Why Chiang Mai charmed the shit out of me

After a 50 minute flight from Bangkok, we were ready to immerse ourselves in a cultural feast in Thailand’s northern city – Chiang Mai. Right at the airport, we were welcomed with such a laid-back vibe that is hard to explain – It was so laid back that I started thinking how awesome it would be to retire there. This place was very relaxing; it’s topography is very hilly, green, with winding roads and fresh air. It rains a lot too.

This city stood out for many reasons. It does not try too hard. Compared to Bangkok it is less chaotic and more sleepy. Compared to the south/Phuket and the islands, it has less tourists and is much more affordable. Most of the foreigners here are either retired or expats working in Thailand.

There’s something about understated and effortless style. Stylish women. Everywhere. On scooters. With perfect manicures. Wearing high heels. Wearing sandals. Going to work. Going out. Running errands. Picking kids from school. Looking fearless. Looking perfect. Think this. I was so in awe.

 

The people here are hospitable. They are warm. They genuinely care if you get home safe, which was a very different from my experience in London. As it is with most of the people from Thailand, everyone is supper friendly.; and they will let you know that you are beautiful. Its crazy, I never received so many ‘you are beautiful’ comments in 10 days.

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Our AirBnb hosts were the icing on the cake, arguably the sweetest people I ever met. Oak, Mama peanut and Alyn, thank you! You can view their Airbnb listing here . Seriously plan to meet them whenever you are around

People here love to eat out. The eat out options are also quite healthy! I remember I had my first Pad Thai and sticky mango rice here. Eating will be done at the night markets or at some of the beautiful restaurants by the river e.g The Good view.

 

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Unfortunately we couldn’t sit here as it was raining. This view was pretty magical though

Good food will almost always be accompanied by good music. A live band will always be playing. The live music culture here is quite rooted.

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You will find retired guys who started punk/rock bands and play mean sets at the Boys Blue Band most nights of the week.
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You will also find university kids singing to Adele and Jonas brothers at Good view. It looked like a well rehearsed karaoke but in all cases it was so enjoyable.
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Now I don’t know about you, but ever since I grew up, I prefer cosy nights out – dressing up, engaging in cool conversations, eating healthy amazing food and listening to grown music. And this was it.

I had my first sticky mango rice, Pad Thai and most Thai beers in Chiang Mai. Though the street food options are less in comparison to Bangkok, the night markets offer an eclectic range of options

 

Part of what makes this place culturally rich is the strong presence of Buddhism. There are several temples and you will not miss seeing monks everywhere you turn.

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This is one of the many temples in the North. This area is truly temples heaven. Driving through the rice fields on our way to Chiang Rai, a nearby town that has some of the most divine temples I have seen, one cant help but think how simple life should be. Each temple has a story. Read more about my experience at the the temples here
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We look like we are about to drop a banger. On the real though, you can’t sit with us..
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My mum was not so stoked given that the pictures I had to show of Thailand were all of elephants only. I had a memorable experience that really touched my heart at one of the elephant camps and  you can find out how here

I had a hard time leaving this place and my only wish is that I would have stayed longer. Well, I also wish I bought a chang beer t shirt and visited Laos and Myanmar while I was there but there is always a next time right?

Hope you enjoyed my post!

 

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Experiencing Bangkok’s All-white hotel

After your beloved home airline KQ delays your flight for a whole 24 hours and doesn’t seem apologetic about it, after sitting on the same KQ plane (because there was no other option) for close to 8+ hours a day after and using the crude little restroom a couple of times, then queuing at the airport for a couple of hours and experiencing racism or maybe just a nasty attitude from a funny looking Thai immigration officer, getting out of the airport and being hit by Thailand’s almost suffocating humidity, realizing that your taxi driver does not understand English, sitting through Bangkok traffic to arrive at the destination you have been dreaming of for a couple of months (years even!); a tiny bit of you hopes that you did not make a mistake choosing this destination, and that all you dreamed your vacay would be, was not too unrealistic.

