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How to visit Montana on a budget

Visit Montana US

The US state of Montana is well known for its beautiful landscape and especially for it’s Yellowstone Park that covers 3,500 square miles full of canyons, alpine rivers and provides a home for many wild animals like bears, wolves, bison, elks and antelopes.

When to visit Montana

You can visit Montana all year round but do check the weather forecast for the region before you set off as the weather tends to be very unpredictable from very hot to snow storms and blizzards.

Visit Montana’s cities and towns (ranked by population)

Billings Yellowstone 106,954
Missoula Missoula 66,789
Great Falls Cascade 58,505
Bozeman Gallatin 37,280
Butte Silver Bow 34,525
Helena Lewis and Clark 28,190
Kalispell Flathead 19,927
Havre Hill 9,310
Anaconda Deer Lodge 9,298
Miles City Custer 8,123
Belgrade Gallatin 7,389

Horse riding in Montana

Famous for the numerous horse ranches in the region, Montana could be called the horse rider paradise. To experience Montana without taking the time to explore any one of the horse riding ranches open to the public could almost be considered a crime.

As well as tackling a horseback mountain trek is a must when in horse riding country such as Montana.

visit Montana on a budget

The outdoor terrains offers a lot to the travellers who choose to experience what can only be described as getting back to nature. With the mountains at your feet and the vast landscape before you, camping out under the stars would not be out of the ordinary in Montana.

It is actually a very popular weekend activity among the local youth in Montana.

Hotels in Montana

Where to stay in Montana

With a diverse choice of camp sites, to luxury and affordable hotels on offer you’re spoiled for choice when it comes to choosing what accommodation suits your needs best.

When travelling to Montana on a budget keep in mind that there some bargains to be found like the Wingate by Wyndham in Helena Montana, the facilities are more than adequate and the rates are affordable.

This hotel is located in the heart of the Rocky Mountains and positioned in Montana’s Capitol City.

Sunset in Montana US

If camping out under the stars is what you had in mind then the Bear Dance and Cabin can provide valuable information on camp sites that could be simply perfect for your holiday outdoors adventure. Providing all modern and convenient amenities, your stay will be more than you have bargained for.

Where to dine in Montana

Bogart’s restaurant in Montana Dining out in Montana does not need to break the bank, with restaurants like Bogarts serving up state loved favourites. The Bogarts restaurant is located on 11 South Broadway, Red Lodge, MT 59068

You will also find at Bogart’s Bogie’s photos and memorabilia which are on display upon the walls. Notably the best place to go for a great meal in Montana.

The restaurant serves up the best in Mexican food, margaritas, burgers, and speciality pizzas with a hearty taste and generous portions.

The nightlife in Montana varies depending on the city location or town so check local listings for specific events and dates when planning your trip to Montana in advance.

Some events may require advance booking so it is always better to get in touch with the venues before you set off for your trip.

Olivia Cree the author of the “How to visit Montana on a budget” works as a freelance tour guide in Montana, she is also a part time mountain rescue volunteer.

Greek Islands: Four romantic days on the island of Naxos

Old windmills at Filoti village

Last summer my girlfriend and I were in a big dilemma regarding our holiday destination where we could spend a few days to relax away from the busy life in Athens. The choices between the Greek Islands?
A few hundreds. After several recommendations from our friends the decision was taken with a great enthusiasm.

What was the destination? The beautiful island of Naxos.

Naxos Town

The island of Naxos is located in the center of the Aegean Sea and it is part of the Cyclades islands. Naxos is ideal for couples and families as it offers an excellent cuisine, perfect beaches and plenty of activities to choose from.

A lovely donkey near Moutsouna beachI would strongly suggest to rent a car rather than a scooter or ATV for your transportation. The distances tend to be long and the roads are in a good shape.

However, some times in order to reach your destination you have to go through gravel roads with sharp stones. Also some times the roads are quite slippery and with many U-turns and relatively high elevation.

In addition you have to bear in mind that the public bus service doesn’t have a very dense schedule so if you wish to explore most of the island you must definitely rent a car.

I will also recommend you arrange your accommodation in Chora (the capital of the island) so you can be near the night life and the harbour so you don’t have to drive more than you really need.

If you wish to be on a more quiet and relaxed area, Filoti village is a very good choice. It is located in the center of the island and getting to all the main beaches around the island is significantly easier.

Four day itinerary on the island of Naxos

 

Marble streets on the island of NaxosDay 1: Leave from Chora and head to Apeiranthos. An amazing village with old traditional buildings, some have been built with marble and they are dated back to the years of Venetian occupation of the island of Naxos, some even predate that.

The village of Apeiranthos is famous for its local meats and cheese delicacies. The locals are extremely hospitable and willing to help you if you need directions to get to your destination.

