Travelling in Portugal: Part 1

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.







Costa Rican Adventures: Part Three

Day 10 

Welcome back! It’s been quite a journey so far. From zip-lining to rappelling, from hiking to horseback riding, and finally from swimming in waterfalls to lounging in hot springs, our time in Costa Rica was nothing short of exciting. And so, it was time to change the tempo. Our next stop would slow down our pace and let us take a moment to breathe and enjoy taking in the nature around us. Next stop: Sarapiqui. Now, my advice to you is that if you are going to visit Sarapiqui, make it a one day trip. The reason that I say this, is despite being incredibly beautiful, due to it being secluded there was also very little to do that we hadn’t already done. That being said, to dismiss this place altogether would be a shame. So here’s what we did and how you can make the best of your time in Sarapiqui.

When we arrived to the lodge Mirador Prendas and settled in, we decided to take a walk around the property and go down one of its many trails. While walking down the trail we encountered grazing cows and goats, streams running behind the property, as well as a small waterfall.  It had been awhile since we kicked back and relaxed and so this was a much needed stop on our vacation. As we walked, we took in the trickling sound of water by the stream, the buzzing of insects, and the beautiful fresh air as the clearing was surrounded by forest. We had been offered complimentary afternoon coffee and after a brief moment enjoying the scenery, we walked back up to the lodge for our delicious treat.

After returning back to our accommodation and revitalizing our spirits with some delicious coffee, one of the owners of the lodge, Jane offered to take us on another adventure. One of my favourite moments on this walk; the howler monkeys. Whereas, we had yet to hear them in the previous cities probably due to human activity. Here, in isolation, their loud howls echoed through the clearings. For those who don’t know, howler monkeys are considered the loudest land animals in the world and my god did they lived up to their reputation. Not only were we able to hear them, but as we walked with Jane she pointed them out high in the trees and we were able to witness baby howler monkeys and an alpha male above us. As we continued our walk, Jane pointed out different plants and trees on the property and the fruits they beared. We passed by coffee plants, starfruit trees, cas trees, and guaba trees and she even let us pick some to eat. After this, Jane proceeded to take us to a treehouse on the property and as we opened up the doors, birds stirred and flew out of the windows of the cabin. It truly was like those scenes in the movies where someone visits an abandoned cabin and bats begin to fly about, only in our adventure it was only birds. We were like explorers discovering abandoned places and I was all for it!

After this, we slowly began to make our way back to our accommodations to clean up and get ready for dinner. That night, we sat in the open dining hall and ate our dinner. As I previously mentioned, it is always the little things that I appreciate the most on vacation. And so, as we sat there chattering away with with the noise of the television lulling in the background broadcasting some documentary, I was at peace. Eventually,  after conversing for some time and finishing up our dinner, we decided to call it a day. The next day proving to be more adventurous for my companions.

Day 11

The next morning, we woke up and ate breakfast at the lodge and proceeded to watch the birds from terrace. From our seats, we watched toucans flying by and even witnessed a woodpecker pecking away at a wooden post. Coming from a big city, experiences like these are few and far between and so it was great to just take a moment and enjoy what was right in front of us. After this, I opted to stay on the premises while my friend’s friends decided to go a horseback ride through another trail at the lodge and cross over into the national park that was situated directly behind us. My body was beginning to feel the strain of the activity and so while everyone went off on their adventures, I took a moment to just kick back, relax, and enjoy some music. Oh yea, and hang out with the spiders. Seriously, the lodge had a little section dedicated for the spiders to make base with the logic behind it being they are natural predators and kill the real pests. To all my  arachnophobes out, good luck friends. For those who aren’t a fan of them but aren’t terrified like myself, you’ll be alright and honestly the little section was pretty neat.

As mentioned, while I spent the day chilling out my friends opted to do the horseback ride tour and according to them they had a phenomenal time, thus this is definitely a great optional activity to do on your day at Sarapiqui. Furthermore, if you want to get off the property, as I have previously stressed make sure you have a sturdy 4WD and head on over to Parque Nacional Braulio Carrillo to experience the forest to the fullest.

In short, I would definitely recommend Sarapiqui for one night as the nature you experience is unbeatable and it is the perfect way to wind down especially if you are doing action packed adventures like we were. I would also highly recommend Mirador Prendas as Jane went above and beyond to make sure our experience was memorable. She did not have to go through all the trouble of taking us on walks through the property and offering motorcycle rides to my friend and myself, and yet she did with ease. If I were to be stuck in the middle of nowhere, it would definitely be at Mirador Prendas. I will gladly accept a few spiders for that kind of hospitality.

Later that evening after my friends had returned and my back no longer felt like someone had run over it with a truck, we concluded our evening with playing foosball and pool.  This was our last night in Sarapiqui and it couldn’t have been spent any better way.

