Wild Junket » Travel Lists http://www.wildjunket.com An adventure travel blog that brings you on a rollercoaster ride around the world Tue, 22 Jul 2014 15:07:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 World’s Friendliest Countries http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/06/24/worlds-friendliest-countries/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/06/24/worlds-friendliest-countries/#comments Tue, 24 Jun 2014 14:00:32 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=17048 The Golden Falls, IcelandEach year, the World Economic Forum ranks 140 countries in order of their hospitality towards international travelers. The ranking is created based on the Forum’s newly-released Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report, which gives scores on a scale from one to seven (one for ‘very unwelcome’ and seven for ‘very welcome’). An Executive Opinion Survey is distributed to [...]

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Each year, the World Economic Forum ranks 140 countries in order of their hospitality towards international travelers. The ranking is created based on the Forum’s newly-released Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report, which gives scores on a scale from one to seven (one for ‘very unwelcome’ and seven for ‘very welcome’). An Executive Opinion Survey is distributed to business leaders in 140 countries, who are asked to rank their own countries on such topics as infrastructure, environmental sustainability, and economic policy. It is however important to note that WEF’s ranking of friendliness towards foreigners does not actually take into account the opinions of any foreigners.

Personally, I’m pleasantly surprised by the results of the 2013 ranking — with Iceland topping the chart and lesser-known West African countries like Senegal and Burkina Faso making a rare appearance. I’m really happy to see Macedonia and Bosnia in the top 10 list, as the Balkans is definitely an underrated part of the world. Having just returned from New Zealand, I can safely say that the Kiwis are some of the most welcoming people I’ve met and they’re always happy to show you around and share a part of their culture with you.

Another country I’m glad to see in the top 10 list is Morocco, where locals are always eager and enthusiastic to interact with you. In recent years, Morocco has sadly earned a bad reputation with female travelers. While I don’t deny that some parts of the country have got aggressive touts and conservative men, not all of Morocco is unwelcoming and I definitely think you need to dig deeper and get to know locals to truly appreciate Morocco.

The report also ranked the countries least friendly towards foreigners. Bolivia unfortunately was voted as the least welcoming among those surveyed, and was joined in the bottom ten by Venezuela, Russia, Kuwait, Iran, and Pakistan, among others.

Click for the full list of the 2013 ranking.

World’s Most Welcoming Countries, According to World Economic Forum

Have you been to any? Do you agree?

1. Iceland

The Golden Falls, Iceland

2. New Zealand

Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand

3. Morocco

Djemma el Fna in Marrakech, Morocco

4. Macedonia

Lake Ohrid, Macedonia

5. Austria

Flickr photo by Moyan Brenn
Photo by Moyan Brenn on Flickr

6. Senegal

Senegal sand dunes
Flickr photo by Jose Pereira 

7. Portugal

Algarve, Portugal

8. Bosnia and Herzegovina

Mostar, Bosnia

9. Ireland

Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

10. Burkina Faso

Children of Burkina Faso
Flickr photo by Dietmar Temps

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Glamping Adventures: 5 Luxury Campsites Around the World http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/06/11/glamping-adventures-5-luxury-campsites-around-world/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/06/11/glamping-adventures-5-luxury-campsites-around-world/#comments Wed, 11 Jun 2014 05:00:27 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=16975 Rock CreekRecently I’ve had the chance to experience glamping at a few luxury campsites and they completely changed my perspective of sleeping in the great outdoors. The concept of glamping is a combination of the words glamorous and camping. Sound a little like opposites? Think again. Getting down and dirty is no longer an essential part of camping. With [...]

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Recently I’ve had the chance to experience glamping at a few luxury campsites and they completely changed my perspective of sleeping in the great outdoors. The concept of glamping is a combination of the words glamorous and camping. Sound a little like opposites? Think again. Getting down and dirty is no longer an essential part of camping. With the increase in ease and accessibility to resources, there are now plenty of places offering unique glamping experiences, let’s take a look at some of them:

The Ranch at Rock Creek – Montana, USA

Nestled amid Montana’s most breathtaking landscape, The Ranch at Rock Creek is a log-cabin style luxury ranch resort offering a slice of raw western adventure in the stunning backcountry. There’s so much to do here - from horseback riding to fly fishing and wildlife watching – but most people come here to experience the cowboy life at its best. The ranch reinvents the concept of camping with its spacious and luxurious canvas tents furnished with rustic furniture, wood flooring, gas fireplace, and comfortable bedding. All of them include private bathrooms and even a deck facing Rock Creek. With a romantic and remote setting, the ranch definitely draws in a lot of couples — even Kate Bosworth found this place romantic and held her celebrity wedding here. As one of the first glamping accommodations in the world, The Ranch at Rock Creek is definitely a pioneer in the industry, having been awarded the Forbes 5-star Travel Guide honor.

Rock Creek
Grayling-Canvas-Cabin

Cosy Under Canvas – Kington, Wales

This eco-friendly glamping site sprawls across four acres of beech woodland, just a stone’s throw from the popular book town of Hay on Wye in Powys, Wales. This town is home to the largest literacy festival in the UK, when authors, poets, environmentalists, comedians, scientists, and musicians come together to inspire and entertain the tens of thousands of people that descend on the town. Cosy Under Canvas features three geodesic domes and two canvas tipis, all of which are decorated in simple but stylish touches and glammed up with sheepskin rugs and wood burning stoves. They are carefully situated around the woodland with plenty of space between them for guests to enjoy the peace and tranquility. Though have stayed in a tipi tent before and loved the experience, this place definitely brings new meaning to sleeping in a tipi tent. In recognition for the owners’ creativity, it was named winner of the ‘Best Place to Stay, Alternative Accommodation’ in the National Tourism Awards for Wales, supported by Visit Wales.

Dome tent
Tipi tent at Cosy Canvas

Treebones Resort - California, USA

A true eco resort perched on the rugged Pacific coast in Big Sur, Treebones Resort works on the basic principles of environmental consciousness. Before a pencil ever hit paper in the design of Treebones over twenty years ago, they agreed they would be about “perching lightly” to create as light a footprint on the earth as possible. At Treebones Resort, you can choose between 16 yurts and five campsites all of which come with breathtaking views of the Pacific coast. Each unit contains a queen-sized bed, electric lighting, pinewood floors, heating, and a sink with hot and cold water. The yurts are built on raised decks facing the ocean. For a truly unique experience, reserve the Human Nest, an elevated human-sized bird nest with a futon and unobstructed view of the Pacific. Resort amenities include outdoor yoga, an organic garden, massages, an outdoor sushi bar and a heated ocean-view pool and hot tub. There’s plenty to do around the area, from coastal hikes, canyoneering, and ocean kayaking, all of which can be arranged through the resort.

Yurts at Treebones
Inside a yurt

Mandrare River Camp – Fort Dauphin, Madagascar

Located near Fort Dauphin in the southern tip of Madagascar, Mandrare River Camp is a plush campsite decked out in pure East African style set along the banks of the far-flung and remote Mandrare River. The big, spacious tents are tastefully decorated with a four-poster mosquito netted bed, wardrobe and dressing table. There are even 24 hour solar lighting, hot water and fully plumbed bathrooms. Guests awake to the sound of the local Antandroy tribe singing as they fetch water from the river, or children playing and splashing in the water. By protecting the sacred forests, where the Antandroy’s ancestors rest in their ornate tombs, the tribe have managed to preserve large wildlife areas. There are four species of lemur in the local area: ring-tailed, Verreaux’s sifaka, mouse and white-footed sportive (the last two are both nocturnal); and birding is exceptional with at least 15 resident species in camp and many more in the surrounding wooded areas.

