Discover India in Jaipur

 

Contributor:
Andy Marty

Nationality:
Australian

Social Links:
Instagram: @andympics
Facebook: @andympics

Age Group:
 30-40

Gender:
Male

Travel Style:
 Photography
Casual

 

Destination: Jaipur - Rajasthan, India. December 2018

There are few cities in India regarded for their beauty as much as Jaipur. It was founded and named after Maharaja Jai Singh II and was where the family ruled over Rajasthan. 

Jaipur is affectionately known as the “Pink City”, owing to the original color the walls of many of the buildings were painted. These days, the city buildings are mostly painted in earthy red colors, which was done in preparation for a visit by the Prince of Wales in 1876

The ancient step well of Panna Meena Ka Kund

The ancient step well of Panna Meena Ka Kund

 Getting In:

The international airport (map) is only just outside the main city area and a relatively short drive to most hotels. International flights arrive from several destinations including Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Dubai and Sharjah – we flew Air Arabia from Sharjah to Jaipur. There are also domestic flights from several cities within India.

International visitors arriving into Jaipur will require a Visa. Check online to see what category of visa you require and most can be applied for and processed online in less than 1 week. You will need scans of passport photos and your travel history.

Many visitors will arrive to Jaipur via train, with lines linking the popular destinations of Delhi, Agra, Jodpur and Jaipur. There are many options and classes of travel on trains in India. Be sure to book a carriage with air-conditioning if travelling in warmer months! 

Travel by car/taxi is possible for long distances in India and surprisingly cheap. However, be warned that certain cars (including Uber drivers) are often not permitted to cross state boundaries – they will accept Uber requests and then only inform you of this once they arrive to collect you. If they are able to cross, they will often need to get paperwork completed, which can take a long time, especially if there is traffic – definitely check this information before you agree to travel with them.

There is also a bus service from Delhi to Jaipur. Again, be sure to book a ticket on the air-conditioned bus in the warmer months (it is around USD15 one way). Only book through Rajasthan State Road Transport Corporation as some other companies are unreliable in terms of service and vehicles.

The busy and colourful streetlife of Jaipur

The busy and colourful streetlife of Jaipur

Getting around Jaipur:

Once in Jaipur, it is relatively easy to book Uber drivers where needed and this is a very convenient way to get around, especially if you have some distance to travel. 

There are private “chauffeur” cars, which can be booked per trip or per day. If you are looking to spend a day visiting the highlights of Jaipur this is probably your best option. It will cost you around USD50.00 for a day. Many of these drivers will be in front of the hotels or can be arranged by your hotel. Most can speak English quite well and communicate via Whatsapp. It is a very convenient way to visit places around Jaipur, as many of the highlights are some distance away from each other.

In the city centre there are large numbers of rickshaws waiting to take people around. Trips in rickshaws are certainly far cheaper and in most cases the price can be bargained. 

The chauffeur probably offers a safer and more comfortable mode of transport, but if you’re looking to save a few dollars or enjoy the authentic experience, certainly give the rickshaws a go!

Friendly people in the streets of Bapu Bazar

Friendly people in the streets of Bapu Bazar

 Fairmont Jaipur: (map)

We stayed at Fairmont Jaipur, a luxury hotel on the North of the city. It is a stunning property that is immaculately presented with traditional architecture and furnishings. The layout and service is designed around providing guests with an authentic experience, with many small touches capturing elements of the region’s fascinating history. 

Guests are welcomed on arrival with a traditional greeting complete with drums and rose petals – you will be transported back to the time of the ruling Maharaja as you enter the large wooden doors. Inside the music will continue and you will become immersed in the atmosphere of Rajasthan. 

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A warm traditional greeting awaits at Fairmont Jaipur

A warm traditional greeting awaits at Fairmont Jaipur

 In the evening belly dancers will perform in the lobby and guests are encouraged to join in. The hotel frequently hosts local weddings and if you are in the hotel it is almost impossible not to be drawn to the arrival of the wedding party – complete with painted elephants and horses.

Join the belly dancing

Join the belly dancing

 The rooms are elegantly furnished and all have enormous  bath tubs suitable for relaxing the weariest of travellers. The beds maintain the high standard set by Fairmont properties around the world.

 

The hotel serves breakfast from 2 restaurants, both providing buffet style service. There is a selection of traditional dishes and global cuisine, but when in India, I would definitely recommend sampling some of the local delicacies! If the weather is nice, a perfect spot for breakfast is outside the Zoya Restaurant overlooking the pond.

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 There are also several dinner options including a wonderful in room dining menu (I have had many, and the butter chicken on this menu stacks up very well). However, to truly appreciate the local cuisine, I don’t think you can go past the Thali – literally a meal fit for a King. Served in Zarin Restaurant, the Thali arrives as many small dishes on a large silver tray. You are able to sample a variety of flavors and textures. The meal is enormous and an experience in itself.

 There is also an elegant high tea served in Anjum – a beautifully decorated room that takes a golden glow in the afternoon as the sun sets out the window.

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 Exploring Jaipur:

1.    Panna Meena Ka Kund: (map)

These ancient stepwells or “baoris” were common in the North of India for centuries. They would collect water and fill up in the rainy monsoon season. As the dry season progressed and the level dropped, people could walk down the cascading steps cut into the sides to access water. Now, they mostly serve as tourist attractions, creating unique photo opportunities.

The Panna Meena Ka Kund stepwell is located close to the Amber Fort. I would suggest going early in the morning if you want a photo without people in it. There is a security guard stopping people from entering the stepwell as the water has become a source of infection and people are not allowed to go into the water. If you are extremely nice and assure the security that you only wish to go onto the steps, they may allow you to take a quick photograph.

There is another larger stepwell around an hours drive out of Jaipur – Chand Baori (map) that is meant to be incredible. If you have time when you visit, it might be worth taking a drive to see this.

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 2.    Amber Fort (Amer Fort): (map)

One of the highlights of Jaipur, Amber Fort is a large fort palace built on the side of a hill in 1592 from red sandstone and marble. Although it is roughly amber in color, the name does not come from this, rather it is named after the town of Amber. The main section of the fort consists of 4 courtyards.

The popular photo opportunity is of the steps leading up to the large colored facade of Ganesh Pol (Ganesh Gate) in the first courtyard. If you want the iconic picture at the top of the steps, without hundreds of tourists, you will need to come as early as the fort opens (8am) and then hope it isn’t crowded.

The steps of Ganesh Pol, Amber Fort

The steps of Ganesh Pol, Amber Fort

Entering through Ganesh Pol, you will reach the equally impressive Sheesh Mahal – a large room covered in thousands of mirrors and colored glass which would reflect candlelight to create a mesmerizing glittering effect.

Entry to Amber Fort is R500 for foreign tourists (around USD7) and gives you access to the entire complex. You can pay extra for guided tours (R100).

The fort is also the site of a light show after dark, that is best viewed from the lower sections of the fort.

Many tourists travel up to and from Amber Fort on the elephant rides that are offered. However there is significant concerns over the standard of treatment many of these animals receive and tourists are encouraged not to support the practice.

When you visit Amber Fort early in the morning, it is a different experience than when the crowds of tourists arrive!

When you visit Amber Fort early in the morning, it is a different experience than when the crowds of tourists arrive!

 3.    Jaigarh Fort: (map)

Only a short walk up from Amber Fort, Jaigarh Fort is the “strongest” of Jaipur’s 3 main forts. It is also the home of the world’s largest cannon! Entry is R85

 4.    Nahargarh Fort: (map)

You will definitely need to get a car up to Nahargarh Fort and the road up is quite windy and narrow. There is an area to stop close to the fort that has a pretty good view of Jal Mahal (The Water Palace in the middle of the Mansarovar Lake). 

