PORTO ~ Old Charm & Modern Coolness

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Having lived here briefly and traveled many times over. I can be anywhere in Portugal and still be delightfully fascinated.  This country has regions with its own distinct landscape, gastronomy and taste of architecture.  Portugal is a small country but that never hindered the big bold ambition to divide half the world for them and they have succeeded at that time.  The land conquest was long over and presently replaced by a tourism conquest and they are succeeding again.

The north of the country’s largest city is Porto and let’s begin here.  The city of Porto brims with old-century charm and modern coolness. Walking in the old town felt like walking back in time. The centuries to decades of change can be clearly seen in its buildings.  The climate provides a Mediterranean diet, the world renowned Port wine and a gastronomy that had been proven for over a millennia that will satisfy every palate.  Voted recently as the Best European Destination, it isn’t hard to understand why.  You’ve got the Douro River on one side, the Atlantic coast a few kilometres away, a global city built on slopes with a historical core listed as a World Heritage Site   and with locals who can speak English, French, Italian, German and Spanish as a bonus (this is helpful to non-Portuguese speaking tourists).

How to get here: 

European budget airlines, TAP and Portugalia fly to and fro Porto.  If coming from abroad, multiple airlines or stop overs is always the case.   The city metro and taxis are present in the airport arrivals.  There are also long distance buses that can be taken from Spain to Porto.  Cruise ships have also arrived in Porto.

Where to go and what to see:

 The first point would be the historical core of Baixa then downhill to Ribeira and the Douro River.  At present, Ribeira and the Douro accommodates mainly to tourists with its new hotels, alfresco cafes and restaurants.  Souvenir stalls have sprung everywhere embracing the Porto and Portuguese traditions.

Chill out by this area and have some vinho verde  ( a young wine produce in the Northern region of the country) or an espresso.  Marvel at the dominating view of Dom Luís I Bridge which had been designed by Gustave Eiffel who designed the famous Eiffel tower in Paris.

Across the river in Vila Nova de Gaia, are the inviting Port wine cellars. Do the port wine tasting here.  There are so many cellars to choose from and each with their own different character but equally delivering top quality wines and one cellar had claimed it is “famous for pleasure”.   Follow your wine taste and senses! Sit out in the sun and take some time to soak in the view of Ribeira from the opposite side if the river.  Going back, you might fancy seeing everything from the top or through the bridge.

The rabelo boats will catch your eye. Tied to their jetties, they were once used to transport the oak barrels of wine.  Now they serve the purpose of displaying its old glory and carrying tourist to and fro the river for an informative cruise in different languages.

Porto’s down town or commonly known as Baixa is the epicentre of culture, arts, music, academe, commerce, night life, food and colours.  Quaint buildings covered in azulejos are a curious sight.  Some old colourful buildings had been renovated and its spaces were refurbished with a modern look.  The contrasting of old and new and putting them together is what this city is all about.

 

More walking tour…

Start your journey on foot in Avenida dos Aliados.  Go northeast to find fresh Portuguese produce in Mercado do Bolhão and shop along the entire pedestrian lane of Rua de Santa Caterina.  Make sure you try some egg tarts and coffee in one of the many cafes along or in the elegant Majestic café. Then come down again and head east and up Rua Clerigos where more things of interest awaits like the Torre dos Clerigos, Praca de Lisboa, Livraria Lello & Irmaos, Universidade do Porto and its surrounds.  I guarantee you will stop and shop along the way.  Baixa have areas of steep streets with cobbled granites so ladies consider that before wearing heels.

The Beach…

Beach breaks in Matosinhos attract locals and tourists alike to surf.  Surf schools are dotted along the beach.  Families enjoy walks and picnics in Parque da Cidade.  Take a break on one of the sunny cafes along the beach area of Foz.  With some ambient music and the ocean view in Foz, it’s not hard to be disarmed.  I suggest waiting for the Atlantic sunset on one of the cafes on the beach.  The coral skies bring some romantic warmth to the chilly breeze.

Drive…

If you are driving, start in Casa da Musica and drive down Avenida da Boavista. Casa da Musica (House of Music) is both a venue for indoor and outdoor musical performances.  Its geometric structure is a stark contrast to its surroundings. This is also where people meet up and the “skate park” of the city. The Serralves is your museum dose and is along Avenida da Boavista.  At the end of this avenue, turn left to Foz and continue your way back to Ribeira.  At night, the lights from the bridges and surrounds are stunning.

 

Dá-me o verão!  Give me summer!

In summer, countless concerts and stage performances happen in city squares anywhere.  Festival months run from June through to September when the nights  can be quite warm if you’re lucky with the heat wave and you can drink a cold beer wearing summer clothes.  The city’s night life starts at midnight and goes on til late the next day so I suggest you prepare for this.  It revolves around the areas of Galeria de Paris, Cândido dos Reis and Conde de Vizela. You can buy drinks from kiosks outside the bars like a delicious caiprinha ( a Brazilian cocktail).  There are so many cool bars and clubs dotted around Baixa to suit your mood.  Yes, you can drink outdoors.

 

The food

Portuguese cooking is about bringing out the flavour of the fish or meat with the use of their staple ingredients.  This country has top quality produce for less. They use liberal amounts olive oil, garlic, onion, bay leaf, vinho, presunto or a regional chouriço to the rice, stew or whatever it is and they cook up something very tasty.  Looking back into their prominent spice trade centuries ago, they have brought in so many flavours from their exploration that this had been incorporated in the Portuguese cooking.  No wonder the Portuguese gastronomy make such a food experience.

Most famously, the francesinha, Bacalhau à Brás and tripe stew are typical dishes of Porto.  Tripe is the edible offal of the stomach of the butchered animal. In the 1400s, the people send the best parts of the animal to the Portuguese troops in Africa leaving the offals behind thus they needed to be creative and make a dish out of the unwanted leftovers. Doesn’t sound so appealing but the dish is otherwise!

If you want to try fast food in Portugal, head to a café and  grab a chouriço and cheese bread (from regional ingredients) or to a tasca  (Portuguese  version of a pub)and grab some bifana (breaded pork fillet in a bun) with penalty (a small glass of house red wine).  Just about every food on offer in a café or in a tasca is top notch for a few pennies plus you get to mingle with the locals.   The Portuguese love their pastries and most of them are egg-based.  You can’t miss those little pleasures.  There’s a pasteleria in every turn. You can’t go home without having the best doces de ovos (egg sweets) and pastel de nata or famously known to the rest of the world as the “Portuguese egg tart”.

 

The wine…

It’s effortless when choosing wine in Porto as you have the best wines on offer.  Vinho verde goes well with fish and seafood.  Try the Douro Valley reds with cheese and meat dishes. And of course, Port wine for an aperitif and to conclude.  There are the white, ruby, tawny and rosé Port wines to choose from.

 

 

Where to stay…

This city offers a wide range of things to see and do, eat and sleep for a backpacker to a business class traveller.  Accommodations range from hostels, B&Bs, hotels to luxury hotels.  This is the no-brainer part of planning a trip to Porto.

