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Posted by Peter on 14/05/2017

Choeng Mon, Thailand

Where to stay in Thailand is a $64 000 question. There are so many beautiful beaches and so much accommodation to choose from. We initially thought we would spend about 2 weeks at Choeng Mon Beach Hotel & Spa on Koh Samui (this hotel came highly recommended by friends Terry and Faye who have been going there for many years) and then move on to Lamai for our last 2 weeks on the island before flying out to Phuket.   While in New Zealand, Peter visited a doctor who took one look at some nasty growths on his forehead and recommended an immediate aggressive treatment that would be fairly unpleasant for about 4 to 6 weeks. We decided to extend our stay at Choeng Mon Beach Hotel & Spa to 4 weeks to allow Peter to get over the worst of the treatment in one place.   Our flight into Koh Samui was not without incident. We boarded our flight to Koh Samui in Bangkok and, for no apparent reason, sat at the terminal for about an hour waiting for clearance to take off. About 30 minutes after our scheduled departure time we were told the delay was due to traffic congestion and about 30 minutes later we were told the delay was due to a bomb threat. None of the planes around us had moved and we surmised that the bomb threat had been in the airport building and we would be able to take off once the threat had been cleared. It turned out that the bomb threat was on our plane and our flight would only leave about 6 hours later.   We gathered from subsequent events and newspaper articles that a Swiss gentleman on our plane was unable to get his luggage into the overhead locker and told the flight attendant that unless she got the bag into the overhead locked it would explode. The flight attendant relayed this information to the pilot who relayed it to the tower and the authorities decided to initiate the ‘bomb on plane’ procedure. We were told to disembark and taken by bus to a remote location where they searched us and all our luggage. The plane was towed to a secure area and searched. The threat turned out to be an empty one but the last we heard the Swiss gentleman was facing a 5 year jail sentence, a TB200 000 fine and a hefty bill from the airport.   The hotel is on Cheong Mon beach, a beautiful half moon bay about 15 minutes north of the main town Chaweng. The hotel is old but clean and right on the beach so it suited us perfectly. Even though Thailand is a third world country, it is never-the-less an amazing country. The Thais are friendly people who go out of their way to make you feel welcome in their country. Most Thais are not, by western standards, wealthy but they have a wonderful lifestyle and are generous people. No village in Thailand would be complete with numerous tailor shops…. …massage parlours…. …and mobile restaurants. Getting around Thailand is fairly easy and Koh Samui is no exception. The options range from the latest air-conditioned sedans, to Songthaews or the principal mode of transport, the scooter. There are literally thousands of these scooters in Thailand and it is not uncommon to see three or even four people on a scooter. When the most popular form of transport on an island is one of these… …then there is no need for expensive service stations and they tend to look like this. Because of statistics like this and incidents like this, we prefer not to use the most popular form of transport in Thailand and use the Songthaews – a small LDV with bench seating at the back – to get around. They travel up and down the main road at regular intervals and are a reliable and cheap form of transport. At the end of the day, when all is said and done, it is good to sit back, put your feet up, open your favourite cold beverage, and remember that, if you get your priorities right, life is good!
Posted by Peter on 12/05/2017

Some time out

 

It has been a while since our past blog post and what a busy time it has been! The Reinke debacle had left us a little disillusioned with the whole marine industry – most boat brokers are worse than used car salesmen, they are only concerned about their commission and honesty and integrity are foreign concepts to them. We looked at a few more lemons (they certainly weren’t presented as lemons!) and decided we needed a different plan of action.

 

While looking at some options, we came across a few on-site caravans that were fairly cheap. After a little research this looked like a good option for us. Many of these on-site caravans are no more than holiday homes and the Australians have developed a rather unique way of dealing with these. The caravan – and in most cases the attached annex – is individually owned and is parked in a caravan park. The owner is allowed to use it for 150 days in any 12 month period and for no more than 21 consecutive days. After 21 days the owner has to be out of the park for 1 night to reset the clock.

 

We looked at a few caravan parks in New South Wales and finally settled on Jasmine Lakeside Village, about 2 hours north of Sydney. The location was perfect for us. It was on Lake Macquarie which meant that we could moor our yacht (when we eventually find one) close to the park (the Marina is about 500m from the park); there are two train stations close to the park and Margaret can catch the train to Sydney to see her family as often as she would like; and when we are traveling we can leave everything securely locked and catch the train to the airport. The park has about 150 sites; approximately 100 of the sites are for permanent residents; 40 of the sites are for holiday homes and the remaining 10 are for casual visitors.