A view of the Taj Mahal on the road to Nahargarh Fort

A view of the Taj Mahal on the road to Nahargarh Fort

The first section of the fort walls is free to visit and explore with some nice, albeit restricted, views across parts of Jaipur. 

The main section of the fort requires payment to enter (R200) and this includes a drink from the restaurant at the top of the fort. The gates and just inside is quite touristy with several small stands. Lots of people hang around the first few hundred meters, but the best views across the city are seen from the top of the fort which is around a 15 minute walk (there are also rickshaws that can take people if they prefer). Scenes from several Bollywood movies were shot on the walls of the fort and it is a very popular place to view sunsets – if you are lucky enough to be there on a day without intense haze!

Sunset through the Jaipur haze from the top of Nahargarh Fort

Sunset through the Jaipur haze from the top of Nahargarh Fort

The view over a sprawling Jaipur suburb

The view over a sprawling Jaipur suburb

 5.    Jawahar Circle: (map)

A huge roundabout on the south of Jaipur, with a park area in the middle. Probably the cleanest and nicest place in the city to go for a walk. There is a small street-food bazar (great for refreshing ice cream), a rose garden and a children’s play area. But the most popular and iconic is the entry at the northern end of the park – Patrika Gate (map). The huge archways are impressive and on the inside are colorful murals depicting the local history of Jaipur. It is a hugely popular photo spot, so again, if you want to avoid crowded photos, you will need to visit early in the morning. The Patrika Gates are open 24 hours, so get there as early as you can and you will have it almost to yourself! We visited around 7am and it was pretty much empty.

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 6.    City Palace: (map)

Much of the City Palace is now a museum and there is still a section which remains the residence of the Royal Family – Chandra Mahal. Entry to the palace is R500, however if you want to access Chandra Mahal you will need to pay R3000 per person which includes a tour guide. There are some sections of the residence which are certainly worth seeing and it’s a fascinating insight into the life of the ruling family. If you can spare the money, walking through the residence is really interesting, especially with the informed guides. 

One of the highlights of the City Palace is a courtyard with 4 elaborately decorated doorways depicting the 4 seasons of the year – each one draws on elements of the season that are significant in Rajasthan culture.

The Lotus doorway

The Lotus doorway

The Peacock doorway

The Peacock doorway

 

The Diwan-i-aam or the Hall of Public Audience is where the King used to sit and listen to the issues of his subjects. 

Diwan-i-aam where the King would hear the problems of his people.

Diwan-i-aam where the King would hear the problems of his people.

 Chand Mahal has a total of 7 floors, with each floor serving a different purpose or giving respect to a different season or special holiday in the year.

The Chhawi Niwas is a beautifully decorated blue and white room, and was used to celebrate the monsoon rains.

Chhavi Niwas - The “blue room” that celebrates the monsoon season

Chhavi Niwas - The “blue room” that celebrates the monsoon season

On the 5th floor is a room decorated all over with concave mirrors (similar to the Sheesh Mahal at Amber Fort). When you visit they will close the doors and light a cangle causing each of the small mirrors to reflect the candle light and the entire roof illuminates.

The Shobha Niwas is a sitting area for the Maharaja and is elaborately decorated.

On the ground floor is the dining room used to accept and entertain guest and dignitaries. This is still the room used to host many of the world’s important political figures. It is one of the rooms inside the Chand Mahal where photography is not permitted.

The view over City Palace from the top of Chand Mahal

The view over City Palace from the top of Chand Mahal

 7.    Hawa Mahal: (map)

Probably the most iconic building in Jaipur with its unmistakable terracotta façade – which is actually the rear of the building! The façade of the Mahal is close to the street, which makes it very difficult to photograph! The best views of the building are actually from across the street in 2 small cafes. Whilst most people pull up in a car and take a quick photo from the street, I would recommend visiting either the Windview Café (map) or The Tattoo Café (map). Both have much better views directly at the façade. Even better, you can sit and enjoy some local staples while enjoying the view. We visited with Indian locals and they told us that the dishes at Windview Café in particular were the typical dishes they would eat as snacks – Masala Maggi Noodles, Aloo Tiki burgers, etc.

Hawa Mahal was built as part of the City palace to give the women a place to watch life going by outside. There are 950 windows looking out on to the street and the breeze circulating through the windows kept it cool and provided the building with its name - Hawa meaning breeze in Hindi.

If you wish, you can enter the Mahal for R50.

 The street in front of the Hawa Mahal façade is worth taking a walk along, with many small bazars, local shops and street sellers. If you are interested in streetscapes and local culture it is certainly worth half an hour or so.

The facade of Hawa Mahal seen from the street

The facade of Hawa Mahal seen from the street

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 8.    Bapu Bazar: (map)

I love visiting local markets in any city I visit, so I always try to seek out the authentic places where locals shop. Bapu Bazar in Jaipur is a typical Indian street market with loads of shops selling anything from textiles to samosas. Naturally they will quickly identify a tourist and look to bargain at far higher than normal prices! It’s a great place for a photo walk or to sample local street food. Quick word of warning – steer clear of the Panni Puri unless you have a far stronger stomach than I do!

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 9.    Jal Mahal: (map)

The iconic “Water Palace” of Jaipur sits by itself in Mansarovar Lake. In the winter the lake can dry out, but summer monsoons quickly fill it again. The Palace is not accessible to visitors, but there are several places to get a nice view. Because the water is usually very calm and flat, the Palace often creates a nice reflection in the right light. It is also illuminated at night, which makes it look great against the water.

The illuminated Jawa Mahal reflecting in the lake.

The illuminated Jawa Mahal reflecting in the lake.

 Places To East:

We ate the majority of our meals at Fairmont Jaipur and certainly even if you are not staying at this hotel, I would thoroughly recommend visiting for dinner to try the Thali.

 Plan to have a bite to eat at Windview Café when you want to take photos of Hawa Mahal – the Aloo Tiki burger is really good and the food is really cheap!

 One other place we went for dinner was Palladio Café and Bar (map). The food and service are “ok” without being outstanding and the prices are pretty steep for India. But the décor and atmosphere is really impressive! The bar area is decorated similar to the Chhawi Niwas in the City Palace, with elaborate blue and white walls. Outside, tables are seated around small fires and fairy lights. The food is Italian cuisine.

Palladio Cafe and Bar at night.

Palladio Cafe and Bar at night.

 Traveling In India:

India is one of my favorite destinations for travel, but there are some things to take into consideration.

Be sure to check your visa requirements, as all foreign visitors require a visa. Check your requirements online and you can often get your visa processed online.

Speak to your doctor before traveling to India as there are some important diseases to be aware of. In particular some visitors may require proof of yellow fever vaccination as part of their entry requirements. It would be worth making sure your vaccinations for Hepatitis, Diptheria, Tetanus and Typhoid are up to date.

“Traveller’s Diarrhea” is common for visitors to India. Whilst most people think it is the fault of eating something, it is far more common to be caused by water – drinking water, even ice in drinks, poorly washed salad and foods that contain water (like Panni Puri). Be cautious of what you drink or check that what you’re eating doesn’t have water in it. I always travel with a small medical kit that includes anti-diarrhea medication and rehydration tablets.

Malaria and Dengue Fever can be significant problems in India, especially around the monsoon season. There are prophylactic medications for malaria, most of which have side effects. However there isn’t for Dengue Fever and the prevention of avoiding mosquito bites is probably the best way of avoiding both. I always use insect repellent and mosquito nets. It’s a good idea to spray your room when you leave to prevent mosquitos waiting for you when you get back!

Staying connected in India can be a bit of a challenge as it isn’t as easy as most countries to pick up a SIM card at the airport. In order to get a local mobile sim, you need paperwork from your hotel (a police letter). You will then need to present this, copies of your passport and entry visa when you purchase a sim card. It will take at least 1 business day for the sim to be activated. If you are visiting only for a couple of days, you are better off using roaming.

