Tag Archives: backpacking

Hand Luggage Only – Packing like a Pro!

27 Jul

Tomorrow I set off on my longest solo backpacking trip thus far in my life – a 3 months trip that will take me from South Korea, to South East Asia to Australia and then back home to Ireland via London at the end of October. I have been looking forward to and planning this trip for months, but in typical Janet fashion…I always end of packing my bag last-minute. It’s currently 7pm here in Korea, and I’m heading out for one last Korean BBQ dinner with some close friends in an hour. That means I have minimal time to get my bags packed and get started with the epic task of cleaning and clearing out my apartment before getting on my one way flight to Bangkok tomorrow morning.

I’m not too worried to be honest. All my friends here know that I’m a pretty quick and light packer – just give me 10 minutes to throw some stuff in my sturdy little backpack and I’m ready to go! Usually for weekend trips, I only bring one small rucksack and for longer trips overseas I bring my 10-year-old 60-70 liter backpack which has been to over 30 countries with me! This time, however, I have set myself a challenge. I am attempting to pack everything I could possibly need for my 3 month trip into my tiny weekend rucksack and I’m going to document this challenge right here, in this blog post!

Okay so the first thing I did was to empty my wardrobe. I realized, despite shipping home 15kg of clothes and shoes, I still had WAY too many bits and pieces left behind. I had to be very firm with myself and anything that there is even a SLIGHT chance of me not wearing was not allowed to come along on the adventure. ESSENTIALS ONLY JANET!! I really wanted to bring my curling iron but NO that got put in the ‘stuff to be sent home’ box. ALong with my old laptop, 4 very pretty dresses, 2 extra ‘just in case’ pairs of shoes, a huge make-up bag, a GIANT beach towel (nobody’s got room for that!) and many other things that simply do not need to come with me. After all, I really don’t need very much when backpacking through South East Asia, especially considering the temperature is rarely going to drop below 30’c for the entire trip!

Anyway, here is everything that was left on my bed, post wardrobe cull! As you can see from the picture, there’s still quite a lot left.

packing like a pro

 

Here is a list of exactly what I plan to pack – the next challenge is fitting it all into 1 small bag!!

  • 12 t-shirts.
  • 4 summer dresses
  • 2 jumpers
  • 3 pairs of shorts
  • 3 bikinis
  • 12 pairs of underwear
  • 4 bras
  • 2 pairs of socks
  • A headband
  • A wash bag with shampoo, conditioner, face wash, cleanser, toothbrush and toothpaste.
  • Face Wipes
  • Face Moisturizer
  • 1 small Body Shop perfume oil – sweet scent lasts all day
  • A few basic make-up items such as Mac and Bare Minerals Powder, 1 mascara and 1 lipstick.
  • 1 hair brush
  • 1 deodorant
  • 1 pair of flips flops
  • 1 pair of Vans shoes for walking/sightseeing whatever else
  • 1 documents folder with all my flight info/visa applications/hostel bookings etc
  • 1 book (Kane and Abel by Jeffrey Archer – one of my favorites!)
  • 1 small box of photos given to me by my best buddy here in Korea…to make me smile!
  • Passport, wallet and other essentials!

STEP 1: Lay everything very flat in the back section (usually designed to carry a laptop!)

2014-07-27 18.36.40Step 2: All of my make-up and any smaller items can be squashed into the small front pocket!

2014-07-27 18.39.50Step 3: Neatly pack everything else into the bag – it’s a tight squeeze but hopefully it will all fit!!

 

2014-07-27 18.40.04Step 4: Put all my most important and valuable items into my handbag (passport, wallet, book etc!)

 

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And…I’m all set for my 3 month backpacking adventure!2014-07-27 18.42.49

 

My Top 10 Hostels Around The World

11 Jun

Having stayed in 100’s of hostels in over 40 countries and on 5 continents, I think it’s be about time I shared my top 10 favorite hostels. These gems are the type of places that were so good, so welcoming and so jam-packed with facilities (despite their rock bottom prices) that I would return to a country JUST to stay there again.

In no particular order, here are my TOP TEN hostels worldwide.

