Israel has been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember, and last November I finally got to tick it off. Unfortunately, it was just a brief week-long stint in Jerusalem thanks to the wonderful iTravelJerusalem and the #TBEXJLM press trip. What a week though! I met an inspiring group of travel bloggers, and got to explore Jerusalem. A blend of old and new, and a city where three ancient religions collide and continue to live alongside one another, it’s somewhere quite unlike anywhere else I’ve ever traveled to.
If you’ve been reading my articles about spas around the world, you might have noticed an emerging pattern. If you haven’t — newsflash: I seem to have taken a liking to getting buck naked in public. I mean, who doesn’t? Right? Righhhhhhttttt? Anyone? Well, ok, fine. Today, for a change, let me tell you about this one time in Iceland when I did not get naked at the spa. It does happen, sometimes.
Traveling for me is often an outdoor affair, but do you often wonder what I get up to on rainy days or when I am too tired for outdoor activities and in need of a little rest and entertainment? Today I thought I would give you a list of the various past-times and hobbies that are either small and compact enough to carry with me during my travel and on holiday or things that I can do online from my phone or my computer. Here goes!
Although I am a photographer by trade, I really don’t consider myself an expert in the field of travel photography. Still, people ask me for tips and tricks on how they can improve their travel snaps all the time, so I thought I’d address the topic today! Often, this comes from people with state of the art gear and little clue on how to use it. Having good equipment could be considered a first step in the right direction, but it really isn’t in some other regards – because photography remains a means of expression. Having technical skills is one thing, but an important aspect is the ability to develop a keen eye for what’s around: learn to see the extraordinary in the mundane, connect emotionally with what surrounds you, speak to people, touch, feel and follow your instinct. Granted, getting this sensibility for photography comes with practice and can be the work of a life time, but there are ways to cheat this and make sure you get the best shot each and every time. Here are some tips!
Do you sometimes think you’re a little too cool for organized tours, yet you’re often feeling too lazy to go through the hassle of researching your next travel destination and wished someone would just do it for you? C’mon, just admit it, we’ve all had those thoughts. Ha, I’m kidding! Kinda… Tour groups can be a great way to travel, especially if you are a solo traveler, but what I want to talk about today is a fantastic new way to have your itinerary all sorted and activities cherry-picked for you while retaining all the freedom of independent travel. Sounds too good to be true? Planning a trip to Europe soon or maybe you’re just a master-procrastinator and want to do a bit of daydreaming? Enter the award-winning trip-planning platform TripCreator.
In my wildest dreams about my upcoming trip to Venice, fancy hotel rooms with river views and posh canal-side aperitivi with a side of olives in the sunset kept swirling through my head. I’m generally of the very budget-conscious type when it comes to travel, but a trip to Venice is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and doing Venice on a budget without splurging on a little luxury here and there made me feel like I was going to miss out on some Venetian quintessence. So when I was given a chance to have all of my river view aperitivo fantasies come to life at Hotel Gabrielli Sandwirth, it goes without saying: the decision was pretty simple.
Bologna is a charming overlooked gem amongst hotshot destinations like Rome, Venice and Florence and I fell in love with it the second I stepped foot into its narrow, glistening cobblestone streets. The porticos covering the majority of the walkways within the old city make it the perfect place to explore in any weather and the edgy vibe from the large student crowd, alternative culture, progressive left-wing politics and excellent food make it the ideal place for those in search of more off-the-beaten path tourism. And no, Bologna doesn’t equal mortadella. Here are a few things I got up to.
I feel there are about half a million articles about how travel bloggers can afford to travel for seemingly years on end, yet this is the single most commonly asked question I receive, so I thought I would address it once and for all. To be painfully honest, I’ve ran out of travel money a couple of times those past two years. But money comes and goes, and I always seem to find a way to continue, because I make travel my priority. I’ve taken a huge leap of faith on a few occasions this last year, trusting that things would fall into place if they were meant to be, and so far, they have. I understand that living this way isn’t everyone’s cup of tea: my lifestyle isn’t about financial security or comfort, but rather doing what I love and making sure I have the means to do so. And I do that mostly by living extremely frugally. The funny thing is: I am making the least money I ever have and traveling more than ever.
2016 is here! I will be turning 35 at the end of the year, and while this big number makes me LOL in correlation to my level of “adultness”, I can’t help but notice that fear is still holding me back sometimes in life and this is the year I would like to change that. So I made a 35 by 35 bucket list. In this year that will be leading me to my 35th birthday, I have challenged myself to do all the things I have never done, mostly things that absolutely frighten me and that I always told myself I would never do, but also things I have never done for absolutely no reason. I know this list is completely insane and chances are high I will not be able to do even half of it, but listing this and challenging myself to some of these things I hope is a first step in taking actions to ridding me of my fears.
The United States of America is one of my favorite destinations to visit for its sheer size and its landscape, climate and food diversity. There is always something new to explore! As a Canadian, I am part of the lucky ones who can pretty much just walk across the border and into the USA, however, my ex-boyfriend was British and I have been a witness of the steps involved in applying for an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization), a streamlined visa waiver program where you do not need to obtain a visa prior to visiting the country.
I read so many Turkish hammam horror stories online from other travel bloggers that my curiosity got sufficiently piqued: I just had to volunteer myself on the naked altar of the body scrub sacrifice for the greater good of this blog (I know, tough…) – a rather painful and awkward experience by many if not all accounts. Tales of buck-naked merciless scrubs in crowded rooms, with nude masseuses getting to second base with prude North Americans had me sort of worried as I stepped inside Kiliç Ali Paşa Hamami in Istanbul, not really knowing if the tales were true. Thankfully, I quickly learned that the Turkish hammam experience can be a blissful, relaxing and absolutely beautiful one. Without further ado, here’s how I found myself naked as a jaybird with a bunch of other women from all over the world in the center of Istanbul.
