review: phinda mountain lodge, south africa

This would have to be it… the most wonderful place I’ve ever stayed (so far, anyway).

Phinda Mountain Lodge, an andBeyond property, is located near St Lucia in the province of KwaZulu Natal. The lodge itself is located on the Phinda Private Reserve and there are several other lodges within its confines.

The first impression of this place is incredible. We were seated on the main deck for our welcome drink and orientation, and it was hard to take in much information when the view of the mountains and valley is such:

lounge/main deck

lounge/main deck

view over the mountains from the main deck

view over the mountains from the main deck

We were assigned a guide and driver and briefed on the afternoon’s game drive before being shown to our rooms. The rooms could be more accurately described as a villa; a sprawling space with everything one needs, opening up to a beautiful deck complete with loungers, a plunge pool and an outdoor shower. One can sit in the plunge pool and look down onto the plain to watch elephants roam. Or imagine taking a shower afterwards and a giraffe pops his head up to say hello!

We were given extremely strict instructions, however, that after dusk we were not to attempt to enter/exit our rooms without security as the risk of injury was too high (read: being eaten)! No matter, the security guards were so caring and obliging of us that it felt lovely to be looked after so.

my bed - wonderful

my bed – wonderful

The mini bar was extensively stocked (to the point of having cocktail shakers) and this was included in our room rate – no nasty surprises upon checkout!

In the evening, I would arrive to my room thinking to myself “gee, what a day, a long soak in the tub would be beautiful” only to walk into the bathroom and find it already filled – complete with rose petals!

bathroom

bathroom

outdoor area

outdoor area

getting around on game drives with our driver/guide and spotter

getting around on game drives with our driver/guide and spotter

Unforgettable experiences are guaranteed at Phinda, whether they be sundowners on a hill overlooking a herd of elephants, tracking a rhino on foot, or a candlelit braai feast in the middle of nowhere. The wonderful guides and spotters are extremely well-educated on the wildlife, but the highlight for me was having an in-depth discussion on the universe with our guide while star-gazing. I thought I knew quite a bit on this topic but he put me to shame!

All in all the three days/two nights spent here on safari were absolutely incredible and I’d recommend it to anyone. The only negative about my stay was that hubby wasn’t there to share the experience; no matter – we’ll be staying here when I manage to make it back with him.

the author travelled to Phinda as a guest of South Africa Tourism

fridays with hubby: an osaka wrestling match

Sometimes I struggle to find inspiration, particularly after a long day. Sometimes I think, “what is it that makes my life so interesting? Why bother writing?” then I realised… I live with one of the most interesting and inspirational people I know – my husband! He’s not much of a writer so I thought, in between coats of paint on the house, shed-building, landscaping and the million hours of work he does per week I would hassle him for some of his stories (over a beer) and attempt to dedicate a few posts to him. Here goes!

This adventure starts on the way to find “some local market or something”. Fly-man and his intrepid traveller friends wander past a brightly coloured building aptly titled “Osaka Pro Wrestling” with two clowns painted on the front. The wrestling wasn’t on at that point but somehow they managed to find their way back later in the evening to take in the show.

 

Osaka Pro Wrestling, Logan Winter

Osaka Pro Wrestling, Logan Winter

 

When seated (in the front row!) it becomes apparent they’re the only Westerners there. As a result, hubby says they were treated like (sort of) celebrities/a bit of a novelty. At this point, hubby says he really doesn’t know what he should tell me, so I try to ask more questions.

“Was the wrestling good?” I prompt.

“Nah, it was shit-house” is the reply I get. Then he adds that it was a super-fun experience but that I shouldn’t expect WWE-style wrestling. Okay then. (Trying to talk to me about wrestling is like trying to talk to him about nail polish).

“Was there music?” I try again (because clearly I know nothing about wrestling).

“No of course not.”

“Was there yelling?”

“Yeah but it was all in Japanese so I have no idea what they said, but I can only assume there was some form of banter.”

He does go on to say that after the show, the organisers made them try some local lemonade and the wrestlers wanted to have their photo taken with these curious Australians and ask them about various Australian wrestlers. (At this point I ask hubby: “are there any Australian wrestlers?” to which I get a slightly annoyed “YES! Duh.” Ummm… Okay.)

