12 Pro Tips for Travelling South East Asia: Before You Go & When You Arrive

We have put together 12 pro tips for travelling to South East Asia including 6 pro tips for before you go and 6 pro tips for when you arrive. These are a few key things we wish we had known prior to our first trip to South East Asia and now, after countless trips to this incredible side of the world, we feel these are something every first-time traveller should know.

Before You Go

1. Pack Light 

When travelling to South East Asian countries, the weather will be HOT so the last thing you want to be doing is carrying around a huge backpack/suitcase packed with expensive clothes you probably won’t end up wearing anyway. In Asia, clothes are super cheap, which means you can pick up vests, t-shirts, shorts, dresses etc. for the equivalent of a couple of pound. They are often lightweight too, which makes them perfect for the local weather. Plus, you won’t have to worry about losing or ruining these clothes as they can easily be replaced. However, the sizes are often pretty small so make sure you try the first few items on to get a feel for the size that you need and make sure you are comfortable wearing them before buying lots of items. 

2. Don’t Over Plan 

One of the great things about travelling is all the people you will meet along the road who will open your eyes to places you might not have even considered before. Therefore, although it’s good to have a rough plan on places you want to go and things you want to see, leaving a bit of wiggle room for a change of plans and spontaneity could lead to the experience of a life time. When we travelled to Bali, Indonesia, for the first time, it was only when we arrived that we found out about the beautiful Gili Islands. As we had already booked our flight out of Bali and are next accommodation, we could only squeeze in a one day excursion to the islands! We did return the next year though…check out our photo highlights here.  

3. Get Travel Insurance 

A wise man always travels with insurance. No matter how long or short the trip, having the right cover is as much of an essential as accommodation. There are many factors to consider including which destinations you plan to travel to, what activities you plan on doing, and how long you plan on travelling for. Therefore, ensure you provide as much accurate information as possible when deciding on your insurance. Our go-to site is compare the market as it makes it super easy to compare between various travel insurance providers to ensure you get the right cover. 

4. Get Relevant Vaccinations 

Depending on what you plan to do and where you plan to go when you arrive in South East Asia will determine which vaccinations you will need. For example, if you plan to spend a lot of time in Thailand’s jungle, you will likely need malaria prevention, among many others. However, if you plan on staying in the inner city, this likely won’t be a requirement. Prior to travelling, ensure you visit your local doctor and provide as much information as you can with regard to your travel plans as this will ensure you get the vaccinations you need. If you are unsure whether you will visit the jungle but it’s a possibility, it’s better to be safe than sorry and get the vaccination anyway. That way, you won’t have to miss out on any spontaneous trips for these reasons. 

5. Have Some Local Currency 

It’s always handy to have some of the local currency when arriving in a new country so you can grab essentials such as transport to your hotel and food and drinks. Plus, it might take some time to find a local currency exchange so having enough cash to get you through a day or two is recommended. It might be a good idea to change extra cash as you need it so that you are not travelling with lots of money on your persons. This can be more secure and should you lose your cash, you will always have a back-up with the money in your bank. Plus, you can often get better rates when exchanging cash locally in South East Asian countries.  

6. Get to Know the Visa Requirements 

Each destination you visit will likely have different visa requirements and it’s important you are aware of the regulations before you arrive. Often countries require you to have the visa in place before you arrive at the airport, while others (e.g. Thailand, Indonesia) allow you to complete a short form when you arrive at the airport and get your visa upon arrival. This is often for short stays (e.g. 1-3 months), however, it always depends on the country that your passport was issued, so it’s really important that you check out the guidelines on the country’s official government website in advance of visiting to ensure you have the correct documentation in place. 

 

When You Arrive

1. Educate Yourself on the Local Culture and Respect It 

South East Asia is beaming with culture that is very different to what you may be used to, specially if you are travelling from Western countries such as the UK, Europe or America. It’s important that we remain with respect when visiting these countries and particularly when visiting religious monuments such as temples and statues. Educate yourself on the local culture prior to arrival and then practice it when you are at the destination. There is plenty of information available on official government websites and travel blogs so you shouldn’t go short on places to find reliable information.

2. Agree a Taxi Price before You Get In  

It’s always best to agree a taxi price before you get in the taxi and specially before you arrive at your location to ensure you get the best and most accurate price for the trip. Not all taxi drivers will try to take advantage of travellers, but just like in many other countries around the world, there is the possibility that this could happen in South East Asia. Therefore, we recommend agreeing a price before you set off on your journey and ensuring you are aware of the local conversion rate would help too. 

3. Always Pay for an Air Conditioned Room 

Although South East Asia has its storms and wet weather, it is renowned for its intense heat and humidity, something we from the UK might not be all too familiar with. It remains hot at night too, so make sure the room you are staying in is well air conditioned (and that the air conditioning actually works, well!), otherwise you could be in for a rather uncomfortable night, which could impede on your plans the next day if you end up super tired from lack of sleep. 

4. Learn How to Bargain for a Good Price  

Bargaining for the best price in Asia is expected, specially in the local markets – it’s part of the South East Asian culture. Therefore, you should become comfortable with haggling and never accept the first price offered by the seller. They know the price is too high and they expect you to try and get a better price. A rule of thumb is that you should pay around half the original price offered by the seller. But, it’s always wise to shop around and see what others are asking for the same item, then you can price compare and make a confident purchase decision. 

5. If You Rent a Scooter, Ensure You Take Pictures of it Before You Leave  

It’s great fun renting a scooter in South East Asia. You can easily explore the wonderful places at your own leisure and get off the beaten track to seek out quiet beaches and local bars and eateries. The price isn’t too bad either and for the equivalent of a couple of UK£/US$ per day (this varies depending on location), you can often take the scooter wherever you want, just as long as you bring it back in the same condition as when you rented it. Because you often have to provide your passport and hotel details, we highly recommend taking pictures of the scooter outside the rental place before you leave. That way, the existing damages are evident so you can’t be accused or charged for something that you didn’t do. Always lock the scooter up outside your hotel or when going for food and drinks because if it gets stolen, it’s your responsibility. Also, if you do plan on hiring a scooter, quad bike or car for example, ensure you have an international drivers license as its against the law to drive without one in South East Asia and your travel insurance won’t cover you. 

