Portugal: Part Two

After traversing the streets of Lisbon and Sintra it was time to head on over to Lagos, Portugal to continue our adventure. Lagos is a town in the Algarve region in southern Portugal known for its precarious cliffs and gorgeous beaches. And so, it was only natural that when we arrived our first stop was Praia do Camilo. As we descended the sandy steps, we were greeted by a golden sandy beach and beautiful aquamarine waters. While the slightly chilly Atlantic water took some getting used to, it was the perfect remedy for our tired aching bodies and the scorching heat.

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After soaking in the sun and stuffing our faces at the beach bar, we strolled around the small town where small market stalls were situated near the beach offering souvenirs and apparel. After this, an Uber took us to one of the main highlights of this gorgeous town: Ponta da Piedade. One thing to note is that while we did use Uber while there, it is not be relied on in this beautiful town as there are few drivers which results in incredibly long wait times or the inability to book an Uber to reach your destination. Trust me when I tell you that you don’t want to end up walking to the bus station when you’re running late. The unexpected happens and that sometimes means walking the streets of Lagos with one sandal on and regretting the fact you wore a black sweater in 30 degree heat. Trust me on this one. Walking on the barefoot on the pavement is far from comfortable. Save yourself the stress and get the number of the local taxi.

Now, where were we? Ah, yes Ponta da Piedade. If you want to experience the full extent of Ponta da Piedade’s beauty consider booking one of the many boat tours found in town. In doing so, you will be able to get a better look at all the hidden coves of these gorgeous cliffs and rock formations while cruising the sparkling waters. Don’t want to spend money on this? Fret not. Head on over to the viewpoint instead where you will still be able to admire the beauty of the cliffs and their assortment of colours. Nature truly is a force to be reckoned with and these cliffs are a testament to that with its various shapes and sizes sculpted by the elements.  Staring down from the top of these cliffs will leave you in awe while simultaneously giving you goosebumps as you stare down below from the sharp precipices at the unforgiving waters below.

And with that friends, we concluded our visit in Lagos. After heading back to our AirBnB and then grabbing a quick meal, we were onto our next adventure.  Portugal had welcomed us with open arms but alas it was time to leave its comforting embrace and discover all that Spain had to offer.

Portugal: Part One

Growing up in Canada and particularly in the areas I attended school, I was constantly surrounded by Portuguese people. After seeing photos of their hometowns and hearing the experience of various coworkers and old classmates, I decided that a trip to Portugal was long overdue. And so, in mid-August of last year I decided to head over to Portugal’s beautiful capital, Lisbon.  Below I will break down all the things to do in Lisbon and its surrounding areas.

1. Tower of Belem

Want to visit a 16th century tower once used as a lookout to protect Lisbon? Look no further than the Tower of Belem. Situated at the mouth of the Tagus River, this beautiful 16th century tower offers beautiful architectural design and instagram worthy backgrounds. If you are planning to head there during peak season (July-August), do yourself a favour and buy your ticket in advance to enjoy everything this little tower has to offer without the two hour wait. If you have time, make sure to visit Jeronimo Monastery complete with beautiful gardens and more stunning architecture.


Tower of Belem photos 


Jeronimo Monastery in the background 

2. The Berardo Collection Museum

While we unfortunately did not have the chance to visit the museum as it was closed during our time in the area,  this museum is a must with works from Picasso, Bacon, Warhol and many other famous artists. If you’re looking to save a couple of dollars, visit the Berardo Collection Museum on Saturday when it is free all day to the public. After your visit, relax on the museum’s terrace and enjoy the sweet sunshine.

3. Bairro Alto

Hey there foodies and cocktail aficionados, don’t forget to check out Bairro Alto before you leave Lisbon. This eclectic neighborhood has got your back for all your food and drink needs. Want to enjoy a night out without frequenting a nightclub? Check out PARK bar in Bairro Alto. This bar was recommended by our Uber driver and is a rooftop bar that is situated on top of a parking garage. It will make you feel like your sneaking into a speakeasy during prohibition.  With beautiful views of the city and great drinks it cannot be missed. To make the most of your visit to PARK bar, arrive early to get a great seat with a view as this place fills up fast!


Not the best view from PARK bar, but the only photo I took that night 

4. Day trip to Sintra

During one of my days staying in Lisbon, we made a day trip to Sintra. The trip is easily accessible via train which can be taken from Rossio station or Estação do Oriente. If you can, consider making this a two day trip as there is so much to see and so little time. Our two main stops during our visit to Sintra was Castelo dos Mouros and Pena National Palace. Castelo dos Mouros is a beautiful medieval hilltop castle and a UNESCO Heritage Site which will offer you the refreshing mountain air that us city folks are always grateful for. After this, head on over to Pena National Palace, a beautiful colourful masterpiece and also home to an immense national park. Have more time in Sintra? Visit Quinta da Regaleria estate in Sintra. While we did not get a chance to see it, the photos I have seen from acquaintances who have gone are phenomenal. It is truly like living in a fairy tale. Before heading back to Lisbon, take a moment to sit down and enjoy a glass a wine at one of the many restaurants with a view overlooking the city. Nothing better than sitting down and enjoying a glass of sangria after walking all day long.

