A Travellerspoint blog

Brasov, Romania

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We left Sighișoara and did another detour on our way to Brașov, visiting Viscri. Viscri is home to the Viscri fortified church which is set right in the heart of Romania's scenic countryside with rolling hills. From there we drove to Brașov, a city of 275,000 people that is surrounded by the Carpathian Mountains and is part of the historical region of Transylvania.

Brasov is one of the most visited places in Romania with some impressive gothic, baroque and renaissance architecture, as well as a number of significant historic attractions.

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Be sure to check out:

  • The Council Square: Located in the heart of old medieval Brasov and lined with beautiful red-roofed merchant houses, it's a great way to soak up the scenery.
  • The Black Church: Towering over other buildings, the Black Church is the largest Gothic church in Romania.
  • Watchtowers: The 15th century White and Black Towers form part of the city's historic fortifications.
  • Prima Școală Românească: Romania's oldest school, filled with interesting artefacts.
  • Biserica Sfântul Nicolae: A fine Romanian Orthodox church.
  • Șchei Gate & Poarta Ecaterinei: Historics gates that date back to 1559.
  • Muzeul de Artă: An impressive art museum.

There's also some great food throughout the town and loads of options in the historic centre. Make sure you try their delicious Iahnie cu ciolan, which combines beans with a large chunk of a smoked pork hock and Papanași which is a dessert made from fried dough and sweet cheese, with fruit jam and sour cream. Delicious!

A trip to this part of the world would not be complete without a visit to Bran Castle or Dracula's Castle (created by Bram Stoker). It's a national monument and landmark in Romania, located high above a valley perched on a rock. It's a wonderful sight set amongst mountains and a flowing river.

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Sibiu - Medias - Sighișoara, Romania

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A great way to explore Romania is to get yourself a car and explore the countryside at your own leisure. There are some fascinating towns, with fantastic medieval buildings, stone churches and imposing monasteries. And as you travel from town to town, you'll see a wide variety of landscapes including flat planes, rolling hills and rocky mountains.

We decided to do a loop from Bucharest, north west to Sibiu, on to Medias, then east to Sighișoara, followed by Brașov and back into Bucharest.

On the way to Sibiu, you pass through the Carpathian Mountains which are stunning. En-route, we Cozia and Turnu Monasteries, as well as Arutela, a fort from AD138!

Sibiu

A vibrant town with flair, grand architecture, a wonderful old town and one of Romania's true cultrual centres. We stayed at Casa Eva, right next to the historic centre. Be sure to check out:

  • The Bridge of Lies & The Small Square
  • Pharmaceutical History Museum
  • Lutheran Cathedral of Saint Mary - and climb to the top.
  • Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church
  • The Lower Town - an enjoy the interesting 'eye's' looking at you in buildings roofs!
  • The 3 towers at the southern end of the old town.

It's a great place to just wander around and get lost in.

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Medias

Medias is a smaller town of around 45,000 people, and is known to be one of the oldest in Transylvania. It has a medieval feel with winding streets, centuries-old houses and a large square with a well kept garden, surrounded by colourful facades. We only had 1 night which was adequate to get an overview of the town. We stayed right in the square at 'Fabini Apartments' which ideal.

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Sighișoara

From Medias, we did a detour to check out the famous Fortified Church of Biertan, which dominates the small village. A fascinating place that feels like you've stepped back in time.

From there, we drove on to Sighișoara, another small fortified city that oozes charm. It has a history dating back to the 1100s with cobbled streets, colourful buildings and the whole place is a UNESCO World Heritage site. There's also a great restaurant culture with some fantastic eateries.

Be sure to climb the clock tower for a fantastic view!

Viscri

Another detour on our way to Brașov, Viscri is home to the Viscri fortified church set right in the heart of Romania's scenic countryside with rolling hills.

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Bucharest, Romania

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Romania is a country that has been mentioned by fellow travellers a number of times over the years, as a fantastic place to experience Europe in all its glory without endless streams of tourists that can hamper the experience.

We flew into Romania's capital, Bucharest via Doha with Qatar Airlines from Sri Lanka and were in for a treat. The bus from the airport took us right into the heart of the city by the Dâmbovița River. The old town is known as the newest old town in Europe following a massive restoration project that was undertaken over a decade until 2013. From what was considered a dilapidated and dirty city following dictatorial leadership, has been transformed into a charming, walkable quarter with enough sights, bars and clubs to entertain you for days.

