My top 11 must have Bali experiences

Getting lost among emerald green rice fields, standing at the mouth of an ancient elephant cave, watching the Indian ocean crash against the rugged curves of Pura Luhur Uluwatu while monkeys run amok around your ankles – these are just some of the things I love about Bali (well, let’s be honest, maybe not the monkeys). 

It’s funny because a few years ago, like a lot of people, I couldn’t think of anything worse than stepping into a country that had flooded Australian media for years due to its association with drugs-in-boogie-boards  – but Indonesia’s proximity to Australia, beautiful climate and reasonable airfares were what eventually lured my family a couple of years ago and we have been fans ever since.

My love of the island of Bali grew deeper on a recent holiday there late last year. My travel companions (some of my family and crazy but wonderful partner) and I split our time between the hip waterside jaunt of Seminyak and the cultural home of Eat Pray Love – Ubud (my all time favourite corner of Bali). Here are eleven highlights from my recent trip and must-have experiences if you’re planning to visit for the first time or the fifteenth!

1. Immerse yourself in the green rice fields of Ubud

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If you take the wrong turn off the chaotic main street of Ubud – have no fear – you’ll likely wind up lost in a  maze of green rice terraces with locals harvesting their fields and picturesque accommodation, art galleries and yoga retreats dotting the horizon. It’s hard to imagine how an industrial street could transform into such a magical setting. This is a great place to watch the sunrise or enjoy a refreshing Bintang in an open-aired Warung. My favourite experience in Bali  was an interaction we had with a local man tending to his rice fields & selling coconuts – although he didn’t speak English, he still managed to grasp my hand and sew together the words – You are beautiful. It was an unforgettable travel moment.

2. Enjoy cocktail hopping at the laidback beach clubs of Seminyak

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By the pool at Potato Head Beach Club

I love a good beach club and some of the most fun we had in Bali was spent by the poolside at the famous Potato Head Beach Club or drinking in the humidity at sunset at Ku De Ta. Later in the evening my partner and I managed to get the pool to ourselves at Potato Head beach club which was perfect for our synchronised swimming that shocked a few fellow tourists. If you only have time to visit one, I would highly recommend Ku De Ta – avoid the restaurant if you’re on a budget (despite the food being amazing) and sip on a glass of wine while you listen to laidback music and watch the sun sink romantically below the horizon. Sigh. Take me back.

3. Relax by the pool & make the most of the weather

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Enjoying the amazing pool at Nyaman Villas, Seminyak

Bali has the kind of climate that makes you feel like you’re permanently floating around in a spa. The mornings or late afternoons are the best times to venture out and about to explore (especially in Seminyak) & the middle of the day is ideal for jumping in the pool, cooling off and floating the afternoon away. We stayed at beautiful accommodation called Nyaman Villas just 5 minutes walk to the beach and the main street of Seminyak.

4. Hire a driver and experience the local culture

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At the mouth of Goa Gajah (Elephant Cave) just outside of Ubud

In my experience hiring a driver is the best way to see Bali. Ask anyone who has visited before and I’m sure they’ll have recommendations for who to get in touch with. We hired a driver to visit the breathtaking temples dotted around Bali and to drive us from Seminyak to Ubud (just over an hour’s drive). A driver will take you wherever you want to go for anywhere between $50 to $80 AUD per day. They’ll also take you to off the beaten track destinations and give you a greater understanding of what it’s like to live as a Balinese local. The highlights of our driving trip were visiting Pura Lahur Uluwatu, exploring the Tegalalang Rice terraces, standing at the mouth of sacred Goa Gajah (Elephant Cave) and Gunung Kawi.

5. Stay like royalty at Warwick Ibah Luxury Hotel 

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The main pool at Warwick Ibah 

Set on the grounds of a palace and owned by royalty, the grounds and accommodation at Warwick Ibah Luxury Hotel are something to behold. For the ultimate hotel experience, park yourself by the main pool for a day and admire your historic surroundings while enjoying a cocktail or two… or three. The popular Karsa Café track is just next door to the hotel and will take you past an impressive temple, through lush green rice fields, spas and art galleries to the idyllic café.

6. Eat as much mushroom ravioli as you can cram into your mouth at Bridges 

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Bridges Restaurant, Ubud

After only just arriving in Ubud, my partner and I were pretty hungry (as we always are) and in search of somewhere nice to eat. Our driver – a great guy called Kadek – recommended Bridges, conveniently named after its location tucked away at the corner of the bridge just a 5 minute walk from our hotel. The restaurant itself was beautiful with an open deck overlooking the river and candles illuminating rustic wooden tables and chairs. We opted to have the degustation in which I tasted The Best Mushroom Ravioli in The World. My partner and I still reminisce about that ravioli to this day and are looking forward to going back there to have it again!

7. Get up & dance on the tables at Motel Mexicola

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On our first night in Bali we were all pretty excited to be there. My mum’s partner had conveniently met the owner of a popular local restaurant called Motel Mexicola on the plane trip over and had secured a reservation for the 7 of us. The inside of the restaurant is a vibrant red replica of a Mexican eatery and offers amazing food (think burritos, tacos, all your favourite Mexican things) and margaritas. Later in the evening the restaurant transforms into a thriving night club with tourists climbing over each other to dance on the tables. As I threw off my thongs and started dancing on the tables I half expected to be kicked out by a bouncer but I soon came to find that this kind of behaviour is welcome in Bali! Enjoy!

8. Spend your well earned $$$ at Kim Soo

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The outdoor area at Kim Soo – throw off your clothes & have a dip!

This would have to be my favourite shopping destination in Bali. Kim Soo is a bohemian homewares store set in a beautiful old Dutch colonial building in Seminyak with a Santorini- like feel and sells stunning homewares – everything you can think of from marble chopping boards to lanterns and rustic furniture. Even if you don’t have any money to spend, it’s worth going in to have a look at the building and scraping some coins together to have a coffee at the adjoined café with all the other hipsters.

