Bedraggled and tired after a 10 hour crawling bus journey around Guatemala’s infamous winding roads, we perched on a tree stump with fresh fruit juice in hand. The view in front of us had made the last 10 hours worth it, as we looked out over the jungle as the sun began to set. We’d finally made it to our destination Utopia, in the middle of the mountainous Guatemalan countryside!
After leaving the celebrations of Semana Santa in Antigua, we headed north to Lanquin, a tiny spec of buildings surrounded by rolling, forest covered hills. From Lanquin, we (along with 10 other hardy souls), jumped into the back of a 4×4 truck, crushed together with our backpacks as we made the final 30 minute ride along some of the bumpiest and steepest hills we’d faced. Luxury this was not.
But we hadn’t come for comfort, we’d come to see what would become some of the most impressive natural sights we’ve seen!
We were staying close to Semuc Champey, an area blessed with natural wonders, from trekking through lush forest, to swimming in crystal clear turquoise pools and exploring water filled caves by candlelight!
After our exciting (and slightly dangerous!) cave tour in Semuc Champey, it was time for some relaxation in the nearby lagoons of Semuc Champey. After gingerly making our way across a very ‘rustic’ and rather precarious bridge with only a few wooden planks, we made the short hike up into the valley towards the lagoons. As we approached, we caught our first glimpse of the crystal clear, turquoise coloured water glistening against the sunlight through the trees, paradise! As we got closer we noticed layer upon layer of pools, each one flowing into the other.
When water looks as inviting as this, there’s really only one thing to do…I don’t think Barry’s ever looked this enthusiastic about swimming…
With one natural pool flowing into the next, each teeming with fish, it’s worth bringing a pair of goggles and snorkel if you have them. With so many pools to choose from, you’re going to need at least a couple of hours here. We would recommend half a day after you’ve been caving by candlelight in the nearby caving system.
After relaxing and exploring the various lagoons, it was time to make the climb up to the top of the valley to get a bird’s eye view. It may seem like a long way up, but with wooden walkways and stairs to aid you, the hike is worthwhile to fully appreciate the stunning lagoons below!
Semuc Champey is breathtaking. And whilst it’s not easy to get to, the bruises from your jeep and bus journey will fade, aided in no small part by the soothing turquoise lagoons and fresh fruit smoothies on offer! Throw in some candlelit caving, river tubing and organic chocolate making, and you could end up spending a lot longer here then first planned.
So far on our travels we’d driven, cycled, trekked, climbed, sailed and swam through many incredible national parks, so when we discovered we could zipline our way around the lush jungle of Bastimentos national park in the Bocas del Toro archipelago, we were up for the challenge! I mean, what was the worst that could happen on a 300 metre-long zipline 100 feet above the ground? Hmm we decided not to contemplate that and listened rather carefully to our safety briefing instead! Luckily these guys were professionals at it…well the one on the left anyway!
With our safety briefing complete and after 20 minutes of getting belted, buckled, tied, gloved and strapped in (phew!) we clipped our helmets on and set off into the jungle ready for our adventure! Luckily the adrenaline and excitement was going by now so nobody cared how ridiculous we looked.
Having successfully passed our clipping and swinging skills test on the practice line, we were finally ready to start our tour. Safely attached, we began climbing the stairs up to the height of the forest canopy where we’d spend the next 2 hours acting like monkeys – awesome!
Upon arrival at the platform we took a minute to contemplate the first of our 7 ziplines we had to look forward to. At 150 metres long, the guide informed us this was quite a fast one (oh joy!) so remember to use our ‘breaks’ towards the end (i.e. repeatedly pull our weight down on the rope as hard as possible!). Want to know how it went? Check out the video below of the ziplining course, and secondly, our takeoffs and landings!
And check out our takeoffs and Laura’s landing skills!
Thrilled and relieved to have successfully applied my breaks and completed my first smooth platform landing, my confidence was building and ready to take on the longest (and highest at 200 feet) of our ziplines for the tour (oh and one of the longest in all of Central America apparently)…deep breath and off I went! Flying through the lush green canopy surrounded only by jungle and wildlife was amazing! Can you spot me in the distance?
And getting closer…
After the exhilaration of 5 ziplines, we weren’t prepared for the scary part that came next however…it was assault course time! Faced with wobbly wooden planks and thin ropes, fear kicked in a little for the first time as we tentatively wobbled our way across the chained wood, trying to avoid looking directly down! After another bridge, tarzan swing and a climb up some more wobbly wooden planks, we were a little relieved to have completed that part of the course!
Next we were back to our favourite activity as we faced the final ziplines!
Full of confidence now our guide challenged us to go hands free and upside down for the last swing…well I decided i’d rather not have a rush of blood to the head, but braved a hands free ride and loved it! We couldn’t believe our 2 hours was up already, it had felt like only 10 minutes!
Ziplining through the jungle of Bastimentos was an amazing experience and one we’d highly recommend if you get a chance to visit! If you’d like to contact the company we used, click here.
Some of the links above are affiliate links, which means if you choose to book somewhere though our link, we receive a small commission. Don’t worry, it doesn’t cost you anything more, and most importantly, we only recommend companies that we use ourselves so you can trust our recommendations!
Deciding on the best way to see the Galápagos Islands is a tricky decision. Unless you have a month or two to spare, you simply don’t have time to see everything there is to offer! So like us, you might find yourself asking the following questions:
Quite a list of questions, isn’t it? After exhausting many websites and guidebooks without making much progress, we decided that we would use a tour company to book a 5 day cruise, and then spend 4 days on our own exploring the islands independently. After some arduous research, we went with Happy Gringo tour operator, as they had options to suit all budgets, and a fantastic interactive map of the Galapagos which helped plan our time there!
In the end we opted for a 5 day cruise of the Eastern & Southern islands (option A1) of the archipelago on a luxury catamaran, followed by 4 days of independent travel and were not disappointed! In terms of getting to the islands, we flew into San Cristobal from Guayaquil, and flew out of Baltra for Quito as we were travelling north through South America!
We chose the luxury catamaran as we were worried about sea sickness, with the Catamaran providing a smoother sailing experience around what can be quite choppy waters! It also had a capacity of 16 people, which was smaller than some of the other boats.
So what were the facilities like, we hear you ask? Well, as we’d booked onto the luxury catamaran, we got a bit of luxury! We had our own private cabin with double bed and ensuite. Note the cabins are small, with just enough room for the bed and the ability to walk down one side of it. They were clean and comfortable, providing the bonus of sea view windows from your bed!
All meals were of excellent quality and varied, served in a beautiful dining area. It was a buffet style meal, always with good salad options and vegetables, and a meat dish to go with it. Many of our meals came with a bowl of soup and dessert as well, and we were always full!
The best part of the boat for us was the upper deck where there was plenty of space to relax on sunbeds or simply enjoy the stunning views whilst sailing around the islands.
We had many amazing moments on our Galápagos tour (as documented in our various articles), however there’s no doubt that the highlight was the incredible moment we witnessed a pod of over 200 dolphins swimming alongside our catamaran whilst cruising in the Galápagos waters.
Overall we had a fantastic trip to the Galápagos Islands and would highly recommend the knowledge and services of Happy Gringo to help you in making those important decisions and arrangements!
I absolutely love dolphins, and I was hoping we’d get a chance to see one or two whilst we sailed through the waters of the Galapagos islands with Happy Gringo. So imagine my delight as our guide excitedly told us to move to the front of the catamaran as we were about to encounter a pod of dolphins!
As we raced to the front, the scene ahead of us was simply unbelievable! Upwards of 200 dolphins were crossing our path, and as we got closer, they turned and began swimming alongside the catamaran, treating our boat as a bit of fun as they criss-crossed underneath and alongside us!
And then, after a few minutes, the real show began! Some of the dolphins started launching themselves out of the water! Not just a foot or so, some reaching heights of 5 metres and more out of the water! It was as if it was a competition to leap the highest!
One of our fellow passengers was in the right place at the right time, and caught this spectacular footage of the dolphins launching out of the water! Enjoy!
This was an incredible highlight of our time in the Galapagos islands, and one we will never forget!
With our love of Peruvian food growing by the minute, we were desperate to learn how to create some Peruvian delights for ourselves! So after arriving in Arequipa Peru, it didn’t take us long to sign up for a Peruvian cooking experience and get our chef hats on, literally.
We hadn’t done any cooking for a while, so it was a novelty to be back in the kitchen chopping onions! Well who am I kidding, it’s always a novelty for me with Barry being chief chef in our household! Although I would definitely cook more if we had an open air kitchen like this…all set up for our class.
Given three different choices, we decided to learn how to make two of the most famous national dishes of Peru. First up was a ‘ceviche’ for starters (delicious fresh raw fish slow ‘cooked’ in citrus juice) followed by ‘Pescado a lo macho’ (fillet of fried fish smothered with seafood in a lightly spicy aji panca and wine sauce). All served with the favourite local drink of chicha morada (boiled purple corn infused with cinnamon, lemon, cloves, fresh pineapple & apple) – very refreshing! So after meeting our fellow cooks and teacher, it was down to business with preparing the freshly delivered ingredients for our first course.
After chopping 2 onions, 2 cloves of garlic, 1 chilli, a small amount of coriander and LOTS of lime squeezing (8 each!), we were half way there to creating our ceviche!
With the core ingredients prepared, it was time to add our freshly cut white seabass into our citrus juice mix (note: you can use other white fish too as long as its not oily!) and let it soak for around 10 minutes until it looked white cooked. We learned the key factor was not to overcook the fish otherwise it will taste rubbery instead of succulent and slightly raw!
By this time, our pre-boiled sweet potatoes and corn were ready so it was time to display everything on our plate. 2 minutes later and we’d created our first ever dish of ceviche decorated with corn, thinly sliced onions, sweet potatoes and lettuce leaves. I must say, it looked quite delightful!
After tucking into our deliciously delicate ceviche, we couldn’t wait to prepare the contrasting main dish – the macho ‘Pescado a la macho’. Actually named ‘macho’ due to its spiciness mmm!
So our first task was to season our fish filets in garlic paste and salt & pepper before dipping them in flour and frying them in very hot oil. Thoroughly fried, it was then time to prepare our ‘special’ spicy seafood sauce, and this is where things really heated up in the kitchen! In our preheated pan with onions, garlic, tomato, hot yellow chilli pepper paste, soy sauce and coriander, we added the special secret ingredient of Pisco liquor to get these flames going!