Go around, walk and explore the side streets, admire the old buildings, the two Venetian towers, when you need a rest sit at one of the local restaurant and enjoy the local cousin.

I would definitely recommend Platanos restaurant, since we sat there and we were very happy with the quality of the food and prices of the restaurant.

After you taste the local cousin and enjoy a cup of coffee, you can head to the beach of Moutsouna which is approximately 25 to 30 minutes by car. The road is full of turns and on a high elevation so drive slowly and carefully.

At Moutsouna beach we discovered two traditional fish restaurants which unfortunately we did not have the chance to try as we were full from our previous stop but both looked quite good. We are planning to try their delicacies on our next visit to the island. Once you eat or swim you can move on to the beach of Panormos which we found amazing, relaxing and very quiet.

The amazing and quiet beach Panermos

On the Southeast side of the island and away from the crowds of tourists it’s definitely a place you should visit in case you just want to relax. However go there well equipped. There is a small and friendly canteen but it is a bit pricey and there are not many parasols.

Once you rest enough by the beach it is time to drive all the way back to your accommodation which is not a short drive so plan ahead and try to head back before the sun sets.

In the evening you can spend your time exploring the town’s side streets, the various romantic restaurants or the night clubs and bars to enjoy your cocktail.

Clystal blue-green water at the hidden beach near AgiassosDay 2: The second day we choose Agiasos beach located at the South side of the island.

However, the beach I am talking about is located 500 meters after Agiasos village. So once you see the sign ‘to Agiasos’’ on your left, simply ignore it and drive 500 meters further down the road. You will see a small gravel road heading to the beach where you can drive and park your car.

There you will find two amazing beaches that are not crowded at all.
Warning the smaller one on the far right end quite often is used by nudists. So be aware and make your choice.

If you continue on the gravel road you will find Alykes beach and Kastraki beach. On the last one try to visit the old deserted hotel and its deserted beach where you can swim all by yourself without anyone else!!! Your own private beach.

On your way back you can visit the cave of Za, which is located on a hill. To get there you have to drive up to a certain point on the road and then walk the rest of the way up.

You will definitely need sports or hiking shoes because a big part of the path is not paved. Be careful when you are entering the cave as its very dark and slippery, but for us it definitely worth the effort.

View from Za cave at the Island of Naxos

On your way back you can stop at Filoti village, where you can enjoy the local meat products (try the lamp chops!!!) at the traditional taverns situated in the center of the village under the huge trees. Many shepherds live in the village so if you are interested in buying dairy products straight from the producers, feel free to ask the locals at the square and they will direct you to one of the producers.

Once your rest you may wish go back to the city and enjoy an ice cream at Waffles house or have a drink at People’s bar.

Don’t forget to visit the famous Naxos candy store situated in the old city. It makes candies with traditional flavours and aromas such as Ouzo, Cinnamon and Citron, you can also find many modern and unexpected ones such as various combinations of Spicy, Sweet and other tastes. The owners were very hospitable; they even gave us a nice shot of a local drink called Raki.

One of the many beaches at Agia Anna on the Island of Naxos

Day 3: On the third day of your stay on the island of Naxos, you can visit Agia Annas beach and then Maragkas and many beautiful beaches situated one after the other, you would be spoiled for choice, believe me. If you like pizza try to find the “Mama Mia” pizzeria which is quite famous on the island. The Italian owners have brought a taste of Italy on the Greek island of Naxos.

A grandpa enjoing his coffe and the wonderful dayDay 4 : I would suggest on your last day to go to the Panermos bay. The driving is a bit long and strenuous for about 1-1.5 hours and there are not many interesting things to see or do on the way. However, the sandy beach is honestly incredible; it feels like you are not in the Aegean Sea but on an island somewhere in heaven!!!

Make sure you bring with you plenty of water, parasols and everything else you might need because after a certain point on the road there are no super markets or villages. Also there are no sun beds or umbrellas for hire so plan accordingly!!

On the right edge of the beach there is a very nice tavern with an amazing view of the beach and the Aegean Sea with very hospitable owners. The Panermos bay is quite far away, but if you can give it a day I am sure it will be the highlight of your trip.

While on the island of Naxos there are certain things you must definitely buy or taste. I would highly recommend the local dairy products such as Arseniko, Graviera and Ksinomizithra. Also the meat products which are produced on the island with traditional methods, the local fish and last but not least the local honey called Zikomelo.

We only stayed on the island of Naxos for four and half days but the people, the beautiful sceneries, the refreshing and relaxed atmosphere of the island were more than enough to recharge our batteries and keep us going through the hot summer.

