Cheating on Bali with the Nusa’s

Dear Bali,

I love you, and I always will. But… you’ve changed. Just a bit. You grew up and saw more and more people liking you, wanting to see you. Who can blame them, you are amazing. But, it felt as if we had too little ‘just you and me time’. So, I cheated on you with the Nusa’s. Sorry, not sorry.

So what are the Nusa’s?
The Nusa’s are 3 islands just south of Bali. Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan have been on the tourist roadmap for quite some time, but still feel like tropical bounty islands with not too much western interference. Nusa Penida is the biggest island and was only opened up to tourists two years ago. All of them are pure heaven and have their own personalities. All worth exploring for some days, some weeks or forever (I can dream, right?).

Getting there
Most boats sail from Sanur, Bali to Jungut Batu on Nusa Lembongan. But it is also possible to grab a boat to Mushroom Bay (where all the fancier hotels are) or directly to Nusa Penida. Going to Nusa Penida is also possible from Padangbai. The cheapest option is going to the harbour in Sanur and negotiate about the price. If you like to book in advance, don’t worry, there are lots of little tour agencies on Bali that sell tickets as well. We paid 500.000 IDR for a return ticket with the fast boat, including pick up in Canggu and drop off in Ubud. A pretty comfortable deal! Going to Nusa Penida from Lembongan is easy to arrange. Head over to the iconic yellow bridge. Here are a ton of people wanting to bring you. Around 50.000 IDR is a normal price, be sure to haggle if they are aiming high.

Nusa's

surfers won’t be disappointed here

Lembongan and Ceningan chillings
Two small beauties, connected by a picture perfect yellow hanging bridge, dotted with bumpy roads, deep blue waters and sky-high waves. With surfbreaks named ‘playgrounds’ and ‘shipwreck’ surfers won’t be disappointed here. Happier under the surface? Gear up in your wetsuit to spend some time with the massive manta-rays that cruise the shores of nearby Nusa Penida. Sounds scary, swimming with creatures that are much bigger than you? It’s not! They are so gracious and elegant. Oh and they only eat plankton. Don’t underestimate the currents here though. Dive trips are easily arranged with one of the many dive shops on Lembongan. French Kiss Divers recently opened a shop here and is full of brand new gear and offers very reasonable prices. As they say ‘the more depth, the more pleasure’. ;-)

Diving in Nusa
Diving with rays is a highlight!

If all of the above sounds like too much work, don’t worry for a second. Lounging on a massive Fatboy while sipping a healthy smoothie, gazing at the ocean, is just as easy. The best place to do so is definitely Ginger & Jamu on Jungut Batu beach. Caring about the environment, they don’t do plastic. Paper straws, cotton napkins and glass water bottles. Oh right and amazing smoothies, sandwiches, smoothie-bowls and salads. Combined with the yoga school above the cafe this place oozes the ultimate zen and friendly vibe. I admit, I’ve spend days full of relaxing, drinking, eating and plunging in to the sea for some refreshment at Ginger & Jamu.

Another amazing spot is Sea breeze Ceningan. Their catchy latino tunes, hammocks and perfect vanilla ice coffees cannot do anything else but make you happy. Overlooking the azure seaweed-farms with your toes in the sand, beach life as it should be. Also, their wifi is really good, thus digital nomad proof!

For dinner the choices are endless.

Sea breeze Ceningan
Sea breeze Ceningan 

For dinner the choices are endless. There are a ton of nice warungs for local dishes. Not so local are the nanchos and burritos at Ginger Moon (whats in a name), but they cannot be missed! Getting around Lembongan and Ceningan is best done by motorbike. The roads are generally okay and even the bumpy ones are do-able. Nice places to scooter to include dream beach, devil’s tears, mahana point and the blue lagoon.

Island friendly prices
Now, are these two islands going to break your wallet? Hell no! There are tons of affordable homestays. Your own little bungalow -some even with a swimming pool and breakfast- usually comes with a price tag of between 13 and 20 euro a night. Although more luxurious places are also widely available. I highly recommend Jiva Bungalows: basic but clean bungalows, super sweet people and a nice breakfast included!

Adventurous Penida
Now if you are up for a little less relaxing and a bit more adventure, Nusa Penida is the perfect pick. It’s possible to do day trips from Lembongan, but staying on the island for a few days is definitely better. Penida is much more quiet, less developed and wilder then little sisters Lembongan and Ceningan. That’s great for adventure, but also a bit more dangerous. They are working on the roads, but a lot of them are still treacherous. Going for a daytrip? Then seriously consider hiring a car with a driver as the highlights are further apart and driving hastily really isn’t a good idea. Still rather have a scooter to drive around yourself? Then make sure to check it before renting. Good brakes are a must on the steep and rocky roads that are home to Penida! As this island isn’t open to tourists for that long, it’s not filled with restaurants and bars yet. But every village has a couple of gems. Whatever you do, don’t miss breakfast/brunch/lunch at Penida Espresso. The smells from their kitchen are heaven and the rock butter smoothie bowl is to die for.

