Mark’s Blog

Sustainable Travel & Volun-Tourism. What’s the Crack?

Posted on January 25, 2015Posted by Mark Foster-Murray

An interview with Co-founders Mark & Steve

Recently we were interviewed by South East Asia Backpacker Magazine who asked us some difficult and challenging questions  that any legit Tour Operator or Volunteer Organisation should be able to answer. The subject may be difficult but none-the-less should be embraced. Have a read and let us know your thoughts below.

Sustainable Travel & Volun-Tourism. What’s the Crack?

Backpackers these days get a bad rap, particularly in South East Asia, which is one of the world’s most popular places to take a ‘gap year’. Films such as ‘Gringo Trails’ attempt to show the impact of global tourism and the threat that it poses to the environment and the local communities. A grim picture is created. One in which travelers have little respect for the cultures or landscapes that they are visiting. But is this really fair? Do backpackers want to experience more than just partying and do they knowingly destroy the places that they travel?

Is backpacking in general, a force for good or bad for the world? Like everything of course, it depends how you do it! We believe that backpacking is such an incredible and varied pursuit and that if done in the right way, can certainly have a positive impact on the world. After all, understanding other cultures and learning from each other is surely the only way to progress and live together in harmony! Backpacking can be an enriching experience for all. So, how can we make sure that our travels have a positive impact upon the countries and communities that we visit? And, at the same time – have an absolutely incredible experience!

The Growth of Voluntourism

In recent years, a number of travel companies have attempted to bridge the ‘gap’ between having a good time whilst you travel and putting something back into the communities that you visit. These companies aim to lessen the impact of the environmental footprint of the backpacker whilst at the same time contributing in a positive way to local projects; schooling, animal sanctuaries, eco-building and more…

But are these companies all that they are cracked up to be? Do they actually help the communities that they claim to care about? How can we be sure that they are not just jumping on the bandwagon of ‘voluntourism’ and using this latest trend simply to sell more tours!?

We caught up with British-born Mark and Steve who are the founders of ‘The Bamboo Project,’ a company that helps to put backpackers in touch with sustainable NGO projects in South East Asia and creates trips that are a mix of adventure and volunteering.

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A Chat with Mark and Steve from The Bamboo Project

Tell us about your company and why you started it?

The Bamboo Project is not just a travel/volunteer company, it’s a collection of people, volunteers, adventure travellers, local NGOs, tour guides and international partners that all share a common goal: to provide a ‘win-win’ for both the communities we visit and the ‘customers’ we take along for the ride. It’s not complicated or difficult, it’s a simple, honest approach to group adventure travel that incorporates sustainable volunteer projects. Basically for those ‘backpackers’ who want to come to SE Asia, party hard, meet new people, explore new worlds but ‘give-back’ at the same time, the all-round ‘Give-Back-Packer!’

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It was started as both Steve and I felt that although ‘voluntourism’ does have a lot of negative press (and some of it deservedly so), this does not mean that there is still not a legitimate ‘need’ for its existence. As long as the tours / projects are done right, open and transparent then we see no reason why supporting under-privileged schools, elephant villages, a small independent NGO in the Northern hill tribes of Chiang Rai, the Cat & Dog population on Koh Samui, the marine life around Koh Tao, a locally founded NGO that offers free education and healthcare to 15,000 people in Siem Reap can ever be a ‘negative’ experience for either party. Again, a simple ‘win-win’!

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Why do people have to pay to volunteer?

Something we hear about all the time and to be honest I would have thought the same before launching Bamboo. It’s probably the one thing that bugs everyone, and gives the business such a bad rap. For us though it’s simple; you’re not paying to volunteer, you’re paying for EVERYTHING that surrounds the experience. Your accommodation, transportation, project materials, the staff that are with you 24/7, donation to the project, the ‘safe-in-the-knowledge’ that you know who you are working with, protecting you from when it all goes wrong scenarios, holding your hand if you feel insecure or pushing you in the right direction if you need a bit of help and guidance.

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Sure, we appreciate that not everyone will want to join the team. There are a lot of independent people out there and of course we support and applaud them. I am not aware of any schools that would accept ‘walk-in’ volunteers and would worry if there are any that do. With us, and our reputation within communities we can ensure that everyone, both project and volunteer, is protected.

What questions should a backpacker ask before signing up to volunteer?

I love questions and the trickier the better! Any company in the world should embrace being asked the hardest of questions, because if they can’t answer them they’re probably in the wrong game.

For us we found that working with local NGOs is a must for the legitimacy of our organisation. We don’t pretend to be professors in sustainable development, so we hand over the cash and hard labor to the people who are. In our line of work I would most certainly ask“What benefit is the project to the local community?” and really there should be a zillion answers to this and potentially even photographic evidence to support them.

Both Steve and I have experienced the horrors of volun-tourism where companies literally ‘make-up’ projects for the benefit of looking good on their websites or to appear more appealing to a potential sale when in reality the project will only ‘run’ if ‘they’ manage to sell to people who are perhaps naïve enough to join.

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This is why we only work with local NGOs and organisations that have the experience and know-how of their own community, rather than a being company that dictates to a community what is going to happen as it will be more marketable to a certain demographic. So a good question to combat this would perhaps be:

Why did you set up this project in this region, do you work with locals from the area, how do you decide where to go and what to do?”

To which they should be able to give you masses of information about the process of working with (and listening to) local communities, why that particular region was chosen and with whom they work with to ensure the project is really benefiting those who need it.

Another good strategy would be to go on the Facebook page of that organisation and perhaps contact some of the people who ‘Like’ their page and ask for their thoughts towards that organisation. And finally which is probably the most obvious question of all:

“Where exactly does my money go?”

And this should be an EASY, quick response followed by countless photos, videos and testimonials. Which I see leads nicely to your next question…

Where does the money go when a backpacker signs up for Bamboo Project?

In our opinion, this should be question number one. If you don’t receive a clear and concise answer, it may be that something’s being hidden. For our customers, we have this explained on our website. We also have documents here in Thailand that support what it states – we don’t just throw figures at you in the hope it’ll confuse you!

It’s not always possible however to give an exact breakdown when dealing with NGOs. This is purely because we can’t control how they spend the money we give them. We have a rough idea but there are many variables involved.

These variables work like this; a four week development project in the northern hill tribe communities of Chiang Rai is more expensive to set up than a two week English teaching placement on Koh Samui and that Chiang Rai development project will vary depending on the number of volunteers and the needs of the community that’s at the top of the list to be supported! You get the picture. There are far more overheads involved. These variables continue in to how long a volunteer is staying, which project they have chosen, the time of year, if they’re accompanied by a friend who is or isn’t volunteering, are they experienced and so on.

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As we’ve touched on above, the volunteering part of any trip is free. The cost is generated by the amount of work behind the scenes that goes in to ensuring that the volunteer receives the very best time during their stay, that the project is supported the way we promise it will be, the staff receive a salary (we do have to eat!) and so on. We do have to operate as a business, and every business the world over has bills to pay. Without our volunteers understanding this and putting their trust in us, the projects we support wouldn’t receive anything like the support they receive now, and in some cases would simply have to shut down completely. 

What type of NGOs do you work with? Why is it so important that they are local?

We only work with established, experienced and ‘local’ organisations. This is quite simply because there are no better people to help a community than the community itself. We listen, observe and support local efforts to provide better health, education and to try and improve the local environment. A good example of this would be our projects in Chiang Rai that exist in conjunction with a home-grown NGO, established for over 30 years and who work with with over 100 hill-tribe villages. They understand each and every dialect, cultural nuance and specific ‘need’ of each individual tribe and we would never, ever tell them they’re doing it wrong. This for us is the only way we can ensure that our projects throughout South East Asia specifically target the exact needs of the community.

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Unfortunately it often happens that international NGOs set up camp in some remote village or dark corner of a country (not just in Asia) and tell the locals what they’re going to get, how they’re getting it, when it’s happening and what it’s for. They arrive with the best of intentions and a genuine desire to help. However, they rarely consider the real needs of the community and don’t look at the long term goals or the projects sustainability. What’s right for the NGO is very often not required or simply cannot be maintained by the locals who don’t have the education, training or even tools required to maintain whatever it is. The NGO then completes the project, stands back, expects a huge pat on the back and leaves. We’ve seen this happen in Thailand and we’re not in to that, oh no. We actually want to help the locals achieve what they want to achieve. We want to aid them through financial and physical help and, if required, advice from a different perspective.

