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South East Asia – 6 – 2 Days in Phnom Penh

Welcome to the 6th blog post in my South East Asia series! Thank you for sticking with me, it’s a little crazy at the moment preparing for the move to Ibiza but here we go with the Phnom Penh post!

In my personal opinion, 2 days is enough in Phnom Penh. Before travelling to this city I had heard mixed reviews, to be honest we did not like it very much. However, if you are visiting Cambodia it is just as important as visiting the temples (if not more important) to visit the Killing Fields and Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh to learn more about the country’s tragic losses.

Again, we booked through Airbnb for our accommodation. We were actually booked into a hotel room but still through Airbnb which we thought was a nice surprise…. The hotel that we were staying in was called The Bridge and appeared to be very popular with Chinese business men and woman. Our experience at the hotel was not great to be honest. When we were checking in, the receptionist said that there had been a mistake and we were booked into a room for 2 people (not 3). They really were not very helpful and did not try hard to fix the situation. It was quite late when we arrived so decided a room with one bed was a lot better than no room at all (thankfully it was a HUGE bed…). As it was a hotel, breakfast was included. It was nice but had very limited choice…we had french toast everyday..

Night 1

On our first night in Phnom Penh we went to the Night Market and tried some street food. Some were better than others and the fried options were very heavy. It was a cool area though, full of locals just enjoying their evening.

Unfortunately, we did not feel safe in this city and sensed that from the first night. I mean don’t get me wrong we were fine, nothing happened…it just always felt slightly dodgy during the day and night.

Day 1

The next day we wanted to explore as much of Phnom Penh as we could as we had planned to visit the Killing Fields the next day. We got a tuk tuk driver to drop us off in the centre so we could start sightseeing.

The tuk tuk drivers will 100% try to rip you off, so if you have been in Cambodia for a few days try to gage how much you are paying per journey. A 10 minute journey will usually cost 3 USD.

We were dropped off right outside the Royal Palace which is also home to the Silver Pagoda. Unfortunately when we arrived in the morning (around 10am) it was not yet open. So we took some pictures from the outside and moved on!

After doing a little research we knew that we wanted to see Wat Phnom which is set upon the only “hill” in the city. According to the locals, Wat Phnom was the first Buddhist temple created on this site and was built in 1373. It was discovered by Lady Penh who the city is named after. Many people visit this ancient site to wish for luck involving their business deals or exams (I guess it worked as we were over the moon with our degree results days later)!

For lunch we headed to Friends the Restaurant which supports and trains teenagers in hospitality who do not have the opportunity to attend school. IT WAS AMAZING!!!

After lunch we saw that there were stalls opposite that are related to the Friends company, so we went over for a bit of shopping.

We saw that the students were also doing beauty treatments such as nail painting and hairdressing. I left the girls to get their nails done and I went over to the other side of the road to get a NEEDED Khmer massage.

Before heading back to the hotel to chill by the pool we stopped to look at the beautiful Buddhist temples  along the way!

Day 2

After the second breakfast of french toast we headed out the hotel to get our tuk tuk. We asked previously if the guy who took as from the bus station to our hotel the first night would also drive us to the Killing Fields and the Genocide Museum. We knew that this day would be distressing but nothing can quite prepare you for learning about the inhumanity of the Khmer Rouge.

We visited the Killing Fields first which is a little outside the city. The entrance was 6 USD which included an audio guide for in-depth information regarding the events that took place there. Afterwards, we drove to the S-21 Genocide Museum to find out about the lives of prisoners before they were taken to the Killing Fields. The entrance fee is 5 USD and an extra 3 USD for an audio guide.

After a long day we spent the evening enjoying the sky bar at our hotel before packing our backpacks again for our bus journey to Sihanoukville then onto Koh Rong Sanloem island!

If you are interested in my other posts about my time in South East Asia or the planning before, below are direct links to my previous posts!

Start of planning

Pre trip planning

Kuala Lumpur

Hanoi

Siem Reap

South East Asia – 5 – 4 days in Siem Reap

After spending 5 days in Hanoi we flew to Siem Reap on a VietJet flight. The flight cost £75 and only took 1 hr 45 minutes. Siem Reap has a very different vibe to Hanoi, the touristy places were a lot more westernised but outwith the tourist places you saw an unbelievable amount of poverty. Cambodia is a fascinating country that is home to the largest religious monument in the world (Angkor Wat) and some of the most untouched islands with the clearest waters. However, the people of Cambodia have been badly damaged by the recent terrors of the Khmer Rouge that only goes back 40 years. This means that many relatives within current families have been directly affected by Pol Pot’s brutal ruling which turned into the biggest mass killings of the 20th century.

Day 1 – Evening

We arrived at Siem Reap airport in the evening and had already organised with the airbnb hosts a tuk tuk transfer to make it easy! As I said in the last Hanoi blog post, the Airbnb we had there was incredible! So we also found our next place on Airbnb but it turned out to be more like hotel apartments! IT WAS PERFECT!!! The room was super big, big bathroom, nice amenities, free bottled water, a drink on arrival and the staff were some of the nicest people we’ve ever met.

If you would like money off your first Airbnb use my personal code when booking!

