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Saint Martin / Sint Maarten

Discovering the contrasts and harmonies of the beautiful, amazing French and Dutch shared island.


St Martin is a beautiful island and a major sailing hub between Europe and the other Caribbean islands, plus Latin America. There MANY boats docked at various parts of the island. It's a pretty industrious place, with a lot businesses involved in boat and aircraft maintanence, motor engineering, etc. St Martin is an enormously multicultural island, even by Caribbean standards.....


St Martin and St Maarten really are split by language lines (but not by much else).
As soon as you cross from one section to the other, the signs change from Dutch or English to French... that also goes for the spoken language too. Shop assistants/hotel workers,etc in St Martin almost exclusively speak French. In St Maarten I almost exclusively heard English, some Dutch and Spanish.


St Martin is a first world island with great infrastructure, friendly people, high employment rates and is a proven attractive option for immigration.
I had my haircut at a salon owned by a Dominican lady, who brought her friends and daughters with her to help expand the business. She loves it here!! There is a fantastic Colombian restaurant along the main street next to the airport and most of the shops next to the cruise ship port are owned by Trinidadians.

When I told a cab driver that I am Australian, he told me that they have played cricket in St Martin since it arrived in the West Indies. Who knew!!


St Martin is easy to get to. Almost every island in the Caribbean has direct flights into the island. I flew direct from Kingston Jamaica.
The airport is on the Dutch side. Just like Curacao, Aruba, Bonaire and Suriname, St Maarteners have Dutch citizenship. There is a separate imigration line for member countries of the Dutch kingdom to breeze through. The airport is very nice and close to ... well everything.


The hotels here are first rate. I stayed at a huge resort next the marina, with awesome gym, two pools, casino, several restaurants, etc for roughly AUD$50 per night!!


Though Holland isn't famous for it's cuisine, the French are.... On the French side you will find incredible cafes, restaurants and patisseries. Universally on both sides, the coffee is excellent.

Scenic St Martin

This is without doubt one of the most beautiful islands of the lot. I hired a car and drove around the mountains and to the many districts. The island is very, very small - you can do a lap in 3 hours without stops.

There are amazing shopping areas along the beach close to where the cruise ships stop. The prices were competitive.


Don't come here looking for a tropical feista. St Martin is a pretty quiet island. Aruba, Dominican Republic, even Curacao are better options for party goers.There are great nightclubs on both sides of the island though. This is a good list: here

Thanks St Martin / St Maarten

St Martin was a really nice stop. Five days was a perfect amount of time, and I learned a lot about the Caribbean in general here.

Posted by SkinnyFists 11:24 Archived in Saint Martin Tagged beaches shopping caribbean st_martin sint_martin san_maarten dutch_caribbean Comments (0)

Colombia: Cartagena to the max!

A short guide for visiting or living in Cartagena.

sunny 35 °C

Welcome to Cartagena

I lived in Cartagena for six months, working for a public institute.
It is a captivating, beautiful, yet sometimes confounding place to live.
Here is a guide to making the most of your time there, and some lessons learned.

The is South America The Caribbean

Many visitors arrive from Bogotà or Medellín, and find themselves in a very, very different world.
The climate, use of language, people, culture and atmopshere on the Caribbean coast is dramatically different to the southern areas of the country. But that's Colombia.... It's a diverse universe of itself, unlike any country I've been to.

When I first arrived here from Panama City I experienced genuine culture shock (in a good way) for the very first time. It was nothing like Panama. It felt like Cuba on steroids.
Cuba and Colombia certainly have a long standing kinship. Cuba played host to the epic peace talks between the Colombian Government and FARQ, and the two countries share a passion for music and dancing. Bars to barber shops curiously adorn Cuban flags on the walls, and Salsa is everywhere.

Viva Africa!

Cartageneros identify themselves primarily as afrodescentes before anything else.
It's worth noting that Colombia is the second biggest afro-latin country, after Brazil.
You will learn a lot about Colombia's afro culture and history here.

Have a listen to Carlos Vives' ode to the city in Fantastica and the chants of "Viva Africa!" here:

Cartagena was the first major city in the Americas where slaves were liberated (after the tiny Palomino), and was also the site of the first riots to end Spanish oppression.


Colombia is definitely a boisterous country, and not for the faint hearted.
Cartagena takes that idea to another level. The traffic is chaotic and loud music is everywhere!!

It is a remarkably friendly and open city. It doesn't take long to make friends in Cartagena!


Finding a place to live long term can be a little difficult here. The options on the internet are more tourist orientated and priced accordingly.
For long term apartments boots on the ground works best. Feel free to send me a private message for contacts.
There is a great Expats in Cartagena Facebook group that is also a great source of information and support.


