Bali Baes (AKA 6 days in Ubud – A Review)

Yes yes excuse the slightly tacky title that me and 2 friends named ourselves during our 6 day adventure in Ubud.

So Ubud is quite a popular tourist destination ever since the movie “Eat, Pray, Love” came out. I could describe my time there simply as “Eat, Haggle, Take-50-pictures-of-friends-so-at-least-1-turns-out”.

We stayed about a 15 minute drive outside of the city at Gangga Blessta Homestay. If you ever find yourself in Ubud book yourself in here because the level of service we received and the friendships we forged will forever stay with us.

We decided to hit the Traditional Art Market in Ubud for our first day. Not so much a traditional market as a souvenir market, the 3 of us got to practice our haggling, to very satisfying success. I admit that I usually am too shy to haggle, don’t feel like I should if the item is already fairly cheap, and always fear that I’m taking away money from the people who sell these things as a living. However, here, where everything is inflated to 3-5x the price it should be, it was time to refine my skills. The 3 things that seemed to work the best for me: Be smiley and have a fun tone when you name lower prices, go for the older stall ladies, and walking away with a smile and “no thanks”. I bought a bit more than anticipated…but I am being mindful of my budget, and am getting things I know I couldn’t find back home.

The next day was a long one. Tegenungan Waterfall and Pura Besakih, the most important temple on the island of Bali. The three of us found our “signature pose” while wandering the grounds with our guide. We also stopped by a coffee plantation and had a sampling tray of some of the most delicious teas and coffees I’ve ever tasted. If anyone reading this ever has the chance to try mangosteen tea and coconut coffee, accept ASAP.

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When we fit in Jatiluwih Rice Terraces into the next day’s itinerary, we expcted maybe to spend an hour there. However, with walking paths covering the grounds encompassing no less than 600ha, we took 3 hours to wander and take ‘gram-worthy pictures. I loved these terraces because it was very easy to get away from the crowds. You simply walk a few minutes and you have a wonderful scenic area all to yourself.

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The highlight of our Ubud adventures was definitely the sunrise treking adventure up the active volcano Mount Batur. 1am wake up, 2am pickup, 3am breakfast, and 4am start time. We reached the freezing cold and windy viewpoint at 5:30am, and even in leggings and a windbreaker I was shivering like crazy. I had to hold a freshly boiled egg in my hands for a slight bit of relief. Thankfully, after an absolutely gorgeous (but frickin cold) sunrise, walking in the direct sunlight helped to warm us quickly. A highlight of the trip, for sure.

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We took a well deserved spa and ice cream filled itinerary the next day. With my skin still recovering from a sunburn I stupidly received in Sanur, and sore quads from the hike, I was most thankful for the full body massage, scrub, and yogurt rinse. Also because I won’t be able to be spoiled like that in Vancouver. Maybe for $200…

Also I am in love with mangosteens and don’t even want to think of what I’m going to do when I can’t find someone in the market or at the side of the road selling fresh mangosteens (sobs).

Ubud is a great base if you plan to make longer trips to the famous temples and attractions. The city itself is busy, but we still found local restaurants that weren’t full of tourists and lots of cute places for small treats.

As for me, it was an amazing energy boost to travel with 2 friends for a week. I love solo travel and alone time, but now that I’m nearly halfway through this trip seeing familiar faces was super refreshing. And I will admit that as much as I enjoy eating alone, it was fun to once again enjoy good conversation over meals!

Until next time!

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3 Days in Java

(Aside: I am VERY delayed on these postings and am trying my best to remember the best details to relay to you wonderful readers!)

I can’t remember anymore what exactly I was searching; “Best temples in bali”? “Best temples in Indonesia”? “Day trips from Bali”? The specifics escape me at this point. But what I do remember is a picture of Prambanan and Borobudur temple. And falling in love. And realizing immediately that I had to see this temple. Finding out it was on Java, a separate island from Bali. Searching possible ways to do a one day tour from Bali. Thinking that I wanted more than 1 day for this now definite side trip. Leaving the planning until about a month before I was due to land in Bali, and booking the return flight during my stay in Zürich. I was going to Yogyakarta!

