Summerbird Boutique Hotel Bandung

Summerbird: Boutique Hotel in Bandung

Summerbird is a funky boutique hotel in Bandung which is perfect for kids of the Instagram generation due to its unique style and trendy fitout. Located in the centre of Bandung just off Jalan Pasirkaliki, Summerbird is close to the Bandung train station, Istana Plaza, Paskal Hypersquare and Jalan Cibadak. You can even walk to Pasar Baru from here if you feel like it.

Summerbird is a small hotel with only 3 levels of rooms, with each of the rooms surrounding an open courtyard area which gives the entire hotel a bright and airy feel. Construction is based on bare steel, lots of wood and a liberal usage of bricks which gives a very modern, fresh feel.Summerbird Boutique Hotel Bandung Bathroom

Rooms at Summerbird are themed — French, Scandinavian, Industrial and Vintage. We stayed in both the French and the Scandinavian rooms and to be honest, they are one of the funkiest rooms we’ve ever stayed in. Oh, and perfect for taking great photos of. We even saw a couple doing a pre-wedding shoot while we were there.

Each room comes with air-conditiong, private bathroom with Western toilet and hot water, a big comfortable bed (seriously, it’s really soft and fluffy), cable television and free WiFi. The other thing is that the rooms are really clean and some of the fittings they use are seriously expensive and imported meaning you can immediately feel the quality of the room. Take the shower fittings for example — classy toto.Summerbird Boutique Hotel Bandung

Breakfast is included in the room price and is served in the cafe downstairs. We had nasi goreng and coffee and it was perfectly adequate for the day ahead. You’re also able to order other things off the menu for an extra fee, just like a regular cafe and we can people coming and having other meals here too.

We were initially worried that the massive glass wall in the bathroom would be a problem as far as privacy is concerned, but it turns out that they have blinds which you can pull down. all the way meaning you don’t have to worry about anything.

So what’s our verdict about this place? We really love it. Not only does the hotel look good in photos, it actually feels good to stay there. The beds are awesome, the air-conditioning icy cold and the room feels homey especially on a rainy Bandung day.

Summerbird Hotel
Jalan Ksatriaan no. 11. Bandung
Standard: Rp. 439.000
Superior: Rp. 489.000
Deluxe: Rp. 539.000

Check the current price on Agoda

Wat Prajomklao Rachanusorn View 2

A Motorcycle Journey Across Northern Thailand – Phayao, Lampang & Surrounds (Part 3)

This is part 3 of my motorcycle journey through northern Thailand. Part 1 is here and part 2 is here.

After a chilly night under a thin sheet at our flop house, we set off for Chae Son National Park primarily to check out the waterfall. And what a waterfall it is. Six separate tiers and a hike and a half to the top, it was a great way to start the day. Even better, Susan got in for the Thai price of 20B whereas it cost me 100B — apparently 50% cheaper than it used to be. There’s also some hotsprings in the national park which are only marginally interesting and apparently a hotspring spa. I can imagine what it is like, so we didn’t bother checking it out. Besides, the sun was beating down hard by this stage and the last thing I wanted was a hot bath.Chae Son National Park Chae Son National Park Waterfall

From Chae Son National Park we headed down the mountain enroute to Wat Prajomklao Rachanusorn. Wat Prajomklao Rachanusorn is basically a spectacular temple at the top of a mountain about 60km north of Lampang. We got to the parking area, had lunch and waited for a Songthaew to take us to the “top” — 100B for a return trip and no additional entry fee. When we got to the “top”, we realised we were only about 3/4 of the way up and that there was a staircase for the rest of the way. Brutal. The views along the way, however, were excellent and once we reached the top, we were rewarded with this.Wat Prajomklao Rachanusorn View Wat Prajomklao Rachanusorn View 2

I reckon this is one of my favourite wats in Thailand so far. A wat’s a wat, right? Well, this time it was interesting to get a view as well and it really did feel special. Surprisingly there were a few other foreign tourists here as well, although most sounded like the expat types who either teach English or have a Thai wife. Anyway, this place is certainly worth a visit if you’re in the area.Wat Prajomklao Rachanusorn Wat Prajomklao Rachanusorn View 3

Next stop was Lampang and I gunned it down route 1035 all the way into town where I had planned to stay in a proper hotel rather than one of those guesthouses with thin walls. That turned out to be a good idea as Pin Hotel turned out to be good deal at 550B with AC, hot water and wifi.Lampang River View

