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India Part 1 – I’m Getting Too Old For This

By on Jul 12, 2013 in India | 0 comments

As I laid in a gurney in Kuala Lumpur Airport’s emergency medical clinic shivering with intense rigors and screaming out in pain as a nurse dishonourably stabbed a needle into my bum cheek, I started to question why I went to India and for the first time in my life, I asked myself if I was getting too old for this shit? I asked myself if backpacking on small amounts of cash to some of the most deprived places in the world is all that it’s cracked up to be? Did it make a difference to the places I was visiting or was it just another passport stamp to me? It was also the first time that I made the realisation that I’m not Superman and that under the right (or wrong) situation, anyone can quickly fall incredibly ill. All these thoughts ran on repeat as Niki and I were raced across the tarmac in an ambulance heading for some major hospital in KL. Looking back it had been one of those days, in fact it had been one of those months and this is where this blog series starts. I had arrived into India just over three weeks before hand, in what now seems like an eternity ago with such high expectations. To me, India was going to represent a pinnacle of my travels and a place where culture and spirituality cataclysmically collided in a sensory overload. I held other travellers who had visited India as legendary in my eyes. You know the type: the old school type of travellers who had waist long dreadlocks, should have been born in the 60’s and took everything in their stride. This, along with the enticing heritage link that Niki’s Indian born Grandparents had with the continent, would make for a tantalizing travel adventure. However as my second day in Mumbai was coming to an end with us bee lining for a hurriedly booked “get me out of here” flight to Delhi and me throwing my money across the counter at an irate Indian hotel manager who had overcharged me for a whole lot of extras I never used, I started to wonder where the India portrayed in old travel literature and coffee table photos books had gone? It was about this time as I jumped in the taxi as fumingly irate as the hotel manager, swearing not to look back at a city that I never saw eye to eye with, that Niki followed after me hurriedly saying “Hold up, you paid the guy in Sri Lankan Rupees”. Whoops!   Mumbai whilst architecturally stunning with The Taj Mahal Hotel and the Gateway to India to mention two particular buildings of interest, the military presence (or at least when I was there), high level of homelessness and nearby slums provided a constant reminder that this not a place to mistake for some idyllic tourist touting city. It was a hard working city in a country that whilst moving progressively forward also has many social and security issues to deal with. The nightlife which I heard great things about, I unfortunately found little of as my hotel had a curfew for security reasons. Which all just added to my sense of uneasiness in Mumbai.   Needless to say I was suffering from culture shock and more so than that, I was shocked at the level of poverty within an urban setting contrasted with extreme wealth. It just didn’t sit well with me and I wasn’t conforming to India’s organizational structure. I was arrogantly rebelling as I tried to hold on to my Westernized way of how things should be done and letting the intense pressure of a large population get to me. Escaping to Delhi, India’s second largest city, for some reason seemed like the best option to me…clearly I didn’t know what I was thinking. To be continued. This is part one of  our India Blog...

