My 7 Wonders of the World

This is a special edition of my Favourites series.

It seems like there are so many variations of the Seven Wonders of the World floating around that I decided I would create my own from places that I’ve actually been.

My 7 Wonders of the World

Machu Picchu, Peru

Without a doubt, Machu Picchu is the most spectacular, awe-inspiring site that my eyes have ever seen. It absolutely lives up to all the hype! I trekked 33 kilometres over three days from Lares to Ollantaytambo before finally taking a train to Aguas Calientes and making the early morning trip to Machu Picchu. From touring the ancient capital of the Incas to hiking Wayna Picchu, the whole experience was incredible from start to finish. These Incan ruins need to be on every person’s bucket list.

Machu Picchu

Pyramids of Giza, Egypt

While I was planning my trip to Egypt, people were constantly asking me Why Egypt? This question seriously puzzled me. Don’t people understand that to see the pyramids one would have to go to Egypt? Well this original wonder of the world certainly earned its place. Riding camels around the site didn’t hurt either…

Camel Time

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

The most recent wonder on my list is the magical Halong Bay. Even on a mostly cloudy day this place had a mystical hold on me. With nearly 2000 limestone islets and floating fishing villages creating a tropical kaleidiscope above the green waters, this place is more than worthy of a spot on the new 7 wonders of the world list… and mine too!

Fishing Village

The Colosseum, Italy

I’ve visited this famous amphitheatre twice now and both times it transported me back in time. I’ve read so many stories and seen so many films (Gladiator anyone?) from the era of the Roman Empire and it is always haunting and humbling to be standing in a place so rich in history and tragedy. I can only imagine how impressive it would have been back in its glory days.

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The Eiffel Tower, France

Paris je t’aime! Sometimes I still can’t believe that I’m not living in a chic apartment in the Cinquième (5e) arrondissement splitting my time between the cafe culture and long walks along the Seine. But, I digress. There is no building on earth that I was more excited to see than the Eiffel Tower. After studying French for 8 years, this was the place that I most wanted to see when I went to France and the place that I would most like to re-visit… and soon!

Paris

Alhambra, Spain

This palace/fortress, originally constructed in 889 and reconstructed in the mid-11th century by the Moors was a major highlight of my 3 months in Spain. It might not be as popular as some of the other wonders on this list but it is every bit as beautiful. My only regret is that I didn’t take more pictures… I was too busy experiencing in the present tense.

Alhambra

Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

Croatia, Croatia, Croatia. The country that won my heart in one, all-to-brief week. And the crowning jewel is this absolutely stunning national park filled with turquoise lakes and magnificent waterfalls. This was the perfect day trip from Zagreb and a must-see stop for any trip to the Balkans. I can’t wait to go back!

Plitvice Lakes

 

My Top 5 Favourite Beaches

I decided to finally take the time to reflect on my travel past and document some of my absolute favourite finds over the past twenty-something years.

This is the first post in a new series on my travel Favourites (yes – I am Canadian, and this is how we spell favourite!)

Since it is summer, I thought it would be apropos to begin with the best beaches I’ve been blessed to sink my toes into.

 

Top 5 Favourite Beaches

 

Bai Dai Beach, Nha Trang, Vietnam

This gorgeous beach on the South China Sea had everything: White Sand, Warm Waters, and No one around. Touted as the best beach in a country with over 3000 km of coastline… it is easy to see why people love Southeast Asia.

Bai Dai Beach

Muchavista Beach, El Campello, Spain

I was incredibly lucky to spend 3 months living just a mere 5 minutes from this expansive beach north of Alicante. The entire length of the beach is lined with a boardwalk and a tram so that even getting groceries became an exciting event.

El Campello

Lanikai Beach, Kailua, Oahu

On my second trip to Oahu, I decided to do my research and find a beach, ANY BEACH, other than Waikiki. My search landed me on lovely Lanikai in the sleepy town of Kailua where public access is restricted to pedestrians only, making it the perfect island escape. It’s also made quite a few top 10 lists so this one is a no-brainer.

