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Top 5 travel moments of 2014

I am moving to www.thelitebackpacker.com 🙂

Blogging… it isn’t easy.  I still remember my first post about my favourite village in England.  It took me hours to write, days to re-write, weeks of feed back from friends and family, and countless hand wringing moments.  When I finally hit the publish button I felt simultaneously elated and exhausted.  The next few posts got only a little easier – and then suddenly I had an epiphany – no one but people I knew was reading my blog, I stopped taking it so seriously.  Over night, I relaxed my writing style, poured more of my heart and personality into my posts and found fulfilment in just writing.

Then suddenly there were people following my blog who weren’t related to me…

The excitement I felt at seeing that email in my inbox to tell me that someone was following my blog… AND I DIDNT KNOW THEIR NAME! I then called my mum (obviously), texted my best friend and spent the whole day smiling.

That was the beginning – 2 1/2 years ago!

Lyme Regis in Snow

The last couple of years has helped to shape me as a blogger and a writer. Through the highs of getting likes to the lows of feeling un-inspired.  I have loved every second of it and through this blog I have learnt so much, about writing, connecting, networking, how big and small the world is, and about my own strengths!

The time has now come for me to take the next step, to build further on the foundation of this amazing blog.

I have spent the last couple of months building a website that will embody all of the things that I loved about this blog and have the platform to build so much more.  It’s still about travel (obviously) but with a healthy twist!

Check out www.thelitebackpacker.com to keep in touch with my adventures!

Here you will see some of the posts that you have loved from this blog, such as:The Lite Backpacker

Looking forward to connecting with you all through my new site.  Would love to keep in contact and continue to share. If you are my wonderful family and friends who have faithfully followed this blog from the beginning – I expect you are already following my new website… 😉

Thanks,
Helen AKA The Lite Backpacker

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SUP – the New Alcohol!

When you’re travelling alcohol can become a big part of your social scene.  It’s an easy way to get to know people, a few drinks lowers inhibitions and causes everyone to relax and connect. However if your liver is complaining about the constant abuse while you are travelling there is another great way to connect with people.  Something that will help lower your inhibitions, raise your confidence and cause squeals of laughter.  And would you believe that its healthy!!

Stand up Paddleboarding - better than alcohol

Stand up Paddleboarding – better than alcohol

I am talking about stand up paddle boarding! What?! I hear you say – how can this do all of the above as well as alcohol?

Start by inviting some friends… or random strangers who you have met while travelling (or drinking the night before), tell them to get up super early and catch a couple of buses to a place where you can SUP (Stand Up Paddleboard – for those of you who aren’t in with the lingo).  If you’re in Sydney, I suggest Rose Bay, its relatively close to the city, has great places for breakfast around the corner and is off the beaten tourist track so it’s something different – with spectacular views of the harbour. Finally, hope for a sunny day! Now it may be awkward for those first few moments when you stand in the stand waiting for paddle board.  The nice man who organises it, tries to explain the best way to stand on the board, but because you are so nervous you don’t listen properly and inevitably slip off the first time you try to get on.

THIS IS THE FIRST INHIBITOR LOWERING MOMENT

As your group paddles out into the bay there will be one person who will get the “hang” of it straight away – that person is the devil.  You will bond and with all other members of your group as you watch this person sail away towards the horizon while you flail about trying to work out why you are going around in circles. Eventually you realise that you should stop worrying about how awkward and ridiculous you look and concentrate on not falling off – all inhibitions have now disappeared. Suddenly you will work it out and start racing off in pursuit of that uber coordinated friend. Stand up Paddleboarding - better than alcohol Your confidence soars, you add more power into each stroke which releases the exercise endorphins giving you a little high – which when mixed with the confidence you feel at mastering this awkward looking sport gives you the ultimate rush.

THIS IS THE CONFIDENCE GAINING MOMENT

However, as you gain speed and agility there will be one person in your group who takes that little bit longer to master the skill… the squeals that you hear from behind as you race towards the sunset encourage you to perfect this newly found skill. At last everyone is in control of making their boards going in the direction they actually want and you move together as a pack of boarders – confident in your skill and talent. Then a wave comes! At least two of your group will end up in the water, another one will be reduced to crouching on the board, whereas if you are the lucky (and I use the word luck) to have maintained your balance – you must raise your paddle in the air in triumph!