Sunset,view and your girl._what more can you ask

I will definitely recommend the island of Naxos for a long holiday or even a short trip to unwind, relax and explore the beauty of the Greek islands.

This summer live your myth in Greece!!!

Spyros Skouris the author of the 4 romantic days on the island of NaxosAbout the author

Spyros Skouris the author of the article “Greek Islands: Four romantic days on the island of Naxos” can help you arrange your dream vacations on your visit to Athens in Greece.

He also owns an apartment in Athens which is available to rent on Airbnb.

Athens Sightseeing: A Full Day Tour Of Athens

Akropolis by night

After visiting a number of European countries, all of them start to look pretty much the same right? Fortunately, that doesn’t apply to Athens. Athens is indeed a European country but it feels like it has been ‘spiced’ with many Middle Eastern colours and aromas.

Due to its geographical position, as well as the occupation from the Ottoman Empire for more than 400 years, have left Athens with a variety of cultural influences on landmarks and on it’s inhabitants.

Athens Kalimarmaro stadium

Athens besides the many archaeological sites has numerous beautiful seaside places where you can swim in the sea or just drink a cup of Greek coffee (like the locals do) and enjoy the views. Make sure you have more than one day to visit and explore all the hidden gems of the city.

Athens Metro

Best place to start your day tour of Athens is the Metro station of Acropolis. It is advisable to be there early in the morning to have a head start, as more tourists will be visiting later on and it will get crowded. Also you must remember that the Greek sun in the summer is really strong so make sure that you apply sun cream often and always have a bottle of water with you.

Walk the beautiful street of Dionysiou Areopageitou and buy yourself a ticket (20 Euros per person which applies for all the archaeological sites of Athens for 4 days). I could fill in at least ten pages with the facts and the history of Acropolis but this is neither the place nor the time to do so.

Always remember to support the campaign for returning the STOLEN artefacts of Parthenon, which are now located in the British Museum in London back to Greece, where they belong to.

So enjoy the beauty of Acropolis standing for more than 2000 years and wonder around it. Make sure you exit not from the typical exit, but from a downhill exit next to a small wooden kiosk that you will come across as you climb up the stairs. This way you will be able to see more sites and ancient constructions as well as an additional theatre.

Athens Archaeological Museum

Once you exit the site of Acropolis head the opposite way to the new museum of Acropolis, a construction that Greeks are really proud of since it was literally built upon ancient buildings but without causing any destruction to them. You will be able to see parts of them as you move though the Acropolis museum.

Exiting the museum of Acropolis and head left the same road you followed to go to Acropolis. Enjoy the weather and feel free to buy from the street vendors’ traditional artifacts and souvenirs which are actually in much better prices than the shops. Always try to support the local economy which really needs your help, especially these days!!!

Once you meet the first cafeterias’ with their tables outside you can go for a coffee to the roof gardens and admire the views of Acropolis.

Once you catch your breath continue and enter the ancient Agora from the small exit in front of the cafeterias with the same ticket that you bought in Acropolis. There are three must see places there among the many:

• The ancient temple that really looks like Acropolis.
• The old church with the unique pictures that were saved during the occupation from the Ottoman Empire (check out the Saints and Angels that their faces were removed by the occupants).
• The small museum which shows aspects of everyday life in Athens.

Exit the site from the main entrance and you are in Monastiraki area.

Day tour of Athens - Monastiraki

Warning!!!: As all the main tourist attractions around the world, the same rules apply in this area. Keep your bag zippers closed, leave no bags unattended and beware of your personal belongings in general. Pick pocketing is not a very common thing but not a very rare as well. Kindly decline any offers for sunglasses, perfumes or mobile phones since they will be 90 percent end in monkey business.

Monastiraki open flea market where you can shop various stuff

Shop around this area, you can find really good prices in leather and gold or buy some souvenirs for your friends back home. (Make sure you buy a hat for the rest of your vacations in Greece since the Greek sun is very strong. The area is ideal for taking pictures of locals restoring old furniture and buying antiques.

Hungry? I would suggest you head to the restaurant of Savvas with the amazing roof garden. It serves traditional Greek cuisine and the quality of the food is always very good, and of course you can stare (guess what???) Acropolis!

From there you can head to the Athens central meat & fish market called “Varvakios” to take some photos. Avoid it if you don’t have a strong stomach, watching hanged meats and the heavy smells might not be for everyone! The whole area is really popular for buying traditional products.

Head back to Ermou street (if you don’t know which one it is, simply ask an Athenian. The majority of the Greeks speak English and usually are very helpful with tourists.

Ermou street is the road with all the big brand names stores and you can always buy designer clothes or anything else you might need. Head up towards Syntagma square. On your way visit the small church (Kapnikarea) in the middle of the street.