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We stayed at 'Antic Apartments', right in the heart of the old town which was just buzzing with a great atmosphere day-in-day-out.

There's plenty to see and go to in Bucharest including:

  • Churches: Exploring the hidden small churches in the old town.
  • Palace of Parliament: The heaviest building in the world, and the world’s second-largest administrative building (after the Pentagon). It was started in 1984 (and is still unfinished) and has more than 3000 rooms. It's colossal and well worth a tour. Make sure you book ahead and take your passport.
  • King Michael Park: A huge park and lake, grab yourself a bike or explore by foot.
  • Dimitrie Gusti National Village Museum: An open-air ethnographic museum that has 272 peasant farms and houses from across Romania, showcasing traditional Romanian village life.
  • Arcul de Triumf: Located right by King Michael Park, it's an impressive sight, similar to the arch in Paris.
  • Romanian Peasant Museum: A collection of clothing, ceramics, and other artefacts from years gone by.
  • National Museum of Romanian History: Even if you don't explore inside, it's well worth viewing the building.
  • Revolution Square: An important landmark for the Romanian revolution in 1989.
  • Bars: If you're looking for a great place to hangout, go to

- Gradina EDEN a hidden gem in amongst trees behind a grand old building
- Linea / Closer To The Moon, a great rooftop bar overlooking the old tonw.
- Berăria H., huge beer hall by Herăstrău Lake.

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Galle, Sri Lanka

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Galle is a located on the southwest coast of Sri Lanka and is famous for Gall Fort which is an old fortified city that was built by the Portuguese during the 16th century, with stone sea walls that were added by the Dutch.

It's a Unesco World Heritage Site, and perfect to explore on foot with a mix of colonial buildings, mosques, churches, museums and large mansions. There are loads of winding lanes with cafes, boutique shops and hotels. The wall itself is a great place to walk along providing wonderful views out into the ocean and along Sri Lanka's coastline.

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Beyond the fort is a city of around 100,000 people which also has some great places to explore such as the Galle Cricket Stadium (if a match is on), markets and shopping options.

We arrived late and stayed at 'Secret Palace Guest house', a gem located at the end of a laneway. We had a private room and again enjoyed great hospitality and breakfast! The 'Indian Hut' serves up some great food, as does 'Spoons'! Be sure to check out sunset from the wall.

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Udawalawe, Sri Lanka

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Udawalawe National Park is one of Sri Lanka's most popular national parks in the country, famous for it's elephants and home to a wide range of mammals, birds, reptiles and fish.

A herd of about 250 elephants reside in the park along with animals such as the rusty-spotted cat, the Sri Lankan leopard, sloth bears, deer, wild boar, water buffalo and mongoose. We were lucky to see a whole range of them as well as monkeys, birds and lizards.

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We stayed at the nearby 'Green Park Safari House' which was comfortable. Our hosts arranged for a 3/4 day jeep tour leaving early and provided us with lunch which was handy. It was just the two of us with a patient guide to showed us all corners of the park, a stunning place to be. On the way out, we stopped in at the Udawalawe Elephant Transit Home which looks after abandoned elephant calves within the park.

We arranged for a driver to take us all the way to Galle, via Tangalle in the afternoon. Tangalle is located in the south and is renowned for great beaches - unfortunately the persistent rain and cloud made it a little difficult to see for ourselves!

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Kandy to Ella, Sri Lanka

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The train trip between Kandy and Ella is often referred to as the world's most beautiful train trip and we'd have to agree (or it's at least in the top 5). It's a 7 hour journey and as we were awestruck by the scenery, the time flew by.

It winds through a stunning variety of green and lush landscapes with tea plantations, steep mountains, through small towns, over bridges, by waterfalls and more.

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It's naturally popular which means you should book tickets in advance or you may miss out. This can be done in Sri Lanka or online. We arrived at Kandy station for an 8:30am departure, took with us some lunch, snacks and water and away we went. We booked a reserved seat which mean't we didn't have to battle with others to find a seat (well worth doing!). It stops at a number of places along the way, including Nuwara Eliya, which is a great place to check out. Otherwise it's a case of sitting back, relaxing and enjoying the scenery.

