The stunning temples of Hampi, India

Hampi

Hidden Gem of India

Hampi is a surprisingly unknown place in India considering how amazing it is. I had briefly heard of it before going but not to a large degree, and I hadn’t seen many pictures of it. All I knew is that it had some old temples.


 

Well, I’m very glad I decided to go in the end because I very almost skipped it, which would have been a great loss. Ancient ruins and temples continue for miles over a huge area amongst beautiful surrounding scenery. The town itself is very small and quite rural, but across the river, a more developed town has sprung up with a number of modern restaurants and guesthouses aimed at tourists. In fact, we were told the government is planning to relocate the local villagers to new residences across the river and bulldozing the town in order to preserve the Unesco Heritage status of the ruins. Whether or not this is a good thing is debatable, and understandably some of the villagers who have lived there for decades are against it, but at the same time most of them earn a living from the tourism and therefore maintaining it would likely be in their best interests.

Sunset Panorama

We arrived without any of this information and as a result, ended up booking and paying upfront for two nights in a room at a small, run-down guesthouse on the rural village side. I thought it was a bit odd they wanted us to pay for both nights upfront and only realised why after crossing the river. They knew we would move once seeing the amazing views and beautiful guesthouses available across the river, in what is colloquially referred to as ‘Hippie Island’ (although it is not, in fact, an island).


View of the River

Boat Politics

At the time we went there was only a small boat service to take people across the river but apparently, a bridge is being built in preparation for when the village is relocated. The boat service is really annoying because there are two boats and according to the driver each can only take passengers in one direction. They will also only go once they have reached 20 passengers, so many times we found ourselves waiting for ages for our boat to leave, while the other boat came across and dropped off passengers a number of times and each time went back empty.


Walk to the River Boat

On top of this, the boat guys are very proficient at ripping tourists off, in a number of ways which I’ll cover later. At the end of the day, it’s still very cheap, but it’s the principle of the matter.  More importantly, it’s sad to see people who were once probably self-sufficient and unconcerned with making a quick buck, reduced to money-hunger and morally-bankrupt because of the encroachment of capitalist-fuelled tourism. This is in no way unique to Hampi, or India, but for some reason, it felt more apparent here. I think a recent and sudden burst of tourism has affected the area and people in a way that still needs to find a constructive and beneficial balance for all involved.


Baby on Board

We had arrived at 7 am on an overnight bus from Goa, so after dropping off our bags we went for some breakfast at a small street-side cafe and met a lovely Slovenian couple who were travelling with their 2-year-old. We chatted for quite awhile about travelling, India, babies and Miha’s freelance work as a video producer. Their baby had been quite sick for days so they hadn’t managed to leave their guesthouse or do any sightseeing. Being about the same age as us, I was impressed – but not at all envious – that they didn’t let their child stop them living their lives as they desired. You could tell Miha’s poor wife was feeling the pressure though, but fortunately when we saw them again the next day their child was already feeling better.


Ancient Water Temple

Lazy Lunch

After breakfast, we explored some of the nearby temples by foot before catching the boat across to hippie island and discovering the beauty that is there. Although to be fair, we actually only discovered the comfortable mattresses inside of a restaurant built on bamboo stilts overlooking a rice paddy because we were both so exhausted from the bus journey we promptly fell asleep as soon as we had eaten lunch. Luckily we awoke in time to catch the last boat back! Once back we decided to climb the rocks behind our guesthouse and were rewarded with a stunning sunset over the temples of Hampi.

Hampi Sunset
Sunset Yoga

Cycling and Swimming

We awoke quite late the next day and after a quick traditional breakfast of idli and puri we crossed the river, hired some 100 rupee mountain bikes and cycled off to find Sampar lake. Along the way, we bumped into Rutger, a Dutch guy we had met on the bus who followed us on his scooter and joined us at the lake. We went on a brief but quite fun bamboo-boat ride and swam in the (apparently) crocodile-infested lake. Afterwards, we cycled back to town and enjoyed sun-downers at one of the beautiful riverside resorts.

bamboo boat
Bamboo boat sailing!

Even though we arrived at the boat jetty before the last cut-off time of 5:30 pm (along with a number of other tourists), the boat guy purposely disappeared for about 20 minutes and then came back and told us we’d have to pay 50 rupees now because it was too late. We all protested but soon realised that unless we were going to swim across, we didn’t have any choice but to pay him. What made it even more annoying was that another boat carrying locals did three crossings during this time, with lots of empty seats each time, but wouldn’t let any of us on “because we were foreigners”. I imagine they have some agreement to do this and share the profits.

bicycle
Cycling Hampi

Ancient Temples

We decided to wake up early the next day, view some more of the temples before it got too hot and then return before midday to check out. A short walk over the hill from our guesthouse we discovered a massive ruined complex the size of a small airport, consisting of a large temple on one side made up of a few smaller buildings and a huge pillared courtyard that stretched over a few hundred metres. This led on to a few more temples and ended down by the riverside at a temple with the famous ‘stone chariot’ – which is, as the name suggests, a chariot made out of stone.

