Tech-‘no’ and the Berlin Wall

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We had been anticipating Berlin for some time, but had no idea what was in store for us. We were lucky to be hosted by Luke’s gracious cousin Ariana, in the hip, up-and-coming Wedding area.

We knew that one of the main things we wanted to do in Berlin was to taste some of their famous nightlife. Berlin is home to many techno legends and also to Berghain, a super-hard-to-get-into, cool-kids-only techno warehouse that is known for partying nonstop from Friday evening until Monday morning.

First, we took in a walking tour and tried some of Berlin’s famous dishes. Of course, I wanted to try the Doner and see how it differed from Nova Scotia’s Donair. While both have the same sort of concept, I must say that the taste was completely different. We loved sitting in the street and sampling some of the great restaurants. We also spent the day at the lake with all the locals, sunbathing and cooling off in the water. We enjoyed some meat and bread in a mini picnic before heading home as the sun went down.

In the evening, we all went out for a night on the town, Berlin style. We headed to the club IMG_20150808_031454district and stopped off the subway to grab a drink on one of the stands that sells alcohol. It’s interesting and exciting being in a place where you can drink so freely. A breakout party had started on the street below, underneath a bridge where music was playing and people were dancing. It’s common to pop into corner stores on the way to a club to buy cheaper drinks before hitting your main event.

The following evening, Luke and I tried to get into Berghain. The club is well known, so it does attract a lot of tourists, which the bouncers hate. You can read all sorts of tips, but really, it’s up to the bouncers to decide if you make the cut. No one knows what they look for, but they’re rumoured to prefer you wearing all black, not be too young, preferably single… the list goes on and on. We waited in line for 45 minutes, and finally the bouncers did a string of “no’s” to about 15 people before stopping at us. We waited until it was our turn for judgment to be passed and after a few moments of consideration, we also got the dreaded headshake. For me, it was a huge disappointment (although sort of expected); I had gotten my hopes and excitement up. Ariana was quick to make me feel better, assuring me that she heard that usually only 40% of people who try to get in actually get in, therefore it wasn’t personal. Still, I’m a huge techno music fan and it sucked to get judged by a quick and brief look.

Moving on, we enjoyed walking through the artistic district of Berlin and experiencing the hipster culture. Berlin is so, so cool and has so much life to it. We walked along the Berlin Wall at sunset, which was so mesmerizing. Ariana’s father had been able to pass through the wall back in the day, so it was interesting to hear about his story and think about what people had went through at that time. It really wasn’t that long ago at all that the city was living through such a different reality.

Now that we’re home, I think of Berlin often and feel as if it would be the place I would feel the most at home. There was something so special about it, so unique and perfect, that it’s been calling my name ever since we left.

 

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Mui Ne and the sand dunes

Vietnam was celebrating its 40th anniversary of independence (victory over the Americans), and we both got a week vacation from our schools. We decided to head to Mui Ne, one of the spots we had so far missed.

Mui Ne is about 6 hours away via bus. You can take a bus or train from Ho Chi Minh City, but since it was a holiday, the train was all booked up for the week. We got lucky and snagged bus tickets from a couple that couldn’t go on their trip anymore, so we got a good deal. We used The Sinh Tourist bus line and we’d highly recommend it. It was a very comfortable and safe(ish) trip.

Known for its red and white sand dunes, Mui Ne is nestled in a rain shadow right beside the ocean. It has both the sea and the desert sand, making it a popular vacation spot for foreigners and locals alike.

On our first day, we rented a motorbike and drove to the white sand dunes. We had lathered on sunscreen, but we burnt to a crisp anyway. They were HOT. We enjoyed seeing them, but couldn’t stay too long since it felt like we had been left to die out there in the heat. Luke gently reminded me that we were only 30 feet from the shade, but I still hold that I nearly died out there.

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Later, we went to the red sand dunes, which I really preferred. I think they were much more beautiful, especially if you venture away from the crowds. It’s possible that the red sand doesn’t reflect as much heat, too. At about 4pm when the sun is going down seems to be the best time. The sunset is breathtaking and the sand is cool enough to explore in bare feet.

