Cycling in Taiwan – The Annual Taiwan Cycling Festival

Disclaimer: This post about cycling in Taiwan is sponsored by the Taiwan Tourism Bureau.

Kollecting Koordinates - Cycling in Taiwan

Taiwan’s bike path on the East Coast

The annual Taiwan Cycling Festival is upon us again!

Have you visited my homeland- Taiwan? Over the last 3 decades, cycling has risen to be one of the most popular recreational sports in this little but beautiful green country. It all began with the rise of GIANT in the 80’s, a Taiwanese bike manufacturer.

The government began investing in cycleways and thus, Cycle Route No. 1 was born in 2015. Taiwanese citizens and visitors worldwide can now circumnavigate the entire island on just two wheels, weaving through diverse landscapes of mountain ranges and coastlines.

Today, completing a bicycle circuit around Taiwan is now a bucketlist item for many travelers. What better way to cross it off your list than with the Taiwan Cycling Festival?

Read more: The Ultimate Food Guide to Taiwan

What is the Taiwan Cycling Festival?

Organized by the Taiwan Tourism Bureau, Taiwan Cyclist Federation, Taiwan Bicycle Exporters’ Association, and Sun Moon Lake National Scenic Area Administration, the Taiwan Cycling Festival has been around since 2010.

This year, the major league events began on October 20th with the internationally acclaimed Taiwan King-of-the-Mountain (KOM) Challenge. The cross-island Formosa 900 stretches from November 4th to November 12th, and the family-friendly Sun Moon Lake “Come! Bikeday” occurs on November 11th and 12th.

Taiwan KOM Challenge

The Taiwan KOM Challenge takes place on the scenic east coast starting in Qixingtan, through Taroko Gorge, ending high up on Hehuan Mountain. It leads competitors through different climate zones and terrains. Attracting renowned cyclists from across the globe, this is perhaps one of the most picturesque yet strenuous routes in the world.

From sea level, cyclists scale up 3,275 meters (approximately 10,000 feet) to Hehuan Mountain’s summit. This 105km route, of which 87km is a continuous climb, puts even the greatest cyclist’s stamina and strength to the test.

Kollecting Koordinates - Cycling in Taiwan

The strenuous KOM Challenge

READ MORE: 24 Hours in Hualien and Taroko Gorge

Formosa 900

Teams have 9 days to complete this 900km marathon around the island. Riding along Cycle Route No. 1, Formosa 900 allows cyclists to experience each city and county, marvel at breathtaking scenery, and taste regional delicacies. Famous attractions along the way include Lugang Township, Kaohsiung’s Love River, and Zhi Ben Hot Springs,

Don’t think you can complete the circuit all on your own? E-bikes are a new addition this year for those who need that extra boost.

Kollecting Koordinates - Cycling in Taiwan

Sun Moon Lake Come! Bikeday

This weekend event invites cycling enthusiasts of all ages to Taiwan’s largest body of water: Sun Moon Lake. Feast your eyes on the beauty of Central Taiwan and learn about its unique aboriginal culture.

Three routes of varying difficulty, including a family-friendly path, are up for grabs. There’s even a friendly competition for kids on tricycles!

Not in Taiwan for the 2017 main events?

Don’t worry! Taiwan Cycling Festival offers a series of events throughout the year. You can find the full list on this page.

Cycling in Taiwan

Even if you’re not in the country during the event dates, cycling is one of the best ways to experience Taiwan. Check out Taiwan Tourism Bureau’s comprehensive handbook detailing trip preparation, sample itineraries, and route maps.

My husband’s colleague rode down the east coast a few years ago and had the time of his life! He found the people incredibly friendly and helpful, and the terrain challenging, diverse, and rewarding all at once. He particularly enjoyed rural riding and of course, the food!

Kollecting Koordinates - Cycling in Taiwan

For more information

Taiwan Tourism Bureau: official websiteTwitterFacebookInstagram
Cycling in Taiwan: official website2017 Festivalcomplete event series

Like it? Pin it!

Kollecting Koordinates - Chicken Karaage Recipe

Dachstein Krippenstein in Salzkammergut – Day trip from Salzburg

Everyone flocks to Hallstatt as a day trip from Salzburg, but few visit the other UNESCO World Heritage Site that’s close by: Dachstein Krippenstein! Packed with history, natural wonders, and spectacular views, it is the perfect destination in the Austrian Alps.

About Dachstein Krippenstein in Salzkammergut

Salzkammergut is a region of mountains and lakes in Upper Austria, characterized by the fairytale-like towns of Hallstatt and Salzburg, alpine landscapes, and underground salt mines. Salt, or ‘white gold’ in that era, was THE trade item for the Habsburg Monarchy. The name Salzkammergut translates to “Estate of the Salt Chamber”,  signifying its status within the kingdom.

Krippenstein is a limestone mountain in the Dachstein Mountain range. Because of its high altitude, Dachstein Krippenstein offers a vast variety of activities depending on the season. There’s something for everyone, whether you’re a nature lover, family, or outdoor enthusiast.