How does volunteering actually help?

In terms of the Teaching, and to some extent the childcare projects, that’s an easy reply as our ‘native’ English speaking volunteers can provide direct access to quality language learning simply by opening their mouths. The schools we work with have no funding or access to ‘expensive’ foreign teachers. Our volunteers, supported by our trained and qualified team, are able to apply and overcome a direct need to a poor community; the gift of language. For the emerging tourism market of SE Asia this is so important for under-privileged people and children to help themselves out of poverty. Having just a basic grasp of the English language opens up a whole mass of opportunities for locals.

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As for our development or building volunteers they are not only a bit of ‘elbow grease’, they also provide funding, awareness, cultural exchanges, a boost to the local economy and are able to speed up the entire process. With a group of 25 university students from the USA we were able to complete, within a week, a community centre that will house educational classes, workshops, village meetings, childcare facilities, out-reach medical days and so on for an entire hill tribe community in northern Chiang Rai province. Only with a group this size were we able to fully fund the construction of this much needed facility and have it completed in a week! And this project also employed 12 locally skilled craftsmen, who without this project, may have had zero income – it’s that old ‘win-win’ again…..

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Of course it could be argued “why not just raise the money and send it over?” which of course is something that we love to see and encourage. Any amount of fund-raising or awareness raising to a worthy cause should be encouraged. We simply feel that our approach brings the fundraiser to the action, no better way to raise awareness than witnessing the need yourself. As long as it is professionally managed and executed and working in conjunction WITH the community. Moreover, you raise money, send it off, and can then only hope that it goes where you’ve been told it’s going. By joining the project yourself you actually get to see your money working for the benefit of the people, animals, children etc.

Tell us about some of your specific projects at the moment?

We currently deal with 27 projects across 4 countries in SE Asia with more in the pipeline as we begin to ‘clone’ our concept of ‘Give-Back-Packing’: working WITH local NGOs and charities with the mix of adventure travel touring goodness.

Our most popular projects are located on the beautiful island of Koh Samui with our Teach & Beach or Beach & Build. These both center on a small school on the quieter northern part of the island.

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Here we have two approaches to improving education and the actual learning environment of the school and quite simply this is achieved by providing quality English classes and micro-development on the buildings and the grounds. We want the kids to WANT to go to school rather than feel they HAVE to go to school – yup, it’s the same the world over!

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Over the past several months just 11 volunteers have been able to: implement and create a recycling system that provides additional income to the school, dig out a drainage system to stop one of the buildings from flooding during monsoon season, expand the dining and eating area so that the children do not have to eat their food whilst sitting on the floor, created an educational garden and given the entire school a good solid lick of paint. By working with the school staff we’ve also managed to produce a rather lengthy list of projects for 2015 that are going to require a large number of volunteers. These include building a new library building, from scratch! We’re currently recruiting any volunteers, skilled or not, to help us out on that one in particular.

Having the teaching and the development projects at the same location is perfect as it enables the volunteers to work together. The banter is a great inspiration to keep going and the fun that comes with dealing with 250 ‘wild’ Thai children is immense! Our team of coordinators is always on hand to help, support and guide and most importantly to make sure that the volunteers are kept informed. OH, and at the end of each day, when the volunteers have used up the last drop of sweat, or they’re covered in chalk dust, it’s rather nice that the best beach on Samui is literally a few hundred meters away – Pina Colada optional!

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What do you think of backpackers who volunteer for a few days / visit orphanages while they travel?

That’s a belter of a questions and one that gets asked again and again in all sorts of press and with all sorts of answers. In my opinion anyone who wants to spend their own time in the pursuit of helping others can be nothing but a wonderful thing BUT (and this is a BIG BUT) it has to be only to the benefit of others and not your Facebook profile picture.

I have witnessed both the best and the worst of this business and it is clear and obvious what can be done in a few days to what can be done in 2 weeks or 2 months. If you have a few days spare, why not spend it raising awareness for a cause through your friends and social media? Or if you have a particular skill that you think may benefit a project perhaps contact the organisation offering such skills (We are looking for any good website programmers FYI).

Wherever there is money involved there are always going to be unscrupulous individuals looking to cash in. This is life 101 and isn’t confined to international volun-tourism as some articles may like you to believe. Regarding the orphanage debate in particular, we believe that the more media attention this is given the better due to the fact there are so many companies out there simply creating orphanages and childcare projects to get rich. We’ve experienced ourselves cases of children being ‘shipped’ to fake homes to act as orphans, only to be returned to their families at the end of the day or week! There are SO many dodgy companies out there making money off the backs of these kids BUT (Again my BUT is MASSIVE) there are also noble and worthy causes out there too. It’s such a pity that the minority of fake or just simply bad companies can tarnish the entire business.

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So I guess to answer your question, during your travels I would not recommend visiting an orphanage or children’s home without A LOT of research before hand. Remember to ask those questions and get those answers.

How do you mix this volunteering with adventure tours? 

This really comes down to our spirit of adventure as an organisation and as people. Steve and I are in this game as we simply love travel, love the people we meet and the places we go and this is why we feel compelled to ensure we give something back to the countries that have given us so much. When working in SE Asia it’s not hard to find the adventure, every time you walk down the road here it punches you in the face, egging you to take the dive and release.

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In order for us to pay the bills we need to offer our unique take on adventure travel. So if you’re going to come to Thailand, drink your buckets, visit your temples, dance under the moon, race your Tuk Tuks, get that Tattoo (sorry mum!) why not do it ALL and more but give back at the same time. We offer adventure tours that incorporate volunteering (Like our Thailand Rediscovered) but also tours that don’t (like our FULL MOON party island hopping) but either way a percentage of the margin goes towards maintaining our projects and keeping them sustainable and supporting the people we meet along the way.

KAYAKTime to kayak…

party… and party!

Do you think backpacking is a force of good / bad for the world?

Naturally I would of course say “good”. Backpacking is about ‘finding yourself’ or even if you’re like me ‘losing yourself’. As long as you tread softly, politely and with a constant smile on your face, I can’t see how it could possibly be bad. Backpacking as a concept is wonderful. It is only the individual who can decide to be ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

How can a backpacker make sure that their visit makes a positive impact?

In general I would say avoid changing the environment you are in. By that I mean be culturally aware of your surroundings. SEA Asia is a shy, reserved place and should be respected as such. While on the flight over spend some time checking out the local taboos, but don’t get overwhelmed by them. Tolerance is one of many lovely qualities that SE Asian people have, as long as they see you making the effort they will be beaming with smiles.

beachDo you Bamboo!?

If you are thinking of doing something different such as giving back to the communities that you visit, do your research, ask the questions. If whomever you’re asking can’t answer then that in itself is the answer you need.

Check out The Bamboo Project to discover their projects and follow them on their Facebook Page to get to know more about what they do!

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Top 5 Bars on the Khaosan Road

Posted on January 11, 2015Posted by Mark Foster-Murray

Top 5 Thailand | Bars on Khaosan Road
Mark Foster-Murray | No hole in his bucket

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The infamous Khaosan road is probably destination number 1 for any first time backpacker to South East Asia. If Bangkok is the hub for the region, then Khaosan is the hub for all the Backpackers. Sure it has a lot of negative attention with the “Khaosan is so not Thailand, it’s just filled with drunken hippies, shirtless Aussie’s and deep fried scorpion sticks!” but it’s exactly for that reason that we love it so much, it’s brash in-yer-face approach to tourism hits you in the balls as soon as you tread onto that half kilometer neon strip of calamity.

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For our groups, staff and volunteers we regularly start it all here so for some of us it has become home. I am on first named terms with a Nepalese suit seller (James you-da-man), I get free buckets at one of the street bars, I can zone out the constant demands to go to a “Ping Pong” show (I need to work on my back-spin before I go) and I have more 100 baht t-shirts that I could clothe all the Aussie’s on Khaosan.

