30 by 30 – What a ride!

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Well folks, pop the bottles, get out the streamers – it’s official (ok it was official about six months ago) I’ve done it – I’ve travelled to 30 different countries before my 30th birthday!!

When I set the goal five years ago it was in part a pipe dream and in part a way to continually give myself a goal to work towards that was purely fun related, not health, not career – just fun.

And shit I’ve had so much fun achieving it along the way. From seeing great sites like the Taj Mahal or Eiffel tower to being extreme like paragliding in Austria and… and… ok who am I kidding I’m NOT extreme.

Anyway it’s been amazing, and it’s not over… not by a long shot.

So what’s next? What’s my next goal, my next plan? I’m taking suggestions. Seriously – I want you to help me decide what I should do next… Do I double it before I’m 40? Aim to see all countries in the world? I’m game.

Anyway as you ponder, scroll down for my final list of 30 countries in alphabetical order. Looking at each name brings back so many exceptional memories and I’m itching to make some more.

30 by 30

(My world scratch map – the gold countries I haven’t been to… it’s on my wall and I look at it longingly everyday)

 

1 America 16 Lichtenstein
2 Australia 17 Malaysia
3 Austria 18 Mexico
4 Cambodia 19 Monaco
5 China 20 Montenegro
6 Croatia 21 Netherlands
7 England 22 Scotland
8 France 23 Singapore
9 Germany 24 Spain
10 Greece 25 Switzerland
11 India 26 Thailand
12 Ireland 27 Turkey
13 Italy 28 UAE (Dubai)
14 Fiji 29 Vatican
15 Japan 30 Vietnam

Pilgrim without a plan

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To say I’ve been M.I.A on the blog front is an understatement – it’s been months since I posted… not ok.

Why have I made you all suffer through my radio silence? Missing out on the brilliance that is my writing? I can put it down to one thing – lack of travel depression… LTD for short.

The LTD struggle has been real – worse than ever before. And the reason is this: I’m a pilgrim without a plan.

I landed back in NZ after achieving my 30 by 30 plan with nothing new on the horizon… just a mortgage to pay and a 9 to 5 job.

Not knowing what I’m doing next, where or when I’m going has been a beating to my soul… But let’s be honest, as far as problems go, this is as first world as it gets, so I’m packing away my LTD and getting back on the keyboard to give you guys more tips and tales from my pilgrimages. You’re welcome.

Stay tuned over the coming weeks as I will have a celebratory article about reaching my initial 30 by 30 plan… I WILL come up with a new plan… maybe with your help and I have some crazy tales from Malaysia and India to share with you. There are terror threats, Malaysia Airlines flights and human poo. You want to read this stuff.

Taj

(Oh and here’s a tease of some of the cool stuff I got to see in India – more about this soon)

Scooters, Skyscrapers & Shooting. Welcome to Ho Chi Minh

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As a wise man once said Vietnam is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.

Ok I’m paraphrasing, but it’s true.

One of the true charms of Vietnam is the constant surprise factor. After weeks in Vietnam visiting the beautiful Hoi An, the bustling Hanoi and the serene Halong Bay I thought Vietnam couldn’t have any more surprises in store. Then we landed in Ho Chi Minh.

It is undoubtedly the most developed city in Vietnam, boasting a financial district fully equipped with skyscrapers and (wait for it)… TOP SHOP! Then you head out of the city and get to experience first hand a history lesson like no other at the Cu Chi Tunnels.

It truly is amazing and there’s plenty to see and do. We didn’t have nearly enough time but still managed to jam a lot in. Here are a couple of must-do’s, can’t wait to go back some day and add to the list.

Planning your pilgrimage:


Cu Chi Tunnels

Cu Chi Tunnels

Yes it’s touristy but it’s a must do when in Ho Chi Minh. Book a day trip through your hotel and head out to see just a small fraction of the kilometres of narrow tunnels that so many Vietnamese functioned and fought out of for years. This trip will teach you more about the war than any history class. And the first hand experience crawling through the tunnels is one that will stick with you.

OH yeah and you can shoot an AK47… I’ve read from some reviews that this is offensive to those who fought and died in the war, but you know what, shut up. If the Vietnamese want to capitalize off a really shit situation by letting me shoot a gun, then good on them.

