10 Things my first months of Living in China has Taught me

Moving halfway across the world to live and work abroad is always a big challenge, but also hands down my favourite way to explore this amazing world. I’m still new to Shanghai, China but reflecting on the experiences and lessons I’ve learned in this short period of time I know this has been a good move. I moved to China with the idea of living here for a year, but one month in I realised that I would definitely be living here for longer.

Here are the most important things I have learned so far while living and working in Shanghai, China.

1. WeChat is Everything

The mobile phone is king in China and you will be lost without a smartphone. I had my smartphone unlocked before I moved to China and downloaded WeChat the Chinese version of Whatsapp. But that’s just the beginning, because WeChat is your life. Chinese people actually don’t use regular text messages, they just use WeChat to text, send voice messages and even to send actual documents as attachments. I have also embraced WeChat pay which you can use to pay for almost anything, so I don’t need to carry cash with me here in Shanghai. Even the tiny hole-in-the-wall places has a QR code that you can scan to pay with WeChat. Other than WeChat you need a smart phone to order taxis, food delivery and train or plane tickets by using different apps on your phone. You also need your mobile phone to access the shared bikes here in Shanghai which makes life so much easier.

2. Free VPNs Will Not Cut It for Internet Usage

If you want to access sites and apps like Facebook, Google, Gmail, Twitter, Youtube, Instagram, Snapchat, Netflix, Tinder, and more, you’ll need a VPN. It is a virtual private network which allows you to access sites that are blocked here in China. I am so glad that I was warned about this before moving to china. The going rate tends to be about $50-$100 USD per year for a functioning VPN. Trust me, the free ones might work for a week or so but in the long run you realize how lost you are without access to the big world wide web without a VPN.

3. In winter, AlWAYS go well wrapped up to restaurants and cafes

I wish someone had told me that, due to a government decree, there is no central heating in public buildings south of the Yangtze river. This policy was intended to bring about huge savings in energy costs. Just a few miles to the north of Shanghai, the public buildings are toasty warm throughout the winter. However, in Shanghai itself, we are expected to happily shiver through freezing winter temperatures whenever we leave our houses.

4. Invest in a proper face-mask as Surgical Masks Don’t Do Anything

When I moved to China I had no idea what the pollution level was. I have seen images of very polluted days in China, often accompanied by photos of people in surgical masks. I thought these might be rare occurrences but soon found out that this is quite common during the colder months. Forget the surgical masks, they are great for keeping yourself from getting sick on a crowded subway, but they will not work for the pollution at all. What you need is a 3M mask that will protect you from PM2.5. Don’t worry, you will be able to buy one here in China, and they even come in funky colours!

5. Buy an Air Purifier, your lungs will thank you

The media emphasizes wearing a mask outside, but let’s be honest, if it’s really polluted, you’re probably staying indoors. This is an option I have opted for a couple of times so far this winter. Unfortunately the pollution filters into our houses and I have woken up coughing more than once on heavily polluted days. I now know that it is very important to invest in a good air purifier for your apartment if you plan on living here for a while.

6. Fitted Sheets Are Not Popular

I never really thought twice about my sheets. While I like to sleep with soft and comfortable blankets, my bottom sheet never concerned me all that much. Well, over my lifetime I’ve become very accustomed to fitted sheets, and I was shocked to find that China does not share my love for fitted sheets. After searching a bit online I eventually found a place that sold them. But next time I am definitely bringing some from home!

7. Coffee Is Expensive

While many of the foreign restaurants are only expensive by comparison, imported foods and coffee are much more expensive than they are back home. Thanks to China’s tariffs, you can expect to pay up to two or three times the original price for items like coffee, cheese, peanut butter, and cereal.

Coffee is seen as a luxury in China, and many coffee shops price the drink accordingly. I was shocked to find that I could buy an entire meal for half the price of a tiny latte.

8. Bring Your Own Sunscreen

I was warned before moving to China that sunscreen isn’t very common here. Most people in China cover up to avoid the sun’s harmful rays so sunscreen tends to be sold in small bottles and is super pricey. In China you will also find the term “whitening” on your sunscreen along with most facial moisturisers. So I have brought my own, as personally I am very nervous about using a product that will end up bleaching my skin.

9. Don’t Flush Your Toilet Paper

While I knew about squat toilets, no one ever told me not to flush my toilet paper. Next to every toilet you’ll find a small basket for you to throw your used paper. Chinese pipes aren’t equipped to handle non-organic waste, so you may find your toilet clogged if you try flushing your paper one too many times. Trust me, I learned this the hard way.

Many public restrooms also don’t have toilet paper or soap, so you’ll probably want to bring some hand sanitizer from home and pick up a mini pack of tissues when you arrive.

Living in Shanghai, China
Bike of Burden

10. “That’s so China” Is an expression you will also end up using

Being open-minded is so important, as cliché as it may sound take everything with a pinch of salt and remember that you are a guest in another country. What you may see as the cultural or social norm will most likely be different, once you learn and adapt to living as a ‘guest’ in another country you will enjoy the experience a lot more. A saying that has stuck with me and can only be fully understood by individuals who have experienced travelling or living in China is to “expect the unexpected” and “that’s so China”. As soon as you think you have seen it all, whether it’s something new or shocking, positive and/or negative something else will occur making you say “that’s so China”.

Living in Shanghai, China
Drying chickens with the laundry on a sidewalk next to a busy street…..only in China!

China is a complicated country with a long history, and living here has been positive and negative all in one. I have experienced and accepted some of the ‘negatives’ to living and working in this big city but still love the country as the positives out shine any of the negatives. I think the surprise of discovering new things every day has made my life here an adventure. The biggest piece of advice I can give you is to arrive in China with an open mind. China is so large and complex, discovering new aspects of life and culture are just part of the fun!

Living in Shanghai, China
Happy Chinese New Year!!!

Don’t let your fears and apprehensions hold you back from the adventure of moving to China.

How to Be a Mindful Traveller

I am sure that your first thought upon hearing mindful + travel joined together is that its about being hyper-conscious and conscientious about each and every little detail of everything you’re doing when you’re on vacation or out there one the road. But that is not what I mean.

I believe that travelling is not just about capturing the perfect Instagram picture, or sharing our every moment on Facebook. Before social media we travelled differently. Of course we had our cameras and captured moments, but these moments were for ourselves, they were treasured memories not staged photographs to please our followers and gain more likes.

These days it is hard to escape the feeling that everyone is travelling and perhaps we are missing out. And that maybe travel has become more shallow than before. Is travelling really only about becoming famous on social media? Or making your Facebook friends jealous? Now more than ever, we need to take time to think about how we can be a mindful traveller, an admirer of earth. How can we get back to a more simple way of travel, like we enjoyed before Instagram and social media changed the way we travelled?

1. Take Your Time

Don’t rush. If everything you do and everywhere you go is rushed because you’re in a new place and want to see everything, chances are you won’t actually see anything. Take a deep breath and think about what you actually want to get out of the experience.

