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How to stay healthy on holidays

Today on the blog I have the lovely Amy from Eat Pray Workout sharing her tips on staying healthy while on holidays! I wish I had read this before my recent travels, as 5 holidays in as many weeks has resulted in a few extra kgs. Ugh! xx Swah

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Holidays are one of the best times of the year, no more dead lines and instead days of resting and rejuvenating. Although, have you ever returned from them and thought ‘I had a great time, but I actually feel gross and exhausted’? I know I have.

I’m going to the Great Barrier Reef for 10 days this week (flip, yeah!!) although I don’t want this amazing time to end with those sentiments. So I am going to try escaping the norm. I am tweaking the way I find rest. No longer will it be lazing on the beach or watching movies all day and eating blocks of chocolate whilst sipping wine or cocktails. It will be a time a time to enjoy cooking wholesome food, experience new ways to keep my body moving, spending some quiet time reflecting and getting plenty of sleep. Now, to all you chocolate lovers, don’t give up on me yet. I’m on your side. This doesn’t mean no chocolate, wine or movies it just means having them a few times and really being in the moment enjoying it, rather than gorging on it on a daily basis.

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Travel

Travel Guide: The Islands, New Caledonia

Welcome to Part 2 of my guide to New Caledonia! You can read Part 1, on Noumea, here.

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If you’re planning a holiday to New Caledonia, make sure you set aside at least several days to explore some of New Caledonia’s famous tropical islands. Even if you’re short on time and staying at Noumea, you can still see a lot through day trips from the mainland.

Duck Island (Ile aux Canards)

Duck Island is so close to Anse Vata in Noumea you can see it from the coast! Because of its proximity, I highly recommend it for your first day trip. It’s also a great place to start for beginner snorkelers (ie me) as you can see a lot of colourful coral and fish close to the shore.

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How to get there

Duck island is a mere 5 minutes taxi boat from Anse Vata beach. Find the beach hut with a sign pointing to Ile aux Canards (that’s Duck Island in French) and book in a return ticket.

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The water taxi can get busy, so if the weather is beautiful I suggest getting there early (around 9am) or be prepared to wait.

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What to bring

Pack food and drinks if you want to save money, as there is only 1 cafe on Duck Island and it’s not cheap. If you have your own, bring your snorkel and flippers as once again it’s an expensive endeavour to hire equipment. And you MUST wear reef shoes. The sand on Duck Island is very hard and sharp and you’d tear your feet open trying to get into the water!

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Where to eat

There is only one cafe on Duck Island, and they do a tasty burger! However at AU$15 for a burger and tiny salad, you’d be better off bring your own food if you’re on a budget.

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Ilot Maitre

Ilot Maitre is a great destination if you’re into kite surfing. We were expecting better snorkelling there to be honest but there wasn’t much, so we spent the day lazing about on the beach.

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How to get there

Ilot Maitre is a little further by water taxi than Duck Island (around 20 minutes from Anse Vata). You buy your return ticket from the same beach shack. You can also stay on the island, there are several overwater villas dotted along the coast of Ilot Maitre as you arrive called L’Escapade Island Resort.

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What to bring/where to eat

There is an overpriced seafood buffet you can have for lunch (around AU$80) but that was closed the day we were there. Fortunately we were warned, so we brought our own lunch and water. Make sure you bring sunscreen as well as there isn’t much shade on this beach (as opposed to Duck Island which has lots of beach chairs and umbrellas).

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Despite it not being a particularly successful day of snorkelling, check out that sunset! It was incredible.

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Amedee Island

We nearly didn’t make it to Amedee Island, as the only “official” way to get there is from the monopolising Mary D tour group and they were sold out. We made friends with some fellow Aussies who gave us a phone number for an illusive Dimitri. After several failed phone calls we eventually spoke with him and booked in a return boat ride. “Meet me at the end of the jetty” he said.

Why were we so desperate to get to Amedee? For amazing snorkelling and most importantly, to see sea turtles!

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True to his word, Dimitri turned up the following morning in what I could only describe as a dingy. I get seasick pretty easy, and I am suspicious of the sea at the best of times, so with gritted teeth I got in along with 7 other people. It was a very long, very rough, 45 minutes to Amedee Island. But we made it there alive. And I didn’t vomit!

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I cannot describe how relieved I was when I saw the famous Amedee lighthouse looming in the distance, surrounded by the most ridiculously blue waters.

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How to get there

You can give Dimitri a call on 77 27 16 to book in with him. He is significantly cheaper (around 6,500F) and doesn’t include pointless activities that the Mary D does such as a sarong tying workshop (wtf) and coconut tree climbing demonstration. By all means book in with Mary D, she costs 16,150F but you do have the added perks of a bigger boat, lunch included etc.

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Watch out for… sea snakes. Yikes! I had read that Amedee Island was home to a lot of sea snakes and I saw 3 of them. They can chase you across land and in the sea. We’re doomed. (By the way, if you leave them along, they’re fine). Oh and speaking of scary things, one of my travelling companions saw a shark when he was snorkelling out further! And what did he do? Followed it with his GoPro ofcourse. Honestly.

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What to bring/where to eat

If you book on a Mary D tour, all food and beverages will be looked after. If you go DIY Dimitri style, make sure you bring food (I highly recommend making your own ham and cheese baguette) and water. There is also a small tuckshop available on the island selling snacks and drinks. Once again I suggest bring your own snorkelling gear if you have it, but it is available for hire on the island.

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And so, was our turtle quest successful? WHY YES IT WAS! Please excuse the graininess of the photo as this was a taken on a disposable underwater camera but look! Turtle! We saw about 8 of these guys swimming peacefully around near the shore. I must have spent at least 30 minutes mesmerised, watching them eat grass, come up for air, watch fish cling to them. It was amazing.

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Isle of Pines

And last, but certainly not least, is the Isle of Pines. New Caledonia’s most popular island is most certainly worthy of its reputation. We considered staying for several nights actually on the island (the Le Meridien looked divine) but the thought of having to shuttle back and forth between that hotel and our Noumea accommodation wasn’t ideal. So we settled on a day trip.

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How to get there

You can either fly to Isle of Pines or catch the Betico ship. Neither of us were a huge fan of small planes, so we went the sea option, which takes around 2 hours and 15 minutes. It’s also cheaper too. The boat to the island operates return services most Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays, departing from Noumea at 7am leaving Isle of Pines at 5pm. It’s a long day, but well worth it.

