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A Nontraditional Christmas In Bangkok

A Nontraditional Christmas in Bangkok


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!


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.



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!






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!


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.


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!



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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3 Things I Love About Christchurch, New Zealand

3 Things I Love About Christchurch, New Zealand


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!


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.


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!



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.

Container Mall Christchurch

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.




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.


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.


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


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


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!


Skiing at Mt Hutt


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


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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I Could Live In Kuala Lumpur

I Could Live in Kuala Lumpur

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As my first ever international destination beyond Australia and the Pacific Islands, Malaysia is the magnificent country to which I credit my love for travelling Asia began, and the country in which I officially caught the travel bug at the ripe age of seven.

I was lucky enough to travel to Malaysia and Singapore on a family holiday all the way back in 1997 and couldn’t wait to explore this incredible country again as an adult. I was eager to revisit some of the same destinations, stirring childhood memories and creating exciting new ones.

This photo says it all: I love Kuala Lumpur!

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We flew directly to Kuala Lumpur from Jakarta, and I was a bundle of excitement the whole way on our surprisingly comfortable Air Asia flight. After checking though immigration, we whizzed into the city on the train and checked into our Chinatown hostel in the early evening.

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Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown is buzzing with activity. Despite being exceptionally touristy, a wander up Petaling Street and the nearby lanes in the evening is enough to intoxicate all of your senses.

In addition to mouth-watering Chinese food, colourful lanterns suspended overhead and people bustling by, Chinatown offers all you could ever need in terms of fake handbags, shoes, watches, sunglasses - you name it, Petaling Street has it! Shame we didn’t need anything, though we certainly made the most of the food.

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By day, the city’s diverse temples are peaceful havens from the hectic streets.

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Chan See Shu Yuen Buddhist Temple

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Sri Mahamariamman Hindu Temple

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Sri Mahamariamman Hindu Temple


Kuan Ti Buddhist Temple

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Kuan Yin Buddhist Temple

And we couldn’t miss Batu Caves, one of the most popular Hindu shrines outside of India. After a toilsome climb of almost 300 steps, you'll reach the largest of the caves housing a Hindu Temple, which also happens to be the home of many scavenging monkeys.

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School kids waiting for their bus, nearby Batu Caves

Kuala Lumpur’s lush, green Botanic Gardens was worth a visit. We took our time exploring the gardens and I was sure to make the most of the well signposted photo opportunities.

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Frequent rest breaks were required in the 30+ degree heat.

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The playgrounds were pretty awesome for kids…or the young at heart!

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Of course, no visit to Kuala Lumpur is complete without the standard tourist photo in front of the Petronas Towers, the world's tallest twin skyscrapers. Back when I visited with my family in 1997, the city was coated in thick smog and we were unable to see the Petronas Towers in all their glory, so it was great to tick that one off this time around!

We visited in the evening to make the most of the last remaining daylight…

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Before darkness took over and the lights came on!

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Outside the Petronas Towers is a beautiful garden with a running track, lake and colourful light show. Not to mention an enormous luxury shopping mall directly beneath!

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We spent a morning wandering the city, discovering Pasar Seni (Central Market) just around the corner and Little India a little further up the road...

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Followed by an afternoon exploring the Kuala Lumpur City Gallery and admiring the diverse cityscape from Merdeka Square. What a treasure to have a spacious, green area like this within the central city to relax!

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That same afternoon was also the day we fatefully decided it was time to try the beloved durian fruit, which is said to taste delicious despite its abhorrent stench. What better way to introduce ourselves to this popular fruit than in cake form, right? Who doesn't love cake?

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Durian is gross, guys. I should have known better! Even just the smell alone is enough to make me dry wretch. Alan, somehow managed to consume his own cake and finish off mine.

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In his words, "it definitely wasn't my favourite cake in the world, but it wasn't that bad" - I beg to differ.

We also managed to squeeze in a scrumptious meal on the famous Jalan Alor, the city's notorious "eat street", where tables and chairs extend out onto the road and sizzling Chinese dishes are served, best washed down with an icy-cold Tiger or two. I couldn't help but love Jalan Alor!

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Despite the durian cake incident, our time in Kuala Lumpur was wonderful. Coming from Jakarta, we were delighted to find an immaculately clean city, with footpaths (!) and a wonderfully functional, easy to navigate MRT/LRT public transport system. I may have regularly exclaimed “I could live here!” more than once a day. Kuala Lumpur is the best of both worlds - the culture, food and bustle of Asia with a modern, luxurious, and somehow very comfortable twist.

