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Can you imagine a model railway with 10 miles of track? That’s just what Miniatur Wunderland has in Hamburg, Germany…along with over a third of an acre of miniature model cities from around the world.

20 Years in the Making

Construction started on Miniatur Wunderland in December 2000 by the twin brothers Frederik and Gerrit Braun. By August 2001, they had completed the first three sections – central Germany, Austria and the imaginary German town of Knuffingen. These first three sections totaled over 3,000 square feet and took a massive 60,000 man-hours to complete. The following year, Hamburg opened as the largest city in Wunderland, comprising 1,000 buildings and 50,000 figures.

To date, 923,000 man-hours have been spent constructing the 9 completed regions of Wunderland. More than 300 people have been employed, and €35,000,000 ($38,750,000) has been spent on its construction. Within the 16,000 square feet are 4,340 buildings, 263,000 figures, 389,000 LED lights, 9,250 cars, and 130,000 trees. The heart of Miniatur Wunderland is the train system, which totals 9.8 miles of track, 1,040 trains, more than 10,000 railway cars, 1,380 signals, and 3,454 switches. Everything is managed by 50 high-tech computers.

Traveling Through 9 Regions

Due to the layout of the building, the regions you walk though don’t coincide with the sequence in which they were opened. In fact, the newest region is the first you will see after you walk through the workshop.

Italy

The first region I entered was Italy. Right from the beginning, I was astounded by the detail. This 2,000-square-foot region contains 30,000 figures, 10,000 trees, 450 buildings plus 22 churches, about 400 cars and nearly 50,000 microscopic LED lights. Traveling on the mile and a half of train tracks in this region are about 110 trains with 800 wagons, 110 signals and 404 switches. Altogether, this region took 180,000 man-hours to construct!

Five regions of Italy are represented, including Liguria (Genoa), South Tyrol (Bolzano), Tuscany (Florence and Pisa), the Amalfi Coast and, of course, Rome. The reconstruction of the buildings here is magnificent. In Rome, they’ve recreated the Colosseum and Palatine Hill, Piazza Venezia, St. Peter’s Basilica, Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps and even the Termini Central Train Station. Even the water in the rivers looked realistic, although perhaps I remember them being a bit muddier in real life.

Rome at Miniatur Wunderland

The Amalfi Coast region included the ancient ruins of Pompeii with Mt. Vesuvius rising behind it. Every night (yes, Miniatur Wunderland goes through day and night cycles, but more on that later), Vesuvius erupts and lava flows down toward the town. It a really fascinating display and I just couldn’t believe how realistic it looked.

Venice

Venice is a sub-section of Italy, opened separately as the attention to detail here didn’t make the opening date of the Italian region. By itself, Venice has 3,000 figures, 206 buildings, 26 bridges and 160 gondolas, not to mention over 3 miles of wiring! The highlight of the Venice region is a recreation of Piazzi San Marco including St. Marks Basilica, Doge’s Palace and the Bell Tower. The designers really went to town on crafting everything meticulously. The scale is around 1:1300, allowing them to shrink this part of the island down into 100 square feet.

Venice in Miniatur Wunderland

Other landmarks such as Rialto Bridge are also visible within the tableau. Each of the buildings is painted in the Venetian style, giving far more detail than the other regions. What really sets this region apart from the rest is the lack of cars and trains, just like the real Venice. While the model train system is a key feature of Miniatur Wunderland, gondolas replace them to ply the plastic waters of Venice.

Switzerland

The next region I entered was Switzerland. This region covers 2,700 square feet and spans two floors! It contains another 50,000 figures (many of which are in the DJ Bobo Concert), 700 buildings, 30,000 trees and 1,000 cars. The really impressive part of this region is the landscape. Four tons of plaster and fifteen tons of steel were used to sculpt the mountains and valleys. In fact, part of the exhibit includes walking through the Matterhorn where you can see underground caves, mines and even the subterranean train station Porta Alpina.

The Swiss Alps in Miniatur Wunderland

Within the region of Switzerland is the Lindt Chocolate Factory. Miniatur Wunderland is actually a fully interactive display, and there are hundreds of buttons you can press throughout the regions which will produce different scenes. With Lindt, you can push a button to see the factory go into production, complete with a miniature bar of chocolate dropping out of the dispenser! Lindt is some of the best chocolate in the world, and I saw one guy hovering near the model so he could get a few pieces to stash in his pockets.

I think the most interesting part of Switzerland is the DJ Bobo concert. More than 20,000 individual figures were put into a small field, and dozens of interesting scenes can be found throughout the crowd. Here, you can push a button and have the show play out. It’s even more impressive at night with all the lights coming on. Dozen of the people are somehow holding itty-bitty torches. Perhaps that’s why it takes 7 computers just to manage this one region.

Central Germany and Knuffingen

I’m not entirely sure where the next two sections separated. The first depicted the quintessential life of rural Germany. There were small villages, farms with their animals and tractors, and even an open-air theater where Romeo and Juliet perform. When it opened in 2001, the interactive buttons were revolutionary for models. This region spreads out over 1,300 square feet and contains 13,500 figures, 10,000 trees, 205 buildings, 420 cars, 26,000 LEDs, 130 trains with 1,000 wagons, 80 signals and 120 switches. I’d have to say the level of detail isn’t nearly as high as Venice was, but it’s still incredibly good.

