Travel stories, tips and suggestions for travel in Asia

By Leila Dorari

The island nation of Japan might not seem as the ideal winter getaway but you’d be surprised to find out what it has to offer to prospective skiers and snowboarders. Of course, you don’t have to be a professional to ski in Japan, nor do you have to know how to ski at all, as there is always time to learn during Japan’s ski season while enjoying off-piste activities. After all, if you are traveling to The “Land of the Rising Sun”, there are many other things you can experience from food to architecture to culture.

The Best Skiing and Snowboarding Spots in Japan

While you can explore all Japan has to offer anywhere in the country, you’ll find most of Japan’s ski resorts are located on the north island of Hokkaido and on the main island of Honshu.


Niseko is the winter pearl of Hokkaido and it’s famous around the world for its rich snow deposits in winter, as it can fall up to 17 meters of snow per season. This is especially alluring for tourists who prefer to stay in luxurious condominiums and apartments, as well as in five-star hotels that Niseko is known for. Besides the well-marked slopes, the area has a vibrant nightlife with a lot of nightclubs and restaurants that serve the local and national cuisine. This does not mean that families do not come here as well, as kids will plenty of things to do too and since it gets so many international visitors, you won’t have to worry about the language barrier as everyone speaks English well!

ski hill in japan with a view of mount Fuji


When it comes to family winter holidays, no place is better on Hokkaido Island than Tomamu. Located a 3 hours drive from the airport in Sapporo, the local capital, it has ease of access for guests flying in. The area welcomes all families with off-the-slope activities tailored for each member of the family from small children, who can learn their first ski moves here, all the way to adults who can turn semi-pro on Tomamau’s slopes. The accommodations available are more than solid and offers more relaxation as the whole place is a lot quieter than Niseko.

The Hakuba Valley

When it comes to the main island of Honshu, the hotspot for Japan’s ski season and winter sports is by far the Hacuba Valley. It is large in size and boasts 11 resorts which all have picturesque slopes. Much like Niseko, the nightlife is vibrant here and especially welcome are English-speaking skiers who at times feel like they never left home in linguistic terms. The staff is friendly and they will assist you with any problem you might have, proving that the Japanese people really are as hospitable as people say they are. The ski tracks are maintained regularly and ski lifts operate flawlessly, so you will not spend much time waiting in lines. Both beginners and seasoned skiers will find the trails interesting because there are both long and steep runs.

snowboarding down a Japanese mountain

Myoko Kogen

This area probably gets the most annual snowfall than any other place in Japan, making it perfect for snow sports. Myoko Kogen is easily accessible by the bullet train from Tokyo, just a two hour ride, so it is accessible to foreigners flying into the country’s capital. The main village of Akakura Onsen is where most of the accommodation facilities are located and from there you can access any of the four major resorts that are connected to one another through ski lifts. The best feature is that one ski pass is valid at all four locations! For those who are thinking of skiing in Japan on a budget, Myoko Kogen is perfect because most of its hotels are mid-range in terms of prices.

Appi Kogen

The last ski area in Japan on the list might not be as famous as the other four but it is slowly becoming a favorite among Western guests. This is because its snow is powdery, making it ideal not only for skiing and snowboarding but for simply playing in the snow or long walks through the forest. Located in the Tohoku prefecture, this area offers a lot of side activities, such as traditional restaurants and hot springs to relax in. Large hotels, like the Appi Grand Hotel include all of these amenities in the price, so you will have a variety of activities to choose from. A day trip to Morioka city, the cultural hub of the region, is highly recommended as you can experience Japan as it once was.

The winter tourism in Japan is quite developed and when you consider this destination’s other benefits such as culture and transport, it makes Japan the perfect place for a ski holiday. Tanoshinde [enjoy] as the Japanese would say!

About The Author

Leila Dorari is an entrepreneur and freelance writer from Sydney. She is passionate about exploring different places across the globe and believes that first you need to get lost before you can get found. In her free time you can usually find her hiking with her furry four-legged friend.

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By Jane & Nigel of The Time of Our Lives

Ever been to a new place, desperate to learn about a fascinating culture, a unique cuisine or an unfamiliar way of life? I guess that’s why most of us travel. If we only wanted to experience a similar vibe to home but with a nice beach and better weather, we’d be holiday-makers. Nothing wrong with that, but in our minds, travel is something different.

In September 2016, we embarked on the biggest travel adventure of our lives … a 57-day, self-planned whizz around the world. Nine countries, packed full of bucket-list experiences, and over 35,000 miles of air, train and ship travel. And one of those countries was China.

As you can imagine, 57 days to do nine countries is nowhere near enough time. But it’s all we had and one of the tips that our flight booking agency gave us was that China waives its rather expensive visa fee if you spend fewer than 72 hours there and you are in transit. So we decided to shoe-horn in a 66-hour visit to Beijing, in between Japan and Vietnam. And we were really excited to see what the capital of the world’s most populous country and one of oldest surviving cultures had in store for us.

First Impressions of China

Beijing Scooter

Our first experience of China was immigration. Despite having special lanes for the 72-hour visa waiver, it appears that Beijing’s border team doesn’t see applicants very often. There were certainly no others in the immigration hall that evening and our case was escalated up to managerial level pretty promptly. Whilst not being rude, the questioning was not exactly what you might describe as welcoming. Ultimately, with all of our fellow passengers long gone, as well as all of the immigration officers except ours, we obtained a couple of passport stamps once we’d conclusively proved that we were planning to leave in 3 days’ time.

After a good night’s sleep in the luxurious, but not overly expensive Prime Hotel Beijing Wangfujing, we were up bright and early to take a look around – with the Forbidden City (a UNESCO world heritage site) being top of the list.

By this stage, we had already noticed that we couldn’t access our Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts and that Google search results seemed drastically reduced. We all know that China is an authoritarian communist regime, but also that capitalism and entrepreneurship is a mainstay of the country’s huge growth. We were fascinated to see how these two apparent opposites sit alongside each other. And it wasn’t long, walking down Wangfujing Street that we further grappled with this conundrum. Having walked past what can only be described as a shanty town, built out of scrap corrugated iron and cardboard, we came to a major crossroads, where the world’s most premium designer brands – Rolex, Tiffany, Gucci – vied for the newly rich’s attention … and cash.

We walked on a little further, trying to get our heads around this place. And then a young man, spotting Nigel taking candid photos with a long lens, struck up a conversation with him about photography. We were slightly wary by this point and Nigel’s answers were uncharacteristically guarded. After a few minutes, the young man explained that this was where the famous Wangfujing night market had been until June that year. He showed us photos on his phone of the market’s last night. The government had apparently given the shopkeepers 2 months’ notice to vacate the place as it was designated for redevelopment. He said it was a sad day for the area.

Feeling slightly guilty for mistrusting the young man, we parted with hearty handshakes and mutual wishes of ‘all the best’.

Exploring the Major Sights in Beijing

Summer Palace Lake Beijing, CHina

The Forbidden City, built in the 15th century, is a remarkable sight, as much as anything for its vast scale. Our audio guides helped us make sense of it all and distinguish our Mings from our Tangs. It was crowded even in the chilly mid-October drizzle. One of the interesting visitor demographics was smart middle-aged professionals showing their elderly parents, presumably from a rural region, around the place. This juxtaposition, perhaps more than anything, showed the two sides of China … impatient, well-heeled ‘cut-and-thrusters’ and swarthy Maoists, slack-jawed at the majesty of their surroundings.

On a gloomy second day, we explored the Summer Palace, a taxi-ride away to the north-west of the Forbidden City. We ended up doing a boat ride to the palace with a raucous party of Chinese tourists. We appeared to be slightly more fascinating to this group than the gorgeous royal surroundings, which made us slightly self-conscious and bemused. On disembarking, Jane, in particular, was grabbed by the arm to be included in photos. The smiles were warm and friendly, but, once again, we were puzzled by the experience. If anything, we preferred the Summer Palace to the Forbidden City. We took a long walk along the lake in the mist and the palace itself is more self-contained and less crowded.

On our departure day, we had planned in a trip to the Great Wall. Having negotiated with a taxi driver to take us there and then onto the airport afterwards, we set off early. Communicating in China for us non-Mandarin speakers, is generally conducted via a translation app. This ended up in a few hilarious exchanges, but ultimately, we got by.

We went to the length of the Great Wall at Mutianyu. This is not the closest stretch to the centre of Beijing, but, maybe for that reason, it’s known for being less crowded, especially if you get there nice and early (say 8.30am). More by luck than judgement, we took the gondola (not the chair lift) to the top of the wall and got a toboggan back down. Having seen all of the options whilst we were there, we would definitely recommend that combination, unless you are determined to walk. That left us with a 1.5 mile walk along the top which was just about perfect. It’s really something else to say you’ve been there.

So What Did We Make Of Beijing?

Time Of Our Lives Great Wall of China

Well, maybe it was because we had just come from uber-courteous Japan, but we found most of the Chinese people we encountered loud and brash. But then we came across the young man in Wangfujing and the Summer Palace day-trippers – who were warm and full of smiles. Puzzle number one.

Puzzle number two was the capitalist/communist thing. We definitely noticed the touch of an authoritarian hand. And then we saw motorways fully loaded with BMWs, Audis and Mercedes. How these worlds are coexisting happily is not at all obvious.

