How Do You Travel So Often?

Be it from friends, family or co-workers, this is a question I find myself answering all too often. In all honesty, there are a few tricks I have that help with this. These by no means are the be all and end all solution to helping you achieve your travel goals, but they may help you along your journeys in future.

1. Watching Airfares

Once I get a trip idea in my head, I head over to Skyscanner or Kayak and start a price alert for my selected route. Kayak is wonderful in that it will advise you whether or not to buy now – using historical trends to predict the future to help you get the best deal possible. If prices are a little out of your price range, look for alternate airports close to either your origin or destination cities as these may bring the prices down. For example, on a recent trip I noticed it was cheaper for me to fly from London, ON to Calgary than it was from Toronto to Calgary. While there weren’t as many options from London, prices were a few hundred dollars cheaper and I was able to save this money for another trip.

2. Don’t Be Afraid to Forgo the Frills

While airlines like Ryanair and Wow Air do get a bad rap for making you pay for literally everything they aren’t as bad as everyone would have you believe. When you can save hundreds of dollars on your vacation that you can spend on a hotel, or on an unforgettable experience – the fact that you didn’t have a movie on your flight makes it all worthwhile.

3. Be Loyal

I know this is probably the first tip your Mom gave you about relationships, but trust me it applies to travel too. Most airlines and hotels offer some sort of loyalty program and over time these can be super beneficial. While it may take time for you to earn some sort of status with an airline or with a hotel chain, they even provide perks at the most basic level. A top tip from me would be to pick one airline and one hotel chain that you travel with the most and start there. For example, I’ve started to collect Air Canada Aeroplan points and Marriott Rewards points because these are what I use most when I travel and Aeroplan points can be collected at other places too (ie. Gas Stations) making this a good deal for me. Check out http://www.onemileatatime.com for more information on loyalty programs. 

4. Get a Good Credit Card

Pretty much everyone has some sort of perk associated with their credit cards – mine happens to be that I collect points that can be converted into dollars off of travel. While this card does have an associated annual fee ($19), the money that I save when it comes to travel make this absolutely worth it. Sometimes, your rewards points from #3 can be associated with a credit card – for example, Marriott Rewards has an excellent credit card that can be used to collect points that can be converted into free night stays. While the fee is a little steep the perks absolutely make up for it!

5. Don’t Be Afraid of Wholesalers

While I do all of my airline bookings either through the airline directly or through my travel agent (see bonus tip #6), I tend to have little allegiance when I book my hotels. A friend tipped me off to booking.com for my Southeast Asia trip, I found that the deals that I was able to get with that website just kept me coming back. In fact, I only used this when I booked my Iceland trip. What this website and (ones like it) do, is that they take rooms that hotels can’t sell and sell them at a discounted rate saving you lots of money.

One thing I love about Booking.com is that you get free cancellation which allows you to play the booking.com game – on a recent trip I booked a hotel through them and sporadically checked back on prices. I ended up finding a way cheaper deal and booked that and cancelled the other reservation. While this did take a little bit more time, the fact that I saved about a hundred dollars made up for it. One word of caution, sometimes the cheapest rate displayed does not have free cancellation, so just pay attention to what’s included in the rate.

Fun fact: If you stay 10 nights in places you’ve booked through booking.com, you get a 10% discount and other perks like free wifi (so it pays to stay loyal!).

Bonus fact #6: Get a Travel Agent

Years ago, my family wanted to go on a Caribbean cruise. We were incredibly daunted by the abundance of options available to us so we stopped into a local travel agency and have never looked back. Having a travel agent that you know and trust is absolutely critical to the process because it saves you time. Their job is travel, so they know how to get the best deals out there and can be the best asset in your arsenal. Even when you think you know what you’re doing and are getting the best possible deal – your travel agent can deftly outsmart you! On a trip to Buenos Aires, our travel agent found us an incredible hotel (that I for sure would not have been able to find!) and I shall be forever indebted to her.

 

While this is by no means an exhaustive list of tips, these are by far the tips that have served me the best and I hope they can help you in your travels!

There’s Nothing Like the Smell of Sulphur in the Afternoon

Today has been one of the best days of the trip, at least in my opinion! I’m not sure whether because I’m really enjoying the place we’re staying or because I’m finally on Icelandic time. But, in all likelihood its because I just downed a beer and I’m a tad tipsy.

