Wesak Day 2018 Kuala Lumpur

I must admit the term Vesakha or Wesak didn’t mean anything to me until a few days ago, when I heard about a parade that was going to be happening near my accommodation in Kuala Lumpur.

I started researching online about it to see if it may represent me any interest to participate at all.

I found out that it’s also called Buddha’s birthday, which started to shed light on the topic. It’s a holiday celebrated by Buddhists and some Hindus and it commemorates the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha.

Wesak Day is on May’s full moon day and it’s public holiday in Malaysia.

The service started at the Buddhist temple Maha Vihara in Brickfields at 6 pm with meditation.

The streets were decorated as for celebration and lots of people gathered, unfortunately many beggars too.

The first float was carrying a big Buddha statue decorated all around with lots of flowers and in front a little Buddha that was being washed carefully by every single person that lined up for the ritual that represents the purification.

Several other floats followed, each of them carrying a different Buddha in a shiny and flowery set up and most of them having in front the tiny Buddha for the washing procedure .

In the honor of Buddha’s teachings, according to which we shall manifest generosity, volunteers were offering free soup, water and a little package that included a candle, a few flowers and some candies.

Ready to join the parade, we lit up our candles and started walking the streets of KL with a feeling of happiness in hearts and smiles on our faces .

The full moon was shining bright from between the skyscrapers during the whole route that ran approximately 12 km and lasted more or less 4 hours, ending at the same place where it started.

For Buddhists a celebration, for locals a day off, for tourists something new , for me another unique Kuala Lumpur memory.

Happy Wesaka!

