It's been some time since I've written anything personal here and updated you on my latest wanderings. I've been super busy for the last 6 weeks, travelling New Zealand's South Island with Stray and I've just returned from a relaxing holiday in Bali.
There are a bunch of new blog posts coming your way very soon from what I've been up to, but for now, I wanted to share some of my favourite photos from my most recent trip.
Pin it! :)
As most of you probably know, I absolutely love Bali and ever since my first trip in 2015, I've consistently gone back every year (this latest trip was my fourth time).
Every time I go back it has grown more and more in tourism, but what I love most about Bali is that the people and their beautiful culture remain the same.
As mentioned, this trip was more of a holiday for my partner and I, to spend some time together in our favourite place, as he is going away for six months very soon for work.
As we've been so many times we have already done many of the main temples and waterfalls etc. some more than once, in case you may be wondering why we didn't do them this time.
We enjoyed some well-deserved relaxing and soaked up the warm sunshine, being mid-winter back at home.
For the first four nights, we stayed in Ubud and then spent one week in Seminyak, where we also did a day trip and hopped over to Nusa Penida, the island next door to explore.
I've been home from North America for six weeks already (where did the time go??) and I still have so much to write about and share from my latest adventure.
Since it was my first time experiencing the States and Canada and I did some pretty fun things in quite a few places, I thought I would share my top ten best experiences.
Here are my favourite and most memorable things I did, in order:
1. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child on Broadway
If you didn't know, I am a huuuge Harry Potter fan (mostly of the books) and I have been lusting to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Play since it first started in London.
When I heard it was coming to New York on Broadway and it just happened to be when I was going to be there too - I just knew I was destined to see it.
The tickets were released on a lottery type ballad system and luckily - it was meant to be. After much trial, I got through and paid a bomb and a half for them but it was worth every. single. penny.
It was SO incredible, both parts one and two will forever stand out as the greatest shows of my life (and I've seen a few major ones). If you are a fan and you have the chance to see it, definitely do.
2. Exploring New York City
Speaking of New York, this city has been at the top of my Bucket List for many years and it was a literal dream come true to be there.
Walking around Central Park, seeing Times Square by night, eating hotdogs and pizza, walking the Brooklyn Bridge, seeing the incredible views from the tallest building in the Northern Hemisphere - it was such a great experience and lived up to my very high expectations.
New York has such a great vibe to it, an energy like no other. I enjoyed every second of my time there. One week was by far not enough and I can't wait to go back and explore more of this iconic city.
3. Fun in Las Vegas
Vegas was another of those incredible places seen through a screen that I've always wanted to visit. I'm not a gambler at all but I do love the bright lights and city life.
Las Vegas was the epitome of cool. I was so impressed by the stylish and sleek hotels, the unique and lush decor, the fact that The Strip was actually clean and an enjoyable place to walk around.
I had such a great experience there enjoying a foodie tour, exploring the lavish casinos, doing a nearby e-bike tour of the Red Rock Canyon and seeing a fabulous Cirque du Soleil show 'O' at the Bellagio - which I highly recommend!
Another city that lived up to my expectations, I can't wait to return to Las Vegas for more fun some day.
4. Grand Canyon day trip
This day trip was taken from Las Vegas but deserved a whole point to itself - seeing the Grand Canyon with my own eyes was another huge Bucket List tick.
I did a 12-hour West Rim tour with Grand Canyon Destinations which I highly recommend. It included a stop at Hoover Dam, a nice lunch and snacks, hotel pickup and dropoff and over 4 hours at the Grand Canyon to fully enjoy it.
The pictures just don't do it justice, seeing it in real life is simply amazing. I would love to save up and do a helicopter tour over it next time - that would be so epic!
5. Snow and time with friends in Ottawa
I had such a blast in Canada - spending time with old friends and experiencing the last of the winter snow.
They so kindly took time off work to show me around their capital city. We tried Beaver Tails, walked around Parliament Hill, the town centre, had Poutine (omg YUM) and visited the Museum of Nature.
I went crazy over all of the moose souvenirs and maple syrup related things. I also really enjoyed spending time at their home, where their street still looked like a beautiful snowy Christmas card.
We took some very nice walks in the woods nearby trying to spot some wildlife. We did see a very large owl and some coyote droppings.
6. Los Angeles Full Day Tour
In Los Angeles, I had the opportunity to do a full day private tour with We Love LA around all of the main city highlights.
Even though it rained for 90% of the day and I missed out on seeing the Hollywood sign and Bowl overlook, it was still one of the best tours I've done.
We went to some really iconic spots including Venice Beach, Santa Monica Pier, Beverly Hills, The Grove, Hollywood Walk of Fame and so much more.
It was such a fantastic way to see all of these hot spots in one day and I highly recommend it for LA first-timers like myself.
One of my favourite moments was spotting Peter Jackson's star on the Walk of Fame! #ProudKiwi
7. St Patrick's Day in Chicago
Aside from eating aaall the pizza, the main reason I went to Chicago was to spend St. Patrick's Day there! Ever since I first learned they dye their river green, it was added to my travel list. (I have Irish heritage and I love celebrating March 17th).
It was a hectic day to say the least, sooo many people and drunk idiots even at midday. But I still loved it and seeing that green river was worth coming here for!
Of course, being the third largest city in the US, there is so much more to do as well. I spent four nights in Chicago and really enjoyed my time there.
What made my St Patrick's Day even more special was my friend Isabel who lives in Wisconsin drove all the way there and back in one day just to see me!
We got to hang out, have some obligatory green drinks and Irish whisky and it was such an amazing time.
8. Staying at the Citadel in Quebec City
I visited my friends in Ottawa who currently live there, but they are actually from Quebec City and said I had to visit there too or my time in Canada just wouldn't be complete.
I only had a short amount of time unfortunately so we were only able to spend one night there and it was a 5 hour drive each way... and it was SO worth it!
Quebec City completely charmed me and it felt like a slice of Paris and Prague. The coolest factor was that through connections we got to stay at The Citadel - an active military installation, historical fortress and official residence of both the Canadian monarch and the Governor General of Canada. Pretty dang cool if you ask me!
We left very early so we got to spend most of a full day exploring the Old Town. I loved the quaint cobblestone streets and cute shops, the Château Frontenac, trying Maple Taffy and the French influence everywhere.
Again, seeing the city covered in snow was such a novelty, but I heard it's even more beautiful in Autumn.
Another place I can't wait to return to for longer next time!
9. Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Orlando
This was pretty much the only reason why I went to Orlando and it was very cool to experience. The only thing I didn't enjoy so much was the crowds.
It just happened to be Spring Break while I was there (nightmare) and even though I arrived before opening, there were just far too many people to fully enjoy it.
I spent a good 8 hours at Universal Studios and only managed to get on three rides... and one I was lucky enough to go straight on because I was a single rider. That's how long the lines were (over two hours).
For how horrifically expensive it is to be there, it was a bit annoying but nevertheless, it was still a good time.
I loved the two Harry Potter-themed parks and the Hogwarts Express ride between each one. The Butterbeer was delicious (the Pumpkin Juice not so much!).
I also really enjoyed the Jurassic Park section, The Hulk rollercoaster ride (worth the wait) and the Voodoo Doughnut shop (delicious).
10. Disneyland, Califonia
Growing up with Disney movies, going to Disneyland was another of those places I've dreamed of since I was young.
It rained for the first half of the day but then luckily the sun came out!
The only day I could go was during the weekend, which again, was extremely crowded. Still a fun time of course at the happiest place on earth.
My favourite was the Space Mountain ride and I enjoyed the Indiana Jones ride too. I even went on a carousel pony ride because, why not?
I highly recommend trying the Pineapple Dole Whip - so delicious and refreshing! I had a great time at Disneyland but did think it was more of a children's/family place. Very glad to have ticked it off though.
Those were my top ten highlights from my recent adventure in North America. It was a fantastic trip and I'm very grateful for the memorable experiences I had in the States and Canada.
Keep your eyes peeled for plenty more travel guides and tips coming soon.
We all have those countries that we dream longingly about and desire to travel to someday. For me, it is a personal challenge to get to each and every one on my Bucket List. I lust over these countries nonstop, so much so, that I just had to write them down and put them in order!
Here are the top ten countries I wish to travel to next, with a little bit of where and why:
1. United States
It may seem strange to some that the United States is at the top of my list. But being from the opposite side of the world from a very small country and growing up watching American movies and television shows, I have lusted over certain places since I was small. For example, I have wished to travel to New York for the longest time. Ever since watching Home Alone, Friends and Gossip Girl, I am in awe of this city and I think it will blow my mind seeing it in real life!
Other places high on my list to visit include Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, Los Angeles, San Fransisco and Chicago.
Of course, Canada is also very high on my list. It's a country I've heard so much about and I have met so many wonderful Canadians over the years and I can't wait to see their homeland. It's also the land of moose, beavers and maple syrup so what's not to love?
Cities I'd love to visit include Quebec, Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal and anywhere good for skiing!
Visiting Antarctica would truly be a trip of a lifetime. You would not only be ticking off a country but an entire continent. I would love to do a month-long trip (hopefully soon) and I may or may not have already researched the exact one I would love to do from Argentina...