 

Tip:

Strike up some questions to locals and you’ll find some valuable answers.  Like if you want to try some secret but great local eats.

The Portuguese like to say “O melhor do mundo” (The best in the world) for something they love, is passionate about and loyal to.  May it be food, a place or an event.  Take note when they mention the phrase and that thing could be worth a try.

City of Oportonity

Europe’s Best Kept Secret

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Fishermen’s street

 

Algarve… Europe’s best kept secret!  Hush hush!

Well not anymore!  Algarve had been advertised more than ever and how can we keep it from the rest of the world now?  I’ve been seeing this catchy ad in magazines every time I fly to Portugal.

Its charming and vibrant fishing towns, stunning beaches carved on its rugged coastline, the seafood, the cool Atlantic Ocean and the blistering heat in summer attracts tourists from all over Europe and Portugal.  Now that its popularity is unstoppable, beach towels will be as close to each other as ever and no path from the sand to water will be spared free.  Not so good news for the avid August holidaymaker. The local Portuguese tourists live a part of the year and their life at the beach.   Yes, they don’t have to go far when their backyard is one of the most beautiful places on earth.

While the rest of the country sleeps in summer and some businesses shut down, Algarve comes to life fuelled by the long days and the endless influx of people.   It’s not just the beach, the yachts and the parties that we are mad about.   The countryside and its authentic way of living is something to experience.  While locals cater for tourists, they give them what’s from their land and from their tradition.  Anywhere in Portugal is a cultural experience and Algarve is charming for doing things the way they do it as seen in its typical architecture, food and festivals.

I’ve been to Algarve several times and in different seasons and my tips for international tourists going to Algarve are…

When is the best time?

August is almost a mandatory holiday break for all the Portuguese and most of them are drawn to Algarve for two weeks or more.  In addition, Europeans go for their summer holiday in August too.  Expect queues in restaurants and full occupancies in hotels.  It is the most expensive time of the year in Algarve.  June, beginning of July and September will probably be the easier months to travel in if you don’t like big crowds and paying the full price.

Autumn and winter is not such a bad time to go especially when you start to feel the blues of sun deprivation.  When the rest of  Portugal and Europe slip into the bitter and wet cold of winter, Algarve shines and maintains a few degrees above the rest of the region.   Though the fishing towns are quiet because the life in it during the summer had been sucked back into Lisbon and Porto, it is reasonably good to sight see, go for beach walks and the best time to do some surfing.

How to do it?

Renting a car is very convenient when exploring parts of Algarve especially when visiting old towns alternating with the beaches.   Tours are offered in town centers and places of accommodation. There are transfers to top destinations if you decide to backpack and avoid driving the Portuguese roads.  You have to have some skill to drive in Portugal.  The driving style here is a mix of South East Asia with Europe: speedy, a bit chaotic in some parts and with EU traffic signs posted everywhere.

How many days?

Allow a few days to see the highlights and weeks to experience the place.  For a few days, it is best to go to the beaches, explore the coastline and spare a day to go interior and see a medieval castle or be in the country.  For a week, go west to east from Aljezur and Sagres to Tavira.  For two weeks or more, cover the area and do rural tourism.  Drop in Caldas de Monchique to relax and enjoy its natural spring water.  If you have enough time, drive all the way to the east to Andalucia in Spain and see the difference!

Where to go, do and eat?

There are so many beaches to choose from and each of them different but equally gorgeous.  Beaches in Aljezur, Sagres, Lagos, along Lagoa, and Portimao are particularly interesting because of the rugged cliff setting.  Visit the grottoes with a boat.   The regular sandy beaches can be found anywhere along the coast and it goes on until Spain.  Ancient castles  and forts found in Aljezur, Sagres, Alcoutim and Silves are a testimony to its Roman and Moorish past as well as the might of Portugal during the discoveries of the new world.  Rural tourism signs can be seen as you drive along Algarve’s country roads.  This is a bed and breakfast in a local property which is a good refuge from the busy beaches.

Seafood restaurants are not to be skipped if possible and some of them are erected on the beach and function only in summer.  That’s really handy! Try the Cataplana (fish and seafood stew) with vinho verde, fresh fish, alfarroba (carob) and fig sweets.  The countryside is steep in history and offer very good typical cuisines so make sure you ask the restaurant to serve what’s typical.  If running out of ideas and restaurants, mingle with the locals in tascas (a Portuguese version of a pub) and grab the meal or tapas of the day with a cold beer or wine.

Souvenirs?

Bring home some azulejos (hand painted tiles), clay potteries,  and seasonal  fruit or vegetable jams.

The more days you stay, the more you’ll know and the harder it is to forget a place.  Algarve will be etched in your memory that you spark up every time you see  a rugged cliff. There’s nothing quite like it.

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Algarve lemons are sunshine covered in yellow peel!

 

 

How To See the Best Of Vietnam

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This travel is from the Cambodian to the Chinese Border via Vietnam. I can tell you, there are so many interesting things in between if you take your time.

It is a long country…and so the long story but read on!

Take the bus from Phnomh Penh to Ho Chi Minh City and it will drop you off in Pham Ngu Lao. It is the tourist area of HCMC and where the accommodations and street eats are concentrated. From here, land travels throughout Vietnam can be arranged. Our idea was to go all the way to Hanoi along the coast and stop in beautiful towns and cities in the Central coast. However, before doing that, it would be a great opportunity to see the Mekong Delta just more than an hour to the South. Still settling into Vietnam, booking with tour companies to the Mekong is the easiest way to do it. We still don’t know our way around this country and the first stages can mean testing the waters with a guide. The Mekong had been popularized by the Vietnam War movies and not to see it is a curiosity unfulfilled. From pick up to the tour itself, a system had been made to make us all follow the leader, eat in their liaised restaurant and advertise the local businesses in the area.   The muddy canals were packed with canoes carrying tourists. Though it’s not what we really wanted at first, it was a good insight to how the people are, the community thriving in the Mekong, to see the commercial action and the different religious sects that have sprung out of the natural aspects of the Mekong like “The Coconut Religion”. The coconut tree is indeed the tree of life for so many here that’s worthy of worship.

HCMC was chaotic but flowy. Try crossing the road full of hurrying motorists. “Only an insane person who does not think at all can cross this road!” And we saw a local guy walk forth and crossed the road without even looking both ways. He got into the opposite side unscathed. Only then we mustered some courage to follow how he did it but looking both ways as many times until we’re reassured. The Benh Thanh Market was a curious place to be in. Try out some amazing deadly animal derived products. They’ve even bottled it up with alcohol to ensure all the powerful essence is captured. The War Museum was such a sad reminder of the wrath of the Vietnam War. The countries who participated in it thought they fought somebody else’s war. The Vietnamese thought, “What are they doing in our country?” Ideologies were at war back then and they have translated it unfortunately in weapons and annihilation. Glad to be just a tourist at this time. In contrast with the present, the country is doing its best to move forward by opening up to the world. I hope that the museum’s aim was to have more people exposed to this horror, so the more we want to avoid it. I try to see it in this light.

