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Get to Know a Different Side of Bhutan For Every Season

Located in a remote, mountainous region between China and India, the country of Bhutan has a reputation for being a mythical, luxurious, and somewhat mysterious destination for adventurous travelers hoping to get off the beaten path. The Bhutanese word for Bhutan, “Druk Yul,” translates to “Land of the Thunder Dragon.” Because of fierce preservation regulations, visitors to Bhutan will now see ancient temples and palaces alongside new structures that have been designed to pay homage to traditional Buddhist architecture.

With diverse landscape and gorgeous flora and fauna, you’ll find natural eye candy all year-round, despite the weather varying greatly from season to season. Depending on how you want to spend your time during your trip, you’ll want to visit Bhutan at specific times of the year. Whether you are a hiker, a cultural buff, a bird watcher, or just looking to see the most popular tourist destinations, you’ll find in Bhutan a unique vacation destination with something for every type of traveler.

Geography of Bhutan II (Tiger's Nest)

How to Get the Most Out of Your Trip to Bhutan

Because Bhutan values cultural preservation, environmental sustainability, and guards its rich traditions closely, visitors to Bhutan must pay a travel tariff of $250 per person per day. However, don’t let this turn you off of a trip to this spectacular country.

Because you must book your trip through a licensed tour operator, the fee covers food and lodging expenses in addition to transportation, activities, and any entrance fees. The fee ensures that your trip to Bhutan is well curated and organized, to create an optimal, stress-free travel experience. In addition, you can rest assured that your trip will be a meaningful experience where you gain a deep appreciation and understanding for the country’s people and culture.

Before you buy trip tickets, decide whether you want to spend time trekking, exploring various Bhutanese festivals, taking in the rich Buddhist cultural heritage, or sifting through gorgeous fabrics and textiles at Bhutanese markets. Once you’ve decided how you want to spend your time, you can find a program that caters to your needs.

What to Expect During Different Seasons

While Bhutan is a gorgeous natural haven all year-round, you may find that certain times of the year are more optimal for travel, depending on your priorities. Truly, though, there is no best time to travel to Bhutan because you can find spectacular hikes and incredible festivals at any time of the year.

Geography fo Bhutan VIII (Midnight)

Spring in Bhutan

With beautiful blooming flowers and mild temperatures around 70 degrees Fahrenheit, spring is an excellent time to travel if you are hoping for optimal hiking conditions. Colorful rhododendron forests and the occasional sighting of a rare blue poppy make springtime in Bhutan a magical time to travel.

Bhutan in Summer

Summer’s luscious green landscapes and rainy afternoons make it the perfect season for retreat in Bhutan. Travelers can opt to stay in a luxury hotel with spa amenities and take in the quiet city life during the off season for tourists. Thimphu, the capital city of Bhutan, often gets less rain than other parts of the country, making it an ideal summer travel destination.

Bhutan - Pungthan Dechen Dzong, Punakha

Fall in Bhutan

Folks visiting Bhutan for the brilliantly colorful festivals and ideal weather often opt to visit in the fall. Some of Bhutan’s largest annual festivals take place during the fall season—like the Thimphu Tsechu festival, which celebrates Buddhist culture in Bhutan through triumphant dances and ornate costumes.

Bhutan in Winter

Winter in Bhutan is another good season for those hoping to hike through remote regions of the Himalayas. Expect to find pristine clear skies, rare wildlife like the endangered black neck crane, and mild to cold temperatures. Small crowds and low precipitation make winter in Bhutan the perfect time of year to explore the more rural regions of this gorgeous country.P1000744

Must-See Cities in Bhutan

Nestled into the western Himalayas, Paro is the perfect city to visit after a few days of trekking during the fall or spring months. Ripe with sacred sights and picturesque monasteries like the Tiger’s Nest Monastery, you’ll find pristine paved roads weaving through ancient fortresses and historical sights. Paro is also home to Paro Tsechu, a nine-day festival which celebrates the saint who brought Buddhism to Bhutan.

Thimphu is another must-visit city in Bhutan for anyone hoping to gain a cultural understanding of this tiny country. Because Thimphu is located in a valley, it’s a good destination to visit during colder months as temperatures are often warmer in Thimphu than in towns higher in the Himalayas. In Thimphu, you’ll find farmers markets, monastery fortresses, endangered animal preserves, textile museums, and delicious local food.

With seasonal festivals in both cities, any time of year can be the best time to travel to Bhutan. With such rich culture, pristine natural landscapes, and unique activities to enjoy, you’ll have a blast discovering all of the hidden gems in Bhutan. Do you have travel stories from Bhutan? Leave a comment describing your adventures!Prayer wheel by the memorial chorten in Timphu

Photo Credit: All images used under Flickr’s Creative Commons Licensing. (1) Tiger’s Nest by Aymaan Ahmed; (2) Bhutan by Aymaan Ahmed; (3) Pungthan Dechen Dzong, Punakha by Göran Höglund (4) Bhutan Winter by Deana Zabaldo; (5) Timphu by Richard Weil

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Thai Island Bliss: Koh Yao Yai & Koh Yao Noi

thailand koh yao noi

Even though I’ve been to Thailand three times, I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of the Land Of Smiles, or its many islands. I’ve been to Koh Chang in the Gulf of Thailand (did you know that there’s another Koh Chang in the Andaman Sea?), I’ve been to Koh Tao and Koh Phangan, to the Phi Phi Islands and Koh Poda, and to Koh Lanta. My Thai island wish list is long though: I’ve yet to visit Koh Lipe (highest on my list), Koh Mook and Koh Kood, Koh Samet and Koh Mak.

So when I spontaneously decided to add on a quick island getaway to Thailand to my Singapore trip a couple of months ago, I knew I had to check out a new island instead of returning to old favorites (sorry Koh Tao!). When I consulted the map to see which island would make the most sense, I zeroed in on not one, but two islands: the Yao Islands. And they happened to be two islands that have been on my Thailand wish list for years – score!dani thailand 2017 jumpThe Koh Yao island group is made up of 44 islands in total, but only the two largest ones, Koh Yao Noi (Little Long Island) and Koh Yao Yai (Big Long Island), are inhabited. The smaller islands can be visited but don’t have hotels or resorts. Both islands are surrounded by a number of uninhabited scenic limestone karst rocks, a typical feature of the Andaman Sea.

The reason the two sister islands caught my attention for this getaway was their location in Phang Nga Bay, right in between Krabi on the mainland and the island of Phuket.flying into phuketThanks to their proximity to Phuket, and many direct flights between Singapore and Phuket, I thought it would be super easy to get there. We would take a taxi straight from the airport to the ferry pier in Phuket and hop on the 30-minute speed boat to Koh Yao Yai. From there, we’d take another ferry to Koh Yao Noi. Easy breezy.

Was it as easy as it seemed? Absolutely. And while I initially thought it may be stressful to squeeze in both islands instead of one, this turned out to be a great decision, because I found the islands to be fairly different.If you have time constraints though and only have time to visit one, here’s my rundown on both islands and which one I liked best, including practical information on how to get to the islands and recommendations for places to stay.flying to phuket

Koh Yao Yai : Jungle and Solitude

Koh Yao Yai was the first island we visited, and on the ride in the Songthaw (shared pickup truck) from the ferry pier to our hotel, the lush green jungles bordering the road reminded me of Koh Chang. There is only one main road that circles nearly the entire island, and a few additional small side roads. No matter where you drive, you’re almost always surrounded by lush jungle scenery. Occasionally, you pass a small village, but mostly there are just clusters of simple houses and maybe a simple village shop or two.

Our hotel was on the western coast of the island, meaning we didn’t get to see any of the glorious Thai sunsets, which was a bit of a shame. Our small resort right by the beach was lovely, but there wasn’t anything to do there except for taking walks along the beach, taking a kayak out for a ride around the bay, or lounging by the pool. Since most resorts seem to be like this – small bungalow villages along the coast, with not much surrounding them – if you want to see the island, you have no choice but to rent a scooter.thailand koh yao yai beachYou could get by with the private songthaws (your hotel will call them for you), but honestly, this is a pretty limited way to get around, since they transport you from A to B rather than showing you the island. After walking along the road for a bit on our first day to see if we could get anywhere on foot (nope!), I realized I had no choice but to get over my fear of scooters if I wanted to see something of the island other than our hotel.thailand koh yao yaiScooter rentals are between THB250 and THB300 (US$7.70 – $9.20) for 24 hours, and after getting back in the saddle it didn’t take me long to feel confident enough not only to cruise down the main road – where luckily, there was barely any traffic – but also a few of the smaller dirt roads which led to some hidden beaches.Koh Yao Noi ThailandKoh Yao Yai was a little bit bigger than expected, with a population of about 8,000, but even in the main village on the island it never felt like it was busy.

