Debating on which islands you want to venture. These are my opinions of each of the islands I have visit thus far.
Maui is the chill spot to be if you want a more relaxed city break. There are some great beaches where spotting turtles is a reality. The Road to Hana can be rough but once you get the hang of driving it, it’s not that bad. I highly recommend what we did and drive through the entire thing to the end and doing the Pipiwai Trail to Waimoku falls before doing the reverse visiting of mile markers on the Road to Hana. Gypsy Guide definitely came in handy and brought us to spots we didn’t even know about. Plus, it taught of the history of how Hawaii came to be what it is. The hike in Haleakala was absolutely amazing. Going up to the elevation of 10,000 feet and watching the sunset was absolutely incredible. The traffic is light here but especially on the Road to Hana, if you don’t feel comfortable, pull aside and let the locals pass you (single lanes). Small town feel in many of the areas. Paia is real cute. We stayed in Kihei which is where many of the resort/accomodations are located but its also located near some great beaches.
Oahu is like the island version of Los Angeles. There is tons of traffic and the city grid isn’t that well laid out. It is for sure the most touristy of islands. Expect to be stuck in traffic. My favourite spot on this island is definitely North Shore and Haleiwa area. From my previous visit, I found that Oahu seemed too slow paced but after going to Maui and Kauai, Oahu seems to be the balance between the 3 and a nice place to come to.
Kauai is the wettest of the 3 islands we went to. In the centre of Kauai, it holds the Weeping Walls – 2nd wettest place in the world receding over 400inches of rain fall. It is more humid and the rain comes in an out more often than the other islands. Small time vibes but unlike Maui, single lane to maybe 2 land roads but the traffic can pick up. Each area of the island has very unique burroughes. We stayed in Kapa’a. Going north shore, it’s a littler more of the posh area with Princeville and Hanalei Bay. Going south, you hit up Koloa and Poipu and west side – Waimea.
6AM wake up call. Breakfast was a big improvement with hard boiled & fried eggs, bacon, bread, boar sausage. It was the final tear down – bittersweet. The rain had past but the fog hadn’t fully lifted making it eerie but beautiful as we drove. Another round of gin rummy and a few hours later, we made it to our last pitstop at the mall for lunch. (lunch is not included)
Will realized after he purchased a new phone that he had left his pouch with his sim card and passport back at Kruger which was 3-4 back the opposite direction.
Another hour or two and we finally made it to Benoni (roughly 20 minutes drive to airport) to Mufasa Backpackers where we all disembarked from the truck one last time. Earlier in the week Will asked for all our plans and arranged rides for all of us to get to our next destination. It cost 600ZAR to get from Benoni to Rosebank by taxi. Before we all parted ways, we presented Will, Frans and Clive with envelopes containing our collective tips for them.
TIPPING – On the Go Tours
Tipping is all dependent on what you feel comfortable paying. Our guide mentioned to us that it is roughly $5USD/day per staff for the length of the tour. In the end, depending on how long of duration your tour is, it can add up. In the end, we thought it fair for $150USD collectively split amongst the 3 staff. Tipping is a very Westernize custom but USD goes a long way especially in Africa. We (as in Canadians – Torontonians precisely) pay at least 13% back home. Tipping also customarily shows the person you are tipping if their skills were up to par or if they need improvement.
It is not highly recommended to take public transit or walking around especially for foreigners. There is high crime rate in Joburg. Uber is a good alternative to taxis especially for the price.
We booked with Hyde Park Villa (28B – 3rd Road, Sandton) for 2731ZAR for 2 villa rooms with 2 single beds in each room for a night. The bathrooms are just as large as the rooms with a full tub and walk in shower. Rosebank & Sandton are a gated community and this hotel is gated and felt very safe and secure. This hotel is located near a St David’s College. They have an honours bar where you take what you want but write down your room number and pay later.
