Fiji times

A dream destination, hidden in the Pacific, away from everything, lie the beautiful Fiji Islands. Fijians are considered one of the friendliest people on Earth and with good reason. They smile, sing and dance and do all that in Fiji time, which means relaxed, chilled out, no rush mode.

My flight from Singapore landed in Nadi at 5 am and even at that early hour of the day there were two Fijians playing the guitar and singing their cheerful welcoming song followed by a big “Bula” , which means hello, welcome.

Nadi

Most international flights would land in Nadi, hence a stopover there usually occurs. My stopover lasted for two days, which is a rather long time in Nadi, but I decided traveling Fiji time.

As welcoming view I watched a sunrise like this.

And the very same day, a sunset like this.

But if you spend some time in Nadi the town must be checked out too. Taking the local bus is already an adventure in itself , don’t even bother stressing about the fact that it doesn’t come according to the schedule.

Nadi Town is small and quite compact, filled with many shops and some restaurants and cafes.

There are some markets and many handcraft items are sold at every step, all the sellers trying to give you a more and more convincing line, just to get you to buy something. It’s very common that they will start telling you their whole life stories and fill you in with way more information that you’d need to know. All this while having enormous smiles on their faces and being warm and friendly, as they know very well how to be so.

Nadi may not be the safest town, but I never felt unsafe either. There is a fair number of tourists and you can easily spot them because we do stand out between all the Fijians.

Bounty Island

Nadi is the starting point of the island hopping, ferries departing from Port Denarau and cruising up to the Mamanucas and further up north to the Yasawas.

Bounty Island is the second stop on the Yasawa Flyer and in 30 min cruising it already lies in front of our eyes. It’s a small island, in 20 min I walked it all around, but it’s pretty, cosy and filled with friendly Fijians at the only resort on the island, called Bounty Island Resort.

As at the airport, also here they sing to you when you arrive and they certainly not forget to sing you when you depart either.

The typical activities that happen are snorkeling, stand up paddle boarding , sunbathing and swimming and also the famous Kava ceremony.

Kava is for Fijians the most significant drink, they offer it with important occasions and so they do without any specific occasion too. They make it from the kava plant and it basically looks like dirty water. The taste is not very appealing either, but it’s not unpleasant. It’s nonalcoholic, but it does make you so relaxed after a few cups, that some people were literally falling asleep while sitting.

Bounty island is quiet and relaxing, the views are beautiful on sunny days.

Mantaray Island

It’s name represents the mantarays that can be seen in the season. It’s a bigger island, with a more vibrant atmosphere than Bounty and with another group of super friendly Fijian staff at the resort.

Besides the usual kava ceremony they do typical local dances for the public, where you are invited to join in and great fun is guaranteed.

From Mantaray a few hours trip is a must do and includes hiking and snorkeling.

Stunning views, fun and entertaining guides and most likely an adventurous half day is part of the deal.

Suva

Switching back to the mainland, 3 hours away from Nadi is Suva, the nations capitol. Not an impressive city, rather a bit dodgy town, Suva is less touristy than Nadi and feels a bit less safe too.

The Beachhouse

My favorite place in Fiji, the Beachhouse is on the beautiful coral coast and it’s one of those places where you go and you get stuck.

A decent beach, hammocks to relax, great people and in general a wonderful vibe.

A few hours I spent doing a bush walk with some fellow travelers and our only 18 years old Fijian guide. In our way we passed a friendly fijian families home and stopped for a chat.

These friendly, relaxed and positive people live in poor conditions, yet they are so much at ease with life that it gives us an example.

The Beachhouse was supposed to be my home only for 3 nights, but I enjoyed it so much that after several extensions it turns out that I spent 7 nights there and it felt that I could do even longer.

Every type of traveler will find an activity that suits them, whether the swing, the table soccer, stand up paddle boarding or the sunset watching.

What’s set for sure is that the day starts with yoga , of course it’s optional though, and ends with beer, that’s optional too, but there are always plenty of volunteers.