So believe me folks, I am a Khaosan connoisseur with 5 years worth of red-bull vodka buckets, woven wrist bracelets, fried jungle bugs and the like. So let me guide you through our Top 5 bars on the hallowed road we call Khaosan.

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5. Mulligan’s Irish Bar

So you want to travel half-way round the globe but can’t live without a proper pint? This is the place. As most Irish ‘themed’ pubs are very far from the ‘original’ it’s safe that Mulligan’s is no different, however, it has a great ‘pub-ish’ atmosphere, great ex-pat grub, a solid pint of Guinness. Also if you’re a sports fan this is probably the best place to watch it as they have screens coming out of every ororificeA little pricey for most on a budget but if you want that real pint of black then you can expect to pay around 300baht (£6).

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4. Gulliver’s Tavern

Literally on the other side of the road opposite the Police station lies Gullivers, which has recently had quite an expensive over-haul making it less of a ‘tavern’ and more of a spaceship. Laser lights everywhere, posh screens that change and set the ambience. Good DJs pumping out your mash-ups, remixes and drops (or whatever you kids call it). Good place to dance the night away but expect to pay at least 200baht for your Gin  & Tonic. This establishment also attracts a lot of locals so be brave and say hello.

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3. Golf Bar

Smack bang in the middle of the road you will notice a bright yellow sign that reads “Cocktails Very Strong” which is of course most attractive to us alcoholics out there with the addition of the “We do not check ID Card” is also useful for those baby-faced amongst us. This is the place to probably start you night off, aim to go around 10pm when it’s busy but not too busy that you can get a prime spot sitting on the road watching in awe the world go by. This is bucket heaven with every cocktail you can think of in a bucket. We’re not here to look all posh and sophisticated, we drink buckets of cocktails, soak in the road, listen to some beats, and get accosted by scorpion stick ladies. Expect to pay about 200b per bucket. We recommend sharing with your mates although I have been known to have 3 vodka red-bull buckets then unable to sleep for a week.

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2. The Club

Right next door to Golf you will see the aptly named ‘Club’ which actually really is a club. Pay 150 baht to go in, get a free drink and get on that dance floor. The DJ throws out some good house vibes, the occasional old school but mostly you wont remember because of all those buckets from before. This place does not get busy till about 12-1am so pace yourself. Expect to pay about 150baht per beer or 200 for a cocktail. Look out for the staff handing out the free neon wrist bands!

1. The Roof

This is my favourite place of all and it’s all really because I am into my music, and I mean good music. This is an acoustic bar with a house act that in my opinion should be raking in millions and putting all those X Factor Idol Talent people to shame. Very easy to find, just listen for the cheers and the sound of good vibes flowing above your head. Climb up some flights of stairs to the ‘roof’ grab a seat near the balcony (great view of the entire strip), grab a few beers and enjoy! The singer accepts requests and has amazing bank of songs in his head! Beers are a little pricey at about 200b a pop. Trust me, it’s worth it.

Been to Khaosan? What’s your favourite place to go? Answers below or post to Facebook! 

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Meet Lucy Field • Team Thailand

Posted on September 4, 2014Posted by Mark Foster-Murray

An interview with Lucy

Today see’s the start of a new blog series introducing you all to the guys behind the scenes. These guys make bamboo tick, ensure that your placement or tour is everything that it can be and will become your new B.F.F’s. In addition to working as a part of Team Bamboo, most importantly, these guys and gals are family. They’re all superstars and just like mums and dads the world over, we’re proud of each and every one of them!

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NAME: Lucy
POSITION: Project Coordinator
LOCATION: Koh Samui (a.k.a ‘Koh Bamboo-i’)
FROM: Guilford, UK
FAVOURITE PLACE: Sangklaburi, West Thailand

FAVOURITE FOOD: Massuman Curry

PROJECTS: Teach & Beach, Beach & Build, Cat’s & Dog’s

Q: So what’s the best thing about volunteering in Thailand?

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LUCY : It’s Epic!! I have been living and volunteering on this Koh Samui for a while now and I am loving life! It’s the best of both worlds as you get to make a difference on sustainable projects, yet living on one of the most beautiful islands in Thailand, filled with activities and sites to see.  After an awesome day of volunteering what better way to relax than sat on the beach, drinking an ice cold beer as the sun sets?

Q: What’s the most popular project you’re involved with?

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LUCY: Without question, our school project. Both teaching and development. It’s a small school and like most poorly funded schools, it’s seen better days. They do genuinely need help. Since we began helping here our building volunteers have been fixing up the place, mending furniture and window shutters, plus painting to brighten it all up. We’re dedicated to returning the school to its former glories and give the kids, and the community, a school to be proud of. We have also cleared much of the overgrowing weeds and grass to allow space for vegetable patches. The produce from which will be used to feed the kids. Plus we have the plans for building a completely new toilet block. We are half way through with raising the necessary funds for that and can’t wait to get started. The school are so excited.

Our teaching volunteers have been involved with all aspects of the daily curriculum from teaching English to playing sports, drawing and painting, basic math and heaps more. The teaching volunteers here on Koh Samui are treated with such respect by the teaching staff and the kids. The school completely understands the need for this kind of help and are so very grateful. I’m enjoying it so much that even on my free days I’m there helping out in the classroom!

Q: What other projects have you been involved with?

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LUCY: We support the most amazing Dog & Cat Rescue centre here on Samui. They do an incredible job of offering help, healthcare and love to the stray animals that you’ll find all over the island. Right now they offer shelter, meals, healthcare etc. to almost 400 animals and these guys are desperate for help, both physically and financially. The volunteers who help here work very hard, as you can imagine. There is no limit to the work that needs to be done in all areas of the project from mucking out (yuk!) to feeding times, cleaning the animals, developing and maintenance and much much more. Everybody at Bamboo loves this project as I know we’re all animal lovers and the team at the centre are really great, so friendly and welcoming. Anybody interested in being a volunteer with dogs and cats must definitely spend some time here.

Q: Give us some good ideas of how to spend free time on Samui.

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LUCY: Koh Samui has everything! Even though it’s an island it’s got great shopping, awesome nightlife, restaurants to suit every taste and budget and obviously some of the best beaches in Asia! Volunteers on Samui can spend their weekends at the beach, jet-skiing, go karting, fishing, yoga, Thai cooking classes, riding elephants and trekking in the jungles. There so much to do, the list is endless. Everything is within easy reach of our volunteer house too, especially the beach which is right across the road!

Samui is also just a 40 minute ferry crossing away from Thailand’s number party island of Koh Phangan. That place makes a great weekend getaway for anybody looking for a bit of fun with a few beachside parties thrown in. It’s also home to the world famous Full Moon Party so anybody looking for a real ‘once in a lifetime’ needs to head there for that. Take the last ferry to Koh Phangan and the first ferry home, with a bit of a party in between!

Q: Tell us about the volunteer house.

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LUCY: Volunteers are in for a treat when they stay with us. The house we have for them is located in Mae Nam in the north of the island. And just a 5 minute walk from the best beach on the island! The house has 3 bedrooms, 3 western bathrooms with hot showers (not that you’d need a hot shower!), a huge kitchen and living area, TV and DVD player, comfortable seating areas in and outside, washing machine and so on. It’s just a 10 minute walk to the centre of Mae Nam that has really nice and very affordable restaurants and bars. There’s a small supermarket at the end of the street where the house is located. Opposite there is a Post Office and several ATM’s and the bus to the main town of Chaweng stops at the end of the road. This house really is the best house a volunteer could possibly wish for and whatsmore, we even include bedding and towels, the kitchen has all of the equipment you need to cook for yourself and as I’m there a lot, it’s spotless!!

Q: Why choose Bamboo as a volunteering organization?

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LUCY: This is simple. Bamboo treats everybody as an equal, like a member of the family! Everybody at Bamboo, including volunteers, take special care of everybody else. We also throw in special little extra’s along the way so that a volunteers time is made extra special. Unlike many other volunteering organsations in Thailand, at bamboo we understand 100% that a volunteer has paid a lot of money to be with us. Volunteers do not become ‘just another customer’, they instantly become one of us. We guarantee an unforgettable time and we guarantee that volunteers work on genuine projects that actually help communities, individuals, animals and are fully sustainable and leave a positive footprint. I’m not just saying this as I work for Bamboo, anybody can read the proof of this on the Reviews section of our Facebook page.