I walked – nearly cycled right into, to be more precise – the Banker Han Hotel looking rather scruffy, dirty and disheveled (my usual self since converting to bicycle touring really!), half worried that I was going to get the “eye” for showing up all hobo-like in this very trendy new hotel in Istanbul. Instead of that, the staff came right outside to welcome me and it wasn’t ten seconds before I was handed a cup of tea and offered a seat at the reception with the staff who kindly asked about my travel. Some places are just so cool and hip and welcoming and perfect, and Banker Han by the Sofa is absolutely one of those gems.
Istanbul is a wonderful but hectic city and I arrived straight from Bangkok after a 40 hour commute, already frazzled by the pulse of the Big Mango. I was looking for a bit of a retreat on my first few days, a place where I could lay my head in peace while curing my jetlag. I found just that and much more at the beautiful Sumahan on the Water, a boutique hotel located on the greener, maybe less visited Anatolian side of the Bosphorus, the less harried and quieter Asian shore of Istanbul. It truly was the perfect introduction to this vibrant city.
Back with another video update! Some people have been telling me recently they enjoyed the way I didn’t sugarcoat anything, so I guess this one goes out to you my dear friends! Watch me lose my mojo just a little bit as I cut my bicycle tour short in order to arrive in Bangkok on time for some business. I’m also getting ready to leave South East Asia after nearly two years and not getting a whole lot of sleep in the process. I was mostly very tired, and potentially a little hormonal, hence the tears.
While budget travel is generally my daily reality, I still have an appreciation for well-designed spaces and beautiful interiors. I do come from a fine arts and design background, after all. So when I found myself in a position to review Maduzi Hotel in Bangkok, a wonderful hotel that combines finesse, elegance and excellent design, I jumped on the opportunity to experience one last taste of luxury on the tail end of a whirlwind two year South East Asian adventure and visit one of the best hotels in Bangkok. I thought I deserved it! Here is the lowdown on this little gem.
I’m sitting in the departure lounge with tears rolling down my face, staring blankly at my telephone screen, knowing he is also online, right there at the other end. Part of me would like a few last comforting words, but I can’t seem to think of anything to write that won’t make me look like the desperate mess that I am. What is there to say anyway? We’ve said hello and goodbye briefly a few weeks ago – and perhaps that was all a huge mistake – but this really should not be what the magic of the journey of self-discovery I have been on those past months amounts to, in the wake of a 20-month South East Asian whirlwind adventure. Yet, here I am, balling my eyes out and feeling like I’m back to square one.
Koh Phangan swallowed me whole with its beautiful vistas, beaches, people, food and everything that comes with it. I was coming for one week and I stayed for one month. And I would have stayed longer, I tell you. You can read the story of how I fell in love with the place last year right here. For now though, let’s talk about the food!
Making a swift exit from Koh Phangan’s full moon party via longtail boat made me feel a little bit like the James Bond of all party pooper. And I liked it. #noregret
That is because I had a date with the divine at a yoga resort aptly called The Sanctuary, a health and wellbeing haven hidden in a gorgeous secluded cove a mere five minute boat ride (yet feeling like miles away) from the debauchery of the full moon party.There are some places you’d rather not tell anyone about. Places that feel sacred and unspoiled where a handful of people in the know, those who are vibrating on the same level, go to nurture their mind, body and soul. The Sanctuary is most definitely one of those.
I hit the gym most evenings after work before I became a full time traveler. While this was a perfectly enjoyable way to spend a few hours by myself and unwind at the end of a long day (especially on cold winter nights where exercising outside in the dark had absolutely no appeal), it quickly became either impossible or too expensive once I started traveling to far flung destinations. It also made no sense to trap myself in an air conditioned room with all this warm and wonderful tropical nature around me to use as a playground. The answer came organically: yoga.
I came to volunteer at a guesthouse in Malaysia as part of my rehabilitation into the single people club. I needed some time to pick up the pieces and to decide what my next move would be before starting to travel again. Things seemed like they were lining up for me without having to ask, so I took the opportunity that was presenting itself – all I had to do was to hit the reply button, say “I’m on my way”, pack my bags, and go start this brand new chapter of my adventure. Opportunities to volunteer at guesthouses like this are usually found through work exchange websites, but I was actually poached by a previous guesthouse owner where I had stayed a few months prior – so in my case it was just a matter of good timing. And as unable as I was to decide what was best for me – it was indeed the perfect timing.
Spending time in KL after backpacking through the rest of South East Asia is comparatively expensive. Of course nothing compares to Singapore, but food, accommodation and entertainment in the Malaysian capital are likely to leave a dent in your wallet if you are not careful. That is precisely what started to happen to me. I intended to spend only a few days in KL with a friend to try some vegan restaurants before moving on – but life had different plans for me and I found myself stranded in Kuala Lumpur for nearly three weeks with a rather empty bank account. I had to be crafty and come up with ways to make my stay cheaper. Turns out, it’s absolutely doable to stay in KL on the cheap! Here are a few things I discovered.
“If there is no joy, ease, or lightness in what you are doing, it does not necessarily mean that you need to change what you are doing. It may be sufficient to change the how. “How” is always more important than “what”. See if you can give much more attention to the doing than to the result that you want to achieve through it.”
-Eckart Tolle, The Power of Now
It’s taken me realizing that the amount of money I have left in my bank account equals exactly what I owe on my credit card to ring the alarm. I am broke. The travel fund is empty.
