JAPAN: Tohoku Region

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The year of 2016 held an endless string of unexpected - but incredible - experiences for me and one of them was visiting Japan! I've always wanted to visit Japan but in the past it seemed like one of those places that was a little out of the way. I ended up spending almost 3 weeks travelling Japan from the north in the Tohoku region all the way to the far south island of Okinawa. 

My first week touring the Tohoku region in the north began in Aomori where we spent a couple days visiting Hirosaki Castle, Oirase Stream, inspecting a series of traditional onsens (Japanese hot spring & bathing facilities), dressing up in kimonos, frolicking (or sometimes freezing) in the fresh powder snow and feasting on traditional dishes. Also during that time we were lucky enough to stay a night in a beautiful Ryokan (Japanese style inn) with sliding Japanese doors, fresh tea in our rooms and our beds set out on the floor after dinner which we attended wearing our hotel robes following a soak in the steaming onsen. That next morning I woke up early, put on my robe, poured a cup of matcha tea and watched the snow fall over the mountains from my cosy bay window seat. Magically memorable to say the least. 

As we travelled south away from the snow we explored Chusonji Temple and the surrounding grounds in the sunshine, ate ramen ordered from a vending machine and snuggled under a heated table in a river boat as we cruised through the 50 m cliffs of Geibi Gorge. Before travelling down towards Tokyo to continue my journey south we climbed the mountainside to Yamadera temple which features sweeping views of the mountains and Japanese countryside. I left the region feeling particularly lucky to have the chance to explore an area off-the-beaten-track and see different aspects of Japanese culture that may be overlooked in the more highly populated or visited areas in this unique country. I feel like I've skipped over so many details from this first week in Japan so I'll also be working on a video for my youtube channel (here) - subscribe and keep an eye out!



ASIAN ADVENTURE - The Travel Project

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A little over a month ago I set off a new adventure with a twist. I was off to South East Asia with Contiki to document life on the Mekong river for The Travel Project.

We made our start in bustling Bangkok! We spent a day exploring the city and getting to know our new travel buddies. In the evening we boarded a sleeper train to make our overnight journey to north Thailand and arrived in Chiang Mai in the morning. While in Chiang Mai we had a cooking class and learnt to make Pad Thai, sticky rice and curry. 

 Next stop was Chiang Rai where we saw the amazing white temple; Wat Rong Khun. We also visited some of the hill tribes in northern thailand. At first it was a little daunting but once you get talking to some of the people there you can learn a lot. Among the tribes were the Karen Long Neck tribes who have historically lived on the Myanmar side of the Thai border – however thousands have had to flee over the decades due to political unrest. The women wear heavy brass rings around their necks, arms and shins. It might seem that the Karen women have long necks but their traditional rings actually push down their shoulders and rib cage to make it seem like its longer. 

 After crossing the border into Laos the next couple days were spent cruising down the Mekong on our own private boat – stopping overnight in Pak Beng. About 40% of the Mekong river flows through Laos and 75% of the jobs in Laos are in agriculture – therefore people rely on the Mekong for their crops and livelihood. The scenery in Laos was captivating. 

 We ended our river cruise in the UNESCO town of Luang Prabang World Heritage Site – needless to say it was completely picturesque and swimming with culture and good vibes. We set off on a bike ride around town and met an elderly man alongside the Mekong river selling Snake Whisky aka Mekong Moonshine! This snake infused alcohol is given out in shot form and is supposed to help with strength (especially men … in the bedroom). We spent the night eating great food with a fantastic view of the river and then took full advantage of the cheap spirits at the bowling alley (yep, you read that right .. bowling. A weird MUST in Luang Prabang). The next day our local Contiki guide Dua was kind enough to take us to his home & show us his beautiful butterfly farm. He usually has over 1000 butterflies in the garden farm which he sits in of a morning with his children for tea and viewing the butterflies hatch from cocoons. In the afternoon we spent a few hours swimming in the famous milky green water at the Kuang Si Waterfalls followed by an evening strolling through the night markets. 

