#Travel: Poland – Krakow

Krakow, Poland is located near the Czech border in the southern part of the country. Millions of tourists flock to the city every year and this number is increasing annually!

Krakow is one of Europe’s best jewels. It is rich in history and architecture, has an abundance of restaurants and won’t damage your bank balance as badly as many other European cities.

In total, I spent 8 days in Krakow. I used airbnb to book a cheap apartment about a 10 minute walk from the city centre.

My Airbnb Discount Code:

https://www.airbnb.com/c/lhaddock4?currency=GBP

There are many places to stay in the city center, but if you’re looking for something a little quieter and cheaper, I recommend just outside of the old town.

8 days was a good amount of time for me to explore the city, chill and do some work.

Here are some things you need to check out when you’re visiting:

  • Krakow’s Rynek Glowny Town Centre
  • Wawel Cathedral
  • Wawel Royal Castle
  • Kazmiers The Former Jewish District
  • Lost Souls Alley

Two of the most popular things to do in Krakow are not actually in Krakow itself. They are half day/ day trips not too far from the city.

Auschwitz

I don’t have the words to describe my visit here. It’s an important history lesson that any visitor to Krakow should not miss.

Salt Mines

The Salt Mines were my most surprising part of my trip. I really wasn’t expecting much, but I was wrong! The structures and objects carved into the mine are incredibly impressive. It’s also a good history and science lesson.

So, there you have Krakow in a nutshell!

I hope to visit again this summer 🙂

Enjoy your trip!

Check out these handy resources to make sure you don’t miss anything in Krakow!

#TRAVEL – Wales: 4 Waterfall Hike

Croseo I Cyrmu!

Wales.

My home. 

No better place to re-ignite my #TRAVEL series with.

With a population of just over 3 million people, and almost 10 million sheep (I’m not joking), Wales isn’t exactly ‘on the map’. 

Well, it should be…

Wales boasts vibrant green landscapes for as far as the eye can see.

Hidden amongst the hills, collieries and trees are many concealed gems that can be sought out…

Waterfalls!

In fact, there are hundreds of waterfalls scattered throughout this mountainous country.  The scenic environment and wet climate have bred these rapids for thousands of years and their offspring is spectacular.

Just north of the infamous Pendryn Whisky Distillery lies the ‘Brecon Beacons 4 Waterfalls Walk’. This scenic little hike takes you along a picturesque path through the woods were you’ll be greeted by 4 of them –Sgwd Clun-gywn, Sgywd y Pannwr, Sgwd Isaf Clun-gywn and Sgwd yr Eira.

The path begins close to the little village of Ystradfellte.  It isn’t too strenuous, but some parts of the track can be quite slippery, so wear appropriate footwear.

There is a National Park car park that charges around 4GBP per day.    It’s located at the beginning of the path.  From there, you just follow the winding path which will eventually loop back around on itself.

Depending on your speed and fitness, the Brecon Beacons 4 Waterfall walk should take no longer than 3 – 4 hours to complete.

Have fun, be safe & Enjoy Wales!

#TRAVEL Cambodia: The Killing Fields

Disclaimer: In case the title didn’t tip you off, this article is going to be a real bummer.

choeung_ek__cambodia_by_ncdrifts-d96k1hj

One of the most amazing things about traveling is how much you learn along the way—about people, about culture, and about the world itself. Reading about something in a book is a far cry from seeing the remnants of history with your own eyes, and as we explore we uncover parts of the past that are often fascinating, sometimes amusing, sometimes confusing, and occasionally downright horrifying.

However, knowing the misdeeds of the past teaches us what to avoid in the future and so there is no history that should be forgotten. No place is this more true than in the Killing Fields of Cambodia.

A Bit of History

The Killing Fields are a dark vestige of the Khmer Rouge Regime, which took power in Cambodia under the leadership of Pol Pot from 1975 – 1979. During that time, nearly 3 million people were executed in a country of only 8 million total. The cities were emptied and those who weren’t arrested were sent to agricultural projects as the government sought to both “purify” the population and bring the country back to a simpler time. Much of this was accomplished through the use of crude prisons and mass graves, which still exist today as a haunting reminder.