We put an offer of A$12 000 on a very old and fairly small caravan and annex. The previous owners had started renovating the caravan but had stopped half way as they purchased a permanent home in the park. The kitchen was new and almost complete (no surprises for guessing that the new modern kitchen was an instant hit with Margaret) but the rest of the caravan and annex needed a fair amount of work.

The offer was accepted and we set about renovating the caravan and annex. Somehow these things always take longer than expected. Five months and about A$7 000 later; the bedroom had a new floor and carpet, the built in cupboards were finished, the ceiling was fixed and the room was painted; the kitchen ceiling was fixed and the room painted (this room needed the smallest amount of work); the living room floor had been repaired and a new carpet installed, the ceiling had been repaired and the room painted; and the outside of the caravan, annex and shed had been painted. We now had a semi-permanent home that we could use as a base for our travels.

If it hadn’t been for Bruce our neighbor, the project would have taken us 12 months.

We looked at a few more yachts while renovating the caravan and annex but still couldn’t find what we were looking for. With our 150 day limit fast approaching we needed to get out of the park for a while and decided we would spend a few months in Thailand. Peter had last been to Thailand about 10 years ago and Margaret had never been.

 

We applied for 60 day tourist visas and planned to spend a month in Koh Samui and another month in Phuket. We had initially planned to extend our visas for another 30 days and spend some time in Chiang Mai but a change in circumstances meant that this would no longer be an option.

 

Before heading off to Thailand we took a two week trip to New Zealand to visit Peter’s daughter who was having a birthday.

Next stop Thailand – Land of Smiles.

Posted by Peter on 05/10/2016

To Airbnb or not to Airbnb

I need to preface this post by stating that I do not regard myself as someone who is overly fussy when it comes to accommodation. While traveling on the motorbike I spent many nights in a tent or in a Backpackers lodge. I have also Couchsurfed on a few occasions and have only had good experiences. While traveling through the USA Margaret and I would often use the budget Motel 6 Group when we needed accommodation.

 

I have used Airbnb on a number of occasions over the past two years with really mixed results. Our first experience was with Peggy in Studio 26A in Milford, Auckland in 2015. My daughter was getting married and we needed somewhere to stay for about a week. She had a small granny flat under the main house. The accommodation was fine except for the fact that I thought the bed was well past its use by date and should be replaced, which I mentioned in my rating of the accommodation. Airbnb sell themselves on the ratings that hosts and guests provide to each other. These ratings, much like the Couchsurfing ratings, are designed to allow hosts and guests a measure of comfort. Hosts and guests rate each other blind – neither knows the others rating until both ratings are in – this is done to stop one of the parties retaliating to a negative rating.

 

Peggy gave us a good rating but after seeing our rating sent us a really nasty message complaining that we had kept her up every night. I was unaware that either party could send a private message to the other after the rating and I only saw her nasty comment about a year later when I used Airbnb again. Had I seen the message I would have sent her one telling her that we were only doing what most couples in a good relationship do at night. If we offended your sensibilities Peggy, we apologise. Maybe you should stick to hosting singles only to avoid this again happening. And possibly warn your guests that you will be up all night with your ear glued to the floor to hear what they get up to.

 

Whilst Margaret was sorting out the storage unit in South Africa I flew out to New Zealand to visit my children and then to Australia to look for the yacht. I thought I would again use Airbnb. My first stop was with Jenny in Iluka while driving from Brisbane to Sydney. The accommodation was lovely as were Jenny and her husband, they really went out of their way to make me feel comfortable. It almost seemed like they moved out of the main house into a small adjoining granny flat when they had an Airbnb guest and then moved back into the house when the guest left. I really enjoyed my two nights with them.

 

The next stop was with Daryn in New Lambton. What a dump! I make a point of reading the reviews carefully to make sure I know what I am letting myself in for. The reviews for Daryn’s place were wonderful – a 4.5 star rating. I was gobsmacked as I went into the room above the garage. The entrance to the room was through a messy, untidy garage and up a small steep flight of stairs with no handrail. The carpets were filthy with large black stains all over them. The kettle didn’t work properly. Daryn was unfriendly, in fact I thought he was rude. Daryn left me a good rating but I cannot say I did the same. I told him I thought the accommodation was below average and expensive for what it was. I simply cannot believe that I am the only person who feels this way about this accommodation and yet, there are no negative ratings on his profile. No mention of the messy garage, the dangerous stairs with no handrail or the very dirty carpets.