It is estimated that the church was built some time in the 11th century, perhaps around 1050. As it was common with the early Christian churches, this was built over an ancient Greek pagan temple dedicated to the worship of a goddess, possibly Athena or Demeter. You can walk into it and light a small candle like Orthodox people do.

Efzonas on Syntagma sq in Athens

Reaching Syntagma square you will see the Greek parliament and the national guards called Efzones. They wear their traditional skirt (which has 400 foldings, one for each year of occupation under the Ottoman Empire).

Take some photos and walk until the national Library and Academy. Two amazing buildings built like the ancient Greek ones. Once you are done continue on to the Omonoia street where you need to ask the way to the National Museum which is just five minutes by foot.

The national Archeological museem of AthensThe National Museum even though it is last on the list, it is for me the most important sight of Athens. Make sure you do not miss it. It hosts an amazing collection of masterpieces of art of the ancient Greece.

Statues more than 5000 years old, jewels of the Macedonian family of Alexander, and the famous Machine of Antikythera.

That is a full a day tour of Athens, where you can cover all the main tourist attractions.

If you feel that your feet can still do some extra walk, you can always add one of the following sights to your tour. Plaka, Kallimarmaron, the National Garden, Zapeio, Likavitos and Glyfada area.

But my suggestion is to visit those places another day so you can take your time and enjoy them like they deserve to.

Spyros Skouris profile photoAbout the author

Spyros Skouris the author of the article “A full day tour of Athens” can help you arrange your dream vacations on your visit to Athens in Greece.

He also owns an apartment in Athens which is available to rent on Airbnb.

Lads holiday to Antalya Turkey

Andrew Wain 2015With the university exams out of the way, we gathered at the pub debating where to go for our summer holidays.

There were four of us, Mat, George, Kevin, and myself Andrew.

The choices were mainly Spain, Italy, Greece, but with our student budget been on the low side we had to eliminate most of the ideas.

Even if we could get a low cost airline like Easyjet to fly us to Spain we couldn’t collect enough money among us to book a cheap hotel room for four lads in Spain.

Disaster was looming on the horizon, we could all see ourselves spending the summer at home with a trip down to Southampton for a long weekend.

That was all until Murat, the fifth member of our university gang pop in to our table holding a travel map to Antalya in Turkey.

Murat was born in Luton but his parents came from Turkey in the early eighties. His parents still have contacts with their extended family back in Turkey and Murat had been toying with the idea of going to Antalya to see where his parents grew up.

Needless to say the connection was instant!! Murat’s family had a house in Antalya. After a few more rounds at the pub our travel plan was set, hands were shaken, we were good to go. Our first lads holiday to Antalya in Turkey.

easy jet turkey antalya 2015

We flown from Gatwick with Easyjet and we landed at Antalya airport just before 10:00 a night. We were picked up by Bulent, Murat’s cousin who took us to our accommodation and promise to show us around the next morning.

Antalya city is definitely a modern city built on the South Western coast of Turkey with a population of around one million with a lot of buzz and night life for the holiday makers.

Antalya Turkey fish restaurants

In the morning we took the tram upto the Hadrian’s Gate or Üçkapılar in Turkish and we walked into the old part of the city the Kaleici for some sight seen.

Antalya was buzzing, many touristic shops selling souvenirs, beach clothes and café/restaurants are cramped in the rather small space of the old city with narrow streets and paths that somehow all seem to lead downhill towards the old harbor.

Konyaalti Beach

Turkish flag - Lads holiday to Antalya 2015

The next morning we walked back to Hadrian’s Gate and took the tram to Konyaallti beach.

Konyaalti beach is on the western side of Antalya city and it is about 7 km long. At the far end of the beach you can clearly see the Beydagları mountains. Inwards from the beach there is a huge green park with plenty of cafes, bars, nightclubs and hotels.

If you fancy doing more than just swimming and sunbathing on the Konyaalti beach, a short walk towards the park and across the Dumlupınar road are the Aqualand waterpark and the Antalya Aquarium, one of the biggest aquariums in Turkey, it claims to have the longest tunnel aquarium in the world, 131 meters long!!

We really liked the beautiful designed thematic exhibitions of different seas, oceans and rivers. There are many different types of sea species small and big as well as sharks. The sharks are not huge but there are really many of them and you can see the divers swimming among the sharks while feeding them.

Antalya Aquarium - Lads holiday to Turkey

All signs at the Antalya Aquarium are written in 3 languages: Turkey, English and Russian. It cost us 75 Turkish Lira per person for entrance to the aquarium. On the ground floor as you exit the aquarium there is food court with a number of different establishments to choose. By that time we were starving so we marched to McDonald’s which these days seems to be everywhere.