How to Be a Mindful Traveller
A peaceful morning spent in the park

Do you want to see everything as fast as you can? Or do you want to have real and meaningful experiences in this new place, build relationships with people, and create memories?

Take three conscious breaths and stop dead in your tracks long enough to notice where you actually are. Take your time to prioritize your own awareness and realize the significance of each place.

2.Feel Each Step

Your body always exists in the present moment, whereas your brain can travel far from where you are. If you’re walking, notice each foot as it touches the ground, lifts and swings.

Notice the feel of the air on your skin. No need to make a big deal of it. Just enjoy the sensuality of being in your body. This awareness will help you remember how you actually felt as you travelled through a distant land, a new place, and a new culture.

3.Savour Each Moment

Eating? Taste your food. Hiking? Breathe in the fresh mountain air. Talking with a local? Really listen to them and remember what they say. Looking at beautiful sites, landscapes, and world wonders? Don’t think of it as only something to capture for Instagram or to share on Facebook.  Immerse yourself in the moment, and remember it.

4.Get Local

Don’t forget why you travel. To experience something new! The ability to go to a new place and remove yourself from your own cultural upbringing and constraints is a perfect way to practice acute awareness. Notice the subtle differences and embrace them. 

5. Relax and Rest

Put away those devices for awhile and have some time that is not governed by schedules, deadlines, and the latest news and information. Drink in something that is timeless and simply cannot be captured on a screen.


“One of the most powerful things you can do when you’re travelling is to let go and passionately wander. “

How to Be a Mindful Traveller
Beauty in the middle of the busy city

Preparing to Teach English in China

Moving to a foreign country to teach English is a huge step and needs preparation; mental, financial and physical. It can get hectic trying to figure out what you will need to do and at times you may feel overwhelmed. I always make myself a checklist of all the things I need to do or take with me before I move to a new country. It helps me stay calm and focussed so maybe it will help you too.

Here is a checklist that could help you a bit in your preparation to teach in China.

Passport and Visa

First off make sure that your passport is valid for at least a couple of years and not expiring within your contracted work year. But, most importantly, have your work visa ready before the day of travel. Make sure you get the appropriate visa to enter and travel around China. If you are going to teach English in China, you will need a Z visa. This visa allows you to work in China legally. Registered schools are authorised to provide Z visas for their teachers. Do not trust a school who says its okay to start work on a tourist visa and that they will issue you a work visa later, this is illegal. For you to be given a Z visa you must be a native English speaker, have two years’ work experience or a minimum of 120-hours TEFL certification and possess a bachelor’s degree. Once you arrive in China, you are given 30 days to convert your visa into a resident permit.

Prepare to Teach English in China
China is filled with unexpected things….#onlyinchina is a real thing!

Personal items

It is advisable that you pack wisely, pack only what you need for your travel and especially for work. Leave the just in case items but be prepared for all kinds of weather as you are planning on being in China for at least a year.

Clothing

Pack enough light, easy to dry clothes including a sweater or light jacket. Remember summers in China can be incredibly hot so to pack enough sunscreen (SPF). It is quite expensive here in China and often contains whitening, bring your own sunscreen and protective creams for the skin. You will definitely need rain gear (raincoats and umbrellas) but those are easy to purchase once you are in China. Pack a comfortable pair of shoes because you tend to walk a lot in China, especially in those first couple of months while you are still trying to orientate yourself in your new city.

Personal effects

You will find most personal effects readily available in China. Pack enough toiletries for the first month as it can take time before you find the brands that work for you in China. Pack some tissue, wet tissues and a hand sanitiser for use in toilets during travel. You can find sanitary towels al over china but only the big cities sell tampons so you might want to stock up on those before travelling. Due to change in climatic zones, our skins tend to react so remember your lotions and moisturisers.

Medication

When travelling, it is advisable to have a small travel medical kit with you. If you suffer from a chronic disease, pack up all your medication and stock up enough for a given period of time. Other medications you can include in your kit are laxatives, painkillers, allergy medicine, motion sickness medicine and contact lenses or eye drops. Have bottled water to accompany your medication and to drink too as tap water in China is not safe for consumption.

Plane Tickets

Book your plane ticket only once you have signed your work contract and have a start date. Because you are travelling with a work visa you will not need to buy a return flight which is great as you don’t always have your end date in advance. Pay that little bit extra when booking your flight so that you are able to change the date without having to pay again. Do some research to find out which airlines offer the best baggage deals as you might need to check in an extra bag and don’t want to pay exorbitant fees. Check in online the night before you travel to make sure you get a seat where you are not squashed between 2 other people for eight hours. On the day of travel, arrive at the airport about three hours earlier as sometimes there are delays at the airport and its best to keep this at the back of your mind just in case. The good thing about working in China is that most schools will reimburse you for the price of the flight ticket after a couple of months!

Locks and tags

Ensure that your suitcase or backpack is comfortable and that it can be locked. Have luggage locks and identity tags to ensure the safety of your luggage during travel and to make your suitcase stand out on the conveyor belt.

Electronics

Remember to pack your camera because China is an endless adventure with photo opportunities around every corner. Pack your mobile phone too and a tablet or laptop. Do not forget your chargers and adapter plugs or converters.

Of course, everything you can think of is available in China, so there is no need to worry if you forgot a charger or a shirt!

Money

When travelling to teach in China, convert a substantial amount of your money into Chinese Yuan. You will need to purchase a new SIM card and there are some other set up costs to be covered your first week or two in China. The first month you can withdraw money from foreign accounts at institutions such as HSBC and Travelex. But do not forget to inform your local bank about your travel, they could be of assistance if you got stuck while in China. Your school should help you to open a bank account into which they will pay your salary for you.

Apps and VPNs

China censors the internet, they have put up a great firewall which blocks foreign websites such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat among others. Luckily, WhatsApp and Pinterest are not censored. To get around these restrictions, it is best to download some Apps and VPNs before you leave for China. WeChat (Weixin) is the most commonly used social media in China. It operates like a combination of Facebook and WhatsApp and is mainly used for communication. You may also need Chinese dictionary apps such as Pleco, Hanpinlite and Baidu Translate. These will teach you a few survival phrases you may need for communication in China.

You will need a VPN (Virtual Private Networks) to visit a blocked website. VPNs are used in China to bypass the great firewall. As a teacher of English in China, you will need some websites to enrich your lesson. To make this possible, VPNs such as ExpressVPN, Betternet, Buffered and VYPR are used to enhance internet access in China. Ensure you download a few on your gadget because the Great Wall causes most to have fluctuating performance. And do this before you travel as you cannot download it once you have entered China.

Books and Films

Before leaving your country, buy some books and save some films to help you deal with the homesickness that comes with being in a foreign country.

All the best as you prepare to go and teach English in China.

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

Four reasons why it’s time you take a Road Trip in Germany

Nestled among nine other countries, Germany is an expansive paradise for travellers who love to be on the road. Its idyllic mountain scenery and lush countryside combined with deep pride in its automotive exports are a formula for some of the best driving conditions in the world. The diligence and care they take in the cars they produce are reflected in the pristine, perfectly maintained autobahn. Here are just four of many reasons why a road trip in Germany should be on everyone’s bucket list.