6. Ensure You Have Evidence of Onward Travel 

If you have a 30 days visa, you will be expected to provide evidence of your onward travel after the last date so although it’s always good to plan loosely not precisely, it’s always best to have some form of transport arranged for your exit from that specific country. Failing to do so might result in you being restricted access from entering the country or leaving the country you are already in to travel to the country you are aiming to go to. For example, you might be restricted from leaving Australia to get to Indonesia if your visa in Indonesia is 30 days and you don’t have proof of onward travel from Indonesia after the 30 day period. 

Have you got any more tips that should be on this list? Let us know in the comments below and we will add them on, with credit to yourself and your blog!

6 Things You Should Know Before Visiting Tokyo for the First Time

Tokyo is one of the most exciting cities in the world where you can enjoy unique and unforgettable experiences. From seeing the largest Mountain in Japan to exploring the city by Mario Go Kart, you won’t go short of fun things to do in this exciting city.

However, there are many things first time visitors need to be aware of when visiting Japan’s capital for the first time from correct etiquette when out in public places to avoiding disappointment when visiting top attractions. Spending a bit of time planning your trip before you go can ensure you have a more satisfactory trip and get to see and do all the things you planned to.

Having learned the hard way during our first visit to Tokyo, we want to ensure you don’t experience the same pitfalls as we did. Therefore, we have compiled our list of 6 things you should know before visiting Tokyo for the first time. This includes how to behave in public areas, using public transport (including getting to and from the both Narita and Haneda airport), the best times to see cherry blossoms, how to ensure you are equipped to experience one of the top tours in Tokyo (Mario Go Kart), and finally, having realistic expectations of Mount. Fuji.

1. Be Aware of How to Behave in Public Areas

Japan is a country where respect is everything so as a tourist you should respect this rule and ensure you are aware of the basic manners, behaviours and etiquette to abide by when visiting this part of the world. A few basics that we learned the hard way where to cover up tattoos in public, keep a low voice (i.e. no shouting) in public areas, and do not eat or drink in the street or on public transport.

A word on tattoos: When awaiting the check-in time for our hotel after a sleepless night of travelling from Hong Kong, we visited another hotel to laze about by the outdoor pool. Upon arrival, we were kindly informed that Brett couldn’t go in unless he covered up his entire forearm tattoo. We then had to leave the hotel to seek out a local pharmacy where we purchased a cover up for his arm that was suitable for swimming. In order to avoid being in this situation, make sure you cover up any tattoos when visiting public areas and this includes both small and large tattoos.

Keep a low tone when out in public: Being quiet when out in Japan is also a must so make sure you don’t raise your voice as this may seem aggressive or disrespectful and could land you in some trouble. Even if you are simply expressing excitement, ensure this is in a soft and quiet manner.

Tipping isn’t expected: Although in many European and American countries it’s often polite to provide a tip to hospitality staff as restaurants, taxi drivers or your hotel, for example, it’s quite the opposite in Japan. Tipping is often not expected given that the Japanese believe that good service is the standard and attempting to provide a tip may result in your it being refused and handed back to you.

If you insist on tipping, it’s recommended that you place the money in an envelope to hand it over, rather than pulling money directly from your pocket or purse. However, given that tipping is not expected by the Japanese, it can be more polite to not provide a tip and just express your gratefulness for a great service by thanking the employees and keeping your money to yourself.

Additional points to consider: Other things to consider which might seem disrespectful are pointing with your finger, staring at locals, being on the phone in public, blowing your nose in public (make sure you go the toilet for this) and counting change when you have made a cash payment. Overall, ensure you read around Japanese etiquette before visiting the country to avoid upsetting the locals and if you take anything from this post, remember that quietness and respect go a long way in this country.

2. Using Public Transport in Japan

The Japanese public transport network is known for being clean, reliable, and offering an excellent, efficient service. As with most major cities, visitors are provided the option of bus, subway or train with the subway being the most convenient and preferred way to get around the city (including ours). You can buy multi-day tickets that can be used throughout 1-3 days costing around 800-1500 Yen (approx. £6-£12), which can be more convenient and save you time each day.

Although the underground system isn’t the easiest to understand given the vast size of the metropolitan area, taking taxis can be timely (given the inner-city traffic) and costly, so it could pay off in the long run to try your best at getting to grips with the underground system.

Granted, the subway can be even trickier for foreigners who don’t understand the local language given that there the majority of signs etc. are in Japanese. However, bear in mind that the locals are often more than happy to help and you could always ask the ticket staff although a high level of English language isn’t guaranteed so getting to know a few basics of the local language could go a long way. Alternatively, Google Translate could be your new best friend.

3. Pre-book Airport Transfer or Take Public Transport

During our first trip to Tokyo, we arrived at Haneda Airport during the early hours of the morning so public transport was limited. We joined the orderly taxi queue and as we were surviving on no sleep, we didn’t even realise we had been bundled into a local black cab (i.e. the more expensive taxi!). It wasn’t until 15 minutes into the journey, Brett noticed the metre quickly growing and when we finally arrived at our hotel around 25 minutes later we were blown away by the fee, which was the equivalent to more than 32,000 Yen (approx. £250)!

For just a short 25 minute journey, we paid the equivalent to more than one nights stay in our hotel. We quickly learned that getting around by taxi was not the most economic mode of transport to say the least. For the rest of our time in Tokyo, we walked and took the subway.