We spent a few days on the island just cruising around on our scooter, following the random signs pointing to mysterious sights like ‘viewpoint’ or ‘hidden beach’. We never ran into crowds – we’d see one or two other tourists at most, no matter if we were walking on a beach or stopped for a coffee.koh yao yai beachThere was one exception, White Sand Beach, which sits on the western coast of the island and is a perfect spot for sunset watching. This stretch of beach had a few of the typical wooden swings that you find on many of Thailand’s beaches, as well as a few stalls selling drinks and food. I’d assume that it gets busier here during high season, but when I visited, there were only a handful of other tourists around.thailand koh yao noi banoffee pieThe only larger village on Koh Yao Yai is  – right by White Sand Beach – where we found the Iyara Cafe, a small cafe with hot and iced coffee drinks and small bites, clearly catering towards Western tourists.

Finding good coffee was one of our main quests on the island, because it turned out that good coffee wasn’t as easy to come by as it had been in Singapore, where we’d spent the weekend before.

Other than the Iyara Cafe, there was the Chada Cafe, a brand new, air conditioned, little glass container on the side of the main road, conveniently located for a quick caffeine (and AC!) stop during our daily island explorations.koh yao noi viewsAfter a couple of days of cruising around the island we felt like we’d seen all there was to see, and since neither one of us is someone who can sit still (or lounge by the pool for too long), we decided that it was time to hop on the ferry over to Koh Yao Noi, Koh Yao Yai’s smaller sister island.koh yao yai pier

Koh Yao Noi: Island Bliss & Luxury Resorts

The ‘ferry’ turned out to be a long-tail boat that we had to ourselves, and only ten minutes later we found ourselves on Koh Yao Noi. We hopped in a songthaw that brought us to our hotel, a small bungalow resort conveniently located within walking distance to the island’s main beach and tourist area.koh yao yai ferry daniWhile the touristy area on this island felt far more developed than on Koh Yao Yai, it was still just a short one kilometer long stretch of beach which was lined with small hotels and a number of bars and restaurants. The beach was separated from the restaurants by the main road around the island, which has sections that follow the shoreline. Don’t be put off by the thought of having a road there though, when we were there, just before the main season started, it was anything but busy, and I can’t see it getting very busy, even during the busiest months (December – March).koh yao noi thailandKoh Yao Yai is so close to Koh Yao Noi that you could easily connect them with a short bridge, and yet the islands feel worlds apart. This time, we decided not to wait and rented a scooter right away. As soon as we checked into our hotel, we hopped on our scooter to explore the island.

Even though this island is smaller than Koh Yao Yai, it felt more developed. There were more restaurants and cafes, and the largest village on the island was bustling every time we stopped there. This is where you find the typical street food stalls selling meat on sticks or banana roti, something we hadn’t really seen on Koh Yao Yai.thailand mango and sticky riceThe little village even had a couple of tourist shops selling clothes and souvenirs, and Faye’s Taste Of Koh Yao, a lovely restaurant serving organic food, which is worth a stop – for a refreshing fruit shake or lemonade at least.

On our first full circle around the island, we came across rubber farms, jungles, water buffaloes bathing shoulder deep in mud puddles, and deserted beaches.koh yao noi rice fieldsOn the west coast, we explored a fishing village on stilts, but our favorite part was the rice paddies in the southeast. The lush green fields looked beautiful against the bright blue sky, and it was so tranquil there that it was impossible not to feel utterly relaxed.

Except for the occasional local passing us on their scooter, there was barely any traffic. It felt almost surreal to think that touristy Phuket was just a half-hour boat ride away. This serene little island felt like it was worlds away from malls and party beaches.koh yao noi beachThat being said, I should mention that Koh Yao Noi was definitely not the hidden gem it was once known as – one of the last unspoiled islands. Over the past few years, several fancy hotels and resorts have popped up on the island, including the fabulous Cape Kudu, which I marveled at every time we rode by, and where I’d love to stay during my next visit 🙂koh yao noi daniHowever, these resorts are in no way to be compared with the massive resorts in Phuket – they are all small and built in a tasteful way, aiming to fit in with their natural environment.

Whereas we had a hard time finding good food and coffee on Koh Yao Yai, there was no shortage of eateries and cafes on this island. We actually had a hard time fitting in all the places we wanted to try. We loved Cafe Kantary, but considering it belongs to the Cape Kudu hotel, that shouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise.koh yao noi beersThe nearby Chaba Cafe & Gallery was our favorite place for healthy smoothies, iced coffees, breakfasts and salads – we couldn’t get enough of this quirky little restaurant. The only disappointment was pizzeria La Luna, which had rave reviews online but didn’t live up to our expectations (we do live in New York though – hard to please our pizza-spoiled stomachs!). We preferred the Thai dishes at Baan Chang and Kaya, and usually stopped at a street food stall selling roti (pancakes) near the Pasai seafood restaurant for dessert.thailand koh yao noi breakfastAround there we also found a kayak rental place and rented a kayak for the afternoon to paddle out to Koh Nok, an uninhabited nearby islet that is famous for its viewpoint and deserted beaches. The beaches weren’t all that deserted, however, because several ‘island hopping’ day cruises stopped there, but luckily almost all of them left not long after we arrived.koh nook islandMuch to our surprise, there was a viewpoint on top of the limestone cliff that makes up the larger part of the island, but getting there required climbing up a steep, rocky dirt path which could in parts only be conquered with the help of hanging ropes. Had we known about this viewpoint, we would have brought our shoes, because it was impossible to climb barefoot – our shoes were back on the shore on Koh Yao Noi. I bet the views from the viewpoint are incredible.thailand flying into phuketJust as on neighboring Koh Yao Yai, there’s not all that much to do on this little island, but that is exactly what we wanted. We weren’t looking for big parties at night – a couple of sunset beers was as ‘wild’ as we got during our time on the island, and we appreciated the low-key atmosphere. There are a few bars along the main beach area where we were staying, but we didn’t see any big parties like Phuket is known for. Instead of going out at night, we retreated to the hammocks on our balcony with a book, and I was usually up bright and early for a solitary beach walk.koh yao noi sunsetOn one of our exploratory tours of the island we followed a sign to a waterfall, and one day we took advantage of the low tide in the morning to walk over to Ko Nok, a tiny uninhabited islet out in the ocean that is connected to Koh Yao Noi by a sandbank at low tide (not the same Koh Nok we kayaked, too, by the way).

It felt refreshing not having to tick off a number of sights, but instead simply hopping on our scooter to see where the road would take us, and being able to stop whenever we wanted.Koh Yao Noi Thailand

Koh Yao Noi Vs. Koh Yao Yai – Which Island Is Better?

When we first decided to visit the Koh Yao islands, we thought about visiting only one of them. But then the curiosity to see both won, and we split our time evenly between both islands. In hindsight, I am glad that we went to both islands, even though I have to admit that I preferred the vibe on Koh Yao Noi. While both islands are equally beautiful, I found the food options on Koh Yao Yai  lacking and the beaches on Koh Yao Noi  a little nicer.Koh Yao Noi ThailandSome people may prefer the less touristy feel of Koh Yao Yai, but I appreciated that on Koh Yao Noi we were able to walk to several restaurants and cafes and had a couple of beaches to choose from close to our bungalow, whereas on Koh Yao Yai, it felt like we had to always hop on the scooter to get anywhere, especially when we wanted to go out for dinner or drinks.

One day I overheard a conversation between the lady who ran our bungalow resort on Koh Yao Noi  and a couple of guests who were thinking about going down to Koh Yao Yai. She recommended going only for a day, and I think that would indeed be enough time to see all of the island. That said, I don’t regret having spent a few nights on the island, but if I was going to plan the same trip again, I’d definitely spend more time on Koh Yao Noi  than an even amount of nights on both islands.Koh Yao Noi Thailand

Koh Yao Yai Vs. Koh Yao Noi – Who Is It For?

