Broome: The undiscovered pearl of Australia

About Broome

Broome, located in the north of Western Australia has a population of 17,500, which doubles during the winter months of June and July. The word winter can be used lightly as it means it is not as hot and humid as the tropical summer months of December and January, meaning that it is ideal for travellers, with average highs of 32 degrees.

Until 20 years ago there was no tourism industry in Broome, having only been developed after the first hotel was built a couple of decades ago. Broome was once known for its pearls and oysters, and its industry is still based on that, but tourism is now growing as is the presence of the Oil & Gas companies. Hopefully these two latter developments will not jeopardise the town’s authenticity and beauty.

The Asian Communities

During Broome’s pearl industry boom the town was once home to a large Japanese and Chinese community, who worked there as oyster divers and workers. Though the industry has declined in recent years the Asian communities’ imprint on the town is still visible. For such a small town, there is a large Chinatown. Asian architecture dots the town such as bus stops, painted in red and with the design of a Pagoda. And the high school has painted their version of Hokusai’s ‘Great Wave of Kanagawa’ on the playground wall.

Several streets have Asian names, such as Sam Su Lane, and there is even a Sayonara Road; the latter of which is quite melancholic since ‘sayonara’ is Japanese for goodbye. Broome has a large Japanese and Chinese cemetery, as it was dangerous work being an oyster diver. Roughly one in four divers died due to their heavy metal uniforms or were swept away by strong currents.

Tides

The town’s beautiful azure waters and endless beaches of sand are misleading since the waters are tidal. Within a space of a few hours, sea level can rise dramatically. Twice annually the town experiences a king tide, where waters exceed 10 metres and cover not only beaches but also tall rocks and small hills along the beach. Many people park their cars on the beach and go fishing only to return to find the wide expanse of sand submerged in water and their cars taken away by currents.


Camels and Crocodiles

Camels are not indigenous to Australia. They were transported there to work since they were accustomed to the desert. When they were not needed they were released into the desert but being accustomed to it they thrived and multiplied. In Broome camels were used to transport pearls and oyster shells from the farms to the market. Today the camels are no longer beasts of burden but are used to carry tourists on a sunset journey stroll across Cable Beach. Crocodiles are also common in the area to the point that beaches are shut down if one is sighted. Oh… and don’t forget the jellyfish too…

Sunsets

Some say the sunset in Broome is the most beautiful in the world, rivalling that of Santorini. Visit both and then decide, but it cannot be denied that the Western Australian sunsets as seen from Broome are spectacular. The best place to see the sunset is with a cocktail from the Sunset Bar & Grill on Cable Beach.


What to see and do in Broome

Make sure you check out the Saturday market on the park next to the courthouse. Stroll through Chinatown. Try mango beer. If pearls exceed your budget then a large oyster shell is a great souvenir (roughly AU$20 or EUR12). Oyster shells are exotic, light and flat so easily fit in your luggage.

Sun Pictures is an outdoors cinema established over 100 years ago.  Not to be missed is a pearl farm, approximately 30km north of Broome and a bird sanctuary with various nature trails roughly 30km south of Broome. Hey, Australia is a large country, so 30km is nothing!



If you want to take any trips further afield then the best sites are north of Broome along the Dampier Peninsula.

The Coral Church (Distance from Broome: 118km)

Located at Beagle Bay, the Coral Church is referred to as a piece of Germany in the Australian outback. It was established in 1918, exactly 100 years ago by German Lutherans. When World War I broke out in 1914, all Germans in the area were interned at Beagle Bay and so they decided to build a Church that would withstand the elements since the previous wooden ones were razed or destroyed by cyclones, fires and even white ants!

Modelled on a Church in Germany, once The Sacred Heart was completed, Aboriginal women decorated the interior with mother of pearl, olive snail shells and other natural elements. The Church is a marriage of German and Aboriginal architectural fusing Christian symbols with Aboriginal ones such as dingos, emus, spears and snakes.