However, when leaving Tokyo and travelling to Indonesia on an early morning flight, we decided to take the train rather than pay 38,500 Yen (approx. £300) for a taxi as quoted by our hotel. We caught the subway to central Tokyo and after some running around we eventually found the platform where the first airport train was due to arrive. The JR Narita Express takes around one hour to reach the airport and costs around 3000 Yen (approx. £24) one-way with departures every 30-60 minutes.

When the train stopped, we were informed that we couldn’t board with the tickets we had purchased as the JR Narita Express is reservation only so pre-booked seats are required. We were then challenged with running back to the ticket office to purchase the correct tickets and overall it was a lot of fuss and unnecessary stress that could have been avoided had we planned our trip more carefully and known this vital information.

So when you are visiting Tokyo, make sure you have either pre-arranged airport transfer or ensure your flight lands during the hours that public transport is operating to avoid a hefty taxi fee like we did.

Also, if you travel by train, make sure you pre-book your seats. We recommend doing this online or have your hotel book it for you as trying to achieve this at the various train stations like we did could result in a lot of lost time and money and a lot of stress in fear of missed flights!

4. Realistic Expectations of Mount. Fuji Tour

One of the main attractions for people visiting Tokyo is to take a day excursion to see the wonderful Mount. Fuji (or Fuji-san in Japanese), Japan’s highest and most prominent mountain standing at a staggering 3,776 metres high. Located around 60 miles west of the Tokyo-Yokohama metropolitan area, Mount. Fuji attracts over 250,000 visitors per year.

Although it has remained dormant since its last eruption in 1707, geologists still classify it as an active volcano. There are many options for experiencing the mountain and visitors can opt to climb or take a full or half day tour by bullet train or cruise/bus tour. Check out Get Your Guide for more specific options and pricing, which varies from £50 upwards (approx. 6,500 Yen) and the option to add on extra activities such as shopping or fruit picking. You can also book tours locally while in Tokyo, which we recommend based on our experience below.

The mountain is best viewed from afar, so during our stay we aimed to book on a full day tour to experience the views of Mount. Fuji and the surrounding areas including shrines, hot spring towns and Lake Kawaguchi and Oshino Hakkai. However, when we headed to a local tour operator to book our day excursion, we were kindly informed that even on the clearest of days, the visibility of the mountain is limited.

During our stay, we hadn’t experienced the best weather in Tokyo but it had brightened up in the 24 hours prior to our visit and us aiming to book a tour. However, the forecast wasn’t that great so the tour operator suggested for us to not waste our money on the tour that would have cost us more than 25,000 Yen (approx. £200).

So if you plan on visiting Mount. Fuji during your trip to Tokyo, it’s recommended that you visit from Autumn to Winter. It’s visible from the capital on some days between November and February and rarely between April and August with September being Typhoon season, so again visibility is low.

We will be heading back to see the stunning UNESCO World Heritage Site in the future, this time with better planning!

5. International License Required for Mario Go Kart City Tour

One of the most exciting and popular tours in Tokyo is the Mario Go Kart city tour, a real-life Mario Kart experience. It’s exactly as it sounds, you dress as your favourite comic such as Mario or Luigi and explore the city by Go Kart for between two and four hours.

The tours are led by a local guide and you will get to see top attractions such as Tokyo Tower, Shibuya Crossing and Rainbow Bridge, among many others. You can even hire an action camera to record your entire journey, all you have to do is bring or buy your own SD card. The Karts are also equipped with Bluetooth speakers so you can enjoy your own music while exploring the city in the most exciting way.

Prices start from around 8,500 Yen (approx. £66) and vary depending on which of the three tours you decide to take and you can also access reduced-rate tickets via Voyagin. There are also a few things to consider prior to your tour with the most important being the correct drivers license.

Given that the Go-Kart experience takes place on the roads, it’s important that you have one of the following drivers licenses depending on your country of origin:

  1. A full Japanese Driver’s license
  2. SOFA driving license for US Forces Japan
  3. Passport with forieng driving license (issued in Switzerland, Germany, France, Taiwan, Belgium, Solvenia or Monaco) with Japanese translation by authorised organisation
  4. Passport with an international driving permit (issued by a signatory to the 1949 Geneva Convention)

It’s best to make sure you have the correct license prior to visiting in order to ensure you can take part in this exciting tour during your visit. For further information, click here.

6. Cherry Blossom Blooming Dates are Short and Sweet

When absorbed in the hustle and bustle of the fast-paced city life, it’s always nice to escape into nature for a while, which is why we always seek out parks and gardens on city breaks. During our visit to Tokyo, we visited Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden (featured in our 15 Photos that Will Make You Want to Visit Tokyo), which is one of the capital’s largest and most popular parks.

The gardens are conveniently located just a short walk from Shinjuku station and you just pay a small fee of 500 Yen upon entering through Shinjuku Gate. Then, you are free to wander the tranquil scenery and make your way through the many gardens including the Japanese Garden, English Garden and French Garden.

The gardens are one of the best places in the city to see the Cherry Blossoms. However, as we found out during our trip, they are in bloom for a very short period of time so it’s important to plan your visit accordingly if you aim to see them during your visit to Tokyo.

Ensure you double check when they are due to start blooming and plan your visit to coincide with this. Be aware that once they have begun to bloom, they hit full bloom around a week later and a further week later most of the blossoms will have fallen off the trees. This gives you just a two week window to see the wonderful pink cherry blossoms during your visit to Tokyo.

Also, the gardens open at 9am throughout the year, however, the closing hours vary from season to season so make sure you double check this too. High season (July-August) is often as late as 7pm, reducing to 6pm during mid-season (March-June and August-September) and 4.30pm during low season (October-March).

There are so many exciting things to see and do in the ultramodern city of Tokyo. We love this city because it isn’t like any other and you can easily combine exploring national parks and gardens with the hustle and bustle of the city centre. We hope these tips and tricks help planning your trip to this incredible part of the world!

