A Tribute to Janneke van Mechelen, 1966/12/28 – 2019/06/13

After a long silence, I have once again decided to try and re-instate this blog. This time without Janneke. I have to close of this chapter of my life. Calling it a “chapter” sounds rather bland. It is not a chapter. It is a “life”. So I’d rather say I am closing off this life I had. Wondering whether there is another “life” waiting for me somehow. We will see. Right now though before I start exploring my roots & land of birth, The Netherlands, some memories of Janneke. Wish she was here to share this with me. I am hoping she will be present in spirit to once again ignite my passion for travel.

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Janneke Traveling Thailand with cancer & 81 year old mother.


Midlifebackpacker’s love for South East Asia

Visiting Thailand & South East Asia, as our friends know, is something we have come to love. For the last 4 years, backpacking has become our reason for working. Saving up to visit a strange, foreign country on a shoestring budget. This year, 2018 would be entirely different, if not altogether impossible. For Janneke, traveling Thailand with cancer  that had metastasis to the bones and was now stage 4, was to prove a way greater challenge.


Janneke gets a cancer diagnosis

In January 2016, her oncologist initially diagnosed Janneke with breast cancer. Following a mastectomy, the next 2 years were a roller coaster ride of ups & downs, surgeries & treatments culminating in her final surgery. At the end of 2017, a lengthy process of breast reconstruction was finally completed. Those who know Janneke, will know that she does not pity herself & continued life and even her backpacking trips traveling Thailand with cancer and then on to Cambodia & Vietnam, throughout this process. Admirable under the circumstances & even “super human” traveling with prosthetic temporary expander implants all while carrying a backpack. Unplanned, unguided self help backpacking trips through South East Asia & Vietnam. Janneke was intent on traveling thailand with cancer again.

Cancer metastasis to the skeleton

In March 2018, however, things took a dramatic turn for the worst. The cancer had spread and metastasis throughout her skeletal system was observed on an MRI. The cancer was now stage 4. Her spinal column in the lower, middle back & neck areas were badly affected. Shoulder areas & bones, ribs, pelvis and femurs all being affected. The worst damage was the left hip & femur area. This required immediate surgery and replacement of her hip joint & most of the femur. A further surgery was needed to remove her ovaries to help gain control over the high levels of estrogen that was aiding the cancer spread. These few months were a series of complications and hospital stays.  Weight loss, pain, nausea, and just about every other drug induced side effects always present.

Janneke undergoes radiation for the cancer in her spine & vertebrae

Radiation therapy, to relieve pain and stabilize spinal degredation

Janneke getting prepared for radiation

Facial mask to immobilize and align neck vertebrae for recurring radiation therapy

Hip & femur replacement before traveling to Thailand

Janneke’s new titanium hip and femur after major surgery to replace bone “eaten” away by the cancer.

One of many hospital visits before traveling to Thailand

One of Janneke’s many visits to hospital and surgeries in 2018






Janneke formulates her goal

During this time, one thing became foremost in Janneke’s priorities & bucket list. The goal to take her mother on a trip to Thailand so that she too could experience the adventure & mind shift that traveling to a foreign destination brings. At 81 years of age, Janneke’s mother had never had the opportunity to see another country. Janneke vowed to take her even though the odds were against Janneke herself traveling Thailand with cancer. This became Janneke’s driving force, & a dream that I vowed I would help make a reality if at all possible.

The trip gets the go ahead

In September 2018, Janneke felt strong enough to take this dream head on. Both her oncologist & orthopedic surgeon gave her the green light to go traveling Thailand with cancer. They knew how stubborn Janneke was and wanted to do this trip. The reality however, was that this would take an extra ordinary drive and motivation to get her through the pain and exertion of long distance flights, train trips, songthaew rides & bus trips. Not only that, but we were taking along an 81 year old. We had no idea how Janneke’s mother would cope with this. It was to be her 1st time to ever set foot on foreign soil. A place so culturally different to South Africa was to be a fascinating culture shock for her too. 

Best bulkhead seats on Qatar

On Qatar air and lucky to have 4 bulkhead seats with plenty of legroom for the large, elderly & disabled “3 musketeers” insisting on these seats.

Spur Cape Town internation

At Cape Town International airport all set for their flight & Thailand trip, Janneke & her mother.

Janneke and her mother at Suvarnabhumi International Bangkok

Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok, Thailand 2018. Janneke and her mother










No package tourists

One thing was for sure though. Neither myself, Janneke or her mother had the desire of becoming package tourists. We decided we would be on the road on our own. This time around, my planning needed to take all the health & age limitations into account as traveling Thailand with cancer, especially such advanced stage 4 cancer is not easy & taxing on the body. Gone were the days of being able to make mistakes with times, drop off points and unreliable transport. Knowing South East Asia, I needed to ensure that I did not make mistakes & always had a 2nd fall back plan.  I needed to do “dry runs” myself to see if transport modes did indeed depart & arrive at the places & times I thought they would.

Arrival in Bangkok

On arrival in Bangkok, I was relieved that both Janneke & her mother had coped surprisingly well with their long trip. We checked into the CitiChic hotel as it was near to MRT & BTS, & I had pre-booked it. Not great, so on the 2 nd day, we moved to The Royal Ivory Hotel, (good value at 1367baht, R608, $42 pn for 3 sharing) in the Nana district.

