About Carrie Kellenberger

Carrie Kellenberger

Canadian expat Carrie Kellenberger has kept a home base with her husband in Asia since 2003. A prolific traveler, Carrie has funded her travels primarily as a writer, editor, travel blogger and photographer, but she has also worked as an educator, voice over artist, model and nightclub singer. She draws upon her 15+ years of travel experience to write about travel-related issues and the countries she has visited on her award-winning web site, My Several Worlds.

Her photography and travel articles have appeared in both print and online publications around the world, including Travel and Leisure Asia, Unearthing Asia and Hip Compass Escapes.


Latest Posts by Carrie Kellenberger

The Botswana Guide, From Art + Food to Lions + Caverns

July 26, 2014 by  

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Bostwana Safari - Photo by Mathias on Flickr

As one of Africa’s premier travel destinations, Botswana offers a high standard of living and it is a politically stable country that travelers enjoy visiting for a number of reasons. It’s no surprise that the most popular activities are the Big Game Safaris, but that’s not all that this gorgeous country has to offer. There are lots of things to do in Botswana, and any list of activities that you read will certainly have great suggestions on how to fill your time there.

Here are our top five favorite things to do in beautiful Botswana.

Tsodilo Hills, Botswana

Get Your Art On in Tsodilo Hills

If the idea of a spiritual outdoor art gallery makes you smile with excitement, consider a visit to Tsodilo Hills, home to more than 4,500 ancient San Bushmen rock paintings. The San Bushmen believe that the creation of man began in Tsodilo Hills, and that this area is resting place for spirits of the dead.

There are over 400 sites in this area, all of which feature traditional hunting scenes, animals, and dances. Some of the rock art in this area dates back to more than 20,000 years ago. Tsodilo is often referred to as the “Louvre of the Desert”, and it’s no wonder that it has received UNESCO World Heritage site status. Archaeologists have determined that people lived in this area as long as 100,000 years ago!

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Go on Safari

Because of its massive private animal reserves and beautiful landscape, it’s no suprise that Botswana is known as one of the most famous safari destinations in the world.

The majority of Botswana’s wildlife areas are located in northern Botswana. Okavango Delta, Moremi Gorge, Chobe National Park and Linyanti are all easily accessible and they offer some of the best wildlife viewing on the planet.

Being comprised of mostly desert terrain, Botswana is also a great place to visit if you’d interested in embarking on a desert safari. Makgadikgadi Salt Pans and Central Kalahari Game Reserve are two popular destinations for this sort of experience.

Whether you’re searching for a regular safari up north or you’re looking for a startling contrast to the typical African safari, Yellow Zebra Safari offers some spectacular safari tours in areas all over Botswana.

Try Seswaa, Botswana’s National Dish

The traditional cuisine of Botswana is typically based on meat and maize dishes. Botswana’s national dish, Seswaa, is a tasty meat stew served over a thick polenta/porridge.

The stew is made by boiling meat, typically beef or goat, with onions and peppers for approximately two hours. The meat is then shredded and pounded with salt to add flavor. The mixture is pored over a maize meal and served with a leafy green called Morogo. This may seem like a very basic meal, and it is, but it’s important to remember that meat was once considered a luxury that many families couldn’t afford.

Famous street from the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency books

Go on a Literary Journey in Gaborone, Botwana’s Capital City

OK, so maybe this activity isn’t particular exciting, unless you’re a bookworm like me. I wanted to include it though, because I love The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, and it’s an unusual way to see some of Gaborone, Botswana’s capital city.

This popular book series has put Gaborone firmly on the map, and since the books have been turned into a popular HBO Series, you can watch Precious Ramotswe’s hometown spring to life before your eyes. A half-day tour features film locations for the books, a drive by Precious’ home on Zebra Drive, and a visit to her office at Speedy Motors.

Gcwihaba Cave

Image courtesy of Botswana Tourism

Visit Gcwihaba Caverns

Set amongst the rippling sand dunes of the Kalahari Desert, Gcwihaba Caverns are a wonderful option for adrenaline seekers who are seeking something a bit out of the ordinary. The caverns are located in one of the most remote locations in Botswana, and they aren’t easy to get to, but they’re worth every minute of the long journey there. The two-story caves are a maze of linked passageways that are full of stalagmites and stalactites, which have been formed over thousands of years by dripping water. The unusual rock formations and frozen waterfalls are a veritable kaleidoscope of colors. We bet you never knew rocks could be so complex and beautiful!

This completes our list of five things that shouldn’t be missed when visiting Botswana. Have you been to Botswana? What do you recommend doing in Botswana?