5. Day trip to Portinho da Arrábida or Cascais

After a long night partying in the city of Lisbon, our final day in Lisbon was spent in Praia do Creoro (Portinho da Arrábida); a beautiful beach situated in a national park in the small town of Setubal. With crystalline waters surrounded by magnificent limestone cliffs, it was absolutely spectacular. Be sure to make the most of your visit by arriving early and hiking the beautiful park. For those who are not renting a car,  consider visiting Cascais instead which is more easily accessible by transit routes. While it does not offer the amazing lush green landscape of Portinho da Arrabida, it will be the little beach getaway you need away from the hustle and bustle of Lisbon.

Whatever you end up doing friends, know that Portugal is the hidden gem you wish you knew about sooner. With its pristine beaches, gorgeous architecture, delicious food, and friendly people there is so much to love about this great little country. But the adventure is not over yet, stay tuned for my next stop to Lagos, Portugal where there is more fun in the sun to be had. Until next time!

Six More Tips and Tricks for Your Next Holiday

Hey guys,

After spending some time talking to one of my closest friends about my experiences travelling, I realize that my tips and tricks did not end with my previous Top Ten post and so I here I am continuing to share my wisdom. Whether you are a solo traveler or travelling with a group of friends, let me help you navigate your way around the world.

1. Download an offline map on your cellular device before heading abroad

During one of my first trips abroad, a friend I was with had downloaded an offline map to help her navigate the country we were in. Before this, I never knew there was such thing as an offline map and was astounded by this information. And so, my advice to you is to consider downloading one before taking off. With the rise of technology these days, there are a wide range of offline maps available.Not only do these maps offer the lay of the land but are also able to give you directions on how to get to and from places. My app of choice: Maps.Me. What makes this app superior to the rest is it is your one stop shop for offline maps spanning the globe. Thus, if you are planning on visiting multiple locations on your trip simply download the app and the offline map for each country and you are ready to go!  No flipping through multiple applications on your device!

2. Get an external battery case/pack for your phone

We all know that dreaded moment when you’re travelling and having fun, and suddenly your phone dies. Not only are you now left with no means to capture the scenery that surrounds you, but you have also lost your means of communication and means to navigate the city (offline map mentioned above). The solution: an external battery pack.  For those wondering where to purchase such things, Amazon offers a broad selection, as well as your local Costco, or electronic stores. While I am guilty of not having an external battery pack, I have in more than one occasion kicked myself because of it. As a female traveler, it definitely provides you with a peace of mind when traversing the streets abroad.

3.  Heading to a country that doesn’t speak your language? Don’t fret. Google Translate is coming to your rescue…most of the time. 

If you are heading to a country in which you are worried about travelling to due to the language barrier, do yourself a favour and download the offline official language of the place you are visiting. Now while we all know that Google Translate isn’t perfect at translations, something is better than nothing. If the country your visiting has an entirely different alphabet, do not abandon ship. Rather, if you find yourself lost in a foreign country, visit a tourism office, hotel, or currency exchange business where more often than not there will be someone who speaks English.  So, take a breath, calm down, and look around for the following establishments. Do not let your fear of the language barrier keep you from travelling. If I can do it, so can you.

4. Opt for shorter tours rather than lengthy week long tours 

My advice is often to do as I say, and not what I do. And so, while I am incredibly guilty of purchasing longer tours,  it is not the most time efficient means to see all the sights in a country. The reason being is usually on these tours you spend a lot of time on buses and/or boats and have shorter periods of times to check out the cities you are visiting. That being said, the positive aspects of week long tours is the sense of comradery that is created among travelers. During my travels, I have participated in two group tours and while I do wish we did have more time checking out certain sights or were able to arrive earlier, I would not change my decision to go on a group tour.  That being said, if you are more concerned with seeing sights then consider opting for shorter tours instead and doing more individual travel.  In doing so, will maximize your time visiting the sights on your list while having a taste of the comradery among travelling strangers.

5. Do not let fear stop you from travelling alone 

As I mentioned in my previous posts, after my friend unfortunately could not join my tour in Greece I made the decision to head to Greece alone.  So how did I survive?  Just breathe. Travelling alone, especially as a female was absolutely terrifying. As I sat there boarding my flight, all I could think about was every goddamn news headline about violence towards women across the globe and atrocities committed to us. Do not let that fear stop you. Now let me ask you something? Wherever you live currently, Have you not faced unpleasant experiences and found yourself in dodgy areas every now then? And yet, here you are. Breathing and living.  Do you spend every waking minute of your daily life fearing everyone who shares a sidewalk with you? No.  So, take that leap of faith and head on out there. For those who are afraid of getting lost, consider doing your first solo trip with a tour group (I know I’m contradicting my previous point here). The website TourRadar allows you to compare and purchase tours across the globe run by various tour operators.  I have had nothing but positive experiences using them and would highly recommend utilizing their services. Want to bite the bullet and go completely solo? Consider staying in hostels.  Whereas hotels can often leave you feeling isolated, hostels are great in that you will meet other travelers like yourself who you can easily bond with. Furthermore, many hostels offer a variety of tours and events to help you mingle with travelers and make friends abroad. Whatever you decide, just take the leap and go for it!