Day 12

The next day we woke up bright and early and continued our journey.  Next stop: Puerto Viejo. Just before we made it, we stopped in Cahuita to visit the Sloth Sanctuary.  Here we were taken on a one hour tour. It was evident that the workers here genuinely cared about the sloths, and they went in detail about  the basic biological characteristics of sloths and behaviours. After this, we were taken on a canoe ride for approximately another hour in the hopes of seeing wild sloths in the trees as well as other animals including monkeys, lizards, turtles, fish etc. The porters were great, as they scanned the surrounding nature and made stops to point out animals and allow for people to appreciate them and take photos. It was a good tour, but my advice to you is if you are in the area for a few days, don’t forget to check out Jaguar Rescue Center in Puerto Viejo as well which has a plethora of different wildlife and which I will delve into later.

After the Sloth Sanctuary, we spent the rest of the day lounging at one of the beaches in Puerto Viejo. The beaches around Puerto Viejo are known for surfing, so get your board and hit the water. It was a chill day for us and while the weather did not hold up for us as it was quite cloudy it was a good beach day nonetheless. That being said, I do want to express that while I really did enjoy seeing the Caribbean side of Costa Rica and how it varied from the Pacific side, I have to readily admit that Puerto Viejo was not my favourite city on this trip. In contrast to the other cities (excluding San Jose), I found the city to be much too overcrowded with tourists and as a result I felt the town to be more polluted than the other towns we visited. Not only this but whereas I felt safe in the other towns, Puerto Viejo did leave me uneasy in regards to safety. Police presence was everywhere guarding the streets and rather than reassuring me it only served to cause alarm. That being said, I don’t think you should run in terror simply because of this but rather exercise precaution. During the day I felt comfortable in Puerto Viejo, but it was the nights that left me uneasy. So be mindful of your stuff, travel light, and don’t walk home alone.  Would I visit Puerto Viejo again? Yes. But I would most likely consider staying in a neighboring town and ensure I don’t stay out after dark.

Day 13

As I mentioned earlier, if you have time the Jaguar Rescue Center is a must during your visit to Puerto Viejo. In contrast to the sloth sanctuary, this sanctuary works to rehabilitate and release a variety of different animals, including sloths. As a result, you sloths, various monkeys, an ocelot, a margay, crocodiles, deers, etc. Our guide, Carlotta was absolutely fantastic and as she spoke about the animals on the premises it was evident she was incredibly passionate in her work.  Carlotta talked about the success of releasing animals, told us a funny story about one female monkey giving birth directly on the table the founder was having breakfast on, and told us about the few permanent residents on the property and the measures they took to ensure they were comfortable there. The process for release was explained and it was great to hear the stories of previous releases and the volunteers affection for these animals as they teared up when it came time to do so. It was great to hear the background story of how the sanctuary came to be and made the tour that much engaging. The tour was worth every penny and I would definitely visit the Jaguar Rescue Center if I ever find myself back in Puerto Viejo. Also, due to the center being largely made up of volunteers, make sure to tip generously! These volunteers are depending on it for their income.

After our tour, we returned home and got ready to head to Cahuita National Park which is known for its beautiful coral reefs and abundance of nature. However, our plans were thwarted upon arrival as a storm was approaching and so snorkeling and seeing the coral reefs were a no go.  Despite this setback, we made the most of our time and went on a walk down one of trails in the park. The experience very reminiscent to our walk through Manuel Antonio more than a week before.  Here we were able to see capuchin monkeys, ant nests (watch your steps), various flora, as well as your common raccoon. After walking down the trail, we eventually settled on a spot on the beach and spent some time enjoying the water. Sure the weather wasn’t perfect, but perfect company made for a fantastic day. Our journey in Costa Rica was coming to an end and it had been a great one.

Day 14

Our last day in Costa Rica consisted of driving back to San Jose and looking for food and small gifts before returning home. Thus, it was more of a time to just reflect than anything else. Costa Rica had exceeded all expectations. This impromptu trip had become one of my favourite trips so far and something I desperately needed. It taught me to appreciate the little things in life. To appreciate things such as the sound of a city as it citizens begins to wake up in the morning. The sound of a bicycle crunching the gravel beneath its wheels, the sound of children laughing, waves hitting the shore, monkeys howling in the trees, and the sounds of insects buzzing about. Costa Rica is a country that has so much to offer and its people make it all the better. In the face of adversity that many of the Ticos face, there was still so much joy to be seen and so much love to be felt. So thank you Costa Rica for being the vacation I needed and reminding me to keep my head up high during times of adversity.


Costa Rican Adventures: Part Two

Hey guys, I’m back! I apologize for the delay in getting on with the story but thank you all for being patient. Now where were we? The last time we spoke, we were talking about the beautiful town of Quepos and the absolute beauty that is Manuel Antonio Park. Good news for you! The beauty does not end there. So hold on tight and let’s continue this adventure. The next stops are Monteverde and La Fortuna. Enjoy!