Kooljaman (Distance from Broome: 188km)

The western side of Kooljaman, also known as Cape Leveque, is a beach of soft red-rock that creates what seems to be a red mountain of beautiful, pointed formations. Though it is interesting to the visitor it is also a place of historical and cultural importance to the Bardi people, so parts of it, quite rightly are off-limits, but can be enjoyed by walking along the white sands of the beach.

Horizontal Falls

Accessible only after a 189km car ride from Broome to One Arm Point and then a 30-minute flight by sea plane, the Horizontal Falls have been described by David Attenborough as one of the greatest wonders of the natural world. Boatloads of tourists speed through it, as long as the gaps between the falls are not too deep, and from there, the waters lead into the inland sea of Talbot Bay.

Discover Utah of United States

Hey guys, I am finally back with new places and spaces for you to discover.

While recently visiting a friend in Los Angeles I wanted to do something different. My friend and I deciding to go somewhere off the beaten track hopped on a plane and headed to Utah to see what the state had to offer. Here were our highlights...

Salt Lake City

The capital and economic centre of Utah, Salt Lake City is one of the most intriguing cities in the US. Located in the middle of a vast desert that is hot in summer and cold in the winter, with few natural elements to curb the biting wind, it is a city of extremes both in climate and culture.

Salt Lake city is home to the Latter Day Saints, LDS for short and formerly known as Mormons, as well as entrepreneurs and professionals who are moving to more affordable American cities with more opportunities. Salt Lake City has thriving Latin and Asian communities and welcomes visitors from around the US who come to their state to ski in towns like Park City.

The wide avenues of Salt Lake City - so wide you can fit two smaller streets within them - were flanked by expensive car dealership and tattoo parlours. Utah State Capitol on a hill overlooking the city, the church on Temple Square, the grand hotels and vast government buildings of glass reminded me of Washington DC. I had the impression that Salt Lake City wanted to be considered a capital city of sorts.


Temple Square

The centre of the faith of the Latter Day Saints, Temple Square is in downtown Salt Lake City. It is a pristine and beautiful area where tours of are given on the hour by members of the Church or LDS. We were taken through the grounds of the square, visiting the Tabernacle with its vast organ and seeing the Assembly Hall. The one place we could not visit was the Temple with its 177 rooms. To enter it even members of the Church of LDS need a recommendation from their bishop that is valid for two years.


West Wendover, the Salt Flats and the Great Salt Lake

We drove the hour and a half each way to see the salt flat. When we got there we discovered that the salt flats were covered in water due to recent rain. Even though we could not walk on them, the views and reflections of the mountains were spectacular. It was a typical American scene: vast, seemingly endless flatlands that surrounded us in every direction.

The salt flats are located at the very edge of Utah and so we drove 10 minutes to West Wendover in the neighbouring state of Nevada. It felt like a frontier town and was filled with casinos, which are illegal in Utah. We stopped at the obligatory landmarks of Wendover Will, a huge statue of a cowboy that is lit up by neon lights at night and the border demarcating the states of Utah and Nevada.

We drove back to Salt Lake City along the Great Salt Lake, taking in the mountains as dusk fell. We made one wrong turn and ended up on a mountain peak and discovered it to be full of horses grazing. They were friendly and approached us, thinking we were there to feed them.


Ogden

An hour’s drive north of Salt Lake City, along the Great Salt Lake, is Ogden which is perhaps Utah’s hipster city. It’s main street, called 25th Street, leads to the city’s train station and the museums within and around it. 25th Street is filled with quirky cafes, restaurants and shops. One particular shop sold just socks which seemed bizarre to me until I realised that out-of-towners come to Ogden to ski and need warm socks. It was so cold in fact, that even I stocked up on warm socks. We found ate beignets (fried dough, powdered sugar, with blueberry lavender jam) at ‘A Pig and a Jelly Jar’ and browsed through the bookshop ‘Booked on 25th’.