THIS IS THE PART WHERE EVERYONE SQUEALS WITH LAUGHTER SUP the new alcohol Everyone regains their boards, feeling completely relaxed from all of the laughing.  There is now unity within the group as everyone bonds over challenges met and overcome. You are now SUP experts and revel in this success. An hour later as you sit around a café gorging on a well-earned breakfast you bond with your new-found friends by describing their face as they fell in the water.  You now have friends for life! Without a single drop of alcohol being sipped.

Top 5 Travel moments of 2014 – Bring on 2015!

Top 5 travel moments of 2014

2014 is nearly over and 2015 is looming eerily in the future, pulsating with new possibilities. The introvert in me (yes shockingly I do have an introverted side) needs to stop and take a quick breather before I jump head first in the new year, I need time to look back on all of the awesomeness that took place in the last 12 months; to ensure that the memories are firmly lodged in the vast sometimes empty space that is my brain – I don’t want to lose a single second of my favourite moments.

Here are my top 5 travel experiences for 2014! What an amazing year!

1. Climbing Yosemite Upper Falls Hike – 2,600ft in 6 hours in about 28degree heat with only one water bottle. I learnt a lot during my few days in Yosemite. About how to push through the pain, how small negative comments can completely demotivate you, the buzz of exhilaration when you reach the top and most importantly I learnt that coming down hurts WAY more than going up. By the end I discovered a new hobby – hiking really big beautiful things!

Things I learnt while hiking Yosemite Upper Falls Trail2. Exploring Sydney… again – I live in one of the worlds most beautiful cities, but sometimes it is easy to forget.  If you walk from Coogee to Bondi often enough you stop seeing the beautiful cliff tops and only focus on how many calories the stairs are burning, you head out for drinks at Opera bar and complete ignore the sun setting behind the harbour bridge in favour of another mimosa.  This year I have made a conscious effort to see and get to know Sydney again – discovering new underground bars, a sneaky lunch at the fish markets or a walk through the botanical gardens reminds me that I am pretty lucky!

Sydney harbour bridge

Getting a little lost in San Francisco – It’s a city that has spawned some of America’s greatest authors, artists and poets and as you wander through the hilly streets it’s not hard to see why. Breath taking views of fog rolling across the bay swallowing the bridge, ships and Alcatraz juxtaposed against the graffiti alleyways of Mission and culinary gems of all cuisines that are dotted mysteriously through the city. Letting your feet and stomach guide you as you stumble around – it’s much more fun.

San Francisco, Mission, Lonely Planet Walking tour

3. Bushwalking – Tourists flock from all of the world to enjoy Australia’s natural beauty.  Growing up in a place so naturally blessed its easy to forget that its there.  This year I have made a huge effort to get out and do some of the bushwalks around Sydney, including parts of the Great North Walk and the Kiama Costal track.  Not only is it a mini city break but its also a chance to get fit!

bushwalking the Kiama costal path

4. Eating a Japadog hotdog in Vancouver – some meals you forget about before you have even finished the last bite. Other meals you dream about for years to come, you try and re-create them, you tell all of your friends about them and when you meet someone who has had the same experience you feel like you have found your soul mate. Japadog was one of these life changing meals for me. The concept of the Japanese style fused with the New York hotdog was not something that appealed… especially as I didn’t particularly like hotdogs. Two bites in, I knew I would never be the same again!

Japadog - Kobe Beef. Things to do and eat in VancouverLooking back I think that 2015 has a lot to live up to.  How exciting to think of the possibilities of what could happen next year! What were your best travel moments of 2014 – would love to hear them all!???

Things to do in Vancouver

It’s Time to Pay Mona a Visit!

Mona art gallery

So you are heading to Tasmania for a weekend of great food, amazing scenery and delicious wine. You are struggling to squeeze everything into your already adventure and gourmet gorge fest itinerary.  The question has been posed – should you visit Mona? It’s an Art Gallery, sure… but it’s in Tasmania… is it really worth giving up some valuable wine tasting time for??

The short answer is: Yes! Hell Yes!

If you are a spontaneous person and need no more encouragement, I suggest you stop reading now, jump online and purchase your ferry tickets to Mona.  If however, you want more a more detailed analysis behind the “hell yes” then keep reading!