I really like Lampang. It has a charm about it that is lacking in many places in Thailand, especially the bigger cities like Chiang Mai. I really loved the old shop houses, their idea of a traffic jam and the gentle pace of life along the river. While there’s not much to see and do in the town itself aside from the odd wat (and let’s face it, we’re all watted out by now), it’s an enjoyable place to stay with some good food options.Lampang White Wat

We tried Long Jim’s New York Pizza (quite decent), a good chicken rice place and a funky cafe (with attached hostel) called Homsook Homemade — great cakes!Home Made Lampang

Again, there were multiple ways of getting back to Chiang Mai and we chose the route which hugs the train line through the mountains. I highly recommend this road! It’s a narrow, quiet road which winds through the mountains, up to a national park and down into a valley on the other side. There’s a bunch of stuff to see and do if you’re not lazy like us — we skipped the train tunnel and mountain viewpoint, but I regret it now. In the valley, we stopped at an organic shop for a coffee — perhaps the first person to do so in about 15 years. And then it was a direct route straight back into Chiang Mai where we dropped off the bike.

All in all, a bloody fantastic roadtrip once again in northern Thailand. Can’t wait to do another one next year.

Dirt Road Through Jungle

A Motorcycle Journey Across Northern Thailand – Phayao, Lampang & Surrounds (Part 2)

This is part 2 of my motorcycle journey through northern Thailand. Part 1 is here.

It wasn’t so much the taste of the noodle soup that put me off, but the colour. It was a pinky brown coloured broth which I suspect was made from blood. I’m no fan of blood in my soups and I only finished half before hitting the road. Today we were heading for some temples on a mountain and Chae Son National Park.

From Phayao there are basically two ways to get to Chae Son National Park. The first way was to backtrack for about 60km of the previous day’s ride up through the mountains. Whilst the road was great and the views magnificent, I’m not one for backtracking. So we decided to take the scenic route across the mountains as seen on google maps. As usual it turned out the be a good decision and a bad decision. The good part was that it was a totally remote part of the country with steep mountains and pristine valleys and the odd village. The bad part was that the road was dirt for about 50km.Northern Thailand View

The dirt started as it always does just after a random farming village. Up until this point it was concrete and there was the hope that it would be concrete the whole way. But we’ve done enough of these trips to know that if you go too remote, the road just stops. Last year in Mae Hong Son was truly terrifying as we spent 5 hours in the jungle on a foot track with a motorbike and we had to cross many rivers, climb inummerable muddy tracks and basically beat a path to the next town. The hope was that this time would be different. And it was.Northern Thailand Jungle

While the road was dirt, contained lots of incredibly steep hills and generally made the entire journey slow, it was manageable. I had no fear the motorbike was going to break down, run out of fuel or fail to get up some of the hills. Last year in Mae Hong Son I truly feared the bike was going to break, I almost ran out fuel and there so many dirt hills that the bike couldn’t physically get up with 2 people on board. Even with 1 person it struggled.Dirt Road Through Jungle

After a few hours in the jungle this time we came out into a village with a nice concrete road and a petrol station. I filled the front tyre with air as I had thought it was deflating, but perhaps it had always been that way — I’d just never noticed it. We promptly grabbed lunch at a random restaurant and set about finding a place to stay in or near Chae Son National Park.

We ended up getting a room at a random flop house on the side of the road on the mountain road on the way to the national park, route 1252. While the room was basic, it wasn’t bad. But if we had known what we know now, we would have rented a bungalow in Chae Son National Park itself. The National Park is fully equipped with a decent restaurant, lots of space for camping and some bungalows.

Distance travelled: 132km with about 50km of dirt.
7-11 toasted croissants consumed: 1
Adorable kittens encountered: 1

If you liked part 2, check out part 3 here!

Phayao Lake Sunset

A Motorcycle Journey Across Northern Thailand – Phayao, Lampang & Surrounds (Part 1)

There’s something about motorcycle journeys. Sweeping from one corner to another, stopping off for a coffee to soothe aches and hitting the road once again to destinations unknown.

Susan and I recently hit the roads of northern Thailand much like we did last year. This time instead of heading west to Mae Hong Son and Pai, we decided to head east to Phayao and Lampang with detours along the way to some of the region’s little known attractions. We had originally planned to head all the way east to Nan, but because were only planning to be on the road for three nights, it seemed a bit rushed to get all the way to Nan only to have to immediately high tail it back to Chiang Mai.