Central Germany in Miniatur Wunderland

Knuffingen is a fictitious region of Germany created solely within Wunderland and is where the mischevious side of the designers stands out. The highlight of Knuffingen is the 400 active cars and trucks driving down the streets (I’m guessing by magnets beneath the roads). Among the vehicles are 31 fire trucks which are constantly rushing to put out one simulated fire after another. By this point, I was just overwhelmed by the level of detail. If you look closely, there are dozens of tiny scenes playing out among the figures, whether it’s police checks, Superman going to save a car crashing through a guardrail in Switzerland, or a nude couple sunbathing in Austria.

Austria

Austria was the next section, although it also blended together with Central Germany and Knuffingen (and opened the same time as them). This is the region of the Alps, and it’s just mind-boggling to see how they’ve chiseled detail into every rock of these mountains, not to mention the snow-dusted trees, the ski slopes and all the alpine huts. This region contains 6,500 figures (the fewest of any region), 150 buildings, 10,000 trees, 180 cars, 40 trains and about 14,000 LEDs.

Knuffingen Airport

If the Knuffingen region seemed slightly less impressive than Italy, its airport took things to a whole new level. Just as Miniatur Wunderland is the most impressive model with the longest toy train track in the world, Knuffingen Airport breaks all the records. There are 52 planes (and one Millennium Falcon) that make about 250 flights a day. They come out of a hole in the wall and either get parked at one of the many gates of the terminal or return to the skies through a hole in the far wall.

Millennium Falcon at Miniatur Wunderland

This airport took 150,000 man-hours to construct and, in addition to the planes, has 15,000 figures, 75 buildings, 4,000 trees, 40,000 LEDs, 90 driving cars, and a staggering 62 miles of wiring within the model. I spent far too long watching one plane after another come down the runway and get taxied into its designated spot in the airport. It was just impossible to keep track of everything that was going on within this 1,600 square feet. There was even a brawl between two figures taking place on one of the roofs. Again, it must have been magnets making them tumble about, but I was really struggling to comprehend how it was all put together.

Hamburg

As Miniatur Wunderland is located in Hamburg, it’s no wonder that they would dedicate an entire region to their own city. Within these 2,500 square feet, all the landmarks are represented. Here is the Köhlbrand Bridge, the Speicherstadt warehouse district, Volksparkstadion Stadium (with over 10,000 figures within), the entire harborfront with cranes loading the ships, Hamburg Central Station, Hagenbeck Zoo and, of course, Elbphilharmonie.

Volksparkstadion Stadium at Miniatur Wunderland

The “Elphi” is Hamburg’s new concert hall, one of the largest and acoustically advanced halls in the world. The replica in Miniatur Wunderland actually opened three years before the grand opening of the real thing, and their stories are surprisingly similar. The model cost 350,000 euros ($385,000) and consumed 13,000 hours to create. Now you can push a button and the building will open up so you can watch the concert inside. It’s a lot easier and cheaper than going to see a real concert there, although that’s still definitely on my bucket list.

Elphi at Miniatur WunderlandElphi at Miniatur Wunderland

The rest of Hamburg includes 50,000 figures, 12,000 trees, 1000 buildings, 1,300 cars, 190 trains, more than 1,800 rail cars, 1.6 miles of track, 260 signals, 550 switches and about 60,000 LEDs. Although I did a walking tour and a boat tour, this was still a great way to see the city and learn about all the different landmarks.

United States

Finally, I came to my region of origin, or rather selected parts thereof. Depicted are the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Mt. Rushmore, a Christmas Village (Germany is spilling over into the USA), Miami, the Keys and Cape Canaveral, Yosemite, and Area 51. The population of the country has dramatically decreased to only 30,000 figures along with 450 buildings, 10,000 trees, 800 cars, 140 trains and about 70,000 LEDs.

Wild West of the USA at Miniatur Wunderland

I’ll admit, I had spent so much time in the previous regions that I barely had time to wander through this section. This is also where I saw my first pink letter, which meant I spent most of my remaining time in Wunderland trying to find the other pink letters, which I’ll describe below.

Scandinavia

At this point, I have to say that two hours in Miniatur Wunderland isn’t nearly enough time. On some days, they’re open until midnight, but they closed at 6 p.m. on the day I went. By the time I made it through the other regions, I only a few minutes left to rush through Scandinavia, which is a real shame as this is the region that uses nearly 8,000 gallons of actual water. Also used are 40,000 figures, 30,000 trees, 500 buildings, 600 cars, 150 trains and about 50,000 LEDs. I’m going to have to go back someday to see more of it so I can fill in this section!

Scandinavia in Miniatur Wunderland

Attention to Detail

Even knowing that they’ve spent nearly a million man-hours building the models, it seems like it should have taken longer. Every inch of Miniatur Wunderland looks like it’s been painted by a one-hair brush. Blades of grass are drawn in, the cars have tiny writing, the buildings have impeccable detail, heck, you can even see the rosy nipple on the nude sunbathers.