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  1. Go on a nostalgic journey through an enchanting Fairy Tale Route

The Fairy Tale Route is perfect for the young at heart, spanning from Hanau where the Brothers Grimm were born to Bremen. There are countless charming towns and villages along the way that still retain that picturesque medieval quality we associate with The Grimm Fairy Tales.

 

Some of the places you pass through actually featured in the stories – such as Hamelin, where the Pied Piper legend was born, Alsfeld, where Little Red Riding Hood’s house still stands, and Bad Wildungen, where Snow White lived.

 

  1. Lovers of wine can follow a route dedicated to the beloved grape

The ‘Deutsche Weinstraße’ is the oldest wine route in Germany, having been established in 1935. It starts in Schweigen-Rechtenbach, on the border of France, continues throughout the stunning Rhineland-Palatinate vineyards and ends in Bockenheim an der Weinstraße.

 

From March through to October many places along the German Wine Route host some of the largest outdoor wine festivals in the world. Everyone from amateur wine drinkers to expert sommeliers can soak in the heritage and majesty of the wine-growing region.

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  1. Enjoy a thrilling driving experience with access to roads that have no speed limits

While there are certain stretches of road that do impose limits, Germany is the only country in Europe that has no official speed limit on motorways. Drivers go at speeds of up to 150mph and sometimes more, with the government believing people do not need to be micromanaged. For the ultimate road-trip make sure you choose the right car and have a clear plan of your route. If you do decide to drive fast, be sure to have read the relevant highway information and adhere to all regulations.

 

  1. Spend a day in areas of astounding natural beauty like Lake Konigssee

The name means ‘Kings lake’ and at 190 meters, it is the deepest lake in Germany – surrounded by the steep cliffs of Mount Watzmann, all road trippers should wind down with a trip here. Fellow travellers recommend typing Hotel Bergheimat in Schonau am Konigssee into your navigation system. This brings you to the main road that leads into the Konigssee where there is a large area for designated parking that is close to the lakes and boats.

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As well as the ones already mentioned, there are a number of routes in Germany that are connected by a theme. The roads are signposted clearly and provide road-trippers with tried and tested circuits that suit their interests.

Why you should explore this Unique Alley in Shanghai

Alleys provide great opportunities to walk through something a little more intimately scaled. Sometimes they provide a refuge from the city. But Tianzifang is the opposite of a refuge. It is tucked away off the French Concession in Shanghai and is a maze of alleys and shops that was definitely slightly overwhelming the first time.

Tianzifang is a history-rich old quarter where East meets West. As I looked around I could see products not only designed in China but all over the world for sale in tiny restored buildings that are back-to-back with local residences. While my eyes were feasting on all the things that the merchants sell, my mind was also wandering amidst the traditional vibe of the place. The aesthetics of the establishments are very charming since the shops are still reflective of old Shanghai style.

As I explored the alleyways I ended up being jostled around with other tourists who were also getting lost in the maze for the 20th time. My first visit was very overwhelming and I could hardly take everything in. But this was a great excuse to go and visit again, and the next time I made sure that I arrived before 9am, so as to avoid the crowds that start flooding in after 11am.

Here are some essential Travel Tips for when you visit Tianzifang

  1. When you drop by Tianzifang, keep in mind that there are three main lanes which you can take. These lanes each go from north to south and there are several smaller alleys which intersect with each lane. If you find yourself quite lost because of all the turns that you have taken while being entertained by the various products that are being sold, just look for one of the main lanes and you can easily find where you are supposed to go next.

2. Get there very early to avoid hordes of domestic tourists. Otherwise be prepared for being pushed around when this area gets busier.

3. Avoid going in the holidays when it is very, very crowded.

4. Learn to bargain on the stuff you are going to buy. I was advised that you should pay as little as two thirds of the price asked originally.

5. A camera is necessary when you go to Tianzifang as there will be so much you would love to capture. But be careful as it is not allowed to take pictures in the residential area where the local residents still live.

6. Look out for the old residential buildings called ‘shikumen’, literally ‘stone doors’. These houses have stone door-frames and solid wooden doors.

7. Many original residents still live in the narrow lanes. Please be mindful and respect their privacy.

8. Some shops do not permit you to take photos, even of the exterior. So don’t feel offended when they stop you and chase you away.

9. Besides places of business, there are still some residents living there. Don’t enter residential houses mistakenly.

10. Take toilet-paper as there are only traditional Chinese toilets. Otherwise there are nice public toilets in the mall across the street where the Starbucks is located.

Where is your favourite alleyway to explore?

What I learned from my Ireland Road Trip

Road Trips are a commitment, there’s no way around that. And once you’ve started, there’s absolutely no getting out of it. Well, I guess you could always hop out halfway and call for a cab, but that’s for quitters and it’s also slightly dangerous. Stay in the car.

Going on a road trip Through Ireland, along the Wild Atlantic Way with my friend Amy sounded like the best thing ever! It was only once our trip had started that I realised we would have very limited space for most of our trip. My travel companion was literally twelve inches away from me for most of the day. I also quickly learned that the driver needs to be fully focused so there was no talking while she was trying to navigate the treacherous back roads along the Irish coast.

I think the big thing about Road Trips are that everyone, at some point along the journey, finds themselves wondering why on earth they decided that this was the best way to travel? And yet, despite this moment, you will get back in the car, and continue the adventure. And then – maybe not immediately, maybe not in a week, but eventually you will realise that there were also lessons learnt along this journey.

#1 There is no such thing as too many snacks.

We were both travelling on a very tight budget so before heading out, we thought that skimping on the number of snacks we purchased was one of the best ways to save a little money. This was a very big mistake. We realised this half way through our journey and this time round, properly stocked up on snacks. Snacks were an important component to keeping the both of us sane on this trip.

#2 There is no such thing as too many stops.

Sure, it was important to reach our destination eventually, but it was the stops along the way that I remember most clearly about our time on the road.

Being able to stop whenever we wanted was one of the greatest benefits of a road trip so we tried to take advantage of it! Whenever you saw some beautiful landscape or a great look out point we took the time to pull over to the side of the road to enjoy it!

#3 Just be present.

Like a lot of people I am guilty of taking a lot of photos, more than needed. And in doing so I often miss out of the moment. Just by taking in the scenery and not looking through my camera lens constantly I felt more present.

I realised that I had to stop rushing through the sights and take a moment to appreciate the beauty of the scenery. I tried to slow down and take in my surroundings with all five of my senses. While on this road trip I was forced to relax and do one thing at a time. When we weren’t driving somewhere we focused on what we were doing right at that moment, whether it was hiking or having a cup of coffee or walking along the beach.

Even though we were busy almost constantly, I felt more present, and time seemed to last longer.

#4 Silence is okay.

I don’t always deal very well with silence. While travelling I am usually either talking or listening to music. But I quickly learned that my travel partner needed to be fully focused so there was no talking while she was trying to navigate the treacherous back roads along the Irish coast. At first I found it quite frustrating to drive in silence, but it did give me the chance to think and to take in my surroundings. There were a number of wonderful, peaceful silences that I experienced with my fellow traveller while driving through scenery that looked like it could be from a documentary.