And puzzle number three is the culture. We tasted food with flavours that were so unfamiliar as to be otherworldly. The folk religion, involving ancestor worship, is as old as civilisation itself. Customs, traditions, language … it’s all so alien to westerners, that it would truly take a lifetime to comprehend.

So we spent 66 hours trying to understand a little bit of this world. But we left with more questions than answers. Which, in a way, is the best excuse for a return trip for the curious traveller.

Time of Our Lives Profile PicJane and Nigel are a travel-blogging couple from the UK, both with two daughters and a passion for people and places. Former BBC journalist, Jane is always looking for a great story and is never happier than when she has a notebook and a travel ticket. Since he was a teenager, Nigel’s ambition has been to travel to 50 countries by the time he was 50. And he’s recently achieved that goal. Follow them at, on Twitter, on Facebook and on Instragram.


Pai, Thailand. Tucked away in the mountain valleys of Thailand’s northern countryside. A place where tranquil views of rice paddy fields and waterfalls attract tourists looking for a peaceful retreat, and perhaps some meditation, from more hectic cities. After we decided to travel to Pai ourselves, we understand the appeal it has for tourists and expats in the country: lazy morning walks, motorbike rides through lush jungle and stunning landscapes, afternoon indulgences in good coffee and food and evenings spent browsing the nightly walking street.

What To Know When You Travel To Pai, Thailand

The desire to visit Pai while in Thailand has been steadily growing, but there are a few things to know before you venture all the way to this more secluded area. We’ve made our way on our own by scooter from Chiang Mai to Pai, we’ve scoured for the best accommodations to suit our needs, we’ve explored Pai and the surrounding area for things to do and we’ve dined at some amazing restaurants while there… and through all of it we’ve come away with some tips we think are important for anyone who wants to travel to Pai.

1. Choose Your Method of Transportation Wisely

drive to pai, road to pai, chiang mai to pai, how to get to pai, thailand mountain roads

The majority of people who visit this mountain valley town, head from Chiang Mai to Pai and there are several ways to do so. If you’re looking to visit Pai, you’ll want to take a look at your options and judge which makes the most sense to you.

The most popular method of transportation is by minibus or larger air-conditioned bus. The minibus is the quickest way to get there but with 762 turns to navigate, motion sickness is incredibly common and driving on a tight schedule, you’ll not be making many stops. Though it’s only around a 3 hour drive, we recommend taking this only if you’ve got a pretty strong stomach and need to get there in a hurry! At approximately 150-200 THB each way, it is also one of the cheaper options for getting yourself to Pai

If motion sickness is sure to be a problem, the air conditioned bus offers a bit less sway, though those 762 turns will still be felt. This method will take longer but will be more comfortable and will ring in a slightly cheaper tab at 100-150 THB. If you can afford to take more time to get there, we’d recommend this as it offers some more comforts.

If you’re looking for adventure, you can always rent a motorbike and drive the exhilarating route from Chiang Mai to Pai. Be forewarned: This is not a method to be taken lightly and should only be attempted by those who have experience riding motorbikes and who are comfortable with long drives on uneasy terrain. It is a route known to be prone to motorbike accidents as drivers take corners at unsafe speeds not anticipating the difficulty of the road.

Having said that, we drove from Chiang Mai to Pai and back again on motorbike and had one of the most amazing times! We took it at a comfortable pace, made sure to gas up when we could and kept hydrated. If this is something you’re looking to do, we have even more tips on getting from Chiang Mai to Pai by motorbike, including where we rented our motorbike. This method will also cost you about 200THB minimum per day but will give you the freedom to come and go as you please and eliminate having to pay for transportation once in Pai.

You can also rent a car to travel to Pai and make the ride more comfortable all around but it will increase your expenses, so price this out beforehand and explore your options!

The last main method of getting to Pai is by plane and it is also the most expensive. You’ll save time on the actual trip (only about 30 mins from Chiang Mai) but will add on time getting to and from the airport as well as time spent in the airports themselves.

Whichever method you choose, think wisely whether it is the right one for you. There are pros and cons to all options and as Pai is not the most easily accessible of places, you’ll want to be sure you’ve picked a method of transportation that offers you the safest and most comfortable option that fits within your budget.

2. Rent A Motorbike In Pai If You Didn’t Drive Up On One… But Don’t Learn There!

If riding a motorbike to Pai is not your idea of a good time, you’ll be getting to Pai with only your own two feet to get you around. For the most part, this is all you need, but if you have an urge to explore, you’ll need to either hop on a tour, hire someone to take you around or rent a motorbike once you get there. Bike rentals will be a little more expensive here than in the larger city of Chiang Mai, but they’ll still be decently priced. There are however, some key details to consider before, and while, renting a scooter in Pai.

  1. The same rule applies here as anywhere else when renting a bike: do a full check of the bike before hopping on, you may want to take photo and/or video documentation of any scratches or dents before you leave the rental place with images of it in the background
  2. Ensure you have insurance or are insured by the rental company, and
  3. Make sure you have a proper and fitted helmet

Most importantly, when talking about Pai, is do not use this opportunity to actually learn how to drive a motorbike. We can’t tell you how many patched and bandaged people we saw walking around Pai when we were there. It is a popular place for people to rent their first motorbike and the combination of new drivers, small streets, hilly terrain and many, many people can create a less-than-optimal place to ride, especially if you’ve never done so before.

3. Book Your Accommodations Strategically

While this mainly applies to those who are driving a scooter or car to Pai, or those who plan to rent a scooter once there, it is a good idea for anyone heading to Pai. Though there is a main stretch of road with accommodations throughout, there are also outlying hotels and hostels. If you’re planning on having a motorbike with you, you’ll want to make sure the place you book has parking available as it is not always simple or easy to park along the walking street overnight. Since you will have a bike, you are obviously able to make your way to and from the main areas and have a bit more room to negotiate where you’ll be staying. If you have a car, you’ll definitely need to find an accommodation in Pai that has the space available.

If you’re not looking to rent and are relying on your own two feet or hiring transportation once in Pai, you’ll probably want to make sure you are located somewhat centrally to the walking street or the activities you are looking to do once there. We’ve put together some of the best accommodations in Pai and have also reviewed one of our favourites, right on the walking street, Soi One Bedrooms.

4. Explore Outside The Main Strip

Pai Mountain View THailand

Though it’s tempting to keep things easy and stay within the main area of Pai, you’ll be missing out on a ton of beautiful scenery and great things to do.

Head out and visit Pai Canyon, drive through rice paddy fields and beautiful mountain landscapes, explore the various waterfalls nearby and find marked, and unmarked, viewpoints that will leave you speechless.

There are various things to do and see like the War Memorial Bridge on the outskirts of Pai, Wat Phra That Mae Yen – the temple on the mountain, Pai Piranha Fishing Park, The Chinese Village and yoga classes or retreats.

Pai can be as eventful or as relaxing as you make it but getting out of the main area and walking street will give you a wide range of things to do in Pai, no matter your purpose for your trip there!

5. Visit Mae Hong Son

This is one thing we didn’t get to do on our visit to Pai, but really wish we did. Heading even further north, you’ll reach Mae Hong Son and if all the talk in Thailand was true, it’s a beautiful area not to be missed. If you can add this stop to your trip, you might want to do so! Though growing in popularity, it is still less tourist-packed as many other areas in Thailand and offers some of that classic Northern Thailand scenery and tranquility.

Mae Hong Son also borders Myanmar, so depending on the current Thai tourism laws (please check these before you travel to Thailand) you may be able to do a border run if needed or use this as an entry way on to visit another country! It’s only 2-3 hours drive from Pai and you can drive your rental car or scooter or take a bus straight from Pai. If you do go, let us know what you think and show us photos – we’re anxious to get back to northern Thailand and find out for ourselves!

6. Visit The Walking Street More Than Oncegrandmas pancakes pai vendor on walking street

If you can, depending on how long you are there and what your itinerary entails, heading to the walking street more than once is a definite must. Now, you may get there and think that you’ve seen all you can see with one walk up and down it… but you’d be wrong. We found that we saw new things, paid attention to different vendors and watched new stands pop up each night we ventured out.

Taking another walk along the street also allows you to try new food vendors that you may not have had a chance to try previously – whether you were just too full from the other food you bought, or you missed seeing them altogether! In fact, it wasn’t until our second night strolling the walking street that we stopped and bought something from, what is now, our favourite Pai Walking Street vendor – Grandma’s Pancakes! We liked it so much, we went back the next day to try a different flavour (because you just can’t resist some Nutella on your pancakes!)

7. Meet People

Whether you’re sitting in a coffee shop, in a common area of your accommodations, dining at a restaurant or walking the walking street, be open to talking to others – you’ll find locals and tourists alike are extra friendly and open to meeting new people! Of course, you’ll want to take regular stranger-danger precautions like you would anywhere (be smart!) but you’ll also learn quickly that the people who live and visit Pai are by large a pretty friendly and talkative bunch.

We met some travellers in a coffee shop looking for help with WiFi who we passed by several times while in Pai and said ‘hello’. We met a couple on the walking street one night who gave some amazing restaurant recommendations and we met two backpackers at our hostel with whom we became fast friends and still stay in touch with!

