We are Nic and Paul, The Roaming Renegades! A married couple who are quitting the 9-5 for a life of travel & adventure. We are leaving behind the "normal" way of living in which we are conditioned into giving away our best years for a retirement which may never happen.
If you are looking to experience exceptional cuisine, an intriguing history, and beautiful surroundings during a holiday abroad, you should look no further than Greece. There is a misconception that a getaway to Greece can be expensive. However, there are many ways you can reduce your expenditure without compromising on your enjoyment.
To ensure you experience the best of this stunning nation without blowing your budget, find out how to plan a trip to Greece on a budget.
Don’t Travel During Peak Season
While there is never a bad time to visit Greece, you could save a considerable amount of money by travelling off-season. It is common for different destinations, such as Corfu and Crete, to be busy and more expensive from the middle of June to the end of August. So, if you have a limited budget, avoid travelling during peak season.
Book a Luxury Villa with Your Loved Ones Believe it or not, booking one of the luxury Greece Villa Holidays doesn’t need to cost you a substantial sum. Regardless of whether you want to travel to destinations such as Rhodes, Santorini, or Mykonos, you can enjoy both privacy and comfort by staying at a luxury villa with your loved ones.
For example, you could share the cost of the accommodation with your extended family members or friends. Plus, you could stay in a villa that is a stone’s throw away from your destination’s best beaches, restaurants, and attractions.
Buy Food from Local Markets
As a private villa will provide access to your own kitchen, you could save even more money by cooking meals at your accommodation. Rather than experiencing meals at expensive restaurants each night, you should buy food from local markets, which will sell a wide range of produce. For example, you could pay as little as 0.40 Euros for 1.5 litres of water.
Make the Most of Public Transport
Greece is well-regarded for its comprehensive public transport system. Rather than paying for expensive car rentals, you could jump onto one of the many buses, trains, trams, and boats at your destination, which can transport you to different landmarks and attractions, as well as quaint villages. You could also save money on your transportation by booking your tickets in advance. It can also be an excellent way to mix with locals and immerse yourself in Greek culture.
Experience Authentic Greek Cuisine
While there is nothing wrong with occasionally booking a table at a high-end restaurant during your stay, you would be wise to experience more authentic local flavours from street stalls and charming hole-in-the-wall restaurants. They are well-known for providing both locals and tourists with delicious, authentic Greek cuisine, which will offer stunning flavours that will burst onto your tongue. When we visited the island of kos we loved the incredible local food!
For example, you are likely to find the likes of a gyro on every street corner in Greece, which is similar in style to a pitta wrap that will feature either chicken and pork with onions, tomatoes, and French fries. It will also cost you little more than €2.50. If, however, you like the thought of skewered meat, souvlaki is a tasty option that is a similar price to a gyro. So, skip the fancy restaurants and experience delicious, inexpensive, and filling street food.
If, however, you do choose to dine at a restaurant, avoid doing so along your destination’s tourist strip or by the seaside, which can charge extortionate prices for their dishes.
Research Free Admission Days
There are bound to be many attractions you will want to visit once you arrive at your chosen destination in Greece. While many will require you to pay to enter a site, some will also provide days when you can visit a landmark for free. So, you should research any attractions and landmarks you want to visit prior to your holiday, as you could enter for free during your stay.
Book a Free Walking Tour
To save yourself a substantial sum, you could book a free walking tour to explore a destination’s best attractions on foot, which will not cost you a penny. For example, you could explore ancient landmarks and neo-classical monuments when strolling through the city centre. However, make sure you wear comfortable walking shoes to avoid aching feet as you move from A to B.
So, if you want to travel to a stunning Greek destination in 2019 on a budget, bear the above tips in mind when planning your getaway with your family or friends.
After spending a few day exploring the effortlessly elegant city of Milan we were keen to get out of the crowded streets and into the surrounding countryside and searches for the best day trips from Milan. One of the places we had always dreamt of visiting was Lake Como and the pastel colours towns that sit around its edges. Set against the foot hills of the Italian and Swiss Alps, this idyllic turquoise lake is dotted with ancient towns and has been home to aristocrats, the wealthy and the famous since Roman times. It makes for a one of the most wonderful day trips from Milan being only 85km (53 Miles) from the city with travel times between 1 hour and 1.5 hrs! We headed from Milan to Bellagio for an incredible Lake Como day trip from Milan where we enjoyed gelato by the water, took a ferry across the lake and cycled through some stunning landscapes!
Lake Como day trip from Milan: Arriving in the picturesque town of Varenna before completing our Milan to Bellagio adventure
We chose to depart the train at the town of Varenna on the banks of Lake Como as it seemed like the best place to explore using public transport. There are villages and towns dotted all around the inverted Y shaped lake and all offer some incredible views and picturesque views of the water through the arches of the villas and centuries old dwellings. However some are a little more accessible than others and as a day trip we wanted to visit somewhere close to the train lines.
There are a few other towns served by the train line including the small city of Como and Lecco further south on the East side of the lake as well as several towns north of Varenna such as Bellano. But Varenna seemed like the best base for us to explore further given its central location on the lake, great ferry connections to places like Bellagio as well as being within an hour of Milan. Varenna’s location gave us some great opportunities to explore a few areas of the lake in a short amount of time making is an ideal option for us out of the many day trips from Milan.
Arriving in Varenna we were instantly blown away, the town and lake was everything we had expected of a place with such a reputation as Lake Como. Even after our adventures in the Swiss Alps the views here made it one of the most picturesque places we had ever experienced and to make it even better the sun was shimmering off the surface of the lake and the temperature perfect for an adventure.
Milan to Bellagio: Continuing on the Ferry Across Lake Como
We decided upon our arrival in Varenna, as it’s pretty small, to continue on almost immediately over the lake to the larger town of Bellagio and explore Varenna before we took the train back to Milan. Our Lake Como day trip from Milan would be mostly centred around Bellagio.
Bellagio is special for many reasons but its location at the fork in the inverted Y makes it feel like an island floating perfectly in the middle of the mountain encased lake. It seemed like the perfect location to head to to get a taster of what Lake Como is all about in the day we had here given its beautiful architecture, stunning position, perfect size and of course the ferry ride across the lake to reach it!
Taking the public ferry across Lake Como is one of those incredible experiences you come across that hits all the right notes. It’s cheap, offers jaw dropping scenery and transports you to a place that is beautiful beyond words. The ride over is nothing short of spectacular, to get out onto the lake itself and take in the panoramic views of the towering Mountains and azure water lapping up at the sides of the shore with its colourful villages dotted amongst the hues of green and blue is incredible.
The ferry runs frequently and can also accommodate cars and bikes too which makes it ideal for exploring further if you have your own transport and costs €9 (£8.00 / £10.26) each for a return.
From Varenna and Bellagio there are also other ferry lines running the other side of the lake to Menaggio and Cadenabbia which again makes this section of the lake a perfect place to explore several areas in a short amount of time or as an idea spot to cut out a lot of extra driving. One reason Varenna is the most ideal of the day trips from Milan is how connected it is to many other areas of the lake.
The best day trips from Milan: Renting Bikes and Exploring Beautiful Bellagio
Bellagio is just somewhere that oozes class with the grand old hotels lining the cliff sides, the chic restaurants on the waters edge and a maze of steep passages full of boutique shops. The romance of the place continues with the narrow cobbled streets lined with beautiful wisteria draped pastel houses all leading down to the gently lapping waters. If you do a Lake Como day trip from Milan then Bellagio is a must visit.
