#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.

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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.

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

.. and don’t forget your guide!

#TRAVEL – Vietnam: Habitable Hoi An

If you only have the chance to visit one place in Vietnam, make it Hoi An!

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Hoi An is an ancient town, located on the coast in central Vietnam.

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It’s one of those places where you stay longer than initially intended. I think I ended up staying 3 days longer than planned. If it wasn’t for a flight booked to Singapore, I could have easily made it 30.

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Hoi An is a well-known hotspot on the Vietnam backpacker’s route that doesn’t shove the tourism down your throat like so many other places. However, it does have the perks of a popular place; a lot of things to do!

You can a bike (push or motor, depending on how lazy you feel) and ride around for hours absorbing the European style architecture and picturesque sights.

Bursting with nice restaurants and quirky bars, the streets are alive night and day!

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If you want a fun night and good music, don’t miss Why Not? bar

It also possesses a beach, which is a pretty nice place to lay with Mrs.Sunshine and drink a few beers in between cooling off in the blue ocean.

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Hoi An would be considered the ‘whole package’ to many backpackers. It has a lot of history, many activities to do and things to see, good nightlife and a beach!

It’s a winner!

Discover more of Vietnam, with this …

TEFL TIPS #4 – Verb of the Day

Verbs are the skeleton of any language. Most ESL learners know the basics:. ‘eat,’ ‘go’, ‘play‘ etc., but expanding this list is vital to those working towards achieving a higher level of both spoken and written English.

verb of the day

In my classroom, I introduced a method I call ‘verb of the day’. It’s pretty simple but effective.

Every day I spend a few minutes introducing a new verb and ask my students to use that verb in a sentence. In a few weeks, my students progress from using standard verbs: ‘I eat‘ ‘I go’ & ‘I like‘ to the more advanced: ‘I climbed’, ‘I jump’, ‘I travelled‘.

The more creative you are at introducing the verb (you could use a song, dance and games), naturally the more the class will learn. For the smaller kids, acting out the words can be very effective.

A list of verbs I use to teach in kindergartens – elementary school are as followings:

– stretch
– push
– pull
– visit
– bend
– think
– cry
– rush
– throw
– move
-chase
– bite

The older or more advanced the students the further you can go:

– quit
– shake
– whisper
– scare

I find these Verb Flashcards from Amazon super helpful in my online and brick and mortar classroom:

#TRAVEL – SOUTH KOREA: GLISTENING GEOJE

When thinking of countries that boast tropical islands, Korea isn’t exactly the first place that comes to mind. I didn’t think the R.O.K would have much to offer in terms of island beauty, but how I was wrong…

#TRAVEL - SOUTH KOREA:  GLISTENING GEOJE
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Geoje Island is a small landmass located in the southeast of Korea. It’s so close to mainland, it’s connected via a road bridge.


I visited in May 2015, and it was hot. Perfect timing!

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Green. The first thing I noticed, whilst driving along the coast to our pension was the colour of the ocean. It was majestic. It is easily comparable to that of an ocean view in South East Asia. Later, I did find out that the water is a lot colder than those famous oceans, but when the suns out, who cares?

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Geoje island is not just a pretty face—in fact, there is plenty to do. You can participate in many activities from sea kayaking (beware of the armies of jellyfish) to quad biking, where you can drive an ATV through the sun-dappled forest and find some extraordinary views.

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A handful of tour groups offer a selection of trips to Geoje that depart from various cities across the country. I used a company called ‘Waegook Travel’; they were decent, but a bit overpriced.

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I would recommend a few days on this island to both travelers who are in Korea, and the many people that call Korea their home.

#TRAVEL – JAPAN: 3 Attractions of Arashiyama

Kyoto is well known in Japan for being an historical and picturesque part of the country, as many travel articles you read to encourage you to visit.