If you want to go to a place that makes you feel like you’ve found the last Thai island paradise that hasn’t been completely overrun by tourists and changed by hotels, touristy shops and chains, you will love Koh Yao Yai. For the most part, the island feels like what I imagine most Thai islands must have been like twenty or thirty years ago. If you want to get a glimpse of the life of local fishermen and don’t want to do much but lying by the hotel pool, you’ll appreciate the tranquility of this island.koh yao yai viewpointIf you want a Thai island that isn’t overly touristy but has some amenities catering to the needs of tourists (air-conditioned coffee shops, Western food, boutique resorts), Koh Yao Noi  is for you. You still have the laid-back vibe like Koh Yao Yai,  but the island offers a better selection in terms of beaches, hotels and food, including some high-end eateries. Do not expect any shopping facilities here though – there are a couple of shops in the main village that sell clothes and souvenirs, but they can in no way be compared to the malls in Phuket.koh yao noi sunset

Practical information:

Here is some travel information for both islands, including how to get there, available ATMs, WiFi, and where to stay.

How To Get To The Koh Yao Islands

There are ferries from Phuket as well as Krabi to Koh Yao Noi. Both are about the same distance from the islands, but in opposite directions (Phuket to the west, Krabi to the east).

The ferries leave Phuket from Bang Rong Pier. A taxi from the airport to the pier is THB500 (US$16).koh yao noi limestone islets

The ferries run about once an hour – there are more frequent fast boats that bring you to Koh Yao Yai in 30 minutes, and the slower, cheaper slow ferries, which take about an hour.

The ferries stop in Koh Yao Yai first and continue then to Koh Yao Noi (only eight minutes away).

From and to Krabi, the ferries stop at the Tha Krao Pier, and cost THB200. Ferries run nearly every hour during daylight hours.

WiFi

It seemed that pretty much every hotel and every coffee shop on both islands had free WiFi.

ATMs

I couldn’t find any updated information on the ATM situation prior to my trip – but it turns out that both islands have ATMs. Koh Yao Noi had several ATMs around the island, on Koh Yao Yai it was a little bit more difficult – two out of the three available ATMs were out of order when I visited. Luckily, the third one worked!

Note that there are no actual banks on the islands though, which means you won’t be able to exchange money.
thailand koh yao yai swing

Where To Stay On Koh Yao Yai

Budget:

Value:

koh yao noi bungalowSplurge:

Where To Stay On Koh Yao Noi

Budget:

thailand koh yao noi sunsetValue:

Splurge:

Honeymoon:

  • Six Senses (Ocean view villa starts around $669)

Koh Yao Noi

Have you been to the Koh Yao Islands? Which one did you like better?

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6 Ridiculously Simple Ways to Improve Your Trip to Kuala Lumpur

batu caves

Malaysia has become one of the most attractive tourist destinations in Asia over the last two decades. And how can one visit Malaysia and not visit Kuala Lumpur? From stunning architecture to scrumptious cuisine to adventure sports that can trigger the adrenaline rush: Kuala Lumpur has everything. A mix of cultures; Chinese, Indian, Malay and western. So how can you improve your trip to Kuala Lumpur? What are the important Sights to see in Kuala Lumpur? These are some of the questions you need to ask yourself before starting your trip. Here are some tips that can help you take a trip to Kuala Lumpur with ease.

kuala lumpur petronas twin towers

Conventional Expenses:

  • Hotels: You wouldn’t want to pay a fortune for a week’s stay in a hotel. Instead of getting a 3 star or 5 star hotel, rent a clean homestay in Kuala Lumpur. Not only is it more convenient (you can cook and have more space than in a hotel room!) but it also helps you save on your expenses.

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  • Transportation: One of the great things about Kuala Lumpur is its excellent public transportation network, which also happens to be very cheap. You can get around quickly without breaking the bank.

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  • Shop pocket friendly:

Instead of going to brand outlets, go to places like Lot 10, you get enough opportunities to bargain. Visit Chinatown and Little India which are very popular among tourists.

The places you should have on your must visit list:

  • Petronas Towers
  • Go to at least one of the many market
  • The National Museum
  • Menara Kuala Lumpur
  • Sri Mahamariaman
  • Masjid Negara
  • Batu Caves
  • Islamic Arts Museum
  • Lake Gardens Park
  • Royal Malaysia Police Museum
  • Partake in Thaipusam
  • Berjaya times square theme park

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  • Adventure Sports:

Quite evidently, you wouldn’t want to miss on the adrenaline rush. There are plenty of opportunities for adventure sports and the best way to take advantage is to get a package instead of going for individual sporting opportunities. Get a package that suits your interests and pay as a whole which will definitely be less than individual sports.

  • Night Life:

The growing nightlife culture is another thing you wouldn’t want to miss out on. Make sure you are benefitted. Enter any night club and you get a young crowd enjoying their life. These nightclubs are comparatively safe and give you a fun filled evening.

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  • Enjoy different Cuisines:

The melting pot of cultures that Kuala Lumpur is, it gives you enough opportunities to explore different cuisines. Don’t miss out on mouthwatering delicacies.

Indian Idli in SingaporeHave a nice trip to Kuala Lumpur the next time you visit and go economic.

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Why You Should Visit Singapore On Your Next Vacation

merlion and marina bay sands singapore

Although ranked as one of the most expensive places in South East Asia, it is inexpensive to get to Singapore. It’s easy to schedule a trip because there are daily flights from Canada, United States, Europe, and Australia. Once you get there, you can either decide to spend a little more than you’re accustomed for simple luxuries (like a Singapore Sling) since it’s only for a short vacation, or, alternatively, you can look for travel deals and budget offers for hotels, food, drinks, and entertainment (check Groupon, for example).

singapore skyscrapers

The Sports Scene

Singaporeans love their sports, and there is an abundance of recreational and competitive sports to choose from. Some of the most popular sports are football, basketball, rugby, badminton, and cricket. Cycling and swimming are also gaining in popularity. If you love golf, then you should visit the Sentosa golf course in Singapore because it is a world-class golf course and open to all. As the small island continues to develop, many golf courses have been swallowed up by expanding business districts, and today only the best remain. Singapore’s golf courses represent a quiet haven in a bustling city.

singapore cable car to sentosa island
View towards Sentosa Island from the Singapore Cable Car

A Cultural Kaleidoscope

Singapore is a blend of different cultures. Singaporeans enjoy a diversity of religions, ethnic groups, languages, and cuisines. Consequently, the city is a blend of the modern world and ancient traditions. You’ll find temples adorned with statues of Indian deities in one part of the city with modern commercial buildings not too far away.

Singapore’s ethnic cuisine is something that you must try. If you like Chinese food, try the Char Kway Teow at Hill Street Char Kway Teow. If you like seafood, try the Chilli Crab at Jumbo Restaurant, located on East Coast Road. If you’re a vegetarian, you won’t be disappointed by the Xinghua vegetarian noodles and crispy Tofu balls available at Xing Hua Restaurant, located on Race Course Road.

Indian Idli in SingaporeMany excellent meals can also be purchased from street food vendors. American travel writer Anthony Bourdain, famous for his dining tips, once commented, “Nobody in Singapore drinks Singapore Slings. It’s one of the first things you find out there. What you do in Singapore is eat. It’s a really food-crazy culture, where all of this great food is available in a kind of hawker-stand environment.”

Getting around Singapore

There are numerous transport options around Singapore. The main bus services are TRANSIT, SBS, and SMRT, and fares range from $1 to $3 for local stops. Then there is the Mass Transit Railway (MRT) which is fast and economical, runs from 5.30 am to midnight, and covers about 90 stations. It’s one of the fastest ways to get into Singapore once you land at Changi Airport. Then there are taxis, which are a more expensive option than bus or rail, but still affordable. Finally, there are trishaws, which are pedaled transport vehicles. These are the most expensive. Tourists frequently use them for sightseeing purposes. Prices range around $20 for a short ride and can go up to $50 for an hour.

colorful building in singapore

What to See and Do in Singapore

Here are some ideas on sights to see and things to do:

Sights

Singapore has many wonderful places for sightseeing, including Jurong Bird Park, Merlion Park, and Sentosa Island.

