You all know by now how much I love epic festivals but sadly it's been a while since my last one. So I've teamed up with Holidays by Destination2 to talk about some of the amazing festivals around the world which could give you a travel experience to remember. Whether it's a food festival, a religious celebration or even a huge music festival. There's nothing like combining travel with epic festivals to really turn an average trip into a one you won't forget. I remember a few years back when I was invited to cover Hideout Festival in Croatia for the website I worked for, cue turning it into an epic 10 day holiday with a huge group of mates and it's definitely a trip I will always remember.
Throughout my travels I've stumbled upon all kinds of amazing local celebrations from Chinese New Year and comedy festivals, to Tamil parades and even street parties across Germany, the UK, Australia and Asia. There's something special about joining in the local celebrations, you don't just look at a new culture, you become a part of it and for me, that's what travel is all about. I've picked out six festivals from all corners of the globe that offer completely different and unique experiences. Whether you're traveling in Europe or as far as Asia, there is always a way to get involved and join the festival atmosphere. Next time you're planning a trip, why not check out what events are going on in the local area? It's a great way to meet people when you travel and to have an extra-special travel experience. Here are just some of the epic festivals that are waiting for you:
What could possibly make your trip even better than celebrating life itself? Filled with energy, vitality, the brightest costumes and colours and the intoxicating, hip-shaking sounds of Calypso and Soca music, Trinidad and Tobago Carnival is the biggest of all epic festivals in the Caribbean. I've not been lucky enough to travel to this part of the world yet but it's definitely high on my bucket list, and when I go there, I know I want to party, so how better to plan a trip than to coincide with such an epic and well-known event? The festival was originally created in the 18th century to imitate and mock the pre-Lent celebrations of the plantation owners, but took on a life of it's own following the abolishment of slavery. Head to this festival to join the greatest street parade in the world, join the revelry by dancing all day and all night, drinking in the sights and sounds of Caribbean life. Read more about the history of this event here.
Hoi An was one of my absolute favourite parts of Vietnam, such a beautiful little town with such a rich history and heritage. You can read all about my trip there in this post. I'm so sad that during my week there I didn't manage to see the lantern festival when the colourful little town comes alight and you can really appreciate it in all it's splendour. Each day once the sun sets, the villagers light lanterns as part of a centuries-old tradition for the locals to give offerings and worship their ancestors by setting the lanterns into the river. At 8pm, all the town's lights are turned off so you can really see the town aglow. The best time to go is the first full moon of the lunar new year when the most people will gather, but the event does happen every month so its an easy one to fit in with your travels.
Some of you might not know but my dad's side of the family come from Mauritius, and although I have been to visit twice, I haven't been for around 10 years. I would love to go back and see how the country has changed since I last visited, and what better time to go than when the biggest Hindu festival outside of India is taking place? When we're talking epic festivals, Maha Shivaratri lasts a whopping five days and see nearly 500,000 people (almost half the population of the Indian Ocean island) dressing in white and joining a procession towards the lake of Grand Bassin. Celebrating the victory of Shiva and Vishnu on Brahma, the pilgrims consider the lake to be an extension of the Ganges, making offerings and bathing in the water. Visitors will be treated to quite a sight and will also have the opportunity to admire one of the tallest statues in the Indian Ocean
Another Hindu festival but this time in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where I was back in November. We had just one day in the city but made sure to visit the Batu Caves which were astounding. During Thaipusam the celebrations attract over a million people who gather in the city and join a procession which walks the 15km to the caves, taking around 8 hours. Quite a sight, and the festival normally attracts around 10,000 tourists. Looking for epic festivals in Asia? This one is all about putting your body through torture to appease the Lord, so we're talking incredible body piercings using hooks, sewers and small lances – when it comes to crazy festivals I think this one is definitely up there and I can't imagine what it must be like to actually be there and see all of these amazing sights. If you're traveling in Asia, Kuala Lumpur is such an easy stopover and a great place to spend 24 hours, we were there for just 10 hours and had loads of time to get out of the airport and to explore lots of different sights – read my post here.
