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ESTRELLA DRIFTS

Keep travelling, keep exploring

Manga Exhibition @ British Museum [Press View]

Announcement: Calling all manga fans! Head over to the British Museum this summer and check out the Manga Exhibition. I attended the press view for this exhibition back in May; before it was open to the public. The exhibition launched on 23rd May and will be open to visitors until 26th August 2019. I vlogged my visit to the exhibition which you can view on my YouTube channel. It was my first time attending a press view, so it was interesting to be surrounded by other bloggers and media outlets- I even got a chance to feature in a video talking about my favourite manga with the guys at London Live (<–click here to watch).

It was my first time attending a press view, so it was interesting to be surrounded by other bloggers and media outlets- I even got a chance to feature in a video talking about my favourite manga with the guys at London Live (<–click here to watch).

I’ve been reading manga for as long as I can remember. As soon as I started seeing promo online for the Manga Exhibition last year, I already knew that I’d be heading over to the British Museum to check it out. You can easily spend over an hour exploring the exhibition’s 6 zones, which take you on a journey learning about manga and its different forms. Zone 1 teaches visitors how manga is written and read. In zone 3, you’ll learn about different types of manga genres such as horror, adventure and sci-fi.

You’ll find QR codes around the exhibition, if you can scan them into the Shonen Jump app you’ll get access to read free manga on the app. There’s also a cosplay corner where you can dress up as a manga character. Also, there’s a photobooth which turns your picture into a manga style panel drawing. Manga is the source of influence and inspiration for anime, gaming and film; this is explored in zone 6.

Visiting the exhibition was a reminder of how creative manga artists are in the visual depiction of their characters and story arcs; building strong fan bases through their works, not only in Japan but on an international level.

During the press view, I had the opportunity to speak with manga artist Gengoroh Tagame about his manga My Brothers Husband and the celebration of manga outside of Japan. We agreed that the exhibition was a great way to introduce people to the world of manga. He also talked about how homosexuality is considered a taboo subject in Japan and is not really discussed. This shows how manga can be used as an outlet to reach wider audiences about certain topics.

The largest manga exhibition outside of Japan is being held right here in London; which I think is great! It saves you a pricey return flight to Japan to see similar works and gives those that are curious the opportunity to learn about what manga is and why it’s loved by many readers across the world. If you’re not local and you happen to be in London this summer, why not visit the exhibition while it’s still on? Students can make use of the 2 for 1 ticket offer, adults pay £19 and entry is free for under 16s.

Comment down below if you’ve visited the exhibition already. How did you find it? What was your favourite part of it? Do you have a favourite manga?

How to Train Your Dragon @ Art Ludique Le Musée 🇫🇷

I recently travelled to Paris on a weekend break and checked out an animation exhibition on The Artistic Journey of the Saga How to Train Your Dragon at the Art Ludique Le Musée . On this occasion, the exhibition took place in Paris’ 7th arrondissement. Unfortunately, I only found out about this museum recently, so I missed out on visiting the previous exhibitions including; 25 Years of Pixar Animations (25 Ans D’Animation Pixar), Art in Video Games (L’Art Dans Le Jeu Video), Art of Super Heros (L’Art Des Super-Heros) as well as Drawings of Studio Ghibli (Dessins Du Studio Ghibli).

Had I known about this museum before, as I would have hopped on a Eurostar train to Paris for a day trip to see their past exhibitions (after all, Paris is just around the corner from London right?). I enjoyed visiting this museum as it showcases the creative works from movies, manga, anime and gaming that I have enjoyed and appreciated for a long time.

The exhibition was open to visitors between the 31 Jan-24 February 2019 (free entry) and displayed almost 200 of the original paintings and sketches by the animators and illustrators involved in the creation of the movie. Seeing all the works made me think about how talented the artists are and the amount of work that goes into creating animated films. This also had me wishing that I could draw and create works just as amazing as those that I saw. As someone who reads manga, watches anime and plays video games, I’m not as creative as I’d like to be, fortunately, I get to enjoy watching the works that are created by the real artists out there.



The museum was small so you could go around looking at everything in about 40 minutes which I did. I spent most of that time looking at the works from animators and illustrators like Simon Otto, Carter Goodrich and Nico Marlet. The were screens placed around the museum displaying videos of animators and directors talking about the different process involved in the making of the movies.

The exhibition was a great way to learn about how the artists transformed their sketches of dragons and characters into digital images and animations throughout the How to Train Your Dragon trilogy. It was refreshing to learn that artists were able to portray certain atmospheres and emotions in scenes using their own interpretations, simply from suggestions given to them by directors. Attending the exhibition made me aware that french artists and animators greatly contributed and collaborated with DreamWorks in the making of the trilogy.

As I finish up writing this post, I’m currently looking at screen times so I can watch this movie next week! Visit Art Ludique Le Musée on your next visit to Paris, who knows what exciting exhibition they’ll have on next! The British Museum’s upcoming Manga exhibition in London is the next exhibition that I can’t wait to check out this summer! If you’re a huge manga fan or you’re simply interested in learning more about it, the British Museum will definitely be the place to visit!

Which exhibitions have you been to recently? What did you enjoy about them? Comment below and share!

BEAN Official Launch Event!

On the 10th of August, I had the pleasure of being a guest speaker at the BEANetwork’s sold out official launch event, which was hosted by Baker and McKenzie. The Black Excellence Abroad Network (BEAN) was founded earlier this year by Jennifer (@jennieebabie) and Aurianne (@auriannex) to promote the awareness and representation of black students undertaking study and work placements abroad. After feeling that there was an under representation of black students going abroad and that there was no community for black students to seek advice, exchange tips about their university experiences abroad…BEAN was created to do just that!

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Having studied abroad for my entire degree, I immediately knew that I wanted to get involved with BEAN whether it was through blogging, mentoring, or simply attending future networking events; as I know how rewarding and unforgettable my experience was studying in France and Australia.

In the lead up to the launch event, the BEAN team invited me to be a guest speaker to share my experiences as a black student abroad, which I was more than happy to do. However, I did feel nervous about doing it as it had been a looooong time since I had done any public speaking. I remember messaging Aurianne the day before the event telling her how nervous I was feeling. Whenever I feel nervous or anxious about something, I can literally feel heavy lumps in my stomach which don’t disappear until the nerves go away.

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My nerves completely disappeared on the day, once I arrived at the venue, and was greeted by the lovely BEAN team, other guest speakers and attendees of the event. My presentation probably lasted about 15 minutes but it went by so quickly, and I remember feeling a lot more confident coming off the stage than I did getting on. As someone who had been feeling nervous days before the launch event, I felt ready and prepared to do another presentation as soon as mine was over.

It was so refreshing to hear about the experiences of other study abroad alumni that were both very similar to mine and completely different. During the event, a panel discussion was held where the following topics were discussed: the perceptions of black people in various destinations, making friends abroad, getting settled, being away from home, managing finances and many more topics. This was a perfect opportunity for the attendees to ask any questions they had and get true responses from students who had recently completed their student exchange programmes. Not only was the event filled with insightful discussions, ice-breakers were played and there were lots of tasty snacks and drinks !

In the UK, there are increasingly more businesses, networks and organisations that exist and are catered to meet the needs, wants and interests of black people within our community. Whether it’s a need for entertainment, cuisine, beauty, vocational advice, podcasts, support groups etc.. there will always be a black individual out there wanting to create something for the benefit of other black people. I believe that it’s up to us to promote those who constantly work towards achieving this, so that they can continue to grow and spread the benefits and positivity which they can bring to us. There are so many resources out there and people that can help out with things, it’s up to each individual to use those fully use the resources that are available to them. 