9. Enjoy Tuesday, Thursday or Friday at Sundays! (Any day really…) 

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Sundays on a Thursday!

Sundays Beach Club is the relaxation-lovers dream and is set on the white sand of the Bukit Peninsula (which is a couple of hours drive from Seminyak). The best part of visiting this exclusive beach club is  arguably the cable car ride down which, while a little daunting, showcases pristine waters and the impressive Balinese architecture of the club. Admittedly it’s an expensive day out so make sure you buy a day pass and stay as long as you can to get your money’s worth!

10. Indulge in Vegetarian & Vegan Heaven at Earth Café & Market 

 

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Earth Café & Market located in Seminyak and Ubud 

 

Vegetarians – Imagine a place where you can eat absolutely everything on the menu! This place will send any vegetarian’s head into a spin thanks to its multitude of delicious meat free offerings. On both occasions that I’ve visited Bali I’ve raced to my favourite local eatery – Earth Café and Market and ordered way too much food.  If you don’t know what to have, order a few things and indulge a little. The burrito comes highly recommended and don’t forget to sample one of their bespoke juices and smoothies.

11. Swim like a fish at Jungle Fish 

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Perched in beautiful surrounds, Jungle Fish is the jungle’s answer to a beach club and offers pure relaxation just outside of the main stretch of Ubud. Get in early to secure yourself  a poolside deck chair and spend the day flicking through the pages of a book and ordering cocktails. Don’t forget to float around in the pool listening to the hum of The Girl from Ipanema and practising your Latin dance moves under water (trust us, it’s fun!).

That’s it from me – I’m looking forward to returning to Bali to expand my list for next time! What do you love about Bali?

 

 

Luxury Review: Adelphi Hotel, Melbourne

Tucked away in Flinders Lane just a stone’s throw from iconic Flinders Street Station in the heart of Melbourne, you will discover Adelphi Hotel, arguably the most perfect boutique city accommodation ever to exist.

As you walk through the entrance of Adelphi, prepare to be blown away by the vibrant reception area; a sweet treat for the eyes. Admire the swinging chairs, liquorice all-sort stools and cutting-edge artwork as you wait for your welcome drink to be brought to you by the all-too-welcoming reception staff. With 24 hour reception, you can arrive at any hour and be welcomed with a warm smile.

Soon you will find that your bags are whisked away and you’re being shown through the most quirky hotel room you’ve ever seen. Choose from the Comfy Twin, Plush King room all the way through to the uber impressive Palatial Suite. The Adelphi is the ultimate getaway destination for couples or anyone looking for a weekend of fun in the city with friends.

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The sleek bathroom in the Plush King boasts a stainless steel double vanity harbouring luxury amenities, a bath and shower (and a hair dryer for those who can’t stand the thought of venturing into a public place with damp hair!)

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As you progress further into the Plush King room you will find a living area that has been poached from the glossy cover of a lifestyle magazine. The living area is decked out with a charming couch and lamp, a king-size bed, 40-inch flat screen LED TV and most importantly, a welcome jar crammed to the brink with sugary treats guaranteed to give you the sweetest of dreams (don’t worry it is completely free and replenished daily!) Think coconut ice, liquorice and sugar coated jellies! Sugarholics are undoubtedly catered for at sweet Adelphi.

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In your bar fridge you will find a range of complimentary drinks and caffeine addicts are well catered for thanks to the sleek Lavazza Amodo Mio Coffee machine provided in each room.

In the morning, enjoy your Apelles luxury amenities in the shower before exploring this hidden gem of a hotel. Don’t hesitate to take a quick detour to Level 8 to cast your eyes upon the urban glory of the rooftop pool. Even in the colder months, you won’t want to miss a quick sneak peak.

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At Adelphi you are ideally based to explore the gems of Melbourne’s CBD. Enjoy a quick breakfast at the hotel or venture out to explore the quirky laneway culture that Melbourne is famous for. The friendly staff will be the first to encourage you to indulge in the surrounding café culture home to prime dining experiences and boutique shopping.

Perhaps one of the highlights of the hotel is the in-house dessert bar, Om Nom, where you will wrap your lips around indulgent sweet treats sure to add centimetres to your wasteline. Sink your spoon into the renowned ChocolaTerrarium comprised of cinnamon sugared churros, chocolate ‘gravel’, pistachio + chocolate sponge, chocolate icecream, valhrona manjari 64% mousse + milk foam! The staff recommend the Apple Tatin and the Mango Alphonso. Sample the Raspberry Field (shown below) which is a sight for sore eyes and a refreshing break from the chocolate overload. If your less of a sweet-tooth, Om Nom has a range of savoury dinner options and don’t forget that Flinders Lane is overflowing with culinary delights.

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Enjoy your dessert with an expresso martini before retiring to your room to capitalise on the free movies available. As part of the turn-down service, you will be greeted with a delightfully-flavoured macaron by your bed – the most pleasant of nightcaps!

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After indulging in the cosiest of weekend escapes, you will be offered a take away candy bag to sweeten your goodbye!

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Stay at Adelphi Hotel and enjoy a unique accommodation encounter right in the heart of the city.

Luxury Review: Weekend Delights at Pumphouse Point, Lake St Clair

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Photo Credit: Justin Springer

Nestled in the pure heart of Tasmania’s untamed wilderness, luxury seekers will discover the startling beauty of award-winning Pumphouse Point. The boutique accommodation, once an operating pumphouse for the Hydro, is perched at the edge of an impressive jetty on Lake St Clair and offers absolutely everything in the way of a rejuvenating (and somewhat indulgent) retreat. As you navigate down the scenic gravel road on the way to your final destination, the sight of the Pumphouse in its grand position on the lake will momentarily steal your breath away and certainly capture your heart.