Choeung Ek

Choeung Ek was originally an orchard that was turned into arguably the most notorious extermination camp in Cambodia, containing thousands upon thousands of bodies. Located outside Phnom Penh, there is an entrance fee of $6 and includes an audio tour which guides you through the site providing the grim details of the events that took place—many patrons are moved to tears while listening as they solemnly walk the grounds.

dscf0664

You’re continually reminded to watch your step, as teeth and bone fragments still regularly make their way to the surface. Upon arrival your eye is immediately drawn to the memorial stupa, a Buddhist monument with towering windows displaying more than 5,000 human skulls that have been recovered from the site.

dscf0667_fotor2

Those carrying out the executions were not well-equipped with weapons or ammunition, so executions were to be done quickly and cheaply often through barbaric means. For this reason, you will immediately notice how many of the skulls on display are cracked or smashed in.

Perhaps the most heartbreaking element of the site is known as the “Children’s Tree,” against which the youngest victims were beaten. Today the tree continues to grow and is covered in bracelets and ribbons visitors have left in memoriam to those lost.

Tuol Sleng

Within the city limits sits the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, a former high school that was converted into a prison by the Khmer Rouge. The classrooms were divided into crude, tiny cells; the windows were barred and the grounds surrounded by electric fences & barbed wire. Inmates here were each photographed and ordered to provide the details of their life, only to be tortured into confessing to crimes they didn’t commit. Wall upon wall of prisoner photos line parts of the museum, with gaunt faces of men, women, and children staring back at you. This prison was a true house of horrors, the site of everything from waterboarding to medical experimentation. Many of those not executed at the prison itself were eventually marched 15 kilometers to Choeung Ek, where they ultimately met their demise.

It’s baffling to think something so horrific had taken place in such recent history, but a truly eye-opening experience for those visiting Cambodia.

-Ashley

If you’re going to Cambodia, don’t forget your Lonely Planet travel guide –

#TRAVEL China: The Best of Beijing

As the capital of China, Beijing seems to have it all—history, art, culture, entertainment, innovation. While I’ve been a few times, I was always just passing through or filing paperwork somewhere.

At long last, my most recent trip through the city gave me a few days to actually experience the wonders it has to offer and I was determined to fit into 3 days as much as humanly possible:

Day One: The Great Wall

After arriving late at night on a long-haul train, I snagged a few hours sleep and immediately took off for the Great Wall. Having been to the tourist hotspots of Badaling and Mutianyu in the past and battling the crowds of locals, I finally had the time for a proper Great Wall experience. Many hostels and tour groups offer transport to more remote sections of the wall that are totally worth it. This was by far my favorite Great Wall visit to an unnamed section roughly 2 hours from the city.

wallview
No Guides, No Guards, Not a Soul in Sight

In a group of 9 people, we were dropped off at an access point and given 3 hours to hike 7 towers to the edge of Mongolia and back. Being mid-August, we were lugging jugs of water in temperatures of 102°. The hike itself was beyond difficult—the wall is steep, the steps countless, the towers deceptively far apart. The thing is, it’s not supposed to be easy. There is a saying in China that “One isn’t a true man or a hero until he has climbed the Great Wall.” Truly experiencing the Great Wall means putting your heart and soul into it, and in this case pushing your body as well. By the time we were making our way back, whenever anyone stood still you could see their legs involuntarily quaking—a sensation that lets you know you’re giving it your all.

wallhill
The Turning Point, Peering into Mongolia

It really was the perfect day, too. The views were stellar, the people were amazing, and we ended the trip exhausted feeling as if we’d truly achieved something in our time there.

Day Two: Forbidden City/Tiananmen Square/Night Markets

The next day I woke up so sore that climbing out of my bunk made me audibly groan in pain but I was determined to beat the lines at the Forbidden City, so an early start was a must. Popping a few aspirin, I headed out only to find lines already forming at security. Not security at the Forbidden City, mind you, but on the sidewalks leading to the area, because just entering different parts of the city means bag checks and body scans in Beijing. Following the crowds of thousands, I eventually found my way. The City has a cap of 80,000 tickets a day and they do occasionally sell out in the summer (it is, after all, the most visited museum in the world), but once beyond the gates it’s easy to break away from the sea of people. The city itself is truly massive covering 180 acres with 980 buildings. The courtyards are huge and the architecture breathtaking, though I’ll admit that after an hour or so it just seems like more of the same at every turn.

forbidcity2
A Guardian at the Forbidden City

Leaving around noon, I headed back through Tiananmen Square to take in the monuments, then spent the evening wandering through some local walking streets. Like everything in Beijing, they looked small on the map but turned out to be enormous and had so much to take in!