So there you have it. My first attempt at trying to dictate some of my darling hubby’s travel stories. Probably shouldn’t expect that Walkley anytime soon…

Aussie tourists and Japanese Wrestlers, Logan Winter

Aussie tourists and Japanese Wrestlers, Logan Winter

considering a babymoon? read this first.

There’s a trend these days for couples to enjoy a “babymoon” before their babies are born – that is, to have a little getaway, enjoy some quality time together and relax before that little bundle of joy arrives and sleepless nights set in.

It’s a cute idea for those who have the time and resources and let’s face it, what new mum or dad isn’t at least slightly anxious about impending parenthood?

I’m all for the idea in theory but there’s one really big thing to think about that a lot of people seem to be forgetting: their travel insurance.

Being an expectant mum myself, I’m seeing lots of women considering babymoons which is great, but what concerns me are two trends: travelling without insurance, or travelling with insurance and assuming baby is covered. Here’s a little newsflash that surprises a lot of people: baby won’t be covered if you travel overseas.

For Australians, travel interstate is fine because pregnancy will always be covered by Medicare (the joys of being a citizen of a country with such a scheme). If you travel on a cruise though (even if it’s a domestic cruise) or you fly out of the country this is where expectant parents really need to consider the risks far more thoroughly than they have been.

On a standard policy (bearing in mind this is a generalisation, however it is based on experience and in-depth conversations with several insurance companies) a woman with a single pregnancy would be covered up to about 26 weeks (depending on the policy) provided she has experienced absolutely no complications whatsoever. This 26-week limit means all travel must be completed by then, NOT that you must depart by then. It’s usually about 18 or 19 weeks for women pregnant with multiples.

But here’s the trick: while the mother is covered, the baby isn’t. This means that the mother could go to the hospital complaining of pains and be treated but the minute the decision is made that the baby is to be delivered, that’s it. Cough up the dough because the insurance company won’t be.

Consider the risks of this: what if a mother went to say, Fiji or Bali for a week at 25 weeks, fully intending to be home by the 26 week mark. While away, she goes into spontaneous labour and needs to deliver. At 25 weeks the foetus is viable and is born alive, but now needs three months of round-the-clock care in the NICU of the hospital. Sorry, but those parents will be paying. Not to mention having to stay in that country for the whole time, paying for food, accommodation etc and not going to work. Can you imagine?

Or, on the most awful end of the scale, consider the tragic case of the lady who this week delivered her baby at 24 weeks on board a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Brisbane. The plane needed to be diverted to Denpasar and unfortunately the baby passed away. No post-natal care would be provided for this woman and the repatriation cost of her baby’s body wouldn’t be covered either.

As ridiculous as much of this may sound, I’m yet to come across a policy that works differently (but if you happen to come across one let me know!)

My advice: ALWAYS read your Product Disclosure Statement, ask as many questions as you can and really consider if a particular policy is right for you – or indeed, if the risk is worth it.

thailand’s proposed tourist ID bracelets

Just over two weeks ago, two British tourists were murdered on Koh Tao, a picturesque island in the Gulf of Thailand. The (grisly) circumstances still remain something of a mystery which isn’t helped by accusations of local police bungling the investigation.

Coupled with ongoing protests throughout the country (but mainly centred in the capital, Bangkok), tourism numbers appear to be down. I’m waiting for cold, hard statistics to come through on this before I leap out of my chair and blame a particular issue for the decline but the Thai Government is obviously worried because they’ve come up with an idea:

ID bracelets for tourists.

That’s right: Thailand’s Minister for Tourism has proposed the use of ID bracelets with a traveller’s accommodation details and, eventually, some sort of electronic tracking device.

Granted, this isn’t his only idea – curfews and local “buddies” were also suggested – but I want to hear people’s thoughts on heading to an island like Koh Tao or Koh Phangan and being issued with an electronic ID bracelet to avoid getting into trouble. An extension of the type of paper bracelet one wears for admission to music festivals or a nod to Big Brother?

Share your opinions below!

no, Sri Lanka is NOT the “new Bali”

…ugh.

I came across this article today and, as most news.com.au articles do, let’s be honest, it made me cringe.

“Is Sri Lanka the new Bali?” it asks us (but don’t worry, it’s a rhetorical question… I think?)

All I can say (/scream) is NO! NO! NO! Don’t even sully Sri Lanka by suggesting it!