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Kuala Lumpur in a nutshell

Getting around Transportation in KL is fairly organized and easy to figure out, but also ridiculously cheap. For instance a one way  ticket from KL Sentral – main station , that’s where you arrive from the airport whether you take the train or the bus – to KLCC – Kuala Lumpur City Center aka Petronas Twin Towers – will cost you 2,40 MYR, which is aprox 0,80 AUD or 0,50 Euros. When it comes to public transport the offer is wide: from a free tourist bus that runs to the main attractions, to the train, bus, monorail and bikes. However, is also not a bad idea to take long walks around the city, as most places are easy to reach by foot if you can cope with the humidity. Eating & drinking out One thing is sure: nobody will starve in this city. From street food to fine dining, everything is available at any time of the day and night. With such a diverse cultural and ethnic mix, food from pretty much all over the world can be easily found. Head to Chinatown to eat together with the locals at simple food courts and try the typical Malaysian claypot squid rice or claypot shrimps noodle.Make your way to Brickfields neighborhood , or Little India, as locals call it, where you can eat at one of the many restaurants or street vendors that are all around the neighborhood.Check out Jalan Alor at Bukit Bintang and you’ll find yourself on a street full of restaurants, this is the food street of the city where locals and visitors get together to enjoy not only the fresh meals but the live music, friendly faces and good vibe as well. Just a few steps away is another famous street, but this time with heaps of bars ‘cause after a good dinner one must get a drink or two, no? Changkat Bukit Bintang or “the bar street” , is a heaven for party goer locals, tourists and expats. To satisfy  everyone’s pleasure there’s a bar for all tastes, being that Irish bar, whiskey bar, night club, karaoke bar or Cuban lounge.I’ve heard from some sure sources that most places have ladies night on Wednesday’s when ladies get free drinks, but no problem gents, you can order your discounted alcoholic beverage any day of the week at late afternoon happy hour. In Kuala Lumpur, with so many skyscrapers, the rooftop bars are in trend as well, where for the price of the cocktail you get also a magnificent view over the city. The dress code is smart casual at such places usually, but the people just as friendly as everywhere else around KL. You might start your night alone, but most probably you’ll end it with a few new friends from different corners of this world.Things to see1. Petronas Twin Towers There’s no complete visit to KL without a stroll around the iconic Petronas Towers. Both at daytime and night they offer a magnificent view and the perfect background for your souvenir photo. Every evening there’s a light show going on when the water from the fountain dances to the rhythm of the music at 8, 9 and 10 pm.2. Perdana Botanical GardensApart from being a great spot for jogging or picnic, it’s picturesque art pieces will inspire you to start a photoshoting session.3. National Mosque of MalaysiaImportant building for the nation, impressive from outside and possible to visit inside as well at certain times of the day. It can hold up to 15,000 people and it’s main dome is star shaped with 18 point out of which 13 represent the 13 states of Malaysia and the remaining 5 represent the 5 pillars of Islam. 4. Islamic Arts MuseumSoutheast Asia’s largest museum of Islamic art, it’s located only 5 min walk from the mosque. 5. KL TowerAnother tall building, at its 421 m hight, it’s currently the world fifth tallest structure. It’s one of Kuala Lumpur’s iconic landmarks and offers spectacular views of the city.6. Kuala Lumpur City GalleryNot sure how popular is the gallery itself but the I love KL sign, which is just outside of the building is certainly a famous photo location. 7. Sultan Abdul Samad BuildingJust opposite the road from the Art Gallery, the impressive building is impossible to miss. It’s architecture is eye catching and it just makes the city simply beautiful. 8. Central MarketPerfect place to go for souvenir shopping or just for a casual day out. It’s a relaxed atmosphere, the venders are not pushy at all and the quality of the products seems to be good. It’s also great for a spontaneous fishspa session.9. Chinatown As a typical Chinatown: food, vendors, lots of people, bargain, cheap bags, sunnies, selfie sticks, fake D&G’s and much more.10. KL Forest Eco ParkA real treasure in the heart of the city. It’s the oldest forest reserves in the country and it’s a perfect spot for ecotourism. With its several nature trails and a forest canopy walkway, it’s an outstanding attraction which will help you get a small doze of adrenaline and a great view of the city from above the trees.Street art, temples, colorsThanks to the strong ethnic mix in the city and in the country in general, during a stroll around KL you’ll bump into many temples , either Chinese, Hindu or Buddhist.I found Kuala Lumpur very artistic in many ways. The contrast of the old and new architecture, the fancy tall buildings and the simple, small structures , the old fashioned and the trendy, they all create a diverse vibe. In some areas of the city street art is in particular impressive, making a casual walk a fun experience.With bright colors and some creative ideas, these streets near Bukit Bintang have been transformed from the ordinary into an attractive , happy environment that makes you laugh your head off even on a rainy day.To be continued…A trip that I initially booked just because of convenience – an affordable dental treatment in KL instead of a ridiculously expensive one in my current home city of Sydney – turned into another amazing travel experience that I will not forget.Although I’ve considered spending a few days out of the city, sometimes going with the flow means sticking to one place if that feels great.A week ago I landed without knowing anyone , in a few days I’m departing not only with amazing memories but also great new friends from different parts of the planet.A big shout out to the people that helped me patiently ( or not so patiently ) in taking the photos I wanted and for sharing big laughters:- Ilien and Alvin – KL- Nick and Nicki – UK- Akie – Japan- Tracy – Vietnam

New Years Eve in Sydney

The beauty of Sydney Harbour is on any given day mind blowing, but on New Year’s Eve it’s in particular stunning.

No wonder that people travel from overseas just to watch the famous fireworks when the clock hits midnight. It’s very common to see people struggling to find a good place already in the morning of December 31, taking their meals for the day and literally spending the whole day out, sometimes in terrible heat, just to experience a once in a lifetime event.

I was still little kid when I watched in the tv for the first time and I remember staring with my mouth open because it was absolutely beautiful. Back home, in Romania was still just after midday and those people on the other side of the world were yelling Happy New Year. I thought that’s amazing! And they did that wearing shorts and summer dresses, while I had warm pullovers on even inside the house. It was fascinating to think that it’s summer somewhere while at my place is winter and that it’s night when at me is day still. I started to develop a passion for Australia and especially for Sydney every year after. I am grateful for the tv channels that transmitted a short part of the New Years fireworks from the major cities around the world in the order of the time zones. Sydney was always the first, the most beautiful and my favorite every single time. Long story short: I made my bucket list item to be part of it not just spectator from my couch at home.