Evening dinner by Mandrare River

mandrare_104

Adels Grove – Queensland, Australia

Having just stayed at Adels Grove Camping Park recently, I highly recommend paying a visit the next time you’re in Australia. It isn’t so much about the decor or style of the tent. In fact, the tents are probably the least fancy of the list – it’s the whole atmosphereof this family-run camping park and its remote location in Outback Queensland that truly make it special. The campsite is located just 10km from Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park, where there are plenty of hiking trails and kayaking opportunities to keep you out and about for a week. You can choose from several types of accommodation: from canvas tents perched on the river’s edge to wooden cabins that come with bathrooms and air-conditioning. As an accredited Savannah guides station, it runs excellent tours in and around the area. Adels Grove is also the winner of the 2013 Outback Queensland Tourism Awards.

The backyard of Adels Grove
Tents in Adels Grove
Have you been glamping before? Any recommendations to add to this list?


Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post, but all opinions expressed above are my own.

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World’s 10 Most Ethical Destinations 2014 http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/05/28/worlds-10-ethical-destinations-2014/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/05/28/worlds-10-ethical-destinations-2014/#comments Wed, 28 May 2014 14:30:05 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=16748 Bahamas Orange CreekWhile we’re on the topic of ethical travel, here’s an interesting list I’d like to share with you. Every year, the non-profit organization Ethical Traveler conducts a survey of developing nations — from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe — to identify the world’s best travel and tourism destinations. They choose the ten that are doing the most [...]

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While we’re on the topic of ethical travel, here’s an interesting list I’d like to share with you.

Every year, the non-profit organization Ethical Traveler conducts a survey of developing nations — from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe — to identify the world’s best travel and tourism destinations. They choose the ten that are doing the most impressive job of promoting human rights, preserving their environments, and supporting social welfare – all while creating a lively, community-based tourism industry. the creation of the list, Ethical Traveler emphasizes that, “No country is perfect. All nations have genuine shortcomings. Each of their winners, however, had made a genuine effort to ‘do the right thing’ in the many areas that they take into consideration.”

Of the top ten countries, we’ve only been to four of the ten countries but we haven’t found any of them particularly ethical in terms of protecting their environments except for Palau which has done a great job protecting its marine life. I am however quite surprised that Bhutan didn’t make the list. It’s definitely the only country that I know with government policies that focus on environmental and human rights protection. Scroll down to the end of the post to see the full list and let us know if you agree with the list!

How the List is Created

With a list of nations in hand, the organize starts by conducting their research on three general categories: Environmental Protection, Social Welfare and Human Rights. For each of these categories they look at information past and present to understand not only the current state of a country, but how it has changed over time. Their main resource is the Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) Environmental Performance Index (EPI). Equally weighted was the EPI trend rank, which monitors improving or declining performances in environmental protection.

About Ethical Travel

Ethical Traveler is an all-volunteer, non-profit organization founded to “empower travelers to change the world.” They seek to use the economic clout of tourism to protect human rights and the environment. It was founded by Jeff Greenwald, an active and respected member of the world travel community for over 25 years and award-winning author of six travel books and hundreds of articles. He was compelled to direct his passionately humanitarian voice towards creating such a traveler’s alliance. In the creation of the list, no money or donations of any kind were accepted from any nations, governments, travel bureaus or individuals.

World’s 10 Most Ethical Destinations 2014

Here is the full list of the 2014 winners.

The winners, in alphabetical order (not in order of merit), are:

1. The Bahamas

Bahamas Orange CreekFlickr image by Trish Hartmann

2. Barbados *

Barbados beachFlickr image by Berit Watkin

3. Cape Verde*

Cape VerdeFlickr image by Erik Kristensen

4. Chile

Chile San Pedro de AtacamaFlickr image by Trodel

5. Dominica

Whale watching in DominicaFlickr image by Kartlasarn

6. Latvia *

Riga, Latvia

7. Lithuania *

Trakai from aboveFlickr image by Mindaugas Danys

8. Mauritius *

Mauritius sailing
9. Palau *

Palau jellyfish lake
10. Uruguay *

Uruguay colonial architectureFlickr image by Rod Waddington

( * = also appeared on the 2013 list).

Have you visited any of these countries? Do you agree with the list?

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Street Art from Around the World http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/05/01/street-art-around-world/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/05/01/street-art-around-world/#comments Thu, 01 May 2014 18:15:29 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=16622 In the quirky Lapa districtn recent years, street art has evolved into something more than just graffiti. Renown artists like Banksy have helped bring awareness to street art, and cleared the cloud of mystery that used to revolve around it. What was once an act of vandalism is now a revered form of urban art that’s now appearing on the streets and walls of cities all around the [...]

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I[n recent years, street art has evolved into something more than just graffiti. Renown artists like Banksy have helped bring awareness to street art, and cleared the cloud of mystery that used to revolve around it. What was once an act of vandalism is now a revered form of urban art that’s now appearing on the streets and walls of cities all around the world.  It’s bold, brash and artistic, and most of all, street art is a form of expression and often has an underlying message of political and societal context.

From Brazil to Palestine, we’re bringing you on a visual tour to experience the latest street art culture that’s taking the world by storm.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

While exploring Rio de Janeiro, I found Lapa to be one of the most interesting areas in the city with gorgeous wall paintings and mosaic artwork. It may be a little gritty and scruffy, but there’s an undercurrent of bohemian and artistic vibes that epitomizes the character of Rio.

In the quirky Lapa district

An eclectic mixture off Sanskrit writings and contemporary art on the walls of Lapa

Preparing for World Cup

World cup fever in Rio de Janeiro

Contemporary artwork

Playing with femininity in Lapa

Childhood

The children of the streets

A world of contrast

Old vs new

Favela thoughts

In the favela of Santa Marta, the walls convey messages like “The rich want peace to get richer, we want peace for survival.”

West Bank, Palestine

During our visit to Israel over a year ago, we took the opportunity to cross over to the West Bank in the Palestinian Territories. What surprised us most were the street art lurking in every corner. Messages of the fight for freedom sprawled across the West Bank barrier that the Israelis erected. The strength and tenacity of the Palestinians are expressed through these evocative art work. Even Banksy left plenty of his masterpieces around the area.

Art that convey messages in Palestine

The Palestinians continue to fight for their freedom

the Palestine heroine

Leila Khaled is a famous female Palestinian freedom fighter born in the city of Haifa 1944. Khaled is the first ever woman to hijack a plane in history strapped with grenades around her waist and a pistol gun.

Free Palestine

Free Palestine

Banksy art work in Palestine

The art work of Banksy is seen on the streets of Bethlehem

Cape Town, South Africa

While in Cape Town, we went on a design walking tour with an architecture who led us through the streets of downtown Cape Town in search of contemporary urban art. What we found were really abstract and artsy work that we didn’t get understand but they got us thinking – and that was most important.

Creative artwork in Cape Town

Flying children on the walls

Design tour

Futuristic flashback

Street art in the township
While biking in the township of Masimpumelele, we stumbled upon this piece of art.

Ljubljana, Slovenia

 The Slovenian capital of Ljubljana is small but eclectic and creative. Far from the medieval city center, we found some bright and youthful street art at the area around Hostel Celica. The hostel used to serve as a military prison but the Metelkova Network managed to convert the building and its surroundings into an independent cultural hub. This area is now a place for free-spirited locals and tourists to hang out and exchange ideas.

Alternative artwork in Ljubljana

Big foot

In the back streets of Hostel Celica

Living by their own rules

A youth park

Freedom of expression

Quirky artwork

A blend of alien characters and modern scribbles

Basseterre, St Kitts

On the Caribbean island of St Kitts, we left the beaches behind to explore the capital city of Basseterre and were pleasantly surprised to find interesting little corners revealing hints of local culture and flavors. Just a few blocks behind the Independence Square, we found a few walls painted with local heroes and political characters.

Caribbean street art

The wall of fame include portrait paintings of Kim Collins, a local track and field sprinter, and Sir Kennedy Simmonds, the ex-premier of the country.