I always enjoy reading packing list posts when other travel bloggers do them. It gives me the same satisfaction as digging through my granny’s handbag as a kid or looking through the drug cabinet in a stranger’s bathroom. I’m a little bit of a nosy parker. I also enjoy the sight of neatly organized things, and I know that’s not just me.
I nearly quit everything to go home two months ago. And when I say nearly, I mean that I actually purchased a flight from Bangkok to Montreal and I was two days away from boarding the plane when I came to my senses and aborted this crazy plan. I was about to give up my current life I’ve worked so hard for, my dreams of becoming location independent and this blog I have put all this work into but has given me more than I could imagine in return. I just could not sit on my own with my pain in this crappy hotel room in the middle of Thailand any longer. I was lost. Becoming a solo traveler was not something I had ever anticipated or wished for… and obviously neither was letting go of my ten year relationship. Thus went my brutal return from a magical six weeks in India, leaving an empty shell of me.
I was nominated by Amanda of Burger Abroad to take part in the SOTW Blogging Award, a peer-nominated travel blogging award given to women, by women! Once you get nominated, thank the giver, answer the questions (or in my case: pick and choose from others’ / make your own – sorry, I can’t follow rules apparently!), then award other awesome sisters! Read on for a story about a dead monk, noodle soup and Costa Rica destinations.
I revisited Koh Tao with absolutely no intention to create a vegan food guide for the blog. I was there to wrap up and try to come to terms with the remainder of a ten year relationship. Hell in paradise you could say. How ironic. But as a result of a broken heart, I ended up stuffing my face with all of the food and then some (mind you though – I ate mostly Oreo’s). So I thought I might as well put my hard work to use and write about the food I ingested.
It’s that time of the year again where you all started to complain on Facebook about the heat rather than the cold! Hurray! Good time to talk about sun protection. Last year, I wrote a post about my favourite sunscreens for traveling, and so today I thought I would present you with an updated version of what sun protection I have been using lately. I placed an order with my favourite online natural product shop iHerb and have been putting to the test five new natural sunscreens in the last few months.
As a lot of you know, my boyfriend of the last ten years and I parted ways a few months ago. People seem surprised at how well I have bounced back, but, in all honesty, this was one of the hardest experiences of my life.
Admittedly, sharing my personal life with you here on the blog was a bit of a gamble. I wanted to show the world how happy we were and inspire other couples to travel, but now that everything has fallen apart I feel I owe an explanation. It’s weird for me to have a diary of our relationship in the form of this blog that I have to face every single day. It’s like an unwelcome reminder of what used to be and what could have been. Did the traveling break us up?
I’m very much a budget traveler, and this is what I strive to promote here on this blog. But sometimes family members come for a visit and, well, what better excuse is there to splurge on a little luxury – especially when they are the ones paying? (insert evil laughter) That being said, high end accommodations can be a tremendous value for money in South East Asia and so I thought I would share with you my recent experience staying at the U Sukhumvit Hotel in Bangkok, Thailand.
Yangon is not a particularly cheap or convenient city for a quick visa run from Thailand, but if you’re looking for a single-entry Thai tourist visa and have the time to spare, you can combine your embassy visit with a trip to one of the most interesting countries in South East Asia.
Mark Weins covers a lot of the details in this post from 2011, but some of the details have changed so I thought there was worth in sharing my experience.
First there was the idea that I was perhaps going to hate India. Then there was the planning to cram as much of the best places to visit in India into ten days to decide whether or not I liked it. Following that was the realization that, if I was going to decide if I liked India, a manic 10 day tour of Varanasi, Delhi, the whole of Rajasthan and Mumbai was possibly not going to be the thing to convince me. And finally there was the cancellation of all flights or plans and the sitting down in the Goan sand with the smug look of an expert procrastinator.
I have been living out of a backpack for 17 months now. At this point, packing for a flight has become routine and, although I haven’t yet mastered the art of traveling with only a carry on full time (my washbag is admittedly taking up way too much room in my backpack), I have been doing well with the 15kg weight constraint of some domestic airlines. Today I thought I would share with you my absolute carry on essentials for a comfortable and productive flight. There are admittedly many more items that I take in the cabin with me, but I usually store them in the overhead. Below are the items I keep handy in my “personal item” and make use of without fail.
I randomly met a friend in Chiang Mai last November who told me about this yoga teacher training she’d signed up for in India in February. “I’d love to go to India to do yoga”, I sighed absentmindedly. I’d been practicing yoga most days since leaving Canada in January 2014, but it never occurred to me that my practice was strong enough to consider a teacher training, and this was not part of my plan anyway (in hindsight I realize that I did not actually have a plan – and I still don’t), so my words didn’t really mean much.
The city of Bagan is located in Myanmar (formerly Burma), a country not yet fully opened to mass tourism that is changing fast.
In Bagan, footwear and socks are prohibited in all temples. The entrance to several of these temples is littered with shops selling trinkets and counterfeit CK One perfumes, Revlon lippies and what have you. One would wonder which one of disobeying the shoe and sock rule or purchasing counterfeit knick knacks at the door of a holy temple is really sinful. Or if Buddha simply just enjoyed shopping barefoot.
I decided on Myanmar on a bit of a whim with a few days to spare in between two trips. I was guilty again of not having fully done my homework when I landed in Yangon Airport. But never was I expecting a country that encompassed all that South East Asia evoked in me prior to visiting it as perfectly as Myanmar did. Far more than all the other South East Asian countries I had already visited. Myanmar was simply magical and, to this day, I am still oscillating between spilling the beans or keeping them all to myself.