The Maldives to me is the ultimate depiction of paradise. With the water crystal clear aqua-blue and the sand whitest of whites, it is a dream holiday destination for many. One day!
Morocco is one of those alluring countries, brimming with diversity, culture and history, incredible architecture and designs, marketplaces and the Sahara. Marrakesh, Casablanca and Fes are just some of the many places I would love to visit there.
I know a few people that have been to Iceland and they just loved it! The dramatic landscapes are very attractive to me, a country full of volcanoes, geysers, waterfalls, natural hot springs and lava fields. Not to mention the Viking history. Seeing the Northern Lights there would be a huuuge bucket list tick.
The Philippines is another destination that would be a treat for the eyes. The stunning water, limestone formations and postcard-perfect beaches look incredible! I've heard the people are some of the friendliest out there as well. In particular, I would love to visit Boracay and Palawan.
I have been wanting to visit Japan for the longest time! To experience the beautiful Japanese culture, the weird and wonderful, Robot shows, cute things galore and especially the food. Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Mount Fuji and Hiroshima are places I would love to explore.
Croatia is a fascinating country, with medieval history and ancient walled towns. With a long sapphire coastline, it also has one thousand islands! Dubrovnik, Zagreb, Split and of course the Game of Thrones filming locations are some of the many places I'd love to visit.
Peru and in particular, seeing the Incan citadel Macchu Picchu in real life is a big bucket list item for me. I would also love to learn about this South American country, visit Lima and Cusco, and of course the amazing Rainbow Mountain.
Pin it! :)
Those are the very top ten on my list but of course, I couldn't just stop there! For those interested in my top twenty, I've listed the rest below:
11. South Africa 12. Portugal 13. Belgium 14. Russia 15. Bolivia 16. Netherlands
17. Sri Lanka
Which countries are high on your bucket list? Let me know in the comments below, I would love to read them!
Out of the six countries I was visiting on this trip, Myanmar was the one I was the most excited and intrigued about. It only opened its borders to tourism a few years ago and before I left I personally did not know anybody that had ever been there.
Travelling first through Thailand, Laos etc. I met people along the way who had recently been and they all said it was their favourite, which made me even more excited to see it for myself.
Myanmar is huge and unfortunately, I only had 10 nights to do a whirlwind tour through it. I decided to just hit the main four spots to visit including Yangon, Inle Lake, Bagan and Mandalay. I flew into Yangon and I originally planned on three nights there, two at Inle, three in Bagan and two in Mandalay. It actually turned out to be: two nights in Yangon, one overnight bus (to Inle), two at Nyaung Shwe (closest town to Inle Lake), four in Bagan and one in Mandalay.
I wish I had more time in Mandalay and to explore other places too, but I was pretty happy overall with my final itinerary with the little time I had. I was really exhausted at the end of it though, with so much time spent on bumpy buses and trying to pack in as much of each place as I could, including getting up for many a sunrise.
Here is what I got up to in an action-packed 10 days:
Yangon 8-10 August
I flew into the largest city in Myanmar from Luang Prabang, Laos, via Bangkok and arrived at 10:30 PM at night. I was also in a new time zone; half an hour behind which I thought was pretty funny. I had organised an online E-Visa a few days before and the immigration process was very quick and easy. I was through the gate with my bags in no time and instantly greeted by a young friendly guy who asked if I needed a taxi. I said yes but I needed to get some cash out first as I didn't have any local currency (called Kyats). He not only pointed the direction where the ATMs were, he showed me himself. (This was the first of many times where people were happy to show me for nothing in return).
The taxi driver was an older man who called me 'sister' and was very chatty and interested in me. My first thoughts of the Burmese were that just like I had been told - they were incredibly friendly! It really warmed my heart. Along the way he pointed out the most famous temple (the reason I went to Yangon actually), the Shwedagon Pagoda - a huge golden landmark, brilliantly lit up at night. I wish I had time to snap a photo! It was so dazzling.
I had booked my own room at a hostel in a central location and it was up several flights of stairs. The host was kind enough to carry my suitcase up for me. I didn't have a window in my room but from the balcony in the main lobby area looking down over the streets was so interesting. I had never been in a place like this before. The streets looked like how I imagined India would look like. It was around midnight when I got to my room and I couldn't wait to explore the next day.
I was intending to see the famous pagoda but it was pouring with rain in the morning. I instead ventured out with an umbrella to explore the surrounding streets. I loooved the buildings! There were so many different styles and influences from all around the world.
The buildings opposite my hostel
I noticed a street side open shop with '4G' and thought it would be a good idea to get a Sim card here. I knew wifi was poor and scarce and I had a lot of long bus rides to look forward to. The two guys in the shop barely spoke English and it took an entire hour to get it sorted (registering the Sim card was painful), but they were so patient and really friendly. To get 5 GB of data cost me 9000 KYT or $8 AUD.
One of the guys smiled at me and his teeth were red. This was my introduction to, I don't even know what it's called. Okay, I looked it up and it's called Paan which is a betel vine leaf. Many of the men chew on this red stuff and then spit it all over the ground. Everywhere you go you see red spit. And they not only spit - they hoik. That sound reeeally irks me and in ten days I probably heard it 1000 times. The worst was while I was on the night bus from Yangon to Inle Lake and there was a man sitting across the aisle from me who would hoik all throughout the night and spit into a plastic bag. Deee-scusting.
Anyway - after I got my Sim card it had stopped raining and I went to one of the top recommended places for lunch. It was called 999 and it is famous for Shan noodles. I got a classic pork sticky noodle soup and it was delicious! That and a coke cost $2.50 AUD.
In the afternoon I enjoyed exploring the city centre some more for a few hours. A lot of men wear long skirts and many people, mostly ladies have gold painted on their faces. I later found out this is called Thanaka and it is a paste that comes from ground bark. It is used as a sun cream, to cool and as a cosmetic.
Walking around I was stared at quite a bit and many would walk past me and then look back to get another look. Quite a few people even said hello and for the first time they didn't want anything, it was just to say hi.
Yangon City Hall on the right, Sule Pagoda ahead
Maha Pandula Park
The next day I got lucky and it wasn't raining (until the afternoon). I hopped into a taxi to the Shwedagon Pagoda and hired a guide, as two Isreali girls I had met staying at the hostel recommended it. The guide was very good and I enjoyed learning all about the history and customs of this amazing temple. It is the largest pagoda which sits at an impressive 360 feet high and is encrusted with 4531 diamonds; the largest of which is a 72-carat diamond. Many pilgrims from all over the world come to visit it.
A funny thing happened, a Burmese girl asked to take a photo with me and then another person saw and wanted one too. Before I knew it, a line of people was forming! There were even selfies. I didn't really know what was going on but of course I didn't mind, I found it all hilarious. I am guessing the blonde hair was the reason, as I didn't see anyone else around with it. The closest I'll ever get to a superstar moment!
Nuns here dress in pink
I loved visiting the pagoda, it's definitely worth going to Yangon just to see that. I decided to cancel my third night there and take an overnight bus to Inle Lake. It takes 12 hours to get there so I didn't really want to waste an entire day. It so happened that the Isreali girls were taking the same bus so we shared a taxi to the bus stop and had a beer beforehand.
We were getting water from a shop for the bus ride and a random heavy downpour started. The streets started flooding so we just stood there to wait it out. The lady that owned the shop didn't speak English but she kindly brought us little chairs to sit on which was so nice!
The bus was comfortable, we paid extra for a 'VIP' which means it was air conditioned, the seats reclined and we got a blanket and small pillow. However, I still didn't get a wink of sleep and it actually took 14 hours in the end.
Inle Lake 11-13 August
At 5 AM I arrived rather stiff at Nyaung Shwe, the nearest town to Inle Lake. I had booked in at Ostello Bello which was a favourite in the area and they catered for people arriving at all hours. There were beds available in a shared room if I wanted to sleep until my room was ready and there was free coffee and juice to help yourself.
I freshened up, loaded up on caffeine and decided to join in on a full day Inle Lake boat tour leaving at 8 AM. Hey, that was what I was here to see! And I would get back just in time for my room to be ready.
There was a group of four of us in the boat and we were taken through the main centre of the lake first, past the many fishermen. They are famous for their unique style and rowing the boat with their feet.
We passed through many floating villages which I find so interesting and our first stop took a whole hour to get there - that's how huge the lake is!
The first stop was a silver and jewellery making shop, which I wasn't that interested in to be honest. The second was a lotus silk weaving place which was pretty cool to see. They made some amazing scarves and clothes and worked really hard for it.
View of rice fields from the window
We stopped for a nice local lunch before exploring some more. We had a brief stop at a Karen long-neck Hilltribe and asked to skip the next cigar-making stop. We were all really interested in the temple stop which had hundreds of temple ruins.
Delicious lunch feast
We initially had an hour there but once that ran out we asked for another. Our boat driver was very accommodating. We had a great time exploring the area and there was so much to see! It was an incredible place.
We didn't head back until 3 PM, an hour late and we enjoyed a cold beer on the way back. Even though I was wearing a hat and put sunblock on twice I still managed to get very burnt. Woops.
