Tag Archives: beach

Beautiful Barcelona

The last stop on my world trip pre-San Diego was Barcelona. I only had three nights there, so tried to pack in as much as humanly possible. A girl from Amsterdam in my hostel was so impressed with what I did in a day – it was apparently more than she had done in a week!! Barcelona in July is wonderful – it was hot and sunny every day, with numerous outdoor cafes and restaurants, people enjoying ice creams and granitas by the harbor, and going to the beach. It was full of tourists – both Spanish and international – which meant that I met so many interesting people in my hostel, from the States, the UK, Canada, Australia and the Netherlands. The interesting thing was that everyone I met was on a short vacation – ranging from a weekend to three weeks. However in Asia, everyone was traveling for at least 3 months if not longer, so everyone in Barcelona could not believe that I was ‘traveling’ for the rest of the year. I just loved walking around the city, exploring and soaking in the culture.

There was a fabulous market in the middle of the old city off La Rambla, full of fresh produce, fruit, vegetables and even candy by the pound. There was a tapas bar where customers stood by the bar, ate tapas and drank wine. You could buy fresh fruit juices for 2 euro or different mixes of fruit for 1-3 euros. It was all pretty fabulous.

I just loved the historic buildings in Barcelona, they were so beautiful and so I took far too many photos of buildings and not nearly enough photos of people. On my first afternoon I did a free walking tour of the Old Town, where we saw the Placa Reial, Placa del Pi, the old Jewish quarter, government buildings, the Cathedral, the Roman City, Placa Sant Felip Neri (my favorite of the Placas, it was so hidden and secluded and quiet) and Santa Maria Del Mar. Our guide Katherine was very knowledgeable and I learnt so much about the city and saw so much that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. I also attended two free concerts at the cathedral – both school groups, choral and orchestral, which were beautiful. Fantastic acoustics.

On my own, I explored Gaudi’s masterpieces, mainly the Sagrada Familia and Park Guell. Park Guell was huge, and quite a trek. It was very busy, so much so that people who didn’t know each other were posing together with the mosaic lizard so they could have a photo with it. The view of Barcelona was very nice from up there, and after much waiting I finally managed to push through to the front and have another tourist take my photo.

The Sagrada Familia had a line that roped three-quarters of the way around the block, so I found a free wifi spot outside Starbucks and purchased tickets online, and only stood in a queue of five people! The church itself is still under construction, so there are cranes working and so the photos of the outside are slightly tainted with cranes towering over it. The design of the building is…interesting. People either find it beautiful or ugly. I was not taken by the design, especially of the exterior, but the interior was very impressive. It is spectacular, although it requires a lot of reading and analysis to understand the symbolism and design itself.

The thing I loved the most was the stained glass in the church. The organ pipes were directly in front of stained glass panels, and the light shone through the glass and formed a rainbow on the pipes.

I also discovered amazing food – the tapas were fantastic. Especially the style of tapas where you choose your own from a huge display of different plates, each individual tapa having a toothpick in it. As you eat, you put your toothpicks in a little bowl, and at the end you pay per toothpick! This style is known as ‘pintxos’, and I discovered a very busy and popular restaurant specializing in pintxos right by the Cathedral, called Bilbao Berria. There were over 50 plates, with such amazing range. Each toothpick was 1.65 euro, and a glass of red Spanish wine was only 2.50.

And now, having had three beautiful days in Barcelona, it is time for San Diego. I don’t know what to expect when I get there, but I am looking forward to it anyways. It is a bit scary, a new experience, living in a new city where I don’t know anyone, but I am sure I will love it nonetheless.

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Hoi An, the Tailor Capital of Vietnam

Before Hoi An, El and I were averaging 2 nights per destination, fitting as much in as humanly possible. Hoi An was meant to be 3 days, a relatively long period of time when you consider we only spent 1 day in Hue. I had then decided on an overnight bus (11 hours) to Mui Ne/Nha Trang, for 3 days, and then overnight train to Ho Chi Minh City. However, because Hoi An was such a nice peaceful place and we could lounge by the pool and beach, and because I didn’t fancy another two nights on public transport, I decided to extend our stay and booked a Jetstar flight direct from Danang (45 minutes away) to HCMC. In retrospect, I wish we had ventured to Danang for a night or two rather than spent the whole time in Hoi An, as it does look like quite a cool place. Next trip!