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I booked an early morning tour of Borobudur, a 9th century Buddhist temple that lay abandoned following the Javanese conversion to Islam. This meant a 3am wake up time to drive to the lookout point that would provide a view of Borbobudur and the surrounding mountains as the sun rose. It was a slightly foggy morning so the temple outline wasn’t very clear, but everyone was respectful and quiet as the light of day hit us, and I could only imagine the craziness and non-stop shutter sounds if I had booked the sunrise tour at the temple itself.

At 6am we were driven to the temple grounds itself. After milking the fact that I can still abuse my student card for student entrance fee prices (no shame because it was $30 for Borbobudur/Prambanan joint ticket with student card and $50 without), it was time to explore. I had had a very dull and dissapointing first week in Indonesia, and as soon as I took a step into the temple complex I felt complete. The top level, with stupas and amazing mountain views, simply blew me away. Most of the sunrise crowd has dissapated, leaving only a handful of people and making it easy to find areas of solitude.

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For the following day, I had an afternoon tour booked of Prambanan, a 9th century Hindu temple. At 5 hours long, I would be able to catch the sunset at the temple complex. The main grounds were busy, but a 1 minute walk to a trail surrounding Prambanan was basically abandoned. The friend I travelled with and I found a wonderful viewpoint that offered a stunning panorama of the entire temple complex and the setting sun. With the annual jazz festical providing a (surprisingly) soothing soundtrack, I allowed the pride and satisaction of my ability to plan a side trip to set in.

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With limited time in Indonesia, I cannot recommend Borobudur and Prambanan enough. It’s even posible to fit both in one day, though I feel as if I may have been “templed out” had I done such a thing.

So for those thinking of detours on their main travels; I say go for it!

Until next time!

“So you’re backpacking?”

“Uhhhh…” I graciously mumble as the question comes my way. The guy asking stares at me expectedly.

“Well yes. Kind of…? I mean, Ihave a backpack but it’s also like a roll on which I mainly use it as especially in airports but this is sort of a gap year trip for me and I have a backpack.”

He blinks. “Sorry, what was that?”

“mother-“

Yeah so I do NOT have a way with words, contrary to what I like to think. But I’ve thought about this question quite a bit: am I backpacking?

This, of course, depends on your definition of backpacking. More accurately, on my definition. Am I using a backpack? Yes. Am I in hostels? Sometimes. On a budget? Of course I’m not made of money (one day. One day…).

So on the surface, wouldn’t it seem like I’m backpacking?

(You’re probably all wondering where I’m even going with this, but hold tight).

Were I to be asked this question again, I would say I’m travelling the world, but not as a backpacker.

A bit of detail on how I like travelling: I will gladly spend more money to stay in a hostel with amazing reviews, especially when it comes to location, safety, and the attitude of the staff. I am not the traveller that is trying to spend as little as possible and is more than happy to stay in $3 dorms. In fact, if I can work it in my budget, I’ll pay for a private room. I need to sleep; I’m not a night owl and if I don’t sleep I feel sick the next day. Over the years I’ve become a light sleeper (curses) and so not having to worry about dorm mates is a breath of relief sometimes. This isn’t to say I won’t stay in dorms; only that getting the cheapest deal is not my priority. Plus I am so picky about bathroom cleanliness so I could be down to my last penny and would find a way to scrape enough together for a place with a good bathroom.

When I was researching for this trip, I came across many blogs and sites that discussed how to travel on a budget. Most (not all, I admit) were able to travel on such a budget because of one important thing: they spent no money on outings. This is understandable, but not for what I want to experience on this trip. My day at the elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai, out in the jungles of Chiang Rai with a hostel tour, and everything I have planned for Indonesia woud not be possible if I was on a budget of $20 a day or less.

Furthermore, my bag is too big to only be a carry on. I have to check it for each flight I take. Since I’m travelling across a range of climates (cool Scandinavia to humid Thailand and warm north Asia) I have a mix of clothes which can be layered or worn on their own. Important, especially I plan (and have already done) on doing some day hikes while travelling.

So are there actually any aspects where I am closely following a budget and not spending/spending minimal? Of course!

When and where I can, I walk. I plan my days so I can hit multiple attractions within walking distance within one another. This isn’t always possible, but it depends on the city. I eat cheaply. In Europe this meant cooking my own food as much as possible. In Asia this means convenience stores and street food. Just because I spend more to be comfortable and put my mind at ease in no way means I’m throwing cash out like a madwoman.