Penida Espresso
Penida Espresso

Penida, Nusa. Broken Beach
Broken Beach, Penida

Penida beauties
The island has an amazing coastline, high cliffs, hidden beaches and views that go on forever. Take a day to drive the beautiful road to Atuh beach, take the steep stairs down and chill on one of the loungers to watch the change of the tide.

Nusa's, Indonesia

Another great place is broken beach. The name is a bit confusing as there is absolutely no beach but it’s a sight to behold. Next to broken beach is Angels Billabong. It seems as if the pictures you find online are massively photoshopped and don’t depict the real thing. I dare to say Angels Billabong was the disappointment of my trip through Asia so far. But hey, go see for yourself! The ultimate highlight of Nusa Penida has got to be Kelingking beach. A massive cliff looking down onto the purest of beaches with the bluest of waters. It’s impossible to describe this beauty in words. There is a way down to that perfect beach, but it is quite dangerous so be careful!

Crystal clear
Of course you can also relax at Nusa Penida. Crystal Bay is your bae! Although it has some real steep hills, the road to Crystal is perfect and very Instagram worthy, lined with picture perfect palm trees. You can rent two sun-beds and an umbrella to protect you from the sun for just 50.000 IDR a day. The little warung at the western end of the beach makes you a great mie goreng! Don’t forget your snorkeling gear, the underwater life really is crystal clear and includes many curious, colorful fishes and even the occasional turtle. Do check the current as it can be strong here! End your day with a cocktail or a beer at Penida Colada while looking at the Agung volcano, just across the sea on Bali. Life is pretty damn perfect here.

Crystel Bay Beach, nusa's
The tropical Cystel Bay Beach

Now, don’t skip Bali just yet. But consider spending some time with the Nusa’s to fill up one some peace, quiet and happiness. Maybe I see you there as I might never leave again.

Life is better at the beach,

Jill

*Our guest editor Jill is currently traveling through Asia and will monthly update us about her Asian adventures. 

The many faces of Central and Southern Vietnam

Vietnam is just one country, but it sure feels as many different ones. If you are heading out to this Asian pearl, the north part should be (in my opinion) your main priority. I still long for those emerald karst mountains. However, if you have a bit more travel time, central and southern Vietnam are parts of Vietnam that cannot not be overlooked. Well, most parts of them anyway.

Ancient emperors in Hue
Hue, the capital of the Nguyen emperors, really is the middle of Vietnam. It is a city most people only pass for a day while on their way to Danang or Hoi An. But it is worth it to linger for a few days in this small, cozy city. The main reason is the Citadel. A walled city within the city, showcasing how the emperors of old days lived. It’s impressive and pretty big, you can easily get lost there for half a day. If you can stand the burning sun, going during mid-day will give you the most alone time with the temples. The ancient city is not the only thing that has been abandoned. A half an hour motorbike ride takes you to an empty amusement park. Water slides and swimming pools that havent heard a child’s laughter for ages, now overgrown with trees and bushes. A bit creepy i might add. Its also possible to do a tour to the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone), an area that played a big part in the Vietnam war (or American war, as the Viets call it). Next to sightseeing, Hue offers lots of nice little cafe’s, eateries and rooftop bars for some lounging around. A great little budget hotel is Glenda guesthouse, friendly people, great location and a nice breakfast included!

Vietnam

Feeling at home in Hoi An
An absolute must in Vietnam is taking a tour on the back of a motorcycle with an easy rider. These drivers take you from one place to another, while you enjoy the road and the scenery (perfect if navigating yourself through the Vietnam traffic chaos really isn’t your thing). There are lots of options to do these tours, but the route from Hue to Hoi An is a famous one. The reason? The Hai Van Pass (a.k.a top gear mountain since Jeremy Clarkson cruised this road for his tv show). Winding roads up and down the mountain, combined with stunning vista’s of the sea and the mountains. There is no camera that has the ability to capture these pretty pictures. Go see for yourself!

img_4791

On the way to Hoi An you’ll pass Danang. If you are looking for anonymous 5 star resorts, lots of Russian tourists and a beach, this is the place to be. Otherwise, skip this boring city and spend your time in Hoi An. And time is what you need in this cute little town. Yes, there are tons of tourists here, but that doesn’t dull the little lights coming from the lampions that hover above the narrow streets. There is lot’s to look at in Hoi An and even more to buy. Get your tailor made clothes for a dime (i recommend Maya) and pretty leather bags for even less. Have dinner at the waterfront and sip on a brightly colored smoothie while you watch all the people passing by. Most hotels won’t be in the ancient city centre so opt for one that includes (free) bicycles. It’s the perfect way to explore ánd to head to An Bang beach for some time in the sand and water. Lots of beach bars offer free loungers if you take lunch with them, a fair deal! The Hoi An Rose Garden Hotel is in between the city and the beach and offers a nice swimming pool to cool down after a day of strolling/biking around. A word of advise: don’t go with one of those snorkling trips to the Cham Islands. The underwater scenery is meh and much worse: you’ll be surrounded by tourists in life jackets who are stepping on (and thus damaging) the corals. The trip you should take is to My Son. These ruins will take your breath away.

