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travelling love story selfies

A Travelling Love Story – In 59 Selfies

travelling love story selfies

Selfies are all the rage these days. There have been epic selfies, 360° 3 year selfies and Oscar selfies that broke the internet.

But I like to think we were ahead of the game because Claire and I have been taking selfies on our travels since way before the craze took off and became the phenomenon it is today. Dare I say we came up with it? Of course not, that would be ridiculous. But maybe…

Anyway, whether we started the craze or not, our selfies give a pretty good track record of our travels over the years, from when we were just boyfriend and girlfriend figuring each other out to being married and expecting our first nipper. Here are some of the best (you can scroll through bigger versions by clicking on the images) from over the years…

A romantic stroll by the Ile de Notre Dame in Paris…

paris - france

Christ the Redeemer Statue in Rio, Brazil…

christ the redeemer statue - rio, brazil

Iguazu Falls in Brazil…

iguazu falls - brazil

At the Boca Juniors vs River Plate fiery football match in La Bombonera in Buenos Aires…

bombonera - buenos aires

Horse Riding in Mendoza, Argentina…

mendoza - argentina

The amazing Perito Moreno Glacier in Patagonia, Argentina…

perito moreno glacier - patagonia

Sunrise over the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia…

salar de uyuni - bolivia

Halfway through our bike ride along the World’s Most Dangerous Road in Bolivia…

worlds most dangerous road - bolivia

Floating our way across Lake Titicaca near Copacabana in Bolivia…

lake titicaca - bolivia/peru

The Marvellous Machu Picchu in Peru…

 

machu picchu - peru

Looking over the dunes of Huacachina at sunset in Peru…

huacachina - peru

An incredible lake in the mountains just outside of Huaraz…

huaraz - peru

Looking over the cityscape of Quito in Ecuador…

quito - ecuador

Straight out of a mud bath in a volcano in Cartagena, Colombia…

 

cartagena - colombia

Midway through our 3 day sail from Colombia to Panama we stopped off at the San Blas Islands. Paradise…

san blas islands - panama

The behemoth that is the Panama Canal…

panama canal

Reuniting with old friends on Roatan in Honduras where I taught English on my gap year…

punta gorda, roatan - honduras

Huntington Beach – Surf City in California! And a bad hair day…

huntington beach - california

Looking out over Santa Barbara, California…

santa barbara - california

Exploring the streets of San Francisco…

san francisco - california

Camel rides across the Sahara desert in Erg Chebbi, Morocco…

sahara desert - morocco

A trip back in time at the ruins of Ephesus in Turkey…

ephesus - turkey

The Turkish Grand Prix in Istanbul. Claire said she’d go if I bought her a cap…

turkish grand prix

In the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey…

blue mosque istanbul turkey

Post crash landing after our hot air balloon ride over Cappadocia in Turkey. I was planning to propose before this happened…

cappadocia balloon ride - turkey

…so I had to wait until sunset that night….

cappadoccia - engagement

Beautiful blue skies in sunny Chicago…

chicago

Our private flight on the way to safari in South Africa on our honeymoon…

private honeymoon flight - johannesburg

On a game drive looking out for the Big Five. We saw everything but the elusive leopard!

madikwe game reserve, south africa

A rainbow at the top of Le Morne in Mauritius…

mauritius - le morne

Honeymoon paradise in Mauritius…

mauritius - beach

A trip to Riga, Latvia with matching hat and ‘tache…

riga - latvia

A stroll over the Yorkshire Moors in the UK…

bolton abbey - yorkshire dales

Relaxing hammock time in Soller, Mallorca…

soller - mallorca

A stop off in Arcos de La Frontera during a road trip through Andalucia, Spain…

arcos de la frontera

Sevilla. Our home for nearly a year and one of our favourite cities in the world…

sevilla cathedral

Plaza de Espana in Sevilla on a morning run before the tour bus crowds arrive…

plaza de espana - sevilla

On the beach in Barcelona during spring time…

barcelona - spain

Tapas in Valencia…

valencia

A weekend break in Madrid…

madrid - spain

On the waterfront in the colonial town of Galle, Sri Lanka…

galle sri lanka

Hiking through Sri Lanka’s hill country in Ella…

ella sri lanka

Marathon training in Sevilla. For one of us anyway…

seville

The view over Nice promenade, our home for 3 months…

nice - france

The final of the Monaco Masters tennis…

monaco masters tennis

Historic Antibes on the French Riviera…

antibes - france

Mixing with celebrities at the Cannes Film Festival. Seeing if we can take a better selfie than Kimmy K…

cannes - france

Walking the pitlane in the run up to the Monaco Grand Prix…

monaco gp pit walk

Grabbing Kimi Raikkonen for a snap at the Grand Prix. He didn’t stop to chat…

kimi raikkonen selfie

Down at the beach in Lagos, Portugal…

lagos - portugal

Ice cream break as we check out all the boats in the harbour in St Tropez…

st tropez - france

Watching the Tour de France in London…

tour de france - london

Mojitos in Havana, Cuba….