 

Canadian Reflections: Lake Nipissing in North Bay

July 22, 2014 by  

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The pitter patter of light summer rain on a hot tin roof and the slap of bare feet against a wooden dock are sounds that take me back to my childhood.

As a young child, there wasn’t anything I liked better than spending my summer up at the family cottage on Lake Nipissing in North Bay, Ontario. My parents were both teachers, and come the last day of school, we’d pack our bags up the night before and hightail it out of town the next morning at the ‘early’ hour of 8am with cats and dogs in tow. It was usually closer to 9am, though, because my dad likes to sleep in.

We learned that lesson well from him when we were kids. To this day, my mother is still the only early riser in our house.  We three kids would spread our pillows and blankets out in the back of it, and we’d lie there in the sun and count cars and sing along to my Dad’s ZZ Top tape. ABBA, Dire Straits, and Wilson Philipps were also frequently played during those journeys, so much so that we knew those albums front and back.

It was during those long summer road trips that I caught the travel bug.

The journey there was every bit as important as the places we were headed to together as a family.

We always took the back roads from Carleton Place through to Almonte before making a pit stop at MacDonald’s in Arnprior. I’ve never been a big fan of sausage and egg McMuffins, but no one else in my family can pass them up, and we all believed in being well fortified for our four-hour journey along Highway 17, also known as the TransCanada Highway. This highway follows the Ottawa River along the old fur-trading route, passing through pretty little town after pretty like town.

Two hours later, we’d stop at the Laurentian Diary and Ice Cream Shop in Deep River, where my brother, sister and I would make short work of their famous Pig’s Trough. We’d move on through Mattawa, home of Big Joe Mufferaw. The highway here snakes through rugged Canadian Shield all the way to Manitoba. From time to time on our way home, we’d stop at Myrt’s Grill, which I first remember visiting with my grandfather when I cwas just a little girl. We always looked forward to their diner style milkshakes, thick cut fries, and juicy hamburgers. They pack a mean turkey and gravy sandwich too.

Eventually we’d start seeing more and more signs for North Bay, which sits on the eastern end of beautiful Lake Nipissing. North Bay is the largest city in this area, but it’s still very much a small Canadian town in a lot of ways. Summer beach homes and cabins stretch along the shoreline, and the Aboriginal tribes that live in this area have been here for around 9,400 years. The area is rich in cultural heritage, and it is also a beautiful place to vacation at during the summer.

Our family cottage is nestled in Tillicum Bay.

There are a number of cottages for rent in this area, including Cozy Cove Cottages, which are probably the best known cottages in the area. Idle Tyme Fishing Camp is also in this area, and it offers some of the best fishing expeditions on the lake. People really love cottage life on Lake Nipissing, and some of  the families who own cottages here have been here for generations, like my family.

Tillicum Bay YMCA. This used to be a cadet camp. When I was a little girl, we used to hate to be woken up by the sound of a bugle playing Reveille.

Nippissing is also referred to as the gateway to northern Ontario, and it’s one of the best fishing lakes in Ontario. Some of the trophy fish coming out of its waters are frickin’ huge. Nippissing is well known for its giant muskie, walleye, Northern Pike, and Jumbo Perch, to name a few.

For those of you who don’t know your fish, consider this photo. A muskie is big enough to pull your canoe around the lake for a few hours, which is exactly what happened to my brother when he went fishing in our bay several years ago!

Ice fishing is also a popular activity on Lake Nipissing. I’ve never stayed on Nipissing much past November, but my brother was an avid outdoorsman, and there’s nothing he liked better than being up at the lake to ice fish throughout the winter.

Marshall Cottage, with its sunny yellow frame and white trim, has been our second home for as long as I can remember. As cramped as it is for a family of five, it was an easy life of swimming, fishing, reading, sunbathing, canoeing and bbq-ing. We’d have visitors throughout the summer. Aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents all made the journey north; close family friends like the Dales and the Grahams would come with their own children, and as we grew up, we started bringing our friends.

Those hot, golden days passed long and slow, and we moved in and out of each summer day with a familiar fluidity that isn’t hard to recapture 20 years later.

Little footprints and handprints of all the children who have spent their summers at the cottage everywhere. We are everywhere.

As the years have gone by, my siblings and I moved through a love/hate relationship with our cottage, especially when we were in high school and two months with our parents at the cottage was just about the last place we wanted to be, but that time passed quickly.

Nowadays, our family get-togethers are different. But they aren’t any less fun than those days we had growing up in North Bay. We spend more time sitting and basking in the sun in the backyard or on the beach, content to be with one another. Canadians are known for loving their cottages, and this writer is no exception. If you’ve spent any time on a lake looking out over the placid surface of its water, you’ll understand how nothing beats life on the lake.