Park City

The vibe of Park City is completely different from Salt Lake City which feels more religious and business-like, and Odgen which is very hipster. Park City is a home away from home for the trendy, out-of-towners, who fly in for long weekends of skiing. Just over a 30-minute drive east of Salt Lake City, Park City hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics and the large chalets and state-of-the-art pistes prove that there is world-level ski culture there.

Even though it was mid-March, in Park City it felt like it was mid-December. It was bright and sunny and snowed over, perfect for skiing or drinking champagne or mulled wine outdoors with friends in trendy restaurants… that is if people weren’t skiing.

The branding for Park City was everywhere; on t-shirts and bumper stickers, on mugs and on posters. Walking around town, we weaved our way through coffee shops, art galleries, posh souvenir shops and restaurant where east coast Americans came to party at 3pm on a Friday afternoon with long lunches before hitting the slopes.

All about Jordan: Part II

DISCOVER ALL ABOUT JORDAN: PART I

Wadi Rum Desert

Jordan has nine nature reserves and one protected area, Wadi Rum. The latter is a beautiful desert inhabited since prehistoric times and the Bedouin heartland where a few hundred still live a semi-nomadic life. Wadi Rum may be best known for its connection to T. E. Lawrence, most widely known as Lawrence of Arabia, who passed through several times during the Arab Revolt. The quite impressive “alien” landscape of Wadi Rum has served as the backdrop for various films such as “The Martian”, “Prometheus” and of course 1960’s classic “Lawrence of Arabia”. The spectacular Wadi Rum will blow your mind since it’s essentially untouched by humans, with monolithic rockscapes rising up from the desert floor to the sky, long canyons, 4000-year-old rock-drawings and of course sand dunes and camel caravans. The best bit is that Wadi Rum is far less crowded than Petra, which makes it a truly peaceful escape and a good chance to get in touch with nature and get as close as possible to traditional Bedouin life as you can.

There are quite a few options for exploring Wadi Rum. Visitors can book the preferred activities at the Visitors Centre, book everything in advance directly with the various Bedouin camps (online) or alternatively through a tour operator. In all three options you will be able to hire a 4x4 vehicle (or a camel), together with a driver/guide to explore the desert’s most famous sites and/or stay in one of the Bedouin camps. If you choose to stay in one of the camps you have the choice of sleeping in a tent, a little hut or simply in a sleeping bag under the stars. The choice is yours and there is a camp for every budget. Your Bedouin hosts will take care of everything for you, including a traditional homemade meal. The local dish usually served is “Zarb”, a Bedouin barbeque feast that is cooked underground for many hours and is enjoyed around the camp fire together with your friendly hosts.

There are several attractions in Wadi Rum to be visited and your tour can take from some hours to a full day. The most popular ones are the Umm Fruth Rock Bridge (one of the many natural rock bridges of the area), Makharas Canyon, the Seven Pillars of Wisdom (a large rock formation named in honour of the Lawrence of Arabia book) and the nearby Alameleh Inscriptions, Siq Umm Tawaqi (a canyon where the locals have carved the faces of Lawrence and two other important figures of the Arab Revolt), the remains of Lawrence House, Lawrence Spring, Barrah Canyon, the Mushroom rock and Al Hasany Dunes.

Dead Sea

This place should go on top of your list of places you need to see before you die because as scientists predicted, the rapidly shrinking Dead Sea will disappear by 2050. At the lowest point on earth - 430m below sea level - the Dead Sea is a landlocked body of water 10 times saltier than the ocean and the therapeutic benefits of its water and dark mud have been exploited and attracted visitors since antiquity. Actually, researchers have discovered that the Dead Sea can help treat an array of illnesses ranging from arthritis and chronic back pain to psoriasis and even heart problems.

