All posts by Travel with Siobhan

I am a CELTA certified English Teacher in China. I have been teaching for six years. My major in University was Forensic Science & Archaeology. I am a travel enthusiast and I'm always looking for new and exciting experiences. Naturally I am a happy, easy-going person and I love meeting new people from all around the world. Apart from travelling I love reading and writing. Currently I am learning two languages: Chinese and Swahili plus learning to play the guitar. Learning is my passion, travelling is my life.

Xuzhou: Home away from home

Xuzhou City

Expat family reunion! We all try to get together a few times per year. We really are a big happy family.

Xuzhou, not to be confused with ‘Suzhou’ is a city in Jiangsu Province, China and was my home for four years. Although it’s not a place known for it’s beauty or famous landmarks, it does possess some stunning views and is a great place to live for both Chinese and Foreign people. For those who are not well versed in Chinese geography let me name two cities you might know such as NanJing which is approximately an hour train journey away and Shanghai which is approximately three hours away by train and less than one hour by plane.

Places of Interest in Xuzhou

Beautiful sunset at Yunlong Lake

 

My gorgeous friend Emma sliding down Yunlong Mountain in style.

 

YunLong Shan (YunLong Mountain) is a beautiful, yet small mountain which can be easily hiked by most. If you want to descend down the mountain in a more fun way, why not try the slide. Of course there is a small fee but it’s worth it.

YunLong Hu (YunLong Lake) is a very large man-made lake very close to the base of the mountain. At the lake you can visit the small man-made beach, take a boat ride or just wander around and enjoy the view.

BingMaYong (Terracotta Warriors) These are not of the same magnitude of the ones found in Xi’an but they are still famous and worth a visit if you have the time. The location is approximately an hour out of the city of Xuzhou.

Bars Bars Bars – Xuzhou Nightlife

Although the bars in Xuzhou tend to open and close fairly quickly, there are two in particular that continue to grow strong and are still drumming up business today.

The Hill Bar

(also known as GaoDi JiuBa by the locals)

Interior decor of the Hill Bar.

The Hill Bar is located in an area called XiMaTai. You will have a field day trying to tell a taxi driver over and over again using a variety of different tones. So let me save you the trouble and go for a trusty method of slightly yelling and grunting it at the driver which he/she will understand immediately. It’s the Xuzhou way! The Bar is owned by a local man known as VJ by most people. This was the first bar I ever went to in China, let alone Xuzhou so I hold it dear in my heart. VJ who speaks English like a native, is a fun-loving and out-going guy who welcomes all with open arms to his bar. Although it is a small bar, it has a lot of spirit and is always bursting with both local and foreign customers. With a large range of alcohol and music, you are in for a good, cheap and possibly crazy night if the mood strikes.

Blue Marlin

(also known as LanQiangYu JiuBa)

Girls night out at Blue Marlin.

Blue Marlin is located on Water Street (NanHuShuiJie) which is by YunLong lake mentioned above . It is a large two storey bar with outdoor seating, a full sized pool table and a live band every night. To make it even more inviting it has a Happy-Hour deal everyday from 5-8pm where all draft beer and cocktails are half price. My personal favourite is the Long Island Ice Tea which is served in a very big glass and is super strong, only costing 24yuan per glass. Bargain!

The view from the back of Blue Marlin where you can sit and watch the sunset whilst enjoying some good food and drinks.

Xuzhou Grub

A variety of meat, vegetables & seafoodThe food in Xuzhou is generally delicious with a hint of spice to it. The dishes are cheap and big so great for a family style dinner with friends. Be sure to add a few cases of beer to that dinner and you will have yourself a party.

Hot & Spicy Vegetables

 

Like most places, Xuzhou has its local food. The most local dishes are listed below and are not easily found in other cities in China or at least not prepared the same way with that same Xuzhou spice. Personally I am a huge fan of the third dish ‘DiGuoJi’ and highly recommend it.

  • BaZiRou: this is a fatty pork chop stewed with vegetables and served with rice.  A favourite among the locals.
  • LuoMo: like a Chinese tortilla used for making wraps. Most commonly found at BBQ restaurants and street vendors.
  • DiGuoJi: this is a large deep black pan/pot filled with a whole chopped chicken and vegetables with pancakes around the inside of the pan. This has been known as a favourite among the foreigners. I can certainly vouch for it.
Try the delicious diguoji. You won’t regret it!

The University of Mining and Technology

(also known as KuangDa DaXue)

My first day working at The University of Mining and Technology.

I worked at the University for the entire four years that I lived there and loved it. The location of both campuses are great although I was based at the more convenient one closer to down town. Lots of cheap, local food surrounds the area and is constantly filled with Chinese students wondering around.

The University Campus.

Xuzhou Hua

Everyones favourite local, VJ. The Hill Bar owner.

 

Xuzhou hua (meaning the local xuzhou dialect) is a fairly strong accent to understand. It comes across very grumpy and slightly aggressive at first but once you get to know some of the locals and their customs you realise its neither of those things. The locals are mostly very happy, friendly people who want to make friends with you.

Getting around Xuzhou

As Xuzhou is not a first or second tier city in China, the local people still use both bicycles, electric bikes and motorbikes as their primary source of transport. You will still find many buses, taxis and private cars of course. At any one time the roads will be full of all types of transport beeping their horns repeatedly in the hope the traffic will suddenly disappear. Trying to park your vehicle is quite the challenge as the space available is limited and full almost 24/7.

Xuzhou for me is truly a home away from home. I met my expat family there, grew into the person I am today and fell in love with China because of the amazing experiences I was lucky enough to have there. I 100% recommend a visit if you are in need of a good dose of China.
This guy is like a brother to me and is still living in Xuzhou today.
If you’re ever in need of a dangerous amount of alcohol, Xuzhou can and will accommodate you.
Can’t beat going to a wedding and having 1000 phones on you haha
The friends you meet living abroad become friends for life!
Never stop living your life! Enjoy every minute!

72 hours in Japan

Osaka, Kyoto & Mino-o

Recently, I ventured to Japan on a short holiday. I had a few ideas of what I wanted to do and see. All that was left now was to book my flights and accommodation.

Flights: £200 return Qingdao - Osaka Kansai Airport

Accommodation: 220 yen per night - 4 nights (shared dorm)

Accommodation: Osaka Guesthouse SUN

The hostel common area

The guesthouse allows you to arrive after the check-in time as long as you check-in the following morning. Be sure to inform them of your arrival time in advance. The location of the guesthouse was smack bang in the centre of downtown Osaka. I was able to walk everywhere.

Getting from the airport to the guesthouse

I took the JR Namba train which costs 920 yen and takes approximately 50 minutes (there are other faster options but I didn’t know at the time). From Namba station it is a 5-10 minute walk to the gueshouse (I took a taxi because it was midnight and I had no clue where I was going).