We got the villa rooms 12 & 14 close to the breakfast room and closest to the pool in the inner courtyard. Room 12 has more natural lighting coming into the room but nonetheless the rooms are nice and cozy and their bathrooms are beautiful and spacious including a open shower and a giant tub with 2 sinks. The only issue we had in room 14 was that the AC/heater unit was giving off a funky smell. The courtyard was very cozy and inviting but unfortunately we didn’t have time to use the pool. The stairs to the units above our room made you feel like you were somewhere in Europe. There is free wifi on the premises via Alwayson provider which allows a complimentary 500MB per day. It is a decent speed.
We got in and settled by 445PM and with lack of time, we opted to goto to Rosebank Mall (15A Cradock Ave, Rosebank, Johannesburg, 2196, South Africa). We wanted to Uber to the mall as it is the cheaper option for transportation but we couldn’t get the app to work so luckily Jackie was kind enough to book one for us (Uber updated so you have the option to pay in cash).
Our room key comes with a gate opener that allows us to go in and out without needing to buzz security. Ellet was our driver who was originally from Polokwane and was such a sweet man.
We arrived at the mall and tried to check out the rooftop market but only then realized it is only opened on Sundays so we tried to check out the Arts and Crafts Market on the outside of the mall but they were in the midst of closing at 530PM and we tried to see if they would stay open but majority of the vendors had left. We walked through the mall to search for souvenirs but nothing so we went grocery shopping at Pick n Pay for last minute purchases of snacks and coffee beans. After research, There was high rating for Bean There Coffee, Monate Coffee but I also purchased Terbodore Coffee and E Cafe all for my father.
Unfortunately the mall was closing by the time we finished grocery shopping (everyone told us the mall stays open late into the evening – not true). Luckily there was complimentary wifi and I was able to download Uber and Ubereats. There weren’t any restaurants at the mall so we opted to go back to the hotel and order Ubereats since the mall was closing and our access to free wifi was coming to an end. We had the hardest time trying to make an order on Ubereats. We had made a few selections and had our order ready for 2-4 restaurants but we couldn’t get the app to complete any orders. Luckily Sarah had Skype credits and we ordered pizza from Andiccio 24. I got the Pumpkin Banting (cauliflower crust) with bacon. By the time the pizza’s came and we all showered, it was already 1130PM. Our hotel also gave us complimentary wine but it was just too strong and sweet. We repacked and went to bed in an actual bed.
We got to sleep in until 8AM as complimentary breakfast services finish at 9AM. Not the hottest of mornings like we had days previous so taking a dip in the pool wasn’t an option. Breakfast was great. Cute little eating area with buffet set up of yogurts, pancakes, fruits, bread, smoke salmon and juices/coffees .Jackie is the owner of the bed and breakfast and such a sweet lady. She is very involved including making custom omelettes for us for breakfast. Once seated, Jackie would come over and ask if you wanted any hot food customized. We all got mushroom and cheese omelettes with a side of bacon.
The actual property of Hyde Park Villa feels like being in a private European park that makes you feel secluded and relaxed. Jackie had booked an airport shuttle for us for 550ZAR prior to coming and we had asked her to adjust the time for pickup to 10AM as opposed to the original 11AM as our flight was 210PM. We only were successful in downloading Uber late the night before (it would’ve been 225ZAR) so it was too late to cancel the airport shuttle. We wandered the property until our taxi came for us. We played with Jackie’s dog Mishka who is also a delight and so sweet with it’s spot on the lawn near the swimming pool.
Once we got to O R Tambo, the line for Ethiopian Airlines was enormous and somehow was 3 lines funnelling into 1. We spent an hour at the Made in SA store outside the gates to get souvenirs. We really wished we picked up souvenirs before in Zimbabwe and Botswana but the only opportunity in the trip to do so was realistically in Vic Falls, Zimbabwe at the very beginning before we started our tour.
