Things to do Before Your Trip to Japan

    Things to do Before Your Trip to Japan

    Are you heading to Japan soon? Yay! Get ready to eat all the yummy food, see amazing temples and lose yourself in exciting cities. But before you jump on the plane, there’s a few other things you should get ready to ensure a fantastic trip to the Land of the Rising Sun. We’ve written up things that should be done BEFORE getting on the plane. We’ve even created a checklist, so scroll down for more info!

    Order a Japan Rail Pass

    A Rail Pass is a necessity in Japan, as rail is the best way to get around. The Japan Rail Pass saves a lot of money on rail travel and can even be used on the shinkansen (bullet train). The only catch is, you have to purchase it outside Japan and be a temporary visitor. You will need to provide your passport details, travel dates and select how many days of rail travel you would use (7, 14 or 21 days). I would order it 1-2 weeks prior to departure to ensure it is delivered to you on time. Upon arriving in Japan, you validate the pass at the various venues. For more details: http://www.japanrailpass.net/en/index.html

    Planning a trip to Japan

    Check out discounted fares from ANA and JAL

    JAL and ANA offer cheap, flat-rate flights between domestic cities in Japan for people residing outside of Japan and who hold an international return flight (similar to the JR Rail Pass). ANA’s Experience Japan fare and JAL’s Explorer Pass are cheaper than the same fares offered through other booking systems. We saved 40% on our domestic flights by booking these.

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    Things to do before travelling to Japan

    Travel Insurance

    We never travel without it, and neither should you. Medical treatment in Japan is not cheap, and the right cover of travel insurance can cover you for emergency evacuations, disasters, stolen luggage, and more. Knowing that you are covered while you are travelling far outweighs the cost of insurance.

    Like checklists? Pin and print our checklist below!

    Japan Checklist

    Passports & Visas

    It might sound silly for the seasoned travellers, but for those who are travelling for the first time, make sure you check if you need a visa to enter Japan (based on your country of residence). You also need 6 months of validity on your passport BEYOND your travel return date (so if you are travelling in June, your passport needs to be valid at least until December). I’ve been told this is to cover you in case an emergency occurs, and you are stuck overseas for longer than expected.

    Want to know what to eat in Japan? Read our post, More than Sushi.

    International Driver’s Licence

    The idea of driving in somewhere like Tokyo makes me anxious, however driving in the quieter parts of Japan would be lovely. If you are visiting more remote areas, or the islands, driving is the best way to get around, so you will need an International Driver’s Licence to hire a car. For our Australian readers, you can get them from NRMA.

    What you need for Japan

    Get Cashed Up

    Despite Japan being ahead in the technology stakes, cash is still the preferred method of payment. A lot of shops and restaurants do not accept international cards and even those that accept cards may not work when you try to use it in the machine. Change as much money as you can to Japanese Yen before you go, or get an international travel card that you can top up in local currency (however, note that a lot of ATMs don’t accept foreign cards). If you are worried about walking around with a load of cash on you though, rest assured general crime and pick pockets are not a huge concern here.

    You need cash for Japan

    Wi-Fi

    Again, it may come as a surprise, but for the metropolis, high-speed futuristic country Japan may seem, wi-fi is a bit of a hit and miss. There is free wi-fi available in many cities, but the signal is not always that reliable. It might not seem like that big of an issue at first (I mean, we can always post to Instagram later, right?), but when you are lost and trying to find your way around a city that doesn’t have clear street signs or a metro system that only an engineer might be able to read, you’ll be wishing you had reliable wi-fi and Google Maps ready to save the day. Thankfully, you can order internet dongles in advance and pick them up from the airport or have them delivered to your hotel.

    Learn some Japanese phrases

    Japanese people appreciate the effort taken to learn some phrases, and in some places English isn’t widely spoken, so here are some phrases that may come in handy:

    Hello                                       Konichiwa
    My name is _________         Watashi wa ______
    Please                                    Onegai shimasu
    Thank you                              Arigatou gozaimasu
    Excuse me                             Sumimasen
    Yes                                         Hai
    No                                          Iie
    Sorry                                      Gomen’nasai
    Do you speak English?          Eigo o hanashimasu ka?
    I don’t understand                  Wakarimasen
    Where is the subway?            Chikatetsu wa doko desu ka?
    How much does that cost?     Kore wa ikura desu ka?
    Where is the bathroom?         Ofuro wa doko desu ka?