Nude Sunbathers in Miniatur Wunderland

There are countless tiny scenes to be found among the regions. I loved the one with penguins waiting with their luggage and a puppy at one of the train platforms, and the guy leading a pet kangaroo down another train station. I found quite a few Santa Clauses in different locations, including stuck in gridlock on his way to the airport. I’m willing to bet you could spend a thousand hours scouring Wunderland and still not find half the easter eggs hidden throughout.

Spooky Scene at Miniatur Wunderland

Enjoying Miniatur Wunderland Day and Night

Perhaps the most impressive feature of Miniatur Wunderland is how it changes every 15 minutes through day and night cycles. The scenes are completely different when the 389,000 LED lights come on, and some are definitely better at night. The handheld torches at DJ Bobo’s concert are far more visible at night, the Alps look magical with all the alpine houses lit from within, and Mt. Vesuvius is definitely a highlight as its lava rolls down toward Pompeii every night.

Rome at Night at Miniatur Wunderland

Finding the Pink Letters

When I went, Miniatur Wunderland had their own “Where’s Waldo” game throughout the regions. Instead of Waldo, you had to find 15 pink letters beside unique scenes. When you found them all, you arranged them in a sequence which spelled out a word you then had to submit on a website. Once I found my first letter (15 minutes before closing time), I blitzed through all the regions again finding the rest. In fact, I ended up being the last one out, but at least I found all the letters and was able to submit the right answer.

I don’t know if this will still be around, as the competition ended a couple weeks after I visited. Perhaps they change the letters around to different scenes. It’s just another feature that makes Miniatur Wunderland so much fun!

Plans for the Future

Miniatur Wunderland is far from complete. They’ve got plans for the next decade, including the regions of a Fun Fair, Monaco and Provence, South America, Central America and the Caribbean, England, France, Benelux (Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg), and Africa/pan-Asia/India (basically, the whole world). The future regions do vary from time to time as their creative passions change, but the quality and detail of their work only get better. This is a place I’d love to bring my kids in a couple decades to see how far they’ve progressed (after I’ve had kids, of course).

Visiting Miniatur Wunderland

The opening hours of Miniatur Wunderland vary wildly, but it’s always open at least from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Some days, it’s even open until midnight. It does get really busy (over 18 million people have visited since it opened) so advanced booking is essential, especially in the summer. I would honestly say you should spend the entire day there (just like you would at a full amusement park), and take a break in their cafeteria for lunch. If you’re in a rush, 3-4 hours would be the absolute bare minimum. But seriously, just go for the whole day!

[button color=”blue” size=”medium” link=”https://skye683a.myportfolio.com/miniatur-wunderland-hamburg-germany” icon=”” target=”true”]My full gallery of Miniatur Wunderland photos[/button]

Tickets are €15 ($16.50) for adults, but there are 12 other categories of tickets from children to handicapped. There’s no easy summary of their ticket prices, opening hours or wait times, so just head to their website to book your tickets.

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Miniatur Wunderland Pin

Further Reading

Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.

Disclaimer: I was given complimentary tickets to Miniatur Wunderland on behalf of Visit Hamburg and Miniatur Wunderland. As always, all views and opinions are my own.

It’s been well over four years since my first Workaway experience in Brussels, but it was the next one – my Workaway in France – that will forever live in my memory as an example of just how bad a volunteer job can get.

After I left, I wrote a basic story about my time in Touzac, France, but I never really got into the details about the Workaway. I didn’t want there to be any bad blood between the host and I. However, we all have a responsibility to accurately review hosts, services and products that we are familiar with. I’m not the only one to have written a negative review for Workaway in France host at the time, but unfortunately Workaway refuses to publish specifics for negative feedback – one of the biggest failures I see in their system. Well, here are the specifics.

Please forgive the lack of images in this article. I failed to take photos of any of the volunteer work or living conditions during my stay there. It was a few months into my travels before I got the hang of taking pictures.

A Workaway in France in the Middle of Nowhere

The first disadvantage of my Workaway in France was getting there. The village was called Touzac, located in the Midi-Pyrénées of western France. To get there from my Workaway in Brussels, I had a bus to Paris, another to Toulouse, a train to Cahors, and then a bus that dropped me off on the highway a couple miles from Touzac. All told, I spent nearly $60 on all the transportation to get there over 29 hours. The bus from Cahors to Touzac only ran once or twice a day, making the village extremely isolated.

Touzac had (and still has) only a single pub (run by the Workaway hosts) and a beauty salon. The closest corner market was a 4.5-mile hike along the highway, although that one was only open a couple hours a day on select days of the week with their schedule only posted on their window – not online. Otherwise, it was a 7.5-mile walk in the other direction to a decent supermarket.

Censoring the Feedback

After the bus dropped me off on the side of the highway, I waited a good half an hour before my host arrived. She pulled up in her Jeep and the first words out of her mouth were “Hello, I’m Simone. I’ll need to vet your feedback before you leave.” That was my first massive red flag. Granted, she’d only had a couple volunteers before me, but it really made me wonder what she was doing that would make her want to hide an accurate report of the Workaway when I left. It wasn’t long before I found out firsthand.

