Category Archives: Travel

A Nontraditional Christmas in Bangkok

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We arrived from Phitsanulok to Bangkok’s hectic Mochit Station late in the afternoon on Christmas Eve. After managing to coax a tuk-tuk driver into not ripping us off too much, followed by zooming on the MRT to our conveniently located Soi Sukhumvit hotel, we dashed out for a quick fill of street food before collapsing into bed.

This would be my third international, family-less Christmas, though, I was able to spend it with my brother and my boyfriend in one of the world’s most popular cities so I can’t really complain. But there’s something about being away from home at Christmas that makes you crave the special warm-fuzzy "yay, its Christmas" feeling so much. That feeling is so hard to come by in Asia - of course with no discredit to their commercial efforts and over-decoration of everything!

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I found a real life gingerbread house in Bangkok and my life was made.

It was my third time to Bangkok and having visited a handful of the major sights previously, wasn’t feeling very compelled to sightsee. These few days we had ahead of us in Bangkok became more about relaxing, enjoying and taking things slowly.

After all the Skype calls and messages home on Christmas Day, we ventured out for Christmas lunch - only after plenty of TripAdvisor research to pick the best of the bunch! Naturally, Christmas is far from traditional when you’re in Asia, so we decided to honour the nontraditional with a good feed of Mexican we had all been longing for a few days. We ended up just a few MRT stations down the road at the delicious Charley Brown's Mexican Cantina.

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Merry Christmas from Mexico Thailand!

With a few drinks under our belts - hey, its Christmas! - we headed back to our hotel to chill out for the rest of the afternoon, before heading out to our evening activity that we had booked in. What better way for three nomadic Kiwis to spend Christmas overseas than by going to the cinema to see landscapes from home in The Hobbit? Mexican, movies and copious amounts of popcorn - yup, it was a good Christmas!

Christmas in New Zealand is a summer affair so Boxing Day picnics at the beach or the river are common. We opted for Bangkok’s highly manicured version of nature for our very own nontraditional Boxing Day picnic, at the beautiful Rama IX Park. Bangkok’s largest green space was the perfect spot to spend hours lazing on the grass overlooking the lake, reading the Bangkok Post cover to cover, and ambling around the gardens. The best bit? We had the place almost to ourselves!

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As a final nod to Christmas, that evening I couldn’t resist the temptation of another Swensen’s ice cream - as delectable as ever, regardless of melting Christmas tree!

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The next day was my brother’s final day in Bangkok before flying back home to New Zealand, so we decided it was now or never for some very light tourist activities. We stopped by the Royal Palace with the best of intentions before declaring it was way too busy to be enjoyable and also a bit over our price range. I didn’t mind because I’d visited a few years ago, but at least the guys got to see the view from the outside.

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Finally we stopped by the backpackers haven of Khao San Road. I’d stayed in the area last time I was in Bangkok - this time we opted for the slightly flasher digs of Sukhumvit Road. Its a fun place that buzzes with activity, and if you’ve got the money you can buy just about anything! The boys pondered through the options for a while…considering a career change? Get your tailor-made new degree on Khao San Road!

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Before we knew it we had waved goodbye to Tim, and Alan and I were spending our final day in Bangkok circling every level of the MBK centre in search of wedding-appropriate shoes. Thank goodness we were running low on baht or I probably would have spent the rest of our savings on new clothes…

And it was just like that we were at the airport once again to wave goodbye to Thailand and Southeast Asia for the time being. We may not have done much, but I still look back on our time in Bangkok with happy memories. Its quite a different feeling when you allow yourself to just “be” in a city than dash from sight to sight, ticking each attraction off the list. I like to think we just hung out a bit like locals for a few days!

Bangkok - love it or hate it? Have you ever passed up seeing all the sights in favour of just hanging out in a city?


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Sensational Si Satchanalai

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If I thought Sukhothai was ‘off the beaten track’, then Si Satchanalai took that ten steps further.

Dubbed by the Lonely Planet as a ‘suburb’ of the Sukhothai empire, Si Satchanalai is another incredible historical park housing even more incredible ruins from the 13th century Kingdom of Siam. Meaning “The City of Good People” it was built after the city of Sukhothai and became the major second town of the Kingdom in the 13th and 14th centuries.

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Although I really enjoyed Sukhothai Historical Park, I loved Si Satchanalai even more, as it is a lot more rustic in its appearance and hasn’t been restored or set up for tourism quite so much as Sukhothai. According to some reports thousands of tourists visit each year, though I found that hard to believe as there was just a handful of others there the day we visited. We barely saw another soul the entire time, how wonderful!

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We caught a tuk-tuk from our hotel to the Sukhothai New City Bus Station and purchased our bus tickets for 50 baht (NZ$2) each. Si Satchanalai is about 55 kilometres away and takes about an hour, simply let the driver or bus conductor know you're headed for the Historical Park and they’ll let you know when to jump off.

On unloading from the bus, we were quickly greeted by a friendly man offering full-day bicycle rental at 40 baht (NZ$1.65). We gladly rented off him, as the only other place we saw to rent bikes was right in by the park entrance 3 kilometres away - better to cycle than walk, I say!

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We cycled through the modest archway, crossed the, uh - rickety - suspension bridge and first came across Wat Phra Si Ratanamahathat, an ancient Khmer style masterpiece complete with happy temple dog. This guy looked healthy and happy - like he ran the place! - but for many temple dogs this is not the case.

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Three kilometres further down the road and you’ll reach the entrance to the main part of the park. See why I was glad we had already rented some bicycles?

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After paying our entry fee of 100 baht (NZ$4), we spent the best part of a day cycling around Si Satchanalai and taking in the peaceful, rustic atmosphere. It was very humbling to have the opportunity to explore and absorb he enormity of these 13th century, crumbling temples almost in total solitude.

Consisting of more than forty ruins within and outside the city walls of Si Satchanalai, there is plenty to discover and occupy yourself for hours.