#TRAVEL - JAPAN: 3 Attractions of Arashiyama


Arashiyama is located in western Kyoto, and it is everything you want from Japan: it’s breathtakingly beautiful and the tranquility is gladly welcomed if you have just spent a few days in bustling Tokyo, or Osaka

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嵐山モンキーパーク


Probably the main attraction of Arashiyama is Iwatayama Monkey Park, which is located on Mt. Arashiyama. The climb to the park itself isn’t the easiest, especially when the powerful Japanese summer heat is suffocating you, but the view and the experience at the top are worth the slog. Random electric fans are strategically placed along the inclining pathway to provide some relief—just don’t forget to take water.
The park itself is a quirky little place, inhabited by hundreds of macaque monkeys who are on a mission to eat. Snacks for the monkeys can be purchased from an attendant, but feeding them is only allowed through a metal fence.
Even if adorable little monkeys aren’t your thing, then the gorgeous scenery and the panoramic view is still worth the mini-hike!

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The second biggest attraction in Arashiyama is the bamboo forest. A google search will bring up unspoiled images of gorgeous greenery and thousands of shooting stalks—unfortunately, that isn’t the reality. Like most tourist attractions, I personally found the bamboo forest overrun with people and I didn’t find the whole experience that interesting. But, as I was already in the area, I don’t regret checking it out.

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保津川下り


Whilst strolling around Arashiyama it is impossible not to notice the winding banks of the Hozugawa Kudari river. A trip down the river by boat looks quite appealing, but expensive. Due to the fact I am a poor backpacker, I didn’t splash the cash, however, If I returned I would make sure I had enough money to experience the entrancing opportunity. I did find walking along the river banks enjoyable and relaxing!


I think it is worth noting that aside from these 3 main attractions, Arashiyama is crammed with local shops, restaurants and coffee shops, that are worth checking out!

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Don’t forget your TRAVEL GUIDE –

Don’t teach in Thailand if…

Don’t teach in Thailand if…

Every year hundreds of people fly to the “Land of Smiles” to teach English. The list of benefits this choice offers is so large that instead of focusing on them, I have compiled a list of reasons it may not be the best option for everyone. You may want to reconsider if…

You Want to Make A Lot of Money

If you’re reading this, then you probably already know the teaching salary in Thailand isn’t the best. In comparison to the cost of living, you can live very well—but when it comes to making those international bank transfers every month, it can be a bit painful. That said, jobs at international schools tend to offer more money and there is no shortage of private tutoring opportunities throughout the country. Many teachers, myself included, survive from their tutoring money and transfer their salaries home each month. You can save, but it definitely takes commitment.

You Want to Party 24/7

The Full Moon Party, Khaosan Road – YES, Thailand is a fun place to party. Alcohol is cheap and there is never a shortage of events to attend. However, if this is your primary reason for visiting Thailand, I think backpacking or a holiday would be a better option. Don’t get me wrong, over the course of my 18 months there I had an endless amount of raging weekends all over the country, but the focus during the week should be the job.

You Aren’t Willing to Embrace a New Culture

This is similar to the previous. Many people assume life in Thailand is like the travel brochures and the backpacking blogs. Of course, it can be, but the reality is that the majority of schools are positioned away from the ‘tourist hot spots’ of the country and in my opinion allow for a more authentic cultural experience. I think it’s important to note that in many locations you could be the only English speaker for miles and find it impossible to buy those branded goods you love so much back home. Personally, I see this one as a positive, a chance to challenge myself and grow—but many are not prepared for the cultural shift and start to feel isolated.

You Don’t Like Kids/Want to Teach

The heading of this may make you think ‘OBVIOUSLY DUR’ but unfortunately there are a few too many teachers in Thailand who not only hate teaching but dislike children. I understand a lot of people choose to teach in Thailand to see the country or for a gap year etc., but I think a little interest in teaching and not a dislike of the age group you’re going to teach should be a minimal requirement. You’re going to be in the classroom the majority of the week—taking a job you don’t care about just so you can party and see the sites will only make the kids miserable and the workweek seem like a chore. Care about what you do.