A Dishonest Profile

What caught my attention on their profile was the landscaping work they needed. They said they were laying a new path in their garden, trimming the bushes, etc. I’d had landscaping experience in the past and was excited to get back into it. The profile also mentioned accommodations in the big chateau on the property, home-cooked meals, etc. It only took a few minutes to ascertain that the profile had almost no validity.

Upon arrival, I was brought directly to the pub, given a paintbrush and told my first job would be painting. At that time, I had only been on the road for five weeks and I was very limited in the number of clothes I had. I reluctantly mentioned that I didn’t have any clothes for painting. The response I received was “Tough luck, that’s your job today.” As a comparison, the very next Workaway I had was near Cinque Terre in Italy. When I arrived there for a similar landscaping job, they also said my first task would be painting. Before I could even open my mouth to comment on my clothes, they quickly added that they had a jumper for me to use! But that’s part of the next story.

In the week and a half I stayed at my Workaway in France, it was only on my last two days when I finally received any landscaping tasks, and that was only after I specifically requested them. I’d had a rather uncomfortable confrontation with Simone in regards to my work in the pub. I’d mentioned that it had taken the entire day for my photos to upload, and she’d interpreted this to mean I’d spent the entire day on the computer trying to upload the photos, a fact contradicted by the other two volunteers who saw me working my allotted hours while my laptop sat in the corner desperately trying to connect to the pitiful WiFi connection.

Wretched Living Conditions

If the working conditions were bad, the living conditions were abysmal. Yes, all three volunteers received separate bedrooms in the big chateau on their property while Simone and her family stayed in the guesthouse out back. What wasn’t mentioned in the profile was that the main house had no heating, electricity, WiFi, etc. For two hours a day, Simone would turn on the water heater. This gave us enough warm water for about five minutes of usage. It was up to us to decide if we wanted to have a shower every three days, or just take a two-minute shower, with the third person guaranteed to end off freezing. Oh, and this was in February with sub-zero temperatures at night.

As to the food, we were given home-cooked food a couple times, but in the form of leftovers from their own table. More often than not, a couple ingredients were left out for us and we were expected to creatively combine them into some semblance of a meal. That worked for only a couple days, at which point another volunteer and I borrowed their two bicycles and rode the 7.5 miles to the Carrefour market. Unfortunately, the other volunteer had a defective bicycle and he was pitched to the concrete with some pretty bad injuries when the seat broke off beneath him on the ride back.

Drunk and Stoned Hosts

Perhaps what I took the most umbrage to at my Workaway in France was that Simone and her husband spent the entire time inebriated or stoned. Simone was a raging alcoholic and her husband was a pothead. Now, I’m not really against people who drink or smoke; it’s just a part of our culture I tolerate despite my total aversion to partaking myself. On the other hand, when the negative effects affect me directly, things get heated. It was a bit pitiful to watch Simone walk directly into the wall three times and fall down the stairs once, but I took offence when she got vicious toward me for not staying up with her and the others until 3 a.m. getting drunk and high. Unsurprising, there have been two other times when I had problems with my Workaway where I refused to get drunk with them. It’s no secret that I’m not a big drinker.

The worst experience during volunteering was on the last day. I was eating my last bowl of cereal from my trip to the supermarket when Simone’s daughter came into the main house with her boyfriend. She saw me eating and commented that she was hungry and there was no food at her house. I’d seen their kitchen and knew this to be false, but I kindly mentioned that perhaps her mom could pick her up some more food. She retorted that she didn’t want that food and stormed out. A couple minutes later, I received a call from an enraged Simone. She was furious that I hadn’t turned my cereal over to her daughter. Shocked, I pointed out that this was the last of my food I’d picked up on my own. Simone maintained that I should have given the cereal to her daughter anyway “since we were all a family there” and she would have reimbursed me. I had to refrain from pointing out how illogical that was.

How to Avoid Bad Workaway Hosts

I certainly don’t want to paint Workaway as a negative site. It’s true that some hosts exploit the free labor with a very imbalanced exchange for their guests, while other volunteers take advantage of their hosts in a deplorable way. In the two dozen or so Workaway experiences I’ve participated in over the years, a couple were more negative than positive, and this horrible Workaway in France was certainly an exception to the usual fun, esprit de corps and mutual cooperation I’ve experienced with most of my hosts.

It is an unavoidable fact that Workaway reviews can be dishonest, falsified, hidden, etc. This makes it hard to select a good host or volunteer. As I’m always inclined to trust everyone, I’m happy to stay with a host with few or no reviews. However, I wouldn’t recommend this to be on the safe side. The first thing I would say is to trust your instincts. If you see anything in the profile that makes you uncertain or wary, just move on to the next listing. If you want, you can always contact previous volunteers and see what they say about a host.

Don’t forget to do your research and read the fine print. If a host says you need to have your own vehicle, you’re probably going to be in a very isolated location without access to stores or other services. Make sure you clarify any living conditions if they’re not explicitly stated in the profile. Ask about meals, the condition of the room, etc. I’ve heard some horror stories by other volunteers about how they had to live in sordid hovels or go malnourished with no way to leave until the host would drive them back to civilization. Of course, my own Workaway in France was a good example of this, even though the rose-tinted profile made it hard to think anything should be questioned.