We arrived into Ella in the afternoon and immediately noticed the cooler climate thanks to the higher altitude. A short Tuk-tuk ride and we arrived at our accommodation, Lavendra Paradise. Wow, what a view. The accommodation throughout the trip has been great and this was no exception. Very welcoming, great room and another huge breakfast!

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Ella is set in the hills with dramatic valleys, mountains, tea plantations and some great eateries which means it lends itself to just kicking back and relaxing. It's a place that you could quite comfortably stay at for weeks. It's has noticeably more tourists and backpackers than the other places we visited, partly due to the fact that we were travelling off-season, but also because of it's beauty and laid-back lifestyle. Cafe Chill was a popular hangout and served up some great food.

We found plenty to do including:

  • Uva Halpewatte Tea Factory - The largest tea factory in Sri Lanka's Uva region, it's set right on top of a mountain with tours that give you great insights into the tea making process.
  • Nine Arches Bridge - An almost 100 year old bridge built with blocks of stone and cement without any strengthening iron or concrete. It's one of the engineering marvels in the early 20th century.
  • Ravana's Cave - A small cave, that was once used by King Rawana to hide the Princess Sita. It lies right on the foundation of a cliff.
  • Little Adam's Peak - Although it was raining, this relatively easy walk goes through tea plantations to a peak with a spectacular view.
  • Ravana Falls. - Just a small Tuk-Tuk ride away, right by the road is the impressive Ravana Falls.
  • Mate Hut - We also did a great cooking course at Matey Hut and learn't all about 6 curry dishes. Delicious and a great way to feast on some Sri Lankan food.

We reluctantly left Ella, and decided to incorporate a visit to some other great areas in Sri Lanka as we made our way to Udawalawe. This trip just seemed to be getting better and better as we drove via Bandarawela to Dambethenna Tea Factory and on to Lipton's Seat.

Dambethenna Tea Factory was built by the Scottish tea baron Sir Thomas Lipton in 1890, which is now known at as Lipton tea. Although the tour was disappointing, the drive to the factory and then beyond the factory to Lipton's Seat was fantastic. We wound through small villages and endless tea plantations, full of pickers.

The Lipton’s Seat lookout is one of the most impressive viewpoints in Sri Lanka, which unfortunately we could not see because of cloud! Sir Thomas Lipton used to survey the countryside and his tea plantations from here.

From there, we stopped off at Haputale and enjoyed some delicious lunch at the 'Golden Hill Tea Centre', a former tea factory and then checked out Diyaluma Falls - the second highest waterfall in the country (at 220 m high). We rolled into Udawalawe quite late reflecting on such a great day.

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Kandy, Sri Lanka

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We headed south with our host from Sigiriya and stopped at the Regent Spice and Herbal Garden in Matale. An interesting place where you get a tour of many local herbs and spices that can improve your health. From there we continued to Kandy weaving in and out of some crazy traffic. It seems like the bus drivers think they're in a Formula 1 car! The total trip is around 100kms, yet it takes around 2.5 hours.

Kandy is a large city completely surrounded by mountains, with rainforest and tea plantations. It's a bustling city of 125,000 with a scenic lake and is most famous for the Buddhist site, 'Temple of the Tooth' (Sri Dalada Maligawa) shrine.

The legend is that Buddha’s tooth was given to Sri Lanka in ancient times, which was passed down through various kings. The tooth is now housed in this temple, which is held in a golden stupa inside the shrine. With gold, moonstone and Buddhist carvings, it's impressive and is visited by worshippers the world over. You don’t actually see the tooth, it’s kept in a gold casket, inside a guarded room. Beyond that, the complex has a number of other temples, shrines and museums. It's oozes atmosphere.

Be sure to visit the temple during the day as well as at night when the ceremony is happening. There are drums, a pipe and the casket containing the tooth is brought out allowing you to take a peek.

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Aside from that, it's well worth checking out the giant Bahirawakanda Vihara Buddha Statue, which has some impressive views over Kandy. The Royal Botanic Gardens has loads of plant species and is known for a large orchid collection. And for some cultural entertainment, check out the Cultural Dance Show at the Kandy Lake Club.