After my singed brow cooled, we added our variety of interesting seafood into the mix including squid, shrimp and octopus before the final touches of milk and parsley to thicken the sauce. A few minutes later and we were ready to serve – voila!
So how was it? Well it didn’t last long on the plate! My lack of cooking skills didn’t seem to matter as it was surprisingly delicious and probably the tastiest fish dish we tasted so far in Peru! Modest aren’t I? Well I will definitely be trying to recreate this at home…
After a surprisingly good night’s sleep in our basic dorm, and a dose of coca tea for breakfast to prepare us for another day at high altitude, we set off at 8am for day 2 in our beloved jeep! What did we have in store in today? Well mostly a LOT of driving. It was a long way cross country to reach our final destination close to the salt flats. Although there was less to see today compared to days 1 and 3, we had our unique accommodation to look forward to at the end of the day…a hotel made of salt!
Day 2 involved traversing an incredible variety of terrains, from barren desert to lush green countryside with a wealth of wildlife, lakes and streams. We even passed through a few towns en route – first civilisation we’d seen since leaving San Pedro in Chile! The contrast was amazing.
First up on day 2 was the Siloli Desert, where we stopped to walk through a huge set of terracotta orange rock formations formed as a result of wind erosion.
After stopping to view some more high plain lagoons (Laguna Honda, Chiarcota & Canapa) we saw our first lush countryside of the journey and said hello to a few of the locals…
After navigating through some rough terrain and not so shallow streams, I suppose it was just a matter of time before we’d run into some jeep problems…
With the other 2 jeeps already having had a change of tyre and some overheating issues, we were a little smug that our jeep had avoided any such issues thus far. But alas, it was our turn! Only problem now though was we were out of new tyres! Luckily this happened when we were close to one of the few towns on the way, otherwise we’d probably still be there now!
Getting ever closer to the salt flats, our final destination for day 2 was the smaller but beautiful Chiguana salt flat. It was nowhere near as big as the Salar de Uyuni which we would visit on day 3, but gave us a great flavour of what we had to look forward to! Chiguana is particularly unique however as its vast white plain is interrupted by a railway line. For us it looked like a road (rail?) to nowhere, but apparently this railway line stretches all the way from Uyuni in Bolivia to Calama in Chile – amazing!
After another long day in our beloved jeep, we finally arrived at our salt hotel, our unique home for the evening! Yep that’s right, everything you see here (except the ceiling and decoration) is made of salt – amazing! Of course Barry couldn’t resist licking the wall just to check!
The next morning we set off early towards the salt flats. After driving for 2 full days through the Bolivian altiplano, it was finally time to reach the smoothest terrain of the journey! I’ll never forget the first few minutes of reaching ‘Salar de Uyuni’. It was as if we’d entered another world, so vastly different to where we’d been over the last 2 days. It was so smooth, driving over it was almost serene.
Our jeep went completely silent as we cruised across the vast whiteness. For the first 20 minutes or so, all we could see was the salt flat stretching for miles and miles to the crest of the Andes mountains in the distance on one side. On the other side, nothing, only salt flat forever! The unbelievable enormity of its 10,582 square kilometres (4,086 sq miles) size became real.
After around half an hour of driving, we reached Incahuasi Island, a rocky outcrop of land that rises out of the centre of the salt flats. Now this was unexpected!
After exploring the island, it was time to stop at a beautiful desolate area of the salt flats and check them out for ourselves. After some time spent appreciating the landscape, we couldn’t resist trying to capture a few quirky pics!
Our tour nearing completion, we departed the salt flats and had just enough time to make one final stop at the famous train cemetery near Uyuni…
And so our great adventure across the antiplanos of Chile and Bolivia was complete! We’d travelled across dusty, bumpy and sometimes dangerous terrain seeing some incredible sights along the way. Arriving in Uyuni, we were relieved to finally escape the cramped conditions of our jeep, and finally have a shower to wash away the three days of dust we had accumulated!
After much research, preparation and anticipation, we set off on our 3 day tour from the Atacama desert in Chile to the famous Bolivian salt flats. Of course we were excited to see the largest salt flats in the world, an amazing opportunity, but our excitement was also met with a little anxiety. Why? Well we’d read about many negative experiences of the trip (crammed jeeps, drunk drivers, terrible food etc) and it seemed difficult to find a reputable company with a clean record and good reviews. The more research we did, the harder it became to choose. So in the end we just picked one and hoped for the best! What was the worst that could happen in the middle of nowhere in the Andes mountain range anyway? Mmm, probably best not to contemplate that.
So after a very early start (4am!), we set off in the dark on our bus to the Chilean border. We’d been told about some political conflicts at the normal border crossing, so we had a 5 hour diversion to look forward to. This turned out to involve traversing some particularly rough dirt roads and high mountain passes (I tried to avoid looking down over the cliff edge), before we finally arrived to the Chilean border, our jeep meeting point. Amazingly we still managed to catch up on some sleep despite the bumpy ride. Well Barry certainly did while I enjoyed the sunrise over the Andes, honestly that boy could sleep anywhere!
After a surprisingly good breakfast (from the back of our bus) and an hour or so wait, in the distance we saw a dust trail approaching us, and a few minutes later our 4×4 jeeps came into view as they hurtled down the valley towards us! Anxious and excited, we waited for the jeeps to come into clearer view to see our first glimpse of our home for the next 3 days! Thankfully they looked pretty decent and so did the drivers – well sober at least. And our driver in particular seemed to have a sense of humour given his cap choice!
Each jeep holds 6 people, and luckily our fellow passengers were all perfectly normal! Pretty important as we were about to be in close proximity for the next 3 days! We were certainly an interesting mix with 5 different nationalities and 5 different languages to match (English, Spanish, Portuguese, German & Korean)! So after brief introductions and loading our bags onto the roof of our jeep, it was finally time to set off on our 3 day adventure (after waking up 7 hours earlier!).
I’ll never forget the first section of the drive when we set off into the vast barren landscape of the huge Andean mountains. Cruising across the deserted mountains, it felt like we were instantly putting our jeep’s cross country and suspension ability to the test (I didn’t expect this so early in the 3 day tour). We didn’t seem to be heading in any particular direction, rather just up, down and across the wide expanse of the mountains. Each of our group’s 3 jeeps seemed to choose their own crazy path with the drivers constantly checking their mirrors to see where the others were, if they could see through all the dust! They seemed to relish in the freedom of it and got a kick out of finding the fastest route and taking over each other all the time. It felt like we were in an episode of Top Gear! Despite being a little scary at times, we loved the thrill of it too and the feeling of freedom from roads and highways and being able to venture whichever way we wanted.
After an hour or so of rally driving, we finally reached the Bolivian border (so we really were in ‘no man’s land’!) where after a long wait in the blistering mid day sun, we were greeted by a grumpy Bolivian border policeman (who threatened to close the office for an hour unless we stood in an orderly queue!). After finally getting our entry stamp, we stepped foot into Bolivia for the first time. With all the formalities out of the way, we finally began our tour of the Altiplanos of Bolivia – woohoo!
Just half an hour later we made our first stop at some incredible rock formations. Rising out of the Altiplano sand dunes were these amazing creations of nature.
Slightly further along our route, we witnessed more incredible rock formations including this isolated rock made of stone, sculpted by the wind and sun resembling a weirdly shaped tree (hence its name “stone tree”). Amazing, and just one part of a larger group of rocks known collectively as the “stone forest”.
Next it was time to visit some of the famous lagoons of the area including “Laguna Verde” and “Laguna Blanca”. The best part of these was seeing the pink flamingoes which inhabit them. Incredible to see as one of few species able to survive at such a high altitude (approx 15,000 feet above sea level) with such little vegetation around.
Our first day concluded with a stop at “Laguna Colorada”, a stunning and large shallow salt lake in the southwest of the altiplano area. Its beauty stems from the contrast of its white speckled borax islands with some reddish coloured water, caused by red sediments and algae pigmentation. I wondered if that’s why the flamingoes are pink? Well it turns out that’s true! Flamingos are indeed pink or orange or white depending on what algae or crustaceans they eat – interesting!
After admiring some more pink flamingos at the lagoon, we were relieved that it was finally time to find our accommodation for the night. It had been a great but very long day! Satisfied that our concerns were not met on day 1, we rested peacefully and looked forward to what Day 2 & 3 Of Our Bolivian Jeep Rally Adventure had in store for us…
Of course it was top of our list of things to do in Buenos Aires, so a day after arriving, we’d already booked our first lesson and tickets to a show! We wanted to see how the experts do it and try it out for ourselves!
After dressing up in our ‘best’ backpacker clothes, we set off with our friends John & Lindsay to our first Argentine Tango experience! First up was a 1 hour lesson followed by a 3 course meal and live show. Arriving to the venue, we were excited to be greeted by our dance teacher, a beautiful and elegant Argentinian lady with a good sense of humour (thankfully!).
The first part of the lesson involved simply walking around the room, easy right? Well, there’s even a special way to do this in the world of tango. Five minutes later and we were no longer simply walking but trying to master the art of slow, deliberate, seductive walking whilst maintaining a serious and intense glare across the room towards our partners. It was tricky not to giggle! Next it was time to learn the basic steps. With females on one side of the room and all the men on the opposite, it was like a dance off! Each taking turns to learn the next steps before it was time to piece it together and attempt the routine as a couple.
After practising a few times, we were amazed to be pulling off the basic moves quite well! But we soon discovered we weren’t quite tangoing properly yet…the final part of our lesson was learning to add the tricky high leg flick and swift turn of the head to pull the famously dramatic tango pose! Again it was hard not to giggle! If only we were as good as these guys…
After learning the basics of tango it was time to see the real thing, so we were ushered through to our table ready for the live performance. Luckily we had great seats just one table back from the main stage, however this turned out to be not so lucky for Barry later in the evening (more on that later). A few minutes later the lights went out and the live band started playing.
The sound of an accordion, mixed with harpsichord, violin and double bass blasted out from the musicians positioned up high in the Venetian styled balcony above us, building our anticipation. A few minutes later and a silhouetted figure appeared in front of us, a smartly dressed man with sleeked back hair who began to sing a dramatic introduction to the story of the show. A few moments later and the dancers appeared on stage to perform their opening number. The ladies wore beautifully elegant silk dresses and wavy sleek styled hair, with their partners in smart pinstripe suits and skip caps over their smooth black gelled hair.