Tourists come to Hoi An mainly for the clothes. Hoi An has tailor shop after tailor shop, all with manikins out front wearing various outfits, trying to entice you inside. Tailor shops are everywhere, even in the markets by the riverfront. It is a rather overwhelming experience really. Far too many competing stores. How do you even begin to choose!? I decided against the well known Lonely Planet recommended stores, and decided on a shop at 48 Tran Hung Dao street called “SU”. The owner was really nice and lovely. The clothes on display were well done, they had double hems, invisible zippers and were all shaped quite well.

The process of getting clothes made in Hoi An goes somewhat like this: Presented with numerous catalogs. Look through catalogs. Stick post-it notes on pages you like. Decide that is enough. Show them the catalogs. Look at fabric. Choose fabric. Motorbike to another store to look at fabric. Choose more fabric. Return to tailor shop. Be measured. Be measured again. And again. Be measured for every individual piece of clothing, rather than just measurements in general. Sit down and negotiate a price. Pay a deposit. Come in 24 hours later for a fitting. (I know, 24 hours, to make my 8 items). Make adjustments. Another fitting. Hope that it all works well. Pay. Be happy (or so we hope. See my tips on getting clothes tailored).

I decided upon a 3 piece suit, 2 work dresses, a skirt, and a more playful party dress. We had 3 fittings, because we had enough time, and because I make clothes myself so know what to look for in terms of hems, zippers, finishings and how the seams line up. Apart from one dress, where I hope the fabric will soften after washing in order for the neck to fall how I want it to, I am incredibly happy with my orders. I never wear pants – be jeans, trousers, leggings, whatever – and I loved my suit pants. I got two more pairs made, in navy and black! I loved the dresses, and the top actually turned out really well, despite being a last minute decision. The suit is beautiful, and some of my dresses look like they cost $200, when in fact I only paid $50.

Apart from having clothes made, we spent quite a lot of time at the beach and exploring the town. I find it sad when people go to Hoi An only for tailoring, spending just enough time there to order clothes and fit in a single fitting before moving on. The town is so beautiful and calm. It is quiet and is a great city to explore on foot or by bike. The old town area has beautiful lanterns at night along the river, a night market selling souvenirs, and so many restaurants and lounge bars. Our hotel had free bicycles so we biked to the beach in the morning, back for lunch, and all around. Luckily, bicycling was recommended by my doctor as therapy for patella-femoral syndrome, so I was able to bike and feel like it was helping my knee, instead of injuring it further.

Hoi An is very quiet compared to Hanoi and HCMC, and even compared to Hue. People are much more relaxed. However, it is still a big foreign city, which you tend to forget when you feel comfortable. Bags still get snatched, and you still don’t want to walk the streets by yourself late at night. I felt completely safe and secure in the city until one night when El disappeared and I was left in town at 2:30am by myself. At that point, biking back to the hotel, I realized how dark the streets were and how sketchy the situation was. Luckily I biked quickly and with purpose, and got back to the hotel safe and sound. But it did make me worry. You never want to be by yourself in a foreign city, especially as a Western tourist. Whether you have lots of money or not, you are viewed as being rich. Always have to be careful.

We had some fantastic food in Hoi An, partly due to our cooking class with Van, but also because of the abundance of local Vietnamese restaurants serving up Hoi An specialties. White rose, cau lau and mi quang are all local dishes. White rose is basically shrimp dumplings, but with more dumpling than shrimp. Cau lau is a noodle dish with pork, herbs and fried noodle chips on top, with a really delicious 5 spice sauce (which the pork is cooked in) on top. And mi quang, I sadly never had a chance to try, is a vegetarian noodle dish.