On day one we raced straight up route 118 out of Chiang Mai, a massive 4 lane highway which allowed us to get the bike to top speed for large sections — top speed being about 85km/h. This part of the journey was the least interesting and in previous journeys to and from Chiang Mai, getting in and out of the city has always been the least interesting part.

After a while, the traffic thinned out a bit and we started winding up into the mountains. Because it was still early morning, it was really cold on the motorbike and I had three layers on top and a pair of long pants on the bottom and I was still cold. After a couple of hours we stopped at an awesome place for coffee with fantastic views. If you’re planning on heading this way, stop at this place for a coffee. Highly recommended.

Soon after the coffee stop, we turned right onto route 120 and made a beeline for Phayao. Of course, because of aching body parts, we needed to stop for another coffee in yet another wonderful spot. This time it was a viewpoint about 40km out of Phayao. From this point, it was all downhill and the sweeping curves as we cruised out of the mountains were so enjoyable to burn around. At a few points I thought I was going really fast only to be overtaken at phenomenal speeds by big motorbikes some of which I reckon were getting close to 200km/h.Phayao TempleWe arrived in Phayao in late afternoon and made our way to Win Hotel. It was a pretty crappy hotel, but was cheap and had hot water and air-conditioning. Check price on Agoda. After this we decided to check a couple of the towns “attractions”. A wat and the lake.Phayao LakeThe lake was photogenic at sunset, but to be honest the town really does lack in attractions. It’s sort of the place you come to on the way to somewhere else.Phayao Lake SunsetThe food situation in Phayao is pretty ordinary in my view. We grabbed some OK khao soi for lunch and some pretty good pizza for dinner at Forno — fast wifi, good pizza, cute cat.

For breakfast the next morning we found some basic noodle joint and headed off towards Chae Son National Park via “the scenic route” aka getting lost in the jungle.

Distance covered: 155km
Coffee breaks: 2
Bum rest stops: countless

If you liked part 1, check out part 2 here!

Granparent's Home Ayutthaya

Grandparent’s Home, Ayutthaya

If you’re looking for a cheap yet comfortable place to stay in Ayutthaya, then look no further than Grandparent’s Home.

We arrived at Grandparent’s Home after waking around Ayutthaya for about an hour and a half and not having any luck at all. Everything was either full, too expensive or in a crappy area. But Grandparent’s Home actually was good in all aspects.

The location is within 100m of the main Ayutthaya temple complex, the rooms are spacious, comfortable and come with AC and the price is right — just 600B!

Of course, you can get cheaper in Ayutthaya. You can even get something for 250B. The problem is that the location will not be central, the room will be small, you will have to share a bathroom and you won’t have AC.Granparent's Home Ayutthaya

The rooms at Grandparent’s Home come with fast wifi, cable TV, big comfortable beds with quilt and colourful accents, icy cold AC and private hot water bathrooms.

The big question most people are going to ask is “do you need air-conditioning in Ayutthaya?” The answer is maybe. Ayutthaya can get extremely hot in the summer months (the low 40s or over 100F) and even in the cooler months it’s hot. We’re here in late December and the top temperatures are an energy sapping 35°C (95°F). You don’t have to have AC, but it is sure is nice and will only cost you a few bucks more. Up to you!

So there you have it. Our recommend for good cheap accommodation in Ayutthaya is Grandparent’s Home!

If you’re curious about current price, check the price on Agoda.

Millennium Hilton Bangkok Christmas Buffet Dessert2

Review: Millennium Hilton Bangkok Christmas Buffet

Wahhh… Just got back from the not only the best Christmas buffet ever, but the best buffet I’ve had anywhere in the world and I just had to share my thoughts about it.

This year I decided to have Christmas in Bangkok. After being in Chiang Mai for 6 weeks, it was time to change things up a bit and head to a big city to enjoy a GOOD Christmas buffet. And the Christmas buffet at the Millennium Hilton Hotel in Bangkok was the perfect choice.