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Photo Credit: Justin Springer

On arrival, you will enter the cosy reception area decked out with a fire and plush couches. A glass of Tasmanian Ninth Island bubbly will soon be in your hand while you get to know your fellow travel companions and the welcoming staff. Soon after you have comfortably finished the final sip of your champagne, your suitcases will be loaded in the back of a buggy and you will commence the swift but stunning journey down the jetty to the grand entrance of the Pumphouse or just moments away to the Shorehouse, the alternative onsite accommodation that proves just as impressive. The exterior of each accommodation may still have it’s rustic and somewhat industrial charm but don’t be disappointed, just wait for what is in store inside.

DSC02861DSC02765On each level the Pumphouse is a shared but chic living area showcasing a mesmerizing view of Lake St Clair, sparking like a diamond in the afternoon sun. The real highlight of the orientation is stepping into your room for the first time and resting your eyes upon that view: that spectacular view of Lake St Clair that will leave you wondering how you could ever drag yourself away to explore the surrounding area. The staff say any room will do if you’re in the market for a view (featured here is the top floor of the Pumphouse).

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DSC02769The interior of the Pumphouse, designed by talented Cumulus Studio in Hobart, is a sight to behold. From the simple but rustic light fittings to the fantastic original pipes in the bathroom, you will be impressed by the superb attention to detail.

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The room features a plush bed, TV, bathroom with a view, sweeping views of the lake and your very own larder stocked with local cheese, cured meats and a variety of Tasmanian delights. Take some time to snap some photos and spend a few hours doing absolutely nothing other than staring at that view and exploring the shores of the lake.

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Photo Credit: Justin Springer

DSC03095The accommodation offers a unique dining experience for $50 per head that may, at first, deter the more introverted traveller. The shared dining experience gives you the chance to get to know your fellow Pumphouse (and Shorehouse) neighbours and you will dine side-by-side eating generous shared plates. This is perhaps the most controversial but enjoyable aspects of the accommodation – you will soon find that you are sitting next to someone with shared interests and a mutual love for Tasmania. Watch as the resident wombat, Zara, traipses past the window  and enjoy the view of the sun sinking over the lake. Don’t be scared of shared dining, it is truly a highlight of the experience and vegetarians are extremely well catered for.

After dinner or during the day, make the most of the unique honesty bar system on the first floor of the Pumphouse and Shorehouse, which allows you to sample some of the state’s finest wine and whisky – all you have to do is mark down your drinks and the total will be tallied on departure. After an intense day of exploring the beauty of Lake St Clair and surrounds, indulge in an afternoon by the fire, sipping a G&T and watching the lake dance before your eyes. Borrow the cheese board from your room and set up a picnic in the communal area  – no one will mind!

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Photo Credit: Justin Springer

By night, make sure your curtains are fully open so you can wake up to the view of the lake ebbing and flowing with local birds soaring just outside your window. The breakfast spread, like dinner, is complimentary and served in the dining room in the Shorehouse. Enjoy mixed muesli, fresh bread and cheese, mouth-watering homemade baked beans and eggs. Each table has its own pot of leatherwood honey – a local Tassie specialty! Order yourself a freshly baked loaf of bread for lunch and then make your way back to the Pumphouse to simply sit, breathe and admire that wonderful view of Lake St Clair.

Pumphouse Point is a boutique accommodation experience like no other and is a must for anyone looking for a unique weekend away in my beautiful home state of Tasmania. A big thanks to Beck for making the experience one to remember and for showing me my first wombat! 

HOT TIP! Book in advance, this place has been booking out for months and availability over the weekend is limited until mid next year.

 

 

 

 

5 Must Have South American Encounters

A couple of years ago I spent 4 wonderful months exploring South America as part of my round the world backpacking adventure. This continent was truly awakening, from the mesmerising landscapes, friendly locals and ancient wonders. If you’re visiting this corner of the globe, do yourself a favour and don’t miss out on the following encounters:

The Galapagos Islands, Ecuador 

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If you’re in search of the worlds most unique encounters than a visit to the Galapagos Islands should be at the top of your travel bucket list. This volcanic archipelago in the Pacific Ocean offers the ultimate (and I mean ultimate) wildlife viewing experience and inspired Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. Swim side by side with Galapagos sea lions (the labradors of the Galapagos), come face to face with a Blue Footed Booby and experience the cycle of life like you never have before. To really get a feel for the islands, take a boat tour for at least 5 days to understand just how diverse and spectacular this archipelago is.

Machu Picchu, Peru 

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Machu Picchu may just be one of the most breathtaking sights I have ever encountered whilst travelling. After a six day trek through the Salkantay mountains I was bowled over by the sight of this ancient Incan citadel perched high in the Andes Mountains. The ruins offer unique insight into the ancient life of Incans, full of sacrifice and survival. Make the most of the day by arriving at sunrise and staying into the late afternoon when the tourists disperse and you can marvel at the ruins all by yourself. Don’t be disheartened by Aguas Calientes, the launching pad for exploring the ruins – the town is characterless and designed for tourists but nevertheless provides a convenient base for exploring.

Lake Titicaca, Peru/Bolivia 

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At an elevation of 3,812 metres this natural South American attraction will literally take your breath away. The highest navigable lake on the globe is best experienced from Isla Del Sol in Bolivia or the town of Puno on the Peruvian side. Take the short boat trip from Copacabana in Bolivia to visit Isle Del Sol and admire the snow-capped Andes mountain range appearing from behind the lake in the distance.

The Colca Canyon, Peru 

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Nestled in Southern Peru you will discover the Colca Canyon, one of the country’s most visited tourist attractions and considered among the deepest canyons in the world. It is best accessed from the vibrant town of Arequipa and you can complete the walk in 2 or 3 days. Along the way you will encounter indigenous villages and awe-inspiring panoramic views. Finish the trek at one of the basic hostels offering a natural spring (featured above). The spectacular mountain views and refreshing springs are worth the absence of electricity. Go off the grid for a while!

Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay 

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Nestled on the picture-perfect Rio de la Plata in Uruguay, Colonia del Sacramento may just be one of the prettiest towns on the planet and is a maze of cobbled streets, historic architecture and perfectly placed wagon wheels, pot plants and vintage cars. You only need a day or two to explore but the journey is well worth it. You can catch a bus to the town from the capital of Montevideo (a fascinating destination in itself!)

Do’s and Don’ts for Visiting South America:

Do!

  • Get travel insurance. This continent definitely has an edge and it’s not worth taking the risk of not having cover.
  • Do your research and get the appropriate vaccinations. Some countries will quarantine travellers on the way back into the country if they haven’t had the yellow fever vaccination (Australia is one of these countries).
  • Gradually acclimatise at high altitudes and drink plenty of cacao tea, great for helping with the altitude.
  • Catch overnight buses  –  they have fantastic bus systems in South America with a dining service and reclining seats! Do your research on the company before travelling.
  • Learn some basic Spanish, a little bit can go a long way!
  • Smile! The locals are incredibly friendly and a smile cuts through any language barrier.
  • If you have the freedom and flexibility, book your tours in the country to save middle-man mark ups.

Don’t!

  • Wear jewellery or flash around your camera. There is a time and a place and this trip ain’t worth you becoming a victim of theft.
  • Panic. The country is full of friendly locals willing and ready to lend a helping hand. Just be smart about who you ask (usually people that work in the hostel/restaurants are great people to ask for directions or suggestions on where to go)
  • Travel alone in unregistered taxis. Take down the details of your driver. Unfortunately taxi crime and assault is quite prominent in many South American cities.
  • Forget your camera!

Over to you! What are your favourite South American destinations and encounters? Let me know in the comments below! 

My Story: how I came to love travel the way I do

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The strange thing about me is that I’m a travel addict terrified of airplanes. It baffles most people I tell. I’m so terrified, in fact, that I still make myself sick for up to a week before I go anywhere. When I was 17,  I couldn’t stomach the thought of spending 14 hours on a plane so I passed up on a family holiday to San Fransisco – back then the idea of travel was more of a total avoid-at-all-costs nightmare than anything to look forward to, thanks to my fear of flying.

That all changed when I started planning a year long trip back in 2010. Something about the idea of a year away appealed to the inner adventurer starting to take shape inside of me. At some unidentified point between my teenage years and early twenties I felt a fiery spark of change. I wanted to break free and see the whole wide world in all its glory. I spent many nights back then googling images of foreign lands and planning my upcoming adventures based on pretty pictures, good vibes and a desire to be part of something completely different to the world I had inhabited for the past 21 years.

For 11 months of my life I slept in a different hostel bed every few nights, living out of an over-packed backpack with grotty clothing and wild, untamed hair. I was the ‘typical’ Aussie backpacker kinda’ gal that most people would never have associated me with before 2011. I wore hiking boots and jeans for over 200 days of the year. I carried a 25 kilo backpack throughout busy city streets, was on a plane every other week (much to my horror) and forced myself to encounter situations that made me acutely anxious (like walking through an abandoned town in Ireland as it was evacuated due to a bomb threat – perfectly safe, according to the local guide who seemed to know the rules better than the local authorities). I’m a highly anxious person so most weeks I was thrown into a situation 210% out of my comfort zone. But it was exhilarating. It was freeing.

I wish I could describe the pure magic of those 11 months in the confines of this blog post. The things I saw, the people I met, the freedom I felt but it’s impossible to put into words. I could be accused of having an incurable case of travel nostalgia about that year. A year that I will never, in my life, forget. Here are just a few highlights:

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Then, as all stories have the next chapter, one spring day the wheels hit the runway and I arrived home and soon found that my life just wasn’t the same anymore. At some point I had developed an addiction. An addiction to travel. An addiction to foreign places and new experiences and to some extent I had become a total adrenaline junkie. Routine just wasn’t doing it for me anymore. I thought I’d settle back down but the years past and I still looked for every possible chance to escape into the world. Every year since I’ve been somewhere different – Vietnam, Bali, back to Europe again.

I thought by now – 5 years later – that the addiction would have faded but it has only gotten worse. I find routine to be like a bowl of plain soggy weetbix – bland and sometimes unpleasant. Don’t get me wrong,  I still make the most of life and embrace the fun but I am totally restless. I feel about as suited to an office job as a bird to a cage. I spend 90% of my free time liking travel photos on instagram and living vicariously through other travel bloggers living the ultimate dream of making a living from travelling the world.

I’ve become that crazy travel addict girl. My mind often wanders from what it should be thinking about to dreamed up images of places I’ve never seen before. Travelling the world was one of the best things I have ever done (and continue to do within the confines of 4 weeks a year) but it has changed me. It has made me more adaptable to change than I ever believed I could be. It has made me confident and willing to try new things. It has made me independent and passionate. It has made me believe in overcoming anxiety and living a more free life.

So, I suppose that’s my travel story. I wasn’t always a traveller but now I just don’t see how I could ever aspire to be anything else. I used to expect I would have a long career. Now I just aspire to work to travel and one day I might just find myself completely lost in the world of travel all over again.

10 Must-Have Parisian Experiences & Adventures

There’s something about Paris – isn’t there?