We stayed at 'Bee View Home Stay', south of the city up into the mountains. Although it's a little far to walk into town, it was a great place to stay with welcoming hosts, a large breakfast and stunning views.

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Sigiriya & Kaudulla National Park, Sri Lanka

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Our host in Anuradhapura drove us to our next stop, Sigiriya and on the way we wanted to take a look at Dambulla Royal Cave Temple. It's a World Heritage Site and is the largest and best-preserved cave temple complex in Sri Lanka. An impressive sight with some great views and a good way to break up the trip.

Sigiriya is home to ruins of a 5th-century city and is one of those places that that takes your breath away. From a distance it's impressive, but once you explore it up close, the more amazing it gets.

Sigiriya rock is an ancient rock fortress about 30 minutes drive from Dambulla in Sri Lanka's Central Province. It's a huge column of sheer rock that soars vertically out of the ground to nearly 200 metres in height, formed from magma from an extinct volcano. It;s surrounded by relatively flat planes and therefore is visible from miles away.

The area is surrounded by an extensive network of fortifications, vast gardens, ponds, canals, alleys, cave shrines and fountains. In addition to that, is remnants of a ruined palace and an ancient civilisation on top of the rock itself.

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We arrived at the area early and as we were unaware of the extent of the ruins on top of the rock, were in for a treat. The top is accessed via a range of staircases attached to sheer walls to get to the top. On top lies the king’s upper palace which is vast and had of dozens of rooms, a hydraulic 'air conditioning system' that used water that was pumped up from a lake into the gardens under ground. The view from the top of the palace is incredible with the ability to see out into the lush green landscape in every direction.

We stayed at 'Sigiri Thilanka Rest' which was about 10-15 mins walk into the nearby town, well priced, clean and a friendly host. The town itself is small and has some pretty good food options for travellers. We ate at a few places including Chooti, which served up great curry and rotti bread.

Whilst in the area, we also did a day trip to Kaudulla National Park, a fantastic place that is home to over 200 elephants, monkeys, crocodiles and some leopards. We saw just about all of the 200 elephants as they were feeding and traipsing through the lake. It was quite stormy too which added to the experience.

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Anuradhapura & Mihintale, Sri Lanka

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We caught the early train to Anuradhapura as the sun was rising and it was a great way to see the countryside. Anuradhapura is famous for it's well preserved ruins of an ancient Sri Lankan civilisation. It's spread over a large sprawling area, with a huge collection of archaeological and architectural gems such as huge stupas, ancient pools and temples that were built centuries ago.

We stayed at a great guesthouse called Liyana Holiday resort, and took up the owners offer of a tour around the vast ancient ruins area. You can also rent a bike, however due to the heat and our stomachs in recovery mode, we went with the comfortable option! Plus it meant we'd get loads of local info as we went to each place. Liyana cooked us some great dinner and breakfast too.

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Anuradhapura Highlights

There were some fascinating places:

  • Sri Maha Boodhi Temple - a famous, sacred fig tree in the Mahamewna Gardens, which is said to be the southern branch from the Sri Maha Bodhi at Buddha Gaya in India under which Lord Buddha attained Enlightenment.
  • Abhayagiri Stupa - A sight to behold, this huge stupa dates back to the 1st century BC, and was once 100m high. It's one of the greatest structures in the ancient world and it's scale is only matched by the pyramids of Giza. It stands out for miles, in amongst the surrounding forest.
  • Ruvanvelisaya Stupa - A white stupa which is surrounded by elephants.
  • Jetavanarama Stupa - Similar to Abhayagiri, this stupa stands 70m tall and is said to consist of more than 90 million bricks!
  • Archaeological Museum - A good stopping point to learn more about this fascinating area.
  • Isurumuniya - A temple just next to 'Thissa Wewa' lake, built into rock, it's a great place to visit. We also explored the area nearby including Isurumuniya Rajamaha Viharaya, set in a scenic tropical wonderland.
  • Ratnaprasada - A wonderful monastery, which was once 7 stories high.

Further to this, we did a day trip to Mihintale, which has a whole new world of ancient ruins to explore. A must see part of Sri Lanka.

