Postcards from Ha Long Bay

Perhaps one of the most recognisable sights in Southeast Asia is Ha Long Bay. Located on the northeast coast of Vietnam, the bay is a bumpy 3.5 hour drive from the capital city of Hanoi. The vastness of the UNESCO heritage site quite literally took my breath away. With a name that translates to ‘Bay of the Descending Dragon’, Ha Long Bay spans an impressive area of 334km² and is populated by 1,600 monolithic islands made of limestones and hollowed by beautiful grottos. Some of these islands are even believed to be over 20,000,000 years old. Upon the glassy water, junk boats spread their sails like amber wings and fisherman cast their neats over floating villages.

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If you liked these photos, you might also be interested in checking out my 2016 Vietnam Travel Vlog on my Youtube Channel. 0:43 is where the Ha Long Bay magic happens!

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Vlog: Vietnam Edition

It’s that time of the day again, when I’m scrambling to my laptop to write and publish the day’s blog post before midnight. I always swear I’m going to be prepared and proactive and draft my posts before it gets to crunch time, but something always gets in the way. That ‘something’ is usually ‘excuses’. Sigh.

Anyhow. Time for round two of the vlogs! This time, I have condensed two weeks of my Vietnamese adventures into two and a half minutes of highly-edited, explosive footage. Okay, so maybe it’s not as Spielberg-esque as I’m making it out to be, but the sentiment is there.

Out of all of the countries in Southeast Asia that I visited on my last trip, Vietnam was unquestionably my favourite. I guess there’s just something about crawling on your stomach through war-torn tunnels, and trying to cross a five-way intersection whilst motorbikes hurtle full-speed at your small, defenceless body that leaves a lasting impression on you. Obviously the Vietnam experience extends beyond that, but those were definitely some of the things I think every tourist should prioritise when they book their tickets.

The five places within Vietnam featured in this vlog are (in order of appearance): Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). Note all the H’s. Hanoi was my absolute highlight of the trip; I can’t way to share my experience of staying in the Old Quarter in a future blog post. Hoi An takes out the award for the prettiest town, with streets decked with lanterns and fabrics that create a kaleidoscopic explosion of colour. I doubt I have to convince you of the beauty of Ha Long Bay, and Ho Chi Minh City was quite possibly the best history lesson I have ever had in my life. More on all of these enchanting places later, but if I’ve peaked your interests, then I invite you to view my 2016 Travel Vlog for Vietnam on my YouTube channel.

What was your favourite part of Vietnam? I found myself drawn to the north, but maybe that’s because I thrive in colder weather (cheers, New Zealand). Would love to hear your thoughts!

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10 Instagram Accounts to Ignite the Wanderlust in You

I love Instagram. A perfectionist at heart, I love the tidy squared layout of each account, and the challenge of ensuring that each photo is thoughtfully edited to create a fluent and thematic profile. There’s an art to it, I’m sure.

Three of my favourite Instagram posts. Follow me and my shameless self-marketing here.

Instagram – like most social media websites – provides one of the leading visual platforms for travel inspiration. I personally develop my destination wishlist from three sources; blogs, YouTube and Instagram. I am especially picky with the latter, and only follow a very small number of accounts. I find there exists a lot of overlap between fashion, beauty and travel bloggers, however because I have an embarrassing lack of interest in the former two, I try to only follow profiles that feature more heavily on the travel side of things. And so, for your viewing pleasure, I have curated my top ten Instagram accounts (in no particular order) to ignite the wanderlust in you.

1.

nastasiaspassport

Nastasia’s photography is nothing less than beautiful. The founder of the female-empowering travel blog Dame Traveler, Nastasia Wong’s mission is to “make this world a more connected, peaceful, compassionate and loving place“.

2.

muradosmann

You are probably already familiar with the epic photo series by Murad and his wife – Nataly – titled: Follow Me To. Each picture showcases a unique and breathtaking take on some of the most popular (and unexpected) destinations around the globe. Am I guilty of printing out a stack of my favourite photos and making a #followmeto collage upon my bedroom wall? Most definitely.