It’s a balance. I get stressed easily if getting from point A to B seems  bit more complicated than expected. So if it means I pay a little more for a taxi, driver, or a more expensive form of transportation which takes away the guessing on my end, I’ll go for it (this applies more to Asia than Europe). My security and mental state are extremely important, and if I have to pay a little more to be less stressed, I will.

I’m not landing somewhere with my first few nights planned and winging it from there. Even the though of doing that makes me stressed. I’m planning the big things (flights, hostels, 3 weeks-1 month in advance. As far as wha I do each day, that I leave up to how I feel when I’m actually in the city. I know that for a lot of backpackers this takes away spontenaity and can make one feel boxed in. But not me. I like landing in the next place and not having to worry about where I’m staying and how I’m getting to my next destination. All that’s left for me to do is fill in my days with activities. Or not. I’ve spent a good amount of afternoons just lazing around at cafes people watching.

This isn’t everyone’s way of travelling, and that’s OK. Travel how and where you want to your own comfort level. This happens to be mine, and I hope someone reading it (who, like me, may be thinking that all these backpacking bloggers are out there to compete with who can spend the least amount of money) who sees that it’s OK to not backpack. Or whatever their definition of bacpacking is.

So am I backpacking? Well I’m on a half gap year and do have a backpack but it’s also a roll on but I also have a daypack and I’m staying in hostels but not all the time and sometimes in private rooms and I’m on a budget but nothing skin and bones where I only eat once a day (my nightmare).

You decide.

Until next time!

Heading North

After  6 days experiencing the hectic city of Bangkok, it was time to head north. First up, 4 days in Chiang Mai, followed by 5 in Chiang Rai.

After leaving buying overnight train tickets until the week before my intended trip to Chiang Mai, it would turn out that all trains were full. So I paid for a plane ticket, and after a 1 hour taxi ride,  1 hour flight delay, and a 1 hour flight, I had arrived.

I used Chiang Mai to recover from all the running around in Bangkok. I could walk to the main city sites from my hostel, and spent my first day simply exploring within the old city walls.

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Some gorgeous stairs in Wat Chedi Luang

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This stupa dates back to 1441

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Street art in Chiang Mai

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My second day was a half day tour of an elephant sanctuary, Elephant Dream Valley (see previous post for further details), followed by strolling the Saturday walking street

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Walking street style

I unfortuantely didn’t feel too hot (well…I did feel hot because humidity…ha) and made it a bit worse by walking 2+ hours in the sun to see the final two temples I was curious about. The silver temple of Wat Sri Suphan was by far the highlight of my time in Chiang Mai.

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Wat Suan Dok

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On my last full day, I wanted to get up to Wat Doi Suthep. After taking two songtheaws up a winding mountain road, I needed a few minutes for my body to settle. I was admittedly a little dissapointed with Doi Suthep. I wasn’t blown away, and even now I feel Wat Sri Suphan is a more unique temple. I spent about half an hour walking the temple grounds, if only to make the journey up the mountain worth it.

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The grounds of Wat Doi Suthep are decorated, but fake flowers seemed to take away charm rather than add to it

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Trash filled with old prayers

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I was told by a friend that Chiang Mai had become very commercialized. I completely see this. As wonderful as some of the temples in the old city were, the streets are lined with hostels, western-style cafes, and tour agencies.

Chiang Rai, though…I wish I had longer here. I had planned for a relaxing first day, but ended up getting convinced to join a full day tour that included the Blue Temple, a waterfall, the White Temple, and a tea plantation. I am so glad I joined as seeing these sites outside of the city with a local guide was phenomenal.

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Biking the tea plantations of Singha Park

After using my second day to relax and meeting a new friend in the hostel, we scootered out to the Black Museum the following day and explored a local rice field and café. I got a bit more burnt than I care to admit…

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The following day we both signed up for a Thai cooking class, and I actually was so full I felt sick. At the market, as we picked our ingredients, we sampled local tea, Thai donuts, longan, durian, and deep fried sweet potato and banana. When the time came to cook we prepared green papaya salad, hot and sour soup with prawns, and red curry with chicken. So, so good but so, so filling…

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Buddha statue behind the market

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Ingredients all ready to go

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If you find yourself tiring of Bangkok, I highly recommend heading north; and if I had to choose, Chiang Rai over Chiang Mai (also in Chiang Rai stay at “Sook Cafe and Hostel” it is the perfect location, has amazing staff, and I cannot recommend it enough).