    Book Accommodation

    Personally, I am a bit OTT when it comes to our travel planning, and create multiple spreadsheets, notes and detailed itineraries with accommodation, transport and activities long before we’ve arrived at our destination! So with that in mind, I like to know where we are staying before we arrive, so I can work out how to get there from the airport/train station. If you are at the other end of the traveller’s spectrum though, we’d still recommend booking at least your first night’s accommodation, so you aren’t wandering around a foreign city, searching for a place to sleep.

    Bustling cities in Japan

    Have you been to Japan? Are there any other things you should do before the trip? Let us know below!

    This post contains some affiliate links. Booking via these links won’t cost you any extra, but will help me get closer to my dream career, so thank you in advance!

    Glass Igloos of Finland

    Glass Igloos of Finland

    If these photos don’t make you want to stay in a glass igloo… nothing will…

    Glass igloos are nothing short of magical in a winter wonderland

    You had me at glass igloo

    When I first saw a photo of the glass igloos of Kakslauttanen in Finland, I was entranced, and immediately dreamt about staying there. So when I did the Auxiliares Program in Spain, I figured it was the best time to tick that dream off the list. I mean, who can resist falling asleep with nothing but stars and, if you are lucky, the northern lights visibly over your head?

    But hey, rather than waffle on about our stay there, we figured our photos are much more enticing…

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    Glass igloos in Finland
    Winter wonderland, Lapland Finland

    #BedroomGoals

    Bedroom goals in Kakslauttanen

    There’s nothing like waking up to sunlight softly streaming through snow-capped pine trees…

    Rooms with a view, Finland
    Glass Igloo, Kakslauttanen Finland
    Lapland Finland

    Whilst it looks cold on the outside, the inside is heated and toasty-warm…

    Where to stay in Finland

    Glass Igloos at night

    Mesmerising by day, the glass igloos look magical at night, lit up amongst the snow and the stars…

    Glass igloos by night
    Staying in a glass igloo, Finland
    Unique accommodation in the world

    For those a little shy for the glass igloos, you can stay in rooms completely made out of snow!

    Alternative accommodation in Finland

    If you want the ultimate white wedding, why not in a glass chapel, surrounded by a white, winter wonderland?

    Glass chapel, Finland

    Husky Safari through Lapland

    You can also arrange fun activities at the hotel. The Husky Safari is an absolute must! Not only is it a chance to get the adrenaline racing, it’s also one of the best ways to see the undeniable beauty of Finnish Lapland.

    The magical scenery of Finland
    Husky Safaris Finland
    Happy Huskies

    Want to read more about our Finland adventure? Check out our post!

    Winter Wonderland

    We are normally beach people and prefer the warmer weather, but seeing the sun rise through the snow-covered trees was absolutely magical and swayed me to embrace the cold and the forest. It really felt like we were in a fairytale.

    Winter wonderland in Finnish Lapland

    The Finnish Sauna – Getting in touch with nature… literally 

    Did you know that the word Sauna is the only Finnish word that has been internationally accepted in other languages? It seems appropriate, as it is quite the pastime. If you want the true Lappish experience, you should sit in the heated room, naked, until it becomes unbearable. Then, and only then, you should run outside and roll in the snow. It’s said to have wonderful health properties, such as improving blood circulation, but I’m pretty sure we all do it just for the rush.

    Igloo Sauna, Kakslauttanen
    Igloo Village, Kakslauttanen Finland

    Guy and I are not ones to miss out on experiencing the local culture, so off we went, to our respective saunas (they are segregated for each gender), and into the snow we jumped. I was more concerned about slipping on the ice and knocking myself out, naked, than how cold the snow would be, but I did it, and kinda loved it! It’s a very invigorating experience, and I ended up making naked snow angels, giggling at the oddity of it all… twice (sorrynotsorry for the visuals!)!

    Saunas in Finland
    Kakslauttanen, Finland

    Snow fun!

    For those who are still very in touch with their inner-child, you’ve got plenty of opportunities to make snow angels and have snowball fights in fresh, soft powder…

    Winter fun in the snow

    Food, glorious food!

    There are no cooking facilities in the glass igloos, however, the onsite restaurant makes up for that with delicious meals. They aren’t cheap, but the taste of a delicious, warm meal on a cold evening is priceless… Depending where your accommodation is located, you can enjoy a drink in the glass igloo bar.