Finally, always have a backup plan. Don’t be afraid to leave if things go sour, you feel unsafe or insecure, or agreements aren’t kept. I’m a huge proponent of one’s own code of honor, and I believe you should never desert a group to which you owe your support. At the same time, you can’t let others put you down, threaten or harm you, or suppress your goals. If that group is detrimental to your survival, you don’t owe them anything. It’s not just your responsibility but your duty and honor to yourself to move on. The bottom line is to maintain your own integrity.

If you’ve had a good or bad Workaway experience, feel free to leave it in the comments below.

Switching to WorldPackers

Now that I’ve been harping on Workaway, I should probably point out that I’m actually not a fan of the platform. The Workaway reviews are too-easily misleading, volunteers and hosts both have problems with maintaining their end of the exchange, there’s absolutely no support system, etc. Recently, I’ve found the perfect alternative. Worldpackers is a volunteer platform that offers everything Workaway does, plus everything Workaway doesn’t. Worldpackers screens all their hosts and focuses on quality over quantity. They also offer a way better support system for the volunteers, even going so far as to offer a place to stay away from a host if things go bad, and then set-up at alternative volunteer location.

They focus a lot more on social impact and eco projects, which instantly grabbed my interest when I saw it. They already have hosts all over the world, and over 1.5 million volunteers (so you need to join quick and get ahead of the competition).

Click here to join Worldpackers and use SKYETRAVELS to get a $20 discount to your membership!

Further Reading

Despite this negative story, I still love volunteering. I believe that giving back in your travels is a huge plus, and I’ll always spend a few months out of every year doing volunteer jobs. Here are some more articles that cover Workaway, the pro’s and cons, and some of the experiences I’ve had.

If you’re looking for a truly special experience for your accommodations, the hotels in Edinburgh will blow you away. Many places in the world have unique characteristics to their hotels and other forms of lodging, but Edinburgh stands out as one of my favorites.

Building in a UNESCO World Heritage City

There are many cities around the world with a UNESCO World Heritage designation. Some examples include Vienna, Rome, Bath, Luang Prabang, Krakow and Mostar. When a city gets a UNESCO label, it severely limits any changes to the city.

On top of this, many countries have huge restrictions on modifying a building that has historical significance. Usually, you aren’t allowed to affect the structure in any way, including putting nails into the walls, adding electricity or plumbing, etc.

Between the two, it’s almost impossible to build a new hotel or modernize an old structure in these cities. Edinburgh is no exception. The Old and New Towns of Edinburgh received UNESCO World Heritage status back in 1995. Most of the buildings are centuries old, although a massive amount of work has been done to restore, preserve and upgrade the buildings without violating their integrity. In 1824, a great fire destroyed a good portion of the Old Town and it was rebuilt in the Victorian style, and a new mall is going into the New Town, but otherwise, the city is mostly unchanged.

Edinburgh Royal Mile with Pigeons

An interesting exception to this is on the Grassmarket below Edinburgh castle. In 1916, two German zeppelins dropped bombs on Edinburgh. No major landmarks were destroyed and even the castle was missed. On one of my walking tours, I was told that the two modern Apex Hotels that line the street replaced old hotels that were damaged in the raid, but I can’t actually find any information online to substantiate this claim.

Restoring an Old Hotel

Recently, I had the pleasure of staying at the Nira Caledonia Hotel in the New Town, not far from the house of the Scottish Prime Minister. There, I got to learn about the difficulties the hotel went through in following local codes while also providing a modern and comfortable experience.

In 2018, the hotel suffered water damage after a careless worker caused a fire on the roof and allowed Edinburgh’s ever-present rains to flow down through the whole building. Renovations were carried out to remove the water damage and make the hotel even more wonderful, but there were limits.

Nira Caledonia Dining Room

For instance, the past two years have seen a pretty staggering range of temperatures in Edinburgh. When I lived here over the winter, temperatures got as low as -8°C, although between the windchill and humidity, the forecast said it felt like -14! Not a lot compared to other places, but extreme for Edinburgh’s usual climate. On the other hand, a couple of heatwaves in the past couple years have set records across the UK, not to mention the rest of Europe.

While the Nira Caledonia flat radiators along the walls in all the rooms for cold days, there’s not a lot they can do about the heat. The wiring or air ducts needed for air conditioners can’t be installed. I would hardly consider this a disadvantage, as it’s only a couple days out of the year that this would actually be needed, and an open window will take care of the rest of the warm days.

Other upgrades like double-paned windows, A/V equipment and such are similarly out of the question. However, the hotel went to town where it could upgrade. This is most noticeably apparent in the bathroom, where the jacuzzi tub and rainfall shower are fully stocked with L’Occitane bathroom products.

Nira Caledonia Bathroom

Staying at the Nira Caledonia Hotel

Sadly, my significant other couldn’t join me on my visit this trip (but I really hope I can make it back there someday with her). As such, my stay became more of a business trip. However, I did make use of the bath – something I’ve done very rarely in my travels.

Nira Celedonia Bathtub

I’m not the biggest fan of using a TV in a hotel, but the Nira Caledonia does have a flat-panel in all the rooms available for use. There’s a phone if needed, and all the charging outlets and USB ports you could need. The chair was also super comfortable for getting some work done in the room.