The excitement and adrenaline of the trip becoming a reality had kept them both strong. Ready to take on all that they were hoping to do in Thailand. Janneke was deriving great pleasure from seeing her mother’s amazement at all the things we had become so used to in Thailand. The crazy streets & traffic, the resilience of the local vendors & people all rushing about. The Sky train, MRT, tuk tuks, motorbikes, ferries, Songthaews, public trains, buses & all the other modes of transport being put to use to provide her with a different perspective each time.

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Taking trips out of Bangkok

Our previous experience with the various modes of transport made it possible to give Janneke’s mother a taste of as many of these as we could expose her to, and provide her with a once in a lifetime experience. After a while in Bangkok, it was clear that although Janneke was traveling Thailand with cancer, I could conservatively plan a few trips out of the city & that Janneke & her mother would cope well enough to do these.

Train trip to Bangsaphan

We took the BTS (Sky train) & MRT (Underground) to Hua Lamphong train station where we purchased train tickets to the quite town  station of Bangsaphan Yai on our way to Koh Samui. We needed to break the trip into smaller segments and treated ourselves to a relaxing few days at The Coral Bangsaphan. A well deserved rest at a wonderful resort. Janneke & I would normally not have considered such a luxury resort (at 1828baht, R815, or $56), but this was a different trip than what we are used to so we treated ourselves. It was also clear that this stop over would provide a good rest for Janneke, who was after all, traveling Thailand with cancer & her mother of 81. We can highly recommend The Coral Bangsaphan

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Surat Thani sleepover

Next, we took on the journey from Bangsaphan Yai station, taking the train to Surat Thani. This was to be our sleepover, before heading out to Koh Samui. On arrival in Surat Thani, we caught one of their cheap orange public buses into the centre of town and walked to our hotel happy for the break after a long, tiring train journey. Here we opted for The Evergreen Hotel. (Spotless & modern value at 990baht, R440, $30 for 3 sharing). After 2 days of rest & exploring town, we were ready for our next leg of the journey.

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Surat Thani to Koh Samui

Leaving our hotel on foot we walked a short distance to the Seatrain, ferry offices to book our bus transfer and ferry ride from Donsak Pier to Koh Samui. We confidently avoided all the vendors and touts trying to con us in Surat Thani, as I had done my research prior to arrival & had also been there twice in as many years. Con artists trying to extort exorbitant fees unsuspecting tourists are the order of the day in Surat Thani. Been there, done that, thanks. We know the ropes.

Don Sak Pier and the ferry to Koh Samui with Janneke and her mother

Don Sak Pier and the ferry to Koh Samui with Janneke and her mother

Seatran Ferry which runs daily every hour and a half or so

Seatran Ferry which runs daily every hour and a half or so

Touristy Koh Samui

On our arrival in Koh Samui, we caught a Songthaew to our beach house at. I had pre booked King Busch Reggae Beach, online while on route to Don Sak Pier. Although not luxurious, it was clean & convenient enough and right on the beach. Good value at 1105 baht, R493, & $34 for a 1 bedroomed beach house for 3.  With the ocean at the front & the main road just behind, noisy though, as drivers on Koh Samui drive like maniacs. Way different to some of the quieter islands we have been to before. Unfortunately The Reggae Resort had limited and expensive meal options. The beach restaurants on the touristy Koh Samui are very pricey.

After a few days we moved on to the more accessible Bangrak Beach. Our home being a lovely beachfront house with great views. Baan Anuntanarak ( 1125baht, R500, $34 for 3 sharing). During this time, we rented a motorbike to explore the island & Janneke even went along for her 1st bike ride again, after having been diagnosed with the cancer. The bike ride did however not come without a price as her pain levels were gradually escalating. In the past we used motorbikes in Thailand all the time, but traveling Thailand with cancer on a motorbike, was clearly not an option as the breast cancer in the bones causes extreme pain, which is increased by bumps & vibrations.

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Crime on Koh Samui

Unfortunately the commercialized nature of Koh Samui has also brought with it the unpleasant nature of crime. The night before we were to leave back for Bangkok, a thief climbed into our window and stole my laptop, Janneke’s mother’s cellphone, a small backpack & worst of all, many of our photos & video clips I had already loaded onto the laptop. Janneke & I come from a crime ridden South Africa. We have become accustomed to low crime levels in Thailand. This unexpected crime left a bitter taste in our mouths. The next morning we took an early Songthaew trip back to the jetty and a ferry back to Surat Thani. Neither the Thai police, not owner of Baan Anuntanarak made any attempt at giving us feedback after many attempts at following up the police report. They simply ignored all my emails.

On arrival in Surat Thani, once again we dodged the touts, grabbed an orange bus. We jumped off at the main North South Bus terminus just outside of town. There we booked an overnight sleeper bus. This was to be a fairly long trip arriving back in Bangkok the next morning.

The main, useless police station on Koh Samui, Bo Phut Police station

The main, useless police station on Koh Samui, Bo Phut Police station

The bus terminus just outside of Surat Thani Town from which busse depart to Bangkok

The bus terminus just outside of Surat Thani Town from which busse depart to Bangkok

The main Surat Thani North South bus terminus waiting area

The main Surat Thani North South bus terminus waiting area









Returning to Bangkok

On arrival in Bangkok we booked into our favorite Bangkok hotel for the 2018 trip. This was The Royal Ivory Hotel in the famous Nana district. Situated just a little way out of the crazy nightlife, but close enough to walk to the Skytrain, public buses & the affordable Quay 21 Food Court in the amazing Terminal 21 shopping mall. From our hotel in Soi 4, Nana, getting around was a breeze. The Hotel even takes you to the main road, Sukhumvit free of charge. From there, getting around is easy & a “culture shock” awaited Janneke’s mother, who at 81, could barely contemplate the crazy nightlife, bars, pole dancers, massage parlors & ladyboys so prevalent in that area. A fun experience seeing her reaction, to say the least.