I had a glorious shower, rested and then sat downstairs in the common area working on my Cambodia Photo Diary. There was a movie night going on at the rooftop but as I hadn't slept I was too tired and was keen for an early night.
The next morning I was still pretty zonked but I went out to a nearby local market down the road. I love vibrant places like this and enjoyed walking around. I picked up a bag of freshly cut pineapple for 20 cents.
I had more delicious Shan noodles for lunch which was even better than the first in Yangon (I was now in the Shan state after all). I had a chill afternoon checking out the rooftop and catching up on work.
Ostello Bello rooftop
The view from the rooftop
The next morning I was up at the crack of dawn to catch the sunrise on Inle Lake. I was told this is the time to see the fishermen and I especially wanted to get the classic shot of the ones with cages. However, I'm guessing because it was a Sunday all the fishermen were still in bed! There were only two out on the water (and they didn't have cages). There wasn't much of a sunrise either as it was too cloudy. Dang rainy season.
Nevermind! I was next off at 8 AM to the place I was the most looking forward to - the ancient city of Bagan.
This is a painting at the hostel of the 'classic shot' I was hoping to get
Bagan 13-16 August
The mini van ride was rather horrid, the roads were extremely bumpy and windy. I couldn't even read my phone because my hand was flailing around too much. And there was no air conditioning! Absolute torture sitting in your own sweat for 8 hours.
I did see so many interesting sights out of the window though. Home-made ox carts made out of branches, massive goat herds that blocked the whole road, women carrying really big and heavy loads on their heads.
Loading up the top of the van during a break
I decided to stay again at Ostello Bello as I enjoyed the last place so much. As I was so hot from the van ride I went on a failed mission to find ice cream, but I couldn't find any shops that sold any. I settled for a beer.
I signed up for a sunrise temple tour by e-bike for the next morning and chilled for the rest of the day. Bagan has over 2,200 ancient temples and is considered a holy site in Myanmar. I was so keen to explore!
That evening I joined in on a free Burmese lesson the hostel was hosting. I learned how to say a bunch of basic sayings and phrases which was really handy and how to write my name. I met some lovely Italians who were working there for a month, one of which was the cousin of Ostello Bello.
Up super early once again I hired an e-bike from a shop next door to the hostel. They are basically silent scooters without the motor, which I rather liked. A large group of us went together and it was only about a ten-minute ride to a large field full of temples. We found a big one that we were allowed to climb and settled in.
Bummer the clouds were in the way!
After the tour, I had breakfast and went straight back to bed! I only had four hours sleep and was still tired from the days before.
In the afternoon I hopped back on my bike which I had for a full day and went to a recommended restaurant called The Moon, Be Kind To The Animals. Quite a name! Yes, it was a vegetarian restaurant. I had a delicious aubergine curry with brown sticky rice.
That evening I jumped in on the sunset bike tour, because why not? This time we rode about 30 minutes away to a very large temple which had a great view. We didn't see the sun but it was a brilliant pink sky afterward which was so amazing!
For dinner, a big group of us went down the road to a restaurant called 'Unforgettable.' Most of us ordered curries and it came with so many extra dishes for us all to share. As well as soup and rice there were different bowls of vegetables like potato, aubergine, pumpkin, tofu and salads. It was an epic feast and it only cost $2.80 AUD each for everything.
I was up and ready at 8 AM for a full day Bagan city tour by e-bike. I hired another one for the day and followed the group to the first stop at a local village. They made cotton there and cigars. I got to try Thanaka (the gold paste) on my face which felt really nice and refreshing!
This lady is 95!
We went around visiting many of the most popular temples in Old Bagan. Our guide was really informative and told us a lot of the history.
GoPro action shot
View from the top
By the time we had lunch everyone was so tired. It was such a hot day and the roads were very dusty, my clothes were covered in it. Riding along even with sunglasses I had to squint my eyes because the dust clouds were so bad! When I got back I had to wash my clothes.
No rest for the wicked though because that night was a sunset boat trip! (The hostel organises all of these different daily group tours which I really liked). The sunset was a bit non-existent and it was really rocky at the end but the group on board were really fun which made it worthwhile.
That evening was quiz night at the hostel and I joined a fab team with others from London, Sweden and Spain. We couldn't think of a team name so I randomly came out with 'Killer Kiwis' even though I was the only Kiwi but they loved it and went with it. It was such a fun night and our team rocked. For the first time ever my team won woohoo! We all got a free cocktail of our choice.
I decided to book an extra night here because I was enjoying Bagan too much and there was still so much more to see. I also couldn't bear the thought of going on another long bus ride again...
The Killer Kiwis!
The next morning the Killer Kiwis met up and hired another round of e-bikes for the day. We were going off to explore more temples, a local market and make a day out of it.
Random seeing a Friends Cafe!
Coffee? Curry puff? Trio of cigarettes?
We stopped for lunch at one of the top places to eat - Weather Spoon's Bagan. I had heard as well as local food they actually do very decent western food (hard to come by in Asia) so the Londoner and I just had to have a burger. It was a-maz-ing after eating mostly rice, noodles and curry for the last few weeks!
The chips were parmesan crusted! HEAVEN
We continued exploring until we were templed out and went back for a rest before meeting up for one last dinner and drinks. Four nights for me wasn't even enough in Bagan, I didn't have the time to visit Mount Popa which is another popular sight to see and there is so much more as well. Next time!
During my time in Bagan, I had the opportunity to work for Hostel World. I created an Insta-Story for them showcasing the city which will be live on their Instagram page next week. Keep an eye out on my Facebook and Instagram pages where I'll share the links when it's up!
Mandalay 17-18 August
In the morning the Londoner and I were on the same bus and going again to Ostello Bello in Mandalay (there are three in Myanmar so I thought I might as well stay at all of them). I was a bit guttered I only had one night left there but I am glad I stayed in Bagan the extra night.
It was another bumpy bus ride north to my final stop which took 7 hours. We checked in and went straight out for a late lunch, inviting along a random dude from Morocco we met at the hostel. We went to Mingalabar (that's hello in Burmese) Restaurant and had another delicious feast. There was so much food it was awesome. I had a noodle salad and it came with a bunch of different sides.
The view from my room
That evening the three of us went out to explore Mandalay by night. We went to a local night market and walked around for a couple of hours before having a final beer at the hostel's rooftop hangout area before bed. We had one last early start the next day.
There was one thing I had to do in Mandalay and that was see a sunrise from the U-Bein Bridge. Of course, being rainy season, there was no famous orange glow, but it was still very pretty. We were told it was less crowded in the mornings and more so for sunset and that was true. There were mostly only locals out and about that early.
Caught the dab
Morning snack anyone?
We were back by 7:30 AM and I wasn't flying out until 5 PM. I still had pretty much a full day left to explore but you know what? I had seen enough temples and palaces. I went back to bed until checkout time and then sat in the common area working until my airport transfer. Bad Krysti! But I literally couldn't, I was done, diddly done.
I had such a fantastic time in Myanmar, the kindness of the people really blew me away. I enjoyed so much learning about their culture and ways of life and next time, now that I have done the big four, I would love to venture out into the smaller and less touristy areas. As well as their majestic temples there are untouched beaches, islands and even primeval jungles to explore.
It's a country to get to fast, as already the tourist demand is rapidly increasing. For now, it's a place where there are few bars and party places with a widespread curfew of 11 PM. There is also not a McDonalds or Starbucks in sight. It's a place unlike any I've ever been to before and it makes me more excited to continue travelling and exploring more around the world.
Pin it! :)
Coming soon will be plenty of Myanmar travel guides and tips as well as more photos and stories from my Southeast Asia trip.
Last month, I had the pleasure of exploring my first new country in a while: Cambodia!
I had heard such mixed views of Cambodia, from horrid to fantastic, so I just had to see for myself. There is no doubt this country has a deep and dreadful history and the impacts are still very evident today. However, I can see that it has picked itself up in many ways and I found it a very safe and likeable place to visit. It has a lot of similarities to Thailand and it is a very tourist friendly place.
Siem Reap 20-27 July
Starting in Siem Reap, being the rainy season it actually rained 5/7 days I was there! So most of the photos you see with a blue sky were just from two or so days. Fun fact: when it rains (which is often) the streets turn into a mud bath! I quite often walked back from town in the rain and I had mud flicked half way up my back. Then when it dried, it was incredibly dusty.
The street I was staying down
The Tuk Tuk drivers were the most, uh, persistent I had ever come across (getting asked "Tuk Tuk" literally 1000 times in half an hour) but the people in general were very friendly and helpful. Though like many other Southeast Asian countries, they try and get as much money out of you as they can.
I quite often ate at two cafes: Sister Srey and Vibe, both had glowing reviews and healthy and vegan options. After 10 weeks of eating whatever I wanted, I was really craving something fresh and healthy! Siem Reap has a lot of fantastic cafes and I highly recommend these two. Don't worry of course I still ate local food! I especially loved Fish Amok and Lo Lak (they just aren't so pretty to photograph).