4. Looking for suggestions and a free place to stay? Check out Couchsurfing.

This platform offers travelers a space to ask locals questions about the best places to visit in the country they are travelling to. Not only this, but as the name suggests Couchsurfing  provides a platform for travelers with a shoestring budget to meet locals willing to offer a place to stay for little to no cost.  The great thing about this app is as more people stay with these hosts, references are added to their profile to ensure they are a safe and good host. While I have not used the following app, I have met many travelers abroad who rely on this app and have had great success.

5. For the love of God, get travel insurance.

I know, I know. What are the odds that something will happen to you while on vacation, right? Well as the saying goes, it’s better to be safe than sorry.  And so, do yourself a favour and get yourself some travel insurance. You never know what will happen while zip lining cloud forests, hiking mountains, and visiting sanctuaries or simply walking down the street. Although I only had to use my travel insurance once while abroad it was at that moment I realized how important my insurance was. Furthermore, nowadays many travel credit cards already include travel insurance with them so consider getting a travel credit card to save yourself some major bucks. Those looking to get some serious protection? Look no further than WorldNomads. While many travel insurance companies only offer protection in regards to basic activities, trip interruptions, and personal belongings, WorldNomads can be customized to protect you during all your adrenaline fueled activities.  Whatever travel insurance company you choose, stay safe my friends!

6. Bring an extra credit card with you and inform your bank of your travel plans

Now, here is the thing.  You never know what might happen when you go on vacation and sometimes that might mean that one credit card you didn’t think would get lost or stolen is now out of your possessions.  As a result, you are now left with only the spending cash you brought with you and no emergency fund. As a result, I strongly urge you to consider bringing two credit cards on vacation. Before doing this, however, make sure to inform your bank of your travel plans. I know a lot of banks nowadays state this is no longer necessary due to them being able to recognize your patterns of spending but take the two extra seconds and let them know. As someone who was told two days before a trip that my credit card has been compromised and I was almost left without a backup plan, trust me when I say you will want one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pura Vida: Part One

After my travels in Asia, my plan was to delve directly into my trip to Spain and Portugal. However, after my most recent trip to Costa Rica, it seems only right that I start with Costa Rica instead. The reason for this switch is simple. You see, as someone who often encourages others to see the positive things in life, I found myself in a slump. I was in other words, not practicing what I was preaching. And then, came Costa Rica. Prior to heading to Costa Rica, I knew very little about the country other than it was absolutely beautiful with its lush green rainforests, sandy beaches, and exotic wildlife. This was the reason I had hopped on the plane to Costa Rica, but what I had fallen in love with even more was the Tico way of life encapsulated by the term “Pura Vida.”

This popular term used in Costa Rica, translates to “The Pure Life” or “Simple Life”. It is a saying to represent a relaxed view in life, a reminder to go with the ebbs and flows of life and focus on the little joys and not let the negative moments bring you down. This is not to say that Ticos do not experience hardships. After all, it is still a developing country with poverty to be seen in many places but the lesson to be learned from Ticos is to make the most of your situation. And so, my goal for these posts about Costa Rica are simple. What I hope to do is provide an accurate depiction of my time there, how this “Pura Vida” lifestyle was evident in everyday life and how the people there are some of the kindest individuals you will ever meet. And so, without further ado, let us delve into my time in Costa Rica.

Day 1 (San Jose)

I have mentioned various times that what Canada lacks (especially in the big city) is that we have forgotten how to communicate with one another. While Canadians are known to be polite, politeness should not be seen as synonymous with friendliness. We will more than happily help you with directions but beyond that, Canadians have become wary of strangers. Remaining closed off within their own microscopic friend groups and suspicious of when strangers start random conversations with you. Costa Rica was the entirely opposite as the story that will unfold will reveal.

