November is quite possibly the best time to visit the UK. There are plenty of festivals held throughout the UK during this month so if you enjoy embracing different cultures through the medium of festivals, a holiday in the UK next month might just be what is needed to get you through your mundane 9-5, and give you something to look forward to.
November 5th (Bonfire Night)
Bonfire Night marks the anniversary of Guy Fawkes’ failed assassination of King James I. Guy Fawkes is known in English literature as a member of the provincial English Catholics who fought the Spaniards in 1605. He was tasked to blow up the House of Lords in Westminster Palace using gunpowder but he was discovered and his plot failed. As such, in his memory, he is remembered today by fireworks displays every year on November 5.
One of the best places to see an innovative firework display is in the old town of Lewes, East Sussex. The fireworks celebration there includes street parties, costume parades, music, and a straw effigy that is burned on the bonfire.
November 11th (Remembrance Day)
Every November 11 in the UK is Remembrance Day that honors the fallen heroes of the armed forces. A lot of non-government organizations support the event. The Royal British Legion charity, for one, sells poppies to raise funds for the families of departed soldiers. Remembrance Day also observes a two-minute silence at 11 AM of November 11th.
November 30th (St. Andrews Day)
St. Andrews Day is in commemoration of Scotland’s patron saint, St. Andrews. There are many fun events during this day such as poetry readings, bagpipe performances, country dancing, and the customary Scottish meals to enjoy.
This is the best day of the month to party with Scottish people while Gaelic folk music is being played. Don’t be shy; participate in dances as there are “dance callers” who are more than happy to teach beginners the required steps.
November 30th (Diwali Festival)
Diwali is the Festival of Lights for the Hindu, Jain, and Sikh communities living in London. The biggest Diwali festival is held at Leicester, which hold awe-inspiring street parties, traditional music, food, dancing, and crafts. At night, different displays of light, lanterns, and fireworks are held.
There are plenty of routes to take in order to reach the UK, and fortunately, the UK’s airports are more than accommodating to their travelers. Those who are living in Asia can find comfort in these airports so don’t worry about the long travel time, as there are now many direct routes available.
Newcastle, Edinburgh, and Heathrow are among the best airports in the UK, so if you’re trying to reach London and have the option to have your layover in any of these airports, do so. Surprisingly, Newcastle is a foodie haven as it has some of the best options for airport dining. Americans who aren’t too adventurous when it comes to food, however, can stick to Burger King and other fast food joints,as there are several located at the airport.
Edinburgh, on the other hand, has some of the best airport hotels according to this list by The Telegraph.
Heathrow is one unique airport as it offers a mixed bag of entertainment for travelers who have to endure a long layover. For one, it has its very own art gallery called T5 Gallery London Heathrow that shows technologically-advanced pieces by contemporary British artists. Heathrow is the busiest airport in the UK and as such, it began to offer a lot more entertainment, tourist services, as well as car parking options for travelers. Parking4Less lists the main services at Heathrow, which will appeal to people that live in London but want to fly to either Newcastle or Edinburgh. Due to cheap domestic flights from the aforementioned airports, it’s sometimes cheaper to park your car and get a domestic flight than it is to buy a train ticket nowadays. Also, many of these airports have on-airport hotels to consider if you have an early or late connecting flight.
Have you been to the UK and if so, enjoyed some of its festivals? Let your voice be heard in the comments section below.
***Guest Post by Jayme Whilst***
I had originally planned on taking this trip in Nov 2016 but I moved it up. I wanted to see the Iguazu Falls from both the Brazilian and Argentinian side on this trip. Currently, Brazil waives visa for US citizens and other nationalities from June to September because of the Olympics. Argentina has suspended the exit reciprocal fee for US citizens until further notice. With these two waivers in place, attaching Iguazu Falls to my Paraguay trip made sense financially if I went now instead of Nov.
I arrived in Asuncion at 1am on the 29th, went straight to bed as soon as I arrived at my hostel – El Nomada. Later that day, I explored the old town area which is walking distance to my hostel. The center is nothing fancy, just a few plazas and historical buildings. I also purchased my ticket to Cuidad Del Este for the next day.
I arrived at my hostel in Cuidad Del Este around 2pm after a 6 hours bus ride from Asuncion. The hostel was pretty basic. Glad I was staying for just the night. Cuidad Del Este is interesting in that it borders Argentina and Brazil. It is a 20 minutes car/bus ride to Brazil and about an hour to Argentina. Pretty cool, right?
The owner of the hostel was very helpful in assisting with planning the activity for the day and giving me tips. I decided to go visit the waterfalls in Cuidad Del Este – Salto de Rios Monday Waterfalls. It costs 20,000 Guaranis for entrance fee and another 10,000 Guaranis if you want to take the elevator to the other viewing platform. There is a trail where you can bike or walk. It’s a beautiful way to spend the day. After that, I went to eat lunch and around 4.30pm, I headed to the Itaipu Dam.
All visitors to the Dam must go through the visitor’s center where they take down your information. Foreigners must come with their passports. I was lucky that a tour was just about to start when I arrive, it is a free 45 minutes tour in Spanish of the dam. The Dam produces about 80% of the electricity used in Paraguay and contributes 17-20% of that used in Brazil. Both Paraguay & Brazil maintain the dam. Every Friday and Saturday, there is a musical show and illumination of the dam starting at 6.30pm. I waited for this. The music performance was by a local group. At around 8pm, we all boarded the bus (provided by the dam) to go see the illumination. Beautiful!
The next day, I took a taxi from Cuidad del Este, Paraguay to my hostel in Foz do Iguazu, Brazil for USD$18. The taxi stopped for me to get an exit stamp for Paraguay and entry stamp for Brazil. I didn’t do much sightseeing this day. The next morning, I went on a group tour to the Argentinian side of the falls with rd fall travel agency. We arrived around 10am and didn’t get back until 6pm. It was an amazing day. I had visited the Argentinian side in 2012 but only went on the trail to the Devil’s Throat.