(Side note: Yep I have no gun skills as seen in the pic)


 

War Remnants Museum

War Remnants

I can’t warn you enough about how disturbing this museum is, but it’s a must do. The museum has hundreds of photographs and exhibitions telling the story of the true affect of the war.

Now I have to tell you this includes fetuses’ in jars that were affected by agent orange. This is 100% as awful as it sounds, but you know what? Look at it. They’ve put it on display to show you how bad things were (and for some still are) so take it in. Please don’t take photos, I mean you can, there’s no rule against it but come on, have some respect. Rant over.

(As you can see by my snap the only photo I took was outside…)


 

Bitexco Financial Tower

TowerIt’s really easy in a place like Ho Chi Minh to not really grasp the sheer size of the place. Well head up the tallest building in Ho Chi Minh and see just how wide spread the city is, it also gives you an idea of how much development is going on.

It’s a little more expensive than other activities in Ho Chi Minh, but in reality it’s costing you $15 instead of $2 that everything else is, so the bank isn’t broken.


 

Shop

At the Cho Ben Thanh Market. It’s full of watches, clothes, shoes, souveneirs etc. all genuine fakes of course. But it’s lots of fun and just remember to haggle, haggle and haggle some more. Or as a friend taught me, offer to pay one very low price for the item and a tip for the seller as that means they actually get some money to take home rather than giving money to the stall owner.


 

Wander

Ho Chi Minh buildingsAs per usual I recommend taking a good walk around the city. Make sure you stroll past the Saigon Opera House, the Post office and Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral. All amazing buildings and a reminder of the various influences the city has had over the years.


Eat

Beer Ho Chi MinhFor the first time in my Vietnam rambles I will tell you to go to an actual restaurant. That restaurant is 4p’s pizza – it is (wait for it) an Asian, Italian fusion restaurant (think Teryaki chicken pizza) and wholly hell it’s delicious. It sounds so wrong when you are in Vietnam to not eat Vietnamese but it’s worth detracting from the spring rolls for just one night. Trust me.

(Sorry no photos of 4P’s so instead you get a pic of another meal we had in Ho Chi Minh… yep there wasn’t just beer, although there was a lot of beer)


 

Alright that’s my reminiscing of Vietnam done for now… But i’ll be back. Mark my words. Love you Nam.

Nha Trang – Take a moment from the madness

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Have you ever been to a really intense party and you’re having a great time but you just need a break? With people everywhere, a range of scents permeating your nostrils and so much to take in you just need a moment to yourself? Nha Trang is that moment at the party that is Vietnam.

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This beach side town is your quintessential resort town; the main road is littered with imposing hotels, every store is geared towards tourists and there is sweet bugger all to do except lie on the beach and drink cocktails.

Now that sounds great, and it is, but it’s not my kind of place. I find these sorts of places offensive as a traveller, I don’t know why but I do. Somewhat adding insult to my self imposed injury there are direct flights from Russia to Nha Trang (a throw back from some friendly communist agreement)… as such the place is littered with Russians. This isn’t at all a bad thing but the Vietnamese subsequently speak to you in Russian and all the signs are in Russian. For me this just detracted from the charms I’d come to know and love in Vietnam.

Anyway rant over, thanks for listening. Let’s move on. I shall tell you a little more about the things you can do here to keep yourself entertained should you get bored of sunning and drinking.

Planning your pilgrimage:


 Vinpearl Land

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I introduce you to the kingpin of theme parks… the godfather, the absolute master. Vinpearl land.

What makes Vinpearl Land so special? It’s a whole freaking island dedicated to amusement/entertainment. Not only that to get there you take the longest sea cable car in the world, so the party starts before you arrive.

On the island you’ll find an amusement park with a whole host of rides, a water park spreading over 50,000m2, an aquarium, shows, food and if you’re bored (???!) a shopping street.

I actually dislike ‘rides’ with a passion, the need to scare myself shitless left me many years ago, however this place must be seen to be believed.

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100 Egg Mud Bath

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This place is surprising, different and well… down right strange. But 100% worth a visit.