So make sure that you follow the BEANetwork on Twitter and check out thebeanetwork.com so that you can be up to date with all of their projects and events.  Who knows, you may see them visit your university or school in the near future. If you know any sixth formers, 1st year and 2nd year students thinking about studying or working abroad in the future, direct them to towards BEAN and they can be sure to receive the best tips from the team! 

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P.S If you have any questions in regards to my study abroad experience, don’t hesitate to drop me a twitter dm @Estrella8_ or email at estrelladrifts@gmail.com

Estrella

OUT HERE IN… FL, USA 🇺🇸

Public transport, where?

I flew out to Orlando with Virgin Atlantic. I’ve always heard people big up Virgin Atlantic and say how great of an airline it is, but personally, I wasn’t impressed with much. These people clearly haven’t flown with Qatar, Emirates or Cathay Pacific. I felt like I was on an EasyJet flight with a tiny screen in front of me, and plus I sat next to the most annoying family which didn’t make the journey enjoyable.  There were so many families with children on that flight, which I didn’t understand at first. Then I realised that they’d all be heading to Disney World for the Easter holidays.

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Public transport in Florida? You’re much better off hiring a car. A lot of people travel around in their own cars or use services like Uber or Lyft to get around. The public transport systems are not like those in Europe where trains, trams and buses are well connected. I had to get to Deland but hadn’t realised how far it was from Orlando, so I had to take an uber to Orlando train station and take an Amtrak train to Deland. Amtrak is one of the main train companies in the US. I bought my ticket for $11 via ‘Wanderu’ which was super quick and easy.

So if you’re planning on travelling around Florida YOU WILL NEED A CAR! It’s the easiest option! Unless you plan to travel everywhere using Uber… And walking? Ha, good luck!

Uni Campus life: American style

I came to Florida to visit my Aussie friend Lucy who was spending a semester abroad at Stetson University. She gave me a tour of the campus and introduced me to her friends, which gave me an insight to what her stay in America had been like. The university is in the quiet, little, wooded town of Deland. At night, the campus reminded me of the fictional town called Mystic Falls in the Vampire Diaries series. I was so convinced that one of the Salvatore brothers was going to pop up in the middle of the road. I also found it amusing to see how the American university culture was a true representation of what is shown on T.V. From the look and layout of the campus, to students driving around in 4x4s, seeing football players walking around the campus, and also seeing all the pizzas, burgers and cakes served at the campus canteen, it was really interesting to observe.

Disneyland + Universal Studios = Standard procedure

I headed back down to Orlando after a day in Deland so that I could visit Disneyland and Universal Studios. I booked a hotel room for a night at the Floridian Hotel and Suites for $80. Hotels and hostels near the parks are typically expensive. There were cheaper rooms available at other hotels, but the reviews on Booking weren’t as good and some looked dodgy in the pictures. I’m all for saving money when it comes to holidays, but safety and comfort comes first. There was no way that I was not going to visit Disneyland and Universal Studios during this trip, as they’re 2 of Florida’s biggest and must see attractions.  I visited Universal’s Islands of Adventure Park based on people’s recommendations and the fact that it was geared more towards teens and adults. The ticket cost $120. There are 3 parks in total; if you’ve got the coins you can get entry to all of them at the price of £249.  I visited the park on a weekday so the queues weren’t long. I went alone so it felt a bit awkward at first. But after the first ride I felt fine. Plus, I queued for the rides in the single rider lanes which were much faster than the group lanes. If you’re a Harry Potter fan you’ll enjoy drinking some butter beer at Hogsmeade and taking a ride around Hogwarts’ castle.

The Disneyland resort has 4 parks, but I decided to go to the Magic Kingdom park ($130 ticket) because I wanted to get a picture in front of the Disney castle. Having already been to Disneyland Paris and Tokyo Disney, I can say that Orlando Disneyland is the best one. The resort has free monorail trains which transport people from park to park. The Space Mountain ride was my favourite ride! I thought that it was going to be another kiddy ride but it was super fast. At one point, the ride jerked really fast and my sun glasses flew off my face, I thought I had lost them and my hair looked a mess when I got off the ride. The rest of the rides were cute, but they were definitely more for kids.

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Road trip to Miami

During the rest of my stay in the US, Lucy and I went on a little road trip around Florida, and Miami was our first stop. We hired a car using an app called TURO, it’s like Airbnb but for cars. It’s an app that allows car owners to rent out their cars. We hired the car for 5 days for $215, which was much cheaper than hiring a car from a rental company. Even though I knew that the car was insured and that we’d both be insured as drivers, I still felt hesitant about using the app. Not only was I nervous about getting into an accident in someone else’s car, but also being a black person driving around on the roads. I had heard too many stories about black people in America being stopped by the police whilst driving and many of those stories did not end well.

While we were on the road, Lucy got stopped by the police for speeding on the motorway. And then I later got stopped for accidentally bumping into the back of another car. We were both lucky, as each situation didn’t escalate into anything serious.

TURO – We had a good experience using the app, we picked up the car at the owner’s home and we made sure that it was returned on time. If you’re considering using this service in future, make sure that you all well informed of all the policies and risks.

Miami was A-M-A-Z-I-N-G! The weather was beautiful and hot everyday (my skin was glowing when I came home). The nightlife was 10/10 and our whole experience was everything that we expected it to be! Just pure enjoyment and fun 24/7! We got to watch DJ Khaled perform at Story nightclub, and we literally felt like we were at one of his concerts. There are plenty of Latin clubs in Miami, if bachata music and reggaeton is your thing make sure you check out Mango’s Tropical cafe near South Beach. It was enjoyable to be surrounded by so much South American culture in Florida, and to see its influence that is present there. The locals were cool and super friendly, MIAMI = pure chilled vibes.

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Everglades boat tour

We decided to do something really touristy by going on an airboat tour at Gator Park. The tour cost about $27 (+ tax), this included a 30 minute tour around the grassy waters of the Everglades where we got to see wildlife like alligators, turtles and bird species in their natural habitats. The tour was then followed by an educational wildlife show where we got to learn about the different animals and hold baby alligators. At the end of the tour, we got to take pictures holding a baby alligator. Lucy was all here for it and went ahead first and literally had a photo shoot, whereas I hesitated at the beginning. In the end I thought, “ok, why not, let’s get this over with for IG”.  Overall, it wasn’t scary as the alligator’s jaw, arms, legs were firmly taped together, and so the whole thing was safe. Just don’t forget to wash your hands THOROUGHLY a couple of times after you do this.

American fast food

I was actually underwhelmed by the food that I ate in America. A lot of the food was really sweet and too salty. I’m sure that I left America with a higher blood pressure than I did before going. For years, we’ve been hyped up to think that American fast food tastes better than it does everywhere else, when in reality I think it tastes exactly the same. There was nothing special about the McDonald’s there apart from the fact that pizza and pasta are served there as well. Who goes to McDonald’s to eat pizza and pasta though? Five Guys? Not bad – Chick-Fil-A?  Just another KFC to be honest. And Denny’s? *sighs*.