We made it through security and spent more time in Duty Free and the Out of Africa store (has a much bigger selection than the store outside) still pricier than markets outside of the airport but last minute buys, not bad. Our flight home was long but with Emergency seats, you can’t complain too much. We went from Joburg to Dublin (we didn’t get off but cabin crew changed and plane re-fueled) then Dublin to Toronto. Halfway through the flight, our personal media units (the ones that you unfold from the armrest) stopped standing up on its own and kept falling down. It felt like we were on the plane forever consuming 7 meals and periodically sleeping. One thing I don’t understand when being on planes is the sheer laziness of people who goto the washroom barefoot or in their socks – disgusting.
25 days of non-stop travelling is great when things are planned out. I find that the stuff that are booked and planned go by fine but when I give options on what to do but nothing confirmed we end up wasting more time than anything trying to figure out what to do. I think whoever Im travelling with should have a clear picture of things to do per city besides the main things we book beforehand. Everyone needs their own space. I don’t know why I have to lead everywhere we go especially when they know I will be shooting over anything else. Crocs are the preferred footwear or similar sandal/croc imitations. Deet and tiger balm will be your best friends. Toilet paper roll will save you in Lao & Cambodia. Recycling isn’t something they really do out there unless its a person going through the trash and removing the bottles themselves. Garbage cans don’t really exist either (Vietnam had some though) but you kind of just make a pile when you see an open garbage/plastic bag as you walk around. They also have a large assortment of plastic bags and plastic is plentiful here. Plastic chairs/stool/tables are prime tools of people’s trades as they can set up and clean up pretty easy anywhere. Vietnam, Lao, Cambodia are more reserved – women stay covered in long sleeve and pants. Thailand – more likely to see tatted people, tank tops on local women but also the whole long sleeve cover up but booty shorts. Also tons of pretty ladyboys everywhere. Get use to smog and smell of diesel as well as dirt/dust. Ive heard stories of people on motorbikes snatching phones and purses by the side of the road but never saw it happen – just be vigilant and keep your purse on the opposite side away from the road. Otherwise, I felt safe everywhere I went. I had my camera attached to my hand but otherwise everything was out of sight. HCMC is very populated so just be cautious when it big crowds or when people are too close. The men there will just keep looking at you though. Siem Reap – same thing, big crowds especially in the night market just be cautious. Bangkok – the only real place we really saw any homeless people – they will leave you alone for the most part… ladyboys will be more aggressive than them.
Ho Chi Minh
Hot and humid – Its grungy, tons of motorbikes, don’t trust taxi cabs and stick to Mai Vinh and Vinasun cabs. Its rather easy to cross the street if you have no fear and stare them down. Its humid and full of people everywhere. People watching is great and the french influence in architecture make it beautiful. People stare. PJ and rice hats everywhere. Crocs rule this place as well as sandals and croc imitations. If they need to move anything around the city, it can fit on a motorbike including 2 old people with 2 ladders or bags of rice and other things. There are road rules and lights but not everyone abides by the rules. Its built with french influence – everyone eats on the sidewalks and people watch but on plastic stools and tables rather than wicker sets. Each restaurant specializes in one or two particular dishes so you eat at one place and move on. Sidewalks also become roads and parking lots. No age limit for drinking – babies drink beer.
Humid but rains and cools down a tad bit – Taxi’s are better than in HCMC – more regulations. Love the history of the old city where the streets were named after the product they specialized. I love that its such a mix of nature and city. There are so many random alleys that you can just turn your head and look at and its a small vignette into a smaller world; a smaller moment that I absolutely love and look for on all my trips. The people are different here form HCMC… a little more refined. From the looks of things, Hanoi looks more educated. Reminds me of Hong Kong – Humid as hell. Slightly calmer traffic but still amazing little streets to walk through. If it wasn’t for our food tour there would be so many foods we tasted that we would’ve missed out on.
Ha Long Bay
Hot – Beautiful pinnacle of islands to sail through and live aboard a boat was a great experience. Sunrise was so serene. I hear good things about Ha Long Bay but I hear Sapa is a dream… next time.
