The New Zealand Campervan Experience

Hello everyone. We hope you are having excellent holidays. We were more or less internet-less while in New Zealand, hence the lack of posting. We have left kiwi-land and are now “down unda” in Australia and we wanted to catch you up on the magic that is New Zealand.

On the recommendation of a friend (who wrote this fabulous blog about her time in NZ), we traveled around New Zealand in a minivan that had been converted into a campervan. What does that mean, you may ask. Well I will take you on a tour:

Our home for 2 weeks. Fully equipped minus a bathroom.

Our home for 2 weeks. Fully equipped minus a bathroom.

For two people (who like each other), this minivan is perfect. It fits in a regular parking spot, but contains everything you need for day-to-day living (except a bathroom).

The campervan set up for daytime.

The campervan set up for daytime.

Above you can see the campervan as it looked in the morning after we woke up and put it back to daytime mode. There are seats on either side of the van behind the front seats. Those come in handy if it is pouring outside and you need to hide out for a few hours. All of our stuff lived under the seat on the right side of this picture in the two cubbies. Under the left side seat was our pantry. All our non-perishables were in there. Our perishable items lived in the cooler in the center of the picture. We bought a 3 liter bottle of water and froze it whenever we stayed the night somewhere with a freezer. In this picture on the lower right you can see the cooktop where Dan is making oatmeal, our standard breakfast. The cooktop slides back into that white cube on the right and all of the dishes and cutlery fit underneath. On the left is the sink (that we pretty much didn’t use), and the kettle that fits into the sink.

The campervan set up for nighttime.

The campervan set up for nighttime.

In the picture above you can kinda see the bed setup. It goes from behind the front seats up to sink/cooler/stove areas. The bed magically comes into being by pulling out a wooden plank from under the right hand seat, that then fits into the middle section. Then the back cushions from both seats cover the middle plank, and the top left area is filled with a plank and cushion that was standing upright behind the passenger side seat (on the left in NZ!). Then the whole thing is covered by a sheet and duvet. It was actually quite comfortable. It sounds confusing, but after putting the bed together once it wasn’t so bad. Here you can also see all of the equipment (stove side and sink side) properly put away. I can admit to the fact that it usually wasn’t this well organized!

The biggest question we get about seeing the country in a campervan is, how do you handle not having a bathroom? New Zealand is the land of campervans, so the country is well prepared for this kind of travel. There are two kinds of places you can stay at with a campervan: Department of Conservation (DoC) sites or holiday parks. DoC sites are low tech and low cost. A night at most DoC sites is NZ$10 per person. DoC sites almost all have toilets and running water. In some places you need to boil the water before using it as it just comes from the nearby stream. Holiday parks are private businesses that are like motels for campervans. You get a spot for your van and share communal kitchens and bathrooms. Holiday parks are where we took all of our showers. Holiday parks cost in the NZ$30-45 range for 2 people in one unpowered campervan. I think Dan preferred the solitude and beauty of the simple DoC sites, but I liked the community and services of the holiday parks. Also, the holiday parks are everywhere you, as a tourist, might want to go, where the DoC sites are more remote. I think in two weeks we only stayed at 2 or 3 DoC sites. Which, on the plus side, means we took more showers!

Most importantly, how was cooking in the campervan? It was great. We only had one burner, so one-pot meals were all we made. We had ramen with veggies (Dan’s favorite), burritos (my favorite), sloppy joes, pasta with veggie-filled sauce, and veggie curry. We went grocery shopping only a few times during the trip as with some planning our food lasted a while. The trick? When staying at a holiday park, freeze a big 3 liter bottle of water overnight and then that will keep your cooler cold for a few days until your next stay at a holiday camp! Worked for us. We never had any mold issues. Here are some pictures of cooking and eating while traveling in a campervan.

Burrito night, with a great view.

Pasta night, with a great view.

Rain or shine, I will eat ramen

Rain or shine, I will eat ramen

These little guys were looking for some snacks.

These little guys were looking for some snacks.

Burrito night number 2. Our favorite meal while campervanning.

Burrito night. My favorite meal while campervanning.