Things to know

  • ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation) is required for entry into the US for citizens of countries that are part of the US Visa Waiver Program. It’s valid for 2 years, costs $14 and grants visitors entry for up to 90 days during each visit.
  • Taxes aren’t included in the price of the goods and services that you use. So don’t get too happy when you see the prices of stuff, because the amount of tax will make a difference
  • No tax free option for foreign visitors.
  • Unless prohibited, you can actually turn right at red traffic lights when you’re driving in Florida.
  • In the US, vehicles are driven on the right side of the road, so don’t forget this if you’re used to driving on the left. If you’re driving on the right side of the road for the first time, it will be easier to do this with an automatic car
  • You’ll need an international driving permit (IDP) to drive in the US, it’s valid for a year and it must be accompanied with your official licence from your country.
  • Oh and tipping is a real thing here. If you don’t tip expect to receive dirty looks from people hahahha.
  • Things are still a bit old fashioned in the US, you can’t make contactless payments, swipe cards are still a thing

Locals

I can only speak from my experience when I agree that the locals were very friendly and easy to talk to. I don’t know if it’s because they knew that we weren’t from the US or if they wanted to hear us talk in our accents, but I didn’t have any issues. Even after we were stopped by the police twice!   Knowing that Florida is a southern state, I had different expectations on how the locals were going to be. As a black person, I was honestly preparing myself to experience hostility, particularly from white Americans, but that wasn’t the case. I guess that I watch the news too much, or this is probably more common in other states in the Deep South, either way I know that it happens. From random strangers in the queues at Disneyland, passengers on the train to sales assistants in the shopping centres and our AirBnB hosts, most people were kind.

I definitely plan on organising another trip to America in the future. Maybe to California, New Orleans, New York, who knows? My first trip was very memorable and exciting and hope that all you first time visitors have just as much fun as I did.

Keep travelling, keep exploring xx

 

STOP WASTING TIME AND PLAN THAT SOLO TRIP ALREADY…😩

So 4 summers have passed now and you’re still lying down comfortably at home in bed tweeting about your plans to fly out to Miami with the squad.  You’re scrolling through travel pages on Instagram looking at inspiration for the type of villa that you want to book for your upcoming trip with the gang. However, you know full well that nobody seems ready or even interested in booking the last remaining cheap flight tickets (knowing that they’ll be gone tomorrow). Most people are airing your messages in the group chat about putting the deposit down for the villa, and someone has asked you to pay their share for them “promising” to pay you back later. Your blood is boiling…you’re shaking…the whole thing is a mess.

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Once again, you give up planning and lose hope in the whole trip actually happening. The cycle continues again, where you find yourself  laying in bed with the brightness at the maximum level on your phone, scrolling through IG pages thinking “yeah this is definitely going to be me next time” L-O-L. 

Here’s a solution. Just go by yourself! SOLO! SOLO! You’ve got the means right? Check. Trip itinerary is sorted? Great. You’ve got a wide selection of wigs and bikinis to bring? Yaaaaaas 🙂 Your beard is all trimmed and the waves are looking good. Eeeee okay. Pack your suitcase/backpack, head off to your nearest airport and prepare to really open yourself up to all the opportunities and experiences that await you at your destination.

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It’s 2018 now, and it’s time for more people to embrace the idea of travelling solo. Personally, I’ve never been one to wait around for people to do things with me. If I want to go Milan next weekend, I WILL travel to Milan next week. If you put your mind to doing something you will find the will to make it happen. I went on quite a few solo trips while I was studying abroad, and knowing how much fun I had and all the new friends that I made, shows that it would have been a real shame to have missed out on those memories had I of waited around for people to travel with me.

Of course it’s fun to travel around with people that you know.  I’m in no way saying that group trips are cancelled because they’re super fun. I’ve had some of the most fun-filled, memorable trips with my friends, but they were all reliable, organised and willing travel buddies. I’ve always been an impatient person, so naturally, I absolutely hate waiting around for people to make up their minds and get things done. It’s almost like mental torture to me. I have always strongly believed in the importance of doing things that make you happy and not waiting around for people to come along on your journeys. How disappointing does it feel to miss out on things simply because you wait on the company of others? Enjoy your own company!

Ok yeah yeah, there’s the whole confidence thing, I get it. I’m well aware that not everyone can hop on a plane by themselves and spend a couple of days wandering alone in a completely foreign destination.  But I do think that people can work towards doing that, by simply being open to the idea and getting a little push of confidence. Eventually, you’ll get tired of putting off the idea and you’ll find yourself, credit card in hand ready to book that holiday. When you’re an impatient person like me, it usually works faster  🙂

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If you’re hesitant about travelling alone, you can take baby steps by going on a group tour. You’ll be travelling alone with a group of people all heading to the same stops and destinations. It’s a nice opportunity to travel with company and meet new people. There are many travel companies that sell group tours like STA travel, Gap360, Contiki and the Wind Collective trips. The Wind Collective trips organise group trips all year round to various destinations. Check them out, as their trip itineraries are super exciting!

And of course there’s the whole money thing. Money is probably the biggest factor that stops people from travelling as much as they’d like. However, budget holidays are the way to go. I don’t think it’s necessary to splash out lots of money just to go on holiday. If you’re in a position to do so go ahead, spend your money and enjoy. But there are so many ways to travel within your means and have a good a time, and it all starts with PLANNING.

During my year abroad in Australia, I planned a little solo trip to Sydney and Brisbane as I hadn’t had the chance to travel there earlier on in the year. All my exchange student friends had already long left Australia and my local Aussie friends were all busy. So I booked my tickets with Tiger Airways and spent a week visiting both cities. My time in Australia was almost up and I didn’t want to leave without visiting these two cities. I got to take a picture in front of the Sydney Opera house, get some shopping done, and visit the beautiful city of Brisbane. Just being in Brisbane made me want to move there. I also went on a tour to visit Tangalooma Island resort, just off the coast of Brisbane, where I spent the day relaxing, sand tobogganing and feeding dolphins. I couldn’t have done all this had I decided not go because I’d be alone..

If you live in Europe, make use of your free movement around Europe. Plan that trip to Croatia, go and check out the Blue Lagoon in Iceland, go and taste some authentic Italian ice cream and pizza. During your spare time, check out which countries you can enter without needing a visa, so that you can consider future trips to destinations that you may have not considered before. Living in Europe is great because there are so many countries that you can visit that are literally “next door” to one another. I considered living in Australia after I completed my studies, but I was put off by the idea because I didn’t want to live so far away from Europe.

20180409_094543The days of waiting for your friends to do things ENDS NOW. If you’re able to successfully organise a trip with your friends, that’s amazing, enjoy it to the fullest! If you can’t, consider going on your own, you never know you might actually enjoy it. If you do it and decide that it’s not for you, at least you can say that you’ve tried. Remember to always put your enjoyment first, this doesn’t just apply to travelling this also applies to all aspects of your life.

Keep travelling, keep exploring 

xx

Estrella

OUT HERE IN…THAILAND 🇹🇭

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I visited Thailand for the first time back in August with my friend Daniella. I was still living in Australia at the time so I flew out from Adelaide and we met up in Bangkok. This trip was planned 2 weeks before we got there. Note: This is only possible if you have reliable friends/travel buddies.

Did you know that it costs about £7 to get to the city centre from Bangkok international airport via taxi? Cheap right?! The journey usually takes about 30 minutes, but it took us over an hour because of the traffic. The traffic in Bangkok is terrible; you’re better off exploring by foot. 

We stayed at the Lub D Bangkok Siam hostel (Booking.com) in Bangkok. The hostel is perfectly located near the Siam Skytrain station, there’s a 7-Eleven shop and a McDonald’s just around the corner, the MBK shopping centre and the Siam Paragon mall are a walk away. Bangkok is a really animated and bustling city, there was rarely a quiet moment when we were there. You’ll see pictures, statues and shrines everywhere of the late King Bhumibol and of the Thai royal family, showing you the cultural attitudes to the monarchy.