It’s a dream world. A little village like city. Weather reminds me of Hawaii – hot but not humid. Mix of old and new but now with a huge mix of expats. Buffet street, morning market street and alms giving were great. Wish I had more time there. Kuangsi falls – spectacular!
Hot with normal humidity compared to Vietnam. Tuktuk will be cheaper options and can grab one outside the entrance of airport – Haggle down the price but check inside first what a taxi costs. A look into normal life – a small city that has great land nearby that produces one of the worlds best coffee. The people are lovely. Made new friends playing volleyball.
Small little village but even on the van ride over, the people were just so kind hearted waving and smiling. The jungle was awesome. Wet but it only rains for a short time then it can be nice. I love being outdoors and this was definitely a workout and a half. Zipllining was awesome too but wished it was a little safer like Whistler nonetheless still a great experience
Hot and humid. Not all roads are built of concrete so they will be bumpy. Tuktuks will be your main choice in transportation. Full day tuktuk will be roughly $25USD + feeding your driver. Tickets for temples can be purchase morning of first day of temple running – $20USD for single day up to $40 for 3 day. Angkor Wat at sunrise is nice but everyone goes so its crowded and gotta be patient to not get another tourists camera in your shot. Bayon even though we didn’t go inside because it was so hot of a day and we had already visited at least 4-5 was by far the prettiest. Its hot… drink water – heat stroke is real. Dress modestly for temples – t-shirt and cover them knees. Phare Circus is awesome and is a great asset to the community helping low income individual strive for better. The show is awesome too! The kids are so adorable here but when you’re closer to temples – tons of poor families and kids will approach you to purchase things – don’t buy from kids! If you want to purchase prescription glasses – this is the place to do it and haggle down price! I got mine for $38USD with lenses.
Hot but not too humid. Hawaii like weather. Best time to go is April-March. #1 source of income – tourism. Very commercialized. Central Festival mall is pretty nice and has night market stalls outside overnight with cheap food and other. The night market by the water sells all souvenirs you want. There is also a volleyball / basketball court at the very end past the chewang food court market. Recommend staying in a resort beachfront near Chaweng. Sandalwood was great but hassle to be on top of a hill and needing to be driven down and then work within schedule for drop off and pick up if you don’t want to pay for your own taxi.
Taxi from airport is relatively cheap. Tuktuk as well. Hot with little humidity. More cultured – I see more style and edge to the people here. Laid back but very safe and nice. Sunday walking market is long and huge in a t format. Tons of temples to goto. The old city holds a lot of the culture and things you want to see. Top of the north wall – stalls – street food for locals – thai cowgirl – 30baht – best khao kha moo. Good Khao soi nearby stall. The Central Plaza – Chiang Mai Airport mall is nice too. Goto north village and all the way to the bottom to their foodcourt for cheap meals indoors in AC. Coffee trending here – Ahka Ama, Ponganes, Clay Studio Coffee, Graph Cafe, Natwat Home Cafe, Mao Coffee etc. Elephant, karen long neck tribe, tigers etc tours all can be done here.
HUMID. disregard the taxi stand right outside the arrival gate. head to gate 8 at Don Meuang airport and line up for a cab there. metered taxi. If you take the highway – tolls that need money up front at each toll. Don’t take an unmetered taxi unless you negotiate price first. Ride into downtown is about 35-40 minutes. HUMID. tuktuks are little pricer here but can negotiate price. Grand Palace is 500baht to enter. Was Pho is 100baht plus free water. Dress modestly for temples – t-shirt & cover knees. Visit Chinatown to see what the city use to look like years past. Khaosan Road – touristy but cool to see/experience once. Buy all your souvenirs here. Get a thai massage in an AC place – 250baht for an hour is standard.