It feels a million miles away from the revving cars and beeping horns of Milan, the busy streets and sticky subway trains are a long forgotten memory as you stroll idly though the sleepy alleyways of this beautiful town. Getting lost here is all part of the magic, wandering aimlessly around the warren like layout, stopping occasionally to window shop or grab a gigantic gelato, it’s the best way to fully indulge in this beautiful little towns dreamlike vibe. Escaping the city for the gentile paradise of Lake Como makes this one of the most incredible day trips from Milan.
After a while exploring the charms of the most famous town on Como we decided to rent bikes and head along the banks of the lake to get a feel for some of the smaller villages. We rented the bikes from a small shop up a narrow passageway just across from the ferry terminal, the woman was really nice and friendly and even allowed us to pay on our return as we had no cash on us which was lovely.
Riding around the lake turned out to be more involved than we first imagined, we pictured a gentle track along the waters edge where we would trundle along. Instead however there are a series of steep roads set back from the lake itself which makes the riding not as laid back as we expected. However from the vantage point of the hilly roads the view is nothing sort of spectacular with many offshoots to ride down (and back up!) to take in some really hidden gems.
One thing to bear in mind if you do ride around the lake is the traffic along the tight winding roads and also to remember than the front brake on bikes here and in many countries in Europe is reversed compared to what it is in the UK (A friend had a pretty rude awakening to this fact whilst we were in Switzerland mountain biking a few years back!)
As well as managing to give ourselves a decent workout we had a wonderful time escaping the groups of tourists around Bellagio and seeing a bit more of the local life of Lake Como. We spotted many old tiny stone churches with locals gathered in their small squares next to the lake, chatting with incredibly enthusiasm in a way only the Italians can! Near by would by small docks with boats bobbing up and down next to traditional wooden houses by the crystal clear rivers feeding the lake.
Once you start riding from here you really get an idea of how big the lake is and just how many little towns and villages there are to explore. I first became aware of this majestic lake when a couple we know came here to spend two weeks riding around it on motorbikes. At the time I wonderer how you could spend an entire fortnight at one lake, but now with the many little villages, towns, lagoons and secret spots to explore along its edges I can see why! Renting a bike is a great way to see more around the lake and really makes it one of the best day trips from Milan.
Bike hire cost:
€25 for two (£22.30 / $28.50) OR €20 for one (£17.90 /$22.80)
Lake Como Day Trip from Milan:
Transport Options from Milan to Bellagio, Varenna and Lake Como
Taking the Train from Milan to Lake Como:
From the City Centre:
There are two railway lines connecting Milan to Como and both offer different options for your Lake Como day trip from Milan.
They leave from the stations: Milano Centrale, Milano Porta Garibaldi, and Milano Nord Cadorna
Trains from both Centrale and Porta Garibaldi travel along the same line, however the trains from Centrale make fewer stops but leave less frequently. The trains from Porta Garibaldi stop at all the local stations and take twice the amount of time, however they do leave more frequently.
living in Christchurch, the largest and main city on the South Island of New Zealand not only has its benefits in terms of lifestyle, beautiful surroundings including several beaches, nearby mountains and great hiking, but its also a perfect base from which to explore the rest of the South Island. Compared to places like Australia, New Zealand is pretty small and so when road tripping you can really cover some amazing landscapes in a short amount of time. The city makes a perfect starting point from exploring further south into the Southern Alpine region, most choose to do multi day or longer road trips around this area as we did during our time here. But one of the great benefits to NZ’s compact nature, great roads and uncrowded landscape is that you can do many day trips from Christchurch to the start of the Alpine region too. The Christchurch to Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki drive is a great example, it can be the perfect first leg on a longer trip or an ideal day trip to see these incredibly blue glacial lakes with Mt Cook in the distance!
Christchurch to Lake Tekapo: Why This is the Perfect Day Trip From the City
Christchurch sits in an ideal place to explore some of the closer reaches of the magnificent Southern Alps as well as the many other gems of the South Island. Whether you choose to do a shorter day trip such as Rakaia Gorge close to the Skiing at Mt Hutt, head down Arthur’s Pass to see Castle Hill, head north to the seal colonies of Kaikoura or the hot springs of Hanmer, Christchurch is in a prime location as a starting point for an epic adventure or a base for many amazing day trips.
One of the main things most people want to do when they head to New Zealand and in particular the South Island is the experience the majesty of the Southern Alps. The South Island’s backbone is an incredible mountain range unlike any other in the world with it being so close to the oceans and being surrounded by jungles and rain forests on its Western Side. For those with only a short amount of time in the region or for those wanting an easily accessible day trip from the city Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki are a great introduction to the unique and breathtaking landscape of Southern New Zealand.
Can you see Mt Cook poking through the clouds?
The aqua colour glacial lake stands at the edge of the Mt Cook National Park in the far distance, the home of the tallest mountain in New Zealand, its namesake, Mount Cook which stands at a staggering 3,724 m tall. Surrounded by a group of peaks of a similar height the mountain range here is covered in year round snow and ancient glaciers that carved out these very lakes.
The very shape of the two lakes with the towering peaks and their glistening glaciers in the far distance is a testament to their formation. Thousands of years ago during the last Ice Age those glaciers would have reached right down to the lake fronts and carved out the valleys that surround them. The incredible colour of the water too is a result of the melt waters that still feed the lakes to this day, ancient ice melting away produce sediment rich water than once settled creates the impossibly milky turquoise coloured lakes.
Taking the Christchurch to Lake Tekapo and Pukaki trip is a perfect way to see the sheer power and scale of the Southern Alps in a tranquil and picture perfect setting only a few hours from the city and as an easily doable day trip. The trip involves a scenic drive with no real extreme or wild roads that can be found as you delve further into the Alpine region and especially when crossing over from here to Wanaka or Queenstown in the winter. It involves no really intense hiking, though there is a lot in the area as well as bike trails if you want it and is ideal all year round for both the adventurous and not so adventurous travellers, and for the photographers is a real heaven!
Things To Do At Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki Once You Arrive:
Church of the Good Shepherd
Sitting in prime position right by the lake this quaint stone church is one of the most photographed buildings in New Zealand and you will see why! The still functioning church with the backdrop of the aqua coloured lakes and the snow capped mountains beyond has to be the most perfectly positioned buildings in the world!
Stargaze in the Dark Sky Reserve around the Lake
Ever heard of a “Dark Star Reverse” no, me neither before we lived in New Zealand. But it’s a testament to the way in which New Zealand cares for its landscape that this area has been protected from artificial light pollution and recognised internationally for how clear the skies are at night. With the Mt John observatory too its is a perfect place to see the Milky Way in all its glory. You will be blown away seeing a sky this clear and so full of stars!
See the Lupins in bloom:
The area around Lake Tekapo comes to live with the incredible purple display of lupin Flowers through the Spring and early Summer months, with November being the best time to visit. The lake might be incredibly scenic in itself, but add in the fields of purple and pink flowers and it becomes even more beautiful!
We only managed to see a few Lupins as the season for them was almost over!
Hike up Mt John:
If you have time whilst in Lake Tekapo then you should take the 1.5 – 3 hour hike to the summit of this small mountain for unforgettable views over the lake and the Southern Alps. The Mt John circuit takes in dense pine forests before opening up onto the vast tussock fields of the area.
Hike or bike the Cowans Hill walkway:
This walkway takes around an hour to complete and takes you through some of the wetlands of the area and offer some more amazing views of the lake and mountains. The mountain bike trails are grade 2.