Mona Art Gallery

What is Mona: It is the Museum of Old and New Art hat was created by Tasmanian Millionaire David Walsh who is a professional gambler with an extreme love of art. The Museum is primarily stocked with pieces from his own collection and is the biggest privately own and run art museum in Australia.  But it’s not just an art museum – on the site there is also a winery, an outdoor theatre and restaurants – it’s basically a one stop shop for all of your cultural needs.

But what makes it sooooo special? Mona is a complete experience. Every part of your journey to, through and from Mona is incorporated in art.  This is what really sets it apart from other museums – the complete emersion in the design of the concept.

Start with the ferry ride from the central Warf in Hobart – a giant catamaran painted in camouflage colours sports a bar that sells delicious wine from the Mona winery. Sit back and relax with a glass of wine while looking at some of the art pieces that are gracing the ferry’s decks.  The fun has started before you even arrive.

Spend some time exploring outside before you head through the Museum.  There are loads of great pieces dotted around not to mention some great views of Hobart. Then get in the elevator and descend through the levels to start exploring the exhibitions.

When you first emerge from the elevator it takes a while for your eyes to adjust.  It helps that there is a bar selling delicious wine right there – I suggest grabbing one, if only because the wine is delicious and heightened by the artful atmosphere.  I also strongly suggest you grab one of the audio tour devices – they are great and they completely change, expand and enrich your whole experience.

Mona Art Gallery

Take your time where you need it – with Mona I think its important to linger over the pieces that are speaking to you, that grab your attention.  Plug into the audio tour and relax as you take it in.  Some of the exhibits are fun hands on experiences, don’t be afraid to take your shoes off and jump on the chimed trampoline.

Some pieces are dark and powerful while others are playful and light.  Some I just didn’t understand and others grabbed me like a powerful jolt to the stomach.  There are paintings and sculptures, performance pieces and statement pieces.

Lunch is a complete continuation of the Mona encounter.  The menu is vast and full of fresh local produce.  Everything that comes out of the kitchen will set your tummy grumbling.  There is also a great wine list with loads of local wines to sample. If its warm sit outside with the chickens and the ducks that roam the yard antagonising your fellow art lovers.  If its cold then definitely sit near a window to admire the view and to still be able to see the previously mention chickens.

Mona Art Gallery

If you have time before your ferry home then take a rest and enjoy some sweets and some more wine at the Mona Winery.  There is usually a hens do or two happening so there is plenty of people watching for those who appreciate their macaroons with a side of the absurd.

Finally relax on the ferry back to Hobart – watch the sun set over the sea and sip that final glass of wine before you head home to dream of blank TVs and model cars!

 

Wanderlust Wednesday – a Mental Break in Langkawi

“So She ran away in her sleep, and dreamed of paradise" Coldplay - Taking some time out with day dreaming of Langkawi

There are so many places in the world that I want to visit, I wonder how I will ever have the time, let alone the funds! It can be a disparaging thought when choosing the next place to explore. Do I want a winter vacation or a summer holiday (I will pick summer every time), do I want to relax or do I want to jump out of a plane, do I want to dance all night long or curl up by a fire with a good book? Choosing a new place to visit is a task in its self.  Today, I am not dreaming about an unknown shore or a lonely mountain peak, but about a place I have already been, a place that I have sworn I will make it back to, a place that completely satisfied my desire for sunshine and adventure.  On this Wanderlust Wednesday I am dreaming about heading back to Langkawi, Malaysia.

Wanderlust dreaming of Langkawi, Malaysia - closest thing to complete paradise!

Why visit Langkawi? Apart from the pristine beaches, crystal clear water and soothing weather. Langkawi is still a relatively untouched must see destination by the backpacking crowd.  Most backpackers get caught up in the Thai full moon scene and never make it down to this charming archipelago – it may be that they are scared off by the alcohol restrictions. The infrastructure in Malaysia far outstrips several of its neighbours so the streets on Langkawi are well-lit and feel safe. The hotels and hostels are all amazing and still cheaper than you pay across the major touristy parts of Thailand.

Quick facts: Langkawi is a group of over 100 islands off the coast of Malaysia in the Andaman Sea near the Thailand border – the largest and most popular island is Pulau Langkawi. As Malaysia is a predominant Islamic country alcohol can be hard to find, however, on Pulau Langkawi you can purchase duty-free alcohol. The few islands that are populated are generally geared towards tourism, with it being a favourite holiday destination for the Malay.