#5 Patience isn’t just a virtue, it’s a necessity

If ever patience were required, it is on a road trip. Things go wrong. You get lost. Sometimes things go wrong and there is nothing you can do except breathe, take a step back, and find another way. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do except wait and be patient.

There is traffic. You’re have to deal with other drivers. There are 20km/ph towns and 80km/ph highways. Your GPS is wrong or does not know where you are. We knew we were in Ireland the moment our GPS couldn’t pronounce the names and settled for spelling it. Your sandwiches will get soaked, cheese will spoil and milk will go bad. You and your road trip partner will probably get on each others nerves at some point.

It happen. We had to deal with it. I had to embrace the chaos.

#6 It’s the Company You Keep

At the end of the day, what matters most is who you are with. This holds true in any circumstance, but especially on a road trip. Choose someone you can get lost in conversation with for hours. Someone you can be yourself around. I’ve learned that you truly know someone only after you’ve ridden with them in a cramped vehicle for days on end and witnessed their driving, and what they really look like when they wake up in the morning.

#7 Go With the Flow and be Spontaneous

I love lists and checking things off and knowing what’s supposed to happen before it does. In our day-to-day life, it’s natural to try hard to maintain strict control over things. We plan and budget, set up meetings, and schedule activities. Our lives are often ruled by our calendars.

On our road trip however, all of that went out the car window. It was quite a challenge for me to go on a road trip where I didn’t have every minute planned. Not knowing where we were going to stop next or even spend the night was quite stressful for me. It took me some time to feel comfortable with having no plan and to just go with the flow. By not having a set itinerary we had time to stop at amazing scenic spots we would have missed otherwise. We got to lingering at deserted beaches and ended being so busy enjoying the moment that I even forgot to look at my watch.

I learnt that the main key to enjoying every aspect of a road trip is to relax and go with the flow.

#8 Choose experiences over things

We lived out of a car (actually, a crossover van – thank you, Amy!) for 3 weeks while driving along the Wild Atlantic Way of Ireland. I tried to pack light but after 3 weeks there were still things I brought that I hadn’t used, and clothes I packed that I didn’t wear. Truth be told, I didn’t miss them one single bit. There wasn’t one time that I thought “I wish I’d brought…”

I also didn’t miss any of my stuff from home while we were gone. I was too busy living to worry about stuff. I have decided to travel lighted, to acquire less and to do more in the future!!

#9 It’s the Journey, Not the Destination

A real Road Trip is all about the journey and not the destination. Even though at times the experience seemed endless I was never quite truly ready for it to end. The sore butts and the cramped feeling of being so close to someone else 24/7 are just some of the memories I’ll be taking with me forever. It’s the stops along the way, both expected and unexpected, that really make a road trip. The quaint small towns, weird roadside attractions, and even getting lost that add to the excitement.

When the trip was finally over, there was a sense of loss. So relish the journey—every part of it.

#10 Following your dreams isn’t easy – nor should it be.

Following mine has taught me so much more than these lessons. Many of them aren’t clear, yet, but they will be. And when they are, I’ll share them.

These are just some of the lessons I learned from our epic road trip. What have you learned from your own experiences?

Pros and Cons of Travelling Solo

Cape Town, South Africa
Cape Town, South Africa

Traveling alone can be very daunting for most people and I do agree that it is not the easiest thing to do. I have been traveling solo most of the time and have learnt a couple of things through my travels. You always end up meeting lots of people while traveling alone, and I have often enjoyed a big collection of fun temporary friends throughout my trips.

Traveling solo has its pros and cons — and for me, the pros far outweigh the cons and here are some of the pros.

  • When you’re on your own, you’re independent and in control of the when and where of your travels.
  • You can travel at your own pace, spend as much time as you want browsing through shops or sitting at a cafe enjoying a cappuccino and a good book. You can spend hours in an art museum or at the market getting to know the people of the city.
  • You can do the things that interest you and dont have to come to a compromise with your travel partner.
  • You’ll meet a lot of people as you’re seen as more approachable because you are sitting there all alone. If you stay in hostels, you’ll have a built-in family and there will always be someone who would like to join you.
  • You can eat where and when you like and nobody is going to make you feel guilty about having chocolate mouse for dinner.
  • Another benefit is that your mistakes are your own, and your triumphs all the more exciting. There’s no worrying that your insistence on trekking all the way across town to a museum that was closed ruined your partner’s day; it’s your own day to salvage or chalk up to a learning experience
  •  A lovely advantage is that you can splurge where and on what you want. You can spent the afternoon looking for the perfect souveneir or bag in the market and not feel as if somebody is willing you to hurry up.
  • You don’t have to wait for your partner to pack up, which while traveling with my mom I learned can take quite a while.
  • There is no need to negotiate when to call it a day or feel guilty about wanting to take a midday nap.
  • Traveling on your own allows you to be more present, absorb your surroundings and indulge in the new culture without distractions.
  • Solo travel is intensely personal. You end up discovering more about yourself at the same time as you’re discovering more about the country your traveling through.
  • Traveling on your own is fun, challenging, vivid, and exhilarating. Realizing that you have what it takes to be your own guide is a thrill known only to solo travelers.

Of course, there are downsides to traveling alone and everything is not always roses and sunshine.

  • When you’re on your own, you don’t have a built-in dining companion. I usually spend my meals dividing my attention between my food and my book. I have found that good book,or even just postcards to write or your travel journal to jot in – are all legitimate activities at a bar or restaurant if you get to feeling a little bored/lonely/exposed, so carry one of them with you at all times.
  • You’ve got no one to send ahead while you wait in line, or stand in line while you go to the bathroom. Believe me that can be torture.
  • You have to figure out the bus schedule and train times on your own and this way end up at some very strange places.
  • There is nobody to help you when things go wrong or someone other than yourself to blame for taking the wrong bus or train.
  • Traveling by yourself is usually more expensive as you have to pay a single supplement in hotels. The supplement can range anywhere from 25 to 100 percent of the trip cost, meaning that you could end up paying twice as much as someone traveling with a partner.
  • Other things become cheaper too when you’re splitting costs, such as groceries, guidebooks, taxis, storage lockers, and more.
  • In much of the world, solo travellers – and single people in general – are seen as strange, even a bit unfortunate.
  • Sometimes, especially in more hospitable and foreigner-fascinated cultures like Egypt and Turkey, I’ve found the attention I got as a solo traveller to be a little intense. I had to learn how to say “no, thank you” in the local language, as well as “absolutely not” – plus the local nonverbal gesture for no, which was often more effective than both.
  • You are on hardly any of your holiday photos unless you ask a stranger to please take a photos of you. So definitely get a camera with a time delay setting as that way you at least have a couple of photos with you on them.

I can imagine what you’re thinking. You’ll be lonely, isolated, it’s dangerous, and only the young Birkenstock types travel by themselves. Think again.   If I can travel solo, anyone can. I’ve never been lonely, bored or felt threatened. Traveling solo is not necessarily more dangerous than going to the movies and dinner by yourself in your home town.