Take a scenic flight or jet boat ride:
If you have the money then this is a great place to splash out and take one of the many scenic flights or jet boat rides available across the country. With Mt Cook being so close the flights around here will take you over the glacial lakes and beyond where you can see the countries highest peak from above, a truly unforgettable experience.
Jet Boat rides too also allow those with limited time to get out onto the lake and further down towards the top end near to the mountains. Don’t expect them to be just a scenic trip down the lake, they will be a wild ride you won’t forget!
The incredible Mt Cook
Lake Pukaki might offer less “to do” compared to Tekapo but we think as a lake its actually much more impressive than Tekapo with the views it offers and is usually a little quieter too offering a much more serine visit.
Take in the view of Mt Cook from the Lake:
One of the main draws of Lake Pukaki is the view of Mt Cook it offers from the lake front, not only is the brilliant turquoise lake enchanting in its own right, but when it plays foreground to the largest mountain in New Zealand you know you’re on to a winner! Along the lake front there are plenty of places to stop and walk down to the water to take in the view and have a short stroll!
Drive down the road towards Mt Cook:
The drive alongside the lake down towards Mt Cook along State Highway 80 has to be one of the best in the country, the lake on one side with the mountains slowly creeping closers as you continue pretty much sums up the South Island of NZ! The drive to the village is 58km (36 miles) so you might not have chance to do it all but there are some great stops along the first half of the road too.
Mt Cook from the roadside
Walk the Lake Pukaki Track:
The entire track takes around 4 hrs and is 13km long, however if you are on a day trip it is worth at least just doing a small section of the track to take in some of the amazing views. It start off State Highway 8 near the Pukaki Kettlehole Walk.
Other short walks around Lake Pukaki:
There are many other great short walks around here including the Pukaki Kettlehole Walk, which takes 1 hour and is 4km long. As well as the 10 minute walk to the Pukaki boulders just off State Highway 80 towards Mt Cook.
Find out more information and more walks on the DOC website here: www.doc.govt.nz
Getting from Lake Tekapo to Lake Pukaki:
Whilst the lakes are relatively close to each other on a grand scale they are actually a little further apart than maps may at first suggest. The lakes are roughly 47km (29.2 Miles) apart and the drive takes just over 30 mins. The route is straightforward as there is only one road! Follow signs for Twizel and the lake is just before the town.
When planning out your day trip from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo if you want to add on Lake Pukaki be sure to leave enough time as the drive alone will take at least an hour extra there and back as well as time exploring the lake itself. If you do have time carrying on to the small town/ village of Twizel (10km / 6.2 Miles away) is ideal as it is a great place to stop for food and fuel before heading back on the long drive to Christchurch.
Continuing your trip from here or spending the weekend in the region? Head over to Mt Cook National Park for some incredible scenery or spend the night in Twizel.
From Lake Tekapo and Pukaki there are several options to continue your journey around New Zealand if you’re not planning on immediately returning to Christchurch.
Mt Cook National Park:
From Lake Pukaki you can turn down the incredible road towards the looming Mt Cook at its far end. Mount Cook National Park offers some of the best hiking in the country and has many options from short gentle hikes to multi day tramps. The best hikes here include the amazing but easy Hooker Valley Track (Currently closed due to damaged bridges) and the hike up the the Sealy Tarns as well as the Muller Hut Track which can be done in a single day or two days staying in the hut overnight. Even if you don’t want to hike the views from the village of Mt Cook are amazing and there are some short and gentle walks in the valleys too.
The drive to Mt Cook Village from Pukaki is around 58km (36 miles). There is a campsite and several hotels in the village.
Sealy Tarns view
Twizel is a small town just 10km on from Pukaki and is an ideal place to stay overnight if you want to take more time on the trip or have two days here. It makes a good stop off point for fuel and food too.
Wanaka and Queenstown:
The most logical progression on from Tekapo, Pukaki and Mt Cook is to continue on through the mountain passes towards two of the countries most incredible and well known mountain towns, Wanaka and Queenstown. Lake Tekapo is an idea overnight stop whilst travelling towards these town towns.
These two of course need no introduction and are on most peoples itineraries when visiting the South Island of New Zealand. They are hubs of outdoor sports, extreme activities, amazing mountains and hiking.
Wanaka is a further 200km (124 Miles) onwards and is another 2.5 hours of driving and takes you through the incredible but challenging Lindis Pass.
Queentown is 256 km (160 Miles) from Lake Tekapo and takes around 3 hours again through some incredible scenery.
The distance between Wanaka and Queentown varies depending on the route you take. It can be as short at 67km (41.5 Miles) down the Cardrona Valley, but this route isn’t ideal in winter and takes around 1hr 10 mins. Alternatively the route via Cromwell is 112 km (70 Miles) and takes 1.5 hrs.
The Lindis pass towards Wanaka and Queenstown
Christchurch to Lake Tekapo: Practical Information For Your Trip
Christchurch to Lake Tekapo Distance and Time:
The distance between Christchurch and Lake Tekapo is 228 km (142 Miles) and..
Train travel is our absolute favourite way to get around and wherever possible we always jump at the chance to take the train rather than flying, buses or even driving. There is something romantic about chugging through scenic landscapes in the comfort (or not in some cases!) of a train carriage. Just the right speed to take it all in, no traffic jams or getting lost, you can instead sit back and enjoy the ride! Train travel too has a long romanticised history, it harks back to the nostalgia of the “golden age of travel” when rail journeys were sophisticated and the epitome of adventure. In many countries the railways were brought by colonial forces and remain as a historical marker and look into the past industries of a nation. Train travel isn’t just about the spectacular views it affords you either, its about sitting side by side with local people, interacting and experiencing another way of life through local methods of transport. Here we document some of the great scenic railway journeys, from the historic to the awe-inspiring, both expensive and dirt cheap, there are many experiences along the iron tracks all over the globe that are hard to beat!
Trans-Siberian / Trans-Mongolian Railway, Russia (Mongolia & China)
An absolute classic railways journey the marathon trip from incredible Moscow through the heart of frozen Siberian, the vast rolling plateaus of Mongolia and finishing in the bustling Chinese capital of Beijing. This has to be one of the most epic journeys ever! From Moscow to Vladivostok the railway covers a massive 9,258km (6,152 miles) and takes at least 7 days, and that is only part of journey as you can change part way onto the two other lines that go through Mongolia and China instead!
A trip on the famed Trans-Siberian Railway is an incredible experience and isn’t just about getting from A to B, rather about the many stops along the way, the people you meet and the amazing cultures you come across on this incredible journey.
Great Scenic Railway Journeys: California Zephyr & Rocky Mountaineer, North America
Both the U.S and Canada compete to offer fantastic train journeys that take passengers through incredible landscapes and wonderfully diverse states.
Some of the most iconic trains such as the California Zephyr which journeys from Chicago to San Fransisco with views of the Colorado River valley in the Rocky Mountains, and the Sierra Nevada takes around 51.h hours! The vast and varied landscape that the train crosses, from urban sprawls to snow capped peaks, desolated deserts and incredible forests it really is an adventure that sums up the unique landscapes of the US and is what makes it one of the real great scenic railway journeys.
Another famous route is the Rocky Mountaineer which takes passengers through rocky gorges, sweeping valleys and mountain ranges of Western Canada. Specially built panoramic trains allow passengers to take in the incredible landscapes and has been awarded awarded the “World’s Leading Travel Experience by Train” seven times!