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For cheap, you can rent magic carpet boards from kids to sled down the sand dunes. Note that you will get sand absolutely everywhere, so think hard before taking part. It was definitely funny to watch the Asians sliding and screaming, though.

The next day, we went to the Mui Ne Harbor where you can see the blue ocean and boats that seem to go on for as far as the eye can see. It’s fun to see but really only worth a quick stop to take a photo and move on.

Later in the evening, we went to the Fairy Spring and walked along the bed of the creek, directly beside large, red-sand dirt walls. Since the sun was setting, it was the perfect temperature to be exploring the Fairy
IMG_9149Spring, and it wasn’t rammed with people either. We enjoyed our slow walk taking in all of the scenery.

On our final day, we spent the morning at the hot spring center. For $40 total, we both got mineral mud baths, a mineral pool soak, some time in the steam room, and an hour-long massage. It included lunch as well. We lounged in the pool and enjoyed our lunch and free smoothie. It was the perfect way to end our trip in Mui Ne.

For dinner, we went to the crab markets to have dinner like the locals. We settled on a plate of shrimp, since crab was a bit pricey. It was an interesting experience, but our dinner the night before at Sinbads was the highlight of our trip. It was much more affordable, and incredibly flavourful/filling.

On our way to our guesthouse, we stumbled across Pogo Beach Bar, which had beanbags and cabanas on the beach for lounging while they played some really good music. We sat on a rooftop on beanbags and took in the ocean air, saying goodbye to an absolutely perfect vacation.

If you come to Vietnam, do not miss Mui Ne, whatever you do! And again, only pictures can really do this place justice.

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Tea time in Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

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Upon arriving in Malaysia, we realized we really had no idea where to head off to next. We had arrived here on a fairly spur-of-the-moment decision, so we hadn’t planned our next stops. After browsing a few tourist agencies, we noticed several posters for Cameron Highlands, and decided to buy a $5 bus ticket.

No one had warned us about the twists and turns on the last hour of the drive. We also didn’t know it would be up the side of a mountain. The massive bus was careening around corners back and forth, and both of us quickly popped a Gravol to settle our stomachs. The views were nice, but I’m surprised we made it in one piece.

We had scored a quaint guesthouse for $10 a night. It was basic, but we had a private room and they served cheap (and good) food, so we were happy.

Cameron Highlands is a really small town nestled in the mountains and surrounded by the biggest tea plantations in Malaysia. The plantations in this region actually produce enough tea to supply all of Malaysia, although they do export much of it.
On our first day, we walked to the Cameron Valley Tea plantation. Taking about an hour, it was surreal to finally get to the top of the plantation and look down at all of the tea leaves. They explained to us that tea trees can grow endlessly, and we saw some of the massive trees that had never been pruned. The fields were filled with tea trees that were just as old, except they were constantly cut back to a size and shape that is easy to work with. We got to try some of their delicious tea and explore the plantation on our own after.

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On our way back, we decided to try and skip the hour-long walk (uphill this time) and stuck out our thumbs. Cameron Highlands is such a small town and the people of Malaysia are so incredibly kind, our guesthouse had actually recommended hitch hiking here. A guy and a girl our age pulled over in their work van and talked our ears off on the ride back. They were grinning ear-to-ear after having met us and we were so thankful to have a break for our feet, so the feeling was mutual.

The next day, we bought a packaged tour that would drive us to the top of Gunung Brinchang Mountain, followed by the Boh Tea plantation, and finish with a tour through the Mossy Forest. It was $15 for the whole excursion and it lasted all day.

The view from Gunung Brinchang was beautiful, although a bit crowded. We had to battle our way up an old iron lookout post to get a picture, but it was nice to see the entire view of Cameron Highlands.