10. Away With The Fairies Backpackers, Hogsback Mountains, South Africa

snow south africa

This was one of my favorite places in South Africa. The name itself was enough to persuade me to leave the stunning South African coastline and make the trek inland and up into the Hogsback mountains. Perched high on a cliff-top overlooking three beautiful mountains, Away With The Fairies is the perfect place to escape for a few days, and ‘return to nature’. The greater area also happens to be the birthplace of famed writer J.R.R Tolkein and trekking through the many trails, waterfalls and scenic villages, it’s not difficult to see where he may have got his inspiration from. The rooms have names such as ‘Bilbo’ and ‘Frodo’ and the common room and dormitories are the most cosy and homely rooms I have ever stayed in.

outdoor bath hogsbackWhether you come in Winter or Summer, you will feel right at home in this backpackers. If you’re lucky enough to arrive in Winter, you might even get to see the area covered in a beautiful blanket of snow. If you’re lucky enough to visit during the hot summer months, there is an outdoor bath with the most incredible view of the surrounding countryside where you can cool off. A visit to this magical hostel is a MUST if you are ever visiting South Africa!

 

 

9. Reggae Mansion Hostel, Kuala Lumpar, Malaysia

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While many hostel names can be a little deceiving, Reggae Mansion in Kuala Lumpar is exactly what is says it is. It is an absolutely HUGE boutique backpackers hostel and besides the price and the fact that there are backpackers everywhere, it’s as far from a regular hostel as you can imagine.

reggae barEven looking at the hostel on arrival makes many people think, “Wow, what is this place?!” Then comes the vast range of facilities which include but are not limited to; A rooftop bar and tanning area, a cocktail bar, a restaurant serving delicious Malaysian and Western meals, dormitories where everyone has a double bed and their own private curtain and plug sockets, multiple areas to chill out and read and…a cinema. Yes, that’s right, this hostel has its own cinema on the property! They can also organize tours to just about anywhere, have nightly parties on the roof and take the guests out to many of the amazing restaurants and clubs KL has to offer. If you are looking for a place to stay in KL, look no further!!

 

8. Gili Hostel, Lombok, Indonesia

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If you are traveling around Indonesia by yourself, The Gili Islands are THE place to go. If you are traveling to the Gili Islands by yourself, Gili Hostel is most definitely the place to go. It’s the only backpackers on the island and it is an absolute melting-pot of people each night.

gili-hostelSo famed are parties in Gili Hostel, mainly for their cheap as chips Vodka-Joss shots, that people who are staying in the islands other hotels make the effort to come over to the rooftop bar each night to party the night away. However, in true backpacking spirit (and to give many weary-eyed travelers a chance to sleep!) the bar closes at a respectable hour and all the patrons are brought as a group to one of the islands nightly parties! Besides being a great place to meet people, the hostel is mere meters from the crystal clear waters and the staff are happy to help you organize an array of trips such as scuba diving, snorkeling, sunset walks and more. The spacious dorms are kept spotless and always refreshingly cool, and the price is cheap enough that you may never want to leave!

 

7. South Coast Backpackers, Diani Beach, Kenya

south coast backpackers kenya

Their tagline is, “It’s not a business. It’s a house with a bar and a pool’ and honestly that is EXACTLY what it is. The property was once a luxurious villa, where only people who had more money than they knew what to do with could stay. After the violence and political unrest in Kenya, tourism was severely affected and many of the luxurious hotels near Mombassa were forced to close down. Their loss was our benefit, and by ‘our’ I mean backpackers the world over! This beautiful villa has been turned into a pseudo backpackers hostel but like the two owners say, really it’s just a beautiful house with a bar and pool. There’s even a personal chef who will cook you up whatever you like for breakfast!

Beach-Kenya-1125x784During low season, or if you stay mid-week, it’s possible to have the whole house and pool to yourself! During the weekend, however, backpackers, peace-corps workers and expats flock to this little piece of paradise to let off steam, enjoy the great ‘Happy Hour’ deals at the poolside bar and soak up the sun. The guys who work there are super laid back and full of incredible travel tales. They can also organize a variety of trips for you and will be sure to remind you that despite the fact that you may not want to leave their property, one of the most beautiful beaches in Kenya is only a 400 meter walk away! Kenya is very lacking on decent hostels so if you are traveling in this region and are craving a ‘true backpackers experience’, this is the place to go.

6. Frendz Hostel, Boracay, Philippines

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Talk to anyone who has been to Boracay and there are two common themes that they all talk about. The fact that you simply must stay at Frendz Resort and that you must, must, must do the Boracay Pub Crawl! I’m not sure if they are connected but they both have the same mission, ‘Turn strangers into friends!’.

frendz-guesthouse-lounge-boracay-philippinesFrendz Hostel is literally meters away from one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Do a quick google search of ‘Boracay’ and you will know what I’m talking about! While there is nothing too special about the dorms or the common area (there’s a bar, a large table to eat or chat at, a pool table and they have private deck chairs on the beach for guests to use) it’s really the people who make this place so special. Everyone who stays here is dying to make new friends, party all night long and find a fun group of people to go exploring the island with. I would especially recommend this hostel is you are traveling solo to the Philipines and while you’re at it, sign yourself up to the Boracay Pub Crawl. Fun guaranteed!

