Travelogue

Exploring the Hidden Gems of Northern Thailand – Sop Pong, Chiang Mai

Exploring the Hidden Gems of Northern Thailand – Sop Pong, Chiang Mai

Thailand has been one of the top tourist destinations for the longest time ever, but most people usually only visit the central or southern part of Thailand – Bangkok, Phuket, Krabi, etc. But not many people have ventured out to the northern part of Thailand. Here’s why you should check out northern Thailand next!

1. You get to trek alongside elephants at the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai!

Imagine trekking side by side with these friendly giants, feeding them their favourite bananas and watermelon. Getting to understand these animals better and to support the organisation that rescues and rehabilitate the elephants that have been ill-treated! This alone should be a good enough reason to visit northern Thailand!! It was for us ūüėÄ Read our full review of the Pamper a Pachyderm Tour at Elephant Nature Park.

2. Visit Thailand’s largest and most beautiful cave – Tham Nam Lod

One of the most famous and easily accessible caves in Sop Pong. It was only a 5-10 minutes walk from the lodge where we stayed at! Due to lack of time, we didn’t go for a tour inside the cave. So instead, we headed to the exit of the cave during sunset, where we knew 300,000 swifts will be flying out. Our first thought was that wow, this cave was massive! And there were so many fishes in the water!

3. Get your adrenaline fix at the caving adventure tour in Sop Pong.

There are more than 200 over limestone caves in Sop Pong and we knew we had to check out this place since we were huge fans of caving adventure tours! What we really liked about the caves in Sop Pong was how raw the caves felt, with no boardwalks, fancy light installation or whatsoever. Just us, and nature. It was darn pretty amazing. A must go for all adventurous enthusiasts!! Read our full review on the caving adventure tour in Soppong!

4. Sate your taste buds with delicious Khao Soi, a signature dish of Chiang Mai

This dish tastes a little like curry noodles. it comes with flat yellow noodles soaked in coconut based gravy topped off with some crispy noodles, lime and onions! It was DELISH! We tried it at the row of food stalls at the northern gate of the old quarters in Chiang Mai city. There were a few stalls selling this dish there.

5. You can’t miss out on visiting temples when you’re in Chiang Mai

At the Wat Chedi Luang of Chiang Mai

To be honest, the main reason why we came to Wat Chedi Luang was because we read that it was the easiest to go for the monk chat here. Apparently in Chiang Mai (not so sure about other parts of Thailand), monk chat is a popular and legit program among the tourists! It’s quite an interesting program where the monks get to practise their spoken English with you, while you get to ask your burning questions about buddhism and the way of a monk’s life.

Some questions that Gina asked:

Gina: Are you happy?
Monk: I’m not happy, and not sad. We are not supposed to feel any attachment to our feelings

Gina: Do monks ever get angry? (Cos i’ve never come across one)
Monk: We do, but we learn to catch up with our feelings and to manage it.

Gina: How do monks spend their weekend? Do you get to take part in entertainment activities like watching a movie, playing sports, go shopping, etc?
Monk: We study during the weekend, and meditate. We are not allowed to take part in any entertainment activities.

Gina chatting with a monk at Wat Chedi Luang.

Sadly, Doi Suthep was honestly a little underwhelming for us. We read that it was a must go in Chiang Mai, but when we got there, we expected the temple to be larger. Perhaps because we compared it to the Shwedagon Pagoda in Myanmar, which looked similar to Doi Suthep but bigger and more impressive.

At the famous Doi Suthep of Chiang Mai.

The view at Doi Suthep was supposed to be really good, but we were there when it was most polluted. So maybe you’ll have better luck when you’re there!

Have you been to Northern Thailand before? Which other areas should we visit there?! Share with us your recommendations in the comments below!

Elephant Nature Park Chiang Mai – Which Tour Should You Pick

Elephant Nature Park Chiang Mai – Which Tour Should You Pick

One of the main reasons why we wanted to visit Chiang Mai, was because of the Elephant Nature Park. Definitely one of the highlights of our trip to Chiang Mai! Highly recommended! Read on to see which tour to choose at the Elephant Nature Park!

Gina having a moment with Happy, the 71 year old elephant.

First up, which elephant sanctuary to visit?!

It was a tough decision, considering that there are soooo many different elephant sanctuaries in Thailand! But after doing our research, we finally decided on Elephant Nature Park (ENP) in Chiang Mai.

We went with ENP as they were one of the most reputable and legit sanctuaries in Thailand. They might be more expensive, but at least we know our money is being used for a good cause. Definitely no regrets. At the park, we saw with our own eyes how the elephants were very well taken care of, the vast space for them to freely roam about. Each elephant even has a dedicated mahout to take care of him for the rest of his life! It takes a long time to bond with the elephant and to gain his trust.

Also please guys, don’t even think about riding an elephant again. There are so many articles out there about this. TLDR, cruel and painful methods are being used to break an elephant’s spirit to get him to comply to their commands. The elephants definitely don’t deserve this and we certainly will never ever support such organisations. So pls, do your proper research before going to an unethical organisation!

At the beautiful and tranquil Elephant Nature Park

Next, which tour to choose at the Elephant Nature Park?

We thought the hardest decision was made already when we finally chose ENP. But then we realised that we still had to choose the tour! And it didn’t help that all the tours sounded so good and kinda similar! You can either choose to pay to just visit the park (2,500 baht) or to go on a special tour (6,000 baht). There are 11 special tours in northern Chiangmai to choose from.

Why we chose “Pamper a Pachyderm” tour

We knew that we wanted to spend quality time with the elephants and to have closer contact with them. So we started looking at the different special tours and realised that we can’t find much info or reviews about the different tours. But here’s why we chose Pamper a Pachyderm tour!

1. Children below 12 year old were not allowed on this tour. Don’t get me wrong, we love children. But it’s just that when it comes to a tour like that, we prefer if there were no young kids making too much noise, or too much running around, as all these actions will startle the animal.

2. You get to trek alongside these friendly giants, and to get really up-close with them!

3.  After the tour, you still get to go back for a tour around the park to meet the other elephants! Our tour guide, Preecha, was really experienced and patient in sharing with us stories of all the different elephants at the park!

4. Intimate group size – there were only 5 of us and 2 elephants!

What happens during the Pamper a Pachyderm tour at Elephant Nature Park

ENP will arrange for pick up from our hostel to the park directly (unless you stay too far away from city centre). The drive took around 1.5h but you will be kept entertained throughout as there’ll be a documentary & a safety briefing for you to watch during the ride.

Once you reach the park, you will head straight to the kitchen to prepare food for the elephants! One thing we’ve learnt is that elephants eat a lot and they don’t stop eating! According to our guide, elephants only stay full for 5 minutes. Once they poop, they are ready to eat again.

Chopping up fruits for the elephants!

Then we will get to practise feeding the elephants behind a safety barrier first, to get use to being close with the elephants. We had to finish the whole basket of food that we prepared for them earlier.

Gina feeding a wet and slobbery Sa-ad.

Once the basket was empty, we proceeded to start the trek! The trek was a really easy and manageable trek! It was mostly flat, with only a short uphill to our lunch place. See the sling bag that Gina was carrying in the photo below, that bag was full of bananas! As we trekked with the elephants, we also get to bribe them with some sweet banana ūüėÄ As our guide said, no food no friends. The same goes for most animals I guess. haha.

Gina trekking side by side with Happy!

There was a short river crossing but because it was the dry season, the water was up to our ankles only.

Tip: Wear sandals/rubber shoes if you can so that we don’t have to remove your shoes like us when crossing the river.

After trekking for about an hour or so, we let the elephants rest at a mud pool where they happily splashed mud all over themselves, while we head off for our lunch!

Fun fact: Elephants love spraying themselves with mud as it acts as a form of sunscreen, and helps keep them cool!

Beautiful view of the park from our lunch place!

Lunch was amazing! It was a vegetarian buffet spread that was prepared for us at the top of a hill, overlooking the serene park.

After lunch, we began trekking back towards the park, and stopped at the river again where we bathed the elephants. Buckets were provided for us to splash the elephants with water.

Fun fact: Elephants only lie down when they bathe when the water is deep enough for them to float. If the water is shallow, they usually prefer to stand up to bathe!

Besides Pamper a Pachyderm which other tour to choose at the Elephant Nature Park?

According to our guide, Preecha, the Sunshine for Elephants is his ultimate favourite tour! He has done before all 26 tours at the ENP and he still prefers Sunshine for Elephants! (Damn, if only we knew this earlier!). He said that everything was perfect for this tour, the trail was amazing, the views were breathtaking, the elephants were really friendly. So yes, if there’s one tour that you should take, you should consider the Sunshine for Elephants. Unfortunately we can’t speak for that as we only experienced the Pamper a Pachyderm. We wished we had more time! We would definitely had gone for both tours if we could!

So that’s it from us! How about you? Have you been to ENP before? If yes which tour did you take? Would love to hear about your experience too! Pls share with us in the comments below!

Caving Adventure Tour in Sop Pong, Chiang Mai

Caving Adventure Tour in Sop Pong, Chiang Mai

So first up, where in the world is Sop Pong?! When it comes to Thailand, most people usually travel to Bangkok, Phuket, or the beaches like Koh Samui, Phi Phi Island, and the list goes on. But not many have been to Sop Pong or even heard of this place before! Hopefully after reading our post, all you adrenaline junkies will be inspired to check out Sop Pong next!

Where is Sop Pong?

Sop Pong is located in Northern Thailand, approximately 4-5 hrs drive from Chiang Mai. It’s very near the border of Myanmar, and just 1 stop away from Pai (supposedly a backpackers’ favourite).

How to get to Sop Pong from Chiang Mai?

We bought the bus tickets directly from the Arcade Bus Terminal 2 in Chiang Mai city. Take note that Bus Terminal 2 and 3 are directly opposite each other. Don’t end up at the wrong terminal like we did.

Avia Booking shop at Arcade Bus Terminal 2

Once you enter Bus Terminal 2, walk all the way in till the end until you see this standalone red shop that says Avia Booking. This is the only shop at the terminal that sells tickets to Sop Pong. Or you can choose to book your tickets online instead, which we’ll highly recommend.

Tip: If you can, book your tickets online in advance. 

Albeit having a bus almost every hour, the chance of it being full is very high as the mini van only holds up to 12 passengers!

We took the chance and headed to the bus terminal the same morning that we’re heading to Sop Pong to get tickets. Unfortunately most of the morning buses were full already and we had to take the bus at noon, which means we will only reach Sop Pong at around 5pm. So we kinda wasted one day travelling.

If you’re prone to motion sickness, you definitely need to pop your pills before this ride. The winding road to Sop Pong lasted for 2 hours and was almost unbearable!

Caving in Sop Pong

This was the main reason why we bookmarked Sop Pong on our to go list! We being adrenaline junkies, when we saw that Sop Pong was the king of caving tours, we knew we had to visit this place! There are more than 200 over limestone caves in Sop Pong!

Sunset at Tham Nam Lod Cave

One of the most famous and easily accessible caves in Sop Pong. It was only a 5-10 minutes walk from the lodge where we stayed at! Due to lack of time, we didn’t go for a tour inside the cave. So instead, we headed to the exit of the cave during sunset, where we knew 300,000 swifts will be flying out. Our first thought was that wow, this cave was massive! And there were so many fishes in the water! We really liked how raw the cave felt, with no board walks, fancy light installation or whatsoever. Just us, and nature.

It almost felt like a scene out of a National Geographic documentary when 2 swifts knocked into each other, fell into the water and a huge fish immediately bit one of the swift and refused to let go. The poor bird struggled and flapped its wings frantically for a good 5 minutes, before it was all calm and silent. It was quite a sad scene, especially for a bird lover. But, c’est la vie. It’s a dog eat dog world after all yeah. Moving on.

1 Day Caving Adventure Tour at Tham Nam Hoo

We honestly had such a tough time deciding which caving adventure tour to go for! There were like 8-10 different tours for us to choose from! After much deliberation, we finally decided on Tham Nam Hoo, seeing that it’s the most popular and apparently must-go tour according to the staff.

The tour started off with a 30 min drive, followed by a 45 minutes trek to the entrance of the cave. The trek was a relatively steep downhill all the way (which means we had to climb back up later!).

Finally! At the entrance of Tham Nam Hoo cave

The entrance of the cave was quite narrow, and we had to clamber on all fours to get inside of the cave. That’s the fun part right?

But once we were inside, we were all in awe of the massive and unique looking stalactites and stalagmites! We’ve been to many caves before, but someone this cave’s formation trumps it all?

We’ve never seen stalactites like that before!

Despite it being the driest month of the year, the water level was easily up to our neck! Don’t worry, this cave is closed during the wet season. Also, we were given a backpack with a dry bag inside of it where we could keep our valuables dry and safe!

The water was freezing by the way.

All smiles, but was freezing up inside!

The entire caving tour lasted about 5 hours inside the cave, and we really enjoyed ourselves! We loved the uncertainty of not knowing what to expect next, and of course the climbing around inside of the cave.

Tip: Wear a good pair of lightweight waterproof shoes (preferably high cut) to protect your ankles when you step on loose rocks! And don’t forget to wear thick high cut socks to prevent abrasions from the sides of the shoes!

Wear a good pair of lightweight shoes with proper grip! Best if they’re waterproof too!

We had on our North Face Ambition series Safien shoes, and we were very impressed that the shoes didn’t feel heavy at all despite them being 100% soaked in water! Also the shoes had solid grip which made us feel safe when stepping on the damp rocks in the cave. (Ps. we weren’t paid to say this!)

There was actually an even more epic tour that was supposedly harder and more exciting. We wanted to go for that, but there was a minimum of 5 pax, and the other 2 guests with us didn’t seem keen. If I don’t remember wrongly, it should be Tham Nam Lan. But better to check with the staff there! The owner described this tour as the most epic tour.

Where we stayed in Sop Pong

Cave Lodge 

Our private room at Cave Lodge

There weren’t many options for accommodation in Sop Pong. We knew we wanted to go for a caving tour and decided on Cave Lodge since they specialised in organising the caving tours!

It was not bad staying here, the rooms were nice and cozy. They had a restaurant which served pretty good authentic Thai food, slightly pricer (average 60-160 baht) but it was worth it for the convenience. We read that there’s some eateries down the road from Cave Lodge, but we were too lazy to do that.

Cost of staying at Cave Lodge: 850 baht (S$36) per night for a private room.

How to get to Cave Lodge from the bus stop in Sop Pong

Where the bus drops you off at Sop Pong, there’s a mini mart. Just head in and ask the staff there for transport to Cave Lodge. The staff arranged a pick up truck for us at 300 baht 1 way for the 2 of us. Other options include getting a motorbike taxi (70baht). We didn’t see them though, so we went ahead with the pick up truck instead.

Our verdict on Sop Pong – is it a must go?

ABSOLUTELY! We just wished we had more time to spare in Sop Pong as we would have loved to go for a few of their caving adventure tours! Wed didn’t know that there were so many caving adventure tours available! They also have some very good treks to the villages in Sop Pong, which we didn’t go for due to lack of time.

Have you been to Sop Pong before? Or have tried any of the other caving tours before besides the ones we did? Feel free to share your experience with us in the comments below!

Top 3 must-dos in Barcelona (Including a day trip to Monsterrat!)

Top 3 must-dos in Barcelona (Including a day trip to Monsterrat!)

If you’re pressed for time and are only able to spend 2 days in this beautiful city, here are top 3 recommended must-dos in Barcelona!

Immerse yourself in the enchanted luxury Park G√ľell

Despite not being enthusiastic architecture fans, we still ended really enjoying ourselves and were fully in awe of this breathtaking luxury estate. This place was originally built for the rich living in Barcelona, away from the city centre.

Tip: Buy your tickets in advance as it’s almost always fully booked!

In the photos above, you can see how Gaudi likes using natural rocks of different sizes to design his works. His design is often inspired by nature, animals, water, waves, etc, with lots of curves and odd sized pieces being put together. The left photo above shows how the walkway was inspired by waves where the columns & ceiling were all slanted to one side.

The plan was to build 60 houses in total, but the plan backfired when the rich didn’t feel safe living away from the city centre’s security. In the end there were only 3 houses being built, and 1 of which became Gaudi’s home in his later years. Part of this place was designed by Gaudi, a renowned Spanish architect.

Gina posing with the famous lizard of Park G√ľell

In the photo above, Gina’s posing with the famous lizard which according to our guide, was supposed to be a charm located right at the main entrance to protect Park G√ľell. On the contrary, most of the people were still pretty conservative at that point in time and felt that this lizard was a little weird and they didn’t like it.

Get blown away by the unmissable magnificent La Sagrada Familia

The largest church in the world till date that seem to take forever to build. We’ve heard so much about this basilica from news, media, online, and everywhere else. Being able to stand right in front of it was really quite an amazing feeling! This church was designed by Gaudi, and it was his baby all the way till he departed this world. He spent almost all of his life working on this church!

Look at the insane amount of details! 

This church was built using purely donations, and for quite a long time, the funds were insufficient which brought the construction to a standstill. It was only in recent years when tourism really boomed for Barcelona and they started to have more funds for the construction of¬†La Sagrada Familia again! Apparently now they are only left with 3 more years to fully complete this magnificent building! You really need to visit this place in person, photos aren’t adequate to describe how impressive this piece of work is!

Enjoy the picturesque views from the Montserrat Mountain

View from the Montserrat Mountain

We highly recommend taking a day trip the the Montserrat Mountain if you can spare the time. The views were really breathtaking! We were actually very lucky as according to our guide, most of the time it’s foggy! But we had a super clear view of the valley and the mountains!

Inside the basilica of Montserrat

We were really impressed by the interior architecture of the basilica. So beautifully and intricately designed.

View of the monastery from one of the hiking trails

Tip: If you have more time to spare, you can try the hiking trails here at the Montserrat Mountain! The routes are marked clearly and you can’t really get lost. A pity we were pressed for time and didn’t have time to hike.¬†

So that’s all from us for the must-dos in Barcelona! Do you guys agree with our list of must-dos? Do comment below if you have other recommendations!

Why You Must Make Time For A Day Trip to Segovia

Why You Must Make Time For A Day Trip to Segovia

Segovia was one of our favourite places in Spain. A quaint little city nestled about an hour drive away from Madrid. If you are in Madrid, do make time for a day trip to Segovia!

Enjoy spectacular views of Segovia City

Great view of Segovia city with the Cathedral

The entire city spans over 2km and it takes only about 15-20 minutes walk from the Aqueduct to the Palace. In the photo below, that’s basically how the main street of Segovia looks like. Lots of local small shops, no big names like Zara, H&M, etc. Most of these houses were built a long time ago and its architectural style definitely help gives this place its character and charm.

Main shopping street in Segovia

Impressive Romanian Aqueduct That Withstood Time

Segovia made us feel like we were transported back in time. The iconic landmark of this place is the ancient Roman aqueduct which was built back in 1st century to transport water from the mountain to the city. This has gotta be one of the most impressive Roman architecture in Spain. This structure was built without the use of any cement, and it has stayed intact till now! And because it has not been cemented together, the structure remains flexible during earthquakes.

The aqueduct of Segovia

Cathedral of Segovia

The Segovia Cathedral is one of the last Gothic cathedrals to be built in Spain. Despite not being religious people, we really enjoyed admiring the detailed architectural design of the cathedral.

Posing with the Segovia Cathedral

We really loved the inside of the cathedral, where the facade was adorned with bright shimmering gold, accompanied by intricately curved out biblical figures.

Inside the Cathedral of Segovia

Pictures that tell a million words

Alc√°zar of Segovia – “Cinderella’s Castle”

Alc√°zar of Segovia, which literally means fortress of Segovia. Built right next to the river, this was originally a fortress to guard the Segovia city. But it ended up being used as the royal palace, state prison, college, etc.

Fun fact: This castle was actually the inspiration behind the Cinderella’s castle!

Inside of the castle

You will realise that most of their furnitures are portable and can be easily folded. As the royal families usually don’t stay at the same castle for long as their aim is to continue to conquer more places, and hence needing portable furnitures so that they can easily pack up and move anytime.

Savour the absolutely delicious tender traditional Cochinillo Asado!

Definitely one of our highlights of Segovia – being able to taste the¬†absolutely delicious tender¬†Cochinillo Asado, which is also known as the roasted suckling pig! It’s amazing how they are able to cook it to such perfection! With delicate crispy skin on the outside, and tender meat inside. Definitely a must try if you’re in Segovia!

Super delicious Cochinillo Asado – Roasted Suckling Pig

Tip: We ate the Cochinillo Asado at Mesón De Cándido (right at the entrance of Segovia near the Aqueduct). 

Have you been to Segovia before? Did we miss out anything? So share with us your experience in the comments below!

Don’t Miss Out on Zaragoza If You’re Heading to Barcelona from Madrid

Don’t Miss Out on Zaragoza If You’re Heading to Barcelona from Madrid

Zaragoza is definitely a hidden gem as most travellers tend to miss out on this beautiful city when exploring Spain. If you’re planning a trip to both Madrid and Barcelona, you should consider adding a stop in between and stay a night at Zaragoza! This charming city certainly has lots to offer!

Bask in the beautiful Aljafería Palace

Aljafería Palace has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001. Not surprising why, with its rich history and beautiful architecture. It was built by the Arabs back in the 11th century and was originally meant to be a summer palace. Hence you will see lots of greenery & water in this palace.

This place has changed ownership several times, but it’s still very well maintained and preserved till date. It was even once used as a military training ground for the soldiers and unfortunately that was the time that a large part of the building was destroyed. Thankfully after it was recognised as a¬†UNESCO World Heritage Site, the government started its restoration works and now we are able to visualise what this place used to be like when it was first built.

Enjoy the breathtaking view from the Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar

This has gotta be one of the best places to get the most beautiful view of the city. We took a lift up to the top of the tower and were rewarded with this amazing view. Definitely worth it!

The interior of the cathedral was also really beautiful!

Tip: Head down to the bridge at the back of the basilica for a view of the basilica. Best time would be to go during sunset!

1 night stay in Zaragoza should be sufficient to experience the charm of this splendid city. Also it’ll be a great break to take between 2 major cities, Madrid and Barcelona. Have you been to Zaragoza before? Would you recommend 1 day to explore this city? Share with us your view in the comments below!

3D2N Itinerary for Madrid, Segovia & Zaragoza

3D2N Itinerary for Madrid, Segovia & Zaragoza

With only 3 days in Madrid, here are our recommended things to do in Madrid which includes a day trip to Segovia & Zaragoza!

When in Madrid, enjoy a delicious tapas tour around the Old Quarters

One thing that we realised during this trip – Spain is all about Tapas. You’ll be able to find a tapas bar almost at every corner of the street! You won’t even need to search for it, just turn your head around and you’ll see one. So what better way to explore the city than to do a tapas tour! It’s a great way to experience the city’s culture & history, through their food! And it’s soooo delicious! We really loved the variety of tapas!

Most of the tapas bars are similar to the one in the photo above. Small and pretty crammed, with cocktail tables for people to stand around. Usually they only serve 3-4 dishes, and people drink them with wine. Tapas is kinda similar to finger food in my opinion. You can’t really get full from it. It’s more like a snack to go with your wine.

We had one of the most tasty & succulent garlic prawns ever in the tapas bar above. It was so simple, yet so good. The locals like eating the prawns with the bread, followed by a sip of their red wine.

People usually pair their tapas with wine. If you’re a wine lover, Spain is definitely a place that you must visit.

Jamón Рthe one thing that we ate almost every day in Spain

One of the most popular tapas is definitely the Jam√≥n. It’s was our first time trying it and to be honest, it was kinda of an acquired taste. The taste is similar to very thin slices of ham, but a lot saltier.

Jam√≥n’s not exactly raw meat, but neither is it cooked meat. It’s actually cured meat, meaning that the pork leg has been salted and left to hang dry for a couple of years. Ham from different pigs will cost differently, and the Iberian pigs (black pig) apparently cost the most!

Chocolate churrossssss!!! Our ultimate fav in this cold winter!

Tip: Head down to Chocolatería San Ginés where they serve the best choc churros ever!

Get transported back in time at Segovia

Segovia was one of our favourite places in Spain. A quaint little city nestled about an hour drive away from Madrid. If you are in Madrid, do make time for a day trip to Segovia!

Impressive Romanian Aqueduct

The aqueduct of Segovia

The iconic landmark of this place is the ancient Roman aqueduct which was built back in 1st century to transport water from the mountain to the city. This has gotta be one of the most impressive Roman architecture in Spain. This structure was built without the use of any cement, and it has stayed intact till now!

Check out our post about why you must make time for a day trip to Segovia for more things to do in this beautiful city!

Do Drop by Zaragoza if you’re heading to Barcelona!

Zaragoza is definitely a hidden gem as most travellers tend to miss out on this beautiful city when exploring Spain. If you’re planning a trip to both Madrid and Barcelona, you should consider adding a stop in between and stay a night at Zaragoza! This charming city certainly has lots to offer!

Do check out our post on more things to do in Zaragoza!

View from the top of the Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar

Inside the Aljafería Palace

Have you visited any of these cities before? Which one is your favourite? Do share with us your comments below! ūüėÄ

Exploring Belitung, The Hidden Gem of Indonesia

Exploring Belitung, The Hidden Gem of Indonesia

We were pretty stoked when we were invited to explore Belitung, a place that we’ve never heard of before! When people think of Indonesia, the first thing that comes to their mind is usually Bali. But Indonesia is so much more than just Bali! Indonesia consists of more than 15,000 islands and Belitung is just one of them!

Picturesque azure waters of Belitung island in Indonesia!

So first up…where is Belitung in Indonesia?

Belitung is this island (circled in red above) situated next to South Sumatra in Indonesia. Although geographically speaking, Belitung is much nearer to Singapore than Jakarta, the demand for flights from Singapore to Belitung is not high enough for the airline companies to come up with direct flights. Scroll to the bottom to see how to get to Belitung from Singapore!

What is there to do in Belitung?

Experience glamping at Billiton Eco-Beach Tent

Glamping at Billiton Beach Tent!

Seriously, one of the most luxurious camping experiences of our lives!

Trust us, we’ve tried glamping (or so they termed it) several times at different places. But THIS wins hands down, this truly is the epitome of glamping. For the uninitiated, glamping means glamour + camping (aka atas camping). Which glamping experience comes with AIR CONDITIONING?! And your personal outdoor shower & toilet?!

Enjoying our romantic candlelight dinner at the front porch of our tent!

We even had a romantic candlelight BBQ dinner right at our front porch. And the BBQ dinner was one of our best meals ever in Indonesia!! Definitely a MUST-TRY!

Test your balance at stand up paddle surfing

First time trying stand up paddle surfing! Fun!

This turned out to be a lot more tiring that we expected! We always thought it looked kinda easy and chill, but it was actually quite challenging! Especially at the start when we were trying to get our balance right. But once you get the hang of it, it’s quite easy, except that it’s really taxing on the thigh muscles!

ps. This activity is available for Billiton Eco-Beach Tent guests!

Trek through the wilderness and enjoy an amazing summit view

Breathtaking views at the summit of Batu Baginda!

Considered to be an easy trek, suitable for beginner hikers! Took us less than 30 minutes to reach the summit and the terrain was pretty straightforward too. We did 2 treks in Belitung, Batu Baginda and Pramoen Hills.

Batu Baginda’s summit view was breathtaking and the strong breeze was so soothing (shiok)! The last climb up to the summit was pretty challenging though where we had to climb ladders and

Pramoen Hills was quite entertaining, they had several pit stops for photo taking with props, and even a car carefully positioned at the cliff’s edge! I kid you not! We actually climbed into the car for a photo!

Taking a selfie in a car at a mountain’s cliff face? Checked!

Island hopping & snorkelling

A secret lagoon discovered at Kelayang Island!

Interestingly though, when the locals island hop, they literally island hop and not enter the waters for most of it! We visited about 5 islands in total, and only snorkelled at 1 island – Lengkuas Island (Lighthouse). For the rest of the islands, we only walked around the island and took photos with the unique rock forms.

On the way to Lengkuas Island with the lighthouse as the landmark!

The unique & distinctive feature of Belitung is certainly the huge rounded granite rocks. Being avid climbers, we were so tempted to boulder when passing by some of these rocks with cracks so deep they form amazing handholds!

One cool thing about this experience is that we were one of the rare few foreign tourists! We went on a weekend and it was packed with locals, but hardly a foreigner in sight! So if you’re looking for an authentic travel experience, you should definitely check out Belitung!

Tip: Try travelling to Belitung during the weekdays if possible to avoid the domestic crowd!

Try the traditional Belitung coffee (Must-Try!)

Ahhh we absolutely love their coffee! There’s just something so delicious and addictive about their coffee! We love the taste of the roasted coffee bean and when paired with a thick layer of condense milk, ahhh heavenly goodness!

If you’re staying at the city centre of Belitung, you must try the local’s favourite coffee at Kongdjie Coffee! It’s really gooooood! ūüėÄ

Ps. it’s only 5 minutes away from Billiton Hotel, just right across the street!

Taste the local Belitung Mie

This dish reminded us of our local dish Mee Rebus in Singapore and probably Malaysia. The gravy is a little sweet and the noodles slightly springy. Overall not too bad….but……we still prefer our all time favourite INDOMIEEE! I know…..but, we can’t help it!

Visit the “Pamukkale” of Indonesia – Danau Kaolin

Interestingly, Belitung together with a neighbouring island, Bangka, form the world’s second largest tin producer after China! The above place is at Danau Kaolin which once used to be a mining area but now no longer in use. Also known as the Blue Lake, its beautiful sky blue colour is attributed to the water deposited inside the crater being mixed together with the rich white minerals.

Get inspired at the Museum Kata Andrea Hirata

This colourful museum was founded by the author of the best selling novel, Laskar Pelangi. Also the first literature museum in Indonesia! Great place for photo taking with all the colourful walls!

Tip: Belitung grew to fame because of the popular local movie, Rainbow Troops, where they shot the movie set at Tanjung Tinggi Beach. So, watch the movie or read the book first before visiting this island to get a better appreciation!

Essential Information

How to book the above activities in Belitung

We booked our tour with Belitung Wonder, a local tour agency in Belitung. Ria was our main contact person for this trip, and she arranged all of our transport, accommodation and activities! The thing about travelling in less commercialised places is that it’s much tougher to travel around on your own (unless you hire a private driver/guide).

If you’re looking for a tour agency to travel with in Belitung, we would highly recommend Belitung Wonder!¬† Their service is really good, reliable & trustworthy! Pls contact Ria via email (riaindra@belitungwonder.com) for more info.

How to get to Belitung from Singapore

We flew to Jakarta first (~1.5hr) via Jetstar and then followed by a domestic flight to Belitung (~1hr) via Sriwijaya Air. Do factor in some time for the (high) possibility of the domestic flight being delayed.

Hope we inspired you to check out this hidden gem of Indonesia! Travelling off the beaten path is always more exciting! ūüėÄ

9 Reasons Why Ko Lipe Should Be Your Next Beach Getaway

9 Reasons Why Ko Lipe Should Be Your Next Beach Getaway

Thailand has always been well known for their beautiful beaches. But not many know about their best kept secret – Ko Lipe, a pristine tiny island located southernmost of Thailand. Here’s our take on why you should consider Ko Lipe for your next beach holiday.

Ko Lipe – the ‘Maldives’ of Thailand

1. Soft white sand and crystal clear waters

Stayed at Sunrise Beach where it was a lot quieter and more beautiful!

The water is so clear that when we took a photo of our feet in the water, it looked as though we were just stepping on sand! No joke! Despite the number of longtail boats, we were very impressed that they managed to keep their waters so clean!

Tip: Stay at Sunrise Beach if you prefer a quieter experience away from all the buzz and noise.

2. Less commercialised than the other Thai beaches

The crowd on a Saturday night.

We went in early Nov which is supposedly the best time to visit Ko Lipe, and also its peak season. But surprisingly, it’s still not that crowded!

3. Delicious & affordable local food

One of my favourite things about Thailand – the local FOOD!

THE BOMB! Nutella crepe, we ate 1 almost every day :/

One of the top reasons why people love visiting Thailand is because of the delectable local cuisine! And the food here at Ko Lipe definitely did not let their name down. Not super cheap though, since after all it’s still a tourist place. An average dish costs probably around 80 to 100 baht (SGD3-4)? Our favourites include pad thai, yummy fruit shakes, thai milk tea, nutella banana CREPES, coconut ice cream, tom yum and more! Salivating as I’m typing this…..

4. Cheap and good massages

Plenty of massage shops along this Walking Street!

Where else can you get quality massages at $12 for an hour long massage?! Of course don’t expect a luxurious spa treatment and service at such a price, but for the massage alone, it’s seriously worth it. We didn’t expect much, judging from the shop’s facade. But since it was cheap and we had time to kill, we decided to pop in to try it out. And boy were we both pleasantly surprised! In fact the massage that we had here was better than the ones that we usually get in Bangkok for the same price.

5. Colourful coral reefs teeming with life

That water snake that gave us a huge scare when it started swimming towards us!

First time seeing such brightly coloured and vibrant coral reefs!

This place wins hands down for being one of the best snorkelling sites in Thailand. Unfortunately due to a tight schedule, we didn’t manage to dive. But we heard that diving here is awesome too! Especially if you appreciate beautiful corals, you will love it here.

Enjoying our dinner while watching the sunset by the beach <3

There are 2 standard packages A & B for snorkelling. Package A is cheaper (550baht) and they bring you to nearer sites for snorkelling. Package B (650baht) brings you to further sites.

BUT there’s a 3rd package that’s offered by a few vendors only (Thai beach travellers and Paradise Tours) which offers snorkelling plus plankton tour! We did that package with Thai Beach Travellers (they were the cheapest) and no regrets, highly recommended! The package consists of half a day of snorkelling during the day, followed by dinner on the beach as your eyes feast on the sunset, and then off to find the glowing planktons. More on the planktons in the next point.

6. Experience seeing millions of glowing stars underwater!

Definitely highlight of our trip! This is a MUST-DO! After the sun has set and our tummies were full, we set off on our longtail boat to a really dark area near Ko Adang. The boat soon came to a stop and our boatman excitedly told us to jump into the water, which we did! The moment there was movement in the water, the¬†bioluminescent plankton started glowing like fireflies underwater! It was INCREDIBLE and MIND BLOWING! Too bad it was extremely difficult to take a nice photo as it was too dark and the camera can’t focus properly ūüôĀ

Snorkelling+Glowing Plankton tour (highly recommended!): 800 baht per pax, 1.30-8pm. Includes all snorkel equipment and a simple dinner too!

Did you know? Bioluminescent plankton squirt globs of glowing chemicals into the water as a defense mechanism against predators! The glow will distract and confuse the predator, giving them time to escape! :O

7. Breathtaking view of Ko Lipe from Chadoe Cliff

As always, no trip is complete for us without a trek. This trek is highly recommended even for beginners! The entire trek up and down won’t take you longer than 2 hours! We took about 1.5 hours with some time spent taking photos and flying the drone. The terrain is challenging no doubt but the spectacular view at the summit makes it all worthwhile. The path is relatively well marked with yellow arrows pointing you in the right direction. You don’t need a guide for this trek.

For more details, check out our detailed guide on how to get to Chadoe Cliff at Ko Adang!

8. Beautiful resorts with amazing views of the sea

Serendipity Resort, beautifully nestled right at the end of Sunrise Beach.

Our cozy room at Serendipity Resort!

We stayed at 2 different beach facing resorts at Ko Lipe. The first resort that we stayed at was Serendipity Resort which was nestled amongst the greens at the edge of Sunrise Beach. The overall feel was very cozy with wooden furniture and flooring. Some rooms even have their own private pool! They even serve you breakfast in your room! If you like a more tranquil and relaxing experience, you will love it here!

Checking out our beach front room at Idyllic Concept Resort ūüėÄ

Our second night was spent at Idyllic Concept Resort which had a very different overall feel as compared to Serendipity. We were pleasantly surprised when they upgraded our room to a beach front room! The view was amazinggggg! Only thing was that there was a lack of privacy as everyone below can see you in your room :/

9. More convenient now with direct flights via Jetstar from Sg to Hat Yai!

How to get to Ko Lipe:

1. Fly direct to Hat Yai via Jetstar (~1.5 hours)

Good news is that Jetstar now flies to Hat Yai four times a week (Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays & Sundays) with one-way fares starting at S$43!

2. Book a land transfer from Hat Yai airport to Pak Bara Ferry Terminal (~2 hours)

You can get your tickets online.¬†It’ll cost around 1,700 baht (2 way) per pax for the mini van transfer from Hat Yai to Pak Bara, and speedboat ticket from Pak Bara to Koh Lipe.

3. Take a speed boat from Pak Bara Ferry Terminal to Ko Lipe (~1.5 hours)

Jetstar only just launched their flights to Hat Yai on 3rd Nov 2017 and we were one of the lucky few who were on this inaugural flight to Hat Yai! Before Jetstar launched direct flights from Singapore to Hat Yai, you’ll have to fly to Bangkok first followed by a domestic flight to Hat Yai. So we’re really glad that we managed to skip a step by flying direct to Hat Yai instead!

Thank you Jetstar for the seamless experience from checking in to the flight experience!

Hope you’ll enjoy Ko Lipe as much as we did! ūüėÄ Do share with us tips on travelling in Ko Lipe if we missed out any!

Ultimate Guide to Climbing Chadoe Cliff at Ko Adang

Ultimate Guide to Climbing Chadoe Cliff at Ko Adang

For the best view of Ko Lipe, trek up to the top of Chadoe Cliff at Ko Adang to get a bird eye’s view of the island! Here’s our step by step guide on how to get to the view point of Chadoe Cliff.

1. Hop on a taxi boat from Sunrise Beach

Just walk along Sunrise Beach and you’ll eventually see a sign that says Taxi Boat. Or if you can’t find, just ask any of the boat man or staff around and they will point you to the right direction.

The taxi boat stand is near a huge dumpster cargo

Just inform the boat man that you’ll like to go to Ko Adang and that you’ll need around 2 hours there. He will come back and pick you up when you’re done at the same point where he dropped you off. Ours was quite punctual and we didn’t have to wait long for him.

How long does it take from Ko Lipe to Ko Adang by boat: 15-20 minutes

How much does it cost: 100 baht/pax 1 way. (doesn’t matter how many pax on the boat, they still count per head).

2. Follow the signs to Chadoe Cliff

Once you alight from the boat at Ko Adang, head towards the visitor centre, and you will see a signboard like the one below. Follow the sign to Chadoe Cliff.

Keep walking straight on the path and you’ll see a restaurant on your right. That means you’re in the right direction.

Keep walking on the path till you see a sign that says Chadoe Cliff which leads you into your first entry into the forest. Be mentally prepared, the trail is quite challenging. The start itself is quite a steep climb and you might need to clamber your way up!

3. Follow the markings and stay on the trail

Along the way you will see yellow painted arrows like the one in the photo below.

Some parts are quite challenging, almost like an obstacle course. And that’s why it’s fun!

4. Look out for the “View Point” signboard

The first view point took us around 40 minutes to get there. The first point wasn’t the best as there were some trees¬† blocking the view. Don’t stay there for too long, the next view’s better!

View point 2 was not bad too, but we mainly took photos at view point 3!

      

Amazing view of Ko Lipe from Chadoe Cliff’s view point 3!

To get down, it was still quite tough as some parts were really steep and slippery! Thank god we had great weather. In total we took around 1.5 hours including time used for taking photos and to fly our drone. So 2 hours should be a safe estimate if you need to let your boat man know how much time you’ll need.

Hope the above guide is useful for you! For more details on Ko Lipe, do check out our post on why you should consider Ko Lipe for your next beach getaway! ūüėÄ