#TRAVEL – Taiwan: Taipei 101

#TRAVEL – TAIWAN: TAIPEI 101

In 2004, Taipei 101 (formerly known as Taipei World Financial Centre) was declared the tallest building in the world.  101 floors high, it stands out in the Taipei skyline and is visible for miles (pollution depending).

Taipei 101 lost it’s ‘Tallest building’ title to the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, 2009.  As of 2016, Taipei 101 is now the 10th tallest building on earth. However, it is still well worth a visit!

Earlier this year, I was visiting Taipei on a budget (shock). I only had 2 days to explore the city and wanted to hit all the ‘MUST SEE’ places.  After doing some research I found that Taipei 101 made most Top 10 lists and in many cases was the #1 thing to see/do in Taipei.

Taipei has an efficient subway system that covers the main areas of the city.  To get to Taipei 101, simply get off at the conveniently named ‘Taipei 101‘ stop – SIMPLE!

The bottom floors are mostly occupied by food courts, shops, and tourists.  The real spectacle is on the 89th floor: the 360 Observation Deck.

Initially I was put off by the admission price to go up (12/11/2016 – NT$600), However, after seeing that you are taken there in the worlds fastest elevator, I pulled out my wallet.

The view from the observation desk really is incredible.  It gives you a panoramic view of the city and allows you to see so much you couldn’t from the ground.

I always love visiting the tall buildings in cities (e.g. Tokyo Skytree and the KL tower), the birds-eye view you get always leaves me temporarily speechless and can be appreciated at both day and night.

Admittedly, this is a short experience and quite expensive, but it is worth it.

  If you are in Taipei, don’t leave Taipei 101 off your list!

If you’re heading to Taiwan, you can’t go wrong with this travel guide –

#TRAVEL – Indonesia: Peace in Ubud

I’ve never read the book Eat, Pray, Love, nor have I watched the movie. But, nonetheless, I heard Ubud, Bali was an interesting place to visit for reasons other than “It’s where that really good book/ film is set”.

I was right.

Ubud is located about an hour north of Bali’s main airport and is easily accessed by bus, van, car, and bike. If you are visiting after spending a few days in Kuta, the tranquil and relaxing atmosphere will be a welcome breath of fresh air. Many visitors go there to practice yoga, meditation and detox. Ubud boasts many health-orientated stores and calming areas, making it the perfect place to unwind and get back in touch with yourself.

That said, despite being a peaceful and chilled setting, there are actually quite a few things to do:

Monkey Forest

The most popular tourist attraction in Ubud is the monkey forest. For a small price, you can enter a reasonably large area of temples, trees and wilderness to observe wild macaque monkeys run around and interact with each other and their paying visitors (hold onto your camera with a strong grip).

Rice Fields

Turn left, turn right, go north, go south…Ubud has no shortage of rice paddies! I would definitely recommend renting a scooter and driving out of the town center to check out some of these beauties. They are oddly fascinating and undeniably beautiful.

Pools

Just because you’re away from the coast, don’t think that you’re going to miss out on some great waters (you are in Bali after all). The majority of hotels and homestays in Ubud boast spectacular swimming pools, many with infinity pools looking out into stunning green scenery.

u4

The Streets

Ubud’s streets are full of quirky cafes, homestays and old buildings. Hours can be spent walking around marveling at the various types of architecture and having a browse at what interesting products are for sale.

Chill Nights

The nightlife in Ubud is a world apart from Kuta. I love to party, but visiting Ubud allowed me to experience a more relaxed and cultural vibe. Whether you see a puppet show, walk the beautiful streets or have a cold beer at the jazz bar, you’ll always be wearing a smile across your face.

u5

If you’re in Bali, don’t skip over Ubud.

.. and don’t forget your guide!

Everything You Need To Know About Teaching in Hong Kong

By Livvy Hill

 

TEFL Life in the “Pearl of the Orient”

After two years of living and working abroad, it only took a few weeks of being back home unemployed that I got my usual itchy feet and started looking at moving away again. Having taught English in Thailand before, I decided that teaching somewhere in Asia again was a good option as there are plenty of opportunities. This time though, I was taking my boyfriend along for the ride!