 

5. Kimchi Guesthouse, Hongdae, Korea

hongdae lights

After almost 2 years in Korea and countless weekends staying in various hostels around Seoul, Kimchi Guesthouse in Hongdae remains one of my favourites. The rooms are spacious but cosy (an essential during the cold, Korean Winter!), the staff are friendly and welcoming and best of all, the hostel is only a hop, skip and a jump from the most-happening party district in Korea.

kimchi guesthouseWhen it comes to a place to stay, it often comes down to ‘location, location, location’, and Kimchi Guesthouse seems to have got this spot on. It’s in a quiet enough street that you can go to bed early if needed but also close enough to Seoul’s vibrant nightlife district that you could walk home alone and not feel concerned for your safety. My friends and I have probably stayed in over 10 hostels in and around this district of Seoul but this one is a firm favorite.

 

4. Fawlty Towers Backpackers, Livingstone, Zambia

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If you want to visit  Victoria Falls, one of the seven natural wonders of the worlds, and don’t want to fork out hundreds of dollars to stay in one the limited hotel accommodation options in the area, Fawlty Towers is the place for you. You can’t really go wrong with a large backpackers just minutes away from the Zambian/Zimbabwean border , located in the small town of Livingstone which is now known as the ‘Adrenaline Junkie Capital of Africa!’ Bungee jumping, rock climbing, abseiling, white water rafting, gorge swings, micro lights flights and walking safari’s are just some of the nail-biting activities on offer.

fawlty towers backpackersIn the hostel itself there’s a bar, a large swimming pool with deck/lounge chairs and the dorms are fully equipped with much-needed mosquito nets and fans! This spot is also a great meeting spot to connect with other travelers as it is very close to the point where the Tazara Train (that runs from Tanzania to Zambia) ends and thus is a melting pot of backpackers, some having traveled all the way down through Northern and Eastern Africa while others are just beginning their adventure North.

 

3. Friendly Fun Franks, Riga, Latvia

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Any hostel that gives it’s guests a free beer before they have even fully checked in will always be held in high esteem by me. Voted Best Hostel in the World by users of Hostelworld.com a few years ago, staying here was one of the best experiences I have had in Europe. Not many people think of going on holidays to Latvia, but when a group of friends and I found cheap flights to Riga a few years back, booking this hostel for the duration of our stay was one of the best decisions we ever made.

friendly-fun-franks-backpackerLocated in central Riga and overlooking the Daugava river, on which many locals (and some brave tourists!) can be seen skating across during the winter months, the hostel is in a great location. The common room is both large and comfortable (and adorned with many certificates of praise received by the hostel!) and the bar, which they open at all sorts of crazy hours to meet demand, is the perfect spot to unwind with other travelers. The staff, however, are what made this place truly special. I’m not sure who Frank is, and he may not even be all that friendly, but he sure knows how to hire some of the most helpful, beautiful and friendly staff on the planet! Throughout our stay, they showed us all around the city, brought us to new bars and clubs each night, and booked us on all sorts of wacky adventures such as shooting AK47’S in old Russian Bunkers and sending us to some quaint town where we could go sledding! By the end of our one-week vacation, we had made many lifelong friends and I had a new hostel to add to my list of favorites.

2. Nomads Hostel, Queenstown, New Zealand

Queenstown_in_Winter

 

This hostel was one the most amazing places I have ever stayed. It was one of those times when even your super high expectations for a destination are exceeded and you just know that you have picked THE best place in stay. The hostel itself is huge but what makes it great is that they have an ample amount of facilities for everyone. There are lounge chairs everywhere, the dorms have balconies and there are tons of computers for guests to use. The dorms are spacious, and if you have the cash to splash out on a private room you might even think you are in a top hotel rather than a cheap hostel.

960_960_sauna-queenstownThe people working and staying here are super social, and as you are allowed to drink in the hostel, it is a great place to meet and chat with other backpackers without having to go out on the town and spend lots of money. They organize lots of nights out including a 10 dollar pub crawl and can also organize a variety of tours, adventures, flights and adrenaline pumping activities to fill your days and empty your wallet! Also, did I mention there’s a sauna?! Madness. If I ever go back to New Zealand, this will be the first place on my list! 