First time I spent New Years in Sydney was two years ago, loved it, but haven’t been so lucky to have the best viewing spot. This time, things happened differently .

I happened to be invited last minute to probably the most wanted places to be on this special evening.

At 11 pm, when we got to the Opera Kitchen, the atmosphere was great, the views amazing and the people more than excited. For starters some snack and a glass of wine, but at midnight the champagne didn’t miss either.

When the countdown started everybody turned towards the Harbour Bridge shouting out loud the numbers 3,2,1.

The spectacular fireworks lit up the sky of Sydney and colored it for a few seconds with bright blue, red and golden colors, offering us a memorable 20 minutes of show and excitement.

To my right was the Opera House, to my left the Harbour Bridge and both looked wonderful as the fireworks kept on going.

Any better view for New Years Eve in Sydney I don’t think I could have wished for.

The venue was full but not overcrowded, our table being located probably in the best spot, easily could see everything that did matter.

Another new year, quite a special one, has started in an unexpectedly interesting way in my favorite city.Happy 2018!

Byron Bay vibes

Byron Bay is that hippie town on the east coast that everybody goes to once and will fall in love with instantly. On my previous Aussie trips I did parts of the east coast and whenever I met fellow travelers that heard I made it to Surfers Paradise, the next approach was if you liked Surfers, you will love Byron. I was excited and ready to be surprised when I boarded the plane in Sydney with destination Ballina.

Yes, you can fly to Byron very cheap either to Ballina or Gold Coast airport, Ballina being the closest one, only 20 min drive from the airport to Byron Bay town center.

Touched down in Ballina, took a shuttle and reached Byron Beach Resort, which was going to be my home for the next four nights. The location is great, just opposite Belongil beach, which I prefer over Main Beach, because it’s not crowded and it’s a better match if you just want to relax.

The town is maybe 20 min walk away, but bikes are available for rent or a free shuttle runs often to town and back.

Belongil Beach is perfect for daytime, sunset watching and at night for chilling under millions of stars. But the action , aka party, happens in the town.

Railway bar and Cheeky Monkey are the most popular bars for those that love live music and alternative vibes. The truth is that live music is impossible to avoid in any case in Byron -not that anyone would like to avoid it – because quite talented baskers are all around the town playing guitar and singing to the eager public. They do a good job and they keep the spirit of Byron Bay alive.

The iconic lighthouse is proudly standing on the top of the hill and can be seen from pretty much everywhere in town.

Bush walks, biking and running trails, they all lead to the beautiful lighthouse and just behind it a short trail will lead you to the most easterly point of the Aussie mainland.

For the sunrise I got up at 4:40 am, took the shuttle from Byron Beach Resort – they organize sunrise tours on specific days of the week – and walked to the lighthouse with half closed eyes still to capture the moment when the sun pops out of the Atlantic and rises over it, lighting up the town.

It wasn’t an easy job to get up at that time, considering that the previous night was a bit long, but it was certainly worth it. Surprisingly many people have been up there and we all together stayed speechless when the sunrise started to happen. It was beautiful!

Walking around the lighthouse I discovered that a big number of people choose this place for morning yoga and meditation or dog walking. I don’t blame them. You get stunning views and definitely a good boost to start a great day.

Byron is the place where I could keep on extending and extending my stay thanks to it’s laid back atmosphere, chilled out people, super friendly locals and fellow travelers and in my case also because I met wonderful swiss people that woke up my beautiful memories related to Switzerland.

I didn’t end up extending my stay, after 4 days I went to Brisbane, but in 4 days can’t back to Byron for the night not because Brisbane is not great, but because Byron is just a bit cooler if you’re after relaxed time by the beach.

This time I’ve chosen to stay at Byron Holiday Park, all ready for new adventures, hence I booked a tent instead of a room.

The staff at The Aviary are extremely friendly and my tent was more than comfy. It rained a bit at night and some birds made weird noises cause yea, it’s Australia, but the experience has been awesome. I’m about to check out soon and I know for sure that I’ll return again here and I’ll claim a tent. But by then I’ll tell you about some daytrip options that are easily doable from Byron Bay.