After having spent over a month in the vegan food mecca that is Chiang Mai, Pai felt a little restrictive food-wise. I was however ecstatic to swap the pollution and traffic hubbub for the crisp mountain air after suffering from bad allergies and a sore throat seemingly exacerbated by tuk tuk smog for most of our time in Chiang Mai.
There are many places in South East Asia that have become synonymous with the ‘digital nomad’ lifestyle – ditching the regular nine-to-five to work remotely or bootstrap a new business from a warmer climate, with a much lower cost of living and even better quality of life. We visited Chiang Mai last year and loved the city for its culture and easy way of life, and it always stayed in the back of our minds that if there was one place in Asia we’d be happy to put down some roots and live, this was the it.
One reason we were so keen to return to Chiang Mai is the food. We visited about a year ago and, for some weird reason, didn’t take full advantage of the variety of vegan options. This time around, however, we made it our mission to visit as many restaurants as we could, taste the rainbow, and present you with a comprehensive guide.
In long-term travel, things sometimes don’t go according to plan. And that’s fine: if you have the luxury of time, you should also have the openness of mind to assess that a destination is not right for you and do something about it. And that is how I am typing this on an impromptu flight to Chiang Mai three weeks after settling down in Ao Nang for what was supposed to be the duration of Richard’s divemaster training – 6 to 8 weeks. This is our first massive change of plan and I think we were a little slow at dealing with it, which resulted in us spending over two weeks in a place that, in hindsight, I was not all that into.
Since I have been blabbering about laksa non-stop for about a month straight, I thought it would be appropriate to provide you with a recipe. Laksa is a mix of Malay and Chinese cuisine, a noodle soup that is traditionally made with fish. It is widely available in Malaysia, Singapore and in some parts of Indonesia. We have sampled several variations on the laksa, most of them made with a creamy coconut broth, but my favorite was the sour broth variant we found on Penang Island: the Penang Asam laksa, a unique and complex blend of spicy, sweet and sour flavors.
We returned to Georgetown like to an old friend, happy to soak in familiar faces and places, but also excited to revisit some of our favorite restaurants and eager to try the ones we had missed the last time.
Penang is possibly the #1 foodie destination in Malaysia, and fortunately vegans and vegetarians are not left aside – Happy Cow has 111 listings for vegan and vegan-friendly restaurants on Penang Island! We’ve compiled a list of the ones we have visited and enjoyed. You can read about our first visit to Georgetown here.
2014 was the year where I really started to take blogging more seriously and, although this blog has actually been alive since 2010 (most of the posts are private because they are utter crap), I would consider that I officially only started blogging in 2014. As a newbie travel blogger, I have found great inspiration in the work of other bloggers and, as a traveler, I have shifted my travel research from only the Lonely Planet and Wikitravel to mostly just consulting travel blogs. I find that when you relate to the bloggers you are reading, their content becomes just like a personalized recommendation from a good friend you trust.
One year ago today, on January 1st 2014 at 8am, we locked the door of our flat in Montreal for the last time, leaving behind an empty shell of what was our life of the previous seven years, and dropped the key through the mail slot. As it resonated loudly in the dark empty box, I felt an excitingly familiar feeling in my stomach: we were homeless, the unknown awaited us. It was amazing to ring in the New Year in such a drastic, life changing, exciting way, and the feeling hasn’t left me since.
If you are an animal lover and a traveler like us, volunteering at a dog shelter abroad can be a fantastic experience, either just for a day or for an extended period of time. Not only will you get to play with hundreds of puppies and meet new people, you will also make a huge difference both for the shelter and for the life of these animals.
edit. Please visit my revised vegan food guide of Malacca here.
We returned to Malaysia with one goal in mind: eating all the laksa. Malacca was the only major city we had yet to visit in peninsular Malaysia and it fitted perfectly into our planned itinerary: we took a short flight from Bali to Singapore and hopped on a few buses that took us to Malacca with surprising ease, all within the same day.
The plan from there on was to spend a few days on the west coast of Malaysia as we slowly made our ascent towards Southern Thailand.
Ubud was one of those places I was almost certain I was going to dislike. I kept thinking that Eat, Pray, Love would have ruined it for all of us and couldn’t help but wonder if the whole town was going to be full of Elizabeth Gilbert wannabes on a quest to spiritual healing and shakra alignment. Was I going to find myself too “off the beaten path” for a city so taken by the mainstream public’s imagination? Was I going to HATE IT? I was honestly skeptical as our 9th minibus of the day finally drove us into town.
With its abundance of wellness centers, spas and yoga studios, it’s no wonder Ubud has such a vibrant healthy, raw/vegan, and organic restaurant scene. And if you’ve been following us for some time, you’ll know that this is right up our alley! It is, in fact, one of the many reasons why we lingered around Ubud for so long.
I mentioned in yesterday’s post that we took a freediving class in beautiful Amed, Bali a few weeks ago. Today I wanted to share a little more about Eastern Bali since we loved it so much and spent a fair chunk of time there. I think it’s such a shame that some people come to Bali and see only Kuta. Bali is a lot more than surf and Bintang and I wanted to share with you my little guide to this piece of Eastern Bali that is widely known as Amed.
Would you believe me if I told you that ten years ago, I was a chain smoker. I drank my fair share and took the least interest in what I was ingesting, so long as it had a good quantity of butter, sugar and caffeine. Which is all a bit strange because I lived my teenagehood as a dreadlock-sporting, health-conscious, non-smoking vegetarian treehugger. I guess my early and mid-twenties were just a big careless party where I lost sight of myself a little. Don’t get me wrong, it was freaking awesome and I regret nothing.