Political characters

More local characters on display

Local heroes

Politicians seem to play an important role here – from left to right: Marcus Garvey, a Jamaican civil rights activist; Sir Lee Moore, an ex-Premier of St Kitts; and Robert Bradshaw, the first Premier of St Kitts.

 

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10 of the Coolest Hotels We’ve Stayed At http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/04/16/10-coolest-hotels-weve-stayed/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/04/16/10-coolest-hotels-weve-stayed/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 14:30:46 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=16536 A collage of the differnent treehouses at TreehotelThanks to this website and our magazine, we’ve had the chance to travel far and beyond, from Antarctica to Zimbabwe, North Korea to South Africa. Along the way, we’ve also been fortunate enough to stay at many extraordinary and outstanding hotels. These aren’t your conventional five-star hotel chain or backpacker hostel — you’ll be surprised by how creative and unusual some hotel owners/designers can be. [...]

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Thanks to this website and our magazine, we’ve had the chance to travel far and beyond, from Antarctica to ZimbabweNorth Korea to South Africa. Along the way, we’ve also been fortunate enough to stay at many extraordinary and outstanding hotels. These aren’t your conventional five-star hotel chain or backpacker hostel — you’ll be surprised by how creative and unusual some hotel owners/designers can be.

Here’s a look at some of the coolest hotels we’ve stayed at:

1. Treehotel — Harads, Sweden

Undoubtedly the coolest hotel we’ve stayed at is Treehotel, a unusual abode tucked in the remote countryside of northeastern Sweden. It comes as a surprise to many, that hidden within the Harads forest is a cluster of highly innovative treehouses that bring design to a whole new level. Each of its five treehouses features distinctive architecture and interior design: The UFO – which we had the pleasure of staying in – mimics an outer space shuttle (with a metallic shell and retractable staircase), providing a comfortable escape to our childhood dreams. The Mirrorcube acts almost like a mirage, beautifully camouflaged into its surroundings by mirrored walls. Hanging from the tree canopy is the Bird’s Nest, clad entirely in a network of branches collected from the surroundings.

A collage of the differnent treehouses at Treehotel

2. Yunak Evleri Cave Boutique Hotel — Cappadocia, Turkey

Whimsical fairy chimneys, staggering rock spires and multi-colored cliffs sprawl across the high plateau of Cappadocia, Turkey. In the midst of this unearthly landscape stands Yunak Evleri, a boutique cave hotel that gives new meaning to the concept of ‘sleeping in a cave’. Carved into the rugged Mesa mountain cliff, the cave rooms of Yunak Evleri date back as far as the 5th century. Each of its 30 cave rooms has been immaculately restored and tastefully decorated with Ottoman-style furnishing, polished teak flooring and old kilim carpets – all of which open up to a panorama of the surrounding Turkish Mesa. I had the fortune of staying in one of the suites at Yunak Evleri where most couples on honeymoon stay. The living area was massive, the bathroom rustic yet elegant, and the view was outrageous.

Yunak Evleri cave hotel

3. Iglu-Dorf Igloo Hotel — Zermatt, Switzerland

Right in the middle of the ski slopes of Zermatt and surrounded by spectacular views of the Swiss Alps is the Iglu-Dorf igloo hotel. Built from fresh snow each year, the igloo hotel is a cluster of igloos made of a mixture of snow and ice, with igloo-shaped rooms and white icy bars and lounge areas. In the day, it acts as an aprés-ski bar and by night, it’s converted into a frosty ice hotel. For dinner, guests are served warm and rich cheese fondue and mint tea. The sleeping bag that was provided by the hotel was thick and warm, but I unfortunately suffered from a bout of indigestion at night and had to wake up several times in ngiht and venture into the cold (the bathroom was outside the igloo). I ended up vomiting inside my sleeping bag that night. Despite this minor setback, I would still highly recommend a stay at Iglu-Dorf.

Iglu Dorf in Zermatt

4. Ashford Castle — Mayo, Ireland

While doing a road trip in Ireland, Alberto and I had the chance to stay in the opulent and atmospheric Ashford Castle in the countryside of Cong, County Mayo. What used to be the Guinness family’s summer residence centuries ago is now an elegant hotel with a strong sense of those olden days. The hotel’s lobby is decorated with invaluable portrait paintings and china porcelain while its bar and lounge areas are tastefully embellished with paintings and furniture dating back to the 13th century. The intricately-crafted roof paneling and exquisite wooden furnishing in the hotel lobby are original, dating back to the 1200s. Rooms are decked out with velvet upholstery, floral-patterned wall papers and carpeted flooring and in the state rooms, guests can snuggle in their four-poster bed, blanketed with burgundy beddings and white linen. Our suite also had a spectacular view of Lake Cong and the surrounding pine forests.

Ashford Castle in Ireland

5. Raj Palace Heritage Grand Hotel — Jaipur, India

In Jaipur, Rajasthan’s capital, we experienced Indian royal living at the Raj Palace, an opulent heritage hotel converted from a 300-year-old palace. It was once home to the Maharaja (royal king) and is still a property of his descendants. Each suite in the hotel is decorated with 200-year-old antiques: brass figures, golden-plated pillars and bronze furnishing. Our suite even had a mini-museum with artifacts on display and old photos of the Maharani (Princess) who used to live in the palace. The biggest suite in the hotel was the Maharaja Suite, priced at a whopping US$15,000 for a night’s stay. It’s no wonder the hotel was voted as the World’s Best Heritage Hotel by the World Travel Awards for four consecutive years, 2007-2011.

Raj Palace Jaipur

6.  Hotel Ranga — Hella, Iceland

As part of our attempt to see the Northern Lights in Iceland (we did end up seeing them in the Swedish Lapland), we based ourselves at Aurora Central, Hotel Rangá. This countryside resort is not just a hotel on its own right, it’s a world-acclaimed expert in Northern Lights, specializing in aurora forecasts, studies and photography. Surrounded by the volcano Mt Hekla and a range of mountains and glaciers and the Atlantic Ocean, the resort’s geographical location in South Iceland creates perfect conditions for the phenomenon. In fact, Hotel Rangá has been dubbed the best place on Earth from which to witness the Aurora Borealis by The Sunday Times Travel Magazine.

Hotel Ranga Iceland

7. Lakaz Chamarel — Chamarel, Mauritius

As curious travelers, we like to seek out unconventional experiences and less-visited areas. At Lakaz Chamarel, we felt as though we’d found a different side to Mauritius. This ecolodge is tucked within the mountains and valleys of the Chamarel region, far beyond the beaches and resorts. To get there, we zigzagged our way along the winding switchbacks and climbed up steep mountain roads. Once in the peaceful grounds of Lakaz Chamarel, the sounds of birds singing echoed through the jungle and the smell of lush tropical foliage surrounded us. Designed with a stylish Balinese flair and elegant African decor, our bungalow featured high ceilings, natural hardwood furnishing, a private plunge pool and a spacious outdoor area was perched on a hilltop, overlooking stunning mountain peaks.

Lakaz Chamarel Mauritius

8. Cheetah Plains — Sabi Sands, South Africa

Both Alberto and I love are wildlife buffs and our favorite continent to go for wildlife watching is obviously Africa. We’ve been to most of Southern Africa and East Africa: from the Serengeti to Etosha and have stayed in several safari resorts and campsites. The best one was definitely Cheetah Plains, a gorgeous safari-style lodge in the Sabi Sand private reserve. The intimate size (only eight bungalows), proximity to the wildlife and gorgeous, natural setting definitely made it an experience to remember. Although the lodge was properly fenced, some animals still find their way into the lodging area. One morning we were in awe when we found a young bushbuck right outside our door. We were told that there have been sightings of leopards in the property grounds, which made us all the more excited.