READ MORE: Exploring the City of Mozart with the Salzburg Card

Getting to Dachstein Krippenstein from Salzburg

From Salzburg Hbf (main railway/bus terminal), take Bus 150 to Bad Ischl; journey time is around 2 hours. The earliest bus departs at around 6am. Make sure you check the bus schedule ahead of time!

Note: One-way bus fare is €10.55 per person (price in 2017). Pay the driver when you get on the bus.

From Bad Ischl, take the train to Obertraun Dachsteinhöhlen Bahnhof. This scenic train ride takes around 30 minutes.

Tip: You can buy tickets online in advance for €5.30 per person. If you’re returning from Hallstatt, make sure you buy your return ticket at Bad Ischl because there is only ONE machine at the Hallstatt train station.

Pro-Tip: Just get the OBB app if you have data on your phone! This allows flexibility in your itinerary; you can buy tickets as you go without having to worry about missing trains/buses or lining up for machines and ticketing counters.

Once at Obertraun Dachsteinhöhlen Bahnhoftake Postbus-line #542 to “cable cars, ice caves, 5fingers, etc”. One-way bus fare to Dachstein from Obertraun is €2.10 per person (price in 2017).

Read More: Stay connected with unlimited data in Europe

Kollecting Koordinates - Dachstein Krippenstein

Schönbergalm Nature Park

Things to do at Dachstein Krippenstein

Important Note: The first cable car takes you up to Schönbergalm Nature Park. You must register for the cave tours at the counter! You’ll be given a number and start time for your tour of the Ice Cave and Mammut Cave.

Caves: Ice Cave, Mammut Cave, Koppenbrüller Cave

You can explore not one, not two… but THREE caves! Koppenbrüller Cave is the youngest and most family-friendly of the three. It’s especially dramatic during snowmelt and heavy rainfalls.

With almost 70km of the underground labyrinth explored, Dachstein’s Mammut Cave is the 30th longest and 31st deepest cave in the world. Throw on some overalls, head torch, and a helmet for an adventure through humongous cave passages and rock cathedrals.

The most popular Ice Cave offers spectacular ice sculptures, light effects, and art installations. Musical Ice Concerts feature international musicians in the cave every August. Visitors have the opportunity to experience crystal-clear sounds in a unique concert hall!

Tip: It’s cold in the caves so dress warmly!

Tip: Get the “Audioguide App Hearonymus” on your phone since it can be hard to hear your guide in the caves; it’s available 7 languages.

READ MORE: Where to stay in Salzburg

Recreational Sports: Hiking, Paragliding, Freeride Snowboarding/Skiing

The family-friendly Heilbronner Circular Trail takes 3 hours to complete, due to its gentle incline. It offers incredible views of the Hallstatter Glacier, with plenty of information boards, fossils, and the Dachstein Shark along the way.

Geology lovers will enjoy the Nature Trail, a themed walk where you’ll discover rocks, plants and animals of the region. The altitude difference varies between 140-330m depending on which route you take. Up for an adrenaline rush? Challenge the new via ferrata, available in varying levels of difficulty from novice to pro.

Tip: Weather changes quickly in the alps. Wear sturdy hiking shoes, make sure your phone is fully charged, and bring protective gear against the sun, rain, and cold, snacks, and lots of liquids!

Wanna take panoramas to new heights? Try tandem paragliding! With an altitude of more than 1,500m from the takeoff and landing sites, Dachstein Krippenstein is among the most impressive flying areas in the Alps. It is also home to the world-famous safety training centre for paraglider pilots.

In the winter, Dachstein Krippenstein transforms into a hot spot for powdery freeride and off piste. Make sure you go with a guide unless you know the routes like the back of your hand!

Kollecting Koordinates - Dachstein Krippenstein 6

Viewpoints: 5fingers, WeltNATURerbeblick, Dachstein Shark

Imagine the views 2000m up in the Austrian Alps! WeltNATURerbeblick is wheelchair accessible, giving everybody a chance to enjoy Dachstein’s magnificent views.

Millions of years ago, the Dachstein massif was engulfed by the ocean. The Dachstein Shark pays homage to the pre-historic shark that once lived here. You’ll find this attraction 30 minutes into the Heilbronner Circular Trail.

The most thrilling 5fingers offers a sweeping panoramic view of Salzkammergut and Lake Hallstatt. Lean over one of five platforms that jets out to test your fear of heights. We even saw some dudes rappelling down the mountain from the platform!

What about food?

There are two restaurants on the mountain: Restaurant Schonbergalm after the first cable ride up, and Mountain Restaurant at the summit.

We’re always skeptical about restaurants up in the mountains (*cough ski resorts in BC*) because the food is meh and overpriced. That is not the case here, though! Taste and prices are on par with what you’d find in Salzburg. And oh, the ribs are fingerlickin’ good!

Kollecting Koordinates - Dachstein Krippenstein 7

How much are tickets to Dachstein Krippenstein?

Prices vary from €30 – €44.40, depending on the ticket combination. The Panorama ticket (€30) gives you access only to the viewpoints, whereas the All-Inclusive ticket (€44.40) allows you to explore ALL the attractions.  All tickets include the cable car ascent and descent.