Q: Any tips for first time visitors and volunteers to Koh Samui?

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LUCY: Honestly, I’ve got loads but I would say that my top 3 tips are; be prepared, be open minded, be positive. To be prepared I mean to read up a little bit on Koh Samui and Thailand in general. All Bamboo volunteers to Thailand receive a pre-departure pack that helps them to prepare but I would also say to do a little more homework about life here in general.

An open minded volunteer is the best volunteer. Things in Thailand, actually in south east Asia, don’t always go to plan. It’s not that anybody is trying to annoy you, it’s just that’s how life is. If you stay open minded, have a smile on your face and just go with the flow, everything will be much more enjoyable for everybody.

And most of all, be positive. Even when things aren’t going your way, stay positive. This has the right effect on you and those around you. Thai’s love to smile and will interact far more easily with those who smile around them. Nobody wants to deal with a negative or grumpy person, and that goes double for Thai’s. Stay positive, be prepared and keep an open mind and your volunteering placement in Thailand will give you everything you ask for and heaps more!

Meet Lucy on any one of these projects!

beach and build cats & dogs teach and beach tefl training

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A journey of self(ie) discovery

Posted on May 16, 2014Posted by Mark Foster-Murray

So team Bamboo popped down to the stunning island of Koh Samui, rather than just go on and on about it we thought we would document our journey in the most popular medium of today’s generation, the selfie.

Warning the images contained within this blog post may cause offense as they are neither attractive nor informational. We are normal people, we promise. Do not expect photos of anything other than our faces. You have been warned.

1. Steve & Mark leave Bamboo HQ (Bangkok)

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Yes it all starts innocently enough with the Bamboo Boys leaving Bamboo HQ in Bangkok. Look at them, how care-free and fresh-faced they look (really?) little do they know what their journey to the island had in store…

2. Look who we find in a Taxi! Lucy Field our project guru lady person! (Bangkok)

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Heading through Bangkok can be a nightmare, but not for these ardent adventurers. Look at them calm, collected and in a bright pink taxi! Now that’s how it should be done.

(Note: Steve is not doing a naughty hand gesture, he is saying ‘peace’ but backwards. What his other hand is doing though, you don’t want to know!)

3. We arrive at Bangkok’s main train station. (Hua Lamphong)

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Did you know the station was opened on June 25, 1916 after six years’ construction.  Did you also know that a bottle of Heineken in the station costs 70 baht. Lucy does not know this as she has yet to buy anyone a drink.

4. Look mum! The Train! (Bangkok)

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Now, dear reader, this is where our story takes a dramatic twist and we would love to tell you everything but  afraid you will just have to come out here and ask us in person. What actually happened about 5 minutes after this photo was taken defies belief, morals and gravity.

5. On the train….it got weird. (Somewhere not on this planet)

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Still smiling and after the craziest hour of our lives we actually made it to the bar carriage on the overnight train. When I say bar more a room filled with beer, 80s techno and a flock of semi-naked Russian men. None of this was the result of Bamboo being on board….promise.

6. 12 hours later…(Surat Thani)

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And yet they are still smiling. Quick tip for anyone who does this trip, bring your own toilet paper, carry on your tooth brush, don’t drink the coffee, avoid amorous Spanish men (Lucy) and always always always stand in between the carriages and watch this amazing and beautiful country roll on by, at around sunrise it’s spectacular.

7. Are we there yet? (Don Sak)

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Still on the mainland but we can see her in the distance. Now just a quick 50 minute ferry and we are almost there. (Note. Steve is doing his tortoise impression here)

8. I’m on a boat (Thai Gulf)

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Still in the same clobber as 17 hours earlier, team Bamboo rock on the ferry to Samui. Quick Tip: If you are Welsh (Mark!) and have fair skin and no sun cream  you may encounter CYSB disorder (Can You Smell Bacon?).

9. On Koh Samui…(errr Koh Samui)

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What better way to celebrate your arrival to the island than battling through the hordes of rip-off taxi drivers to take the “Koh Samui Selfie”. Minutes after this photo was taken the gang took said rip-off taxi to the other side of the island (around 600 Thai Baht).

10. And so to work…(Koh Samui)

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Our main mission on the island was to ensure our projects are awesome and our volunteers are being well looked after. The only reason we know this is happening is because of this lil’ lady, Niki. She is our Koh Samui rockstar and if you join a Bamboo project on Samui you will be lucky enough to meet her….and of course the rest of us. (Note, the person behind us did not join a Bamboo tour/project hence the hands-to-the-sad-face face)

11. Few days in…(Koh Samui)

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Our last day on the island was pretty much spent looking like this. A mix of HAPPY (Wow what a ride!) and SAD (Don’t wanna go home yet) and STEVE (Still trying to figure that one out). That night we went to the infamous Ark Bar at Chaweng beach, photos were taken but deemed unsuitable for our audience.

12. Time to go home…(Thai Gulf)

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If you look carefully into Mark’s glasses you can see Samui in the distance! If you look under Mark’s glasses you can see what SangSom buckets do to a man.

13. Until next time… (Thai Gulf)

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We will back soon Koh Bambooui. Cheers for the memories!

If you want to be in this selfie then why not check out our tours and projects that head to Koh Samui and other amazing areas in Thailand.

Check out

Thai Island Hopping

Tru Thai Intro

Teach & Beach

Beach & Build

Cat & Dog Rescue

….with much more coming soon!

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Don’t be shy (we are clearly not) why not send one of us a message now and demand MORE selfie journeys through South East Asia. Next stop Angkor Wat!…

For those interested:

Mark is a recovering selfie addict with 4 weeks clean. Keep going champ!

Steve joined the circus and is now  a full time tortoise.

Lucy is now the person-who-gets-things-done-on-Koh-Samui (official title)

 

 

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How to Songkran | The Essential Guide to Songkran (The Water Festival)

Posted on April 4, 2014Posted by Mark Foster-Murray

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Few words can describe what happens to the land of smiles in the 2nd week of April other than “What” and “The” and “Fudge!?”.  For Songkran, or the Water Festival, or Thai New Year, or an excuse to party and get wet because it’s so bloomin hot, is an event that you simply must experience in order to really understand (everyone who has experienced it is now nodding in agreement)

For the sake of actually trying to be of use to the anyone new to Thailand, we here at Bamboo HQ have created a quick guide on how to survive the world’s biggest water fight, where simply you get wet…..possibly in the name of some ancient Eastern mysticism or more likely to honour the gods of Chang (beer) and Thai Whiskey.

Now to a lot of people, (even a lot of Thais) don’t know the actual origin of ‘Songkran’ (literally translates as ‘astrological passage’) why it started and why we do it has been replaced with clever marketing, commercial enterprise and 60 million people getting you as wet as possible with no idea why but for the fun of it. However, there is a reason for it all, the madness does matter, and if you want to seem culturally savvy to your new found backpacker buds then read on.

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Origin & History

Now as with most things historical there is not an exact date to where and how it all began. Possibly on a hot April day, in an Indian monastery, one monk accidentally threw water all over another monk and ‘Oh my Buddha!’ look what they started, and let’s just say for that day was a Thursday. The origins do seem to come from India with strong similarities to the ‘Sankranti‘ Hindu festival where water is blessed over deities and in return luck is blessed upon the faithful, the water ‘run off’ is then used and thrown over each other as way of embracing the blessings of God(s) . Over the centuries a few mutations occur with Hinduism over spilling into Buddhism and blessings over spilling into all out carnage. The ‘blessings’ then spread South and East through Burma (Myanmar) and taking hold in the ‘Lanna’ Kingdom with Chiang Mai being the ancient capital.

So on Thursday, way back when, families would head home, pay respect to their God, their King and their eldest relatives by cleansing statues, pictures and old people with water and fragrance. This used to be a gentle ‘cleansing’ as to not startle the ole folks. Oh how it has changed.