We had made reservations at the Pullman G hotel in Bangkok’s business district. Given that our first night was literally ruined/gone because of missed flights, the hotel was accommodative enough to update our reservation with no additional charges. What caught our eye of-course was the all-white theme at the hotel and its current and hip vibe, which we dug. Here’s why staying at this place will forever be memorable.

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A day before we arrived, the hotel sent us directions (written in Thai too just in case our taxi driver did not understand English – which he did not) we found this quite handy.
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The lobby was relaxed and welcoming – exactly what we needed to see at the end of a long journey. As soon as we arrived, we were welcomed by one of the hosts who seemed genuinely interested in our trip and gave advice on where we could go out to for that night in pretty much the 6 minutes we chatted. Check in was quite fast given that we checked in online a day before arriving
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Get this, they don’t want you getting bored while on the elevator, so they have LCD screens and pop music playing in the background. Such a pleasant surprise.
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The room looked exactly as it did on the website and the view was so breath-taking. You could literally stay in your room all day just looking at that view.
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Okay, maybe not entirely all white 🙂 The beds were extremely comfortable
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Hand written feedback from your guests is as personal as it gets. Loved how the hotel had tiny notebooks where guests could leave feedback.

 

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Was this Harvey Specter’s apartment we were waking up in?
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This was the view from the rooftop bar/restaurant/pool area
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The pool is small but for shallow end lovers like myself, it’s perfect for ‘playing with water’ and  lounging/taking a break from the heat.
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And if you like mini-photo shoots, you would be spoilt and only limited by your creativity

Never got a chance to try out their signature cocktails or the famous black burger but I will be back for sure.

The nightly rate for a twin room was about $110 or $55 per person sharing (not inclusive of breakfast) which isn’t so bad right? Which hotels have stood out for you in your travels and why?

 

 

 

Bathing with Elephants in Chiang Mai

Anyone who knows me knows just how much I love elephants – they are my spirit animal (never mind that I am 5’2 and weigh less than 120 pounds). So feeding, playing and bathing with them was on my bucket list. While in the northern city of Thailand, we got to visit one of the many elephant camps that have rescued elephants from diabolical cases of animal cruelty all in the name of tourism. A light amount of googling will show you how elephants in Asia are being trafficked & tortured in the name of training as well as being beaten into submission. All for what? To make sure a tourist enjoys a ride on an animal whose spine cannot support the weight of a person? So no thank you, I did not ride an elephant when I was in Thailand and I am happy I did not.

It was important for us to visit an ethical camp that was against elephant cruelty. In the wild, elephants—who are highly social and intelligent animals—spend their days playing, swimming, foraging, exploring, and communicating with other elephants in their herd. The camp we visited aimed to give us access to the elephants, without causing disruptions to the activities elephants enjoy doing. We were allowed to play with, feed and bath the elephants.

The whole experience costs about $55 per person (inclusive of transport to and from the camp & lunch). What to carry: Towels, swimming costume, lotion and sunscreen

These photos were taken by my friend Solange who did not join in the fun because she felt it was too boojie. (Do you think it is?) You can read her version of events on her blog here

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The camps are situated in the jungle – an hour from Chiang Mai. Most of the camps will organize transportation for you from your hotel.
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Before seeing the elephants, we got schooled on the shocking history of elephant tourism in parts of Asia and how the elephants in this camp had been rescued.
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Surprisingly enough, the elephants skin is pretty rough!
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The elephants scratch on these trees whenever they get the urge
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We were allowed to feed the elephants with bananas. Don’t be fooled by that laugh, it was hella intimidating!
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Isn’t she gorgeous?
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Got to experience the gentleness of these big animals first hand
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The elephants were not really corporating when it came to taking pictures…so we had to have a talk……
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Alas! They started to corporate!
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And obviously this made me very happy
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These gorgeous little dresses were given to us at the camp and we were told elephants are attracted to these colors. Clearly this one was falling for me – we had a moment
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We were all in agreement that they needed to have a bath
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After feeding the elephants, we went ahead to give them a mud bath. Am not sure about how true this is but it turns out elephant shit is good for the skin?
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After the mud bath, we took them to the river for a rinse
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They seemed to like it?
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Here they are, all sparkly and clean
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After they left, we rinsed ourselves
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Had to sneak a pose by the river 🙂
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He was asking me not to leave.
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And no, I did not want to leave.