Great Scenic Railway Journeys: Reunification Express, Vietnam
Often times the magic of train travel is not just how relaxing the journey is but also the historic and cultural context to the railways. The “Reunification Express” otherwise known as the North-South Railway is one such line. Not only does the 1,726 km (1,072 mi) journey from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) take in some breathtaking scenery along the coast of Vietnam, but it represents the coming together of the country.
The popular trail takes in some of the countries most scenic spots along the coast including Hue, Da Nang (Hoi An), and Nha Trang and with Vietnam being a long and thin country each stop is ideal for venturing further inland to places such as Phong Nha, Da Lat and Ninh Binh. The line also continues further north of Hanoi to the incredible rice terraces of Sa Pa too.
What also makes this journey special is what is represents and the experiences along the way. The train is very much a local experience with basic sleeper compartments alongside local travellers which makes it fascinating and authentic. Dating back to French colonial times much of the line was badly damaged during WW2 and the Vietnam War. When services began again on 31 December 1976 it became a symbol of Vietnamese unity.
Great Scenic Railway Journeys: Titicaca Railway, Peru
Traversing the shores of Lake Titicaca through the heart of the Inca capital, the railway from Cuzco to Puno cuts a picturesque path through snow-dusted mountains and the massive valleys of the Andes. With a Pullman-style dining cars and an open-air observation carriage this journey is straight out of the romantic, upper class era of train travel.
This isn’t a local Peruvian experience, but it does take you through the heart of the plains, the towering Andes and to the world’s highest navigable lake. The luxury experience in unforgettable surroundings last around 10.5 hours and is the epitome of first class train travel in South America.
Great Scenic Railway Journeys: Ella to Kandy, Sri Lanka
This has to be our favourite train journey that we have taken, for us it ticks all the boxes that make it epic. It’s dirt cheap, it passes through some jaw dropping scenery and its a truly local experience too! The 8 hour journey from the mountain town of Ella in central Sri Lanka to the colonial city of Kandy slowly trundles along the old British lines originally constructed for transporting tea. The carriages haven’t been updated much since the British left and with doors and windows being left wide open there isn’t much in the way of health and safety either with many people riding on the footboards between local stops.
Sitting shoulder to shoulder with Sri Lankans, eating 10p Dhal balls and taking in the never ending mountains and tea fields is a true delight. The insight into local culture, the views than never fail to entertain and the sense of adventure this journey instills for just a few $ makes it top of the list for us! Forget luxury travel in air conditioned compartments, this is the real magic of train travel!
Great Scenic Railway Journeys: Lhasa Express, Tibet
Linking the skyscrapers of Beijing with the ancient palaces of Lhasa, the Z21 commuter train ferries passengers from urban China to the magical lands of Tibet. The journey climbs some 16,000 (5000m) making it the highest train line in the world when it crosses the Tanggula Pass.
Covering a distance of 1,956 km (1,215 mi) between Beijing and Lhasa it traverses some of the most varied terrain in the world, approaching Tibet, the land of incredible temples and flocks of monks the smog of the cities dissipates and the aromas of incense and candles fill the air. Chugging westwards past grazing yaks, snow-capped mountains and fluttering prayer flag whilst onboard locals can be seen slurping noodles and playing cards its the perfect railway experience.
Great Scenic Railway Journeys: Transalpine Express, New Zealand
Cutting through from coast to coast on the South Island of New Zealand down Arthurs Pass the Transalpine Express is regarded as one of the great scenic railway journeys in the world. Spanning just 223 km (139 mi) and taking just under 4 hours it is an idea way to not only cross from Christchurch over to the incredible West Coast of New Zealand but a perfect day trip through the stunning Southern Alps.
Beginning on the Canterbury plains the train ascends slows to the Waimakariri River through spectacular valleys and gorges before terminating in the lush rainforests and unique glaciers of the West Coast. With specially built carriages to make the ride smoother and large panoramic non-reflective windows as well as GPS triggered commentary the journey really is just as important as the destination with this trip!
Great Scenic Railway Journeys: Jungfraubahn, Switzerland
Sitting in the Bernese Alps at only 9 kilometres (5.6 mi) long it is one of the shortest journeys on this list but it has to be one of the most spectacular. Over that short distance it travels to an elevation of 3,454 m (11,332 ft) to the Jungfraujoch, the highest train station in Europe through tunnels carved into the side of the famous mountains of the Eiger and Monch with a station sitting inside the mountains themselves!
The lower parts of the railway traverse some of the most picturesque scenery in the Alps and is the second highest open-air railway in Switzerland at the Eigergletscher station at 2,320 m. Opening in 1912 it is also one of the oldest routes on the list and though modernised over the year does still have that air of romanticism from the bygone era of train travel and early tourism and the views from both the train and the final station make it one of the all time great scenic railway journeys ever.
Hey, you’ve got your Travel Insurance sorted haven’t you?
Travelling and especially backpacking is a wild adventure, but make sure you are covered just incase something goes wrong, which if you’re living it up to the fullest it’s always a possibility!
Check travel insurance prices with World Nomads here!
For years now visiting Chernobyl and the post apocalyptic abandoned soviet town of Pripyat had been a dream. There is something eerily alluring about the idea of a town trapped in time, as the world has moved on this time capsule of the soviet era has been slowly crumbing. Twisting this once idealistic Utopian dream into something from a dystopian nightmare. As we grew more interested in both soviet history and Urban Exploring we looked to the horrific and spine tingling events of Chernobyl and the ghost town of Pripyat as the epitome of exploration. Finally we had the chance to step into this still radiated waste land to make this strange dream a reality taking one of the many Chernobyl tours from Kiev! You might also ask, is it safe to visit Chernobyl and can you visit Chernobyl without a guide? We’ve got all the answers covered as well as our experience.
A background to Chernobyl
On 26 April 1986, at 01:23, reactor four at the Chernobyl power plant suffered a catastrophic power increase, leading to explosions in its core. Technicians at the plant had begun tests earlier in the evening which got catastrophically got out of hand. It was later found that the plant lacked many of the safety features which would have avoided the accident. Ironically the experiment scheduled was to test a potential safety emergency core cooling feature!
The Chernobyl plant and the reactor exploded in dramatic fashion. The roof of the building was completely blow off and radioactive material was burning at unimaginable temperature. Those materials were pumped high in the atmosphere through the poisonous cloud of smoke billowing out without any kind of containment. The cloud left a trail of fallout all over Europe and its effects were felt as far away as Wales and Iceland. However, the immediate areas such as the town of Pripyat and southern Belarus were most greatly effected.
Chernobyl tours from Kiev: Learning more about the moving and heroic events of that terrible day
After the initial incident the Soviet Union kept quiet about the events of that fateful evening. In a move that feels typical of such a secretive regime I wonder how they thought no one would notice! 31 people were killed in the initial blast and clean up efforts, but the death tole from the fall out has estimated to have killed between 10,000–200,000 people mostly as a result of cancer.
Wild dogs in front of a statue of Lenin
As the clean up crews of over 500,000 people from all over the Soviet Union and Europe descended on the stricken Chernobyl power plant there were two main tasks at hand. To smother and contain the escaping radioactive materials inside a hastily constructed sarcophagus and to secure the melting floor from caving into the river below and causing a second much larger explosion that would have rendered most of Europe uninhabitable for tens of thousands of years.
The firefighters memorial
So called liquidators were brought in to do the tasks the ailing machinery and helicopters couldn’t. This included shovelling lumps of highly poisonous material off the roof and into the hole, each man was allowed only a few minutes on the roof before receiving thousands of times the safe does of radiation.