 

 

1. Buccaneers Backpackers, Cintsa, South Africa

buccaneers-lodge-backpackers

Honestly, I could probably write a full bog post on hostels in South Africa as there are so many great spots! I was going back and forth for the last hour deciding whether to include one of the hostels I stayed in while traveling in Australia or to include a second South African hostel. In the end, I had to stay true to myself, and this gem of a Backpackers on the wild coast of South Africa wins the last spot! The hostel is really rustic and the views of the beach below are spectacular!

buccaneersThey can organize horse back riding along the beach, daily surfing lessons or weekly surf camps and their poolside parties are out of this world. It’s a strange place as it feels like you are escaping the hustle and bustle and getting back to nature but at the same time it’s such a popular spot that you are bound to meet rakes of other backpackers while staying here. Sometimes it is hard to pinpoint the precise reasons why a hostel is great, you just get a feeling while staying there that you never really want to leave and be it 1 year or 10 years since your last stay, it is a place that will always stay in your memory. For me, Buccaneers is one of those places. :)

How To Book Cheap Flights – A Guide to Skyscanner

10 Jun

A lot of people regularly ask me how I always seem to find the cheapest flights to the places I plan on traveling to, so I thought I would write a quick post about one of my favourite booking websites – SkyScanner.

Tip 1 – Search regularly

I browse SkyScanner as often as most internet addicts browse Reddit or 9Gag…let’s just say I spend an obscene amount of time on the site and am always ready to grab any cheap deals which interest me. In fact, my addiction to skyscanner and browsing flights to exotic destinations at bizarre times throughout the night recently led me to booking a flight in my sleep! When I woke up in the morning I had an email confirmation from SkyScanner with a booking reference number for a 1 way flight to Thailand! Turns out I must have half woken in the middle of the night and found a flight from Seoul, Korea to Bangkok for less than 100 euro – a bargain, in my sleepy trance, that I simply could not refuse!

Searching for flights on a regular basis would probably be my first tip to those looking for flights – always be on the look-out. Many budget airlines like Air Asia and Ryanair hold last-minute sales that are only available for 48 hours so if you don’t always have one eye on the prize, you will risk missing out.

Tip 2 – Delete those cookies!

Did you know many popular booking websites, including skyscanner, will increase the price of the flights if they know the specific flights you are looking for. Every time you refresh, you may notice the flight price sky-rocketing. You may think, “Oh Crap – If I had booked 10 minutes ago I would have got that deal.” or “Damn, someone booked the flight I wanted and now only the expensive seats are left!”. Wong, wrong, wrong. The airline knows what you want, knows the days you want to fly and each search you type in is being saved and used against you. Each time you log on to SkyScanner, make sure to delete the cookies on your computer. This way, only the cheapest flights will appear and you won’t get tricked into thinking the best deals have already been taken. This simple trick could save you hundreds of dollars!

cookies delete skyscanner

Tip 3 – Never book flights at the weekend

I’m not talking about the day you FLY, I’m talking about the day you actually sit in front of the computer and SEARCH for your flight. Did you know that the cheapest days to book flights are Tuesdays and Thursdays? The airlines release new seats on these days and often there are lots of great bargains to be found. The most expensive time to look for flights is at the weekends because that is when most people have free time and start to plan vacations. Airlines know this and thus hike the price of flights at the weekends. Goodness, they’re a sneaky lot. (Note: this doesn’t ALWAYS apply, see example below, so make sure to play around with your days and dates to find the best option for you).

skyscanner prices

Tip 4 – Be Flexible

Similar to Tip number 3, there are also cheaper days and cheaper dates to fly. Some of these are obvious such as flying on September 11th, Christmas Day or New Years Eve. 3 days that most people in the Western world really, really, REALLY don’t want to travel on. Other days include Tuesdays and Wednesdays. I mean, nobody really wants to leave for a vacation on a Tuesday, do they? If you are willing to fly on these unpopular days, you are guaranteed to find much cheaper flights. On SkyScanner, there is an option to click WHOLE MONTH when choosing the dates you wish to fly. When you pick this option, the website will tell you the cheapest dates to fly.