Tuk tuks are a common form of transport and I think that all visitors in Thailand should take a ride on them at least once. Some drivers are a bit wild and speed along the roads, so hold on tight to your wigs! One driver tried to scam us by taking us to the opposite side of town, said that he had run out of petrol and then tripled the price to get us to our original destination. We didn’t have time to play games with him so we jumped out of the tuk tuk. Watch out for the scammers!  There are also free old-fashioned red buses that go around the tourist hot spots. This is great for backpackers and those travelling on a budget.

Khaosan Road (Thanon Khao San) is a long street in downtown Bangkok. It’s a party hub filled with locals, tourists and backpackers (lots of Brits and Aussies). You’ll find the cheapest bars and the cheapest food. It livens up at night where it becomes noisy and crowded. You’ll find market stalls everywhere selling all the souvenirs that you can think of. You’ll find people selling grilled tarantulas and scorpions at food stands. Oh yeah and you’ll see lots of ladyboys too.

One hour full back massage for £5? Yes please! Where else are you going to pay the same price?  You can get different types of foot, back and full body massages at massage parlours. I had a 2 hour full back massage after my back was injured in Phuket. It didn’t heal my aching bones, but it helped soothe the pain. These massage parlours everywhere, especially near Khaosan Road.

Tours and activities

We attended the Calypso Cabaret lady boy show in Bangkok. The whole performance was cringey to watch. It was filled with lip-synching performers and cheesy choreography. Even the host was miming to a track. We expected to hear live singing but that wasn’t the case. All we could do was shake our heads and think “see what happens when you pay for a budget show”. I wouldn’t recommend it as the whole show was a mess, if you have time and money to waste, go ahead.

The Damnoen Saduak Floating Market is a must see attraction on your visit to Bangkok. We went with a very good local tour company that we found on Khaosan Road. It’s a market situated along winding canals, where the boat glides along stopping off at all the wooden stalls selling Thai souvenirs. It opens from 6am-12pm, so you’ve got to get there early!

20170822_202153The local tour company (can’t remember the name) was so good that we booked a Khao Yai National Park day tour with them for 3000 baht each.  This included a hike around the national park, a traditional Thai meal, an ox-cart riding experience in the rice fields and elephant riding in the jungle. Our tour guide really looked after us and shared lots of information about Thai culture at each location. It was very sad to see how the elephants were being treated, I do regret taking part in the elephant ride and it’s something that I won’t be doing again.

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Weather & Accommodation

The weather was perfect during our visit to Phuket, just sunny all day every day. We were lucky, as we travelled during the monsoon season (May-October) and were expecting rainy days. The best time to travel to Phuket is between November to mid-May when it’s hot and dry; however lots of tourists visit the island during this time.

We stayed at the Lub D Phuket Patong hostel (Booking.com), which was a 3 minute walk away from Patong beach. I’d highly recommend this hostel to anyone visiting Phuket! The hostel is very new, stylish and modern and has a big pool inside it. Our private ensuite twin room was booked for 3 nights at 2900 baht (approx £65). It was definitely good value for money! Plus, we had a T.V. with Netflix in our room which was a bonus.

Arrivals

AVOID GETTING INTO WHITE TRANSPORT MINI VANS at Phuket International airport. After arriving from Bangkok, we saw many transport services near the arrivals exit offering to drop off passengers to their hotels for £10. We hesitated at first because we felt like something wasn’t right, but after seeing other tourists queuing up for the same thing, we thought, “ok, why not. It’s only £10 and it’s cheaper than taking a taxi, plus we’re not the only tourists”. ERROR#1.

Before we knew it, we found ourselves in a white mini van heading down to Patong Beach. It was a 40 minute journey, during which I kept checking on Google maps to see if the van was heading in the right direction, which it was, until the driver pulled up in front of a rundown furniture building. At that moment we both looked at each other thinking “oh shit, what’s this now?” The other passengers were confused as well, and the driver told us that everyone had to get out of the van and head into the building before we’d continue on the road. It looked like a small travel agent office inside; each passenger was escorted to desks with “travel agents” trying to sell us their tours around Phuket. They “reassured” us that we’d be on our way to our hotels and that they just wanted to talk to us about their tours. We weren’t buying it though…until the lady showed us their Phi Phi islands day tour including; pick up/drop off, lunch and 3 site visits for £30. And we thought “hmmm. Yeah why not?” ERROR #2. We were back on route to the hostel…

Tours and activities

The Phi Phi Islands tour was a fun; however the tour was poorly organised. The driver was an hour late picking us up from the hostel. When we arrived at the Royal Phuket Marina, all the travellers were told that we had to pay an extra 400 baht to gain entry into Phi Phi Islands National Park. The “travel agent” had conveniently not mentioned this extra cost and naturally, people were annoyed.

We were given buoyancy aids to wear on the speedboat, but there was absolutely no safety talk done and the drivers sped off to the island. There were times when the boat was going so fast that passengers were literally being thrown up and down from their seats. I was the unlucky one who got thrown up so high off my seat that I injured my back and was in pain for days. I went to see a doctor as soon as I got back to Australia and was told that I had a fracture on my back. I’m 1000% sure that they were a bunch of random guys who didn’t even have a licence to drive the speed boat, yet we were on it. Despite this, Phi Phi Island is absolutely beautiful and the views were amazing. We got to swim in the warm waters of Maya Bay, have lunch at Laem Tong beach, take great pictures at Koh Phi Phi Le and the Viking Cave.

We also got to go on a quad biking tour near the Big Buddha for about 1000 baht, which was also cool. Overall, your level of enjoyment on these tours will partly depend on the organisation of the tour companies. Don’t let our experiences put you off! Just don’t make the same mistakes. Check out tours operated by reputable Thai companies or ones like STA Travel or on Viator. They might be more expensive but, they’re more likely to be regulated and cause you less hassle.

Things to know

  • Beware of Tuk Tuk drivers offering to give you really cheap rides around the city. They’re likely to bump up the price once you get in (happened to us) If a driver offers to take you somewhere for 10 baht, you’re probably about to be scammed.
  • Some Tuk Tuk drivers may also lie about taking you to your destination and take a detour to a jewellery/fabric shop, where they earn commission for taking you there (happened to us too). Beware of those guys.
  • You’ll see lots of stray dogs roaming around the city; don’t get too close or try to feed them as they’re likely to carry diseases like rabies.
  • Make sure that you ask taxi drivers to turn on their meters, or at least agree to a fixed price to get to your destination so you don’t get ripped off.
  • Take the BTS skytrains trains if you want to travel around Bangkok scam free, the trains are clean, cheap and modern.
  • When purchasing street food make sure that you observe everything. If you don’t see any locals queuing up, if the food is uncovered, and there are rats and cats near the cart, just keep it moving.
  • If you plan on visiting any temples (wats) make sure that your knees and elbows are covered up.
  • Avoid getting into those white vans at the airport, UNLESS they’re pre-booked through your hotel.
  • Have some travel/health insurance before flying out to Thailand, as the country is subject to natural disasters i.e.tsunamis. If anything should happen, the last thing you’d want is to find yourself stranded.

As adventurous as this trip was, Thailand isn’t a destination that I’m in a hurry to travel back to. This is probably because I’ve visited other south eastern countries in Asia like, Indonesia which are very similar. The beaches are the same, the food is similar and they’re both destinations that are way too touristy. And it’s very easy to see the environmental impacts that tourism has had in both countries and it’s quite sad. If I do happen to go on a trip back to Thailand, I would waste no time in heading straight to the islands!

Hope this has been helpful!