We arrived at 11:30am and were directed to the 31st floor for a complimentary welcome drink and canapes. I knew the welcome drink was on offer for guests arriving before midday so that’s why we arrived early. But what I didn’t know was that you got to have that drink with an awesome view PLUS you also got a selection of delicious canapes.Millennium Hilton Bangkok Christmas Buffet Canape with a view

After about 30 minutes, we were invited to enter the restaurant and we chose to sit on the terrace. It was hot, but it was nice to have the fresh air and to enjoy the scenery of the nearby river.Millennium Hilton Bangkok Christmas Buffet Terrace

We were offered a drinks menu, but we weren’t keen on spending more money on drinks after having already paid 2800 baht for buffet. Also, they include juices in the price of the buffet anyway which can be gotten from the bar. I was a bit surprised there was no water included in the buffet. I thought that was a bit crappy.

I started off with tuna tataki and moved immediately onto prawns and huge legs of alaskan king crab. ALASKAN KING CRAB! As much as you wanted to eat! There were also mussels, oysters and heaps of varieties of fish.Millennium Hilton Bangkok Christmas Buffet Tuna Tataki

The next station was the cold meat station. I went straight to the big leg of jamon they had set up, just like they might have in a bar in Spain. They also had some fantastic bresaola which is something of a rarity anywhere really.Millennium Hilton Bangkok Christmas Buffet Cold Meats

Next was the Japanese area. I grabbed a bunch of really fresh and tasty raw fish and downed that in about 30 seconds.

And now was the time for the part I had been a little worried about. The turkey. It’s so easy to mess up turkey that I had low expectations. But I should never have worried. The turkey was succulent and tasty. Not a hint of dryness at all.Millennium Hilton Bangkok Christmas Buffet Turkey and Beef

I was keen for some sweet stuff by now, so I skipped the Indian section as well as the Thai section and went hunting for the dessert station, but I couldn’t find it! Then I spotted someone carrying chocolate and followed where they had come from and I arrived at a totally separate building which seems to function as a sort of boutique chocolate shop.Millennium Hilton Bangkok Christmas Buffet Dessert1

Well… Today it was open to guests and you could eat whatever you wanted. All sorts of amazing cakes, handmade chocolates, ice cream and puddings.

I went back numerous times including one time when I got them to give me a slice of a lemon tart with macarons on it that no one had dared to try yet. It was awesome to see them slice that cake for the first time just more. Needless to say, the tart was great and the macaron was seriously impressive — soft and chewy on the inside and only a slight bit of resistance on the outside.Millennium Hilton Bangkok Christmas Buffet Dessert2

By this stage I was stuffed and I hadn’t tried everything. People were starting to leave and lots of space opened up inside. We decided to see what it was like dining inside. And that’s when I saw it. The cheese room. THE CHEESE ROOM! Yeah so what? Like they’re going to let guests raid the cheese room… BUT THEY DID!Millennium Hilton Bangkok Christmas Buffet Cheese Room

But I get the feeling hardly anyone knew about it because there was still a massive plate of blackberries left, so I scooped up some of those and started slicing up lots of the imported cheeses which usually cost like $100/kg… like the roquefort, manchego and… a huge array of soft, smelly cheeses.Millennium Hilton Bangkok Christmas Buffet Cheese Plate

After eating my weight in festive food, I was done. So I ordered a black coffee and even left the little biscuit that came on the side. I just couldn’t do it. But who cares? This was the best Christmas buffet ever and all it cost was a paltry 2800 baht (US$75). In you’re in Bangkok for Christmas, go here. I might even go and try their breakfast buffet some other time.

If you want to know how much it costs to stay at the Millennium Hilton Bangkok, you can check rates on Agoda.

Cultivar Coffee Shop, Bandung

I got a burst of inspiration, so I thought I write up some of my thoughts about a new coffee shop in Bandung called Cultivar.

Located in a trendy area of town with a smattering of nearby eateries, Cultivar gets a lot right that some other coffee shops don’t. The first thing I noticed when I entered was that it was not overly crowded with seating spaced far enough apart that you could get away from people if you wanted to. The ambience was lively although there weren’t that many customer inside due to an eclectic mix of tunes on the small sound system.

Cultivar Coffee Shop Bandung - Tempat Nongkrong Bagus

Cultivar Coffee Shop Bandung – Tempat Nongkrong Bagus

I ordered a double shot cafe latte and it was bang on in my view. They served it in a massive cup which is a general turn off for me, but the flavour was deep and rich and no one where near as milky as I had feared. Two big thumbs up for the coffee.