This time, I re-visited the Devil’s Throat and did two more trails – the superior and inferior circuit. Fantastic is all I can say! After completing the three trails at around 3.20pm, my new friend (Andrea) and I went to do the boat excursion. The boat takes you up close to the waterfalls, I loved it. Because it was a last minute decision, we obviously didn’t have change of clothes so we were soaking wet! I decided to buy change of clothes at the souvenir store. It was a great way to spend the day.
The following day, I did two things – explore the Brazilian side of the falls and do the helicopter tour of the fall. I took the public bus to the National Park and got off at HeliSur’s office which is 5 mins walking distance from the National Park by the way. The helicopter tour cost USD$120 for a 10 minutes tour. Expensive but worth it. I was lucky to be sitting in front by the pilot so my view was not obstructed. My fear of height is slowly disappearing :). After the tour ended, I simply walked to the National Park.
The Brazilian side also offers a boat excursion. Unlike the Argentinian side, there is only one trail here – leading to the Devil’s Throat. Here at the Brazilian side, you do get up close to the Devil’s Throat. There are several viewing platform but the closest is the one with the bridge across the falls. Loved it.
I left Brazil the following day to return to Paraguay where I had to catch my flight to the US.
End of vacation.
6 Lessons I Learned From This Trip
- It makes sense to see the both sides of the Iguazu Falls. Plan on spending the whole day at the Argentinian side and 2-3 hours at the Brazilian side.
- Although it is very easy to sneak in and out of the Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay from that border area, don’t do it.
- I found men in Paraguay annoying. I encountered plenty catcalling which made me take taxis everywhere. Off course not all men in Paraguay are assholes, I just happened to meet a lot of the assholes.
- You can pay with dollars almost everywhere in Paraguay. At the border towns, four currencies are at your disposal – US Dollars, Brazilian Reals, Paraguay Guarani and Argentina Pesos.
- Puerto Iguazu has more accommodation options than Foz do Iguazu.
6. Don’t miss the tour of Itaipu Dam. You can take it from the Brazilian side or the Paraguay side.
P.S. Paraguay was the only country I haven’t been to in South America, well until last week. So officially, I have visited all the countries in South and Central America :).
Nowadays, you can travel Maldvies on a budget. Not a shoestring budget like in Southeast Asia or Latin America. There are numerous blog post on how to travel Maldvies for cheap. My favorite is one written by OneikaTheTraveller on Huffington Post, you can check it out here. Also simply google ‘Maldives on a budget blog’ and you will be presented with several blog posts on how to travel Maldives on the cheap.
Initially, I was going to follow the tips on traveling there on a budget but I came across blog posts from female travelers talking about harassment from local men on local islands. Two posts stayed with me – one by Simply Nomadic and the other on street harassment. To be honest, these posts made me reconsider. I do understand that many women visit Maldives without any incidences, however, most women that visit are with their spouse. Maldives is not yet a solo woman destination.
Also, I thought about treating myself. Maldives was my last destination in the region, I’ll only be in Maldvies for 3 nights/4days before heading back to the Americas. I have been traveling for the past 8 weeks. Why not pamper myself and cross out a bucket list item? With that in mind, I decided to skip staying at a local island on a budget and instead stay at a resort.
I used Booking.com, TripAdvisor.com and Google to find the right resort for me. I was able to narrow down based on price and interest to Holiday Inn Resort, Bando Resort and three of the Cinnamon Resorts (Hakuraa Huraa, Dhonveli and Ellaidhoo-Maldives). For what I wanted – Over-Water Villa; Bando, Hakuraa Huraa and Dhonveli were way more expensive than Ellaidhoo. Actually, Holiday Inn, Bando and Hakuraa Huraa were double the price of Ellaidhoo while Dhonveli was USD$200 more. So, I went with Ellaidhoo Cinnamon. Note, all of these resorts requires either a sea plane or speedboat transfer from the airport.
Because my flight arrived late – 9.45pm, I had to spend the night in Hulhumale – the reclaimed island where the airport is located. I stayed at UI hotel in Hulhumale for the night. It cost USD$45/night and included breakfast. It wasn’t luxury rather a basic accommodation option. They have excursion/tour options. Due to miscommunication between UI Hotel and Ellaidhoo, I wasn’t able to get on the 8am speedboat transfer the next day. I had to wait for the 2.30pm transfer. It was a rough 90 minutes boat ride to the resort. All worth it on arrival. The resort is small – 112 rooms, gym and spa.
I opted for full board so all my meals and water was included in the room rate. With this option, you only have to pay for alcoholic beverages. For the rest of my 2 nights/2.5 days at the resort, I didn’t do anything but write this blog and chill. I needed this vacation from traveling heavily for the past two months. I pretty much took care of me.
Click my YouTube page to see the video of the resort.
4 Tips for Travelling in the Maldvies
- Maldvies can be done on a budget. Google “Maldives on a Budget’ for posts on how to do it.
- If you decide to stay at a local island instead of a resort, please research local island options thoroughly especially if you are a solo female traveler.
- Maldives is a strict Islamic country. You can only wear bikini at a resort or selected beaches at local islands. Alcohol is only available at the resorts.
- Leave your pornographic materials, sex toys and dogs at home. They are prohibited in the Maldvies. See below list of items prohibited by the Maldives government.
After research this destination, I decided it was best for me to rent a car & driver to visit the cities I wanted to. Using recommendations from this blog post, I contacted Mr. Hasantha (firstname.lastname@example.org; 0094723427049) a few days before my trip for prices and availability. He responded within a day, we agreed on itinerary and price.
I arrived in Colombo at 11pm on July 16th, went straight to my hostel – Drift BnB. The driver from Mr. Hasantha picked me up at 9am the following day, we had breakfast and began the 100 mile (161km) drive to the first stop – Dambulla. I slept for most of the ride so I can’t speak about the scenery. We had lunch before going to the Cave Temple. I got a big shock when I arrived there – there were lots of monkeys. If you know me, you know I passionately dislike monkeys. And I read a lot about these sites, none of the blog posts mentioned the presence of monkeys!