Lara Beach

Lara beach was our second favorite beach in Antalya. You can drive to the beach or get there by taxi but since we were on a budget, Bulent advised us to take a small minibus from the centre. In Turkey they call them Dolmush and they seem to be everywhere and run very frequent services across the city.

However, sometimes they can get very crowded. To the Lara beach you need Dolmush number 18, 30 and 77, it took us around 40 minutes to the beach and it only cost us 2,5 Turkish Lira each, which is around a dollar each.

lara beach antalya

Lara beach was not as busy as Konyaalti beach, which was a surprise as it is the longest sandy beach in Turkey and offers stunning views of the Mediterranean sea. We had a long walk and it seems some spot on the beach tend to be more popular than other with private organized beach clubs.

With the temperature on the beach approaching 40C we decided to rent a couple of umbrellas and sunbeds. There are plenty of bars with cold beers, to keep you cool and refreshed and since we were in Turkey Efes beer was our first choice!!

Side

Side is a holiday resort around an hour from Antalya city, full of 5 star hotels. It also seems to be very popular with Russian tourists. Side has calm water and fine sandy beaches, plenty of water-sport activities and is dominated by all inclusive type of hotels.

Antalya City

During our stay in Antalya we also hopped into a pirate boat and went for a daily cruise. There are many boats leaving around 10 in the morning from the old harbor.

Don’t get intimidated by the Turkish sales men who claim to have a last minute special fare, walk around and compare the different cruises before you make up your mind. Then you are ready to start bargaining, believe me bargaining is part of the Turkish culture.

Fares vary according to the length of the trip, we went for the six hours cruise.

lads boat trip in antalya

Once on board we snap some photos and had a few rounds of beers, loud party music was echoed around the boat reflecting the mood of our group. After almost an hour of sail we stopped twice for swimming and snorkeling in some truly amazing bays.

Complimentary food was also provided by the crew of the boat. We were served spaghetti, green salad and fish barbequed which was delicious and after a tasty lunch, there was even more time to relax as we sailed slowly back towards the harbor.

Night life

The night life in Antalya did not disappoint us. Having a local on our side we were taken to all the best pubs, bars and night clubs. Kaleici at night was heaving with young Turks and tourists, the narrowed streets where full of folk-songs bars and little colorful taverns. The Turks seem to party until the morning, so we joined them too!

Ally’s night club was our favorite night club, great music, amazing sea view, and plenty of girls to dance and flirt until the sun comes out. OK drinks were a little bit expensive but we were lucky to be amongst a group of friends of Bulent so we were charge local prices, no tourist prices. I could write more here but as they say, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas!!

club ally antalya turkey

I have to admit that towards the beginning of the second week of our holiday to Antalya we were all running low on cash, our student budget could not support our all night partying lifestyle, so we started spending more time at the beach than going clubbing and partying every single night.

Without doubt this was our best holiday so far, we had great time, we made a lot of friends and we all agreed that we would definitely be going back to Antalya in the future.

I am actually thinking after my graduation to apply for a job in Antalya, Turkey. There are many hotels in Antalya that require English speaking staff, for various roles during the summer.

Andrew Wain, the author of the lads holiday to Antalya in Turkey is a final year student of hospitality and hotel management at LMU.

Thailand: An animal shelter volunteer experience

Wat Rong Khun, Chiang Rai

Thailand, “The Land of Smiles” images of pristine white sand tropical beaches and incredible postcard perfect scenery come to mind, so why, I hear you ask me, did you choose to visit the mountainous North of Thailand and spend your holidays working as an animal shelter volunteer?

This is the same question my host and co founder of SANTISOOK Dog & Cat Rescue Foundation, Mrs. NamFon Hilgers (Fon) asks me on my first day at the shelter. I will explain my motivations, as I explained them to Fon on that day, at the end of this article but first I should like you to keep reading on to discover a completely different way of travelling, much like I did during my two weeks at SANTISOOK.

Chiang Mai, Thailand’s hip laid back major city of the North is a much visited destination and well established on the hippy backpacker trail.

Famous for its picturesque mountain scenery, holiday courses, outdoor adventure pursuits and incredibly tasty Northern Thai cuisine. Chiang Mai province is home to 1.5 million people, Chiang Mai City boasts 170.000 inhabitants, and it is also home to an undetermined number of stray cats and dogs.

Santisook team animal shelter volunteer

SANTISOOK Dog & Cat Rescue Foundation is one of only two Foundations in the province actively engaged in Animal Welfare initiatives and sterilization programs and the only foundation to care for cats.