All three couples were exquisite dancers and demonstrated their amazing tango skills. What impressed us the most was the smoothness of every movement no matter how difficult or stretching it was, they moved seamlessly and elegantly from one movement to the next, whilst always maintaining intense eye contact.
The intensity of the music and dancing drew all of us in immediately, it was fascinating to watch and time just seem to disappear. Before we knew it we’d watched around 8 different routines from the couples and it was nearly half way through the evening. It was at this point that to our delight (and perhaps Barry’s horror) that he was approached by one of the beautiful dancers and invited to dance with her!
With sheer panic on his face he waved us goodbye and headed off to show off his best tango moves! Relieved that he had other couples for company on the dance floor, he survived his 2 minute ordeal and returned to the table, happy that his turn was over, or so he thought. Perhaps impressed by his moves (or maybe just unlucky for Barry!), a second dancer then approached our table and scanned the table for a willing volunteer…Barry of course! Oh dear, he wasn’t happy and couldn’t believe he was picked again out of the 4 men at our table! Oh well at least he was getting the hang of it now haha! And luckily there is no photo evidence…
Much to Barry’s relief, the second half of the show didn’t involve any audience participation, so we just sat and admired the incredible skills of the dancers. With increasing intensity and skill, each routine was more impressive than the proceeding one, culminating in an incredible final dance off amongst the three couples. Full of high lifts, rolls, jumps and flicks, it was the perfect dramatic ending to an incredible show!
We don’t usually offer must-do advice, but after witnessing an authentic Argentinian Tango performance, it is a must if you visit Buenos Aires, you won’t be disappointed! And maybe even take a lesson or two in order to appreciate how complex and difficult it really is!
Following on from our second day in Antarctica, spotting our first seals, watching our first penguins up close and cruising through the iceberg graveyard, we were excited to see what treasures Day 3 would bring.
First up was a visit to a small island on the Peninsula to spend some more time admiring our favourite locals of Antarctica – the penguins! This was an extra special experience as this was the moment we witnessed first hand the famous stone stealing game! Check out our stone stealing penguin video to see footage of one cheeky Gentoo penguin causing a stir in this colony!
A short walk along the island from the penguin action, we also saw these colossal whale bones, remnants of Antarctica’s commercial whaling era. Having seen the magnificence of humpback and minke whales swimming around our boat, we were glad the era of whaling on this particular island in Antarctica is long gone and these bones were relics of old bygone times.
Now very close to British Antarctic Territory, it was time for us to visit an old British base and research station on the harbour of Port Lockroy, exciting!
Positioned on the shore of Wiencke Island, the base was abandoned in 1962 and is now a museum and post office operated by the United Kingdom Heritage Trust. With little change from the time it was in use, it was fascinating to walk around the base and get a real sense of what it was like to live on Antarctica.
Much like going back in time, the kitchen was well stocked with food rations (including a bread maker!), the large dining room still adorned with quaint period furnishings, basic sleeping quarters and a small research lab containing original instruments used by the scientists. I can imagine after 1 or 2 years there, it would be easy to get fed up looking at the same posters on the wall and eating the same tinned tuna!
After a break for lunch, we sailed a little further along the Peninsula to reach our afternoon destination, aptly named ‘Paradise Bay’. Here we tackled our first hike of the trip through deep snow up to the highest point, where we admired the beautiful view, the penguins below us and surrounding calm Antarctic waters.
Following our time on the harbour, we spent an hour cruising around the gigantic glaciers that littered the bay. Every so often, our guide would cut the engine of our zodiac to enjoy the tranquility and beauty of the place, with the silence only occasionally interrupted by huge chunks of ice crashing down into the water from the melting glaciers around us – amazing!
Alas it was time to head back to the ship. The dark clouds started to roll in, the temperature dropped dramatically and the whites of Antarctica changed dramatically to dark greys, it was incredibly atmospheric.
It was another brilliant day of excursions on the continent, and we were delighted to witness first hand the art of penguin stone stealing, hear the sounds of glacier falls and visit an old British Antarctic research base. After such an exciting day, a night in our comfortable warm beds on the Quark Expeditions ship was very appealing! However, we had other plans.
With a nod from our captain confirming suitable weather conditions, we would be returning to the continent that evening to camp without a tent! So after an early dinner, we prepared ourselves for our cold night under the stars (or as it turned out, under the sun)!
It was easy to fall in love with the penguins in Antarctica. Having never seen them in their natural habitat before, watching them up close going about their daily business was truly fascinating and comical at the same time! They always brought a smile to our faces, we just loved them.
We were lucky to see 4 different types of penguins on our trip. The first penguins we encountered were the ‘Gentoos’, recognisable by a wide white stripe across the top of their black head, a bright orange bill, pale pinkish webbed feet and a longish tale.
With streamlined bodies they are also very fast swimmers, able to reach speeds of 36 kph! We witnessed this often from our zodiac as they porpoised around us at great speed, making it tricky to grab a photo! However like all penguins, they certainly don’t boast the same elegance or speed on land! We never got bored of watching them waddle along the snow, tail sticking out behind, sweeping from side to side – such a clumsy and adorable sight!
We saw lots of Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, but one of our favourite moments was when we witnessed one cheeky Gentoo carrying out the common stone stealing game! We were familiar with this from a David Attenborough documentary but seeing it for ourselves was amazing and hilarious! We stood for 15 minutes watching the fascinating process of a male penguin performing his daily routine of sneaking around other mother penguins looking to steal the precious stones that they’re using to protect their young egg. The aim of course to increase the size of his partner’s nest. It’s a status thing for the male penguins – bigger the nest, better the father apparently!
Wanting to avoid a fight, he would also target the most vulnerable mothers without a partner next to them standing guard. As you can imagine they got really upset about losing stones but couldn’t do much about it being perched on their eggs. No doubt their partner would return later though to steal the stones back…yep, the process is never ending! We found out that each nest typically fluctuates up and down 50 times per day as a result of stone stealing! Amazing, you would think they had a better system by now!
The next type of penguin we saw was the ‘Adelie’. Slightly smaller than the Gentoos, these were recognisable by their almost full black faces, broken up only by a thin white ring around their eyes. Different to the Gentoos, their black feathers extend further along their bills, making the bils look smaller as it hides most of the natural redish/orange colour. Appearing all black and white and with a longish tail, these guys looked the smartest. Almost as if they were wearing a tuxedo! The most special moment we had with these guys was witnessing the first chicks of the season! After walking out to an outcrop on the continent, we watched two tiny brown furry chicks being lovingly protected by both parents amongst a small colony of Adelies. We couldn’t believe we were witnessing the first sighting of chicks for the season, an incredible sight!
Next up we met the ‘Chinstraps’ who quickly became our favourites! Most aptly named, these were easily recognisable by their white faces and thin black line underneath their cheeks, making them appear as if they were wearing helmets – so cute!
Our favourite moments with these guys was simply sitting watching them manoeuvre themselves up and down what we called the ‘penguin highways’. After some time spent fishing for krill in the nearby waters, they would hop back onto land and make the often long trek back up a hill of deep snow to reach their colony and breeding spot. Trying to make the journey easier for themselves, they often followed the same pathways of already flattened snow to reach their colony, hence the creation of penguin highways! Keeping our respectful 5 metres distance recommended to us by Quark Expeditions, we positioned ourselves next to the highways as they offered the best viewing of their adorable waddling, often in groups of two of three. Occasionally the penguins were just as intrigued by our presence, and would take a little detour over to briefly check us out, before continuing merrily along their way.
We also learned that it’s common for penguins to get lost in Antarctica and end up in the wrong colony! I guess it can be easily done after spending a little too much time chilling out on a floating iceberg, or trying to recognise one snowy island from another! Anyway this was the reason that we saw a 4th type of penguin that we didn’t expect to see – the rock star ‘Macaroni’! Easily recognisable by its distinctive spikey yellow feathers sticking up above their eyes, we spotted one of these amongst a huge colony of Chinstraps. The poor guy had drifted so far from home that he had to settle with making friends in the closest colony he could find! We had no idea this could happen, see if you can spot him!
We never imagined that we would grow to love the penguins in Antarctica as much as we did, but we found ourselves excited every time we encountered the penguins! We were sad to say goodbye to them!
After our one day bus tour around Torres Del Paine, we were hungry to get a bit closer to the incredible granite towers of Las Torres, so we signed up for a full day trek to the base look out point just below the towers! Unfortunately Barry had to pull out due to his knee injury from a previous climb, but with encouragement from our good friends Lindsay and John, I decided to go along with them and leave my beloved nomad behind.
The morning of the climb, we packed our usual supply of sandwiches, chocolate, sunscreen, clothing layers and camera, and set off early on the 2 hour drive to the park with our expert guide. After navigating around herds of cows, sheep and guanacos (Chilean lamas) we safely arrived at the Torres Del Paine national park ready for the trek. Keen to set some expectations, our guide informed us that the trek was a 18km return journey, which was a similar length to our experience of the Tongariro crossing in New Zealand, but much shorter than our multi day Sapa trekking hike in Vietnam and our Rinjani trekking adventure in Indonesia. The hardest section was to be the last 45 minutes, consisting of an almost vertical climb over very rock terrain to reach our summit! Great, something to look forward to! So with walking poles in hand, we set off on our adventure to the massives!
Much of the first section was an uphill climb, broken up nicely by the odd bridge over the valley’s streams and rivers. Around us we could see the many waterfalls gushing down the sides of the huge mountains that surrounded us.
Every so often we’d be unexpectedly interrupted by traffic passing through; horses from the local estancia carting supplies up the valley to the refugio half way along the track, the only form of transport along the route.
After a couple of hours trekking and working up a sweat, we were relieved to reach our first break at a nice spot next to the river. Suitably refreshed with water and chocolate (well we were burning calories!) we set off once again, this time through the deep forestry section of the trek. Despite the rain kicking in at this point and layering on the waterproofs and hats, we all enjoyed the change in terrain, and managed to increase our pace through this slighter flatter section of the trek. We found ourselves with renewed energy surrounded by lush green forest, beautiful twisting trees, rustic rickety bridge passes and the odd glimpse of stunning waterfalls on the distant mountains.