Keep travelling, keep exploring!

xx

Estrella

OUT HERE IN… JAPAN🇯🇵

Finally Made It To Japan!

After years of hoping and planning to travel to Japan, I finally made the trip happen and had the best time. I travelled to Japan about 2 months ago, yet I’m planning my next trip there in 2019.  I visited Japan with my friend Rianna from London, I flew out from Adelaide and we met up in Tokyo at Narita Airport. One of the things that I like about travelling, is that it allows you to fly with different airlines and pick your favourite ones. I flew with Qantas airlines and the journey took over 12 hours. There were so many announcements made during the flight, which annoyed me because they kept interrupting the movies that I was watching. Apart from that, my experience flying with Qantas was fine, but Qatar is still the best airline that I’ve travelled with so far.

We stayed in Japan for 9 days, which I think is a decent length of time for a first time visit. I’d like to stay longer next time, maybe about 2 weeks as there are so many things to do and see. I’d love to visit other places like Okinawa and Hakone. We chose to go in March so that we could attend the annual Anime Japan convention, which is the largest anime expo in the world (and yes I am a fan of anime, manga and a bit of gaming). I always feel nervous before travelling to a new country, but I was particularly nervous about going to Japan since it’s a country prone to earthquakes. But thanks to my prayers throughout the trip, I didn’t experience any form of seismic activity in Japan (thank goodness)

ACCOMMODATION

We decided to stay in hostels to keep the cost of the trip down. Altogether, we spent £120 /140€ on accommodation for the entire trip. This was my first time staying at a hostel. I wasn’t too keen on staying at a hostel, and considered looking for accommodation through Airbnb instead. This was based on my preconceptions of hostels being unsafe and unclean, and I didn’t like the idea of sharing a room with a bunch of random strangers. But this experience proved me wrong, so I’d definitely consider staying at hostels on my future trips.

We stayed at 3 different hostels in female only dormitories, 2 in Tokyo and 1 in Osaka.  The rooms were booked through Hostel World and Booking.com, we chose them after reading all the reviews, ratings and seeing how they looked in pictures. All the places were true to their descriptions, as they looked exactly as they had been advertised online. The staff were very kind to us and were always on hand to help. And of course we met lots of cool people at each hostel. The rooms had capsule-style bunk beds with curtains on them for extra privacy. The lounge areas and kitchens had vending machines serving soft drinks, tea, coffee, beers, snacks and hot meals! One thing that took some getting used to, was taking my shoes off before entering rooms. It’s a custom in Japan to remove shoes before entering indoor spaces, but I kept forgetting to do that (sorry!). The hostels provided slippers for guests to use indoors, so I did get better with this during the course of the trip.

  • Khaosan World Hostel & Ryokan, Asakusa, Tokyo (Hostelworld.com)

We arrived 3 hours after the check-in time because we got lost making our way to the hostel from the airport, but the staff were cool about it. It was our favourite hostel and we wanted to stay in Asakusa for a couple of extra nights. Khaosan World is near lots of restaurants, shops and convenience stores like 7/11 and Lawson. The Sensoji temple is right around the corner from the hostel. The Nakamise market is also nearby, which is open on week days and leads right up to the entrance of the temple.

  • Drop Inn Osaka, Osaka (Booking.com)

We arrived 6 hours before the check in time at Drop Inn Osaka, but the staff were very accommodating and prepared our beds for us. This was great, because we had just arrived after an overnight coach journey from Tokyo so we were eager to get some rest. The hostel looks very modern and has a cute traditional lounge area for people to relax in. Drop Inn Osaka is located near Fukishima station and Osaka station, which was ideal when we need to travel around Osaka and visit neighbouring cities.

  • Kagaribi Kitasenju Guesthouse, Tokyo (Booking.com)

Kagaribi is a small traditional Japanese guest house located in the Adachi Ward of Tokyo. The guesthouse is further way from the city, but we didn’t mind the location as we wanted to change and stay somewhere away from the city centre. The guesthouse is a 10 minute walk away from Kitsasenju station. The host was friendly and willing to answer any questions we had. Our rooms were small and cosy, but the downside to this hostel was that it only had one bathroom and one toilet to be used between all the guests.

TRANSPORT

Transport was the most expensive thing about travelling to Japan. I spent more than £150/174 € topping up my travel card every day. We used the PASMO card to get around; it allows you travel on the buses and trains if you top up the card with a selected amount of money. Visitors can also buy the SUICA card and also have the option to buy a JR Pass before coming to Japan. The JR pass can be used all over JR transport networks, giving visitors unlimited travel across the country, including access to the Shinkansen bullet trains; however the price of the pass depends on your length stay. We would have had to pay £304/353€ for a 14 day JR pass, and we didn’t think it was worth buying as we weren’t travelling to many cities. I’d purchase the pass if I visit Japan for a longer period of time and travel to other places.

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https://www.jrpass.co.uk/en/index.php?_route_=national-jr-pass-ticket

At first, Tokyo’s metro network seemed like the most confusing system! We eventually got used to it after 2 days.  To put it simply, all the bold metro lines pass at every single stop indicated along the line. But the smaller thinner lines have their own separate maps.

We used Google Maps to find our way around in Japan. We later found out about an app called ‘Japan Wi-Fi’ which allows people to connect to Wi-Fi networks in Japan without needing a password, which comes in handy when you need to search things up when you’re out exploring. There were many tourist centres and information stands around, particularly near train stations, where there were people who spoke English and were able to give us directions when we were lost.

tokyo-subway-map

We travelled overnight from Tokyo to Osaka by coach. We booked our coach tickets on the Willer Express website –>  willerexpress.com/en/

TOKYO

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Tokyo Disneyland

I’ve read many reports, case studies and watched documentaries about Tokyo being the most crowded city in the world. So being in Tokyo myself, absolutely confirmed this to be true. As a geography student, I was constantly thinking about Tokyo’s high population density. I often found myself walking shoulder to shoulder with people because the pavements were so packed.

We went to Disneyland on day 2 of the trip, and pretty much enjoyed ourselves walking around the park and going on the rides like big kids. We ended the day by having dinner at this lovely restaurant in Shibuya (Can’t remember the name, but I’ll never forget how good the food was!)

Head over to Akihabara if you’re into anime, manga, gaming and electronics! I bought my Fujifilm Instax Mini 8 camera from the Don Quijote store for £40, and the film was purchased at Yamada Labi electronics store for around £20, which was much cheaper than buying it in Australia or in England. We were curious about Maid cafes so we decided to visit one, but it turned out to be a strange experience. I thought the waitresses displayed over the top behaviour and the overall thing seemed childish. I didn’t find it amusing, which was perhaps due to cultural differences, because the locals seemed to enjoy it. Google ‘maid cafes’ or watch videos on YouTube, then you’ll see what I mean…who knows you might be interested in that sort of thing…

   If you ever get the chance to visit Tokyo, try out the popular go-karting experience

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Mario go-karting in Roppongi

on the streets of Tokyo with MariCar. It was definitely one of my highlights of the trip! I recently read an article stating that Nintendo have sued MariCar over copyright infringement. So if you get the opportunity to visit Tokyo, go while it’s still there! What better way spend a day in Tokyo dressing up as a Nintendo character, driving around Tokyo in a go-kart. I got a 20% discount for a 1 hour session because I booked it through Voyagin.com. However, you will need an international driving licence to do this.

http://maricar.com/

https://www.govoyagin.com/activities/japan-tokyo-rent-maricar-go-kart-with-guide-in-tokyo/7730

Had a great time shopping in Harajuku. It’s definitely the place to go if you’re into vintage shops, and the harajuku fashion style that can be found along Takeshita street and its little side streets. There are many foods outlets and crepe stands too. I got very carried away when we went shopping, that I bought so many clothes and accessories that I was worried about going over the weight limit for my suitcase. I definitely bought too many things at Daiso 100 Yen store as well! The next time I come to Japan, I’ll add an extra suitcase just to put all my shopping in! So I’d advise you to pack lightly, to leave enough space to bring back all your purchases!