Note: Check this page for current tickets and prices.

Disclaimer: Many thanks to Dachstein Krippenstein for hosting our visit. As always, our opinions are honest and our own- we wouldn’t recommend something if we didn’t love it ourselves!

Like it? Pin it!

Komodo Liveaboard – A Bucketlist ExperienceKollecting Koordinates - Komodo liveaboard

We recently received our advanced diving certification on a Komodo liveaboard with Uber Scuba Komodo. I went from having nightmares about scuba diving to loving it. We fell in love with the underwater world while completing our Open Water Course in Bali last year. Our goal is to dive the Darwin and Wolf Islands in Galapagos one day, which means we need more XP to level up in this scuba game.

Kollecting Koordinates - Komodo liveaboard

Here are some things to keep in mind when you’re planning a Komodo liveaboard:

What is a liveaboard?

You live on a boat for a couple of days and follow this cycle: eat, sleep, dive, repeat.

Why should I choose liveaboards over day trips?

Liveaboards allow divers to explore dive sites that are difficult to reach on day trips. Divers have the advantage to get to sites before day trippers and see marine life that are only visible at certain hours (early mornings and late nights).

How do I even get to Komodo?

Komodo National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site made up of 29 islands. Labuan Bajo, a fishing town on the western tip of Flores, is the entry port to Komodo.

Tip: Wings and Garuda Indonesia are the recommended airlines. Flight time from Bali is just over 1.5 hour.

Kollecting Koordinates - Komodo liveaboard

Why Komodo and what kind of marine life will I see?

Komodo National Park is where the Pacific Ocean and Indian Ocean meet. The currents are intense, which means Komodo offers some of the richest marine biodiversity on Earth. It’s like being in a massive aquarium. On top of the bijillion species of fish that I can’t name, we also saw tons of sharks, mantas, turtles, stingrays, nudis, and cuttlefish… even a pygmy squid (the size of your fingernail) on our night dive!

How experienced do I have to be to join a Komodo liveaboard?

It’s recommended that divers have a minimum of Adventure Deep dive since most of these sites have strong currents and are deeper than 18m. If you are only Open Water certified, you can do your Advanced Course on board like we did.

If you don’t want to take the full Advanced Course you can opt for individual Deep and Night Adventure courses. You can simply sit out on these dives if you don’t want any training at all, but you’ll probably end up missing most of the fun stuff.

Just how strong are the currents in Komodo?

Pretty damn strong. Komodo has up and down, and even roller coaster type currents. We were exhausted after Tatawa Besar and had a difficult time hooking onto rocks at The Cauldron!

HOWEVER, the divemasters and crew know these dive sites like the back of their hands. They would jump into sea for a quick final check of currents before we all back-rolled in. Leave it to the pros to determine when to dive where.

What can I expect on a Komodo liveaboard?

If you choose a phenomenal dive operator like we did you’ll be in good hands. You’ll swim and dive in crystal clear waters, feast on gourmet meals, see Komodo dragons up close, and witness breathtaking sunrises and sunsets every day. An amazing crew will help with your heavy equipment and make sure you have dry fluffy towels after dives.

Oh yea, you get to befriend some pretty rad people along the way!

Kollecting Koordinates - Komodo liveaboard

Figgy prepping breakfast for us

Are there things to do other than diving on a Komodo liveaboard?

Yes! Our package included a trek on Rinca Island to see the famous lizards that can only be found in Komodo National Park: the Komodo Dragons. We also hiked up Gili Lawa Darat to catch the sunset one evening.

You can go snorkeling, swimming, or SUP-ing any time you want. On our last evening, the crew prepared a BBQ dinner on a secluded beach. They played music and sang for us, and even taught us some dance moves!

How do I choose the right operator for my Komodo liveaboard?

No one feels comfortable wiring such a large sum of money in advance, especially when shady boats and scams are all too common in Indonesia. Do your research; be wary of operators with sketchy reviews where the reviewer has only posted once (*cough* fake news).

I came across horror stories where people would pay up front, only to find that the dive center is nonexistent when they land in Labuan Bajo. Others end up in dirty and worst of all, unsafe boats.

Ask lots of questions: Is the dive centre PADI and/or SSI certified? What’s included/excluded from the total cost? Is the boat you paid for the actual boat you’re getting on?

After hours of scouring reviews and forums we decided on Uber Scuba, which proved to be the best decision ever! The staff were quick and helpful in responding my never-ending questions. Our boat, The Amalia, was exactly what we had expected.

Kollecting Koordinates - Komodo liveaboard

Our boat – The Amalia

What was The Amalia like?

Uber Scuba uses Amalia for liveaboard trips. It has 5 sleeping cabins, an upper sun deck with comfy day beds, and a spacious outdoor dining area connected to an indoor saloon and kitchen. Juices, tea, coffee, and snacks are available throughout the day.

Note: The double en-suites are perfect for couples. We had a private bathroom (marine toilet!) in our small but clean cabin.

