Mt Fuji, Japan - Climbing Fujisan

 
 
 

 

Contributor  : Andy
Nationality   : Australian
Social Links  : Instagram: @andrewmarty_
Age Group    : 30-40 years
Gender          : Male
Travel Style   : Casual, adventure
Destination   : Mt Fuji, Japan. August 2016

Inspiration:

My wife and I booked a trip to Japan and to be completely truthful, climbing Mt Fuji was an afterthought - our main inspiration to visit Japan was for the food! 

It seemed when we looked into things to do in Japan, there were defined seasons; cherry blossom season, sumo wrestling season, ski season and a season for climbing Mt Fuji. As our trip was in the middle of summer, it was peak time for climbing Mt Fuji! 

Sunrise at the summit of Mount Fuji

Sunrise at the summit of Mount Fuji

Getting There: 

We flew into Tokyo from Dubai on Emirates airlines. You can fly direct into Narita or Haneda airport. If you are looking for convenience, Haneda is much closer to Tokyo city and will save on the commute.

To reach Mt Fuji, it really depends on whether you are going to be part of an organised tour or do it yourself. Unless you are a local, know someone else going or you're a really experienced climber, I would strongly recommend being part of a tour group!

If you are going to arrange the climb yourself, you can get the train and then a bus to the 5th station where you start the climb for the more popular trails.

We booked through the tour company JAPANiCAN. The process of booking through to starting the tour was really well organised, with lots of information provided and your tour leader contacts you directly closer to the time.

From Tokyo, we were asked to meet early in the morning at a hotel to join our group. From there a bus takes everyone to the 5th station, with a short stop on the way to buy any last minute food etc.

Local Knowledge:

Mount Fuji stands at 3776m, making it the highest summit in Japan. The now inactive volcano forms an almost perfectly symmetrical cone shape and its outline has become one of the most recognised mountains in the world. Mount Fuji, and the opportunity to climb it, has become hugely symbolic in Japanese culture.

In the peak of the season, 5-7000 people will climb Mount Fuji everyday! Something that is surprising is the sheer numbers of people going up and down the mountain day and night.

Climbing Mount Fuji:

Most people will begin their climb from the "5th Station" - a meeting point around 2400m, where tour buses will continue to drop large numbers of tourists all day long. The station has food, toilet facilities, souvenirs and the worlds highest post office to send post cards. It is suggested that climbers take a few hours at the 5th Station to become accustomed to the altitude before commencing the climb - our group spent around 2 hours having something to eat, resting and sending postcards. You can leave things like a change of clothes in a bag at the station for when you come back down.

You can buy many of the things you might need like water, snacks, climbing poles and equipment that you may have forgotten.

The 5th station is also really popular with tourists who simply want a piece of the Mount Fuji experience. If you don't have time or don't want to do the climb, you can visit the 5th Station for photos, souvenirs and to experience the atmosphere.

Huge crowds arrive at the Mount Fuji 5th Station ready to clim the mountain.

Huge crowds arrive at the Mount Fuji 5th Station ready to clim the mountain.

Ready to start the climb up Fujisan

Ready to start the climb up Fujisan

From 5th Station, several trails can be taken to reach the summit. Our group climbed Yoshida trail - it has a large number of huts along the way and is regarded as one of the "easier: routes.

We left the 5th station around noon and short rest stops are made at each station along the trail. We arrived at the 8th station by 4pm and here we had a meal and sleep to again acclimatise to the altitude. The beds (communal bunk style beds) are simple but effective for a couple of hours sleep and its best to try and get some rest. It was at this time that some climbers were showing signs of altitude sickness and needed to be treated and return to the 5th station.

We commenced climbing again around midnight in order to reach the summit for sunrise. The further you go, the busier it gets - to the point where it becomes quite slow going in single file. We climbed on a still mild night, but I imagine in wind and rain, it could become quite slippery and dangerous.

A trail of headlights makes their way up the mountain and a blanket of cloud over the city of Tokyo below.

A trail of headlights makes their way up the mountain and a blanket of cloud over the city of Tokyo below.

We reached the summit before dawn and its really crowded with people. The summit is actually a large crater of the volcano with a rim around the outside. The Yoshida trail reaches the summit on the Eastern side of the mountain. The true summit is on the Western side which is another 45 minute walk. On the Eastern side, you will see the shadow of the moon and the sunrises over the horizon/clouds. We chose to keep walking around the rim to the Western edge of the crater to see the incredible shadow of the mountain on the blanket of clouds formed as the sun rose. You also get a really beautiful sunrise over the crater. If you are feeling up to it, I would definitely suggest taking the extra effort to walk to the other side of the crater! The view is well worth the little bit extra hike.

The mountain casts a shadow over the blanket of cloud as the sun rises..........and the full moon sits just above the summit of the mountain (where we are)

The mountain casts a shadow over the blanket of cloud as the sun rises..........and the full moon sits just above the summit of the mountain (where we are)

You can spend time at the summit taking pictures, having a break, eating before its time to start the descent. They warn before the climb that the descent is the hardest part of the climb. Whilst its much quicker  (around 3 hours) it is hard on the legs and is incredibly slippery in stages. Take your time getting back down, we saw quite a few spectacular tumbles and people can really hurt themselves getting back down.