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Coping while traveling Thailand with cancer & no Cannabis oil

Throughout the trip, I was surprised how well both Janneke & her mother had coped with the exertion that the heat, humidity and far distanced walked. There was one thing that I had been concerned about. Janneke did not want to risk taking her all important cannabis oil with to Thailand. The fear of prosecution being all too real.

Cannabis oil has proved to be one of the few things that have helped Janneke. It keeps her pain at bay, while sleeping well and stimulating her appetite, without nasty side effects. In those 4 weeks of traveling Thailand with cancer, she needed to rely on chemical drugs to try and keep the pain suppressed. As time went by however, it became clear that the pain relief of these chemical drugs was short lived & that her pain threshold was fast becoming higher & requiring more and more, leading to nausea, constipation & a host of other side effects anything chemical seems to have on Janneke’s system. This was expected & during her last week in Thailand, I could see that it was becoming increasingly difficult to keep a brave face. Sleeping patterns become restless & erratic. Appetite decreased as nausea took a grip.

The end of an epic month in Thailand

This had been an epic month in Thailand. One in which my expectations of Janneke, traveling Thailand with cancer & her mother, traveling for the 1st time ever at 81 years of age, were surpassed. Much respect to them both for making this happen against all odds. The long trip home left us all contemplating the memories we had created in Thailand. Some of the photos & videos may have been lost, but the memories will always remain with us.

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Where to go. 2017 Vietnam backpacking trip

When arriving in Ho Chi Min City by flight from Bangkok, Thailand, we had very little idea as to exactly where we were going to be going in Vietnam. We took reassurance in the fact that traveling from South to North in a long, narrow country could not be to difficult.


Prior to leaving our home country of South Africa, we did some online research and found that as South Africans we basically had two options in getting a visa. We could either send our passports to the Vietnamese embassy in Pretoria at quite a hefty cost. We also felt concerned that these may be delayed or lost in transit. After calling the embassy and also realizing that their office hours are very short & limited & they are difficult to get hold of, we felt it best to research the second option. Visas on arrival.

After some research, we found Vietnamvisapro

A rather tacky looking website, but after some quick online research, we found that they were reliable, cheap & fast. We opted for 3 months singe entry option at around $15 (around R180) for the visa on arrival “invite” letter. This is not an actual visa, but is basically an official invite from a recognised tour operator or travel agent which allows you to go and collect your actual visa in your passport, on arrival at the airport. The actual visa you then receive at the airport will cost you $25 (around R300). The whole process took us less than an hour and was painless. Check out the Vietnamvisapro website for forms & photos you need to bring along.

Backpacking Vietnam Route Map

Arriving in Ho Chi Min City, we were armed only with this rough map which we had put together with a bit of copy & pasting and was our rough guide of all the main places along the South to North Route

Our rough guide

Ho Chi Minh City



Mui Ne




Hoi An










Cat Ba Island




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Thailand and Cambodia Backpacking costs-2016

Standard currency to keep record

To keep record of our Thailand and Cambodia backpacking costs, we decided to use the Thai baht since we were starting off in Thailand. When traveling, we tend to “think in South Africa Rands” while spending Thai Baht. Once we crossed the border to Cambodia, we were sometimes spending US Dollars and sometimes Cambodian Riel. Then you buy in USD and receive small change in Riel. This can all get quite confusing, so it is best to standardize all record keeping back to one currency. Also, setting online booking pages’ currencies to the chosen currency helps too.

Currency conversion

The application I used on my android phone was an exchange rates currency convertor that I liked and can be downloaded from the app store. It can also be used without an internet connection using the last conversion rates that it saved when a connection was available. You can select all the currencies you want on one screen, so that you can see your spend converted into your home currency as well as chosen others all at once. Also great for checking your change quickly when, for example your spending in Dollars & getting change in Riel.

Recording Thailand and Cambodia backpacking costs for 43 days

To keep track of our Thailand and Cambodia backpacking costs while on the road, we used a free app called “Expense Manager”. This app makes it fairly fast & easy to input travel costs on an Android device. There are different categories as well as sub categories that you can create as you wish. It also has a few summaries, graphs and other useful budgeting report features. You can also save the expenses from phone to a laptop or email the csv sheet to yourself to later format as you wish. Here is the link: Expense Manager

Having the right apps on your phone and being familiar with how they work is invaluable. We used a handful of resources that made life so much easier when traveling. Not sure how we would have managed without these. Check out our resources page for more useful apps that new travelers will find easy to use and are the basics we required.

Here are our summarized costs for 43 days:

Accomodation:                     33930 Baht, $980

Transportation:                    15129 Baht, $437.51

Restaurant meals:               8785 Baht, $253.48

Snack meals:                         2270 Baht, $65.57

Take out meals:                    3697 Baht, $106.66

Groceries & other:                1573 Baht, $45.40

Drinks:                                   10212 Baht, $295.16

Tours:                                     5192 Baht, $149.80

Miscellaneous                       6022 Baht, $173.77

Personal clothing:                2629 Baht, $75.99

Personal care:                      4045 Baht, $116.86

Total:                                 93489 Baht, $2700

This is a daily average of   2174 Baht/$62.80 per couple per day (857 ZAR)

(Compare this with our costs for our 2015 trip)

Opportunities for savings.