Whether you choose one or the other, do it in Fiji time.

Advertisements

Tips for Hong Kong

1 – Hike up to The Peak for the sunset.

The Peak is possible to reach in several ways. The famous and overcrowded peak tram is the most popular option, which the less fit people choose. Similar to that is the bus, which offers less spectacular views but you still don’t have to do anything else than sit. On the other hand, outdoors lovers will most likely opt for hiking. The route that I took starts from the Hong Kong University metro station and its called Morning Trail. It took me aprox 75 min to reach the top in a regular rhythm, not too fast, not too slow. From the metro stop you first need to make your way up through some stairs until you actually reach the beginning of the trail itself. It’s an easy hike and along the way you’ll meet many Asians being involved in all kind of sporty activities.

If you’re more lucky than I’ve been, you’ll arrange to go on a clear sunny day and watch the sunset and I recommend you to stay a bit longer until it gets dark so that you can admire the lit up skyscrapers of the city.

In this case you’ll catch the panorama at daytime, sunset and night view as well.

There’s plenty to do up there, you won’t even feel how time flies. From shopping to eating or just hanging out, it’s all possible.

If you’re not a night hike fan you can take the bus down and go all the way Central. You’ll see the same skyscrapers but from a different angle.

2 – Check out Lan Kwai Fong 

Hong Kong never sleeps. It’s like New York of Asia, at every hour of day and night you find something to do. Lan Kwai Fong district is the place to be for fun and entertainment at any day of the week. As a taster I went just for a walk there to get an idea of the place. Loved the street art and instantly fell in love with the vibe. I knew I’d return the next evening to make the most of it.

3 –  Take the boat to Lamma Island for a daytrip

The boats depart from the central pier aprox every half an hour. The ride takes more or less 40 min and although I went on a Saturday the island was peaceful and relaxing. Some organized groups would pop up here and there, but in general it was a quiet place, the kind of spot you’d like to go for a getaway from the busy rest of Hong Kong.

It’s beautiful nature will attract mostly the outdoors lovers as some easy bush walks are possible to do there and the view is stunning.

The beach is clean, so it’s the water. It wasn’t the warmest day but I still took a dip and the water was really nice .

The atmosphere on the island is authentic and a great location to try out the local Hong Kong food selection.

The market is full of food and spices that I don’t even recognize neither after the color or smell. Fish can be found in every form

and size, after all the islanders are experts in fishing.

They are also skilled in driving the tiny vehicles adapted to the roads of Lamma Island, making me smile when I spotted the firefighters truck.

It’s easy to spend a few hours on the island before heading back to the main island.

4 – Ride the Star ferry to Victoria Harbour

Another must see location in Hong Kong is its beautiful Victoria Harbour. You can head there by the world famous Star Ferry, which is in itself an attraction. Victoria Harbour is beautiful both at day and night, offering stunning views of the city and several attractions nearby, such as Hong Kong Museum of Art, Kowloon Park or Tsim Sha Tsui district. The latest is the perfect place for shopping whether you’re after famous brands or random boutiques. I felt that in Hong Kong you can find absolutely anything you’d desire, you just need to search well for it. It’s a very vibrant city and in particular Kowloon and Tsim Sha Tsui are always on the move, being filled with dozens of locals and tourists.

5 – Go on a different kind of bus tour 

For experiencing the city in a different way you might look into some special events such as a double decker bus tour with free drinks. Two hours of fun and tour of the city from the top of the bus might turn out greater than you’d think. If the warm up did it’s job it’s always a good idea to move the party to Lan Kwai Fong, where it’s located the best rated shot bar in Hong Kong, called Geronimo. Plenty of other bars and clubs all around and the night is long, usually lasting until early morning hours.

6 – You haven’t been in Hong Kong if you haven’t tried Dim Sum

Hong Kong is a fabulous place to eat food from every corner of the world, but nothing compared to Dim Sum, which happens to be local. It does worth taking a stroll along some side streets to find good Dim Sum restaurants.