havana - cuba

Caribbean beach time just outside of Trinidad…

ancon beach - cuba

Trinidad, Cuba. One of the prettiest towns I’ve ever visited…

trinidad - cuba

The Schwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Burma…

schwedagon pagoda - yangon - burma

Sunrise over Bagan in Burma, with hot air balloons flying in the backdrop…

bagan - burma

A boat trip over Inle Lake in Burma, with bikes in tow…

inle lake - burma

 And finally a 360 video from when we were in beautiful Bagan in Burma!

Have you travelled far and wide with your other half? Are you a selfie addict? Let us know in the comments!

monk photo burma yangon

Backpacking Photo of the Week – Modelling Monks in Yangon

You might think it’s only the tourists who are snapping away whilst on their backpacking trip but you’d be wrong.

Whilst we were exploring the Schwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Burma, we stumbled across these monks having a right old photo session. Poses, selfies – they were truly going for it!

monk photo burma yangon

backpacking in mongolia

Backpacking in Mongolia: Top 5 Must Do’s in the Altai Mountains

Mongolia is a massive country and finding information on the best “tourist destinations” can be difficult. Most travellers will either book a tour starting and finishing in the capital city of Ulanbataar, or do as we did and try and make our way across Mongolia independently.

Going independent is not without its fare share of difficulties, but regardless of what local tour guides in UB may tell you, it is possible. If you have time up your sleeve we recommend heading as far West as you can go, until your practically knocking on Russia and China’s door, this area is known as the Altai region and is especially known for its impressive mountain ranges.

backpacking in altai mountains

To reach the Altai mountains you’ll want to head towards the city of Olgii. This city is a concrete wasteland and honestly is a depressing place with nothing to offer so get in, find a driver, and get out!

We were lucky enough to run into our driver, Japaar, at the hotel we were staying at but you can also head towards the local market, or just approach anyone who owns a Russian ex-military van and see if they are a guide/driver. Finding someone who speaks English may be difficult but most older drivers will know some Russian so knowing a few words in Ruski helps!

The Altai Mountain region is a Unesco World Heritage Site that offers something for every kind of traveller. If you love hiking there are treks that will take you past lakes, through amazing countryside, and also to the Potanin glacier.

backpacking in mongolia

For those who love to see how locals live, there are numerous nomadic families who are more than happy to invite you in for a cup of tea and some biscuits. Many of these families are also famed eagle hunters.

The scenery is breathtaking for all the avid photographers out there with the countryside constantly changing before your eyes. We even spotted some keen cyclists along the way but that maybe only for the hardcore, the roads are rough the days are long and the nights are cold!

Five Things Not To Miss:

1. Nomadic Stay in A “Ger” (Mongolian tent)
There are many local families tending to their flocks of sheep and goats that you will find scattered all through the countryside, many of which are happy to open their homes to visitors needing a place to sleep. The general fee is about 10,000 Tugriks or $6 USD per person, this will get you a meal (usually lamb noodle soup) a mat to sleep on and as much tea as you can consume!

people in mongolia ger

2. Visit the Potanin Glacier
This glacier is inside the national park so there is an entrance fee or two that need to be paid along the way. Upon reaching the rangers ger you will have to leave your driver behind and hike on foot the remainder of the way to the glacier, this is about a 9 hour round trip on foot.

Along the way you can witness yaks grazing, crazy mountain goats scaling steep mountainsides, enjoy the beautiful wild flowers in the fields and also experience the coldest river crossing ever! The river isn’t deep and it’s not far across, but there is no way to cross without getting you toes wet and the possibility of squealing like a little girl from the shock of the cold!

The glacier itself is a stunning site but make sure you pack for the elements we had everything from warm sunshine, to bitterly cold winds and finally a total soaking from a rain storm: be prepared!

3. Visit an Eagle Hunters
The eagle hunters in this region are famed in Mongolia. This type of hunting is called “Berkutchy” and is a lifelong practice that is handed down through generations of Kazakh families.

The hunting season generally begins in October but the birds are displayed proudly near the owners Ger at all times of the year, some will allow you to hold the eagle at a cost of 5,000 tugriks (this is what we paid as a couple but they could charge your this as a solo traveller)

eagle hunters in mongolia

4. Go on a Horse Trek
There are a couple of companies that offer horse trekking in this region and it is a great way to see the countryside.
Note: most of the treks take a couple of days so be prepared for a sore butt!