Day 1: Exploring Osaka

My friend gave me the contact of her friend who lives out in Osaka so we met up on the Friday morning at Takashimaya department store. After some quick introductions he was more than happy to show me around. Firstly, we walked around the shopping areas, showing me some great places for second hand electronics and much more. Later we walked by Toshimoto Kogyo which is a famous animation where we stopped for some pictures. Close by we stopped at a street vendor in Dotonbori so I could try some local food called Takoyaki. They are balls of goodness for 450 yen (a portion of 8). I only managed 5.

Before we knew it lunch time was upon us and what better place to stumble across than an Indian restaurant with a special offer. 800 yen for chicken curry, chicken tikka pieces, salad, naan bread and a drink. Demolished!

There is no better way to relax after a good meal than a bit of people watching so we found a nice spot in the shade and did just that. After a much needed rest we headed to Utsubo Koen Park.

Utsubo Koen Park

The park is within walking distance from the down town area. We constantly stopped to look in shops and take pictures of interesting things along the way. I think if you walked without these stops it would take about 15 minutes or less. On entering the park I first noticed how clean and well-kept it was. The grass was so green as if it were artificial. It had a small area with a fountain with some children happily playing in the water. We wandered around for a while then moved onto the tennis, football and basketball courts. It was nice to see young children actively playing outdoors rather than being held up indoors with their computer games.

Powerful sunset only a few minutes walk from the hostel

 

As the sun began to set we parted ways. I decided to walk around the area by the guest house and managed to catch the sun just setting over the river. It truly was a spectacular sight and a lovely way to end my first day in Osaka.

Day 2: Kyoto day trip

My friend had arrived late the previous night and we planned to go exploring the following morning. We were up early and on our way to the subway station. The total cost to Kyoto was about 600 yen each but with some transfers. Luckily all the staff plus a lot of the locals can speak English so you can always ask for directions.

Note: The ticket machines are quite tricky. You need to know the price of the journey before you can buy the correct ticket. That is something I wish they could include on a sign (unless I just missed it).

We made it to Kyoto with no problems. Once we had arrived at the station we quickly asked an attendant which bus would take us to Toji Temple. Minutes later we were in line waiting for the bus. It only cost 230 yen and took less than 10 minutes to arrive.

Toji Temple

 

Looking at the entrance, the temple didn’t seem to look like much but once you fully enter the grounds and walk a little you can appreciate it’s peaceful, tranquil atmosphere with beautifully designed temples and carefully planted trees and plants. We stopped numerous times to soak up the sun whilst looking at some truly wonderful architecture with so many huge trees towering above us offering just enough shade to make the walk around that little bit more pleasant.

Note: To visit the Pagoda you must pay 600 yen to enter.

After much walking and picture taking it was time for a refreshment. We found a locally owned coffee shop just in time before the heavens opened. From the window you could see both foreigners and locals frantically looking for shelter.

We decided what better way to spend the afternoon away from the rain, than to visit the Aquarium. So off we went as it wasn’t far away.

Aquarium

Note: Entrance Fee - 2000 yen per person (adult).

I was pleasantly surprised by the large variety of marine life, the high quality dolphin show (included with the entrance fee), the available information and even delicious, cheap snacks. Everyone seemed to be in high spirits from the youngest of children to the elderly.

Kyoto town

Although we didn’t spend much time exploring I can honestly say that it is a very clean and peaceful area. The locals are friendly and helpful. The buildings are very well-kept. The local shops have a very ancient feel to them with the old trinkets, traditional antiques and vintage items. We quickly learnt that the bus system was very organised making it easy for us to return to the subway/rail station.

Back in down town Osaka

Hungry and desperately trying to find a restaurant to eat dinner at was not as easy as we had anticipated. Yes there were many restaurants. Yes they had English speakers with English menus. Yes we were trying to find a place. The Japanese are much more patient than those of us from the Western world. Locals will happily wait in a line for more than an hour just to eat in their chosen restaurant. We made the sensible choice of buying some street food to hold us over till we found a suitable place. Finally, we found a place that looked very promising as it was full apart from two seats which quickly became our seats. We were about to experience Sushi & Grill Souya restaurant.

Sushi & Grill Souya

In short the food was amazing but tiny portions considering the price. The Jim Bean with Ginger Ale drink helped keep our spirits high during this quite poor experience. The service was shocking minus one member of staff who had his hands full the entire time. I would suggest avoiding this restaurant.

After leaving the restaurant hungry having withdrawals from the Jim Bean with Ginger Ale we went to the nearest 7/11 to buy dumplings, a wrap and alcohol. We took it back to the guest house expecting to eat, drink and pass out early. We were wrong!

Unexpected craziness!

Whilst consuming our 7/11 goods we got to talking to two guys who were pre-gaming for their night out on the town. Of course we were convinced to join them and hours later the four of us were stopping on the street to ask for advice on which club to go to. Also we offered to wear their promotion signs for them. These PR guys directly took us to a club. We were offered free drinks and shots, watched dancers perform, laughed and danced ourselves silly before looking for a more western style bar or club. We stumbled into a bar full of happy and intoxicated people dancing the night away. We tried some dangerous looking drinks including lots of flames, convinced our new male friend to let a local guy bondage wrap him in rope and enjoy our evening. Dragging ourselves home just before the sun was due to come up.

Day 3: Mino-o Waterfall & Osaka Castle

Another early start with little sleep the night before. Subway to Mino-o is about 400 yen per person with some transfers along the way. Waking up at 8am was not easy but we had a whole planned and a lack of sleep was not going to stand in our way. Moving a bit slow we were on our way, coffee in hand and breakfast on the go. It took approximately one hour to arrive at Mino-o station.

Mino-o Waterfall

Arriving in Mini-o I noticed how small and quaint the town was with predominantly elderly people residing there. After a few directions from a local we set off on our quest to the Waterfall which was a 45 minute walk. The walk itself was such a pleasant surprise. Over-hanging trees, flowers, a stream, bridges, temples, residential areas, young and happy children playing, pet dogs getting their daily exercise etc. It was a little crowded at the waterfall but people let you get your picture, even assisting in taking the picture for you.

Walking back down was much faster. We joked about retiring there as its the perfect little town and making that walk to the waterfall weekly would be great exercise. Back at the station we headed to Osaka Castle and Park.

Osaka Castle

On arrival you are treated to local performers, street food for miles and a pleasant stroll up to the castles main entrance.

First impression. Wow! The castle is well preserved in every way. The surroundings are clean and full of colourful trees and flowers. I couldn’t help but stare at the gold detailed design on the castles exterior. With the sun shining upon it, it looked so royal and out of this world.

Museum Entrance Fee: 600yen p/p

The Museum is worth a visit, full of intimidating looking suits of amor, clothing made of pure gold, a lot of information about the royal members and so much more. Take the stairs to the top of the castle and soak up the view.

As the sun began to set we headed out to try some local street food which consisted of BBQ skewers and ice cream for dessert. The sugar rush from the ice cream gave us just enough energy to get back to the hostel. About 40 minutes travel time to arrive back.

 

After a rest and a long shower we braved the restaurant scene once more and this time we were not disappointed. Amazing staff, the most delicious and generous portions of food, indulged in way too much plum wine and ended the evening with a nice chat with the waitress.

