God's Own Country - Kerala, India

 
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Contributor:
 Nicola

Nationality:
 British

Social Links:
Instagram: @nikkiinwanderlust #nikkiinwanderlust

Age Group:
 30-40 years

Gender:
 Female

Travel Style:
 backpacking, luxury, adventure, relaxing

 

Destination: Kerala, India

After a hectic couple of weeks in the golden triangle and Varanasi, and with my newly accidentally dyed pink hair from Holi celebrations, we took a domestic flight down to Kerala in Southern India for some chill out time.  The contrast of Kerala to what we had seen in the jungle and the cities was dramatic. It was so lush and green here, and the calming effects of being surrounded by water was felt in the atmosphere. 

We decided to stay in a small hotel next to the sea called 36 palms. It has a lovely swimming pool right next to the sea, Ayurvedic massage treatments and they can also arrange cooking lessons and other activities. The local yoga school also run early morning and evening yoga sessions - they come to the hotel so that you can do the class on the outside area next to the pool and right by the sea. The sound of the waves can be heard throughout the yoga session which adds to the experience.  There is a small restaurant that does cheap home cooked dinners which were absolutely mouthwatering. Kerala is abundant with freshly caught fish, deliciously flavoured with Indian spices. Kerala also has strict alcohol laws - the locals generally don’t drink alcohol and only the larger hotels sell it, so this was also a nice opportunity for a bit of a detox!

The Travel Hub Kerala Ocean.jpeg

We organised a beautiful tour of the backwaters with a small local company called Muziris Holidays - Mr. Lal, the owner, was an amazing guide, and very proud of his beautiful Kettuvallam (also called a Rice Boat), which transported us around the stunning tropical backwaters of Kerala.  As we were the only ones on the boat, we also had the opportunity to drop off at a small village in Cochin where a family showed us how their house, and how they make garments to sell using a loom which was subsidised by the government, as well as sampling the fruit, herbs and spices in their garden.  The boat trip was definitely a fantastic way to experience the backwaters and a highlight of our time in this stunning part of India.  

The Travel Hub Kerala Backwater.jpeg

During our time here, we also took the opportunity to walk along the coastline - it was a great way to see everyday life in the fishing villages. The enormous Chinese fishing nets are dotted all along the shoreline, and are a unique sight in India. They were introduced by Chinese explorers in the 14th century, and can require up to six fishermen to operate them.  Women laying small fish out to dry in the sun that the men had caught, was also a regular sight. 

The Travel Hub _ Kerala Fishing.jpeg
The Travel Hub _ Kerala Fishing Nets.jpeg

The people in Kerala were very friendly, and visitors are received with a warm welcome.  The backwaters of Kerala are so calm, tranquil and tropical - it was the perfect end to a very busy trip in India. 

The Travel Hub_Kerala 07.jpeg

Kittila - Its Cold Up There - Finish Lapland

Thetravelhub_Levi Ski Slope_lapland.jpg
 

Read a review on one of the more unique destinations to visit - a land of ice, snow, adventure and beauty..........Finish Lapland.

 

Contributor:
Nicola

Nationality:
British

Social Links:
Instagram: @nikkiinwanderlust
#nikkiinwanderlust

Age Group:
30-40 years

Gender:
Female

Travel Style:
backpacking, luxury, adventure, relaxing - all types!

 

Destination: Levi, Finish Lapland - Finland

To get to Finnish Lapland, we took a flight to Kittilä via Helsinki. While at passport control in Helsinki, the customs officer looked at my boarding pass and said in an ominous voice “Kittilä - it’s cold up there”.  Little did I realise, that this was a massive understatement. 

We stayed in Levi, which was a twenty minute drive from Kittilä, and checked into Hotel K5.  We arrived quite late, so after trying out the sauna in our room, we relaxed with some glögi by the fire in the hotel bar.  The centre of town is a short walk away from several restaurants, the ski slope, and a snowmobile rental shop.  As it was January, the sun never really rose above the horizon, and the temperature dropped to -35°C! As soon as we got outside, our eyelashes and hairs on our face would freeze! So if you plan to come at this time of year, pack thermals and good winter weather gear! 