The Middle East always looks like such a fascinating and beautiful place to travel, I know that it has had a bad rep for the political strife in some countries, but I know so many people who have traveled to this part of the world and have raved about their experiences. Israel, Jordan, Iran and Oman have been on my travel list for a while, and when you have great places to stopover such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi, why not build a festival into the trip? One of the most anticipated cultural events in the city, visitors can learn more about the vibrant film culture in the Middle East by seeing the talents of Arab directors pitted against some of the world’s most respected filmmakers. If you love creative talent and want to experience more Arab cinema, this is the festival for you, it's about time Western travelers spent more time in this beautiful part of the world.
Who doesn't love a food fight? Here's the perfect combination of epic festivals and a crazy food fight experience! If you're planning any European travels this summer, why not time your trip with a stop in sunny Spain for the world's biggest food fight? La Tomatina is held in Bunol, near Valencia, and each year it attracts thousands from all over the world to join in the crazy, messy fun as more than 100 tonnes of over-ripe tomatoes are thrown in the streets. Since 2013 the event has been officially ticketed which has limited numbers to just 20,000 so be sure to grab tickets so you don't miss out. I'm allergic to tomatoes and extremely resentful of having to try and avoid eating them, so this just sounds like so much fun to get even by throwing tomatoes in the streets!
Have you been to any festival celebrations abroad – how was your experience? Would you plan a trip around a festival? Which of these festivals would you love to attend?
My parents always treat themselves to a city break in the spring - it's a perfect time to celebrate both of their birthdays by escaping to Europe to explore some amazing new place. The other year they decided to try out Venice for the first time and came back raving about the maze of canals, the gondola rides and the amazing architecture. They spent their days wandering the city in the sunshine, stopping off regularly to indulge in the local delicacies washed down with endless glasses of wine. Their glowing recommendations made sure it became a place I have to one day experience for myself to experience the culture and art of this timeless city. It's definitely on my bucket list, and if you're planning a trip look no further than this post for tips on the top experiences on offer – and where to book your tickets.
Doge's Palace & Secret Itineraries Tour
The Venetian Gothic style will captivate visitors to the city, but none quite so much as the Doge's Palace. One of the city's main landmarks, the Palace is the main symbol of Venice and although starting out as the home of the Doge, the supreme authority in Venice it was opened as a museum in 1923. Purchasing a ticket to the Doge's Palace also allows entry to the Correr Museum, the Biblioteca Marciana and the National Archaeological Museum. You can purchase tickets here.
While exploring the Palace, it is worth checking out the Secret Itineraries Tour which includes the visit of the old rooms where the Serenissima government carried out all important and secret issues related to the administration of the State over the centuries. The tour gives visitors a taste of the political history of the city, Venice organization and justice institutions. You can purchase tickets for this tour here.
Venice Museum Pass
If you're a museum fan, this pass is the one for you. The Venice Museums Pass gives you access to all Civic Venice Museums and the museums in San Marco Square. These include Doge's Palace, Correr museum, National Aercheological museum, Biblioteca Marciana, Ca’ Rezzonico, Museo del Settecento Veneziano, Carlo Goldoni Home, Palazzo Mocenigo and Centro Studi di Storia del Tessuto e del Costume, Ca’ Pesaro, International Gallery of Modern Art and Museo d'Arte Orientale, the Glass museum, Murano, the Lace museum, Burano, Museum of Natural History. You can purchase this ticket here and it remains valid for six months.
Venice Islands Boat Tour
Fancy getting outside and exploring the city? Why not try the Venice Islands Boat Tour - get to see the city from the canals and visit the most important and famous islands of Venice lagoon, Murano, Burano e il Torcello, by boat. This tour is available every day and at just 22 euros it's a great way to explore the city. Tickets available here.
Gondola Serenade Tour
Of course a trip to Venice would be nothing without experiencing the magic of a gondola tour, and how better to woo your love than by being serenaded during this beautiful cruise along the canals? This is a fascinating tour along Canl Grande and smaller, hidden channels which gives visitors a chance to experience this unique city from an unsual point of view with a background serenade. Pick up your tickets here.
Venice Walking Tour
For those who prefer to stay on dry land and explore on foot, the Venice Walking Tour could be the perfect way to explore the city. Last around 80 minutes, the tour takes in a wealth of sights and monuments with a guide to tell you all about them. The tour starts from St. Mark’s Square giving you a description of the history of the main monuments including St. Mark’s Basilica, the Doge’s Palace,the Campanile, the Clock Tower and the Procuratie. The tour will then head to one of the most popular squares in Venice, S. Maria Formosa, before exploring Marco Polo’s house and Malibran Theatre, where ancient and recent history meet Mercerie in this wonderful corner of Venice. Tickets available here.