Adventurous Dalat
Further down the coast lies Nha Trang. The beaches are nice, but that is about it. This town has been attacked by many tourists. If beach is what you want, just stick around Hoi An a little longer. If adventure is what you seek, head to Dalat. This is one unique city, as it lies up in the mountains and carries a much cooler climate. There are waterfalls, there is wine and a lot of adventure sports. The true adrenaline junkies have to sign up for canyoning. Abseiling from waterfalls, sliding through rock pools and jumping of a 11 meter cliff (if you dare). After a day like this, you’ll be pumped for the rest of your travels. You can book a tour at Vietchallenge.com

Lie down in Mui Ne
In need of some chill time now? On the southern coast between Dalat and Ho Chi Minh City, quiet Mui Ne will give you just that. It has a beach which is okay and some nice restaurants. Hire a beach lounger at coco beach resort and you’ll find relaxing here is pretty easy (they have some very nice massages there too). If you are an avid wind or kite surfer, Mui Ne offers it all. But be aware, the prices for lessons and gear hire are extremely high. There are many places to spend the night in Mui Ne, but the Xin chao hotel offers the best bang for your buck. Spacious rooms, a pool table ánd a refreshing swimming pool. Near Mui Ne are the white sand dunes. All little piece of desert in Vietnam. Pretty cool to run up and down those sand mountains. Lots of excursions to these dunes are organised in Mui Ne. However, most of them are package deals, also tacking you to other (tourist trap) sights. Oh and they mostly forget to mention that you have to pay an extra fee when you want to go up the dunes. So be extra aware on what you book and if it is what you are looking for.

Central and Soutern Vietnam
Mui Ne

Smoggy Ho Chi Minh City
You either love it or hate it, the second big city of Vietnam is Ho Chi Minh City. It’s a smoggy and crowded metropole, with lots of bars, shoppingmalls and street food. Try to find a local or a tour that takes you out of the centre to experience true Vietnam city life. A city full of skyscrapers asks for a drink in a rooftop bar. The best one: the View rooftop bar. It is not the highest one, but you’ll find a great informal vibe and an amazing cocktail list.

theviewrooftopbar Cnetral and Southern Vietnam
The View Rooftop Bar Source

Ho Chi Minh City also is the gateway to the Mekong Delta. Multiple or one-day tours are on offer throughout the city (or just take a bus and organize everything by yourself). If you take a one-day tour its worth it to spend a bit more money. That will get you smaller groups and more time to experience life in the river delta. Little boats will guide you on small canals through fields. Learn how to make coconut candy and down a fermented-snake-shot. It all is a bit touristy, but still a lot of fun.

The ‘once was’ paradise: Phu Quoc
Surely, before the tourist boom hit Vietnam, the Southern island of Phu Quoc was a real beauty. But the white sandy beaches now are full of rubbish and troubled by fumes from all the boats. But there are still a few nice places left to end your Vietnam trip in pure relaxation. Ong Lang Beach is quite far from the nearest town and therefore very peaceful. The beach here is a bit rough, but clean. Phu Quoc Dragon Resort & Spa will give you all you need for ultimate relaxation (at very reasonable rates). While you’re in the area, grab a chicken sandwich at Sakura restaurant. Not a very Vietnamese lunch, but you’ll be craving this sandwich for weeks afterwards! And if you are on the island in the dry season, hop on a boat for some underwater life. Be aware that the diving schools offer snorkel tours for a slightly higher price than regular tour operators, but that is probably worth it. The regular tours are, again, full of Tourists (you know who) who have no respect for the aquatic life.

20626261_332599603864378_4701703003518028_o
Still lovely; Phu Quoc Dragon Resort & Spa Source

Central and Southern Vietnam has some flaws, but most definitely it’s beauty. There is only one way to find out if you love it or not: go see for yourself.

Love,

Jill

Jill is currently traveling through Vietnam and Thailand and will monthly update us about her Asian adventures

The Northern (high)lights of Vietnam

Vietnam is hot. And i’m not only talking about the weather. This long stretched south-east Asian country is on the rise for backpackers and travelers alike. Not so strange when you come to think of the perfectly spiced and easy-to-digest food goodies, bright rice paddies, staggering karst mountains and sandy beaches. Vietnam is the place to be if you want to take in as much different scenery as possible. If you start of in the North of the country, there are a number of hotspots you simply cannot miss.