Nira Caledonia Bedroom

It’s hard to say it was the best part of my stay since everything was really amazing, but the food available in the restaurant was really fantastic. As with many hotels and restaurants across Scotland, they only use locally sourced products. Along with their menu were listed the four vendors they get their food from.

nira Caledonia Vendors

As much as I wanted a Scottish breakfast, my favorite breakfast in the world, my stomach wasn’t in the best condition and I needed something a bit lighter. On the first day, I had the salmon and eggs, and the second day was a delicious Scottish porridge (cooked in milk).

What Makes Hotels in Edinburgh So Special and Unique 1

Aside from the warm breakfast options is a large buffet, including fruits, bread and pastries, fresh yogurts, tea, coffee and different juices. Suffice to say, hotels in Scotland really know how to keep you fed. Out of all the hotels and B&Bs I’ve stayed at in Scotland, I’ve yet to be disappointed with their food spread. I’ve even had Airbnbs serve a delicious Scottish breakfast several times!

What Makes Hotels in Edinburgh So Special and Unique 2

Click here to book your stay at the Nira Caledonia Hotel

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Couchsurfing in Cyprus #4

Further Reading

You can’t spend all your time at the Nira Caledonia when you visit Edinburgh. Here are some other activities to fill your day.

Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.

Not long ago, a new bike rental service opened up in Chiang Mai. Rather than renting from a store, you can now unlock bikes with the Mobike app. They’re cheap, they’re available all over the city, and they’re ready to break down at any moment. Here’s my review on the pros and cons of the Chiang Mai Mobike.

Dirt Cheap Bike Rentals with Mobike

During my first two visits to Chiang Mai, the only ways to get around town were by songthaew (covered pickup trucks with two benches in the back) which were supposed to charge about $0.90 per ride (but usually charged foreigners whatever they felt like), and Uber which, while more reliable, was also relatively inexpensive ($2-5 per ride). This time in 2019, two new modes of transportation are available: the city bus – costing a flat $0.67 cents and following three routes around the city – and Mobike Rentals.

Mobike is a Chinese bike-sharing company founded in 2015. As of March 2019, they have spread to over 200 cities in 19 countries across the northern hemisphere. These bright orange bikes can be rented by scanning a code on the bike. You can either pay per ride or buy monthly passes with a credit card through the app. Many universities also partner up with Mobike to give their students free rides.

I’m assuming the rental costs change for each country. In Chiang Mai, Thailand the rides are ridiculously cheap. Currently, five 20-minute rides cost $1.67. I purchased the three-month pass which, with a 20% promotional discount, was a whopping $6.18! The monthly passes give unlimited 2-hour rides all around town. Many bike rental companies in Chiang Mai charge about $1.50 per day.

The way Mobikes are rented is easily the best part of the system. You download an app, register with your SIM card and then just unlock the bike by scanning the QR code on the bike. Unfortunately, it seems you need to have a SIM card for the country that you want to rent the bikes in. When I tried to register in Thailand with my UK SIM card, it said my account would only be valid in the UK. The bike can also only be paid for with a credit or debit card, not with cash.

The app has a few other functions, including being able to locate a bike near you (since all the bikes are equipped with GPS), reporting a bike damaged (which I’ve had to use several times…but more on that below) or seeing how far you can ride (as the bikes have to be parked within a limited zone or you will get fined). One disadvantage of the bikes is they don’t remind you to lock the bike after a ride. If you forget, you’ll get charged for however many hours the bike sat unused until it’s locked.

Quality of Bikes

In Chiang Mai, there are four different styles of bikes. The two oldest versions have gray frames and orange trim. A newer model is all bright orange and feels a bit more comfortable in the handles and seat. The newest model can be recognized by a two-tone bike frame where silver gradually gives way to orange. This model is also the only one with three gears instead of one.

Mobike New Model in Chiang Mai

The bikes feel very lightweight. The single gear on the first three models is set very low so you can’t go very fast. Several of the bikes I’ve ridden have had a clicking sound. Many of the handlebars are out of alignment and you have to hold them slightly askew. If that wasn’t bad enough, quite a few of my bikes had very weak brakes, and one had a completely disconnected brake cable (which I reported instead of riding). Not having good brakes in Chiang Mai is just asking for a disaster.

Mobike Misalignment

Broken Chain = Eating Pavement

Disaster struck for me while riding the newest model of the bike, but the brakes weren’t at fault. A couple weeks ago while riding the bike, the chain slipped off the gears and I was forced to stop my ride, report the bike as damaged and walk the rest of the way to my destination.

A few days later, the same thing happened again. Only this time, I had been standing on the pedals instead of sitting on the seat. When the chain came off the gear, the resultant lack of resistance to the pedal caused me to lose my balance and I went headfirst over the handlebars, bashing my forehead on the concrete, taking a good chunk of skin off my arm and hand, and tearing my chest and arm muscles. While my body is generally blessed with a short convalescence period, I was in pretty bad shape for a few days. I also lost a pair of my best pants, but material loss for me is immaterial in these circumstances.