If you're planning a trip to Venice, don't miss out on the amazing deals available online and don't forget to book in advance as many of these attractions will get booked out during peak season. Be a smart traveller and skip the queues buy purchasing your tickets ahead of time through Italy Travels. Check out their website here.
When I travelled to Bali last month, I only planned to stay for a week but I fell in love with the Indonesian culture and the incredible landscape. A month later I only left because of my visa but I know for sure I'll be back in the future to explore more of Indonesia in the years to come. There are thousands of incredible islands waiting to be explored and each come with their own incredible sights, customs and experiences just waiting to be discovered. From the jungles of Borneo to the beauty of the Gili islands and the wildness of Komodo Island - Indonesia truly captivates the soul. One area I would love to visit is Java, and when the team at Hotel Tentrum Yogyakarta asked me to write about my perfect trip there, I couldn't resist the chance to share it with you guys. Yogyakarta has long been described as the artistic soul of Java and it's easy to see why when it has combined the traditional Balinese culture with modern living. Now famed for its arts and culture, the city remains protective over its customs combining the new with the old.If you're planning a trip to the city, be sure to check out some of the incredible natural sights that lie all around, delve into the history of years gone by and indulge in the foodie highlights around the city. Don't miss these top sights:
If that's whet your appetite for a visit, why not take a look at these Yogyakarta hotel deals and start planning your trip? Have you been to Yogyakarta - what was your highlight? Can you recommend any places to visit?
I wrote a post last week about how social media really affects your travelling experience by bringing you closer to people you might never have crossed paths with otherwise. Well the other week I had the perfect example of this when I finally had the opportunity to meet up with someone who has been supporting my travels every step of the way. Starting out with a few comments on my blog and a passing tweet or Facebook comment, we soon started chatting regularly, providing each other with a wealth of travel information and a listening ear. I love the way we became much like modern-day pen-pals, always keeping in touch along our independent journeys through Australia. Finally the day came when we found ourselves in the same city and couldn’t resist meeting in person for a day of art, culture and chatting blogging, Amy and I headed to the National Gallery of Victoria for the incredible Andy Warhol and Ai Weiwei exhibition.This major international exhibition has brought together the works of two of the most significant artists of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. It explores the huge influence of Warhol and Weiwei on modern art and contemporary life, focusing on the parallels and points of difference between the two. The NGV exhibition presents more than 300 works, including major new commissions, immersive installations and a wide representation of paintings, sculpture, film, photography, publishing and social media. As described on the website: “Presenting the work of both artists, the exhibition explores modern and contemporary art, life and cultural politics through the activities of two exemplary figures – one of whom represents twentieth century modernity and the ‘American century’; and the other contemporary life in the twenty-first century and what has been heralded as the ‘Chinese century’ to come.”Whether you know a lot about art or not – and I admit that while my interest and curiosity continually finds me poking around in galleries, I actually have very little knowledge about art – this exhibition is fantastic. I was so impressed with the cross-cultural diversity of the pieces and the way they made poignant comments on society, offering great similarities over huge periods of time. The historical significance and the cultural significance is the part that really interested me, learning about how these stunning pieces reflected the politics and state of society at the time of making. And how these beautiful installations were still so accurate decades later – it really highlighted how our concerns in society can become timeless, that they may appear in lightly different forms but essentially boil down to the same issues. Ones that particularly stood out were concerns over mass-production and commercialisation as it took over the world, others included communication – from the basic right up to social media, and another that really interested me was the mass production of food and whether we can trust those who provide us with it.I loved learning about Ai Weiwei, while Andy Warhol is someone everyone knows of, I hadn’t yet come across Weiwei and it was a fantastic opportunity to learn about his history and his life’s work. He was a fascinating man and I’ve actually found a documentary about him on Netflix that I’m looking forward to watching to find out more about him. I was really impressed with the interactive nature of the exhibition, it was brilliant to be able to get involved with some of the installations, to experiment with making your own pop art and to have all of your senses targeted by the pieces. It was easily the most diverse exhibition I have seen yet and it really appealed to all ages – I saw people of all ages and backgrounds there taking in the sights and sounds of the pieces. It was great to see such a mixed crowd and really showed the wide appeal of this exhibition, that it was something all could relate to and understand, that it spoke of issues still so poignant in our modern day society.Some of the highlights definitely helped draw in the crowds as the exhibition was also featuring a brand new suite of installations from Ai Wei Wei including an installation from the Forever Bicycles series, composed from almost 1500 bicycles; a major five-metre-tall work from Ai’s Chandelier series of crystal and light; Blossom 2015, a spectacular installation in the form of a large bed of thousands of delicate, intricately designed white porcelain flowers; and a room-scale installation featuring portraits of Australian advocates for human rights and freedom of speech and information. All fascinating pieces with interesting motivations behind them - definitely ones to make you think. Plus you’ll get to see classic pieces from Warhol including the famous Campbell's soup paintings, his own self-portraits and the images he made of Marilyn Monroe and various other famous faces. The exhibition is running until April 24th, so there’s just over a month left to check it out – at just $26 entry I’d call that a bargain for getting to see some of the most famous pieces of modern art and some of the most current pieces by an internationally renowned artist. It’s well worth a look, and there are also a huge range of special events, tours and talks happening in the evenings including the popular Friday Nights at NGV. Find all details at the website.