Its so cold, your eyelashes freeze!

Its so cold, your eyelashes freeze!

One evening we rented snowmobiles and went out and explored the forest area.  There were loads of trails, and we spent a few hours getting lost on them and then finding our way back. It was so much fun. The snow was so deep and lakes were frozen, making it perfect snowmobiling conditions.  This is one activity that you must try if you go anywhere with good snow! 

Snowmobiles in the evenings

Snowmobiles in the evenings

The ski slope in Levi is lovely. It’s not too busy, and isn’t pretentious like other ski resorts can sometimes appear. It has a chilled vibe and has an amazing bar and restaurant at the top with a beautiful view and roaring fire - perfect for Après Ski. 

The beautiful ski slopes of Levi

The beautiful ski slopes of Levi

A short drive away was a company that offered husky rides. What a fantastic experience, and another activity that we would definitely recommend. The huskies were beautiful and well looked after, and took us for an amazing ride through beautiful forests and countryside.  Another short drive away was the Arctic Snow Hotel - we didn’t stay there but were lucky enough to be attending a wedding in the Ice Chapel. It was such a unique and beautiful place - each room is decorated differently, and the art work involved in creating the hotel and chapel each year was astounding.  

Alternative modes of transport in the snow

Alternative modes of transport in the snow

Sami Hut, near the Arctic Snow Hotel

Sami Hut, near the Arctic Snow Hotel

Lapland was such a brilliant destination. There were fun activities, and the scenery was stunning and the snow was beautiful - it actually sparkled like glitter when it fell and the flakes were star shaped.  We’d recommend Lapland to everybody - it’s such a unique and beautiful part of the world. Just make sure that you take some warm clothing. Remember, “Kittilä - it’s cold up there”. 

Star shaped snow flakes.........

Star shaped snow flakes.........

African Travel Bucketlist - Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

 
Christine Wheeler - Ngorongoro Safari-18.jpg
 
 

Contributor:
Christine

Nationality:
USA

Social Links:
Instagram: @liveloveruntravel
Facebook: Live Love Run Travel
Website: www.liveloveruntravel.com

Age Group:
30 - 40 years

Gender:
Female

Travel Style:
Adventure
Running!
Budget but also splurge
Backpacking in hotels

 

Destination: Nogorongoro Crater, Tanzania

We first heard about Ngorongoro Crater while doing some work around the house with the Travel Channel on in the background. We both stopped to watch because we both knew we wanted to do an African Safari one day. At the time, we were newlyweds who had only been on our honeymoon and a few ski trips with our college friends together. We were planning to travel, but Africa seemed like it would be one of those trips that waited for after retirement.

However, we started to get serious about planning a trip there when we saw some safari trips come up on Groupon. A few were for South Africa and a few were for Kenya. We knew we wanted to go to Kenya if we were going to visit Africa to see some friends living in Nairobi. We started looking into the trip and ended up booking a three week trip to Africa within two years of first hearing about Ngorongoro Crater. The crater was a must for our trip.

Image 1 & 2: Driving through Arusha to Ngorongoro Crater

What makes Ngorongoro Crater so special? It is the world's largest crater that is intact, inactive and unfilled. The walls of the crater make it more like a zoo as there is less migration here than in the Serengeti or the Maasai Mara. That means that there is no "bad" time to visit. The animals are there all year. There are some animals that do migrate in and out of the crater, but the majority live there for life.

The crater is also uninhabited by humans. The Maasai are allowed to bring their herds in to graze, but they must enter and exit daily. The same is true of tourists. You are allowed to enter in the morning for your safari and stay for the day, but all of the lodging is outside of the crater. There are no restaurants (you bring your own food) and limited bathroom facilities (which are sometimes overrun by animals!).