After snapping a few pictures atop the mountain, we took our jeep to the Boh Tea plantation where we saw where Southeast Asia’s largest tea company. They took us on a tour of their tea fields, and we got to see them harvesting the leaves. We also went through their factory and were shown the process by which tea leaves are sorted, withered, rolled, aged and then dried. It was interesting to learn, and really made us appreciate the tea we got to try at the end!

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Last in the tour, we got to see the Mossy Forest, which looked like a scene from Avatar. The overgrown jungle was full covered in moss, hence the name. As this jungle was perched on the side of the mountain, the views were incredible. Our guide showed us massive pitcher plants and told us all kinds of cool facts about the forest. It was really interesting, as well as pretty.

In the evenings, we spent our time relaxing. We enjoyed some incredible and authentic Indian food, met some other travellers, and went to bed early to the sounds of crickets and frogs chirping.

Cameron Highlands may not have a ton to do, but if you want peace, quiet, and beautiful nature then it’s not to be missed.

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Koh Phi Phi and The Beach (Maya Bay)

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Luke and I watched The Beach before embarking on our trip to South East Asia, so getting to see Koh Phi Phi and Maya Bay was on the top of my list while we were island hopping through the south of Thailand.

We kept our stay on Koh Phi Phi short because finding affordable accommodation proved to be a bit difficult. Originally, our budget only permitted a one-night stay at $25/night; after falling in love with the island however, we decided to stay an extra night.

Koh Phi Phi is absolutely stunning. It’s hands down one of my favorite islands. It’s nice and small, but big enough to do some exploring. There’s tons to do there and you can enjoy the bar life, shop, hike to the viewpoints, go snorkelling, or take a day trip to the many little islands and beaches nearby.

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We loved the catching the sunset.

On day one, we got in and grabbed some food before heading to the viewpoint. It was incredibly hot and steep, but it was well worth it. We got to watch the sunset dip into the ocean while we were overlooking the entire island. The view is priceless up there.

Later that evening we explored the nightlife. There are tons of backpackers and all sorts of crazy bars offering everything from beer pong to Muay Thai. The latter bar will give you a free drink if you fight in the ring with another traveler. We happened to drop in just in time to see a couple of guys all suited up in Muay Thai gear fighting it out for their alcoholic prize. It was pretty funny to see.

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The next day, we were up early for our Maya Bay tour. There are tons of tour companies offering basic tours of the surrounding islands, including Maya Bay. We grabbed one for $12 USD that included Monkey Island (a little beach with monkeys crawling all over it), the Viking Cave (just a drive by – it’s a large but unimpressive hole in the side of a rock wall), swimming in Phi Leh Bay, and finally some snorkelling and lounging at Maya Bay for an hour.

Most of these cheaper tours are pretty basic, and the “tour guides” are just locals with long tail boats. It’s hit or miss if you’ll get a good guide, but on the plus side you get some rice and fruit on the boat. Our guide was pretty cranky but luckily the view on the trip was worth it.

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We managed to snag one picture away from the crowds!

Getting to Maya Bay (aka The Beach) was a bit disappointing but we were still happy to be there. The beach is RAMMED with tourists. The bay is filled with boats, including long tail and huge cruise ships. There are people crawling everywhere. It’s hard to take a picture or relax. It’s a shame, since that’s what the entire movie was about – how tourists spoil the natural beauty of places. It seems like the fame from the movie has done just that to this beautiful bay.

Luckily, the beaches on Koh Phi Phi itself are quite incredible. One half of the island faces onto a large bay, all of which is waist
deep and bathtub warm. I loved floating in it – it was warm, crystal clear, and the sand was that dreamy soft white. We spent a lot of our time just swimming and enjoying the view of the bay.

On night two we caught an epic two-hour fire show before heading down to the beach where they had a bunch of bars playing music. Of course, we found one playing our type of chill music and we relaxed while meeting some other travellers (and even a made a dog friend).

We’re so happy we opted to visit Koh Phi Phi. It’s something not to be missed. Here are some pictures from our stay!

