The Golden Arches

16 06 2009


My name is the Adventure Blogger and I have a problem: I’ve eaten in McDonald’s in more countries than I have fingers.


Now, before you denounce me as one of “those” who won’t try local foods and instead always heads to the nearest McDonald’s or Pizza Hut, I should hasten to add that I have never been to an overseas Pizza Hut. It’s not that I am afraid of local food – indeed I’ve eaten sheep’s eyeballs, mopane worms, bottom-dwelling jungle catfish and man-eating Malawi crocodile – but sometimes McDonald’s is just so convenient. Like in airport departure lounges.


Although there’s something quite captivating, almost hypnotic and suspiciously addictive about the aroma of McDonald’s fries, I really do prefer many local dishes. Like mouthwateringly fresh feta, delicious savoury samosas or a divine bowl of pad thai. But sometimes it’s easier and quicker to dash into the Golden Arches and order Uno Big Mac or Ein McNuggets than to grapple with a foreign language and end up with raw liver instead of a chocolate croissant.


I’m not proud, just honest.


There’s one academic justification to frequenting McDonald’s, I’ve always told myself, and that’s comparing the menus or the prices around the world. Austria breads their McNuggets and serves beer; Atlantic Canada offers McLobster in-season and Australia has a selection of deli-style sandwiches – a veritable goldmine of information for social anthropologists. As for prices, a Quarter Pounder in Iceland costs about the same as an entire meal (super-sized…no less!) in Canada.


I thought I was a genius to think of using McDonald’s as a gauge of the local cost of living…until I discovered that The Economist publishes the  “The Big Mac Index” every year as an informal way of measuring the purchasing power parity between two currencies. After all, you can’t really use the local price of bananas in a direct comparison between Greenland’s Danish krone and Costa Rica’s colon but a fry is a fry is a fry is a fry…


The Economist introduced the “Big Mac Index” in 1986 and although it’s obviously not as scientific as comparing genuine economic data, it’s easier to understand and tastes better. It’s also not necessarily an indication of how much lunch costs in the various countries as a bowl of ramen in Tokyo will likely always be less expensive than a McHappy Meal in the Ginza, but it is still interesting.


As of February 2009, the five most expensive Big Macs in the world (converted into US dollars) were to be had in the following countries:


  1. Norway (USD 5.79)
  2. Switzerland (USD 5.60)
  3. Denmark (USD 5.07)
  4. Sweden (USD 4.58)
  5. Eurozone (USD 4.38) 


And the five most affordable Big Macs were found in the following countries:


  1. Malaysia (USD 1.70)
  2. Hong Kong (USD 1.71)
  3. China (USD 1.83)
  4. Thailand (USD 1.86)
  5. Sri Lanka (USD 1.95)


Now, please excuse me while I sink my teeth into some more valuable economic research.


Post by: Simon Vaughan © 2009

Asia In Style

5 12 2008


I don’t feel as though I am truly an adventurous traveller unless my hotel room has a rusted fan bolted to the ceiling, a television with three channels (or better yet…no television at all), a constant din rising from neighbouring streets, a lingering air of insect repellent and periodic power cuts…but I’m not so dedicated that I won’t occasionally stray towards something a little more opulent and luxurious that boasts white gloves, white sheets, white towels and fine white wine. Ultimately, a vacation is a treat or an opportunity to re-charge well-worn batteries, so why not indulge a bit?tic1


It was long believed that adventure and comfort don’t mix. Unless there was a dirt floor, a lumpy bed or a lack of air-conditioning it couldn’t possibly be adventure. However, as more and more people are drawn to exotic destinations, so the ability to travel in small groups and experience genuine cultural immersion while also enjoying a bit of comfort at night are no longer mutually-exclusive.


Oned of the best places to combine both worlds is in Asia. Boasting some of the best hotels and finest service in the world while still offering ancient ruins, congested markets, vibrant culture and thriving tradition, Asia can provide it all. Intrepid adventurer by day sampling food that would cause the neighbour to pass out, considerable comfort by night. Stimulation for the mind and senses by day, pampering for the weary body at night.


If your idea of adventure doesn’t extend to dorm rooms, mosquito nets and communal showers, click here.

Nippon A Flight To Tokyo

20 05 2008

When I was little, Japan was the coolest country on earth. Not only did they have gigantic fire-breathing monsters strolling their streets and news reporters and police who spoke English without moving their lips, but they’d also invented pachinko. How much cooler could a country be?


As I grew older, Japan became one of the places I most wanted to visit despite reports of $20 apples and $200 steaks. The unique culture – both ancient and pop – was highly appealing but fears of language difficulties and the cost were as intimidating as a Godzilla rampage. However, having survived the Cyrillic alphabet in Russia shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union, just how difficult could Japanese Kanji really be, I pondered?


Japan is one the most intriguing countries on earth. Even in a bustling city such as Tokyo, tradition plays a very strong and important role. If you make the effort to explore beyond the main population centres however, you’ll be rewarded with a glimpse of a revered culture steeped in time-honoured custom.


A friend of mine once ventured to Japan with much trepidation and a huge wad of traveller’s cheques. The trip was the fulfilment of a lifelong dream and he was armed with phrase books, maps and what he had determined was enough money to stave off starvation. What he discovered was a country not half as expensive as he’d read or feared. He quickly learned that the small noodle shops and other Japanese fast food equivalents were really no more expensive than eating-out at home and although the language was a challenge, it added to his experience and never became a problem. He has returned several times since.


There are two ways to see Japan: independently, or as part of a group. Both styles can be as expensive or inexpensive as you wish. Japan offers everything from youth hostels that are part of international organisations, right up to 5-Star deluxe hotels that can rival the average person’s monthly mortgage payment for a single night stay. In between, there is something for everyone and every budget. Japan Rail offers passes to help get around the country and local transit systems are easy and inexpensive to navigate.


If you fancy a tour, there are as many options as there are products bearing Hello Kitty and her friends. The best bet for combining the security of a group with the freedom of independent travel are small group trips offered by a number of adventure travel companies. These usually have no more than 12-16 people, travel in a variety of transportation including private vehicles and public buses, stay in smaller locally-owned and operated accommodation and provide a proper taste of the Japanese culture and people. Their cost is often comparable with a similar trip to Europe…or even cheaper, and can leave you with enough money to engage in some serious retail therapy in the Ginza.


If you’ve always had a yen to visit Japan, start your research, contact a professional who knows their way around…and learn to speak English without moving your lips!!



Post by: Simon Vaughan © 2008