Happy in Hanoi
Sweat is dripping of your face, not to mention the rest of your body. Around you it’s a hot mess of honking motorbikes, waving salesladies and strange smells. This is Hanoi. One of the two big cities of Vietnam and for many travelers the kick-off of their journey. It’s also the gateway to many of the highlights in the North of the country. Many people use this city in exactly that way, a travel-through kind of city to get to more beautiful places. But Hanoi should not be overlooked. It’s a bustling city with lots to see, feel and do. For all you foodies out there, your mouth will water with the endless options of amazing dishes. From sitting on little plastic chairs on the street to high-class dining it’s all there. My advise: opt for the plastic chairs for intense flavors and a true local experience. Think rice pancakes, filled with shrimp, beansprouts and pork. Fresh springrolls, rice noodles with beef and amazing broth, it’s all heaven. Order a glass of fresh draft beer (starting at 20ct’s a glass!) look around you and enjoy! Besides eating, Hanoi offers enough sightseeing. Go to the Hanoi Hilton Prison to experience what it was like being captured by the French, to the Ho Chi Minh Masoleum to see the body of Vietnam’s great leader (check opening hours carefully to avoid closed doors) and stroll around Hoan Kiem Lake where Vietnamese kids will try to learn some English by starting a conversation (and taking some selfies). Budget wise, Hanoi won’t burn a hole in your wallet. Hotels and hostels are cheap and fine. My advise: the Bluebell Hotel. In the middle of the backpacker district, offering large and clean double rooms with a funny and friendly manager and price tag.


The streets (and rails) of Hanoi

Halong Bay Beauty
Probably the most famous landmark of Vietnam, Halong Bay lies a 3,5 hours drive east of Hanoi. Recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, Halong Bay is full of amazing vista’s, high-rising karst mountains and deep green waters. It’s not an option to go to Vietnam and not see this epic landscape. There are several ways to see the bay. Cheap and less touristy is arranging a bus to Cat Ba and board a tour from there. However, this does take up a lot of travel time that you could have spend on the water. Feeling lazy? Book a tour in Hanoi and everything will be arranged. Some pointers: never book a one day trip, as you will spend most of your day in the bus traveling towards Halong Bay. 2 or 3 days is perfect (also on days 2 and 3 you will enter the less touristy part of the bay). If you want to have a relaxed and clean stay, always go for those that are a bit more expensive. Sailing 3 days for 80 dollars will most likely mean you share your cabin with cockroaches and a fishy smell. The tours that come with a price between 130 to 160 dollar (for 3 days) are worth the splurge. Always ask what you get for the price and what kind of luxury (or not) you can expect. Now all you need to do is chill on one of the loungers on deck and take in the view!

Halong Bay, Northern Vietnam
H
along Bay

Scenic Sapa
Rice fields as far as your eyes reach, in stunning shades of green. A local ‘mama’ guiding you around on steep paths and into their homes. Sapa, close to the Chinese border, is not to be missed. Unfortunately I did miss it and still regret it deeply. Everyone who has been there, mentions it is one of their Vietnam favorites. You can take a bus or a train there, and local guides will be waiting to take you at the station. This is a cheap way to see Sapa (most of the times this includes two days of hiking and one night in a traditional homestay). If you feel more comfortable knowing who you are going with upfront, book a tour. Do expect lots of begging little children and people trying to sell you stuff, the tourist industry is booming here (not in a good way). You can avoid this a bit by booking a tour that takes you to another part of Sapa and usually only costs a few dollars extra.

Imagine lush green mountains and valleys full of rices fields

Biking Mai Chau
A lot less touristy and still very beautiful is Mai Chau. Those who have limited time, will often skip this area since it is not on the standard route. But that is a mistake. Mai Chau feels more authentic than most of the other places in the north. Imagine lush green mountains and valleys full of rices fields. Add the occasional herd of cows crossing the road and local markets (not advisable for those with sensitive noses and stomachs) and you have a pretty good picture of what to expect. Cycling through the valleys is the way to move forward and to learn about the traditional Thai and Hmong people living here. During your bike ride, you might encounter the 1000 steps stairway, leading to a cave and a great viewpoint. Be aware that these stairs are not for those who are in a bad shape. The steps can be slippery and are quite uneven. Oh right, and there are a thousand of them! The perfect place to spend the night is Mai Chau Sunrise resort.

Tam Coc Adventures
They call it Halong Bay on land and the latest King Kong movie (Skull Island) was shot here. For a reason I might add. The Tam Coc mountains are stunning. To gaze at the mountains you can book a boat ride, but this is expensive and a lot of travelers mention it’s unpleasant due to the demands for a big tip by the ladies rowing the boat. So, why not grab a (motor)bike and see the area on your own terms? It’s the perfect way to explore and enjoy. Climb the stairs at Hang Mua (only 500 this time, and way easier) for an Instagram worthy shot of the karst mountains and the river. If you have the time, make your way to the temple complex of Bai Dinh (about 20 KM from Tam Coc). Even if you are not a temple lover, this place will impress you.

