Dropbox Time Machine

It just occurred to me that working from a dropbox sync’d folder has a couple of hidden benefits that I’d not really considered before. When I’m working on something between work and home, I often stick it on my dropbox and work from there. This means I have the newest files waiting for me when I get home. What I hadn’t considered is how this whole thing gets backed up. (Don’t trust the cloud to keep backups for you!)

Enter Time Machine

At work I have a Time Capsule which is always backing up my laptop. By default this means it is making backups of my dropbox folder. I can do all the fancy document revision stuff exactly like I can with any other folder on my Mac, and this is where the fun begins. At home, I run another Time Machine drive to backup my iMac. By default this is also making backups of my dropbox folder. Do you see where this is going?

Multiple offsite backups.  That’s where! All the files in my dropbox end up in five places: Dropbox, MacBook Pro at work, iMac at home, Time Machine at home, and Time Capsule at work. Now that’s a cool way to backup. (See the graphic)

Dropbox Time Machine
Dropbox Time Machine

There is something important that needs to be noted here. I’m not storing anything crucial like customer data on dropbox, just design files and draft blog posts etc. If I was, I would secure and encrypt my home iMac and backups too. (I do anyway. Paranoid much!) This is fine, but it’s important to make sure you know of any potential holes that could leak company data.

It’s probably worth mentioning that I work for a small company. You’re unlikely to be allowed to dropbox your corporate company data around the globe for obvious reasons.

Although I’m using a Mac here, this could be tweaked a bit to work in Windows too. You just need a scheduled backup service at each end.

Koh Tao Floods – Here To Stay

Day 27 – Koh Tao – Monday March 28th 2011

At 8:30 we were woken up by girls shouting in the room next door. We heard every word they said. “The boats have been cancelled. No more boats for at least 2 days.”

So it seems we are stranded here for the time being. Luckily we found somewhere cheap to stay whilst we wait out this storm. We have a couple of weeks until we fly out of Singapore, so hopefully we can get out by then.

The thought of getting on another boat is turning my stomach. At the moment I’m happy to just sit tight and wait.

We had no electricity all day, as the generators were being switched off to conserve fuel. The water was also switched off to avoid contamination from the floods.

Most of the shops were closed, except a small swedish shop, which was selling snacks by candlelight.

Flood spreading

The flood water had now spread from the main road, and there was now 8-10 inches flowing down our road. We had to walk barefoot, to stop our flip-flops being washed away.

We could see that Porto Bello was one of the few restaurants with lights on, so we would be eating there again. Pete went out to take some photos and stopped by Porto Bello to ask about the floods. He said that this weather is worse than they had in the monsoon, and the worse summer rain for over 9 years.

People expect things to start back up in two or three days, but I’m sure they are just making that up. There doesn’t seem to be any real forecast about this.

A local phrase we hear a lot here is, “tomorrow is better….. maybe,” which I suppose is optimistic.


We don’t know if the Japanese Tsunami has played a part in this crazy weather. Some people are convinced it did.

It’s strange to be stranded in something like this. It’s normally the sort of thing that you see on the news.

Local houses are being washed away. We overheard a local talking about a rock that smashed through his house. He was asleep and luckily got out before his house collapsed. He did have a black eye.

We moved our backpacks into the wardrobe as we noticed a damp patch appearing on the ceiling. We later booked an extra two nights, as we can’t really go anywhere. The weather is about 25°C so at least it isn’t cold.

Bangkok Temples and the Bus to the Islands

Day 25 – Bangkok to Chumporn – Saturday March 26th 2011

We decided to have a look at the famous sights of Bangkok today, so we booked our transport to Koh Tao, left our baggage at the tour office, and then set out for the day.

We started at the National Gallery and Museum, which were free today due to a public holiday. Then we made our way to the famous Emerald Buddha. We arrived to total chaos so decided to skip this one and go to see Wat Pho instead. It was a good call, as Wat Pho has a massive gold reclining Buddha and large grounds to walk around. There were big stone guardians at the gates.

Frank and Chick left early to return to Khao San Road, but Nic and I decided to head for Wat Arun. We walked via a street market, monument bridge, and a lovely waterside path before snaking through back streets to reach the temple. The temple looked really different and was covered in tiny ceramic tiles. By the time we got there, we didn’t even have time to go in, so we flagged down a Tuk-Tuk to take us back to Khao San Road. It only cost a pound, which was a bargain, as it took ages to get back.