Skyscanner-flights-search1

Tip 5: Go EVERYWHERE

Not fussed where you go, as long as you get out of  your home country for a few days? Skyscanner will be your new best friend. Whenever I want to go away for a long weekend in Korea, I click the option from Seoul to EVERYWHERE. This means that SkyScanner will tell you the cheapest cities and countries to fly to on the specific dates you are free. Using this great feature has landed me in the Philippines earlier this year and on a solo trip to Japan in October last year. Use this feature, and use it often, and soon you will be traveling to more countries than you ever dreamed possible!

skyscanner-cheap-flights-results

 

Tip 6 – Switch Browsers

I was told recently that flight prices can increase or decrease depending on the browser you are using. Apparently the browser you use can be linked to the computer you own and this can be linked to what kind of income you earn/your social class. For example, if you search for flights using Safari, then you must be a Mac user and are deemed to have more money than someone using Firefox or Chrome. I just did a search using both Safari and Chome, at the exact same time, to test out this method and sadly it did not seem to make a difference. That said, you never know, so no harm in trying, eh?

If anyone has any more tips about booking cheap flights, please leave a comment!

 

 

Mastering the Travel Selfie in Japan

7 Mar

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Transforming into a Mermaid in the Philippines

6 Mar

I must admit, when I went to the Philippines for a long weekend in Februray the last thing I thought I would end up doing was posing on one of the most beautiful beaches in te world, in front of tourists and locals, dressed in a full-on Mermaid costume!!

Rather than jet skiing, or banana boating, or opting for a romantic sunset dhow cruise, my friend Lauren and I decided this could be our one and only life opportunity to make our childhood dreams come true, and paid a visit to the local dive stor which organizes “Mermaid Lessons”.

These lessons range from ‘How to Pose like a Mermaid’, ‘How to swim with a tail’, ‘Mermaid snorkelling’ and even ‘Mermaid scuba diving’ for the super brave! We opted for the Mermaid photo shoot on the beach and were not dissapointed. Although the sesion only lasted about half an hour, it was probably the highlight of our entire trip. (That wouldn’t be too hard considering what a disaster my trip was…but I’ll save that story for another day.)

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mermaid photo 1

mermaid posing boracay

mermaids

mermaids boracay

janet mermaid boracay

lauren mermaid

 

 

Ankgor Wat Sunrise ~ Cambodia

14 Jan

Watching the sunrise over the ancient temple of Angkor Wat in Cambodia is something that sits firmly at the top of many seasoned travelers bucket lists.

I am lucky enough to be able to say that the first sunrise I saw in 2014, that big glowing ball of fire, slowly rising into the sky, was at Angkor Wat and it was one of the most incredible moments.

Sure I had to fight off a few 100 other people to get that ‘perfect picture’ and within moments of arriving at the temple grounds was pestered by coffee shop owners who go by the name of Harry Potter and Rambo(!!) to come to their cafe for breakfast “whenever Im ready” but nothing could take away the beauty and serenity of that perfect sunrise.

I will write later, in detail, about the best sights, smells and sticky situations we got ourselves into while traveling around Cambodia, but for now I leave you with these photos of a very special morning in Siem Reap.

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Geisha’s, Temples and Sake Tasting – Kyoto, Japan

1 Dec

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kyoto shrine

golden temple kyoto

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kyoto temple

gion district

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Penang Street Art

11 Aug

While traveling around Malaysia for 3 weeks in July, Penang was always high up on my list of places to visit. Many of the guidebooks describe it as the ‘pearl of the orient’, a crossroads between Eastern Asia and Western Asia with an eclectic mix of Indonesians, Indians, Chinese and Malay people inhabiting the island.

If there is one thing Penang is famous for it’s the food. In fact, CNN Travel place it number 1 in its list of 10 greatest cities to eat street food and every traveler on the road had nothing but praise about the delicious delicacies to be found here. I had a clear image of what my 3 days in Penang would be like long before I arrived, as my mouth watered at the thought of trying out everything the island had to offer. Everyone goes to Penang for the food, and I thought my stay there would be the same.

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penang street art

georgetown street art

On arrival, I was more mesmerized my the old colonial architecture and clean, white washed buildings than the lines of food stalls, hawkers and steaming bowls of infamous fish soup. On my second day I discovered that Georgetown, the capital city of Penang and also a UNECO World Heritage City, was a street photographers paradise.