 

5 Activities for a Rainy Day in Ubud, Bali

Bali is well known for its glorious warm weather that attracts lots of visitors from all over the world throughout the year. But, just like similar destinations such as Thailand and the Philippines, it is also prone to tropical thunder storms and heavy downpour, which can come and go quickly, but often they like to stick around for a little while.

On our previous trip to Ubud, Bali, we found ourselves in this very situation. While we had initial excitement experiencing the thunderstorm from our balcony at Ubud View Bungalow, we hadn’t really thought of any activities that didn’t involve being out in the lovely sunshine such as exploring temples, wandering the markets, or simply lazing by the pool.

As the thunderstorm continued overnight and into the morning, we found ourselves pondering on what to do with our days not knowing how many we would have to fill with ‘rainy day’ activities.

After some serious thought and a little research, we managed to compile a list of several fun things we could do while the thunderstorm continued outside.

We quickly figured out that if a thunderstorm calls for anything, its a bit of self-care such as a spa day or yoga class and a bit of indulgence such as enjoying delicious food and drinks.

As the rain continues to pour down here in the UK, this seems like a fitting time to reflect and share our fun rainy day activities with you guys. While the list below is focused on our recommendations in Ubud, you can easily enjoy these or similar rainy day activities in other locations.

1. Take a Yoga Class

Ubud is well known as the ideal retreat for rejuvenation so it comes as no surprise that Yoga is thriving here. There are abundant Yoga retreats and classes available so you won’t be short of a place to practice.

In Ubud, you will be surrounded by lush greenery including jungles and rice paddies, which provides the perfect backdrop and tranquility to relax and unwind.

The Yoga Barn is one of the largest retreat centres in South East Asia and a popular location that provides classes and workshops year-round from early morning to late evening. The Yoga Barn is an artistically crafted studio and retreat centre that captures the true essence of Ubud and the island of Bali.

2. Lunch at The Alchemy

Take advantage of the rainy day weather by filling your tummy with delicious food, which you won’t go short of in Bali!

Our favourite spot here is The Alchemy for sure, which is the first 100% raw vegan cafe in Bali. It provides freshly prepared dishes that are free from refined sugar, flour, dairy, wheat and chemical additives. They offer a wholesome raw and vegan salad bar that serves the best buddha bowls in the area. You will find everything from zucchini pasta and coconut noodles, to raw burgers and curried vegetables.

The real treat here is the juice menu that is full of organic, energising juices, as well as the dessert bar serving mouthwatering raw chocolates, truffles, brownies and more. Situated in-store is the Alchemy’s own health store stocking superfoods, organic produce, and cosmetics for you to take home.

3. Take a Cooking Class with the Locals

Taking a cooking class will allow you to discover exotic Balinese fruits, herbs and spices and their medicinal properties too. Many are hosted by local families who provide private traditional Balinese cooking experiences where you can learn to cook local dishes such as Pepes Ikan and Bregedel.

You can sit back and enjoy the delicious dishes you helped to prepare from the family’s home while learning about life in Bali from people who have grew up there.

Many of these private experiences include extras such as a guided tour around Ubud and even pick-up and drop-off to and from your hotel.

The best part? You’ll be helping to support the local people and economy. TripAdvisor is a great place to find traditional Balinese cooking experiences and its always good to hear stories from others who have experienced it previously.

4. Cook Traditional Balinese Food with Local Produce

Depending on where you are staying you could even take advantage of cooking your own food using local ingredients.

Seek out fresh produce that you might not get back home such as Mongosteen and Durian (fyi, Durian tends to be touch and go due to the strong smell and taste and is often banned from hotels so perhaps only useful if you are in private accommodation).

You could always try your hand at recreating traditional dishes such as Nasi Goreng (rice with vegetables and egg). Brit and The Blonde have compiled a pretty good list of 10 Indonesian Dishes for Vegetarians that we highly recommend checking out.

5. Enjoy a Traditional Balinese Spa Treatment

In Ubud (and throughout Bali for that matter), you won’t go short of a spot to enjoy a spa treatment or two. They are on every corner (literally) and won’t break the bank either. Of course, the price is dependent on where you go for a treatment and which treatment you select, but there really will be something to suit all budgets.

For example, you will likely stumble upon more affordable masseurs as you are walking down the street and will pay a bit more in hotels and high-end spas but still affordable nonetheless.

We always opt for a full body massage and I tie in a facial too (its all about that self-care, right?). But, if the rain continues, why not get nails, hair, and a body scrub too!

After all, you have probably been travelling for some time, you deserve it…

If there is one thing we can guarantee, its that you won’t regret this expenditure as you will be fully relaxed and refreshed.

See, there really is no need to be disappointed when the rain hits in destinations such as Ubud. There are still plenty of activities to do while hiding out from the rain.  Plus, nothing beats the excitement of a tropical thunderstorm.

Our favourite thing is to sit back on the balcony at night (under shelter) with lots of snacks and watch the storm pound down. What are you favourite rainy day activities while travelling?

Southern Thailand Culture in Photos: From Phuket to the Phi Phi Islands

Located in the southern province of Thailand, Phuket is home to many of the world’s finest beaches and is beaming with culture. It is a gateway to the nearby tropical islands including the famous Phi Phi islands and is a must-visit destination in Southern Thailand. 

Phuket is home to the famous Big Buddha statue. Built in 2004, the statue’s whole body is constructed with reinforced concrete and layered with beautiful Burmese white jade marble, which glistens under the hot sun.
The Big Buddha is located on the highest point in Phuket and is a great spot to to enjoy views over Phuket Town, Chalong Bay, Rawai and Andaman Archipelago. The surrounding atmosphere is peaceful and the views are breathtaking.
Nearby, you will find a smaller Buddha statue and although it is gold in colour, it is actually made of brass.
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A great way to explore Phuket’s coastline is by Quad Biking adventure tour with prices starting from 700THB including a 1-2 hour tour and pick-up and drop-off at your hotel.

