BORNEO MALAYSIA TRAVEL GUIDE: Kota Kinabalu

BORNEO MALAYSIA TRAVEL GUIDE: Kota Kinabalu

Welcome to Part 3 of my Borneo Travel Guide. My husband and I spent two weeks exploring Malaysian Borneo in July 2015. We had a great time, and would definitely recommend it. We had a few ups and downs, mainly due to the environmental damage we saw pretty much everywhere, it was terribly sad to see so much deforestation. I probably wouldn't have noticed it if I was traveling with anyone else, but Farmboy was an environmental consultant is his former life and so was more aware than me (I thought there was a lot of green but what I thought was natural vegetation was 9 times out of 10 palm oil plantations). We also knew very little about Borneo (apart from the fact that it is one of the last places where you can see Orangutan in their natural habitat), and actually ended up deciding to go there because it had the cheapest flights and seemed like a very unique holiday destination. 

You may be thinking of heading to Borneo soon (or sometime in the future) so to help you plan your trip, I have put together this travel guide, as well as some tips from our stay. Please keep in mind that my husband and I may travel very differently to you, and have different likes and preferences for things. I prefer the more luxurious path, while Farmboy would stay in a hammock for the entire trip if it was up to him. So we plan accordingly, and of course, try to stick to the budget.

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India through photographs - Highlights from our 2 week trip through Goa, Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Pushkar & Jaisalmar

India through photographs - Highlights from our 2 week trip through Goa, Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Pushkar & Jaisalmar

In January this year, Farmboy and I headed to India & Nepal with two friends for 18 days of backpacking adventures. We spent 15 days in India, and the last 3 days in Kathmandu, Nepal.

I will be writing travel guides for all of the places we visited, but it's going to take me a while as this was one of the most extensively planned trips we have ever done. Here is a breakdown of our 15 days:

Korea > Goa for 5 nights

Fly from Goa > Delhi 1 night

Delhi > Agra for an afternoon, then drive > Jaipur for 2 nights

Jaipur > Pushkar for 2 nights

Pushkar > Jodhpur for 2 nights

Jodhpur > Jaisalmar by overnight train for 3 nights (including a dessert safari stay)

Finally fly from Jaisalmar > Jodhpur > Delhi

It's going to take some time before the travel guides are up, so in the mean time, here are a few of the highlights of our trip. Make sure to scroll down to the end to watch the video too!

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Borneo Malaysia Travel Guide: Batang Ai Lake & the Hilton Longhouse Resort

Borneo Malaysia Travel Guide: Batang Ai Lake & the Hilton Longhouse Resort

Welcome to Part 2 of my Borneo Travel Guide. My husband and I spent two weeks exploring Malaysian Borneo. 

We spent the first part of our holiday in Kuching (2 days), moving onto Bantang Ai lake (3 days), then Kota Kinabalu (2 days) and then onto Semporna (1 day) & Mabul Island (4 days). As there is so much to say about our trip I am breaking up these posts into different parts. In this part I will be talking about Bantang Ai Lake; Part 3 I will be talking about Kota Kinabalu and finally in Part 4 I will write about Semporna & the scuba diving we did on Mabul Island.

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Borneo Travel Guide: Kuching

Borneo-Malaysia-Travel-Guide.jpg

Farmboy and I headed to Borneo for 12 days in July last year. We had a great time, and would definitely recommend it. We had a few ups and downs, mainly due to the environmental damage , it was terribly sad to see so much deforestation. I probably wouldn't have noticed it if I was traveling with anyone else, but Farmboy was an environmental consultant is his former life and so was more aware than me (I thought there was a lot of green but what I thought was natural vegetation was 9 times out of 10 palm oil plantations). We also knew very little about Borneo (apart from the fact that it is one of the last places where you can see Orangutan in their natural habitat), and actually ended up deciding to go there because it had the cheapest flights and seemed like a very unique holiday destination. 

We spent the first part of our holiday in Kuching (2 days), moving onto Bantang Ai lake (3 days), then Kota Kinabalu (2 days) and then onto Semporna (1 day) & Mabul Island (4 days). As there is so much to say about our trip I am going to breaking up these posts into different parts. In this part I will be talking about Kuching. In part two I will be talking about Bantang Ai Lake; Part 3 I will be talking about Kota Kinabalu and finally in Part 4 I will write about Semporna & the scuba diving we did on Mabul Island.

 

You may be thinking of heading to Borneo soon (or sometime in the future) so to help you plan your trip, I have put together this travel guide, as well as some tips from our stay. Please keep in mind that my husband and I may travel very differently to you, and have different likes and preferences for things. I prefer the more luxurious path, while Farmboy would stay in a hammock for the entire trip if it was up to him. So we plan accordingly, and of course, try to stick to the budget.

Map of Borneo

Borneo is the name given to the biggest island in Asia (it's really big!) and is actually made up of 3 countries; Malaysia, Brunei & Indonesia. Malaysia & Brunei are far more geared to tourism (this has its perks but at the same time means that places are very touristy) whereas the Indonesian side is a lot more rural and natural. As we only had 2 weeks for our holiday we decided on Malaysian Borneo. If you are looking for a more authentic Bornean experience and you have more time, look into traveling around Indonesia Borneo. Also bear in mind the different visa requirements for Borneo & Malaysia before you travel.

Borneo Malaysia Travel Guide CityGirlSearching

Kuching

We flew from Incheon into Kuching (with an overnight layover in Kuala Lumpur). If you do have more than a 4 hour layover at night in Kuala Lumpur, I highly recommend booking into the new capsule hotel in Kuala Lumpur Airport (click here). It was fully booked when we arrived and we spent a very uncomfortable 6 hours sleeping under a cold concrete bench, hanging onto our belongings for dear life. The hotels in and around the airport are expensive and get booked up fast. You can book per hour at the capsule hotel and looked like a really fun experience.

Getting a taxi at the Airport

We arrived in Kuching at 8am and got a taxi to our guesthouse in Kuching. Most of the taxis in at the airports in Malaysian Borneo are regulated. You stand in a link and tell the teller where you are going and they then issue you a taxi voucher. You then give this voucher to the taxi driver and off you go. No dealing with cash or bargaining or being taken advantage of. It was such a different experience to Bali, Vietnam, Cambodia & the Philippines.

Accomodation

We spent 1 night in Kuching at Travellers Homestay in the Chinese Quarter of Kuching. It was a wonderful place, clean and so beautifully decorated and the host, Mai, was just wonderful. Such a warm and welcoming lady and we loved our stay at her guesthouse.

*W20 000 a night for a double room with aircon

The guesthouse is above the family run restaurant, and she is in the process of opening up a cooking centre to offer cooking courses to guests. The food was great and I highly recommend staying there if you're in Kuching.

Things to do in Kuching

We spent the day wondering around Kuching. Kuching is known as the City Of Cats. We walked from Travellers Homestay into the centre of town and spent some time wondering along the harbor. That night there was a food festival in town which was fun to wonder around. 

Semenggoh Nature Reserve

Our main reason for visiting Kuching was to see the Orangutan at the Semenggoh Nature Reserve. The Nature Reserve is home to the Orangutan rehabilitation centre, where you have a high chance of seeing Orangutan. The orangutans there are semi-wild which means that they live in a large area of trees around the reserve and feed themselves. Food is put out twice daily by the staff at the nature reserve to supplement that feeding. This means that during fruiting seasons when food is plentiful within the trees, the orangutans may have no need to (and don’t) visit the platforms. There are two feeding times a day (09h00 and 15h00) but best to get there early. The Oragutan are incredibly shy animals, and it's not guaranteed that they will come out at feeding time. We unfortunately were around a very noisy group of tourists who just wouldn't keep quiet. As the Oragutan are very shy, I'm sure the noise put them off. We had terrible luck and didn't see any oragutan, but travellers we met along our trip had seen the King, Reggie and a number of females with babies. We were really sad to miss them.