7 – Sip on a glass of wine at a rooftop bar

Plenty of skyscrapers with rooftop bars and spectacular views. The hard choice is which is the best? All of them are amazing, this city looks great from every angle.

8 – Visit Man Mo temple

Hong Kong has many other temples which may be more impressive, but Man Mo is nice and easy to reach. Located in Soho, between the busy streets of the city, it’s a place to go to get yourself together for some minutes and just enjoy the silence.

9- Walk and shop at Fashion Walk

The famous Fashion Walk, at Causeway

Bay station is busy and for sure a big

attraction for shopping addicts. All the big names can be found just one after the other.

10 – Do some sport in Victoria Park

Centrally located, Victoria Park is a great place where to let the steam out and jog or join a sport activity class together with the locals.

With all these options don’t forget to dance to the beat of your own drum . of

Thai adventures

It’s hard to find a non touristy place in Thailand and although most people travel to this country for the beaches and islands, the real Thai culture and a whole different world is up north.

Chiang Mai is already quite well known, also easy to reach either by train, bus or plane. The flight from Bangkok takes around 2 hours and from the airport to the city another 15 min drive.

Chiang Mai in itself it’s a charming place, but at a certain time of the year is in particular a must to do. That’s when the light festival happens and the whole town is decorated with hanging lanterns, lots of events all around the town and of course a big number of people from all over the world.

It’s wise to book accommodation in advance because even though it’s Thailand we are talking about, with this particular occasion prices tend to rise up and hotels/ hostels get fully booked very quickly.

The few days I’ve spent in Chiang Mai were absolutely amazing and the ultimate highlight was the main event of the festival, when thousands of lanterns were released and flew up in the sky offering a breathtaking view.

Everybody could buy their on lantern, small or big , at the spot for aprox 50 baht. People say you must write on it your hidden desires and as you release it it’s going to fly toward the gods, who’ll hopefully make your wish come true. Whether that happens or not it’s up to you to decide to believe it or not, but the feeling you get when participating actively at this amazing event does worth it.

Even while riding back on the scooter the city you can still see all those beautiful lights far away in the sky, floating in a peaceful rhythm.

Every year the event might take place at different dates, but it will certainly be during full moon early November or end of October. Thai people take it pretty serious and organize even a massive parade, where they put on interesting costumes and sign happily, spreading smiles all over. During the festival Chiang Mai is busy, loud and a fun place to be.

However, Chiang Mai has way more to offer once the festival is over too. Easy access to Doi Suthep, the wonderful hill with the temple on top and with breathtaking views of the city .

You can easily spend a few hours there, wondering around and taking pictures with the kids dressed up in traditional Thai clothing. A village trip from Doi Suthep is just another 10 minutes drive, but unfortunately not as original as I’d expected. The village I got to check out was rather commercialized and you didn’t really get the chance of interacting with locals unless you let yourself talked into buying something from them. A bit of a disappointment but that’s sometimes part of the deal.

Since the village life near Doi Suthep didn’t offer me much I’ve decided to check out a different one later on during my trip. 3 hours away from Chiang Mai is located the town with a similar name, called Chiang Rai, famous for its white temple. Quiet, less touristy,Chiang Rai is a good place to calm down and enjoy the silence sort of day. Besides the white temple there’s a blue temple and several others, which I skipped.

Other than that, just some fine restaurants and a cat cafe, where you can relax with some unusual, furry company. The cats are friendly and very lazy, typical kitten style.

Northern Thailand is a great location for nature lovers and a jungle trekking trip is definitely a must do thing there. I was so excited to go and explore the jungle together with my travel buddy that I met some days before in Bangkok. Equipped with hiking shoes, insect repellent and our backpacks filled with necessities for two days, we got picked up in Chiang Rai, drove aprox 30 min to the White Buddha, where we spent around 30 min , time just enough to go up in the crown and have a look at the view.

