It’s been too long between drinks world… but I’m coming for ya!

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It’s been over 12 months since I have done any meaningful travel… and for someone that lives to travel that’s a lifetime.

In fact it’s why I’ve been so quiet on the blog front, I was having a no-travel tantrum. I couldn’t bring myself to write about seeing the world when the world seemed so far away from my apartment in Auckland.

HOWEVER it is now with great pleasure that I can say that as I write this just over two weeks remain between me and a trip to new countries, new cuisines and new cultures. Oh yeah, it feels good.

So where am I off to?

Well what started as a flippant discussion with friends about meeting up in Singapore for Formula 1 has led to a 3.5 week pilgrimage back to South East Asia and beyond.

formula1

We are starting in Singapore for the mighty F1 (fully equipped with Bon Jovi for entertainment… WHOOP), then heading on to Malaysia (two flights with Malaysia Airlines… hmm) and then on to India.

Yes in true Nic travel form we are seeing a lot in a little and yes that probably means not doing enough in each area. But at this stage I’m still in what I call ‘taste test mode’ with the world, seeing as many new places as possible then figuring out where we want to spend more time.

So for now I’m in full planning mode, organising visas, insurance and itineraries and it’s reminded me of a few top tips for planning travel. Here are a few:

  • Always check if you need Visa’s. We got so caught up in life that we almost forgot to get our visa for India. Fortunately their eVisas make is super easy but it was a little ‘oh shit’ moment.
  • Insurance: Always get travel insurance and don’t necessarily go for the cheapest option. Look at your policy covers and pays out, one I looked at didn’t cover natural disasters for example, and with mother nature rearing her head more often than not recently that wasn’t an option for me. Also check how much will they pay out if you loose your luggage etc.. I know it’s the dull part of travel but read up people.
  • Do an itinerary double check: Usually when booking a big trip you do a lot of planning months before then forget what you booked. Go through, check that your flight dates marry up to your accommodation dates and how much luggage you’re allowed on flights. Nothing like trying to get on a flight with all your recently purchased goods only to find you’re either not allowed that much weight or you have to pay through the nose for the privilege.

Ok that’s all for now, I shall try to resume more regular Pilgrim with a Plan blogging and if it ends up being excited rants about my trip well you know what… #soznotsoz

Happy days!

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Shocking and Spectacular – Visit Hanoi

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It’s hot, it kinda smells like burning and fish and there are bugs… lots of them.

To say Hanoi is a shock to the senses would be an understatement… but to say it’s one of the most intriguing and fantastic places I have ever visited would not do it justice.

Hanoi has a unique charm which really comes down to the fact that’s it’s the only place I’ve visited that travellers do as locals do. You sit next to a local for dinner, you buy goods from the same stores, you walk the same streets.

Adding to its appeal is the fact it’s the cheapest place I’ve ever visited. Beers are 20c and dinner is $5. You can live like a king on a backpackers budget.

So go on – embrace the madness.

Planning your Pilgrimage:


 Crossing the road

crossing the road

I covered this in my last article about Vietnam, but it’s worth mentioning again.

When crossing the road SLOW AND STEADY wins the race. Don’t run across the road, literally step out and walk calmly, the thousands of scooter riders will go around you, even if it doesn’t look like it.


Eat/Drink

Eamon eating

in the wall cooking

 

Eat and drink at side of the road establishments. Yep the places with kids stools, plastic tables and no roof.

Please do this.

Yes the hole in the wall oven looks ominous, sure you’re never 100% sure what it is you’re eating, but the flavours are a treat for your tastebuds and it’s such an awesome experience. Trust me, you’ll have your best meals at these places.

 

 


Bia Hoi

happy local

Bia hoiI’ve mentioned the price of beer, and yes it’s ridiculously cheap, but moreover drinking beer on the side of an intersection is the best way to spend an evening in Hanoi. It’s hugely entertaining as you watch locals weave around each other on scooters, narrowly avoiding collision.