The Semenggoh Nature Reserve is easy to get to from Kuching by local bus.

From Kuching town centre, you want the number K6 or 6 from bus station number 2 which is near the mosque. Mai, our host at Traveller Homestay dropped us at the bus station. The bus leaves Kuching at: 7h20am, 9h50am, 1pm & 3pm. Returning from Semenggoh Nature Reserve at 8.20am, 11.15am, 2.05pm & 4.05pm (correct in August 2015). 

Tickets are RM3 per person each way, and the bus ride is about 45 minutes (but up to 1 hour). The bus adrops you right in front of the ticket office.

If you don't mind forking out some money for a taxi, it's about RM30 per way per taxi.

Entrance is RM10 per non-Malaysian adult for a single entry ticket. There are toilets just behind the office here. From there you walk about 20 minutes to get to the feeding area. It’s a nice walk with lots of trees, plants and animal calls to keep you entertained but it is just along the main road so be careful of the cars and tour buses which wizz pass you.

Once you’ve reached the actaul entrance to the Rehabilitation Area there are more toilets, a shop selling drinks and this is where you will congregate to hear a briefing. This is a safety briefings you need to listen to as they tell you what to do and what not to do to in terms of behaviour to ensure you’re respecting the environment of the animals but also to make sure you’re not seen as confrontational or a threat by the orangutans.

After a very disappointing few hours, we walked back to the entrance to the park where we were picked up by our hotel (Hilton Bantang Ai) in their shuttle to make the 4 hour journey to Bantang Ai. Even though we didn't see Oragutans it was still a nice way to spend the morning, and walking through the lush jungle of the National park was fun. 

Look our for Part 2 of our trip where I will be talking about Bantang Ai Lake and our stay at the Hilton.

Borneo Through Photographs

Borneo Photographs

For the last summer holidays Farmboy and I headed to Borneo. Before researching for our trip I didn't know too much about the island (did you know that Borneo is actually the second largest island in the world and is made up of 3 countries; Malaysia, Indonesia & Brunei). Along our travels we had a wonderful taxi driver who spent the hour we had with him telling us tales of pirates, folklore and other stories relating to the history of the Island.

We spent time in 3 different cities in Malaysia Borneo and their surrounding towns, all of which were very different from each other. We explored the concrete jungle of Kuching, the rain forests and lake surrounding Bantang Ai National Park and scuba dived amongst the reefs of Mabul Island. It was one of the most diverse travel adventures we have had and I look forward to sharing more with you about this incredible place.

I will be doing a full travel guide soon, but in the mean time here are a few photographs from our trip. 

Enjoy x

Kuching & Semonghoh Nature Reserve

Bantang Ai Lake & Visit to a Traditional Longhouse

Jungle Trek around Bantang Ai Lake & Rasa Risa Orangatun Rehabilitation Centre in Kota Kinabalu

Floating Palace in Kota Kinabalu & Mabul Island, Sabah.

AFK for the next 16 days!

Backpacking Bali

AFK (away from keyboard) - hubby would be so proud to see me using his gaming lingo to describe the next 2 and a bit weeks of holiday. The Huttons (ie Farmboy & CityGirl) are off super early tomorrow morning to make our way to the airport.

As per usual we are cramming a million things into one day starting with:

An early drive to Daejeon to drop off #ShadowTheJindo at the boarding kennels > hide car somewhere where we won't incur huge fines or have our wheels clamped > race to the airport bus and hopefully get 2 tickers before they are sold out > head to the airport to make our afternoon flight to Kuala Lumpur and then onto Borneo, Malaysia.

While we are away you might want to pop by and visit me on Instagram (@roxyhutton) where I will surely be posting lots of photographs of our travels:

Or you can look through these travel posts and travel guides to help you plan your next holiday...the world is your oyster!

The Philippines Travel Guide: El Nido

El Nido Travel Guide Philippines

Farmboy and I spent two weeks in the Philippines over the December holidays in 2010. Even though that was a few years ago, the following information is still relevant and all the links have been updated to help you in planning your trip. We spent a total of 5 days in Puerto Princess (click here) at the start and end of our trip, and the rest of the time we spent in El Nido.

I have been told that there are now direst flights to El Nido, but when we were there we had to take a 7 hour mini van trip. That trip was pretty horrendous as we were packed into a van with a number of other people and it was terribly uncomfortable. But it was cheap and that was the idea. We hadn't booked any accommodation before arriving, and so spent the first few hours walking from place to place in search of a room. We spent one awful night at a place on the beach called Spider Pension (AVOID AT ALL COSTS!) which consisted of a dingy room, hole in the floor for a toilet and cockroaches and flies everywhere. After that awful experience we set off early the next morning in search of anything better. We eventually found some newly build cottages set off the main road and part of Rosanna's Pension. Clean and cheap it was the perfect place to base ourselves for 3 nights. From there the restaurants and cafes were a short walk into the main part of town.

We ate a lot of our meals at Art Cafe; a wonderful laid back spot that served great food and drinks all day.

As it was the holiday period and it seemed most of the nicer places were fully booked but we eventually found a place with 2 double beds and air-conditioning. Although El Nido at the time was running on generators which turned off in the middle of the day and the middle of the night, something to keep in mind if you need to charge things or plan to have a hot shower at a particular time. We managed fine though and barely noticed the power outages. 

El Nido itself is gorgeous. When we were there it was still very undiscovered, with only a few restaurants and cafes. I think there is much more variety now, but friends have told us it is still magical and not over crowded like Boracay. From El Nido you can take boats out for the day to hundreds of different islands and spend the day seeing no one. Pure Bliss! 

We booked a 3 day 2 night island hopping tour with Tao which was both incredible and disastrous at the same time. Incredible because of the sights, but disastrous as we were served pork which had not been kept cold and gave us all food poisoning...not something you want when spending the day on a boat traveling from island to island. Even though we were all rather queasy throughout the trip, it was an incredible experience. It costs us at that time about $250 per person for all meals, boat rides and accommodation in basic local lodging.

Once back in El Nido it was New Years eve and we welcomed the new year in the woven basket pods surrounding The Alternative restaurant. We then spent 2 days hiring scooters and traveling around El Nido where there are more beautiful beaches to discover, our favourite being Nacpan Beach. Hiring scooters is a great way to avoid the crowds and it's very inexpensive too.

After our fill of beaches we headed back to Puerto Princessa by the local public bus for our final night.  We spent it the one and only 'fancy' hotel we could find, for some well deserved luxury (at the time it was $65 for a room for 4 people for the night). We did some last minute shopping at the pearl markets, and finally headed back to the bustling metropolis of Manila, and finally home to Korea.

USEFUL TRAVEL INFO FOR THE PHILIPPINES

  • 30 day visa free entry for citizens of South African, USA, UK, New Zealand, Australia (and a number of other countries...click here for more info).
  • Pack an emergency medicine kit. As this was only our second trip to Asia, none of us had packed the basic supplies like flu/stomach cramps/pain pills. After the food poisoning I went and got full on flu and just had to live through it for the last 4 days of our holiday...make sure to pack some nose spray/decongestants to help with any flu symptoms you may have. Rather be safe than sorry!
  • Use travel apps like Orbitz to book hotels/hostels if you can (they often give discounts for using the app and you can score some great deals!)
  • Pack a travel towel/cotton sarong that you can wet at night and sleep under if you don't have airconditioning. This will help keep you cool if you only have a fan in your room (and this will especially help you sleep at night if you have no fan/electricity).
  • Buy a waterproof bag to store your valuables in when going on boat rides. At the very least have a few spare ziplock bags handy to store passports and cash in, just in case your bags get wet.

Do you have any recommendations of things to do and see in Puerto Princessa? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!