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Songkran Today

The emphasis has somewhat changed with many ‘kids’ now preferring to head to the streets rather than home, leaving mums a little grumpy, and many people now preferring to use water not to bless but inflict pain, shock and suffering, leaving some traditionalists very grumpy. Either way, you simply cannot deny the sheer mass hysteria that takes hold for a week, and quite simply there is nothing wrong in getting stuck in and up to your neck in some good old fashioned ‘blessings’, most just come in the form of a super soaker.

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Songkran Essentials

Listen up soldier! In order to survive the next few crazy days you MUST have the following:
1. Water Gun (Don’t buy expensive, they WILL break within an hour)
2. Colourful Hawaiian-esque shirt.
3. Protective plastic wallet for your phone, money etc…

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And thats it. You will lose your friends, flip-flops, mind so be prepared for that. You can also invest in covered shoes, I hate ‘Crocs’ but they would probably be best.

If you are not in the mood to get wet then my only suggestion is to go home! No one cares if your in your Armani suit, carrying your Mac book pro, with your newborn twins, you’re gunna get wet.

You must get yourself blessed! Usually these days in the form of coloured talc powder, random Thais will come and rub some on your cheeks. This is normal, and actually quite lovely so say ‘Thank-You(Kob Khun Ka/Krub)’ before splashing them in the face with your BigBert3000 dual action, pump powered MEGA water canon.

Where to go?

Where ever you are in Thailand it-is-ON! However, the best place is reportedly where it all began in Thailand, up North in Chiang Mai, where they say they go bigger, harder and longer than any other part of Thailand. If you are in Bangkok there are a number of options, the most popular with tourists is probably Khaosan Road where the road quickly becomes a river. Or Silom which is just about popular with ever single Thai in the world (apart from grumpy mums and traditionalists).

If you are still up for it when the sun is setting then head to Royal City Avenue or RCA known to the locals.  5 nightclubs (Route 66 being the biggest and best) in a row continue the madness into the wee hours. Expect it to be rammed and toilets hard to traverse into.

This is Silom road!

Follow the Fun!

If you’re not in Thailand but want to follow along, Bamboo gives you the opportunity by following our live #songkranBAMCAM which runs through our social media. We will be uploading photos and video from the heart of Chiang Mai and Bangkok and show you the best bits of what its all about, it’s going to be the nuts!

As part of our Songkran Giveaway we have reduced the cost of our Thai Island Hopping for the 4th of July, mention Songkran and save millions of dollars. You get a free T-shirt too, which looks great wet or dry!

Stay Safe!

Finally just stay safe kids! It is a lot of fun but it can go very wrong. Do stick together, remember you’re out in the sun, try not to drink too much and watch out for Batman!

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How to Island Hop • Island Hopping Guide

Posted on April 2, 2014Posted by Mark Foster-Murray

I had a great conversation last night with one of my ex-adventure travellers about the ‘Where Next’? He had been on 2 previous organised tours and was looking for some advice on where he should go next. It was a real eye-opening conversation for me as I realised not everyone has the same approach to travel as you might expect. We are funny things us humans and what goes on in our brains can be both wonderful and terrifying. His issues were:

• Travelling solo.
• No idea where to start.
• To go on an organised tour or not.
• Going back to the same countries he knows and feels comfortable at.

I am making a point of these as I reckon he is not the only dude in the world to be faced with such issues. To the die-hard hairy man (i.e. me) they would seem to be a no brainer, but to others these are perfectly reasonable worries to have, for all it’s awe and mystique you do need to be ‘up for’ the adventure. It is a bit of a cliche but completely true that “the world is not a small as we think” and jumping on a plane to Bali for £300 and BOOM next day you are there can be, again, both wonderful and terrifying.

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For me I thought he was ready to go solo and so gently pushed him by saying ‘DUDE buy the ticket, take the ride’  his exact reply was, ‘I really wanna, that sounds ballsy, and i like ballsy’ and we really do (even if you don’t own any testicles), all travellers share the same thrill and buzz, we all are addicted to that fear/excitement of the unknown, sometimes it just takes everyones favourite & friendly Bamboo coordinator to throw you off the cliff and take that hop towards that random spot on your dog-eared map.

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Which leads me quite nicely to this first part of a mini guide on ‘HOW2 island hop’-Thai style, so that if you are ever in the area, possibly alone or with a friend, and you can’t figure out where to go or if to go by plane, train, boat or swim these few pointers should make your eye-opening experience all the more jaw-dropping.

Bamboo guide to Island Hopping Thailand

There are ‘arguably’ 4 main areas in Thailand where you can hop, skip jump between some of the world’s most stunning islands (Quick Tip ‘Koh’ means island in Thai). Amazingly each island caters to a different crowd from ‘peace to pandemonium’ so before you embark on which area to go, you need to figure out what your motive is. This is by no means an exact science as you will find that each island caters for everyone in their own unique way but for the sake of keeping it simple the four areas and their vibe are:

Thailand Map Bamboo Blog

North Thai Gulf

Koh Chang, Koh Samet, Koh Kut • ‘Laid back, under-developed, reggae’
These are the closet group of islands from the capital, Bangkok, the closest of them being: 
Koh Samet where you can be from bustling city streets to tropical island in about 3 hours. If you wake up nice and early get yourself to the Ekkamai (AKA Eastern Bus Terminal, close to Ekkamai BTS Train Station) and get on a bus to a place called ‘Bang Phe’ which will take you to the pier to Samet Island. The bus costs around 100 baht (£2) might be a little more or less and takes about 2 hours. When you arrive at the pier you can either James Bond it on a speed boat which will get you to your exact beach of choice (Negotiate hard with the ‘captain’) or the cheap option is to go by public ferry which is about 100 baht. The ferry goes on the hour every hour between 8am and 5pm so you could be out of Bangkok and on the beach sunning it by 9am having your eggs and bakey sea side.

Koh Samed island itself is chilled and relaxing, it is a hit with Bangkokians so on the weekends expect more Thai’s than ‘Farang (Foreigners)’ which can actually be quite refreshing. Prices for rooms vary dramatically so do your research and check out Agoda or AsiaRooms, the liveliest stretch of beach is probably Haad (‘Haad’ means beach) Sai Keaw, and the liveliest bar/restaurant/hotel is probably SilverSands with fire dancers and cocktails in a nice chilled setting.
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As for Koh Chang (Elephant island) this bigger boy is a little further afield heading in the direction of Cambodia. One of the most popular, and cheapest, ways to get to Koh Chang from Bangkok is by public bus. You can catch a bus again at the Eastern Bus Terminal (Ekkamai) in Bangkok, or at the Mo Chit Northern Bus Terminal, relatively close to the Mo Chit sky train station. Buses from here go to Trat and takes around 6 hours. In Trat, hop on a ‘songtaew’ (the small open-sided pick-up trucks used as bus-taxi services in most parts of Thailand), which will take you to Laem Ngop pier. The ride takes about 25 minutes. Boats run every hour or so, through most of the day. Bus fares to Trat are based on the type of bus you take. VIP buses are more expensive, but are comfortable and airconditioned. They cost around 300 baht (£6). Second-class buses, sometimes air-con, sometimes not) are about 180 baht (£3).

The island is lush with jungle providing great opportunities to explore. Not as hedonistic as some but a bit livelier than others so a good balance if you fancy mixing it up. The lively part of the island is known as ‘White Sand’ beach with the ever glow of neon, reggae tunes and the occasional beach side dance club. The latest trend is to head to Kai Bae as it is supposed to be the up and coming area of the island, cool vibes, mojito lounges and great views.

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Koh Kut is that little bit further towards Cambodia but you can actually get a speedboat from Koh Chang which takes a thrilling 1-2 hours (depending on conditions) from Kae Bae pier (once a day at 9am) and costs around 900 baht or from Bang Bao (Twice daily at 9am & 12pm) again 900 baht and includes a pick up from most hotels on the island. You can then  legitimately call yourself an island hopper!

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South Thai Gulf

Koh Phangan, Koh Samui, Koh Tao • ‘Backpackers, Moon Parties, Diving’
Probably the most traveled area in all of Thailand with an epic 4 million visitors a year the journey down is very simple.

