travel

South Africa, Travel

Off To South Africa! What Am I Excited About?


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O Come September, off to South Africa! I have planned an epic road trip covering a minimum of 3500 KM from Johannesburg to Cape Town. If not for having 3 drivers in this trip, I wouldn’t consider doing this over 2 weeks. The longest drive is probably going to be from Durban to East London via Transkei and Mthatha. With 9 hours on this journey, starting the day early to cover more ground is important. As someone who love road trips, thae thought of this road trip kicks up some wanderlust endorphins. There an option of flying but I rather experience what’s in and off the big cities.

A rough outline of the road trip, lovely to look at but distance is a feat to cover.

Here’s what I am excited about.

Panorama route

With this mini road trip route as part of the whole road trip, it is a good starter dish because it is right outside of Kruger National Park. The good thing about it is that it can be a day trip, either before or after Kruger National Park adventure. It will depends on if you are flying into or out of Johannesburg. As the name suggest, this is going to be a scenic drive with majestic views of God’s creation – nature.

Swaziland

Swaziland, a small, landlocked monarchy within South Africa is a good option to stay a night. There are two of these countries of such nature and they are Swaziland and Lesotho. The former is located on the south of Kruger National Park and definitely an option to put on the bucket list on the way to St Lucia. Lesotho is a little off from the route so this will give the next reason to visit South Africa again.

Kruger National Park

I have been looking for a safari experience years back and is is finally coming true! We are doing a self-drive safari within Kruger and staying in 2 different base camps to experience the game drives. We might do a dawn or dusk game drive with San Parks.

Photo Credit: SA Tourism
Game Drive
Photo Credit: SA Tourism
Sunset Game Drive

Garden Route

The famous Garden route stretching from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town is the main starting point explore the southern coast of South Africa. There are activities such as shark cage diving, ostrich farm and whale watch. I am excited to see the dramatic sweeping coastline.

Cape Town

Nothing beats the the city of Cape Town – that is what I have heard from the people who have travelled there. Table Mountain hikes, trip to Stellenbosh – known for its wine estates, Cape of Good Hope and Boulders Beach where you get to see the African penguins are just some of the areas to explore in the Cape Town region.

Photo Credit: SA Tourism
Colorrful house of Bo Kaap, Cape Town

It is going to be my first step into the African continent, for sure I can’t wait.

Thailand, Travel

The Ultimate Guide To Trat & Koh Mak


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Trat is a province in Thailand that borders the western part of Cambodia. It is also the gateway to the “Koh Islands”, namely Koh Chang, Koh Mak and Koh Kut. These islands are all accessible by ferries from Trat.

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Map of Trat spotted in Trat City Hotel

Getting to Trat

To get to Trat, Bangkok Airways flies from Bangkok directly. Thai Airways codeshares with Bangkok Airways, so it makes it easier for international travellers to get to Trat. Enjoy the small treats and amenities at the Bangkok Airways’ lounge before your flight, it is available to all passengers regardless of traveling class. You can also drive from Bangkok to Trat and it takes about 5 hrs non-stop. I recommend to break up the overland trip by visiting Pattaya and other towns along the way. This year, I had the opportunity to attend the Thailand Travel Mart + 2019 in Pattaya. It is one of the biggest annual B2B travel trade events in the region to promote the Greater Mekong Subregion.

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TTM+ 2019 in Pattaya

What to do in Trat

Visiting Ban Nam Cheow for a authentic mangrove village experience. It has one of the biggest mangroves in the eastern part of Thailand. You will get an opportunity to go on a boat tour to the mangrove area and to also witness how the villagers dive for lamp shells. Depending on the season, you might get to experience the firefly sparkles among the trees. Back in the village area, try out some of their local delicacies such as khao kriep ya na and a very unique green tea. If you are interested in handcrafted items, you can learn how to make a palm leaf hat. You can experience the above from 990 Baht for a 2 day 1 night adventure with Ban Nam Chieo Tourism.

Left: can you spot the trademark eye at Ban Nam Cheow?

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Take a ride in one of these boats to see the mangrove area

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The hunt for lamp shells

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Khao kriep ya na making in progress

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Core ingredients of khao kriep ya na

Learn how to make a leaf hat using traditional methods

Ban Tha Ranae is another community to check out,  known for their mangrove boats and boardwalk experience. The highlight of this tour was the eating of the ‘branch worm’ live by one of the guides. We took the boat to visit the unique mangrove vegetation in the area and reached a lookout point revealing the surrounding greenery to us. Another delicious highlight was eating fried leaves which I really liked (may be due to it being lunch time).

Check out the swing nestled in the mangrove forest boardwalk

ta-da!

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Never ever tasted such good fried leaves

Trat Night Market is another place to check out if you are in town for an authentic local experience. It is definitely catered towards the local community as you can see the variety of products sold are not at touristy prices. Check out the good deals on clothing and local thai fried “delicacies”.

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Fancy some of these?

Trat Museum is recommended to visit in order to find out more about the rich history of Trat during the different kings’ reign period.

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Kon Plad Tin Restaurant is a restaurant to check out, known for their ‘red hawk dining’. Witness the red hawk swopping down the water for food as you indulge in yours.

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Have your meal while watching these beautiful hawks feed 

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A typical Thai seafood feast!

Where to stay at Trat

Trat City Hotel is a good option if you are looking for something modern and comfortable. It is a relatively new hotel which caters to both business and leisure travellers.

Getting to Koh Mak

Koh Mak is accessible by ferries throughout the year. These ferries depart from the nearby islands or Trat itself. There are different schedules which are operated by separate ferry companies, so search for the one that suits your timing. The ferry ride might get bumpy so travellers who get sea sick easily need to prepare for it. The ride takes about 45 minutes to an hour depending on the sea conditions. Similarly, you can get to Koh Chang and Koh Kut from Koh Mak.

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What to do in Koh Mak

Snorkelling around the islands (Rang IslandYak Yai Island, and Yak Lek Island) brings you to the colourful underwater world and the diversified marine life. Witnessing gigantic schools of fish swimming alongside you and the beautiful corals can be quite an experience for first-timers. Check out San Jhao Beach nearby for a picnic lunch, we enjoyed the nicely-packed lunch delivered from Koh Mak by Table Tales Restaurant and Bar. There is another worthy restaurant to check out near the main pier – Koh Mak Seafood Restaurant.

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Snorkelling in these crystal clear waters is one of the top few experiences on my bucket list!

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Fresh Umi anyone? Unfortunately, marine life is heavily protected in the area due to eco tourism.

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Nice set-up by Table Tales Restaurant and Bar for this lunch by the beach experience

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Seafood platter grilled to perfection by Table Tales Restaurant and Bar

Cycling around the island is a fantastic way to explore the island and you can stop whenever you want. Because of the focus on sustainability tourism, the authority and locals are working together to ensure that the island would not be over-developed in the future. Feel what it is like to go through a rubber plantation (it got a little muddy because of the rain) and then checking out sunset spots at Cococape Pier. Take it at your own pace and you realize the laidback beauty of the island.

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Organic papaya salad

Kayaking or Stand-Up Paddleboarding remains one of my favourite of the Koh Mak experience.

Where to stay at Koh Mak

There are various options ranging from the budget-friendly guesthouse or hostels to luxury/comfortable ones like Mira Montra, The Beachfront Resort Koh Mak. The accommodation style is individually contained huts with a patio area to chill out on. There is also an outdoor shower within the hut if you are seeking for an tarzan experience. Listen to the waves as you fall asleep in the comfortable bed. As long as you are a resort guest, you get to use their kayaks and paddle boards free of charge.

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A perfect beachfront property

Thanks to Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT)Thai Airways International, and Bangkok Airways for making this trip possible. All opinions and reviews remain of my own.

Japan, Travel

What To Do In Osaka and Kyoto? The Amazing 7-Day Itinerary


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Osaka is one of the most popular cities in Japan to visit for its food and sites. Kyoto on the other hand, carries more of a cultural side of Japan for your visit. If you are looking to spend about a week in the Kansai region, I suggest to do both Osaka and Kyoto together. This itinerary is highly recommended by locals. If you have a few more days to spare, consider adding Nara into your journey. Another must-visit is Universal Studios Japan, which is also the first theme park in Asia!

Day 1: Osaka

Flying into Kansai International Airport is your best option as it serves major airlines and their networks around the world. It is also one of the busiest airports in Japan alongside Narita and Haneda airport located in Tokyo. I would recommend to spend a minimum of 2 full days (excluding the day you arrive) in Osaka in order to have enough time to explore this amazing city.

Tip: Plan your journey well as it will save you significant transportation costs. If you know that you will rely quite a bit on the JR line or metro, you should purchase the day passes from the first day! There are various JR pass options so pick the one that best suits your itinerary.

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Day 2 and 3: Osaka

Head to the Central Business District to check out the famous Osaka Castle. Here you can find a good mix of tourists and locals visiting the castle. I chanced upon a choir of adorable Japanese school kids singing right in front of the castle- an awesome performance to watch!

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You can consider visiting both the Osaka Castle and Shinsaibashi together because of their close proximity to one another. In short, Shinsaibashi is Osaka’s version of Singapore City’s Orchard Road. You can find plenty of fashion shops and themed cafes. Fans of Pokemon, rejoice! There is a Pokemon cafe right here and a Pokemon Center at Daimaru Umeda department store near the Osaka main station.

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Pokemon Center @ Daimaru Umeda and Pokemon Cafe at Shinsaibashi

Foods to try: Okonomiyaki @ Kazenomachi (2-9 Tamatsukuri Motomachi Tennoji-ku Osaka)

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Fresh oysters and ingredients cooked right at the table

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Food to try around Shinsaibashi area: Ichiran Ramen, Omurice

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Cubicle eating concept @ Ichiran Ramen

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Omurice

You can’t leave Osaka without taking a visit to Osaka Aquarium. The aquarium houses a whale shark, so you can just imagine the size of the tank! Located right next to the aquarium is the Tempozan Market where you can try out a wide variety of Japanese cuisine. The Osaka Takoyaki can be tasted at the traditional Aizuya store. If you are craving for fresh sashimi or sashimi bowls, head to Maguro-Ya Ten to get your fix.

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Feel the soft skin on the backs of stingrays at the petting area, perfect for kids

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Check out the feeding times at Osaka Aquarium, you will not be disappointed by the well-trained sea lions

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 Fresh Maguro (tuna) on rice

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Super fresh sashimi on rice

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Osaka Takoyaki @ Aizuya

Day 4: Universal Studios Japan

Check out everything about Universal Studios Japan in another article here.

You can consider the amazing USJ and JR pass bundle

Day 5: Kyoto

There are a variety of ways to get to Kyoto, the main one being the JR line. However, if you are staying near to the metro in Osaka and in Kyoto, you can consider the Keihan Main Line which also runs through to Kyoto. One of my top favourites at Kyoto is Nishiki Market. There are plenty of delicious foods to choose from, so much that you probably wish for two stomachs.

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Consider getting the Kyoto-Osaka sightseeing pass if you are traveling to these two cities

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Japanese corndog

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Kyoto Takoyaki, scroll up and notice the difference between this and the Osaka Takoyaki in terms of size and toppings

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Guess the size of this oyster! Check out the answer two images down below

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TA-DA!

Food to try: Kichi Kichi Omurice (FYI: book in advance!)

Day 6: Kyoto

No visit to Kyoto is complete without visiting Arashiyama Bamboo Forest. This picturesque forest gets super crowded starting from 10am onwards. I recommend to reach there before 9am so that you can snap your insta-worthy shots.

Our visit was during autumn and we witnessed the explosion of colors!

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Came across this street store selling raw egg on rice

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Man, it was so good!

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Head to Fushimi Inari Shrine in the afternoon for a hike. Here, you get to walk past thousands of Torii gates to the top of Mount Inari.

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Legs too tired? You can hire a trishaw too!

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This is what happens if you head to the shrine during peak hours

If you are looking to check out the geisha scene in Kyoto, head to Gion for a glimpse of what life was like here centuries ago. There are plenty of kimino rental shops over there as well to immerse in the Japanese culture.

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A taste of old Japan at Gion

Day 7: Osaka/Kyoto/Nara

There is an option to extend the trip in Kyoto or head to Nara for the bowing deers.

Otherwise, head back to Osaka to catch your flight!

If there’s anything I missed out or you have something awesome to share, free feel to comment below!