After settling into our room we headed towards Pub Street (main strip) which was only a 10 minute walk away from our airbnb. Pub Street was so much fun! It was so different to what we had seen in South East Asia in terms of the range of clubs and restaurants. I suppose it was less authentic but it was fun to go out to a nightclub again! All the restaurants served pretty much the same food (Khmer curry and rice dishes) as well as international cuisines such as Mexican. We noticed straight away that it was more expensive in Cambodia for 2 reasons. 1. It was more touristy and 2. They also used US Dollars.

After dinner we wandered up and down Pub street looking for the best places for music and drinks.

Avoid COCKTAILS and everything that can be made with ice…you do not want to know where the ice in your drink has probably been…..we saw it getting cut….

Day 2

We woke up and had a super relaxed morning by our jungle pool before exploring more of Siem Reap.

In the afternoon we checked out the Psar Chas (old market) and the Art Market. The Psar Chas also was the food market…..only go if you are NOT SQUEAMISH….dead animals….not quite dead yet fish…..the lot.

As we wanted to start off our visit to Angkor Wat by watching the sunrise over the temples tomorrow we had to get a ticket today. We asked a tuk tuk driver to drive us to the ticket office tp buy a 1 day ticket for 37 USD. You could also buy a 3 day ticket but as magical as the temples are sure to be we may get a little templed out by day 3!

We were keen to book another food tour through Airbnb as we enjoyed the Hanoi one so much. When we researched into the Siem Reap food tours we noticed that they highlighted that they went to the Road 60 area. Therefore….being the cheapskates that we are, we decided to grab a tuk tuk and go it alone.

NO NO NO….DO NOT DO THIS. DO NOT GO THERE WITHOUT A GUIDE!

The funny thing is when we told the driver where we wanted to go for food he asked us multiple times if we were sure we had the name of the place right. Should have been a sign but no….we stuck to the plan and went anyway. Considering we come from very well developed countries we tried our best to only eat in local places….even if it included eating with chopsticks, on the floor, on small stools…you name it we did it! That is the kind of travelling we all liked best and love trying different things! Road 60 was a different story I’m afraid. It was really nice to see the local community just chilling and doing there thing, but the way the flies were landing on every single bit of food, we decided to take a pass on eating there.

Our tuk tuk driver was an angel and stayed to take us back into the centre. He gathered that we hadn’t eaten too much and offered to take us to his favourite restaurant!

After dinner we walked back to Pub Street, dodged the karts selling fried insects such as tarantulas and tried this banana rice snack instead which was amazing (many karts selling this)!

Day 3

I am NOT an early bird by any standards but I knew waking up at 4am would be worth it this day! We had prearranged the tuk tuk with our lovely driver Sophorn (whatsapp is +855 66 532 326 if you would like to get in touch during your visit to Siem Reap – 23USD for a day at the temples) the night before to make sure he would be ready at the villa for 4.30am.

After a dark journey to the temples we were dropped off in a car park by Sophorn who told us that the entrance to the temple that we were to see at sunrise was nearby.

Bring a torch and wear closed toe shoes…..you cannot see what is on the ground and we saw a dead rat….wouldn’t want to risk wearing sandals!

It was 5.15am and we were one of the first people waiting at the gates, awaiting the opening of the largest religious site in the world (5.30am). It shocked us how warm it still was at that time in the morning so only wear enough clothes to enter the site (covered shoulders and knees).

Before travelling to Cambodia I already had such high expectations for Angkor Wat and it did not disappoint. Exploring the ancient temples just after sunrise was one of the most magical and otherworldly experiences I have ever had!

 

Angkor Wat

Phimeanakus Temple

Bayon Temple
Bayon Temple
Ta Prohm Temple – Featured in Tomb Raider

By the time it got to around midday we were so hungry from walking around the temples (it is seriously exhausting). We went to the Banana Leaf restaurant within the attraction, it was okay, quite expensive but what you would expect from a tourist attraction! Not that we were prepared to do anything else besides getting ourselves out of bed at 4am, but it would have been amazing if we brought stuff with us for lunch….

Bring lots of water, light snacks and sun cream!

At night we tried an Asian fusion restaurant that was close to the airbnb called Lilypop which I would highly recommend!

Day 4 – Morning before the bus

We woke up with a bittersweet feeling about leaving Siem Reap and our beautiful airbnb! For breakfast we found a vegan cafe that was also closeby called The Source Cafe. The smoothie bowl and pancakes were insane!

We repacked our backpacks again (which were getting harder to carry by the minute) and headed to the Giant Ibis Bus station by tuk tuk. We booked our tickets online before arriving and they cost 12 USD each for the 7 hr bus journey to Phnom Penh. After taking this bus, then choosing another bus company for our next journey, I would recommend you (where possible) to stick with the Giant Ibis company as they seem the best for safety and comfort (they even gave us water and a pastry)!

To conclude this long blog post (that I hope you have enjoyed reading) I would like to say that depending on how long you want to visit Angkor Wat for should depend on how many days you should stay in Siem Reap. Personally, I think we stayed slightly too long in Siem Reap considering we were only visiting Angkor for 1 day. However, the airbnb we found was incredible which allowed us to fully enjoy our time there! On our travels we had already recommend to so many people the airbnb/villa that we stayed in because the pool was beautiful and the staff were so friendly (they even left us a little present and thank you card on our last night)!

As usual, any questions just contact me through email, wordpress, facebook or instagram!