You Don’t Like Spicy Food

Ok, this one is a bit of a joke. Of course, you don’t need to like spicy food to teach in Thailand, but be warned – it’s everywhere. The words ‘mai pet’ (Thai for not spicy) can save your life!

This list is basically a compilation of the various complaints I would hear from fellow teachers around the country. Maybe if people knew what they were getting themselves in for before going, there would be a lot less critical and negative stuff written about teaching in Thailand online. Do your research, and try to find a place that is not only suited to your interests and strengths, but also consider your weaknesses.

Top 5 Things To Do In Hong Kong

Top 5 Things To Do In Hong Kong


Hong Kong is one of the most famous places in the world. In February 2016, I was lucky enough to visit for a few days, and experience some of what ‘Asia’s World City’ had to offer.

Here is a list of my TOP 5 Things to do in Hong Kong –

The Peak

The Hong Kong Peak is normally described as “Hong Kong’s #1 Thing To Do”. I can see why. The Peak provides visitors with a panoramic viewing point looking down at Hong Kong City and the ocean. I don’t think I’ve drunk a coffee with a view like it before!
The best way to get to The Peak is by using the infamous ‘tram’ service. At some points during the journey, you will fear for your life – I am not exaggerating when I say that the tram will travel almost vertically, but just hold on tight & you’ll be fine!

The Cable Car & The Tian Tan Buddha

The cable car ride to the top of the mountains is optional, but really, unless you are down to your last dollar or have an extreme fear of heights – there is no option. This was my favorite part of my trip to Hong Kong and I would recommend anyone visiting to do it. The price is HK$130 for standard & HK$180 glass bottom (roughly $16/$23 USD).
The cable car to the Tian Tan Buddha is a steady, but fantastic experience. The higher you get, the more of the unusual landscape of ocean, buildings, and mountains will be revealed.
Soon enough, the outline of a giant Buddha will begin appearing and the buildings in the background will fade away.
At the Tian Tan Buddha itself, you can explore the immediate area of historical monuments, temples, and stores… just be careful of the cows. You could also choose to walk the 268 steps up to the Buddha itself.
The photos really speak for themselves…

Markets

I’m not a “shopper”, but damn, the street markets in Hong Kong made me want to buy a lot of shit I didn’t need. “Temple Street” and “Ladies Market” (not just for ladies) are just two of the night market areas in Hong Kong that boast everything from food to clothes to even wild stock.
It is easy to spend hours meandering around the bright colorful stalls, browsing the wide (and I mean wide) variety of products on sale. The hunger-creating smells of nearby street food and restaurants are the only thing strong enough to entice you away.

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Not just a city

The most surprising element of Hong Kong to me was it’s natural beauty. It really is more than just a city. Hong Kong has no shortage of mountains, islands, and beaches. Most of these can be accessed by public transport for little cost. If you’re in Hong Kong for more than a couple of days, I’d highly recommend venturing out of the city and seeing some of this spectacular terrain. It’s worth mentioning that 2 of the most popular islands to visit in HK are Lantau and Lamma.

Promenade

The most stereotypical selfie taken in Hong Kong is taken at the promenade. The promenade is a spectacular area at both night and day. I can see why many joggers choose to run along the waterfront and I can see why tourists flock to get a photo of the stunning electronic landscape across the water. It’s completely free, so it’s worth walking along it if you get the chance!

I hope this gave you some ideas of what to do in Hong Kong or provided you with some nice flashbacks of your time there. Is there anything you think should have made my list?


Feel free to comment below!

If you’re going to Hong Kong, buy your travel guide below. It has everything you need and more!

#TRAVEL Cambodia: The Killing Fields

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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 –

Troubles Abroad: Life Without Peanut Butter

Ants on a Log. Fluffernutters. Classic PB&J. And who didn’t make a pinecone-peanut butter bird feeder as a kid?