Before we could enter the Conservancy Area, we had to wait while our guide paid all of our entrance fees. There was plenty of entertainment in the parking lot with lots of baboons of varying sizes. We watched them chase down people who were standing outside their vehicles to snack, fight each other playfully, and try to scratch the letters off of vehicles. We even watched one fall out of a tree when the branch he was swinging on broke. He was okay other than what appeared to be bruised pride.

 
   
  
    
  
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  This little baboon was picking fights and trying to pick the letters off of a safari vehicle

This little baboon was picking fights and trying to pick the letters off of a safari vehicle

 

When we first arrived at the crater, our driver, David, stopped at a viewpoint along one of the crater walls. You could look out over the entire crater. We had seen this view from the Travel Channel show, but we did not expect to see it in real life. You could see some of the herds through my zoom lens even from the top of the crater.

From there, we headed to our lodging at Ngorongoro Serena Safari Lodge. The dining area and lounge area had floor to ceiling windows overlooking the crater. Our room had a balcony that also overlooked the crater. At night, there were talented performers to entertain guests. Entertainment included music, dancing, and impressive stunts!

A stay at Ngorongoro Crater will require two nights lodging if you want to spend a full day in the crater. You will need to spend more nights if you want to spend more time in the crater. It is a few hours drive to get from anywhere to the crater, and you will want to maximize your time in the crater. After a certain time, the entrance road becomes another exit to ensure everyone makes it out of the crater before nightfall, so arriving in the afternoon means you cannot enter that day. We did a morning game drive in Lake Manyara before heading to Ngorongoro Crater and did not arrive until late afternoon, so we had to wait until the next day for our game drive in the crater.

   
  
    
  
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  Our first view of the crater. Our room had a similar view

Our first view of the crater. Our room had a similar view

The next morning, David, our private guide and driver for our time in Tanzania, met us with boxed breakfasts and lunches before the sunrise. He gave us an option on if we wanted to start early with boxed breakfasts we could eat in the vehicle or if we wanted to wait for breakfast at the lodge. We wanted to get into the crater and start our game drive as early as possible. One thing we did not count on was for it to be cold in the crater. It gets chilly in the crater in the early morning!

Despite staying right at the top of the crater, our drive into the crater still took a little while. The road curves back and forth down the crater wall, and you are in a line of other early risers trying to get into the crater as early as possible. Once you are at the crater floor, all of the vehicles, some private like ours and others hotel owned, scatter, so you feel like you have the entire crater to yourself.

Sunrise in Ngorongoro Crater

Ngorongoro Crater was our last stop on our safari, and we had yet to see any fully grown male lions with the full mane. As we entered the crater, we immediately spotted three adult males and an adult female. David informed us that the three males are brothers who rule one of the prides living in the crater.

Male lions who are brothers, usually born in the same litter or another mother's litter near the same time, will rule together for life. They will take over a pride together and will lead together. They will kill off any other males who try to overthrow them. Because there are three of them, they have ruled this pride for a long time due to strength in numbers and a low number of outside lions migrating into the crater. In fact, there are only 62 lions total in the crater thanks to several diseases decreasing their numbers in the last century.

 
   
  
    
  
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  The first three adult males we saw in the crater

The first three adult males we saw in the crater

 

After watching the lions for a while, we continued our journey throughout the crater, rarely seeing other safari vehicles. Because we had the vehicle and guide to ourselves, we were able to focus on the animals that we wanted to see. If we were enjoying watching something, we could stay as long as we wanted. If we just wanted a picture and then to move on, we could do that as well (we quickly learned that we aren't bird people!).

Throughout the day, we saw a variety of animals. Zebras, wildebeests, and gazelles are common in Ngorongoro Crater. We found several jackals, and I wanted to bring them home. We saw a few ostriches, some elephants, hyenas, warthogs, cape buffaloes and several more lions. Hippos joined us at our picnic lunch near their watering hole. We even found one of only nine cheetahs living in the crater.