After arriving in San Jose and settling in, my time in San Jose was primarily limited to looking for restaurants and getting dinner. After some research on my friend’s part, we discovered that establishments with the name “Soda” which is Costa Rican for diner, offer typical Costa Rican cuisine on a budget. And so, we began our hunt for these diners. After passing many overpriced American restaurants, we finally found our saving grace “Soda Yogui’s.” If you have the chance to head down here, you will not regret it. As mentioned, Ticos are not afraid to make random conversations and are generally very welcoming. Our server at this diner was just that. Not only were we blessed with great service but great conversation. One thing I love about the locals, is how reassuring they are when you attempt to speak Spanish. As someone whose Spanish could use some work, it was nice to not feel embarrassed about messing up. As we ate our dinner, we spoke to the waiter about language, his name, and he even helped us work on our Spanish speaking skills and in return he showed off some of the few words he knew in Mandarin (the friend I was travelling with was Chinese). This was my introduction to Costa Rica. While I was not a fan of San Jose, as big cities have never been my favourite, the experience that day at the diner solidified that this trip was the right choice and that helped ensure our vacation started off on a positive note. As we finished our dinner and bid our farewells, we headed back to our hostel and went to bed to prepare for the real start of our vacation tomorrow. Next destination: Quepos.

Day 2-3 (Quepos)

The next day, we were off bright and early to Quepos via public transportation. If you are a budget traveller like myself, the good thing about Costa Rica is the affordability of bus routes to get to different cities and towns. The cost to get to Quepos (8 USD). Quepos was a refreshing change from the hustle and bustle of San Jose, and is home to the magnificent Manuel Antonio National Park (a quick 30 min bus ride from the main bus station and costs about 50 cents). Something about travelling is that you need to be prepared for the unexpected, always. Upon arriving to Quepos, my friend and I decided that walking up to our accommodations would be perfectly fine. It was definitely not fine. With unpaved roads to our accommodations, we struggled to drag our carry on suitcases up the road. Dripping in sweat, we had vastly underestimated how rough the road was and after not even walking 1/3 up the hill to our accommodation, we were exhausted. Luckily for us, the gods were on our side. As from the moment we decided that our decision was a poorly made one, a shuttle van from another hotel drove up the road and offered us assistance. Despite being wary , we accepted the help, and thank God we did. After entering the car and getting a lift we realized we had a very long way to go. This genuine act of kindness with no expectation in return only validated that I had made the right decision to come to Costa Rica. As we hopped off the van in front of our accommodations and thanked the driver a multitude of times, he simply turned to us and said “Pura Vida” and wished us a great vacation.

After settling in, we headed out to enjoy our first day out of two in Quepos. For those wishing to visit Manuel Antonio National Park, my advice is to go early as the park closes at 4 pm with the last admission being at 3 pm. Due to it already being almost 2 pm when we arrived at the National Park and figured out where the heck to go to buy tickets to enter the park, we opted instead to head to the beach right beside the national park. And so, we made like the Ticos do and decided to go with the flow and hang out on the beach instead. Although the weather did not hold up for very long, after our very long and sweaty journey to arrive at our hostel, relaxing on the beach was the perfect way to spend our first day in Quepos. Sometimes things happen for a reason, right?

After lounging at the beach, it was time to head back to avoid the real storm that was about to hit and so we went on a hunt to grab some food. Looking for good food in Quepos ? Check out Soda Sanchez, not only did I have incredibly delicious quesadillas but it also became our saving grace from the storm. One thing to be mindful of Costa Rica, be prepared for all types of weather. While it may be sunny when you head out, you may be caught in a heavy rainstorm. With a front row view of the storm, we enjoyed the sounds of the torrential downpour under the safety of the restaurant. After finishing our food and the storm passed, we headed back to our accommodations where we met some great travellers from the United States. One thing I love about travelling, is how it eliminates barriers and brings people together. As we sat on the terrace, we spoke to our fellow travellers who had done the hikes in Manuel Antonio that day and who offered great advice on navigating the national park. We discussed our work situations, laughed about our similar predicaments, and gushed over the beautiful sights they had seen that day. It was a great end to the day, and in making conversation we not only relished in our shared experiences but were armed with how to make the most of our time in Quepos. It may have not been an action packed day, but it was a perfect day! Life was good!

The next day, after being told to wake up early to see the sunrise I was up at 5 in the morning in preparation. I eagerly awaited for the sun to rise and for hues of pinks and orange to fill the morning sky. I waited and waited patiently, however the cloudy morning had other plans for me. Despite the lack of an epic sunrise, the peace was worth the early morning wake up. What I did get to experience instead was the birds beginning to awaken, the fresh morning air against my face, a frog resting on the terrace, and just being able to immerse myself in nature for one suspended moment in time. With this peace of mind it would set my friend and I up for our grand adventure hiking through the national park.

After eating a quick breakfast and taking selfies in front of the Quepos sign, it was time to hop on the bus to Manuel Antonio National Park. Once arriving to Manuel Antonio, we paid our 16 USD entry fee for foreigners to enter the park. Want to know which will give you the biggest bang for your buck? They are as followed: Sendero Mirador, Sendero Perezoso, and Sendero Playa Gemelas. For those wondering whether to get a guide, the choice is yours. For a budget conscious traveller, we opted out of the guided tour and were content with our decision. That being said, if you want to see animals high up in the trees (specifically the sloths), guides are your biggest chance of seeing these creatures as the guides are equipped with telescopes to see these creatures. The downside to these tours is they often only take you on the main trail, and as a result you will not have a chance to go on Sendero Mirador and witness the beauty from the top. The choice is yours, but regardless of what you choose the park is worth the visit. My advice, go early and avoid the crowds!

