No matter when you visit, there is absolutely no shortage of things to do in Banff. This tiny town sits in the middle of the Canadian Rocky Mountains and is spectacularly beautiful virtually all year round. Despite its reputation as a launchpad for ski slopes and hiking trails, there’s a lot more to do in Banff than outdoor adventures to suite people of all ages and interests.
Like many, I assumed Banff would be a beautiful, tranquil town nestled in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Locals and tourists would hike or ski most days, and the silence at night would be a nice change from city life. While it’s definitely beautiful, nestled in the Rocky Mountains, and everyone does like to hike or ski on weekends, it’s anything but quiet or tranquil.
Most people learn things when they move to a different country, so here's a list of (admittedly, unexpected) things I've learnt since moving to Canada.
Vancouver is a city full of music, festivals, and events. The hip-hop scene is huge (well, bigger than it is in Sydney anyway), and there are people making new sounds everywhere you look. It's a beautiful thing. But as much as I grew to love it, 90s trash still fuels my soul.
Do not refer to a regular plant that lives in a pot as a ‘pot plant’ in places where weed is legal. It causes all kinds of confusion.
3. Being vegan isn't a cause for concern
Who knew? Canada is so ridiculously un-judgey about the eating habits of others that I constantly want to throw streamers in the air in celebration. I can walk around Vancouver and ask for vegan options, and no one sighs, rolls their eyes, or becomes unrelentingly concerned about my protein intake like they 100-percent would in Australia. Even when you're in a not-so-vegan-friendly town, no one bats an eyelid when you ask a server whether vegan options are available. It’s a brave new world out there, folks, and I’m living it.
4. Nowhere feels as cold as regional NSW
Nowhere. And I’ve now experienced life below -25.
5. I’m still allergic to cats
What a surprise. I thought (somehow) I wasn’t as allergic anymore because I didn’t get flu-like symptoms when exposed to cats in Canada like I did in Australia, so I thought, ‘Oh yeah I can totally live in a house with cats now’. Because I'm an idiot and I like cats. But no. I still absolutely cannot live in a house with cats.
Goodbye flu symptoms, hello super-dark circles under my eyes. I looked like I'd aged 10-years. It was a sad time. I don't know anyone else who this has happened to, but if you're commonly allergic to felines and the symptoms don't show in Canada, learn from my mistake.
6. Hot yoga isn’t awful
Vancouver is yoga central. Even if you're not in to yoga, it's hard not to participate at least once because literally everyone's doing it.
Hot yoga is particularly popular, which is a series of yoga poses done in a 40-degree room with 60 or 90-minutes, and sounds like any Australian’s idea of hell. We spend half the year trying to escape those temperatures, and, well, if you did ‘hot’ yoga outdoors in Australia, it would just be regular yoga.
In Canada I go to class to be warm, and I actually like it. As a former hater of all things 'yoga', no one is more surprised than me.
In Canada-land, sometimes it’s ok to drive around with a cracked windshield, duct-taped bumper bars, and a DIY number-plate scotch-taped to the inside of the back window. Canada makes Australia look like the land of rules, and safety is for squares.
8. Only losers don't garden
Want to impress your friends, your neighbours, and yourself? Make the most of the three-months per year when there's no permafrost and plant some vegetables!
Gardening becomes the biggest deal ever in many parts of Canada in springtime, because why wouldn't it? You can create life, chill out around something that literally facilitates air for you to breath, and you can basically eat for free – it's a no-brainer.
9. Public-holidaying for Queen Victoria's birthday is a thing,but not for Queen Elizabeth II's birthday.
Because nothing screams 'Commonwealth' more than celebrating a dead queen over an alive queen.
I can't even elaborate on this one, so moving right along...
Gone are the days when I would put all my recycling in the one box and shove it outside in metropolitan Sydney on a Tuesday.
These days, I wait until the council emails me with this week's designated garbage, green waste, and recycling days (no, there isn't a consistent designated day for anything), before sorting the cardboards and papers, hard plastics, soft plastics, aluminums, bottles, and compost each in to large, separate containers and placing them all neatly outside, hoping I didn't get it wrong so the recycling gods don't reject my offerings and fine me.
In Banff, I sort all the recycling out in to the same categories, then physically carry it all over the giant bins in the local carpark so bears, elk, wolves, lynx, bobcats, cougars, and coyotes don't run rampant through the town, tearing their way through everyone's food scraps.