South East Asia – 4 – 5 Days in Hanoi

After a couple of days in Kuala Lumpur (blog post in the link) we flew with VietJet to Hanoi (flight cost £40 each and lasted around 4 hours). Wow….what a place Hanoi was! It was nowhere like any of us had ever been before, so different from Europe! Hanoi has a beautiful blend of South East Asian, Chinese and French cultural influences. It’s one of the most ancient capital cities in the world filled with yummy street food, pagodas and temples that you can enjoy if you can survive the HECTIC Hanoi traffic!

Below I will give you a rundown of how we spent our 5 days in Hanoi.

Day 1

We took some Vietnamese Dong out the ATM at the airport as we had to work out ANOTHER currency. Don’t be fooled…when it says on the screen withdraw 300.000 it’s only the equivalent of £10! Then we ordered a Grab car from the airport which was an hour to the Airbnb (again very cheap)

This Airbnb was particularly gorgeous!! For 3 students travelling around SE Asia on a budget….2 double bedrooms, 2 bathrooms with showers, 3 TVs, a living room space, big kitchen, washing machine AND balcony space overlooking the Red River…this was pure luxury! I have used Airbnb on….16 occasions now and have had on the whole very good experiences.

If you would like money off your first Airbnb use my personal code when booking!

Getting out the taxi we were immediately hit with an even more intense heat than we experienced in KL….bring back the wipes and no make up days….all part of travelling they say!

We were excited to get out and explore our new location so we ordered a Grab car to the Old Quarter (unless your accommodation is exactly in the Old Quarter then you cannot really walk into Hanoi centre as it’s not pedestrian friendly).

For dinner we decided again to try a place that all the locals seemed to like and we were not disappointed! We stumbled upon a restaurant called Bo Nuong for a BBQ style dinner that you cook yourself at the table! IT WAS AMAZING!!!! Do NOT wear your best dress…oil may splatter on you (you have been warned)! We also ordered the traditional Hanoi beer which made a very good combo.

After dinner we walked further into the centre which was cool because it had a real backpacker/touristy vibe. Although nothing was western about the seating arrangements….everywhere you went you sat either on the street or in a restaurant on these child sized plastic chairs!!! Good thing we were fairly small but good luck if you are 6’2! Despite the little chairs we managed to find a stall selling 20p beers and coconut ice cream with mango….so it was still a good night!

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Day 2

After breakfast we took a walk around Hoan Kiem Lake also known to the locals as  Hồ Hoàn Gươm which means Lake of The Returned Sword. Legend has it that Emperor Le Loi was on the lake when a Green Turtle God surfaced and asked for his magical sword. After the Emperor had fought off the Chinese he returned the sword back to the Green Turtle God.

Whilst around the lake make sure to visit the beautiful 18th century Ngoc Son

Temple.img_0073img_0086

As most of you know I’m a little Instagram obsessed right now but I think it’s such an easy way to find cool spots while travelling! So….after seeing this quirky cafe all over my feed for months we had to stop for a drink at The Note Coffee! I honestly don’t think I’ve been into a more aesthetically pleasing cafe it was just so damn cute. The staff were also lovely and were happy to give us tips of where else to visit during our stay in Hanoi which lead us to the best restaurant in town but more about that later!

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Order a speciality egg coffee, keep the note you were gifted and write one for the next visitor.

This was a good egg coffee in such a cute little place….BUT….. according to the locals the best egg coffee is done properly when there is a thick creamy topping with very bitter black coffee underneath. We were on a food tour and our guide stated that egg coffee is like love….”sweet at the start and bitter at the end”...I will leave you with that thought!

After consuming our speciality coffees we had the best time taking the classic touristy shots on the tracks at Hanoi Train Street. People are literally all over the tracks taking pictures…drinking coffee…socialising…it’s a cool place, go see for yourself!

For lunch we tried one of the places that the staff in The Note Coffee recommended for the best Bun Cha in town. It did not disappoint (despite the tiny chairs AGAIN)!! Bun Cha is another traditional dish in Vietnam and is essentially noodles in a broth with meatballs, pork and mint leaves served with salad. You will find the restaurant by googling Nha Hang Bun Cha Dac Kim, Xin Thong BAO (not sure if its the name…the street or both).

Like I mentioned briefly we went on a street food tour at night which we booked through Airbnb. It was AMAZING! The company was called Local Vietnam Tours and cost £21 (so worth it). Our guide Dung was super friendly and made sure that we all had a fantastic time sampling the best of Vietnamese cuisine.

Day 3

After speaking to our guide Dung on the food tour he convinced us to spend a day enjoying his hometown of Ninh Binh which used to be the ancient capital of Vietnam. We would definitely have missed out on something very special if we did not go on a tour here. We booked through the same company (Local Vietnam Tours) for £26 and the tour lasted all day and included lunch. What an incredible time we had on this tour but it was INTENSE! The drive to Ninh Binh was 3 hours from Hanoi and on the way to guide explained some more about the history of the Provence and our schedule for the day.

I have never been so exhausted as I was at the end of that day (don’t let this put you off it’s just a little warning). We started the day by taking a boat trip down the river then we went for a buffet lunch. After lunch it was all systems go again and we cycled (in 35 degrees heat with 1000000% humidity) around the rice fields before hiking up to some beautiful ancient temples. So yeah….it was a little tiring….and hot…very hot!