We started out this morning by filling up the car in Egilsstadir and then took to the ring road. This mornings drive was similar to yesterday afternoons – through the mountains. We drove past snowcapped peaks under blue skies while listening to the musical stylings of Gwen Stefani, Missy Elliot and the one and only R. Kelly (we can thank spotify for that!). We noticed a few places to stop along the way and take pictures but we didn’t feel the view was actually that good so we kept on trucking. As we were driving, it started to get incredibly windy but we didn’t think too much of it until we made our first picture stop. As soon as I opened the door the wind took it and when I stepped out of the car it looked like I was wearing parachute pants! We took a few pictures and when we were back on the road I grabbed my GoPro (which I’ve lazily kept in my bag the last few days). We made another stop to admire the view and before we knew it we were at Dettifoss – the first stop of the day.

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While we were driving to Dettifoss (the most powerful waterfall in Europe) the skies turned against us and it started to rain. It was the first rain we’ve had on the trip so we didn’t mind at all. Until, we noticed the wipers on the car weren’t the greatest (and we got out of the car and walked a little). The hike to Dettifoss was one of the more interesting ones we’ve done. Even though it was short, it was covered in snow and ice! We shouldn’t have been too surprised by this but we were. What surprised us more was the choice of footwear by some of our fellow hikers. While most of them were wearing hiking shoes, a fair amount were wearing  RUNNING SHOES. Like any smart Canadian, I know not to wear running shoes in the snow (unless I want to get sick). I do understand that they are easy to pack but in the planning stages of the trip you should realize that most of the stuff to do here is outdoors and there are better shoe options out there.

We were soon at Selfoss, a smaller waterfall on the way to Dettifoss but this one was my favourite. I think it was because we were able to see the base of the falls that I enjoyed it more. This really helped to put the waterfall in scale and we realized just how massive it is. I feel that I would have been more wowed by Dettifoss and how big it was had we been able to hike down more (but alas this was closed due to snow and ice). After cursory pictures we left Selfoss and were at Dettifoss quite soon there after. This waterfall is the largest in Europe and is a testament to the sheer forces of Nature. Even though we couldn’t see it all we were still amazed by it and felt absolutely minuscule in comparison.

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Selfoss
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Dettifoss

Hiking back through the rain, we didn’t get too too wet as we were well protected but felt for the people that didn’t plan accordingly. Back in the car, we turned Beyoncé on loud and set our sights on the Nature Baths in Myvatn (where I don’t have pictures as my dSLR isn’t the biggest fan of water). On our way, we mistook a different site for the nature baths. This  turned out to be the Hverarond Geothermal Area. Driving through the area we noticed a faint smell of Sulfur but weren’t too worried about it. We had been to Geysir and lived to tell the tale – but this would prove to be a different story. As soon as we open the door of the car we were overwhelmed by the smell. This one was a tad different from the one at Geysir as it wasn’t just Sulphurous – it was a combination of a dirty diaper and pickled eggs. Something that our stomachs (and noses weren’t the biggest fan of).

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We persevered through the smell and saw some incredible Geothermal vents and mud hot pots. The gurgling of the Mud Hot Pots was similar to how our stomachs felt at the time – absolutely topsy turvy. I’d like to say I have a pretty strong stomach and nothing really bothers it but this was pretty close to a horrible ending for me.

Once we decided we were done we made our way back to the car (which still smells like sulphur) and made our way to the Nature Baths. These are similar to those at the Blue Lagoon (near Reykjavik) but different in the fact that they are truly natural – and a tad cheaper. Newly used to the smell, we changed, showered like the icelanders do (naked) and were soon enjoying the warmth of the pools.

We relaxed in the pools for about 2 hours, thoroughly killing our hair and skin but it was well worth it. The pools were so relaxing and we recovered from the last couple tedious days. We ended up grabbing a bite to eat there and I had Skyr and Geothermal Bread with Smoked Salmon – yum!

All nice and relaxed we set our sights on the nights hotel – Tungulending Guesthouse near Husavik. Now, this is where we had a little bit of fun. Not only did the pavement road turn into a gravel road halfway through (it luckily switched back) but Google Maps had lied to us in regards to its location. Luckily, we had SIM cards and Data and found our way pretty quickly to the road it was on. As soon as we turned off the highway we were on a steep gravel road down to the ocean – yikes! Daylan was an absolute driving champ and made it like a charm.

As we checked in we were immediately enthralled with the place. Its seaside location is amazing and you can see huge mountains across the fjord! The place itself is absolutely charming and very nordic chic in design. We both love it and wish we could stay longer! After ditching our bags, Daylan decided it was time for me to teach her how to use a camera and I happily obliged! You can check out her handiwork at daysdreamings.wordpress.com ! We went outside and shot photos for about 45 minutes before decided it was time for dinner (and a beer)!