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Anime Japan 2017 – Tokyo Big Sight

The Anime Japan convention was really cool! We had to wait in line for over an hour to get into the Tokyo Big Sight exhibition centre, as thousands of people attended the event. We were given so many free goodie bags filled with books, magazines and figurines. However, I did notice that there weren’t many people dressed in cosplay as I had imagined, compared the conventions that I’ve attended in London.

Tokyo Skytree is the tallest observation tower in Tokyo which gives you a view of the whole city. We went up to the First observation deck which is 350 metres high for 2000 yen, giving us a view of the city at night.

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Views from Tokyo Skytree

OSAKA

I enjoyed our 3 day visit to Osaka, as it was nice to explore another city other than Tokyo. We checked out the popular Osaka Castle which happened to be on a rainy day, but nonetheless, we enjoyed our walk outside the castle grounds, taking pictures and buying things at the gift shops around the castle. Osaka castle has its own museum inside and an observation deck which costs 600 yen to enter.

If you’re unafraid of heights, the Umeda Sky building is definitely a site for you to check out! It’s an 173 metre high rise building, offering views of Osaka. We could see the building from our hostel and it was a 10 minute walk away. Entry into the open air observatory costs 1000 yen. I remember feeling sick as the escalator carried us up to 39th floor, because I could see how high we were going up through the glass building.

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Vintage market at Shitennoji temple

We enjoyed buying stuff at the vintage market in Shitennoji temple. We were surprised at how many affordable traditional items that were being sold at the market. I bought 2 vintage kimonos and a jacket which came up to 2000 yen, which was a much cheaper price than I had seen at gift shops and boutiques in the city  centre.

KYOTO

The highlight of my visit to Kyoto was going to the Fushimi Inari Shrine, which is located at the bottom of Mount Inari. It is a sacred Shinto shrine made up of a 1000 red gates along a 4 km pathway leading up to the top of Mount Inari; many fox statues can be seen along this route. Entry into the shrine is free, and it is a popular attraction as the shrine was featured in the Memoirs of a Geisha movie. Plus, it’s a great place to go hiking. It can take up to 3 hours to climb. We didn’t hike all the way to the top, but I’d like to do so next time and see the views that the mountain has to offer.

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When you’re in Japan check the opening times of tourist attractions before you go. We wanted to visit the Imperial palace in Kyoto, but it was closed when we got there!  So check opening times beforehand! So we walked outside the palace grounds of Kyoto Imperial Park and took pictures of the cherry blossom trees instead.

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Fushimi Inari Shrine

NARA

On day 6 of the trip, my friend and I spent the afternoon at Nara-koen (Nara Park) in the city of Nara. The city is located less than an hour away from Osaka by train. Initially, we had planned to visit Nagoya but one of the locals at our hostel in Asakusa had advised us to check out Nara instead, we were glad that we had taken his advice, as we were pleasantly surprised when we arrived. The city is filled with lots of tame deer that roam freely around Nara Park. But you have to be wary about carrying food with you, as they’ll follow you around if they smell food. There were people around the park wheeling around carts selling crackers (shika senbei) for 150 yen so that people could feed the deer. I’m not even fond of animals and even I thought the deer were cute when they approached us and bowed their heads to greet us. However, there were many signs around the park warning visitors about the potential aggressive nature of the deer. As cute as they were, I definitely didn’t need to be reminded of that!

20170322_145053Nara is home to 8 UNESCO World Heritage sites, as it is rich in traditional Japanese history and culture. It’s a small city, so most of the tourist sites are easily accessible by foot. There are buses that pass through the city stopping near each of the tourist sites. But we preferred to walk instead as we didn’t want to confuse ourselves with the bus system. Nara is home to many Buddhist monasteries, temples, museums and shrines, in addition to its beautiful traditional gardens. We visited the Daibustsu (Great Buddha) statue at the Todaji temple, as well as the Kasuga-Taisha shrine.  You have to walk through the Nandaimon gate before entering the temple. The entrance fee into Todaji temple was 500 yen; you could also visit the temple and its museum for 800 yen. I thought that it was a really cool place to visit, and knowing that I had seen one of the largest Buddha statues in Japan.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to spend as much time in Nara as we had originally planned, because we had to head back to Osaka to take the coach to Tokyo. In the future, I’d like to enjoy a full day in Nara spending time at the Isui-en Garden and the Nara National museum!

www.jnto.go.jp/eng/pdf/regional/kinki/nara_shi.pdf

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HANDY TIPS

    • Plan your trip according to your budget– write up an itinerary so you know which activities you plan on doing and how much it will cost
    • Save shopping spree until last – if I had gone shopping at the beginning of the trip, I would have spent all my money.
    • Learn basics in Japanese – It will help to know basic greetings in Japanese when interacting with the locals. Knowing the hiragana and katakana characters, and numbers in Japanese helped me to read signs around and express myself when speaking to people (especially taxi drivers)
    • Go karting – if you decide to go go-karting, you’ll need to bring an international driving licence for your session to drive on the streets in Japan
    • Familiarise yourself with the train maps before you go!
    • Ask for an English menu, when you go out to eat as some restaurants don’t always advertise this
    • Make sure you carry cash around with you, as some places do not accept card payments
  • Addresses in Japanese– if you need to take a taxi, have the address that you’re heading to written in Japanese. This ensures that you arrive at the correct place (and avoids confusion with taxi drivers)

NEXT TIME: There’s still so much to do and see!

On my next trip to Japan, I’d like visit Japan in the summer. I’ve already experienced the cold, chilly weather in March, so it would be nice to travel back to Japan while it’s sunny and warm. In the end, we didn’t get to check out the night life in Tokyo or Osaka, because we were usually too tired to go out in the evenings after spending our days out being tourists. So I’d like to experience the clubbing scene out there in Japan. Onsens are hot springs in traditional bath houses, where you can relax in the hot spring water, almost like a spa. I decided to skip this, as I didn’t like the idea of being naked in a hot spring surrounded by other naked strangers (lol). Who knows I might feel more confident to do it next time.

We were really looking forward to visiting the Ghibli Museum in Tokyo, but unfortunately, we didn’t realise how much of a popular place it is and the tickets were already sold out. It’s one of those museums where you have to buy tickets at least 3 months in advance to be guaranteed entry. We were unaware of this, so we missed out on the opportunity to go, but it’s somewhere I’d like to go next time.  We spent a day in Kyoto, yet we didn’t get round to attending a geisha show in Gion, which would have been a great experience seeing as we were in the geisha capital of Japan. Definitely adding to the list for next time! I am definitely, definitely planning a day tour to Mount Fuji next time! I felt so disappointed that I didn’t get to go! How did I travel all the way to Japan and not visit Mount Fuji? Yeah, this definitely going to be done next time!

Thanks for taking the time to read this, I had a really good time in Japan hence why I had so many things to share!

Keep travelling, keep exploring

Estrella

P.S

I couldn’t leave Japan without trying some naruto filled ramen

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9 Month Update

Firstly, I’d just like to note that I’m well aware that I haven’t posted anything in a while. I promise that I haven’t forgotten about my blog! I was meant to post this update 2 months ago, but as usual I’ve been busy. I recently got back from an exciting trip to Japan, so I do have many things to share with you guys. So I’ve been living in Australia for over 9 months now. My time here has been going by so fast, and I’ll be going back to England quicker than I know it. I’ve still got so much to see and do, which is why I decided to write up a quick update about my time here so far.