It’s not air to say that by comparing one to the other, it’s making the other look bad, but the implication to a lot of Aussies when making such a loaded statement might just be “hey, let’s go to Sri Lanka and get boozy and make ourselves look bad”. Bali is a beautiful destination, full of stunning scenery, fascinating culture and friendly locals, but very year it is overrun with hundreds of thousands of (mostly) Australians looking for a cheap holiday and often a place to get wasted. When I was growing up, it was a prime destination for family holidays but last time we were there, the streets of the main tourist districts were full of loud, drunk yobbos.

Anyway, I respect the fact many will disagree with me on that but it isn’t actually the point anyway. The tourism industry experiences phases, just like fashion really. One day a place is hot, then another place is hotter. For example, in 2004 (pre-tsunami), Thailand was the place to be. Around 2010, that dramatically shifted to Vietnam. Now it’s Sri Lanka. Even so, each destination is so unique and wonderful that it’s unfair to try to compare.

Reading on, the article actually doesn’t make the sweeping comparisons I thought it would. It does compare the two with the usual “Bali is uncool now vibe” though (which I can’t criticise since I just wrote this post!) Must be one of those headlines that try to grab your attention (and clicks) by saying something dumb. Nothing new for news.com.au I guess.

vietnam take two… now with added bonus cambodia!

Well here it is folks… the itinerary for my upcoming trip to Vietnam and Cambodia for work. I can’t wait to see how the region has changed in the six years since I was there last but also, how I have changed. When I first travelled to Vietnam, I had never been overseas. Suffice to say, I’ve done a lot of growing up in the years since and learned many things.
My pursuits will most likely be more historical this time too and I’m excited to gain more understanding of the tourism industry as a whole in these too fantastic countries. Of course, I wll be updating as we go. Exciting!
03-Mar-14
(Monday)