The reason that campervan travel is so popular around New Zealand is because the country is so amazingly diverse, even though it is quite small. We only had one long driving day, but in two weeks we probably drove over 2000 km, seeing much of the country (but not nearly all. I guess we will have to come back!). The campervan allowed us to go places we couldn’t have gone to otherwise.

Here are some of our favorite pictures that we took over the 2 weeks traveling the country in the campervan:

Now, just one last piece of advice before you all head off to plan your campervan trip in New Zealand: Buy the extra insurance. That way when this happens:

Is that a nail in our tire? Yes, yes it is.

Is that a nail in our tire? Yes, yes it is.

Flat tire off, doughnut on. Dan springs into action.

Flat tire off, doughnut on. Dan springs into action.

Flat tires suck, but we couldn't have picked a more beautiful place to get one.

Flat tires suck, but we couldn’t have picked a more beautiful place to get one.

It doesn’t cost you anything more than some time and energy. Plus, you never know, a nice kiwi family may offer you their driveway to park/sleep in for the night.

Christchurch, New Zealand: Destruction and Rebirth

Hello everyone! Long time, no post. Sorry about that. Since we last posted Dan and I flew from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Christchurch, New Zealand, via Sydney, Australia. Whew! An exhausting, but totally worth it, 24 hours. I know New Zealand is very far away from pretty much everything, but I encourage everyone to come here! We spent the first two days here in Christchurch, and since then we have been traveling around the country in a campervan (a post about the campervan will be coming in the future!). It has been so much fun, but we haven’t had much in the way of internet. Hence the lack of posting. I wanted to check in really quickly and do a post of mostly pictures.

Christchurch is the second largest city in New Zealand, and the largest city on the south island. In February of 2011, Christchurch was hit by a 6.3 magnitude earthquake which killed 185 people and was the second largest natural disaster in New Zealand’s history. The Central Business District (CBD) was hit particularly hard. Almost 3 years later Christchurch is still getting back on its feet. It is a city of juxtapositions. There is beauty everywhere, but there is also destruction. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Destruction

Destruction.

Rebirth. This is Re:START, a new retail area in CBD created out of shipping containers

Rebirth. This is Re:START, a new retail area in CBD created out of shipping containers.

Christchurch Cathedral, located in the center of CBD.

Christchurch Cathedral in ruins, located in the center of CBD.

Amazing, ancient tree in the Christchurch Botanic Gardens. See me in the middle for scale.

Amazing, ancient tree in the Christchurch Botanic Gardens. See me in the middle for scale.

Bridge in the city with a huge crack.

Bridge in the city with a huge crack.

Ducklings!

Ducklings!

Behind a row of buildings in CBD. You can still see into most of them, 3 years later.

Behind a row of buildings in CBD. You can still see into most of them, 3 years later.

Dan with a mushroom umbrella in Hagley Park, the second biggest inner-city park in the world. After Central Park, of course!

Dan with a mushroom umbrella in Hagley Park, the second biggest inner-city park in the world. After Central Park, of course!

Memorial to the 185 victims of the earthquake. 185 unique chairs.

Memorial to the 185 victims of the earthquake. 185 unique chairs.

Beautiful plantings like this one can be found all over the city.

Beautiful plantings like this one can be found all over the city.

We thought Christchurch was a really fascinating place, and we can only imagine what it was like before the earthquake. Christchurch now has an opportunity to remake its city center. Something no other city has the chance to do hundreds of years after its creation. We saw some plans of what they hope to do with all of the now-empty spots around town and, if realized, Christchurch could become a very “livable” city full of playgrounds and green spaces. I wish them all the best and I hope to be back someday to experience all the growth and changes.

Into Cambodia Part II: Banteay Srei and Beyond

Put the Angkor Archaeological Park in Cambodia on your bucket list if you like history (and pretty architecture). It is remarkable in so many ways for so many reasons. (If you missed part one, you can find the post here.) When I first saw the option to purchase a 3-day park pass, I thought that the administrators may be crazy. Now I realize that there is an excellent reason why it exists. Enter Part II.