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Coronado Beach, San Diego, California

Whenever I go to San Diego (which is fortunately quite often) I always look forward to spending time on the island of Coronado. I can’t believe that people actually live there all the time because it is almost too lovely to be real.

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Kitsilano Beach, Vancouver, BC

No top 5 list would be complete without the place that makes me happier than any other. I live about 1 minute from the Pacific Ocean and it is a frequent stomping ground for me all year long. Vancouver has a lot of great beaches that I could include on this list (English Bay, Jericho Beach, Spanish Banks, Wreck Beach) but Kits beach is home. With breathtaking views of the North Shore mountains, Stanley Park, and the Vancouver skyline, it’s my favourite walk in the city! Our version of Venice Beach is also great for people watching, dog walking, bike riding, or playing some beach volleyball all year long.

Kits

 

What is your favourite beach?

Exploring Hanoi’s Old Quarter

Sometimes the best way to experience a city is to get lost.

Hanoi - Old Quarter

I actually can’t believe I’m saying that because no one likes control and a plan more than me but there’s something about Hanoi’s Old Quarter that makes you believe the perfect shop, cafe, or even spa is just around the corner. I spent a lovely two days falling in love with Vietnam’s capital and indulging in the affordable luxuries of Southeast Asian fame. Spa pedicure for $12? Unbelievable back massage for under $15? Delicious meals for less than $5? YES PLEASE!

In addition to splurging (can you even say that when it’s that cheap?) on souvenirs and relaxation, I also enjoyed some famous sights. First up: Hoan Kiem Lake – A beautiful lake in the historic centre lined with trees and filled with picture perfect vistas.

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I also made sure to check out the famous Water Puppet show. It was probably the most confusing but somehow entertaining show I’ve ever seen. The entire production was in Vietnamese and I never really figured out what was going on but it was definitely worth the $3 ticket price.

Now, I was too lazy (It was hot!) to walk to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum but I did manage to see his statue across from the lake.

Ho Chi Minh statue

And on my way to the Vietnamese Women’s Museum (yeah air conditioning!) I stumbled across St. Joseph’s Cathedral. You could definitely see the French colonial influence with this 19th century gothic church bearing a striking resemblance to Notre Dame in Paris.

St Joseph's Cathedral

After two days exploring Hanoi, and slowly re-introducing North American comforts, like the amazing treats at Joma Bakery Cafe, I was ready to head home. Vietnam definitely surpassed my expectations but I was ready for a break from the constant sweating… Summer in Southeast Asia is no joke! Hanoi was the perfect end to a perfect trip… until next time!

 

Halong Bay: Where the dragon descends into the sea

Legend has it that the mystical islands of Halong Bay were actually formed by a great dragon from the mountains. The ancient story says that when Vietnam was newly formed, its people had to fight fierce invaders from the North through the sea. The Jade Emperor felt sorry for the country and sent Mother Dragon and her children descending into the sea to defend them. The dragons helped to defeat their enemies with divine fire and giant emeralds (now the famous islands of Halong) that formed an invincible defensive wall. Thousands of years later, we now have one of the most beautiful bays in the world.

Halong Bay

Whether you believe the legend is true or not, no one can deny that Halong Bay is a remarkable place. Awe-inspiring. Breathtaking. Magical. None of these words can really describe the image implanted in my mind of countless limestone pinnacles jutting out of the sea. It was instantly clear why this beautiful place was selected as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature in 2012 and designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.

Halong Bay

My time in Halong Bay was short and sweet. At the Bay Chay wharf I boarded a junk boat at noon on Canada Day just in time to avoid a torrential downpour. Initially worried that the rain would ruin the scenery, I was quickly distracted by the enormous seafood lunch provided on board. With the weather quickly forgotten, I devoured course after course of squid, crab, shrimp, fish, and more dishes than I could handle. After I was thoroughly stuffed I realized that the rain had subsided and the sun was even breaking through the clouds (cue squinty eyes). We cruised the bay and visited a small floating village where I was able to capture some of my favourite images of the trip.