Have you been to the NGV's Warhol Weiwei exhibition - what did you think? Can you recommend any other galleries in Melbourne, or across the world?
One of the things I love the most about Melbourne is that there is always something going on. It’s a lively city full of hidden gems and quirky, unusual events and I’ve already lost track of how many unexpected treats I’ve found since exploring the city. From the tiniest little food festivals to the Mardi Gras-esque street parties, there is always something new to discover and where better than to prime your taste in Australian music than by attending St Kilda Festival? Australia’s largest free music festival, the event showcases a range of the country’s national and local talent on huge stages set against the natural beauty of St Kilda’s beach. The event attracts over 400,000 people each year and this year took place on Valentine’s Day, which also just happened to be right in the middle of three of my friends’ birthdays. A perfect time to celebrate.Getting the whole gang together, we headed to St Kilda in the afternoon where we couldn’t wait to check out the huge range of performances set to take place across ten stages that day. Now we all know by now how much I love my festivals - whether they’re free or expensive, dance or reggae, camping or day events. I love them all and can always find something special at each of them. St Kilda Festival was great - a huge event that has obviously proven a great success by the crowds that poured through the streets. The performances I saw were great and the crowd were clearly enjoying themselves, who couldn’t with a main stage set against the backdrop of the ocean as the sun was setting? My favourite part of the event definitely had to be when I went down to the beach to sit and watch the sun set while listening to the performers on the main stage.But much as we did all enjoy ourselves that day, I couldn’t help but feel the event could have done with being better organised for the of us who aren’t from the area. Being new to Melbourne, and especially to St Kilda, I found it very difficult to navigate between and even locate some of the stages and actually only ended up getting to watch performances on two of the ten stages because it took so long to find our way through the crowds. I saw little to no signs around to direct us and whenever I stopped to ask stewards they seemed to have even less idea what was going on than I did. Very late on we finally found a map of the area, but we had missed most of the things we had really wanted to see. After speaking to a few friends who went along to the event separately to us, it seems they shared some of our experiences and felt the event was a bit over-crowded. Regardless, we still made sure we had a good time, a few ciders in the sunshine and a lot of laughs.Just a few days later, it was White Night and the whole city was abuzz again as Melbourne CBD prepared to put on the biggest show of colour, light and music. Bigger and better than ever the radio and TV stations promised us, so after a quick drink with a friend in St Kilda, I couldn’t resist heading into the city to meet friends for a good look around at the projections. Despite spending six hours wandering around the city, I never actually saw a single one! But don’t worry, we had the time of our lives walking around and discovering the huge range of musical talents hidden around every street corner.We actually ended up sticking around Flinders and Melbourne Central areas as every time we walked down the street we got sucked into watching another epic performance turn into a huge street party with people of all ages dancing in the streets. It was amazing and the atmosphere was electric, it kept me dancing my heart out until 6am despite being completely sober and starving hungry. I was so impressed with the quality of the performances and how diverse they were, on one corner we watched as an incredibly talented acoustic performer mixed DJ skills with guitar and even a touch of saxophone while talking to the crowd throughout. Then just down the road, a DJ had the whole street dancing and further along a fabulous group started a fiesta in the shopping mall with their Mardi Gras vibes. It was a fantastic night and even though I didn’t see what I set out to see, I found some fantastic performers along the way.