3.

polkadotpassport

I have a bit of a sweet spot for Nicola Easterby – the travel photographer and blogger who runs this account – as I am in love with the way she showcases the natural beauty of New Zealand. If you enjoy Nastasia’s work (from nastasiaspassport) then you will find yourself to be a fan of Nicola.

4.

gypsea_lust

I don’t agree with the unhealthy and downright dangerous mentality of lionising social media personalities, but Lauren Bullen from Gypsea Lust definitely has me questioning my morals. With her partner, Jack Morris, Lauren travels the globe creating wondrous imagery and content.

5.

isthisreal

One of the real points of difference that draws me to Brian Baldrati is his visual documentation of the people he meets on his travels. I find that a lot of other photographers tend to focus on landscapes or themselves. This is by no means a bad thing, but it is nice to shake things up a bit every now and again. Enter: Brian.

6.

thenomadicpeople

Nash and Kim of the Nomadic People make me want to buy a van and road trip across the United States of America. Or Europe. Or Asia. Or anywhere, to be completely honest with you. I don’t know where their adventures will take them after this trip, but I can’t wait to see what beautiful imagery they come up with next.

7.

dametraveler

Here we arrive at the brainchild of the previously mentioned Nastasia Wong (see 1.) Dame Traveler is a (you guessed it, travel) website “inspiring and empowering women to travel more, do more and be more“. What’s pretty awesome about this account is that every photo showcases a different woman, introducing you to dozens upon dozens of new and upcoming bloggers.

8.

doyoutravel

The partner in crime of Gypsea Lust’s Lauren Buller, Jack Morris is another must-see travel blogger who will open your mind to places you never even thought existed.

9.

monicamoras

Mônica Morás is only someone I have stumbled upon quite recently, but am immensely glad I did. A lifestyle blogger from Brazil, Mônica has been on the road since 2014, photographing and sharing her global adventures. A little bit different from the rest of the profiles I have included in this list, I enjoy reading Mônica’s captions just as much as viewing the photos themselves.

10.

sidewalkerdaily

Last but not least, it is my pleasure to introduce you to Sidewalker Daily. Curated by Nina Zadeh, this account showcases – much in the style of Dame Traveler – a new travel blogger every day. Again, this is a fantastic opportunity to appreciate the work of people that you may never have heard of, and to be inspired by the visual tales they delight in sharing. The beauty of this account is that you too can be a featured #sidewalker.

So there you have it; ten of my favourite Instagram accounts to infect you with the travel bug. I’m always hungry to discover new bloggers, so tell me below who you follow – or even better – share your own Instagram so I can give you a follow and say hello!

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Everything You Need to Know About Getting a Tattoo in Thailand

If you had asked ten year old me if I were likely to ever get a tattoo, I would have given a squeaky, pre-pubescent laugh. Me? The goody-two-shoes kid who always checks twice before she crosses the road? Not fudging likely. But as you will know, young adulthood always turns up late to the party with a plus one of experimentation, and why not explore your new identity with getting a tattoo that you will be stuck with for the rest of your life? That’s the exact opposite of a recipe for disaster, if you ask me.

Nine years later and — much to my parent’s disgrace — I have initiated a tradition of acquiring a tattoo in every new place I travel to. I have homage to New Zealand, the United States and Rarotonga permanently etched into my skin, and plans for many more. I have so many ideas and opinions about tattoos that I would love to share, but they alone warrant their own post. For now, I am going to share my experience of adding to the collection with a Thailand tat.

So there we were; me — the veteran with my measly three tattoos — and my ink virgin friend Poppy, roaming the sleazy and drunken streets of Pattaya for a semi-reputable tattoo parlour. Just that sentence in and of itself is a parent’s worst nightmare. We had investigated maybe seven or eight studios before settling on one that looked to offer a sanitised and satisfactory experience.

And so I present to you: Eve Tattoo Studios.