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We arrived to a picture-perfect setting – white sandy beaches, aqua water and clear blue skies. It was all a bit haphazard when we arrived on the island, there were no tourist buildings or even signs to indicate where we should go or what we should do. We found a few other lost-looking people and eventually found a taxi driver to drive us around for the day. We had no idea where he was taking us (let alone how much it was!) and his English wasn’t great. But we were starting to get used to this relaxed New Caledonian way of things.

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The clearest water I’ve ever seen in my life!

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What to bring/where to eat

It’s best to bring your own snorkel gear, but fortunately there is a place near the natural lagoon that rents equipment.

There are several shacks dotted around Isle of Pines selling simple food, such as homemade baguettes and biscuits. You can buy water and soft drink from there as well. You can also eat at the Le Meridien hotel.

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What to see

Piscine Naturelle – a stunning natural lagoon with bright aqua waters that is flanked by pine trees. It is one of the best places for snorkelling on the Isle of Pines.

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Kanumera Bay – crystal clear waters abound at Kanumera Bay and it was my second favourite place to snorkel.

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Oro Bay – a great swimming beach

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Notre Dame de l’Assomption, a convict-built Catholic church.

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An old colonial building on the Isle of Pines.

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This was the face a local island child pulled at me when she saw I had Pringles. After conferring with her mother, I gave her some.

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We spent our final hour watching kids splash in the sea as the sun started to set, before commencing our long boat ride back to Noumea.

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The islands of New Caledonia were truly the highlight of my trip. And while you’re here, don’t forget to read my travel guide to Noumea!

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Travel

Travel Guide: Taipei, Taiwan

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Taiwan is often described as a blend of Chinese and Japanese culture, which fascinated me as I have visited (and loved) both those countries. Known for its foodie culture (Taiwan is filled with bustling night markets lined with street food vendors), modern cities and stunning landscapes, I was thrilled to be able to discover this amazing country.

How to get there

EVA Air flies twice a week (Wednesdays and Sundays) direct from Brisbane to Taipei. It’s an overnight flight, departing at 10.30pm and arriving in Taipei at 5.30am the following day.

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How to get around

The Taipei Metro is clean, efficient and reliable and can get you to pretty much anywhere you need to go in Taipei! For single rides, purchase a token at one of the machines (they are in English too). Scan the token to enter the station and then deposit the token in the coin slot when you arrive at your destination. So simple and easy!

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Where to stay

Regent Taipei – No.3, Lane 39, Section 2, Chungshan North Road, Taipei

Located in the Zhong Shan business district, Regent Taipei boasts large rooms (with an Aeron chair!) and impeccable service and amenities.

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The bathroom featured a Japanese toilet with heated seat, bidet features and music. There was also a giant spa bath which I wish I had more time to take advantage of (I did manage to squeeze in a quick soak the morning of my departure, priorities).

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I do appreciate a good fruit and treat layout. I received a bowl of fruit every morning as well as a few chocolates after house keeping.

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The Regent offered gorgeous views of Taipei, and they have an amazing buffet breakfast each morning. Don’t miss that!

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What to do

Taipei 101

Taipei 101 was officially the world’s tallest building until the opening of Burj Khalifa in Dubai in 2010. At 101 floors tall it offers amazing views of Taipei.

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…unless it’s smoggy that day and.. um. Well.

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While the distance was obscured by smog, you could still view the immediate areas below. I would love to return at night.

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Chiang-Kai Shek Memorial Hall

The CKS Memorial Hall was erected in memory of Chiang Kai-shek, the former President of the Republic of China. It’s a great way to learn more about the history of Taiwan.

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The stunning ceiling inside the CSK Memorial Hall.

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Every hour, there is a changing of the guards, where the guards do a synchronised performance.

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Shilin Night Markets

The biggest night market in Taipei is Shilin, a bustling market filled with food stalls, clothing and arcade games. It opens from 4pm and stays open until the wee hours of the morning. I visited at 11pm on a Monday night and it was still packed!

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Shrimp Fishing

Possibly one of the stranger pastimes I have encountered, I head to Zhishan Road where there is a series of shrimp fishing establishments. You pay by the hour and in return get a fishing rod, tray and unlimited bait. And then what?

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Well you plonk yourself down on a chair by the big shrimp pool and start fishing, of course!

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Here’s a large shrimp caught by one of the punters.

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After your hour is up, you take your shrimp and tray over to the BBQ area. They are speared individually with sticks (whilst alive, yikes) tossed in salt and then cooked through over hot coals. Wash the shrimp down with a beer or two and you’ve got yourself a fun Saturday night!

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The aftermath. These shrimp establishments are open until the wee hours of the morning and are popular with locals of all ages. It was definitely a unique experience!

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Visit novelty cafes

Modern Toilet Restaurant is a.. you guessed it, toilet-themed restaurant. Located at 2F, No.50-7 Xining South Road, the decor, seating and even menu is inspired by the humble bathroom appliance.

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It was great fun wandering around the multi-level building to discover all the unique decorations on offer. And despite being renowned for a gimmicky cafe, it was busy!

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The most popular dishes being eaten by guests was this chocolate soft serve served in a squat toilet and a giant ice shaving dessert served in a larger toilet. It’s probably not going to win any culinary awards, but it sure was entertaining!

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Another popular novelty cafe in Taiwan is the Hello Kitty Cafe, located at No.90, Sec. 1,Da’an Rd. The decor is predominantly pink and kitschy, the waitresses are dressed in pink Hello Kitty aprons and even the food is shaped in Hello Kitty’s head!

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Image source

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Image source

What to eat

Food is such a huge part of Taiwanese culture. Taipei is home to many options, from food courts to night markets or high end eateries -there is a huge range to suit everyone’s taste and budget.

On our first day in Taipei, we went to the food court under Taipei 101 to sample some local dishes. I’m consistently blown away by the standard of food court meals in Asia! Here we tried oyster omelette, Taiwanese pork chop, and fish ball soup.

taipei-101-foodcourt

Some other dishes to try:

Beef noodle soup – this local dish is available pretty much everywhere for only a few dollars made of stewed or braised beef, beef broth, vegetables and Chinese noodles.

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There was a huge buffet of animal parts (mainly offal) you could add to your soup if you so desired. I did not.

