I'm obsessed with outdoor spaces. I don't know if I was an escape artist in a previous life, but I always have this urge to just throw all the windows wide open and feel the fresh air on my face. Perhaps it's the traveller in me who just loves the endless possibilities of the world outside. But I've found that bringing that outdoor world into my everyday life help keep a little of the magic of travelling alive. Anywhere I go, I love finding special places that combine the beauty of outside with our inside lives. Whether that means exploring beautiful greenhouses filled with exotic plants and getting lost in a butterfly house. Or even just bringing plants into your home – there are so many ways to keep this magic alive.
On one of my very first visits to Hamburg, I remember going inside the gorgeous greenhouses at Planten Un Blomen and discovering the amazing tropical plants. The cacti and succulents in particular caught my eye. I even remember saying to the boyfriend that when we had our own apartment, we should fill it with plants like these. I loved the idea of bringing lots of plants inside, of them filling our home with oxygen, with life, and their soothing qualities. When we moved into our apartment, sadly we don't have a garden or balcony, but we made do with our window ledges. We filled these with a mixture of plants, including my favourite Aloe Vera, which has made the place feel so much more homely. It can so easily be forgotten, but the personal touches you add to your home are just as important as the furniture. We couldn't have outdoor spaces, so we brought the outdoors indoors.
When we were in Vienna, we visited the most beautiful indoor "outdoor space" and were left in awe of this incredible, tropical space. Schmetterling Haus is right in the heart of Vienna and just metres from the Opera House. This unique attraction is well worth a visit when you head to the city, the palm-filled building alone is the most Instagrammable sight. And don't get me started on the graceful creatures which fill the air with vivid colours of the rainbow. With over 400 live butterflies to view all year round, it makes a great visit no matter what time of year. As you can see, we took these images while visiting, and had a lot of fun trying to capture the butterflies on camera. (I will clarify that we didn't seek to touch any of the butterflies, they landed on us curiously and we stayed as still as possible so not to disturb them)
If you’re someone who loves to add a personal touch to your home, creating your own unique planters is the perfect project for you. Replace those basic terracotta pots with some beautiful planters that will enhance and brighten up your garden. Put your own personal stamp on your garden and create something that no-one else will have. This is a great way to make the interiors of your home special to you, and to create exactly the look YOU want.
The easiest and cheapest DIY planter to create is one from the plain pots that you can get from the local garden centre. Pick up a few of these pots for the garden, the herbs growing in the kitchen or plants in the conservatory. Using some paint, you can get to work on transforming your plain plant pots into colourful planters that will stand out on any window ledge or outdoor step. Cover the pot itself in a durable base coat, then you can get to work on transforming your pots and making them your own. You can find a great selection of plant pots here, providing you with plenty to get your project started!
Over the last year or so, there has been a huge demand for Mason jars – quirky glass jars that add character and style to any space. I have a friend who makes these for weddings, designing them individually with candles, flowers and beautiful decorations. From storing the spices in your kitchen, to planting your favourite flowers, you can use the Mason jars for any kind of storage. By gathering half a dozen Mason jars and positioning them in a line, you can fill them with your favourite seeds and some soil. You can either display your mason jars side by side on the ground, or in amongst your flower bed. Or you could hang them with some durable string to add a little extra character to your garden and add solar fairy lights to make your garden extra magical.
Do something wonderful for the environment and start recycling your used tins and cans, by turning them into planters for your outdoor spaces. Once you’ve finished with your baked beans can or your tomato soup tin, remove the label from the outside and ensure there are no sharp edges that could cause any harm. Once you’ve got your clean metal can or tin, you can get really creative. Whether you choose to glue some string around the tops of the cans to add a little extra detail, or paint some pretty patterns on the sides, you can create a cute little planter that will hold your plants beautifully, whilst recycling used items at the same time.
One way that seems so beautifully British, is to make use of your old wellies to create a unique planter for your garden. This may sound like a crazy idea, but there’s something adorable about having a pair of wellies stuffed to the brim with a bold flower display. Fill your wellington boots with soil and plant your favourite flowers in the top. This will look great positioned on your doorstep, by the pond or even just in the corner of your garden. The quirkier the pattern the better!
