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As an avid adventure seeker, every time I travel one of the first things I do is either search out some really great spots to cliff jump (there’s something about the views and diving into the ocean that gets me every time), or I try out a local adventure I want to do to remember my trip by!
My most recent travels took me to the beautiful Caribbean island of St. Lucia and when in the rainforest why not zipline! I’ve ziplined a few times before both locally and in the Rockies but never in sights as tropical as these ones and let me tell you, the experience was absolutely amazing from start to finish.
After a short coursr on how to effectively zip down all 12 lines the adventure began. You would think that zipping is easier then it looks, but the truth is you have to remember to slow down before you stop and understand the line you’re about to zip to ensure you make it to the end to avoid getting stuck. You really want to avoid getting stack because as the locals say “we will point, laugh and take pictures of you”. Luckily I only had to experience the embarrassment once and in my defense it was a really long line, but I’m sure we all say that!
I always love remembering my trips by seeing the amazing sights and creating new experiences, especially ones that each location is known for. This is a great way to truly understand and live the culture in addition to food of course!
– Vanessa CioffiPosted in LIFE, TRAVEL | Tagged Caribbean, SEtravels, St Lucia, Vacation | Leave a comment
When most people hear Cambodia, their first thought is Angkor Wat. Although the temples of Angkor Wat are absolutely stunning, to ignore Cambodia’s past would be discourteous. As only had one week to spend in Cambodia, we split our time up in between Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia, Siem Reap, the gateway to Angkor region.
Before travelling to Cambodia I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t know much about what a traumatic past the country had to endure in the 1970s under the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot regime. We’ve all heard of the Nazi genocide, but after visiting Phnom Penh, my eyes were opened to the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge, who were responsible for one of the worst genocides of the 20th Century. It’s hard to comprehend the horrors, but in less than four years (1975-1979), more than 30% of Cambodia’s population was executed. We visited two sites in Phnom Penh and both were incredibly shocking and heartbreaking.
Before 1975, the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center (The Killing Fields) were a vast fruit orchard – now, it’s a memorial. Upon entering, each visitor is given a headset with an audio tour which describes each sign, building and tree. During 1975-1979, the Killing Fields (pictured directly below) were a number of sites in Cambodia where collectively more than a million people were killed and buried by the Communist Khmer Rouge Regime.
Just outside of Phnom Penh is Tuol Svay Pray High School. In 1976, the Khmer Rouge renamed the high school S-21 and turned it into a torture, interrogation and execution centre. Similar to Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre, upon entry each visitor is given a headset with an audio tour, this time walking you through the courtyard, buildings, photographs and cells within S-21 Prison. Over 15,000 people are known to have entered (possibly more), only seven survived. S-21 is not for the faint hearted and some of it is quite graphic, but if you want to learn about the country’s past, there is no better place to start.
The Killing Fields and S-21 Prison serves as a stark reminder of the country’s all too recent past. To skip past Phnom Penh and these sites would be unjust.
On a lighter note, earlier this year, some of the world’s most respected street artists took their talents to some of Phnom Penh’s streets. All around Phnom Penh you can find street art scattered about but we found a few pieces by David Choe, Esao and James Jean.
Our next and final stop was Siem Reap.We arrived at Angkor Wat around 4am, the perfect time to catch sunrise over the temple. Angkor Wat is one of the seven wonders of the world, and no wonder – the sheer size and beauty of this temple complex must be seen to be believed.
Arriving for sunrise, we spent hours travelling around via tuk-tuk to the various temples each with its own unique feature in this UNESCO site. Although many temples have been well preserved or restored, many still show signs of the war and the Khmer Rouge (many Buddhas were beheaded by the Khmer Rouge regime).
Angkor is one of the most important archaeological sites in South-East Asia. There are magnificent remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century and include the famous Temple of Angkor Wat and right next to it at Angkor Thom, the many stone faces of the Bayon Temple. You can easily spend a few days touring the temples as there are too many to count on one hand.
If you’ve never been to South East Asia before, then step outside your comfort zone of holidaying in the Caribbean/Europe as you won’t regret it. After a few weeks in Vietnam (to read more, click here) and a short stop in Cambodia, we fell in love with the people, history and beauty of both of these countries.
– Chenessa Lam
Vietnam and Cambodia have always been destinations that were on my bucket list. This long, narrow country offers splendid views of the South China Sea and borders China, Laos and Cambodia. Last month, my boyfriend and I planned a trip to Vietnam and Cambodia where we barely scratched the surface. For three weeks, we travelled from the north (Hanoi) to south (Ho Chi Minh City), then made a short trip to Cambodia. Here’s what we did in Vietnam (to read about our Cambodia trip, click here).