Then, after around 3 km of jungle trekking, we spotted the opening in the distance that would reveal our final destination. Excited, we practically ran towards the opening in the trees and glanced left to see the towers looming eerily amongst the dark clouds above us. After admiring the towers for a while and photographing the moment, I noticed the final piece of terrain we were about to encounter. Warned about the hard final section at the start by our guide, I should have expected it, but the steep incline and huge boulders loomed ahead of us worried me a little. Only 45 minutes, I whispered to myself – you can do it. Flanked by our quietly supportive guide and with my friends pushing on ahead, I applied my usual tough trekking technique of getting the head down, counting and powering on.
After climbing approximately 400 metres of rock and what felt like more than 45 minutes of pain, we finally reached the top of the boulders. We had just one final push to clamber around the side of the mountain, up and over some even larger rocks and boulders to reach the base look out. Ten minutes later we reached our final destination and we were delighted to be greeted by this sign!
With a couple of large groups there already, we decided to go a little further to find our own private spot where we could rest and enjoy the towers by ourselves in all their splendour! Just by luck, the rain had stopped before we arrived and the dark clouds we’d seen from the bottom were starting to lift, to reveal many more metres of the three towers. We congratulated each other and found a nice spot to sit and admire the view of the towers and the beautiful turquoise lake lying still beneath them.
After re-energising ourselves with our packed lunches and more chocolate (I was burning lots of calories honest), the cold wind at the high altitude started to bite, so we quickly layered up and began our long descent. Helped by our trekking poles, we managed to descend pretty quickly and powered back through the forest towards our half way point where we had a welcome break before our final push back to our starting point that morning. All in all it took us around 4 hours to reach the Torres base summit and 3 hours to return. Exhausted but very satisfied by a fantastic day’s trekking, we hopped into our mini-bus and embarked on our journey back to Puerto Natales where Barry was waiting with pizza and beers to celebrate our trek – result! We would rest up for a couple of days before our journey to the end of the world!
Trekking isn’t for everyone, right? But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get to see the best of what Torres del Paine has to offer! In this guide, we’ll show you:
You can also click on any of those headlines to take you directly to that section in the guide.
After our 4 day trip on a ferry through the Chilean fjords, we arrived at our next destination of Puerto Natales! Being the closest town to Torres del Paine national park, Puerto Natales is a great launchpad for taking a Torres Del Paine tour! We’ve been to some incredible national parks in our time, from our Sapa trekking experience in Vietnam, to our epic volcanic Rinjani trekking adventure in Indonesia, so we were very excited to explore Torres del Paine!
Luckily we’d had a few days to recover from our climb up the Villaricca volcano in Pucon. We’d thought about taking on the challenge of the famous ‘W’ trek, or at least part of it, but with a relatively bleak weather forecast and no availability at the ‘refugios’ we resorted to plan B – a one day tour of all the main sites by bus, and a full day’s trek to Torres base lookout, known to the locals as the ‘massives’.
After an early start and 7.30am pick up we began our Torres del Paine tour! First up, after a couple of hours driving, we caught the first glimpse of the stunning massives of Torres del Paine in the distance!
As you can see, the roads were mostly gravel, but we felt comfortable in our bus for the day. As we progressed, our driver provided us with info and commentary on the things we could see, including this group of guanacos that stood between us and the ‘massives’! With some care, we negotiated through this group and made our way towards our next stop.
After a while, we reached the beautiful Laguna Amarga, and stood on the shore, marvelling at the towers reflecting in the lagoon. This was a really impressive part of the day, the water was perfectly still, resulting in these wonderful reflections in the water!
After Laguna Amarga, we made our way around the mighty towers to Lago Nordenkjold for an alternative, incredible view of the towers nestled between other towering peaks. This was probably our favourite view of the towers, as they poked out deep within the valley in front of us.
After Lago Nordenkjold, we visited the salta grande, a breathtaking emerald green, lake, river and waterfall which was incredible! The noise and colour was absolutely mesmerising!
For lunch, we stopped on the shores of Lago Pehoe, a beautiful place to sit and admire on our Torres del Paine tour. As you can see from our photos, we were incredibly lucky with the weather on our tour!
Our final stop of the day was the huge Lago Grey. At the end of the lake is a glacier, and we sat and watched as large chunks of ice broke off and floated around the lake, a perfect way to end our Torres del Paine tour!
Thankfully, you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to Torres del Paine tours, given the popularity of the national park! And the good news is you can book in advance, online, to guarantee your tour! Our advice would be to check the latest reviews and tour options in Torres del Paine, and book in advance! You can also book when you arrive through your guesthouse, but we personally recommend you do your research in advance!
So that’s it! This Torres del Paine tour was one of the highlights of our time in Chile. It was a relaxing, and rewarding day where we saw some beautiful landscapes in comfort – highly recommended!
First up on our tour, Wellington!
After arriving on the ferry, we’d highly recommend spending a couple of days in the capital. However, finding a good place to stay can be tricky. You can stay in the city and pay a little more, or drive 8-10 km outside of the city to a motor inn and catch a public bus in. Being the cheaper and less stressful option, we opted to stay just outside the city at the Capital Gateway Motor Inn in Newlands, a mere 10 minutes bus ride away from the city.
We had originally planned to spend only one day in Wellington, but after loving our first day there we decided to extend or stay by a couple of days.
You’ll find a great choice of restaurants, bars, shops, theatres and museums in Wellington and a great vibe to go with them. In particular, we’d highly recommend a visit to the National Museum ‘Te Papa’. Set in an impressively designed building, it’s packed with many interesting exhibitions from Maori history and New Zealand’s geological history, to the world’s largest captured squid encased in a glass box for viewing!
On weekends, near the museum and adjacent to the riverside, you’ll find an international food market serving up an amazing array of cuisines including Indian, Vietnamese, Thai, Mexican, Chinese and many more.
Aside from great food and bars, you can also get a great view over the city by riding the cable car to a lookout spot near the city’s beautiful botanical gardens.
After a fantastic couple of days in Wellington, we journeyed north towards Tongariro National Park where we took on the challenge of the Tongariro crossing.
Surrounded by snowcapped mountains, volcanoes and stunning lakes, the breathtaking landscape easily made this trek one of our highlights of our New Zealand tour.
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Around two hours north east of the Tongariro National Park was our next stop, at the distinctive smelling town of Rotorua. This is where you’ll find New Zealand’s home of geysers, mud pools, thermal villages and a strong smell of sulphur to go with them! Here you can take a tour of a traditional thermal village and enjoy a dip in one of the many natural hot springs. We sampled a few to soothe our sore trekking muscles, and also took a visit to Whakarewarewa Thermal village where the local Maoris explained their interesting lifestyle and use of the geological landscape in which they live.
Next we ventured west to check out the famous glow worm caves of Waitomo, close to the town of Otorohanga. There’s not much to do here other than take a tour of the amazing caves but it was well worth a visit in our opinion! The caves were magical and Otorohanga is a very nice town to spend a couple of days relaxing in if like us you need a rest from driving! Check out our experience of the Waitomo caves!
And so, after almost 4 weeks of touring the south and north islands of New Zealand, it was nearly time for us to hand back our trusty campervan, so off we went to Auckland, our final stop of the tour. Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to visit the Bay of Islands in the north or the Coromandel area in the north east this time, but there’s always next time! Overall, New Zealand is an incredible country to visit, and we would recommend having your own transport to get around the two islands. If you’re into extreme sports, you’ll be well catered for! But, if like us you’re not so bothered about throwing yourself off various edifices, then the stunning scenery and walks of the country will keep you more than occupied for a month!
Chugging along in our trusty campervan, we spent 2 & half weeks travelling around the south island of New Zealand in our trusty Escape Rentals van, taking in many incredible sights along the way! Here is our guide to the south island, including our route and key things to see and do! Also check out our Ultimate One Week New Zealand North Island Itinerary & Route!
When you arrive in Christchurch, you have a few route options to consider! You can either go West towards Greymouth driving over Arthur’s Pass, South towards Dunedin or North towards Hanmer Springs. Keen to cover as much of the South island as possible, and in particular the West Coast, we decided to head North to Hanmer Springs and then West through Lewis’ Pass towards Westport on the West coast.
There is incredible scenery en route to Hanmer Springs, and once you reach Lewis Pass the photo opportunities just keep coming and coming! We had some of the best views on the South island on this part of our journey. Approximately halfway between Hanmer Springs and the West coast, you will find Maruia Springs natural mineral rock pools and Japanese bath, which was a good place to stop for a wash and take in the scenery of deeply forested valleys surrounding the outdoor pools.
Continuing West will take you to the main town of Westport where we stopped briefly before heading straight down the West coast to Franz Joseph town where you’ll find the famous Franz Joseph glacier. Here you can book yourself into one of the many hikes or helicopter rides available to view the glacier. We opted to take the short 20 minute drive and one hour return walk to see the Franz Josef glacier as we booked onto a cheaper half day hike at the Fox glacier, less than one hour drive south from Franz Joseph.
After hiking the fox glacier, it’s quite a long drive all the way down to Queenstown, so we decided to break up the journey by stopping off at a campsite along the way. There are lots of activities to do in Queenstown, but it’s also the most expensive town in New Zealand so there is a good chance you will find it cheaper to do most of the activities on offer elsewhere in New Zealand (such as jet boating). You could also visit an ice bar in Queenstown or enjoy a famous ‘Fergburger’ set against a stunning mountain backdrop. It’s also the perfect launchpad to visit Milford Sound!
Kaikoura was our next main stop after Queenstown, however we decided to break up the long journey by spending a night at a campsite near Geraldine, approximately half way between Queenstown and Kaikoura on the East coast. Once in Kaikoura, you can get up close and personal at the seal colony, enjoy the fresh seafood on offer at the little huts on the beach or a drink with the locals at the friendly bars on the main street.
After a couple of days in Kaikoura, it was time for us to make the relatively short journey north to Blenheim in the Marlborough wine region. It was here we did one of our favourite activities; wine tasting! The Marlborough region is famous for its Sauvignon Blanc, so we booked onto a marlborough wine tour and relaxed in this beautiful part of the world.
After tasting and purchasing much wine, it was time to do a little exercise, so we headed North West of Blenheim to Motueka and the gateway to the Abel Tasman National Park. We opted for one day in Abel Tasman, but there are many options including trekking for a number of days. We loved the park and found Motueka to be the perfect launchpad for exploring it!
Abel Tasman was our last main destination on the South Island, and after we’d had our day there, we made the short journey back to Picton where we caught the ferry to the North Island! Our North Island route will follow next week!