Have you been to either of these events - what did you think? Does your city have great local music events like these?
As all the trips came to a close and we wound up our time in Cairns, we started to think about the next adventure. I was all out of money and it was time to find a job and try somewhere new, after five weeks on the East Coast and a month in Sydney, I was eager to see somewhere totally different and a bit more 'real Australia'. I wanted to see a bit of outback, some really hot weather and dust, lots of red dust. I always had this niggling thought in the back of my mind, a memory from when I was in Cambodia and met a couple in Siem Reap. They had actually both met in Darwin and travelled Australia together - knowing I was going to Australia a few weeks later, I wanted to know everything they had to tell me about travelling and working there. All they went on about over two nights was Darwin! They loved it there, had returned several times and found work easily, they loved the place, the people, the atmosphere, the money and the memories. I may not have realised it at the time but I was already sold on their recommendation and that when the time came to find work, I would be heading there. It's so strange to think back on it all now - it just seems like Darwin was exactly where I needed to be. I ended up spending three months there and even now, over two months later, my heart still remains there. It's just amazing how things fall into place when you travel - like there really is some greater plan for you, I feel like this so often when I end up in places I never dreamed of visiting. To be honest, Darwin wasn't even on my radar before I met the couple in Cambodia.We booked our flights and after a few hours in the air, we touched down to find exactly what we were after: intense heat, dust and dry barren land. It was the Northern Territory, and it doesn't get more outback than that. I was instantly in love with the place and after we rocked up to our hostel and got settled, we went out to wander the streets and see what lay in store for us on Mitchell Street. We were staying at Dingo Moon Lodge, which was down one end of Mitchell Street, and anyone who moves there should prepare for their life to centre around this one street which is full of hostels, bars and a scattering of shops. Now I did t really know what to expect of Darwin, I had never been anywhere like it before, but I instantly loved it and felt like it was a place I wanted to settle for a while. I started my job hunt and had two jobs within 24 hours of being in the city - great news for my bank balance but not so great for getting off the main street as both my jobs confined me to around 300m of street and I was working as many hours as possible. For the first two weeks all we did was keep to ourselves - we were sick of meeting new people and exhausted from the east coast - it was time to recuperate and relax. Luckily the hostel had a pool and wifi so most of our time, around me working, was spent making the most of these and at the markets.We were lucky and arrived at a great time to enjoy some of the great things Darwin had to offer, we spent our Thursday and Sunday nights at Mindel Markets which were packed full of food, music, jewellery, clothes and trinkets. It was a fabulous place with a great boho feel and I have to admit I couldn't help myself when it came to the jewellery stands. They would have fire shows, magic shows, plus a great variety of music acts from acoustic singers to reggae artists on tour. Plus it all took place right next to the beach and started at sunset, a perfect time to head down with your friends and a bottle of wine before perusing the stands. Another night was spent at the flicks, but this wasn't just any cinema. I finally had the chance to tick off going to an outdoor cinema in Australia from my to-do list. We caught Mad Max at the Deckchair Cinema and had a brilliant evening - the air was so warm and we could watch bats swooping over our heads as the sun set and the screen filled with action. The cinema is amazing and I'm just sad I never had the chance to go back around work - perils of working nights in a bar! It's well worth a visit and shows a great selection of movies, plus it hosts the film festival. We also arrived perfectly in time to catch the Darwin Festival - a yearly event filled with music, arts and culture spread across several locations within the city. I was actually working at a venue that was hosting some of the acts. It was great for us poor backpackers because they also hosted several free events including some lunchtime sessions and live music in the evenings at a special park they created. It was a beautiful location and had lots of food and drink stalls, a great atmosphere and the music was lovely. I was amazed to arrive in Darwin and find so much going on!There's plenty more to tell but I'll save that for some upcoming posts. After a week of quiet life, we met a group of awesome people who had arrived at around the same time as us, we ended up forming a little family that soon grew to the entire hostel as more and more people arrived. I'll talk more about this in a special post I'm working on, but I'll say this, there was a lot of love there and there's a lot of memories in my heart because of that place. After three weeks there, I had to say goodbye to Mark once again, this time after we had spent two amazing months together, and it was heartbreaking, all over again. I'm not sure I could have coped if it wasn't for my Dingos, they refused to let me mope around, they filled my life with laughs and craziness so that it didn't feel empty without Mark there. I never actually spoke about how hard it was to say goodbye to him and the fact that they just knew and they were just there to make everything better was what sealed us as friends for life. That and a whole lot of naughty Dingo behaviour that I probably can't publish on here. Let's call this 'to be continued'.
