The Travel Bug

The term ‘travel bug’ is something which I have discovered is very real. The moment you have the opportunity to wander aimlessly around a strange destination, is the moment you will be bitten. Is it the people you fall in love with? Or the fact you can do whatever you want, when you want? For me, it is a concoction of desires whipped up into a great, big mixing bowl; and Thailand is my first delicacy.

 

It wasn’t hard to pick Thailand as a worthy contender for my first trip. The cheap food, booze and stunning beaches is something which people worldwide are drawn to. Some of my University friends have been before and gave me advice and recommendations on the areas and activities. The possibilities are endless. Kayaking in a crystal clear blue lagoon, snorkelling with sharks and hiking massive mountains, have always been on my bucket list.

 

Discovering the culture was one of my favourite parts. It’s a whole different world to what we live back home. The hustle and bustle of Bangkok was the first taste of this month-long holiday. I had never seen something so chaotic yet so wonderful. Seeing the street sellers, massage ladies and smelling the local delicacies was something I’ll never forget. The constant smiles of Thai locals and their effort to sell you anything and everything always makes me laugh.

 

Scorpions, cockroaches and spiders for 1000 baht? Seems like a tasty bargain to me. Toasting under the intense heat, they were calling my name. “When in Thailand,” I thought. After tasting the crunch and spray of blood I knew I had made a huge mistake. But that unexpected aftertaste of crispy bacon made this one of my favourite moments.

 

Around the corner from the food vendors and restaurants, was the apparent madness of Khao San Road. It certainly lived up to its expectations. I’ll always remember the smell of buckets upon buckets of alcohol and crowds of dancing people who had similar traits of happiness. This reminded me of New York City being the ‘city that never sleeps’. The loud noises, bright lights and weirdly unique people – this lifestyle was wonderfully mad.

 

Although I loved the chaos of the city, it was time to unwind on the scenic beaches. There’s nothing better than feeling the sand beneath your toes and the sun on your skin. This place was paradise! I had seen Thailand on TV and on social media videos but it’s even more beautiful in person.

 

I was excited to wake up at the crack of dawn, relax on a boat and float over to Maya Bay. Supposedly one of the most stunning beaches in South East Asia, this dream island is the one from the movie “The Beach”. I could see why this place was so popular. Being one of the first people on the island was surreal. The limestone rocks looked like they were perfectly chiselled and the wooden long-tail boats were picture perfect. The crystal-clear water was so inviting and the cheeky monkeys’ stealing belongings was  like being in an outdoor paradise comedy show.

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Visiting the elephant sanctuary was up there with one of the best days of my life. We learnt about the cruel elephant trading that happens around the world and this sanctuary is one step closer to combatting this, as the proceeds go towards helping these big, friendly giants. It was amazing feeding and bathing them and swimming under a freezing waterfall whilst the two youngest elephants were play -fighting. To end the day on a high, I attended a cooking school where I whipped up 6 delicious Thai cuisines from scratch. When I arrived back to the hotel with a full stomach, they luckily upgraded me to the most extravagant room. As if that day could get any better!

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After travelling to 7 cities and islands, the urge to cancel my flight home was stronger than ever as the final day was approaching. We ended our journey in the same place where we started – Bangkok. This time, we splurged out our remaining cash on one of the most spectacular rooftop bars you could ever imagine. Looking over the city allowed us to reminisce about our memories of the past month, there were too many to even count!

 

 

Spinning around a plastic world globe is something you see in movies. My next trip will be 100 times more exciting as I’m travelling the world with one of my best pals. Australia, New Zealand and South America are definitely on the list. But who knows where we’ll end up!

 

Usually a bug’s bite is something that would irritate and annoy you. But the travel bug is a bite like no other. Go on, there’s a whole world out there to discover.

If you want to know more about the experience, please feel free to contact me.

 

Cal McIlwaine is a final year BSc in Public Relations student at Ulster University. He can be found on Facebook – Facebook Account / Twitter – Twitter Account / LinkedIn – Linkedin Account

 

Holidays of a lifetime

For most people, myself included, holidays are the highlight of the year. A lot of time and money goes in to planning and paying for the perfect get away to create experiences we will never forget.

I’m extremely lucky that in the past couple of years I’ve had two of the best holidays I’ll probably have in my life.