I’m very thankful for the opportunity to have travelled to Thailand. It was never a country that had been super high on my “to-do” list, but these last three weeks have been filled with the most amazing sites (and foods).

Tomorrow I make the long journey back to Bangkok (first with a 3 hour bus to Chiang Mai, then a 5 hour wait, then the overnight train to Bangkok). I get 2 days rest, and then I’m on my way to Indonesia!

Until next time!

Next up, Bali!

Elephant Dream Valley

To be completely honest, I wasn’t originally going to visit an elephant sanctuary when in Thailand.

I’m not sure what changed, and when, but I do know that about 2 weeks before flying into Bangkok I found myself researching elephant sanctuaries that you could do a tour of from Chiang Mai.

I spent hours on this. Why? Because I knew that I wanted to visit a smaller place. Elephant Nature Park, Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, and Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary are all very popular (in Boon Lott’s case, fully booked until next summer!). I fully support the work that these places perform. I knew, however, that I wanted something…more intimate, for lack of a better term.

Cue the dissapointment.

Because it would seem that I would stumble upon the website of a supposedly “ethical” place, only to dig deep into the tripadvisor or facebook reviews, or even find a personal blog recollection, and find warnings that these places DID now offer rides, use hooks or chains, and other unethical actions.

My requirements were simple
-NO riding. Not even bareback. An elephant is seen as strong, but it’s backbone is NOT structured such that human bodies should be placed on top. That, and the terrible treatment the elephants undergo to become “submissive” to riders.
-NO hooks and NO chains

I was getting very disheartened as my research seemed to come up nill.

Until…

I don’t even remember how it happened. I think i had googled “ethical elephant sanctuary in chiang mai” or something similar. A few results down (it may have even been the next page) a link matching exactly with “ethical elephant sanctuary” appeared. I clicked. I read. I went to their facebook and tripadvisor site.

Ethical Elephant Sanctuary (more commonly known as Elephant Dream Valley) is run by a local Karen Hill Tribe and sees small groups of around 12 people on half day and full day tours. I signed up immediately. I knew that this was what I had been looking for. And so it was.

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Deep in the Chiang Mai mountains, we met their 5 elephants. Two families; one consisting of a Granma, mom, and baby, and another family of two with one mom-to-be. We got an introduction on how to behave while feeding, where to stand, how to stay safe, and some background information on the elephents. As soon as we began feeding the sugar cane I couldn’t believe I had almost passed on this whole experience.

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The half day passed way too fast. I wouldn’t hesitate to come here again, and cannot recommend Elephant Dream Valley enough to anyone reading this who is interested in visiting a sanctuary. One thing that impressed me was that the tribe members actually had elephants from the same family. While reading about how some elephants are captured for riding camps, it pained me that these creatures who live in family units spend the rest of their lives alone. I was so incredible happy to know that the elephants were literally family at Elephant Dream Valley.

Another thing that impressed me were the mahouts. They were incredibly kind by offering to take pictures and answer questions, and during the mud bath they were having so much fun! This did not feel like something that was done solely for money or profit. As a non-profit all the money goes back to buy food for the elephants. And by running small group sizes, everything about my time there felt very personal and…intimate!

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http://www.elephantdreamvalley.com/weben/
https://www.facebook.com/ElephantDreamValley-1199804953378938/

Best,
N

When in Bangkok

-Be amazed/horrified at how nobody on the road seems to drive in the lanes

-Realize that instead of the “yield to other drivers” signs you follow back home, that’s the LAST thing you want here; everyone for themselves

-Get laughed at by Dutch people because they think you can’t ride a bike

-And, of course, see some temples and Eat some food (only some (kidding))

6 days in Bangkok (2 more to come before I fly to Bali) gave me quite a bit of time to see the city itself, see outside the city, and bike the city at night (I am surprisingly still alive).

I was so exhausted from my travel day Tuesday/Wednesday (6 hours to Dubai from Zürich, 5 hour layover, then 6.5 hours to Bangkok) that all I could muster the energy for during my first full day was some light walking (read: to get food) around where I was staying; about 40min from the city centre.