Basically it’s a spa resort. It has a range of pools at different temperatures and then these wacky egg shaped ‘pools’ spread across the hillside. You hire said egg, they fill it with mud and you soak in it. It was all shades of filthy gloriousness – super relaxing and supposedly good for the skin. Win-win.

We didn’t actually hang out there too long after our mud bath as we got there so late however the property is spread over 17 hectares and I assume it would be well worth exploring.


Louisiane Brew House

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Ok so you’ve cleaned the mud out of places that mud should never be and now you need a drink… head to the Louisiane Brewhouse.

It’s right on the beach (with loungers on the sand during the day), it serves a huge range of beers (obviously… brewhouse…) and food and is quite the bustling spot.

I like to be a little more at one with the locals so it’s not my first port of call for a bevvy, however I would suggest grabbing a beer and a snack (I do seem to remember some ridiculously huge deserts) there at least once during the course of your trip.


Drink cocktails on the beach

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Finally, and as mentioned at the start, the main thing to do in Nha Trang is sit on the beach and drink.

So I shall leave you with this photo. Could be you on that deck chair, with that cocktail. Think about it 🙂

A journey through Vietnam – One Building at a time

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I’m no architect, in fact I generally struggle putting together flat pack furniture… stupid instructions that do more harm than good. But for some reason I’m infatuated with buildings when I go travelling. I think it’s because they explain more about the history of a country than perhaps anything else.

So join me now as I take you on a journey through Vietnam one building at a time…


Hanoi

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Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum in Hoi An…

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Ho Chi Minh’s Residence 

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Run down building
These sort of sites aren’t uncommon in Nam

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Room with a view
These homes overlook an American bomber jet shot down and left in this lake

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Electricity, Nam Styles
Waiting for a power company to sort power to your house can take forever… why not just DIY power like they do in Nam?

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Shopping Centre
French Quarter Hanoi… Rather different from some of those earlier pics and pic below!

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Markets and multi-coloured building
I truly don’t know if it’s my photography or the building that is on the piss

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The signs of development
Hi-rise buildings are becoming a normal site in the north


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Japanese Bridge 

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The beautiful riverside

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Vibrant colours of Hoi An

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Traditional temple

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Incredible mix of cultures can be seen in the architecture of Hoi An

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Curb side supermarket – too easy!


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Like any resort town Nha Trang has a main strip littered with hotels

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Modern meets old world, check out the differences in buildings in this pic!

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My favourite building in Ho Chi Minh – the People’s Committee Building

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Followed closely by the Municipal Theatre

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Third world?? 

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The Independence Palace, the site where the war ended in 1975

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Notre-Dame Basilica

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The most boss post office around!

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And Ho Chi Minh from above


I hope you got something out of our little journey, if not, well I had a good time taking you on it, so at least I’m a winner!

Till next time pilgrims 🙂

Vietnam – Where your traveller dollar counts

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“We love tourists. Tourism in Vietnam stopped my dad from hitting my mum.”

This is a direct quote from a tour guide in the beautiful city of Hoi An, Vietnam. In two sentences this young girl depicts not only the suffering endured, but the perpetual spirit of the Vietnamese. They’ve borne hundreds of years of hardship, yet they have this welcoming openness that really does make Vietnam a fantastic place for travellers and “tourists” alike.

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I read somewhere that Vietnam is a place “whose greatest charms lie in its everyday, unexpected curiosities just as much as in the more renowned tourist attractions,” and it couldn’t be closer to the truth. From the moment you touch down you can’t help but be caught up in all that is great in Vietnam.

Sure you should visit the “must-sees” – the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi, the War Remnants Museum and Cu Chi Tunnels in Ho Chi Minh. But your memories of Vietnam will be made, as cliché as it sounds, getting yourself lost on the manic streets.

What makes the entire experience better is that every time you sit to eat, enjoy a beer or take part in a tour you are helping the Vietnamese (like our guide in Hoi An) provide for their families, taking away the stresses that once plagued and devastated families.

So there you have it people – what better reason to travel, spend and drink!