    Delicious meals at Kakslauttanen
    Eating in Finland
    Reindeer, cooked to perfection
    Delicious desserts with local produce
    Cute winter cabins

    The Northern Lights

    If you are very lucky, you might even catch the fascinating and awe-inspiring aurora borealis (northern lights). The aurora is a fickle thing though, and only appears when the skies are clear and electrically charged particles from the sun collide with gases in the earth’s atmosphere. Luckily for us, we got a glimpse…

    The Northern Lights Finland
    Aurora Borealis

    Unfortunately for us, it was still quite a cloudy night, so the glimpse we got was so fleeting and quick, I didn’t have time to properly set up my camera, so the photos didn’t turn out as great as I’d hoped (we happened to just be walking back to our igloo from the restaurant when we saw them). We also briefly saw it from our igloo in bed (a moment I’ll never forget!), but the clouds quickly covered it up.

    Northern lights at Kakslauttanen
    Glass igloos Kakslauttanen Finland

    Are you convinced? Is staying in a Glass Igloo at Kakslauttanen on your bucket list? If so, you should definitely start saving and start booking! These igloos are pretty popular and I booked our accommodation close to 10 months in advance (and got the last one!). When you are there, don’t forget to take the obligatory selfie! 🙂

    Selfies and glass igloos

    What to Eat in Japan – More Than Sushi

    What to Eat in Japan – More Than Sushi

    If you visit Japan and just stick to eating sushi or ramen, you are doing it wrong.

    Japan is a foodie’s delight, with a plethora of food options that will please all tastes. Fresh seafood, flavoursome soups and delicious street food are just a small selection of the food options for travellers to Japan. I was fortunate enough to spend a week exploring Osaka, Sakai and Kobe and found myself looking forward to each meal along the way. Here is a small selection of dishes you should try when visiting Japan:

    Okonomiyaki

    This might be my favourite dish when I visited Japan in 2016. To describe it best, it’s a mix between a pancake or fritter, with its main ingredient being cabbage. Okonomiyaki is a popular dish in Osaka, however other regions also have their own take on the simple-but-satisfying dish.

    Okonomiyaki - A favourite Japanese dish

    My first introduction to Okonomiyaki was during my first day in Japan. After a long 10 hour flight, and bus trip to the hotel, we were ushered straight to lunch at Fugetsu in Universal City. They prepare the Okonomiyaki in the Osaka style, however they top it with noodles (which is technically not the traditional way of doing it in Osaka, but nevertheless, I loved it!). What really makes this dish is the mix of the okonomiyaki sauce (similar to oyster sauce) and Japanese mayonnaise.

    Okonomiyaki with noodles

     

    Takoyaki

    I’m still on the fence with this one, as I’m not a fan of octopus, but am quite prone to gooey balls of batter and cheese. Takoyaki is a popular street food in Osaka, however Takomasa restaurant in Sakai have turned this common snack into a locally loved dish, served as a course with rice, salad and crumbed oysters. If you don’t mind the texture of octopus (rubbery, for the uninitiated), then takoyaki is a great on-the-go snack.

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    Takoyaki - Japanese street food
    What to eat in Japan

    Udonsuki

    Udon noodles are one of my favourite types of noodles. Who am I kidding, I love all noodles! But, udon noodles have got a unique texture and are delicious in Udonsuki – a soupy mix of broth, vegetables, meat, seafood and, of course, udon noodles. Japanese eating culture is quite sociable and the art of sharing a large, communal Udonsuki is a great example of that.

    Udonsuki - Udon soup and veges
    Japanese food

    If you want to read more from my visit to Japan, read my posts Highlights of Osaka & Day Trips from Osaka at Mapping Megan.

     

    Shabu Shabu

    Another hot pot dish, this is a fun, social way to eat. You essentially order the type of meat you want (in our case, we had delicately thin slices of beef, pork and chicken) and the type of ‘soup’ you want. There are choices from a soy-based soup (which tastes nicer than it sounds), or your standard clear soups. Then, you pretty much cook your own meal, adding whatever vegetables and noodles you want to the bubbling liquid. Condiments are also provided, so you can add extra spice and flavour to your own individual bowl.

    Shabu Shabu ingredients
    Popular food in Japan - Shabu Shabu

    Kobe Beef

    I am a carnivore, through and through and love my red meat. After spending a week politely avoiding fish (which is harder than you think in Japan!), I was so happy to find out we were going to Kobe Plaisir, a restaurant that specialises in Kobe Beef on our final night. Perfectly marbled and seasoned just right, Kobe Beef is cooked in front of us by an experienced chef. Served with salad and rice, the beef is definitely the highlight, which just melts in the mouth. For our carnivorous readers, this is a must!