Founded in 2009 by a group of Thai people dedicated to helping the cats and dogs of Chiang Mai, SANTISOOK struggles to exist and cope with demands, with no Governmental assistance the foundation relies solely on donations made by sympathetic Thai and foreigners (“Farang”: Thai world to describe anyone of European ancestry no matter their country of origin).

Caring for over 400 dogs and 150 cats across 3 separate shelters throughout the city it’s no surprise that the Foundation readily welcomes volunteers, offering accommodation and helping out with VISA arrangements for longer term (mostly veterinarian) volunteers.

Bai Boon

I find out about the Foundation through research on the internet, I find their website to be very organized and presented well (http://www.santisookdogsandcats.org/en/). I also decide to join their Facebook page which provides daily, sometimes heart warming stories but also several heart wrenching ones (https://th-th.facebook.com/santisookdogandcatrescuefoundation),

I am quite shocked to discover less than 8 thousand Likes on the page, in a city of 170.000 people that is commendable but nowhere near enough. After a couple of day’s research I decide to contact the Foundation and offer my services as a volunteer during two weeks in April.

I am not a vet and have no previous experience working with animals so I’m not quite sure how they will respond. I receive inviting, informative and helpful emails back from Lyn (another of the founders of Santisook Foundation) and Renae the resident volunteer veterinarian from Australia.

They both assure me that previous experience is not necessary and that even giving the cats and dogs a cuddle is reason enough to volunteer. I respond, committing to volunteering and eagerly await the beginning of this experience.

Animal shelter volunteer - Santisook volunteer villa

Volunteers arriving at SANTISOOK are based in Doi Saket district, a rural area on the outskirts of Chiang Mai City, approximately a 30 min drive north east of the city centre. This is where the cat shelter and the home stay villa of SANTISOOK are located, as well as Derrell and Fon Hilgers residence adjacent to the property.

The neighborhood is a typical Thai muban, meaning residential settlement. It is quiet, peaceful and beautiful, set back from the main road and a safe location for all the four legged residents to be in, away from traffic and less than friendly neighbors.

animal shelter volunteer - Santisook canine

The dog shelters are located in two other locations, again in rural settings allowing for privacy and far enough from other properties so as to avoid possible complaints from neighbors. This is important, as over the years there have been instances of disgruntled or plain wicked people poisoning the dogs by throwing contaminated meat over the fence.

Arriving at the home stay villa in the evening I am greeted by Fon and Derrel and a host of very happy looking cats and dogs. I am shown to my accommodation, a large villa, with air-conditioned rooms, private bathroom facilities and a large communal area as well as a veranda overlooking the beautiful countryside that surrounds us. I am then left to settle in and recover after my long journey, with instructions to meet Fon at 7am the next morning, when we will feed the cats and dogs of SANTISOOK.

All four legged residents receive two generous meals a day, one at 7am and one at 4pm, as well as the occasional treats. Of course the villa is a pet friendly accommodation and I am soon visited by inquisitive cats wondering who the new human is, two of them (Bai Boon and Ruby) decide I’m alright and I make two new feline friends immediately, who promptly take over my bed and keep me company, I fall asleep to loud purring and I am happy to be here.

animal shelter volunteer - Cute kitten

Animal shelter volunteers who are not vets are expected to help care for the daily needs of the animals, ranging from feeding, cleaning, grooming and petting them and of course the never ending rescue efforts. Vets are highly desired volunteers as they can assist in the sterilization efforts of the Foundation and help animals that require medical attention and operations.

As an unskilled volunteer I am eager to make a good impression and listen carefully to Fon and her three Thai local staff who put me to work straight away. Though my work may seem menial, cleaning kitty litter trays out, sweeping the cat and kitten enclosures up, washing feeding and water bowls out and changing bedding I know that this work is important in keeping these animals happy and healthy, it also affords Fon and her staff more time to care for the animals requiring medication or recovering from operations.

After a few days of performing these routine tasks, the job truly becomes meaningful as the animals recognize you, look forward to you coming around to care for them and you start to realize you are making a difference.

Feeding Time

Whilst most mornings are early morning affairs of cleaning, feeding and playing with animals, most afternoons are taken up by visits to the local vet clinics caring for SANTISOOK patients and on rescue missions throughout the province. During my relatively short stay at the Foundation I was involved in 8 rescues, that’s roughly one every two days.

Fon is permanently on call, and people hearing about the Foundations work readily call her to report on animals in danger. No matter what time of day it is and how far the location is, Fon always responds. Unfortunately even though many Thai people love and care for animals a hugely disproportional number of these calls still come from “farangs”, tourists on holiday or members of Chiang Mais expatriate communities.

Rescues are a costly affair, both emotionally and financially, the emotional cost is you never know what state the animal is going to be in when you get there, most are severely ill or injured and always almost in a state of malnutrition.