20160803_093346
Follow the crowd in; Follow the crowd out.

Day Three: Summer Palace/Lama Temple

The next morning I hopped on the subway and took the hour-long trip out to the Summer Palace, nearly 750 acres of gardens, lakes, and temples. Dating back to the Jin Dynasty, winding trails snake their way through the trees leading to distinct temples hidden in the valleys while towering pagodas sit atop the highest hills. Truly the most serene place I’ve been in China, each turn reveals rippling koi ponds, footbridges rising over lotus leaves, or pebble-strewn paths to nowhere.

palacewater
There are worse places to get lost, for sure.

The Buddhist Incense Tower, the most distinct pagoda of the complex, formerly offered awe-inspiring views of Kunming Lake & Nanhu Island, but the air quality in and around Beijing has all but made that a thing of the past. Still, the Summer Palace holds treasures like the Garden of Harmonious Pleasures, which is just as relaxing as it sounds.

palacedoors
Finally–a shady spot to relax.

After a good three hours of exploring, I headed back into the city for a late lunch before exploring the Lama Temple. While one would expect me to be templed-out by now, I can’t resist a temple that’s actually active rather than a simple relic of the past. Hearing the drums & the calls to prayer, breezing through drifting clouds of incense—it’s a whole different experience. My visit was unfortunately quite short, as I was soon headed off for another long-haul train.

The train itself was a welcome relief, because after 3 days of non-stop walking, my legs had turned to jelly and needed the entirety of the 22-hour journey to even begin recuperating. If you have a chance to visit Beijing, try and give yourself at least 5 days so you can pace yourself and see a bit more of the city, but know that you can certainly power through it on a tight schedule as well!

-Ashley

Check out this Bejing Travel Guide –

#TRAVEL – Phillipines: Kawasan Falls

If you’re interested in visiting one of the best waterfalls in the world, then you’re reading the right thing.

w2

Kawasan Falls is a 3-tier waterfall located in the southwest of the Philippine island, Cebu. Cebu itself is an interesting and beautiful place to visit, but in this post, I’m going to concentrate on the waterfall itself. I first saw a picture of the Kawasan Falls on an Instagram travel account I follow – @doyoutravel. I Immediately added it to my bucket list.

The location of the falls isn’t in the most convenient of places, but the dirt cheap cost of transport in Cebu makes it easily accessible.

GETTING THERE FROM CEBU CITY

The chances are you’ll be staying in Cebu city. This gives you 3 options:

Bus – The cheapest option is to take a bus from the main bus station. The bus ride takes 3 – 4 hours and costs as little as 200 PHP ($4 USD).

Car – A more expensive but more comfortable option is to take a taxi. Taxi drivers charge about 3000 PHP ($64 USD) for the round trip. Between a few people, 3000 PHP is still very much affordable and in my opinion is worth the extra time you’d gain….. and the air-con!

Bike – The third and probably the most exciting option is to rent yourself a motorbike or scooter and drive there yourself. After experiencing the roads of Cebu, I will say to anyone doing this – BE CAREFUL!

STAY CLOSE

Additionally, there are several hostels and resorts located closer to Kawasan Falls. If I ever visit Cebu again and have more time, I’m definitely going to stay away from the city center and explore more of the island!

Before you reach the waterfalls, you’ll need to trek for about 15 minutes from the National Park entrance. Like most national parks there is an entrance fee. For foreigners, this fee is 30PHP, which is very little. The path to the falls is mostly flat and adjacent to an azure-colored river, so the walk is rather enjoyable despite the heat.

w5

When you arrive at the falls, it’ll take a few minutes for your brain to figure out that it’s real and that you’re not dreaming or watching some CGI’d masterpiece.I think it’s worth noting that despite its natural beauty there typically aren’t as many tourists as you’d expect at the falls. Instead, there are many locals having a good time! It’s also worth knowing that the falls are at their busiest on the weekends.

If you’re on a budget it’d be wise to bring your own food and drink because the vendors on location sell their products at high prices. It is a bit of a money trap.