There is an undeniable level of poverty in India and some people find it confronting. But there is also an incredible beauty in the country. Travel to India is an “experience”. There are few places so deep in culture and where you can truly immerse yourself. It is a place to explore and certainly Jaipur is one of those cities that has an amazing amount to offer to visitors looking to experience authentic culture.



























 

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!

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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.  

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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. 

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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. 

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The Apple Isle - Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

 
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Contributor:
Amanda

Nationality:
Australian

Social Links:
Instagram: @missamr
Twitter: @missamr

Age Group:
30-40 years

Gender:
Female

Travel Style:
Planned & organised

 

Destination: Hobart, Tasmania - Australia. Early February for 5 days

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Inspiration:

This was only one of two Australian States I was yet to cover. I was here for a sporting event but spent sometime checking out what Hobart had to offer. Everyone was telling me how pretty and scenic Tasmania is so I had to see it for myself.

Getting There:

Flew to Hobart and then hired a car to travel around Hobart.

Local Knowledge:

Take the Top Decker tour and the driver will go through all of historical past of Tasmania.

Where To Stay:

We stayed in West Hobart at Fountainside Apartments and I would give it 10/10. Great location, easily fit 10 people in our apartment and was in walking distance to central Hobart, Constitution Dock and the Salamanca Markets

What To Do:

While I was there we drove to Mt Nelson, out to what was the Cadbury Factory (which you can no longer tour), walked to the Salamanca Markets. The highlight would have been the Salamanca Markets. If there is a Cruise ship docked, go to the Cenotaph to get a great view of the dock and the boat. We also bought a ticket for the Top Decker Bus that did a loop around the Hobart District and it took me to all of the main areas of Hobart and was a great way to see what Hobart had to offer. Take the Top Decker Bus out to Cascade Brewery and have lunch and a beverage as the gardens are beautiful.

Eating:

Tasmania is renowned for their seafood and it is every where in Hobart. From Oyster Bars to Seafood Punts along Constitution Dock. Hobart has a very strong food scene however, most places are packed out on weekends or any time a cruise ship (or two) is docked. It is more expensive than the main land for seafood but all other food prices are comparable to the main land. From asking a local we found this amazing burger place called The Standard and it was one of the best meals I had while in Hobart.

Must Do:

If you are only in Hobart for the Weekend, you must go to the Salamanca Markets as it has a great taste of Hobart and Tasmania all in a 1km area. From fresh truffles to Fresh Oysters. Give your self time to walk through the markets but go early as it becomes very busy.

Must See:

My must see part of my time spent in Hobart was the Cascade Brewery.

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Number 1 Travel Tip:

If you travel here, take layers as it can go from 30 degrees to 16 degrees over night. I would also take notice of any traffic signs as they are very different to main land.

5 Word Travel:

Amazing Scenery with friendly locals.

Excess Baggage:

Hire a car if you can and spend more than 4 days in Hobart/Tasmania. We didn't get to see any more than the central part of Hobart and wish I had more time there. It is only 2 hours from the top to the bottom of island but it takes you days to explore everything Tasmania has to offer.

Bucketlist Travel Review - Yellowstone NP, USA

 
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Contributor:
Kayla and Silas

Nationality:
USA

Social Links:
Adventures of Kayla and Silas

Website: www.adventuresofkaylaandsilas.com
Instagram: @kaylaandsilas

Age Group:
19-30 years
30-40 years

Gender:
Couple

Travel Style:
Spontaneous
Explore
Food

 

Destination: Yellowstone National Park, Late September, 5 days

Inspiration:

A friend of ours ask if we would go with him to Yellowstone. Having never been there before, we both quickly agreed! We all wanted to get in some hiking, enjoy the quiet of nature, and have fun hanging out together.

Getting There:

Yellowstone is not easily accessible. We drove there (17 hours!), but you could fly into a nearby city and rent a car or R.V. It seemed nearly half the cars on the roads inside the park were R.V.s, so that is really common.

Local Knowledge:

Yellowstone and Grand Teton are both unlike anything else I've ever seen! Here's what I already wrote about how amazing these places are:  https://www.adventuresofkaylaandsilas.com/single-post/2017/10/02/12-Reasons-to-Visit-Yellowstone

 

Where To Stay:

We stayed at an Airbnb in Driggs, ID. It was delightful, however we had a pretty long drive into the parks every morning. I think it would be preferable to stay inside the park unless you only need a couple hours of sleep. We found everything was booked when we were looking, so you'll need to make a reservation as early as a year in advance of your trip if you want to stay in the park!

What To Do:

We packed a lot into our time at Yellowstone and Grand Teton. Here's our recommended itinerary: https://www.adventuresofkaylaandsilas.com/single-post/2017/10/09/A-Week-in-Yellowstone-and-Grand-Teton-National-Parks

Join our Patreon community here: www.patreon.com/kaylaandsilas Subscribe to our channel! http://bit.ly/2FFgx6E Earlier this year we took a road trip with our...

Must Do:

You need to watch at least one geyser BESIDES Old Faithful. They are just amazing.

Must See:

Grand Prismatic Spring!

Number 1 Travel Tip:

The park is BUSY. Bring as much as you can -- toilet paper and sanitizer for unkept bathrooms, picnic lunches for when restaurants are busy or you get too far from a main service hub (or you just want to save money), and a map so

5 Word Travel:

Gorgeous, interesting, unbelievable, breathtaking, exercise

Excess Baggage:

Don't get close to the animals! We saw a lot of tourists putting themselves in dangerous situations, but park rangers suggest keeping 25 yards distance to all animals and 100 yards to wolves and bears.

Leon, Nicaragua - Why you should plan a Nicaragua visit

 
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Content creators and travel bloggers, Cathie & Al from Flat World Travel give us an amazing insight into one of the favourite cities they visited during a recent trip to Nicaragua/ Read all about Leon here and follow the links to their blog for more on travel in Nicaragua.

 

Contributor:
Cathie

Nationality:
USA

Social Links:
Website: http://travel.flatworldonline.com
Instagram: @flatworldtravel

Age Group:
 

Gender:
Couple

Travel Style:
Couple travel
Adventure

 

Destination: Leon, Nicaragua, November 2017

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Inspiration:

We were hired to do photos and video for a destination wedding in Cancun in November. We decided to add on to the trip and go to Nicaragua. This was the perfect destination. We found one of our favorite cities on the trip was Leon.  We were looking for somewhere warm to go after the wedding.  And through Instagram and travel blogs we had seen some beautiful photos from Nicaragua. I always had an interest in this country. We started researching it and fell in love with it’s mixture of colonial historical cities that we love to explore as well as beautiful nature to be adventurous in. Nicaragua really does have it all. While we didn’t spend anytime in the major city of Managua we did enjoy Leon. You can get a real feel for city life of the people and not be far from nature and adventure at the same time. And who could pass up the opportunity to go to volcano boarding down an active volcano.!!!

Getting There:

We flew from Cancun to Nicaragua since we already had our flights arranged from Philadelphia to Cancun. Once we arrived in Nicaragua and for our travel around the country we hired private drivers through our various boutique hotels. Because we were traveling with a lot of photo and video gear, more than we normally do since we were coming from a wedding, we wanted to always make sure we traveled in the safest way possible. Even if that meant spending extra. It was also nice to always be in air conditioning and to  talk with the drivers. Well at least try since our Spanish is very limited. Our driver dropped us right off at teh place we were staying in Leon.