As you walk through the park, you will run across monkeys, sloths if you’re lucky, raccoons, crabs, and various kinds of birds and reptiles. Furthermore, the trails are well designed and informative providing travellers with information regarding the flora and fauna in the park, explaining defense systems of plants, animal habits and diets, and uses of plants found in the park. Walking through the park felt a little bit like being in a nature documentary with the guided signs acting as commentary on the sights around you. Our favourite hike was the Sendero Mirador trail. Coming off the main trail of the park, this trail leads up to the highest point in the park to a stunning viewpoint of the beach below. While it does require a bit of fitness to hike up, there are a few benches along the way and it is a hike that is worth the struggle. Make sure to head all the way up to Punta Serrucho for the best view in the park.

After reaching the top of Punta Serrucho, the view was breathtaking. As we reached the top of Punta Serrucho, due to it being fairly early there was only a few people at the top and as a result we could appreciate the view in silence. After taking photos, we talked to a couple of friends who were seated on the bench next to us. One who was working in Costa Rica and discussed the life there, reality versus people’s perceptions of Costa Rica, what we did and how we knew our travel buddy, and had in depth conversations about holistic medicine. We discussed briefly about cultural differences between Americans and Europeans (the girl in question being French) and it was so great to just sit down and have a calm conversation with random strangers. A point in our conversation which stood out most was in regards to photo taking. Whereas, we took multiple photos to get the right angle, the French friends pointed out playfully that the photos were set up to make us as the focal point rather than the scenery. As a running joke, when another tourist came by, one of the Frenchies was asked to take a photo of said individual and asked “do you want a lot of landscape or a lot of you,” to which the four of us broke out in hysterics. It was nice to have an honest conversation and be made aware of something we don’t always realize. While there is nothing wrong with encapsulating the moments you experience with photos, it was a reminder to let the moment take priority over an instagram worthy photo and so we did just that. We sat down, relaxed, laughed, and just let the sun beam down on us while admiring the picturesque greenery, sunny skies, and crystalline waters.

After relaxing at the viewpoint for sometime, we carried on our adventure where we ran into hermit crabs and various lizards scurrying through the park before finally heading to Manuel Antonio Beach to soak up the sun and rest our tired achy bodies. It was a great way to reward ourselves for the long hike. With the sun beaming down on our bodies, the warm sand beneath our feet, and the sound of waves crashing against the shore, life was good.

Something important to note is for travellers heading to the beach, be wary of the monkeys and raccoons, who have learned to steal backpacks for food. While we did not experience any issues, I did witness some monkeys looking for food on the beach in the distance. Luckily for us, we were not bothered on that day.

As our beach day came to an end, we headed back on the trail to the exit where we witnessed a whole bunch of capuchin monkeys hanging about the trees. It was a phenomenal view and one I was most grateful for.

After leaving the park and grabbing a bite to eat, we headed home with the satisfaction that our time spent in Quepos had been thoroughly enjoyed. You know you’ve had a good day, when you sing in your room not caring who hears and that is exactly what I did. So my advice to you, is that if you are visiting Costa Rica make sure to include Quepos on your itinerary and soak up every moment of happiness and joy while there.

Thailand: The Grand Finale

So, the last time we spoke you probably thought we had moved past Thailand as we had gone to Cambodia. Well, my dear readers you are quite mistaken. After our visit in Cambodia had concluded, it was time to return back to The Land of Smiles. Our next stop on the Thailand tour: Phuket.

Now here’s the thing, if you’re headed to Phuket during the New Years, take my advice and stay near Patong Beach or Karon Beach. The reason being is if you choose to stay in Phuket town, it will be very, I mean very deserted as it almost altogether shuts down for the holidays. That being said, just because you shouldn’t stay there does not mean you shouldn’t visit it. For those with children out there, this one is for you. The town is not only decorated in colourful buildings, unique graffiti art, but is also the home the Phuket Trickeye Museum, perfect for the kiddies. The museum is filled with optical illusions and is a perfect way to tire out rambunctious children. After the museum, its time for the adults to relax. Check out the China Inn Cafe for a cute garden oasis with delicious food at great prices. In short, Phuket Town is the perfect relaxing start to your stay in Phuket. After Phuket Town, head on over to the Phi Phi Islands for an island paradise before finishing off your stay near Karon or Patong beach.