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The only thing we wished for was more information. We visited without much prior knowledge, and although each ruin is signposted with its name and a short description of its known history, sometimes we longed for a little more detail to help those of us with poor imaginations build a better picture of what this thriving city would have been like all those 700+ years ago.

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Careful not to miss the last bus back to Sukhothai, by mid-afternoon we made our way back to the simple roadside bus stop. As we demolished well-earnt ice creams and awaited the bus, we were reminded that - at least for the day - we had escaped Thailand's well-beaten track. Not another tourist to be seen, locals going about their daily lives without an interest in us, motorbikes sharing the road with tractors, cars, trucks, busses, and chickens. Yep, chickens.

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With little of a plan ahead of us, the next morning we once again packed our bags and departed Sukhothai in the direction of nearby Phitsanulok in search of some more off the beaten track activities.

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Phitsanulok was a strange place for us. Generally a town only frequented by tourists for transit, we thought it would make a good base for some exploration into the nearby National Parks. Unfortunately, this time it didn't work out for us. We had a hard time finding information - the first two tourist information offices we were directed to in the city were abandoned, and when we finally came across the actual tourist office at 5pm it had already closed for the day.

With the next day being Christmas Eve - and not wanting to be completely off the grid for Santa to visit essential Christmas Day Skype sessions - we decided to give up on the idea of untouched nature this time around and instead do the polar opposite by heading to bustling Bangkok in time for Christmas.

So while we didn't end up doing much in Phitsanulok, other than spending hours trying to find information to no avail - oh and there was that shifty riverside bar we ended up having an awkward drink at - it was still rather fascinating to have a night in a truly un-touristed, provincial Thai town.

Not to mention - I would go back to Phitsanulok in a heartbeat if only for the hotel we stayed in. For just 545 baht (NZ$22.50), Hip Inn Coffee was a steal. Quirky, modern and with a funky design - and by that I mean the gaping window between the bedroom and the toilet means you're going to want to know that person very well before you share a room with them!

Seriously though, Hip Inn Coffee was a very cool hotel and the puppy complete in Santa outfit was the cherry on top. Cue puppy photo overload...

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Do it yourself

It is possible to do an organised day trip to Si Satchanalai from Sukhothai, if you’re staying in the new city I’d recommend booking this through your hotel, as we found tour offices and tourist information centres very hard to come by! We came across the best information at the information centre about two doors down from EZ House Hotel, which has many english brochures, despite the minimal english spoken by the staff - but I can’t complain because my Thai skills are a lot worse! However, if you’re game for public busses it is very easy to take yourself on your very own do-it-yourself day trip.

Stay tuned for the last instalment of our Thai adventures, when we head to Bangkok! Have you visited Si Satchanalai? Do you like getting off the tourist trail?


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Surprised by Sukhothai

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Sukhothai wasn’t really originally on our Thailand “plan” - and I say that in inverted commas because we didn’t really have much of a plan at all. So when my brother took a rather impromptu trip to India with a week in Bangkok on his way home, we immediately began to scratch together a plan to meet somewhere in Thailand. Considering Alan and I were in Northern Thailand and my brother would be flying into Bangkok, what better place that bang smack in the middle: Sukhothai. Yeah, that would do the trick.

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To be honest, I didn’t know much about Sukhothai other than it was the name of one of the Thai restaurants we frequented in my home town when I was growing up. I may be very partial to Pai and Koh Samui, but Sukhothai quickly joined their ranks and became one of my favourite places in Thailand to date.

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Sukhothai is a city in two pieces: the New City, which is the modern city, and the Old City, which houses the ruins of the ancient Thai capital and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located 12 kilometres apart, you can stay in either the old or the new area, though we were pleased with our decision to stay in the new city where we were surrounded by locals, a pleasingly minimal tourist scene, and simply travelled by bus - or rather, a large songthaew - to the old city for a day of exploring.

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Translated as "Dawn of Happiness", Sukhothai was the political and administrative hub of the Kingdom of Siam back in the 13th and 15th centuries (1238-1438 to be exact). The city had an enormous influence on the culture and art of what we now know as Thailand, and created what is referred to as "Sukhothai style" in terms of the design of its Buddha images. In the 1400's, Sukhothai was seen to its demise as it was conquered by Ayutthaya, another historical region of interesting ruins that can be explored by day trip from Bangkok.  If you are interested in a detailed history of Sukhothai, you can read all about it on the UNESCO World Heritage Site here.

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One of the best things about Sukhothai is that no-one seems to know about it! It is touristy enough that it is straightforward to find a meal, a great value guesthouse (we loved EZ House in the new city) and general amenities, however it definitely lacked the crowds of tourists and touts that can be a problem in so many other parts of Thailand. Sukhothai was so peaceful and felt almost empty, at least when we were there.

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We arrived late at night after an exhausting series of busses from Pai via Chiang Mai - we departed Pai at 8am and arrived in Sukhothai at 9pm (travel isn’t always fun!) - and my brother arrived on a similarly tiresome journey from Bangkok shortly after. Following a quick meal at a restaurant called - are you ready for it - Poo Restaurant (please tell me I'm not the only one to giggle...), we tucked up for the night, ready for some exploring of the Sukhothai ruins the next day.

The next morning after adequate coffee and breakfast consumption we boarded a bus bound for the Old City (20 baht) where we were quick to hire some rather old-school bicycles that would become our mode of transport for the day (30 baht for a full day). We paid our entrance fee for the largest, central area (100 baht for foreigners plus an extra 10 baht for the bicycle), cycled through the gates into Sukhothai Historical Park and were free to roam and marvel at the ruins.

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Marvel we did. Sukhothai is truly spectacular!

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Consisting of various temples and ruins of which many are 800+ years old, the park is very well-maintained, if not overly restored in some parts. Regardless, the peaceful ambience you would expect from such a place was retained and we barely saw more than a few tourists at each sight. Some areas that we visited we were the only people there which was truly a breath of fresh air!

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I love this photo - even monks can take ages to capture the perfect shot!