After meeting back at the 5th station, our tour group organised a visit to a traditional Japanese hot spring. They are more like indoor pools than "hot springs" and we chose rather just to take a good rest in a comfortable chair. When you get back to your hotel that night, you will carve a big dinner of sushi......I promise!

Back at the 5th Station.......exhausted

Back at the 5th Station.......exhausted

Eating:

You can buy lots of things from the huts on the mountain, including water, so if you would prefer to carry less weight and you're happy to pay the extra cost, it may be easier than starting with litres of water (a 500ml bottle will cost 500Y compared to 100Y in Tokyo). To avoid altitude sickness, you need to ensure you are keeping fully hydrated, so always have a bottle or 2 of water in your pack! As a rough guide, we drank around 3Lt of water each, so I would suggest budgeting to buy a few bottles on the mountain!

We brought some snacks with us - light things like nuts, jerky, chocolate bars that we ate along the way. i would suggest bringing these types of things if you are like me and get really hungry!

At the overnight rest stop, they provide a meal (rice, hambuege/tofuburger, noodles and miso soup) which is pretty filling.

5 Word Travel:

Adventure. Iconic. Summit. Sunrise. Fujisan

TravelTip:

The iconic Mount Fuji experience is to be at the summit for the sunrise - this requires an overnight hike and departing the 5th station around noon.

It very much comes down to luck with the weather in terms of what you will see when you reach the summit or even if you will able to climb at all, with some climbs having to be suspended.

We were especially fortunate that our climb coincided with a full moon. The result of a full moon and sunset is that you get the shadow of the mountain from both the moon and the sun at different times from opposite sides of the summit.

Excess Baggage:

Toilets are not free on Mount Fuji! Make sure you bring change as it is 100Y per use. Additionally there is a recommended maintenance payment of 1000Y, which goes to the upkeep of the facilities. My only issue was you then had to pay to use toilets and there were no bins on the mountain.

Altitude sickness is a potentially dangerous situation when climbing above 2000m. It is a result of the thinner air having less oxygen to supply the muscles and brain. There are a number of things you can do to reduce your chances of this being a problem:
- have a basis level of fitness before the climb.
- be well rested.
- keep really well hydrated.
- climb at a comfortable pace and take regular short breaks.
- make sure you take time to acclimatise at periodic rest points.
- be aware of the early signs of altitude sickness.

We did see several people suffering with degrees of altitude sickness and it didn't look at all a good situation. The tour leaders are experienced in recognising and treating situations of altitude sickness and this is another reason that inexperienced climbers should always go as part of an organised group.

The temperatures in Tokyo in Summer are quite hot, however if you are planning to climb Mount Fuji, you will need some warm clothes! We went layers - skins, t-shirts, light jackets and it was perfect. If you arrive in Japan a little light on for warm clothes, visit North Face or Uniqlo and you will get everything you need. Decent hiking shoes are definitely advisable as it gets pretty slippery. You will need a headlight for the night and sunglasses/sunscreen for the day as you are up above the clouds.

Declaration: 

We did not receive any discount from JAPANiCAN to write this review.


Sapa, Vietnam - The Rice Terraces of Sapa

 

Contributor: Iwi
Nationality: German
Instagram: @dream__catch3r
Age Range: 19-30
Gender: Female
Travel Style: Leisure
Destination: Sapa, Vietnam
Date: April 2017, 4 days

Inspiration:

The reason why we wanted to go to Sapa is to see those beautiful rice terraces. We didn’t check the weather before we departed from Hanoi and we arrived to a wet, cold and foggy Sapa. We weren’t prepared for that at all and had to buy some warmer clothes first. 

Local Knowledge:

It is located very close to the border to China. The town is 1500m high up the mountains. It was a French hill garrison back in 1922. It overlooks a steep valley, with mountains towering at the sides. Most of the locals live of tourism. 

Where To Stay:

We stayed at “Go Sapa Hostel” which was about 10min by foot away from the center. We stayed in a private room for 3 nights. Pricewise, there were only a few Euros difference in either taking a private room or a shared room. The room was very clean and very big. They also had a big common room where you were able to make your own food. But they served food as well. 
Because the hostel was located further up a hill, it offered a beautiful view of the valley below us.

What To Do:

The first thing we did in Sapa was exploring the city. We also went on the Cat Cat Village trek. You have to pay a small entrance fee to do the hike. It can get quite touristy as well. 
Sapa market is also very recommendable to have a look at. They sell all kinds of fresh products there. As well as the crafts and fabrics shops.

Where To Eat:

We tried some delicious local food and stayed away from the western restaurants because well, its nothing new for us and they are mostly super expensive in comparison.

Must Do:

We are city walkers, so I would say, take time for a whole day to just walk around the city and discover it. Don’t just use the main roads, use the back alley’s as well. And of course, go hiking!
I also heard from fellow travelers that they recommend home stay at the local’s villages and towns but we didn’t have enough time to do it. 

Must See:

The terraced rice fields when they are at their full boom. 

Number 1 Travel Tip:

Check the weather app before you decide to go to Sapa. We arrived unexpectedly to a very foggy and rainy weather which prohibited us to do much. At time you couldn’t even see the end of the street. 

