Well, OK, so it's been more than a year, quite a bit more actually, but I'm sure you're used to my slack ways by now. It doesn't take much of a distraction to keep me from updating this web site. English language newspapers are a killer, much more than BBC World News or the internet as I usually read a newspaper from cover to cover (except the sports bits - boring). They have to be pretty good though. That I've caught up again on things whilst in Bangkok speaks volumes about the quality of the two English language dailies here. We're going to head towards Laos before going back through Cambodia to Vietnam (no set plans of course) when our visa expires and none of the above have good newspapers so I'll be relying on the net and hoping for the BBC rather than CNN. Or Russia Today, which is what we have at the moment, along with CNN. Bet you didn't know Russia had an English language international news channel, eh? See – you learn lots whilst swimming around the Swan's nest.
By the way, I don't know who you are, but welcome. The number of visitors to this site has been rising steadily for months and last month peaked at over 18,000 hits, coming in from IP addresses in countries all over the world. Hope you're being entertained.
So, a year (and a bit) into retirement, a year (and a bit) of having nowhere to call home, a year (and a bit) of living out of cases, travelling around like gypsies, and how have we found it?
To be honest, I've found it pretty much the way I thought it would be, only cheaper. When people asked me to do the accommodation reviews and on the archive page I stated that we wanted self catering with internet access wherever possible for less than A$500 per week, many thought me a little optimistic. The truth is though that we haven't come anywhere close to spending A$500; usually well under and occasionally less than $100. We haven't always had a house or apartment, and there have been a couple of occasions when we couldn't fluke internet access but, mostly, it's been what we wanted at a price we liked. I think the most we've paid for a 7 day period would be A$330 for the timeshare rentals in both Phuket and Sunway Lagoon, but in both cases we're talking real luxury lodgings. Some of the places we've stayed at for less than $20 per night have been more than adequate.
It's not just the accommodation on which we have been spending very little – it's pretty much everything. We either eat in, or off street stalls which costs so little it's not worth talking about. We don't buy 'things' because we'd have to carry those things with us, and we're trying to lighten our load not add to it. We occasionally splurge and have a meal in a western restaurant, spending maybe $5 EACH! OK, not much but when you're used to getting a decent feed for less than a dollar, it feels very extravagant and somehow wasteful to spend that much. There go them lifetime habits again – they are just about impossible to break. I doubt that we will ever take a taxi instead of a bus – it's not all about being mean, it's about having an aversion to unnecessary waste. Not that that is such a bad thing at the moment – the recent stockmarket volatility has seen the net worth of our investments in shares more than halve in value. Don't worry, there's not an even slightly risky stock in our portfolio, and all blue chip shares will bounce back sooner or later – it's just a matter of sitting it out. For now, our dividend income hasn't been affected at all, and the rental properties are going against the general tide and performing better than I had forecast, so there are no worries on the financial front. My pre-retirement budgets allowed for much higher spending and much less income than reality was ever going to produce
As mentioned, internet access hasn't really been a problem, and it'll be even less of one now, thanks to my super-dooper-booster antenna. This impressive piece of kit has been one of our best buys – I ordered it from Canada via eBay just before we headed back to Australia in September so that it was waiting for me when we got back. Nice and compact for travelling, the 3 x12 inch (30cm-ish) pieces clip together making a nice big directional antenna which connects via a 15 foot (3 metre-ish) USB cable. I'm currently picking up 24 Wi-Fi signals – when I unplug the antenna and turn on the bluetooth (using the antenna built in to the lid of the laptop) I pick up 3. One of the signals I'm picking up (but not using) up is from the Sofetiel Hotel in Silom, which I can see out of the window and is more than 1km but I'd say no more than 2km away. Not bad eh?