A Bodia bowl at Sister Srey
On my first evening, I was invited to see Phare the Cambodian Circus. The talent of the artists are astonishing, it was a truly incredible show of theatre, dance, live music and modern circus arts. I was totally drawn in by the compelling story they told and their energy, enthusiasm and emotions were highly infectious.
Every ticket purchased helps to support and transform the lives of Cambodian youth, so it's a wonderful cause as well. Highly recommended!
It had always been a big dream of mine to see Angkor Wat, the largest religious monumental site in the world. I eagerly booked a full day with sunrise tour for my third day there. During the rainy season (as I found out on the day) it is unfortunately extremely unlikely to see a sunrise or sunset at Angkor Wat.
Angkor Wat at sunrise
I wondered why they still offer it as a sunrise tour then, but oh well. I was a tad disappointed because I guess it was something I had built up in my head - taking a nice time-lapse of the sun rising in the majestic setting. The reality was that I was standing in mud, pushed around by crowds and I had to tippy toe and raise my camera as high as I could just to not get other people in my photos.
I had to wait for 10 minutes for people to move out of this shot!
Despite that, I still had an INCREDIBLE day, one of my favourite days from my whole trip. You don't only see Angkor Wat (which is very impressive) but loads of other equally as awesome ancient temples including Bayon, Baphuon and Ta Prohm. The latter was my favourite, also known as the Tomb Raider Temple! I just loved how nestled in nature it was with giant trees growing out of the tops, vines coiling around, the intricate carvings and moss on the crumbled rocks. It was so so cool to see in real life and such a highlight.
The Bayon temple
Ta Prohm 'Tomb Raider' Temple
I hope everyone can visit once in their lifetime, they are truly marvellous sites - I took 470 photos just on that tour! It was a hot day walking 11 km in 38 degrees, so I wasn't looking the best in the ones with me in them!
Central Siem Reap
Pub Street by day
My first Acai bowl at Vibe cafe
A temple downtown
Pub street by night! It was the only night that it didn't rain so I could finally venture out!
Delectable treats to try! ;)
Fun fact: you have to pay to take photos
Cool umbrella sky in an alleyway off Pub Street
On my final day, I went on a half day Floating Village tour where we got to visit a local school and witness such a different way of life. It wasn't touristic at all, they weren't selling anything and it is genuinely how the people live. The guide is from there and all proceeds go straight back to the school. It was really interesting and the children were oh so friendly and happy! It was a wonderful day.
We started by trying bamboo smoked sticky rice on the way there
Wearing my new handmade in Cambodia dress I had bought that day
A happy fisherman
A local community
The school where 60 children sit
View from the school
I really enjoyed my time in Siem Reap. I had a whole week there and I felt that was plenty of time. During the rain, I stayed in and did a lot of catching up on blog posts. It was a tad more expensive coming from Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam but still very affordable. I took a VIP Ibis bus to Phnom Penh for $15 USD. It was only a six-hour ride and there were three stops along the way so it was pretty good.
Phnom Penh 27-30 July
In Phnom Penh, I booked an Airbnb straight across the road from the National Museum which had a great view of it from the balcony. I got really lucky in Phnom Penh - it didn't rain once!
Front of the National Museum
Typical street: Monk, Tuk Tuk, motorbike and rubbish
Walking to the Royal Palace
Only a ten-minute walk from where I was staying was the Royal Palace. It reminded me quite a lot of the Royal Palace in Bangkok, although definitely not as grand! Still really worth a visit though.
I loved that fern tree/plant
The Silver Pagoda
Sometimes, you just gotta take your own photos
The park in front of the palace
The pretty riverfront
I am still SO so sad about this, but I lost all of my photos from an entire day in Phnom Penh and three days worth of videos from Siem Reap (including the Floating Village tour and Pub Street at night nooo). Basically my SD card was wiped due to a formatting error. I spent so long trying to recover them to no avail.
What I lost was a really big day for me. I did the S21 Prison and Killing Fields Tour. It was really important for me to learn fully about the (scarily recent) history of Cambodia to understand what the people have been through. It was a heartbreaking day seeing and learning about their horrific past first hand and I'm mostly sad about losing the photos because I was planning on writing a whole blog post on it. I only have two photos I took on my phone:
A pamphlet guide
Memorial at the Killing Fields
Nevermind, what's done is done. I can highly recommend doing the Hop On Hop Off tour which includes pick up and drop off for only $15 USD. They take you to both places in a bus and you can hire audio guides there and go through yourself. I was glad to have done that because I couldn't imagine having to have a conversation with a guide about what I was being told... I needed to take it in in silence.
A street around the corner from me
My local convenience store
On the way to the airport
The Independence Monument
My ride :)
I liked Phnom Penh. I definitely think it's worth going to learn about the history at least. Three nights was the perfect amount for me. I did really want to head south to Sihanoukville but alas I had run out of time. I still had Laos and Myanmar to explore in only a few weeks so I had to prioritise.
I'm really glad I went and I had an awesome time. Next time I would love to head out of the bigger cities and see more of the authentic rural Cambodia. There is so much more to see and do in this incredible country, I barely scratched the surface. I know I'll be back to see more one day for sure. For now I think I hit the highlights!
Pin it :)
Coming up soon will be photo diaries from Laos and Myanmar and of course plenty of tips and travel guides when I have the time!
I had a bit of time to kill at the airport before my flight to Siem Reap, so it was the perfect opportunity to sit back and reflect on my travels so far. It has now been almost ten weeks since I have been travelling around Southeast Asia, and looking back at the very beginning seems oh so long ago! Not in a negative way of course, I’ve just done and seen so much in the space of ten weeks.
Here’s a quick rundown tally of what I have been up to so far:
Countries visited: 3 (Indonesia - 18 days, Thailand – 27 days, Vietnam – 22 days) Places visited: 12 Islands visited: 2 Flights: 9 Ferries: 3 Buses: 1 Trains: 1 Tuk Tuks: 5 Motorbike taxis: 7 Scooters Rented: 1 Snorkeled: 1 Jet skied: 1 Day-Tours: 6 Street food tours: 3 Cooking Classes: 2 Temples visited: A million Massages: 3 Manicures: 2 Pedicures: 1 Tattoos: 1 Hangovers: 3 (Not bad) Books read: 1.25 (Not much time to read sadly!) Komodo Dragons seen: 1 Pandas seen: 1 Elephants fed: 5 Monkeys perched on shoulder: 1 Squat toilets used: 2 (Shudders) Clothing items bought: 6 Cheapest beer: 18 cents (Hoi An) Most expensive cocktail: $25 AUD (Red Sky Bar, Bangkok) Airbnbs: 4 Budget Hotels: 7 Luxury Hotels: 7 Accommodation checked out of early: 2 Hotel keys accidentally taken with me: 2 (Doh!) Shit left behind: 1 (laptop cable – but got it back thankfully!) Shit stolen: 0 (phew) Accidents: 0
So, quite a bit has happened. I’ve been very fortunate so far with nothing really bad happening to me and I’m hoping it’s going to stay that way!
Sunset at Karon Beach, Phuket
Here’s a specific tally of best/worst things and moments:
Worst hotels: Le Manoir Premier Da Nang. Firstly, my shower flooded the entire bathroom into the room and there was no window so it was a dark depressing hole. I changed the next day into a room with a view which was much better, however there were loads of stains all over the bedding (which wasn't changed once) and inside the fridge was a very old and sticky spill that had never been cleaned. People were smoking inside the hotel, not in the rooms but out in the corridors so it always smelled disgusting. The staff however were very friendly and helpful and it was in a good location to the beach, so I just made do. You get what you pay for!
Best Airbnb: Sathorn, Bangkok. Great apartment in a local area with amazing street food.
Worst Airbnb: Da Nang. Typical Vietnamese house in a local area above a coffee shop. The bed was rock-hard, the floors and bathroom were very dirty, there was gum on the bed, rats in the walls, no proper bathroom (there was a shower head - in the toilet cubicle...), it was super loud and on the Friday night before I left early there was a huge drug party downstairs. All part of the experience, but the next day I was outta there!
Best days:Bali week with my best friends, meeting great people and partying in Bangkok, my first day in Koh Lanta when I was in an epic beachview villa, Phi Phi Island booze cruise, Golden Triangle day trip in Chiang Rai, meeting up with Gareth in Vietnam and staying in a dream overwater bungalow room.
Visiting the Singha Beer Park on the Golden Triange day trip
Worst days: Getting badly lost in Jakarta on my first day, thinking I was going to miss my flight connection from Hanoi to Da Nang, being accidentally very hungover in Hoi An, sitting in a shit hotel the first night in Da Nang after Gareth left and missing him.
Top 3 fave places: Phi Phi Island, Koh Lanta, Hoi An.
Beautiful Phi Phi
Least fave places: Patong Beach Phuket, Jakarta.
Coolest bars: Mr Bean Bar in Hoi An, Guns N' Roses Pub in Da Nang.
Cool moments: Observing a monk praying ceremony at Wat Pho in Bangkok, watching an All Blacks game in a sports bar in Vietnam.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai
Funny moments: Being proposed to on the back of a motorbike while stuck in traffic, Jakarta. Gareth being asked to take a photo with an Asian woman at the Marble Mountains and made to put his arm around her and hold her hand. He was mortified but did it anyway cause he's so nice!