Below the Chernobyl plant molten hot lava was burning through the layers of the floor and inching ever closer to the river below. Miners were drafted in from small towns to dig in extreme temperatures and at high levels of radiation towards the centre of the plant. Their efforts effectively saved Europe from an unimaginable fate. The people that came to the area after the explosion, those who ran in to save Europe from an even bigger disaster and those that treated the highly radioactive patient are true heroes and ones that unfortunately due to the politics of the time have gone largely unthanked.
A liquidators medal we got on a flea market in Lviv a few years back
It was a real highlight of taking one of the Chernobyl tours from Kiev is not just getting to see the place but really learning so much about what happened here that isn’t all that well known! People often ask, can you visit Chernobyl without a guide? Honestly, besides the safety and legality concerns the information you get from the guides is worth it alone, visiting here isn’t just about exploring but learning too!
Chernobyl tours from Kiev: Exploring the outskirts of the city
Firstly we ventured to the many memorials set up for those who died here and also the heroes who gave their lives saving even more people. Walking down an alley way which names all the towns and villages that once stood in this area makes you realise just how many people lived in the exclusion zone of Chernobyl. Most of these villages were flattened and only these signs remain as evidence of their existence. The human cost of the disaster wasn’t only health but people lost everything, they left all their belongings behind and a life they had made here and were never allowed to return.
Entering into the forest for the first time down an over grown track our Geiger counters first began to chirp louder and louder. Our guide, Olexandr, told us to carefully point them towards the patches of moss either side of the track.
A chorus of beeps began as our readers shot up from the base levels of around 0.15 to well over 10.00. These hot spots were all around us but still nowhere near the levels of the inner exclusion zone! The zone is unpredictable with patches of radiation jumping up randomly or in areas of concentrated moss or metal. When people often as if you can you visit Chernobyl without a guide the answer is a resounding no! Not only is the area well secured with guards, but the guides know where is safe and where isn’t!
Our first stops that gave us a taste of what was to come included a small wooden medical centre strewn with medication and Lenin inscribed booklets. A real sign of the time warp we had entered into on one of the best Chernobyl tours from Kiev. The next was a children’s nursery that provided us with the first real eerie reminders of the innocent lives effected by this tragedy and how everyday life just came to a stand still. Rusting cots and moldy dolls provided a creepy insight into this lost world!
Chernobyl tours from Kiev: Discovering the secret soviet nuclear detector in the woods
Another stop be made was the DUGA radar system, otherwise known as “The Russian Woodpecker” or Chernobyl 2. Hidden in a heavily forested area of the exclusion zone and even to this day patrolled by military units it was one of the most closely guarded secrets of the soviet union. Marked off as a children’s camp to deflect any outside interest much speculation to its purpose has arisen over the years.
With its mind numbing taps the Russian Woodpecker produced a noise from behind the iron curtain many thought could be related to mind control tactics, wire tapping or even weather experiments. The frequency would interrupt mainstream broadcasts, radio and commercial aviation communications worldwide but remained unclaimed. However after the fall of the Soviet Union it was revealed the true purpose of this gargantuan steel framed construction was as an early warning system for nuclear attacks. Seeing a sight like this, in an isolated and guarded area is another reason this was one of the best Chernobyl tours from Kiev.
Seeing something so enormous and so connected to the cold war was quite incredible. To think how closely guarded this would have been during the height of the soviet union, and to be stood right below it, was quite mind blowing and pretty cool! If you’re still wondering, can you visit Chernobyl without a guide, then you should realise just how much access you get to the hidden and lesser know spots like this when you’ve got an experienced guide with you!
Travelling is a magical time filled with experiences and memories that will live with you forever, but often as well as the memories we cherish dearly, we want to capture the places we visit as well as our time there. We often strive for better photos, capturing postcard worthy scenes and doing the incredible sights we see justice through our lens. Taking photos of ourselves in those places and the things we do too is yet another challenge. Travel provides the most incredible opportunities for photography, for narrative telling through images but it is also a challenging environment with an unpredictability and many external factors that can make capturing your experiences in the way you want a sometimes difficult task. With that in mind we’ve put together a guide to travel photography tips for beginners.
Music is the great inspirer along with travel itself, in fact, both of these are two great passions in our lives and have inspired each other over the years to no end. Combing two passions is an incredible experience and one we’ve been lucky enough to do many times whilst travelling. Visiting filming locations for our favourite TV programs like Game of Thrones, or recreating moving scenes in Manhattan! Similarly some of our favourite bands or indeed some of the most historically important music is connected to certain landmarks and cities, especially in Europe. From Mozart to The Beatles, Opera to Dance music, Europe is home to unparalleled history and diversity.
Abbey Road, London, UK
London is one of the worlds best cities when it comes to its music scene and musical history. But one of the most iconic spots in the city is just a humble road crossing immortalised by one famous UK rock band! Made famous as the location for the cover image of The Beatles 11th album, thousands flock here each year to recreate the iconic scene of the Fab Four strolling across the road!
The Cavern Club and various locations around the city, Liverpool, UK
Speaking of The Beatles, you can’t visit England as a fan and not head north to the home of the band, the wonderful city of Liverpool. A city steeped in musical history and with a lively scene to this day there are many iconic spots to visit dotted all across Liverpool. The iconic Cavern Club on Mathew Street where The Beatles made some of their earliest performances is a must visit, it’s also played host to Oasis, Queen, The Who and The Rolling Stones. Other spots for fans to visit are Penny Lane, Paul McCartney’s childhood home and The Beatles Story on the UNESCO listed Albert Dock.
La Scala is one of the leading opera house in Italy and steeped in history having been open since 1778. Located in Milan, a beautiful city perfect for those who love a wide range of music from opera to dance and electro. Works of Verdi, Stockhausen, and Puccini has been featured in this opera house, and countless great Italian operatic artists over its many years of entertaining the public. It is also possible to not only catch a performance here but also to tour the opera house and learn more about its unique history.
Jim Morrison’s grave, Cimetiere du Pere-Lachaise, Paris, France
The most visited grave in the incredibly atmospheric Cimetiere Du Pere-Lachaise, the grave of Jim Morrison has become a site of pilgrimage. Having passed away in Paris in 1971 The Doors singer was interred in the already famous gothic cemetery, home to greats such as Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf and Chopin amongst many others. The grave of Jim Morrison is a place for fans to flock to, with music playing, beer and whisky flowing and candles constantly being lit its a place with a joyful and hippy atmosphere!
Get Lost in the Dance Scene of Berlin, Germany
Berlin has always been a hub for creativity and music over the years, with the likes of David Bowie, U2 and Iggy Pop recording and living here for a time. Today the scene is dominated by Dance and Techno music, the energetic and pulsating music combined with the unique art scene here creates an incredible and mesmerising vibe. Some of the classic clubs include SO36 and Schokoladen with the superclubs of Tresor and Berghain being a must visit for Dance fans.
Wiener Musikverein and Wiener Konzerthaus, Vienna, Austria
Undoubtedly, Vienna is the European capital of Classical Music. Composers like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Johannes Brahms have studied and worked in “The City of Music”. Vienna is home to some of the greatest and most imporessive theatres and concert halls too. The Wiener Musikverein is home to the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra while the Wiener Konzerthaus has the Vienna Chamber Orchestra, Vienna Symphony, the Klangforum Wein in residence, and the Wiener SIngakademie. It is also possible to visit the home of Mozart and discover more about his life and works whilst in Vienna.