Day 4

The next morning, we headed out bright and early to the bus station to head to our next destination: Monteverde. In order to get to Monteverde from Quepos by bus, there are two possible routes. From Quepos-Puntarenas-Monteverde or the more popular route is from Quepos-San Jose-Monteverde. Our chosen route was from Quepos- Puntarenas- Monteverde. Now, although we did take this route I do recommend taking the route via San Jose even though it means backtracking. The reason being, is that our designated is not as popular due to the fact that the bus from Puntarenas is very infrequent only coming at 1:15 pm in the afternoon and is a local type of bus which is far from the idea of comfort. As a result, in order to catch the bus, it is necessary to get a bus no later than 9 am from Quepos in order to arrive to Puntarenas in time. Although we made our transfers without a hitch, if you want to be on the safe side go back to San Jose. For those driving, please note that the road down to Monteverde is rough. If you are driving in Costa Rica, I recommend something sturdy like a Jeep or a sturdy car with 4WD. The roads are a disaster and you will thank me when you arrive safely to your next destination. Practicalities aside, lets delve into our arrival in Monteverde.

After a long arduous bus ride from Puntarenas, we finally made it to Monteverde and man were we exhausted. Due to the weather being quite terrible upon arrival (expect always being dressed for rain and sun in Costa Rica), we decided to head to our accomodations, rest up, and do the famous night walks that Costa Rica is famous for. Now, I am going to get real with you. If you are going on the night walk in hopes of seeing an abundance of animals, you will most likely not enjoy this walk. The reason being that animals do whatever the hell they want. You may see many animals or you may not. The choice is up to them. That being said, hiking is the bomb and at night it is so peaceful and so beautiful and at one point we stood in a clearing in the forest and just stayed and watched the stars above us. Something that us city kids do not get the chance to see very well. So while I did enjoy aspects of the nature walk, I probably would not do it again for the main reason that in lieu of a lack of animals the hike is personally not long enough for me. That being said, the guides are incredibly informative and it is evident they have a passion for the wildlife that dwell within these woodlands. Did you know armadillos can postpone their birth ? Now that is pretty neat! Whether or not you do decide to embark on this night walk, the animals you do see are quite cool and the information you learn is invaluable. Just remember to stay safe and don’t get too close to the animals. I don’t know about you, but dying by a snake isn’t my ideal way to die. I was thinking you know passing away in my sleep at the ripe old age of 90. After walking and enjoying the serenity that the night brings, we were dropped off to our accomodations where we rested our bones to get ready for the ziplining adventure that awaited us the following day.

Tarantula on the Night Walk

Ficus tree in the dark
Day 5

The next morning we woke up bright and early, ate breakfast, and got dressed for our ziplining adventure. Like most of the people in Costa Rica, the guides who ran the tour were excellent and engaging. They ensured our equipment was safe and that we understood all directions and had a good time while ziplining. After ziplining on various lines, the end of the course consisted of the Tarzan swing, which is a free jump from a high platform. Now, I was freaking terrified of jumping but I am so glad I went through with it. For someone who has a hard time getting an adrenaline rush these days, the Tarzan Swing reignited the flame within me. If you’re looking for a thrill, this is the place to go. After our ziplining adventure, we decided to fill our bellies and headed over to Tico Y Rico in Santa Elena town for some food. The portions were massive so needless to say I was fully satisfied after leaving the restaurant. After eating, we headed back home to relax and spent the rest of the day just walking about town, overseeing the end of a festival of some sorts, and then headed back to our hostel to relax. This would end up being a good call as the next day proved to be more hiking than we could ever expect.
Day 6

The next morning, we were off to the Hanging Bridges, which is a collection of bridges above the canopy. Now here is the thing, if you at this point have done things like zip lining and walked through national parks like us, the hanging bridges leave you wanting more. That being said, if you are not planning on ziplining, I would highly recommend taking this bridge tour as it also included a hummingbird and butterfly garden (which we found out about after), along with a free art gallery to visit at the end of your walk. The walk offers kilometers of bridges overseeing clearings of forest and beautiful plant life. Better yet, these bridges are senior friendly as there are no major steep inclines or declines as it gradually ebbs and flows. Keep a lookout for wildlife while walking through here and you may get lucky and spot a pizote!