And speaking of money trap….. Immediately upon arriving at the falls, you’ll be swarmed with local Filipinos asking to be your guide for the day. Despite saying “no, thanks” several times, we still ended up with a guide at our side who helped us around and told us a little about the area. Even though we did not want a guide in the first place, we still paid him and thanked him at the end of our stay.

There are actually 3 waterfalls. The first is the most impressive and is where the majority of the food, people and rafts are. Yes, rafts. 3 or 4 large bamboo rafts have been constructed in the waterfall pool. You can rent these rafts and even get a local to take you to the actual waterfall and go under it. The water gets VERY powerful and didn’t go nicely with my sunburn! But it was fun!!

The other 2 waterfalls are just a little further up than the first and can be found within a 5-minute walk.

If you’re looking for a dash of adrenaline to your day then go canyoning!

A few tour operators at the falls offer the chance for you to canyon down the 3 falls.

w1

I really cannot rate the Kawasan Falls high enough! I’d go again, if only just to look at it for 30 seconds. It’s stunning! Go and experience it for yourself.

 

This Lonely Planet guide to the Philippines has all you need and much, much more!

#TRAVEL – ALASKA: Frosty Fur Rendezvous

Alaska is rife with untamed wilderness and is the ideal location for climbers, hunters, and fisherman alike. Much of its appeal lies in the fact that there are still areas yet unexplored, offering the chance to walk where no one before you ever has. Whether you’re seeking the calm of a perpetually dark winter or the energizing vibes of 24-hour summer sunlight, Alaska is the escapist’s dream.

Yet even beyond its breathtaking landscapes, the Land of the Midnight Sun holds a rich cultural history filled with tradition. At no time of year is this more apparent than during Fur Rondy, the largest winter festival on the continent. For those who don’t have the time to travel Alaska at their own pace, Fur Rondy offers the best sample of what Alaskans are most proud of.

Fur Rendezvous has been taking place in Anchorage in late February and early March since 1935, when the celebration was first added to annual swap meets held by fur trappers. To date, the festival still hosts some of the city’s largest actions of fur, hide, and horns, as well as a three-day Native Arts market featuring hundreds of vendors & artists from the local tribes, including the Athabaskan, Eskimo, and Aleut cultures.

If fur & handicrafts don’t pique your interest, Fur Rondy is host to well over one hundred separate events, including winter sports tournaments—you can plan ahead to take part in pond hockey, snowshoe-softball, ice-bowling, and even cornhole competitions! For the more daring adventurer, the Running of the Reindeer is definitely a prime event. Much like Pamplona’s Running of the Bulls but mellowed out for the laid-back Alaskan lifestyle, this footrace through downtown Anchorage presents the challenge of outrunning a herd of reindeer all while raising funds for Toys for Tots.

Naturally, the competitive spirit has carried over into less-traditional events as well, with one of the most popular events being the Outhouse Races—participants take their favorite outhouse, dress it to the nines, put skis on the bottom, and race them in the streets! That essence of foolishness carries over into many light-hearted evens, including the “Mr. Fur Face” beard competition at the Miners & Trappers Ball, and the giant blanket-toss used to send revelers flying high into the air!

By far, the biggest event of the 10-day festival is the 3-day, 75-mile World Championship Sled Dog Race, which has brought together mushers from all over the world since 1946. The timing of the event is instrumental in getting residents pumped up in anticipation of the 1,150-mile Iditarod, which begins at Fur Rondy’s end.

Of course, Fur Rondy holds your fair staples as well, including carnival rides, ice & snow sculptures, skating, and fireworks—so there’s definitely something for everyone.

-Ashley

#TRAVEL – THAILAND: KOH WOW!

During my 18 months in Thailand, I naturally explored most of the country, but there were still some stones I’d left unturned—so in December 2015 I decided to take a short vacation to the Thai island Koh Tao and check out somewhere I had not been before.

Aviary Photo_130974895285894835

Koh Tao is located a short ferry ride north of the famous Koh Pha Ngan and about an 8-hour drive south of the capital, Bangkok. Koh Tao, or ‘The Divers Island’, boasts everything you expect of an island in Thailand: breathtaking beaches, turquoise waters, panoramic viewpoints and picture-postcard nature. My time there was full of fun activities, laughs and great food. Sadly, my journey there wasn’t.