White Rose

Apart from the food, there are two gorgeous beaches, one to the north and one to the east. Out of the two beaches, An Bang was probably my favorite. It is the more local beach, north of Hoi An but closer to our hotel. It has only 5-6 restaurants on it and one morning we were the only tourists there. There is a bit of a scam to the lounge chairs on the beach though – they are free, as long as you buy a meal. If you don’t, they are 30,000. They don’t tell you this upfront though, they say ‘free free!’. So make sure it is actually free, and you don’t have to buy anything. Even if you spend all day drinking there, that doesn’t allow you to sit for free. So at An Bang, we refused to give in and set up our towels on the sand. On our second to last day though, we discovered La Plage, a French restaurant and bar, where we could lounge all day on their chairs, even if we only bought a 10,000 dong water (50 cents). I also discovered this little roadside stall selling fried goods, including donuts!!! It was this amazing greasy coconut filled donut, amongst other fried treats (whole fried crab as well!).

The best meal we had was at Bale Well, a restaurant similar to the one in Hue, where you are served a huge variety of plates, and you make your own rice paper rolls. Bale Well was busy with locals and tourists alike, and we got the last table available. We were presented with rice paper, herbs, a kim chi type dish, dipping sauce, pork satay skewers and sausage skewers. And shortly after, we were presented with fried spring rolls and omelets. Which, brilliantly, you put in the spring roll!! Our waitress was incredibly friendly, and in showing us exactly how to do everything, she wrapped up a spring roll, dipped it in the sauce, and fed me!! Only in Vietnam.

Sadly I write this post already having left Vietnam. I was in Ho Chi Minh for 4 1/2 days, with the plan to meet Andy and venture into the Mekong Delta. However things don’t always go to plan, and this turn of events means I am in Changi Airport in Singapore, waiting for my 11pm flight to Frankfurt, and then to London. England will be incredibly different from my last 35 days. Instead of staying in hostels, I will be staying with family, and catching up with relatives I have not seen since I was younger. I am actually really looking forward to it, and so thankful that it was easy enough to change my round the world ticket and book new flights, to make sure I can still go visit everyone. I still have a few Vietnam posts to put up, so a few more Asia related posts will still come, however so will some photos of English countryside, and bustling London. Gotta mix it up a bit.

Two days of rain at Otres Beach

I decided that after all our sightseeing, early morning excursions and visit to S-21 (the genocide museum/old prison on Phnom Penh) that we needed a break and to chill for a bit. Sihanoukville is only 5 hours by bus from Phnom Penh and is apparently beautiful. So off we went to stay at a guesthouse on beach, the farthest and least developed of the beaches, for two days of recharging, relaxation and chill out time before hectic Vietnam.

Our bus ride was interesting, with lots of swerving and quick sudden braking, followed by some off road action by our side of the bus. Despite the chaos that is Jakarta roads, I think I feel more secure in a vehicle there. There are no road rules, but people are at least courteous. Here, bigger vehicles will honk (signaling that they are passing you) and then overtake you regardless of oncoming traffic. They will drive in the middle of the road until a car driving the opposite direction might hit them. And when things seem dangerous they dont slow down, they swerve, break, and make the ride very uncomfortable. This explains why I didn’t sleep on the bus today. It was a nicer road than the one from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh but I was scared we would have a crash!!

Once we arrived however, we were scammed by tuk tuk drivers in the rain at the bus stop. Initially offering $16, I got them down to $10, knowing it should only cost $5. But they wouldn’t budge, and it was raining and my knee hurt too much to walk a km to find a reasonable price. We finally arrived at our guesthouse, cutely named “Wish You Were Here”, an ventured across the road for lunch at Richies. All the restaurants and bars at Otres beach are right on the beach. You on the ocean, and can sit ‘indoors’ (undercover) or on the beach and feel the sand between your toes. We opted for the latter everyone, even in the rain. The great thing was that everyone was so chilled out and relaxed. Restaurant owners were chatty and friendly, and both Richies and Sunshine Restaurant became our two favorite hang outs in our 2 days there.