1st Semester Exams & A Very Long Summer Break

I took my first semester exams in November and successfully passed the semester. It was a huge relief for me, as it wasn’t always easy to juggle all the work and assignments that I had to complete. I’m glad that achieved what I set out to do, as all of grades obtained here count towards 100% of the third year of my degree. The summer break began as soon as I finished my last exam, and I was on holiday for 4 months.

This was the longest summer break that I’ve ever had, as I didn’t starting the second semester until late February. I think that I’m one of the few students who couldn’t wait to be back at uni and start all of my assignments. I had such a long break, that I wanted to get started on the work and get some structure back into my day to day life. 2017 started off great as I got a new job, which has given me a greater experience of working in Australia. The summer break gave me lots of time to relax and enjoy my lazy days. Do you guys know how good it feels to sit around and do nothing without having any responsibilities? I can tell you that it feels great! By the end of the break, I was so over the hot and dry Australian weather. The weather here gets so hot to the point that you don’t even want to step outside, and it pushes you to change your plans outside for a day indoors. Part of me wanted the weather to stay warm, so I that I could fully enjoy summer! Another part of me wanted to enter the autumn/winter season because I was so ready to swap my shorts, flip flops and t-shirts for coats, boots and jumpers!

Christmas and NYE in Australia

I decided to spend Christmas and New Years in Australia instead of travelling back home to England. I’ll never forget how hot the weather was on Christmas day in Adelaide, as the temperature reached 40 degrees! Had a lovely day spent with my friend and her family. It honestly didn’t feel like Christmas at all, I would have needed to see some snow or feel colder weather to be more convinced.

NYE 2017 was quite different than usual for me, as I spent it camping in the outback with a group of friends! We headed over to Flinders Ranges for 3 days, to enjoy a great camping experience in South Australia. Flinders Ranges is a mountain range located approximately 200 km north of Adelaide. Visiting Flinders was on my list of places to go to, so I was happy that I got a chance to go there, but I will admit that I was a bit sceptical about the trip. My previous camping experiences had initially put me off going, as I dislike camping and rarely take part in outdoor activities. In the end, this trip to Flinders was so much better than my past camping trips, but I won’t be rushing to go camping again anytime soon. We set off to Flinders on 29th of December, and arrived at the Wilpena Pound Campground after a 5 hour drive from Adelaide.

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The following day, we didn’t waste any time going bush walking (hiking) for the whole day. Initially, we wanted hike along the St Mary’s Peak trail but the trail was closed, so we opted to hike along the Bridle Gap trail, which took us 6 hours to complete the 18km walk.  The Bridle Gap trail took us along a very scenic route surrounded by nature and wildlife which we appreciated throughout the walk. After around 2 hours, my feet started to get really sore and I was struggling to breathe in the 34 degree heat. My friends were pretty excited about climbing all the way to the top of the peak, but I was dreading it! We did make it to the top of the peak and took lots of selfies of course, but I will admit that the climb had been worth seeing the views.

Surprisingly, we didn’t see any spiders or bugs inside our tents during the whole time that we were in Flinders, which made me feel so relieved. Watching the stars at night from our tents and partying at the Wilpena Pound resort on New Year’s Eve were some of my most memorable moments of the trip.

southaustralia.com/places-to-go/flinders-ranges-and-outback

Quick getaway to Melbourne

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I travelled to Melbourne back in February with a group of my Aussie friends for 4 days. It was my first time visiting another Australian city, and I had been looking forward to the trip for months. As soon as we arrived in the city, I realised that I preferred Melbourne as a city compared to Adelaide. I think I would have liked to live in Melbourne because it’s a bigger and more animated than Adelaide, which is what I’m used to coming from a city like London. We stayed in a stylish apartment at the Mantra hotel, which overlooked parts of the city and is located close to St Kilda beach.

My favourite parts of the visit were getting a chance to go quad biking and visiting the Trentham falls waterfall in Daylesford. I had never been quad biking before up until this trip, so I was pretty excited about doing it. However, we all felt a bit nervous after reading the disclaimer which stated the risks of accidents and death during the session. We had nothing to worry about though, because we completed the quad biking session in one piece, and ended the afternoon relaxing at Trentham falls.

www.vicquadtours.com/

www.visitmelbourne.com/regions/Daylesford-and-the-Macedon-Ranges/Things-to-do/Nature-and-wildlife/Lakes-and-waterways/VV-Trentham-Falls.aspx

Homesick? Not really!

Surprisingly, I haven’t felt homesick after living in Australia for 9 months. I felt more homesick at times when I lived in France, which is strange since I live further away now. I haven’t really felt the distance from my family and friends since I keep in touch with them regularly. I am constantly surrounded by other international and exchange students all living far from home, so I’m rarely by myself and always hanging out with people. However, I do get the feeling sometimes that I’m ‘missing out’ on things going on back home, but then I remind myself that I won’t be away from home forever and that I’ll be able to catch up with friends and family.

My current living situation

In my previous post about looking for accommodation in Adelaide, I expressed my concerns about living with housemates. After 9 months, I can say that it’s something that I’m not keen on doing again in the future, as all of my preconceptions about living with housemates have come true. Most of the negative aspects of living with housemates have outweighed the positive. I have also found that living with people that you know can equally be as challenging as living with those that you don’t know, and frankly it’s very tiring.

Having experienced this, I believe that living in a shared house can only work if you live with people who know you personally, and share the same attitudes and mindsets as you about what it means to live with others. Hopefully, I’ll have more positive things to share about house sharing once my exchange comes to an end.

Projected plans for the next 5 months

I decided to extend my stay in Australia, so once I finish the semester I’ll have 2 months left to visit more places in Australia before I head home. I’ve already had the chance to visit Melbourne, so I’ll try to organise trips to Sydney, Brisbane and Cairns. I’m also planning to use the rest of this time to see more of South Australia. I’ve visited Indonesia, so I’d love to travel to other countries in Asia like South Korea, so hopefully I can make these trips happen! Most importantly, I plan to achieve higher grades this semester to have a great finish to the academic year.

That’s it for now, currently writing about my recent trip to Japan. Check it out once I’ve posted it!

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‘Spring Break’ getaway to Bali

Yes, I know we’re in December and I travelled to Indonesia 3 months ago, but life happens and I’ve been getting up to so many things. So without further delay, let me tell you guys about my trip to Indonesia. I travelled to Bali during the half term break in September with a group of friends. I was excited about visiting Bali, as it was my first time travelling to Asia and that I’d be able to visit the pretty beaches and places that I had seen in pictures. I stayed in Bali for 9 days, which I felt was just the right amount of time and the cost of the holiday came up to around 700 AUD (£400) which was reasonable for a student like me on a budget. So you can enjoy a trip to Bali without having to break the bank!

Arriving in Bali & First impressions

I booked my flights with Tiger Airways, which is basically the EasyJet/Ryanair of Australia, and provides the typical service of a low cost airline. Delays, delays and even more delays, but I guess it’s one of those situations where you get what you pay for (return flights AUD 200/£120). My flight was delayed by 5 hours, so I arrived in Bali in the evening. I dislike arriving to countries for the first time at night, I always feel more comfortable arriving during the day, as anything can happen. As soon as I stepped off the plane, I was hit with a wave of humid air. I had recently got my hair done before travelling and my hair became frizzy due to the humidity. So ladies, don’t bother getting your hair done. Just do a ponytail or wear braids because the humidity will ruin your hair (I learnt my lesson).