Pai is really no different than anywhere else – if you put yourself out there, you’re bound to meet good people and make friends – but because of the close proximity to, well, everything and the small space most people are occupying, it’s easier to keep bumping into the same people and getting to know the familiar faces!

8. Find Time to Relax!

This is a place for relaxation, meditation, yoga, etc and even if you’re not into that it’s not a bad idea to take some time to live in the moment and appreciate the beauty of your surroundings. Chances are you’re visiting Pai from Chiang Mai or Bangkok, or are headed to one of the busier cities at some point. Though we love the activity of the large cities and can often be found in them, it is nice to take some time away from it all.

If you travel to Pai you’ll also get a good glimpse into life in the northern, and remote, areas of Thailand. That includes a more tranquil landscape and it’s nice to be able to tap into that and appreciate the beauty of the country.

9. Try The Coffee

Coffee Hill Rest on drive to pai

Northern Thailand does coffee good! So good, we’ve even listed 5 top cafes in Northern Thailand to find good coffee while you’re there. One of them just happens to be on the way to Pai, but even if you’re not navigating your own way there, there’s plenty of good coffee once you get there. We tried different cafes and coffees while in Pai and you’ll probably be hard pressed to find a bad cup of joe!

If you’re a coffee lover, this will be a paradise for you and if you’re not, there are plenty of fresh fruit juices and teas to satisfy whatever beverage craving you have!

10. Do Your Research Before You Take A Tour!

While walking the streets of Pai, you’ll probably see signs or be approached by someone for a tour to the outlying areas, particularly tours that include a visit to the “Longneck” people of the Karen Hill Tribe. Before you make a decision to go, we’d recommend doing some research into this industry. Much of the “tribe life” you’ll see, including the neck rings, are maintained for tourism reasons only and many people feel it is exploitation and harmful to the people of the tribe. Whatever you decide, it would be beneficial to look into the issue and decide whether it’s something you’re still interested in, and comfortable, doing or not.


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By Vanessa of The Island Drum

Peninsular Malaysia has over ten popular islands just off its coastlines but for nature lovers Langkawi, Malaysia is a standout.

Despite Langkawi’s reputation as a beachy resort island, its natural topography is often overlooked by travellers keen on a dose of nature. In fact, nature greets visitors in abundance immediately upon arrival, whether arriving by boat or plane.

langkawi malaysia view from cable car

Ferry passengers are greeted by lush tropical islands and islets as the ferries weave their way to the main Langkawi terminal and flight arrivals are presented with bird’s-eye views of stretches of sandy, white beaches, picturesque rainforests and padi fields.

The Geopark That Is Langkawi

cable car in langkawi malaysia

Langkawi’s natural beauty is one of the main reasons the 99-island archipelago was granted UNESCO Geopark status back in 2007.

Visitors often get confused as to the location of the ‘Langkawi Geopark’ when in fact the entire main island as well as the outer islands are considered ‘the Geopark’.

Geological monuments, protected geosites and more than 90 documented areas of geological diversity are grouped together to form three separate geoforest parks within the archipelago, which is where many of Langkawi’s ‘sightseeing’ venues and activities are also located.

Mat Cincang Cambrian Geoforest Park includes Mat Cincang mountain and gives new meaning to the adage ‘old as the hills’. The  550 million year old mountain is considered by many to be the actual birthplace of Malaysia!
This impressive mountain is over 700 meters tall and home to Langkawi’s most popular attractions: the Panorama Cable Car and Sky Bridge in Oriental Village (Langkawi’s answer to Disneyland, if you will). The vistas from the top (only reachable by cable car) are stunning and, on a clear day, visitors can see as far as Thailand’s distant Koh Tarutao.

Touring the Mangroves in Langkawi

Langkawi water buffalo park

Mangrove tours are generally focused in the Kilim Geopark Forest. A chance to explore them is an eye-opening experience for even the most well-versed nature aficionado. The mangrove ecosystem is one of the most diverse on the island, with the flora and fauna to prove it. The abundance of insects, crustacean and fish, which call the mangroves home is a smorgasbord for a diverse bird population, from Briminy Kites and Sea Eagles to colorful Kingfishers and more. Two varieties of bats can also be spotted ‘hanging around’ within the many limestone caves that are only accessible by boat or kayak. A quick tip: mangrove tours are much more interesting with a licensed knowledgeable guide, to get the absolute most from the experience.

Dayang Bunting Marble Geoforest Park – A Visitor Favourite

island hopping in Langkawi Malaysia

Although there are actually 104 islands within the archipelago (99 at high tide) the nearby island of Dayang Bunting gets the most attention – not just because it’s part of the Dayang Bunting Marble Geoforest Park, but because it is also home to the legendary Tasik Dayang Bunting (better known as the Lake of the Pregnant Maiden). A drink from this mysterious fresh water lake is said to have helped many a barren female become pregnant. To drive that folklore-ish fact home, the mountain top looks very much like a pregnant maiden lying on her back.

Visits to Dayang Bunting Marble Geoforest Park are usually included in the ‘Island Hopping’ boat tours as well as the family friendly jet ski tours of Mega Water Sports. It can be quite touristy during weekends and school holidays, but it is a lovely park with plenty of jungle plants to admire.

For those who prefer to set their own schedule, renting a car or motorbike will allow you to explore the local beaches and waterfalls at a leisurely pace.

Relaxing on the Beaches in Langkawi

Pantai Kok beach in Langaki Malaysia

Beyond the well-known Pantai Cenang (Cenang Beach) and Pantai Tengah, there are at least eight more beaches worth checking out. The pristine Pantai Tanjung Rhu being one of the last public beaches which offers a few undeveloped meters of white sand and inviting emerald green waters is at the top of the list, along with Pantai Teluk Datai (Datai Bay Beach).

The more remote beaches such as Pantai Kok, Pantai Teluk Yu (Shark Bay Beach), Pantai Pasir Tengkorak (Skull Sand Beach), Pantai Batu (Pebble Beach) and Pantai Pasir Hitam (Black Sand Beach) are all unique and worth exploring as some of their names are also indicative of, perhaps, colorful pasts.

Enjoying the Beauty of the Waterfalls in Langkawi

seven wells waterfall langkawi malaysia

When it comes to waterfalls Langkawi has three that stand out, especially during the monsoon season when the cascades are especially abundant.

Telaga Tujuh Waterfall is actually visible from the nearby Panorama Cable Car. More commonly referred to as ‘Seven Wells’, this waterfall sees more than its fare share of visitors, regardless of rainfall, based on sheer beauty as well as convenient proximity to Oriental Village.

The 14-tier Durian Pergangin Waterfall and the more isolated Temurun Waterfall make for picturesque rest stops for visitors circumnavigating the island’s many back roads. You can expect to spot plenty of monkeys along the way, as they are especially attracted to picnic spots – but as cute as they are, feeding them is not advisable.

Trekking the Jungles of Langkawi

Grazing Water Buffalo in langakawi malaysia

Langkawi’s natural gifts are also found deep in the rainforest or in secluded locations best visited with a licensed nature guide (for safety reasons as well as having the benefit of a local expert). Jungle trekking is offered by local tour companies at levels suitable for young children up to the serious mountaineer and they are guaranteed more than a few ‘wow’ moments.

Wildlife is plentiful in the Langkawi archipelago, with the over 200 species of tropical birds leading the pack. Monitor lizards, dusky leaf monkeys, macaques, flying lemurs; the list goes on and on.

With waterfalls and mangroves, beaches and jungles, it’s pretty clear that for anyone with an appreciation for nature, Langkawi will not disappoint.


vanessa profile photo island drumABOUT THE AUTHOR

Vanessa is based out of Langakwi, Malaysia and created The Island Drum to provide information and awareness about the island and all the events, attractions and activities. Vanessa is also sharing her experiences travelling Peninsular & East Malaysia as well as Southeast Asia and beyond! You can also find her on Facebook & Instagram.

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By Angela Sibal of Foodicles

What is Filipino Cuisine?

Filipino cuisine is as diverse as its thousands of islands. Dishes vary from region to region with influences from almost everywhere in the world as a result of the country’s deep history of colonization. You can taste Spanish, Chinese, Indian, British, American, Malay, Portuguese, African, and on and on.

The country as a whole has signature dishes, such as adobo (chicken or pork marinated in a vinegar-soy base and then browned to finish) and lechon (roasted pig with cracker-like skin).

But, what else can you order if you aren’t hungry enough to eat a whole roasted pig?

Filipino food goes well beyond the meat. Local seafood is the star of many dishes, as well as vegetables rich in nutrients and antioxidants lesser known in western cuisine.

Basically summed up: Filipino cuisine is comfort food served family style, and over rice, of course.

If you plan on visiting Manila, here are five favourite and reliable restaurants that will help you taste the best of the country’s cuisine in a comfortable environment for locals and tourists alike and can safely be considered some of the best filipino restaurants in Metro Manila.

Best Filipino Restaurants in Metro Manila

Abe Restaurant

Abe Restaurant serves traditional Filipino cuisine with inspiration from Pampanga, a province north of the capital known for its love of food.

The owner, Larry J. Cruz, named the restaurant after his father, Abe Cruz. Abe was a respected writer, artist, and ambassador for UNESCO in the 1970s. The menu reflects his favourite dishes as well as old family recipes.