We put it on bananas, slather it on french toast and of course eat it straight off the spoon.

No matter what country I’m headed to, you can be certain I’m tossing a couple jars of skippy in my rucksack. Whether it’s for a familiar snack, a quick spoonful of energy, or to tide me over til I figure out the grocery situation, peanut butter exists for me in the gray area between “luxury” and “necessity” when backpacking.

It’s one of those things you don’t realize how much you miss until you wake up with a craving for a nice PB&J. All of the sudden the idea of collecting all THREE ingredients at the same time seems an unbeatable obstacle. Decent peanut butter, fresh sandwich bread, and a jar of grape jelly just never seem to exist in the same place at the same time once you cross the ocean. If a simple sandwich is such a challenge, you can forget about chocolate-peanut butter ice-cream in the summer heat or that big bag of Reese’s cups come Halloween.

Getting peanut butter while living abroad can be a challenge—you can try to make that jar from home last as long as possible, but soon you’re scraping the bottom and praying someone will pay international shipping on a care package full of Jif. Still, sometimes it’s not as far away as you think, so long as you know where to look.

Below is a bite-sized guide to finding Peanut Butter abroad, compiled from both my own PB-hunting adventures and those of my fellow expats:

North America:

Canada & United States: In US & Canadian supermarkets it’s hard to miss—peanut butter is spotted taking up a good chunk of the aisle, with various brands, sizes, and flavors.

Mexico: While not as popular as in the rest of North America, PB is still fairly easy to find in Mexico, especially in big-box stores like Walmart, where Peter Pan and Great Value can be found at a decent price.

Asia:

China: IF a store has it, it’s often found in the sauce aisle near the mayonnaise. Since neither mayo nor PB are popular, they can be hard to spot—and smaller stores don’t care it at all. It’s hard to find western brands, but Chinese peanut butter is decent (if a bit dry).

Indonesia: This one’s tough, guys—despite boasting world-famous peanut sauces and peanut soups, I’ve yet to actually locate a jar of PB in Indonesia. If they’re out there, they’re hard to find.

Japan: Right where it should be, near the breads and jellies. You can even get the giant tubs at Costco in Japan!

Korea: Often found near the bread in the bakery section, surrounded by nutella & banana spreads. Korean peanut butter is actually pretty good and comes in both crunchy and creamy.

Laos: While difficult to find in the store, PB is a surprisingly common topping for roti pancakes (one of the best street desserts you’ll find in SE Asia). You’re best bet at finding it in the stores is near the nutella or by the actual peanuts.

Malaysia: Finally, another country that appreciates PB! Malaysia is one of few SE Asian countries that actually offers variety, often located near the sauces and seasonings.

Philippines: Boasting world-famous peanut spreads that rival American brands, the Philippines are a Peanut-Butter Oasis. Thinner than what North Americans are accustomed to, Filipino PB is a bit grainy and just as sweet.

Thailand: Perhaps one of the easiest countries to find PB in, Thai stores carry multiple US brands including Jif and Skippy, conveniently found near the Jams & Jellies.

Vietnam: Vietnam carries store-brand and local peanut butters which will often be found near the soups & seasonings, and while delicious they are often quite oily and runny.

Central & South America:

Argentina: So far, no one I know who has travelled through Argentina has been able to locate PB.

Brazil: Similar to Argentina, PB seems to be a near-impossible find.

Chile: Walmarts in Chile have Great Value (store) brand PB.

Costa Rica: Peanut Butter is often found in the “imported foods” section of the grocery, with many familiar brands.

Peru: While there are rumors that some expats have been lucky enough to find a jar of Peter Pan, American-style peanut butter is almost non-existent in Peru, and unfortunately I’ve never heard the local style described in a manner even close to edible. Your best bet is to look near the condiments.

It’s always exciting delving into foreign cuisine, but sometimes you just need those familiar tastes of home.

-Ashley