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Sunday, February 14, 2016

5 places worth a visit on your travels

To me, everywhere is worth visiting once. I have found enjoyment in every place I've been and just because there are places that I won't rush back to doesn't mean that I regret visiting there in the first place. Then there are these places, which are truly special. They might be a little trickier to get to, or you may not have them on your list for a variety of reasons (distance from other places, budget, transport options etc) but I highly recommend (read: suggest you visit or you are missing out!). I either have gone back already, will go back or a little part of my soul will pine for them.

1. Achill Island, Co. Mayo, Ireland. I have raved in previous blog entries about Achill, my favourite place in the whole world. Why should you put Achill on your list? Its scenery will take your breath away, from the craggy  rock formations, many pristine beaches perfect for surfing, kite-surfing or just a swim, magnificent cliffs rising into modest mountains that are well worth a hike, delicious seafood and Irish music sessions in many pubs waiting to serve creamy pints of Guinness. I can't extol the virtues of this island enough. From the Atlantic Drive to Keem Bay, barbecues under the shadow of Slievemore at sunset, a good walk to knock out the cobwebs on Keel beach and settling in at the Valley House for a pint and great tunes - it's hard to beat and I'm sure you'll agree.
Slievemore at sunset

The writers Graham Greene and Heinrich Boll spent time living on the island and many an artist has taken up residence there.

How to get there: Train from Dublin to Castlebar, then 1 hour bumpy bus journey to Achill Sound, or hitch - plenty of friendly locals and travellers pick up on the road from Castlebar to Achill.





2. Trakai, Lithuania. Never heard of it? Probably not but it's fantastic. Only a stone's throw from the capital of Vilnius, which is also worth a visit, Trakai is definitely budget-friendly and worth a visit for it's Gothic castle (with unique architecture for Eastern Europe), the bridge, the maze (yes, a maze you can get lost or found in!), a range of outdoor activities - including sailing and rowing and the fact that it's a national park. It's been quite a few years since I visited (hint: I was a teenager at the time) but it still pops up in my dreams. Grab some local food for a picnic beside the lake. If you wish to do more than a day trip you can get apartments for less than EUR40 a night.
Image from TraveloLithuania.com


How to get there: From Vilnius, there are regular buses every 20 mins or so. There are also trains for the short journey.





3. Koh Chang, Trat Province, Thailand.
Koh Chang is definitely growing in popularity but it's still much cheaper than most of the Thai islands, such as Koh Samui or Phuket. Don't expect the karst formations that you'll find on the Andaman islands, but there are plenty of picture perfect beaches here with far less crowds than the famous spots on other islands. It's pretty hilly and is great to explore (be careful of the wildlife in the jungle) and you can also hop onto other, even less visited islands from there. If you really want the 'backpacker' feel you can stay at Lonely Beach, where the nightlife is anything but lonely. Massages start at around EUR5, accommodation can be as cheap as EUR8 per person sharing (even in a double room) and a wide range of cuisine can be found on the island. I recommend Kai Bae beach, for location and the beach.

Me, a swing, Kai Bae beach.
How to get there: We got burned on our trip because the internet doesn't always tell the truth! Well, information changes, I guess. If you are coming from Bangkok, it is recommended to get to the Ekkamai bus station EARLY (and/or book in advance) and get a bus that leaves before noon. It takes about 4 and a half hours to Trat. Some buses go directly to the pier where boats leave from, others just to Trat and you have to share songtheaws (they resemble pick-up trucks with benches in the back) to the port. The last boat to the island leaves at 7pm. The boat takes about 30 minutes to cross and then you will have to pay about 150bht to get to whichever resort you're staying in.

There are also buses from near Victory Monument in Bangkok to Trat and Koh Chang, they leave hourly but once again, be aware that due to demand there may only be 2 or 3 buses running rather than hourly.

http://iamkohchang.com is a good website if you're planning to travel there.

4. Tarife, Southern Spain. Forget Gibraltor (seriously, it's not a nice place) and go a bit further down the road to the charming town of Tarife, which is also the southernmost tip of Spain. Although it barely gets a mention in guidebooks and isn't the prettiest of port towns, it is a haven for kite surfers and also offers pristine white beaches both on the Mediterranean and Atlantic Oceans (the two meet here) and there are wonderful views across to Morocco. There's the Moorish Castillo de Guzman el bueno fort to visit and the Church of San Mateo plus plenty of lovely tapas places to eat for under EUR10. It is definitely worth a weekend trip if you're interested in geography or history.
Med on the left, Atlantic on the right

How to get there: The nearest airport is Gibraltor, but Malaga is only an 1 1/2 hours away so you can see more of the Costa del Sol before taking in Tarife or plan your trip from there.  The easiest thing is to hire a car (pretty inexpensive - from EUR45 per week) but you can get a bus from Malaga. There are also regular buses from Gibraltor and Algeciras.












5. Kaikoura, South island, New Zealand. Last, but by no means least. There are so many places to get to in New Zealand but I've noticed that this one is sometimes missed. I have no idea why. Kaikoura is known primarily for year round whale watching, and it's absolutely worth it. Although I missed the money shot (the tail raised out of the water) I did so because watching it took my breath away. There are also large seal colonies in the area, fantastic to watch, even from a bus and dusky dolphins out at sea. Even though I visited in peak season, the small town wasn't very busy, which is nice for a break when travelling. You can see a longer post I wrote on a local bar/eatery here.
Sunset on the beach


How to get there: There are regular buses from Picton, which take around 2 and a half hours, whilst buses from Christchurch take only slightly longer and fares are very reasonable (you can get buses from NZD$1 in Christchurch, whilst it's around NZD$15 from Picton).

Kaikoura is not a cheap destination, although if you're already in New Zealand you're probably aware. Still, if you're on a backpacking budget it's probably a good idea to set a little extra aside for the even the basics here.
The walkway at 7am, beautiful mountains in the distance.
Realistically, I could put so many places on this list but these were the ones that I see mentioned least online, that were special to me at the time and still remain in my mind. Where are your places? I'd love to hear so I can add them to my list.

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