By 11 am we were tired and it was hot, so we started heading back and stopped for tea and idli at a small food stall. While there a cheeky monkey came out of nowhere and stole one of our idli cakes right off our plate! We also saw another monkey that must have been attacked – it had all his gums missing, exposing his teeth and skull and looking like something out of a horror movie. It was quite sad although somehow the monkey didn’t seem too bothered.


Rock Diving

Escape the Heat

Once packed and checked-out we crossed the river for the final time and left our bags at the bus collection point. Then we rented a scooter and drove to a swimming spot somebody had told us about a few kilometres upriver. We spent a few hours there swimming and jumping off rocks. There were some Indian guys hanging around there who claimed to own the land and annoyingly kept bugging us to buy their snacks or drinks, with the unspoken threat of kicking us out if we didn’t. I highly doubt they really own the land, but I bought some over-priced crisps anyway to placate them.

Beautiful Rice paddies in Hippie Island

We had our sleeper bus back to Goa booked for 7 pm that evening, so we quickly took the scooter back and watched one last beautiful sunset over the rice paddies before getting on a tuk-tuk to take us to the bus.  This turned out to be a rather insane drive hanging off the back while squashed in with four other people and our bags balanced precariously on the roof.  Along the way, the driver had to swerve to avoid cows sleeping in the road and the usual head-on traffic – and that was before we even go to our actual bus!

Just another day in India….

Budget Travel Tips

money

I have two facets to travelling cheap – “Saving while Working” and “Saving while Travelling”, but both revolve around similar core-concepts.  Depending on your income level and/or the way in which you like to travel, each may apply to you in a different way.


SAVING WHILE WORKING

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Everyone is always asking how I travel so much. Sadly I have no big secret – I didn’t win the lottery, I’m not a trust-fund kid, I don’t have anybody paying for me. I simply follow one rule – earn high, spend low. Seems like an obvious statement, but very few people follow the second step. I spend as little as possible on rent by sharing rooms, staying in super cheap student housing or crashing on friends sofas. Of course, this would not suit everybody but hey – if you wanna travel the world and you’re not a millionaire you’re going to have to make some sacrifices!


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I also eat a lot of rice, frozen veg, spaghetti, tin tomatoes etc, always buy reduced price food, almost never drink out at bars or pubs and never eat at restaurants. I cycle EVERYWHERE. This is probably my biggest saving – I save over £2000 a year simply by refusing to ever pay for public transport or taxis, even if it’s 3 am and it’s raining. Like I said – sacrifices. There are various other ways, like taking a packed lunch to work and drinking the free work coffee instead of the exorbitantly over-priced coffee shops (I mean seriously, £3 for a coffee? Are you crazy?).  I also almost never buy clothes unless it’s an absolute necessity, and even then we’re talking £3 t-shirts or £10 jeans, usually at second-hand stores.  In fact, almost everything I buy is second-hand – shpock and facebook marketplace are my saviours. I never sign up to anything – I’ve never had a phone contract, I don’t have Spotify, Netflix, Sky, a gym membership – I’ve never even had a single direct-debit on my bank account. In short, when working and saving I live like someone on minimum wage or less, but that’s fine because the other 6 months of the year I can travel the world which makes it all worthwhile.  Which takes us to step two…


SAVING WHILE TRAVELLING

Accommodation

Budget Hotel in Hollywood

Hostels and Hotels

Do you like fancy hotels, private rooms, hot water, air-con? This might not be the blog for you. Once again, travelling cheap means sacrifices – you know that little option at the top of hotel search apps that says “Sort by Price – Low to High”? Yeah, I use that a lot. Hostels are your best friend if you’re travelling alone, but in many places, it’s also possible to find private rooms for almost the same price. For example, I recently found a really nice private room in Sri Lanka for £5 a night! Okay sure, the bathroom was shared but this is hardly a big problem. If you’re travelling as a couple you can often get a private room for the same price as two hostel beds. My favourite apps are Hostel World and Trivago. (Booking.com is very popular but they sometimes have hidden costs not included in the quoted price and their customer service is terrible so I would avoid them.)

Waters Edge, Goa

Staying with Locals

Sites like Couchsurfing and WarmShowers are also great for meeting and staying with local residents, and getting the chance to experience a country like locals do. The Couchsurfing app tries to convince you to pay and verify your account but you can use it fine without being verified.