5. Camp in the Wilderness
As explained earlier, Mongolia is a countryside of spectacular scenery and wildlife and there is nothing better than packing up a tent, some essential camping supplies and heading out into the wilderness.

There are a few treks around that range in distance so it all depends on how long you want to spend exploring the Mongolian countryside. Make sure you do some research in advance about where you are allowed to travel and also what the weather will be like. There is not much food available so stock up well in advance or you may be hunting and eating marmots!

Mongolia is a country of incredible, almost untouched beauty. Heading there may be for the more adventurous of travellers but regardless of your level of backpacking expertise it will most definitely be a experience you’ll never forget!

megs-google-profile-picMeagen Collins is chief editor of the Five Dollar Traveller website & author of Budget Burma: A comprehensive budget travel guide for Myanmar. While digesting her frequent food babies, Megsy blogs about tasty bites, booze, travel and whatever random topics pop into her head along the way!

Discover more amazing places to go backpacking on our backpacking destinations page.

nagoya osu kannon

Off the Beaten Track in Japan’s 4th Largest City: Nagoya, Japan

Nagoya is one of Japan’s largest and most populous cities: fourth after Tokyo, Osaka and Yokohama, and is located directly in between Tokyo and Kyoto, on the Shinkansen (bullet train) line.

So why, when Tokyo and Kyoto draw in the region of five million overseas tourists every year, does Nagoya remain almost unvisited?

How is it that the major guide books have almost nothing to say about Nagoya? How has Japan’s fourth biggest city managed to stay off almost every tourist’s itinerary, off the radar, and so ‘off the beaten track’?

nagoya3Arriving at Nagoya Central Station. No trouble finding a cab

Though it’s true that Nagoya doesn’t offer a lot in the way of “attractions” and “sights” – at least none that can’t be found elsewhere in the country – this mass overlooking of Nagoya by foreigners has created a paradise for those few travellers who do make it here.

Where else could you experience modern life in big city Japan combined with this level of authenticity? While Tokyo and Osaka paint a stylised portrait of contemporary and future Japan, villages such as Tsumago and Magome attempt to replicate historical Japan for tourists, and Kyoto desperately tries to do both, Nagoya remains one of the only places to see real, unadulterated Japan at its best.

As every seasoned traveller knows all too well, destinations with an established tourist trail also tend to bring hassle, unfriendliness and greedy attitudes towards visitors. Nagoya is free from all of that and is the best place to experience the true Japanese sensibility and feelings towards outsiders.

In Nagoya you can see and experience life as the Japanese live it, free from the millions of tourists you’ll find in the other cities.

Japan is a country famed for its long history of isolation, which is exactly what makes it one of the most unique cultures in the world and one of the most interesting places to visit, and while that’s not the impression you get in Tokyo or Kyoto, there is no better place to experience the legacy of Japan’s isolation than in Nagoya.

What to do in Nagoya, Japan

nagoya osu kannon

While it has all the usual tourist sites (such as Nagoya Castle, Atsuta Shrine, Nagoya Port, and the temple and shopping district of Osu Kannon – Nagoya’s answer to the likes of LA’s Venice Beach and Brighton’s North Laine) Nagoya’s real attraction is simply that it is teeming with life, twenty-four hours a day. The budget traveller can give the main sights a miss. Because of Nagoya’s unique zoning laws, or lack thereof, the best place to look for Nagoya’s history is often on its back streets, where you’ll find lonely rice paddies, hidden Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines and a wealth of old buildings that date back to the turbulent Samurai era, all hidden in the cracks between car dealerships, konbinis and supas (convenience stores and supermarkets).

nagoya 1A castle I stumbled across in Nisshin, on the outskirts of Nagoya.

Nagoya is actually the home of three of Japan’s most influential warlords: Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu, without whom the country would not be the place of peace it is today.

The Aichi district is also one of the most notorious areas in Japan for Yakuza. However, contrary to popular myth, the Yakuza often greet foreigners with respect. (I met one.) Both the Yakusa and foreigners have been treated as outsiders in Japanese society and so share a unique bond. If you’re lucky you might even be able to have your photo taken with one. Look out for tattoos and a missing little finger.

