Tag Archives: Asia

The destination dilemma, solved

28 Nov

I choose my travel destinations in the same way a wino selects a bottle of red: I browse options available, seek informed reviews, develop a shortlist to compare types, values and prices, and then proceed with the option that best suites my taste at the time.

It's time to get back to the drawing board to plan for your trip of a lifetime!

Considering the current high value of the Australian dollar and frequent flight sales by budget airlines, we have access to more holiday destinations than ever before. Seasoned backpackers and first-time tour goers alike are taking advantage of this opportunity as if it’s a once-in-a-lifetime scenario because, really, it might be the best chance many of us get to tick off some big items on our bucket lists. In times like this, how do you approach and plan for travel?

Do you indulge in fancy accommodation and premium dining experiences rather than backpacking?

Do you take longer holidays and spend more time getting to intimately know the places you visit?

Do you check out as many places as you possibly can via an organised tour because it might be the only time you’ll ever venture abroad?

Do you buy more nic nacs and gifts for family?

Several different factors contributed to my recent decision to book flights to Bhutan for the upcoming Christmas break. I initially considered the country because I was craving a taste of Asia again but wanted to avoid known tourist hot spots; Bhutan has a reputation for being the country with the least tourists on the planet!

The concept of holidaying in Bhutan was strengthened when I was reminded that the country has no traffic lights, has banned advertising billboards and measures growth of its economy in line with Gross National Happiness. Yes, yes, yes!

The deciding factor was the realisation that Bhutan will now cost me around half as much as it would have five years ago. That’s right, as a result of the current favourable exchange rate, it will cost me almost 50 percent less than when I have considered the holiday in the past. I know this because travellers can only access the country by paying a daily tariff communicated in US dollars – it includes all accommodation, transport, entry to sights and even meals – enabling me to fairly accurately calculate the total costs relative to time and exchange rates. For me the current exchange savings translate into spending twice the time getting to know the last shangri-la, Bhutan.

I later realised that this decision means I will be going to the Himalayas during winter. Rather than purchasing a fine red wine, I think I’ve grabbed a chilled bottle of bubbly straight off the ice. I’ll toast to that!

By Marissa Toohey

5 top experiences abroad

20 Nov

1. Paragliding at Hopfgarten in Austria.

If you look really closely you will see the paraglider in the sky. The views of the alps were stunning.

 2. The gibbon zip-line experience in Laos.

The Gibbon Experience is an ecotourism adventure; a system of zip lines that soar high above the jungle. Click the image to watch my video.

 3. Motorcycle ride around the Mekong Delta in Vietnam.

This photo was taken while riding with my friend Jess who was living in Soc Trang, Vietnam. It's worthwhile taking your own time to explore this area.

 4. Climbing to the summit of Mount Fuji in Japan.

The difficulty of the climb to this summit should not be underestimated. Click the image to read my blog post on the Mount Fuji climb.

 5. Feeding elephants at Chiang Mai in Thailand.

Volunteering at the Elephant Nature Park in northern Thailand allows you to care for injured elephants. Click the image to watch my video.

By Marissa Toohey

theBubbleBuster recommends: The Third Wave book

15 Nov

The Third Wave book motivated me to volunteer again. Click the image to read more about the book.

Alison Thompson was living in New York City when the Boxing Day Tsunami devastated Asia. Instead of watching developments on television or donating small sums of money to assist with aid efforts like many of us did back in 2004, Alison packed her possessions and flew to Sri Lanka to help in any way she could.

The Third Wave tells the story of an Australian volunteer who intended to work for two weeks and ended up dedicating the rest of her life to helping others. Despite the physical and emotional challenges that Alison outlined throughout her story, it’s easy to understand why she has committed to working in development for the long term. The Third Wave demonstrates the real power of individual efforts in generating positive change.

I strongly recommend this book if you are interested in learning more about disaster recovery or meaningful volunteering abroad, in addition to those people simply seeking inspiration again like myself.

By Marissa Toohey

Travelling for less is more

23 Oct

I’m not ashamed to admit that travelling is all about quantity rather than quality for me. I’d share a dorm room with a sasquatch and eat nothing but haggis if it meant that I could afford to spend a few extra days on the road. That’s how much I love travelling.

Considering my success in exploring nearly 30 countries over just the past few years and with no more than an average salary, I’ve realised a number of good tricks to minimise costs. These are my top tips for getting the most bang out of your buck:

Liaise directly with service providers
Plan and manage your trip directly with service providers to avoid higher prices due to handling fees. I always book my own flights through airline websites, unless I need assistance coordinating a complicated stop-over involving more than one airline.

Shea enjoyed authentic Japanese accommodation. This bed 'n breakfast was attached to a temple at Takayama in the Japan Alps.

Swap Hilton for homely
Popular hotel chains are enjoyable but they’re generally expensive and don’t offer a real taste of the countries they are in. I use hostelworld.com to identify authentic guest houses or bed ‘n breakfasts that cost only a fraction of the price and usually come with hospitable local operators and cultural quirks.

Capsule hotel accommodation in Tokyo, Japan - it was affordable and fun to experience.