This brings us to now, full on Kjötsupa (Icelandic Lamb Soup with Veggies and Pasta) and a Local Organic Ale I set out to edit pictures and write today’s blog!

Aaron’s Note: I just want to say thank you to everyone for your support as I make the transition to full on travel blog! It means a lot to me to see how well received it is. 

Gravel and Mountains Aren’t Exactly a Fun Combination

Well, well, well, we meet again.

This morning we had a bit of a sleep-in (well, if you can say 9am is sleeping in… my mom would say so) and after a bit of breakfast we were back on the trail. The day started off with a bit of excitement – I scraped the rental car. Good one me. We were leaving the post office when all of a sudden we heard a crunch – turns out I was up against a half wall (that wasn’t super visible). Luckily its not too bad, but we shall see what they say when we return the car!

After fuelling up the car, we left Höfn and were soon back on the Ring Road. We made a few photo stops along the way – the scenery was absolutely incredible. We were driving along the coast with the mountains on the other side and there were some low hanging clouds. Unlike the past two days, there were no big attractions to see today so we set out sights on Egilsstadir – where we would be staying for the night. Today’s driving was a mix of sketchy and beautiful BUT, there were guardrails today! Which was nice, because falling down a cliff wouldn’t be fun. But somehow, the Icelanders are OK with falling into the ocean.

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An Icelandic horse near the side of Rte. 1
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Clouds shroud the tops of the mountains on our drive.
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The coastline of East Iceland

After a tunnel and countless one way bridges we were soon in Djupivogur – which was the half way point of the days driving. I had read that it was a nice place to stop and that it was a quaint village to take pictures in and walk around for a bit. When we got there, I was a tad underwhelmed. It might have been that I was still bummed out from scraping the car or what, but it wasn’t as charming as the book had said. We still managed to see a few buildings that dated back from the 1700s (when the Germans established a trade route) which were interesting but that was about it!

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The oldest building in Djúpivogur – a warehouse dating back to the 1700s.

In short order we found ourselves back on the Ring Road, enjoying the scenery when all of a sudden a large sign saying Malbaek Endir was in front of us – for those of us that don’t speak Icelandic this is the dreaded “Pavement Ends” sign. We had seen many cars covered in dirt pass us and were confused as to why they were that way – this is why. It wasn’t too bad to drive on, I just slowed down and kept my cool and we kept on trucking.

Now, here’s where the day began to get fun. As we rounded a curve we noticed that there were two ways to get to Egilsstadir and one way was a lot slower than the other. We had Google mapped it last night and decided for the sake of time (and gas) we would take the shorter way. Well, little did we know that this involved literally driving up a mountain. On a gravel road. Fun. So much fun.

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Cricket, the car, looking super majestic before we headed up the side of Öxl.

The first few kilometres weren’t too bad but we knew the worst was yet to come. (Now for those of you that want to see what we were up against unfortunately it isn’t on Google Street view but trust me when I say it was a challenge – especially for a novice like me). After a science rest (read: pee) break we were back on the road, and decided to let a few speed daemons and jellybeans (our word for tiny cars) pass us. Our plan was to take our time and not push the car to its limits. For the most part, keeping the car in 2nd gear seemed to get us up the road no problem. But then, because Iceland is WONDERFUL to its drivers – we found some loose gravel – and decided to put it into Low. The rest of the drive, was a symphony of gear switching to get us to the top! We made it without difficulties – and I am a way better driver than I thought I was (although I must credit Daylan for keeping me calm and giving me tips on our way up).

Passing through snow drifts, past glacial rivers and beside farms we were in Egilsstadir in no time. We arrived so early that we decided to grab lunch at Subway (shhhh…) and got a few snacks from a Grocery store nearby. For some reason, even though Daylan and I have the EXACT same credit card hers has been acting up so I spotted her the money and we were back on the road again in no time.

Now, a little bit tired and not sure of what to do we tried to check into our hotel – but were told that it was too early and to come back around 4pm (it was 2 at the time). However, the lovely lady at the hotel told us to check our Seydisfjordur and we were so glad we did. This was another steep drive – luckily on pavement this time – over the snow capped peaks of a mountain. It was breathtaking, as was the town of Seydisfjordur. When we got in, we ate our subs by the sea and watched the little town bustle about.

