Our Senior Business Travel Consultant, Domino Panton-Oakley has travelled… a lot. She’s endured planes, trains and automobiles all of shapes and sizes and knows that odysseys aren’t always as photogenic as Instagram suggests. Travelling can be tough but more often than not, well worth it!
In this enthralling travel diary Domino details how she weathered the rough with the smooth when it came to transport, all to achieve some incredible and unforgettable experiences.
Find out how Domino conquered land, sea and air in her own words:
Is there a better way to start a marriage than to jet off around South East Asia and New Zealand for 6 months? If you can think of a better way, then please do tell me, as I feel that our trip was the honeymoon to end all honeymoons. But of course, I am biased! So, three days after saying I do, two days after a severe hangover, and one day after packing up our house and renting it to strangers, we took flight.
When you think of travelling, you think of the sunny weather, the white, flour-like beaches, the unusual and tempting foods – I could go on. What people don’t tend to think about is the actual ‘travel’. Hours are spent on planes, trains and automobiles. Time ticks away in cold, grey airports, or on itchy bus seats, or on nausea-inducing boats. So here is the other side of travel, and the not so glamorous side.
The best way we travelled was with The Beast. The Beast was the name we gave our to the motorhome that we spent 17 days travelling around New Zealand with. Bit of an old timer, The Beast had a front bulb out, the DVD player didn’t work and he had loose rubber on the window that rattled extremely loudly when we went over 70km per hour. But, this was the best 2 weeks of the whole holiday. The freedom you have when driving around a country yourself is second to none. We would stop at some beautiful spots for a picnic. We would camp overlooking lakes, mountains and beaches.
Domino and ‘The Beast’ in beautiful New Zealand
New Zealand is like a pumped up version of the Lake District. The scenery is like a Bob Ross painting, evergreen trees surround snow-capped mountains and clear lakes. One day you could be in a glow-worm cave, feeling as though you’re looking at a fairy-lit sky. The next you could be on volcanic ground, sniffing in the rotten egg smell created from the gases, and the next day you could be hiking a craggy coast-line, watching wild seals fish in the sea. The Beast was the size of a large transit type van, we had hot water, a shower, a fridge and a cosy double bed! This was more than we had in some hotels! There was plenty of space for us to live in it whilst we drove 2,617km around the north island of New Zealand. You know, thats the same distance from Manchester to Moscow in a straight line!
The worst mode of transport, and the worst night’s sleep I have ever had, was on the overnight train in Vietnam. We were travelling from Hanoi to Hué and we were on the train from 19:30 to 08:48. It was horrendous. We were in bunk beds, I was on the top, and as soon as the train started to move, I realised it was going to be a long night. The train was older than time itself, slow and rickety. At some points, I felt like I was going to be thrown out of bed and fall 6 feet to the floor. I squished up as firmly as I could against the wall to make as much space as possible between myself and the edge of the bed. Loud clanging, clunking and screeching happened any time the train had to break. The cabin door would repeatedly fling open, letting in all the light from the fluorescent corridor. It felt like I was trying to sleep in a child’s fun house, minus any fun. This experience doesn’t take anything away from Vietnam at all! With the cheapest beer we have ever drunk (20p for a pint!) who can really complain? There is so much beauty in Vietnam, from the famous cliffs of Ha Long Bay, to the picturesque and colourful buildings of Hoi An, there is loads to do and see. The country is a chilled out place that is full on fun. I am sure one day we will return. However next time, we won’t be taking that overnight train.
The Vietnamese fun-house on tracks…
In the Philippines, we travelled mainly by boat (when there are over 7000 islands, this is sometimes the only way). We travelled on an overnight boat from Manila to El Nido, on the island of Coron. 15 hours. 15 hours on a ferry boat! The only entertainment on board was karaoke. Not the drunken, 80s power-ballad fuelled karaoke you’d expect from a night out in the UK, this was serious karaoke. People singing Filipino love songs, with no audience, just them and a microphone on a (pre flat-screen) 12 inch fuzzy tv. We were on this boat from 13:30 to 04:30 the next morning! Sleeping wasn’t too bad, but there was no storage space for your luggage, so I slept cuddled up to my rucksack, and it was pretty cold! You were provided with the thinnest sheet and an even thinner pillow for comfort. Luckily I carried a handy blow-up pillow – that should be high on any travellers shopping list by the way! Another thing worth buying if you are travelling to the Philippines is a snorkel, the coral and sea life here is unbelievable! We saw clown fish (thanks to Finding Nemo I know their actual name, the rest, I’m about to guess), parrot fish, stripy fish, big fish, and star fish were all spotted. The absolute highlight for me (and one that I was eager to tick off the bucket list) was to swim with turtles, and I got my chance here in the Philippines. So it was worth sitting on a boat for 15 hours as I was able to encounter animals that I have only ever seen when watching David Attenborough documentaries!
Worth. Every. Second.
Another long and bitty journey was that from Kuala Lumpur to the Taman Negara jungle in Malaysia. First we took a bus to Kuala Tembeling. That took 4 hours as we meandered at high speed through the dusty streets of central Malaysia. We spent over an hour at Kuala Tembeling, waiting here whilst permits and tickets for the park were arranged. After that, we boarded a long boat, the quickest way to get to Kuala Tahan, the base town for entering Taman Negara jungle. Three hours exploring the water-way later, we made it. The jungle was incredible! We went on a night walk to see the animals and insects that lurk in the dark. I don’t know why we did this, as I’m terrified of spiders! So I wasn’t a fan when we came across bird eating and Huntsman spiders. I did like seeing the snakes, lizards and the glow-in-the-dark scorpion though. On our second day we felt like Dora the Explorer, heading into the jungle alone. 5 hours we spent exploring; we crawled, we climbed, we even banged our head… Well, I did anyway, on a tree trunk I had to crawl under. It was so much fun being in the jungle; it was a mix of fun, fear, and adrenaline. That and a whole lot of sweat and muddy shoes!
Domino exploring the 130 million year old Taman Negara rainforest in Malaysia.
I have come back to Diversity Travel with a new enthusiasm for travel. After being on the other side of the travel sector (and for an extensive period too) it made it even more clear to me how important my role is to our clients. A little goes a long way, and it massively helps knowing there is a friendly and passionate person on the other side that can help.
If you enjoyed reading Domino’s travel diary, why not check out Miguel Chamorro’s adventure to the heart of evolution in the Galápagos or Katie Lee’s awe-inspiring return visit to earthquake stricken Nepal.
In the next staff travel diary… a ramshackle ride on the infamous Trans-Siberian express. Stay tuned!