Hopefully this post has left you feeling inspired to create your perfect outdoor space, whether you have a garden or simply make do with a window ledge. Get creative and use what space you have to create a home and garden you love to come home to. Are you a traveller stuck in one place for a while? Nothing will make it easier like creating a place you love to spend time in – capture the magic of your travels in your outdoor spaces.
Have you found a way to bring outdoor spaces into your home? Would you prefer a balcony or a garden? What other ways can you think of creating planters for your home?
A bit of a throwback today, a little break from all the Western Australia posts as we hop back to Victoria and all my lovely days out while I was living down in Melbourne. I've already written about Wilson's Promontory National Park, Phillip Island, bar crawling around the city and much more - but this post is all about a great little day trip you can take if you fancy escaping the hustle and bustle of the city for a few hours. When I lived in Melbourne at the beginning of the year, I returned there with gusto and a desire to see all the amazing places I missed out on the first time. Working long hours as usual, I was determined to make the most of my days off by getting out to explore the beaches or different nature parks for walks and a change of scenery. Check out my blog post for Wild Melbourne here about all the best places to escape into nature around Melbourne. The Dandenongs were one of the final places I visited before setting off on my travels again, and they were definitely a day well spent with two of my best friends from living down there.The three of us were inseparable, working together, living around the corner from each other, and spending our days off together - it's safe to say we had a blast down in Melbourne together. So when two of us had a day off, and the other decided to skive off work for the day, we decided to get out of the city and do something fun. Well I decided, and dragged the other two along with me for some exercise. We caught the train from Flinders Street along the Belgrave line to the Dandenongs and got off at Upper Ferntree Gully Station - the journey took around 50 minutes which we easily filled with silly banter. Once there, we had to walk east away from the station and alongside the railway tracks, then we turned off the main road and walked across the trainline, following the track. After about 15 minutes walking, we came to the entrance to the Dandenong Ranges National Park where we were surrounded by lush, green forest and that incredible fresh air smell that can only be found away from the city.As you walk in, head towards the beginning of the 1,000 Steps, Kokoda Track Memorial Walk where you will probably see lots of people running around - so many use it as a workout and spend hours running up and down the steps. It's pretty impressive, I definitely didn't run them, but it was a nice walk up and down, especially as you can take one route up and another down to change it up. The walk is around 3km overall and is quite steep in places so you will want to take water and wear trainers - also do take a warmer layer as it is quite misty and cool in the trees. It says online that it should take 1-1.5 hours to complete, but you can do it in a lot less if you are relatively fit and aren't stopping every five minutes. There is also a picnic ground at the top, but sadly no real view to enjoy - this was a bit of a disappointment after the climb up there, but we still managed to have a great day out.
It's a beautiful place and lovely for a walk or to work out if, like me, you get bored of working out in the city. You can also do this trip in just a couple of hours - I think we were only gone around 3-4 hours overall so we still had the day to enjoy in the city. Plus it's a complete change of scenery being in the misty hills after living in busy Southbank and working in a bar all week. Well worth a visit. If you like this, you should also check out Jacob's Ladder in Perth for a good workout and a great view at the end.
What's your favourite place to escape into nature around Melbourne? Can you recommend any good outdoor places to work out in Australia?
Wild camping can be a scary prospect for those who are not used to the great outdoors. But as someone who has always chased adventures – I'm here to tell you the truth about wild camping and why you should try it. I've created this first-timers' guide to getting out under the stars and into the heart of nature. Everything you need to know – from where to go and what to pack, to personal hygiene and those infamous bush poos. Throughout my 5+ years of travelling solo, I've wild camped across the world, from the UK and Europe, right over to Australia.
The truth is I've always loved a bit of luxury as much as the next girl. But when it comes down to it, I would always much rather be walking barefoot around a national park and bathing in waterfalls. Although I had tried wild camping before I ever went travelling – it was only when I tried it in Asia and Australia that it really stole my heart. There's nothing quite like the simple life, of sleeping under the stars in the outback, of cooking dinner on the beach and waking up to the ocean. It's a freedom you just can't beat.