In Pampanga, “Abe” also means “friend”, “companion”, and “getting together” which perfectly emulates the restaurant’s slogan, “Where good friends dine.”

For a traditional Filipino meal experience, Abe Restaurant is the place to visit.

Highlights include a refreshing Kinilaw na Tanique, the Filipino version of ceviche, and Knockout Knuckles, also known as crispy pata – fried pork knuckles with tender meat under cracker-like skin.

Kinilaw na Tanigue. Ceviche

Kinilaw na Tanigue. Ceviche of tanigue belly (local white fish) washed in palm vinegar, coconut milk, and spice


Sinuteng Baby Squid

Sinuteng Baby Squid. Small squid sautéed in olive oil and seasonings


Chicharon Bulaklak

Chicharon Bulaklak. Homemade crisp fried pork intestines


Knockout Knuckles

Knockout Knuckles. Traditional fried crispy pata (pork knuckles) with blistered skin adding to the crunch of every bite

Where You’ll Find Abe Restaurant & Hours of Operation:

G/F Serendra
26th St
Fort Bonifacio, Taguig
11am to 3pm, 5pm to 11pm

2/F Entertainment Section
SM Mall of Asia
Business Park I
Bay City
Manila Bay Reclamation Area
10am to 12am

3/F Mega Fashion Hall
SM Megamall
10am to 10pm

3/F Trinoma Mall
EDSA cor North Avenue
Quezon City
11am to 12am

Alabang Town Center
Lifestyle Strip
Commerce Ave
Alabang, Muntinlupa
Sunday to Thursday, 11am to 10pm
Friday to Saturday, 11am to 11pm


Manam Comfort Food

Manam Comfort Food offers the best of both worlds – classics and twists. Classics are the traditional Filipino dishes, while twists are the playful, modern interpretations of those classics.

Dishes come with a choice of portion sizes – small, medium, or large. This is perfect for everyone from solo diners to couples to large groups.

Manam is the place to visit that offers something for everyone.

Highlights include the Seafood Bounty Kare Kare, the local peanut stew beautifully presented with fresh seafood, and contrasting versions of the classic and modern twist of Pancit Palabok.

Fresh Lumpiang Ubod

Fresh Lumpiang Ubod. Fresh spring roll filled with ubod (hearts of palm)


Seafood Bounty Kare-Kare

Seafood Bounty Kare-Kare. Crab, prawns, tanigue, squid, and mussels with house-made vegetable ukoy fritters


Pancit Palabok

Pancit Palabok. Thick and savory house-made sauce made from rich shrimp stock, tofu, tinapa, and annatto poured over noodles and topped with house-made chicharon, crispy garlic, spring onions, fresh shrimp, and seared squid


Crispy Pancit Palabok

Crispy Pancit Palabok. Towering glass noodles topped with house-made chicharon, crispy garlic, spring onions, fresh shrimp, baby squid, and crab floss, all covered with thick and savory house-made sauce

Where You’ll Find Manam Comfort Food & Hours of Operation:

G/F Net Park Bldg
4th Avenue, between 26th & 28th St.
Fort Bonifacio, Taguig
Monday to Friday, 10am to 10pm
Saturday to Sunday, 11am to 10pm

G/F Greenbelt 2
Esperanza St
Ayala Center
11am to 11pm

SM Mall of Asia
Seaside Blvd
10am to 10pm

1/F Ayala Fairview Terraces
Quezon City
9am to 10pm


Milky Way Café

Milky Way Café opened in 2002 with its roots as a classic old school destination. It started in the 1950s as a dairy bar and soda fountain. It was then taken over by a local family who included native Filipino dishes and desserts to the menu.

The café serves traditional Filipino dishes that can be eaten at any time of the day – lunch, merienda, or dinner. In fact, merienda is a popular meal time in the Philippines to stop and have a mid-day snack, which usually ends up as a meal complete with dessert.

Highlights include Pork BBQ for sweet, savory bits of pork on a stick and Milky Way Halo Halo, the country’s signature dessert and frequently voted the best in town.

Pork BBQ

Pork BBQ. Skewered marinated pork, java rice (fried rice colored with annatto), and atchara (sweet pickled green papaya)


Crispy Daing na Bangus

Crispy Daing na Bangus. Marinated milkfish in vinegar and garlic, and then fried. The best part is the belly in the middle


Crispy Catfish

Crispy Catfish. Deep fried local catfish served with salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, and mustard leaves


Milky Way Halo Halo

Milky Way Halo Halo. The best since 1962. Leche flan, preserved fruits, ube, pinipig, and milk topped with shaved ice and ube ice cream


Where You’ll Find Milkyway Cafe & Hours of Operation:

Milkyway Building
2nd Floor
900 Arnaiz Avenue (formerly Pasay Road), corner Paseo de Roxas
Monday to Saturday, 11am to 10pm
Closed Sundays


Romulo Café

Romulo Café is named after Carlos P. Romulo, a journalist and diplomat who was the first Asian to serve as president of the UN General Assembly. He was a notable historical public figure during the American occupation.

The restaurant serves traditional quality comfort food. It is ideal for large groups and families.

Romulo Café has even expanded internationally with a location in London presenting Filipino cuisine to locals in smart, elegant setting to elevate comfort food.

Highlights include the appetizers such as Chicharon, freshly popped pig’s skin, and Crispy Crablets, tiny crabs fried and eaten whole.


Chicharon. Freshly popped chicharon (pig’s skin) with pinakurat vinegar (spicy vinegar)


Crispy Crablets

Crispy Crablets. Tiny crablets fried until golden brown and served with pinakurat vinegar


Paco Salad

Paco Salad. Fresh fiddleheads, cherry tomatoes, and onions tossed in a spicy vinaigrette


Eskabetcheng Lapu-Lapu

Eskabetcheng Lapu-Lapu. Deep fried lapu lapu (local snapper) with sweet-and-sour sauce


Where You’ll Find Romulo Cafe & Hours of Operation:

148 Jupiter St, corner Comet St
Bel Air
11am to 3pm, 6pm to 10pm

32 Scout Tuazon St., corner Scout Lazcano, near Tomas Morato
Laging Handa
Diliman, Quezon City
11am to 3pm, 6pm to 10pm

Azumi Boutique Hotel
2205 Market St
Alabang, Muntinlupa
6am to 10pm


Sarsa Kitchen + Bar

Sarsa Kitchen + Bar presents traditional Filipino and Negrense (from the Negros Island Region) dishes with a contemporary touch.

“Sarsa” means sauces and condiments, a staple for Filipino eating. All dishes include pairings with sauces to enhance the flavors of the dining experience.

For a casual atmosphere with quality Filipino food, Sarsa Kitchen + Bar is the perfect destination.

Highlights include Inasal, grilled chicken parts of your choice, and Pinakbet, local vegetables perfectly cooked in crab fat and homemade XO sauce.

PakPak Inasal

PakPak Inasal. Grilled chicken wings with a charred finish


Tokwa’t Baboy

Tokwa’t Baboy. Fried Tofu on top of braised pork belly



Pinakbet. Local vegetables with taba ng talangka, crispy tofu, and XO sauce


Twice-Cooked Pork Belly

Twice-Cooked Pork Belly. With peanut sauce on the side and ginamos gata (local shrimp paste sauce) and chili garlic sauce


Where You’ll Find Sarsa Kitchen + Bar & Hours of Operation:

Forum South Global
Federacion Drive, corner 7th Avenue
Fort Bonifacio, Taguig
11am to 11pm

109 Rada Street
Legaspi Village
10am to 11pm

2/F SM Mall of Asia Bay Side
10am to 10pm

3/F SM Megamall
Bldg A
Ortigas, Mandaluyong

UP Town Center
Katipunan Avenue
Diliman, Quezon City

All Of Our Articles From The Philippines


Foodicles profile imageABOUT THE AUTHOR

Angela Sibal, of Foodicles, is a Food & Luxury Travel Blogger who splits her time between Manila and San Francisco. She started traveling the world as a baby. Her first memories of travel were of luxury hotels and the high-end restaurants. Today, Angela continues to explore the world to eat and drink while enjoying the finer hotels and resorts in life. You can also follow her travels on Instagram and Snapchat.


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By Jolene Ejmont of Wanderlust Storytellers

We always wondered what Vietnam would be like. It was one of those sorts of destinations where we truly did not know what to expect but I think that travelling to a destination with an open mind and no expectations is sometimes the best way to go!  Never would we have thought that this place would change our lives and, in so many different ways, change who we were and how we looked at life.   It is a country that captures your mind, enriches your senses and teaches you about a new sense of appreciation for life.  A country that you will love exploring and, when you leave, you might find yourself missing the country, the people, the culture and the scenery more than you thought you would!

15 Reasons Why We Love Vietnam… & You Will Too!

local children in Sapa Vietnam

We fell in love with Vietnam for many reasons, the most important ones are a bit hard to put into words as it was something that we felt so deeply, some sort of connection that simply bonded with our souls, that created a little dance.  We fell in love with Vietnam over and over and we hope to return one day soon and spend more time there, exploring slower, soaking in all that we possibly can.

Whether you’ve yet to visit, or have already been, we’ve got some reasons we think Vietnam is a place that can touch anyone’s hearts and make them fall in love!