5 Word Travel:

Beautiful, Moody, Landscape, Natives, Worth it

Excess baggage:

A lot of locals will be selling their things to you. You should always answer them with a definite “yes” or “no”. Else they will follow you until you buy it. On the first day, we told a group of women that we will think about if we want to buy something they offered. After an hour that group of women found us and started to complain that we promised them to buy their stuff. It felt very uncomfortable especially when they started to speak their language and giving us mean looks. 
Most of the locals, travel by foot to Sapa in hopes to sell their homemade products to tourists. With the money they receive they support their families back in their villages.


Venice, Italy - The Floating City

 

Contributor: Dinu
Nationality: Romanian
Instagram: @ioanasimonadinu
Age Group: 19-30
Gender: Female
Travel Style: Leisure
Destination: Venice, Italy
Date: late April 2017

Inspiration:

Finding motivation to travel to Venice is not a hard thing. It is a well-known unique destination, very promoted on social media and placed on the top 10 destinations in many blogs and reviews. That means I came across with a lot of Venice photos on Instagram and other social networks, that I have always admired. Also, some years ago I got to see Venice for half a day and I knew there was so much more to discover. That's how I included Venice in a beautiful trip in the north of Italy this spring. 

Getting There:

Vicenza was the start point, as we have also visited other cities in Veneto. From Vicenza, Venice is very easy reachable by train, in about 45 minutes.

Local Knowledge:

The unique fact about Venice is its location in the Venetian Lagoon with the amazing system of canals, linked by bridges and its water transportation. It is called "The Floating City" and is situated at only 3 m above sea. That's why, in its rainy periods, Venice is often flooded and Venitian people call it "aqua alta". It is said that Venice could dissapear in nearly 20 years, so you better hurry up if you want to visit it!

Where To Stay:

It is not a secret that Venice is an expensive destination. So, if you want to save on the budget avoid central locations. That is why we have chosen to stay in Venice Lido, at Hotel Atlanta Augustus, a very nice hotel, easy to access from the ferry station in Lido. The ferry station is next to San Marco Square and it takes only about 10-15 minutes (working non-stop) to Lido. We enjoyed very much staying at this hotel, nice and comfortable room, with beautiful balcony and rich breakfast. You can find many offers on Booking.com.

What To Do:

There are a lot of things to do and see in Venice. Some of them are so popular, filled with many tourists, but, in my opinion, the best way to feel the vibe of Venice is getting lost on the little stretts, bridges and taking a gondola ride, or more convenient the ferry no 1 on the Grand Canal.

1. Saint Mark's Square- wander across the square and take pictures with the beautiful Saint Mark's Basilica; 
2. Saint Mark's Basilica- you must enter the basilica, the interior is amazing and for a panoramic view you can go up to the terrace (nice views of the St. Mark's Square and Saint Mark's Clocktower). Tip 1: don't queue if you haven't let your bag/backpack at the specific place that is written at the entrance of the basilica. The place for bags is easy to find and you can let there your baggage for 2 hours and it's free. Tip 2: don't rush to visit it in the morning, because the queues are bigger (also available for Saint Mark's Campanile)
3. Saint Mark's Campanile - seeing Venice from above is impressive and the campanile offers views to all the 4 directions (north, south, east, west) at the price of 8 euro ticket per person; I think the best time of the day to go is afternoon (good light and smaller queue).
4. Doge's Palace - unfortunately we only had the chance to see it from the outside, but the inside must be amazing too, as you also get to cross the Bridge of Sighs.
5. The Bridge of Sighs - beautiful architecture and magic athmosphere watching the goldolas pass under it at any minute.
Tip: Everybody tries to take shots with this bridge sitting on Ponte della Paglia, you will see how crowded Ponte della Paglia can get, so you need to know that there is a spectacular place from where you can take even more beautiful pics with the Bridge of Sighs behind you. You just need to get down from Ponte della Paglia on its right side (as you are looking towards the Bridge of Sighs), go left and approach the canal under Ponte della Paglia (bassicaly you need to go "under" Ponte della Paglia).
6. Dorsoduro and Cannaregio- just put the map away and get lost
7. Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute - amazing location with great history. It is said that it was constructed during the plague epidemy in order to ask the divinity for help; there are some statues in the basilica telling this story.
8. Ponte dell'Accademia- not to miss, offers great views to the Grand Canal
9. Rialto Bridge- beautiful architecture and views over the Grand Canal
10. Fondaco dei Tedeschi- not so touristy, the roof offers spectacular views over the Grand Canal and its surroundings
11. Church of Madonna dell'Orto
12. Small and cute bridges : Ponte delle Tete, Ponte Chiodo, Ponte delle Guglie, Ponte dei Tre Archi
13. Burano- the last, but not the least; the candy of the Venice Islands; colourful houses, seagulls, small canals and boats make you feel like being in a fairy tale; I higly recommed it! Stay here at least half a day.

Eating:

There are many places to eat in Venice... Usually the central spots offer dishes at very high prices, but you can grab a sandwich or something on the go for a reasonable price even in the center, if you want to save time visiting. In Burano, we ate good at Su&Zo.

