MOROCCO OFF THE BEATEN TRACK | TAROUDANT

If you really want to go off beaten path in Morocco, then you should go the authentic town of Taroudant. It will surprise you the minute you arrive.

Expect yourself a warm welcome from the locals here whilst enjoying one of the best riads the region of Taroudant has to offer, Dar al Hossoun.

Taroudant, Morocco Pinterest

Where to Stay

Along the dirt track roads that leads to Taroudant you find your way to this great hidden little gem called Dar la Hossoun. It takes 3.5 hours to get there from Essaouria. The moment you enter this amazing riad you feel an oasis of peace. With more than 900 different species of plants collected from all over the world you can say that these gardens are unique and breathtaking. The owner tells with pride about the beautiful creations that are done by the famous French architects Arnaud Maurières and Eric Ossart.

The narrow swimming pool draws attention together with the amazing rooftop.

Sustainability at Dar la Hossoun

Not only the gardens are stunning, but also the rooms. Each suite or room is individually designed and decorated with local authentic rugs, cushions, tapestries and terracotta earthenware. The breakfast room with natural stone flooring is one of my favorites. Sustainability is key today and they are well aware here. In addition, they produce hot water with solar panels, the water from the sinks and showers is recycled to water all of their gardens. After a spa moment, enjoying the pool and reading a book in their amazing rooms, you will leave feeling refreshed and uplifted! Book your stay here.

Breakfast room Dar la Hossoun, Taroudant


Taroudant

Grab a bicycle at the hotel and find yourself in Taroudant within 15 minutes. A small authentic town which you should definitely visit if you want to experience the real Morocco. Taroudant is one of the oldest and most important cities in Morocco, with a great architectural, cultural and historical heritage. Without hordes of Western visiting tourists the souks here are a great place to explore. Much less hassle here and negotiations on some pricing! On Sundays, there’s also a weekend market just outside the city walls.

Off the beaten track
Morocco off the beaten track, on the way to Taroudant

The souk in Taroudant Morocco

There’s no way to get a glass of wine or beer somewhere on a terrace, locals here drink traditional Moroccan mint tea only. They drink it sweeter than us, but I must say it’s delicious.


Taroudant, Morocco
Sweet tea time in Taroudant

Claudio Bravo Palace

There’s one place you can’t miss when you visit Taroudant, Claudio Bravo Palace. This unique place is a park/museum in the middle of fields and plantations, located 10 km north of Taroudant. Book your tickets for the museum online or call them prior, and take a walk in the endless orange groves. I hadn’t heard of Claudio Bravo before, but after seeing this immense palace filled with arts from all over the world which this artist collected throughout the years I have to say I was impressed. He was a celebrated Chilean painter, noted for his hyperrealist still life and figurative paintings. As a world traveler Claudio collected all kinds of art objects which are exposed in this humongous museum. We recommend you to take a personal tour to learn all about this famous painter. 

Claudio Bravo Palace

View museum Taroundant

How to get to Taroudant

Subsequently, it’s easy to get from Agadir, while it’s further down south from Marrakech. You can take a bus or a private transfer. If you combine Taroudant with a visit in Essaouira, it’s cheaper to get a rental car so you can explore the region. All distances take between 2 to 3 hours.


To sum up Taroudant is pretty straight forward. It’s much less crowded, we didn’t see any other western tourists, and you’ll really experience the local culture. This was a completely different vibe as in Marrakech, where you can sometimes feel the gap between the tourist and a local. Places like Taroudant, will broaden your horizon.

Love,

Sarah

 

 

Off the beaten track » Isan, Northeast Thailand

Off the beaten track, Isan, Northeast Thailand

If you ask anyone about Thailand, they will probably tell you about the long stretched beaches in Ko Samui, Koh Phi Phi or talk about the elephants in Chiang Mai. All lovely, but did you know that Thailand has a lot of hidden gems located in the North Eastern part?