  1. Jurong Bird Park is the largest walk-in aviary in the world, has a huge collection of all kinds of birds and also boasts one of the largest man-made waterfalls on earth.
  2. Merlion Park is built around a 28 foot Merlion statue, which has a lion’s head with a fish body. It represents how the city once started as a fishing village.
  3. Marina Bay has been transformed into a spectacular part of the city, a large complex with science museums, casinos, shops, diners, and nightclubs.
  4. Chinatown is one of the most intriguing neighborhoods in Singapore. Check out the herbal medicine shops selling all sorts of remedies – including dried lizards! – to cure just about any ailment.

chinatown singapore at night

Activities

There is always plenty to do in this city, like getting on The Singapore Flyer, visiting the Gardens by the Bay, taking The Singapore Night Safari trip, or boating aboard The Singapore River Cruise.

  1. The Singapore Flyer is an observation wheel that provides a panoramic view of attractions along Singapore River.
  2. The Singapore Night Safari is a 40-minute trip through a wildlife night park, where you can see all sorts of animals from Asia and Africa, like Asian tigers and African lions.
  3. The Singapore River Cruise gives you chance to appreciate old-fashioned quays as well as skyscrapers.
  4. The Gardens By The Bay are probably the most awe-inspiring gardens in the entire world!

A visit to Singapore is a unique experience. It’s a charming blend of cultures, as well as a juxtaposition between the ancient and the modern.

singapore

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How to get Vietnam visa on arrival for US Citizens

As a holder of US passport you need a visa to enter Vietnam. If you are traveling to Vietnam by air, getting a Vietnam visa on arrival is the easiest and best way to you to get a valid visa.

At the moment, you may hear that there are up to 3 ways to obtain a visa to Vietnam, consisting of visa at Vietnam embassy, visa on arrival and e-visa. But as a US passport holder, only the first two ones are available for you, and as said before, the second one is best if you travel to Vietnam by air.

How to get a visa on arrival to Vietnam for US passport holders?

If you are holding a US passport and would like to get this kind of visa, you need to obtain a visa approval letter beforehand through a local travel agency to then get visa stamped upon arrival at Vietnam airport. This process is detailed in 4 simple steps as follows:

Step 1: Complete the online application form

In this step, I recommend you the form on https://booking.vietnam-visa.com/step1.html which is simple and easy to fill out.

You need to access this link, and complete the form with just some simple information (purpose of visit, type of visa, arrival airport, arrival date, full name, nationality, gender, passport number, passport expiry date, and contact information). That’s all.

Tip for this step: Have your passport next to you while you complete the form to ensure all information you provide is correct.

Step 2: Pay the service fee

In this second step, you need to make the payment for service fee via online portals (PayPal, OnePay) with your Credit/Debit cards.

Step 3: Receive visa approval letter

You will then receive a visa approval letter stating that you are allowed to enter Vietnam within a certain period of time, and a detailed guide on how to get your visa stamped.

Step 4: Get visa stamped

When you land at the Vietnam international airport, you need to head to the Visa on Arrival / Landing Visa counter there, showing your documents and pay the fee to get your visa stamped.

This is the entire process to obtain a Vietnam visa upon arrival for US citizens. The next question is:

How long you can stay with Vietnam visa on arrival?

At the moment, US citizens have several options for the  length of their stay in Vietnam with a visa on arrival:

For Tourist visa:

  • 1 month single/multiple entry visa;
  • 3 months single/multiple entry visa;
  • 6 months multiple entry visa; and
  • 1 year multiple entry visa (maximum 90 days per each stay);

For Business visa:

  • 1 month single/multiple entry visa;
  • 3 months single/multiple entry visa;
  • 6 months multiple entry visa; and
  • 1 year multiple entry visa

Which local travel agent you should trust?

This kind of visa, despite being issued by the Vietnam Immigration Department, must be obtained through a local travel agent. Which brings up the issue which travel agent you should trust with your money? I recommend Vietnam-visa.com for their prompt and accurate support and timely delivery of the visa approval letter. Reading through their website and Facebook, I also found a lot of great feedback from their clients.

Now you have detailed information on how to get a visa on arrival for US passport holders. But, as I said right at beginning of my post, visa on arrival is only an option if you travel to Vietnam by air. Otherwise, you need to obtain the visa at a Vietnamese Embassy.

If you have any more questions about a Vietnam visa, feel free to ask me anything 🙂

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Life’s a beach in Koh Tao

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Over the past few years, I’ve been finding it increasingly difficult to take a vacation. You might be thinking ‘Aren’t you always on vacation?’, but the truth is, that no matter where in the world I am, I always find myself working. Writing articles, answering emails, working on freelance projects, pitching ideas, being active on social media, dealing with the technical side of running an online business, and so on. I am always connected, always checking my emails, and a true vacation is rare.koh tao sunsetSo when I welcomed my first visitor to Thailand and her visit was 100% vacation time for her, I saw this as the perfect opportunity for me to get some R&R, too, instead of working on my laptop until I fall asleep with my head on the keyboard (happens more often than I’d like to admit). The plan was to take some time off together, to splurge on tasty food, take time to relax and to explore together, lay on the beach and enjoy sunset beers.koh tao sairee beachAnd Koh Tao turned out to be the perfect place to do exactly that. I’d long wanted to visit Koh Tao, the smallest of the three most popular islands in the Gulf of Thailand. It is less touristy than the other two (Koh Samui and Koh Phangan), known for great snorkeling and diving spots, pristine beaches and a clientele of independent and younger travelers. While Samui largely attracts a resort clientele and Phangan is the backpackers haven with now not only a full moon party but also a half moon party, black moon party and I’m sure several other moons to celebrate, Koh Tao attracts mainly divers as it is known to be home to some of the best diving sites in South East Asia.koh tao boatWhile I still don’t feel the slightest urge to try diving, good diving usually means good snorkeling, which is what I wanted to do. Other than that, I had no plans whatsoever. I was going to experience the island just like everyone else who gets off one of the four ferries that arrive in Koh Tao every day.
koh tao sunset palm treeAnd I couldn’t have chosen a better place for an island getaway. My days in Koh Tao are a blur of beaches, snorkeling, sunsets, good meals and, yes, occasionally typing away on my laptop in offices like this one:koh tao beach viewMy friend Alex had recommended we’d stay in Sairee Beach, the longest stretch of sand beach on Koh Tao (1.2 miles /1.7km) long, because there, you don’t need transportation to get around, unless you want to see other beaches on the island. For that, there are taxi boats conveniently waiting in the bay for you, and you have plenty of restaurants and bars lining the beach to pick a different one each day. It’s the perfect spot if you want to be right on a beach and have something going on all the time. The only other beach that is similarly busy, but smaller, is Freedom Beach in the south of the island.
koh tao beachIf you prefer a quieter place and don’t mind renting a scooter to get around, there are smaller beaches like Hin Wong Bay and June Juea Bay and plenty of hotels and bungalow resorts scattered across the island, most of them perched on the side of the steep hills that form Koh Tao.
serendipity bar koh taoAs I’ve already mentioned, most people come here to dive and to take dive master courses, and there are around 40 diving schools on the island now. I saw several packages for dive courses including accommodation for around 8,000 baht (around US$224) which is a great deal – and another reason why Koh Tao attracts so many divers, in addition to its many dive sites.
koh tao fishFor people like me who prefer to stay above water, there are plenty of snorkeling tours on offer – they usually last all day, circumnavigate the island and include 4 or 5 stops, one of which is the famous Koh Nangyuan, the sight that adorns most of Koh Tao’s postcards and is probably the most photographed spot on the island.
koh tao islandOn my snorkeling tour, we stopped at Shark Bay where I didn’t see any sharks but a sea turtle (which would’ve compensated for not seeing a shark had I not just snorkeled with turtles in Apo Island, hence I was a bit disappointed), followed by a stop in another bay in the southwest, Mango Bay in the north and finally Koh Nangyuan.
koh tao fishI knew that this tiny islet which is home to only one resort would be touristy, but seeing hundred of tourists lining the pier and the small stretch of beach in between the two rocks was still a shock, especially because Koh Tao just didn’t seem all that busy.
koh tao islandNonetheless, Koh Nangyan is a spectacular sight, and I am glad that I braved the heat and scrambled up the million steps and the rocks to the viewpoint overlooking it all before snorkeling in the crystal clear waters.
dani underwaterMy favorite beach for snorkeling turned out to be something completely different though, Tanote Beach, a little bay in the southwest of the island, which we stumbled upon when we explored the island with an ATV. Within the first five minutes of being in the water I had already seen more fish than on most of the stops during the snorkeling tour (okay, I might exaggerate slightly here). But it was glorious to snorkel on a fairly empty beach without any boats in the bay and Asian tour groups following their guides in the water on long leashes. There are a couple of beach bars like Poseidon or Mountain Reef where you get drinks and food and also rent snorkeling equipment, swing in a hammock or get a Thai message.
koh tao sunset chang thailandBe warned though, the drive down the steep hills to get here was not easy on the ATV, so I can only assume that tackling this road on a scooter is even more nerve-wracking, especially on the way up (I am talking about 90 degree inclines).
koh tao viewRenting a scooter or an ATV is something I’d definitely recommend to see Koh Tao – if you start early, you can even see the entire island in one day, beach stops and various viewpoints included.
dani atv koh taoOur favorite stops of the day were the ‘I love Koh Tao’ viewpoint (I am not sure if it is known by another name) and the Dusat Buncha beach resort viewpoint right across from Koh Nangyan. If you have snorkeling gear, make sure to bring it, as there is a small but fantastic snorkeling area to which non-resort guests have access. (If you don’t have your own gear, you can rent it there for 100THB).
koh tao daniIf you don’t want to rent a scooter, you can take a cab to most beaches, and taxi boats to the ones with limited road access. One day, we took a boat to Sai Nuan Beach where we snorkeled until the sun went down, followed by our daily ritual of sunset drinks, that night at Banana Rock Bar, one of the most scenic bars on the island, set on stilts above the water with perfect sunset vistas.sunset loversThe thing that surprised me the most was just how many restaurant there were on the island, especially in Sairee – and almost of them serving finger licking good food. From beach side restaurants that serve fresh fish straight from the BBQ every night to impressive Italian cuisine and fancy tapas dishes and authentic Indian food, there’s almost nothing you can’t get in Koh Tao.
Koh Tao FoodAs soon as the sun goes down, the fire dancers come out, entertaining the crowds in the beach bars with their jaw-dropping skills – I mean, just look at this:koh tao fire dancerSeveral bars like the Sunset Bar, Next2, Fizz or The Rock have DJs playing and it never takes long until people start dancing on the beach.koh tao fire dancersKoh Tao is the perfect place for an island getaway, no matter if you dive or not. Bring a book, swing in a hammock, laze at the beach and just enjoy this little bubble far off the craziness of Phuket or Phi Phi, and trust me – you’ll have a hard time leaving.
koh tao sairee beach