It would not be accurate to divide this by 2 to try and get to a cost per person, as obviously the single traveler would need to budget for more than when with a partner & sharing many costs such as accommodation & motorcycle for example. It’s fair to say that we stayed in rather luxurious accommodation, so could have saved quite a bit there. We also traveled fairly large distances from Bangkok to South Cambodia, back up to North Cambodia, back to Bangkok, to South Thailand, as well as a few islands. So where we could have saved on those, we could have spent more on tours & experiences for example. Restaurant meals are also fairly pricey compared with food bought from street vendors & markets.

Thailand and Cambodia backpacking costs-Best of both worlds-Budget food courts. Street food prices with hygenic preparation

Best of both worlds-Budget food courts. Street food prices with hygenic preparation

Thailand and Cambodia backpacking costs-Self improvised cost cutting breakfast in your own room

Self improvised cost cutting breakfast in your own room

Knowing WHAT you spend, helps you to know HOW to cut costs

Whatever the case may be, we could have spent way less, or way more, but this is only our 2nd trip abroad, and we are getting way better at traveling further, for longer at a budget cost. This is especially true for travelers of our age. Being midlife backpackers, we have seen that we do not need to spend a fortune on holidays. We needed to keep a close watch on our Thailand and Cambodia backpacking costs. What we have also notice, is that a lot of young backpackers seem to be a lot more gullible and likely to spend more than they should. Getting conned into expensive transport options like tuk-tuks & taxis, or whether wasting money drinking from expensive bars and eating western style food. Young backpackers often seemed to be spending way more extravagantly they we were. I suspect many of them are merely spoiled kids traveling the world on funds that wealthy parents provide.

Of course, with age comes the wisdom of knowing the value of hard earned wages, and keeping those in check and stretching your funds. The main thing though is keeping record, as if you don’t know where the money is going, there is not much opportunity for cutting cost. We improved our budgeting with our Thailand and Cambodia backpacking costs in 2016.

Detailed breakdown of our Thailand backpacking expenditure:

For a complete breakdown of our day to day expenses, have a look at the detailed pdf document by clicking & opening the following link. We hope this is of value to you:




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Budget luxury accommodation-Midlifebackpackers

Thailand & Cambodia accommodation reviews, 2016

Although we did not want to spend a fortune on the accommodation part of our travel expenses while backpacking Thailand & and Cambodia, we did want a bit of comfort & convenience that we deserve as middle aged, new, and inexperienced backpackers and were most certainly not going to settle into cheap backpacker hostels. The typical budget luxury accommodation we were to settle for, needed to meet our standards of comfort, convenience & hygiene.

When we left for our Thailand & Cambodia trip, there were some basic guidelines that we decided on regarding accommodation we would stay in over the 6 weeks we traveled.

Our requirements for budget luxury accommodation were:

-Our budget luxury accommodation needed to be a maximum cost ZAR 450, USD 31, Baht 1083  for us both per day.

-We wanted a pool to cool off in after arrival, hard traveling and the heat & humidity of South East Asia.

-Room needed to be air conditioned.

-A private bathroom (not shared) was a prerequisite.

-Location needed to be accessible & near to transport.

-Bathroom, bedding and generally unit needed to have a high standard of cleanliness.

-We only wanted to book for one night with initial booking, so that we could easily move on if the hotel was not suitable.

-We did not want to prepay on bookings in case of any unpleasant surprises.

These were our main criteria & also the filters used when searching for suitable budget luxury accommodation on Booking.com

The convenience of making bookings online:

-Last minute decision can be made depending on where a traveler has arrived.

-Live availability can be seen there & then, online.

-Accommodation can be searched for by plotting current location and seeing what options are available in one’s immediate surrounds.

-This can all be done easily from a cellular phone, tablet or laptop, as long as you have an internet connection.

The average standard of our budget luxury accommodation over the 6 weeks:

Generally our stays at all of the accommodation met the standards we had set in advance. Bear in mind that we had a close look at the ratings that previous guests gave to hotels. When initially choosing a number of possibilities, it is wise to list then in a list under the name of the place you intend to visit. For example, Bangkok. Create a “Bangkok list” within the  consol of the website or app you use& then shortlist a few properties there. Then go and look at their locations, photos, reviews & read between the lines of the comments made. Disregard the obvious comments that really have no basis. Like people moaning about the lack of a life in a 2 level building. Or the traffic noise when a hotel is situated on a main road in a city. These things are obvious and come with the territory. We also need to bear in mind that this is budget luxury accommodation, not top of the line luxury accommodation, so there are certain realities that one must accept.

Hotel we stayed in:

Below are basic details of the hotels we found to stay in over the 6 weeks travel through Thailand & Cambodia. Although none of these were really super, grand  and varied from basic to resort like hotels, they were all run by friendly staff and more than we needed to make our stays comfortable. We regarded them all as budget luxury accommodation as they did meet our standards that we had set.