10 Ways that Traveling has Changed me.

As I look back, I know that packing my life into a suitcase and leaving the safety of my home country was the best decision that I could have possibly made.

It was only once I moved away, turned my life into a journey filled with uncertainty, that I grew up in unexpected ways.

While traveling alone I faced new challenges and get to know parts of myself that I didn’t even know existed. I ended up being amazed by myself and the world around me as I learned and broadend my horizons. I unlearned certain things and start to grow in humility, and evolve. I felt homesick and i made memories that will stay with me forever.

1. The word “routine” is dismissed from my vocabulary.

From the moment I decided to move abroad my life turned into a mixture of emotions. I was constantly learning, improvising, dealing with the unexpected and surprised by what I found. There is no place for “routine” anymore as I am constantly on an adrenalin high. How can you not be? My travels took me to new places , I formed new habits, met new people and constantly had to overcome new challenges. Starting anew is terrifying, but it is unusually addictive and the thought of routine now scares me.

2. Its not Bravery or Courage to go after what you want.

Lots op people told me how brave I was to travel alone, and that they would also do it if only they weren’t so scared. But I know, it is not bravery, as I am also scared every time I move to a new, strange country. Each trip abroad shakes my certainties and brings fourth my fears. It is purely about wanting it with all your heart. From the moment I decided to live my dream I had to deal with whatever came my way, no matter how scared I was.

3. There is no more “normal” for me.

While living abroad I realiuzed that “normal” only means socially or culturally accepted. Everytime I moved and embraced a different society and plunged into a different culture, my notion of normality dwindled untill there was nothing left. I learned that there are other ways of doing things, I discovered new things to believe in and got to know myself better.

4. Things and people come and go.

I learned the hard way, that now, most things and people in my life are just passing through. I have almost perfected the right balance between bonding and letting go, almost. I had to learn to let go of things. Wherever I moved to I ended up stockpiling new clothes, new books, and even mugs. But there always comes a day when I have to pack my life into my suitcase again and no matter how hard I have tried, I can never take “my new life and things” with me. It is only now, after I have realised that you buy something for then and there,not for always, that it is easier to let go of the things accumilated along the way.

5. My languages get all muddled up.

Everytime I live in a new country I try to learn the local language. For me it is a way of embracing the new culture and getting to know the locals. This way I also soak up cultural references and unfortunately swear words from this new language. So sometimes when speaking to friends I will let a word from another language slip in. This confuses some people and sometimes instead of understanding from where I come from now, they end up teasing me. I had to learn not to let this get to me, as they might never have had the opportunity to learn a new language.

6. Be patient and ask for help.

While living abroad, the simplest task can sometimes become a huge challenge. From processing paperwork, taking the right bus to ordering something to eat can become a nightmare! There has been lots of moments of distress for me, but I found that being patient and just asking can make the worlds difference. There always seems to be someone around, willing to help you out, someone willing to explain and sometimes even someone who is willing to show you how to get back to where you live.

7. Home” is where you are at.

From the moment I squeezed my life into that purple suitcase of mine my old “home” ceased to exist. No matter how foreign each country or city is when I move there, there always comes a day when I suddenly feel at home in my new city. Home is the person travelling with me, the people I leave behind, the streets where my life is taking place. Home is also the random things in my new flat, or my local grocer who always greets me in the morning. Home is al those memories, those phonecalls to family, postcards to friends and all the photos I took along the way. Home is truly where the heart is.

8. Freedom has its price

I have always been free, but somehow fredom feels different when travelling. I had to give up a lot and make it work thousands of miles away from home. I miss out on birthday celebrations, friends weddings, family get togethers and life at home. It is not that I don’t want to be there, I wish there was a way to be in two places at once. I have this whole new world around me, filled with new adventures, new people to meet and experiences to be had. The fact that I have been able to live my dream, despite missing out on those special moments with friends and family, has made me feel like I am capable of anything!!

9. Talk about your travels in moderation

My life had been changing at a non-stop pace while I was travelling, and I couldn’t wait to share all my travel stories and those anecdotes that had been piling up. But unfortunately, at home, life’s the same as always. Everyone has gone on with their daily routines and as you overwhelm them with your stories they come to see you as pretentious about your travels. So I learnt to be careful, and to only share my journey when someone asks.

10: There is no turning back

Now that I know what it means to give everything up, what starting from scratch means it is not a daunting thing to try it again. How could I not keep on travelling, discovering and marvelling at the world every day?

How has travel changed you?

Think before visiting Tiger Temple in Thailand!!

Like most people I would jump at the opportunity to see wild animals, especially in their natural environment. Unfortunately to see tigers in their natural environment was not an option for me and going to a tiger rehabilitation centre sounded like the second best option. It seemed like an exciting opportunity to interact with exotic animals, and why not if they are protecting the animals.

Think before visiting Tiger Temple in Thailand!
Such majestic creatures

I went on a morning excursion to the Tiger Temple in Thailand in 2010, which is quite close to Bangkok. It is a booming enterprise that offers you the chance to pet, feed and take photos with tigers. This opportunity seemed amazing and just too good to be true … and sadly it is. During my visit I suspected everything might not be as advertised, and it was only afterwards as I read up about the Tiger Temple and that I became aware of what was actually going on there.

Before my trip I was told that conservation is a part of the program at Tiger Temple and that they are helping to encourage the re-population of tigers to the region.

As part of our temple tour we got to posewith a majestic tiger. the Temple’s monks encouraged us to touch the tigers as the monks assured us they were docile because they have been hand-reared.

Although they insist that they care for the tigers the truth is quite the opposite. Most of these tigers looked very sleepy and they were all chained up and not able to move around at all. There are rumours that the tigers are drugged, which makes them appear “sleepy” and “content.” The other rumours are that the tigers have been brutally beaten and abused to learn to fear their captors.

Think before visiting Tiger Temple in Thailand!
This chained up tiger definitely looks drugged
Here are some facts about this temple that I came across in an article.

1. Tiger cubs at the temple were taken from their mothers, they were not orphans as the monks told us. These cubs were then handed over to the tourist for bottle feeding and non stop molestation. And yes, I did stroke one of these cubs and had my picture taken with it. Something that I am now quite ashamed of doing.

Think before visiting Tiger Temple in Thailand!
Me with a baby tiger cub

2. Cubs are bottle-fed all day long!! As the temple made most of its money from everything cub related. They had a long morning program with up to four afternoon feedings which must have been hell for the cubs.

3. The Tigers  were obviously not getting any exercise at Tiger Temple. These majestic creatures were either in tiny cages or chained down like prisoners to the ground, so that tourists could take photos with them. These things were not just done at certain times as the monks told us, this was a day long occurrence.

4. Even though these animals were raised by humans from birth, they are still instinctively wild. There will always be an inherent danger as they can be unpredictable animals. Every year a tiger mauled an unsuspecting tourist at the temple.