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Bubble tea – invented in Taichung in the 1980s, bubble tea stands are everywhere throughout Taiwan. Don’t let the Chinese menu put you off – there is nearly always an English menu they can show you, and icons you can point at to indicate the level of ice and sweetness you want.

bubble-tea-menu

My original experience with bubble tea in Australia always involved sickly sweet and milky versions. As it was so hot and humid in Taiwan, I would always order a green tea and passionfruit blend with 30% sweetness and 50% ice. It was perfect! I love that you can tailor-make your own drink. Plus the cups have cute decorations.

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Hot Star Fried Chicken – for a giant fried chicken schnitzel the size of your head, go to Hot Star. I’m familiar with this brand as it’s on now in Sydney and I’ve eaten it several times. Oh so delicious, always.

hot-star-taipei

Peanut roll – this food cart was serving a dish that involved peanut brittle shavings, 2 scoops of ice cream and coriander, wrapped in a spring roll wrapper. The coriander was such a unique flavour when paired with the sweet dessert, but it worked well.

taipei-street-cart

Chinese food and dumplings – we were served a huge array of Chinese dishes at Celestial Restaurant (3/F, 1 Nanjing West Road) including several stir fried dishes, shallot pancakes and xiao long bao (soup dumplings).

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I also ate my fair share of steamed dumplings, these were pork and chive.

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The highlight at Celestial restaurant was the divine Peking duck. I am salivating just staring at this photo!

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KFC egg tarts – when my friend recommended I try the egg tarts from KFC in Taiwan, I must admit I thought she was a bit mad. But it was late one night and I had a sugar craving, and lo and behold, there was a KFC. And the verdict? Amazing! The buttery and flakey pastry paired well with the rich custard centre. A few patrons giggled at me taking a photo of my egg tart, but it deserved a shot!

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Street food – I will go into more depth on Taiwan’s street food in subsequent posts as a lot of my street food experiences were in other cities, but here are some things I sampled in Taipei itself:

This vendor was selling what I thought was toffee-covered strawberries. I wasn’t really paying much attention when I bit it in half and it exploded all over me. What was it? A toffee cherry tomato! And it was delicious.

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Black pepper buns  – made up of a spiced meat (usually pork) and spring onion mixture and then wrapped in dough, these buns are baked in front of you and are a tasty on the go snack.

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Egg cakes – there are egg cake stands scattered all around Taipei serving up piping hot treats in the shape of (unlicensed) characters. Of course I had to ask for Hello Kitty!

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And lastly, a penis-shaped waffle. Why do they make these? I don’t know. But it sure gave everyone a giggle.

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I hope you enjoyed my roundup of Taipei, and stay tuned for my next post on some of Taiwan’s other cities featuring more food (obviously) and adventures.

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Love Swah travelled, ate & stayed courtesy of Tourism Taiwan 

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Design, Travel

Vivid Sydney Festival 2015 – Ready to light up your life

Vivid Sydney 2015, the annual celebration of light, music, art and innovation takes place over 18 days starting May 22 and ending June 8. While a small number of special events require ticket purchase, most of this glorious festival is free! With so much going on, check out the following tips for getting the most celebration out of this year’s festival.

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Image source: The Star

Absolute Musts

This year The Star, together with Vivid Creations, will transform Sydney with amazing light installations, projections, performances and captivating public speakers. Check out the multi-sensory play zone where you control the entertainment. Belt out karaoke from the rooftop or test your skills in an interactive game on an urban playground the likes of which have never been seen before.

Vivid Sydney is the largest festival of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere. To experience it from a different perspective, book a dinner cruise with Captain Cook. Afterward, disembark and immerse yourself in the numerous interactive Vivid Sydney displays, lights and fun.

You won’t want to miss Sydney’s flora and fauna projected onto the iconic facade of Customs House representing the seasons and moods of the city. The graphics integrate stunning natural imagery with manmade structures in a captivating display designed to awaken imagination.

Vivid Sydney - The Rocks

Image Source: Business Insider

Everyone has to see the dresses. They appear as apparitions, suspended in darkness as if telling a fantastical tale of ghostly wanderings. Fun fact, the optical fibres in each dress change colours, representing its history. For this step into slight, though fantastical fright, head to Kendall Lane in The Rocks, after dark of course.

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Image Source: The AU Review

Dining with a View

With a large number of restaurants providing front seat views over the vivid harbour, we’ve selected 3 favourites that combine amazing dishes with incredible sights.

Quay, The Rocks – Yes, there are glittering views of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House but the real excitement happens inside. You’ll be personally guided through a dining experience with authentic Australian ingredients cooked with passion.

The Gantry Restaurant & Bar – This is one of the most sought after waterfront dining restaurants in Sydney for a fine meal, a pleasant drink and immersive views.

The Glenmore, The Rocks – This rooftop bar is spectacular at that magic hour when the sun is just about out of sight. Watch the twinkling transformation of the city as the sky darkens and the city lights come alive.

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Image Source: Vivid Sydney

Need a Hotel?

Even Sydney-siders frequently book rooms for this event. Advanced booking is highly recommended especially for waterside hotels.

Harbour Rocks Hotel – This home away from home is great for the business or leisure traveller and makes a perfect base from which to enjoy Vivid Sydney.

The Darling – Known as Sydney’s most lovingly detailed luxury hotel, your room at The Darling will be a tranquil oasis among hopping nightlife scenes. Go from one to the other as you please.

Whatever you decide to experience during Vivid Sydney, make sure you’re here to celebrate when the lights come on.

Freya is a coffeeholic freelance blogger, social media specialist, graphic designer and award-winning photographer. When she’s not intriguing strangers with her stories, she’s most likely lifting something heavy in the gym, at the beach or out and about Sydney in search of the perfect coffee. Instagram @freyat and Tweet her @freyacami

Are you going to Vivid? I go every year and can’t wait!

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Travel

Travel Guide: The Great Wall of China

I’ve been fortunate enough to see many amazing things around the world on my travels, but the Great Wall of China is quite possibly the most awe-inspiring sight I have ever seen. I simultaneously wanted to cry and scream with joy! So many feels.

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I had been nervously checking the weather for our Great Wall climb everyday, and it had been raining constantly in the lead up. We arrived at the base of the Wall early in the morning and were greeted by fog… Lots of fog. Can you believe this is actually a full colour image?! That’s how bad the weather was.