Far too soon our four nights in Kuala Lumpur were up and we were headed south to our next destination: the cultural melting pot of Malacca.

Have you visited Kuala Lumpur? Ever visited a place and felt like you would be content to just stay and live there?

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A Day In Old Jakarta

A Day in Old Jakarta


As Southeast Asia’s largest city, Jakarta is a destination often avoided by travellers, given its relatively poor reputation of being dirty, polluted and bursting with traffic. It doesn’t have the lustful beaches or the majestic landscapes welcoming travellers in. For many, Jakarta is simply an arrival point into Indonesia before quickly heading east towards the drawcards of Yogyakarta, Bali, and Lombok.

Based on what we had heard, we didn’t have great expectations for Jakarta, but still wanted to give ourselves at least a little time there to have a look around and get a feel for the city. We had allocated our final two nights in Indonesia, essentially one full day, to see what Jakarta was all about.


We arrived late one afternoon into one of Jakarta’s many bus stations after a tiresome, yet relatively comfortable (i.e. functioning air-conditioning and no chickens pooping at your feet), 10-hour bus ride from Pangandaran. After another hour spent battling the bustling traffic in a taxi, we finally checked in to our hotel which was perfectly comfortable, despite our shoebox of a room being so small that we had to give way to each other if we wished to access the door or the bathroom.

It must be said that particularly for travellers on both budget and time constraints, Jakarta is not an easy city to get around. It lacks trains or a metro, and many taxi drivers lack working meters (or the desire to use it!), meaning you're more likely to get ripped off. The cheapest way of getting around this sprawling city is by bus, however there was plenty to see in walking distance of our hotel to keep us occupied for the day without having to face being lost in the expanse of this city nearly 10 million people deep.


Unfortunately, like many of Southeast Asia’s cities, Jakarta is also relatively difficult for walking around. Lack of a) footpaths, b) pedestrian crossings, and c) road rules in general, makes for a dangerous stroll up the side of the road - especially at night!


We were staying in the northern part of the city, near the area known as Old Jakarta. We spent the morning wandering in the direction of a nearby local market which we strolled around until the heat got the better of us and we needed some air conditioning and a cold drink.



We headed in the direction of Fatahilla Square, which houses the popular Cafe Batavia. Despite costing more than we would ever consider spending on a meal, we treated ourselves to a mocktail for morning tea. Sadly, we couldn't justify the price of the real thing on our budget! Cafe Batavia was a beautiful setting - rather fancy compared to most of the restaurants we frequent!



We wandered around the square for a while and took in the peace and calmness. It was like a little oasis amidst the chaos of Jakarta! You could definitely see the colonial Dutch influence in this part of the city, which dates back to the 16th century when Fatahilla Square was the heart of the city.




In the afternoon we braved the walk down to some of the nearby malls for a look around - Kota is a popular shopping area in Jakarta. Crowded malls line the streets, each four or five or more stories tall and filled to the brim with so many things I wanted to buy...but that I really didn't need. We re-emerged a few hours later, thankfully with a full wallet and empty hands.

Jakarta was also our first, and only (so far), experience with kedongdong juice. After eating deliciously greasy fast food for dinner the night before, we needed some greens in our lives. We found a great local restaurant for dinner and enjoyed a nourishing meal of satay, stir-fried greens and rice. Alan and I are both open to trying new things, so we ordered a couple of fresh juices recommended by the waiter. We were served some kind of dark green concoction that tasted unmistakably like freshly-mown grass (a little bit icky), and the lime-green kedongdong juice, which was relatively pleasant, tasting a little like green apple but much more sour and floury. However, we got a surprise when we were halfway through and noticed what looked like a rotten lump of something in our drink. We both thought there had been some kind of problem with the ice and that we were going to end up horribly ill, but thankfully the waiter was able to explain that it was a preserved sour plum that helps give the kedongdong juice its unique taste. Interesting...!

Kedongdong Juice

Image source

We had such a short time in Jakarta, that I'm not sure I can comment either way on whether its poor reputation is justified. There is no doubt that the part of the city we saw is dirty (we saw plenty of rats while walking out to dinner in the evening), there are constant streams of traffic, it is hard to get around as a tourist and it is certainly polluted. On the surface, Jakarta is not a beautiful city. But, I think Fatahilla Square is a gem, and perhaps Jakarta is a bit of a rough diamond. That said, I'm not sure Jakarta will be drawing us back any time soon.

Have you visited Jakarta? What were your impressions?

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