Christine Wheeler - Ngorongoro Safari-28.jpg

Our favorite memories include watching several lionesses hunt and watching a full stampede due to a male lion. As we were driving along, I spotted a lioness laying in the tall grass. We stopped to watch her and were the only vehicle around. She was watching a group of zebras coming into the area. She stayed crouched among the tall grasses to stay hidden. David explained to us that lions also have to watch the wind direction when hunting. If the wind blows their scent towards the prey, the prey will know they are there and leave the area. The lioness ended up not attacking the zebras since they stayed in an area without enough tall grass around them. They eventually caught her scent, alerted each other with a panicked sound, and left the area.

After they left, we continued watching the lioness and a jackal who was in the area. The jackal knew she was there, but he did not know exactly where she was hiding. He was panicked. When she finally sat up, he saw her and ran past, keeping his eye on her the whole time. After he left, a second lioness popped her head up above the grass on the other side of the path. Until that time, we had no idea she was even there!

The stampede was another impressive sight. We suddenly saw a large group of zebras, wildebeests, and gazelles running in the same direction. We came to a stop to watch. I spotted a few hyenas among them and immediately assumed the hyenas caused it like in The Lion King. Our guide told us they didn't because the hyenas were also running away.

As we kept sitting there and watching, we finally spotted the cause of the stampede. A male lion was walking up in the distance. We could barely see him at first, but he walked straight towards us. An adult male lion typically will not hunt. They are too big and weigh too much to be able to run down most of the animals. They are also too lazy, spending up to 20 hours a day sleeping. The females are typically the hunters. However, just him walking into the area was enough to scatter hundreds of animals. The only ones who stayed even remotely nearby were some Thompson's gazelles because they knew they could outrun him. All he did was walk over near us, lay down, and roll around in the grass before falling back asleep. Seeing the respect the other animals had for him was amazing.

 
The stampede

The stampede

 
 
   
  
    
  
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  The lion who caused the stampede with some brave zebras

The lion who caused the stampede with some brave zebras

 
 
   
  
    
  
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  The lion who caused the stampede in Ngorongoro Crater

The lion who caused the stampede in Ngorongoro Crater

 
 
   
  
    
  
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  He doesn't look so intimidating rolling around like our dog

He doesn't look so intimidating rolling around like our dog

 

As nightfall came, we headed back to our lodging before returning to Nairobi the next morning.

Ngorongoro Crater was a highlight of our safari, and we highly recommend it to anyone planning an African safari. Even if you are not planning a trip now, it's a great location to add to your bucketlist!


Sri Lanka - Family backpacking before mass tourism

 

Contributor: Masja
Nationality: Dutch, Netherlands
Instagram: masja_travels
Age Range: 30-40
Gender: Female
Travel Style: Backpacker, Family
Destination: Sri Lanka
Date: July, 2016. 3 weeks

Inspiration:

We were backpacking with our two children (14 and 18 years old), so we were looking for a safe, easy to travel, not too touristic and diverse country. I think Sri Lanka is 'booming', getting more and more tourists each year. We wanted to be there before mass tourism. 

Getting There:

We went there by plane. In Sri Lanka it is very easy to travel by public transport; buses and trains. Distances are not that big and it's very cheap. If you don't mind being in a crowded bus now and then it's a great way to travel! There is lots to see, outside and inside the busses and local people like to have a chat with you. At busstations everyone is willing to help you get on the right bus and if you ask the bus-assistant, he will give you a sign when to get out.
If you want to make the beautiful train trip from Ella to Kandy or vv, it might be wise to make a reservation in advance. We didn't and the next 3 weeks tickets for seats were sold out. We bought free tickets, without chair numbers and were lucky to find 4 chairs in third class, but many people stood for over 7 hours! So, if you already know when to make this trip, reserve tickets.