People are often shocked by how much I love camping and getting outside. But it's got to be the Norfolk lass in me – I'm just made for that outdoor life. Before I ever tried going wild, I had been camping a lot through volunteering programmes, challenges and of course, lots of festivals. I was a pro at putting up a tent and things like cooking dinner outside or the chilly run to the toilets never fazed me. But over the last few years, my whole perspective of camping really changed thanks to my travels.
For me it was the moments when I was road tripping across Western Australia that really sealed the deal. I spent over a month driving, sleeping in a car and camping wild in beautiful spots without ever seeing a soul. It was everything I had ever dreamed of in Australia and showed me how much is possible, and how happy you can be with so little. My squad spent our nights watching the stars above cattle ranches, smoke spiralling into the sky from our camp fire. Each day we woke up to the sounds of the ocean lapping against the shore and the excitement of exploring a new place.
The questions I get asked the most when it comes to camping – so let's answer these ones first. My best tip for first-timers who aren't sure about camping whether wild or not. Get over the grime. The quicker you do this, the more you will enjoy your experience. Yes the toilets are not always that nice, and sometimes there won't be any at all. You might have to have a few bush wees and maybe even a bush poo if you're in the middle of nowhere. But if you just accept the wet wipe baths and stop thinking about it, you'll soon adjust to a simpler life.
I spent six weeks living off wet wipe baths, shaving my legs with baby oil and pooing on the side of the road in the dustiest place on earth. Trust me, if I can do that and still have an epic time – you can certainly handle a weekend. If it's your first time trying out wild camping – the main thing is be prepared. Ladies, I would recommend not planning a trip for when you are on your period. It's definitely doable but just not very nice to not be able to have a shower. If you do decide to go anyway, I recommend a moon cup instead of tampons – then you don't have to worry about disposing of products.
The main thing to remember if you're camping wild is that you need to be entirely self-reliant. That means planning ahead, having everything you need and emergency kit in case anything goes wrong. The more you plan and have ready, the more you will enjoy your trip.
I've been a very lucky girl to have experiences camping wild all over the globe – but my favourite stand-out experiences have to be in these top 3 locations:
While it's nice to tell you about how amazing wild camping can be, I also want to be honest about the less fun experiences. Camping is super weather dependent and a trip can quickly go downhill if you're not prepared for bad weather. My worst camping experiences have always been due to extreme rain. In the Yorkshire Dales, UK, on my Duke of Edinburgh final expedition, we were hit by severe storms and flooded out of any potential campsites before our van broke down. Over in Melbourne, Australia, a trip to Wilson's Prom was cut short by heavy rain that flooded the campsite and all the tents.
The key to enjoying your trip no matter what the weather is preparation. Do your research before each trip and check the temperatures for day and night, predicted weather, and anything else that could affect you. If you're going to a very exposed place or somewhere at higher altitudes, you'll need to prepare for wind and cooler temperatures. Remember to take into account warmer temps in the day and cooler temps at night, and to be prepared for all extremes.
I love the freedom that comes with it. It's a simple life, where all you need is a shelter, food, a campfire and the stars. You can disappear into the outback, or to some deserted beach and not a soul will know where you are. You can turn your phone off and really switch off. Something that is so important when you work a lot and desperately need some downtime. There's something really romantic about the idea of traveling the world by van and being entirely self-reliant. You have everything you need and can escape into the world for a little while.
What kind of camper are you - luxury, festival or wild? What advice would you give to first-time wild campers?
As a backpacker who has now lived in Melbourne twice, I've loved getting out and exploring the city and far beyond. Not being much of a city girl, I've noticed Melbourne really has a fantastic balance of modern built up areas interweaved with beautiful sprawling parks that really help to make the skyscrapers feel less claustrophobic and imposing than they do in English cities. It's easy to wander around the city and quickly find yourself leaving the busy streets behind to get lost in lush, green woodland. Having lived in both South Melbourne and Southbank, I've been lucky enough to live with Albert Park right on my doorstep - a perfect place to run around the lake of an evening, or to gather with friends for barbecues or to watch the Grand Prix. Just behind sits the Royal Botanic Gardens, huge endless parks that stretch across the city with all kinds of treasures tucked just out of sight of the city.Fancy getting a bit further out of the city? There are so many amazing places right on your doorstop in Victoria that it would be a shame not to! Here are my top 5 places to escape into nature around Melbourne:
Wilson's Promontory National Park
Just a couple of hours drive down to Mornington Peninsula and you'll feel like you've entered another world. Wilson's Prom has everything from forest and mountain, to marshland, river, beaches and even sand dunes! You'll want a weekend to explore at your own pace so pack up the camping gear, the beers and bring your best mates for a weekend you won't forget. Definitely don't miss seeing the view from Mount Oberon Summit, sunset from the beach at Tidal River campsite and The Big Drift sand dunes.