 

 

Lapping Up Luxury on the Gili Islands

June 23, 2014 by  

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Head to Indonesia for a l’il luxury! The Gili Islands are an archipelago of three small islands — Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air — just off the northwest coast of Lombok, Indonesia. The islands are a popular destination for tourists looking for a remote island experience.

There are loads of great options for accommodations on Gili Trawangan. We decided to try two resorts, but we honestly wish we could’ve stayed at a few more. We biked around the island to have a look at some of the other hotels and mini-resorts, and some of them were really posh! With that said, we were not disappointed with our accommodations on Gili Trawangan at all.

Our front porch. Astonishingly, there were no bugs to deal with at night.

We stayed in a deluxe bungalow at Villa Ombak Sunset for our first night, and we would’ve happily stayed longer! Our ocean-facing bungalow was stylishly decked out with Balinese accents, such as polished wooden floors, a giant wooden bed, gorgeous handwoven textiles, a sunny outdoor bathroom, and a pretty little front porch. The fresh water swimming pool is one of the biggest (and cleanest) pools on the island; it’s also one of the nicest, as far as I could tell.

Villa Ombak Sunset hosts a super relaxed sunset party on their beach every night (hence the name), and their claim to having one of the prettiest sunsets on the island is 100% true. Get out to the beach around 5:30pm if you want your own beanbag chair or hammock. Trust me, they go fast. Watching that technicolor Lombok sunset while listening to chilled out beats with a beach cocktail in my hand was easily one of the most memorable moments of our trip.

Below is the beach you can spot just over the road. Yep, it’s that close.

 

 

Sunset cocktail area with beanbag chairs and swings.

When the tide is in, you can swim out to the swings and face the waves as they come crashing in. At night, it’s the perfect couples spot.

Vila Ombak

The next day we moved to Vila Ombak to be closer to the harbor area. Vila Ombak is located on the main strip, and there are a number of restaurants, bars, and shops right outside the main entrance. In other words, we moved closer to the party.

Villa Ombak

While Vila Ombak is a bit older than its sister resort, we were pleased that it was clean and well maintained. Our room was huge, and we had a gorgeous outdoor bathroom that included a bathtub that I never got around to enjoying. We were a bit worried about the noise from neighboring restaurants and bars, but our bungalow was set far enough back that we weren’t bothered at all.

I admit, part of our decision had to do with their slick slogans, gorgeous al fresco dining area and the candlelit tables. Simply put, they had the nicest display of seafood and meats for grilling. It ended up being our favorite restaurant on the island. Our food was served within 15 minutes of ordering, the seafood was fresh and piping hot, and the prices were really reasonable. The service is excellent, by the way. We liked it so much, we went back for our last evening meal on the island.

Cycling Through the Rural Villages of Cambodia

June 13, 2014 by  

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Motorcycle Tours Cambodia

Owning an off-road motorcycle tour company in Cambodia I get to see some incredible places. One of my favorite motorcycle tours in Cambodia is a rural village called DaSian, 100km to the east of Siem Reap.  To get there by dirt bike we head deep into single track jungle trails until we come out at the deserted Preah Kahn Temple. My favourite of all temples in Cambodia so far, Preah Kahn has all the beauty of the temples at Angkor but without the hordes of tourists. Arriving late afternoon at this stunning location is just amazing – we’re able to ride the bikes right up to the entrance, the sun is setting behind the temples (which make for some cracking photos!) and we’ve got the place to ourselves.

After a hard day’s riding on tough trails, there’s nothing better than arriving in DaSian, being welcomed by the Chief of the village (our host for the evening), with an esky full of beers and a barbecue feast. We have on occasion even been invited to local weddings in the village, which never fail to be anything less than an amazing night!

While not every traveller will have the chance to be invited to a Khmer wedding, for those that do it will be an experience you’ll never forget. Be prepared to drink a lot, dance and drink some more! I’d seen a lot of Khmer weddings in the town where I live and in Phnom Penh but had never had the chance to attend one until we were on tour and staying in this beautiful village…

Cambodia Motorcycle Tours

 The fact that we were in a remote village definitely helped our cause – we were the only white people or ‘barrang’ around for miles and this novelty certainly appealed to the locals. We were getting ready to sit down for dinner with the village chief when a woman came over and spoke to us – our mechanic translated that we had all been invited to a local wedding.  We finished our hog roast and strolled down the road… the next few hours were a blur!

The music was insanely loud, drink kept coming & everyone was dressed to the nines, dancing round and round the centre table and every time someone shouted Joel Moy (cheers) you had to down whatever was in your hand, be it beer or rice wine. I know us foreigners must have all looked ridiculous, dressed in shorts and flip flops, sticking out about 2 feet above the heads of everyone else & attempting to dance like the locals but we had one of the best nights of the tour.