Cheetah Plains in Sabi Sands

9. Hostel Celica – Ljubljana, Slovenia

 Dating back to 1883, the prison-hotel Hostel Celica in Ljubljana, Slovenia, used to serve as a military prison for the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Yugoslav Federal Army after Yugoslavia was formed. After the war was over, Metelkova Network converted the building and its surroundings into an independent cultural hub. With the help of more than 80 local and international artists, each of the 20 jail cells have been artistically renovated and reinvented. Our room consisted of two single beds suspended close to the cell’s ceiling by a wooden structure that also served as a staircase and a small study table. We finally got to experience how it was like to sleep in a prison cell for the night – and it turned out to be so much fun.

Hostel Celica, Slovenia

10. Sumilon Island Resort – Cebu, The Philippines

Of all the island resorts we’ve stayed at, the Sumilon Island Resort has to be the coolest — not for the design/style of the resort but more for its location on a private island. Located 10 km from Cebu island, the island might be just a hop away from civilization but it sure felt like a world apart. Thick virgin rainforests and rugged coral terrain are kept in their original conditions, while the sparkling clear water surrounding it are protected even more so by Bluewater and relevant research groups. A clusters of stylish, and tastefully designed bungalows stand on the waterfront and an infinity pool is perched on a hilltop overlooking the sea.

Sumilon Island Philippines

BONUS: Zambezi Queen — Chobe River, Namibia/Botswana

Technically a boat isn’t a hotel, but I did sleep on this luxury river cruise and so I’ve added it as a bonus item. The Zambezi Queen plies the backwaters of Chobe River (that straddle Namibia and Botswana) and brings you deep into the heart of the waterways and savannas where wild animals roam free. The 45-meter-long, three-level boat is stylishly decorated in contemporary African style, and features floor-to-ceiling sliding doors that open up to stunning views of the passing scenery and wildlife. As we glide through the glassy water, we watch groups of hippos and elephants grazing on one side and herds of gazelles running on the other. It provided a perspective unlike no other.

Zambezi Queen

Have you stayed in any of these hotels? Know of any other unusual hotel?

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Interesting Tribes from Around the World http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/04/15/interesting-tribal-cultures-around-world/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/04/15/interesting-tribal-cultures-around-world/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 14:28:34 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=16529 A Huli wigman with face paintingDuring our travels, we’ve had the fortune of meeting numerous interesting tribes who live in isolated, remote corners of the world and have truly preserved their cultures and traditions. For certain places like Papua New Guinea, the intriguing tribal culture was what drew us to visit. As always, I believe it’s the people who make [...]

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During our travels, we’ve had the fortune of meeting numerous interesting tribes who live in isolated, remote corners of the world and have truly preserved their cultures and traditions. For certain places like Papua New Guinea, the intriguing tribal culture was what drew us to visit. As always, I believe it’s the people who make a place. To pay tribute to the amazing people we’ve met, here are some of the amazing tribes we’e encountered around the world.

The Huli Wigmen — Papua  New Guinea

The Huli is the largest ethnic group in the Highlands, with a population somewhere between 300,000 to 400,000 people, covering the whole of Tari. Huli men are best known for their custom of wearing decorative woven wigs, that are used as elaborate headdresses and decorated with bundles of multi-colored feathers during singsings (celebratory festivals). These wigs are specially made by a unique clan known as the Huli Wigmen, who attend wig schools and live together in isolation from the rest of the community. During my visit to Papua New Guinea, I met the teacher and students of Poroiba Akua wig school, and had an interesting lesson on how to grow wigs. According the Kupunu, the teacher, hair can only grow into a wig with the teacher’s spell.

A Huli wigman with face painting
Huli wigmen

Nomadic Maasai Warriors — Kenya and Tanzania

The Masai (also spelled as Maasai) are a semi-nomadic people from East Africa who are known for their unique way of life as well as their cultural traditions and customs. Living across the arid lands along the Great Rift Valley in Tanzania and Kenya, the Masai population is currently at around 1.5 million, with the majority of them living in the Masai Mara. They are reputed to be strong warriors who hunt for food and live closely with wild animals. Dressed in bright red Shuka cloth and colorful beaded jewelry, the warrior men proudly adorn themselves with what looks to Western eyes like women’s attire. According to the Masai people I met in Kenya, they have little interest in the supposed benefits of modern life.

The Masai doing their jumping dance
Making their own fire

Karen Women with Elongated Necks — Burma/Myanmar and Thailand

In the border mountains between Burma and Thailand live the Karen people, a tribal group related to the Tibetans. Today, their tribe numbers around 40,000 people as more and more of them are moving to the cities. The Karen people are most famous for the neck rings worn by the women of the tribe for beautification purpose. The first coil is applied when the girl is five years old and with the growing is replaced by a longer coil. Sadly, the number of Karen women who still practice this custom is dwindling and many people are exploiting them for tourism. We met a few Karen women at Inle Lake, Myanmar/Burma, who had traveled thousands of miles to live there to work in tourism.

Karen people in Myanmar/Burma
Karen women weaving cloth for visitors

The Ochre-Covered Himba People — Namibia

A group of indigenous people live in the harsh, dry deserts of the Kunene region, northern Namibia, and they’ve become well known throughout the world for their practice of covering themselves with otjize, a mixture of butter fat and ochre, to protect themselves from the sun. The mixture gives their skin a reddish tinge, symbolizing earth’s rich red color and life, and is consistent with the Himba ideal of beauty. Himba women like to braid each other’s hair which is also covered in the ochre mixture. There are now 20,000 to 50,000 people left and most of them making a living tending livestock or welcoming visitors into their villages. During my overlanding trip in southern Africa, I had the chance to meet a Himba family in Damaraland and it was definitely an experience talking to them and understanding their way of life.

A Himba lady

The Hardworking Hmong Women — Vietnam and China

Our visit to the Sapa region of northern Vietnam was so memorable mainly because of these strong and hardworking Hmong women we met along the way. Even though the Hmong culture is patrilineal i.e. allowing a husband’s family to make all major decisions, Hmong women have traditionally carried a large amount of responsibility in the family. The children learn gender expectations at a young age and young girls traditionally learned household skills from their female elders by the age of eight. Besides taking care of the household chores, the women also plant and harvest fields with their husbands. Many Hmong women now work in tourism, offering their houses to trekkers for homestays and also giving a helping hand during the hikes.

A Sapa lady weaving art work
Our Hmong host cooking in her home

Bush-hunting San People — Botswana

The San people (or Saan), also known as Bushmen or Basarwa are members of various indigenous hunter-gatherer peoples of Southern Africa (the most accessible groups are in Botswana’s Kalahari Desert). These indigenous hunter-gatherers were first made famous by the movie, The Gods Must be Crazy. Sadly, the San people were evicted of their ancestral land in the 1950s (which went all the way to the 1990s) and they were forced to switch to farming as a result. Banned from hunting, and forced to apply for permits to enter the reserve, they are now being pushed to the brink of extinction.

In Ghanzi, Botswana, we went out to the bush with a group of San people who showed us how they gathered herbs for medication and plants for food. It was really interesting to see the way they behave and speak (their dialect has a lot of click sounds) and learn how they’re using the same survival techniques as they have for centuries.

The San people showing us their way of life
The family

Have you met any of these tribes? How was your experience? What other tribes have you met?

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The World’s Happiest Countries – Do You Agree? http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/03/26/the-worlds-happiest-countries-do-you-agree/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/03/26/the-worlds-happiest-countries-do-you-agree/#comments Wed, 26 Mar 2014 12:52:02 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=16439 Copenhagen, DenmarkSince we’re on the subject of happiness, I’d like to share this interesting list of the happiest countries around the world compiled by the World Happiness Report. Every year, United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network conducts a 156-nation survey and rank the happiest countries around the globe based on aspects such as healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life [...]

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Since we’re on the subject of happiness, I’d like to share this interesting list of the happiest countries around the world compiled by the World Happiness Report.

Every year, United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network conducts a 156-nation survey and rank the happiest countries around the globe based on aspects such as healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices and social support. Basically, interviewers sit with people and ask them about their level of happiness, with an emphasis on life satisfaction rather than transient emotional changes.