Great Ocean Road
The absolute must-do when you go to Melbourne - Great Ocean Road is a perfect road trip to take with your buddies and is perfect whether you're on a budget or fancy a big blow out. There are plenty of luxury escapes to take your breath away, or do like my gang and just pack a tent, hire a car and take advantage of the many free things to see and do. There are so many hikes, beaches, viewpoints and more to explore - don't miss Bells Beach during the surfing competitions, Twelve Apostles at sunrise, the Round the Twist lighthouse if you're a 90's kid. Camp in Cape Otway National Park for an amazing experience and take a break from driving at Loch Ard Gorge for spectacular views. On your way home, take a detour through the Grampians National Park!
The Grampians National Park
A perfect trip to do on your way home from Great Ocean Road, you can see the highlights in 1/2 days. Taking you up into the mountains, don't forget a jumper for that fresh mountain air. Stay in the Hall's Gap campsites, they're perfect for a campfire and nice and sheltered from the wind. Don't miss the Pinnacle viewpoint - take the walk through the canyon - the Balconies, and Mackenzie Falls for those perfect photographs.
Dandenong Ranges National Park - 1,000 Steps
One I only ticked off my list last week, this national park is easily within reach for those without a car as you can get the train from Flinders to Upper Ferntree Gully and then walk from there. It takes just a few hours to get out there and complete the walk so perfect if you just fancy spending an afternoon in nature. The 1,000 Steps are the big attraction and although they'll definitely have you huffing and puffing, they're not as daunting as they sound. You'll see runners of all shapes and sizes taking them on over and over again as they sprint up and down. Pack a picnic to enjoy at the top then take a different path down to enjoy a different pace of walk.
The last one I had to tick off my list, I was so excited to finally be visiting Phillip Island to overdose on nature, especially seeing wild penguins down by the shore. One that can be done in a day either by organised day trip or by just hiring a car with your mates and heading off independently. Home to some seriously beautiful beaches and even a Grand Prix circuit, there is plenty to explore and it is a perfect day escape from city life.
This post previously featured on Wild Melbourne - see the original post here.
What are you favourite places to escape into nature around Victoria? Can you recommend any other places across Australia or the world?
I've always very firmly believed that fresh air, a good dose of nature and time spent by the ocean can cure just about anything. It doesn't matter how stressed I've been over the years, or how frustrated, I've always found solace in spending a few days away from everything, getting back to basics and enjoying life in it's purest form. Over the years I've spent weekends camping in the Lake District, Peak District, in the shadow of Mount Snowdon in Wales, and around my home in Norfolk. I've stayed in campsites ranging from a full-on Glamping experience complete with champagne and pink wellies, to the most basic, wild campsites you can find, and I've done it in all weathers. Later on, as I discovered my love of festivals, I quickly realised that I was a much bigger fan of the four-day weekend camping events that allowed you to truly lose yourself in the music. I teamed up with Yelloh! Village, who offer the world's finest open-air hotels and camping rentals, to write about what makes the perfect camping experience.There's something about getting back to basics with a group of your closest friends that just spells out a lot of fun. Whether you're heading off to explore an untouched wilderness and can't wait to get away, or you simply fancy going a bit wild in the woods, it's a perfect way to actually spend time together with no distractions. It's easy to forget that every second we spend with friends these days is dictated by the myriad of text messages, Snapchats, Facebook updates and Tweets that dominate our existence these days. Once all of those are done, often your time together is up and all you have to remember it is what is documented online. I was out with friends the other night and even dancing in a bar, every second of our moves was being photographed and snap-chatted by the pair for social media. It's funny and it's become an inherent part of our lives now but sometimes it is nice to just switch everything off and talk surrounded by nothing but nature. I guess I'm a country girl at heart, but I just find it so soothing to be away from the stresses of everyday life and there's something about open space that just heals me.Some of my best camping memories are of the Glamping weekend I spent with my two best friends, the time spent camping in national parks in the Tasmanian wilderness as part of an epic 10-day roadtrip, and the hilarious times we've had setting up our tents and lounging round the campsite at festivals. Everyone was just present, laughing at each others' jokes and experiencing every second together rather than thinking about how they would record it for social media. Every camping experience I've had boils down to the same factors whether we're raving at a festival, getting lost in the woods or out on the moors - it's the same few things that really make a camping trip a success, and a hell of a lot of fun. If you're sat reading this thinking camping is so not for you, then think again - I never used to think I would enjoy it but it's now become one of my favourite travel experiences. Plus it's a great way to explore the world around you when you're travelling on a budget, whether locally or on the other side of the world, the basic components of camping remain the same, it's just the weather that gets better!