It was impossible to sit down for more than 5 minutes before someone was pulling you back onto the dance floor – probably because the sight of us dancing caused so much laughter. Attempting to show them all a jig at one point certainly wouldn’t have helped the cause. I had heard that when attending a wedding you should bring $5 with you but the hosts refused and let us help ourselves to the drink available.  So my advice for anyone attending a traditional Khmer wedding is to be prepared to laugh at yourself & for a night of craziness. Take your comfy shoes but leave your pride at home.

I think we were all in agreement that it was one of the highlights of the tour (admittedly an impromptu random night) and one that we have repeated many times since whenever there is a wedding in town, a friendly local and a group of hairy bikers.

This guest post was written by Anna Giddings.

A Whole Lotta Luxury at the Samabe Bali Suites and Villas

June 10, 2014 by  

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We recently returned from a trip to Bali and Lombok in Indonesia where we enjoyed a four-night stay in Nusa Dua, courtesy of The Grand Mirage and Samabe Bali Suites and Villas before moving on to another week of fun in the sun in Lombok.

A luxury all inclusive resort in Bali that is situated on a cliff top overlooking the Indian Ocean, Samabe Bali Suites and Villas earns its five-star ranking with ease. It turned out to be the real star of our travel itinerary in Bali. It’s quiet, it’s beautiful, the service is amazing, and Samabe boasts one of the most creative gourmet menus we’ve experienced in all our travels.

The eight-hectare resort property  is beautifully landscaped; every inch of it has been paved, adorned, and manicured to create an oasis of bliss. The front lobby is cast in cool stone and accented with teak woodwork, and the wide green fishpond that encompasses most of the main area overlooking the suites and Indian Ocean is positively zen. Simply put, it’s a very special location.

A lot of careful thought and deliberation has gone into molding Samabe into the serene Bali getaway that it is today. It’s incredibly quiet and private; we honestly felt that we had the whole place to ourselves at times. I was surprised to learn that Samabe was only at 40% capacity while we were visiting. We rarely ran into other guests, and that’s one of the things we really liked about Samabe.

Samabe opened midway through 2013; and although they haven’t had their Grand Opening yet, they’ve already had some high profile guests. The King of Malaysia has stayed here, and it has already attracted some celebrity names because of its all inclusive luxury package.

The King of Malaysia had his own private villa, deck, a rather large front lawn with chairs for sunbathing, and his own personal infinity plunge pool overlooking the Indian Ocean.

Your Own Private Butler? Yes, Please!

Private butler service is not a new concept in Bali. In fact, Bali resorts excel at this type of specialty service. We experienced our first private butler service in Ubud, Bali in February 2006, and even then, we loved the idea of being able to lock ourselves up in a private villa with its own plunge pool and have freshly cooked meals delivered to our door throughout the day.

This service is also available at Samabe, and it’s available 24/7.  You can order as much off the menu any time you like, and it’s all gourmet and organic, and its delivered to your door.

Your private butler is there to organize activities for you, arrange dinner reservations, help you book travel tickets, and turn down your bed at night. They’ll even unpack you suitcase for you and do your laundry for free. In other words, you can count on having a completely relaxed and stress free break from life. All you have to do is eat, swim, enjoy the sun, and engage in whichever resort activities tickle your fancy.

After being picked up at the lobby in a golf cart, we were taken to our massive private suite in the West Suites. Our room was marvelous, as was our balcony. We had a spacious living room, complete with a telescope for looking at the night stars. The desk was a solid beast of a table, and the giant California king bed was piled high with pillows. We had thoughtfully been provided with his and her matching hats and a beach bag, a fully stocked mini bar, and a nice welcome gift that included a fresh tray with rambutans (One of my favorite fruits!), sweet tea, and little containers of homemade cookies.

Unlimited Privileges

Things happen a little differently at Samabe to ensure that you have a comfortable and stress-free vacation. Samabe is a luxury all-inclusive resort, thus guests are entitled to many kinds of benefits.

A free flow fresh fruit and vegetable juices, as well as soft drinks, coffee, and tea are available all day. The mini-bar is re-stocked once a day, but they’ve imposed a rule that free alcohol is only available from 5pm to midnight. This was the only thing we truly disliked about our experience at Samabe. All-inclusive means all-inclusive. It’s misleading to say that a resort is all-inclusive and then tell guests on arrival that they can only have alcoholic beverages on the all-inclusive plan after 5pm.