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Colombo, Sri Lanka

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Sri Lanka had been a country we'd been wanting to visit for some time. It's a perfect next stop after visiting the Maldives being just a 1.5 hour flight away. We flew into the capital, Colombo in the evening and stayed in a guest house in Colpetty 'Colombo 3' which was a pretty good location. It's a bustling city of around 800,000 people and due to it being an important port for ancient east-west trade routes, there's a great mix of architecture comprising of colonial buildings with high-rises and shopping malls.

Like all capital cities, there's a whole range of things to see and do. We had 5 days to explore which is probably enough to see the major sights, however we were struck down with some gastro following a cocktail of questionable chicken, water and a beer! This wiped out 1 of the 5 days.

Still, we had a great time in Colombo and managed to squeeze in quite a lot. Getting around is best done on foot or with a Tuk-Tuk. They're reasonably priced, take you exactly where you want to go and can even be hired for a set number of hours.

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Sights in Colombo

There were some great highlights including:

  • Galle Face Green - Right by the beach, this urban park is is bustling with families, people playing and sitting down to one of the many eateries. It's also famous for sunsets of the Indian ocean. We arrived and enjoyed a beer with some great food at Nana's King and thought we'd miss out on the sunset due to the cloud. Next minute the whole sky started to light up in a magical orange/pink colour that completed stunned us! Without doubt, one of the most incredible sunsets we've seen.
  • Pettah Market & Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque - Teeming with people, the bustling Petta Market has everything from food, to electronics and homewares. It's a great way to sample Colombo's vibrancy. Plus, whilst you're there, check out the impressive red Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque.
  • Gangaramaya Temple & Biera Lake - An important temple in Colombo over Bere Lake.
  • National Museum of Colombo - Although we got there a little late, this large museum has loads of info about Sri Lanka. It's a great way to learn about some of the historical areas in the north, especially if you're heading in that direction.
  • Viharamahadevi Park & the Colombo Municipal Council - We wandered through Viharamahadevi Park on the weekend and it was filled with locals relaxing, having picnics and enjoying themselves. It's well worth a visit, plus you can check out the Buddha, that's facing the Town Hall.
  • Old Parliament Building - You won't be able to go inside, however is well worth checking out, if you're walking south towards Galle Face Green, or north into the Fort area.
  • Slave Island - Is well worth exploring with interesting architecture, shops and laneways to explore.
  • Cinnamon Red Hotel - Head up to the bar at the top of Cinnamon Red for drink and enjoy an incredible view with the option to use the swimming pool.
  • Colombo Lotus Tower - It was still under construction, however having a view from 350m high is sure to be an experience worth doing.

You can explore beyond Colombo by train, bus or get yourself a driver who can either take you to the next city and drop you off, or stay with you and take you around the whole country. Drivers are more expensive, however they greatly reduce travel time, offer some helpful tips along the way and are much more comfortable than the public buses. We used a combination of each.

Our next stop was Anuradhapura, which we went to by train.

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Maldives

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The Maldives is based in the Indian Ocean which consists of over 1,000 coral islands within 26 ring-shaped atolls, and is known idealistic beaches, reefs and high-end resorts. It's a fascinating place and somewhere that we figured we may only get to once or twice in our lifetime.

Where you stay is one of the first considerations, and your budget is likely to drive which island you choose and accommodation you'll end up in. Accommodation options are varied, from budget options in Malé, through to high end luxury reports that can cost several thousand dollars per night.

Malé is an interesting capital and feels like the polar opposite to other the islands in the archipelago. It's loud and hectic, bustling with people. There are cars, markets and 000 people crammed into a 000 sq space, which makes you feel like you could be in any other city in Asia. Yet, at the waters edge, that wonderful bright blue water shimmers. A day or 2 is all you need to explore the city.

In order to fully experience what the Maldives has to offer, you need to jump on a boat or sea plane and explore the archipelago further, which is what we did.

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To work out where we went took some careful planning and a whole lot of time searching for a good deal that allowed us to fully enjoy the Maldives, without sending us broke!

We chose to stay at Filaidhoo island, at Reethi Faru Resort that had recently opened in December 2017. They were looking to get their name out there and were offering a package with breakfast and dinner each night that was too good to refuse!