Friday required a bit more energy, as I met with a university friend to explore the Grand Palace, Wat Poh, and Wat Arun. My advice to anyone visiting Bangkok is to get to the Palace right when it opens. Even at 9:30am the body heat of all the tourists combined with the already humid air was not pleasant. We left around 10:45 and there was a massive line up to get in.


After the madness, the relative quietness of Wat Poh (home of the Reclining Buddha) was welcome. I could’ve easily spent another hour just wandering and taking pictures.

After lunch and wandering an air-conditioned mall, we finished off with the Temple of the Dawn, Wat Arun. In the early evening because why not. I would love to see it again once the renovations are complete.

The weekend was a time for markets. Morning markets, weekend markets, floating markets, all for fruit and food, gifts, souvenirs, and amazing flowy pants. At the floating market me and a friend took a 100 baht boat ride to a temple and orchard farm.

When we returned home I very last minute signed up for a day tour to Ayutthaya. I had originally been looking up ways to get there by public transport, but as I did more research I got increasingly stressed thinking about doing this on my own. The idea of having pick-up and drop-off organized for me filled me with a sense of ease, and for my mind and comfort’s sake I signed up for Asia-discover.com’s day trip from Bangkok (http://www.asia-discovery.com/travel/bangkok/daytour/ayutthaya-day-tours-from-bangkok-bkk-12n.htm). I don’t regret it at all. If it makes me more comfortable and less stressed, I will choose that option.

The trip was amazing. The history of Ayutthaya, the old capital of the Kingdom of Siam, is endless, and the temple grounds and ruins were exactly what I had wanted to see (I did no research prior, though, so this consisted of me excitedly whispering “oh, oh, I wanted to see this one too!” whenever we stopped at a temple whose picture I recalled.

I’m currently in Chiang Mai, and on Tuesday will head up even further north to Chiang Rai, before coming back down to Bangkok for 2 days and then flying to Bali. Lots and lots to write about!

Until next time!

While in Transit: 6 Days in Zurich – A Review

As I write this, I’m bound for Bangkok!

And I’m super nervous.

Admittingly, whenever a travel day comes up I’ve felt a mix if nervousness and anxiety. Will I get to the station/airport on time? Will it be easy to get around? I can happily say that over the last 5 weeks, those worries have been for naught. But now, heading to South East Asia, somewhere I’ve yet to explore, the nervousness is a bit different. A little bigger…but combined with excitement (and dread. Because humidity. Why I did this to myself I’ll never know…).

5 weeks flew by. It was a wonderful first experience travelling solo in Europe and there’s so many places I hope to return to, and many more to see foe the first time. I met with friends and family, spent time with some cool new people, and found some mountains to calm my heart.

I spent the last 6 days in Zürich, Switerland and yes, it was expensive. Mainly the transportation…food was as expected.

The first night I shook off the exhaustion of an 8 hour train ride to go for dinner with a friend. We drove through mountains and I felt like I was back in BC. 

<img width="5312" height="2988" alt="" src="https://pertainingtothepresent.files.wordpress.com/2017/07/20170712_1935291.jpg" title="My mountains

Then when I returned to the hotel I proceeded to crash and sleep for 12 hours.

So I took the next day easy. Explored around my place, got some groceries, and then went for dinner in Lucerne. In the evening, what is more than likely a hige magnet for tourists was calm, peaceful, and shining over the river. A beautiful way to finish off an easy day.

On Friday I explored around the town. I climbed up the Grossmünster for amazing city views, and walked along the water. 










On Saturday I did a beautiful hike from Felsenegg to Uetliberg. It was about 6km, and I had expected it to take 2 hours given that I planned to take pictures.

It took me 1 hour 20 minutes. Even with taking photos. I also hiked up the next evening, this time from the bottom of the same area, instead of somewhere 6km away. This time I did it with 2 friends I met back in Vancouver who both lived in Zürich.

















Monday was a short boat cruises around the lake. I had originally planned to take the boat all the way to the opposite side of the lake to a town called Rapperswil. That would have costed me…$80.00

So I took the short round trip whoch only cost $18.00

While it may not have taken me all around, it was still a glorious way to enjoy  the sun and be on the water; in addition to seeing the city from another angle.



And today…

Welp I finished this post way faster than anticipated…

Visited a waterfall, walked around a small old town where a technical university is located…and now waiting to board my flight to Bangkok (with a layover in Dubai).





Until next time!

Next up, Thailand!