Getsemani is the up and coming hipster area of the city.
There are many great restaurants, bars and hotels.
The area around Trinindad Square is a hive of activity every night - but especially on weekends.
Music blasts from family homes and blends into a wondrous mash of rhythm. Many families cook food from their homes and sell to revellers.

Every Sunday night, local Zumba instructors give a free class in Trinidad square which is seriously intensive in the heat... lasting nearly two hours.
it's a great way to sweat out the weekend's excesses!


Manga is a posh bayside suburb where I lived for six months.

It's tranquil by Cartagena standards, and has a gorgeous walking track lined with outdoor exercise equipment along the water - looking out to the myriad of boats that dock here.

It has a lot of great boutique restaurants and small bars. If you are going to live anywhere in Cartagena, I really recommend here.
it's very close to the old city.



Just like the other Spanish Caribbean ports, Cartagena is a baseball city!!

There are several pitches around the city, and in all the schools and colleges.
The interesting thing about pitches in Cartagena is that they often play loud music during the matches amping up the atmosphere.
It gives a great vibe to the games.

The main streets behind Getsemani are closed from traffic on Sundays to make way for a baseball tournament!!


Bodytech in Bocagrande rivals any high end gym in the first world.
It has two levels looking out to the ocean from the 5th floor and has every piece of equipment you can think of, including an MMA octagon.


Like the rest of Colombia and the Caribbean, music is an extremely prominent and important part of culture in Cartageana.
Salsa, Vallenato and Champeta rule the roost.

As Cali is now known as the world capital of Salsa... Cartagena is the capital of Champeta; a folk and melodic beat heavy genre from the Atlantic coast of Africa.

Champeta parties are great fun and really exemplify the open and boisterious nature of the Colombian north (and presumably the African coastal towns). You will also find Champeta in neighbouring Barranquilla and Santa Marta.

Music legend Joe Oroyo was a Cartagenero (though he adopted Barranquilla as his home later in life)
Here is one of Joe's more famous songs depicting the rebellion and revolt of slaves.


Champeta found it's way to Colombia via the Atlantic coast of Africa.
Champeta parties are great fun and raucus!! The great thing about Champeta is that you don't need to dance it with a partner, but of course many people do! You will notice friends dancing in big circles at Champeta parties, and also expect to be pulled in to join them.

Watch famous Cartageneros, Bazurto All Stars brand of Champeta here:


Donde Fidel

Donde Fidel is probably the most famous spot in Cartagena.
A relatively small and unassuming bar that plays Salsa and only Salsa... very, very LOUD.

Music at Fidels is so loud that folks can sit in the tables, outside - on the other side of the street to enjoy the music.
Inside, the walls are lined with photos of Fidel himself with many of the Salsa legends from Colombia, Cuba and Puerto Rico over the past 50 years!
The vibe is casual and reflects the working class boisterous nature of Salsa lyrics and culture that Latino musos established so long ago in New York, and took to their home countries.

I met all kinds of people here - from Colombia and abroad.
Folks bring drum sticks to bang out rhythmns, and dance betwen their tables; either in tuxedos after the many weddings in town or just in shorts and thongs after a day at the beach.

Bazurto Social Club

This is the home of Champeta in Cartagena and also the namesake of Cartagena's most famous Champeta band!

I love this place and made many new friends here.
The decor is great and vibe is friendly.

Champeta Parties

Keep your ear to the group for Champeta parties, including the monthly Champetú.
They are so much fun and have a unique, friendly and fiery vibe of Cartagena.


I mention this place, but really it's the worst club in town with the best view.
They play electronic/house music and as such really only pulls in backpackers and their hangers on.

Each time I was dragged in there, I waded through sweaty gringos who had inhaled more of the white stuff than their bodies could handle, inflating their sense of importance and eroding their sense of decorum.
If you're missing home and "getting on it", then by all means, but it's not a very Colombian place to be.

Jamaica Club

This is a bit further out in the burbs in a small complex of different clubs.
As the name suggests, the club plays a lot of Jamaican dancehall and also Bachata, Salsa and Reggaeton.

Torre Reloj

As the weather is either hot and balmy or hot and swealtering, many people just congregate and drink in the many public plazas.
You might wonder how this can happen without trouble.... well the simple thing is that law and order works in Colombia.

The cops have a presence and are formidable. I've seen them deal with even moderate rowdiness with brutal, military precision.
Dont worry about drinking at night with your friends, just don't be an idiot or talk back to cops, because they will not hesitate.

The plaza at the famous Clock Tower is eye and ear opening.
The raucous tunes blasting from Donde Fidel provides a soundtrack for the myriad of tourists who roam the gorgeous area, along with the many ladies who stand relatively unassumedly in their finery looking like fashion models; availing their company for wealthy tourists.