How to Spend the Perfect Week in Bali

By on Feb 27, 2013 in Indonesia | 0 comments

With a nickname like the Island of the Gods, it should come as no surprise that Bali is an incredible destination to visit. The island nation is home to warm weather throughout the year, stunning beaches, artistic mountain villages and unbeatable scenery. Whether you are searching for the ultimate place to relax and unwind or a destination full of outdoor activities, you can have it all in Bali. Since flights from Australia can be as short as three hours to Bali’s Ngurah Rai International Airport, and great deals on flights to Bali are getting easier than ever to find, there is no better holiday than spending a full week on the island. Here is a great itinerary to follow in order to see, taste, explore and enjoy as much as you can in just seven days. Day 1: After arriving at the Ngurah Rai International Airport, take a 15-minute taxi ride to the coastal town of Kuta. This is the most popular tourism destination on the island, and it is a great introduction to all that Bali has to offer. After checking in to one of the many great hotels along the coastline, head over to Padma Beach for a cocktail and to watch the beautiful sunset. Day 2: On your first full day in Bali, nothing could be more fun than taking a private surfing lesson. Although there are dozens of places to try out surfing in Kuta, the best place to book a lesson is at the Hard Rock Hotel. For about $35, you can sign up for a three-hour course and enjoy free transfers from your hotel to the beach. After a day on the waves, try a massage to help rejuvenate your tired muscles. Spas like Villa de Daun and Carla Spa offer affordable and luxurious treatments, but you can also get a quick massage right on the beach for just a few dollars. Day 3: Although Kuta certainly has plenty to offer, escape the beach for a day and head up to the mountain village of Ubud. This is generally regarded to be the cultural hub of Bali, and there are a number of landmarks, temples and museums worth a visit. Spend the day on a guided tour taking in the Agung Rai Museum of Art, the ornately carved Goa Gajah, or Elephant Cave, the Pura Kehen Temple and the hot springs of Tirta Empul. Day 4: On your second day in Ubud, learn something new with a class in cooking, painting, ceramics, yoga or even traditional Balinese dancing. These courses can be as short as 45 minutes or as long as a full week, but many of the half-day classes are ideal for travellers. Ubud is also a great place to enjoy some of the best local Balinese foods. Stop by Ibu Oka’s at lunchtime for Babi Guling, which is a whole roasted suckling pig. Other great local foods to try include Lawar, a fresh salad, Urutan, a spicy sausage, and Sudang Lepet, which is a salted dried fish. Day 5: For a chance to see a different and less touristy side of Bali, head to the West Bali National Park. It is here that visitors can enjoy hiking along the Tegal Blunder Trail or canoeing in Gilimanuk Bay. This is a place to relax, slow down and take in the breathtaking scenery. Day 6: On your final night in Bali, head back to Kuta to experience the best nightlife on the island. Start with a beer or two in the casual outdoor bars on Poppies Lane II, and then head to the nightclubs in Jalan Legian later in the night for dancing and live music or DJs. Day 7: Before you head home, you will want to pick up some souvenirs or your trip and gifts to give to friends and loved ones. Kuta Square is a great place to find affordable and sometimes odd gifts, but the Beachwalk Bali is unbeatable as it boasts ocean views as you shop. Seven days may not seem like long, but there is no end to the fun activities that you can enjoy in that time on Bali. For more on the best things to do and see on the Island of the Gods, take a look here for more tips. Guest Post by Vanessa Harrington Have you visited Bali? Then feel free to let us know below about your favorite places to visit and activities that you’d...

Top 5 Markets to Visit in South East Asia

By on Oct 16, 2012 in South East Asia | 0 comments

Street Markets are one of my favorite places to visit whilst travelling in South East Asia. I enjoy meeting the unique characters, sitting down with the locals to eat the most exotic local delicacies and not to mention finding some great souvenirs to take home with me. The markets in South East Asia can vary in quality as well as product and produce depending on the region you visit. The hardest choice you will have when travelling through the region is to pick which ones to visit. From epic warehouse sized markets selling over priced “genuine” knock offs in big Asian Cities, to the smaller traditional markets in regional villages where you can buy everything from spices to buffalo. So with this in mind, I wanted to share with you my five favourite markets in South East Asia that are great for people-watching and shopping alike.  1. Luang Prabang Street Market, Laos After the sun sets on the main street of Luang Prabang, the red and blue tents of the night market take centre stage as the indigenous Hmong women flock to the town to sell their locally crafted and purchased wares. Surrounded by Wats and Temples, the market sellers intricately lay out their antique lookalike snuff bottles next to one off pieces of handmade jewellery, which wouldn’t look out of place on the streets of Paris. Walls of colorful paper umbrellas surround you in every direction as you search for fisherman pants in your size. And no visit is complete without a pair of Hmong pants – just watch the first ten washes or so as the colour runs out. There are no crazy hawkers or intense crowds to deal with at this night market, just a very chilled out and relaxed vibe. The traders love a good conversation and it can provide an insight into the local indigenous way of living. Off the main road, the side alleys are full of freshly caught fish prepared on bamboo leaves  accompanied with steaming bowls of fragrant rice. Just pull up a seat with the locals and tuck into some amazingly delicious food. Once you’ve finished, try your hand at a street game, from popping balloons with darts to card games. All of this is why Luang Prabang market is my all time favourite in South East Asia and worthy of the arduous overland journey it takes to get there. Also don’t forget to checkout our etiquette guide about visiting indigenous communities in South East Asia for some handy hints and tips about visiting the Hmong. Best Buys: Paper umbrellas, snuff bottles, freshly cooked fish and Hmong clothing  2. Malacca Night Market, Malaysia A secret gem, the night market in the Portuguese town of Malacca in southern Malaysia is full of trinkets, local produce, cheap fashion and even the kitchen sink. Whilst not everything on sale will warrant a place in your luggage to take home, it’s a great place to dive into Malaysian street food and sit back and watch the world go by. A community market at heart, the vendors wind themselves along Jalan Hang Jebat – a short stroll from the central square. Surrounded by world heritage listed buildings, the street is rich in history with fascinating Chinese and Portuguese fused architecture. Whilst the vendors have interesting wares, the shop fronts also sell a range of oriental products including Chinese medicines, artwork and housewares. Best Buys: Antiques (Fake or real Ill leave it up to you to decide), trinkets, electronic gadgets and cheap oriental souvenirs.      3. Ubud Art Market, Bali Very touristy and slightly claustrophobic, the Ubud Art Market in the central mountains of Bali in Indonesia is an old favourite of mine. The market is known for is locally created art work, Balinese handicrafts, and its growing boutique fashion scene. Many of the products are crafted in the out lying villages then brought to market to be sold. You will need your bartering skills at this market as the Balinese start high with their price, but its worth noting that your money often goes directly back to helping the local villages – so don’t barter too aggressively. It’s best to stay in Ubud when visiting as you will be able to get up early or visit late in the afternoon to avoid the loads of tourists that arrive by  bus. Also, dont forget to try Pork Sucking at Ibu Oka, the best in all of Bali – the locals can point the way. Best Buys:  Local handicrafts, artwork, wooden statues, Babi Guling (Suckling Pig) and colorful gifts      4. Lantern Market in Hoi An, Vietnam If you’re anything like Niki and think that your life would be complete if you were surrounded by thousands of colorful Lanterns, then the Hoi An Lantern market in Vietnam is for you. Popular with the locals and travellers alike, this market in the streets of the old town of Hoi An comes to life at night as paper lanterns of all shapes and sizes light up the balmy evening. The streets fill with children as they run and play, the local river becomes a place of mystical creatures, whilst young couples canoodle on the ‘love’ bridge. The relaxed Hoi An Night market is a mix of street hawkers and historical shop fronts selling local artwork, boutique homewares and everything in between. After a night of shopping, I would recommend...