 

Exploring Thailand’s most beautiful temples

Being a predominant Buddhist country, Thailand is temple heaven. I largely borrow from some of the philosophies of Buddhism; insistence on the power of the mind: how we are shaped by our thoughts, letting go of fear, what happiness should be : not linking it to material possessions, self love, spirituality and health. A summary of my 2017 personal goals guys! You can then imagine how this was a great opportunity for me to immerse and learn!

  1. White temple (Wat Rong Khun) in Chiang Rai (A town in Northern Thailand)
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The Avant garde temple. It was built by one of Thailand’s greatest artists as a tribute to Buddha
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The temple’s entrance has several arms reaching out from the ground: symbolizing a purgatory of suffering, greed and worldliness where one is expected to detach themselves from all that to gain happiness
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After purgatory is heaven, with two very able guards at its gates
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White symbolizes purity
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Walking through the temple grounds should mimic / symbolize traversing life’s endless circle of life, death and rebirth
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As it is with all temples, one is expected to dress decently . Unfortunately taking photos inside the temple is not allowed
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Constructed with asbestos for the white effect. (Please carry some sun glasses otherwise you will be squinting all through). The mirrors used in the temple’s construction symbolize self reflection
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The beautiful pond right behind me has some fish and you are allowed to feed them. Also, don’t I look like a queen 🙂
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Beautiful hanging prayer plates can be found in the temple’s grounds. 
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Looks like a King’s house right? Nope!  Just some standard rest rooms. (I think the world’s most beautiful)

2. The Black temple (Baan Dam), a few minutes from the White temple

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If the White temple is a glimpse of heaven, then the Black temple aims to represent a glimpse of hell and darkness
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The temple is filled with skins, bones and teeth of different animals. All these animals are said to have died from natural causes, creating a less sadistic but spiritual feel
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The interior has a tribal and mysterious vibe to it with metal and honey combed beams
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It started raining when we were walking in the temple grounds so we took refuge at one of the chill spots. Was lucky to run into these novice monks. I even added my new friend on Facebook, he sits next to me in the picture. Sadly there was a language barrier so most of the talking was done with an english-thai translator book. I will be honest though, we look badass! 

 

3. The temple of the Reclining Buddha (What Po), Bangkok

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This is by far the largest statue I have set my eyes on. 
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Inside the temple, visitors can drop coins into these bronze bowls for good luck
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It is Thailand’s oldest temples and home to Thai Massage and Medicine schools

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Walking in the temple’s grounds is very relaxing. For a minute, you forget about the notorious Bangkok hustle and bustle that is right outside
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The temples pagodas stand tall and majestic 

4. The Blue temple (Wat Rong Suea) Ten, Near the black and white temples

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Temples in Thailand will often be guarded by the fierce dragons planted at the entrance
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This was definitely one of the less tourist-thronged temples we visited as it was recently completed and people haven’t gotten wind of it.
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It is known as the temple of the dancing tigers since many years back, tigers used to jump over a famous river in this town
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The galaxy blue interior is simply breath-taking. 

5. Doi Suthep (Wat Phra That Doi Suthep) ,Chiang Mai

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The temple was built on top of Chiang Mai’s famous Doi Suthep hill and visitors will climb about 300 stairs to reach the temple
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Legend has it that the King built the temple after being instructed by Buddha when a white elephant had made rounds in the hills and finally died here
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As it is on a hill, this temple can be seen from most places in Chiang Mai and is filled with gold plated symbols everywhere. Many of the Thai people who visit the temple come to pray

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This is the list of jaw-dropping beautiful temples I came across while in Thailand. In my opinion, visiting these places is a must for someone who wishes to have a deeper understanding of Thai culture as explained in one of my other posts.