Cafe del Mar

The only place you MUST visit just once.
Words really can't describe it.
It has an amazing view, nice cocktails and decent service.

The Wall

Around the wall, you will find many impromptu parties and vallenato buskers roaming the ornate surrounds.
Tourists and locals alike congregate around the wall, where the sea breeze provides gives reprieve to the heat and the illiminated ancient city in the background looks amazing!


As Colombia's premier destination there are awesome restaurants everywhere for all budgets!!
I don't even need to list any here, none will disappoint though, my favourite restaurant experience in Cartagena is....

Cuba 1940's

The walls of this huge old building are lined with photos from pre-revolution Cuba.
The area in front of the band stage is a swimming pool where clients and sit and dip their feet after dinner or whilst sipping coctails.


Cartagena's beaches are not the best in the country, or even the Caribbean coast of the country - but their are the most lively.
Music blasts, folks sit and wade in groups, drinking beer and eating.
The beaches of Cartagena are somewhat hedonistic - especially "Playa Hollywood" (Hollywood Beach) where literally everything is within reach of the many touts.


Cartagena has several malls, that are pretty standard, but be aware prices vary depending on the neighbourbood. The same pair of Adidas will be pricier in Bocagrande than at Caribe Plaza....Caribe Plaza is the biggest and best of the bunch, and throughout the old city are myriad of jewellers and awesome clothing stores that cater to hot weather.
Bocagrande Plaza is a must visit, if not simply for the amazing view out over the beach to the Caribbean sea.


Is Colombia safe?
Well generally speaking it is. The kind of thuggery that happens in the suburbs of my home city in Australia is unheard of in Cartagena.... simply because the police presence in Colombia is really strong, visibile and formidable. Colombian cops have leverage to act as the situation requires - and they use it... and everyone knows it.

At closing time in Gertsemani, a group (of what looks like hundreds) of cops march through the streets and make sure everything is closed and that people are moving on.
Drinking in the street, for the most part is legal and most young people drink and socialise in public spaces - the same as most latin countries but I have never seen any act of disorderly behaviour in an entire year in the country.
Cops are almost always within eyeshot.

One day after teaching class, I was walking along a main road. As I passed a police check point a male and female officer were dancing together to music blasting on their cell phones, and occasionally stopping cars for shake downs, but kept the music on. As they ushered the cars away, they resumed their boogies with big smiles. Only in Colombia.

Adieu Cartagena

It's hot, humid and chaotic, yet beautiful, majestic open and friendly.
i had an awesome six months living there and made great friends and took away wonderful experiences.

Posted by SkinnyFists 10:02 Archived in Colombia Tagged travel shopping colombia cartagena colombia_safety Comments (0)

Thailand: Wandering in Bangkok

Exploring the enormous, dramatic, traditional yet futuristic megatroplis

sunny 34 °C
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It's a big city...

Bangkok is impossible to explain.
It's huge, very diverse and full of contradictions.
It can be culturally conservative, yet folks are so open minded, accommodating and always smiling.
I experienced an amazing, diverse nightlife, with some great underground clubs, hidden bars, and scenes that really push the envelope.
It is THE city that is certain to realise Ridley Scott's vision of the megatropolis in Blade Runner.

I'll start by summarising my experience of each area I stayed in.....

Khao San Road

Probably every backpacker visiting Asia has or will stay at Khao San Rd at some point. Lonely Planet calls it the centre of the backpacking universe; made even more famous in the novel / film "The Beach", where Leo's character stays before discovering Phi Phi Island.
Khao San Road offers some of the cheapest food, clothes, accomadation, etc in all of Bangkok.
I wouldn't say it's particularly Thai in culture. Almost everyone is either a tourist or works in tourism, and speaks English. There's no challenge, but it's great fun and a good place to decompress.

Crazy Khao San Rd:

Having said that, I was there on a Saturday night, and a lot of young Thais came out to Khao San Road to party.
During the day it was pretty sleepy and most folks walking about were either hungover, arriving wide eyed or racing to a long distance bus.
I stayed at Khao San Park Resort which was absolutely fantastic and only AUD$30 for a 4 star style room w/ brekkie.


A melting pot of business, clubs, bars and entertainment.
For me this is the best area to stay as it is on the sky train, central, close to the major shopping areas and within easy reach of the major bus terminals and airport (via train).
The super thing about Sukhumvit is that at about 11pm the market stalls close mobile bars pop up in their place; lining the entire road and stay open 'till around till 2am (when the police shut them all down).
Hawker food stalls remain open and are scattered amongst the bars; and so folks eat and enjoy liberally poured cocktails - makingfor a fun and, easy going, yet really sociable atmosphere.
In my opinion this is the best way to get to know locals and experience Bangkok at night.