Angkor this, Angkor that – it can really be confusing to know what is what around Siem Reap. If you can believe it, there is even a beer called Angkor and another beer called Anchor. I’m sure that’s not aggravating for bartenders at all.

That being said, there is a secret to sprawling world of the Angkor Archaeological Park (AAP). That secret lies about 30km north of Angkor Wat and led to my favorite experience in Cambodia. We went with fellow long-term traveler Nicole (whom we met in Thailand a week earlier) to check out two more remote sites that are included in the AAP ticket: Banteay Srei and Kbal Spean.

Have you seen this equation before? The Journey ≥ The Destination

An hour long Tuk Tuk ride from Siem Reap was a thousand times more entrancing than it sounds. As a result, it was my most memorable experience. Just look at the beautiful surroundings.

Cambodia fields and house

Cambodia fields and house

Throughout our ride we got a small taste of Cambodian agrarian life. We passed rice fields, oxen pulling carts, small villages and abundant wildlife. It’s quite different than the tourist-track near Siem Reap. Our destination seemed like an added bonus after the ride there.

The distance makes Banteay Srei a little quieter. It is smaller, intricately carved and, most amazingly, predates Angkor Wat by two centuries. It was only rediscovered about a hundred years ago.

The temple and carvings are made of a reddish sandstone which makes it unique. Banteay Srei translates to ‘The Citadel of Women.’ The carvings found there are supremely detailed. You can get up close and spend hours analyzing the subtle patterns if the sun doesn’t dry you out first. Banteay Srei is also a great jumping off point to another unique location even further north.

Kbal Spean is not a temple like Banteay Srei. It is an archaeological site that houses a collection of amazing carvings which happen to be underwater. In a tributary of the Siem Reap river lay artifacts and engravings from the 11th and 12th centuries.

The carvings are everywhere. Many are beneath the water and some are on dry land nearby. You must walk for about 20 minutes from the nearest road through the jungle to glimpse the remains. While enduring constant erosion from the stream, you can plainly see the patterns and carvings that lay beneath. In fact, the carvings can be seen for wide stretches as you walk up and down the river.

I tried to wrap my mind around how (or why) such carvings would be placed underwater. It was a thrill to see something that takes so much skill to complete in a location where it will inevitably be reclaimed by nature. After the better part of a millennium, most of the carvings are still going strong. We only had time to see a one area in the riverbed but there were other paths and areas to explore.

I really began to appreciate our day as we rode back to Siem Reap. Not everyone goes to Cambodia. Fewer still make the journey further beyond to see the beautiful countryside and the truly unique ruins found there. Sometimes when you go exploring you find new and amazing things at your destination. The beauty of exploring is the unexpected. A bumpy Tuk Tuk ride on the other side of the world just may be something you remember forever.

Into Cambodia – Angkor

The last 50 years have not been kind to Cambodia. The spillover from the Vietnam war led to decades of struggle. At the hands of the Khmer Rouge it is estimated that a quarter of the population was killed or died of starvation. The instability was still very apparent into the 1990’s and trials for genocide are still not fully resolved as of 2013. With all of these events it is easy to overlook the thousands of years of history before Vietnam.

Cambodia is a beautiful country and has legacy of ancient history to match.

Cambodian Jungle

Cambodian Jungle

No trip to Cambodia is complete without a visit to Angkor. The Angkor Archaeological Complex is home to ruins from many structures that sprawl for kilometers including notable temples. The most famous of these temples is Angkor Wat. We got up before dawn for a tuk tuk ride to catch the sunrise over this storied structure. You may recognize the iconic silhouette in the picture below.

Angkor Wat at Sunrise

Angkor Wat at Sunrise

Angkor Wat is enormous. You can’t properly appreciate the scale until you spend 10 minutes just walking toward the main structure. What you find inside is magical. Steep stairwells, long hallways and empty pools where medical treatments once took place. In addition to the massive size, there are many areas of extraordinary detail. Carvings of spectacular scenes with immaculate human and animal designs.