Mobike from Accident

Over the next few days, I inspected other Mobikes around town. Five different times, I found other bikes sitting on the side of the road with their chains already slipped off the gears. I’ve written a letter directly to Mobike informing them of the incident and asking not so much for compensation but rather to know what they plan to do to increase the safety of their bikes, especially in a city which is known for its staggering figure of vehicular accidents, injuries and even deaths. So far, they have failed to respond, but they did send me a customer satisfaction survey for their handling of my letter. As they ignored my letter completely (except for the survey), I had to give them a “0” rating and an excerpt from this article.

Mobike Faulty Gears

Would I Recommend Mobike?

Honestly, I would say to avoid Mobike rentals. If you’re on a budget, they’re the cheapest way to get around town. Don’t use them in any extreme conditions, always remain seated, avoid busy streets…basically take all the fun out of getting to ride a bike and just use it to get to your destination.

If you can afford any other mode of transportation or a decent local bike shop, skip the Mobike…at least until they start putting some quality bikes on the road. Granted, I haven’t tested all the bikes in all the cities where they are available, but far too many of the bikes in Chiang Mai are low quality and in bad repair. In fact, of all the Mobikes I’ve ridden around town, none have made me feel really comfortable.

When in Chiang Mai, go for the new city bus, try to find the right songthaew, hire a Grab or just walk (since the city is actually quite small and most important attractions are just a few minutes from each other). There are also the new Neuron electric scooters, but I think those are too dangerous to ride around Chiang Mai. I was riding those at 30 mph down the empty mountain roads in the Czech Republic and that was dangerous enough.

Neuron Kickscooters in Chiang Mai

So to recap.

Pros:

  • Cheap rentals
  • Rent the bike with a credit card and the app
  • A massive selection of available bikes
  • The ability to quickly find an available bike

Cons:

  • Bikes in bad repair leading to potential accidents and injuries
  • Inability to pay with cash
  • The necessity to have a local SIM card
  • A limited zone for parking
  • No customer service

As you can see, the cons outweigh the pros. So no, I don’t recommend them.

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Mobike Review Pin

Further Reading

Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.

Chiang Mai is my winter home base. I usually rent a condo here, but I’ve also stayed in over a dozen hostels all around town. Here’s my list of the best hostels in Chiang Mai.

Criteria for the Best Hostels in Chiang Mai

Location

The location of the hostel is a primary factor, even though Chiang Mai is quite small. The Old Town is only one square mile, and nearly all the key attractions are within two miles of the center, including the airport, bus station and train station. As such, the Old Town is a top choice for a hostel.

Nimmanhemin, or Nimman for short, is the neighborhood to the northwest of the Old Town. This is the busy, posh district of Chiang Mai and has most of the best cafes, restaurants, hostels, hotels and activities. Unfortunately the hostels here are a bit more expensive, but it’s a part of town you’ll at least want to be near.

I wouldn’t really recommend getting a hostel far away from these two locations. This rules out the hostels to the east on the other side of the Ping River, including those by the bus and train stations. However, there are some good hostels south and north of the old town. The ones to the north put you near both Nimman and the Old Town, while the ones to the south are just too far out of the way to be convenient.

Price

While Thailand is known for being cheap, it’s still possible to go broke there. Chiang Mai is one of the cheaper locations to visit in the country, but the cost of hostels still varies wildly. While some hostels are under $3 a night, others charge more than $20. For the purpose of this list, I’ve only considered hostels that are under 200 Thai baht ($6.50) a night, simply because the ones on the list are just as nice as the hostels you’ll pay three times the price at.

Facilities and Amenities

There are some features that are pretty standard in hostels across SE Asia. Mattresses are almost always thin (but not necessarily hard), breakfast is usually simple (bread and spreads, juice, and perhaps fruit), the plumbing sometimes smells (coming up through the drain in the shower), security is questionable, and internet is hit or miss.

The hostels on this list don’t necessarily have Posturepedic mattresses, buffet breakfasts or fiber internet. They do, however, have comfortable rooms, good WiFi, air conditioning or fans, a good ratio of toilets and showers to guests, and a relaxing common area. For most backpackers, there’s little left wanting at these hostels.

Staff

The best quality for each of these hostels is the staff. At all three of them, the staff are very friendly, completely service oriented and pay attention to detail. Anytime anything was needed, someone was always on hand to help out or make repairs. All too often, it’s a grumpy manager or volunteer that completely ruins one’s stay at a hostel. Not at these places.

Tangmo House Hostel – My Favorite Hostel in Chiang Mai

This is my all-around favorite hostel in Chiang Mai. As of this writing, it’s one of the newest hostels in town, opening in November 2018. Hence, it’s spotless and everything works perfectly. There are three rooms available – an 8-bed mixed dorm, a 6-bed female dorm and a 4-bed mixed dorm. For the 18 potential guests, there are eight bathrooms with a toilet and shower in each! The mattresses are massive and quite comfortable. When you arrive, your blanket, pillow and fluffy towel will be waiting for you in a large locker, the key for which has a cute elephant keychain dongle. Also attached to the keychain is a key fob which will give you access to the stairs. The front door is locked between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., although the owner will wait up if he knows someone is coming home late, and he’s always available to call and come downstairs if he’s not in the lobby.