Vietnamese food isn’t hard to find. They’re in every street and even extending to the street path walks to sell off some Pho, baguette sandwich, spring rolls and so on. It’s rice noodle all the way if I wanted! Like in Thailand, they too enjoy a hot noodle soup on a humid and warm day. You will never get out of Vietnam without trying the Vietnamese coffee – an espresso with condensed milk and ice cubes optional. It is such a delicious kick.

A slice of the Mekong Delta.

A slice of the Mekong Delta.

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Giant trawlers in the Mekong.

Giant trawlers in the Mekong.

Vietnamese food overload!

Vietnamese food overload!

Whenever you see these words in the menu, try it! It won't disappoint.

Whenever you see these words in the menu, try it! It won’t disappoint.

Agent orange - a photo from the War Museum.

Agent orange – a photo from the War Museum.

Getting out of HCMC is emancipation from the tourist traps. It’s a bit exciting! It can be quite daunting for some as this will leave you to plan for yourself unless of course you have bought a prepaid tour package. If you’re quite adventurous then we don’t see any problem. I recommend the following places below as we’ve done the route that made us see Vietnam’s beauty while traveling how the locals do – a motorbike and a mask, sleeper buses, a hard-seat train and the three-wheeled cyclo.

From HCMC to Hoi An – take the sleeper bus. It was quite a long journey but the stops in between were the little rewards. Our bus travelled along the coast, stopping in Mui Ne and Nha Trang. Arriving in Hoi An is a welcome of quaint yellow traditional buildings along the river and the kind of thing you yearn for as a tourist – to immediately see the identity of a place. Hoi An is visually appealing, the street food is as traditional as it gets and the natural surroundings will make one stay a bit longer thus it makes it a holiday destination. No motorised vehicle on the old town so the best way to see it is by a bicycle.  Head out towards the beach as the countryside before it is beautiful.

Hoi An is close to Da Nang and its long white sandy China beach where the American servicemen used to spend their leisure time during the war. In between Da Nang and Hoi An, one is not to miss the Marble mountain. It is a limestone karst with a cave inside that was turned into a place of worship. It felt like an Indiana Jones’ movie set and the climb all the way to the top through a reasonably sized hole will give you a great view of the surroundings and the beach. A surfer can be hopeful of a surf.

Mui Ne stop for an hour.

Mui Ne stop for an hour.

Views along the coast taken from the bus.

Views along the coast taken from the bus.

Arrived in Hoi An!

Arrived in Hoi An!

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Hoi An is known for its beautiful lanterns!

Country encounters in Hoi An.  This lady is sweeping seaweeds underwater and brings out a bunch of it.

Country encounters in Hoi An. This lady is sweeping seaweeds underwater and brings out a bunch of it.

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Inside the Marble Mountain close to Da Nang.

The hard seater carriage.

The hard seater carriage. Catching the train from Da Nang to Hue

Train stop!

Train stop!

The view from the train.

The view from the train.

Empty bay.  The picturesque train journey to Hue.

Empty bay. The picturesque train journey to Hue.

Hoi An to Hue

Take the hard seater train from Da Nang and have an authentic experience be as no other tourist will most likely be in the carriage. The carriage interior was a crowded reminiscent of a simple heritage train. It gave an opportunity to interact with some curios locals. Arriving in Hue, the iconic cyclo felt like first class after backpacking for months and always be in economy class. Take this to your hotel and haggle a bit before riding. Hue is the old capital of Vietnam. Aside from visiting the Citadel and walks along the river, it’s a good base to visit the Vinh Moc tunnels close to Dong Ha. The tunnels are the real Viet Cong tunnels during the war which was like a small organized community underground. The complexity of it was of astounding human feat. It is about 2 hours by a motorbike from Hue. Driving along the coastline, the white uncrowded beaches and the catchy woven bamboo basket boats are added bonus to see the Vietnam as it really is.

The cyclo provides the customer with uninterrupted views of the road!

Arrived in Hue. The cyclo provides the customer with uninterrupted views of the road!

Hue two-wheel traffic!  No different from HCMC and Hanoi.

Hue two-wheel traffic! No different from HCMC and Hanoi.

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Inside the Hue Citadel.

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Check out the piano! A majestic hall for a small concert.

Thien Mu temple

Thien Mu temple

The real Vietcong tunnels and with exits to the sea.

The real Vietcong tunnels.

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A good sized tunnel unlike the one in HCMC.

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Taking a break after walking through the eerie tunnels.

Taking a break after walking through the eerie tunnels.

Little villages along the road back to Hue.  The sights were amazing!

Little villages along the road back to Hue. The sights were amazing!

We're stopping here for lunch.

We’re stopping here for lunch.

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Beach siesta!

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You can pick and choose where to be buried in Vietnam.  You can guarantee your passed on self of a sea view.

You can pick and choose where to be buried in Vietnam. You can guarantee your passed on self of a sea view.

Hue to Hanoi

The overnight train has taken us early to Hanoi and it was here that we applied for a Chinese visa so we can go to our next destination: Guilin and Yangshuo then eventually to Beijing. Hanoi was the communist centre during the war and so stands the great mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh in the city. This city had a cool vintage Vietnamese/French vibe in its many shops. The rental signs of the retro Belarussian bike – the Minsk was too irresistible to pass for a motorbike enthusiast like my partner. We rented one for a day and rode in style in Hanoi! Being able to experience a remnant of the past is quite a significant experience for us.   Like HCMC, Hanoi is very busy and pedestrians and motorbikes share the same path. Always look where you’re going and what’s behind you. Don’t forget to try the street food – always! Hanoi has got some of the best like a char grilled pork dunked in a hot stock and rice noodles.

The first sight of Hanoi!

The first sight of Hanoi!

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Street food heaven is Hanoi!

Street food heaven is Hanoi!

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Ha Long Bay

As expected when travelling, there would be some disappointments. The rooms we’ve booked didn’t exactly look like it was on the pictures. A bit anxious about the kind of boat we would be staying in in Ha Long Bay, we made a careful research and shelled out a bit more money on it. Not bad to experience some luxury at times when backpacking but just don’t get used to it and picking the right place makes it more extraordinary. We were hoping to jump in the waters of Ha Long Bay but the jellyfish were just too big to swim with. Fog enveloped the area on a spring time and the approaching and disappearing karsts appeared ethereal. An overnight stay the very least among the karsts, is one of the most unforgettable experience of Vietnam. We’ve spent almost 3 weeks in this country but still felt we haven’t seen most of it yet.

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Cave inside the limestone karst.

Cave inside the limestone karst.

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Nothing can be more beautiful than nature.

Nothing can be more beautiful than nature.

Cambodia: How To Travel Low Cost In An Inexpensive Destination

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The second country I’ve been a millionaire in!!! First time was in Bali.

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This is where the money goes.