 Vietnam and Thailand

Planning started about six months in advance when we gathered a crowd and planned the dates. Then it all became real when we finally booked our flights and had something to look forward to! We headed off to Bangkok for the start of our six week trip not really having a notion what to expect.

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At the Top Gear spot on the Hai Van Pass

Beforehand we had planned a route and had a rough plan as to how long we were staying in each place. First up was Hanoi. Hanoi was absolute mayhem. It is constant madness with so many motorbikes about that you could barely cross the street. While we were here we went to Ha Long Bay for the hyped up Castaway Tour which is a must do if your ever in that neck of the woods! From here the plan was to go to Hue and stay for a couple of days.

After arriving we quickly realised it wasn’t really our cup of tea, so found locals who ran a bike touring company. So we rented bikes and had a guided tour through the Hai Van Pass to our next stop Hoi An. The Hai Van Pass, which some might recognise from Top Gear, was hands down one of the best days of my life and will take a lot of beating!

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Was quite proud of my handywork at bandaging

Next up was Nha Trang where we rented our own three story villa. For the equivalent of around £10 a night it really is true that you can live in luxury for the next to nothing! From there we planned another bike tour to Da Lat. Unfortunately for myself this one wasn’t as successful as the first for me as I ended up putting the bike into a ditch. I’m still maintaining that it was the bikes fault and not mine, but it sort of put a dampener on things! Pretty sure the place we ate that day also served us dog instead of pork, but the less said about that the better. From there we went to Mui Ne and then Ho Chi Minh and got ready to meet up with the other 10 of our group that were flying to meet us in Thailand.

We had 6 different stops in Thailand and so was a lot to squeeze in with a lot to do at each one. It consisted of a lot of boats and buses to get from island to island. Everything was planned around the full moon party in Koh Phangan, which I think should be on everyone’s bucket list. Absolute chaos.

My favourite place was probably Phi Phi, where you would think half of Ireland was there at the time. The elephant sanctuary and white water rafting in Chiang Mai and the Slip N Fly in Koh Phangan were probably the other highlights.

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West Coast of the States

Never having been to America before I was absolutely buzzing to be heading off here for 3 weeks. The plan was to do San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas and Yosemite.

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Probably looking a wee bit too happy than I should have been after the incident

However, the bad luck from Vietnam seemed to follow me when I was held at knife point in a bar in San Francisco. It really wasn’t the way I wanted to spend my first night out in the states, but that’s what I got. Don’t think I put my mum’s mind at ease either writing “Lol some boy just put a knife to my throat” into the family Whatsapp. On the upside it’s a good story to tell (because I’m not dead) and was usually greeted with “Welcome to America” by anyone we told.

We also had to fork out twice for our rental car as, being as stupid as we are, we didn’t realise you needed a credit card to put on file. Eventually we got sorted with the company saying, “You’re lucky you’re Irish” as the reason they helped us out.

Not everything was all doom and gloom but. In fact everything else we did was unbelievable. We did the usual touristy stuff like the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and the San Diego Zoo.

The highlight for me was definitely Las Vegas. We were there the week before the McGregor Mayweather fight, and so the buzz around Vegas was unreal. We went to Wet Republic when DJ Tiesto was playing which is something I’d say everyone should go to if they get the chance. Seeing all the different hotels was absolutely mad and people really don’t lie about how hot it is (all the time) there. After Vegas, Yosemite was the perfect spot for a chill out, with the dogs at our AirBnB greatly assisting in our recovery.

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All in all two absolutely once in a lifetime holidays (which have left me skint) that I don’t think will be topped. But I have learnt that you probably shouldn’t ever go on holiday with me as something bad is bound to happen!

Wonder what’s going to happen next year…

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The car that our Irish charm got us… not much but did the job

Daniel McGrenaghan is a Final Year Public Relations student at the University of Ulster Jordanstown. He can be found on Twitter @danielmcg132

Travelling 101

After finishing off a fantastic placement year at Smarts Communicate, I decided that I needed a big summer blowout before dedicating my life and soul to the Ulster University library for all that final year would entail.

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My best friend Jess and I booked to travel to Thailand and then Bali on a bit of a whim late on a weeknight. After getting over the initial panic of almost booking to travel for a year and a month instead of just a month, we soon forgot about the trip and got on with our jobs until the trip slowly crept up on us. It is safe to say that we were absolutely petrified, and did question if we could ever make our way across South East Asia and back successfully.