I flew over there to find out, and ended up having one of the most amazing press trips of the year. Let me introduce Northeast Thailand, better known as Isan.


North East Thailand

How to get there

From Bangkok you can fly to Khon Kaen,one of the four major cities of Isan, Thailand. From there you can travel to all the places I’m going to highlight. Rent a van or hire a chauffeur to drive you around. The roads are good and not too busy, so a great option to the the best parts of North East Thailand. Direct flights are also available and not expensive. Thai Smile airways is your best option.


Khon Kaen

The town itself isn’t really what we came here for, but it’s surroundings is what makes this place special. From here on, you will find the real Thailand. And with real, I mean getting the true local experience. In this part of the country you will not see many tourists or backpackers. In fact, I only saw one! Here are some must sees & do’s in the area;

» Mekin Organic Farm
This wonderful farm is run by a Thai family that is growing everything from fruits, coffee, Thai whiskey and rice on their farm. They’re not using any chemicals to spray their harvest, so you can imagine the amazing flavours of the food! I was invited to plant fresh rice in the mud. If you visit this farm, you can help too and experience the life of a Thai organic farmer. Lunch on the farm is included and so tasty!

Mekin Organic Farm, Khon Kaen

Mekin Organic Farm, Thailand
The amazing Mekin Organic Farm

Mekin Organic Farm, Khon Kaen

» Wat Chai Sri
A tiny Isan village where you can find an ancient temple with beautiful hand painted stories. It was most likely build before 1917 and remains an important temple for the Thai history. If you decide to visit this rather unique temple, make sure you walk around the village to meet some of the locals. This is a chance to experience the real Thai culture. You will be welcomed with open arms, even if they don’t speak a word of English, it’s worth trying to communicate with them. I received a cotton bracelet which was symbolic for good health and luck, and i’m still wearing it!

Meeting the local children
Meeting the local Isan kids at Wat Chai Sri (throwing up good luck signs)

» Sila Homestay
What a colourful place! Here you can learn how to weave cotton wool around a bamboo structure which makes up a “spiders web” which is used for celebrating events. Sila Homestay is a good stop to drink some traditional Thai juice and stretch your legs, while overlooking the river.

Sila Homestay, Thailand

Where to stay

Your best option is the Pullman Khon Kaen Raja Orchid Hotel in the city center. It’s large and one of the best hotels in the area. The rooms are huge and very comfortable. If you stay longer, you can enjoy the pool, fitness and spa. Book your stay here.


Roi Et

Roi et literally means “hundred and one” and is home to one of the tallest Buddha’s in Thailand. With an impressive 60 meters, it’s definitely worth visiting. Order a Skylab to get you around, It’s transportation similar to a TucTuc, but here the seats are turned towards each other. Roi Et worth visiting when the Bun Pha Wet festival is on, which happens once a year. 

Roi Et, talest Buddha

» Bun Pha Wet Festival
Amazing Thailand
planned our visit at the right time, because once a year there is a festival named Bun Pha Wet. The yearly parade is one of the highlights and I was so lucky enough to join in the fun! Being the only western group of people, everyone wanted to take pictures of us, (so that’s what celebrities feel like ey?) Participants dress up in the most beautiful creations and dance as they make their way past the watching crowd. It was such an honour to be a part of this tradition! At night you can enjoy a light and sound show and free Thai rice noodle booths all over town.



Bun Pha Wet Festival

Bun Pha Wet festival, Isan, Thailand
Photo by The Sand Gypsy

» Phra Maha Chedi Chai Monkol
It’s a name full, and it’s just as impressive as it sounds. I’m talking about the largest Chedi in Thailand. The Chedi is located about 80km away from town. Covered in gold, it stands 101 meters tall, 101 meters wide and was built on a plot measuring 101 Rai, which is about 40 acres. Yes 101 is a lucky number in Roi Et! You can take the elevator all the way up and walk down so you can see the impressive architecture. From the top you can see that the Chedi is located in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by trees and it feels magical. Entrance is only 20 bath.