For over 25 years, Whelan’s pub has seen acts of different performers. The Arctic Monkeys and Ed Sheeran are some artists who have graced the stage of this musical institution in Dublin, Ireland. This pub is also featured in the 2007 movie adaptation of Cecelia Ahern’s novel, “P.S. I Love You”. The city as a whole is also a music lovers heaven, with streets lined with pubs playing live music each and every night of the week. The Temple Bar area is a hub of both traditional Irish music as well as modern performances and cross overs! With the Guinness flowing, the music pumping and the craic in full motion you are sure to have a great night in the Irish capital.
Salford Lad’s Club, Salford, Greater Manchester, UK
Manchester is home to one of the UK’s most incredible and lively music scenes. From the era of the Hacienda and the Madchester scene producing the likes of The Smiths, New Order, Joy Division, The Stone Roses and even early performances by the Sex Pistols and The Buzzcocks it’s at the heart of new musical movements. Speaking of The Smiths, one of their most iconic album covers, The Queen is Dead, was taken over the river in the city of Salford and has become a site of pilgrimage for fans of the bands and Morrissey. Manchester itself, we might be slightly bias with it being our hometown, is also worth exploring further too and has one of Europe’s most happening music scenes with a high concentration of venues and variety of performances year round.
Hey, you’ve got your Travel Insurance sorted haven’t you?
Travelling and especially backpacking is a wild adventure, but make sure you are covered just incase something goes wrong, which if you’re living it up to the fullest it’s always a possibility!
Check travel insurance prices with World Nomads here!
Back in 2006 I visited Oludeniz for the first time, this picturesque beach town on the south coast of Turkey was somewhere Shorty (Paul) had visited many times growing up and we were keen to check it out! Of course, being over 10 years ago and a family holiday it was VERY different to our backpacking escapades of the last few years. So when we saw the steady stream of paragliders floating and spinning off the mountainside we said, “One day” we’ll do it! (Read: When I return without my Mum in tow!!) Fast forward to 2016 and we’re backpacking through Eastern Europe and make a stop off back in Turkey, to the friends, family and memories we have here as well as the incredible landscapes and culture that keep us coming back! Now it was our turn to finally “Jump of the mountain!” Was it worth the wait and the anticipation all those year, hell yeah it was! Paragliding in Oludeniz became one of our best travel experiences, the hight, the views, the adrenaline, it’s just incredible! We loved it so much we even went and did it for a second time in 2018! So after doing it twice here’s our ultimate guide Paragliding in Turkey and a run through of our experiences doing the best paragliding in the world in one of our all time favourite countries!
Dreams of taking the leap: Paragliding in Oludeniz
Unlike when we visited Switzerland and decided on a whim a day before to go paragliding this was something that we had been thinking about for years. In fact it had been 10 years since my first visit and 20 years at least since Shorty watched his Dad do it! It was one of those things we always said we would do “One day” but having visited on at least 3 or 4 occasions since 2006 it never seemed to happen!
Growing up as skateboarders we knew we would do the Paragliding in Turkey but it was also still something that was pretty different to the adrenaline rush of skating. We were brave and stupid on our boards, throwing ourselves of anything and everything and getting pretty beaten up in the process. But strapping yourself to a stranger and running off the side of a 7000ft mountain! That was a whole new prospect back then!
Paragliding in Switzerland
In the years since our last visit though a lot of things had changed, we had taken up climbing and through that we’d done a lot of adventure sports and it became something pretty normal for us. Climbing made us comfortable at heights and we would regularly travel around the UK climbing and highlining (like tightrope walking but on slack webbing and at height). We had also just been on an incredible trip to Switzerland where we did some extreme canyoning (jumping, sliding and abseiling off huge cliffs in a canyon), a 2000ft high Via Feratta unguided as well as white water rafting and finally paragliding in view of the Eiger! So it just seemed like a no brainer than on this visit we would finally be Paragliding in Oludeniz!
So here we were, back in the little Turkish town we knew so well, surrounded by friends we’d made over the years and now family with Shorty’s Dad and Step Mum now living here. The time to tick this long standing bucket list item was now! We’d already had an incredible time returning to Turkey, finally making it to Istanbul as well as exploring the unworldly landscape of Cappadocia on foot as well as in a hot air balloon, so paragliding in Turkey would be the icing on the cake of our return!
Extreme sports enthusiasts on the trip of a lifetime backpacking around the world stood at the bottom of the mountain with enough money, time and contacts to make it happen whenever we wanted!! This was it, we were going paragliding in Oludeniz!
Paragliding in Turkey: Jumping of Babadag mountain
This time though we had no real nerves or second thoughts. After paragliding in Switzerland we felt in a much better position to take on this much higher and longer jump. Where as we were going from 4000ft in Switzerland and on a 15 minute flight, this time it was 7000ft+ and a 45 minute flight time! This time we knew all about taking off and landing, about how it feels to be in the air and also how amazing paragliding is! It really made it much more enjoyable being filled with excitement more than nerves and we just couldn’t wait to do the paragliding in Oludeniz finally!
Having friends and family in the town meant we did things a little differently than most people do when they go Paragliding in Turkey. Rather than booking through one of the many companies down on the beach we went up with a friends partner and his colleague. He had been doing this for well over 30 years, so we were in good hands!
Most people wait at the bottom and take one of the company mini buses up in a large group waiting for the allotted slots to jump. Us on the other hand got on the Dolmus, a public bus system in Turkey that also uses adapted mini buses as one of the main forms of public transport! It was pretty surreal to be on the bus with others just on a day out, many stopping at places way before the mountain, with all our paragliding gear pilled up around us! Apparently back in the day the road up here was almost as scary as the paragliding itself. But thankfully today with the rise of the popularity of paragliding here they finally got around the building a proper road!
After a short wait we were strapped in and ready to go and with no other riders up there with us there wasn’t much time to really fully contemplate just what we were doing! We knew from Switzerland that the process was pretty straight forward, lifting the canopy into the air we began to run as fast as we could off the steep paved slope until the ground dropped dramatically below us! In no time we were Paragliding in Turkey after all those years!
Paragliding in Oludeniz: Flying over the mountains, beaches and sea!
Before we knew it we were thousands of feet in the air, the wind whistling in our canopy and the craggy mountainside moving swiftly below us. The first sensation I remember upon leaving the ground is being pushed higher into the clouds above the mountain, but from the frantic feeling of take off a sudden calm comes over you. Up here everything seems still and peaceful, maybe not what people expect of paragliding in Oludeniz!
Soaring high above the cliffs and valleys we were on the other side of the mountain to the sea, rounding the peak and breaking through the thin layer of lingering clouds we got our first glimpse of the classic view of the beach that had enticed us in the first place. Now way in the distance we began to feel the height we were travelling at as the whole scene opening up in front of us. Twisting and turning over the mountainside before swinging out over the deep turquoise and azure sea, the unique blue lagoon bay and the golden sands of the beach came into sharp focus. A view we had dreamt of for years was finally right below our feet and is what makes Paragliding in Turkey so special!
From the air we could see the tiny village below, people like ants, boats speeding around the harbour and even the curvature of the earth. My pilot, Ibo, lives over in Kaya village on the over side of the beach, he extended my paragliding in Oludeniz experience to float gently over the famous ghost village on the cliff side over here.
We spent what felt like an eternity floating and flying free above the beach. Every turn gave us a new view of somewhere we knew so well. After spending years seeing photos of this view it felt surreal to be up here and seeing it with our very own eyes! This was it, we were finally paragliding in Oludeniz and it was incredible!
