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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...

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...

Trekking Bario and the Kelabit Highlands in Borneo

By on Oct 12, 2011 in Borneo | 0 comments

Forget off the beaten track, there is no track to the hidden village of Bario! Nestled in the Kelabit highlands in central Borneo, Bario is the jumping off point to some intense trekking options and not to forget the shared border with Kalimantan. So when I found myself surrounded by a couple of chooks and twelve other people on a very small twin prop plane hoping my way into the highlands, I couldn’t help but be giddy with excitement. My journey started from the city of Miri located just south of Brunei in Sarawak. Now before you say, ‘I’m not getting on that contraption’ – just note that there is no other choice of transport except by plane to a place as remote as this! The old logging roads that go this deep are rough and impassable in the wet. River trips are just too difficult and extremely expensive as well. The few cars that the locals have in the village are flown in part by part and rebuilt. This is truly an experience that you won’t share with the masses.   Your flight in and out will be subject to weight loads and weather conditions, with the potential for delays highly likely.  In fact, you might arrive a day before your backpacks do, but it’s all part of the adventure. If arriving to Borneo wasn’t enough to put your thirst for adventure at bay, Bario will appease. Bario is the central village in the Kelabit highlands for trekking and remote village exploration. A traveller I bumped into did this insane trek that ran a certain length of the highlands with no clear path and that only one guide knew the the way in and out. His photos were something out of National Geographic, not to mention the locals roasting monkeys over a fire.   Bario isn’t for the faint hearted or for the lover of creature comforts. With basic but clean facilities, Bario isn’t the same as Sapa in Vietnam or Chang Mai in Thailand. If you’re in Bario it’s for one thing and one thing only, hiking!  Accommodation is thin however all are clean and secure. I stayed at a place called Nancy’s Homestead. Nancy, whom the hostel is named after, will meet you at the airstrip and keep you well fed and informed on all the trekking options. If you’re leaving from Miri and you’re staying at Highlands Hostel, Joanne (I think that was her name) can get you in contact with Nancy and give you all the advice you need. Nancy’s offers a comfortable but basic place to stay and her families knowledge of the highlands is invaluable – not to mention the most delicious pineapples that they grow.   I spent my time here preparing for my Mt Kinabalu ascent, trekking to the roof of small mountains and visiting local villages. Just a few points. Technology is a bit of a rare thing out here. Internet is available but is slow and unpredictable so just be prepared for that. Bario is a conservative place and the community will step in if they think something your doing is inappropriate – like a couple who decide that were going to sit in the middle of the village and do a major tongue hockey session. They were asked to leave the next day. Be flexible, flights can be cancelled at any moment. Weather can turn nasty quickly, so just be prepared. Also the rivers swell fast, be aware some crossings are impassable when this happens. You’ll need to bring your own gear; this is especially the case for longer treks. Overnight village stays are basic and you will be assigned a piece of floor in the corner of a local villager’s house but you’ll be gifted with some of the best food and experiences of your life! Guides are recommended on longer treks, however you may have to wait for them to come into town depending on the route you want to do.     Bario is a place like no other and captures the hearts and minds of many adventurers. Don’t let the small plane put you off, it’s well worth it for the adventure you’ll have! Update Note 14/10: Ive been advised that AirAsia X routes have been taken over by MASwings in this part of Borneo. So please check this airline out for transport...

Matchbox Concept Hostel: What are your thoughts?

By on Aug 18, 2011 in Singapore | 0 comments

So last night I received a press release about Matchbox, a new hostel opening in Singapore that markets itself as “appealing to the needs of the flashpacker” with contemporary designed pods. Whilst I generally avoid writing for press releases, I couldn’t help but get drawn into a discussion with this one due its statement that they are the first hostel in the world to provide couple beds in the dormitory. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure the reason no one else has ever done this before is due to the debauchery that it would lead to and lets face it, there is nothing worse then listening to other people getting their freak on whilst you’re trying to get some sleep! So before I get in too deep, here is a quick overview of the hostel and then I’m keen to know your thoughts – double bed, good or bad? First up its $45.00SGD per night per pod, which is a bit higher than the average hostel in Singapore, but it does offer free all day breakfast, Wi-Fi, laundry facilities and custom designed pillows to meet your sleeping needs….yep you heard right, custom designed pillows! It also has all the mod cons you expect a Singapore hostel to have plus bright and retro interior based on the images I’ve seen. Talking about those…   Here are a few images of Matchbox         Okay, so lets break this down. The average “flashpacker” is 25 to 35, has plenty of money to throw around, is totally tech’ed out and would prefer to spend more on an authentic experience that enriches their travels as opposed to expensive accommodation or meals. So with this in mind, what do you think of the Matchbox Concept Hostel my fellow flashpackers? Does this funky pad look like a great way to lose a couple of days whilst freshening up before continuing your travels onto Indonesia or Malaysia? OR is it bit too kindergarten come my little sister would love to stay here and what were you thinking with the double beds? Let me know in the comments below or tweet me @thetravproject. Or even better, I’d love to hear from anyone who has stayed here? Anyway, I remain woefully undecided and I think the next time I’m in Singapore I’ll have to skip my old faithful favorite and check this concept hostel out – I wonder if I can persuade Niki to take the double with me?...

Bako National Park, Borneo {Photo Junket}

By on Jul 10, 2011 in Borneo | 0 comments

  Like so many places in Borneo, there is only one way in and one way out of Bako National Park in Sarawak and that’s by boat. With this week’s Travel Photo Junket, I wanted to share with you my adventure into this remote national park abundant in wildlife such as the proboscis monkey, bearded pigs and hornbills as well as remarkable flora such as the meat eating Pitcher Plant. I spent my time here with six other travellers hiking through pristine jungles, swimming under waterfalls and learning about the fragile and balanced ecosystems of Borneo. Bako National Park is best accessed from Kuching via a short bus ride and a slow boat up river passing tiny fishing villages. On a side note, our boat trip broke down just off shore where we had to wade our way through the water to the park’s entrance – I never knew Borneo had crocodiles till after my trip…whoops. There is basic but clean accommodation on site, just watch out for the monkeys who are skilled in a bit thievery as well as breaking and entering.          ...