Straight after we hit the road and arrived to the point where our jungle trekking was going to start. Most of the way was easy, not too many obstacles along the way, except some little rivers that we needed to cross, but it went all smoothly and I certainly enjoyed being in the nature.

Our guide spoke quite a broken English and had a rather fast trekking rhythm, but he had one amazing quality that I remember and probably will remember forever: he prepared us absolutely delicious meal in the middle of the nature and using as pot only bamboo that he cut himself . Our lunch table was a big rock at the waterfall and the table setting was a big leaf, cutlery some bamboo chopsticks. Nothing fancy, but certainly a lunch that I enjoyed very much.

We were set up for adventure and we got just that . And also a great view from Doi Bo, where I couldn’t resist to take a few shots with my swiss flag that I got as a present from my friends on my last days in Switzerland. As hiking and outdoors in general became an important aspect of my life during my stay in Switzerland, the jungle trekking, although a very different one from hiking in the Swiss Alps, it did bring back some beautiful memories and I must admit, I got a bit melancholic.

I recovered shortly as I fell asleep for 20 minutes under the blue sky and got up just when my travel buddy, Mariella called my name as it was time to continue our trekking.

We followed our guide for another hour or so, when we reached the hill tribe village, our overnight location. We were pumped to see our accommodation, which we knew it’s going to be very basic and a true adventure for both of us as none of us have ever spent a night in a bamboo house before.

As you’d expect, a bamboo house doesn’t offer you much privacy and you can forget about silence. You can hear everything and you can also see through the walls because the bamboo branches they use are not very thick and they have little gaps in between. Our dinner has been prepared by the locals, served on a little improvised table just in front of the house, where we sat in turkey seats on the floor and ate with a big appetite after the active day we had behind us.

There you could really see how a typical village life looks like, how people wash their kids, how they enjoy the little things in life and how content they are with what they have. A real life lesson that once in a while it’s good to have, just as a reminder that we are so privileged to have what we have.

After dinner it was already pitch dark and there’s not much to do, so the only place you could go was our improvised bed : two mattresses on the floor with a little pillow and some blankets and a mosquito net above it. I think we were sleeping around 9 pm already, especially because we expected the early alarm, which was not our clock but the rooster. I could even hear the other tourist snoring in the bamboo house next to us. The rooster started being noisy already at 4 am and quite soon after we started our day. The locals prepared us breakfast, they borrowed us a typical costume to wear and soon after we waved our goodbyes and went trekking again.

New day, new views. I just loved it!

At lunchtime our guide set a fire in the middle of the nature, broke some eggs in a bamboo brench and while the meal was getting ready he tried to reach me to make a bamboo cup. That was mission impossible but great fun.

On the other hand, the jungle lunch, as I like to call it has been another success and we licked all our ten fingers after.

The day still had some surprises for us: a beautiful waterfall and a dip in the hotspring.

Just the perfect way of finishing this adventure. On the way back to Chiang Rai I could tell that even Mariella enjoyed, although she’s not a big trekking fan. I was happy to have her around and I think that was our most interesting adventure in Thailand. Jungle trekking rules!

Bangkok

Sitting at the airport in Bangkok to board for Chiang Mai… and was thinking : how different it seemed Bangkok in comparison to my first visit one and a half years ago. It’s a city which goes through constant changes in a ridiculously fast rhythm, but the fact that the government restricted drastically the street food vendors it does really make a difference. 


Khaosan road during the day became way more quiet than it used to be, but as the dawn sets it comes to life and at night is the same: a lot of street food, music, people and happy vibes. Halloween boosted up even more the whole atmosphere and scary looking, bloody faced monsters were roaming around last night.


For a first time thing I’ve finished my dinner with a fried scorpion, which was crunchy and completely tasteless but a funny experience. 


For the braver ones there’s also tarantula and snake.

And for drinks with a view there’s the rooftop bar from Sofitel So, facing Lumphini park. Loved it!