Going Gluten Free in Dubai

By on Sep 29, 2012 in slider, United Arab Emirates | 0 comments

A quick post today for those of you out there who have a gluten allergy (including Niki) and want to know what gluten free options are available in Dubai. Niki and I recently did a short stopover in the Emirates and after having failed to find any information about eating Gluten Free in Dubai online, we decided to do a little research on the ground. And we are very pleased to inform you that there are some good gluten free options available in this modern city.   Niki and I stumbled across arguably your best sources of gluten free and free-from foods in Dubai at two supermarkets. The first gluten free supermarket is the Organic Market and it is located on the Lower Ground Floor of the giant Dubai Mall. The Organic Market, with its three aisles dedicated to Anti Gluterians, has arguably a better selection than Sainsbury’s or Woolworth’s back home. The gluten free selection includes ready to eat meals/snacks, frozen goodies and a range of ingredients in case you were planning on doing any cooking whilst traveling. The rest of the Organic Market is comprised of Free From Foods including dairy and sugar free, Health Supplements and a small cafe. The cafe, which specializes in Middle Eastern fare, is a little pricey however the staff were knowledgeable and most of the buffet was gluten free. So not only did Niki get to enjoy the local delicacies, she got to so without making herself ill!   Another option we found was Spinneys, a large international supermarket with 31 outlets across Dubai. Whilst not particularly a gluten free specific outlet, it does have a huge international range of food and beverages. So if you know your brands, food and ingredients, you will be able to find a good selection of foods that are gluten free. If you don’t have time to shop at the street souqs (market), there is plenty of fresh produce here as well. Finally, and I’ll be honest with you as we didn’t find a lot of information on this, there are some gluten free options in the street markets as well. From delicious falafels dipped in Houmous, to the old safe bet of hot chips. We mentioned Niki’s gluten intolerance to a local Kebab Vendor in the Gold Souq thinking that he would have no idea what we were talking about, and low and behold he brought us an off the menu plate of freshly cooked chips, salad and falafels. So it’s always worth asking! Best of luck with your travels to Dubai and if you find any other great restaurants or supermarkets that are gluten free, please leave a comment below with the...