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Resist the urge! Keep your mouth closed to get a free fish massage!!!

Female monks.

Female monks.

Doing a long term travel needs the nous and a commitment to sticking to your original budget plan. We know Cambodia is already a cheap place to travel into but there are more ways of seeing most things without spending unnecessarily and still doing fair trade to its businesses and people. 

  1. Get the visa before entering Cambodia.  Fixers in the border will make some money for an on-the-spot visa issuance. These middle men will ask you for an amount which is triple or more than the price of the actual Cambodian visa.  Southeast Asians excepted.
  2. Get here by land from Bangkok to Siem Reap or from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnomh Penh. It will be the cheapest option though not the fastest. However, it is of course a great opportunity to see more of the countryside that you can miss from doing a fast forward from Point A to B by plane. The border crossings were a good part of the adventure. You can sort of see from the border how developed a country is. One can get fascinated at this.
  3. Changing several hundreds of USD, Euros or AUD for example? You can actually save a little bit more if you exchange them into the local currency of Cambodian riel. FYI, US dollar is widely used in Cambodia aside from their own local currency. If using US dollars in Cambodia, chances are the prices in riels are rounded up to a higher amount in US dollars. Thus you are paying more and it will all add up in the end.
  4. Book through hostel sites rather than the hotels’.   The hostel site would still show private rooms and for a fraction of the cost of a hotel room. That’s Asia for you.
  5. Rather than booking tours through your accommodation, do it yourself. Hire a Tuktuk and set the agreed price to take you around Angkor or Phnomh Penh. You may not save a lot but only a few dollars. The transaction though is liberating and traveling like a local is doable.
  6. Eating in Siem Reap, tourist areas like the Pub Street and the tourist market have slightly higher prices compared to other restaurants outside of it. However in Phnomh Penh, there is even less concentration of tourists making it such an awesome place to just do your own thing. The Russian Market was a good place to eat and I thought we paid the same price as the locals. Try out the local produce first.
  7. Get a Khmer massage. It’s one sixth of the price in Australia, North America and Europe!
  8. Hire a bicycle for the day in Siem Reap and a motorcycle if you’re able to drive it in Phnomh Penh. The best way to cruise around at your own time and because it is a day’s rent you can see an area for just a few dollars. It can be daunting what if the locals won’t understand you or the map gets confusing but somehow deals get done and it was relatively safe driving around the city.
  9. If you like Asian objects for souvenirs and Asian inspired clothing this is actually a good place to buy them.
  10. There are a few attractions that ask for fees in Cambodia, and usually, they are the museums and Angkor Wat. However, there are more attractions without any fee so check them out too.

Cambodia was still quite a raw travel experience. In a way, our choice to do it ourselves without any guides and group tours made us feel like we’re little explorers. While tourism is still developing, Cambodia is a country of less tourist traffic. It had not been long ago that this country suffered genocides and unlawful repression. Though still recovering from the remnant of the Khmer Rouge reign, the country is very slowly picking itself up. There is no stopping the restoration of their heritage in the Angkor. Thanks to that, they can embrace and be proud of their culture and their rich history. The Cambodians are having their sense of identity again. The people here are the gentlest in their disposition. They even address their business relations and friends as “Sister” or “Brother”. That tells you something. A small country with a big sense of community.

Please travel without moving through Cambodia.  Scroll all the way down.

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Siem Reap

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 Phnomh Penh

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In the Russian Market.

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Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

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The victims of the Khmer Rouge. No fair trials. Death eminent for these people.

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Border crossing…

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Poverty still rampant in Cambodia. The other side of travel.

 

Now on the border crossing through to Vietnam…

Thailand: The Temple Way

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DSC_0059DSC_0069DSC_0099Thailand is a country of temples of vivid colours and gold is very dominant. Why is it such a magnet for tourists around the world? The escape to the beaches is an obvious reason and so we have skipped it. We have indeed missed the spectacular coast but then we asked ourselves what else is beyond the limestone karsts of Krabi and the attractive beaches of Phuket? For this temple hopping trip, we’ve visited Bangkok, Sukhothai and Chiang Mai.

Landing in Bangkok is the start of the understanding. It was a photogenic place: very rich in terms of culture and they’re proud of it. Having been part of the Khmer empire, their history is older than the Romans.

How to get around in Bangkok: Take taxis around the city, a water taxi if going to Wat Arun, the metro to Chatuchak Market, long distance buses when heading to other provinces, Overnight buses going to Chiang Mai if coming from Bangkok.

What to try/eat: Observe worships in temples. Get a good massage for a fifth of the price in western countries. They have taken it to another level and introduced “fish massage” that supposedly will eat up the unwanted dry skin from your feet. Warning: it tickles. Try the street food and the options are many. The Thai milk tea will be most remembered. This is served all over the world in Thai restaurants. This tea and dairy drink is good to relieve the spiciness in their food and to cool down while eating a soup bowl.

A visit to the Grand Palace is a must. It is an amazing complex of temples in use, stupas, buddhas and gardens. The people of Thailand love their monarchs. They see their present king as a philanthropist to the common people and helping them have the opportunities to better their lives especially the ones on the lower socioeconomic class. Go into the temples and one may try to participate.

Wat Arun to watch the sunset. Climb all the way to the top. It is very steep and a bit scary coming down but it’s all worth it. Grab a lotus flower in the temple and touch your head with it to be “blessed”. I did it for our trip within the next few months.  It doesn’t hurt to try.

Chatuchak Market for souvenirs and street food. It can be a bit crowded so avoiding the midday sun may spare you some discomfort.

Khao San Road has the most concentration for tourists and things for them like bars, restaurants, shops, accommodations and ticket sales for all trips on demand. We avoided sleeping in this area as it becomes the epicentre of night life when the sun sets. Although, it’s good to come here for cheap Thai massage and night street food dinner.

The Floating Market was catered mostly for tourists but just imagine what it was like before. Same way of exchanging goods and money, however, the products sold may have changed over the years like knock-off bags and digital stuff. The food here was top and to buy then eat in a canoe is a new experience to enjoy. There are many of these but closest is Damnoen Saduak.

The shopping malls are quite huge and complex. I must say it’s a good window shopping around and see how locals are doing their retail therapy. We went into Central Mall and tried the food court on the 6th floor. It was a massive hall with a great view of Bangkok.

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Bangkok water taxi.

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Climbing up Wat Arun was steep!

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Khao San Road by day. Nothing like this at night, packed and hectic!

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Our guide @myhhiddenparis!!! A world travel blogger as well. Having some hot soup on a humid afternoon but thankfully the milk tea was icy.

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Fish Massage.

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The floating market.

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Bags afloat.

Sukhothai

How to get here: A day’s drive from Bangkok to Sukhothai by bus. Catch a tuktuk in the terminal to your accommodation or arrange this with your hotel prior.