After eating, we headed for the tour office at about 6:30pm, but didn’t get on a bus until almost 9pm. On the plus side, I got chatting to an Indonesian guy Boris, who was travelling to Koh Tao to work. He gave me his copy of the guide-book, which we hadn’t been able to get anywhere else.


Train to Ninh Binh

Day 21 – Hanoi to Ninh Binh – Tuesday March 22nd 2011

We had a free bread and jam breakfast whilst our Hotel owner booked us a taxi to the Railway Station. We packed our bags and then forced our way through the busy daytime streets to the main road. We found two waiting taxis, but only one had a driver so we chose that one. We are smart travellers.

We loaded our backpacks into the boot and all got in. The driver ignored us and left the ignition off. We showed him a picture of a train on he map, but he wouldn’t get going. For fear of him driving off with our stuff, we opened the boot and unloaded our stuff while Frank went round the corner to get the Hotel owner.

The driver and Hotelier shouted at each other for a few minutes. Then we got the thumbs up. This time, he started the car and we were off. It was only a short ride and cost about a quid.

At the railway station, we couldn’t help think that the title on the ticket desk was a bit misleading. She didn’t seem to want to sell us tickets. We eventually coaxed the tickets out of her, but had a few hours to kill before the train to Ninh Binh was due.

We wanted to lock our backpacks in the lockers, but were told by the attendant that we couldn’t use the lockers. We would have to leave our bags with her behind a desk. We didn’t like the sound of that, so took all our stuff back out to the busy street. We needed to find somewhere to chill out and waste some time. In this part of town this proved easier said than done.

The pavements were again full of motorbikes so we ended up walking along busy roads until we reached a small park and lake. Actually more of a muddy puddle. We sat in the windy park for a while, and then took shelter in a small restaurant. It was a locals only place, but we managed to order some food and drinks. The drinks were fine but the food was awful. The driest piece of chicken I had ever seen, on a bed of raw vegetables. Lovely.

We hadn’t quite wasted enough time yet, and as we wandered around, thought we had hit the jackpot when we saw a KFC! We went in, but it was closed. At lunchtime! Madness. We ended up at another bad restaurant where Nic had some food which was almost as bad as mine.

Train to Ninh Binh

The train was on time and busy. Some people had so much luggage that they must have been moving house. They had bags, boxes, TVs, books, lampshades and anything you could imagine.

We arrived at the tiny Ninh Binh station which had no maps or guides at all. We didn’t have a clue how to find our Hotel. Frank asked in a guesthouse next to the station, and the woman was kind enough to give us a photocopied hand-drawn map of the area. She even marked off our hotel for us.

It was a few minutes walk through town and we could see instantly that this was a much more relaxed place. Apart from the massive main road, the other roads were actually quite safe to walk down, without fear of being run over.


On the way we had children coming up to us and saying hello and old people smiling as we walked past. Much nicer place.

The Ngoc Anh Hotel was exactly where our map said it would be. It was tidy and quite new. The rooms were pretty new and had decent bathrooms.

The staff here were really helpful and were happy to arrange trips too. We booked a trip for tomorrow. We get our own driver in a 4×4 to take us round the nearby national park. It cost $40 USD but between the four of us that’s pretty good going.

Mugged by a Hanoi Taxi Driver

Day 17 – Bangkok to Hanoi – Friday March 18th 2011

Mugged Vietnam Taxi

I somehow managed to sleep through most of the flight so felt pretty good when we landed in Hanoi. We asked at the information kiosk about a sleeper train to Hoi An, but they were fully booked. We had been banking on getting a train straight to Hoi An so we hadn’t really planned what to do in Hanoi. We were ushered into a taxi and driven towards the city centre.

Alarm Bells

We should have realised when the driver started playing music videos on a small screen that this wasn’t your usual government issue taxi.

He eventually pulled up in a side street, where a dodgy Hotel owner was waiting to try and sell us rooms. The taxi driver snatched 2 million Dong from Frank’s wallet and after a heated exchange we grabbed our stuff and started walking. Fast.

2 million Dong is only about £60 so we counted ourselves lucky and shared the cost between us. We later found out that it should have only been £10.

In that moment of madness we had ignored all our own advice and been taken advantage of. We all felt a bit stupid and quite vulnerable. We didn’t have a clue where we were or where we wanted to go.