When we got back to Hanoi it wasn’t too late so we went around the Night Markets to pick up some authentic souvenirs such as handmade jewellery and bookmarks.

Day 4

You can’t visit Vietnam without visiting Ha Long Bay and that’s what we did on our fourth day! We booked the tour through Charming Vietnam Travel which we found on TripAdvisor….but you can book through their own website for cheaper (£27).

Translated Ha Long means “descending dragon” because the legend states that the at the beginning of the country’s history Emperor Jade sent a mother dragon to help fight off the invaders wanting to take over the country. Ha Long Bay is supposedly where the mother dragon descended to protect the Vietnamese from the invading ships and she liked the peaceful bay so much she decided to make it her home.

Being out on the water with the cruise you definitely get the sense of mystic and magic that this beautiful place holds. During the 1 day cruise you get a buffet lunch onboard, visit the caves within the limestone rocks and get the chance to kayak in the emerald green waters.

Overall we did enjoy this trip but it is every bit as busy and touristy as you would expect. In my personal opinion it is still a MUST DO!

Day 5

Wanting to squeeze in as much as we could during our time in Hanoi before our flight we still managed to fit in the Prison museum and grab one last Vietnamese iced coffee (bitter coffee with condensed milk).

Hanoi House Cafe

I hope you have enjoyed reading about what we got up to in Hanoi! As always, any questions/advice please contact me via wordpress, email, twitter or facebook using the links at the top of my blog homepage!

Stay tuned for the next post about Siem Reap and the temples!

South East Asia – 3 – 48 hours in Kuala Lumpur

Just wow…I arrived back from my 3 week South East Asia trip a few days ago and I cannot wait to start blogging!!!

I am so thankful for the memories over the past few weeks that were made with my best friends during our end of university trip! We really did everything we wanted to do: immerse ourselves in new cultures, eat like the locals do, see the wonders of SE Asia and come home to graduate in one piece (despite the slightly precarious situations we were in…I will explain more about later..). It was incredible to travel so far so CHEAPLY!! At the end I will do a rundown of how much we spent in total but to give you an idea it was around £1,600 for everything (flights (x5), airbnbs, spending money, tours, visa and insurance).

After our 16 hour journey from Edinburgh we touched down at KL’s international airport (be careful when planning your journey as there are 2 international airports). Our airbnb ( Mercu Summer Suites) was located in the centre of KL near the Petronas Towers so took around an hour to get there. Instead of Uber in SE Asia they have Grab so do yourself a favour and download the app before you arrive and you are good to go (cash only so get some money out using the ATM at the airport). Our grab was only 72 MRY including the tolls which is £13.77.

If you would like money off your first Airbnb use my personal link when booking!

Day 1

We woke up early eager to explore the city in the short time that we had! We knew that we could not see everything but made a plan of what we definitely wanted to see to use our time effectively.

Firstly we headed to Merdeka Square which is one of the most popular areas in the city, located in front Sultan Abdul Samad Building. Here there remains strong evidence of the British empire with the type of architecture and grassy spaces.

After we were drawn towards the Countdown Clock which is part of the River of Life project which counts down to the year 2020! We admit it’s not much of an attraction but we were drawn to the water…oh my goodness….KL was so HOT and HUMID we knew the first morning that time spent doing hair and makeup was time definitely wasted…so we all embraced the natural!

We wanted our first proper meal in KL to be authentic so we avoided all the chain restaurants and headed to the Chinatown food markets. We sat down where we saw the most locals and tried some amazing dishes!

Always ask for the price before ordering because they sometimes try to rip off tourists when you ask for the bill.

We also visited one of the many beautiful mosques in the city, Jamek Mosque and spoke to a lady there about the Islamic dress code for woman. She was kind enough to offer us a book about the dress code for woman in particular which was definitely enlightening for 3 western woman to read due to the amount of restrictions woman adhere to in other parts of the world.

Please be respectful when visiting places of worship such as mosques and temples. You must always cover your shoulders and sometimes have to remove your shoes to enter.

After lunch we visited the Forest Eco Park which was the thing I was most excited to do in the city! It did not disappoint! It was so refreshing to be high in the treetops away from the hustle and bustle of KL. This urban jungle attraction has many trails and an incredibly cool treetop walkway.

Luckily we had fun on the treetop walkway before the heavens opened and it poured down with rain! We went to SE Asia at the cusp of the rainy season and apart from a few very very heavy showers we were very lucky with the weather!

We then headed back to our Airbnb with a cheap Grab to dry off and chill a bit before exploring more. For dinner we tried the vibrant Little India neighbourhood which was amazing for food!! We all tried a local Malaysian speciality called Nasi (rice) Lemak and a fresh coconut!

After finishing dinner we wanted to see the beauty of the Petronas Towers lit up at night so headed straight there to capture this iconic KL site!

We ended the day finding a rooftop bar to reward ourselves for walking so many steps around the city. How lucky we were to stumble upon this bar!! This rooftop bar is called the WET Deck and is situated inside a swanky hotel called W but the bar is open to anyone. It has one of most spectacular views of the Petronas Towers, tasty cocktails, good music and staff that know all the tricks to help you take the perfect pictures!