So we started looking at the best options for ‘TEFL couples’ and originally, South Korea was our choice. Plenty of ‘couples’ opportunities, good money and of course, a new exciting experience. However, I then received an email for an opportunity in Hong Kong and it seemed like an awesome deal. We hadn’t even considered Hong Kong, and if I’m honest, I barely knew anything about it beforehand! I got straight online and did more research into the city and other teaching opportunities on offer. After reading plenty of blogs that sold Hong Kong to me and my boyfriend, we jazzed up our CV’s and emailed lots of language schools. One week later, we landed jobs with Hong Kong’s largest English language center and had 1 month to get everything organized and begin our new life chapter.

TEFLing in Hong Kong

          Like most places in Asia, when it comes to teaching English you have two choices here. You can work in a local, private or an International school, or you can work in English language centers. I can only really offer advice on the latter, as this is the route my boyfriend and I chose. However, if you hold a PGCE or equivalent, I highly recommend looking into the first options or the NET scheme, as there are some pretty incredible opportunities to be had. I had my TEFL certificate and one years experience and my boyfriend had only recently just gained his TEFL, so English language centers were much more likely to hire us.

We both landed jobs with Monkey Tree English Learning Center, Hong Kong’s largest English language school with over 40 centers. We work at separate centers (which we like…living AND working AND traveling together is a little intense) and we currently live on Hong Kong Island.

Our experience so far is very positive. However it is VERY different from what I was used to in Thailand. Creating my own lessons, teaching 18 hours a week to the same homeroom kindergarten class of 30…oh no. This is nothing like it. The work ethic in Hong Kong is extremely high, and even as a TEFL teacher, our hours are long. We work 9.30-6.30 3 days a week, and until 7.30 2 days a week, teaching a maximum of 30 hours. However, the center we work for provides everything for us. There is no lesson planning involved, all materials are provided and classes are small. I teach a maximum of 8 children at a time, and the ages range from 2 years old to 12 years old. The center offers a variety of classes too, so I might teach a kindergarten style lesson in the morning, with some phonic lessons in the afternoon and then reading or grammar in the evening.

There are pros and cons to this style of teaching, as in Thailand it was slightly more relaxed and I had the chance to be super creative with my lesson planning. However, sometimes I would be up until 2am designing worksheets or preparing crafts. Whereas now, I turn up to work and everything I need is there, and I can come home and not even think about work. Work stays at work. Nevertheless, sometimes I miss the mental challenge and creative side of things.

If you think an English language center could be the route for you, I just recommend researching the company and other teachers experiences there. However, always read a variety of opinions, as one persons experience can be very different from another. We are over 6 months into our contract now and have had a very good experience so far. Monkey Tree is a well known language school here, other centers I have heard of are Excel English and Jolly Kingdom. Many companies interview over Skype, so if you wanted to secure a job before you landed here like we did, then it shouldn’t be a problem.

The pay as a TEFL teacher here is good and most companies will offer a bonus on completion of your contract. Contracts are usually 12+ months and if you are looking at saving money like we were, it can be done!

Bijou Living

         In Thailand, I had my own studio apartment with a huge double bed, and then in Sydney my boyfriend and I had a master bedroom with plenty of space. So moving to Hong Kong was a little shock to the system as living spaces here are TINY.

There are two options when it comes to where one lives in Hong Kong: on the island or off. Living on the island means easy access to the centre and all its bars, restaurants and entertainment, but living off the island generally means getting more value for money from one’s accommodation.

We live on the Island, in a very small 3 bedroom apartment and share what can only be described as a miniature double bed (it is not a regular size double bed). We live with 2 other teachers from Monkey Tree, and it has definitely been a challenge living in such a confined space. However, we are in such a good location and we live above the food markets, it has so much character and the apartment itself is fairly modern.

