Sunday, December 21, 2014

Wai Wai Place / Wai Wai Bed and Breakfast

I just wanted to show some quick love towards this property as this was one place that I will never forget. Wai Wai, the owner, is incredibly hospitable, generous and absolutely lovely. She has recently opened up another house to accommodate all the extra people that are lining up wanting to stay at her house. She is also an incredible chef and will happily host dinners for her guests without wanting anything in return just because she loves cooking! She makes sure your stay in her city is comfortable, exciting and fun. She gives great recommendations on what to see and where to eat. I wish we could have stayed here longer as she made our stay in Myanmar so special.

I truly recommend anyone going to Yangon to stay at Wai Wai Place. You will never want to leave!

Wai Wai's Place- website

Wai Wai and us

Shwedagon Pagoda

Monday, December 8, 2014

Kuang Si Waterfalls

This was hands down one of my favourite places in Luang Prabang. It is a major tourist attraction so the biggest tip I can give is to go there early. If you want to feel like you have the place to yourself for a little while before your photos get overtaken by tourists then head there about 8am; the mornings are still warm enough that you'll enjoy taking a cool dip in the pools.

There is a small entry fee into the park but it's no big deal. Also, they have a pretty sweet rehabilitation centre for hurt or mistreated Asian bears within the park which you can walk by and view the enclosures on the way to the pools.

The hostel we stayed at offered a driver to take us there, but at certain times only as it was a group deal. We were able to find another tuktuk driver on the way to the night markets who gave us an awesome price for the 3 of us, and also arranged a van instead to pick us up the next day at the time we wanted. The van was a much better idea than taking a tuktuk as there is a bit of uphill travel and the van definitely navigated the windy, beaten roads a lot more comfortably than a motorbike would.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Bagan, Myanmar

My travel buddies and I decided to splurge for our time in Bagan. We did have a budget we were trying to stick to but there was one accommodation that we couldn’t pass on. Accommodation prices for Myanmar are relatively expensive compared to the rest of Asia, so we decided to pay that $10-$20 more to get something that was better quality than the others we were looking to book with. We definitely made the right decision, too. We were going to Myanmar in April, which is one of their hottest seasons. Bagan is pretty much a desert. Around midday the heat can get so unbearable you do have to be very careful with your water intake and getting shade, as there is a very high chance of heat stroke. We luckily had booked into a hotel that had AC (that actually worked!) and a (clean) pool to cool us down. If you do head to Bagan, especially around this time, I do recommend having AirCon and a pool high on your list when choosing where to stay. It really does help because you won’t understand how hot it gets there until you arrive. The best times to go out are either very early in the morning and later in the evening when the sun is going down. In between it’s best to stay back at your hotel/hostel. The only time we were out during midday was when we hired a taxi for the day to drive us around to certain sites.

The place we stayed at was called Blue Bird Hotel. It is a small property therefore only a few rooms so best to book this one in advance. The staff were so great and the facilities were immaculate. Also, they have amazing waterfall showers in their rooms. These were the best showers I have had in my life! You’ll understand when you stay there =)

Anyway, that’s enough about the awesome place we stayed in. I just had to give them the credit they deserve. This post was about my top three temples to see amongst the vast amount of temples sprawled all over Old Bagan.

In no particular order:

1)      Dhamma Yan Gyi
The largest temple in Bagan. It’s 9 stories high, however, shortly after construction some of the higher levels weren’t as well supported as they initially thought so many areas were closed off soon after opening. You are able to climb to the second level and there are still great views from there.

2)      Shwe San Daw
While not the most elegant temple, it is a very popular spot to see the sunrise and sunset. Also, it is the one of the best spots to see a panoramic view of Old Bagan .

3)      Ananda
Said to be the most beautiful temple in Bagan and they aren’t wrong. It is also the most intricate with many beautiful old stone carvings and paintings within. It survived a major earthquake in 1975 however it was still badly damaged. When we were there a lot of renovations were happening and they even had some landscaping going on. Once everything is all finished, I’m sure this is going to be one grand place.

The two best ways to see these temples are:

1)      Electric Bikes
I have a love hate relationship with these things. They are awesome but they are a bit hit and miss when it comes to the quality. You can rent these usually from the accommodation itself. They are a great way to get around and are a lot of fun however, just like normal bikes, they are hard to handle when you’re driving through soft dirt or uphill.

2)      Taxi
If you’re with one or two more people, this is an inexpensive and comfortable way to get around. Plus you can get to temples that are further away and, if you’re stuck on time, you can go during the hottest part of the day. You can request a driver that speaks some English where you can ask them for recommendations on which temple to see. Otherwise, if you already know where you want to go and have a map then all you need to do is point and they will drive.

FYI: As you enter Bagan the bus will stop where they will request all foreigners to pay a $15 USD entry fee, which then you will be given a Bagan Archaeological Zone card. It is best to carry this around with you whenever you sightsee as some temples will ask you to see this card to confirm you have paid.

Also, they have only just started to learn how to really restore all their historic temples. Many have been ruined when they thought it was a good idea to cover all faded paintings with ugly, white paint and cover the floors with kitchen tiles. One temple was so bad that it made us really upset we just had to leave. Luckily, they have stopped doing this.

Lastly, just remember the more popular or modern the temple the more pushy and persistent the vendors will be. Be strong and you can say no!

Enjoy your Bagan adventure =)

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Beijing - Taxi Scam

Operating scams are very common in tourist areas; some which are very obvious and others which slip right by you. This is one that we unfortunately encountered while in Beijing.  Sadly, we only realised we were being scammed towards the end of the experience. It was only confirmed once we did a little online search and saw the different scams that operate in China. It’s not one that happens regularly. We normally were very aware for signs of a scam, but I admit that day we were a little carefree and thereby the right targets for this operation. 

When trying to find out about taxi scams in China there weren’t too many posts about it, so I just wanted to share my knowledge about this particular scam to hopefully make more tourists aware of what could happen to them.

The Taxi Scam
There are fake taxis that drive around China and they generally try to pick up travellers mainly near Tiananmen Square/Forbidden city, or other touristy areas. They look very much like regular taxis so you have to look for the subtle differences that will set them apart. See this link for more info: Real vs Fake Taxi Cab.

Sign 1:  There were many, many taxis picking up tourists from this area. It was very difficult hailing one, so when this taxi drove directly to us we were so happy and relieved we didn’t have to walk anymore. Be a little suspicious of those drivers that make a beeline towards you, ignoring all others standing by (especially if they are local). From our observation and what we experienced most taxi drivers would rather pick up locals so they don’t have to make the effort to speak English with us.

Sign 2: The driver was very annoyed with having another passenger sitting in the front with him. He tried everything to make it uncomfortable for that person to sit there. When my friend tried to re-adjust the seat he got angry and refused to drive unless he moved to the back. Without having anyone at the front it gives the driver more chance to get away with the scam.

Sign 3: The taxi meter was increasing a lot faster than ‘real’ taxis. We noticed this but we weren’t too sure if it was something to question.

Sign 4: Without realising it until towards the end of the drive we noticed both doors at the back were locked and the window handles were removed. There was no way for us to get out unless the driver unlocked it for us.

Sign 5: Nearing the destination the driver rounded off a figure for us to pay and would start asking for payment. We had near the exact amount but he would only accept 100 RMB or would just keep asking for 100RMB notes only. We unenthusiastically agreed.

What would happen next is that he would hold on to the 100 note for a bit. Then, after a couple of minutes, would start asking, “Is this real?” “Where did you get it?” Then argue “No, it’s no good. Not real. Give me another one”. Unwittingly, we gave over another 100 to try quieting him. Same thing, same question, same arguments.  This happened about four or five times. Our frustration and anger were rising. Finally, after a lot of yelling, he gave us the change we needed and let us out of the car. Once all the emotions had subsided everything became very clear to us and we knew that we had been scammed.

We were dropped off at an amazing, famous seven level Peking duck restaurant and with free Wi-Fi in hand we did a little Google search. Sure enough there were a couple of blog posts about this particular scam. The objective is swapping your notes for fake bills. With us sitting at the back, angry and frustrated, we missed him putting his hand into his pocket to swap the bills before arguing that they weren’t real.