I’m not going to lie; I was drawn to my tattooist Jim because of his devilish good looks. Very professional of me, I know. The other factor that ticked the box for me was that he looked to be of European descent. This stemmed purely from the fact that I was searching for someone who would speak English well, and that I would be able to communicate with throughout the process. In light of the fact that we were tattoo-hunting in Southeast Asia, this was quite the priority in my books. I consider the Thai artists to be very talented and innovative, however when you are getting work permanently inked into your skin, you need to be on the same level of understanding. A language barrier is the first step to painful and expensive regret.

Having not really committed to any particular design yet, I opted for a spontaneous rendition of my favourite piece of artwork: The Great Wave off Kanagawa, a woodblock print by artist Katsushika Hokusai. And yes, incase you feel the pressing urge to remind me, I am very much aware that I got a Japanese-style tattoo to honour Thailand. Don’t question my motives. Meanwhile, Poppy stuck to her guns and settled on an intricate dragon fly that she’d had her eye on ever since I had thrown the idea of her also getting a tattoo into the mix.

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The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai

If you have never gotten a tattoo before, then I’m sure you probably have a lot of questions. I was exactly the same. Whether it hurts or not tends to be the most pressing, and I’m not going to lie; it hurts like a bitch. In saying that though, I am a complete and utter wuss. I cry when I have to get a blood test, and I have avoided piercing my ears for fear of inexplicable agony (*cue derisive laughter*). Yet somehow, I manage to drag myself into that chair time and time again.

The best way I can describe the sensation of the needle upon your skin is by likening it to that of a prolonged cat scratch. What’s more, the beauty of tattoos — as opposed to piercings, as I have been told — is that as soon as the artist removes the gun, the pain vanishes (at least, in my experience that has been the case). Sure, you get some itching and irritation during the healing process, but you will not have to endure months and months of tenderness or rawness in the aftermath. The pain itself is a very concise and fleeting sensation.

Things to be Mindful of when Tattoo-Hunting in Thailand

Avoid Language Barriers

If you cannot clearly communicate what you would like done, then maybe it is time to consider another studio. There are so many important things to discuss — whether that be finalising a design, settling on a price, answering any burning questions or detailing the healing process — that crossing your fingers and hoping ambiguous hand gestures will do the trick just isn’t good enough. If you are prepared to walk away with a tattoo you are not happy to have on your body forever — with no idea how to look after it — then by all means, ignore this tip. But if you want the process to be smooth sailing and stress-free, then this should be at the top of your checklist.

Do Not Use a ‘Cheap Bargain’ as the Dictator of Where You Get Your Tattoo Done

As is the general rule of thumb with most goods and services, a higher price is indicative of higher quality. Tattoos are no exception. In a place such as Southeast Asia where bartering is the norm, quality can be harder to gauge as artists are always trying to beat the previous price. We ended up going with Eve Tattoo Studios, who provided the most expensive quote.

Cleanliness

There’s a reason for all the jokes around HIV and AIDS when telling friends you’re getting a tattoo in Thailand. Okay, maybe that is reserved for the worst case scenario, but there are still plenty of consequences to reap from short-cutting the process. You need to make sure the studio is sanitised and clean. A professional artist may tell you that they are using a new needle straight out of the packet, and some — such as Jim — will even show you as they open it for peace of mind. This tip is more common sense than anything, but as someone who understands the feeling of getting caught up in the excitement and adrenaline of a new tattoo, it is not difficult for the basics to get brushed to the back of your mind.

Do Your Research!

Can we please take a moment to appreciate the magic of Tripadvisor? You wouldn’t send your child to a new school without looking into the quality of both the institution and the employees. Okay, strange analogy, but you get the gist. Another thing I strongly recommend doing before committing to a studio, is asking to view work done by the tattooist that is similar to what you are looking at getting done. I have found that this is especially relevant to conventionally feminine designs, as studios are more likely to advertise their big, colourful pieces that accumulate hours and hours of work, and tens of thousands of dollars. It is one thing for an artist to be adept at these styles, but if you are more interested in minimalist pieces, it definitely pays to ask to see their personal experience with these.

