the water is safe to drink

If it isn’t use a Steripen  to purify  water.   . This fantastic bit of kit works by UV light, weighs next to nothing, is tiny and purifies water in 90 seconds…. if you bought only one thing. Of course you will also  need a refillable water bottle

We shop at local markets and bakeries for unpacked tasty plastic free snacks and we  take our own bags to put them in – including a reusable carrier bag and produce bags. . Because so much street food comes in disposable plastic we take