Then it came time to disrupt the peace and have a last kick of adrenaline. Ibo asked me if he could do some tricks in the air above the sea, of course, I said yes! Being pulled left and right by the high G forces I almost felt like we went upside down. Spinning around and around it was hard not to feel out of control, but we trusted our pilots to give us the ultimate thrill ride. Paragliding in Turkey isn’t just about seeing the views, but it’s about adrenaline too!
Heading down towards the beach we got ready to land, coming down in wide circles over the village, the hotels and swimming pools getting bigger and bigger. Coming in fast we made a smooth landing right on the beach with family and friends waiting for our safe arrival back down to earth! What an experience it was to finally go paragliding in Turkey!
The best paragliding in the world: Landing on the UNESCO listed Blue Lagoon
Paragliding here off the Babadag is world class and is often regarded as some of the best paragliding in the world with an international meet and competition even being held here every year in Autumn! What makes it so special is the unique geography of this area and it’s that that makes paragliding in Turkey world class.
The towering 7000ft Babadag mountain rises directly from the warm Mediterranean sea. Not only does this create on of the most beautiful views coming off the peak and flying directly over the UNESCO listen Blue Lagoon beach, often listed among the top in the world. But the turquoise waters also create some of the best thermals too, they actually lift you higher than the mountain itself upon take off insuring at least 45 mins in the air and for the extreme athletes who compete every year perfect conditions to try some insane manoeuvres!
Malaysia is such a diverse country and one of the places that really illustrates that is the landscape of the Cameron Highlands. Whilst the rest of the country is baked in sun and sweating in the humid conditions, up here the temperature and climate is totally different. The landscape, wildlife and the lifestyle is unique to this region of the country and the tea plantation blanketed mountains provide some of the best hiking in the region. We headed down to explore the stunning The Cameron Highlands, Malaysia and hike through the jungles and tea plantations.
Things to do in the Cameron Highlands: The best trails and hiking around the Tea Plantations of Malaysia
Tackling the jungle: Hiking several of the rainforest trails
The Cameron Highlands might be most famous for the tea plantations but the many trails that were established in the region in the 1960’s by the military for patrolling the region against the communists are now used as hiking trails. There are 14 in total and most leave from the town of Tanah Rata and weave in and out of the surrounding jungle. Some are more of a challenge than others, many are closed due to landslides and some are discouraged due to reported robberies! So make sure to stay at a hostel or guest house with up to date information and let the owners know where you are heading when you go hiking so you can make the most of the best things to do in the Cameron Highlands.
As experienced hikers that only had time to really spend a couple of days up in The Cameron Highlands we decided to combine some of the trails together to maximise our coverage over a short visit. This was only made possible by the help of maps and guides to see which would work and pre planning before we set off.
Number 1 and number 10 had been described to us as the best in the area as well as some of the toughest. However route number 1 up to the summit of G. Brinchang was closed due to a collapsed walkway which was disappointing as it was one of the main things to do in the Cameron Highlands that we were looking forward to.
So we decided to make a route up, we began by taking the longest and hardest of the remaining ones, route 10. Then we cut across to route 3, briefly onto 2 before it joined with 5 before then hitch hiking back to town!
This is a great full day hike that covers all the main viewpoints and places of interest on the main hiking trails away from the tea plantations themselves. That we saved for another days hiking. If you only have a couple of days here and want to cover the best of the trails and the plantations and you’re a decent hiker then we recommend taking our route or at least trail 10 as it’s one of the best things to do in the Cameron Highlands.
This walk was a full on full day adventure in the jungles, it took us initially through a steep section of the deep forest where after only a few minutes hiking we came across a scorpion on the trail!! The mossy floor below is an ancient jungle covered in layers and layers of moss built up over centuries that gives the ground a bouncy feel as you march on. Here there are all kinds of amazing plants and insects that lurk in the dark and damp corners of the jungle, The Cameron Highlands really does have so much adventure to offer.
The initial climb brought us out onto a clearing, our eyes still adjusting from the low light of the undergrowth we were greeted by a vast open vista. From this vantage point over The Cameron Highlands we could see back down to the town and beyond, over the amazing mountainous landscape covered in both tea plantations and thick ancient rainforest. The town might be mostly famous for the tea plantations in the distance but exploring the many trails is one of the things to do in the Cameron Highlands for sure and offers a quite different experience.
From here we continued on, back into the mystical and magical jungle with twisted vines, carnivorous pitch plants, giant snails and wondrous flowers around every turn. We crossed over river and rocks as we climbed up and down through this amazing landscape without ever seeing another person! We passed by many of the collapsed roads, little cottages surrounded by rose bushes that looked like they were straight out of England as we delved in and out of the jungle. Hiking in the Cameron Highlands, Malaysia really turned out to be an amazing adventure.
After a long day on the trails, covering around 10km over some challenging terrain we decided to hitch a ride back. In this region, unlike much of South East Asia, Hitch hiking is one of the most common things to do in the Cameron Highlands. Before we knew it we were sitting in the back of a pick up back to the hostel to celebrate in the only way that seemed proper… tea and scones!
Things to do in the Cameron Highlands: Exploring the vast Tea Plantations the area is famous for!
The second day on the trails and we wanted to finally immerse ourselves into the famous tea plantations around here, after all this is what we really came here for!
We took the early bus up to the neighbouring town of Brichang around a 40 min ride away. From here we could cross over and follow the steep 9km road up through the plantations and to the summit of G. Brichang, which was closed from the alternative route of trail 1. This would be another long and tough day where we anticipated a walk of around 18km!
Things to do in the Cameron Highlands: Combining BOH, Tea Plantations & The Mossy Forest into a full day hike!
Again, here we decided to combine a few of the best things to do in the Cameron Highlands into a long hike due to our time restrictions in the area. This meant visiting the BOH tea plantations on our way up to the summit of G. Brichang and the Mossy Forest. Both of which can be reached from the other side via Trail 1 had it been open. However the road on this side of the Highlands offers a walk right through the heart of the Cameron Highlands.
Arriving in Brichang before 9am we were ready to set off on the long and steep walk up the winding road. Many cars and trucks full of tourists heading to the BOH tea plantations would pass us by as we huffed and puffed. But we didn’t wish to join them, as we stopped all to often to take in yet another stunning view over the valleys that they sped passed! Pausing for thought to contemplate yet again how we had managed to find ourselves in yet another unspeakably spectacular location.
Many visitors do choose to just go straight to the BOH tea plantations on an organised trip. This is a great idea if you want a taste of the immense beauty of the region but don’t have the time and ability to hike up the steep road. If however you do want to experience that bit more then even the walk from the road to BOH is worth walking rather than visiting on a tour so you can explore more of the tea fields themselves.
It wasn’t long up the road until we were completely surrounded by tea, I mean, I hate drinking the stuff, but this was just awe inspiring. The steep and dramatic undulating landscape was lined with rows and rows of orderly plantations. The juxtaposition between the chaos of nature and the symmetry woven across it was simply magical. In many ways it has shades of the immense rice terraces of Sapa, a controlling of nature but in an ancient, caring and beautiful way.
We were able to cut across the fields and walk amongst the chest high rows, completely and utterly immersed in a landscape so green it was almost impossible to believe it was real! This is one huge reason to do even a short hike or walk around here!
We stopped off near the BOH tea plantation as a detour from our main objective on the way up, the place where all the cars and people seemed to be heading when they come to the Cameron Highlands. Ironically though the view from over this side and their official “viewing platform and cafe” were the worse we saw of the valley all day, though of course, they were still lovely indeed!