Favorite "Must Do"

I think is the ferry ride on the Grand Canal, because seeing Venice from water gives you an unique feeling, you can admire all its palaces alligned over the canal, you can hear the gondoliers sing Italian songs, you can smell the salty water and go under the beautiful bridges. We took it on our way back to the train station and it was a special moment, a magic conclusion of our trip to Venice.

Favorite "Must See"

It's hard to think of a favourite must see, but I will peak the Bridge of Sighs, from the spot I mentioned about.

Number 1 Travel Tip:

If you are willing to travel by ferry in Venice, buy Venezia Unica travel card. It also covers the routes to Burano and Murano islands and is very convenient.

5 Word Travel:

magic - bridges - canals - gondolas - architecture


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


Kuwait City, Kuwait - A 2 Day Stop

 

Contributor   : Andrew
Nationality    : Australian
Instagram      @andrewmarty_
Age Group     : 30-40 yo
Gender           : Male
Trave Style     : Leisure
Destination     : Kuwait City, Kuwait
Date                : February 2017

Inspiration:
We all love to travel for leisure, but sometimes our jobs "require" us to visit destinations. Sometimes it can be a challenge and other times, there is a chance to experience the destination! This was the 3rd time I had visited Kuwait City for work. It is a city in the Middle East that is often visited for work due to its developing infrastructure and industry. Fortunately this time I had a couple of days where I could see some of the city.

Getting There:
Kuwait International Airport receives flights from a number of destinations, especially around the Middle East, but also many European cities, Asia and from New York JFK. Alternatively, it is only a relatively short connecting flight from Dubai or Doha on carriers such as Emirates and Qatar Airways.

Be aware that there are actually 2 terminals that are quite a way apart from each other - when returning to the airport they are actually about a 15 minute drive if you go to the wrong one! The main terminal receives the majority of the flights, whilst the smaller Sheikh Saad Terminal receives flights from carriers including Fly Dubai. The immigration process can be faster at the smaller terminal, however the facilities for phones, exchange, food and transport are more limited.

The visa on arrival process (if required) can be a little challenging if you don't know the tricks. First, take a number from the machine! Next, you need to buy stamps from a machine that does not give change and doesn't take credit cards! It also doesn't accept old currency! The stamps cost 3KD, so it is best to change some money before you land in Kuwait! Otherwise you will need to use an ATM and then try to buy something to get some change. There is a photocopy machine (sometimes attended) where you need to photocopy ur passport. Then fill out the immigration form and wait for your number to be called - from there the process is simple. I can't stress enough the frustration if you don't have those 3KD to buy the stamps, so please save yourself the headache and change some money ahead of time.

If you are hiring a car at the airport, be careful! Some of the companies will rent vehicles that are downright unsafe. The roads in Kuwait are not very good, so hiring a decent safe car is a real priority. I used a company called "Bentley" because it was the only company at the smaller terminal that was open. I cannot advise against hiring a car from this company strongly enough. The cars are unsafe and the service is deplorable. I would rather walk.

There are taxis, but again be cautious that the vehicle is safe for travel. Taxis aren't expensive so choose the better quality companies and only use genuine operators. At the airports there will be people who will offer to drive you to where you want to go but they are not genuine operators. Taxis are probably the easiest way to get around if you don't hire a car. There are not meters in the taxis, rather prices are either printed inside or agreed upon with the driver. As a general rule, short journeys start at 1KD and work up. The drivers will often try to bata for higher rates, but you will come to know quickly what the going rate is and avoid being "taken for a ride". You can also arrange "hotel taxis" which a re generally cleaner and much nicer, but cost a bit more. Relative to western cities, these taxis are still not too expensive!

Local Knowledge:
Kuwait is a relatively conservative city when it comes to religious and cultural practices. Bringing alcohol into Kuwait is forbidden and carries significant penalties. If you are coming for business, don't expect any late nights over bottles of red wine! As in all cultures, respect for local customs should be shown and in Kuwait that is largely focussed around the religious aspects. Like most cities though, its more about common sense and it is much less intimidating than people tend to make out. In Kuwait, women visitors don't need to cover their head, although dressing modestly in public places would be encouraged (covered shoulders and dresses past the knee).

The roads in Kuwait are not great in some areas and the local drivers can be frightening - zooming up the emergency lanes, zipping between cars at speed and not using indicator signals. Exercise caution if you are driving around Kuwait. It is very possible to navigate your way around and Googlemaps works quite well, but be prepared to stay patient and keep your wits about you!

Where to Stay:
There are a number of well known Western chain hotels in Kuwait city. I had previously stayed at the JW Marriott and must admit I found it to be quite dated.

I prefer to stay at the Jumeirah Messilah. It is a little way out of the centre of Kuwait city, which to be honest I don't mind. It has it own beach access and is not far from the airport. The rooms are very nice and so are the facilities. There is a Talise spa, well equipped fitness centre, kids club, pools and several dining options. The buffet breakfast is worth the extra money if you like a hearty start to the day!

If you are staying as a group or family, the villas are an excellent option and they have excellent kitchen facilities and living spaces.

Probably the only detraction is that it is a bit out of town, so walking to any tourist sites isn't an option - you are looking at a 2 to 4KD cab fare into most places.