The one exception was the Annanas Beach Bungalows, Otres Beach in Cambodia. Although the setting and beach access was great, the accommodation was substandard with window shutters not working, fan not working properly, insects and mosquito’s throughout & a partial separation between neighbor’s bathroom & ours which allowed for shared smells & sounds. The bed with it’s sagging mattress made it even more difficult to get any sleep. Generally a very neglected beach shack probably only suited to potheads & layabouts, but not suited to our needs. I must add that we generally have no problem roughing it as we do by sleeping in a 2 man dome tent with only the baggage we can carry on our motorbike, as well as 4×4 camping etc. All we cannot however accept if filth & neglect. (This resort was not found on Bookings.com, so was also not reviewed as can be seen below.)

All of these hotels were generally booked a day in advance & in some cases on the day we arrived in a place. In July & August, we did not find a shortage of suitable hotels.

The average price for 37 nights was around ZAR 381, USD 26.43 & Baht 917. We also spent a few nights on planes & sleeper buses which accounts for the “missing days”.

Hotels we stayed in with reviews & prices:

Thailand, Bangkok-RetroAsis Hotel

Price we paid for 2 per evening: ZAR 448, USD 30.94 , Baht 1074

Read: All reviews on Booking.com

Budget luxury accommodation

Bangkok-RetroAsis Hotel

Budget luxury accommodation

Bangkok-RetroAsis Hotel







Thailand, Bangkok-Astera Sathorn Hotel

Price we paid for 2 per evening: ZAR 457, USD 31.71 , Baht 1100

Read: All reviews on Booking.com

Budget luxury accommodation

Bangkok-Astera Sathorn Hotel

Budget luxury accommodation

Bangkok-Astera Sathorn Hotel









Thailand, Pattaya-The Golden Villa Boutique Hotel & Spa

Price we paid for 2 per evening: ZAR 377, USD 26.16 , Baht 908

Read: All reviews on Booking.com

Budget luxury accommodation

The Golden Villa Boutique Hotel & Spa

Budget luxury accommodation

The Golden Villa Boutique Hotel & Spa








Thailand, Koh Chang-Bailin Beach Resort

Price we paid for 2 per evening: ZAR 448, USD 31.08 , Baht 1078

Read: All reviews on Booking.com

Budget luxury accommodation

Thailand, Koh Chang-Bailin Beach Resort

Budget luxury accommodation

Thailand, Koh Chang-Bailin Beach Resort









Cambodia, Koh Kong-Apex Hotel

Price we paid for 2 per evening: ZAR 217, USD 15.06 , Baht 522

Read: All reviews on Booking.com

Budget luxury accommodation

Cambodia, Koh Kong-Apex Hotel

Budget luxury accommodation

Cambodia, Koh Kong-Apex Hotel









Cambodia, Sihanoukville-Coolabah Hotel

Price we paid for 2 per evening: ZAR 326, USD 22.62 , Baht 785

Read: All reviews on Booking.com

Budget luxury accommodation

Cambodia, Sihanoukville-Coolabah Hotel

Budget luxury accommodation

Cambodia, Sihanoukville-Coolabah Hotel









Cambodia, Otres Beach-Ananas Beach Bungalows

Price we paid for 2 per evening: ZAR 145, USD 10 , Baht 349

Read: “Hotels we stayed in” higher up on this page

6b1.Ananas Resort-Otres Beach

Cambodia, Otres Beach-Ananas Beach Bungalow

6b.Ananas Resort-Otres Beach

Cambodia, Otres Beach-Ananas Beach Bungalow









Cambodia, Sinahoukville-Reef Resort

Price we paid for 2 per evening: ZAR 260, USD 18.04 , Baht 626

Read: All reviews on Booking.com

Budget luxury accommodation

Cambodia, Sinahoukville-Reef Resort

Budget luxury accommodation

Cambodia, Sinahoukville-Reef Resort









Cambodia, Siem Reap-Tan Kang Angkor Hotel

Price we paid for 2 per evening: ZAR 322, USD 22.34 , Baht 775

Read: All reviews on Booking.com

Budget luxury accommodation

Cambodia, Siem Reap-Tan Kang Angkor Hotel

Budget luxury accommodation

Cambodia, Siem Reap-Tan Kang Angkor Hotel









Thailand, Rawai-Cascades Resort

Price we paid for 2 per evening: ZAR 289, USD 20.05 , Baht 696

Read: All reviews on Booking.com


Budget luxury accommodation

Thailand, Rawai-Cascades Resort

Budget luxury accommodation

Thailand, Rawai-Cascades Resort









Thailand, Koh Yao Noi-Seaview Bungalow

Price we paid for 2 per evening: ZAR 376, USD 26.09 , Baht 905

Read: All reviews on Booking.com

Budget luxury accommodation

Thailand, Koh Yao Noi-Beach View Bungalow

Budget luxury accommodation

Thailand, Koh Yao Noi-Beach View Bungalow









Thailand, Phang Nga-The Sleep

Price we paid for 2 per evening: ZAR 238, USD 16.51 , Baht 573

Read: All reviews on Booking.com

Budget luxury accommodation

Thailand, Phang Nga-The Sleep

Budget luxury accommodation

Thailand, Phang Nga-The Sleep










Thailand, Hua Hin-Hua Hin Star Hotel

Price we paid for 2 per evening: ZAR 332, USD 23.05 , Baht 800

Read: All reviews on Booking.com

Budget luxury accommodation

Thailand, Hua Hin-Hua Hin Star Hotel

Budget luxury accommodation

Thailand, Hua Hin-Hua Hin Star Hotel









Bangkok-The Promenade

Price we paid for 2 per evening: ZAR 414, USD 28.72 , Baht 996

Read: All reviews on Booking.com

Budget luxury accommodation

Bangkok-The Promenade

Budget luxury accommodation

Bangkok-The Promenade









We could sacrifice some conveniences like a swimming pool, for example and find many cheaper, budget accommodations on offer. Off course if we really wanted to, we could consider shared bathrooms or staying in hostels. But, to be honest, we are no longer youngsters, and backpacking as a middle aged couple is already out of our comfort zone, so best we stick with a few luxuries to enjoy at the end of a long, hot day in South East Asia.