5. These tigers were on the equivalent of an American diet. It is awful to think that they were fed boiled chicken every day. Many were overweight and had underdeveloped muscles. Tiger Temple claimed they couldn’t give the tigers red meat because it was “too expensive.”

6. And lastly, the money tourists “donated” didn’t go to tiger conservation. Tiger Temple was a very shady Tiger Business. The money tourists gave went first and foremost into building their big Vatican-like Buddhist temple. Just because a place was run by a bunch of “monks” didn’t make it holy or reputable.

The Tiger Temple in Thailand was raided in 2015 by the government as allegations surfaced that the Buddhist monks were illegally breeding their tigers and trafficking them across international borders. Not exactly in the spirit of “conservation.” Tiger Temple was later forced to shut down and to hand over their 147 tigers to the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation.

Think before visiting Tiger Temple in Thailand!
I enjoyed walking around the temple grounds and feeding the other animals that were roaming around free!

Did you have the chance to visit Tiger Temple before 2015?

And if so, what are your thoughts on this place?

10 Random facts about Table Mountain

Looming large and welcoming you to Cape Town, whether you are arriving by plane, train, boat or automobile, is the iconic Table Mountain, one of the 7 Wonders of Nature.  Looking at it from below is one thing, but it is quite another to be atop the mountain, from where one is afforded amazing views of Cape Town, Robben Island, the Peninsula and beyond.

 My first visit up the iconic Table Mountain in Cape Town was in January when my family came together in Cape Town For Christmas. January is summer here in South-Africa and we had a lovely clear and sunny day for our mountain outing.

Fact 1: Table Mountain, probably the most photographed landmark in South Africa, is now one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature. I must admit it is difficult to resist photographing this beautiful mountain from every angle in cape Town and its surrounding areas.

Im on top of Table Mountain!!
Im on top of Table Mountain!!

 Fact 2: South Africa’s Table Mountain, is more than just a pile of rock in the bay. It forms part of a protected national park with some remarkable features that make it a great destination for nature-lovers, deserving of more than just a quick cable car ride to see the view from the top. I still have to explore the National Park but will wait for Spring or Autumn when it is not so hot.

Although it was a hot and sunny day we did experience quite a sudden but brief lasting “fog” that moved over the mountain, obstructing our view.

I later learnt that the flat top of the mountain is often covered by orographic clouds, formed when a south-easterly wind is directed up the mountain’s slopes into colder air, where the moisture condenses to form the so-called “table cloth” of cloud. Legend attributes this phenomenon to a smoking contest between the Devil and a local pirate called Van Hunks. When the table cloth is seen, it symbolizes the contest, and this is what we experienced while up there.

Fact 3: The mountain forms part of Table Mountain National Park, which is globally recognised for its biodiversity, and contains truly unique fauna and flora. The park encompasses the Table Mountain chain stretching from Signal Hill in the north to Cape Point in the south and the seas and coastline of the peninsula.

It is primarily an open-access park with only a few points where conservation fees are payable including Cape Point, Boulders (where you’ll see penguins), the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden and Silvermine.

 Fact 4: The Table Mountain Aerial Cableway was the solution to the arduous walk and climb to the top. Since its opening in 1929, more than 22 million people have taken the trip to the top of Table Mountain. The new cableway was upgraded and officially reopened on 4 October 1997. If it wasn’t for this cable car I am sure that my family and I would not have made it to the top of the mountain on this hot and sunny day.

The trip to the top is an outing in itself, as you are safely and gently transported from the lower cable station to the top of the mountain and visa versa. The journey takes a little more than 5 minutes and the high tech rotating cable car offers the best views of the city. This cable car took us over 3500ft above the city, where there is a network of well-marked paths to explore as well as strategically positioned lookout points. I couldn’t wait to explore the mountain and get to take some long awaited photos at each lookout point.

Fact 5: You can walk or climb the mountain, or even abseil down it, depending on your expertise and fitness levels, but be warned. Although the mountain may look tame on any given day, each year it claims lives as people set off under-prepared for a sudden change in weather. Always hike in a group and carry water and warm clothing with you. Better still, hire a guide or ask an experienced hiker to take you along.

Fact 6: At the upper cable station you will find a restaurant and a curio shop as well as a network of footpaths to explore the table top. The main feature of Table Mountain is the level plateau approximately 3 kilometres from side to side, edged by impressive cliffs.

Table Mountain
The top of Table Mountain

Fact 7: The Mountains vegetation consists predominantly of several different types of the unique and rich Cape Fynbos. The main vegetation type is endangered Peninsula Sandstone Fynbos, a fire adapted vegetation, and evidence suggests that in the absence of regular fires all but the drier fynbos would become dominated by trees.

Fact 8: The most common mammal on the mountain is the dassie (the South African name, from Afrikaans, pronounced “dussy”), or rock hyrax. They look so fluffy and cute, I would love to hug one of them.

dassie (the South African name, from Afrikaans, pronounced "dussy"), or rock hyrax
A dassie (the South African name, from Afrikaans, pronounced “dussy”), or rock hyrax

Visitors to Table Mountain can enjoy wonderful views of the Rock Hyrax (Dassie) scuttling along the rocks, lizards sunning themselves, butterflies flitting past and you might even be lucky enough to spot a porcupine digging for bulbs.
The bird life is wonderful too, from the large Verreaux Eagles to the small colourful sunbirds.

View of Cape Town as we drove up the mountain
View of Cape Town as we stood in line to go up the cable car

Fact 9: Do the right thing for the planet – take the bus!  Belive me parking can sometimes be hard to find on busy days, and you can end up more than 1km away. We were so glad that we took the bus up. We actually took the City Sightseeing’s Hop-On Hop-Off Bus, a service that runs every 20 minutes and got to stop at a number of  other tourist attractions on our way back to our hotel. You can also purchase your Cable Car Tickets directly from the City Sightseeing Bus drivers. Saving you from standing an extra hour in a long line to buy a ticket.  

Fact 10:  No visit to Cape Town is complete without visiting this iconic landmark.

10 Things I learned at the District Six Museum

District Six Museum is in the former inner-city residential area, District Six in Cape Town, South Africa.  The Museum was established in December 1994 to remember the forced removals of the people who lived here during the years of apartheid.