Northern Vietnam, Tam coc - viewpoint
The stunning viewpoint at Tam coc 

Booking A Tour
‘Book a tour’ is mentioned a number of times above. But in Hanoi, there are almost more tour agencies than there are motorbikes (okay, not sure if that is possible, but still) and not all of them are honest with what they sell. But there is one local angel that will make your trip (and life) a little easier and fun. Lily’s Travel Agency truly is number one. They offer fair prices, but above all: honest advise (they actually listen to what you want and what you don’t want) and the best service I’ve have ever had from a tour operator (including free water and fruit while waiting and a free beer when we stepped back into her office to give some feedback).

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think there are some rice pancakes calling out my name.

Love from Vietnam,

Jill

Desa Seni, total bliss at this healthy yoga retreat in Bali

Yoga, meditations, massages, healthy food, a beautiful swimming pool, private sleeping cabins, an overwhelming tropical garden and super friendly staff. I haven’t even mentioned the comfortable big beds, the outside bathroom, and this all located close to the beach: Yoga retreat Desa Seni in Canggu is the perfect retreat to recharge.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After a super busy year and some private circumstances, I needed some time to relax. Bali is the perfect place for that since there are a lot of healthy spots and yoga retreats on the island. I was already in Canggu and I heard that Desa Seni is one of the best yoga retreats of Bali: they have the most experienced teachers, delicious fresh and healthy food, luxurious surroundings and a great service! That’s exactly what I needed.

  I wasn’t a big yoga fan, but ever since I took some classes at Desa Seni I decided to continue to practice yoga in Amsterdam.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Desa Seni
The retreat is located amid ancient rice terraces.
You get a warm welcome when you arrive by the lovely women at the entrance desk of Desa Seni. Then a guided tour is waiting for you first before drinking a welcomes cocktail at the pool. The first thing you will notice is the relaxed and beautiful vibe of this retreat: The beautiful garden with colorful flowers, the big and comfortable sun bets and the stunning swimming pool was exactly what I was looking for. They seriously have thought about everything: mosquito spray, candles, incense, holiday cards to send out and a lot more.
You get to chill in a zen location for a few days where everything is included and that is what you want when you go to a retreat.
This Village Resort serves an eclectic Asian-Western cuisine with a focus on organic, healthy and fresh food. It has a
 vegetarian menu where delicious fish and veggie dishes from the resort’s own organic gardens are waiting for you. The restaurant is open to the public for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
desa-seni-bali
The traditional wooden farmhouse

desa-seni-bali-2
The outside bathroom

Yoga
Desa Seni’s daily Yoga program caters to all levels and offers a variety of yoga styles, open to the community and led by a qualified, dedicated, and passionate team of teachers. Apparently Desa Seni has the best yoga teachers on the island. A lot of people come here to take part of the 5 yoga classes they offer each day: From Kundalini Yoga and Hatha (the most reckon one) to Sunset Flow and Fly High Yoga. They might be a but heavier than in your own country, but it has also to do with the weather (you sweat a lot). The classes are super divers and you feel great when your done.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

So what does it cost?
Desa Seni offers a variety of accommodations, all of which are antique wooden houses with beautiful terraces, sitting areas and private modern outside bathrooms. The interior of each unique house has been re-furbished to provide all the modern comforts, while the exteriors have retained the integrity of rural village life. Check the prices hereRoom Rates include: Gourmet Breakfast – Daily Yoga & Meditation Classes – Unlimited Drinking Water – Complimentary Wireless Internet – Daily Ceremonial Offering – DVD & Book Library.

Desa Seni
Jl. Subak Sari No.13, Canggu, Bali
Website

Love,

Sarah

6 Reasons To Still Love Thailand

Thailand. Once a tropical and far away destination but nowadays, more than ever, a super touristic country where real adventure and authenticity seem to be disappearing and mass tourism seems to be taking over. Some travelers don’t even bother going to Thailand any more, but for me, even after three times, it is still one of my favorite Southeast Asian countries. Why? I’ll give you 6 reasons why to still love Thailand.

1. The People.
Thailand is known as the land of the smile and even though ginormous amounts of tourists have found their way to the land once known as Siam, the Thai people still remain friendly. Of course you have the general exceptions such as the merchants on Khao San Road who don’t even let you try something before buying it, but the (big!) majority of Thai people I met remain respectful, friendly, humble and do everything with a big smile.

