So as it happens every 4 years a bunch of my mates who live in various places across Ireland meet up and go on a weekend city break together in celebration of a birthday. The first time we went away it was Paris. Next we went to Rome. This time it was Berlin’s turn. Continue reading
Since I am now based in Dublin and not currently travelling. I thought it would be an interesting idea to bring my sense of adventure and exploration to my own city. I want to recreate that sense of openess and curiosity that I bring with me while travelling. I want to discover new places, new people, create new memories, push the bounderies a little by doing things I would not do normally, to really experience this city. Continue reading
I appreciate a state that gives its residents a day off for a horse race. The 5.6 million inhabitants of the State of Victoria are given a public holiday for the Melbourne Cup each year. So, to take advantage of this free time I roped a friend in to taking us on a road trip.
Sometimes you only realise how much you miss open space and nature when you escape from a metropolis. Ferntree Gully is in the Dandenong Ranges it is only about an hour from Melbourne CBD but feels like another world. Even in the carpark the green & red parrots swooped overhead and happily pottered about in gangs on the tarmac. The sounds were unfamiliar, the air pungent and the temperature was even a few degrees cooler. Continue reading
For me booking a plane ticket is like a game. This might seem a little weird for some. However, I adore the challenge of securing the lowest possible fare. Often I am used as the go-to person to book a cheap flight. So I thought I would share a few tips with you.
This question was asked quite a bit recently, so I decided it would be a good idea to divulge some background information. From October 2010 to April 2011 my boyfriend and I travelled through Thailand, China, Laos and Malaysia. I am not a digital nomad and we got our money for travel the old-fashioned way, by saving.
I was working in contract positions as well as freelance writing. After paying the bills and day-to-day living costs, it took us about 2 years to save up slowly bit by bit. Working hard for our freedom, we sacrificed nights out and buying any new stuff in the process.
However, we had done this all before in 2007 and in 2004 I packed up and moved to Amsterdam for 3 ½ years. Stuffing backpacks, calling the utility companies and just hitting the road for as long as we possibly can is something we are used to. It’s nor everyone, but I find it keeps life interesting.
This is not me trying to show off here, I just want to say that if you really want to travel you can always find a way to do so. Don’t let a mortgage, fixed contract or money be an excuse to prevent you from realising your travel dreams.
So back on topic what the hell am I doing in Melbourne? In April, we flew from Kuala Lumpur to Melbourne basically to cash up. As Europe is in an economic catastrophe right now Australia is probably the best place to be. We are lucky that both our passports allow us to apply for a 1 year working holiday visa. I am working full time, writing part-time and my boyfriend is also working full-time and has several projects on the side. So we’re busy and back in saving mode. It kinda feels like being in limbo we are not quite travelling, not quite settled and we are far from home.
If we are able to reach our savings goal by next April we will have a lot of options. One of which is to live in Berlin for a year, en route visiting some of the pacific islands, Peru, New York, ….. ??
Any suggestions on my itinerary welcome!
I sampled some of Melbourne’s finest roasted coffee at the Black Coffee pop up last weekend. Continue reading
We peered out from a rickety wooden fence to look at the view. Wow. Parallel streams flowed down 120 meters to the pool below. The strong current smacking the rocky shelf half way, before descending further into a misty cloud. I stood mesmerised following one splash all the way down. We went to the restaurant balcony and zoned out on the view over lunch.
How to get to the Tad Fan Waterfalls:
1. Hire a motorbike from Pakse head East on Road 13 for around 40 km towards Pak Song
2. A tuk-tuk will take you to the falls for US$20 flat rate (source Travelfish.org)
3. The local bus costs 15,000 kip, and departs from Pakse’s Southern Bus Terminal (source Travelfish.org)
From my 2007 Asian Diary – Ourechoes.com
Lunch in Melbourne CBD can be difficult to navigate for a visitor. The city makes you work to find its treasures. It is well known for hiding bars down maze-like laneways for example. Sometimes, I find it is like an expedition to wade through the high street past cookie cutter cafés to unearth a cosy corner for a tasty treat. However, there are plenty of them lurking under the skin of the city you just have to know where to look.
Melbournites in general are a relatively laid back bunch, however, when it comes to coffee they don’t mess around. Coffee even has its own language here; long black (americano), flat white (latte), short mac (Macchiato).
This series is a visual ode to the most scenic places I have visited. I want to pay my respects to the places I have travelled for giving me such rich and memorable encounters. Hopefully, in the process I might also encourage others to go out and explore the world and be respectful and mindful of its beauty.
The photograph was taken from a sea kayak we had hired for the day on an attempt to circumnavigate the tiny island of Ko Wai. As the island has no roads, no cars or other means of transport except a few small dirt paths the only way to get around is by sea.
En route, we passed dazzling turquoise coastlines, amazing coral life and jungle terrain that flowed almost to the shore. What is not shown however, is my terror.
As we moved further around the island, the waves became increasingly choppy. We started taking on a lot of water. The wind also picked up slightly making it more difficult to steer and avoid the coral and rocky terrain that lurked underneath the surface threatening to damage the kayak.
When, we eventually did make it back, minutes before sunset fell. We all yelped a ‘wohoo’ as we arrived safely ashore. Dragging our sea soaked, exhausted bodies to the bar for a well deserved Singha beer.
How to get here:
From Bangkok take a bus to Laem Ngop pier then take a ferry to Ko Wai. Alternatively, take a ferry from Bang Bao on Ko Chang
Just a short one to let you know how things are going. We’re still living in Melbourne in the same funky neighbourhood. The person who’s place we are living in keeps extending her time away which is great for us. I have made good progress on the job front and should be able to start soon. We have been working on some of our web projects in the mean time and are learning lots and making good progress. I’m currently helping some of our mates in Amsterdam launch a drum and bass music label on-line (www.easternpromiseaudio.com) and we have 3 other websites to work on, so no shortage of things to do.
Apart from from that, we are enjoying ourselves. We are getting further acquainted with our neighbourhood and other funky suburbs of Melbourne. I enjoy walking to the Library most days (about 40 mins) where I usually use the internet and resources in the afternoons. We often also walk back home from the city centre in the evenings and explore various suburbs at the weekends, sampling more of the great café’s and cheap eats that dot the streets.. The grittiness and abundance of quality graffiti around our area ( Melbourne inner suburb called Fitzroy) also makes for some great shots. I recently picked up a great lens for our camera at a garage sale and am enjoying it to the fullest with all the cool things to photograph around our area.
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ABOVE:Graffiti wall in Fitzroy, Melbourne. Graffiti of this size is actually quite common around the neighbourhood.
BELOW: One mouth watering sandwich at Babida last weekend. One of the many great bars and café’s in Fitzroy, Melbourne.
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We also did a coach surf a few weeks back at the start of the great ocean road which was a great experience. Very nice host, great food and cliff walks on the coast of south east Australia. So everything is moving on nicely, except for the fact that the winter has hit here (damn you southern hemisphere!) . Things could be worse though, with temperatures at the level of your average Irish summers day…
I have added a good few photos that we took over the last view months roaming around. You can have a look through them below. Enjoy:
The pictures above are all images I have uploaded for Australia, If you click on one to enlarge it, you can browse through all of them in large format by clicking the left or right buttons. To see the image gallery for each location separately, Please check the Gallery pages from the menu at the top.
After a one night stop over in Bangkok with the usual long islands and some dinner at Hemlock restaurant we went on to catch the third class train to Ayutthaya from Hua Lamphong station in a pretty hungover state.
To our surprise the ticket price for the 3rd class two hour+ long train ride was only 75baht (about E1,90) for the 5 of us. We found some seats in the rickety but pretty clean coach without windows and soon departed. We crawled slowly through the the city, stopping at small stations or just grinded to a halt on the track on various occasions – we passed many track side shacks and restaurants which you could touch if you reached out of the window. After about 1hr15Min’s we where out of the city and going through swamp lands and rice paddies ricketing across the occasional river. Simmered out, after all the fresh air and mesmerizing views of the train ride we headed out of the station and took the small ferry across the river (the former capital of Ayutthaya is on an island surrounded by rivers) which we shared with some locals and monks. We found a coffee and had some food while Vourneen set out to find us a nice Guesthouse.
We ended up staying at the Baanlotus guesthouse, which is one of the most relaxing and enjoyable guesthouses we found in Thailand so far.[singlepic id=295 h=130 float=left] The guesthouse sits on a big plot of land with an impressive size lotus pond behind it and a covered jetty running over the middle of it. The back of the pond is surrounded by dense woodland which adds a very rural feel to it. The Guesthouse is run by a dotty pensioner biochemist who had to come back to Ayutthaya after her parents past away to look after the house. As she had so many international friends come over that she decided to start a guesthouse. She has many enchanting stories to tell and the pond is full of fish, some very large lizards and even a 30 year old turtle that pops its head up occasionally.
