Dog Sledding

Checking off another thing we had on our list!

We went dog sledding with Beck’s Kennels. Grant Beck is a champion musher from Yellowknife, and his huskies are deceivingly strong. He trains his dogs for long races, so don’t expect them to look beautiful and fluffy. Instead, these lean pups are fierce and fast; only three little guys were needed to pull us around the lake at a smooth 30km per hour!

Beck’s service is reliable and cheaper than other companies. We had a fun 40min ride on the sled, despite the intense wind freezing our faces!

Aurora Borealis

During our short 3-day stay in Yellowknife, we saw the Northern Lights for only 30 minutes. Unfortunately for us, the weather was not favourable this weekend, as the full moon had washed out the skies. Next time, definitely check the lunar phase before booking an Aurora trip!

We stayed out for 8 hours one night to see this beautiful Aurora Borealis. It was a c-c-cooooold night out on the frozen lake. Still, it was worth the short-but-beautiful show that we caught at 3:30am! Now, we can at least tell people that we saw them and put another Check! on our bucket list. 

Alright, we saw the Northern Lights, but it didn’t feel like what we had pictured in our minds. So we will definitely come back again at the right time (ie. with no moon) and hopefully catch a more active geomagnetic storm.

A few tips:

The best spots to take photos are on the lakes along the Ingraham Trail - Vee, Prelude, and Prosperous - and the Yellowknife river. Of course, you can only go on the lakes in winter when they’re frozen solid - and what a crazy experience it is to drive right onto the water and hear the ice shift under the weight of the car!

We stayed on Vee Lake because it was only a 15min drive from the city. 

Plus, it’s not necessary to pay for an expensive tour to take you out. With your own vehicle, you can stay warm in the car and on the lake while the colourful lights are hiding. Just bring some hot tea and warm blankets.

Check out these great websites for live updates on the Aurora borealis activity:

http://www.asc-csa.gc.ca/eng/astronomy/auroramax/connect.asp

and http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/index.html

Just checking this website now, and it’s showing on the webcam that there’s intense activity up in ‘Knife!!! We missed them by a day, WTF!?

Yellowknife, capital of the Northwest Territories

The sun is bright and the air is absolutely frigid here in the northern capital. We’re wearing every insulating layer we own, and still we can’t escape the chill that hits us every time we step outside. And after just a few minutes of exposure, the fingers lose their feeling and start to burn. We’re obviously not cut out for this!

But hey, the weather is beautiful otherwise, and ‘Knife just needs to be explored. We stop in Old Town for a great lunch at Bullocks Bistro. Fresh perch and cod from the lake are cooked to perfection, and the place is just bursting with people waiting to get their fill. This place is a must-visit.

Driving along the ice road just blows my mind. Great Slave Lake is the deepest in North America, but for a few months every year, it completely freezes over. Trucks barrel down to Dettah on the opposite side of the lake, reaching the small First Nations community in half the time. On either side of the road, hockey rinks are set-up, the ice castle is being built for Slowking in March, houseboats are stopped in their place, and parachutes can be seen floating around as people go kite-boarding.

Stopping along the way, we admire the beautiful cracks and air pockets that show up in the frozen water. The ice is so clear, you can see the variations four-metres down. Absolutely amazing!

Seychelles

Beaches, beaches, and more beaches. And seafood. And sun. Then more glittering, turquoise waters and soft-as-flour sand. And, of course, great company! 

This was a beautiful week and wonderful reunion with our cousin. We’re so lucky to have family scattered around the world. And so glad to see Mei settled in to her new life in this tropical paradise. A bientot!

La Digue, Seychelles

The hour-long ferry ride here is the absolute roughest we’ve ever experienced. Small yacht + open water = seasick passengers all around us. Not pleasant.

But once we arrived, it was just calm, relaxed, and wonderful. There’s no need for a car on this island; just a bike is enough to get around. And don’t forget to bring your snorkelling gear, because the water is just fine!

Mei found a great deal at La Digue Island Lodge, and breakfast on the beach every morning was really a special treat. How lucky are we??

Welcome to Paradise

What can I say? We’re just not ready to hit the “stop” button yet! And since Mei has moved out to Seychelles, why not go and visit the beaches…er, I mean her, there?