I am no longer surprised at the number of people who don't bother securing their signals; at first it was a bit of a shock, but I've seen it in literally every single country that we've visited in the last year. And if you're sitting there smugly thinking 'Mine's secured', I hope you're not using ABCDE12345 as your password. You really would be surprised at the number of people who do that. I've used that one half a dozen times that I can think of off the top of my head. There are other, similar, just-as-easy-to-guess passwords around, but ABCDE12345 is the one I always try first and it's amazing how often it works. Usually though, there is no password at all. Now, I know that leaching unsecured signals is wrong. I know it's illegal in several countries now, but I'm not doing any harm. I'm just checking my email and browsing through the newspapers, but the super-dooper-booster antenna was invented for this kind of thing and there are people out there who can and quite possibly will use your internet access for nefarious purposes. Should I be so inclined, when I'm connected to your unsecured signal I can see everything you do. I could make a note of all the sites you visit, I could see the username or account number and passwords as you type them into secure web sites (you know how you see the password display on the screen as asterisk's? That's only so someone standing behind you can't see what you're typing. The data that I could see is the data that is transmitted, I.e., the actual numbers and letters) and I could read all of your emails. I don't do any of these things. I have no interest, and even if I did there's a big difference between the kind of wrong-doing currently being perpetrated and the kind of wrong-doing that would be perpetrated. I'm not a bad person – I only want to check my email and read the newspapers, but not everyone leaching signals is doing so because they can't get a connection at the place they're staying or because they're a being a Cheap Charlie and don't want a monthly bill. SECURE YOUR SIGNAL NOW. And if you want details of the excellent antenna, drop me an email and I'll point you in the right direction (no pun intended). Although we had access one way or another at almost everywhere we stayed, sometimes the connections (even free or paid for ones) were unstable or we would have to have the laptop hanging out of a window to pick up the signal – the antenna and it's long cable just make it more convenient.
Another thing on the best buy list is the iPhone. I still haven't got to grips with everything it's capable of doing, and I'm really going to have to get around to upgrading the firmware, but it's been worth it's weight in gold as an automatically updating currency converter and weather forecaster, as well as checking for signals and picking up email whilst we're out and about. The faux GPS which is really Google Maps is also a huge help in both finding our way around a town and getting surprisingly accurate directions.
After one of us (no names, but he'll never live it down) lost two mobile phones in 24 hours, I got 2 SkypeIn numbers, one in Melbourne and one in England, which are virtual numbers that divert to the phone service we nominate. Every time we change country we buy a $5 SIM card, log onto Skype and change the number that the SkypeIn services are diverting to. This means we can almost always be contacted at no cost to friends and family in emergencies without us having to tell everyone the new phone number every time we get a new SIM card. Cambodia is the only country where it wasn't just a case of handing money over – as a non-resident I had to go to a special office with passport in hand, although 5 out of the 6 Malaysian SIM cards we've had also required passport to be presented and photocopied by the dealer. Why we got away with it once is beyond me – not that we were trying to get away with anything, Peter just went into a shop not realising he had to have his passport with him and he wasn't asked for it.
I've got to say that the most valuable thing we've carried with us has been the 10 year old water heater - a 6 inch wand with a coil at the end which will boil a cup of water in a minute or so. Just can't start a day off without a cup of tea, and so many budget places don't have kettles. The last 'Must Have' has been the safe. The original, which I designed and made, was a few lengths of plastic-coated twisted steel (commonly called clothes line) held together in a series of interlocking diamond shapes by cleats. Two of the cleats worked their way free, and although Peter put them back and crushed them beyond recognition to ensure they wouldn't move again, I lost a bit of confidence in it, so I designed another and this time Peter made it when we got back to Australia. Mark II is a box made out of perforated stainless (perforated being lighter than solid) bent and welded into a box shape which is a very snug fit for our passports, credit cards and 10 x US$50, our emergency stash of cash. So snug, in fact, I have problems getting them out and I have easy access to it. It's nothing short of perfect, and the cable lock is long enough to go around the most immovable object in any accommodation - the toilet. It may sound a bit odd, but if anyone wants to steal it, they're going to have to take the toilet bowl off the wall, which I doubt would happen with an opportunistic thief.