Perfect way to cap off the trip!

The chef doing this thing!

Maasai Mara: Maasai Village & Hot Air Balloon

Maasai Village & Hot Air Balloon

Left: The Maasai women performing a welcome song/dance for the visitors.

Right: The other two hot air balloons ahead of ours.
In this article I will complete my Maasai Mara experience by sharing the two additional activities I took part in whilst at Maasai Mara.
This is a follow up article: 
Maasai Mara National Reserve Safari

Additional Activities

Myself and my friend decided to add two activities to our Safari experience. Both came with additional costs but worth every penny.

Maasai Village - $30 including transportation

Hot Air Balloon - $450 including transportation, game drive and champagne breakfast

Maasai Village

John, the village leader

The Maasai are a tribe located throughout East Africa. They are some what traditional in terms of how they choose to live their lives from the clothes they wear to their selection method for marriage.

On arrival we were greeted by the Village leader who went by the name John (I am sure that was for our benefit). He shared some information about his community: the people, the homes, the land, the animals and much more.

The People

All the families live together as one large community but with separate homes for each family. They work together on the land by rearing animals, farming, making beaded jewellery and raising their children.

The Maasai men performing a tribal song/dance

The Homes

On entering a fenced area through a small gate you find a large number of mud shacks around the outskirts. All are a single story, very low in height and generally small in size. Inside, the homes are very basic and built for one person and a small child or baby. There is no electricity or even windows as to keep the rooms cool at all times, also making it very dark and difficult to navigate.

The first, most important home as you enter the village

The land & animals

Walking around I first noticed how dry the land was and how vast  also. There are donkeys everywhere you turn. John, the village leader told us that they use the donkeys not only for transportation but also as security to guard the land.

Unfortunately you can see how skinny the cows are and how dry the land is

Partner selection

A very interesting twist to the tour came when John, the leader told us about a traditional method for partner selection.  The men chant and dance for the women then one by one they come to the front of the group and jump as high as they can. The women watching then choose who they prefer based on how high they can jump.

Firstly, I was surprised at the method in general. I don’t see how a man who can jump very high would prove to be any better a husband than a man who can’t jump high. But who am I to judge.

Secondly, I was even more surprised that it’s the women who have the power to decide and not the men. This I can fully accept!

The experience was very informative and interesting and I would recommend it with a slight heads up.

The downside

Unfortunately, due to their lack of money they have no issue asking for it. When you are shown into a local home, the village leader asks for a sizeable donation for allowing you inside. Of course, he asks once you’re already inside the home so you feel cornered and give in. At the very end of the tour, you are taken to an open shop where all the women display their beaded jewellery. That wasn’t the issue. All the women stand around the circular shop surrounded by perforated fencing and watch you browse. I felt very uncomfortable and this made me not want to buy anything.

Hot Air Balloon

It had been my dream for a long time to fly over a spectacular place in a Hot Air Balloon. I am so happy that I chose to do it at Maasai Mara.

Early start just in time for the sun to rise

It is still pitch black outside when your wake up call startles you out of bed. Scrambling around to get dressed and look alive in time for a quick cup of much needed coffee. The drive to the Balloon wasn’t very long and we even spotted some wildlife along the way.

Arriving at the landing spot we patiently waited for the guides, drivers, security etc to set up. As the sun slowly began to rise we were given the all clear to climb into our balloon. Yes, climb! I never realised the enormity of a hot air balloon. The basket was lay on its side, therefore you must climb into it horizontally where you are left lying down holding on for dear life as the balloon engine roars to life followed by a sharp tilt. Moments later you are standing up right and the balloon is hovering slightly above the ground. Ready to go!

Flying high

Such a surreal feeling flying high whilst watching the sunrise. It’s so peaceful and still that you can hear yourself breathing. That silence is disturbed by the roaring of the Balloons fire breathing engine.

Watching the sunrise from our balloon

As we hover/fly over the Maasai Mara we see the other balloons in the distance at various stages of flight. Also we can see nature at its best. The vast land of grass, trees and exotic flowers, the various wildlife searching for its morning meal, the many streams creating a colourful images for the viewers above and the sun beaming down upon us as if it were just for us alone.

 

Champagne Breakfast

If the balloon ride wasn’t perfect enough, how about a few glasses of Champagne with your breakfast?

With the Hot Air Balloon package came a Champagne breakfast. You could eat and drink as much as you wanted. Of course soft drinks plus tea and coffee were included. The breakfast was delicious and super sized. We stayed there at least one hour to relax and soak up the rays whilst filling our bellies with goodness. Then it was time to head back to our accommodation. What we didn’t know was on the way back we got to experience yet another game drive for more than an hour. This was the day we saw various elephants and countless giraffe going about their day. Truly a spectacular sight!

If you decide to venture to the Maasai Mara, I advise you to consider taking part in the additional activities. Although they may seem expensive after already paying for the Safari itself, the icing on the cake is sweet.

 

Giraffe Centre – Nairobi, Kenya

The Giraffe Centre 

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to get up close and personal with an adult giraffe or three? Well I no longer need to wonder thanks to the Giraffe Centre in Nairobi.
Useful Information for travellers
Located close to the downtown area
Price: Locals - 250KSH Foreigners - 1000KSH
Turn the shutter sound and flash off cameras and phones
Be prepared to feed a giraffe and even receive a kiss from one

On arrival and after paying your entrance fee, you are directed to the giraffes which are hungry, friendly giants who love the attention. Each giraffe has an English name and acknowledges you when called. The staff working there have plenty of food pellets ready to give you so you can feed the giraffe of your choice. The pellets are included with your entrance fee so no extra cost.

Note: Each giraffe consumes about 5kg of food per day.

You are only to feed the giraffe one pellet at a time. If you are so inclined you are shown how to feed the giraffe from your mouth resulting in a big sloppy kiss. My friend really enjoyed that part while I took pictures for her collection. I was more than happy feeding them the old fashioned why and pet them.

If you want to learn about giraffes, the staff are knowledgeable and eager to share information with you. You can also go indoors to read further information for yourself, take part in a fun puzzle or go to the shop and possibly buy some souvenirs.

Note: Any money made be visitors purchasing souvenirs goes directly back into the centre to maintain the land, look after the giraffes in the best possible way and of course pay the hardworking staff.
Myself and my friend ended up staying there for about two hours. We both happily bought some souvenirs.
Time and money well spent!

 

Maasai Mara National Reserve Safari

Maasai Mara Game Drive & Sun Africa Hotel Resort

Location: Kenya (overlapping Serengeti National Park, Tanzania)

Tour Company: Prima Vera

Duration: 3 nights/4 days

Resort: Sun Africa Hotel

Total Cost: $550 including all transportation, all meals and 5-star accommodation

Excluded costs: drinks, park fees and any additional activities

It’s still dark out when the safari driver picks us up from our accommodation which is our friends mums house. Waving goodbye to our host mum, we set off on a 6-8 hour drive to Maasai Mara National Park.