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I recommend taking a photo of the map with your phone before you start the climb to avoid getting lost. To be on the safe side, travel in a group, and you will find a local may offer to take you on the walk themselves. Of course they are expecting money, but our lady was a huge help and we bought souvenirs (chopsticks and tshirts) off her afterwards to say thanks.

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We started our climb and were relieved to see the fog starting to dissipate and reveal blue skies. Hooray!

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My view. Yep, those are a lot of stairs. Make sure you wear sturdy shoes with good grip, and watch your step at all times. The steps vary between tiny (too small for my large Western feet) and hideously steep. There were a few tumbles amongst our group but fortunately nothing too serious!

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But it’s all worth it because…. look at that view. I have never felt so humbled by anything in my life. The Wall stretched on and on for as far as I could see.

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Here I am looking very pleased with myself and trying to hide the fact I was completely puffed! And despite the blue skies, it was cold up there. I was wearing 4 layers.

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How to Skip the Crowds on The Great Wall of China

You may have noticed a distinct lack of people in my photos. I often stumble upon images on the internet that look like this:

Great Wall

Image source

So how did I avoid the crowds? Let me share with you some tips.

1. Go to Jinshanling. It is the best preserved part of the wall. As it is a remote and somewhat isolated section of the Great Wall, there are relatively few tourists.

2. Get there early. We arrived at 8am when it opened and were the first ones there. At the end of our 3 hour walk a few huge bus load of tourists turned up. So the early wakeup call was worth it!

3. Avoid peak season. Summer is the peak tourist season, I went at the end of October and the crowds were significantly less. Just make sure you dress warmly!

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How to get to the Great Wall of China from Beijing

I stayed overnight in a nearby hotel, however as Jinshanling is located only 110 kilometers northeast of Beijing City, you can book yourself on a return day trip by bus.

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What to bring

Pack your own water and snacks to last you at least 4 hours (just to be on the safe side). There are a few small kiosks providing drinks and food scattered around the Great Wall, so bring some spare change too.

As the weather can be temperamental, I would recommend you bring both sunscreen and a rain/windproof jacket

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What to wear

Whilst Jinshanling is a popular hiking route, some parts of it are unrestored and involve steep stairs or loose rocks. Good footwear is important, and I highly recommend you wear your hiking boots or sneakers with good grip.

Whether you’re climbing in the cooler or warmer months, I always recommend you dress in layers. And bring a backpack! If you have to take off your coat, you don’t want to be lugging that around.

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It’s times like these I wish I had a selfie stick ;)

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Have you ever been to the Great Wall of China? Do you want to go now after reading this?

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Travel

5 Reasons You Must Visit Tasmania This Winter

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I LOVE Tasmania, it’s one of my favourite destinations to visit and offers an amazing array of experiences throughout the year. My last trip to Tassie was in the summer (read more about it here) and it was all about bushwalking on hot summer days, visits to the local outdoor market and boat rides. But arguably, there is even more to do in winter.

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Visit MONA for art & culture (my favourite art gallery in Australia, possibly the world), discover an amazing food & wine scene, embrace the outdoors & adventure with dramatic scenery, meet the wildlife, and learn more about Tasmania’s fascinating heritage & history.

So pack your woolies and get ready, here’s why you need to visit Tasmania this winter!

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Dark Mofo | 12-22 June

MONA’s Dark Mofo is the annual festival that celebrates the winter solstice. Set in Hobart, it embraces the colder, darker and weird things in life. There’s an amazing lineup of music (including Antony and the Johnsons and The Preatures), a huge array of performance and theatre arts, incredible local food on offer (including a 5 night winter feast). This is all building up to an all-night performance that finishes with the annual Dark Mofo Nude Solstice Swim. I kid you not.

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Festival of Voices | 3-12 July

Each year the Festival of Voices welcomes thousands of singers and visitors to Hobart to put on Australia’s premier festival celebration of the voice. From choirs and spoken word performers to gospel singers and a cappella groups, the festival has something for everyone. There are a huge array of performances, masterclasses, multi-day workshops and short courses for singers of all experiences and ages.

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Huon Midwinter Festival | 17-19 July

The Huon Valley in Tasmania is famous for its apples, and Willie Smith’s Apple Shed is the place to be in July as they offer locally made craft ciders, artisan cheeses and entertainment as they throw a mini midwinter festival to celebrate the region’s apple-picking history. And don’t forget your costume, there’s prizes for the best dressed!

Chocolate Winterfest

Chocolate Winterfest | 9 August

You’re not surprised I’ve included a Chocolate festival, are you? Fellow sweet-toothed fans flock to Latrobe, just 10 minutes’ drive from Devonport for the wickedly delicious festival celebrating all things chocolate. There are opportunities to eat, drink, decorate and mould your own chocolate for the ultimate sugar fix. It is no coincidence that the Latin name for cocoa, from which chocolate is made, translates as “food of the gods”!

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The Agrarian Kitchen | Classes throughout June & August

The Agrarian Kitchen, located just outside of Hobart, is a sustainable farm-based cooking school set in a 19th century schoolhouse. They have a variety of paddock-to-plate experiences on offer from preparing locally-sourced meat to making sourdough bread and desserts. But hurry, their classes book out fast.

Cradle Mountain

Win tickets

Now that I have you all excited about Tasmania, do you want to pack your bags for the ultimate Dark Mofo adventure? 
The lovely folks at Qantas are hosting a Facebook ballot to register for tickets to ‘Wild at Heart’, a two-night packaged event from 15-17 June held in wild, wintery Cradle Mountain during Dark Mofo. Register here!

Or to book flights to Tassie this winter, Qantas has you covered.

Have you visited Tasmania in winter before? Do you want to go after reading this? (I sure hope so!)

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Food, Travel

NOLA Eats – Swah’s Best Places to Eat in New Orleans

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Oh New Orleans, how I love you. They say every heart holds onto a little piece of New Orleans, and I have to agree. From the friendly locals and stunning architecture to the turbulent history and amazing creole cuisine, NOLA is a fascinating place to visit. You could spend days stumbling around the French Quarter, but don’t forget to wander around the Garden District and Lafayette Cemetery. The nightlife is wild, but stay clear of Bourbon St for the most part (ok, walk down it once). Where should you go instead? Frenchman St is known for it’s fantastic live music and local restaurants and was my favourite place to discover more of New Orleans.