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The church of Seydisfjordur
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Seydisfjordur

The first thing we noticed on our walk around after lunch was a huge ferry, this one goes to Tórshavn in the Faroe Islands and is a car ferry so we noticed a few out of country plates! The town was incredibly picturesque and quiet – like a little seaside town in Newfoundland! After finishing our walk, Daylan grabbed some cash from an ATM and we were back on the road. We noticed a few places to take pictures on the drive in so we stopped on the way out and were awestruck at the view of Seydisfjordur from the top of the mountain!

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Gufufoss – along the side of the road back to Egilssadir
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Looking down at Seydisfjordur

After safely making it back to the hotel, we checked in and were shown to our room. This hotel was my little surprise for Daylan as we are staying in a little cottage (albeit with no wifi access) but it is quite charming and will be the perfect place to rest our heads tonight.

I’m thoroughly exhausted and its only 5pm. I had a wicked day driving but I wouldn’t take any part of it back (okay, well maybe scraping the car. Can’t wait to see the bill for that!)

I’m a Backseat Driver. This shouldn’t be news.

Well Friends – I’m gonna try something new with this post. PICTURES. Someone call CNN because this is breaking news (and we all know they use that term liberally).  In past I’ve been close to the laziest person on earth and haven’t done this BUT, I figured there’s always time to change, right?

Today, even though for all intents and purposes was a shorter day than yesterday, feels EVEN longer to me. I’m not sure if its because I’m still kinda jet lagged or  because the dodgy breakfast I ate (more on this later) made me queasy all morning. Or maybe I’m just bad at keeping track of time. We got up this morning around 8:30 and packed our bags and headed off for breakfast (and settled up the damage from last night’s splash on dinner). Now, I’m pretty adventurous when it comes to food. So, I figured a little herring in dill and mustard sauce, a boiled egg and yogurt would make a good breakfast. Boy was I wrong, after we got Cricket (the car) packed I started feeling nauseous and things kind of went downhill from there until we got to Skaftafell. But, Gravol and Immodium were my saviours and avoided any crisis that might have arisen from my GI tract.

After getting gas in Vík, and a few postcards, we were on our way to Höfn. All in all, today’s drive was about 275km. Which isn’t too bad by Canadian standards BUT, roads in Iceland are not the same as at home. Firstly, the Ring Road (Rte 1) around the country is for the most part a 2 lane highway – which is fine, but its SUPER narrow and tourists are shit at driving. Daylan and I make it a point to stay at the 90 km/h speed limit, but for some reason no one else does. Because the road has so many twists and turns and FUN things like one lane bridges this is the best speed and why people go faster is beyond me. Also, I’ve notice that they don’t really like signs here, so you just kind of hope and pray you’re going the right way which is a fun time. Especially if you’re like me. But, we dealt with it like the true Canadians we are.

Daylan was a true champ for putting up with my grumpy ass this morning (if you’re reading this thank u bbg xoxo) and for being a great driver. She had to drive over a 305m one lane bridge too which is always a fun time. Today’s drive (and most likely all of those in the future) are different from yesterday’s – there aren’t too too many big things to see a long the way so it’s just a matter of stopping where we feel like it to enjoy the scenery.

After driving for a bit we were shocked to see how quickly the scenery changed. It went from pastoral around Vik into very harsh Geothermal lands quite quickly. As we drove through the Geothermal area we started driving through an area that looked like Mars almost. In 1783 a Volcano erupted (and messed up Europe pretty badly), and lava from it came through lava ducts and emerged from the ground in this Area. Since then all the rocks have been covered by moss. It’s super hard to describe without showing a picture – which is great because I’ll put one in. Look at me go.

We noticed a science lookout over the lava fields and took a quick walk through the rocks. Some spots on the rocks were super squishy due to the amount of moss. After pictures and the walk we headed back to the car and kept trucking. As we kept driving, the huge Vatnajökull glacier started to appear before us. This glacier is the one of the largest in Europe and is so big you can see it on a satellite image. It is absolutely insane to see how much the glacier has receded over time – and really makes you question Donald Trump’s statement about Global Warming being a “nice idea”.  After that giant one lane bridge I mentioned, we noticed another scenic lookout and decided to pull over. This one was one of the most interesting as we learned that in 1998 the bridge we had just crossed was completely washed out due to a volcanic eruption and ensuing flooding from glacial melting.