Rough Sleeping

Depending on how brave you are and what country you are in, you can often find places to sleep for free if you really want to save money! These can be anything from hammocks or sunbeds on the beach, to abandoned buildings or construction sites. But again, this depends massively on the safety of where you are – I had no problems doing this in most of South East Asia (especially Cambodia), but it’s probably less recommended in most African and South American countries (although according to my favourite blog “hitchtheworld.com” it would seem South America is fine too).

In most of Europe or the US you’ll likely be asked to move by law enforcement, although a friend and I managed to sleep quite comfortably on the beach in Cannes, and behind a few shops and truck stops in parts of Italy. The smaller the town the better luck you will have. I generally try to avoid cities in all circumstances because they are noisy, polluted and over-priced – and visit them only for work or the airports.

Sleeping in a train station

FOOD AND DRINK

Everyone has heard of tourist traps, but what most people don’t realise is that practically anywhere you go is a tourist trap – if it wasn’t you wouldn’t have heard of it! Restaurants and bars around the town centre of your new destination might seem cheap at first, but if you venture off the main strip into the local areas you’ll be surprised to find amazing authentic places for half the price, and get the rare opportunity to meet some local people in their own environment – not just trying to sell you sunglasses on the beach!  Street food is generally the cheapest way to eat anywhere – in Sri Lanka, you can get great little snacks like roti’s and samosa’s for between 10 – 25p.  In Vietnam, Bahn Mi (baguette sandwich) is available everywhere from between 70-90p, and even sit down restaurants serve huge bowls of Pho for only £1. Thailand is synonymous with street food – for less than £1 you can get a huge array of food including spring rolls, fried chicken, fish, fruit – you name it! maxresdefault

European and American towns have less street food options, so when in expensive places like Paris, I buy bread, cheese and fruit at shops or markets to save money. Many hostels will have communal kitchens so if you are with friends you could save even more by buying ingredients and cooking together. Always buy products local to the country you are in, so don’t try to make pasta in Thailand – rice and a curry with seasonal vegetables will be much cheaper!


Alcohol is usually a big expense for most people, especially when travelling – present company not excluded!  I won’t lie – I really like my beer, and if I’m honest sometimes alcohol makes up 50% of my travel costs! That seems crazy when I see it in writing, but there is no point travelling so cheap that you don’t even enjoy yourself, and of course when money is really tight then it’s the first thing I cut out. Fortunately, in a lot of countries, I have found they will let you bring some store bought alcohol into cheap restaurants, or even bars, as they assume once you are done with that you will buy more.Just don’t be a dick and bring a few bottles of whiskey in!

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The average price of a can of supermarket beer is approximately £1 in almost every country I’ve ever been, with a few exceptions like Vietnam where it can be as low as 30p, and of course, Islamic countries where it is usually illegal or if not, exceptionally expensive.

Drinking before going out and avoiding rip-off touristy bars are the most obvious ways to keep this expense low.


TRANSPORT

Transport is a big one when travelling, and usually, it all starts with flights. Most people are quick to use flight aggregation sites like Skyscanner, Cheapflights and Google Flights, which are great – but just for the info! In most cases, it’s best to use these sites to find the cheapest routes, but then often cheaper to book through the airline independently. Also, these sites will quote you the cheapest fare covering your route in the fastest time with the shortest layover, but often you can save money by purchasing two separate flights on the same path and also spend some time in a new country. For example, I recently searched for a flight from London to Dubai, and the cheapest route was on Pegasus airlines via Istanbul. So I searched on the Pegasus website for individual flights from London to Istanbul and then Istanbul to Dubai a few days later and managed to get a cheaper overall price – plus I got myself an unexpected short holiday in Turkey! Of course, this only works if you’re not on a tight schedule, but I highly recommend always not being on a tight schedule.

Sleeper bus in Malaysia

Once in your country of choice, you’ll likely want to be moving around frequently. Almost every country in the world has a vast spectrum of transport choices, and my favourite is always trains! Train travel is usually the most affordable, fastest and comfortable way to travel (except in the UK). However, western ideals of comfort have created in most countries ridiculous price differences in travel classes, with many railway services offering “1st class” tickets at ten times the price of normal tickets, but offering very little value for money. Seriously, air-con is not that important – even 3rd class carriages have fans, which are more than enough. I’ve travelled 12-hour journeys in 3rd class in humid 40-degree Celsius countries and I’ve survived! Honestly, you’ll be fine. (And if not, most 3rd world countries sell Xanax without prescription for next to nothing.)