The best and safest way to engage with the healing properties of its warm waters is by visiting Amman Beach, a public beach with umbrellas, showers, a restaurant and drink stalls, or by booking a night stay in one of the various hotel resorts lined along the northeast coast. All resorts have their own private section of the beachfront, high quality spa and fitness facilities and some offer day access to non-guests. Another option is “Oh Beach”, a private beach that roughly has the same facilities as Amman Beach in addition to some spa facilities.

When you finally head to the beach just remember that it is practically impossible to swim so don’t try it, just let yourself float. Make sure you do so with your face up and keep your head out of the water. You shouldn’t stay in the water for more than 15 minutes. When you get out spread mud over you and just let it dry. When the mud gets completely dry get in the water again for another 10 minutes. Lastly, rinse off with fresh water in the showers. You will feel your skin clean and shiny right away.

More Tips for your journey…

Purchase the “Jordan Pass”, it contains the Visa for entering the country and prepaid entry to over 40 attractions including Petra, Wadi Rum and Amman Citadel. There are 3 different packages 70JD, 75JD and 80JD depending on the number of days you want to enter Petra. You can easily purchase it online (www.jordanpass.jo) beforehand.

“Petra by Night” is on every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. A licensed guide will take you from Petra Visitor Centre at 20:30 to the Treasury for the show and bring you back at around 22.30. The fee is 17JD, and tickets can be bought at the Visitor Centre, the local tour agencies in Petra or at your hotel reception. Only a limited number of visitors can enter per day.

 

Public transport is limited so if you want to go around the country is best to rent a car. There are many rental companies both international and local and you can pick up the car straight away from the airport door. Driving is on the right and in general it is quite easy to drive in Jordan, with the exception of hectic Amman.

At the Dead Sea it’s best if you wear either an old or a black swimsuit because the dark mud will stain some light-coloured fabrics. Hotel resorts are located along the Dead Sea Highway and eating options outside the hotels are scarce.

DISCOVER ALL ABOUT JORDAN: PART I

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All about Jordan: Part I

I closed my eyes and for a few moments it was as if I was back in the desert sipping tea with the Bedouins. Now that I’m back home I’m so glad I bought that pack of herbal tea from the Bedouin stand in Wadi Rum.

I always wanted to visit Jordan, ever since I watched “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” as a child. Little did I know back then that Petra was not just a single impressive monument and Jordan was not only the mysterious Petra? The peaceful Middle Eastern kingdom of Jordan is blessed with numerous natural and historical wonders and while it’s quite impossible to visit them all in one go, here’s my guide to the country’s top attractions and experiences you shouldn’t miss.

Amman

The capital of Jordan, is first of all a city of juxtapositions – a blend of old and new, with a fascinating history going back thousands of years. The key sights of the city are mostly down town and you can explore them on foot. The Citadel, sits on the highest hill of the city and it includes important attractions such as the Temple of Hercules, Umayyad Palace, a Byzantine Basilica and of course some amazing views of the surrounding city. At the foothill of the Citadel lies the striking Roman Theatre, with a seating capacity of 6000. In the same complex, the Forum, the Odeon as well as the small Folklore museum are also worth visiting, while the large Hashemite Plaza in front of the theatre usually hosts events and activities.

The brand-new Jordan Museum, located in Ras Al-Ein district, shelters some amazing archaeological findings such as the 'Ain Ghazal Statues, which are considered to be the oldest human statues ever made dating back to 7000 BC. The city’s Souks (markets) are gathered in the streets around Al Husseiny Mosque and it is where you’ll get instantly captivated by the vivid colours of fresh fruits, the exotic scents of ground spices and also where you want to buy a pack of local cardamom-spiced coffee. Fan of sweets or not, in the Souqs you need to try “Kunafeh”, a pastry with warm cheese drenched in syrup and sprinkled with pistachios and “Hareeseh”, another type of sweet which is semolina-based drizzled with syrup and decorated with nuts.