We stayed in a garden villa for the first 3 nights and then our last night in a bungalow that was positioned over the water. The resort was fantastic; tastefully created, luxurious and done in a way that seemed to take nature into consideration. The staff and facilities were world class!

We spent our time relaxing by the ocean, eating great food, exploring the island and hour after hour of snorkelling. The marine life was incredible, perhaps the best snorkelling we have done and we've been to other great places such as Dahab, the Great Barrier Reef, Panama and the Galapagos Islands. Here the water was teeming with rays, small sharks, turtles, an array of colourful fish, coral and so much more.

The food was world class. A different international cuisine was offered each night, and a local option was also available. Each sitting was a buffet was, which was dangerous as it was difficult not to overindulge on such delicious food !

A magical time, that we'd love to do again.

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Port Douglas - Queensland, Australia

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Port Douglas is a coastal resort town north of Cairns in sunny Queensland and is surrounded by some of Australia’s most renowned natural wonders. With a population of just over 3,000 people it gets inundated with many more tourists than this number who flock to the area. It was originally established as a gold mining town in 1877 and there are still some great old buildings which at to the towns charm.

It was a winter break for us, escaping from Australia’s cold south along which is typical for many Victorians. A couple of days in Cairns followed by 8 days in Port Douglas. We flew into Cairns from Melbourne and bunked in Globetrotters Backpackers for the night which was clean and close to the city centre.

Cairns has loads to see and do in it's own right and many travellers use Cairn's as a base for further travel. It's quite large with ~150,000 people with some highlights that include:

Cairns Highlights

  • The Botanic Gardens: Fantastic selection of tropical plans and walks which will give you a sample of what lies further afield. This includes trails, a * Bamboo Forest, Rainforest Boardwalks and a Café. Centenary Lakes: Located next to the Botanic Gardens, check out the rainforest boardwalk that goes through the forest and ends at several small lakes and creeks.
  • Northern Beaches: As there is no swimmingbeach in Central Cairns, you can head north to Trinity Beach, Yorkeys Knob, Palm Cove, Kewarra Beach and more.
  • The Esplanade & Lagoon: The Esplanade and Pier run along the waterfront right by the city centre. Take a dip in the Lagoon, the free pool is perfect to cool down without the crocodile and stinger threat!
  • Rusty's Market: A great fruit and veg market showcasing some exotic local produce. If you're there on a Friday, get some tasty lunch and coffee.

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We took a shuttle to Port Douglas (about 1 hour north) and arrived on a Friday night, on the last weekend of the school holidays. It's a buzzing place with loads of cafe's, restaurants and quirky pubs all serving great food.

We stayed at Club Tropical Resort, which was centrally located just around the corner from the main street directly opposite Port Douglas' famous Sunday Market. A huge room with a kitchenette, pool, spa and everything you need. Port Douglas is a place that you can choose to do nothing and have a relaxing break, or cram your days with adventure. We chose to do a mix of both. We decided to rent a car and explore the surrounds ourselves every other day, as opposed to joining the plethora of day trips available. Fiona at Paradise Wheels was great and gave us a good rate for 3 days that weren't in a row.

Even if you're short on time, there are 3 day trips that are a must. The almighty Great Barrier Reef, The Daintree Rainforest (which Mossman Gorge can be included in) and a trip south to Palm Cove and Kuranda.

Port Douglas Highlights

  • Four Mile Beach: Relax, swim or walk one of the coasts most impressive beaches.
  • Wildlife Habitat: Check out koalas, kangaroos, snakes, crocodiles, cassowaries, tree kangaroos and more.
  • Rent a Boat: Cruise up the river into the mangroves in your own time. Take some snacks, do some crocodile spotting and soak it up. Port Douglas Boat Hire rents them out and you don't need a boat licence.
  • Sunday Market: loads of local crafts, food, clothing, music and more. Every Sunday from 8:00am to 1:00pm.
  • Food: There are plenty of cafe's restaurants and pubs serving great food, for all budgets and tastes.

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Mossman Gorge
Mossman Gorge is a pristine wilderness in the southern part of Daintree National Park about 20 minutes drive from Port Dougals. There are swimming holes, a suspension bridge that runs across Rex Creek and a scenic 2.4-kilometre rainforest walking track . It's home to over 430 species of birds, 18 species of reptiles and 12 species of amphibians. Well worth a visit.