What we can truthfully say, is that having a cellular phone with a booking.com on it, really made things way easier for us. We cannot imagine arriving in a city exhausted & hot and then needing to walk around looking for accommodation on maps or trying to find a place to sleep with all the information at hand.

We trust that the meticulous records we have kept on actual spending, are of use to other midlifebackpackers & anyone else wanting to have a good idea of the cost of average, 2, 3 & 4 star hotels and accommodation while traveling through Thailand & Cambodia. These are real figures, by real people who had a real good time in Thailand and Cambodia & will be back for sure.






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Impressions of Cambodia by MidlifeBackpackers.

Our first trip to, and impressions of Cambodia

Visiting Cambodia for the first time, our impressions of Cambodia revolved mainly around the people.
It was plain to see that more than anything else, the beauty of Cambodia lies in its people.

The Khmer, or Cambodian people, have been through a terrible period in history. We don’t want to get into that here, but suffice to say that Cambodia has had a turbulent and blood curdling past. The bloodshed only ended a few decades ago. Which make it even more amazing is how the Cambodian people welcome foreigners. Even those who were part and parcel of the bombing of Cambodia, are welcomed with genuine smiles. Not the kind of smiles that turn to a smirk when a foreigners does not humor the advances of a local who is trying to sell something.Real smiles & friendliness that knows no boundaries. See Cambodia History

Impressions of Cambodia

Friendly vendors at Otres Beach

Impressions of Cambodia

Cambodians enjoying Sinahoukville Beach

Crossing the border from Thailand

We first experienced Cambodia by entering the country from Thailand at the Hat Lek border. In the first small town of Koh Kong, we met up with fellow South Africans Nico & Sonette Millen, their daughter & friend Craig Small. Nico & Sonette have their roots in teaching English (TEFL) in Thailand. Sonette still teaches online. See TEFL in KOH KONG.  Nico has aspirations of putting Koh Kong on the map with his tours venture, Triple “E” Adventure Eco Tours. Check out Nico’s Facebook page here. Real South Africans making new tracks wherever they go, so watch this space for new ventures in Koh Kong, Cambodia.

Impressions of Cambodia

Koh Kong Sunset

Impressions of Cambodia

South Africans in Koh Kong


Cambodia’s Sinahoukville beaches

From there we traveled down to the beach town of Sinahoukville. This is a thriving & bustling hive of activity and there are many foreign tourists as well as expats. The city has many buildings being developed. It seems that there is a tourist boom set to explode there shortly if it is not already so. Unfortunately the impression we get is that this town is being overrun by Americans. Mainly the kind who want to bring America to this lovely, Cambodian beach town. Basically converting it into yet another Americanized tourist venue. Casino’s & resorts popping up everywhere. Pizza & burger joints. Sad really.

Imressions of Cambodia

Sinouhakville views

Impressions of Cambodia

Locals swim, play & have fun in the sun & surf

Impressions of Cambodia

Americans lounging outside expat bars

 Otres Beach Stay

We stayed along a small stretch of beach called Otres Beach which had a nice laid back atmosphere. However, our impressions of Cambodia were not complimented by this “resort”. We did not enjoy the accommodation. A dilapidated shack, with shutters not working, mattress like a hammock, fan that barely worked, mosquito’s in full attack mode & ridiculous food prices. A Pseudo “living on the beach” experience. Would have been nice if not run down with nothing functioning as it should. But this was a sleepless night.

Being avid bikers as well as 4×4 enthusiasts, we know how to “rough it” but this was an excuse for absolutely no maintenance so we packed it in and left after a day. We have experienced way nicer rustic places on islands in Thailand, where comfort is still within acceptable levels.

Impressions of Cambodia

Lovely location, shabby accomodation

Impressions of Cambodia

No keeping out the weather & mosquitos

Transport from Sinahoukville to Siem Reap

For our next leg, we booked a minibus to Phonh Penh and then a sleeper bus to Siem Reap. We did a fair amount of research online, as to which companies to use in Cambodia when it comes to travelling by bus. Having read many horrors stories, (read here) we are suspicious of bus travel in South East Asia, especially in Cambodia. The company we decided on was Giant Ibis. They are more expensive than some of the cheaper options, but if you do a google search, you will see that there are some hair raising stories we tried to avoid.

The stretch from Sinahoukville to Phonh Penh was by comfortable mini/economy bus, while the stretch from Phonh Penh to Siem Reap was by sleeper bus. The sleeper bus has flat beds on two levels. Being 6 ft 4, and able to stretch out straight on a bus is an achievement. We had some much needed sleep.

Destination drop off always unsure with bus travel

The only problem is always that these buses tend to have no regard for where they drop you off. No matter what they tell you when they sell you the bus tickets. Which means you cannot plan ahead and are left for the sharks when you arrive somewhere outside town. Then you first need to orientate yourself & figure out where you are so that you can decide where you will go, if you have not yet booked.