What To See & Do:
Visit the Mubaraqiya Market at night, especially on a weekend when the crowd will actually provide more atmosphere. It is vastly different from the commercial malls and although not as traditional as middle eastern soul's once were, you will still get the traditional experience. You will find traditional butchers, spice stalls, date sellers, fabrics and tailors, fresh fruit and lots of bright lights and busy people. It's a very pleasant way to spend an evening strolling through the lanes. There are a couple of small traditional "coffee stalls", where local men will be sat around drinking coffee and talking loudly about their day. 

The Central Fish market is definitely a place worth visiting. Not to be confused with the Fish Market Restaurant, this seafood wholesalers is located at the marina near Souq Sharq. It is a large space filled with tables of fresh seafood sold to the public and restaurants. Buyers will bata with the fish mongers and the selection on offer is massive. It is open from 8am through to 9pm. If you go earlier you will see the fish being off-loaded from the many fishing boats that pull into the port. There is also a large population of very well fed cats!

On either side of the fish market is a marina. One side has mainly traditional fishing vessels and the other has a variety of private speed boats.

Liberation Tower is a large telecommunications tower that is a prominent landmark in the Kuwait City skyline. it is not possible to access the tower.

The Grand Mosque is a wonderful piece of architecture and a building visitors to Kuwait City should certainly visit. Outside is really impressive, however walking through the inside is the most breathtaking. You can enter the mosque outside of prayer times and there are local Kuwaitis who will happily take you for guided tours. Modest dress should be worn and women can borrow scarves when they enter to cover their hair. Inside is beautifully decorated with intricate details and lighting. 

Where To Eat:
A nice place to start any from hotel dining options is Arabella Mall. Situated on the water, there are a large number of restaurants in a pleasant atmosphere. There are some well known chain outlets like Cheesecake Factory, Texas Roadhouse and Paul cafe. I had sushi at Katsuya - it was decent without being outstanding, but the view was really nice! Probably a bit expensive for what it was.

Another popular place is The Avenues - the largest of the malls in Kuwait City. In addition to a wide range of shops, there is a huge selection of places to eat, although most are pretty "fast-foodie". The gelato at Moreli' is well worth trying!

I also ate at The Fish Market, which is very close to Kuwait Towers. I wouldnt say the quality is brilliant but its not bad. I was hoping for more traditional middle eastern style seafood, but most of the menu is asian inspired. You can also select seafood from the display and have it cooked to your preference.

The other place I ate was at the Mubarqiya Market - here you will find more of the traditional middle eastern cuisine - mixed grills, hummus, tabouleh, etc in the mostly Lebanese run restaurants that are mostly clustered together. Have a look around but they are mostly quite similar. I always think you can't go wrong with a fattoush (salad), tabouleh, hummus, mixed grill and aryes (minced meat between flat bread). This style of food is really quite cheap and if the market is busy, the atmosphere is really nice with a buzz from the crowd of people.

Must Do:
In almost all destinations, there is the temptation to tick off as many of the known tourist sites as possible. I also like to try and find a couple of things that are a bit more traditional and unique to the local area I'm visiting. a nice thing to do in many middle eastern countries is to take a drive away from the cities and check out some of the smaller, more bedouin towns. The landscape, although it may initially appear arid, can be surprisingly photogenic and spectacular.

I went for a short drive out of Kuwait City passed Jahra to a place called Al Matla. On a nice day or especially at night you will get a great view looking back over the city skyline from the elevated cliffs. Be careful driving off the road as the erosion has created some sharp drop offs. I saw a couple of people doing some rock-climbing. If you drive up the road and use the GoogleMaps coordinates (29.425130, 47.690547), you will turn right off road and drive past a small sheep farm and come to a nice outlook point. I came across 2 local Kuwaiti men who had set up a small fire and were starting to boil a kettle to make tea and coffee. It is a traditional practice in most middle eastern countries to invite strangers to share tea and coffee. If you get an opportunity in the desert like this, it is extremely pleasant to sit and share conversation - many locals speak very reasonable english and my arabic was good enough to at least provide entertainment.

The men told me this is quite a common spot for local people to come and sit. Unfortunately it has also led to a great deal of rubbish being left which does detract a bit. But if you have time and a car, this is well worth the drive out of the city.

Must See:
Kuwait Towers are probably the most iconic landmark in Kuwait City. I think the most impressive view from the ground is at night when they are dazzling with the colours of the Kuwaiti national flag. If you are going to pay to go up to the viewing neck however, i would suggest doing this on a clear day or around sunset - at night, they have lights on in the inside of the viewing deck, which reflect on the windows making it difficult to see and impossible to get good photos! To go up to the viewing platform (at 123m high) costs 3KD/ There is also a small photo exhibition which illustrates the damage done during the Iraq invasion of Kuwait which is well worth seeing. There is also a restaurant at 82m, which was closed when I was there.

Number 1 Travel Tip:
Visiting a traditional islamic country such as Kuwait should never be seen as intimidating, rather it is a fantastic opportunity to experience a different culture. You won't be eating pork or drinking alcohol, but there is a richness to the local customs and the people. Try to experience some culture and interact with local people - you will likely be surprised how welcoming and proud they are to talk about their home.