1. The Truly Spectacular Limestone Islands Of Ha Long Bay

Ha Long Bay vietnam

Ha Long Bay is a very popular tourist destination and typically one of the first places people think about when discussing a trip to Vietnam.  There are some pretty obvious reasons why Ha Long Bay is so popular, however even though we knew that the limestone islands would be amazing, we didn’t realize how truly gobsmacked we would be by this truly unique sight! Situated in northeast Vietnam, Ha Long Bay is best experienced by junk boat (an ancient Chinese sailing ship). We felt that the 3 day/2 night cruise was the perfect length to soak in all that the bay had to offer.  We do have a tip though, and that is to choose a cruise that includes Bai Tu Long Bay as part of its itinerary as this will allow you to venture away from the hoards of tourist boats into more peaceful and secluded areas.

2. The Beautiful People Who Live in Vietnam

The majority of the Vietnamese people live pretty hard working lives.  They have very little in terms of material items.  Their homes contain only the necessary items needed to survive and yet you will generally find smiling and friendly faces around Vietnam. Regardless of their grueling hours working hard, they seem happy.  Here in this country, you won’t find people walking past you with their heads down stuck in their phones. You won’t find people walking past you with headphones plugged into their ears.  People will notice you, people will smile at you, wave at you and acknowledge you.

Sure, there are going to be some pretty persistent hagglers out on the streets.  The people are pretty desperate to earn some money as with all their hard work, they earn very little and often live from one day to the next. You might feel the desperation as they try to push you to ‘buy from me’.  Keep in mind the circumstances they work under and how different their life is to yours!  That doesn’t mean you have to feel obliged to buy from them. Keeping your temper in check and affirming your ‘no thanks’ will be all that is needed.  We loved the people of Vietnam and we missed them when we returned to our technology-driven home country.

3. The Vibrant, Fresh And Delicious Cuisine


The food in Vietnam was some of the best cuisine we have ever had!  You can taste the vibrancy of the fresh ingredients –  meals made with love and meals made with herbs and spices to tantalize your tastebuds!  Each region of Vietnam offers its own specialities together with choices of the more traditional versions of their cuisine.  Food in Vietnam is absolutely delicious. Our recommendation?  Just try everything!

4. The Variety In Products Found In The Local Markets

We really enjoyed exploring the local markets in Vietnam.  There are some pretty touristy markets around, selling the typical souvenirs and kids toys however, if you ask around, you will find more authentic markets which are much more interesting to visit. It is within those markets that you will find an incredible buzz of local activity. From flower sellers to fruit and veggie stalls, from spices and a variety of beans displayed in baskets to a selection of animals such as birds, turtles and cats and from dried fish to fresh fish, these markets are visited daily by the Vietnamese people, usually early in the morning before starting their own day of work.  It is incredible to watch and we highly recommend hanging out at the local markets to learn more about the local way of life.

5. The Regions That Are Truly Bursting With Colour

Hoi an vietnam ancient town

Hoi An Ancient Town’s architecture is really spectacular – a mix of French colonial, Chinese and Japanese. It is a town that is screaming with colour, charm and one filled with eclectic designs.  Awaken your sense of sight as you try to absorbs the sights: colours, lanterns, bougainvillaea flowers and patterns found in abundance within the town streets.  Hoi An is pretty touristy, but one can’t help but fall in love with the bright yellows from the walls lining the streets and alleyways, the colours of the lanterns strung above your head and the blues and reds of the boats lining the rivers.  The vibrancy of colour in this destination will be engraved on your mind for years to come!

6. Vietnam’s Choice In Adventurous And Unique Activities

A trip to Vietnam offers a variety of adventurous and unique activities. From exploring the countryside through local villages on a Russian sidecar motorcycle, to exploring the farming fields by bicycle. You can sign up for some treks through the mountains and rice paddies of Sa Pa and experience local life through a homestay or head out on a junk boat through Ha Long Bay. You can explore close by islands by speedboat or why not go camp out in some incredible caves? Whatever your heart desires, Vietnam has you covered!

7.  The Incredible Natural Beauty Of Vietnam

sapa hike in vietnam

One of the main reasons we loved Vietnam as much as we did was because of the fact that the scenery was forever and always changing.  From one region to the next, each had its own natural beauty to offer, each unique and each different from the region before. In Sa Pa we found the most beautiful lush green rice paddy landscapes, cascading down mountainsides down to the valleys below. In the northeast, we found the most incredible limestone islands protruding out of the Ha Long Bay waters. Central Vietnam offered some gorgeous beaches, marble mountains and gorgeous countryside scenery surrounding the villages, whilst the South holds the Mekong river. Your senses will always feel alive in Vietnam, always something new to take in, something new to appreciate.

8. The Fact That You Can Indulge In Luxurious Tours And Accommodation At Affordable Prices

hoi vietnam luxury

Like most families, we find it challenging to be able to afford luxury while on holidays in Australia. The beauty of travelling to countries located in southeast Asia is that you can afford to treat yourself with luxuries that would otherwise not be affordable!  That beach front suite might just be within reach now!  That cruise on a 5 star boat on Ha Long Bay, whilst expensive for Vietnam standards, is still very affordable compared to the prices you might be used to in your home country.  Who doesn’t love spoiling themselves with a bit of luxury every now and then?  Especially if that luxury doesn’t ‘break the bank’.

9. Delicious Choices Of Different Types Of Vietnamese Coffee

vietnamese coffee

The coffee is pretty unique in Vietnam and actually forms a large part of their culture. Here the Vietnamese coffee is part of socialising and as a result you can find this drink in different forms, formats and styles – something to suit most tastes and satisfy most desires!  Our favourite by far was the traditional Egg Coffee (Cà Phê Trứng) in Hanoi (trust me it sounds gross but it truly delicious!) and we simply could not get enough of the strong drip coffee with a layer of condensed milk. Served hot (Cà Phê Sữa Nóng), or cold (Cà Phê Sữa Đá), it always made us happy! There are loads of coffees to try out, including another favourite of ours – the coconut ice cold coffee!

10. Cheap Massages

I think we had a massage almost every day on our travels through Vietnam.  When massages are so cheap it is hard not to indulge in a special treat on a regular basis!  And when you have been walking and exploring all day long, it really just happens to be a perfect way to end the day! Sure if you want a quality massage you might have to fork out a few more dollars and go to a fancier spa, but you can also get really decent massage treatments for not much money at all if you persist and find the ones you truly like!

11. Authentic Vietnamese Touches Visible Throughout The Country


It is true that some aspects of Vietnam have been very much geared towards the tourism industry yet, if you look in the right spots and you get off the typical tourist trail, you will find some beautiful authentic aspects of Vietnamese life. In Hanoi for example, we couldn’t resist going for a walk down the train tracks. Life on the train tracks may look amazing and somewhat romantic to us, as foreigners, but this is just everyday life here. A densely populated Old Quarter means that people live wherever they can, even if it means living in close proximity to the railway tracks.  People simply make the most of what they’ve got. Cooking, cleaning, washing, resting or enjoying the family gatherings with their loved ones, just like anywhere else in the world.  This is just one of the many examples of authentic touches still found in Hanoi as well as all across Vietnam.

12. Beautiful Palm Tree Lined Beaches

hoi an beach vietnam

Imagine golden, fine-sand covered beaches, all lined and filled with spectacular palm trees. Picture hot sandy beaches that stretch as far as the eye can see and a shaded beach bed to lay on with a delicious, freshly prepared refreshing cocktail delivered to you by one of the local cafe workers!  Sounds too good to be true?  Well in Vietnam this is the norm!  Sure these beaches might not be the most impressive beaches that we have seen thus far, but we can promise you that we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, indulging in laziness on some of the best beaches in Vietnam.

13. Having a Variety Of Cruises

Vietnam has a variety of pretty impressive cruises offered.  For a luxurious cruise, you can head out on a 5 star junk boat on Ha Long Bay.  Whilst in the South, you can explore a more cultural side on the Mekong Delta. Both types of cruises are incredibly different to the other, both offer very unique experiences and very contrasted natural scenery!

14. The Insane Scooter Bike Culture

scooters in Hanoi Vietnam

People going in all different directions, seemingly no rules on the road, but somehow it all comes together in a perfectly coordinated and synchronised manner. Beeping of the horns everywhere, locals and tourists talking all different languages all around you.  The only way possible to describe the atmosphere on the roads in Vietnam is CRAZY!  At first, the noise and the, what appears to be. ‘chaotic’ traffic is almost like an assault to your senses.  You might even be too afraid to even attempt to cross the roads!  But after a while, this little chaotic traffic ‘dance’ of the Vietnamese locals becomes the norm and with fluidity you can cross the road as if you belonged there all along!  I think this scooter culture is very much a part of our strongest memories of Vietnam!  What an experience!

15. The Ease To Hire A Scooter And Go Exploring Yourself!

Half the fun of visiting this country is being able to easily hire a scooter and explore life in Vietnam at your own pace.  By choosing to explore this way, instead of in a tour group, you allow for opportunities to get lost, and let’s face it, it’s usually when you are lost that you discover the real hidden secrets of a country.  We truly enjoyed exploring the surrounding areas of Sa Pa by scooter seeing waterfalls, taking short walks, and experiencing some incredible views and roads!  We also got ourselves delightfully lost in the countryside of Hoi An and met some great locals as a result!  I must admit we did stay away from scooter hire in the crazy busy cities of Hanoi and HCMC, but I know of many travellers that even braved those streets!