There are tiny beer selling ‘establishments’ on nearly every corner – our favourite was a jewellery store by day, then by night they wheeled out the keg, set up the stools and wam bam thank you mam it became a bar!


Stay

In the Old Quarter.

Specifically I’d like to recommend the Cinnamon Hotel chain (they have hotels in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh). A first class experience on a backpackers budget. Super cheap but offer beautiful rooms, amazing service and free massages!


Visit

Ho Chi Minhs Mausoleum (where an embalmed Uncle Ho lays)

mosuleum

√  Go super early in the morning as it gets really busy but in fairness the line moves quickly

√  Side notes:

  • He’s sent back to Russia to be tidied up for two months each year, so make sure it’s not when you’re there.
  • You have to cover up knees and shoulders to go in

Huu Tiep Lake and the Downed B-52

B52√  Huu Tiep Lake and the Downed B-52

  • OK this is a nightmare to find but well worth it once you do.
  • It’s an America bomber planed that was shot down during the war and now sits in a lake in a suburb of Vietnam basically.
  • They say the address is: Ngo 55, Hoang Hoa Tham, Hanoi, Vietnam, but try asking locals or getting a cab there…
  • It is walking distance from Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Explore the Old Quarter

me carrying goods

old town shopping√  Really take it all in. Get lost. Turn corners, take narrow side ally ways.

√  It’s a crazy place with loads going on, and each street is sectioned into a ‘theme’ so there’s home goods street, sunglasses street, children’s toys street and even party decorations street!


Walk around Hoàn Kiếm lake

lake

√  Located right by the Old Quarter, Hoan Kiem is a great place to go for a walk for three reasons:

1) There’s a pedestrian only track so you aren’t afraid of being hit by a bike.

2) It’s very relaxing and calm, the polar opposite of the rest of Hanoi.

3) There are always cool things happening at the lake, brides getting wedding photos, Vietnamese practicing Tai Chi.


 

So there you have it – Hanoi in 800 words or less. It really does deserve your time and your tourist dollar – go get lost in the mayhem.

Vietnam Road Rules – Or Lack Thereof

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Ever wanted to know what it feels like to run with the bulls but haven’t made it to Spain? Try crossing the road in Vietnam instead.

Using the road in Vietnam in any capacity, whether it be as a pedestrian or a passenger in a car is both hideously frightening and highly entertaining at the same time. Some would even call it an adrenaline rush.

As you sit in the back of a van on a highway and see a car overtaking a bus who is overtaking a truck and all coming towards you, you wish you’d paid closer attention to your travel insurance policy.

It’s no joke either, in 2014 nearly 9000 people died in road accidents in Vietnam and almost 25,000 were injured. This is actually an improvement from the year before…

With that said, it’s just part of the experience and shouldn’t deter you from visiting or enjoying Vietnam, you’ll surprise yourself at how quickly you get used to the madness.

But to make sure you’re safe not sorry have a read through some of my road related tips…

Planning your road related pilgrimage:


 

Crossing the road

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You are putting your life in the hands of fate by crossing the road in Vietnam.

With cars, trucks and scooters coming at you from all angles it can be likened to an adult version of the school yard game bull rush, however those charging at you have engines powering them rather than nikes.

There are four simple steps to making it to the other side of the road. They are:

1) Look for a gap in the traffic: and by gap I mean when 20 vehicles are coming at you rather than 60

2) Step out on to the road with confidence: don’t hesitate, if a scooter driver sees you step out they’ll avoid, if you hesitate you are putting you and the scooter driver at risk.

3) Walk very slowly: it goes against all logic, but literally just slowly meander across the road. The vehicles will avoid you. If you move too erratically you’re not giving anyone a chance to avoid a collision.

4) Celebrate: you made it.

Just check out this video I took at an intersection in Ho Chi Minh.

 


The sites you will see

Road rules vietnam1

The way people use scooters in Vietnam is similar to how you might use your car, ute or even truck and trailer for that matter.

They will literally pile anything and everything on their scooter and make it look like it ain’t no thing. What you are seeing above isn’t actually that shocking, yes the child doesn’t have a helmet, but hey she’s safely squeezed between mum and dad… right?