The crew does an amazing job in keeping the whole boat tidy, including the wet station. Each of us had a designated spot for our BCD’s, tanks, fins and weights. The only thing you have to be responsible for is to hang your wet suit up after every dive.

Kollecting Koordinates - Komodo liveaboard 12

How much does a Komodo liveaboard cost?

Our 3-night Komodo liveaboard in the en-suite cabin came to $890USD per person, plus an additional $200USD for the Advanced Course. This includes everything except for the Park fees and alcoholic drinks. Not bad at all, especially when liveaboards in the Galapagos or Palau are in the thousands!

Kollecting Koordinates - Komodo liveaboard Disclaimer: This post was done in partnership with Uber Scuba Komodo. As always, our opinions and experiences are honest and our own. We wouldn’t recommend something if we didn’t love it ourselves!

Like it? Pin it!

Skip the lines at David and Duomo in Florence!Kollecting Koordinates - best tour in Florence

Did you really go to Florence if you didn’t see Michelangelo’s David and climb the Duomo? Because they’re the most sought-out attractions in this iconic Renaissance city, you can imagine how crowded these sites get. Why not avoid crowds and skip lines with the best tour in Florence?

Read more: Where to stay in Florence

Kollecting Koordinates - best tour in Florence

VIP David & Duomo Tour – Best tour in Florence

We signed up for the VIP David & Duomo Tour with Walks of Italy, highly recommended especially for first time visitors. Small groups of no more than 15 people are led by an expert local guide who will whisk you back to the Renaissance era. The headset allows you to hear your guide even if you stray a little from your group.

What will you see?

  • Accademia Gallery
  • Baptistery
  • Duomo Museum
  • Duomo
  • Duomo Terraces
  • Dome of the Duomo

Tip: Make sure you keep your ticket stub so you can climb Giotto’s Campanile in your own time

Kollecting Koordinates - best tour in Florence Kollecting Koordinates - best tour in FlorenceKollecting Koordinates - best tour in Florence

What does the 3hr tour look like?

  • Meet with your guide and the rest of your group at 7:45am
  • Skip the line and enter the Accademia Gallery by 8am
  • Tour the Gallery and see Michelangelo’s ‘David’ in relative peace
  • Skip the line at the Baptistery and Duomo Museum
  • Skip the line at the Duomo
  • Get exclusive access to the Duomo terraces
  • Bypass all other tourists and climb the Duomo
  • Say goodbye to your guide and enjoy free time on the dome

Ishmael was our guide and he was fantastic. He painted history with such depth and passion, chaining each story and masterpiece with a great narrative arc. Each tile in the mosaic ceiling, each stroke in paintings, each curve in sculptures- they were all brought to life with his explanations. If only we had him as our history teacher back in school we would’ve aced the class!

The coolest part was being on the Duomo Terrace with no one else! We had incredible views of Florence and far into Tuscany without elbows jabbing us or selfie sticks poking our eyes. This is where we got an up-close view of Brunelleschi’s humongous brick dome (the largest in the world!).

We visited in early June, the beginning of the peak season. Lines snaked and wrapped around each attraction. Unlike AS I have 0 patience. I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t want to wait for extended periods of time under the blistering sun- or anywhere, really! It felt sooooo good to cross multiple velvet ropes throughout the day, bypassing massive crowds.

Read more: How to see Rome in 3 days

Kollecting Koordinates - best tour in FlorenceKollecting Koordinates - best tour in Florence Kollecting Koordinates - best tour in Florence

How much does it cost and how do I book?

You can book online. Prices start at $145.79CAD per person for adults, $141.18CAD for students (ages 13-22), and $136.58CAD for children (ages 4-12). Kids under 4 don’t have to pay! The meticulous timing, special access, and knowledgeable guides are why this is the best tour in Florence.

About Walks of Italy

Walks of Italy offers tours not only in Florence, but also Rome, Venice, and Paris. For more information and current promotions, check out their official website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages.

Kollecting Koordinates - best tour in FlorenceDisclaimer: Many thanks to Walks of Italy for hosting our VIP David & Duomo Tour in Florence.  All opinions and experiences are honest and our own; we wouldn’t recommend something if we didn’t love it ourselves!

Like it? Pin it!

Kollecting Koordinates - best tour in Florence

Day trip to Predjama Castle and Postojna CaveKollecting Koordinates - Postojna Cave and Predjama Castle

Have you ever seen the ‘human fish’ or explored a cave castle? We checked both off our list during our time in one of our favourite countries: Slovenia. Postojna Cave and Predjama Castle are two historic sites not to be missed!

About Postojna

Located on the Pivka River, Postojna is a town in southwestern Slovenia that was once a part of the Holy Roman Empire. Today, it is home to two world famous sites brimming with history: Postojna Cave and Predjama Castle. Their cave systems are where the first research on karst topography took place, which are characterized by eroded limestone structures and underground streams.

Read more: Stay in Hotel Jama at Postojna Cave Park

Getting there

By train: The Vienna-Venice line runs through Postojna, with connections to Zagreb, Rijeka, Salzburg, and Koper.