Silom used to be famous for PatPong, Bangkok's red light district. The council have decided to clean the place up a bit, and PatPong is now a night market with just a few ping pong shows and girlie parts littered around the place.
Again, it's on the skytrain, so pretty handy for transport, but the nightlife was a bit drab. There weren't really any highlights here and only stayed in the area for my muay thai camp down the road.me I'll probably go back to Khao San or Sukhumvit.


I didn't stay here, just explored....
This is the shopping mecca - I would say more so than KL, because of it's diversity: market style stalls lining the paths around the super flash and HUGE malls. In my home town we have the largest shopping centre in the southern hemisphere, Chadstone.
MBK, or Siam Paragon make Chadstone look like a tiny milk bar, in terms of size, style and service.
The service in these centres are incredible and the food halls are out of this world.

Busy Siam and all the malls at night:


The highlight of Bangkok is the city itself, the people are friendly, super trendy, open minded, polite (actually exemplary), and will bring you into it's fascinating and amazing underworld and corners if you are up to it, learn some thai and show that you are not just the usual farang.

No trip to Bangkok is complete without going to one of it's many rooftop bars.
A local pal and I went to the top of the Banyan Tree (61 floors up!) for a cocktail at Moon Bar.
At night it was indeed spectacular, and we happened to be there on a full moon, which made it even more special.
It was a great experience though I wouldn't say the drinks and service matched the location, or justified the prices (though cocktails only amounted to roughly AUD$15).

View from Moon Bar:

We had the option to stay for dinner, but it didn't look that special, and the prices were just crazy.
2 minutes walk from the fancy Banyan tree we had the best hawker chicken noodles I've ever had... goes to show 'eh!

Which brings me to my next highlight - FOOD! Hawker food is everywhere. You can't walk more than 10 paces without passing a stall of either fresh fruit, cooked chicken, noodle stalls, etc.

The guide book says Bangkok can be confunding and frustrating, but many folks are always a bit sad and sentimental when leaving Bangkok for the last time whilst visiting Asia.
That sentiment describes my feeling to a tea!

Posted by SkinnyFists 02:49 Archived in Thailand Tagged shopping bangkok siam silom sukhumvit Comments (0)

Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur

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Ridley Scott's vision of a future metropolis in 2019 will likely be realised in Kuala Lumpur: with it's enormous Petronas Towers, multi level hi-way overpasses and intermittent rains, and Bangkok (I will explain BKK later).

KL is a nice place to visit - especially if you like shopping.


I stayed at Back Home Hostel - which is fantastic!! Some hostels in KL unfortunately have a rule that doesn't allow Asian or Middle Eastern people to stay. I find this strange and discriminatory. Many Australian Hostels have the same rule.
Fortunately this one doesn't have such a rule, so i was able to meet people outside the western-backpacker sphere of folks.
On my first night I shared a dorm with a group of Indonesian students; the remainder I shared with a family from Cambodia who incidentally run a guest house in Siam Reap - so I will probably stay with them in Cambodia.

Malaysia Day

I was lucky to be in KL for Malaysia Day. This commemorates the union (48 years) with Sabah and Sarawak, and celebrates the rick and varied diversity of Malaysia - with enormous fanfare!
The dialog of the day was "we are a great and varied nation, but we have work to do in order to be completely integrated.

"If you feel Malaysia Day get your hands up!"

In da... club

The hostel was generally pretty social, and a group of us ventured out to Sky Bar, which is within the Traders Hotel, at around the 36th floor, facing the Mighty Petronas Towers.
The club itself is the hotel's pool by day, and so in the evening, you could easily fall in after a few drinks. The view from the club is spectacular.
Nobody seemed to be dancing. It was a fairly stuffy place where people like to be seen.
We had our drinks and sat down at a table.
An american fellow, flanked by a swathe of ladies way above his punching weight told me that he was waiting for friends and that we should move.
"Contractors?" I asked with a smile. He just looked at me blankly hahaha.
We found a couch and had a nice night out.


Most people come to KL for shopping. The centres are enormous. They make Chadstone (Melbourne's biggest) look minuscule. 8 levels of enormity. Each having at least 15 opticians, which is what I was after.
Specs are soooo cheap in KL, so I indulged in 2 pairs, and a couple of shirts.

Batu Caves

The Batu Caves are a huge natural shrine for Malaysian Hindus, roughly 13km outside of KL. Ceremonies still take place there, and it is a healthy climb up. It was a really nice visit, and I did a tours of the bat caves, which was very interesting indeed.
Batu Caves Wikipedia

Posted by SkinnyFists 05:29 Archived in Malaysia Tagged kuala_lumpur batu_caves shopping Comments (0)

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