When it comes to travelling I have never claimed to be a professional and would say I’m actually quite the opposite due to my occasional forgetfulness. Team that with Jess’s lack of direction and we were proving quite the team. However, against the odds Jess and I managed to:

Catch 8 flights,

Make 9 boat trips,

Visit 6 different islands.

All without losing anything more significant than the contents of my stomach due to some questionable driving on occasion.

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I have briefly surmised what the experience has taught me:

Just appreciate it

Take time to take it in. When travelling from place to place I never wanted to sleep because I was constantly trying to take in my surroundings while listening to new music Friday on Spotify and battling my tiredness. These moments allowed for reflection and appreciation. You will learn a lot about yourself while travelling and I learned exactly how fortunate I was. However, on the contrary, I did also learn that I need to buy the travel socks that old people wear to help their poor circulation, as my feet, knees and ankles now double in size on long-haul flights, who knew?

It’s kind of all about the people you meet

I think that when it comes to travelling, it really is what you make it, so always make an attempt to spend time getting to know the people you meet along the way. Everyone has their own interesting story and outlook so make time to listen to it. We met some really great people and between Jess and I, we have tried to keep in contact with most of them, promising to meet up again in the future.

Plan… but don’t plan too much

The best thing to do is to make a rough list of the things that you really want to do, the once in a lifetime kind of things and aim to complete them. No need to try and jam pack 5 activities into one day because you won’t give yourself time to enjoy them and will stifle the fun. Furthermore, there will always be an alternative route, it may not be the comfiest or the fastest or indeed come with the luxury of air conditioning, but my point is don’t stress if things don’t go according to plan. Sometimes the beauty is in taking a few extra hours and travelling the scenic route.

You don’t need to spend much to have fun

Everyone assumes that they can’t afford to travel, and granted, it is pretty expensive by the end but cheap really can be cheerful sometimes. Some of the nicest meals I had cost little more than a quid and the most hilarious nights were spent in some of the most tragic hostels fully furnished with insect infestations of course. It was cool to stay in nice resorts as they are pretty inexpensive but don’t get too hung up on that. Save your money to spend it on experiences while your there.

Lastly and in my opinion, most importantly:

Pick your travel buddy wisely!MR2I never really anticipated how vital this element would be but my trip really would not have been the same without Jess and nowhere near as fun. We worked well together as we had a good understanding of each other and respected each other’s views, opinions and space. We were able to pick each other up, laugh with each other and at each other, never letting anything get too serious.

My advice for anyone considering jetting off to explore pastures further afield is to book it, pack a bag and go! Don’t hesitate and allow for any self-doubt.

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And a bonus tip: If you are ever in Bali, you need to check out La Favela, trust me!

Megan Rea is a final year BSc in Communication, Advertising and Marketing student at Ulster University. She can be found on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/megan-rea-a52437111/

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A young bunch of girls gong to Santa Ponsa as our FIRST girl holiday, you can imagine the excitement!!

Checking in at the airport, the Facebook and Instagram pic, Snapchat polluted, what else do you expect from 18 and 19 year olds??

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Few years later, now ‘mature’ 22 year olds, off we went again holiday planning.

The same group of girls, minus a few… deciding in a group chat where shall we go on holidays? Exciting of course, but not your ‘ordinary’ sunny two week holiday to France, Spain etc (as much as I did try to persuade this)

Reality hit, it was May, there we were sharing ideas in the no other place than the local pub!

As I said before, not once could I persuade a two week holiday to France or Spain etc, I may as well of been talking to the wall!!

One extreme to the next and later that night, flights were booked to Thailand 🙂

Not knowing one thing about this country other than it would be a long flight, it has many different bugs and people recommend to stay in hostels as they are ‘cheap and cheerful’.

Listening to many people about how cheap Thailand is (note to self, it is not cheap if you travel like us girls) we thought, why not? We are only young the once!

In all the excitement of course we didn’t research into much detail and booked it for ‘rainy season’

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Future advice, check the seasonal weather changes!

Off we went 4 best friends to the land of Thailand, no clue where to go, what to do, what to expect, or what to eat (nothing but pizza, chips, pasta and garlic bread). To say the least we ‘took the bull by the horns’ and what an experience we had!!! Arriving at numerous airports etc with my surname on a board with a slightly different spelling which was ‘holywood’ for our airport collection

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 We lived the dream for 2 weeks!!!