By car: You can reach Postojna in less than an hour from Ljubljana, Koper, or Trieste. Allow 2 hours for Venice and Zagreb.

By bus: Intercity buses from Ljubljana, Koper, Rijeka and Nova Gorica will take you to the bus station in front of Postojna Cave. Check the current bus schedule for exact connections and times.

Note: Visitors with combined tickets can use the free shuttle transfer between Postojna Cave and Predjama Castle from July to September. 

Postojna Cave and Predjama Castle

Postojna Cave

Coined ‘The Queen of All Caves’, Postojna Cave was first discovered in 1818. It receives 5-7,500 visitors per day, reaching more than 37 million visitors over the past 2 centuries. While visitors can only explore the first 5km, the entire cave system stretches more than 24km.

An electric train transports you along a railway that has been around since 1872 for the first 2km. Continue your visit on foot through paths, tunnels, and bridges that are decorated with stalactites and stalagmites. Postojna Cave is the only underground landscape in the world that can be explored using an electric train!

At the end of the journey you’ll find an aquarium containing the proteus anguinus, also known as the olm or ‘human fish’. This blind creature is the largest cave-dwelling vertebrate in Europe, growing up to 40cm long. Its heart beats twice a minute and it can live up to 100 years old. With a diet consisting of small snails and crabs, the olm can go 10 years without eating.

Note: Please listen to the guide and TURN OFF FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY!! Some people just don’t care- I wish there was a way to fine these scums.

Image courtesy of Postojnska Jama

Image courtesy of Postojnska Jama

Image courtesy of Postojnska Jama

Image courtesy of Postojnska Jama

Image courtesy of Postojnska Jama

Predjama Castle

Located 9km from Postojna Cave is the Predjama Castle. As the largest cave castle in the world according to the Guinness World Records, it has been perched up in the middle of a 123m cliff for more than 800 years. 

Half cave and half castle, Predjam Castle was home to Erazem Lueger, a Robin Hood-like knight in the 15th century. His castle was besieged but through a secret passage Erazem was still able to get fresh food and continue his daring deeds. Erazem’s fate was finally sealed when one of his servants betrayed him, revealing the castle’s only weak spot: Erazem’s washroom. A cannonball struck Erazem while he was on the toilet- what a shitty way to die, eh?

Live the life of Erazem as you walk through his bedroom, dining room, knight room, soldiers’ and servants’ quarters, dungeon, and torture chamber. A self-guided tour can easily be done with the informative audio guide that’s included in your ticket.

Tip: Allow 60-90 minutes to explore Predjama Castle.

Kollecting Koordinates - Postojna Cave and Predjama Castle

Image courtesy of Postojnska Jama

Image courtesy of Postojnska Jama

Useful tips & info

  • Prices vary depending on activities and attractions, check current prices and packages here.
  • You can visit both Postojna Cave and Predjama Castle in one day.
  • Make sure you’re the first group in Postojna Cave; it only gets busier as the day goes by.
  • Wear comfortable shoes and bring layers. It gets chilly inside the caves!
  • I can’t stress this enough- do NOT use flash photography as this damages the caves.
  • For more information and current promos, visit their official website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages.

Disclaimer: Many thanks to the Slovenia Tourist Board and Postojnska Jama for hosting us. All opinions and experiences are honest and our own- we wouldn’t recommend something if we didn’t love it ourselves!

Like it? Pin it!

Kollecting Koordinates - Postojna Cave and Predjama Castle

Exploring the City of Mozart with the Salzburg Card

So you’re planning your Salzburg adventure and want to make the most of out of your visit given only a few days. You might be wondering the same thing we did, “is the Salzburg Card worth it?” The short answer is- YES!

Salzburg, or “salt castle”, was once a powerful, independent country in the Roman Age. It was once referred to as the “Rome of the North”, given its wealth and affluence from the salt trade. Today, this baroque city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site characterized by its art and culture, historic center, and scenic surroundings.

Is the Salzburg Card worth it?

What is the Salzburg Card?

This card is your key to the City of Mozart. Available for 24, 48, or 72 hours, card holders receive free admission to every city tourist attraction and museum. You can also ride all public transportation for free! This includes the Festungsbahn furnicular, Monchsberg lift, Untersbergbahn lift, and Salzach River Tour. Additional discounts on cultural events, concerts, and a handful of excursions also apply.

Which card should I get? 

Because most attractions are open around 9 or 10am and close by 5 or 6pm , we recommend getting the 72hr card so you can see as much as possible. We were only able to tick off 9 of 29 freebies with a 48-hour window. The validity of your card begins with the first time it is used (i.e. 11am until 10:59am the the next day for the 24hr card).

Tip: You’ll get a handy brochure that details everything about the Salzburg Card at the time of purchase. Check the hours of operation and plan your routes and visiting times ahead!

Where can I get the Salzburg Card?

You can obtain the card from all hotels in Salzburg, tourist information offices in the vicinity, as well as the airport and HBF (main railway/bus station). Booking online doesn’t save you any money so just wait until you’re actually there.