Heading back onto the trail we were ready for the most gruelling section but also the most impressive!
Here the plantations got impressively and progressively steep, to think people could actually work on these angles amazed and worried us at the same time. Up here the climate and conditions were harsh by Malaysian standards and the local villagers we passed worked damned hard. This section of the route was even quieter than before as many had inevitably turned back once they looked up at the gradient of the road we stubbornly continued to plod up!
After a while the plantations gave out once more to increasingly thick and fog covered jungle, these heights were even too much for the hardy plants and workers to function at. As we reached the..
When we set off backpacking around South East Asia, doing a PADI course to become qualified open water SCUBA divers was one of the first things we added to our list of things to do! After doing a taster session over 10 years ago on a family holiday to Turkey and also having friends who raved about it, it seemed like the perfect way to begin to explore our underwater world further. Everyone and I mean everyone does it in Thailand, it’s reportedly the cheapest and unofficially one of the most lax. In all honesty some of the tales of being herded like cattle, close calls and just passing anyone made us put it off long enough to think we might just not do it. However after arriving in the stunning Kota Kinabalu and having a few days spare whilst waiting for our slot to climb the mountain we saw so many posters and images of the stunning islands and their diving potential for our interest to be reignited. In the end we found a personal, safe, beautiful and also unique place to learn to dive with a professional and fun company in Borneo Dream. SCUBA diving in Borneo and doing our scuba diving course Malaysia was for us a travelling highlight and the Kota Kinabalu diving scene one we really enjoyed.
Kota Kinabalu diving: The desire to learn to explore our underwater world
10 years ago in a shallow area of the mediterranean we tried SCUBA for the first time. We were on a family holiday, I was only 18 and didn’t really know what all the fuss was about. Looking back with the hindsight of now being PADI open water qualified I can see that this was a haphazard and not particularly well run tour, taking us down to 10m for example with the only information being how to equalise our ears??? So when we began our Kota Kinabalu diving experience I was a little wary at first in all honesty!
However despite the obvious failings of that particular tour it did open our eyes to the beautiful world hiding below the waves, a colourful and alien landscape that many of us have never really had the chance to explore with such freedom as SCUBA provides. Swimming inside a flash of new colours, shapes and mind blowing sights was something we longed for once again, to be able to do it ourselves and begin to take our desire to see and explore our world as we do on land and take that under water! It was time for our next big adventure, but it would prove to be more than we anticipated as we set off SCUBA diving in Borneo!
Looking as stylish as ever!
Why do a PADI in Borneo and what is scuba diving in Malaysia like?
Why not!! Everyone who does a PADI does one in Thailand and as a result the quality has dropped. Over in Thailand a PADI might be marginally cheaper but you get what you pay for and SCUBA diving might be a fun sport to get involved with but it is also a serious and hazardous adventure activity too.
For us we don’t want our instructor to tick boxes and tip us off the boat 50 at a time like cattle!! We actually wanted to learn and to be allowed the time, space and direction in order to do that and do it properly SCUBA diving in Borneo fit the bill for us! Plus the Kota Kinabalu diving options for us offered a much better preserved reef with the waters also being much less crowded, so scuba diving in Malaysia seemed like a good fit all round!
SCUBA diving in Borneo is a scene of professional divers who take their jobs seriously when it comes to teaching and keeping their students and customers safe whilst also having good fun. Here with Borneo Dream you have small groups, we had an instructor between 4 of us, meaning we each had enough one on one time for him to be able to really assess how we were doing as well as speaking to us individually about our questions and concerns. Our Kota Kinabalu diving experience as a result was pretty relaxed!
Not only that, but unless you hadn’t realised, Borneo is stunning! It’s not just jungles, monkeys and creepy crawlies out here but much more. It’s not just that this area of untamed land teeming with unique life exists above water, but that also extends below the warm waves and into another hidden world! In fact scuba diving in Malaysia offers so much more diversity and adventure of that in Thailand given the unique eco systems in Borneo and was one of the reasons our Kota Kinabalu diving experience was so enjoyable.
The turquoise waters off the mesmerisingly perfect islands just a short boat ride away from Kota Kinabalu in the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park are the perfect setting for SCUBA diving in Borneo. A protected area of diverse coral and sea life they form part of the Coral Triangle, and are recognised as some of the most important marine sites on Earth.
The area also provides both the confined water and open water needed to gain confidence and progress as well as some amazing beaches to relax after a day of incredible Kota Kinabalu diving! With this in mind SCUBA diving in Malaysia and specifically Borneo has to be some of the best in the world!
Besides, doesn’t it make you sound more interesting to be the only one on the boat who bucked the trend and did their PADI course in Malaysia and went SCUBA diving in Borneo! I know everyone else I’ve met didn’t go SCUBA diving in Malaysia and instead did it in Thailand!
SCUBA diving in Malaysia: How much theory is involved in a PADI?
The short answer is a lot less than it looks at first! For some reason I had never really considered the theory to doing a PADI course and just thought it involved doing a few dives and off you go! The good and bad news is that you have to do a bit of studying in order to gain your qualification. I say good and bad because firstly, I am not sure any of us considered we might be back sitting exams whilst backpacking around Asia (ok, it’s not that formal but I’m trying to be dramatic!) but if you consider the fact that this isn’t just about ticking it off the bucket list, but about actually becoming a competent diver who has to keep themselves and their diving partners safe. Now that is the most important part for me and something we kept in mind during our Kota Kinabalu diving course.
However, that being said, on your first day you will be presented with a hefty looking book to work through and you’ll wonder when you can actually start SCUBA diving in Borneo! But once you begin actually dissecting each section you will realise that it really isn’t hard to take in or to pass. We watched a video for the first day which really made it so much quicker, on the others we did our exams whilst eating lunch, plus, once you get into the water most of it makes much more sense! The theory side might seem intimidating but trust me it actually makes you feel more safe in the water and made our time SCUBA diving in Malaysia much more enjoyable.
Kota Kinabalu diving: Day by day progressions that took us from panicked to confident
The first day in the water loomed, we were chatting away on the dock and I will be honest with you I was a little nervous as well as being excited. After reading through our theory we had all realised there is so much more to SCUBA than we had ever anticipated; decompression sickness, setting up equipment wrong, running out of air. It all seemed a bit more scary than the images of backpackers frolicking underwater had conjured up but at the same time we knew a lot more about what SCUBA diving in Malaysia entailed and at this point we were eagerly awaiting our Kota Kinabalu diving experience to begin!
But here we where, kitting up and getting into our wetsuits with the heavy and claustrophobic BCD that seemed to entirely surround us. Non of us felt comfortable and on diving to the grand depth of 1.5 metres we each had a panic and sprang to the surface gasping for air. I can’t breath! My mask is filling up! I feel like I’m in a straight jacket! This isn’t for me! These were all shouted in frustration in just the first morning, we all honestly considered just packing it in and sticking to the snorkel set rather than SCUBA diving in Borneo! Our Kota Kinabalu diving experience started abruptly but doing a PADI course is a steep learning curve for sure!
But thankfully our instructor Amir is well used to the shock factor of not just SCUBA diving for the first time but also the idea of performing tasks which seem pretty scary whilst in a situation completely out of your comfort zone! Over the next few days we all went through a complete transformation, that first day, grasping at the regulator and fighting the urge to hold our breath as we frantically flailed our arms searching for it felt a long..