The nearby grandiose Al Malek Faisal St. is a large avenue with shops, restaurants and coffee shops scattered along it. Rainbow Street, a bit further up, is another popular area where locals usually go during the evening for cafe-hopping. The most pleasant discovery of this street is Sufra, a bougainvillea-covered restaurant in a beautifully restored stone villa with a big backyard offering amazing views over the city of Amman. Needless to say, the food is delicious. Try, “Mansaf”, the country’s national dish, a meal made of lamb cooked in a sauce of fermented dried yogurt and served with rice and garnished with roasted almonds. While in Amman you can’t miss visiting the modern part of the city in the Abdali district. Called the New Downtown of Amman, the area is reshaped through a billion-worth mega project aiming to create a regional business and tourism hub. The Boulevard, is the area’s 370-meter-long outdoor pedestrian spine, which is lined with retail shops, cafes and restaurants and topped with luxurious apartments and office spaces.

Petra

The rose-red capital city of the Nabateans - originally known as Raqmu - is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and although tons have been written about this truly spectacular place, nothing really prepares you for it. Get yourself a bottle of water, sunscreen, comfy shoes and a hat because you’ll need a full day to discover at least the most important spots of this UNESCO World Heritage site. The first main thing you’ll get in touch with after Petra’s visitors centre is the Siq, an impressive natural rock canal that leads to the ancient city.

The 1.2 km long Siq ends at Petra's most elaborate and popular ruin, The Treasury, called Al Khazna by the locals. The outer Siq, right after the Treasury, has tombs scattered around it, Bedouin souvenir shops as well as the road to the High place of sacrifice which gives an eagle’s eye view of Petra. Following the outer Siq you will find the large Roman Theatre. Get a glimpse of the nearby Street of Facades and its carved tombs and then climb the stairs to Urn Tomb and Silk Tomb.

Downhill from the Theatre the Colonnaded Street starts and along its sides other important sites of Petra are located, such as the Great Temple, Petra Church, the Royal Palace, the Temenos Gateway and finally the Qasr Al Bint temple a bit further. One of Petra’s grandest monuments in both size and beauty but one less visited by tourists is The Monastery. It’s accessible via an 850 steps-trail up the hills, but is totally worth the effort as it offers stunning views along the way and a tea-shop right across it where you can take a break and enjoy the monument’s photogenic grand facade. If you still have some strength left, complete your experience with the “Petra by Night” show. Three times a week Petra opens up for about 2 hours during the night for a show put on by the local Bedouins. For around €20 you’ll be able to walk through a candle-lit Siq and enjoy a cup of tea along with a musical performance right in front of the Treasury which is lit by the glow of hundreds of candles.

Aqaba - Red Sea

Apart from being conveniently located near the country’s major tourist attractions - Petra and Wadi Rum - the one and only seaside town of Jordan is first and foremost, a world-class snorkelling and diving centre. There are thirty main diving sites in town, the majority of which are suitable for all level divers. Colourful fishes and gorgeous coral reefs are not the only things you’ll get to see underwater. Shipwrecks such as the SS Thistlegorm (World War II steamship), tugboats, cargo ships, tankers and even an aircraft are only a few of the surprises you’ll be able to spot in the warm waters of the Red Sea. Moreover, bear in mind that the water is about 35% saltier than other seas, something that is believed to improve blood circulation.

Undoubtedly the most striking of the town’s attractions is The Great Arab Revolt Plaza, which you can easily distinguish from miles away due to the huge flagpole that’s placed in the centre. Standing high at 130m, the Aqaba Flagpole is one of the tallest unsupported flagpoles in the world and it proudly bears the Great Arab Revolt flag. Aqaba was the first city the Arabs regained from the Ottomans during the Arab Revolt (1916-1918). The flagpole is not the only important thing in the square as the house of Al Hussein Bin Ali, leader of the Revolt, is also open to visitors. Other important sites in the city are the nearby 16th century Aqaba Fort, the beautiful white mosque of Masjid Al Hussein Bin Ali which bears the largest dome among Jordan’s’ mosques and the ancient Church of Ayla, which archaeologist believe is the oldest purpose-built church in the world. Aqaba has various beaches to choose from.