Along the way there was a short stop at the Great Rift Valley. The view there was beautiful and looked like it had been painted. Of course this stop is a tourist trap for the locals to make some money be selling their goods at insane prices. Thankfully it doesn’t work on me.

Soon after we were back on the road, mere hours to our final destination. Arriving at the main gate we were bombarded with local Maasai women selling their beaded jewellery and a variety of cloth and clothing items. Fighting our way through the mass of women we approached the gate to pay our park fees.

Park Fees: $70 per day/per person

Sun Africa Hotel Resort

As the safari Jeep pulled up, I was blown away by the entrance alone. It exceeded my expectations. At the reception desk we were greeted with warm welcomes and a cold drink, then guided to our room. The view outside the rear of the hotel surpassed any further expectations. A large area of freshly cut green grass with bungalow type rooms dotted around one side. The other side hid a beautiful clean swimming pool with pink overhanging flowers. Ahead of the hotel was nature as far as the eye can see. Whilst being escorted to our room by a local Maasai guy we were startled by an unfamiliar grunting sound coming from the forest ahead. To our surpirse, we were told that just metres from where we stood, was an unguarded Hippo pool. They were free to roam around and occasionally came onto the resort. Following that came a friendly warning. Hippos are the most aggressive, deadliest animals so we should keep a clear distance from them and do not antagonise them. Did anyone used to play that game ‘Happy Hippos’? They should add that warning to the box as to negate from young children assuming they are happy, friendly creatures.

Our Room

Crisp white sheets, mahogany tiled floors, full length windows/doors looking out into the vast greenery with outdoor seating. The word lavish comes to mind.

Hippo Pool

Following the various hippo grunts, we strolled along a beautiful wooden pathway overlooking the many trees, plants and small wild animals until we came to a small viewing shack. There you could sit down and watch the hippos going about their day in the safety of the shack. You can even enjoy an ice cold beer and some snacks if you want. If you want a change of scenery you can walk along the path in a different direction to a little romantic spot and watch the sunset.

Swimming Pool

Gently shaded by the many trees with colourful, vibrant flowers hanging in an organised fashion. The crystal blue water awaits your presence. A small pool bar is available to quench your thirst after a nice, long swim. Although you can feel a light breeze while sitting by the pool, remember the suns rays are extremely strong so apply plenty of sun screen regularly. You don’t want a sun burn in a place where you can’t escape the heat.

Game Driving

A total of 4 days were assigned for the safari in small segments of time. The driver arranges the best times for the most wildlife sightings based on their daily activities. This meant we mainly went game driving either early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Honestly that is more than enough time plus in your down time you can explore the resort, go for a relaxing swim in the pool, add some extra activities such as: Visiting the Maasai Village or taking a Hot Air Balloon Ride. Both have additional fees.

Note: Masai Village & Hot Air Balloon activities will be featured in the follow up article. Coming soon!

 The Big Five

Rhino – spotted once as it bolted away from the Jeep.

Buffalo – Many sightings on different drives.

Elephant – Spotted many herd/parade of elephants throughout one day.

Lion – Many sightings on all days.

Leopard – Spotted one but not close up.

I feel very lucky to have seen the Big Five and I hope anyone who decides to experience the Maasai Mara Safari has the same, if not better luck than me.

Besides the Big Five, a large variety of wildlife was seen over the four days. To mention a few: Giraffe, Monkey, Zebra, Warthog, Antelope, Hyena, many bird species and so much more.

Some of my favourite wildlife sightings over the 4 days.

Elephant with her baby
Zebra were the most common sightings throughout the entire safari
Lions relaxing in the shade revealing some odd stretching poses
A lone cheetah strolling around in the sun
Various giraffe wandering around at sunset

Maasai Mara Views

From the moment we arrived at the Maasai Mara I realised how stunning it was. From walking around the resort to game drives during the day, the views never disappointed. In fact, they just kept getting better and better. Next I will show you some of my most memorable views. I hope you like them!

Sunset looking out the rear of the resort hotel
Taken while in the Jeep
The way the sun peaks through the clouds
Love the contrast of colour in this shot
Thank you for reading my Maasai Mara experience. I hope it has inspired you to venture on a safari some day soon.
A few tips:
  1. Listen to your driver – if you’re told to stay inside the Jeep, do so.
  2. Have a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen with you at all times.
  3. Have a good quality camera with a good zoom.
  4. Be patient whilst out on a game drive – sometimes the sightings all happen at once in a short period of time.
  5. Enjoy the views as well as the wildlife sightings

 

Coming Soon!

Follow up article: Additional Activities at the Maasai Mara.

HohHot is a Ger-eat Place in Inner Mongolia

HohHot, Inner Mongolia – Town life, Grasslands & Desert.

HohHot is located in Inner Mongolia, China. It is not to be confused with Mongolia the country.

A Ger is the correct local name for a Yurt. A tent like structure, usually circular and can stand by itself or surrounded by a mass of other Yurt structures out in the wilderness. Inner Mongolia is a huge Province so I did not have the time to explore much. The focus of my trip was HohHot with a 2-day/1-night tour to the Grasslands and Desert.

Making the journey to HohHot

After sitting on the plane for approximately 15 minutes the plane finally made a move, although it wasn’t to take off, but rather just to drive around for what felt like 30 minutes.

Interesting announcements

After being in the air about 1 hour the announcement, “You will feel some bumping due to the bad weather outside” came screeching though the speakers. Yes bumping means turbulence. This same announcement was repeated several times causing some loud giggles from us.

As the plane was due to the land the announcement was “Don’t forget to clam your luggage”. More giggles!

Accommodation - Anda Guesthouse

Day 1 – Arriving & Exploring HohHot

Prior to the flight I had arranged to use the Guesthouse airport pick-up  service which cost approximately £9 (total for all passengers sharing a car). The driver was punctual, helpful and very friendly. After a short drive we arrived at Anda Guesthouse to be pleasantly greeted by the staff. After checking in we walked around the local area for hours, ending up at a park with small temples hidden in the trees plus local people relaxing in the sun. A wonderful way to start the trip.

Simply picturesque!

Returning to the hostel we spent some time talking to the staff about doing a Grasslands/Desert tour. After much needed guidance and information we booked our 2 day/1 night tour through them which would begin early the following morning.

For those wondering about prices – Because prices depend on the time of year you choose to visit I have made the decision to leave out any price information. Although we were travelling on a budget and still had money left over so it wasn’t expensive at all. Plus it is one payment which includes: transportation, any entrance fees, accommodation (Ger) and meals. Excludes: camel and horse riding fees.

Day 2 – Xilamuren Grasslands

Zhaoda Temple

 

Early start on day 2 as we prepared for our drive to the Grasslands. The drive was broken up with a lovely stop at a Temple for Sharmanism which we were told is now used for Buddhism too. We walked around the temple, rubbing golden bells for good fortune.

 

A very bumpy journey later, we were pulling up to a very large farm filled with animals, Gers, locals and greenery as far as the eye can see. My first impression was a great one indeed!

