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.)
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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?
You can’t visit Kuala Lumpur and not visit the iconic Petronas Towers, which were the tallest towers in the world until Taiwan stole the crown and built Taipei 101 in 2010. While we didn’t go up to the top to get a birds eye view of Kuala Lumpur (we had enough great views from rooftop cocktail bars and Helipads!!) we did get some fun pictures at the bottom.
Yes you have probably seen the same type of picture 1,000 times as every visitor to the city attempts the same “unique” photo, but I’m sharing with you anyway as it was lots of fun and I think we got some pretty great shots. What do you think?
I was talking to some friends last night about solo travel and the enormous benefits bestowed on people who are brave or adventurous enough to set off on their travels alone. I thought I could use my blog to share some positive experiences I have encountered with total strangers but mainly I wanted to use this post to hear your stories!
Have you ever experienced the kindness of strangers while on your travels??
Be it someone who helped fix your puncture in the Australian Outback or a young kid who helped you find your hotel through the winding streets of Venice??
On my way to Australia last November I had a great experience where I befriended a stranger on the plane from Cork, who turned out to be an extremely well off but more importantly very inspirational business man who employed over 800 people in a Tech company in China. He taught me many a thing that I still keep with me today, and also treated me to a delicious meal while waiting for my nest flight. An experience that can be read about here.
Almost a year later and as my trip to South Korea began, I found another stranger putting a smile on my face. After a short flight from Cork to London Heathrow, I had another dreaded 5 hour stopover. As all the restaurants were super busy I was asked to share a table with a few other travellers. No problem. I got talking to the guy opposite me, mainly because the cocktail he was drinking looked interesting so I decided to order the same(!), and he turned out to be a very good-looking and interesting Irish guy (if you are reading this…HELLO!).
We had a great conversation about work, travel and life, as he asked me why I had decided to jet off to Korea for a year. We chatted for a while and then he bid me farewell as he had to run to catch his flight. As he stood up to leave, he informed that he had been so intrigued listening to me talk and was so sad that he had to depart that he had paid for my meal and drink as a farewell gift. I was actually speechless but secretly delighted.
I’m sure we have all been that kind stranger too, at one stage or another. One memory I have, which while not entirely a ‘kind’ gesture, is certainly something that put a smile on the face of many strangers.
Standing knee-deep in the freezing, Irish sea or laying down on the hard, cold rocky pier back to back with naked strangers, as a ship sails in from England (no doubt full of puzzled passengers!) was a morning I’m not going to forget anytime soon! I can’t begin to imagine what was going through those passengers minds as they saw a few thousand naked Irish people welcoming them into Dublin Port at 5 o’clock in the morning! “Welcome to Ireland, the friendliest nation on Earth!”
Giving out FREE HUGS to bewildered students in a trendy shopping area in Seoul, South Korea was also a great way of spreading job to strangers! That, and the day I spent dressed as a clown and face painting kids for free in Dublin, Ireland.
Nothing can put a smile on your face like the kindness of strangers.
Please share your stories in the comments below! x
Day of luxury-if the people back home saw us now they would laugh so hard! Taken straight out of a holiday brochure for spain- as one of the girls so nicely put it. We spent the day at the ‘Kitale Country Club’- swimming, sun bathing, chatting and laughing. Gazing up at a cloud covered Mount over the vast, beautiful golf course, spotting our first monkeys- over 30 of them!
As Lowdar was ‘out of water’-whatever that means- we have to stay put here in Kitale until we are given the green light to continue the journey North towards Sudan. Fine with us if it involves lounging in the sun, getting a tan!
After 2 hours at the club and one very burnt Beth, we headed into town- a short 2km walk away. Greeted my endless children shouting ‘how are you FINE, how are you FINE?!’- I guess no matter where you go in Africa the children are the same friendly selves!
We found an internet cafe, checked our mail, bebo, the news and 1 hour only cost 60 cent! Brilliant!! After some shopping, befriending a local boy- ’david’- whom we discussed Roy Keane, Ronaldo, Beckham and….Bosco with, we found a busy, wooden interior and exterior restaurant opposite the bus stop.
The menu confused us as everything was converted in cents. E.g Chips-30cent, Coca-Cola 20 cent. Were the exchange rates different here? NO! We got a drink each and chicken stew and pilau rice with beef (3 meals!) all for 4.40 euro! PLUS a complementary tossed salad from the owner-man was happy to see us I guess!
Back to the club for an afternoon tea (cough white wine!) for only 65 cent-it tasted kinda like banana-very weird- but I drank it anyway! Sister Geraldine (name changed for privacy reasons!) collected us and brought us home. Then the bishop collected her – off to watch the French Open- Oh how could she miss such a spectacle! She is some character it must be said! So straight forward and direct. “HAVE SOME TOAST GIRLS!” “GODFREY- GET SOME TEA!!” Right little gossiper she is too- always giving out about her italian friends drinking habits, other people stealing habits and how children are ‘forced’ into the catholic church even though they aren’t even Christian- SCANDALOUS!
We played with Margaret, little girl named after Sister Margaret who delivered her to the hospital on day of her birth. We finished the day by watching Wimbledon and Bridget Jones Diary- jeez we are living the life of luxury!
Finally after 2 days in Kitale we have Sister Kathleen said we can go to Lodwar tomorrow. They have no running water at all but now have jerry cans to transport it around so we can survive with those. No showers for us for 2 months..this should be interesting! As weird as it sounds to be happy about no running water, it will be an experience of a lifetime and we are kind of sick of being pampered at this stage-we are ready to get down to work!
Even people here laugh at the mention of Lodwar…’it’s hot there you know, way hotter than here’, our waiter informed us today. Eeekkk Why do so many people seem to think we are crazy going to Lodwar? What is it going to be like…hot, we know that! No idea what to expect tomorrow- a bus or a matatu, a house or a hut, a town or a village?! Whatever comes,we’ll be ready.
When in Rome….I mean Kenya!