One thing anyone who is even mildly technology dependant should do before travelling anywhere for an extended period of time is to have their smart phone unlocked. Having 3G in South East Asia (in fact in any foreign country!) opens up so many possibilities. All of a sudden you are not dependant on tuktuk drivers telling you that your hotel is miles away, you can look up this nice hotel you just stumbled upon on Tripadvisor to see what other people thought of it and you can pretty much just hop on a scooter and go get lost anywhere, knowing that your trusty GPS will always bring you back home at the end of the day. 3G in South East Asia is extremely cheap and surprisingly very fast and reliable in most places.
We went to sea as sailors, but only maybe for my dirty mouth, swearing through my teeth that Gili Air was probably going to suck. Given we seemed to have developed a way to enjoy places others don’t and hate places others love as of late, this was the only logical conclusion. I thought of the Gilis as a place people bookend their 2 week holiday on Bali, just to tick the tropical island checkbox off of their list. They go to Trawangan to drink themselves silly, Air as newlyweds, and Meno, well, I still don’t know. All we knew was, you can’t really go wrong with a $1 boat ticket and we don’t really drink – so Gili Air it was. Off we went to check out this bunch of clueless red skin honeymooners and see what all the flap was about, hoping to prove my cynical little mind wrong.
Photography is a very, very large field. A continent. Yes, within this large continent, I am a trained photographer, but just in a specific tiny little nook. Hence, whilst backpacking around the world, I would be hard pressed to call myself a professional photographer – because I don’t know jack about travel photography. Where I feel most at ease is in a controlled environment, with a consenting subject and a well-defined and researched objective, as well as unlimited time to get to my ends.
Upon leaving the disappointment of Kuta Lombok behind, we set out in search of something a little more authentic. We’d heard of Tetebatu, a small village located at the southern base of Mount Rinjani, but found scant information online and in our travel guide about it. Still we took the chance, hired a driver, left our dysfunctional family behind and blindly booked a room at Kembang Kuning Cottages, crossing our fingers and hoping our hurried decision would once again turn in our favour.
We arrived in Kuta, Lombok full of expectations, after hearing so many tales of unspoiled paradise from friends and trusted acquaintances. When we go somewhere I’m this hyped up about, reality doesn’t always match the expectations: it happened in the Perhentian Islands, it happened in Hawaii and it nearly happened in Koh Phangan. Unfortunately, it also happened in Kuta. We stuck around for a few days to explore the surrounding areas with a scooter, in search of the magic we’d heard so much about.
A feast of colours, culture, beauty and devout faith.
With such beauty all around, it’s no wonder Bali boasts such a rich tradition of beauty and spa rituals whose names alone evoke the most exotic and luscious of pampering experiences: boreh, lurlur, temu-temu, avocado cream bath, spice bath – I could just picture myself in one of Ubud’s secret gardens being scrubbed and massaged with rare oils and exotic spices.
The island crossing adventure starts at the bus station. If you’re lucky, it might be an actual station, with classes and prices clearly posted. But it’s just as likely to be a dusty field with a complete free-for-all – in which case, I hope you’re ready to bargain because there’s nothing the locals love more than fleecing backpackers for a ride in a packed, smoke-filled bus. Because yes – smoking is openly permitted on Indonesian buses.
A few months ago, I wrote about Richard’s beginnings in scuba diving off the shores of beautiful Koh Tao, Thailand. Despite what I may have said or written at the time, there was absolutely no doubt in my mind that I would not in a million years try it for myself. The thought of letting myself deflate towards the bottom of the dark ocean sent shivers down my spine that clutched me at the ribs and left me panting for air. Being of the mildly anxious variety, I struggle for air well above sea level from time to time, so having a pressurized whip cream canister and a sippy straw for my only supply did not sound like a cool idea. Couple that with the fact that I am an overall well rounded wimp – count me out of any extreme sport or anything involving heights, suspended walkways, speed, fast moving water or narrow spaces – and you can very well assume that scuba diving and I were never meant to be.
I never really write about the big cities we visit. I feel that we never stay long enough for a blog post to be of any valuable interest and that I would just be chewing back what’s already been written too many a time anyway. There’s also the fact that big cities have their way with making me restless, unable to concentrate and staring at all the shiny things in amazement. Richard has been calling me a magpie for years. I blame Sephora and H&M. However, I still felt like regurgitating a line or two about KL, if you’ll humor me one instant.
Jeez! I was not expecting such a small island and so little time to turn into such an adventure. Georgetown was amazing, but the real reason we had come to Penang was to visit the Bao Sheng Durian Farm on the opposite side of the island. In order to have better access to the farm, we moved our living quarter to Miss Loh’s guesthouse in Teluk Bahang, an adventure in and of itself.
We had just set foot in Malaysia when I declared Georgeown to possibly be the most exciting place I have ever been to. A melting pot of cultures, Georgetown is like Europe, Asia, India and Islam all wrapped up in a neat little bundle adorned with incredible street art; a wonder for all the senses.
The eclectic crowd of Malays and tourist-fraught trishaws roam the streets past colonial buildings, old Chinese shophouses, mosques, Hindu and Buddhist temples and churches, dodging the traffic in seemingly perfect symbiosis.
Out of any possible travel destinations, I chose Koh Tao to do a work-a-thon, redesigning and migrating my blog and catching up on a backlog of blog posts from Laos. All the while Richard was completing his open water and advanced PADI diving certifications. But I wasn’t. I was sat on the balcony of our hotel room staring at a computer screen. I had chosen to do that. The crazy things you end up doing on long term travels.