Bangkok, love Thailand
Bangkok

2. The Food.
Okay, this one is a SUPER big cliché, but so true! I tried fresh Spring Rolls in Vietnam, ate Khmer Amok in Cambodia and love a portion of Indonesian Gado Gado, but, let’s be honest, nothing beats a Pad Thai. Thai food is so versatile, so full of flavor and even as a vegetarian you are treated to mouthwatering dishes day after day after day. And yes, food is definitely a reason for me to go to a country and that’s why I love Thailand ;)

3. The convenience.
Traveling around Thailand is easy. Did I say easy? It is super easy! Every hostel has a travel desk and in every town you’ll find heaps of travel agencies. Whether you take the bus, boat, minivan and TukTuk, everything is well planned out and you’ll always arrive on your destination. Flying is sometimes even cheaper than the train or bus (you can, for instance, fly from Bangkok to Krabi for 20 Euros) and vehicles like minivans are often of good quality. Believe me, if you’ve seen what I traveled with in countries like Cambodia you’ll never complain about a Thai minivan again…

Love Thailand
Traveling through Thailand by boat

4. The Islands.
There are so many islands in Thailand that you could easily stay for 2 months, and there is something for everyone. If you like to go partying you go to Koh Phi Phi or Koh Phangan, if you want to relax I’d recommend Koh Lanta (check our tips on Koh Lanta), if you want to get your PADI or want to go snorkeling then Koh Tao is the place to be and if you’re looking for something different then Koh Chang is where you should set sail to. And what all the islands have in common: they are beautiful.

Krabi, Love Thailand

5. The Temples.
What can I say? I love temples, and Thailand has many of them. Some people say that “after you’ve seen one temple you’ve seen them all” but I strongly disagree, especially in Thailand. In Bangkok you can’t miss the reclining Buddha and Wat Arun, whereas in Chiang Mai Doi Suthep is a definite must-go-to. But also walking into the smaller, less well-known temples that aren’t mentioned in travel guides like the lonely planet are worth wandering around.

6. The Sunsets
Yes, there are pretty sunsets everywhere, but the last few I saw during my most recent visit to Thailand were out of this world. Whether you’re in a busy metropole like Bangkok or chilling on an island, Mother Nature will treat you to some of her best sunsets ever. Order a cold Chang, get comfortable and watch the day turn into night.

Sunsets in Krabi Thailand,
Sunsets like no other

I could go on about the weather, the parties, the adventure, how the Thai people speak English and so on but I think I made my point about why I love Thailand: this country is still more than worth visiting. Enjoy! 

Love,

Evelien

*Evelien is one of our guest bloggers who currently travels and lives in Australia. Follow her on Instagram (@eefexplores) or check out her website!

Bali must do’s for first timers

In my previous blog, I highlighted some sights you should visit in Java. Even though Java is beautiful, I think an even more special place in Indonesia is Bali. Bali is quite a popular destination and once you visited this island you’ll understand why. While in most of Indonesia, Islam is the main religion, in Bali most people are Hinduists. You’ll see Hindu temples everywhere. But these are not the only interesting sights. Here’s are some Bali must do’s if you’re visiting the island for the first time.

Ubud
Ubud is the cultural hart of Bali. It has a lovely center with nice bars and restaurants. It has quite a spiritual vibe with all its great temples. The most impressive one is Gunung Kawi, an 11th-century temple complex spread across both sides of the Pakerisan river. It comprises 10 shrines that are carved into seven (!) metre high sheltered niches on each side. Once you move away from the center, Ubud also has beautiful surroundings, you can walk for example to Campuang Ridge and see beautiful rice fields.

Bike downhill from Mount Batur
This is a spectacular tour which starts in Ubud, from where you’ll drive to Penelokan, which is right next to Mount Batur. You’ll have breakfast overlooking this impressive, active, volcano and its crater lake. After this great start, you will bike downhill back to Ubud. Along the way, you’ll see little villages and visit a coffee plantation, typical Balinese houses and the well-known rice fields.

breakfast-with-a-view
Breakfast with a view

Dive in Amed
If you like diving, Amed is the place to be in Bali. There are lots of different dive schools that all offer PADI or SSI courses, or just regular dive trips in case you are already certified. One of the most memorable dive spots is Manta Point, close to Nuusa Lembongan. It takes some time to get there and it’s therefore also quite a pricy dive, but it will be well worth once you see massive – up to 6 metres wide – Manta’s under water. 

it-is-called-manta-point-for-a-reason, Bali must do's
It is called Manta Point for a reason!

Relax at the Gili’s
The Gili’s do not really belong to Bali, but they are the perfect getaway with their white beaches, clear blue water and amazing sunsets. You can easily get there by boat from Padang Bay. Gili Trawangan is the biggest island and mostly known for its parties. Gili Air is a bit smaller but it has a great atmosphere and is very vibrant with all the restaurants along the beach where you can eat sea food that just came out of the ocean. And if you really want some relax time the smallest Gili Meno is the place to be. All islands are home to an impressive underwater world and snorkeling or diving are great activities here. Find more info about the Gili islands here.

There you have it, just a little guide into Bali must do’s for first timers. And I’m sure there will be a second time very soon after!

Love,

Dionne

*Dionne is one of our guest bloggers from the Netherlands, currently living in Den Bosch. In everyday life she works as a marketing-communications professional. She loves to travel to distant destinations, but she also enjoys a city trip closer to home.