Where To Stay:

We stayed in hotels and guesthouses. We were surprised by the good free wifi in most hotels/guesthouses, so a day before leaving a place we booked the next accomodation by bookings.com. There are many accomodations in all price ranges. Just read the reviews on bookings.com or tripadvisor and pick your place! 
Our top stay: Mangrove Beach Chalets at Marakolliya Beach/Tangalle

What To Do:

Tourist highlights we did: 
Sigiriya
Lion Rock, Minneriya National Park (elephant safari) and Polonaruwa.

Kandy
Temple of the Tooth (be sure to visit one of the daily ceremonies), very nice colourful market, Pinnawalla elephant orphanage (it's nice to see the elephants this close, but I wouldn't recommend it. Is is extremely touristic, didn't see any injured elephants that needed to recover, it's a bit of a circus. Minneriya or one of the other national parks are a much better choice to see elephants)

Traintrip Kandy to Ella or vv! Best traintrip ever, going through the mountains (2000 m.) through a landscape of tea plantations.

Ella:
Town itself not very special. It's very, very busy and touristic, not a relaxed backpack town as mentioned in our guidebook. But if you like a touristic place and lots of restaurants it's ok. The environment is beautiful and that's why we think Ella is worth the visit. Climb Ella Rock or the easier Little Adams Peak. Great walk through tea plantations! Visit a tea factory. Go to the Ravana waterfall. Walk over the railway to the Nine Arches Bridge and back.

Yala:
We stayed in Tisamaharama to do a 6 hours morning safari in Yala. They warned us Yala could be very crowded, but I guess we were lucky to be there on a relatively quiet day. Saw lots of beautiful landscapes and many animals, including 2 leopards (lucky us!)

Tangalle:
Lovely beach. Stayed 2 nights close to the centre of town in a hotel at the beach. Nice plae to eat on the beach is Frangipani, you can reach it on the streetside or on the beachside. 
Must do: visit Mulkirigala Rock Temple, a hidden treasure. So beautiful and we wondered why we only met 3 other tourist! You climb the mountain and find several caves with reclining Budhas and amazing painted walls and ceilings! Just arrange a tuktuk on the street and let it wait for you while you visit the temple, and let it bring you back again. 

Marakolliya beach, a few km from Tangalle. The perfect desolated beach to relax for a few days in a cabana, an amazing place!

Galle/Unawatuna:
We choose to stay in a hotel in Unawatuna, because hotels in Galle Fort were so expensive and no great reviews, and from Unawatuna it's only a few km to Galle and many buses go this way. Absolutely must visit Galle Fort, but also take some time for the new town! Galle Fort is full of remains of the Portuguese and Dutch colonial period, very impressive.
Unawatuna has a nice beach and good fresh fish restaurants on the beach. 

Go by train to Colombo, a nice trip along the coast line!

Colombo: We only liked 2 things in Colombo: 1: the very busy quarter Pettah with it's stretlife and market and don't forget the amazing Jami-Ul-Afar mosque. 2: the beach, called 'Galle Face Beach'. When you go to this beach end of the afternoon you'll see many Sri Lankan families, all kiting, eating, buying toys, wandering and yelling with their feet in the surf. 

Where To Eat:

Lot's of small restaurants everywhere, with a variety of good asiatic food and sometimes western food. Not expensive. Only in Ella restaurants were realy more expensive. 

5 Word Travel:

Friendly
Easy to travel
Diverse country
Nature (mountains, safaris, beaches)
Culture

Excess baggage:

Some towns don't have an ATM yet, for example Sigiriya and Ella. So be sure to have enough cash before going there. Most popular touristic places have a special tourist entrance fee, which is a lot more than locals pay. You can pay this in cash dollars or local currency, but can't pay with a card, so another reason to make sure to check if there is an ATM or withdraw enough cash in another town. O yes, also many hotels can only be payed cash!