Our local guide showed us to our Ger where we were left to make our beds and explore the surroundings a little. We were actually advised to rest but we were so excited we couldn’t even sit still.

We were lucky enough to catch some sheep and horse herding. I found the sheep particularly amusing as when they saw me about to take a photograph, it almost looked as if they were posing. What do you think?

Whilst wondering around taking pictures, our guide called us back. It was time for some Horse Riding. I don’t know about you but when I picture horses I see very tall, strong and elegant creatures. Well, Mongolian horses are nothing like what I am used to. They are very short, muscular and a little scruffy looking.

Off we went on our horse ride. A few things I hadn’t prepared for quickly became apparent. A good sports bra is necessary especially for those who have large breasts like myself. Of course this wasn’t an issue until the owner of the horses decided we should trot. Lots of boob holding whilst trying to control a horse isn’t the most fun. Thankfully I have ridden horses before so I was unphased. My confidence had peaked too soon. We began to canter which is much more comfortable. The horses then decided they wanted to gallop. If these horses had been from our home countries we would have been able to control them but these horses follow different orders so as we were trying to slow them down, we were in fact encouraging them to speed up. Needless to say, if it wasn’t for the owner wanting to slow down and thus telling the horses to do so, we most likely would have been thrown off.

Next on the agenda was Mongolian Archery. This was quite a strange and interesting experience. Firstly the target was blowing in the wind making it almost impossible to hit. Secondly, in the Western world we stand straight and aim horizontally whereas here they bend over slightly when aiming. It’s quite uncomfortable but remember they are used to riding a horse at the same time so tilting slightly makes for better control of your horse as well as your bow and arrow.

Dinner is served!

Mongolians are widely known for being mutton lovers. They are also known for using the entire animal for various purposes. Not only the meat for food, but the skin for coats etc and the bones for ornaments and games. The meal we were served consisted of noodles, tofu & duck hotpot with a large side portion of mutton. Don’t forget the many beers to round the meal off perfectly.

As the sun was beginning to set we were taken out into the grasslands for Cow Pie Picking. Yes, cow pie is cow poop! Yes, we were going to wonder around collecting that cow poop into a basket carried on our backs! Surprisingly, this was a lot of fun. Our guide taught us how to spot the difference between different animals poop and how to know when it is ready to be collected. Not a skill I will ever need again but you learn something new everyday.

Which poop is the right poop?

We returned to our Ger with two baskets of cow pies which we then used for a bonfire. Watching the sunset sitting around a bonfire drinking beer and listening to Mongolian throat singing was a perfect end to a perfect day.

Day 3 – Kubuqi Desert

Another early start before heading to the desert. The drive was pleasant and scenic minus the bumpy roads. Where is my sports bra when I need it hehe.

Another cheeky pit stop. It’s a sort of religious shrine. The idea is to find a stone or small rock to place on it then walk around it 3 times. Brings you good luck!

 

Arriving at Kubuqi Desert we were immediately taken to a room to change into sand shoes which are basically big cotton socks you wear over your current shoes. Once we were ready it was time for Camel Riding. I never realised how comical camels were up close. They’re awkward, slow and stubborn as hell. After watching the owner get two of them to lay down so we could climb on, we set off on a short walk through the desert. For those who have never ridden a camel, it is quite strange as there movements/steps are very large but slow so you feel like you might slip off.

Next it was time for Sand Dunes. This brought out the inner child in me. I just wanted to slide down over and over again BUT remember you have to then walk back up carrying your sled. It is not easy to do on sand and in the blistering sun. It is a great workout though.

Day 4 – More exploring of HohHot

Day 4 was our last official day to explore so we made a full day of it. Started off by wandering along a long street filled with souvenir shops and traditional clothing stores. Even tried on a few things for fun. I decided to buy the Bone Game so I could take it home and teach my friends. I will explain the game rules at the end.  We visited the food street but this time stopped to eat there and later that night we also tried a few of the bars out.

The Bone Game

Enjoying a few cold ones while playing a traditional Mongolian game

You need: 5 bones (sheep bones)

Landing options: 4 different ways they can land when dropped onto a surface (because each bone has 4 sides)

Note: Some surfaces allow 6 ways to land.
The Rules
  1. Roll the bones (the same way as dice)
  2. Check how many match (you are looking at the surfaces facing up) 4 same/4 different OR 3 same/3 different
  3. Pick up the odd one
  4. Throw the odd bone in the air, and whilst it’s in the air try collecting the remaining bones in that same hand before catching the flying bone piece (the aim is to use the same hand for all of this)
Note: 1) If only choosing 3 bones in part 2 - don't touch the bone left behind. 2) If 2 or more bones are leaning against each other - throw a bone to separate them.
Watch the short video clip below to show you how it’s done.

Mount Kilimanjaro – Tanzania

The Top of Africa!

Mount Kilimanjaro is located in East Africa, Tanzania although it overlaps into Kenya. It is the highest mountain in Africa. Before I share my experience with you, please note hiking Kilimanjaro is not a challenge to be taken lightly.

After a friend of mine gave me the contact of his cousin who happens to manage a tour company in Tanzania, it was just a matter of meeting him and his partner to set up a plan. Luckily for myself and my friend the tour guides were a pleasure from day 1. I had personally done a lot of research beforehand on different tour companies, hiking routes and even read many other peoples experiences through blogs. I had asked all my questions and the decision was made. We were to set off on our hike two days later.

In this time I was annoying excited and ready to go, although I can’t say the same for my friend who was terribly nervous about the upcoming climb. Note that I used the word climb deliberately.

Machame Route

Day 1: approx 6 hours

After waking up bright and early, enjoying a big breakfast and checking our already packed bags for the last time before our tour guides picked us up from our accommodation. From there we were driven to the park entrance/gate where we had to pay park fees,

Beautiful never ending leafy green trees

Once everything was settled, we were on our way. The first few hours was a very easy  walk along a lovely pathway shaded by the over-hanging trees with the gentle musical sounds coming from the surrounding wildlife. The tour guides stop you along the way to tell you some interesting facts such as: the age and name of some special trees, the difference between the various bird sounds and to simply show you some unique natural scenic spots.

Later in the day the pathway included some rather large steps and minor climbing points but again, it wasn’t strenuous as long as you take it at your own pace. Hours later we arrived at Base Camp 1 where our tents had already been set up by our porters and dinner was already being prepared.

Day 2: approx 6 hours

Our server woke us up at the crack of dawn so we could wash ourselves and enjoy a good breakfast before setting off on our hike. This was a very fun walk full of variety including flat winding paths, natural steps and rocks to climb. Unfortunately we got caught in the rain which added to the challenge of climbing up a fairly steep section of the path. Thankfully the rain lasted no more than one hour then the sun was back out stronger than ever.

After the heavy rain, the sun breaking through the clouds

Day 3: more than 8 hours

Although Day 3 was the easiest, it was a long day of constant movement. It honestly felt like it was never going to end. For miles all we could see was rocks of various shapes and sizes dotted along the never ending desert. Towards the end of the days walk as the sun was coming down, we stopped to take come victory pictures and take a much needed break.