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Our final stop before heading back was the famous Thien Cung Grotto. The cave rises 20m above sea level and covers over 3000 square meters. Inside the cave you could wander up many levels where multi-coloured lights are projected onto the walls to illuminate the varied stalagmites and stalactites. That definitely conjured up some precious Geography 12 memories from high school.

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Although everything about Halong Bay was impressive, it wasn’t the highlight of my trip. I’m not sure why exactly. Maybe it seemed too obvious or possibly the overt tourism has diminished the wonder. I suppose that sometimes it is the simple and surprising that makes the biggest impact in the end. No matter, it was lovely, and I am grateful to have seen it for myself.

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Motorcycle Adventure in Imperial Huế

Unlike riding a water buffalo, riding a motorcycle is definitely an activity I’ve had on my bucket list for a while. Now, I don’t have any desire to own one but since Vietnam is home to over 40 million motorcycles, this felt like the perfect place to try it out.

Motorcycle

I was met in Hue, the former Imperial capital, with the first rough patch of weather so far this trip – truly a miracle considering it’s the rainy season. But, the wet skies did nothing to deter me from jumping on the back of a motorbike with my lovely driver Nee. He took me to see many sights that would have taken hours to see on my own, including another covered bridge, the imperial tombs, and the seven tiered Thien Mu pagoda.

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By the end of my three hour adventure, I had a new trip highlight. There really is no better way to get an authentic experience in Vietnam. Exhilarating, cooler (both in aesthetics and temperature), and convenient – the motorcycle is my new preferred way of city travel. The bike was even able to scale a mountain path to get me a view of the Perfume river… what’s not to love?

Perfume River

Cycling in the Vietnamese Countryside

After city hopping for several days I felt ready to experience something different. For a refreshing change of pace… I decided to take a bicycle tour of the countryside surrounding Hoi An. The scenery was beautiful and it was so nice to feel the breeze on such a hot morning. It definitely motivated me to keep pedaling because as soon as I stopped the sweat began to pour again. This is definitely the hottest spot on the trip so far!

After navigating some busy streets on my way out of town I was able to see local rural life in Vietnam. This included a stop at a farm to water the crops with traditional tools and a stop to ride a water buffalo. That’s right, you heard me… a water buffalo! I never even thought to put that one on my bucket list but very cool nevertheless.

 

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Charming and Picturesque Hoi An

The only place in Vietnam that I knew about before deciding to come here was the lovely UNESCO heritage city of Hoi An. I had heard of it from friends and travellers and knew it was famous for its European feel and small town charm. Well… Now that I’ve seen it for myself, I can confidently say that it’s my favourite spot in Vietnam (even with the skyrocketing temperatures).

Hoi An

One of my favourite things to do in any new city is wander around without an agenda and that’s exactly how I started my first day in Hoi An. It wasn’t long before I came across the tailor recommended to me by a friend back home and promptly ordered a custom dress and skirt (not pictured). Hoi An has over 400 tailors and they can have clothes custom made the same day! I am obsessed with my two items and keep wondering why didn’t I order more?!! I have this overwhelming urge to make this an annual pilgrimage!

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The heat was almost unbearable at times but I still managed to enjoy walking along the Thu Ban river and sneaking a free photo in the Japanese covered bridge (I think I was supposed to pay…oops). It was fun to explore but it was more fun to sit in a cafe by the river sipping on mango smoothies and eating pho under the fan. Have I mentioned how hot it is here? Let me tell you that 35 degrees plus 100% humidity makes it hard to do much of anything other than lie in the pool… Which I happily did later as well!