After about 20 hours of travel (as there are no direct flights), I landed in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. Since I only travel with hand luggage, I packed for the hot weather of the south without paying much attention to the weather of the north. Big mistake. With temperatures in the 5°C mark and only one sweater, to say it was frigid would be an understatement (note to anyone visiting Hanoi: it’s cold, pack accordingly). But despite the weather, we wandered around the town visiting various sites, including their Water Puppet Theatre and even stopped for Vietnamese egg coffee, a specialty in the north where egg yolks are used to substitute milk. After a few days to acclimate to the climate and jet lag, we set off to Halong Bay.
Halong Bay, meaning “descending dragons”, is known for its thousands of limestone islands, which boast inspiring caves and spectacular floating fishing villages. It was amazing cruising around Halong Bay on a 2 day cruise. Unfortunately, the photos don’t do justice to the beauty of this UNESCO heritage site.
From Halong Bay, we took an overnight sleeper train to the imperial city of Hue. We did most of our travels with overnight trains or buses because flights were either unavailable or offered inconvenient timing. When we arrived in the former capital (from 1802-1945), we scoped out the old imperial palace and temples from Vietnam’s past. With much of the country destroyed by the bombing in the Vietnam/American war, seeing these sights in all their glory was simply stunning.
Our next stop was Hội An, but before our arrival, we made a quick pit stop in the Marble Mountains, a cluster of mountainous rock of marble and limestone in Da Nang (just north of Hội An).
After our quick pit stop, we arrived to Hội An, which many travellers referred to as “the Disneyworld of Vietnam”. We quickly understood the reference upon our arrival. The ancient town of Hội An is a mix of Chinese wooden shophouses and temples, ornate Vietnamese houses with lanterns lining the streets. After a day in the ancient town, we cycled around the smaller locales to get a glimpse of local life and dine on local delicacies, including their infamous White Rose dumplings.
After Hội An, we continued onto Mui Ne, a quiet beach town in Southeast Vietnam. We woke up at an ungodly hour to catch the sunrise in the Vietnamese sand dunes and then wander around the red and white desert before the sand became too hot. Aside from long stretches of sand and sea, Mui Ne is home to an original fishing village where locals still outnumber tourists. During the peak sun hours, we retreated back to our resort and relaxed poolside. After a few days on the go, a quick break was much needed.
Our last stop in Vietnam was Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon. Ho Chi Minh was once Prime Minister but more importantly, he was one of the Vietnamese communist revolutionary leaders who fought the colonial forces for the liberation of the Vietnamese people. After the Vietnam War, Saigon was renamed after their leader.
Our time in Vietnam was all too short but utterly compelling. I didn’t know what to expect prior to visiting Vietnam but the country offers an interesting past and some breathtaking beauty. If you’re planning to visit South East Asia, don’t skip past Vietnam. For the second part of our trip, read “#SETRAVELS: Sunrise to Sunset in Cambodia”.
– Chenessa Lam
Everyone has something that makes them tick. For some people it’s yoga, for other’s it’s their job, for me it’s travel. There’s something about walking on foreign soil that makes my heart beat faster – and when it comes to adventure, nothing beats a good island escape. Earlier this month, I decided to explore a few islands on Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast with their picturesque coastlines and crystal clear waters. Croatia has become one of Europe’s hottest destinations, and no wonder, they offer great weather, stunning architecture and beautiful beaches.
Croatia boasts over a thousand islands, however less than a hundred are inhabited. We started the adventure off in Split, the second largest city in Croatia, situated along the Dalmatian Coast and then went south to the islands: Mljet, Korčula, Hvar and finally Brač before making our way back to Split. This fantastical coastline is one dreams are made of.
As the oldest cultural city in Croatia, you’ll find a wealth of history and easy transport to the neighbouring islands. The true heart of Split is their Old Town, which was once home to Roman Emperor Diocletian’s Palace, one of the world’s most impressive Roman monuments. Within Old Town, you can wander the narrow streets overflowing with cafes, restaurants and shops, not to mention cathedrals, towers and buildings steeped in history. You can easily spend hours walking through the winding streets and get marvellously lost or just relax in the Peristyle of Diocletian’s Palace where you can park yourself on a cushion and enjoy the evening’s entertainment with a drink in hand. When it was time for us to get some R&R, we snuck back to our hotel, Hotel Luxe, a four star property just a stone’s throw away from Old Town.
Mljet is the southernmost of the larger islands (closer to Dubrovnik than Split). It is also one of the greenest islands and a large part of the island is a national park. Mljet is a quiet island complete with small seaside villages and a peaceful atmosphere. This island is a nature lover’s dream. We rented bikes for a day and toured the national park and cycled around their two major attractions Malo Jezero and Veliko Jezero, two inland salt water blue lakes ideal for swimming and kayaking around.