Perhaps it’s the scent of  just-baked crispy baguettes wafting through the air, the faultlessly fashion-conscious locals or because it’s home to the world’s most iconic man-made structure of romance, la tour Eiffel. I’ve visited twice now and each time I’ve been sucked into a whirlwind of romantic adventure, like someone that just met the love of her life for the first time. There’s romance practically oozing out from between the cracks in the cobblestone streets and the narrow boutique-lined back alleys. I’ve heard some people say it’s just like any old ‘big dirty’ city, but the hardcore romantic inside of me refuses to believe that. Here are 10 must-have Parisian experiences and adventures that will convince you that Paris is worth a golden spot at the top of your European itinerary. Don’t listen to the cynics!

1. Discover ‘Secret Paris’ with Intrepid 

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If you really want to get off-the-beaten-path, behind the front stage scenes of this world-famous city, book yourself on a tour that will let you know its best-kept secrets straight from the lips of a local. Intrepid’s ‘Secret Paris’ tour starts early in the morning at Place de la Concorde. Over 3 hours you will traipse through the charismatic back-streets of Paris and sample macaroons from a world-class food shop,  become a cheese connoisseur at a fromagerie and bump shoulder to shoulder with the locals at a bustling market.  ‘Secret Paris’ is ideal for anyone seeking to take a step off the well-worn tourist path into the heart of truly local Parisian life and was designed by a local Parisian that studied in Melbourne. Oh, and the macaroons are the best I’ve ever had.

2. Pick a candle-lit restaurant with cosy romantic corners 

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Paris is overflowing with cosy candle-lit corners perfect for a romantic night out with that special someone (or someones!) Bring out your travel wardrobe’s finest and be ready to be wined and dined on the finest of French cuisine. For a true French encounter don’t miss the traditional favourites of escargo, soupe a l’oignan, salade nicoise, creme brulee and mille-feuille. My favourite night in Paris was spent at Le Coupe Chou in the charming suburb of St Germain. Highly recommended!

3. Get lost in the Gardens of Versailles 

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Just a short train ride from the centre of Paris you will discover a true Garden of Eden and one of my favourite destinations in the world, the breathtaking Gardens of Versailles situated to the west of the Palace of Versailles and covering an impressive 800 hectares of land. These stunningly landscaped gardens are a pleasure to wander through and are even more impressive on the days where the fountains are in full swing – enjoy!

4. Experience spectacular metropolitan views from Arc de Triomphe 

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A first-time visit to Paris wouldn’t be complete without experiencing Arc de Triomphe, one of the city’s most famous monuments. It’s definitely worth purchasing a ticket to the top where you will encounter majestic vistas of the city including the magnetic Eiffel Tower. Here you will see the 12 avenues stretching out before you in all their glorious symmetry. Afterwards wander at your leisure down the Champs-Elysees for some luxury window-shopping and the odd indulgence or two!

5. Absorb the wonder of Place de la Concorde 

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The Place de la Concorde is Paris’ largest public square and offers a beautiful fountain and an impressive view of the Eiffel Tower. This square is located at the eastern end of the Champs-Elysees and is surrounded by streets boasting boutique bag stores and local coffee shops. Travellers tip: avoid sitting down in the cafes, drink like a local at the bar where the espressos are just a quarter of the price.

6. Get lost in the Louvre and explore Jardin des Tuileries 

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This may be a crime to admit but exploring Jardin des Tuileries is almost more exciting than experiencing inside the Louvre itself. Of course any inaugural visit to Paree simply must include a day spent at the Louvre (if only to marvel at how small the Mona Lisa painting really is in reality!) Afterwards, spend some time lounging on the iconic green chairs in Jardin des Tuileries people watching and admiring the fare of local artists lining the pavement.

7. Treat your taste-buds to the world’s best hot chocolate at Angelina’s

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Located just a hop, skip and a jump from Jardin des Tuileries you will discover one of the city’s most famous institutions: The House Angelina, a cafe dating back to 1903. Save an hour of your day to drink out of quaint china cups and admire the impeccably dressed waiters and absolutely beautiful decor of the restaurant. Do your taste-buds a favour and savour the hot chocolate for as long as you can.

8. Set your eyes upon the Notre Dam 

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Whether you visit day or night, the Notre Dam Cathedral is an iconic Parisian attraction that should at least be seen during your visit (if even from a distance!) To see the cathedral lit up in all its glory, take a short stroll to one of the iconic lock bridges for an unforgettable photo.

9. Spend some time just staring at the Eiffel Tower

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You know for sure that you are in Paris when your eyes lock with the Eiffel Tower for the first time. Whether you see it as an ugly structure ruining the city skyline or the world’s greatest symbol of romance, it surely is something. Climb the tower for great city views or grab yourself the most indulgent nutella crepe in the world and indulge while you admire it from Place de Trocadéro (night is a great time for viewings here as you can see the structure lit up in all its flashing glory!)

10. Wander, wander, wander 

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Paris is one of my favourite city’s to explore by foot thanks to its amazing boutique fashion stores, idyllic arcades,  tree-lined streets, old-world architecture, charismatic locals and enticing local eateries. One of my favourite strolls is along the River Seine where you can absorb the magic of being in Paris.

I have somehow managed to get it down to 10 but Paris is full of charms and surprises aplenty. Some other highlights include the renowned Moulin Rouge, Sacre Cour and Le Marais. Whatever you choose to do during your stay, it is for sure that you’ll over-indulge in macaroons, be awe-struck by the architecture and learn a thing or two from the confidence of the locals. 

Top Encounters: What to do in Vietnam

This time last year I was packing for a four week adventure to Vietnam, one of the most alive countries on the globe. Everything about this South-East Asian escape was  wonderfully overwhelming from the drool-worthy local cuisine to the astonishing green landscapes. These encounters will make sure that you experience the best of Vietnam on your next holiday there (how about you book today?)