The Public beach (Al-Ghandour Beach) lies between the marina and the Arab Revolt Plaza and is the best way to engage with local life while the South Beach stretching between the harbour and the city border is ideal for snorkelling and diving as most of the diving centres are located there. The town is filled with restaurants of all kinds, those offering international cuisine are mostly gathered close to the marina and the ones with local delicacies are found close to the Arab Revolt Plaza. While you are in Aqaba you must try the local dish “Sayadieh”, a delicately spiced fish served with rice or potatoes and a tahini sauce.

DISCOVER ALL ABOUT WADI RUM DESERT, THE DEAD SEA AND THE BEST TIPS FOR YOUR JOURNEY: PART II

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Best of Bali


Bali and the Balinese

Upon exiting the airport the first thing I heard was the Muslim Call to Prayer. It was Ramadan and the Mosque near the Bali’s principle airport was calling out to all devout Muslims. Though Indonesia is predominantly Muslim, (and is the world’s most populous Muslim country), Bali is different, with only 10% of Bali being Muslim and the 90% being Hindu.

The island is dotted with Hindu Temples and small shrines along the road. I am not exaggerating by writing that there are Temples everywhere: next to garages, on the roof of people’s homes, squashed between souvenir shops and hotels or taking up blocks and blocks of the city.

For such a small space there are different vibes to Bali. Denpasar is the hustling and bustling capital city. Kuta is a party town. Ubud is the cultural capital and the north of the island feels more remote with mountainous and lakes… and Temples!

Denpasar Museum

Denpasar is the capital of Bali. Most tourists choose to bypass the city for the hotel resorts, the parties of Kuta or the culture or Ubud. But not to be missed is the Denpasar Museum; a gem of a building located in the centre of the city.

There, you can learn about the kingdoms of Bali and the island’s culture and heritage. There is a stunning room of gold and bright light that displayed the various Balinese traditional dresses. By making our way through the courtyards we could not help but take a few snaps of a newlywed couple; the bride’s train seemingly taking up a large part of the garden.

Religion

As mentioned, Bali is overwhelmingly Hindu with Temples dotted everywhere. Stopping near one Temple was an exhibition; mostly for tourists it seemed; where for a dollar, we could see a pantheon on Hindu gods. Some were truly terrifying, while others were warrior gods fighting demons. I found myself asking ‘is he good or bad?’ to which the guide indulged my questions.

The Monkey Forest

True story: While we were in the Monkey Forest, a monkey jumped on my partner’s backpack. A small crowd had gathered, watching as a tall Norwegian tolerated a monkey hanging onto his bag. The monkey took the bottle of water and drank it. As we oohed and aahed the cute monkey then opened the front zip of the backpack, reach inside and take the hand-sanitizer. It then proceeded to bite into it.

‘But it is full of chemicals’ I said becoming concerned that the monkey might be harmed. I picked up the empty water bottle and tried to goad the monkey into trading it over for the water bottle. The monkey hissed at me, which roused the attention of a larger monkey that ran up to me and confronted me by baring its teeth.

Afraid, I walked away briskly only for them to chase me. I broke into a run and so did they.

‘Stop. No! Stop!’ I said, actually speaking to the monkeys. They hissed at me, ready to pounce. I ran away as tourists watched. Eventually they stopped chasing me.

‘You did everything you shouldn’t have done’ my partner said. ‘You pointed at the monkey. You looked it in the eyes and you ran away. Plus you shouted at it! Big mistake.’

‘You’re right. I shouldn’t have shouted. It probably does not understand English.’

Uluwatu Temple

‘Pura’ means Temple. ‘Ulu’ means edge and ‘Watu’ means rock or cliff, so Pura Uluwatu literally means the Temple at the Edge of the Cliff. The complex of Uluwatu, located on the southern tip of the island, has a number of Temples, clusters of copses and balconies that overlook the Indian Ocean. Like the Monkey Forest there are monkeys there too, which have a tendency to snatch people’s water bottles and trendy sunglasses. It is one of the major points of interests in Bali and not to be missed.