Anyways, I summoned the courage and started on the steep climb to the Cave Temple. While walking up, several local men attempted to approach me. Before you ask, ‘oh, what were you wearing?’, I was wearing long loose pants and short sleeve t-shirt!! After a while of this uncomfortable instances, a white couple observing these foolishness asked me to walk with them, it helped.
The cave temple is beautiful, several statues of Buddha in various positions and sizes. Coming down from the cave temple, I saw monkeys attacking people that had food with them. After the cave temple, we went on to Sigiriya – which is just 30 mins drive away. We arrived at our second stop – Lion’s Rock Fortress. I opted to pay for a guide because Mr. Sam (my driver) told me there were monkeys there as well. Mr. Sam contacted a guide for me, the guide was amazing. I would recommend you use him if you visit the Lion’s Rock in Sigiriya area. He name is Bandara & number is 077-825-6963.
To get to the peak of the Rock Fortress, you have to climb 1200 steps. Sounds intimidating, right? You can do it. I stopped several times to catch my breath. But it was all worth it. The view is great as well. We were struck for 30 minutes when trying to get down because of hornets’ attack. When that was cleared, we were allowed to go. I spent the night in Sigiriya, the guest house I stayed in was fantastic! The owner and his family were pleasant and the food was delicious. Do check out The Otunna Guest house on your next visit to Sigiriya.
The next day, we proceeded to Kandy – a 56 mile (90km) drive. We stopped at a Spice Garden, where they school you on various tea, spices and herbal plants. You also get a semi-free head and neck message. I ended up buying a spice tea. Next stop was the Temple of the Tooth Relic. Also lots of monkey here as well and I saw there grabbing flowers from those people bringing flower offerings to Budda. I didn’t quite understand the temple of tooth relic, maybe I used have used a guide. After the temple, we have lunch at an amazing restaurant in Kandy. The view is spectacular.
After lunch, we began the 47 miles (76km) drive to Nuwara Eliya. We
stopped at the Glenloch Tea Factory and Ramboda Waterfalls. The Glenloch tea factory exports most of its tea but they have some available for sales in Sri Lanka. To see the Ramboda waterfalls, you have to go through the Ramboda Falls Hotel. You can’t swim there, there are two viewing platforms. Stunning waterfalls!!
We drove past what looked like the good hotels and ended up in the shit hole of an hotel I was to stay at. It was late and I was tired. Pls do yourself a favor and not stay at Glen Fall Inn in Nuwara Eliya. It was gross. We left around 9.30am the next morning. Before driving back to Colombo, we stopped for a bit at the Lake in Nuwara Eliya. It is a pretty town with lots of colonial buildings. The weather is way cooler than the rest of Sri lanka. No monkeys!! :). On the drive back to Colombo, we stopped at two other waterfalls – Devons and St. Clair, they are 10 minutes drive apart. No swimming, just viewing platforms.
We arrived in Colombo around 6.30pm, the end of my 2 nights/3days trip to other parts of Sri Lanka. I had two more nights in Colombo. The following day, I had a TukTuk tour at 4pm, so I went to the Dutch Shopping Precint area before going to the meet up point for my tour. Nice place to chill.
The Colombo city tour started promptly at 4pm, the tuktuk was beautiful, we got lots of stares. We stopped at the biggest Hindu temple& biggest Buddish temple in Sri Lanka, the floating market, tea shop, a local eatery, independence square and independence shopping arcade. It was a great way to explore Colombo’s highlight. Definitely, check them out for your Colombo City Tour – TukTuk Safari Sri Lanka.
The next day – my last day in Sri Lanka, I went to Mount lavinia Hotel to spend the morning since my flight was at night. There’s an access to the beach but you can’t swim there because of strong current.
5 Tips for Sri Lanka
- If you don’t want to bother with navigating public transport, renting a car with driver services will be your best shot. Also if you are traveling with your family or a solo female traveler, you might want to consider this option. The service includes, the driver, all fuel/gas, parking fees, driver’s food & accommodation. You will have to pay entrance fee for the sites you visit, your food and accommodation.
- Booking.com has the most selections of places to stay in Sri Lanka. Go through the reviews, you will find something great in your price range.
- If you are a black woman, the local men will stare at you endlessly. They will even follow you around. Sometimes a smile might do the trick but other times, you need to say NO firmly and give them the death stare.
- If you are like me and deeply frighten by monkeys, well, they have a lot in Sri Lanka especially in places like Sigiriya, Dambulla and Kandy. Get a guide if you can and don’t have food on you.
- Women, I know we shouldn’t be judged by how we dressed. However not everybody understands this. You might want to wear above the knee and no strapless or sleeveless clothing while in Sri Lanka especially if you are a solo traveler. Also most temples will not let you in dressed like that.
P.S: If you need a car/driver service in Sri Lanka, contact Mr. Hasantha at email@example.com; 0094723427049. I was satisfied with his service. Like with everything, you will need to communicate what you want to see or do, they will suggest places, you can accept or reject the ideas.
Initially Indonesia wasn’t on my summer travel plan. But while looking for the cheapest way to explore Australia and surroundings, I found out I could use Indonesia as a sort of base. My ticket from the US was round trip Dallas to Jakarta. Then I got several one way tickets to the other countries I visited.
Jakarta: The first stop on my 10 week summer travel. I arrived past midnight. It was 1am when I arrived at the hostel, after the check in process, I went to bed. I woke 7 hours later for breakfast. I decided I needed a nap so I took one. I didn’t wake up until 7pm! I had dinner and went back to bed. I pretty much slept the tiredness that comes with 21 hours of traveling and changing time zones.
Day 2: I got picked up at 8am by a guide from Jakarta Holiday. There was another person on the tour as well. We explored several places in Jakarta including the biggest mosque in Southeast Asia, the oldest building in Jakarta, oldest café and the MONA monument. We stopped for lunch where we had street food and ice cream from the oldest ice-cream parlor in Jakarta.
In the evening, I met up with a friend from East Timor at Grand Indonesia – a mega mall in Jakarta for dinner.