Everybody who’s been to New Zealand will tell you to visit Abel Tasman National Park, so of course it was pretty high up on our hit list! You’ll probably hear that kayaking is the best way to see it, but if you’re anything like us, you may not be particularly keen on the paddling effort required around the many coves and islands of its 50km coastline! You also might have a fear of capsizing with your cameras, and if you’re like us, tend to have some form of paddling argument when sharing a kayak!
If this rings a bell, then there are lots of great alternatives for you, including the Abel Tasman Water Taxi!
Being the smallest National Park in New Zealand, you can walk the whole coastline in a few days, camping along the way. Or if like us, your time is a little limited, you can take the Abel Tasman water taxi and tailor your route however you like. Keen to see the beautiful coastline and beaches up close, as well as the lush forestry and trekking routes, we opted for a half day cruise and half day trek. As we hurtled across very choppy waters, we were relieved to be sitting pretty in our sturdy boat!
Now fully accustomed to the cool Spring climate and unpredictable rain showers on the South island of New Zealand, we were pleasantly surprised to wake up to a nice clear blue sky the day we planned to visit. So after the usual dilemma of how many layers to wear in case of a change in weather, just like when we completed the fox glacier hike, we were ready for our tour. On route to the park, our guide assured us we were going to have great weather that day with only the potential for a south easterly wind kicking in later in the day – result!
As we pulled into the first bay of Kaiteriteri to catch our boat, we had our first glimpse of the beautiful golden coloured sands and lush deep forest backdrop of the park. We couldn’t wait to get going and see the rest!
Sailing West along the coast from Kaiteriteri to Totaranui and back, we meandered through the various coves and little islands along the way, stopping occasionally to appreciate the wildlife and stunning views. We saw seals, a couple of stingrays and lots of native birds, but apparently you can sometimes see dolphins or penguins hanging out of the water if you’re lucky.
After a few hours of sailing, we were dropped off at Torrent Bay to begin our 3 hour trek to Bark Bay.
Cutting inland a little, we trekked through the native bush and lush forestry. The unspoiled natural landscape was amazing and we especially loved the moments when we got a glimpse of the crystal clear bays below, like this discrete golden sandy beach.
The trek got even more interesting when we had to cross a few hair raising Indiana Jones style rickety bridges and passes!
After arriving at our final destination of Bark Bay, we wandered along the beach and savoured our last moments of tranquility before being picked up by our boat. There is literally nothing on the beaches, so if you’re looking for a castaway feeling, you’ll definitely find it here! We’d probably recommend visiting during the summer months however so that you can also appreciate a swim in the crystal clear water, it was too cold for us!
Even though we only trekked a short way along the beautiful Abel Tasman coastline and spent just a few hours cruising the rest, we felt like we got a great experience of its beauty and would also highly recommend a visit to anyone touring New Zealand! For those who prefer a full day trek, there are numerous options in Abel Tasman, or you could attempt the Tongariro crossing!
When we put together our list of things to do in New Zealand, unashamedly one of the first things on that list was to visit the Marlborough region on the South Island! If you’re into wine, you’ll know the Marlborough region is highly regarded for its wines, in particular the Sauvignon Blanc which we both love. So we took a day off from driving, booked a full day tour with Bubbly Grape wine tours, and we were ready for some serious wine tasting!
The Marlborough region has around 140 wineries and produces over 65% of New Zealand’s wine, so it’s obviously the place to come to sample some wines! After a day and night settling into the region, the day had arrived. The day I had waited for for months.
Kerry, our guide for the day picked us up in a luxurious Mercedes Benz mini bus, and after getting over the shock of it being a lot bigger than the campervan we were living in, we were off to our first winery of the day!
Before starting our tour, Kerry asked us which wineries in particular we would like to go to, and after factoring in everyone’s requests, our small group of 6 were off to our first wine tasting of the day at Mount Riley. We tasted all types of delicious wines here, from Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Gurtwesenger and Pinot Noir, and after purchasing a bottle of our favourite, we were on our way to our second tasting of the day!
Pulling up at Lawsons Dry Hills, our host greeted us and lined up a tasting table of tantalising wines. We tried them all as our host explained the nuances and differences of each wine. Again, we couldn’t resist and made a purchase of our favourite wine, ready to go with whatever Barry could rustle up on the stove in the back of the van!
Onto our third tasting of the day, and Cloudy Bay beckoned us. World renowned, and owned by Louis Vuitton Möet Hennessy, Cloudy Bay was a winery we had been keen to visit, and so did everyone else on our tour group! Seemingly this is a very popular winery, and it’s easy to see why. A beautiful setting in the vineyards, you can relax on the outdoor sofas enjoying your tasting or sit inside the tasting room, overlooking the barrels in the store. Again we tried numerous delicious wines, and again bought our favourite of the lot (well we did have a couple of weeks left in New Zealand to enjoy them!).
Next up on our tour of Marlborough was Allan Scott winery, again a beautiful setting to have some lunch and try some wine. As we were taken through the tasting with our host, an unexpected helicopter landed in the vines adjacent to us! Expecting a VIP to step out, we were slightly disappointed when it was just some other wine buffs eager to get in on the Marlborough wine region action! Perhaps something Bubbly Grape wine tours could offer in the future!
Suitably refreshed (again), it was time for lunch! Bubbly Grape wine tours offer a number of options, from a three course meal on the Gourmet Lunch tour, to the Special Reserve Wine Tour where you visit a local cafe for a lighter lunch. As we were on a budget, we opted for the cafe lunch, and had a couple of hot sandwiches and coffee to prepare us for a hard afternoon of wine tasting.
We had two more wineries to fit in in the afternoon, first visiting Bladen winery, where we learnt about the owners and their decision to leave their city lives for a life of wine and finished at our final winery of the day at Hunters, a world renowned winery of the region. And then it was time for home, or so we thought! One final stop off was required, the local chocolate factory!
After some delicious chocolate treats, it was time to return to our little campervan. Out of the luxurious Bubbly Grape wine tours van, and away from the delights of the Marlborough region, we were sad to finish our day with our tour group. The Marlborough region is a fantastic region for wine growing, and an even better region for wine tasting! We would highly recommend Bubbly Grape wine tours if you were looking to let someone else do the driving and share some fantastic insights and experience of the local wineries!
Disclaimer: We were sponsored guests of Bubbly Grape, as usual all opinions are our own.
If you’re looking for some accommodation options in The Marlborough Region or elsewhere in New Zealand, we recommend you check out Agoda. Whenever we’re making plans for a new destination, we always research the accommodation options first to check what’s available. That’s just our travel style. If you want to get some accommodation ideas in the Marlborough Region, search for Blenheim here!
Some of the links above are affiliate links, which means if you choose to book somewhere though our link, we receive a small commission. Don’t worry, it doesn’t cost you anything more, and most importantly, we only recommend companies that we use ourselves so you can trust our recommendations!
As our train pulled in to Circular Quay, right in the heart of Sydney, we got our first glimpse of the incredible bridge we were about to climb! We couldn’t believe our luck with the weather, it was a beautifully sunny Spring day with clear blue skies. We couldn’t wait to climb the bridge and see the city from a new perspective!
We practically jumped off the train and headed towards the bridge. From a distance, we were blown away by the sheer enormity of it and the realisation that we were soon going to be standing on top of the famous arch! As we got closer, we looked up and could see 10 blue blobs near the top….some fellow climbers. They were so high up, we couldn’t see any differentiating features between them – just 10 blue bodies, soon to be us yikes!
With excitement and a little trepidation, we entered the bridge climb office and ‘checked in’ for our climb. Soon after we waved goodbye to our family and were ushered into ‘Room 1’ for our safety briefing and instructions. After we passed the alcohol breath test, we were allowed to proceed to the kit room. Following a quick Superman style change, we were all suited and booted in matching blue and grey suits with matching black trainers – we actually felt like superheroes now. That just left the long and complicated process of adding our belts, radio, headphones, emergency fleeces and clips, sunglasses, sunscreen, harnesses, rope clips (including a practice simulation) and emergency handkerchiefs – phew we were ready to go! Now we know why it took the company 10 years to get agreement from the government for bridge climbing!
After all our preparation and build up, we were ready and excited to get going. As we exited the building and took our first steps, we were struck by the vast steel framework of the bridge and encountered the steepest part of our climb up the bridge’s left pillar and to the beginning of the enormous archway. As we climbed, our guide educated us about the fascinating history of the bridge and the groundbreaking engineering work involved between 1923 and 1932. The bridge was actually in planning for almost a century before the papers were finally signed, and took 1,400 workers 8 years to complete. But by far the most complex and nail biting part of the process was the joining of the middle of the arch, completed over a number of nightshifts for most workers (as the steel was at its coolest temperature and therefore most stable in the evening) and resulted in 16 deaths. Witnessing the sheer scale and intricacy of this engineering work up close was amazing as we slowly made our way up the arch and across 52,800 tonnes of steel and rivets (6,000,000 in total apparently!).
After the fairly steep beginning, the climb was relatively easy and slow-paced, giving us plenty of time to pause and savour the stunning views below of the iconic Opera house, Sydney harbour, the city and beyond. It was also pretty cool to see a couple of big cruise liners sail across under our feet and the little yellow water taxis looked tiny from where we were. The views only got better as we climbed further and finally reached the summit. The view from the top was breathtaking and well worth the hour or so climb!
After posing for our iconic snap, we began our descent and appreciated the afternoon south easterly wind breezing in to cool us down from the climb, thankfully not cold enough to need our emergency fleeces and handkerchiefs though! On our way down we learned more about the bridge and most interestingly that despite the curved appearance of the steel from a distance, every single piece of steel used was straight. Hence the absolute accuracy required to ensure the East and West archways eventually came together to create the perfect curved archway! Amazing!
As you can probably tell we were fascinated by the history and engineering of the bridge, so after our climb we took full advantage of the free museum and documentaries available next to the bridge climb starting point. For anyone interested, we’d highly recommend a trip here even if you don’t fancy the climb!
To climb the Sydney harbour bridge was something we never thought we’d do, and we were so glad to have had the opportunity to climb one of the most iconic structures of the world!
If you’re heading down the coast of Vietnam, you’ll probably be thinking about whether to make a stop in Nha Trang or not! We spent a few days in Nha Trang, and found that there are lots of really interesting things to do in Nha Trang! We instantly liked the feeling of this holiday resort town.