What makes the perfect camping experience?
This is definitely something you want to invest in - buying a £5 tent from the supermarket and expecting it to withstand all weathers is just stupid. Even if you're going to a festival - if it rains and becomes windy, your tent is going to flood and collapse and you won't be able to get dry and warm. A camping trip can quickly become miserable if you have no way of getting dry. Look for great deals in the sales - I picked up my beauty of a tent in the Halfords sale a few years ago and it has seen me through countless amazing festivals and trips - it's huge and easy to put up, and it was reduced to less than half price when I got it.
Choose your pitch wisely - there's nothing worse than putting your tent up in a rush and finding out later when you're trying to sleep that you've camped on a 45 degree slope or there's a massive rock right where you're laying. Trust me, as someone who did a four day camping festival sleeping at a 45 degree angle because we arrived too late and couldn't find a better spot - it's absolutely bloody awful. Don't do it. Always feel for rocks and lay down inside before you peg it to the ground.
Plan the food you take well and it can change your whole experience, forget instant noodles and soup, its easy to cook up a good and healthy meal on a little gas stove. On my 10-day road trip around Tasmania we planned heavy meals of chilli and rice, and pasta to refuel after days of climbing mountains. It was quick and easy to prepare for four people so don't be put off by the thought of it. There's nothing better than a good, filling, hot meal at the end of a day camping.
There are some incredible places to camp in the world - under the stars in central Australia, on the beaches in Tasmania, and in the shadow of mountains all over the world are just some of my favourites. Choosing your location well can take a regular camping trip to the next level. Yelloh! Village has some amazing locations scattered across France which give you the opportunity to explore the landscape, towns and villages. Choosing a campsite where you can have a campfire also makes all the difference.
Camping is a great way to travel if you're on a budget. Especially for groups or families where accommodation could be expensive - there are so many free and cheap options available for campsites, and if you're planning on repeating the experience your camping equipment is an investment rather than an expense.
Always look out for the skies above you - I've been lucky enough to camp in some amazing places with incredible views of the super moons, specific constellations, shooting stars. Sometimes the most beautiful sights are the ones that are totally free. There's nothing better than a spectacular sunset, or making it up for sunrise.
The one thing that really makes the experience complete has to be the people you share it with. I say it all the time but it never becomes any less true, even in the most dire situations and the worst accommodations, the people are what shine through your memories long after the trip has finished. Taking your best friends who will make you laugh until you cry is the best way to approach a trip - no matter what goes wrong you'll still make it an experience to remember.