 

The last part of the journey was actually quite difficult towards the end as the pathway was up and down hill, small climbing sections and crossing small streams. Saying that, it was an absolutely beautiful end to the day with all the strange and spectacular trees and plants while the sun slowly came down and day became night.

Odd trees everywhere

Day 4: approximately 6-8 hours

Immediately after setting off on Day 4 I noticed a huge difference in the pace and spent most of the day practically jogging behind the guides. For me this day was by far the most scenic from morning till noon. We stopped off at a camp for lunch then we were off again for another three plus hours. This was a constant walk up on a gentle incline. After arriving at our camp I was beyond exhausted and excited for a long sleep. Sadly, I was mistaken. At 11:30pm I was woken up by my guides telling me to get ready, it’s time for the midnight climb. The temperature had plummeted making the air uncomfortable to breathe in. Now I knew why I was told to bring a balaclava and thank the lord I listened and brought one.

Imagine, it is freezing cold, you are tired from the past few days, it is pitch black out and you are being told to keep a constant slow pace for six hours because stopping could result in you freezing to death. Not to mention there are no safety barriers between you and your impending death. This was the first time I truly struggled and a few times almost gave up. Somehow I continued on due to a combination of my stubbornness coupled with my amazing guides having complete faith in me. As the sun was coming up we reached the Stella Point at 5723m.

Sunrise at the Stella Point

 

Note: Stella Point is not the Summit.

After seeing numerous people who had attempted the Summit being escorted or carried down on stretchers I decided to stop at Stella Point. I wanted to take in what I had just achieved and enjoy the moment feeling happy and healthy.

Day 5: Descending down to camp

The sun beaming down upon us we set off down the mountain. Surprisingly I felt full of energy and we were in high spirits. Due to the gravel pathway allowing you to basically ski down, we managed to keep up a good pace. The wind and dust began blowing  from all directions and once the sun had come up fully it was quite an uncomfortable walk. Hours later we arrived back at the camp we had left the previous night. After a good wash, a big meal and a long nap, we were off again to the final camp which took around four hours to reach.

On the way down I had noticed several people looking at me strangely. It wasn’t until we reached our final camp and I looked in a bathroom mirror to understand why. To my complete horror my face had swollen to double the size, plus a strong red glow due to a combination of both sun and wind burn. To add insult to injury, my bottom lip had completely burst open. Sexy right!

After much hydration, several applications of face cream and lip balm I managed to fall asleep. My body definitely needed the rest as I slept about nine hours.

Day 6:  The Final Day (3-hours down)

Super early start but luckily only a three hour trek back to the gate where this wonderful and challenging journey began. The majority was downhill with rocky steps to clamber over until the last 30-40 minutes which was a flat gravel path on a slight slope.

Back at the gate where it all started

Exhausted and exhilarated we arrived back at the base of the mountain where we had began only six days earlier. A member of the tour company was waiting with a box of much needed cold beers. The reactions to my sunburnt, swollen face were priceless but it’s all part of the experience and I wouldn’t change anything. After an ice cold beer and a quick catch up, my guide took me to collect my certificate as proof that I completed the hike.

All in all, climbing Kilimanjaro was a dream come true and although it wasn’t a cheap experience, it was worth way more than that.

It is a lifelong achievement which I will cherish and look back on with only positive memories. I would like to say a huge heart-felt thank you to the crew of men that made my dream come true.

The whole crew: hikers, porters, cook and guides
Tour company used: www.steptokili.com

Extra Pictures from my Kilimanjaro Experience

 

 

Follow up article coming soon - specific tour information including prices, equipment, clothing, tipping and my personal tips.

48 hours in Seoul, S.Korea

 A weekend in Seoul!

Seoul has a been on my to-do list for more than five years so when my good friend surprised me with a weekend away including a return flight for under £150 I was all in. My friend has visited Seoul numerous times and is practically a local. We had talked about taking this trip since we became friends so it was a very exciting moment when everything was booked and we were at the airport waiting to board our flight.

We arrived in Seoul around 10:30am and had to endure the usual airport dramatics which took more than one hour. Fortunately for myself being British and her being European, we had an easy time. Whilst waiting in line I spotted two Russian girls not having quite the same luck. Later I saw them wondering the streets of Seoul having a blast. Good on them!

Thanks to my local/non local travel friend we made it to the hostel effortlessly via subway. It took approximately one hour from the airport to our chosen accommodation.

Note: You can purchase a transport card in the subway station from a machine vendor. The cost varies depending on how much you intend to use the card. It can be used for the subway and bus. It also has some other perks.

Accommodation – Kimchee Guesthouse

After a five minute walk from the subway station, we arrived at our hostel which is located in the Hongdae area of Seoul. We were welcomed by very pleasant staff who recognised my friend from previous visits so they upgraded our room for free. “It’s not what you know, but who you know“. We originally paid for a shared dorm at approx £6 per night but ended up with a private twin room. We were off to a great start!

Note: Check-in at 3 pm but you can leave your luggage with the staff and head out for the day.

A quick freshen up and a change of clothes later, we set off to do some exploring and eat lunch. My friend was extremely excited to show me around and introduce me to her favourite places so I just let her lead the way. As a solo traveller, this was an interesting change of pace for me but also a welcomed one.

Our first stop was of course for coffee. Mega coffee to be exact. This is no coffee for the light-hearted. The takeaway cup was bigger than my head, contained 2+ shots of espresso and was only about £3.50. The menu is diverse so even if you don’t like coffee you can opt for tea or hot chocolate.

Mega Coffee: I tried the mint frap (the green looking coffee)

Hongdae

Hongdae: Full of people all day and night

Hongdae is an area of Seoul busting with young, stylish university students and local entrepreneurs going about their day. Everywhere you turn your eyes are met with locals working hard in their privately owned shops, food vendors selling local delicious treats, street performers showcasing their singing and dancing talents and so much more.

We ended up spending the remainder of our day wondering the beautiful streets of Hongdae with some light shopping, trying local food and soaking up the atmosphere and of course the sunshine.

Something to remember. At night time the streets are ablaze with an array of Neon lights as far as the eye can see. Although at first it’s wonderful to see but after a while it starts to hurt your eyes.

P.D.A – Public Displays of Affection are very common in Seoul and I am guessing in South Korea in general (I am just making an assumption). I don’t particularly mind if couples want to be very affectionate in public but the volume of it was a little overwhelming. It’s nice to know the couples there seem to be madly in love with each other. You don’t see that everywhere.

Jogyesa Temple

An array of colourful lanterns

You can easily spot the temple from way across the street due to the immense colours coming from the sheer volume of hanging lanterns. To add to it’s beauty, the sun was shining upon them as if it were planned somehow creating a rainbow effect over the entire temple. I haven’t even gotten to the temple itself yet which was stunning with a strong element of the colour green with intricate detail painted onto the exterior using flowers and animals. Simply picturesque.

The contrast of colours is just breathtaking!