Beauties of Bangkok: the temples

 

I was super excited to visit two of the most important attractions while in Bangkok. Even though I prefer the less touristy spots, Wat Pho and The Grand Palace can’t be missed. Both of them are extremely touristy, luckily when I went at Wat Pho it wasn’t such a huge crowd though. The ferry ride there is already an adventure itself, one of those adventures that I prefer not repeating. If the traffic on the roads of Bangkok seems unorganized and chaotic, check out the ferry on the river and you will kiss the ground when you get off. I didn’t like riding the ferry, but as I stepped to the fascinating Wat Pho I forgot about all the hassle I went through. The calmness you feel in this sacred place is probably better than any yoga session. First I was completely blown away of the beauty and the so meticulously decorated walls of the complex. It’s absolutely fascinating and I’m thinking what a hard work must be behind it.

  
Wat Pho is famous for the huge reclining Buddha, so my friend, Amita and myself make sure that we check it out. We are both impressed, it is truly big and it leaves us breathless for a second. Several notes around it, saying ” be aware of pickpocketers”. I can’t believe that in such a place some mean people can take advantage. It didn’t happen to us, but seeing those notes made us be more conscious and keep an eye on our belongings every second. Quite sad, because you don’t enjoy as much the whole setting when you know that someone closeby might rob you, do you?

  
However, the rest of the complex is calmer, tourists are all spread around, so we can explore every part in our own rhythm, calmly and observantly. I get excited at every step and probably repeat a thousand times : ” wow, that’s so beautiful”. 

  
With this occasion we can’t make it in time for the Grand Palace, so we leave that for the next morning and as we get there around 9 am is already so extremely packed with tourists from all over that you can barely move. Everybody is trying to get in but there’s no order whatsoever. That’s already annoying and for that reason I already think that I prefer Wat Pho. 

  
Finally we get in the complex but no chance to get rid of the big crowd at any time. Visiting the temples is another challenge, long queues and people pushing from all sides. When you eventually make it, at least inside you can relax a bit and feel a moment of calmness while admiring the Buddhas. As you may know, before entering a temple you need to leave your shoes outside, so just imagine what an aroma is floating in the air and your nose doesn’t know anymore what’s that fresh air. With other words, this visit is a fight for air, which is painful, but during this fight you see absolutely mesmerizing buildings, which somehow give you the energy to go on and survive in such conditions. 

  
I guess you could spend hours here, visiting several sights, but I gave up quite quickly. I’ve seen the most important ones and chose to escape the crowd. 

   
 It was way too much for me and if I end up again in Bangkok I will skip Grand Palace for sure. On the other hand I do recommend in for every first timer. Just have a lot of patience with you and some water, you will need one more than the other!

Trip to a Thai floating market 

   
As if the various markets going on all around the city were not enough, decided to check out a real special one. A market on the river.
After a two hours drive from Bangkok we reached this very touristy, but yet so authentic floating market, called Damnoen Saduak floating market.  

The bus drive there is way longer than spending time at the market itself, but it does worth the travel. More or less in an organized way – Thai standards – the tour guide directs us first of all to the long tail boat and in each boat board aprox 6 people. Off we go! Not more, maybe just less than 10 minutes of long tail boat ride and we had a sneak peak of the market. But that’s not all. 

   
   
Those people put out all their products to be sold and they definitely know to advertise them. In order to have a close look and literally float between “boat boutiques” we take this time a regular boat that a strong Thai gentleman is rowing around trying to avoid the boat traffic. 

  
That’s nearly impossible though, all the others trying to do the same thing. Boats everywhere, we are being pushed either from the right or from the left ,but also from front and back and our boat does the same thing to the others . Perfect location for socializing with people from the other boats. 

  
As soon as we get close to a boat full of souvenirs the seller quickly pulls the boat closer and the bargain starts. 

  
Seller: “1000 baht for 2 wooden elephants.”

Tourist: ” whaat? 400!”