Day 2

After a full first day in KL we were up early again excited for the day ahead. On our second day we had planned to visit one of KL’s biggest attractions, the Batu Caves! These 3 caves are located on a limestone hill 11km outside the city centre. Climb the 272 rainbow steps to the top of the caves and take in the beautiful sights that lie before you!

Visit early in the morning to beat the crowds and the heat. Watch the monkeys surrounding the temple as they are known to be very cheeky!!

We took a Grab car to the temples for ease and managed to work out the metro to get back. “Work out” is the best turn of phrase because it is easy because there is a station right by the caves…however… the trains were very infrequent!

After walking up all those stairs at the caves we were definitely hungry for lunch! We headed back to Little India and tried a family run curry house. We decided to pick the banana leaf buffet which had a completely vegetarian option too!

The botanic gardens is another excellent way to escape the noise of the city! Spend some time walking around the lakeside gardens.

I hope you enjoyed reading about my first couple of days in SE Asia and looking forward to reading the rest of my posts! Please just send me a message via WordPress, Facebook of Instagram if you have any questions!

 

 

 

 

South East Asia – 2 – Pre-Trip Planning

It’s only 3 weeks until I head off to South East Asia and the countdown is officially on!

This blog post is going to be about how I have prepared for my first long-haul trip so far and will include how I have planned my accommodation, budget, medical care, activity planning and packing.

Accommodation

Am I really going on holiday without staying in an Airbnb? Probably not… unless its with my parents! I have stayed in many Airbnb’s around the UK and Europe and highly rate them for their affordability and experiences! To date, all my Airbnb’s have been clean and full of friendly locals willing to offer advice about the destination.

So far we have booked to stay 3 nights in Kuala Lumpur for £84, 4 nights in Hanoi for £171 and a beach bungalow on the island of Koh Rong Samloem for £132 for 3 nights.

We have another accommodation further down the island booked through booking.com and only need to book a couple of nights in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap!

If you would like money off your first Airbnb use my personal link when booking!

Budgeting

I have been working between part time and full time hours between university since the start of the year and have been trying to put £200 aside each month. In addition, the reduced section at the supermarkets have also been surprisingly helpful….I’ve started saving a lot on my weekly shopping and tried some new dishes! I was also lucky enough to borrow a backpack from a friend for the trip which has saved me between £60 and £150!

Medicine

We got a couple of injections from our local doctors a couple of months in advance so our bodies had time to absorb the medication. The travel nurse was very helpful advising us about the best medications to bring and injections to get according to the places we were travelling to. She advised to bring anti-malaria tablets, lots of suncream, anti-histamine, antiseptic and to buy an insect repellent with at least 50% of DEET. We will also include some Electrolyte powder in case of dehydration and normal painkillers.

I have also purchased travel insurance for £45 that covers £10 million for medical charges (better to be safe than sorry)!

Planning

Like I mentioned in the previous  I have loved looking at the Lonely Planet guidebooks for information about the history of the destination, must see attractions and a few off the beaten track suggestions.

In addition, I have been following various travel bloggers such as Highlands2Hammocks, Flip Flop Wanderers Marie Fe and Jake Snow who have all given me cool tips and serious inspiration for travelling South East Asia!

Before we were going to book more internal flights and accommodation last week we looked over our mini travel itinerary. THANK GOD we did because we would not have had time to breathe, never mind enjoy our experience because our plans were jammed packed! Unfortunately we have decided to miss out Da Nang, Hoi An and the Elephant Valley Project but this choice will definitely allow us to immerse ourselves in the culture of each city even more now!

Packing

It’s still a few weeks away so there is no point getting my clothes all creased yet…plenty of time for that! Butttt I have already decided that I will pack:

– 3 pairs of shoes (trainers, sandals and flip flops)

– 2 long skirts

– 1 play suit

– 2 dresses

– 1 shorts

– 2 pairs of light long trousers

– However many t-shirts I can fit

– Scarf/ shawl for visiting the temples

– 1 swimming costume and 2 bikinis

– 1 microfibre towel

– 1 beach towel (sand cloud)

– Small make-up bag ( moisturiser, BB cream, waterproof mascara, lip balm, matte lip gloss and a duo eyeshadow)

– Water bottle

– Travel adapter

The benefit of travelling with other girls is that we can share toiletries/ make- up etc!

Next time I write a blog post it will be after Asia!! In the meantime check out my Instagram  and Facebook 😀 

Hidden Gems of Edinburgh, U.K – Guest blog post for earthtoconnie.com

Firstly I just want to thank Connie over at Earthtoconnie for inviting me to be her first guest blogger in her new series – Hidden Gems! In this post, as the title suggests, I’ll let you in on some of my favourite ‘off the beaten path’ spots in Edinburgh.

1. Tani Modi

One word BRUNCH.

I just recently stumbled across this adorable place hidden on Hannover Street! The cafe itself is much bigger than you think and it’s extremely affordable! Order the American style maple syrup and bacon pancake stack as they are the best pancakes I’ve had in Edinburgh!

And no…I did not have an espresso martini for brunch but a fancy looking ice coffee instead!

2. Ting Thai Caravan

Do I need to say anymore…just look at this Thai food! This quirky restaurant is very popular with students as it is located just opposite Edinburgh University. You cannot book this restaurant in advance so if you want to be sure of a table try come in between lunch and dinner! This place is also great if you are on a budget, most dishes are under 10 pounds!