We also have a much better idea now what we can get and where – you don't need to stock up on Dilmah teabags if you're heading to Malaysia as you can get them there for almost the same price as Australia. You can get them in Thailand but they are horribly expensive, and the only alternative is Lipton's Yellow Tag, which I would call water-browner rather than tea. Lipton's was also the only 'tea' I could find in Indonesia, Cambodia and Vietnam, although it may hide away in shops that I didn't visit. Oddly, in Malaysia you can't get bubble bath (lots of blank stares from people when we were trying to explain it) but you can get both Sorbolene and E45 cream, neither of which I've been able to source in Thailand so far. Cold and flu tablets are a no-no in Thailand but available in Malaysia and Indonesia. Everything is available in Cambodia and Vietnam. After a heavy fall in Saigon which left me with a grapefruit sized knee and a jarred back I wanted to get some serious painkillers after using up my Panadine Forte (500mg Paracetamol/30mg Codeine). I know these are illegal in Thailand but are available over the counter in Cambodia. The pharmacy I went to didn't have them, but had something better. What? I asked innocently, thinking it might be Tramadol – not as good as Panadine, but better than what's in the first aid kit. OxyConin! Get me outta here! I had to have Oxycontin years ago, just before my back operation, and was with my doctor when she made the phone call to whatever government department to get authorisation to write the prescription. This isn't just a strong painkiller – it's a controlled narcotic in Australia and I suspect most other countries. While they are handing out the OxyConin willy-nilly, the 2 (admittedly small) pharmacies I tried there didn't have Clarinase for Peters stuffy nose, though which is available over the counter in most countries, although in several (including Australia now) you have to present some form of photo ID before you can buy it. Go figure.
The essentials of our travels - water heater, Wi-Fi antenna iPhone and safe.
There's not really that much else you can't get, but the odd few things (like powdered milk which is 100 times better than CoffeeMate, and eyelash dye) are so trivial they're really not worth talking about.
Peter has managed to keep up his fitness – a lot of places we've stayed in had an on-site gym, and for those that didn't, even the smallest town has a local public (and usually incredibly cheap) facility. We managed to do a lot of our travelling without taking flights (for which Peter and his rotten sinus's will be eternally grateful) although in Medan, when faced with a 6 hour ferry crossing and a cheaper 55 minute flight there was no contest. The money isn't the reason for travelling by bus/train/boat,and often we've actually spent more getting from A to B by land than we would have by air (although overnight long-distance bus travel saves on a hotel stay for one night) but it's been worth it in that the only nosebleed Peter's had since we started out was the day after arriving in England (or, put another way, the day after a long flight).
We've made some good and some very good friends along the way. Praba in Seremban invited us to spend Depevali with his family and friends, which was a real honour. His sister, Indra, and brother-in-law, Texan have put us under orders not to stay in a hotel when we visit as well as offering us unlimited use of their car. We met Roshen and Alfie through Praba, and wangled an invite to their sisters' wedding in a few months. Meeting up with the boys during their annual trip in Hat Yai was brilliant – we really enjoyed it and hope that we'll end up wherever they go next year. There was also Russel and Don at Sam's Place in Trang – a retired Aussie/Kiwi team who run a bar as a hobby rather than a money making business, Randal and Joe in Bangkok who are amazing, Ammo in Phnom Penh (we're coming back) and of course Lina in Sumatra, who has the market cornered in sending odd emails and has adopted us as her western parents.
What did we not like? I'd say that moving around too much would have to be the only thing. We've now decided that instead of moving on every few days, we're going to stay in one spot for a good while. We've discovered that serviced apartments which are priced way out of our league are well within budget when you take a monthly rate. An example is where we are currently staying, TB 3,000 per night or TB 25,000 per month. This price is pretty typical all over Thailand and Malaysia, and I have no reason to doubt that it is the same elsewhere. Of course, we won't always stay in one place for a long time – we won't get to see too much of the world if we do that, and after 6 weeks in the same apartment in Bangkok I think it's time to stretch the wings a bit. We'll maybe move around for a month and then settle somewhere for the next couple. We haven't got on each others' nerves too much (we wouldn't be human if we claimed that we hadn't at all) and our differences keep us happy. I still would rather sit on a computer than go out drinking in a bar, while Peter needs to socialise and it's far, far easier for him to meet people when he's alone. I got a lot of comments about my bar theory – man and woman walk into bar, everyone looks up, nods and goes back to their drink. Man walks into bar alone, everyone looks up, nods and asks if he wants to join them. Trust me, it works. Time and time again it's been proved, and Peter has made some long-lasting friendships this way.
All in all, we've had great fun and I honestly think we can both continue living this lifestyle for a long time to come