Other things to do in and around Nagoya:

  • Experience a tea ceremony.
  • Or try some Zazen meditation.
  • Hit the annual Sumo Championships! (Nagoya is the only place the catch these outside Tokyo.)
  • Dress up like a Samurai!
  • The nearest sand beach is Utsumi, located on the Chita peninsula and accessible via the Meitetsu line.
  • Hang out on the many University campuses! – Nagoya is a huge University town.

nagoya uniHanging out at Nagoya University of Foreign Studies

Food and Shopping in Nagoya

For a cheap bite to eat, or to taste Japan’s take on food from around the world, hit the Osu district. Shops stay open until eight in the evening, so after you’ve purchased those jeans you can relax in the cool evening air with some Brazilian chicken, Turkish kebab, or whatever else takes your fancy.

nagoya osuClothes shopping in Osu

However you spend your stay in Nagoya, don’t miss out on the teriyaki burger at makudonarudosu (McDonalds), or better still, Japan’s own fast-food; a hot bowl of Ramen!

Nightlife in Nagoya

A short walk away is Sakae, the epicentre of Nagoya’s roaring nightlife scene. There is no shortage of restaurants, trendy bars and live music venues. My Bar, Mujica and Shooters are among the best, not to mention Club ID, the largest and most foreigner-friendly nightclub in the city, complete with five floors and a range of music from rock to reggae and hip-hop to hard-house.

Other Nagoya nightlife highlights include:

  • The beer garden on the roof of the Meitetsu building
  • Most drinking establishments in Japan offer nomihōdai (all you can drink) and tabehōdai (all you can eat) deals – sometimes for as little as 890 Yen (£6/$9) per person for two hours!
  • Karaoke! Get a private room for you and your friends and go nuts. These are to be found almost everywhere in Japan.
  • Chain bars like Ogiya (decorated in the old, wooden style) and Hub (a poor imitation of an English pub, but the unofficially meeting point for foreign expats in any Japanese city big enough to have one).
  • Licour Mountain – Fancy a quiet night in instead? Well you can forget about that! Try Japan’s alcohol superstore answer to the humble off-licence. Here you’ll find aisles upon aisles of Japanese whisky, which can be bought in plastic bottles as large as 10 litres!

Located in its central position in Honshu, and all of Japan, Nagoya makes the perfect base for trips to Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, Yokohama, the Kiso valley, the Japan Alps, Ise, Kanazawa, Hiroshima, Miyajima, and in fact all the major destinations in Japan! With the new Chubu International Airport and a rapidly expanding subway network, Nagoya is set to only get more popular as a place to go in Japan. My advice? Get there while it’s still relatively off the beaten track!

About the Author

This post was brought to you by Roy Duffield, who has lived, worked and studied in Nagoya and now writes for Holiday-n-Adventure and his somewhat controversial travel blog, Notes from the Road.

Check out more great destinations in Asia on the TBD Asia page

raja ampat viewpoint

The Dive Site You Would be a Fool to Miss: Raja Ampat, Indonesia

Standing on a beautiful deserted tropical island that probably doesn’t even have a name and staring at the crystal clear aquamarine and turquoise waters, I realised I had finally arrived at one of the most isolated outposts of Indonesia. I was in Raja Ampat, which translates as the ‘Four Kings.’ Although you may never have heard of is place before; there is every chance that you have seen photos of the stunning coral reefs and the thousands of fish that create an enchanting underwater kaleidoscope of colour. The reason for this is that Raja Ampat offers quite simply the best diving in the whole of Indonesia.

raja ampat view

Raja Ampat is a group of four large islands (Waigeo, Waisai, Salawati and Misool) and almost 1,500 smaller ones that is located on the far Western tip of the island of Papua. This area of the world is extremely isolated. Just to put it in perspective, it’s a seven-hour flight there from Jakarta and a five-hour flight from Bali. Coupled with this a return ticket from Jakarta to the nearest airport, Sorong, costs almost the same price as a flight to Europe.

The result is that this area of the world is still pretty empty. It is at once the playground of the rich and the adventurous backpacker. There is no middle ground, no reasonably priced resorts, just cheap bedsits and luxurious villas. You can spend your night sleeping in a tent under the stars or in a beautiful boat that cost US$7,000 a night; the choice is both yours and your bank managers. Regardless of which one it happens to be, the things you experience will be the same.

raja ampat accommodation

Travelling through Raja Ampat is a lesson in the unspoilt beauty of nature. For hours and days on end we past beautiful emerald green islands surrounded by warm turquoise waters. There were miles of unspoilt golden sandy beaches, islands with picturesque tourist resorts where bungalows with palm leaf roofs abutted the waters edge. The only thing that outdid the beauty of these resorts were their eye watering prices, with some charging upwards of US$3,000 per person (I later learnt the resorts have to rent the land at US$3,000 a month, so one person covers the rent, two the running of the resort and three guests in a month is profit).