How to get there

Ok, as far as night buses go, this one wasn’t the worst, but it probably was the most poorly planned. Foreigners usually travel to Koh Tao by taking either a night bus or a night train from Bangkok to the ferry port in Chumphon where they then continue to the island by ferry.

Stocked up on water and full on Pad Thai, my friends and I waited for departure just off Khoa San. The bus was one hour late, but the frustration from waiting quickly left us once we saw the huge Captain Jack Sparrow picture along with the Honda and the Ferrari logos painted across the bright green double-decker we were about to spend the night on. It was hilarious and definitely not legal.

The first hour of the journey went smoothly, then BANG – popped tire.

In most places, this would cause an immediate stop—but in Thailand, no. The driver continued the remaining 7-hour journey trying to keep the bus on the road as it swerved between lanes like a drunken old man stumbling home from the pub. I admired his effort just as much as I judged his stupidity.

Finally, we arrived at Chumphon 3 hours early and so the most vexing part of the journey began. It turned out we weren’t actually early, most bus companies drop their passengers off 3 hours before the ferry departs. Being stranded at 4am on a dark pier thriving with mosquitoes isn’t fun. Why do they do this? I’ll never know. But if you’re reading this and making that journey anytime in the future, be warned.

Aviary Photo_130974896094123105

Things to do

Diving & Snorkeling
Most people reference Koh Tao for its diving. The island has no shortage of dive schools that offer competitive prices for those looking to obtain their PADI. For those not wanting or having the time to complete a diving course, snorkeling is the second best option. There are many great snorkeling spots around the island—the vibrant fish are spectacular and you may even be lucky enough to spot a few sharks (shy ones of course!).

Aviary Photo_130974895905455723

Viewpoints
The viewpoints in Koh Tao are phenomenal. Some are difficult to climb, but the view at the top is always worth it.  I really enjoyed the view from Freedom Beach viewpoint.

Aviary Photo_130974896628668735

Koh Nang Yuan
Koh Nang Yuan is a beautiful small island very close to Koh Tao. Like Koh Tao it has great beaches, diving and snorkeling, and additionally boasts hiking and zip-lining.

Aviary Photo_130974895560628660

The average price of a meal, beer and accommodation on Koh Tao doesn’t vary much from the other Thai islands or the touristy areas in Bangkok.

Aviary Photo_130974896360354430

If you’re looking for more than just a ‘party’, go to Koh Tao.

-Liam

This Lonely Planet guide to the Thai islands & beaches has everything you need!

#TRAVEL: Thailand – The Charm of Chiang Mai!

Chiang Mai is a city brimming with adventure. On the outskirts of town you can ride elephants, pet tigers, or go zip lining, while in the city you can take in historical landmarks deeply sewn with Buddhist culture, sample the cuisine, or even get a Thai massage from a prison inmate (how many of your friends can say they’ve done that?).

Chedi Luang 8

The most discernable aspect of Chiang Mai is clear on any tourist map—a giant square moat that previously encompassed the entire city. The moat and the city wall were originally built as defense against possible Burmese invasions, but have since become a serene aspect of the cityscape and an easy touchstone for navigation while exploring the old city.

Chedi Luang 2

If you’re looking for living history, Wat Doi Suthep is by far the best recommendation I can give. Located a few miles outside the city, the temple is atop a mountain and visitors must climb 309 steps to reach the top (no worries, they sell icecream on the landing!). On the path up you’ll pass through a makeshift market of some of the best street food available—believe me, the climb is much more pleasant with a baggie of fried bananas. The temple itself is a fairly massive complex of glistening gold, with monks going about their duties while tourists and worshippers alike take in the breathtaking views of the city below.

If pressed for time, there are well over 100 temples within city limits as well, the best known of which is Wat Chedi Luang. Located near the center of the city and partially destroyed by an earthquake centuries ago, the temple grounds also house the city pillar and the most overwhelming sermon hall I’ve seen.