After the hanging bridges, we headed back to Santa Elena for some food and then began the trek to find a ficus tree that locals climb. Please note that if you are scared of heights and value your safety, don’t attempt to climb the tree as there is no harness or supports. However, if you want to channel the spirit of Tarzan, this climb is for you. I fell somewhere in between. To get here, make your way to Monteverde Cloud Forest Lodge and from there ask locals how to find the tree. It is directly off the road from the sign to the lodge inside the forest. One very important note and one I wish I did not have to stress. Guard your belongings. Unfortunately, theft is common and people have often had their belongings robbed from the base of the tree when climbing. Thus, go with a friend and have them watch your belongings while you climb or climb with them. As we looked for the tree we came across a fellow traveller whom we had run into during our visit to the hanging bridges. She joined us and together we successfully found out way to the tree. When we arrived, we were lucky in that only one other group of individuals were there and soon left. Thus, we had the entire tree to ourselves and one by one we took turns climbing this beautiful natural wonder. As we climbed the tree, our newfound travel buddy snapped photos of us with her professional camera to which we greatly appreciated. Despite not going so high up in the tree, the feeling was exhilarating. Top that with being completely surrounded by greenery and only the sound of nature around us, I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. Sometimes you realize that the best things in life really are free.

Photo credits to Claudie (see hyperlink for more stunning photography)

After our climb, the travelling spirit continued and our new companion soon informed us about a spot where locals went to see the sunset. And so, we went on a new journey to discover this hidden spot. Now here’s the thing, when Ticos say something is 15 minutes away, they are vastly underestimating the time. So we walked and walked and walked and after an hour we finally made it to our destination. After arriving covered in dust from the unmanned roads, sitting down on a rock on top of a hill overlooking the river and mountains never felt better. With our new companion we waited for the sunset and while the clouds did try to take center stage it was beautiful nonetheless. The hike was well worth it and the memories we made along the way I will cherish deeply. As we prepared to watch the sunset and wondered how the heck we were going to go back to town, a couple arrived and offered us a ride back to our accommodations and even offered us their wine to enjoy on the hilltop viewpoint. Everything was good, everything was perfect. Our time in Monteverde had been well spent, but what made it all the better was the unexpected adventures and the hospitality we experienced by Ticos. It was not even about ziplining or climbing trees, but rather making memories and just enjoying a beautiful town with old and new friends and being grateful for the opportunity to do so.

La Fortuna
Day 7

The next morning, my friend’s friends who had arrived late the night before and I headed out to our next destination: La Fortuna. Along the way, we passed by a small town in the Guanacaste province at a sugar cane plantation. This stop was something unexpected and after thinking we were going to stop just to get sugar cane juice, we were given the opportunity to make sugar cane juice from scratch using an antiquated press. Just like the hike to the hill to see the sunset in Monteverde the day before had been an unexpected joy, this too added to the list of unplanned yet beautiful surprises. As my friends and I enjoyed our sugar cane juice, I spoke to the owner of the property about the place. He went on about the press and how long he had owned the property, and those who had come before us and his interactions with travellers in the past. As I spoke to the owner he told me he understood everyone had different budgets and he always took that in account when charging individuals. He mentioned how he was always looking to accommodate travellers but that he had unfortunately run into travellers whose efforts at hagglings were insulting when it didn’t justify everything he did. It humbled me, as often vacationers try to haggle for the best price even when it is already very cheap just to say it can be done. While not all travellers are well off, it was an important reminder to keep in mind the reasons for our haggling during our adventures and to ensure we were not disrespecting someone’s work and effort and undervaluing it. The random stop was worth every penny and left me reflecting on life and what we take for granted. As we finished our drinks and conversed, it was time to head back on the road and we thanked the owner for his time and effort and moved forward through hills and valleys of Costa Rica.

After driving for some time, we finally made a stop on the side of the road which sold souvenirs and the views from the road were spectacular. By this time, we had reached Lake Arenal and took a moment to admire its beauty. What I would later find out is Lake Arenal is incredibly important to Costa Ricans and is responsible for much of the country’s hydroelectricity. During the dry seasons on the Pacific side of the country, water is pumped over to assist with irrigation to increase agricultural production. Aside from its great contribution to the country as a whole. Besides this, the lake is also well known for activities such as paddling, kayaking, fishing, and windsurfing. It offers hiking and opportunities for bird watching. While, we didn’t have much time to admire Lake Arenal I urge you to take a moment and explore this surrounding area.

Lake Arenal in the background

Arenal Volcano (isn’t she a beauty)

After stopping off at a restaurant to enjoy the view of the lake below and some food, we carried on. Approaching the town, we were able to admire the Arenal Volcano in all its beauty and grandeur. However, within one moment to the next a storm came in and exhausted from our time on the road we decided best to start our adventures the following day in this great town. So we settled ourselves in, napped, and went grocery shopping instead so that we would be able to make breakfast the following morning. One of the things I would grow to love once we met up with my friend’s friends was the ritual of making breakfast every day and eating together. There is something that felt so homely about the experience as we sat at the dining table with the sounds of the television in the background. As we sat at the table eating fresh papayas and mangoes, and the best eggs I’ve ever had, everything felt right. I think as a society, we miss out on experiences such as these. Everything is always in fast forward in our society, and for once life was finally playing at a slow tempo.
Day 8

The next day, we started on our adventures in La Fortuna. The first stop on our list, Desafio rappelling and Baldi Hot Springs. Now, I’m going to be real. The water rappelling does not come cheap but it does include transport and a delicious meal at the end of the excursion. Please note you will get soaked during this excursion so please ensure you have water shoes and a change of clothes. The men at Desafio were heaps of fun and ensured everyone had a great time. Even for those who aren’t strong swimmers, the men were very accommodating in helping us navigate the waters. It was a great experience, and after working out our bodies, the food at the end of the excursion was truly the icing on the cake. The food was buffet style and included various salads, protein options, and the best damn cassava puree ever. It was a great way to spend our morning and with our bodies properly beaten it was only natural we head to Baldi Hot Springs next.