How to avoid the crowds at Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Angkor Wat is undoubtedly Cambodia’s biggest tourist attraction. And this is no surprise since Angkor Wat is the biggest religious monument in the world which dates back to the early twelfth century. These days almost 5 million tourists yearly make their way over to Cambodia to wander around the temples of Angkor themselves, making it a very popular but very busy place to visit. You better think again if you ever dream of having these temples all to yourself, but there are a few tricks to avoid the big crowds and wander around in peace…

1. Watch the sunrise and leave a little early
Watching the sunrise at Angkor Wat is a definite must-do when you’re visiting these temples. Not only is it a truly magical experience when a new day presents itself by rising up against the temples, but it is also a great way to arrive at the temples early. If you want to have a good spot without hundreds of iPad and Selfiestick waving Chinese tourists in front of you, walk right instead of going straight ahead at the famous ‘sunrise temple spot’. You won’t be right in front of the temples, but you will share the view with just a dozen of other tourists. When the sun is up and you captured enough Instagram-worthy shots, head back to your Tuk Tuk driver before everybody else does. Doing this you’ll arrive at the other temples as one of the first, having the temples (almost) all to yourself :)

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

2. The further away, the better!
Ask your Tuk Tuk driver to bring you to the popular temples that are further away first. Many Tuk Tuk’s and tour buses follow a certain route, creating the perfect opportunity for you to do the exact opposite thing :) Also, if you see tons of big tour buses standing outside of a temple, ask your Tuk Tuk driver to take you to another temple which appears to be less crowded first.

no crowds at ankor-wat

3. Go back at the end of the day
Wandering around the temples of Angkor is extremely beautiful, but also extremely tiring and HOT! If you decided to watch the sunrise you will probably feel very tired around 12pm, making you want to go home and take a nap during the hottest hours of the day. If you buy a one-day-pass this pass is valid for a whole day, so you can come back to the temples in the late afternoon, when most of the crowds already have disappeared. Make sure you don’t go too late as Angkor Wat closes at 6pm.

Angkor Wat takes you back in time

I hope the three tips above will help you explore this ancient Kingdom in peace and quiet. Enjoy :)

Love,

Evelien

*Evelien is one of our guest bloggers who currently travels and lives in Australia. Follow her on Instagram (@eefexplores) or check out her website!

Did you know Cambodia is one of the world’s cheapest countries to live in? Check which countries made it to the top 5!

WX191DV28C

4 Recommendations On Beautiful Java

Java is the most populated island of Indonesia and it has a great deal of sights which are worth a visit. You can easily travel the whole island by train, if you have the time off course, because the length of the island is about 1000 km so it does take you quite a few hours to get across. These are some of the sights I would recommend visiting:

The Dutch Jakarta
Jakarta is the capital of Indonesia with about 9,6 million citizens. A lot of people say Jakarta is too crowded, dirty (because of the smog), hot and therefore not necessarily worth a visit. But I like to think otherwise. Yes, it’s crowded and chaotic, but once you get used to that you will see this city has some great things to offer. Especially when you are interested in some (Dutch) history, Jakarta is an interesting metropolis. You can still see the Dutch influence for example in the buildings on Taman Fatahilla square. In the Jakarta History Museum you can get a glance of live in the earlier Dutch East Indies.

header-photo-prambanan-java
Inpressive Prambanan

When you are interested in some (Dutch) history, Jakarta is an interesting metropolis.

Borobudur
Borobudur is one of the most famous sights of Indonesia. Yes, it’s full of tourists, but since it’s the largest Buddhist temple in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, you cannot skip a visit. The temple is designed as a mandala and has nine platforms in total, six square and three circular, topped by a central dome. The temple represents the Buddhist cosmos. Next to a lot of tourists, the temple is also visited by many pilgrims. A pilgrim must walk every platform 7 times, clockwise and from bottom to top. This way, he or she will reach Nirvana; an ultimate state of soteriological release and liberation from rebirths.

highest-platform-of-the-famous-borobudur, Java
Highest platform of the famous Borobudur

Prambanan
Prambanan is probably just as famous as Borobudur, but this sight belongs to a completely different religion. It’s the largest Hindu temple of Indonesia and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The compound consists of more than 200 temples, but the three main ones are the Trimurti temples; the largest one (47 metres) is dedicated to Shiva, God of Destruction. The two temples next to this one are dedicated to Brahma, God of Creation and Vishnu, God of Preservation. Like Borobudur, visitors should officially enter each temple from the east side and circumambulate clockwise.