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Before we knew it, we were beginning to run low on energy and needed some sustenance for lunch. We circled back around to the corner of the park dedicated to restaurants and souvenir shops, and quickly demolished a very average plate of pad thai, saved only by the fact that it was very reasonably priced compared to what you would usually pay in a tourist area.

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As we ambled back to our bicycles ready to continue our day of exploring, we were stopped by a group of university students undertaking an English project where they wanted to ask us some questions. Naturally we were very hesitant (scam alert!) but over the course of a few minutes we became certain that this was in fact the truth and happily volunteered to be interviewed. Some of their English was really good, others you really had to listen hard to pick out keywords - but we managed with smiles all round. Usually we would avoid this kind of activity if approached in tourist areas (and always keep a close hand on your possessions!), but that was one of the beauties of Sukhothai for us - we felt like this was a safe and real environment, and it was!

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Post-interviews, more cycling ensued. We continued to explore within the walls, before venturing out back onto the road and spotting a few more ruins dotted around.

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You can pay extra to visit the North and West areas of Sukhothai Historical park, which I’m certain are just as impressive, but we all agreed that for us it was more about the atmosphere and feeling of the place than ticking off each specific temple. We cycled as much as we could without having to pay an additional fee, before circling back and calling it a day - and a surprisingly magnificent one at that.

Little did we know, the next day we would be marvelling even more at the ruins of outlying Si Satchanalai…stay tuned!


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Eight things you MUST do in Pai, Thailand

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We survived the 762 corners from Chiang Mai to Pai, though it didn’t come easily. Earbuds in, music on and managing to get yourself into a sort of trance-like state helped ease the corners and block the chucking-up happening in the row ahead from your senses as best you could.

I’m so glad I was finding my travel mojo again because Pai was truly something special. A quirky town in Northern Thailand, Pai is known for its hippie-centric and laid back vibe.

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We stayed in a modest hut at the chilled out and cheap KK Hut Guesthouse about 10 minutes walk from the town, right across a dirt road from the Circus School! Just the basics - a simple concrete bathroom (complete with resident frog), mattress on the floor, mosquito net and a fan we didn't even need to use. No need for air-conditioning in Pai - its fresh in the mornings, warm during the day and cool at night.

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Before we get started on your schedule of activities in Pai, first things first. In Pai, a scooter is essential. There is little to see in the town itself and, beyond generally chilling out, the whole reason for going to Pai is to get out into nature and explore the countryside! Your accommodation will be able to provide you with a map, so its hard to get lost.

Be careful if this is your first time on a scooter, as the roads are not always forgiving and in just our three days there saw a handful of people have minor accidents. That said, all the scooters up for rent in Pai are so beaten up that they will probably never know if you add a few more scrapes to the paint job…but still, take care!

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Okay, so you have your scooter, map in hand - now what? Here’s what I recommend you get up to in Pai!

1. The Land Split

Hands down my favourite attraction in Pai. To understand this place, you need to know the story behind it. Essentially, this used to be farming land when one day back in 2008, without warning a giant crack appeared in the land, essentially destroying its use for farming crops and the hope of future income. The entrepreneurial farmer then decided if he couldn’t continue to farm on his land, he would turn the giant crack into a tourist attraction.

We took a look at the split - and yeah, basically its just what you expect, a crack through some land, fairly impressive though not overly exciting. However, the crack is not what makes this place great!

What makes the Land Split the most wonderful place is that when you arrive there you are greeted with genuine smiles and ushered to a relaxed little seating area, where you are quickly served copious amounts of fresh fruit and vegetables grown right on this very land. They also grow roselle flowers (a type of Hibiscus) and you’ll be served a sweet roselle juice, followed by a small bottle of roselle wine!

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There is no entry fee, you simply donate what you like before you leave - they trust you will pay what you feel it is worth. After paying our gratitude to the friendly staff, we were sent on our way with a bag full of fresh passionfruit that we devoured over the next few days!

Nearby is the Pam Bok waterfall which is pretty, and worth a look while you’re in the vicinity. Some were brave enough to enter the freezing water, dipping my toes in was enough for me!

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2. Pai Canyon

Pai Canyon was ten times more awesome than I was expecting it to be, and had we not had just a couple of days to cram everything we wanted to do in, I would have loved to spend much longer wandering around.

There are some rather narrow ridges where you don’t really want to look down the 20+ metre drop either side of you as you cross - its not for the faint of heart! I’d recommend wearing some sturdy shoes for this one.

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3. Chinese Village (Ban Santichon) Viewpoint

Perhaps equally my favourite activity in Pai…I loved this one too. Drive through the Chinese Village and head right up to the top of the hill.

On arrival you pay a mere 20 baht and are served a gorgeous pot of chinese tea to sip as you enjoy the beautiful vista. Naturally, we bought a 10 baht mantou to nibble on with our tea, basically a donut served with condensed milk for dipping - yum! The perfect stop for morning tea with a sweeping view. So peaceful.

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4. Love Pai Strawberry Cafe

The strawberry cafe is extremely popular, so its not a place you visit for peace - BUT - it is super delicious, so go! They offer strawberry everything at this cafe, and its a place you can wander around for a while sampling goodies and exploring the gardens, then cool back down with a refreshing strawberry smoothie.

Fresh strawberries are few and far between in Southeast Asia, most areas are too hot to grow them other than highland regions - which is where you will find them in abundance (remember we ate tonnes of strawberries in Malaysia's Cameron Highlands?). So make the most of them while they are available!

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5. Wat Phra That Mae Yen (Temple on the Hill)

Get your cultural fix by visiting the Temple on the Hill and the Big Buddha (still in construction!) that resides at the summit. Peaceful, picturesque and colourful, this is the perfect temple complex to stroll around for an hour or two and recharge your spirit.

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6. WWII Memorial Bridge

Originally built by the Japanese as part of the route from Burma through Thailand during World War II. There has since been a new bridge for traffic built directly parallel, however you can still park up your motorbike and take five minutes to walk across this steel bridge - which isn't particularly pretty but offers lovely views over the river along with some historical value.