Day 3: I flew out to Sydney, Australia with AirAsia. Sydney is only a 6 hours flight from Bali but because I was in Jakarta so I had to fly to Bali first then connect to Sydney. The one way ticket was cheap. AirAsia is a low cost airline like Spirit Airline or Ryan Air.
I returned to Indonesia 6 weeks later but to Bali this time around. I flew in from Dili, East Timor – just a two hour flight.
In Bali, I didn’t do all the things you are suppose to do. I didn’t ride an elephant, I didn’t go to the volcano, and I didn’t do ANY yoga. I had two goals for Bali – Sekumpul Waterfalls and Spa. Sekumpul waterfalls is a combination of 7 falls in the forest. And spa because I wanted to pamper myself.
Day 1 and 2, I just explore the main street/city center. Lots of temples to see, lots of things to buy. I probably over-ate my first two days 🙂 lol. I also bought 6 item of clothing (the two dresses in pics on this post are from Bali).
Day 3, I rented a car with driver service. We went to Singaraja – almost two hours from Ubud. The plan was to see two waterfalls (Sekumpul & Gitgit), and maybe a palace. At least, that was what I thought I agreed to pay for along with a English speaking guide. The tour company sent the guide to pick me up, we proceeded to Singaraja, Gitgit Waterfalls was the first stop. Beautiful, lot of steps to climb on your way up. You actually don’t need a guide here, the trails to the waterfalls are marked and easy to navigate.
After this, I assumed we were heading to Sekumpul but the guide/driver acted like he didn’t know what I was talking about. I insisted, then he asked someone. They spoke in the local language which I don’t understand. He came back and told me Sekumpul was 3 hours away. That didn’t sound right. I was SUPER pissed. I let it go, I would never recommend them.
We left to the Lake Temple. Massive load of tourists. There, 6 different people asked to take pictures with me. They asked nicely and I said yes. I always wonder what they do with the pictures anyway. After the lake temple, we started making our way back to Ubud. Long ride back. In Ubud, we stopped at an agrotourism place where I was educated on different types of tea and coffee. They showed us Luwak coffee, special because the animal swallows the seed, poops it out then they clean and process it. I didn’t try it. I don’t drink Coffee.
I searched for another tour operator to take me to Sekumpul. I found one and made arrangement for the next day. I also called a spa place to book an appointment. The reviews on TripAdvisor was great.
Day four in Ubud, Bali – I made the trip to Sekumpul. After the 1.5 hour drive from Ubud, you arrive at Sekempul. There you have the option of taking a motorcycle taxi or walking the whole trail. You can also select to have a guide. I paid for the guide and motorcycle taxi – the cost for that was 130,000IDR (or USD$10). I’m glad I went with that option. The motorcycle ride was about 15 minutes long then you start walking down. You cross a bridge then walk in the pool from the falls to get to the actual waterfalls. The first part, you get to see 4 waterfalls.
Then you walk to back and take a turning to where the other falls are located. The walk back was painful. LOTS of steps to climb and uphill walking. I stopped several times to catch my breath. Also I didn’t wear the right shoes, I had on a fashionable sandals that I had to take off because it was apparent I would fall. Yup, I walked in the water barefooted, way better than falling with my slippery sandals.
When we got to where the motorcycle was parked, I tried some local pancakes from the women selling. I am not adventurous with food so this was a big deal for me. The pancakes actually tasted great, green in color and served with coconut and honey – delicious!
I went to the spa later in the evening. I booked a package that included massage and pedicure. To be honest, I wasn’t too impressed with the service. Oh well, I paid equivalent of USD$20 for a 2hour 15 minute service so no big deal.
Day 5, I got to sleep in a bit. My flight was at 2pm so I left Ubud around 11am. On getting to the airport, flight was delayed for 2 hours. It didn’t bother me because I had a long layover in Kuala Lumpur on my way to Sri Lanka.
5 Things About Indonesia
- Although Jakarta is not your regular tourist destination, don’t sleep on it. Explore for a day or two before setting out to other destinations in the country.
- Choose your location in Bali wisely. Do you want the beach or are you more keen on cultural? Those types of questions will help you decide where to stay in Bali. I love cultural stuffs so I choose Ubud – the cultural capital of Bali.
- You don’t have to book anything in advance. There are tour operator galore when you arrive and you can compare prices. If you are traveling in a group or with someone else, it might be cheaper to rent a car service that comes with a driver.
- Everyone and their mama has an hostel, homestay, or bed & breakfast. You don’t have to share rooms in an hostel here. Homestay or the small B&B has reasonable priced private rooms with bathroom en-suite, free wifi and free breakfast. I paid USD$15/night for a private room with bathroom en-suite, free wifi & breakfast and it was walking distance to Ubud center. I booked it via Airbnb, check it out here.
- The energy in Bali is dope. The ambiance is amazing. You can be yourself here. Dress anyhow you want. No judgement passed. That was what I loved most about Ubud. The part I didn’t like is everyone will hustle you to buy something from them, take a tour with them, use their taxi service. Sometimes, it gets too much.
To be honest, I only knew about Timor Leste (East Timor) in 2011 when a girl from there enrolled in the graduate program I was pursuing. It’s been on my travel list since then. Timor Leste is a new sovereign country, gained its freedom in 1999. It was a Portuguese colony from the 16th century up until 1975. Indonesia occupied the country from 1975 until 1999. The UN took over until 2002 when Timor Leste became an independent country.
It wasn’t a peaceful occupation, there was an active conflict between the Indonesian military and the Timor separationists. The official languages in Timor Leste today are Portuguese and Tetum, with Indonesian and English regarded as working languages. So it is not surprising that many Timor Leste citizens grow up speaking 3-4 languages (English, Portuguese, Tetum and Indonesian). The friend I visited speaks all four plus French. Isn’t that awesome! You can read a brief history on Timor Leste on BBC country profile.