Philippines Travel Guide: Puerto Princessa

Philippines Puerto Princesa Travel Guide

Farmboy and I traveled to the Philippines over Christmas 2010, and even though it was a number of years ago, the information posted here has been verified and will still be useful for you when planning your trip to this beautiful country. Things will have changed since then, but we have had numerous friends travel there since we were there using our travel tips so this guide should at least provide a basic overview of places to see and things to do. I have checked all the links that they do indeed go to the right hotel/websites but if anything isn't linking up, please leave me a comment below.

Philippine Travel Guide

Farmboy and I met up with his brother and sister in law in Seoul and then made our way to Incheon airport for the 5 hour flight to Manila. We flew Cebu Pacific from Incheon to Manila, and then had a domestic flight to Puerto Princessa. We had an 8 hour wait for the flight to Puerto Princessa, and as it was late at night we decided to 'splurge' and book into a hotel just outside the airport for a cold shower (it was HOT!) and a quick nap before our flight the next day. We spent 3 days in Puerto Princessa, 6 days in El Nido (click here) and then 1 more night back in Puerto Princessa before flying back to Korea. 

Once arriving in Puerto Princessa we headed to our accommodation for the next 2 nights, at Albon Pesion. We were picked us up at the airport (something I would highly recommend as you don't have to fight over taxis and waste time haggling for a fair rate). Albon Pension was a very reasonable, basic place to stay, but the staff were very friendly and the location was very central. We were able to walk to most restaurants and cafes and it was clean. 

There are lots of tours that leave from Puerto Princessa, the most famous being the under ground river in Sabang. The Underground river has recently been declared one of the Natural Wonders of the World and is a must if visiting Puerto Princessa.  There are also a number of boat rides you can take through the mangroves which are well worth a trip. In 2010 the mangrove tour cost us $5 a person, and the underground river tour was $35 pp including lunch. Albon Pension arranged the tours for us, including the 2.5 hour bus ride to Sabang in an airconditioned mini van.  The ride to Sabang itself was beautiful, and the driver will stop along the way for you to get some scenic shots.

We also booked a day trip to Honda Bay, and onto Snake Island. It was a short drive to Honda Bay and from there a short boat ride to the island. We again booked this with Albon Pension. The weather wasn't too great and the water was quite murky, but we still were able to see a few fish while out snorkelling. We also had our first taste of fresh fish for lunch which was a fun experience, especially sharing a table with the locals.

Back on the mainland, there are lots and lots of great restaurants to eat at with seafood buffets and loads of other interesting dishes. We spent our last 2 days in Puerto Princessa after our 6 days in El Nido (post to come soon) and had a great time wondering around the markets and buying fresh water pearls as gifts for friends and family. We all put our left over cash together and booked a room in one of the fancier hotels in Puerto Princessa for our last night as a treat. We slept so well that night and really enjoyed the hotels pool and breakfast buffet the next morning. It was a great way to spend our last night in the Philippines.

I will be posting the second half of our trip where we spent 6 days in El Nido and the surrounding islands soon.

Useful Travel Info for the Philippines

  • 30 day visa free entry for citizens of South African, USA, UK, New Zealand, Australia (and a number of other countries...click here for more info).
  • Pack an emergency medicine kit. As this was only our second trip to Asia, none of us had packed the basic supplies like flu/stomach cramps/pain pills. After the food poisoning I went and got full on flu and just had to live through it for the last 4 days of our holiday...make sure to pack some nose spray/decongestants to help with any flu symptoms you may have. Rather be safe than sorry!
  • Use travel apps like Orbitz to book hotels/hostels if you can (they often give discounts for using the app and you can score some great deals!)
  • Pack a travel towel/cotton sarong that you can wet at night and sleep under if you don't have airconditioning. This will help keep you cool if you only have a fan in your room (and this will especially help you sleep at night if you have no fan/electricity).
  • Buy a waterproof bag to store your valuables in when going on boat rides. At the very least have a few spare ziplock bags handy to store passports and cash in, just in case your bags get wet.

Do you have any recommendations of things to do and see in Puerto Princessa? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!

Bali & the Gili Islands Travel Guide

Welcome to Part 2 of my Bali Travel Guide. Part 1 was all about Ubud, which is where Farmboy and I landed from Korea and spent the beginning and end of our trip in July 2014. This part of the Bali travel guide is all about the Gili Islands.  We spent the middle of our trip, a total of 5 nights on these magical islands. 

The Gili Islands are made up of of 3 small islands (Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno & Gili Air) on the East coast of Bali. Gili Trawangan is the biggest of the three and home to the majority of restaurants and resorts. Gili Meno & Gili Air are the two smallest islands, with Air being the most remote. If coming from Bali mainland you will arrive by fast boat (a terrifying 1.5 hour ride...more on that to come later in this blog post) but you will arrive in one piece on Gili T (Trawangan). From there you can charter a private boat to Gili Meno or Air (usually for about $15) or you can take the public boat which only goes across to the smaller islands a few times a day. Prices for the public boat were about $3 pp. All of the Gili Islands are walkable, and there are no motorised vehicles allowed on them and everyone gets around by walking or using either bicycles or horse/donkey drawn carts called Cidomos. 

GiliIslandsTravelGuideBali

We loved our stay on the Gili Islands, and would have spent longer there had we known just how beautiful it would be. Here are a few photographs from Gili Meno where we spent most of our time.

**Keep in mind that July/August is peak season for Bali, and things start getting booked up as early as January. If a hotel has accommodation try to secure your booking with a deposit so you don't loose out while deciding where you want to travel to. Another very beautiful place to visit in Bali is Amed, a quiet coastal town in the North. If things are all booked up on the GIli Islands for your dates try looking at places in Amed. It seems to still be very untouched as most people head down South to Kuta, and the Gili Islands are starting to get more popular now too.

Getting to the Gili Islands

The GIli Islands are on the East Coast of Bali, and the easiest way to get there is by fast boat leaving either from Bali or from Lombok. A lot of people make the journey to the gIli Islands from Ubud. Because of this, many boat companies offer packages that will pick you up from your hotel in Ubud and drop you off there again if you book a return ticket. There are a number of online sites which you can book through before hand, but from the numerous scams and horror stories we had read, we decided to organise our boat tickets with our host, Dewa, when we arrived in Ubud. Dewa was able to get us tickets for $75 pp return (which included pick up at our accommodation in Ubud and transport to the port where the fast boat leaves from).

You will probably be picked up in a mini van to make the +-2hour ride from Ubud to Padang Bai where you will board the fast boat to the islands. Once you get to Padang Bai you will then need to queue up to collect your ticket (most people arrive with an email confirmation or tour group) and then you stand on the docks and wait for your boat. It's quite chaotic but definitely an interesting experience waiting for your boat. There are lots and lots of boat companies and boats going at the same time so make sure to keep your eyes peeled so you get on the right boat!

The prices vary with different companies, some also offer discounts for more than 1 ticket booked together. I would suggest booking your tickets for the fast boast as soon as you arrive in Bali rather than before your arrive, as the locals generally are able to secure better deals and will help you get onto a safe boat. Some of the tour companies we had looked at were Perama Tour & Marina Srikandi. It was very overwhelming as there are A LOT of companies that offer transport to the Gili Islands, and there are just as many people online telling stories about how they were scammed or how scary the ride there is. To be honest, the ride itself was pretty terrifying, but our boat was airconditioned and that helped ease the sea sickness a bit. Just be prepared that the trip there and back won't a walk in the park, and you'll be fine. Better to be prepared for a hard trip and then have it be easy that the other way around! It's only an hour and a half though and will just be a memory once you arrive in paradise. 