Top tip – bring cash as this restaurant doesn’t have a card machine!!

3. Rabble

I have been living in Edinburgh for almost 4 years now and have also only recently discovered this gem! Just below George Street you will find this beautiful bar that is perfect for date night or chilling with friends.

4. Stockbridge Market (10am-5pm)

Looking for a local experience on your Sunday in Edinburgh? Head to Stockbridge Market for the ultimate street food experience!

5. Fingal

It is my absolute pleasure to introduce you to Fingal, which is a new boutique hotel in Leith that I am loving working on! Most people in Edinburgh do not know yet that non-guests can make a booking to enjoy the unique experience of our Lighthouse Bar. Our bar offers Afternoon Tea, Evening Supper and amazing cocktails!

Want to be one of the first onboard?

I hope you have enjoyed reading this blog post as much I have enjoyed writing it!

If you would like to read more of Connie’s blog posts, including her Hidden Gem series feel free to head over to her blog at Earthtoconnie.com. Or if you would like to follow her on social media then check out her Twitter here and her Instagram here.

Last Minute London

Last weekend one of my favourite travel buddies (my mum) and I booked a last minute flight down to London! We just flew with Ryanair for £50 each including a bag to share between us. I know….I know you are thinking why did you pay for a bag when you are just away for a few days! But….as RyanAir have changed their luggage policy since last November the days are gone that you can bring along a hand luggage bag for free.

Our flight was early so  we arrived in London (slightly bleary eyed) at 7am. We booked train tickets in advance to get us from Stanstead Airport into the centre of London (Liverpool Street Station). Getting to the station was quick and easy as it is right by the airport.

We were only in London from the Thursday morning to the Saturday night so we made a plan of what we definitely wanted to do! As we had both been to London before this blog post will not contain the main attractions but definitely a few cool suggestions! So keep reading 😉

What To See

1. The V & A Museum

To be honest, I’m not a huge museum/gallery fan but I heard that this one was worth a visit! As it was close by our hotel in Kensington we just walked to the museum. It’s the biggest art and design museum in the world and is the perfect opportunity to immerse yourself in some culture. My personal favourite was the Asian sculpture section. If you fancy the exhibition that is on remember to book in advance! We really wanted to see the Christian Dior exhibition but by the time we arrived at the museum they were sold out.

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2. See a show!

As this was a last minute trip we did not have a show in mind that we wanted to see….BUT…that’s how you get the CHEAPEST tickets!

Head to the Leicester Square box office and see if there are any shows that sound good! We were lucky enough to find good priced tickets to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night- Time, which we wanted to see for a while.

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3. Take a walk in the park

London is full of gorgeous parks! Last July I fell in love with Regent’s Park which you can see in this blog post.

This time we explored Kensington Gardens, found the Peter Pan statue and admired the Prince Albert Memorial.

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I also enjoyed spending time in the beautiful Holland Park and discovered Kyoto Garden!

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4. Covent Garden

No matter how many times I visit London I will always go back to Covent Garden. I love the buzz, the flower arrangements, the shops and of course…. the Instagramable benches!

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Where To Wine and Dine

1.  Lunch at The Aquashard

Okay, lets start with the big one! I booked lunch at the Aquashard (32 floors up) as an early Mother’s Day gift for Mum. She loved it, I loved it and not gonna lie…..my purse quite liked it too!

We had the seasonal 3 course set lunch menu and cocktail which came to £34 each! Honestly, we could not fault it and it’s definitely not an overrated or overhyped venue!

Just take a look at this….

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2. Lola’s Cupcakes

At almost every tube station in London sits a Lola’s Cupcake cart! On the last day we gave into temptation and bought some….#noregrets

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3.  Le Petit Sud

As many of you may have seen from my insta stories we found the CUTEST French restaurant just a few minutes from Kensington Gardens! Le Petit Sud served the freshest French dishes which we ate as we drank our wine and people watched.

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My kind of chandelier….

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If you are looking for a cosy evening venue this place also has a romantic downstairs area!

Top Tips

Okay, I am definitely not a London expert but there are a few things I have picked up during my visits.

  1. Use your contactless card on the bus and tube lines. It only costs £7 per day (you get automatically capped)!
  2. Acknowledge that from whatever airport you fly into there will be a longish journey time into London City
  3. This goes for all big cities, but never leave your bag open or unattended
  4. Bring comfy shoes!!!

 

 

 

 

 

If Home is Where The Heart is…My Heart is in Fife

I know it has been a slow start to the blog this year and I wanted to post more consistently….but life happens! I’m currently in my final year of my event management and tourism degree and things are a little hectic. Anyway, I have been home for the weekend and it dawned on me that I have never written about where I grew up! This post is all about my favourite places to visit, eat and relax around Fife. Firstly, for those who do not know where the Kingdom of Fife is, it’s a region in the East of Scotland (1 hour from Edinburgh and 1 hour and a half from Glasgow).

1. St Andrews

I’m sure most of you have heard of St Andrews if not Fife with the golfing and royal connections. For readers who don’t know this is 1. The HOME of Golf and 2. Where Prince William met Kate Middleton at university.

So with that amazing little introduction to this student seaside town I will tell you my favourite places to check out!