Yet as beautiful as the resorts were, we stopped at ramshackle villages, which were situated in locations just as idyllic. The main difference was that corrugated metal roofs had replaced thatch, while the waters surrounding the pier were covered in plastic and sweet wrappers and fishing lines. As of yet no one has made the effort to reconcile these two very different sides to the islands.

raja ampat kids

For my money though, the only way to travel in Raja Ampat is on a boat. It is perhaps the best way of exploring the region for the obvious reason that the area is just so large and this way you get to see so much. Instead of being limited to a few hours sailing from a resort, you can explore hundreds of miles of reefs, beaches and natural lagoons. Over seven days we never dived the same place twice and in that short space of time I got to see more amazing underwater creatures than I have in a lifetime of swimming in the ocean. I swam with two metre long reef sharks (admittedly not intentionally) and enormous manta rays. I saw hundreds of nemos’ and flat fish and big fish and small fish and even got stung by far too many jellyfish, but it was an amazing experience.

My favourite memory from my whole trip to Raja Ampat though wasn’t experienced under the waves. However instead of just telling you about it I’ll let you look at the photo:

raja ampat viewpoint

It took 20 minutes to climb to the top of the hill and another ten minutes to overcome my fear of heights and make the final ascent. When I finally got there I was greeted by this panoramic view, it is a sight that will stay with me for a lifetime.

5 Things Not to Miss

Climb Wayak – You’ll get to see the amazing view

Go diving it is the best dive spot in all of Indonesia after all

Swim with Whale Shark – the best time to do this is October through to April

Swim with Manta Rays – this can be done all year round

Watching Birds of Paradise – bring a big lens and plenty of mosquito repellent

raja ampat sunset

Something to think about: 

Unless you are staying at one of the $3,000 a week per person resorts, you can forget about communicating with the outside world. The only way you can use your smartphone is if you record a message on it, seal it in a glass bottle and threw it into the ocean.

 

Thanks to Nico from A Traveller’s Journey for this great post! For more fantastic destinations in South East Asia check out our Asia page…

everest view

Trekking to the Skies on a Himalayan Adventure: Everest Base Camp, Nepal

Trekking to Mount Everest Base Camp is a once-in-a-lifetime, dream come true opportunity. But if you go, don’t be surprised if after your Himalayan adventure you find yourself yearning to go back. Once is never enough.

Your journey will likely begin in Kathmandu and in Thamel, the city’s popular tourist district. Thamel’s streets are crammed with gear shops, merchants, money changers, guest houses, restaurants and bars, making this neighborhood the traditional starting point for trekkers. Spend a few days getting your bearings, buy that last minute item you’ll need on the trail, or take in some of the local landmarks such as Durbar Square or Swayambhunath, also known as The Monkey Temple. Or if a little sliver of quiet is what you desire, check out the Garden of Dreams, a serene oasis amid Kathmandu’s turbulent streets. And though a little pricey compared to the low budget guest houses, you can be assured of a quiet night and hot shower at the Nepalaya Hotel.

lukla airportYou’ll leave Kathmandu on a thrilling plane ride that will whisk you over the Nepal countryside and through mountain valleys until you land at one of the most extreme airports in the world, the Tenzing-Hillary Airport. Situated on the side of a mountain in the village of Lukla, you’ll pick up the trail to Everest Base Camp here. But before you speed off, stop in at a tea house, grab a quick bite to eat and a cup of tea because your next stop is three hours away.

downtown luklaThe trail to Mount Everest winds through breathtaking subtropical forests, meanders alongside raging glacial waters, through magical rhododendron forests, and carries you above the tree line where you’ll hike through a world of ancient boulders surrounded by the snow capped peaks of the Himalaya.

Your first real test will come on day two when you climb a two thousand foot ascent that will lift you into the trading outpost Namche Bazaar which sits at 12,000 feet above sea level. Your second test will come later when you climb the mountain that is home to the Tengboche Monastery. From there, your journey takes you to the high altitudes of your trek where you’ll have a choice between stopping at Pheriche or Dingboche. Pheriche is often windy and cold, but the valley it’s nestled in is beyond stunning which makes this village a popular way point. Alternatively, head for Dingboche and take an extra day to hike to the summit of Nangkartshang where you’ll sit at 16,000 feet with Ama Dablam, Taboche, Cho La Tse and other peaks. Then it’s on to Dugla and Lobuche after that.

namche trekking

mani prayer wheel

Your last stop before reaching Everest Base Camp will be Gorak Shep. There, the powerful and serrated Nuptse will be looking on as will Pumo Ri as it rises over the dark shaded Kala Pattar. The following day begin the final leg to Base Camp early enough (you’ll want to give yourself two hours to reach Base Camp and two hours to get back) so you’ll have plenty of time for basking in the glow of your accomplishment.

And if you’re feeling a little winded at the high point of your trek, don’t fret, retracing your steps from Everest Base Camp back to Lukla comes much easier and faster so make sure you enjoy your remaining time with the mountains because you’ll leave them behind far too soon.