Back on the highway, we wanted to go closer to the glaciers and noticed that all of the buses were turning left at a road. So, we decided to follow them, and we soon stumbled upon the Skaftafell entrance to the Vatnajökull National Park. Not only did this have bathrooms (thank god) we soon learned that one of the coolest waterfalls in Iceland was here – Svartifoss. As I was feeling better, we decided to take on the 8km hike to the waterfall. Even though it was pretty steep at some points – it was totally worth it and it is definitely one of the things that I would recommend everyone do here.

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Svartifoss

We made it up to the waterfall and took pictures (duh.) and just stood in awe at the forces of nature. I also filled up my water bottle because free water. The trek down was a lot easier than the way up and we were down (and hungry) in no time! We wanted to keep trekking to Höfn because by now we were only about a third of the way, so we mowed down some protein bars in the car for lunch and were at Jokulsarlon in about 45 minutes.

Jokulsarlon was probably the highlight of my day. This is a lagoon that is filled with Icebergs that have broken off of a glacier that feeds Vatnajökull. It was also on the Amazing Race (my favourite TV shows) which was pretty cool! We decided to take an amphibious vehicle tour of the lagoon which was amazing. Not only did we learn about the history of the lagoon (the ice is 1000 years old!) we also got to see some seals and taste the ice! The thing that I found craziest is that the scenery in the lagoon is constantly changing. In the time we were there (1.5 hours at most) many glaciers had broken apart due to the afternoon sun and some had flipped. Nature is truly an incredible thing – and trips like this remind you how small and insignificant you are to the world (you know, all those fun things).

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After having our socks knocked off, we were back on the road. I was a better passenger this afternoon and we were consistently in a state of awe when looking at the scenery. I don’t know how many times we got passed in the final leg of driving today – but , we were safe and it came in handy when some sheep crossed the road! Which is a thing here – fun and casual. (Fun fact: if you hit one you have to pay the driver what he thinks its worth). Overall today’s driving lesson was go slow and stay on the road. we had passed people this morning who thought they could drive on the gravel off road in their jellybean car, which is stupid and illegal.

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We were checking into the hotel about an hour after leaving Jokulsarlon and were starving. Our hotel tonight is called Milk Factory and is a milk factory that has been converted into a hotel/Ikea lookalike (literally I feel like I’m walking around a catalogue).  After consulting my trusty guidebook (Lonely Planet is bae) we found a cheap place for dinner and were there in short order.

Hafnarbu∂in (where we ate dinner) was an absolute treat – not only was it cheap, the place was super cozy, the staff super helpful and the food was amazing. I had a Langoustine Sandwich (made with local langoustine) and a coke – for a third of what we paid for dinner yesterday! Incredibly worth it.

Back at the hotel, I napped again (oops!), showered and sat down to write a few postcards! That’s all folks! Tomorrow is our drive to Eglisstadir – and we start heading north! Its crazy to think that we’ve pretty much driven across the southern coast in two days.

 

Welcome to Iceland – Land of Sheep and Suicidal Birds

Hello again! I figured as I’m off on another adventure it was time to blow the proverbial dust off of this blog and back into the swing of things.

Today was a LONG day – I pretty much haven’t slept since 9:30 AM yesterday so I’m pretty much running on fumes. After doing the pre-departure ritual of “Where is my Passport?” and “Is My Suitcase Overweight?” we were out the door and on our way to the airport in Toronto where I met up with Daylan – who is one of my best friends and probably the only one crazy enough to do a 10 day road trip around Iceland with me.

We left Toronto right on schedule – which was great because some airlines (*cough* Air Canada *cough*) think that it is just a suggestion to be ignored. In fact, we boarded ahead of schedule and sat on the Tarmac for a bit. The flight was pretty uneventful – we flew WOW air and were WOW’d by the lack of things we didn’t get on the flight (i.e. Water, Snacks, etc.) but were soon over it because we had eaten before. There was one exception to the uneventfulness of the flight – for some godforsaken reason, the guy beside me decided he urgently needed to fix a hole in the crotch of his jeans mid-flight. Which is fine, whatever, to each their own – I guess. I don’t know how he managed to get a sewing kit on the flight but it’s chill. BUT THEN, this person decided they needed to seal the thread SO HE PULLED OUT A LIGHTER AND BURNED THE THE END OF THE THREAD. Excuse me? No. You are on a plane. That is not allowed.

We landed in Keflavik (about 45 mins away from Reykjavik) about 4:20 A.M., picked up our bags, SIM Cards and car and were soon on our way. We decided that we would take on the Golden Circle today – this is a set of 3 landmarks that are sort of in a circle (if you go back to Reykjavik) and are some of the most famous in Iceland. We managed to make it through the City relatively unscathed (sans gas stations not being open and a little bit of confusion in Reykjavik) and were at Thingveillir National Park (our first stop) in about an hour and a half after we landed.