From cages of animals to 3m long pieces of wood, versatility is the middle name of scooters in nam.


Anything goes

Road rules vietnam

Yep that is a cow on a roundabout. Count your luck stars it’s not on the road… that’ll happen too.

The roads aren’t limited to vehicles, you may run into live stock and of course people selling things.


When in doubt: Do as the locals do

Vietnam Road Rules

As with anything while you’re travelling, if in doubt, do as the locals do.

If, like this lady, they walk along the side of the road, you walk along side the road. If they casually stroll out onto the road and into what looks like imminent death, head on out with them. They know what’s up.


In Nam it would appear there are no road rules, that’s not true, there are, but like everything else in Vietnam they are negotiable and come down to varied interpretation – good luck!

Turn up, have fun, see sites – Tour Led Travel

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Travelling alone? Don’t really know where to start? Or just want to meet new like minded friends? I have the travel solution for you – tours!

There are so many benefits of joining a tour, including the fact they organise everything for you, you just have to turn up, have fun and see sites.

I’ve loved every tour I’ve done and as corny as it sounds, have met some life long friends.

Here’s a wee comparison of various tour companies I’ve used.

Planning your Pilgrimage:


Contiki

Contiki

Yes I’ve done Contiki, and I had a ball. I was about 22. Two friends and I booked a the European Escapade – 25 days, visiting 10 countries.

Pros:

√  You get a taster of a bunch of places – helping you decide where you might like to explore further.

√  You get to see so much with little personal planning effort.

√  It’s fun, I mean a bus full of 18-35 year olds = great time.

√  We were lucky and had a fantastic group who didn’t just want to get wasted all the time, so we had a ball.

Cons:

√  You are with the same 30 odd people for 25 days on a bus, if you don’t like them you’re going to have an average time.

√  You are on a bus with air con for 25 days – you will get sick with what’s known as the ‘Contiki Cough’… it’s inevitable.

√  You really do whip through places, I mean two nights in Rome, come on.


Travel talk

Where you sleep at Gallipoli… packed in like sardines. Beaut view though.

I took a tour with these guys to Gallipoli for ANZAC day.

This company is predominantly used by expats living in London so if you are just travelling the area and not living there you may struggle to find others doing the same.

Pros:

√  Easy to deal with, well organised

Cons:

√  The tour guide was BEYOND a creep, he cracked on to every single girl on the tour, it was inappropriate.


Intrepid Travel

Intrepid

I can’t speak highly enough of Intrepid travel, the Intrepid team (from the office staff to guides) are extremely helpful and the tour is right up my ally – organised but not so much that you have to schedule in a toilet break.

I jumped on an eight day tour from Rome to Amalfi (Italy) with these guys and had a ball.

Pros:

√  It’s not as prescriptive as Contiki, sure you are on a tour but that’s more to ensure you have someone to show you the way, someone to have dinner with at night, company if you want it. You can also spend a lot of time alone (if you want) which I love.

√  The tour guides are generally from the area or have extensive knowledge of the area, adding another element to the tour.

√  You take public transport to get around (aka no private coaches like Contiki) which is fun and shows you how to do it for when you’re on your own.

√  I found my group to be very like minded, mostly independent females who loved travel.

√  They only have 10 people max in a group, so you make some great friends.

Cons:

√  I was the youngest in my group by far (at 26), which was a pro and a con. I like an older crowd so it was fine for me but it could be a con for you.

√  The whole thing was a little laid back, a little more communication/organisation may have been appreciated but didn’t ruin the tour by any means.


Sail Croatia

Sail Croatia

I was apprehensive about doing Sail Croatia as I was a little fatter back then, lacked confidence and didn’t want to get drunk everyday on a boat with skinny tarts (that’s how I envisaged Sail Croatia).

What I ended up with was a group of the most fantastic people I’ve ever come across, mainly folk older than I and we had a ball!

We did end up drinking every day, but in a civilised (ok kind of civilised) way, and it was just beyond amazing.