The Ijen Volcano
While a lot of people visit Mount Bromo, the most famous volcano of Java, I decided to visit another volcano during our holiday in Indonesia; Ijen. Ijen is one of the few volcano’s with a crater lake. This lake contains a huge amount of sulfur, which supports a mining operation. Miners walk down the crater about twice a day to load the sulfur in baskets and carry it up to the crater rim and down the mountain by hand. This is a very labour-intensive operation, not to mention a very smelly one. When visiting the Ijen volcano, you should wear old, very old clothes. Even after washing them for about 10 times, I could still smell the sulfur! But you will see this is all worth it when you climbed Ijen and are standing at the crater rim and see the sunrise or sunset. The view is just indescribably amazing. And if you have the guts, you can even walk down the crater when it’s dark and see the so-called blue fire, which actually is ignited sulfuric gas.

sunset-at-the-top-of-ijen
Sunset at the top of Ijen, Java

In my next blog, I will continue my trip through Indonesia and give some insights in the interesting culture of Bali.

Love,

Dionne

*Dionne is one of our guest bloggers from the Netherlands, currently living in Den Bosch. In everyday life she works as a marketing-communications professional. She loves to travel to distant destinations, but she also enjoys a city trip closer to home.

These are the 10 most visited cities in the world

In at number one is Hong Kong! Yes, this expats city has topped the charts with 26 million international arrivals in 2015. The report was published yesterday by the Euromonitor’s annual rankings. It beat Bangkok, which saw 18.8 million international tourist arrivals. One thing is for sure, Asia is a popular Continent! Here is the full list of the most visited cities!

1. Hong Kong 26.7m
2. Bangkok 18.7m
3. London 18.6m
4. Singapore 16.9m
5. Paris 15m
6. Macau 14.3m
7. Istanbul 12.4m
8. New York 12.3m
9. Kuala Lumpur 12.2

Euromonitor rankings only has 2015 as the most recent year available to be able to create a comprehensive list. Expected is that Istanbul and Paris will vanish of the top 10 list due to the recent events in 2016. Asia will probably still top the list when the new report comes out next year. Hong Kong is doing so well not only because it’s a perfect layover between many Asian countries but the city is vibrant, has a growing food culture (not just in Chinese food) and 70% of the city is green and great for hiking. Read our DimSum report about Hong Kong.

Elke in Hong Kong
In Hong Kong 

The cities with the largest growth are:

  1. Osaka, Japan – 52 per cent rise in visitor numbers
  2. Kyoto, Japan – 48%
  3. Chiang Mai, Thailand – 40%
  4. Tokyo, Japan – 35%
  5. Agra, India – 28%
  6. Delhi, India – 26%
  7. Mumbai, India – 26%
  8. Milan, Italy – 18%
  9. Mecca, Saudi Arabia – 17%
  10. Pattaya, Thailand – 17%

Source: www.telegraph.co.uk

Love,

Elke

Laos: a little piece of Southeast Asian heaven

Laos, located cozily in between Thailand, Cambodia, China, Myanmar and Vietnam, is often one of the South East Asian countries that’s left un-visited when traveling this to part of the world. And that’s a shame, because Laos is a true gem and one of the cheapest countries to travel in. This is my Laos Top 3

Been there, Don Det
Don Det is a small island located in the south of Laos, close to the Cambodian border. The island is well-known for its beautiful scenery and relaxed hippy vibe. Staying in one of the bungalows on the island means going back to basic with cold showers and toilets that can only be flushed with a bucket. The relaxed vibe on this island is very contagious and soon you’ll be unwinding in a hammock with a fruit shake (or something more sedating) in your hand. For those who find it hard to sit still cheap bikes can be rented all over the island to go for a ride and explore the breathtaking waterfalls.

Don Det Waterfalls

Soaring through the jungle with the Gibbon Experience
If you’re up for a little more action after being completely rejuvenated at Don Det travel all the way north to go on The Gibbon Experience (www.gibbonexperience.org). Sleeping in the worlds highest tree houses, flying through the Lation jungle on a zipper-line and hiking through beautiful woods while contributing to preserving everything that surrounds you. That’s the Gibbon Experience. Of all my travels this is by far one of the most amazing things I’ve done. Make sure you make a booking in advance as the Gibbon Experience is often fully booked.

Laos

Oui oui, Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang (from where you can get on the night bus to the Gibbon Experience) is a town where French influences decorate this charming town everywhere. You can walk through Luang Prabangs enchanting streets or visit one of the many temples. About 40 minutes from Luang Prabang you will stumble upon the Kuang Si Waterfalls which are so greenish blue that you have to pinch yourself to make sure you’re not dreaming. Take a swim in these (cold!!) waterfalls or simply walk around and enjoy the surroundings. When you get back to Luang Prabang pay a visit to the market where delicious baguettes and fresh fruit shakes are sold for just under €1,50.

Next to these three highlights Laos has so much more to offer like visiting the Blue Lagoon in Vang Vieng or strolling around its capital Vientiane. I hope you’ll have a wonderful time in this partly undiscovered little piece of Southeast Asian heaven :)

Love,

Evelien

*Evelien is one of our guest bloggers who currently travels and lives in Australia. Follow her on Instagram (@eefexplores) or check out her website! All the pictures in this article were shot by Evelien.