GiliIslandsBali

Where to Stay on Gili Trawangan

There are loads and loads of places to stay on Gili T, the biggest of the three islands. This is also where the majority of restaurants and shops are. The island is still small enough to walk around in an afternoon, especially if you want to get away from the crowds of people who frequent the most popular stretch of beach, 'Good Heart'. 

We spent our last two nights after Gili Meno on Gili T at Scalleywags Resort. It was wonderful. The rooms were clean, comfortable and so luxurious compared to our rustic beach hut on Meno. Scalleywags is definitely on the higher end of the scale in terms of resorts but it was worth every cent.

They also have an amazing seafood and meat buffet every evening where we stuffed our faces silly with delicious food. Scalleywags has a number of locations in Bali and offer lots of great deals. We paid $150 per night for a double room which included breakfast & all taxes. And they have a wonderful pool for guests which you can lounge around while ordering great food and drinks.

**Bear in mind Bali has Tax and Service charges which amount to 21% on top of most hotel accommodation and food and beverage bills (this consist of a 10% service charge and 11% Government Tax). This is terribly annoying and we were often mislead by the prices of things as they were quoted WITHOUT the tax. Just keep this in mind when it comes to paying and always ask before hand if accommodation quotes include this tax or not.

GiliIslandBali

Where to Stay in Gili Meno

We spent 3 wonderful nights at Sunset Gecko in a wooden bungalow on a very quiet stretch of beach on Gili Meno. There is a very fancy hotel that has been built next door which made me feel rather envious once we realised we were staying in the wooden shack next door, but the price of Sunset Gecko was great and within our budget. We ate at the fancy restaurant next door a few times and enjoyed a couple of cocktails there too. Staying at SunsetGheck meant we had the best of both worlds. And the outdoor showers and toilet were much better than I had anticipated.

Sunset Gecko has varying rooms, but at the time of booking we were only able to get space in their Big Beach Hut which is three stories and has private rooms on each level. We stayed on the top floor in a large room with two double beds. They have a few private beach cottages slightly closer to water and a few A-frame bungalows too. It's rustic, but clean and we just what we were after. Don't expect anything fancy, often times they were out of stock of several items on the menu (how do you run out of tea?!) but we loved our stay here and would highly recommend it to anyone looking for an authentic & relaxing beach stay. Just make sure to pack a sleeping bag liner/sheet if you are a little panicky about beds like I am. I had read reviews of bed bugs at Sunset Gecko and so was unable to relax at night. We didn't have any problems with bed bugs  though but because I had read about them I was unable to sleep peacefully in fear of waking up with my skin crawling. Silly me! And the sleeping bag liners I had ordered online for our were out of stock so we just went ahead without them. I was probably over acting but if bed bugs are something you just can't handle then make sure to pack a sheet/sleeping bag liner just in case.

The beach in front of Sunset Gecko was also where we swam with turtles and had the best snorkelling of our entire Bali trip! We spent every day on the beach pagoda's sipping fruit juice and watching the world go by. It was bliss.

The booking process seemed a little odd as you have to pay a deposit through a rather strange payment channel but it was all secure and my booking & payment was handled well. They also responded well to email (i had to change our booking slightly and they were very accommodating).

Here is a video that Farmboy put together of our time in Bali, with lots of footage of the Gili Islands:

Some things I learnt from this trip:

  • Even when compiling an extensive budget, have an international credit card on hand for emergencies. We forgot to include various elements in our budget (lunch & the smaller transport costs) and had to use my credit card a few times. 
  • Budget for souvenirs. Before a trip I always tell myself that I won't buy anything cliche (like floaty yoga pants and rugs) and without fail I have found something special on our travels in each country that I have wanted to buy. In Bali we bought a beautiful handwoven rug in soft pastel shades that has prize position on our living room. It was worth ever cent!
  • Read travel reviews with a pinch of salt. I really had heard terrible things about Sunset Gecko and was prepared for an absolute nightmare. It ended up being the highlight of our stay (and no, there were no bed bugs).
  • Try to pay for things before you arrive instead of having to have cash on hand (especially for accommodation).
  • Always pack a rash vest (swimming top) if you plan on snorkelling anywhere. Farmboy and I each have a lycra swimming top we bought online (through Gmarket for +-$18) two years ago and they have saved our skin too many times to count. It's just not worth getting sun burnt on your first day in the water.
BaliTravelGuide

Useful Travel Info:

  • Bali has a visa on arrival for most countries (including South Africa, UK, USA, New Zealand, Australia) which costs $35 and is valid for 30 days. You get this at the airport when you arrive in Bali.
  • Be aware of the departure tax which needs to be paid in cash when you leave the airport (I have read that as of Feb 2015 this departure tax is now included in your flight price but I'm not 100% so make sure to research thoroughly before hand).
  • Remember Bali imposes a 21% tax & service charge on most goods/services/facilities and this is not included in your bill.

I hope you found this travel guide useful! Please leave me a comment below if you have any questions.

You might also like these travel guides:

Ubud, Bali Travel Guide

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Farmboy and I headed to Bali for 12 days in July last year. We had a wonderful time, and it was one of our favourite holidays we have been on so far. I seem to say this after every holiday, probably because we are finally starting to actually learn from out mistakes, making each trip that much better. You may be thinking of heading there soon (or sometime in the future) so to help you plan your trip, I have put together a rough budget, as well as some tips from our stay. Please keep in mind that my husband and I may travel very differently to you, and have different likes and preferences for things. I prefer the more luxurious path, while Farmboy would stay in a hammock for the entire trip if it was up to him. So we plan accordingly, and of course, try to stick to the budget.

We didn't find Bali as cheap as some of the other countries we have visited (Vietnam, for example) but that is mainly due to the fact that Bali's whole economy is based on tourism. Bali is the largest tourist destination in the world, and is renowned for its highly developed arts, including traditional and modern dance, sculpture, painting, leather, metalworking, and music. They have been a tourist destination for a very long time, this has it's pros and cons as I will explain later. Bearing this in mind our trip budget was different to Vietnam and Malaysia. Another thing is that my mom was supposed to be joining us on this trip, and so come of our accommodation choices were very different to what we usually book. She had to cancel her trip at the last minute and as most of the accommodation was non refundable, we just decided to enjoy the slightly pricier places we had originally booked. 

We were in Bali for 12 days exploring mainly the Centre of Bali & the East Coast:

6 nights in Ubud (first 4 nights & last 2 nights)

5 nights on the Gili Islands

This post is focused on Ubud, and the second guide I will post soon will be of The Gili Islands.

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UBUD - Central Bali

Ubud is the cultural capital of Bali, where you will find anything from yoga studios, to french cuisine, artisan jewellery to unique hand crafted furniture. Here is a list of the things we did during out first 4 and last 2 days in Bali.

Accommodation in Ubud

Upon arrival into Ubud, we were collected at midnight by the owner of our villa (Dewa, the most incredibly humble, open minded and knowledgeable man we have ever met) who is also a driver and tour guide. We didn't know anything about drivers or the fact that we might need one until we met him, and he didn't pressure us to book him for any tours at all. We spent the first 4 days in the home he has built for guests (click here to see more about booking this incredible place). Although the villa is on the same property as his family home, there is complete privacy and we only noticed the presence of people when we would find little offerings places around the bottom of the house. 

*Peaceful Villa just outside Ubud $89 a night (suitable for 4 people). Click here to book. 

If you would like to get in contact with Dewa for a tour or to book his villa directly, click here and scroll down to the button that says 'contact host'. Dewa also helped us book fast boats to get to the Gili Islands and was just so helpful. I can't recommend him enough! 

For our last 2 nights we decided to stay somewhere really special and spent two nights at Villa Awang Awang is the smallest of their villas, Villa Pererepan. It was incredible and one of the highlights of our stay. It was our most expensive accommodation, $150 a night but worth every cent. We had a private pool, breakfast was included and served to us on a private balcony over looking the forest canopy below. The bathroom was half outdoor and was the perfect place to relax after a busy day of sightseeing. Click here to find out more about Villa Awang Awang.