You could say it was like a girl version of the film ‘hangover’… I suppose a little less extreme, a group of girls like the film ‘Bridesmaids’ you could say. The least to say one girl got ate alive by god knows what kind of bugs and swoll like a balloon (literally). It was like team bonding busting blisters with needles you could say!! Drinking ourselves out of a hangover… I am sure you get where this is going!

It was an amazing experience, every girl trip has a few hiccups of course, would we really be friends if we didn’t?? Travelling from Bangkok (HUGE eye opener!!) vomiting at the smell of the streets as soon as we touched down. The ‘famous’ city smell of Bangkok consisted of on the street cooking of fish which looked highly contaminated (I promise, this is not a joke), the dead fish crying for help!

Then travelling to Phuket, Phi Phi then arriving in the most amazing, scenic place I could imagine Maya Bay

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This island is worth travelling to Thailand simply for the most exotic, peaceful views, no words can describe! Another boat and a long ass journey to Ko Samui then Ko Tao and back to the beautiful Ko Samui followed by a plane journey to the busy city of Chang Mai! Two weeks of travelling and we finally jumped on a plane to Bangkok to head back to the sunny Ireland (joke of the year)

4 girls who didn’t save 2p to go on holidays but managed between our savings and budgeting, we ended up having an absolute blast! If you take anything from this blog post, my advice is to put Thailand on your bucket list when your young folks!

*PS*

You NEED to go to the elephant sanctuary in Chang Mai

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**PPS**

I advise not to take a back pack if you do NOT travel light (girl problems)

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Go for at least 3 weeks… 2 is not enough to enjoy each destination!

BUT everything is a learning curve, Thailand is a must see 🙂

Breige Hollywood is a final year BSc in Communication, Advertising & Marketing student at Ulster University. She can be contacted on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/breige-hollywood-a7b035116/ and Twitter @HollywoodBreige

A different approach to Thai travel

As appealing as the full moon parties appear, I did Thailand slightly differently. I ventured on a three week expedition that would promise adventure and an unforgettable cultural experience.

After completing the application process and being successful at the interview stage, it was a countdown until I jetted off to Thailand with World Challenge.

World challenge is an organisation that provides exhibitions for students who want to step outside of their comfort zone and explore the world. Their exhibitions offer trekking, culture highlights, a community volunteering project and adrenaline activities.

When accepted onto the programme, a condition of World Challenge was that I had to fundraise money before going on the trip. This was challenging and it was achieved through holding various coffee mornings, selling cakes and other treats at my sporting matches on a Saturday morning, pub quizzes, partnering with numerous local business to produce a hamper gift set for a raffle and doing sponsored events, such as abseiling.

I could not be prepared for the trip I was about to embark upon. It was truly an eye opening experience that provided me with the thirst to want to explore the world and help those in need and less fortunate than us. The exhibition was divided into 3 sections, adrenaline activities, R+R and cultural immersion, trekking in the rain-forests for 7 days and undertaking a volunteering project.

Thailand is an amazing country with so much culture to offer. We immersed ourselves in the way of living and paid visits to temples and shrines, great abandoned temples, met monks, excited our taste buds with the vibrant street food and explored up and down the country by travelling on night trains.

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We visited beautiful waterfalls, elephant sanctuaries and hot springs and completed adventure activities such as white water rafting.

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The trekking phase of the exhibition was challenging both mentally and physically. We were trekking in extremely humid conditions for 8 hours a day in the jungle, off the beaten track. We were led by 2 Thai men, who, at night would teach us the authentic Thai way of cooking.

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During this phase we stayed in hill tribes, made hammocks that swung between two trees and found shelter along the way. We encountered tarantulas, elephants and plenty more wild animals. It was a real Bear Grylls experience as I found myself snacking on insects (gross I know- but when everyone around you is doing it, it becomes the norm.)

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The final phase of the exhibition allowed us to yet again live alongside a local community in need, and being involved in powerful initiatives to collaborate with the community to make a difference. During the volunteering project our group helped to finish building a house for a family to live in. We also worked at a local farm for a number of days, packaging produce, feeding and taking care of the animals and helping them become more efficient in their technique and improve sanitation. We visited a local school and got to spend time with the underprivileged children and we were introduced to a woman who designer clothes in the area to try and support her family.