Practical information:

The fastest way to get to Koh Tao from Bangkok is Nok Air’s plane and ferry ticket (starting at BHT1,800 / US$50 for a return ticket). There is no airport on Koh Tao, the closest one is on Koh Samui or in Chumphon. From both places you’ll have to take a ferry, and from the airport on the mainland it takes about 90 minutes to reach the pier. Note: Nok Air leaves from Bangkok’s Don Mueang airport, not from Suvarnabhumi.

The other option would be taking the bus from Bangkok to the ferry, or the train. If you’re taking the bus, there are also ferry and bus combo tickets, especially around Kao San Road.
Koh Tao ThailandDiving

You can sign up for a dive course before you get there or just check out the various schools and their packages when you arrive on the island. To get an idea of just how many dive schools there are on Koh Tao, check out this comprehensive list on Wikitravel.

Snorkeling

The cheapest snorkeling day trip I found was at AC resort in Sairee – 600 Baht per person. Most other places charge 750. All trips include water, coffee, tea, fruit and lunch.
Koh Tao snorkeling fish turtle

Where to eat

If you love Thai food, you will have a hard time finding a place that serves bad food! Even the small cheapie road side stands make good Thai dishes, but most restaurants don’t charge more than 100 baht for a Thai meal. Fresh fish from the BBQ ranges from 150 to 450 baht.

Fancier restaurants with western dishes usually charge 150 – 300 baht per dish. Barracuda was a nice splurge with good non-Thai vegetarian options, and Zest was my favorite spot for breakfasts but they also make excellent salads and sandwiches.

And then there are of course all the banana roti vendors – which might have become a daily ritual during my stay on the island. To see what I mean, take a look at my Koh Tao video:

Serendipity is a great spot to watch the sunset with drinks and food (set high on a hilltop, with views over Sairee Beach), as is the Dusit Buncha restaurant (facing Koh Nangyuan). There are several other viewpoint restaurants on the road to Mae Haad.

I also liked the vibe at the InTouch restaurant at the southern end of Sairee Beach, but most of the bars along the beach are good.. Pick one and enjoy the views 🙂koh tao sunset

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Hong Kong On A Shoestring

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You might remember that when I went to Hong Kong last year I was surprised to learn that the city is actually pretty expensive. I was on a budget, as usual, but I still wanted to splurge on a few of my favorite things: tasty coffee (and yes, the $6 coffee at The Coffee Academics was worth every penny!), fancy cocktails in rooftop bars with a view (even though I skipped Ozone, the highest rooftop bar in the world, on top of the Ritz Carlton, and opted for a cheaper one), tasty pizza (much needed after months of only Asian food, and Motorino, a famous Brooklyn pizza place, hit the spot), speakeasy bars and a nice place to stay.kowloon at night hong kongWith all these things in mind, I tried to do everything else in Hong Kong as cheap as possible, and I think I succeeded. Transportation is very cheap, you can do a lot of sightseeing for free, and you can eat cheaply if you forgo Hong Kong’s fancy eateries (but then there’s still Tim Ho Wan, where you can sample Michelin star cuisine for around $10?).hong kong island skyscrapersSo here are my tips on how you can experience Hong Kong on a budget:

Get into Hong Kong on the cheap

You have a variety of options of getting from the airport into Hong Kong. The most expensive one? Taking a cab, obviously. To get from the airport to Central Hong Kong will set you back at HKD250 – 350 (US$32-45!). The airport express train (which is much faster and more comfortable than a taxi, by the way) is slightly cheaper at HK$90/US$11.61 to Kowloon (HK$160/US$20.64 return) and HK$100/ US$12.90 (HK$180/US$23.22 return) to Hong Kong Central.hong kong tramIf you’re on a budget, you have two cheaper options:

Take a bus into Hong Kong. The buses to the airport leave from Kowloon and cost HKD39 (US$5.02). In Kowloon you can change to the subway, which is HKD5 to 15 (US$0.65 – $1.95), depending on how many stops.

Alternatively, you can take the S1 bus to Tung Chung MTR station (about 15 minutes from the airport, price: HKD3.50 / US$0.45) and change into the subway here – the Tung Chung line will bring you to Kowloon in about thirty minutes (HKD18 / US$2.30)Hong kong tram and bus

Public transportation

Luckily, Hong Kong’s transportation network is excellent and there is absolutely no need to waste money on taxis. I navigated my way around the city with the help of GoogleMaps ‘Public transport’ option which always showed me the correct buses or subways to use. The cheapest mode of transportation? The tram, which covers parts of Hong Kong Island, and is only HKD2.30 (US$0.30). Like I mentioned above, subway tickets range from about HKD5 to 15 (US$0.65 – $1.95) and buses are even a little bit cheaper.

The Star Ferry, the most scenic way to get from Kowloon to Central or vice versa, is ridiculously cheap: HK$2.50 – US$0.32!

Hong Kong has a card system, the Octopus Card, comparable to London’s Oyster Card, which you credit with money for public transportation, but you can also pay with it in shops like 7-11. You also top up your Octopus Card at a 7-11 stores, or at an MTR (subway) service center. Note that you pay a HK$50/US$6.45 deposit on the card – don’t forget to get it back before leaving Hong Kong.hong kong junk boat

Accommodation

Accommodation is without the doubt the most expensive aspect of a trip to Hong Kong. Hotels start at around $110 for a comfortable 3* hotel, and you can find good hotel deals for less than $200. My tip: do your research beforehand and take advantage of cheaper rates – you can find some incredible hotel deals by booking online.LKF hotel Hong Kong bedMy first trip to Hong Kong was made pretty miserable by the poor accommodation choices I had made (and by not booking anything in advance for the entire duration of my trip, leaving me with very few and very bad hotels to choose from when I had to move hotels). Make your stay comfortable with one of the best hotels in Hong Kong which you can find on online discount websites. I stayed in Kowloon on my first visit, but enjoyed staying in Central more, which I did during my second visit. I also found the hotels to be nicer in Central.