 

My next stop was with James in Umina Beach. James was overseas when I made the booking but was quick to respond to my queries and the accommodation was good. There were two units back to back with the Airbnb accommodation being in the front unit. The back unit was occupied by an elderly gentleman with a really loud foul mouth but, as Margaret had been delayed in South Africa and I needed somewhere to stay, I put up with his foul mouth for two weeks. We both left good ratings.

 

While staying in Umina Beach I put an offer in on a Reinke yacht in Newport Beach and was pretty sure that the deal would go through. It was a fairly long way from Umina Beach to Newport via ferry and bus and I went back on the Airbnb site to see if I could find accommodation near Newport. I could not find a self-contained place near Newport but did find a room with Robert in Bilgola Plateau. The accommodation was about 10 minutes from where the Reinke was and it would allow me to get the boat ready for when Margaret arrived. I would have preferred a self-contained unit but as I couldn’t find one for a reasonable price, booked the room with Robert for a week. I had after all Couchsurfed and how different could it be, except that I was paying to stay in the room. Between making the booking and arriving at Robert’s place, the deal on the Reinke collapsed.

 

As I parked the car outside Robert’s house I had a real uneasy feeling. The garage door was open and it didn’t look good. The garage was designed for two cars but Robert’s car only just fitted in between all the rubbish in the garage. The walk to the front door was no better – the garden was overgrown and the swimming pool a very dark green. Robert showed me to my room at the back of the house and my heart sank. The house had a terrible smell and it was clear that Robert was a hoarder – every nook and cranny was filled with something – mostly worthless junk. Even the bottle-tops from the beer bottles were kept in a special container in the bar. The bathroom was filthy with cobwebs everywhere and the shower area in need of a really good clean. I went to check the reviews on his profile and sure enough, not a single negative review – not one! A 4.5 star rating. The house looked nothing like the pictures on Robert’s Airbnb profile. The pictures showed a manicured garden, a lovely blue pool and even the furniture in the pictures was different.

 

As the week progressed it just got worse, the bed had a wooden frame with wooden slats supporting the mattress. The bed had not been put together properly and the wooden slats kept falling out. Robert was kind enough to let me use his washing machine but I could not hang the wet washing on the outside washing line because I couldn’t get to it. The wet clothes had to be hung on the pool fence to dry. It was an awful week. I had experienced far better Couchsurfing hosts and they hadn’t wanted money.

 

I started to wonder why there was not a single negative review or rating for either Daryn or Robert. Even 5 star hotels have the occasional negative review. A quick search on the internet provided some clues. Airbnb have often been accused of removing negative reviews. They certainly have a vested interest in the reviews, the more positive reviews the more likely someone will book the accommodation and they will make some money from the transaction. It also appears that guests do not want to leave negative reviews in case future potential hosts see these and decline their accommodation requests. Hosts are reluctant to leave negative reviews in case they scare off potential guests. There are even instances where hosts have removed their properties and relisted them to remove the negative reviews. There are numerous articles dealing with the lack of negative reviews on Airbnb properties. There is clearly something very wrong with the review process on Airbnb. I certainly never had this problem with Couchsurfing.

 

I have decided that I will in future only use Airbnb as a last resort. I would prefer to book into a reasonable Motel rather than risk having another stay like the ones with Daryn or Robert. I have also decided not to rate my stay with Robert. I somehow think I will be wasting my time and Airbnb will simply decide to remove it.  I very much doubt that any of the stories on the airbnbHELL website appear on the Airbnb profiles.

Posted by Peter on 01/06/2016

Freedom Chips

The last few days have been really long days now that we have started the long trip to our new adventure on the other side of the world. The 1 100 mile (1 760km) drive from Wauchula in Florida to Livingston in Texas was uneventful but boring. Fortunately the interstate highways are good and we were able to do the trip in 3 days with two rather noisy nights at truck stops. To add to our never ending list of things to do before we leave, the electric steps have decided to stop working and a trip to the local RV repair shop has revealed that the control box and electric motor have failed. Their quote of US$800 for a new set of steps seemed exorbitant and we have managed to find the parts we need for US$236. Now we need to find out if we can replace the parts ourselves. The net result of the long drive and the endless to-do list is that we are both feeling a tad wrecked.

 

Not being hooked up over the past few days has given me a chance to catch up on some of my reading. I have been reading Lin and Larry Pardy’s book the Cost Conscious Cruiser. They really perfected the art of ‘Champagne Cruising on a Beer Budget’.  There were two issues in the book that really stood out for me.

 

We often meet people who are envious of our lifestyle and express the desire to also get off the treadmill and realise their dreams. They however always seem to have a multitude of excuses for not being able to do so. This extract from their book sums it up far better than I ever could.