Have you been to Darwin? What did you think of it? Have you found an amazing hostel family?
I love Australia. I love it far more than I ever expected to. When I planned to come here, it was mainly because I knew I could work and save a lot of money on my way to New Zealand. Well, plans change and six months later I'm still here with no signs of leaving for another six months, I'm working on getting my regional work signed off for another year in the country and I've officially missed my flight to New Zealand. But I have to admit, even though I'm eager to spend another year here working and saving money, travelling to other parts I've yet to see, that although the country is stunning and vibrant, with incredible landscapes and people, there is something missing for me. It's culture, history and heritage. I know Australia has its own culture and history, but the country is just so new compared to so many other places. Growing up in England we're made aware from the very beginning of the immense history of the country; of years of kings and queens, of politics, of music, arts and literature. We grow up with castles and stately homes in our back gardens, we are raised loving Queen Liz, and Wills and Harry. When I went to Asia, that was one of the biggest draws for me - I loved the culture, the food, the music, the colour, the religion and the language that came with every country I visited.One of my favourite things upon visiting each country was embracing their history and traditions by meeting the locals and spending time with them. Whether that was being adopted by an amazing Thai woman who gave up a weekend to take me on a special tour of one of the country's greatest historical sites along with introducing me to her friends and a whole range of foods I had never tried before. Or the night I spent playing card games with a bunch of Vietnamese guys as we drank beers and talked about the history and politics of the country. In every single country I have been to, I have experienced the full depth of the country, the welcoming nature of the people and sometimes the less welcome side. There is light and dark to every country, as I found in Cambodia - but even there I managed to see the real side to the country and to find that there are some incredible people there whose kindness far outweighs many I have met at home. Watching a village ceremony take place just outside of Siem Reap was amazing - we had the chance to witness something you don't get to see in the towns. The humble and pure nature of the ceremony was so beautiful and being welcomed in to join them was even more amazing.All of these experiences have shaped my experience of travelling and it has really fuelled my desire to travel further to other countries that offer yet more of these experiences. More opportunities to learn how other cultures live and how the country's history has shaped what we see today, that is what keeps me so fascinated by the world around me. Perhaps it is the journalist in me that really wants to know peoples' stories, wants to know how they got there and how they live. I'm never that interested in the overall view we have of a country from the media, I love the stories of the individuals who live this life every day. I think that because of this, I have developed a list of places really want to go before it is too late to witness them in their raw, mostly untouched beauty. The world is constantly changing and so many places are on the cusp of becoming overdeveloped and taken over by tourism - bringing a McDonald's on every corner and selfie sticks at every turn - just the kind of places I hate. So where is left to try and experience the land before time? Here's my shortlist of places I would love to see in their full glory:
Right on the edge of becoming commercialised by the U.S., now is the time to visit and see Havana in its full Cuban glory. Ever since reading all about my blogger friend, Mrs Ayla Adventure's trip to Cuba and seeing her gorgeous pictures, I have been desperate to go and experience the culture first hand. I want to swim in the gorgeous sea and sunbathe on those beautiful beaches, I want to witness the incredible animals and landscapes, I want to show off my salsa dancing skills and eat all of the food, drink all of the rum while walking those historic colonial streets. If you fancy a trip to Cuba - check out the Cuba Holidays website for all you need to know.
Not somewhere that had ever been in my mind when I came travelling, but as I went further around Asia I met more and more people who had been there for were about to go. They told me it was a beautiful country that was relatively untouched by tourism but that now is the time to go, a few more years and it could easily end up like the rest of Asia. I loved the idea of a nation of people who weren't yet aware of the money they could make from visitors yet - I loved the idea of visiting and just being targeted by a natural curiosity and an innocence I could fall in love with.