Local Knowledge:

Leon is known for being even the most artistic and progressive city in Nicaragua. The people of Leon were the first to support the Sandanistas in the 1960’s and ’70s. As a result, the city and its people suffered some of the worst attacks during Somoza’s crackdown. Their central market was torched, different parts of the city were bombed, and anyone suspected of sympathizing with the Sandanistas was often tortured or executed. And the United States flip flopped on who they supported, all to the detriment of the people of Nicaragua.
And you can see minutes of resistance throughout the city. From graffiti to beautifully painted murals. Definitely worth visiting is the Museum of Revolution

Leon is also known for its beautiful churches with sweeping vistas of the city, a lively Center Plaza, bustling commerce, and amazingly beautiful volcanoes.

Where To Stay:

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We stayed at the Hotel Azul for $72 a night. I would consider that a little high for most places in Leon but it had great rooms, a pool, a restaurant and breakfast included. Hotel Azul is a great spot and the location being so close to the main plaza was perfect. We would Totally stay there again!

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What To Do:

Really our favorite thing to do in Leon was just to wander around. Going to the areas where it's mostly locals. We really didn't see a ton of tourist when we were there. We spent hours just checking out neighborhoods around the city just seeing what it was truly like. We also were lucky to come across an amazingly fun festival in the central plaza one night. It was almost all locals there so we could really get a feel of what celebrations are like in Nicaragua. this one was for the "opening of Christmas " "The Festival of Lights" and it was a total party!

and Do check out the Revolution Museum. One of the highlights of touring around Leon was Museo Historico de la Revolucion the ‘Museum of Revolution”. It is so easy to spot with its anti-Bush graffiti still on the front. Once we paid to get in, we also had a tour guide. Of course he didn’t speak any English and our Spanish is very limited. However, knowing how to put together some words and with the help of Google translate, we felt like we learned a lot. And our tour guide was a very interesting man. He fought with the Sandinistas. You could even see on his shoulder where he’d been shot. And he showed us the spot in the building where it happened, this being the old City Hall building. You can still see blood on the walls and the impacts where the bullet hit.

One of the cool aspects of the tour is getting to go up on the roof. As a photographer and videographer, we always aim to get higher whenever visiting a new location. It’s the best way to get the lay of the land and get some killer views. There’s something so surreal about being up on the roof of the museum. And we had a great view to the white cathedral known as Basilica de la Asuncion (Our Lady of Grace Cathedral).

Eating:

Nicaragua isnt really known for its "culinary delights" but we had some awesome food while there. in Leon we mostly ate at small places that didn't cost a whole lot. I don't eat meat but I am a pescatarian. One lunch place we really enjoyed was Cocinarte. It is a vegetarian place and is located in the oldest house in Leon.  
Another great lunch spot we went to was Pan y Paz French bakery, which was way cheap AND awesome! We didn't expect the sandwich shop to be so good. and there are a couple locations around the city. 
We ate dinner in at Al Carbon, that was pretty cool. Al really wanted some steak and I needed a place with good seafood. We also stopped in at a great rooftop bar at Calle Vicente to take in the local flavor mixed with a few tourists. It’s a great place for having a drink and doing some people watching!

Must Do:

Go Volcano Baording down Cerre Negro. So much fun you will want to hike right back up to do it again. Sadly we were only allowed the 1 time.
You have to do it with an organized tour. The drive was a little more than an hour and you have a chance to go to the bathroom before beginning your climb up (take the opportunity!) Everything I read talked about how easy the climb up was. Of course most articles focus on the fun and safety coming back down the hill on a thin piece of wood. Let me tell you that climb up was not easy. It was hot as hell, even though there was a nice breeze every now and then. It is rocky and straight up for most of it. It’s not the worst hike I’ve done by far, but it certainly is not the easiest either. Plus you are carrying a small cloth bag with your gear and a long thin piece of wood on your back. When you are small like me, it acts like a wind sail!!

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Must See:

Without a dounbt-the rooftop at  Basilica de la Asuncion (Our Lady of Grace Cathedral). The Basilica de la Asuncion took over a 100 years to build and it is one of the largest churches in Central America. And it is Awesome. There are so many different details in the outside of the building. But the best part is certainly its roof. You need to check the schedule for when it is open and it costs 40 Cordobas to get in, this is less than $1.50 . Is really cool up there. You don’t expect It to look like a Greek city. It definitely looks very Grecian with all its white domes. And it offers wonderful vistas of the city. Just be mindful you will have to take your shoes off once you get to the top of the staircase.. 

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Number 1 Travel Tip:

Take the time to at least learn some basic Spanish. And being polite and patience goes a long way. While we knew some Spanish words such common phrases, nouns and verbs we weren’t good at putting them all together. Also make sure to download Google translate on your phone. This will help you when trying to communicate. You can even hover over text and read the translation in English. Very few people speak English there. Often times, you could find at least one person working at the restaurant who may know English a little better and loves to practice their English with you. Bye-bye been able to communicate somewhatYou definitely have your experiences broadened.

And I know it's only supposed to be one tip but if you're a photographer or videographer don't bring your drone. They're not allowed. And it's just not worth the risk. Just honor their restrictions!

5 Word Travel:

Friendly
colorful
beautiful
cultural
Adventurous

Excess Baggage:

You’re not in Kansas anymore… things just aren’t like you might think. Even with all the above we found people just saying Si ‘(Yes) even when yes shouldn’t be the answer. For example, I may say “no come carne” when ordering chips and cheese and just stopped being surprised when still came with meat which I don’t eat. It seems like trying to get anything different than what they have listed just doesn’t translate. Remember this is a Spanish-speaking country!! So some things just won’t translate to be exactly what you mean.

and oh yeah....In Leon don’t be alarmed by the 6am church bells going off. And then at seven there’s a siren that goes off letting everybody know it is time to go to work. It can be quite jarring if nobody warned you in advance LOL!!

Rome, Italy - Where ancient meets modern

 
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It was almost a year ago when I first went to Rome, the capital of my lovely Italy, with my camera. It was not the first time, I’ve already been there, but I was too young to remember anything. These photos were taken in some beautiful days in December 2016 (quite cold but sunny) and in April 2017. In a few days I’ve had the opportunity to see and explore many places in the city and I’ll come back soon, at the end of September.

 

Contributor:
Giorgia

Nationality:
Italian

Social Links:
Instagram: @gi.throughthelens
                  @mainormale

Age Group:
19 - 30

Gender:
Female

Travel Style:
Tourism
Discovery
Exploring

 

Destination: Rome Italy

Inspiration:

I went there because my boyfriend lives in Albano Laziale, in the so called area of “Castelli Romani”, at about 25km south of the city centre. In that occasion, I could also visit the Capital and its marvellous pieces of history, like the Colosseum, Circus Maximus, Villa Borghese and its gardens etc.

Getting There:

If you live in Italy, the easiest way to reach Rome is surely by train. With high speed trains as Frecciarossa, Frecciargento, Frecciabianca or Italo Treno, you’ll reach it in few hours. Obviously you can use your car, but it’s easier moving around the city using subway, bus or tram. If you live in another country I recommend to come by plane to the airport of Roma Fiumicino or Roma Ciampino and then to use public transport.

Local Knowledge:

Not all knows that Rome was built on seven hills: Aventino, Palatino, Esquilino, Quirinale, Viminale, Celio and Campidoglio. There’s another one city in Europe built on seven hills: Lisbon. Lisbon was part of Lusitania after the punic wars and there’s a clear recall to the structure of Rome right because of its position over the hills.

What To Do:

As many others did before me, I like defining Rome an open air museum. This city has unique characteristics you cannot find anywhere. It’s a special mix of ancient and modern. Here are some of my favourite places:

- The Colosseum
This monumental ancient roman theatre is a “must see” in Rome. Take a look around it, and be sure you have booked tickets to enter and visit it some days before you’ll be there (if you want to come during summer, it’s better book them some weeks before your visit). Once inside, you’ll be totally transported in the Ancient Rome atmosphere and you can usually walk inside at all levels and different heights. Be prepare to make some stairs!