Best part of the whole thing? You’re on a boat for a week, you don’t have to move your bags for a whole week. When you travel for extended periods, moving every few days, you’ll understand how incredible that is.

Now I can’t remember the exact tour group I booked with but it’s fairly irrelevant – look for the one that goes to the islands you want to go to (Hvar is a must) and for the length of time you want to go for.

If you don’t want to party but want a good time, here are my tips:

√  Book at the start of the season, the earlier the better as it is less likely to be a bunch of young annoying assholes.

√  Let the tour group know you want to have a relaxing time not a party time.

Also what you need to know:

√  You start a tab on the boat for your drinks which is semi dangerous as you have no idea how much you’re spending, but it’s fairly reasonably priced.

√  Take loads of books/load up your e-reader, there is plenty of sail time where you have nothing to do but sunbathe and read (it’s the good life).

√  On that note prepare to do nothing – it was a real change of pace for me, but it was fantastic.

√  Take a backpack – for day trips on the islands

√  Don’t be a dick – you’re on a boat with these people for a week.


Those were my tour experiences. I’ve done a bunch of day tours in various locations too and generally enjoyed them for the same reasons. While I love planning, taking a break from that and letting someone do it for you has it’s merits.

Have fun – and if you have any further questions please do get in touch.

 

Buildings of Italy

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Buildings aren’t always the number one choice for holiday photos. Maybe it’s because it’s hard to get a really good selfie with a building… who knows.

Fortunately for all of us I’m not one to take a selfie, I am however one for a good building photo, especially in Italy.

The array of buildings in Italy most certainly contribute to the countries charm, and they vary greatly depending on which part of the country you are in.

So as a gift for your eyes I’ve collated some of my fave building shots. You’re welcome…

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36365_399967026777_7307895_n 36365_399966991777_3392122_n 36365_399966956777_691831_n 35821_399966946777_2799944_n 35398_399966921777_7612312_n IMG_0299 DSCF2931 37457_399970841777_6704495_n 36478_399971281777_3625986_n 36365_399967041777_5526715_n IMG_0324 IMG_0322 IMG_0319 IMG_0306 IMG_0302 IMG_0371 IMG_0368 IMG_0350 IMG_0339 IMG_0338 IMG_0475

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IMG_0600 IMG_0577 IMG_0547

 

 

 

 

Dreaming of Bhutan

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I’m like a dog with a bone sometimes. I get obsessed with certain things and won’t stop until I get it/see it/do it.

When I was a kid I thought I’d be the next Venus Williams, tennis racket in hand my parents shipped me off to my first lesson. One thrashing from some upstart little bastard with better hand-eye coordination and I was out.

Tigers-Nest himalayanworkshops.comMy current obsession? Bhutan. I must go there. However I need to convince my partner in crime/life/travel, Eamon, that it’s a good idea.

So below is what I’ve found out about Bhutan, if you have any other intel help me out… so far the “well I’m f*cking going, either come or don’t” angle isn’t working so well.

Photo cred: himalayanworkshops.com

Header photo cred: Wikipedia

Planning my Pilgrimage:


 Daily fee:

√  Bhutan was shut off from the world until the 1960’s and even now they are very particular about opening their doors to tourists.

√  As such you can’t just go to Bhutan – you have to book through an agent who will be your guide while you’re there. There is a set minimum fee of $200-$250 USD a day in Bhutan to cover taxes, government royalties etc. and I believe that includes accommodation (don’t quote me on that).


Getting to Bhutan:

√  Bordering with India, you can get there by land but it sounds well, really hard, so no.

√  There are only two airlines that fly into Bhutan; Drukair and Bhutan Airlines and you can get flights from major airports such as Bangkok, Delhi, Singapore and Mumbai.


Why it’s great?

Reason one: Success for Bhutan is happiness…

Young monks     √  Bhutan measures the progress of its nation not by an increase of Gross National Product… but by their Gross National Happiness.

√  They have four main pillars of said Gross National Happiness and it’s now been recognised and considered as an option by the United Nations.