I'm not much of a city girl, being born and raised out in the English countryside seems to swing you one way or the other. My sister is the ultimate city girl living in London and working in the fashion industry, but while I've loved the crazy hustle and bustle of visiting cities like Bangkok, Siem Reap and Hanoi, I'm always glad to escape again to the coast, countryside or mountains. I crave space, open fields, endless ocean or the fresh mountain air, too long spent breathing in the fumes of the city, dealing with traffic and so many people drives me crazy. Living in Melbourne was the longest I have ever lived in the middle of a city other than Sydney, and I know the old rivalry between the two is still strong for good reason. Both are amazing cities but Melbourne is where my heart is, even before I left the UK I knew it would be and everything I experienced while I lived there for four months only further cemented my love for the city. Melbourne is a fantastic city to live in if you don't really like cities - despite my apartment being in the most central part of the city I never felt trapped the way I do in London. The beach was just a short tram ride away and on either side of my apartment you would find beautiful Albert Park and the Botanic Gardens with running tracks, endless open space and huge lakes. It was perfect for me, but even with all of this natural beauty surrounding me, it did sometimes get a bit too much living directly in the city. I'd still feel the need to escape and get away.
Now I hadn't even heard of Lysterfield Park, nor had many of my friends who had lived in Melbourne for a lot longer than I had, but it turned out to be the perfect pace to cycle away a hangover one Sunday. Around 30km out of the city, the park was created following the decommissioning of the reservoir that sits behind us in the photo above, which has left a beautiful woodland set against the banks of the lake. It was the venue for mountain biking events of the 2006 Commonwealth Games and features a wide array of trails suitable for beginners like myself or the more experienced rider. I was definitely feeling a little less enthusiastic at the thought of mountain biking on a hangover than Evan, but it turned out to be a really lovely day and perfect weather for escaping the city. We rode around the park and I attempted the mountain bike trails while he showed off. Wandering around the lake the banks were filled with families who had come well prepared with barbecues and all sorts of goodies. It was beautiful standing there as the sun was setting. We headed back into the woods to find the car and spotted some of the biggest kangaroos I've seen in the whole of Australia as we rode along the path towards the car park.
We ended up having a rather entertaining drive home as the car decided to pack in and leave us stranded until we could get a lift, but it didn't take the shine off what was a rather perfect day. It was just the death of fresh air I needed before heading back to work the following day - when you're working 12 hour days six days a week, it becomes even more important to really make the most of your days off. It was really nice to have the opportunity to see another part of the city that I hadn't yet explored. For anyone who hasn't heard of Lysterfield, I would really recommend you head out there one weekend - whether you like biking, running or just fancy a nice stroll around beautiful park, it's a lovely day out and well worth a visit. While you're at it, why not check to some of the other stunning walks and parks scattered around Melbourne - check out my blog posts on Great Ocean Road, Cape Otway National Park and Grampians National Park. I can't wait to visit the Wilson's Promontory, Dandenong Ranges National Park and Philip Island when I return to Melbourne in a few months.
Do you crave city life, or you prefer a country escape? Where are your favourite places to go to escape the hustle and bustle of the city?
After days of stuffing my face with Hoi An's delicious food, me and the boys decided to catch a sleeper bus to Da Lat and to get physical. Da Lat is the place to go in Vietnam if you fancy getting a bit adventurous - there's no end of mountain biking, hiking, climbing, abseiling, canyoning and countless other outdoor activities. So it's the perfect place to release your inner Jungle Jane and to liven up your trip a bit. It was a great contrast to the culture, beauty and heat of Hoi An to arrive in the mountains in this rugged and exciting landscape with skies filled with angry storm clouds. We were lucky, our bus pulled up outside Da Lat Central Hostel, which normally I wouldn't trust as the first accommodation I see. But this turned out to be really cheap and fantastic accommodation - it was the cleanest and most luxurious hostel I had seen in the whole of Vietnam and if I were to return, I would definitely stay there again. Plus it was just down the street from the biggest bakery in Da Lat, which me and the boys frequented on a daily basis for coffee and delicious cakes - I was getting a bit addicted to the banana cake which I swear was the best I've ever had!We only had a few days to make the most of Da Lat and we didn't want to waste a second - I'd