11. Cold brew
Who'd have thought that the number-one coffee order in coldest place ever (besides regional NSW) would be cold brew? Australia has been hotter than the blazing fires of Dante's tenth circle lately and, to my knowledge, cold brew is still not a thing.
An enthusiastic guy in a coffee van once sold me 'nitro cold brew', which is basically 24-hour cold-drip coffee charged with nitrogen that's served in a large, head-sized vessel with crushed ice. I got halfway through it and suddenly felt the blood pounding through my ears and my hands start to shake. I had to lie down on a park bench and felt so caffeinated I didn't know what was going on. I did not try cold brew again.
So there it is! However unexpected... So tell me, what have you learnt while travelling?
Have you moved to another country? Tell me all about it!
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I was really excited at the prospect of entering Tallinn, so I don't want to be a wet blanket and rain on my own parade or anything, but if I'm being really honest, I'd have to say navigating the Estonian public transport system at 7am after a 16-hour bus ride from Poland was not something I enjoyed doing. And I enjoy most challenges.
Travelling India has been a strange and grounding experience, and celebrating Holi Festival in India was no exception.
Something that has really surprised me over my time in India is that Indian men will not swear or talk about the thing that happens when men and women hug each other in a very special way, in front of women.
Often people will look at Chris when a swear word or something to do with sex is about to be mentioned and say, "I can’t say it in front of her, but, you know…", and sometimes when we’re in temples, I’m told to go elsewhere while the guide shows Chris ‘man carvings’.
Given the way childbirth works, it's safe to assume women are pretty aware of the ways of the world.
Nevertheless, that's the way it is in India. Of course, this isn't the case with everyone, but my experience has been that men run the show, and women are secondary. The Hindu Holi festival is the perfect example.
Also known as The Festival of Colour, Holi celebrates the triumph of good over evil. The tradition of throwing coloured powder and water is believed to originate with Krishna, the Hindu god depicted with dark blue skin. The story goes that he complained to his mother about his girlfriend's (Radha's) fair skin, so his mother suggested he smear her skin with paint, so now there's a tradition of smearing your loved ones with paint.
And folks, that's what happens. Only it's not just loved ones that get smeared with paint. It's absolutely everyone. You can’t walk down the street without people throwing fists of of dye in all directions, and you'll probably find yourself in the middle of a water-bomb battalion, getting drenched by children with water buckets on rooftops, and running from people who are running for your face – arms outstretched, hands full of dye.
Men roam the streets with gold and silver faces, little boys scream and sprint at anyone and everyone –armed with water pistols loaded with blue. Alcohol, bhang, and opium is quickly consumed, in vast quantities, behind closed doors. Women are nowhere in sight.
After being told the festival was potentially dangerous for tourists in Varanasi, we met up with a few people staying at our hotel, and decided to spend the festival with them. Having stocked up on dye the day before, we armed ourselves with our own festive weaponry, and stepped outside.
After about 10-minutes, it was clear tourists were the primary targets.
Men ran from far and wide to cover the eight of us in colour, mash our faces with pink, scream ‘Happy Holi!’, and turn handshakes in to hugs. This became too popular, and we ran towards the ghats, bumping in to an impromptu water-side rave.
There were large speakers in the middle of the street blasting out the latest Hindi hits, with silver and gold-faced men and boys thrashing to the heavy bass lines, squirting dye at no one in particular, and throwing dye into the air like they just didn’t care.
We ran on, hoping to avoid more crowds, until we bumped in to three more tourists our festival companions had arranged to meet. They had organised to spend the festival with an Indian family who had a place overlooking the ghats, and so we waited. In the open.
Again, we were surrounded by hoards of silver faces, unidentifiable men, shaking our hands, hugging us, trying their darndest to isolate the women of the group.
I want to look back at this experience as some wonderful event where I had the greatest time dancing around to music I didn’t understand with locals, tourists, booze, and loads of dye.
And for the most part, I did.
But I can’t shake the feeling that some things were a bit off. No matter how much fun I had, or how differently I try to think about it, it doesn’t change that the festival isn’t safe for women.
It’s not like the crowds hide their intentions –rules go out the window for Holi and the police can’t intervene because: "it’s Holi festival, where everyone is equal".
But they’re not. There are just no consequences for anything that happens.
The Indian family we’d been waiting for showed up pretty soon after and whisk us away to their rooftop terrace.
From there, we had a great time. It was a large family: two young kids (ruthlessly throwing dye at everyone from the rooftop), two older girls (around 18), three older boys (16-24), and a few cousins.