Enjoying a Coffee at Cultivar, Bandung

Enjoying a Coffee at Cultivar, Bandung

I also ordered the strawberries and cream waffles. I was slightly disappointed with the dish because there was nothing on the plate that made me go “wow”. It was simply waffles, strawberries and cream — what did I expect?! Well, I would have liked that cream to be an amazing home creation with layers of flavour — perhaps vanilla, cardamom… some other Indonesian spices. But it was store bought cream and pretty standard. That said, I finished off the dish and I didn’t hate it — certainly much better than some dishes I’ve had at other cafes in Bandung.

Strawberries & Cream Waffles @ Cultivar Bandung

Strawberries & Cream Waffles @ Cultivar Bandung

The wifi in Cultivar is fast. I got 17mbit down and 7mbit up on my test which is perfect for uploading youtube videos or downloading your favourite torrents.

All in all, Cultivar hits the right spot for me. I can see myself coming back to work for an hour or two whilst indulging in one of those massive lattes. A welcome addition to the Bandung cafe scene.

Review: QANTAS QF42 Jakarta to Sydney

I recently took a flight with QANTAS for the first time in 8 years and I thought it was worth jotting down my thoughts on the experience from Jakarta to Sydney on QF41. The flight took off 15 minutes late at 8:15pm and arrived 5 minutes early at 6:05am for a total journey time of 6 hours 50 minutes.

QANTAS seatback TV with a friendly reminder of which seat you're sitting in

QANTAS seatback TV with a friendly reminder of which seat you’re sitting in

The first thing I noticed when I entered the aircraft was that the interior of the cabin looked luxurious compared to carriers such as Air Asia. The dark grey and maroon looked classy and everything looked and felt new. Each seat came with a small seat back TV with lots of new movies, TV shows and games. It also had a USB port for charging which was absolutely needed! The seat itself had enough legroom and compared to Air Asia it was absolutely luxurious. In terms of comfort, the seat itself was quite comfortable and I only got a pain in the leg once or twice on the 7 hour flight.

Upon take off cabin crew immediately came around the cabin and served a lemon drink and each person already had a bottle of water in their seat pocket. After about an hour, dinner was served. There was a choice of 3 meals with fruit cake for dessert. As well as this, there was free flow of Australian wines, beer and spirits. None of the food contained pork.

QF 42 Jakarta to Sydney menu

QF 42 Jakarta to Sydney menu

I found the food to be average. I was actually quite happy with my fish, but it wasn’t as luxurious as I’ve had in the past on airlines such as Singapore or Emirates. It was better than some other airlines I’ve been on recently such as China Southern.

Cabin crew were all professional and if there was a problem or an emergency, you just know they would probably be one of the best crews in the world to handle it. That said, they weren’t as warm as some crews on airlines such as air Asia. But then again, I just don’t know if I trust those Air Asia crews with my life.

QF42 Jakarta to Sydney drink list

QF42 Jakarta to Sydney drink list

All in all, it was a fantastic flight with QANTAS and so far beyond the horrid Air Asia flight I had 10 days earlier that I am seriously considering paying more money for flights in the future when it comes to medium to long haul. The level of quality on a carrier such as QANTAS makes all the difference after about 5 hours of being boxed in a seat.

Ever flown QANTAS? What do you think?

Maafushi beach is simply glorious.

The Secret to Travelling the Maldives on a Budget — a Guide to Cheap Hotels, Restaurants & Transport!

The Maldives. Land of white sand beaches, swaying palm trees and luxury resorts. It’s a dream that only the rich can fulfill. Or is it? Changes are afoot and today I’m going to show you how to travel the Maldives on budget!

After having recently visited the Maldives with very little money, I thought it would be great to report back on how I did it, how much it cost and what you can expect when you go! Until 2009, all local islands in the Maldives were closed to foreign visitors meaning you either had to stay in a big resort costing $1000+ per night or simply not go at all. That has all changed now and local islands are slowly building infrastructure such as guesthouses making visiting the Maldives on a budget a real possibility and one you’ll probably want to do now before everyone else finds out and it gets too busy.

The beaches of the Maldives are incredible. But now everyone can enjoy them!

The beaches of the Maldives are incredible. But now everyone can enjoy them!

Money

The official currency of the Maldives is the Rufiyaa (Rf) which is currently around Rf15.42 = US$1. This changes periodically so it’s best to check the latest exchange rate before you arrive.