 

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The tour allows you to ride your own quad bike to various view points, stopping off as you go to take photos and admire the scenery.
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Phuket’s south coast features over 30 stunning beaches including some of the most popular beaches in Thailand such as Patong Bay, Kata, Karon and Kamala.
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The quad bike tours often include a short 20-minute ride through the jungle, which is not for the faint hearted. Don’t forget your sun cream and ensure you have had your vaccinations prior to travel if this is something you would like to do.

 

 

From Phuket, you can easily hop over to the idyllic islands of Koh Phi Phi. The six islands are approximately 46km from Phuket and Krabi and  offer the perfect island retreat to relax and unwind. 

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To reach the Phi Phi islands from Phuket you can take either a ferry or speedboat. The ferry is the cheapest option and takes around 90 minutes from the main departure and arrival port, Rassada Pier, which is located in Phuket Town.
You can buy tickets at Rassada Pier to Tonsai Pier (featured) for around 800THB. Find the ferry schedule here.
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The Phi Phi Islands are famous for its limestone cliffs, emerald green waters, and white powdery beaches. The culture comprises the various recreational activities such as diving in the forested hills, rock climbing, scuba diving and swimming, and dancing around the campfires at night.
Just like any other island escape, the Phi Phi islands offer a wide range of accommodation from local budget stays to more high-end luxury resorts that mostly grace the coastline. Phi Phi Don is the main island and you can find affordable accommodation such as PP Princess Resort, which offers a range of accommodation to suit many budgets.
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Located right on the beach front, this hotel serves a delicious breakfast and a pool with sea view.
There are many spots to grab a bite to eat with sea view such as Charlie Bar located on the beach front ahead of PP Princess Resort.
It’s easy to keep fit and healthy on the island as smoothies and healthy dishes made with local produce are abundant.

 

From Phi Phi Don, you can explore the nearby islands including Phi Phi Leh, which is home to Maya Bay, famous for its feature in the Leonardo DiCaprio movie “The Beach”. However, Phi Phi Leh is currently closed while its coral reefs are salvaged as they have been damaged by over tourism.
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Still, you can check out Bamboo Island, Khai, and Yao Yai Islands from Phi Phi Don and there are many local tour operators offering a “Phi Phi Island Tour” inclusive of swimming, sightseeing, and snorkelling around the stunning islands.
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After spending a week or so exploring the Phi Phi Islands, you can easily head to Krabi from here for more stunning beach such as Railay Beach.
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Given that the Phi Phi Islands are now a tourist hotspot in Thailand, you will likely get the chance to meet people from all around the world. The locals are often happy to share their stories and provide you with insights into the history and culture of the island and local life now compared to generations before.

 

5 Fun Activities To Do in Dubai

Now the hot-spot of the UAE and beyond, Dubai is a modern, cosmopolitan city that is packed with something for everyone, from shopping and dining at some of the worlds top restaurants to exploring the desert by 4×4.

The city strives to be the world’s first and best in many things, especially in the area of architecture, and the local people are proud of their country and its development to date. Dubai is home to the world renowned structures including the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa. The city has been built to be explored and the tour companies in the UAE have not failed in offering exhilarating ways for tourists to explore the cities wonders.

Dubai is the perfect location for a long weekend break in between travelling to Asian/Australasian destinations such as Thailand, Bali, and Australia. Flights with Emirates often stop here for layover anyway, so you can always extend your stay for a couple of nights before continuing your journey. Incorporating Dubai into your trip will not increase your trip costs by much as flights tend to be around the same price whether you fly straight to Asia/Australasia or you stay a few nights in Dubai on-route.

To help you experience the best of Dubai in a long weekend, we have put together 5 of our favourite fun activities to have a go at while you are here.

1. Desert Safari

A desert safari is an opportunity to see the wonder that makes up a large part of the country. There are many tour operators such as Me and My Tourism and Arabian Adventures that offer this tour for around the same price (approx. AED230/£48 per person), so all you need to do is check them out and select one that suits you. The tour begins with a bumpy ride through the sandy terrain, bashing the dunes as you go in a 4×4 vehicle. Provisions are also made for tourists to stay overnight at ‘desert camp’ while being treated to local cuisine and enjoying henna tattoos and traditional entertainment. As part of the trip you can enjoy barbecued shawarma, shisha, belly dance entertainment, falcon handling, and a camel ride around the dunes, although these come at an extra cost to the trip so make sure you take some cash with you.

2. Yellow Boat Tour

The Yellow Boat Tour Company offers a great tour in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi in their famous yellow inflatable boats. The tour provides tourists with the opportunity to see how magnificent the city really is when viewed from the waters. The tour is unique in that the boats are designed to cut through the waves at high-speed and the skippers are not afraid to ramp up the mph across the water.

The company offers general and exclusive tours to families, couples, corporate groups and single tourists. The Dubai tour begins at the marina before heading out to the open waters to take in the sights of the Palm Jumeirah where you can see the perfect view of Palm Jumeirah villas, owned by the rich and famous, as well as the royal family of Dubai. You might even get to see the royals pet tigers roaming the beach front garden. During this trip, you will also see the magnificent Burj Al Arab, the prominent Atlantis hotel and the ‘Miami of Dubai’ – the spectacular skyline that makes up the Dubai Marina.

As well as this guided tour, the Yellow boat company also offers fishing trips on the Arabian Gulf, as well as a variety of water sports. Prices start from AED158 (approx. £32) for a 1 hour Yellow Boat Tour and AED945 (approx. £196) for a 3 hour fishing tour.