All animals brought into the shelter must first be checked out by a vet, blood tests must be carried out to ensure the animal is not carrying any disease that may spread to the other SANTISOOK healthy population, and this is all done using foundation funds and the occasional donation made by the person reporting the incident. No government funding exists to help whatsoever.

Rescues are brought back to SANTISOOK shelter and put in quarantine until they have received inoculations and sterilization, slowly allowed to recover they are then introduced to the rest of the animals and spend the rest of their lives in safety and comfort at the shelter. A few, lucky ones, mostly young puppies and kittens, stand a chance of adoption and a new loving family.

Khao Soi Noodle Soup

Spending time at SANTISOOK is not all work and no play, although there primarily to work and care for animals, Fon and Derrell understand that volunteers want to also experience Thai culture and life. Always hospitable and accommodating they bend over backwards to show volunteers a good time arranging local excursions for sightseeing and opening up their house to guests for traditional Thai meals and a few evening beers or whiskeys.

I was lucky enough to be invited to accompany them on a trip further north to the border town of Mae Sai and they were kind enough to take time out to show me the elusive Golden Triangle, we took a longboat out to Laos for some retail therapy where I got to sample local delicacies and try cobra whiskey.

Derrell and Fon Hilgers

We then had a lovely fish meal by the river and proceeded to rescue one cat and six kittens we found in a bad way by the local restaurants. So we went up north 3 humans and returned with a car full of cat and kittens, listening and singing along to Derrell’s excellent music collection – humanity at its best.

During my time there, Fon also drove me to Doi Suthep mountain to visit the famous temple at its peak and experience panoramic views of Chiang Rai. I am also introduced to great Thai cuisine and I soon develop a taste for good Khao Soi soup, Northern Thai coconut curry noodle soup.

The Foundation holds regular adoption events, to try and find the cats and dogs new homes and also to raise awareness about the Foundations work in Chiang Mai.

I was fortunate enough to attend one of these adoption events on my last day in Chiang Mai, out of 13 puppies, 8 were lucky enough to go home with a loving new family.

SANTISOOK follows up on the adoption process, offering the families advice and also assistance with sterilization/inoculation of the puppy.

People are also welcome to visit the shelters at any time to adopt cats and dogs, older cats and dogs are all vaccinated and sterilized but people usually tend to adopt kittens and puppies as opposed to the adult animals.

All the SANTISOOK animals are happy and sociable; during my whole time there I did not see or have to deal with an aggressive animal. At the adoption event I got to meet the humans of SANTISOOK, compassionate and caring, it is evident that the people that work and offer their free time up for the Foundation are truly passionate about what they do. Mrs Luckana Benjaniratana the Foundations President is an admirable and kind Thai lady who has spent almost her entire life caring for animals in Chiang Mai Province.

So why did I choose to spend my holiday time at SANTISOOK? My motivation was a simple one, having worked abroad for almost all my adult life it has been impossible for me to have a pet in my life. Having grown up with animals around me, I missed the companionship and love animals give to human beings.

An animal shelter volunteer at puppy adoption event

During one of my more recent work assignments abroad I became quite close to a beautiful pure white young cat, I called her Princess, Princess became my pet away from home, she would keep me company and we’d play for hours each day. Unfortunately Princess passed away; I believe she ate something rotten and got food poisoning. I did not expect her death to affect me as much as it did, but the bond between animal and human is a strong one and I missed her dearly each day.

I decided to look into volunteering with animals in order to honour her memory and to try and give something back to stray cats and dogs who give their love so freely to us humans.

My time at SANTISOOK went too fast and my work there was just but a small drop of water in a massive ocean. As I told Fon my experience there was exactly that – an experience. But my experience in her daily reality and the reality of those who choose to work for the animals’ full time, at their own expense, receiving no funding and little support.

I hope that this short article can help raise awareness and inspire others to volunteer and keep SANTISOOK a safe haven for the cats and dogs that desperately need our help and love.

This is dedicated to all the stray cats and dogs I have met worldwide throughout the years. I wish the World could be kinder to you.

El Mitropoulou, May 2015, Thailand

Vital information You Need to Know Before Travelling to the US

Need to Know Before Travelling to the US 2015One of the worst things you can do is to realize you have left out something or forgotten an important detail just before you board a plane to the United States.

Travelling today is a little bit technical due to issues of global terrorism, changing weather patterns and country specific restrictions that have to be adhered to.

To travel safely and comfortably, Hotels-Fairy.com has compiled a brief guide with the most important things you need to know before travelling to the US.

So here are a few things you might want to check out.

Delays could happen

Remember if you are travelling in winter snow storms could bring about cancellations and delays across the main airline hubs within the US. Before travelling, you might want to contact your airline or travel company to prepare accordingly. You can also monitor the US airport conditions online, such as through the Federal Aviation Administration site.