The city is literally alive with street art, and a type that I have never witnessed before. It was interactive. One artist would draw a carton child, then weeks or months later another would come along and make it look like that same child was pulling along a pet dinosaur.

penang street art bike

cats temple penang street art

georgetown street art bike

From tiny paintings of marching cats and gigantic 40 foot tall rickshaw riders painted on the side of a  building to turning abandoned bikes and unwanted clothes into real life 3-D street art, there was literally a treat hiding on every corner. You needed to look up, to look down, to look closer and sometimes just take time to sit down and “smell the roses”!

For me, Penang’s street art, combined with its unique history, culture and beautiful old Colonial buildings are what made my stay so wonderful. The food was pretty amazing too, but that can wait for another blog post!

rickshaw bike street art penang

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Dreaming of Bali

4 Aug

Bali, in case you didn’t already know, is a beautiful tropical island in Indonesia, famed for its relaxed atmosphere, rich cultural diversity and world-class waves which attract adventure seekers from near and far. It is a place I have always dreamed about, and one which elicits  images of long lines of palm trees swaying in the wind, lazy days spent reading “Eat, Pray, Love” while lounging in a hammock, and smelling the sweet scent of spices and incense which lingers in the air. Often when you have such high expectations of a place the reality can be a bit disappointing, but I feel I can honestly say that for me Bali totally lived up to my outrageously high, dreamy expectations and at certain times, it even went over and above this imaginary line and simply blew me away. That said, there are definitely two sides to Bali and in order to write an honest review which will help rather than hinder future visitors, I will try to write about the good, the bad and the ugly.

Let me start with the ugly to get it out-of-the-way as quickly as possible. For me, arriving in the tourist hub of Kuta having spent 19+ hours on an airplane, was one of the biggest let-downs of my traveling life thus far. All my images of Bali were shattered instantaneously as I felt I was stepping out of the plane and on to the set of “Benidorm“. Heck, if I wanted to walk around in hot pants and a boob tube with my love handles sticking out for all to see while drunkenly stumbling from a shitty tourist infested bar to an overpriced, over crowded, run of the mill night club full of drunk, rowdy and disgustingly pervvy  package holiday tourists, I could have spent 50 Euro on a one way ticket to Lanzarote. To say I hated Kuta and that I recommend everyone to avoid it like the plague would be a fair statement. Unless, of course, you are a 19-year-old gap year student from Britain or a mid-20’s Aussie on a Package holiday from Perth…in that case Kuta is your place, make yourself at home!

My idea of paradise

Heaven on earth

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After just 1 day and 1 night in Kuta, my traveling buddy Ann-Marie and I were on the first boat to the Gili Islands. This group of 3 islands (Gili T, Gili Air and Gili Meno) are not technically part of Bali, but as most visitors here come via Bali and return via Bali, I’m including them in this post!! For me, arriving on Gili T was like arriving in Paradise.  There is no other way to describe it…the water was so clear, half of it an amazing blue, the other half turquoise, and the sand was so incredibly white. This is what I had been looking forward to, THIS is what I had worked so hard and saved so hard for. We knew on arrival we would never want to leave. We were meant to stay only 5 days but I ended up staying a whole week, and if it wasn’t for time constraints I definitely would have stayed longer.

We snorkeled with Turtles and all sorts of tropical fish, we went to a full moon beach party under the biggest moon I have ever seen, we stayed in both a hostel and these funky little bungalows, we found the most un-irish looking Irish bar made of bamboo and we watched the most beautiful sunsets day after day. It really was an incredible experience.

Bintang Beers at Sunset

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Speaking of experiences…I also experienced my first earthquake!! One moment I was lying on the beach joking with newly made friends and the next the whole beach, the whole island started shaking vigorously, the whole earth moving. It was such a surreal moment and then everyone started running from the beach, looking scared. But there was nowhere to go as the island was flat. I just looked at the locals who didn’t seem too worried, then sat back down on my bean bag on the beach and took another sip from my beer! :P

Admittedly, not everyone has such raving reviews of Gili T. Being the bigger and most developed of the 3 islands, it is clear that tourism has left its mark. The beach is sometimes dirty and full of litter, and as there are 3 HUGE parties each week this mean there are plenty of passed out bodies to be spotted along the beach on any given day.  Booming, over-played pop and reggae songs can be heard throughout the day and night which must really annoy those who arrived on the island for peace and tranquility. While the food choice wasn’t great, it also wasn’t that bad, with a pretty good selection depending on how much money you were willing to pay! I found most things pretty cheap, which probably makes up for the extremely, painstakingly slow service! While Gili T may not be ideal for many, for me it was pretty darn awesome.