[singlepic id=293 h=120 float=right]From this relaxing place we set out to explore the old capital ruins, many temples and the old trade settlements over the next 2 days, while having relaxed lunches at the river side and eating at the local night market stalls. we visited the museum in the old Japanese settlement which gave a lot of information about trade and foreign influence. It also showed the important role the Dutch VOC shipping company had played in the area by documenting and mapping the surroundings and trade relations.
Ayutthaya has a very relaxed atmosphere and not too much to offer in the form of nightlife but we got extremely relaxed and were almost sad to leave Ayutthaya after the 3 days we had stayed. However, we had spotted the prospects of a reggae festival so were ready to head to Chiang Mai on the evening of the 19th of January…
Find a selection of pictures from our visit to Ayutthaya, Thailand below. You can also visit the gallery page for a slideshow of these pictures.
We had decided to travel from Bangkok to Koh Chang by first class government bus which was more comfortable and trustworthy then using the private operators from Khaosan road. The only problem with this was that we had to get up pretty early in to catch a taxi to the bus station which was slightly tricky with our pattern of getting up around noon and partying until late at night. We ended up being stuck in traffic for most of the cab ride and stopping in front of the bus just as it was getting ready to depart. Luckily our mates taxi driver had taken them over the express way which meant that they had arrived early enough to buy us a ticket and hold up the bus a bit.
A bus ride, ferry crossing and about 7 hours later we found ourselves within the palmed surroundings of Koh Chang (island) where we hitched a ride on a songthaew (communal taxi service) to Lonely beach. As many places had been booked out due to high season Vourneen had booked us in to a place called Sunflower bungalows, which was run by a very relaxed German guy and his Thai staff. The place had a very nice atmosphere and bungalows of various quality and price, set in a landscaped garden. We got comfortable and then headed to the beach – which was a couple of hundred meters away for our first sunset across the sea. One thing that amazed Vourneen and me is the sheer amount of development that happened since our last visit to the island in 2007. Lonely beach a very laid back area back then is now a big party place full of late night parties, bars with even an open air cinema screen on one of the beach resorts. It was as the owner of Sunflower aptly said no longer lonely in any way. We went on to have some nice food at nature rocks – a beach front resort with a good restaurant and the beach front and ended up back in our usual evening pattern of bars and cocktails.
The next 2 or 3 days or so were spend in the increasingly routine way of getting up late, some hungover lazying at the sunflower restaurant with a fruit shake and breakfast. Then heading for the beach, going for a swim, heaving a beer, going for some food, watching the occasional monkey play at the roadside, and heaving a party at varying bars and at our bungalow.
After these days we decided we should get a bit more active and agreed to do some beach kayaking the next day to one of the uninhabited islands of the beach. What we had not foreseen however was that there was another party going on that evening at the Magic Garden bar and resort, which would get quite out of hand, particularly as Chris ordered us 5 buckets of Long Island ice tea by mistake (he had wanted to order 1 bucket and 5 long island ice teas). Needless to say things went downhill quite quickly from there and we ended up getting to the beach kayak place after 4PM which didn’t leave us with a hell of a lot of time to chill at the uninhabited place. We did our little excursion none the less and felt a bit better for it. After this we decided that it became time to actually start doing something during the day from now on..
The next day we agreed to rent a motorbike and set out to explore a bit more of the islands different beaches and nature. We drove south to find some very chilled beaches, and then drove on to basically the end of the road. Where I gave Hans some driving lessons on a quiet patch of road as he had never driven a scooter or motorbike before. All of us really enjoyed the drive and we decided to the the same thing again the next day. We rented slightly better quality motorbikes this time from one beach up and circled all the way to the southeast side of the island and back, stopping of at various sights along the way.
We had an early night after this as we had decided (for the 3rd time) to go to the Island of Koh Wai tomorrow. The next day we indeed made it to Koh Wai and enjoyed the great hospitality and pristine beaches of Pakarang resort (one of only 3 resorts on the island, which had pretty much no roads and only generator electricity). Koh Wai was pretty much exactly as we had remembered it from our 2007 visit, the ultimate laid back island with pristine quiet white beaches of which some where only accessible buy climbing through thick jungle or kayaking to them. As it was still early in the day and we would be staying only one night we jumped right in to the sea – did some snorkeling.