Random sights: Seeing an elephant driving past on the back of a trailer in Krabi, the dragon bridge in Da Nang is pretty random but cool! It lights up at night and on the weekend actually breaths fire.
Interesting experiences: Riding on a very questionable gondola around a huge theme park in Jakarta, entering my first mosque (and the largest in Southeast Asia), receiving a blessing and bracelet from a monk in a temple in the mountains in Chiang Mai, sharing a sleeper carriage with a Vietnamese family on a train from Da Nang to Hue.
Best things eaten: Green Curry, Pad Thai and Mango Sticky Rice in Thailand and Chili and lemongrass chicken, Banh Mi and Pho in Vietnam. I'm also just obsessed with fresh mangoes and coconut juice.
My ultimate favourite food - mango sticky rice!
Strangest things eaten: A silk worm in Thailand, liver on a street food tour in Da Nang and an ice block that I thought was strawberry. Turns out it was red bean and brown rice…. weird.
Best purchase: An awesome Yoda drawstring rucksack in Hoi An.
Favourite beer: Tiger draft and Singha.
Favourite sights: Seeing longtail boats in a picture perfect postcard setting in real life in Phi Phi, observing rescued elephants roaming free in nature as they should be in Chiang Rai, going to the incredible White temple in Chiang Rai, looking into Myanmar and Laos while standing in Thailand at the Golden Triangle, walking the beautiful alleyways of Hoi An at night with their colourful lit up lanterns.
White Temple, Chiang Rai
The beautiful streets of the Old Town in Hoi An
Least fave sights: I visited the Chiang Mai zoo while there because they have pandas which are my favourite animal and any chance I get to see them I do. You have to buy an extra ticket to see them and the enclosure was fairly decent but the rest of the zoo was shockingly appalling. The animals such as lions, were pacing back and forth, bored to tears in their tiny enclosures. The orangutan was slumped over and I have never seen a more depressed animal in my life. The worst was the elephant that has to stand there all day CHAINED hoping for tourists to come past and buy it bananas. It was rocking back and forth and its eyes were completely glazed over. I felt horrible to be supporting such a place by buying a ticket and after seeing the pandas I immediately left, feeling very sad. Also seeing so much rubbish washed up on the beaches, Patong Beach was the worst.
It always makes me smile seeing people on their scooters carrying mountain-loads three times the size of them.
When I was last in Vietnam I was very nervous about the crazy traffic and crossing the roads without getting run over. This visit, it just wasn’t a problem for me at all. It’s like I grew a weird confidence being away for six months and I could all of a sudden walk into a busy road without hesitation.
I’m also very used to seeing the mounds of rubbish all over the streets, the crazy powerlines, dodging pot holes and men openly pissing on the side of the roads, whereas I suppose that might shock some people!
Although I love Indonesia and Thailand a lot of the people there are constantly trying to rip you off and get as much money out of you as they can. I found that a lot less in Vietnam. I was still of course hassled by drivers but I didn't ever have to say 'will you run the meter' when I hopped into a taxi because - of course they would!
It's kind of hilarious the amount of times I've been called sir!
I have felt very safe in all three countries visited so far, with the exception of Jakarta. I never felt in any danger there, just very uncomfortable at times and also quite unwelcome.
Streets of Jakarta
Well I am currently sitting in my $18 AUD a night hotel room in Siem Reap finishing this post off. I'm feeling very tired as my flight was delayed by 4 hours and I didn't arrive to my room until 1 am and didn't go to sleep until 3 am due to the devastating news of Chester Bennington. But it is now lunch time and I will venture out shortly to begin exploring this new city. I have a whole week here and then three days to play with where I think I will bus to Phnom Penh.
After that I am planning on flying to Laos, starting in Vientiane before busing up to both Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang. From there I will be flying via Bangkok into Myanmar which will be my 27th country. Beginning in Mandalay, I'll then bus to Bagan and then Nyaungshwe to visit Inle Lake. Next I will fly back to Bangkok where I will be meeting up with my mum who is visiting Asia for the first time. I'll be spending the next three weeks with her in Thailand before finally departing for home on the 8th of September. (I'm so happy to be spending more time in Thailand!).
So I still have exactly 7 weeks left - and a lot still to pack in! That's why I've been so busy for the last week or so trying to catch up and finish as much work as I can before starting the next chapter which will be all go. I think starting from now, here in Cambodia and the next two countries will present whole new experiences for me. I feel like I know Indonesia (Bali), Thailand and Vietnam pretty well now and I'm very comfortable in those countries. I'm so interested to see how I will feel about the next three, what the people are like, the food and the culture. I'm very excited.
Thanks so much for reading and following along on my journey. I still have so much to write about and I definitely plan to as soon as I get the chance. Below are a few more highlights photos from the last couple of months starting at the beginning.
Watersports fun in Bali
Tegallalang Rice Terraces in Ubud, Bali
Sporting our fresh friendship tattoos
The view from my Airbnb in Jakarta
In front of the MONAS statue in Jakarta
At my favourite temple in Bangkok, Wat Pho
The expensive but awesome birdcage cocktail I got in Bangkok
Hiring a scooter and exploring the island of Koh Lanta
Beautiful surrounding islands of Phi Phi
Dream come true at Maya Bay!
Colourful Karon, Phuket
Trying bugs at a local market in Phuket!
Cool dragon staircase in Chiang Mai
The Iron Bridge in Chiang Mai
I loved visiting temples by night in Chiang Mai
Feeding rescued elephants at a sanctuary in Chiang Rai
At the Baan Dam Black House Museum in Chiang Rai
Interesting sights at The Golden Triangle
On the borders of three countries!
Action shot (it was the guide's idea) ;)
Exploring the ancient city of Hue
Tropical paradise in Phu Loc
Enjoying the incredible view from our overwater bungalow
The beautiful streets of Hoi An
Having a perfect beach day in Hoi An
Riverside in Hoi An
I loved the preserved buildings of the UNESCO World Heritage town Hoi An
Exploring the streets in Da Nang
A selfie in front of the famous pink cathedral in Da Nang
Bangkok was my very first proper foreign city I travelled to four and a half years ago (I had only been to Australia before) and it absolutely blew my mind. That whole Thailand trip was such an amazing experience, it completely changed my life and is responsible for sparking my incessant wanderlust desire! As you can imagine, I was incredibly excited to return back to Thailand, my first love. I was interested to see if my mindset has changed, would I still love it as much now that I've been to over twenty countries? (Spoiler alert: I do!). Here is what I got up to in a fun-filled week in the vibrant capital city, my first stop in my month-long travels through Thailand.
Day One. 2.06.17
My flight from Jakarta arrived in Bangkok in the late afternoon. The airport process went smooth enough and I hopped into a taxi to my Airbnb which was in the local area Sathorn. The taxi ride was 40 minutes long and it only cost 250 THB (Thai Baht) which is around $10 AUD.
I met with my host who gave me the keys and showed me around. I had my own self-contained apartment with air conditioning and wifi for only $30 a night. Before she left she kindly took me out for some street Pad Thai - exactly what I wanted to do when I first arrived! It was so incredible and only cost $1.50!
The pool at the apartment complex I was staying in
After dinner I was planning on having one refreshing beer (it was a Friday after all) before heading back to the apartment to chill/unpack/work but... I sat down in the bar that was right across from where I was staying for less than 20 seconds before the table next to me invited me to join them... 8 hours later! They were such an incredible bunch of people from all around the world that are currently living in Bangkok, some of them for over 12 years. They were from Scotland, America, Turkey, France and Australia and we all got along so well that the hours just slipped away and suddenly it was 2 am! I love meeting new like-minded people and it was such a great night.
Day Two. 3.06.17
Well, needless to say, I was a tad hungover today! At lunchtime, I ventured out for a walk along the main roads in search of food. I was out for about an hour and then spent the rest of the afternoon working on my Jakarta travel vlog. I popped out again later for dinner where I had a spicy green curry and Chang. That night there was an epic electrical storm that I enjoyed watching from my room (it's rainy season here).
View from the walkover bridge
Day Three. 4.06.17
Today's mission was to get a Thai sim card to have data on my phone and to go to the Chatuchak weekend market. I took an MRT (underground train) and the BTS (sky train) to get to Siam, an area with many big shopping malls. I got a traveller's sim card with AIS (phone network) for a pretty good price and had a delicious Pad Thai for lunch.
I then made my way to Mo Chit via the BTS where I walked through the Chatuchak Park before exploring the largest market in Thailand. My first purchase was a fresh coconut from a funny yelling Thai man who was chopping the coconuts open with a pirate sword like knife!
I enjoyed walking around, although it was a super hot day. I had my first (of many) mango sticky rice - my ultimate favourite Thai food. I just bought two things, a Chang beer singlet (to add to my collection) and an 'Adidas' t-shirt that had a cool print. I got both tops for $10 AUD, pretty sweet shopping trip if you ask me. I had another green curry for dinner (I'm obsessed) and that was the jist of my day.