Every journey begins with a single step, for this one your first step should be to a company called ‘Lompraya‘ who have offices on all 3 islands plus a main one near the infamous Khaosan road, there are others but this one is probably the biggest and offers the best service. It is also worth mentioning that you can take a train to Chumphon or a Airplane direct to Koh Samui. For Lompraya you must book in advance, can be the same day but probably the day before if you want to plan properly. Go to the office and speak to the ‘lovely’ staff and book your spot on the bus/boat. Depending on what island you are heading to (all 3 is a must) depends on the cost but look to spend around 1300 baht. The buses are VIP and play movies in English which takes the sting out of the journey. Buses leave at 9pm and get you to the pier at Chumphon at around 5am for your boat at 6 or 7am. The boat is usually a high speed catamaran ferry thing (technical term) which can be bumpy. They do sell seasickness tablets at the small kiosk at the pier which for those who suffer is a wise choice, I have witnessed vomit inducing carnage during the 2 hour journey to the first Island:

Koh Tao which translates as ‘Turtle island’ due to its shape is the smallest of the 3 with it’s baby sister connected by a sand bank ‘Koh Nang Yuan’. This is one of the diving meccas of Thailand with dive shops literally everywhere, if you are interested in learning to dive this is probably the cheapest place in the world without sacrificing safety and professionalism. This is also the home of our Marine Conservation program which looks after the turtle and coral population on and around the island. Out of the 3 Koh Tao is the most laid back and arguably most beautiful. The roads are steep and bumpy so be careful on your rented bikes and always always always wear a helmet. The best areas for the night life is the beach at ‘Sairee’ which can get really busy for such a small island. The vibe is relaxed and happy with divers mixing with families mixing with young gappers. I would recommend getting a guest house within walking distance to it all but not directly in the thick of it, but what ever floats your boat.

Padi included

Koh Phangan is without doubt one of the craziest places I have ever been and for good cause. Once a month 15,000 people descend on her to celebrate the full moon (check out our full moon guide) and it certainly is the biggest beach party in the world. About 1 hour from Koh Tao (again you can take the Lompraya ferry or other options). You will arrive on the bustling pier at the administration heart of the island known as Thong Sala. From here unless you have pre-arranged you can jump on a taxi which will take you to your hotel on the island. We HIGHLY RECOMMEND our brothers from another mother at Beach Village for your stay as they have nailed it when it comes to being in a relaxed, cool environment but not far from the main party beach at Haad Rin. If you book with them mention you heard of them from the Bamboo crew and I am confident they will look after you every step of the way. If you miss the full moon do not fear as their is literally a moon party for everything, check out the half moon party in the Jungle, the black moon party by the sea, the oh-look-their-is-the-moon-in-the-sky-so-lets-drink-and-dance-party which happens every single night everywhere in Thailand. There are other options to bear in mind, Koh Phangan is a medium sized island with not only the moon to look at. The best spot to watch the sunset is a mountain side bar called the Amsterdam (1 guess to what else they offer) the view of the sunset is spectacular and is well worth the climb to the top. You can also go Elephant Trekking (not the best in Thailand) watch an old Thai man dance with the biggest snakes you have ever seen, play water sports at the only Wipeout™ obstacle course in Asia, climb waterfalls, go kite surfing, go to a Temple sauna or simply bake under the sun and enjoy the views. We offer two unique tours to this island so if your interested chat to us or check out Thailand Rediscovered or the Thai Island Hopping pages for the immersive way to see them all.

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Finally Koh Samui is by far the posh big sister of the 3 boasting fine dining, luxury hotels and an airport. It does have it’s charms although maybe not as adventurous as it used to be you can still discover a few hidden gems if you are able to go off an explore. This is also the home of 2 of our volunteer projects giving back to a small little fishing community on the non-touristy side of the island check out our Teach & Beach and Beach & Build projects for more information how Bamboo works with this lovely part of the island.

Their are 2 main lively spots with Chaweng being the biggest and the infamous ‘Green Mango’ night area and the more laid back ‘Lamai’ beach for beach side dancing and big comfy bean bags to sip your mojito from. I really like the Fisherman’s Village area near Bophut which offers a mock-traditional take on a fisherman’s village without the fishermen, go on a Friday evening as the walking street is buzzing with great foods and little shops. TIP: Taxis are a nightmare charging whatever they like to whomever they like so be prepared to pay and my advice is that it’s better to simply walk away than get into an altercation with the some-what mafiaesque nature of these guys, some hotels offer a good service to and from areas and again you can rent a bike but I do worry you know!

To end this part I would like go back to my mate from the top story, who now I hope is preparing for his epic journey into the unknown, the heart beating and sweat pouring with your world in a backpack and your map by your side and your smile as your only currency, I am jealous of that feeling and hope that he goes at it a zillion percent and takes these wise words from one of my all time favourite authors to heart, we can all keep this in mind when faced with the “Where Next?” question.

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”Hunter S. Thompson

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COMING SOON IN PART 2…

The Andaman Effect (The other side) Koh Lanta, Koh Lipe, Koh Jum, Phuket, Krabi, Ao Nang, Railay

BLOG PROMO for anyone who reads this! Our Island Hopping for the 4th of July is only £495 $790 €594

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10 things to pack when backpacking | Top 10 of Travel

Posted on March 31, 2014Posted by Mark Foster-Murray

Top 10 things a ‘backpacker packs in a backpack’

Probably one of the most frequently asked questions we get here in the Bamboo office “What do I pack for my epic adventure into the unknown?” Well dear reader we have combined our years of experience, love of travel, knowledge of flip-flops, conversations with tour guides, volunteers, ardent adventurers to bring you the need to know on what to pack for your backpacking travels.

So here it is our ultimate list of what you really MUST HAVE in your backpack! Handle this information with care it will make your trip all the more awesome!

1. Travel Documents

Ok let’s get the most boring one out of the way first. The one item we all freak out the most over is the dreaded passport. I long for the day we no longer need them but can simply travel to place to place as one big happy world family but until then the passport is probably the most valuable possession you have while on your travels. So wherever you can lock it away (most hotels have secure lockboxes either in your room or behind the front desk) you may also want to invest in a ‘bum bag’ (‘fanny pack’ to our American cousins – the differences between these two terms is a whole blog in itself) yes you make look silly but how silly will you look when you have lost all your docs. You should also consider keeping copies of your passport in another safe location, you never know when you might actually need them all.

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2. Condoms

Yes yes….I said condoms! This goes for you girls too! I don’t want to sound like your mother (or my mother at least) but I was always taught, “Be good! If you can’t be good, be safe! If you can’t be safe then don’t name it after me!”. It’s a fact that when abroad our inhibitions tend to take a holiday also so please guys and girls be clever and pack those Jimmys, Johnnies, Love Gloves, Raincoats, Rubbers, Salami Slings (never heard of this one!), Sheaths, Willie Warmers, French Letters if for anything else they make amazing water balloons and with Songkran coming you may want to get stocked up!

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Poster from one of our favourite places to eat Cabages & Condoms, Bangkok

3. Waterproofs

Not unlike the above point, a raincoat can avoid all manner of mess. In Thailand especially the weather tends to be hot or hot and wet (there is nothing else). And so when it does rain….oh boy! Lightweight, quick drying waterproofs can simply save you time and probably money. Going one step further it would also be wise to consider a waterproof cover for your backpack. The rain here can simply turn on and off as quickly as <insert something very quick here>. You don’t need to spend ludicrous amounts of cash on the latest brand of raincoat, usually when I travel I usually donate all my clothes to a local charity (if they will take them) anyway and would recommend you do the same to squeeze in more space for those tacky souvenirs your dear mother requested.

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4. Good Book

There is one common factor when it comes to travelling, believe it or not, there is a hell of a lot of travelling involved! For the most part this is why we do it, the search for the unfamiliar, the thrill of getting lost in it all, the sights, smells and sounds of strangeness, simply that feeling that you can not recreate in your motherland. However, there are moments when you simply want to switch off from it all, perhaps that 10 hour train ride from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, or that 6 hour layover at Mumbai international you simply want to get away from your getaway and dive nose first into a darn good read. I don’t know about you lot but I love the feel of a book, I don’t get these Kindles or I-pads when used for reading, I also like the stories that books tell after an epic journey, their dog-eardness (this is not a word), slightly stained appearance the occasional aroma of some spice…or worse. You know a books story is not only within the pages. Quick Tip – You will find hundreds of great reads on the road, there is usually an unwritten rule that once you have finished a book you simply leave it for the next traveller to find.