Thingveillir is where the Icelandic parliament met for thousands of years and is at the rift between the North American and Eurasian Plates – making it incredibly scenic. We had the place to ourselves and hiked around for a good hour. The park was incredible, we saw a waterfall and hiked between the two plates! We slowly made our way back to the Car (which we’ve named Cricket because its a Suzuki Jimny 😉 ) and were off to Geysir – the site of the first discovered Geyser and the Geyser that they’re all named after.

We were a tad nervous on the trip as we had about a half a tank of gas, but weren’t quite sure how far that would get us so it was nervous times. We got to the site of Geysir about 45 minutes later (after a failed gas mission) and lo-and-behold there was a HUGE cafeteria/gift shop thing there WITH A GAS STATION. Our prayer was answered! We walked around the Geothermal area at Geysir for about 45 minutes and unfortunately didn’t see Geysir erupt as it only does this after earth quakes. But, there is a smaller Geyser there called Strokkur which erupts every 5-10 minutes and we got to see this amazing natural phenomenon occur many times! Walking around the area was quite a treat as most of the water smelled like Sulfur- which Daylan absolutely LOVED. After walking around the site with our noses plugged we decided it was time for brunch! I had a smorrebrod (an open faced sandwich with smoked salmon) and it was delicious and well timed!

We walked around the gift shop a bit, and stocked up on water – and gas – and then were off to the next stop, Gulfoss. It took about 20 minutes to get there, and we were instantly amazed by it. The sheer force of the water has created a HUGE canyon which is incredible to see. We walked around Gulfoss for a bit, learned about its history (legend has the land was slated to be developed into hydroelectric dam but was saved by a famers daughter who walked all the way to Reykjavik) and then set our sights on Vik – where we were staying for the night.

The drive was relatively uneventful, Daylan slept for a bit but I powered through and we made great time. One weird thing about Icelandic roads is that some of the bridges are one lane which makes it an interesting drive (you have to co-ordinate with the other driver to see who’s going to go). After an hour an a half, we arrived at Seljalandsfoss – another waterfall. This one was a bit different as you could walk around the base of it (and get absolutely drenched!). We were here for about a half an hour and then hit the road again.

Our next stop was Skogafoss – another incredible waterfall. This one had 500 steps that you can climb to the mouth of it! We climbed the stairs, took the requisite pictures at the top and bottom and were then back on the road!

By this time, we were pretty ready to get into Vik and to our hotel BUT decided to make one last stop at Dyrholaey (a bird reserve) which turned out to be a great decision. The scenery was breathtaking – the green fields meeting black sand beaches and cliffs of black Volcanic rock. Words don’t really do it justice. (I promise I’ll upload pictures as soon as I’m not a human zombie)

After about a half an hour we were thoroughly wiped, and hit the road again. The drive was a little sketchy – lots of hills (one scary blind hill, and one that Cricket almost didn’t make it up but he did!).  One lovely feature of our drive today was birds that seemingly had no respect for their lives – the would dive next to cars or just chill in the street. To each their own I guess. We found our hotel easily, checked in, brought the bags to the room and then proceeded to sleep for 3 hours.

After our nap we went to the hotel restaurant for dinner – we were still so exhausted that we didn’t want to go out for dinner and paid the large fee for the buffet and then gorged ourselves. We hadn’t eaten for awhile, and I didn’t think I was that hungry but boy was I wrong. I had an entree plate with fish, goulash, potatoes rice and veggies then followed this up with a cold plate with smoked horse (sorry Meg), smoked Beef Tongue and potato salad. By this time, I thought I couldn’t eat more but I decided to finish dinner with a bowl of Skyr (an icelandic yogurt similar to greek yogurt) with Caramel Rhubarb sauce.

After dinner, thoroughly exhausted, I showered in the WORLDS TINIEST SHOWER. Like its maybe 2sq ft. Which was an experience and a half and set out to write this. As I’m writing its 10 minutes to 10 pm and still daylight outside. Plz send help.

Until tomorrow (when hopefully I have funny jokes and pictures)!

 

Luang Prabang is Lovely, and so is Chiang Mai

I apologize for this wooly mammoth of a post, I got tired and lazy and too busy watching the office. All in all a bad combination.