According to the official Baldi Hot Springs website, these hot springs are the largest hot springs in the world. It has a plethora of various pools of varying degrees, and the flora and aesthetic of the hot springs are absolutely stunning. Brightly coloured flowers decorate the premises and the springs are kept pristine. Want to feel like Kim K for a day? Baldi is for you! The Hot Springs are part of a resort, however for the cost of roughly $35 USD (price may vary) you can get a full day pass to hot springs, complete with a meal at the end of the night. With many areas to sunbathe and some of the pools complete with pool bars it was literally a place where your troubles melted away. We had been running around for so many days that it was good to just relax and take it easy for once. As I rested on the pool lounge chairs as the water cascaded in the background, all the stress and worries of my everyday life were washed away. If this isn’t enough to convince you, not only will you feel like a newborn child without any worry in the world but Baldi Hot Springs also offers some of the best views of the Arenal volcano. My only complaint is the buffet at Baldi Hot Springs as the food was subpar at best. However, with the price you pay and the Kim K experience, the food was the least of my worries.

Day 9

The next day, was the busiest day of our trip yet. After getting our daypacks ready in the morning, we headed to our tour office to see to what we could plan out during that day. The two things on our bucket list, were the La Fortuna waterfall and the Arenal volcano hike. Now, I’m going to give you a fair warning. The walk and hike to go down to see La Fortuna waterfall is not bad, but the way back up from the base of the waterfall is a whole different story. In order to do so, a fair level of fitness is required for the following. Thus, for anyone suffering from heart problems, respiratory issues, pregnant women (unless cleared by your doctor), and those with issues relating to their limbs this is not a plausible hike. For someone like myself who suffers from asthma, even with my inhaler in hand it was rough. That being said, if you do have a clean bill of health, immersing yourself in the water will be worth the stress on your body. The excursion starts off visiting the stables and walking through a small butterfly and frog garden. After this, a 30 minute horse ride ensues in which you then hop off your horses and begin the walk down in the direction of the waterfall. When we arrived at the waterfall, the rushing water was incredibly refreshing. As we entered the icy frigid waters, we were given time to relax and cool our bodies. If you embark on this hike, really cherish every moment in those icy waters as you will need to call on those powers of relaxation when it comes to hike back up.

After our hike back and our horse ride back to the stables, we were driven back to the town to quickly grab a bite to eat and prepare for our next adventure: The Volcano Hike run by Red Lava Tours themselves. Although the weather did not hold out for us, the roughly 5 hour tour exceeded all expectations. Our tour guide Daniel was very knowledgeable and friendly, and as we went on our hike he discussed various plant life and their attributes and uses. We ate fruits off trees, admired the way plants defended themselves from predators, and even were given a berry to help with gastrointestinal troubles. Talk about an all in one experience! Despite not being able to get great views of the volcano because of the weather, the hike was worth it simply because of our tour guide’s knowledge about the nature that surrounded us. It was evident he loved doing this and was truly passionate about it. At the end of our hike, coffee and biscuits were offered to refuel us for the final leg of this excursion: the natural hot springs. Now, this is no Baldi Hot Springs. You are going to get down and dirty. That being said, it was still such a serene experience and with free alcohol included, it practically lulled me to sleep. Seriously, I was falling asleep at dinner after. When we arrived to the springs, the sun had already set and darkness had consumed the sky. As our guides used flashlights to guide the way, they began to set up candles along the perimeter of the springs to create a calming romantic ambience. It’s like having candles around your bathtub but the entire spring is your bathtub. It was a great night and one I won’t easily forget. This excursion concluded our time in La Fortuna and it had been nothing less of amazing.

Costa Rican Adventures: 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 Travels: 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 Travels: Part 3

Bangkok Day 2

After visiting places of worship the day before and admiring Thailand’s architecture, the next day was dedicated to celebrating the Thai New Year. In Thailand, this celebration consisted of city wide water fights, dancing, and music. Any attempts of remaining dry were futile, and so we decided to join the fun. As the sun ascended high into the sky signaling the start of the day, vendors slowly began to open up shop in preparation for the big day. Their merchandise; a colourful assortment of plastic water guns, waterproof phone cases, goggles, and anything else we could possibly need. After examining the different weapons of choice, we settled on two brightly coloured water guns: one the colour of bubblegum and the other as blue as the sky above us. With affordability in mind, the cartoon baby roosters and penguin decals on my water gun were but a small price to pay for affordability.