been eager to get here ever since arriving in Vietnam and hearing about all the awesome things we could do there. We headed straight out to check out the Crazy House which is a pretty unusual sight you have to see with your own eyes. It's amazing architecture that belongs in Disney or some kind of theme park and the place has a great history I'd recommend you read about or ask about while there. You won't need long to walk around it, perhaps an hour or two at most... We had to be quick as we could see a huge storm rolling in across the mountains and this was not somewhere we wanted to be stuck in the cold and rain after a long overnight bus ride and no sleep. We did get caught in the rain, and boy did it rain! When it rains in Da Lat, it really rains - not for long, but bloody hard! We were soaked and had to get a taxi back to the hostel but we're so happy to arrive there where hot showers and our beds were waiting for us. After a nice nap, it was time for dinner and I headed out to the market down the road with friend Paul who has just as huge an appetite as me - we were determined to try as much food as possible. While he was wolfing down soup and barbecued meats, I plumped for a seafood platter of some delicious shellfish topped with garlic and herbs - all freshly caught and so tasty!The next day we had booked in for what was quite frankly the best $20 I have spent since travelling - CANYONING! I had been waiting for a chance to do this ever since I was in Thailand - word had spread that far among travellers that I knew it must be good, but I had no idea how amazing it would be. We booked the trip through the hostel, but you can also go to the two main tour operators in town and book it through them - anyone will be able to direct you. We were picked up at about 8am and were whisked away in the minibus with our guides for the day who named themselves Tom and Jerry, much to our amusement. They were fantastic guides and really gave us all the support, help and encouragement we needed to take on free-jumping, abseiling and rock climbing without fear. I love stuff like this and was eager to throw myself off a few waterfalls and do something a bit scary. We were hooked up to harnesses and strapped on our gorgeous orange helmets and life jackets - we looked amazing. Then we were shown how to rappel down the steep cliff side towards the river, we then had to test our skills by actually abseiling down the side of the rock into the water. After that little taste we were excited to get on with the day and moved on to the first couple of abseils which took us into strong rushing waters where we skidded down natural water slides and floated down lazy parts of the river. We completed three huge challenges which saw us abseiling down the cliff and into waterfalls or the river.The final one - the washing machine - was pretty scary because we couldn't actually see what the hell we were letting ourselves in for! My favourite was the second one where we climbed down a huge waterfall in our socks before letting go about halfway and dropping the rest of the height into the river. It was amazing - such a rush! We also completed free jumps including one from around 18m which nearly broke my face as I accidentally face planted the water - holy shit that hurt. (Don't worry - there's a smaller one to choose if you prefer!) But I'm so happy I did it and showed that I could - Tom, or Jerry, thought I'd be too scared but I wasn't! Definitely ended up with a fat lip though.. That'll teach me to be stubborn! It was an amazing day it one that luckily ended when it did as a huge storm rolled in and turned the jungle into a swamp with rivers running down the cliffs we then had to try and climb to get back to the van - I genuinely didn't think I would survive this climb, it was the hardest thing I have ever done. I was one second away from giving up and sliding down the hill back into the river when we made it to the road. Covered in mud, scratches and practically drowning in the torrential downpour - after six months in baking heat it was a strange experience to see, hear and feel real weather! I can't tell you how amazing the hot shower felt after that day in the woods, and I can't tell you how much my body hurt after that day, but it was all so worth it and I can't recommend it enough!The next day, we wanted to make sure we got out for a few hours before our night bus to Ho Chi Minh so we decided to ward off our aches and pains with a nice bike ride out to some nearby waterfalls. We hired mountain bikes for a few dollars and headed out in the sunshine for a cycle round the beautiful lake where boats and swan pedalos bobbed peacefully, then we stopped off at some lovely gardens where we bumped into a friend from our dorm in Hoi An - it was a great little reunion so he joined us to cycle to the waterfalls. We headed out of town and started out along the 7km ride, it was easy - all downhill and a great view across the rolling forest. Until it dawned on us we had to cycle back up the bloody hill to get back! We nearly stopped and headed back after suddenly feeling like we wouldn't have time to get back before the afternoon storm - but then we realised how close we were and couldn't resist.