Ha Giang City, Vietnam - Riding the most northern loop

 

Contributor : Milan
Nationality  : The Netherlands
Instagram   : @milan_travels
Age Group  : 19-30
Gender        : Male
Trave Style  : Backpacking by motorbike
Destination :Ha Giang City, Ha Giang province, Vietnam  
Date            : 29th january 2017

Inspiration:  

I was already planning to explore Vietnam by motorbike. Why? To be ultimately free and go wherever I want to go. Explore those beaten tracks not every backpacker has taken yet.

I heard about this most northern loop from another backpacker I met in Laos. After a little google session about the area, I realized where I was about to plunge myself into. I was sold.

Stunned by the pictures of the amazing scenery and roads yet to be discovered. Let's go!

Getting There:

After buying my beloved new motorbike I took off from Hanoi and was heading for my first stop. Ba Be Lake. I would recommend this place to everybody who is heading for Ha Giang. Stunning views and very welcoming people. Plenty of homestays where you can spend the night with the still remaining ethnic Tay people. The road is long and curvy to Ha Giang. Planning ahead and picking your towns to stay the night is crucial.

Local Knowledge:

Still interested? Well, the more north you go the more mystical the landscape gets. You will find yourself driving alongside massive limestone peaks in the mountains and looking down into giagantic valleys people built villages in. The people talk different, eat different and dress different. Ha Giang is the most northern province of Vietnam and the last frontier bordering to China.

Where To Stay:

Bong Backpacker Hostel, Ha Giang City:

Dorm rooms and clean facilities. They organize family dinners where you can eat local dishes with the staff and locals. Most popular in town and great for running into other backpackers.

Thanh Thao Motel, Yen Minh:

Affordable private room with 2 beds so even cheaper when sharing the room.

Lam Tung Hotel, Dong Van:

Private room which I shared with some other bikers. Private bathroom, TV and Wi-Fi included.

After a long day of riding the only thing I cared for was a bed and a shower.

What To Do:

Overall this is about the whole experience of riding the most northern loop of Vietnam.

Getting to know the true north of Vietnam. Enjoying the unreal sights from the edge of a cliff. Interacting with the shy but friendly ethnic groups living in the mountains. Tasting their local dishes. Playing with those colorful dressed children. Wanting to stop every 10 minutes to make a better picture of the scenery than the last one. Because really, the environment seems to change every blink of an eye. From driving in the clouds to braking your way down a steep hill and an endless amount of U-turns until you suddenly drive in the most rural village between massive pinnacles of limestone. 

Eating:

Think about this: Burger King, KFC, Starbucks, McDonalds, milkshakes, pizza, hotdogs, pasta.. 

Now back to reality.

Not there.

Think more like rice in every form (steamed, sticky, noodles, pancakes, porridge).

Look for Bahn Mi. Delicious sandwiches with fillings like pork belly, fish cakes, meatballs and not-messing-around chilies. 

My everyday lunch was Phở Ga. Noodle soup with chicken, herbs and spices, lemon and chili.

Number 1 "Must Do":

A must do is definitely climbing The North Pole. A gigantic tower carrying the flag of Vietnam.

After climbing the staircase to the base of the tower, the views were already magnificent. Climb up to the very top of the tower and you'll have a spectacular 360 degree panorama view over the Yunnan province of China.

If you made it this far. Congratulations! You made it to the most northern part and last frontier of Vietnam.

Number 1 "Must See":

During my trip there was this annual festival down in the valley. A small and simple village was packed with people from all kinds of tribes. All the women were dressed up as colorful as they could with their traditional tribe clothes on.

When I drove a little bit further I noticed the men showing off their strength by competing in games like rope pulling to impress the ladies. Or should I say future wifes?

Top Travel Tip:

Take - your - time. 
Explore, taste, play, see and enjoy your time in the present. Because by the time you have left the north and start heading somewhere else, you are going to think back about this beautiful and remote place.

Excess Baggage: 

Be aware of the weather conditions in the time of the year you're planning to visit Ha Giang Province. It can get pretty chilly up in the mountains in contrast to the warm and tropical south of Vietnam.