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Taking in the beauty of Krabi

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After several days of island hopping, it was time for all the natural mainland beauty that Krabi had to offer. We were looking forward to Railay Beach, as well as the mountain scenery everywhere.

 We arrived in the evening and were welcomed by the night market where we snagged $1 crab cakes and delicious smoothies. Every evening, the night market comes alive with so many different kinds of foods all for super cheap.

We woke up early the next morning to ride our motorbike to the Emerald Pool and the hot springs waterfall. Many tours offer a package to the pool, the hot springs, and the tiger temple but we opted to go on our own time to avoid the crowds and schedule.IMG_5575

The Emerald Pool (Sa Morokat, Crystal Pool) is a natural pool of water filled with clean, pure, glistening water. It’s at an absolutely perfect temperature for lounging all day, surrounded by forest. We got there around noon and it wasn’t too busy. The water was so clear; you could see the ground and everything through it. It was a perfect crystal blue.

Close by was the Blue Pool, which is spring water that has this almost fake-looking aqua blue color. It was really pretty to look at. There’s no swimming allowed at the Blue Pool, since it’s surrounded by quick sand! When you clap your hands the sand bubbles up underneath the water, which was pretty cool to see.

IMG_20150210_153041Next we were off to the hot springs, which was home to a small series of waterfalls. It was basically a naturally made jacuzzi. Getting in at the top, the water is pretty hot but as you go from the top level down to the other levels of the waterfall, it slowly cools down. The waterfall has tons of areas to sit and relax or find some gushing water to play under. When you get to the bottom, you can jump into the pond to cool off before heading back to the top again. Words don’t do this place justice… it was as beautiful and refreshing as any spa could ever hope to be.

On our way home, we got to enjoy the beautiful limestone scenery, as well as rubber tree plantations and jackfruit farms. It was one of the most incredibly beautiful motorbike rides of our trip. We pulled down a side dirt road as we pulled into town to watch the sunset, and were greeted by a few local boys and an elephant. The locals who owned her let us take pictures and enjoy the view of the sun setting over their property.

Thailand is filled with so much beauty, and Krabi especially gives you chances to see nature at its very best. It was refreshing to feel somewhat off the usual tourist path and being able to take in the sights Thailand has to offer.

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We left our hearts on Koh Samui

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Getting to the islands in the South of Thailand was probably one of the most exciting parts of our trip. We had heard such great things about the beautiful beaches, the laid back atmosphere, and of course, the parties.

In our last blog entry we mentioned that we’re huge fans of techno and house music, and getting to the islands where we could feed our hunger for the music we love was beyond exciting. We spotted a flyer in Bangkok saying that the legendary Sven Väth was playing on Koh Samui, so we made sure to time our travels accordingly.

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Luke even made a new elephant friend.

We decided to opt for a private bungalow to enjoy the island life for six nights. We found a gorgeous place just off the main drag of Chaweng Beach for $15 a night (Pattara House, we highly recommend it), which by Samui standards was excellently priced. Shortly after checking in, we met a kind local lady who became our travel agent, bike rental dealer, restaurant recommender, and currency exchange all in one. We were set for the island!

I can’t help but gush when I talk about Koh Samui. My heart actually aches missing the island. I don’t even know where to begin with all the incredible things we did and memories we made. While prices are a tad bit higher on the island, as it’s a vacation destination for a lot of Europeans (it has its own airport, too), there are still so many markets and cheap restaurants available with amazing food. The beaches are also unique and plentiful, from busy central beaches to more secluded options.

The club scene was far more than we expected. Since there’s heavy European traffic, the music scene is proper and everywhere. The clubs are upscale but also free entry, due to the heavy competition, and I’d say they cater to a more mature crowd (which is a nice change). We visited Sound Hotel, as they were hosting a free deep house night with James Trystan, and for a grand total of $15 we got to smoke hookah in a fancy club by a pool bar. Later on in the week we visited many of the beachfront clubs offering excellent music and fire shows.