Guests have unlimited access to food, though, and you can order as much as you want whenever you want it. Samabe also offers a range of signature activities for their guests. Guests can choose to participate in one signature activity each day. Activities include village tours, yoga classes, sea kayaking, Balinese massage, and cooking classes, to name a few.

Have a Relaxing Massage, Take a Morning Yoga Sessions, or Try a Balinese Cooking Class

You can’t beat doing yoga at 9am on a cliff top overlooking the Indian Ocean; nor can you beat high tea at the poolside. I enjoyed high tea greatly, but I was disappointed I didn’t have time to do the yoga class. The setting is beautiful for it. Instead, I opted for the next best thing and did some yoga on our balcony.

After that, we had a couples massage in our suite. The massage was lovely, and we really enjoyed looking out at the ocean and the night stars.

The next day we took a Balinese cooking class as our Samabe Signature Activity for the day. Wantilan, Samabe’s outdoor Balinese kitchen, overlooks the beautiful water scenery in front of the main lobby. It’s hard to tear your eyes from the view, but our gracious chefs quickly had us focused on the task at hand. We received a thorough lesson in Balinese spices and traditional ingredients. Then we started chopping and dicing our ingredients to create a spicy fish dish called Pepes. It’s a spicy mixture of Mahi Mahi, shallots, garlic, chilis, coriander, galangal, ginger, turmeric, and tomatoes rolled into banana leaves and grilled to perfection. So good!

Gourmet Dining and High Tea 

Samabe really shines in the culinary arts. Executive chef, Tashia Jelita Yunasz, joined the Samabe team just a few short months ago, and what an impression her presence makes! Every plate of food that was delivered to us looked mouthwateringly delicious, and it tasted even better!

Samabe’s al-fresco restaurant is truly a special venue. It’s one of the nicest places we’ve dined at in Bali. The grill serves 51 tables, but each table is designed in its own special alcove for a completely private dining experience. Crystal Blue serves lunch and dinner with a panoramic view of the Indian Ocean. Add some stars and a cool ocean breeze, and you’re instantly transported to one of the most romantic dinner places on Earth.

This is where Tashia Yunasz’s specialty European creations really shine. Her prestigious four-course a la carte meals offer tantalizing morsels of Oscetra caviar blinis and marscapone cheese, lobster ravioli with sea urchin foam, and wagu steak.

Rempeh Restaurant

Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served at Rempeh Restaurant, which offers up Balinese, Asian, and Mediterranean delights. Many of the ingredients used in their signature dishes are grown in their very own herb garden.

The restaurant overlooks the resort and Indian Ocean, while the beautiful fish ponds, stone sculptures and wood furniture lend a timeless elegance to the dining room.

After dinner, kick back with a healthy concoction or an evening cocktail at Te Ja Co Lounge & Var. The bar draws its name from its drink menu: TE – tea, JA – jamu, a traditional herbal drink, and CO – coffee.

Samabe Room Service

Samabe’s in room service is fantastic, but then it would have to be when room service is unlimited.

Most things on Samabe’s extensive menu are available 24/7. Gourmet pizzas, steak and pasta dishes, a nice selection of salads and soups, plus sandwiches and deli selections are all on offer.

We really liked the option for 24-hour breakfast. You can order breakfast at any time, and they had a massive selection of items to choose from. They had a nice selection of breakfast cereals, natural yogurt with muesli, pancakes, Belgian waffles, a selection of local breakfast dishes that included Nasi Campur BNli, Mie Goreng and Chinese porridge, or you could eggs cooked any style and with a selection of sausage, bacon, mushrooms, grilled tomatoes, hash browns and local spinach to choose from.

Beachside Fun

Samabe owns a nice stretch of beach that is easily accessible by stairway. Unfortunately, our time at Samabe was cut short because we had to catch a boat to the Gili Islands, so we didn’t make it down to the beach.

Ocean kayaks are available for rent by the beach, as is private snorkeling equipment. You can also charter a boat, go catamaran sailing, and go diving or fishing. You can even go windsurfing if you so desire.

This is an all-inclusive resort that will probably be out of most people’s travel budgets, and while we’re not quite at the point that we can afford to spend that much on a resort vacation, we would seriously consider it if we knew we could go back to Samabe.

All photos from My Several Worlds.

Going Off the Beaten Path in Hong Kong

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Hong Kong - Victoria Peak

Ahh Hong Kong, often referred to as the Oriental Pearl of Asia. Hong Kong wonderfully mixes ancient Chinese cultures with a modern and westernized attitude to business. The hustle and bustle of the city-state can be a little overwhelming for the inexperienced traveler, but once you have scratched below the surface you will find a number of stunning hidden gems that will live long in the memory.