Offerings

The majority of the people in Bali follow Balinese Hinduism, which is a combination of existing local beliefs and Hindu influences from mainland Southeast Asia and South Asia. Balinese Hinduism has roots in Indian Hinduism and Buddhism, and adopted the animistic traditions of the indigenous people. This influence strengthened the belief that the gods and goddesses are present in all things. Every element of nature, therefore, possesses its own power, which reflects the power of the gods. A rock, tree, dagger, or woven cloth is a potential home for spirits whose energy can be directed for good or evil. Balinese Hinduism is deeply interwoven with art and ritual. As you drive along the narrow roads, you will see many parts of temples and trees covered in cloth. This is a marker to show that spirits reside within. 

Every morning, usually before most tourists have even been rustled from sleep, the people of Bali are out sweeping the streets of the previous days offerings. Once swept the streets are once again ready for the daily gifts or offerings laid out to appease the various Gods & Daemons Of Balinese Hinduism. 

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Things to do in Ubud

Ubud has a very laid back atmosphere, even though there are a lot of tourists. It has become especially popular since the Eat, Pray Love was filmed there. Many people from allover the world come to practice yoga, and recharge their bodies, minds and souls. There are all kinds of restaurants and things to do in and around Ubud. We visited the Monkey Forest, did a cooking course, toured the surrounding craft villages, did a coffee plantation tour, visited temples, did a market tour and spent time wondering around the town. 

Ubud Monkey Forest

We spent an afternoon wondering around the Monkey Forest,which was a really fun experience. It was quite scary at times as the monkeys can get quite aggressive around their young. 

Ubud Cooking Course

Just like Vietnam, we did a cooking course and just loved it. Doing a cooking course really helps to get a real feel for the food of the country, and we learnt a lot about Balinese culture from our wonderful host. Click here for details on the cooking course we did. 

Ubud Industry Tour

All around Ubud there are pockets of villages that specialise in diffferent crafts. We visited a silver & gold factory, a Batik warehouse, bone crafters, and wood craftsmen. 

Market Tour

We were taken on a market tour during our cooking course with Paon Cooking School. We love doing market tours as often we have no idea what half of the herbs, spices and vegetables are and our guide explained how to eat the local fruit. This was one of the highlights of Ubud for us.

Temple Visits

We visited 4 temples and their surrounding areas around Ubud; Elephant Cave ( Goa Gajah), Pura Tirta Empul (holy waters) and Tegallalang Rice Terraces & Gunung Kawi.

Ubud Coffee Plantations Tour

Our villa host and tour guide, Dewa, took us on a tour of one of the local coffee plantations. We even got to try the infamous Luwak Coffee or Kopi Luwak. Kopi Luwak refers to the seeds of coffee berries once they have been eaten and defecated by the Asian palm civet. Sounds pretty terrible, and to be honest we weren't blown away by the taste. It tasted like regular coffee to us, but is known to be one of the most expensive coffees in the world. The tour also included a tasting of various teas and other coffees available to buy. 

Volcano Tour & Lunch in Rice Paddy Village

We also did a very short drive to see the view of Kintamani Volcano which is still very much active. We didn't do the tour around the base of the volcano, but the views were gorgeous from one of the rest stop. We then had lunch at one of the rice paddy villages which had gorgeous views too.

We really enjoyed our first few days in Udub, but by the 4th day we were ready to head away from the crowds and on to the beach. I will be posting a guide to the Gili Islands soon!

In the mean time, here is a video Farmboy put together of our trip, enjoy!

If you would like to get in contact with Dewa for a tour or to book his villa directly, click here and scroll down to the button that says 'contact host'. Dewa also helped us book fast boats to get to the Gili Islands and was just so helpful. I can't recommend him enough! 

Malaysia Travel Guide and The Perhentian Islands

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Farmboy and I visited Malaysia in August last year (2013).  You may be thinking of heading there soon (or sometime in the future) so to help you plan your trip, I have put together a travel guide for the places we visited, as well as some tips from our stay. Please keep in mind that my husband and I may travel very differently to you, and have different likes and preferences for things. I prefer the more luxurious path, while Farmboy would stay in a hammock for the entire trip if he could. So we plan accordingly, and of course, try to stick to the budget. 

Malaysia is predominantly a muslim country, this is something to keep in mind for a few reasons. Alcohol is very expensive there, and in some places forbidden. Also, try and research which national or religious holidays are happening during your trip. This may seem obvious to some people, but it was something I had never thought to research. We were there over Ramadan and were staying on the Perhentian Islands at the time. The island we were on basically shut down for the week and we could only find a handful of places to eat at. Bear that in mind when making your final bookings.

We spent 8 days in Malaysia. After landing in Kuala Lumpur, we headed straight to the Perhentian Islands by overnight bus and spent the rest of our trip there.

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Perhentian Kecil

The Perhentian Islands are made up of 2 islands, Kecil & Besar. Besar is the more family friendly island, and Kecil is the livelier island made up of backpackers and part goers. We spent 5 nights on Perhentian Kecil in a range of accommodations. We weren't able to find any places to book online and so had to join the hoards of people on the first boat in who had to walk up and down the beach in search of a place to stay. We were envious of the French couple who whipped out their booking confirmation on the boat, and then proceeded to amble their way to the only fancy looking resort on the island. We were insanely jealous, as the rest us on the boat kept eyeing up the competition to see who would make it off the boat first in search of a room for the night. This is why we now try to book at least 60% of our accommodation before hand. From Kuala Lumpur you can take an overnight bus to Kuala Besut which is where you then catch a small boat to the Perhentian Islands. Once on the islands there are plenty of taxi boats that you can take to get from one island to the other for about US$15 one way if needed.

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We caught an 8 hour overnight bus from Putra Station to Kuala Besut (-+US$20 pp) which stopped at the port at about 4am. We found out later that AirAsia has numerous cheap flights from KL - Khota Bharu, from there it's an hour taxi ride to the port at Khuala Besut.

From the port it's a 45 minute boat ride in a small, fiberglass boat (watch your belongings...everything gets wet!). The speedboats take you just short of the shore, from where you take a mini 'taxi' boat to the beach. It's completely unnecessary, but unavoidable as the main boat won't stop any closer to the shore. It's a cheap transfer (about US$2 a person) but still very annoying. From there it's a short wade ashore through knee-deep water with your bags (keep that in mind when packing!). When leaving the islands, there is a jetty from which you leave from, which makes things easier for the return trip.

Kecil Island is small enough to explore in one day. There are 2 main beaches, Long Beach (usually where you are dropped off by the boat) which houses all the backpackers and night life. And then Coral Bay. Coral Bay is the place to go for spectacular sunsets, slightly cheaper prices, and small private beach coves. The snorkeling is better at Coral Bay, but the swimming is better on Long Beach. It's only a 15 minute walk through the Jungle from one side to the other.

I highly recommend staying at Ewans Place (click here for his facebook page). His was the only restaurant open during Ramadan and he was so helpful in organising us a last minute room, after a few pleads and batting of eyelids. The rooms are simple, but clean and more than adequate. Nothing fancy, but they are situated in the middle of the island, away from all the noise of Long Beach. 

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While both Kecil & Besut Island share the same diving sites, the dive operations on Perhentian Kecil are slightly cheaper than those on Perhentian Besar. Daytime dives can be as cheap as US$25 each depending on the company and distance to the site; night dives cost around US$40. We don't have our diving licenses, but packed our own snorkels and goggles from Korea so we have the freedom to snorkel wherever we want to.