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5. A little bit of posh.

My nickname when I lived in South Korea was ‘Style’ and I’m not sure exactly why, I certainly hope it was not one of those reverse ironies like ‘Little John’ who is huge or Gorgeous George who is…well not. There is nothing wrong in packing at least one dress shirt or LBD for the ladies everything goes with flip=flops. Thailand is the land of smiles and that’s generally because most of them are drunk from the crazy amounts of night-time activities that go on here. You can simply find yourself one minute in a beach bar to the next in a 40-storey sky bar to a 6am disco (do we still say disco?). Be prepared for everything. A little bit of posh can take you all the way to the sunrise. Alternatively you can ignore this point and go for the “I am in Thailand I will therefore not wear a shirt or and shoes in the middle of a city and carry a large Chang beer always” look, both I have tested and both end with similar consequences.

Posh bar (yet affordable) in Bangkok's Sukumvit 11

Posh bar (yet affordable) in Bangkok’s Sukumvit 11

6. Flip-flops

Ahhh the trusty flipity-flop. Made famous by Sir Arthur Flop in the late 18th century (this is true). Only in Asia can you get away with wearing a single item of foot attire for an entire month. My advice, it is probably worth spending a little bit of money on these bad boys and if you go for the cheapy versions they will probably break within a week. That said, don’t go too crazy as by the end of you trip you will probably want to donate them to science. Quick Tip ~ You can buy these for next to nothing in Thailand. Quicker Tip ~ Crocs make you look like a ‘silly man’ (I replaced another word with ‘silly man’ as my 1st choice was deemed offensive)

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7. Sun cream

This is something I would not recommend you buy ‘in-country’ as it can be very expensive, and also might not be 1. Real 2. Good for your skin-type. Stock up on this at your local pharmacy before you fly and you wont regret this gem of advice. Quick tip ~ You can still get a nice tan from wearing sun cream. I know us Brits have a strange relationship with the sun, as we don’t have it so much back home we just go bananas for it strip off all our clothes, smear the cooking oil and are only satisfied until we can smell what we first thought was bacon but turns out to be our own flesh sizzling. The sun in Asia is a different bad boy all together, as much as I am amused by my volunteers who emit a neon glow in the evening after a hard days tanning you probably will ruin the best part of you trip from the shear agony that you can cause from a simple hour in the Thai sun.

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8. Pack of cards

This is how you make friends. Beers + deck of cards = some of the best (and cheapest) nights of your life. Everyone has a card game on the go in case of such situations may arise, you will be the Don of travel when out of you fanny pack you pull those 52 pieces of card that make a dull night become Viva Las Vegas! Quick Tip ~ If you don’t know a good card game my advice is use the Google and memorise one! We train our Bamboo staff in the martial art of drinking games so that there is never a dull moment!

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Ring of fire anyone?

9. Notebook & Pencil

This is probably not in anyone’s Must Have list for when you travel, but you will be surprised how useful it can be. Writing down that useful Thai phrase, remembering where you live, how much it cost by taxi to go to here and there, getting that cute girls (or guy which ever way you swing) email before she/he/heshe vanishes into the sea of strangers, writing down important dates (‘don’t forget to send your Ma a happy birthday text’). I love to write down what people say, sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, and sometimes important. A small notebook and pencil will get it right in your head. Trust me!

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10. Open Mind

This, although last, for us all here at Bamboo HQ is probably the most important thing to pack in abundance. Cram every pocket, crevice, fanny pack with as much of it as possible. When I take the orientation for the new guys and I have 30+ a little nervous yet beaming volunteers one of the first things I say is “We aint’ in Kansas anymore”. Things in SE Asia tend to go a little slower at times, at times they can even go backward and I would like to say after 7 years abroad I am used to it, but the truth is far from it, you just remember that this is not my culture so things are done a little differently. Buses do break down, rain does stop play, evil monkeys can steal your crisps, an elephant can poo on your bag…it’s all about stories, collecting stories to bore our friends we are back home. Live in the moment and just remember there is no better thing in the world than to travel/volunteer with a bunch of friends whom you have never met and not knowing what actually might happen tomorrow. To finish on a quote is a little tacky but the wise old scholar, Leonardo Di Caprio once said

“Trust me, it’s paradise. This is where the hungry come to feed. For mine is a generation that circles the globe and searches for something we haven’t tried before. So never refuse an invitation, never resist the unfamiliar, never fail to be polite and never outstay the welcome. Just keep your mind open and suck in the experience. And if it hurts, you know what? It’s probably worth it.” The Beach Alex Garland ©

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For more hints, tips and words of wisdom why not start chatting to us now, see the chat box in the bottom right? Click it and start your journey. Or contact us and arrange a friendly Skype!

 

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Full Moon Party | Survival Guide

Posted on March 28, 2014Posted by Mark Foster-Murray

Way back when, not sure the exact moment but in the 80’s (1985 says Steve),  a group of hairy men and hairier women decided that the moon sure did make a great thing to dance under. As it was the moon and it had been full and they were partying an idea started to form. After many hours of deliberation the term “Full Moon Party” was spawned and since then it has been mutating into the GIANT ball of buckets, random lost flip-flops, flaming ropes, neon war paint and the ever faithful luminescent lunar mass of the moon.

Admittedly not everyone’s cup of ‘Red Bull Vodka’ but for those who have experienced the full glory of this epic disco agree, it is a phenomenal experience that comes with a few DOs and DON’Ts for balance to be one with the world. So here at Bamboo we have spoken to a few of our mates who are in-the-know, a few ex-volunteers and adventurers, owners of bars and a random hairy man, we then complied what we believe to be the definitive list of

HOW TO SURVIVE A FULL MOON PARTY!

THE DO’s

Sunrise at Full Moon

Sunrise from Haad Rin, the Full Moon Party beach.

1. PACE YO’SELF
Most moon parties get going around 2am and finish 3 days later. Take your time there is no rush with a Bamboo group we aim for everyone to greet the sun around 6am. Magic. Around 2pm the magic fades.

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“Dave….Dave, i’m over here Dave, the one with the paint on…DAVVVVVE!”

2. STICK WITH YOUR MATES
“We always travelled in twos” Says Natalie, “but 3 is the magic number!” It’s no mystery that you are looking on average of about 5000 people on one beach, it’s very easy to get lost in the crowd. If you do get lost, go to the designated ‘HELP I’M LOST’ point that your group coordinator would have explained.

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3. KEEP AN EYE OUT
Now we’re not your mothers (although at times it can feel like it) but we do worry and for good reason. FMP can get very silly if you don’t follow the above 2 rules. Just like any nightclub or touristy area in the world you simply must stick together and keep an eye out, thieves do operate in the area. Also keep an eye out for the guy with the ‘horse’ mask for a head, for no other reason than it’s funny and I want one.

Fair enough mate...

Fair enough mate…

4. BE CREATIVE
When it comes to the neon body painting this is your chance to go wild and let your creative juices flow. “No Knobs!…” says Rebecca, “…there are already so many on the beach, no need to paint any more!”.  Our advice is to buy your own paint and let your fellow travellers work their magic. The locals on the beach tend to overcharge for their ‘skills’.

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Can you spot the censorship?

5. BUCKET HAGGLE
If you’re in the market you may as well aim for a bargain. There are literally hundreds of mini bucket stall sellers that pop up on the night of full moon, and of course they know how to get the most out of their customers. Don’t be afraid to barter and even walk away. “It can get pretty intense…” says Mike “…whatever the bucket seller says I usually half it and work up from there”.

THE DON’TS

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“Look what I found at the beach”

6. DON’T CARRY YOUR VALUABLES
Obvious really but you’d be surprised. “This is all you need for an FMP” Says Peter “1. Vest 2. Shorts 3.A bit of money” It’s a fact that you will lose everything else, even those flip flops, you might find them again the next day but we guarantee they will be on someone else’s feet.