To see ancient temples minus the crowd, head out further north to Sukhothai. The Historical Park of what was known to be an ancient city of Sukhothai is an attraction for both tourists like me and the locals.   The best way to cruise around here is by bicycle. Follow the map around the park and start discovering. The park has a wide area so planning the day is needed. Coming here, I felt like I had completely immersed with the locality. We eat by the roadside food stalls. Got to visit more temples and see monks go about the town. I got to participate to their afternoon dance exercise with a remix of The Doors’ “Light My Fire”. The instructor blare his directions through huge speakers planted in the small park that keeps the participants pull it off together.  This is a slow and a small place.  A few days will be enough to have a chance to recharge from the city chaos.  Try the papaya salad if it happens to be on the menu of any restaurant.

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Chiang Mai

How to get here: Overnight bus from Bangkok or an ordinary bus from Sukhothai. Tuktuks are very common in terminals in Chiang Mai. Take this to head to your accommodation. Hotels/hostels can arrange overnight buses back to Bangkok and drops tourists directly to Khao San Road which is handy. The down side to it is, it’s a sit-down bus and you’re with same backpackers. For a more authentic experience, take the overnight bus in the terminal itself. This is a double decker sleeper bus which means you can lie down for a sleep. It drops you at a terminal in Bangkok and you will need to take a taxi to your hotel/hostel.

Magnificent temples are dotted all over this ancient city.  And I mean many of them that I cannot recall their names and in which temple I am.   It’s worth staying here for a week or more. Laidback within the old city walls and abuzz outside in the urbanized neighbourhood. Like some secondary city, this place has a sense of balance of relax and activity. Free maps are provided in hostels and hotels and all points of interest are drawn in it. Renting a motorcycle may be a good way to go its narrow streets and outside to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. Wander inside the old walls. Chiang Mai hosts many events during the year and we’re lucky to catch some 3D art on its streets.  The night food market is a great way to try street food in Chiang Mai.  Some shopping and entertainment in the Night Bazaar.

For some cultural experience, we took a 3-day trek to see the mountain villages. The experience was all worth it and it was the first time I’ve proven I can walk for days under the hot sun and it was something I can never imagine before. Unfortunately, our aim was to see women with neck rings (the Kayan People, the Karen tribe) but they were not there when we reached the village. I doubt if they really had a presence in that village. It was a small scam to get tourists to buying the tours. However, it was safe and the experience was worth the few hundred bahts. Common travel sense would tell you to do some researching or heading closer to the border with Burma for this experience. Overall, the modest trek was enjoyable and we’ve met people different stories to tell which was entertaining I thought. And yes we had an elephant ride, which I would not do again. It was only a year later I found out how these elephants were captured in the wild and tortured to be tamed so they can carry tourists around and people make money out of them. A few elephants tamed is okay but the demand has soared with the in flock of more unaware tourists. Let us travel responsibly. Less demand for elephant rides, less of them taken from the wild.DSC_0269DSC_0379

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Wat Chedi Luang

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Wat Chiang Man

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Refueling with these bottles of petrol.

Refueling with these bottles of petrol.

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Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

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Dinner on the go at the night food market.

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Lady boys or transvestites? In the Night Bazaar.

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Trekking Chiang Mai

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We’ve arrived at a village. Reminds me remotely of Philippines.

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These ladies are already starting a family as young as 17. I’m glad not to be grounded as of yet. There’s more traveling to do.

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Our sleeping area.

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Hiking all day takes its toll.

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Grilled dinner: rice paddy snakes and a frog!

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Doing toast for breakfast!

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Before you ride an elephant, think about it.

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City to Outback NSW: 10 Must-Stops

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The adventure only starts after the sealed road!

Priscilla

Some inspiration before traveling the outback!

 

Australia is a country and a continent itself. To travel around it, give it a good few years. It is a country meant to be explored slowly. The vastness of it will make you do so. The journeys are commonly measured by days rather than hours.

Like many of us visiting, we do not have this luxury of being full time on the road unlike the Australian pensioners with their caravans and motorhomes. But let’s have a taste of how it is like even for a brief time of let’s say a couple of weeks. This itinerary starts in the metropolitan coastal city of Sydney to the outback mining city of Broken Hill then making a U-turn towards Newcastle. It should give you a good background into the outback Australia without having to go as far as North Queensland, Western Australia or the Northern Territory.

How to do it: I suggest renting a campervan or a motorhome. Sleeping on the road is an exceptional pleasure to see the day begin and end. It also gives you flexibility in terms of moving around anytime and sleeping anywhere. Renting a car would be the next. There are plenty of camping grounds, motels and 3-star hotels on the way to the outback NSW. Petrol stations and food grocery shops can be found in every town. It is recommended though to pack enough food and supply if planning to go off-road. A 4WD may be needed in places like Mungo National Park. Vehicle rental companies are concentrated in the airport. For this trip however, we only opted to free camp.

This trip happened unexpectedly and unplanned because we would like to experience the core of Australia in a limited time. As for the original plan of making it all the way up to Cairns…it’s not happening this time and it’s fine!

When to go: The best time to do this is all year round but if camping, avoid winter. We went on the summer of January. Along the coast, the temperature is pleasant and steady above 20C the very least. While in the interior, it gets very hot up to 38C.

Tips: Most places have free camping. Ask in the local tourist information office. Free camp sites have toilets and taps. Traveling interior can mean temperatures over 30C in summer. One way to cool down and have a decent shower is paying a minimal fee to use the swimming pool and showers. It is also a great way to see and talk to the locals. They’re very welcoming and helpful. On one occasion, we had a flat tire and depended on local information to get it fixed. Of course, carry a mobile phone in case of emergency. Dial 112 from a mobile for an emergency. We never had problems while on the road here in Australia and while free camping. It had been relatively safe.

What to try/eat: Meat pie, lamington, ginger beer, Aussie beers, Aussie burger (has beetroot), kangaroo and maybe crocodile.DSC_0010DSC_0009

The 10 Must-Stops:

  1. Sydney. Who goes to Australia and not see the vibrant Sydney? This city is a good start and has everything has to offer a traveller. The harbours are what make this city distinct in all of Australia. Stay around the CBD and you’ll find pretty much everything you want to see and do. Nearby suburbs worth exploring are Surry Hills, Bondi, and Manly to name a few.DSC_0455DSC_0450DSC_0465
  2. The Blue Mountains National Park. The famous Three Sisters you see in post cards is found here in the Blue Mountains. It is well-connected going west from Sydney. To view the valley, waterfalls, steep limestone cliffs and the Three Sisters, stop at Echo Point Lookout. The town of Katoomba accommodates tourists wanting to stay here. Trails can be taken around the national park for a great hiking. Camping free is a drive down Megalong Valley which is an opportunity to be in the forest and experience it up close.DSC_0593DSC_0605DSC_0624
  3. Grenfell.This is an old gold mining town. The colonial buildings are well-preserved and will give you a sense of arriving at the start of the interior Australia.   Visit the old railway station and the old gold mining ground. It will give you a brief history of the first settlement and how it all started through the gold rush.DSC_0661DSC_0693DSC_0690
  4. Mungo National Park. Is a national park on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. It consists of dry lakes, sand dunes called “Walls of China” and the Mungo Lunettes. The Lunettes were formed from the erosion that happened overtime. A guide needs to be hired to explore the Lunettes to prevent them from being vandalized. Without a guide, there are path walks to view it from the distance. It is most interesting during sunset and sunrise as the Dunes and the Lunettes becomes a canvas for the changing colours of lights. Drive into the park from Balranald as the Walls of China face southeast.DSC_0771DSC_0841DSC_0795DSC_0810
  5. Wentworth. A small town close to the border with Victoria. This is where the two major rivers meet, the Darling and Murray River. House boats are quite a common sight here. Walks around town and by the river bank of the Darling River are informative of the importance of these two rivers and how they’ve been used as merchant water highways. Check out the restored paddle steamer boat named Ruby.DSC_0875DSC_0870
  6. Broken Hill.  Believe it or not, we had an impulsive decision to drive all the way out here after watching “Priscilla: Queen of the Desert”.  I recommend you watch it to before arriving in Broken Hill. This is a silver mining city with a long history. BHP Billiton started here. The town is very characteristic of an outback town. It was as if you were in a movie set. It was cool to see contemporary and aboriginal art in their galleries. A tour of the silver mine was a good insight into the its perilous beginnings. Now a memorial was erected for those lost. Checkout Mario’s Palace to have a good marvel at the kitsch walls then dine in the pub.DSC_0878
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    Spot the loooooong train!

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  7.  Silverton. Is a little village 26km from Broken Hill worth visiting. It appears deserted but there are businesses operating like a café, the Australian Hotel, and the Mad Max museum. A few films were shot here and their memorabilia have remained. Its existence is mainly for tourists nowadays. Try the ginger beer right here! This is the place where I had discovered my new favourite local beverage.DSC_0978DSC_0966
  8. DSC_09968. Singleton.  Approaching this area we were met by rail tracks and endless rail carriages carrying coal! It’s a nice quiet town to stop by then head north to Lake St. Clair to stay for a night. The lake was created by the pooling of water when a dam was completed in 1983. There’s a camping ground and many water activities in the area. Around the lake and the drive coming here is very scenic.DSC_1040DSC_1063
  9. Hunter Valley.  The Hunter Valley is one of the wine regions of Australia. Grape picking happens on January through to February. It’s the best time to see the vineyards lush green with the grapes still attached to it. Hop around wine cellars for a free wine tasting experience. This wine region grows most of the white grape varieties. Try a Moscato or a Chardonnay .DSC_1090DSC_1083DSC_1101
  10. Newcastle.  The first thing that will catch your sight is the queue of ships in the horizon waiting to go in its harbor and load coal. Newcastle has got some good surfing beaches. An interesting walk can be taken along the esplanade and the area in general of Newcastle East. We drove and stayed the night across the harbor in Stockton which had a great view of the oncoming ships and the CBD. The sunset is gorgeous here.DSC_1116DSC_1128DSC_1165

East Coast NSW in 3 days!

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Lennox Head from the Pat Morton Lookout

Lennox Head from the Pat Morton Lookout

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The view of Coffs Harbor from the Forest Skywalk.

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We’ve arrived in Bellingen.

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Life is just…………………full of it!

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The road to Dorrigo. Autumn is here.

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Sitting pretty on this giant vine.

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DSC02436DSC02553DSC02494DSC02507DSC02551A mini exploration in East Coast NSW in 1..2..3 days is quite possible.

What do you do with a few days off, hosting friends with a newly bought car and a wanting new scenery? A road trip is inevitable! My thirst for having a day off well spent and experiencing something new is what keeps me basically…happy!

Traveling in Australia, most people seem to prefer the highways to go from point A to B. Having no tolls on the road has encouraged this kind of travel. East coast NSW has some of the most beautiful coastlines in the country. You’d often see exits from the highways luring you to the beaches. On the other side of the high way are exits to the hinterland which is equally admirable in terms of wildlife and country. Country and beach aren’t too far away from each other and you can just take either sides of the road and be in a different realm.

Consider a coastal sunrise first thing on a road trip. It can be what you need to kick start the day next to coffee so you can make the few hundred kilometres of the day.

Take the opportunity of small detours saying “scenic lookout”. It’s a great way to break the monotony of driving and finding some amazing views.

Visit an old town and a national park along the way. You don’t know how much of it as recharge until you decide to stop and take a breather. A contact with nature is relaxing and a time for yourself and your thoughts as you walk the trail in the rainforest. And don’t just walk, marvel what’s around you. Read why you are visiting such place. Go inside interesting shops or cafes. They have some history and objects of interest.

20150526_133453Before reaching your destination, staying a night in areas of interest like the vineyards is a great addition to the experience. This place has so much to offer. You know fine wines and gourmet food are catered for. Lush greens and country estates make anybody feel homey. The big open space will give you a sense of freedom from the daily rush of average life.

This road trip is from Lennox Head stopping at the Forest Skywalk off Pacific Highway approaching Coffs Harbor. We had a coffee break in Bellingen and bought some fresh fruit provisions for the rest of the day before walking the waterfall trail in Dorrigo National Park. Dorrigo National Park has a Gondwana rainforest. Gondwana was the continent when Australia and Antarctica were together before drifting apart. The forest here is fossil ancient but living! We then drove further down and slept in Hunter Valley to explore the wineries. A degustacion is worth trying.   I’ve tried some of the best reds here although this wine region is famous for the whites.

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Eating like Pinoys!

The final destination is Sydney and in time for the Vivid Light Festival! From George Street all the way to Darling Harbour and the Sydney Opera House, the curios visual stimulations would keep you going. But before walking in the cold of the night, we had a hearty meal from a Filipino restaurant. Having been exposed to so many cuisines, the familiar taste of the sisig and kare-kare tasted even better than how I remembered it. What a great way to finish the journey of good food, great friends and a new multitude of experiences our adopted country has to offer.

Because my friends had the car and they live in Sydney, I had to take a flight back to the north coast for A$55!  Not bad and the journey completed in 3 days. 🙂

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Exploring Circular Quay before our flight.

Exploring Circular Quay before our flight.

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The Sydney Harbor from the skies.

Santorini. Is it the Atlantis?

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DSC00308DSC00283The blue Aegean sea, crimson sunset and the white washed cubist houses by the edge of the earth is the present Santorini of what remained of the one island destroyed by a volcanic eruption thousands of years ago.  The cliffs of Santorini was sculpted by massive rock and land slide during the volcanic eruption and today the island itself  remained as the caldera. This is where the legend of Atlantis was thought to come from!

Santorini is undeniably post card perfect. The view from Fira or Oia is so stunning it will make you stop and drop everything (and then share it on social media to show how lucky you are!)

How to get here:

A top destination like this is well-connected from whichever part of the world. Flights coming in, stops over in Athens and then one takes another short flight into Santorini (Thira) airport. It is very close to the modern capital of the island, Fira, that hotels offer pick-ups and drop offs free of charge. Ferries traveling interisland can also be considered especially when going to a nearby island.