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Khota Bharu

After our stay on the Perhentians we headed back to the mainland port of Kuala Besut and caught a taxi to the airport at Khota Bharu. We had booked flights using the AirAsia app on our iPhones (having our iPhones with us has been a life saver on many a trip, their GPS location mapping and the apps for booking hotels and flights with the click of a few buttons have made traveling so easy). There were 4 of us to share a taxi (about $20 for the hour long trip but you can haggle the price). Once we got to Khota Bharu we had some time to kill and headed to the main market in the town square. It was such an interesting experience, well worth a stop at.

A FEW TIPS

  • If you're short on time, look to see if you can find cheap local flights on sites like AirAsia (this has saved us so much time and we have been able to book flights for reasonable prices). Download the AirAisa app, it's super easy to use. For Malaysia we booked our internal flights for about $120 last minute for two people from Khota Bharu to Kuala Lumpur
  • When booking flights be sure of what is included in your flight booking, especially with Air Asia. We booked flights for Malaysia for really cheap, and then only after booking did we realise that we could only take carry on luggage (which was restricted to 7kg's a person, and they were super strict at the airport, weighing all our bags including my big camera bag).
  • Take your smart phone with you. We didn't have data, although we were told that sim cards were readily available and pretty cheap. But we were able to jump on some free wifi in cafes. The GPS function on our iPhones was an absolute life saver, as it functions in helping you navigate, even when not connected to wifi.
  • Jot down your expenses, this helps you stay on track. We took only cash for our 2 week trip and writing what we spent where helped us to stay within the budget 
  • Download the Orbitz and Hotels.com apps on your phone. By booking through the app you usually can get good discounts discount and can book last minute. When we were there in 2013 there were no places on Perhentian that you could book online, but this might have changed by now.
  • Visa Requirements: For South African/UK/US/Canada/New Zealand/Australia passport holders, no visa is required for 90 days. You need to have a passport that is valid for 6 months after your departure date, so if you arrive on the 1st of the month and leave on the 30th of the month, the passport should be valid for 6 months from the 30th of the month.  If you passport is not fully valid your airline may not allow you to board and the immigration authority will not permit you to land in Malaysia.
  • Pack a sense of humour. You will get lost. You will fight with your husband/boy friend/friends. You will get sick at least once and you will have an amazing holiday all the same. 

Is there anything I've left of the list? Any places you'd recommend in Malaysia? Or any tips you think should be included here, pop me a comment below. 

If you have any questions about our trip feel free to leave me a comment below and I'll get back to you soon.

Happy travels!

[This is the second travel guide I have done, click here to see my guide to Vietnam]

Highlights of Beautiful Bali

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Farmboy and I have just got back from our summer holiday in Bali. One of the major perks of living in Korea is the opportunity to travel South East Asia, as places like Indonesia are easily accessible.

We were in Bali for 12 days and tried to see as much as could in the time we had. I will be posting a full travel guide soon, like I did with Vietnam (click here) but for now I'll leave with a visual feast of colour.

I traded in my trusty Nikon D300s a few months ago, for a Nikon D700, which I used to take these photographs. As I now shoot full frame, I have to invest in full frame lenses (and these do not come cheap!) Currently I have only a 50mm prime lens and this is what I used for the entire trip. No fancy zooms (I had to make do with my feet) and no wide angle shots. It can be a stressful process trying to find the 'perfect' lenses to take with you on holiday, and you often feel you need to have ALL the things to take perfect photographs. But, what I soon came to realise is that all you really need is a little patience and practice to train your eye to capture your subjects in new and interesting ways.

We loved our time in Bali, spending 4 days in Ubud, 5 days on the Gili Islands (3 days on Gili Meno & 2 days on Gili Trawangan) and then 3 final days in Ubud. We stayed in a variety of accomodation, from fancy villas overlooking rice paddies, to bamboo huts on the beach. What our time so memorable was the people we met throughout our stay. We had a wonderful host and tour guide for our first few days who taught us so much about the people and their way of life in Bali.

But more on that to come in another post.

For now, the photographs.

Enjoy!

Backpacking in Bali & What to Pack

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On Monday, Farmboy and I are off on our summer holiday to Bali. It's been a long semester of teaching and boy oh boy do we need this holiday. As I've been packing, I thought it would be fun to show you what I pack in terms of toiletries for a backpacking trip. I say backpack, because that is what we travel with, and even though we do treat ourselves along the way with nice hotels, we spend a lot of our time in backpacker type accommodation.

Here is what I pack for each of the trips we've done (you can see more about our last trip to Malaysia by clicking here and Vietnam by clicking here). 

There are one or two items that I haven't packed yet (toothbrush, deodorant and mosquito spray) but this is what I will be taking for our trip to Bali:

Toiletries:

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I found the handy travel sized bottles at Dischem back in South Africa and top them up with whatever products I am using to the time.

-My shampoo and conditioner were half full with Loreal Elvive from back home in South Africa and I just topped them up with the little I had left of their full sizes.

-A spray bottle with IQ DermaQuench Rose Blossom Toner (also from back home).

-Body wash bottle filled with whatever wash we have in the bathroom here (a fresh citrus smelling wash from Happy Bath here in Korea)

-Face Wash from the youth range of skincare from Dermalogica (also bought back home).

-Hera 50+ Sun Mate Leports waterproof sunscreen

-My favourite sunscreen for face, Oil Cut SPF 40 from The Face Shop Korea.

-Olay Total Effects Eye Transforming Cream

-Travel sized Black Sugar Perfect First Serum Gold from SkinFood

-A sample sized Argan hair treatment oil from Confume (review to come soon, this stuff is amazing!!)

-My favourite Chia Seed Water toner and lotion from The Face Shop in  their cute travel sized containers. And lastly, the most useful skincare product, Green Tea facewipes from Étude House

Makeup:

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-Mac StudioFit pressed powder

-Innisfree Pink Beam Mineral Pact highlighter which I use for a blush, highlighter and eye shadow

-Essence Stay All Day Concealer as you always end up getting at least one pimple while being away on holiday. This concealer is light and stays put all day.

-Lipgloss from TheFaceShop

-Tweezers

-Eyebrow comb and pencil from The Face Shop. I have only recently delved into eyebrow care and I can't believe just how much of a difference it makes to your face. The pencil can also be used as an eye liner.

-DCT lip balm (the ultimate lip care product!). it is so expensive back home in South Africa, but I have found it on Iherb for just over $2...it's nearly $9 back home!

-Oh! M' Eye Lash Curling  mascara I just picked up from Etude House. It's not waterproof as I just don't want to deal withe hassle of taking off waterproof mascara on holiday. Most people would advise you packing waterproof mascara especially when going on holiday to a topical island, but the mascara I have that is waterproof takes nearly 4 products to remove, and although my lashes look amazing all day, while taking it off I nearly always loose a few lashes. So I'm trying this one out, and just hoping for the best!

-a selection of hair accessories (hair ties, clips and most importantly, bobby pins)

First Aid Kit

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Without fail, one of us ends up getting sick in same way while on holiday. We always pack a little bag  of medicine just in case. We usually use a clear zip lock bag which helps when trying to find it in your backpack, as well as making things easier for yourself when going through check in at the airport:

-Medlemon sachets for colds and flu

-Nurofen for pain and fever

-Disprin for headaches and fever

-Genpain, a generic form of myprodol for really bad headaches or body pain

-Strepsils for sore throats

-Buscopan for stomach cramps

-Valoid for neasuea

-a local pill for diarrhoea (I have been warned about Bali Belly, so best be prepared I think!)

-plasters, mosquito bite cream, mosquito repellant and ear buds

Is there anything else you would suggest travelers pack for their backpacking trip? Or anything you can see I have forgotten, please drop me a comment below! I have today to still rush out and make sure I'm all ready...