Back to my trip, I flew into Dili (the capital) from Darwin, Australia. I didn’t have anything planned for this trip, I was just going to go with the flow. I arrived late in the afternoon, my friend Gabi aka Gabster picked me up from the airport. We later had dinner with two of her friends. We went to a Korean restaurant. Good food and great conversation. One of her friends was opening up a café and invited me to come and chat with her employees so they can practice their English.
Day two in Dili, I went to the Resistance Museum. Very informative and sad at the same time, the museum covers the struggle for independence during the Indonesian occupation of Timor Leste. It show a replica of underground hiding cell for the members of the separationist movement who were hunted by the Indonesian military. It tells the story of struggle, minor victories, death, grief and much more. Highly recommended. It reminded me of the Genocide Museum in Kigali, Rwanda.
I asked one of the museum staff to call a taxi for me because my phone was acting up. I tried to give her some money to buy more airtime since I used up some of hers (phones are similar to prepaid phone where you have to top up on data plan and airtime minutes) but she refused to accept, saying she just helped me. By the way, that’s one type of love I received from people in Timor Leste.
I took the taxi to the café that Gabster’s friend was opening up. I pretty much spent the rest of the day there. They were cooking lunch when I arrived, they explained how they made it and had lots of questions for me. Later we role played how they were going to serve customers and taking orders. At the end of the day, my admiration for entrepreneurs was re-ignited.
The following day I took the boat to Atauro – another Island in Timor Leste. The sea was very rough, we all got drained in water and the journey took three hours (instead of 1.5 hour). It was scary but we made it. We arrived at Barry’s Eco Lodge. I was pretty nervous because I didn’t know what to expect from the Eco Lodge. Surprisingly, it was basic but clean and welcoming. Electricity is limited so they rely on solar energy which powers the fan and light in your room. Each room comes with a hammock J.
I loved it so much there that I extended my stay by another day. While in Atauro, I visited Adara aka the Mermaid’s town. Adara is on the other side of Beloi (where I was lodging in Atauro). To get there, you can either take a 45mins speedboat for USD$80 or utilize a car ride and walk 2 hours. We took the second option, three of us, all teachers (from Melbourne, Australia; LA, USA & South Texas, USA). The jeep dropped us off where the road stopped, we then had to walk downhill for 1.5 hours. Not bad, except for a part you had to practically crawl down. After that, it’s a 30 minute walk on the beach.
We got to Adara, beautiful! I chilled in the hammock. We had lunch at Mario’s and headed back to Beloi around 1.15pm. By then, it was super hot. The 30 minute walk on the beach was painful. Equally painful was most of the walk uphill, I hated the part you had to climb the rocks. The last 25 minutes was good, pretty much just walking on a flat surface with a bit of shade. I took a shower then a nap in the hammock when we got back.
Adara is nicknamed The Mermaid’s Town because of the women divers that live there. The local women all dive and spear fish. They dive without oxygen tank, just eye googles. Check out a video on the women divers of Adara here.
Other things I did while in Atauro was visiting Boneca and Empresa Di’ak. Both organizations work with local women and in community development. At Boneca, women make dolls, purses, laptop bag, shirts and so on. With Empresa Di’ak, they sell pottery product made by local women, they also process seaweed, raise ducks and plant garden.
David Palazon made a movie featuring Boneca, pretty funny. You can watch it here. I returned to Dili on Saturday afternoon with the public ferry. Saturday is the market day in Atauro so I got to check that out before leaving.
On Sunday, I went to Cristo Rei (Christ the King), the climb up wasn’t so bad. According to Wikipedia, the stairs are up to 500. I didn’t count them, I was too busy trying to catch my breath. The view is amazing so it’s all worth it. Glad we went in the evening when the sun was setting. During the day would have been too hot. On my last night, I watched the sun set with Gabster –my friend at a beach side restaurant.
Timor Leste is more than Dili and Atauro, there are other amazing part of the country I didn’t get to see. But that’s okay, I will be back. This visit was just a glimpse into this hidden paradise.
5 Things I Bet You Didn’t Know About Timor Leste
- The currency in Timor Leste is the US Dollars however US issued coins are not accepted.
- Most people speak four languages – Tetum, Portuguese, English and Indonesian
- It’s a fairly new country, their founding fathers are alive.
- Tourism infrastructure is so limited which makes traveling in Timor Leste not cheap.
- Citizens of Timor Leste are fanatic of the Portugal Soccer team, they go real crazy over Portugal. Watch the reaction when Portugal won the match with France on July 11th, 2016 here. Their cheers won me up that Monday morning.
Commonly confused as a country in Africa (because of Guinea I guess), Papau New Guinea (PNG) is actually in the South Pacific (Oceania continent). It’s less than 2 hours flight from Cairns, Australia. This is not a tourist destination; the majority of folks don’t vacation here. This is probably a result of PNG not enjoying a good reputation plus there is barely any tourist infrastructure in place. This makes hotels pretty expensive since they cater to business travelers. PNG is rich in petroleum.
Why did I decide to vacation here? Good question. As a child, I watched something that featured PNG and Solomon Island, since then, I’ve been obsessed with the two countries. When the opportunity came around to visit, I decided to act on it. I felt like since I was traveling in the Pacific, I might as well fulfil a childhood dream. I couldn’t add Solomon Island on this trip because the flight were ridiculously expensive for me. Still on my list though #Goals.
Anyways, I flew into Port Moresby (aka POM or Mosby) a day later than planned due to delayed then cancelled flight.
Day 1: I got picked up via a driver my Airbnb host sent. It was early afternoon and super HOT & humid. I loved the view from my bedroom. I called a taxi (host left number for one) to go to the supermarket. Similar to most developing countries, the big supermarket is located in the mall. I did some grocery shopping – simple stuff like bread, butter, water and yogurt (I don’t cook on vacations).
I also negotiated with the taxi for the next day. I wanted to explore without dealing with public transport.
Day 2: Dedicated to exploring Mosby, I left the house around 11.30am. We visited the Nature’s park where they had exhibit of different species in the Kangaroo family. They also have a cultural section and exhibit of birds. The walking trail is pleasant. Proceeded to the Parliament house, the building is has interesting angle to it. I could not capture the beauty with my phone camera sadly.