I left off after our day exploring Vang Vieng, which is where all activity dropped off. It continued to rain the next day and all the river activities had to close. Fine by me, as it means I got to sleep more! I did some catching up on the internet and met a dutch girl who thought I was dutch. She started speaking to me in dutch and it took her 5 minutes of convincing that I couldn’t actually speak dutch.

Katelyn and I packed up our stuff that day and were off the next morning to Luang Prabang in a minivan with our new friend Heike. We grabbed “breakfast” at the hostel, but that turned out to not be the best idea as it ended with money being thrown at us . I also got the wrong meal but that is beside the point. The ride had lots of switchbacks and that didnt agree with my stomach too much. We stopped along the way to pick up 2 locals who seemed a bit drunk. Turns out that the road didn’t agree with their stomachs either and they both ended up puking out the window. Not such a fun time.

We arrived in Luang Prabang a little worse for wear. We met our friend Heike, and her friend Dani for dinner and then were off to bed.

The next day we spent exploring the city of Luang Prabang – and it was finally sunny enough for us do it! We first explored the Old Quarter of the city with our friends Heike and Dani. It felt a lot like Hoi An with its old wooden buildings. We found an alleyway that would take us down to the river. This alleyway was spectacular as it was so green and lush and quiet. We stumbled upon a secluded Wat along the way and stopped for a few pictures.

We made it down to the Mekong River and I was immediately struck by its beauty. Laos was so green and lush. I think the fact that it was sunny for the first time added to the mood. We stopped along the river to take a few pictures and then were off exploring Wats again. This time, we went to Wat Xieng Thong. While not the most impressive Wat we’ve been to, I found the tile detailing on the building extraordinary. We didn’t stay too long here as we were starving, and Katelyn was sweltering as she had to cover up.

On the way back to the hostel we stopped for lunch (I had fried rice because #budgeting) and we stopped to grab a few postcards. We tried to see the Royal Palace before it closed, but alas time moves differently in Laos and they wouldn’t let us in. According to the sign they only admit people until 30 mins before it closes and according to my phone it was 3:50, but they said it was 4pm and wouldn’t let us in.

We decided to part ways from our friends and head back to nap. I had some calls home I needed to make so I stayed in while Katelyn went out to the markets. By this point, I had had it with markets and didn’t need to buy anything else. Although, I doubt that thats true because Singapore apparently has the best shopping in the region.

Katelyn got up the next morning to see the alms giving ceremony. 5am is not my favourite time, and I had a brutal sleep so I stayed in bed.  I met up with Katelyn later for breakfast and then we were off for the day! We met Heike and Dani downtown and headed off for Mount Poushi. The climb to the top wasn’t too bad (although that might be a point of debate among us) but the view was worth it!

We tried to go down the mount a little different way than we climbed up. This ended up taking way more time than we had estimated, and we got confused a little before we made it back to Dani and Heike’s hostel. Originally, Heike, Katelyn and I had planned to take a Boat trip down the mekong ourselves but found out we might be able to get a deal if we had more people with us. We met some people at Heike’s hostel who said they would be interested in going, and 1 hour later (and multiple stops to gather their friends) we were on our way!

The cruise down the Mekong was beautiful. It was so cool to see the locals and how they used the river. We saw lots of fishermen trying to navigate the very strong current. We made it to the Pak Ou Caves about 2 hours later. I must admit, the caves were not the highlight of the day (they were small, and we couldn’t explore them due to the 10000s of Buddha Statues) it was still really cool to see a different type of religious site.

We boated back down the Mekong and 1 hour later we had met up with Dani and her new friend Tina and were off for dinner. We ate at a “buffet” in the Night Market for our first taste of local cuisine. It was super cheap (less than $2) – so I can’t complain (even though it was all vegitarian). We got to chatting and then explored the night market!

Remember when I said I didn’t need to buy anything else – I did. I found a really cool bottle opener made out of bombs from the Vietnam War. So thats a thing. Katelyn and I were both pretty tired so we headed back to the hostel to get some sleep as tomorrow would be an exhausting day.

We got up early the next day as we were off to the Living Land Farm. We met Heike and were soon off! This experience was a highlight, as we learned how they plant and prepare rice by doing it ourselves! It was a muddy, tiring morning but I loved it! I got to plow a paddy with a Water Buffalo which was pretty amazing! At the end we ate tons of rice products (including Sticky Rice) and tried rice wine. All in all it was a great morning and well worth it.

Full from all the sticky rice, we went back to Heike’s hostel and waited for our tour to the Kuang Si Waterfalls. As soon as we got there, it started POURING rain. I was really glad I brought my GoPro as I got some really cool pictures in the rain.