With water guns in our hand, we ventured out into the war zone where I was immediately caught off guard and sprayed with water by two Aussies on vacation. “If you’re holding, you’re getting wet,” they playfully stated and sauntered off to find their next victim. If this was the way the day was going to shape up to be, I was all for it! The day would end up proving to be full of similar instances, as locals and foreigners came together to engage in the city wide water fight and dancing. It was day full of joy and laughter, and one in which cultural divides were momentarily erased. Despite coming from a multicultural city, it was unlike anything I had experienced in my own city. The fault being that I live in a city that is always “too busy.” We are too busy to make time to see loved ones, too busy to make time for our passions, too busy to work out, too busy to sleep, too busy to listen, too busy to live. Our lives like a broken record, stuck on the same part day after day after day. It was time for a change, and with Songkran the record had been switched and a whole new tune began to play.

As we traversed down the streets, water splashed us from every angle. From large buckets of water, hoses, and water guns the festival was in full swing. Drenched to the bone, everyone danced along to both popular American hits and Thai music. The highlight of it all; seeing the smiles on everyone’s face and the giggles of little kids as they attempted to soak you with their small kid friendly water guns. I had a remarkable time during Songkran and I encourage anyone visiting Thailand to visit during their New Year. It is a time of people coming together, and as I danced on the streets of Thailand with our faces covered in talc, all I could feel was pure bliss. With all life’s worries and troubles dissolving away. Regardless of what tomorrow would bring, this moment would always be mine and nobody would ever take that away from me. During times of struggle, it is this moment I come back to. It is this moment I cherish. If you are reading this and facing a moment of darkness, please note that there is light and don’t ever give up. I have been in your shoes many times, and there is always a way out. So engrave those moments of happiness in your mind, and on your rainiest days remind yourself that there is light and you will find it again.

Bangkok Day Three

After pocketing my moment of happiness the day before, our time in Bangkok was drawing to a close. With a refreshed mind and body, our itinerary for the final day included shopping malls, local parks, paddle boating, and supporting local causes through our love of food. Our first stop, MBK Center. Now I thought the malls were Canada were big but nothing could prepare me for the MBK Center. The place has around 2000 shops, restaurants and services outlets including both higher end and stall like setups. It was like ” a city within a city,” and for those who enjoy shopping, it could be described as their personal heaven. For me, however, it was far from my personal heaven. My advice than is if you are like me, steer clear and opt for smaller outdoor markets instead. Your mind and body will thank you. However, for all my shop-a-holics out there, the race has begun and with so much too see, you better start running!

And so, after tackling the Behemoth also known as the MBK Center and rewarding ourselves with delicious Pad Thai, our journey continued. Next stop: Lumphini Park. After being surrounded by chaos in the MBK center, it was here we rested and took a moment to enjoy nature. The sounds of nature filling our ears and warming our hearts. It was here that we rested, we selfied, and even managed to paddle boat on the lake as the sun began to set. It was a great way to finish off the day, but before we could do so, we had one more very important stop, Cabbages & Condoms.

Cabbages & Condoms is a local restaurant with a cause. Upon entering the restaurant from the outside street, you notice a shift in ambience. With exposed wooden beams, warm lighting, and tropical greenery throughout the restaurant, feelings of content wash over you. Pair this with all their profits supporting programs in “primary health, education, HIV/AIDS, rural development, environment and water and it is easy to see why this place has become such a popular spot for locals and tourists alike. As we were escorted to our seats, the mission to support reproductive health was evident everywhere. From sculptures made of condoms decorating the restaurant, information regarding their mission plastered on the walls, and free condoms being provided to customers the place meant business. With sexual health often being a taboo topic in many societies, Cabbages & Condoms had arrived and was ready to start a dialogue.


Final Thoughts

My time in Bangkok is something I will never forget. With its incredible architecture and places of worship, water fights and dancing in the streets, strolls through city parks, and visiting places supporting local causes it was a city which evoked so much happiness. It served as a reminder to be present and make time for the important things in life. While, I understand that I have been fortunate enough to have the means to travel and experience so many wonderful things, I am here to tell you that happiness does not only exist outside of the borders of your own city. Thus, I urge you to recognize the small joys in your own life and to make time for things you love and the people you love. We all experience darkness, some of us having a better relationship with it than others but I want to remind you all reading this that there is light and asking for help to find it is not weakness but strength. I wish all you reading this, a wonderful week ahead and that you find your own pockets of sunshine as I have. Until next time!

Thailand Travels: 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.