Tangmo House Dorm

The owner Pakin and his wife Ann are genuinely friendly and continually working to improve the experience of everyone staying at their hostel – actually their home since they live upstairs. Their smiles are simply infectious, and they love greeting you every time you walk through the lobby. If you need to get some work done or eat a takeaway meal, there are several tables and chairs in the lobby. Otherwise, you can sit upstairs in the cozy sitting room on chairs or mats. A large TV is available there, along with a game of Jenga. The sitting room, as with all the dorms, has an air conditioner which works very well.

Tangmo House Lounge

The hostel is simply full of little features which make it so wonderful, such as mosquito screens on all the windows, hangers for each of the beds to hang your towel or coat, clean sandals to wear on the upper floors (you should never enter a home in SE Asia with your shoes on), shampoo and soap in the showers, a display of coffee, tea, hot chocolate, cookies and bananas available all day, and two free bikes to use around town! While I do prefer hostels with pod beds, there’s literally nothing I could complain about in this hostel.

Tangmo House Food

The hostel is located in the Santitham neighborhood, northwest of the Old Town and just north of Nimman. This neighborhood has dozens of cheap restaurants and cafes. From the hostel, it’s only a 15-minute walk to the Maya Shopping Center, Nimman neighborhood or Old Town.

Click Here to book your stay at the Tangmo House Hostel

Bebeez Cafe and Guesthouse – The Best Non-Air Conditioned Hostel

The very first hostel I stayed at in Chiang Mai was Bebeez Cafe and Guesthouse, and it has remained one of my favorites to this day. They have one large dorm and a handful of private rooms. The mattresses are the usual thinness for Thailand, but still quite comfortable. They only have sheets on the beds, but will provide blankets if it gets cold enough in Chiang Mai, which is very rare. The dorm doesn’t have an air conditioner, but there are several fans and I’ve never been too hot there.

Selfie at Bebeez Cafe and Guesthouse

Bee runs the hostel with her partner and they are super friendly. In my opinion, the best part of the hostel is the cafe downstairs. Bee is a fantastic cook and she has a huge range of Western and Thai meals available. I’ve gone there several times for the English breakfast, even when I wasn’t staying at the hostel. The burgers, pad thai, khao soi gai (northern Thai noodles) and pancakes are all fantastic.

English Breakfast at Bebeez Cafe #2

Other than the cafe, there is a wonderful terrace outside on the second floor where you can relax in a hammock or on massage mats. There are only two showers – one for the dorm and the other for the private rooms, and they are slightly run down, but that’s about the only complaint I could give the hostel.

Bebeez Cafe and Guesthouse is located in the southeastern quarter of the Old Town near the Tha Phae (eastern) Gate. It’s a bit farther from Nimman than the other two hostels, but still in a great location. You can catch the R3 Red Line of the new Chiang Mai city buses just one street away from the hostel, which will take you to Nimman or the airport, for just 20 baht ($0.65). Simply download the new CM Tracker app to see live updates for where the buses are.

Click here to book your stay at Bebeez Cafe and Guesthouse

Bed Bike Hostel – The Best Podstel in Town

As mentioned, I prefer pod hostels. Unfortunately, most of the “podstels” in Chiang Mai are outside the budget range set above. The exception is the Bed Bike Hostel on Huay Kaew Road, halfway between the Old Town and Nimman. Surprisingly, they are one of the cheapest hostels in town, despite having great pod beds and other good facilities too.

Bed Bike Hostel Beds

The hostel used to just be a scooter rental shop, and most of the reviews on Google Maps are still for that. The beds are a recent addition and they were still building the bathrooms when I stayed there (those have since been completed). While the building isn’t quite as fancy as Tangmo House or Bebeez Guesthouse, it’s simple, cheap and perfectly located.

Bed Bike Hostel

What’s even more cool about the Bed Bike Hostel is that they have queen-size pod beds available. They also have small private rooms if you want both the queen-size bed and more privacy. As to facilities, there are several bathrooms (now that the new ones are built) and a full, self-service kitchen downstairs where snacks and drinks are available all day long.

Click here to book your stay at The Bed Bike Hostel

The Chang Phueak Hostel Street

If you’re on an extreme budget and aren’t much concerned about quality or facilities, you always have the option of what I call “Hostel Street.” Located just a couple minutes away from the Chang Phueak (North) Gate of the Old Town, this small, dead-end street has over a dozen hostels, most of which are under $5 and the cheapest is about $2.

While these are some of the cheapest hostels in town, they are also the cheapest in quality. You will definitely get what you pay for. Not all of them are the same, but you can expect to get a very thin, hard mattress which just might be infested, a room which might or might not have AC (regardless of what is advertised), dirty showers that might be broken, minimal security, no 24-hour reception, rude staff, minimal or no breakfast, etc. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve stayed at several hostels on this street and had a couple good nights there, but I’ve also had some nights which were abysmal. It’s simply a game of chance.

If you want a bit more luxury, you’re more than welcome to pay extra for one of the fancy, expensive hostels in town. But I’m willing to bet one of the reasons you’re visiting Thailand is because you heard it was cheap, and it is. Or rather it can be. The luxury hostels are available, but why pay more when there are fantastic hostels available for less? If you do find another hostel that you think should be on this list, please let me know!

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Further Reading

Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.