Chedi Luang 7
Doi Suthep (5)

So now you’ve spent your day wandering the moat and taking in temples, when evening rolls around. You’re in Southeast Asia, my friend, there’s only one thing to do—hit up the biggest night market around at Chiang Mai’s Night Bazaar. With a massive array of handicrafts and every food imaginable conveniently served on skewers, the streets are so crowded you’ll feel as if you’re floating in a sea of people. Of course, even when you’re done shopping it doesn’t mean the night is over…

DSCF0283

One thing you’ll learn quickly in Thailand is that when someone invites you to the “disco”, don’t expect bellbottoms and the Bee Gees—turns out nightclubs are still called discotheques by the locals. Nightlife in Chiang Mai is definitely for the younger crowd, with more than a handful of clubs catering to different tastes. The biggest expat magnet by far is Zoe In Yellow, which combines a jam-packed club, low-key garden bar, and great food all at cheap prices. They hold epic parties with live music, frequent fire shows, plus they celebrate most western holidays in their own unique way.

Of course, if you’re looking for straight-up all night dancing in an all-out rave atmosphere, Bubbles should be your destination of choice. It can be a bit seedy and definitely attracts more tourists than backpackers, but still makes for a great night out.

If you plan to spend an extended amount of time in Thailand, it’s good to know that Western style places are never out of reach. John’s Place is still my favorite haunt in the city—a sports bar that perpetually plays soccer and football games while offering a variety of comfort foods and a soundtrack of classic rock. If it’s Mexican food you’re craving, Loco Elvis is the best spot to hit, directly next to Fat Elvis which serves up amazing American-style burgers with bottomless lemonade.

Chiang Mai possesses the mystical ability to provide amusement for every mood and personality—a city not to be missed!

– Ashley

If you’re heading to Thailand, don’t forget your travel guide –

#TRAVEL – JAPAN: Uncovering Kyoto

A visit to Kyoto has been on my to-do list for well over a decade now, so when I finally had the opportunity to go in 2015, I was absolutely thrilled. Admittedly, my first impression of Kyoto was far from ideal: my hostel was located along a six-lane highway with a marvelous view of concrete overpasses in either direction. However, it didn’t take long to discover that hidden amongst the high-rises and expressways were areas simply brimming with Kyoto’s earliest history and culture.

?
?

Far from the neon streets of Tokyo, the neighborhoods of Kyoto emerged from a settlement dating back thousands of years, and as such each winding road crackles with a deep sense of character. Hiding behind offices and storefronts are countless shrines and temples, often in small clusters that offer a serene escape from city life.

The sector known as Higashiyama—nestled in the mountains and running alongside the Kamo River—houses some of the most famous and most visited temples in the country. Chief among them is Kiyomizu-dera, a massive Buddhist temple known for its large veranda overlooking the treetops, supported by massive pillars and built without the use of a single nail. The temple itself diverts a small natural waterfall known as Otowa-no-taki into three small streams that pitch over a narrow balcony into a pond below. Visitors shuffle through ever-growing lines to reach out long tin cups under the stream of their choice in hopes that drinking the water will grant them wisdom, health, or longevity.

?

While Kiyomizu itself is a fairly immense temple complex to explore, the journey to the front gate is an adventure all its own. The area leading up to the entranceway is on a steep slope, with the main road being a walking market filled with every souvenir one could hope to find. Rather than having shop after shop offer the same array of knick-knacks, this market also holds many specialty shops for those looking to browse handmade fans, wall scrolls, or bamboo goods. Interspersed with both high- and low-end shops are many cafes and ice cream stands. I was lucky enough to stumble upon this area under a blistering sun on a day temperatures reached a sweltering 102 degrees, and so an ice cream break quickly became a necessity. One could safely order basic chocolate or vanilla or delve into more adventurous flavors like red bean, sweet potato, or (my personal favorite) green tea.

?
?

Beyond Kiyomizu, there are plenty of other temples well worth a visit:
>Tofuku-ji: A 24-temple complex known for stunning landscapes containing moss and rock Zen gardens
>Kennin-ji: The city’s oldest Zen temple boasting intense murals of dragons on its ceiling
>Yasaka: A massive shrine footed by cherry blossoms and filled with paper lanterns, Yasaka is known for its traditional New Year’s celebrations

After a day of exploring the living history of Japan it’s only natural to crave a little modern fun. Don’t think that Kyoto is a town forgotten in time—even in Higashiyama you’ll find an active nightlife. All along the Kamo River you’ll find quirky restaurants and bars catering to every type of crowd imaginable while sharing the same serene waterfront views. If you’re seeking a more authentic Japanese experience Higashiyama is also home to Gion, Kyoto’s famous Geisha district, where in addition to bars and nightclubs one will also find teahouses and traditional shows.