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7. Walking Street at night

Back in Pai town itself, every evening the main road fills up with food vendors and artists selling their wares. Unlike so many of the mass produced souvenirs you find in tourist markets across Southeast Asia, as a community full of artists Pai offers a unique approach to keepsakes - many are handmade and sold by the very maker themselves at the night market. Its a great place to pick up a few treasures and gifts that are true handicrafts and represent Pai's quirky nature.

8. Eat Cake at The Witching Well

Initially I was only going to write seven must-dos in Pai - but then I looked back at my photos and was reminded of the most lip-smacking carrot cake I ate at The Witching Well on our final night in Pai. The food was tasty - I ordered a brown rice, cauliflower and chickpea dish, balanced out with a splurge on a glass of red wine, but the star of the show was definitely the cake. So good! And by that I mean just like a carrot cake you would buy from a cafe back home. THAT good.

I thought about buying another piece to eat the next morning, but reconsidered after I realised we had to lurch the 762 corners back to Chiang Mai - perhaps that mightn't be the best combo.

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These eight activities, amongst a fair amount of driving around, getting a little lost, and stopping for many a photo, is how we spent our two days and three nights in Pai. Enough time for me to realise I love Pai, but not nearly enough to honour that love. Yet another place I simply have to go back to! That's the problem with travel - its all just a delicate balance between going back to places you love, and falling in love with new ones.

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However, time was ticking - we had a chain of bus trips ahead of us to reach Sukhothai where I'd be reunited with my brother for a dose of temple exploring!

Do it yourself

A shuttle between Chiang Mai and Pai costs 150 baht one-way. The journey takes about three hours with a 15 minute stop around the halfway point. If you get easily queasy, try and get the front seat in the shuttle bus if you can - it helps!

Have you visited Pai? Does it sound like the kind of place you would enjoy?


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How I Lost and Found My Travel Mojo in Chiang Mai

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In the name of being honest and open, and not over-glamourising this adventure of ours, I'm going to tell you exactly how I lost my travel mojo - and then found it again -  in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Alan and I had entered our fourth month on the road and I had begun to grow weary.

I don’t expect you to feel sorry for me! After all, I am living my dream of travelling the world and on the whole couldn’t really be happier than I am right now. But travel burnout can be ruthless, it hits you in a way that makes you want to hibernate in your dark room, consoling your tired mind with a pointless spiral of youtube videos and endless Facebook feeds, rather than explore your exotic new surroundings.

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Despite aiming to stay 5+ nights in most places we visit, sometimes it is still exceptionally tiring to be packing, moving, planning, travelling and generally living without a home base. Sadness from departing our perfect little lifestyle on Koh Samui, sickness on Koh Tao, and a now very indefinite amount of time ahead until we temporarily ‘settle’ somewhere again had all added up to me feeling a bit uneasy and blue.

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Combined with my stress-inducing personality of we-must-be-busy-all-the-time, I was mildly exhausted. I was tired of sightseeing on a daily basis. Don’t hate me - but there are only so many temples you can admire, history you can absorb and local specialty foods you must try until you need a break.

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After a night’s stop over in Surat Thani back on the Thai mainland (see the very end of this post for details!), we flew the next day to Chiang Mai. Arriving in the afternoon, we were quick to hop on the back of a songthaew and make our way to the cheerful Buddy’s Guesthouse. I spent most of the evening stalking Buddy the pug (yep, the guesthouse is named after him!) until he eventually gave in and let me shower him with snuggly pug cuddles.

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We already knew that the next day we were not going to have time to see or do anything in Chiang Mai. It took a gruelling nine hours straight to nail our upcoming three weeks in China down to a tee, as whilst in Chiang Mai we had to apply for our China visas which are notoriously specific about your travel plans. A tasty plate of mango and sticky rice gave me the energy to power through the planning, and before we knew it we were up with the sun the following morning to queue outside the Chinese Consulate with our visa applications. Forms filled out, passports handed over and a gazillion pages of flight, accommodation and train booking confirmations later, it was now just a waiting game.

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On applying, the visas were to take four working days to process, excluding the weekend in the middle. We had a whole week ahead of us in Chiang Mai, passport-less and feeling unenthused. The worst thing about not having a passport in Chiang Mai is that as far as I am aware, you need it as a deposit for hiring a scooter - so we were on our own two feet for the entire time - which probably did us some good physically, but didn't give us the sense of freedom we love about hiring a scooter, and meant we didn't escape the city for any of its outer sights during our stay.

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Turns out, all I needed to get my travel mojo back was a break from my own exceedingly overboard need to do and see everything.  Before we arrived in Chiang Mai I had a list a mile long of what we would be doing while we were there. But when we arrived, and after some serious convincing from both myself and Alan, I threw any plans out the window and chose to listen to my instincts.

My body was telling me to just chill out and go with the flow. Nope, there wouldn't be any overnight trekking, no temple-hopping just to tick them off the list (we did visit a handful but in a very relaxed, unplanned sort of way), and no schedule. Each day would come and go exactly as we felt. Activities would happen if we felt like it and not if we didn't feel like it.

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Basically, I did my very best to ignore the voice in my head telling me what I 'should' be doing, and instead did what I felt like doing.

Of course, I always feel like eating, so ate tonnes of non-thai food and enjoyed every bite. Lasagne! McFlurries! Bagels! Vegemite sandwiches! Ice Cream Sundaes! Porridge! Mexican!

Margaritas were essential at Miguel's Cafe

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Proper English tucker at The Cafe Soi 1

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Delicious bagels at The Hideout (run by an Aussie guy who also offers vegemite and cheese sammies!)

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Swensen's because...ice cream.

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Lemon soft-serve at Lemon Hub - refreshing!

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Tanita Coffee House, where you can relax the entire afternoon away

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The sights of Chiang Mai just 'happened' upon us as we wandered around, rather than being planned - which is kind of magic. A holiday from our holiday, if you will.