 

 

Who doesn’t want to go to a place where they see success as happiness not more money!!!

Photo cred: www.bhutanfound.org


Why it’s great?

Reason two: Environment:

bhutan

√  By law the country must maintain 60% forest cover at all times AND 60% of Bhutan are protected areas such as sanctuaries and national parks. This, in addition to their climate, means Bhutan is one of the worlds last remaining biodiversity hotspots.

Photo cred: www.yatraexoticroutes.com

 


Why it’s great?

Reason three: The sites:

Mo-Chhu-Rafting-Bhutan
√  With a well preserved landscape and an emphasis on tradition and history, Bhutan looks to have a plethora of breathtaking sites to take in.

√  From the Tigers nest in Paro to Monestarys with panoramic views of the Himilayas – from what I can see Bhutan would be a pilgrimage like no other.

 

Photo cred: www.nwrafting.com


Other fun facts:

Bhutan dress code    √  It’s the only country in the world to ban the sale of tobacco.

    √  TV and internet was introduced as a gift from the King to his subjects (the Bhutanese) in 2000.

√  Plastic bags are banned.

√  The people of Bhutan officially get a year older on new years day, not on their birthday.

√  Archery and Darts are the national sport.

√  Healthcare and education is free for both the people of Bhutan and visitors.

√  The country has a mandatory dress code and what you wear is dictated by your social status.

√  Don’t fall in love in Bhutan as they are forbidden from marrying foreigners – must be why polygamy is allowed there.

Photo cred: Wikipedia


Sounds like one heck of a place right? If you’ve been, I’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment below or get in touch on my Facebook page… and cross your fingers and toes for me that I get there!

 

Relax it’s Fiji time

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I have a problem with how the word “busy” is used as a status symbol now. A friend asks “how’s work”, “oh so busy”, you pass a colleague in the corridor “how’s your day?”, “crazy busy”. It’s like the word ‘busy’ reflects your importance in the world.

Well let me tell you folks, if you want to go one place where you won’t hear the word busy… Fiji is for you.

In fact the most common phrase you’ll hear in Fiji means the polar opposite of busy… “Fiji Time”

Fiji time (as explained by our taxi driver) means things never happen on time because they are in fact too busy… too busy being lazy that is. Words from the driver not me.

For example: the airport is under construction, apparently due to be finished 18 months ago. I’d say it has 18 months to go. “haha” says our driver “yes it’s on Fiji Time”.

So if you want a break from “busy”, Fiji is for you.

Fiji beach

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Fiji

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Planning your Pilgrimage:


What to expect?

Nothing is on time: “Fiji Time” means nothing is on time, no point getting annoyed, just embrace the slower pace of life.

Fiji homes

 

Poverty: If you dare to indulge in more than just your resort and venture out on the main island you will see that the standard of living is low. Perhaps I’m ignorant but it surprised me how some Fijians live.

 

 

 

Fiji dancing

 

 

Happiness: Remember money ain’t everything, every Fijian I came in contact with was happy and extremely helpful – the level of service there is second to none.

 

 


Where on the Island to stay?

Denarau: Agh the tourist mecca that is Denarau, it’s ok I guess if you like loads of restaurants, a small shopping mall and resorts. However promise me that if you stay here you will explore outside Denarau as it’s not an accurate representation of the island.

Club Fiji

Nadi: the town centre of Nadi is more ‘raw’ and a not really walking distance to any resorts. However there are great beaches and resorts to choose from.

We stayed at Club Fiji, it was basically the cheapest resort we could find that had bungalows on the beach – a must do for us in Fiji. I would recommend it as the price you pay for what you get is fine. The service is fine, the activities are great (free snorkeling trips) and it’s right on the beach. We paid approximately $130 a night for two people.

SuvaSuva: This is the land of industry/business hub of Fiji. It’s also a three hour drive from Nadi. Now I won’t say “don’t bother” going out there, as the drive there is both interesting (as you drive past villages) and beautiful (as the road follows the coast). However there’s not a heck of a lot to attract you to the town.