If you’re on a very tight budget and plan on using hostels, expect to pay US$25 – 28 for a dorm bed or $60 for a private room in a hostel.ozo wesley hong kong check-in

Sightseeing

I don’t think I paid anything for sightseeing in Hong Kong – just what it costs to get to a certain place, like the Giant Buddha or the Peak. But even the Peak is free if you, like me, want to combine sightseeing with a little workout and decide to walk up the mountain. It also saves you the HKD40 /US$5.05 for a return ticket for the Peak Tram. To get to the Big Buddha, take the subway to Tung Chung station. From here you can either take the scenic yet pricey cable car (HKD125 round trip /US$16.10) or opt for the bus instead (HKD17.20 /US$2.22). Or hike up the mountain – it’s quite a strenuous hike, but it’s free 🙂hong kong view from the peakOther main attractions that are completely free? The Avenue of the Stars, Hong Kong’s answer to LA’s Walk Of Fame, is free, as is the Symphony of Lights, the world’s ‘Largest Permanent Light and Sound Show’ (according to the Guinness Book Of World Records), which takes place every night at 8pm and is best seen from the Avenue of Stars. Strolling over the markets, such as the Ladies Market or Temple Street Market, is also free (and great for cheap souvenir shopping!), the beaches are free and only cost the ferry tickets to get to them. Also: wandering the streets of Kowloon and Central is an excellent way to get to know Hong Kong, and it doesn’t cost a penny. In Central you can also ride the world’s longest escalator for free and pop into the Chinese temples, which are all worth a visit.hong kong midlevels escalatorTwo pricey Hong Kong activities you can easily replace with free versions: Instead of visiting the Sky100 observation deck (cheapest ticket is HKD168 /US$21.65), visit the sky lobby on the 46th floor of the Central Plaza skyscraper which can be visited for FREE! Instead of taking the hop-on hop-off sightseeing bus (tickets start at US$57), take a much cheaper sightseeing tour on a local bus – it’s much better for people watching, too, and it’ll only cost you a couple of bucks. CNN Travel listed the best bus routes to take in Hong Kong.hong kong kowloon temple street

Food & drinks

Street food is the least expensive option in Hong Kong – for a proper meal in a restaurant I paid as much in Hong Kong as I’d pay in the U.S. A cup of coffee is around US$3, a latte around US$6 (that’s in a nice coffee shop, not at McDonald’s!) A large americano at Starbucks is HK$27/US$3.48), and if you’re lucky enough to find a cheap meal, it’s going to set you back at around US$10. Whenever I treated myself to a nice meal, I easily spent US$20+ on a main dish and a drink.hong kong barCheap local fast food chains are Café de Coral and Maxim’s MK – you can get a meal here for less than US$5 and they have English menus. A meal at McDonald’s starts at around HKD30 (around US$4). A beer in a bar / restaurants starts at US$7, a glass of wine at around US$10. Beer and wine in a 7-11 convenience store or supermarket are much more affordable. Tap water is drinkable, so don’t spend money on bottled water.hong kong street foodHave you been to Hong Kong? If you have any budget tips, feel free to share them in the comments below!

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How much does it cost to travel in Sri Lanka?

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I spent five weeks traveling around Sri Lanka just before the main tourist season started, still enjoying the bargain deals of the low season and seeing prices go up in the high season – this applies mainly to accommodation, however. I am breaking down all of my expenses in the country to give you an idea of what costs to expect when you budget for a trip to Sri Lanka.

Overall, it has been one of the cheapest countries I’ve been to and it is possible to travel the country on $20 – $30 per person a day (on a shoestring), or around $50 per person per day in nicer accommodations. Read on for the full breakdown of food, transportation, sightseeing, accommodation and other costs.Sri Lanka

Visa

A visa is required to enter Sri Lanka. Luckily it is easy to apply for a Sri Lankan visa online. The cost of a visa for Europeans, North Americans and Australians is US$35. The visa is valid for 30 days, if you’re planning to stay longer, you’ll have to get an extension in Colombo, which is LKR3,600 /US$25 (make sure to have a passport photo on you for that).sri lanka talpe beach

Accommodation

This will be your biggest expense, but the value for money is usually very good.

The cheapest rates for a private double room I found was LKR1,500 (US$10.40), and in some of the beach towns I paid around LKR3,000-3,500 (US$21-25) for a double room (split between two people). Remember that this was in the off-season though.

In other places (not along the coast) LKR1,500 seemed to be the going rate for a basic double room, breakfast often included, and usually with free wifi.

As for higher end accommodation, I found some nice hotels with swimming pool and breakfast for LKR5,000-6,000(US$35-41), and really nice hotels, like the Cinnamon Hotels around the island, often offer special rates starting at LKR7,000 (US$49) during the low season (expect this to double in the high season).hikkaduwa beach cinnamon infinity poolI didn’t sleep in dorms but a dorm bed was usually around LKR800 (US$5.50). It definitely pays off to check hotel booking websites like Booking.com for special deals in the places you’re planning to visit. Through Booking.com, I found a nice boutique hotel in Colombo for $50 a night (for two people), and a great deal for a gorgeous hotel in Polonnaruwa for $29 a night including breakfast. luxury hotel

Food & Drinks

Food can be dirt cheap, but it also can be pricey depending on if you’re willing to delve into the local cuisine or stick to western choices. A Sri Lankan dinner of kotthu, which is a favorite of the locals, costs around LKR165 – 200 (US$1.15 – 1.40), while a chicken curry in a beach town can cost you up to LKR900 (US$6.25). On average, expect to pay between LKR200 and 300 (US$1.40 – 2.10) for local food and LKR600 to 900 (US$4.15-6.25) for a dish in a tourist restaurant. Breakfast usually cost me LKR500 to 700 (US$3.45-4.85), including tea or coffee.

Speaking of coffee, if you are looking for good coffee, you’ll have to pay for it. The most expensive coffee I had was in Kandy at Natural Coffee, where I was charged LKR560 (US$3.90) for a cappuccino – more than I usually paid for an entire meal! There are some coffee shops in Colombo, and some cafes around the country that have a proper espresso machine, but they’re few and far between.

Generally, you can expect to pay around LKR270 (US$1.88) for an espresso and LKR350 – 400 (US$2.40-2.80) for a cafe latte or cappuccino. Of course there are also the cheap roadside coffee vendors or the guys that walk through the trains with a big thermos, selling a brown liquid for 10 rupees (US$0.07), but I wouldn’t call that coffee 😉Sri Lanka foodIf you prefer to stick to western food (why would you though, because Sri Lankan food is seriously addictive!), there are some western chains like Pizza Hut and KFC, and you can find sandwiches, burgers and pizza in the beach towns. Western meals are between LKR600 and 1000 (US$4.16 -7.00). You can splurge on fine dining in places – often, the nicer hotels have on-site restaurants, and there you pay upwards of LKR1,000 (US$7.00) for a dish. Snacks are super cheap – local chocolate is LKR50 – 100 ($US0.35-0.70), a bag of cashew nuts is LKR120 (US$0.85), peanuts are LKR50 (US$0.35), and little fried lentil balls or donuts are 10 rupees (US$0.07). A vegetarian roti (a dough triangle filled with vegetables – basically like a samosa, but not deep-fried) is 40 rupees (less than US$0.30) and big enough to serve as a full meal – cheapest lunch ever! A bottle of water (1.5 liters) is LKR60 – 70 (US$0.40-0.50), and since the tab water in Sri Lanka is not drinkable, you’ll have to budget for at least one bottle per day.jaffna fruit stallAlcohol

A 625ml bottle of local Lion beer can be as cheap as LKR250 (US$1.75), but can cost you up to LKR600 (US$4.15) in nicer establishments. I usually paid LKR300 (US$2.10). Cocktails are more expensive – about LKR400 to 500 (US$2.80 – 3.50) along the beaches and LKR800 to 1000 (US$5.50 – 7.00) in the nicer bars of Colombo.reefs edge hotel beach beers 

Transportation

Transportation is some of the cheapest I’ve ever taken anywhere in the world – I still can’t believe that a 7-hour train ride cost me a mere LKR230 ($1.60) in 2nd class! While I wouldn’t opt for 3rd class (those are the cheapest tickets but the carts are often overcrowded), I think 2nd class is perfectly fine and there’s no need to pay for 1st class, which is about 1000 rupees per ride and essentially the ‘tourist cars’. I will share more about that when I write about my Sri Lankan train adventures which deserve a post o their own. I usually paid LKR190 (US$1.30) for a train ticket, the cheapest one was the 1 hour ride from Ella to Badulla which cost me 40 rupees (just under 30 cents).train ride to badulla with nine arches bridge tunnelLong distance buses are a bit more expensive but still cheap by western standards – expect to pay around LKR80 (US$0.55) for a 1-hour ride. The most expensive ride was a 4-hour trip from Kandy to Polonnaruwa at 150 rupees ($1.05) Tuktuks range anywhere from 50 rupees to 600 rupees (or more, if you go really far in them), always negotiate before you get in.