Now, on to the eating:

♥ Cafe Du Monde – 500 Port of New Orleans #27

Yes it’s a bit touristy, but you can’t visit New Orleans without a stop at Cafe Du Monde for beignet (donuts!!) These babies are deep fried and covered in loads of powdered sugar. You’ll get it everywhere, but that’s part of the experience.

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♥ Camellia Grill – 626 S Carrollton Ave

We had breakfast at this old fashioned diner and the omelettes were divine (and huge). My Mexican omelette came with potato hash, toast AND grits (triple carbs!) and we were given generous portions of coffee and milkshake samples. Loved it.

camellia-grill

♥ Yo Mamas Bar and Grill – 727 St. Peter St

Did someone say burger topped with bacon & peanut butter!? We tried it, and it was AMAZING! We also tried NOLA staples such as alligator sausage and gumbo.

yo-mamas

♥ Cake Cafe & Bakery – 2440 Chartres St

After several days of heavy, delicious fried foods I went in search of something a little healthier. Cake Cafe delivered the goods and I had a vege juice, omelette with fresh spinach and goats cheese and a biscuit. Ok so the biscuit probably wasn’t healthy, but it tasted amazing.

cake-cafe

♥ Coop’s Place – 1109 Decatur St

There was a queue snaking out the door of Coop’s Place, and with good reason. The fried chicken here is brilliant, it’s so crunchy and not greasy at all. I had sides of homemade coleslaw and jambalaya which were both sensational too! Oh and they make a mean mint julep. Hic.

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♥ Green Goddess – 307 Exchange Pl

This out of the way cafe tucked in a little alleyway serves up a great array of vegetarian food (rare in this city) and arguably the best biscuits in New Orleans. They also have great cocktails.

green-goddess

♥ Elizabeth’s – 601 Gallier St

The brunch at this Cajun diner is hands down one of the best in the city. They are known for their praline bacon (as good as it sounds), a great selection of egg dishes and the biscuits and gravy are divine.

praline-bacon

♥ Willie Mae’s Scotchhouse – 2401 St Ann St

Sensational fried chicken and soul food can be found at Willie Mae’s! It’s best to get a taxi there and back as it’s in a somewhat dodgy part of town. It’s worth it.

willie-mae-s-scotch-house

Want a drink? Try a voodoo daiquiri at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, sit at the Carousel Bar in the Hotel Monteleone (it revolves!) or order a classic sazerac or ramos gin fizz at the Sazerac Bar in the Roosevelt.

Have you been to New Orleans? If not, do you want to go now? (that answer is yes)

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Travel

Travel Guide: Noumea, New Caledonia

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I recently returned from an amazing holiday in New Caledonia. It’s only a 2.5 hour flight from Sydney and I was quite surprised by how few Aussies were there. Perhaps one of the reasons is that it can be quite expensive, however I have shared cheaper accommodation and eating options to suit all budgets.

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We left a cold and rainy Sydney to be greeted by a warm and sunny Noumea. I’m sure I was infuriating on Instagram! What New Caledonia lacked in cuisine (I found the food incredibly overpriced and of average standard) it made up for with pristine waters, untouched beaches and friendly locals.

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Buffet breakfast on the Hilton’s balcony

Where to stay

Anse Vata is located in the south of the big island (Grand Terre) and is home to the majority of Noumea’s luxury hotels and resorts. If you’re on a budget, head further up the coast along the western edge of Grand Terre to Baie de Citrons, where there are more budget-friendly accommodation options.

If you’re only staying in Noumea for one night before heading out to the islands, I recommend you stay in downtown Noumea. It’s not the nicest area, but it is closer to the boat port and airport.

Budget: Hotel Beaurivage – 7 Promenade Roger Laroque, Baie Des Citrons

If you’re on a tight budget, Hotel Beaurivage is a simple and clean 2 star hotel centrally located on the Baie De Citrons. This is the area to be in if you’re after a bit more nightlife too – there are a lot of beachfront bars and restaurants and a lot more young people compared to Anse Vata.

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The view of the Hilton’s grounds and Anse Vata beach in the distance

Mid-Range: Hilton Noumea La Promenade Residences – 109 Promenade Roger Laroque, Anse Vata

I stayed at the Hilton for 7 nights and was very happy with my stay. My friend and I booked a 2 bedroom apartment and were upgraded to a 3 bedroom for free. It was amazing!

Apart from having a great central location in Anse Vata, the Hilton apartments are all self contained, meaning they come with fully equipped kitchens. As food is so expensive in New Caledonia, we saved a lot of money by going to the grocery store and buying supplies for homemade breakfasts. The Hilton buffet breakfast costs around AUD$40 every morning (!!) and to be honest it’s fairly average by international standards.

Luxury: Chateau Royal Beach Resort and Spa – 140 Promenade Roger Laroque, BP

This is regarded as the best resort in Noumea and was unfortunately booked out completely by a conference when we were there. It’s pretty pricey (around $380/night) but if you are after a luxurious holiday, this is your best option.

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A perfect beach day at Anse Vata

When to go

The rainy season in New Caledonia runs from January to March. We arrived early April and had near-perfect weather, however it rained the week before AND after. Talk about lucky!

The hottest period is from September to March whilst the cool season runs from April to August. I would say the best time to go is between September and December, when the weather is warm and the rains haven’t come yet.

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What to do

Watch the sunset over Baie de Citrons beach

Unlike Anse Vata, Baie de Citrons faces west and is perfect for watching the sun set across the water. Go for a dusk swim or enjoy the sunset over a few cocktails at one of the bars lining the beach.

Snorkelling, swimming and diving

The pristine waters surrounding New Caledonia are perfect for exploring however you like – whether it be swimming, snorkelling or diving. I’ve never seen such an amazing array of tropical fish, coral and marine life so close to the coast. If you have your own snorkelling gear I highly suggest you bring it with you, as it’s quite expensive to hire (around AUD$10/hour).

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Visit the islands

I will do a more in depth guide on the islands of New Caledonia in my next post, but visiting the islands should be a priority when you’re in Noumea. We managed to squeeze in 2 trips to Ile aux Canards (Duck Island), and a trip each to Ilot Maitre, Isle of Pines and Amedee Island.

Relax

Don’t forget to relax when you’re in Noumea, there is definitely a temptation to see and experience as much as possible, but downtime is important! Flop by the hotel pool with a good book, get a massage or stroll along the beach.