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The Great Barrier Reef
The world renowned Great Barrier Reef is the worlds largest coral reef system spanning over 344,400 square kilometres and stretching 2,300 kilometres (from north to south). Unless you fly over it, it's impossible to grasp it's sheer size: 2,900 individual reefs and and 900 islands. The variety of marine life is incredible with over 1,500 species that live on the reef. With the ever heightening concerns of damage due to climate change and other factors, check it out sooner rather than later.

From Port Douglas there are a number of options available to visit the reef. Large boats with 100-450 passengers, medium sized boats of 30-60 passengers and smaller boats which don't go all the way to the outer reef. The best areas include Agincourt, Opal and Tongue reefs. There are loads of 'tourist information' shops and brochures everywhere however they're generally just outlets for the tour providers. Broadly there are 3 main companies:

  • Quicksilver: Operate a large boat and have setup a permanent pontoon on the outer reef with various activities. A good option unless you don't like crowds. They also have smaller boat options that take you to 3 outer reefs called Poseidon.
  • Calypso: An independent operator, with boats and a schedule very similar to Poseidon. They also offer specialised diving options.
  • Wavelength: Another independent company that offers smaller group tours that go to Opal Reef, St Crispin Reef and Tongue Reef.

All options are good with solid reviews. Their schedules are similar with snorkeling equipment included, snacks, a buffet lunch and knowledgeable staff. We chose a dive boat with Calypso in the end as they go to Agincourt Reef and only had about 25 people on board. We explored 3 reefs, with a full hour at each. The marine life was incredible.

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Kuranda & Palm Cove
One of the popular day trips from Cairns or Port Douglas is Kuranda, a small town located in the Atherton Tablelands 330m above sea level. It's a small hippy town with some big attractions - a scenic railway that winds it's way through the rainforest, the impressive Barron Falls and a cable car that give you a view from above.

We ended up driving to Kuranda, having lunch and viewing the falls from the raised walkway just out of town. A few hours of mountain biking in Smithfield (home to the Mountain BikeWorld Cup), and then enjoying some great food in Palm Cove made for a fantastic day.

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The Daintree Rainforest
The Daintree Rainforest is the oldest continuously surviving tropical rainforest in the world, thought to be 165 million years old. It is around 1,200 square kilometres of tropical rainforest, the largest in Australia. It makes up only 0.1% of Australia's landmass yet is home to 3000 species of plants and a rich diversity of animals. This includes 1200 types of insects, 663 species of vertebrate animals and 40% of all Australian bird species. Of these, 39.5% are rare or endangered.

There are day trip tour options available from Port Douglas or you can drive yourself, which is what we did. A good way to start is to jump on a boat at Daintree Village and do a crocodile tour. It's an eerie experience and you're pretty much guaranteed to see some either on the river bank or swimming past your boat.

To enter the heart of the Daintree, means getting across the river on a car ferry which only takes a few minutes unless it's a busy time of day. We got there at around 10:30am and had to wait around 1 hour, so it would be best to get there earlier. Once you're in, explore trails, swimming holes, beaches, information centres and cafes to your hearts content.

Daintree Highlights

  • Waluwurrigga Alexandra Range Lookout Point: For great views.
  • Jindalba: Scenic walking trails.
  • Cow Bay: Secluded beach.
  • Daintree Ice-cream Company: Tropical fruit flavoured ice-cream.
  • Boardwalks - Marrdja , Dubuji & Mangrove: Explore the mangroves & spot a cassowary.
  • Cape Tribulation & Kulki Lookout: A great view for sunset.

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Sepang, Malaysia

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My last stop before returning was in Kuala Lumpur, partly because it was the cheapest way to get back but also because the Formula 1 Grand Prix was in town. I caught a late flight from Manila and ended up staying in a capsule container hotel at the Kuala Lumpur airport terminal. These capsule hotels are popular in Japan and Korea but I've never stayed in one and it was just ideal. After walking off the plane and through customs I walked around the corner and straight into the hotel - without even going outside. The capsules are setup using small shipping containers stacked upon each other on two to three and four levels meaning you climb a ladder to reach your cubicle and slide on in. There's not enough room to stand up but you have a shelf, a light and a power point, so it's comfortable. Plus you keep your luggage in a locker, it's all you really need. After pulling down the blind (no door) I quickly fell asleep.