Find the Balance Between Assertion and Flexibility

I learnt the hard way that it is unfeasible to waltz into a tattoo parlour lacking the mindset to adapt your design according to the artist’s recommendations. You need to remember that your artist has your interests at heart, and is just trying to negotiate a compromise on a design and placement that will both suit your tastes and look good at the same time. In saying that, if they suggest a final design that you do not like, you need to make it clear that you are not happy with it. As a naturally passive person, it took a number of goes for me to muster the confidence to tell my tattooist that I didn’t like what they were suggesting, but that I was willing to explore other options.

Choose Your Timing Wisely

This is especially applicable to traveling. The healing process of a tattoo is not long and complicated, but there are a handful of things you need to abide by for your designated time period. One of these is that you must avoid swimming and sun exposure. As you can imagine, this can prove a hassle if you are traveling to a tropical destination where lounging on a sun-drenched beach is one of the selling-points (ahem Thailand). If this is the case, you might want to book your tattoo in for the end of your trip. Otherwise, it’s hello layers.

Cultural Appropriation

If you have culturally-orientated ink lined up in your sights, you may want to double check what is appropriate and what is not. In Thailand, it is considered disrespectful to have the Buddha tattooed onto you. Whilst this may not appear to be such a pressing issue once you are on the flight home, I firmly believe that respect and courtesy to the customs and values of your host country are of the upmost importance.

So there you have it; my tips and tricks for getting a tattoo in Thailand. And if you ever feel like making a spontaneous and permanent decision in the southern town of Pattaya, I highly recommend you pay Jim and the rest of the team at Eve Tattoo Studios a call.

The ‘Deats

Name: Eve Tattoo Studios

Location: Pattaya, Thailand

Number: +66 87 130 1808

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Enjoying my fresh ink at Ha Long Bay

Have your own crazy tattoo experiences or advice to share? Comment below! I would love to hear all of your stories!

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Vlog: Thailand Edition

I wish I had the luxury to say, ‘you may have noticed that I have been absent from posting for the past month or so’ like most bloggers, but that would have required me to make regular updates in the first place. As this is only my third post, I’m going to let that slide, but worry not! My goal is to create new content every MONDAY, WEDNESDAY and FRIDAY! Now, let’s see how long that lasts for…

One of the perks of having my own blog is that I have complete creative freedom over what I create and produce. For me, this means that I am not limited to sharing my experiences in just one format. So I have decided to experiment with my cinematic side, and have put together a vlog (or ‘video log’ for the less informed – looking at you, mother) to document my adventures in Thailand this past November.

Without further ado, please enjoy my Thailand vlog! And feel free to stop by my new Youtube Channel and give it a cheeky subscribe (and a thumbs up if you’re feeling extra spicy).

Comment with your own Youtube channel and/or videos – I’d love to check them out!

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Starfish Café: Your Sunday Morning Fix

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Could this possibly be the best café in Dunedin?

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Having lived in this city in southern New Zealand my whole life, I think it is fair to say that I have done the café rounds. Coming from a family with a passion for food (and being a high-functioning teaholic), it is hard pressed for me to find a café here that I have not dined at.

And so we arrive at the Starfish, the eclectic seaside café on the St. Clair esplanade.

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It’s hard to define Starfish, but maybe that’s the beauty of it. From the electric swing playing over the speakers to the David Bowie posters pouting down at you from the wall, from the vintage swan wallpaper to the Pacific Ocean right outside the front door… and I haven’t even gotten to the food yet. Think coconut turmeric lattes as you sit outside and enjoy the sun on a lazy Sunday morning. Think a glass of wine as you wind down to an acoustic set on a Friday evening. Think fresh seafood sourced straight from the Otago harbour. Mouth watering yet?