Must see:

The Rice Paddies: if you’re driving in the countryside stop when you see them, although they keep getting better and more beautiful.


Tanah Lot: a Temple by the sea. The rock, on which the Temple is built, has been eroded by the sea leading it to become an arch.


Ulun Danu Beratan Temple: located on a lake in the mountainous north of the island.

Note to Travellers

Bali is a stunning and unique place. You will find so much in such a small space and there is something that appeals to everyone; adventure tours, Temples, cultures, parties and international and local cuisine. But since there is something for everyone, everyone wants to visit Bali.

In addition to the 2.5 million Balinese on the island there are lots of tourists such as; partying Australians, French backpackers, Brits on a gap year, yoga enthusiasts always in their yoga pants, Indian families on a cultural tour, Chinese tourists getting on and off buses with their selfie-sticks, and I even spotted a party of beautiful Korean models and soap-stars who made too way much noise chatting and shouting at lunch.

Therefore since everything is so close and since everyone is there, there is traffic. Be organised with your time and plan ahead, starting early will not only allow you to avoid the crowds but see and do much more.

In Barcelona with El_Isleño

Architect and model Valandis Kallis can’t get enough of Barcelona. The spicy Greek Cypriot lad is 'falling in love' with travelling every summer, and here he reveals his favorite places from Barcelona; go-to beach, clubbing, site seeing and more.

His favourite area to stay is the Eixample of Barcelona. "Grab a coffee, a fresh bocadillo and press play on your ipod. Enjoy a long walk starting from Rambia de Catalunya, skipping the croud of Las Ramblas and get lost in the old streets of Raval" he noted.

Valandi's favourite destination is always the sea, and in Barcelona he had the opportunity to walk across the coastline and feel the vibe of the beach life.  "Final stop of my long walk was the W hotel where I stopped at the beach next to it. After that the steps are simple. Shoes off,  walk on the gold sand and relax by enjoying a glass of cold tasty sangria." 

El Isleño ( his Vlog name and Instagram ) has recently started vlogging and we can't stop watching his latest video from his trip in Barcelona.


A week in North Vietnam : Part II - Sa Pả

Part 2: Sa Pả

Words by George Tsangaris

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After a day of walking through the streets of Hanoi we boarded the night train for Sa Pả. The train would take us from the capital to Lào Cai, a town on the Vietnamese-Chinese border and from there it would be a 30km bus drive to Sa Pả. 

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The train wagons, divided into cabins, had flowery curtains that were tidily bunched at the sides and a small light topped with a pleated lampshade. Though it was April some of the cabin windows had Christmas decorations on them or a Santa Claus sprayed on in fake snow. We could see people settling into their cabin, either with a book, snuggling up in the fluffy duvet or uncorking a bottle of wine to enjoy during their journey. 

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On our first day in Sa Pả we joined a tour group for a visit to a traditional H’Mong village. There are around nine million H’Mong people worldwide of which roughly one million live in Vietnam and are considered are a minority group. We followed our guide, Nhu (pronounced ‘new’) as we strolled through the village, greeting people and waving at the young kids who giggled when they said hello. We strolled by the local kindergarten where the kids were playing on the climbing frames and walked by fences made of bamboo with cobwebs so thick they looked like cotton wool. Pigs lay in the mud sleeping, the little ones nuzzling against each other. Roosters hopped from tin roof to tin roof. 