Take a boat trip down the Mekong

If you’re visiting Saigon and the south of the country then a visit to the Mekong Delta, the ‘rice bowl of Vietnam’, is a must. Here you can explore an extensive maze of rivers, swamps and floating markets. A popular option is to take a 2 day boat tour and disembark along the way at points of interest. The best part of the experience is sitting back with the tropical breeze caressing your cheeks, witnessing the unique way of life on the river and admiring the charismatic shanties and the jewel green landscape. Jump on board fresh produce boats at Cai Rang Floating Market to try some of the freshest fruit on offer in the world – the pineapple comes highly recommended.

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Learn about the fine art of Vietnamese cooking in Hoi An

Hoi An may just be one of the most scenic destinations on earth and it’s practically a rite of passage for anyone setting foot on the shores of Vietnam. This perfectly formed and chaotic ancient town offers a myriad of delicious ‘foodie’ opportunities including local cooking classes that teach you the fine-art of purchasing the best produce, preparing it and throwing it all together to create a masterpiece. Most tours start with a trip to the local market where you will be overwhelmed by what is on offer (if you have a quesy stomach then this may not be for you!) Purchase the finest local seafood and ingredients and then catch a boat to your cooking school destination. For the best cooking classes in Hoi An, try Red Bridge Cooking School, Thuan Tinh Island Cooking Tour or complete a cooking class through Morning Glory, the town’s most famous restaurant.

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Walk among the rice terraces

The image of Vietnam is synonymous  with shimmering green rice terraces and locals toiling tirelessly to harvest them in traditional straw hats. You will find rice fields and terraces dotted around the country but for an unbeatable experience, head north from Hanoi on the train to the region of Sapa, known for its lush rice fields at every turn. Book a hiking tour in advance and spend 2-3 days exploring the region. Along the way you will meet some of the most amazing ethnic minority groups, each with their own traditional garb and rich beliefs as well as local water buffalo and farm animals.

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Drink the coffee

It may not be the first place you think of when considering the best coffee in the world but thanks to its French history, Vietnamese coffee is a must try. Any of the major cities or small rural towns have options aplenty. Just have a chat to the locals to find out where to go. The local coffee is famously sweet due to it being combined with condensed milk. For a unique coffee experience, find yourself an ‘egg coffee’ – coffee made of egg yolks, sugar, condensed milk and coffee – delicious!

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Kick back by the water

One of the most alluring aspects of visiting Vietnam is the chance to lap up the tropical climate by the beach. The country is home to vast resorts offering everything in the way of affordable luxury. Some of the best beach side places to visit include Mui Ne, Nha Trang, Phu Quoc Island and Con Dao Island. Enjoy!

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Take in the history 

If there’s one thing for certain it’s that Vietnam has more history than childhood sweethearts. When you arrive in Saigon, don’t miss a trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels, a network of underground tunnels  that were the location of several military campaigns during the Vietnam War. Gain insight into the life of the Viet Cong fighters and experience the tunnels yourselves to find out exactly how confined the conditions were. For more ancient history, discover a cluster of abandoned Hindu temples outside of Hoi An at My Son constructed between the 4th and 14th century AD or visit Hue, originally the national capital from 1802 – 1945 and home to the Imperial Palace.

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So what are you waiting for? Now is the time! Find yourself a flight and start planning for your Vietnamese adventure today. You only live once!

Wow Factor! The Most Amazing Places I’ve Stayed

This wide world is home to some pretty amazing accommodation experiences and I’ve been lucky enough to stay in some of them during my travels. I’ve certainly roughed it out in hostels but also lapped life up at breathtaking resorts offering that wow factor. Sometimes, half the fun of going to foreign destinations is researching what is on offer in terms of quirky accommodation that truly offers a once in a lifetime encounter. My guilty pleasure is indulging in the odd luxury or two. Here are some accommodation highlights from my travel experiences – trust me, once you discover the world of unique accommodation it’s virtually impossible not to get completely addicted.

Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort, Finland

Prepare yourself for the ultimate winter-wonderland, my wanderlusting friends. This accommodation offers a range of charming log cabins and iconic glass igloos – for the ultimate experience at Kakslauttanen, spend at least one night at each accommodation type. You won’t want to miss cosying up in your very own sauna in the log cabin or witnessing the spectacular Northern light show from the comfort of your electric reclining bed in your very own glass igloo – enjoy! 

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Six Senses Resort Ninh Van Bay, Vietnam

This may just be the most luxurious place I’ve stayed. Six Senses Ninh Van Bay located off the coast of Nha Trang in Vietnam offers everything and more to those who simply want to relax and indulge in the finer things in life. The resort provides its guests with a private butler, champagne on arrival and a daily fruit platter. The Water Villa itself is a truly sight to behold with a brilliant infinity pool overlooking the bay and direct access to the reef below. The villa has a rustic wooden interior with a stand-alone bath overlooking the bay where you can watch the clouds sweep in. Other highlights of the resort include the romantic cruise, wine cave experience and in-room dining.

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Posada Los Mapches Hostel, Mexico

When you think of a typical hostel, it’s not likely that a tree house springs to mind. Posada Los Mapaches in Tulum on the Quintana Roo coast of Mexico is one of the most amazing hostels I’ve stumbled across. For an extremely affordable rate you are provided with rustic shared tree-house accommodation, bikes to explore the local area and a home-cooked breakfast to fuel you for the day. Sleep amid the trees and watch out for the neighbouring coati creatures that may try and pull your hair!

Komaneka Tanggayuda, Bali

Nestled amongst the forest in Bali’s tranquil region of Ubud, Komaneka Tanggayuda offers the ultimate relaxation opportunity. On arrival you will be introduced to your personal assistant and shown around the manicured, exotic grounds. The highlight of the accommodation experience is the breathtaking infinity pool at the forest’s edge and the deluxe pool valley villas that have everything you need for a comfortable stay.

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Hotel Sint Nicolaas, Amsterdam

Located in the heart of Amsterdam, Hotel Sint Nicolaas offers quaint accommodation just a hop, skip and jump from the train station and key sights of this picture-perfect city (perhaps even my favourite city in the world). The hotel stands out due to its quirky artwork and simple yet charming breakfast/reception area  with a lovely old world atmosphere.