As you can see, there are many reasons why we fell in love with this beautiful Asian country.  Listing 15 reasons was super easy and I could probably add 15 more!   If you love Asian destinations and you haven’t been to Vietnam yet, I highly recommend you visit!  It happens to be one of our favourite countries in southeast Asia.  Vietnam, you stole our hearts and changed our very nature!



Wanderlust StorytellersJolene & Andrzej of Wanderlust Storytellers, live in Australia with their two girls when they are not travelling the world inspiring and enticing families to do the same! They are a whole family of wanderlusters, a family who loves to tell their stories, a family who wants to chase dreams! You can also follow their adventures on Twitter and Facebook!

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With bunches of bananas in hand, we walked slowly up the hill through the trees and into a clearing. It was there I encountered my first elephant, up close and personal. There were three of them actually, happily chomping away at the sugar cane that littered the ground around them. The group we came with jumped in without hesitation joining in with the mahouts to feed the three large creatures now turning their attention to the bananas offered. I stopped at the edge of the clearing and watched for a moment. I wanted to take it all in, this incredibly odd and surreal experience. It was somehow nothing like I’d expected and at the same time, more. Perhaps I expected a larger than life, life-altering experience when what I actually got was a calm and peaceful sense of being, in that moment, complete. I had finally found my elephants.

The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary

elephant jungle sanctuary chiang mai

We spent the night before our trip to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary at Baan Kuhn hostel, also run by Mamma Noi and where we had to go to purchase tickets to the sanctuary. As we had mentioned in our last post on The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, it was through the efforts of Mamma Noi and the Karen Hill Tribe, with whom she is working, that the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary was established and we thought it fitting that we stay, at least the one night, at the hostel.

The group of us heading to the elephant sanctuary were all guests of the hostel which meant we left straight from the accommodation with no detours to pick anyone up. With a final goodbye, and a bottle of water for each of us from Mama Noi, we set off in the “minibus”. If you’ve ever ridden in a minibus in Thailand you’ll know that it is really more of a pickup with a few seats in the cab and a covered trailer lined with rows of benches on either side. It can make for a bumpy ride if you are going over unpaved roads…and we were definitely were! Fortunately for us, we somehow got put into the cab and had a little less of a rocky ride – less being the operative word.

The ride was not bad until we hit the mountains. It was here that the road turned to a narrow, rut-covered, dirt road – it would be futile to pave the road, our driver told us, as the monsoon season brings large rains that flood and cause landslides that wash out the roads each year. Lucky for us, the road was dry and our driver was experienced. We made our way to the hill tribe village and were greeted by several people, including Robert, one of the instrumental people in organizing and creating this sanctuary.

Hopping out of the truck, we all grabbed our backpacks as the bunches of bananas and cases of water were distributed among us to carry. The excitement was building. We could feel it vibrating, see it clearly on each others’ faces as we started out, on foot, through the rice fields and forest.

Meeting With Elephants of Thailand

visiting the elephant jungle sanctuary

We chose The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary because we had wanted to visit elephants in a more natural setting, knowing they were not being abused, forced to take riders, chained, or mistreated. We wanted to see the elephants roaming free. And roaming free these elephants certainly were!

After a hike through rice paddy fields and some hilly paths, we found our way to a clearing where we were able to put down our bags and take a moment to don the traditionally mahout garb before heading to find the elephants. That was the beauty of the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. The elephants weren’t just brought to you… you had to go find them, in the forest, where they roamed with the mahouts (their keepers) in as natural a setting as was manageable.

We took the bunches of bananas and were led up a hill to a forested area where we were told we would most likely find the elephants. After a short climb up a gentle hill, the trees gave way to a small clearing. It was here that we had our first glimpse of them. Three elephants stood chewing happily on sugarcane under the shade of the tall trees. A bursting energy seemed to erupt from the entire group – a silent excitement that bubbled up in uncontrollable smiles and quickened steps. THIS was why we wanted to visit Thailand. This experience of coming face to face with a creature so magnificent and incredible, of looking into its intelligent eyes with depths we’ll never fully understand, and for one moment sharing a connection.

visiting elephants at the elephant jungle sanctuary

Taking turns, we handed bananas over to the two adult females and one baby elephant, taking time to stroke their trunks and sides. The baby was incredibly playful. Head butting the mahouts and some of the group, reaching its trunk around bodies and attempting to sneak in some extra bananas. He was cheeky and he was happy. Having been born and raised in a sanctuary, he was unaware of any other way of life. Unfortunately, for the two older females, life had been harder for them until they were taken in by the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary.

mahout at elephant jungle sanctuary

One of the men of the village explained to us the circumstances in which the older two were found. He went through the techniques used to break them, to train them and to keep them in line. It was devastating but also heartwarming to know that they would no longer be subjected to this treatment again, especially as the younger of the two females was pregnant.

It didn’t take long for the elephants to demolish the banana offering we brought and decide that it was time to leave. Since this was about them, no effort was made to stop them. Instead, they were followed by the mahouts and we made our way back down to where we had left our bags to enjoy some lunch.

lunch at the elephant jungle sanctuary

Food in Thailand is amazing and is one of our favourite cuisines. The food that they cooked and served for lunch could compete for one of the best meals we’ve had while in Thailand, and even abroad. Freshly prepared chicken, veggies and noodle dishes, rice and fresh fruits were laid out for the entire group to enjoy. It was a wonderful time to reflect on our first meeting with the elephants as well and to get to know the rest of the group.

After lunch we were told we could change into clothes we didn’t mind getting dirty or wet. For the majority of us, that meant bathing suits. This time, the elephants were led to us for what appeared to be one of their favourite activities of the day – a mud bath.

With everyone joining in, we helped the elephants play in the mud. And when we say play, we mean play. They rolled around, they threw it on their backs, they threw it at each other… and they threw it at us! If it wasn’t enjoyment, we don’t know what it was!

elephant mud bath at elephant jungle sanctuary

Following the incredibly fun (and messy) mud spa, we headed to the nearby stream to meet back up with the elephants and help them bathe. This was another incredible up-close experience. Standing close to them and cleaning off the mud, we had yet another chance to really appreciate these animals. Large and powerful, yet gentle and timid. We knew a lot of their calm had to do with their upbringing and treatment, but seeing the playfulness of the baby and looking into all their eyes again, we could tell it’s also a part of their basic nature.

After the elephants were finished bathing and we’d all had a swim of our own in the stream, we headed back to dry off. The rest of the group would be returning to the hostel, while we had booked an overnight stay with the hill tribe. Knowing we’d be seeing the elephants again, we happily went on our way to learn more about the people who opened their lands to us and the elephants.

A Night With The Karen Hill Tribe

As we had mentioned in our last post, it is through the help and efforts of the Karen Hill Tribe Village and Mamma Noi that the sanctuary was created. Bringing in tourists to visit the elephants for the day became only one part of the experience. Staying within the village for a night, or two, was another part and we decided to stay a night to better understand the program and the people of the village.

staying at the elephant jungle sanctuary with the karen hill tribe

After the rest of the group left, we were brought back to the main part of the village by Robert who, as mentioned, was one of the integral members of the sanctuary’s creation and a cornerstone of the program itself. We sat for a while, chatting with him about the village and its history, the sanctuary and its origins and the hopes his people have for the future.

We learned of the struggles to keep the land. The struggles to acclimate to a changing cultural landscape where development and advancement occurs around them and without them. The government, he said, provided them with a handful of solar power panels… years ago. Most of them are now no longer working so they are stuck with even more limited power options and little by way of means to improve their way of life.

It’s become a controversial topic. We discussed it and he acknowledged it. Greater society would prefer to keep these more isolated and primitive cultures untouched, “untainted” by the hands of tourism and technology. But Robert told us, that’s not what he and his family want. The people of his village believe they deserve a chance to advance as well. Why shouldn’t they be able to better themselves and their situation, he asked us. We couldn’t argue his point.

With this in mind, and the connection to Mamma Noi with her desire to help elephants, the sanctuary and the stay in his village was born. Hoping to provide more for the village and the elephants of the country, it was established and open up to tourists. Hopefully, we were told, the worries of poor rice harvests and the necessity to partake in backbreaking work simply to produce and collect food, would lessen.
Elephant Jungle Sanctuary CHiang Mai Hill Tribe Village

We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening with Robert and members of his family. We took a tour of the area, helped feed the livestock, prepared a meal on an open fire and made our way to our room in one of Robert’s siblings’ houses who was visiting in-laws in a another village. We spent the day and evening without electricity, cut off from the world and, in the process, deepened our understanding of a culture struggling to retain their identity while at the same time, attempting to advance and integrate with the rest of society.

baby elephant at the elephant jungle sanctuary chiang mai

The next day brought a new group of visitors to the sanctuary and we were able to participate as we had the day before. We woke up for breakfast with Robert and headed to meet the new arrivals. Walking behind them, we watched their faces as they approached the elephants for the first time and saw the same awe-filled expressions we knew were wore the previous day. To our surprise, the awe of seeing the elephants up close was still as strong for us.

This time though, we got to take in the experience with an eye to all that they were looking to achieve at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary and this time, when we looked into the eyes of the elephants, we also saw a glimmer of recognition.