The price they quote you is usually higher than what they’re supposed to charge you, so try to haggle. As a rule of thumb: anything up to 3 kilometers shouldn’t be more than 100 rupees, but the more touristy the area, the higher the prices the drivers charge.kandy tuktuks 

Sightseeing

Tourist attractions are the most expensive category: Sri Lanka offers its heritage sites and national parks at a steep price, unproportionally higher than anything else that’s sold at deflated tourist pieces. Tourists don’t pay double or tenfold what locals pay, they pay around 40 times the local price. An example: Sri Lankans pay LKR50 (US$0.35) to enter Yala National Park, foreigners pay more than 2000 rupees (US$14).Sri Lanka tours The ancient cities in the north are LKR3,250 (US$22.50) each, and a half day safari in a National Park comes to US$40 with the vehicle, park entrance and a guide, but you’ll most likely get quoted a higher price. For our jeep in Yala we paid LKR4,000 (US$27.70) between four people and admission was around LKR2,500 (US$17.30) (it gets cheaper the more people are in a group). You can rent bikes for the day to get around the ancient cities which cost LKR200 to 300 US$1.40-2.10). Prices for other fun activities: A whale watching tour will cost you around LKR6,000 (US$41.75), a dive is around US$30, surf lessons are around US$40, cooking classes start at LKR3,000 (US$21). mirissa surfer

Other expenses

Other expenses include things like laundry, toiletries and a local SIM card. Here are some examples so that you know what to expect:

  • Laundry: LKR250-350 (US$1.75-2.45) per kilo
  • Shampoo/ conditioner 100ml: LKR150 – 180 (US$1.05-1.25)
  • Face wash 100ml: LKR150 (US$1.05)
  • SIM card: LKR399 (US$2.75) for a 4GB data package

Sri Lanka 2014

Local SIM card

Make sure to grab your free local SIM card right when you make your way through immigration at the airport. Dialog, one of the fastest 3G networks in the country, offers free SIM card at immigration – just ask for one and they’ll give it to you. I personally used mobitel and paid 399 rupees for a 4GB data package. If you add another 100 rupees for call time credit, that should last you a while (if you only use your phone to call guest houses etc).Sri Lanka

Some notes on money and ATMs

There are ATMs everywhere, at least one in each town, no matter how small it is. And cash is king – it was rare that I was able to pay anything with a credit card, so prepare and make sure you’ll always have enough cash on you, especially when you visit national parks and UNESCO sites – the only place I was able to use my card at was Yala National Park. Seylan Bank has a maximum withdrawal of only 10,000 rupees, so if you pay fees for cash withdrawals abroad, make sure to avoid this one. Commercial Bank lets you take out at least up to 20,000 rupees, if not more. Sampath Bank lets you take out at least 30,000 rupees at once.Sri Lanka

Tipping

Most places automatically add a service charge to the bill, so double-check before you tip if they’re already including it.

Per day breakdown

As you can see, Sri Lanka is very affordable – not as cheap as India, but you can get by on an average $30 a day, if you stay in budget accommodation and don’t take expensive tours every day. A beach day with accommodation, two full meals, coffee, snacks and drinks at night in a beach town would cost me around $25, but on days when I visited one of the UNESCO sites, my daily expenses could easily add up to $50. Trail Wallet Sri Lanka Budget

As usual, I used the TrailWallet app to track my expenses.

 

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Where to stay in Hong Kong: The LKF by Rhombus

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When I started my research for outstanding hotels in Hong Kong, one of the first hotels that caught my attention was the Pennington by Rhombus, a sleek boutique hotel right in the center of the Causeway Bay shopping area on Hong Kong Island. The best part was that it was not only sleek, but also affordable, but that meant it was in high demand and didn’t have availability for my dates.LKF hotel Hong Kong lobbyHowever, while further researching the hotel, I discovered that the Pennington was part of the Rhombus group which had three more hotels in Hong Kong – the Bonaparte, Hotel Panorama and Hotel LKF. LKF stands for Lan Kwai Fong, which is a popular nightlife area in Hong Kong, and so I didn’t need to think long: I wanted to stay there, right in the middle of Lan Kwai Fong, a neighborhood made up of a maze of little streets and alleyways that are home to more than 90 restaurants and nightclubs.LKF hotel Hong Kong signThe first thing I noticed upon arrival was the elegant and classic theme of the hotel which runs like a thread through the entire hotel, from the lobby to the rooms and the stunning rooftop bar (more on this later).LKF hotel Hong Kong lobbyAll rooms at the LKF are equipped with illy espresso coffee machines and tea making facilities, a 42-inch LCD TV (which admittedly I didn’t have time to switch on once!), mini bar and comfy bathrobes and slippers. For a city like Hong Kong, where space is sparse, the rooms are unusually large – the superior rooms are an enormous 500 square feet and the suites are almost twice as big with a size of 950 square feet.LKF hotel Hong Kong bedThe spacious bathroom doesn’t only come with high-quality toiletries, a hairdryer and a scale, but also with a bathtub, and indulging in a bubble bath after a long day of sightseeing felt glorious.LKF hotel Hong Kong toiletriesMy favorite feature of the room? This would be a tie between the incredible views over Hong Kong and the super comfy king size bed that made me wish I had an extra day, or a rainy day. I swear I wouldn’t have left the bed – the crisp cotton linens and Flexi pillows lulled me into a sound sleep as soon as I hit the sheets after a late night cocktail at the Azure Bar on the 30th floor of the hotel.LKF hotel Hong Kong pillowsWhile I didn’t have time to try the restaurant up there, I had to at least take in the night views over the city at Azure, which was ranked as one of ‘The World’s 20 Best Sky Bars’. Azure sure lived up to my expectation, even though it was rather quiet on the weekday evening I visited, but I can imagine how busy it gets on a weekend night. And have I mentioned these views?LKF hotel Hong Kong night viewsIf Azure isn’t enough to quench your thirst for a good night out, fear not: staying at LKF means that you literally have dozens of restaurants and bars right at your doorstep. Lan Kwai Fong is by far the best neighborhood to be in if you are looking to sample Hong Kong’s nightlife, or just to eat your way through the seemingly infinite number of restaurants. Staying here also means that you are in walking distance to Central’s endless shopping facilities and the yummy eateries of the trendy Sheung Wan neighborhood. I also walked up to the Peak from the LKF, which was an excellent workout thanks to the steep hills, and the road up the hill is easy to follow from the hotel.LKF hotel Hong Kong lobbyIf you prefer a more conventional workout, the LKF has a small, but functional gym, to make sure you won’t feel too guilty when indulging in the fabulous breakfast buffet, which is served in the Azure restaurant every morning – no better way to start the day than with these sweeping views and a buffet style breakfast that includes fresh fruit, yogurt, a selection of bread, and hot dishes.Hotel LKF by Rhombus BreakfastSpeaking of views – almost all of the rooms have stunning views, and the large panoramic windows allow you to fully enjoy them. Overall, I couldn’t have asked for a better experience and even though I was looking hard for things I thought could use some improvement, the only flaw that I could find was that the gym could have a bit bigger.LKF hotel Hong Kong viewsThe LKF was named one of ‘Asia’s Top 5 Business Hotels’, has received several ‘Certificate Of Excellence Awards’ by TripAdvisor, won ‘Best Boutique Hotel’, ‘Best Business Hotel’, ‘Trendiest Hotel in China’, to name just a few, and these awards are well deserved – the topnotch facilities and excellent service make staying here a stress-free, pleasant experience that I’d like to award with the Globetrottergirls Stamp Of Approval!LKF hotel Hong Kong azure sofa

Details

  • Location: 33 Wyndham St, Central, Hong Kong
  • Price: Superior Rooms start at $215 per night
  • LGBT Friendly: Yes
  • Digital Nomad Friendly: Yes
  • Amenities: Complimentary high-speed wifi, complementary use of iPad, illy espresso maker in every room, 42-inch LCD TV, breakfast included in room rate, complimentary newspaper, gym, rooftop bar and restaurant, laundry service, bathrobes and slippers
  • Website: www.hotel-lkf.com.hk


Hotel LKF By Rhombus RoomTip:
Check the LKF website for special room packages that include complimentary cocktails and hors d’oeuvres or exclusive discount prices!