 
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- The Imperial Forums
As yet said for the Colosseum, the Imperial Forums are something magical if you want to be transported in the Ancient Rome atmosphere. You can walk through the ruins, and imagine how was life during the period of Roman Empire. Somewhere you can see the rests of a little temple, or some columns and the majestic Arch of Septimius Severus. Then I recommend to make some stairs and reach the top of Palatino hill inside this archeological area: there you’ll find a terrace with a stunning view over all the Imperial Forums. The best moment of the day to come here is when the sun is almost down and all the ruins around have some special golden shades.

- Giardino degli Aranci (The Orange Garden)
This little public garden over the Aventino hill is a beautiful place for couples and generally for all the people who want to see Rome by an unconventional point of view. From the terrace over the river Tiber you can take a look over the rooftops of the Capital and see the giant St Peter’s Basilica’s dome, the white walls of Altare della Patria with its rampant horses on the top, and many others domes (Rome is famous for its domes, everywhere you look for you’ll find at least one of them. It’s something incredible!). This place has a special atmosphere at the sunset, it’s really romantic.

- St. Peter’s Basilica
It is formally part of Vatican City, but it’s another “must see” when you’ll come and visit the eternal city. This is the heart of Catholic Church, where all the Popes are buried. I like defining it as a precious jewel made by the genius of many important italian architects: my favourite one is Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who designed the square in order to embrace people. His circular colonades are one of my favourite pieces of art (you can find many other works of Gian Lorenzo Bernini all over the city, one of my favourite is the Fountain of the Four Rivers in Piazza Navona). You can enter the church for free but you always have to wait in a queue (sometimes your wait may be very long, especially during the festivities and summer) to undergo a security check: as it’s usual in the airports, you have to pass your bags o backpacks to X-rays so pay attention at what you bring with you! Glass bottles and any kind of weapon are severely forbidden.
Once passed this security check you can choose what you prefer to visit for first: I strongly recommend to visit the dome before the church. There’s a secondary entrance on the right of the basilica where you can have access at the stairs to go on the dome. This experience is not recommended if you have some kind of heart or respiratory disease because you’ll have to make nearly 350 steps if you use the elevator for the first part, and nearly 600 if you don’t. It’s not free, you’ll have to pay a ticket but it’s not expensive. Personally I want to assure you that you’ll arrive on the top tired but happy: some parts of the stairs are really difficult and tight but the stunning panorama will be a great satisfaction for you. From this special place you can see the entire city: starting from the wonderful St. Peter’s square and Via della Conciliazione, you’ll see Castel Sant’Angelo, river Tiber, the greatest gardens of Doria Pamphili, Vatican Gardens, Monte Mario and all the magnitude of this wonderful city.
Then you’ll come down and visit the basilica. It’ll be the greatest church you’ll ever see: all the things in it are big and majestic. There’s gold almost everywhere and works of art of immense valour. Stunning.

- Last but not least, the Trastevere district
This district is the centre of the roman movida and during the summer is populated by young people who want to have fun and eat together. These streets are the most characteristics of all Rome. I have loved to spend my summer nights here.

Eating:

When in Rome, It’s important to choose as well as possible the places to eat. Generally I prefer pubs or taverns because you find the real recipes of the tradition and friendly people. My favourite recipes are “Pasta alla carbonara”, “Spaghetti cacio e pepe” and “Supplì”.

Must Do:

Every traveller should go to Trevi's Fountain and throw a coin in the water. The legend say if you do that and don't see where the coin fall, you'll surely come back to Rome one day. So throw the coin behind your back!

Must See:

Maybe I should be banal, but I would pick a photograph of Colosseum.

 

 

Tenerife, Canary Islands - Exploring Tenerife's Colours

 
 
 

Contributor:
Chiara

Nationality:
UK

Social Links:
Instagram: @apocketfullofwanderlust
Website: www.apocketfullofwanderlust.wordpress.com

Age Group:
 

Gender:
Female

Travel Style:
Travel Blogger

 

Destination: Tenerife, Canary Islands. May 2017.

Day 1:

I decided to escape for a while from the lovely London weather ( generally we all know how it is in London  ), so I packed my stuff and I flighted to this amazing, beautiful canary island: Tenerife!

Most people think going to a nice hotel, having some cocktails and enjoying the sunset is the proper way to feel the island’s spirit. While this is actually relaxing, I think going by yourself on a road trip up through the island is far better.

Free to go wherever I wanted and stop anytime I desired, I had an amazing experience not only visiting places where nature is the keyword, but also having the opportunity to meet some island’s habitants who told me a lot about the history, the climate, the gastronomy and beautiful places to discover.

Let’s check it out together!!!

 
 

For those of you who want to see and discover the highlights of Tenerife,  you can either rent a car ( https://www.travelsupermarket.com/en-gb/car-hire/spain/canary-islands/tenerife/  ) or to visit by bus ( http://www.titsa.com/index.php/en/   it’s the main public transport that travels all over the island).

From the south to the north you’re gonna enjoy the trip since you have two different kinds of views and colours to look at. On one side the rugged and steep coast surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and its deep blue; on the other one instead, the Spain’s highest mountain, mount Teide, a slumbering giant volcano (Earth’s third highest volcano) followed by mountains and volcanic valleys.

One of these valleys is Guìmar, one of the Tenerife’s oldest towns and one of the first areas to be settled by the Spanish. Next to me on the bus, there was this old man (born in the island ) that, noticing my curiosity, started to tell me some stories.

He told me about Guìmar, famous for its Guanche pyramids built from lava stone without any human’s help. There were 9 of them, but unfortunately only 6 survived. He told me about its plantation of sugar, potatoes and avocados and, above all, he told me that in the early morning he’s used to go to the port of Guimar for fishing and to wish himself good luck ( but forget about saying to a fisherman have a good day ), he performs a short fish dance! I’m still hoping one day I’m gonna see him doing it. 

Puerto De La Cruz:

I got lost. It was sooo me! Everytime I don’t know exactly where I’m going, I usually find something amazing… in this case I explored the old part of the town. A walk in there allowed me to discover quite places, a delicious smell coming from tapas bars, the 1632 catholic church which is La Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de la Pena de Francia, the castle of San Felipe, the Convento de San Juan Baptista, a fresh cut grass smell and just in front of me… the ocean! Not that bad for someone who got lost 

Puerto de la Cruz’s always been popular between tourists and it’s one of the top destination of the Canary Islands, but now I understand why. It’s an oasi of green land and tropical fruits plantation ( in fact, nothing’s better than drinking a fresh natural pineapple juice, while you’re enjoying the tropical weather ).

I’ve found this town very characteristic with its narrow streets and traditional cafès and tapas bars. If you’re a tired traveller looking for some tranquility and culture, that’s a very nice place to visit. There’s the Lago Martianez (designed by architect and artist César Manrique), which is a water park with lots of swimming pools and a salt water lake where even the stones in the floor got their own geological history. Everything’s surrounded by a sub-tropical garden!!! It looks like a paradise and it actually is!

Puerto de la Cruz is also famous for the beautiful Jardin Botànico and Playa Jardìn, a beach full of palm trees and volcanic black sand. I figured it out that its name symbolises the rich environment of flowers and plant life and It’s a great place to take some amazing pictures!

 
 
 
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Another reason that makes Puerto de la Cruz a top destination is Loro Parque, an animal adventure park with lots of sea animals, but above all it houses the largest parrot collection in the whole world.

 
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And that was just the first day!

Day 2:

First in Europe, second in the world, Loro Parque is an amazing animal themepark located in Puerto de la Cruz.  Mainly famous for its parrots collection, it also houses dolphins, California sea lions, orcas, giant Galapagos tortoises, iguanas, jaguars, penguins and many more!