5 things to pack

  • 4 pairs Smartwool socks plus 3 inner sock liners. A pair of socks can be made to last two days by slipping on a pair of inners on alternate days. You’ll be assured of clean, dry socks this way even when the ones you washed are taking three days to dry out.
  • Sunscreen, a wide brimmed hat to keep the sun off your face, and polarized sunglasses.
  • 3000 Rupees for each day on the trail. Sure you can do it for cheaper, but why would you want to deprive yourself of the occasional can of soda, candy bar, or extra entrée.
  • A regimen of zithromycin and diamox.
  • A down sleeping bag from home. The kind you pick up in Kathmandu or Namche Bazaar will most likely be a Northface or Marmot knock-off.

everest peak

7 things not to miss while on the trail.

  • ama dablamWhen flying to Lukla sit on the left side of the plane. You’ll get the best views of the snow covered Himalaya this way. You’ll swear that you’re looking directly into heaven as the sun outlines the peaks in shades of pink and gold.
  • Downtown Namche Bazaar.
  • The Everest View Hotel in Syangboche. The hotel is a modest day hike when you reach Namche Bazaar. Wander around to the back of the hotel, sit with the pine trees, and enjoy the stunning views of Everest, Lohtse, and Ama Dablam.
  • The Dugla Memorials.
  • Spend some time underneath a canopy of stars when everyone else is sleeping.
  • Sit with the mountains on top of Kala Pattar and commune with the mountains in the sacred valley Mount Everest calls home.
  • When you arrive back in Lukla be sure to visit the Illy coffee shop. It serves the best cup of masala tea in all of Asia.

everest view

Scott Bishop is the author of A Soul’s Calling, a memoir about a man who listened to his heart rather than reason. The book chronicles the author’s October 2011 trek to Everest Base Camp and brings the Himalaya to life in rich and vivid detail. The novel is part travelogue, part hiking adventure, and has shamanism and magic woven throughout. It’s available for purchase on Amazon.com or you can read an excerpt from it at www.scott-bishop.com.

Check out more fantastic destinations in Asia here or on our Facebook page

kolkata

The Former Jewel of the East: Kolkata, India

Kolkata is a city of contrasts. It is shocking yet charming, decadent yet squalid, degrading yet home to Nobel Prize laureates. It is certainly not for the faint hearted. When you arrive you are met with the familiar sight of streets packed with people and not a spare inch to move in, but the city is friendlier than many of its country’s counterparts, and meeting the locals is one of the best things about a visit to Kolkata.

kolkata

‘Jewel of the East’

Kolkata is India’s second largest city and the capital of West Bengal. It was formally the capital of the British Raj and was the centre of colonial trade in Asia, leading to it being given the nickname ‘The Jewel of the East’. However, that image is certainly a crumbling one, as much of it’s architecture is left to ruin and not maintained anywhere near as well as in other Indian cities. It gives it an almost perverse photographic attraction, but before long will be left as a heap of rubble and forgotten for what it once was.

kolkata india

That said, there are areas of the city which are thriving, not least the new town suburbs which are growing to accommodate new shopping centres for the wealthy portion of the inhabitants. This is where you will find many of the hotels in Kolkata, certainly for those looking at the higher end of the market, though there are backpacker hostels dotted around all over which offer the usual excellent Indian value. Outside of the newly developed suburbs, there is still a raft of slums though in contrast which are unlikely to disappear any time soon.

Kolkata Belly

Unsurprisingly, one of Kolkata’s must do activities is eating the local cuisine. Whilst many might have to battle stomach issues throughout their time in India, it is certainly worth the pain to sample the exquisite local Bengali dishes. Take that opportunity to mix with the locals too, as interaction and discovery with them will make your stay all the more interesting. Like most places in India they are extremely friendly, perhaps even more so here.

Kolkata may not be the ‘Jewel of the East’ that it once was, but it still has plenty to offer visiting travellers. It is the kind of place that you will enjoy more by immersing yourself there any getting involved with local people and activities, rather than visiting places of interest and taking photos. If you’re the kind of backpacker that likes a recognised icon around every corner then this one might not be for you, but if you’re prepared to get your hands a little dirty and put in the time, Kolkata can be an extremely rewarding host.

5 Things Not to Miss in Kolkata

Whilst Kolkata is more about feel than sightseeing, there is still plenty to keep you busy. Below are some of our favourites…

  • Take a walk along Chowringhee Road and start to discover what Kolkata is all about
  • Sample some of the best Indian cuisine you’ll ever taste at local restaurants where you’ll feel like you’re in someone’s front room
  • Head to BBD Bagh and explore the areas of crumbling colonial buildings and religious monuments
  • Visit the Victoria Memorial for beautiful gardens and Kolkata’s version of the Taj Mahal
  • Take a trip to the Keoratala burning ghat, where Kolkatan’s cremate their dead and celebrate their lives.

victoria memorial kolkata

For more great places to visit in India check out our Asia Destinations page or ‘Like’ the TBD Facebook page!