The results of the 2013 World Happiness Report are quite surprising - with northern European countries like Denmark, Norway and Switzerland leading the pack. Among North American countries, Canada took sixth place, while Mexico came in at 16th slightly outranking the U.S. (17th). Scroll down for the full list.

Rich vs Poor

The report clearly shows that the rich, stable northern countries tend to be happier than those in the relatively poor regions of the world. In an article on the Vancouver Sun, one of the authors of the World Happiness Report explains, “the UN’s Happiness Report doesn’t necessarily indicate that Danes, Swiss or Canadians are the richest or poorest – or that they are cheerful people who put on smiley faces. Instead, the UN rankings confirm the three countries offer decent if unspectacular incomes, a viable social safety net and reasonable community trust.”

True, these people may have decent incomes, freedom from corrupt officials and health resources — but do those things equate to happiness?

We’ve been to all ten of the countries that rank highest in the report, and truth be told, we’d love to live in these countries – with the excellent social welfare, health benefits and work/life balance - and yet, we know so many Scandinavians who just aren’t happy with  life back at home and wish they could live somewhere warmer.

We’ve also met those on the other end of the spectrum: people who live in extreme poverty but seem to not have a care in the world. In the most remote corners of Burma, Bhutan and Madagascar, we found the happiest and friendliest people we’ve ever met. Living in poverty doesn’t necessarily mean a low level of happiness, while being blessed with social stability isn’t equivalent to a high level of happiness.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s impossible to measure happiness. Rather than let a scientific report tell us who’s happy and who’s not, why don’t we go seek true happiness ourselves?

Rather than let a scientific report tell us who’s happy and who’s not, why don’t we go seek true happiness ourselves?

 

United Nations Top 10 Happiest Countries

1. Denmark

Copenhagen, Denmark

2. Norway

The Narvik Fjord

3. Switzerland

Zermatt, Switzerland

4. Netherlands

Windmill - KinderdijkFlickr image by coanri

5. Sweden

Small fishing town Lysekil in West Sweden

6. Canada

Banff, CanadaFlickr image by Patrick

7. Finland

Luosto, Finland

8. Austria

Salzburg, Austria

9. Iceland

The Golden Falls, Iceland

10. Australia

Uluru, Australia

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8 Things You Might Not Know about Bhutan http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/01/13/8-things-you-might-not-know-about-bhutan/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/01/13/8-things-you-might-not-know-about-bhutan/#comments Mon, 13 Jan 2014 14:30:27 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=16185 Building a strong identitySince opening its doors to tourism in the 1970s, Bhutan has quickly risen to become one of the most talked-about country  in the world. So how did a small, isolated country of just under 800,000 people landlocked between the superpowers of India and China suddenly get so much attention’? I came to Bhutan to search for [...]

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Since opening its doors to tourism in the 1970s, Bhutan has quickly risen to become one of the most talked-about country  in the world. So how did a small, isolated country of just under 800,000 people landlocked between the superpowers of India and China suddenly get so much attention’?

I came to Bhutan to search for an answer, but I left with so much more than I’d expected to find. My fascination with Bhutan only urged me to learn more and dig deeper. During my visit, I got to know its people, ask questions, observe, and learn all about their cultural traditions, beliefs, and philosophies in life. And the country truly captured me.

To share some interesting things I learned along the way – here are some things you might not know about Bhutan.

Building a strong identity

1. In Bhutan, Gross National Happiness is an official development policy that is more important than Gross National Product.

In the 1970s, the Fourth King of Bhutan came up with the concept of Gross National Happiness to measure the nation’s wellbeing as an alternative to the Gross National Product. The concept implies that sustainable development should take a holistic approach towards notions of progress and give equal importance to non-economic aspects of wellbeing. It’s often been explained by its four pillars: sustainable development, environmental protection, cultural preservation, and good governance. All of Bhutan’s governmental policies and projects have to undergo a GNH screening system before approval to make sure they do not have a negative impact of its people’s wellbeing.

Fin Novu, co-founder of Bridge to Bhutan, says that the Gross National Happiness has been very successful in helping the development of Bhutan. The policy has made it possible to include far flung villagers in the development program, further promote self-sufficiency amongst the people and reduce the gap between the rich and the poor.

The idea of measuring a country’s development through happiness has gained so much popularity that the United Nations created its own measurement to apply to countries around the world. The idea has also inspired similar approaches in France and Britain.

Happy people in Bhutan

2. Bhutan is a Buddhist country with strong belief in myths and legends.

Buddhism is very much alive in Bhutan and the country is considered the last stronghold of Vajrayana Buddhism. But from what I’ve observed, Buddhism here is more of a way of life than a religion. Fluttering prayer flags, people circumambulating temples, red robed monks performing rituals are all show how Buddhism is an integral part of Bhutanese life. The entire country is punctuated with dzongs (fortresses), monasteries, stupas, and prayer wheels — all symbols of their faith.

The Bhutanese also have a strong reverence to nature and spiritual world (partly because of the pre-Buddhist animist belief) — mountain peaks are considered to house Guardian deities, lakes inhabited by lake deities and cliffs resided by cliff deities. In fact, mountains are so sacred to the Bhutanese that the government has banned mountaineering on any peak above 19,685 feet. Bhutan actually has the world’s highest unclimbed peak, Gangkhar Puensum, at 24,836 feet (7,570m).

Another interesting belief is the phallic symbol which is commonly painted on houses to ward off evil spirits and bring in good luck. The history of this symbolic image can be traced back to a revered lama named the Divine Madman who was known for his special brand of Buddhism that used shocking behavior (he was a drinker and philanderer) as a way to bring Buddhism to the masses. It’s believed that he would hit evil spirits with his penis and turn them into protective deities.

Tiger's Nest

3. Bhutan has many interesting rules as part of the monarchy’s way to build national identity.

Since the coronation of the first king in 1907, the Bhutanese monarchy has always regulated foreign influences to a great extent in order to protect and preserve the nation’s identity, culture and eco-system. Because of its small size and fragile state, the nation believes that is the key to keeping its sovereignty. The country only opened its doors to foreign tourists in 1974, the year that the United Nations recognized Bhutan as a country.

Before the 1960s, Bhutan had no roads, automobiles, telephone, postal system or electricity. The government lifted a ban on TV and the Internet — only in 1999, 15 years ago. Its capital Thimphu is the only capital in the world without traffic lights. In fact when traffic lights were installed, there was such public outcry that the city reverted back to the use of white-gloved traffic police. Bhutan is also the only country to outlaw tobacco — the sale of cigarettes is banned throughout the country.

In the 1990s, the King introduced a decree to have all Bhutanese follow traditional customs including dress and conduct and as a result, riots erupted in the Nepalese community. This led to the forced exile of 100,000 Bhutanese people of Nepalese origin and the Bhutanese government was criticized for this, says National Geographic.

Today, the Bhutanese are still obliged to wear national costume – a judo-style suit known as gho for men and a silk jacket known as kira for women – to work and to monastic buildings. However, if you talk to the Bhutanese, you’ll soon realize that most Bhutanese don’t feel in any way restricted by these rules and obligations and are full of pride for their nation.

Men in traditional gho playing archery

4. All tourists have to travel with a tour operator and pay a minimum tariff of US$250 per day to visit Bhutan.

Contrary to popular belief, travel to Bhutan is relatively easy these days — it’s just expensive. The Kingdom of Bhutan does not place any cap on the number of tourists who are allowed to travel there, but all visitors to Bhutan (except citizens of India, Bangladesh or Maldives) must travel with a tour operator and pay at least US$250 per person per day (during the high season which is during spring and autumn, expect to pay $40 more per day).

This fee includes everything from four-star hotel stays to all meals, transportation, guide and driver (drinks are not included). It is also important to note that $65 out of this $250 per day goes towards funding the free education and healthcare that the government provides to citizens. In other words, just by visiting Bhutan, you are indirectly doing your part to help support the local communities.