Whilst it has none of the quaint, artistic character of Hoi An, we found it had a fun and relaxed atmosphere with a choice of classy beach bars with their own pools and sunbeds to chill out in the day. At night there are plenty of things to do in Nha Trang, with lots of vibrant bars and an amazing choice of restaurants in the heart of the town only a few streets from the beach.
We particularly loved spending our days chilling out at the brilliant Louisiane Brewhouse on a quiet area of the beach with very comfy sunbeds, swimming pool and fresh cold micro-brewed beer, we thought we landed in heaven here!
We decided to take the 3.3km gondola ride to the town’s top tourist attraction for the day – Vinpearl world! After a dramatic and exciting arrival on the gondola, we had a brilliant day exploring the many sights and attractions. From sliding down the steep alpine mountain face in our self drive tobogan, taking a dip in the beautiful man-made beach cove, to marvelling at the huge sting-rays, turtles and sharks which swam over our heads in the giant aquarium! All topped off nicely by a stunning musical fountain light show! All of this was well worth the day ticket!
There are some great spots for diving and snorkelling in the nearby Hon Mun Marine Protected Area. If you can tear yourself away from the beach and pool that is!
After a busy day of activities at Vinpearl world, we decided to chill out by having a hot thermal mud bath at the famous Thap Ba Hot Springs – a lovely way to rest our tired bodies and have a good clean…well, it was our first bath in 3 months! It was one of our favourite things to do in Nha Trang!
Definitely a highlight of our trip to Nha Trang was our sunset seafood feast on the beach! Marinated to perfection and freshly barbecued in front of us, we enjoyed cracking into fresh crabs, langoustines and fresh lobster! Normally on a tight budget we never look at Lobster on the menu, but after a little haggling with the local hawkers on the beach it was a bargain – result!
We spent around 5 days in Nha Trang which seemed like a good amount of time to both relax and explore a few of the main attractions.
We always recommend that you book your journey in advance, so you have peace of mind that your seats are booked! We recommend using 12go.asia as they offer train, bus and ferry ticket booking online in advance! Check out your journey options and prices here and get your seat reserved!
If you’re looking for some accommodation options in Nha Trang or elsewhere in Vietnam, we recommend you use Agoda.com to check your accommodation options! Whenever we’re making plans for a new destination, we always research the accommodation options first to check what’s available. That’s just our travel style. If you want to get some accommodation ideas in Nha Trang, or anywhere else in Vietnam, check out the options here!
Beautiful, colourful, quaint and artistic are words that spring to mind when we think back to Hoi An. A truly charming little coastal town, pretty by day with its multi-coloured street facades, markets and boats, which at night become fairytale like lit up by many colourful lanterns and lights.
The town is divided by a small river containing many colourful boats and one main pedestrian bridge also lit beautifully by night. We loved sitting in the little cafes, bars and restaurants lining either side of the river, relaxing and sipping a coffee, cheap cocktail or enjoying a pint of locally brewed beer for only 4,000 dong (approximately 14p!).
Local street vendors
Hoi An’s vibrant market
The other great thing about Hoi An is that you only have to travel around 10 km out of the town to reach the coastline and its beautiful long stretch of beach! So after spending a couple of days exploring the town, we decided to hop on our free hotel bikes and cycled the flat road to the beach! Thankfully the roads were much quieter than the crazy traffic we were used to in Hanoi so we were able to leisurely peddle our way through the local villages, enjoying the scenery along the way.
We learned that it’s best to hit the beach in the morning as the clouds and wind tend to roll into Hoi An mid afternoon. It was during a short stormy spell that we discovered the many amazing seafood restaurants lining the beach where you can literally choose your food from the fish tanks! Check out our ‘Food heaven in Vietnam’ post for examples and pictures of the delicious local delicacies served up in Hoi An!
Our first stop on our coastal tour was fantastic, and we loved every moment of our time in Hoi An! Take a look through our summaries of alternative coastal destinations Nha Trang and Mui Ne, both of which boasted very different atmospheres and highlights!
First up the most famous dish of Vietnam, ‘Pho Bo’ (noodle soup with beef). We had many bowls of this on our journey North to South of Vietnam, but this one from Nha Trang was the best! They don’t always add in extra vegetables such as tomato and this made it even tastier!
The Vietnamese do all kinds of fish very well, but we particularly loved this steamed coconut shrimp in banana leaves – yum!
Like the Pho soup, the spring rolls varied slightly from one city to the next as we travelled through Vietnam. We particularly loved the Hoi An spring rolls….and served with cold beer made them even tastier!
‘Cao Lau’ is a local speciality in Hoi An and consisted of doughy flat noodles mixed with croutons, bean sprouts and herbs topped with pork slices and served in a savoury broth.
As I was not so keen on the pork Cau Lao above, I was delighted to find another version of this local speciality served with shrimp instead of pork – very tasty indeed!
These little parcels were another local delight of Hoi An called ‘banh bao’ consisting of steamed dumplings stuffed with minced shrimp topped with crispy fried garlic. They made a lovely starter!
Now for a speciality from Sapa in North Vietnam – ‘Bo Nuong La Lot’ (Vietnamese Grilled Beef with Wild Betel Leaves), a delicious twist on the traditional spring roll.
As you’ve probably gathered by now, healthy soup is very popular in Vietnam and we particularly loved this Vegetable noodle soup served up as part of our Sapa trekking experience!
Whilst in Sapa, we also had the opportunity to taste some real home cooked food during our homestay with a local family from the Hmong village. They served up these delicious stir fry dishes with chicken and pork, and of course the usual favourite of spring rolls (which I helped to make!) Check out more about this in my post Trekking in Sapa, Vietnam.
Another great meal served up in Hanoi pictured below. The dish in the middle is the famous Vietnamese papaya salad served with horseradish, cabbage and carrot vinegar topped with cashews.
Being savoury lovers, we didn’t try too many deserts in Vietnam but this desert soup was particularly tasty consisting of deep fried banana in sweet coconut milk with tapioca pearls and jelly shavings.
This is the inside of the famous ‘banh bao’ fresh white pancake stuffed with delicious marinated minced shrimp – oh how I miss Vietnamese food!
This delightful plate consisted of minced chicken skewers grilled over fresh lemongrass. Simply peel the chicken off, roll it into fresh pancakes stuff with noodles, cucumber, fresh lettuce and herbs and peanut sauce – a fab combo!
Not only did these vegetable springs taste good, but they were probably the biggest portion we had!
We couldn’t finish this picture post without also displaying my favourite Vietnamese chicken noodle soup, the ‘Pho Ga’. This became our hearty and healthy breakfast of choice and we are certainly going to try and recreate it when we get home!
If you’re looking for some accommodation options in Vietnam, we recommend you check out Agoda.com. Whenever we’re making plans for a new destination, we always research the accommodation options first to check what’s available. That’s just our travel style. If you want to get some accommodation ideas in Vietnam, check out the options here!
It can be quite a daunting challenge when planning a Sapa trekking tour, given the huge amount of information and advice online! In this guide, we’ve simplified the planning process, making it as easy as possible for you to book the best Sapa trekking tour for you!
So whether you need information on how to get from Hanoi to Sapa, how long to go to Sapa for or what type of trek to choose, we’ve got you covered. In this guide to trekking in Sapa, you’ll find:
There are two options for you: take the train or go by car/bus. And you can book these independently or book them as part of a tour.
The train to Sapa. Taking the train is the romantic option, slowly trundling your way to Lao Cai from Sapa overnight as you sleep. We chose this option and loved it, and the great thing is you can travel in first class for a very reasonable price! The other major bonus is there is an overnight service in both directions, which means:
Taking the overnight train saves you two nights accommodation!
The other major bonus is you can book your train online, and more importantly, in advance instead of waiting until you get there. This saves you having to go to the station booking office and trying to book something last minute there! To book your train online, the best website by far is 12go.asia. There you can book your Sapa train, as well as any other journeys you may have in Vietnam, and the rest of South East Asia!
Remember, the train will only get you as far as Lao Cai, from there you’ll then need to get a bus/minivan/taxi to Sapa. There will be plenty of minivans leaving the station that you can jump into for a small fee, but if you prefer to book it in advance, choose the ticket option on 12go.asia where you have the taxi transfer included as well. You can check the exact times for your dates here:
You can also take a bus direct to Sapa from Hanoi, with a number of operators. This takes around 6 hours, with most services departing early in the morning. Again you can book these advance through 12go.asia.
The other option available to you is to book a tour that includes the train/bus option, but each tour provider will provide different options for this service and you’ll need to check with each of these operators separately.
In this section we’ll give you some advice on how to pick the best Sapa trekking for you, including how many nights to go for (and why), a detailed breakdown of each of our days trekking, and how to pick the right tour company for you. If you just want to skip ahead and review the best Sapa trekking companies for you, then click here to book your Sapa trek!
If you want more details, including our top tips, read on!
There are a wealth of Sapa trekking tour options available to you, from short one day treks to multi-day treks and homestays. Our advice is to take at least a 2 night trek, for one very important reason…
Sapa is a small town, nestled deep within the rolling green highlands of Vietnam, and as such offers some incredible scenery. However, Sapa is a very popular destination for travellers, with many only coming for a one day trek before returning to Hanoi. This means there are many groups leaving at the same time as you from Sapa, so the longer the trek you take, the further you’ll go from Sapa, the quieter it’ll be and the more impressive the scenery will become!
So don’t scrimp on this, if you’re coming all the way to Sapa, spend at least 2 nights on the trek at the very minimum! You’ll thank us later.
The first 2 hours of our trek involved mainly a steep descent through muddy hills which curved and cut through many farm houses, rice paddies and villages. We welcomed our stops along the way to take in the stunning scenery of the many mountains, valleys and local villages. At our first village we observed a local woman dying clothes for local families. Having never witnessed clothes being dyed using natural flowers and techniques before, it was fascinating to learn the process they use and watch the weaving process using this old device. Despite being humble and shy about her skills, she was keen to highlight their local traditions.
We encountered numerous obstacles on our trek: boulders, fallen trees, muddy ditches, and quite a few (very large) water buffalo! You can imagine who had right of way…
In the afternoon, we passed through more villages and met many local people chopping bamboo to build homes and market stalls, making handicrafts such as incense sticks and sometimes negotiating the sale of a water buffalo to another village family. Water buffalo are very expensive animals due to the many roles they adopt on the farm including towing the rice plough, carrying supplies from one village to another, guarding the other farm yard animals and of course providing high protein meat to sell to markets.