The museum was the next stop. The museum is officially closed (no funding L) but they will show you around if you show up there. The museum has great varieties of the various ethnicities of PNG. The museum richness is similar to that of Auckland’s museum in terms of south pacific culture.
We went by the national university where some students were killed during a protest against the prime minister two weeks before my visit. My driver took me to a local roadside restaurant to try some local food. It seems that the food is heavy of cassava.
The Mosby tour ended at a small craft market in Boroko area of Mosby. Boroko is an historic neighborhood in Mosby. I got some earrings.
Day 3: I decided I needed to sleep in. I was ready to explore by early afternoon. I was excited because we were going to see Rouna Waterfalls. It is located outside the city. We drove for about an hour, the roads gets curvy once you leave the city. The ride is actually beautiful. We finally get to the waterfalls to discover it is closed off to visitors L. I could only admire it from a distance. I went back to Mosby not too pleased. Went to the Ela beach area, the only beach in Mosby.
Day 4: My flight was in the early afternoon so I had time to sleep in.
Should you visit Papau New Guinea? I will say yes. You however need to plan well.
5 Things You Should know about Papau New Guinea Before You Visit
- Hotels are ridiculously expensive in Port Moresby so you might want to consider Airbnb.
- It makes so much sense to arrange your taxi with your hotel or Airbnb host beforehand.
- PNG is not your typical tourist destination hence the need to plan very careful before you visit.
- Port Moresby is just like any capital city, not much to see in terms of tourist sites. Those beautiful beaches are not in Port Moresby but on other parts of the island that might require you to fly into.
- Use a tour guide. Tourist infrastructure is limited thus making tour guide your best option.
I had no expectations for this trip. It ended up being a pleasant surprise. I visited only two cities in the North Island. The South Island is suppose to be amazing. I didn’t go because I had just one week in New Zealand.
The New Zealand customs is super strick about what you bring into the country. Don’t think of lying on the customs forms, it’s not worth it. I saw them throughly search people’s luggage and take stuffs to examine.
I arrived late evening and took the Skybus (airport shuttle) to the Airbnb place I would be staying. I was dropped off right in front of the apartment. The apartment was comfortable and super clean. My host is amazing.
Day 2: I had prebooked a 24 hours pass Hop On Hop Off bus. I got to the pick up point around 12noon. I got off at the Mt. Eden and Skytower stop. Mt. Eden has an amazing view of Auckland and offcourse the skytower provides a 360 degree view of the city.
The Hop On Hop Off is very limited during the winter. They operate from 10am to 3pm and run only on hourly basis. You wouldn’t get to see more than 4 places if you start at 10am, making the 24 hours pass not worth it.
I explored Queens Street, lots of name brand stores, restaurants, parks, ice cream/pastry places. Simply so much to see and do.
Day 3: I was suppose to go on a tour with Grayline tour but they had some operational issues so they put me on a tour with Bush and Beach. The tour started in the morning with Auckland City Highlights – we stopped at Mt. Victoria – great view of the city, winter gardens at the Auckland Museum. The café has a lovely ambience.
In the Afternoon, we drove 30 minutes out of Auckland to Waitakere Ranges. We stopped at a bakery for quick lunch. We all got some type of pie (chicken, veggie, beef or fish) because they tour guides recommended it. I had the fish pie and it so good.
We proceeded to the rain forest where we had a great walking tour through the rainforest and saw a waterfall. It was an eventful day overall.
Day 4: I had a 1pm bus to Rotorua so I slept in. It was only a 15 minutes walk from my Airbnb to the bus station but I was too lazy to walk with my luggage so I got uber for NZ$6. The bus (Manabus) was so cheap, they are similar to Mega bus or Bolt bus in the US. There’s also wifi on the bus.
We arrived in Rotorua at 5.30pm, I walked to my hostel – a 20 minutes walk. The hostel – Crash Palace was great. I had a private room J. The toilet and bathroom was extremely clean J. I choose a great hostel J. I had dinner and just chilled. Rotorua was way colder than Auckland. I was okay staying indoors.
Day 5: I slept in. Explored Rotorua a bit and went to Te Puia. I had book the day and night pass here. I arrived very early because I didn’t read the time on the confirmation email L. Te Puia is a Maori cultural centre. The guides are all Maori or of Maori descent. The guided tour started at 4.30pm. We were shown a traditional house, we saw eruption from the geyser and sat on heated stairs. We learned some aspects of the Maori culture and traditions.
At 5.30pm, we were handed over to the guide for the night pass. After checking out the gift shop, we were shown were the dinner was being prepared. They used an underground oven just like in Fiji. We were given a welcoming ceremony (very similar to that in Fiji & Samoa). The ceremony offcourse ended with an Haka performance. The whole cultural performance was insightful and beautiful. I loved it. You can watch the part of the cultural performance here.
The tour ended with Maori story telling outdoor on natural heated stairs with a cup of hot chocolate. The stairs are naturally heated, some with steam gusting out of it. Not sure of the scientific explanation. We were dropped off to our respective accommodation around 8.45pm.
Day 6: My bus back to Auckland was at 11.55am but we didn’t leave until 12.30pm. Arrived in Auckland around 4.30pm and took an uber to my Airbnb. I used a different Airbnb this time around because it was closer to the airport. Big mistake. The Skybus (airport shuttle) doesn’t go to that area. I would have been better off staying in the city center like my first Airbnb. Oh well. Too late now.
Didn’t too anything after I arrived at the Airbnb because it was far away from the city center and I would have to take a taxi or uber.
Day 7: I slept in and decided to check out the Auckland Museum. Glad I did. They had great exhitibition on Maori culture, Polynesian arts among others. I also purchased the cultural performance. Amazing. You can watch a part of the cultural performance here and the Haka here.
After the museum, I walked 20 minutes to the city center. I was craving Mexican food and I remember seeing one by the Skytower. I went there. The tacos were decent. I later got an uber back to my Airbnb. I packed since my flight was at 6.45am.