Below are a few awe-inspiring spots that are off the normal tourist track. Some may seem a little whacky or even mundane, but trust us, they are well worth a visit and will show you a side of Hong Kong that many travelers to the region are not privileged enough to have seen.

Mask Dancers on Parade - Cheung Chau

Cheung Chau

Located around 10km southwest of Hong Kong, this island isn’t as crowded as Lantau and has an historic feel. It is home to the Pak Tai Temple - one of the oldest in the whole of Hong Kong – and boasts the stunning Tung Wan and Kwun Yam beaches, which have crystal clear waters and are good for surfers who wish to avoid the hordes.
 
Seafood lovers will adore the island’s restaurants. The fish is caught locally and you can guarantee freshness as you’re able to select the one you want as it swims around a tank.
 
One of the busiest periods on the island is when the annual Bun Festival takes place. Here you’ll see Taoist celebrations, dragon dances and a competition involving people scouring a tower of buns.

Before there was Fear Factor...

Dai Pai Dongs

Street food is a must for any Hong Kong visitor and the Dai Pai Dongs provide the best and most exotic cuisine imaginable. Many travelers are put off tasting the foods available because the Dai Pai Dongs often look shabby and there are language barriers to overcome, but we couldn’t recommend them highly enough.
 
By visiting these stores, you can avoid the crowds found in the large shopping centre food courts as well as obtain a true taste of the Far East.

Rock Pool @ Tai O

Man Cheung Po Infinity Pool

Its name might suggest it is a modern swimming pool, but this is actually a natural expanse of water located close to Tai O. It’s not the easiest place to find and the hike involves an incline taking over 20 minutes to ascend, but once you’re there, you won’t want to leave.
 
The pool is fed by a number of magnificent waterfalls and there’s even a natural Jacuzzi for you to kick back and rest your weary limbs in – perfect after that uphill climb.
 
Hong Kong is a place with many hidden depths. A break to the city-state is sure to be memorable and people often break up their holiday by spending sometime seeking out hidden gems and the rest visiting more touristy spots such as Hong Kong Disneyland.

Bali’s Grand Mirage in Nusa Dua

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Our time in Bali started in Nusa Dua for an all-inclusive two-night stay at The Grand Mirage Resort & Thalasso Bali. All-inclusive vacations aren’t typically our travel style, but during the weeks leading up to our departure for Bali, we were both getting more and more excited about kicking back for a few days to be pampered. The friendly and helpful staff at The Grand Mirage went out of their way to ensure we fell into holiday mode quickly and easily.

The All Inclusive Comforts of Home

We were given a deluxe ocean view room on the fourth floor with a balcony and a great view of the ocean. Our room was fairly basic, but we had everything we needed. The bed was big and comfy, and our room was well stocked. After checking in, we kicked back on the balcony for 30 minutes to enjoy a cold Bintang and a short rest.

Then we toured around the resort to get to know it better. With four restaurants, a large swimming pool with a swim up bar, a gorgeous stretch of white sand beach, and 301 rooms and suites on site, The Grand Mirage isn’t exactly what you’d call small, but it wasn’t one of those giant mega resorts that you need a golf cart to get around in. It was the perfect size for us, and we were able to explore most of it while we were there.

The resort is charming and well taken care of, but it’s also 20 years old. It’s not sleek and modern, but it doesn’t fail to deliver fun and good, old-fashioned resort style living.

The Grand Mirage

Enjoying the room to its fullest!

The Grand Mirage

The view from the balcony.

The Grand Mirage

Spa It Up, Visit the Pool Bar, or Hit the Gym or Rec Room

There’s no shortage of things to do on the resort property.

On our first day, we hit the pool for an afternoon swim and enjoyed some cocktails at the swim up bar. As you can see from our photos, the pool is gorgeous and it was really clean. We got plenty of use out of it, and we enjoyed the pool bar while we were there. Those beers were going down ice-cold. No complaints from this Canadian!

The Grand Mirage Pool Bar

The Grand Mirage Pool

The Grand Mirage Pool

At 5:30pm, we headed over to Thalasso Spa for a couples massage. The spa at The Grand Mirage is simply gorgeous. Every room is tastefully decorated and well thought out. I could see that the staff was also proud of their spa. Thalasso, by the way, means sea, and it is commonly used to describe the medical use of seawater as a form of therapy.

Our massage was terrific out of this world. Whatever tension we were still holding on to after we arrived at the spa simply melted away. It was the best massage we had on our trip.

Here’s the outdoor hydrotherapy room.

The Grand Mirage Spa

If you’re still looking for things to do after you’ve taken in the pool and the spa, you could head for the rec room. Families can gather here in the evenings to play pool and air hockey. There’s also a mini movie theater, a Play Station and a Wii. There’s a full sized karaoke room next to it.  There’s even a nice little gym room overlooking the garden.