Wanderlust dreaming of Langkawi, Malaysia - closest thing to complete paradise!

How to get there:

  • Fly – Langkawi has its own airport which you can get connecting flights from Kuala Lumpur or Bangkok
  • Ferry – if you are travelling around the main land there are plenty of ferries that go from the main land as well as the neighbouring island of Penang.  If you are travelling down from Thailand you can catch one from the Thai town of Satun.

Let’s talk about food: The British Empire colonised Malaysia and used it as a trading and military base with the rest of Asia, in doing so it has collected an extremely diverse population which has been reflected in the food. Malaysian food is often mistaken for chinese, however it generally uses a wider variety of vegetables and fruits and incorporates its large Indian populations love of curry into many of its dishes.  As a rule – if you don’t like things spicy or hot, ask for the REALLY MILD version of any dish.  If you do like things hot, I would still suggest starting low and working your way up as the Malay’s have a unique take on what constitutes a “little” chilli.  Malaysian food is one of my favourite cuisines – not only because of the chilli but because they often create a great mix of spice, fruit and fresh vegetables. Make sure you clean out your sinuses with a big bowl of fresh Tom Yum Soup.  Or instead of your boring toast for breakfast go in search for what some of the locals have – it’s often curry.

Wanderlust dreaming of Langkawi, Malaysia - closest thing to complete paradise!

When you feel like relaxing:

  • There is no end to the beautiful beaches that surround the main island of this archipelago – so even if you don’t make it to any of the smaller islands you can spend numerous days and hours lolling about on the sand with a coconut in hand. The main beaches are sparsely populated unlike the other major beach destinations on the beaten track.
  • If however, this is too crowded I suggest hiring a scooter or car and heading in search of a more private beach… there are plenty of them around!
  • If you feel like leaving the beach but not doing anything to strenuous – head up to the Langkawi Cable Car for spectacular views of the rainforest and the whole island.
  • Depending on what time of year you are there you may encounter some afternoon monsoon rains – I believe that this as an instruction from the earth to go have a nap.

Wanderlust dreaming of Langkawi, Malaysia - closest thing to complete paradise!

When you feel like exploring:

  • If you have a bunch of energy, climb up the 500 stairs to the top of the Telaga Tujuh Waterfalls, when you reach the top you will be glad you dragged your swim suit all that way.
  • There are loads of boat tours that can take you around to the other islands nearby – such as Dayang Bunting Island which has a freshwater lake in the middle where you can take a quick dip.
  • Snorkelling is always a must – its not as good as you will find in other parts of South East Asia but if you aren’t too picky about how brightly coloured your fish are then it is still quite spectacular.
  • You can also do a tour through Kilim Karst Geoforest Park which is jam-packed full of monkeys, birds, insects, mangroves and stunning photo ops!

NOTE: Loads of tours offer eagle feeding as part of the experience – if you feel strongly against exploiting animals out of their natural feeding habits make sure you research your trip thoroughly first.

Shutting Down the Day Dream: Langkawi is the closest thing I have been to the fabled paradise, so much so that when I am having “one of those days” where you wish you were somewhere that would sooth your soul and help you relax, I immediately picture Langkawi – I definitely have to go back one of these days!

FINAL NOTE: Don’t trust the monkeys!

Wanderlust dreaming of Langkawi, Malaysia - closest thing to complete paradise!

Little sneaks stole someones tabacco right out of their back pocket! You have been warned!

Cambodia: What to do, What to see, What to eat? Siem Reap!

Things to do in Cambodia, Siem Reap and Angkor Wat

Cambodia is universally known as one of the friendliest countries in the world. Full of laughing children, cheeky monkeys and breathtaking views, combined with it’s rich history and ancient architecture, Cambodia becomes a must visit country for all travellers.

As you can rightfully imagine there is so much to see and do, therefore this post is part one of a four-part series on things to do in Cambodia. Stay tuned in the next few weeks for what to do in Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville and Kampot!

PART 1: Siem Reap and Angkor Wat

Cambodia: Things to do Siem Reap and Angkor Wat

Some information: Siem Reap is the launching pad for tourists to explore the giant Angkor Wat temple complex. Angkor Wat was the capital or the Khmer Empire up until the 13th century and it contains many more temples and ancient artefacts in the 400km area than just the iconic Angkor Wat. These ancient temples were lost to the world as border conflicts infused the region, until during the French Occupation the temples were “rediscovered” and protected (I imagine that the local people never lost these spectacular buildings).