It’s balmy, bright and blinding, and absolutely beautiful here. There are dozens of secluded sites on Mahe that you can make your own for the day. Just bring your bathing suit, sunscreen, and a good book.

After 14 months…

After all the walking, hiking and rough weather, not everything came back in good shape. I broke both branches of my glasses; duct tape and glue didn’t help much, but I survived until the end of our journey. (you might notice that towards the end of the trip, the glasses are always sitting crooked on my face!)

As for the hiking shoes - the harsh muddy trail to Macchu Pichu did most of the damage. But besides the worn-out treads and peeling rubber, they actually cleaned up quite well. 

I am glad our travel went pretty smoothly.

And I’m glad I can now wear fashionable clothes and shoes again… 

Art at the Pompidou

The exhibit of Simon Hantai’s work at the Centre Pompidou was fascinating. There are two videos showing his process of tying, folding, crumpling, overlaying and painting his canvases, to create beautiful patterns with playful colours. His Meun series is probably his most popular and identifiable, but I think the Etudes and Les Blancs were more interesting to examine. 

Train Travel Tips

Traveling by train has always been a glamorous notion to me. Airplanes offer their own sort of glamour (which we pay for with money and emissions), but it’s not always the best method of getting from one place to another.
In my opinion, trains give you the best view of any countryscape, allow you the comfort of moving around, and is the most efficient way to cross any piece of land. Plus, you don’t need to arrive at the station two hours ahead of time, and they don’t harass you about the extra 0.5kg of luggage.

So, here are a few tips from our experiences around the world:

The man in Seat61 is the best comprehensive online resource for traveling by train all around the globe. He goes into detail about the ride, the destination, schedules, and how to reserve tickets in each country. His instructions on purchasing might be a bit UK-centric, so always shop for alternatives online or locally at the station.

Russia: it IS possible to book tickets through the official RZD website using Chrome and Google Translate. Here’s how I did it.

China: you can pre-purchase at the station Ticketing Counter for any to/from location in the country; just have your destination, date, and preferred times written out clearly (in Mandarin, if possible) for the agent to read. And remember to bring your passport.
Or, you can just pay your hostel to take care of it for you, for a fee.

India: at the major stations, there are Tourist Booking offices where you can pre-purchase any available trips; just bring your passport and a photocopy of the information page.
Cleartrip allows you to efficiently purchase tickets online, ahead of time, for the same price as you’d pay through official IRCTC agents. It requires setting up an account (scan and email passport, receive access code, register), which might seem a bit tedious, but it sure beats standing in long line-ups with dozens of others when you should be exploring instead! 

Peru: Ferrocarril Central is the main website for the second highest train in the world. You can purchase tickets the day beforehand at the station, or through Tambo Peru Tours in Lima and Cusco (123 calle del medio). Take a look at the photos and tell me this doesn’t interest you!

Mongolia: tickets here were difficult to get in person. Only one agent spoke English at the station when we were there, and just writing down the destination+date on paper wasn’t enough. Thing is, the train from Ulaanbaatar to Beijing is very busy at times, and doesn’t run everyday, so reserving tickets a few days in advance is recommended. Ask your hostel to help you out with this one.

Caveau de la Huchette is the best place for live jazz music almost every night of the week. The underground cave has been the “it” dancehall for decades, and the place is just pumping! We love coming here

The Promenade Plantée is somewhere I’ve always wanted to explore; the converted railway over the Viaduct des Arts gives you a great view of the city and its architecture. The promenade stretches from the Bastille all the way to the peripherique, and takes you through lovely neighbourhoods, past quiet parks, and along a lovely green space that I think is a gem. It’s not the High Line, but I think it’s more unique. 

Our Favourite Foods around the world

We’ve eaten our way around the globe, and have probably taken more photos of food than ourselves. I know this list isn’t comprehensive, but it’s a good one to start with anyways. 

To take a look at everything we’ve eaten (and liked) over the past year, just look up the #good food tag and you’ll pull up all the yummy tumblrs!