Do not forget that the US hurricane season usually begins from June all the way to November and it is capable of affecting the coastal regions of the United States.

Medical Cover

Almost 4 million people from Britain visit the US annually and while the visits are usually without any trouble, you might want to get yourself a comprehensive medical and travel cover before travelling. This is very important because anything could happen while in the New World.

Valid travel documents and detailsNew York city 2015

Before you travel to the United States ensure that your passport, Visa or any other travelling document is valid and has not expired. If you are from the UK and other 37 Visa Waiver countries you can easily enter the United States without a valid US visa for three months or 90 days.

The Visa Waiver Program allows you to visit the US for tourism or business reasons and you do not have to wait until a valid visa has been granted. However, as one of the citizens in the Visa Waiver countries you need to apply for ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation) to be allowed to enter the country.

Citizens of other countries outside the Visa Waiver nations must apply for valid US visa to be allowed entry.

 Travellers from risky regions

It is worth noting that travellers arriving from countries affected by Ebola in West Africa, particularly Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea should arrive at any of the five main airports so that they can undergo proper health screening. While this can change, it is always important to clarify and counter check before you travel.

Taxi-Cab-New-York

Car hire

If you are planning to hire a car in the US to save time and money that you could have used in public transport and taxis, make the arrangements before you board the plane. Renting a car prior to travelling can help you save money and time, especially if done online due to immense deals offered to travellers.

Specific requirements

If you have unique requirements that might complicate your travelling or your health it is important to notify the airline as soon as possible. This could save you a lot of trouble as well as incurring losses while in America, which you could have avoided with a little planning.

Above all, you might want to remain as safe as you can and observe caution. Even in a great country like the US something negative could happen at any moment as history has shown.

america capitol washington dc

Destination Yorkshire

Destination Yorkshire: The Shambles

The Shambles

If you’re looking for somewhere to go for that late summer break then Yorkshire could be the place for you. Yes, you did read that right. The largest county in England has been awarded two gongs at the recent World Travel Awards held in Athens, Greece.

Dubbed as ‘the Oscars of the travel industry’, the coveted accolades recognised Yorkshire for being Europe’s Leading Destination, and its tourism agency, ‘Welcome to Yorkshire’, as having Europe’s Leading Marketing Campaign.

This all comes hot on the heels of the county successfully hosting the Tour de France’s Grand Départ in July this year.

Gary Verity, Chief Executive of Welcome to Yorkshire, said: “This is yet more evidence that

Yorkshire continues to be the premier European travel destination by winning this prestigious award.

It is a tribute to the 12 months of hard work that has gone into making this year the most successful year of all time for the county.”

In Yorkshire’s case, success certainly seems to have bred more success, as this is the third time the county has won for its marketing campaign, and the second year in a row for being the top destination in Europe.

Destination Yorkshire: Harewood House near Leeds

Harewood House near Leeds

Destination Yorkshire: Must see attractions

So if you’re considering a trip to ‘God’s own county’, here are some things you can do when you get there.

York – The city which gives the county its name was one of the top 20 most visited towns in Britain last year by UK residents, with the Shambles being hailed as the country’s most picturesque street.

Shopping – For those in need of some retail therapy, Meadowhall in Sheffield boasts Europe’s biggest shopping and leisure complex and is visited by over 400,000 people every week.

Seaside – Scarborough has been welcoming families for the past 360 years and is Britain’s oldest seaside resort.

Snow – Winter sports enthusiasts can enjoy the real thing in Castleford’s Xscape. It has over 1,500 tonnes of real snow and the longest indoor slope in the UK at 170 metres.

National Parks – For outdoor types there is plenty on offer to explore as nearly one third of England’s national parkland is found in Yorkshire. (The North York Moors, most of the Yorkshire Dales and part of the Peak District.)

Heritage – Yorkshire is certainly rich in history with over 2,600 nationally important ancient monuments, 800 conservation areas and 116 registered parks and gardens. The county also has two UNESCO World Heritage sites, Studley Royal in North Yorkshire and Saltaire Village in West Yorkshire.

Destination Yorkshire: Scarborough

Scarborough

As we can see there are a wealth of different experiences and activities for you to enjoy whatever type of getaway takes your fancy. There’s also plenty of room to accommodate you if you want to stay overnight or longer, as Yorkshire has over 4,800 hotels, guesthouses, self-catering properties and campsites.

In fact there are enough bed spaces available to sleep the entire population of France over the course of a year.

By Sereena Assih Freelance Writer.

The images above are courtesy of the tourism agency ‘Welcome to Yorkshire’