West Sands Beach

This is a beautiful stretch of beach that is a major pull factor for visitors to this town. You can try some water sports such as surfing and windsurfing if you are brave enough to get in the North Sea. Or if it reaches above 18 degrees and remains sunny you wouldn’t believe the amount of people who come to sunbathe!

If you are willing to splash out a little on a cocktail or nip of whisky head to the 4th floor of The Old Course Hotel to get an uncompromising view of this stunning spot.

The Himalayas

No..I’m not actually referring to the mountain range in Asia but there is a fun putting course named after it! It is open every day April to September and only costs £2!!!

This is one of my favourite childhood memories , I am sad to say that I’m still not a pro golfer. However, navigating this tricky course can fool even the best golfers….tell me how you get on!

The Cottage Kitchen

This is the cutest little cafe nestled in the alleyways of St Andrews. Grab a light lunch made with all local ingredients or indulge in their delicious home baking!

Rufflets Hotel

Just outside St Andrews is home to one of the prettiest country house hotels in Scotland. My family have celebrated many special occasions here over time including birthdays and wedding anniversaries.

The inside of the hotel has the most beautiful decor and has many separate rooms if you would like a private function. In addition, you can explore the large garden area which is a perfect backdrop for wedding and celebration pictures!

The Seasons restaurant has an excellently priced 3 course lunch menu for £20 that still includes all the frills!

2. Anstruther

Anstruther is a picturesque old fashioned fishing village near St Andrews, that is known for its harbour and award winning fish and chips! It is popular in the summer months with day trippers visiting to indulge in some of the best seafood in Scotland.

As a child I spent Summer evenings eating fish and chips from the BEST FISH SHOP which is the Anstruther Fish Bar overlooking the busy harbour.

3. Elie

Elie is another charming coastal town to visit in the East Neuk of Fife. In addition to the beach, there are many lovely coastal walks and small boutique gift shops. As a child my family owned a timeshare at Kilconquhar Castle Estate so we spent a lot of time enjoying Elie!

Elie Ness Lighthouse Walk

This lighthouse was built by David Stevenson (cousin of Robert Louis Stevenson) in the early 20th century and has become a well loved attribute of the town. One of my favourite walks in Elie is around the lighthouse. If you continue on the Fife Coastal Path you will journey past some ancient ruins called Lady’s Tower. This was built in 1760 for Lady Janet Anstruther so she can change in private for her morning skinny dip routine!

If you are driving to Elie you can park in the car park next to the lighthouse walk!

The Ship Inn

This restaurant has been open in Elie for many years and is always a favourite. It is known for it’s fresh seafood and beautiful views of the sea!

In the Summer months the patio area overlooking the beach is open for BBQ nights

Elie Watersports

Ever wanted to try SUP paddling, surfing or tubing? Now is your chance!! Grab a couple of friends and pray the Scottish weather will work in your favour and have the best time!

If that doesn’t sound like your thing and you would rather just throw yourself off the pier….hire a wetsuit and do that too! Trust me the wetsuit is essential…..

4. Crail

If you have an obsession for quirky little houses with steps down to the sea and want to try fresh lobster (literally caught that day) visit Crail!

This vibrant little fishing village is home to a very busy harbour where you can see fishermen coming and going out to sea everyday. One of my favourite spots in this village is right down by the harbour at Reilly Shellfish. This is where you can grab a picnic table and eat the freshest shellfish hidden within the harbour walls.

As well as the huge fishing scene, Crail is known for it’s vibrant Festival scene at the end of July. The festival showcases the best of Crail and the produces of the villages surrounding it.

The last year I went there was a stall for the Cocoa Tree which is my favourite cafe in the East Neuk! Perfect for a fellow chocoholic…

5. Falkland

I am saving the best till last…..home is where the heart is and my home is Falkland. Falkland really is a hidden gem but is getting even more popular as it was featured in the Outlander series which is now known worldwide!

This little village is full of beautiful architecture, former home of Scottish Royalty and surrounded by an ancient estate developed in the Victorian period.

Falkland Palace

Falkland Palace was the country home to royalty such as Mary Queen of Scots and is now owned by the National Trust Scotland. Wander around the beautiful palace and stroll through the acres of garden and orchards.

These are the entry prices shown on the website: Adult £13, Family £30, One adult family £23.50 and Concession is £9.

Falkland Estate

This estate was the former hunting grounds for the Kings and Queens that resided in Falkland Palace. It’s one of my favourite places to go when I am home, especially up to the hidden waterfall (follow the trail named Maspie Den)!

The Stag

One of my favourite restaurants in Falkland is The Stag. It is a cosy restaurant and bar located near the now famous water fountain (seen in Outlander).

After being away from home for so long and coming back, really does make me appreciate the beautiful environment I was brought up in. I hope you visit Fife and the East Neuk sometime too!

South East Asia – 1 – The Start

Firstly Happy New Year!!!

I know…long overdue…I hope you are getting on well with your New Year’s resolutions or currently breaking them because how were you ever realistically going to give up chocolate for a year…?

Anyway, it’s time to write the first blog post of the year as the flights to Kuala Lumpur have been booked and it’s time for planning to commence!

My friends and I knew that we wanted to discover somewhere new together after final exams in May and before graduation in July. After some weeks of research (which will be explained more later) we decided on South East Asia for 3 full weeks in June. This blog post is going to give you a little insight of my top tips before planning long-haul travel!