Drone image by www.leanlivinggirl.com

Phra Maha Chedi Chai Monkol
The stunning Phra Maha Chedi Chai Monkol

Where to stay:

There are not many hotels to choose from, because Roi Et is not used to tourists, yet. I stayed at the Rice Hotel which is basic but good enough to rest your head. Tip: order a Thai massage from town for 400 bath and enjoy the comfort of having the massage in your room. (No happy ending included guys!)


Ubon Ratchathani 

Close to the border of Laos, you will find Ubon Ratchathani. It means Royal Lotus City and is often called Ubon for short. It’s probably the best hidden gem that Thailand has to offer, because here you will find extraordinary national parks, and there is even a canyon.

» Pha Taem National Park
If you’re into history, you are going to love this national park. You will find the “mushroom shaped rocks” that was were produced by years of erosion. But the park is also known for numerous prehistoric cave paintings that date back 3000 – 4000 years ago. I was really impressed by the well kept hand prints and drawings these people made so many years ago. The drawings feature people, animals and their use of Buk fishing. The whole area is rather special and when you walk besides the cliff, it’s pretty amazing to imagine how this area must have looked so many years ago. Entrance is 400 bath for adults and 200 bath for kids. There is a small café where you can get amazing ice-coffees and juices, and you’re probably going to need it!

Mushroom rocks
Is it a mushroom? (yes, that’s me in the middle)

» Sam Phan Bok
The Grand Canyon of Thailand and a place you cannot miss while visiting this part of the country! The area consist of thousands of holes (San Phan Bok translate to 3000 holes), some filled with rainwater. I couldn’t believe this was also in Thailand! Get your camera ready, because it’s one of the most photogenic area’s you will see. Walk around to find a Mickey Mouse shaped hole. Tip: Bring an umbrella to protect you from the sun, otherwise you will burn alive! Luckily there are many food stands at the arrival point where you can buy fresh coconuts, ice-cream and water.

San Phan Bok, Thailand
Heatwave! Bring an umbrella (photo by Piet Fischer)


Alien-like Sam Phan Bok, a true sight. 

» Sirindhorn Wararam Phu Prao Temple
Right across the border of Laos, this beautiful temple changes completely when the sun sets and it gets dark. Come here around 5.30pm and wait for the magical moment. If you are a professional photographer, you may want to bring your tripod. Say hello to the pigs that walk around at the temple and love to be cuddled.

Illuminate temple, Thailand
When the sun goes down, the tree and the floor light up

Where to stay

With no question, stay at the Thohsang Khongjiam Resort. This hotel really feels like you’re on holiday. After a day full of exploring, this place is the perfect stopover for a few days. There are villa’s available if you are with a family, but the other rooms are also good. The hotel is located so close Laos, that you can almost touch it. There is a wonderful swimming pool and the massages here are amazing. (yes, I need a massage everyday). Book your stay here.

Yes, Isan is a different kind of Thailand. It’s about the local experience. It’s adventurous and it’s unique. There remains only one question; are you ready to go off the beaten track?

Love,

Elke

TOP 5 SECRET SPOTS IN AMSTERDAM

Discovering Off the Beaten Track places in my hometown that are a little under the radar, it’s a hobby. But then again, I like these places because they are quiet and not over popular.

For this reason I had to think twice before writing this article. But we started this blog not to keep the best things for ourselves but to share them with the world so here we go. These are the top 5 secret spots in Amsterdam!