Find a big landmark, head for that

We knew that Hanoi had a big lake in the middle so we tried to head for that. By some huge fluke we wandered straight by a Hosteling International Hostel. We took refuge in the lobby and were so happy when they gave us a room for the night for only £4 each.

The rain was still heavy but we decided to get out and have a walk round the old quarter. The noise of this place is like nowhere else. Cars and motorbikes use their horns at every opportunity. It isn’t very relaxing to walk around the streets, which are often 5 deep with parked mopeds. Walking along a busy road, whilst motorbikes crowd the pavement seems mad.


After our walk I was totally shell shocked so went for a lie down. Nic and Frank went to look at tours to Halong Bay. They seem quite expensive at around $30-40 USD. Vietnam uses the US Dollar almost as a second currency, the problem is that you can only get it on the black market here. We decided to use local currency instead.

Before we got here we had heard news of a British guy drowning on an overnight Halong Bay trip, so we didn’t want to spend a night on the boat. Luckily there was the alternative option to stay on an Island instead.

We had a bad start in Vietnam so I went to bed hoping to wake up in a better mood. We have been away from home for 3 weeks and have yet to see a single beach yet. The islands of Thailand are calling me.

Avoiding Airport Taxi Scams

Foreign airports can be daunting, especially when you don’t speak the language. I have got some tips to make it as simple as possible, and avoid some common scams in the process.

  1. Research. Find out where to get the taxi from in advance. You don’t want to wander around looking vulnerable.
  2. If there are crowds of Taxis outside the airport shouting for business, they may not be official. Find the official taxi stand or office and get one from there. It may cost more, but it’s safe. We failed to follow this advice once and ended up paying six times the usual price. It could have easily been much worse.
  3. Know the price. Most hostels / hotels will tell you how much a taxi will cost from the airport. Allow for some variation for meter taxis and tolls, but it helps to have a guide price. For places without meter taxis get a price up front, but don’t pay until you get to your destination.
  4. If you book and pay for a taxi in advance from a hotel, make sure you get a receipt / voucher. In Vietnam a driver tried to demand more money even though we had paid in advance. Remember they have your luggage held hostage in the boot of their car.
  5. Don’t flash your cash about. Some countries are poor, so don’t show them your wallet full of cash. Most people are decent, but you never know. Keep some different notes in different pockets, then you can pull out just the amount you need, without waving loads of notes about.

Wheelspins In The Mountain

Day 15 – Pai to Chiang Mai – Wednesday March 16th 2011

We woke early and packed our bags. It was still raining. The owners had now returned and Darling gave us small handicraft gifts before we were dropped to the bus stop on the back of their pickup truck.

The minibus back to Chiang Mai was so full we had to ride with some of the baggage in with us. You wouldn’t believe how many bags some people travel with. (Lots)

The journey was awful. Visibility was only a few metres in the fog of the mountains, and the minibus was wheelspinning around some of the tight 180° switchbacks. Somehow we got back to Chiang Mai safely, where a waiting songthaew (pickup truck with benches in the back) ferried us to a familiar part of town, near Thapae Gate.

We had lunch and then went to an internet cafe to send messages home.

A little while later we hailed a red songthaew taxi to take us to the railway station. It cost 40p each (20B).

Our train was due at 9, but didn’t arrive ’till gone 10. The seats were actually quite comfortable, and we were at the front of the carriage so had extra leg room. Don’t think I will get much sleep on here. Wish I was tucked up on a sleeper train bunk.

Rainy Rural Thailand – Pai

Day 14 – Pai – Tuesday March 15th 2011

The lush wet greenery of Pai is worlds away from the Thailand we have come to know. This place is quiet, rural and laid back, even when compared to Ayutthaya. The landscape is mountainous and feels almost English. The fact that the rain has been relentless also reminds me of home.

Earlier today we were all sat around reading, just chilling out. Frank came busting through the quiet time with his exercise routine. Our chalet rocked from side to side with his every squat thrust.

We had to laugh. Even in Pai, where relaxation is king, Frank just couldn’t sit still. Eventually he succumbed to the Pai way of life and is now sitting in a hammock reading a book.

In the afternoon we got our rain macs on and headed across the river to book our travel back to Bangkok. The bus back to Chiang Mai was only £3 (150B) but we were gutted to find the next sleeper train fully booked. We had to book an overnight normal seated train for the 12 hour trip. That train cost £14 (711B) and if we couldn’t sleep on it then we had the next day to catch up before our flight to Hanoi.