Remember when visiting, most temples will not have an admission fee but will demand that you dress decently (ie. no shoulders and knees/thighs showing). Ladies, you can wear an off shoulder dress but have a scarf in your bag which you will wear as soon as you get there.

Hope you enjoyed the post!

Deep in Central Africa’s Rain forest

The Nyungwe rain forest is probably the best preserved montane rain forest in Central Africa. It is located in the watershed between the basin of the R.Congo to the west and the basin of the R.Nile to the east. From the east side of the Nyungwe forest comes also one of the branches of the Nile sources.

Trekking through the rain forest takes about 2 hours – quite the work out. The walk on the canopy is particularly breath-taking since you get a lovely view of the forest in all its majesty. A night at the Ruzizi lodge would be ideal for rest before going back to the city.

Getting to the forest with public means is quite hectic so the best advice would be to rent out a car and drive or have a driver take you.

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Summer in London

Nothing is sure in London than expense, rainy and gloomy summer days, fish and chips, red telephone booths, the tube, double decker buses and eccentrics. The couples scene is also as diverse and as PDA plastered as it gets! London was a great place to disappear – for me. I got to people-watch a lot. The city has a coldness to it that is very hard to explain. It’s seemed everyone was busy rushing somewhere; ‘pretentiously’ busy’. Most people seem reserved enough not to be rude but you can still see it on their faces, as though genuine social interaction is a form of neediness – but maybe its just me used to too much warmth and friendliness back home. All in all, it was an interesting culture to be immersed in. Has any one experienced something similar while in London?

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Trafalgar square and National Gallery

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River Thames and the London eye
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People watching at the London bridge
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Not sure why the cute guy in the army green jacket was staring at me but oh well 🙂
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China town. Aunty was trying to figure out the formula.
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China town
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Double decker buses and London cabbies
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Jazz night at Ronny Scott’s was memorable. Seemed like time travel circa 1950

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Lovers enjoying an evening stroll.

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This is the stage where that Friday feeling kicks in.
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The Tube at Piccadilly Circus
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The Valerian and the city of a thousand  planets premiered at the Leicester square on this same night. Rihanna was here! Missed her entrance though 😦

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Best fish and chips near the London eye

I missed out on vintage shopping, brunching and afternoon tea, a stroll around Canary Wharf, Buckingham palace, Kensington gardens, the Little Venice and a day trip to Stonehenge but well, there is always a next time right? 🙂

Few tips if you have never been but plan to:

  • Even in summer, carry an umbrella.
  • Don’t under-estimate the transport system! Install the “City mapper” app to help you easily plan your trips otherwise you will get yourself on the wrong train
  • Don’t under-estimate the hard water! Carry some coconut oil for your skin. The hard water can damage your skin and leave it too dry
  • Don’t under-estimate how expensive it can get!

Safari in Rwanda

For most people, Rwanda is best known for Gorilla trekking, but after the government recently raised park entry fees to $1500 for non-residents, what is left to do? Safari. Rwanda is one of the 10 countries in Africa where you can go for Safari – with the Akagera park boosting 100 acres of untapped land reserve for the animals.

Akagera National park, in the eastern part of Rwanda – a 2 hour drive from Kigali. This was a thrilling adventure because the weather was so favorable and most of the animals were out to play. Also, you have never seen a terrain as beautiful as Rwanda’s – the hills, the plains and the lakes make a perfect blend. Here we go :-).

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That one day in Abu Dhabi

Looking for a chance to learn about the Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Islam and Emirati culture? Then a visit to Abu Dhabi will help. I had the pleasure of visiting the Sheikh Zayed Grand mosque on a day trip to Abu Dhabi. It is the 8th largest mosque in the world and arguably one of the most beautiful structures in the world.

We arrived at night and were crossing fingers to find it open after taking the 2 and a half hour drive from Dubai. Lucky for us, the mosque usually closes at 10 pm. Even at night, the mosque looked stunning; though I have to admit that I would love to see the mosque again, in the sun, with its white marble, domes and minarets reflecting on the blue waters surrounding it.