The waiting area in Santorini Port where to catch the interisland fast crafts.

The waiting area in Santorini Port where to catch the interisland fast crafts.

Where to stay:

Bed and breakfasts, hotels from one to five stars and studios are common accommodations.  Prices of accommodations have a broad range.  It can be as cheap but good or expensive and luxurious as you want.

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Getting around:

Rent a car, a quad, a motorcycle. We rented a quad in Santorini.   It was slow but the cool breeze and the warm sun was a great feeling.  The climb to the Old Thira was steep and so it added some adrenaline rush. Take the road and see where it might lead you. If you should get lost, it’s easy to get out of where you are as the island is small.  Amazing views of the sea and cliffs and the Mediterranean landscape!

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Steep narrow road to the Old Thira.

Where to go and what to see:

  • A stroll around Fira and the many shops. You’ll see the lagoon and the island of Thera while walking and looking through the gaps.
  • Wait for the sunset in Fira or Oia. It is good to have a view of Fira at sunset so make sure you are on a northern point when taking the sunset photo of the white cubist houses.  From white, they play and reflect the colours of sunset.
  • The Red Beach
  • Perissa Beach and the old Thira settlement.
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The Red Beach

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The Old Thira

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Perissa Beach

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Perissa Beach view from the Old Thira

 

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What to eat:

Locals eat out in Tavernas. Try a Santorini salad. It’s like the Greek salad but with Santorini’s take on it. Pickled caper leaves are added and so are capers.

The house wine, olives and olive oil are the staples of the table. Vineyards are present on this island and surprisingly they let it creep on the ground than letting the grapevine grow upwards.

Moussaka, baked feta cheese, a lamb based dish , fish and seafood are of course also on the menu. Eat  Mediterranean in Mediterranea.  After all, Mediterranean food is considered healthy.

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But first, Oahu!

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Oahu is an experience of the city buzz, the lively beach towns and some tranquillity of the countryside. You can drive around it for the day but it will make you stay for a little more than what you have planned.

It is perhaps the most widely advertised island of Hawaii. The fantasy of the vintage illustration of Waikiki bordered with hibiscus, the Duke riding his wooden board and PanAm bringing in excited tourists lives on. We seemingly at first think that nothing much has changed from these vintage illustrations: the hula, leis, aloha shirts, longboards surfing waves, cruise ships in the horizon and planes flying in non-stop. The sunset by the bay is the most anticipated by all that everything stops and everybody falls in love? Maybe.  Tiki torches light up the esplanade and the charming statue of Duke Kahanamoku is the center of gravity for all passers-by day or night. A MaiTai or a Pina Colada from the menu of fruity cocktails will complete the first beach holiday feeling.

I think this is a good island to start off than anywhere else as it will flood your senses with all sorts of stimulation and that Aloha feeling.

Words to remember are:

Aloha – Hello or good-bye

Mahalo – Thank you

“Trade winds” – keep the islands cool and may mean a few showers!

Where to stay:

Hotels are concentrated along Kalakaua Avenue and Kuhio Avenue. Booking online is a better way to see the deals and prices on local currency. A gentle reminder: taxes and fees can be excluded.

Around Oahu, it was surprising not to see many hostels, motels and overnight stay bed and breakfast. We had planned to sleep in Lanikai or Kailua area but found it hard to get an overnight stay. We wanted to let the day happen in Oahu as it goes and did no booking ahead but I guess so long for drive-stop-sleep travel! We were made to drive all the way up and around to the North Shore. Mind you that there are hotels around the area but can cost more than USD250 a night.

As we head north-west of the island, a concentration of accommodations appeared gain. We stopped at Sharks Cove for an accommodation advertised. We had a two-night stay to check out the surf beaches. Hostel, private room and studio types of accommodation are common in this area.

On the road again!

On the road again!

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How to get around:

Renting a car is possibly the best way to move around. It is on average USD 40 a day for a standard car (a small one) with insurance then it goes up from there. Major car rental companies are concentrated in the airport area and will follow the pricing I mentioned. However, there are some car, motorcycle and bicycle rentals in Honolulu and in Waikiki.

Honolulu is well-connected by buses. It’s only USD 2.50 a one-way trip and more for the out of the city commute. They go to major city attractions. Just look up the bus number and the bus stops.

There are looping trolleys around the major city attractions. This is like the hop-on hop-off bus but made to look like a tram. Outside the city excursions are sold along the streets and in the hotel. It is good if you wouldn’t like the hassle of driving and reading maps. They take tourists by shuttles or coaches.

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Things to do:

There’s plenty on offer for whatever you desire! But let me write down the basic ones for a short visit.

The beaches – surf, snorkel in Hanauma Bay, read a book while being lazy on the sand in Lanikai, watch the sunset in Waikiki or take a catamaran out to sea to catch it. Surf boards, beach chairs and umbrellas are available on the beaches to rent. For a spectacular watch of big waves, there’s nothing like the North Shore.

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Waimea Bay

Waimea Bay

Sunset Beach surfed with a

Sunset Beach surfed with a “gun”.

Rocky Point

Rocky Point

Banzai Pipeline

Banzai Pipeline

Banzai Pipeline.  Assessing the wave...

Banzai Pipeline. Assessing the wave…

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Raging shore break in Waimea.

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Toys for the ocean are: a body board, a skim board and a surfboard. Don’t go without!

Luau – Which one to pick? There’s plenty around. If feeling a bit fancy, go for the Royal Hawaiian. If you don’t like big crowds, the one in the Diamond Head Aquarium would be ideal. Big crowd but wanting to go out of Honolul, go for Paradise Cove in Ko’olani. They offer transport for a fee. Luaus are comprised of Hawaiian activities like lei making, instrument playing etc. then a live band performance, a prelude hula dance, dinner and more dances showcasing the different parts of Polynesia. It is a good introduction and background into the Hawaiian and Polynesian culture. It has inspired us to explore more of Polynesia on our next travels.

Hula – Free hula shows at Kuhio Beach on Tuesdays and Thursdays on from 6.30PM. The old hula was danced with a chant and played with a drum gourd as a percussion. Ukuleles (from the Portuguese), double bass (from the Germans) and guitar (from the Mexicans) only came along after a wave of immigrants introduced them into the Hawaiian culture. The new hula music is played with these instruments. Hula is danced to tell a story and the story was written into the lyrics of the song.

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Kava – a root made into a drink by the Hawaiians.

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Hikes– Diamond Head and Haiku stairs in Kaneohe.

Old colourful town – visit Haleiwa located in the North Shore. Today, the shops are oriented mostly to surfing and Hawaiian gifts.

The Dole Plantation – Driving back to Honolulu and going through the valley from Haleiwa you will come across pineapple plantations. It is very informative on how this popular fruit was spread all over the world and had known to be the king of fruits.