We ended up switching from our 6 person dorm to a 4 person dorm on the first floor of housing. We journeyed to the Grand Palace but it’s 500baht to enter and we didn’t want to pay that to go in. SO many tourists there and also Amy and myself brought clothes to throw over our shorts and tanks but Adam wouldn’t have been allowed in with his shorts so we moved on and went to Wat Pho. It is 100baht to enter and the ticket gets you a free water. There are tons of buddhas around so you should dress modestly. The temple complex houses the largest collection of Buddha images in Thailand, including a 46m long Reclining Buddha. The temple is also the earliest centre for public education in Thailand, and still houses a school of Thai medicine. It is known as the birthplace of traditional Thai massage which is still taught and practiced at the temple. Wat Pho is one of Bangkok’s oldest temples; it existed before Bangkok was established as the capital by King Rama I.
Earlier on this trip, we watched a bit of television in Koh Samui and saw this one commercial with one small yet cute ice cream parlour called Farm to Table in which we checked their Instagram and website and saved their location for later. We walked down to the Farm to Table Cafe and I grabbed a matcha tea latte – 52baht and then i picked up a little map that showed there was indeed another location – the main spot which we saw in the commercial. We walked just around the corner and found Farm to Table – Hideout and it was so adorable and the interior decor was great. Here is where the real homemade gelato is made. I grabbed a grass jelly with real grass jelly, brown sugar and jackfruit – 72baht and it was so good! The grass jelly gelato flavour was so intense and tasted better than the actual grass jelly. We walked through a food market which then brought us to the flower market.
All the blogs I’ve read had said if you want to experience what Bangkok was probably a decade ago, you need to visit Chinatown to get a picture of what the old city looked like. We walked from Farm to Table Hideout all the way to Yaowarat aka Chinatown and it was very visually stimulating. Mix of old and new and so many colours. I had read on a blog about a place that sold satay skewers dipped in coconut milk called Jay Eng but the address I saved wasn’t the right location so we ended up wandering around gun street and then walked onward to fabric street. We somehow found ours going into a huge mall complex of just fabrics ensued – Sampheng Centre. There was a food court located on the top floor and there we ate. You have to buy coupons in order to actually order from the stalls. You give them 60baht and then they give you a packet of tickets and if you have some remaining, you can return it for baht. I went to Blue-Taiwan and got myself a fried rice green curry – 45 baht and then at the corner a thai tea for 15baht – both so flavourful and delicious.
We continued to wander and eventually made our way to Yaowarat Rd and walked that street for a bit to visually capture the life that is chinatown. Adam and Amy were getting tired of walking so we hailed a cab to Siam Paragon – It was rush hour so all the cabs were off meter – we settled with 100baht. Siam Paragon is one of Asia’s largest malls and it sure was.
There are so many food courts but we ate in the enormous one on the main floor. I got a huge matcha strawberry daifuku mochi for 100 baht – Incredibly tasty from Tokyo Sweets. We had only eaten maybe an hour previous but they were hungry and got cheese gyoza from 7-time Gyoza Champion before we grabbed ramen from Nantsuttei. I got the Kara-Miso Ramen – 210baht. Not bad but not the best I’ve had – Daikokuya still wins out for me. So much selection – The main food court looked like Eaton’s Centre revamped food court but quadruple the size and that was only one of them. Each floor had it’s own food selection and I wish I had a bigger stomach.
We walked all the floors of Siam Paragon to notice that there was still another complex – Siam Centre. We tried to get over to Siam Centre but it took us a while to figure out how to get out of the mall. We also went to the basement where there is a Madame Tussade and Ocean Discovery – You can literally dive with sharks in a mall. We went over to Siam Centre and it was huge as well. We wanted to goto Siam Discovery and tried very hard to get there but it was closed for renovations. We decided that was it and we should leave. It was still rush hour so we decided to crossed over the bridge looking at the traffic to end up on another street filled with people selling merchandise to locals.
We grabbed a Tuk tuk from outside Siam Centre to Khao San Rd – bargained 150baht – fun and fast ride.