We tried to enjoy our meal as much as we could before we could focus on what just happened to us. Upon leaving we decided to check our notes with the cashier staff. Nearly every shop in China has a bill counter, and I guess we now know why: to check for fake bills. Yes, it is that common!  Sure enough, the four or five or six 100 RMB bills that were handed back to us by the driver were all counterfeit. The staff that could speak English and understand our situation were very sorry and upset for us, which we thought was very sweet of them. We decided we’d try our luck at the police station and report the events but it didn’t get very far as we had limited to no information about the driver and his cab. On the bright side, while we were about 100 - 150 NZD out of pocket, there were 3 of us to share that amount with.

I guess the main things to do to save your skin just in case you’re stuck in a situation like this is to firstly check that you are in a legitimate taxi cab, and also ALWAYS ask for a receipt. If they are an official taxi then they will happily hand this over. We stupidly didn’t do this. In the heat of the moment we were too angry at what the driver was doing it distracted us from common sense.  On this receipt you’ll also have the driver’s or company’s information on there should you need it to give to the police or your insurance company.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Subway in Beijing

If you know you’re going to be staying in Beijing for a week or two and will definitely be travelling all over the city, getting a subway card is the most economical option. There’s a down payment of roughly $10 to get the card itself and you top up with the amount you’d like to use for travel.  The money you pay to get the card is refundable whenever you are ready to leave Beijing.

Please note that the card services at train stations DO NOT offer the refund for this card. However, any other normal subway stops will offer the refund back on these cards.

This is the easiest way to travel around Beijing and each trip from memory only cost us under a dollar each way. The trains are very frequent and run on time. It also saves you time waiting in the queue to buy a paper ticket each time you travel, and if you know the population of China, or just in Beijing itself, it can take a loooong time! The card can easily be topped up but unless you have a Chinese bank card you can only do this at their service kiosks rather than at one of their machines.

The one annoying thing is when buying the card it is helpful to have someone who can speak Mandarin or Cantonese because finding a kiosk server who can speak English is very rare. Sometimes you will be lucky enough to meet a friendly local standing in line behind you who is bilingual and will help you out. However, when refilling your card you can get away with either sign language, basic English or just handing over your card with the correct amount you want to add.

Just download a subway map of Beijing when you get free Wi-Fi at your accommodation and you’re good to go!

2014 Asia trip

I've been a bit slack this year with my posts. But here is my itinerary that I travelled on this year. I'll try add a few posts soon about a few of my experiences on this trip.

SEOUL - KUALA LUMPUR - SIEM REAP - LUANG PRABANG - NONG KHIAW (via bus) - LUANG PRABANG (via bus) - CHIANG MAI (via boat on the Mekong) - AYUTTHAYA (via train) - BANGKOK (via train) - SINGAPORE - BANGKOK - KUNMING - DALI (via bus) - SHAXI (via bus) - DALI (via bus) - KUNMING (via bus)  - XI'AN - BEIJING (via train) - SHANGHAI (via train) - ATLANTA (roadtrip: New York - Buffalo - Vermont - Maine - Washington DC - Georgia) - AUCKLAND

Ah, the memories =)

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Travel Tip: crossing the border overland

This is mainly for those travelling on two passports, and this is based on my experience crossing Laos to Thailand. Crossing the border overland is different to entering via an airport. In an airport, customs do not care what passport you use so long as you can legally enter their country. Overland, they want to put the entry stamp next to the current exit stamp. So there is no way to interchange passports.

While this might not effect you, just keep this in mind if you are ever trying to get a visa (I.e. Chinese visa) within  that country. For example, I entered Thailand with my Laos visa and was expecting to enter Thailand with my NZ passport. However, as I crossed the border overland, my entry stamp remained on my Philippine passport. This caused me a lot of trouble trying to get a Chinese visa on my NZ passport while in Chiang Mai.

If this is not the case for all overland border crossing , or visa issuance, please let me know!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

TIP: Booking Buses to Chiang Mai

Even though there are a lot of buses running between Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai, I recommend booking your bus ticket in advance if you can. Especially if you are looking to leave at a specific time. The buses do tend to sell out pretty fast, especially for the VIP and first class buses.