From their rooftop we were able to properly partake in the festival. We hurled water bombs to the ground floor, tipped buckets on everyone, narrowly avoided being bombed by freakishly strong children on an adjacent rooftop, and watched the festivities unfold. The family blasted some tunes, sprayed everyone with colours, threw water buckets around, and danced Bollywood-style in to the afternoon.
Then we looked out from the roof again, and things were looking pretty different. Too much alcohol, no food shops open for business, no corner stores selling water, and no one with any kind of authority to relieve the situation.
It was just hoards and hoards of drunk men fighting each other. That’s why there were no women in the streets. That’s why those sisters the family we spent the festival with weren’t able to celebrate equality and the triumph of good over evil.
Had this been Australia, people would have celebrated in to the night (or tried to – looking at you Sydney!). In India, the drunken festivities were over by 2pm.
Aside from loads of dye, abandoned t-shirts, piles of rubbish and the usual cow faeces, the streets were empty, and the shops had reopened. So we took that opportunity to have breakfast/lunch/dinner (we hadn’t had a meal all day), bought some beer, and headed back to the hotel with our Holi companions to rid ourselves of festival remnants, and generally debrief, before Chris and I jumped on a train at 2am to Nepal, and spent the next 17-hours travelling on various modes of transport.
Aside from being exhausted after a whole day dancing and escaping, the issue was not only that dye wasn’t really designed to come off skin, but that we didn’t want to get changed for fear of being attacked again and ruining another set of clothes.
So off to the station we went, festival clothes and all. The thing to remember is that while there are lots of bright colours being thrown around, the immense amount of water being tossed about lifts the dirt and excrement from the ground, so you’re not only covered in dye.
By the time we got to the border of India and Nepal, we looked like haggard lepers. Had I been at border control, I wouldn’t have let us in to the country for fear of some contagious tropical plague. But they did, and we caught another bus to Lumbini, before finally washing my hair and making bets with myself as to when my back and face would finally lose their pink and blue hues.
All photos (except the feature and the last four) courtesy of Ruth Anna Photography.
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It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where my experience with dengue began, but I’m fairly sure it was somewhere in southern Cambodia, and I am so, so glad I wasn’t alone when it happened.
I’d been travelling around India and South East Asia for a few months and had dealt with one or two weird viruses and bugs, but nothing big enough to really knock me out for more than a day or so. It’s funny because everyone warns you about food poisoning and malaria, so you get shots, buy a lifetime supply of Doxycycline and get all picky about where and what you eat, but it won’t necessarily stop you from getting sick. Not once did I think I’d get dengue.
It began when I was in Hoi An, Vietnam trying to go to sleep, and my arms and legs started to ache. It started off pretty mild, but as the night went on, it worsened until it felt like my limbs were on fire and I had this pulsing headache behind my eyes. Painkillers didn’t even help a little bit.
I kept trying to close my eyes and ignore the burning sensation ripping through my limbs, but I felt so alert and acutely aware of the pain that I lay there all night – eyes open, in pain, and confused.
I vividly remember coming to the realisation at about 6am that it definitely wasn’t going away, and that my ability to deal with it was dwindling.
By the time I woke Chris up, I was in a state. I had no idea what was going on, I must have been exhausted but I still felt wide-awake, and since I rarely lose my appetite when I’m sick, I was starving. The pain in my muscles and behind my eyes had also escalated, and moving around was really difficult. Chris went and got me some food and a thermometer, Googled my symptoms, realised my temperature was almost at 39-degrees, and took me to Pacific Hospital.
It looked like a scene from MASH.
The doctor said it wasn't malaria, but was probably dengue, which he could do nothing about, so sent me home with some super-painkillers that worked a whole lot better than the ones I had.
We continued to travel down the coast of Vietnam toward Ho Chi Minh, but it was April (the hottest part of the year) and being outside in the heat and bright light made me feel delirious. I struggled to be outside for more than an hour or so and was too exhausted to see or do anything. If I didn’t take another painkiller after five-ish hours the headaches would start again, and my muscles still ached – it was a sad time to be alive.
It took a bit more than two-weeks to get back to normal (which is better than most – it can take some people more than a year), and I really think it had a lot to do with huge quantities of rest. I didn’t push myself to see sites, go to markets, or traipse around temples at all.
In a way, I do feel like I missed out a bit, but dengue is one of those things that will completely run you down if you don’t look after yourself – there are loads of stories about people who continued adventuring as normal, and end up much sicker for longer with weakened immune systems after an experience with dengue.
When I think about it like that, I’m really glad I slept.