3. Jet Ski Tour

Jet skiing has again become a thing in Dubai after the authorities eased on the restriction they previously put on the sport. Nowadays, there are many operators such as Sea Ride Dubai and Ride in Dubai that are ready to guide you on a tour around the island taking a similar route to the Yellow boat company mentioned above. This tour is an exciting way to experience the water and see the landmarks of Dubai. Just like the yellow boat tour, you get to see the towering structures from the sea while handling your own jet ski for an hour on the waters. Prices start from AED350 (approx. £72) for 30 minutes and AED600 (approx. £125) for 1 hour.

4. Dinner Cruise

A dinner cruise in a traditional Dhow converted to a floating restaurant has become a tradition in Dubai. You can have a quiet lunch or a merry dinner with traditional entertainment as the Dhow cruises along the creek or the marina waters. These floating restaurants do not only offer traditional arabic food and parties, they let you see the city in a whole new light at night. Check out Xclusive Yachts and Dhow Dinner Cruise Dubai. Prices vary depending on the company and level of service you book and can range from AED141/£30 – AED242/£60 per person.

5. Shop Like Never Before

Let’s not forget the real deal in Dubai – shop until you drop! Dubai is a popular shopping destination that is only growing year on year following the development of countless shopping malls, including the Mall of the Emirates and the biggest mall in the world today – Dubai Mall. There is nothing you won’t find here and you can even experience the indoor Aquarium and Underwater Zoo (prices start from AED141/£30 per person) where you can admire the fascinating underwater world. Here, you can even experience cage snorkelling and shark diving. Virtual Reality (VR) ZOO (approx. AED30/£6) lets you take a trip to the jungles of Africa and Asia to find jungle animals you might never have seen face to face. The Burj Khalifa is also accessible from the Dubai Mall, but be sure to grab your tickets online as they are much more expensive when you purchase from the box office within the mall. Online, prices start from AED141  (approx. £30) per adult and AED106 (approx. £22) for children and you will pay slightly more to access the higher levels. Also, make sure you are plan your trip within the opening hours (8.30-14.30 and then 19.00 until closing).

There are so many fun activities to do in Dubai and here we have listed our top five. As always, we recommend searching around for the best service with a competitive price. Booking online can often save you 10% off the entire booking so its always best to compare a few companies and check the online price before booking with your hotel or direct with a travel agent when you are in the city.

15 Incredible Photos of Dubai and Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi

Dubai is the most populous and well known city in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Located in the heart of the desert, Dubai is unique with its skyline of architectural marvels and some of the most unique and modern attractions in the Middle East and around the world.  

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Nowadays, the city of Dubai is associated with luxury, cultural experiences, and futuristic designs. Dubai leads the way in cutting-edge design and the city’s latest innovation is a 3D printed office fully equipped with water, electricity, telecommunications and AC that was printed in just 17 days. The skyline boasts some impressive architecture and is best known for the worlds tallest skyscraper, the Burj Khalifa.
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The best way to admire the skyline is by taking a traditional Dhow Dinner Cruise from the Marina. Here, you can enjoy local cuisine often served buffet-style while the boat sails slowly around the harbour for two hours, allowing you to take in the view.
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There are many malls in Dubai where you can leisurely stroll around designer boutiques and high-end restaurants. For more budget-friendly shopping, head to the traditional souks where you can uncover hidden gems. For example, The Gold Souk is easily reachable by metro and the stores here offer a wide range of jewellery, gold, and precious stones. But its not just jewellery you will find here, there are many other shops selling traditional ornaments, keyrings, scarfs and accessories so its the perfect place to pick up some gifts.
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Dubai Marina is packed with luxury yachts, which are a staple of the high-life here. Take a wander down the Marina where you will find several restaurants. The heat can be slightly overwhelming to say the least, so we recommend taking a taxi boat in the day and enjoy a leisurely walk in the evening when it’s slightly cooler.
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The Yellow Boats Tours are also a great way to tour the marina by day. Catch the best sights from the water including The Atlantis, Palm Jumeirah, and Burj Al Arab while being informed on Dubai’s history and culture from a local tour guide.
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Take a day or overnight trip from the city into the desert via a desert safari and enjoy activities such as dune bashing in a 4×4, camel rides, sand boarding, quad biking and more. There are many tour operators providing a variety of packages such as Rayna Tours, which is the company we booked with during our last trip.

From Dubai you can take a day excursion to Abu Dhabi, the capital and second most populous city of the UAE. On the city tour you will get the chance to visit a selection of popular attractions including the Heritage Village, the Handicrafts Centre, Ferrari World, Emirates Palace, and the stunning Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

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Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is Abu Dhabi’s most famous attraction. Millions of visitors from all over the world flock here each year and although it can be busy at times, there always remains a wonderful sense of calm around the majestic grounds.
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In 2017, it was ranked the world’s second-favourite landmark according to TripAdvisor and during the same year, a staggering 3.4 million visitors came here.
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Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is the largest and most ornate place of worship in the UAE that took 12 years to complete, costing around $545 million.
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At 22,412 square meters, about the same as four football fields, it is now the third-largest mosque in the world and holds more than 40,000 worshippers.
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It also has three Guinness World Records for the largest handwoven carpet, the biggest chandelier, and the largest dome of its kind in the world.
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Traditional dress for women is required and men are reminded to cover tattoos when visiting the mosque. If you book with a tour operator back in Dubai, traditional dress will be included in the price of the tour. The mosque welcomes visitors from around the world each day and remains closed for worship only on Friday mornings.
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The mosque features imposing structure of marble and gold surrounded by manicured gardens and tiled pools. In total, there are 82 domes and 1,000 marble pillars.
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Islamic designs and elements feature on modern architecture throughout the mosque and city of Abu Dhabi.
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Abu Dhabi is one of the most interesting places in the Middle East that is full of culture, laid-back elegance, and cosmopolitan atmosphere and is well worth a visit while visiting the Middle East.