Here are some shots and of course, I have highlighted some of the striking things I learnt/noticed during the visit.

To all my muslim friends, Ramadan Kareem!

The grounds:

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The grounds use a special kind of lighting that follows the moon’s phases and they become lighter as the moon becomes full
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There is no entry fee to visit the mosque. It is open from 9 am – 10 pm daily except for Friday mornings!
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Opening of the mosque took place in the holy month of Ramadan in 2007.
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Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque was initiated by the late President of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), HH Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, and his final resting place is located on the grounds.

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The pools along the arcades reflect the Mosque’s spectacular columns, which become even more glorious at night.

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There is a library at the mosque stocked with classic books and publications (dating back more than 200 years!) addressing a range of Islamic subjects: calligraphy, the arts, coins.

Inside the Mosque:

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There are 96 columns in the main prayer hall, inlaid with mother of pearl and marble.
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Materials used in its design and construction include marble, stone, gold, semi-precious stones, crystals and ceramics. 

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Intricate work on the ceiling

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The huge crystal chandelier in the main prayer hall, one of seven German-made chandeliers that costs more than eight million dollars.

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Swarovski crystals on one of the world’s largest chandeliers
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The largest hand-knotted carpet in the world knitted for 2 years by about 1200 carpet- knotters! Also, you must leave your shoes at the Mosque’s entrance
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The mosque is a symbol of unity, a place of worship and a haven of tranquility. Must visit if you are ever in Abu Dhabi

 

Island life – Uganda

I would go ahead to call these islands a ‘well kept secret’ but my Ugandan friends from Kabale would beg to differ. Lake Bunyonyi is in the South western part of Uganda and is one of Africa’s deepest lakes. It is closest to Kabale town, which is an hour’s drive from the Rwanda/Uganda border. It has 29 concentrated islands therefore visitors are spoilt for choice on where to go.

We happened to visit Habuharo Island and it was spectacular. Each of the cottages face the lake so you are assured of a beautiful view whichever cottage you decide to sleep in.

I was sure to capture some beautiful views and sunsets on this beautiful gem. Definitely should be on your ‘Places to travel’ list.

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A view of the islands on Lake Bunyonyi from Arcadia Hotel

Going to Habuharo island: 

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The boat ride takes about 25 minutes from the boat station. You should make reservations prior so that the hotel makes arrangements to get supplies from the main land and so that they can pick you up, of course.
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The lake’s calming effect, hope it can be felt from the picture 😉

Arrival at the island: 

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The island’s little harbour.
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From the harbour to the hotel
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A warm welcome (literally) with a nice hot cup of tea is served upon arrival.
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Mukyala!

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The cottages: 

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No wifi here. You can choose to connect with anything else
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View from the cottage.

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If waking up to such views is something that excites you, please visit. Being a Sunday, it was so quiet in the morning. Known as the bird island, all you could hear was their chirping from about 4 am!
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The islands are off-grid therefore all the power is harnessed from the sun. Working in the Solar sector, this made me happy.

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You will not experience a lot of mosquitoes because the rooms have mosquito nets.

A walk around the Island: 

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Views: 

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Neighbouring islands

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Heading back: 

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We stopped for lunch (and a game of football) at Overland.

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These kids were hilarious. From the boat, we could hear them shout ”Hello! Hello! Give me money!!!!”
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Leaving the island clearly made us all sad 😦

Strolling in Dubai’s Miracle Garden

“Almost any garden if you see it at just the right moment, can be confused with Paradise” – Henry Mitchell

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Getting a shot with no one in it is not easy! Visiting in January must have helped.
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The entrance fee costs about 40 AED and a ticket can be bought at the gate.
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Loved this intricate pattern on the grass
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Sunscreen, a big hat and sunnies are a must-have. Its quite hot

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If you are getting to the garden via bus, note that the bus from the Emirates Mall Metro Station only works in the afternoon. If you visit the garden in the morning, you would have to take a taxi from Emirates Mall.

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A piece of corn goes for 25 AED!