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Waimea Valley – for the farmer’s market every Thursday at 2PM and an entry into the botanical garden and waterfall.

Iolani Palace – for an insight into the monarchs of Hawaii and its annexation with the US.

Shopping – Ala Moana Shopping Center. I especially liked the food court to have some Thai, fish taco or Japanese for cheap.

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Haleiwa, North Shore

Haleiwa, North Shore

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Waimea Valley

Waimea Valley

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Farmers Market

Farmers Market

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A royal couples' portrait in Iolani Palace.

A royal couples’ portrait in Iolani Palace.

The music room in Iolani Palace.

The music room in Iolani Palace.

DSC02295What’s your next island? Follow me next into Kauai! 😉

Hawai’i (an overview)

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The statue of Duke Kahanamoku. He who is responsible for spreading the sport of surfing to the world.

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Diamond Head, Oahu

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Waikiki and the pink Royal Hawaiian Hotel.

Hawaii is magical. Every turn is a surprise. Its natural beauty is surreal that it cannot be captured entirely by whatever means. You have to see it. The culture is so rich you want to embrace it. It is a fantasy for those who seek paradise. Its present beauty still very attractive and held intact by anyone who is in it.

On this trip to Hawaii, we’ve travelled to the four major islands of Oahu, Kauai, the Big Island and Maui in a total of 20 days. Time is a luxury and we had a little bit of it. If you have more time, it would be ideal to explore more of these beautiful islands and include Lana’i and Moloka’i. Each of them was different in many ways but held together by the spirit of Aloha.

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The Ukulele is a Hawaiian icon. Introduced by the Portuguese and loved by the monarchs  which they adopted into their culture.

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What is Aloha?

As what I have learned from the Luau we have taken part of in Oahu, “Alo” means presence, front and face, and “Ha” means the breath of life. Put together, Aloha is the presence of the breath of life.

Aloha is used as an everyday greeting instead of the accustomed “Hello or Goodbye.” It comes across as a gentle, warm and sincere greeting of a good morning or a good day. To say Aloha comes naturally with a smile and a sense of welcoming. It is such a sweet word to listen to. When one greets Aloha, be sure to respond Aloha!

How to get there and move around:

Various airlines fly into the major hubs of Honolulu in Oahu and Kahului in Maui. I suggest flying into Honolulu for the first impression of Hawaii.   Flying interisland is serviced by Island Air and Hawaiian Airlines. Tickets can be purchased on their website excluding baggage. Baggage is paid upfront upon check-in in the airport. There are shuttles looping to take you to the car rental companies. Public buses in Honolulu service airports and drop off passengers in Waikiki for $2.50. Make sure you have the exact amount and travel takes about 45 mins to an hour. Taxis are 24hours and private shuttles can be hired.  Renting a car is probably the best way to independently see everything.  Tourist maps and brochures are free and can be taken from stands in the airport and the tourist area.

Where to stay:

Hawaii accommodations are majorly comprised of hotels. Also, there are holiday apartments for long stays, bed and breakfast and very few hostels and motels. The type and amount of accommodations vary depending on which island you are on. It is good to have a device with internet on the go as it is the best way to book.

Which Island? In an overview:

Oahu is the island that has both city and country.  Honolulu contains the business district, cultural centre, China Town and the famous beach of Waikiki.  In the north of the Island is the famous North Shore for the big surfing waves. This is the island for surfing small and big! Other activities will involve the beach, shopping and your first taste of a luau. The drive from the eye catching Diamond Head and all the way to the top is scenic.  The Dole plantation and the old towns are hard to miss.

Rocky Point, North Shore Oahu.

Rocky Point, North Shore Oahu.

Banzai Pipeline on a

Banzai Pipeline on a “small” day.

Kauai is the first inhabited island of Hawaii called the Garden Island for its natural beauty. Main attractions are its coasts and landscapes. It is an island to relax and to take it slow. Great for hiking and trekking like the Na Pali Coast and Waimea Canyon.  It is the island with popular locations for Hollywood movies such as  Jurassic Park, Raiders of the Lost Ark and The South Pacific.

The Na Pali coast.

The Na Pali coast.

Hanalei Bay.

Hanalei Bay.

Waimea Canyon.

Waimea Canyon.

Maui is an island of two worlds. On the west is the tourist area of Lahaina and is lined with big resorts and revived old towns. East Maui has a slower pace, secluded and has some of the best scenic drives. The road to Hana is lush and dotted with cascades and waterfalls. The highest point of Maui is Haleakalā. It is famous for its sunrise and the summit can be reached by car.  Snorkelling, spear fishing, and game fishing is popular in this island.

The old whaling town of Lahaina.

The old whaling town of Lahaina.

The Taro Festival in Hana, East Maui.

The Taro Festival in Hana, East Maui.

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Maui is for driving!

 

The Big Island of Hawai’i is the most actively volcanic and also has 11 climates out of 13 in the world! It contains the Volcano National Park where you could see the activity of the famous Kilauea caldera. Lava flow around the area is as recent as December 2014. There are some good hikes around the park such as the lava tube, the old lava flows and going across a caldera. The town of Kailua-Kona and city of Hilo are two major inhabited areas different from each other. Be sure to take a four wheel drive to see the sunset in Mauna Kea. One can have a good insight on the birth of an island through the volcanoes on this island.

The Kilauea caldera.

The Kilauea caldera.

Mid point of Mauna Kea.

Mid point of Mauna Kea.

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Sunsets are beautiful.  Shot from the Kona Inn.

Sunsets are beautiful. Shot from the Kona Inn.

What to eat:

Hawaiian food are root crops like taro, yams and sweet potatoes, and fish and seafood. From the wave of immigrants from Japan, China, Philippines and Portugal that came over early 20th century, it evolved and created new dishes that added a few more side dish in the luau plate.  One of the typical bento that you can get would consist of: poke (spiced raw fish salad), lomilomi (smoked salted salmon with salsa), poi (taro paste), haupia (coconut pudding as a dessert), laulau (meat wrapped in a taro leaf), Kalua pork (pork cooked in an underground earth oven for hours), Hāpuʻu ʻiʻi (Hawaiian tree fern whose uncoiled fronds are picked and boiled and made into a salad). Of course, spam is ever popular but I had a lot of it as a kid that I had to skip as my dietary preference now has changed into more natural food. Malasadas to snack is a doughnut that was introduced by the Portuguese and it tasted exactly same up to this day as tested by my Portuguese companion. Adobo from the Philippines is as common as the Filipinos I bump into every corner. Fish tacos and Mexican food are very popular and I must say it was my staple lunch and dinner. American food such as the cheeseburger is always in sight. Hawaii’s cuisine is developing into a more regional path which encourages local production and consumption. That’s the beauty of an immigrant country…the choices are many when it comes to food and is almost always delivered in an authentic way!

Don’t forget to snack on fruits and cold coconuts while on the road!

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Pork laulau with poi and haupia.

Poke with brown rice and lemonade.

Poke with brown rice and lemonade.