 Our last morning in Luang Prabang we woke at 5am to participate in one of the most sacred Lao traditions – the Buddhist Alms Giving Ceremony as the sun rises. We were given rice in a small basket which is a common offering for the monks who depart from their temples to gather their daily meal from locals and travellers giving alms. 

 After a spiritual morning we set off in the bus to Vang Vieng! It was probably my favourite stop on the trip – (very) closely followed by Luang Prabang! Vang Vieng is a small but lively town alongside a river and surrounded by stunning mountains. You could say it was a bit of a backpackers town and I fully understand why so many people visit and never want to leave! We spent a morning kayaking along the river, exploring some caves and interacting with locals along the way. In the afternoon we made our way to a river bar to relax to the max with our contiki family and fellow travellers. We had a couple hours in the sunshine till the heavens opened and started pouring. After 10 minutes taking shelter under the little bar deck we uttered a collective ‘f*ck it’ and spent the rest of the afternoon dancing out in the rain, downing bucketed and having the time of our lives till dusk arrived and we got in our tuk tuks back to town. 

 Unfortunately my adventure ended in Phnon Penh, Cambodia – however I had time to visit the killing fields and learn about the heartbreaking local history which was a humbling end to an unbelievably rewarding journey. 

 If you’ve enjoyed reading my story and think you’d like to share one of your own I encourage you to jump over contiki.com/sixtwo and share your story and become a contributor to The Travel Project community! A massive thanks to my friends (and absolute legends) at Contiki for taking me on an adventure of a lifetime. 



Greek Island Hopping

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I'd only been to Greece once before, a few days on Santorini a few years ago, so when my sister Alyse told me she wanted to do some of the Greek Islands this summer I was on board straight away. As we began our trip with Med Experience it quickly became apparent that island hopping in Greece is the best way to travel.

We spent a night in Athens getting to know our group over a bit of feta, lamb and beers before heading off to Santorini in the morning. It was a long ferry trip but we used the time to play cards, chat and get ourselves prepared for the craziness that was to come.

Once in Fira, Santorini we all jumped in the pool before watching the famous Santorini sunset over dinner. Next we hit the clubs to really get to know each other (you only know someone when you've seen them dance, right?). The next day we set off on a short hike to look out over the mesmerising Santorini view and walk through the streets of Oia where we enjoyed our first gyros (which definitely wasn't the last). We had a chilled afternoon swimming at a black sand beach before heading out for another massive night in town.

The next island we hopped on off to was the island of Ios. I think I can speak for a lot of the group when I say that Ios was one of our favourite stops - I didn't want to leave! Gorgeous sunsets, picturesque town and my god, the bar crawls were unbelievable! One of the big activities in Ios bars is buying 7 shots which comes with a singlet. By the first night there were new singlets scattered amongst our group and that just kept growing the next night too. Apart from the bars (which, did I mention, are wicked?) Ios offers much opportunity for water sports, boating and snorkeling.

Next came Paros and some much welcome down time after the ridiculousness that was Ios. Paros is a smaller place that offers a look into a traditional lifestyle on the islands. Our first night there we had a big Greek feast with Greek dancing, plate smashing and way too much Ouzo. The next day we headed out on a traditional (ex) fishing boat that took us along the coast to beautiful swim spots for exploring and cliff diving.

The last island to hop to was none other than the island of Mykonos. I'd heard it was the party island and since we were staying right at Paradise Beach Resort we were hit with full force on the very first afternoon. The beach party started at 4pm with cocktail buckets, bikinis and dancing - this party then turned into the paint party at 10pm. From memory I don't think anyone was in bed before 4am ... But that 12 hour party on the first night didn't stop us from going just as hard again on the second! However we did go into Mykonos town to explore the white & blue streets and spot the famous windmills before sunset. By then it was right back to Paradise for yet another paint party, massive frozen cocktails & endless dancing with the group right through the night.

Of course by this stage our group had bonded pretty tightly and it would be impossible to try and explain everything we went through together along the way. So I'll just express my endless thanks & love for our tour leader Vas and the group for a trip to remember always! Thanks MedExperience