The resort also offers babysitting services for children over three. The Grand Mirage is definitely family-friendly, but we also met plenty of couples while we were there, and we thought it was really nice as a couples resort as well.

Fun Activities for Everyone

All inclusive guests enjoy a range of free classes from water aerobics and yoga to carving vegetables, while bed and breakfast guests can simply pay for an upgrade.

Since it was included in our plan, John and I dropped by the basket weaving techniques class the next afternoon. It’s more of a kid activity, but we appreciated the experience nonetheless. We soon found ourselves busily cutting young coconut leaves and weaving them together. We enjoyed basket weaving so much, we stayed on for the fruit and vegetable carving class that followed.

Basket Weaving at The Grand Mirage

Vegetable Carving at The Grand Mirage

How can you pass up the opportunity to a rose out of a tomato?

Vegetable Carving at The Grand Mirage

Vegetable Carving at The Grand Mirage

Beachside Fun

If you’ve been to Bali, you probably know that water sports and Nusa Dua are practically synonymous. There are beach volleyball nets, non-motorized water sports and motorized water sports on offer at Tanjung Benoa Beach, where the Grand Mirage Resort is located.

The Grand Mirage Beach

Catamaran Sailing at The Grand Mirage

Catamaran Sailing at The Grand Mirage

Catamaran Sailing at The Grand Mirage

Catamaran Sailing at The Grand Mirage

If you’re on the all-inclusive plan, you can do one non-motorized water sport each day. We opted for the catamaran sailing as we’ve already been sea kayaking and snorkeling together many times. Non-inclusive guests can pay an additional fee to participate in any of the beach activities, which include paragliding, jet skiing, sea walking, and banana boat rides.

We loved our catamaran experience, although we were sad it was over so quickly. We would’ve happily paid to stay out for another hour. The only thing we disliked about the experience was the water traffic. There should be an for motorized sports and an area for non-motorized sports. It was a bit nerve racking to have high-speed boats flying past us all the time. The catamaran heads straight out to sea, while the boats are running perpendicular to the beach, so we had to ‘cross traffic’ carefully while out on the water.

Try Local Balinese Dishes, Enjoy some BBQ, or Indulge in the The Grand Mirage’s International Buffets

There are several restaurants on the property and a large selection of foods to choose from. We liked the Grand Buffet breakfast the best. They had a great selection of breakfast foods on each morning, and our food was always served fresh and hot.

The Grand Mirage BBQ Restaurant

We also enjoyed Jujung Grill. This al-fresco restaurant sits on a green lawn overlooking the beach. It’s shaded by a number of trees, and it’s beautiful day or night. The calarmari was nice, and they serve up a mean club sandwich too.

We didn’t get an opportunity to try La Cascata, the Italian restaurant, nor did we didn’t get a chance to eat at Chopsticks, the Chinese restaurant. The menu at Chopsticks looked fantastic and a number of other guests told us the food was great.

On our first night, we booked the European Buffet, and I’m sorry to say that we weren’t overly impressed with it. We didn’t think that what was on offer was worth the price for a guest that wasn’t on the all-inclusive plan. The next night we saw Devdan Show, so we missed dinner altogether and ended up ordering room service later that evening.

How Does The Grand Mirage Measure Up As An All Inclusive Resort?

The Grand Mirage Resort & Thalasso Spa isn’t like a mega all-inclusive resort that you’d find in Mexico or the Dominican Republic. Those resorts are set far back from main roads, and they’re designed to keep guests on the property.

In contrast, The Grand Mirage is in a fairly busy area in Nusa Dua. It’s surrounded by other resorts, shops, and restaurants and it’s easy to walk off the grounds and wander around a little bit. That’s always a nice option to have, and we took the opportunity to take a couple of walks, but we really had no reason to leave. Everything we could’ve wanted was on the resort property. I also really liked the fact that every single person we met in the employ of The Grand Mirage had a big smile and a warm greeting for us. It seemed like everywhere we went, people were happy to see us.

We thought the Bed & Breakfast option was a great deal. Being able to upgrade for any service at any time is an interesting concept. You get a base package deal, and then you can add on pretty much anything that’s available at the resort.

On the other hand, having everything included in the all-inclusive deal was pretty nice. The price lists confused us at first. Even though we were told it was all-inclusive, it was our first time seeing price lists for activities at an all-inclusive resort. We kept thinking we were going to get billed for something. We also had to sign for a lot of things, even though we had gold all-inclusive bracelets on.