Visit downtown

If you have time, jump on the Hop On Hop Off bus for a tour of downtown Noumea including the museum, local markets and culture centre.

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Where to eat

I’m going to be honest, the food isn’t great in New Caledonia. As nearly everything has to be imported, food is overpriced and of average quality. Don’t expect the same standard of food that you receive in Australia.

Malongo – Complexe la promenade, Anse Vata

Great little cafe for an affordable breakfast or brunch. They also have decent coffee here, which is a rare find in New Caledonia!

Stone Grill – 113 Promenade Roger Laroque, Anse Vata

I loved this place so much we went two nights in a row! For around AUD$30 you got a steak of your choice, sauce and 2 sides (I usually went fries for the proper steak frites experience plus greens). The steak is served raw on a piping hot slab of stone and you cook it to yourself at the table. Fun and delicious!

Rimba Juice Cafe  117 Avenue Roger Laroque, Anse Vata

A simple and cheap cafe, this place is perfect for a quick lunch. I had a croque monsieur and fresh juice, both hit the spot.

Snack Ulysee – 145 Route de l’Anse Vata, Anse Vata

Noumea is dotted with snack restaurants that mainly serves burgers and fries. It’s nothing flash, but for a cheap and cheerful meal I highly recommend Snack Ulysee.

Au P’tit Cafe – 8 av des freres Carcopino, Noumea

This French restaurant serves up a limited (only 4 choices), but authentic menu with super friendly service. Some of the staff only speak limited English, so brush up on your French!

Chez Toto – 13 rue Auguste Brun, Latin Quartier

A quaint French bistro located in the downtown area serving up classic French cuisine. It’s small, so I highly suggest booking.

Malecon Cafe – Promenade Roger Laroque, Baie des citrons

This beachfront bar serves up surprisingly good food. In typical NC-style it’s the usual suspects – baguettes, burgers and croque monsieurs but everything is washed down with a tasty cocktail and a beach view.

Creperie Le Rocher – 55 Promenade Roger Laroque, Baie des citrons

You can’t go to a French-speaking country and not eat crepes. They do a great range of savoury and sweet crepes here that are fresh and relatively cheap.

L’Atelier Gourmand – 141 Route de l’Anse Vata, Anse Vata

Go here for fresh baguettes, chocolate croissants (hello, breakfast) and a huge array of delicious pastries.

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Tips

Getting from the airport

It was a complete nightmare getting from the airport to our hotel and it took over 4 hours(!!) I highly suggest you pre-book the airport shuttle before you arrive to avoid this problem. Taxis are rare and expensive.

Language

French is the native language of New Caledonia and spoken throughout. Most people speak at least some English, however it is nice to make an effort and learn your hellos (bonjour) goodbyes (au revoir/bonsoir) and thank yous (merci).

Find a local grocery store

Eating in New Caledonia can be a very expensive affair (I know, I’ve mentioned it like 3 times). If you’re lucky enough to have a kitchen in your accommodation, stock up on eggs, yoghurt and milk to make your own food. If you don’t, you can still buy a delicious array of meats, cheeses and bread that will keep fine. Also note that some of the islands don’t have places to eat, so it’s best to pack snacks or a sandwich.

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Stayed tuned for part 2 of my New Caledonia travel guide, focusing on the stunning tropical islands!

Have you been to New Caledonia before? Do you want to go?

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Travel

5 misconceptions about travelling to Africa

Africa has been on my bucket list for ages, but I always seem to find an excuse not to go. It’s too hard to get to! It’s dangerous! Etc etc. Fortunately for me (and you), I have the Africa-savvy Erin from The Hiatus Collective to share with you her tips and dispel all those misconceptions!

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What images come to mind when you hear the word ‘Africa’? Starving kids, dry and dusty landscapes, The Lion King perhaps. These are all part of this incredible continent but there’s so much more to see and do when it comes to travelling here. After 6 years of travelling and living in Africa I’m here to shed some light on going beyond the safari Land Cruiser and into one of the best adventures you’ll ever have.

Bike in Kampala, Uganda

1. Africa is one country

Africa is big. Very big. It’s a continent with 54 countries and over 1.1 billion people who speak more than 2000 different languages. There are deserts, grasslands, jungles, snow-capped mountains, beaches, fancy shopping malls, mansions, BMWs and fast food. Did you know the USA (including Alaska) would fit into Africa 3 times?

2. All of Africa has Ebola

Despite what the media might have reported when the Ebola epidemic was at its worst, not ALL African countries had Ebola outbreaks. Actually there are only 3 countries in West Africa that are heavily affected (Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia). At the moment travel to those 3 countries is not recommended but the rest of the 51 countries on the African continent are open for business. If Africa’s on your wishlist for travel this year don’t put it off for fear of Ebola – get on that plane as soon as possible! I recently heard a story of parents in America who refused to travel to their daughter’s wedding in Tanzania because of the Ebola outbreak last year – considering Tanzania is almost 6000km from the closest Ebola outbreak in West Africa and has no confirmed cases this is just crazy.

Here’s a great story from The Washington Post on African geography and the Ebola outbreak.

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3. The only reason to visit Africa is to see the animals

The beaches on the coast of Tanzania (and the island of Zanzibar) blow my mind and are some of the most beautiful I’ve ever been to. South Africa is quickly becoming a foodie haven with some of the world’s best restaurants found there. And as far as our daily caffeine hit goes, East Africa is producing some of the best coffee I’ve tried – I’m currently in coffee heaven in Uganda! Next time you’re ordering your soy latte ask your barista where their beans come from, I can guarantee their range will include at least one from Africa. Of course, the wildlife is incredible too and you should go on a safari if that floats your boat but also look beyond the traditional safari routes most travel companies use, you’ll love every minute.

4. The only food you’ll eat in Africa is rice and beans

If you’re a foodie from way back then travelling in Africa won’t disappoint. Sometimes your only option might be rice, beans and a local stew (and a tasteless starchy dish called Ugali in East Africa) but a lot of the time the options in the cities and big towns are many. From the best Indian food I’ve eaten in Kampala, Uganda to finding a love for Ethiopian food in Arusha, Tanzania I’ve loved every minute of my food journey in Africa. Wine and beer fans won’t go thirsty either – South African wines are incredible and a lot of African countries import French, Spanish and South American wines – while beer lovers will enjoy local brews like Tusker, Nile Special and Windhoek.