Day Four. 5.06.17
Today I had a full day temple and city tour with Oriental Escape. You can read all about it in my review post here: The BEST day in Bangkok: Incredible Temple & City Tour. As you can probably tell by the title, I had such a fantastic day and absolutely loved the tour, it was the highlight of my whole week. I visited four amazing temples, had a delicious local lunch, Thai coffee and sweets and had a driving city tour as well. It was such a hot day so I was very exhausted when I got back (but very happy). That evening I worked on and finished my Bali travel diary post.
Today was a pretty chill day. There was a nice looking massage place only two minutes walk from me so I popped in there before lunch. A traditional Thai full hour massage only cost $10 and it was absolutely brutal! It's basically an hour of wondering why you paid someone to torture you. Thai massage works deep into your muscles and pressure points and it hurts so much but you do feel really good afterwards. You just have to get through it!
I then treated myself to a delicious lunch from a Guesthouse restaurant down the road. I ordered a spicy papaya salad and mango sticky rice. I was very full afterwards but it was so fresh and delightful! I just love Thai food (if you couldn't tell).
I didn't feel like going out so I spent the afternoon editing and uploading my first Bangkok vlog which you can view here if you like!
Day Six. 7.06.17
For the best part of the day, I cracked on with more work. I had a hotel review to complete and I also spent a couple of hours editing some work for my husband (I'm such a good wife). I had a delicious local noodle lunch which only cost $1.50 including a bottle of Pepsi. Later on, I took a taxi to the Red Sky Bar, which I had heard was one of the best sky bars in Bangkok. I was hoping to catch the sunset and see the amazing skyline all lit up at night. I arrived and was so amazed by the views, it really is incredible up there.
I ordered a very fancy albeit expensive cocktail (although still cheaper than New Zealand) and basically took one sip before the rains came! Everyone had to be moved inside unfortunately. Expectations versus reality! Oh well.
I had dinner in the Grand Central Mall where the bar is located and then taxied back to Sathorn. It was one of the new friends I had met the other night's birthday so she was having celebratory drinks at the same local bar. I said I was only going to have one beer as it took me more than two days to recover from the last hangover... another 8 hours later... honestly I couldn't believe it! I looked at my watch and it was 3:30 am this time. I don't know what it was about this group but the time just disappears around them. I knew if I lived in Bangkok we would be such great friends.
Day Seven. 8.06.17
Well, I was hungover again for my final day woops (no regrets). I nursed it until my evening plan which was a Chinatown street food tour with Bangkok Food Tours. I spent the day doing some blog stuff and started packing and cleaning as I had an early flight the next morning. The food tour was excellent, everything we tried was so delicious, except for the durian! What an odd taste and texture... I especially loved the final dessert type dumpling with oozy warm custard in the middle, my god that was heavenly. I'll be writing up a Bangkok food post next with more information on the tour and my favourite/the best things to eat in Bangkok.
I got a tuk-tuk back to my apartment which was bumpy but fun. It was a nice way to finish up my time in Bangkok. I feel like I could have easily spent another week there, there is so much to do, it's incredibly cheap and such an exciting city. I'll be back sometime soon for sure.
The next day I took a taxi to the airport where I next flew to Krabi. Koh Lanta and Phi Phi Island posts coming very soon! Here is the second Bangkok travel vlog for YouTube:
I did want to do more in Bangkok, such as seeing Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn) and going to Lumphini Park (I was staying only a twenty-minute walk away!). But I think I did a reasonable amount of activities and sightseeing whilst juggling work.
It's hard to find a good balance and certainly, I am so behind in keeping up with everything (hence why this Bangkok post is two weeks late!). I'm doing my best and I'm going to try to push out as many blog posts and videos as possible over the next week before I next head to Vietnam!
Visiting Jakarta was a very different experience for me. While I initially regretting going at first, and almost bought an early plane ticket out of there, I decided to give it a shot and in the end, I'm glad I did.
I wanted to visit Jakarta as it was my third time to Indonesia, and I thought it would be rude not to visit the capital city of a country I liked so much.
Going to a city with a metropolitan area that exceeds 30 million people - the largest city in Southeast Asia, I was rather excited by that fact rather than hindered. (I'm crazy).
It was also the first predominantly Muslim place I had ever been to, a whole new experience for me, and because I am apparently very ignorant - I had no idea that I was coming right at the beginning of Ramadan.
The day before I was due to fly there from Bali, I woke to the news that there had been twin suicide bombing attacks in Jakarta. This, to be honest, freaked me out as I am travelling alone and I just didn't know if it was a safe place for me to go to.
I messaged my Airbnb host and he quickly reassured me that it was fine, there were still tourists walking around and that we shouldn't let the terrorists win, which I agreed with.
A bad start. Day One. 26.05.17.
As I was staying for a full week at my Airbnb, an airport transfer was included which I was very grateful for. Without traffic, it should have taken around thirty minutes, but it took an hour and a half as it was around 2 pm, and as I had been warned - the traffic in Jakarta is terrible! But Reza, my host was wonderful to talk to. He had even studied in New Zealand at an Auckland high school and university and also owned a property in Bali.
He gave me some frank advice, which I highly appreciated: "It is the beginning of Ramadan here, so it is better that you keep your head down. The women, they demand respect, so cover your shoulders and knees and don't look them in the eye."
He also warned me not to walk alone by myself at night, as it is not even safe for Muslim women. Their public buses here have even had to employ security guards on every single one, and there are also separate women's only buses, to try to stop sexual abuse.
Passing the National Monument on the way
Reza's place, my apartment for the week was located in Thamrin, a local area. And I mean local, as in I was definitely the only European in the near vicinity and everywhere I went I had eyes on me.
The apartment was on the 39th level so it had great city views and the room had everything I could need - including a washing machine (which I'm sure every traveller would be grateful for!).
The view from my balcony
I zoomed right in to see the famous monument and mosque behind it
After taking me to the apartment, Reza kindly offered to show me to the supermarket which was located on the ground level, where there was an enormous local mall called Thamrin City. We zigzagged left, right, straight, up an escalator, left, right, through rows and rows of stalls. We eventually came to the supermarket - and he left me there. So I went about and did a little shop, stocking up on supplies, and then... I couldn't find my way back. What a surprise! I was stuck in this nightmare of going round and round and I just could not find my way. There were no signs in English (not that I knew what I was looking for) and I asked several shopkeepers (who ignored me) and a total of three security guards if they spoke English, and they did not.
I am normally a tough person, but after an hour and a half, I was on the verge of tears. I asked one more guard desperately if they spoke English and he actually got up and found me someone who did, who was my saviour. I was on the wrong level and he pointed me in the right direction...
I eventually made it back to my room feeling f***ing relieved, only to then try to connect to the wifi - which did not work! Reza said he would message me the password through the Airbnb email, which he did - however, I needed the internet to access it... the text that I got on my phone only showed the first two lines of the message and not the password.
I was so upset I literally screamed! I had to go back into that god damn mall (sorry, just venting my feelings here), and I had to try to find an Indonesian sim card to buy data. Two unsuccessful attempts and another hour later, I had a sim card and data on my phone.
It was now around 7 pm and I managed to capture a glimpse of the burning red sun going down, before tucking into my 20 cent pot of instant noodles for dinner, as I sure as hell was not going out again. The way everyone stared at me, the lack of help and being thrown wildly out of my comfort zone (which I normally embrace) really shook me.
The final damning point in my day was that after all of that stress, all I wanted was a beer, which as I very sadly found out, is not sold in supermarkets and local stores. (Cue violin strings). I settled with an alcohol-free Bintang radler, which okay, wasn't that bad, and went to bed wondering what I was doing in Jakarta.
Lit up at night
Day Two. 27.05.17.
I was woken up at 4:45 am to the loud cries/prayers of a nearby mosque. The sound certainly rose high and that was my first introduction to Ramadan. As I later found out, Muslims have to pray at scheduled times five times a day, the first before the beginning of the fast.
Today was a Saturday and to be honest I was not interested in going out and exploring.
I skyped with my husband Gareth and used the time to catch up on the pile of work I had accumulated in Bali. I did pop out around lunch time as I had heard there were cafes and food available in the mall but after a lof of searching I discovered they were of course all closed during the day for Ramadan. There was a 7/11 type convenience store on the ground level so I stocked up on more noodles, packets of chips, chocolate cereal, milk and bananas.
That was literally my day. The way the men stared at me wherever I walked, even with my skin covered and my head down made me feel very uncomfortable and to be honest I did not feel safe. I seriously considered buying an early ticket to Thailand, but I knew I had not even given this place a chance and that's what stopped me.
The view from the opposite side of the building I was staying in
Day Three. 28.05.17.
Being a Sunday, Reza had told me that it was a car-free morning along the main streets from 6 - 11 am. At 9:30 I thought I should pop out to see what the city was like. It was a 40-minute walk to the main icon of the city, the National Monument, or Monas, as the locals call it. It was actually a very pleasant walk and there were many locals out and about for a jog or cycle along the empty roads. I only passed one other European, and we both side-eyed each other as we walked past with the expression of "what is this person doing in Jakarta?" It was a funny moment.