An Unforgettable Experience At The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary

If you are looking to visit the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, tickets for 1-, 2- and 3-day visits can be purchased at Baan Kuhn Hostel in Chiang Mai – 119/10 Thapae Rd, Chang Klan, Chiang Mai, 50100 tel: 053-273415. More information for visits or volunteering can be found on their site at

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By Rocio and Julian

To start off with, El Nido is a small municipality located in the northern part of the province and island of Palawan, roughly 400 kilometers away from the capital city of Manila in the Philippines. It is a protected conservation area due to its recognized ecological, natural and cultural values. It is also one of the nicest and most beautiful beach destinations throughout the Philippines (which are known for having a lot of incredible and stunning beaches!). It is officially nicknamed “Heaven on Earth”, which I realized after writing the title of this post (honestly!). It absolutely deserves this name and I am about to tell you why.

el nido 01

Experiencing Paradise While Island Hopping in El Nido

Getting to El Nido can be a bit of a journey. We took a flight from Manila with Cebu Pacific to Puerto Princesa, the provincial capital of Palawan and the main gateway for flights to the island. From there you have to take a bus or mini-van to El Nido, which is another 5-6 hour ride away. The actual town, or población, of El Nido is nestled in a sheltered bay surrounded by huge limestone cliffs and hills, hence its name (El Nido = Spanish for the nest).

The town itself is nothing special but rather serves as a starting point for island hopping tours around the Bacuit Archipelago, probably one of the most beautiful natural treasures of Asia. These tours can either be booked directly through a hotel or guesthouse or from a tour operator. They usually take the whole day, leaving at around 9 in the morning until 4-5 in the afternoon. There are options of going with a group or hiring a private boat.

No matter with whom you end up going and no matter which tour you end up taking, you will be left speechless by the abundance of natural beauty! Pristine and spotless white beaches surrounded by crystal clear waters are something you will encounter for sure.

el nido 04

We were a rather small group and managed to leave on time to make our way to our first island stop. The weather was perfect and our bangka, a traditional Filipino motorized boat with large bamboo outriggers, easily navigated its way out of the bay. We were amazed by the limestone rock formations and hills which are very typical for this region.

After 15 minutes the boat reached the white shores of the first beach, the clear, blue waters blinding our eyes as we finally felt the powdery sand between our toes. The beach was not very crowded as we arrived earlier than the other tour boats. We spent some great time relaxing and were excited about finally being here and experiencing this slice of heaven.

While island hopping in El Nido on a tour, you can spend usually around 30 to 60 minutes on each beach, depending on the place and if people want to stay longer or not. The tour guides are very friendly and give you explanations about the different areas that will be visited. They also truly respect the environment and really help in keeping this place a pristine tourist destination. Being part of a natural conservation area also helps the beaches remain very clean – something that unfortunately is not always the case. We were impressed by how unpolluted these beaches, in general, were.

el nido 02

After enjoying some nice time in the sun and taking a refreshing dip in the water we continued to our next stop. We left the main island of Palawan behind us and headed out to the smaller groups of islands which were lying a bit further away. The great thing about island hopping is that you can really see a great variety of different beaches, from large to small, and also find those secret little gems in between. One of those gems that we were to explore was in fact behind a small range of karst rocks.

Apart from the beaches there are a few incredibly beautiful lagoons in El Nido. As we approached another smaller beach the boat stopped and the tour guide pointed us towards a small opening in the rocks. We stepped out of the boat and slowly waded through the shallow waters and carefully climbed into a small hole. This was the entrance to a small, hidden lagoon on the other side. A total surprise, we were fascinated by this place as it was something very unique and not comparable to anything else we had seen so far.

el nido 05

With still half a day ahead of us, we approached another beach spot where we had a nice lunch. Even before we got there, the tour guides had already started to barbecue on the back of the boat and prepared some nice fish, meat, vegetables and fruits for us on the beach. It was absolutely delicious and really added up to making the island hopping tour a great success.

More and more giant rock formations popped out of the waters as we continued our trip, opening up like spread-out arms, inviting us to their beautiful beaches. We stopped by a few more and also managed to do a great deal of snorkeling. Compared to some other diving and snorkeling spots throughout South-East Asia we found that there were a lot of active and intact coral reefs here. We were amazed by the sheer variety of different fishes and corals – truly a must-see place if you are interested in discovering the underwater world.

el nido 06We made it back to El Nido town in the afternoon and were still amazed by the beautiful places we experienced during the trip. We were so amazed that we decided to join another tour the next day as we really wanted to see more!

El Nido has absolutely blown our minds! It is an incomparable natural paradise with breathtaking views, pristine white and endless beaches, amazing underwater life, spectacular limestone rock formations, crystal clear waters and beautiful lagoons. It is, for sure, one of the most unique seascape areas in the world and has truly impressed us.


apenoni profile pictureABOUT THE AUTHOR

To read more about Palawan & other beautiful spots around the world, head over to, a blog about travel stories, food, itineraries & photos by Rocio and Julian. They are a wanderlust Mexican-German couple passionate about traveling & exploring the world & want to convince you to do the same! Join them on Twitter & Facebook as well!


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Bangkok isn’t everyone’s favourite place to visit, though we’re really not too sure why it seems to have become, for many, the antithesis of a top travel destination in Southeast Asia. We’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve been told Bangkok is a city better passed through or visited for only a brief time and yet, each time we go we’re struck anew with the energy of the city which seems to take on a life of its own. Contrasts abound in a city balancing a remarkable culture, deeply rooted in their own history yet influenced largely by the ever-changing dynamics of the government, the tourism industry and the advancements of the modern world. After our first visit together, we couldn’t help but note these contrasts which greatly influenced our first impressions of Bangkok. For us, the city is a never-ending treasure trove of adventure, a kaleidoscopic of experience changing, with each turn, into something new and incredible. Those who say one day in Bangkok is enough, may not have delved into the depths of the city.

Take One Day in Bangkok to Explore

european quarter bangkok

So what is one to do when visiting such a large and action-packed place? What exactly should top the list of things to see in Bangkok? Our style of travel has always been to roll with the punches, go with the flow, see what happens as we stroll through each new place, but on our second trip to Bangkok as a couple, we decided we wanted to make the most of the short time we had. After an incredible day exploring Phuket by motorbike using the “Perfect Route” we found in our Marco Polo Guide of the island, we realized we had an incredible resource in our possession.

When we cracked open our Marco Polo guide of Bangkok we flipped to find the “Perfect Route” section, as we were impressed by the suggestions we were given for Phuket and wanted to see what insider tips and ideas they had for Bangkok. While flipping however, we stumbled upon their section on walking tours. Our attention was immediately caught – we LOVE walking around while travelling and really delving into the culture and communities.

marco polo guide walking tour one day in bangkok

Deciding our schedule only allowed for one day of some immersive exploration of Bangkok, we pulled out the map that is included with the guide and checked out the walking tour routes that were marked off. While there are three amazing tours detailed, ranging from one hour to three, we chose only one, knowing that the time would inevitably be greatly extended due to our penchant for taking a ridiculous amount of time while sightseeing to wander, take photos and video and just experience.

If you are looking at filling one day in Bangkok, exploring the old farang (foreigner) quarter, the area where the first Europeans in Thailand lived, is an amazing and unique experience of sightseeing in Bangkok. Whether you explore on your own, choose some of our highlights of the tour, or decide to follow the well-guided route in the Marco Polo Guide book yourself, you’ll not be disappointed to find yourself at a few of the best places to visit in Bangkok.

A Walking Tour of Bangkok’s Old Farang Quarter

one day in bangkok in old farang quarter

The focus of the route we chose was an area of Bangkok we had neither visited before nor heard very much about. While many tourists talk about Khao San Road and the tourist-heavy attractions such as the Grand Palace, the old farang quarter, or the area around the Chao Phraya river where the first Europeans lived in Thailand, seems to be frequently overlooked when discussion occurs or recommendations are given.


This area was of large focus for Western foreigners in the country in the 19th century and is where many European nations set up embassies and trading houses. Because of the diversity of countries represented, the colonial architecture is of the European Imperial styles of those various countries and, in a country full of history and historically significant buildings, offers an altogether different glimpse into how the past and present combine in Bangkok. It is a look into the more recent part of Thai history that is quickly passed over on the way to a temple or a Thai massage.

thai food stall bangkok

We hadn’t even made our way to the first destination on the walking tour when we decided to make our first spontaneous detour – one of the reasons we prefer self-guided tours such as these. As we walked we noticed a food cart on the side of the road, not an uncommon sight in Thailand, and decided we just couldn’t resist the wonderful smells that were tempting us. Some papaya salad, grilled chicken and rice later, our stomachs were full and we were back on our way.

Luxury Accommodations and Shopping in Bangkok

OP Place bangkok european quarter

Our first stop was the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, the first hotel in Thailand and a building with over 140 years of history. Standing along the bank of the Chao Phraya river and still tucked away from the road with its surrounding vegetation, we approached the hotel with a sense of awe. If the walls of this building could talk, the stories it must be able to tell – from sailors and businessman, to tourists and celebrities, the rooms have been a haven from the streets of Bangkok for so many throughout the years. Notable figures such as Michael Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor, Henry Kissinger, and Mick Jagger were among the people said to have stayed at the hotel. It was an amazing start to the tour as it was likely the first stop for many who came along the Chao Phraya river to stop in Bangkok over a century ago.