1. Initial Research Is Key

Google really is your best friend here. It is important to do some initial research before parting with your well saved funds to make sure this is the destination for you. A quick google search will tell you if you require visas, if the country has lots to offer that you are interested in, how easy it is to move around within the country and if you require any vaccinations prior to your adventure.

2. Budget-friendly Travel Requires Sacrifices

When we were checking out flights on our favourite flight comparison site (Skyscanner) we noticed that it was around £150 cheaper to fly out of London. However, as we are based in Edinburgh we decided that it would in fact cost almost the same amount after travelling down to London and paying for over-night accommodation.

In the end there were 2 flights that we were torn between, both were good but neither perfect. Without bottomless pockets we were between a Qatar Airways flight that included an 8 hour stop-over in Doha on the way there and an emirates flight that would lose a day of our holiday period as it left in the early hours of the morning.

We decided to pay £506 to fly with Emirates because the journey time was much shorter. Even though we could have enhanced our trip by stopping over and exploring Doha for a few hours we decided that this was an unnecessary addition onto our already long trip. The girls and I also thought that we would not do the city justice as we would just be longing for our final destination!

3. Research Some More!

Your flights are booked and you want to get down to business! I LOVE looking at other blogs for inspiration. My favourites for this trip so far are….

Where Charlie Wanders

Be My Travel Muse

Lovin

Also, I cannot get enough of Lonely Planet’s travel guides for detailed itineraries, hidden gems and cultural tips!

So far our 3 week itinerary looks like this….. ( as event management and business students we are in our element)!

The green sections are internal flights with the current prices next to them.

I have heard some fantastic things about the Perhentian islands from blogs like this and would love some chill out time between soaking up the new cultures!

We are still very flexible with our plans and will be looking into accommodation, internal flights and attractions soon.

If you have any advice to share with me go ahead in the comments section!

I’ll keep you updated.

Reflecting on 2018

That time of the year has come around again and people are reflecting on their best, worst, unexpected and funniest moments of the past year. I can honestly say that 2018 has gifted me a year of adventure, new friends and more ambition than ever before. 

I would be lying if I said my year was perfect and without difficulties… but this year has shown me the importance of being happy and spending time with people who really appreciate you and all that you can offer.

Okay, novel over… below are a list of my top travel experiences, top travel tips and DREAMS for 2019!

3 Top Travel Experiences

1. Krka National Park, Croatia

I LOVED trekking through Krka National Park and discovering all the beautiful waterfalls! I visited in August this year which is their busiest month. To enjoy the national park at it’s best make sure you arrive when the park opens! One of my favourite moments was swimming under the Skradinski buk waterfall.

 Student entry with valid ID is MUCH CHEAPER!!! You can buy a student ticket at the park for 20 Kn / 2,69 € whereas the adult ticket is 80,00 Kn / 10,78 €.

Check out my blog post here

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2. New York City Skyline From The Empire State Building At Night

If this is not on your bucket list yet, it definitely should be! What a magical experience this was. I visited New York City with my family in October this year and used the 5 Day New York Pass. This pass granted us access to all of the city’s main attractions which is great if you are on a time limit!

Check out my blog post here!

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3. Hohenzollern Castle, Germany

The amount of times I have visited Germany this year has been unreal…I’ve kind of fallen in love with parts of the country.

However, out of the all the places I have visited in this country this is my very favourite spot…. you are never too old for fairytales.

There is the most perfect viewpoint of this castle if you drive to Zollersteighof Berghotel where there is a free car park. Then from the car park it’s about a 20 minute walk through the woods to a beautiful viewpoint complete with a carved seat!

Check out my blog post here!

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Top Travel Tips

1. Learn Basic Phrases

I know language learning is not everyone’s favourite thing…but it can really make your experience better if you make the effort to learn a few phrases! As well as making your experience as a traveller easier, the locals tend to really appreciate you taking time to learn some of their language.  Start small…hello”, “goodbye“, “thanks” and “cheers” usually gets you through most situations! Also, I always try learning a few words with the Duolingo app before travelling!

2. Register For A Travel Money Card

I only got one recently and wish I found out about this sooner! This card allows you to load 13 different currencies onto your card and withdraw from ATMs for a smaller transaction charge.  Go and register for one at your local post office! Another benefit is that you can top up your card by using an app on your phone (like mobile banking) wherever you are in the world.

3. Do Your Research

You will have a much better experience travelling if you do a little bit of research before you go! Studying event management does mean that I naturally love whipping up mini itineraries and discovering cool hot-spots (my favourite app to do this is Like A Local). 

Also, if you are travelling to a country that has a very different culture than you, out of respect it is good to familiarise yourself with the do’s and don’t’s! For instance, in 2019 I am hoping to travel to Malaysia and have already worked out that it is rude for a woman to shake the hand of the opposite sex!

Dreams For 2019!

 

1. Find A Graduate Job Abroad

2. Move Out of The UK

2. Learn To Drive….Finally….

3. Travel To Asia

4. Complete A1….maybe A2 in German

As that ties up the end of this blog post I just wanted to thank each and everyone of you who have supported my blog this year! I am always available for advice, recommendations or even just a chat.

I wish you all a wonderful Christmas and have the BEST NEW YEAR!

 

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