THE QUARRY TREK WITH GECKOS | AN INCA TRAIL ALTERNATIVE


The famous and challenging 4 day trek, which leads you through valleys and mountains stretching across the Andes, guiding you through the Sun Gate and into Machu Picchu. The Inca Trail makes it to every bucket list out there - so why in the world would you want an alternative?


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WHY RIO'S SANTA TERESA STOLE MY HEART


What does Rio have to offer beyond the beautiful beaches and big booties? There's too much to fit into one post, so let's start with the charming and wonderful area of Santa Teresa. The famous beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema may distract you away but if you want a different experience away (even if for a few days) from the beach scene, you have to give Santa Teresa a try. 


We stayed in a gorgeous hotel called Sant Martre - the gated accommodation looked somber as we hopped out of the cab but as soon as those gates slid open, the green treetops covered the cityscape transforming us to a mountainous yet tropical paradise. Generally, anywhere you go in Santa Teresa will have mind blowing views of Rio, since it's up in the hills but imagine waking up, eating breakfast, swimming and lounging with this view. It was a short 5 minute walk to the main part of the neighbourhood where you'll find bars, restaurants and 10 minutes down the road you'll find the famous Escadaria Selaron. 


Where to stay: 

When in Santa Teresa, look no further than Sant Martre Hotel, as mentioned above, it's just fab. The staff are friendly and helpful, especially with recommendations for things to do around Rio. They guided us to some amazing blocos, as well as tourist hotspots. As you see from the photos, it's located in a perfect place with amazing views - the pool overlooks the city and luscious jungle topped landscapes. The standard double room is fairly small but clean and there are several room types to choose from plus they have recently added in an outdoor hot tub next to the pool! The breakfast selection consists of breads, jams and eggs, plus, their avocado tree drops down fresh avo's that you are welcome to pick and spread on your toast! 


Where to eat: 
Cafecito is just downright delicious. I had the beef kebab, which was so juicy and flavoursome, I'll be dreaming of it for years to come. It was served with farofa, which added texture and I tried it with a platter of vegetables and a green salad - which was the perfect refreshing accompaniment with a heap of flavour too! Climb the steps to the top floor to enjoy your lunch in a garden-esque terrace. And of course, try the caiprinhas!

Espirito Santa is another great place. Tucked away on the streets of Santa Teresa, the quirky decor makes you feel like you're in a proper local joint. I went here during my first trip to Rio and was eager to come back since I knew the food was delicious. We tried the banana moqueca accompanied by rice and beans. Yum!

Aprazivel is a little bit more pricey and comes up as one of the top places to eat in Santa Teresa. Their moqueca is amazing and the atmosphere and views are beautiful! I also tried the palm hearts and escondido, which is a wonderful dish of cassava puree, topped by a shredded meat (either beef or chicken) and topped with cheese. It's all of my favourite things in one little pot. 

Plus for refreshing and must have acai bowls, head to the small place opposite cafecito, they have massive bowls of the stuff, perfect for the scorching weather. It's a hard place to spot since it has no shop sign and pretty much tucked away so keep your eyes peeled!


What to see: 
Parque das Ruinas is a lovely little building perched on a hill that provides a panoramic view of Rio. It was once an old mansion, with added contemporary features to it during renovation; it is now an art gallery with the occasional outdoor concert.
Escadaria Selaron aka the famous steps used in Snoop Dogg's music video 'Beautiful.' These are gorgeous and it's a nice walk up/down them and a must see.
Metropolitan Cathedral and Arcos da Lapa are both right next to each other and in my opinion , whilst they're not the prettiest sights (the cathedral, I swear, is identical to the Dr Who darleks), they're so close to the steps, you might as well take a peek. 


It's such a great neighbourhood for even simply exploring and you'll definitely notice how it comes to life in the evening. You're sure to find a street party close by on the weekends and Lapa is really famous for its nightlife, which is very closeby too. The beautiful cobblestone streets are picturesque and the views will continue to wow you. Just be prepared to walk up a lot of hills!



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5 THINGS TO DO IN HONG KONG


After discovering some super cheap tickets to Hong Kong, my mum and I found ourselves heading there last minute. Just us two. Something we'd never done before. Without being sure what to expect from Hong Kong I was excited to explore beyond the towering high rise building and discover an intriguing city laden with history, fun and amazing food! 


Visit Tai-O on Lantau Island

I fell in love with Tai-O; this humble fishing town gives you a glimpse into the tight community who places themselves on stilted housing over the calm waters of Lantau Island. Also home to a natural infinity pool nestled between the rocks over looking luscious foliage - what better place to enjoy a refreshing swim than in this wonderful lake? 

How to get here by MTR: Tung Chung Station

 See the Giant Buddha & Take the Glass Floor Cable Car

Climb the 268 steps to visit the mesmerising Tian Tan Buddha, also known as Giant Buddha - the wonderfully peaceful structure placed between green hills and mystical mountains reiterates the symbolic meaning of the harmonious connection between humans and nature. Opt to make your day even more special by taking the glass floor cable car to witness the mountains move beneath your feet. Also located on Lantau Island so squeeze in before/after Tai-O.