You can also check Booking.com for special rates for the LKF hotel.

Want to get a more in-depth tour of the hotel? Check out my video:

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A Culinary Journey Through Taiwan

Chou’s Shrimp Rolls

You all know how much I love food and how food for me is a vital aspect of visiting a new country. I know people who don’t really care about food when they travel (something that is completely incomprehensible to me) but I am the contrary: before I visit a new country, I research the local specialties, find out what the locals eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and which dishes I have to try before leaving the country. After visiting a country, I am always excited to share my foodie finds with you, telling you which dishes I loved.

Taiwan: A Foodie Paradise

Set A (with Dan Dan Noodles)One country that has enough culinary delights to keep a foodie busy for weeks is Taiwan. The small island nation of the coast of China is not only known for its stunning scenery that spans from lush green mountain ranges to sandy beaches has the reputation to have one of the most delicious cuisines in Asia, and people do not only flock here to eat from China but also from Japan and the nearby Philippines. Talk to someone who’s visited Taiwan and the glorious Taiwanese food will come up for sure!

Taiwanese food derived from the various cuisines in mainland China (like Cantonese or Szechuan food), but you also find Japanese influences in Taiwanese cooking. And like in most island nations, seafood plays a big role in Taiwan’s cuisine.

Local Specialties of Taiwan

Despite being such a small country, you can find a lot of dishes that are special to a single region. Yonghe, a suburb of Taipei, is famous for its freshly prepared soy milk, Taichung is well known for a sweet pastry named Sun Cake, Ilan is famous for a sticky rice snack called mochi while in Chiayi, you have to try the beloved cubic pastry (square cookies sprinkled with sesame seeds). Taiwanese people are so passionate about food that they will travel to another region within the country just to try their local dishes, by the way.

A Love For ‘Small Eats’: Xiaochi

One thing Taiwan is famous for is its tradition of xiaochi, which translates to ‘small eats’. It can best be compared to the Chinese tradition of Dim sum or Spanish tapas: enjoying several small dishes throughout the day instead of the western concept of having three big meals a day.Chou's Shrimp RollsThis concept is actually perfect for Taiwan visitors – it gives you more chances to sample all of Taiwan’s tasty dishes.

Here are the Taiwanese foods that you should definitely try:

Oyster omelet Oyster omelets are a staple in this nation of egg and seafood lovers – the omelet is spiced with a local chrysanthemum and tapioca starch is added to give it a gooey consistence, making it a distinctly Taiwanese food experience. It is usually draped in a thick, sweet red sauce.

Beef noodles Beef noodles are actually a soup which is oozing with chunks of stewed beef, and served with a dash of pickles. Beef noodles are so popular that they have their own festival!

beef_noodlesGua Bao Gua Bao is basically the Taiwanese version of a hamburger. Packed in between two halves of a steamed bun you’ll find braised pork belly, pickled cabbage and powered peanuts, all chopped up and mixed together.

Fried milkfish This is one of the most popular dishes in Taiwan, and is served fried, boiled, in soup, in a congee porridge. Milkfish is so popular that it has its own museum in Taiwan, and of course a festival.

Cho Dofu (Stinky Tofu) This popular snack is what is the durian for Singapore and Malaysia: you either love it or hate it, and its strong odor can be smelled from miles away (well maybe not miles, but you get the idea). Some people say the odor resembles sewage water, but Taiwanese love these deep-fried tofu cubes (that are fermented in milk) which don’t taste as bad as they smell – so best to hold your nose when you try one. And yes, you should definitely try stinky tofu – remember that it’s popular for a reason. Stinky tofu, Shanghai

Coffin bread The name might not sound appealing, but trust me, once you’ve tried it, you’ll probably want to have one every single day! Coffin bread is a slice of super thick toast, prospered like a French Toast but then hollowed out in the middle and stuffed with delicious fillings that range from vegetable chowder and sea food to pepper beef. Guan Cai Ban at Night Market, Taiwan

Oyster vermicelli (oya misua) Oyster vermicelli is a popular thick noodle soup (with thin vermicelli rice noodles) and as the name indicates: oysters! It’s often slurped right out of the bowl and finger-licking good.

Fried pork on rice This dish might sound simple, but you’ll be amazed at the explosion of flavors in your mouth when you try the divine smelling pork belly, which is finely chopped, cooked in soy sauce with a special spice mix, and served over white rice.

Green onion pancake This is something you find in every night market in Taiwan – the thin pancakes are made with scallions and usually filled with cheese and egg.

Soy milk and you-tiao The most popular way to start the day in Taiwan is having the simple breakfast of a glass of savory soy milk accompanied by a you-tiao, a deep-fried dough cruller. Almost everyone in Taiwan enjoys a glass of soy milk for breakfast, but for visitors the taste takes getting used to, as vinegar is added, resulting in an interesting taste, to say the least. Taiwan: Pineapple Cakes

Pineapple cake Pineapple cake is one of the most popular desserts in Taiwan, a square short crust pie filled with pineapple. If you want to buy some to take home as a souvenir, take the SunnyHills brand, which uses local pineapples only.

Bubble tea The bubble tea craze that took over the world a few years ago might be over (even though the beverage is still a popular drink in most parts of the world) but Taiwan is where it all started. This drink, which is also known as pearl milk tea, was invented in Taiwan in the 1980s, is a milky tea to which chewy balls of tapioca are added. You can’t leave Taiwan without trying a freshly made bubble tea from a tea shop. I could go on and on – the list of yummy Taiwanese dishes is seemingly endless. To make your mouth water even more, check out CNN’s 45 Taiwanese foods we can’t live without.

Where to Sample Taiwanese Food

Bubble teaIf you’re lucky enough to visit Taiwan, the Shilin Night Market in Taipei is a good starting point. In addition to this popular night market which is filled with food stalls, there are about 20 streets dedicated to small eats in Taipei alone. Every city has a night market where you can sample the local specialties, but the city of Tainan in southern Taiwan is a paradise for foodie, so if you take your culinary experiences seriously, make sure to visit Tainan. Can’t make a trip to Taiwan happen anytime soon but would still love to try some of the dishes I’ve introduced you to?

The ‘Savoring Taiwanese Cuisine’ Festival in New York

If you live in or around New York, you’re in luck! The ‘Savoring Taiwanese Cuisine’ Festival takes place this month in New York City! From 16 to 20 October 2015 the Taiwan Tourism Bureau and The Sheraton LaGuardia East Hotel are partnering with several award-winning chefs from Tainan who will bring you five days of savoring some of Taiwan’s most scrumptious dishes. The festival focuses on small eats and the main dish of the tasting menus you can try there will be Chou’s Shrimp Rolls, a dish so famous that it attracts foodies from all around the world! Instead of making your way to Tainan, where foodies line up to eat at Chou’s bistro (a national institution!) you can sample this world-famous dish right in New York. If you don’t happen to live in New York and aren’t able to attend the festival, look up the best Taiwanese restaurants in your city. Now you have an idea of what to try while you’re there!

Have you been to Taiwan? What are your favorite Taiwanese dishes?

This post is brought to you in partnership with the Taiwanese Tourism Bureau.
Photo credit: (1) Beef noodles by Matthew Hine, (2) Stinky Tofu by Gary Stevens, (3) Guan Cai Ban by Michael McDonough, (4) Pineapple Cake by sstrleu, (5) Bubble Tea – All photos used under Flickr’s Creative Commons License.
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