How Long: There is a lot to do in Siem Reap and the surrounding area so I would Things to do in Cambodia, Siem Reap and Angkor Watrecommend an extra day or two on top of what you plan on spending at the temples. You need to buy a tourist pass before you enter the Angkor Wat complex. I recommend the three-day pass, as it gives you time to see what you want and come and go as you need. If you are pushed for time you can buy a one day pass and just see the big temples.  There is also the option of a five-day pass – this would be best for ancient history enthusiasts only, as no matter how spectacular the temples are they soon become confused in your mind after a few days.

Beware: There are many scams that are in effect in the area. Some involve your moto driver dropping you off in the middle of the countryside where you will wait long enough to become panicked before a bus comes along and charges you a huge amount of money to take you back to town. On the bus from Phnom Penh there are companies that will drop you off at a specific guest house and tell you that all others are full – I suggest booking your accommodation in advance to avoid this. There are many children who beg around the temples, they are very poor and so will snatch up your bag if you leave it unattended. Like everywhere, be sensible and follow your gut but also be polite.

Things to Do:

Angkor Wat is spectacular in half-light, I recommend sunrise as opposed to sunset as there are less crowds and once you have finish at Angkor you can wander around the rest of the temples near by without the hordes of people ruining your photos or spiritual contemplation.

So many temples, there are three circuits of temples. Circuit one can be walked around and contains the big ones such as Angkor Wat and the Bayon temple. Hire bikes and cycle through Big Temple Circuit, where you will discover loads of little artefacts that you might miss as you whizz past in a moto. Outer Circuit is best explored in a moto with a driver who knows some history about the temples – your guest house should be able to recommend a good driver.

Feeling hungry? A great way to experience the amazing food of Cambodia is to do a cooking class. You will be taken through the markets and shown what ingredients to pick, then taught how to make more food than you can possibly consume (take the left overs back to your home for a midnight feast). My choice is Tigre De Papier.

Things to do in Cambodia, Siem Reap and Angkor Wat

Swimming is a great way to wash away the tension you may have built up from cycling through all of those temples, not to mention a great way to cool down in the humid oppressive heat. You can pay just $5 to most of the major hotels to use their pool and towels for the day.

Still hungry? Give back by eating or drinking for a cause.  Places like the Butterflies Garden Restaurant are a great place to grab a coffee, cake or lunch while supporting Things to do in Cambodia, Siem Reap and Angkor Wat
causes such as reviving the traditional Cambodian performing arts.

Tomb Raider was filmed at the Ta Prohm Temple, so not only is it a movie set but it is one of the most magical and intact temples in the complex. Spend sometime getting in touch with your inner Lara Croft as your scramble over the ruins.

Psar Chaa is the market to go to if you are planning on doing any souvenir shopping. It dominates the old quarter most evenings and it has everything from silver jewellery, slogan T-shirts, place-mats and chopsticks to finely carved furniture and woven rugs. If your feet are a little callused from all that temple walking, stick your feet in a fish tank and have the amphibians eat all the dead skin off your soles.

Cocktail hour is done with style in Siem Reap where a bubbling nightlife ripples through Cambodia: Things to do Siem Reapthe two main tourist streets.  Pub hop from Temple Club to Funky Monkey tasting the rich array of cocktails that can be bought by the jug. Some places even offer a free T-shirt if you buy two jugs!

Siem Reap has so much to offer that you can easily spend a couple of weeks in this laid-back lazy town, just soaking up the history and a few cocktails. The people are constantly helpful and friendly – service is always done with a smile (if a little laid-back). You will fall in love with the people as much as you do the temples.

Final Tip – Educate Yourself: Cambodia has a very chequered past filled with conflict, however, I am not going to delve into that in this post – there is just too much to be said.  If your education, like mine has a few holes in it where this country is concerned then I suggest reading up on the Khmer Rouge, the French Occupation and the Khmer Empire before you get there (seriously when I arrived in Cambodia and learnt all about the history of the area I was shocked that they hadn’t taught us this during school).  In learning about these many complicated aspects of Cambodia’s history you will greatly enhance your whole trip. 

Plate of Deep Fried Tarantulas - a local specialty

Plate of Deep Fried Tarantulas – a local specialty