Finding a place to stay in South East Asia is hard. It’s not difficult to find accommodation, in fact the plethora of options is completely overwhelming and makes advance booking unnecessary and expensive. What is really difficult however is finding those diamonds in the rough, and steering clear of problems like bed bugs, noisy neighbours and hostile staff – problems that often don’t become apparent until you’re already payed up and settled in. It’s no good being precious, and some of the roughest places can also turn out to be some of the best places, but that’s no reason not to try!
Travelling to South East Asia doesn’t exactly go hand in hand with following a vegan diet in many people’s eyes. And with good reason : walk around Bangkok or Hanoi and you are likely going to see big cauldrons of pig’s rectum soup and duck beak stew simmering on the road side with sides of congealed blood and fried goat stomach. And unfortunately I am not actually joking. But take a bit of a better look past the grotty and grim, and you’ll soon find that there is a wide selection of food for the vegan and health conscious all around. Happy Cow is a great place to start your hunt for healthy grub, but just a poke around the market will reveal delicious and unexpected surprises.
Nong Khiaw sucks you in like soft, oozing, relaxing quicksand. The memory of the border crossing that took you from Sapa, to Dien Bien Phu, to Muang Khua aboard cargo buses overstuffed with teeth-sucking chumps seems to be fading away into the distance, despite the fact that it was, hum… well it was yesterday. You flop into a hammock and feel your pulse rate drop as you take in the river and karst views from your balcony at Sunrise Bungalows, a beer Lao in hand, and realize that you have arrived somewhere truly special.
If you caught a glimpse of me in the flesh right now, you possibly wouldn’t believe that I am one of those nutcase who slathers sunscreen on in the dead of the Canadian winter when there’s a snow storm outside. Because, yes, right now I am very, very tan, but this was a long, unavoidable and unintentional process. I am very aware that this is contributing to premature skin aging, but I am taking most precautions (and I say ‘most’ because, unlike Vietnamese women, I am not willing to wear long jeans, socks, gloves, a hoodie, face mask and hat when it’s 40 degrees Celsius outside) and this is one of the few evils I am temporarily ok to deal with for the sake of traveling. I avoid the sun in the middle of the day, wear a hat, slather on a high SPF sunscreen, yet here I am, after four months in South East Asia, looking like an oompa loompa.
The Ha Long Bay circus starts long before boarding the boat, or even setting off for Ha Long city itself. Our plans to travel independently to Cat Ba island and visit the bay from there were scuppered by the week-long reunification day holiday and thousands of vacationing Vietnamese. In the words of one emailed guesthouse proprietor: “Don’t come this week, the room too expensive!”. So after a quick change of plans, we pressed on to Hanoi and started scouring travel agents.
The best travel advice seem to often times come from words of mouth from other travellers rather than from a guidebook. Hence, when my friend Fanny said to me that we HAD TO go to Phong Nha, I trusted that we did indeed have to go, and the seemingly extravagant expenses (that is, in comparison to our $45 USD a day budget) attached to the trip were overweighted by the appeal of walking through some of the biggest and most recently discovered caves in the world. And so we hopped on the train from Danang heading to Đồng Hới, and I’d say that the train ride alone made the journey worthwhile. The scenery between Danang and Huế is straight out of a game is Myst and I was a little sad that we were not able to stop and explore all these beautiful rural coastal areas along the Hải Vân Pass.
As the Futa overnight bus rolled into Danang at 6am, it’s safe to say we were a little the worse for wear. Locating the local bus to Hoi An was straightforward, but the blaring horn, aggressive conductor and sloth like pace were not exactly soothing. A short walk into the old city and we were too early to check into our guesthouse. Breakfast was called for, and with a life changing bowl of mushroom rice porridge at a vegetarian joint called “Mild” and this naughty face, things were already looking better.
Dalat. What to say. I am unsure as to why we added Dalat to our itinerary in the first place and I can’t quite decide in retrospect if I’m glad we did or not. People we meet seemed to have either adored Dalat or to have been left completely indifferent. I leave you to guess at which end of the spectrum we stand.
Mui Ne was something of an enigma on our arrival – we rolled into town after dark, having taken the afternoon bus from Saigon. The ever excellent Futa bus staff dropped us right at the Duc Thao Guest House – the good reviews on TripAdvisor were promising, and when Duc himself had swiftly answered our emails the previous day, we knew it would be a good bet. The family welcomed us into a spacious, clean double room and Mui Ne would have to wait until morning.
We left Phnom Penh by boat, at once heart broken to say goodbye to such an amazing country and relieved not to have to sit through another karaoke infused Cambodian bus ride. A few hours into our journey along the Mekong, everything became suddenly vividly green and people in pointy hats started popping up amidst the lush background. We had arrived in Vietnam.
This might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but here’s something a little different for ya. I’m planning on doing a “what’s in my camera bag” and “what’s in my suitcase” at a later time, so stay tuned if that’s what you’re into.
With my previously crazy busy life in Canada, my morning smoothie-and-makeup routine was often the only down time I would get in the day, and so makeup sort of became a relaxing hobby. Both applying it to my face, reading about it online, and shopping for it. I slowly became an avid consumer of beauty blogs and YouTube beauty channels, and I’m guessing this possibly had to do with my growing makeup collection (which is mostly in a box in a self storage in Canada at the moment).
Four hours east of Kampong Cham was the lovely town of Kratie, so lovely that it left me wondering if perhaps we should have broken down our time in Cambodia differently? Had we spent too much time in Otres Beach? I tentatively suggested that perhaps we should come back to explore more of the Cambodian countryside at a later time of our trip? Oh, the meagerness of the one-month tourist visa.