With bus arrivals, we are constantly hassled by touts who pretend to work for the bus company (and probably do), but are trying to convince you to sell overpriced Tuk Tuk rides as always an irritation. After ignoring their $4 to $5 speaking with a local expat who happened to arrive at the bus station by Tuk Tuk, we asked him and he confirmed the price we had suspected, a $2 fare to get from the station to our Siem Reap Hotel which we had just booked while waiting at the bus station. We were on our way to a great few days in the wonderful town of Siem Reap. Our impressions of Cambodia were wonderful in the town. From here we were set to explore the ancient City of Angkor ruins and further cement our impressions of Cambodia & great Khmer people.

Impressions of Cambodia

Magnificent carvings. The ancient ruins of Angkor.

Impressions of Cambodia

Magnificent Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia

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Avoid scams when backpacking.

Avoid scams when backpacking. Advice from the inexperienced for the inexperienced.

We midlifebackpackers have sometimes felt insecure during our travels. We do not have the security of a travel plan, or tour arranged by a travel agent. Often we have wondered whether we would be streetwise enough when backpacking. How would we avoid scams when backpacking? We feared that we would be scammed, robbed, or left out in the cold in the middle of nowhere. The fear of the unknown and inexperience as travelers, not knowing what we were doing.

Avoid scams when backpacking. A reliable Tuk-Tuk driver in Cambodia

Getting around by Tuk-Tuk in Cambodia


Arriving at a strange place.

All to often when you arrive at some or other bus terminus, everyone wants to “help” you. Everyone may say that they can take you where you want to be cheaper & faster. Everyone may warn you not to do this or that. All to often, it is quite obvious that a “helpful” employee of a bus company is in actual fact selling overpriced tuk-tuk trips to tourists who ask them how to get into town. Or that the so called “info center” at a station is merely a front to selling taxi rides. It never ends and is often obvious that whenever people approach you with help & advice, the next step is to sell you something. In South East Asia, everybody is desperately trying to make an extra buck on the side line by referring travelers to a friend. Even uniformed officials often beg, sell or con you into something.

Being overwhelmed leads to being scammed.

As we have gone along from place to place being hounded by touts trying to sell us something, or scam us into some or other scheme our awareness has sharpened. Not everyone is aware of how to avoid scams when backpacking. All to often we see young backpackers getting off one means of transport, only to be swamped with touts. Confused and looking bewildered, they are soon wizzed off by costly operators happy to have conned yet another starry eyed victim.

South African street savvy helps us avoid scams when backpacking.

We are actually starting to realize that as South Africans, we are a lot less naive as many other foreigners. As South Africans, we are not intimidated easily. Having been around the block as older “midlifebackpackers” also helps and generally South African are not trusting of strangers. We probably have inherent situational awareness that many foreigners do not have. All to often we get off a bus, say no to just about everyone who approaches us & then just watch listen and orientated ourselves as to where we were at. We get an idea of where we want to go, how we want to get there & what it should cost us. Then we approach the relevant people with confidence and information at hand & negotiate a fair deal.

Our advice to avoid scams while backpacking:

• Whenever you have the time to read up shortly before arriving at a destination, do so. A good time is while on a bus/plane/train so that the information is fresh in your mind when arriving. ( See our Resources Page for useful apps & web links. )
• Have a good understanding of where your are going to arrive or be dropped off. If you don’t know where you are, how will you know with confidence where or how to take the next step to get where you want to be?
• Walk, talk and carry yourself with confidence while in the presence of touts on arrival. If you don’t know where the hell you are, you are great prey. Just take a walk or sit down and have a relaxing drink & pretend to know.
• Don’t hurry or stress. It shows. Just sit down, organize your baggage, get the cellular phone/laptop out (if in a safe environment) & take your time “orientating” yourself.
• Without showing it, listen to those around you. See who is “selling”, see who is not. Learn to distinguish those around you who know what they are doing and see what it is they are doing. For example: If a local expat pitches up with a tuk-tuk, feel free to ask whether this is his/her regular reliable & trustworthy driver.
• Listen to other negotiating prices & see where this leads. Read up and know what to expect in terms of costs, before merely accepting a price. When you have determined one, stick with it when negotiating.
• Always be kind, courteous and have empathy for the fact that many of these touts are desperate for a buck. Whenever rejecting someone’s offers, do it with a smile & never loose your cool.

Avoid scams when backpacking. A reliable Tuk-Tuk driver in Cambodia

Reliable driver, Chem (Water). Sinahoukville, Cambodia

Stay focused when times get tough.

Most of the tips above are common sense. All too often, however, you need to be careful that the exhaustion, frustration, heat & things not going according to plan don’t make you forget these things, as that is when you loose something, take your eye of the ball & make mistakes that could be costly. Stay aware at all times and avoid scams when backpacking.
We are enjoying the experience of travel without a real plan. Each day we are getting better and better at is as experience & confidence levels grow.

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Pattaya. Why we thought this was a wasted detour.

On our way down from Bangkok, to Ko Chang & the Cambodia border, we thought it a good idea to take a slight detour & see Pattaya. What a wasted detour.

Why we think this is a wasted detour when traveled from Bangkok en-route to Cambodia?:

Looking at the photos, it would seem that Pattaya could well be a smart choice to visit when in Thailand. Blue skies, tropical heat & the long beaches.

Pattaya. Thailand's Sodom & Gomora

Pattaya. Thailand’s Sodom & Gomora

Beautiful buildings in a modern, party town? Sun, sand & surf. What could be more idyllic?