?

Higashiyama is one of Kyoto’s smallest and least populous sectors and yet is teeming with adventure—there is clearly much more to this city than I’d ever anticipated.

– Ashley

Going to Japan? Check this out –

#TRAVEL – Laos: Alluring Luang Prabang

Laos Title

In 2014, an old man selling books on the side of the road in Bangkok tried pitching me a tattered guide to Laos by telling me of his time spent working in Luang Prabang. Intrigued by the notion of a city reputed to have greater rustic appeal than much of the Asian countryside, I found myself booking a flight to Laos just a few weeks later.

After a nerve-racking flight in a prop plane, I arrived late morning as countless monks were retreating from collecting daily alms. I checked into my hostel and crashed, waking up just in time to get a taste of city’s nightlife.

DSCF0466

Confession time: I’ve been to way more than my fair share of bars throughout Asia. Naturally, each creates its own distinct atmosphere, but Utopia in Luang Prabang has by far the most relaxing and chill vibes of any I’ve been to. Utopia is an open-air bar overlooking the Nam Khan River, filled with shin-high, candlelit tables surrounded by stacks of pillows. During the day they offer yoga and volleyball, while at night you can enjoy great food, drinks, music and shisha pipes, or startup a friendly board game tournament with fellow expats—believe me, Giant Jenga is harder than it looks!

Of course, Utopia closes at the town’s 11:30 PM curfew so you can always call it a night and get an early start in the AM. For those brave expats willing to break curfew there is one place open for another three hours—a 16-lane bowling alley. A parade of tuktuks begin carting off truckloads of travellers from every bar to a venue that in all honesty is a fairly run-down barebones bowling alley…not so much as a poster on the wall. However, when the crowds from different bars and hostels begin mixing it turns into a party every night, showing how it’s often the people and not the place that matters.

DSCF0401

4 Kuang Xi Cascade

Naturally, there’s much more to Luang Prabang than bars and bowling. One of the biggest tourist draws are the Kuang Xi Waterfalls, and for good reason.

The falls themselves are breathtaking, with tier after tier of warm, deep pools perfect for swimming and vast enough as not to be crowded. The largest fall is over 60m high—the climb to the top is indeed difficult and the trails are extremely steep and slick, but once you’ve reached the top you won’t regret it. Standing at the edge of a 200ft drop as the water rushes round your ankles tugging you forward is just as terrifying as it is exhilarating, finding yourself transfixed by the turquoise expanse below you.

5 Haw Pha Bang

If you’re looking for a bit of Laos culture, the Night Market in Luang Prabang is a great place to start. Beginning around 5:00 each evening, the market consists of a huge, horseshoe-shaped setup of tented stalls on a kilometer-long stretch of road. Here, you can peruse literally thousands of handicrafts, clothing, and souvenirs, sample whiskey and wine, and watch artists at work. One of their most famous products are paper lanterns filled with pressed flowers, adding a unique ambiance. The crowd and crafters themselves are much more mellow than many of the hectic, bustling markets one usually encounters, with no one hawking their goods or aggressively haggling and competing.

In a city brimming with temples, choosing where to start can be difficult, especially if pressed for time. However, some are not to be missed:

Wat Haw Pha Bang is located on the palace grounds, housing a 14th-century Buddha statue covered in gold leaf. Of course, the palace itself is beautiful—containing everything from the Crown Jewels of Laos to a piece of moon rock, it also functions as a haphazard museum.

Wat Chomphet is a small, tidy building that more resembles an old prairie house than a temple, yet it need not be flashy to be impressive. Most memorable is the experience of arriving via a 123-step staircase near the edge of town, a climb more than worth the view.

Wat Pa Phon Phae is a great stop for those feeling burnt out with the similarities between temples—its distinctive form is reminiscent of adobe-style architecture and it is filled with elaborate murals.

DSCF0469

1 Kuang Xi B

Luang Prabang can easily be overlooked on the backpacker route, yet its diverse historical, urban, and natural landscapes allow it to appeal to the most colorful of crowds.

 

– Ashley