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Snorkeling trip with new friends!

snorkeling gili islands

After the Gili islands, I got the boat back to Bali then caught a bus to Ubud, the cultural centre of the island known for traditional dancing and handicrafts but also a good base for surrounding attractions such as the rice paddies, numerous temples, Mount Batur Volcano and the monkey forest. It was a lot cooler and wetter here…which was a welcome break from all the sun and heat. I did an amazing full day cycling tour from Mount Batur Volcano down through Central Bali, which included cycling through insanely green rice paddies and past HUNDREDS of small temples, exploring a traditional Balinese home where a huge, but non-poisonous, spider decided to drop down on me  and time spent learning about sacred trees and local customs. I also went to the Sacred Monkey Forest where, despite what the brochure may indicate, these are not cute little friendly monkeys. They are greedy little menaces who will try steal everything from you! On arrival, one jumped on me and started unzipping my handbag…I had push it off me and run away. Another guy got his cigarettes taken while some poor/stupid woman got her 300  euro Gucci sunglasses stolen! You have been warned.

Local Rice farmer near Ubud

Breakfast with a view of Mount Batur and the crater lake

ubud cycling tour

One of the things I loved most about Ubud, and Bali in general, was the beautiful hand-woven offerings that lined the pavements. Everywhere you walked, from my guesthouse, to the local store, at the bus stop, or outside an exclusive up-market shoe store, you would have to look down to avoid trampling on these beautiful little carafes of flowers, offered up to please the various Hindu Gods. Many of these would have small incense sticks peeking out from below the petals, so everywhere I walked seem to smell just the way I always dreamed it would.

Lastly, I simply must give a quick mention to Balinese massages. It would be a crime not to considering how many I treated myself to. These sensational massages, while some times slightly painful, were also delightfully cheap. From a full body massage to a half hour foot massage, a sensual head massage to the aptly named “sun burn massage”, the variety is wide, the quality is high and best of all…the prices are ridiculously low.

Old meets new

Old meets new

Playing with spiders in Ubud!

Playing with spiders in Ubud!

So there you have it, in a nutshell; my memorable ten-day balinese experience. One that I’m sure never to forget. If I do go back, the one thing I would do differently, and what I would recommend others do as well, is to splash out a little but more money on accommodation. Sometimes a backpackers hostel just doesn’t cut it.

Paradise has its faults – The Perhentian Islands

30 Jul

Having spent the last 5 weeks traveling around Indonesia and Malaysia, posting numerous positive social media updates and uploading photos of tropical beaches that would make just about anyone and everyone jealous, I feel I have some confessions to make. The first and most important one I will outline in this blog post. Just because a photograph looks “postcard perfect”, does not mean the destination is absolute paradise. Up until this trip I always thought I could define paradise. I thought that any beach with beautiful white sand, crystal clear waters, rows of hammocks swinging from palm trees and with a sprinkling of friendly beach boys selling Pina Coladas out of fresh coconuts was my idea of ABSOLUTE PARADISE.

On a recent trip to The Perhentian Islands off the East coast of Malaysia, I had to pause and re-evaluate my idea of paradise. Before my travels, everyone I had met who had travelled South East Asia said I simply MUST go to the Perhentian Islands.  (Both The Perhentian Islands and The Gilis (in Indonesia) seemed to be high up on everyones lists so I decided I needed to visit both!) One friend, Jessica, told me it was the best place she had ever been snorkelling in her life – that the water was unbelievably clear and the place was paradise. My friend Jeni told me that if she could go on her Honeymoon again, she would go back to the Perhentian Islands. In my mind, this place was going to be absolute paradise.

Is this paradise?

Is this paradise?

View of Coral Bay - the nicest part of the small island

View of Coral Bay – the nicest part of the small island

Praise aside, I had also done some research and knew not to have my expectations TOO high. These were remote islands, after all, with only a few hours of electricity a day and no roads, no cars and not even a donkey and carts like the Gili Islands. So, I’m sure you are waiting to hear what could possibly make me think this place was not perfect, so let me explain.

On the boat to the island I was pretty mesmerized.  Everyone had been right about the colour of the water…it was like NOTHING I had ever seen before. Taking into account I have now visited 43 countries, that is a seriously big deal. The water around these islands was so amazing that it almost looked fake, as if you were whizzing through the worlds largest swimming pool.