How to get here by MTR: Tung Chung Station


Shop your heart out in Mong Kok

An incredible hub for shopping, whether you're looking for clothing, bags, flowers and fish, this vibrant marketplace will have it. Marvel at the quirky energy of Kowloon, whether it's ladies dressed as maids or random men with their belly hanging out (and making creepily strong eye contact with you), grab a bubble tea and enjoy! There are also loads of authentic options for dining, with restaurants filled with locals on every corner, you won't be let down by the delicious options - just be warned there might be a chicken foot or two lurking in your soups...

How to get here by MTR: Kowloon Station


Visit the Vegas of the East in Macau

So technically not in Hong Kong, but this neighbouring city of Macau is just an hour (approx) ferry ride away. This colonial city oozes Portugese influence, almost making you feel like you're in Europe! It's known for the mix of temples and shrines, ruins brimming with history and most famously, the gambling with more revenue being produced here than Las Vegas!

How to get to Macau from Hong Kong: Head to the Shueng Wan MTR station, where you'll find the Hong Kong - Macau Ferry Terminal on Hong Kong Island. Price: 132 to 172 HKD (single trip, economy class).

Take the Tram to Victoria Peak

Use your Octopus card (your MTR pass) to take the tram up or get yourself a return ticket roughly 90 HKD so you can experience the panoramic views of this buzzing city. Not only is it an incredible viewpoint but look no further for the best rooftop bar/restaurant/shopping plaza combination. Grab yourself some dim sum or a cocktail and soak up the views. 

How to get there: Central Station 


Where to Stay in Hong Kong?
It's going to be a toss up on whether to stay on Kowloon or Hong Kong Island. Whilst I stayed in the vibrant area of Wan Chai on HK Island, close to the harbour and buzzing with restaurants, department stores and bars, if you're a backpacker and searching for hostel vibes, I recommend Kowloon. However, with the MTR (underground train) system being so efficient, it'll be easy to navigate around wherever you stay. Try hostels such as:

Hong Kong turned out to be so unexpectedly amazing, from the sights and whir of the city to the food - wow the food! Say goodbye to your sweet & sour chicken because the dishes here are beyond your local takeout.
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FALLING IN LOVE WITH HOI AN


Vietnam is a place bursting with culture, beauty and wonderful food and it won't take you long to fall in love, especially with Hoi An. After hopping on the overnight train the day before, we had an early arrival, so naturally, head out in search of breakfast. I knew I was going to enjoy it here as soon as I saw the menu. A banana fritter-like dish served with honey - for breakfast?! The crunchy fritter was warm, with gooey banana running through and the drizzle of honey sweetened it up. Delicious!


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HOSTEL HIGHLIGHT | MILHOUSE, CUSCO


There are so many times when staying in a hostel is so much better than staying in a hotel. The cheaper room options make it an extremely affordable way to travel whilst giving you the opportunity to make friends who are in the exact same boat as you. Young, adventurous and often solo, you'll be chatting away with your new roomies and making life long friends in no time! 
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MY VOLUNTEERING EXPERIENCE IN THAILAND


Volunteering abroad is a great way of travelling whilst keeping costs low but how do you know if it's for you? Whilst it seems like a perfect idea beforehand, you have to do your research and really think about whether it's something you can really commit to. After a month of full on travelling, I decided to end my trip with a few weeks of volunteering. I opted for two weeks teaching and a week in an elephant village. It was an amazing eye opening experience for me and I got to meet some really amazing people. 


Teaching
We arrived into Bangkok and got transferred to the small town where we'd be teaching, Surin. Here, we had a guest house shared with other volunteers, some doing medical or child care. Our first day at the school was admittedly a bit strange. It felt a bit unprepared, from both us and the teachers of the school. We weren't fully briefed on what the students learning level was or what they'd previously been taught and it often felt as though we got chucked into a classroom at the last minute expected to teach a full lesson. There were a few times that we got some time to prepare, although, after a few days of being there, it became aware to us that some kids weren't properly taking in the information and would just memorise a word without understanding it. The teachers didn't understand what we meant when we tried to explain this and the miscommunication led to quite sloppy lessons. I've made it sound like a total mess and bad experience but those kids were amazing. They all had high energy and some had a real eagerness to learn but overall, they were all so welcoming and friendly and we all became really attached, especially with our year 4 class, who we'd taught more than others. 
I also have to give credit to the teacher who guided us along the way because although it felt like she was controlling, she really took care of those students and it felt like she had a lot of responsibilities. 