Thailand Travels: Part 1

After a week in Wenzhou, it was time to pack our bags and head to our next destination: Chiang Mai, Thailand. Whereas Wenzhou was all about trying new foods, learning new phrases, appreciating nature, and being immersed in a culture so different than my own, Thailand offered this and so much more. Whereas, I often experienced feelings of isolation in Wenzhou due to the language barrier it was in Thailand that I was once again felt whole and connected to those around me. This is not to say that one country is better than the other. But rather, with language no longer being an issue I was once again able to be an active participant and engage with both locals and foreigners alike. Despite the official language of Thailand being Thai, many of the market sellers, hotel staff, and tour guides often spoke a basic level of English which made communication a breeze. You see, Chiang Mai is an incredibly popular hub for “digital nomads” from across the globe and with it comes a need to understand English to communicate with the English speaking foreign born working there. The result of this, is something that extends beyond language. Stepping onto the streets, I immediately fell in love with Chiang Mai for what it had become: a beautiful cultural mosaic of locals and foreigners alike. And so, I set out with great determination to do as much as possible and experience as much as I could in the little time we were there. When it came time to explore the city, I adopted the mantra “Treat Yo Self” (see hyperlink), and oh did we ever! With massages, shopping, sanctuary excursions, zip lining, and so much more, Chiang Mai treated me better than any man ever could.

During our time in Thailand, my friend and I indulged in several Thai massages. In comparison to Canada where a massage can range from 70-200 dollars, Thai massages here range from 200- 600 baht (8-24 dollars). My only advice to you is before checking out massage places, do your research. As prostitution laws are flexible, some massage parlours offer a more “sensual” massage than you were looking for. Despite these drawbacks, that is not to say that all massage parlours are like this. In fact, the city is full of reputable massage parlours and it would be shame to miss out on the experience. As a result, I have provided the two following massage establishments to check out: : Lila Thai Massage and Fah Lanna Spa.

For someone who had never had a Thai massage, Lila Thai Massage was the perfect segway into this world of massage technique. Not only did they start off gentle and slowly increase pressure constantly inquiring whether I was okay, what struck me about this establishment was the professionalism and humility of the masseuses. In addition to their service, what drew me to this establishment was the cause it supported and the history behind it. The establishment was created as an ex-inmate employment center. What this means is that this establishment provides former inmates with the opportunity to receive a massage training course, and are then employed by the establishment. In doing so, the place offers a second chance at life to ex-convicts by providing them with valuable skills and financial means to support themselves. I will be honest in that I felt hesitant. However, after getting over my initial hesitation, I was glad I did. At no time during my visit did I feel unsafe and rather the place was well maintained and the masseuses very cordial. What this experience taught me was to be more open minded. If as a society we deny employment to those who may have once made mistakes in their lives, how do we expect them to choose a different path in life? With the soft hum of music, a foot massage, a warm cup of tea, and my muscles stretched out I came out of there feeling like a million bucks. The experience was not only a great introduction to Thai massage, but knowing we were contributing to a good cause made it all the better (Cost 200 baht).

Next on the recommended massage places is Fah Lanna Spa. This Spa is located in the old town of Chiang Mai and falls on the higher end price range. While Lila was a great introduction to the practice and supported a great cause, Fah Lanna Spa was very tailored to an individual’s need. After being picked up from our hotel, we were dropped off at the door of the spa to begin our descent into total bliss. Upon arrival we were given a form to fill out in which we could specify our needs, circling the parts of our body we wanted special attention on. As a result, our massage was customized to our specific needs and special care was given to sensitive areas of our body. As a result, the massage was phenomenal. From having the kinks in lower back released and my muscles pulled and compressed, to having special attention given to my head as a result of suffering from migraines, I could not ask for a better massage. With the tranquil setting and the sounds of water trickling outside and dim lighting it was an image of serenity. To finish it off, we were escorted to the spa’s cafe where we were given complimentary tea and biscuits to conclude our visit.(Cost 600 baht)

Elephant Pants and Markets

Aside from treating ourselves to massages, shopping at the local markets was a must in the city of Chiang Mai. Starting around the late afternoon, stalls would begin to set up on the streets for the night of shopping ahead. It was here I bought many pairs of the infamous “elephant pants” that you see in all your friends vacation pictures in Thailand. I’m going to let you in on a little secret, Thai people don’t typically wear these and this is more of a tourist attire. That being said, these pants were lifesavers in the brutal Thai heat as they provided coverage from the scorching sun while being both airy and breathable. It was like being able to wear pyjamas in public and I was all for it! Aside from the pants, the markets were where you could find a variety of different knick knacks or souvenirs for your family back home. From hand crafted candles, wooden figurines, souvenir t-shirts, handbags, these markets had it. It was here we learned the art of bargaining and in the process managed to get some great pieces to take back home with us. If you want the full market experience, check out the Sunday night market. A whole section of the city becomes closed off for the market and it is here you can find a few other pieces not typically found during the week. Please note that if you have plans to be anywhere on Sunday, than this market is not for you as the crowds are massive. So clear your schedule, join the swarm, settle in, and experience the slow crawl of walking through the Sunday market. If you are lucky, performances can be seen during this market before it starts.