Tuk-tuk

Buses are the next best thing for cheap public transport, and usually cover all the routes that trains don’t.  In some countries, I’ve found long-distance overnight bus travel to be very cheap, especially around South East Asia. There is a safety aspect and it’s recommended not to leave any valuables in the luggage hold, not to mention the occasional road accident, so take due care in certain countries when choosing to travel by bus. Personally, I’ve never had a problem, but I’ve heard enough stories of people who have.


Most Asian countries have tuk-tuks which are like small motor-bike taxis with seating for up to 3 people. These are great ways to go small distances but usually cost more than buses and are notorious for ripping off unsuspecting foreigners, so find out first what it should cost for where you are going and ensure to agree on a price before getting in! They also make walking on the streets a highly annoying task as they continuously stop to offer you a lift!

Hitch hiking in Laos

Which brings us to hitch-hiking. Now hitch-hiking is a very sensitive topic with a lot of people, and no doubt for good reason. The biggest issue being gender-related – obviously, for women, there is a massively inherent danger when getting into a car with a stranger. That said, I have met and spoken to a large number of female solo hitch-hikers who have never had any issues in certain areas, mostly south-east Asia. Hitchwiki is a great website run by a worldwide community of hitch-hikers, giving a huge amount of detailed information on where to avoid, where to stand, places to crash, busy routes, quiet routes etc. I haven’t hitch-hiked a huge amount but I’ve had great success in Thailand and Laos – poorer countries are generally better and I’ve found those less well-off are often the quickest to stop and offer a lift.


ALSO – walking and cycling are free and I highly suggest you do them as often as possible. Even 5km is not really that far (if you aren’t on a tight schedule) and you may see and experience things you would have missed out on if you were in a bus.

CASH

No matter how much money you save, if you don’t have access to your money it’s of no use! I encounter an endless stream of people who lose their wallet or bag with their only debit card in it in a foreign country and have no idea how to get a replacement card while abroad – something that is generally very difficult! Before going on a long trip always ask your bank for a second card that you can keep safely back in your hotel or hostel when you go out. If you have a credit card keep it for emergencies only and don’t carry it out with you. In fact, it’s best to only ever take out the cash you need for that day or night and leave everything else back at your accommodation.

In a lot of countries drawing cash from ATM’s incur a big charge (like in Thailand it’s £5, plus whatever percentage your bank charges) so you’ll want to draw a lot of cash at once and keep this in a safe place at your accommodation. Always check that you can draw cash in the country you are visiting and if not bring enough foreign currency for your entire trip. If possible it’s good to have a mix of cards, ie Visa and Mastercard, as some ATM’s only take one or the other.


There is always an inherent danger of money getting stolen from your account if your debit card is lost or stolen, so I always keep the majority of my cash in my separate savings account and then move money using my Barclays app on my phone when I need to draw cash. This way if somebody does get my card they will only have access to about £30. A potential problem with this is losing or breaking your phone and not having access to the app, so it’s also good to carry the pin-sentry console with you if your bank has one.


BAGGAGE

Travel light! I cannot stress this enough. No matter how long your trip, you never need more than a week’s worth of clothes. I only ever travel with one backpack that fits into carry-on luggage and weighs between 10-12kg, and this is advantageous for many reasons – no excess baggage charges, the airline can’t lose it, you don’t have to wait at the baggage carousel and it’s small and light enough to walk long distances with when hitch-hiking or even just trying to find a hotel or hostel. With a small bag, there is also much more chance a bar will be happy to stash it for you overnight while you crash on a hammock or sunbed. Furthermore, you will be able to take it onto buses with you so no worries of theft from the luggage compartment or forgetting something in your bag that you may need on-board. Basically, you’ll be lighter, happier and always have whatever you need at hand. The only exception to this is when travelling in very cold countries where excessive warm clothing is required and so a big bag is unavoidable.

My essential luggage items are:
Basic clothing (4 shirts, 3 shorts, some socks, trainers, flip flops and maybe a warm hoodie or jersey)
Phone charger and power bank
Basic toiletries (toothpaste, brush, deodorant) and basic medical (some plasters and antiseptic cream)
Glasses and sunglasses
TRAVEL ADAPTOR!
Passport
Padlock

(I realise girls with hair might need luxury items like shampoo and stuff so I can accept they may not be able to travel as light as me, but most hostels and hotels have soap and sometimes even shampoo. Or just make friends with somebody who does!)

Beyond the essentials, I also carry a tiny laptop (to write this), a hammock, a unicorn mask, a GoPro, an electric razor, nail-clippers, a portable speaker and some other non-essential items because just like everybody I also tend to pack way more than I actually need.