After around 6 hours of trekking, the last hour was really tough (as it always seems to be!). With tired legs and steep terrain, we felt the intense heat of the sun beating down on us and struggled to avoid losing our footing and landing in many deep muddy ditches!
We later found out that many local people have to trek this tough terrain on a daily basis to make their way home from work or school, as there aren’t many paths or direct roads. As many can’t afford a car or motorbike, trekking by foot is the only option. With typically a 2 hour trek to most schools in the area, it’s no wonder that many children don’t go at all and would rather spend the day helping their family on the farm or selling handicrafts to passing tourists. After realising this, I decided not to complain about my tired legs and mud covered trainers! I’m not sure I could make this long journey on a daily basis, but this was normality for the strong and resilient village people we met.
After a long day we were relieved to arrive at our final destination. Our home for the night was set deep in a lush green valley next to a large gushing waterfall. After a warm welcome from our lovely host family and a much needed cup of herbal tea, we helped prepare our feast for dinner (well I rolled some spring rolls!) and relaxed our tired limbs with the help of the favourite local drink of choice – homemade rice wine! Some other friendly locals joined us and delighted in leading the consumption of shot after shot, getting progressively more merry. Thankfully for us though, there were no sore heads the next day due to the purity of the homemade liquor process – ideal for our new farmer friends too with a 4am start!
The next morning we woke to heavy rain and flooding in the valley. On came the waterproofs and we set off on another day of trekking. The heavy rain was incessant throughout the morning, and got progressively worse by the afternoon. It didn’t dampen our spirits, as we really enjoyed the coolness of the rain compared to the intense sun we’d experienced the previous day. After a couple of hours we were soaked through to our skin, and decided to embrace the mud! After trying to avoid every mud ditch the previous day, we found ourselves just getting stuck in and got as muddy as we liked as we knew the rain would wash it quickly away! Keen to get to our final destination towards the end of the day, we decided to take as many short cuts as possible and no longer cared about following paths or roads, sometimes finding ourselves almost knee deep in mud sliding down the side of hills and celebrating when we managed to avoid falling down head first! Our second homestay was even nicer than our first and thankfully had the luxury of a much needed hot shower – result! So after a long soak to heat us up, we were treated to the best tasting hot garlic chips and homemade prawn crackers, followed by a beautiful meal of chicken and pork stir fry with rice and an ice cold Tiger beer – heaven.
The following morning, after another night of solid rain, almost every item of clothing we had with us was damp – yuk! We just couldn’t face putting on damp clothes again so decided on the only rational course of action left to us, to put on our only dry clothes left. Sadly for us, the only dry clothes we had left were our pyjamas! Imagine the sight, each of us walking with backpacks on through the mud to our mini van for a ride we’ll never forget. The heavy rain of the previous 36 hours caused flash floods from the top of the mountains, crashing across many of the roads we needed to use to get back to Sapa. Our driver had to navigate us along roads that had become rivers, one of which was running so fast we had to drive as close to the cliff edge as possible to avoid the torrent. It was at this moment I closed my eyes and held my breath, too scared to look at Barry! Relieved to be safely back in the town of Sapa, we wandered around for an hour or so (still in our pyjamas) before the rain returned and we sought refuge in a coffee shop to dry off, relax and reflect upon our amazing adventure of the last three days, an experience we’ll never forget.
As we said at the beginning of this guide, some of our best experiences occurred as we travelled further into the region, away from the hustle and bustle of Sapa, and we absolutely recommend you set aside at 3 – 4 days for this experience!
For anyone thinking of visiting Vietnam, we’d highly recommend a trip to Sapa if you’d like to experience rural life, awesome landscapes and savour a taste of the true culture and traditions of the Vietnamese countryside and its amazing people. To research your tour company options and book in advance, we recommend you use the TripAdvisor tour booking page, where there are 20+ tour companies on there, each with different packages and tours available. So click on this link to be taken directly to the top 10 tour companies list and get your adventure booked!
For those wishing to travel to Sapa independently, you can book your train/bus/taxi tickets online in advance using the search form below!
Here’s a little something to tingle those tastebuds for the food lovers amongst you! It’s time for the food story of Halong Bay that we promised in our last post Beautiful Halong Bay.
You may be thinking a post just on the food experience of a 2 day cruise is a bit excessive? After all, how much can you realistically eat in 2 days? Well, the answer is ‘quite a lot’. With each meal lasting almost 2 hours, and an average of 9 courses per sitting, it was almost as impressive as the limestone karsts!!
So prepare yourself for the highlights of our incredible culinary experience on Halong Bay!
As mentioned in our previous post, we decided to break the budget to ensure we experienced Halong Bay the way we wanted to (and also to avoid the rat infested junk boats we’d read about!).
Despite this, we were not prepared for the incredible food and service we received! Vietnam is renowned for its great cuisine, but this surpassed all of our expectations. After settling into our cosy cabin, we were invited for our welcome drink and first meal of the cruise. As it was lunchtime, I expected some soup and maybe a rice based dish (our standard Asian lunch), but when the delicious fried oysters (picture above!) appeared in front of us, after a delightful cream of pumpkin soup for starter, we knew this was no ordinary lunch!
Then the fresh seafood and amazing dishes just kept coming…big juicy prawns, grilled monkfish in a sweet sauce, beef teriyaki, delightfully fresh salad served with sesame seeds and sweet radish dressing – we were spoiled for choice! And after eating cheap asian street food for the past month it was a much welcome treat for us!
Thankfully kayaking was on the agenda for that afternoon to work off some of those very worthwhile calories!
I was convinced that our first lunch was a special treat to welcome us aboard and that surely they couldn’t keep up that standard of food, service or volume of courses! But to our delight, they just kept surprising us and exceeding our expectations at every meal.
On our first night we had a stunning surprise! Our previous post Beautiful Halong Bay showed you our stunning cave setting for our first dinner – a surprise cave BBQ! Impressed enough by our beautiful candlelit cave, we would have been satisfied with a burger, sausages and maybe a tuna steak (if we were lucky) but once again we were treated to the freshest and tastiest food I have ever experienced! More delicious tiger prawns, beautifully marinated chicken and beef skewers, crispy fresh salad and many more dishes that I can’t even remember now! Accompanied beautifully with some delicious ice-cold Chilean white wine (yes they even carted the ice buckets up the 100 stairs to our cave!) which we’d selected earlier – wow.
But the absolute highlight of the evening was when we were presented with our special honeymoon gift! An amazing freshly made (how?!) coconut flavoured sponge cake. Wow! There was even enough to go around all our new friends and the crew – a great way to top off our amazing cave dinner experience.
The next morning, we looked forward to our first breakfast onboard the boat and we were not disappointed when presented with eggs on toast, fruit, fresh Vietnamese coffee and a bowl of Pho Ga (fresh noodle soup with roast chicken, vegetables and herbs) – a Vietnamese breakfast favourite!
(Fresh fruit Vietnamese style!)
The food on day 2 didn’t fail to impress either and even involved a fun eating challenge when we were presented with our first crab and ‘tools’ to go with it! A lot of shell cracking later, we enjoyed the delicious fresh white crab meat inside – another first for me!
Not wishing to disappoint us on our final evening onboard, the crew decided to demonstrate their food carving skills too…
Can you guess what this was carved from?! Well it was pumpkin! Definitely puts our Halloween efforts to shame!
And finally, to celebrate a fellow passenger’s 30th birthday they produced the ultimate carving…a mimic design of our boat – WOW!!
Halong Bay was the ultimate introduction to Vietnamese cuisine for us, and one which left us salivating to try more local dishes. Little did we know, it would only get better as we travelled North to South on our cultural and culinary experience of awesome Vietnam. If you’re still hungry, check out our favourite food of Vietnam!
I love Thai food, mainly for its fresh, zingy, punchy but sweet flavours. So I couldn’t wait to sign up for a cookery course to learn some culinary tips from the local experts in Chiang Mai! As you’d imagine, it’s a popular activity in Thailand, so there are lots of places offering classes in Chiang Mai, and deciding where to learn is very difficult!
After reading some great reviews (and loving the sound of their menu), we decided to go with ‘Smart Cook’ Thai Cookery School – we didn’t regret it! We opted for the full day course which amongst other activities, involved travelling out to the countryside to cook at an organic farm with freshly grown ingredients! Here’s a little summary of our Thai cooking adventure…
First stop early in the morning was a visit to the local market to meet our cooking buddies for the day and get a lesson on those key ingredients and the all important differences between their six kinds of rice and five kinds of noodle – I had no idea there were so many in the first place!
Everything looked so wonderful and fresh – if only our local grocery store at home was as good I’m sure we’d be inspired to use more ingredients!
Our experienced guide explained the all important herbs, spices and sauces used to inspire yummy Thai flavours, the most important being basil, coriander, galangal (ginger root), ginger, garlic, kaffir lime, lemon grass and mint. She also introduced us to our ‘friend’ for the day…the chilli! Did you know that orange chillies are in fact the strongest? Our mouths were watering at the thought of sampling all these incredible ingredients – this was definitely my kind of activity for the day!
After our market tour, we headed to the train station to catch our local train to the countryside…given this was our first train journey in Thailand I was quite excited, and also looking forward to getting away from the bustling busy town for a day!
One fairly slow journey later, with lots of random stops (I’ve now learned this about trains in South East Asia!) we arrived in the countryside, and we were driven to our farmhouse for the day which was beautiful! We felt at home as soon as we arrived, and toured around the beautiful garden, sampling the locally grown fruit. Everything in the house was set out perfectly, and we sipped on a refreshing drink as our guide carefully prepared our ingredients for our five pre-selected dishes. Earlier in the day, I had chosen Hot & sour prawn soup, followed by Spring rolls (appetiser), Fried noodle Thai style (Pad Thai), red Panang curry with chicken, and Sweet sticky rice with mango for desert – yummy!
After being set up with an apron, knife and chopping board we were ready to go! Our guide began talking us through the preparation for our individually selected dishes and passed around the fresh herbs and ingredients, most of which were freshly picked from the farm and looked delicious…
After lots of careful preparation of our many ingredients and all the important curry pastes for our dishes, we were ready to get cooking in our lovely, clean open air kitchen…
I really liked how simple it felt to cook our dishes. Of course it took time to prepare the ingredients, but cooking time was no more than 10 minutes for each of our dishes, whilst still producing very healthy and delicious results. We definitely have a lot to learn from the Thai cooking way…pick the best ingredients, chop and bash them with care and then throw them all in the pan – voila!! The tricky part of course, is getting the balance right between the five essential tastes – sweet, sour, hot, salty and bitter, which we certainly haven’t mastered, but at least have a much better idea on how they do it!