Sunrise in Shimoni, Kenya

5. Africa is dangerous to travel in

This has been a big one for my mum over the years. Even after all the time I’ve spent in Africa over the years (including 9 months living in Tanzania) she still believes I’m risking my life by coming here. Like anywhere else in the world you need to keep your wits about you when you’re out at night (especially if you’re a solo female traveller like myself). You’ll get to know the areas to avoid as a visitor and pay attention to what the locals say about this. The local people I’ve met over the years have been some of the kindest, friendliest and most respectful I’ve ever come across. Don’t necessarily believe everything the media reports on Africa – before you get scared off by terror alerts and disease do your own research and look into your home country’s travel warnings for where you want to go.

To get more of the low down on travelling in Africa visit Erin’s blog!

Author bio

Erin Aldersea is a writer, traveller, coffee-lover, curiosity-follower and social media coach from Melbourne, Australia who’s currently based in Kampala, Uganda. At The Hiatus Collective Erin writes for freedom-seekers with a glimpse into her life, business and travels.

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Have you been to Africa? Has Erin’s post helped change your misconceptions?

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Travel

Dark Tourism: Challenging but important places to visit

For me, travel isn’t just about relaxation and comfort. It’s about learning, challenging yourself and discovering more about the world we live in. It’s easy to gloss over a country’s tragic past by sipping $5 cocktails at the hotel pool, but I think it’s important we visit these historical sites to learn from our past.

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Auschwitz-Birkenau – Poland

I snapped this photo of a small boy casually strolling along the train tracks that led the Jewish people to their deaths in Auschwitz-Birkenau, Poland. The museum at Auschwitz was filled with hair, gold teeth and little shoes from women, men and children murdered in the gas chambers. It’s a tough site to experience and will stay with me forever, but I am glad I went.

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War Remnants Museum – Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

I’m not much of a crier, let alone a public crier, but I sobbed in this museum. As did the majority of other visitors. Formerly known as the Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes, this museum chronicles the destruction and lasting effects the war had on Vietnam. There was a big focus on Agent Orange and the devastating effects it is having on children and land even to this day. There are some very confronting images in this museum.

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Tiananmen Square – Beijing, China

When I visited Tiananmen Square recently, it was like the 1989 massacre didn’t even happen. There was no mention of it anywhere, and when I spoke up to my local guide he paled and hastily told me to be quiet. Chinese authorities suppressed the discussion of the events so severely that there is no exact record of how many died, and in fact, I wonder how many Chinese people actually know it happened?

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The Killing Fields – Cambodia

There are a number of sites scattered around Cambodia referred to as “The Killing Fields”, where Pol Pot and his regime killed millions of civilians from 1975 to 1979. It’s frightening how recently this happened.

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Ground Zero – New York

I think pretty much everyone remembers where they were when the World Trade Center was attacked. The memorial is a sobering reminder of the tragic deaths of civilians going about their everyday lives, but it’s also a powerful reminder they won’t be silenced by terrorism as they rebuild.

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Hiroshima and Nagasaki – Japan

Hiroshima and Nagasaki were attacked by 2 Atomic bombs at the end of World War 2, killing over 100,000 people (mostly civilians). The iconic domed building (pictured) now known as the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, survived the blast and serves as a testament to Japan’s strength.

Some things to keep in mind when visiting any of these sites:

  • Be respectful – that means no selfies, no loud talking
  • Do your research – not only is it useful to have some base knowledge before you get there, if you’re doing a tour it’s important that you select an organisation that is educational, not exploitive.

These are just a few of the “Dark Tourism” places I have visited or am about to around the world, and I know I have missed many more (especially in Africa and South America). If you’ve experienced other dark tourism places I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

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Travel

8 Reasons to Love Cambodia

Hello! I’m Tara Mathews from food and travel blog vegeTARAian and I’m honoured to post for Love Swah readers a little something from my recent travels.

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As someone with a deep love of Southeast Asia, l wanted to share some reasons why you should add Cambodia to your travel wish list. I hope some or all of my observations will encourage you to consider this fascinating country for your next overseas adventure.

1. Beautiful smiling faces

Despite the atrocities in Cambodia’s not too distant history, Cambodian’s are very kind people and so many say ‘hello’ and wave at visitors. It would be near impossible not to be charmed by the delightful children in the countryside who are so curious and friendly.

2. A contrast of city and country

Visit busy and highly populated cities such as Phnom Penh and Siem Reap and spend time in quiet rural towns like Banteay Chhmar for a change of pace.

3. Incredible temples and relics

When planning temple visits think beyond Angkor Wat – while this is the biggest and most impressive historic site, it’s just one of the fascinating temples in Cambodia. Bayon is a marvel with over 200 faces carved into stone, the thick tree roots growing over the ruins of Ta Prohm is a natural wonder and the most intricate carvings can be seen at Banteay Srei.

4. Traditional Khmer cuisine

Rice, fish and soup are staples of Cambodian cuisine and there are plenty of options for adventurous eaters (think spiders, insects and fermented fish paste). Sampling a fragrant Amok curry, made with galangal and coconut milk, is a must. Traditionally this Khmer dish is made with fish but many eateries will also offer other versions.

5. Spend time with locals

Experience simple, modest living of a village homestay and test out your Khmer language skills with a local family. These are memories that will stay with you long after you leave Cambodia.

6. Support the local economy

In Cambodia you’re never far from stalls offering handmade jewellery, scarves and clothing at very affordable prices. Bargaining is common, especially in the markets, and the local currency Riel and US dollars are accepted.

7. Local traditions

If you visit Battambang, the bamboo train is a must. It’s a bumpy ride on an open, flat, bamboo tray with cushions, powered by a small outboard motor. Changes are proposed on this line so now is a great time to experience the bamboo train before it’s gone.

8. Riverside homes

During the wet season, residents in the fishing town of Kompong Plok are subject to the rising waters from the Mekong River and to adapt, they have built homes on strong bamboo stilts, that amazingly sit six metres high.

My visit to Cambodia was wonderful, compelling and left me with a real yearning to learn and see more of the country, that is so rich in history. While it’s important to reflect on Cambodia’s harrowing past and pay respect for all that they’ve been through, remarkably there is an overwhelming sense of calm and the people are so friendly and peaceful. I know I will go back to explore more of this fascinating country. I hope you get a chance to experience the wonder of Cambodia, too.