I can’t say I have ever experienced a place so stunning and serene. I even took a dip in the warm blue waters and fell in love with calmness of the island. If you’re looking for something lively, this isn’t the island for you. For that, you might want to swing by the other islands, so keep reading on…
Korčula is truly one of the most romantic islands of Croatia. Here you’ll find vineyards, olive groves and Old Town, a historic fortified town located on the edge of the sea. Old Town is a medieval walled city with streets aligned in a herringbone pattern. Within these walls, there are a lot of steep and narrow streets influenced by the Venetian Renaissance. During the day, we climbed bell towers to get panoramic views of the island, in the evening we wandered Old Town where you’ll find shops, cafes, restaurants and bars at every corner. Unfortunately, we were only on Korčula for two days, otherwise I would have loved to explore more of what the island had to offer.
If you’re looking for someplace energetic, this it it! Hvar is one of the busiest islands and offers everything from a rich history to bustling nightlife to its own archipelago of islands. We spent most of our time in Hvar Town, where you can spot century old walls, a fortress overlooking the city and eat fresh seafood along the waterfront. The first thing we did when we arrived in Hvar was visit all of the historical monuments (I’m a nerd like that). First stop, the Fortica Španjola (Spanish Fortress), a citadel built in the mid 16th century on the site of a medieval castle overlooking Hvar Town. Here you can capture unobstructed views of the Hvar Town and its surrounding islands. From there, we meandered down to St. Stephen’s Square, home of Hvar’s cathedral, the cathedral is dedicated to St. Stephen, the Pope and martyr, patron of dioceses and city of Hvar. Just across the square, you’ll spot Hvar’s theatre, where the interior architectonics is from the 19th century and the exterior is mostly preserved in its original form.
Once our legs grew heavy, we realized it was dinner-time. We made our way to one of the most highly recommended restaurants in Hvar Town (and the #1 rated according to TripAdvisor), and dined at Dalmatino Restaurant. From the second we sat down, we knew this would be a treat. Some of the most popular seafood dishes along the coast are fresh shells (clams and mussels), fish, squid and octopus. I decided to go for the latter. When I think octopus, I think tentacles, but they prepared it in a thin carpaccio style which was both light, tasty and refreshing. For my main I ordered ahi tuna and a traditional white fish with swiss chard mashed potatoes and it was everything to satisfy my tastebuds. Croatian seafood really is fresh and delightful and shouldn’t be missed.
To add to Hvar’s seduction and charm, across from Hvar town are the Pakleni Islands, a chain of islands with hidden beaches, deserted lagoons and pristine waters. We hopped on a quick water taxi to the calm bays of Zdrilca and Mlini, where the beaches are plentiful but the tourists are not. There isn’t much on these islands aside from a limited number of restaurants but the real draw are the beaches. This is the ideal place to get away from it all.
Brač is the largest of the central Dalmatian Islands and also one of the highest. With its near proximity to Split, we knew we had to make a pit-stop. We spent one night in Supetar, situated along the northern coast and also the biggest town on the island (albeit a quiet one). We spent a day exploring the island before relaxing at the beach. Brač is famous for two things: its radiant white stone, from which Diocletian’s Palace in Split and the White House in Washington, DC are made, and Zlatni Rat, the long pebbly beach at Bol that sticks out lasciviously into the Adriatic Sea. We also decided to make our way to the highest point among all of the Adriatic island, Vidova Gora, which sits 778m above sea level. Along the way, we passed vineyards and olive groves (we even sampled some fresh olive oil!). Once we reached the summit, we were surrounded by breathtaking panoramic views of the neighbouring islands and the Adriatic Sea.
Croatia truly is an unspoilt paradise. There are so many Croatian islands, both big and small and the best way to travel is to do some research, go at your own pace and explore what the cities have to offer. With delicious cuisine, a breadth of history and sparkling waters, the appeal of the beautiful Dalmatian Coast is obvious, and alluring. The next time you plan a European vacation, make sure you consider Croatia.
– Chenessa Lam
Every year for my birthday, I plan a getaway – this year was no different. After Googling countries, cities and things to do, I finally set my sights on Croatia. As a country with recent independence, Croatia offers a fascinating history, deliciously fresh seafood and idyllic islands along the Adriatic Sea.
My goal is to visit a few of the Croatian islands and coastal cities. To follow my adventures, check out @misschenessa and @styleempiremag on Instagram. Believe me, some of the photos will inspire you and take your breath away.
– Chenessa Lam