Arrival in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) :SQ 186 :18:45
Transfer Overnight in Saigon
04-Mar-14
(Tuesday)
Breakfast     Excursion to Cu Chi Tunnels
Never discovered by American forces, the CU CHI TUNNELS were an important Vietcong base during the American War. Stretching over 200 km, this incredible underground network, dug by hand out of hard laterite, connected command posts, hospitals, shelter and weapon factories. Today, you can walk through the area and learn about the day-to-day life of the VC, see the cleverly disguised entrances and elaborate booby-traps, and even venture inside the tunnels, some of which have been modified to accommodate tourists.
Sightseeing in Saigon
A vibrant metropolis, SAIGON teems with energy, activity and motion. Everywhere you look, you see the meeting of traditional and modern life. The emerging modern skyline stands cheek by jowl with colonial buildings and traditional temples. Outside on the streets, young professionals zip by on motorbikes, chatting on cellphones; inside the quiet temple courtyards, worshippers pray amidst clouds of incense.
Begin your tour into modern history with a tour of the REUNIFICATION PALACE. Formerly the Independence Palace of the South Vietnamese president, this 60s style building was famously stormed by tanks on April 30, 1975 signifying the fall of South Vietnam. It has been preserved in its original state, and the original tanks remain on display near the entrance gates.
Afterwards driving to the historic center to visit EMPEROR OF JADE PAGODA, one of Saigon’s most interesting pagoda. Proceed to pay a quick visit to the neo-Romanesque NOTRE DAME CATHEDRAL and the CENTRAL POST OFFICE. Pass by the classic European-style landmarks such as the ornate CITY HALL (HOTEL DE VILLE), the old OPERA HOUSE (both may only be viewed from the outside).
Finally, end up at the central BEN THANH MARKET, where vendors display a vast array of goods and handicrafts, appealing to every taste. Overnight in Saigon
05-Mar-14
(Wednesday)
Breakfast      By vehicle from Saigon (city) to Ben Tre with excursion by boat trip on Mekong River
Journey to the Mekong Delta to Ben Luc and Tan An. Take a boat trip on Mekong River to TAN THACH (BEN TRE) where local handicrafts and sweets from coconut are produced. Enjoy fresh seasonal fruits, a performance of traditional songs, and observe the local life. Take a short ride on a horse carriage to a typical local house to taste some homemade honey-tea. Proceed by small sampan boats through the small canals and observe daily life along the riverbanks, stopping for a leisurely stroll.
By vehicle from Ben Tre to Can Tho     Arrival in Can Tho     Overnight in Can Tho
06-Mar-14
(Thursday)
Breakfast    Excursion by boat to Cai Rang Floating Market
In the early morning, set out by boat to explore CAI RANG FLOATING MARKET, the biggest and most bustling of the Mekong Delta markets, which attracts fruit and vegetable vendors from all over the region. Buyers on smaller boats weave between the large barges selling wholesale produce. Each vendor advertises fresh samples of their wares on long poles that tower overhead above the colorful boats. Sail through the market, watching people haggle and trade, and possibly sample some of the fruit yourself. By 9 am, the activity has died down and it is time to return to the pier, after exploring some of the backwaters and canals.
By vehicle from Can Tho to Chau Doc
Sightseeing in Chau Doc with boat trip Embark on a boat to explore the bustling river life around Chau Doc, visiting the FLOATING VILLAGES, whose inhabitants live and work all their lives on the river. Stop at one of the typical houses, and see how they raise fish in nets directly under the house itself. Continue to the distinctive CHAM VILLAGE, on the other side of the river, with its thriving Muslim community. After returning to the town, continue by vehicle to SAM MOUNTAIN, which rises sharply from the surrounding rice paddies. Considered one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Vietnam, the mountain is dotted with pagodes and temples, many of them inside caves. Visit LADY CHUA XU PAGODA at the base and continue up shallow stairways along the mountain, visiting other pagodes as you ascend:
Tay An is an ancient pagoda with a mixture of Vietnamese and Asian architectural styles, the main temple has more than 100 statues each representing the power of Buddhism include Phat Thay Tay An (in the 19th century), who has been voted to be a member of the An Giang Buddhism Association. The solemnity and holiness of Tay An has become an invisible power, attracting a great number of monks and pilgrims.
Visit Lady Chua Xu Pagoda
LADY CHUA XU: this early 19th century pagoda sits at the base of Sam Mountain, and is famous for the legend of Lady Chau Xu’s statue. Story has it that the statue originally stood at the mountain peak. When Siamese soldiers attemped to steal the statue, it grew heavier and heavier until they were unable to carry it further – at that point, the pagoda was built. Overnight in Chau Doc
07-Mar-14
(Friday)
Breakfast        Transfer  On board the Tu Trang Speedboat from Chau Doc to Phnom Arrival in Phnom PenhTransfer from pier          Sightseeing in Phnom Penh
Explore PHNOM PENH, a chaotic, energetic and always fascinating city. Graceful tree-lined boulevards and riverfront promenades are reminders of bygone eras; today they teem with life and activity, as motorcycles weave in and out of traffic, vendor hawk their wares, and pedestrians go about their business. Start your tour with an insight into Cambodia’s cultural heritage with a visit to the ROYAL PALACE, still the official residence of King Norodom Sihamoni and the adjacent SILVER PAGODA, also known as the Pagoda of the Emerald Buddha. Continue to the elegant NATIONAL MUSEUM, which contains a comprehensive collection of Khmer Art. Finally, explore the modern-day city, visiting one of Phnom Penh’s two great markets, the CENTRAL MARKET, located in a distinctive domed Art Deco building, OR the sprawling RUSSIAN MARKET, a labyrinth of stalls selling everything from CDs and DVDs to silks, crafts, jewelry and more.