Down my street a bit
Jakartan Tuk Tuks
I took my time, so as I approached Monas I took a few snaps and had to basically turn around to make it back in time before the cars came. I made a very quick stop at a Starbucks first, where I ordered a refreshing coffee frappuccino (it was very hot walking around in jeans at 35° C) and a ham and egg quiche which I wolfed down, my first proper meal in a while.
I was glad to have gone out and I walked passed and discovered Grand Indonesia, a big Western shopping mall, which was only a 15-minute walk from where I was staying. I noted to visit there the next day.
Day Four. 29.05.17.
Today, as predicted, I walked back to Grand Indonesia. This became a haven I frequented often. The shops didn't so much appeal to me, as I wasn't interested in buying anything, but there were many local food courts (that were open!) and it was a safe place, you even had to put your bags through a scanner to enter inside. I explored the mall and found an excellent Japanese sushi restaurant, which you ordered on an iPad, and it came flying out on train-like rails. And they sold beer! Glorious beer. I was very happy and over-ordered, but extremely pleased with my discovery.
A very eerie morning (it started pouring soon after)
Inside the mall
I ordered another 4 pieces after this...
Day Five. 30.05.17.
After spending the best part of the day working I ventured back to Grand Indonesia in the afternoon with the plans of visiting the Skye Bar for sunset. I had read it was one of the top things to do in Jakarta and conveniently it happened to be attached to that exact mall. I browsed a few shops before locating the only bar in the mall called Paulaner Brauhaus. Now if anyone here knows me, you'll know I love my German beer, and I was ecstatic to find there was not only a bar (uncommon), but a German bar here. It took me a while to find, but eventually I settled with a delicious half pint of freshly poured Hefeweizen, my favourite. I laughed when I looked around wondering why everyone was staring at me - I was the only female in the bar, and also alone, which I suppose might be strange to some people.
Afterwards, I rocked up to the 56th floor to the Skye Bar and wowed at the incredible skyline. I had two cocktails, a mango vodka and a dragonfruit margarita, both around $15 AUD each, but you pay for the view. I enjoyed watching the sky darken, but as it was super cloudy/smoggy on the western side I couldn't actually see the sun set.
The Skye Bar is at the very top!
Once it was dark, I popped down to the busy local food court and ordered a delicious Indonesian chicken curry. I was the only European amongst a sea of people breaking their fast, but I was not unwelcome. As I was out late after dark, I decided to try my hand at my first Uber motorbike. I already had the app downloaded on my phone from Australia and I didn't need to change anything to use it. It automatically came up with the extra option to choose a motorbike. It arrived quickly, the guy didn't speak English, but he didn't need to. I hopped on and at first, held on for dear life - but it was a breeze! I had a huge dopey grin on my face, weaving in and out of the traffic, and it didn't take long at all. Guess how much that cost me? A grand total of 50 cents AUD. I was flabbergasted.
Day Six. 31.05.17.
I researched quite a bit and although there weren't many tours I found for Jakarta, I happened to find a free walking tour on Trip Advisor that had good reviews, among the central city highlights. They do several tours including a street food tour I was interested in, but as it was Ramadhan, it was temporarily canceled. I booked my new favourite way to get around - Uber motorbike and it was about a fifteen-minute ride to the meeting point at the National Museum.
I was the only person on the tour (I wasn't surprised) so I basically got my own personal tour! We started with Monas before heading to the famous Istiqlal Mosque - the largest in Southeast Asia, passing some interesting streets and buildings along the way.
This was my first time in a mosque so it was a very new experience for me. Even though I was fully clothed I still had to don a robe (which was stifling hot) and you had to take your shoes off to enter. I cursed myself for not bringing socks, but ignored that and got shown around the enormous place. I was taken to a viewing platform where I was allowed to take photos (I didn't want to be rude but I did snap a quick couple). The praying sections are segregated and the right side is for men only and the left for women. The set times for that day's praying were all illuminated on large clocks on the walls. I was shown the ground floors where the big beating drum is that calls the prayers and the large area where a capacity of 200,000 people can meet at one time during big celebrations. There were young boys playing around the drum and they all came over and stood around me while my guide talked about the significance of the drum. They couldn't even say hello but they were very interested in me, this blonde girl that was in their mosque (there were no other tourists about that I saw).
Afterwards, we walked across the road to the Saint Mary's Cathedral. They were built opposite each other as a symbol of tolerance among all religions. Even their national slogan translates to "Unity in diversity." The top spires were destroyed in earthquakes twice before they decided to rebuild in stone, which is why they are white.
We had a peek inside and then the three-hour tour was up, which sure went by quickly. I really enjoyed my day and I learned so much from my guide, even where his top favourite spots in Indonesia were to travel to (which I hastily wrote down). I gave him a decent tip and Uber motorbiked back to Grand Indonesia. By my third ride, I was cruising around on the back of the bike like a pro, not even holding on. Totally fitting in (not really, I stuck out like a sore thumb). That ride was rather interesting, I was proposed to by a guy on the side of the road while stuck in traffic. That sure doesn't happen every day. I had one last Paulaner Hefeweizen (and the bartender impressively remembered my order) before heading back to the food court for a cheap and delicious local dish.
The national symbol and slogan
Day Seven. 1.06.17.
For my final day in Jakarta I was up bright and early for a day trip I had also found through Trip Advisor. I had my own personal driver and guide for the day to see more of the city. I had shaken off my initial apprehension and wished to make the most out of my time there. As I had already seen the central highlights, I was first taken to the Old Town Square which has the first ever building, built in 1707 which served as the Town Hall.
We then drove to East Jakarta to Taman Mini Indonesia Indah, meaning 'Beautiful Indonesian Miniature Park.' This was a large cultural park full of miniature traditional Indonesian houses, museums, a water and fun park, even a reptile park. I started on a gondola ride around the entire 250 acres, which had excellent views (although it was a rather bumpy and nerve-racking ride!).
I then got to go inside one of the traditional West Sumatran houses I saw from above. One part was dressed for a typical ceremonial wedding and there were traditional bridal and groom outfits on display.
I was super excited to visit the reptile park as they had a Komodo dragon and I had never seen one before. It was just a small one, but I heard all about how dangerous they are - basically, they are mini dinosaurs. There were also many different types of Indonesian lizards, crocodiles and humongous snakes, the biggest I had ever seen!
Our final stop there was Museum Indonesia, of which the outside was a Hindu style temple. It reminded me so much of Bali and I loved it! Inside were three levels of historical Indonesian artifacts, displays, sculptures, custom clothing and mini traditional rooms of homes.
I remember learning about Indonesian puppets from Play School! (Kids TV show)
Lastly, I was taken to a famous Gado Gado restaurant where I tried the traditional Indonesian dish. Gado Gado is rice, vegetables, potato crackers and an egg served with a peanut sauce.
It was an excellent tour and the last couple of days ended my time in Jakarta on a good note. The next morning I packed up and was dropped back to the airport for my next adventure to Thailand. I won't lie, I was very excited to get to Thailand.
I was told to skip Jakarta as there are much nicer places to visit in Indonesia. I definitely believed them but I still wanted to go. I try not to regret anything that I do, as it is all life lessons that you can learn from, and I learned a lot in Jakarta. It was a new cultural experience and opened my eyes to a different part of the world I hadn't seen before. I was impressed by their symbols of religious tolerance, but whether it is actually peacefully tolerated, I cannot be sure. I think if I had of stayed in a comfortable Western hotel and received great service, went about my tours and stuck to Starbucks and the mall, then yes my experience would have been significantly different, but my eyes would have been shielded. Staying in a local area showed me the real side of things, the streets and the real people and I did feel very exposed and uncomfortable at times, being alone and a female. However, all was well, I kept to myself and walked about during the day fine enough and it was an interesting place to visit. Would I return again? Once was enough for me, but I did as always, appreciate my time there.
If you would like to see the highlights video I made from my time in Jakarta for Youtube, here is the link here:
One of my guides told me the locals call Jakarta the 'Big Durian'. This made me laugh, and he said "Smelly on the outside, but sweet on the inside." That, just like the fruit, might just be a matter of opinion! Coming next will be my travels in Bangkok and Krabi, hope to see you there!
My four best friends and two of their partners from New Zealand met me in Bali and we all had the greatest week ever! We were celebrating a milestone birthday for Angela, plus we all wanted to holiday together again as it had been six months since our last trip to Rarotonga! Here are a few favourites of the million photos I took and snippets of what we got up to in a fun-filled week:
Day One. 17.05.17
My friends arrived and we checked into The Breezes Bali Resort & Spa in the late afternoon. I had stayed there once before during my first visit to Bali and I absolutely love this resort. After being shown to our rooms and a small tour we hopped straight into the inviting pool and took advantage of happy hour! We also joined in the pool bingo game that runs daily at 6 pm which is always a fun time.
In the evening we wandered down the road for dinner at a local favourite Mades Warung. Many of us ordered the Babi Guling, which I recommended to try (as it was their first time to Indonesia), which is a traditional Balinese spit roast pork dish. We also got to watch a bit of Indonesian dancing which is on in the evenings at 8 pm.
At the entrance of The Breezes
I shared a comfortable deluxe twin room with my friend Anita
Beautiful welcome flowers and fresh fruit platter
We had our own private balcony in front of the pool!