If you do go there stay at the Grand Pacific Hotel – it’s absolutely incredible (as seen above).

Outer Islands: Now here’s something I have no knowledge of, however from all accounts you must get to an outer island when in Fiji, we didn’t have time but it’s on my to-do list.


What to do?

Me relaxing

 

Nothing: It’s a tropical island. Relax.

Take a book (or 10): The standard holiday day while visiting Fiji entails, waking whenever you want, going for breakfast at your resort, showering (if you must), then finding a hammock/lounger and reading. Move only for toilet stops and food.

 

Fiji snorkelling

Snorkelling: Of course there is much more to do in Fiji than lay around. We went snorkelling by a reef (of which there are many to choose from) and it was incredible, a plethora of multi coloured fish, unafraid of your presence.

In addition to snorkelling you can jump out of planes, ride horses, do an array of water sports and much more. So if your bum gets sore from overuse fear not, there is plenty to do.

 


What to eat?

KokodaKokoda: Basically it’s marinated raw fish in coconut cream and I could eat it on the daily. It’s fresh, delicious and won’t make you fat. Winning combo.

Curry: Also ensure you purchase at least one curry on the Island (I’d recommend fish or goat), not only because the curry is delicious but it also comes with loads of tasty add ons such as poppadom and tamarind dipping sauce. It’s a feast of epic proportions and yes probably could add on the pounds for you, but it’s worth it!


 

Now I was only in Fiji for three days so I know there is more to see/do and experience. If anyone has any other tips on Fiji I’d love to hear from you – leave a comment below or click here to drop me an email or click here to leave a comment on my Facebook page! 🙂

5 Reasons Reviews are not a travellers best friend

reasons reviews header

The internet – it’s given us so much joy. Videos of cats and kids doing cute things, online shopping etc.. It’s also let any man and his dog voice their opinion through reviews.

Everyone has a right to their opinion, but not everyone’s opinions are right. So when it comes to researching your next trip, remember reviews AREN’T always your best friend and here are my five reasons why.

Note: unfortunately all examples given are REAL reviews from real people… god help us all.

5) Tourists expect to be told everything, and I mean everything:

Pilgrim with a plan brochure

Example:

•  “I was bitten by a mosquito. The brochure did not mention mosquitoes.”

•  “We booked an excursion to a water park but no-one told us we had to bring our own swimsuits and towels. We assumed it would be included in the price.”

 

ARE YOU SERIOUS?


4) People don’t take responsibility for themselves or their actions:

number 4 good

Example:

•  “My fiancée and I requested twin-beds when we booked, but instead we were placed in a room with a king bed. We now hold you responsible and want to be re-reimbursed for the fact that I became pregnant. This would not have happened if you had put us in the room that we booked.”

 

IT’S NOT THEIR FAULT YOU’RE HORNY.


3) People are ignorant:

number 3

Example:

•  “When we were in Spain, there were too many Spanish people there. The receptionist spoke Spanish, the food was Spanish. No one told us that there would be so many foreigners.”

•  “On my holiday to Goa in India, I was disgusted to find that almost every restaurant served curry. I don’t like spicy food.”

 

READ A BOOK PEOPLE, READ A BOOK!


2) Some people just like to moan:

pilgrim with a plan 2Example:

•  “The roads were uneven and bumpy, so we could not read the local guide book during the bus ride to the resort. Because of this, we were unaware of many things that would have made our holiday more fun.”

•  “We found the sand was not like the sand in the brochure. Your brochure shows the sand as white but it was more yellow.”

FIRST. WORLD. PROBLEMS!


1) The number one reason? People are stupid:

Pilgrim with a plan

Example:

•  “No-one told us there would be fish in the water. The children were scared.”

•  “It took us nine hours to fly home from Jamaica to England. It took the Americans only three hours to get home. This seems unfair.”

•  “It’s a great beach, just too sandy”

SIGH.


Ok ok, so with that said, I do always read reviews before booking – however I’m proving a point… all reviews you read should be taken with a grain (or 10) of salt! Happy researching!