Money can be tricky when visiting the Maldives as none of the local islands have ATMs and many hotels and restaurants don’t accept credit card meaning you need to know in advance of your visit how much money to take with you. So when you land in Male, you’re going to have to withdrawn a lot of local currency to cover your stay or have with you the equivalent in US dollars. Whatever the case you will need some local currency for small purchases such as ferries and snacks at local shops.

For 9 days, I withdrew the equivalent of $350 in local money and paid for some accommodation online in advance. I also had a couple of hundred US dollars as back up if I needed it. $350 was the minimum I thought I would need and I didn’t withdraw a cent more. Why? Because it can be very difficult to change your money back to another currency when you already have Rufiyaa. It’s just one of those currencies that people don’t want.

Make sure you bring enough cash to the islands. But not too much!

Make sure you bring enough cash to the islands. But not too much!

Language

The official language of the Maldives is Dhivehi, but many people do speak some broken English. In the more popular islands and the resorts, many people speak English to a good level, but the further the you get off the tourist trail, the less likely you are going to be conversing with anyone in English — sign language is a good substitute.

Note: The Maldives is pronounced (maul – deevs).

Arrival

Arriving at Ibrahim Nasir Airport can be a bit confusing at first because it is on an island of its own meaning if you want to go anywhere, you have to catch transport. You cannot walk anywhere. For this there are a number of options:

1) catch an onward flight to your luxury resort,
2) catch a speedboat to your luxury resort,
3) catch a local ferry departing every 10 minutes at all times of the day to the capital Male (Rf10 / $0.60) for onward travel by ferry, or
4) catch a bus to a hotel on the island (Hulhumale) attached by a causeway to the airport (Rf16 / $1, departing hourly).

What you do when you arrive really depends on where you plan to stay that night — it is certainly possible to get to an island such as Maafushi on the day you arrive if your flight lands early enough. If not, Hulhumale is going to be your best option.

Those with plenty of money will catch one of these speed boats docked at the airport, but they're of little use to those on a budget.

Those with plenty of money will catch one of these speed boats docked at the airport, but they’re of little use to those on a budget.

Transport

Transport within the Maldives is generally by boat, although on a few islands there is land transport such as taxis and buses. A taxi within the island of Male costs Rf25 plus Rf5 for luggage. You are going to need to catch one of these taxis when you arrive in Male from the airport via ferry in order to get to the Villingili ferry terminal on the other side of the island.

Between islands, ferry prices are extremely cheap. For example, the ferry from Male to Villingili is Rf3.25 (~$0.25) and the ferry to Maafushi and Gulhi is Rf22 (~$1.40). But cheap also means having to work out how the ferry schedules work.

Most ferries in Male depart from the ferry port on the southwest corner of the island otherwise known as the Villingili ferry terminal. From here it is possible to travel to most of the Maldives’ inhabited islands. The tyranny of distance is a limiting factor on where you will choose to stay in the Maldives. By far the most popular local island at this point is Maafushi, about 1h 30m from Male. I also stayed on Gulhi which is not popular, but very special nonetheless. It’s best to get your head around the ferry schedules before you arrive by checking out the official Maldives ferry website here.

Note: 1) Ferries do no run on Fridays. 2) There are private ferries also plying some routes with a 3pm express ferry also departing Male for Maafushi daily except for Fridays. 3) Apparently the 10am ferry to Maafushi on Thursdays can get booked out in advance as we discovered and you’ll be forced to wait around all day for the 3pm ferry. If you really need to catch the 10am ferry, perhaps Thursday is not the day to try it. 4) If your flight lands before about 1:30pm, try and catch the 3pm ferry to Maafushi.

Local ferries are an incredibly cheap way to get around the Maldives.

Local ferries are an incredibly cheap way to get around the Maldives.

Which islands

Once you’ve gotten your head around the ferry schedule, you should be able to decide which islands to visit. By far the easiest are those such as Gulhi and Maafushi which have almost daily connections and are close to Male. I did in fact stay on Maafushi and Gulhi and I can safely say that both were incredible in their own separate ways.

Maafushi has a fantastic tourist beach with unbelievably blue crystal clear water. The hotels here are well equipped for tourists with comfortable rooms, snorkelling gear, buffet breakfasts and credit card facilities. The problem is that in the higher season you’re not going to have the place to yourself and that might be a turn off for some. But with the additional tourists comes fresher food and a more lively beach scene. In early December there would have been about 40 tourists on the beach every day, but I would have preferred about half that. My friends Dave and Lauren had fewer than 10 every day when they were there in September. Guesthouses on Maafushi start at about $40 per night which is extremely good value for a place with aircon, hot water, massive buffet breakfast and WiFi. I stayed in Ocean Vista for $43 per night which I can strongly recommend — make sure you check the current price on Agoda.