READ MORE: Which hotel to stay in Salzburg

What are the must-see’s and must-do’s?

1. DomQuartier Salzburg: Due to its Roman Catholic influence, Salzburg was ruled by prince archbishops instead of kings. History comes alive at the former center of the prince-archbishops’ secular power, where you can tour the Cathedral and Residenz with a comprehensive audio guide.

Kollecting Koordinates - is the Salzburg Card worth it 12

2. Mönchsberg Lift: The elevator takes you straight up Mönchsberg to a terrace offering the most beautiful panoramic view of Salzburg. This is a great vantage point to see Kapuzinerberg, Hohensalzburg Fortress, and Salzach (Salzburg River) altogether. There’s a also path through the forest that’ll take you to the fortress.

3. Hohensalzburg Fortress: You can either take the furnicular up (included in the Salzburg Card) or walk here from the Mönchsberg terrace. Apart from the stunning views, highlights include a fortress museum and medieval chambers, where you can get a glimpse of the courtly lifestyle of prince-archbishops. This 900-year old fortress also hosts the famous Salzburg Fortress concerts.

4 & 5: Mozart’s Birthplace and Mozart’s Residence: We’re usually not big on museums but Mozart’s Birthplace was meaningful to AS and I because of our background in classical piano (how our relationship blossomed in the first place!). The Mozart family lived here for 26 years from 1747 to 1773, when they moved to what we know today as the Mozart Residence in Makartplatz Square.

You’ll see a collection of portraits, original certificates and letters, sheet music, and items of everyday life from the 18th century. Mozart’s own violin and clavichord are also on display. The exhibition transports you back to the days of this child prodigy- it’s a must for all music and history buffs!

Note: No photography is allowed in the museum!

Kollecting Koordinates - is the Salzburg Card worth it 2

6. Salzburg City Cruise: Hop on a speed boat and check out Salzburg from the river. Starting from the Makart Bridge, cruise down the river for 8km before you arrive at Hellbrunn landing. Once there, a shuttle will take you to Hellbrunn Palace within 4 minutes.

7. Hellbrunn Palace and Trick Fountains: Marvel at the summer residence of Salzburg prince-archbishops, get soaked by the trick fountains, and snap a photo at the famous gazebo from the Sound of Music. The palace courtyard and old driveway turn into a festive Advent market during the Christmas holidays!

8. Stiegl-Brauwelt: Check out Austria’s biggest private brewery, learn how Stiegl beers are made, and pick up fascinating tidbits about the world of beer. At the end of the tour, you’ll get to sample 3 different beers and walk away with a goodie bag (a canned beer, crackers, and a Stiegl beer mug).

Tip: Come just before lunch or dinner and enjoy your complimentary tasting flight with their delicious food!

Kollecting Koordinates - is the Salzburg Card worth it 17Disclaimer: Many thanks to Tourism Salzburg for providing us with Salzburg Cards and a city tour with Salzburg Experience. Our experiences are opinions are honest and our own- we wouldn’t recommend something if we didn’t love it ourselves!

Like it? Pin it!

Kollecting Koordinates - is the Salzburg Card worth it 2

Viewing London from 800ft above the groundKollecting Koordinates - Best view of London 11

With fewer than 24 hours to spare, we were on the hunt for the best view of London. We saw a few of London’s famous sites from the ground level the last time we were there. This time we kicked it up a notch and saw London from the 72nd floor!

The Best View of London: The View from the Shard

At 800ft above the ground, The Shard is Western Europe’s tallest building. It’s the only place where you’ll be able to enjoy 360-degree panoramic views of London, all at once. These views stretch for a whopping 40 miles! The View from the Shard is London’s twist on ‘Where’s Waldo’, where visitors find and spot London’s most iconic sites including Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, Tower of London, London Eye, and Buckingham Palace.

There are two bars, allowing you to enjoy London’s stunning skyline over a drink or two. A glass of Champagne Lanson is included in your entrance fee when you purchase the Champagne Experience. Whether you’re visiting from abroad or a local looking for a fancy night out, there’s no better place to see the best view of London. The Shard even offers a private proposal service!

Our visit to The Shard was graced with clear skies and amazing visibility for great photo ops. It felt like the platform was swaying at times but it was probably my mind playing tricks on me since I’m terrified of heights. Anything for the ‘gram, though, right?

Kollecting Koordinates - Best view of London 10

changing elevators at level 33

Kollecting Koordinates - Best view of London 3

bar on the open-air skydeck

free audio & visual guides available in different languages on level 69

Tips on getting the best view of London

  • Use a polarizing filter to help suppress glare and reflections.
  • Take advantage of the free audio and visual guides; you can find these on the 69th floor.
  • It can get chilly on the open-air sky deck. Layer up if you’re not visiting in the summer time.
  • The ‘Day & Night Experience’ dual entry lets visitors experience London’s skyline both during the day and at night.
  • Book in advance to save money!
  • Don’t miss the washroom on the 68th floor- toilet views don’t get any better than this!