Thai Rolled Ice Cream ( Found in Chiang Mai Night Bazaar)
Thailand: Unleash your inner foodie

I’m going to keep it real that during my time in Thailand, I did not unleash my inner foodie for the reason being that a lot of Thai food is spicy or utilizes strong curries which I don’t particularly enjoy. That aside if you are someone who loves spicy food and curry, than you will rejoice with joy upon arrival to Thailand. With a large selection of delicious food, you will never grow hungry and with incredibly affordable prices it will feel like an all you can eat all day everyday, as market stalls line the streets to feed you whenever you are feeling hungry. So for all you picky eaters, it is here I give you advice on the best meals to stick to during your visit to Thailand: Massaman Chicken Curry (relatively mild curry with potatoes, coconut milk and chicken), Chicken Pad Thai (stir fried noodles complete with tofu, chicken, and bean sprouts), Chicken Fried Rice and Pork Dumplings. Once you try these, you can begin to venture off into the more adventurous dishes that Thailand has to offer. If none of these call to you, there is quite a large selection of American food for purchase. However I urge you to try the local cuisine, as you will regret not having authentic Pad Thai while you’re here.
Visit the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary

My visit to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary was hands down one of my favourite experiences while in Thailand. The Sanctuary lies a little outside of Chiang Mai and was started as a joint initiative between members of the Karen hill tribes and Chiang Mai locals concerned about the welfare of the elephants in Thailand. Unfortunately, in Thailand there is a huge issue with the ill treatment of elephants utilized for purposes such as circus performances as well as being kept in small enclosures and utilized for riding treks by tourists. The sanctuary aims to fix that by rescuing elephants from these conditions and nursing them back to health with the aim to release them into the wild. As a result, this sanctuary does not offer elephant rides but is a place which educates the public on elephants and offers a day of feeding the elephants, learning about conservation efforts, and giving the elephants a mud bath. While we were there, we donned traditional Thai attire. What we learned during the visit was how these elephants came to be here, how the Karen hill tribes helped grow the crops to feed the elephants at the sanctuary, and the differences between the Asian and African elephants. I cannot express my gratitude enough at the staff for being so informative and kind during our visit. They made us laugh and it was clear the people working there were passionate about their mission. Besides being incredibly informative, they also acted as our personal photographers during our time there. They were there to educate the public in a fun and dynamic way and being covered in mud from head to toe was definitely an experience I will not forget. It is one thing to see elephants on television, and an entirely different experience to interact with them in person. We were often brought to fits of laughter as they would badger us to feed them more and use their trunks to sneakily steal food from our pockets. It was a day full of joy and laughter, and it was an honour to be amongst such magnificent creatures and seeing them prosper in their new habitats.

Selfies with the workers at the sanctuary

Feeding the elephants at Elephant Jungle Sanctuary
Jungle Flight Excursion

Our visit to Chiang Mai would not be complete without getting some serious hiking on and so prior to arriving we booked an excursion with Jungle Flight for some serious hiking and ziplining action. The course was complete with various ziplines of different altitudes and lengths as well as a rollercoaster type zipline to complete the journey. It was full of scenic opportunities and with a highly trained staff there was never a moment where I felt unsafe during our ziplining course. The longest zipline was 1000 meters and was a pure adrenaline rush with a fantastic panoramic view. Want to spend another entire day in nature while also satisfying the daredevil within you? Check out Jungle Flight Chiang Mai. It is a workout and adventure all in one.

Rocking those hairnets
Check out the bars in Chiang Mai

During our visit to Chiang Mai, my friend humoured me in going out to a bar during one of our nights in Chiang Mai. The city has a few rooftop bars that are worth checking out and I recommend that you at least visit one during your stay. Our choice during our trip: THC Rooftop Bar. Now I know what your thinking, the name suggests it is probably some kind of drug den. I assure you that while this is not the case, if you are looking for a swanky rooftop bar this is not the place for you. If you are, however, looking for a chill atmosphere with psychedelic paintings lining the room, you have come to the right place. After taking off your footwear and walking up a dodgy staircase, you reach the rooftop bar at the top. Upstairs, the walls are lined with psychedelic glow art with the whole look being pulled together with low tables and floor seating on cushions.

THC Rooftop Bar- Check out the glow art

Final Thoughts

Chiang Mai was the experience of a lifetime. With the elephant sanctuary, zip lining excursions, bargaining in markets, getting massages, and checking out psychedelic bars it was everything I could ask for and more. The people were kind and humble, and everything just felt right. Life had slowed down and with the large crowds, all you could do was move at a slow crawl and enjoy everything around you.