After the snorkeling we rented kayaks again to explore some of the beaches. After a few deserted beaches and a couple of stops we found another resort on the opposite side of the island where we had a beer. We had about another 90 minutes of daylight left and after being told by a local that both directions were equally long we decided to continue on in the direction we were headed. We had 2 problems however. The Kayak shared by Tommie, Chris and Hans, seemed to be slowly sinking and the seas where a lot rougher on this side and 2 contrary to what the man at the resort had said the distance on this side was quite a lot longer. After 90+ minutes of extreme speed kayaking and emptying kayaks we made it back to our resort just as it got completely dark. That night didn’t get very late and the next day we set back for Koh Chang and we’re headed on to Ayutthaya through Bangkok the day after on the 17th of January.
After flying from Shangri La to Kunming on the early flight, a short night and another early flight from Kunming, China we finally arrived in Bangkok on the morning of January 5th to meet up with our mates Tom, Chris and Hans who had arrived a day earlier.
While on the flight from Kunming to Bangkok we got talking to a very nice Chinese girl with surprisingly good English who was on her first trip ever outside China to study further in Bangkok. She was a bit nervous and was supposed to meet a person from the university there to pick her up and had no idea what to do if he would not be there. We decided to go through immigration with her to make sure she was OK and ended up staying in the airport for quite a while to help her find the person that was supposed to be there, but in the end it all worked out.
When we had finally left the airport it immediately struck us how western everything felt and of course how lovely and warm it was after the freezing temperatures in the Himalaya. When we got to the guesthouse we found our mates in deep coma’s due to jet lag and the previous nights drinking. We settled in to our room as they got ready for the day.
Afterwards we went for a wander around the neighborhood and gave them a bit of an introduction to the back alleys and other places they hadn’t seen in the Bang Lamphu neighborhood before, like the hidden mosque and the remarkably tranquil Chana Songkhram temple, which is in the midst of the main tourist areas and around the corner from khoasan road. We ended up having dinner in one of the cheap but excellent cooking school restaurants The flow and went on to have drinks in one of the many street (cocktail) bars where we ended up drinking Long Islands untill late in the evening. And things naturally got pretty messy while scoring disgusting snacks and beers at the seven eleven after closure.
The next day we went to show Chris who had come to South East Asia for the first time the shopping craziness of MBK center in the business district (Sukhumvit). Instead of taking a taxi, we decided to take the longer but way more scenic route there using the Express ferry that takes you across the Chao Phraya river to the Thaksin bridge (a scenic boat ride of about 30 mins for about 40 euro cents) from where we took the sky train, an elevated railway which snakes over the road between the sky scrapers of the business district. After this long Journey and a shopping overload we headed back to our area in Banglamphu and headed for the relaxing ambiance of Hemlock restaurant and on to the street cocktail bars again for some Long islands.
The next day on the 7th of January, it was time to head for the Archipelago of Koh Chang for some beach side relaxing and island hopping.
UPDATE: I just found some very sad news that in January 2014 most of the Old Town where we stayed in ShangriLa also known as Zhongdian or Diqing had a major fire which destroyed most of the area. You can see more updates in this thread. If anyone has visited recently I would love to know more about your experience.
After several hours in a minibus that took us to the start of the Tiger leaping Gorge to collect our bags and then up through the mountains we arrived at Shangrila after dark. It was immediately clear that we had gained quite a bit of altitude as it felt slightly harder to breath and the temperature had dropped to what felt like minus something degrees.
We had booked in a place called Ns kitchen together with various people we met during our trek. After some scouting we found the place in the old town. When we came in the girl behind the counter told us to follow her and walked outside – she kept on walking through the old town for a some minutes after which we arrived to what looked like a different hotel, which looked very closed. She then showed us our rooms which looked ok and told us to call her on the phone that was in the empty lobby bar area if we wanted to leave so she could open the front door of the lobby and lock it behind us.
It turns out that the pipes in Ns kitchen itself where frozen so they had struck a deal with a hotel that was closed for the winter to put us up there. There was no-one else staying in the hotel.
We kicked off the NYE celebrations with a Yak meat hot pot dinner washed down with several Dali beers from a local restaurant. Before heading back to the hotel where we claimed the bar/lobby area for ourselves and the other travellers to have our New Year’s Party in front of a log fire.
After new years the hotel slowly drained of people. In the 4 days we had after new years, we did some small excursions around town and outskirts. We didn’t get that far however as the altitude (over 3200Meters) and the cold made it tiring to get around. It was very quiet around town and the atmosphere felt desolate but also a bit magical.