As the last few days of our Cambodian visa quickly trickled down, we sat through several bus journeys only to 1. Ride on a flimsy bamboo bridge before it collapses, 2. Take the chance to see some of the 80 or so critically endangered irrawady dolphins living in the Mekong in Kratie and 3. Backtrack past Kampong Cham and all the way to Phnom Penh. Whether that was going to be worth the 20 or so back breaking bus hours or not, we did not know.
The food in Cambodia was nowhere near as good as the food in Thailand, and the vegan options were also a lot more sparse. We had our fair share of rice and noodles with vegetables, and quite a few incidents of unsolicited eggs. One thing I realized early on in Cambodia is that, no matter how vegan something appears to be on the menu, always specify no egg or you might end up with a surprise. That being said, we did have some amazing food in Cambodia. From baguette, to durian, to tofu amok (a mildly spicy, coconut-heavy curry), to mango salad, we had some lovely exotic food – most of the time 😉
I had not heard all that much of Siem Reap, apart from the fact that it is the city that serves Angkor Wat. Yet I discovered a surprisingly charming riverfront town, full of markets, cafes and healthy restaurants, and we decided to linger around even after being done with our Angkor 3-day tickets. Yes, it is largely westernized and tourist oriented, but what are two frazzled, sleep-deprived, sunburnt people to do in such case? Go play mini putt, is what!
I am just in Phnom Penh reading First They Killed My Father by Luong Ung and the pre-Khmer Rouge city she portrays is way too similar to the Phnom Penh I am seeing now: young boys chasing each other through back alleys, schoolgirls in uniform playing hopscotch, ladies being pushed around through the incessant traffic on cyclos, food carts surrounded by people snacking at every corner and the usual cornucopia of market goods overflowing onto the street. Was that ill-fated day of 1975 when the Khmer Rouge marched into Phnom Penh and expelled everyone from the city a day like today? The extent of the atrocities that are unfolding before me as I visit Phnom Penh’s main memorial sights make it to hard to believe. Alas.
Saying that we were reluctant to leave the beach would be a slight lie. Upon returning from our remote paradise in Koh Rong Samloem, we arrived in the mayhem that is Serendipity: aggressive tuk tuk drivers, pushy street vendors and beauticians, and drunken half-naked westerners – my newfound zen was being rubbed the wrong way. The next morning, we were almost relieved to leave beaches and sandy buttcracks behind to experience a somewhat more cultural side of Cambodia.
Having only seen beaches and paradise islands since arriving in Cambodia, we felt it was only natural to go forth with the theme and to crash one more island before moving along to the ‘real’ Cambodia. There are several islands around Sihanoukville where one can stay overnight, the main ones we were interested in being Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem, both located just a few hours off shore from Sihanoukville.
Arriving in Otres Beach, we spent a good hour combing up and down the two dozen or so guesthouses that lined the sand and beach road, comparing rooms and prices. With no 3G or WiFi to check Tripadvisor, and with the Lonely Planet recommendation of the Koh Kong Guesthouse still fresh in our minds, we were understandably taking our time to have a close look.
We arrived in Cambodia via the Hat Lek / Koh Kong border with surprising ease, having seemingly avoided the scams and touts we were worried about. I guess we had gotten a little comfy in our travellers flipflops, as we didn’t really do any research into where we were going to stay, nor did we get a sim card to investigate hotel reviews before venturing in, just wishfully thinking we’d wing it as we had successfully done before. Upon Lonely Planet’s recommendation, we were taken to the Koh Kong Guesthouse and checked in for the bargain price of US $6 a night!
We briefly backtracked towards Bangkok as we made our way to Khao Yai National Park and its adjacent town called Pak Chong. We had purchased a two and a half day tour and accomodation with GreenLeaf guesthouse and they offered free pickup from the bus station, which was great. The guesthouse was very basic but spacious and clean, however we did find a giant spider the size of a fist in the bathroom on the night we arrived, but hey, we were here to see critters after all, no? In fact I kinda threw a tantrum (or a strop, as Richard would call it), tried to get him to dispose of it for me, which he refused. I then had to go get one of the guys at the restaurant to come and do something about it for me, while Richard sat and gave me scornful looks and the guy giggled at us. This made us wonder how I would be coping with the critter encounters ahead of us…
We arrived in Bangkok at a time where the protests were at their all time low. I was very reluctant to come altogether, seeing as two children had died in bombing the previous day and it felt very unsafe to venture in. Fortunately, we had this map made by Richard Barrow depicting the main rally sites and areas to avoid and this, along with his Twitter account, allowed us to find a safe place to stay and to somewhat enjoy a slice of the city, albeit a very limited one. Our guesthouse was in Hua Lamphong and these photos were all taken in Chinatown. Hopefully tensions will have cooled down and we will be able to visit about more freely when we return in a few months.
Hi! A few weeks ago, we took a cooking class at The Thai Farm Cooking School in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand. The main reasons why we picked this specific school over all the other ones is because they offered the opportunity to veganized everything on the menu and because their farm is fully organic. We truly had an amazing day and met tons of other fun, food-loving travellers! I can’t recommend this day out enough if you happen to be in Chiang Mai.
It’s been nearly three weeks now since we were in Pai. It seems I have finally settled into a travel routine, and photo and video editing have not been on top of my priority list… I think that Pai itself had a lot to do with slowing my pace down and teaching me again how to do sweet nothing. In short, it was absolutely worth the bus ride from hell. I think Pai may appear a little raucous at first if you’re not 22 and in party mode, but walking 10 minutes just outside of the city, we found a little slice of paradise called Yawning Fields where we settled for a week.