 

diving in kadavu fiji

Fabulous Fiji – 5 Tips for this Island Paradise

When you hear the word ‘Fiji’, what is the first thing that springs into your mind? Swaying palm trees rising high from fine white sandy beaches, with sparkling turquoise waters lapping at the shore. While these beaches are certainly dotted around Fiji, ten months living on this island taught me that sun, sea and sand are not all Fiji is about. Fijians are always smiling – and it is easy to see why when you see just how much they have right on their doorstep.

So, set your watch to the notoriously relaxed ‘Fiji time’, amble at your own sweet pace, and soak up all that this beautiful South Pacific island has to offer. Here are a few suggestions to get you going:

Road trip around Viti Levu

As well as stopping off at the many beaches lining your path, taking a road trip around Viti Levu- the ‘mainland’- will offer many other spectacular landscapes, from Joske’s Thumb (a thumb-shaped mountain just outside Suva), to lush green pastures. My favourite sight en-route was always the numerous coconut sellers: these smiley Fijians will greet you with a mighty ‘BULA!’- Fijian for ‘hello/welcome’, before cutting the top off a young green coconut, sticking a straw in it, and handing it through your car window…all for $2 FJD. Not only coconut sellers will line your route…aubergine sellers, mango sellers, even crab and fish sellers will hold up their goods as you drive past. All in all, this is a fantastic introduction to Fiji before cruising off to the islands.

viti levu fiji

Diving/snorkelling in Kadavu

Diving enthusiasts, take note: Kadavu, Fiji’s third largest island, may just be the new Mecca of diving. The Great Astrolabe Reef, the world’s 4th largest barrier reef, has plenty of beautiful diving sites to offer even the most experienced diver. Eagle Rock is one of the many highlights, with its sunken boulders, pinnacles, narrow channels, sheer walls and a rugged, rocky sea floor. A bounty of tropical sea life awaits you, from graceful manta-rays, to turtles, to reef sharks.

Speaking of sharks, the Beqa Shark Dive- just an hour from Suva, Fiji’s capital- is a world-renowned encounter with these magnificent creatures. Reef sharks, tiger sharks, and even colossal bull sharks frequent Beqa Lagoon, and will often swim right up close to divers. Don’t be alarmed, they’re not looking for a human-flavoured snack- they will be much more interested in the food dished out by the divemasters. Witnessing these incredible creatures up close is a truly unforgettable experience; both you and your friends will be amazed at your bravery and the sharks’ splendour.

diving in kadavu fiji

Sawa-i-lau caves in the Yasawas

After a few days relaxing on the stunning beaches in the Yasawas, you may be feeling the need to explore more of the beauty on these islands. Even the most ardent sun-worshipper will not regret taking a boat tour out to the caves on the island of Sawa-i-lau. The journey itself is worth the trip, as you weave through the northern part of the Yasawas; the lush green of the islands next to the perfect sea blue is something else. Prepare to be particularly spellbound by the waters lapping the shores as your boat arrives: in my opinion, probably the most exquisitely clear in Fiji. Brooke Shields also once graced these shores; the Sawa-i-lau caves featured in the iconic film, ‘Blue Lagoon’.

As you climb into the first and largest cave, lower yourself into the natural pool and marvel at the stunning, jagged limestone formations around you. Swim into the next cave through an exhilarating underwater tunnel, before your tour guide leads you along the pools that cut through the cave’s shadowy passages. Fusing adventure with natural beauty, nobody will leave these caves disappointed.

Wind-surfing in Nananu-i-ra

For a little island, Fiji’s weather can wildly fluctuate, and windsurfers will love the strong winds off the tiny northern Fijian island of Nananu-i-ra. Accommodation wise, Safari Lodge is the best for water-sport fans, providing free equipment for kitesurfing, windsurfing and snorkelling/diving trips. Personally, I prefer the beaches on the other side of the island; a dip into the calmer waters outside Betham’s Beach Cottages will leave you relaxed, and ready to relax in the beach-side restaurant for the evening. Nananu-i-ra has yet to be touched by the same backpacker crowds as the Yasawas; up at Sunset Point, you are likely to enjoy a sunset that is exclusively yours.