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Author bio

Tara Mathews is a writer, friend of animals, and lover of food. Tara is a freelance writer and editor of vegeTARAian – a Sydney food and travel blog dedicated to sharing the adventures of veg-loving life.

Travel

Can’t afford a big trip? Book micro-holidays to satisfy your wanderlust

micro-holiday

I don’t know about you, but if I don’t have a holiday booked in the near future I go a little mad. My sense of wanderlust will never be cured (and I’m ok with that) and no matter how many times I explore the world, I’ll want to go back again and again.

But sometimes we can’t afford annual international holidays, especially the big, life changing and challenging trips I crave. As much as I would love to alternative between Europe and America every year, it’s unfortunately not realistic.

So what’s my solution? The micro-holiday! A micro-holiday is a small (either financially or time-wise) trip that lets you get away, experience something new or relax. I’ve recently discovered this style of travelling and it temporarily satisfies my travel obsession.

There are a few styles of micro-holidays I have been doing lately:

Weekends away

The classic micro-holiday. I love a good weekend away, and have already planned several for this year! Often the destination revolves around what flights are on sale at the moment. The more flexible you are with dates and locations, the better the price.

My first weekend away for the year was to Melbourne. I ate all the food, stayed in a nice heavily discounted hotel (hooray for last minute bookings!) and visited the Jean-Paul Gaultier exhibition.

melbourne

My parents bought a vineyard and moved to Orange late last year, so I have taken this as the perfect opportunity to book in a few weekends away out in the country. Fresh air, unlimited wine and family time. Yes please. As it’s only 3.5 hours drive, it’s the perfect distance to leave work on Friday and return Sunday night feeling refreshed.

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I went to the music festival Splendour in the Grass last year with a group of girlfriends and added a full day in Byron Bay at the end. It was a great way to finish an action-packed long weekend away – by eating amazing burgers on the beach.

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Adding a few extra days to a conference or work trip

I flew up to Queensland last year for the Problogger conference and tacked a few nights on afterwards to discover Hervey Bay. I was already paying for the flights for the conference (hello tax write-off), so why not make the most of it?

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Staycations

I sometimes think I can be a bit jaded over Sydney, and have started taking the time to re-appreciate how amazing this city is. Whether it’s a night in a fancy hotel or exploring a new part of town, don’t write off your own city to plan your own micro-holiday.

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Small package trips overseas

My friend and I wanted to take a week-long break over the Easter holidays to relax and recharge. I did a lot of research into a destination that was both close to home and not too expensive. We got a good deal on flights and accommodation to New Caledonia, and it’s only 2.5 hours away!

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Taking a smaller trip

Since a Europe trip wasn’t realistically on the cards last year, I saved my pennies together for a destination that was closer and cheaper. My solution? China!

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Why should you take a micro-holiday?

♥ To take a well-earned break from work. A lot of workers don’t take all their allotted annual leave days each year, and it’s important to have some space and come back feeling rested and refreshed.

♥ To be able to travel without ruining your big picture plans (whether it be a wedding or saving for a house).

♥ Satisfy your travel bug temporarily whilst steadily saving for a BIG trip away.

Do you take micro-holidays or are you going to start booking them?

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Travel

Travel Tips For Visiting Developing Countries

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I have had so many amazing, life changing experiences in developing countries that I wouldn’t change for the world. Some of these experiences were quite confronting at the time (hello Chinese squat toilets!) but they are the very reason why I travel – to challenge myself, to learn and to experience new and amazing things.

If your only idea of a holiday is plonked by the pool of an international resort, cocktail in hand, maybe this article isn’t for you. But if you’re about to discover a developing country, or have any reservations, read on!

Make sure you get the required vaccines

A quick Google is invaluable to see what you need to be protected against in the destination of your choice. I like Health Direct. Visit your doctor at least a month before you leave to get the required immunisations. For my Vietnam trip, I got an injection for Hepatitis A and Typhoid, Malaria pills that I must take everyday before I leave and during my trip, an oral Cholera immunisation that is taken twice, 2 weeks apart, and finally some antibiotics and anti-diarrhea medication “just in case”. I’d rather be safe than sorry.

Don’t give money to just anyone

It’s really tough to ignore beggars overseas, especially children. But often giving money to them causes more harm than good (this article is really helpful). If you do want to help, do your research before you leave and make a donation to a reputable charity. Or some tour groups such as Intrepid Travel will take you to various charity projects in the cities you visit – I went to a school for disabled children in China and a war victims workshop in Vietnam. I felt safe knowing that the products I was buying from these kids was going toward their futures.

Practice a few words of their language

Even just learning hello, goodbye and thank you makes a world of difference! Locals react really well to attempts at their native tongue (no matter how hilariously bad you are) and it’s a great way to break down barriers. English is scarcely spoken in a lot of developing country, so best brush up on your miming skills too!

Be aware of their customs

So you don’t come across as an ignorant tourist, I highly recommend researching your destination’s customs to avoid insulting a local or embarrassing yourself. For example, in Thailand, never touch a Thai person on their head, as this is seen as the most important part of the body and is therefore disrespectful. Also never shake hands with your left hand as this is considered the “unclean” hand (this is also the case in many SE Asian and Muslim countries). I have written a post previously on respecting other country’s culture and customs.

Try local food, but be careful

I am forever warned to avoid street food in developing countries for fear of getting extremely sick. But street food tastes amazing, it’s a great way to mingle with the locals, and you get to try dishes you’d never ever sample again at home. A few good rules to stick to include only going to vendors with a long queue (meaning it’s both popular and the high turnover will ensure the food is fresh) and sticking to cooked or preferably deep fried foods (which kills any nasties).

Leave the fancy items at home

Leave the nice jewellery, flashy clothes and handbag at home, you won’t be needing it on a holiday in a developing country. It’s basically putting a big X on your back as a target for thieves.

Adjust your expectations

Sure, at home toilets may be clean, trains turn up when they say they will and meat is sold from sanitary refrigerators. But while abroad you may encounter things that make you uncomfortable or completely blow you out of your comfort zone. Just go with the flow. It’s a new experience and hey, you’ll have a good story to tell when you get home.

Have you travelled to a developing country before? Do you have any more tips to add?

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