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Photo by JSprings Photography

Six Senses Con Dao Island 

I’m a big fan of the Six Senses chain due to their ability to make luxury seem at one with nature. Six Senses Con Dao offered the ultimate chilled out getaway with a beautiful infinity pool overlooking the beach, an amazingly comfortable bed and two spacious levels to just relax and drink in the  beauty of the ocean view. The intimate resort offers a deluxe spa and onsite restaurant serving a mouth-watering variety of cuisines.

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Karma Jimbaran Resort

Surrounded by immaculately manicured gardens that are maintained by ever-smiling staff, Karma Jimbaran is the perfect Balinese accommodation option located in Jimbaran Bay. The Valley Pool Villa has spectacular valley views and covers an expansive area complete and has four ensuite bedrooms and a living area. Wake early to make the most of the sunrise viewing deck – yep, it’s a thing!

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Topas Ecolodge

Be prepared to have your breath stolen by spectacular sweeping views. Here you will feel like you are walking with your head among the clouds and your feet floating a metre off the ground. Situated on a beautiful hilltop surrounded by rice paddies just 18 kilometres from the popular tourist hub of Sapa in Vietnam, Topas EcoLodge offers 25 mountain bungalows built as rustic chalet-style single bed houses with wooden decks offering magnificent views. Base yourself at this amazing hotel to explore the surrounding area and its beautiful ethnic minorities.

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Hotel Atmospheres, Paris 

Located in the chic student suburb of Saint Germain in Paris, Hotel Atmospheres is the first art-gallery hotel in the city. Reception offers a retro honesty bar and cute resting area with a charming courtyard. The rooms are small but perfectly formed, with some offering views of the streets of Paris below. This hotel makes the list for its beautiful interior and decorations and great location near traditional French restaurants and the iconic Notre Dame Cathedral.

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Shinta Mani Club, Cambodia

Shinta Mani has been voted by Trip Advisor as the third best hotel in the world. After a three day stay there I can now see why. The staff are at your every beck and call (uncomfortably so!) and happy to share information about their local culture. The resort has a homely touch, amazing food and beautiful rooms incorporating elements of local design. After a hard day of exploring the local ruins, Shinta Mani Club is the perfect Cambodian home-base to return to.

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That’s it from me! What are your favourite accommodation experiences? I would love to hear about them below!

Exploring Angkor Wat and the Temples of Cambodia

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Imagine staring at the blackness of the Cambodian sky, waiting for the first beams of sunrise to reveal the silhouette of  an ancient empire. Your 4 am exhaustion is all but forgotten and the anticipation grows with every minute approaching sunrise. For a moment, you are simply a witness of the past and as the monks begin their daily pilgrimage from the largest religious monument in the world, you feel like you have been transported back in time to an ancient world  – a stark contrast to everything you’ve ever known. You’re once again reminded that you travel for moments exactly like this where you are temporarily lost in time. 

Angkor Wat

I’m confident to say that Angkor Wat may just be one of the most impressive ancient sites I’ve encountered during my globe-trotting. We (my partner Justin and I) reluctantly dragged our jet-lagged selves from the comfort of our king-size bed at Shinta Mani Club in the heart of Siem Reap at the less than impressive time of 3 am to encounter a traveller’s rite of passage: sunrise at majestic Angkor Wat.

Shinta Mani Club organised us a half-day tour with a local driver and tour guide. We were collected from the accommodation at 4 am and navigated through the dark, sparsely populated streets past local Tuk Tuks on the way to an ancient wonder originally founded as a Hindu temple for the Khmer Empire before transforming into a Buddhist temple at the end of the 12th century.

It was October at the time of our visit, the height of the wet season, which meant the promise of a heart-stopping, colourful sunrise was slim to none but we were hopeful nonetheless. We stopped on the way into the ruins to have our photo taken for our day temple pass ($20 USD each).

Instead of following the hordes through the main gate into the ruin, our local guide turned left as soon as we arrived and took a seat on a stone wall in front of the lake. I was skeptical of our location but our guide assured us that we were in for a prime viewing experience. He explained that he often came to the exact spot  on his days off to watch the sunrise.  It was pitch black at the time and I didn’t know which direction to look in but as the first rays of the sun appeared from the clouds we were moved to our feet, marveling at one of the most spectacular ancient treasures in the world across the lake, imagining the days when the Khmer emperor walked in and out of its grandiose entrance flanked by elephants.

We ate our breakfast picnic packed by the hotel whilst admiring the sheer beauty of the UNESCO world heritage listed site. Unfortunately, we missed out on the full effects of an Angkor sunrise spectacular due to the time of year but we were still hypnotized by the phenomenon occurring before us.

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Photo Cred: Justin Springer

As soon as the sun had settled in the grey sky, thousands of tourists poured out of the ruins. Our guide explained that this time of the morning was the best time to venture inside as once the tourists left after sunrise to have breakfast, you could enjoy the entire site almost to yourself. Tourists flocked back around midday when the humidity was at its most formidable.

We ventured leisurely into the ruins, learning about the history of Angkor Wat. We were almost alone in our viewing of the temple. Sunlight slithered through the heavy rain clouds and cast a beautiful pattern on the lily-pond before us.

DSC01620As we wandered past ancient walls and intricately crafted stone-work the humidity continued to intensify and our guide explained the story of the art-work and of ancient battles.

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After exploring Angkor Wat for 3 hours, we left at 7 am to continue our day of exploration of the other local ruins.For the remainder of the day we temple-hopped between Cambodia’s most spectacular ancient sites including:

The Baphuon

Part of the ancient city of Angkor Thom, the Baphuon is a climbing challenge if nothing else! The steps are extremely narrow and left me feeling a sense of intense achievement for facing my fear of heights! The view from the top of the ruins was well worth the climb.