    Kobe Beef is a Japanese delicacy

     

    Katsu Curry & Rice

    This is one of my favourite comfort foods. It turns out it’s also a favourite for the Japanese Navy where (I’m told) every Friday is ‘Curry and Rice’ day. Typically Katsu is a thin, crumbed, pork or chicken cutlet, but with the deliciously rich curry sauce and rice, it brings the flavour to a whole new level. Although curry isn’t technically a traditional dish of Japan, they have certainly made it their own (and, in my opinion, made it better!).

    Bento Boxes

    Bento Boxes are extremely popular in Japan, with an assortment of meat, rice and vegetables, all beautifully presented in cute individual dishes in a box. Kinda like a happy meal, but for grown ups (and a lot healthier!).

    Japanese Bento Boxes

     

    Chawan Mushi

    When you think of egg custard, you think of a sweet, creamy dessert, right? Think again. Chawan Mushi is an egg custard dish, but savoury. It has a similar consistency of custard, but mixed with soy sauce, dashi and mirin, it is served as a dish with mushrooms and a meat. We had it at Kani Douraku (see below) as one of the crab dishes, and whilst a bit strange at first (as you expect it to be sweet), it is really delicious and smooth.

    Chawan Mushi at Kani Douraku

     

    Amazake pudding

    Whilst ‘fermented’ isn’t a word that brings deliciousness to mind, Amazake Pudding really is that (delicious). It’s essentially a fermented rice pudding, where the carbohydrates in the rice turn to simple sugars. It’s actually similar to the first stages of making sake. The result is a sweet, smooth and creamy pudding, often served with sweetened beans and jelly. This was one of my favourite dishes during my tour of Japan.

    Japanese Desserts - Amazake Pudding
    What to eat in Japan

    Delicious Crab at Kani Douraku

    If you happen to be visiting Osaka and love crab, treat yourself to a 5-course meal at Kani Douraku, the most famous crab restaurant in Japan. Kani Douraku is a very popular restaurant chain (with multiple restaurants found around Japan, with Osaka being the original and their main one). You can order individual crab dishes, or set menus. We had a 5-course set menu, and, let me tell you, each course was delicious.

    Crab dishes at Kani Douraku
    Crab at Kani Douraku
    Crab Sushi at Kani Douraku
    Crab Gratin at Kani Douraku

    You can find store locations on their website. Reservations are recommended.

    And, of course, Sushi

    The sushi in Japan is fresh and delicious. If you are like me, and are a bit of a wuss when it comes to spice, they put wasabi INSIDE the sushi, so don’t overload on the sauce before you have a taste. Don’t say I didn’t warn you! If you are a fan of sushi, a sushi-making-course is a fun and delicious way to pass a couple of hours!

    Home-made Sushi tastes better
    Japanese food is Oishi!

    We can’t wait to return to Japan in June and continue our food journey.

    What Japanese dishes do you like and think we should try?

    Tell us below!

    Bali Without The Bogans

    Bali Without The Bogans

    “Ling, I’ve been told to call you a Bogan”, my friend Ara said to me at Denpasar airport, eagerly waiting for my reaction. “What!?” I yelled, as the others around us began to giggle. After the laughter passed, Ara turned back to me and sheepishly asked, “What’s a Bogan?”

    What is a ‘bogan’?

    For our international readers, a ‘bogan’ is used to describe someone considered loud, unsophisticated and of bad taste (similar to a hillbilly, redneck or a chav). They are typical to Australian culture, often depicted in white singlets, mullets and ‘pluggas’ (aka thongs or flip flops); southern cross tattoos are optional. They also happen to frequent Bali.

    Bingin Beach, Uluwatu - no bogans here

    To Australians, Bali is known as Bogan territory. If you’ve been to Bali, you would have seen them, Bingtang singlets, cornrow hairstyles, alcoholic beverages and boisterous voices in tow. This was one of the main reasons I had been hesitant to visit Bali. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing particularly wrong with bogans, but they are normally not my crowd. But I’m here to tell you that there is so much more to Bali than just the bogans. I’m talking about awesome beaches, historic temples, dreamy sunsets, friendly locals and cheap, tasty food.