Elephant Village
The elephant village had no wifi or TV's so really, all we had was each others company. After two weeks teaching with three other girls and sharing a room with them in our guest house, we became pretty close - taking weekend trips together and basically doing everything together. It was a really cool experience spending this much time with people you've just met and it surprised me how we didn't manage to get sick of each other. Our roles in the village, were to help getting food, feeding the elephants and bathing them. When we got there, there were a couple of people who had been there for a week already and had expressed how much they had loved it here. There were 6 volunteers in total and they said they felt relaxed, they had loads of fun getting the food and in the evenings they would all sit together and help make dinner. However, by the time we arrived, it was 'peak time' for volunteers and suddenly there were nearly 20 of us in the village. From the minute we arrived, we knew it was going to be a strange experience. We discovered that there were only a handful of machetes to cut down the food for the elephants, which meant that we often were left to stand around not even helping out. Luckily, we managed to make friends with the non-English speaking guest house owner, Mr Lee, who took us ahead of the big group to let us actually do some cutting and we even got to sit front seat with him in the truck. There were also too many of us to help cooking with dinner and when it came to bathing the elephants, it felt so hectic with 20 volunteers, 20 elephants and 20 mahouts (the person who work with the elephants). Me and the girls all felt that we'd been a bit misled when booking this and don't felt that it was true to what it promised. I definitely felt that I should have looked into this further and found out how many people there would be volunteering. However, as I was with great people, we found ourselves having a really good time, entertaining ourselves with card games, kayaking down the river, squeezing ourselves into one hammock and taking selfies with elephants. 







What this experience showed me is how little I researched into this. I wondered once I'd left whether we'd actually made a difference - whether we helped those kids to learn a little more English than they would have without our help or whether we provided food that the villagers couldn't have managed to cut down by themselves and overall if our being there was beneficial for all of the locals involved. It's something I completely overlooked and although it sounds good to be a 'volunteer,' I urge anyone else looking to do the same to really think about these things when they book their trip. 
It was definitely a learning experience and I'm glad I've done it and know what to look for next time I think about volunteering. One thing I got right was choosing the 'Teach and Beach' option - when there's a beach at the end of all of it, who can complain...






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AFTERNOON TEA AT THE BAGLIONI HOTEL


Being British, you'd be surprised at how little afternoon teas I've been to. This is the only one. But I know it's going to be hard to beat. I was lucky enough to be treated to a gorgeous afternoon tea at The Baglioni Hotel in Mayfair. This 5* establishment invited us with open arms - the decor luxurious and decadent. 

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ARRIVING IN AUSTRALIA!

After months of planning, the beginning of our Australian road trip began mid-December and our first stop was Airlie Beach in the Whitsundays. I was looking forward to this part of our trip so much, since it was the gateway into the Great Barrier Reef and long time bucket list dream to scuba dive the beautiful reefs and corals.

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WORLD ELEPHANT DAY

From spending a week in an elephant village in Surin to spotting wild elephants in the Khao Yai NP and even splashing around with them in the Nam Khan River. After a wonderful two months spent travelling around South East Asia, home to these majestic creatures, I had to do a post in tribute to them on World Elephant Day (aka. best day ever?) 
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UBUD HOTELS | PONDOK NAYA

Anyone who revels in the chaos of endless mopeds, the smells of fragrant food drifting from street vendors, temples laden with intricate architecture and sticky heat settling on your skin, you'll adore Indonesia. Bali, in particular. Home to the tranquil town of Ubud, where rice paddies and luscious forests engulf a serene haven, set far from the madness of Kuta.

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THE STRUGGLES OF EATING IN TOKYO

Food, Glorious Food

The people, the culture, the sights but most importantly, the food. All these factors that help to mould your feelings about a destination and push you to decide whether you did or didn't like that place. For me, food is a key factor and does tend to influence my feelings on a place. Japan was definitely interesting in terms of food. Putting aside the fact that I am a fussy eater, when in Tokyo, I tried to open my mind to all the quirky things I was about to experience. Reading blogs and guide books glorifying the Japanese delicacies and wonderfully unique creations, a mild excitement got me wondering if I'd become a sushi fanatic upon my return.

I can confirm, I most certainly did not. The language barrier had a small part to play and although the Japanese were more than welcoming and amused by our games of charades at every meal time, I couldn't help but feel hugely ignorant to the fact I had turned up to Japan thinking most people would have a basic understanding of English. Brit fail #1.

However, I concluded that raw fish, seaweed and pickled veggies are not my friend. Regardless, there were a few dishes that left a lovely Japan shaped stamp on my heart.

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TRAVEL TALES OF AN INTROVERT

I think I consider myself an introvert. I don't have tonnes of friends nor do I go out socialising very often and I'm probably far too comfortable in my own company. I've always been the quiet one, seemingly shy and will often pick a night in over a night out. It came as a shock to myself as much as it did my friends and family by finally biting the bullet and booking a two month trip to South East Asia. Alone. As much as I wanted to go with one of my friends, sisters or boyfriend, there were too many elements getting in the way and I just thought to myself that I have to do this now otherwise I'll never do it; in the hopes that someone might one day be able to come with me.

A week before I'm due to leave, I've overpacked my backpack and I'm so overwhelmed by a terrifying mix of emotions ranging from utter excitement to gut wrenching anxiety in an instant. Will I make friends? Is two months too long? Will I get sick of being with people everyday? I can honestly say these worries evaporated as soon as I stepped off the plane.
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