Seller: ” 500″

Tourist: “350.”

Seller: ” ok”

And that’s how my friend, Jonas ended up buying his souvenirs for much much less than the initial price. Basically they accept any price you offer as long as you don’t give up on bargaining. When you give the impression that you are losing the interest they will accept your price instantly. 

The floating market is going on all day long, 7 days out of 7 and if you haven’t found what you’ve been looking for on the boats, there’s a chance to find it on the riverside. 

From clothes to souvenirs, the selection is vague. 

   
 You can easily empty your wallet, but fill your stomach. Food is present in several locations, great cooked meals or easy snacks and fruit salads, mango or coconut ice cream and my favorite of all: pancakes. 

   
 There is also an unusual attraction that I got the chance to meet from close and despite his scary behaviour , I enjoyed posing with the massive snake.

   
  
 Shopping, eating, snake cuddling, all possible at the floating market! Don’t forget sunscreen and hat, the sun is burning over there! But if you did forget, for sure you’ll find at the market! One rule: bargain rules!

Bangkok – a bit of a culture shock

I’m a first timer in the Thai capital and as expected, the adventure comes together with a bit of a cultural shock. Not as much the first evening , when I land and surprisingly the taxi driver doesn’t charge me double or triple fare. The boom is the next day, when I hit the road to explore this new city. What other way to feel the real lifestyle than riding a local bus? Now that’s gonna be a bit of an adventure!
  
What air condition, what ticket machine, what station announcement or punctuality? Not even rules, but still as chaotic as you could imagine the traffic – and frankly there’s quite a bit of a chaos – after a while I realize that I haven’t heard any honking or fights, that makes me think that those people must be having their order in the big disorder that I see.
  
However, the bus ride is endless, takes ages and people around me are sweating but with lots of patience and water you can survive it and it’s actually fun. Not many tourists opt for the local bus, so apparently I’m a bit of attraction for the locals, who give me shy smiles when getting on and off.  

I was curious to see a market that everybody has been talking about, but that didn’t impress me. Unless you are after cheap and not good quality products it’s a place to be, if you need good stuff better you go to a shopping mall I guess. In any case, checking out a market it’s one of the top things to do in Bangkok. The variety is huge: night market, day market, weekend market, food market and the list could continue. 

   
 Bangkok wouldn’t be Bangkok without the famous tuk tuks and their as well known drivers, who’s voice keeps following you everywhere : ” tuk tuk, tuk tuk”. 

   
 They all try to attract you to their tuk tuk and so kindly offer you the magnificent best price, which at first will be at least the double of the normal fare. Bargaining has never been my thing but I quickly improved my skills in such environment and proudly rode the tuk tuk around the city. 

  
The cheapest way to get around is still the taxi – cause riding the local bus is enough once – and it has air condition! 

As European ( and probably every other nation than Asian ) getting a lot of attention, compliments and smiles from all around becomes usual after a while when you just ignore it automatically because otherwise it’s just way too much to handle. Maybe it’s because it’s Valentine’s Day and you are solo in a park?! I don’t know…, but I don’t think I remember any other day of my life feeling so admired. Hilarious! 

   
 Also, you wouldn’t expect Asians celebrating love in such an intense way! I spotted dozens of romantic pals driving their scooter towards their partner with flowers, gifts or heart shaped balloons in hands. Love is in the air in Bangkok!

From my side all the love goes to the food and the marvelous pancakes I got the chance to eat every single day in Bangkok and later on in several other places in Thailand. Simply delicious and insanely cheap ! Also the street food is safe to eat, just adviseable to have a look from where you buy it. I’ve seen a few places where I wouldn’t have eaten for sure. 

   
    
 
   
 That’s Bangkok: everything happens just a step away from the busy traffic, on the street they cook and serve your meal, exchange your money, make your pedicure and offer you a massage. 

   
 Khaosan road, Silam and Chinatown are great examples for that and definitely must see spots while in Bangkok.