It is incredible to think that Angkor Wat was constructed over 800 years ago. You could spend all day appreciating the site. However, Angkor Wat is just one of many temples located in the complex. Our second stop was Ta Prohm.

Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm is literally being eaten alive. The surrounding forest has been encroaching on the site ever since it was abandoned and has incorporated itself into the design. The result is an incredible blending of nature and man-made structure.

Ta Prohm was my favorite of the temples at Ankor. It twists your imagination to wonder what it must have been like hundreds of years ago and what it may become hundreds of years from now.

The last of our three-temple-tour was the equally impressive Angkor Thom (Bayon). Angkor Thom is best known for the faces that decorate the entire site.

Angkor Thom Face

Angkor Thom Face

After spending six hours in the blazing sun looking at ancient artifacts, I’m not sure my mind was in the best state to absorb all there was to see at Angkor Thom. Thankfully, we have cameras and I can go back and appreciate the details.

To say Ankor is massive is a severe understatement. We spent a full day at the complex and could have spent many more. Once a thriving population lived and worked on the same site as these ruins. Now, we can only look at these rocks and imagine what a thriving Ankor may have looked like.

The next day, we had the opportunity to venture even further back into Cambodia’s ancient history. Stay tuned for part two of our Cambodia temple adventure!

Our Local Vegan Thai Place in Bangkok

All it took was our first bites at this place to know that we would become regulars. During our 5 days in Bangkok, we became just that. We ate at Baan Aree (also known as Banana Family Park) almost everyday.

Our first Baan Aree deliciousness.

Our first Baan Aree deliciousness.

Open at 7am, it was the perfect affordable Thai breakfast. We would stop in for a bite before heading off for our activities for the day. At 30-50 baht ($1-1.67) per plate (depending on what we got) it was a fantastic deal.

Tofu, veggies, noodles. Who could ask for anything more?

Tofu, veggies, noodles. All vegan! Who could ask for anything more?

Oh yeah, and crispy fried mushrooms! (upper left corner)

Oh yeah, and crispy fried mushrooms! (upper left corner)

If you are patient and come at the end of the day (they are technically open until 7pm, but I wouldn’t get there much after 6 if I were you), you are rewarded with the discounted leftovers of the day. 15 baht per plastic bag of food.

15 baht bags of deliciousness are perfect for long overnight bus trips.

15 baht bags of deliciousness are perfect for long overnight bus trips.

But Molly, you might be thinking, how the heck do we get to this place? Good question. It is inexplicably hard to find. A good place to start would be to review the description on their Happy Cow page. Then follow our step-by-step directions here:

Take the BTS Skytrain (the most pleasant way to get around Bangkok) to the Ari station. Take exit 1. Walk down the west side of Phahon Yothin road.

When you see this sign, turn down the alley that looks like...

When you see this sign, turn down the alley that looks like…

this! Yes it is usually this deserted.

this! Yes it is usually this deserted.

Once you are out of the alley, you will see some shops. Pass them and see on your right this big open space with seating and a glass-walled yoga studio at the back.

Once you are out of the alley, you will see some shops. Pass them and see on your right this big open space with seating and a glass-walled yoga studio at the back.

You are now almost there! Keep going! Walk to the right of the yoga studio, next to the bathrooms. Keep to the right and keep walking and you will finally see:

this glorious home of tasty food and a little health food store.

this glorious home of tasty food and a little health food store.

The health food store is the perfect place to pick up snacks or a cold drink, and the food stalls are all vegetarian. This is your chance, veggie-eaters, to get your fill of vegan versions of Thai street food. I recommend one of everything!

One tip I learned is to keep your eye out for yellow triangle-shaped flags with red writing on them. That means the food at that restaurant is “jay”. The Thai word “jay” (เจ), means a person who eats no meat, no seafood, no animal byproducts, no garlic, and even excludes a few herbs and vegetables that have too pungent of a flavor. (Definition borrowed from this article.) But I promise that does not mean tasteless! Our vegan Thai place was where local office workers came at lunchtime. This was no foreigner hangout. You, too, can find your own veggie Thai place in Thailand!

You can check out all of our Thailand posts here.