You can easily get there thanks to the special Loro Parque Bus or the Shuttle Express, but anyway I recommend you this Tenerife Travel Guide before arriving there. Don’t know you guys, but I always wanna know how to take the best from every place without missing anything! 

 
 

From the moment your visit begins, its gonna be like stepping into another world when go through the Thai themed entrance, where you can explore Katandra Treetops, the Thai Village and a magical kingdom.

First animals I saw were parrots in their amazing variety of colours.

What I truly liked was the atmosphere. When I was a little girl, I’ve been few times at the zoo. I so didn’t like it! I mean, there was always something nice but, most of the time, I was feeling sad for those animals… all of them quite, some of them were sleeping or doing just few movements ( by the way, they didn’t have so much space to move ) and there was always this loud music coming from somewhere.

I wasn’t ready for this at all. Now I see why it’s the best zoological garden in Europe! It’s an animal reserve, full of green and lakes. It’s so nice just having a walk there and feeling peaceful, ’cause the only sound you hear it’s the one of birds and nature!

If you just wanna have fun instead or you have kids well, this park has a big variety of shows. You can choose between 7 amazing shows or, as I did ( lol), join them all!

But the best discover ever has been Animal Embassy, which is a firm commitment to ecology and preservation of the planet!

This area is dedicated to educate the visitors about the importance of the respect for the environment and the animals that inhabit the earth. One of the buildings of Animal Embassy houses a research center where the cognitive development of the birds will be studied. Another great building is the Baby Clinic, where the vets are taking care of the newborns!

 
 

If A Storm Hits The North........I Head To The South:

Most of the time, I walked with a look of wonder on my face… like when I’ve been in Playa De Las Teresitas: where the sand comes from the Sahara desert! …

I had the pleasure to meet a wonderful human being there! Thanks to him, I got more knowledge about Tenerife itself, like best places to visit or typical things to do, plus he told me his story! Don’t know about you, but I love listening to people’stories ( yes, I’m the kind of person that looks at a girl who’s reading in the underground and I imagine what her life could be ). From Argentina he moved to Santa Cruz de Tenerife more than 20 years ago and he never left, except for travelling from time to time!

While he was showing me Santa Cruz area, I realized the weather was changing.

You know, I also chose Tenerife ‘cause I was tired of the cloudy and rainy London weather but, obviously, after two days in the north of the island, a storm decided to show up! 
Mauro, this guy, suggested me to go to the south, where it’s sunny 364 days per year since the atmospheric conditions are affected by Africa.
That’s exactly what I did.

 
 

Los Cristianos.

I felt the difference in a second. The climate there is completely different from the north, I couldn’t stop singing Waka Waka by Shakira!

Different weather, different flora, different kind of people! Easy to realize how many young people there were around! From Los Cristianos to Costa Adeje, the population is mainly young while the other side of the island is definitely a more relaxed area!

I met a group of australian friends in Playa de las Vistas! They were travelling on the road as well and Tenerife was the last milestone before coming back home! This is another good reason why I don’t mind to travel alone; whoever you meet is a new friend!

We were chatting about our adventures, when a huge wave ( this is why surfing is so popular there  ) flooded us! Everything was wet and full of sand, thank God my lovely Travel Pack is waterproof and I didn’t lose anything!

Speaking about moments of luck, while I was walking down the coast I run into a wonderful version of paradise:

 
 

I’m telling you, if you love the ocean, palm trees, hot weather, music and a perfect mojito, this is the place for you! … Sure it is for me! Lol

 
 

Food, weather, animals, colours, activities, nature…
I visited so many beautiful places and met plenty of kind and friendly people, that I’m gonna go back to Tenerife as soon as possible!

The worst part of a journey is the end, but I’m used to think positive… where there is an ending, there’s a beginning! Time to plan next trip on the road!

Any suggestions? I’d love to hear as many places as possible from all of you!

Thanks for reading, folks!

Here to subscribe!

Love,
Chiara

San Francisco, USA - 48 Hours in SF

 
 
 

Contributor:
Yvette & Steve

Nationality:
USA

Social Links:
Instagram: @redlenslifestyle
Website: www.redlenslifestyle.com

Age Group:
 

Gender:
Couple

Travel Style:
Adventure, Photography

 

Destination: San Francisco, USA. July 2016.

This beautiful City by the Bay is definitely an experience.  Like many other major cities, it’s divided by neighborhoods each with their own strong personality and characteristics.  We stayed in the Mission District and while it’s known to be “trendy” we actually found it to be more “hipsterish”.   With over priced coffee shops a plenty and various cuisine restaurants filling main street, you’re definitely in the heart of something.  After exploring the city a bit more, I think I would have preferred to stay in the Marina District and visit Mission, but none the less, it was fresh.  Two days is definitely not enough to explore the whole city but it’s a good start.

Where to Eat: You have to get dinner at Tadichs.  It’s actually the oldest restaurant in the country.  Primarily seafood but with steak options as well, this restaurant has a Peter Luger’s decor and feel.  Rustic wood trim and sectioned off areas give the place a historic feel.  Delarosa is a modern Italian Restaurant in the Marina District with great food and even better cocktails.  Continuing the Italian culture of family dining, the restaurant has long tables where guests take seats until the whole table is full.  The burrata bruschetta with honey and hazelnuts is to die for!  For a quick lunch head to the Mission District to Pica Pica.  This colorful Venezuelan joint is known for its Arepa sandwiches.  Grilled corn pockets are stuffed with your choice of meat, vegetables, and sauces; order at the counter, grab a number, and take a seat. Those buns are heaven and the Pulled Pork is to Die for.  But don’t die, just order seconds! Search Eatwith to see if someone is hosting at the time you’re there.  We had dinner with Chef Manville and loved it.  Bon Appetit!

What to Do: Take a walk in Muir Woods.  This boardwalk laid forest is beyond beautiful.  Trees touch the sky and chipmunks dance at your feet (That really happened!).  It’s actually unbelievable and maybe slightly romantic.  In the heart of the Mission District is the Secret Tiled Staircase.  This beautiful mosaic tiled staircase leads to a vantage point that overlooks the whole city.  To find it go to 1700 16th Avenue, 94122.  While you’re there, stroll down through Balmy Alley.  This block of art murals is so unique to the area.  When that’s all over and you need a good sweat, take a Hammer class at The Garage with some professional athletes.  This gym won’t disappoint.

Where to Stay: We found an awesome 1 bedroom Air BnB that we really loved.  Very Feng-shui, the open concept kitchen/living Room really made the space feel much larger than it actually it is.  With floor to ceiling windows and a balcony over looking the district, during the day the sun filled up the entire flat.  Next time though we’ll probably stay in the Marina District.  I think I liked that area more.

 
 

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.


Bora Bora, French Polynesia - Honeymoon in Paradise

 

Contributor : Andrew
Nationality  : Australian
Instagram   @andrewmarty_
Age Group  : 30-40 yo
Gender        : Male
Trave Style  : Leisure
Destination  :Bora Bora, French Polynesia.
Date              : July 2016. 10 days

 
 

Inspiration:  
My fiancé had wanted to holiday in Bora Bora since before we were even engaged. I think it had a lot to do with the fact it was so hard to get to, the remoteness and the knowledge if we were ever going to holiday in Bora Bora, this was the opportunity. To be honest we debated over whether our honeymoon should be somewhere unique like Iceland or Norway, somewhere modern like Japan or the more iconic honeymoon beach getaway. The beach won!

Of course we had seen the images of the over-water bungalows and the perfect blue water in magazines and online. We really wanted that exclusive, unforgettable, irreplaceable honeymoon. We looked at a lot of the popular island beach escapes and it was through the world of Instagram that we became more familiar with Bora Bora. Specifically, The Four Seasons Bora Bora was featured in Conde Nast Middle East - from there our minds were made.