Phi Phi Islands

And so, the next day, we headed towards the docks and boarded a boat to the Phi Phi Islands. This group of islands is truly a backpacker’s paradise. The small island is full of stalls selling scuba lessons and on the dock there are several boats to be rented to check out the famous Maya Bay (from the movie “The Beach), Monkey Beach, and Viking Caves (you pass by the caves, no cave exploration here ) and finish off the day with some snorkeling. And so, on the first day that is exactly what we did. After deep frying ourselves in the sun it was time to go on this boat tour to check out these sites. I’m going to be real honest, in that if you aren’t a fan of the movie The Beach, Maya Bay is going to look about as interesting as any other beach. Furthermore, please note going to Monkey Beach does not guarantee you will monkeys. Shocking, eh ? That said, if you are still determined to see the monkeys there are many people who have seen them. Unfortunately, myself as well as another unfortunate soul I met on my travels, were not so lucky. And so, my advice to you is this. If you are anything like myself, skip the Maya Bay and Monkey Beach tour and just enjoy the beach on the Phi Phi Don. Participate in some of the underwater activities such as the scuba diving and I assure you will not be disappointed. In addition to the multitude of water sports, the island is full of small stalls to buy cute trinkets and delicious food. Want to know a good place for drinks and appetizers ? Check out “The Beach Bar” , the bar is decked out is glow graffiti art and offers board games while you eat. Quesadillas and Jenga , together ?! Anyone who knows me, knows that place was practically made for me. Furthermore, a trip to Phi Phi would not be complete without checking out the viewpoint.

I should warn you that to reach this viewpoint, it requires quite a bit of physical fitness. As someone who works out casually, it was still an arduous trek but the view…. worth every moment of suffering.From the top, the whole island spreads out before you, pristine greenery enveloping the beautiful shimmering aqua waters. It was this moment I enjoyed the most during my visit to the islands and I was glad we had stayed the extra few hours to have time to do. Monkeys or no monkeys, Phi Phi was breathtaking.

Phi Phi viewpoint

Return to Phuket – Patong Beach

After enjoying the island paradise, it was time to return back to Phuket where we could spend the remainder of our trip. For those who are looking to party, Patong Beach is the place to a be. However, be forewarned that partying here is no joke and it is an all in event. Thus, for those with children I recommend staying near Karon Beach which not only is a much cleaner beach but a quieter one. Whatever lifestyle you live, Phuket has got you covered.

Now before we conclude this journey, it would be an injustice to not mention my trip aboard Simba Sea Trips. This was an all day boat adventure in which we visited coves, allowed for snorkeling, canoeing, cave exploration, a visit to Phang Na Bay (James Bond island), and lastly a visit to Koh Panyi ( a fishing village built on the water). Out of all my adventures in Thailand, this and my time at the elephant sanctuary were in a close tie with one another. Whereas cities like Phuket have lost alot of authenticity due to becoming a large tourist hub, especially the area around Patong beach, Koh Panyi was there to bring an authentic experience back. A village isolated from everyone else, it thrives on its on ingenuity and fishing and what struck me as fascinating was whereas many parts of Thailand practice Buddhism, Koh Panyi was majority Muslim.The biggest sign of their ingenuity is the village itself built on water and a floating soccer stadium (you heard that right). After being immersed in a tourist hub for a few days, Koh Panyi was the perfect experience to get back to basics. In addition to this, the tour included a canoeing trip which allowed us to be immersed with nature, the only noise around us, the sound of paddles wading through the water. This day trip away from Phuket was the perfect way to end our trip and a day I will never forget.The people in charge of the tour exceeded all expectations and left me with nothing but fond memories.

Final Thoughts

My final day with Simba Sea Trips was the perfect way to end my long arduous journey through Asia. During my time in this great continent, I learned so much not only about its inhabitants but myself as well. China taught me to appreciate the incredible differences between cultures and taught me to do my part to help eliminate these barriers even at the expense of being uncomfortable with speaking my second language. It taught me to be open to new things and foods, and allowed me to experience the joy in rising early and enjoying time just being present. In Thailand, I learned to fall in love with life again and immerse myself in another culture’s celebrations and religious beliefs. Thailand also taught me to take a moment to appreciate everything in life and the beauty around you and I fell in love with its landscapes. And lastly, Cambodia. Being in a country that less than half a century ago was torn apart by massacres and seeing their resilience, taught me to evaluate my own problems in my life and recognize the things I have the power to change and the things I cannot and to keep a positive outlook even in the face of adversity . It was a life-changing experience and a trip I will cherish forever.

Trip to Cambodia

After spending time checking out temples and dancing in the streets, it was time to pack our bags once again and head to our next destination: Siem Reap, Cambodia. Now, I am going to be completely honest with you in that I would probably not go back to Cambodia again. That being said, simply because I did not enjoy my time there to the fullest, does not mean you will not enjoy yours. And so, before I delve into my experience and the positive points of my travel, I will leave you with some tips about Cambodia to prepare you for your visit to Cambodia. As a result, this post will be split into two parts: practical knowledge (things I wish people told me before visiting) and my experience in Cambodia.
Practical Knowledge