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    Bali without the bogans
    Penglipuran Village, Bali

    My friends were surprised to hear how much I loved Bali. Especially since I was, to be frank, a travel snob and had previously voiced my disdain for Bali and all the bogans that would frequent there. But here I am, unequivocally apologetic and eating my words, as it turns out Bali is amazing and I love it there!

    The coasts of Bali are spectacular

     

    Where to go

    If you are like us, and want to avoid the ‘bogans’, our first general advice is to stay away from Kuta. Even Seminyak is looking more commercial and overrun with Bintang singlet, and Southern Cross tattoos these days. If that’s your crowd, by all means, enjoy! However, if you prefer the quieter, less touristy areas, then we say head north or south.

    Rainbow sunsets of Uluwatu, Bali

     

    For Breathtaking Beaches: Uluwatu

    Uluwatu is approximately 1 hour south of Seminyak. There is a very cool surfer-hippie vibe here and Bingin Beach is really laid back. It’s where the ‘beautiful people’ go. The beaches are pristine, offering a decent swell for the surfers and the warungs (small family-run cafés/restaurants) offer delicious food-with-views, including smoothie bowls and nasi gorengs, for reasonable prices.

    Bingin Beach, Uluwatu, Bali
    Smoothie Bowls in Bali
    Bingin Beach is a must visit in Bali

    Think Bali has the best beaches in Indonesia? Check out our post on Raja Ampat to see true paradise.

    For Temples & Tradition: Penglipuran Traditional Village

    Imagine paths lined with bamboo archways, Balinese temples and traditional houses, barely touched by time. Penglipuran village is a highland village, located approximately 2 hours north-east of Seminyak (although this time can vary substantially on traffic). The locals are friendly and will often invite you into their home to look around, but be warned that they will try to sell you souvenirs at the same time.

    Bamboo Archway of Penglipuran Village
    Penglipuran Village, Bali
    What to see in Bali
    Local's store in Penglipuran Village
    What to do in Bali, Indonesia

    If traipsing out to Penglipuran Village is a little far from where you are staying, worry not, as you will find opportunities to see Balinese culture and tradition all over the island. In fact, there are over 6,000 temples spread out all over Bali. The popular ones are Uluwatu Temple, Tanah Lot and Besakih Temple. The Kecak and Fire Dance can be seen at Uluwatu Temple most evenings. With hypnotic chanting, elaborate costumes, enchanting flames and a plot that rivals the Bold and the Beautiful, this ritual is interesting and unlike anything I had seen before.

    Kecak Fire Dance, Uluwatu Temple
    Balinese tradition and culture

    If you do go attend the performance though, please, please don’t be one of those people who leave while the performance is still going. We saw so many groups of people awkwardly try to manoeuvre their way through the crowds whilst the performance was underway, bringing more attention to themselves than the performers. If you are going to watch, stay until the end. It’s just rude (and dare I say, ‘bogan-like’?) to leave beforehand.

    Love sunsets in Bali

    Love destinations with a mix of culture, adventure and beauty? Check out our 25 Things to do in Yogyakarta post for inspiration!

     

    For Luscious Surroundings: Ubud

    Ubud is increasingly getting popular for tourists, thanks to Julia Roberts in Eat, Pray, Love. Luscious rice field terraces, Hindu temples and craft stores are definitely part of its appeal. The air is also a lot cleaner and cooler up there, making it the perfect setting for yoga and a nature retreat.

    Ubud, Bali
    Bamboo in Penglipuran
    Bali without the bogans

    Where to stay

    A visit to Bali, no matter where you decide to visit, is incomplete without a stay in your very own private villa. You will truly feel like royalty when you have someone come and deliver your meals to you, away from the hustle and bustle outside the private villa walls. A villa with a pool is an absolute must (swimmers optional)!

    Private pool villas, Bali

    We stayed at the Kamaya Villas in Sanur and The G Villas in Uluwatu and loved both of them. There is no shortage of villa options throughout Bali, so pick one that suits your wants and budget.

    Kamaya Villas, Sanur, Bali
    The G Villas, Uluwatu, Bali

    If a villa stretches the budget, our tip is to stay somewhere within walking distances to where you want to visit, as traffic jams are all too common here and you will find yourself sitting in traffic for far longer than it may take to walk! During my Trip of Wonders with the Ministry of Tourism, I stayed in the Golden Tulip Devins Seminyak and could walk to the stores, clubs and restaurants nearby. If you do stay here, check out the rooms with Jacuzzis!