I realised how hectic and busy the city was as soon as I passed through passport control into the arrivals area, and heard crowds of people shouting “taxi, taxi, taxi!” Little did I know that I’d be hearing that word very often for the duration of my stay in Bali. It took me 20 minutes to find my driver in the crowd, holding a little piece of cardboard with my name on it. The drive to the hotel was a very nerve-racking experience.  I honestly didn’t think that I’d make it there alive with the way that the driver was constantly hitting the breaks and weaving in and out of the lanes, around other motorists doing the same. In Bali locals and tourists mostly travel around by scooter or motorbike, and it’s quite common to see 3 or 4 people riding the same scooter without helmets. After a 30 minute drive, during which I prayed the whole time to God to keep me alive and get me there in one piece, I arrived at the hotel in Seminyak and joined up with my friends who arrived a day earlier.

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Exploring Seminyak at night

Accommodation

We stayed in two different popular areas of Bali, Seminyak and Ubud. Seminyak is a more touristy, party area with lots of night life as it’s close to Kuta. So if you’re into all of that then Seminyak will be perfect for you. Ubud is much more greener with less beach areas, but is still a tourist hotspot. We found our accommodation through booking.com, where the costs of accommodation totaled up to around AUD 100 (£60) for 9 days. The good thing about booking.com is that you can reserve a room in a hotel/hostel without having to pay anything until you check-in. We stayed at the Puriwisata Balinese Style Hotel in Seminyak and the Gurung Merta Bungalows in Ubud. I preferred the hotel in Seminyak, as it is situated in an ideal location next to local markets and shops, places to eat and is within walking distance from the beach. The hotel offered a free pick up service from the airport which made my journey to the hotel much easier. We shared a room with two king sized beds, that had a balcony which overlooked the pool and the rest of the hotel. The staff were nice and always on hand to assist us, and most importantly our rooms were clean. The hotel also offered the service of hiring a private driver to take us around different spots and wherever we wanted to go, at a suitable price of Rp 50,000 for the day (AUD 50/£20) which was split between us. It’s something that I’d highly recommend as it’s much easier for you to get around for day trips, and is a good alternative to riding a scooter if you don’t feel too confident riding on the busy roads.

On the other hand, I didn’t like the hotel in Ubud, in fact it was more like a hostel than a hotel.  We were quite disappointed actually, as we paid more than we did for the hotel in Seminyak. The aesthetic of the hotel’s exterior was very beautiful; however the state of our room was something else. Worst thing about it was the state of the bathroom, just the sight of it made me itch. The funniest thing about it is was that the staff would come to clean our rooms everyday during our stay, yet the state of the bathroom remained the same. Despite this we had a lovely serene view of trees from our balcony in a peaceful location.

By the way, if you’re scared of spiders, cockroaches, rats and stray dogs prepare yourself mentally before going to Bali because you’ll be seeing plenty of those roaming around the streets, especially at night.

Things that we did 

We completed the majority of the things on our to-do list:

  • Went snorkelling and jet-skiing at Nusa Dua beach (AUD 40/£23)
  • Had dinner by the beach in Seminyak (AUD 30/ £18)
  • Watched the sunset at Uluwatu Temple during the traditional Kecak dance show (AUD 10/ £6)
  • Visited the Satria Coffee plantation and got to taste the different samples of flavoured tea and coffee (free entry). I don’t even like coffee that much, but even I brought back some of their coconut flavoured coffee.
  • Surfing!
  • Took walks along the streets observing the beautiful architecture
  • Took a stroll around the Ubud Royal Palace (free entry)
  • Ubud Monkey Forest (4 AUD/£2)– I was nervous about going, especially since I didn’t want the monkeys to steal my glasses
  • Tasted Balinese cuisine – you’ll see nasi goreng on almost all menus, I think I ate it almost every day and eventually got tired of eating rice and noodles. There were many cheap food places to eat in Bali, then again, it depends on your budget
  • Visited the rice terraces in Ubud (free entry- but have to pay to pass certain points in the fields)
  • Shopping at the local markets- They were filled with artisanal handmade art including wooden and stone carvings / statutes making you wish that you could take some back home with you. We also did a bit of shopping in Kuta as well!
  • And of course plenty of trips to spa lounges to get massages (the price for an hour massage was AUD 15/£9 in Kuta )

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Uluwatu Temple – Kecak dance show – Sunset

There were other places that we didn’t get to visit due to the lack of time including; the Tanah Lot Temple (holy hindu temple on a sea rock) and explore the Suluban beach cave . We also didn’t get to visit the Elephant Safari park. I really wanted to go to there, as they allow you to ride elephants (I’ll definitely do this one day).

General info + tips

Cash machines– Be wary about using the cash machines to withdraw money. You run the risk of getting your credit cards taken by the machine, or falling victim to a scam. My friend had an issue with this, as she tried to withdraw money from a machine but no money came out. You can exchange your money into rupiah before coming to Indonesia or at authorised bureau de change shops. Money can be withdrawn from major banks. Always check the condition of the cash machine before using it, if it looks dodgy find another one.

Pickpockets– Keep your belongings safe, especially your purse/wallet and important documents like your passport. Bring locks to keep the contents in your bags safe. There’s nothing worse than losing important belongings abroad, which you’re unlikely to get back.

Street vendors– Be prepared for the influx of street vendors approaching you to sell stuff!

Drivers– If you hire a personal driver to take you around Bali, you might have to pay fees for parking, admission tickets to sites, and for passing certain points or routes along roads (we weren’t aware of this beforehand). The most that we paid to drive past was Rp 20,000 (2 AUD/ £1)

Taxi companies– Expect to hear taxi drivers honking their horns at you shouting “taxi, taxi!” I’m surprised that I didn’t learn how to say “no thank you” in Indonesian after 9 days of being there. If you decide to take a taxi in Bali, use Bluebird taxis. They’re the most reputable and are widely used, and the ride is charged by the meter.  If you decide to use other taxi companies, make sure to agree to a price for the ride.

Crossing roads– Be careful when crossing roads, as cars, scooters and bikes will come at you from all directions. The last thing you’d want is to require medical attention in a foreign country due to a road accident.

Money – The price of things can be very confusing especially with all the zeros in the Indonesian Rupiah currency e.g. Rp 100,000 = 10 AUD/ £5, so pay attention when paying for stuff to ensure that you pay the correct amount and receive the right amount of change.

Final thoughts 

Bali is an affordable trip destination, so if I was able to go there on a student budget anyone can save up and do the same. You’ll get to appreciate the wonderful views, landscapes and sunsets while being surrounded by the nature of this tropical destination. On a negative note, it was disappointing to see the effects of mass tourism through the overcrowded streets, waste scattered everywhere and washing out into the beaches. The geography student in me was thinking “look at all this environmental degradation taking place!”. This clearly demonstrated the negative impacts of mass tourism that I had learnt about in so many case studies. Even though tourism boosts the local economies of these tourist spots, it’s equally as important to protect the environment and preserve the culture and its authenticity. I hope that measures will be put in place in the long run to maintain the beauty of the island for tourists, and most importantly the locals who live there. Overall, I would consider going back to Bali again in the future to visit other islands and places that I didn’t have time to visit. Hopefully, I’ll be able get my picture on the ocean swing at Gili Trawangan Island!  I definitely learnt more things to be aware of when travelling to different countries, and I have gained even more confidence to travel and explore other destinations, while building up my collection of passport stamps!

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