Datanla Falls are definitely worth the visit and the ride out there is great - we went on the little luge ride to get to the bottom and took a few snaps by the waterfall before luging our way back up, just in time to move the bikes out of the rain. We sheltered at the restaurant and had some of the worst Vietnamese food I've had while waiting there... But the views across the jungle were amazing! After the skies cleared and the rain slowed, we quickly jumped on the bikes dreading the journey ahead but despite some horrible uphill struggles, we actually made it back really quickly. Just in time to shower and catch our bus to Saigon. Now I spent all of 12 hours in the city and went to see the palace, but that was about it. Personally, I preferred to spent my time in Da Lat and Hoi An, and I'm glad I made that decision, but it's totally up to you what you choose.
Have you been to Da Lat? We're you brave enough for canyoning? Where else have you been that you could recommend for outdoorsy types?
I woke up with a jolt as an alarm went off in the lake hut next door, had I really even been asleep? It felt like just minutes ago the French guy I'd ended up sharing a hut with had been telling me about life as a chiropractor. It took a moment to realise why the alarm was going off and why the heck I was awake when it was pitch black outside and the morning safari was two hours away, but then it all came flooding back. I was up at 5am, along with five others, to paddle out in canoes to watch the sun rise over the jungle. Quickly pulling on my bikini and meeting the others out at the jetty where the canoes lay waiting, some of us pulled on life jackets for a bit of warmth, it was pretty cool out in the jungle at that time. There was joy a single light on around the lake huts, we went by torch light until our eyes accustomed to the stars which lit the beautiful night sky above us.I won't lie, there's something about dark water that kind of freaks me out. I think it's just the not knowing what is beneath you, not having any warning if something comes for you.. Haha silly I know! I've never let it get in the way of doing anything, but I have to admit I hesitated slightly when I saw just how dark it was out there on the lake. I wasn't the only one who had second thoughts for a split second, but we quickly pushed any doubts to one side, and thank god we did! Climbing into the canoes, I was sharing with an Israeli friend, Joav, who was a bit of an all around Indiana Jones, so he happily took on paddling after we realised our badly timed paddling was more likely to tip us over if I joined in. Paddling like a pro, the canoe cut through the calm surface of the water cleanly and we were soon out in the middle of the lake, having left the others far behind in our dust. We waited, floating silently in the water, for the other two canoes to catch up and listened to the deafening silence. It amazed me that the jungle could ever be that quiet. Apparently earlier in the night, Joav and a local had overheard a wild elephant crashing around in the undergrowth, but now it was deathly silent with the birds and monkeys still yet to wake.The others finally steadied themselves and made it out to meet us, we joined the canoes as closely as possible and waited, taking in the whole experience. We floated around, chatting and enjoying the peace of the early morning. Then, shortly after, the sky began to lighten around a mountain to the east of us. The clouds started to form those beautiful patterns, reflecting the first rays of sunlight and the jungle started to come alive. It was beautiful, no words can describe this experience, it left me speechless which is no mean feat. By the time 7am came around the sun was still yet to appear over the mountain, but sadly we had to go back for the morning safari - nonetheless, the sky was beautiful at that time of the morning. It was worth the sheer exhaustion of the late night followed by the early start, the morning safari and a huge uphill hike later that morning.The hike was exhausting but great fun, taking us around the lake we started out at a new point with a national park guide leading the way. It was a fairly uphill climb and some people struggled, so beware of you take this one on, but anyone with a standard level of fitness would be fine. The hike took us to a viewpoint which was lovely, but the cave that followed was far more spectacular. This huge cave was filled with stalagmites and stalactites, vipers lay inside and there were huge parts to climb and explore. We all had a great time there, followed by a walk back to the boat where we ate lunch and swam - even inventing pineapple polo as a new game with the leftover peel from lunch. It was a perfect way to end our time as the A Team and sad goodbyes followed the end of this amazing weekend. A smaller group of us who were staying at the park an extra night met up for drinks and card games that might, which was a lovely way to say goodbye before we all parted ways the following day.Khao Sok was incredible. It was easily one of the most amazing places I have visited in my two-and-a-half months of travelling solo - and believe me I've seen a lot of different parts of Thailand in that time. If you love outdoor activities, hiking, canoeing, caving and the like - you will feel right at home here! There is so much to do and see, and you might even get lucky and meet some pretty amazing people like I did.
Tell me about the places you've travelled to that really stood out in your mind - what made them so special? Have you visited any national parks?