We woke up at 4AM and went to hail a cab to take us to the airport. We had to walk down the street a bit to a busier street at 430AM to find a cab. We found one on a street nearby but as we were getting in a ladyboy came over and was propositioning Amy then Adam. The ride was fast and smooth. There were actually quite a few people out and about at that time of day either ending their day or starting it.
We flew out of BKK and the airport reminded me of Toronto YYZ which is strange because Bangkok reminds me of Downtown Toronto. Adam and myself were flying with ANA airlines in partnership with United and Amy’s flight was slightly later leaving for Hong Kong where she will be for a bit before heading to Shanghai then finally back to Toronto. After Adam and myself checked in, I had to walk to the end of the airport to get my VAT Refund forms stamped – she barely looked at them and stamped – easy enough. Once we got through the security check and what not, I followed the signs to VAT refund only to find out halfway through the walk there was another sign further down that pointed to another VAT refund on the other wing of the terminal which our gate was on. Anyways, got there and the lady didn’t even say a word to me but i got my refund in Baht. I brought the remaining baht to convert to USD and off we went.
We got onto our flight from BKK to Narita which took about 5-6 hours. Arrived and had 2-3 hours there which were well spent. We went to McDonalds and I got the Teriyaki Burger combo + 15 piece chicken McNuggets – 1240yen then went to the origami store and grabbed a few more snacks which added up to 1600yen for myself. These 2 purchases alone were roughly $30CAD which is more than what I had spent the entire week on meals in Thailand but well worth it. When I travel I come back with souvenirs in the form of consumables – coffee beans for my father and then candies especially if I get a chance to goto convenient/grocery stores. I’m still surprised how much I actually fit in my duffel bag considering I only got rid of 3 items.
Onto the next flight with United to Denver – 10 hours. Flew by quickly and watched a ton of movies. Then following flight from Denver to Chicago just felt brutal. It was only 2-3 hours but felt the most uncomfortable and also my movie screen didn’t even work. Outside was -7 degrees celsius. Arriving in Chicago was a good feeling as we were one step closer to home and also in terminal F we found Garrett’s popcorn! I bought 2 medium bags of Garrett mix and Cashew CaramelCrisp – $15USD. Our flight got delayed by 30 minutes because the flight attendant was on another flight and couldn’t come over until the people left the other aircraft and after doing post flight protocol. We got in the air and just went. We actually landed on time. The plane quite small ( single window seat or 2 chairs together).
Overview of my trip:
23 days of non-stop travelling is great when things are planned out. I find that when places or tours are booked and planned ahead of time, things go smoothly but when nothing is confirmed we end up wasting more time than anything trying to figure out what to do. Crocs are the preferred footwear or similar sandal/croc imitations. Deet and tiger balm will be your best friends. Toilet paper roll will save you in Lao & Cambodia. Recycling isn’t something they really do out there unless it’s a person going through the trash and removing the bottles themselves. Garbage cans don’t really exist either (Vietnam had some though) but you kind of just make a pile when you see an open garbage/plastic bag as you walk around. They also have a large assortment of plastic bags and plastic furniture is plentiful here. Plastic chairs/stool/tables are prime tools of people’s trades as they can set up and clean up pretty easy anywhere. Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia are more reserved – women stay covered in long sleeve and pants. Thailand – more likely to see tatted people, tank tops on local women but also the whole long sleeve cover up but booty shorts. Also tons of pretty ladyboys everywhere. Get use to smog and smell of diesel as well as dirt/dust. I’ve heard stories of people on motorbikes snatching phones and purses by the side of the road but never saw it happen – just be vigilant and keep your purse on the opposite side away from the road. Otherwise, I felt safe everywhere I went. I had my camera attached to my hand but otherwise everything was out of sight. Ho Chi Minh is very populated so just be cautious when in big crowds or when people are too close. The men there will just keep looking at you though especially if you are wearing tank top and shorts. Siem Reap – same thing, big crowds especially in the night market just be cautious. Bangkok – the only real place we really saw any homeless people – they will leave you alone for the most part… ladyboys will be more aggressive than them.