    Golden Tulip Devins Seminyak, Bali

    If your typical hotel isn’t your thing (us neither) and you do want to escape the crowds, you can’t go wrong with the bungalows lining Bingin Beach. We absolutely loved our stay at The Inn Possible. Located at the end of Bingin Beach, the bungalow has stunning views of the beach, where you can enjoy your breakfast from the balcony. Be warned! The only way to get to Bingin Beach and the bungalows is down a massive flight of uneven stairs, so be prepared to test your fitness and pack light!

    Smoothie bowls with a view at The Inn Possible
    Bingin Beach, Uluwatu, Bali

    What to do

    Island Mermaids

    For something a little different, you can live out your mermaid fantasies and do a half-day tour with Island Mermaids.

    Ever dreamed of being a mermaid? You can! Read about Island Mermaids mermaid school in Bali here!

     

    Go-Jek scooter to other beaches

    You can hire your own scooter quite cheaply in Bali for 80,000 rupiah (approximately $10), but if you aren’t confident in riding, I’d warn against it. So many tourists end up in accidents, and don’t get me started on the lack of concern for helmets! If, like me, you aren’t great at riding a scooter, you can always hire a GoJek. They are essentially like Uber (which is illegal in Bali), but on scooters. You can even order food, massages and other goodies by GoJek, and it’s a cheap and easy way to get around.

    TIP: Bali is not easy to get around! Between the lack of public transport and traffic jams, hiring a personal driver is one of the better options. If you decide to take a taxi, make sure you go for a Blue Bird taxi and make sure it’s metered or you agree to a price before setting off! Taxi drivers are renowned for ripping off tourists and saying, “the meter’s broken”, to then charge whatever they want.

    Cave beach near Suluban, Bali

     

    Day clubs

    If you want to really treat yourself, purchase a ticket to one of the many day clubs in Bali. The Karma Kandara Beach Club is our favourite, located on a spectacular private beach in the south of Uluwatu. For Rp500,000, you get entrance and use of the facilities and Rp300,000 food and drink credit (so it really only costs Rp200,000 = AU$20). They also offer beachfront massages, spa treatments and water activities, but the exclusive beach is the main attraction.

    Karma Kandara Beach Club, Bali
    What to do in Bali
    Private beach clubs, Bali

    If you have a late flight departing Bali, the VIP Boarding Lounge Experience from Sundara in Jimbaran Bay is an absolute must! Show your boarding pass/e-ticket to the concierge and purchase Rp750,000+ (AU$75) of Food and Beverage credit  and you will get full use of the pool, loungers and facilities for the day. For the coveted day beds, it’s first in, best dressed, so get in early to nab yourself the best seat in the house. The food is half decent too, and what better day to finish up a trip to Bali, than to relax by the pool, with a tropical cocktail. With the airport only 15 minutes away (subject to traffic), you can laze the day away, right through to the night.

    Relax at Sundara, Bali
    Where to drink in Bali
    Sundara Bali

     

    Night clubs

    Don’t say I didn’t warn you, but you are bound to find bogans here (like anywhere, really). But… the night clubs in Bali are pretty amazing. On our last night in Bali, we visited La Favela and I was blown away. The décor was unlike any club I had seen and it was a maze of mirrors, plants, ponds and vintage items. Drinks aren’t cheap, but the free entrance, music and atmosphere make up for it. The other club that looks amazing is Mirror. We only saw it by day, but it’s also popular with the techno crowd at night.

    La Favela, Seminyak, Bali
    Mirror, Seminyak, Bali
    Beaches in Bali

     

    Massages!

    You can’t come to Bali and not indulge in a massage! You can either take the cheap route and get one off the street (average prices between Rp6,000 to Rp120,000), or spend the extra and really get pampered. Having experienced both the cheap and more expensive (but still far cheaper than what we pay at home) massages, I would advise to cough up the extra as the saying is true: You get what you pay for. The upper end massages are normally in opulent settings, with tea and wet towels provided, and the lower end may end up leaving you with burn marks or in more pain than when you started (but what can you expect from a $6 massage?). The best massage I had in Bali was at Prana Spa in Seminyak. With exotic trimmings, you could be forgiven for thinking you were in an Arabic palace when you are there, and the treatments are heavenly.