As Shangrila is close to the border with Tibet, the population in the Shangrila area is over 80 percent Tibetan and prayer flags and temples are abundant. The lack of tourists also made the experience feel more real to us (few tourists make it out to Shangri-La around late December/January and many hotels close due to the very cold weather and possibilities of closed roads around).
We flew out of Deqen (Diqing) Shangrila Airport to Kunming. It must be one of the highest airports in the world with an elevation of 3280m.
The view from the plane was extraordinary. Pastel peaks of the Himalaya protruding from the mist.
After a couple of days exploring Hong Kong it was time to check out some places to visit in China. We headed into the mainland to explore Yangshuo, a touristy but beautiful spot surrounded by karst limestone peaks. The overnight bus would leave Shenzhen in the late afternoon. The local train would take us across the border to the bus station. It sounded very easy, too easy. In reality was not as straight forward as it sounded. The bus station we went into was for shorter local buses only and the people that we asked had no English to explain this. However, after some confusing minutes and being pointed in several random directions we found our way and boarded the bus.
The bus had comfortable horizontal berths and only a few others were occupied. We had a lower berth and upper berth by the window which was great for watching the landscape go by. There were seat belts provided and I thought they were superfluous until the bus set off at a lightning speed ( I estimate about 170KPH at times). We shot through traffic on the major highways, amber street lights blurred past and the city never seamed to end. For the next 4 hours or so we saw city landscapes fluctuating with major industrial zones that seemed to have toxic chimneys and looming factory buildings. Patches of green heavy smog blurred the horizon. It really felt like we had found the worlds central production line. The industrial zones thinned and the mountain silhouettes became visible in the distance with dark grey lines of major roads occasionally heading straight into bright and hazy yellow circles of tunnel entrances. I was pretty comfortable but could not get to sleep with all these memorizing visuals shooting by.
Just as I felt I was getting to sleep suddenly karst peaks surrounded us and we drove into Yangshuo. It was about 3:20 AM, 2.5 hours earlier than our projected arrival time. We wandered of the bus and shook of the touts, making our way to West Street and into the 24 hour KFC on the main tourist drag. We spent the next couple of hours trying to wake up various night guards in hotels that either were unwakeable or could not be communicated with. In the end after watching the sunrise over the river we found a place and went to sleep.
We had come completely unprepared for the big drop in temperature that had taken place (24c in Hong Kong – to around 5 – 10 degrees in Yangshuo). So we were pretty cold but the surroundings made up for it. There was a lot of Chinese tourism going on but almost no westerners in sight. The place had a sleepy atmosphere with many cool characters around. We decided to explore the park and walk along the river for the day and booked in to the Double Moon Guesthouse. A random but ok place. Complete with free daily thermos of hot water (for having tea). In the evening we went to Monkey Jane’s roof top bar. A cozy and buzzing place with many backpackers starting off their evenings. It was run by a very bubbly Chinese girl and her friends.
After having a couple of beers and having dinner I started feeling quite sick. the next 3 days I spent mostly in bed with severe cold flashes an infected throat and all the standard flu symptoms. We only went out for short walks and quick meals as I could not handle more. We also did find some clothes to weather the cold further as the temperature went down. Vourneen spent some of the time to work on her writing.
After 3 shivering days of recovering from the flu and finding warm enough clothes we changed guesthouse again to Bamboo Hotel which was cheaper and more comfortable and set out to explore more of the surrounding areas mostly on foot. We still couldn’t go to far as the temperature was very low and the days were very rainy but we managed to walk further down and up river and enjoy some of the beautiful views the and reflections that the karst peaks and river had to offer. Meanwhile we did our share of people watching , being stared at, watched and having our pictures taken with some of the Chinese people around. They’re reactions to us varied from confusion to enthusiasm and shy interest to down right shock at times. It did make us feel being the tourist attraction occasionally.
It was amazing how much the old and the new mixed randomly around town. 1930’s style trucks with open tractor engines still spluttering along the streets alongside brand new BMW Land Cruisers. All sorts of 2 and 3 wheeled transport weaved in and out sometimes motorised, sometimes not. Old woman bearing baskets of fruit walked next to Iphone fiddling teenagers. Open fire cooking was very common but so was wifi. We walked past an open shacks which had 40inch lcd tv with random Chinese programming on it. This really brought home how quick and confusing the development must be for the Chinese.
After some more lazy days and crazy nights at Monkey Jane’s and around the town including going clubbing with random backpackers and young Chinese people we had hooked up with along the way. It was time for us to head to our next destination, Chengdu on Monday the 13th of December.