The water was CRYSTAL CLEAR

The water was CRYSTAL CLEAR

View of the beach from the jungle interior

View of the beach from the jungle interior

It wasn’t until we arrived on the island that the real trouble started. First of all, the ferry/speed boat will not take you the whole way to the shore. They stop about 200 metres from the beach and insist you pay a local beach boy 2 dollars to take you the rest of the way. Not very much money, but it’s the principal! Plus, can you imagine trying to maneuver yourself, your backpack and your suitcase from a ferry onto a teeny tiny unstable speed boat as they pull up side my side?! NOT AN EASY FEAT!!

On arrival on the actual beach you feel relieved to have landed safely, and dry, with all your possessions  But you can’t chill for more than 2 minutes as the race is on. As everyone piles off the little speed boats there is panic as people start running up the beaches to the various accommodation choices, searching for a place to stay. Why? There simply is not enough supply to meet the demand. Every few hours tourists arrive and they are continuously told by lodging after lodging that they are fully booked, despite telling us over the phone that they “don’t take bookings”. We went to over 10 places, and were turned away from every single one. We finally found some chalets at the end of the beach – ‘D Rock Garden’ that had a spare cabin for 3 nights. Regardless of price, service or what it even looked like we said yes and were relieved that we would not have to spend the night sleeping on the beach!

We spent 20 minutes trying to find the cabin as nobody would help us. To say the staff were unhelpful would be the understatement of the century, They were appalling. We eventually found it, and discovered our “en-suite” bathroom was totally flooded with who knows what covering the ground! We complained and they didn’t seem to care. We complained again the next day and they said they would “maybe look at it”. Wow, so helpful. I wouldn’t mind so much but we were actually paying quite a lot for this cabin, not that we had much choice. As we had paid for a room for 3 people, but were given only ONE bed, we asked for an extra mattress. We, miraculously got this, but they didn’t even put it in our room. They just left it outside our door, with no sheets, no extra pillow…nothing!

Here's your mattress, as requested!

Here’s your mattress, as requested!

Friendly signs everywhere!

Friendly signs everywhere!

We moved to a cheaper place next door on day 3, which was about 1/3 of the price and seemed a lot more simpler. We were greeted with a sign on arrival that said, “stay at least 2 nights. If you wish to extend, it depends on how generous you are. E.g if you book our snorkeling trip, but our breakfast etc. If not, forget about it. Thank you.” What a lovely way to welcome guests to your accommodation!!

Next, let’s talk about the food. Or lack there of. There is 3 choices on long beach – the blue plastic chairs, the red plastic chairs, and the yellow plastic chairs. The “western” food they serve, thats right they pretty much all serve the same menu, is some of the worst food I have ever tasted in my life. While the local food isn’t too bad, waiting between 1 and 2 hours for a bowl of noodles is pure ridiculous. The they tend to forget about you, or forget your order, which doubles your frustration.

Let’s talk about the beach, which Lonely Planet says is “the most popular backpacker destination in Malaysia”. Maybe this is true but heaven knows why! The beach is dirty, with cigarette butts and empty beer cans floating in the water and stuffed in the sand. There were even used sanitary pads floating in the water, which was seriously disgusting. There were so many beach boys speeding around in their boats all day that your “perfect view” was pretty much ruined.

While the snorkeling was one of the best experiences I had while on the island, swimming with turtles, Clown fish, trigger fish and hundreds more, it also made me quite sad. Nearly all the coral was dead, due to tourists stepping on it and the lack of experienced guides. The guides also didn’t seem to care about tourists touching the turtles and even dived in and tried to encourage then to come up above the water. These people are so busy trying to make a quick buck they really don’t care about their beautiful environment, something which surely won’t last forever the way they are treating it.

Amazing snorkeling wIth NEMO!

Amazing snorkeling wIth NEMO!

Snorkelling with Trigger fish

Snorkelling with Trigger fish

Let’s summarize – the accommodation is limited and you have to fight hard or run fast to actual find a place to sleep. The staff are unfriendly and rude. The food is bad and the waiting times awful. The beach and water can be quite dirty and the view isn’t even that great, and all the coral is dead due to lack of care. 

Now comes the question that is really bothering me. Are the Perhentians still viewed as “paradise” to some people?? Have I been too spoiled throughout my travels with beautiful beaches, friendly people, delicious food and stunning scenery that I can no longer see appreciate paradise when it is staring me in the face? Have I have gotten so old that I can no longer see the fun in staying in the dingey backpacker haunts I used once frequent?! Or am I right in thinking that tourism may have ruined the islands, as the rate of tourists visiting them has grown faster than the locals could handle?

What do you think, what is YOUR idea of paradise?

 

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