    Prana Spa Seminyak, Bali
    Photo spots in Bali

    Having had such wonderful times in Bali on both occasions I visited and posting the ‘Insta-worthy’ photos from my trips, my friends (who also had avoided Bali up until now) have since decided they need to give Bali a go as well…

    Insta-worthy Bali

     

    If you want to avoid the ‘bogan crowd’ and see the absolutely beautiful surroundings Bali has to offer, basically avoid Kuta and the more touristy areas of Seminyak. Having stayed in Seminyak, Sanur and Uluwatu, our pick is definitely Uluwatu. It’s a bit further away from the hustle and bustle, but if you are seeking a relaxing and tropical getaway, this is the place to be.

    Sunsets in Bali

    What do you think? Have you been to Bali before? We’d love to know what you thought of your time there! Comment below.

    A huge thanks to the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism for inviting me on their #TripofWonders and showing me some of Bali’s beautiful features.

    This post contains some affiliate links. Booking via these links won’t cost you any extra, but will help me get closer to my dream career, so thank you in advance!

    Raja Ampat – True Paradise

    Raja Ampat – True Paradise

    Imagine a place where sunsets are so vibrant and perfect, they look like they’ve come out of Salvador Dalí’s dreams.

    A place where time is not counted by minutes or hours, but by the caress of each wave against the shore.

    Where luscious, green forests are broken up by fine grains of sand and clear, aqua water. Paradise.

    Well, my friends, you don’t have to imagine it, for this paradise exists. The place is called Raja Ampat in Indonesia.

    Magical sunsets Raja Ampat

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    Paradise in Raja Ampat
    Arborek Village, Raja Ampat

    Raja Ampat isn’t a single island, but a group of approximately 1,500 small islands, located in West Papua. Known amongst divers for its excellent diving opportunities, Raja Ampat has spectacular beaches, friendly locals and views that will take your breath away (literally, as you have to climb a number of stairs to get to the best ones).

    Getting the perfect photo in Raja Ampat

    I’m a huge fan of Lost, and in some ways, Raja Ampat reminded me of the island in the tv series. It seems like it’s in the middle of nowhere, isolated from the busy world outside and once you’ve been there, you can never quite get over it. In fact, since leaving Raja Ampat, I have moments where I feel like the main character, Jack, with an ingrained need to go back. With every deep breath I take, I can feel the islands calling me and drawing me back into their enchanting existence.

    Mesmerising sunsets of Raja Ampat

    Like the island of Lost, Raja Ampat has an almost mystical-like power to heal and restore one’s soul. I, for one, left Raja Ampat somewhat changed. I don’t know if it was the time spent bathing in the milky blue waters surrounding the islands, the late nights laughing with newly-made friends, or seeing the locals live a richer life than all of us, but it sparked a fresh vivacity in me that I’ve since held desperately onto.

    Gazing at the stars from the pier, with only the sounds of gentle waves lapping into the wooden poles and a distant chatter from the beach was therapeutic. For the short time I was there, I felt so removed from the pressures and stresses everyday life places on us and completely at peace. I felt weightless. The fast-paced world of technology, bills and deadlines were meaningless here. When I asked one of the locals what stresses they faced, they responded with, “During the storm season, we don’t know when our food deliveries will arrive. They could be delayed by days or weeks.”

    Raja Ampat sunsets

    His response struck a chord with me and made me realise how much we take for granted. It also helped me realise that true paradise isn’t just an idyllic beach or place, but an attitude and positive frame of mind. That to find true paradise, you have to let go of the unnecessary stress and hold onto whatever it is that makes you happy – a Raja Ampat state of mind.

    I choose happiness

    How to get to Raja Ampat

    So how does one get to this paradise? Well, it’s not cheap or easy, but I can assure you, it is worth it. In general, the best things in life don’t come easy, and Raja Ampat is no exception. But if it were easy for everyone to get to, it wouldn’t be the perfect untouched paradise that it currently is.

    Air

    The closest airport to Raja Ampat is Sorong. You can fly there from many Indonesian cities, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, via Makassar or Manado.

    Getting to Raja Ampat

    Land

    From Sorong Airport, you need to make your way to Sorong Pelabuhan Rakyat harbour, about 20 minutes away (approximate taxi cost: $12).

    Sea

    Depending on where you stay, you can arrange a boat transfer from the hotel to pick you up from Sorong harbour, or you can take a 2-hour ferry ride to Waisai and then a separate boat ride to your accommodation.