And here were the results of our ‘hard’ work…I have to say that as I’m not much of a cook at home, I was quite pleased with myself!
The best part of the day was when we got to eat everything we’d cooked – we’ve never felt so full but equally satisfied! And we were delighted when we found out our afternoon activity was taking a relaxing bike ride around the beautiful countryside, we certainly needed some light exercise after all that eating!
Our bike journey took us around other local farm houses, a local temple, another great food market and also some stunning fields full of the herbs we’d been using for our dishes earlier that day.
Our guide introduced us to the intense aromas of sweet basil (the one with a slight aniseed flavour), holy basil (slighter hotter in flavour and smell) and the slightly hairy hoary basil (a milder form often used in soups and salads). Unfortunately I don’t think we have such an array of choice at home but I’ll definitely be stocking up on sweet basil when I get home! To finish the day off we were presented with a cook book of recipes for everything we cooked that day, so that we can recreate our Thai experience in our own kitchen! (Disclaimer: may not taste anywhere near as good.)
We had a brilliant day learning to cook Thai food and would certainly recommend this course by ‘Smart Cook’ in Chiang Mai! We would also love to know if you’ve ever done a cookery course in Thailand and what your experience was like? What’s your favourite dish?
We’d highly recommend anyone who is planning a visit to Chiang Mai enrols in a cooking class, as learning how to make authentic Thai food on your own is a skill that will last a lifetime. Aside from the course, there are over 300 Buddhist temples within the city, including the world famous Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep and Wat Chiang Man. Those who want to experience culture in Chiang Mai further should choose to visit during Loi Krathong, at which time thousands of lanterns are released into the sky, or Songkran, which is when Thailand’s New Year celebrations take place.
We always recommend that you book your journey in advance, so you have peace of mind that your seats are booked! We recommend using 12go.asia as they offer train, flight, bus and ferry ticket booking online in advance! Check out your journey options and prices here and get your seat reserved!
One of the most unique wedding presents we received was a night of Muay Thai fighting in Chiang Mai, and when we found out there was a Muay Thai ‘stadium’ next door to our guesthouse, we just had to check it out!
We arrived at 9pm and got a copy of the programme – it turned out there were a number of fights on that night, culminating in the headline fight of the night. So we settled into our plastic seats, and awaited the first fight of the night. This turned out to be the first of two female fights we witnessed. Not much of a boxing fan myself, I was initially quite disturbed by the young girls sinking kicks and punches into each other, especially as they looked to be only around 16 years old and not that much stronger or heavier than the average teenager.
It surprised me how much I was drawn into the fight through the intensity of the venue, the people and the atmosphere. The first few rounds felt as if I was taking every blow, constantly shifting in my plastic seat and sweating as the adrenaline kicked in – and I was just watching!
After the initial shock wore off, I realised I had chosen the girl in the blue corner, and began cheering her on! What came next was four gruelling rounds of locked bodies, snappy kicks and wild punches.
At the end of the match, I celebrated when blue had succeeded in a final blow to take down red. I was, however, left a little numb and concerned for the red girl, but she recovered just enough to stand up and gracefully congratulate the blue girl.
After that I blew a sigh of relief. It was then I realised I was well and truly hooked in this new sport and ready for the next fight! The atmosphere in the dingy stadium that surrounded us was electric and full of excitement from the supporters and intrigued tourists clearly witnessing Chiang Mai Muay Thai kickboxing for the first time. Like me, they were intrigued to see more.
After the initial fight, we were excited to see who was next and choosing who we were going to support. The moments before the start of each fight were arguably the most interesting, as each fighter performed a lengthy pre match ritual. On came the deafening traditional music, building the tension and suspense in the crowd. Each fighter would make their way around the ring, performing their own ritual dance in preparation for the fight – they always looked so graceful until the first ding of the bell!
What followed was a mix of fights from young boys fighting, to a full blown fight between two women, to a fight involving 8 blindfolded fighters all in the ring at the same time. Easily one of the most peculiar sights I’ve witnessed.
Despite this comedy fight, all the other fights of the evening were genuine, full blooded affairs (sometimes quite literally!). Some evidence of the most experienced and brutal fighters of the night…
Have you ever attended a Thai kickboxing fight before? What did you think? Did you enjoy it or find it all a bit too much? Let us know below!
We always recommend that you book your journey in advance, so you have peace of mind that your seats are booked! We recommend using 12go.asia as they offer train, bus, flight and ferry ticket booking online in advance! Check out your journey options and prices here and get your seat reserved!
Thailand, like much of South East Asia, is blessed with a plethora of temples and wats to explore, and in Chiang Mai we set off to find the first of our trip. We didn’t have to walk far, literally stumbling into Wat Phan Tao a mere block from our guesthouse!
Many of the temples are still working temples, and we often saw monks go about their daily lives around us as we marvelled at the architecture and beauty of the temples. We also visited Wat Doy Suthep in Chiang Mai.
We were lucky to fit in a visit to Chiang Rai as we made our way from Chiang Mai to the border with Laos, and saw the most impressive temple of our trip to date. The stunning White Temple of Chiang Rai!
We absolutely loved visiting temples and wats in Thailand, and would highly recommend taking some time out to see some if you’re ever in Thailand!
How does a girl decide what goes into her backpacking packing list? At first I thought to find the biggest backpack and fill it with as many of my material possessions as possible, after all travelling for an extended period of time will throw up all situations! But, after taking advice from many other travellers, I realised that one of the best things about travelling is the opportunity to simplify your life and be free of unnecessary material things one accumulates.
I thought sensibly and selected a fairly small but realistic sized back pack, one which I could comfortably carry across all types of terrain and methods of transport that we will encounter! After all, the last thing you want is to be held back from jumping on that speed boat to the next island or that cheap tuk tuk to the bus station due to a very large and restrictive bag, not to mention having more things to worry about losing!
So here is a summary of my female packing list and how it’s worked out for me! Click here for the male backpacking packing list!
This will be one of the most important decisions you make, as the size of your backpack will impact on how much you take with you, how heavy your bag will be on your back, and therefore how comfortable you will be as you hop on and off buses, boats and tuks tuks across the globe. After all our adventures, I have finally settled on the size of backpack that best suits me! For me, a 45 Litre Backpack (With Wheels) is the backpack that best suits me. Not so big that it becomes uncomfortable and unwieldy, but large enough to carry everything I need. Plus it really makes you think about what is important and not to take with you.
I chose one that is a backpack but can also be wheeled along the ground. It gives me flexibility to swing it onto my back when I need to, and wheel it when I can! It also opens up fully like a suitcase, rather than a top opener which makes accessing everything far easier than having to pull everything out to get to the bottom. This is the bag I now use.
I also carry a smaller backpack with me, and use this as a day pack when we’re out and about in a city or on a trek. This is mostly used to carry daily essentials like water, maps, guidebooks, purse, phone, camera, kindle, sunscreen, sunhat, sunglasses, scarf, snacks etc.
I also use this to carry my valuables when we’re travelling between two destinations. It means when you jump onto a bus, train or plane, you can put your large backpack in the hold/storage compartment and keep the most important things on you with the small bag. This includes taking it on buses and planes and putting it under the seat in front of me, or on sleeper trains I can put it next to my pillow and sleep next to it. You could always loop your arm through the straps if you wanted to me even more cautious.
Having this bag gives me piece of mind that my valuables are always close to me and in sight. It also means when we jump off a bus or train into a group of eager taxi/tuk tuk drivers, the bag can be put on my front to so no-one can access it without me noticing. This is the bag I’ve used the last few years, it was a bargain!
I’ve experimented with walking boots and walking shoes, and I prefer the lighter, breathable walking shoes for most of our treks. These Salomon Walking Shoes are most suitable for warmer climates, and they are perfect for daily activities in towns and cities as well as multi day treks. As they are breathable, I have no problem walking through rivers and streams with these. Yes your feet will get wet, but they quickly dry out. These are the ones I use!
For more relaxed walks around cities, or short day treks, I’ve used these Karrimor Walking Sandals for the last few years and highliy reccomend them. They are particulary good when its hot and you don’t want to wear your walking shoes, but your flip flops aren’t suitable. These are the exact ones I use.
A pair of flip flops is an essential item on your travels! They slip on and off easily, especially when entering and leaving temples, going in communal showers, hanging out on beaches etc. They’re also small, light and fit easily in your backpack.
Starting from the bottom up….
Trousers & shorts
When I go trekking, I’ve learned that I prefer to wear trekking trousers, irrespective of how hot it is! I’ve had some interesting interactions with various nettles, beetles and ants on my bare legs as I’ve walked through jungles (which I don’t want to repeat). These Craghopper trekking trousers have looked after my legs very well, they keep me relatively cool in hotter climates, and they’re lightweight for your backpack.
You also save on sunscreen as well, trust me you don’t want to be slapping on sunscreen on your legs every few hours on a trek, especially when the bugs are attracted to the smell!
Pretty self explanatory really, it’s up to you how many you take but I find 2 pairs to be enough (you can wash one pair whilst you’re wearing the other pair).
Dresses & skirts
Cardigans & jumpers
It’s all about layers when you travel, and sometimes you’ll need a fleece under your waterproof jacket. These are lightweight and roll up small for your backpack!
Underwear & PJs
If you’re looking for some accommodation ideas for your travels, we recommend you use Agoda.com to check your accommodation options! Whenever we’re making plans for a new destination, we always research the accommodation options first to check what’s available. That’s just our travel style. If you want to get some accommodation ideas for your travels, check out the options here!
Some of the links above are affiliate links, which means if you choose to book somewhere though our link, we receive a small commission. Don’t worry, it doesn’t cost you anything more, and most importantly, we only recommend companies that we use ourselves so you can trust our reccomendations!
Come and learn more about Laura and Barry here.
So that’s it, my backpacking packing list! What do you think? Anything I’ve missed that you think I need? Let me know in the comments below! Interested in what Barry has taken with him? Have a look at his backpacking packing list!
* Some of the links above are affiliate links, meaning if you click through to them from our site and purchase something, we get a small commission! Don’t worry, it won’t cost you anything more, but the small commissions help keep this site going!