When we weren't chilling in our room enjoying doing absolutely nothing or devouring all of the food ever, here's what we got up to.

Wat Chedi Luang

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I found a swing!

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Wat Phra Singh

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Three Kings Monument

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The Night Bazaar, Saturday Market and Sunday Market

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Walking a loop of the city's moat

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People-watching at Suan Buak Hat

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Travelling long-term is different to being a tourist. This is among the lessons I am learning and slowly coming to terms with along the way. I don't have to see and do everything, everywhere. Downtime is perfectly acceptable. There is more to travel than sightseeing. Simply being in a place, eating up its food, soaking in its culture, wandering its streets, sipping a coffee whilst watching the world go by - each are perfectly valuable activities to experience a destination beyond its sights.

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Though I didn't visit all the 'must-sees' in Chiang Mai, I felt a lot more relaxed and in the swing of things when I left than I did when I arrived, and surely thats a good thing - right? Just in time too, because it was time to collect our passports, board yet another bus and conquer the 762 corners to our next destination: the quirky highlands town of Pai!

Have you ever lost your travel mojo? How did you get over it?

I haven't written a post on Surat Thani as we didn't have time to see or do anything there, but I simply must mention the hotel we stayed in as it was truly fantastic and I would recommend it to everyone! For a mere NZD$23 per night, we stayed in what felt like luxury at My Place @ Surat Hotel. They had a welcome sign with our names in the reception area, a personalised welcome message in the room with a fresh flower and on departure the following day gave us a handwritten postcard when we left thanking us for staying there. Five-star service - not to mention impeccably clean, nicely decorated and spacious rooms. The room was nicer than our hotel in Singapore that we paid more than triple per night for. A must-stay, for sure!


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I Need to Go Back to Koh Tao

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I was really, really excited to visit Koh Tao. I know a few people who have visited and I'd read a huge number of travel blogs raving about this perfect little island. We didn't have much time to spare before we headed up north but we had set aside three nights to relax and explore what I was sure would be paradise!

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See ya, Samui

Everything was perfect when we arrived and other than being a little sad about leaving our adoptive-home of Koh Samui, we were in good spirits about having a new island to explore right at our fingertips. By mid-afternoon, just a couple of hours after catching the boat from Samui, we had already hired a rather jazzy off-road scooter, navigated a very steep and unforgiving hill on a gravel road and checked into our gorgeous accommodation (Lungpae Resort) at the top of said hill, with a breathtaking panoramic vista.

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Things continued to go well as we hopped back onto the scooter, manoeuvred our way back down the hair-raising hill and ventured out for dinner that night. After a close call with a snake quietly slithering across the road, we found a quiet little beach and relaxed back into cushions, blissfully overlooking the sea as we contemplated what to order to eat.

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And that's when I made my fatal error. Let's just say I won't be ordering tofu noodle soup again any time soon!

I spent the entire next day feeling sorry for myself in bed, not out beach-hopping and exploring Koh Tao in our off-road scooter like I had anticipated. Probably fed up with my whining, Alan set out on his own adventure and kindly bought me back some gatorade, along with the photos like this to show me exactly what I was missing out on. So generous.

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Thankfully I had Kitty-kat to keep me company, the cat which seemed to be as much a part of our room as the curtains - he certainly seemed to think it was his domain. What a cutie.

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Still not feeling well enough to bump all the way back down that hill in the evening, we decided to simply wander up the few steps to the restaurant at our accommodation. Luckily, the restaurant is actually very popular in Koh Tao for its steak (which comes highly recommended by the Queen of Koh Tao herself, Alex in Wonderland!), so Alan indulged in the melt-in-your-mouth E4 steak which he still raves about to this day...while I wasn't even able to finish my sandwich. Damn that tofu soup!

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The next day I actually woke up feeling considerably better so we ventured to Tanote Bay, a beautiful, peaceful beach that Alan had come across on his solo escapades the day earlier. We hired snorkels from our resort and had a wonderful few hours relaxing on the beach and snorkelling around the rock which had zillions of colourful fish!

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By the evening I determined that I was on the road to recovery, hunger had finally set in, and that I could really demolish some pasta (if you've been reading a while you'll know how much I like pasta!). Referring to Alex in Wanderland's Where to Eat on Koh Tao we hightailed it directly to Porto Bello in Sairee for a hearty dose of Italian food. A few pesto doughboys and a bowl of spaghetti later, I was feeling like myself again.

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Unfortunately, the next day came far too quickly and before we knew it we were back on the ferry, headed towards the mainland for the next part of our Thai odyssey: the north!

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Food poisoning sucks. I knew it was bound to happen at some point on this indefinite Asia adventure of ours, but I really hadn't anticipated it happening in perhaps the place I was MOST looking forward to of all, and had very few days in anyway.

I simply have to go back to the paradise of Koh Tao and give it another shot - even if just to order an E4 steak for myself!

Have you ever had sickness ruin a holiday? Tell me I'm not the only one!


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Muay Thai Training in Thailand: Helpful and Inspiring Links for Beginners

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This post is for the Muay Thai beginners and newbies that are interested in embarking on your own journey of Muay Thai training in Thailand. In my quest for information myself, I discovered some excellent resources that I recommend you read before you go.

Before I went to Superpro Samui to spend a month Muay Thai training in Thailand, I knew absolutely NOTHING about Muay Thai. Zilch. Zero. Nada.

I'd never watched a Muay Thai fight in my life. I didn't know that Muay Thai is nicknamed the sport of eight limbs (fists, elbows, knees and kicking). I didn't know how freaking tough it would be to do two hours of training in a day, let alone the days where we committed to four hours training. I didn't know how much I would learn so quickly. I didn't really think about it as learning a new skill, I thought of it more as a fitness bootcamp. I didn't know I'd even enjoy Muay Thai, let alone find it interesting to watch and read about!

After my first class and realising I was way out of my comfort zone, it quickly became my mission to learn as much as possible about this intriguing form of martial art as I could. I found SO much inspiring and helpful information, that I am happily sharing in this post to inspire and help you!