Vietnam Travel Guide

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Farmboy and I visited Vietnam in January this year (2014). We had a wonderful time, and it was one of our favourite holidays we have been on so far. You may be thinking of heading there soon (or sometime in the future) so to help you plan your trip, I have put together a rough budget, as well as some tips from our stay. Please keep in mind that my husband and I may travel very differently to you, and have different likes and preferences for things. I prefer the more luxurious path, while Farmboy would stay in a hammock for the entire trip if it was up to him. So we plan accordingly, and of course, try to stick to the budget.

For this trip we made the terrible mistake of missing our flights home, having to fork out another $1000 for the trip (not included in the budget set out below). Apart from this unfortunate accident, Vietnam was a relatively cheap holiday, the biggest expense was the taxi rides to and from airports as the airports in Vietnam are situated really far from the tourist areas. We budgeted in US$ and were able to pay for the majority of things with dollars, with my Korean credit card or by withdrawing at local banks into Vietnamese Dollars.

This was our first trip planning all our accommodation ahead of time (unlike the Philippines, Cambodia and Malaysia) and we learnt a lot from this experience. There are pros and cons to booking ahead of time (often the photographs online are very misleading, and sometimes you have such a good time in one place that you wish you could prolong your stay). I suggest booking your first and last nights before your trip, and then winging the middle days as you go.

We were away for 13 days, exploring Hanoi, Hoi Ann, Sapa and Halong Bay. 

Hanoi 3 nights (first 2 nights and last night)

Halong Bay 3 nights

Sapa 3 nights (2 of which were spent on the over night train)

Hoi Ann (3 nights)

Sapa (Northern Vietnam)

We went during the winter season (I hadn't actually checked the weather before booking our flights...silly me) and so this effected our planning quite a bit. Vietnam is very different in the summer time (especially the Northern parts) and can get rather cold. But the summer is a different story. Instead of rolling green hills and rice field terraces we had heard about in Sapa, we were met with dry, barren landscapes, which were beautiful in their own ways, just not what we were expecting.

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We both enjoy making the most of our holidays, and so spend very little time in one place, opting to instead see as much as we can in the time that we have. This isn't for everyone, and the holidays tend to be more fast paced than lounging about and relaxing. This works for us. Most travel forums advised against only spending one actual night in Sapa, as the train journey is quite tiring but we found that 2 full days were just fine (the overnight rains arrives at 5am in Sapa and departs around 7pm leaving 2 full days of travel if you only book 1 night in the actual town).

As you can see from the pictures below, the over train was clean and comfortable. We paid $40 pp each way for the 4 bed room. We had room mates on both trips which wasn't ideal, but everyone kept to themselves and our belongings were very safe under the bed and in front of my top bunk above the door.

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We booked a tour guide for $70 and really felt like we had been ripped off. Rather make your own way with a map. I think you would see much more if you trekked around by yourself. Our 4 hour trek took us into our tour guides' home (more so she could feed her baby than for us to see her authentic home) and then through the fields. It would have perhaps been better in summer if the rice paddies were luscious and green, but it was hot (even though it was winter) and rather boring, even though we were able to get some great photographs.

The town itself is fully geared for tourists, with the main roads looking like you've stepped into a Swiss resort. All the restaurants and massage parlours are geared towards tourists and are very pricey (a meal ranging from $12 - $20 and a good massage deal from $15 - $30). We found a little corner cafe away from the main road and ordered delicious bowls of Pho (Vietnamese noodle soup) for a much more reasonable $3 a pop.

We did buy knock off North Face jackets for a steal at $22 each, and they look JUST like the real thing. You can get your hands on a whole range of North Face/Jack Wolfskin items, make sure to budget accordingly! They had everything from hiking boots to sports shoes, ski jackets to fleeces.

Halong Bay

We made yet another mistake by not heading right for an island off Halong Bay. The bay itself is very touristy with hundreds of different tour companies offering you 1 - 4 night boat trips. We weren't really interested in being cooped up on a boat for 3 days and so booked a hotel in Halong Bay City. This was a mistake as the taxi ride from the city to the port (where you catch the boats to the islands) was a $25 fare EACH way! We wanted to go climbing with Asia Outdoors who are situated on Cat Ba Island. The ferry schedule was very limiting so we actually ended up not staying in our fancy hotel for one night so we could have longer on Cat Ba. We booked a super cheap $10 room on Cat Ba Island, and looking back I would have not booked any nights at the Halong Bay DC Hotel (but the two nights we stayed there were in super comfy rooms which included breakfast and we are able to order room service and get our clothes laundered - which sounded like a great idea and one that we presumed would be cheap...it wasn't, $37 for our clothes was an absolute waste of money, but one can only learn).

On Cat Ba Island we went on a fantastic climbing trip the first day, and the second day we hired a scooter to explore Cat Ba National Park. The hike up the peak of Cat Ba National Park was one of the highlights of our trip. 

Hanoi

Our first full day was spent on an amazing cooking course in the Old Quarter of Hanoi.  We had a great time and learnt so much about Vietnamese food and culture from our wonderfully experienced chef. Doing a cooking course at the start of your holiday is the perfect way to get to know the local cuisine, so when you walk past street vendors you know whats what. Often street food is delicious and much cheaper than eating in restaurants. We did our course through Hanoi Cooking Centre which included an early morning market walk to buy all our ingredients.

Our last day in Hanoi was spent visiting the local markets around the Old Quarter and drinking Vietnamese coffee while stuffing our faces with as much Pho as our bodies could handle. Pho is very cheap, a bowl going for $2 - $4 a pop and is one of the most delicious meals I have ever had.

Hoi Ann

We booked cheap internal flights through JetStar Airlines from Hanoi Noi Bai Airport to Danang Airport, and they also offer a bus service (click here) that runs from the Old Quarter to the airport. It was very cheap to use this bus, and it saved us a lot of stress too once we found the bus terminal (thank goodness for the GPS function on our iPhones). From Danang Aiport it was a good 40 minute drive to Hoi Ann (this is what caught us out the most with our budget, all the taxi rides to and from the airports).

Hoi Ann was our favourite place in Vietnam, and perhaps, in the whole of South East Asia. It reminded us a lot of Siem Riep in Cambodia (lantern lit streets to stroll down at night, great food, fabulous cocktails....it's a wonderful, 'vibey' town filled with something for everyone). The beach was only 20 minute cycle away (most hotels have free bicycle rental) and we were able to swim even in the middle of their winter time. Hoi Ann is most famous for its tailors, so make sure to budget accordingly! We hadn't planned to have anything made, but once we saw the quality of the suits we ended up having two made for Farmboy. Be prepared to bargain. You can everything from swim suits to lace skirts, to silk shirts and suits, as well as every leather item imaginable. In particular the leather boots and luggage looked beautiful. It wasn't incedidly cheap, but the quality is amazing, and compared to back Korea or South Africa, the prices were reasonable. 

We spent 2 nights at Thanh Van 2 Hotel which was great, and then spent our last night at the incredible Hoi An Ancient House Village Resort. We like to spend our last night or two in luxury, especially if we have been staying in backpackers or really cheap hotels for the rest of the time. We felt like we were on honeymoon again, and the suite was a very reasonable $90 for the both of us including breakfast.

We also did an early morning tour to Masan Temple to see the ruins. There are quite a few tours you can do that leave from Hoi Ann, and your hotel will be able to help you with booking.