During the days, we enjoyed motorbiking around the island, exploring coffee shops, tanning on the beaches, and hiking to findIMG_5348 the most beautiful waterfall we’ve seen this trip. Hin Lad waterfall is majestic and easy to find. It’s a must see if you’re on the island and a great spot for bringing a packed lunch and going for a swim. We also visited the Big Buddha and the Wat on the hill, as well as the Bophut Fisherman Village’s market on Friday night. The Fisherman’s Village was notable for having the most original wares of all the night markets we’ve visited. We got to try sautéed garlic oysters for a dollar!

Finally, Saturday night rolled around and we left for Cha Cha Moon Beach Club to see Sven Väth. Nakadia opened with another perfectly deep set, and Sven Väth followed with an unbelievably rich four hours of sweet, sweet techno. We danced on the beach until our feet hurt, only taking a break to eat a Nutella-banana crepe that Luke snagged from a beach vendor. Being on this beautiful Thai island, dancing to some of the best techno I’ve heard in my life, with my feet half in the sand and half in the ocean… it was truly an evening we both will never forget.

With our time at Koh Samui coming to an end, we grudgingly packed up and made our way to the ferry. If you’re coming to Thailand and love beaches, music, and exploring, this island is absolutely perfect. Maybe we’ll even retire here one day…

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Exploring the enchanting Angkor Wat

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Seeing the Angkor Wat was on our dream to-do list since we began planning our trip to Cambodia. When we arrived in Siem Reap and felt the hot air on our faces, things felt a little surreal. We had just left our winter jackets behind in Vietnam and fresh, clean air was an unexpected treat. It all felt invigorating and exciting.

The morning after we arrived, we packed two sandwiches to go and hired our trusty tuk-tuk driver Burri. For $17 USD, he would take us on a large loop around the temple complex, finishing with the sunset at Pre Rup. The cost to get into the park itself was $20 per person for one day. There was the option to go for a three-day pass for $40, but we figured we would try to cram as much sightseeing into one day as we could.

Although we had seen other tourists’ photos of the temples, nothing could have prepared us for the size and sprawl of the temples. Angkor Wat is the world’s largest single religious monument. Considered “heaven on earth” in the Hindu religion, this temple is an earthly depiction of Mount Meru – the home of the gods. This one temple is surrounded by a 190-meter moat, which gives you an idea of how huge the temple complex is.

We began with Angkor Wat, by far the most impressive temple. There were thousands of tourists roaming the hallways, climbing the towers, and posing in front of the intricate stone carvings. It is said that there are over 3000 nymphs carved intoIMG_1015 the walls, each one drawn in a unique pose, with 37 different hairstyles. On one curtain wall, we saw the portrayal of a marching army, complete with all the different types of soldiers, elephants, and machines of war.

After we forced ourselves to move on (we only had one day to see as much as we could), we got to see some very different temples. Some temples included the heads of the gods, towering over 12 feet tall. There were bridges with dozens and dozens of stone guards on either side, and one temple with a giant tree growing out of the ruins. This famous temple, Ta Prohm, was used for Angelina Jolie’s Tomb Raider. It was an incredible blend of massive architecture and natural decay. Samie was a fan-girl at this temple and could barely contain her excitement. Crawling through the hallways and seeing the trees overtaking the temple and imagining a movie being filmed here was really cool.

We had our first brush with monkeys while exploring these temples, as there are hundreds in the surrounding forests. Samie hadn’t realized that these adorable little animals are actually aggressive little terrors and she got chased, screaming, when she tried to take a close-up photo.

Pretty soon, we almost ran out of time. Watching the sunset at Pre Rup was the highlight of our entire day. Most people choose to watch the sun rise at Angkor Wat, but we heard that it could get pretty crowded in the morning. Hands down, we made the right choice with the sunset. We climbed the wat to the very top and joined some other peopl, sitting on the edge of the temple to watch the sun set over the jungle. The view was nothing short of perfection. There were no clouds, and we got to see the sun turn a brilliant red before it disappeared.

Here’s some of our favourite pictures:

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