So, in no particular order, our fave foods that we’d go back for anytime:

  • street stalls in Bangkok, especially “dessert alley” behind the stadium
  • "lechon al horno" sold by the cholitas in La Paz
  • fresh fruit juices in the morning markets
  • dhal bhat" thali-set with banana pancake and spiced tea in Nepal
  • "parilla" steak in Argentina
  • Pasteis de Nata in Belem, Lisbon
  • kuku na chipsi" and Bitter Lemon drinks in Tanzania
  • grilled and pan-fried trout from Lake Titikaka
  • Dim Sum and “cha chan teng” in HK
  • juicy grenadillas in Cusco
  • chai wallahs in Nepal and India
  • ceviche in Peru’s fresh markets
  • Chinese hot pot and Naxi fried rice in Yunnan
  • "quinoa & manzana" drink in Bolivia & Peru
  • oven-baked naan bread and Mughlai curry in Rajasthan
  • fried whole fish with chili salsa from Lake Toba, Sumatra
  • flat whites in Melbourne

(I’m starting to get hungry, aren’t you??)

Best Hostels & Guesthouses around the globe

here’s the round-up of the best places we stayed at during our round-the-world trip. Hostels were often the first place to look, but we weren’t willing to sacrifice comfort for a cheap 20-person dorm. Nor was the late night partying in the room our thing, so those places didn’t work for us. Our budget was tight, and it was always a bit of a task finding somewhere charming and clean to sleep. 

We carried sleep sacks and sleeping bags with us everywhere, but at these places, we definitely didn’t need them:

  • The Loft Hostel, Chengdu, Sichuan, China - $7/bed
  • Amazing Home Hostel, Arequipa, Peru - $7/bed
  • Kumbha Palace, Udaipur, Rajasthan, India - $10/room
  • Elbrus Home, Thamel, Kathmandu, Nepal - $14/room
  • Saphaipae Hostel, Silom, Bangkok - $10/bed
  • Nomad Guesthouse, Shuhe, Yunnan, China - $18/room
  • Samosir Cottage, Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia - $8/room
  • Jade Emu Guesthouse, Dali, Yunnan, China - $5/bed
  • Enjoy Hostel, Miraflores, Lima, Peru - $8/bed
  • Sania’s Guesthouse, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia - $17/room
  • Halfway Guesthouse, Tiger Leaping Gorge, China - $4.50/bed

Opera Garnier, Paris

Having never been able to catch a performance here, it was great to take the guided tour around the opera and get a chance to admire the intricate and ornate architecture. From the carved wooden doors to the colourful painted ceilings, and the box forever reserved for the Phantom of the Opera, everything was cool to see. Plus, we were lucky enough to have a very animated history lecturer as our guide, so the whole tour was just fun.

This was not just another item to check off the list; hopefully next time we’re in Paris, we’ll be able to enjoy a beautiful performance on stage too.

Where (in the world) you don’t need a guide

One thing about backpacking and traveling on a budget is to figure out how to do a lot of things on your own, without going through a travel agency or hiring a guide or following the typical tourist circuit. But to make the most of any experience, it’s still important to hire local people who can take you places or tell you things you wouldn’t get to know on your own. And more importantly, it’s crucial to enlist the experts who will be able to keep you safe when in truly sketchy situations.

So here’s our round-up of some of the major tourist sites where you really don’t need to hire a guide, either because it’s absolutely safe to do without, or because the beaten path is impossible to miss!

  • any touristed area in China is easy enough to navigate on your own; the tips you get at the hostel were always more than sufficient
  • ditto for Myanmar’s cities
  • the Annapurna Loop during busy season is so packed with trekkers, you can all guide each other along the well-marked paths; although it’s always helpful to hire a porter for the multi-week trek
  • the Gobi Desert tour in Mongolia doesn’t require a guide, but a very capable and experienced driver is a must!
  • Argentina’s Pumamarca and Humahuaca mountain villages are easily accessible by a cheap bus from Salta or Jujuy
  • riding a motorbike around Indonesia’s Flores island and Mt. Batur outside of Ubud, Bali; just download the GoogleMap on your phone before leaving the hostel/cafe
  • anywhere in Rajasthan has been so infiltrated with tourists, you can do it all on your own, including the temples/mosques and museums. Only exceptions are the official guides that can tell you about the history and architecture of a site, or the audioguide (like the one in Jodhpur)
  • the Sacred Valley outside of Cusco can be explored on your own, either by bus or on a bike - just remember to pick up a map