The Pirates of Halong Bay

By on Sep 28, 2012 in Vietnam | 0 comments

My tour bus driver has just been arrested…this was going to be one of those days. That’s what I’ve loved about Vietnam so far, its ability to throw a curve ball and sometimes you duck and miss it, other times it hits you square in the face. Today Niki and I joined a tour which we purchased through et-pumpkin to the majestic, mystical, mighty, magical and any other descriptive word starting with M, Halong Bay. About 3 hours from Hanoi, this world heritage listed site is known for its thousands of giant karsts and islands that dot this secluded bay. This was one of our honeymoon treats; however the local police had different ideas. See, we were picked up in a mini van, yes a rather large minivan, but nevertheless a minivan. Unfortunately though the local police viewed our transport as a small bus rather than a large minivan and promptly arrested the bus driver for driving a “bus” through the old quarter of Hanoi. Apparently there are laws regarding this. So as a small army, *cough*, sorry police truck rocked up, a couple of guards got out and told the driver to drive down the road to the station and hand himself in.  So he did. An hour later, not having even left Hanoi, we found ourselves still sitting in our large minivan watching our poor driver making dozens of phone calls, sorting out a bribe, *cough*, sorry a fine, being reprimanded for his mistaken confusion that his minibus was in fact a bus, with this all concluding with our driver jumping back in the van as if nothing happened and continuing along our way to Halong Bay.   The drive was pretty straight forward by Vietnamese standards, with a rest stop at the Humanity Centre. What, you’ve never heard of a Humanity Centre? Well, if you think it’s a place where good people, do good deeds, to help people in need, you would be absolutely wrong! It was a pottery and souvenir house, because “the only way to save humanity is to put a big arse statue in your garden”. I’m still not sure how we would get any of those statues home. Arriving at the pier in Halong Bay to board our beautiful teak Junk was an exciting moment. I felt like I was a pirate boarding a mighty vessel to drink some rum and find me some loot. When I turned to Niki and went “arhhhhh me lady, heave the sails, stow the ropes, lock up the whores and get me some rum” she simply said “I’m not with you and walk away”. I dropped my head in disappointment; I hadn’t even shown her my eye patch yet! We were joining the crew of the Halong Phoenix Cruiser, an opulent teak Junk big enough to fit about 25 people on board. We chose this boat as it was a good price at $100US per person, was small enough that it didn’t feel like a party boat yet big enough that you could have a good chat with people. Once we received the welcome spiel and our complementary fruity drink, we were assigned to our cabins.  Our a/c cabin was honestly amazing, with beautiful teak furnishings, an oriental atmosphere, a marble bathroom and a big 4 pane window that opened onto the bay. This was truly the way to sail and I felt like I had just added a tick to my list of things to do before I die. Looking at the other boats sailing by, ours was easily the most impressive and elegant.   After lunch, which had never ending delicious food, Nic and I decided to go kayaking. Let me get this right out from the start: Rule No. 3 of being married – Give your wife her own Kayak Okay, so Nic and I have a rather turbulent history when it comes to Kayaking, some may even say explosive, the word apocalyptic also comes to mind. See a year before we went to Laos and kayaked down the Mekong in a double kayak. The person in front controls the pace, the person behind controls the steering, or something like that. In this simple setup is where it all falls apart us – both of us want to steer and both of us want to set the pace. In the confusion we go no where, paddles start flying all over the place, insults start getting thrown around, a misguided paddle hits my head, water gets thrown at Niki and inevitably we both sit there saying nothing, sulking and seething whilst we get closer and closer to hitting a whole heap of rocks. Needless to say Halong Bay was no different. However getting past our wedded bliss, the kayaking was truly mesmerizing and tranquil as you slowly passed local water villages, spiritual grottos and colourful birds fluttering around the karsts. The rest of the afternoon was spent swimming and jumping off from the top level on the Junk, which isn’t for the faint hearted. I was living out every pirate and lost on a tropical island fantasy I’ve ever had. That is until I lost my balance as I was jumping from the top deck and landed sideways in the water. All I remember as I fell sideways was “shit, this wasn’t the way I was meant to die”. Nursing a few sore ribs, the evening finished off with Niki...

Dubai – Past and Present {Photo Junket}

By on Sep 23, 2012 in United Arab Emirates | 2 comments

Throw away everything you think you know about Dubai, as its more than big buildings, bold visions and cashed up Arab families. Dubai is a fusion of old meets new, a cross road of a vibrant Islamic society deciding on what western values to allow and ultimately, a dynamic story of an old world trading port meeting the robust new world of capitalism. The largest city in the United Arab Emirates is nothing like you imagine and everything that you never knew you wanted. Think Singapore fifteen years ago fused with Shanghai today, and nothing encapsulates this more then by traveling along the Creek in a traditional Abra and in the distance seeing the shinning Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. Dubai is a true melting pot of past and present. Yes the city is largely about wealth and if you want to shop til you drop you will be at home. From perusing through souqs of spices and gold, before buying Prada at the massive Dubai Mall. Yet, and to my greatest discovery, you’re merely ten minutes away from Bur Dubai; the rustic, charming and quiet heart of Dubai. Where winding alleyways crowded with spices and goods, meets the old world opulence of the Creek. All encased within the steamy hot weather of the Middle East, which for your perseverance, you will be generously rewarded with cool lime tea and not to mention the best kebab of your life. To me, Dubai is a juxtaposition in my mind and well worth a visit in its own right, rather than a two night stop over that it is often advertised as.                 Have you travelled to the UAE? Let us know your thoughts below. I cant wait to go back and visit more of the Middle East – thinking maybe Oman next...