The differences:
*A Class (second class): 2 / 2 bus seating. Air con. Should take 3 to 4 hours with a 15 minute break during. Costs 144 baht.

*X Class (first class): 2 / 2 bus seating. Air con. Bottle of water. This should take 3 to 4 hours as well with a 15 minute break. Costs about 190 baht.

*VIP: 1 / 2 bus seating. Air con. Bottle of water and a snack. To my understanding this should also take 3 to 4 hours but with no stops. This costs about 288 baht.

They do tend to blast the air-con so best to carry a sweater with you to keep you warm during the ride.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Laos to Thailand border crossing

This has got to be one of the easiest ways to cross two countries. We started in Laos and made our way to Thailand via the Mekong. We were told that going the opposite way, Thailand to Laos, is much busier. During our two day travel, the boats coming from Thailand were very full so we're glad that we went the way we did.

We started in Luang Prabang. There are two options to get to Huay Xia, the town at the border of Laos and Thailand:

- Slowboat
To take the slowboat, it will take 2 days. Your first trip is to Pak Beng and then onwards to Huay Xia. There are travel agencies that will sell slow boat tickets, however, they will charge a commission and it is much cheaper to buy when you get to the port. As you are going against the strong current of the Mekong, each journey does take 8 - 10 hours. It is a comfortably ride, though, with some beautiful scenery. The newer boats they use now have car seats added in, rather than just wooden benches. There are four seats around a table. First in, first served.

- Luang Prabang to Pak Beng: 110,000 KIP (14USD / 16NZD)
- Pak Beng to Huay Xia: 110,000 KIP

- Fastboat
There is an option to take the fastboat from Luang Prabang straight to Huay Xia. This will take roughly 7 to 8 hours. The prices here are slightly more expensive. Will this will save you a day, please note that the speedboats are not as comfortable as the slowboat. There is no roof, which means you will be sitting in the sun for those hours. As the boat cuts through the water there is a lot of spray so you will want to waterproof your bags if you are worried about them getting wet. Also, in the dry season the water levels of the river are much lower so you will have to trust your driver to navigate very safely and quickly through all the rocky parts as they speed through. From what I saw, only the driver has a helmet and there were no life jackets.

- Luang Prabang to Huay Xia: 320,000 KIP (40USD / 47NZD)
- Luang Prabang to Pak Beng: 190,000 KIP (24USD / 28NZD)

You will need to stay one night at each stop as you get in around 5pm - 6pm. You can just walk around and find the best guesthouse for you. No need to prebook. You can also request to see the room first before paying. A couple of great guesthouse recommendations are Mansavanh Guesthouse in Pak Beng and Sabaydee Guesthouse in Huay Xia.

Originally, you would take a ferry across to the Thailand border. However, in December 2013 they opened a new Friendship Bridge between Laos and Thailand. This is Friendship Bridge 4. As of January 2014, the ferry option was no longer available to foreigners and you know cross the border via this bridge.

Here are the simple steps:
1) Take a tuk tuk in Huay Xia to the Laos immigration. Generally this should cost around 15, 000 - 25, 000 KIP pp in a shared tuk tuk.
2) Go through immigration and get stamped out of Laos.
3) On the other side, there is a shuttle bus waiting to take people across to the Thailand immigration. There will be a guy selling tickets, which will cost 25 baht or 7,000 KIP.
4) On the Thailand side, on arrival you will get given your arrival form to fill in. Go through immigration. There was no customs so you just go on through.
5) There are tuk tuks waiting to take people into Chiang Khong, the closest town to the border. This costed us 50,000 baht per person for a 10 - 15 minute ride. They asked us where we were going and we said to the bus station for Chiang Rai, which is where they dropped us off.

Easy as pie! A lot more simple than I expected. Also, as the bridge is new, the immigration areas of both countries are very clean and easy to navigate.

For those carrying on, there are regular buses both to Chiang Mai (3 to 4 hours away) and to Chiang Rai (about 2 to 3 hours away). A bus to Chiang Rai costs only 65 baht and takes you to the Chiang Rai terminal.

I hope this helps any one planning on making the same journey. If you have the time, I would definitely recommend traveling to Thailand from Laos (or vice versa) as this was a lot less hectic than flying. I have a couple of photos to put up, but when I have better internet service I'll put them up then.

Happy travels!

All the slow boats 

Wild elephants on the Mekong

The fast boat

Sunday, February 16, 2014

NANTA Theatre - the funniest show in the world!

If you are every in Seoul I highly recommend watching a show called NANTA. It is a non-verbal comedy show that includes traditional samulnori beats (traditional Korean music and instruments). It’s a show for all ages and all nationalities. 
The actors were amazing and were very good at their job. I have never laughed so hard in my life! Such an enjoyable show, one I could watch over and over again. They also have some parts where the audience participates and if you wanted to try get a chance to go up on stage, I advise sitting closer to the edges of the rows. 
They pretty much have shows every day, 3 times a day. There are two, possibly three, theatres in Seoul and on in Jeju. As the theatres are small the shows get booked out pretty fast so best to book online in advance. Their website has an English option so it’s all very easy to follow. I went to their theatre in Myeongdong. It was nice and intimate and then you could go shopping before (or after).
This show has been running since about 1997 and became very popular very quickly. They have also toured internationally. It’s just that good!
Go watch it!

The audience are forbidden to take photos while in the actual theatre so this is all I could get.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Tanah Lot Temple

This was by far one of my favourite spots in Indonesia. It's a couple hours drive out of Ubud, which is where I was staying at the time, but I know you can plan a day trip to here from Kuta, too.

Long ago a temple was built on top of a beautiful rock formation off the coast of Bali. This was a perfect setting for tranquility, peace and protection. Certain times of the day, the temple will be completely surrounded by water and unaccessible. But at low tide you can walk to the base of the rock formation and it's surroundings.

The best time to head there is around sunset. This is the most popular time, too, as it faces west-ward and makes for a beautiful picture at the right moment. It definitely makes the temple that bit more magical.

You can enter the lower part of the island, after having been blessed by the monks in their natural underground spring, but the actual temple itself is closed off to visitors.

After being blessed by the local monks.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Nice in Paradise Tours - Coron, Palawan

By the looks of it, there are about 3 or 4 companies operating in Coron that specialise in island hopping. I could be wrong and there are more but that was all I could see while I was waiting at the dock.

I tried two different companies, and I know that's not enough to make a final conclusion about who is the best company, but I was just so impressed by this one and it far exceeded the other company.

This company is called Nice in Paradise Tours ( They are locally owned and run a number of island hopping tours daily. They are pretty easy to spot as all their banka boats are painted in a bright green colour, which in my opinion stands out really nicely against the turquoise waters and volcanic rock formations. Their tour guides were knowledgeable and efficient. Professional and ensured that we all got to see what was important and definitely knew where all the best photo spots are.

Price was they are pretty average and are similar to all the other companies. If you want to know that your money is going towards a company that will get you to the places you want to see, then this is who to go with.

I went on two tours with them: The island escapade and Coron Island Tour. Below is a bit more information on each tours. The tour numbers range but they're no more than 12 as that is the most comfortable number you can fit on a banka (plus the captain, tour guide and sometimes one more employee).

The Coron Island Tour
Departs the dock at 9am and comes back around 5pm. Hits 6 destinations in a day: Kayangan Lake, Twin Peak Reef, Banol Beach, CYC Beach, Twin Lagoon and a gorgeous coral reef by the Balinsasayaw floating house. The lunch they served was divine and they always cook more than what is needed!

View along the hike to Kayangan Lake

Coron Jetty

NIP's bright green Bankas

Entrance to Kayangan Lake

Kayangan lake

Our captain/chef

Coming into Banol Beach

The awesome lunch spread put on by NIP

The Island Escapade Tour
This tour was more relaxing as it only hit 3 destinations- the best beaches in Coron. These islands were Banana Island, Isla Bulog and Malcapuya Island. Malcapuya Island was definitely my favourite and the most beautiful beach we visited. There is a stunning reef a few metres away from the shore and it also has the biggest clams I've ever seen in my life! I wish I had an underwater camera to capture a picture.

Again, lunch was incredible.