“In her book Journey into my Mind’s Eye, Lesley Blanch listens to her mother’s tale of romance with a charming Russian Traveler. Lesley asks her mother why she hadn’t run off to Russia with the Traveler, since “she was grown up and free to go anywhere she liked.” “One is never really free,” was her mother’s enigmatic reply. But this didn’t satisfy Lesley, for, as she put it, “I had begun to discover that my mother rather enjoyed restrictions. They saved her the strain of adventurous decisions. Ill health, lack of money, her duty to others – all these things gradually became her allies. She had opted for quiet.”

 

I think most people opt for quiet and enjoy the restrictions that they place on themselves. The reality however is that you only get one life to live, if you aren’t living the life you want, then do something about it.

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What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

The second thing that stood out was the concept of “Freedom Chips” or “funnits”. The money you save by being cost-conscious and not being a slave to the ‘latest and greatest’ and ‘bigger and better’ allows you to build a reserve to realise your dreams. We see it particularly in the USA – the constant desire for a ‘bigger house, bigger car and another TV.’

 

“The world of advertising well understands human nature, and ruthlessly exploits human frailty. It generates new needs so that it may endlessly sell us new products. Advertising fuels our wants and desires. For it to succeed, it must persuade large numbers of people that enough can never be enough. It works by making us fell unhappy or insecure about our diet, appearance, and possessions, in other words, every aspect of our lives. Nine times out of ten it is selling us something we don’t really need. But it proves irresistible nevertheless.” – from Getting a Life, by Ghazi and Jones. Hodder and Stoughton, 1997.

 

It is no wonder then that the advertising industry is a multi-billion dollar industry and why so many companies spend so much money on advertising. They want your Freedom Chips.  The choice to live free and get off the treadmill is exactly that – a choice.

 

We now have a week at Livingston while we get the RV cleaned and ready to be sold.

Posted by Peter on 21/05/2016

Caveat Emptor

Who would have thought the boat buying process would be fraught with so much danger. The process seems straightforward enough – find a boat broker, get him to find you a suitable boat, have it surveyed to make sure it is not a lemon and go sailing. Well, that is once we have figured out how not to sink the boat on our first outing. There are literally hundreds of boats for sale on www.yachtworld.com in our price range and it looked like we would be spoiled for choice.

 

The learning curve with the RV was rather steep and so I thought it would be a good idea to do as much research as possible before starting the boat buying process. What an eye opener this has been!

 

My first introduction to the state of the industry was when I came across a book titled ‘How NOT to Buy a Cruising Boat’ by Deb and TJ Akay. The title looked rather interesting and the marketing blurb stated that they had a bought a lemon and wanted to make sure no one else had a similar experience. So I ordered the book. To say that I feel sorry for them would be an understatement. By their own admission they were sold a lemon. On the face of it they did everything right. This was not their first boat, they had it surveyed and trusted the broker and the surveyor to be both competent and honest. Nothing could be further from the truth, the surveyor turned out to be worse than useless and the broker not quite honest. They bought their boat for US$62 500 and spent another US$74 500 getting the boat ready to sail. And they did most of the work themselves. The drive train, surveyed and found to be in good order, failed within 10 operating hours.

Sadly their story is not unique. A search of the internet reveals many such horror stories with incompetence and dishonesty almost being the order of the day. There are very few people who have anything nice to say about boat surveyors. Boatyards are littered with broken dreams and their owners are now trying to recover some of the money they invested in the boat. Others are aware that their boat has a major problem and are now keen to get rid of the boat and have someone else pick up the tab for the repair bill. I thought this may be a problem unique to the USA but these horror stories are not confined to the USA.

 

So how do we avoid being the next horror story? We need to know what to look for. So I ordered books, lots of them.

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So much to learn!

We also went to the Boat Show in Sarasota. That in itself was quite an education. If only money were no object! The boats were lovely but way beyond our price range. But they did give us some idea of what we are looking for. We also arranged for a boat broker to take us to view a few boats in our price range. We now have a good idea of what we are looking for.

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So between building the website and finding out how boats work and what to look for, the past few weeks have been rather busy.

 

Building the website has also proved to be an interesting process. Rather than simply getting someone to build it for us, I decided to do it myself. Another steep learning curve. First there was finding a company to register our domain name (we went with Namecheap), then finding a company to host the website (we went with Siteground), then deciding on a website content management system (we went with WordPress), then selecting a theme for the website (we chose Tesseract) and then actually building the website and writing the content. In addition to the website, we built a separate Facebook page and a Youtube page. Now all we have to do is figure out how to make videos.

 

As for buying a boat, never before has Caveat Emptor been more relevant.