What You Need To Know:
I didn’t get sick for about a year after my experience with dengue, not even a cold. While the virus doesn't reemerge years later, like malaria, you can contract it again.
There are four different strands of the virus. You can be re-infected by a mosquito with a different strand, which you do not want. If you get dengue once, it can range from relatively mild to fatal. If you get it again, your risk of death increases and you should go straight to hospital. They can’t cure you, but they can hydrate you and keep an eye on your white blood cells and platelets – World Nomads explain this pretty well.
Symptoms can be mistaken for the flu, which means you can go on with life completely unaware that you really need to actively avoid being bitten by mosquitoes. If you’ve been infected, you’ll have a couple of the following:
- High temperature
- Severe headache
- Pain behind the eyes
- Joint and muscle aches
- Nausea and vomiting
- Generally feeling unwell
- Skin rash
- Mild bleeding/easy bruising
Want to avoid it altogether?
Bathe in insect repellant.
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It’s both comforting and surprising to know that tourists generally don’t die in Iceland. Beautiful as it is, most of it looks like the opening of an 80s horror film. You get out of the car, look around at the magnitude, splendour and isolation of the place, and think 'well, this is how I’m going to die'. It’s like the opening of The Shining.
Even if you're not a traveller, the islands of South East Asia are probably on your bucket list.
The sands are white, the waters are clear, warm and blue, you can dive in the reefs, stay in bungalows, eat local food, lay on the sand, and drink cheap cocktails – anyone who's been to a Thai island will probably recommend it.
Before I begin my tirade in to why you should probably avoid Koh Rong in Cambodia, I should mention that the island does look lovely on face value – the waters are clear, the sands are white, and the beach huts are wooden and picturesque and really nice to sit in, but on the other hand, the island is basically inhabited by tourists.
I'm not really sure why, but I thought Koh Rong would be like a Thai island, and it really wasn't. It was kind of grimy.
If you're in to drinking all day, everyday, you don't care what you eat, and you're not fussed over things like hygiene, you'll probably love Koh Rong – lots of people do, and that's great! I think we were there over some sort of holiday, and one of the festive activities involved drunkenly clawing your way up a greased-up metal pole to reach some cash. If that's what you're in to, stop reading and buy a ticket immediately! For everyone else, here's a bunch of reasons to avoid Koh Rong.
1. Extreme Tourism
I'm not usually someone who cares about 'touristy' spots while travelling (it seems weird to me that some people seem to hate 'touristy' locations when they're tourists themselves...), but in Koh Rong, you can't really walk around and get a taste of local culture because almost everything there exists for tourists. Drunk, sexed-up tourists.
2. Expensive Accommodation
Given how ramshackled the place is (not in an endearing way), accommodation is way more expensive than it needs to be. We're talking big cracks in the walls of bungalows, a lack of mosquito netting (don't care about mosquitoes? Here's why you should!), and just a general lack of basic cleanliness – all this would be fine if it was cheaper, but it ended up costing more than anywhere else we stayed.
3. The Food Is Terrible
If you're in to Khmer food, definitely avoid Koh Rong. All the food joints are run by drunk and/or stoned tourists who (largely) can't cook. If you want local food, forget it – the menus are full of sandwiches and pizzas, and they're greasy enough to put you off bread for life. If you come across somewhere selling 'fresh' fish, you'll get something that's been fried within an inch of its life by one of the aforementioned tourists.
This one is based on personal experience, but after a day or so we noticed the staff at all the hostels and food joints had some kind of infection. They all had a bandaged arm or ankle, and we overheard someone talking about how contagious it was. There was also a human who seemed to have the same skin disease as some of the wild dogs.
So what do you have once you look beyond the accommodation, the food, everyone else who's there, and lack of local culture? A nice beach and not much else.
By the end of three-days, we couldn't wait to get off the island.
If you want to travel to the beaches of Cambodia, I recommend Sihanoukville. If you ignore all the drunk tourists and onslaught of Australians screaming "Koh Rong? More like Koh Right!" in the most ocker accents you've ever heard in your life, and look at the actual beach, it's really quite lovely. Plus, the food is great.
Alternatively, if you're looking for some peace, head to Otres Beach. It's very close to Sihanoukville, but it's the complete opposite – calm, serene, and underpopulated. We spent about five days going to each of the 10 or so cafes and restaurants along the beach, and sat there for hours while I worked online and tried to detox from all the beer we'd been drinking.
If you're looking for actual relaxation, avoid Koh Rong and head to Otres – that's where it's at.