Over the course of the next few weeks I’ll be writing about the main centres of Nam – Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh etc. so tune in for my tips. For now though, here’s some important intel for someone going anywhere in Vietnam.

Planning your pilgrimage:


What to pack:

eating√  Always carry tissues – there will be more than one reason you need these

√  Hand sanitiser.

√  Diastop:If you don’t eat on a curbside from a local vendor while you’re in Vietnam you’ve done it all wrong. This can wreak havoc with your guts but it’s worth it, so just go prepared.

√  US Dollars – this is good for most things in Vietnam, and you will pay your hotel in USD, there are plenty of HSBC or ANZ bank machines around Vietnam to get money out. Get the maximum out (around two million dong), it sounds like loads, but you’ll get through it.


BYO nerves of steal:

traffic

√  Everything you’ve heard about the traffic in Nam is true.

√  Best tip when walking, take it slowly across the road. It goes against your better logic, but trust me, slow and steady wins the race as motorists will go around you, they can’t plan for you if you’re running.

√  If you’re on the roads for a tour or whatever be warned, they pass each other three abreast, they pass on blind corners, they pass when a truck is coming towards you. It’s horrifying – but somehow they make it through. Tip: Close your eyes if you’re a nervous passenger.


Practice your hand signals:

The Vietnamese are great at communicating even if you have no common language, get ready to sign your way to buying food or reaching a destination.


The people are excellent

People

Tourism is fairly new to Vietnam, so in my opinion the place and the people still find the whole thing a novelty. As such while people are always selling you something, they’re not as annoying as vendors in say Thailand for example.

I actually enjoyed every encounter with the Vietnamese, I found them incredibly accommodating, willing to help and willing to have a laugh.


Don’t be afraid to barter

Selling stuff

Like any markets around the world the first price they offer is not the last. So do barter – you’ll know if you’ve pushed them too low.

Interestingly we learned from a friend who travels there regularly that the people running the stores don’t necessarily own them, so they get a cut of the profit made off you. SO if you ask them what their lowest price is then offer to give them personally a little something on top of it (do it with a bit of a wink, but not too creepy) you’ll usually get a better deal.


What “motorbike” really means

MotorbikeThere are loads of men (particularly in Nha Trang, and some in Ho Chi Minh) that will yell out “motorbike, motorbike” to you. They are NOT trying to rent you a motorbike, they are trying to sell you drugs. Be careful.


There are some starting tips, there’s plenty more where that came from so keep checking back to Pilgrim With a Plan for great stories and intel! 🙂

 

 

South East Asia – The place travellers dreams are made of

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With beers for under $1, food that your taste buds thank you for and something new to marvel at around every corner – South East Asia is the destination travellers dreams are made of.

After our travels around Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand last year I fell head over heels with the region. Someone told me before I left “you’ll love it, it gets under your skin” – that’s on point.

It may be third world, it may be hot and it may be manic but South East Asia is endearing. It’s my destination of choice and we will definitely be going back.

So on that note for the next month or two I’m dedicating Pilgrim with a Plan to South East Asia, and below is a bit of an overview as to why it should be on your list!

Why plan your South East Asia pilgrimage:


The people are welcoming

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(Kids in Cambodia – I know I’ve used this photo before, but I can’t help but use it again, so cute)

After travelling through Europe, S.E.A was a whole new kettle of fish, particularly in regards to the welcoming nature of the people.

In our experience the people are genuinely willing to help you, feed you, serve you or just have a yarn. Yes their economy is largely reliant on the tourist dollar and yes that helps, but there’s an unrivalled willingness to open their doors to you in a very genuine way. They want you there, they want to find out more about you AND let you understand more about them.


Getting off the beaten track is easy (and affordable)

Cambodia

(Remote floating village in Siem Reap – we didn’t go in rainy season… hence not floating)

One of the biggest catch phrases in the travel world is “getting off the beaten track”. Problem is it usually costs you two days travel and a whole lot of your budget to get off said track… not in South East Asia. Never have I visited countries where it’s so easy to get away from the tourist hot spots and into the eye opening every day lives of the people.

Take the above pic for example, this was taken at a floating village in Siem Reap. I think the locals could count on one hand how many times they’d seen a white person. The beauty of it all? It took us one hour and perhaps $20 to get out there. It was hands down the best part of my trip and I will write more about it in an upcoming blog post.