Maafushi beach is simply glorious.

Maafushi beach is simply glorious.

Gulhi is quiet and hardly any tourists go there. I saw three other tourists there and even then it was only for about 10 minutes as we were on different beaches for most of the time. The water here is perhaps even more impressive than Maafushi, but there just aren’t any facilities here for tourists. Gulhi Beach Villa (owned and operated by a Singaporean/Chinese couple) does have beach chairs for guests, but no one else does. In fact, there are only 3 choices for accommodation on the whole island meaning your choices are limited. I stayed at a budget place called Silver Shade for $57 per night which had access to paid WiFi (Rf55 per day), aircon, hot water and massive breakfast — make sure you check the current price on Agoda. If you’re looking for something a little less busy than Maafushi, Gulhi a good choice.

The crystal clear waters of Gulhi are tempting, no?

The crystal clear waters of Gulhi are tempting, no?

Dave and Lauren also went to Guraidhoo and Fulidhoo where both had their pluses and minuses. I would suggest staying initially at Maafushi and then moving further afield for the next part of your Maldives journey.

Where to stay

Because budget travel in the Maldives involves visiting local islands, you find that the standard of accommodation is not as luxurious as those 5 star resorts with bungalows over the water. The places I saw were generally small scale, containing between 4 and 20 rooms, offering a simple restaurant and limited staff.

There are a number of ways to book these places but by far the best ways are via the internet on sites like AirBnB and Agoda. If you haven’t already signed up with AirBnB, now is a good time as you can get $25 off your first stay if you sign up through me.

I stayed at Ocean Vista on Maafushi and absolutely loved it — sooooo comfortable!. Facilities included WiFi, hot water, aircon, big comfortable bed and free buffet breakfast every morning. I stuffed myself with so much food that I didn’t get hungry until about 6pm when it was time for dinner. The best thing about this place is the lovely staff and the fact that they only have 5 rooms so it is incredibly personal and relaxing. We paid $43 per night, but please check current prices on Agoda to get an idea of what to expect. For me, it is THE place to stay on Maafushi on a budget.

Ocean Vista on Maafushi is such a great place to stay. Highly recommended!

Ocean Vista on Maafushi is such a great place to stay. Highly recommended!

The accommodation options on Gulhi are limited at this time, but there are new places being built right now. I stayed at Silver Shade for $57 per night and was looked after by the wonderful Kerey, a relaxed and down to earth surfer who wanted to make sure everything was just right for our stay. Every morning and night, a local lady prepared our meals and they were so huge, we could only finish half. Food included delicious dahl, lots of roti, salads, mas huni and some juice. They also supplied as much fresh water as was necessary for our stay. We were the only guests in this hotel and I got the feeling that perhaps they only get a couple of guests per month. Whatever the case, I think they’re doing discounts periodically meaning you’ll probably get a good deal. Check the prices here on Agoda.

Activities

If you’re looking for things to do in the Maldives, then you really are going to be limited to things involving relaxation and the water. This means that you will have your hotel offering you all sorts of trips such as those to reefs for snorkelling/diving and to resorts to use their facilities like the pool or house reef. I didn’t choose to do any of these activities as I was content just hanging around the islands and doing my own thing, although if I was in the Maldives longer than 8 days I probably would have done one of these things to break up the relaxation.

With sunsets like these, you don't need to spend a cent to enjoy yourself in the Maldives.

With sunsets like these, you don’t need to spend a cent to enjoy yourself in the Maldives.

Prices for these activities varied wildly with kayak rental costing $10 for an hour, diving $40 per dive and a trip to a top resort costing $150 per person. You could even get a local to take you out to reefs not accessible directly from shore for about $10.

Food

The food of the Maldives was pretty good. Of course you can have fish for every meal if you like, but as Susan isn’t the biggest fan of fish we only ate it a few times and it was delicious. Other foods involved chapatti, curries and local specialties such as mas huni, a fantastic dish consisting of coconut, onion and tuna.