Although I'm sure much like Mauritius the main country has become very touristy, there is still so much incredible landscape and so many amazing animals you can see right in their natural habitat. Thinking like this, it's the same principle for countries like Namibia or Belize.
This is a whole area I would love to visit - with a huge history that spans centuries there is so much to learn, so much to see and experience. With stunning castles set against beautiful landscapes, endless national parks and more, I would really love to explore this region and the bonus is that with so many countries in one area, you would easily be able to travel between them much like I did in Asia.
High priority on my list at the moment because I think it will be the one area I get to visit the soonest out of all of my choices. I'm hoping to spend a few months there in 2017 travelling around and visiting countries like Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Columbia, Ecuador, Argentina and Chile. What a way to experience full South American culture and how better than to learn a new language than by immersing myself in it?
Which untouched lands would you love to explore? Have you travelled off the beaten track - which was your favourite destination?
After spending a few days exploring Ayutthaya, I was ready to move on and see how Sukhothai compared in grandeur. I wasn't disappointed, it had its own beauty that separated sightseers from the main roads and invited then into a beautiful natural park with temples set around a lake. Being much smaller than Ayutthaya, it didn't take long to get my bearings and after my first night relaxing in the guest house, I headed into the park to grab my bike and a map ready for a day of exploring history. Thanks to the smart woman at the Thai Tourism Agency, who organised this section of my trip, I was staying at a guest house right opposite the entrance to the park which was really helpful as I know that many of them are further away in the newer town. It was really helpful being so close, and I just felt you had a different experience when you slept with that much history on your doorstep.I stayed at Vitoon Guest House which has two halves, it has a slightly newer section that offers air conditioned rooms and slightly better facilities or the cheaper rooms I stayed in which to be quite honest were more than adequate for me. I had my own double bed, a fan and ensuite, which although wasn't luxury served a purpose and was pretty nice for a backpacker who is used to hostels. Those on holiday or travelling as a couple may have been less than impressed, but would also have more to spend on fancy accommodation even if you spend no time in the room. The family who ran it were friendly and helpful, there were a row of restaurants right next door and the guest house rented out better quality bikes than I had used in Aytthyaya. What more could a girl need?By this point I was getting pretty used to cycling everywhere and was loving it, I loved how free you felt cycling around the park by yourself and it was definitely one of those times where I was grateful to be travelling solo just to have some well-deserved time to myself. It was so peaceful exploring the park and I made the smart decision to get up super early and have breakfast as the sun came up so I could be in the park before the crowds arrived. There are about four or five sections to the park and the first one you come to is the middle section, this gets really busy late morning when the buses of tourists pull up and they end up pretty crowded. I hate crowded temples, this is why I like sightseeing by myself, I love to walk around in quiet places and really get a feel for a place - it's impossible to do this with hundreds of tourists jostling for the best photo opportunity and failing to appreciate the beauty of what they are seeing firsthand.If you're the same as me, I would recommend heading into the park by 9am at the latest so you have time to enjoy the centre, this way you can move further into the park and explore the other sections around midday and into the afternoon. Make sure you take snacks as out in these sections there is nowhere to buy food or water, I always took peanuts and water which I found were good for an energy boost. It is also worth taking a guide book as well as your map - I had the Lonely Planet Thailand book which gave some really good background on the temples I was visiting and recommended the most spectacular ones. I actually found that the route I had chosen to take around the temples was one that a group from my bus were paying for as a cycling tour so I saved myself a few quid there. They were also pretty impressed I seemed to know more about the temples than they were learning as well - definitely worth a quick trip to the museum before visiting the temples, although you can also find a lot of information online as well - it really helps to contextualise what you are seeing.It depends on what you go there for, but I definitely preferred having three days of exploring completely new sections of the kingdom like I had in Ayutthaya. I still had an amazing time and I can't recommend visiting enough - I would say that if you have two or three days you should definitely go for Ayutthaya, but if you have just the one day it is better spent at Sukhothai. If you have enough time, please do go to both like I did - trust me, you gain a completely different experience from each. My favourite moment while I was there, had to be when I cycled back into the park at sunset to watch the last rays of the day cast over the still waters of the lakefront Wat Maha That as the sun dipped behind another temple across the lake. I had the whole place to myself but I couldn't understand why - it was one of the most beautiful sunsets I have seen while travelling. Don't miss out.