    Pianemo, Raja Ampat

    The ferry costs approximately $17 and operates daily (times seem to vary, so it’s best to contact the Sorong Tourism Office to confirm trip times when you plan to travel). It’s better to aim to depart Sorong during the week, as the ferries often don’t run on weekends and religious holidays. Be sure to check all travel times, as depending on flights and ferries, you may be required to overnight in Makassar or Sorong. The best advice is to contact your accommodation or the Tourism Office for advice. As it can take up to a day or so to get here, I suggest making the most of your time here and stay for at least a week (or however long your money or ability to go without social media can last).

    How to get to Raja Ampat

    Entrance Fees

    It’s also important to note that there is an Entrance Fee, introduced as a way of supporting the conservation and community projects of Raja Ampat. The entrance fee is IDR 1,000,000 (approximately $100) per person and you can pay for the fee at the Tourism Office in Sorong or Waisai (or check if your accommodation or dive operator can organise it for you).

    Raja Ampat paradise

    If you want to check out more of Indonesia, read our posts on Yogyakarta and Island Mermaids.

    Where to stay in Raja Ampat

    There are a few different options in terms of accommodation at Raja Ampat, from ‘budget’ to luxury. We were fortunate to stay somewhere towards the upper end of the spectrum, at Raja Ampat Dive Lodge. Think of air-conditioned bungalows facing the beach, luscious tropical gardens and water activities right at your doorstep. There are diving, snorkelling, kayaking and boat tours on offer, and they even have limited wi-fi, but really, who needs it when you are busy sunbaking and snorkelling, right?

    Where to stay in Raja Ampat
    Raja Ampat Dive Lodge

    For the budget conscious, there are ‘homestay’ options in various villages such as Arborek Village and Sawinggrai Village, and if you really want to treat yourself and splurge, there’s even overwater bungalows on offer in Raja Ampat! You can find a great range of accommodation choices here. For more in-depth information on accommodation, entry fees and getting to Raja Ampat, check out Stay Raja Ampat.

    Accommodation in Raja Ampat
    Arborek Village, Raja Ampat
    Homestay in Raja Ampat
    Raja Ampat accommodation

    What to do in Raja Ampat

    If you do start to feel a little stir-crazy from sun baking and swimming at pristine beaches all day (is that even possible?), I suggest the following:

    • Kayaking – The waters are relatively calm for some lovely kayaking around the islands. Going at sunrise or sunset are my picks.
    What to do in Raja Ampat
    • Snorkelling – sadly, a lot of the coral close to the shore was bleached, but the further out you go, the more vibrant the coral and fish got.
    • Diving – This will allow you to see more colour and marine life. You can also get your diving certificate here.
    Snorkelling in Raja Ampat
    What to do in Raja Ampat
    • Climb the stairs of Pianemo for the ‘money shot’ of the islands. The stairs are a little steep, but the view is worth it.
    Amazing views in Raja Ampat
    • Take a trip to the most stunning sandbank you will ever see – Pasir Timbul. At the right time of day, when the tide is low, you can walk along a picture-perfect sand bank. It’s hard to believe just how perfect it is, but once you are there, you will understand. It seriously looked like it was straight out of a movie scene.
    Paradise at Pasir Timbul, Raja Ampat
    • Meet the locals – The locals are very warm and friendly and always happy for a photo op.
    Friendly locals in Raja Ampat
    • Bird-watching – The rare Bird of Paradise resides here, and if you are lucky (and an early riser), you might get a glimpse of its beautiful auburn feathers and unique tail.
    Bird of Paradise by Zeebachi
    • Explore the marine life – The walking shark also exclusively lives here, and we were lucky to get a glimpse of it one night, during feeding time. If you are a fan of marine wildlife, Raja Ampat is a great place to see it.
    • Yoga – What better setting for some positive mantras than the backdrop of a pastel sunrise or sunset and soft rolling waves.
    Yoga in Raja Ampat

    What do you think? Does this sound like paradise to you? How long could you leave social media and technological baggage behind? Do you think the destination is worth the effort? Give us your feedback below!

    A huge thanks to the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism for inviting me on their #TripofWonders. 

    Special thanks to ZeebachiR_Djangkaru and Holding Wind Photography for capturing me in some of my favourite photos. 

    This post contains some affiliate links. Booking via these links won’t cost you any extra, but will help me get closer to my dream career, so thank you in advance!

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