Visiting this museum I learnt the following things…

District Six Museum
District Six Museum
  1. This area was named District Six when it became the Sixth Municipal District of Cape Town in 1867. It was originally a mixed community of freed slaves, merchants, artisans, labourers and immigrants. All of these different cultures together made District Six a very vibrant place to live.
District Six Museum
Our history is contained in the homes we live in…..
  1. The South African apartheid government swooped down on District Six in 1966, forcibly removing its occupants and declaring the area a “whites-only” zone. The museum has photos depicting this removal of people and it is quite a shocking scene. As the more prosperous moved away to the suburbs, the area became a neglected ward of the city. The rich fabric of an impoverished, but vibrant community was torn to shreds.
  1. By 1982, after being declared a whites only area, the life of the community was over. More than 60 000 people were forcibly removed to barren outlying areas aptly known as the Cape Flats and all buildings except religious ones were flattened by bulldozers. I can just imagine how emotional it must have been to be made to move and then having to watch your home flattened by bulldozers.
  1. 4. The museum was created as a space for reflection and contemplation. I think it is mainly an institution for challenging the distortions and half-truths which propped up the history of Cape Town and South Africa in the apartheid years. 
  1. 5. The District Six Museum was established as a memorial, in an effort to preserve the memories of District Six, including the forcible relocation of thousands of other people around the country during Apartheid in South Africa.
  1. The floor of the museum is covered with a big map of the district with hand written notes of former inhabitants, which indicate where their houses were once located. I am currently living on what was once Sir Lowry road. I am quite intrigued by the fact that I currently live in what was formerly District 6. It is right in the heart of the city and walking distance from all the main points of interest.
District Six Museum
This is where I now live!!
  1. The 170-year-old museum building in Buitenkant Street was formerly the Methodist Mission Church. It now contains old traffic signs, presentations of moments of history, lives of families and historical declarations by its former inhabitants. The District Six Museum also houses an impressive collection of historical photographs, paintings, books and studies as well as audio-visual recordings of District Six, most which were donated by its former residents.
  1. Furthermore, the museum offers programs for the current inhabitants to develop the district. The museum is dedicated to the construction of houses, environmental planning, and the organization of activities in the field ofmusic,literature, and art, wherein the public has an active involvement.
District Six Museum
Me infront of some hand written notes done by all the former residents of District six
  1. The museum has been designed in such a way that a visitor can wander in off the street and take a self-guided tour, but more importantly a visitor can also make use of the privilege of taking a tour with an ex-resident of District Six. These guides provide historical information and commentary and they will gladly answer all your questions. It is an amazing experience to hear the personal recollections of an ex-resident.
  1. The site has been nominated as a National Heritage Site and is therefore a conservation area of Cape Town and should be treated with sensitivity and respect.

 

 

10 Quick facts about the Cape Town Canal Cruise

The great thing about family visiting is that I get to play tourist in Cape Town, the city I live in now. I usually get to see places that I haven’t had time to visit before. One of these  hidden touristy gems is the Cape Town Canal cruise. This Cruise  definitely allowed me to see the city in a new light and learn more about Cape Town.

  1. The canal cruise is a hop-on, hop-off water taxi that departs from behind the One & Only Cape Town hotel in the Waterfront. Hidden just behind the Two Oceans Aquarium is a whole new world that until now, wasn’t all that easily explored. But City Sightseeing’s new Waterfront to Convention Centre Canal Cruise lets you float away into the lifestyles of the rich and famous as you wind your way along the calm waters sporting any number of luxurious yachts and watercraft.

2. There are three brightly coloured 30-seater boats that cruise down the canal during the day, and you can get on and off at a number stops along the way – behind the One&Only Cape Town; at the City Lodge; at Harbour Bridge; at the Westin Hotel; and at the CTICC.

3. Harbour Cruise tickets cost R40 per person (R35 if you book online) and R20 for kid

4. Total tour takes about 30 – 45 minutes. The experience on the whole is somewhat surreal, taking on the feel of a sedate theme park or museum ride rather than a Canal Cruise through a real marine estate.

5. You get commentary in 15 languages  and there’s a special channel for kids. The on-board commentary kept us entertained as we glided past high-end apartments, some of which are owned by global celebrities. With everyone plugged into the fascinating audio tour, we floated silently through the shallow waters, swept up into the surreal world surrounding us and forgetting about everything else.

6. You get to float down a canal that connects the V&A Waterfront and the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC).

7. You get beautiful views of  Table Mountain as it pops up between foreshore buildings and the more industrial buildings of the working harbour.

8. You get to see other landmarks of Cape Town like  Signal Hill and the unique water-level angle made the sights that much more intriguing.

9. Eventually the quiet boat cruised back towards the One & Only, branching right this time around the luxury hotel chain’s private island.

10. Tickets are valid for the entire day, which means you can hop on and off at your leisure. Take the kids to the Two Oceans Aquarium, stroll through the Waterfront or stop at one of the hotels for a five-star meal.

 

10 Tips for Dining Solo while Travelling

Views from Table Mountain
Me standing on Table Mountain!

Eating alone isn’t so bad. The thought of eating alone is sometimes terrifying especially for solo travelers. What will people think and how can I eat out without someone to talk to or share a bottle of wine with? Throughout my years of travelling I have learnt a couple of different ways to overcome what for many travelers is the most unpleasant aspect of going it alone.

  1. Chat with the service people. Waiters and waitresses are some of the best sources to find out about the local city you are exploring. And it feels good when someone greets you with a smile the next time you go there, it helps make you feel a bit at home in a foreign country.
  2. A lot of guides include a section on the “Singles Scene” in many cities; you might not be out to meet someone special, but this should offer some options for socialing nonetheless.

 3. Cafe and outdoor dining is some of the most attractive places for single travelers. Sitting alone with a book in a cafe isn’t as unusual as a table for one at a fancy restaurant and its a great place to sit and people watch.

4. Choose a counter seat or a seat at the bar. Here you usually end up talking to the barman or to the other single diners who end up sitting at the counter.

5. Go to a restaurant that has booths, which offer more privacy. This way you can have a booth all to yourself where you can hide with a good book and your hot chocolate.

 

6. You might be tempted to live on fast food, just to avoid awkward restaurant situations. Don’t. In fact, fancy establishments are fantastic places to dine alone. Waiters are happy to help solo diners who smile and say, “I made a special trip just to eat here. What do you recommend?”

7. Bring reading materials. If you start to feel uneasy sitting alone and staring down at your food, you can crack open a book, whip out your Kindle or read a magazine. One hint: The more high-minded your pursuit appears, the more likely folks are either to ignore you, or to become intrigued and maybe say hello. If you sit there studying the local city guide you will be surprised how easily other travellers will come up to you and offer some advice.

8. If you don’t want to endure yet another meal alone, use room service. It’s often no more expensive than local restaurants and you can watch a movie while enjoying your dinner.

9. Eat well. Just because you’re alone and on the run doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take time for sit-down meals. Enjoy a leisurely cup of coffee or a decadent dessert in one of the beautiful cafe’s of the city.

10. Seek out an ex-pat bar where you can hang out and speak your native tongue with some fellow expatriates and travelers. Here you will always be able to find a fellow solo traveller to share a meal with.

Do you have any other tips you would like to add?

6 Things to do when visiting Groot Constantia

The moment you enter Groot Constantia wine estate you’ll realise you’re in for a unique experience. This is South Africa’s oldest wine producing estate, established by Simon van der Stel in 1685, and it is a certified national monument.