Despite the rain on day 1, day 2 was beautiful and hot and we got our tan on. And day 3 rained so we caught the 8:15 am bus back to Phnom Penh rather than a later one. When it rains, electricity can cut out there, and we decided if it was raining in both Otres and Phnom Penh, Phnom Penh could have more things to do.

Back to reality, although I have a feeling the sand will be ingrained in my backpack through the trip, as it was hard not to get sand on your clothes, your bed and yourself! That can be my souvenir from Cambodia, sand to remind me of calming relaxing and beautiful Otres. Currently so under developed that a beach front bar costs only $27,000 (USD) to buy. In years to come when it is taken over by resorts, we can remember the red dirt roads, the cows just chilling, and the small stretch of ships and bungalow guest houses. A little hidden slice of paradise!

Bali – beach, monkeys and a foam bar

After walking all up and down Singapore, I decided that Bali had to begin with relaxation. Swimming, sunbathing, reading, and lounging on the beach. Lots of rest – that is, indeed, what the doctor ordered! I wasn’t quite sure how El was going to handle Bali – having never been to Asia (apart from Singapore), Bali is a good introduction to Asia, however it is still quite a harsh introduction in terms of crazy traffic, lots of people, and shop owners grabbing at you trying to get you to buy their items any way possible. I have experienced many a time the ‘hello darling’, ‘morning price’ and ‘sunset price’ – but we experienced new methods. “Sexy price” and “Lady Gaga price”. They then got more inventive with “Hey I know you” or “What happened to your knee? Can I touch?”. It is all part of the fun though.

I forgot how beautiful a place Bali is though. I dislike Kuta for the fact that it is so touristy and the locals are very in your face and try to get money any way that they can. I prefer untouched Indonesia – such as more rural parts of Bali, Lombok, or my favorite place so far in Indonesia – Labuan Bajo in Flores. The people there are Christian, and you can walk the entire town in 5 minutes. There are no big stores – all roadside stalls. When I was there walking the street, a little girl grabbed my arm and just looked at me, and when I asked her name, she turned away as was too shy. In Bali however, you get touched by shopkeepers all the time as they try to pull you into their store. And the shopkeepers put on Australian accents to try to entice you – NOT a way to entice a New Zealander. Neither is chanting “Aussie Aussie Aussie” – damn those cheap flights between Bali and Australia – Kuta is overflowing with Australians left right and center!

Anyway, in our 2 days in Bali I made sure we did the typical must dos – we ate at a warung, walked the beach, visited the memorial and had a beer (or two) on Kuta beach for sunset. We also went out to bars and clubs – another must do that honestly I had never done myself. It was…an experience. This one bar just kept going and going – more and more rooms appeared, and more levels appeared as the night went on. There was a live band where you could sing Karaoke (I rocked “Can you feel the love tonight”), a group of guys with bongo drums chanting (I may have been dragged up to play the drums not once but twice – my palms are still bruised 3 days later!), two big stages with cages on them to dance in, and a foam pit for wrestling. When in Bali, right?

El also experienced being a celebrity in Asia – locals asking to be in photos with her. I always find this in Yogyakarta, but never in Bali, where there are so many tourists!! However within 10 minutes of sitting down with our beers on Pantai Kuta (Kuta Beach) Indonesians started to come up and sheepishly ask if they could take a photo with us. I was then asked a few more times, and more and more people kept joining in on the photo and trading cameras. God knows how many random facebook photo albums I am in from all these photos that Indonesians take of me!

We also managed to see monkeys without them going crazy and attacking us or trying to steal our stuff. We got a taxi to take us to Pura Uluwatu, about an hour south of Kuta, which is a temple on the cliffside. It is 70 meters above the Indian Ocean, and the ocean beneath is very popular with surfers. The temple itself is pretty average, but the views were absolutely beautiful and although we missed out on the kecak (a Balinese dance), we heard the chanting, and got to walk around the temple more after the sun had gone down – resulting in magical views that we wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

As you can see, the monkeys were pretty awesome: