Best 10 Travel Apps

I’ve recently realised that, unless you’re on a tour, travelling can be stressful. I saw a little kid the other day at Incheon International Airport, swinging her legs and chewing on a snack as she sat, bored, on a suitcase. Her parents, meanwhile, fussed about the luggage, passports and tickets- just like the rest of us adults.

I’ve forgotten that, once upon a time, travelling was nothing more than following your parents to strange and exotic lands who pointed out to you new and wonderful things.

Nowadays, travelling brings a lot more responsibilities and is no longer just about fun and adventure, but a lesson in managing your finances while overseas, making sure your passport isn’t lost or stolen (and if it is, how to get a new one!), making sure you’ve reserved hotel rooms and flights, getting enough sleep at night, waking up early, etc, etc. Luckily, our mobile phones have made the work of travelling a little easier with handy travel apps we can download, use and rely upon in a variety of situations overseas.

Below are a brief list of some of the travel apps I’ve come to depend on and which I would recommend to any traveller before trotting around the globe. Continue reading

Reading While Travelling

One of my new year’s resolutions is to read more, and I’m aiming to finish a new book every two months. It’s a hobby of mine that’s been long neglected, and it’s high time I picked it up again. Y’know, considering it’s good for the soul and all.IMG_3810-0

I recently finished Jodi Picoult’s ‘Leaving Time’, a book I purchased on a whim at an Eslite bookstore in Taipei about a month ago, and something I’ve been reading on and off during my travels. I read the last few chapters on my short flight to HK from Taichung, and it’s a nice change to watching in-flight movies. There really is nothing like getting lost in a book, and getting to know the characters on a deep and personal level. It’s as if I have had more adventures and met more people than I really did during my time abroad.

I guess I will be bringing more books with me the next time I travel.

‘Leaving Time’ is a thought-provoking novel that stirs the emotions and pulls the heartstrings. Definitely a book I recommend! If you’re interested, other works of hers that I’ve read and enjoyed are ‘Salem Falls’ and ‘House Rules’.

Next, I plan to read Amy Poehler’s ‘Yes! Please’. I’ve heard great reviews 🙂

A Traveller’s Guide to Travelling Cheap in Seoul

Having lost our passports, my camera and all our money and credit cards (as well, by the way, my new black Longchamp bag!) in a taxi on the very first night we arrived in Seoul three days ago, I do believe I have some authority on the question of how to travel around cheaply (and most importantly survive) here. So, without further ado, here are some tips on how to stretch your dollar, save some moola and a very important travel tip.

1. Avoid the foreigners’ areas, for instance Noksapyeong and Itaewon. These areas are catered mostly to foreigners who have come here to teach English to Korean students. Although the restaurants here are nice and serve great Western food (eg Italian, French and German), each dish is also around 2-3 times more expensive. So, unless you have serious cravings for pasta, my tip is to avoid these areas and eat at local Korean restaurants where a dish averages around 4,500-6,000 KRW.

Other cheap food options include street food (bunshik), bakeries (eg Paris Baguette and Tous les Jours sell sandwiches for less than 5,000 KRW) and, if you’re feeling extremely poor, 7-11 has some good cheap meals such as triangle kimbap, instant noodles, sandwiches from 1,500 KRW (we had to eat this on our first morning in Seoul after we lost all our money and credit cards. Tragic, but true).

2. Save on renting a Korean phone and take advantage of the free wifi in cafés, as well as phone apps like Kakao, Skype, Whatsapp, Wechat and Facebook Messenger to communicate with friends and family. The Korean phone system (CDMA network) does not use SIM cards, so most travellers have to rent a Korean cell phone to use here which costs around $5-6 AUD per day. If you do decide to rent a phone, the best place to get one is at Incheon International Airport when you arrive, although according to Lonely Planet some discount electronic stores also have new and used phones for sale. There is no wifi on public transport unless you have purchased credit with Olleh, a South Korean telecommunication services provider.

3. Take the subway as the cheapest form of public transportation within the Seoul metropolitan area. Though the trains do not come as often as the ones in HK or Taipei, they are still convenient, efficient and reliable. However, if you want to travel outside of the Seoul city area, you will need to consider alternative forms of transportation such as a bus, the KTX/ITX (high speed train system to get you to places such as Busan) or plane. If you are staying in Seoul for more than a few days, it is a good idea to buy a T-money card (2,500 KRW each) as it saves you 100 KRW for each trip compared with paying for a single-journey ticket with cash. Refunds are available for the T-money card at the end of your trip.

4. Take a taxi* as they are relatively cheap. Fares begin at a mere 3,000 KRW (around $3 AUD) for around 5 minutes, and then increase by 100 KRW according to time or distance (142m). If you have a T-money card, you can also use it to pay for taxi fares.

*Orange taxis are owned by companies, whereas the white and silver taxis are privately owned. In case you forget something on a taxi, try to avoid the white and silver ones as you’re unlikely to recover lost belongings without a receipt or the taxi’s ID number. The orange taxis have a better reputation of putting lost items online (here), or taking it to the police. As we lost our bag in a silver taxi, our chances of finding it are quite slim. Which brings me to my travel tip:

5. Invest in a good travel insurance policy. I cannot stress enough the importance of this, and it should be a no-brainer for any traveller. In the unfortunate case that you should lose something, have something stolen, or worse suffer an injury, you will in most circumstances be covered by your insurance policy so invest in a good one that is suitable for you, and make sure you understand what your particular policy covers and what its terms and conditions are before you travel.

For our policy (we went with Medibank Insurance), there is a policy of filing a police report within 24 hours of an incident, so if that is a condition for your policy too, make sure you comply with it or else your insurer will likely not pay up. Also keep your receipts for important items you bought during your holiday in case you lose them, too. And for those of you who are a bit arrogant and think that nothing will happen to you on your travels, think again and always expect the unexpected. Get yourself covered for those unexpected situations, because for a few hundred bucks it’s worth the peace of mind.

Stay tuned for more Seoul adventures!
xx Lucy

Winter Essentials

Travelling HK and Taiwan, and soon to Seoul, South Korea in the winter, I’ve realised how important some items are when spending the Christmas season in the northern hemisphere where temperatures can drop to minus degrees- something I’m unfamiliar with coming from Australia but which I’m slowly learning from my time in Europe and Asia.

Here’s a short list of some of the essentials you’ll be needing for your next winter getaway.

1. Coats

coats

Bringing one of these along should be a no-brainer for anyone travelling to a new winter wonderland. While it’s true you can always get one once you’ve arrived (trust me, I’m good with the excuses to go shopping), taking one with you means you’re immediately covered. If you’re looking to save luggage space, consider bringing a puffer coat as they’re lightweight and functional against the cold because of their thickness.

For something more inconspicuous, the classic black trench will help you blend in anywhere you go. And for the fashion conscious, I hear Marsala (a shade similar to burgundy or wine-red) is Pantone’s colour of the year for 2015.

The key is layering other warm items of clothing under your coat, such as sweaters or jackets since there’s no point in wearing one if you’re next to naked underneath.

2. Scarves and Gloves

scarf and glovesNo matter how warm your coat is, chances are your neck and hands are left exposed to the cold and need protection, too. Invest in a good scarf of warm material such as wool, and a pair of thick gloves.

For the tech-savvy, there are now touchscreen gloves which means you no longer have to take them on and off to use touch-phones and other touchscreen devices.

3. Hats

hats

These will help you keep your head and ears warm. Investing in a good woollen hat when I was travelling in Poland saved me from all the ear aches I was getting from walking around in the the cold weather. For slightly warmer countries in winter, berets do the job sufficiently well and are a personal favourite of mine.

4. Boots 

bootsBoots are great for keeping your feet warm and snug from the cold, and are a practical alternative to sneakers which you might find inadequate at keeping the snow or rain from seeping in and wetting your socks. Keeping your feet warm is important since a warm feet almost always means a warm body also.

Personally, I’m loving French riding boots and their classic style (scored one myself during one of my shopping sprees in Taichung, Taiwan!) but I also appreciate how well ankle boots pair with skirt and stockings.

5. Moisturisers

moisture essentialsThese are what’s going to help you fight back against the harsh cold and the damage it does to your skin. For moisturisers, they should change as the seasons change since what you usually use in summer is lighter than what your skin requires in the cooler months. Do some research and find out what works for you. A hydrating facial mask can also help retain the moisture of your skin during winter. Don’t forget about your hands and lips, too, as these are often exposed to the cold and need all the moisture aid they can get!

Above all, enjoy your time in the coolest season of the year for you’ll miss it when the weather gets too hot (I know I do in Sydney). The idea is to dress appropriately, according to the temperatures outside since you’ll only catch a cold wearing that mini skirt and mid-drift in 2°C.

Stay warm!
xx Lucy

Snapshots of Hong Kong

Despite our four short days in Hong Kong, it was a whirlwind of food, shopping, crowds, lights, and more crowds. But unlike in Bali, I feel not like a tourist but more like I’ve been engulfed into this city, roaming the streets like a local would- not simply because I’m Chinese, but because the HK locals just don’t care whether you’re a foreigner or not; they’ll talk to you in Cantonese and treat you how they treat everyone else.

There’s a range of cuisines here to suit everyone’s tastebuds, but since we subscribe to the age-old adage of ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do’ we like to eat (or at least try) the foods that locals eat on a daily-basis. On our first night, one of our friend’s took us to eat claypot rice where we had to line up for over 30 minutes just to eat at a popular local haunt. The oyster pancakes (shown in the middle of the first picture below) are also a standard addition to everyone’s order at this restaurant. IMG_2581

The thing I’m still trying to get used to though is all the people’s rush, with their sense of efficiency bordering on rudeness. You will walk into a restaurant and the first thing the waiter will do after seating you at a table is to ask what you want. Usually, the last customer hasn’t even left their seat yet. Once you’ve finished your meal, the waiters will start to clean your table, wiping in and around you as a not-so subtle sign that they want you to leave, despite the fact that your eating companion may not have finished yet. The first time we experienced this, we realised that this is how a lot of restaurants maintain a high-turnover rate in order to accommodate so many hungry locals. Thus, everyone else’s rush makes us rush too, and so we tend to order and eat faster than we normally do in Australia- or anywhere else for that matter! This happened regardless of whether we ate with friends or by ourselves, and while it happened mostly in really local restaurants, we got the sense that even the waiters in more high-end places didn’t appreciate us lounging around after we finished our meals. This is an aspect of the HK lifestyle that I just can’t seem to wrap my head around… is this why so many people in HK also wear sneakers, even when shopping? Because they’re always rushing from one place to another? We were people watching one day and we saw more than half the people walking past us wearing joggers!

It’s the same in the streets and inside malls where large crowds throng around major shopping and eating districts.

IMG_0154

IMG_2607

Personally, I’ve found this very draining as I don’t like to be in places where there are too many people, too often. It was a huge relief to be able to go back to our place on our second-last night and just sit in bed watching movies and eating HK snacks and cup noodles after a long day of shopping and walking around. I feel that even during travels, one needs a refuge from the outside world to just do whatever it is that will get your energy levels back up.

If you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life in HK, a nice place to visit is The Peak. To get here, you can go by cable car or by taxi. We chose the latter option since the queue was way too long. Though there is some trekking (girls, leave your high heels home!) the scenic view is worth the uphill climb, and you’ll see a cityscape of HK different to anything you could have imagined the island to look like! We were lucky to have two friends from HK show us around here. In fact, we had a friend to show us around on each of the four days we were there, so we had a lot of guidance and advice from locals on things ranging from the very interesting, to the most mundane like where to go grocery shopping. This time we didn’t use our Lonely Planet guidebook as much as we did, say, in Bali and Vietnam.

IMG_0208_2

IMG_2675

The shopping, while in some aspects good because there are so many stores selling a variety of goods, it’s made me reflect on the high consumerist society we live in today, as well as how much garbage we must be all creating and especially since so many of us (sometimes even myself, I admit) like to chase the latest clothes and gadgets without any regard to the things we already have and building waste by hoarding things we don’t actually need.

But one should be in a lighter mood on the eve of Christmas, so I’ll leave on a more happy message to say that we are going to Seoul, South Korea for two weeks! This was a spontaneous decision when we realised that 30 days was a bit too long to spend in Taiwan. So we’re off again to a new country a week after the new year 🙂 I’m super excited to see snow again! Temperatures are expected to be in the minus degrees! brrr

Stay tuned for posts on Taiwan!
xx Lucy

Insights into Bali

Writing on the eve of our departure from Bali, I reflect on the past nine days of our stay here. It’s been an adventure of many sorts, in particular all the things I’ve done for the first time- jet-skiing, wake sliding, scuba diving, white water rafting in the rain and visiting waterfalls; it’s been relaxing on the side too, with the occasional spa and massage that would otherwise be too expensive to indulge back in Sydney (like Jari Menari for example- the masseuse there really do have magic fingers). I even stood at the edge of a cliff overlooking the Indian Ocean at Uluwatu Temple- a scary but once-in-a lifetime experience!

DSC09321

DSC09042

DSC09060Exif_JPEG_422

rafting

DSC09188

Oh, and the food! Don’t get me started on all the spices and variety, and the fresh fruit drinks! Strawberry juice anyone, or perhaps a cool glass of papaya juice? We had one of the best juices at a small restaurant in Pemuteran called La Casa Kita– their juices are TDF!