We need to know a few things to understand why the Bhutanese government came up with these restrictions. Firstly, the Bhutanese culture has always had a strong emphasis on conservation of tradition and culture. By keeping the tourism industry small, the government ensures that the impact on local culture and environment is minimal. I’ve seen what mass tourism can do to a country — from environmental destruction (such as Vietnam’s Halong Bay) to cultural erosion and loss of authenticity. The idea is not to keep the gap between the elite and the masses, but to attract more mindful and responsible travelers.

Secondly, Bhutan is a tiny country with limited resources and infrastructure, and cannot sustain large numbers of tourists. To ensure sustainability, Bhutan needs to keep its tourism industry small. With this “low impact, high value” tourism plan, Bhutan will remain an exclusive tourist destination and keep providing its visitors with quality services and authentic experiences. During my visit, I hardly saw other tourists around — which made the experience all the more genuine and intimate.

In 2009, the government actually debated if they should abolish the tourist tariff. It created quite an uproar as many Bhutanese strongly opposed to removing it. According to the Bhutanese I spoke to, they firmly believe that imposing the daily tariff is the only way to prevent Bhutan from falling victim to cultural degradation. In response, the government not only retained the tariff but also increased it further to $250 a day.

Bhutan's currency

5. Bhutan is one of the leading countries in environmental conservation.

Because of the deep traditional reverence the Bhutanese have for nature, the country has a strong emphasis on protection of flora and fauna. In fact, Bhutan is the first country in the world with constitutional obligations on its people to keep at least 60 percent of the nation under forest cover at all times. At the moment, over 72% of the country is forested.

Power is generated hydroelectrically through special turbines placed directly into rivers without the need for constructing dams. For remote villages without access to power lines, the government provides free solar panels. If someone cuts down a tree to aid in the construction of their house, they are required to plant a new tree in its place. The country also sells its hydro-electrical power, making it the only country whose largest export is renewable energy. This is the biggest industry for Bhutan at the moment.

Plastic bags have been banned in Bhutan since 1999. Instead of using plastic bags, the Bhutanese use cotton bags for their groceries to keep the environment free of non-biodegradable rubbish.

Bhutan is home to a wide range of rare animals, such as the Bengal tigers, snow leopard, red panda, Himalayan black bear and the national animal, takin. There are over 670 bird species in the whole of Bhutan. To protect all these animals, anyone caught killing an endangered species faces the harsh sentence of life in prison.

Protecting the natural environment

6. The Bhutanese government provides its people with free education and healthcare despite poverty.

Out of the 720.000 people in Bhutan, the majority of them reside in rural areas and about 30% still live under the poverty line. That said, you will not see any beggars or slums in Bhutan and there is no abject poverty. In general, all Bhutanese have a shelter and are self-sufficient to a large extent. Agriculture and livestock rearing have long been the mainstay of their sustenance. Now 70% of the population continue to live on farming  while the remaining percentage are dedicating themselves to tourism and hydroelectric power industry.

Despite the country’s low GDP, the government provides free education for all – from primary level all the way to tertiary institutes – as well as free health care through Basic Health Units. Western education and the modern system of medicine were both introduced only in the 1960s (prior to that only monastic education and traditional medication were available). Clearly, the government still has lots of work to do but it is definitely setting a great example to the world.

farming is the mainstay of their sustenance

7. Polygamous marriage is allowed in Bhutan.

Despite all the strict rules, polygamy and polyandry (when a woman has more than one husband) are surprisingly legal in Bhutan although they are not common these days. The fourth king himself is actually married to four sisters. According to my Bhutanese friend Fin Novu, polyandry and polygamy started out of necessity. In rural parts of Bhutan particularly in the north, women usually marry more than one men to delegate chores to her husbands — one husband brings the yaks out, another grows crops in the field, another cooks at home and so on. And why do they tend to marry brothers or sisters? To keep the blood within their family.

For the same reason, people also marry among distant relatives. Cross-cousin marriage was a popular tradition in the rural areas of eastern Bhutan but it’s longer popular today. Traditionally, inheritance (such as land, house, and animals) is generally passed to the eldest daughter rather than the eldest son. Husbands also generally move to the wife’s house after marriage.

Modern-day Bhutanese, especially those who live in Thimphu, are no longer restrained by these traditions. They marry for love and most couples choose to live on their own after marriage. Divorces are an accepted norm and they carry no disgrace. In most instances, divorced couples move on with their lives just like in the western world.

Phallic symbol is commonly found in Bhutan

8. The Bhutanese love spicy foods.

I wasn’t expecting much from Bhutan in terms of food but Bhutanese cuisine took me by surprise. As farming is the mainstay of sustenance in Bhutan, their diet is mainly composed of crops that are grown in the country, such as rice, potatoes, ginger and chili. Animal products such as cheese, butter and milk are staples of the Bhutanese diet—which is quite an uncommon thing for Asia. The Bhutanese don’t tend to eat too much meat as their Buddhism beliefs don’t support the sacrifice of animals.

Chili in particular is found in every meal – whether in a hotel restaurant or a farmhouse. They eat several varieties of chili: a common form is the bright red chili that’s usually left to dry on roofs and then stir-fried with beef cubes and spinach; another more popular type is the green chili that is cut into slices and cooked with cheese to form ema datshi, the most popular dish in Bhutan.

Bhutanese food is a mixture of simple ingredients, Chinese flavors and a hint of Himalayan style. I absolutely loved Bhutanese food for the variety and the familiarity. Perhaps it’s because of my Chinese heritage but I’m a huge fan of Bhutanese cooking and can’t wait to head back just to eat.

Ema datshi, Bhutan's national dish

Did we miss out any other interesting facts on Bhutan? Share with us!

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Our Bucket List http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/01/02/our-bucket-list/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/01/02/our-bucket-list/#comments Thu, 02 Jan 2014 14:30:21 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=16122 With 2014  already upon us, we found ourselves drawing a mental list of places we want to visit in the new year. There’s Cuba – a country we’ve been wanting to visit but still haven’t had the chance to. There’s Brazil – again we missed Carnaval this year. Oh and Papua New Guinea… and the [...]

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With 2014  already upon us, we found ourselves drawing a mental list of places we want to visit in the new year. There’s Cuba – a country we’ve been wanting to visit but still haven’t had the chance to. There’s Brazil – again we missed Carnaval this year. Oh and Papua New Guinea… and the list goes on.

With that in mind, I’ve decided to write down our bucket list — hopefully this gets us more motivated to make it a reality. But keep in mind that this bucket list changes constantly. I’ll be keeping this list updated and I hope to tick some off and add new ones each year.

Witness a Sing-Sing in Papua New Guinea

As a unique far-flung archipelago in the Pacific Ocean, Papua New Guinea is made up of over 600 islands and 800 indigenous languages, creating a spectacular cultural mosaic. Adventure travel has really taken off in Papua New Guinea, with the Kokoda trek taking center stage — but what really interests me is the chance to witness the flamboyant and extraordinary sing-sings that locals put up in the villages of Papua New Guinea. I’ll be traveling to PNG in mid-January — it’s definitely a dream come true!

Flickr photo by ThePaperBoy

Celebrate Carnaval in Brazil

We’ve long dreamt of visiting Brazil during the Carnaval to join in the world’s biggest street party and explore the country’s wilderness at the same time. On our four-month trip around South America in 2008, we had left Brazil out of the itinerary as we knew such a big and diverse country needed more time to explore just on its own. It’s about time we head back to the continent we love so much. I’ll finally get the chance to visit this coming February (2014) – stay tuned for my report!

Carnaval in RioFlickr photo by kingjn

Wander through the Back Alleys of Cuba

Cuba has always been on our radar, not just for its unique flair and culture, and its time-warped feel. Having been closed to the outside world for decades, Cuba continues to be one of the few remaining destinations that’s relatively undisturbed by external influences. Now that the embargo is about to be lifted by the US government, we’re worried about the possible impact of tourism. We’ve definitely set our sights on visiting in August 2014.