Eventually we found ourselves in the far end of the village in front of someone’s garden. 
‘Come in please’ said Nhu. We followed her into a courtyard and were then stepping into a family’s home.
‘Is this allowed?’ I asked Nhu.
‘Yes. Of course. This is part of your tour’ she laughed as if going into someone’s house was completely normal. The house was made of planks of wood nailed together. Gaps between the wooden beams allowed rays of light to shine through and small holes made sunlight looked like twinkling stars. The ground was flattened earth, which had been made hard by the countless footsteps. The kitchen was an area with a lit fire, the red fire gently glowing, and next to that was a small room next which belonged to the grandparents. A mezzanine of wood above the kitchen was the sleeping area of the parents while the children slept in the middle of the house where we were standing.
We spoke to the grandmother who held her grandson, a toddler, lovingly. Being uncomfortable with people in his home he began to tear up. By western standards the home was poor but it did not feel that way. There was an elegance and deep sense of pride emitted by the grandmother and newly-weds whose house we were in.

Sa Pả Gardens

Sa Pả Gardens

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The following morning we walked through Sa Pả. Strolling through a street selling tourist knick-knacks and souvenirs we discovered a park. Not knowing where we were or where we were going, we paid, entered and walked around aimlessly passing a garden with rows of small fluorescent plants and trees of large mossy leaves. On one unused pond sat a statue of a large frog.

There were willow-y trees, its rope-like branches swaying in the breeze just above wooden stools. The whole place had an eerie feel and the fog only made it seem more atmospheric. 
We made our way through the park to discover a number of oddities. There was a statue of a snake wearing a red cowboy hat, a two-metre statue of Tom from ‘Tom and Jerry’ and my personal favourite, a statue of a dragon that was reclining on an island in waterless pond, which was easily over four metres in length. It was kitsch to the core and I could not help but love the place. 


We walked through the park, amid mossy rocks and small crevices to reach the summit, which had stunning views of Sa Pả. The weather was temperamental so the lush green hills that were covered in sunshine were shrouded in mist in the space of 15 minutes. After leaving we discovered that the park is called Ham Rong Mountain, meaning Dragon Jaw, and within Sa Pả town was the best thing we experienced.

Sa Pả village

Sa Pả village

The following day we had a walking tour of the village of Cat Cat and Sa Pả’s rice paddies. Our guide Chi explained that the word for Cat Cat came from cascade, the French word for waterfall, which was village’s main focal point. Along the river were bamboo walkways and windmills made of corn. 

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We walked along a wide road flanked by large bamboo trees growing to the height of a five-storey building. As the road narrowed we found ourselves walking amid the rice paddies, climbing over the dried earth and jumping from rock to rock. It was the beginning April and the soil had not yet been prepared for planting meaning we were not destroying any crops. 

We stopped for a moment to take in the view only to be disturbed by an odd squelching sound. It sounded like someone walking slowly in mud. Up ahead we spotted four water buffaloes grazing.


‘Water buffaloes are intelligent animals’ Chị explained.  ‘They understand instruction and recognise your voice.’
We watched them graze but avoided them. 
One Australian man on the tour, who sensed our hesitation, told us that ‘water buffaloes have always been around humans, I doubt they would pay any attention to you.’ 
He made a fair point. They did ignore us as they masticated calmly on the plants and placidly plodded through the mud. Still, we kept our distance. 

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As we neared the end of our tour we were suddenly surrounded by small children, some as little of five or six, who were making their way home from school, having walked an hour each way. Next to our bus some boys were climbing up the side of the mountain. It was as steep as it was beautiful. An old lady walked up the hill carrying a basket on her back. She wore colourful clothes and light green boots that protected her feet from the mud. One girl rushed to us selling us woven bracelets of H’Mong patterns. We all bought one. How could we not? 

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Once aboard the bus, we slowly made our way back to Sa Pả; the bus weaving through the curves and rattling along the road. It was effortlessly overtaken by a young lady on a motorbike. She wore a helmet and her red dress fluttered in the wind as she zoomed by. She waved at us through her helmet and smiled. To me she was a symbol of Vietnamese resilience and hospitality and was, without a doubt, the coolest lady in Vietnam.

 

Find out everything about HANOI inside Part I