  1. First and foremost, the country is one which is quite conservative. This is reflected not only in mannerisms but in attire. As a result, for women especially, it is important to remain covered and ensure your shoulders are not exposed and that you refrain from wearing short skirts or shirts during your stay. This, especially true when visiting the temples. Whether or not you agree with this, it is important to respect the modest customs of Cambodia.
  2. Be mindful of Cambodia’s troubled history. Cambodia is a country which is just beginning to recover from a past of violence, including massacres of the Cambodian public during the Khmer Rouge regime (click here for a brief timeline of Cambodia’s history). As a result, the first thing that struck me when arriving to Siem Reap was the poverty that surrounds the city. The farther away you got from the downtown core, the more this poverty was evident. Due to staying at a hotel slightly farther from the center, the poverty in Siem Reap was more evident to us than it would be to someone staying in the core. It is important to keep this in mind when planning where to stay as places further from the center will also have less choices of food to eat and less resources. Do not let the history of violence and the presence of poverty keep you from visiting Siem Reap. Rather, to see how the Khmer people have persevered in light of these atrocities, is something remarkable and the resilience of these people and their ability to celebrate despite these conditions is admirable. However, I strongly suggest you remain in the downtown core.
  3. Like Thailand in April, Cambodia is very hot. However, the main difference being is that not only do you face the heat in Cambodia, you are faced with a mixture of dust and heat. The red dust sticking to your body and getting in your eyes, nose and mouth. Therefore, when if you are visiting Cambodia during this time, make sure you stay incredibly hydrated, bring a thin scarf to cover your face, and most of all limit your exposure to the direct heat and wear a wide brimmed hat to protect your head.
  4. If you are visiting the temples of Angkor which I assume is one of the main reasons you have come to Siem Reap, opt for the three day pass instead. These temples are scattered within the city and there is no possible way to get the most of your visit if you attempt to do them within one day. In addition, to get the most out of your visit, book your tour guide in advance especially during the month of April. It will definitely add to your appreciation of these structures.

The Adventure (The Good and the Bad)

Upon arrival to Cambodia and getting settled into our hotel, our quest began on the hunt for food. As we walked the streets what immediately became evident was the level of poverty. Streets were littered with garbage, there was very little commercial establishments as we walked, and some establishments nearby were very rundown in appearance. It took us approximately 25 minutes walking and seeing a restaurant that caught our eye, we finally sat down to order food. Something to note about Cambodia, is when dining in it is common for them to leave an array of drinks on the table. From there, you can choose your beverage of choice and will only be charged for the refreshments you consumed. I cannot stress the importance of dressing modestly especially the further away you get from the downtown core, as not doing so will create unwanted judgemental stares from locals or refusal of service(trust me on this one).

So after finally filling our bellies and refueling our bodies, we decided to continue walking the rest of the way to the downtown core ( Pub Street), another 30 minutes by foot. As the sun began to descend, we finally made it to the city core and were greeted with the start of Cambodian New Year celebrations. Before us, was a circle performers dancing traditional Khmer dances for the crowd. The movements of the dance were graceful and soft, one dance incorporating coconut shells and another with the two dancers dressed as peacocks. It was these moments in Cambodia I thoroughly enjoyed, the peaceful atmosphere temporarily erasing the hardships that they endure even as a nation today.

After watching the traditional dances, the festivities shifted in tone and what ensued was a performance of a well known Cambodian pop singer singing popular English songs partly in English and Khmer, as well as some original content. As the night went on, it was filled with games for the crowd and giveaways including a scarf resembling the Cambodian krama (traditional Cambodian scarf). It was a joyous evening and it was great to witness traditional Khmer dances and be a part of an event which brought both locals and tourists together, evident in the singing of songs in both English and Khmer. As we headed back to our hotel that night, like Thailand, kids also participated in spraying passerbys with water in celebration of the Thai New Year.

Visiting the Temples

Heads up, everyone! If you think you can see the temples in one day, you are incredibly mistaken. Trust me, we tried! And 15 cups of water later, we still did not see everything. And so, my advice to you is to get the three day pass. You can thank me later. The next morning, we went on our quest to see the temples of Angkor. We hiked up steep steps, traversed temple corridors, saw monkeys playing in the distance, and most of all took lots of selfies. While we did find ourselves having trouble with our tuk tuk driver during this trip, the issue with our visit to the temples was spreading ourselves too thin in trying to see so much in one day. The beginning of our temple visits went smoothly, and we saw so much beautiful things. However, with the lack of a tour guide I truly believe one misses out on the significance of these structures and their amount of effort put into them. Due to planning last minute, our only source of information was a book detailing the temples and attributes but it was a book which was not accessible enough with my lack of knowledge of Cambodian history. Also, if you are visiting the temples bear in mind the time that they close. It is a shame that we could not truly appreciate the temples due to all these combined factors and so I write with the intent of hoping to prepare you with more information so that you are able to make the best of your trip in Cambodia.