You can read all my posts about Muay Thai training in Thailand at the following links:


Miss Roxy Balboa

Miss Roxy Balboa, a former Pro Muay Thai Fighter come Muay Thai Coach, has so many helpful posts focussed towards beginners to the sport. Some of my favourites are...

20 Tips for Muay Thai Newbies - a must read!

I Just Started Muay Thai & My (Blank) Hurts. Is This Normal? - talks about all different kinds of injuries/pain/bruising etc you may experience (I sure did!) and what to do about it.

Muay Thai Sparring: It's okay not to want to get punched in the face - because I don't want to get punched in the face, please.


Under The Ropes

Emma is an English fighter working in Bangkok and training out of Master Toddy's Gym. She writes lots of interesting articles on her blog and I also follow her Facebook page. My favourite posts are as follows, but you can easily get lost in her blog for hours!

Muay Thai Documentaries and TV Shows - The Directory - since coming across this directory I've watched heaps of these, its worth bookmarking!

Three Years of Living and Training at Master Toddy's - will your story be similar to Emma's?

Does Fighting Change You?

Emma also has a directory of Female Muay Thai Blogs and Websites that may have some further helpful information, insights and resources for you!


Milk Blitz Street Bomb

A team of contributors write this blog, each chronicling their own journeys and insights into the world of Muay Thai training in Thailand.

Guidelines for Training in Thailand's Muay Thai Gyms - extensive advice to not only help you manage physically, but also adapt to ensure you are being culturally sensitive during your training.

Interested in Training Muay Thai in Thailand? Some Things to Consider Before You Go, followed by part 2: What Can You Really Handle? - A must read series before you go, with all the right questions to ask yourself. Ensure you know why you are going, what you want to get out of your Muay Thai experience, and that you are going to the right place.


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An American fighter in Thailand, on her blog Sylvie chronicles her journey to 100 fights in Thailand (a goal to which she is currently very close!). In addition to fight recaps, Sylvie covers a range of Muay Thai topics that are very interesting to read.

How Do You Know When You're Ready To Fight? - I'm not personally interested in being a fighter, but for those of you that are? Read this.

15 New Techniques That Will Improve Your Muay Thai - a post with tonnes of videos Sylvie has made that are worth a watch, you'll certainly learn a thing or two!

The Myth of Overtraining - Endurance, Physical and Mental for Muay Thai - There's no doubt that Muay Thai is intense training (let along Sylvia's training schedule, which is super full on!). This post covers a lot of information that will inspire you to push yourself through the pain.

I hope this post helps you with some inspiration and information to kick-start your Muay Thai training in Thailand. Let me know in the comments if you have any further helpful links to add!


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10 of My Favourite Things To Do on Koh Samui

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I’ve blogged a lot about our time on Koh Samui from the Muay Thai training side of things, however of course we also spent plenty of time out exploring, eating and playing on this beautiful island.

Among some travellers Koh Samui has a poor reputation of being super-touristy and not worth the visit. Early on in our stay I asked one of the ladies in our Muay Thai class who lives on the island for some ideas of less-touristy things to see and do. This was much better than a guidebook, and she kindly gave me a long list of what to do on Koh Samui, which we spent the next four weeks trying to fulfil - many of her suggestions made it onto my favourites list!

After spending an entire month on this beautiful island, I can assure you that it is entirely possible to escape tourist-laden Chaweng Beach and discover many nooks and crannies that will have you feeling relaxed and happy in no time! You just have to know where to go and what to do.

Here's my top ten favourite things to do on Koh Samui!

1. Hire a scooter and drive around the island

Hiring a scooter is the easiest way to escape the chaos of Chaweng, and driving around the perimeter of the whole island only takes a couple of hours without stopping. While you’re at it, make sure you also drive through the middle of the island for a completely different aspect. The road Maenam Soi 1 will take you from Maenam right through to Lamai. You'll suddenly find yourself amongst lush, untouched greenery, complete with snakes crossing the road!

We rented from Ohm Cycles Samui and rented our Scoopy-i 125cc automatic for 30,000 baht/30 days - of course if you're renting shorter term you can expect to pay a higher daily rental rate. Please, always wear a helmet, drive carefully and be aware - we saw an awful fatal accident in the time we were there, and unfortunately this is a regular occurrence.

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2. Kalasea Cafe

Easily our favourite eating spot on the island, Kalasea is pretty much as far away as you can get from busy Chaweng, being halfway around the island. Fill up on mouth-watering food (salads! fresh spring rolls!) and delicious drinks (mint soda! oreo shake!) followed by a swing over the sea - Kalasea is the kind of places you can stay for hours. We did just that so many times!

From Chaweng, drive through Maenam and just before you reach Nathon there are a cluster of beachfront cafes on your right - Kalasea is the ones that is painted white with a thatched roof.

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3. Boat Temple

I'm letting you in on a bit of a secret here, shhh! Near Laem Sor Pagoda, which is also a beautiful spot, is a small temple that barely any tourists seem to know about. It is called the Boat Temple because it is in the shape of a boat, inside a man-made pond. You step onboard the boat to look inside the temple, which is rather unique!

Follow your map to Laem Sor Pagoda, once you get there hang a left and drive along for another minute or so, eventually you should see the temple up on the hill on your left. There is a smaller, model version of it in a building near the pagoda - don't get mixed up thinking that is it like we did the first time! We had to visit again in order to find the actual temple itself, oops. As always, be sure to dress respectfully when you visit a temple - that means covered shoulders and covered knees.

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4. Wat Plai Laem Temple

Visit on a sunny day and you will be taken aback by the colour and vibrancy of the 18-armed Guanyin statue and a very happy giant Buddha. This is a stunning complex to wander around for an hour or so and take in the ornate details of the temples in a peaceful setting.

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5. Go to the movies

For those of you on holiday trying to escape normality, perhaps this isn't the suggestion for you, but after a few months on the road we loved being able to go to the movies in English! We really enjoy going to the movies at home, so it was a treat to be able to go a few times while we were on Koh Samui.