1. CantinaJoris van Den Berghweg 109

Word of mouth or a bicycle ride takes you to this secret spot in Amsterdam West. I live far into west Amsterdam so for me it was only a matter of time before I discovered De Cantina. This place is amazing. They serve coffee, cake, homemade lemonade and sandwiches with ingredients from their own garden or local produce. Nothing major but it’s the location and use of space that makes this secret spot worth mentioning. De Cantina is situated in between the “1800 roerden” an creative area where artists work. De Cantina is also part of “Het Rijk van de Keizer” which is a location that can be used for weddings, parties and dinners. You can lay in the sunshine deck on a fatboy, hammock or chill in an old car wreck. Find a spot in the shade under umbrella’s tucked away in between the trees. Don’t be surprised if you see chickens walking around, this is normal! So grab your bike and head for some peace and quiet! www.hetrijkvandekeizer.nl

De Cantina Amsterdam
Overlooking the Dutch landscape

De cantina
So peaceful

Chilling in a car at De Cantina
Chillin’ in a car, well.. half a car!

2. World Class RoomGeldersekade 17, Amsterdam

This secret bar (speakeasy) is so cool that we have to tell you about it! If you live in Amsterdam, you may have heard of a restaurant called Pigs & Punch bar/restaurant. Just on top of the restaurant you’ll find World ClassThe wall is decorated with framed pictures and classic bottles. The interior is brown yet stylish and there are around 6 tables to sit at. And ssst, don’t tell just anybody about this place. https://world-class-room-amsterdam

Cocktail Bar Amsterdam

3. Hotel de Windketel, Watertorenplein 8c

This tiny hotel is right in the middle of Amsterdam, yet nobody realizes it’s a place where you can spend the night at. It’s a freestanding octagonal brick tower and was built in 1897 as part of Amsterdam’s water works. Most buildings like that get destroyed but not this one. It now features as a luxury apartment for 2 equipped with a bedroom, kitchen, bathroom and living space. The nice part is, that it’s in a really nice quiet area of Amsterdam, but only a 10 minute walk from the Jordaan. It’s not the cheapest option (325 for 2 nights) but certainly the best kept secret when it comes to hotels! Perfect for a romantic getaway. www.windketel.nl Find out which new hotel openings are happening in 2020!

Secret spots in Amsterdam, De Windketel
So tiny, you might miss it

Hotel de Windketel Amsterdam secret spots
The living space at Hotel De Windketel

bedroom Hotel De windketel
Bedroom in the Windketel

4. ‘T Nieuwe Diep, Flevopark 13

If you know your way into East Amsterdam, you may have heard of this secret spot that is hidden in the Flevopark. Nevertheless, it’s always worth a visit. At ‘T Nieuwe Diep, you can feast your taste buds because they have their own distillery and organic produce. Yes, they serve coffee and tea but they are most famous for their cider, gin, liqueur and bitters. (don’t know it? try it!) There is a patio over the water and although the crowd isn’t as hip and happening as in other places, this is perfect for a relaxing moment in Amsterdam. During summer, the’re open from 3pm till 8pm Mon-Sun. www.nwediep.nl

"t Nieuwe Diep secret spots in Amsterdam

'T Nieuwe Diep, Amsterdam secret spots
‘T nieuwe diep in Flevopark Amsterdam

5. Theehuis De Aker, Zwarte Pad 30
This tea house is right next door to where I live. Next to the water where you can make your way up to the Amsterdam Forest or towards the road to Amsterdam’s nearest beach, Zandvoort. It used to be an old waterpump mill that was used to dry the ground back in the 19th century. I love this place because they collaborate with non-profit foundation the Vrije Geer, so people with a disability can work a few hours a day and serve you coffee, tea, cakes and lunch. The Aker mill has been restored a few times and is the only remaining hydraulic engineering work between Halfway and Amstelveen. 
www.deakermolen.nl

Tea House De Aker
The perfect stop after a bicycle ride

So there you have it, 5 secret spots in Amsterdam that you may not have heard of. Let’s be gentle with these places as they are not your average hotspots where you can take out your laptop and have a conference call. No, these spots are here for you to enjoy some peace and quiet in a hectic city like Amsterdam.

Love,

Elke

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