One part of the trip that truly stuck out to me was sitting in the back of a large pickup truck with tourists and locals alike to travel from one temple complex to another. It was a quick ride but one which felt so right and that all the struggles of the past two days, made me appreciate Cambodia for what it was. I constantly go back to this theme of breaking barriers when writing about my experiences, and it is something I felt quite often during my travels in Asia, probably amplified due to the spirit of the New Year. It was something so small and yet helped dissolve the frustrations faced during our time there as if these people sitting in the truck with me could find happiness in a place plagued with poverty, I surely could find my own.

After the extensive trek the day before, our final day in Cambodia was spent relaxing by the pool in our hotel. We were exhausted and absolutely worn out. In my other life, I was definitely a mermaid. As a result, the gods have made me a very mediocre swimmer in this one. That aside, I mediocrely swam laps in the pool, provided some free swimming lessons to my friend, and just kicked back and relax. After letting our skin get pruny, we went to get food and spent the rest of that night relaxing. It was a great way to end our experience and simply just be.

Final Thoughts

I believe that Siem Reap,Cambodia definitely provides valuable experience to travellers visiting and to dismiss it entirely would be a dishonor to the country. However, to make the most of it, follow my tips when visiting and I assure that you will not be disappointed with the grandeur of theses temples and the resilience of its people. That’s all for now! Stay tuned for the final leg of my Asia tour coming soon.

Thailand: Part 2

Bangkok, Thailand

After spending a few days hanging out with elephants, ziplining in the wilderness, and having the knots all over our body smoothed out it was time for the next part of our adventure. We were headed to Bangkok and in doing so we would be arriving during one of the biggest holidays in Thailand: Songkran. Songkran is the celebration of the Thai New Year which occurs on April 13 every year. Now if you are like myself and celebrate New Year’s Day on January 1st and think that is a big celebration, than I am telling you that nothing can prepare you for the celebration of Songkran. That being said, Songkran is more than a time for partying but is a time of reflection and worship. During this period, people visit temples, provide offerings to the monks, and bathe Buddha statues as a sign of worship. And so, it was important that before we delve into the celebrations to visit these places of worship and witness their beautify first hand. Our first stop: Wat Arun.

Wat Arun is located on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River. To get there, one needs to head to the pier and for only a few baht, a river shuttle boat takes you across the river to where the temple resides. Entry into the temple is 50 baht and after paying our fee, we set off to explore the grounds. Wat Arun is commonly referred to as The Temple of Dawn. It derives its name from the Hindu god of light, Aruna and is famous for the way the first light of morning reflects off its porcelain facade and brightly coloured glass designs. The temple was a stunning with its intricate designs, magnificent spires, and grandiose sculptures of soldiers and guardians at the base of the temple. It was a perfect way to start our day, a quiet reprieve with beautiful manicured grounds. After admiring the temple and walking the grounds past market stalls and performances going on, it was time to head back to the other side of the river to our next destination: The Grand Palace.

The Grand Palace is a massive complex of several buildings, and used to be the official residence of the monarchs of Thailand. When we arrived to The Grand Palace, it was packed! Due to our arriving during the Thai new year, people from all around the world and locals all congregated together to admire the architecture, pay respect to the monks, and visit the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Although maneuvering through the crowds was difficult, the reason for its popularity. The complex was breathtakingly beautiful. With rich emerald greens, lapis lazuli blues, terra cotta reds, and golden hues the buildings gleamed in the scorching Thai sun. Just like Wat Arun, the complex was contained large guardian statues and a multitude of Buddhist sculptures. As we walked within the compound, we would eventually stop at the temple to find a moment of peace and quiet away from the scorching Thai heat. After removing our shoes, we entered the temple and were given a moment of reprieve from the scorching Thai sun and chaos outside. Noise was kept at a murmur and the cold ground beneath us soothed our overheated bodies. After exiting the temple and admiring the colourful buildings of The Grand Palace for some time, it was time to head to our final destination before it closed, Wat Pho (The Temple of Reclining Buddha).

Bless my friend for getting a photo of the Reclining Buddha

Now I’m going to be completely honest in that I didn’t appreciate Wat Pho as much as I should for the main reason that by the end of this day I was absolutely exhausted that there is little photographic evidence of our ventures in Wat Pho. That being said, Wat Pho is one that should definitely be on your itinerary in that it offers you the beauty of Thai architecture and places of worship, without the chaos of The Grand Palace. It was here in which I was able to fully observe the practises of worship during this festive season. After seeing the impressive 46 metres long gold leaf covered Buddha, we walked along the grounds in which we witnessed people bathing Buddha statues, praying, and would eventually encounter Buddhist monks going about their evening in the courtyard. After the chaos of being in The Grand Palace, Wat Pho was the perfect way to end the day. As the sun began to descend, the grounds grew quieter and so we sat down to finally rest our tired aching feet. It had been a long day, and despite my previous hesitation to visit the temple it wound up being the highlight of my day. After sitting down to reflect and relax, it was time to head back home and rest. Tomorrow would be filled with all new adventures, complete with water fights, dancing in the streets, and cheap water guns and we had to be prepared.