With that said, seeing those price lists everywhere convinces me that going all-inclusive at The Grand Mirage is a good choice. They have a great selection of things to see and do, and it’s good value for your money. It’s the perfect place to bring your kids, and it’s big enough that if you’re a couple seeking romance, you’ll surely be able to find it. While we were there, we spoke with a number of guests who were enjoying their vacation at The Grand Mirage. We spoke to a couple on their honeymoon, a couple that were expecting their first child in four months, and a family of four, and they all had great things to say about their experience at The Grand Mirage. Not that we expected anything less!

While this review was written in exchange for a two-night all-inclusive stay at The Grand Mirage, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

Freeing Yourself From Internet Censorship When You Travel

April 11, 2014 by  

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A carefree tour is nothing short of a blessing these days. It is a leisure that only few can afford in time and in money. It is an escape from the burnouts of noisy cities, polluted lanes, stressful work, social strife and much more. It is a journey to peace.

But then you know it is short lived, so you just want to make the most of it. You get cameras, bookmark places, and make a long list of shopping spree you would like to do on various points of your trip. You want to tell the whole world of your whereabouts time and again. You are not going to miss out on your friends and family back home.

Travel Experiences You Always Wanted to Have – And Share!

Whether it is an exotic massage on a beach in Thailand, a crazy dance with village farmers, or even a long drive with your childhood friend in his Lamborghini, you have an irresistible urge to show it off to the world, just like you have been seeing it long until your own journey.

It is your turn to brag. You have planned to update your entire social world about whatever new comes through each mile you travel. You dream not to miss a single check-in on Foursquare and Facebook, you will be able to make use of Instagram in much of a celebrity way, you will say hi to your WhatsApp contacts from several places. And you would fill all of your random thoughts on those tiny, 160- character Tweets.

Internet Freedom Does Not Travel As Freely As You

Wait… counting on social media and internet is pointless if you are unaware about cyber controls outside your country. Yes, the internet may not be as ‘free’ as it is in your own state. Many countries, like Egypt, Syria, Korea, China and even Turkey, have enacted strict censorship laws which affect things you can (or can’t) do over the internet.

In South Asian countries like Iran, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, you may not be able to stream even YouTube. Yet, there are others who place overly offensive watchful eyes on you online activities.

The bottom line is – you would not have the same level of internet liberty as you have it back at home.

Internet Censorship and Surveillance around the World

Like landscapes and climate, internet censorship takes different forms in different parts of the world. Even Australia, Italy and France have laws which may restrict your online activities.

Internet censorship

Indeed, censorship and surveillance hurts everyone from students and businessman, and from travelers to office workers. Here is a map of internet censorship around the world. Keep this in mind as you travel.

The black zones, representing most of the countries I have already pointed, are worst affected by online censorship. Censorship laws in these countries are at the mercy of oppressive, dictatorial and often corrupt regimes.

The red zones, comprising much of Russia and Australia, face high levels of state-sponsored online surveillance. If you live or are on a tour to one of these places, you get to expose a lot of your personal online activities to surveillance monitors.

The yellow zone states are not known to have any brutal internet controls. But yes, passive censorship tactics are applied for certain types of objectionable or controversial content. Yellow zone countries include much of Americas, North Africa and India.

The handful of countries in the blue zone region is safe from active censorship or surveillance, including African countries. In Central Africa, however, internet is a rarity, and so is censorship.  It is a good idea to forget good internet while on African land, let alone censorship!

Getting Help from a VPN

A VPN service is a great way to regain any lost internet freedom you would experience in your travel trip. It is an online service you could use to unblock restricted websites and applications online, anywhere in the world.  It tops up your internet connection with a native IP so that you can enjoy internet in the same manner as you would have back at home. A VPN just erodes all censorship worries you might have during your trip.

Most VPN services are compatible with almost all internet-enabled devices, including PC, smart phones and lap tops. With a VPN in place, you could easily surf and engage on Facebook, YouTube, Blogger, Netflix, Twitter and any other website or application.

Because online data through VPNs go completely encrypted, you can be safe from hackers and cyber criminals, especially if you are in the habit of using public Wi-Fi and hotspots, the treading grounds of online thieves.

Finally, VPNs help you access geo-restricted streaming websites and services like Netflix, Pandora, Last.fm, Hulu, WWE Player, iPlayer and others. Most of these streaming services are US or UK only, but with a VPN you get a native virtual seal which gets you full access to all of your native content on these channels. You are not going to miss what’s in the latest episode of your local soap operas if you have them online with a VPN.

Last Thought

A restricted internet will spoil all the moments of your trip you wanted to share with your friends and family back at home. Don’t become victims of censorship. And don’t be hurled by surveillance monitors, hackers and cyber crooks outside your country.

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