This trip definitely fed my desire for adventure and left me wanting more! If you thrive off of adventure, trying new things and helping people then an exhibition style trip is exactly what you need to do.. You won’t regret it!

Rebecca Reid is a Final Year Communication Management and Public Relations Student at Ulster University. She can be contacted on twitter @Rebecca12reid and on Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rebecca-reid-64b580153/

Top Tips for Travelling Thailand

 

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After completing a year’s placement with Fold/Radius Housing I decided that I deserved a break before starting what was going to be the toughest educational year of my life so far, with deadlines coming at me left right and centre and no time to have a break in between.

For the past few years I had talked about and fantasised over travelling the beautiful country of Thailand but never had the money to allow me to do this. I worked hard for a full year and saved as much of my money as I possibly could and in January 2017 my best friend and I booked our flights to Bangkok.

Here are my top tips for travelling Thailand:

  1. Do NOT pre-book anything!

When we left Dublin on our flight to Bangkok the only thing we had planned was our very first night. At first I was a bit apprehensive about this as normally when I travel/go on holiday everything is prearranged. However, not planning our route or which island we were going to next turned out to be the best decision we made. We met amazing people in each destination and made our ‘next island’ decisions with each other, as we travelled to more islands and met more people we ended up travelling in a huge group, maybe about 25 of us, as you can imagine this was mighty craic and I can honestly say I’ve made friends for life!

 

  1. Bring an emergency cash fund!

Everyone will tell you about how ridiculously cheap Thailand is, this is true but very JM2deceiving! Some nights I was staying in Hostels for £3 a night, and more importantly I was drinking buckets for £2.50! (For anyone who doesn’t know, in Thailand they don’t drink from glasses but rather buckets, a quarter bottle of vodka and your mixer for £2.50. What more could a student ask for?) As well as the drink being cheap the food was also cheap! (Maybe this was because I lived on spring rolls and 7Eleven toasties since I was too afraid to eat anything for the fear of getting sick) However… The amount of travelling you do in Thailand, from flights to boats to buses and everything in between (TukTuks… you can’t go to Thailand and not ride in a Tuk Tuk) all of this money adds up and soon enough you know you’re left with zero money and contacting the bank of Mum and Dad.

 

  1. Be Careful and Be Safe

There are so many different aspects of Thailand that can be dangerous.

The Ping Pong Shows: before I go on to talk about ping pong shows I’d like to make it clear that I did not attend any of these shows- Before leaving to go to Thailand I was told that in some shows you pay the equivalent to £10 at the door and that includes all your drink for the rest of the night, which sounds like a pretty good deal, however when you go to leave; the doors are locked and you are forced to pay a sum of money before they let you out.

Boat Parties and one day island trips: mixing drinks with the ocean is never a good idea but in Thailand it’s all fun and games and no one really gives a s**t. Look out for yourself and your friends and always make sure you can be accounted for, there is no such thing as a life jacket in Thailand! Also on the ‘one day island trips’ you will most likely visit ‘Monkey beach’ – Do Not believe the myth ‘Monkeys can’t swim, stay in the water they won’t be able to bite you in the water’ This is not true! Monkeys may look cute and you might think they are lovely little animals- also Not True! They are vicious, nasty and dirty and they WILL bite you! Not one but two people on my boat got bitten and had to go to hospital (not before finishing to booze cruise of course)

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  1. Finally, enjoy every single second!

I travelled around Thailand for 3 weeks, this was not even nearly enough time. I never stayed for longer for 3 nights at one destination and this is the only thing I would change about the holiday – Make it longer, make it last forever. Everything you see in Thailand is beautiful, take time to appreciate the views and the amazing things that you don’t get to do at home. From 1000m Ziplines, playing in mud baths with Elephants, playing beer pong on the beach, sleeping in some very questionable places, scuba diving with turtles, seeing the most beautiful temples and much much more I had the most amazing three weeks of my life with some of the most incredible people and I cannot wait to go back!

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Jenny Martin is a final year BSc student in Communication, Advertising and Marketing at Ulster University, Jordanstown. You can follow her on Twitter @Jennymartin95 or on Facebook: /jenny.martin.12979431