IMG_2484

This ‘oasis’ is not without its cons however. The lack of footpaths on the roads of Seminyak make it difficult to navigate through the city; the constant dodging of wild-runaway dogs and their droppings is stressful; and the pungent smell of open sewerage holes reminds me too well of so many places in Asia. Worse still, you might even fall into one if you’re not careful.

And while it’s true that many South East Asian countries are similar, I find their subtle differences fascinating. For instance, the Vietnamese in Hanoi like to lie back in their motorcycles, their ability to balance even on such a slim and visibly uncomfortable position approaching mastery on an unheard of level; while the Balinese like to relax on makeshift sofas of old, discarded car seats at the front of shops and homes.

Many of these thoughts and others occurred to me during our five-and-a-half hours drive from the southern point of Bali in Seminyak to the northern-west tip of the island in Pemuteran. During that time, I was fortunate enough to see a side of Bali different to the populous and crowded cities known for its hip clubs and touristy restaurants, to the smaller villages and townships surrounded by lush forests, farmland and plantations. Here, you will pass big family temples (sometimes larger than the houses themselves); domestic chickens and untamed dogs roaming around; and trees and plants growing all sorts of fruits and flowers from durians to jackfruits, coconuts to strawberries, frangipanis, cocoa beans and peanuts; as well as locals doing… well, very Balinese things:

IMG_2439

P1010285

The views at times were spectacular and completely unadulterated in its natural beauty. I think the locals really appreciate and know what they have because while they like to ask questions about where we come from, and may wistfully remark that Australia is a nice country they’d like to visit one day, when I comment on the beauty of their own island I can see that they are proud; that they wouldn’t give up their home for another country. And so home is where the heart is for them.

P1010269

IMG_0082

So while I think it’s the tourists who have made Bali the epitome of paradise, it is surely the Balinese locals who have added that certain je nais se quoi to the place with their charming warmth, genuinity and love of visitors. The Balinese are one of the friendliest people I’ve met, willing to help others and give suggestions whether they be a fellow islander or a tourist.

My favourite place has been Ubud, the cultural centre of Bali where you do, indeed, see much more of the Balinese people’s traditions pervading many aspects of the city and its surrounding towns. Ubud’s citizens appear more religious than their counterparts in, say, Seminyak, and you’ll see an art gallery in pretty much every narrow laneway you come across. That said, Ubud is also a lot more touristy, and taxi drivers or restaurant hosts will hawk at every foreign passerby. Nevertheless, the diversity and number of things to do or eat in Ubud never ceased to entertain us. Some personal favourites in Ubud include:

  • Warung Teges– we had great nasi campur here for lunch (a common Indonesian dish with rice and side dishes) and it was so cheap at 20,000rp (equivalent of around $2AUD) for a dish! Yummy, casual and no-fuss, it was definitely worth the short drive.
  • Bali Adventure Tours– we had a great time with them. Our day started with a cycling tour through a Balinese village, before we stopped at the Elephant Safari Park. Here, we fed Indonesian elephants and I even got to perform with one during the elephant show (it was more than amazing to be up close and personal with one of my favourite animals!) Later, we went white water rafting on the Ayung River, made even more fun by the heavy rain during our rough sojourn down the river. Bali Adventure Tours is one of the more reliable and safe tour companies to go with for rafting.

DSC09398

DSC09406

DSC09437

  • Ganesha Bookstore– I love visiting bookstores so this one was obviously a no-brainer for me. This small store tucked away in a side-street is filled with both new and second-hand books on topics ranging from the spiritual to Indonesian/Balinese culture, to crime and non-fiction. I picked out a few books here myself.
  • Travelling around Ubud with a scooter. We rented one for as little as 50,000rp (around $5AUD) a day. I find that this is the quickest and most cost-effective way of getting around the city since getting from one place to another may take some time to walk and that’s definitely not a good idea in Bali’s hot and humid weather. The traffic is quite congested though, and the conditions aren’t the safest so make sure you always wear a helmet.
  • Agung Rai Museum of Art (ARMA)– the best art museum in Ubud, this gallery showcases both pre-war traditional and post-war modern Balinese art. This took us around 2 hours to get through. I found that this was a great place to self-learn about Balinese culture, history and art.

With all that I’ve seen and done in the short time I’ve been here, I’m so glad to have Bali ticked off my list. And with all its adventure, romance and serenity, Bali makes the perfect place for a honeymoon or an off-the-grid getaway.