Flickr photo by VisualStandpoint

Take the Trans-Mongolian Train to Mongolia

At the beginning of 2012, we had planned to go overland from Asia back to Europe and experience the Trans-Mongolian journey, a voyage that’s been on our wish list for many years. We didn’t end up taking the train due to time and budget constraints; but in 2014, I really want to make it happen. I hope to time the trip to coincide with the annual Nadaam Festival in Mongolia, when locals put on their best traditional garb and compete in wrestling competitions and other traditional activities.

Flickr photo by scott.presly

Criss-Cross Central Asia

I’ve been intrigued by the Central Asia region since watching a show on Discovery Channel a few years back. Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakstan and Azerbaijan interest me for their mix of cultures and history – being located in between Asia and the Middle East, they seem to have an identity that’s part Asian part Arabic. I’d love to take some time to explore the region and tread the Silk Road just like the ancient traders used to.

Flickr photo by Adam_Jones

Cruise West Africa

The only place I’ve been to in West Africa is Gambia, and it definitely piqued my interest in the traditional music and intriguing Voodoo culture of the region. G Adventures recently launched a West Africa cruise that sails along the entire coast from South Africa, through Congo, Benin, Sierra Leone, and all the way to Dakar. The voyage is on board the MS Expedition, the same ship that I sailed with to Antarctica and Arctic. I’m definitely hoping to join the trip in the near future.

Djenne mosque in MaliFlickr photo by Juan Manuel Garcia

Do the Everest Base Camp Trek

My recent trip to Nepal not only swept me off my feet but also got me hooked to trekking. It was a short three-day trek through the rice terraces of the Annapurna foothills and I thoroughly enjoyed the dramatic landscapes that we feasted on as well as the physical challenges and the camaraderie that came along with it. I’m hoping to do the Everest Base Camp Trek in a few years’ time when I get my fitness level back on track. From what I’ve heard, it’s an extremely challenging trek considering the altitude and the terrain but I really hope to do it someday.

Trekking in NepalFlickr photo by Steve Hicks

Walk the Camino de Santiago

Strange enough, even though we live in Spain, we still have yet to walk the Camino de Santiago – something that’s been on my bucket list for years. The ancient pilgrimage route stretches across northern Spain and ends at the tomb of St. James in Santiago de Compostela. The most popular route is the Camino Francés which stretches 780 km and starts from St. Jean in France. My friends and I plan to do this in July 2014 – let’s keep our fingers crossed!

Walking the caminoPhoto by my friend Candace Rose Rardon from her walk

What’s Done

Over the past decade or so of intensive traveling, we’ve done some amazing stuff and managed to cross quite a few items off our old bucket list:

Go on an Antarctica Expedition

See the Northern Lights

Spot Polar Bears in the Arctic

Gorilla Tracking

Cage Shark Diving (twice!)

Swim with Whale Sharks

Go Skydiving

Climb an Active Volcano

Go on Safari in Africa (we’ve done this many times now – in KenyaZimbabweSouth AfricaBotswana and Namibia)

What’s on your bucket list? Share with us here!

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2013: Our Year in Photos http://www.wildjunket.com/2013/12/27/2013-our-year-in-photos/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2013/12/27/2013-our-year-in-photos/#comments Fri, 27 Dec 2013 12:16:54 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=16101 Sleeping in an igloo in SwitzerlandIt’s that time of the year again — a time to stop, look back and reflect. 2013 has been a year full of milestones, of opportunities and of personal achievements for me. I published my first book, kept WildJunket Magazine going, became an aunt and celebrated our fifth blogiversary. Most importantly, this year I finally [...]

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It’s that time of the year again — a time to stop, look back and reflect. 2013 has been a year full of milestones, of opportunities and of personal achievements for me. I published my first book, kept WildJunket Magazine going, became an aunt and celebrated our fifth blogiversary. Most importantly, this year I finally found a balance between travel and my personal life and I’ve never been happier.

Travel wise, we chocked up quite a lot of new and exciting adventures — even though they weren’t quite as groundbreaking as 2012 when I covered seven continents in one year. After spending a long winter last year in ridiculously cold places (we’re talking about Antarctica and Lapland), we packed this year with plenty of trips to hot, tropical islands – from the Pacific island of Fiji to the volcano isles of Hawaii and the savannas of East Africa. We still managed to cover quite a lot of ground, visiting 24 different countries across four continents.

Here’s a look back at 2013 and all the places that have made the year such a spectacular one.

January: Ice Run — Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland

At the end of 2012, Alberto and I took off on an epic train journey around the coldest reaches of Europe armed with our Eurail passes and plenty of winter gear. This journey – which we aptly named the Ice Run – was all about the ice, the powdery snow, the raw wilderness and the chilly cold. Some of the most memorable moments included sleeping in an igloo in Zermatt, catching the Northern Lights in the Swedish Laplandriding reindeers in the Finnish Lapland and watching the spectacular New Year’s Eve fireworks in Stockholm.

Sleeping in an igloo in Switzerland

February: Israel

After a short break back at our home base in Spain, we headed off to the holy land of Israel, a place we’d long wanted to see. We’d passed through Israel a few years ago when we crossed overland from Egypt to Jordan, but now it was time to see and explore the country for real. In the two weeks we were there, we packed in plenty of adventure: from hiking up the Masada to see sunrise, floating in the Dead Sea and offroad-driving in the Judean Desert, to wandering the alleys of Jerusalem and walking the Jesus Trail. It was also interesting to cross over to the Palestinean Territories to get a different side of the story and see how people on the other end of the wall live.

Driving through the Judean Desert

March: St Kitts

By March, we were tired of the winter cold so we headed off to the Caribbean in search of some sun. Swaying coconut trees, sparkling blue water, powdery sand and the sounds of reggae music in the distance: St Kitts was everything we’d imagined – and more. It was the Caribbean without sun-burnt tourists, all-inclusive resorts, and Señor Frogs. Despite its small size (68 square miles), St Kitts packed a punch especially for active travelers like ourselves who like to get out and about. We hiked in the Phillips Rainforest, ziplined through the Wingfield forest, tried SNUBA diving for the first time, and even hiked and biked on the neighboring island of Nevis.

Overlooking st kitts

March: California, USA

From St Kitts, we flew to California to welcome the arrival of my new nephew, Dominic. It was great to spend some time with my family since I rarely get to see them and it was also time for a much-needed break. My parents flew in from Singapore and we all gathered at my sister’s home in Fresno, which has somehow turned into a spot for our occasional family reunion. With Baby Dominic’s arrival, we were all swept in warmth and joy and for two months we kept our mind off work and slowed down our pace.

Baby Dominic

April: Fiji

April saw us traveling around the Pacific Island of Fiji on board Captain Cook Cruises’ MV Reef Endeavour, a small-scale vessel that navigates around the islands of Fiji and into the villages and homes of locals. Our one-week voyage on the Heritage Cruise brought us from Fiji’s main island, Viti Levu, around to its west coast to the old colonial capital of Levuka and up to the northern islands – Vanua Levu and Taveuni. What I loved about this heritage cruise was its strong emphasis on heritage and culture, packing in tons of village visits, Fjian mekes, historical tours, and jungle hikes. Contrary to what many people think about cruises, this one in particular didn’t isolate us from the locals — instead it brought us deep beneath the surface of its culture and into the heart of Fiji.