Property prices in Hong Kong are among the highest in the world, and to rent you usually need to be able to afford 3 months up front for your deposit, and the size you get for your money can be a little sickening. However, our company actually organizes housing for those who want it and you just have to pay 1 months deposit. We took this option as it was much more financially doable for us. You can of course, find your own apartment to rent and have the choice to not have housemates and there are plenty of really fancy places you can live, but a BIG price tag will be attached. Our main goal is to save to travel here, so staying in Monkey Tree accommodation and apartment sharing, plus being a couple, makes it a lot cheaper for us and easier to save!

Hong Kong Lifestyle

         Life in Hong Kong is really what you make it. People working in Hong Kong often live their social lives with the same speed and efficiency expected of them in the business world. After long, demanding days at the office, locals and foreigners alike have a bewildering array of opportunities to enjoy ostentatious luxury or to absorb the city’s natural splendor and cultural allure.

A lot of expats here seem to “work hard, play hard”, however for us it’s more like “work hard, save hard”. This isn’t to say that we have not made the most of our time here! Hong Kong has stunning mountains with plenty of beautiful hiking trails and pretty beaches to see, and all of this is free, so we like to get outdoors on our days off and explore outside of the city. It isn’t always necessary to pay top dollar to enjoy yourself. We have sought out some great cheap eats and we know what bars offer happy hours and what cinemas offer cheap tickets on certain days. So it really is just finding out about all the little deals that can save you a fortune.

Exercise and gyms are such a luxury here too. If you want to join a gym or yoga club, expect to pay at least 700HKD (70GBP) a month for a basic gym with an attached hefty joining fee. Or you can pay up to 1500HKD but the facilities of the health club will be outstanding and you will get an incredible view too. For me, this just was not in my budget. So I have taken up running. We live very close to the harbor where there is a fantastic 3km promenade that overlooks the Kowloon Island with the mountains in the background, it is truly stunning. I can do my own circuit training exercises in the local park and as a yoga addict, who cannot afford the price tag attached to the yoga clubs here, I have managed to always find out about charity classes and free events and I even found a yoga teacher who offers a pay as you go scheme with no contract, which is perfect (and the classes are great!) I am probably the most physically fit I have ever been and it is the first time I haven’t paid to be a member of a gym, so I am saving a ton of money and keeping in shape! So I suggest people looking to save here but who like to workout, just head outside!

Eating

         Eating in Hong Kong has not really been a challenge. Hong Kong is the perfect mix of East meets West, and you can get all the western treats here if you want, or you can head to the local markets to eat some chicken feet soup if that’s your thing. For us, personally, Chinese food does not hit the spot, and we are not huge meat eaters, so we were a little apprehensive about what we were going to be eating out here. However, it has been fine, we occasionally buy chicken from the supermarkets, but we get all of our fruit and veggies form the food market below us, we have nutella in the cupboard, cereals, you can buy all the normal crisps and chocolate if you wanted. I can’t have dairy, so I was worried about finding other alternatives but it has not been difficult at all. I have access to soy milk, almond milk, coconut milk, dairy free ice creams and yogurts, so food shopping really isn’t that different from the UK. It’s just a lot more expensive! So when we do go shopping in the supermarkets we usually just get essentials like bread and butter, but occasionally we like to treat ourselves. The food markets are very cheap to buy fruit and vegetables, and rice and noodles are of course very cheap and easy to come by. As I said before, we have found lots of great cheap restaurants, so we actually eat out about 2-3 times a week, as it can work out as the same price as cooking your own food.

Getting around Asia’s World City

         Transport in Hong Kong is incredibly efficient and cheap. The MTR system is fantastic, the buses are pretty good and you can even get the ferries between the islands which offer incredible views. Rarely have I ever had to get taxis, but when I have done, it’s been easy and reasonably priced. Hong Kong is also a great location to be visit other parts of Asia. We have already been to Taiwan, and have booked to go to Borneo over Christmas and to the Philippines in the New Year. You can get very good deals on flights here.

Hong Kong has the nickname “Pearl of the Orient”, which is a reflection of the impressive night-view of the city’s light decorations on the skyscrapers along both sides of the Victoria Harbour, and if you come here it’s easy to understand why it has this name. It’s a bustling city built on a stunning island, and it’s a very cool place to live and work! If you are considering teaching English here, I 100% recommend it.

 

#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 – 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 –