Nearby, we found OP Place, our next stop. While the exterior looks fairly unremarkable, the interior is one of luxury with many stores brimming with artwork and antiques and a gallery. We made our way through, looking at the beautiful antiques and collectibles and stopping for some refreshments at the cafe.

One tip we would offer is to check the days and hours the stores are open. For instance, while you can enter OP Place itself on Sundays, only a few shops are actually open.

Check out more information on the Mandarin Oriental Hotel and it’s room rates

Buildings of Faith & Significance

Assumption cathedral bangkok

The next leg of our walking tour of the Old farang quarter of Bangkok took us to a few locations of religious and historical significance for those European travellers to Thailand.

Assumption Cathedral unfortunately was under some construction, and we were unable to enter, but this primary cathedral of Thailand, with almost 200 years of history, is of importance to the Catholic community in Bangkok, both in the 19th century and present day, and it was great to be able to see it.

old farang quarter buildings

While we walked to the next stop on the tour, we were able to take in the vibe of the district, observe some of the oldest European buildings in Bangkok and take a walk through a part of Thai history that doesn’t usually come immediately to mind to those who visit.

As we strolled along the streets, listening to the sounds of life in Bangkok and enjoying the warm sun, we continued to pass crumbling and deteriorating century-old buildings, interspersed with those that have been restored and renovated. Some abandoned, some still in use, the buildings of the European quarter of the city were an incredible glimpse into the past. Of those buildings, we passed by the French Embassy, Ambassador’s residence and the old customs house, which was once a gateway into Thailand.

We would suggest making sure you have a fully charged camera, and perhaps an extra battery. If you like photography, strolling the streets of this area will present endless photographic opportunities.

A Unique District in the City

muslim district bangkok

Our final stop on the walking tour has also become one of our favourite areas to visit in Bangkok. We weren’t aware of the Thai-Muslim community in this area or the uniqueness of what was waiting there. We took our time walking the narrow streets and alleys twisted around faded buildings. Curtains blowing in the breeze, the sound of children playing and a whole community of friendly cats welcomed us and followed us as we went (yes, cats included!)

haroon mosque bangkok

We made our way through looking for the Haroon Mosque but with the smells of meals being prepared wafting through the open windows, we lost ourselves in the interesting complex through which we were walking and found ourselves talking to a few people as we went and stopping to pet some of the cats that had gathered to escort us through.

By the time we made our way back out of the dense residential area, we were left in such a great mood we knew nothing could top the experience. We continued the path of the walking tour from the map but took it at a leisurely pace knowing this was exactly how we wanted to end the amazing day spent discovering this incredible part of Bangkok.

Take Your Time While Exploring Bangkok, If You Can

colonial style buildings bandkok

While the guide gave the suggestion of only 1 hour of exploring, our style of taking photos and videos and generally taking our time had us spending an entire afternoon in the old European Quarter.

If you’re heading to Thailand and are looking to fill one day in Bangkok with some unique exploration and sightseeing, this walking tour really offers a unique glimpse into part of Bangkok’s history. Take our route or the full thing via the guide, with some of their amazing tips and suggestions along the way, it’s really up to you!

If you can, taking time to explore more of what Bangkok has to offer outside of the popular, and much talked about, main attractions will give you a deeper understanding and appreciation for this complex city full of contrasts.


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one day in bangkok walking tour

We walk at length through the mayhem that is Boracay beach on our way through station 2 and into station 3, moving through the crowds and activity while surrounded by noise and music. As we get deeper into station 3 however, the crowds start to dwindle. The music becomes a distant beat of bass and the sound of the waves softly rolling against the shore becomes distinguishable. We stop to take in the quiet and look up to the night sky before turning and making our way into our accommodations for the night. Yes, on this chaotic strip of beach we found our peaceful paradise, a beachfront hotel in Boracay,  from which to indulge in the best of both worlds: the excitement of the island and the tranquility promised by the sun, surf and sand.

Excitement & Tranquility Combine At the Best Beachfront Hotel in Boracay

boracay beach view

With an entire 4km long strip of beachfront property, on the longest white beach in Asia, you’re going to find quite the selection when looking for a beachfront hotel in Boracay. Nope, finding a hotel by the beach isn’t the tricky part of looking for accommodation on the island. Finding one of the best hotels in Boracay might be however, as you weigh the options between a louder area on the beach or a more secluded hotel off the strip.

During the day, the beach is quiet but active with kitesurfing, sunbathers and those out for a stroll along the strip of beach, or higher by the many restaurants that line it. Touts are persistent in their offers of goods and services and unless you are on the beach by the water, chances are you encounter someone with almost every step you take. By night, the beach turns into a frenzy of music and dancing, fire shows and entertainment. While foot traffic flows regularly during the day, it becomes a thick crowd at night.

boat on boracay beach in front of villa caemilla

Depending on what you travelled to Boracay for, and what your expectations are, the relentless onslaught can either be a welcome distraction, or an unpleasant overload. We found an incredible compromise when we stayed at Villa Caemilla Beach Boutique Hotel (Click here for the latest prices and more information about Villa Caemilla.. Villa Caemilla offers the best of both worlds on the island: a beachfront hotel on Boracay beach with easy access to activity that comes alive at night while also providing a tranquil escape from the chaos with its quiet location and peaceful surroundings.

Search for hotel options in Boracay below!

A Great Space to Relax or Dine by the Beach

Front desk at the Villa Caemilla - beachfront hotel boracay

When we first arrived at the hotel we were warmly welcomed and as we were being checked in, we were brought welcome shell necklaces and cold scented towels to refresh ourselves after our walk in the sun along the beach to get there. We were also given welcome drink tickets which could be used anytime that day. This was something that immediately caught our attention as most places bring you the drink directly, often before you are ready or while you are still trying to check in and get comfortable. By giving us the tickets, we were able to check-in, put our things away and change before coming back to the bar, grabbing our drink and sitting down to relax and enjoy it… and we did exactly that.

After using our tickets for fruit shakes, we settled at one of the tables where we could look out onto the beach. The restaurant and bar area being so easily accessible and open to the front offered an amazing area to sit, eat, and relax. We chose a few appetizers from their menu and soon found out they not only have an amazing location, but great service and delicious food.

beachfront hotel in Boracay loungers

Just beyond the front of the hotel is the section of beach where they put out beach loungers for their guests from 6am to 6pm to sit in the sun, or the shade under the palm tree, and still receive bar and food service. It didn’t take us long to realize that’s exactly where we wanted to go next!

The Hotel Room at The Villa Caemilla

bed at villa caemilla boutique beach hotel

The hotel itself is stylish but comfortable and this flows from the front lobby and dining area all the way to the rooms that line the back of the property. As we stepped into the room it was pretty clear why they were the winning newcomer boutique hotel in the 2015 World Hotel Awards as well as the winner of the 2015 World Luxury Hotel Awards for best luxury new hotel. The room was spacious and inviting with colours that made you feel like you were in a tropical getaway. Two towel swans greeted us on the bed accompanied by toiletry bags. We would later find out that the large bed was also incredibly comfortable and offered an amazing night’s sleep.

The washroom was clean and luxurious, with luxury fixtures, a rain shower and large, fuzzy bathrobes, which we were quick to use. The attention to detail was noticeable especially when it came to the toiletries. Not only were there a good range of products, the quality was impressive.

What a Great Beachfront Hotel in Boracay is All About: Location, Location, Location

beachfront hotel in Boracay villa caemilla loungers

As we said, Villa Caemilla offers the best of both worlds as a beachfront hotel in Boracay: the raucous nightlife and the quiet beauty of the island. Of the hotels in Station 3, it is situated in a quieter part of the strip where the loud bass of neighbouring hotels and restaurants doesn’t seem to quite reach the hotel but are also only a short walk away. In fact, walking only a few minutes will have you in the middle of utter chaos and excitement.

At night, this is where we would go. We’d walk from our hotel in station 3 all the way to the end of station 1. Sometimes, we’d stop at a coffee shop and sip our drinks while listening to some live music. Other times we’d walk closer to the shore, taking in the activity from a distance, sinking our toes in the sand and watching the water as it rolled onto the shore. The best part however, was that when we tired of the noise and crowds, we knew we had a quiet place to return to. If we came back early enough, we could even enjoy some live music in the comfort of our own hotel lobby.

sandcastles in Boracay beach

During the day, we parked ourselves on a lounger out front and enjoyed all that Boracay beach has to offer for those that want a vacation in the sun. We ordered our food and drinks to our seat in the sand and ate while watching the palm trees sway in the breeze.

Yes, the location of Villa Caemilla and the quiet luxury of the hotel and its rooms make it a perfect beachfront hotel in Boracay. It was a place where we could enjoy all the beach has to offer in luxury and comfort.

Click here for the latest prices and more information about Villa Caemilla.

Villa Caemilla Beach Boutique Hotel Logo

Villa Caemilla Beach Boutique Hotel

Station 3, Angol,

Barangay Manoc-Manoc, Boracay Island

Philippines, 5608


Looking for a different kind of vacation on Boracay? Mandala Spa & Resort Villas offers an alternate island getaway a short distance from the beach!


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