Yeouido Park

Enjoy a stroll in the park

We happened to have some time to spare late in the afternoon thanks to planning our day extremely well. Approximately half an hour subway journey from the temple, we arrived at the Park which was much bigger than I had anticipated. Walking along the pathways and across the grass area was just a lovely way to cap off the day. Stumbling across a local BBQ vendor was lucky and happened to be just in time to see the sunset over the river which was a pleasant surprise.

Note: We were there in April and the flowers were starting to bloom but not fully.
The view across the river

Bukchon Village

Waking up bright and early and after a much needed filling breakfast, we headed to Bukchon Village. I honestly I had no idea what to expect but thankfully it was more than I could have hoped for. Walking around this old style, beautiful, romantic village was the perfect way to spend half a day. I ended up buying a small wooden painting from a local painter, had a virgin strawberry mojito, visited the tea museum and so much more.

Let’s play dress up

Dress up in traditional clothing and walk the streets of Bukchon Village

While wondering the never ending streets I kept seeing locals and non-locals doing the same thing but dressed in traditional Korean clothing. It was a very hot day so I am glad I didn’t take part in the dress up activity but if I were to go back during a different, cooler season I would definitely get involved with some dress up fun. Personally I think it would be good to do with a small group of friends or even as a family.

The Tea Museum

We stumbled upon the museum by accident whilst climbing some steps to get a good view of the village. In fact, the tea museum was more than just a museum. It was quaint and well designed with a small collection of tea apparatus, a small hidden garden with a pond surrounded by blossoming trees and flowers plus a roof top cafe over-looking the entire village.

Note: The entrance fee was less than £1 and I would happily go visit again in the future.
Stunning view from the Tea Museum Cafe

The Food

Whether or not you have visited South Korea will not determine whether or not you have enjoyed great Korean food. BUT there is something to be said about food prepared and eaten in the country of its origin. I have eaten plenty of Korean food in my time but after experiencing it in Seoul I can say with certainty that it is tons better there. I have never eaten so much food in such a short period of time. I have zero complaints about anything food related. Beyond delicious!

BBQ

Enjoy some delicious BBQ with friends

I’m sure you have all heard of or eaten Korean BBQ. Please make some time to try some different BBQ restaurants while in Seoul. You will not be disappointed.

Monster Pizza

Grab a slice of pizza

A huge slice of pizza for about £2 is something worth trying.  Of course there are many flavour options with a variety of toppings and spices plus you can choose from a collection of sodas and beers to wash it down with. It opens at 5 pm  and stays open till the early hours of the morning. I know what you’re thinking, it’s the perfect place to go after a night on the town. Well, you would be right!

Traditional dessert

I didn’t quite catch the name of this dish but you will see it advertised on most cafe windows, around areas with street food and in small restaurants. It tastes like ice-cream but it is in fact shaved ice with a topping plus added milk. It is super strange but super delicious.

You have to try it to understand it

A few remaining pictures from my weekend in Seoul

For those who are considering taking a trip to Seoul, I highly recommend it. And for anyone who has never considered it, I hope this short article has triggered a desire to visit in the future. I fully intend to go back in the near future and spend some more time there plus travelling around other cities too.

Va Va Vang Vieng – Laos

Known for it’s Tubing activity, Vang Vieng has plenty more to offer from it’s Street Food to The Happy Bar to The Blue Lagoon.

Sandwiches, Burgers and Smoothie stalls are dotted along most streets in the city and they are super cheap, convenient but most of all, delicious and available at all hours of the day and night.

The Hostel (Chillao Youth Hostel)

Conveniently located, this hostel was a great choice for many reasons. Every night Happy Hour included unlimited free local Whiskey by the bottle. Your only expense is a mixer if you feel you need one. Needless to say, if you choose to stay there, you will be drunk most of the time but that just means guaranteed fun in my mind.

The hostel breakfast and Whiskey group

Myself and two travel buddies shared a private room which looking back, I am glad we did. After already travelling for quite some time, a private room can be a nice change from a shared dorm. If you’re worried about making friends here, don’t! You will have plenty of opportunities. Breakfast time is a great way to meet people over a free omelette and coffee, or at Happy Hour or whilst out Tubing.

Note: We paid around $4 per night.

The Streets of Vang Vieng

The streets of Vang Vieng

Enjoy a nice relaxing day of wondering the streets of Vang Vieng or venture further to some more spectacular views. You can even stop off at some local shops to buy some souvenirs or clothes. The locals didn’t seem that open to bargaining so respect their prices and only buy something if you truly want or need it.

Tubing

The Famous Tubing!

Although it has calmed down a lot in recent years to ensure the safety of the tourists, it’s still a truly enjoyable experience from beginning to end. The friends I travelled with are both sociable like me so within minutes of renting our tubes, we already had a group forming. Its true what they say, “The more the merrier”.

The ever expanding group

On our tubing journey two bars were open along the way.  A worker shouts you in, you jump off your tube and drag yourself out of the water which has a pretty strong current so be ready to move those legs. The first stop for us was a huge wooden seating area resembling the deck of a boat with no exterior at all. You simply buy your drinks from the small bar and enjoy them in the hot sun accompanied by other travellers and good music. There was also an outdoor mud bath which most intoxicated people couldn’t help but throw themselves into, quickly turning the whole area into a mud fight. But don’t worry there are showers and even if you are not part of the fight you will most likely get caught in the crossfire.

Once you have had your fill of alcohol and mud at the first bar, you jump back onto your tube and float further down the river. You can’t beat the contrasting feeling of cold water beneath you; the hot sun above you whilst relaxing on a soft tube with a slight buzz. Not too long after, another worker spots the many tubes heading towards him and before you know it, we’re dragging ourselves out of the water yet again. This time it’s not so easy, I wonder why.

This bar was in much higher spirits than the previous with people knocking back shots, dancing under a water fountain and generally just letting their hair down. This is where our little group grew ten fold. With the music blasting all around you, the sun beaming down upon you, what better way to take it all in than with an ice cold beer.

Watch the sun set whilst floating along the never ending river

Hours later we all broke off into smaller groups to head back. Myself and my two travel buddies, beer in hand floated slowly down the river enjoying each others company and relaxing after all the dancing. What we didn’t know was that towards the end you need to fight the current, using all of your energy for about 30 minutes straight to somehow get out of the river at the stop sign before being swept away by the increasingly strong current.

After returning our tubes and waiting for the other arrivals we continued the drinking with some much needed BBQ. Some even continued to the bars. All in all it was one of those experiences you will never forget. Some of the people I met on that day have continued to be a part of my life and a few of us already have future travel plans together.

The Bar Scene

Although there are many bars to choose from, I noticed that two particular bars seemed to be the most popular amongst the backpackers.

You can never watch too much F.R.I.E.N.D.S

F.R.I.E.N.D.S Bar – These bars (Yes – there were many) can be found  along numerous roads. Each F.R.I.E.N.D.S bar differs in décor, menu and comfort but of course the common factor is that they all play the T.V series F.R.I.E.N.D.S all day, everyday. I don’t know anyone who dislikes the T.V series including my own father so I think it’s a very clever idea and it certainly worked on me.