Empty gorgeous beaches in Fiji
The children of Levuka

April: Pico Bonito, Honduras

I’d never been a birding enthusiast, but this trip to Pico Bonito piqued my interest in these feathered creatures. As one of the most biodiverse regions in Central America, the Pico Bonito National Park is home to a myriad of wildlife, ranging from the world famous toucan bird to the Central American aguti, the elusive jaguar and ocelot. Out of the 750 species of birds that inhabit Honduras, 500 of them are found in Pico Bonito. Head naturalist of the Lodge at Pico Bonito, James Adam,  even went so far to call this, “the toucan capital of the world”. Undoubtedly, we made it our mission to spot the toucan bird while we were there — and after several days of early morning hikes and nocturnal jungle treks, we finally caught a glimpse of a rainbow-colored keel-billed toucan on our last day. That marked the beginning of my love affair with birds.

toucan bird(Photo courtesy of head naturalist James Adam)

May: Grenadines

In May, we headed back to the Caribbean — this time to the Grenadines for Liming Live Week. Over the short span of a week, we found all means to explore the islands of St Vincent and the Grenadines: on foot, by car, by boat and plane. We hiked La Soufriere volcano, drove inland to see the waterfalls and villages of St Vincent, island-hopped on a catamaran and even flew over the Grenadines islands on a charter plane. It was perfect for us – plenty of time to kick back on the beach with bits of outdoor adventure and island exploration mixed in between.

Climbing La Soufriere

May: Maui, Hawaii

By this time, we had been eagerly chasing the sun all spring and summer and Maui was the last stop on our four-month-long island-themed trip. I had always thought Maui was all about beaches, beaches, and more beaches. But I couldn’t be more wrong. During the action-packed week in Maui, my perspectives of Hawaii completely changed. Granted, there were the signature surfing spots and wide sandy beaches, but there were also many things that surprised me about Maui. For one, the island is huge and covers different types of climates and terrains. There was so much diversity in the terrain and natural environment: ranging from the underwater Molokini Crater to the rooftop of Maui — the Haleakala Volcano.

Haleakala Volcano Crater

June: Toronto, Canada

Our stint in the Americas ended with a weekend trip to Toronto for the Travel Bloggers Exchange conference (TBEX) 2013. I had a great time catching up with old friends and making new ones, learning new things about our industry as well as some picking up some new knowledge. It was an excellent opportunity to meet up with industry folks and swap ideas. Part of the reason why I went to Toronto was also to catch up with the G Adventures team – a company I strongly support and work with closely. Their founder Bruce Poon Tip has always been an inspiration to me so it was an honor to finally meet him in person.

TBEX Toronto

July and August: The Med Run — Montenegro, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia

After spending two months at our home base in Granada, we hit the road again on a train trip with Eurail through the lesser-known Balkans region. The conflicted history of the ex-Yugoslavia countries had always been a particular draw for me and traveling was always the best way to learn about a country’s past and present. Our journey began in the adventure capital of Eastern Europe – Bled, Slovenia – where we went paragliding, whitewater rafting and canyoning, as well as zorbing — all in one day! From there, we hopped on the train to arrive in edgy Belgrade, Serbia, before crossing into Montenegro, a country so small yet covered with towering mountains and hiking trails. My favorite stop on the trip was definitely Mostar, one of the most heavily bombed of all cities in Bosnia during the civil war in the 1990s. Visiting its half-destroyed buildings and museums and listening to tragic stories from those days was a sobering experience — but it brought many of those history lessons to life.

Paragliding in Slovenia
Beautiful Mostar, Bosnia

September: West Sweden

In comparison with our previous trip to Northern Sweden last winter – where we watched the Northern Lights and went snowmobiling – this trip showed us a very different side to Sweden. It was an extraordinary journey, one that brought us through the backwaters and little-known villages of Sweden and changed all the original impressions we had of the country. For most of the trip, we were based in the Bohuslän region of West Sweden, which is peppered with some 8,000 small and uninhabited islands. To navigate the coastline, we booked ourselves in on a multi-day kayaking/camping trip and paddled through the islets of the Gåsö archipelago, with a tent, food, camping equipment, and our kayaks in tow. We absolutely loved just how peaceful and pristine the area was — and it definitely got us hooked on camping!

Kayaking trip in West Sweden

September: Mauritius

An iAmbassador project brought us back to Mauritius — our first visit was almost two years ago enroute to Madagascar for our honeymoon. This time, the tourism board was eager to show us the array of outdoor adventures on offer on the island. From the west highlands of Chamarel to the eastern shore of Pointe d’Esny and the northern coast of Grand Baie, we traversed the main island in search of unusual experiences: some of my favorite activities included flying over northern Mauritius on a seaplane, canyoning in Tamarin Falls,and sailing on a catamaran to the remote island  Île de Plate.

Canyoning Tamarin Falls

October: East Africa

By October, I was in East Africa, traveling on an overland truck for three weeks. East Africa is a part of the world that’s particularly special to us. Five years ago, Alberto and I volunteered in a village in Kilimanjaro, Tanzania and the experience changed our lives. It gave us that push and determination to make travel a way of life and we wouldn’t have made it otherwise.

This time round, I made it a point to explore more of the region: from gorilla tracking in Uganda to meeting the Masai tribe in Kenya’s Masai Mara, learning about Rwanda’s history on a short daytrip to Kigali and seeing the Big Five in Serengeti. I also took the opportunity to return to the village of Bomang’ombe and meet our old friends as well as students from the school where we taught — I was truly overwhelmed to see my old friends and students, and even more so to see how much the village has changed…

Gorilla tracking in Uganda
A leopard in Masai Mara

November: Nepal and Bhutan

Without a doubt, this trip to the Himalayas was my favorite trip of the year. Both Nepal and Bhutan completely swept me off my feet. In Nepal, I spent two weeks traveling from the capital of Kathmandu to the foothills of Annapurna where we trekked through impressive rice terraces and villages, before ending our journey in the lush jungles of Chitwan National Park. Some of my favorite moments included drinking raksi with the porters, trekking in the Himalayas, running from a massive Asian rhino and hanging out with a great bunch of travelers.

From there, I flew over the Himalayas to Bhutan on one of the most spectacular flights I’ve ever taken. Having only opened its doors to international tourists in 1974, Bhutan still remains shrouded in mystery. From the many impressive dzongs(fortresses) that dot the country, to the solemn monasteries and lofty, snow-peaked mountains, Bhutan blew me away with beauty of epic proportions. Everywhere I went in Bhutan, colorful prayer flags flew high in the air, sounds of monks chanting echoed through the walls of temples, and praying wheels spun freely in temples and on the streets.

Swayambunath Kathmandu Nepal

Punakha Dzong in Bhutan

December: Gambia

To end the year off, I went on a short jaunt to the Gambia and while it was just a taster of what West Africa has to offer, it definitely left me with the urge and curiosity to explore more of the region. What surprised me most about Gambia was just how laidback it is. Upon arrival at Banjul, the country’s capital, there was none of the chaos you’d usually find in African capitals like Nairobi or Dar Es Salaam. Instead, the whole country seemed to be engulfed in a relaxing atmosphere — perhaps it’s because it’s a perched on the coast or maybe it’s because of its small size and population (it’s the smallest African nation), but somehow it’s so easy to ease into life in Gambia.

On a tributary of the River Gambia

What’s Next?

We’re currently spending the festive season at our home base in Granada, Spain but I’ll soon be off to Papua New Guinea in mid-January. It’s place I’ve dreamt of visiting for years so I’m really excited to see it for the first time.

Then Alberto and I will be spending Lunar New Year with my family back in Singapore – my sister will be bringing her partner and baby along – and we’re all looking forward to seeing Baby Dominic again!

In March, I’m off to Brazil to celebrate Carnaval in style. During our four-month trip in South America, we left Brazil off our itinerary on purpose as we knew this country deserved a whole trip on its own. I can’t wait to head back to South America after being away for four years. I still don’t know where the rest of the year will take me but I’ll definitely continue to write here.

A big thank you for your support, hope to see you around in the new year!

How was 2013 for you? What were the highlights? And what’s next for 2014?


Interesting in reading more?

2012 in Photos

2011 in Photos

2010 in Photos

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