Nic has had a bad stomach today so hopefully feels better before the flight.

Thai Cooking – Chiang Mai

Day 12 – Chiang Mai – Sunday March 13th 2011

Thai Cooking Chiang Mai
Thai Cooking Chiang Mai

In the morning we booked a bus for tomorrow morning to take us North to Pai. We had heard about the place via the backpacker grapevine and it sounded like a relaxed small town. The minibus was only £3.60 each for the 4 hour trip.

We had booked a cooking course at the same office as Elephant Nature Park, so knew it would be good.

We were the only people on the course this time, so we had the place to ourselves. We started the evening at the local market, where our teacher showed us the various spices and ingredients. She was really knowledgeable and gave us ideas for things we could substitute if we couldn’t get hold of them back home. She bought some ingredients and then walked us to the house where we would be cooking.

Whilst the kitchen was prepared, we were given a starter to try. We were seated on cushions at a low table in an open fronted house. The food was served in a round dish with separate sections, with peanut, chill, sauce and some other things which I cannot remember. The idea is to pick the ingredients, wrap them in a leaf and then eat. It was like a chilli bomb. Very tasty.

When we had demolished those, we were taken outside where the cooking stations were all arranged. We were shown how to prepare the vegetables and herbs and were given some choices of what to cook.

We cooked papaya salad or stir fry first, and then went back inside to eat. After that we cooked our curries. I made a Thai green curry and got to make the curry paste from scratch. For desert I had sticky rice and mango.

All the food was genius. So tasty and not too difficult to cook. We also got a recipe book to take home.

Night market revisited.

We walked back to our guesthouse via the night market. We were lucky to get another Sunday here, I love this market. There was a row of blind musicians busking in the market in a line, and they were playing lovely music. I had a lump in my throat listening to them. They were really skilful and must have been playing together for ages.

I found a Chang t-shirt, but the woman wouldn’t budge from 170B, so I walked away  (£3.50 for a t-shirt, what a cheapskate I have become!)

In the middle of the night I woke up and was convinced I saw two ghost monks standing in the darkness of our guesthouse. They would have been around 7 feet tall so it was probably just a trick of the light. I just went back to sleep.

Elephant Nature Park – Chiang Mai

Day 11 – Chiang Mai – Saturday March 12th 2011

Today we booked a day at Elephant Nature Park. We wanted to repay our debts to the abused Thai elephants after witnessing their poor treatment first hand. We wanted to help and see the work that is being done to put things right.

We were collected early from our guesthouse and driven North. During the journey to Elephant Nature Park we were shown a DVD to explain the about the foundation, and about their founder Lek. Since logging was banned in Thailand there are redundant elephants that can be costly for their owners to keep. One way they make ends meet is by using the elephants for tourism. The badly treated elephants are rescued and taken care of at the park.

We arrived at the immaculate camp which had a massive barn full of fruit to feed the huge beasts. The elephants are allowed to roam free on the land without chains, and are followed by their individual mahouts (trainers). The park is against any sticks or hooks as discipline, instead preferring to use food as a training tool. Even the troublesome elephants are not chained up, instead they tie a bell round its neck, so everyone knows when trouble is coming.

This is true of a couple of the younger male elephants, which came to the park without first being domesticated (I think one of them may have been born at the park). They are much more of a challenge to train, but eventually the park aims to release elephants into the wild anyway. It would not be possible at the moment, as the elephants would be taken back into the tourism trade, due to weak laws, and the value of the elephants.

Abused elephants.

One of the elephants at the park could hardly walk as it had been chained up and used for breeding. It had broken hips and needed constant veterinary care.

Another elephant had a piece of its leg missing after a landline accident near the Burmese border. It happened over ten years ago, but still requires constant medical attention.

Feed the elephants.

We were able to feed the elephants from a raised platform, and then wash them down with buckets of water in the river.

After a massive buffet lunch we signed a petition against the use of elephants begging on the streets. The foundation does support people that use their previously domesticated elephants for tourism, but wants to make sure their welfare is being looked after, and that more elephants are not being brutally broken in to use to make money.

Elephant Nature Park was a fantastic place, and it is great to see a Thai woman making a stand against the poor treatment of these elephants. Lek has dedicated her life to helping these elephants and it clearly shows in the park.

Japan earthquake

Today we received panicked messages from our families after seeing news of the awful earthquake in Japan. We have been totally unaffected by it, but will need to keep an eye the situation for our next flights.