Although both Dubai and Abu Dhabi are known as luxurious destinations, they can also be visited on a budget too. Hotels are not as expensive as you might think and because they are newly built, even cheaper hotels can feel quite luxurious.

There are many affordable places to grab a bite to eat outside of the main areas so make sure you shop around and do your research before heading out there. You could even ask the team at your hotel for recommendations. If you are heading to the more local areas, be sure to dress and behave accordingly to respect the local people and their culture.

Lastly, to visit Dubai and Abu Dhabi on a budget, you might find our other articles useful including How to Fly to Asia on the Cheap and Visit More Destinations,  How to Find the Best Hotel Deals Anywhere in the World, and How to Live the High Life while Travelling on a Budget.

Top 5 Cultural Experiences in Ubud, Bali

Ubud is the heart of Balinese culture.

Located in the foothills of the Gianyar regency among rice paddies, waterfalls, temples, ceremonies and traditional costumes and events, this area attracts visitors from all over the world for its rich arts and crafts. There is so much to do and see here and below we have listed our top five cultural experiences in Ubud where you can really immerse yourself in the Balinese culture.

1. Wander the traditional art markets

The Ubud Art Market is located in central Ubud opposite the Puri Saren Royal Ubud Palace. Here, locally crafted goods are plentiful including handmade woven bags, purses and baskets, hand crafted and wood-carved buddhas, bowls, and other ornaments, bright clothing, blankets and pillows, all of which you can bargain your way to a good price. The products tend to be made in the neighbouring villages of Tegallalang, Payangan and Peliatan. Taking a drive to the temples will allow you to see the locals hard at work creating their unique handicrafts and souvenirs with skills that have been passed down for centuries.

2. Enjoy Watching a Traditional Balinese Dance 

Balinese dance is an important part of Balinese culture.  Dances can be classed as sacred (Wali), semi-sacred (Bebali), while others are for entertainment or social events (Balih-Balihan). Dancing is both a religious practice and a performing art and before performing a sacred dance, Balinese dancers take part in religious rituals and receive blessings from temple priests. The ‘Legong Dance’ used to only be performed in front of the royal family within closed palace walls, however, nowadays you can watch the dance performed in various open stages and shows throughout Bali, such as the Puri Saren Royal Palance in Ubud.

3. Explore the temples 

There are abundant historic temples in Bali to explore and in Ubud you won’t go short. You can read more on our top 3 Must-see Temples in Bali here, including a couple of our favourites, Gunung Kawi and Goa-Gajah (Elephant Cave) Temple. Additional temples include Gunung Leah Temple, Pura Samuan Tiga (Temple of the Meeting of the Three), and Pura Taman Saraswati, more commonly known as Water Palace. The latter was designed by one of Ubud’s best loved architects, I Gusti Nyoman Lempad. Located in the heart of Ubud, the temple is easily accessible. The carvings largely honour the goddess of knowledge and art, Saraswati.

4. Visit the Monkey Forest

Located in central Ubud and open until 6pm daily, the Monkey Forest offers a great way to spend an afternoon after visiting the traditional markets. The locals view the forest as an important spiritual, economic, educational, and conservation centre for the village of Ubud. The entrance fee costs a minor 30,000IDR for adults and 15,000IDR for children. The monkeys are real characters (all 700 of them!) and are super fun, just make sure you remove anything shiny such as jewellery (especially earrings) because they love glistening objects and won’t hesitate to steal from you.

5. Swim in the waterfalls

Exploring and swimming in natures waterfalls is a must for any traveller and in and around Ubud there are many for you to choose from. A couple of our favourites are Tegenungan waterfall and Nungnung waterfall (35km drive out of Ubud). If you book on a full or half day excursion, you can simply choose a trip that includes a waterfall visit or you can hire a driver to take you straight there and bring you back when you are ready. Although it is located 66km north of Ubud, we recommend Sekumpul waterfall, which is a collection of seven waterfalls (“Sekumpul” meaning “group” in Indonesian) with the tallest waterfall at a staggering 50-metres high.

A Photo Journey Sailing Through Ha Long Bay by Boat and Kayak

Vietnam is a land of natural beauty that is increasing in popularity among tourists for its intriguing culture and stunning scenery. Ha Long Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and popular travel destination in Quang Ninh Province, which is easily reachable from the capital of Hanoi. 

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Located in northern Vietnam near the Chinese border, Ha Long Bay features surrealistic scenery, which has led to the UNESCO site being featured in endless movies.
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The site is easily reachable by car, minibus or bus from Hanoi, which is only 170km away.
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In Hanoi, you can book on an affordable day excursion, which includes return minibus and a boat trip around the bay with lunch included.
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There are more than 1,600 islets in the bay with limestone worn down by 500 million years of tropical downpours.
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The islets are covered by thick jungle growth, which presents a wonderful green landscape.
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Included in the boat trip is a tour of the majestic caves where you can take a hike to the top of the hill to explore inside the hollow islands.
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Take a moment to enjoy the view from the top, which is much different compared with sailing in and out of the small islands.

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When booking on the day excision, you also have the option to take part in an activity at an extra cost such as Kayaking or rafting.
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Taking to the emerald green waters via kayak is an unforgettable experience and lots of fun.

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You can explore the caves at your own leisure under the hot sun.