The Major Cineplex Lotus Samui is in the big Tescos shopping centre in Chaweng. It is just like going to the movies at home except for two things: 1. It is way cheaper (180 baht for a ticket, about NZ$7), and 2. Before the movie starts you have to stand in honour of the King for a couple of minutes while a musical clip plays. Its a unique experience!

6. Visit the dog shelter

We spent an afternoon visiting the animals at Samui Dog and Cat Rescue Centre. Based in Ban Taling Ngam in the southwest of the island, this foundation was set up by a German and Dutch team in 1999 to provide medical treatment, food, shelter and sterilisation for street dogs and cats, along with providing education for Koh Samui people on how to care for their animals. It is a great foundation and keeps going by way of donations and the help of volunteers.

I am dog-obsessed so spending an afternoon there giving the animals some love, along with a bit of dirty work like scooping up some poop, is much appreciated by the dogs and humans alike! My only regret is that I didn't make it back more often. They love helpful visitors, be sure to check out their website here for more information and to donate.

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7. Chill out at Silver Beach

Escape busy Chaweng beach by visiting some of the other beaches dotted around the island. Our pick of the bunch that we visited time and time again is Silver Beach. Located between Chaweng and Lamai, its a small beach that you enter through a restaurant (marked Silver Beach Resort). Grab a bite to eat and a smoothie at the restaurant before laxing out on the beach for the rest of the day. Every time we went there it was never very busy and there was always plenty of space to relax in the sunshine.

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8. Take a Muay Thai class

You're in Thailand, and what better place to learn the eight-limbed martial art of Muay Thai than in the heat and humidity of the Thai islands, right? Seriously though, Muay Thai is an integral part of Thai culture, and just a couple of hours of training will not only give you an amazing workout, but also a greater understanding of Thailands #1 sport!

We loved training at Superpro Samui, you can stay onsite and training is included as part of your accommodation, however you can also visit for a one-off class. Check out their website for more details. Read my post about the gear and essentials you'll need to be prepared for your training session!

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9. Lamai Boxing

Now that you have completed your Muay Thai class and have a better understanding of the sport, hop on your scooter and head to Lamai on a Saturday night to see some fighters in action! The kickboxing at Lamai is in a boxing ring surrounded by bars, so unlike the two stadiums in Chaweng that are extortionately expensive (more than 1,000 baht!), watching the Muay Thai in Lamai will only set you back the cost of an overpriced drink (100 baht or so), and provide hours of entertainment. It starts around 9.30pm and goes through until about midnight, depending on how many rounds the fights last for!

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10. Secret Buddha Garden

Hidden high up in the hills behind Baan Saket, the Secret Buddha Garden is a jungly oasis built by a local durian fruit farmer after he retired back in the 1970's. Its essentially a lush, green garden with waterfalls, statues and figures of Buddhist folklore that make you feel as though you have entered some kind of mythical land! We visited on a drizzly day and were the only ones there at the time - it felt quite eerie and magical. The two of us drove up on one scooter, and while this is certianly manageable be aware that there are quite a few steep sections of road where the person on the back might have to quickly jump off so the scooter has enough power to reach the top!

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Bonus Activity: Cheeseburger Cheeseburger!

I feel almost guilty admitting this one, but while we were on Koh Samui a new eatery opened up, and as we are travelling long-term we have no qualms about indulging in some delicious western food! And Cheeseburger Cheeseburger, at the entrance to the Bophut Fisherman's Village, hits the spot BIG TIME. It's what I ate for lunch on my 25th birthday and it was soooo good. In fact, the vanilla milkshake was the best I've had in my life - I'd go all the way back to Koh Samui even if just for a Cheeseburger Cheeseburger milkshake - its THAT good! On the pricey side (as in, similar to what you would pay at home) but you are promised the #1 cheeseburger on Samui, so totally worth the splurge.

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There you have it, my favourite activities in Koh Samui. Enjoy your trip!

Have you visited Koh Samui or any of the Thai Islands? What was your favourite thing you did there?


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Thai Cooking Class in Ao Nang

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After a few days in Krabi town and visiting Railay, we decided to shift accommodation to the nearby town of Ao Nang. A mere 20 minute songthaew ride from Krabi town, Ao Nang is a beach town that despite being very touristic was just what we needed for our last couple of days of sleeping in, relaxing and eating-all-the-food before we started our hardcore month of Muay Thai training.

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Best of all, we were there for Alan’s birthday so we ‘splurged’ on a $40 a night room at the cute Ben’s House. We were all about the swimming pool!

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We had a couple of nights in Ao Nang and after spending much of our time there rotating between getting a massage, sipping fresh fruit smoothies and relaxing on the beach, we were off to spend the evening of Alan’s birthday doing something we both love to do: cook!

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We booked a cooking class with Thai Charm Cooking School, run by a husband and wife duo, and were picked up in the evening from our hotel to be taken to the countryside outdoor kitchen where the class was located. Welcomed with a cup of tea we were invited to choose from the many options of what we would like to learn to cook.

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It was an extensive menu - we would each be cooking a soup, a salad, a stir-fry and a curry (including the paste from scratch), followed by a melt-in-your-mouth dessert of both bananas in coconut milk and mango sticky rice. Naturally, Alan and I selected different things to cook each so that we could taste as many dishes as possible. Let’s just say, I’m glad we arrived on empty stomachs!

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The cooking class was small which was excellent - the maximum amount of people they ever have at once is 10, though being low season our class was just Alan and I plus another couple. Our teacher, Yok (I’m not sure of the spelling but she said her name was like an egg yolk!), was very passionate about her business and that shined through in the recipes she taught us - they were utterly delicious.

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We left with a plethora of new recipes (all contained in one little cookbook), a certificate (woohoo!) and a much better understanding of Thai food - not to mention, extremely full tummies!