Pattaya. Sun, sea & sand

Pattaya. Sun, sea & sand

Our experience of Pattaya:

*Here we found a melting pot of all kinds of Western nationalities and characters  gathered here. We found very little authentic Thai community culture here. Everything & everyone here seems to be catering for the wims of foreigners coming here for the deviant sex trade.

*It is filthy, smelly & overcrowded (Even in the off season).

*Pattaya lacks character & has a jaded, harsh aura as thick as fog hanging the city.

*We did not even find it worth coming to, to ogle the deviants that frequent the city. Strangely enough, a town like Patong has similar attributes and yet our experience there was way more interesting. We actually found experiencing Bangra Road’s walking street educational and interesting. The beach too was way more pleasant and was actually being enjoyed by young & old.

This bay is however merely an overcrowded mass of noisy motor boats, filthy water, crowds of foreigners in their tour buses, jam packed tour boats & just an all round frenzy of touristy groups taking selfies, while middle aged western men hang around in expat bars with their bar girls or cruise the streets in their sleeveless vests with their escort “girlfriends” (or Ladyboys). And that’s in the off season! We never even saw the tourists really swimming. Most were huddled up trying to get some shade by jamming all their beach chairs up under the trees, all while breathing  in foul smelling garbage heaps & vehicle fumes.

In summary:

This city reminds me of the wiring & cable situation found in so many placed is Thailand & here in Pattaya too. A crazy, twisted mess.

Pattaya. A crazy, twisted mess.

Pattaya. A crazy, twisted mess.



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Bangkok’s Rail transport network.

Don’t be intimidated by Bangkok’s transport network.

When we planned our trip to Thailand & Cambodia, our greatest intimidating thought was: ” How will we get from the airport to our hotel?”. We felt we needed to understand the transport network before arriving. We did not want to feel intimidated by Bangkok’s transport network. When we last traveled to Thailand via Phuket on our first trip, we felt we needed the security of at least knowing where we were going to sleep on our first night. Securing our bed is convenient. We used bookings.com to decide exactly where we will be staying. The average traveler, backpacker, young or old, wants to know that arriving in a strange place at a difficult time, is not going to be an uphill battle schlepping around town. A battle trying to find accommodation. The bookings.com website and a bookings.com app on your celphone, really are a blessing.

Being new to overseas travel, with a relatively conservative & sheltered lifestyle, this kind of travel is rather daunting for us. A few basics help us feel in control.  After all, we are not on a package tour. One thing that is important to us is having secured our bed & knowing how to get there. Well, we soon learnt that racking our brains to find out exactly where to go is confusing. How long would take, what turns & interchanges needed to be taken and what the costs would be. Seriously confusing when you are not accustomed to a first world public transport system. Thailand may not be all first world, but the transport network in Bangkok surely works like clockwork & is definitely a first world system.

We soon found out though that Bangkok’s Transport Network need not be daunting. Just get there and it will fall into place quickly.

My advice is as follows:

1.Don’t try and figure it out until you are actually in Bangkok.

2.Once there, determine where you are on a map.

3.Then, cross reference the point you are at, with the closest point on a schematic map of the BTS (Skytrain) & MRT (Subway), such as this one:

Bangkok's Transport Network route map

It was’nt long before Janneke & I were zipping around Bangkok’s MRT & BTS transport network. We were going anywhere we wanted in the city. The best of all is that compared to what we are used to, it’s really safe. It is well regulated & policed & generally everyone using the network seems respectful of the rules and regulations. For us, this is not just about getting around from place to place, but an adventure in itself. Yet another first for the Midlifebackpackers.


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Thailand & Cambodia trip , 2016

Thailand & Cambodia trip planning starts.

It’s time. Suddenly, from a place of nothingness, our Thailand & Cambodia trip planning starts. Many options for trips have been considered. This may not be the perfect time for the average tourist to visit Thailand or Cambodia but we really don’t care.

We have been through a difficult last few months. Janneke was diagnosed, operated & treated for cancer. Now is the time. The time to get away from it all, immerse ourselves in a vastly different culture & step out of our comfort zones. Time to take on the challenge of yet another “unplanned, non package tourist” trip. This Thailand & Cambodia trip is our 2nd step into the unknown & adventurous world of backpacking for us as middle aged backpackers.

Planning a trip to Thailand and Cambodia, consists of surfing, googling and checking out photos. Reading blogs & basically trying to get an idea of what kind of environment & culture would seem interesting to us. We use a few online resources & apps that we found useful on our first trip, to familiarize ourselves with what we can expect in a strange country. That’s about it. The only real plan we have is, getting our plane tickets bought,. We arranged our E-visas for Cambodia, international driver’s licence, extended medical aid meds & plans. Confirm travel insurance & order foreign exchange. That & our first night’s accommodation on arrival. After that, we can go just about anywhere, at anytime. To us, that’s what it is all about.

Thailand & Cambodia trip planning tools

Thailand & Cambodia trip planning tools

What’s next? Follow us as we head out.

We would love it if we could inspire more middle aged couples to follow us and do the whole backpacking thing. Why not? We want to step up and grab our dream of seeing the world on our own terms, with a limited budget. We do not earn dollars or first world currency. We earn South African Rands. Can we do what Americans & Europeans do and see with their first world currencies? Well, let’s see. We hope to be seeing a lot of Cambodia & Thailand in the next few weeks, so join us & follow us for more as we follow our hearts in search of the mystery that only travel can provide for us.

Cambodia 2016


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