5 Word Travel:
Middle eastern culture. Small city

Excess Baggage:
Even importing alcohol into Kuwait is forbidden, so if you are having a lay-over this will be an issue if you have any in your luggage. The penalties can be severe, so it is simply not worth the risk!


Auckland, New Zealand - 2 day stop over

 

Contributor  : Andrew
Nationality   : Australian
Instagram     @andrewmarty_
Age Group    : 30-40
Gender          : Male
Trave Style    : Leisure
Destination   : Auckland, New Zealand. 
Date               : July 2016. 2 days

 

Inspiration:

We flew into Auckland en route to Bora Bora for our honeymoon, however it is also the most common entry point for international travellers visiting New Zealand, either to explore the North Island by car or even head south to the world class skiing and adventure "hot spots". Whilst Auckland can be a destination of its own, we found that a stop over of a couple of days is definitely worth-while if you are travelling through.

Getting There:

Auckland International Airport receives flights from many destinations including USA (LA, Houston, Honolulu), Japan, China, Dubai, Thailand, Australia and several Pacific Island nations. The airport is a little way out of central Auckland and there isn't really a direct public transport route to the city. There is a skybox service that costs $18 and takes you via 2 different routes to the CBD. The road between the airport and city can get quite congested with traffic and there isn't a direct motorway. Taxis are available but quite expensive. It would certainly be wise to keep this in mind when you re booking your accomodation and airport transfers. If your hotel offers a free airport shuttle, it is a significant advantage in Auckland. We did find a taxi company that was much more reasonably priced than the others - Discount Taxis Ltd (phone: 5291000), they were polite, prompt and clean.

Where to Stay:

We actually stayed over in Auckland on the way to and from Bora Bora, and chose quite different options for each.

On the way there we decided to go 5 star and stayed at Hotel Sofitel Viaduct. This is a fantastic location in terms of being close to a lot of the popular tourist features and within walking distance of the marina and shopping districts. When booking, request a water facing room, as these have much better views than the ones facing the bus terminal. The room service menu and quality was fantastic. The fitness centre was fantastic with a gym, heated pool and sauna. One thing we did find a little strange was that it had a very French theme, with staff offering welcomes in French - its not something i have noticed the other Sofitel properties despite the French ownership.

On our way back, we had a late overnight stop and decided to go with a low-cost nearby option. We stayed at (>>>>>>>) and found it to be really comfortable. It had free airport shuttles and the rooms were really comfortable. It is quite a way out of the city, with its advantage being the convenience to the airport. The rooms are relatively small, but very suitable if you are wanting to stay close to the airport for a night.

What To Do:

Auckland is not a great walking city, particularly in July when it can be pretty chilly close to the water. But in general, it doesn't have an area that has a host of tourist attractions, sites and places to eat all in close proximity.

The Waterfront and Viaduct area, known as the Wynyard Quarter, is a great place to spend a morning or an afternoon. The marina is the largest in the Southern Hemisphere and when you see huge fleet of yachts, you can quickly appreciate where Auckland gets the name "City of Sails". The Maritime Museum is really interesting and worth visiting - auckland has a rich and proud maritime history, from the Maori fishing boats, through to their achievements in America's Cup yacht racing. I couldn't understand why entry was free only for local residents, as I always think places should be encouraging tourists to visit their attractions. That said, I was happy to have paid the $25 entry fee for the hour or so walk around. There Wynyard Quarter also has some nice children play areas, sculptures and a fish market. The fish market was closed when we went (Saturday morning), so maybe check the opening times if you are keen to go to this.

Queens Street is the main shopping area and whilst it doesn't compare to the shopping districts of some of the bigger cities in the world, its still a nice walk up from the water near the viaduct to the top near the (>>>>>>). Unfortunately there aren't really a lot of nice cafes or restaurants along Queen St, which is a shame. The shops are mostly mid-range casual stores, but if you have a few hours to spare its not an unpleasant walk. 

A really nice area to visit in Aukland is Ponsonby. The main street has a few boutique shops and there are several nice restaurants (Mekong Baby) and cafes (Dizengoff). I would suggest coming here for breakfast and a morning walk along the strip of boutique shop.

The Sky Tower is a popular tourist attraction in Auckland, offering 360 degree views of the city and surrounding area. There are several price options, but we just went for the observation deck, which was $29. You can choose to walk around on an outside platform or even base jump from the tower. The views give a really good perspective and you can see quite a distance on a clear day. From the observation deck you can watch people jumping from the floors above. Compared to some other city observation decks around the world, Auckland as a city is quite small and without a skyline that compares to larger cities, so don't be too devastated if you don't get here.

Where To Eat:

There are a large number of restaurants around the Wynyard Quarter. We were actually really surprised that several of the restaurants were closed around the Viaduct on a Saturday evening and there was very little atmosphere. Admittedly it was in july and quite cold, but it was strangely quiet. We went to one of the restaurants, Danny Doolans, and left not long after - the service was really poor to the point we just got frustrated and left before even ordering. The North Wharf has the best variety of restaurants and we ate at Pescado Tapas Bar and it was really good. Would definitely give this a visit - very casual spanish style with good range of drinks! There were a couple of other places close by along the North Wharf that also looked quite good - Live Fish and Urban Turban might be worth a try!