Now… off to HK!

Stay tuned!
xx Lucy

Scuba Diving at Menjangan Island

Tourists come to Pemuteran, Bali for one main attraction: to snorkel or scuba dive in and among the many beaches and islands dotting the horizon. It was for this same reason that Ruben and I had made the 4.5 hour journey by car from Seminyak to this small tourist town in the far north-west of Bali.

It was not my idea to go scuba diving. I’d never done it before and while it was one of those things I’d hope to eventually do one day, personally, I also find it a bit frightening. Despite my misgivings, Ruben insisted we go (he’d gone diving in Malaysia and the Great Barrier Reef several times and loved it) and signed us up for two dives each, both one hour sessions, with a local diving operator, Global Dive Centre.

scuba diving in menjangan island

IMG_2459

IMG_2454

That morning, the weather was hot and sunny, perfect for diving. As we drove to the wharf where a boat would later take us to Menjangan Island, I was all nervousness and thought so many times of giving up. But I wanted to try and so, along with the encouragements and tips I got, I donned my scuba outfit, tank and mask and sat at the side of the boat, ready to be pushed into the water.

There is nothing to fear except fear itself.

The moment I flipped over the side of the boat, oxygen-tank first, and dipped into the water I felt a mixture of both fear and excitement. But as I turned over and saw small fish playing around the corals in the shallow water, my fear drifted away to be replaced by a sense of amazement at this new world that greeted me. It was unfamiliar but not alien- something I had seen in pictures but never thought I’d experience for myself.

As I dove up to the surface again, I felt the warmth of the ocean and the sun shining on us; and as I looked over onto the horizon at the dazzling azure water, I realised my fears had been unnecessary. I had already taken my first baby steps- all I had to do was continue.

Exif_JPEG_422

Exif_JPEG_422

Exif_JPEG_422

My first hour was not without its difficulties, and most of the time I was preoccupied with surviving more than observing my new marine environment. I was solely focused on breathing correctly through my mouthpiece, not getting water into my eye mask, and most importantly, equalising the air pressure in my ears. In fact, the best advice I received all day was from an American guy with his wife who had been scuba diving for 45 years- he said that I should equalise at every opportunity I got, and that’s exactly what I did. I was perpetually squeezing my nose and breathing out, and that’s why in most of the photos that’s the pose you’ll find me in. Attractive.

Exif_JPEG_422

Exif_JPEG_422

Though we didn’t go deeper than maybe 10m (as a beginner I couldn’t go more than 12m deep) I did manage to catch glimpses of the fish around me, and caught sight of a few clownfish, starfish, angelfish, and many others I unfortunately cannot identify (the American couple said that it’s only after many times of diving that you’ll be able to look for or even identify a specific specie of fish). Still, everything was alive and colourful, and a school of grey fish spiralled up in front of us too, as if to give a proud show to us visitors.

Exif_JPEG_422

Exif_JPEG_422

Exif_JPEG_422

After about 45 minutes into our first dive, I started running out of air so we started our ascent back to the surface. First off was the weights, then the vest with our oxygen tanks, and finally our flippers before we climbed back onto the boat for lunch. By this time, though, I was busting to pee and Ruben told me I’d have to pee on the ocean. I was a little more than shocked since I have this thing about doing any kind of business in front of people. But I was desperate so I did it ==’ Furtively of course, but I told myself that it was all a part of the experience, especially when there aren’t any toilet facilities around.

After an hour of lunch, we began to prepare for our second dive, this time at a different spot on the island where the water is deeper (60m) and the reefs cascade like steep cliffs into darkness. My instructor had to hold onto me, and warned us not to swim vertically but horizontally, or else we’d pivot down into its depths. This scared me enough to acquiesce.

As we dove to around 12m deep, the water grew colder, the fish bigger, the coral reefs larger and less colourful, yet the amount of different fish species was incredible. They came in all sorts of colours and swam in all directions in different ways- some how you would normally expect a fish to swim, and some on their sides, drifting up and down like half-dead fish. But the thing that amazed me the most was how they all knew their place and where they were going and how this created an atmosphere of serenity and calm.

Exif_JPEG_422

I’m so thankful to have had my first dive in Menjangan Island. It has such a diverse marine environment which has been preserved wonderfully by the locals. Definitely a go-to spot for holiday-makers in Bali looking for beaches and resorts (the one we stayed at, Amertha Villas was amazing!).

Stay tuned,
xx Lucy