Happiness comes in many forms

 

            The Happy Bar – Want to feel happy? Get high! Two pages of the

menu are dedicated to Happy food and drinks. Prices seemed reasonable and it was busy every night with both locals and tourists looking for the perfect chill spot after a long day of outdoor activities in the scorching sun.

 

The Blue Lagoon & The Cave

If you have had enough of tubing, F.R.I.E.N.D.S bars and free Whiskey from the hostel, maybe you can take a day trip to the Blue Lagoon and Cave. Our day trip was organised and booked through our hostel but you could do it by yourself.

Note: No Entrance fee, just a transportation fee.
Head up the steps to find a cave just waiting to be explored

A short car journey later and you have arrived at a beautiful area filled with children’s laughter, the smell of BBQ and a view of a crystal clear blue lagoon. The sun was too strong to sit out so we

first decided to explore the cave. Luckily the stone steps up to the cave entrance were shaded by trees but they were very steep, slightly unstable making it quite a challenge. I would suggest wearing some kind of sports shoes and have both hands free to assist yourself in the climb up.

Immediately on entering the cave you feel the chill surround you and the ground is wet and slippery. Wearing a head torch would be the smart thing due to the severe lack of light inside. The cave itself is a fun place to walk around, take some pictures, sit and relax. I was in there around an hour before heading back outside to soak up the suns rays, but not before the steep walk down the steps. Be sure to take some time to explore the area. You won’t regret it. It is simply beautiful.

Once back in the sun our group sat with food and old beers, played some chilled music and just relaxed. The younger two members headed to the lagoon to jump off the very high tree ledge into the water. Thanks to my GoPro they have great action pictures plus some from in the water. A few hours later we headed back to the hostel to shower and have a few cheeky Whiskeys to end the day.

Dare to leap!

Get yourself to Vang Vieng for some Tubing and much more!

Zanzibar Island – Fun, Spice & all things nice!

Welcome to Zanzibar!

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Location: An Island off the country of Tanzania, East Africa.


Current destination = Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. Wanted destination = Zanzibar. For someone who usually plans thoroughly in terms of how to get around on a backpacking trip, this time I was not so prepared. I actually didn’t even realise Zanzibar was its own country.

Dar Es Salaam to Zanzibar

Myself and my travel friend woke up early to have a good breakfast and pack before checking out of our accommodation. One of the staff members not only drove us to the ferry port but also accompanied us to buy our tickets. Ticket price approximately $35. Soon after we were boarding the boat and super excited to be sitting on the top deck which is completely open. That excitement didn’t last too long due to the blistering heat we had to endure for almost two hours with no where to hide. Not only did we stand out as the only two none black people, we arrived in Zanzibar burnt to a crisp, sporting a new lobster red glow.

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After arriving, collecting our bags and meandering through the port we were back in the sun where the taxi vultures were waiting for their prey. Stubborn and unorganised as we were, we ignored them and proceeded to walk to the nearest bar/restaurant which luckily was only five minutes away.  We had only gone and stumbled into Mercury’s Bar, named conveniently after the one and only Freddie Mercury, lead singer of the band Queen. Fact: Freddie Mercury was born in Zanzibar. Whilst eating and drinking the sunburnt pain away, we managed to book accommodation. All we had to do now was wait for the driver to collect us. The drive alone from the port to the accommodation was breathtaking with lots of local homes dotted along the way.

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ZeruZeru Bungalows

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Arriving at the Bungalows we were told ZeruZeru is the Swahili word for Albino. Interesting name if you ask me. We were pleasantly greeted by the owners and shown to our room, but not before the lady owner gave us a large amount of aloe vera from her personal garden.

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Exploring ZeruZeru! The grounds include numerous bungalows, a swimming pool, a communal area with sunset viewpoint, reception, the owners home, outdoor football-pool table, table tennis, bicycles plus much more. You can take the bicycles and venture out of the grounds to the nearby beaches. There is a beach both left and right out of the Bungalo20170130_204550ws and only a 5-10 minute cycle to both. The views are worth the short cycle even if you are unlucky like us and you end up walking the bikes back because the chain pops off.

FB_IMG_1485511183725A few days into our stay at ZeruZeru other travellers began to show up to begin their trip.  It had been a bit quiet up until that day. A lovely European couple shared lunch and dinner with us which quickly turned into a drinking session resulting in too many Safari beers. Even the owners joined for the drinking part of the evening to relax after a long day of work.

One thing I should kindly mention, too many Safari beers without proper hydration isn’t fun. Getting into bed that night both myself and my friend were taken over by dizziness, headaches and cramps which resulted in a bathroom tug of war. Safari beer is only 5.5% but after living in China for almost seven years, the strongest beer I’m used to is up to 4%. Sad but true.

FB_IMG_1485511205237Paje Beach is the more beautiful of the two FB_IMG_1485511219620beaches close by to the bungalows and has up-scale bars and restaurants with accommodation. Although I don’t scuba dive, I was approached by locals offering so maybe you could try it on your trip and let me know how it goes. You will come across a number of Masai trying to sell you handmade beaded jewellery, paintings and clothing. Some even have tour options including: swimming with dolphins, visiting a Masai village and many more.

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FB_IMG_1485511151328Spice Village

Anyone who enjoys cooking or eating for that matter, will enjoy a tour around the Spice Village. Walking around nature, gently shaded by the trees and listening to a well-spoken tour guide is a great way to spend half a day. Not only can you learn about the various spices, plants andFB_IMG_1485511156130 fruits but also some aspects of the local culture. A few things stood out for me. Firstly, it takes 6-10 months to grow ONE pineapple due to the local climate. That is some dedication to fruit! Secondly, the Butterfly Man who climbed the tallest tree without any safety measures whilst singing and dancing. It was a very unique and funny experience.

After much walking, learning and laughing, it was lunch time. The lunch provided exceeded all my expectations and the sheer volume of food was both immense and delicious. To add, there was also a constant line of fruit to try for dessert.  Before leaving you can buy some local products such as Zanzibar perfume, coffee, cooking spices and soaps all at very reasonable prices.

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The Doors! Being guided through the narrow streets and alleyways of Stone Town you will stop at a variety of doors in various shapes, sizes, ages and designs. One of those doors will be the front door to the home/museum of Freddie Mercury.

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The Architecture! The buildings generally have a very European style to them with lots of beautiful stain-glass windows, wooden furniture and light coloured exterior. In a word, beautiful!

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The Views! On entering a number of the buildings dotted around the town I was blown away by the views. Each one had a viewing area looking out over the island. I must have taken a hundred pictures and not one looked like the other.

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Local Culture! Like any placFB_IMG_1485511146970e, if you are willing to explore, talk to people and be open minded you will be lucky enough to have some unique experiences. Something as simple as visiting the local food market can give you that. The market was huge and packed with local food products with customers chatting and laughing away. Be sure to get involved and enjoy yourself.

Karibu Zanzibar!

(meaning welcome to Zanzibar)

Welcome to Zanzibar!