In the course of the last week, we went around the Golden Triangle, the northernmost point of Thailand. We visited the towns of Mae Salong, Mae Sai, Chiang Saen and Chiang Rai by bus and sorngtaaou (pickup trucks) and took a longtail boat from Chiang Rai to Thaton. So much scenery in so little time, I’m glad I’m taking the time to document everything because my mind is already full to the brim with images of landscapes and faces I don’t want to forget. Thank god for the long bus rides, I guess!
We hopped on a bus from Bangkok towards Chiang Mai with a two-day stop over in Sukhothai. Our first land travel experience was an easy one with a first class ride equipped with a/c, toilet and a pretty baby blue and orange outfitted bus attendant feeding us biscuits and instant coffee.
Sukhothai was a great pit stop on route with its historical park containing ancient Khmer ruins (my first temples sighting!), a bustling night market (although still no durian in sight), slightly scary back-to-front tuk-tuk rides and a family-run guesthouse set amidst the dense forest inhabited by what seemed like hundreds of howling stray dogs and off-key roosters. I can definitely feel far from home now and it feels amazing! We stayed here 2 nights before setting off for Chiang Mai.
We had a wonderfully relaxing two weeks in England catching up with friends and family. A bit of a holiday from the holiday really! We spent the first four days at a couple of friends’ flat in North London who were gracious enough to let us use their sofa bed. We (and by “we” I mostly mean Richard…) paid them back by cooking them some food at night and taking them out to Wagamama on our last night. I have to say that I could very much see ourselves returning to the UK and living in London in a near future and it was great experiencing life there from an apartment rather than an hotel room. Thanks Tara and Will! We love you!
Richard and I took off on January 1st for a round the world trip that should last for a year, maybe more. Jobless, homeless, worry less. Happy and free! Where to? Thailand? Ireland? Iceland? New Zealand? Costa Rica? (Where is Costa Rica?) Who knows? The possibilities!
First stop anyway: New York. Oddly enough it was our first ever time in NYC. Obviously it was amazing, for all the usual reasons, but mostly for how vegan friendly the city is! OMG. Gimme all the donuts and the cronuts and the pastries. ALL. OF. IT.
We were lucky to be invited to spend a long weekend in Las Vegas at the New York, New York last weekend. I had been to Vegas for just a few hours in 2005 on my way to California, so I was so happy to be able to return for a few days to be able to experience it properly.
We hardly slept. At all. And seeing Cirque du Soleil’s “O” from the 3rd row in the middle of the night whilst jet lagged is possibly the closest I will ever feel what it’s like to be on LSD.
Well, that’s it, my second year of university is finished! Only 1 left before I’m a free girl! Yé!
In fact it’s been over for nearly a month now, but I haven’t really been able to take time for myself just yet it seems, with a few contracts here and there, contests to enter and bursary applications to complete. We did have a week long holiday in Miami though, and now that we are back, I have a full list of things I wish to accomplish in the course of the summer.
Montreal is gorgeous and warm today, just as it has been all week, so I was out of bed rather early this morning for a wonderful 10K run around the Lachine Canal and the Westmount neighborhood, quite the perfect way to start a weekend indeed!
I wanted to share with you the third and final part of my trip to Italy, from when Richard came to meet me. We traveled from Rome to Naples (which we found completely awesome against all odds!), Ischia (where we stayed at the very fancy Terme Aragona Palace Spa and had our epidermis scrubbed and whipped into shape like nobody’s business!), Capri and Sorrento (where we stayed at the even fancier Grand Hotel Capodimonte. This vacation really made me feel like a princess ;). As you can see, it was all about food! I’m thinking about going vegan after this cheese overdose!
Well it seems I’m back sooner than I thought due to very crap weather and me being bedridden because of a rather painful gum graft surgery recovery. So I thought I would update you with some more photos from my recent trip to Italy while my cheek de-puffs (jeepers, I can’t believe I have been back for 2 weeks already!).
I was in Acquapendente in the Lazio region for a month long drawing class with university, after which Richard came to meet me for another week and we visited Rome, Naples, Ischia, Capri and Sorrento.
I spent the last six weeks in Italy, the first five for a drawing class with university and the last one travelling around with Richard. I am feeling impossibly rested and rather fat from all the cheese consumed. Here are some photos.
We went to Miami and Key West over the Christmas Holiday! I loved it, but we got heat, we got cold, we got pretty much everything except snow! It was our first trip as vegetarians and I must say we were spoiled for choice in Miami. Loved the architecture, loved the beach, loved the people, loved the food. I shall return!
Wow good thing I said I would be back with Puerto Rico photos tomorrow last Monday! The week went by very quickly with the beginning of class and me running all over the place to get everything sorted (schedule, tuition, reading materials, pencils, blah). It has also been a week of not doing much else post half-marathon. I did go on a 5k run on Wednesday afternoon and that was all. Already trying to catch up on school assignments and readings.
Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, Sublime with Rome is in Montreal tomorrow night. I’m 16 again! Weeeeeeeeeee! Sublime is my all time favorite band, and although I don’t listen to them so much anymore, Bradley Nowell (and Lou Dog! May the both of them rest in peace together) still hold a very special place in my heart for having made me the person I am today. For putting words to my feelings when I was an inarticulate teenager, for making me travel to California, party and play music, get partly covered in tattoos, and just for being by my side in good and bad times for the last 12 years.
My boyfriend Richard and I had a vacation in Hawaii for two weeks last April/March. We spent the first 3 days in Waikiki, then flew to Maui for a week, then came back to Waikiki for 4 days. Apart from having our car broken into and all of our stuff stolen on the way to the airport in Maui, it was fantastic. Good weather, good food, good surf. Most of the photos I took while there were on a point-and-shoot that also got stolen, along with a video of a sea turtle we shot while snorkeling 🙁