Today us girls took a taxi to Legian where we first stopped into Bali Tattoo Studio to book in our tattoos for our last day there. I got a tattoo with them the last time I was in Bali and I highly recommend them. (We booked for our last day as you can't swim with fresh tattoos). We then wandered down the road, past the memorial site where the Bali bombings happened in 2002, to Smart Spa and Salon. Two of us wanted a hair cut and I, again had been there before and recommended them. $16 for a good hair cut, not bad at all considering at home it can be upwards of $60 in most places. Also in the area we had a delicious lunch at Kopi Pot. I had sate lilit which is minced fish on lemongrass sticks that comes on a charcoal grill. So delicious! Also, obligatory Bintangs, of course.
Before returning to The Breezes we popped into Spa Bali which is just down the road from the resort. I got a mani-pedi, because when in Bali - treat yo-self! We then hopped back in the pool and rested for the afternoon. That evening we had dinner at the hotel's own restaurant. We ate there at least four times, the food is always delicious and in-house guests get a 20% discount so it's a very good price too. Afterwards, we had a booking at Frankenstein's which is only a 10-minute walk away. It's a fun monster laboratory themed bar with entertaining cabaret shows on every night, awesome themed drinks (like eyeball martini, 'injection' shots and iv bag cocktails) and good music. It was a very fun night!
The memorial site
Lunch time Bintangs at Kopi Pot
Delicious sate lilit
Amazing cocktails at the swim up pool bar
Fun at Frankensteins
Day Three. 19.05.17
Today was our friend Angela's birthday! We had a fun day planned starting with water sports at Nusa Dua. We booked with a highly rated company called Bali Jetpacks & Water Sports which included transfers. We picked from a wide range of activities including parasailing, banana boating and jet skiing. I got a little seasick, so if you're planning on doing water sports take some sea legs with you! It was a really fun time though and also included in the price was a professional photographer so we got a tonne of photos at the end of it which was such a nice surprise!
After a late lunch we got dressed up for the evening and had celebratory champagne before taxi-ing to Potato Head Beach Club, one of my favourite spots for sunset! It was as always very busy, but we eventually got seats and had a nice cocktail to enjoy the sunset and tropical vibes. We had a reservation at Bambu for dinner, a very nice restaurant just a five-minute walk from there. I love the setting over the water and the food is absolutely delicious.
The Breezes surprised Ange with a birthday breakfast treat!
Today we all had a well-deserved lazy pool day, as we had been quite busy up until then. We enjoyed the 2 for 1 cocktail happy hour special that runs at The Breezes from 11 am - 1 pm and then ventured out for lunch back to the local Mades Warung. We got a bit excited when we saw there was a beer tower on the menu so we all pitched in and shared! 3 litres of delicious. Then a stop for ice cream and more relaxing around the pool and that was the gist of our day!
Not a bad way to start the day at all
Cool street art in Seminyak
The sate dish was my absolute favourite from The Breezes own restaurant
Day Five. 21.05.17
Today we had a second lazy pool day which was again, so nice and relaxing. One of our party had a full-day motorcross tour, but the rest again enjoyed happy hour before venturing out for a walk. This time we went to Seminyak Square and had a nice lunch at Naty's Restaurant. I had my fave, Nasi Goreng and a refreshing Bintang radler. We browsed in one of the coolest shops I've ever been in called Skull, where everything from clothes, bags, accessories and memorabilia are skull themed. I wanted to buy so many things! After a shopping fix we walked home via the beach which was nice to see again. Aaand cue more relaxing!
Lunch at Naty's
Coolest shop ever!
A random figure in front of Seminyak markets
Back to the pool bar!
Day Six. 22.05.17
Today four of the seven of us had a tour booked to climb Mount Batur for sunrise. The rest of us three (including me) decided to see Tanah Lot, a famous temple on the coast that is a rock formation with a Hindu shrine perched on top. We were a little scammed by our taxi driver, but that was bound to happen sometime. Tip: Hire a driver for a fixed price and don't take a taxi, he rigged the meter and tried to charge us 7x more than we should have paid. Never mind, I still really enjoyed seeing it and I was even blessed by a holy Balinese Hindu priest which was a special experience.
A typical breakfast for me from the delicious daily buffet
Today all of us did a full day trip to Ubud. We booked a driver easily through The Breezes tour information centre for 8 hours, but we actually went overtime for 10 hours! We had so many things we wished to see and ran out of time. You definitely need at least two days in Ubud to be able to see everything. But we prioritised and had a great day visiting the Tegalalang rice terraces, Bali Pulina for Luwak coffee tasting, Pura Tirta Empul - a holy water temple and my favourite in Bali.
We had a nice lunch before visiting the Sacred Monkey Forest where most of us had a cheeky monkey on our shoulders for a banana. I love seeing them roam around freely, as they should be. Just watch your belongings! Lastly, we visited the Tegenungan waterfall where we went for a brief dip. It was so great to visit Ubud again and get out of the main touristy hub for the day. Next time I will definitely stay the night there.
Today was sadly our final day. The others did some last minute souvenir shopping before checking out at 12 pm. We all jumped into a taxi back to Legian where we stopped first at Warung Padmasari, another of my favourite local places to eat. Next up it was tattoo time at Bali Tattoo Studio. We all got them done one after the other and it was smooth and painless (for me!). Afterwards, we waited outside with a beer for the boys to return who had gone shopping and one of the tattoo artists joined us playing guitar and singing for us. He was so talented and it was such cool vibes! A great ending to our trip. We then had to say our goodbyes as they were leaving back for New Zealand that night and I had to be off for the next part of my adventure.
Sad to say goodbye to the beautiful Breezes
With our tattoo artists
Aaand one last group shot sporting our new friendship tattoos!
I truly love Bali so much and enjoyed it just as much as ever. I honestly wish I could live there! I love walking down the streets and seeing the colourful Hindu offerings, I love the temples and the smell of incense. I love the flowers everywhere and how lush and green it is. I love the food and mostly how warm and inviting the Balinese people are. I cannot wait to return again for the fourth time, no doubt soon enough!
I can guarantee I will be staying again at The Breezes Bali Resort & Spa, who are outstanding. The resort is absolute perfection and the small touches every day in our rooms, including a different towel animal and personal note, the friendly staff, amazing pools and services, restaurant, cocktails, everything about them is top-notch. I have written a hotel review of them previously on my blog, if you would like more information here is the review.
I also made a video for my YouTube channel of all the fun my friends and I got up to during our week together in Bali:
It was a fantastic week and all of us left with some great memories (and polaroids) that we will treasure forever. Next up will be my Jakarta travel diary which was a lot more challenging than Bali! Coming soon.
It's now officially less than 24 hours until I am off on my two-month overseas adventure in Southeast Asia. This time I'm going with a different perspective as to how I possibly would as a regular holiday-maker.
As a budding travel blogger and writer, I want to explore, write and really uncover places.
I have done months of research and been told so many things from different sources about each place I have chosen to go to. While I always appreciate other people's advice, knowledge and opinions, some places that I have been told to skip, I'm still going to go to. I wish to make my own opinions. Why shouldn't I go somewhere just because they didn't enjoy their experience?
I wish to see the places I've chosen for specific reasons, and I'm diving in head first.
As I am travelling solo for most of this trip and organised everything myself, it's easy to second-guess myself and wonder if I'm making a big mistake somewhere along the way.
But even if I have, as always, mistakes are valuable lessons to be learned, and perhaps others can learn from them as well.
Here are some questions that have been running through my head that I wanted to write down. I'll come back and answer each of these at the conclusion of my trip:
1. Is Bali just as magical to visit the third time as it is the first? 2. Will I be treated any differently as a travel blogger compared to when I was a regular guest? 3. Should I have skipped Jakarta like everyone told me to? Or is it worth visiting? 4. Has Bangkok changed since I was last there 4 years ago? 5. Was Krabi a good idea to visit during the Monsoon season? 6. Should I have missed Phuket and gone somewhere less touristy? 7. Do I still love Thailand just as much as from my first visit? Or was I wearing rose-tinted glasses back then? 8. After exploring more of Thailand, what is my new favourite place? Koh Lanta? Chiang Rai? 9. Is Siem Reap really the awful place I hear about? Is it really only worth going to just for Angkor Wat? 10. Is it safe to travel Southeast Asia alone as a female? 11. Is it difficult crossing borders by land to Myanmar and Laos? 12. Is Hoi An going to become the new Bali? 13. Do I regret going to any of the places I went to? 14. What was my best experience? 15. What was my worst? 16. What's something I wish I had brought with me? 17. What's something I didn't? 18. What was my favourite day? 19. What would I do differently next time? 20. What have I gained from my two months of travelling?
I thought twenty questions was a good round number. So there we go! I look forward to answering them in a couple of months time.
My next posts will be coming to you live from my first stop, Bali! I hope you follow along with my adventures, here I'll be writing weekly travel diary type updates as well as my regular destination guides and tips from each place, reviews, food posts - all sorts! I'll also be posting vlogs and travel videos on my YouTube channel, as well as plenty of pictures on Instagram. Right, I best be off to finish packing!