Horse-riding and surfing along Natadola Beach

Though the Yasawa Islands may boast some of Fiji’s most beautiful beaches, the mainland has a strong contender of its own. With its soft, golden sands and azure waters, Natadola Beach- often ranked as one of the world’s top beaches- was a regular haunt of mine. A horse-ride along the shore makes for a unique beach experience; make sure you are not getting charged more than $20 FJD. For those riding for the first time, the friendly horse-owners will lead the horse for you; regular riders can canter or even gallop across the sands.

For years, Natadola has been one of the country’s best surfing spots for beginners; since the major 2012 floods in Nadi, the higher waves now attract more experienced surfers. Whatever your skill level, every surfer will find a wave to ride along this beach, with boards easily rented from the nearby Intercontinental Hotel.

surfing in fiji

Though Fiji may seem just like a beach-holiday location, she also has much to offer both the adventurer and culture-seeker. Although this Pacific paradise is certainly the perfect detour for backpackers to Australia and New Zealand, Fiji is a quality destination in her own right. I found it very difficult to say ‘moce’ (Fijian for ‘goodbye’) to this island after ten months; I have no doubt that any holiday-maker will feel the same way.

This is a guest post from, a dedicated traveller, freelance marketer, and occasional blogger on broke.travel.

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Kuang Si Waterfall Luang Prabang

Monks, Buddhas and Breathtaking Beauty: Luang Prabang, Laos

Luang Prabang, located in north central Laos, is a UNESCO world heritage city and truly deserving of its title; the countryside, surrounded by beautiful mountains and rivers contribute to the splendour, whilst the French colonial architecture and stunning temples make the city truly superb.

Views of Luang Prabang

The unassuming destination of Laos has largely remained under the radar for mass tourism, which means it’s the perfect place to visit! The pace is still slow, the culture and traditions still apparent, the people welcoming and the countryside beautiful. Laos only opened up its borders to tourists in the late 80’s, but since then it’s become a lot easier to visit. You can cross overland from Vietnam, Thailand or Cambodia or fly in to Vientiane or Luang Prabang. Visas are purchased on arrival and you must only remember to take a spare passport photo and some US dollars to obtain one.

UNESCO SITE

Luang Prabang is set at the confluence of two rivers and is surrounded by beautiful rugged mountains and greenery. The town itself is a stunning mélange of traditional Laotian wooden houses and French colonial architecture, dating from the time when Laos was part of the French colony of Indochine. With UNESCO so closely involved in preserving this beautiful town you’ll be surprised by the cleanliness and atmosphere of this charming city.

ACTIVITIES IN LUANG PRABANG

There’s an abundance of activities for all tastes to keep you busy in Luang Prabang – from a trip to the Royal Palace museum or the Ethnology museum (if you’re interested in the unique history and customs of the population groups throughout Laos). Or you may want to explore and take a dip in the nearby turquoise coloured waterfalls, try your hand at training to be a mahout (an elephant handler), or even take a fun local cooking course!

Luang Prabang is also where you may wish to start early and witness the giving of alms (donated food) to the many saffron robed monks. It’s an important tradition for the locals to support the Pagodas (temples) and give to the monks – who are only allowed to eat food donated to them before noon. It’s a memorable experience to witness this daily act of kindness and solidarity amongst the Laotians.

Kuang Si Waterfall Luang Prabang

A top tip for sticking to your budget is to head off the main road for dinner and stroll along the Mekong Riverside instead – there are lots of great, authentic restaurants along there that get forgotten – even though it’s only a 5 minute walk from the main hub to the riverside!

5 things not to miss in Luang Prabang:

  • Shopping – For great bargains and beautiful local handicrafts head to the daily night market. Starting from about 6pm every night the main street is full of locals selling their wares – there’s something for everyone and we guarantee you won’t leave empty handed!
  • Natural surroundings – You must venture out of town to take in the spectacular colours of the Kuang Si waterfalls. Hike to the top of the waterfall and get some brilliant photos standing under it, or just relax in one of the many lagoons.
  • Laos Barbeque – the brilliant local cuisine is showcased at the nightly food market. You pick exactly what you wish to eat and then it’s barbequed for you so it’s always fresh and healthy.
  • The views – it’s definitely worth climbing the steps up the main hill in Luang Prabang to take in the stunning views of the area.
  • Buddha cave – a short boat ride down the river takes you to the fascinating Pak Ouk cave which houses thousands upon thousands of Buddha statues! You can visit the caves independently or take an inexpensive half day trip to visit surrounding local villages too.

This is a guest post from Rachel, founder of www.footprintsworldwide.com – a new budget small group tour company who’s mantra is discover. relax. contribute. explore, as on a Footprints tour you get the best of both worlds – helping and learning about the local community while also having fun, seeing the sights and meeting new people! Responsible Travel and giving back to the local community are key to Footprints Worldwide and Rachel, who has lived, worked and travelled in many countries.

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