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The Bayon

Perhaps one of the most beautiful ruin complexes we saw that day, the Bayon is known for having approximately 200 faces carved into the stone. The temple is condensed and jam-packed with tourists at all times of day but is well-worth a visit for the charming tight passages and the happy smiling faces that have lasted the test of time.

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Photo cred: Justin Springer

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Ta Prohm

This charming temple has been blessed by time thanks to the many tree branches that have wound their way around the ruins. Used for part of the set in the Tomb Raider movie, Ta Prohm is extremely popular with tourists so it’s a good idea to take your photo opportunities while you can! As you wander through this magical ancient place, you will feel like you’ve stepped into an alternate universe.

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Terrace of the Elephants

Part of the walled city of Angkor Thom, the 1000 foot Terrace of the Elephants was used by Angkor’s king Jayavarman V11 as a platform to view his victorious returning army. Don’t hesitate to marvel at the intricately stone-carved elephants that line the terrace.

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Photo cred: Justin Springer

We completed our Cambodian temple adventure at midday (after 8 hours of exploring) and spent the remainder of the day lounging by the pool at our resort. The heat at noon was intense and we narrowly missed a ferocious thunderstorm. If you are visiting in the wet-season, local guides highly recommend finishing your tour by midday and then re-visiting in the late afternoon if you have time, especially if you want to see an iconic sunset at Ta Prohm.

Exploring the ruins of Cambodia was one of the most exhilarating activities I’ve encountered during my travels. Don’t hesitate to marvel at Cambodia’s ancient temples the next time you find yourself planning a journey to exotic South East Asia.

Where to Go When You Just Don’t Know

I simply love travel and often offer my friends and family unsolicited advice on where to go when they embark on an overseas adventure from Australia. Here are some of my favourite travel destinations  that are great holiday options and offer everything in the way of culture, nature, culinary heaven, friendly locals and rich history.

Ireland

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Lush green rolling pastures, fresh air, pubs in the middle of nowhere offering prime live and local music; you will have all this and more when you visit Europe’s emerald haven of Ireland. The best way to see the country is to hire a car and complete a loop, making time to experience the highlights of both Northern Ireland and the Republic. Everwhere you go you will discover friendly locals willing to go out of their way to enhance your stay. For an unforgettable experience don’t miss a tour of the haunting murals in Belfast, the breathtaking Giant’s Causeway, Kylemore Abbey, the Ring of Kerry and of course, the vibrant and lively city of Dublin. But, don’t be afraid to get off the beaten path to stumble across ancient castle ruins and silent lakes.If you’re a passionate trekker, walk the spectacular Wicklow Way in County Wicklow (featured above), a 7 day walk that will linger in your memory long after you return.

Plan for at least 2 – 3 weeks to see the highlights of the country and be ready to immerse yourself in a mythic wonderland with green, green everywhere.

Vietnam

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Anyone looking to awaken their senses and feel alive will simply adore Vietnam. I often say that this South East Asian country offers total sensory overload and has some of the best food in the world. If it’s your first visit be sure to stop by the alluring coastal town of Hoi An to encounter one of the world’s most beautiful ancient towns or the chaos of Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. To escape the hustle and bustle of Vietnamese life, take a tour down the peaceful Mekong River, trek amongst the rice fields in Sapa or stay at one of the popular resorts in Nha Trang. Eat as much as you can and drink in the beautiful chaos that is Vietnam. You will return home feeling refreshed, informed and ready to return.

Peru 

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Hola! This popular South America destination is at the top of my list of favourite countries. It is the home to the sacred ruins of Machu Picchu, the jaw-dropping Colca Canyon and Puno, a great place to view Lake Titicaca at an impressive surface elevation of 3,812 metres. Peru is one of the easiest places to visit in South America (along with Argentina and Chile) and has a convenient luxury bus system to deliver you safely from destination to destination. If you’re on a budget but desperate to hike to Machu Picchu, choose the Salkantay Trek over the Inca Trail as it has better availability and is less than a quarter of the price at around $180 USD for a five day trek.

Germany 

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Maybe it’s because I studied German for 8 years, but there is something alluring about this country. It’s full of fairytalesque castles, culture-packed cities, picture-perfect towns and mouth-watering carbohydrate-packed foods. Budget for at least 2 -4 weeks in this diverse country and don’t miss a visit to the cultured metropolis of Berlin, traditional Munich, picture-perfect and romantic Rottenburg Ob Der Tauber or laidback Cologne. Food wise, don’t miss a Bretzel or two and the traditional Weiss Bier. Take a sobering insight into the past at the concentration camp, Dachau, located just a short drive from Munich.

Mexico

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Before I flew into Mexico from the UK, I was terrified – imagining streets packed with gun-carrying, drug crazy locals. I was wrong (thanks to the media). The country has a thriving heartbeat and no shortage of mouth-watering cuisine and colourful, vibrant towns and cities. If you want beach, culture and food then you will find it all here. Don’t miss out on a visit to Oaxaca, Mexico City, Puebla and the spectacular coastal town of Tulum with iconic Mayan ruins perched on the cliff (featured above).

China 
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Those who read my blog will know that the Great Wall of China is perhaps one of the most awe inspiring sights that I ever did see. A visit to this country can cause a slight culture shock at first but once you overcome this you will be blown away by its fascinating culture, bustling cities and unique history. Highlights of China include the charming town of Lijiang in Yunan Province and the nearby Tiger Leaping Gorge as well as Xian and Beijing. If you’re visiting China over the winter months (as I did) don’t hesitate to head to the border of Russia where you will find the town of Harbin: a true winter wonderland home to the ice festival (don’t forget to pack your thermals!)

Over to you! What’s your favourite country in the world?