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I think the best thing about Starfish is that every time I go there (and believe me, it’s an embarrassing amount), it’s a whole new experience. I never tire of the ever-changing menu, and there is such a huge array of options to choose from and I don’t think I could ever sample everything. For all you social media enthusiasts (*raises a guilty hand*), do not fret; everything at Starfish is Insta-worthy. And for all you difficult dietary chums (*raises another guilty hand*), they’ve got you covered. Dairy free? Gluten free? Vegetarian? Look no further.

If there is one place you should go to experience the essence of Dunedin’s café culture on your travels, Starfish is the one. Perhaps one of the only stale points is that it is not within walking distance of the town centre, limiting it to those with access. However, if an outing to St. Clair is not already on your to do list, then I honestly don’t know what you’re doing here. Nestled in a plethora of boutique shops and restaurants – not to mention the most photogenic beach in New Zealand (am I biased? …probably), just one visit will be enough to convince you to ditch your return ticket home. Just make sure you’ve packet a scarf and gloves in your suitcase. Brr.

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My Starfish Breakfast Order

  • Pics Poles Smoothie
  • Blueberry, Coconut & Lemon Hotcakes
  • Citrus Slice

(note to self: don’t complain when you no longer fit your jeans)

Also, a handy tip; if you’re eyeing up one of their famous smoothies (I recommend the Pics Poles; possibly the best peanut butter creation to ever grace the earth), make sure you get in there before 3pm or else the blender gets put away for the day. Believe me, I’ve made this mistake many times; tears were shed.

The ‘Deats

Starfish Café, Restaurant & Bar

240 Forbury Road, St. Clair, Dunedin, New Zealand

Sunday-Tuesday 7am-5pm

Wednesday-Saturday 7am til late

03 455 5940

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Wake Up: A Travel Playlist

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And no, this playlist does not include Coldplay’s Paradise.

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  1. Wake Up Arcade Fire
    I’m talking the Walter Mitty version here; if there was ever a song to inspire you to drive to the airport and jump on the first flight outta there, then this is it. I get chills every time I listen to it. On that note, if you haven’t seen the Secret Life of Walter Mitty, stop right now and watch the trailer. You won’t regret it.
  2. WoodRostam
    This is such a beautiful song that I remember listening to over and over when I first discovered it. The best thing about it is that every time I listen to it, I appreciate something new.
  3. SundaraODESZA
    This is a song that I imagine listening to as your flight gradually takes off and you feel the swell of gravity in your stomach as you ascend above the clouds.
  4. Big Jet Plane Angus and Julia Stone
    Would it really be a travel playlist without this song? I don’t think so. If you haven’t heard it before, get it in your ears now.
  5. Rather Be Clean Bandit feat. Jess Glynne
    I vaguely remember making travel vlogs to this when I rediscovered a whole heap of lost footage a couple of years ago. I love the clash of vibes (for lack of a better word) in this song.
  6. Philosophize In It! Chemicalize In It!Kishi Bashi
    A psychedelic, eclectic mix of… I don’t even know how to describe it. You just have to listen to it for yourself. Preferably while walking the streets of a brand new city at sunrise.
  7. Send Me On My Way Rusted Root
    Cue Ice Age flashbacks to Manny, Diego and Sid trekking across the snow-capped landscape in one of my favourite animated movies. I’ll even throw in a link to that classic childhood scene, just for good measure.
  8. Say U Won’tBrasstracks
    A bit of a nostalgic one for me. Every time I play this songs, I have memories listening to it on repeat as I cruised around the island of Rarotonga on a scooter. A bit random, but there you go. Also the best pick-me-up song.
  9. Tables and ChairsEvan Sinton
    A nod to the New Zealand music industry! I saw Evan Sinton sing this song live at a concert when he was performing as an opening act for another artist. It’s fair to say the highlight of the entire concert was Evan performing this original song (sorry to the artist I actually paid to see). Check out the music video for the full experience.
  10. Life is a HighwayRascal Flatts
    An oldie but a goodie. American road trip, anyone…?

Comment with your own favourite travel songs and I’ll be sure to give them a listen and let you know what I think!

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