Kollecting Koordinates - Best view of London 9

Other tips and info

  • Tickets are £15.95+ per adult and £9.95+ for children if booked in advance, or £20.95+ per adult and £14.95+ for children if booked on the day
  • The nearest tube station is London Bridge
  • Summer hours of operations are from 10AM – 10PM all week. Winter hours are from 10AM-7PM (Sunday to Wednesday), and 10AM-10PM (Thursday to Saturday).
  • For more information and upcoming special events, check out their official website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages.

Kollecting Koordinates - Best view of London 11
Disclaimer: AS and I received complimentary media passes for our visit. However, all opinions and experiences are honest and our own, and we wouldn’t recommend something if we didn’t love it ourselves!

Like it? Pin it!

Kollecting Koordinates - Best view of London

Plitvice Lakes National ParkKollecting Koordinates - Plitvice Lakes

Croatia’s largest national park is also one of the oldest national parks in Southeast Europe. Whenever I see photography of Plitvice Lakes, I think to myself: “Okay this has GOT to be photoshopped. There’s no way a place can actually look like that in real life.” Boy, was I wrong!

Our original plan was to enter the park as soon as it opens the following morning to beat the rush. When we checked the weather forecast after checking in at our Airbnb in Plitvice, it wasn’t looking pretty for the next day. It was supposed to rain! Our other option was to go right away. We looked at the time- 4pm. The sun was going to set in just over 2 hours, but the trail we wanted to do requires 3-4 hours to complete. That meant we had to somehow complete the circuit double-time. Feeling ambitious (and dreading the rain), we quickly changed and ran to the ticketing office at entrance 1.

Plitvice Lakes

View from entrance 1

It actually turned out to be a really good time to visit the lakes as tour busses and day trippers were just about to leave. Even though we visited in August (high season), we didn’t experience any over crowdedness that we’ve read about in other people’s blogs. This was a huge relief because some parts of the trail are pretty narrow. I can’t imagine how claustrophobic I’d feel if they were packed with people!

Plitvice Lakes National Park is truly a magical place- straight from a fairytale. We picked Route B, which starts at Entrance 1, through the lower lakes, and across lake Kozjak on a ferry. A shuttle then took us back to Entrance 1.

DSC09969

DSC09967

Plitvice Lakes

You can see the moon!

The sun had just set when we exited the park and we were starving. We stopped by Licka Kuca on the way back to our Airbnb for dinner. The service was subpar with mediocre food, but they had live music which was a nice touch. (It was also the only restaurant on our walk back so it’s not like we had other options)

Even though our afternoon was a bit rushed, it was still an amazing experience. We’ve never seen anything this beautiful before; it was a little hard to believe that the park is real. Do stay the night when you visit Plitvice Lakes National Park. The little residential areas around here are very lovely. There is no light pollution and you can see stars shining brightly on a clear night!

Plitvice Lakes

Beautiful waterfalls at dusk

Like it? Pin it!

Kollecting Koordinates - Plitvice Lakes

Bai Tu Long Bay cruise with Indochina JunkKollecting Koordinates - Bai Tu Long Bay

We originally wanted to sign up for the 3d2n cruise around Halong Bay. Unfortunately the sail schedule didn’t work with our dates. Instead, we did the Bai Tu Long Bay cruise on a newer, more luxurious boat: the Dragon Legend. Out of all the cruise companies, we chose Indochina Junk based on their reviews. It’s slightly more expensive but you get what you pay for.

It was cold and gloomy when we visited in December. While we didn’t get to swim in the bay, we got to see this beautiful UNESCO site in another light. The limestone formations were extra serene against the  breeze and drizzle.

DSC06710

DSC06650

the itinerary

Day 1: pickup from hotel – embark and check in at Hon Gai harbor – set menu lunch on board – cruise to Vung Dang / Cong Dam area – kayak (it was too cold to swim in December) – dinner – relax

Day 2: Tai Chi on the sun-deck – breakfast – explore Thien Canh Son Cave – kayak – check out – lunch – disembark – puppet show at Yen Duc village (we slept on the van) – arrive in Hanoi

DSC06511
DSC06514

Approaching the Dragon Legend from the smaller boat

DSC06660
DSC06533
DSC06536
DSC06531
DSC06534
DSC06538

Set-menu lunch with a view

DSC06542
DSC06586

Beautiful cabins with a in-suite jacuzzi tub

DSC06621
DSC06632
DSC06634
DSC06624
DSC06630
DSC06635
DSC06625
DSC06633
DSC06636

Delicious set-menu dinner

pho with squid we caught ourselves

Pho for breakfast of course! With squid we caught the previous night!