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I'm sitting in a cafe in Kep in April and I’ve honestly never been so hot in my life.
I’m boiling just sitting here, doing nothing. I want to melt. Cold drinks are warm in five-minutes, ice melts in two, and you’re hot again in one. It’s inescapable. Kep in April is kind of horrible. So to console myself, I’ve decided to post about some of the coldest places we’ve been so far: Nepal.
Chris seemed to have this idyllic notion that we’d step across the border from India to Nepal, and birds would instantaneously start chirping amid a picturesque backdrop of snow-capped mountains, prayer flags, butterflies, and fawns. So we got our Nepalese visas and hovered on the Indian side of the border, prepared for the scene to majestically transform from its dusty, loud, uninviting, garbage-laden façade in to a vision of beauty in a Narnia-esque kind of way.
Suffice to say, the two-meters between India and Nepal look somewhat similar.
I would actually go as far as to say they look exactly the same.
At that point, we’d been traveling for so long and still looked like prehistoric rainbows from our Holi festivities, so that was a bit of a blow, and we pottered on to the bus to Lumbini.
Lumbini was interesting purely because it was the birthplace of Buddha, other than that, it was a generically hot and dusty town selling fairly ordinary curry, and a butt-load of alcohol, so we moved on to Pokhara the next evening in a government bus. The trip was supposed to take six-hours, and we got on at 9pm. After making a series of stops to pick up various steel poles, ropes, and tin from dingy alleyways so the driver could make some extra cash on the side, we arrived in Pokhara at three in the morning with no Lonely Planet guide, no map of the area, no general idea of where we were, no idea of where we wanted to go, no way of researching any of these things, and not surprisingly, nothing was open.
Luckily, there were three super-annoying dudes on the bus with us who clearly weren’t tired, laughed relentlessly, and were ready to walk the 5km to the town centre. At 3am. There was no way on Earth I was going to do that walk. When they realised I wanted to catch a taxi, they shrugged and decided to come. So half-an-hour later we're driving around all the closed hotels, until we stumble upon some cops who decided to demand a hotel open early and give us a room. We went to sleep at 4am and woke up at 8am to a very vibrant town.
After two-months of solid travel around a lot of very traditional Indian towns, the touristy town of Pokhara was fantastic. There were about a million coffee shops, bars, and overpriced tourist crap you want but don’t need – it was great. We could have stayed there for a week, but the constant fear of running out of time was too stressful, so we caught one of the 20 tourist buses the next day to Kathmandu.
We kind of expected the Pokhara bus station to be somewhat like Indian bus stations – full of food vendors carrying baskets full of deep fried curry balls, angrily yelling SAMOSA, CHAPATTI, CHAI, COFFEE ,CHAI, CHAI around a mass of open grills. Pokhara still had food vendors walking around with baskets of food, but to cater to the western masses, they were yelling things like CINNAMON SCROLL, CROISSANT, CHOCOLATE – something that would never happen in India.
It was seven in the morning, I was exhausted, and found it hysterical. The poor guy with the basket I bought my pastry from couldn’t work out why – he looked a little afraid.
Kathmandu is where the fawns and butterflies popped up. The cool temperatures made it everything you think Nepal should be, and more. Still loving tourist dens, we walked all over the western stomping grounds to cozy restaurants, bars, and cafes, selling everything from burgers, to mojitos, to pancakes, to Tibetan thukpa.
It. Was. Bliss.
There were thunderstorms and everything. We bought a little wooden magnetic chessboard and played it in cafes while the thunder and lightening raged outside. The great thing about chess and beer is that, if you’re losing, all you have to do is lift your hand and mash the board. That way you don’t lose, and everyone’s too beer'd to do anything about it. Win.
So Chris got sick of playing chess with me and we moved on to Nargarkot for three-days to see some Himalayas. Sadly, there was too much mist to see any mountains, but we liked it up there anyway. It reminded us a bit of Dharamsala (which we loved), so it was kind of ok – apparently it’s really clear in November.
So we frolicked around there to celebrate Chris putting up with my chess antics for three-years, before going back to Kathmandu for a night and having beers at the Hookah lounge with our new Japanese friend, Kei (who, due to a translation error, we accidentally sent to a hooker lounge…sorry, Kei). And that pretty much sums up our two-weeks in Nepal.
Even after explaining all that, I haven’t forgotten that I’m stifling.
I hope that wherever you are, you are cold. If you're thinking of heading to Kep in April, I advise against it.