Take advantage of last minute deals
Depending on your destination, it’s sometimes possible to negotiate cheaper rates for accommodation on arrival. This is particularly true in Asia and it’s all part of the fun of bargaining within many Asian cultures. Similarly, tour operators sometimes offer lower prices to fill remaining seats.

Don’t buy a new “holiday wardrobe”
Is it really worth spending a few hundred dollars just so you can wear a couple of new outfits in your photographs? Unless you will be hiking above 3,000 metres or white water rafting for several days, I guarantee you already have appropriate clothes for your upcoming journey. If you insist on jazzing up your wardrobe, buy some accessories while you’re on the road.

Only invest in gifts that really matter
Too often I see tourists spending large sums on silly gadgets and items which they can buy at home anyway. Save your spending money for things that are unique to your destination or buy goods from locals in need to make a small difference in their lives.

By Marissa Toohey

Indonesia’s underwater safari: Lembeh Strait

1 May

Diving closely behind our guide, we wait excitedly for him to reveal unusual creatures hiding in the dark volcanic sand of Lembeh Strait in North Sulawesi. Using a long thin rod, he gently shifts the sand before us as he detects movement underneath. Suddenly a frenzy of goofy legs and arms spring into sight and we see one of the underwater creatures Lembeh is famous for: a wonderpus octopus.

Lembeh is different to other diving destinations because it doesn’t attract people for spectacular reefs or crystal clear water. In fact, the water is littered with incomprehensible amounts of rubbish. What Lembeh offers, though, are some of the most unusual and interesting underwater creatures on Earth and, in only around 15m depth, they’re accessible even for beginner divers.

Let me introduce you to some intriguing creatures I saw during my recent trip to Lembeh in Indonesia, with photography by Shea Pletz.

Hairy frogfish are difficult to find because of their camouflaged appearance.

Coconut octopus use coconuts and seashells for shelter.

Pygmy seahorses, only around 10mm long, are found 30m deep at Lembeh.

Stargazers bury themselves in sand and wait to attack prey above them.

Flying gurnards spread their wings and walk along the sea floor.

Ornate pipefish are rare and difficult to find.

Dwarf lionfish are as beautiful and attractive as they are venomous.

Covered in dark volcanic sand, it's difficult to tell which type of scorpion fish this is.

Pygmy seahorses blend in with the fans they cling to.

Other strange creatures you can encounter in Lembeh include: mimic octopus which contort their bodies and change colour to mimic other creatures; flamboyant cuttlefish which have long arm suckers that are brightly coloured; rhinopias which use camouflage to blend in with their surroundings; and juvenile batfish of a number of varieties.

How to get there
Lembeh is around one hour drive from Manado airport in North Sulawesi, Indonesia. Flights go to Manado daily from Singapore and other domestic locations.

Where to stay
I stayed at Twofish Diver’s Resort on Lembeh Island. The resort is designed to cater for recreational divers and offers packages including daily dives and meals. Twofish also operate a resort on nearby Bunaken Island and arrange transfers and packages for both locations.

By Marissa Toohey

Laos, rich in many ways

31 Mar

South East Asia’s poorest nation economically is perhaps its richest in charm. Sprinkled with mountains and topped with endearing villages of wooden houses, Laos’ landscape is as stunning as it is difficult to travel across.

A small town en route from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang.

Dirt roads that wind around and around hilltops cause endless bus trips but panoramic vistas of jungles and riverbanks make hours in transit worth every minute of patience. The country reportedly earns around half its annual revenue through tourism, though, so while transport can be grueling, the country makes up in ample travel services including professional tour operators and competitive guest houses which are flexible to the needs of spontaneous backpackers.

You don’t need to plan an escape to Laos. Just apply for a visa upon arrival (at the time of publishing) and then succumb to the treats the nation offers as you move about, remaining open to the idea of lingering in townships which earn a special place in your heart.

Highlights

1. The Gibbon Experience is an ecotourism adventure for thrill seekers. Developed to raise funds for the protection of threatened Gibbon monkeys in Bokeo Nature Reserve in northern Laos, The Gibbon Experience offers an exciting combination of tree houses, trekking and zip-lines over 150 metres high!

Luang Prabang is one of the most beautiful places in Laos.

2. Teeming with temples, monks, and surrounded by rice paddies and Hmong villages, Luang Prabang is nirvana for travellers seeking natural beauty and local encounters. Go trekking to small villages, swimming at waterfalls, learn to become an elephant mahout or hire a motorbike and explore the wonders of the many mountains around.

3. There’s one destination in Laos which individuals either rate top priority or avoid like the plague. Vang Vieng is the home of “tubing”. Rent a rubber ring from the centre of town and float along the local river, stopping for cheap drinks at riverside bars. Beware of rope swings and people drinking “mushy” shakes.

Considered the most important sight in Laos: Wat Pha That Luang at Vientiane.

4. Vientiane has long been branded “one of the most boring capital cities in the world” but it offers the weary traveller a peaceful break with quiet streets and quaint restaurants. A modern boulevard is currently being constructed along the Mekong River and is set to be a beautiful and entertaining strip.

By Marissa Toohey

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