A few tips

  • Download the Orbitz and Hotels.com apps on your phone. We booked most of our accommodation through the app and always got at least a 15% discount on each booking for using the app. We were also able to book at the last minute and never had a problem with our bookings. 
  • Book accommodation that includes breakfast. You will save yourself money, and save yourself the stress of trying to find something to eat that doesn't taste too strange, especially early in the morning (or do what we do and pack small ziplock bags of oats, almonds and cranberries to have for emergency breakfasts on the run).
  • When booking flights be sure of what is included in your flight booking, especially with Air Asia. We booked flights for Malaysia for really cheap, and then only after booking did we realise that we could only take carry on luggage (which was restricted to 7kg's a person, and they were super strict at the airport, weighing all our bags including my big camera bag).
  • If you're short on time, look to see if you can find cheap local flights on sites like AirAsia (this has saved us so much time and we have been able to book flights for reasonable prices). Download the AirAisa app, it's super easy to use. For Vietnam we booked our internal flights on Jetstar for $160 for two people return from Hanoi to Hoi Ann.
  • Take your smart phone with you. We didn't have data, although we were told that sim cards were readily available and pretty cheap. But we were able to jump on a lot of free wifi in all the hotels we stayed at and a lot of the cafes. The GPS function on our iPhones was an absolute life saver, as it functions in helping you navigate, even when not connected to wifi.
  • Jot down your expenses, this helps you stay on track. We took only cash for our 2 week trip and writing what we spent where helped us to stay within the budget (well, apart from the missed flight and tailored clothes that had to go on the credit card).
  • Visa Requirements: For South Africans we had to 'book' our visa on arrival online, pay by credit card and then print out the emailed copy to take with us to when we arrived in Vietnam. It was painless to organise. I used Visa Vietnam and the price was $26 for two people (not included in the budget below)
  • Pack a sense of humour. You will get lost. You will fight with your husband/boy friend/friends. You will get sick at least once and you will have an amazing holiday all the same. 

The budget below is the expenses for both myself and my husband, including our flights from South Korea.

VietnamBudgetTravelGuide

If you have any questions, please leave me a comment below and I'll get back to you as soon as I can.

Happy travels!

The Wonderlust Tag

CityGirlSearchingTravelBlogWonderlustTag

I saw this tag on Emma's blog (Emma is a fellow English Teacher & blogger based here in Korea and blogs over at Cupcake Traveler) and it inspired me to write a post using the Wonderlust tag too. If you do a post on your blog, please do drop me a link so I can read it, or link up on my Facebook page, I'd love to know more about you x

CityGirlSearchingTravelBlogWonderlustTag

1. Your most treasured passport stamp?

I had to spend a bit of time thinking about this question. I think it would be a mixture of my first South Korean stamp which I got when moving to Korea the first time back in 2010, and then the stamp for Greece which we got when we went on honeymoon in 2012. 

2. Can you recite your passport # from memory if asked?

Ummm...no. I might be able to if I didn't have to also try and remember 2 sets of South African ID numbers, passport numbers and Korean ID numbers...now I have to rely on scanned coppies of all of the above in my emails.

3. Preferred method of travel; planes, trains or automobiles?

Planes, trains, bikes and feet! I don't really have a preference, I think time would be the only limiting factor for me. Trains are great when you don't have to be anywhere in a hurry (especially the overnight train we took in Vietnam). Also, we have spent a fair amount of time in buses too as they tend to work out better for our pockets (and of course when time is a again not too much of an issue). As I am quite little (5'5 to be exact) I can usually curl up easily anywhere, and so legroom on planes/buses isn't too much of a problem for me....I guess it also helps having someone who doesn't mind having me leaning on him ALL THE TIME.

CityGirlSearchingTravelBlogWonderlustTag

4. Top 3 travel items?

Down travel pillow, kikoy (a cotton towel/sarong/blanket/) and my iPhone (for quick snaps and it's indispensable 'maps' & hotel booking app features).

5.  Hostel or hotel?

Both. If it were up to my husband, we would never stay in a hotel. But, I am, as he calls, rather 'precious' and he doesn't mean it in the princess kind of way, and I have a habit of breaking out in rather unsightly rashes and bites when staying in hostels. But, I love the experience, and right now our budget only caters for hostels, and we have had all sorts of adventures staying in them. I may be a city girl, but I am rather adaptable (and with the help of my own pillow) can sleep anywhere.

6. Are you a repeat visitor or do you explore new places?

We have yet to go to the same place twice, there are just far too many places to explore in this world, and not enough time to see anything more than once. Having said that, the one place we would go back to, again and again, would be Greece.

You can see photographs from some of our travels by clicking here>>> Vietnam, Malaysia, Greece, Cambodia, Hong Kong & the Phillipines)

CityGirlSearchingTravelBlogWonderlustTag

7.  Do you read up on your destination (culture, history, safety) or do you wing it?

We pretty much wing our holidays. I don't think this is the best way to travel, but we enjoy feeling like we are the first people to experience something or see a particular place. It's not for everyone, but we enjoy our travels and so far so good!

I usually do a quick search for the top things to do in a particular place, and then rely on locals and their recommendations for attractions/restaurants and activities. As we don't get very long for our holidays, we find ourselves constantly on the move (which we enjoy as we like to jam pack as much as we can into a trip, knowing we will mostly not be returning).

8. Favourite travel website?

I spend quite a lot of time on Trip Advisor, and then highly recommend apps like Orbitz and Hotels.com for great deals on places to stay (they often have amazing discounts for using the app too!). I spend a lot of time on forums and personal travel blogs, but it can all get very daunting when first researching a country. I like to have a pen and paper out, as well as Google Maps open so that I can start to get a feel for the place first. Once I have a basic idea of where I want to go, I create an excel spreadsheet and get to planning the finer details. We don't often book accommodation in advance (this has worked both well, and worked terribly in the past!) but again, we like to wing our travels and not be too tied down, as often we will really like a place and want to stay much longer there, or really not like a place want to cut our stay shorter. Having a good skeleton planned in Excel helps a lot, and then allowing yourself breathing room when it comes to accommodation works for us. 

9. Where would you recommend a friend to visit? Name the city & why

Here is a small list:

Hoi Ann in Vietnam for their tailors, incredible night life and delicious food

Lazy Island, Koh Rong Saloem in Cambodia (just off Sihanoukville) for the wonderful, quiet & relaxed beach atmosphere and their incredible hosts. They have a small selection of beach bungalows and the island is small and peaceful, the perfect place to unwind.

Buan, South Korea our current home town. It's small, and very much in the countryside and gives you a real feel of genuine Korea. It's close to the beaches and not too far from the major cities. And we live here and can show you around :)

10. You’re leaving tomorrow, money is no option, where are you going? 

On a roadtrip in a vintage (but carefully checked by a mechanic) comfy RV motorhome to explore America. 

CityGirlSearchingTravelBlogWonderlustTag2

Vietnam through Photographs

Farmboy and I escaped the cold of South Korea for the sun, sea and sand of Vietnam over Christmas time last year. Or that's what we thought we were doing when we booked our flights the months previous, but only a few weeks before leaving we were told it had been snowing up North in Sapa, right where we were headed.

In spite of the chilly weather we experienced in the North, the central regions were wonderfully warm and we even managed to get two swims in! Our pale forms were a bit of a sight, but with our smiles we blended right in with the other tourists. We are known for searching out the quieter parts of cities and countries, but we were unable to escape the crowds in Sapa and Hoi An. We didn't mind though, it's all part and parcel of traveling these days.

I will be posting more in depth information on our 12 day trip to Vietnam (Hanoi, Sapa, Halong Bay & Hoi An) but for now I leave you with some photographs from an epic trip to an incredible country. It was one of our most favourite trips so far (even being on par with our honeymoon to the Greek Islands) and we will most certainly be going back to HoiAn.

The food was amazing and incredible cheap, the public transport, or rather the transport that was most readily available (metered taxis) were a complete rip off and despite being one of the most budget friendly countries in South East Asia, it became our most expensive trip due to missing our flight home. Thankfully we teach English in Korea, and can just about afford to make that mistake once, and only once. Besides, we got to spend 12 hours at the airport with no money, 1 coke, 1 bowl of Pho noodles and the movie Frozen on Farmboys ipad with 13% battery life...what more could you want for your last day of holiday together.

Enjoy

x