Tina, Katelyn, Heike and I decided we would tackle the muddy, slippery path to the top and we were glad we did! The view was incredible, and the water was so refreshing. On the way back down, we found a secluded pool and swam there for an hour. The best part of this was sitting on the edge of the waterfall! We booked it down the waterfall (with no slips) so we could jump off a tree before leaving! We made it just in time for the bus back to the hostel!

We were starving so we went for dinner and chatted about our lives back home. Katelyn and I were pretty tired and called it a night. We packed our bags and got ready to head to Chiang Mai the next day.

We slept in a little and headed to the airport to catch our flight to Chiang Mai. We bartered a Tuk Tuk down to 20000 Kip for both of us (from 60000kip) and he didn’t seem too happy. He still took our money, so he can’t have been too mad.

We made it to Chiang Mai without incident and were soon checked in at our hostel. This one is the coolest one we’ve stayed at and the staff are so warm and friendly! We are loving it. We set off to explore the city a little bit before dinner, and we stumbled upon a Starbucks where my collection of mugs grew again. Mom, if you’re reading this I’m bringing home a ton (I don’t care what you say <3). We found a restaurant, and I ate some Thai Fried Chicken. So good. We then went back to the hostel to shower, etc and called it a day!

Yesterday, we spent the morning exploring the many different Wats in Chiang Mai and were surprised by the fact that we didn’t have to pay for any of them! Most of them had decorations out for the Queen’s Birthday which is on Wednesday which I found to be really cool! After being watted out for the day, we went to the Chiang Mai cultural centre and learned lots about the city and its history. It was fascinating! We were both pretty tired, so we headed off for some Thai massages. I had heard about a place where current female convicts are trained in Thai massage as part of their rehab program. They were cheap and so worth it!

We found a cheap local place for lunch, and I had my face melted off by the amount of spice! We had run out of things to do so we came back to the hostel to take refuge from the sun. We ended up eating dinner at hostel as we were both exhausted. Katelyn went out to the night market to get some clothes, but I stayed back as I didn’t need anything.

This morning, Katelyn got up early to head to the Elephant Nature Park. There was only one spot left in her program, and she loves them so I let her take it! My plan for today is to finally update this beast, put some pictures on Facebook, hit some of the used bookstores in the area and then go for a massage!

I’m having a little trouble coming to grips with the fact that I only have a little over a week left. On one hand it feels like an eternity, but on the other I know its going to fly by so quickly. I’ve had an incredible time so far, I’ve loved everywhere we’ve been and I’m really looking forward to seeing Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. I’m also excited for the fact that I get a comfy bed. And to shop. But mostly to shop.

Lazy Laos

I’m gonna level with you here. I got too distracted by The Office to blog last night. I’m not even sorry.

Yesterday we bussed from Vientiane to Vang Vieng and spent the afternoon exploring what little there is to explore here. We also looked at tour operators that offer Kayaking which is something that we might do tomorrow.

Its been raining constantly since last night which is something new for this trip. Normally when it rains – it pours for about an hour then it stops. Here its been constant, with huge downpours every so often. This caused a little bit of a change in our plans as we were forced to wait out a downpour this morning and thus couldn’t go tubing. We instead hired a Tuk Tuk for the afternoon to take us to some caves and to the Blue Lagoon.

Even though it was raining, the caves were incredible to explore and I’ve never seen anything like it. It wasn’t true cave trekking though – it was a disneyfied version with paved walkways and nice stairs. Which I’m not complaining about (my feet are super sore from some mysterious rash).

On the way from the Caves to the blue lagoon we took the bumpiest road I have ever been on. Now, you’ve told me 1000 not to use hyperboles. But this isn’t. I flew off the seat a few times it was so bumpy. The ride was beautiful (the views of the rice paddies and the mountains can’t be beat) but it was too bumpy to take pictures.

We survived the bumps and made it to the blue lagoon to meet a giant group of Korean tourists playing in the water (there was a swing and some branches of a tree to jump off of). But first we set off to explore the cave that was close. This one was definitely meant for true hikers – the stairs were little bits of rocks and there was no path! I’m glad I forced myself to get up and go – it was definitely worth it!

Before heading back to the hostel, we decided to swim for a bit in the water. We even used the swing and jumped off the branches. My battered feet weren’t too happy but it was a blast. After drying off we were back in the tuk tuk and headed back to the hostel.

All in all its a great day. I’m just hoping that the wifi signal will hold on for long enough to post this!