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Perhaps the only downside to the cooking class - if you can even call it that - is that for the rest of our time in Thailand when I ordered any of the dishes we had cooked at a restaurant, I was often dissapointed because they weren’t nearly as delicious as Yok’s recipes!

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Taking a Thai cooking class was one of my favourite things we did in Thailand. I love to cook, and of course eat. Despite being slightly on the pricey side, it’s an activity I would highly recommend to any visitors to Thailand. In fact, its something I would love to do in more countries I visit - there’s no better way to learnt about a new culture than through it’s food, right!

The details: We booked a cooking class with Thai Charm Cooking School after reading rave reviews about it on TripAdvisor - and we were definitely impressed. I would absolutely recommend Yok’s classes to everyone, her enthusiam and passion for what she does shines through. For more information visit their website here. Just one tip: make sure you go with an empty stomach!

Have you taken a cooking class in a foreign country?


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3 Things I Love About Christchurch, New Zealand

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I've been invited to share three things I love about my favourite city, as part of Accor Hotels 'A Tale of Three Cities' promotion.

My favourite city in the world? This has had me thinking for quite some time - there are so many cities I love, how on earth can I pick a favourite!

Despite leaving New Zealand to travel the globe, I am a proud Kiwi and love my home country to bits. So of course my favourite city has to be in New Zealand! But I have already lived in four different New Zealand cities, and loved each of them for different reasons, so how would I be able to choose?

Not to worry, guys - I managed to figure it out. Despite being very partial to my hometown of Nelson, before I left to go travelling I lived in Christchurch for 1.5 years and found so many things I love about that little city that I simply have to share with you.

With a population of around 400,000, Christchurch is New Zealand's third-largest city, though compared with many cities of the world it is just teeny-tiny!

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A little story before I convince you Christchurch is worth a visit...

Just the other day I was chatting to a European traveller who had spent a couple of months travelling around New Zealand a couple of years ago. He was advised by many travellers not to bother going to Christchurch, especially since the devastating 2011 earthquake (which destroyed the entire central city and very sadly killed 185 people). Ignoring the advice he was given, the traveller I was speaking with visited Christchurch anyway and loved it there - of course I absolutely agree with him, Christchurch is an incredible city!

Read on for three (of many!) reasons why I love Christchurch, New Zealand.

1. It is New Zealand's 'Garden City'

Christchurch is not nicknamed 'Garden City' for no reason! There are a number of parks and gardens in and around the city. Hagley Park and the Botanical Gardens are both in the central city and can be enjoyed any time of the year. In fact, I used to spend half an hour wandering through the Botanic Gardens nearly every single day on my lunch break and would always return to the office feeling refreshed and revived.

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Perhaps my very favourite area is the Daffodil Woodland during spring - vibrant yellow flowers peeking out of the lush green grass in every direction you look.

You can download a walking guide to the Botanic Gardens here, so you don't miss any of the stunning foliage the gardens have on show!

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2. The Creative Temporary Inner-City

When I lived in Christchurch I worked in the inner city, an area that as I mentioned above was almost completely devastated by the earthquakes. The city centre continues to be in a constant state of change - buildings coming down, new buildings going up - meaning there are many empty sites all around the city as businesses slowly trickle back into the CBD during this lengthy rebuild phase.

You may have heard of the Re:Start Container Mall, which is a shopping area built entirely out of shipping containers! Along with the nearby iconic Ballantynes Department Store, it is now one of the city centre's most popular destinations.

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There is also an initiative called Gap Filler which is AWESOME. They have helped create fun and build hope in this destroyed city, with creative, colourful and exciting 'gap fillers' to make the most of empty lots and turn them into something engaging.

"Gap Filler is a creative urban regeneration initiative that temporarily activates vacant sites within Christchurch with cool and creative projects, to make for a more interesting and vibrant city.

We utilise vacant sites and spaces for temporary, creative, people-centred purposes. We work with local community groups, artists, architects, landowners, librarians, designers, students, engineers, dancers – anyone with an idea and initiative."

Perhaps my favourite Gap Filler was the Pallet Pavillion which was a semi-permanent events venue built from, yup you guessed it, pallets! I went to Christchurch's Holi festival there and it was brilliant. I also love the different art installations around town, which add colour and vibrancy to the CBD. There is now a cool Gap Filler called The Commons which holds all sorts of events and is dubbed a "hub of transitional activity", in fact I believe the Holi festival will be held there this year instead.

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3. Nearby to Nature

It is true that no matter where you are in New Zealand, you are never very far from being able to completely submerge yourself in nature. From my humble opinion, Christchurch is one of the best places in the country to base yourself for tonnes of fun outdoor activities in the midst of nature.

Probably my most favourite (and FREE!) activity EVER is Cave Stream, about an hour's drive from Christchurch. Like the name suggests, this is essentially a pitch-black cave with a stream running through it, including a 3-metre waterfall! You wade in one end and out the other - 362 metres later! Take a headlamp, some buddies and some courage, and venture through! Use your common sense and don't go after it has been raining or the forecast is for rain, don't go unprepared, and always tell someone where you are going - this is a dangerous activity, don't say I didn't warn you! Read this for more information.

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Other favourite activities of mine within a one-hour or so drive of Christchurch are...

Castle Hill - a series of incredible rock formations to explore, nearby Cave Stream.

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Ashley Gorge - this is a great spot for camping and summer picnics!

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The Port Hills, near the central city and home to my favourite Rapaki Track.

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Amberley Beach - a small camping spot run by an honesty-box system. Not to mention they do not skimp on ice cream scoops in this little community so be sure to get your compulsory NZ Hokey Pokey ice cream fix here!

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Skiing at Mt Hutt

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Taylor's Mistake - a picturesque beach and the starting point for an incredible coastal walk.

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Oh, I could go on! There you have it - three things I love about Christchurch. A city that has changed so much over the last few years, and will continue to change into the future. A beautiful city of hope, of adventure and creativity, thats only going to get better!

Thank you, Accor Hotels, for reminding me why I love my favourite city so much.

Share something you love about your favourite city in the comments!


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