Getting There:
Ironically, one of the attractions of Bora Bora for us was its remoteness. In fact, from our home in Dubai it is probably as far away as we could go. There are a few ways to get to Bora Bora, but all will involve an international flight into Vaitape, Tahiti. The airport receives flights from Auckland, Los Angeles and Honolulu. We flew with Emirates from Dubai to Auckland, via Melbourne - although there is now a direct Dubai to Auckland flight. We had a 2 day stop-over in Auckland on the way there, which was enough to experience the city. 

In Vaitape, we stayed the night at a cheap airport hotel due to connections times. It did help to adjust with time zones to get some sleep before heading to Bora Bora. The small domestic flight into Bora Bora offers your first opportunity to experience the magnificence. There is no allocated seating so try and board early and get a seat on the left of the plane (facing the cockpit) for your inbound flight. On this side you will get the best view of the island on your descent - the volcano remnant that is Mount Otemanu on the main island, the magnetic blue lagoon, the surrounding sand atol and the deep blue Pacific Ocean...........its an unforgettable image.

Arriving at Motu Mute airport, we were greeted by staff from The Four Seasons Resort. From the moment you arrive, the Polynesian culture is captivating - friendly, happy, welcoming and accommodating. There is a short boat ride from the airport to the resort, with each property providing its own shuttle service. 

Local Knowledge:
Many people are surprised to find out that Bora Bora is actually part of the French Republic. There are a total of 118 islands and atols spread over quite a large area of the Pacific Ocean that make up French Polynesia. Bora Bora is part of the Society Islands along with Tahiti. French Polynesia is still under French control and inhabitants have French passports. The majority of inhabitants speak French and there is a mix between native Polynesian and French migrants living on Bora Bora and the other Polynesian islands. The islands, including Bora Bora, have a very interesting history of colonisation and interaction with countries that are geographically very remote. In addition to the French influence, Bora Bora became particularly prominent for the United States during World War II, when it became an important supply base in the Pacific. The Americans developed a lot of infrastructure during this time including the current airport, which at the time it was built was the only international airport in French Polynesia. Several of the cannons that guarded the island during the war are still features of the islands landscape.

Words Of Wisdom:
Bora Bora is unique in that it is made up of a central island and surrounding atol (sand islands) - this creates the uniquely protected lagoon that surround the main island. Most of the iconic 5-star resorts are on the surrounding atol and are very independent of each other. A huge appeal of these resorts is that your are quite secluded. The seclusion does restrict your access to shops and services. Whilst the resorts essentially cater for everything you need and can arrange for things to be brought to you, it is better to plan ahead. The main island does have a small, but well stocked grocery store, lots of pearl shops, some restaurants/cafes and other small stores. To get to the island you will need to take a shuttle boat, which isn't a free service! I would recommend bringing anything you think you might need with you!

Always an interesting travel question is the accepted/expected culture around tipping. In French Polynesia it isn't customary to tip staff, which some people find unusual. I think it is a case of each to their own, but it certainly isn't expected or mandatory like it is in some parts of the world.

Whilst both French and a dialect of Polynesian are spoken on Bora Bora, we found nearly everyone did speak see English. Its always nice to learn some of the local greetings and this is even more so in Bora Bora, where the local people are so friendly and always greet you with a smile and the customary "Ia Ora Ana"!

French Polynesia is famous for pearls and it almost seems like there are more pearl shops in the main street on Bora Bora than there are residents. There is a vast range of sizes, quality and prices in the different shops and it can certainly appear quite confusing. We wanted something special to remember the honeymoon and looked around for some time in the different shops. One of the shops stood out in terms of their service and value for money. I would have no hesitation recommending Albert Store Bora Bora. They were extremely patient, gave unbiased advice and their service was excellent. It is a family owned store and they are happy to talk you through the entire process from pearl cultivation to showing you how they select and design strings of pearls. If you are looking for a special momento, definitely visit this store!

Where To Stay:
If you are travelling to Bora Bora, then this is the time to save and splurge the extra to stay in an over water bungalow. French Polynesia was where this concept originated and they have come to perfect the iconic accomodation! When we decided on Bora Bora as our honeymoon destination, we allowed the visual world of instagrm to help narrow our search of where to stay - it was almost impossible to go past The Four Seasons Resort!

From the moment we stepped onto the property, everything was first class. Guests are treated to a tour of the small island and all the facilities, before being taken to their private bungalows. Whilst there was a certain expectation that the rooms would be of a high standard, we were beside ourselves with just how luxuriously fitted out the bungalows were. From the quality amenities, through to the deck that opens out onto the stunning blue waters and views of Mt Otemanu. Each bungalow has complimentary snorkel and fins on your sundeck, so at any time you can simply slip into the water and enjoy the variety of sea life 

The resort staff were amazing, they genuinely are passionate about trying to make sure every guest enjoys their stay to the fullest.

We did find that the resort catered mainly for couples - honeymoon, anniversary, retirees and also to families. It probably isn't the ideal destination for groups of young travellers and the nightlife is relatively quiet. We found this perfect for a honeymooning couple, but did agree that teenagers or groups of young travellers might not enjoy the very relaxed atmosphere.

It isn't a cheap option by any stretch and it might be hard to justify aside from a special occasion. That said, I think if you are going to spoil yourselves, you definitely want to feel like it was worth the expense and this you will get at Four Seasons, Bora Bora. 

There are a large number of activities complimentary at the resort and many others that the concierge will arrange. We didn't feel there was very much at all we needed to do that was outside of what the resort offered or sourced.

The Resort itself has a large private lagoon where guests can kayak around, lay by the water or explore with snorkel and mask. It is a really safe place to learn how to snorkel or get your confidence, children can even float on "pool-noodles" while learning how to snorkel. The resort has a resident marine biologist, Dr Oliver Martin, who has cultivated coral gardens and small reef structures and successfully developed an entire ecosystem. From the smallest invertebrates, myriads of colourful fish, right through to moray eels hiding in small caves, the lagoon is a great place to explore. Oliver also runs educational tours where guests can learn more about the delicate coral reefs and how we can help to preserve them for future generations.

Four Seasons has an excellent fitness and wellness centre. The gym is very well equipped with weights and cardio equipment. It opens onto the ocean side of the resort and its uniquely relaxing to sit on an exercise bike watching the waves of the Pacific Ocean pound into the reef. The wellness centre is absolutely perfectly set up for couples spa treatments - with a wide range of options for massage and relaxation. There are several baths of different temperatures to soak in. The therapists are experienced and a relaxing massage in this perfect setting is a wonderful way to really unwind. 

Four Seasons has a large number of activities at the resort that you can get involved in. We tried out some of the water sports - kayaking and the water bike which are fun ways to explore. There is also volleyball, badminton, tennis, yoga and jet skiing. It is truly hard to explain the difficulty in balancing the want to try everything, yet also take advantage of one of the most relaxing places to simply lounge by the water.

What To Do:
The list of possible activities that are provided by Four Seasons is impressive. Probably the only difficult decision we had for our honeymoon was deciding how we were going to try and fit everything in, especially when its so tempting just to spend hours lounging on the private deck or by the pool. One of the best features of Four Seasons Resort was they gave fantastic advice both before we arrived and after arrival in terms of what activities they thought we would enjoy. The bookings team and then the concierge are great at co-ordinating all your activities and you receive an itinerary each evening listing what you are doing the next day, where you need to be and what you need to take! Like i said, deciding what to do is your only stress!