Visit the Russian Market (Tuol Tompong)
The sprawling RUSSIAN MARKET is a labyrinth of stalls selling everything from CDs and DVDs to silks, crafts, antiques, foodstuffs and more. An ideal place for browsing and bargain-hunting. Overnight in Phnom Penh
08-Mar-14
(Saturday)
Breakfast         Excursion to the Killing Fields
Just outside Phnom Penh, in a peaceful rural setting, the KILLING FIELDS OF CHOEUNG EK provide a stark reminder of the atrocities under the Pol Pot regime. Thousands of people were killed here between the years of 1975 and 1978 and buried in mass graves.
Afternoon at leisure         Overnight in Phnom Penh
09-Mar-14
(Sunday)
Breakfast    Transfer    Flight from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap.    Arrival in Siem Reap   Transfer     Sightseeing in Angkor     Visit Angkor Thom
The fortified city of ANGKOR THOM covers an area of 10 square km. Enclosed by a wall and wide moats, the city includes many of Angkor’s most popular sights. Enter by the monumental SOUTH GATE over a causeway lined on either side by statues of demons and gods, each carrying a giant naga. Continue to the TERRACE OF THE ELEPHANTS and the TERRACE OF THE LEPER KINGS, former spaces for public cermonies, both adorned with dramatic bas reliefs. Visit the ruined BAPHUON, ROYAL ENCLOSURE and PHIMEANAKAS before continuing to the mysterious BAYON TEMPLE. In this temple, one of the most popular and compelling in Angkor, explore the galleries of beautifully preserved bas reliefs and ascend narrow stairs to reach the central sanctuary, where you will find giant stone faces smiling enigmatically down at you from every angle.
Visit Ta Prohm
TA PROHM: one of the most popular attractions of Angkor as much of the jungle has not been cleared and it looks very much as most of the Angkor monuments would have appeared when European explorers first stumbled across them.
Visit a temple for sunset
Watch the sun set over the Cambodian countryside from the upper terraces of an ancient Angkorian temple.    Overnight in Siem Reap
10-Mar-14
(Monday)
Breakfast     Sightseeing in Angkor    Visit Banteay Srei Temple
Seemingly miniature in comparison to the other Angkor temples, BANTEAY SREI is considered to be the jewel of classical Khmer art. Built in pink sandstone, the walls are covered in exquisitely preserved carvings of unusual delicacy. Because of its small size, fairy-like atmosphere and extraordinary examples of Khmer sculpture, this temple is often a favorite with visitors.
Visit Banteay Samre
BANTEAY SAMRE is a mid-12th century temple dedicated to the god Vishnu.
Visit Pre Rup Temple
PRE RUP: built by Rajendravarman II (ruled 944 to 968), it consists of a pyramid shaped temple with the upper-most of the three tiers carrying five square shrines arranged as a quincunx. The name means turning the body and refers to the traditional method of cremation.
Visit Angkor Wat
The crowning jewel of Khmer architecture, ANGKOR WAT is the national symbol and the highlight of any visit to Cambodia. The largest, best preserved, and most religiously significant of the Angkor temples, Angkor impresses visitors both by its sheer scale and beautifully proportioned layout, as well as the delicate artistry of its carvings. To approach the temple, first cross the vast moat, continuing along a broad causeway lined with naga balustrades. As you enter the main building, ascend through a series of galleries and courtyard before reaching the central sanctuary, which offers beautiful views back over the causeway and across the surrounding countryside. On the way, stop to enjoy the intricate stonecarvings that adorn nearly every surface, with some 1,700 Apsaras, or celestial dancers, sculpted into the walls. Along the outer gallery walls run the longest continuous bas-relief in the world, which narrates stories from Hindu mythology, including the famous Churning of the Ocean of Milk. Angkor Wat is stunning at any time of the day, but sunrise and sunset are especially beautiful times to watch the play of light on the stones. Overnight in Siem Reap
11-Mar-14
(Tuesday)
Breakfast     Excursion to Tonle Sap Lake with boat trip at Me Chrey
Explore Me Chrey villages, located on Tonle Sap lake, an extraordinary lake swells up to seven times its original size during the monsoon season. Its ecosystem is one of the richest and most diverse in the region. This boat trip will explore the floating fishing villages and houses that live at the edges of the lake, passing submerged forests and fishing farms.
Note : Houses there are all floating houses, about 300 houses, from Jul to Feb, villagers living around the pagoda and from Mar to Jun, houses move out to the lake. School buildings at Me Chrey supported by a Mission of Mercy; NGO supports building the school at Mechrey
Transfer to Airport for your departure flight – MI 636 :18:25

one visa fits all

The idea of having one visa for all ASEAN member states has been bandied about for a while, but now it looks as though plans are being finalised to turn this into a reality. The deadline is 2015.
The benefits for foreign travellers are many but the most obvious one is increasing ease of travel; the flow-on effect of this being increased tourism in the region.
Currently, citizens of ASEAN member states can travel seamlessly between other states and the idea now is that foreign travellers (ie from outside member states) will be able to apply for an ASEAN visa and travel to any or all member states as a result. So, you travel through Indochina on the one visa instead of having one for Viet Nam, one for Cambodia, one for Lao etc. The monetary saving is quite significant, and the processing time would be drastically reduced as a result.
Suffice to say, a quick survey of my colleagues garnered some pretty excited responses – in tourism, change doesn’t always make life easier but this is one your friendly local travel agent is going to be very excited about, as well as your backpacker friends!
ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) member countries:
Brunei Darussalam
Cambodia
Indonesia
Lao PDR
Malaysia
Myanmar
Philippines
Singapore
Thailand

Viet Nam