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The must-do event of the trip so far was catching the sunset over the river. At around 6pm when the sun is going down, the town totally transforms. The light from the sky mixed with all the hanging lanterns and floating candles was absolutely magical. I can see why people fall in love with this place.

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Beach Paradise in Nha Trang

My two days in Nha Trang were not nearly long enough to soak up all of the fabulous activities available. But, I did manage to squeeze in a lovely boat trip to snorkel in the South China Sea, an all day beach party with new friends, and some delicious Vietnamese cuisine.

This city had a completely different vibe than Ho Chi Minh City. I still feared for my life when crossing the street (crazy mopeds) but the atmosphere was way more laid back. I was fortunate to be able to enjoy the sunrise at the main beach one morning and it was there that I witnessed a jam packed beach at 6am. Apparently, the locals like to rise early to swim before the sun and the heat come out. That left a mostly quiet beach for us tourists to enjoy. Private cabanas could be rented for about $3 for the whole day and miles of white sand beaches were left for the taking. It’s no wonder the Russians have made Nha Trang their new go to vacation spot. I was certainly sad to leave but my skin needed a break from all that hot hot heat.

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Saïgon: Reflections on the Vietnam War

During my brief stay in Ho Chi Minh City (often still referred to as Saigon), I was able to get a quick history lesson on the Vietnam (read: American) war.

My first stop was Cu Chi just outside the city where a complex tunnel system stretching over 200km was built to hide and protect the Vietnamese from American attacks. Visitors are able to go inside some of the extremely cramped tunnels where at times you have to squat or shimmy to get through. I kept thinking that I would never have been able to survive for days in those tunnels let alone years. On display was also many types of traps and weaponry including a shooting range. The guns going off in the background made the experience all too real.

20140627-154010-56410331.jpgBomb Crater

Back in Saigon I took some time to explore the War Remnants Museum, which was very interesting. Outside were numerous tanks, planes, and helicopters from the war and inside were many photographs. The displays were heartbreaking as many images depicted the horrific effects of chemical warfare, mainly Agent Orange. The disfigurements, burns, and deformities still surface decades later and in so many innocent children. More civilians than soldiers died during the war making it so incredibly hard to understand how these tragedies happened and continue to happen in many parts of the world. I left feeling somber but also with respect for the resilience of the Vietnamese people who continue to rebuild their country to this day.

War Remnants Museum

 

Departure Lounge: Vietnam Itinerary

Departure Lounge: Vietnam Itinerary

It’s time to get back in the saddle again! Or perhaps more appropriately, the back pack straps! I am a mere 3 days away from my inaugural trip to Southeast Asia (aka backpacker paradise!) and my first solo trip. I am both excited and nervous about spending two weeks in my own company, but I’m trusting Adventurous Kate’s promise that solo travellers are never alone!

Some of you may be curious about my travel itinerary for this trip so I thought I would include a brief synopsis of my plans.

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Itinerary

June 21-22:Vancouver, Canada to Guangzhou, China (next day arrival and overnight)

June 23: Guangzhou, China to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam

June 24: Ho Chi Minh City

June 25-26: Nha Trang

June 27-28: Hoi An

June 29-30: Hue

July 1: Halong Bay / Bai Chay

July 2-3: Hanoi

July 4: Hanoi, Vietnam to Vancouver, BC (via Guangzhou, China)

I have some idea of what I want to do in these cities but I’m mostly looking forward to seeing what each day brings. That being said, these are the activities I am most looking forward to:

  • The infamous Nha Trang Boat Trip (aka booze cruise). Apparently, it’s the most fun you’ll have in Southeast Asia!
  • Getting custom-made clothing in Hoi An.
  • Touring the caves and waters of Halong Bay.
  • Eating as much PHO (pronounced fa) as possible… and learning the basics of Vietnamese cuisine.

I am hoping to post updates as I travel but that will mostly depend on my Internet access. Get ready for more fun updates to come!