Nimbin

Nimbin could be considered the little sister of Byron, it’s smaller, even more chilled out and even more hippie and colorful.

Not that I’d have any interest, but involuntarily I saw how easily you can get marijuana there, just on the street and without any cover.

Some people walk their white camel as others do their dogs.

I spent around 3-4 hours in Nimbin, which happened to be the meeting point for catching up with a friend from Brisbane, but liked it. Nimbin seemed to be interesting place at daytime, I can imagine how much more interesting it becomes at night.

Crystal Castle

You may go to Crystal Castle if you want a little bit of spiritual experience, to relax and get yourself together. The experts there will introduce you to the world of the crystals, pointing out the healing effects that each type of crystal has and you can also participate in some demo activities that run daily.

However, even if crystals are not your cup of tea, the place is beautiful, more like a botanic garden type of park with nice plants and flowers, bamboo trees and Buddha statues.

Write your wish on a paper and tie it next to thousands others, maybe, maybe it comes true. Get your lunch at the restaurant that offers great nature landscapes. Buy a souvenir at the shop. Believe it or not it’s easy to spend half day there just wandering around and taking in the scenery.

Minyon Falls

If you made it to Crystal Castle, Mynion Falls it’s just a short drive from it and it’s quite nice, I assume even nicer if it rained the day before. If time allowes, hiking all the way to the base of the falls is an option, where a dip in the fresh water is a must.

Broken Head Nature Reserve

Broken Head nature reserve is near Byron Holiday Park and it has a nice and calm beach, a possibility to do a walk along the coast with views over the Three Sisters Rocks.

Relaxing and gorgeous, the surroundings of Byron Bay are just as appealing as the town itself.

Event of the year in Wollongong – Australia

For a typical tourist Wollongong is most likely completely unknown because it’s not one of those popular Aussie cities that must be on your bucket list.

It’s located less than 2 hours drive from Sydney, just around the corner if we speak in Australian standards in the matter of distance.

Even many locals commute on a daily basis to their work places in Sydney while living in Wollongong, where the cost of living is much lower than in the iconic city that hosts the Opera House.

Every December Wollongong becomes a big attraction though and that’s because it’s the location of the biggest Santa Claus pubcrawl in Down Under. It happens usually on the first Saturday of the month and it attracts thousands of people, all dressed up in white and red Santas and Santa’s helpers, elf’s and whatever could suggest Christmas .

All the income of the event goes to charity and everybody is happy because the party and good vibes go on the whole day, starting midday and finishing sometime around the morning hours the next day.

All the pubs and clubs of the town are involved and every single one of them gets overcrowded once the evening starts and the party goers spread around. It’s just normal to see drunk Santa’s stumbling around or the bit more sober ones riding their bikes.

What all have in common is the Christmas spirit and the eagerness to party all day and night.

But apart from the great santa pubcrawl, Wollongong is a good destination on other days too. The beaches are nice, less crowded than Sydney beaches and the atmosphere is very laid back.

For fit visitors renting a bike for a few hours and biking along the coast is a good workout and stunning photo shooting opportunity.

The views along the coast are wonderful and with a little detour you can reach the lighthouse, one of the iconic landscapes of the town.

Plenty of nice restaurants also around there. They serve amazing see food – until recently I wasn’t at all a seafood fan – which can’t be more fresh than that as the fish market is just next door.

Wollongong area is amazing for hikers too, Mt Keira being one of the greatest lookout points offering great panorama of the town.

A few days in Wollongong is enough to explore a bit also the surroundings. Daytrips to Fitzroy Falls or Carrington Falls are quite popular and doable in a few hours.

My favorite was Carrington Falls, where it’s impossible to resist not jumping into the fresh water to cool down on a hot Aussie summer day. The water is crystal clear and refreshing.

And if all these were not enough, on the way back to Wollongong make a stop at Robertson town, where for some reason the placed a big potato called massive stone, but that’s not even so special. Where you need to go it’s just next to it and it’s the best bakery you can find, called Petite Fleur. They bake right at the spot the most delicious cakes and cookies, just perfect to reward yourself in style in Wollongong area.

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.

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