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You will also get to see the unique fishing village which dates back to the early nineteenth century. These communities are comprised of 400 households with approximately 1,700 people living on the boats and floating wooden houses.
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The communities main livelihood is fishing and agriculture. Each boat represents a separate household where one whole family lives.
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However, the boats are not only a home for the families, they are a a means of transport and a source of income.
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The traditional villages represent a unique feature of Vietnamese culture.
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Back in the vibrant city of Hanoi, there are many affordable things to do such as exploring the old quarter, sampling the street food, strolling around Hoan Kiem Lake, and indulging in some relaxation at a top hotel. If you plan on seeing more of Vietnam, check out our post on How to See the Best of Vietnam in Less than 10 Days

 

 

 

 

How to Fly to Asia on the Cheap and Visit More Destinations

Flying from the Western World to Asia can be quite expensive given that we are pretty much on the opposite ends of the world. But, Asia is renowned for idyllic beaches, cheap drinks and foods, inexpensive luxury accommodation and affordable massages, which is why many Westerners flock here for vacation year after year. However, although it may be cheap upon arrival, the airfare can be pretty hefty when flying direct to certain destinations, which is why we have compiled a few tips and tricks to help you reach your dream paradise island on the cheap.

1. Fly to a cheaper destination in transit 

If you are trying to travel to Bali for example, flights will likely be in the region of £800 during peak holiday time (e.g. British summer time). However, you could fly to a nearby destination for much cheaper such as Kuala Lumpur (KL), where flights are likely to be around £450. Then, you can easily take a flight from KL-Bali for around £100. You could even choose to stay over in KL for a night or two given that it’s a fairly cheap, cool city, and why wouldn’t you want to add another destination to your travels, right?

So, let’s say you have spent around £550 on flights and yes you will have incurred an little extra cost on accommodation and travel to the city from the airport, say around £100 between two of you, but you would have still saved £150 and got to tick another destination off your bucket list. Happy days!

2. Travel outside of your country’s main holidays 

Do you really have to travel in August or can you afford to travel earlier in the year? Certainly a question to ponder if you are trying to find a cheaper flight to Asia. Flights can be more than double during the main holidays for obvious reasons (August through September is British summer time/school holidays in the UK). But, if you are flexible with going earlier or later in the year, you will find that prices drop drastically. Of course you want to check the weather in Asia during various times of year, but we have always travelled in June-July, paid around £450 for flights to Asia, and had mostly great weather. Also, play around with the travel dates. Being flexible by even just a few days can save you a lot of money.

3. Plan ahead 

It’s July and you want to travel to Asia next month. Well, don’t be surprised when the price of flights cost you a decent months wage. The trick here is simple, plan ahead. Often when we travel abroad, we are booking our flights way in advance (as much as 8-12 months in advance) in order to get the best price. It really does make a difference and will also allow you to snap up the best hotel deals.

4. Scout about for prices 

A top website for long-haul flights is Skyscanner, which is where we have mostly found our best deals for long-haul flights. There are many Online Travel Agents (OTAs) operating on here (e.g. BudgetAir, eDreams), which you will be directed to, and the airfare might go up as you are passed on to the company website. In this case, ensure you double check Skyscanner again and perhaps try another OTA that might not increase the price as much when directed to their website.

Before you book though, it is best to browse the airlines own website (e.g. Emirates, Qatar etc.) as they might have deals on if you are lucky. However, we have often found that booking direct can sometimes more than double the airfare, so be savvy.

12 Beautiful & Cultural Photos of Bali & The Gili Islands

Bali is Indonesia’s most popular island known for its pristine beaches, rice paddies, waterfalls, and forested volcanoes. It provides a haven to escape the hustle and bustle of daily life where you can sit back and relax with relaxing incense, Balinese music and nothing but good vibes.

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Kuta beach is popular among tourists and locals. There are many restaurants to choose from along the coast road including one of our favourites, Rosso Vivo Dine & Lounge, which offers laid-back poolside dining from day to night and some of the best fruit juices and cocktails we’ve ever had.
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You will find locally hand-crafted goods in abundance in the markets on the streets of Kuta and Ubud selling a variety of clothing, bags, accessories, buddhist ornaments, and dreamcatchers, among other things.
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There are many temples to explore in and around both Kuta and Ubud offering an insight into Balinese history and culture. Check out our 7 Stunning Photos of the Locals Worship at Balinese Temples,  3 Must-see Temples in Bali and Top 5 Cultural Experiences in Ubud, Bali for more.
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Both tourists and locals flood the beach each evening to catch the golden sunset. There are many cafés and restaurants offering beach front seating where you can enjoy a dinner by sunset.

The Gili Islands are a trio of idyllic islands located off the Northwestern shore of Lombok. Gili Trawangan is the largest of the three islands and is popular among groups, followed by Gili Air, then Gili Meno, which are both popular for couples and travellers seeking a quiet retreat. 

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Boats run on a daily basis from Padang Bai in Bali to the Gili Islands. A bus trip is required from Kuta/Ubud to Padang Bai and there are many local tour operators providing a package deal of return bus and ferry so make sure you shop around for a good price. Like everything else in Bali, the trip is inexpensive and you are expected to bargain for a lower price. 
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Fresh fruits and vegetables are abundant on the island which makes it super easy to stay healthy. Fruit juices and smoothies are a great start to any morning and are ideal to keep energised and hydrated throughout the day. 
The locals throughout Bali and the Gili Islands are some of the most friendly we have come across throughout our travels.
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On the Gili Islands, there is no motorised transport, which is great for the preservation of such natural beauty.
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Instead, there are many horse and carriages around the island, however, we wouldn’t want to support this and recommend hiring a bicycle instead. The islands are small enough with flat roads so you can easily cycle around. Plus, it is more fun and will keep you in good shape so you can enjoy all the delicious local foods.
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The islands are highly popular among divers and you can even become PADI qualified here. We recommend Blue Marlin on Gili Air, which is where we achieved our Open Water Diving Certificate.
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If diving isn’t for you, there are many restaurants along the beach front on all three islands serving local dishes from day to night. You will also find local boutiques on Gili Trawangan and regular Yoga classes on all three islands.
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Bali is one of our favourite places because of the relaxed and friendly atmosphere. Both the island of Bali and the Gili Islands are a great place to unwind, relax, and have fun.