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Errr well this is awkward.

7. DON’T DRINK FROM RANDOMS
Another one from Dr. Obvious but under the influence we can all get a little silly (theres that word again). Well this is one thing that you just can’t do! Would you drink a randoms drink at your local pub? Then don’t do it with 14,999 randoms on a beach in Thailand, unless he is wearing a horse face mask.

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Full Moon Party night…HONEST…just not on the same island…or country.

8. DON’T ‘GO’ IN THE SEA
Now I know that feeling, you’re a bit sweaty from busting your moves between the sand and the sound of the waves just entices you to jump in and get refreshed. The cold reality is that those 14,999 randoms we mentioned before about half of them are having a pee. Our advice if you need to go is the ‘Cactus Club’ (The main bar and entertainment area on Haas Rin), yes the toilets are a little antiquated but at least you know you’re doing your bit for the environment. If you do happen to go in the sea as you have forgotten my wise words then immediately jump on a boat and banish yourself from the island while smelling of pee and hairy man.

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BEWARE! Horse Face Mask Man! You can leave him on the floor.

9. DON’T THROW YOUR RUBBISH ON THE GROUND!
It’s an unfortunate reality that most people who travel to the stunning island of Koh Phangan and the even more stunning beach of Haad Rin simply don’t give a fudge about it, the next day an army of Thai locals descend on the beach and clean (mainly flip flops) buckets, bottles, vomit and a hairy man up and surprisingly within a few hours it’s back to being a lovely place. But as Rebecca said in the above points “Don’t be a Knob!” respect the beach, respect the island, respect the locals find a place to bin your bottle and make us proud!

The accommodation we use on Koh Phangan with our partners at Beach Village. Nice lads!

The accommodation we use on Koh Phangan with our partners at Beach Village. Nice lads!

10. DON’T FORGET WHERE YOU LIVE
Our guides will give you a little bit of paper with the name of our accommodation (our bro’s at The Beach Village) better still neon paint it on your forehead and simply point to it to the local tuk tuk driver. This way we ensure you waking up comfy in your bed and not face planting a hairy man.

***MASSIVE SAVINGS for the THAI ISLAND HOPPING TOUR. CONTACT for more deets!***

Interested in trying it for yourself. Our Thai Island Hopping and Thailand Rediscovered Tour incorporate the moon parties on Koh Phangan. Not forgetting the Teach & Beach and Beach & Build projects on Koh Samui or the Marine Conservation on Koh Tao which are only a short boat ride from the moon mecca.

For more moonies:

 

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Hello Cambodia! | Bamboo goes Angkor What?

Posted on January 23, 2014Posted by Mark Foster-Murray

What’s the first thing you think about when I say the words ‘Angkor Wat’, now you are either a ‘Lara Croft from Tomb Raider’ kinda person (probably male, bearded, thumbs no longer work) or a ‘Mysterious temples, steeped in culture, what a lovely picture that would make in my loo’ kind of person. There is no in between, I challenge you to defy me.

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What the clever bods at Bamboo have created (i.e. Steve, a copy of lonely planet and a dart set) with the brand spanking new Thailand / Cambodia Adventure Volunteer Tour (or TCAVT this is a thing) is a new perspective on an old and established journey. Steve and I simply love Surin, it’s where we both started our volunteer life together working as teachers in this dusty market town in the middle of East Thailand.

Mark at our Elephant Project in Surin.

Now established as the East hub of our volunteer operations we decided to expand ever so slightly and pop across the border to Cambodia and the is-that-a-tree-growing-in-those temples of Angkor Wat, symbiotically supported by the charming city of Siem Reap (Where Lara kicked off her boots and had a pint after all that Tomb Raiding).

What is great about this tour is that we take out the headache of figuring out how to get over there from Thailand, and believe me an experience at Poi Pet (Thai/Khmer border crossing) is not only for the brave but those fluent in gonna-rip-you-off-ski (also a thing).

Poi Pet Border Crossing

Just a typical day crossing the border…

This 2 week Volun-Tour encompasses 3 volunteer projects (Village Elephants, Childcare or Teaching) with a weekend in the middle in Cambodia. Sound simple? Well for you it is. For Bamboo, however, we graciously swim like an elegant swan on the surface, whereas beneath the water a hive of activity is taking place ensuring everything is prepared for your stay. Hotels….we got it! Transport? Sorted! Border crossing….piece of cake, we speak their language! Entry to Angkor!? DONE! Elephants?…..37…38…39 all accounted for (+1 new baby girl, she’s really cute) you name it people, Bamboo knows it’s stuff and will work to make this happen for you, and for the communities we support along the way.

5 things to think about if you ever join us on this adventure or simply going to Cambodia.

1. Although Cambodia has it’s own currency (the Riel) they will laugh at you and call you silly names if you try to offer them their own currency. USD yo! Is the way forward. I wish someone told me that the first time I went as I tried to gain entry into the Heritage Site only to be mocked at by a coach load of French people (Nothing against French people. They may have been Canadian). So please exchange into US Dollars if you wish to stay in a happy place.

2. This is a MUST! Wake up very early, before the sun rises and the ‘Angkor Beer’ has just about worn off. Head up to the Sunrise Temple to get a good seat and bask in the glory where nature meets history in this spectacular show of God and Man. My personal advice put the camera down, turn your iPhone off, put your hands in your pockets if you have to and just use your eyes. Your memories will be far more stunning than a polaroid or an ‘Instagram’. If you want a photo of the sunrise just Google it, trust me. Lap it up, breath it in, you will never forget it….unless the Angkor Beer is still in full swing.

Although some photos are nice

We ‘googled’ it…

3. Siem Reap can feel a little commercial if you stick to where everyone else goes. Best day I had was when my friend (A burly American who got his underwear stolen whilst being pulled over by a policeman ~ long story, another blog) and I met a local chap in the hotel lobby called Mr. Bean (I suspect a pseudonym) who then cordially invited us to his house for dinner. Not at all suspicious at the fact it was still 9am and we were going for dinner. Only to find a large table that was only barely visible through the crates of ‘Angkor Beer’. By dinner time half the village had come to meet us, we could finally see the table, my friend had been married off to the local goat and we had successfully won the country in a lucky hand of Texas Poker (some of this did not happen). But to meet the locals, share a laugh and a drink, work through language barriers, meet new people, that’s what travel is all about, no?

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Actual evidence of Mr. Bean, my dear American friend (AJ) and the ‘table’.

4. Learn to say no….but politely. A lot of people live off of the Temple. By which I mean, the tuk tuks drivers who whisk you around, the tour guides who regurgitate all the important dates, the ice-cream sellers, the ‘real’ artefact traders, the souvenirs, the paintings, the can-I-take-your-photo-mister people. That’s the important word, the people. Because they are still people. Yes you don’t want all the tat they thrown at you but let’s remember to keep a smile because a ‘No Thank-You’ costs nothing. Here endeth the lesson.

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5. Prepare your clobber. Yes this is still a temple. So put the ‘Full Moon’ neon pink hot pants back in the 80s….I mean bag and dress to impress the Bayan faces of the temples. Keep it light and airy maybe a scarf for the ladies to cover up quickly if needed. Imagine your English Teacher at school. (the image in my head right now will demand therapy and gin) What would she wear? You got it!

There is just so much to do and talk about Angkor Wat it might just have to be in another blog. After all how many Tomb Raiders were there? Answers on a postcard to : I’m a bearded man with no thumbs and I know the answer to this question, Thailand. **No offence to bearded men, you are all lovely and useful in winter.

Find out in the next blog how Mark and his American friend escaped Cambodia in a taxi….tantalising. If you fancy your self joining us here in Thailand or Cambodia on one of our tours why not contact us for more information or leave a comment below and I am sure Mark will love to comment (he talks too much).

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Bring it on 2014!

Posted on January 2, 2014Posted by Mark Foster-Murray

So it’s usually at this time of year that we begin to count the Christmas calorie intake, start writing promises that we are never going to stick to, comparing our 2013s with other peeps and probably dreaming of what’s to become a bigger and better 2014. We’re all with you pal! 2014 is going to be EPIC.

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