Have you been to Sukhothai - what did you think? What was your highlight of the visit? How did it compare to Ayutthaya?
Growing up, I loved the Indiana Jones movies and the Jurassic Park trilogy - I can't imagine there are many people my age who didn't do exactly the same. So I feel really lucky to have been able to explore incredible places on my travels in Thailand that have instantly transported me to those childhood favourites. You might remember my posts on Khao Sok and the stunning landscape that looked exactly like a scene out of Jurassic Park? At any moment I half expected a dinosaur to loom out of the bushes while canoeing and trekking through the lush green rainforest. I loved that being in this place as an adult could still capture the imagination as it did when I was a child. So you can imagine how excited I was to arrive in Ayutthaya - one of the old Kingdoms of Thailand as Bangkok is now. All my reading up on this amazing piece of Thai history revealed incredible pictures of crumbling ruins and huge temples that could have come straight out of The Temple of Doom! I couldn't wait to arrive, get myself a bike and get out exploring.I arrived at the train station after an hour on the train and was taken straight to my guest house by a pre-arranged tuk tuk driver. After checking in, and finding my room was huge, cosy and with its own bathroom, I headed to Tesco Lotus for water and phone top-up - and this was one of the best moves I made while in Ayutthaya. It was there that I met a wonderful Thai woman who quickly adopted me and became a good friend in just three short days. Filo, who moved to Ayutthaya after her home in Bangkok burned down, has two daughters around my age and is just a little bit older than my mum. She spoke great English, and with a teeny bit of Thai I had learnt and good old Google Translate, we managed to tell each other quite a lot about our lives. After spending some time at her home with her and her sister, plus their collection of seriously cute dogs, she decided to take me out on a little scooter ride around all of the best temples in the historical park. She took me to Wat Phra Mahathat which is where a sandstone Buddha head lies entangled in a tree's roots, then on to Wat Phra Si Sanphet which was pretty damn spectacular, Wat Phanan Choeng, Wat Chai Wattanaram and several others including one with a huge reclining Buddha. All were beautiful and so grand, it was pretty amazing to think how long they had been stood there.After a lovely afternoon of sightseeing, chatting to Filo's friends and eating fried chicken with sticky rice, we parted ways as Filo had to travel to Bangkok to visit one of her daughters, but we made a plan to meet two days later for more sight seeing. I headed out that night to dinner at a fabulous little restaurant called Sai Thong which was just one street from where I was staying - it promised choice from over 180 dishes plus live music, and all with a river view and cheap prices. Perfect - it was a lovely evening and I tried some delicious dishes including one with wild boar and another with river fish. It was so refreshing to have an evening alone to eat, read and relax after a busy few weeks. I planned my activities for the next day and had an early night. The next morning I hired a cute little bike that I can only describe as seriously vintage - as in no gears, 100 years old and heavy. I actually have an admission that I hadn't been on a bike for about 10 years at this point so was rather dreading falling off an embarrassing myself, but I did pretty damn well! It really is like riding a bike!That day I spent cycling around the rest of the temples and sights, they will give you a map in your guest house and it is easily signposted to find all of them. Cycling is by far the best way to get around as tuk tuks are expensive and a scooter is just a bit too fast to take it all in. The temples are all stunning and all worth a look, a two full days should be about enough to fit everything in, but make early starts to avoid the serious heat of the day and to beat any crowds. Avoid the elephant kraal if, like me, you are a bit sensitive to the mistreatment of animals as these poor elephants are chained and forced to dance for audiences of tourists - the sight made me feel sick to my stomach and I will be posting on this again later on. I would really recommend getting to as many of the temples as possible and hiring a scooter to get to the floating market, which Filo and I did the following day. It is also definitely worth going to the museum and tourism centre - both offer useful insight into the history behind these amazing landmarks are will really help to contextualise everything without needing an audio guide. I skipped the audio guide and preferred to cycle round and explore by myself so the museums were great for learning more. If you have the time, I would definitely say two full days and three nights is a perfect amount of time to explore at a leisurely pace as things are a little spread out here and you may want to indulge in a few extra cycle rides like I did.
Have you been to Ayutthaya? Which was your favourite temple and how did you enjoy exploring? Would you stop off here on your way to the north?