If you visit Ponsonby, definitely think about going for breakfast at Dizengoff. I have an unashamed bias towards Melbourne when it comes to cafe breakfasts and this place is on par! The menu is very trendy and has a wide range. Importantly the coffee is really good, which to be honest, wasn't easy to find in Auckland. I had the eggs benedict, salmon and avo and it was good, but the best was the side of mushrooms - whatever you rode get the side of mushrooms in the gravy, its incredible! I know a few places are going with the "no wifi" and suggesting it encourages people to eat and socialise, but for travellers, its a big negative! They also didn't have brown sugar or water on the tables which I found odd. Overall, this was a really great start to the day, very enjoyable.

We also had breakfast at 21 Viaduct Cafe on the water, just near the Sofitel. The food was ok and the coffee passable. To be honest, unless you were in a rush, I would make the effort to get out to Ponsonby and go to Dizengoff!

Number 1 Travel Tip:

If you are staying near the Viaduct/Wynyard area, make a point of visiting the Information Centre! We met a lady called Michelle and the advice she gave was all absolutely spot on. It will definitely help you make the most of your time and decide what best suits your interests! She knew a lot about the local architecture, points of interests and p;aces to eat.

5 Word Travel:

Well worth a quick stopover


Santorini, Greece - A Dream Come True

 

Contributor : Marijke
Nationality  : New Zealand
Instagram   @marijkevandillen
Age Group  : 19-30
Gender        : Female
Trave Style  : Leisure
Destination  : Oia Santorini, Greece
Date             : June 2016. 4 days

 

Inspiration:

I had seen the beauty of Santorini portrayed in so many movies and images that I decided I had to see it for myself.

Getting there:

We flew there from Athens, a super short flight and easy to organize.

Where to Stay: 

We stayed in the budget friendly villas Marcos Rooms. Our room was traditional, with round ceilings and the beautiful white and blue colour scheme. Being an old establishment however meant that we had a hilariously small bathroom. Our host wouldn't let us leave for the day without eating her orange cake though, which was a treat.

What to do:

Our time in Oia was mostly spent exploring the village. There is an abundance of shops to look through, and we found a gorgeous pool side bar to spend the day at. And it goes without saying that the sunsets are perhaps the most beautiful moment you can have on the island. Just find a position early as it gets very crowded in the best photography spots.

Eating:

We had so many incredible meals in Oia, but the stand out was our dinner at Floga. The staff were attentive, the seafood delicious and we were given complimentary wine, purely because the waiter wanted to know if we liked the new addition. We desperately wanted to go back but decided that we needed to spread our visits around the village.

Favorite must do:

My highlight in Oia was our trip down the cliff to Amoudi Bay. You pass through the tiny, charming port and swim over to the islet for an afternoon of cliff jumping. On the way back up we got a ride with the local mules, which was hilarious and a great story to add to our collection.

Favorite must see:

There's a lookout at the top of the village with an incredible view of the surrounding cliffs and ocean. When I walked up there, a local man was playing guitar and singing traditional Greek songs, which made the view even more heavenly.

Number 1 travel tip:

Be prepared for a lot of tourists in the peak season, it was busier than I expected. Also, the pathway stones can be slippery at times.

5 word travel:

Beauty - tranquility - friendliness - elegance - warmth


South Coast Sri Lanka - Beach Escape

 

Contributor : Felicity
Nationality  : British
Instagram   @felicity.stokes
Age Group  : 19-30 yo
Gender        : Female
Trave Style  : Leisure
Destination  : South Coast Sri Lanka (Welligama, Galle, Marissa) for 6 days.   September 2016

Inspiration:
We wanted a location close to Dubai, which offered plenty of activities for a big friendship group.  Our priorities were beach, learning to surf and a fun party scene. We were also inspired by Fly Dubai's options and friends who had been before. 

Getting There:
Fly Dubai

Local Knowledge:
The spice, cinnamon originated in Sri Lanka.  We visited a cinnamon farm and were shown how to make Cinnamon by a local family. 

You will see fisherman fishing on tall stilts, above the ocean. This is a stunning view, especailly against the sunset. You are likely to find them along the Ahangama Beach area close to Weligama.

Where to Stay:
We stayed at Elsewhere Surf Camp - this is recommend if you are wanting to have a hippy style holiday and learning to surf is your highest priority! The owners are your surf teachers and are a great bunch of welcoming people. They also supply you with healthy breakfasts and dinners which are yummy! 

On the more luxury side, we stayed a couple of nights at the stunning Kahanda Kanda Boutique Hotel. The hotel is situated on a hill of a tea plantation. The views are breathtaking and you are well-immersed in the nature of Sri Lanka. Most of the villas have their own private pools and have really fantastic interiors. Our bathrooms were located completely outside! I highly recommend this hotel, it's spell-bounding!  

What To See & Do:
Surfing mostly! In the evenings we would indulge in amazing fresh seafood dinners and plenty of cocktails, beach parties by campfire. 

The hidden gem I would have to say is the Kahanda Kanda Boutique Hotel, I had never felt so calm, relaxed and disconnected from the world for just a couple of nights. It was heaven. 