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Beautiful plane covered in flowers

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This is the exit. The houses look beautiful

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I spy with my little eye…..
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Everything here is perfect. Guards are everywhere to make sure you do not litter.

An enchanting night in the desert

Simplicity is the heart of everything. If you look to the desert, apparently the desert is very simple but it’s full of life, it’s full of hidden places and the beauty is that it looks simple but it’s complex in the way that it expresses the soul of the world or God.
Paulo Coelho

Highlights:

  • Sand dunning in a 4*4 while heading out to the desert safari made me scream a little. It will make you scream a little too unless you are an adrenaline junkie, then you will think the ride was too short.
  • The desert sunset is breath-taking.
  • Intriguing middle east dance acts, Arabian tea, authentic shisha and henna tattoos.

Here are some well captured memories. Enjoy 🙂

The desert:

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The camp:

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The Dance show:

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Views of Lake Kivu from Gisenyi

 

 

Gisenyi is located in the western part of Rwanda. It’s a 3-hour drive from Kigali. Last weekend was a perfect time to unwind and practice on my new found photography skills. I hope you enjoy the photos. Shot them with a Nikon D3300 DSLR (though the last 2 were from a friend’s phone)

The Lake:

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Interesting fact about this little ‘island’ where I stand. Girls from Rwanda who got pregnant outside wedlock were abandoned here at night. The congolese men would then pick them up and marry them.
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A lot of fishing goes on at Lake Kivu throughout the day. Some people rent out the boats and go into the Lake then dive and swim in. Looked like fun!

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The lodge:

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Everything here grows ferociously

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Eco-friendly bathrooms

The food:

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And for those who have been asking, yes, Rwanda is filled with lots of prospects!

Tomb raiding in Naivasha

 

That Sunday’s agenda was to explore the panoramic cliffs and gorges in Naivasha’s famous Tomb raider spot: Hell’s Gate & after that take a dip in Olkaria’s Geothermal Spa.

Where: Hell’s Gate and Geothermal Spa, Naivasha

Photography: Fridah Mwongeli

THE VIEWS:

The weather in Limuru was horrible. But as soon as we got to Mai Mahiu, it started warming up & that allowed us to make a stop at the beautiful view points.

 

 

 

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HELL’S GATE: THE PARK

We caught the giraffe’s graceful run, a few warthogs and lots of zebras! Peaceful enough for a chilled bike ride.

 

 

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HELL’S GATE: THE GORGES

God is such a sculptor! This unusual beauty has to be seen so as to be felt. Did you know they have a devil’s bedroom in there? Guess which of these pictures it is.

Tip: There is a lot of hiking and climbing in the gorges so you better dress the part!(we had not anticipated this)

 

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HELL’S GATE: THE GEOTHERMAL SPA:

You will be awed by the winding roads and beautiful landscapes inside Hell’s Gate leading to the Spa. At the spa, the waters are just the right shade of blue and get steamier the closer you get to the inlet.

 

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That is me trying to tell you to get there already!

Watamu in pictures

After Nairobi decided to rain silly last weekend, myself and a couple of friends decided to visit the beautiful Watamu: to get that well deserved little break . Pictures are worth a thousand words right?

Where: Alhamra Villa, Watamu

Organised by: Tina Tours

Photo credits: Violet Wainaina

 

The beach:

White sands + Blue skies + Green and blue water + friendly locals + Snorkelling + Sun bathing +Shells + Crabs + Henna

God is such an artist!

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The House:

Palatial + Open plan + Poolside chilling + Scenic + Secret rooms + Outdoor pool + Best staff + Sunbeds + Plunge pool + Beachfront

Note to self when I build my house: “Simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance”- Coco Chanel

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The people:

Road trips and Karaoke + New and stronger friendships + Wine + Cocktails + Truth or dare + Swimming lessons + Dondas + Modelling + Selfies + Snorkelling + DJ Demakufu + Manga Chenga + Fatuma + Tibim + Henna

What an amazing bunch I got to spend the weekend with!

 

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And finally, I discovered that I can be a model :-p

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