It’s cheap

Cheap food

(The man with a bottomless pit for a stomach is beaten)

Everything is dirt cheap in South East Asia, buying a beer for 20c is normal and paying $20 each for a room for a night will get you luxury, like free massage and cocktail on arrival type luxury.

A great example is the meal you can see in the pic above. This meal broke Eamon, just look at his face. It was a smorgasbord of epic proportions… the cost? Under $10.


The food is unbelievable

SEA food

(One of our best meals in Cambodia)

On that note, the food may be cheap, but it’s next level incredible. I’m salivating just looking at the above picture.

The thing with food in South East Asia is not just the taste – it’s the colours, the textures and the scents that make it what it is. They have the most incredible way of pulling together a meal that excites so many of your senses and whether you pay $1 on the side of the road or $10 in a restaurant your taste buds will thank you for it.


It suprises you

SEA suprise

(Truck tipped over in Cambodia while people ravage through the contents strewn on the roadside)

Just when you think you can’t see anything stranger you turn a new corner and something more bizarre smacks you in the face (hopefully not literally, but don’t rule it out).

South East Asia is wild, wierd and wonderful. It will shock, suprise and amaze you. Go with it. It makes for a great story back home.


The service is amazing

SEA service

(Standard welcome in any hotel in Nam)

You know when you go home and see your parents after a really long time and they’re super glad to see you and will do anything to make you feel comfortable? That’s the feeling you get every time you arrive at a hotel in South East Asia.

They’re welcoming, they make animals out of your towels and they’ll help you in any way they can, whether that’s booking a trip, making you a drink or just telling you about life in their world.

It’s fantastic.


If that hasn’t convinced you to put South East Asia on your ‘must-do’ list, well you’re a tough crowd, but as promised the next few months will be dedicated to my South East Asia experience.

Prepare for wanderlust travellers!

Humans of the world

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Part of the attraction of travel for me is meeting new people and experiencing new cultures.

You could call me nosy (many have) or you could call me curious, curious to see how others live, what puts a smile on their face and what their struggles are.

Over the years I’ve captured some pretty ace photos of people I’ve met around the world from street performers to children in remote villages of Cambodia, and as the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Here’s a collection for your enjoyment:

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Jolly Germans playing a tune in a beer hall.

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A street performer makes sweet beats on makeshift drums in London.

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How the guards at Buckingham Palace can stay still for so long is beyond me.

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A train station in Tokyo, so many people but in orderly lines, organised chaos…

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A friendly lass pours me a Suntory Premium Malt at the museum in Kyoto.

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A belly dancer for the crowds enjoyment in Dubai.

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An amazing group of souls I met on my sail Croatia trip when travelling alone.

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There’s some trick to these involving a fake arm and a plank – regardless it’s amazing.

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The jolly gents who entertained the crowd waiting for buses after the ANZAC services at Gallipoli.

 

 

 

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A street performer and I in London.

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An army of dumpling makers at a Michelin Star restaurant in Hong Kong.

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This beautiful being poured us beer in Hanoi (at 20c a glass) for hours.

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This lovely lady has been affected by agent orange (check out her right hand). She and others affected now make and sell art to help them get by.

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Not a playstation in sight yet the kids are still having fun in Vietnam… Intriguing.

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Eamon with a hat seller in Hanoi – look at her face, she was bemused by us.

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Street vendors in Hanoi trying to keep cool.

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The cutest kids ever in a daycare in Hoi An. Love their different expressions.

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A Hoi An farmer showing us how they cook (note his foot – blown off by a land mine in his rice fields).

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Vietnam road safety 101: Don’t worry about a helmet for the child, just pop her in between mum and dad!

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A puppet DJ on the banks of the Thames in London.

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Children with gangster as moves performing in London.

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Amazing performers at a circus in Cambodia.

Mr Fisher taught us about absenth

Mr Fisher who taught us about Absinthe in Austria.




 

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And finally these adorably hilarious kids from a remote village in Cambodia – excited by seeing us white folk roaming their streets. Too cute!

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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