Groot Constantia
Groot Constantia vineyards
  1. Visit one of two tasting rooms to sample and purchase a selection of Groot Constantia’s award winning wines. Groot Constantia is noted particularly for its production of high-quality red wines, of which I would definitely recommend theMerlot. The whole wine tasting experience is quite informative and not only do you learn about the wines you also learn a lot about the wine farms history.
  1. Take one of the daily guided cellar tours and tastings, and get a behind-the-scenes look at the wine-making process. In 1885 Groot Constantia was purchased by the government of theCape of Good Hopeand was used as an experimental wine and agricultural estate. You get to hear how the vines are grown, the grapes picked all the way to how they make the different kinds of wines.
  1. Explore the vast estate on foot – there are numerous walking paths, and joggers and dog walkers are also welcome to enjoy the surrounds. I didnt have a lot of time to walk around during this visit but will definitely be back to explore these walking paths in the summer.
  1. Dine at one of two celebrated restaurants – Jonkershuis and Simon’s at Groot Constantia. While sitting on the terrace you can enjoy a beautiful panoramic view of the Groot Constantia vineyards. Perfect place for a leisurely lunch.
  1. Take a journey back in time and explore the grand Manor House museum, which houses displays portraying early years on the estate. In the year 1925 the manor house completely burnt down. Fortunately funds could be raised to reconstruct it to its original Cape-Dutch splendour. In 1969 the manor house became part of the South African Cultural History Museum, and in 1993 the estate passed into the ownership of the Groot Constantia Trust. The exhibition in the house is managed by Iziko South African Museum, and is particularly focused on rural slavery and the life of slaves during the early Cape colonial period.
  1. Combine a visit to Groot Constantia with a tour on the hop-on, hop-off City Sightseeing busses. This way you dont have to drive after tasting a couple of different wines and get to look around and enjoy the views as the bus winds along the mountain roads.

Tips on Riding a Motorbike through the Chaotic Streets of Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

Riding a Motorbike through the Streets of Ho Chi Minh
Me on my Yellow motorbike!!
Bikes of Burden from Vietnam
Chaos on the streets of Ho Chi Minh!

Ho Chi Minh City is a world where old and new competes to survive in this dense populated city. It’s a city filled with skyscrapers, ancient temples, motorbikes, people on bicycles and every inch of it covered in tall slim buildings.

The streets are overcrowded with motorbikes, piled with up to 5 people each fighting for way with taxis and even trucks. The streets look like organized chaos with motorbike drivers talking on cell phones, not abiding traffic signals, and not even driving in the same direction as the traffic flow.

Riding a Motorbike through the Streets of Ho Chi Minh
Me driving through the countryside of Vietnam

I dared to brave the streets of Ho Chi Minh City on my bright yellow Honda cup only after about a month of living there. The first couple of weeks just crossing the street felt like a brave life risking thing to do. I have never seen so many people on motorbikes in one place, and they don’t actually stop at the traffic lights. You have a mere 30 second gap in which you have to weave through the motorbikes to the other side before they start moving again.

Riding a Motorbike through the Streets of Ho Chi Minh
Just crossing the road is a dangerous mission!
Riding a Motorbike through the Streets of Ho Chi Minh
My “buttercup”!

I got myself a canary yellow 1969 super cup motorbike. It couldn’t go faster than 60km per hour but in a city as crowded as Ho Chi Minh City you don’t need to go faster. And the up side of this was that when I got into my first accident I wasn’t hurt too bad because I was going at a snails pace. The down side was that my motorbike had no petrol gage so I did get stranded a couple of times without gas. But then you didn’t have to walk far before you saw a brick with a white paper cone in it on a corner. This was where you could quickly buy petrol on the street. The first time this happened and the little Vietnamese dude brought me a bottle of green petrol I thought they were trying to trick me, petrol should be red shouldn’t it? Well in Vietnam you get dirty unrefined green petrol, the cause of all the black fumes in the city.

Riding a Motorbike through the Streets of Ho Chi Minh
I just love my yellow bike!!
Bikes of Burden from Vietnam
Riding a Motorbike through the Streets of Ho Chi Minh

I quickly learnt to never leave the house without my little fog mask…looks like a dentist mask but it helps you from chocking on all the fumes you will be inhaling while driving.

Riding a Motorbike through the Streets of Ho Chi Minh
The streets of Ho Chi Minh City

If you do rent a bike in Saigon, and if you’ve never ridden one I don’t recommend to learn here, remember a few tips here;
1. Traffic will come from all directions, no matter what side of the street you’re on
2. Red lights don’t always mean stop here, so keep you eyes peeled when you go through a green one and don’t try going through an orange one
3. Large trucks often don’t have brakes or don’t use them.
4. Watch out for the boy racer coming towards you, he will likely swerve all over the place to impress mates or the poor girlfriend on the back.
5. Be careful when driving along side busses, especially mini busses, as Vietnamese are notoriously car sick and a face full of vomit is not pleasant
6. I advise wearing a helmet everywhere especially on the Highways
7. As a foreigner in an accident it is more than likely, no matter what happened, you would be in the wrong. If it’s not your fault get the hell out of there as quickly as you can. If you do stop make sure you remove your keys and put them in your pocket.
8. Puddles in the road often hide very deep holes, don’t drive through them, it is not a very enjoyable experience.

Safe driving

Riding a Motorbike through the Streets of Ho Chi Minh
Riding a Motorbike through the Streets of Ho Chi Minh

If you are not renting a motorbike there are a couple of other transport options available, namely, taxis, “xe om” (motorbike taxi) and “cyclos” (bicycle taxi) otherwise known as a rickshaw. Xe means motorbike and Om is cuddle, cuddle bike because you have to hold on for dear life, also check for BO before you get on.

Riding a Motorbike through the Streets of Ho Chi Minh
On the back of a xe om!
Bikes of Burden from Vietnam
Bikes of Burden from Vietnam

General advice on these guys: on the whole they are reliable and safe, I always look for the oldest bike mainly because with a foreigner on the back they can’t go fast. Otherwise they go as fast as they possibly can and you end up holding on for dear life in the hectically busy streets. Late at night is not a good time to use them, especially around Phan Ngu Lao, there are lots of reports of dodgy dealings so either use one you know (used before) or get a taxi.

Taxis services have dramatically improved in the last few years with some professional companies opening up such as Mei Linh and Vinataxi. But still there are a few rouges out there so here are some tips: You don’t need to bargain for a taxi, if the driver tries, get another taxi. The most common trick is for them not to start the meter, if he refuses get out and get another.

Someday cars will overtake the streets in Ho Chi Minh City, but for now, motorbikes rule, and cyclos(tricycle rickshaws) co-exist. The bicycle-like contraptions that are a quick mode of transportation for both tourists and locals are almost a national symbol. They cover the streets, they cover postcards, and they employ about 60,000 people.

Motorbikes in Vietnam
Motorbikes in Vietnam

Enjoy your travels around Ho Chi Minh City.

Throwback Thursday, is a weekly reminiscent movement where you re-post past events or photos. They can be from years ago or from just a few days ago. Its a great way to look back fondly on some of your favorite memories…… 

Practical Travel safety tips for Women traveling alone

Every year, thousands of women, young and old, travel to on their own and come home safe and sound. You can, too, by using the same good judgment you use at home. Begin with caution and figure out as you travel what feels right to you. Create conditions that are likely to turn out in your favor, and you’ll have a safer, smoother, more enjoyable trip.

Here are some tips for safe and pleasant travels that I have picked up through the years:

  1. Use street smarts.  Be sel