Scuba Diving: Getting our SCUBA accreditation was one of the best things we have done - it literally opens up experiences into worlds that simply have to be seen. As soon as we decided on travelling to Bora Bora, we talked about the chance to dive with manta rays. In the days leading up to our dive, we were lucky enough to see the incredible rays from the air whilst parasailing and from the boat, as one leapt from the water. We put the pressure on the dive team that we really wanted to dive with manta rays........and they didn't disappoint! What had been a an otherwise nice reef dive, became perfect when we became immersed in a plankton ball. As we sat there, 2 manta rays circled around us feasting on the plankton and seeming not to care at all about the wide-eyed humans in the middle. It is no exaggeration to say we could've stayed there for hours, unfortunately the restriction of oxygen supply meant we had to bid farewell and return to the surface. I would recommend to anyone traveling to Bora Bora or other tropical islands to consider getting their PADI open water accreditation. You can even do the last couple of dives at accredited places whilst on holiday.

Parasailing: Another of the out-sourced activities available is parasailing. This is done from a beach on the main island of Vaitape, so it works in well to pin it on a day you want to spend doing things in the town or one of the other activities on the main island (e.g. helicopter tours) - it just means you will only pay for the shuttle boat once and less time is spent going back and forth. The parasailing was a great experience and a truly unique way to see Bora Bora. The staff were French and didn't speak great English, which was fine, however if you didn't speak French or English as a first language it would've been very difficult to communicate.

Game Fishing: Fishing is a huge part of the Polynesian culture. It is also a very popular past-time for visiting tourists. The waters around Bora Bora are home to some of the most sought after game fish - Mahi Mahi, Marlin, Wahu, Tuna. I booked a full day fishing aboard one of the large ocean fishing boats with high hopes of landing a monster from the sea. Unfortunately it wasn't our day! The fishing trip was extremely expensive compared to the other activities and whilst things like catching fish are never a guarantee, I would have hoped that for $1700.00 you might be provided with something to eat during your 8 hours at sea. I found that itself pretty disappointing. The local knowledge of the captain was fascinating and helped pass the time as we cruised waiting for an interest in our lures. I would find it hard to recommend this activity based on my experience and I think not providing any food at all, was totally unacceptable.

Snorkel Tour: This is one activity we hadn't booked, but that the concierge recommended. We enjoyed this activity so much we actually did it twice when we realised we had a spare half day at the end of our stay! The tour is a really casual boat trip around the island with extremely entertaining staff. They take you to a spot known for having plenty of sting-rays that can be fed by hand. The staff are careful to ensure only rays that have had their barbs removed are handled and whilst it is a little artificial in that the rays come for the free feed, it is still a great experience with these wild creatures! Next you are taken to visit a "coral garden" - an area full of brightly coloured corals and a huge variety of tropical fish. There are usually a few boats of tourists in the one area and quite a few people in the water, so it pays to just spend your time quietly exploring! Whilst most people are attracted to the larger numbers of more common fish, you can spend time on more selective areas of coral and just hover over them watching the fascinating lives of aquatic life. There is an enormous moray eel that inhabits a known hole at one of the coral garden stops and he is well worth stopping to see. The final stop is outside the calm waters of the reef surrounding Bora Bora - swimming with the sharks. The area has a large population of reef sharks and if you are lucky, a few larger lemon sharks. There is something so fascinating about being in the water with sharks - no matter what size and how many times you tell yourself these are not dangerous! Sharks are one of the most misunderstood animals on the planet and stepping off the boat and going into their world is a humbling experience. I absolutely loved snorkelling around just watching how effortlessly they power through the water and looking into their beady eyes as they stare straight back. 

Eating:
For the most part, eating is at the resort as it isn't possible to go anywhere else without taking the shuttle. Four Seasons Resort has numerous restaurants which we found very good. There is a Japanese theme restaurant, The Sunset Bar, on the water that was the best value for money and we felt the best quality also! It is a great place for a few casual drinks at sunset and then some nice sushi. Fare Hoa is a grill restaurant and we had a fantastic seafood platter. There is a fine dining restaurant, which to be honest we didn't try, as we decided to do the private beach dinner instead.

The casual dining restaurant, Tere Nui, does breakfast and lunch which are fantastic. The range of the breakfast buffet is the perfect start to the day. It is a mixture between what you would expect from Tahitian cuisine (fresh fruit, sweet breads) and french cuisine. There is a smaller restaurant that is for adults only for breakfast - we tried this once and to be honest found the atmosphere was lacking, the range not as good and they brought most of the food from the main restaurant anyway. Definitely try as much lots of the fresh island fruit, its incredible.

The in room dining menu is actually really good and pretty reasonable. As unexciting as it sounds, we often do a night or 2 of really laid back in room dining if we are staying somewhere for a few days. Sometimes its nice just to stay in, lounge around and have a really relaxed dinner! I couldn't really fault their in room dining menu or service. When you can literally sit on your own private deck and eat a meal as the sun goes down, you almost have to!

In Vaitape itself, there are several casual restaurants. We ate at Aloe Cafe after being told that the "popular" Bloody Mary's was quite touristy and only popular because it was on the harbour. Aloe cafe was simple and super casual but the food was nice. Really cheap meal too! In addition to Bloody Mary's, there are several other places on the wharf.

The store in Vaitape does sell a range of food. If you are staying in the resorts, there aren't facilities for cooking, so you are really only looking at snacks or necessities. There is a bottle shop in the store, so if you are wanting to buy alcohol, this would be an alternative to buying duty free on the way.

Number 1 "Must Do":
There is an option to book a private beach dinner through the resort - this was without doubt a memory from our honeymoon we will never forget!

We were picked up from the dock before sunset by Herre, a Tahitian native with a smile and personality as big as the Pacific Ocean. He had built the wooden outrigger himself and made it into a luxury vessel complete with couches and sunbed. As we travelled to our private beach, our host provided drinks, nibbles and a local serenade complete with ukulele.

The beach location was our own little piece of paradise for the evening and he had set up a table literally on the waters edge. We were provided with truly traditional cuisine - recipes he had learned and developed from family. All the ingredients were fresh local produce, from the tuna caught by boats no more than a mile from where we sat to the vanilla in our fruit salad from the nearby island of Raiatea. It was actually so incredible to be treated to great local food, personally prepared by someone so passionate about showcasing his culture to people.

Herre played his ukulele while we ate and after the beautiful sunset, he performed a traditional fire-dance routine - a local custom and competitive pass-time. As we sat and enjoyed the evening, he talked us through the constellations of stars that you only get to see when you travel outside populated areas. He explained how his ancestors had used the stars to navigate their way across the vast Pacific as far as Hawaii.

As he drove us back across the water to the resort, we both fell asleep on the sunbed at the bow of the outrigger - that content sleep you have on a full belly after an amazing evening!

Number 1 "Must See":
Nearly everywhere you look around Bora Bora is stunning, above and below water level, but something we both found fascinating was the changing "faces" of Mount Otemanu. We would literally get out of bed excitedly each morning to see what our view from the bungalow deck looked like. From clear metallic blue skies, clouds clinging to the peak, a spectacular double rainbow, through to one morning when heavy rain made it almost impossible to see the mountain at all. Even throughout the day, the view of the iconic mountain would change from hour to hour. It was hard to walk to and from the bungalow and not want to photograph that view.

Top Travel Tip:

If you are going to Bora Bora for your honeymoon, it is well worth getting some great photos to "capture the moment". It is without doubt one of the most visually stunning places to visit and the resort put us in touch with a local professional photographer who knew the area well and how to get some great pictures. Like our wedding, these photos will help the memories of our amazing honeymoon last forever. Our photographer was Damien Gobron (Instagram @boraboraphotographer) and he captured some stunning couple shots for us . In the era of "selfies" and smart-phone cameras, there are times when it is well worth getting some truly professional photos. 

5 Word Travel: 

Luxury. Honeymoon. Water. Perfect. Blue