Day 8: Throughout the night, I got emails and text from the airline. The flight was delayed to 8.20am so I didn’t go to the airport until 6.45am. When I got there, I was told I wouldn’t make my connecting flight so they rebook me on the 6.45am flight for the next day. They also gave me a breakfast vocher, hotel and food vocher for the hotel.
I took the shuttle to Hotel Grande and I took a long nap. I decided to simply chill and do nothing for the day. Relaxing is an understatement.
Day 9: Made it to the airport. Flight went smoothly without delays.
P.S, Kiwi is a nickname for people from New Zealand. The national bird is also a Kiwi – a flightless bird in danger of extinction. I saw one in Te Puia, Rotorua, we were not allowed to take pictures of it.
New Zealnad: 5 Things
- Definitely, if you have time in New Zealand, I’ve heard it is worth checking out the South Islands and other places in North island.
- Although renting a car will give you greater flexibility, you can take the bus. Manabus or Naked Bus have prices as low as $1 if purchased well in advance.
- Learn about the Maori culture. The Auckland museum and Te Puia in Rotorua are some of the places you can go to. Keep in mind that Rotorua has many options to learn about the Maori culture.
- Don’t miss out on Asian food. Varieties of Asian restaurants to choose from. You wouldn’t regret it.
- If you are around when the All Blacks are playing, do not miss it. Kiwis are super proud of their Rudgy team. Even if they are not playing, watch a live rudgy game if you can.
This was another trip that was difficult to plan. There wasn’t much information online. I wanted to stay in the capital – Apia and explore the island from there. However, the review for hotels in my price range were awful and I couldn’t afford the higher priced hotels.
So I settled for a place two hours away from Apia – the capital. The place – Taufua Beach Fales has an amazing reputation and the beaches in the area are great. When I booked this beach fale, I knew I was opening up my mind to try something new and get out of my comfort zone.
Day One: Arrived around 4pm, got a sim card at the airport and went with the airport pick up person sent by the beach fale. We started on the long ride to Taufua. The road were great for the most part. We arrived at the fale just in time for dinner. All meals are provided by the fale at a set time, family style.
I met lot of people at the dinner table from various countries. There was an Argentian young couple doing one year holiday-working visa program in New Zealand. They pick fruits for a few months then travel for a few months. They did one year in Australia before going to New Zealand. Met another couple – guy from USA (Florida) and girl from the Uk. Also doing the same thing but not picking fruits. I drew some inspiration from their stories and stored up a few ideas for future references.
The staffs at Taufau are super amazing!
Jade (I met her in Fiji) messages me about a Rudgy game the next day. I told her sure, everyone at my beach fale was going. She said she would try and get tickets.
Day Two: Met a group of people from New Zealand at breakfast. They asked for my plans for the day, I told them I would be going to town and maybe see the ganme if my friend Jade is able to get ticket. They said they were going to town as well for the game. They offered me a ride since I didn’t rent a car and I was going to take a taxi to town. How nice of them, they saved me USD$58 :).
Around 11am, we head out to town. On own way, we stopped to see the Papapapitan Waterfalls and the Bahia Temple. We also stopped for lunch at a cool rusti place.
We get to the stadium around 2.45pm. We split ways without exchanging contact hahaha (silly). I met up with Jade and we proceeded to our seat. The game started promptly at 3pm with the national athem of the two countries – Samoa and Rep. of Georgia. This was going to be my first Rudgy game and I had no (still don’t) clue about the rules of the game. Still it was exciting. The game ended up in a draw. I decided to go to dinner with Jade since I couldn’t get in touch with the folks I came to town with.
We went to a Chinese place, the food was so much!! I later got a taxi back to my fale. Saturday night at my fale is ‘FiaFia Night’ – which simply means a cultural performance. They peformed cultural dances including the fire dance which was tres impressive! The men performing were shirtless and built. The women in the audience paid 100% attention :). The show ended with a Haka performance. Great way to end the night. You can watch the video on FiaFia Night here and the Fire dance here on my YouTube page .
Day Three: On Friday, I had contacted Polynesia Xplorer for a possible tour on the island (Upolu) I was in. I had assumed the beach fale would have their own organized tour but I was told since most guest at the fale rented a vechicle, there was no need for organizimg a tour. Well on Sat, I confirmed with Beatrice from Polynesian Xplorer for a tour today (Sunday).
She came for me after breakfast. We clicked and it felt like we had known each other for a long time. We started of at Sopoaga Waterfalls where she showed me how they break open coconut and squeeze out the milk with a sponge. After that we went to To Sua Trench (a volcanic eruption I believe). It was beautiful, pictures can not do it justice. To get to the water, you will have to go down this really steep stairs. I was beyond nervous but Beatrice convinced me and encourgaged me all the way down.
The tour proceeded to another watefall –Togitogiga Waterfalls- where you could swim. The tour ended at Fao Fao Beach Fale where we had a late lunch . The tour wasn’t exactly cheap for a solo traveller but it was all worth it.
Day Four: I decided to explore the other island in Samoa called Savaii island. To get there, I had to take an early morning (6am) taxi to town (Apia) then a hour ferry. When I arrived at Savaii, I went straight to Tourist Office which is just a 5 mins walk from the ferry whart. I wanted to get an idea of taxi prices for places I would like to visit. They gave me a price range and I got a taxi to take me to three location and back to the whart for 200 Samoan Talas (USD$78). By the way, you will be hustled by several taxi drivers. Ignore them and walk to the tourist office.
We went to the Lava Field first – it took us about an hour to get there. It used to be a village, there was an eruption and lava slowly took over the village. Most people were able to get out alive. Now, you can walk around and see the damage the lava caused. We went to the Blowholes afterwards, on the other side of town so almost an hour to get there as well. You still had to walk 1 mile or so from the beach car park. I don’t really know the scientific explanation for blowholes, you can read it here. There is a big eruption of water from several holes in the rocks – that’s what the blowholes looked like. Fascinating!