As breakfast is generally included in your room rate, I chose to fill up silly on this meal. Every single breakfast I ate was massive and there was always food left over. Because of that, I didn’t eat lunch one single time during my time on the islands. I just bought snacks from the local shops to keep me going until dinner.

Snacks such as these are easily enough to keep you going until dinner.

Snacks such as these are easily enough to keep you going until dinner.

On Maafushi dinner was either at our guesthouse or one of the local restaurants. I especially enjoyed Sunset Cove and didn’t spend more than about $7.50/person for dinner during my stay in Maafushi.

On Gulhi the situation was slightly different probably more aligned to what you’ll find on most islands in the Maldives. Our guesthouse prepared our food for a flat $10 fee per person and basically filled the table with enormous amounts of food.

I never went hungry in the Maldives and I think most people will find something to satisfy their appetite, although long stays on remote islands could be challenging for picky eaters.

Budget

So how much does this all cost? I spent less than $70 per day for 2 people. But depending on the island you choose, the food you eat and whether you want to do any paid activities it could cost more. The biggest X-factor is accommodation as it will be your biggest expense. Also, I skipped lunch every single day because the breakfasts were just so huge and didn’t pay for any excursions which also brought down costs quite a bit.

So what can you expect to pay for two people per day? Let’s assume $50 for accommodation, $20 for dinner, $10 for snacks. Also, let’s add in $2 for transport (that’s being generous). You’re also going to want to account for lunch/drinks in a cafe in Male if you have to wait around for half a day for a ferry or your flight out of the country — $20 or $3/day.

That’s a grand total of $85/day for 2 two people in the Maldives! Of course, everyone has different standards so it’s certainly possible to do it cheaper than this as I did and it’s also possible to add a few dollars here or there to make your visit more holiday-like (ie spending lots of money on activities).

The final expense that should be noted is the airfare. A great place to fly from is Singapore as low cost carrier Tiger Air often has cheap deals meaning you can get flights for $200 return if you’re lucky. I paid $200 for a one way flight.

So that’s the secret to visiting the Maldives on a budget. No longer is it just a playground for the rich and famous, but also a place for flashpackers, backpackers and those with more sense than money.

Please let me know in the comments below if you have any questions and please share this post widely to get the secret of the Maldives out there!

How to get from Seoul to Sokcho & Seoraksan

We’ve just recently been to Sokcho and the awesome Seoraksan National Park (also known as Mount Seorak) and getting here wasn’t too difficult. Finding out how to actually get to Seoraksan from Seoul was a little bit challenging so I thought I’d whip up a few quick tips for those wanting to do it themselves.

  1. Catch a metro train to Gangbyeon Station in Seoul which is on Line 2 — the green line.
  2. Exit at exit #4 at Gangbyeon Station.
  3. Walk across the road into the bus terminal and simply buy a bus ticket to Sokcho. The cost at time of writing was 17,300 Won and travel time including stops was 3 hours. Don’t get all wound up about whether to buy the express bus or not. Just buy a ticket for the next departing bus — there are over 40 departures per day to Sokcho between about 6am and 11pm.
  4. Get off the bus at its final destination, the Sokcho Intercity Bus Terminal. You have arrived in Sokcho! Walk to wherever your hotel is or catch a local bus direct to the national park or your hotel if it’s on the road to the Seoraksan national park (see next point).
  5. Walk out of the Sokcho Intercity Bus Terminal and turn right. This is important. About 50-100m down the road is a local bus stop (on the same side of the road as the bus terminal). Wait here and flag down bus 7 or 7-1 when it arrives. Buses are supposed to arrive approximately half hourly, but they don’t necessarily run to time. (if you happen to arrive at the Sokcho Express Bus Terminal, bus 7 and 7-1 can transport you to Seoraksan or Sokcho centre — depends on which side of the road you catch it from)
  6. The bus costs 1,100 Won and needs to be paid in exact change. Pop the money into the plastic box as you enter the bus. Tell the driver where you need to get off and he will stop for you. Best to have the name of your hotel and address on a piece of paper in Korean characters! The journey will take around 40 minutes to most of the hotels along the road to the national park.
  7. Bonus tip: It’s bus 7 and 7-1 which plies the route from Sokcho to Seoraksan National Park all day, back and forth, meaning it’s also the bus you’ll use to get to the national park from your hotel when you’re ready to make that trip.

So there you have it. Seoul to Sokcho and Seorakson in a few easy steps!