DCIM100GOPRO
DSC06696
DSC06717

DSC06709

the verdict

the not-so-good:

  • our driver on the way there wasn’t very friendly
  • WiFi wasn’t working in our van on the way there (the cruise manager made an effort to correct this and put us on a van that does have working wifi on the way back, so kudos!)
  • the shower drain doesn’t really drain. Water collects at the opposite end and makes a little flood outside because there’s barely an edge. We had to turn the water off every few minutes (mid shower so it’s freezing!) to kick the water over to the side with the drain. That really didn’t do anything because it’d start to flood as soon as we turned the shower back on.

the good:

  • There were literally no other boats in sight on our route along Bai Tu Long Bay. This made the whole experience extra special and intimate
  • I hate long drives, but the 3hr ride to the port and back wasn’t even bad! Their luxury vans are very comfortable and are equipped with WiFi
  • Excellent service by all the crew members!
  • The cabins on the Dragon Legend are massive and beautiful, there’s even an in-suite jacuzzi tub
  • Wide variety of delicious food and drinks; everything is super fresh
  • Squid fishing wasn’t included in the itinerary but our crew invited us to do this at night. This was so much fun!

The 2d1n cruise on Indochina Junk’s Dragon Legend was an unforgettable experience. Bai Tu Long Bay is much quieter; we recommend it over the more well-known and popular Ha Long Bay. Hopefully they’ve fixed the shower drain problem by now!

Bai Tu Long Bay

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post; these are my own honest opinions:)

 

Like it? Pin it!

Kollecting Koordinates - Bai Tu Long Bay

 

Thoughts: Tiger Temple and Muang Si Elephant Village

We hired a guide to drive us out to Kanchanaburi as a day trip. This is where the Bridge over River Kwai, Tiger Temple, and many elephant camps are.

Disclaimer: We were uneducated about these so-called animal sanctuaries before signing up for this. Sure, we had our doubts, but the Youtube videos we watched that were shot from foreign volunteers’ perspectives about the Tiger Temple made it seem pretty legit. We also didn’t know that there are multiple sanctuaries in the same area. Had we known, we would’ve have gone to Muang Si. Wanting to have close encounters with these animals and help with the conservation of them at the same time, we decided to go with it.

bridge over river kwai

After a 3hr car ride we arrived at the Bridge over River Kwai that sits along the infamous Thai-Burma railway. The construction of this railway took the lives of over 100,000 Asian civilians and Allied prisoners of war in WW2, giving it the name Death Railway. Today, the train still runs on the tracks (with pedastrians walking right beside it!). We were short on time but if you get a chance, do take a train ride and take in the tragic beauty of this place.

DSC06119

tiger temple

As we drove up to Tiger Temple I started feeling uneasy. I didn’t like the giant statues they had at the entrance. Why were these useless structures built when the funds can be used towards caring for the animals?

DSC06124

We were led into a cage to play and bottle feed the cubs. These guys were only a few weeks old- they were so adorable!

DSC06153

DSC06182
DSC06179
DSC06175

At this point we relaxed a bit because the foreign volunteers seemed like they genuinely care about the animals. If this place was shady, why would they spend months, or even years here? (So we thought, anyway)

DSC06168

I was too scared to be anywhere near anything bigger than the size of my dog so I stayed back while AS played with older cubs in another caged area. He said that even though they were considered as babies, they were extremely strong so it still hurt when they pawed and pounced on him.

Before leaving, we passed by a valley where the fully-grown tigers were. This was when the guilt kicked in. Staff led tourists one by one to the tigers for photo ops. Every one of these tigers was chained and obviously drugged up. They just lied there, motionless. I wanted to leave immediately. It was too sad.

muang si elephant village

The first 30min where we went for a ride through the “jungle” felt really odd. It wasn’t even really a jungle, plus the metal hook our mahout used looked really sharp! He never once stabbed the elephant but it must’ve been used extensively in taming or breaking these giants. While I didn’t know how much the riding seat weighed, I can’t imagine how having that strapped around you with 2 human beings on top can be comfortable. My dog doesn’t even like wearing clothes!

DSC06291

The second part we really enjoyed. We went on a bareback ride where we got to splash around in the river and give our elephant a good scrub.

DSC06341
DSC06348
DSC06317
DSC06300
DSC06310

The best part was feeding her bananas in the end. DSC06397

I really liked this picture but after carefully studying it, is our mahout doing something to the elephant’s ear?

DSC06305

thoughts

There’s a lot of talk about how we should avoid these animal sanctuaries at all costs. It’s true that there are a lot of horrible camps that abuse these creatures, but for every shady place, there are others that genuinely care and are ethical. All of these places preach about conservation and preservation of these animals; some animals may not be able to survive in the wild on their own. They, and their animals included, would suffer without financial and social aid from the tourism industry.

While all the tigers looked healthy at the Tiger Temple, they were clearly sedated. If the adult tigers at the Tiger Temple were able to roam around freely in that valley, it would be a better place. If Muang Si removed elephant riding, and instead just have bathing and feeding sessions, it would also be a better place. Both places need to have info sessions where volunteers and staff educate visitors about these animals.

Like many people, we wanted to have close encounters with these animals. However, we made a mistake of not doing our homework before signing up for these activities. It wasn’t until after we returned from our trip that we dug into how these places are run and how elephants are ‘broken’ or tamed (which is extremely cruel, by the way). Don’t let those hardcore activists stop you from visiting these places, but do you research beforehand. Don’t make the same mistake we did. If you aren’t happy with the standards when you get there, leave and spread the word so others know.