Last we went to a waterfalls, Afu Aau Waterfalls. Also a good walking distance from the car park. You can swim there, the water is pretty cold. After that, I wanted to get lunch before going to the whart. The ferry left 30 minutes late. It took us longer to get to Upolu Island, about 2 hours because the ferry was the slow one. I got back to the Taufau Beach Fale around 7.30pm.
Day Five: The same folks from New Zealand offered me a ride to the airport in Apia because they were going sightseeing in town. We left around 11am. The flight to New Zealand was overbooked and they needed volunteers to give up their seat. I was tempted to take up that offer since they were going to pay for the hotel and give a NZ$500 voucher. I didn’t volunteer L because I was already not spending much time in New Zealand and I didn’t want to shorten my stay any further.
Four Things You Need To Know About Samoa
- Rent a car, it will save you taxi fares especially if you are staying at one of the beach fales away from Apia.
- Most people don’t speak English here (unlike Fiji) so there will be a language barrier.
- Make sure to attend a FiaFia night. You will be impressed.
- Get a sim card and internet data on it. Most hotels or fales will not have wifi
P.S., Talofa means hello in the Samoan language.
I knew I would love Fiji and I was right. While planning my accommodation, I was initially going to stay with a couchsurfer because I felt Fiji might be one of those countries where you need someone from there to show you around in order to have a great time. However as my trip got closer, I didn’t feel like staying with anyone and I was skeptical of the hostels I saw on hostelworld. My thinking was that an hostel can’t be good in Fiji because Fiji is luxurious. Boy, was I wrong.
Anyways my initial plan was to stay at a resort for 2 nights, go on a overnight tour and return to the resort for my last night. I also wanted to explore the Nadi area without navigating public transport, so I searched for an affordable tour online. I found one via TripAdvisor – ToursByLocals, I contacted Ryan and we agreed on a price. I also asked him to pick me up from the airport since his airport transfer rate was cheaper than the resort rate. By the way, I would recommend Ryan of ToursByLocal. As always, agreed on price and what is included in the package beforehand. This prevents misunderstanding.
Day 1: I got picked up from the airport. The distance from the airport in Nadi is not far from Denarau – where the resort is located. Denarau Island is reclaimed land and houses several resorts like Sofitel, Hilton, Best western and so on. A few residential houses are also in Denarau. Since my flight got in pretty late, I went to bed shortly after arriving at my resort.
Day 2: I woke up to amazing view. Breakfast was great. My city tour with Ryan started around 11am. We went to a local village, then the Hindu Temple. The temple is colorful and beautiful. After that, we proceeded to the local market where I got to try Kava for the first time. Kava is a traditional ceremonial drink in Fiji made from root of a herbal plant. It has no sweet taste and your tongue feels numbs afterwards. There is also a process to the Kava ceremony. It is rude to decline the first kava drink given to you by your host. When given to you, you clap once and say ‘Bula’ (warm greetings), you drink it then clap three times and say Vinaka (thank you). You can watch the video of the man preparing the Kava drink here.
After the local market, we went to a botanical garden surrounded by a mountain that looks like a two sleeping giants hence the name of the garden – The Garden of the Sleeping Giant. The garden is beautiful and have a walking trail. If you are not into gardens, you can skip it. The last site for the day was the Mud pool and hot springs. Here, your inner child comes out. You rub mud on your body, let it dry and get into a slightly muddy water to rinse off. You then go into three other pools (hot spring) to rinse off. I opted for a 30mins massage afterwards – it was good. Don’t compared the hot springs to that of Guatemala. You wouldn’t be impressed if you do.
Before returning to the resort, I had a delicious dinner at a local restaurant – Tu’s Place. Most delicious food I ate in Fiji.
Day 3: I was suppose to go on an overnight trip with pick up at 6.45am. Somehow I managed to miss the pick up. I called 10mins after the pick up time but they couldn’t come back. Oh well. I managed to get on a similar tour but not overnight for the following day. I decided to move to one of the hostels (saving money). I choose Bamboo House – the online review was great and locals said it was a better choice for hostel. The view at Bamboo is great. They have a restaurant, swimming pool, tour desk and bar on site. I stayed in a female dorm with bathroom en-suite. I paid USD$15/night. They do have private room available. I think the price is USD$30/night. Affordable!!.
I just chilled at the beach. The hostel is right on the beach.
Day 4: I was picked up at 6.45am for the tour. The tour starts in Namosi near the Navau river which is about 2 hours away from Nadi. We picked up people from various resorts on our way there. Once there, we boarded a boat to the first stop of the tour. The boat ride was about 45 minutes, we finally got to the waterfalls – stunning!. After the waterfalls, we got on a bamboo rafting for a few minutes before continuing the tour to a village at the Namosi highlands.
At the village, we were shown where our lunch was being prepared – underground oven called a lovo! We were led into the village’s community center where a welcoming ceremony was performed. You can watch the ceremony here. After that, we had lunch – tasty! The women of the village have a great varieties of arts & craft. I got some earrings.
Eventful day it was. We made the long ride back to Nadi. At the hostel, I joined some local guys and folks staying at the hostel for Kava and music.
Day 5: Oh, on day 3, I met Jade. She was staying at the hostel and we found out we were both going to Samoa on the same day. I rode with Jade in the afternoon to the airport. The check in line was pretty long.
5 Things I Learned from Fiji:
- I know most picture we see of Fiji smells LUXURY!!!! It doesn’t have to be. There are other types of accommodation such as mid-range and budget resort an hour or so away from Nadi/Denarau, Airbnb and Hostels.
- Renting a car will give you better flexibility to see the country.
- You don’t have to book your tours in advance. Actually, it’s better and might be cheaper not to. Your resort, hotel, Airbnb and hostel all have a travel/tour desk where you have varieties to pick from or create your own. The prices are mostly better than online ones.
- Try the Kava. It wouldn’t kill you.
- You don’t need a lover, spouse, significant other to enjoy Fiji. You can enjoy it as a solo traveler :).
P.s, Bula is a greeting in the Fijian language.