After an early rise the next morning, I grabbed some food from the supermarket in the airport, jumped on the shuttle bus and went to the Sepang racing circuit - which was only about 15 minutes away. I'd seen the Formula 1 cars in action Albert Park in Melbourne quite a few times however it was great to see them on this purpose built circuit with a huge grandstand. I was even lucky enough to be able to join the pit lane walk meaning I could see the cars and mechanics up close. A 15 or 20 minute ride back and I was in the airport collecting my backpack in jumping on a plane back to Melbourne.

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Gyeongju, South Korea

overcast 25 °C
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Gyeongju is often referred as a museum without walls, which is certainly apparent when you get out of the bustling centre. Gyeongju and its surrounding sites seem to be the cultural heart of South Korea. I stayed at Guesthouse Momojein which was great. Plus it's conveniently located south of the river and not far from the regions cultural gems.

Sights in Gyeongju

Cheomseongdae - One of the world’s oldest astronomical observatories, constructed in the 7th century.
Daereungwon Royal Tomb - A large grass covered mount that is an ancient burial tomb of a king where 11,000 artefacts were uncovered.
Gyerim - A woodland area right next to the site of the Silla kingdom palace.
Donggung Palace & Wolji Pond - Built in 674, this area contains ruins of a palace and fortress, along with gardens and a man-made pond.
Bulguksa - Built in 528, it's a stunning UNESCO World Heritage listed temple in among mountains. This is a bus ride away from Gyeongju.
Seokguram - Part of the Bulguksa complex (a 4km bus ride away at Mt. Tohamsan), Seokguram is one of Korea's national treasures. It's a temple that houses a Buddhist sculpture, regarded as one of the best in the world.

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Yangdong Folk Village

On my last day in South Korea I went to a small village, north of Gyeongju called Yangdong Folk Village. It's a 700 year old village which amazingly has been almost preserved throughout that entire period. There was a lot of destruction to many areas and buildings in South Korea during the Japanese invasion, however they didn't touch Yangdong Village. It's a living and breathing village with a few hundred houses that date back to the 1300's, with stone walls and thatched roofs. What made it even more special, was the fact that each house has its own little veggie patch. People in each home grow all sorts of fruit and vegetables meaning that everyone is living off the land. There are no shops or advertising and the entire town is UNESCO World Heritage listed, so thanks to their funding it should remain this way. It's a fascinating place and feels like you're walking through a Zelda game.

After exploring a village for a few hours I had some food, jumped on the bus back to Gyeongju and then caught another bus on to Busan for the next flight!

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Busan, South Korea

overcast 27 °C
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After a fantastic time in Seoul, Byeongsu and I took the fast train south east of the country to the second biggest city - Busan. It's a 325 kilometre trip but only takes 2-2.5 hours if you take the KTX train. Busan has a more laid back feel to it compared with Seoul however it's still a big city with over 3.6 million people spread over a huge area due to the various mountains that are dotted around. It's known for nice beaches, hot springs, nature reserves and seasonal events.

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We stayed at Blue Backpackers Hostel in the centre of Busan which was clean, had good facilities and was only 25,000 won (~AUD$27). From there we spent the weekend exploring the city, local attractions & eating good food!

Sights in Busan
Haeundae Beach - A nationally renowned beach, that Korean's flock to in the warmer months.
Haedong Yonggungsa - An impressive buddhist temple in Gijang-gun built in 1376 during the Goryeo Dynasty, right by the seaside.
Gwangalli Beach - At 1.4km stretch of beach flanked by great cafes, restaurants and views of Gwangandaegyo or Diamond Bridge.
Jalgachi Market - A fantastic market full of all kinds of fresh seafood. A must see.
Taejongdae - A scenic natural park with rugged cliffs facing the open sea on the southernmost tip of the island - Yeongdo-gu.

Late Sunday evening Byeongsu caught the train back to Seoul to go to work whilst I went to the bus station and caught the 50 minute bus to the next destination - Gyeongju.

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Posted by TheNomadWay.com 16:00 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

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