Galle has a fort... I don't recommend planning to see the fort for a full day but to drop by for just a few hours to have a mooch around the town. 

Where To Eat:
We ate mostly from restaurants on the beach front in Weligama. The seafood is displayed on tables right next to the ocean, as you walk along the beach you are enticed by the large range of lobster, prawns, mahi mahi, and so much more! The fish goes straight from the sea - to the restaurant - to your plate. There's a great night life scene, but also gorgeous candle-lit, mellow places to talk on beach bags and sip on delicious cocktails.

Must Do:
Surf! There are beaches that suit all surfing levels, and fantastic teachers that are so friendly and warm and will most definitely become your friends! 

Always travel by tuk tuks - its the way to go! 

Must See:
The fisherman on stilts - wow - so beautiful against a sunset.

Number 1 Travel Tip:
Don't bother bringing anything but your comfy hippy clothes - its the perfect place to really get back to basics. For a girl living in Dubai, it is rare you ever go makeup free, I rarely opened my makeup bag. It was bliss! Nature through and through.

5 Word Travel:
Carefree - Active - Fun - Hippy - Friendly 

Excess Baggage:
A rashie if you are surfing - and take your yoga pants as well as, bikini bottoms are a nightmare.


Africa - On an Enfield Motorbike

 

Contributor    : Luke
Nationality     : Australian
Instagram      @shotsfromthebar (www.shotsfromthebar.com)
Age Group     : 19-30 yo
Gender           : Male
Trave Style     : Leisure, Adventure
Destination    : Africa

 

Inspiration:
There was never a set destination in mind. I just booked a one way ticket to London, bought a motorbike when I got there, and then made the rest up as I went along...

I started in the UK, and then, running away from a European winter, I rode my bike down to Spain. When I ran out of Europe to ride the bike south to, I jumped across the Gibraltar Strait, and then, basically, moseyed on down to Cape Town, all down the West Coast of the entire continent. It's been one hell of a journey.

I just wanted to ride my bike. There was, however, a catalyst, an enabler, in the form of an Australian I met in a Barcelona hostel. He'd travelled all up the east coast of Africa and then into the middle east and then, finally, to Europe by hitchhiking. The stories this guy had...

Essentially, I adopted him, put him on the back of my motorbike, and we rode down to West Africa together. I wonder if I would have done Africa in quite the same way if he wasn't there to "show me the ropes..."

Getting There:
I could have only done it one of two ways: on my own two wheels, or hitchhiking. Doing with four wheels - four wheels that I own... - in Africa would be a nightmare. There are some roads that you just can't do on 4 wheels... If I was hitchhiking it would be fine, if the car breaks down or cant go any further you can always hitch on a motorbike! Of course, my preferred way is by motorbike, but you need to be prepared to put in an insane amount of time in the saddle...

Local Knowledge:
I had to learn French. It's either that or be very good at charades... Most of the countries down the west coast speak French (a hangover from the colonial days) and there are a sprinkling that speak English, and even Portuguese. As for what's unique about Africa. It's Africa. There's no place in the world like it.

Where to Stay:
My standards for accommodation gradually dropped the more I travelled through the continent... I would, in the vast majority of cases, stay in a cheap hotel wherever I ended up at the end of the day. And when I say cheap, I mean cheap. Somewhere in the range of two to ten dollars... There were a few cases where cheap hotels weren't an option. In which case I either stayed with locals, pitched a tent (you'd know I had a bad day if I was pitching a tent...) or, even, staying in a brothel (there were no other options in Monrovia, Liberia... link: here.

What To See & Do:
Just be there and do what the locals are doing. You can watch Senegalese wrestling in Dakar, or go hiking in the mountains of Guinea, or surf in Sierra Leone, or hike in Gabon, or drink wine in Cape Town. It's an enormous continent, with massively varying people and landscapes. Just being there is enough!

Where To Eat:
My biggest hurdle... Took me a while to get over it (and to trust it), but the way to go is to eat what the locals eat. That means sitting on a street corner with the frest of the locals, getting spooned something mysterious by a "big mamma". It's always delicious. And, yes, you're going to get crook often, but you'll get used to it. It's a great way to meet locals too. They love it when a foreigner eats the food that they're eating, and it's always a conversation starter. My advice would be to eat anywhere that's popular, never mind what it is that they're serving, if it's popular, then the turnover is high and it's likely that your getting something fresh. It's your best bet...

Must Do:
I loved Guinea and Gabon. The nature in these places is insane. The locals are very friendly (particularly in Gabon). Couldn't recommend these places highly enough. It's not a "shallow dive" into Africa, but you'll certainly get a genuine, African experience. I'd avoid Ghana, which, bizarrely, is rather touristy and feels a little cheap to me.

Must See:
The Fouta Djallon mountain ranges of Guinea. Incredibly diverse, we hiked for hours, for days. It was superb, you couldn't stop me grinning. More here.

Number 1 Travel Tip:
Don't take a MasterCard, it won't work. Visa card will. I had to learn this lesson the hard way...

5 Word Travel:
Hold on to your knickers....

Excess Baggage:
Don't be scared. And don't plan. Planning is futile. Just go, be open ended, and make up your own story as it comes.